Sunday 11 December 2011

The best laid schemes

As Rabbie Burns announced, 'The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley'In an unusual departure from my normal solitary wanderings I agreed to meet up with Mike, ( Mike Knipe northern pies). A flurry of messages and e mails saw a rough outline of a 'plan'. Mike spoke of snow on the tops? Cold weather kit duly packed and four days food in the rucksack made the pack feel weighty. At the early hour of five thirty am on the Monday morning; saw me heading to the station. Approaching Leeds I was surprised to actually see snow showers and the train station felt decidedly chilly. To my relief the trains where running to time, a delay would have meant Mike sitting around waiting for me.As is my usual habit, after Settle station I nipped in to the train loo to change in to my hill going gear.Looking up to the Mallerstang ridge just after Gargrave it appeared to be shrouded in cloud. It took a few moments for me to realise that it was actually snowing and heavy snow too. Mike was waiting for me at Kirkby Stephen station .A bit of tricky manoeuvering to get out of the car park and Mike drove gingerly in to Kirkby. The road surface was icy and the car was a tad skittish. A fancy Porsche coming the other way lost it and went to investigate the hedge; at one point I wondered if he was going to perform a rollover for a finale, thankfully he did not. Mind he had sustained damage and was looking rather  nonplussed as we passed. Parking up in the town we  shrugged in to waterproofs and headed out.We did not have that far to go but conditions underfoot where wet and muddy; as I found out doing a nice belly slide on a little bit of bank that posed no problem for Mike.For a short time the weather eased, however, as we set up camp by an old sheep pen and close to a wall for protection the snow started once more. For me it had been a long day, especially since breakfast had been at 0430am. A brew of tea and a meal and I was happy to snuggle down in the sleeping bag. The snow continued all night, nipping out in the early hours everything was a white swirling mass. Snow was banking up on the sides of the tent and it needed a few thumps to reduce the buildup. From the sound of things Mike too was having a few problems. By morning it was evident the overnight snowfall had been substantial. We both agreed that with the amount of snow that was blanketing the hills, progress in any direction would have a hard slog. This was born out when Mike headed off to find water; the snow was up to his knees and it was obviously laborious just plowing through the stuff. With full packs the going would have been even more difficult. While |Mike headed back to his sleeping bag to continue his research on snoozeology, I curled up with a book.. It was a day of sunshine and showers. The following morning more bad weather was rattling around the tents; sleet, snow, freezing rain and hail. A quick heads together as we discussed plans to head up the Eden valley and head up the old 'High Road' that climbs the hill above Mallerstang. The concern was that our proposed destination, Hell Gill, offered little protection from bad weather. As things turned out it was a fortuitous decision. It was a tad frustrating for both of us to spend another day tent bound. With a certain degree of lassitude creeping in on my part  I broke a cardinal rule of camping.While brewing up  late in the afternoon I noticed a tent peg was loose. By now the ground we where on was wet and boggy. Shoving the tent peg back in I remember thinking that if the wind got up that peg would come loose. It needed a rock placing on it which would have solved the problem. Putting off the task until I had drunk my tea, I promptly forgot about it. A bad mistake on my part, the price for negligence can sometimes be high. The night was a long one and I slept badly, feeling uneasy. By the wee small hours the wind had shifted direction and was rising rapidly. The dry stone wall was no longer offering us any protection from the wind. With the wind came rain, icy, freezing, mingled with hail and sleet. As a dark gray morning broke I noticed the front of the tent was flapping badly and remembered that tent peg. Too late, even as I made a move to rectify the problem the peg came away and the front of the tent now began to thrash wildly. Really I should have got out of the tent and sorted the problem. Instead I yelled for Mike. Poor guy, I just shoved a handful of tent material in to his hand with a "Hang on to this please." It was then a case of hurriedly dressing and rapidly bundling everything in to the rucksack. Amazingly everything remained dry, the rucksack liner proved its worth. Staggering out to face a howling maelstrom, the tents where rapidly taken down and unceremoniously bundled in to the packs. Ironically the rest of the tent pegs where embedded deep and pulling them out with numb fingers was non too pleasant. Looking up to the hillside above us tattered clouds and horizontal rain where scudding across the fells driven by the gale force wind. It was no place to be. As we headed down toward Hartley, gusts of wind broadsided us causing the pair of us to skitter sideways, crabbing against the relentless onslaught. Water was flowing everywhere and the river Eden was in full spate. Arriving in Kirkby Stephen we  took the sensible option and headed in to the nearest cafe for breakfast.What the folk in the cafe thought as we bundled through the door dripping wet and rather wild looking, I have no idea? The lady rallied to the occasion though, promptly placing bin bags on the chairs for us to sit on. Mike, ever the gentleman took of his waterproofs and left them by the door. While Mike would be heading home on the A66, my aim now was to book in to the local independent hostel. Obviously it was closed but there was a phone number which we called on Mike's phone. It was on an answer phone. No real worry, there was a cycle shed where I could stay out of the worst of the weather. My concern was for Mike, he would be in for an interesting drive home! Fortunately the hostel owner called Mike back and he warned her that there may be a strange woman lurking in her cycle shed? The lady found me dancing slowly around my stove. In actual fact it was only my outer layers and boots that where wet, underneath I was quite dry and fairly warm. Oh my, the luxury of a hot shower and clean, dry clothes. Such simple pleasures are sometimes worth their weight in gold. Leaving next day the snow had returned and as I walked up to the station it was snowing heavily. An interesting few days, little mileage done, no goals realized. Sometimes though things turn out that way.

Thursday 10 November 2011

A wee rant

It is rare for me to write up a rant, however, this is one of those occasions. So folks, please excuse me while I indulge in a bit of a grumble. For some time I have been experiencing foot problems. When travelling my feet and ankles swell. The main issue though is that both feet, in particular my right foot, have been growing increasingly painful. Wearing ordinary shoes now means pain. This is mainly around the big toe area which is also distorting and pushing my other toes out of line. After many months I finally saw a podiatry specialist, (re human farrier). He was concerned over the state of my feet, muttering something about metatarsus damage  and promptly put me in line to see a surgeon. A few days back I saw said surgeon. After poking and prodding she said surgery was very much a necessity.  My response was 'fine, let's get on with it, the sooner sorted, the quicker I can start recovering fitness and get back on the hill' There was one problem, I am a single person, living alone, managing my own affairs. There is no family and so forth. Due to this and not being able to put in place a care worker, someone to cook for me, help me to the loo and so on, collect me from hospital and take me to physio. Thus surgery has been cancelled. There was an offer of a short term solution, cortisone injections. Other people live in similar circumstances as me; it appears that single people living alone are being penalized in situations such as this. So, I am not a happy bunny. Will it stop me heading to the hills, doing bushcraft and the likes? Not ruddy likely.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Autumn amble

Sometimes the urge to get away for a few days on the hill is like a continuous itch that refuses to go away. Cash wise it was hardly practical. Fitness wise probably I would be pushing things a tad?. However, the possibility of further surgery gave the need for a trip away a sense of urgency. Trouble too with a greedy, obstreperous, money grabbing internet server was getting to me as well. Their perfidious actions have left me angry and agitated. A few days afoot hopefully would help preserve what little sanity I may have?
A search of the long term weather forecast indicated mixed conditions; some sunshine and showers, more prolonged heavy rain, high winds and low visibility on the hills. Quite normal for the area and time of the year really! Ah well, am carrying my winter sleeping bag, a book and a good supply of tea bags.
Part of the South Tyne trail.
It was a a bit of a prolonged journey up; London to Leeds Leeds to Carlisle and from there on to Haltwhistle. Arrived in Haltwhistle early afternoon; there was a quick dash in to a shop for a soft drink and bar of chocolate for lunch.The trail was easy enough to find. It is the old railway bed that ran down to Alston. It has been described as boring, personally I would not go that far. It is one of those trails though that you can switch off and just bimble along, brain in neutral and your mind taking flights of fancy wheresoever it pleases you. The day was fairly mild and dry and I was content to just coast along.
Autumnal, views from Lambley viaduct.
There where lovely views from the Lambley viaduct; however, at the end of the viaduct a large barrier had been erected, denying access to the old station area. A set of steps led of to the right and descended below the viaduct. Rather than follow the steps down and being uncertain as to where they led I opted to clamber over the fence,scramble up a steep bit of bank and walk past the old station buildings. Further on all was made clear, the path had been diverted to stop people walking past the converted station, now obviously a private residence. A notice on the other side of the barriers would have been helpful.

