Monday 30 June 2014

Galloway Bagging Day – 2 Marilyns, a Hump and a Tump

mountain warehouse pack

This was a bit of a filler in between backpacking trips and, dogless, I had to drive all the way to Galloway myself, which was a bugger. But Galloway is nice and soft and green and a bit empty when compared with the hustle and bustle of the North Pennines and the crowds in the Howgills, so it was time for some quiet and contemplative contour-bashing, just me and the dog’s lead.

I started off with the Keir Hills – a little ridge somewhere up a small road out of Dumfries. This ridge is well defended by wobbly walls, barbed wire and electric fences, plus some really really ancient hurdles clearly put together before nails were invented and each one dangerously dangerous in a specially delicate and wobbly kind of way..

wauk hill summit

But the ridge held two ticks – thus the 327 metre Tump, The Mull was bagged, followed by a lovely but barricaded ridge to the 357 metre Marilyn Wauk Hill.  This is a nice top with lovely views of the Rhinns of Kells, Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, The Lowther Hills and the Northern Lake District fells, specially Skiddaw, rising out of the waters of the Solway,  plus, as a bonus, some sixty or seventy wind turbines, some of which were actually turning. Unusual.  Nice.

Mountain Warehouse have recently sent me some rucksacks, one of which I’ve sold – proceeds to Mind -  and the other, I took on this trip. I promised to do a review and I’ll do this after I’ve used it for a bit. It seems OK, though and above is a portrait of the pack at the top of Wauk Hill.

bogrie hill

And so, having studied the view for a bit, I returned whence I came over the lovely but barricaded ridge back to the knipemobile, badly parked near the summit of the white road on the bealach or pass between The Mull and Fleucharg Hill.

clearance cairns

Next -  some distance away, I parked badly again on a side road out of Glenesslin for the bagging of the 432 metre Marilyn Bogrie Hill. This was fairly easily done being just over a mile and about 700 feet of up from the parking spot to the top. The hillside lower down the fell has derelict pastures and each pasture seems to have at least one, sometimes two or three ancient clearance cairns. Some of these are quite well built and are more than just piles of stones. This must have taken some significant effort over a long period for what is now just a sheep pasture. Just sayin’, like…

castramon hill from bogrie

Not satisfied with this meagre ticking bag, I decided to climb the 358 metre Hump Castramon Hill – a mile and 450 feet of up to the immediate South. Both these hills provide extensive and similar views to Wauk Hill and Castramon has a rather lovely steep and rocky northern face to it for a bit of extra fun. I had intended to climb a third Marilyn – Killyleoch Hill but having run out of energy, time and mars bars, I thought it best to go home. I’ll come back and do another three later on.

view west from castramon

Total bag for the day – 2 Marilyns, 1 Hump, 1 Tump, 8 miles 2000 feet of up. 1 cheese and tomato barm cake, 1 banana, 1 mars bar, 1 apple and blackberry turnover, 1 pint filter coffee, thirty quids worth of four star.


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Wednesday 25 June 2014

Weardale Skyline Day 3 and a Bit (The Black Bull Ending)

ruins of park wall farm

I fell asleep straight after dinner and woke up at about midnight. It wasn’t very dark and I decided that after all I would be able to watch the sun come up and started tucking into my generous supply of cheap scotch.

During the next couple of hours I was visited by some grumpy sheep who considered that I was camping on their overnight snoozing spot, a jacksnipe going “whirrrrrrrr” and what appeared to be a rat sneaking by hoping not to be noticed.

either shorngate cross currick or a stone spaceship

At about 3:00 am there was some kind of time/space continuum accident during which a timewarp collided with The Earth, and concentrating it’s magnetic forces in an invisible Cone of Power on Middlehope Moor, just, in fact, where I was sitting enjoying the last dregs of my whisky,  I was suddenly transported forwards in time by about three hours. It was now full daylight. There was hot sunshine and a text message from Brian about what a bonny sunrise it had been. Luckily I had been returned to exactly the same spot, so I wouldn’t have to retrace my steps to finish the walk properly. This was a relief, I can tell you.

