Saturday 29 September 2012

Tunstall Haute Route

tunstall haute

OK, it’s a bit of a pretentious title for an eight mile walk on the edge of the Pennines. but it’s just a joke, see? And it’s a higher route than the other Tunstall walks wot I do for the council – hence the “haute” bit.. (Apols for being cheeky to the camera by the way, but this kind of behaviour is starting to be expected by some customers….)

Anyway, me and the Dawg reccied this walk the other day – the day, in fact, that it finally stopped raining after dumping all of six inches of the wet stuff on the North of England, causing all kinds of damp chaos including the closure of the A1(M) motorway  for several days and inundating York yet again, and washing away some of Wolsingham’s ducks. (They seem to have returned a couple of days later)

Dave and Anna stewarded the walk on Friday, and seventeen people turned up for a potentially sloppy round.

path under water!

Bruno discovered that parts of the walk were found to be underwater on the reccy, so a few adjustments were made. It had dried out a bit by Friday, but the ground was still pretty much waterlogged and generally a bit sloppy in places.

climbing up to north moor

And the path along the moor top, which is the main point of the walk in that it’s a high-level poddle with extensive views into the Tunstall dale below – has been trashed somewhat by those people in four wheel drive vehicles. But they like a quagmire. Its no fun without a quagmire. Durham County Council punters, on the other hand are not so keen on deep mud.

It’s a nice little walk, though, with nothing threatening, apart, perhaps than the occasional suckler herd; although me and the dawg weren’t bothered by the kie who just watched us pass by with just a hint of interest.

4wd damage

Me and the dawg lunched in the shelter of the walls of the disused Crook to Sunderland railway line, but with the guided walk, we sought instead the shelter of the picnic area near the head of Tunstall reservoir, there being a bit of a chilly autumn drift from completely the wrong direction for the comfortable scoffing of a beef and onion butty and some ginger cake.

tunstall reservoir

The old railway line went over the hills from Crook to Tow Law and joined the Stanhope/Weardale line at Waskerley and it was  this junction in World War Two that was chosen for a large ammunition dump – the remains of which are still extant and used for storing old fire engines and buses and also for the exploits of the County Durham doggers – a cold and draughty spot for that sort of thing, I would have thought.

the biggest stile in the world

A brief shower produced a rainbow and the Biggest Stile In the World produced some mild excitement  before we followed the easy path beside the old park wall back to Wolsingham.

It’s eight and a bit miles. Here’s a map. Bring your own banana.

tunstall haute











Note that due to flooding the route alongside Tunstall reservoir was not followed. Instead, we went along the road on the West side of the pond.

There was also a minor diversion in Wolsingham due to a white van driver with a load of “stuff” who blocked a path. He was till talking to himself as we left him to it.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

A Bit of Mallerstang Edge

the dawg and the edge

I met the nephew at Thrang, just at the foot of Lady Anne’s Highway over the side of Mallerstang and he, me and the dawg wandered up the bridleway as far as Hell Gill, passing the sculpture placed in tribute to the sacrifices of many a brave lobster in the never-ending pursuit of the perfect thermadore. This sculpture is in the form of a huge lobster claw, rearing up out of the thin limestone soils representing hope, failure and rebirth by recreating in mock stone the many attempts at cooking the perfect lobster that ended up being buried in the back garden.

the lobster claw memorial

Hell Gill is an enormously deep and narrow limestone gorge, almost a roofless cave, in fact, which is spanned by a bridge and which begs for exploration from the bottom to the top. Or from the top to the bottom. I must do this some time, before I get to old and senile to…. are you our Graham? I didn’t take a pic as I was still overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the lobster a mile or so back. These things are always an improvement on real nature dontcha think.

crosthwaite 022

Incidentally, for those who considered that the cow in the picture in yesterday’s blogpost was beautiful, take a look at this sheep. Now worrabout that eh? Impressive, eh? Bit of a knowing wink, there….

