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Tuesday, December 24, 2013


To everyone who has visited Come walk with me, whether a regular visitor or an accidental dropper inner and to everyone who loves, and is inspired by, the great outdoors wishing you a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a wild and inspiring 2014!

Wet and wild walks from Llanberis

Walking with; Nobody

The good folks at the MWIS had provided the following information for Snowdonia, " frequent snow and hail with thunder, occasional whiteout conditions" but my cosy bunk at the Llanberis YHA was already booked and I had a new pair of Berghaus waterproofs to put to the test! On the drive over it became clear that we were in for some pretty serious weather and it was almost at the stage where I considered retreating to "Pete's Eats", settling next to the radiator and working my way through the largest of large brunches! However I summoned up some serious resolve, parked at the end of the tiny hamlet of Cwm-y-Glo and set off to take on Mother Nature in the foulest of moods. I followed the path from the small carpark at the end of the village and climbed up to Gallt-y-celyn. It was slippery underfoot, brutally windy and the rain was flying in horizontally, but there were still views down towards Llyn Padarn and Snowdon sat magnificent in the distance. I headed across to the slopes of Garreg Lefain where I found myself a sheltered spot above the reservoir for a spot of lunch and some respite from the torrential rain. After twenty minutes of questioning my sanity I devised a roundabout escape plan that would incorporate a little wet weather nav practice with a reasonably rapid descent off the hill. In the end it was one of those days that tested me, there were times when it was a little unpleasant but as I sat in "Pete's Eats" an hour or so later with a pint of coffee and a bacon and egg roll the words of my t-shirt rang true, "Better a rainy day on the hill than a sunny one in the office"!
Thursday's forecast was worse yet but as I left the hostel and started the gentle climb through farmland and past many abandoned and ruined cottages and barns, the sky was still blueish. I hit the North Wales Pilgrims Way above the old slate workings and turned up onto Bryn Mawr and the lower slopes of Moel Eilio, my goal for the day. I could see the clouds rolling in over Snowdon and even more ominously the ribbons of cloud trailing in from the coast, as I hit the summit the hail swept in with stinging force. I ducked into the summit shelter and identified the ridge walk on to Foel Goch which looked straightforward even with the increasingly poor visibility. I made it as far as Foel Gron when the storm hit, the thunder was directly overhead and deafening and the lightning appeared like a flashbulb going off seemingly right in front of my eyes. Abandoning my original plan I decided to get off the ridge as soon as possible and managed to find a reasonably secure (though still extremely blowy) way down to Llyn Dwythwch. By now the snow was falling pretty heavily but I found the ruins of a sheepfold and tucked myself away for some lunch whilst the flakes settled all around me. Shaking off the cold I skirted the lake and made my way back to the hostel. It was too early to go back so I headed over to the old slate mines for a bit of a nosey before the rain forced a retreat once more back to Pete's welcoming embrace!

To view the full album please click on the link below; 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A short walk in Oxfordshire

Walking with; Nobody

After a day of exploring the "City of dreaming spires", wandering through the back streets of Oxford stumbling upon characterful pubs, blue plaques a-plenty and hidden gardens tucked away in college quadrangles, I felt the need to get some mud on my boots once more! Not knowing the area and being mapless I bought a copy of the AA 50 Walks in Oxfordshire and picked out a likely looking suspect.
  The fog was hanging in a thick blanket low over the countryside and there was a distinct chill in the air as I parked outside the parish church of Charlton-on-Otmoor. The church (St Mary the virgin) is listed in the Simon Jenkins book "England's 1000 best churches" and has a magnificent timber beamed ceiling and a very famous 16th century wooden rood screen, the cross of which was garlanded with seasonal greenery. I left the village behind and headed into the neighbouring settlement of Oddington. The fog was still thick but the bare trees and hedgerows were alive with wildlife, there were flocks of Redwings, murmurations of Starlings and airborne Rookeries and it made for pleasant, undemanding strolling. The route led me across muddy fields, hugging the hedgerows until I emerged next to two beautiful thatched farmhouses in the hamlet of Noke. In spite of the name meaning "at the Oak trees" there wasn't an Oak tree to be seen and I made my way along the high street before taking the path that led me to the Ot Moor RSPB reserve. Recent sightings there have included Whooper Swans and Pintails but I was treated to the beautiful sight of a Marsh Harrier skimming low over the reedbeds. The muddy path led me through a military firing range and onto an old Roman road which eventually took me into my fourth of the "seven towns of Otmoor", Fencott. From Fencott, I followed the lane that led me back to my original starting point muddied but content.
One of the sadder aspects of the walk was the number of houses I passed named "The Old Black Bull",
"The Old Post Office" or "The Old Schoolhouse", reminders of a time when these tiny communities really functioned as autonomous entities rather than being dorm villages for wealthy refugees from Oxford or Bicester. It is a trend that in recent times has become depressingly familiar. In the village I was bought up in and where my Dad has lived for nearly forty years we used to have a primary school, two pubs, a shop/post office, a village tea room, a staffed railway station housed in a Victorian building and two market gardens. Whilst the school has grown in size, the one struggling pub is the only remaining community asset in the village. People of my generation have been priced out of rural living and, for me, the heart has left many of these communities as they become little more than retirement villages for the wealthy!

