Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013 – The Score on the Door


As I sit here finishing off the last few drops of Christmas Black Paw beer and waiting for the inevitable midnight watching of the telly with a nice malt (I have some Bunnahabhain saved), it’s time to spend my ever-deteriorating brain cells considering the year just about passed. As I become ever more addled, my spelling and grammar may well become even worse than usual….  here goes anyway..

bowes loop 011

Some raw stats:

In 2013 I walked 1463 miles and climbed 217000 feet of up and, as I’m sitting exactly where I began on 1 january 2013, I must have done that amount of downhill too..

I camped out for 39 nights altogether – although one of these nights was in a bothy, so, maybe it doesn’t count and 15 were on campsites, leaving 23 not on campsites. One night was spent in a snow trench with the gentle tickle of little snowflakes landing on my nose in the middle of the night.

325 people came on my Durham County Council guided walks

It was a year of mixed fortunes, though, but the main fings-wot-appened are these:

March – A few days on the hills between Abergavenny and Merthyr Tydfil. It was perishing cold, finished wetly and Dawn wasn’t very well. So it was a bit mixed..

cefn yr ystrad 014

April – A couple of TGO challenge practise walks – A small bunch enjoyed deep and soft snow walking the Herring Road from Lauder to Dunbar, finishing with a fine curry and a night in the very poshest of dosses at Spott, with comfy beds, hot showers, a kettle, a fire and a supply of vino collapso. Good practise for the TGO

herring road

Later – a few days in the Borders from Langholm with Dawn. I thought this went reasonably well and we finished miles away in Ravenstonedale.  The weather was dampish.

tarras 015

May – TGO Challenge. This ended in fairly dramatic fashion for Dawn who left Knoydart in a big red and white helicopter. I carried on in increasingly duff weather – actually, this has become normal weather for the TGO nowadays. Watch out for a heatwave in 2014! For me, the walk went well despite being on a personal downer for the first few days,  a fairly tough bit in the middle and a glorious march at the end. I had some long days and a couple of epic booze-ups. All normal stuff, really, apart from the helicopter…

glen feshie

June – me and the Dawg went to Ettrick. It was hot. Bruno didn’t do well in the heat and I developed sciatica. But the hills were fab. Mixed y’see….

ettrick 012

July and August – Two campsite –based Hewitt-bagging trips. The second one was curtailed a bit early as it was stupidly hot. The word for the week was “horseflies”.

mallwyd 016


September – I crossed Dartmoor. It chucked it down. I bagged the Hewitt, though, in deep fog, and got wet. No, I mean really wet. Gwan , ask me how wet I got. It was a long way to go to get wet.   I seem to have lost the sciatica at some point – it just went away.


And then there was the North East Skinny Dip. Great fun, if a bit bizarre. Madness in the morning at Druridge Bay. This was probably the highlight of the year, in retrospect. People gave me £370 for it.  I was quite chuffed about that;  gruntled, even…

skinny dip

October – the Lleyn peninsula in a caravan This was brill. Its a very nice place. Its a very beautiful place, actually. Bagged lots of Marilyns and HuMps and Bruno ran about daft on the beach quite a lot.

lleyn peninsula

November – Fight Club Hikers washout weekend in Buttermere. It was wet. Again. This time it was even wetter than before.

fight club hikers

December – It rained. the it rained again. And it was windy. ……  and wet….  Did manage a night out above Weardale for the solstice

solstice weardale

So – overall, not a bad year. The summer was good and the rest of the time it heaved it down.

On the minus side -

Its rained since October!

Dawn’s sudden exit from the TGO Chally and her battle against all kinds of odds which kept her off the hills till the winter time (on the plus side, sheer determination seems to be winning some battle against uncaring council staff of the one hand and Atlantic storms on the other.

Dartmoor was a disappointment. I felt a bit let-down by it somehow. I’m not going back.

On the plus side –

My 12th TGO Challenge

Taking two of my grandkids up Penyghent – the Knipe rite of passage

Completing the Hewitts in October

The skinny dip!

And all of the Welsh trips


Worrabout next year?

I have lots of plans to do more backpacking and fewer Durham County walks and I’m trying to raise charity money for Mind. This is going reasonably well so far and I have a Damart  baselayer on auction over at the walkers forum and plans for more things to do. The Damart baselayer has received a couple of bids, but is still a bargain. And it’s toasty and soft and cosy. You could regret not bidding for this. I mean, we’re in for a cold and wet late winter. Brrr….

Its now time to test the Bunnahabhain. I mean, I should really check that it’s OK. I wouldn;t want any shocks or disappointments, now would I?