After careful checking of the map, it was obvious wild camping in this area would not be easy. However, I had a couple of places in mind. my second choice turned out to be alright for a stealthy camp, close to a stream and on the edge of a wood. (OS map OL43 GR677556) It was just about last light when I stopped and I was discreetly tucked away

Overnight camp OS map OL31. GR674413.
Night  noises in the woods, the bark of the dog fox, the scream of the vixen. Owls close by, the snort of roe deer; rustling in the leaf litter. Natural sounds and I am comfortable with them. The stream just behind me chuckles and gurgles, a splashing, tumbling baby riveret. The early morning calm and still, the tent has been left wide open overnight and in the first stirrings of the day the kettle is on. Tea brewed and I am content to savour the moment. Too soon though I must be on the move and by nine I am packed up and on my way.Once more it is easy walking. The track has been hard surfaced all the way to Slaggyford. Oddly, just beyond Slaggyford there is a very overgrown boggy stretch. That though is only a small section and it is not long before I am walking along side the narrow gauge railway that runs up from Alston. It is being extended another couple of miles and a diesel engine was bringing up equipment and workmen for another day's work.
Coming in to Alston I suffered a mental aberration and found myself sitting in a cafe with a plate of egg and chips and a pot of tea in front of me. Very enjoyable it was too and needed. Somewhere I had read that the distance from Haltwhistle to Alston via the track was fifteen miles. A guy in the cafe though had cycled it a few times and he said it measured nearer eighteen miles. Leaving town I was well aware that the day's easy walking was over. There was some uphill work ahead. Making my way up past 'The Raise', on to Nether Park. A track continued onward and up, following the contours of the hill. A study of the map indicated the possibility of another track leading of the one I was following. Sure enough, it was there. My hope was that I may find the footpath marked on the map, shown as part of the Maiden Way. Also, I was on the lookout for a possible camp spot. It was not to be, all I found was bog and all pervading wetness. To follow the general direction the foot path went would have involved some serious bog hopping, mucky and  time consuming. It meant backtracking  down to the original track way. Down to the main road, the A686. A dogleg detour at leadgate gill to cut out a small bit of main road.Eventually though I had to join it by little Dow hill. By now I was getting tired and cars whizzing close to my left ear as I clung to a very narrow grass verge made me a tad grumpy.It was on a a straight stretch that I saw a car speeding toward me hugging the verge.It was not his fault, another car was overtaking him at speed and leaving him nowhere to go.Unfortunately I too had nowhere to go and I could only flatten myself against the bank and hope for the best. The car missed me but oh my, it was close, too darned close for comfort.With my nerves somewhat rattled I pushed on at a quicker pace than was comfortable; anxious to be off this road as quickly as possible.Finally I found the turn off for the Maiden Way. The rapid yomp up the road had made my legs wobbly, like jelly. There was only one intention now and that was to find somewhere to camp. A drop down to the river and after a bit of faffing and casting around, the tent is up. A rising wind is chivying the tent but it is well pegged down. My fitness levels are awful and I am tired this evening. It is bliss to just lay back and sip at a mug of tea. The day has been quite mild but the evening temperatures drop quite rapidly.
Saturday. Camped OS Map OL31 GR 657372
The wind continued all night, a steady westerly.Nipping out in the early hours it was obvious the weather was on the change. Brewing up at first light I noticed the build up of banks of dark clouds scudding along driven before the wind. Not being in a hurry, I was taking my time in packing up. Just as I was lacing up my boots and noting the stiffness in my thighs, I heard engines close by. Horrors, there was a convoy of four wheel drive vehicles coming down the track from the road.They all stopped a short distance away as a quad was unloaded from a trailer. Lots of cheery chatter drifted across to me as I studiously pretended I was not there.Three of the off roaders forded  the rivers; it was obviously a a group of guns out on a Saturday shoot somewhere on the moor. A friendly toot of the horn and a wave as they drove past. Amazing, I was quite expecting someone to come striding across and give me a ticking off for camping. The guy driving the quad also gave me a wave and yelled 'good morning' as he followed the vehicles up the track.Well, I was quite taken aback! Fantasmagorical, decent folk for a change!The first part of the track is all hard packed and obviously driveable. As it ascends the track veers off to the left and the MaidenWay continues onward and upward. It proved to be wet and boggy, also, possibly because I was tired and feeling the pace, it seemed a long plod up the hill. Soon I had to stop and hustle in to wet weather gear.Things where deteriorating  rapidly. As I ascended so the cloud base was descending to meet me. Tendrils of rain sodden cloud swirled around me and the wind was on the rise, Coming up to the large cairn on the shoulder of the hill a large gust almost threw me off balance. The rain was now head on. My plan of using the dry stone wall as a hand rail, following  it over Brown hill and around was scrapped. Noticing a patch of ground by the dry stone wall that looked sort of tent sized and offering a potential spot for the tent; decided me. Ok, it would be a fairly high camp, but the wall offered some protection from the rising gale. Bliss, tent up, wet gear hanging in the porch, a pot of tea, cosy sleeping bag and a book to read; contentment! By the late afternoon the wind was a steady roar, rain beat a relentless staccato tattoo on the taut fly which thrummed in the maelstrom.
Sunday, same spot.The storm eased overnight but looking out of the tent early, the morning was dreich, dank dripping, grayness was all that could be seen. It was an easy call and a day off was decided upon. Decision made, I did what most hill walkers would do, put the kettle on, have a brew and snuggle down in the sleeping bag. By late morning the weather had eased and there was even some visibility. Went for a stroll and pottered over toward Brown Hill. What intrigued me where the proliferation of cairns that where dotted all over the place. Not the ordinary pile of stones randomly piled up. Some of these cairn had been carefully constructed by someone who was familiar with the fine art of dry stone walling.Possibly they where a form of boundary markers? It is easy to think of these moorland places as empty and a wee bit isolated; however they have long been a working area. Old sheepfolds  bear witness to the hill farmers who worked these high places. Industry too has been part of this environment. The remains of old quarries, mine workings and shafts are scattered far and wide. It begs the question of how men worked in these places? Little remains today, but it is obvious the work must have been extremely  hard and dangerous. Once again the weather was closing in as the wind began to rise, dark clouds filled the horizon and tendrils of mist, like tattered lace curtains, began to swirl around me.
 High moorland, five minutes later this had all vanished.
Weather closing in.
Monday. Another storm bringing a wet and windy night. Looking out this morning, everything was wet and dripping, no visibility and although the wind had eased it was still blustery.A little mind worm had been niggling at me, was it back the clocks where meant to go or forward? My watch had been put back and hour and I was certain this was right but there was a slight doubt! A cold, shivery strip wash in the tent and I was soon packing up and ready to get moving. With no visibility and thick wet cloud enveloping the hill, care and concentration where needed as I descended. Oh my though, the hill was running with water and conditions underfoot where greasy and I was slip sliding around like a skittish drunken ballerina trying to tap dance on ice! Odd as it may seem, despite the given conditions, there was something exhilarating about it all. Mad, utterly away with the fairies, I know, but still? Coming down out of the murk conditions where less wild, a spot of drizzly rain but nothing to worry about. Mind, trying to negotiate a footpath near Kirland had me muttering under my breath a tad. Cattle had poached the ground in to a quagmire. Some of it was just wet and sloppy stuff, a distinctive red colour. Some of  the mud though was of a paler hue and had the consistency of well made, cold congealed porridge. In places I sank in deep and had to struggle a bit to get myself out. By the time I got across the field my over trousers where well slathered in mud. That cured me of any idea of trying any more footpaths. Road walking was now the order of the day.A signpost  indicated Appleby was twelve miles away. A tidy step and a steady pace would be needed. The alternative that I had noticed on the map was Langwathby at six miles distance. That was the easiest option and that was the direction I would head for. Walking in waterproofs is never a favourite of mine and I was glad to get out of them. At this lower level the weather was not bad, a bit of drizzle, the odd spot of rain but nothing to worrage about. Fortunately the roads where quiet and I was able to shuffle along at a steady amble. As road walking goes it was not an unpleasant walk out and I arrived at the railway station in plenty of time for the train. Overall, to put it in the broad Scots vernacular, 'It wasnae a bad wee daunder!'

