50 Shades of Norfolk – Sunrise at Sea Palling, Horsey Windpump, the official bagging of Beacon Hill and a wander on the Weavers Way (May 2014)

I’ve been visiting Norfolk since I was about 5 years old on family holidays, always to the same place, near Hunstanton in North West Norfolk. So when a holiday near the Broads was suggested with friends and family I was keen to see a different side of this now familiar county. We stayed at Sea Palling, a little way down the coast from Bacton, where I’d learnt at the age of 11 that the North Sea gas is pumped ashore.

Sunrise

I slunk silently out of the cottage at 4.30 am and made my way slowly down Beach Road, whilst apparently still enjoying many of the benefits of sleep. As I approached the concrete incline up to the beach I was startled out of my reverie by the brightness in the eastern sky ahead of me. The beach looked to be wreathed in some sort of ethereal mist, and the air was redolent with the smell of smouldering bonfires and the tang of fresh saltiness. I could hear the harsh crying of the gulls and the wailing calls of the other sea birds, against a background of steadily insistent waves lapping against the shoreline.

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First light at Sea Palling

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Chasing the sunrise..

As the sun languidly emerged from the steely grey sea I shivered inadvertently, completely alone except for my thoughts. The early sunlight blazed a golden path across the ocean, gradually illuminating the beach. Each trough in the sand was clearly silhouetted, each bit of detritus thrown into sharp relief. I’d never seen a sunrise over the sea before, and the early dawn light appeared harsh, in contrast with the mellow golds and reds of more familiar sunsets. Each grain of sand twinkled as it caught the light, as the sun’s bright orb blazed in the pale early sky. As the beach became slowly suffused with early sunlight, the colours appeared different to those in a sunset, sharper and more refreshing than sunset’s ochre hues, all against the ceaseless lap of the waves and the splash of spray.

Horsey Windpump

With my 10 in 10 Charity walk for the MS Society only a month away, I’d planned on doing some serious walking during this week in Norfolk. So far nothing much had materialised in that department, whilst at the same time I’d consumed roughly my own body weight in nice food and beverages, so now it was time to redress the balance. Accordingly I announced to a lounge full of comatose children and adults that I’d be walking to Horsey Windpump, instead of joining them in the car. No cries of joy greeted this statement so I set off alone, with plenty of water to combat the heat and some peanut butter sandwiches for sustenance. I struck off along the beach, shadowing the sea wall initially as the tide was up and the keen easterly wind had whipped the surface of the sea into an exotic looking froth which spread across the beach like some bizarre Balearic foam party.

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Foam party on the beach

I cut down towards the sea as soon as I was able, and saw what I thought was a dog swimming. It seemed to bob around for a bit on the surface, and then became submerged for some considerable time. I was just wondering if it was in trouble, then came the realisation that it was just a cheeky seal playing a game of hide and seek with me. There were to be many more of these friendly seals as I walked, only scared off by an ill- tempered hound that sprinted over to bark and snarl at me. The owner apologised, but did nothing to restrain his unruly canine, so sadly the morning peace was shattered by me yelling at him to get his dog under control. Despite such unwelcome distractions I was setting a good pace, and wondering which of the many gaps in the sea wall I needed to head up to get to Horsey. After a few false starts I found it, and headed through a sandy opening, thinking it best to follow the main road as I hadn’t brought a map and was relying on the crap map app on my phone and an unreliable 3G signal. Always take a map!
I was passed on the road by some members of the advance party in the car, who had arrived only to discover they’d forgotten their lunch.

Horsey windpump was very picturesque, even though the week we visited it was minus its sails which had been removed for maintenance. We walked up to the top of it via some very steep narrow ladders, which the 7 year old in the party seemed to cope with a lot better than I did. I elected to walk back as well, after a brisk turn round Horsey Mere itself, this time borrowing Matt’s map, just in case.

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Windmill on Brayden Marshes

 

Beacon Hill

This has the dubious honour of being the ‘highest’ point in Norfolk. I’d ascended its dizzy heights before, in 2012 but Matt hadn’t and wanted to officially ‘bag’ it on @socialhiking for posterity, so I decided a return visit (this time with technology) was in order. There was the usual faffing with phones etc in the car park, with Matt practically disappearing into the sea so he could start at the lowest point. A thick sea mist had descended, and visibility was practically zero as we headed up the road from West Runton beach. This took us through the town, and then into some familiar woods where offspring were duly told off for getting covered in mud. Then the clearing in the trees, and the metal post where the trig had been, all overgrown with grass and brambles, but we’d bagged it nevertheless.

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The ‘summit’ of Beacon Hill

 

The Weavers Way

Thursday came, and with the 2 kegs of Adnams I’d purchased vanishing rapidly & the spectre of the 10 in 10 hovering ever closer over us, it was decided that a ‘proper’ walk was in order. About 20 miles on the flat we reckoned, as an absolute minimum, to make up for the sad lack of ascent that Norfolk had to offer. Amanda kindly dropped us off in Acle, & drove back to photograph Happisburgh lighthouse, and we attempted to get GPS fixes as we headed out of town towards the path alongside the river Bure. The complete flatness of the landscape was accentuated by disembodied sails silently floating along, seemingly through the grass itself.

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Clippesby Mill, one of the many windmills along the Weavers Way

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River Bure at Upton Marshes

The day was clear and the sun blazed in an almost cloudless sky, with the prospect of heat later on. The initial condition of the footpath was excellent, with well-trimmed vegetation and thoughtfully signposted for tourists like ourselves. White painted wooden riverside dwellings, with wall flowers in the tiny gardens and climbing roses around the doorway. Almost idyllic, but with the stillness of the day and the heat these flowers were to prove problematic.