To view the full album please click on the link below; 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Win a Come walk with me calendar for Christmas!

Hi folks, as a little bit of Christmas fun and an incentive to connect with Come walk with me, anybody commenting on any post on the Come walk with me website will go into a draw to win a free 2014 calendar delivered direct to their door! Get involved and GOOD LUCK!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

More walks in and around Grasmere

Walking with; Nobody

I'd only been in Grasmere a couple of weeks earlier, but the great deals the YHA are currently offering on accommodation meant I could get a room to myself for roughly the price of a dorm bed. Butharlyp House (Butterlip is the pronunciation apparently) is an excellent hostel, well appointed, attractive and staffed by cheerful and helpful team members, an ideal location for a couple of nights. Since I'd read Hunter Davies's excellent "A walk around the Lakes" I felt better educated about the life of Wordsworth and, even in early December, there were still tour buses disgorging Japanese tourists outside the "Sarah Nelson Gingerbread shop" and "Dove Cottage". "Tweedies" is far and away the best option for a post walk pint by the fire, a choice of eight real ales and plenty of other options and some impressive looking food, I stuck to the beer on this occasion!
Anyway, enough of the tourist information. Loughrigg is exactly the kind of lumpy, bumpy, path criss-crossed, tarn dotted fell that I imagine has ML assessors salivating. I decided to head up mid-afternoon and play around for a bit before making my way back via the light of my head torch. I scrambled up stream beds, located tarns and trickles, watched Jackdaws playing on the thermals and listened to the insistent "cronk" of the Ravens. I found my way to Scartufts and as I ploughed through the boggy mire the light dropped and the headlights of the cars below skirted Rydal Water. In the darkness I located Lanty Scar, dropped down into Loughrigg Holme and ended up handrailing the wall above the slightly smutty sounding Rough Intake until I found myself back safe and sound in Rydal. I find Night Nav on my own can still be a bit intimidating but as my confidence and ability slowly increases I feel the immense satisfaction that comes from a skill being honed.
The forecast for the next day was apocalyptic and I as readied myself I could feel the glances upon me and the implicit, "You're going out in this.....?" Twenty minutes into my ascent to Alcock Tarn I wondered why I hadn't listened. The rain was torrential and unrelenting, trees bucked and bent in the wind and even the hardy Herdwicks huddled in the lee of stone walls and chewed the grass in miserable silence. A couple of gusts nearly had me off my feet but I continued to climb bent into the wind until I reached the beautifully appointed tarn on the lower slopes of Heron Pike with views of Grasmere and beyond. Rain turned to stinging sleet, the wind continued to blow and I trudged towards the village, then the wind continued to blow, the clouds scudded by and I ascended smiling to Stone Arthur under blue skies! I had a sandwich sheltering between two rocks out of the teeth of the gale and then contoured round below Great Rigg to reach Grizedale Tarn, one of Lakeland's best. Last time I'd been here was on my C2C route and the false summit as you climb up Great Tongue had crushed me, this time I at least knew what to expect.....I saw the only two other walkers of the day at the Tarn and then slipped and clambered up the screey slope of Seat Sandal affording spectacular views down Patterdale to Ullswater. The unusual name is, apparently, a derivation of the old Norse for "Sandulf's Hill Pasture", but it's a rare, old spot with views to match. Leaving the summit it was a knee crunching descent down the Southern slopes before following Great Tongue back down to "Tweedies" and a welcome pint by the fire! Sometimes the inclemency of the weather is the only way to get some of the more popular fells to yourself!

