Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Ridge Romping in the Howgill Fells

Ridge Romping In The Mind in a Suntrap on Kensgriff
I will admit to dozing off at lunch. The ground was frozen and the wind nithered in a particularly nithering kind of way, drifting over the North Sea from somewhere vaguely in the direction of Bergen. So, when we dropped off the top of Kensgriff with the decision whether or not to chance the stupidly steep grass of Yarlside unmade, we (me and LTD) came across a spot sheltered from the brrrrrreeeeze and warmed by the sun. And on top of all this, a skylark was up in the sky being all cheerful and happy. So we (me and LTD) settled in for the egg and tomato butty and banana, or , in the case of LTD, a handful of gravy bones. As for me, I'm not all that keen on gravy bones and LTD is not a big fan of tomatoes. It was a lovely spot. We drifted off into cosy dreamy snoozy land where every day is a day of sunlit hills and happy larks. And, in the case of LTD, quite a big handful of gravy bones.
Who's that playing in the shadows?

Leathgill Bridge
I'm not sure how the decision to revisit this route on the Howgills happened, except to say that I left home with the appropriate map and a very good weather forecast and an intention to walk somewhere with lots of contours. I seem to have lost a bit of fitness over the winter and replaced this with some wobbly flab and a telling-off from a Diabetic Nurse Practitioner.  So here we were, parking by the main road just a bit to the left of Ravenstonedale (looking North) and heaving our obesenesses up some of those brown lines that join all the places of the same altitude together. We puffed. We panted. We cursed. We coughed. We spluttered. We wished we would soon be at the top. And, soon enough, we were. We bashed on with heavy legs.
LTD on the top of

Fearsome iced grass shows the way up Yarlside.
And soon - well, not really all that soon, to be fair, we crossed the Leathgill Bridge and were stood standing on top of Randygill Top. A short descent and another short yet vaguely painful ascent of Kensgriff brought up to our warm and cosy lunch spot wot I've mentioned above. The decision to be made was whether or not to climb up to the top of Yarlside or to find another way. Through the gap between my boots, the climb up Yarlside looked Steep, with a capital "S". I've been up there before and it is steep. It seems to me that grass couldn't get much steeper and the now wobbly and achy state of my legs would see this as a challenge, if, indeed, legs had eyes to see, which they don't, of course. An alternative course around the hill to the left was less steep but involved more contours and a descent to the right would put me in Bowderdale and a likely early return to the car. We slept on the decision. The skylark sang away. The sun was warm and all was well with the world.
The top of Yarlside

Cautley Spout
Maybe I would just follow the path down to the hawse/bealach/bwlch/pass at the bottom of the hill and decide there. So that's what we did and, on achieving the bottom of the slope, it didn't look all that steep. The map suggested it wasn't such a big climb anyway and the skylark suggested that I would regret not giving it a try and I could always come back down.  LTD wondered if I had any more gravy bones. So we set off up the slope. It wasn't too bad. At first anyway. The grass was frozen and there was a suggestion of slipperyness. The slope got steeper, but previous boots had dug some steps in the turf. There was scree. Hands and knees were employed and there was a very brief moment of wishing I'd cleared my internet browsing history before embarking on this, when the slope began to ease off. Eventually we were at the top and, dissuaded from hanging about by the arctic drift at the summit cairn we headed down to Bowderdale Head, an easy descent with a view of Cautley Spout.
LTD at The Calf

If he hadn't scoffed all those gravy bones he wouldn't have been so thirsty
Next on the agenda was a visit to The Calf. This is the highest part of the Howgills and my most visited - according to my log this would be visit number 30. Actually getting there from Bowderdale Head with legs who's opinion (if legs do have an opinion, which they don't) was that it would be much better to follow the bridleway back to the car and anyway, we'd all been there before and what's the point? I meantersay, what is the actual point? That's what they would have said, if they could speak, which they can't. 

