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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Skills in the sunshine above Elterwater

Walking with; Nathan

Ever since I completed my initial Mountain Leader training I have been living in fear! It is one of the most ambitious and intimidating things I have undertaken in my adult life and involved a number of aspects that would lift me well clear of my hill walking comfort zone. However, my jaw is set and my mind is made up and I am determined that this is something I want to do, with that in mind, a few weeks ago I put a post on a walking forum to find people in the same situation as me with whom I might be able to practice a wider range of skills than the standard day on the hill stuff.
So it was that I found myself waiting in the free carpark just outside Elterwater for Nathan, a fellow ML trainee employed for the Summer season at Whinlatter Go Ape, and with a good working knowledge of the knobbly bits of the Lakeland that might prove ideal for some ropework and micro-navigation. We climbed out of the valley bashing our way through the bracken and exchanging tips on the local flora or fauna before finding a suitable crag to practice some rope work. In spite of my recent Indoor climbing course this was the first time since my training I'd used a rope "in situ" as it were and it took a bit of getting used to! An hour or so later and I was feeling much more confident and we coiled the rope away and, enjoying the magnificent views down to Baysbrown campsite and the Langdales continued on our way upwards. After a bit of lunch by a small, cotton grass covered tarn we moved onto some micro-navigation on the numerous lumps and bumps of Silver Howe. It was the kind of terrain and practice that's hard to replicate during a normal hill day and really useful for all that, it gave me some helpful pointers for areas that I still need to work on! We were also treated to some spectacular views out over Grasmere, Rydal Water and Loughrigg, made a welcome change after a couple of hours of nose to compass and nose to map!
We finished with another batch of rope work, hopefully ingraining some of the skills we'd been working on earlier, before descending down through yet more bracken to Elterwater. It was a very different kind of day, but immensely useful and I shall definitely be incorporating plenty more of these into the mix before I take the final, dreaded exam!

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Monday, June 24, 2013

A Snowdonian overnighter

Walking with; Nobody

In my recent desire to get to know the Lake District better I have somewhat neglected Snowdonia but after a cracking two days in North Wales I am anxious to rectify this once more. The hostels in Snowdon were busy but I eventually found a bed at the Pen-Y-Pass YHA  and so planned a couple of days around my base.
I arrived in Beddgelert in blazing sunshine (a sentence not often written I suspect) and after a brief refreshment stop headed out along the pretty banks of the River Glaslyn to Gelert's grave. Gelert, a hunting hound, was the pet of Prince Llewelyn, one day the Prince went hunting without Gelert and on his return found his son's crib overturned and the room in disarray, there was blood on Gelert's muzzle and the Prince, jumping to conclusions slew him. As he did this a baby cried and the Prince found his son alive under the crib and a huge Wolf, killed by the faithful hound, lay dead next to him. The Prince was heartbroken and supposedly never smiled again! Leaving the grave I followed "The Fisherman's Path" which became ever rockier as the river became wilder, before emerging on the Aberglaslyn bridge. The path then zigzagged up through woodland before emerging onto boggy moorland near the ruins of the farm at Oerddwr-uchaf. Even in the sunshine the ruins had a slightly "The Hills have eyes" feel to them and I was glad to be past them and tramping through the Cotton grass towards my first target for the day Moel Ddu. I watched a Red Kite playing on the thermals, soaring gracefully up and up before dropping down again, and then repeating the process, and as I started up the painfully steep lower slopes of Moel Ddu my grunts of exertion were accompanied by the familiar "cronk" of a number of the local Ravens.It was a short, very steep slog, but the summit views were possibly some of the finest in Wales. As I sat sandwich in hand, whichever direction I looked it was magnificent. The Moel range loomed large, Snowdon herself sat proud and cloudless in the distance, the Llyn Peninsula stretched out into the sea and Porthmadog sat perched on the estuary offering the promise of fish and chips and ice cream....I'd have killed for an ice cream at this stage. Apart from the occasional "cronk" and the whistle of the steam train from down in the valley, it was blissfully peaceful and still.
Ahead of me I could see Moel Hebog and Banog, two more sharp climbs still lay ahead so, refuelled, I moved on. The climb up Banog was another where frequent "view" stops broke up the gradient and from there it was a last slog up the scree onto the summit of Moel Hebog where I met a squirrel hanging around the cairn on the scrounge and saw the only other walkers I met all day, seven hours close to one of Snowdonia's tourist honeypots and barely a soul to be seen. The path zig zagged back down to the valley where I saw a couple of Wheatears before coming to rest in the Tanronnen Inn for a restorative pint and a perusal of the photos of local history adorning the walls.
Snowdon is not just a mountain, it is a tourist attraction, a destination in it's own right, and my second ascent of it was a very different experience from the day before. I'd been up it once before, in a hurry, in the cloud at the end of a Three Peaks challenge, so this time I wanted to take my time and enjoy it. I left the friendly staff at the hostel behind and they agreed I could save myself a tenner by leaving my car in their layby rather than in the exorbitantly priced car park across the road. I'd previously followed the Miner's Track so this time I set off up the Pyg, a far more scenic path that climbs up to the foot of Crib Goch. It was still sunny at this stage but the forecast was poor so I'd decided to skip the ridge and concentrate on getting to the top in one piece. The paths were all busy but by varying my pace I managed to not get caught up in any traffic jams and the views remained pretty impressive until about ten minutes from the top when the cloud dropped a little further and things became a bit hazy. None-the-less I did have views from the summit, even if they had to be shared with a train load of 50 odd European tourists who timed their arrival to perfectly coincide with mine! Snowdon is not a mountain for peace and solitude! I dropped back down the Miner's enjoying the relatively flat return and almost making it back to Pen-Y-Pass before the rain started!
On the return leg I came across a number of groups of people who were very clearly (to my mind) under prepared and/or inappropriately equipped. I am the first to accept that I sometimes overdo it, but a full pack gives me a feeling of security and a better workout, and if the worst comes to the worst I am confident in my ability to deal with most things a mountain can throw at me. I am sure all regular walkers have come across this on occasions, once on the Half Dome Trail in Yosemite I came across a (for want of a better description) "stoner dude" in cut off denims and no shirt who had attempted the 15 odd mile round trek with a 350ml bottle of water and by the time we found him was suffering from heat extreme example but it raises the question, what responsibility do we, as experienced and able hill walkers, have to people we see heading out into potentially perilous situations? My natural reserve makes me inclined to say little, but last month after I'd descended in full waterproof kit from Wetherlam due to the ferocity of the conditions on the top I felt compelled to say to three teenage Americans who were about to try and ascend the Old Man of Coniston in shorts and t-shirt that I didn't think it would be sensible for them to continue.....they ignored me, but at least I felt I done the right thing.....What do other people think?

