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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Baslow-Chatsworth House-Edensor-Hassop and Bank Wood

Walking with; Nobody

   Over the years I have acquired a fair number of different walking books describing routes for many different parts of the country. In recent times I have mostly devised my own routes and derived great pleasure from it, but once in a while I find myself thinking "Why bother inventing the wheel" and dig one of the dusty guide books out form the shelf on which they languish. The one I laid hands on this week was by Mark Reid, author of "The Inn Way" series who hit on the genius idea of producing books combining excellent walks with excellent pubs....sounds like a decent job to me! After a perusal of his "Walking weekends Peak District" I decided that I'd head over to Baslow and do his 10.5 miler taking in the Chatsworth estate and some of the Peak District's most picturesque villages.
   Leaving the village green at Nether End I crossed Bar Brook and followed a resplendent male Pheasant along the path towards the Chatsworth estate. The estate is a fine example of an English stately home, vast swathes of grassland populated by magnificent mature trees and grazing herds. The landscaping was done by "Capability" Brown and the house itself was built in the late 17th Century and is still the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire today. Passing Queen Mary's bower, one of the oldest buildings on the estate named after Mary, Queen of Scots who was imprisoned at Chatsworth I crossed the Derwent and headed towards the hamlet of Edensor. If an American tourist were to describe a picture perfect English village they'd be hard pressed to describe something other than Edensor. It's a collection of beautiful stone built cottages clustered around a parish church and village green. The gardens are immaculate, vegetables and flowers adding colour to the picture and in the June sunshine it was the quintessence of Englishness. I reluctantly climbed out of the village passing a couple of dry stone wallers and dropped down Handley Lane towards Pilsley.
   A little further on I came to Hassop and the 17th century pub "The Eyre Arms" where a pint of "Palerider" in front of the hanging baskets seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. The path leading through Bank Woods South and North was very overgrown but I picked my way through the grass led by Red Admirals and Wrens and enjoying views of Longstone Edge before dropping down to Calver. Negotiating a herd of slightly frisky cattle I made it back to the banks of the Derwent and from there cut through St Mary's Wood before dropping through Bubnell and emerging back by the old bridge in Baslow and returning along the road from there. This was a beautiful route through the kind of English countryside long dreamed off by visitors to the UK. Beautiful villages, wild flower meadows, dry stone wallers and birds and butterflies, a decent pub and the sun even managed to shine! Good work Mark Reid.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Peregrine and Puffins at South Stack

Walking with; Ruthy

  Ever since I completed my ML things have been very busy and I've not had much of an opportunity to actually get out into the countryside, slightly ironic. Sunday, it was too nice a day not to get out and do something though and what with it being Puffin season and Ruthy never having seen one I decided South Stack might be the place to go!
   In truth there isn't a great deal of walking necessary to get a look at the seabird cities, a gentle stroll down from the visitor's centre takes you to the frighteningly sheer cliff edge and spectacular views of the nesting birds, rafts of Auks and the famous lighthouse (which was actually closed on Sunday as a feature film was being made). We spotted a beautiful Peregrine Falcon perched on the cliff face and the noise and smell of huge Guillemot and Razorbill colonies was overwhelming. As we traced our way along the narrow cliff edge passing patches of Thrift and Tormentil, we spied a couple of Choughs lifting off from the grass and drifting by overhead. The Puffins proved elusive and we were about to pack up and go home when a final scan of the floating flocks revealed a couple of this most distinctive and iconic of birds bobbing on the fringe of a large group of Razorbills. Mission accomplished!! It wasn't in truth much of a walk, a mile or two at best, but it was an extremely rewarding way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. Sadly the birds were out of camera range so I had to make do with a few of the lighthouse!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sentier des Toblerones or The Toblerone Trail

