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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A snowy Snowdonia walk

Walking with; Alex

My last day out in Snowdonia had come to a relatively swift end when my route along the Foel Gron ridge was interrupted by a lightning flash that seemed to be right on top of me. The weather for this walk in the shadows of the Carneddau was equally unforgiving, if a little less terrifying.
I had arranged to meet Alex via a Facebook forum for ML trainees and as I drove down increasingly narrow gated lanes to our meeting point I had to admit he'd picked a cracking spot for an afternoon of exploring and a night nav session. We set off on the path towards Cerrig Cochion before swinging West and following the Clogwyn Maldy track which eventually led us to the steep ramp between the twin reservoirs of Dulyn and Melynllyn. As the rain turned to sleet we stopped here to admire the views back down the valley, noting the well positioned bothy ( a possibility for the future) and spying a few decent looking camping spots. We located a decent crag or two and spent 40 minutes or so practicing rope work techniques and  forlornly hoping for a break in the weather!
We followed the ramp up onto the lower slopes of Foel Grach where the wind really hitting us whipping the wet snow across the plateau and it was with some relief that we located Ffynnon Llyfant, the highest lake in Wales sitting at an altitude of 815 metres. On the shores of the lake and scattered around the valley are the remains of an RAF aircraft that crashed in 1957 killing both crew members (see link for further information) It makes for a slightly eerie feel particularly with darkness falling and the snow creating a monochrome landscape. We left the lake as darkness fell and night navved a succession of legs broadly following the line of Afon Eigiau before we reached the remains of the old quarry buildings. From there it was a route march back along the valley floor on the track leading past the Llyn Eigiau reservoir until we reached our lonely cars thoroughly sodden but well satisfied with a testing afternoon on the hills.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Three Lake District walks

Walking with; Rob

So far, this Winter, south of the border at least, has been characterised by a disappointing lack of the white stuff on the ground. January walks in the Lake District should be about blue skies and crisp ground underfoot, not grey skies and swampy conditions, none the less, three days of back to back walking was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
For the first of my three walks I wanted to try somewhere different, somewhere I was unlikely to bump into many others, somewhere off the beaten track...Lorton Fells fitted the bill admirably, even more so when it was revealed to me that the Whinlatter Pass was closed reducing access only to those determined enough to take the lengthy detour via Cockermouth. The area is heavily forested but it didn't take long to get above the treeline and make my way onto the blowy top of Lord's Seat. Although it only stands at 552m the views belie the relative lack of height. Skiddaw, head in the clouds loomed to the East, Keswick and Derwentwater sat to the South and across the Solway Firth Scotland was visible in the distance. I dropped down onto the delightfully named Barf where the views of Bassenthwaite opened out even further before contouring round below Lord's Seat and continuing along the fine ridge to Broom Fell and lunching in the stone shelter below the impressive cairn. The ridge then drops gradually to the Darling How Plantation and from there it was a short scramble to the top of Graystones where the strong winds were joined by not inconsiderable rain. A quick detour onto the top of Kirk Fell and then it was down the perilously steep slope to Scawgill Bridge and a gentle wander through the trees to Spout Force which (thanks to the incessant rain) was looking truly impressive. With the rain now thoroughly persisting it down, the logical decision was back to Keswick and the sweet, beery embrace of "The Dog and Gun".
   After a night of purgatorial wakefulness thanks to the "World's Loudest Snorer" who had holed up in the same dorm as me at the Keswick YHA, Rob picked me up and we headed off towards Catbells, another fell that punches well above it's weight in the effort to view ratio. We took the path leading up to the summit over Skelgill Bank and then carried on to Bull Crag and across Maiden Moor. Apparently the Beatrix Potter character Mrs Tiggywinkle lived in a burrow somewhere on the fells, but we saw no sign of hedgehogs, just a couple of Ravens and a Kestrel sitting in the wind. Last time I'd been on High Spy I was barely able to stand , and whilst it wasn't exactly sunbathing weather, it was a little more benign this time around. Tongue Gill was in full spate as we made our knee crunching descent before following the path back past Castle Crag to our starting point.
  Unable to face another night with the king of the snorers, I'd changed hostel (Ambleside) and pub (The Unicorn) and spent a far better night. Stockghyll Force was looking as impressive as Spout Force had a few days before as I climbed out of Ambleside and up onto Wansfell Pike. The summit is well won from the West and it was a steep climb made a little easier by the views to the snowy tops of the Kentmere Fells and Red Screes. Attaining the top I followed the ridge North East and then crossed the boggy fields below Idle Hill to eventually reach "The Kirkstone Pass Inn" just as the snow started to fall. Records for this venerable building date back to 1496 and it was a welcome sight as Red Screes disappeared from view in a flurry of falling snow. After stretching out a coffee and comparing notes with another sheltering soul I decided against my original plan of scrambling the snowy gullies of Red Screes and made my way back down to Ambleside via High Grove. The abandoned building at High Grove looked like something out of a horror film with a smashed up caravan and the depressing detritus of an uncared for, semi-abandoned farm building. About a mile before the town, I was hit by a broadside of vicious sleet and hail which had me scrambling for the nearby shelter of a jerrybuilt stone wall, but by the time I made the bottom of the hill there was sunshine over the Kirkstone pass once more!

