Friday 27 January 2017

Even More Notes From The Standby List

day 4 loch lundie
I’m going to have to alter the title of this series because me and The Lad are no longer on the standby list. We’ve been given a place.
I have a route planned, although it requires measuring and entering on to the route sheet for vetting. I’ll do this tomorrow, there being a duff weather forecast which is potentially ideal conditions for writing route sheets.
I’m hoping that future TGO challenge postings might be helpful to anybody planning a TGO in the future and, I’ll go through the process stage by stage whenever I get around to doing another bit of the process. Be careful, though, that my processes might not be the same as other people’s processes and developing your own processes for .. er..processing… the….. I can’t remember where I was going with this…
day 2 descending to kinloch hourn
Anyway, what I’ve done is get a pile of 1:50 OS maps and marked the locations of places I want to go to on a large-scale map, and joined up the dots on the 1:50 k maps. This resulted in a route with a middle but no start. Working it to the coast from Glen Clova was pretty simple, but where to start, and how to get there.
Eventually (after almost 20 minutes of hard work), I came up with this route:
Glenelg – Kinlochhourn – Glen Quioch – Tomdoun – Invergarry – Fort Augustus – A Really Wild Bit – Newtonmore – Kingussie – Minigaig – High and Wild Bit – Glen Tilt – Braemar – Callater – Corrie Fee – Glen Clova (for lunch) – Water of Saughs – Brechin – Kinnaber Links.  This should take a fortnight. Amendments may be required should it be too far to Braemar for the second Saturday (for instance)
day 7 carn dearg
After it’s been measured and split into handy pocket-sized days, I’ll need to complete the route sheet and submit it.
After that, it will be booking of transport, maybe a bed at the start and writing a food plan. There seems to be several shopping opportunities along the way, so I’m not expecting to have to carry more than 3 days food and a couple of bottles of plonk.
Unfortunately, the dog can’t come, so he’ll be staying on his beanbag for two weeks.
And I need to improve my fitness – I always have to do this anyway, and, this mainly consists of increasingly long walks, up to about 20 miles, and some backpacking trips. And, maybe losing a kilogramme or two of the wobby stuff…


Wednesday 25 January 2017

Well, That Just About Wraps It Up For The DVCRS

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SEcond in the series of blogposts starting with “That just about wraps it up for….”

The Durham Voluntary Countryside Rangers was formed about 40 years ago as an independant body and, at some point acquired administrative support from Durham Coutny Council. I joined in October 2003 as a guided walks steward and, later became a walks leader. At the time I was doing voluntary work on the Moorhouse andf Upper Teesdale NNR and they were providing lots of training, including the BMC’s Walking Group Leader qualification and, I thought that being involved in Durham County Council’s guided walks programme would be really good for that. And it was. (DCC never really understood about proper group leading qualifications, though)

Times moved on and a parsimonious government slashed local government budgets year-on-year and Durham County Council’s countryside budget began to shrink. In the face of demands for more vital services supporting vulnerable people of all kinds across the county, it seems obvious that access to the countryside would receive a much lower priority.

And so, people disappeared one by one from the countryside service…

Then, recently, it was decided that the DVCRS could no longer be supported  and it would have to move under the umbrella of all the other Durham County Council volunteering  into “Volunteer Durham”

There was an “Extraordinary”  meeting last night at County Hall who’s purpose was to rubber-stamp the extinction of DVCRS and pass the management and oversight of it’s functions to Volunteer Durham.

The meeting was emotional, to say the least. But the motion was passed despite there being little apparent support. And that is that for the DVCRS.

