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Monday, 16 April 2018

More TGO Challenge Training Stuff–Sheffield Pike and Other Hills

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There’s been a minor hiatus in Piewalks recently due to Pietowers maintenance requirements and an almighty wind which rent the firmament and cast down the high places including bits of the new tabernacle. So, I’ve got a bit of catching-up to do.
Part of the catching up was to do a walk with some contours and the English Lake District is ideal for this kind of thing. This walk, in particular turned out to have 1044 metres of uphill contours and a very similar amount of downhill ones too, given that I ended up exactly where I’d begun.
And this was also the second outing for The KIlt – proper hillwalking test with proper mountain breezes and lots of witnesses too, which, to be honest, was the part I was a little worried about.
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I parked expensively in Glenridding. Eight quid. I meantersay, eight of Yer Queen’s Quids. You can have full access to my body for several hours for eight quid fer evvansake. (I’d demand biscuits, though)
Despite this initial setback, we left the expensive car park (they’re taking the mickey, surely…) and climbed Glenridding Dodd for starters. Lots of contours here.
We followed this by an enjoyable climb up some more contours to Sheffield Pike which was sloppy on the top but otherwise pleasantly rocky but not really scrambly. This gives access to the vast open grassy prairies East of the Dodds – in this case, a contouring route to Hart Side and a gentle climb up to White Stones where lunch was declared. A few people passed. Nobody mentioned The Kilt.
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We made a long plod up to Stybarrow Dodd and then across the motorway path to Raise, the highest point on the walk at 883 metres and the only snowpatch on the route, although the ice-axe and spikes I was carrying were unrequired. Here, I met a lassie who was deciding where to go next. We had a chat about what a lovely day it was and how nice it was to sit in a bit of warm sunshine and she didn’t mention the kilt. I should point out that whilst the hills had been claggy in the morning, the sun had broken-through and it was now a thoroughly cracking day, ideal for sitting about considering some salted nuts. if you..er… maybe not the best..er….  An elderly, I should say, senior fell-runner, was the only person to mention my hillwalking kit – and she said “You’re a brave man getting your knees out…” as she hopped gracefully from boulder to boulder down the hillside. She was a brave woman to be hopping gracefully from boulder to boulder; if I tried that I’d probably require a new face.
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Anyway, my next objective was the diminutive Synge named Stang, a small lump on the ridge heading East from the summit of Raise. This also has the terminus of a lead-mine flue ending at a “chimney”. This now provides a small stone shelter, suitable for sitting in with a satsuma or, indeed, a banana should there be a strong westerly airflow making sitting about with fruit a bit uncomfortable.
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It was here that the extent of the rambling population of Helvellyn could be made out – lots and lots of little black dots on the horizon, many, no doubt, carrying comedy hiking kit and teetering and sliding riskily down the snowy headwall of Swirral Edge. I expect that this could have been “thrilling” for some. As for me, I was clearly over-equipped for a sunny spring day with no snow, yet oddly under-equipped in the trouser department.
We progressed and followed the flue down to the lead mine spoil heaps and then down the Stake Pass path to the YHA where I joined the hordes returning from Helvellyn. Nobody mentioned the kilt here either, although I did detect some interest from some senior ladies. I trust they could raise the eight quid fee….. To be fair, most people seemed more interested in LTD, who is extremely friendly to strangers and this does distract attention from the knees, I think. DSCN2803

We did 9 miles and 3400 feet of uphill. I really really like this kilt, thing. (In fact I wore it again the following day on a 9 mile “easy” trundle with Crook and Weardale Ramblers and , whilst there was some initial banter and the singing of “Donald Where’s Yer Troosers?”, in general the reception was positive. I suspect that most people, when sober, are just too polite. More kiltiness coming-up soon.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Let the Wind Blaw High Let the Wind Blaw Low–Hartside