So, ignoring the whingeing lower limbs and joints we suffered mightily and very very slowly up the steepness to the bridleway. This is where we met two walkers having lunch, so we had to pretend, briefly, that everything was fine and that no pain or discomfort at all was being felt and wasn't it lovely? After a brief spurt of effort, which almost killed me if I'm honest, we continued painfully and with harsh words to the bloody trig point where we go a lovely view of bloody Morecambe Bay with the bloody tide in. LTD cocked his leg on the trig. And serve it right, too.

View from a joyful romp

Somebody over there just opened a bag of crisps

And then , it all became quite wonderful. Apart from anything else, it was downhill. More walkers were met. LTD did zoomies and greeted them enthusiastically. The seemed a bit grumpy about it. They were going uphill after all. So we followed the path down the long long ridge North, straight into the refreshing breeze. We had the place to ourselves again. Mile after mile of superb ridge walking passed easily. This was, in fact, a joyful romp of a ridge. It's true, there were a few bits of uphill contours, which began to tell on the wizzened old legs. But the larks sang and the ridge meandered off in the rough direction of Glasgow. The bogs and other squishy bits were frozen and there were no regrets.  13 miles and 3400 feet of ascent.

Hopefully, I'm a few contours fitter. I'm certainly not any lighter just now.

I once wrote a sort of guide thingy to the Howgill Fells - 12 months in the Howgills, published only in Doodlecat, by the redoubtable Phil Lambert. The version was lost a while back, but I wondered, during this little trundle whether I should write that again. It is well out of date now, and I think , maybe I could make a better stab at it. I started it in the September. Maybe I might do that again. I asked LTD and his opinion was that it would be all right, providing a proper supply of doggy treats would be available. I should ask the skylark, I think.


Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Turn On Tune In Drop Out


The usual thing to do in a walking blog at this time of year is to review the previous year and map out some plans for the rest of this year. Whereas I do have some plans (TGO Challenge (again)), bag some more hills, walk about a lot etc.), I'm not going to do that.

In fact, I'm not entirely sure how to express just what it is I want to express, So this blog post will be a kind of exploration of whatever it is that's been tickling my mind bollox over the recent Christmas period and beyond, in a retrospective sort of way. To put things into perspective, I am now 71 years old with a dicky ticker, type 2 diabetes and a lump in my thigh where a lump shouldn't be, caused by slipping on some wet grass a few years ago and detaching a muscle, which has now disappeared somewhere into my leg, leaving a bump. The leg seems to function well without that particular lump of meat, except that occasionally, such as if I attempt a particular contortion, it hurts. 

I suppose the idea is that, whilst I've had a very long hill-walking career so far - the first entry in my walking log being at Easter 1964 (I believe this qualifies as a long time), at 71, as Mr McCartney indicated in the song "Two of Us" on the Let It Be album, "You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead" The "you" being everybody else and LTD that I regularly walk with. To be fair, it's more relevant to Lucky The Dog, who's future is much much shorter than his past. (This is what happens with pet dogs - he's my 5th or 6th)  Basically, This Can't Go On Much Longer, at least not as long as everything that went before - all that getting lost, setting off on an unknown journey with butterflies rampaging around the innards, being too knackered to think straight, being hungry and wet and cold and hot... and all that......

It's the time of year when people plan ahead and, sometimes, make a list. When time is predictably very short, a bucket list may be drawn up. my old dog Bruno the Superdawg had such a bucket list in his final few weeks of life, at least until he couldn't do any more.  I'm not ready for a bucket list just now (phew).  But predictable time is on a countdown, maybe longer than I suspect, potentially a lot shorter, should I, or the wagon driver about to pull out into lane two  briefly lose concentration on the A1(M) the ability to wander up some contours could be seriously inhibited. So,  Stuff has to be Got On With. And the stuff I'd specially enjoy getting on with, so I have come to realise, doesn't really involve anybody else, other than the dog.