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The bridge at Potter Heigham

After about the 20th sneeze I realised I’d not taken any hayfever tablets, and a fresh round of sneezing from my companion indicated that he’d forgotten his, too. A cursory inspection of rucksacks revealed that we hadn’t brought any with us, either, so I pinned all my hopes on the yachting supply shop in Potter Heigham. The path wasn’t helping either, not so well trimmed now, with stinging nettles and pollen laden grassheads whacking against my bare arms and legs with every step. At Potter we had a lunch of fish and chips, followed by a trip to the marine suppliers by me in search of antihistamines. Sufferers of every ailment imaginable were catered for, from headaches to haemorrhoids, but nothing for such seasonal afflictions as hayfever. Almost resigned to a miserable afternoon of sneezing, Matt checked his first aid kit to reveal a supply of his daughter’s hayfever pills. We downed several each to celebrate, washed down with a can of pop from the chippy and waited for the drowsiness to set in.
As we struck off away from the River Thurne towards Hickling Broad, the scenery changed from that of the riverbank to cool shady wooded areas alongside the path. After this pleasant wooded interlude the path turned into road, and our feet really started to smart. At Hickling Green we left the Weavers Way, and headed back coastwards towards Sea Palling.

Beacon Hill

The bagging of Beacon Hill

weavers way map

The Weavers Way, Acle to Hickling Green

 

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#10in104MS (or the 7 in 9) with Team Social Hiking, 20th – 24th June 2014

Back in January, a chance meeting with Gina (@cumbrianblondie) at YHA Ambleside kicked off a chain of events that now left me standing nervously on Platform 11 at Crewe, waiting for a train to Penrith. I’ve been lucky enough to go on several backpacking trips to the Lake District this year, but this was to be a walk with a difference. Ten Lake District peaks in ten hours, to raise money and awareness for MS research. I’d trained for this walk for months, in the Lakes (on mountains) at home (on hills) and in Norfolk (on the flat) but I wasn’t convinced it was sufficient for such a mammoth undertaking.

Friday 20th June.. Nerves

As all the familiar landmark stations flashed past my nerves steadily grew, with no light hearted banter to distract me. My friend and fellow Social Hiker, Matt (@hillplodder) was an hour behind me on a later train. Despite my misgivings the bus connections at Penrith and Keswick behaved themselves, with the bus driver cheerily agreeing to give me a shout when we were approaching Chapel House Farm campsite, where team Social Hiking were booked in for the weekend.

A blast of hot air, a whiff of diesel and the bus scorched off down the road towards Stonethwaite, leaving me standing on the tarmac in the heat, and my first sight of Rosthwaite. Small neat grey stone cottages, dry stone walls snaking their way over the still green fields and the calm reassuring bulk of the fells. I decided to pitch on some nice soft grass under a mighty oak, and spent time clearing the area of stones and twigs. I’d just finished pitching when Matt hove up, and pointed out the ‘Social Hiking’ t shirt attached to the side of Tim (@ukjeeper)’s tent over on the other side of the site. With my tent relocated and introductions done with it was time to head down the pub to meet some more Social Hikers. I had a pleasant dinner, washed down with 2 pints of Jennings (to aid restful sleep) and then back to the camp site to attempt just that. However when we got back we discovered that Lakeland legend Jilly Sherlock (@JillySherlock) had called in to see Phil (@daylightgambler) and so a pleasant few hours were spent listening to her tales of travel and cycling.

Sunset over Camp Social Hiking

Sunset over Camp Social Hiking

Saturday 21st June.. the 10 in 10

I didn’t get much sleep that night, but was up with a 5.20 am alarm as an early start still had to be made. All the nerves of yesterday had returned (and brought their friends it seemed) and my stomach was churning as we headed down the road to the start. A brief glimpse of familiar faces (Gina & Dave) and we all signed in and set off towards Castle Crag at a cracking pace. Castle Crag is all loose slate and lots of scrambly bits underfoot. I might have made a better job of staying upright if it hadn’t have been so early in the morning. A brief scan about the summit, then down again, the relentless pace not letting up for the next ascent to High Spy. By this point Tim, Matt & myself were well behind the others, a fact that was starting to concern me. Another issue was the heat, it was barely 9am and already I was overheating badly. How would I be feeling with the midday sun beating down on me, if I carried on at this pace ?

On the way down from High Spy towards Dalehead tarn we ran into the Social Hiking 5 in 5 team, Kate, Andy, Paul & Pete, Rose having pulled out earlier due to an asthma attack. They didn’t look overheated, as I was, or befuddled by the early pace. Admittedly they’d yet to do their first fell, but had already walked a fair distance and looked for all the world like a group of friends out for an afternoon stroll. An idea started to form in my mind. I’d walk as far as the check point at Honister with the 5 in 5 team, and see how I was feeling when I’d cooled down a bit.

Suffice to say I’d perked up no end by the time we got to Honister slate mine, and a cup of orange squash and one of Phil’s fabulous pork, chilli and black pudding pies had put me in an exceedingly good humour. I informed one of the marshalls I’d ‘defected’ to the 5 in 5, also Matt, who was just heading off to catch the 10 in 10 team up. Decision made, I could now get on with the serious business of actually enjoying the rest of the walk.