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We were assured that nothing much would change – we would still liaise with the remains of the countryside service and guided walks and so on would continue undisturbed. This simple fact raised a simple question , though, the answer to which seemed muddled and a bit confused. If everything stayed the same, what was the point of the change? The budget saved here would probably only provide some old lady’s home care for a week or two. Or , maybe, a councillor’s expenses for a couple of weeks… The two paid staff at the meeting seemed unable to provide a reason for the move , other than to repeat that the budget for support had gone, but nothing would change. It would all stay the same. This made no sense at all, other than registering all the volunteers under one department might be marginally cheaper. There’d be a more up-to-date database. But the database can’t have more than 300-400 records. Thats a very small database; an afternoon’s work to update at the most. So, it wasn’t that, then. (When I had a job I managed a database of 10000+ staff records, so I have some knowledge about these things)

It would be easy to point out that the DVCRS’s age profile could be described as being pretty senior, and that old folks, set in their ways, would resist  change no matter what it was. But there was a palpable feeling of betrayal, of insult, even. It was all very sad.

The problem, it seems to me, is that whilst the DVCRS committee is to be respected for it’s dedication and hard work, for some reason, likely at the behest of “officers” or, maybe, councillors, they’ve known about this since last June and have kept it principally to themselves. If this is true, its a serious error of judgement. Communications have been limited to hints that they knew something that we didn’t. So, in the end, at the last AGM, it all came as a shock. The outcome was sewn-up. There was, apparently, no other option than to roll over and vote for a dissolution. Except that there was, but the committee, apart from one individual who honorably resigned, decided, albeit regrettably not to rock any boats.

So, I have put in three proposals for guided walks for the summer programme, and, providing I’m not banned for expressing my views here, I suppose that Volunteer Durham (whoever they are) are on some kind of probation. I guess, maybe, it’ll all be alright in the end. I’ve tended to respond to council “cuts” by unilaterally reducing (cutting) my involvement. So, started with 36 walks per year, reduced to 24, reduced to 12, and now, down to 3 (maybe 6). I’m not claiming any expenses because they often/usually forget to pay and I can’t be arsed with the hassle, even though HMRC are making a charge for them (must sort this out)

But as an exercise in how to manage change, this has been a complete cock-up. You can’t keep these things to your chest, guys. You’re supposed to represent the membership, consult with them, explain what’s going on, not present a management fait-a-complit. All respect for the efforts and the hard work over the years, but this time, when it really mattered to some old folks, (DVCRS rangers) you dropped a bollock good and proper. You could have just waited till they all died. Its too late to talk now, though and you can’t resign from a committee that’s voted itself out of existense. I appreciate that in the face of people skilled at getting their own way, that resistance may have seemed futile, but you could have said this to us last June. We love you, but this time you didn’t do it right. I’m just pointing this out, albeit, too late.

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Anyway, for volunteering opportunities, there’s still Durham Wildlife Trust and, apparently, Northumberland County Council and Northumberland National Park. As for me, I’m starting applications with the North Pennines AONB to “champion” a lump of the Pennine Way. I’ve made some diary space for this.  I quite fancy the really high bit over Cross Fell…..