ingleborough and whernside from hangingstone scar

Anyway – we progressed up an intermittent path alongside Hell Gill beck to the edge of Hangingstone Scar – noting several sheltered camping spots in the gill (note for all readers named “Dawn”). Hangingstone Scar is impressive and is the start of Mallerstang Edge. We left the Edge to bag the top at Archy Styrigg and followed the wide, grassy ridge easily to High Seat, lunching just out of the perishing draught in the hags at the head of Gale Sike.

further up mallerstang edge

Gale Sike gives an easy route back down through the crags – easier if you trend a bit to the North to avoid a steepening. More camping spots were noticed at the foot of the main slope – nice, flat places with a bit of shelter and a small stream of good, clear, water and, not to mention the cracking views West and North.

We did a sort of descending traverse from here back to the parking spot, which we managed to hit pretty accurately, mainly by aiming for a farm on the hillside opposite and not using any of your modern aids such as maps or compasses. I like to call this the “wet thumb” method. This is very accurate if it doesn’t get foggy or anything (!)

We put the world to rights and talked about music and stuff for eight miles and about 1700 feet of up. The dog didn’t really join in.

Longer walks along Mallerstang Edge are available, specially if you use the train to get from Kirkby Stephen to Garsdale where you can use the ridge to get back to the start. The walking is generally quite easy.

mallerstang edge

Monday 24 September 2012

Across Crossthwaite – Teesdale Fellwalking

bruno notices the gaps between the planks

I’m getting a bit behind with the blog posts.

This one is about a Durham County Council, guided walk wot I did on Saturday (this being written on Monday lunchtime)

Those readers with photographic memories may recall that on the first reccy – back in the spring, I tried to video some Lapwings, but they were having none of it unless a proper contract was written up and that I signed over the TV rights.

one at a time on wynch bridge

I did the pre-walk reccy last week and 15 people turned up on Saturday, including the two stewards, neither of whom were called Dave and were, in fact, Ann and Neville, a pairing we’d had before.

So, there’s two sets of pics . Saturday was the warm day, but only when the sun shone. When a cloud came over, it was perishing – an indicator, no doubt, that it’s not very far to winter again.

holwick scar and superdawg

The walk goes like this:

We start at Bowlees pickernick place near Newbiggin in Teesdale and we pass Low Force and wobble over Wynch Bridge (aka The Wobbly Bridge). On the guided walk, we cross, of course, one at a time as per the Elf and Safety Instructions and on the Reccy, if we are superdawg, we cross with legs slightly bent, nervously noticing the river far below through the gaps in the planks. It has to be said that Bruno is never keen on seeing a big drop below his paws.


But it’s OK. It’s perfectly safe, as are the suckler cows in the field leading to Holwick. They are busy snoozing on both walks and aren’t interested in us at all.

climbing out of holwick scar

holwick scar - the grassy side of the arete 

Next, comes Holwick Scar. We drop into a deep valley and then very steeply up onto the moor. There’s a very slight and easy scramble up the mainly grassy arete on the left. This has a bit of a drop on one side and is hardly Sharp Edge, but it’s the best little climb around, A few of our walkers take this option, and one has a slight collision with some dolerite following a slip or a trip, resulting in a couple of small holes in a forehead and a bump. I think this is the first time any blood has been spilled on a pieman guided walk although my own personal flesh has been punctured recently by barbed wire, collisions with huge lumps of millstone grit and a vicious attack by mentalist ants). Maybe we should have an annual award for the best accident…..  just something to think of, there…..

We march off over Crosthwaite Fell – a straightforward fellwalk which crosses a couple of streams and then goes steeply up to the foot of a green wold, which is uses to cross the moor. This bit has cracking views of Teesdale and parts of the North Yorks Moors.

pennine way to middleton

Lunch is by the grouse-shooters’ luncheon hut, which appears to have vandalised, or at least, fouled by some nesting swallows or swifts. So, it’s not very nice inside at the moment.

