Peak District September 2016 – a boggy first wild camp on Brown Knoll

It was a typical Sunday afternoon in the Peak District, my local hill playground. Cars, endless cars, and silvery traffic jams snaking their way through the almost unnavigable one way system in Chesterfield. I was stuck in said jam en route from South Yorkshire, where I’d spent Saturday night. We passed through chocolate box villages, crowded with yet more cars and people, and witnessed what could have passed for a coach party on Mam Tor. But cast your eyes upwards, and you can see why they come here in their droves. Bright blue skies with the whitest, most cotton wool clouds you’ve ever seen, contrasting against the greenest of hills and patchwork patterns of the fields. Even the neatly dotted sheep looked as though they’ve been artistically placed for maximum impact this afternoon. This is why they come, and this is what I’ll miss the most when I move away in 7 years’ time, or whenever. So time then, to make the most of it while I can.

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Perfectly positioned sheep

When my friend Matt had suggested a cheeky camp on the Sunday night as a finale to his long weekend in the Peaks, I’d leapt at the chance of a first wild camp up there. I was dropped off at Tideswell, where thanks to the epic traffic jam Matt had enjoyed an exceedingly leisurely lunch, plus a visit to both tearooms and pub. We struck out briskly from the village, heading along roads and then farm tracks.

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The way out of civilisation

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Well worn way up Mam Tor

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Good signage in the Peak District

We were making such good time, or so we thought, that we’d arrive at our chosen camp location far too early to pitch up. The plan hadn’t included a walk up Mam Tor, especially for me, as I’d actually been up there with my son the week before. The other option to kill time would have been to go into Castleton for an ice cream, and to buy water. If we’d realised how fine we were cutting it to make camp before dusk on Brown Knoll, and had an inkling as to the lack of water up there we might have given Mam Tor a miss on this occasion. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we headed up happily with the dog walkers, kite flyers and Sunday afternoon revellers. Far too long was spent on the summit, scoffing Matt’s jelly babies trail mix, and waiting for the crowds to disperse (it’s hard to take photos when there’s a coach load of people up there.)

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The dark brooding mass of Kinder Scout

From the comforting greens and blues of Mam Tor we headed along the Great Ridge, uncharted territory now for me. Along the top of Rushup Edge there were no chattering crowds, just the wind hissing in the waving moorland grasses and the calling of small brown moorland birds. What was absent though was the sound of chattering of streams, an inconvenience as we were thirsty, it was a hot day and supplies were rapidly dwindling. Many inviting grassy pitches were ignored on Lord’s Seat in our quest to reach our intended camp spot, the boggy and desolate hill that is Brown Knoll. As we approached the summit the landscape changed, lush green grasses turning to brownish red bog grass, interspersed with bilberry, bog myrtle and cotton grass. Firm dry ground became squelchy underfoot, and the wide sandy tracks of the Great Ridge turned to brown mud and then peaty blackness. The pools of standing water too, went from muddy brown to stagnant black peatiness, quite impractical to boil or filter.

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Trig marking the summit of Brown Knoll

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Sunset…

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…and moonrise on Brown Knoll

Great stone slabs had been laid almost to the summit, and further deliveries appeared imminent with signs stuck in the peat to warn of approaching helicopters, quite incongruous in these stark surroundings. The daylight was turning to gold, with the evening colours gilding the white stone trig ahead of us. As per usual I struggled to get my tent up in the wind, and Matt managed to get several photos of the carnage before offering to help me with my pitching. However it was done before dark, and a bottle of ale apiece averted the somewhat dire water situation. I won’t say I slept well, as the wind had got up, and I’m a light sleeper in a tent anyway, but it wasn’t half as bad as on Dartmoor the other week. Tonight the tent pole was behaving, vibrating steadily in the wind, not flexing wildly as it had on Fur Tor last month. Beneath our tents, trains rumbled through the Cowburn Tunnel that cuts under the Pennines. To the back of me the bright lights of Manchester twinkled, and every hour or so a plane passed over on its way to the airport, serving as a reminder that this high and lonely place was not as far from civilisation as you’d think.

Despite the lack of sleep and an early start, I was in an exceedingly good mood for a Monday morning. I got to wake up in my tent on a hill, instead of the usual struggle to work. Last night, Matt had bribed me to pack up early with the tantalising promise of having the time to enjoy a cooked breakfast in Edale before we got the train back to Manchester, a clever ruse which never fails to rouse me early in the morning. Accordingly I was up and ready to go at 7.37 am, surely a personal best for someone who struggles to get out of her pit for work in the morning. This, however was a wonderful way to spend a Monday morning, with work but a distant memory as I walked along in the early morning mist and observed with some satisfaction the shafts of early sunlight as they cut through the clag and illuminated the Hope Valley with an almost ethereal radiance.

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Monday morning clag starts to clear

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Shafts of sunlight illuminate the valley below

Instead of retracing our steps back along the Great Ridge, we’d decided that the optimal route for a quick bail out would involve a direct descent into Edale, via Edale Cross and Jacobs Ladder. The latter being a path that’s now familiar to me, and others who enjoy the peaty pleasures that Kinder Scout has to offer.

This account documents my first ever wild camp in the Peak District. I’ve also now camped on Dartmoor, so my next post will feature that. It’s almost impossible to compare the two as the locations are so different. I can’t even begin to make a decision as to which was the better camp, so all I can say is that plenty more research on the subject is required.

Link to Social Hiking map of the walk

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/67305/wellycath/A-wander-in-the-White-Peak-with-hillplodder

 

 

 

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The sad story of an old Victorian school in Newcastle under Lyme – can planners and councillors really be trusted to preserve our heritage ?

The Queens Gardens in Newcastle under Lyme. It’s a favourite place to relax in a suburban setting. A quiet place to sit and eat your lunch, and forget about the brown stuff raining down on you from above at work. An urban retreat with trees, flowers in orderly beds and overseeing it all, the statue of Queen Victoria gazing sternly across the immaculately manicured grass. The gardens are carefully tended by council workmen and the displays changed four times a year. To this end they’ve managed to win Britain in Bloom more times than you can count. And no, you don’t really begrudge your council tax being spent on keeping this place shipshape, it’s an oasis of calm amongst the bustle of a busy market town.­­­­

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 Queen Victoria does not approve of the demolition!

