Friday 24 February 2017

Blustery Borders Bowmont Backpacking Bimble

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The Bowmont Valley is a specially beautiful dale running Northwards from the English/Scottish border ridge near Windy Gyle towards the Tweed and a circuit of the hills surrounding it seemed like a good idea at the time, specially as it could be taken reasonably gently over three or four days.
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So, me and Dawn and LTD set off last Sunday with full packs in order to take three and a bit days to walk the round. The full walk would be about 26 miles and 4500 feet of contours arranged in an uphill fashion, and a similar number in downhill too. So, it’s no mean feat. However , doing it in three and a half days does make it a bit less mean – and, it’s possible to knock huge chunks off it simply by turning right and walking down the road to the start. So, this was our plan.
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So, we set off to climb Staerough Hill which overlooks Kirk Yetholm and continued over the very lovely Sunniside Hill and Wildgoose Hill. It was a nice day, but the wind had picked up, so when we arrived at our planned camping spot, we thought it was too windy and the water supply was poor. So, we found a contouring track around Latchly Hill and descended to the shelter of Pennine Way at Halterburn Head where we spent a blustery night, just out of the reach of some apparently quite violent winds which roared just a bit overhead.
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Dawn had leant me a Hilleberg Enan, as a trial to see if I might use it on the TGO chally – and I might. Its a bit noisy and flappy and a bit cold when it’s windy, due to the mesh door. But it is very light and it did stand up to a bit of a bashing from the wind. And, apparently, I can add a couple of extra guys to improve stability and the inner/outer gap.
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The  very next morning we set off to follow the Pennine Way, but after about a mile, Dawn said she wasn’t up to the task today and turned back, leaving me and LTD to disappear into the mizzly gale that was blowing along the ridge. In fact, I got blown over once and fell over another time due to the piece of bog I was about to launch  myself off letting me in up to the knee.  We batterred on into the driving rain, and a fierce sidewind and the Twenty Mile hut overlooking Hen Hole and brew-time came as quite a relief. LTD was also indicating that he was quite fed-up by hiding under a bench and groaning. He does a good groan, does LTD.
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Having got duly soaked and batterred like a fish (cod) , we headed down to the Cheviot Burn for the camping and, after a bit of exploration, found a semi-sheltered spot on a little platform some way up Crooked Sike. The sky brightened up quite a bit but the wind blustered around all night. Nevertheless we were cosy and firmly fixed to the ground. In these conditions, LTD sleeps on a piece of old karrimat on a small thermal blanket and under my down jacket. For extra warmth he snuggles up to my sleeping bag. He’s quite content like that and moves little for several long, long dark winter hours.
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Back to the border ridge in the morning by following Crooked Sike uphill for a bit and then contouring round the using handy sheep tracks to rejoin the Pennine Way relatively easily to Windy Gyle, turning North (ish) along The Street to bag Philip Shank and Craik Moor. The Street was also mainly very easy walking, despite the obvious attentions of off-road motocyclists ripping the place up , so the ten miles or so of today’s walk was a bit of a romp, despite the return of the hefty winds. We met only a chap pushing a bike through one of the boggy bits and a chap on a tractor, apparently inspecting fences. I don;t think he saw us, though. Other than that the place was just for me and the dog. (Smug mode)
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We descended to Belford Hope where a sheltered spot with water and No Cows was hard to find. Eventually, I tucked the Enan into a small space between a corrugated-iron lambing shed and a sheepfold. Another noisy and flappy, and a bit cold night followed. I celebrated the successful ascent of Craik Moor by polishing off my rum supply. Other excuses were available.
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Inn the morning, there was early sunshine and a cold wind and soon, though, the sky turned milky white and I decided that it was going to rain and be windy (and, yes, other excuses were available too…) – So we quickly bagged Place Hill packless, where it was quite hard to stand up straight – and headed for a bale-out route along the road down the Bowmont Valley back to Town Yetholm where Dawn was discovered lurking in a bus shelter.
The local shop provided pies and coffee and that was that. Me and LTD had done 26 miles.
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Dawn’s account of her adventured can be read here   Dawn seems to think she let me down somehow. She didn’t. These things happen – it was a reasonable decision in the circumstances.
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On the right above is the purist’s round of the Bowmont Valley whereas on the left is me and LTD’s version, altered for sheltered camping spot, avoidance of the slog up Auchope Cairn with tired legs and windyness avoidance over Hownam Law by taking to the (lovely) Bowmont Valley road.

