Tuesday 31 July 2012

The Teesdale Fighting Ant. A New Discovery

its that bloody kirkcarrion again

There’s been a slight hiatus on the Pie Blog during which I’ve been mainly dog-sitting for an urgently incontinent geriatric dog. Sometimes you have to do these things.

But I’m back now and I’ve noticed that during the gap, there’s been a bit of a build-up or queue of Things To Do, including today’s Reccy for a walk up the Pennine Way in Teesdale wot I’m doing at the weekend. I will include more stuff about this after Sunday, including maps and photies, diagrams and scientific references.

But, after such a gap , I must say that this morning, Teesdale was looking extremely beautiful and sunny and, well, just really good. And here’s some pictures of Things I Saw…

bog asphodel near high force

There’s a lot of this flower near High Force. No, I mean a lot……  I think it’s Bog Ashpodel

high force

And if you visit High Force and pay the fee and you’re by the river taking pictures, be aware that there are people on the crag above you watching what you’re doing. So don’t do anything rude or naughty. We could spit on your head from here…

juniper berries

The juniper woodland near High Force is dying from a fungus infection. These are juniper berries. These could well be very important for the survival of Teesdale junipers.  They taste of gin by the way. They’re a bit crunchy.


This is some kind of vetch. Its obviously a pea family flower, but I seem to have a problem identifying vetches. Its pretty, though, eh? There’s loads of it in the meadow near Cronkley.

river tees

The Tees is just magnificent at this point. Its quite wild up here, innit?

pw middleton forest reccy 018

It’s heartening to see that the farmer’s kids of Upper Teesdale are learning the right way to express Get Off My Land notices. This one shows a certain flair. Bless ‘em, ..sniff (sign at forest School)

pw middleton forest reccy 019

I came across this pair of juvenile hedgehogs behind the school.  Before you all go “ah, bless..cute..” you should be aware that they’re both dead. Stiff as bricks. It’s a bit odd, though…..  maybe I should tell somebody….

pw middleton forest reccy 020

This lad just doesn’t care….  There’s a few of these up Teesdale just now. They all seem pretty relaxed, which is A Good Thing.

And that was it.

Justaminnit, I hear you ask…worrabout these ants…?

Its a sad tale, and there will be no photographs. I sat by the river today, for the purpose of scoffing an orange and watching the foam drift by..  and I was brutally attacked by a bunch of ants. Not only did these gangsters bite my bum at the time, but several hid in my shorts and delivered several nasty nips over the next half a mile, during my retreat, as it were. These turned out to be a rare breed of Teesdale Fighting Ants – A vicious, scheming, sneaky, suicidal (I killed a few of them) and completely ruthless breed mainly concerned with the targetting of unsuspecting innocent ramblers’ naughty parts. My shorts area now appears to be grievously damaged in ways which are unsuitable for family viewing. So no pictures (be grateful for this) .We have germoline, though and I’m going to be busy picking scabs over the next week or so. So every cloud….

Luckily, my wife is a qualified nurse. Unfortunately, she seems to think that this is funny for some reason.



