Monday 30 November 2015

In Search of Ayhope Shield Bothy

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Ayhope Shield bothy – a Mountain Bothies Association maintained bothy used to stand at the Meeting of the Grains, just outside Hamsterley Forest.

It’s not there now. It’s gone. It was demolished by the local farming/grouse keepering peeps about twenty years ago, following years and years of vandalism and , general anti-social behaviour on the part of various yoofs, some on temporary leave from a local approved school (or whatever they called them at the time) and , it has to be said, other local yoofs too.

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I had a guided walk planned to visit the site from Wolsingham on Saturday last. Nine people and a dog, plus me and Lucky turned up at the station car park in Wolsingham to a weather forecast that was, frankly, pretty duff.

Nevertheless, we set off hopefully.

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A week (ish) before, me and Lucky had reccied the route in cool weather but with hazy sunshine to cheer things up. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten a map, so had to try to remember where everything was. This worked reasonably well and we only got a little bit lost.

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On the day of the walk, we got roughly as far as the Elephant Trees when it became obvious that further progress, in the driving rain that was developing, and the hefty headwind, would be daft to say the least. So I called an end to the suffering and planned to head for the folds at Fine Burn head which would have provided reasonable shelter from the storm. But even this became a silly plan, so Plan C was implemented and we headed for Frosterley, lunching in the shelter of a copse of forestry before splashing back to Wolsingham.

Some of us cheered ourselves up in No 10 cafe in Wolsingham, whilst others dripped off home.

I’ll probably put the route in as a Durham County Council guided walk for next summer. It’s eleven miles….

Before the place was finally demolished, I rescued the bothy book. Here are some of the entries:

22/11/1987 Shildon Sunnydale DofE group. Good night! Hut cleaned and secured before leaving. Frank ?Anderson MBA

15/12/1987 Steve & Ray (Mbro) Steve – First time I’ve been to the bothy – very impressed – walked over moor via forest – f****ing cold but enjoyed it.

PS Where’s the colour TV, Fridge full of real ale and the hot and cold running house mains !!!

Rays – so pissed off ITS COLD I felt like commiting (sic) suicide because some bastard didn’t leave the boffi tidy. I think it was Paul, Dikki and Dereke(sic) (All Puffs). I just had a wank all over the bench and in the 5 gallon container (water bottle). See you next f*****g summer.


23/12/1987  Came and found streamers and Christmas tree all nicely decorated. Merry Christmas James Limb Age 9

No date  Sarah Murdoch Loves Lee Owens

Spring 1988 – lots of entries for overnights

22/4/1988 Drove in with cement and lime for new fireplace. Look forward to seeing finished job. Dick Phillips Nenthead (Mr Phillips was Maintenance Officer)

8/5/1988 Long message from Ian Emmerson MBA warning about people walking over the moor in the night and disturbing grouse and general bad behaviour of some bothiers.

1/6/1988  Gamekeeper came, what a mess outside bothy, green branches been sawn off tins lain about someone had big fire outside Not good enough  Anon – Punctuation by writer!

3/6/1988 Long post by Eric of Swaledale Fell Rescue

26/8/1988 What comes before thunder

A} Thaturday

31/10/1988  Arrived 12:30. Nice and sunny but cold. Bothy windows broken, otherwise clean and tidy. Found a pen knife, I will return it to whoever can describe it. M Knipe (address supplied) PS Benji ate the mouse

Undated: We had to fu*****g f***K the skep (sic) to keep warm

I wont to f***k you. Cheese..

Show me your tit.

2/1/1989 (entry says 1988, but it’s a new year)

Debbie had been haer

Jackie had been haer

Ian had been haer

Jan had been haer

Final entry – about 11/5/1989 - Kane Hobson waz ere..

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Pic shows Ayhope Shield bothy last Tuesday.

historical notes on ayhope shield (with apparently some comments from me!)