Sunday 2 October 2011


A recent statement by a fellow blogger gave me pause for thought. ( He is a man who stands apart from the majority of folk who pursue all things related to outdoor activities. Sir, I stand in amazement!  What is it that so fascinates many of us about gear?
My own interest stems from my studies in social history; plus which, it is interesting to hear of other peoples experience with outdoor equipment. One gentleman in London in the early 1900s spoke of having a tent made of Japanese silk and a bamboo pole, a meths stove and and a light cooking kit, his all up weight complete came in around six pounds in weight..
 In the Victorian period though, there where few working class people involved in any form of climbing, hill walking and so forth. The reason was simple, they where too busy working, there where no paid holidays; they worked long hours on low pay. Equipment was largely specialised and designed for men. It was considered a man's domain, women where considered too delicate. Mind, even then some people where experimenting with ultra light gear.  Women where supposed to remain at home, the ever faithful wife raising children while hubby went off to far flung climes to perform heroic deeds.  What a shock to the system when a few brave women bucked the trend and decided they too wanted to participate in these activities. Society was scandalised,  Opposition to their efforts was strong;  but these pioneers went ahead  breaking new ground for women in climbing and trekking activities.   Often they climbed in the clothes they had, long skirts that iced up in the ice and snow; they proved more resilient than anyone could imagine. Women climbing in trousers was considered scandalous and for a women to do so caused outrage and at times met with great hostility.
In many respects it was not until after the second world war that the working classes began to take up climbing and hiking, cycling and a range of other activities. A shift in social conditions, where responsible for this. Not that they had money to spend on equipment. The Craig Dhu lads for example, Glasgow ship workers, had a fearsome reputation. They made do with army surplus or old clothes adapted to their needs. Some stuff they  needed they made themselves in the shipyard workshops. They had no money but their passion for climbing was awesome.
Hiking and outdoor activities in general was not that well catered for by the retail trade. People adapted or made do with what they had. There was however, a large amount of army surplus equipment that was cheap and served the purpose. For a while I used an adapted combat jacket on the hill and my rucksack was a canvas ex army. Boots where leather, weighed an awful lot and took ages to break in. Items such as stoves where heavy duty; my first one was a Primus half pint paraffin, messy, paraffin had a habit of tainting everything. An alternative stove I had was an Optimus one third of a pint petrol. It self pressurised as it got hotter. There where reports of them blowing up, but I never had any problem. Mind, I can recall wandering in to a garage in the wilds of Scotland and asking if I could buy a pint of petrol. The  chap who operated the pump never even blinked; it took a bit of juggling but we managed to fill the fuel bottle with hardly a drop spilled. Gas was starting to make an appearance but they where heavy and bulky. Nylon was starting to appear on the market in the shape of such items as as the cagjack. My first tent though was Egyptian cotton, a heavy brute when wet. Clothing was largely wool pullovers and ventile anoracks. Fantastic but one once again heavy and took ages to dry when soaked. One winter on Snowdon mine froze and it was like wearing a suit of armour.
As the leisure industry took off, so equipment became lighter. The first faltering steps where by individuals who experimented and adapted with new materials. Climbers and walkers, who could not find what they required on the high street, began to design and manufacture equipment specific to their requirements. It was the start of a new era.
Over the course of the twentieth century the outdoor industry has burgeoned in to a major industry. Kit has radically altered, as prices reflect. Walk down Keswick high street in the middle of the summer season and anoraks  boots and rucksacks are de rigueur. How amazing it is to see folk with boots oh so clean, anoraks pristine and daysacks looking spotless!
Interestingly, as outdoor clothing and equipment has become readily available, churned out on a production line basis by business conglomerates; so a few folk have stepped aside from the main stream and setting up cottage industries and once again are producing specific equipment to specialised requirements. They have a dedicated following of people who prefer to purchase from them. It is hands on stuff, kit once again made by people who are know what they require, outdoor folk. Through the medium of the internet ideas can be shared world wide.
As for me, well, I am getting older, am no longer so capable of hauling around thirty or forty pounds on the hill. Having served my apprenticeship with a my fair share of leaky, heavyweight equipment, have tarped in the Scottish winter, froze in tiny tents on Snowden, bivi ied, survived an epic or two; possibly I have achieved a smidgen of knowledge. So, maybe I deserve a wee bit of comfort in my travels, gear reviews are of interest, they keep me in touch and though I cannot afford big money, I am always keen to see the latest developments in kit. Obsessional? Well maybe, but I am sure many folk will agree with me; it is part and parcel of being an outdoor enthusiast. Maybe, one day in the future, People will look at today's equipment and consider it heavy and obsolete?

Thursday 22 September 2011

Northern perigrinations

 Originally I had been contemplating Scotland for my next trip, however, this would mean a twelve hour run on the night coach. That was something I felt unable to face and train fares are horrendous. Much time pouring over maps and I came up with the germ of an idea. It took a bit of juggling but I had a rough idea for an interesting, if different type of trek. At least, that was the general idea.
Autumn is most certainly upon us and I cannot but ponder as to where the summer went? the onset of the Autumnal season subsequently means a heavier pack weight. From what I could glean from the long term weather forecast it seemed that I was in for some unsettled weather. light, summer clothing is replaced by warmer wear. Gloves are added to spare clothing, a heavier soft shell replaces the light gilet used during the summer.

Thursday15th September.
Leaving first thing in the morning, I was in Carlisle by early afternoon. Fortunately it is an easy city to get out of, a quick walk through the town centre and down to the river to join the Hadrian's wall path. The day was dry and warm and I was anxious to push on. Sometimes it is not so easy to settle down to a decent walking pace. In the city my walking is often hurried, shuttling along at a rapid quickstep; whereas on the hill it is a slower but manageable pace that eats up the miles. The H.W.path is certainly well marked, every junction, stile or gate there is a marker.The way leads through paths, lanes and tracks and the walking is easy. Something I found rather unique was the self serve tea huts. One wandered in, looked at the prices on the wall and helped themselves to tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks and popped their money in the honesty box. Some folk have described this section of the path as boring and bland. Personally I would not go that far, varied, yes, a different type of walking to my usual. Herons glided along the river edge, a flock of geese kicked up a noisy hullaboo in the distance, a water vole plopped in to the river. Having seen the river Eden as a young, fresh and joyful clamouring stream and seeing it now in its maturity. Broad and deep, more matronly; the water a dark muddy brown, heavy laden with silt washed from the land after the recent rains. Soon now nearing its journey's end. It was noticeable how up market the properties where in this area, garden, and lawns manicured just so; carefully clipped hedges, strategic signs announcing,'private', just to make sure the hoi polloi did not stray within.Crossing a bridge over the M6, oh my, what a clamorous, noisy din and I was glad to push swiftly on.  A combine harvester droned in a field next to a track I was walking, a tractor with a large trailer pulled along side ready to receive the newly reaped golden harvest. My hope had been to find a campsite, I was aware wild camping on this stretch would be difficult. Not seeing anything I asked at couple of farms for permission to camp but was refused. Crossing a stile by Heads Wood I noticed a few Shetland ponies and a large mare grazing in the field. The path cut diagonally across the field, shortly after entering the field I heard the drumming of hooves behind me. Looking back I saw the horse was cantering toward me at a rapid rate. Coming to a stop it nuzzled at my rucksack, obviously looking for a handout. Horses are not stupid and it was obvious this horse had been fed tidbits from the many walkers crossing through the field. The problem was, the horse now expected it. The mare lunged at my rucksack again, almost knocking me off my feet. Tiring of the horse's persistence, and worried that the horse may damage the rucksack; I gently but firmly took hold of the halter it was wearing and led it across the field beside me. It tried to turn in to me a couple of times but quickly realised I was having none of it. Risky? Maybe, if the horse owner thought I was horse rustling?  My advice to anyone who thinks of offering treats to horses, be aware, it can lead a horse in to bad ways. The edge of the field dropped steeply away down a bank with stone slab steps and I left a somewhat bemused horse at the top of the bank. Spotting a quite dense wood I checked it out, thinking it may offer somewhere for a wild camp. The many pheasants scattering in every which way and the feeders in the wood suggested that it would not be a good idea. Checking the map I noticed a bunkhouse or similar marked at Sandysike farm.It was a a rather upmarket camping barn. With some twelve miles walked it was time to stop; I was growing weary. Accepting the inevitable I booked into the camping barn, something I am not that keen on. If there is one thing I am extremely reluctant to do though is wild camp in agricultural areas. Having asked permission a few times and been refused, stopping at the camping barn was the easiest option. This could be an expensive trip!