But things are soon to change. The trees in the gardens have been covered in netting to stop nesting birds, and ominous yellow A4 notices have appeared on the wrought iron lamp posts. The sleepy old Victorian school that’s provided such a fitting backdrop to these gardens for over a hundred years is to be imminently bulldozed, seemingly on a whim by the Borough Council. In its place they have decided to build a modern glass and stone four-storey civic ‘Hub’ to centralise all the council services under one roof. All of this slap bang in the middle of the town’s somewhat ironically named ‘conservation area’. There won’t be much chance of going mad in the midday sunshine in the Queens Gardens once the Hub is built, it will loom menacingly over both gardens and the neighbouring buildings.

Local MP Paul Farrelly is certainly not in favour of this act of cultural vandalism. He’s written a blistering letter listing many valid reasons why the Hub should not be built, and the school remain. Neither are the local Civic Society, Dave Proudlove of Urban Vision, or in fact the Victorian Society in agreement, they too are horrified at these proposals which seem to have been rushed through at breakneck speed, before local people have a chance to realise exactly what’s happening to such a pivotal part of their town.

I attended the planning meeting which delivered the final death warrant to an already doomed school. The spokesperson for the planning committee could barely get her words out, the acoustics was awful, yet the solemn crowd in the public gallery could just about make out what was being said, and our hearts grew heavier the more we strained to listen. The mayor herself claimed that the school was derelict, unsafe and had to be supported internally with scaffolding (the latter being incorrect) but the watching public barely heard the planning spokesperson’s denial of this, delivered sotto voce as it was. What I did hear though, was one of the councillors turn to face the public gallery and announce that we, the members of the public were living in the past. It was the 21st century now, and there was no place for Victorian attitudes (or buildings, it would seem) in our town any more. As I stared back at one of those I’d helped to elect with that ill-advised cross on the ballot paper, I just felt sorry for them. Sorry that they had no appreciation of old things, of architecture and history and places with atmosphere that actually make you feel something inside. With a complete lack of imagination to see old buildings in a modern context, to renovate, to recycle and improve. I felt sad for all the councillors and planners who will be remembered for making the final decision to demolish something old and full of character, and erect in its place a modern monstrosity, that might last 20 years if we’re lucky.

Local Civic Society member Ken Glover launched a spirited rebuttal against the council’s proposals for the development. Sadly his sterling efforts were in vain, as it was clear that the planners and most of the councillors had already decided in advance that they knew what was best for our ancient market town.  In 1995 St Giles and St Georges School proudly celebrated its centenary. 10 years later it closed, the children being relocated to modern purpose built premises on the outskirts of the town. After its closure in 2005, it was boarded up, waiting it seemed with increasingly folorn hope to once again be a public amenity that the townspeople could use and enjoy once more.

I’m one of many that feel that the planners and councillors are pillaging our heritage. Once these buildings are demolished and replaced, we can never get them back. A piece of history dies, and only lives on in people’s memories and old photographs. What sort of a precedent does this set for other old buildings in the town like the Guildhall, and especially others within the conservation area ? Will these too one day be on the receiving end of an ill-judged wrecking ball from the Council ? What of Hassell Community Primary School, a thriving school based in another Victorian building in the town centre, and the terraced streets that surround it ? I’m very afraid of what future devastation the Council might intend to unleash on our remaining old buildings and the communities that make up their very fabric.

Today as I round the corner to the old school site on Barracks Road, I can hear the sickening sounds of a bulldozer clanking and banging against old brick, over the hum of the traffic. As I look sadly on at the carnage being inflicted, the red brick dust floats up into the blue above me and quietly disappears, in the same way as the hopes and aspirations of those who have fought so hard to save it. Applications have been made and lost to Historic England for listed status, to the Government’s head honcho for planning, but all to no avail. In the gardens themselves all is quiet, the birds and wildlife scared away by the din. I gaze up at Queen Victoria, and wonder what on earth she would have made of all this. Luckily she’s facing away from what remains of the school, but if I look carefully I fancy I can detect a look of grim disapproval on her stony features.

 

 

 

 

 

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Falling out of love with London ?

 

Thirty years ago, I loved London. I loved the energy and vibrancy of the beating heart of the capital, which even back then never seemed to sleep. I felt the excitement of being young and alive, and for the first time to be able to explore its mysterious tubes and streets on my own. The evocative sights and smells of Carnaby Street in the 1980’s, the forbidden clubs and mysterious shops of Soho, places where youngsters like me dared not venture. The landmarks of the day, The Post Office and Euston Tower, the clutch of excitement experienced as you caught a first glimpse of them as you headed into town on the Metropolitan Line. The music of the day invigorated me, I loved the Pet Shop Boys and their camp electro pop. Very different I thought, to the mournful Mancunian meanderings of northern bands like the Smiths. Live Aid, Wembley 1985. At the tender age of seventeen I couldn’t afford a ticket, but more than anything I wanted to be there. In London mind you, not Philadelphia. The whole place and culture made me feel like I belonged.

A first night out in the west end to celebrate a friend passing her driving test, five of us crammed into a vintage Morris 1100 all dolled up for a night on the town. We visited the Video Café, way ahead of its time with its wall to wall big screens, blaring pop music and glamorous hostesses. Even in the side streets behind the venue, the boxes of rubbish and empty bottles spilling out of restaurant bins looked and smelled exotic.

I remember buying a new winter coat from Top Shop on Oxford Street, prior to heading north to University. It was electric blue, bat winged and warm enough (or so I thought) to get me through the coldest of days in London. A few weeks into the term I rang my Mum to inform her I’d had to purchase another coat, a sturdy hooded anorak, as my electric blue fashion statement wasn’t quite cutting the mustard amongst the rain, mud, and cold of North Staffordshire in November.