Monday 23 January 2017

Chapel Fell and Fendrith Hill–A Rematch

ltd insists on walking on the snow
Some peeps might remember that severalteen weeks ago I had a crack at climbing Chapel Fell from St Johns Chapel but abandoned the attempt due to deep snow and too many trousers.
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Yesterday, with just a pair of Ronhills with a baselayer underneath and a buffalo-type smock thingy and my extreme gloves wot I got in a sale at Cotswolds just before Christmas, to improve my mobility, me and LTD (we get there eventually) had another go.
There was a hint of snow in the air and the car thermometer was reading –1C at the car park when we set off, so we sort of expected it to be chilly higher up.
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And it was. My beard froze, in fact. LTD celebrated the first patch of snow – some really hard neve, by eating it. We pressed on dogfully up through the rough ground, past the multiple false summits to the peaty hags of the summit dome. Happily, these were all well frozen and we finally achieved our summit.
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It was far too cold to be sitting around scoffing a cheese and sandwich spread and tomato wrap, though, so we battered on through the seeping nither to Fendrith Hill, where it was just as cold.
Here’s a tip for navigating the Weardale/Teesdale/Tynedale moortops: Apart from easily, but damply following the fence, in several places, particularly along the tops near Fendrith Hill and Killhope Law, there’s a wide ditch marking the parish/county boundaries. Following this ditch where there’s no fence to follow will make the erstwhile navigator appear to be really good at his art and all his friends will be really impressed.
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This ridge can be quite a trial in summer when men are men and bogs are bogs but when the place is rock-hard, its  really quite easy going. There are no significant contours to bother the lungs and only the danger of slipping on to the gluteae on some hidden ice should trouble the hardy hillwalker.
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The moor grass and heather was all rhime-covered and any old snowdrifts were impenetrable to the boot. LTD insisted on walking on any snow that was available. In conditions where there’s a deep cover of this hard stuff, conditions get even easier and, quite superb, in fact, though such things seem fairly rare.
We tripped along to the road where a wall provided shelter from the sharp breeze drifting over from somewhere Really Cold. Here the wrap (see above) and a banana and a choccy bar were consumed, although the flask of hot coffee was still in the cook’s buttery back at pie towers. Curse the loss of all those braincells, dammit.
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A few cars passed. How they managed to stay on the road was a mystery, since the road surface was as a bottle. I couldn’t stand up on it and neither could LTD. We descended next to the road until, just by Weardale Ski-Club’s car parking area, it was dry enough to walk on.
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Lower down, we spotted 14 or 15 (yes, I counted them!) male black grouse standing about, apparently disconsolately, or, maybe having a meeting at which some awkward beggar had demanded that somebody should make a decision.  Will this be a leck, come the spring? Might be worth a look. If you’ve never had the luck to look at a leck, likely you literally live in a leck-limited locality. (i.e one with no black grouse)  You could just drive over there very early in the morning in April to have a look – just a bit North of Swinside House.
Then the sun came out.
We did 8.5 miles.
chapel fell

Friday 20 January 2017

Misty Peak Backpacking–A Walk To The Edge Of Sheffield

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The usual email chatter arranged this trip – Me, Dawn, JJ and LTD mustered in the Anglers Rest in Bamford for a quick drink then off up the hill into the fog before it went too dark. We used a closed byway (due to “exposed cables”) and wandered puposefully but with little idea of a destination until we lit upon a small stream by a wood near a car park with “no camping, or, indeed, anything else” signs. We erected our tents behind the trees in the deep murk and early darkness and, after tea, the only sounds were the drip of…drips from the trees on the nylon and the distant cry of a fox. And some snoring. It was a quiet, driech night of drifting mist, heavy with water in a headlight beam.

ltd at breakfastcamp 1

In the morning the murk seemed murkier. A dog walker passed close by, his dogs spooked by the voices from the tents. It wasn’t a morning for rushing though, it was a grey dawn only suitable for a dignified Victorian funeral of small coffins for yet more winter victims of the white death. Only Radio 4 tolled the time with five short beeps and a long one, the distant dirge of a brass band mournful in the mist (I lied about the band – sorry).


Eventually we mooched off into more murk – up the path to Stanage and along the top. We had no views. We just pressed on through the strangely shaped rocks and along an edge which seemed occasionally huge, overhanging and a bit scary.

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Then, a road, some pastures, lunch, a friendly and bored horse and then, back into the depth of white and drifting obscurity. We’d had just a brief interlude of clarity below the cloud-base.

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A well-built path took us easily to Dovestones Tor, past yet more lurking rocky tors and where we’d spotted a small stream on the map. This was to be useless, but we put up the tents on some red grass, soft heather and bilberry and skimmed water from the puddles in the rocks for brews and meals and went to bed, just as darkness approached.

its misty again..

Another immensely long and quiet night of utter darkness and drifting water-laden mist followed. Nobody passed our way. A light breeze blew up, promising, maybe, a clearance of the fog.  Wandering far from the tents for a Mr Bladder moment would have been foolish, though, and no clearance was to be had.  It was a long and beautiful night, cosied in against the dire conditions outside. LTD snuggled under a couple of lightweight thermal blankets and my down jacket and moved not an inch from six o’clock at night till 8 o’clock the next morning, other than for a forced bladder-emptying trip at midnight. I like long nights like this, drifting in and out of a semi-dream state with random and, often, slightly bizarre thoughts and images wandering through my brain. I don’t really welcome the dawn, in fact. Its basically because I’m a right lazy sod, really. I could probably stay there for days…

back tor

A late-ish start the next morning, me full of porridge, LTD full of dentastick, bonio, Hero complete and dogfoodmeatstuff saw us (almost saw us, through the dense murk!), wandering easlily up to Back Tor where a short episode of scrambling was had to visit the trig and then, over to Lost Lad and down to emerge from the hillfog to the Derwent Reservoirs where lunch was had, followed by a cuppa at the visitor centre.

