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Friday, May 30, 2014

Foel Fras ridge walk from Llanfairfechan

Walking with; Al & Tristan

  I'd planned my first walk after assessment a couple of weeks ago not knowing whether it would be a celebratory or commiseratory outing. The forecast and my experience of the Snowdonian weather over the weekend meant I'd figured a coastal route might be the best bet in terms of delivering views......turned out I was wrong.
   We parked at the Nant-Y-Coed Nature Reserve after the drive down the Welsh coast and set off in reasonable conditions. As we climbed up the Afon Ddu valley there were some fine views back towards the coast and Anglesey and we came across a couple of families of Mountain Ponies with some very young foals. The gradient was quite pleasant as we climbed up on to Carnedd Y Ddelw which sits at the end of Carnedd Llewelyn's Northern spur, but the cloud started to come in as we reached the top and paused for a sandwich stop in the shelter which has been hollowed out from a Bronze Age burial cairn and where a gold funeral decoration was apparently discovered in the 18th Century. It was very atmospheric and slightly sinister in nature.
   As the clouds lowered and thickened we continued along the ridge handrailing the wall and fence line until we hit the top of Drum, also known as Carnedd Penyborth-Goch where another fine ancient cairn is sited. By now visibility had dropped to about 20 metres but we carried on through the cloud until we reached Foel-Fras at a height of 942 metres and the eleventh highest peak in Wales. Al and Tristan had been part of an aborted attempt at the Welsh 3000s last year so it was a bittersweet moment to summit what would have been their last 3000-er! We had another food stop huddled in the shelter as the cloud drifted by and the wind whipped around us and then continued, leaving the security of our handrail, onto Carnedd Gwenllian, another over 900m. This peak which was formerly known as Carnedd Uchaf was officially renamed in September 2009 after a 13th Century Welsh princess. We had one last peak in mind and ploughed on through the soupy clag until we reached Llwytmor with it's broad barren plateau which swam in and out of visibility.
   Leaving the peak we cut down the slopes for views of the Afon Anafon valley before contouring back round on very marshy ground and attaining the ridgeline once more just South of Drum. The cloud stayed with us the whole way and it wasn't until we dropped down below 400 metres that we were finally able to see anything of significance once more. Overall it was a good day for bagging a few peaks but I'd like to return on a day when the views of the Menai Straits could be better appreciated!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I have PASSED my Mountain Leader Assessment !!

Walking with; Ed (assessor) and Ads (other candidate)

  I'VE DONE IT !! Eighteen months ago I undertook my Mountain Leader training and realised that I had a lot to learn to take me from being a competent, experienced walker to a true Mountain Leader . The last year and a half have been a real journey in terms of personal and professional development, the refinement of old skills and the learning of new ones and there were times when the attainment of the qualification seemed a long way away. However, over the two May bank holidays I have taken my assessment with Thornbridge Outdoors, and having spent an incredibly sunny three days in the Dark Peak and an incredibly soggy three days in Snowdonia I am now incredibly proud to say I am a BMC accredited Mountain Leader!
   The three days in the Peaks saw us undertake micro-navigation on Bleaklow, saw one of our group drop out after day one, saw us undertake a navigation and leadership day on the Snake Pass side of Kinder and a rope work and navigation day above Grindsbrook Clough. The Snowdonian part of the assessment was a 2 night expedition leg which saw us micro navigate by day and night the areas around Cnicht, Llyn Yr Adar and Llyn Edno. We shared legs, navigated on different scaled maps and described the flora and fauna around us. We were given different scenarios to deal with and presented with different situations that we might face in the mountains whilst leading a group.....and, at the end of it all, the wet tent and soaked kit were forgotten when I heard the magic words "You've passed......". So now, onwards and upwards and hopefully this will be a genuinely life changing moment! There are almost no photos as I was far too busy concentrating on where I was, what I was looking at and where I was going!

Day and night navigation on Loughrigg and a wander up Caudale Moor

Walking with; Graham

  I've mentioned before that Loughrigg Fell is particularly well suited to practicing navigation on. It attains no great height, but it is easily accessible and covered in lumps, bumps, gullies, tarns, streams and wiggly contours of the most perplexing type. So ideal really as I make my last push towards ML readiness! The sun had bought out the masses and Ambleside (where I stayed at the excellent YHA) was heaving with people, but once I got out of the car and wandered down the back road to Under Loughrigg it wasn't long before the masses melted away and I found myself climbing up onto the fell in contemplative silence. I spent a couple of hours around Lanty Scar and Fox Hill. I was using the 1:50000 scale which I still find tricker for fine nav, but it was a reasonably successful outing enhanced by the bluebells, which I think have been better this year than in a long while. There were views to Grasmere, Rydal Water and Windermere and the cotton wool Cumulus drifted by as I sat drinking it all in. After a pleasant evening sitting in the sun outside the hostel, I wandered down to Rothay Park to meet Graham who despite a full schedule of D of E work had been kind enough to spend a good few nights wandering round the fells with me in order to try and prepare me for assessment. It was a beautiful, clear night and another couple of hours passed as we navigated our way around the fell under a spectacularly starry sky.
   The next morning that spectacular sky had been buried under heavy, bruised clouds and as I chugged up "The Struggle"(which I still think is one of the best named roads in the world...."Where do you live?", "No 4 The Struggle....") the rain began to fall. Mine was the only car in the carpark opposite "The Kirkstone Pass Inn" and the inn itself soon disappeared in the clag below me as I ascended to Raven Crag. In the poor visibility I worked my way from point to point before reaching the Mark Atkinson monument. The monument remembers a landlord of the inn who died in 1930 and wished to be remembered in site of his life's work. His son is also remembered on a plaque. From there I attained the two tops named as Caudale Moor and Stony Cove Pike and then made my way down in deteriorating conditions back to the car. This was my last outing before my final ML assessment and the conditions were ideal for practicing navigation, now it is crunch time, but I feel as well prepared as I can be!

