Sunday 21 July 2013

Footloose in Dales

A week or two back I went for my six monthly appointment to see the Parkinson's specialist. So frustrating. Ten minutes in and out. Issues and concerns I wanted to raise where brushed aside. Medicines altered and changed once more. Next appointment in a further six months. One recommendation of note, and this was passed on to my GP. It was considered time for me to cease my hill walking. In particular my solo wanderings. My GP echoed these concerns. Fine, however, am I really expected to sit out the rest of my days in a small flat,. bored out of my mind; living in a cold and impersonal city?
It has been said, 'things seem to happen around Dawn.' This time I hit a major crisis. Under new rulings I now pay a nominal council tax. No real problem. Due to be away on the Monday, I did the payment on the Friday beforehand. Imagine my horror when the receipt came back with a couple  of extra noughts on it! Frantically I rang my bank. Unfortunately the payment had already gone through and it could not be blocked. To put it mildly, I was in panic state. This had left me heavily overdrawn, my bank account was now frozen, my card useless. It was Monday morning before I could contact the council office. Much frantic running about with paperwork and then glibly being informed that yes, a mistake had been made, however, it would take at least a week to sort out and nothing could be done beforehand.
What to do? Cash wise I had an emergency twenty pound note and some loose change in my purse, nothing else. Also, I was packed and ready to head north. The train tickets had already been purchased. Being cheap tickets they where none refundable. Maybe common sense would have said stay put and sort the mess out. Looking at the clock I could see that if I got a shift on there was a chance I may still catch the train. Laying aside rationality I legged it, catching said train with with little time to spare.
Many, many moons ago, before the time of you young whipper snappers who sometimes read this blog, the majority of us ordinary folks never had bank accounts. Possibly post office saving accounts. However, we had to make do with whatever cash we had. So, I was going to have to wing it.

Arriving at Garsdale I caught 'the Little White Bus' over to Hawes. By now it was late afternoon. Not having eaten since early morning, a cup of tea and some food was a necessity. Nipping in to a cafe, a quick peruse of the menu, a cheese sandwich and a cuppa the cheapest option, (watch those pennies girl!!) A quick change in to boots and it was a stroll up to Gayle. From there it was a case of keeping an eye on the map and heading up the hill. My first priority was water, there was a chance that higher up that there may be none. Footpaths led me over to Burtersett and it was there that I finally  managed to fill up with water. With the added weight of water in the pack it was a heavy load to be carrying up the bridleway leading out of the village. A slow, measured plod took me to high above Hawes. The ground being so dry it was easy to find a spot to camp on what would normally be boggy ground.
 Early Tuesday morning gave a hint of was to come for the rest of the day. At seven the tent was becoming uncomfortably warm. By eight I was underway. Firstly I followed the path over to the old Roman road, Cam High Road. A long, straight stony, dusty track. Squadrons of horseflies where out on patrol looking for breakfast and decided I would do nicely. Walking down to Bainbridge was straight forward. From there on though constant attention had to be paid to the map. The day was becoming hot, very. Map reading was not easy in the given conditions. For the next few miles it was footpaths across a series of fields. Firstly it was a pleasant walk along a path through shady woodland, along Brough Scar and then across to Cubeck. One drawback, flies, plagues of them. Not harmful, but the moment one stopped the beggars descended and it was darned annoying. A plod up the road to Thornton Rust. Here I managed find a lady in the village who offered to fill up my water container. An added litre and a half just to add to my all up weight. A vital requirement though. My fluid levels where constantly dropping in the blazing sun and oh my, it was hot. From the village there was tricky map reading required. There was little indication of where the footpaths went. Sign posts few and far between. No actual styles, instead, narrow, gated slots in the walls. A boisterous group of heifers escorted me across one field.

  A steep drop down to Gill beck and a stiffish pull back up to Flout Moor Lane, another  track. Across more fields, eye constantly on the map. By now I was wilting under the unrelenting heat. Coming across a field close to Thoralby, I threw myself down under a shady tree. Bother the flies, most bothersome! It was time to make  some decisions. My original intention had been to swing around by West Burton. Too far, I would have been pushing things to even attempt it. Haw Lane offered an alternative route, leading, as it did, above Bishopdale.