Happy new Year to all Pieblog readers. And for those who do manage to get out on the hills, I’m the shambling beardy bloke being pulled along by friendly brown Cumbrian dingo - in case we meet.




Sunday 29 December 2013

Santa Never Darken My Chimney Again

Being at a loose end and pining for the contours, here's a little Christmas cheer

Hills soon !

Whoops... apologies to the staid who are still chewing their sprouts (not a euphemism by the way...)

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Damart Base Layers Review

ok, it wasn't quite as cold as this 
Over the past week or two, there’s been a series of emails involving underwear baselayers. The outcome of this interchange is that I got a set of baselayers – that is to say, some long-johns and a top for review and an extra set (and note this cos it’s important) – an extra set which I can auction with the funds going to Mind directly through the virgin money giving page. I thought this was quite clever in many ways, specially since taxpayers can tick a box and if they do this, Mind gets an extra donation from the taxman.
But what of the Damart baselayer?  Cynics may say that since I got a free set AND , potentially, a few quids to my favourite charity, that my judgement on this matter will already be flawed. It’s a fair point, but if this was duff kit, I wouldn’t dare sell it on line. So here’s what I think, plus some technical stuff I got from the packaging.
iron man does santa
My first impression of the baselayers, immediately on opening the packaging, was  that the material was soft and warm and has a brushed effect on the inside. I got a “large” size, but the fabric is quite stretchy (which shows off the excellent physical shape of my rather lovely legs as it happens, but doesn’t do much for my expensively acquired beer-belly) Any way, the set has a very soft pleasant feel when I put it on in front of the full-length mirror and do my iron-man poses [koff]
I wore the baselayers on three low-level walks – two being reccies for a Durham County Council guided walk of eight and a half miles. The weather on these was either cold and windy and a bit sleety, with an enormous wind-chill but an actual air temperature of around 5C – and one walk where it was a bit warmer and not so windy, but pretty wet at the start.
camp above weardale
I also wore the baselayer on an overnight wild camp at 420 metres above Weardale on the solstice night. The weather here was fairly mild to start with but with heavy rain, which cleared later to reveal a starry moonlit night bit with a howling gale and followed up by a morning of fierce blizzardy snow squalls. I did have a rather good Mountain Equipment Annapurna sleeping bag courtesy of Dawn, so I was in very little danger of freezing to death. I also had imbibed a fair amount of scotch and some brie, so I seem to be alternately unconcious and/or involved in interesting dreams due to the cheese, I suspect. So, I can’t say too much about the performance of the baselayer, as a pair of jim-jams, except to say that that I had an undisturbed sleepy-snoozy time lasting from half past midnight till half past eight. (I was slightly miffed to miss the dawn, though, it being the solstice and all that…)
squally stuff...
So, basically, I really like this baselayer. It’s a bit warm if temps are higher than 5 or 6 C and , with windproofs etc on a steep hill or two, I did sweat a bit, but this dried out pretty quickly.
Technical stuff:
Baselayer is a “Men’s Long Sleeve Thermal Zip Top and Mon’s Long Thermal Pants
A complete set weighs about 300 grammes
Material is thermolactyl, soft to the touch and brushed on the inside
The top has a zip at the neck.
Seams are flat and off the line of a rucksack strap
The material has an anti-bacterial treatment
The set I had was rated Grade 4 which has a temperature range of minus 5 C to minus 15 C
The retail price is £32 for the top and £27 for the pants
An unsullied and still-in-it’s packaging set of these fabby dozy baselayers – in black, size “large” is now on auction on walkersforum  Click here to see:walkersforum auction bit
Link to top
link to pants
Finally: As an extra bonus-ball and seeing as it’s Christmas – Choose the winners of Damart’s Icelandic Adventure competition. Who gets to go?
damart icelandic adventure - choose the winners
My overall verdict is that I have noted that our very own Tony Bennet has been using bits of Damart gear for years and years and years…… so based on past performance, it should be robust. Anyway, I’m going to stay toasty in mine till the weather warms up


Sunday 22 December 2013

Solstice Activities – Rocking Strike and a Rocking Night

Fine Burn Head camp

In 1863, the miners at Sunnybrow went on strike  against the method of payment for the coal they’d hewed. The system at the time was that they would only be fully paid for a full tub of coal. So, to try to ensure that a tub wasn’t considered as “slack”, they rocked it, to settle the coal. There was a man, however, who was paid a commission every time he discovered a slack tub and so, he discovered as many slack tubs as he could, whether they were slack or not. The hewers starved and lost the strike and there were evictions in December 1863. A heinous act, never forgotten and commemorated in a memorial on the brow of a hill overlooking the River Wear. Eventually, this evil scam was replaced by a more honest check weigh system. Yesterday, I lead a Co Durham County Council guided walk to the memorial and nine people, three stewards, (including a Compulsory Dave) and me set out in a thunderstorm to slop through the riverside mud towards Bishop Auckland, passing the ruins of Furness Mill, up a steep bit and back along the Bishop-Brandon walkway, on the old railway line built in 1856, or four minutes to seven…  including a short diversion to see the memorial.