And enjoy it I did. The only slight disappointment was a lack of photos, due to my phone going mysteriously flat quite early on in the proceedings. I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of the walking, it was unhurried and leisurely and I feel we really made the most of the time looking at the views, without being too out of breath and rushed to chat. Even the steep, unrelenting slog up to the next peak at Grey Knotts was interspersed with lengthy pauses to admire the views, and if a member of the team was lagging behind a bit then the others would pause and wait for them. What a civilised way to do a charity walk!

On the way between Brandreth and Green Gable I even sussed out a potential wild camp site by some small unnamed tarns just by Gillercombe Head (also spotted by Matt for the same purpose, as I later found out). At Green Gable, as I marvelled at the view over towards the Langdale Pikes, I found myself trying to identify some familiar looking fells, and thought I’d managed to spot my favourite phallic fell, Pike of Stickle, in the distance.

A well earned breather on Base Brown

A well earned breather on Base Brown

From Green Gable it was the small matter of Base Brown, the ‘special’ fell just reserved for the 5 in 5 challengers. From the rocks at the top we could see the way down, a gradual if slightly rocky descent alongside Sour Milk Gill. There was however, a rather large obstacle to overcome on the way down, in the form of Seathwaite Slabs. We’d had prior warning of these, as Paul had done a recce of the route a couple of weeks before, and had had the misfortune of negotiating the slabs in the rain. At least it was dry today, but the presence of two nervous looking marshalls alerted us to the fact that it might not all be plain sailing. However, using the recommended technique (sliding down them on one’s bum) we successfully cleared them.

Dean Read’s fab video blog of the 10 in 10..

After watching some German rock climbers heading up the waterfall at Seathwaite, it was the small matter of a wooden bridge and a welcoming cheer from Tim, Chris and Phil who had kindly come to meet us as we finished. By this point the lure of a hot shower was irresistible and when Tim suggested we pile in his car for the last slog down the road, no one was going to argue. I went in the boot, being the smallest and had to be hauled out as my legs decided to seize up.

Later in the pub, as Gina was handing out some of her famous brownies, a couple of anxious marshalls accosted us. Had anyone been walking with Matt, as he was yet to finish. I told them he was a competent hillwalker and any delay on his part was probably due to his tendency to plod so he could enjoy the views. Shortly afterwards he appeared, having completed the 10 in 10 course in a not unrespectable 11.5 hours.

 

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Social Hikers

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More Social Hikers

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A ‘chatter’ of Social Hikers! (thanks to Chris Grove Cooper for snapping these on my phone)

Although the beer was lovely, we headed exhausted back to the camp site, to sit and drink Rik’s beer, get eaten alive by midges & generally mull over the events of the day. Surprises of the evening included Poundland mosquito coils (very effective), Dean’s mosquito net (less effective, but with added comedy value), and Rik’s unexpected unveiling of a magnificent beer stein. Eventually I retired, and fell asleep to the sounds of a muted debate that seemed to revolve around Social Hiking and naturism.

Sunday 22nd June.. Lie in

Although it starts to get light in the Lakes about 3am at this time of year, and that’s when the birds start up, I dozed for several hours enjoying the sounds of the swallows and the camp cuckoo and didn’t surface until around 8am. Camp Social Hiking was a hive of activity, people brewing up on their stoves, and Tim doing his miracle ‘Masterchef ‘ bit by managing to produce a cooked breakfast for 20 odd people using just a camping cooker in his tent awning. It was certainly very welcome, though, and as weary campers emerged from their tents they were rewarded with a bacon, egg and sausage roll.

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The remainder of Camp Social Hiking

Gradually as the morning wore on people packed up and drifted off, leaving just Matt and myself pitched up where the camp had been. With no particular plan in mind for the day we decided to catch the first bus to Keswick to buy some extra supplies, and perhaps more importantly to stock up on beer and apple juice. As always, the beer section in Booths did not disappoint.

On the return bus we took the ‘scenic’ route via Buttermere, which seemed to take forever. But at every turn I had tantalising glimpses of evocatively named fells I’d only read about, Great Gable, Pillar, Red Pike and Haystacks, all vying for my attention and begging to be climbed.

On our return we chatted to Rich (@flintyrich) for a while (before he fell asleep, that is) and tried to plan what to do on Monday. I attempted noodles, beef and black bean sauce on my Alpkit stove, and all I’m prepared to say is that it tasted better than it looked. After further inroads into the beer supply I nodded off, excited by the prospect of a more leisurely walk tomorrow.

Monday 23rd June.. Bogs, beer and the best bus ride ever

Another very early start today, as the local bird life was being particularly vocal. We’d decided to do a walk out of Keswick, as emergency midge repellent measures were urgently required.

Sunday’s sedate journey on the open topped bus had involved sitting on the left hand side near the front, but today we were feeling bold and went for the full open topped experience, in the middle, at the back. Wow! We clung on for dear life as the bus swooped and plunged like some demonic rollercoaster through the narrow lakeland lanes, stomachs flipping as the wind whipped the overhanging branches in our faces.

We headed out of town up towards Walla Crag, my only disappointment being that we didn’t have time to detour via Castlerigg stone circle, so I’ve promised it my full attention on a future visit.

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En route to Walla Crag

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Derwentwater

From Walla Crag were breathtaking views over Derwentwater, apparently favoured by artists, amongst them it seems my Great Uncle, who had painted a similar scene some 50 years earlier. As we left Walla Crag on the slog up to Bleaberry Fell, there were noticeably less people, the crowds appearing to favour the more easily accessible and scenic options. We were fairly sure that there would be no crowds where we were headed, for the object of the day was to ‘bag’ the notoriously wet and boggy Armboth Fell, in relatively dry conditions. At the summit of Bleaberry Fell I polished off the dirty Cornish pasty I’d purchased earlier, which seemed to help my walking mojo no end. As we left Bleaberry, with its uplifting views over towards the Langdale Pikes and crossed High Seat and High Tove, the landscape grew gradually more dismal, damp and uninspiring. I was beginning to see why Armboth had the dubious pleasure of being one of Wainwright’s least favourite fells. Lush green moorland grass was replaced by wiry marsh and cotton grasses. Sphagnum squelched with every step we took. I’ve never been that keen on bogs, but they are fascinating places for wildlife, this one being a particularly fine example of a Lakeland ‘blanket bog’.