Saturday 11 February 2017

More TGO Challenge Stuff

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Progress so far: We’ve had our route vetted and received some useful advice. We’ve also used the concept of “escape routes”, which isn’t within the TGO route planning advice but seemed appropriate within a particular section, specially since escape routes were available.

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So, instead of crossing the high and wild bit from Fort Augustus via Glen Doe, which was my second choice of route, having done my first choice once before, we were reminded of the industrialised nature of the surroundings around there plus the work going on to expand the area of wind turbines and the fact that walking up the long road to Chalybeate Well might not be all that much fun, in the face of waggons and cranes and generators and so-on, we returned to Plan A.

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Plan A involves eating a huge breakfast in Fort Augustus and then walking up to the summit of the Corrieyairack Pass and then, roughly following a line of old fence posts across the fairly-wild-bit to Glen Calder and the fleshpots of Newtonmore. The escape-routes being any linear feature to the South back to the Corriyairack, specially using Glen Markie, which looks very nice on the map. We just have to tell control what our plans are at the time. We’ll only use the lower route[s] if the weather is specially duff. I crossed this way a few years ago in a constant fierce headwind and could barely stand up by the time I got to Newtonmore. It took several hours watching the darts on a pub telly before I could even speak, and, even then, what came out was a mixture of Norse expletives and Welsh prohibitives all beginning with the word “Dim”. Happily the landlord was sympathetic and kept serving up the foaming beverages.

The rest of the route remains untouched by the way and, in at least one point, just at the foot of the Minigaig, I think I’ve been fairly clever with a Foul Weather Alternative. Coz I is a clever-dick sometimes, innit?

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Next up in the planning process is to book transport and accomodation. Transport to Glenelg is specially difficult on a Thursday, it seems. And, I guess we’ll need beds in Glenelg and Newtonmore, possibly Fort Augustus… 

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In terms of fitness – me and LTD managed 14 miles on a reccy of a County walk yesterday and, I’ll be building up this distance thing over the next couple of months to about 20 miles, in increments of about 2 miles – so, the arithmeticians should be able to predict that the next in the series – for March, will be 16 miles.

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And we have various backpacking trips planned – me and Dawn and LTD have  a little expedition planned for the Cheviots in a week or so, and we’ve also been invited on the Sloman/Lambert/Williams annual pre-TGO daunder, which this year is in the Lake District. LTD will be happy to join this jape or jaunt as well. Me and Dawn would likely be doing backpacking trips anyway, whether or not there was a TGO chally in the offing, but the point is that these can all count towards the possibility of success.

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Today’s pictures are from the walk reccy around Baldersdale and Lunedale (very cold and grey day) As you can see from the last pic, it went dark, so I took no more pictures after this. I would say, though, that Kirkcarrion loomed a bit grimly over the last couple of miles of this walk….   oooooerr… spooky…


Monday 6 February 2017

A Reccy Ooop Weardale–Mainly Slit Wood and Black Hill

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Peculiarly attentive readers might just remember that I was intending to put three bijoux guided walks into the Durham County Council guided walks programme for the summer of 2017 (Summer starts 1 April 2017 by the way)

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I believe these have probably been accepted and so, it comes time to do an initial reccy. I did cancel a reccy a week or so ago due to a severe attack of post-merlot lassitude but yesterday (Sunday) I decided that me and LTD should get ourselves into gear and go up to St Johns Chapel to have a look.

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The route goes along the riverbank, complete with many dippers, to Westgate, up through Slit Wood, along to the Rookhope road then over to Black Hill, down to Queensbury , Wearhead and then along the riverback back to St Johns Chapel

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I have to say that its a very nice walk. There is an issue with a collapsed footpath in Slit Wood and, there’s Durham County Council notices announcing that the path is “impassable” It isn’t, though, in fact, it’s quite easy to pass the collapsed bit and, as the actual walk is a long time away, I’m hoping that the gap will have been fixed by then. Provided the water levels in the back are normal, it won’t be a problem (apart from having to ignore the official notices.) I’ll make a decision a week or so before the walk.