I can’t seem to pinpoint the exact moment that the rot began to set in. Not when I lived down there, certainly.

By 1996 I was living near Birmingham, when a change in circumstances necessitated a change of location. I had three options, to stay where I was and didn’t really know anyone, or to move up to North Staffordshire to rent a house with my brother. The third option was a return to London, to live with my parents. For some reason this course of action was not given the consideration it perhaps deserved.

In central London now, all I see is grime and disappointment. Seedy massage parlours cheek by jowl with trendy ‘old fashioned’ drinking establishments, rammed with hipsters and after work city types. No one speaks to you, no one looks at you. On the tube, in the pub, in the shops, anywhere and nowhere. In the suburbs where I grew up things look familiar of course, and happily there is still family to visit, but I feel like a tourist, no longer do I feel I belong on those streets.

I don’t think I’ve changed that much in thirty years, so why have I such a healthy dislike for a place of which I was once so fond ? I think possibly it’s because I’ve not so much changed as grown up. London seems to be a city for young people, not middle aged ones with a slightly grumpy outlook on life. I will continue to visit the place for as long as I have friends and family there of course, but a slightly selfish inner voice mutters to me that it wishes they’d move somewhere, well a little more salubrious.

A friend who migrated from Milton Keynes to Whitehaven in Cumbria a couple of years ago has pretty much nailed it. She says ‘I have concluded that London is for the young, the ambitious or the insane.’

I think that living away from London in ‘the provinces’ might have also coloured my judgement somewhat. It certainly seems now as though few of the edicts issued by a London based parliament have much benefit for areas far distant from London and the south east. Pre-election spin about the creation of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ seems to have quietly faded away. Recent decisions made at Westminster for trains not to stop at Stoke, on the proposed HS2 route through the potteries seems to back up this suspicion. An area which has never recovered from the loss of its mining and pottery industries has lost out on a potential economic lifeline, almost certainly to its detriment. I’ve also witnessed first-hand the devastation caused to local communities by the recent catastrophic flooding in Cumbria. It’s set me wondering that if had these floods had happened in or around London, whether the infrastructure might not have been fixed a tad more quickly. I could go on about this, but just thinking about it gives me a deep sense of unease.

Londoners themselves don’t really help. Even some of my ‘London’ friends seem to have an inexplicable air of superiority about where they live, as though it’s somehow better than everywhere else. I’ve even asked some if they’d ever consider moving away, and the answer is invariably that they’d relocate at the drop of a hat, but they couldn’t possibly do it, as how on earth would one manage on a provincial salary ? This seems odd, given that if they were brave enough to give up their modest London abodes they could afford veritable mansions by northern standards. For me though, it’s about quality of life, not cold hard cash. It’s about the fact that I can walk 30 minutes from my front door to a high green place, where the skylarks trill in the blue above, and the rolling Staffordshire countryside is spread out like a richly coloured tapestry before me. I’ve tried, but I’ve yet to replicate that feeling anywhere in London.

I do still have a favourite place down there though, somewhere I can spend all day on my own and lose myself in its history and atmosphere. It’s not often these days that I get the opportunity to visit, but I always look forward to the chance to once again walk through its terracotta galleries to visit old friends, and to be enticed by new exhibitions and displays.

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September 2014 – Eskdale, Wasdale, and Langdale revisited

Impressions of Eskdale

As the Northern Rail diesel slowly rattled over the bridge near Arnside, the sun blazed in the cobalt blue sky, sparkling on the water as I watched the wailing gulls. At Ravenglass I sat on the platform and basked in the warmth of the late September sun as I waited for ‘La’al Ratty’, the steam train to arrive. From the open carriage the coastal scene opened up before me, smoke, soot and steam blew in my face from the engine, and I eyed the bulky rucksack sitting beside me on the wooden slats with just a hint of apprehension.

Best view ever from a train ?

Best view ever from a train ?

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At Eskdale I alighted, and after the train had puffed on its way silence, apart from the rustle of fallen leaves in the breeze and birdsong. A brisk walk down the road to the King George, and a seat in the beer garden in the golden afternoon sunshine to meet my friend Matt, and discuss our walking plans for the next couple of days. An almost unprecedented decision was made to spend the first night at a campsite, as my walking companion had endured the twin perils of rain and rising waters on his camp the previous night. A brief walk up the road again and my first sight of the Fisherground campsite. A secluded pitch was chosen under a mighty oak, with adjacent firepit and wood purchased for later burnings. After an excellent tea at the George involving the meatiest steak pie I’ve ever experienced, and a pint of fine blonde lakeland ale, I wandered back up the road in the dusk to locate my tent. A nip of whisky, a brew and one hearty fire later I retired, but not before I noticed a very satisfactory scattering of stars in the blackness above me.

A first wander in Wasdale

From Fisherground we struck off along the road, crossing the tracks at Beckfoot station. I felt a clutch of excitement, I’ve wanted to gaze on Wasdale since I started visiting this area a year ago, and a last minute fine tuning of plans was apparently going to grant my wish. Up towards Blea Tarn we headed, with the green of the bracken slowly turning to gold, and hints of russet and copper just starting to touch the tops of the trees, and the steel grey waters of the tarn seeming almost to meet the clouds.

View from Eskdale Moor

View from Eskdale Moor

Stone circle on the way up to Eskdale Moor

Remains of a stone circle on Eskdale Moor

Over Eskdale Moor, past remnants of prehistoric stone circles to Burnmoor Tarn on Eskdale Fell, with its ruined fishing lodge. As we shrank behind a wall out of the rain to have lunch, I wondered what it would have felt like to spend time in that lonely hut with just the hills and sky for company.