To view the full album, please click on the link below; 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Come walk with me calendar

After the success of last years calendar we now have the 2014 one ready for distribution. The calendar showcases the best Come walk with me photos from the last 12 months and covers walks from areas as diverse as the Peak District and the Cuban Sierra Maestra. The calendars retail for £11 for the A4 wall hanging version or £9 for the desktop! If you would like one please message me asap as they are going fast already!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Walking on Bleaklow

Walking with; Nobody

Bleaklow can be an intimidating hill, a vast expanse of peat, groughs, bogs and moorland often enveloped in low cloud, it's the kind of place where an overactive imagination could conjure up all manner of ghostly encounters. There are rumoured to be spirits of Roman legionnaires haunting the Pennine Way and the very real wreckage of many planes in the area can give a walk on this Peak District classic a sombre air. There are also, however, Mountain Hares, Grouse, a selection of intriguing stone formations and a sense of wilderness that can be hard to find in Britain's most visited National Park. Navigation can be a challenge especially in bad weather, but this just adds to the sense of remoteness which can be found on this bog trotters paradise!
I set off from Old Glossop along Doctor's Gate, a bridleway that follows the route of an old Roman road (possibly the one taken by the ghostly legionnaires....?) before cutting off above Shelf Benches and following the rough route of Wigan Clough up onto the tops. At this stage visibility was pretty good and as I wandered along the edge towards the Shelf Stones there were great views over the Dark Peak, plenty of Mountain Hares and very little in the way of human company. I made the Trig point and then bog trotted my way, compass in hand, in and out of groughs, across boot sucking patches of moor and into increasingly thick and low cloud until I located the weirdly sculpted formations of the Hern Stones where I stopped for a well deserved Chicken and coleslaw roll! The cloud was very low now and I moved onto the Wain Stones where another figure loomed out of the mist, proving to be a flesh and blood type of walker rather than a ghostly Roman. It was satisfying to gain the flagstones of The Pennine Way which led me along the beautiful Wildboar Grain and around Torside Castle. There is considerable conjecture about this site, for many years it was thought to be a Bronze Age hill fort or Prehistoric earthworks, although more recently the consensus has been towards it being a natural formation. I must confess that to my eye it looked as if it might be man made, but it's a striking feature none-the-less. There are tales of mysterious, ghostly lights dancing on the summit at certain times of the year, but I passed it in the clag with no supernatural experiences.
I left the Way somewhere above Torside Clough and cut in land, heather bashing and startling the odd Grouse. I eventually located the deep grough of Small Clough and handrailed it all the way down to the scatologically named Shittern Clough which was full of stunning Autumnal woodland and dense stands of Rhododendron. Popping back onto Doctor's Gate the path menadered back to Old Glossop and my car. Bleaklow will never be my favourite hill, it is rough and scruffy and not the prettiest, but it has a genuine feeling of wilderness and is certainly not a hill to be underestimated.

To view the full album please click on the link below; 

Monday, November 25, 2013

A night walk and a day walk from Borrowdale YHA

Walking with; Rob

I only ever seem to visit Borrowdale in the cold. Last year I had one of my best, if snowiest walks, there and when I arrived this weekend, full of fish and chips from "The Old Keswickian" I could see a dusting of snow across some of the higher tops. I had decided that the time had come to bite the bullet and set out on some night navs on my own, it is hard to finding people who are brave/daft/amenable enough to come out stumbling around the Peaks or the Lakes in the dark, and yet, it is one of the key challenges I will face on my ML assessment, so I gave it a go! I left the hostel and meandered through the Autumnal woodland following the crystal clear waters of the river I'd decided to make my way up to the fells, wait for darkness to fall and then micro-nav my way down from point to point. It seemed a little counter intuitive to be heading out as most people were heading back to the twinkling lights of Borrowdale, but it also seemed adventurous. As darkness fell I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I didn't believe in "ghosties or ghoulies or long legged beasties or things that go bump in the night" and set off using as many different techniques as I could usefully remember.
I'd given myself the fairly unmissable "handrail" of the stream so bumped up and down the slope from point to point, trying to identify ring contours and near invisible re-entrants, seeing the beam of my Petzl reflected in the eyes of the local Herdwicks and, at one stage, seeing another fellow night wanderer somewhere on the slopes of Thorneythwaite Crag! It wasn't the toughest route, but it was a start and as I wandered back along the abandoned lanes to Longthwaite I felt a, probably disproportionate, sense of pride and felt the three pints of "Cumberland" at the hostel bar, better earned than on many previous occasions.
I was joined by Rob the next morning. Once a colleague at Lose Hill YHA, the lucky sod has moved to the Lakes and now lives down in Levens. We set off along the river bank before aiming up and steadily ascending the Honister pass until we reached the slate mines and Honister Hause hostel. Circumventing my "Face of Fatigue" hell , we headed up the steady ascent along the side of the fell which opened up some spectacular views over Buttermere and Crummock Water. It was chilly on the tops and as we made our way up the slopes of Green Gable I found myself walking in snow for the first time this Winter. The cloud dropped lower and lower and by the time we reached the summit we were restricted to a view of little more than one another! We headed down to Windy Gap and then slipped and scree slithered our way down to Styhead Tarn, one of my favourite spots in the whole Lake District. The path from here was a straightforward descent and then a stroll along the valley floor to Seathwaite and eventually back to Borrowdale. It was great to catch up with Rob again and, as a fell runner, he enjoyed the more sedate pace that I explore the fells at. Looking forward to some more snowy days out in the Lakes in the not too distant future!

