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Monday, 11 January 2021

What Should I Do With My 70th Year?

One thing is for sure that I'll never have another 70th year. I might well be at the summit here and, as it's probably all downhill from now on, I was thinking that I should mark the year with something special, somehow. And maybe do something charitable such as re-establish my fundraising for Mind wot I did a few years ago and which was mildly successful, though I say it myself. The idea that I came up with, one boozy Christmas night whilst being locked-down, was to climb 70 2000 foot hills in one continuous expedition. Withe a tent. And a small black and white dog. The most convenient place to do this would be the English Lake District. This is because it's quite handy for knipetowers and the hills are generally (that is to say, most of the time)  grouped together in closely-packed, friendly groups. And in-between there are outdoor shops where dehydrated food and equipment can be bought should the need arise. These outdoor shops are also in small towns which are fully equipped with hostelries, pie shops and off-licences. I though this was a smashing plan.

And then I had a desultory look at an on-line map of Cumbria with all the Hewitts and Nutalls marked on it and added up some of the distances and ascent. And I thought....."bugger"  This looks quite a hard thing to do for a 69-year-old, fat, type 2 (the best type) diabetic with a dicky ticker and a lazy dog. And, not only that, but the entire country is currently in lockdown and we're not supposed to travel very far for exercise, so access to hills with closely-packed, not to say over-friendly contours is not only verboten but also anti-social, unpopular and a bit dangerous. So training for this could be difficult. Training needs to be up big, steep hills with lots of uphill and over several consecutive days and this sort of thing isn't available just now.

But we travel in hope. In May 2021 me and JJ are booked in to do the TGO challenge and, whilst we don't have a specially hard route, 14 days of walking with big packs should be really helpful. This is planned for May, so the big hope is that it will actually go ahead. It will be a close-run thing I suspect. All digits are crossed. In the meantime, I'll just have to walk as much as possible. Maybe I'll be able to sneak up Weardale soon for some walking in deep snow.

As far as the charity fundraising is concerned, I'll try to use the same strategy as last time - the philosophy being that whatever I do will avoid the "sponsor me on a jolly" type of thing in favour of a presumption that contributers will actually receive something in return. I'll need to think about this. Last time there was some level of sponsorship for my involvement in the North East Skinny Dip. If people paid enough, I would keep my pants on. Just like everything else, the event might take place, and, if it does, all other things being equal, I will take part.

 All the pictures in this post are from very recent local doggy walks. None of these are enough to get fit enough for climbing all those hills. I need to walk further at least and, hopefully, I'll get enough mojo to work on this starting now.. or at least, soon.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Lucky The Dog Escapes From The Fireworks Damply



England went into a sort of semi-ignored lockdown just before Gunpowder Plot (we nearly forgot) - and so, we had to do our anti-firework camp a couple of days early, which was a shame because the weather on our re-arranged date was, frankly, 'orrible. On the A66, it blew a hoolie and chucked it down with the wipers going on Very Fast. But at Dufton, the air was still and the sun was shining. This was Good. We set off up the Pennine Way aiming for High Cup Nick. The intention was to camp at Maize Beck where there's a beautiful little limestone gorge into which we could insert ourselves for a couple of nights out of the way and sheltered from any further windy blasts.
Oh no..

Our Akto very near Maize Beck. Hillfog rolling in again

The Gorge at Maize Beck


We weren't more than a mile and a bit out of Dufton when it started raining. Bits of sunshine promised that this was Just A Shower. But it wasn't. The sky darkened and the mist rolled up the hill. And the rain battered down. Iy had rained quite a bit in the days before, so some little becks which normally, a little fat beardy bloke with an old black and white mongrel could just stride across with one mighty stride, became a gamble. Like a spillage of alphabeti spaghetti, a slip could spell disaster and a wet tumble over the whin sill crag into oblivion (the word "oblivion" should ideally be delivered quite a lot like Riff Raff in the Rocky Horror Show. Practice it now..."Oblivion"