Its ten miles.

The pics provide information on the interesting bits…

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Slit Mine – wheel from the headgear rescued from the Beck by Charlie Armstrong who lived at the old mill house at the entrance to the wood. He once gave us a tour of the mill and showed foundations which he claimed were evidence that previously the building had been fortified. The smithy was excavated a couple of years ago when Lots Of Money was spent preserving the Slit Mine remains.

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Impressions by the smithy doorway from the testing of rock drills. Rock drills were opeated by two mem – one very brave one holding the drill and another with the best eyesight operating the hammer.

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Footings for an Armstrong Hydraulic engine and culvert which magically manages to stay up despite the odd shape. Right is the capped shaft with stone seating. Beneath the stone seating is a hole over 500 feet deep. You may consider this whilst tucking in to your cheese and tomato butty.

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Don and Gavin Golden built this drystone wall over the summit of Black Hill.

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LTD about to respond to a farm dog barking some severalteen miles away. Either that, or somebody has opened a packet of smoky bacon crisps in Nenthead.

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Waterfall and ford on the River Wear


Thursday 2 February 2017

Trying a Tent in the Cheviots

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Part of the plan for the TGO challenge, or another walk, should me and The Lad not get a place (we did!), was to get a two or three man tent and use that for both of us. We did this before – a long time ago.

So, I bought a Terra Nova Polar-Lite 3 and me and Dawn and LTD went to Alwinton the other day to find a spot to camp overnight to see what was what with the new tabernacle.

It was raining gently when we got there and the forecast was for heavy rain to visit us by about 2:00 o’clock, so finding a pitch before then would be quite good. We wandered up the valley from Clennel and, about Just After Lunchtime, we noticed an attractive side-valley which did produce a very nice, fairly sheltered pitch just out of sight of the road.

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We put the tent up and settled in and it rained and rained fairly gently, with the occasional heavier burst, pretty much all night. During this time, LTD was tucked up in his bed and barely moved at all for all of 20 hours. This could be a record. He did scoff a bonio, a dentastick, some bits of Dawn’s corned beef butty, his tea and an odd crumb or two of Lancashire cheese.

He was a little bothered by the all-night activities of the Royal Artillery who spent the hours of rainy darkness attacking something very loudly.

I don’t mind these longer winter hibernations at all, though , and in fact, I quite enjoy the inactivity.

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A drizzly, driech morning soon brightened up and we packed up and went off for a wander, in the hope of bagging a few Tumps which lie in, or just outside the Kidlandee forest. The first one, Inner Hill (there’s two Inner Hills by the way) was occupied by forest harvesters and public access was closed. And we failed to climb the second after realising that it would be hard to complete the remainder of the route in daylight – so we plodded back to Alwinton through Clennel – covering about 9 miles altogether in the day.

There was, of course, the usual Northumberlan Comedy Footpaths problem – don’t try to follow the bridleway from Heigh by the way. Certainly not on a horse anyway. Just sayin’.

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The tent is very heavy, though, I have to say, and whilst walking on the flat with it was fine, any uphill bits were starting to become tortuous. The TGO plan would be to split the tent between two – inner, outer, poles and pegs. But it has three poles, each with around ten fixing points. This could prove to be a hassle. And if one of us had to drop out, the other would either have to cope with 3.5kg of tent, or would have to drop out as well.

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As it happens, Dawn has recently bought a Hilleberg Enan and she said I could borrow that – so the problem is solved – we have a tent each, both of which can be put up in a couple of minutes and both of which will ensure our independance should anything go wrong.

Incidentally – I’ve submitted a route for vetting and the first comment from my vetter is that due to construction work on part of my route, I might want to rethink that bit. So I’m rethinking that bit.

The Polar-Lite is a cracking tent, though, quite cavernous inside and will be useful on a couple of static wild camps we have planned, and, for car-camping and so –on.