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Me and Dawn went up into Northumberland for to bag the diminutive, but roughly heathery Hartside, a hill I’ve passed many many times on the A68 and wondered what it was like.
JJ aka John Jocys, folk entertainer and purveyor of Lancashire monologues extraordinaire went to Florida and brought back a “hiking kilt” wot we’d had many email interchanges about over the last few months. It was my intention, possibly, to wear such a garment on the 2018 TGO challenge. It arrived at Pietowers and I put it on and immediately found it to be quite fab. It’s a proper, decent length, is made from artificial fibres, thus being very lightweight, and has belt loops and pockets and all the kinds of stuff that traditional Scottish kilts don’t have. I’ve been wearing it around the house, but I’ve been very very diffident about going outside the protective walls of Castle Knipetowers whilst wearing it. I suspect it’s because I actually feel naked when I’ve got it on. The breeze, for instance, is breezing where breezes never breezed much at all before.
So I determined to wear it on this occasion.
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The occasion was, a little seven mile trundle around the aformentioned Tump called Hartside, somewhere quite near Bellingham, followed by a tricky and boggy traverse of some forestry during which we lost the path several times, used GPS to go in approximately the right direction and went up to my naughty parts in a seething bog, which was quite refreshing if a bit distracting.
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Hartside is a rough, heathery lump with a fine and ancient cairn on the top, an extraordinary view of Dere Street and the road up into Scotland and a memorial plaque to an 1897 bonfire lit in tribute to Queen Victoria for some reason or other that passed me by.
We saw two foxes, the last one of which disappeared down a rabbit-hole very close-by and which Dawn explained was probably a vixen with cubs. I left a small donation of cashew nuts around the hole which I hope she enjoyed (the fox, not Dawn, who can source her own cashews).
What’s my verdict on the wearing of a kilt I hear you ask if you could be arsed?
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Well, I have to say that despite the nithering wind off the snowy Cheviots, just up the road, and the lightness of the fabric, the cold was not an issue. The breeze was a bit distracting at first, but the main thing about yer kilt is that there’s an extra freedom to move the legs, a lightness which probably reduces the effort of actually walking by a significant amount. It’s almost like cheating. I’m going to try this again. It was, in fact, quite fab.
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There is an issue about modesty whilst climbing walls , stiles and very steep scrambly bits. I expect that companions would just have to get used to this and, either avert their gaze or , at least not make any comments.  Comments I’ve had so far tend to have been an interest in how much, if anything is worn underneath (its all in perfect working order, thanks for asking),  concern about ticks (I don’t think this is any more significant given the availability of modern insect repellents and I’ve not been specially prone to ticks up to now anyway) and fairly adolescent comments about naughty bits. I expect to have to put up with this. Wearing the kilt feels a bit like coming out to yer Mum that your proclivities might not be exactly what she might have wished and hoped for. I expect this is quite different in Scotland, but in Crook, men wear trousers.
My verdict so far is that a lightweight kilt is a superb bit of kit for hillwalking/rambling. I’m going to try it on an upcoming couple of days backpack but I expect that there won’t be much difference to day walking, apart from the saving on skeggy underwear which has to be carried/washed/dried etc but probably doesn’t weigh much anyway.  I think kilts are fab – everybody needs a kilt!
We did 7 miles and about 900 feet of upness, and quite a bit of soggy slop in the forests.
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Sunday, 1 April 2018