I'm not going to abandon any friends or the Ramblers (at least not yet) but it's not really possible to Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out with chatter going on, or discussions about The Route, or people who don't want to stop and have a look at nothing in particular when I do want to stop and have a look, or people who do want to stop when I don't. And people need to be spared the skinny-dip in a deep, green pool on a hot day.  Or people getting scared and twitchy when it goes dark. All that stuff.
So, this year's TGO challenge will be entirely solo and, should I be spared, and the TGO challenge continues,  so will the next two TGO challenges. And so will the long, dawn to dusk walks in the summer. There will be much sitting about. Larks, meadow pipits, curlew and snipe will be allowed to entertain me and there will be snoozing. LTD enjoys a snooze. Snoozes near waterfalls are particularly enjoyable.  There will be long, dark and windy winter nights in little tents, parked in sheltered spots, not far from streams of clean mountain water. This is what I want to do.
At the moment it's chucking it down outside, so the main motivation is to light the fire and drink hot tea, maybe, even have Just The One McVities digestive, as LTD snores and emits noxious gasses close by. But quite soon, I'll be off on a short backpacking trip, probably just a bit up Weardale. I'll tell myself that it's training for the TGO challenge. I might do a blog post.

Monday, 7 November 2022

The Sound of Silence (Taking LTD Away From Fireworks)

LTD is scared of the noise of fireworks. He's also scared of the noise of war films and documentaries, especially those involving the whistling of dropping bombs. He doesn't know where to hide and it all gets a bit frantic. So, every year, around Gunpowder Treason and Plot time, I take him as far away from the chance of hearing bangers or rockets or roman candles or any other kind of whizz-bang as possible and this provides an ideal excuse to find a quiet spot and camp-out for a night or two. In previous years, others have joined me, but this year it was just me and the dawg.
I doubt if I need to detail exactly where this year's camp was, so I won't. I will say that the walk-in took just about two hours. A shorter walk-in is possible, I would have thought. 

So, Friday afternoon I erected my tabernacle close to a wall in anti.........cipation of November gales (which didn't arrive) , settled the dog into his woofbag (by Chrissie Crowther - look it up and get one for your camping pooch!)  and put the kettle on. In the chill of the supposedly mild late autumn, we were both soon snuggled in our respective bags - I'd brought an extra snugpack thermal blanket for extra thermal  retention of therms.. or whatever they are (look, I'm not a scientist, innit?) - which I could put over both of us.  And for the following night, the next day, and most of Sunday morning, this is pretty much where we stayed, apart from the odd foray into the rain and dark for a wee or to get more water for the water bag.

And what happened, I hear you probably ask if you've managed to read this far without drifting off into a reverie. Well, nothing happened. I had a significant amount of food (still too scared to approach the bathroom scales), I had the radio - with just Radio 4 and RTE - RTE has better music by the way - and I had a Famous Five Go Hiking book, which didn't take much effort to read, I must say. I should explain that my  reading addiction from the age of about seven and a quarter and two days, was Just William and the Outlaws. I had qualified in Enid Blyton from Noddy and Big Ears, but never progressed to the Famous Five so I felt the need to find out what I had missed. I have to say that Richmal Crompton was a much more challenging writer for a sub-eleven year old boy, with much more believable plots, humour and stories just long enough to be read between the hours (hour) of putting on the jimmies and drifting off into snoozy-sleepy-dreamyland under the covers with a torch which could also provide a red or green light at the touch of a little lever on the side.

LTD had his usual kibble and doggy food, plus some bits of dried duck (don't ask), bonios and dentasticks. He amused himself by snoring, groaning with pleasure at the sheer luxury of his nest and farting very quietly but with devastating effect.