We descend soggily to the Pennine Way at Wythes Hill and follow this back to Middleton in Teesdale, passing, yet again, some may say, Kirkcarrion and then by more PW back to Wynch Bridge where we can wobble once again.

foam in a circle on river tees

Here’s a map. The walk is eleven miles.

See the blog tomorrow when we report on a walk along a bit of Mallerstang Edge. (We’re using the Royal “We” at the moment for some reason… aren’t we?  Yes we are.)

teesdale fellwalk

back on the wobbly bridge


Thursday 20 September 2012

Edmundbyers Lead Mine Trail Guided Walk

edmundbyers moors - college farm

A couple of days ago, I lead a nine-and-a-bit mile guided walk from Edmundbyers. And, it being a Wednesday, and a sunny one, there were forty of us, including me and the two stewards, Dave and Dave. (Due to government cuts, from now on, all guided walks stewards will be know as “Dave”. This, apparently, will save millions of pounds and Spennymoor baths won;t have to close after all – so they’ll have to build a supermarket somewhere else…)

coffee stop in a hole

Anyway, this fine turnout meant that we had to be more careful about where and how we parked – there having been representations from the Edmundbyers Watch Committee (they’re saving up for a watch for the vicar) – representations to the County Council that we didn’t park badly and block gateways and the space reserved for the hearse outside the church.

We set off in fine sunshine but with the usual Pennine nither seeping over the Atlantic from the general direction of Iceland.

making a break for freedom

Our pace was brisk. This was partly due to us trying to keep up with two punters who made a break for freedom and were way ahead. Its obvious that they were new to this guided walking lark, or they’d have been a bit more cautious about my strategy of dealing with runaways by either hiding behind trees, or in the heather, or by sudden and unplanned changes of direction.

sykehead flue

a sheltered spot for lunch

We did manage a couple of small diversions – one of which was to visit the flue. (which reminds me, I have an appointment for a preventative jab for flu next month..) But I digress – this particular flue starts at the site of a lead smelting mill and ends, a mile and a half away on the fell at a chimney. This chimney has appeared on the pieblog before and some readers will recognise it. It’s where we hid from the cold breeze for our lunch.


On the return leg, we lost two walkers due to a domestic emergency, and visited Sandyford farm where details of an ‘Orrible Murder were relayed. There was common agreement that the housekeeper’s would-be suitor did it as he’d been stalking her recently.

It was a nice day.

Its a good walk and, well, we’ve been here before dozens of times on the pieblog. Its all very gentle and you can’t get lost.

Here’s a map.

edmundbyers lm trail


Monday 17 September 2012

A Bit of the Pennine Way with T-dude and Wibble

is it the end of the line for fight club hikers?

Apparently, a few years ago, Fight Club Hikers Titaniumdude and Wibble were prevented from completing a Pennine Way bid by a hurt leg.  But now these intrepid Mancs were back for another go.

I met them at Middleton in Teesdale.

Then I met them again at Alston. But this time I had boots and rucksack and that huuuge tent they gave me to review. The one where I broke the poles…

Anyway, we camped at Alston, forayed for a few bevvies and after a night of gentle snoring and the occasional toilet emergency, by crack of about half nine, we were marching off down the South Tyne Trail.

well polished engine at alston

I should explain that the South Tyne Trail runs alongside both the South Tynedale Railway and the Pennine Way, the latter, roughly as far as Lambley viaduct. Due to the fact that on the previous two days, they’d covered 40 miles from Middleton to Dufton and then to Alston, a slightly easier and quicker route was felt to be justified – at least as far as the Kirkstyle Inn [koff..] from where the PW could easily be rejoined following a light lunch.

wibble and paddy spot a train

on the south tyne trail

Unfortunately, the walking was so easy that we marched past the turnoff for Kirkstyle and so in temperant style we went as far as the Glendue Burn crossing and then rejoined the PW where it’s also coincides with the Maiden Way roman road. For a while it chucked it down big style but we blundered on till we passed the farm at Greenriggs, where T-dude was pleased to note a “dudeism” sticker on a car. T-dude is, of course, a registered dudeish minister and is licensed for weddings, funerals, baptisms and sacrifices in many US states.