rocking strike memorial DSCN0910

superdawg hunting for horses

bishop-brandon path

Me and the dawg had done three reccies of this route over the last weeks – Bruno, at one point being stamped on by a young horse, apparently without any physical damage being done and a decision made to avoid a likely plunge down a muddy slope into the deep and cold Wear, by a short and much safer diversion. the weather on all of these occasions, was ‘orrible (cold, wet, windy, sleety, muddy..mad horses…..)

grey's naafi

And then it was The Solstice. I had determined to mark this in some way and the some way I’d determined was a camp-out. A site was picked. The son-in-law was notified in case he wanted to join in, and a small bottle of scotch was obtained to celebrate the longest night. The weather, however, was, once more,  ‘orrible…. but…maybe…the MET office seemed to have a little pause in the gales, roughly from about 8:00 pm till the next morning. So, at roughly eight o’clock we set off hopefully from somewhere near White Kirkley and plodded the couple of miles up the hill in the wet and the wind to our camping spot behind a wall on the edge of the moors overlooking Weardale.

campsite is by the trees!

It was nicely sheltered, but the wind roared through the beech trees and flapped the tarp we’d put for the jinkies party. A small kindling fire was lit and scotch and sherry sipped to the sophisticated sound of classical music drifting from a little radio. A big, orange moon appeared through the tree branches. My camera told me that it’s batteries were exhausted, so I couldn’t manage a picture.

squally squall squalling squallilly

The gale battered on through the night and in the grey morning, in snow squalls we ran out of useable supplies of gas, but found more  camera batteries. I just managed a brew, but the cooking of the sausages was unlikely to be possible. So we left as the hilltops began to turn white.

..And another thing… tonight, I was mainly wearing a baselayer courtesy of Damart. Tony Bennet recently mentioned how his venerable Damart kit had lasted and lasted…  and this one was, new but toasty – in fact, on the low level walk, it was too warm, but the council don’t like their walk leaders ripping off their baselayers during guided walks, so I put up with the sweat running down into the crack of my bum pro tem. But on a cold winter’s night at 420 metres in an atlantic gale with snow squalls, it was grand. I’ll be doing a proper review of this shortly AND I have an unworn set – still in it’s packaging - for sale, which was part of the deal with Damart.  I’ll be trying gear auction facility for selling these trollies and top and the money will go through the Virgin Moneygiving site in aid of Mind. Good eh? Its a nice bit of kit, though, so watch out for the review and the auction.

In the meantime, here’s a pic of Willington War Peace memorial

war memorial at willington



Tuesday 17 December 2013

Santa Says – See the Pieblog’s New Virgin Moneygiving Page



Readers should be aware by now that I’m using the pieblog to raise money for Mind between now and Christmas 2014. I have a few schemes and japes in mind which ought to bring in a bit of cash – and all of these will involve people receiving something for something – that is to say, it’s unlikely (although maybe not impossible) that I’ll ever ask for sponsors.

In order to avoid any tangles with the taxman, I’ve set up a Virgin Moneygiving page thingy for people to pay in their spondoolies. And it also means that I don’t accidentally spend the money on pies or brown sauce. Or pickles… 

There’ll be an opportunity to do this shortly (I hope) since I’m about to receive some gear for reviewing and the company involved have agreed to send me two sets of baselayers so that I can review one set and auction the other. (see – you get something for something…)

The score on the door, by the way, so far, is £60 from two pieblog activities.

If anybody does feel like just giving away a bit of cash, you can do that too. In fact,as Santa knows who’s been good and who’s been naughty, the naughty ones could  redeem themselves before Christmas by testing out the giving page’s ability to soak up money. And the good ones could be even gooder by doing the same.  Just a test….  A quid would do…

The relevant page is here

Happy Christmas!