(comments on the above link apparently lifted from

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Sunday 29 November 2015

Norfolk Coast Path–Observations and Stuff Like That There

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Sooo, what did I make of the Norfolk Coast Path?
Firstly, it’s mainly very easy. If you only have a few days to spare and/or you’d like to try out a long distance path, then the Norfolk Coast Path would be excellent as a starter, specially if you have a dog. In the 51 miles of walking I did, there was only 2000 feet of uphill work to do. This is roughly the same as, say, a ten mile walk up a Yorkshire Dales Nuttal. So, 2000 feet is Not Much. In other words, it’s mainly flat. So, apart from the huge shingle beach at Cley and some soft sandy beaches, the walking is very easy. And it’s well waymarked and signposted, so it’s not hard to navigate.
Then there’s a large number of pubs, cafes , tea rooms and so on along the route (although many are closed in November!) and there’s no shortage of accommodation. There’s also camp-sites and a couple of bunkhouses on the route. Wild camping would have to be discreet although quite easy to arrange in winter, apart from a distinct lack of potable water, which would be an issue.
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Norfolk, it seems, is a very “doggy” county. The population of canines seems high, and there are huge numbers of dogs and dog-walkers all along the coast. In some places, specially popular bathing beaches, there’s are summertime dog bans, though, as you might expect.
The people are also pretty friendly and ready to chat and offer advice or help. It’s a cultural thing. It’s not quite on North-East England levels where, in some places , it can be hard to make progress due to the willingness of complete strangers to partake in long conversations with each other. It does make for a relaxing walk, though.
And I was hoping for some wildish weather, suspecting that I might be bored by a lack of contours. I wasn;t bored, though, and I got the wild weather on the very last day. Very wild weather, in fact.
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The Coasthopper Bus is potentially an important asset when the walker is organising the logistics of the walk. It’s a frequent service up to tea-time and makes it possible to be flexible about how far you walk each day. I found parts of the path so easy that I walked further than I’d planned and the Coasthopper allowed me to get transport back to my B&B’s. Equally, had I been struggling, it would have let me shorten a day and return to wherever I’d abandoned it the next day. So that’s good. It would be possible to stay in one place, say, in a holiday cottage, and use the bus to get to and from the walk each day, too.
Finally, I should mention the places I stayed during my walk, specially since they all contributed the bed-nights and are allowed to expect a plug. I have no difficulty in recommending these places since they were all top-class, each providing a thoughtful and friendly refuge each night, and enough fuel in the morning for at least half a day’s walking.
The jaunt was arranged by Penny of madasamarchhare, a Social Media/PR company working for visit north norfolk  She must have had a time persuading the B&Bs to put up the lardy beardy tramp….and his dog (although, in the end, the dog stayed home)
I stayed at these places – click the link to have a look at their websites.