on the maiden way

Then things got worse.We lost the path on Hartleyburn Common but, by dead reckoning, a brief period of stellar observation and by holding up a wet finger, we deduced that a) we were off route a bit to the right and b) that if we headed North, we’d find the PW again and c) we were seriously sinking into a bog of high juncus and cold, red water (chalybeate!). The next ten minutes consisted of knee-deep plunges , teetering wobbles, blasphemy, the creation of a blame culture and having blisters treated with a cold iron sulphate bath.  Some people like this kind of thing.

cold fell from hartleyburn common

There was even more of this later , roughly at the point where we found the muddy path of the PW. We sploshed North, crossing the A69 at a desperate rush and, by the deft use of the old A69, before they built the new one, we were soon within the warm embrace of the Greenhead Hotel, joined by Buzzingirly aka Gill and her faithful dog, Woodstock.

After another short period of celebration and a bit of bravado concerning bogs and blisters, Gill took me back to Alston to collect the knipemobile which was still there….

Thanks to Gill for the lift and Wibble and T-dude for the laughs.

We did fifteen and a half miles.

But will the Fight Club Hikers complete the Pennine Way this time?



Thursday 13 September 2012

Dawn and the Pieman Do The South Downs Part Three

dawn storms towards beachy head

Our (relatively) high camp, of course, meant that we were up fairly high for the Sunday morning start. We bagged Firle Beacon easily and early in the day, after which the Way swings South-east to coast down into Alfriston – the first place with a choice of shops and pubs and fairly expensive tea rooms. We raided the deli for bread and beef and juice and bananas and scoffed these in a shady picnic beside the laughingly called Cuckmere River as the church bells called the faithful away from Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs – the Cuckmere at this point, being tidal, but not much more than a muddy festering beck.

The walk follows the river downstream before heading off into the woods of Exceat and into the Seven Sisters Country park, with it’s toilets, tap and ice-cream van (where we enjoyed a lolly). Here, it was as crowded as a seaside place gets on a summer Sunday. Everywhere there were kids and dogs and a steady stream of humanity was heading for the beach. I think maybe we were a bit out of place here….

seven sisters

A path leads to the sea and takes the South Downs wayfarer up onto the rolling seven Sisters – with white cliffs on one side and rolling Downs on the other, this feels like a Lake District ridge – one steep climb followed by another steep descent and so on and so on for a long way – exhausting on a such a hot day.

getting ready to leave birling gap

There is relief to be had at Birling Gap – relief in the form of flat but refreshing beer before the final effort over Beachy Head and down into Eastbourne. We had finished the South Downs Way but yet there was work to be done. I needed cash. We had beds booked at the YHA. Dawn’s map showed the location of the YHA.

nearly there....

The cash machine at the co-op wasn’t working and they would only give me twenty quid cash back. Meantime, whilst I was negotiating in the Co-op, Dawn had recruited the assistance of a man with a basket of beans and raspberries to take us to the YHA. He lead us through a maze of suburban streets, remarking on the excellence of the local school cricket pitch and pontificating about the “YMCA”, which worried dawn a bit, I think and ultimately dumped us at the foot of a steep path up onto the Downs. His directions were incredible and just didn’t seem right and, what was more, didn’t match Dawn’s Harveys map. I snatched the map and navigated us at a stagger to the location of the YHA as given on the map. The YHA wasn’t there…Bugger.

the end or one of the ends, or starts...

Dawn’s email booking confirmation revealed an address on the far side of the Downs. The old chap had been right. We retraced and drew our final dregs of energy on the climb up to the Downs and over the top where the YHA really was.