Wednesday 25 July 2012

FP176 - That Wasn’t Much of a Fight…

path through crops co durham
Some readers may or may not remember that back in the summer (which was in March this year) there was a certain amount of kerfuffle concerning Footpath 176 in the Parish of Crook and Willington. This kerfuffle involved the landowner removing a stile, wiring up the fence with barbed wire, knocking the footpath sign out of alignment (allegedly) and telling a passing ranger that there was no right of way here…
This lead to representations from the Rights of Way Department at the County Council and, at one point, me whacking the footpath sign with a lump of wood so that it pointed the right way.
fp108 before
As I last walked this path back in February, it was now time to do it again. This was part of a seven mile route which circles Crook and visits completes eight public footpaths.
So, I was more than chuffed and quite a bit surprised to find that when I entered the land containing the hindered FP108, the first thing I found was a brand new stile. Then another. And some new fencing and , yet another new stile replacing the one done away with last March. This was still fresh and the fencing gang were still there. “How do you like the new stile?” said Boss Fencer, seeing my green Rangering t-shirt. “Its very nice. And so are all the others…”
I didn’t take a picture since this would have seemed like bad manners at the time. But showing the flag at a crucial point like that was lucky but showed that people have their eye on the paths around there.
So that’s all good.
sign on crook golf course - before sign on crook golf course - after
Other good things were that none of the paths were blocked and the ones through crops had a nice gap in the crops. The derelict sign on Crook Golf Course had been replaced and there were other new marker posts and, at the top of the hill, a brand spanking new gate/stile.
new stile dowfold hill
There was a bit of a problem with vegetation along the way, but by the time anybody got around to strimming this, it would be on it’s way to dying back. The routes just need a bit more traffic, so leading guided walks around here (there’s one at Christmas), might help and I’m aware that Walking for Health groups also use some of the paths.
So, I’m chuffed. There’s significant improvements to these paths.  I might visit Crook Boozerama to celebrate.
There are other challenges around the place, though…. 

Monday 23 July 2012

Pennine Way Middleton in Teesdale to Baldersdale


I did the reccy for this last Tuesday and the guided walk was on Sunday. (We have to do a reccy a few days before according to The Rules)

The route follows the Pennine Way South from Middleton, past the cattle market, over the hill by Kirkcarrion, down to Lunedale through lots of flowery meadows and fields with bored suckler cows (too much pedestrian trraffic to cause any rise in bovine blood pressure) – over the moor to Baldersdale and Hannah’s Meadow nature reserve (still flowery, although just about to be cut for hay) – alongside the reservoirs and back over Romaldkirk Moor with some more energetic suckler herds, and then an easy ramble along the Teesdale railway path and by the riverside to the start. I made it 13.2 miles, those guided walks customers with GPS said it was 13.8. 

Here’s a few photies of both walks….

the party heads South

Counting the stewards, David and Ann, plus me, of course, there were seventeen of us and a small dog. I was a bit worried about the dog and the sucklers, but, apart from an assertive bull on Romaldkirk Moor, we didn’t have much trouble. The dog yapped at sheep, though and motor cyclists – apparently there was some kind of Hell’s Grandads rally on and there was much put-putting along the lanes…

pw baldersdale reccy 012

Lunedale reservoirs. Quite pretty, really. There’s a toilet next to the pond on the right. This pic was taken from the summit of one of the huge stiles up here. It was from camp One halfway up the second stile that a telegraphic message was sent to Buckingham palace on the occasion of the Queen’s Coronation. Apparently. Its very high.

pw baldersdale reccy 015

Hannah’s Meadow, with the Yellow rattle rattling, it’s just about to be cut for hay. We lunched in the barn at the top of the field. This has displays and agricultural gear and is a good place to get out of the nithering wind blowing off the Pennine glaciers. Its a bit dark inside, though.

Hannah’s Meadow is a Durham Wildlife Trust nature reserve. If you go, take a flower identification book.

who's dafter, hillwalker or fisherman?

As you can see from this snap, it’s been a very wet summer up here in the Pennines. This chap was testing his faith. Clearly, there’s a bit of an issue here…

kirkcarrion from romaldkirk moor

This is what Kirkcarrion looks like to a really short person, a small dog or somebody who is hiding in the juncus. It was around here that our happy band of ramblers crossed a wobbly stile to be faced by a huge brown bull. Now, instead of wandering off into the distance, like what they’re supposed to do, this one stared at me for a while and then started to walk towards me. One chap scared him off and he bounced around a bit which was a bit worrying to be honest.

pw baldersdale 025

Not entirely sure who this miserable looking lot are. Maybe the chap on the right has told his joke again.

