Monday 31 October 2011
Friday 28 October 2011
I have a Saturday Afternoon Special walk at Barnard Castle tomorrow afternoon, then I'll be off for the train to Halifax (Where the wife has gone with superdawg tonight, so I'm left at home with two autistic cats) - and a family do at Embsay Sunday - for several birthdays including mine, my son's and my grandson's. Its not quite my birthday yet.
And its nearly November, which always seems like the end of the walking year to me, so I'm in the middle of making plans (for Nigel oweeyooo). Plans will include a Pumlumnon backpack, possibly the TGO Challenge, if I'm selected, Cadair Idris and other nearby hillocks, Dartmoor, South and central Wales hillbagging, the South Downs Marilyns and two weeks near Harlech for a rematch.
And I'm considering something spooky for All Hallows...... oooer.....
And I must sort out that competition we had.....
One two three four five...
Wednesday 26 October 2011
Apparently, there’s a plan to open up the Roman Fort at Whitley Castle to the public and do a bit of development work such as removing walls from the enclosures and having a hut and stuff. Look, I’m not really sure, see?
Anyway, Whitley Castle is in South Tynedale near Alston and is closely passed by the Pennine Way. It is remarkable for it’s ramparts and defensive works which are both huge and extensive. Me and Brian went for a look. They’re definitely very impressive defences and I’ll look forward to watching developments at the site. Here’s some pics of those magnificent ditches and banks.
After all this, we visited the outskirts of Alston – roughly at the point where the Pennine Way enters from the South and where there are some blackthorn trees. Blackthorn trees have black, very sour berries with a hard centre and, it is rumoured, that if you wash these and put them in a jar with a load of sugar and a substantial amount of gin, and leave it for a long time, that the resulting beverage is both invigorating to the soul and the ruination of housewives.
After visiting several sites upstream of Alston, we came away with a large bagful of this black treasure. I’ve got a few pounds weight of the stuff in the kitchen at this very moment. All that I lack is a jar and a bottle of mother’s ruin. I will sort out those deficiencies in the morning and start the production of the very first Pieman’s Sloe Gin. You have to take an interest in things, otherwise you never learn nowt. Drink responsibly and fairly sloely. It should be ready by April (ish)
Tuesday 25 October 2011
Today was the day for the County Council walk that I reccied last week. The weather forecast was reasonable, although the Beeb managed to issue two slightly different versions in the same hour, using the same forecaster i.e. “The heavy rain will be slow to clear from North-east England” and “The rain will quickly clear from North-East England leaving a breezy but dry day”
As I peered out from one of the arrow loops in the North bastion of Knipetowers (the one overlooking the deer park and the new moat) – it seemed that version one of the forecast was the most likely. It was dark and wet and glaury and appeared to be set in; the sort of day for drinking coffee and eating toast after having returned to bed with a fresh hot water bottle and a warm dog.
But I could have none of these luxuries and I fended off the dog and set off for mizzly Weardale. The two stewards, Ian and Ray turned up and I had a brief chat with Charlie returning from a dog walk. One punter, a Weardaler and ex Westgate resident turned up, so off we went into a brightening Slitt Wood.
We’ve been to Slitt Wood before haven’t we? We know a song about it. We’d all been to Slitt Wood before, so I didn’t spend much time doing show and tell but progressed briskly to the heaving slog up to the top of the road and the squishy bog down the other side into Rookhope.
The pub was still closed, so we sat outside for our butty stop.
A lady approached and asked if we’d like tea. It was Valerie who owns and runs a bunkhouse in short staggering distance from the public bar. She gave me a tour. It was very cosy and comfy. Most of Valerie’s customers are cyclists following the cycling version of the Coast to Coast route but the bunkhouse holds twelve, with space for a couple of tents outside and the pub is open afternoons and evenings and provides food. There’s a link here: http://barrington-bunkhouse-rookhope.co.uk/default.aspx
Afterwards, we finished off the route in short order by following the Weardale Way. It was a bit muddier than last week, but the sky had brightened and nobody fell off anything or otherwise died , so it was all fine.
We took just short of five hours to do the nine miles.
Onwards to Barnard Castle. I’ll probably give Slitt Wood a rest for a bit….
Monday 24 October 2011
Over the next several months, I’ve got some short Saturday afternoon walks planned for the Durham County Council guided walks programme, each one with the title “Saturday Afternoon Special” and each one starting in or near a well-known County Durham town centre for a four or five mile trundle somewhere nice. The purpose of these walks is entirely and simply to have a walk; to play truant from other traditional Saturday afternoon activities such as shopping and..er… shopping.