TGO Challenge - In Search of the Caledonian Warple

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The Caledonian Warple (Varpellii Caledoniensis Vasgobbler) was (or, actually, is) related to the Himalayan Warple. It is a rodent, thought to be approximately the size of a red squirrel, or maybe a bit smaller. It  is secretive in habit and is likely to have been responsible for delaying the effects of over-population in the Highlands of Scotland by about eight centuries. It was the hunting of the species to extinction (it was thought) which resulted in a 16th Century Scottish population explosion, subsequent collapse of local economies, starvation, inter-clan warfare based on competition for resources, the over-division of hereditory lands, emigration, ethnic cleansing and general mayhem.
The reason for this may be complex, but it is thought, by ..er… thinkers… that there was a link between the wearing of the kilt aux commando (if you catch my drift) and the preference of the Warple to a nice, juicy  pre-mating Vas Deferens  which so effectively held back the growth of the Caledonian population for such a long time. Studies on the Himalayan Warple have shown that the bite of the Warple is almost entireley painless and, it is thought, that Highlanders sleeping in the heather on warm summer nights (there are an average of two of these every year) provided those kilted and unprotected Highlanders with exactly the right conditions for the Warple to creep in and have it’s annual pre-mating feed. Apparently, studies also showed that Warples were attracted somewhat by the scent of blended whiskies, the odour of which may have seeped through the Highlanders scrotal areas, thus rendering them even more vulnerable to attack. It was shown that followers of certain more Protestant Christian sects were less prone to accidental neutering than followers of the more Eccesiastical versions and that this may well have lead to certain jealousies between the various factions, leading to conflict, burnings, hangings and, indeed, drownings so that’s proof, innit?
What has this got to do with the TGO challenge? I hear you ask. I shall explain.
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The Caledonian Warple was thought to be extinct, the last one being hunted near Brig O’Turk in 1612 and displayed to the public by being mounted on a stick on the walls of Stirling Castle until being carried off by a passing crow about twenty minutes later. According to legend, this Warple was accidentally dropped at the feet of the Last Witch of Spott (just outside Dunbar) and brought back to life, being kept as a pet/familiar and sent out on “missions”, furtively at night to the husbands of rival witches and, occasionally, potential lovers. There is no actual proof of this, though.
But recently, a small colony of what is thought to have been Warples was discovered living in a recycling bin in Tranent, and whilst these little animals scutterred off into the night as the householder filmed them on his smartphone it is thought that many may have made off and formed yet more Warplish colonies across the Central Belt. A study of the images by scientists at the Edinburgh Institute for the Rediscovery of the Caledonian Warple, provided almost 98% certainty of Warpleness. It may well be relevant that the recycling bin held several empty bottles of Notorious Grouse, most holding just the odd little drip and it may well have been the householder’s intention to try to drain these last vestiges into a small glass just to get a nip before going off tae bed. I use the word “nip” advisably here, obviously. He probably had little idea of the risks he was running, having just had his fortnightly bath and dressed only in his wife’s dressing gown at the time even on such a cold night as it was..
The dispersal of these rodents has been a source of worry to many, particularly certain Urologists operating in various parts of Scotland who, having been tasked with performing vasectomy operations, have increasingly discovered whilst investigating patients underparts that somebody had been there first. Local NHS Trusts have been advised to keep these facts confidential because certain funding streams were thought to be “at risk” should this informaton be released to the public. Some surgeons have pointed to the slow decline of Scottish birthrates but no definitive link between the wearing of the kilt aux commando, as it were, lower birth rates and the spotting of small warple-like colonies has yet been proved.
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It is rumoured, though, that for Private  Patients one renowned surgeon has a pet Warple called Dave who , on payment of a suitable fee and , having been fed by an appropiate amount of Lamb’s Navy Rum, may have been be introduced to the unconcious patient’s underwear in order to do the job. I doubt if this is substantially true, though, having worked in the NHS and been aware of the local Urologist’s pet ferret  Brian, a veteran of various strangers tight underpants, given sufficient alcohol, and certainly not a Warple of any kind/. Lovely animal, if a bit vicious when roused, but a Warple? – seems unlikely but the links here are more than worrying….. I wondered whatever happened to Brian….
And so, in the interests of science, the general health of the population of Scotland, the Day Nursery service, and the kilt industry I am using the opportunity of taking part in the TGO challenge to search for and capture at least one warple and deliver this to any Urologist who would care to have it. If nothing else, it would probably make vasectomy operations that much quicker and less painful should such an animal be licensed for use in these delicate operations.
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If you are taking part in the TGO challenge, you might like to join me in my quest. You can help by searching out any nooks, crannies, waste paper bins, recycling facilities and so-on. Equipment requirements are simple. Some stout gardening gloves, a sturdy wooden camping mallet and a lightweight cat box should do the trick.
If you’d like to try Warple-Stalking, you’ll  also need a kilt of traditional design and weight . Thus you should lie in wait  in your kilt aux commando, having consumed between 8 and 10 units of alcohol, and, if you detect any movement beneath your tartan, whack the bugger with the mallet, thus rendering it temporarily unconcious for sufficient time to get it into the cat box. Whatever you do, don’t kill it.
I will be accepting donations – mainly of cheap whisky, so no need to splash-out (as it were). If I do capture a warple, it will clearly need to be kept alive till I reach civilisation, or Montrose, whichever comes first. Volunteers who are in need of emergency contraception will be needed, and be advised that I am unconstrained by normal medical ethics, not being a doctor (I never really bothered)  otherwise, my advice is to zip up your sleeping bag well, stay off the booze and wear very very tight underpants at night.
Good luck and good hunting.