Burnmoor Tarn

Burnmoor Tarn

Colours of Wasdale in autumn

Colours of Wasdale in autumn

First glimpse of Wastwater

First glimpse of Wastwater

Dried up stream bed

The raging torrent

As we neared Wasdale, the palate of colours changed again. Sooty grey clouds contrasted with wisps of white against the pure gold of the bracken clad fells. We picked our way over the dry rocks of a stream bed that would have seen a raging torrent in winter, towards the place of homage that is the Wasdale Head Inn. A seat was taken in the beer garden, a pint of glorious golden ale consumed, and I was ready to completely wimp out and pop my tent up in the already crowded camping field adjacent to the pub.

On the ascent up to Styhead Tarn

On the ascent up to Styhead Tarn

Matt however reminded me that we still had to get up to our intended wildcamp location at Styhead Tarn, and with the shadows already lengthening, time really was of the essence. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the golden evening light and the ale inside me but there were a couple of extremely tricky moments negotiating the narrow rocky ledges around the base of Napes Needle, before we dropped down towards the tarn. There we encountered a veritable crowd of fellow campers, who’d clearly had the same yearning for a Saturday night tarn camp as us. With the light slowly fading I tried not to make too much of a hash of putting Archie up in the strengthening breeze, but I suspect the dubious flapping noises gave me away.

Styhead Tarn

Styhead Tarn

Styhead Tarn and Seathwaite Fell

Due to the friskiness of the wind during the night, and completely unfounded fears of my tent blowing away I can’t say that I slept well. Rather surprisingly, Matt seemed to fare better under his extremely well- ventilated tarp than I did in my cosy little tent. He is, however, made of sterner stuff than I. After breakfasting on tea and chocolate biscuits I packed up, as we now had an intensive exploration of Seathwaite Fell to look forward to.

Sprinkling Tarn with Great End beyond

Sprinkling Tarn with Great End beyond

As we headed up towards the familiar scenery of Sprinkling Tarn, we met a father & his 6 year old who’d just done her first wildcamp up at the tarn. It made me think what a wonderful location and experience it would be for a child, and vowed that one day I’d take my son on such an adventure.

As we reached the top of Seathwaite Fell, with the cold cloud swirling around us it was like entering another world. Dozens of tiny tarns and mini cairn topped peaks, casually dotted about the undulating ground, making it virtually impossible to judge which might be the highest point. Sheer rock faces drop into the tarns and random bits of rock poke out of the water right where they’ve fallen. Grey fissured rocks jut from the brown dying grass and green bog rushes. Fingers of mist part periodically to lend tantalising glimpses into adjacent valleys and to reveal hidden peaks and tarns, before the view is swallowed up again by whiteness.

On Seathwaite Fell

On Seathwaite Fell

Desolation and clouds

Great End peeps from behind the swirling clouds

One of many small tarns on Seathwaite Fell

One of many small tarns on Seathwaite Fell

This is by far the most interesting fell I’ve stood upon to date, as you could spend literally hours exploring its tarns and rocky outcrops without knowing what’s around the next corner. It might in time become a favourite fell, but I don’t feel I’ve seen enough yet to judge.

Angle Tarn and a change of plan

Our plan had been to bag the best camp spot at Angle Tarn, before the usual crowds descended on it for the night. However, as we approached, spits and spots of drizzle and menacing low clouds hovered over the surrounding peaks, dark, threatening and full of rain too, by the looks of them. We sat down by some rocks for an impromptu brew laced with whisky, and a rethink. Should we stay up high and wildcamp at the tarn, in possibly inclement weather and risk a rush for the bus in the morning, or should we descend this evening and hopefully get a good spot at the National Trust campsite at Langdale ? The lure of a hot shower, dinner in the pub and a pint was too much even for Matt. This choice allowed a leisurely stroll down towards Mickleden to bag Rossett Pike, where we even had time to chat to people on the summit. There was the usual minor panic on the way down, would the campsite be full, etc, etc, but our fears were groundless.

The Langdale Pikes in the distance

The Langdale Pikes in the distance

Drumlins below Pike of Stickle

Drumlins below Pike of Stickle

As we entered the shop to book our pitches, we encountered intrepid adventurer Jilly Sherlock (@jillysherlock) who we’d met a few months ago at Borrowdale, when we took part in the 10 in 10 Challenge for MS Research. She recommended the best place on the site to pitch our tents for optimal views, what the best option might be for dinner in the Old Dungeon Ghyll (the home made chilli, of course), and kindly donated a couple of pain au chocolats to two hungry hikers.

Sunset from the best spot on Langdale Campsite

Sunset from the best spot on Langdale Campsite

Maybe the beer I’d drunk in the Old Dungeon Ghyll had made me come over all sentimental, but as the night wind loosened the early autumn leaves from the trees, and the stars burned above me in the blackness of the sky, I reflected on the last 12 months since my first backpacking trip to The Lake District. On my first wildcamp at Codale Tarn last autumn, with star spangled skies, moonlight, and chattering beck, and of all the other wonderful trips I’ve had up here since. The same thought kept coming back to me, that every time I have to leave here, my most sincere wish is always to be able to return again to this place.

Best view from a bus stop ?

Best view from a bus stop ?

Alternative view from bus stop

Alternative view from a bus stop

Social Hiking Map of the route

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/52505/wellycath/An-Eskdale-Excursion

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The sun, moon and stars – a wonderful autumn wildcamp on High Raise

A last minute flit to the Lakes

For the last two years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the Lake District around this time of year, but this time no such trip had been planned. So a quick Facebook message to Matt (@hillplodder) established that he too was getting itchy feet and so a last minute visit was planned, this time to include a fell I’ve been wanting to go up for the last two years, the fabulously phallic Pike O’ Stickle. A camp was proposed at Stickle Tarn, or at a higher location TBC if the weather was suitable, or if the shores of the tarn turned out to be like Piccadilly Station at rush hour. Weather forecasts were nervously scanned all week but when Friday came all seemed to be calm and agreeable, without so much as a puff of wind. I couldn’t get away from work quick enough on Friday afternoon and hot footed it to Crewe to catch the Windermere train. I was staying at the YHA Butharlyp Howe in Grasmere & Matt was to camp on their lawn, but I felt that if a wildcamp was on the cards for Saturday night I’d quite like a kip in a bunk and a proper breakfast first.