To view the full album, please click on the link below; 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Easedale Tarn and Helm Crag from Grasmere

Walking with; Al

After the sultry Caribbean heat of Cuba, a chilly Wednesday in November was just the short of re-introduction to the Lake District I needed....(honestly...). Al was finally free of weddings, honeymoons and DIY and we got an early start and arrived in Grasmere before 9am. In fact, we were too early, I spied a previously unnoticed snapped lace and we had to knock on the door of the not yet open "Mountain Warehouse" to obtain a new one, so big thanks to them!
We left Grasmere, heading out into Easedale and following the steady, pleasant ascent alongside Sourmilk Gill until we reached Easedale Tarn. Helm Crag and the valley below were painted with Autumnal rust and we passed few other walkers. Apparently in the 19th Century this was such a popular spot that a refreshment kiosk was established there, much as a warming cup of coffee might have taken the edge of the wind, I think I prefer it in the natural state in which we found it. We followed the steepish path up to Eagle Crag before meandering back and forth across the tops and eventually making our way up to Sergeant Man for magnificent views down to Stickle Tarn and Pavey Ark, the first time I'd seen these two Lakeland icons from this angle. We could see the ever darkening clouds scudding towards us so hotfooted it across to Birks and then onto Brownrigg Moss before making our way along the ridge towards Helm Crag. The cloud stayed pretty high but as we reached Gibson Knott the rain hit and it was increasingly hard to imagine that only ten days before I'd been in the Sierra Maestra gently melting under a tropical sun! Not sure which I preferred more though, there's something life affirming about the smack in the face of gale driven rain :-)
We picked our way down from Helm Crag and followed Easedale back towards the village for a stop in at the Gingerbread shop and a welcome, warming brew. It felt really good to be out in the Lakes again after a brief hiatus and I now feel broken in for a good Winter of walking in the many and varied conditions the Lakes can throw at us!

To view the full album please click on the link below;

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A walk around the Lakes by Hunter Davies

Despite being born in Scotland Hunter Davies is a Lakeland man through and through, he moved to Carlisle at the age of 11 and in addition to this wide ranging view of the Lake District he has also written a biography of the one and only Alfred Wainwright. He has a Summer home near Loweswater and the affection he feels for the area and it's history is clear in this enjoyably written study.
I initially confused the unusually monikered Hunter, with shouty TV comedy army sort, Windsor, (they both have impressive mustaches), and even once I had been alerted to the fact they were not one and the same the vein of humour running through the book is distinctly agreeable. Davies takes an unusual approach interspersing self deprecating tales of his own adventures through all the major Lakes locations; Windermere, Hawkshead, Coniston, Langdale, Grasmere et al with a literary history focusing predominantly on the poetry of Wordsworth, Southey and Coleridge. In addition to these poetic titans further tales are told of Beatrix Potter, John Peel, Thomas de Quincy (a frightful gossip by all accounts), John Ruskin and the redoubtable Canon Rawnsley, all of whom played a significant part in creating what is the modern Lake District.
In spite of his eccentric habits, he decides to walk only in wellington boots or Green Flash plimsols, Davies is an energetic and enthusiastic walker with a nice eye for the absurd and a storyteller's natural flair and rhythm. He gets lost not infrequently, mixes with Earls and commoners alike and has a knack for getting people to talk to him as a conversation rather than an interview.
Written in 1979 it is inevitable that much has changed since this book was first published and it is interesting to relate my experiences of Lakeland walking 25 years on with Davies's, particularly in areas like Ennerdale where the re-wilding project has had such an impact taking over from the heavy forestry so despised by Wainwright. None-the-less for a firm grounding in Lakeland literary history coupled with a profusion of walker's anecdotes this book is well worth digging out.