Look – Only kidding….  see? Caption competition??

pw middleton to baldersdale

Here’s a map. We went anti-clockwise. At least one other direction is available.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Trying a Pathfinder Guide – Northumberland and the Scottish Borders

bruno can't decide which tent is ours

Some time ago, I had an email from Catriona at Crimson Publishing enquiring if I would review some new Pathfinder guidebooks. Mostly, I tend to ignore emails like this unless somebody wants to send me a tent or some boots or something, but, I thought, why not.? I was  generously allowed to choose some books from the range and I asked for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, The Lake District and  The Yorkshire Dales. It immediately struck me that this was a duff choice – I know all these areas pretty well and if I was to review a guidebook, maybe I’d have been better off choosing one for somewhere I didn’t know.  But (being a great one at making my mind up), I then decided to stick with it and I was immediately struck by the fact that the Northumberland guide had a route for Dod Law. Whoa… justaminnit – this is on my list of things to bag. It’s a HuMP, one of only two HuMPs (Hundred Metre Prominence) left unbagged in Region 33 – that’s Northumberland by the way.  It was only a short walk, but I could combine it with a Northumbrian coastal walk – there’s one in the book at Craster and that would be a day out for me and the dawg. So this is what I did today.

doddington cross

Firstly, I should describe the guidebooks. Most walkers will recognise them. They’re green, and rectangular and they’ve been around for several years and published by Crimson Publishing.

Each guide has a standardised format and the copies I received each had 28 walks in  ranging from an easy 3 miles to a tough 15 miles.

Each one has a route description, a bit of local knowledge, an ordnance survey map with the route marked on it and a selection of 6 digit GPS waypoints for the main strategic points. Nobody should be getting lost with this belt-braces and extra underpants approach. There’s an area map showing the location of the start of each walk, colour coding for difficulty, an introduction to the area, route descriptions and some general useful information and  addresses/phone numbers etc. Its all very clear and the guides are attractive and the routes are on just two pages so that they’ll fit into a map case open so you can read them. All good stuff so far.

So, what happened?

cheviots from dod law

Firstly, I parked prettily in the Northumbrian hamlet of Doddington and set off on Walk 3 “Doddington Moor” which, according to the guide should take me 2 hours. The route started well and I found it easy to follow. My ticking target was Dod Law which is the summit of Doddington Moor , but, in the route description, I was encouraged to go and explore the summit area any way. I liked the idea of being encouraged to wander off….

diversion around a crop

But first, there was a field of oats, or was it barley..? The route said I should head just West of South to a corner. The farmer had cut a wide path around the edge of the crop, though, so, being a reasonable sort of chap and, taking a pragmatic approach to not getting lost in the middle of the crop, I followed that.  From the end of this short diversion, Northumbria County Council had helpfully sent the guide out of date by installing new stiles, a few yards off the described route but – nothing significant in terms of diversion – everything was fine so far.

standing stone pathetic votive offerings

spectral superdawg

I came to a standing stone. This is the one remaining stone standing from a stone circle and four other stones are recumbent. There was £1.20p in votive offerings in the creases in the top of the stone. As a sacrifice, dear Wooller Ramblers, this is pathetic. £1.20p? Are you deliberately trying to insult the gods? A proper sacrifice should be something a bit more valuable than this. Its not a wishing stone y’know… dhuhh..

Apparently, some people report seeing a spectral dog on one of the recumbent stones. I took a picture of it (above) , but, as you can see, there’s no dog there at all.Probably, only those with a fully functioning left brain would be able to see it.

there may be trouble ahead....

Anyway – Onwards – we followed the guide and turned where we should turn and then – where a waymarked path set off on a rising traverse of a hillside to a cottage “in the middle distance” – there was no waymark. There was no path either. There was, instead, a deep jungle of bracken.

dod law and craster 011

There’s a dog in this picture too, apparently. I can’t see this one either.