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Monday, January 20, 2014


Manflu and post-birthday hangover both banished to distant memory, back to the Lakes tomorrow. Happy Days!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Two White Peak walks


When I think about walking in the Peak District my mind is automatically drawn to the Dark Peak, to the rough, wild peaks of Kinder, Black Hill and Bleaklow. In my mind's eye the White Peak is gentler, almost twee, cutesy villages tucked in Limestone dales, it lacks the raw wildness of the hills further North. I have explored it less for that reason, but inspired by Robert Macfarlane's musings about the wilderness on his own doorstep I thought I would try and change my perception of a place I knew I had probably unfairly maligned. The Roaches have long been on my radar after a romantic walking friend of mine decided they were the ideal location to "pop the question", but when I think of Staffordshire I think of potteries and mines, I didn't associate it with hill country in spite of my previous forays to Three Shires Head and Chrome Hill
I parked in the remote car park at Gradbach and followed the bridleway down towards the woods passing the recently closed and now sold Youth Hostel and the Scout camp. It was pretty grim underfoot but the walking was easy and I was soon crossing the swollen river and climbing through woodland alive with Squirrels and birdlife. I squelched onwards until I reached the gap in the rock that opens out into the magnificent Lud's Church. The cleft in the rock is over 100m long and upto 15m high and the beauty of it is that it's almost completely concealed from the woodland path. Legend has it that Robin Hood once hid out in it's depths but a more accepted fact is that it was used in the 15th century by the Lollards, followers of the church reformer, John Wycliff, who were considered heretics and from whence the current name derives. It also acts as the model for the "Green Chapel" in the Medieval epic poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and it still has a distinctly mystical, lost world feel to it. Although somewhat reluctant to leave, nonetheless I carried on through the woods and after a short ascent reached Roach End before ascending the ridge of The Roaches themselves. The main attractions here are the rock formations carved out by the elements, and the views towards Tittesworth Reservoir, but up on the ridge with the wind howling and the valleys dotted with no more than a few remote farms I could see Macfarlane's point that wilderness or perhaps wildness can be all around us if we're willing to look for it. I eventually made it along the ridgeline to Doxey Pool, another mysterious feature supposedly haunted by a mermaid called Jenny Greenteeth. In 1949 a Mrs Florence Pettit claimed to have had an encounter with a water spirit whilst swimming in the pool and whilst it did have a slightly eerie feel I saw nothing as I sat and chewed my way through a cheese sarnie! On the way back I stopped just past the trig point and spent ten minutes sitting just above a Kestrel as it hung in the wind scanning the ground below for some lunch, it was a magic moment being ABOVE the bird, the subtle colours picked out against the grey sky and seemingly oblivious to my presence.
For my second White Peak foray I set off from another remote car park, this time at Derbyshire Bridge. I set off onto the moors and spent an hour or so navving around the land above Foxhole Hollow where I was treated to a beautiful view of a Hen Harrier ghosting low over the Hollow. Eventually I headed East and after following the path from the bottom of Berry Clough cut off across Wild Moor on the damp, boggy slog to the Burbage Edge trig point. In spite of being no more than a stone's throw from Buxton Wild Moor does live upto it's name, it's rough ground with few other walkers and the wind was whipping viciously off the Shining Tor ridge. I followed the Edge eastward before hitting the Old Buxton Road which led back down to the carpark. A stop off at "The Cat and Fiddle", Britain's second highest pub, for a consoling pint on my way home seemed too good an opportunity to pass up!