Walking in Cuba- The Sierra Maestra, Toa River and El Cubano

28.10,1.11 and 4.11.13
Walking with; Ruthy, Jonathan, Jonathan, Ruaridh, Virginie, Caroline, Jane, Janice, Paul, Ann, Trev, Liz, Stuart, Jorge, Philly, Bev 

Before this trip when I thought about Cuba the first things that sprung to mind were Salsa dancing, rum, American cars and cigars, walking wasn't near the top of the list, luckily I am now able to add it after spending two very varied weeks in this curious and fascinating country. We went on three different walks during our time in the Caribbean and whilst none of them were overly challenging they all provided different features of interest and explored different facets of the country and it's natural and actual history.
Walk one set off from a small hamlet just outside the town of Baracoa, Cuba's first capital and the site where Colombus landed in 1492 and is reported to have said, "This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen". The landscape is still incredibly lush and as our guide led us deeper into the jungle the sense of exploration grew. We passed Almond trees, Mahogany, Banana Palms and Cocoa trees, all alive with birdlife from the tiny Hummingbirds to Red Crested Woodpeckers. Pigs grunted and foraged in the leaf litter and a dazzling azure blue snake shot across our path, Egrets sat along the river bank and occasionally a local man dangling a lethal looking machete from his belt would meander past us. It was sweaty, humid work with the temperature in the 30s and little breeze but eventually we reached the broad banks of the River Toa. Heavy rains had put pay to our plans to have a dip but we were rowed across the span of the fast flowing waters and treated to the Cuban equivalent of a fireside pint in a Lakeland pub, a rum and sour orange cocktail served in a hollowed out fruit and sipped under a canopy of palm fronds...Might not hit the spot after six hours in the clag on Great Gable, but did very nicely under the circumstances.
Our second walk was the one that filled me with the most excitement, a hike in the Sierra Maestra mountains that would take us to Fidel Castro's jungle hideout from which he launched the Cuban revolution. Castro and Che Guevara are inescapable presences on the island and it would be impossible to try and understand the current circumstances without exploring the history of the revolution. We left Santa Domingo, a tiny hamlet strung along a clear stream and entered Turquino National Park, named for the highest peak on the island. The road curving up to the start of out trek is the steepest in Cuba and was genuinely terrifying, but our driver coaxed his jeep to the top of the hill and we set off towards the "Comandancia la Plata" site. Turquino soon disappeared into the cloud as our path hugged the edge of the valley dropping and rising on muddy footpaths dotted with butterflies and lizards. We stopped as Casa Medina, the site of the farmhouse of the peasant family who allowed Fidel and his men to hideout on the land, where there were piles of coffee beans drying in the sun, spectacular views down the valley and a garden dedicated to five Cuban agents being held on spying charges in the USA, in Cuba, politics is never more than a heartbeat away! Another half an hour and we were entering the site itself, though not before spotting the Trogon, Cuba's national bird, arrayed in the colours of the flag. The site is very evocative and with an imagination like mine it took little effort to picture the revolutionaries plotting the downfall of Batista and his regime and espousing Marx and Lenin to the peasantry. The walk back was along the same paths and led us back to the starting point with further views of Turquino.
Our final walk was in "Parque El Cubano", a small, popular reserve just outside the beautiful colonial city of Trinidad. Another winding park took us along a river bank passing termite mounds, an enormous colony of wasp nests hanging from a cliff face and with frequent views of Kingfishers to an old peasant settlement now being used as a lodging post for park staff. It was another twenty minutes from there before we reached the spectacular Javira waterfall. The waterfall is spectacular and the plunge pool was a perfect spot for a cooling dip, behind the waterfall was a deep, limestone cave full of bats which added a bit of interest to my splashing around!
These walks were not overly taxing but each provided a different perspective on a country that is often seen as a one dimensional political outsider and where the majority of visitors cosset themselves away in the all inclusive resorts that dot the coast. Walking in Cuba may not have taken off just yet but the potential is undoubtedly there!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Well, I was hoping to get out for a walk today, but I am feeling a bit under the weather, and I am off to Cuba on Thursday and there is plenty of packing to be done. Not sure if there'll be much walking on the island of Castro and Che, think it might be more cultural and historical, but we shall see......

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Snake Path, Hayfield and Win Hill, Hope