On arrival I booked in, bolted some pasta & sauce and threw my gladrags on, for I was due to meet Lakeland lovelies Gina & Dave Pennington (@cumbrianblondie & @kendalskintcake) at Tweedies Bar in Grasmere for a pint. I abstemiously quaffed third of a pint selection samples which Dave matched with pint measures. Then Matt arrived from London, with a raging thirst on after pitching his tent in the dark and legging it down the hill to meet us. He proceeded to neck several pints of dubiously strong dark ale in quick succession, on an empty stomach.

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Testing the ale in Tweedies bar in Grasmere

The next morning saw the inevitable happen, and with Matt clutching his midriff and necking dioralyte I seriously doubted that we’d get very far up the fells today. However he miraculously recovered in time to demolish his YHA fry up, so we set off up Easedale Road towards the first of our conquests.

On the ascent to Helm Crag

On the ascent to Helm Crag

Atop Helm Crag

Atop Helm Crag

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Helm Crag- The Howitzer

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Looking back towards Helm Crag

We went up Helm Crag, followed in quick (ish) succession by Gibson Knott and Calf Crag. Then to Codale Head with all its wonderful small tarns, many and disparate but well known enough to feature in Volume 2 of the Nuttalls iconic book of Lakeland Tarns.

Looking down on some of the small tarns scattered around Codale Head

Looking down on some of the small tarns scattered around Codale Head

A final steady plod found us up on High Raise, our intended camp spot for the night.

Pike O'Stickle from High Raise

Pike O’Stickle from High Raise

A wildcamp on High Raise

As the evening sunlight turned slowly to gold, our shadows lengthened and from the warmth and calm of the day a chilly breeze sprang up to ruffle the dying moss and grass on the fell top. Almost imperceptibly day slid into night and the sun, a great red pulsating ball was slowly enveloped by the cold grey fingers of cloud that clawed at the fells to the west. At the same time in the east, the pale moon floated from her soft bed of purple cloud and set sail on her nightly voyage across the Lakeland sky.

Sunset over High Raise

Sunset over High Raise

Cotton wool clouds

Cotton wool clouds

Henry and Matilda at sunset

Henry and Matilda at sunset

Henry on High Raise

Henry on High Raise

Sunset

Sunset

Dusk fell quickly now and enveloped the fell top in cold darkness and shadows. Lights went on in tents, and then off again as the moon sailed higher and cast her cold light across the pale rocks that littered the summit, and through the thin tent walls to cast an eerie glow within. Above our heads pale pinpricks of starlight glittered in the sky but tonight they were no match for the moonlight. I longed to sit outside and watch the story of the changing skies unfold above me but the wind was stronger now, and it seemed to chill my very bones with each gust. I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag and listened to the rhythmic sound of the wind as it stirred the sides of my tent. At one point we saw lights and heard voices, not late night revellers it seemed but a group of walkers looking for somewhere to pitch up for the night, but they soon departed, leaving me to enjoy the sounds of solitude as I drifted off to sleep.

With the autumn night drawing to its end, the wind that had relentlessly buffeted the tents dropped as the tired horses of Selene ended their long journey across the sky. In the east the clouds started to glow a little brighter and just after 7am an exclamation from my companion alerted me to the imminent sunrise. I struggled from the warmth of tent and sleeping bag to stand outside and witness the sun’s golden orb emerging over High Street to once again bathe the Lakeland fells with his warmth and light.

Morning light on High Raise

Morning light on High Raise

The blue yonder

The blue yonder

A scramble up Pike O’ Stickle, my favourite phallic fell

The huge crows we’d noticed the night before (common Ravens?) had returned, keenly circling above us and looking hungrier than ever. It was decided that now was a good time to depart, before we discovered if a diet of hikers that had lingered too long over the views was the key to their immense size.

Tarn at Thunacar Knott

Tarn at Thunacar Knott

Morning mist

Morning mist

All packed up and ready for just after 9 we set off for a reprise of my visit to Thunacar Knott almost two years ago. I remember at the time being wowed by the views and the fell, but although it was good to stand by its rocky cairn again I couldn’t help thinking somewhat smugly that I’d seen more imposing views already today.

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Cairn on Harrison Stickle

If Harrison Stickle was hard to get up I can’t remember, because there loomed the challenge of Pike O’ Stickle, a fell that I desperately wanted to climb but that apparently involved some ‘scrambling’ to get to the top.

My phallic friend Pike O'Stickle

My phallic friend Pike O’Stickle

.. and from behind...

.. and from behind…

I’m a walker, not a climber so the notion of scrambling anything other than an egg fills me with some trepidation. However I could see that to get anywhere near the head of the Pike’s domed phallus that hands, feet and a healthy dose of gumption would be required. Then Matt had a flash of inspiration, to dump our heavy packs by some rocks at the base and shin up there as best we could with no weight on our backs, and hands free to clutch at any available handholds. Being a seasoned Wainwrighter (all 214) he’d been up before of course, but I could tell he was wondering how on earth he was going to get me up there without the aid of a crane and pulley system. But go up I did, pausing only briefly to declare I was stuck before taking a left fork ¾ of the way up, and miraculously finding an easier way to the summit. What a wonderful feeling, after all this time to sit atop what is arguably the rudest looking fell in the whole of Lakeland.

At last! (thanks to Matt for the photo)

At last! (thanks to Matt for the photo)

After the adrenaline highs of Pike O’ Stickle it was time to come down both mentally and physically, via Loft Crag and Thorn Crag to Langdale, as I had a bus to catch.

Small tarn below Loft Crag

Small tarn below Loft Crag

Matt had booked the day off on Monday and was camping up Red Screes later. I had not, and the Sunday afternoon spectre of work the following day rose up to haunt me as we descended. I’m never overjoyed at this prospect but I knew I needed to get back as with every jarring step down the steep descent by Dungeon Ghyll Force my knees protested ever louder. Eventually I made it down to the place of homage that is the New Dungeon Ghyll, where we sat sipping chilly beverages and reflecting on the adventures of the last couple of days.