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Briarfields Hotel Titchwell. I arrived off the Coasthopper bus from Hunstanton and was lead to a plush double room in a courtyard. Briarfields expected me to have my dog with me and provided a dog-welcome pack which included a big dog towel, chewstick treats and poo bags – all in a bag, plus advice on where to exercise the pooch. Quite a nice touch, I think. Dinner was smoked haddock rissoto and breakfast was the Full English. This fuelled me all the way from Hunstanton, almost to Brancaster. In the morning, I would have caught the Coasthopper back to Hunstanton, but the owner gave me a lift.  As well as coastal walkers, Briarfields seems to be highly popular with birdwatchers, being very handy for the nearby RSPB reserve
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On the Wednesday night, I turned up at the White Horse at Brancaster Staithe. My room was another plush twin room adjacent to the main hotel and, literally, just a few steps from the coast path.  This is also doggy-friendly and designed to cope with very mucky dogs – important when the dog-walking is substantially on some very muddy marshes. I had dinner (steak and ale pie) at the Jolly Sailors pub just up the road (you need a headlight to find this in the dark!). Pamela, who had agreed to put me up, was keen to provide me with loads of information about the White Horse – they’re very proud of their menus, y’see.
As a break from the Full English brekkies, I took advantage of this and had a smoked haddock eggs benedict on spinach in a toasted muffin. See…? That’s breakfast with style, I think. This fuelled me for at least ten of the next seventeen miles!
The coasthopper bus also passes the front door of the White Horse by the way.
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On Thursday, Kate Bonham of the Arch House in Wells-Next-The-Sea had agreed to let me stay. This is a B&B, rather than a hotel and my double room was in a quiet courtyard at the back of the house. I decided that Fish and Chips would be an ideal evening scoff (at the seaside, after all) and these were cracking.
I’d walked through Wells as far as Stiffkey – about 3 miles East, since I was going well and the next day was to be a long one. The Coasthopper bus took me back to Wells and put me down almost on the doorstep of the Arch House, and this was really handy for returning to Stiffkey in the morning.
I spent most of the evening lazing with the telly and a bottle of plonk.
In the morning, I was back to a whopping Full English and a chat with Kate. (Fish and Chips!)
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Having used my bus pass to return to Stiffkey, and staggering under the breakfast (don’t mention this to my cardiac nurse by the way), I plodded on to Sheringham, and then West Runton where Daron and Shaun at the Corner House gave me a warm welcome and showed me to the plushest of the plush rooms so far – The Cromer.
Daron and Shaun seem to do everything with a certain element of style, offering tea on arrival and a carafe of sherry in the room. The room was spectacular and the bathroom in particular was the most impressive I’ve seen anywhere.  I wandered over to the Village Inn for dinner and had a steak and kidney pudding which would have made my granny jealous and a bread and butter pudding to really ram home the calories. This was all so good and such fantastic walking-stodge of the finest quality that I had to refuse the full English the next morning (I detected some disappointment here from Shaun) and just had bacon, egg and tomato – nicely cooked by Daron. This was good, though and I got to Cromer the next morning in a lively atlantic storm without eating any of my lunch! (steak and kidney pud)
Finally, for those planning to walk the walk, the National Trails website is very handy…