10 and 16.10.13
Walking with; Nobody

Well after the highs and lows and mizzle and drizzle of Galloway I decided a couple of gentler routes with some more micro-nav thrown in was just what the Doctor ordered. The Snake Path runs out of Hayfield and was created in 1897 by the newly formed Peak and Northern Footpath Society, it leads away from the village and climbs up to the grouse shooting moorland of Middle Moor where the bright white shooting hut is an easily identifiable landmark. There were great views across to the Kinder Plateau but I decided to head in the opposite direction circumnavigating the low, bulky hillock of The Knott. The Grouse that had survived thus far were out in force and whilst the wind had teeth it was pleasant to be out and about.
I cut up Hollingworth Clough, a pretty path that involved much crossing and recrossing of the stream and a not inconsiderable amount of Bracken bashing. As the Clough opens out numerous tributaries stream down the hillsides and I picked one and followed it up onto The Knott where the wind buffeted me about as I admired Kinder once more and the views down to Hayfield and beyond. I followed the line of newly spruced up, and obviously recently used, Grouse buttes back down to the shooting hut before retracing my steps down into Hayfield. It was not by any stretch of the imagination a great adventure, but my day was infinitely better for having stirred my bones and headed out onto the moors. It also raised the thorny question of how I feel about Grouse shooting. I am a dedicated carnivore, I happily eat game and have tried all manner of exotic varieties over the years and yet I still feel somewhat uncomfortable about the whole process. I acknowledge that our moorland often looks the way it does because of the shoots and that they provide employment for local people and have close associations with tradition, and still doesn't sit quite right with me.
A week later and I was climbing slowly out of Hope, into the fog and onto Win Hill which remains one of my all time favourite peaks in the Peaks! The weather was pretty grim and the valley floor disappeared beneath me as I watched a Kestrel soaring on the currents, no need to hover today. I followed the ridgeline from Win Hill along the route of the old Roman Road to the Hope Cross, and then onwards to Blackley Clough. Another spot of bracken bashing took me out onto yet another Grouse moor, buttes, feeding stations and what I took to be numbered "beating" stations littered the top of Crookstone Out Moor. I'd planned to carry on up to Madwoman's Stones but by now the cloud had dropped even lower, the wind was blowing and the rain teeming down. Defeated, I trudged back towards Hope eventually dropping out of the cloud as I descended. A welcome cup of coffee at The Old Hall Hotel revived my flagging spirits but it definitely felt very Autumnal!

To view the full album please click on the link below; 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Walking and wild camping in Galloway

Walking with; Nathan

When I find myself writing that my previous walking experience in Scotland was limited to a family holiday 25 years ago and a straight up and down "Three Peaks" experience on Ben Nevis I feel slightly ashamed and a bit of a fraud. It's like those Aussies who claim to have "done" England when they spent nine months living in a bed sit in Earl's Court or claiming to have visited Thailand when you had a three hour layover at Bangkok airport. So, there was a situation to be rectified and this was the occasion to rectify it and sneak in a couple of nights out in the hills as well.
Galloway seemed accessible for a short layover (although it was still a five hour drive from Manchester) and I met Nathan in Glen Trool. I'd killed a bit of time at the Visitor's Centre learning about the status of Galloway Forest as a "Dark Sky" park....sadly over the three days we were out we barely saw a glimpse of sky, let alone any of the spectacular starry skies the area is noted for. We set off along the Southern Upland Way, a long distance footpath that runs from coast to coast across Scotland. The Way here is basically a forestry road so it was easy underfoot but hardly the most scenic part of what is reported to be a spectacular path. We climbed out of the valley and skirted around the shores of Loch Dee, looking atmospheric with the low cloud shrouding the shores. At one stage we startled a deer which bounded across the path in front of us before disappearing at high speed into the depths of the forest. As the light began to fade we found ourselves looking for a site to pitch our tents but were continually thwarted by the saturated ground and Tussock Grass, it grew darker still and we eventually decided we'd no option other than to seek a spot in amongst the dense ranks of Pine Trees. Headtorches on we struck out into the serried ranks eventually finding a flattish hillock just wide enough for two tents. The accumulated matting of many years of pine needles made for a surprisingly comfy bed and not until I was awakened by the distant rumble of quarry vehicles, (which in my sleepy state I was convinced was a tree strimmer heading straight for our camp), was my sleep disturbed! 
We climbed out of the forest and onto the tussocky slopes of Darrou, somewhere on those slopes I lost my main waterbottle (though thankfully I had a spare), I suspect it may be some time before anyone retrieves it, there was little sign the area sees much traffic. After much huffing and puffing we made the ridge line and continued forth in cloud and high winds over the peaks of Little Millyea, Meikle Millyea, Milldown, Millfire and eventually onto Corserine, the highest peak of the Rhinns of Kells. In spite of the fierce winds and inhospitable terrain we saw a Ring Ouzel and a Peregrine but no sign of other human life. Our map showed a forested descent, but once we hit the lower ridge for some superb views below the clouds it became clear to us that the slopes had recently been cleared, indeed it was here we saw our only other human over the three days driving a bulldozer on the recently denuded slopes. It was tough underfoot but we made the valley floor and after watching another deer made the long, slow ascent to the Nick of the Dungeon. I'd heard many words of praise for Loch Enoch (Icy loch) as a wild camping spot with it's white granite sand beaches and surrounding heights, but the clouds were dropping, the ground was saturated and it was needs must. We crawled into our tents, cooked up some tea and hunkered down for a wild night of wind and rain. It was the first time my Wild Country Hoolie tent had been tested, after the sad demise of the Vango Banshee, and it stood up admirably. It also has the advantage of being exceptionally spacious for a backpacking tent and I was glad of the extra room as I tried to air/dry off kit ahead of our last push up the Merrick the next morning.
Tuesday dawned grey, but as we picked our way round the loch shore we saw a single glimpse of sunshine and blue sky and a taste of how spectacular Loch Enoch might look under Summer skies. However, by the time we started to ascend Redstone Rig, it was back to cloud, mizzle and grey as the loch disappeared beneath us. Merrick, like Corserine, has a large grassy plateau as a summit and it was blowing a gale up there so we descended quickly down the tourist path over Benyellery and back down into the valley.
So, do I have the taste for Scottish adventure now? You bet. It was rough underfoot, wet and cloudy, but it felt remote and wild and I have never gone 48 hours in the Lakes or Snowdonia without bumping into another walker. My appetite has definitely been well and truly whetted!