We searched around for an easy course. This was not to be had. the next 300 meres took forty minutes. Bruno disappeared several times. I found a groove underneath the bracken at one point, which I took to be the path, but lost it again. A stiff climb by a fence brought me to a well hidden stile. More bracken was enjoyed up to the cottage where I drifted off for an explore. This exploration mainly concerned eating a cheese and pickle butty, some cherries and some ginger cake and looking at the fine view of the Cheviots.

stile with no style

I returned to the cottage. More bracken. I got the impression that the writer had got fed up at this point and had abbreviated his description to say that the path soon descended to the village. It wasn’t all that soon. There was a path to be found, and a good one too, but it’s start was obscure and hard to find and the guide was no help, to be honest. The first stile was falling to bits. The second stile was new and part of a brand new fence system and probably wasn’t there when the guide was written in ?2010.

I guess that the route would be easier out of the bracken season. As it was, a section of it was hard work and would be a discouragement to anybody not bright enough to notice a really nice alternative up to the summit area which avoids all the brackeny unpleasantness. Otherwise, the walker has to dig in to any reserves of determination he might have, or else abandon the route for a descent through Wooller Golf Course, or a trespass through the sheep pastures below.

dunstanburgh castle. A trip to B&Q required...

Onwards to Craster!

This was better. The route goes along the coast past Dunstanburgh Castle and is both easy and impressive. I met Mick who was coming the other way. (readers with really good memories might remember that me and Dawn met Mick and Yvonne in the Cheviots in February. Bit you’re not really expected to remember these things.) We had a long chat.

peace camp (dhuhh)

Next was the Peace Camp. This consists of loads of white tents pitched outside the Castle. Apparently, at night, they light up in different colours and make soothing noises. Mick said it was part of the Olympics thing. I couldn’t see the relevance, really…

Somebody is getting paid for this idea, by the way….!

apparently there's a dog in this picture...?

I didn’t follow the route around the castle, but followed a good path which doesn’t seem to be in the description. The two must join up somewhere. For fun, I took to the beach and Bruno chased some sticks, ripped up bits of seaweed and frightened a child, so it was all positive.

The return to Craster was by a concrete road through arable fields and then along a low ridge, parallel to the coast. This was all very pleasant and easy to follow. I enjoyed the Craster walk. And it has a pub at the end. And kippers.

ww2 pillbox - fake concrete sandbags

Verdict so far? – The books are attractive and well designed and, given that there’s a description, a map and some GPS points, it would be difficult to see how anybody could possibly get lost. Guidebooks are written at a fixed point and can’t be updated once you’ve got your copy (unless you write notes in the book) and the Doddington Moor walk already has several new stiles, one stile that’s fallen apart and a section that’s almost impossible to follow due to bracken (Wooller ramblers need to go and walk this path to get it clear. there’s probably little point in reporting this to Northumberland County Council since they don’t seem to react to people telling them their paths are blocked. I tried this with the bridleway from Kielder to Byrness and they said it was difficult to follow because nobody used it. Actually, my view was that nobody used it because it was difficult to follow…  But then I’m not a qualified rights of way officer am I?

The guidebook does have a warning on the first page that the countryside is not static and that things might change. The Doddington Moor route is still easy to follow in terms of navigation, its just awkward underfoot in summer.

But I like the books and the two routes I used – and some of the others in the Northumberland/Borders book that I know, are good ones and well worth doing. Bracken responds to traffic. Eventually.

I’ll be doing similar things in the Yorkshire Dales and Lakes shortly….