My main concern was water. The heatwave meant there was little to be found. The map indicated there was a chance of some further on, up by the Stake Road. A risk, but there was little option. A long, sweaty slog up the track, climbing ever upward, heat radiating off the stony surface of the track.
To compound the difficulties the track higher up suddenly gave way to a newly laid stone track. A most awful surface to walk on. By now I was wearied, drained and needed to stop soon. Stopping to drain the last of my water, I eased the rucksack on and slowly shuffled on with head hanging low, leaning more heavily on the trekking poles. To my surprise a fresh track came in from the left, again, heavily made up of stone. Not the bridleway marked on the map. My luck was in, I found the most delightful tiny little rill of cool fresh water. A gap in the wall, often used by the local sheep allowed me to find a spot for the tent. An impromptu shower from one of my water bladders cooled me down a tad. The day had been a long one. Some twelve miles plus and I was glad to stop.
Early Wednesday morning at around six thirty, I heard a quad bike coming along the track. A farmer shifting livestock to high pastures. As he returned back down the track I sort of braced, quite expecting him to stop and possibly have words. He passed on though and I breathed a sigh of relief. What amazed me was the amount of rabbits, there where multitudes of them. The day though went haywire somewhat rapidly. The newly laid track/stone road did not correspond to anything on the map. Following the track up further, it forked. According to the map there was right hand fork which was a track leading back over toward Flout moor. A large tracked digger parked up nearby offered evidence of the major work being carried out. Another newly carved out track bore off left and then right. Checked out but obviously a new track in the making. Sticking to the map it would appear the track led more or less straight on. A faint track led uphill, ending at a field gate. An ugly scar of a track could be seen snaking across the moorland. Heading over to it another track appeared to lead straight on. Once more, a dead ender. Following the stone road onward it turned in to car park area, or least a parking area for four fours that would bring up the grouse shooting parties. That was what all this track up grading was all about. Grouse shooting in the area was obviously big money! Out of curiosity I followed a faint track that bore off from the parking lot. Yikes! it led to something that looked more like a tank battleground. Shooting butts in all directions, hard stone standing places every which way. A labyrinth of stone laid tracks weaving off in all directions. What a mess, I shuddered and fled!. Another track led on, once more it was being worked on. Checking closely with the map, it at least headed in the right sort of direction. Following it up, I came to another gate. A track led off due right and downhill,. Not what I wanted.
Frustrated and not feeling good, (I had already taken four Imodium,) I decided to call it quits for the day. There was no point in getting in a tizz. Water was way back, after dumping the sack I head down, filled the water bladders and headed slowly back up the hill and around to the rucksack.   Flies, did I mention flies?   There where swarms of them. That and the rabbits, they ran riot everywhere.
Early Thursday morning dawned hot. Having a morning strip bath there was hardly any need for a towel. Getting dressed was a chore. The midges made sure I hurried things along though. Today the navigation came right. The heat though was oppressive. Even by mid morning the glaring sun was radiating off the surface of the trackway. Sheep lay sprawled out at ungainly angles, panting heavily, big soulful eyes gazing unfocused at  me. 'Do what you like with us, we don't care any more!!' Stepping carefully around them, I tried to avoid disturbing them. They never budged though. Despite taking more tablets I still had to make a couple of emergency stops. trying to keep my fluid levels up was essential. However, it was not long before I was down to less than half a litre. The Busk Lane track joined with the Gilbert lane track. Both permitted byways.  Eventually the track led down by Hell gap and Causeway Moss. A short bit of road walking. Tarmac melting made it sticky. It was then a footpath leading down to Buckden. It was marked up as a mile and a half. Despite leading downhill it was still hard going. A few startled glances came my way as I came in to the village. Probably because I was dishevelled, dusty, hot, sweaty and desperate for fluids. An elderly couple sitting outside a tea shop showed some concern and asked if I was ok. Quickly I reassured them I was fine. There was a village shop and I bought an ice cold drink and an ice cream and managed to get a water bladder filled. Apparently there had been official records of temperatures in the Dales hitting the thirties. Something I could readily believe. It was hotter than the heatwave Mike and I had experienced last year on the South Downs.

 The river Wharfe was very low. Its banks though, had some lovely, shade giving trees. Sitting under the gladsome shade, I had a spot of lunch. Although I felt disinclined to eat, I needed to get some  substance down me, just to keep going.  Studying the maps I perused the idea of following the Dales Way and heading around to Ribblesdale. perversely, maybe, I stuck to my intended route which went via Littondale. The bridleway that heads over to Litton climbs steadily out of the valley. Up past Redmire, the springs marked on the map, dry. Out in the open the relentless heat hammered down.

