Sunday 20 June 2010

Update on the tent front

One of my niggles with the small tent I use, the Shangri La 1, is the pole in the front. This tent is designed to erect using trekking poles, however, I find a pole slap bang in the middle of the tent front restricting and annoying. Having an old nesting pole A pole lying about I tried it on the Shangri, it works well but is heavy. Now I am trying just the A pole apex, which is still quite heavy for its size, despite being alloy, in conjunction with the trekking poles and it seems to work fine. Presently I have been attempting to form an A pole apex from fibre glass, so far, two lumpy prototypes. Ideally I would get one moulded in carbon fibre, if anyone has any suggestions please give a shout. Before anyone asks, the rear pole is also being experimented on, having an old carbon fibre pole lying around which has lost its bottom section, I butchered the remaining two sections, removing the handle completely the end section now fastened on the extending pole as a foot. This has bumped up the weight of the overall tent slightly but has provided more comfort and adaptability. By the by, any stove enthusiasts out there in the London region, I have an old Optimus 80, a strange Stesco possibly an MSR, all working, there is also a bialladin lamp for restoration or spares, interested? Send me an e mail.

Monday 14 June 2010

Hard travelling

Dramatic sculptor

Ribblehead viaduct

Arten Gill viaduct

Yorkshire is one of those areas, where, if I juggle things carefully, I can purchase cheap train tickets; beside which, it offers some good walking county with with high open rolling moors. Having done little in the way of walking of late and with motivation at a low ebb there was a need just to get out and see if I could still hack it? Thus it was I travelled up on the Monday.
7th June, camped OS map OL19 GR 808070
Changing trains at Leeds I linked up with Rachel to hand over a few bits and received a large portion of cake in return. Arrived Kirkyby Stephen station at 14 30; the station is a mile and a half outside Kirkby and walking in on footpaths probably adds another half mile or so. However, I wanted to pick up a few last minute snacks and nibbles and possibly get something to eat before heading out. A cafe had delicious foody smells wafting from it but it looked busy and looking at the weather I did not want to linger; instead I settled for a limp and indifferent cold pasty and a soft drink, a poor substitute. A bit of careful navigation was needed to follow footpaths that came around by Ladthwaite, including a lovely path that wound through woods by Ewbank Scar; the undergrowth thick with lush, verdant plant life, clumps of wild garlic infused the air with pungent odour. From ladthwaite it was easier navigation on bridleways to come around to Hartley Fell. My main concern was finding water, there was little of it and the trickle I have resorted to using looks a tad suspect, the rocks around are stained a rusty colour and the water itself has an oily sheen; however, needs must. My timing in getting the tent up was spot on, I had been watching a steady build up of thick dark clouds, bruised and pregnant with moisture, the first heavy drops of rain began to fall as I scrambled inside. A mug of soup and a nibble of Rachel's delicious cake and I was fine as the rain pattered down.
Tuesday8th June. Same map, GR825 043, approximately!
Steady rain through the night and with no sign of a let up this morning; a long, hard perusal of the map had me working out a plan B., However, as is my want I do not always work to sane and sensible ideas. Packed up and walked back over to the track and started heading back down to walk a low level route, paused, looked up at the scudding mist and cloud on the tops and for reasons unknown, through plan B out of the window and decided I could at least head up to Nine Standards. The rain got heavier and the murk thicker as I slowly headed up. Passing the old spoil heaps and disused shafts it is thought provoking to consider how men once laboured on these high fell sides using the most basic of tools, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows and often wet and cold, their clothing rough and inadequate to protect them from bad weather. To see Nine Standards suddenly looming out of the clag was spooky, huge stone cairns with their original purpose uncertain; certainly they are no modern folly, there are apparently records of them going back as far as the sixteenth century and at one time they where even larger. Having made the top I decided to amble on a bit further; the viewpoint at Nine Standards rig was out of service in the swirling cloud, was surprised to see that the trig point was a humble little stone built affair that needed a bit of repair. Although not marked on the map, this is part of the coast to coast route from Kirkby through to Keld. Not feeling too bad I continued onward with the path; a check of the compass assured me that it was heading roughly in the direction I wanted to go and sure enough my wandering led me around by White Mossy Hill and Lady Dike Head. Despite the conditions I was content to just amble along, the air around me was vibrant with the strange, haunting cries of ground nesting birds, curlews and lapwings where all around me. Coming down by Millstones the visibility improved and I could actually see where I was heading and soon joined the bridleway that led around to Whitsun Dale; I went in the other direction, down to the road in Birk Dale. Risking the water from Rowantree Gill, I settled down with my back resting on a sign post and dug the rest of Rachel's cake out of the pack. In the prevailing conditions that slab of cake was the most delicious thing imaginable, thanks Rachel, much appreciated. It was obvious that the weather was deteriorating, the rain was now steady, plus, not having done much walking recently, my thighs where aching a bit. Following the road up a bit higher I swung off toward Coldbergh Side, picking my way around some nasty bog and after