Saturday 14 December 2013

OK, That’s Enough of Tunstall Reservoir…


He can’t get over this stile any more – poor old bugger


The other side of the biggest stile in the world

I had another Durham County Council guided walk today and this one was around Tunstall reservoir again. me and The Dawg did a reccy last week during that big space between blog posts and, as well as a little trundle around the reservoir that me and the dawg did a week or so before that – just for fun, plus all the other times… 

death to the stick!

park wall farm

The reccy provided a little intelligence about a fallen oak branch, with all it’s sub-branches and twigs and stuff, which was blocking the path near Park Wall farm, which removed my specs and which Bruno attacked in an out-of-focus and dark pic that I haven’t published  cos it’s out of focus and dark. I reported the tree to The Authorities and since then somebody has bashed a  way through.

near fawnlees

Today, in potentially (i.e. forecast by the Met Office) blustery weather, me, stewards Janet and Steven and ten walkers set off from Demesne Mill for Fawnlees and Park Wall the Biggest Stile In The World, which Bruno can’t get over any more.

tunstall reservoir

I’ve learned a few things, though – that park Wall was three farms, all now abandoned, and was occupied from roughly 1814 by Geo Walsh and the last recorded occupier was Jos Robson in 1896 – according to Christine Ruskin’s excellent work “The Disappearing Farms of Weardale” available at all good tourist info outlets and  so on price £12.99 and packed with facts and info  about all those ruinous piles which decorate the hillsides of Weardale.

broken tree

I also learned about the whereabouts of a stash of bronze age cooking stones and a cist burial, and the fact that there’s a “preferred” route to Baal Hill farm which avoids all the dog-manic cattle in the summertime that I’ll probably go and have a look at some time.

And we failed to get batterred by the forecasted atlantic storm, although it did get a bit windy and it tried to rain a touch at lunchtime.

above tunstall

The route is nearly eight miles. There’s a map…  Its quite a nice walk, but , frankly, I’m a bit fed up of it now! It’ll soon be time to put in plans for DCC guided walks for next summer. There’s a general strategy to reduce the number of walks slightly and, I’ll be cutting out the ones which either involve much car travel or which I’m a bit bored with. A couple of people have given me ideas for new routes, and, we can now cross the county boundary more seriously than before, so , I think eight walks, with two or three new ones, instead of the 12 walks I did last summer (with the reccies, that’s 24) Instead, I’ll be doing more Bagging in the Borders and Birkett Bagging and possibly other things beginning with B.

around tunstall


Friday 13 December 2013

Attermire – Not a Wainwright Outlier

packless bro and superdawg
The plan for today was to go and bag The Pike – one of the two remaining unbagged Wainwright Outlying Fells that I’d resolved to compleat (sic) in 2013. It became clear, on the outskirts of Kirkby Stephen that the weather forecast for Cumbria was correct and a fine wind-driven drizzle of the Very Wettest Kind was likely to make a trip to the fells of Dunnerdale a remarkably unpleasant experience. Bruno, sat in the back of the car, agreed.
helpful notice on a wall
We got to Kendal and almost set off for Dunnerdale when a new plan was made. We decided that it might be drier at Ingleton, and, maybe Ingleborough would be a good place to go. The fact that we didn;t have maps for the Yorkshire dales was dismissed as a minor problem. Penyghent was mentioned, then , maybe, Fountains Fell, all of which seemed possible. Then Ria mentioned the caves at Settle and, in particular, the Hoffman limekilns, which I’d not visited, but had heard about. So we went to Settle.
the navigation sub-committee extraordinary planning meeting
We set of in just in dry conditions, which eventually resolved itself into a light drizzle. The Bro decided on a lightweight approach and left his pack and butties in the car. No maps, no butties, a thin plan, short daylight, hillfog…..  heart conditions…. 
artillery and small arms target 
Victoria cave
Anyway, it all went very well. We located Victoria Cave and , then Jubilee caves, where we lunched inside , out of the drizzle, then the erotic boulder at Winskill and Cattrigg force, inspected from the top to save energy [koff…] and Stainforth and then, finally, the Hoffman Kilns.
lane to stainforth
hoffman no flash
I was impressed by the kiln – a huge abbey-like gallery, very dry inside and a perfect place for a pickernick on a draughty day, or, maybe, a discreet bivi, perhaps.
We finished through Langcliffe and along the Pennine bridleway.
hoffman with flash
The last two Wainwright outliers will have to wait till 2014, it seems. It’s too far to go there now and my vision is for the Pike to fall to the Pieman’s ticking pencil on a blustery, cold, bright and sunny day in April when the daffies are flowering….
The Attermire walk was about seven and a half miles. Of course, we’d been to Attermire dozens of times before, going back forty or fifty years, mainly without maps, occasionally, as youths, not completely sober, and sometimes armed only with a hundred and fifty feet of rope and a rock-climbers guide to Yorkshire limestone.
And we only got a little bit damp..