Left this morning around nine, feeling tired from yesterdays push, my decision was to take things a little easier. The morning started off better than forecast, dry and quite warm.There was a noticeable change in the type of countryside I was passing through. Rolling, hilly terrain, quite lush and verdant. It was surprising to see how the path is not only way marked at every conceivable point but also specially constructed in several places. Notices too instructed walkers to keep to the mown pathway! Another striking feature was the sheer amount of people walking the wall. Groups of folk from two up to twelve and more. Also  noticeable was the amount of people travelling with just daysacks; their luggage being forwarded for them on a sherpa system. The legions are still marching, phalanxes of them, still coming from many points of the globe, only now they march only for the leisure of it. Many appear to travel using just the guide books. For me, personally, I find it too crowded and am rather uncomfortable with so many folk around. Heading up toward Birdoswald, a fine, thin mizzle began to make things wet.Nipping in to the fort, I stayed long enough to use the loo and get in to waterproofs and hurried away. Fine, maybe I am anti social but I do not do crowds. The path drops steeply down to the river Irthing and leads round to the remains of the Roman bridge. Now that is one impressive bit of building, it must  have appeared spectacular when it was built. One thing the Romans where extremely good at was engineering.The labour involved must have been awesome! Certainly it would have kept the troops well occupied? Coming around by Gilsland I stopped for a break and mulled over my choices for the rest of the day. By now it was raining steadily, not driving rain and encased in waterproofs I was fairly comfortable. My main concern was that my legs felt heavy and leaden. There was no rush and deciding on a shortish day was an easy decision. Checking on the map there was a camp site marked at Greenhead and so I headed over only to find it closed. Someone suggested another campsite. However, it was another six to eight miles further on. With sense of resignation and with the rain now becoming heavy I finally opted to book into the Holmhead camping barn.

Saturday 17th camped, OS map43, gr,739673
An easy enough day, given over to just a gentle meander. Sticking to the path I just pootled along, past the bustling Walltown carpark and starting climbing; the path leading to a low crag. Awesome views to the north. What crosses my mind though is not the immense scale of construction but the men themselves. Auxiliary troops drafted in from far flung regions of the Roman empire. The sheer journey to get there, what where conditions like for them? The mile castles look tiny, life must have been quite basic for them.What where the thoughts of the men on duty looking out north at what must have seemed the end of the known world to them? It was enjoyable following the line of the crags; nothing strenuous, just the occasional short, sharp steep bit. Looking around Aesica Roman fort at Great Chesters, although little remains today, it is still an impressive piece of work. In winter though, conditions must have been pretty awful. Wanting a lazy day, I was keeping one eye open for a possible spot to camp.However, speaking to a couple of lads that where carrying camping gear, they had experienced problems every time they had tried to wild camp. Even when they got away from the wall and tried to stealth camp they had been moved on. Having heard that I detoured a few times checking out possible places to camp with no success. Picking up water was a problem too. Eventually I headed back to the wall and found a spot just about out of the way. However, I felt uneasy and although the rain was back again, I waited for a couple of hours before setting up camp. The rain currently is heavy, beating a steady tattoo on the tent.

Sunday 18th.
More rain during the night but this morning dawned calm and still with a heavy dew. This in turn meant a wet tent. Breakfast was a hurried affair, I was anxious to get the tent down, although soaking wet. Just as I was striking camp I could hear a quad bike in the distance and drawing nearer. Instinctively I hastily bundled the tent in to the rucksack and as the machine came in to view I was sitting perched on a boulder trying to look innocent. The farmer came to a stop. " Has't tha bin campin?" Hoping he had not spotted the flattened grass where the tent had been, I waved my camera at him. "Camping?" He growled something under his breath. And launched in to a tirade about folk who wild camped."It's against the law, so it is and strictly forbidden all along the wall. We have the law on our side so we do." He ranted on, telling me how local farmers like him had a living to make and folk should make use of his campsite  and not deprive them of their hard earned income. Finally he ran out of steam, started up his machine and continued on his patrol. It was tempting to ask him how much it cost him in time and effort to patrol the area but I refrained. The rest of the day was spent wandering over Winshield crags and exploring some of the vellum and then meandering back to Walltown. There had been showers on and off all day but things had momentarily eased in the afternoon. Being a Sunday there where a lot of folk out and about. My immediate concern was where I was going to stop for the night. Exploring some nearby woods it would have feasible to camp but the thick, dense undergrowth would have meant a wet and uncomfortable night. Feeling a tad dispirited I bowed to the inevitable and headed back over to Holmhead camping barn. There goes next months house keeping money! Ah well, at least I can have a hot shower before changing into clean clothes.Will be catching the bus out to Carlisle in the morning.
Well, things turned out much different from what I expected. Probably some folk will think I am an old curmudgeonly grump. Maybe or maybe not? The H.W.path was something I had considered doing, this was a way of tipping a toe in the water, a taster of what to expect. Firstly, I have nothing against the path or the people who walk it.There is nothing really difficult along the route. It is well provided for in the way of public transport. The local tourist industry benefits from it and fair play to them. There is a plethora of differing forms of accommodation provided along the route. The one downside I see is the sheer volume of traffic. As a major archaeological site it takes an awful pounding. Wild camping is obviously out, unless one is prepared to travel light or use a bivi bag. The maxim of stopping late, re, last light and being away again at the crack of dawn would apply. That is the other downside, the sheer cost of using bunkhouses, camp sites or whatever. Costs which are beyond me.The bigger issue for me personally is the sheer number of folk, I am uncomfortable in large crowds. That is a personal issue though, part and parcel of me. Mind, I have the germ of an idea. There are some interesting routes from Haltwhistle?

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Teesdale round

Yes indeed, it is a return to the area I was in a few weeks back. With the weather against me at that time the route I had in mind had to be shortened. It left a feeling of incompleteness. One of the drawbacks of travelling on public transport is that having to book in advance means having little idea of the weather that far in advance. Mind, the northern pennines offer some superb walking.
Thursday 4th August. Camped OS map OL19 GR699284.
Once again the ticket machines at Kings Cross where not working properly, several folk had failed to get their tickets and the situation was not helped by a rather rude and abrupt gent at the ticket counter. Thankfully a few people had taken his name and where going to file a complaint.Thankfully my train was not cancelled, however, a points failure outside of Doncaster saw us running some twenty minutes late. Thus a later connection from Leeds and once more arriving at Appleby and hour behind my intended time. Heading over toward Dufton via footpaths was tedious. Mind, at one point, where the footpath crossed a small section of field where a mixed  variety of horses, cattle, sheep and two donkeys where grazing, things proved interesting.  They donkeys came galloping across as soon as they spotted me, braying loudly. Oh my, what a racket, by the looks of it they where hoping for hand outs, both of them nuzzling me gently. But the noise they made was amazing. Much of the footpaths though where heavily overgrown and also consisted of triffid like stinging nettles some six feet tall. Everything was wet too, waterproof trousers where essential. It was drizzling by the time I got to Dufton, but not cold. My intention was to follow my previous route up toward Green Fell and camp high. However, by the time I got as far as Swinbrook Beck it was  raining quite steadily and a check of the time showed it was already close to four o clock. So, one again I camped close to the beck.It seemed the most sensible option given the weather conditions.