Peat hags and cotton grass

Peat hags and cotton grass

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Angry skies on Armboth

From Armboth we crossed to Shivery Knott and Watendlath Fell and headed down towards Blea Tarn, the bogginess not letting up for a moment. Sheep crowded the narrow path surveying us with pale ovine eyes, only scattering at the last minute to let us pass.

Watendlath Tarn

Watendlath Tarn

Watendlath Tarn reflections

Watendlath Tarn reflections

Then onwards from Blea Tarn with its picture postcard views looking down towards Watendlath. This wasn’t our ultimate destination though, we still had to walk back up (and down again) to Rosthwaite over the old pony track. I’m not sure I’d want to take a horse over there now though, the path’s not been maintained and the bare rock lies exposed like weathered bones. However we made it back down to be greeted by the now familiar sight of Rosthwaite. Now there was beer to be drunk and dinner to be cooked. I opted for an Innis & Gunn rum finish to go with my pasta and tomato sauce, and I have to say it was really rather good. As was the rest of the beer we later consumed. I just hope we didn’t wake the Duke of Edinburgh award teenagers in the nearby tents up with our singing, sotto voce though it was.

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A new favourite Ale ?

I woke up the next day feeling sad that our adventure was over, and it was time to return home. However what started out as a charity walk to raise awareness and money for the MS Society turned into a wonderful long weekend of walking, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. I couldn’t have wished to have spent the weekend with a nicer bunch of people, and yes, I’ve already signed up to do the challenge again as part of Team Social Hiking next year!

kes to ros

Keswick to Rosthwaite wander

7 in 9 (2)

The 7 in 9 (with thanks to Matt & Paul for letting me use their GPX files)

Posted in Walks in the Lake District | 1 Comment

The Liebster Award

Many thanks to Matt (@hillplodder) for nominating me for this via his blog http://hillplodder.wordpress.com/ Matt’s Questions 1. Favourite walk or hill ? My favourite walk of all time would have to be in North West Norfolk, from Old Hunstanton lighthouse, … Continue reading

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Clag, Crags and self doubt : an early June wander in the Southern Fells

With the 10 in 10 charity event just two weeks away, Matt (@hillplodder) and I had decided that extra training was required, specifically involving lots of ascent to train the legs. The forecast for Saturday however was diabolical, and true to form it was raining steadily as I got off the train at Windermere. By the time the bus reached Coniston, visibility was next to nothing and the winding roads had almost turned to rivers. With the pub an unwise choice so early on a Saturday afternoon a tea shop was selected and after several pints of tea and a sugary slab of shortbread for me, the weather imperceptibly began to improve and a decision was made to nip up to YHA Holly How to pitch the tents, more rain having been predicted overnight. It never came though, and disappointment loomed large at the lost opportunity for a wild camp. We set off in high spirits on Sunday morning though, walking through Coniston up past YHA Coppermines towards Levers Water. The bluish waters of the tarn reflected cotton wool clouds and the hopes of fine weather to come.

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Moody skies above Levers Water

The day that followed was idyllic, with perfect weather for walking and to show off the Lakeland scenery at its best. Up to High Fell, the somewhat hairy traverse of the Prison Band, and over to Swirl How and Grey Friar. Then Great Carrs, Little Carrs and down towards the Three Shire Stone via Wetside Edge and the Wrynose Pass. All against a backdrop of blue skies, perfect white clouds and the good spirits usually associated with such fine weather. I won’t attempt to try and describe the views so hopefully the pictures can do them some justice.

Pike o' Blisco, Red Tarn and Pike of Stickle from the summit of Swirl How

Pike o’ Blisco, Red Tarn and Pike of Stickle from the summit of Swirl How

Tarn we discovered on Great Carrs, not to be found on the map

Tarn we discovered on Great Carrs, not to be found on the map

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White fluffy clouds

Cairn on Grey Friar with the Scafells in the background

Cairn on Grey Friar with the Scafells in the background

Then my first sight of the stone marking the old county boundaries of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland and the steady climb up to Red Tarn on tired legs. Once up there we scoped around for a camping pitch, not too near the path and away from the boggy patches. We settled on a slightly sloping area near the stream, tents were erected, stoves lit, and then the first trauma of the trip, my brand new Alpkit stove conked out mid boil. After much pointing and laughing Matt agreed to finish heating my semi boiled water on his trusty Trangia and disaster was averted. For the second time in my wild camping career I was lulled to sleep by the sound of a chattering Lakeland beck making its way busily down towards the valley.

Spooky skies at Red Tarn camp

Spooky skies at Red Tarn camp

I awoke with a sense of unease on Monday after a restless night spent slowly sliding streamwards due to the slightly uneven pitch. The happy sunshine of yesterday had evaporated along with my confidence in the night to be replaced by insidious creeping clouds and a nagging self doubt about my abilities to walk in the worsening conditions, with legs still heavy from the previous days exertions. We started off well enough, heading up towards Cold Pike, with coats having been shed due to the warmth. At one point I wondered if this signalled the return of Sunday’s benign weather, but it was not to be. Instead of friendly blue skies and fluffy white clouds, swirling fingers of grey cloud vapour reached up and engulfed the hills one by one, like an unholy mist rising up from the lair of some underworld Satan. The clag slowly encroached on our view of the surrounding hills almost like a creeping blindness, cutting off each peak and rock slowly and deliberately.