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We followed an unmapped permissive path steeply up to the ridge and then down the other side to Hagg Farm, by which time we were in “camping-spot-search mode”. We didn’t find anywhere and so, stuck to our original intention to go to the Roman Road at Hollins Cross where a waterless but otherwise pleasant spot presented itself next to the forest. I sucked some water from the run-off from a small snowdrift and JJ got water from the good stream back in the forest just on the point of darkness.

hollins cross camp

Another long and peaceful and, I must say, enjoyable night followed. LTD almost broke his sleep record but woke up for an instant when a helicopter went over.  I poisoned my water supply with chlorine and boiled the beejazus out of it to ensure a comfortable journey home on the train the next day.

approaching win hill

In the morning, we passed on over Win Hill and down to Bamford through some of the sloppiest mud In The World – a slow journey due to me having some kind of back-pain incident which lasted for a couple of miles but then went away. And we retired to the Anglers Rest for beer and lots of food before catching homeward trains.

We did about 21 miles – not much for two full and two short days – but its a start, innit?

bamford mill weir

And, I must say, that the Anglers Rest is a fine establishment, providing good beers, cracking food, doggy  and family and mucky-boot friendly and altogether a shame to leave to have to catch a train…  Its a community owned pub/cafe/post office and a link is here for anybody in need of sustenance, hydration or, even, sympathy about the bad cough/cold you’ve got.

Ta also go to Dawn and JJ for the company, medical and physio advice and for the beer, chips, tea and ibruprofen and to LTD for not being an arse, apart from barking at other dogs and trying to chase grouse…  and the occasional in-tent entertainment in the form of running-about barking dreams and bottom gas. Thanks very much.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

New Guided Walks For The Summer

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This is the time of year when County Durham’s voluntary guided walks leaders put in their bids for walks in the Summer programme. I’ve been determined to come up with some new routes because, frankly, I’m a bit bored with trotting out all the old ones, even though this is a very very easy option. I’ve also been affected by an inability to think of anything new at all, even less to put things down on paper or look at maps of Co Durham without dozing off and/or investing my precious time in reducing the levels of my Christmas booze supplies.

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But now the booze is all gone (apart from the stuff to be drunk in extremis in April and May) and, having been visited by two contiguous doses of the dreaded lurgy, which involves lots of sneezing and even more coughing, and in the face of political machinations at County Hall, I’ve finally come up with just three new routes – or, at least, variations on old routes. Maps of each one appear below.

There’s two ten mile romps and one fourteen mile plod


Work is not yet complete – each one has to be reccied in the next few weeks and, possibly, redesigned a bit and the re-reccied – all subject to the weather and other matters which may require a further visit or two.

And each one needs a handout which needs to be written by me and sent off to County Hall for copying.

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And a reccy before the actual date of the walk (I’ve asked for one in April, one in June and one in July – on two Saturdays and a Wednesday).

And a volunteer will need to recruit voluntary stewards and publish a guide to the guided walks and so on and so on….

And the Wednesdayand Saturday Walkers Group will fill in the missing Wednesdays and Saturdays.

LTD can come on the reccies but not on the walk when I’m leading…


Sunday 8 January 2017

WSWG Upper Weardale Walk

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I usually have this walk on County Durham’s guided walks programme, but this year, due to leglumps (see previous leg-based blog posts), I didn’t plan the walk but intended instead, when the leg issues were resolved, to put the trundle on the Wednesday Walkers Walking On Wednesdays And Saturdays Group walks, and Jo, bless ‘er cotton socks, made the early January date available.

