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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane

"Much has been written of travel, far less of the road"
Edward Thomas-The Icknield Way 1913

I have recently finished reading The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane. It is quite simply, a stunning book and one that should be on the bookshelf of every walker and outdoor enthusiast. In the book the author sets out to explore, "the ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters." In addition to his exploration of the ancient landscapes of Britain he strays further afield looking at how pathways in Palestine are linked to a sense of a whole people's historical identity. He visits the mountains of Spain and the Himalayas, all the time linking the pathways on which he treads to their history and the history of the landscape around them and the people who have used it and called it home.
MacFarlane writes economically and beautifully, he brings vividly to live the sheer "joie de vivre" that simply putting one foot in front of another can awaken in us. He sleeps rough in wild landscapes, wakes (literally) with the larks and furnishes an obsession with great wanderers of the past including, most notably, the soldier poet, Edward Thomas. He tackles the Icknield Way, a route which claims to be Britain's oldest roadway and existed long before the Romans came to Britain, he risks the "Broomway", a perilous and deadly path fringed by quicksand and susceptible to the racing tides of the Essex coast and he tramps the Cairngorms en route to the funeral of his Grandfather, a man of mountainous country.
 In addition to the delightful company of MacFarlane himself, the reader is introduced to a cast of "wanderers, wayfarers, pilgrims, guides, shamans, poets, trespassers and devouts". As well as Thomas who used walking to try and counteract the fierce depressions that blighted his life, we are introduced to the sinister, dour Guga men (gannet hunters) of Ness, to Steve Dilworth a reclusive Shaman and artist of the Outer Hebrides and to Raja Shehadeh who has been walking the paths of Ramallah in Palestine over forty years of war and peace.
The book finishes with the author on the coast near Formby, a few miles from Liverpool. He is crossing the Formby silts where footprints of humans and animals made over 5000 years ago have been preserved in the mud and are periodically uncovered by the tides and the elements. The final chapter neatly ties all the threads of this fascinating book together as MacFarlane literally walks step for step with a man who died 3000 years before the birth of Christ. These landscapes we choose to walk in and explore our not ours, they are part of a vast unending history of journeys. Journeys taken for pleasure, out of necessity, in hope, in desperation, alone, with others, with a defined end and everlasting. We would do well to remember that and feel humbled by it.

All quotes are taken from the book itself.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Peak Forest canal and navigation lessons near Strines

Walking with (and being taught by); Neil

Two very varied days, one a very gentle meander from Disley to Furness Vale along the Peak Forest canal followed by a fascinating and informative day of navigation training with Neil from Peak Mountaineering on the moors above Strines.
I left the attractive centre of Disley and was soon picking my way through the thick undergrowth swamping an obviously little used right of way leading to the Golf course. I was surprised to find Heather coming into bloom and Bilberries fruiting already and grabbed a quick snack before making my way across the manicured fairways and then via another very overgrown path skirting Stanley Hall woods to the canal. There were Jays on patrol and Jackdaws in the fields and the sun even started to put in the odd appearance.
The canal was fully opened in 1800 and was mainly used to transport lime from the Bugsworth Basin, nowadays it is the domain of narrow boats and families of ducks with adorable fluffy ducklings in tow! I passed fishing herons, narrowboaters drinking cups of tea and touching up their paintwork, fishermen and at New Mills, the Swizzels sweet factory. This is not a walk of wilderness and solitude but it is pleasant and undemanding and the kind of walk where just putting one foot in front of the other with no real agenda seems to be a commendable end in itself. Tempted as I was by the Furness Vale chippy I stayed strong and climbed out onto the ridge above the valley and followed the path through hay meadows with views to New Mills before a gentle descent took me back into the desirable fringes of Disley village. This was a walk containing no challenges, little navigation and no discernible elements of danger or excitement and it was all the better for it!
Thursday was a very different experience. In order to improve my chances of eventually passing my Mountain Leader training I was aware I needed to further develop my navigation skills and pick up hints and tips from those already amongst the hallowed ranks, Neil from Peak Mountaineering is such a hilltop God! We spent a fascinating and enlightening day on the hills above Ladybower taking in the delights of Strines Moor, Derwent Edge, Dovestone Tor, the Gusset, Back Tor and Broggig Moss. I searched for boulders hidden amidst the heather, located Springs, identified re-entrants, startled Grouse and Curlews and finally, perhaps, began to understand how contours on the land are accurately depicted on a map. I learned about slope aspect, resections, collecting features and relocating myself when we got (deliberately) lost. The difference between reading a book and then trying out exercises and having a real, live expert to consult and learn from is inestimable and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the experience was of real benefit and my confidence has grown. Now I just have to get back out on the hill and put it in to practice without having somebody to hold my hand!! No photos from Day 2, too busy concentrating!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Social media

Hi folks, just a quick reminder about Come walk with me's other social media presences......We have a page on Facebook which can be found by searching under Come walk with me uk and showcases all our full albums of photos. We also have a twitter feed on @cwwmuk ! Be great to get some joins and follows !
Traveling blog

