Tuesday 23 December 2014

Almost the Scottish Borders

Returning from the November trip with Mike, my thoughts where already mulling over ideas for a December trip. The Christmas period is never a good time for me. This time around, after a visit to the Parkinson's specialist, where the news was not encouraging, a marked deterioration in my condition. This in turn will mean more medications, a need to see another specialist and so forth.
A trip away was much required. A plan was formulated, After further thought, there was a plan A and a plan B. For some reason I was apprehensive. Maps where spread out on the floor, distances measured, routes planned, all the usual pre trip minutiae. However, an uncertainty still niggled. Possibly it was the fact that this was my first serious winter trip for a while. More gear to be carried, a full seven days food, cold weather, a heavier tent and sleeping mat, all the things one needs for winter backpacking.
There was only one thing to do, get my train tickets and go for it. This time around I also packed a small note book to jot down a few things as they occurred.
Travel arrangements all sorted and  with an early morning start, I arrived at Haltwhistle at eleven thirty on Monday morning. The weather was as forecast, heavy rain and windy. It was a long, steep uphill pull out of town. Flooded roads meant little traffic.
A niggling ache in the area around my ribs was now feeling sore. Arriving at the car park by Burnhead I nipped in the loo and got the first aid kit out and took a couple of Ibuprofen.  The weather by now was wild. High winds and lashing rain. Quite awesome really, rivers and becks where unbridled raging torrents, water ran everywhere, Paths where mini streams, it even came bubbling up out of the ground itself. All was water, somewhat spectacular. High drama and a sight to behold. In many places the grassy slopes where slick and greasy. Twice my feet went from under me.
The going was far from easy. Following Hadrians Wall over the crags, the wind pummelled me and the driving rain was horizontal. It was hard going with constant up and down, quite often steep. It had not been my intention to camp on Hadrians Wall. However, given the time factor and conditions, there was little choice. Mind, I was fairly sure nobody would be out looking for folk camping? Thus, working on the principle of stopping late and leaving early I kept my eye out for a place to stop. A little spot among the trees by Crag Lough served the purpose..
Trying to put up a tent in stormy conditions is never easy. By now the forecasted  gale force winds where really picking up. My one concern was that I was now in pain. Also, I was staring to get the shakes. Snug inside the tent, a hot drink and a warm sleeping bag was much welcomed. Worryingly every move I made hurt. Normally I only have a tremor on my left. Occasionally though, maybe due to exertion, my whole body shakes.
It was a long, painful night. A few more Ibuprofen dulled it down a bit. My concern now was questioning if I should press on or quit. The wind died down in the early hours but the rain continued. It was an awful quandry, I desperately wanted to push on. The weather forecast was good for the latter part of the week.
Taking the tent down in the morning it was obvious I would be struggling. It was with a heavy heart that I headed down to Bardon Mill and the train.
There went my Christmas. This was a trip I had really been looking forward to. Much preparation had gone in to this one. To say I am disappointed would be putting it mildly. Gutted! most certainly.   

Thursday 20 November 2014

Dales slackpack

Plans had been shuttling back and forward via e mail between Mike and myself (northernpies.blogspot.co.uk) Several ideas where suggested, changed, rejected or modified.. However, travelling up on the Thursday, I arrived at kirkby Stephen rail station to be greeted with the startling sight of Mike labouring up the path bowed under the most humungous rucksack. He was accompanied by the new backpacking apprentice, Lucky. A very friendly pup but still a tad uncertain of this backpacking malarkey.
Our route was in the direction of Lammerside castle. Mike had proposed we bag the little top of Birkett Common. A rising wind and a heavy rucksack saw that plan scrapped. We now meandered around to High Intake Gill. A wee bit of shuttling around steep ground, boggy bits and quite unsuitable places to pitch the tents, until finally we opted for a place somewhat exposed to the deteriorating weather but not a bad spot. Mike hitched his tent to a bit of fence whereas I opted to use a few large rocks to ensure the tent pegs stayed put.

Friday morning saw a brief lull in the storm driven wind and rain. It proved to be a very short break. We packed up wet tents and set off in stormy conditions. Vaguely we headed up and across rough, boggy ground. The wind was blustery, the rain heavy. Our goal was to find somewhere a  bit more sheltered out of the storm. On the map the area around High Sennerskeugh looked promising.  Somewhere along the way the  rain went from heavy to torrential. We crossed what possibly was Long  Gill and found a flat grassy spot in a large sheep fold. Within an hour or so the gill was a roaring torrent but we where snug.

By Saturday morning the storm had passed and all was calm and still. The downside was a heavy dew which saw both tents soaking inside and out. An added factor was that Mike had got wet the previous day. A consensus of opinion saw us agreeing to a day of doing little. Lucky was very much in agreement to this. He loves the tent part of things but so far is not too keen on the wet and windy stuff. Much time was spent in the drinking of tea and pottering around.

Sunday was a slow meander off in the direction of  the Howgills. Through bridleways, saturated and muddy fields, our way led us toward  Gais Gill. Here we found a quiet little spot well out of the way. Wet tents gradually dried out during the latter part of the afternoon.

Blustery showers overnight and in to the morning saw us once again making a late start. We had no need to hurry though. A wonderful thing with these Kindle thingies is that several books can be carried without added weight. Very handy when sitting out the weather!
As it was, we got away later that morning and with the tents almost dry. A short walk uphill to join a path that leads up toward Green Bell. For us it was all down hill to Ravenstonedale. From the village we headed over to Smardale Bridge. Camp was made nearby. A few more rain showers rattled through, nothing serious though. A warm night and a heavy dew, thus Tuesday morning saw wet tents being packed away once again. It was a pleasant stroll over to Kirkby Stephen. Here Mick and Lucky departed for home and I headed off to the hostel for a hot shower, clean clothes and a meal.
A relaxed few days and it has given Mike some idea of how much weight  he can carry when taking the pooch backpacking.
Mileage, no idea, not many miles though? That does not detract from the trip though, there is no harm in an occasional slack pack!!