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WSWG walks attempt to fulfil the demand for slightly longer walks on Wednesdays and Saturdays when the Co. Durham programme has a suitable gap – that is to say, on a Wednesday or a Saturday. There are some differences – WSWG walks can be outside Co Durham, the walks are free of any charges and there are no stewards although leaders and Co-Durham ranger-types take care of safety aspects.

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So, me and LTD did a reccy mid-week in mild but windy and misty conditions with a thin cover of icy snow on the tops and, on Saturday, 18 peeps turned up for mild and misty conditions on the tops, with the odd splash of sunlight peeping through the murk to add interest and the occasional view.

Afterwards, most walkers gathered in the Bluebell Inn in St Johns Chapel – a cosy and friendly spot on a murky winter’s afternoon.

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LTD enjoyed all the attention he usually gets on these group walks (he’s not allowed to come with me on County Council walks)

In a couple of weeks, there’s an Extraordinary General Meeting at County Hall where the motion to be passed  discussed and voted on will be that Durham Voluntary Countryside Rangers group be wound-up and for it to join Volunteer Durham. Its a done-deal, obviously, apparatchicks have become slick at laying the groundwork for this kind of stuff over the last few years,  although the reasoning behind it seems muddled and quite incoherent but obviously part of the politically-lead reduction in size of local government.  We are assured, though that not much at all will change. I have a cynical view; if nothing will change, what’s the point?  Clearly, the point is, somehow, to save money and spend whatever’s left of the DCC budget on more crucial functions like social care and bins and gritting and all those things which are a bit more basic, the protection of which, in mean times is impossible to argue against. The argument that the UK can’t afford these things is highly spurious, though.

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At the same time, we are being asked, as normal at this time of year, to submit bids for walks for the summer guided walks programme. I am reducing my six-monthly contribution from six walks to three (its the cuts!). Two of the walks will be new ones (yay!) and one will be a repeat, yet to be chosen. The trajectory of my involvement seems clear, though and may well peter out altogether should the Volunteer Durham stuff turn out to be dingo’s kidneys. I am a volunteer. I don’t have to do bullshit any more – I left all that behind when I left the NHS severalteen years ago. LTD agrees. He has to, though, just like everybody who will attend the ritual hoop-jumping at the EGM, there will be no alternative.

Sunday 1 January 2017

That Sorta Wraps It Up For 2016, Then.

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Knipetowers was abandoned over Christmas for a 1000-mile driveabout visiting rellies and drinking their port…

First we went to Halifax. Then Long Eating…Eaton… Then Halifax – Back to Crook for an hour – Then Motherwell and… Kilncadzow (wherever that is..) and Dunbar via Peebles and then home again.

The very last hill of the year was Venn Law – a steep and forested Tump overlooking Peebles.

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How Hill near Ripon has a church on the top and a permissive path from the bottom. Bagged on the journey to Halifax

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Halifax town centre looks just like this from the slopes of Beacon Hill. Very windy up Beacon Hill on Christmas Eve..

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With the son-in-law on Drumelzier Law – a windy, murky day of thick hill-fog. We had to chop a lump off this walk to try to finish in daylight. Oddly enough, as we descended, a well-equipped lassie, although sporting sunglasses was met on her way up. She was reluctant to say “hello”. Or anything else.

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This is  the site of William Roy’s birthplace. A bit later, we bagged Kilncadzow Law – a small Tump with a big view. Unfortunately it was too hazy for decent piccies of Kilncadzow Law. Major-General William  Roy  (Ooor Wullie as his mum would have it) was an innovative engineer and surveyor who’s work lead directly to the establishment of the Ordnance Survey in 1791. And this is where he first popped out to survey the world.

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LTD re-arranges to configuration of the beds in an hotel room in Motherwell by pushing them together. Daft dog.

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Gloomy view of Peebles and the Manor Valley from Venn Law. (some peeps may remember this as the start of the route through to Moffat) Venn Law is forestry commission and community woodland and is fully open to the public and has multiple footpaths, some of which lead steeply to the top.

That ends 2016. The score on the door is 1189 miles not including doggy walks, 186000 feet of ascent, camping nights – sites 14, wild 20, beach bivis 5. 

That’s not too bad….