Somewhat dazed by this experience, I breakfasted on porridge and prunes (a backpacking favourite) and marched off to bag the summit of Middlehope Moor, just a few hundred metres North.

retrospect to killhope law

I continued Northwards across some more really rough stuff (gwan, ask me how rough it was…) to cross the Allenheads road at Shorngate Cross Currick – apparently a popular parking spot for CtoC cycling support vans. (Support vans hah! Wimps!)

I continues even more Northwards for a bit and then back towards Denmark over the excessively rough and bobbly Redburn Edge/Dry Rigg which has a trig point which isnlt marked on my map for some reason.

bolts law

Yet more tussocks and damp were crossed, finally to the road summit at Packlett’s Gate where all became sweetness and light again and, apart from a very short section on the descent from Bolt’s Law, it was now all on tracks or good paths.

old train line

I followed the track or good path to the top of Bolt’s Law – probably the finest viewpoint for a sunrise in Co Durham, through the heather on the other side to join the CtoC route which runs on the  old Rookhope – Sunderland railway line. This is not the skyline, really, but does allow the ever-so-marginally fragged rambler to make quick and easy, if a bit dull, progress to the cafe at Park Head where a hot beef butty and a cuppa can be enjoyed with the cyclists.


The views are good but the only excitement on this part of the walk is the wanky signs which start with “Attention All Cyclists. Very Important Notice” which , basically say that people on bikes aren’t allowed on certain bits of road cos it’s really dangerous and if they go there, all sustrans routes will be banned and they’ll get the blame. Its not dangerous for walkers, though.

view to crow coal hill

park head cafe

Hennyway, having enjoyed my cuppa and butty, I headed down the Waskerly Way – another railway line route which heads for Stanhope, but I turned off on the road to the wireless mast on the top of Collier Law. Now the wireless mast has disappeared, just in case you’re using it for navigation. Its not there anymore. There is a modern mast some distance down the track, but its not the same one. The road’s still there which presumably means that anyone with mobility issues (i.e. problems) could drive up to the site of the mast to watch the sun come up or, indeed, have an illicit and discreet liaison with a care worker’s friend with little chance of discovery. Just a tip there for anybody searching for a suitable location for such a situation.

bijoux hut

The next landmark is a small  but bijoux shooting hut some two and a bit kilometres in the approximate direction of Belgium. The rough heatheriness is relieved somewhat by the fact that the  heather has been burned at various times into small squares and by moving in patterns not dissimilar to a rook (in chess, not a small crow), an easy passage can be worked out to arrive, more or less in one piece at the lovely little stone house.

carr stones

Carr Stones and Park Wall Edge follow and excitement grows as the outer suburbs of Wolsingham come into view.

wolsingham meadows

All that remains are the green and pleasant meadows and pastures leading into Wolsingham and the waiting Mrs Pieman – usefully waiting, in fact, outside the Black Bull where rehydration took place. (Rehydration is important to ward off any further time/space continuum incidents. This is a well-know medical fact and I would go so far as to post a notice starting with “Attention All Ramblers. Very Important Notice”)

That’s the end of that walk, then. For anybody interested in giving it a go (are you mad or something?) , the route here is 50 miles and 4800 feet of uphill (which isn’t a lot for 50 miles). I thought it was quite hard work.

Maps below.

weardale skyline pt 7

weardale skyline pt 8

weardale skyline pt 9

weardale skyline pt 10

weardale skyline pt 11


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Tuesday 24 June 2014

Weardale Skyline Day2 and a bit

dead stones summit

The clear, starlit and drippy night ended in a grey and cloudy dawn.

I found the boundary fence which I’d been following since yesterday and followed it again. Despite the protestations of the 1:25k map, it does go all the way to Killhope Cross even though it tends to do straight lines instead of following the Cumbria/Durham border exactly. This is where a GPS loaded with 1:50k maps might seem to be a bit inaccurate.

open spaces....