 Climbing higher, I really began to suffer. stopping often for a breath and a sip of water. Finally reaching the top, I was exhausted. My concern now was water. It was a disappointment to find Birks Tarn dry. Stashing the rucksack, I had to descend back down the hill a short way to where I had spotted a tiny seep of water trickling out of the ground. The water was actually flowing, so no problem there. The problem was that being such a wee trickle, getting it in to the water bladders was going to be awkward. It took some time but using my small, folding cup I managed to get enough water in the end. One snag was the sediment that was also scooped up. My bio degradable wash cloth acted as filter. Wemi wipes are very handy things to have in ones kit. Home for the night was next to the trig point. If there was even the faintest zephyr of a breeze I wanted it. The day had seen me pushing my limits and I felt drained. The upside was that there was no major wobblies!

Descending down to Litton on Friday morning, my legs felt heavy and a wee bitty wobbly on the descent. According to the map there was a post office in the village. Normally they have shop with them as well. The thought that maybe I could get another cold drink drove me on. It was disappointing to find that the post office had recently closed it and the shop went as well. The place was now a B&B. Thwarted from my cold drink, I headed back to the pub. Still closed but the door was open. The landlady was all kindness, most concerned for my well being. Soon I was sitting under a sun shade with a cold pint of orange juice, with ice cubes. All for fifty pence, sheer bliss.

Signs warned of the danger of crossing the ford over the river Skirfare after heavy rain. No chance today? A track and footpath led me over to Nether Hesleden.

  For a moment I was thrown by the footpath at the holiday homes. It went through a gate, across a well manicured lawn and back out another gate. A lovely camping spot though, tree offering welcome shade. A hot, slow plod up to the road. A white mini bus and land rover where parked there. (Mike, avert your eyes) There was a group of D.O.E. instructors keeping an eye on their charges. More importantly, they had water and I bummed a litre off them. Down the road a tad and then on to the bridleway that leads over to Foxup. There was no breeze, no shade, just heat and more heat. The Foxup road, led across Foxup moor and below Plover hill. Feeling fairly certain that the upper reaches of hull Pot gill may have water in it that is where I headed. Thankfully I was right. The tent was pitched on s a small flat space that obviously would be flooded in times of heavy rain. It was just out of sight of the footpaths that crossed lower down. Somewhat surprisingly the local sheep where actually paddling in the beck. Mad they may be but not so daft! Finding a convenient little pool I went and had a seat in the cool water myself, delicious! 

There was no rush on Saturday morning. A bee somehow managed to fall in to my early morning cuppa. Hooking her out she sat quivering on the edge of my spoon for a few moments before taking of in an unsteady flight. The sound of voices at six  indicated the three peaks legions where already on the march. For me though it was just a gentle stroll down to Horton. The trip had been a good one, but oh so difficult in the intense heat. Especially Thursday and Friday. Despite slapping on quantities of sunscreen I was still burnt in places. Insect bites I had by the score To be honest, I felt wearied and drained. It was time to be heading out.

Ambling down the track to Horton, I passed several folk heading up. Groups of two or three, some larger groups. As is the norm. I gave a smile and said 'Hi!' or 'Good morning' To my amazement I was largely ignored. One mixed group just looked at me as if I was some sort of freak. Maybe they  where not used to seeing a travel stained hiker just coming off the hill?  About the only people who responded where a group of teenage lasses doing their D.O.E That saddens me. Do we have new type of walker, one who drives to a designated area, does the proposed walk and nothing but that walk and then gets back in the car and drives home? No time spent just enjoying being out, taking time just to potter?

 A cup of tea and a bite to eat in the village. A treat and also I would not have anything to eat or drink until I got back in the evening. A quick change in to travel clothes in the loo and then a settle down until the train arrived. An added bonus, I still had change left over from my twenty pounds. Some forty miles covered, give or take a few.


Sunday 7 July 2013

A Harlech wandering

Well, it was beyond time that I was away. It has been some two months since my Scottish episode. Hospital appointments, a week in hospital after a bizarre accident and yet more tests. Cabin fever was rampant. A search for cheap tickets led me to Harlech. It is a region I have visited before and there is always scope to discover new routes and interesting places.