To view the full photo album please click on the link below; 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dog Bite

So there I was meandering around Lyme Park working on my navigation and map work and trying to better understand contours and re-entrants and the like. I was approaching "The Cage" when a little yappy Terrier type dog came hurtling towards me and circled me twice before biting me on the calf. I have to confess I am not a fan of dogs at the best of times but this has done little to improve my perception of them or the owners who allow them to run loose without any control. The owner of this miscreant mumbled an apology and mentioned something about "the wind gets her excited....." but it's not really on, is it?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Night Nav, three Dodds and Britain's lowest Marilyn!


Walking with; Nathan

One of the most intimidating aspects of the ML training is the night navigation, it is also one that in order to practice effectively it's good to have more than one of you. However I have found it tricky to find volunteers to clamber up onto a hillside in the dark and spent four hours bashing through wet bracken in the pursuit of ever smaller and more obscure features. Luckily Nathan is also a ML trainee and one who conveniently lives at the foot of High Rigg, a low, but suitably bumpy fell just outside Keswick. After an hour or two padding a canoe around Derwentwater with excellent views of Catbells and a stop on Herbert's Island named for a 7th Century Christian hermit, we donned headtorches and headed out onto the hill. Night nav requires a set of different skills with bearings, timing and pacing being the key and we spent four productive hours refining our techniques with varying degrees of success!
  The next morning with Nathan heading off to work I made my way over to St John's in the Vale and set off along the traverse of Wanthwaite Bank that led me under Threkeld Knotts and out onto the moorland below Clough Head. Apart from a farmer and sheepdog on a Quadbike, it was pretty quiet and I made my way to Calfhow Pike for beautiful views over Thirlmere and stretching across the Western Fells. High Rigg sat below me in the sunshine, looking a very different proposition in daylight! I climbed up to Great Dodd and then continued along the ridge to Watson's Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd with the sky blue above me and the sun on my face. The descent of Sticks Pass is a tough one on the knees but eventually aching and creaking I hit the valley floor and picked up the track that runs through the woodlands that skirt High Rigg before eventually I arrived at the church of St John's itself before making my way back to my car at Hill Top Farm.
  I spent the night at the YHA at Arnside, a magnificent old, rambling building that the YHA has sadly put up for sale. There was a beer festival at The Albion Inn in town and beautiful views across the deadly sands of the Estuary which were peppered with Herons, Curlews, Gulls and other waders. The next day a gentle dander along the promenade towards the woods of Arnside Knott provided more ornithological diversions and the woods themselves served up a couple of Nuthatches and some magnificent fungi. I eventually made it to the top of the Knott for fantastic vistas of the Lakeland peaks and the estuary, truly, truly stunning views! A small sign at the foot of the climb informed that the Knott is Britain's smallest Marilyn at 159m, a tick for a rather obscure box but an enjoyable way to complete a couple of days of varying walking!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Walking in the San Diego area