I was parked next to a stile on a path to a popular spot, but a path which was very quiet - just one group of 3 on Friday and 2 people of Saturday. The poor weather and clag on the hills was, no doubt keeping people away. On Sunday morning, about three hundred metres away, downstream, seven or eight tents had appeared. They had, apparently, arrived during the night and consisted of what seemed to be a school group with two instructors. They used the stile in the morning and the instructors were chatty and friendly. I had no idea they were there and were showing no lights when , at some point in the wee small hours, me and LTD felt the need to nip out. Wee small hours, though eh?
In between all of this, there was, apparently, nothing. The beck was in a lively mood due to all the rain and was providing a white-noise which blanked most everything else out. Maybe somebody fired a shotgun on Friday night. A fox barked high up in the crags. The silent moon came out for a bit and was light enough to walk without a headlight, should the notion of walking anywhere arise, which it didn't. I did open the tent doors, though, to watch the sky.  And at one point a shooting star moved from Outer space in the approximate direction of Barnard Castle. And the wind moved. And the dog snored and growled. And the radio became faint and crackly and irritating. So we both drifted away into some kind of half-dream state for hours and hours, whether it was day or night. Only visits by Mr Bladder forced us out into the weather.
There was no boredom. In the end I could have stayed longer But I pretty much ran out of food. 

But, I noticed, or was reminded, that if you listen to a beck, burbling away, it has lots of noises other than the obvious. It has little thumps and rumbles and there's some singing there. I was once camped by a stream above Glen Tilt and was listening to music on an MP3 player - quite loudly and in-between songs, I heard some singing. I thought it was a fault in the machine, so I turned it off. But I could still hear it. It was almost like a choir. Tonight's beck had , apparently, some men gently humming a vague rhythmic wordless song as if, maybe whilst performing some gentle routine task. It was there all the time should you tune into it.

I'm not mad, it's everybody else who is daft, but if there is a reason to be spiritual, it's lying somewhere in the nothingness. I would call it silence, but when the wind moves, or a stream runs, or a fox decides to bark, there is no silence. If you can tolerate doing nothing for a couple of days and you are able drift into a state of waking-dream and not get pins and needles in your arm....   turn off and tune in.... Just an idea. (Probably not a good idea to take a chatty friend or a lively pup, though)


Thursday, 1 September 2022

Pieman's 2022 TGO Challenge in a kilt and JJ's Tent

That were a right wet one. At least at the start. I met JJ on the campsite just a bit West of Dornie - specially designed in the route to add nearly a mile to the route. I got off the bus  with a stiff bum after severalteen hours of travel. It were chucking it down and blowing a hoolie.  It's an ill wind, though and, this particular ill wind snapped my tent pole just as I was brewing up. As the rain slashed down and the tent fell on my head, it occurred to me that holding it up with my parting (in the middle) to avoid a conflagration would be just the thing. I called to JJ who was deep in consultation in the tent next door. Or next flysheet, actually. He announced that he had to go home due to an unfortunate happening which it's not my brief to describe. So I borrowed his tent. We parted just by Eileen Donan Castle - he on the bus, me to take a picture of the castle. 

I wandered in the general direction of Denmark, which seemed like a good idea. The sun shone a bit and I met some Americans. Loads of Americans. They walked faster than me, but I took a shortcut as the rain returned. We met again later.

I'm not going to drag this out, but, basically, it rained a bit and the sun shone a bit and the Americans wandered off somewhere else, but I found a nice breezy camping spot on a knobble (apols for the technical geographical terms here) just at the entrance to Coire Easach. This is not necessarily where I was supposed to camp but I was damp and knackered and a dehydrated chicken biryani and a significant proportion of my whisky supply was taken to cheer me up a bit. The view was quite nice, though.
Just to say that the pics in this post won't really match the text. This doesn't bother me much and if it bothers you, I have to say that I'm not bothered. 

Anyway, the next bit was a bit steep and quite wet in terms of the amount of precipitation precipitating on me, so I didn't take many pics anyway. After several hours of miserable slogging over some peat bogs through countryside which was probably quite pretty, I caught up with Sam and Ali and we splodged together as far as Altbeithe Youth Hostel which was closed. This cheered us up no end. However, the warden appeared and asked us if we'd like some tea. Then a resident appeared with some cakes. And as we shivered in the shelter of the North face of Altbeithe YHA, all seemed better with the world already. No, really....  So it rained some more and I sploshed on till I got to Loch Affric where some lads from somewhere or other were camping on their walk to somewhere else, so I erected JJ's tent by the loch shore and settle in for the night and a substantial amount of the next day. I was waiting for the weather to clear, see? Did it though? Did it buggery. So, wind-assisted, I continued through the afternoon, meeting a soggy Sam Hackett once again, but he put his tent up somewhere short of where I wanted to be and I put mine up on the edge of Glen Morriston. I wasn't bothered at all. Oh no...