a bit of faffing about found somewhere to pitch the tent. As I was casting about finding a camp spot a pheasant took off in front of me, which was surprising, even more remarkable there where several in the area. Pheasants are not normally high upland birds, they are more associated to woodland areas that offer them cover; most peculiar! Water was once more a problem, there where several trickles of water forming small streams but the rocks where deeply stained an orange rust colour and yet again the water had that oily sheen to it. Obviously there must be some form of mineral content that is leeching in to the water system! As I filled up the water bladder I noticed the rain increasing and as I struggled out of waterproofs before getting in to the tent, the rain began to deluge down, solid great walls of water battered the tent; there was little option but to brew up with the tent battened down. The wind has been north east all day, pushing the temperature down and now it was growing even more chilly.
Wednesday 9th June, same map, camped GR 808938, approx.
Rain continued all night, getting in and out of the tent for the loo several times in the night can be difficult in such conditions. By early morning the tent was enveloped in thick grey, dense cloud with the rain continuing unabated and a blustery north east wind was steadily buffeting the tent. on such occasions getting packed up and underway takes that much longer; everything is carefully packed in the rucksack from within in the tent, then it is a case of boots on, get dressed in all the foul weather gear; once that is completed the inner tent is taken down and packed, tent unzipped and a scramble out to face the elements. The outer tent is swiftly taken down, given a shake to get some of the water off and unceremoniously bundled up and stowed under the rucksack lid; despite the conditions a check is still made to ensure nothing is left behind, it would be too easy to overlook something like a tent peg. With no visibility it meant having to rely on the compass to make my way out to the road; having already taken a bearing before leaving the tent. There was one downside to this though, thick, deep bog; forget the concept of doing a dog leg or two and coming back on course, what had just been boggy ground was now deep quagmire. Often the ground swayed like a water bed when it was stepped on, scary but doable if crossed with care, a couple of times though I went in deep, the bog monster can be a voracious beast! It was exhausting work but eventually I hit the rough track I had noted yesterday, made by an off road quad machine, once that was found I knew it would lead me down to the road. All previous plans where now scrapped; it was not a day for the high tops. An alternative day was now put in to action, this meant a few miles of road walking down to Nateby. The summit of that road was a wide open, bleak place to be, with tendrils of thick cloud coiling around me and rain beating a staccato tattoo off my waterproofs, I pushed on at a steady pace. Once the road descended a bit though, rifts began to appear in the dense greyness, ragged tatters of rain sodden cloud torn aside to reveal the steep slopes of the fells, blobs of off white where sheep hunkered down seeking what shelter the could. The calls of curlews pierced the air, like ghostly spectres they appeared and disappeared around me. A car slowed down, the driver checking me over, I gave him a wave and a grin to let him know I was ok. once down by Nateby the weather had moderated, the wind had eased and the rain was now more drizzle than anything else. Followed footpaths and bridleways over to Mire Close Bridge. The river Eden was at least running clear and I took a chance on topping up with water; yes, I know I ought to have filtered it but filter systems cost money I cannot afford. There are quite a few inter connecting bridleways and footpaths in the area and it requires regular map reading to stay on course . It was pleasant walking, the lowland pastures lush and verdant, hay meadows thick with clover, buttercups adding a splash of vibrant colour. My lack of fitness was making itself felt, thighs ,knees and ankles where protesting. Possibly I could have snuck in somewhere out of the way, however, I prefer not to camp in lowland farm areas unless really stuck. Coming around by Mallerstang I could see the bridleway snaking away up the side of the hill opposite and inwardly groaned. A pause for a quick drink and nibble at Thrang Bridge and then on to the bridleway. In fact the climb up was not that bad, a slow, steady plod. A large upright object on the brow of the hill beckoned me on; I was puzzled as to what it was, it was not marked on the map. Finally all was revealed, the object was in fact a large sculptor standing proud and tall, (see photo); a very prominent landmark. What had been just a gentle drizzle down in the valley was now a wind blown wetness, however, I was still below the cloud base that covered the tops. The old trackway was delightful walking, wide open limestone country, lovely vistas despite the weather. With time getting on and the fact that I had been on the go for some eight hours meant that I was on the lookout for somewhere to camp; it was case of marrying up a source of water with a place firm enough to take the tent and hopefully providing a little shelter from the rising wind. A limestone outcrop offered a little protection but not much, in fact I have rigged the tent fore and aft with extra guying for extra protection:the wind is now shaking the tent violently. Water was from a nearby gill that had several pools of fairly clear water. Using my baby cup, I gently scooped up the water to fill the water bag, taking care not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the pool. Oh my, what sheer and utter bliss to be out of the waterproofs, boots and socks off and laying back with a hot drink.
Thursday 10th June, camped OS map OL2 GR 791860.