This ridge would be a nightmare for anybody with a phobia concerning open spaces, being alone , having no phone signal or choking to death on a jelly baby whilst trying to ring for the air ambulance. Eat your jelly babies carefully is the best advice I can give.

redgleam fossil

burnhope seat

I plodded over Redgleam and the Durham summit of Burnhope Seat (the highest point is an enclosure away in Cumbria – and along the flat and straight boundary walk to Redgleam where the threat of drizzle and the clouding-up of higher fells such as Cross Fell, suddenly gave way to some clear arctic air with blue skies, fluffy clouds and huge views. Redgleam has a small collection of unusual fossils imprinted into the sandstone. I might collect one at some point.

endless space. well, not actually endless..

I investigated the howff on Dead Stones. I’d not been here since I planted some fuel for a winter solstice overnight trip some two or three years ago – a trip foiled by a blizzard which covered the hill in deep and soft snow of the kind where no progress can be made without snowshoes or skis at least.

deadstones howff the roof (talk quietly!)

I was surprised to find my bag of firewood still there, although the firelogs had gone. And the roof was still just about holding up – I thought the heavy snows might have finally brought it down. The main beam, though is shredded and looks alarmingly shaky. This is not the place to have a noisy argument or to set off loud bangs, or to poke the ceiling with a big stick. It needs mending – basically rebuilding. The rest of the hut seems solid enough. I’m not sure who might do this work or whether the estate would agree anyway.

cross fell in clear air


Anyway – onwards to a shower of text and answer phone messages asking for my whereabouts. I did manage to arrange to meet Brian at Killhope Cross briefly and he took me to Nenthead for some coffee and welcome relief from the tussocky plodding. This interval was soon ended, though and I was returned to Killhope Cross to resume the struggle with Killhope Law.

killhope cross - me arriving


Now the bit of land between Killhope Cross and Killhope Law summit has some magnificent peat hags – a real jumble of lumps, bumps and ponds intended to weaken by exhaustion the over-loaded rambler well before he comes across the colony of hysterical black headed gulls screaming and wheeling above their nests.

That over with, I followed a thin path which had developed from somewhere and which lead to the currick on the Eastern end of the hill. This is a fine place for the scoffing of oatcakes,cheese and jelly babies and has a cracking view of Weardale.killhope law currick

More rough stuff follows over Stangend Rigg. The key to navigating the summit and boundary – in this case the Northumberland/Durham border is a shallow ditch which starts on the West side of Killhope Law and runs as far as Stangend Rigg – possibly further. Following this shallow ditch will ensure that the overloaded and exhausted rambler (see above) won’t have any navigational difficulties even in the thickest of weather. In fact , if he is with friends, or even rivals, they will be impressed by his ability to navigate such an apparently blank piece of landscape so easily. Its a trick, really, but there’s no other reason to have this two or three-metre wide square ditch and it’s hardly noticeable in some places being very very old. Quite like me in many ways.

middlehope moor bivi 

I crossed the road to Allenheads and did the final few metres up the flank of Middlehope Moor to where the bridleway from Cowshill meets the County boundary. From here, a vague path leads off South-West and comes eventually to a shelter – maybe half a sheepfold. Here I put up the basha in a formation which protected me from the strong wind but which gave me a view to the East for the sunrise. I collected water from an algae-ridden trickle a bit further East. This usually has a substantial stream, but now was just a dry and rocky slot, complete with a trapped lamb, which I rescued cos I iz an angel, innit?

It spent a pleasant evening completing the consumption of my whisky supply and brewing up/scoffing/snoozing etc – to such an extent that I missed the dawn again – and the call from Brian who was watching it from Killhope Cross.

solstice sunrise

Well dhuhhhh…. there’s always the Christmas one I suppose….

I was now up to 32 miles and 4000 feet of ascent. Alert readers will note that today’s ascent was only 1000 feet. So, its pretty gentle.