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lake District's UNESCO status bid

I'm watching a news item as I write this about the bid to get the Lake District listed on the UNESCO World Heritage register. The main driving force behind this seems to be the perceived economic benefits that the listing will bring with particular reference to tourists from China, India and Russia. The current number of visitors to the park, is, according to this feature, 15 million a year and I am speculating that very many of these current visitors will be annual/regular and will continue their visits which leads me to ask, do we need to actively promote the Lake District or by doing so do we run the risk of completely destroying any remaining vestiges of what makes/made it so attractive in the first place?
The process of this application will take four years and no doubt a substantial amount of money. Mass tourism almost never has a positive effect on the environment, the money that will no doubt be generated by mass package tourism of the sort common in the Chinese and Russian travel industries will be concentrated in the hands of the few (probably not locally owned) hotels that will be willing to cut deals with the operators. The majority of the operators will not be British and I am sceptical of the trickle down effect of mass tourism to those on the periphery of the core business. It's not only Bowness, Ambleside and Grasmere that will feel the effect as the more crowded and less appealing they become, the more people will try and seek out the authentic UNESCO certified landscape they've been promised....
I am surprised that the Lake District isn't already listed but that doesn't mean I think listing it is necessarily a positive thing. Ultimately in this time of public sector decimation, every body is scrambling for money wherever it can get it and I'm sure lots of clever people with clipboards and calculators have decided this is a positive step, but I genuinely hope that this isn't merely a case of sending a Golden Goose to the slaughter, motivated by short termism and a desire for the few to cash in at the expense of the many. What do other people think?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane

Just before Christmas there was a post on the "Wild Camping" Facebook page that I am a member of that effectively challenged the notion that "wild camping" is possible on the overcrowded island that is Britain today. It provoked a lot of debate and, to my mind, a lot of comment was coloured by the kind of machismo that is all too prevalent amongst the type of camper who thinks that slinging a tarp over a branch and spending a night snoozing under the stars makes them Ray Mears! However, the basic point is one worth considering, wild camping hotspots like Angle and Sprinkling Tarn can at times seem as crowded as some valley campsites. It's a point that the eloquent and thought provoking Robert Macfarlane explores in this fascinating and inspiring book.
Macfarlane starts with the premise that "Time and again, wildness has been declared dead in Britain and Ireland", that humanity has touched every corner of our homeland and that therefore the landscape cannot be seen as wild in a way, say, such as Alaska or the Australian outback. He then sets out in the company of other outdoorsman such as the wild swimming evangelist, Roger Deakin (to whom the book is dedicated), to disprove this notion and find the wildness in the differing habitats and extremities of the country. Herein lies the beauty of this elegantly written account. Whilst surely nobody would dispute that areas such as Rannoch Moor and Cape Wrath have a genuine claim to wilderness, and Macfarlane's explorations of these areas are inspiring and revel in the lack of human footprint, in many ways the most interesting segments of the book is where he finds wilderness in areas far less remote and seemingly far more affected by human activity.
He explores the hedgerows of the Norfolk countryside nosing his way along Badger trod paths into the heart of thickets. The Holloways of Dorset, to which the author recently dedicated a new book, are explored, the comparison with other human landscapes reclaimed by nature is poignant and instructive, the wild rapidly reclaims that which we abandon. He delights in finding Mountain Hares on a windswept Tor in the heart of the Peak District, the most visited National Park in England hemmed in as it is by the industrial powerhouse cities of the North.
Macfarlane's explorations lead him to draw up an individual map of the wild spots of the country ranging from Ben Hope to Lakeland's Red Pike (one of my personal favourites) and onto Blakeney Spit and Ynys Enlli, many of them places shaped by human contact but places that now have an indefinable feeling of the wild about them. However, the book ends as it starts with the author in the Beech woodlands walking distance from his Cambridge home. In the first chapter he laments "the roar of the nearby road" and the "junk heaps.....brick rubble, water swollen plywood, rags of newspaper" he finds as he explores the area. The book ends, however, with Macfarlane seeing the woodland through fresh eyes. "Wildness was here, too, a short mile south of the town in which I lived. It was set about by roads and buildings, much of it was menaced, and some of it was dying. But at the moment the land seemed to ring with a wild light".
Britain is not Alaska, I am not Ray Mears, but Macfarlane is a man who through this book celebrates those moments where we can find ourselves removed from the humdrum of day to day life and feel as if we are in wild country. Not long ago I was on Loughrigg, equidistant from Grasmere and Keswick, the A591 running along Rydal Water below me, dusk was falling and I found myself in a boggy hollow next to a tiny tear shaped tarn. The stars started to show through the cloud, the wind gusted loudly above me pushing a Raven ahead of it and I could neither see, nor hear any sign of humanity and it felt wild to me....

All quotes are taken from the book itself

Monday, January 6, 2014

Last walk of 2013

Walking with; Ruthy

Ever since I abandoned my South coast roots and left the chalk cliffs and churning muddy waters of the English Channel for the rain, peat bogs and dark Satanic mills of the North West, Kinder has been my "go to" hill. It can be approached by such a variety of routes that even though it is never quiet on Kinder it can often feel as if you are the only person on the top, especially if there is some weather coming in. Whilst I think my favourite approach is via Grindsbrook on a Sunny day, the day before New Year's Eve saw me re-introducing Ruthy to the joys of walking into horizontal rain as we meandered our way up from Hayfield! Nothing like a gale driving the rain directly into your face to blow away the Christmas cobwebs and make you appreciate the extra few pounds of turkey and brandy butter reinforcing the insulation around my middle.
  We left the car at Bowden Bridge and ignoring the warnings of some "fair weather" walkers were soon sidestepping sheep, passing the seemingly abandoned but maintained magnificence of "The Ashes" and climbing towards the cloud from Coldwell Clough. The views over Mount Famine and South Head soon disappeared and it wasn't long before Kinder too had sunk beneath the clouds.....and then the rain started. We made the Edale Cross which is reckoned to be a 12th century carving erected by the Cistercian monks at Basingwerk Abbey and graffitied by local farmers who rediscovered it buried in a peat bog in 1810! The alcove it is set in provided us with a little shelter and it was here we decided that going over the tops was not a particularly appealing option. We decided instead to angle over towards South Head and from there head down to Dimpus Clough and South Head Farm.
We followed the flagstones across the boggy moorland suffering a battering from the ferocious wind and with the rain being whipped into our faces but as we neared the bulk of South Head the wind seemed to push the front past us and by the time we reached the footpath leading down to Dimpus Clough there were even the odd glimpses of blue sky! The path to South Head farm had been roundly trashed by cows and rain and we slipped, slithered and skidded our way back towards Coldwell Clough and from there onto Bowden Bridge and home to a well deserved brandy coffee.

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