The first of these is at Barnard Castle next Saturday afternoon (spooky, that , eh?) starting outside the Post office at 1:00 o’clock and today was the day for doing the reccy.
I took Bruno along, although I’m not allowed to take him on the actual walk.
Today’s route was basically a couple of miles of autumn woodland through Deepdale to Cat Castle and back via Raygill riding centre. Its about five miles.
Its usually pretty muddy with a special kind of extra-skitey Barnard Castle clart on the steep bits which normally means hanging on to trees. But today, it wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t find any hazards, apart from a little bit of exposure over some steep ground and some potentially scary beef cattle. I met the farmer who told me that they might investigate the strange dog (I don’t think he’s all that strange, really….) and the fact that I had a rucksack on might convince them that I’d come to feed them – and that if things got scary, to let the dog go. In the end, they showed a bit of interest but they weren’t really that bothered.
Deepdale is a very popular dog-walking place for Barnard Castilians – they can run about daft and there’s no stock, although there’s probably deer to chase. Its very nice, but some places in the upper parts are a bit precipitous – just a tip there for anybody concerned about hanging over huge drops off bendy saplings……
Sunday 23 October 2011
Facebook is responsible for this walk. I recently had a contact from an ex-work colleague and hillwalking pal from about twenty years ago and this week he’s up from Cornwall for a few days in Keswick with his son, intent on walking up a mountain or two.
And so, I met Mark and his son Henry up a street full of B&Bs in Keswick and orf we jolly well went up Newlands for a climb up the front end of Rowling..er…End. This is Very Steep. And a bit slippery due to the rain which had just stopped.
Henry, being but a mere whipper-snapper and not carrying huge amounts of wobbly fat, fair hurtled up the hill and was there long before me and Mark and, without any apparent ill-effects such as wheezing, coughing, whingeing or having a cardiac incident. Bruno also made it in good shape.
We continued – Henry bounding off in front, me and Mark stumbling and cursing behind – on up the also steep nobble of Causey Pike. This has fine views, so we lunched. Mark told me what he’d been up to for the last 20 years, and I gave him the roll-call of early mortality of the staff of South-West Durham Health Authority HQ who were no longer with us and who had shaken off their mortal coils and gone to meet their makers and so on.. This was to confirm just how lucky we were to be alive, specially after all those brutal contours we’d just crossed.
We concluded with a short traverse of the very fine and shapely ridge over Scar Crags but were turned away by the new zig-zags which go up to Sail in favour of a poddle down the mine track back to Newlands and the public bar at Braithwaite. We had a bit of a late start and it was murky and dark and Mark’s bursting thighs had to have some reserve left for the punishment of more contours tomorrow…
But we did five and a bit miles and 2000 and a bit feet and caught up a bit after a twenty year gap.
Tuesday 18 October 2011
As my winter programme of Durham County walks is due to start very soon (they go up to eleven by the way) – it’s now time to start doing the reccies. Today’s walk was the first one and the first walk of the season where I’d worn merino wool undies. I had other clothes on as well, obviously….. Justr as well because the max temperature in Upper Weardale today was just four degrees. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr……
So me and Superdawg went to Westgate in Weardale and walked up Slitt Wood yet again. This time the beck was on the point of being in spate and the leaves are turning colour. But the sun shone and the dog seemed to be happy enough judging by the angle of his tail (The angle of Bruno’s tail is a really good mood indicator. Today it was “up” and only drooped a bit towards the end of the day when we were being lashed – that’s LASHED by a specially energetic squall.
The only change up Slitt Wood that I noticed is that the outrageously deep shaft has been capped with concrete and now sports a place for sitting. If people sitting there were aware of the enormous yawning hole beneath their little bottoms, perhaps they wouldn’t be so smug with their chicken and spring onion butties and cadbury’s choccy bars…
Anyway, we progressed happily up Slitt Wood and on to the moor lane where a shepherd and his dog were doing some shepherding. The first lively shower struck at this point and the wind did a bit of howling from somewhere in the rough direction of Alston. We plodded over the moor and down the other side of the hill towards Rookhope, where we met a blind lamb, panicking at the sound of Bruno and running around in small circles. It’s eyes looked like the Master’s in Kung Fu. (“Ah Glasshopper”, “Yes Master what would you have me do?” “Nip down shop and get me twenty B&H. And don’t get into fights” Some people might remember this…..)
There was a series of protracted heavy showers, interspersed with rainbows and the wind was just enough to unbalance. Some cows sheltering behind a wall couldn’t bring themselves to chase Bruno. It must have been bad.
