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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!