Here’s a link to the relevant Amazon page:

There’s around sixty titles to choose from, apparently…

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Wild Boar Fell and Swarth Fell

bruno eyes the wrong sheep

This is pretty much the classic Wild Boar Fell round and, at seven and a bit miles, it’s a relatively easy walk for the bagging of these two Yorkshire Dales 2000-er tops (OK, yes, I know they’re in Cumbria, but they’re in the Yorkshire part of Cumbria, see..?) the first bit’s a bit rough, though.

wales and wbf 052 wales and wbf 051

I met the nephew and his wife again for this one, and Bruno came too – actually, it’s quite difficult getting out of knipetowers with a rucksack and walking boots without superdawg’s powers of persuasion, mainly consisting of sitting by the drawer which has his lead and in it whilst looking pathetic and/or blocking the front door by dancing around in circles in front of it yipping…

But I’m wandering , here… 

We met at the parking area by the railway bridge near Aisgill Moor Cottages, the one with all the spotted orchids in the grass – a remarkable display this year…

wbf cairns

We wandered over the moor to Angerholme Pots and the bridleway (now part of the Pennine Bridleway) which mounts the Northern end of WBF’s ridge, and then, steeply up to the flat summit. So far so sunny. Then it started raining and the hillfog closed in, so there aren’t so many pics. We found the top (there’s a path) and back to the Eastern edge with all the cairns, where the conditions lifted followed by a soggy traverse to Swarth Fell in driving drizzle and hillfog when the rain moved in again.

wbf weather 

As a piece of petulance and by way of celebrating the poor visibility, it was at this point that I collided with a large gritstone boulder (it wouldn’t get out of the way). This hurt my left knee quite a bit and I seem to remember exclaiming something vaguely relevant to sex, genitalia and travel but, really hardly appropriate for a family walk and about which I ought to be ashamed. My knee now has a hole in it as far as in-tact skin is concerned. I probably wont do this again. I’ll probably try not to anyway.

swarth fell pike

We finished with a bit of a flourish on the end of Swarth Fell Pike and a soggy descent to Aisgill Moor Cottages which has even more orchids just now. The weather cleared up at this point as if nothing had happened.

wild boar fell weather clears again

There’s a map below…  this one has a height profile. Posh, eh? I still haven’t mastered putting the walk direction on, but, as Bruno points out , you could do this walk in either direction, depending on the prevailing wind or even the toss of a coin or, indeed, sheer whim.

Nice to see the rellies again. We’ll probably do this type of thing again in a few weeks.

wild boar fell


Monday 16 July 2012

Persistence Produces Perfect Plynlimon Poddle

hengwm cap in a bower

Regular readers may remember that back in April me and Dawn had a damp time around Plynlimon and Hyddgen and a torrid time involving certificate-seeking DofE kids. This time would inevitably be different and the reason for this, of course, would be that Dawn had done lots of research, including fighting her way up barbed-wire defended lanes, deep in wet bracken, fighting her way through seething wobbly swamps and persuading bunkhouse proprietors that we were , in fact, responsible hostellers and it would be OK to let us in for a night. In view of this determined slog, it was good to keep myself out of things like navigation and negotiations with accommodation providers and let Dawn do all the hard work. She’s better at it than me anyway….


And so it was that we met yet again in a railway carriage hurtling out of Birmingham New Street towards the Welsh coast in the form of the University town of Aberystwyth, of which we saw little since we quickly caught a bus for the interior before somebody stepped up to try to stop us doddering off into the wild interland near some kind of forestry commission visitor centre thingy.

first bit

We plodded for a bit and camped near a hill-fort with some midgies. I was attacked at various times by a couple of fairly lethargic sheep ticks and a huge black beatle.. as you were… beetle. I amused myself in the evening by bagging Disgwlfa Fawr, which was just round the back of the tent and which turned out to be a Marilyn some 1663 feet high and only lightly defended by some tussocks and one of Alan Sloman’s barbed wire fences (I still have three holes in my right leg from this) It rained during the night.