Fingers of cloud clag

Fingers of cloud starting to encroach

Like a friendly banter turned suddenly dark by one swift cutting comment, and one’s hopes being extinguished by clouding confusion, so the dark swirling mass of cloud and mist settled about the Lakeland hills, turning light into darkness and hope to disappointment.

Clouds rolling in

Clouds rolling in

But although the weather had closed in and with visibility now zilch, and rain splattering down noisily on our hoods we still had a walk to complete. From the summits of Cold Pike, West Top and Far West Top I could see our next destination was to be the Crinkles. As I looked up at the narrow rocky path that snaked its way up past the ‘Bad Step’ over the lofty peaks, the cold hand of fear clutched at my heart. An enquiry of my companion as to the nature of the terrain to be crossed confirmed my worst fears, there were rocks a plenty, some of them loose and some scrambling might be required. What’s more, those rocks were now dripping wet, slippery and slimy, offering little purchase to nervous boots and hands. An alternative lower route was not to be found, the only way was to go up and over, with me fervently hoping that we’d make it down to the other side in one piece. Fear on this occasion seems to have blocked out some of the finer details of the crossing, but I can recall getting stuck coming down some rocks backwards and having to be ‘unstuck’. Suffice to say that on this occasion I think I reached the limits of my current abilities as far as wet rocky mountains are concerned. After the slippery jaggedness of the Crinkles came Shelter Crags. The rocks here were bigger, but still treacherous from their covering of moss and lichen with gaps to trap an unsuspecting foot, and all the while the rain still battered down relentlessly on us. I’m thankful to say that, for the most part it wasn’t a windy day, however up there amongst the rainy rocks a couple of particularly vicious gusts caught my heavy sodden pack and I could feel my balance going.

Then a welcome descent down towards Three Tarns, and an important decision to be made. Should we continue up towards Bowfell and Rossett Pike to risk a wildcamp in these inclement conditions, or retreat to the Langdale valley and a pint in the Old Dungeon Ghyll to consider our options. A quick glance at the swirling clouds was all that was needed and we started to make our way down the Band towards Stool End. As we headed down I caught sight of some familiar fells, yet more still unexplored. Any residual sadness at finishing early evaporated at the thought that hopefully I’d be up here again soon to continue my exploration. That, and the not unattractive prospect of a curry and a pint of ale in Ambleside later on.

My favourite phallic fell, Pike of Stickle

My favourite phallic fell, Pike of Stickle

Crinkles from meadow by the ODG pub

Not so scary Crinkles from meadow by the ODG pub

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday for its fine weather and stunning views, the rain and discomfort of Monday may well prove to be better training for the tough physical and mental challenge of the 10 in 10.

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From Jamies to Jamie’s : A jaunt along the South West Coast Path in Cornwall

The last time I walked on the south west coast path was when I was about 10 years old, descending Deckler’s Cliff to get down to the beach at Pig’s Nose at Gara Rock in South Devon. Every time I visit Cornwall or Devon I think about walking a chunk of it, so this year during an Easter visit to Newquay I decided to act on my whim and actually do a bit.

The day started dull and cloudy with the possibility of later warmth as I was dropped off in the middle of Newquay. I’d decided that although I only planned to walk 5 or 6 miles some extra fortification was required before I embarked. But instead of nipping in the pub for a swifty I headed to Jamies Pasty emporium for a traditional cornish, which I ate perched on a bench overlooking Hedge Cove. Boy, was it good! Tasty melt in the mouth pastry giving way to big chunks of steak, all surrounded by tasty slivers of vegetable and just enough gravy to retain moistness, but without dripping all over your clothes. Suitably replete I headed off down the path by the sea wall where I passed the Huer’s Hut, home of Newquay’s official pilchard alerter in the 14th century and prior to that a beacon lighting hermit’s hangout.

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The Huer’s Hut at Hedge Cove

As I continued along I noticed what appeared to be white bluebells growing between path and sea, however after subsequent research on google (and the wisdom of the mother in law) they could have been wild garlic, but beautiful nonetheless. I was just getting used to the lovely views and beginning to strike up a bit of a pace when I was diverted inland by the harbour, and after this I lost the path completely for a while and it all started to go a bit pear shaped.

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Wild white bluebells at Beacon Cove. Or are they wild garlic ?

I think my issues arose because I thought the path would be a bit better signposted than it was (the signage was diabolical) and yes, I did take a map with me. However this was an OS explorer map and therefore lacking in street names. I eventually got back on the straight and narrow by using the crap map app on my phone, which had decided to work for a change. I picked up the path in the middle of town, quite a way in from the coast which did confuse me somewhat at the time.

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The South West Coast Path in Newquay.. yes, really!

A quick turn past the rear of the railway station and Tolcarne Beach on the seawards side, and the coast path started to look like one again as I cut across the area called the Barrowfields. Now it seems to be used mainly by dogwalkers, but around 1500 BC bronze age tribal chieftans were buried there, overlooking the sea.

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The wonderfully named Lusty Glaze from Barrowfields

I rounded the corner of Barrowfields to the sight of the familiar golden sands of Porth beach, which I decided to cut across as the tide was out. Once the other side I headed out towards Trevelgue Head, which was once home to Iron Age settlers.