The sun came out. Oh no, was it going to be too hot? Would the fleshpots of Fort Augustus let me in if I admitted that I wasn't "doing" the Great Glen Way? Yes they would. I had a fair rehydrating session and a sweet potato sagaloo, straight out of the Hairy Bikers Go Veggie book and did some shopping before heading into the Monadhliath wind factory. I found a nice camping spot by a beck  burn and battered on through the forest of turbines up on to a hill that I realised I'd climbed once before by mistake. (Tip: Never admit this kind of thing if TGO vetters are reading) - and on to a lovely spot just a bit short of Laggan. It was here, apparently, that I adopted Terry, the tick. Terry was stuck to my right buttock, but traveled with me to Newtonmore unnoticed until I spotted it in the full-length mirror in the B&B, I won't explain why I was posing  taking some  much attention of the image in the mirror. Anyway, I thought that Terry was probably in need of some important life skills so I gave him a swimming lesson. With a flush. A small part of my gluteus maximus glowed pink for a bit.

Me and Terry pressed on towards Newtonmore, stopping only briefly for a sausage in a bun and some serious tea at the cafe at Laggan. They have a parrot, you know.

 Newtonmore provided beer and some posh nosh and the company of Croydon and his daughter. And some shopping/ All was good. I wasn't bothered at all.

Moving right along - I went towards Phones. There are no phones at phones. It rained a bit and I found a little derelict bothy with some TGO challenge graffiti in it by Mick  Croydon and the late Pete Shepherd, bless him. The bothy seemed to be occupied by a nesting pair of chaffinches. I pressed on, crossing the River Tromie by paddling. bootless through deep and rushing water a few hundred metres North of a bridge I didn't know about. I wasn't all that bothered, though and marched on manfully, singing robust hiking songs whilst discreetly scratching the itchy red lump on my bum. (This is quite easy in a kilt by the way) I was confident that there would be no witnesses to this behaviour for miles and miles.... That night was the windiest so far and , sometime in the darkness (and there's not much of this in May), the wind ripped open the tent door and I got liberally sprayed with some very refreshing rain. I managed to wrestle it closed, though.

And then, in sunshine, I crossed the deep gash , confusingly called Mini-Gaig  (translates as "small buff") - confusing as there's another Minigaig not too far away. This one leads the unconcerned hiker into the upper reaches of the River Feshie. Its not very deep here, though. This is quite fabulous countryside and just the kind of place to wander through quite slowly, doing things such as sitting about, snoozing and listening to the river. It presents multiple fine camping places. Far too many camping places to be reasonable, as it happens and if I could be bothered, I'd probably write to somebody to complain that there's too much choice.
Anyway, I camped a mile or so East of Geldie Lodge in a breezy spot before bashing into Braemar for sausage and chips and beer via the tea and choccy biccies at Mar Lodge. Braemar had a lack of sausage and chips, though, in favour of some daft soup but Farquharsan's Bar provided reasonably priced beer and good scoff and, in the end, along with various other Challengers, a good night was had. And in the morning the bothy provided a good breakfast and fast service for the queue of hungry challengers. Other places in the village have sufferred from financial challenges, it seems. And fires...

So, full of a new set of fresh calories, I battered on once more, along by Gelder Shiel bothy and over the hump to Loch Muic, finding  a lovely, sheltered camping spot about a mile short of  Shielin of Mark bothy, which was my intended destination, but which sometimes can be a bit grim in grim weather. Not that there is any grim weather in Scotland in May. [koff]

And so, sometimes solo and sometimes in company, I arrived, unconcerned at Tarfside where I swapped some money for tea and a bacon butty and camped quietly on the camping field, to the gentle beat of somebody's drum and bass, which seemingly repeated the same "tune" (ironic/sarcastic use of the word), until the early hours. My tip is never go to Tarfside at the weekend. The Mason's Arms was closed too, but I didn't care, really.  