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Norfolk Coast Path Stiffkey to Cromer

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I left my B&B at Arch House full of a full English breakfast – the works, basically. And I wobbled across to the bus stop, which wasn’t very far at all, and waited for the Coasthopper bus back to Stiffkey. The Coasthopper is a very useful bus service for Norfolk Coastal Path walkers and runs a regular service – till just about tea-time all along the route of the walk. So, in theory, a walker tired of the logistics of booking beds and carrying all those spare underpants, could actually just stay in one place and get the bus to wherever he or she finished the day before. I had no such issues, having had all the beds arranged for me by Penny at Madasamarchhare.
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The path from Stiffkey continues in the same vein as before – alongside the huge marshy wilderness still on the left hand side. (Note that if the marshy wilderness is on the right, you’re heading towards King’s Lynn and not Cromer. Just sayin’)
Then, after a few inlets and stuff (coastal technical talk here), it goes along a sea-wall to Blakeney, where it’s much too early for the pub, and then Cley, with it’s windmill, via a Long Way Round out along one inlet and back along another. More easy walking on the sea wall follows until the Cley beach car park with the tilted-up car parking hut.
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The parking attendant inside did say that he was all-right, although he had spilt his tea and worried about his chocolate digestive which seemed to have been damaged in the crash. I sheltered from the nithering wind in the anti-nithering wind shelter they have there. Lots of bird-watchers, for the car park was heavily populated by twitchers,  wondered where my binoculars were.
But there was trouble ahead.
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I hit the beach. Its not really a beach, its more of a very extended pile of gravel just like they have in bags at B&Q. It goes on interminably, but specially beautifully for mile after mile, testing the legs and the patience as the increasingly exhausted rambler wanders around looking for a firm bit. It’s a futile search, though and the only tactic is just to get on with it whilst enjoying many rests to watch the waves crashing on the beach and the seals pointing and laughing at the penguin-like hikers struggling along whilst exclaiming  both rude words and blasphemy in the same sentences.
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And then, there’s a little hill. A beautiful little hill with firmness underfoot. Gramborough hill has sweet short grass on which to lie about for a bit whilst scoffing a pasty from the shop in Wells. Then, there’s artillery – yes folks, just in case the vikings come back. The guns are pointed out to sea. I suspect it’s part of the muckleborough collection  a military hardware museum. If I’d had more time, or had I known about this beforehand, I would probably have stayed for a visit. But time was pressing and daylight would be short today.
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I pressed on into the contours and the coast gained a set of small, clay cliffs. And it started raining again as the path heads through fields and small, rolling hills, and a little, steeper one just before Sheringham – the diminutive, but beautiful Skelding Hill, all of 45 metres.
This is roughly where it went dark. I could have stopped here and used the Coasthopper bus in the morning to retrace to Sheringham. I could have had tea and a bun. I could have had a pint. But I didn’t. I pressed on so to bag Beeston Bump in the dark. This was a shame, really. Beeston Bump is a wonderful hill. Apparently, it has a huge array of wild flowers, is important for birds, had a WW2 “Y” station on the top and is a bit of peri-glacial morphology known as a “kame”, which is basically a moraine. And it has a superb view as well, even in the dark. Sheringham ought to make a lot more out of Beeston Bump. I mean, it’s not rich in hills in the first place.
No pictures because it was dark.
I staggered on, down to the main road and into West Runton where my final B&B of the trip had been arranged for me. Another plush one – Corner House in West Runton, much more of which in the next part. And they’re dog friendly too, dammit!
The Village Inn provided dinner and this was remarkably good too, and so was the little bottle of plonk I got from the village shop.
I’d done 17 miles and 700 feet of upness.
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The night was stormy a boded well for an exciting finish to the walk. I’d hoped for some interesting weather and it looked like I’d got it. The morning windows rattled to slashing rain and, was that sleet..? And I was warned by Shaun, one of the owners, not to go on the cliffs because the storm was dangerous. But the coast path goes inland today, so all was safe (ish).
I needed a smaller breakfast today, specially with the words of my cardiac nurse concerning my excess cholesterol-swamped wobbly bits echoing through my conscience so it was with lighter feet and an ability to tie my boot laces AND breathe at the same time, I headed up Beacon Hill, at 105 metres, the highest point in Norfolkshire and deep in the woods. A passing 4x4 driver advised me not to stand under any trees (!). Good advice, I think, since the wind was roaring through the trees and there were sinister and unnerving cracking noises going on. But the woods were sheltered from the worst excesses of the storm and I marched on happily.
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I decided to visit another local hill – Incleborough – mainly because it sounded a bit like “Ingleborough”. It was a bit off-route and turned out to be a lovely little hillock sporting a patchy covering of gorse and a summit on which it was impossible to stand up to admire the view. Note that there are very few pictures of the last day because they’re all blurred due to the battering I was getting.
The summit gorse, though, gave me a  cosy and sheltered spot out of the wind and rain and I actually dozed off for half an hour during which I was visited by Kylie , but as she was with Jason, I woke up. The rest of the walk into Cromer was fast and wind-assisted with a slight backward-leaning gait. And, there it ended, just near the pier. Huge waves were battering the sea-front and the gaps between buildings held localised hurricanes. There were damaged brollies on the streets. In celebration I had tea and cake in a cafe.
For those who’s coastal walking ambitions aren’t fulfilled by three and a half days on the Norfolk Coast Path, there’s an extension, labelled “England Coast Path” which carries on from Cromer to Sea Palling.
The final stretch had been 6 miles and 500 feet of ascent.
The whole journey from Hunstanton to Cromer was 51 miles and 2100 feet of climbing. (Not very much for 51 miles!)
More info on visiting North Norfolk here 
Next post: What I thought about the Norfolk Coast Path, a few planning notes and all kinds of other thoughts and, well,  stuff.