Trout Beck

Friday 5th. Camped OS map OL 31. GR 781329.
A fulfilling day, the rain eased off during the night and by this morning it was dry, if a little murky. A check of the map and a change to my intended route. Instead of following the Pennine way up and over I opted to take the path that led over to the bridleway that led up to Great Dun fell. The path soon went walkabout and became difficult to find on the ground. It made little difference. I actually headed up higher than the direction the path took. The ground underfoot was boggy, very, in some places I found myself teetering from tussock to tussock with the bog under me quivering like a giant jelly. It made sense to head for higher ground and I came around close to High Carle Band and then over to the bridleway, which is in fact a tarmac road. My aim was for the bridleway that ran down Trout Beck. It was obvious this at one time had been a substantial track serving the various mining activities that hat been carried out in the area. Now though nature is gradually reclaiming it and in some parts it was little more than a footpath. Lovely walking though, lapwings wheeled overhead piping loudly, saw a hare loping across the bogs. With the brook being fairly high it was not too easy crossing it as the path did a few times. At one point a small landslip had erased all semblance of even a path and care had to be taken crossing it. It was surprising how quickly the beck transformed from a small stream to quite a broad river. It is a tributary of the Tees though. Coming down by the river Tees I stopped at the old mine workings for a nibble and to take stock of my route. Initially I had the idea of heading around to Metal Band and then nipping straight across to Holdenhurth Band. Looking at the map though, indications where that it would mean some heavy bog trotting and across wet and saturated ground too. It was an easy decision, I wimped  out and opted for the longer route. It was pleasant walking down toward Tyne Head, lapwings and curlews where in abundance and I even managed to shed my jacket and walk in my t shirt.

Followed the Tyne Trail down as far as Tyne Head and then turned off and on to the bridleway way, signposted as a bi road? Heavily used by farm traffic, it climbed steadily up the hill following the Clargill burn.Quite an enjoyable little plod really, fortified by snacks and a long drink form the water bottle, I was content to take it slow and easy. The track eventually came out high on the B6277 and then it was only a mile or so along to the next track I was aiming for. This one led around to Cow Green reservoir. Obviously this was grouse country and managed strictly for grouse shooting. Notices proclaiming, 'footpath only' 'no dogs,' 'ground nesting birds' and such. The birds being the many flocks of grouse that exploded off in all directions as I passed, disconcerting when they take off from almost under your feet! The so called path was in fact a well maintained track; mountain bikers would really enjoy following it. Time was running on and I began to look for somewhere to camp. Close to the track and near to an extensive set of long abandoned mine workings offered a suitable spot.

Cow Green reservoir.

A successful day's walking, quite a long one but enjoyable. A pleasure to sit here in the doorway of the tent, boots off, a mug of tea and the anticipation of supper with the added luxury of a few squares of chocolate.

Saturday 6th. Camped OS map OL 19 GR 818279.
Not the easiest of days, an old medical problem kept me awake on and off through the night. Early this morning, there had been a heavy overnight dew and the tent was soaked. The air was still, the sky dark and grey with dark, blue black clouds slowly building up on the horizon. Such conditions brought out the midges in their legions. A dense thick cloud of them besieged the tent. Midge repellent was liberally applied; normally I am tolerant of most bugs and beasties but midges are the one creature I sincerely loath. Making my mug of morning tea it was swamped by the little crittures. The majority where spooned out of the mug, the rest went down with the tea; it is best looked on as a spot of added protein! No time was wasted in packing up and getting underway. Some brisk walking soon found me down by the Cow Green parking area. It was obvious that bad weather was heading in and I had a little bit of tricky navigation I wanted to get out of the way before things got nasty. The information boards confirmed what I had been reading on the map, a bridleway that led around toward Holwick. The one difficulty was that it was the other side of Maize Beck and the river Tees and there was no ford or bridge indicated. Coming around by the dam I followed the track up to Birkdale farm and then cut directly over to the Maize Beck. The water was fairly high but looked doable. The tricky bit was whether I had to wade across or could make it dry shod? A bit of casting around and I found a spot where the beck braided in to three main channels. The first channel went quite well, the one downside was that the rocks where darned greasy. A long stretch out to a rock in the second channel, a shuffle to a second boulder and voila, two channels crossed. Oh my, that third channel looked tricky and the water was swift and deep. A bold move out to a partially submerged boulder; one foot on the greasy surface, trekking poles plunged deep in the water and supporting a lot of my weight; a sideways lurch, a deep breath and a heave saw me perched on another lump of rock. It was a precarious position, just a toe hold on a slippery surface, a lunge for the bank and I hit dry land in an undignified heap, fingers grabbing clumps of heather to stop myself sliding back in to the water. It was not easy but I had crossed with only a damp foot. Light rain had started to fall as I began to cross and now it was becoming progressively heavier. According to the map the bridleway terminated opposite the farm but I found no evidence of it on the ground. The next thirty minutes or so where spent cutting back and forward across the hill. Frustratingly the bridleway failed to come to light. Stopping to take stock of the situation there where two choices, either I pushed on, which had been my original aim. This possibly would mean heading in the general direction using the compass and across bog as well. The alternative was to stop, camp and rearrange plans. With the rain now sluicing down and thunder grumbling in the distance, it was an easy decision. Finding a good bit of ground near an old sheep fold, I grinned to myself as the thunder storm arrived overhead, a case of deja vue. After my last trip, which also had heavy rain with thunder and lightning! Mad, utterly mad, running around in a storm setting up camp, lightning streaking across the sky, great claps of thunder echoing around the hills. It is not an easy exercise, getting out of wet waterproofs in the porch of the tent without soaking everything else. Remembering there was a stray packet of cup a' soup in the bottom of the food bag; I was soon sitting sipping on said soup. Being a tad cold and shivery, it went down well. Thus a shorter day than intended, however, rigid timetables are not best suited to hill walking, there must be flexibility.

Sunday 7th. Camped OS map OL19 GR 768267
Rain for most of the night, heavy, squally showers where still chivying the tent this morning. Unfortunately it was, again, a night with a lot of broken sleep, frustrating! Scrapping my original plans I now had a new route worked out. It would mean a long loop  but was the easiest option. Was away quite early, my first goal was to head down the Tees river to the nearest bridge close to Wat Garth; a good four miles. Despite the blustery wind and showers it was pleasant walking and I even found a delightful little footpath. There are some lovely spots for a wild camp along that stretch of the river. For anyone wanting to do an easy overnight camp there is a path that leads up towards Maize Beck. Obviously, with all the rain the small side streams that flow in to the Tees where running high. A bit of care needed but not overly difficult. The rain eased as I joined the Pennine Way down at the bridge. Now it was a case of following it back up the other side of the river. The P.W. does an odd loop here, following the Harwood Beck for a short distance before swinging back to the Tees. Got waylaid by a wet, soggy mut at Sayer Hill farm, she was delighted to see me, just begging for a bit of fuss and attention which was duly given. The farmer's wife was apologetic but I assured her it was no problem.  Crossing a meadow heading toward Widdy Bank farm, I paused to watch a kestrel hovering on the wind. Several times it swooped and dived and rose to hover once more. Their alternative name of 'wind hover' is well deserved. The PW is easy to follow, however, rock falls from the nearby cliffs stretched  all the way down to the river edge. Although I am unsure of what type of rock, I think they are largely dolerite. However, given the prevailing wet conditions, they where treacherously slippy  and care had to be taken working my through the boulder fields. Cauldron spout looked magnificent, water thundering down the rocky defile in a great foaming torrent. Coming up the rocks beside the waterfall was a slippery scramble. Remembering the climbers adage of three points of contact it was still an undignified thrutch, with hands, knees and feet being used. An elderly couple in matching yellow wellie boots and oilskins looked at me wide eyed as I heaved up the last steep bit. The woman looked at her partner, "Eeeehhh lad, there's gooing to be noo gangin doon there!" They both said hello and then turned to head back up the dam road. Gosh, I hope I did not scare them; dressed in my waterproofs and looking scruffy and disheveled maybe I can appear a tad scary?

By now the weather had eased, a blustery wind with just enough drizzle to keep me in waterproofs. Walking up to the gate and cattle grid just a bit up the hill I just plonked myself down with my back against the wall. Energy levels where falling through the floor. There was a flattened and squashed mars bar in my nibbles pouch. It went down a treat as did a few other snacks, well washed down with plenty of fluids. Energy levels replenished, my aim now was to stick with the P.W. following it in the general direction of Dufton. It was pleasant walking, the path eases up the hill in a gentle climb and I was content to amble along. A plan was going through my mind. Although I could have pushed on to Dufton,  I did not need to be in Appleby tomorrow much before two o clock at the earliest. Therefore I decided to stop somewhere where the PW follows the upper reaches of the Maize Beck. A steady wind was blowing down the valley. This at least was clearing away the last of the rain. The only slight problem was that I really wanted some protection from the wind. Reaching to the bridge that crosses the beck I stopped to look for a suitable spot. The bridge is raised high above the beck on two sturdy stone plinths. With the tent pitched in the lee of of one of the buttresses I had a ready windbreak. Not a bad day's walking, nothing really difficult but enjoyable.