On the Sunday, we’d done 20 miles and 3400 feet of uphill. This is a lot with a big pack on a steaming hot day (although Beachy Head had been windy and damp and it was now raining a bit)

another hot day on the SDW

Altogether, we’d done 108 miles. I don’t think anybody just does the advertised 100 since most accommodation etc is off-route. Its a good route, though, and quite beautiful if a bit , hesitate to say it… its a bit like a Real Turmat Reindeer curry – its very nice, but it’s all the same nice till you get to the coast, which is a welcome change.  And it’s tough for campers – scarce water, hard on the feet and so on – it would be quite a good training for the TGO challenge I think.

Overall, I’m glad to have done this. Me and Dawn don’t seem to be having duff trips. The hot weather got to be a bit of a challenge by each afternoon when it started to become uncomfortable. If there’d been anything to make us fail, it would probably have been the heat.

I feel a bit smug about it now, though. 


Wednesday 12 September 2012

Dawn and the Pieman Do The South Downs Part Two


Thursday was hot! (bit of a theme developing here, you might think….)

We bashed on. The target for today was Washington where there was a campsite and , as Dawn pointed out, a safe crossing of the A24, a murderously fast dual carriageway with no footbridge.

We rejoined the long scarp and, happily for the sunburn, much of the day was spent under the cover of trees. A short diversion bagged Glatting Beacon, a trig point in a deep plantation next to antennae.

And then we descended to Amberley Station – just four of your earth metres above sea level. This sad fact (we’d have to make up the height again) was relieved somewhat by the existence of a pub on the route at this point. We had butties and chips. (They were posh butties, but not very posh chips) The heat of the day grew quite intense. We bashed on through the contours to Rackham hill at 193 metres and Kithurst Hill where Dawn waited for me to bag the trig and then, after 19 miles, down the hill into Washington where the campsite was on the other side of the village, too far from the pub, but where we got a discount for looking exhausted.

chanctonbury hill/rings

Another wet and dewy night was followed by a bright blue Friday of more heat. We had to go back up the hill again. There were rewards here, though. We hadn’t a fixed target, except to say that there was a pub at Devil’s Dyke, and that we’d go some way beyond that.

In between we came across Chanctonbury Hill. This has a trig point and a small hillfort, the bounds of which hold a plantation of trees, mainly planted after a storm in 1987 destroyed the 18th century plantation that preceded it. The ring of the outer defences and the copse of trees, and the extensive and beautiful views makes this an enchanted place; just the sort of place to spend a night. We couldn’t have attempted this the night before, though, unfortunately. We just didn’t have enough energy to carry water way up here. Another time, though, perhaps.

view whilst drinking beer at Devil's Dyke

After this the Way descends to the River Ardur, more or less at sea level again, before climbing, now in baking heat back to the scarp which continues past the tap at Truleigh and along the rolling ridge to the oasis that is Devil’s Dyke. Here was more beer and crunchy fish sandwiches and a descent to Saddlescombe where we stopped for a cuppa and where I noticed a National Trust sign on a fence had a picture of a tent on it. Dawn enquired (I leave all such business as enquiring to Dawn as she doesn’t seem to mind the prospect of rejection, something which I find a bit more difficult to do for some reason. Enquiries revealed a field with a tap and the location of some fairly posh toilets, and an honesty box for the depositing of ten quid for the camping. 14 miles today.

crossing the greenwhich meridian

If the next day was Saturday, it was going to be a hot one. We had decided to have a wild camp. We knew where the taps were and we had a rough idea of our spot. It would be a long day.

ollie (not a gruffalo)

We marched on once again towards the East, passing over West Hill and the A23 at Pyecombe, rejoining the scarp with the view for Ditchling Beacon, turning South at Blackcap to Housedean where we bravely ignored the campsite, tea van, petrol station and pub in favour of another uphill struggle over the Downs to Southease where there was another tap and, where we crossed from the Western hemisphere into the Eastern hemisphere. After this effort, we rested and drank the water. There was some kind of open day at the church. A village lady had her little dog, the ugliest little pooch you’ve ever seen with an overlapping bottom jaw and bulging eyes. I had a little chat with the dog and we got on quite well. This was Ollie. The lady’s relief from guarding the church gate, a young woman in a very naughty frock, called Ollie “The Gruffalo”  A bit unfair. I took to the dog. Poor old Ollie. We collected water from the Southease tap.