Monday 23 November 2015

Norfolk Coast Path Hunstanton to Wells-Next-The-Sea

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At the behest of Penny of madasamarchhhare  (click the link to have a look) I found myself in a rather plush bedroom at the Briafields Hotel in the small, but very dark Norfolk village of Titchwell, with a special kit for resident’s dog(s), but no dog. (I’d decided that the five hour train and bus journey would be just too stressful for LTD). This was good.
In the morning, overstuffed with a large Full English, the owner gave me a lift into Hunstanton to start the walk towards Cromer.
Today’s destination was Brancaster Staithe, about 13 miles away.
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Hunstanton is where Mrs Pieman used to have her holidays as a sprog (presumably with her Mum and Dad), but nobody remembered her, so off I went in a general Northerly, then North-Easterly direction past the white-and-brown striped cliffs, St Edmund’s Chapel and the statue of the big dog  wolf that guarded his severed head after he’d had a bit of a run-in with some Scandinavians on some kind of rape, pillage,  burn and assassinate the local king Norwegian cruise and then onto a beautiful, mainly empty dune-backed beach for miles and miles. The beach is just like the ones they have in Northumberland, and so, I felt right at home, but kept my clothes strictly on, there being a bit of a breeze to say the least. Although in summer, an empty beach might well tempt the dipper…)
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At Flaxley, there was a heavy population of dog walkers. Indeed , everybody and his dog had a…  But the beach is Big in a huge kind of way and well worth a visit just for that. Take your dog if you have a dog and, if not, borrow a dog.
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After this, the path takes to a sea-wall and provides easier walking around the marshes and into Thornham where, it suddenly heads South down a country lane AND up some contours.. Not many contours, and they’re not very friendly with each other, preferring to stay widely apart, but contours nevertheless. And then it turns Eastish through fields and a farm and then Northish again, forming three sides of a square and turning up quite close to The Ship Hotel where, suspecting a touch of dehydration, I went in for medical purposes.
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As I exited The Ship, only a couple of hours later, it had started raining, so I put on the waterproofs, hid the camera in the rucksack, hid the money and credit cards alongside and teetered off along the back of the village (we call these tofts ooop North) and past the Branodumum Saxon Shore roman fort to Brancaster Staithe’s tofts, and all this with apparently, a large wilderness of marsh to the North, an no sea to be seen.
The day ended, wetly, at the White Horse at Brancaster Staithe (more of this later) and a bar meal at the Jolly Sailors (even more of this) with shopping at the little shopping centre down the road. 13 miles and 500 feet of ascent (all those snooty contours)
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In the morning, this time energised with a smoked haddock eggs benedict with spinach and rather a lot of toast – I meantersay, who eats a full English every day?) I blasted along the sea wall to Burnham Overy. This really is easy and quick walking, there being absolutely no ascent at all, and all the time, on the left, is the huge and beautiful marshy wilderness ringing to the calls of all those Teesdale/Pennine birds that left the hills at the end of the summer. I love to hear a curlew and a plover. They remind me of the warm and scented Pennines of the high summer. You can’t really doze in the grass on the Norfolk coast path in November, though unless you want a really wet bum and you enjoy shivering in the nithering drift seeping in from somewhere near Birmingham.
So, we hurry on at a bit more than 3 mph. This is enjoyable, though, and soon we (that is to say, me since I had no pooch (sniff!) ) passed through Burnham Overy Staithe, too early for the pub, and back onto sea wall for a bit more hurtling.
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After a bit, I’m on another beautiful and biiiiig beach. And it’s empty too. I plod East. There is some difficulty with the soft sand, but I find a corridor of hard stuff and stay on that.
At lunch, in the shelter of some trees, and at the more popular Holkham Gap end of the strand, I get my face and ears licked by an enthusiastically friendly terrier, and am presented with two dog-slobbered pine cones by two collie-crosses who seem to be siblings, one of which is a spectacular black-and-white brindle and the other brown and white. Beautiful dogs. I’d have those doggies. I’m missing mine a bit, although he would have objected to that encounter.
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I press Eastwards through the woods where, it starts raining again. As I arrive at the car park/jetties/seaside bit just outside Wells-Next-The-Sea, its chucking it down, but its only half past one. I think I can knock a bit off tomorrow’s long day and press on. So I press on. Wetly.
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After Wells, where I resist the Fish and Chips, the path is slippery when wet and the marshy wilderness re-appears on the left. The curlews are back. There’s nobody else about and I end at Stiffkey where I seem to have just missed the bus and am deciding to have a coffee in the Stiffkey Stores, when the bus turns up. The driver apologises for being late, although, it’s saved me a wet wait and I travel back into Wells, having bagged another 3 miles. The (very useful) Coasthopper bus goes right past the Arch House B&B, which is where Penny has arranged for me to stay. (yet another plush room) So it’s all good. I spent the evening with the telly and a bottle of plonk. Happy days.
Later I have Fish and Chips by the quay from French’s chippy. Nom nom. Even happier days, specially as it had now stopped raining.
I did 15 miles and 400 feet of up on very easy going. (Not sure how all the “up” happened, actually.)
Part two will contain the next 20 miles of this in a couple of days.
Here’s a website about the Norfolk Coastal Path norfolk coast path  (click it, don’t just look at it!)
And for even more information, click this link: visit north norfolk