Monday 8th
More rain on and off during the night. The temperature dropped quite low too. By this morning it was a thin drizzle driven by a blustery wind. Wispy clouds like torn remnants of lace where moving swiftly across the sky. Was in no big rush to get underway. Having a strip bath in the tent on a chilly morning is a tad masochistic but I prefer to be heading out with some semblance of cleanliness. An easy walk up to High Cup Nick. There are some lovely spots up there for a wild camp. The Nick is an impressive piece of geology; a mighty cleft cutting deep in to the surrounding high ground. Got a few odd looks from a couple passing by as I sat down in the drizzle, just happy to be drinking in the magnificent scenery. Thin misty clouds drifting through added to the atmosphere.

 It was superb walking around the Narrow Gate path . It seemed a shame to be heading down but having sat up on the heights for an hour or so it was now time to be making tracks down to Dufton and on to Appleby.As I descended the weather finally cleared and I was finally able to take off my waterproofs. Rather than faff around with overgrown footpaths I chose to head straight down the road to Appleby. Despite my dislike of road pounding there was little traffic and the walking was not so bad. A mile or so out of town I noticed a figure in front of me. It was a little old lady shuffling down the road in a very shaky manner. More disconcerting was the fact she was using a white cane. Catching up with her I asked if she was ok? Grabbing my arm she asked me to help her down the road. It must of looked odd to car drivers; me complete with rucksack, boots and mud spattered trousers and a little lady who hardly came up to my shoulder, leaning heavily on my arm. It seemed that she was heading in to town for an OAP's social club. From what I could gather, someone normally gave her a lift but failed to turn up. It was amazing though, she chattered away non stop, giving me a lengthy run down of her varied medical history. From what I could gather she was registered  as partially blind. "I keeps my head down 'cause I can just about see where ma feet is going." She chirpily told me. Further adding; " I canna see cars really, I can hear the buggers but sort of only see them when they near runs me over." Finally a car pulled up, it was the lady's daughter who thanked me profusely for helping her mum and offered me a lift. Being on the outskirts of Appleby I declined the offer, pointing to my muddy boots. Arrived at the station shortly after two. Unfortunately, unless I went in to town there was nowhere I could buy any fluids and I was feeling dehydrated. It was Leeds before I got a a bottle of pop.
Footnote. Arrived back in London and walked straight in to a riot, mayhem on the streets; fire and smoke and the sound of smashing glass.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Storm bound.

A dry Swinbrook beck
Thursday 14th July. Camped OS map OL31 gr 698285.
It was not the best of starts to the day. When I got to the tube station this morning the Victoria line was closed, signal failure. A dash to catch a bus down to the next tube station and the Northern line which, although more roundabout also ran to Kings Cross. The one snag was that a lot of other folk where all doing the same; getting on a crowded bus with a heavy pack is not easy. These days purchasing tickets on line often requires you to collect your tickets from a machine. Well, the machine broke and refused to give me my tickets. Finally managed to get my tickets, from a human being over the ticket counter. Was just congratulating myself that I had managed to get to the station, obtain my tickets and still have almost ten minutes before the train left. Horrors, my train was cancelled. Fortunately I managed to get on the next train half an hour later. However, it would mean an hour's wait at Leeds due to missing my connection. Frustrating, but daft in a way, there was no appointment to keep or anything; all in all it just meant a later start than intended.
It was warm heading out from Appleby, shorts and tee shirt. My aim was to head over to Dufton and join the Pennine Way for a short distance. Sometimes one feels fated; heading over toward Blackhill I could hear the sharp crack of shotguns; folk where shooting ahead of me. This was annoying, the shots where very close and  in the direction I wanted to go. Eventually I decided it prudent to detour over to Brackenthwaite and on to High Cup House and then take the lane down to Dufton. Not far but enough to add a few extra miles walking. From the village it was a steady uphill plod. Already I was tiring, however, the first few miles out went through farmland and I wanted to camp beyond that. Eventually I made it as far as Swindale beck and decided that was far enough. A nice spot to wild camp,lovely views and it felt good to on the hill once more. There was one slight problem and that was finding water. The  beck was just a mass of tumbled boulders, testament to its fury when in flood. Following the beck down I eventually found a small, clear trickle of water issuing form between the rocks and forming a few pools. The end of a long day; it was after six thirty when I stopped, an early night is on the books.
Friday 15th July. Same map, GR 716363. (roughly)
Looking out of the tent this morning I noted the grey cloud shrouding the tops. It was noticeably cooler than yesterday, not a day for tee shirts. Packed up and was away quite early.Mulling over the map last night, I had decided to stay with the PW for a while. My progress uphill is somewhat slow and today I was content to plod. As I got higher tendrils of grey cloud began to envelope me and it was not long before I was enclosed in cloud. With little visibility the world takes on another dimension; hearing sharpens, the call of birds, water running in a gully off to my right. It was damp but not enough to need waterproofs; my windproof shirt was enough to keep the dampness at bay. Walking in dense cloud can make me a tad twitchy and I keep the compass to hand for reassurance. The piping of moorland birds, curlews added to the feeling of solitude. Probably in clear weather it would be a lovely walk up and over The Heights. Maybe next time I head this way I will camp high; that would be nice. A pause at the summit cairn for a drink and nibble, a check of the compass and I was soon on the move once more. Descending, I noticed a line of metal posts on my right and also found the way ahead paved with large slabs. Yes, I know it is a necessity due to the amount of traffic the PW generates, to pave parts of it but it is still ugly. Coming down out of the cloud level I was momentarily flummoxed when I encountered a tarmac road. A quick study of the map and I realised it was the track that led up to the giant golf ball that loomed on the hill ahead, Great Dun Fell. According to the map some form of radio mast? More of the yellow brick road but some pleasant walking over Little Dun Fell and then the long pull up to Cross Fell. Something that puzzles me is the plethora of cairns all over these tops and as I found coming over The Heights, more of an hindrance to navigation than an aid. Dark, ragged clouds where moving swiftly across the sky in a steadily rising wind. Looking at the darkening sky, I did not linger too long on Cross Fell, a bit of lunch, a photo or two and I was on my way. There is a regular track that comes around by Greg's Hut, a bothy that I am sure sees much usage. The bothy was clean and tidy though. It was tempting to stop but it being only early afternoon I wanted to push on a bit further. That was the general idea anyway but bad weather was closing in behind me. The sky was turning a bruised blue, black and the wind was getting stronger. A decision had to be made and soon; to push on regardless and possibly have to make camp in adverse conditions or to make camp before the storm hit? Finding somewhere to camp was not easy, a lot of the ground was bog. Eventually, coming down by some old mine workings, I found a couple of places and dithered over whether to opt for a damp but sheltered spot or a dry but exposed bit of ground? Opting for the dry ground I wasted no time in getting the tent up; the wind was now blowing hard. The Shangri La 2 tent can be pitched with six pegs but has an optional 6 extra peg points for storm conditions. This afternoon I pegged everything down snug and tight. This is where I am glad I have a few Easton alloy pins in the peg bag. Ok, they may be a wee bit bit heavier than some pegs but placed properly it takes an awful lot to dislodge them. Having experimented with titanium pegs I was not impressed, they ended up mangled very quickly. By the look of things I have timed it just about right; I had barely got the kettle on when the wind really began to pummel the tent, complete with driving rain. This is where I prefer the Shangri 2, it has a mass of space, which allows me to bring everything under the fly and more importantly I am able to cook even with the tent battened down. The tent is an old original, from what I have heard the newer models are actually lighter and come seam sealed. Certainly weight for weight tents like the Terra Novas come lighter or as light as but my personal preference  is to opt for a bit more room.One suggestion I would make if anyone is looking at a Shangri 2, is to have a half nest specifically made for the inner. Look up, they will make one to a person's specific needs. At the moment I am using a Shanrgi 1 nest but it is a compromise.
Later that evening, I had managed to doze off, only to wake with a start, wondering what had woken me. It only took a moment or two to realise the tent was flapping in the wind's relentless onslaught. Immediately I knew what the problem was, my trekking poles also serve as tent poles. They are light, four section poles, but have a tendency at times not to lock as tight as they should.One of the pole sections had slipped a fraction. Grabbing the head torch, a few contortions and a wriggle and the rear pole was now firm once more. The flapping had stopped, replaced by a steady thrumming of the taut nylon. Outside it was now blowing a full gale, a mad symphony of wind and rain. Small tent, big storm, daunting, lying in the dark, not only listening to the roar of the wind and the rattle of the rain but also  feeling the movement, the shifting and swaying of the tent.
By morning the wind had eased slightly but the rain had increased and outside was covered in a blanket of grey. It was quite an easy decision to sit the weather out; in fact there was little choice, heading up the hill in those conditions would have been a tad foolish. By early afternoon things appeared to be easing slightly and I considered possibly moving on. Just as I had made a brew there was blinding flash and an almighty blast of thunder, I swear the earth trembled; it certainly got the heart rate up a bit! Another flash but this time further away. The rain increased in intensity and suddenly it was coming down in a mighty deluge, with it came hail and even sleet accompanied by thunder and lightning; nature;s percussion side of the orchestra in full flow, awesome.
Sunday 18th. Alston.
The rain continued on through the night and it was still pouring down in the early hours. Needing to nip out to the loo, as I went to get out of the tent I encountered water. The ground had reached saturation point and water was now flowing every which way. A tent complete with running water!! Carefully packed most stuff up in the tent, the first priority was the sleeping bag, making sure it kept dry. Fortunately, despite the fact that the rucksack had been sitting in the flood a liner had ensured everything inside remained dry. A brew of tea, the gas canister actually sitting in water; before a final decision of what route I was going to take. Possibly I could have followed the track back past Greg's hut and back out that way, the downside though was a lot of mileage and some of it in bad conditions. My original intended route looked a no go as well.  That would have involved dropping down to Garrigill and joining the South Tine Trail which would take me up to the Tees river. Looking at the map it seemed possible that the first part would be on a track. However, the second part, marked as bridleway, followed the Trout beck up and I was certain that would be in full spate and could prove difficult.The easiest option was to head over Alston, stop there for the night and try and catch a bus out in the morning. Route sorted I finished packing, wet tent rolled up and bundled under the rucksack lid.  Grey mist and cloud swirled around me as I headed over to the track. Splashing through the water I noticed my first choice for a camp was now more like a large pond. As I descended down the track I finally popped out of the uniform grayness.  Even the sheep looked sodden and grey, although the lanolin in their wool would keep them dry. Despite the continuous rain it was not that unpleasant walking. A local guy in Garrigill asked where on earth I had come from. His eyebrows where raised when I said I had been camped. At least he had heard the weather forecast; more of the same. That decided me and I headed in the direction of Alston. A nice, low level walk through rolling countryside. The green verdant countryside looked washed and clean. A spiders web adorned with glistening drops of water.  It had a couple of surreal moments too, coming over a stile I encountered a herd of cows. As is my want, I spoke to them gently as I eased my way through them. Half way across the field I glanced back and there where the cows, all in line astern dutifully following me across the field, yikes!! The path led me through a small wood. Hens where busy scratching through the undergrowth; seeing me, the all came running, obviously looking for food. 'Cattle rustling hiker mobbed by chickens!'
The youth hostel at Alston was full, the warden rang a couple of b&b's that took folk when the hostel had no vacancies. Both where full and I was informed the campsite was flooded. A couple of hotels looked a tad too posh for me and probably where pricey. Eventually I came across a pub, come hotel, come takeaway. It was run by an Asian lady. She was immediately concerned "Oh lady, where you come from, you so wet, terrible!" I tried to assure her it was only my outer gear that was wet. She continued. " You want room? I have room, special deal, just room, no breakfast, all twenty pound, yes?" She led me up a couple of flights of stairs, still chattering away "Room all tidy, you leave room tidy for me, yes?" Finally I was able to get out of my waterproofs, have a hot shower and put on clean clothes. There was one small problem, emptying the rucksack to re-pack it, as is usual bits of grass and such end up on the floor. There was nowhere to hang the tent or air anything out, so the tent was packed at the bottom of the rucksack. After that time was spent on my hands and knees meticulously picking up bits of debris from the carpet.
Monday, having checked with the tourist information office I found that there is a summer service bus that goes to Keswick and passes through Langwathby, the next station up from Appleby.The rain had eased too, just heavy showers. Not the easiest of trips, however, that is the way things turn out sometimes. It has not been a bad trip. I have a few ideas for the next time I head up here. Food wise, I was experimenting with travel biscuits which I found on line;(Dried:2 Blazes.) Solid enough not to break up when packed in the food bag, they had a certain sweetness I was not too keen on though. Also I took some smoked cheese from Tesco, a bad mistake, rubbery and with little taste. The other place I purchase dried food from is, It is odd but I find it easier and a better range of food by ordering online.
The Heights