Anyway, an even fiercer show was in progress, so I sheltered in a sheep shelter for a bit, then in a derelict house and, due to the spooky noises from upstairs, I decided that we would be better off in the pub, so we went there. Unfortunately, and despite the notices outside that it was open all day, it was firmly shut. Grumbling under our breath, we sploshed along the Weardale Way ex-railway line, into a headwind and an even yet more worser squall than before. Its at this point that I couldn’t remember turning off a pan of hot water on the stove this morning. I imagined the fire brigade stretcheriing out the frazzled corpses of two cats and a geriatric dog on my return. “”Yoo left the ferkin pan on” accused Fire Chief Dave. “Now look what’s ‘appened, yer idiot.”
I did see the Crook fire engine on the drive home. It was outside somebody else’s house and I had turned the pan off…
We did nine miles today. Bruno was OK. he fluffed one stile, but he stood up to the rotten weather without complaint. I noticed one broken stile, which I’ll report to the council. It won’t be fixed in time, but its not a big problem. The walk is OK. I have another to do at Barnard Castle in a few days. In the meantime, I might go and bag a Birkett or something…..
Monday 17 October 2011
…And then the weather got stuck in a drizzly, mizzly, windy grey glaw. For several days. The BBC/Met people were over-enthusiastic about how there would be an anti-cyclone on the Friday and how this would bring a respite from the driving drizzle.
And so, in between beach-based doggy walks (Morfa Harlech is particularly fab, as is the beach at Barmouth if you feel the need for bucket and spade and ice cream and chips action) – I arranged with TGO Challenger and Fight Club Hiker Peter from Anglesey, in a series of broken phone conversations due to the crap phone signal – to meet at the Minfford car park on the Friday for a trundle around Cadair Idris – a fine and classic mountain walk. It became clear on the journey there that the hillfog was quite low and that it was still drizzling.
As I waited for Peter, the drizzle turned to heavy rain at times. After a long wait, I set off up the hill, after deciding that he’d spotted the duff weather and wasn’t coming. On the heave up the steep path, the cloud base lowered a bit more and the wind and rain did a bit of lashing-down. My map case fell to bits and it was late for a fight against a headwind in driving drizzle, so, I bailed out and went to Morfa Dyffryn to let the dawg indulge in ripping up bits of seaweed. Peter had arrived shortly after I’d left, apparently, had set off in pursuit, hurt his knee and gone off home. He didn’t miss much. I got as far as Llyn Cau, about a thousand feet up, and noted it’s potential for a campsite. I’ll be back for Cadair Idris next summer.
Meanwhile, back at Ardgoed, the farm sheepdog and matriarch has settled in to our cottage. There were occasional visits from Jack the Jack Russell and a little yappy thing that attacked Bruno and got flattened as a result. And there was also Larry the Ram, who attended our short doggy walks down the lane.
The mist and clag remained. But a few days later, I ventured up Cwn Natntcol for the bagging of the big, round Marilyn Moelfre. The hillfog base was 250 metres, so there was 1000 feet of clag. It wasn’t nice, really. I don’t know why I bothered. We repaired to another beach and had another bounce around and a splash.
At the end of the fortnight, the Beeb and the Met were enthusiastic once again. There’s something a bit sinister about having good weather forecasts for Fridays. Maybe they’re just trying to cheer us all up and stop us thinking about how those lovely people at the bank are going to spend our taxes this Christmas. Whatever it is, its not good for planning hillwalks. I decided to have a look at Bwlch Oerddrws, a pass for the road from Central Wales to Dollgellau, around which there are arranged some Hewitts. These Hewitts are arranged in such a way as to be problematical for circular walks, so I had two out-and-back courses worked out.
Number one was from the summit of the pass, up an engineered path (probably for some mines further up the hill) – on to a plateau who’s top is the Hewitt/Nuttal Cribin Fawr. This was in mist and drizzle. (Pah! to the Beeb weather forecasters by the way). We continued beside a fence to a deep bwlch, pass or bealach and up outrageously steep grass to the trig on Waun-oer, another Hewitt/Nuttal in deep and driving hill fog ( I spit in the general direction of Ms Tobin, the fiction writer at the BBC weather forecasting service). Then it was back down outrageously steep grass and back over the still misty (I laugh heartily and a bit ironically at your predictions for the weather, people at the Met) and down the pony track to the knipemobile. I noticed once again that Bruno was less than enthusiastic about doing the outward journey, was dragging behind a bit and took every opportunity for a sit down, and was in a rush to get back. This is unusual behaviour for the superdawg.