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Snowdon wild camping trip

Walking with; Nathan and Tim

What better to way to break another illness enforced lay off than a three day/two night wild camping expedition in the heart of Snowdonia. The scorching forecast proved to be accurate and there was plenty of blood, sweat and tears, but, more importantly, some stunning views, fewer than expected people for the majority of the walk, a couple of lovely campsites,some very necessary swimming and the odd bit of gorgeous wildlife.
Nathan and Tim were heading down from the Lakes and I was coming up from Manchester to rendezvous in Rhyd Ddu, the inevitable traffic delays meant we didn't get going til noon, but you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen.......It's been a long time since I did a full pack walk and setting off up the steep, slippery slopes of Y Garn with temperatures in the high 20s reminded me that it can be substantially more challenging than a short dander with a lightly loaded daypack. The views back towards the Snowdon range were outstanding, there was not a cloud in the sky and by the time we hit the top for lunch we were already feeling it in our legs. The coastal views and the flapjacks provided by Tim's Mum revived us though and soon we were scrambling up the Nantlle Ridge and watching the landscape open up below us. Ravens soared on the thermals, Swifts and Swallows displayed their aerobatic skills and in the distance Moel Hebog sat imperious waiting for us on Day 2. I'd walked the ridge once before ( in very different conditions and had sat next to the Obelisk on Tal-Y-Mignedd with my hands freezing to my cup of soup, this time we were battling to squeeze into the shade cask by this enigmatic landmark. It was seriously hot and so after watching the Rescue chopper hovering above Drws-Y-Coed we decided to descend into Cwm Pennant where we'd identified a tempting looking reservoir (no longer used) in the shadow of Moel Lefn. We descended the steep slope, through the remains of an abandoned mining village and found a superb pitch on the marshy flats below the mine buildings and above the reservoir. A waterfall tumbled down the rocks behind us, we swam in the "bracing" waters of the pool, watched a couple of climbers on Bwlch Sais, got examined by a very inquisitive Buzzard and cooked up a storm on our gas stoves, "What bliss it was to be alive......."
We'd decided on an early start to try an get some mileage and height under our belts before the worst of the sun and after breaking camp we followed the climber's path up onto the scrubby lower slopes of Moel Lefn. It was rough walking for a while, rocky underfoot and we plodded up the steep, heathery ground acquiring a collection of nicks and scratches for good measure. We followed the edge of the Beddgelert forest around Moel Lefn, trying to hug the shady margins and enjoying the occasional patches of cool air found in the mouths of the multiple caves and mine entrances that dotted the hillside. After another hour or so we struck up the slopes onto the breezy ridge and followed into up onto the summit of Moel Yr Ogof where a fruitless search for the cave of Owain Glyndwr, last of the great Welsh warrior princes, detained did the views, the cool breeze and the thought of the slog up Hebog still to come! We stopped at a beautiful pool between the two mountains, Cotton grass dotted the valley and we watched Newts swimming in the peaty waters of the pool, but Hebog awaited us still. I'd been up it only a few weeks before from the other side ( but, even so, the views from the top were still breathtaking and worth every ounce of effort it took us to get to the top. After a day and a half of near solitude our descent into Beddgelert was littered with sweating, red faced walkers struggling their way to the top! Eventually we reached the village where we took advantage of refrigerated drinks and killed another superheated hour swimming in the River Glaslyn. Our plan for the night was to camp in the lumpy, bumpy area above the village and after the odd navigational blip and some interesting industrial heritage rusting in the wilds we eventually located the small lake we'd planned to camp at. Unfortunately the swathes of Cotton grass and Spagnum Moss told us that the whole valley bowl was saturated. Exhausted, heather scratched and sweaty this was not good news.....Nathan scrambled up a steep slope however and found a gem of a site on a saddle with some protection from the wind (what little there was) and stunning views in all directions! Eventually the nesting Ravens on a neighbouring crag took the hint and stopped "Cronking" and after eating a Chicken curry with views all the way to the coast and a couple of hands of cards we retreated from the midges into our tents.
Day 3 dawned and although we were on the move by shortly after 8am, it was already seriously warm! The path marked on the map didn't seem to be marked on the ground so we tramped, slithered and slid through marsh, bracken and heather before emerging on the tiny lane that led us towards Nantgwynan and the foot of The Watkin Path up Snowdon. Road walking is rarely my favourite activity but as we passed the odd farmhouse and a few fields of cows and sheep it was nice to get some easy miles underfoot. Eventually we hit civilisation once more and after wandering up the first section of The Watkin Path past the National Trust work on their new Hydro-Electric programme we angled off towards the pass back towards Rhyd Ddu. It was our final ascent and the cloud (for the first time in three days) did us the favour of gently drifting across the sun. We reached the pass and began the gentle descent through substantial slate workings back down to Rhyd Ddu where a  much needed ice cream from the tiny tea room provided a fitting end to a thoroughly excellent trip!
It was a truly exhilarating three days of proper adventure and shows just how wonderful and wild Snowdonia can be as soon as you take even one or two steps off the most beaten tracks.....It was also the first outing from my new Wild Country Hoolie tent and I am pleased to report initial impressions are very positive. It's spacious and easy to put together although it didn't really have to deal with any challenging conditions, still, so far so good!

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