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Exploring the Hen Hole

kept busy with a few hospital appointments over the last few weeks, I really felt in need of  at least a few days away before another round of minor surgery. Initially I had a few grand ideas, a couple of days good walking. However, heading out from Wooler on the Thursday afternoon, I did not feel that energetic. It was warm and dry but with a strong, blustery wind. My original intention had been to press on toward Hethpool in the College valley and camp nearby. Throwing that plan out of the window, I stopped early. A block of forestry and a patch of ground out of the way of the wind near to Scaldhill. A lazy enough afternoon.

There where a couple of heavy showers early Friday morning which meant a late start. After a hesitant start it turned out be a nice day. However, it remained windy and that saw me abandoning another plan. The original intention had been to head up the College valley having a look at the Hen Hole on the way past. From there the intention was to proceed up to the refuge hut on the saddle and camp on the grassy area near to the shelter. Not such a good idea given the windy conditions. Instead I ambled up the valley and camped fairly high up. Another slack packing day, enjoyable though and I had spent time trying to photo the feral goats that wander the area.
Saturday was where I got a tad ambitious. Having abandoned plans A and B, I was now somewhere around plan C. The intention now was to leave the tent where it was and explore the depths of the Hen Hole. This is a geological feature apparently sculpted out by  glacial action some thousands of years ago. It is a huge gorge or narrow corrie biting deep in to the flank of the Cheviot. Narrow with towering crags, it certainly is impressive. From the mouth of the gorge the way in looks slightly daunting but impressive. A series of waterfalls tumble down over over rocky outcrops. There is some easy scrambling but with care there are no real difficulties.

Working my way up toward the final waterfall, the way ahead looked daunting, however, by keeping to the left a very easy scramble led up and over and in to the inner reaches of the corrie, the back of which opens out to a T shape, flanked all round by steep ground and high ridges.

The water here is low, in wet conditions things obviously would be a wee bit more exciting! More care would be needed too but well worth having a go.

At the top of the gorge I possibly made a mistake. Instead of bearing right and heading up toward the the Auchope cairns, I headed straight up the steep facing slope. That was hard going and it brought me out to some rough and broken ground. Fortunately, due to the recent dry weather, the ground was not too boggy. It was not easy going though as I picked my way over toward the Cheviot. A dark, low lying cloud  brushed the top. With it was a mizzly dampness. Not enough for waterproofs, just enough to make things damp. Turning tail I headed back over to the Auchope cairns and then on to the refuge hut.

A spot of lunch at the hut where I saw my first walkers for the last two days. It was surprising to see so few folk out.

It was a gentle stroll down the Red Cribbs. Apparently this used to be a regular route for the Border Reivers bringing their rustled cattle over the border. It was early when I arrived back at the tent. However, it had been an enjoyable day. Went for a bit of a potter. A lot of native tree planting round about. Early that evening I had visitors. A few snorts and snuffles alerted me, a small group of young bullocks had come wandering up the valley and where now standing in a semi circle staring in rapt fascination at the tent. Like naughty school boys, they jostled each other. Talking to them softly, I herded  them around the tent and took them a bit further up the valley. The one downside was that I was in my bare feet. Tramping through bracken and thistles was not fun!
Sunday morning saw a few showers passing through but it was exceptionally mild. It was now a case of heading back over to Wooler. By now I think I was on plan D? Took a wider sweep around by Coldburn and followed the Lambden burn up. Saw herons, kestrels and buzzards. Forestry extraction around by Coldscleugh had left some hideous scarring on the hillside. Beyond Coldscleugh I had a few map problems. What was on the ground and that which was depicted on the map did not correspond. A few blocks of forestry had been partially cleared and that acerbated the problem. Suspecting that a a section of track had recently been added to an existing one I cast about and found what I hoped was the footpath I wanted.
Crossing moorland that has a plethora of tracks, grouse butts and burnt sections of heather meant a close eye had to be kept on the map. Several burnt areas had even obliterated the path, tedious!
Fortunately I was on track and was glad to see that I was heading for Broadstruther. As I approached the small cottage/bothy I noticed a large group of folk sitting sitting out in the sunshine. A large generator was chugging in a small enclosure. A table was laden with food and drink. The folk where having quite an alfresco picnic. A gent glanced over at me, " Are you lost?" Trying hard not to eye up all the goodies on the table, I assured him I knew precisely where I was. Being polite I asked if this was their club hut. A chap, in a rather supercilious voice, looked me up and down, "oh no, this one of the properties my boss owns, I am allowed to use it whenever I want" Oh my, come the revolution I am going to have guys like him painting the curbstones from John O'Groats to Lands end!  Harbouring dark thoughts about  folks who never even considered offering a drink to a passing stranger, I pressed on. Something I found slightly incongruous was that this was the end of September and I was in a tee shirt and feeling quite warm in that.

Was in Wooler fairly early, somewhere around four thirty. Picked up a few bits of food for supper and headed up to the youth hostel. Just a few days out, not a lot done but pleasant. For some reason or another I have been feeling awfully tired, annoying!
Monday, sitting in the sunshine in Berwick waiting for the train, I was getting sunburned, most odd!

Monday 1 September 2014

St Cuthberts Way

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