Stickle Tarn

Stickle Tarn

In terms of weather we couldn’t have wished for anything better. The scenery is stunning in this part of the lakes and I’ve climbed up Pike O’ Stickle, something that I’ve been wanting to tackle for ages. The camp on High Raise was incredible and sets an impossibly high expectation for any future camps. I’m not actually sure it would be possible to better it, but I suppose it would be rude not to try.

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‘It’s grim up North’… A windswept weekend for my first foray into the Northern Fells

This was the trip that had been on and off for what seemed an eternity. My first foray into the uncharted territory of the Northern fells, and for Matt a necessary trip to lay to rest some stragglers. Unable to escape until Thursday evening, I’d taxi’d to Crewe to try and make the Penrith train. A delay at Preston looked to be going to scupper my chances of catching the last bus to Keswick but I made it, and duly received a text announcing that Matt was lurking on a dimly lit street corner to direct me to the YHA Keswick. Having speedily offloaded my bag there was time to visit the Bank Tavern to test the local ale and then back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.

River Greta

River Greta

The cold, grey waters of the river Greta sploshing away, combined with the wind fiercely buffeting the window panes led to a less than restful night. By 8 am though I was standing outside the hostel, waiting for Matt to emerge and photographing the dark waters that had earlier disturbed my dreams. I’d been somewhat nervous about this trip, even though we’d quite sensibly abandoned the idea of actually camping in it, as the weather forecast had suggested that attempting to stay upright on the tops of mountains for prolonged periods of time might not be advisable. Nevertheless we were cheerful as we headed off in search of sustenance, having eschewed the usual YHA offerings. This proved to be a massive mistake, as one’s chances of finding a cooked breakfast in Keswick before 9am in winter appear to be as rare as rocking horse poo. This delay meant it was gone 10 when we set off for our epic conquest of Blencathra from Keswick, via Brundholme woods.

Blencathra

Just the name sends a small shiver of anticipation through me. I’ve wanted go up there since my first proper trip to the Lakes in October 2013. Last year it was in the press as the owner was selling it, and the outdoor community rallied together via social media in an attempt to buy it as a community asset. I was one of the many that chipped in their £10, so I felt an affinity with it, although I’d never seen it up close or walked on its slopes. As we passed the Blencathra field centre & slogged up a steepish field I was hungry for my first view. As we started up the zig zagging but excellent path the view opened out behind us and I had to keep stopping and looking, and taking pictures.

Ascending Blencathra

Ascending Blencathra

Unfortunately my poor blurry photos do not do the view (or the mountain) justice on this occasion. As we ascended, the mist descended and any hopes of a view from the top were summarily abandoned. There was also a quantity of residual snow, pretty but dangerous, blurring the sheer edges and filling in unseen crevices. I shuddered and resolved to stick a bit more closely to Matt and the path, as I felt that a wander off piste up here today might prove to be a misjudgement.

Residual snow on Blencathra

Residual snow on Blencathra

The wind was really getting up by this point, a stiff breeze (by Lakeland standards), or a howling gale (by mine,) attempting to blow me off course and into those snow filled gullies. As opposed to using my Pacerpoles to maintain my momentum I was now using them in an attempt to remain vertical. When we finally reached the trigpoint we very paused briefly for a photo, as the view was hardly worth lingering for.

Attempting not to get blown off on Blencathra!

Attempting not to get blown off on Blencathra!

Then the descent to Mungrisdale Common, another one of Alfred Wainwright’s least favourite fells. I won’t say I was completely underwhelmed by it, but it definitely falls into the same category as its boggy cousin, Armboth Fell. I was fortunate enough to tackle Armboth at the tail end of a particularly arid June, but Mungrisdale in early March lived fully up to its reputation of being a wet one. I’m pleased I’ve done it, but I’ve not got a burning urge to revisit on a clear day as I have with Blencathra and its Northern fellows.

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Mungrisdale Common

Skiddaw House

Then I saw it, rising in splendid isolation out of the mist. The slightly forbidding grey stone building dates back to around 1840, and has formerly been used as a shooting lodge and shepherds bothy. It features in Alfred Wainwright’s iconic guide to the Northern fells, and its current incarnation is as an independent hostel affiliated to the YHA.

First sight of Skiddaw House

First sight of Skiddaw House

It’s like no other hostel I’ve ever been to. No regulation green YHA duvets and cloned metal bunk beds here, or Japanese tourists with suitcases instead of rucksacks. Here it’s basic. There’s no mains electricity, water is from a well and cooking is done on LPG gas which also powers the boiler for hot water. And when the last weary hiker has clomped up the wooden stairs, field mice play in the stone flagged kitchen at night, so your food has to be stored in sturdy perspex boxes, or they’ll eat it for you.

In the bedrooms upstairs, away from the warmth of the kitchen log burner it’s cold, very cold. It’s certainly inadvisable to remove any items of clothing before retiring to bed. But Skiddaw House has a warmth that can’t be measured by the mercury on a thermometer. You feel it in the welcome you receive from Martin and Marie. From the minute you arrive you’re made to feel like you’re stopping at a friends’ house for the night, albeit a somewhat remote and draughty one, not like one of a million members to be ‘processed’ in and out, as at some of the larger YHA’s. There are whispers that the current warden is due to retire in the next couple of years, and you wonder if anyone else would be brave enough to take this place on – 3½ miles from the nearest road, with no TV, mains electricity or phone signal.