It was here that I changed my route. This was a "good decision"  and lead to meeting Sam once again in the Tuck Inn in Edzell where I ordered off the menu (that is to say, not on the menu) sausage egg chips and beans, bread and butter and lashings of tea. This was provided cheerfully and cheaply and was the absolute best scoff I'd had since my birthday last November. It cheered me up no end, in fact, to such an extent that I felt the need to celebrate in the Panmure Arms before pressing on to the campsite at North Water Bridge. The last few miles were of roads and occasional sea views where, once again I met Sam and we limped off to Charlton strawberrt farm where, in the tea-room they provided an egg butty and tea, with the strange addition of a strawberry. Its not too far to the sea from there, and not much further to the Park Hotel and the finish. That was my 17th TGO challenge.  Maybe I'll have another go....?  The buttock is much recovered by the way.


Monday, 9 May 2022

TGO Challenge Stuff Number Four

LTD is about to go to bed
I have packed my pack and tried it on. It feels quite heavy and when I put it on, LTD follows me about. I have my train and bus tickets, I've booked a spot on the lawn at the Park Hotel in Montrose and JJ has texted me from (?) Fort William suggesting he gets bacon, eggs and barms for Wednesday's breakfast - seems like a good idea to me. (for non-Lancastrians, a barm is a bread bun. Like a teacake, bit without the fruit.) I will translate "teacake" on request.

So, I'm starting the walk at Eileen Donan Castle on Wednesday. The forecast says breezy with showers. Breezy with showers is normal.

A camp near Straiton

A beck near Straiton

LTD is going to bed again
Since the last post I had a few days in South Ayrshire starting from Straiton, where it's possible to park a knipemobile for a few days without anybody noticing. Ayrshire turned out to be not very friendly, though. Paths marked on the map were blocked by barbed wire and aggressive notices concerning Big Dogs and the local shepherds seem to have closed the hills down for lambing and twice I was told I wasn't supposed to be there. In contrast, a shepherd in Northumberland was very friendly and bemoaned lambs abilities to escape from lamb-proof fields and get themselves into bother. Another in Westmorland (I know... Cumbria...dhuhh....) smiled and gave me a thumps-up sign as his dog and mine investigated each others naughty parts. 

LTD seems a bit tired
Other things didn't go as well as they might. After the first night, a very tall deer fence stopped me climbing my hill (not really possible with the dog and his panniers) - and, not long into the second day, and after much back and forth trying to find a way through farmland and fences and stuff, I came across a really lovely camping spot. The sun was out and although it wasn't far into the afternoon, I decided to stop. This meant re-arranging the rest of the trip. (by re-arranging, I mean, shortening. Obviously.

At some point on Day 3, I noticed that LTD was flagging a bit under his panniers. He was also taking any opportunity to snooze. I lightened his load a bit and gave him my cup to carry - so I could dip it into a beck for water without having to take the pack off. And that night, in the face of grumpy shepherds, we found a discreet spot  to camp. The sound of ATV's went on for a couple of hours and returned in the morning. So, not  a brilliant trip. Much too short for me and. maybe too long for LTD. He's not a young dog any more. I'll just have to carry his stuff.

But now I'm all packed up and being followed around by an expectant dog. He's not allowed on the TGO challenge, so he won't be coming tomorrow when Mrs Pieman takes me to Durham station.  Everything is ready, including the dog....  sniff.....

If I do manage to arrive at the North Sea (Stonehaven) - and these things are never inevitable - this will be my seventeenth TGO challenge. When it gets to 17, the possibility of 20 crossings starts to creep into the list of remaining ambition. (One of these includes being shot by a jealous husband at the age of 98 by the way. I've not mentioned this one to the wife.