When we arrived at Maize Beck it was in spate and it was still raining with a Big R, so instead of camping on one of the little beckside platforms I opted for a little dip next to a cave a few metres awat. The cave had a short section of beck emerging , running along for ten metres or so and then disappearing down a hole, presumably to emerge in the wall of the gorge a bit lower down. The akto went up smartish, the wet dog installed, water collected, brew on, shot of rum, tea and darkness. It rained  heavily all night and a new spring appeared just behind the tent. LTD moved not at all, other than to shuffle into a new position. The long night wore on cosily but with some drippy condensation. And in the morning it was raining. We were all clagged in. Doggy walks were short and taken reluctantly. Snoozing was the best thing. Brewing was the next best thing. And eating. And reading. And the radio. All with the constant nearby roar of the becks, the machine gun fire from Warcop, and the occasional boom of artillery. LTD doesn't seem top mind machine guns and artillery..... and he snoozed on.

Another night past. The drizzle stopped and the moon and stars appeared, the rushing clouds making them seem that they were on their way somewhere quite quickly. 5:00 a.m and brewing up followed by a moonlit doggy walk, followed by a return to cosy bags and a grey and creeping dawn for another snoozette - Interrupted at some vague, semi-concous point by the sound of shouting , grouse calling and shotguns. Then machine gun fire again. I peered out. Half a mile away I could see a bloke with a flag tramping through the heather. There was a grouse-shoot in progress. In the cold and sunny morning and to the warlike sounds and booming Maize Beck, we left.  The odd thing about this stuff is that when you're leaving the hill and everybody else is just setting off, it feels as if I'm doing the wrong thing. Lockdown would start at midnight. There would be no more of this kind of stuff for a while.





 Incidentally - I just couldn't get control over the justification of the first paragraph of text and one picture had been selected by blogger to be ignored when it came to resizing it. So the text is all at one side and, as far as I can tell, is determined to stay there and I've deleted the picture. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The Wettest Town in Wales, Rain, Lax Navigation, Rain Covid 19 And Yet More Rain

 


Last October me and Mrs Pieman had a holiday in the Preselli Hill and very nice it was too. The October before we were also in mid Wales in October and it rained and rained and rained. And it went dark. So, this year we booked to go to Wales a bit earlier and we booked in January - a bit before Covid 19 began. We booked for the end of September. In the intervening months, Covid 19 died back a bit. But then, at the end of August it started coming back. In September, bits of South Wales , Lancashire, West Yorkshire and North East England saw increasing cases and some "restrictions" were put in place. Advice, though, said we could go on holiday. So we went.



One of the  things on the Things To Do list was to bag just three Nutalls that had previously escaped my attentions. This would bring my Nutall-bagging total to just one short of all the Nutalls In The World, the final one being Pillar Rock, which could well prove a bit of an issue at my age and with my knees. Or even without my knees, but certainly with my lack of desire to fall off anything very rocky. One of these Nutalls was was Ysyfell Wen Far North Top. I had been within a shoelace of it on 17 October 2008 when I was on the very nearby Ysgafell Wen North Top - just a bit North of Ysgafell Wen, in fact. But I'd missed it and gone off towards Cnicht or something. And so with rain looming on the weather forecast and the Welsh Government forming plans to ethnically cleans North Wales of all nymphs and faeries, I set off in bright sunshine from a cottage in Tanygrisiau to bag the very top of the Far North Top of Ysgafell Wen. LTD was in high spirits, and so was I.



Our way lie via CwmOrthin with it's slate mines, Allt Fawr and Moel Druman, where we stopped for a long while to chap to a chap taking photographs, but who's knowledge of the area seemed limited to Moel Druman and a few local tops, Nice chap, though and we were joined by three lasses from Caernarfon who pronounced the hill names and Tanygrisiau properly and we all stomped off individually  to the summit of Ysgafell Wen, a lovely top with spiky bits. And then, I went to Ysgafell Wen North Top, which was the very next top.... except, it wasn't. Then I went to Ysgafell Wen  Far North Top, except I didn't, I went to the North Top, which I thought was... er.... look, I'm not Bear Ghrylls. Sometimes I get things wrong. I congratulated myself anyway and LTD celebrated with two gravy bones that I'd saved for him specially for the occasion.