Back o'Skiddaw

Back O’ Skiddaw

Skiddaw House

Skiddaw House

Bannerdale Crags and Bowscale Fell, plus a first test of my Microspikes

As we left Skiddaw House I hungrily devoured the view.  This soon disappeared though, as the mist rolled over, to be followed by its friends the rain and the wind. We plodded on ok over the familiar ground of Mungrisdale from yesterday, and from there headed towards Bannerdale Crags. The first obstacle in the mist was an unexpected snowfield, so I popped my Microspikes on and just followed the footprints. Where the snow ended the bog began, and by now there was also a complete lack of visibility so some nifty compass work was required by Matt to maintain our course. From Bannerdale we headed towards Bowscale Fell. No view again here, but again the compass came out to ensure we didn’t fall off the crags into the tarn, whose outline kept eerily appearing through the mist. After descending a gentle grassy slope we found the bridge at Roundhouse across the river Caldew and decided that the sheer blackened scree of Carrock Fell was off the menu for today. We chose instead to follow the Cumbria Way back to the shelter of Skiddaw House.  On the way, we met a lone hiker with whom we exchanged a few words. At the mention of the foul weather he said he’d rather be out here in this than stuck indoors in front of the TV. This did make me wonder whether on such a day perhaps even the prospect of Ant & Dec on a Saturday afternoon was not so unappealing! This chap was clearly made of sterner stuff than me.

Freezing puddle filled with frogspawn

Freezing puddle filled with frogspawn

As we slogged along through the frogspawn filled puddles with the icy rain splattering our faces, I resolved to try and cope better in conditions like this, like the hardcore hiker we’d just encountered. The problem is I’m a fair weather walker, and I like (need) to be rewarded with the adrenaline hit that accompanies a suitably stunning view. There was no view from Blencathra, or the fells we’d visited today, just rain studded mist and slippery snow cloaked places left, right and centre, where you really shouldn’t venture. But I know I need to man up a bit if I’m to make a better attempt at the 10 in 10 challenge for MS research in June this year, instead of the rather paltry 7 peaks in 9 hours that I managed last year.

Latrigg Fell at last

An earlyish start was in order to depart from Skiddaw House on Sunday as I had the joys of work to look forward to on Monday. Matt, the jammy sod was to continue his adventure to see off some of his remaining Western Fells. So as is usual on the day of my departure, the rain clouds miraculously rolled back to reveal the promise of blue skies and a fine day later. Although I was sad to be leaving, I really enjoyed the walk back down towards Keswick. This was Lakeland as I love to see it. White foaming gills swollen from the recent rains, coursing down the fell sides to the Glenderaterra Beck. The greys, browns and olive greens of moorland in the winter in contrast with the blacks of peaty heather covered slopes.  Not 60 mile an hour winds, lashing rain, and low thick cloud obscuring any hopes of a view.

Rather poor phone panorama on descent from Skiddaw House

Rather poor phone panorama on descent from Skiddaw House

Latrigg is supposed to be one of the easier, more accessible fells to climb, whilst still offering stunning views over Derwentwater. I must say it didn’t seem that easy as we puffed our way up its north eastern flank but once there, the views were even better than I’d anticipated. Unfortunately I was experimenting with a new phone camera, and the results were disappointing to say the least, so for some decent pictures I’ve attached a link to Matt’s Flickr stream at the end of this post.

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Freaky orange fungus found on Latrigg Fell

It occurred to me as I gazed down on the grey houses of Keswick from the summit of Latrigg that it’s not dissimilar to where I live. Just a market town in the north of England. Except it’s not. When I fall out of work befuddled and bemused, and roll my eyes skywards I see buildings, and pigeons and blue skies, if I’m lucky. When a discontented bank clerk in Keswick does likewise they see the trees, sky and yes, the pigeons. But overshadowing all this is the brooding bulk of the fells that have stood, static and immobile for millions of years. A view like this would surely be a tonic to the soul ?

Matt’s Flickr stream https://www.flickr.com/photos/hillplodder/sets/72157650905491110

Social Hiking Maps of Northern Fells wander

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/56751/wellycath/Move-7

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/56752/wellycath/Move-6

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/55570/wellycath/8th-March-2015

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Social Hiking Adventure on Dartmoor November 2014 – Haytor, Pew Tor, and Ponies

My first memory of Dartmoor dates back to the late 1980’s, on a university field trip. I can recall being cold, wet, and windblown, and there being many bogs of the peaty variety. And we visited Wistman’s Wood, an area of ancient oak woodland just outside Princetown. I remember soft green moss- covered boulders, buried deep in dense oak woodland, the call of birds and the bubbling cascades of the woodland brooks. I’ve since visited Haytor on several occasions, Hound Tor and Bench Tor, but never really made it off the beaten track to explore any further.

In October I received a tantalising invitation from Paul, a fellow social hiker, to spend the weekend with a group of Dartmoor rookies like myself exploring the moor from a base in Princetown. Camping had been suggested, but most of us (except for Phil and his trusty Vango Banshee) opted for the Plume of Feathers bunkhouse, due to the saturated ground from recent rains.

We arrived just as dusk was falling, after 8 hours travelling. The rain lashed down on Dean’s car as we swooped round the bends, the headlights picking out the tall fern clad stone walls that bordered the impossibly narrow lanes.

Phil (@socialhiking) with a map?!

Phil (@socialhiking) with a map?!

Sad unwanted pumpkins outside the Fox Tor Cafe

Sad unwanted pumpkins outside the Fox Tor Cafe

The next morning found a few of us feeling slightly the worse for wear, after one too many reunion shandies, catching up with friends not seen since the summer. Although the breakfast offerings in the Fox Tor Café looked delicious, I was still feeling too delicate to appreciate them. After paracetamol and a pint of orange juice I started to rally, hoping the rain would hold off for our first day on the moor. As we passed the camping field I glanced at Phil’s tent (looking lower and more bivvi-esque this morning, as though a great weight had fallen on it) confirming that my churning stomach wasn’t the only casualty of last night.

I was going to write up this trip in the traditional way, but that’s already been done very proficiently by my walking companions. I’m going to link to their blogs at the end of this post for specific details of tors bagged and rocks reconnoitred. Dean has also made a video that captures the essence of the place much better than mere words can. I’m going to attempt to write about how Dartmoor makes me feel, particularly in relation to the Lakes, another favourite place.