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Porth Beach and Porth Island

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Fine phallic looking rock on Whipsiderry beach

As I looked over Whipsiderry I was reminded why I love this part of Cornwall, even on a dull day the colours are stunning.  The impossibly turquoise sea contrasting with the slate grey skies and the lush spring green of the clifftop vegetation. Even the scents were lovely today, the fresh sea smell carried on the breeze, along with the perfume of the sea pinks and gorse just coming into bloom on the clifftop.

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When I caught sight of Zacry’s Islands round the next twist in the path I knew I’d arrived at one of my favourite beaches, Watergate Bay. Although I’ve spent many happy hours pottering around on the beach itself, exploring all the rockpools and seacaves from up on the cliff you do get an entirely different view and perspective.

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The sweeping expanse of sand at Watergate Bay

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Watergate Bay from Stem Point at the northern end

Halfway down Watergate beach is a hotel, surf shop and a branch of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. However I wasn’t visiting today after my impromptu brunch at the pasty shop. Something to look forward to on a future visit perhaps, for my walk for the day was over.

A helpful piece of advice for walkers

And finally.. some useful advice for amorous walkers

Posted in Walks in the West Country | Leave a comment

Uncertainty.. a March trip to the Lakes

I’d been looking forward to a chilly March camp, and to testing my new Vango Apex. Due to diabolical weather for our intended camp in January it’s still only seen any action in the garden. So when Matt (@hillplodder) earmarked the weekend of 1st of March for an early spring wildcamp, I busied myself with fretting about kit and packing it. Until that is the message to say that everything was going titus verticus at work and he was going to have to cancel the weekend. Disappointment hung around for a couple of days, and then the news that it might be back on again for the weekend after, travelling up to Penrith on the Sunday. A flurry of potential routes was exchanged, with the possibility of a camp at Great Mell Fell and the ‘other’ Angle Tarn adding to my excitement.

Sunday saw the 10.57 am Virgin Pendolino whisking me northwards from Crewe, in an almost deserted carriage, except for Matt, his big blue rucksack and what looked like a weeks worth of newspapers (on closer inspection just a copy of the Sunday Telegraph). Plus one very enthusiastic ticket collector who confessed cheerfully to having once kicked a toilet door in to apprehend a fare dodging miscreant.

I was particularly looking forward to this trip, as we’d arranged to meet my friends John & Sarah at Troutbeck to join us on the walk up Great Mell Fell. Sarah is a southerner like myself, but in 2012 moved up to western Cumbria with her family, and like me appears to have caught a nasty dose of what I’ll call ‘Wainwright’s Disease’. This odd affliction can strike at any time, but generally in middle age and manifests itself as an uncontrollable urge to climb large Lakeland fells, even if one’s time ravaged body and general lack of fitness might suggest this to be unwise.

Once pleasantries and gossip had been exchanged, we got to work on the business of Great Mell Fell. The map appeared to suggest a route was to be found up through the trees on the lower slopes. At least there was no stream to be negotiated in this wood, but plenty of moss and bog grasses indicated the damp patches that were best avoided. The gentle sound of wind in the treetops, and the rattling of the leftover autumn leaves round our feet were disturbed by the puffing and blowing of four fairly unfit middle aged people as they squelched their way up a fell. As we laboured our way up, the closely wooded slopes gave way to scattered boulders and some of Wainwright’s ‘bleached skeletons of trees’, larches contorted into impossible shapes by the prevailing wind.

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Three intrepid explorers at the summit of Great Mell Fell

Layers had been shed on the ascent but soon went back on again at the top, the wind whipping my hair into a frenzy for the obligatory summit photos. As is usual on the descent, we found a much better path than on the way up, and within half an hour we were back at the bottom contemplating the next stage.

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Tree near the summit

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One of Wainwright’s trees
(Photo taken by Sarah Reddock)

Farewells were said, and Matt and I struck off along the road. We’d not yet decided whether to camp on Little Mell Fell, or to climb up Little Meldrum and make camp there for the night.

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Great Mell Fell en route to Little Mell Fell

A choice of two particularly muddy looking sheep folds and the decision was made to pitch on Little Mell Fell, and continue along over Little Meldrum in the morning. The sheepfold was an absolute nightmare, a slimy smelly mess of mud, boggy waterlogged ground, well laced of course with copious quantities of sheep shit. The law of sod decreed that today some unfortunate hiker was destined to fall in, and on this occasion Matt was the chosen one. Trying my hardest not to laugh as I surveyed his mud splattered arse, we continued on our way up the fell gingerly, our muddy footwear making the wet grass even more slippery.

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The picture says it all!

As my mind wandered from the task of staying upright, the burning in my thigh muscles reminded me of a similar gradient I’d encountered once in Portugal, the somewhat aptly named ‘Cardiac Hill’.

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View of Great Mell Fell

With my companion a little further down the slope, trying his hardest not to fall over again, the pain in my thighs demanded regular stops for a slug of water and a look at the view, which even on such an dull day was spectacular. I was the first to arrive at the trigpoint with a feeling of elation and immense relief, as dusk was falling and the wind was blowing a fine drizzle into my face as I surveyed the view of Great Mell Fell. Matt hove up as I attempted to erect my new tent, my timing somewhat in excess of the 7 minutes stipulated in the instructions. As I struggled to attach the bright orange inner, Matt was already installed in Monica and amidst much swearing was attempting to light his Trangia with some particularly slow burning fuel. Too cold to sit in the doorway and use my stove I decided on a cold collation for tea, and gratefully accepted the offer of some eventually boiled water. We’d decided at my insistence to buy some proper milk this time, which always makes tea with slow boiled beck water taste so much better. After a meal of crisps, cereal bar and double chocolate digestives I donned my thermal leggings and prepared for the long winter night.