After lunch, we forayed once again up more stupidly steep grass on Camlan and, contouring around a small nobble, with heavy legs, we trudged the southern slopes of Pen y Brynfforchog which has a fine little top on a narrow, grassy drumlin. The mist kind-of lifted a bit. Bruno repeated his unenthusiastic approach to the job in hand, but was excited by the prospect of returning. I also noticed that, at the place where we contoured around a nobble, he was following our outward route very accurately. I wanted the nobble in my bag of ticks, though, so we included Pen Ochr y Bwlch, a Dewey in our walk. As we approached our outward route again, Bruno was nose-down and pulling ahead. He clearly had our own scent trail and he followed this exactly back to the car. I’ve noticed the ability of dogs to follow obscure paths before. My previous dog, Jenny, was specially good at it and I got to trust her to go the right way. It seems that Bruno can do the same thing. The potential benefits of being able to follow an out-and-back route over pathless terrain in bad visibility using a friendly dog, a service which doesn’t rely on batteries, or even on daylight, are dawning on me.
As a reward, we visited Morfa Dyffryn once again to worry some more seaweed and to run around in circles barking for a while.
I’m not sure about the dog’s health. He is eleven years old, which means that he is what you might call “veteran”. He’s a bit grey around the chin, and, I did notice some awkwardness on a couple of ladder stiles. But he can still clear a hill-fence in one mighty bound, and he does still run about daft, given the chance. Many dogs don’t get much past eleven before their in their dotage and, he’s far from that. Its probably just the passage of time. I have quite a bit of sympathy for that.
As we drove home Saturday morning, the sun was shining brightly.
Saturday 15 October 2011
When we left Crook, it was cracking the flags. By Cheshire and Flintshire it was steaming. I bagged a little Marilyn – Moel Gyw on Offas Dyke in the Clwydian’s whilst Maggie had coffee. It was hot and sultry and a right sweaty do. I determined to start the holiday with a proper hillwalk.
We stayed in a cottage on a beef and lamb farm (wot no pork?) just a bit South of Harlech, so a trip into the Rhinogau for the bagging of hills was juts a few minutes drive.
As well as the cows and sheep (they were lambing in October by the way!) – Ardgoed also has four dogs, two cats and a pet ram. Bruno was perplexed by the ram, who came with us on evening doggy walks and his robustly friendly approach to a dog who’s main experience of sheep is for them to be making off in the opposite direction, was a puzzle to him. He soon got used to it, though and greeted him each time with an enthusiastic wag
I arrived in Cwm Nantcol the very next morning and wandered up a footpath by old miners’ paths past the old mines and the old mine shop where the old miners rested at night (too dark in the mines at night) and told old miners tales about old mines and stuff. I passed Llyn Perfeddau and arrived at Llyn Hywel where the paths all disappeared in scree. The Rhinogau are very rough and heathery and rocky by the way. The next half an hour was a desperate struggle up steep scree and rock and “mixed ground”, not helped by the spooking of Bruno by something or other which made him bark and bark again at the echo…and so on…
Eventually we made it to the connecting ridge between Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr. We aimed for Y llethr by a steep path which avoids a rockier course a bit to the left. From Y Llethr, the ridge continues stonily over Crib-y-rhiw (if you’re having difficulty with these words by the way, its probably because you don’t speak Welsh) – to a grassier climb up to Diffwys. Its much easier from here and Diffwys’s West top is just a boggy plod away. It was hereabouts that I came across several straggly groups of teenyboppers, most of whom looked in a worse state than me and made me feel much much better about being an old fart who heaves and pants his way up steep grass, anticipating at every step the final explosive failure of his thigh and bum muscles.
I followed an old road back to the start. This was probably the only proper hillwalk of the fortnight at 11 miles and 3100 feet of climbing.
A couple of days later, still confident of a good bag of hills, I opted for the outlying Rhinog Y Garn. This was a straight-up-and-down walk up the long South ridge and it was all very pleasant. I finished the day off with a walk alomg the “New Precipice” walk, which contours along the hillside overlooking the Mawdach and very nice it is too, but more of a very steep brackeny hillside rather than a precipice. And we had a trip to Morfa Dyffryn beach for the chasing of sticks and bits of seaweed. The beaches along this coast are specially big and wide and flat and empty.
I did notice that superdawg was much less enthusiastic than usual about going up the hill and if the pause was long enough, a snooze as well. He was more than happy to come down the hill, though, and he bounced around the beach like a daft pup. More of this later, perhaps.