And so, we wandered off smugly into a rather nice wild bit, bagged the diminutive but craggy and with a big drop down the far side (not the Far North Side) Craig Llyn-llagi, just by the lovely tarn Llyn yr Adar, and made our way back to Tanygrisiau for plonk and scoff and a ticking frenzy on the wife's laptop. (This is not a euphemism by the way) And then, as the ticking progressed, the penny dropped. I hadn't bagged Ysgafell Wen Far North Top at all. There's an extra top up there. I'd counted three and there were four. Bugger. I would go back.

In the meantime, the Welsh Government closed the border with Conwy on pain of £100 for going anywhere near and it rained as predicted. Two days later and with Another Plan, me and LTD went to Dolwyddelan in order to sneak up on Ysgafell Wen Far North Top from round the back, thus not repeating the previous route and also bagging three other tops on a little round.  This went well for a while. I had lazed in bed a bit late, though and just past Coed Mawr farm, we encountered suckler cows with calves. LTD has a nasty habit of barking at cows, and sucklers notoriously don't like dogs and can get quite aggressive. so we used up some time to sneak around various rocky tors and tussocks  out of sight of the cattle and continued on soggy paths to Bwlch Rheidad - a bwlch being the same sort of thing as a bealach in Scotland, a Hawse or Hause in Cumbria and a Pass up the Khyber (not a euphemism either by the way). Things got rougher along the very soggy ridge to Cerrig Cochion and the stupidly steep heather and rock of Meirch ( another very nice hill) and then, on towards Ysgafell Wen Far North Top. 

Except, my GPS said it would take me 40 minutes to get there at this speed, and forty minutes to get back and a few hours to get back to my car. It would be dark. The spirits of the mountains would emerge and rob me of my roasted cashew nuts (no euphemism here). I would be doomed to wander the tussocks for ever, looking in vain for my little dog , who would have run off as soon as he had discovered that he'd eaten all of the gravy bone supply. I had to abandon the surge towards Ysgafell Wen Far North Top. Bugger again. Instead, we wandered over Yr Arddu and down through the woods to Roman Bridge where the romans had built a bridge to take the train line over a small beck on it's way to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the wettest town in Wales in 121 AD. Flushed by this success, they thought about having a wall between Northumberland and Roxburgh and the Scots would pay for it.

The it rained just the once. And during these five or six days we did a bit of tourist stuff. LTD had a run on the beach and various small Tumps around Blaenau were bagged damply. And during this time, Plan C was formed. This involved driving to Blaen Nanmor (for some reason, the OS have missed the "T" out of this place name - maybe it should be Blaen Nantmor??) where, on a narrow single-track road there was a car park giving access to a short path of just a couple and a half of the Queen's Kilometres, the very summit of Ysgafell Wen Far North Top could be acquired for the List of Hills Wot I Bagged. Except I got a mile or two up this road and came across a sign. It said "Road Closed" I turned the knipemobile around with some difficulty and proceeded grumpily back towards the main road. Maybe it was a sign (Course it was a sign - it was a big yellow metal sign in Welsh and English) But a stop in a layby showed that I could park at the foot of the Watkin Path that goes up Snowdon and  go from there, adding just a couple of kilometres to the route. If there was space, and it was getting late, so Snowdoneers might have packed the place, a Plan D would be Just The Thing.

And it worked, although I did find myself on the top of Ysgafell Wen North Top again, congratulated myself again, gave lTD another gravy bone in celebration and then realised that Ysgafell Wen Far North Top was, in fact ....over there------------->  So I went over there and climbed to the top. LTD had another gravy bone and I resolved not to tell anybody about how hard this hill had been to climb. So we went home via an off-licence in Penrhyndeudraeth. disturbing a buzzard "tidying-up" a dead sheep for the second time. I did detect a certain element of surliness about his demeanor. Incidentally, at 4:00 pm, on returning to the car park at the foot of the Watkin Path up Snowdon (remember that one?) two well- wrapped up but otherwise very badly equipped walkers were seen to be setting off to climb Snowdon. At about five o'clock, it started raining again, the cloud had already been swathing the high tops. I wonder if they got away with it, and decided, instead to go to the pub. Or are they still up there?
In the meantime, and in-between various bouts of wet and windy weather, the WElsh Government had been railing at having written to Boris Johnson about keeping saxons off their land, and being ignored by said Boris and were thinking about closing the border and declaring war on East Anglia, but having no actual tanks, decided that it would have been too dry for them anyway.  