Tantalising view from Bonehill Down car park

Tantalising view from Bonehill Down car park

Social Hikers on Bell Tor

Social Hikers on Bell Tor

Dean, Matt & Phil approaching Hound Tor

Dean, Matt & Phil approaching Hound Tor

The moor is an altogether friendlier landscape than the Lakes. As you gaze at the vista of humps, bumps, rocks and hills you know that wandering up them won’t hurt your legs or scare you witless in the same way as some of the loftier Lakeland peaks. Dartmoor feels more accessible too. In Lakeland there are impenetrable areas hard to reach by any mode of transport. You know you need to walk 10 miles, and then camp, and then walk another 10 miles tomorrow. On Dartmoor, you can walk as far you want, knowing you can jump in a friend’s car and be back in the pub that evening for a pie and a pint. Not that that’s stopped me from wanting to camp there, a wander on the moor 2 years ago to photograph ponies decided that.

Pony spotting trip, May 2013

Pony spotting trip, May 2013

The soft, close cropped grass and cushiony moss was almost begging me to put a tent up on it. It’s just that in the Lakes, camping is sometimes necessary to cover the ground in the time available, whereas on the moor it’s an optional luxury, which seems to make it even more appealing, and at the top of my list of places to camp this year.

Little Cox Tor

Little Cox Tor

Sitting on Little Cox!

Sitting on Little Cox!

Trig point on Cox Tor

Trig point on Cox Tor

This trip has changed my feelings towards the moor. Before this weekend, it was just somewhere to head up for a walk on a sunny afternoon, and to see the dark brooding presence of Haytor over the market town of Newton Abbot, when bad weather comes rolling in. My visit has made me want to find out more, about the history of the industry there, the megalithic settlements, to learn to recognise the rocks and stones I’ve wandered over.

Haytor

I’ve become fond of this place, having visited several times. It’s one of the more accessible ‘tourist’ Tors, with two car parks, a visitor centre and even its own ice cream van. I still get excited though, when I spot the familiar curves of its granite mass, and friendly green slopes. On this visit I marvel at the Haytor granite tramway, and wonder at the effort involved to manoeuvre those lengths of rock into position almost 200 years ago.

Haytor granite tramway

Haytor granite tramway

 

Haytor Rocks

Haytor Rocks

Haytor from Saddle Tor

Haytor from Saddle Tor

Pew Tor

This is a place of contrasts. Look one way and you see sparkling rivers and distant ocean, look the other and there is a close knit patchwork of green and ploughed fields, red Devon soil and cosy hamlets. Look another way again, towards the rolling distant hills, and you see the harsh grey of unyielding granite outcrops stark against the sky.

Pew Tor

Pew Tor

View from Pew Tor

View from Pew Tor

We wandered up the grassy slope towards the Tor, surrounded by the russet hues of the dying bracken. At the top were splendid 360 degree views, so I left Phil to meditate on the magic of Dartmoor (and to enjoy a crafty curly wurly), and headed over with Matt & Dean to bag Sampford Tor.

Ponies

I looked into their eager equine faces as I tried to extricate myself from a crowd of them and squeeze through the gate. I’d read strict pronouncements about them, don’t touch them, don’t feed them, do your best to ‘avoid’ them. The latter being particularly tricky when you’re crossing a field of them trying to do just that, and they are enthusiastically pursuing you en masse.

Gratuitous pony shot

Gratuitous pony shot

Fortunately my pony related mutterings fell on deaf ears as Dean, chief horse whisperer of the party tickled them under the chin, behind the ears and generally did all the things you’re apparently not supposed to do. The ponies clearly hadn’t seen the advice either, and were evidently enjoying the attention immensely, even seeming to pose obligingly while Dean videod and photographed them.

Rainbow over North Hessary Tor

Rainbow over North Hessary Tor

As the dusk crept up on us late on that Sunday afternoon, Dartmoor appeared to be putting on a most spectacular light show to distract our thoughts from the long journey north.

Stone Cross

Stone Cross

 

Dusk over Dartmoor

Dusk over Dartmoor

At the stone cross by the leat, a segment of rainbow shone over North Hessary Tor, almost like some sort of divine sign to ensure our swift return. From the green and brown of the moor, I raised my eyes and saw the heavy dark cloud pierced by the gold of almost ethereal shafts. A final, almost furtive glance before we got in the cars at the green moor slowly darkening. The ghostly shadows of the ubiquitous ponies floated in the fading light, the cobalt blue of the late afternoon sky vying with the dark morose rainclouds, seeming to reflect my mood. The blue shapes of distant hills merging eventually with the sky at its misty horizon. The unique shapes of Dartmoor in the form of silhouetted tors, bumps and rocks cast about the landscape like toys abandoned by some careless child.

My final image of Dartmoor

My final image of Dartmoor

I knew I wanted badly to come back to this place, but what of the practicalities of sheer distance and cost involved in even getting here, never mind staying. Staying? Yes, Devon has been on my list of places I’d like to live for many years but the pull has been particularly strong this weekend. Yet the pull of the Lakes in the north is strong as well, and the creeping fear that I’m too old now to have the luxury of time to live everywhere I’d like. So some difficult decisions need to be made over the next 10 years, as to where I could live. I dare to hope that whether it be northwest or southwest, that I’m fit and well enough to enjoy whichever high places might become my playground in years to come.

Social Hiking Route Map Links

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/53275/wellycath/15th-November-2014

http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/53298/wellycath/16th-November-2014

Links to other bloggers accounts of the trip

http://hillplodder.com/2014/11/19/falling-in-love-with-dartmoor-part-1-the-introduction/

http://hillplodder.com/2014/11/19/falling-in-love-with-dartmoor-part-2-granite-and-funny-names/

http://hillplodder.com/2014/11/21/falling-in-love-with-dartmoor-part-3-some-strange-behaviour/

http://www.moorlandwalks.co.uk/2014/12/social-hiking-dartmoor-meet-pt-1.html

http://www.moorlandwalks.co.uk/2014/12/social-hiking-dartmoor-meet-pt-2.html

 

 

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