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Catching up!

12 and 14.5.14
Walking with; Graham

  In spite of the beautiful weather we have been having of late I've not managed to get out as much as I would have liked, it's been a combination of factors ranging from a general ennui through to family get togethers, none-the-less I managed a couple of outings last week.
   I headed off to Stalybridge Country Park on the Monday morning, a new area for me although I am reasonably familiar with the town. I parked at the foot of the Walkerwood Reservoir and before long was cutting through the Rhododendrons of Cock Wood. I carried onto Brushes Reservoir and then cut through the flower studded woodland and onto the main track. I climbed slowly but surely in the shadows of the men working on the new electricity pylons, this is a serious bit of engineering and (unfortunately) I suspect this area will be blighted by this project for some time to come. Having reached the twin Swineside Reservoirs (which I had previously visited from Tintwistle I then cut off into the peaty moorland for a bit of navigation practice. I gradually made my way up on to Harridge Pike where there were some excellent views towards Manchester. The rain clouds started to roll in at this point and I aimed off towards The Pennine Bridleway which I followed back round to the reservoirs after a short detour bought about by the work on the powerlines.
  A couple of days later it was up to the Lake District. I pitched my tent at the fantastic Baysbrown campsite with wonderful views of the Langdale Pikes before heading into Ambleside where I met Graham for another night navigation. Great as it is to have the long Summer evenings it does make for late starts when night navving. We set off up onto Wansfell Pike at about 10pm and after nearly four hours of picking our way round the Troutbeck side of the hill finally headed back down about 2am. There is a lot of satisfaction in night navigation tiring as it is and mine was greatly enhanced this time by my new Black Diamond head torch which performed fantastically and has an amazing range. Breakfast the next morning at Bilbo's cafe in Ambleside comes very highly recommended. Two very different experiences, two enjoyable rambles and more navigation practice under my belt!

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Monday, May 12, 2014

A Canalside walk from Marple Bridge

Walking with; Ruthy and Rach

  Sometimes in this world of highest, longest, fastest and furthest where the walking blogosphere is filled with tales of derring-do as packs are hefted across the wilds of Scotland, one forgets about the simple pleasures afforded by a gentle stroll amongst the plants and birdlife of Spring. Sometimes, simply putting one foot in front of another and meandering aimlessly along a towpath or two can bring a kind of quiet satisfaction unburdened by superlatives. Any walk that contains encounters with a Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, numerous families of Mallards and Canada Geese and the odd Moorhen can't fail to please and this canalside ramble certainly did just that.
  We left Marple Bridge and cut onto the Peak Forest Canal in the midst of the Marple Locks. The walking was easy, the weather was short, sharp showers interspersed with brighter intervals and in the first mile we already had a Kingfisher and Grey and Pied Wagtails to our name. This innocuous patch of path is actually part of the E2 route, a trans-European path running from Galway to Nice, a distance of over 3000 miles, it's also part of The Cheshire Ring Canal walk which comes in at a more manageable 98 miles and might make a good project for a long weekend! We followed the path towards Strines before crossing beneath the canal at Stanleyhall Woods and following the lane towards Ridge Fold where we cut cross country and hit the Macclesfield Canal which is also part of the Cheshire Ring. We mooched and meandered back to the confluence of the two waterways and from there onto The Midland, where the beer, the chips and the welcome were enough to gladden the heart and remind one of the joys of such simple pleasures as a canalside stroll followed by a pint.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A wet wild camp in the Brecon Beacons