So, finally we decided on an easier bagging task - a group of five lovely and bijoux tops not too far from the forbidden land that was Conwy. These were just off the road and consisted of various lovely, rocky tops including Craig y Garreg-lwyd and it's North Tope (doesn't seem to have a Far North Top, although it does have a bit of a "stopper" crag on the way which requires a short diversion - the excellent Y Garnedd and the steep and craggy pudding Garreg-y Fol-Gron, and, finally , just across the road, and defended by very soggy moorland and a little crag, Cerrig y Leirch. So, just two Welsh Nutalls to go.  I might never make it.

Incidentally, the pics in this post aren't in the order that they're supposed to be and bear no relation at all to the text, apart from the fatc that they were all taken on this trip. Blogger just won't let me move them - if I try, they just disappear... poof! Gone! Nobody knows where......


Tuesday, 25 August 2020

The List Of Things To Do Shortens a Bit (Backpacking in Lanarkshire)

This was on my List of Things To Do for whenever I was able to do them (things). This trip was originally scheduled to start on or around 22nd March. We all know what happened that week, though, innit? I almost set off a day or so early, but in the end, some vague remnants of commonsense that remained from whenever it was I last used some commonsense prevailed and I didn't go. And so, it appeared on The List.
The idea was to bag 3 Marilyns: Common Hill, Nutberry Hill and Middlefield Law, initially in the company of LTD, JJ and Beryl (aka Margaret) This plan failed to even reach the racecourse, never mind get into the starting line-up. According to the map , some intervening hills also could be bagged and all this would put me on 595 Marilyns, just 5 Marilyns short of the Marilyn Hall of Fame (you'll have to Google this, I just can't be arsed explaining it all.)
And so, on a recent Tuesday lunchtime I parked quite near a pie shop in the Lanarkshire village of Douglas and wandered up through wind turbines on easy wind turbine roads beneath wind turbine signs which warned against going up there in freezing conditions or thunderstorms and bagged Nutberry Hill fairly easily, just about the time a huge black cloud appeared and started to rumble a bit. This put the willies up me big time because I don't enjoy being lit up by electricals and for some reason they always bring to mind some really poor jokes about God which I try not to think about. Luckily for Lucky, who hates thunder even more than me, I'd left him at home. I had some suspicions that the walk might be getting beyond his doggy walking powers. There was also the crossing of two grouse moors and he does have an unfortunate habit of trying to eat grouse. Grouse moor peeps who could well have been it and about in this season might well have taken a dim view of this. They can be a bit surly sometimes.
So, after the bagging, and in view of the rain, I cast about for a camping spot. I did notice a security camera on a long pole which overlooked some nice spots, and also the previous rumblings from heaven made me consider not being too close to a turbine. Eventually I found a place by a little beck out of sight of the camera and settled in to listen to the rain and eat some dehydrated chicken fried rice and some cheese and rum and stuff like that whilst listening to an old MP3 player last used on a TGO Challenge five years ago (I found it in a drawer.... it was a fab evening - comfy and cosy and swishy when the MP3 player was eventually turned off.
And in the morning, after porridge, prunes and coffee I attacked the tussocks of Meikle Auchinstilloch (it means "Big Auchinstilloch") and whilst many a Meickle maks a Muckle, this one was quite tough and not a Muckle at all. (Google is your friend) Rough and soggy is a good description and, I found, that this applied to all of the hills to be bagged. So, I continued, sloppily over Little Auchinstilloch and |Priesthill Height and abandoned my pack in a corner of the fence and blundered off to bag Marylin #2 , the very heathery Nutberry Hill. I did find a vague ATV track to the top which made it easier. The view from the summit of Nutberry contains more wind turbines than any reasonable person would want to shake a stick at.  It seems possible that with the lively local westerlies, that the Northern part of Britain is destined to drift off and bump into Denmark at some point soon. There must be a tug in that direction, surely.
Onwards - after finding my pack was exactly where I left it and that my 70% proof chocolate was safe - on by that fence to a brew and by the Leaze Burn using burn water which already looked like builders' tea and tasted vaguely of blood (I guess it must have had a high iron content) - and then over the sloppy Spirebush Hill on to the even sloppier Goodbush Hill where I decided I'd had enough.
The weather forecast had said that there would be high winds and rain and Goodbush Hill is no place to put up a Laser Competition in this sort of stuff and, in any case, bogwater isn't nice for rehydrateing a beef stroganoff. I had noticed a space in the forest to the North which might produce a camping spot, although forests aren't often brilliant at flat and green places. And there was Death Grain -a small stream which went through a gap in the trees to a forest road which ought to deliver me to my intended spot in short order - once I'd plodded miserably over the miles of soggy stuff of Goodbush as energy levels seeped out through the now soaked socks and out through my wetted-out boots. AS it happened, Death Grain had a flat bit. The trees were far enough back not to get blown onto my tent and the little beck was more than handy and so, as the rain started, the Laser comp went up and I went in. This particular spot had a large selection of various species of spider and some of the night's entertainment consisted of watching one build a very small web in the top of the tent porch. In the morning there was the shell of a fly in the web and the spider had gone. And my cooking pot and lid, which had been left out, now contained a full litre of lovely fresh rain - much better than the light brown peaty stuff in Death Grain itself. So that went in my water bag for the next day's hydration.
I was just 100 metres from the forest road. This 100 metres was a maze of steep drops, waterfalls, thick forest and wet grass. Eventually I made it and followed the tracks past my intended spot for last night, which would have been quite nice as it happens, to the main road where a chap was pushing broken glass out of the indow of his JCB. Apparently a front window had blown back and broken it. We had a chat. It was the first chat I'd had since...er....  Anyway, there was piles of rubbish which I expect he'd been sent to sort out - left, apparently, by a family from Wishaw who'd "wild" camped there for a few days and left, it seems, without taking their tent, the plastic chairs, the food and drinks wrappers, the tennis rackets....  Its not known whether they'd remembered to retrieve all of their children.....  I pressed on down the road, crossing the sinsiter-sounding Blood Moss and on up to bag Bibblon Hill - the boggiest and soggiest yet. And the bit between there and Middlefield Law was energy-sapping and thoroughly draining AND my pack back adjusters fell out , making the whole thing a bit of a trial to say the least. I had to stop for a brew as the wind started to rise again. The summit of Middlefield Law, Marilyn #3 welcomed me in a touselled wind-staggered state and despite the top being the most interesting so far, and with the best view, it was no place to sit and eat a soreen lunch bar or indeed a lump of Wensleydale, so I left, downhill on a good path which took me to a road, which took me to Muirkirk, which was closed and had been closed since 1963 when the gritter failed to turn up. Somebody's been trying to tart it up, but, honestly, when Scotland does decrepit, it does it really well. So I didn't stay.