Maps below.

weardale skyline pt 4

weardale skyline pt 5

weardale skyline part 6


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Monday 23 June 2014

Weardale Skyline Walk Day 1 and a bit

the road to the elephant trees

Back in 1986, at exactly this time of year, I lead a sponsored walk, for the purchase of an NHS body scanner for Bishop Auckland general Hospital. The walk took two days and started at Wolsingham, followed the Weardale skyline to Killhope Cross, some 27 miles West, and then jinked about a bit, but, basically followed the Northern Skyline back to Wolsingham, a further 23 miles later.

I decided to do it again.

the elephant trees. the famous elephant trees, actually.

And so, last Thursday afternoon, Mrs Pieman transported me to Wolsingham and I walked up the steep hill towards Hamsterley and turned off on the well-worn and popular path to the famiss Efelent Trees woth everybody in Weardale knows and loves and just a bit past there, set up the basha  in the sheepfolds at Wager Head. This was where me and the son-in-law had a windy camp-out some months ago.

wager head sheepfolds bivi

The grass has regrown inside the folds and so at the moment it’s a pleasant spot to camp and listen to the radio whilst watching the aircraft going past overhead. The world seemed specially hushed tonight and only a wandering Jack Snipe humming away all night added any atmosphere.

This place is on the edge of the dales and the lights and masts of County Durham as far as the Tyne sparkle on one side whilst on the West there’s no lights, just a kind of mid-summer afterglow which pretty much stays all night. There’s a period of proper darkness which lasts, maybe an hour or so before the Eastern sky starts to lighten.

long man currick

On Friday I headed South-West on a good path which joins an estate road which then dumps the walker in a sea of heather for the climb up to the Long Man – an old currick overlooking the Eggleston Road.

timber road

From here, it’s just rough stuff. No, I mean really rough stuff – rougher than what you’re thinking. I followed the fence along the watershed over Raven Seat, Outberry Plain and to the top of James Hill at 2200 feet. It was also getting quite hot, so the rough timber road which had appeared on the summit of the ridge was nice to follow for a while.

I descended to Swinhope Head where I met the only other walker on the three (and a bit) day walk. He was heading for James Hill, but called it Westernhope Moor which seems to be the official “Nuttal” name for it. But in reality, it’s James Hill.

fendrith hill

After this, it was Fendrith Hill on easy grass, followed by more rough stuff (no, really, really rough) where I contoured out a climb up Chapelfell and just hit the high road at the Harthope Moor ganister quarries – then Noon Hill and a descend to the beck at Frances Clough – which had no water at all in it. This was going to be a problem. I had to camp soon but this wasn’t where to do it. It was already really hot (no, hotter than that!) and a waterless camp just wasn’t a good idea at all.

to noon hill

So, I plugged away up Causeway Hill (rough again!), crossed the causeway on to High Field, investigated an old lead mine dam which was full of gunge – and red gunge at that… and headed for the re-entrants to the North. These were mainly empty too. Lower down there were small pools in the beck which contained algae and iron although, on the upside (!) I did find a lead vein running through the becksides, plus stone and timber work which had been exposed by flooding at some point. Eventually I found a trickle and resolved not to drink anything without it being boiled.

high field

And so, I set up the basha at Langtae Head, quite close to the summit fence and a fine spot when there’s actually water in the beck.

I put the basha up close to the ground due to it being windy and a clear and starry , but not very dark night followed which lead to a stupid amount of condensation in the morning.

langtae head bivi

Thus ends The first day and a bit, some twenty miles and 3000 feet of upness from the start in Wolsingham and just thirty miles to go. Will I get there in the end? Will I be burned to a frazzle by the baking sun beating down mercilessly on my TGO chally buff? Or will I bail out and turn up at #1 daughter’s house demanding pints of tea and a lift home to Crook?

Some maps below!

weardale skyline pt 1

weardale skyline pt 2

weardale skyline pt 3


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