Walking with; Nathan

  Although my Granny has lived in the area for over twenty years my experience of walking in this area is pretty limited, although I enjoyed my trip there this time last year We were well aware that the forecast was pretty poor so were pleasantly surprised to arrive at the remote parking spot on Gospel Pass (the highest road pass in Wales) with hints of blue sky still peeking out from the cloud. The Pass is apparently named after the 12th Century crusaders who preached and raised funds on the pass. It's a desolate spot but an iconic one within the park.
  We set off onto Twmpa or Lord Hereford's Knob and tramped across the marshy land watching the Wild Ponies and foals and crossing our fingers that the weather would continue to hold. We were looking for a protected spot to camp given the forecast and eventually came to the conclusion that although it meant some more mileage if we could cross the valley and make our way up to the Mynydd Du forest we'd be liely to be able to find a sheltered and protected spot. We passed the Capel-Y-Ffin monastery, now a riding centre, and after a short, steep switchbacked scramble made our way over to the forest where after some searching we found a patch of pine needles flat and wide enough to accommodate my tent and Nathan's bivvi! After tea we had a quick night nav before the conditions started to move towards inclemency and we retreated to our respective shelters!
   Breakfast done, tent packed and then the rain started! It stayed with us for most of the day as we made our way along the forest edge before dropping down to the valley floor and coming across the beautiful ruined abbey at Llanthony. The abbey is an abandoned Augustinian Priory founded in 1100 on the site of the ruined chapel of Wales's patron saint, St David. It's a beautiful spot and well worth a wander around. Leaving the abbey we headed up on to the Hatterall Hill ridge and followed the six odd km ridge back to Hay Bluff and eventually the car! The conditions were grim. The rain was persistent, the wind gusted brutally and continually threatened to knock us off our feet and the path was mired in bog and water. It was reminiscent of The Pennine Way, miles of boggy marsh with the real feeling of something potentially nasty, but the flagged path providing a degree of security. The Beacons weren't shown at their best in these conditions, but I've seen more than enough to justify a return visit in the not too distant future!

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Friday, May 9, 2014

A week of walking in the Lake District

Walking with; Ruthy, Jay and Iona

It's not often that one is afforded the luxury of a whole week in Cumbria and the Lakes, but a cottage had been booked, time off taken and a week of hill related fun was planned. As a prospective ML it was a good challenge organising a schedule of walks that would fit the diverse needs and abilities of the group and it meant a chance to try out a few new fells as well as returning to a couple of old favourites.
   Our cottage was in the hamlet of Dean about five miles from Cockermouth and just outside the boundaries of the National Park so we decided to focus on walks in this particular corner. Our first outing saw us setting off from Maggie's Bridge just outside Loweswater and making our way past High Nook Farm to the tarn where we encountered a very garrulous flock of Greylag Geese. Leaving them to their squabbles we followed the steep line of ascent of the Gill before popping out at the head of the stream and tramping across the marshy, tussocky ground to Gavel Fell itself. Gavel Fell proved a great spot for lunch with views West towards the coast and inland looking over to Mellbreak and Grasmoor not to mention Fleetwith Pike. We continued on to Blake Fell where we caught brief glimpses of the views to Cogra Moss before we were enveloped in cloud. With the view disappearing we meandered our way back down the grassy slopes towards High Nook Farm accompanied by an ever changing cast of Wheatears and Meadow Pippits.
  On the Tuesday we spent the morning on the Via Ferrata at Honister. I'd been on it shortly after it opened but the "extreme" version has added a little more exposure and the Burma Bridge which stretches across a canyon 2000 feet above the valley floor. After a morning of adrenalin pumping we chose a slightly more sedate afternoon and under beautifully blue skies we slowly ascended Rannerdale Knotts. Whilst it is only a comparative tiddler at 355 metres the views over Crummock Water and across to Whiteless Pike were superb. Rannerdale was immortalised in the book "The Secret Valley" written by Nicholas Size in 1930, according to the author, the valley held out for over 50 years after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. It is generally accepted there is little historical evidence to support this thesis but the valley is certainly a prime spot for an ambush. Unfortunately the Bluebells seem to be late this year and whilst there were plenty they hadn't quite reached their full magnificence.
  For our last group walk Ruthy had decided she wanted to revisit Catbells one of her favourite hills and the first Lakeland peak we did together. It's a cracking wee hill and even though it was hazy the views over Derwentwater were worth the initial grunt up the slopes. Amongst it's many claims to fame, the hill is supposed to be where Beatrix Potter's Hedgehog heroine Mrs Tiggywinkle had a burrow, but we saw no sign of the spiky washerwoman on our travels. We carried on up to Bull Crag and then across Maiden and Narrow Moor before making the hair raising descent down the screes of Nitting Haw. It's a tough descent but the girls and I all felt exhilarated to have scrambled, slipped and slid our way down the intimidating slopes.
  I spent my last morning doing some extended navigation practice on the rough ground between Muncaster and Devoke Water. It's a world away from the tweeness of the central lakes, this is rough marsh and tussock grass where you can find yourself up to your knee in gloop even on a dry day. It must be a hell of a place to make a living on  wind blasted, snowy December and I had the feeling that the Hound of the Baskervilles was just biding his time and waiting for me to step into one of the infernal bogs where upon he'd come for me!
  In addition to the walking I feel I can heartily recommend the following; "The Royal Yew" in Dean for excellent food and a warm welcome from the lovely staff. "The Castle Bar" in Cockermouth for a wide range of locally brewed real ales. The incredibly cute aquarium in Maryport which whilst being small is perfectly formed and staffed by enthusiastic and passionate staff. The Via Ferrata at Honister which is great fun. Finally, Muncaster Castle where we spent a fantastic afternoon admiring the castle and the beautiful grounds, not to mention the amazing World Owl Centre where we viewed everything from Little Owls to monsters from the Kazakh steppes who would probably have little difficulty polishing off a small child! Highly recommended.

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