Instead, I joined the River Ayrshire Way, which here follows a dismantled railway line. This provides easy walking, which is exactly what I wanted, being pushed along by a lively and very wet gale. An unnamed little beck in what we might call a gill in the more Danish parts of England, or a clough, or a cleuch. Anyway it was a lovely spot, in sight of the A70, nicely sheltered and, as it turned out, full of healthy-looking slugs who all wanted entrance to the Laser Comp. I spent most waking hours flicking them off the tent, removing them from boots, my cup, the inner tent and my elbow. I swear that the one on my elbow was going for the throat. Very...slowly....


It rained all night and it was still raining as I left for more of the railway line, ending up at Glenbuch Loch. I abandoned the idea of climbing Hareshaw Hill in favour of a more dangerous, but sheltered scutter along the A70. Roadworks meant that the traffic came in lumps, so , most of the time, quiet progress was made and, sometimes, I could walk along the railway line although it was overgrown and the grass was wet.  At Monksfoot Bridge, I took to the hills and followed a track to Low Broomerside, which was inhabited by just a goat - and then, back to the familiar tussocks and bog. But the sun was now shining and a brew in the sun was almost idyllic. I recrossed the railway and descended through some rather nice woodland, with litter (to prove that the public was allowed to go there) - to a road which took me back to Douglas and the pie shop who sold me a very large sausage roll, some coffee and a huge lump of wholemeal bread.  There's more stuff on the list before I start to get more sociable again.....