Walking with; Nobody

  The days since my ML assessment have been filled with the mundane duties of trying to arrange professional insurance, build a new website, get a DBS check and generally doing all sorts of things that involved sitting in my living room and not being out in the countryside, so it was with some relief that I managed to inveigle myself onto Mrs H work trip to Switzerland. I knew I wasn't going to have the time to get up into the big mountains but a bit of research on the internet bought up this interesting sounding historical wander just outside Geneva and easily accessible by the excellent Swiss rail network.
   The Toblerone Line was a defensive fortification built during the Second World War by the Swiss and with each of the concrete pieces being shaped like the distinctive pieces of Switzerland's best known chocolate bar! There are over 2500 of these blocks lined up along the route and with each weighing around 9 tons, the construction of the defensive line was clearly a considerable undertaking. The trail starts in the Jura mountains and leads all the way down to the shores of Lake Geneva and then on into the town of Nyon. I had decided to walk the last section from Gland to Nyon and after hopping off the train the route made a distinctly unpromising start as it led me through an industrial estate. Soon afterwards though the pathway cut across a poppy spotted field and I was up alongside the first of the toblerones on a lovely forest path that traced the line of the defence all the way down to the famous Villa Rose. The Villa Rose was a Swiss fortification disguised to appear as an ordinary farmhouse but in reality it was a military base and the ground floor hid a number of gun emplacements. After the Villa Rose the path led me through the immaculately manicured Gland golf course. I am slightly ambivalent about golf courses, they are beautifully maintained pieces of land but strangely soulless and, more often than not, the preserve of the wealthy, elite few. This one at least seemed to have plenty of wild areas left full of wild fowers and butterflies, but it was a strangely sterile environment. Eventually I left the golf course behind me and emerged on the shores of the magnificent Lake Geneva.
   The lake is one of the largest in Western Europe and affords some magnificent mountain views and I paused for a while to watch the Grebes, Swans and Ducks on the water and the Black Kites soaring overhead. The path led away from the defensive line and up into the town of Prangins where the National Museum of Switzerland is housed in the Chateau Prangins and fronted by an impressive kitchen garden. I continued through the town passing fields of vines running down towards the lake before emerging at Nyon station. Nyon is a pleasant town with another chateau looking out over the lake and a number of pleasant places to eat and drink. The train back to Geneva was waiting and I was able to reflect on a very pleasant wander along an historic monument in Mediterranean conditions. Now, when can I head back and have a go at some of those big mountains!

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Looking for work as a Mountain Leader !

Hi there folks, as you may be aware I recently qualified as a Mountain Leader after a long and demanding process and am hoping that this might be a life changing experience which might take my career in a new direction. I am currently now looking for work in this field and am open to suggestions and offers, so if anyone has any ideas or work on offer I'd really appreciate them dropping me a line! Many thanks.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

FIVA-An Adventure That Went Wrong by Gordon Stainforth

  If you were to go on the reviews that adorn the cover pages of this book alone, you would expect this to be one of the finest mountaineering books ever written. Luminaries such as Stephen Venables, Chris Bonnington, Joe Simpson and Andy Kirkpatrick are amongst the many big names singing the praises of Gordon Stainforth's account of, to quote the title, "an adventure that went wrong", and boy, oh boy, did it go wrong.......
  The story is a compelling account of Stainforth and his brother John's attempt to climb the Fiva (pronounced Fever) route up Store Trolltind in Norway. With only three years of mountaineering experience, a sketched map and a four sentence route description, this is a classic example of what not to do.....couple it with the fact that rations consisted of a couple of sandwiches and two chocolate bars and you could argue the book should have been sub-titled "An accident waiting to happen". Of course, an accident is exactly what happens, when the climbers lose their planned route and are forced into ever more dangerous situations, an ice axe belay fails and Gordon is catapulted down the mountain severely injuring his knee in the process. The rest of the story explores Gordon and John's fight for survival as the weather turns against them, their rations run low and they are pushed to their ultimate limits in an attempt to survive and get off the mountain.
  Stainforth has chosen to narrate in the first person which has a profound influence on the way the book reads. The internal monologues and recreated discussions represent a superb recall of events and certainly speed the story along at a rollicking pace, but, to me, sometimes they can become a bit relentless and I longed on occasion for some dispassionate, detached observation. The "conversations" with the mountain seemed particularly affected to me. However, this is not to denigrate a fine "Boy's Own" tale of adventure and survival which had me racing through the pages and rooting for the protagonists even as they seemed intent on digging ever deeper holes for themselves. In these days where every expedition is planned to within an inch of it's life, where kit is designed for the worst conditions Mother Nature can throw at us and where ration packs are manufactured to provide maximum calories, minimum weight and balanced nutrition, there is something distinctly appealing and "Famous Five-ish" about this most British of adventures gone wrong.