I snuggled down happily in my sleeping bag to the soothing sounds of the wind sighing in the tent guys and a rhythmic contented ‘purring’ from the adjacent tent. In just a few hours though, this tranqil scene had changed. My tent heaved and contorted in the wind, an ominous flapping coming from just behind my head. I wondered if Matt was faring any better in Monica, but I couldn’t hear anything other than the wild flapping of my tent, and rain lashing relentlessly against silnylon. I drifted off again into an uneasy slumber, for the peace to be suddenly shattered by a rogue sheep that had snuck round to the back of my tent and baa’d loudly. My heart still hammering in my chest at this interruption, swearing softly under my breath I wriggled back down into my bag for another attempt at sleep. At about 6 I woke to the soaring, bubbling call of the Skylarks as they performed their aerial acrobatics high above the fell, a magical thing to experience. I dozed like this for a while until an enquiry from my neighbour as to whether I was awake (conscious) and had I heard that sheep in the night (oh yes!)

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Early morning light on Little Mell

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Aliens about on Little Mell

After another beck water brew and breakfast I went for a gander round the top of the fell. The clouds and rain of last night had vanished, replaced by azure skies. The moorland grass shone like burnished gold in the early light, against a backdrop of jagged snow topped peaks. The frost on the fell top grasses melted imperceptibly in the warmth of the early sun, each blade shimmering like a million diamonds. Is this is why I love this place ?

It struck me during my wanderings that Great and Little Mell Fell have a totally different look and feel to the other Lakeland fells I’ve seen. Apparently this is because they share the same unique rock composition, ‘Mell Fell Conglomerate’, and have weathered into different shapes as a result.

I was jolted out of my reverie by Matt, who was anxious to get packed up and gone. We retraced our steps from last night, this time successfully skirting the ovine shit pit. Looking furtively behind as we headed up a ‘permissive’ footpath, the sheep eyeing us suspiciously as we tried to keep out of view of the farmhouse. At the top of the boggy sheep track we turned right and skirted a plantation of christmas trees. Soft springy looking rocks covered in moss rose up and bashed me on the kneecaps, interspersed with bits of boot wetting bog. Then it was time to make a break for it through the christmas trees. I escaped relatively unscathed with a few scratches, but Matt lost a pocket and nearly a water bottle. Then off up and away from the spiky fingers of the trees, slowly climbing up towards Little Meldrum, the view unfolding in front of us as we ascended.

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Little Mell Fell from Great Meldrum

First Little Meldrum, then Great Meldrum, not Wainwrights but fairly decent sized hills, dwarfed though by most things up here. The distant icy peaks I’d first noticed on Little Mell Fell grew tantalisingly closer, but I knew I wasn’t going to get to see them this time.

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Tantalising icy peaks

After a peaty scramble in the mid morning warmth we were at the trigpoint on Gowbarrow Fell, drinking in the views like parched and weary travellers. The rounded reddish dome of Little Mell Fell, the wooded slopes of Great Mell Fell and in the distance still those unreachable peaks clad in the last of the snow.

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Gowbarrow Fell looking back towards Little Mell

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Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell

As we descended, I was amazed at how the grass and bracken could look so dry and bleached after the deluges that had fallen on it in the last few months. I could have lingered longer here, but we had it in mind to catch a bus at Aira Force to get us into Patterdale for round about lunchtime, and from there the decision could be made as to what to do next.

As we sat at a table outside the Patterdale Hotel drinking our fizzy pop, I’d made the sad decision that no amount of painkillers were going to improve my current affliction. Rather than spend a night camped out complaining about it the sensible decision seemed to be to get a bus back to Penrith, go home and let Matt continue on the next leg of the trip without me. Goodbyes were said, and as I sat waiting for my bus in Patterdale, sadly surveying the view from the most scenic carpark in Britain I thought back over the last twenty four hours.

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The most scenic car park in Britain ?

So on this trip, I’d managed to squeeze in another wild camp and three new fells. The camp, although only my third ever has to be my favourite so far, at such a lovely location on the summit of Little Mell Fell. The wind and rain didn’t put me off one bit, even the fell top grass was really comfortable and springy under my sleep mat. Alfred Wainwright said of Little Mell Fell ‘It is an uninspiring, unattractive, bare and rounded hump – the sublime touch that made a wonderland of the district overlooked Little Mell – and few walkers halt their hurried entrance into the sanctuary to climb and explore it’. I completely disagree. I loved its friendly rounded shape, rich red soils and dark peaty depressions. The fresh morning colours after the stormy night, and to be able to peek out of my tent as the skies lightened and the stars faded was magical, all against a soundtrack of soaring Skylarks.

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Sunrise over Ullswater from my tent

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Looking over towards Helvellyn

Great Mell Fell was lovely too, with its wooded slopes, scattered bracken and boulders and the weathered twisted trees, hardly any different to the scene described by Wainwright almost 60 years ago. Gowbarrow Fell was different again, more of a ‘proper’ Lakeland fell with its peat, rock, grass and heather.

All in all I’d had a wonderful trip, albeit very brief, and I’m really pleased that I finally had the opportunity to test my new tent, in some fairly challenging conditions. As I contemplated everything I’d seen on this trip, I thought how fortunate I was to be able to spend time in this wonderful place, and it’s made me even more determined to live up there one day. I just hope I’ll still be fit and well enough to appreciate it when I do.