Travelling up on the Tuesday I was a little concerned in regards to the weather. Rain and possibly heavy for the afternoon. Sure enough, it was raining when I arrived in Harlech. Drizzly, all pervading dampness. The hills where blanketed in thick cloud and even at sea level mist was drifting on the rising wind.
The path out of Harlech is up, very much so. It was something, given my lack of fitness, that had been bothering me. From previous experience I knew parts of the path rose steeply. Encased in waterproofs, it was a slow, hot and sticky plod. The path leads through old and mature native woodland. Thick mist shrouding the area certainly gave it atmosphere. It was not until I climbed above the woods that I realised how bad the weather was turning. The wind had noticeably strengthened and was driving heavy rain across the hillsides. The path leads through the camp site at Merthyr Farm. It was an easy choice, given the circumstances, to stop at the camp site. As camp sites go it is not a bad one. Reasonably priced with free showers and fairly quiet. It rained for the best part of the night with heavy squalls at times that rattled the tent.
Wednesday morning was dull and grey but at least it had stopped raining. With plan A scrapped I was now on plan B. It was deliberately a late start from the camp site . Mainly to allow things to dry out a tad.

There is a regular track that rises above Llyn y Fedw and continues on toward Llyn Beddew-Maw. My intention had been to continue on from where the track ran out and find somewhere to camp. However, I found myself descending in to ever increasing bog. Several times I went in deep which meant wet feet. After wandering around several of the small undulating hills and picking my through rocky outcrops it was time for a rethink. There had been a few showers of thin, drizzly dampness but nothing really wet. However, the forecast was for another band of rain to come through that evening. Also, there was quite a strong, blustery wind and really I wanted to camp with some degree  of shelter. There was a spot I had checked on earlier in the day. A firm bit of ground close in to a wall surrounded by more boggy terrain. It meant backtracking a mile or so but by now I was on plan C                                                                                                      
Thus it was by early Wednesday afternoon I had set up camp and was sitting snug. later the mist descended once more, bringing with it fine drizzly rain. Later this was interspersed with heavy, squally showers. The rain continued through the night in to Thursday morning. Surveying the situation on the Thursday morning it really did not make sense to move on until the weather cleared a bit. Everything was wrapped in fog and the rain still persisted. It was time to think of a plan D.  This meant a day of enforced idleness and much tea drinking, that and a spot of reading.

It was the afternoon before the weather finally cleared. briefly I considered moving on but knowing how wet the ground was it would mean in all probability much searching for a fresh camp spot.
Early Friday morning saw the early mist gradually lifting and hazy sunshine breaking through. As much as I was itching to be away, time had to be spent drying the sodden tent out a bit. The mist and heavy dew had soaked everything. By now I think I was on plan E. Anyways, I had a plan, even if it only involved a short walk. A walk was what I needed and a walk I was going to have.

Retracing my way up the track to a footpath that leads off, heading over toward a track that comes up from Moel Glo. Here the way on is a well defined land rover track that leads up to Llyn Eiddew Bach. Pleasant, gentle walking. An added bonus was that I was now walking in sunshine, wonderful!

The track runs out at the Llyn, it is obviously a popular area for fishing. There is a continuing footpath and I wandered up that a short way but curbed my enthusiasm. There is though, some fantastic places around there that invite further exploration.

Much of the ground is very wet in this region, although wild camping  is feasible finding a dry spot would take a bit of searching.

Rather than just retrace my footsteps down the way I had come, I followed a path around the Llyn and across to another, less well defined track which offered some lovely walking and this eventually rejoined the track I had previously come up.

There is another fairly well defined path that runs around the hill below  Llyn y Fedw and passes below the hill fort of  Moel Goedog. Obviously a popular walk, I met six people  on the way around. My aim once more was for the camp site at Merthyr Farm. With a train to catch from Harlech mid morning there was little option. The black art of ticket pricing is beyond the ken of a mere mortal such as I. The later train, which I would have preferred, was almost twice the price, bizarre? It had not been a lot of miles, probably between eight or nine miles. However, I had managed to put in a few miles and had a pleasant days walking.

Saturday morning was a downhill gentle stroll back to Harlech train station. At least this time I could enjoy the pleasant walk through the woods. The wood is situated on steep hillside and largely unmanaged which is all the better for it. Gnarled old ash and oaks, rowan, birch, mosses and ferns, honeysuckle too. A lovely, natural woodland.