Cross Fell

Tuesday 12 July 2011


Determined to claw back a wee bit of fitness I determined to attempt at least one trip a month. This time around it is a tad further north, Appleby. Traveling up Thursday and returning on the Monday. In case folk wonder why I have yet again headed for this region, there is a simple reason, cash. Finances being tight, with a bit of juggling I can make the journey fairly cheaply and there is the added bonus that I can arrive by mid day and get a few miles in over the course of the afternoon. This also applies to the return journey; a mid afternoon train allows for a decent walk during the morning. The planning has proved a bit tricky, from Appleby over toward the Teesdale area and back over High cup Nick. Things went a little pear shaped after that. My original plan had been to come over Swindale Edge. That has been scuppered, it cuts across the army ranges and after checking it out I find there is live firing and the whole region is closed off.
Much head scratching long perusals of the maps, which where laid out all over the floor, I have come up with a rather convoluted plan. This will involve using two maps, both 1:25 000, double sided and making use of both sides of the two of them. Some complex map reading and a what may be some long days walking, interesting!
Kit wise, after looking at the long term weather forecast, which does not look too good, I am taking the bigger and more roomy tent. This is the Shangri La two, inside I am using a Shangri La 1 nest. Yes, it is a bit of a mix and match but it is a system I know works. Weight wise there is little difference, around the kilo mark; the trekking poles I use double as tent poles .