A blustery and cold night, had to throw my jacket over the sleeping bag in the early hours. Once more it was a case of changed plans; my original idea had been to head down toward Wensleydale and then cut off up and over toward Dent. However, the high tops where still wearing a dark grey bonnet of thick cloud and my route would have needed careful map and compass work across open country, doable but I did not feel up for it. The morning was not actually wet, at least it was not raining but just a damp mizzle. Resorting to plan C; I headed back up the track to High Dyke: now a series of sheep pens but at one time had obviously been a farmstead. In theory there where a couple of footpaths here and indeed there was footpath sign and that was about it. As I headed down through a couple of fields ,a group of young cattle came lolloping across, milling around me; no problem, just typical bovine curiosity, they readily parted as I pushed through them. Further down I picked up a rough track where the farmer had been up and down a few times. This led me around to Blades farmstead, another haphazard footpath sign pointed vaguely across boggy marshland, had me pausing to configure the map to the ground. A bit of careful navigation and I found the bridge marked on the map and continued on to another farm, across the road, through another field, across the railway and more fields to Garsdale. With the weather still murky higher up I stuck to the road up past the station; a nasty little climb out of the valley and soon I was back in drifting mist and general dampness, not unpleasant walking though, despite the fact I do not enjoy road yomping. This was different country in some respects, the road was flanked by drystone walls, gates had 'private land' signs on them. Even when I turned off on the bridleway that ran around by Crosshills Wold and Greenbank, there was a sign up about permitted path to Great knoutberry Hill and so forth. It was pleasant walking though and I was content to just amble. My aim was to camp before descending in to the Dent valley. Finding an idyllic spot, I was tempted but it was on view from the track and I had visions of some farmer spotting me and having words. Indeed, as I sat there a couple of farm vehicles trundled through, my preference is for 'out of sight, out of mind'. Ambled around to Dent Fell and descended out of the mist and managed to find a nice little spot out of the way by Arten Gill. An early enough stop but camping lower down would be difficult and as a bonus, the weather appears to be clearing up. Generally speaking I am not feeling too bad but my knees and ankles are painful, so it is good idea to settle back with the book and not do too much.
Friday, Ribblehead bunkhouse.
Woke this morning to thick mist in the Gill, however the wind had finally changed and a breeze was coming in from a westerly direction. Dawdled a bit this morning before packing up, a heavy dew had soaked the tent but I managed to get the worst of the water off. Amazingly I did not need foul weather gear and could get underway in trousers and jacket; the mist lifted too. It was pleasant walking down to Arten Gill viaduct and the upper Dent valley was beautiful in the morning light, peaceful and tranquil, lovely just to potter along. Following the footpath from Bridge End and along to Dent Head farm, there is a rucksack hating turkey there, so be warned! The path continues up over the Bleamoor tunnel, it is only a short uphill section really, but I almost ground to a standstill, my knees went all wobbly, had to dig deep just to keep them moving; was glad to sit down at the first air shaft. Actually the three air shafts that now remain where three of seven excavation shafts worked by sixteen gangs of navvies, using explosives, picks and shovels to excavate the tunnel; the spoil was raised to the surface by steam powered winches; great spoil heaps of the hewed rock bear mute testimony to the labour involved. Folk often remark on the engineering marvel of the Ribblehead viaduct, I wonder how many consider the labour involved, some two thousand navvies, an army, men who where housed in shanty towns on sight and they had to be fed too and provided for. Also workshops had to be built, tramways too to transport the bricks which where also made on sight, stone was brought in from nearby quarries. There was no health end safety in the eighteen hundreds, labour was cheap and men died. Also, the rail company put different sections of the whole rail build out to tender, the contractors who where accepted worked to a fixed price and there was no payment until the job was done. The contractor who took on the viaduct and tunnel section lost everything, he went bankrupt. It was tempting to camp but the thought of a shower and clean clothes made the idea of the bunkhouse an attractive one. In some respects possibly a mistake, there was large marquee in the car park of the pub but I paid little mind to it. Booking in and grabbing a pint of lemonade the lady mentioned that the bunkhouse had been fully booked for Saturday because there was a scooter rally taking place, hence the marquee. Fortunately I had a section of the bunkhouse to myself but it was a long night. The scooter folk who had arrived on the Friday afternoon and evening where nice enough people but I preferred to keep out of the way and the music went on until around 2am.
Saturday. The train was not until early afternoon so went out for a stroll this morning; it was unbelievable, it was like something out of a horror film. The whole area was heaving with people, great phalanxes of bodies streaming up the road and heading upwards on the Blea Moor bridleway; the herd instinct in overdrive. Groups of guys, all muscle, bronzed, tight shorts and t shirts, very macho; what made me laugh though was that the majority all had big boots to match, Scarpa mantas and even several pairs of La Sportiva's, amazing! At the other extreme where several pairs of light trainers and even a couple of lasses in flip flops. It was the stuff of nightmares and I wandered off across country to join the sheep by an outcrop of limestone.