Monday 16 November 2015

St Oswald’s Slutchy Plodge From Warkworth to Somewhere Else

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For those peeps unfamiliar with North-Eastern parlance, a plodge is a watery and/or muddy paddle in the clarts. And clarts are muddy places. Lancastrians will recognise the word “slutch” whilst others will just have to make do with “mud”.

Soooo, me and Lucky and Dawn headed up to Warkworth for a plodge in the slutch towards Rothbury along Saint Oswald’s Way. Basically, we would see how far we got then turn around and paddle back through the clarts to where we started from.

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It had been a night of stair-rods and, in fact was still quite drizzly up on the Pennines, but here in Warkworth it was warm and cloudy – in fact the knipemobile temperature indicator (i.e. thermometer, for those of a scientifical bent) was showing 17C when we left. I meantersay, 17C. We should have gone to the beach with a picnic. It was cooler in June.

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So, I followed Lucky who followed Dawn who had a map. We walked for five and a bit miles until we came to a flooded beck, just outside Felton and this prevented further progress. Or at least it should have done, but Dawn found a bridge. But it was too late. I had eaten my cheese butty and witnessed a large rabbit being attacked by a small stoat. The rabbit survived because Lucky barked and the stoat ran off. It was probably a temporary salvation anyway.

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And then we walked back again. Lucky was off the lead for some considerable distance and, despite the freedom, walked to heal very sensibly. This was probably because we saw no more rabbits or, indeed, any more pheasants of which there’d been many early on. Lucky has a very strong hunting instinct.

Anyway, we did eleven and a half miles and determined to have a go at the whole route in the new year, judging that a winter walk might be better for discreet wild camping.

And now, I’m all packed up for a little jaunt along the Norfolk Coastal Path. My pack is small due to the fact that I’m doing it the wimpy way and staying in hotels and B&B’s. More of this later. I’ve been hoping for some wildish weather and, it looks like I won’t be disappointed.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Gibraltar in Sunshine then in Rain

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This was a new (for me) County Durham guided walk which I thought was a really good idea when I submitted it to the Council last July…
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Me and Dawn and Lucky The Dog did the reccy last week in warmish sunshine, there being a bit of a temperature inversion on at the time. The reccy also had the best of the autumn woodland colours; the trees being substantially stripped during windy nights a week later.
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Gibraltar farm, now mainly derelict but still holding some furniture was abandoned in 1965 after the occupant – a single lady, died by the Beldon Burn whilst, apparently, on her way to the shops. There is no road to the building.

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We did get lost – that is to say, I got lost and Dawn followed me up hills and back down again, resulting in the nine mile walk turning into eleven.
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I was also a bit concerned about a steep and slippery descent to Beldon Burn which…steep and slippery, but with plenty of trees to hang on to. On the day, Jo and Diane (I think it was) had been this way before – inevitably somebody’s been there before – and located the path a bit to the side. This turned out to be steep and slippery too, but with less stuff to hang on to.
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On the reccy we managed to do the full route – as per the map below – without too much difficulty, and it was very nice too. The sun shone, the suckler cows more or less ignored us, the keepers were out in some force by the chimneys, but were friendly and, apparently, mere yoofs with guns.
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On the day, 23 people and 2 dogs turned up to a rain-slashed car park at Blanchland and, although the rain stopped for a bit, at lunchtime, it came back again and appeared to have settled in for the duration. The stiles were slippery, the dogs were wet, and there was an element of whingeing from some of the troops, so I called an end to the misery and took a more sheltered, if muddy route back to Blanchland through Deborah Wood.
This wasn’t much shorter than the advertised route, which was nine miles, but probably ten, really. And so we did about eight.
But its a good route, I think. I’ll put it in again for next summer, I expect.