To remind me of the Skylarks..

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A February stroll on Shining Tor

So far I’ve only written about the 2 hiking adventures I’ve had in the Lake District. The most recent on this blog, and my first ever by hijacking @hillplodder’s blog (thanks, Matt!) The Peaks, however are much closer to home. I’ve not managed to venture Peakwards since meeting my brother and his dragon in Eyam last September, so a visit was long overdue. After a glance at the weather forecast for Saturday & Sunday, the former threatening rain and wind, albeit slightly less than Friday, whilst Sunday seemed a positive oasis of calm in comparison. So I decided to see if I could work on Saturday morning while it rained. A deal was struck with work, and the weather very kindly obliged.

I was woken in the night on Saturday by aching knees (not a good sign, pre walk) and by the sound of rain splattering noisily against the windows. Maybe a walk today wasn’t such a bright idea after all. However as dawn broke over Staffordshire, golden skies and just a hint of a breeze indicated that I might be in luck on this occasion.

Lunch was packed, drinks & snacks organised and 2 reluctant males (one sniffly, bordering on manflu & one small and unenthusiastic) were persuaded to pile into the car. 40 minutes later we were whizzing up through Flash towards Pym Chair car park. One slight detour later, due to a strange one way single track road arrangement, we’d arrived. I was immediately dragged up the car park by the small one needing to avail himself of the toilet facilities. In this case the hedge. Once the car induced nausea had abated a picnic was had, (egg and haslet sandwich, anyone?) and we were ready for the off. The plan was to walk up to Cats Tor, and if sniffly and small weren’t too ill or bored by this point to continue along the ridge to Shining Tor. I’d been up on a previous trip, but then simply by walking directly up to it from the Cat & Fiddle Inn.

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View over Cheshire Plain towards Bollington

As we ascended the gentle slope up to Cats Tor I became more aware of my surroundings. The wiry green and brown shaded grass bent by the wind and cropped low by sheep. The greens, greys & browns of near and distant hills. Harsh grey stone walls cutting across the landscape and the blackness of peat and brown swathes of dying heather. Looking up I could see the limitless expanse of blue dotted with perfect white cotton wool clouds. Every pond, puddle and miniature tarn reflected the brilliant cobalt blue of the sky. I gazed at all this around me whilst greedily gulping lungfuls of sweet unpolluted air.

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Sky coloured puddles

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View to the East from the ascent to Cats Tor

The colours here were different to those just a few weeks ago in the Lake District, which ranged from the almost ‘chocolate box’ views, around Windermere & Grasmere, in contrast to the cold misty isolation I’d felt up at Scandale tarn. It feels really wild up here in the Peaks, yet it’s not all that remote, you can see the urban jungle that is Manchester, and the distant white dishes of the radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank. Also I suppose that although I’m from the south, I’ve lived up here for 22 years or so & being up here in the Peak District gives me a warm sense of familiarity. I certainly feel more at home here these days than in the faceless suburban sprawl of north west London.

Cats Tor at 522 metres was rather an anticlimax, especially as I failed to locate the cairn, and don’t yet possess the technology to locate the highest point. However photos were taken and my male companions decided they were feeling well and engaged enough respectively to continue along to Shining Tor. At this point the path seemed to dramatically improve as well. Although surrounded by black evil man eating peat hags a clean line of what could almost be described as pavement flags wound its way up in the direction of Shining Tor.

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My favourite hill in the distance, the Matterhorn of the Peak District

Tantalising glimpses of familiar looking hills appeared as we plodded on up the gentle gradient, including my favourite Peak District hill so far. The tree lined slopes of the Macclesfield forest to the right, and to the left an unfolding vista over Fernilee and Errwood reservoirs. Eventually we saw the familiar gate and white trig point indicating the summit of Shining Tor, so more photos and just a long lingering look at the breathtaking views all around us.

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The ‘pavement flags’ leading back down to Cats Tor

I would have loved to have stayed up here in this beautiful place all evening and watched the sun slowly slide behind the darkening hills, but the small one was becoming restless at the prospect of the promised tea & cake. I toyed briefly with the idea of a leisurely stroll down to the Cat and Fiddle for a pint, while the others went back to the car. Cruel fate then intervened to remind me that I’d forgotten my purse, so another plan was scuppered.

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Cats Tor

Our descent was uneventful, except for the small one slipping on a wet flag on his headlong pelt down the path and making sudden contact with the cold unyielding stone. The landscape slowly softened as we neared Pym Chair again, wiry grass and trees twisted by the wind giving way to the uniform conifers of the Goyt forest ahead.

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View towards the Goyt Forest from Pym Chair

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View to the north as we descended

It was decided that Buxton was best avoided at 3.30 on a Sunday afternoon, so we headed back towards Newcastle on the A53 with the intention of a visit to Flash Bar Stores, the highest village shop in the UK. I’d been past many times both on the bus (Buxton Flyer) and in the car, but had never visited.

Flash Bar Stores is compact & bijou but you can sit down and rest your legs whilst enjoying a piping hot pot of tea with home made treacle and coconut tart (yum). Small and suddenly more enthusiastic devoured a huge home made chocolate brownie made only that morning. I’ve made a mental note for potential future camping excursions that they also do a very respectable sounding all day breakfast.

Although I’m always sad to return from the hills, coming back from the Peaks is never quite so bad, as you know it’s so tantalisingly close that it probably won’t be too long before you visit again. I feel fortunate to live so close to such an amazing place, but because it’s more familiar it doesn’t quite give me that feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach that I’ve felt on trips to the Lake District.

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View over Cheshire

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