Dawn at the top of plynlimon

The next day – probably Tuesday by now, we set off in the drizzle towards Plynlimon. This variously involved lots of deep, wet grass, a deep, wet forest, lots of contours and some hill fog. At one point, I left dawn in some trees whilst I went off to bag Y Garn, a subsidiary outlying top of Plynlimon with a cairn on the top. This wasn’t much of a surprise as Y Garn means “The cairn”. Returning to dawn’s sheltered spot, we continued up the easy ridge to the top. After failing to reach this spot back in April, to say that I was chuffed to sit in the cairn/shelter on the top and scoff chocolate would not be an understatement. I was, in fact, as smug as a senior banker who’s just been bailed out again and is now able to buy that lovely Scottish estate with the deer-stalking and the place on the Loch for the yacht.

hengwm camp

We followed some fences , eventually emerging at about 500 metres from the Welsh clag on the steep sides of Hen Gwm – the Old Corrie. We knew a place by a ruined farmstead at a stream junction and sploshed off to find it. It seems that we may well have been camping on the farmhouse lawn. There are still garden flowers there and the site is in a green bower amongst trees and sheltered a bit from the lively and cold wind blustering up the glen. We stayed there till Thursday which left plenty of time for mooching around and exploring and, maybe a dip in the beck high up in the corrie(just me).

carn hyddgen summit 

On Wednesday we bagged Carn Hyddgen, a 500+metres lump across the valley, sporting two huge and ancient cairns. Somewhere around Hyddgen was the site of Owain Glyndwr’s victory over the Crown in the fifteenth century. Its an empty place now with a special and remote feel to it.

Dawn paddles Afon Hengwm

upper hengwm

This is, however, a very soggy area and , by this time , my boots were seriously wetted out and I had just the one pair of dry socks left, which I was determined should remain dry. And so, on Thursday , after paddling Afon HenGwm once again, I saw little point in ripping me tootsies to bits in wet boots and socks and, realising that the next severalteen miles would almost certainly be mainly soggy, I opted for the most waterproof option and hung my boots on the back of my pack and forayed forwards in bare feet. For bog-trotting in summer, I have to say that this is the most efficient,and, the most enjoyable way of travelling. None of this tiptoeing around the soggy bits – just splosh right on through. You get mucky feet and legs, but peat falls off skin once it’s dry and skin dries remarkably quickly. Once on the hard track at the Northern end of HenGwm, I had to put the boots back on, but I didn’t bother with socks and, during the day, since we were on dry tracks and the day was fairly warm, the boots started to dry out.

At one point, I left Dawn once again whilst I nipped off to bag Clypin Du, a HuMP/Dewey with a fab view of Cadair Idris and the Arans and, not too far off route.

pen y darren camp

We followed good tracks all day across moors and through forestry and roughly along the Northern edge of a huge escarpment that runs East-West (ish) above the Dovey valley and which occasionally reveals spectacular views to the North. We ended, just as the fine day ended with approaching cloud and drizzle, quite close to the top of Pen y Darren, another HuMP/Dewey with a huge and ancient cairn on the top. It rained all night and variously blew a hoolie or became spookily quiet and calm. This was our longest day, which I later measured at around eleven miles, and, it did feel quite tough at times.

a waterfall!

Finally, on Friday we packed wet tents and headed for the fleshpots of Machynlleth, about seven  miles away. We started with a long downhill – clearly , one of the advantages to camping high up and we rambled the dales and lanes and golf courses of Afon Dyfi, ultimately turning up in Machynlleth in early afternoon.

We spent the evening in the local bunkhouse (Dawn arranged this) and, as a reward, I made the dinner and stupified myself with beer and wine, all of which I enjoyed immensely.

Dawn’s version of the walk is here

approaching the fleshpots of Machynlleth

This was, of course, Dawn’s walk. She did all the work for it, I just turned up, really, and followed her through the tussocks and the bogs and the dripping trees. The route she made had the right “ticks” on it (not the sheepy ones) and there were a few bonus hill-bags as well. And a couple of the days were satisfyingly tough. And (there’s more..) – the area is beautifully void of roads and, even much in the way of paths and, apart from a possible passing of our campsite late one evening by a small group, we saw nobody at all for four or five days, the last ones being a pair of off-road bikers from Birmingham who insisted that everything they did was legal. Not seeing any huming beans for for days Is A Good Thing.

So – It were a right good do….  I’d do it again.