itford hill camp

We crossed the River Ouse, once more, quite near sea level and struggled up the steep hill back onto the Downs. On the edge of the Downs, overlooking Southease, on the border of a copse of hawthorn, we put the tents up and had a fabulous wild camp on a warm and breezy moonlit and starry night.

.... and rest....

If you follow the vapour trails, you end up at Gatwick.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Dawn and the Pieman Do The South Downs Part One

south downs way in the woods

This had been planned for a while, although the actual plans had a light touch – that is to say, we had little idea of how far we would walk or where we would sleep at night, except at the mysteriously hidden Youth Hostel at the end in Eastbourne. Dawn, though, had a list of campsites and hostels and things and our maps had the location of strategically placed and important water taps.

So, as planned, Dawn was at King’s Cross station last Monday and I followed her through tunnels and moving stairways and rattling tube trains amongst a ghostly population unable to meet a gaze – to Waterloo where a long wait eventually lead to an hour or so’s train ride to Winchester where King Alfred stood on his plinth and you have to pay to go into the main church for a pray, if that’s what you want to do….

king alf wainwright waves us off. drama queen

We navigated ourselves out of the town in hot sun. We crossed a motorway into the wide and open spaces of The Downs, baking in heat and hard on the feet.

We covered ten miles or so on the Monday, trying a listed farm camp at Holden, at which there was nobody, and, speculatively in the car park of a pub with a paddock, at which there was nobody either. Dawn resolved the matter by knocking on a door. A chap, self-confessed train buff pointed to a patch of grass and a tap and both of these facilities were ours for the night – dry night amongst the trees in snaily grass and heavy dew, and a lot of off-road traffic.


In the morning we headed East. We weren’t perhaps, quite into the swing of things yet. Tuesday was hot and cloudless and the land is dry and hard and we bashed along as far as we could over Beacon Hill, Old Winchester hill, followed by a short break at the fishing ponds at Whitewool, where coffee and cakes and beer was had – and then over Whether Down– to eventually turn up at the site of HMS Mercury – now some kind of park with a hostel and a campsite with showers that worked (very effectively) off the sun and a composting toilet in a shed which was much better than it sounds. Two rats were seen to escape from a mound and make a dash across open space. The wind blew a hoolie during the night, but not a breeze ruffled the tents. A cold, dewy night gave way to another steamer of a day.

HMS Mercury was a Royal navy shore establishment dedicated to training and developing navigation and communications but is now closed and little seems to remain apart from a lot of razor wire…

dawn steams east

Wednesday was hot! We had divided the rest of the distance remaining of the SDW into the number of available days and come up with the hard fact that we had to average around 17 miles a day to finish and catch the 09:55 train to Victoria on Monday morning. Dawn announced that Manor farm at Cocking was the place to go, so that’s where we headed.

butster hill

In between, we bagged Butster Hill, a slightly off-route Marilyn, covered in dog walkers,  had bacon butties at the Queen Elizabeth Country park, visited another Beacon Hill and traversed a long escarpment with big views to the North, bagged Linch Down and, as we eventually slumped sweatily by the public tap at Hill Barn, Dawn noticed that we were, in fact, at the very gates of a Manor Farm, although possibly not the manor farm we’d been heading towards. We were, in fact, filling up water bags for a wild camp further up the hill. But we’d had enough. We’d done 17 miles.  Enquiries revealed that there was a tap and a paddock and that we could camp for a fiver. This was the second time that Dawn’s enquiries had produced a result.

Yet again, the sky for the night was clear and there was a heavy and wetting dew.