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Snowdonian suggestions

I am heading off to Snowdonia this week (staying at Pen-Y-Pass) and was looking for any suggestions for a couple of good, day walks in the area......anything considered as it isn't an area I know well. I've have done Snowdon via the Miner's previously.......Thanks in advance!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Prestbury to Hare Hill via Mottram

Walking with; Nobody

The agricultural fields of Cheshire have not always been happy walking grounds over the years or but they are convenient and require little in the way of preparation a day in the hills needs. So it was I found myself parking in amongst the palatial mansions and expensive cars of the residents of Prestbury and setting off along the River Bollin. On past escapades I had found blocked rights of way, paths that didn't follow mapped routes and routes destroyed by the heavy hooves of the Cheshire dairy herds. The initial path did appear to have been rerouted around Lower Gadhole Farm, but from that point on it was easy, and very pleasant, going. One of the benefits of the late Summer has been the fantastic wildflowers lasting well into June. After the stunning Bluebells in the Duddon Valley at the weekend I was treated to copious meadows of Buttercups, Pink Campion and Cow Parsley in the hedgerows and the Hawthorns turning from white to a faint pink blush. There were Greenfinches in the hedges, Lapwings in the fields and rabbits aplenty bounding around, it was a very convincing argument for a genuine rural idyll.
I pressed on, swallowing envy at the mansions and rolling grounds and eventually made my way into the village of Mottram St Andrew. The village has attracted a number of high profile sportsman over the years and Wayne Rooney and Freddie Flintoff have lived in the area, judging from the size of the houses this isn't surprising! The path climbed up to Danielhill wood and from there, the permissive path led me along to the National Trust gardens at Hare Hill. Hare Hill is famous for the stunning collection of rhododendrons it holds, but the whole area surrounding the walled gardens is beautiful and well worth an hour of gentle exploration. Leaving the gardens behind I headed back to Prestbury past Harebarrow Farm and through the Big Wood which sounded like something out of A.A.Milne's world.....The path skirted the immaculate golf course before I passed some even more opulent mansions and arrived back in Prestbury.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hardknott (to enjoy the day) in the Lake District sunshine!