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Howgill saunter

Uldale wild camp
Thursday June 9th. Bents camping barn
An early start this morning; was underway by five thirty. Even at that hour the tube was comparatively busy, bleary eyed folk, cleaners, domestic staff, manual workers, all part of the essential side of keeping a big city running. Throngs of people milled around the concourse of Kings Cross, all catching early trains to a myriad of destinations. Fortunately my train, the 07 05hrs  train to Leeds, was not overly busy. It was a quiet run up, a quick change at Leeds to the Settle and Carlisle train, arriving at Kirkby Stephen station just before twelve.
Wild camping is possible between KS and the Lune valley, but not easy; finding water and somewhere out of the way at the same time would be a little difficult. There is one spot I know of and even that is not the best of places. My option was for a lazy afternoon stroll over to Bents farm and the camping barn. As camping barns go, this one is quite comfy, with flush loo, an equipped kitchen and electricity on the meter; hot water bottles provided free! Did a loop around Smardale gill and the old viaduct. For June it was fairly chilly and I had my windproof smock on over my fleece.. Booked in early and settled down with a book to read. Later two guys staggered in looking for a phone. They had been doing the Coast to Coast and run into difficulties with blisters and sheer exhaustion. It was little wonder in some respects, one of the chaps admitted he was carrying around seventy pounds weight, that and his heavy duty leather boots would make most folk exhausted pretty quickly. The wanted a taxi to KS and I directed them up to the farm house; hopefully they could get themselves sorted out there?
Friday 10th. Camped OS map OL19 643003 (Approximately)
Surprisingly I had the whole camping barn to myself last night. This morning I was awake early and decided to make the most of it and was away around seven. The morning was dry and cool, almost chilly. My plan for the day was not that ambitious, but still providing a good walk. Basically I was heading down the Lune valley toward Tebay. An interesting walk too via a mixture of footpaths, bridleways and minor lanes.Coming through  one farmyard, I paused to study the map. An elderly gent approached me "Where'st tha gooing?" A quick smile and I explained I was heading for a footpath the other side of the farm. "thee's ganning wrong way woman." Showing him the map I explained I knew where I was going. "Nah nah, Bowderdale is back that way." He points back to the way I had come. Gently I explain that I am actually heading the other way and was checking the map to make sure I was heading for the footpath. Realization dawns, he pushes his flat cap back and scratches his head. "Weel woman why did thee not say so?" A rather cautious dog slinks close,  nervously approaches me with a cross between between a half hearted growl and a wuff. The old man growls at him, "Get thee down." I hunker down and allow the dog a sniff of my hand. Warily his tail gives a wave and he allows me to give him a stroke. The gent appears surprised. "does't thee like dogs then?" Another smile and I tell him that normally I get on fine with dogs. Heading over toward the stone steps I had spotted in the wall. The fellow calls after me. " Not many folk head that way woman; keep to bottom side of wall and thee'll be right." Coming by the next farm the path appears to lead through the main cattle yard, complete with a few cows milling around. Talking to them nicely I pass on through; the farmer sticks his head around the corner with a big grin and bids a cheery "Good morning"  A very nice chappy. Further on I came to a rather well to do stables that, by the big signs, stabled Icelandic ponies. There was one slight problem, the footpath went through a paddock that was ringed by two electric fences. There was no way I was prepared to tackle those; instead I cut through an open barn that flanked one side of the field and had no fences. A stallion was grazing quiet contentedly as I passed by, no problem. The map had shown a track running up to the fells from Ellergill it was not marked as a public right of way but I decided to chance it. In fact it was quite a pleasant walk up past Low Shaw farm. Where the track petered out a footpath continued onward. The scenery took me by surprise. Off to my left was Langdale, quite a narrow  valley with a fairly substantial beck flowing through. Straight ahead was Churn gill, another narrow cleft and swinging off to my right was Uldale and my intended route. Originally I had been thinking of heading up over Rispa pike but had opted for the easier option instead. Drizzly showers did nothing to dampen my enjoyment of a pleasant walk up through wonderful scenery. A more persistent shower had me thinking of an early stop. There is an abundance of places for a  wild camp, especially higher up the valley. A nice comfy spot was found, tent up, water bladder filled, boots of and a brew on the go, luxury.
Saturday 11th; same map, GR 681982.
Packed up quite early and strolled up to Blakethwaite bottom, I was surprised to find instead of a narrow valley the area opened out into a wide amphitheater, rather unusual. There was a path, though rather indistinct at times and easy to confuse with the myriad of sheep trods. Climbing higher more surprises where revealed. Steep sided narrow rocky clefts, boulder strewn with tumbling torrents coursing their way downwards. The Spout, Force Brow, names that spoke for themselves but the scenery was startling; quite awesome. This area demands more exploring; maybe another trip with the intention of spending a day or two in the area?This was delightful walking, a narrow path wending its way around steep fell sides, views out over the valley and plain below with the motorway and beyond that, the lake district. Gradually I was climbing higher, a break for a drink and a handful of my trail mix; a mixture of nuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds and jelly babies. Soon I was on a steeper slope that led up to Fell Head. A slow, steady plod, with a few stops to 'admire the scenery' and I made the top. A cold, blustery wind discouraged lingering for too long. What followed was a lovely ridge walk, Breaks Head, Height of Bush Howe, a steepish drop and the a long slow plod up to the trig point at The Calf. Two guys coming the other way said the forecast was for showers in the later afternoon and another night of low temperatures. Coming around by Bowderdale head, I stopped for a break and a long peruse of the map. Something I had been considering was dropping down to the saddle and then heading up to Yarlside. Probably most fit and active folk would not hesitate; however, my legs where tiring.There was also the fact that from there I would have to continue on to Randygill and Green Bell and the descend to find a camp spot. Bowderdale is a popular route through and setting up camp meant I was not so discreetly tucked away as I would have preferred; however, it was not a bad little spot. Showers of rain passing through but nothing substantial.
Sunday 12th. GR752944, (roughly)
Much time was spent mulling over the map last night trying to decide on the best option for today. Eventually I plumped for a plan B. A fairly long route but with nothing strenuous. My first goal of the day was to nip over to Cautley spout, an impressive series of waterfalls set in a deep gulley. An added bonus was that being there quite early I had the place to myself. Once more, stunning views looking out over the valley far below. A steady descent towards said valley. A bridge provided an easy crossing over the river. Already the car park next to the Cross Keys pub was getting busy with people heading out for a days walk. Enticing smells of food cooking and a sign advertising full breakfasts, ham and eggs and tea or coffee, was tempting. Somewhat reluctantly I hurried on. Somehow, trail mix and jelly babies where a poor alternative! A short climb on a footpath that led up towards a well established track, somewhat churned up by tractor traffic. My legs protested a bit on the uphill walk, so probably I had taken the easier option. Following the track around to the bridleway that led off it and headed over to Uldale House. (another Uldale?) A well defined rolling path that meant some pleasant walking. From Uldale House it was a different proposition. From Blea Gill bridge farm traffic had left a confusing network of tracks and close attention had to be paid to the map. Fortunately I got across to Whin Stone Gill bridge without too much hassle. Basically from there track or footpath were hard to define on the ground. Also, I was rather concerned with the weather, the wind had been steadily rising and thick clouds where building up fairly quickly. At times a hint of a path but often it was a case of steering by direct reckoning across Holm Moss. What was annoying was that for once the OS map was none too accurate. Features that could have been used as hand rails, for example I crossed three or four stone walls, not marked. More substantial was a large field barn, now derelict but still a distinct feature and a copse of trees; none of these where shown on the map. A constant check of the map slowed me down a bit but with the sky turning a dark blue black, it was case of having to find a place to stop and soon. A nasty bit of bog was crossed in a hurry, no finesse and a few times it led to going in  quite deep in quivering bog. Basically I knew where I was and where I was heading. Finding a spot for the tent before the heavens open was proving difficult. A jumble of rocks at a spot marked as ''cave' on the map was about the only option I had. Rain was starting to fall as I cast about for somewhere to get the tent up. Eventually I settled for a tiny platform just about big enough to accommodate the tent. Ironically finding water was also difficult. The trickle I found was not that healthy looking. It meant boiling it vigorously and  then straining it through a small bit of fibre material that I normally use as a wash cloth. Mucky with sediment and some algae, interesting!. It was enough for some hot food and a drink. By the time I finished brewing up, the rain and wind was really pummeling the tent and the noise was deafening. It was case of curling up in the sleeping bag and trying to doze through the storm and this is summer? There was some clean water left in the water bottle but the best treat I had was some fruit and nut chocolate that I had been hoarding. Emergency rations and subsequently a state of emergency was declared and chocolate duly devoured.
Monday 13th.
Heavy rain and wind continued through the night. A stream bed below my ledge, which the night before had been almost dry was now a foaming torrent only a couple feet from the tent. What with the drumming of rain and wind and the increasing roar of the surging water, complete with the thudding rumble of boulders being carried down the turbulent maelstrom, made for an unsettled night. Things always sound horrendous in the dark. By morning the wind and rain had eased and it was now mainly low cloud laced with moisture, enough to keep everything wet. One added bonus was that by leaving my cooking pot under the edge of the fly I had plenty of fresh water for breakfast. A strip bath in a small tent is no easy matter but I wanted to freshen up and put on a change of clothes before heading out. There was no rush to get under way, it was only a short step down to Garsdale and the train was not until one o clock. Everything packed up within the tent, a few wriggles to get in to waterproofs and out to face the day. The rain and low cloud where still swirling around. The tent was dropped and soaking wet  stowed under the lid of the rucksack. There was more of a path heading down toward Grisedale. Water was streaming off the hill and I could actually see it bubbling up out of the ground. Mud was in prominence too, thick gooey stuff. The valley was flooded, water flowing over the road in several places. Was at the station not long after twelve which allowed me to get out of wet and muddy togs and in to some more respectable travel clothing.
Not a bad trip all in all and am pleased that I managed things none too badly. Kit wise, I am going to have a serious rethink in regards to tent. Terra Nova usually turn out good quality tents, however, I think their standards fell a tad with particular model. The Solar Minor is an awkward tent, little space under the porch can make life difficult. Using a  stove under the fly is risky and there is no room for error. With heavy weather it is awful sitting out in the rain cooking. Also it is not a straight forward in pitching; there is a certain amount of faffing needed to get it set right. Not an option when a tent needs to be thrown up in a hurry. So, if anyone wants a light tent, they can make me a silly offer of around £50. In the meantime I have to work out how to get something more suitable. Currently I am trying to track down my winter tent, a Hex Three that was borrowed by someone and has not returned it.
Force Brow
View from Cautley  spout
Cautley spout

Lower part of spout