Walking with; Allen, Jess and Ruthy

Some of my favourite walking memories have come on trips to the Western United States, the challenge of the chains on Half Dome, the stunning vistas from Angel's Landing in Zion National park, the eerie solitude of the desert in Joshua Tree and the otherworldliness of wandering amongst the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. This trip however was going to be based in San Diego where Ruth was attending a conference and whilst I had high hopes for some excellent eating and drinking and a little in the way of museum visiting I didn't hold out much hope for any real walking....luckily I was wrong. Whilst the walks I managed May not have been epic in scale they were certainly memorable for very different reasons.
I had headed down the long sand spit linking Coronado with Imperial Beach (the most South Westerly town in the USA) and was making my way towards the beach when a sign pointed me towards the lengthily named Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. It didn't seem the most promising environment for a walk, naval helicopters were hovering overhead keeping an eye out for any illicit border crossings and in the distance Tijuana itself sprawled untidily up the hillside above it's enormous bullring, but starved of leg miles over the last few weeks I decided to give it a go. The track led me along the edge of the reserve,which contains part of the 10% of remaining coastal wetland in Southern California, directly towards the Mexican border, I could almost smell the tacos! Helicopters continued to buzz overhead as I headed towards the estuary mouth, a Red Shouldered Hawk was using a low tree as a vantage point and I watched him circle over the marshes looking for his prey. The sandy path kicked down towards the beach and came to an end overlooking a series of shallow pools, there was not a soul to be seen and I drank in the incongruous feeling of solitude a couple of miles from the busiest border crossing in the world. The pools were busy with birds, the imposing Brown Pelicans huddled on the mudflats and around the margins of the water Long Billed Curlews, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Dowitchers were busy searching for food. I meandered back, the dust coating my shoes and legs, picking my way past Cacti and the distinctive Pickleplant and watching Lizards dart out of my path. On the pier at Imperial Beach I watched the fishermen and saw more Pelicans, Double crested Cormorants and Caspian Terns. It goes to show that whilst many of us walk in order to explore high peaks and crags, it's worth looking in the most unpromising surroundings sometimes as it is surprising what you might find!
  The next day I was joined by Ruthy and our friends Al and Jess who had come down from LA. We headed up the coast a little to the Torrey Pines Reserve, home of one of the world's rarest pine trees. The reserve is crisscrossed with tracks high above the sandstone gullies and with magnificent views down the coast and out to see where, in season, Grey Whales can be seen on migration. We started out on the Guy Fleming trail named for one of the pioneers of Torrey Pine preservation. It's a gentle loop around sandstone outcrops with fine views over the ocean and a chance to examine the pines themselves at close quarters, whilst Bobcat have been seen on the loop we were restricted to Hummingbirds and the briefest glimpse of a Peregrine flashing along the cliff face. We then took the Razor Point trail leading down the side of a gully to another whale watching lookout flanked by bizarre rock formations reminiscent of the previously mentioned Bryce Canyon hoodoos. By now the sun was high and we sweated our way back to the safety of the car and air conditioning and headed back to San Diego to sample a few of the excellent microbrewery beers the city specialises in.
So, I didn't climb any mountains, discover the source of the Amazon or come across a Grizzly Bear in a pristine wilderness, but I did discover that even in the most unpromising urban environments there are pockets of wild land itching to be explored and which often provide the most unexpected of rewards!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Walking home by Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage is a poet born in the village of Marsden on the Pennine Way, reckoned to be one of the tougher long distance paths in Great Britain. For the purposes of this book Armitage decided to walk the way and perform poetry each evening to see if he could be financially self sufficient (hence the sub-title Travels with a Troubador). This book simply tells the story of his walk and the recitals that were integral to it.
   Armitage is not a natural walker and I suspect that many more experienced in the gentle art of plodding may find some of his descriptions a little overwrought or dramatic, none-the-less there can be few walkers who haven't felt the familiar tendrils of dread enveloping us once the cloud descends on a rain soaked moor! As both a performer and narrator he is self effacing and the gentle vein of humour that runs through the book takes the edge of what can be, occasionally, the necessarily repetitious nature of a fortnight or so walking and then reading poems. In style it reminded me a little of Bill Bryson although I think the latter has a sharper observational eye for the absurd.
   Our narrator does not walk alone. He actively encourages a safety blanket of knowing locals, Pennine Way Rangers and any of the odds and sods attending his readings that he can persuade (after a pint or two)  that a day on the Way was better than their previously planned alternative. The characters travel writers meet in books always seem to have decidedly more eccentricities than those I come cross but they add colour to the pages and the affection Armitage feels for them is clear in his prose and the reported snippets of conversation.
   Walking home is not a literary masterpiece, it won't be edging it's way onto the shelves populated by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Robert MacFarlane or Norman Lewis, but it is a good paperback read. I can see myself sitting by a log burner in a hostel with my socks gently steaming dry and turning over a page or two as I pass an undemanding evening. The book made me feel as if I wanted to get back out there and, even more meaningfully, get back out there on a long distance path......The twist at the end of the story disappointed and perplexed me but it didn't detract from the fact that the time i had spent getting their had been very agreeable indeed.