Walking with; Nobody

The Lake District in sunshine is one of those rare, almost mythical events, like finding a teetotal prop forward or a South African vegetarian.......However days like yesterday are the ones that remind you that the English Lakes are on par with anywhere in the world. I'd initially planned for my visit to coincide with the Boot Beer Festival, but that particular event, coupled with a week of decent weather, had Eskdale pretty full, so I fell back on an old favourite, Turner Hall Farm. My last visit there was in the days where drinking The Newfield Inn, a solid, traditional Lakeland boozer, out of tequila seemed the natural end to a day in the hills. Life is a little more sedate nowadays but after a refreshing dip in the river The Newfield is still a very decent place to spend a couple of restorative hours!
I left the campsite early, keen to avoid the worst of the heat, and meandered towards Dunnerdale Forest taking in the quite stunning bluebells. It was pleasingly cool in the Beech woodland and I was hoping for shade all the way to the foot of Harter Fell. It wasn't to be......the upper reaches of the forested area on the map were decimated, the ugly scars of recent logging work denuding the slopes of shade. I've seen a lot written in the blogosphere about the detrimental effect on the landscape of wind farms, but, too my mind, forestry on this brutal, industrial level is an even greater and more pervasive problem. The climb up to Maiden Castle was steep and sweaty, but the views from the top of Harter Fell were well worth it. To the North the Roman fort at Hardknott and the Scafell massif, to the East to Seathwaite Tarn and the Old Man of Coniston, to the South, the forest from whence I came and to the West, away to the coast and the brooding hulk of Sellafield. I picked my way down the rocky path, the odd Swallow dipping and swerving through the air above me and then wandered along the vally before a short, very sharp hike took me up to the fort for lunch. Sandwich in hand, gently melting, I let my imagination run riot and drifted gently back into the days of Hadrian and his cohorts.
Thirst stung me into action. I followed the trail towards "The Woolpack" I saw a pair of Yellowhammers and was harassed  by a Buzzard who I suspect must have had a nest nearby, but I eventually reached my goal where a beer festival was very evidently in place and where I bumped into a former colleague from Castleton YHA now ensconced in the Eskdale hostel. A pint or two in the sun could easily have turned into more but I took my leave and headed out via Low Birker (looked to be newly renovated but unoccupied) up to Tarn Crags. I'd planned to head East after Green Crag, but somehow overshot it (possibly related to the last pint of Mucky Duck?) and ended up on a very hot, marshy plod via the wonderfully named Great Worm Crag and Wormshell How before regaining the shade of the woodland! I ended up following the contoured path above the valley before rounding Wallowbarrow Crag and dropping down into the valley for more bluebells, more swallows and the very good Pork Belly and a pint of Catnap combo provided by The Newfield Inn!
A long, tiring but very rewarding day out, and apologies for the terrible pun in the title, couldn't resist! 

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

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


For those of you who tweet, I will now be setting up a specific Come walk with me UK twitter feed on @CWWMUK, that way you can continue to follow the news about walks and the outdoor without having to tolerate my political discourses, musings on rugby or celebrations of my wife's cooking! Hope to see you there :-)

Skiddaw via Ullock Pike

Walking with; Nobody

Another one of England's big boys under my belt, but Skiddaw is doing it's level best not to enthuse me. A couple of years ago I tried the ascent from Dodd, the cloud came down, my confidence evaporated and I gave up  making a vertiginous descent down a gully off Longside Edge. A friend suggested the ascent via Ullock Pike and the ridge would make for a quieter and more pleasant route than the tourist track from Latrigg, and so it proved as I only met two other walkers on this route up to Carl Side Tarn. The wind was already blowing but the views back to Bassenthwaite were gorgeous, Skiddaw sat like a big, ugly lump of rock, but a big ugly lump of rock with a visible summit, this wasn't to last long........By the time I'd reached Ullock Pike and hunkered down on the Western side to escape the savage wind, the cloud had dropped and the path ahead lead into nothing more than thick murk, Skiddaw 2 Howellsey 0? Thankfully not, my confidence and navigation skills are much improved and the path from Carl Side is not an easy one to stray from so after much slatey slogging I reached the summit where a helpful plaque informed me of all the wonderful views I could have had from this point on another day!
After taking advantage of a stone shelter to grab a quick sandwich, I started to head down the Latrigg Trail before heading off to Skiddaw Little Man with it's quirky cairn containing what looked like the remains of a plough. Visibility was very poor, so I skirted across the scree slopes re-emerging on the path up from Carl Side. As I dropped below the cloud line, the views to Derwent Water opened up and I picked my way down the knee crunching path to the foot of Dodd which I'd decided to end the afternoon's events on. It's a fifteen minute stroll up the forestry track but the views of both Bassenthwaite and Derwent Water are remarkable for such little effort and well worth the comparative ugliness of the forestry scarred slopes. I rested on the top before making one of those fundamental mistakes that I really thought I'd managed to stop making, instead of checking the map or following my prescribed route I saw a couple of people who "looked as if they knew what they were doing" and followed them, doh! Half an hour later, scratched and bloodied and now lacking any sign of my map, I emerged from a conifer plantation so dense only my uncanny ability as a limbo dancer got me through in one piece. My sole consolation was that as I did emerge, an Osprey circled above me probably thinking "How the hell did he get down that way?" The rest of the walk was in sunshine and followed gentler paths back towards High Side and the vivid, yellow Gorse.
I spent the night at Cockermouth staying in the beautiful, traditional style YHA set in an old watermill and I would heartily recommend it as an accommodation. Whilst there I met three lovely Scottish ladies doing a fundraising walk for The Bhopal medical appeal and I promised I would give them a plug! The town itself has a couple of decent pubs in the 1761 and Bitter End and is a pleasant place to recuperate after a further falling out with England's fourth highest peak!

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