Friday, 30 March 2018

Messing About in Some Snow

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We have several grandchildren staying at Pietowers at the moment and it’s my role (apparently) to keep them entertained in between hours of Minecraft on the Netflix, whatever that means.
The other day, we visited Gibson’s Cave at Bowlees where it’s possible to get behind the waterfall. This was followed by paddling in the beck (I kid you not) and hot chocolate and scones at the cafe. This, though, WAS NOT ENOUGH. So, we went in search of snow and found some large patches and drifts just over the border of Cumbria beside the road to Alston. Sproglets had a play whilst I guarded the car [!]. It was drizzling, though and. already wet from the beck at Bowlees, and, not really equipped for life in the snow, drizzle and nithering North Atlantic breeze, the antics turned to shivering competitions and were soon abandoned and we returned to the relative warmth of the knipetowers buttery.
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Two days later, and equipped with coats, boots, trenching tools, gloves/mitts and an ice-axe and hats, we returned and a happy day was spent digging snow-holes (mine was the best!), climbing up steep snow (I was best at this!), sliding down again (they couldn’t compete with my epic slides!), discovering crevasses (I found the biggest/deepest one!) and, generally getting wet and cold (not me, I’m too clever).
Half-time was home-made very hot lentil and sweet-potato soup wot I made and butties and crisps and stuff like that.
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No miles were done. There was no measurable ascent. Several tonnes of snow were shifted, much of it into boots and trousers for melting on the journey home and no significant injuries were sustained, apart from some borderline hypothermia which was treated back at Pietowers with a bathful of hot water, a small plastic boat and a small, yellow toy duck

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I would expect the snow to be thawing now, but, apparently, this morning has added another three or four inches of white-stuff to the remaining patches. I say patches, but there’s elements of glacier in the stream-bottoms, the snow being covered up with layers of shale from floods and thaws and refrozen a few times into a hard, dirty ice and the drifts are twenty or thirty feet high and overhanging in places. It’s all good, clean fun and very safe, (well, fairly safe anyway ) though and run-outs were into soft cushions of snow/ice so, even short flights off overhangs were undertaken. And we even managed a couple of ice-axe braking practice runs. That was a short summer, though, innit?
This was my idea by the way. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Wolsingham Wayfarers (More) Teesdale Waterfalls

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A couple of weeks ago I posted a blogpost about reccying a route in Teesdale which connected up several waterfalls. After a short email exchange I decided that I’d actually lead a walk similar to that already planned by Wolsingham Wayfarers, but with an extra bit on for added value, thus providing a twelve mile walk substantially coincidental with an old Durham County Council guided walks route originally titled “Best of Teesdale”. That walk was a bit longer, though, so I chopped a bit off. I was leading this walk because the original leader, Neil, has an injury which prevents him lrading walks for the time being.
So, the original walk would have been 9 miles, I thought this one would be 11.5 and various GPS readings gave 11.8 to 12 miles in the end.
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Spring had decided to spring on the day and the clocks had gone forward, so in lovely, bright sunshine, but still with a seeking nithering edge to the breeze, just five of us plus LTD started off from Bowlees, followed the Pennine Way up past Low Force, High Force and Bleaberry Force to the lovely juniper woods at Bracken Rigg and then over the Green Trod to the Tees. We returned to Forest in Teesdale via the ruins of the pencil factory (some readers at least will know where this is) – and back to the start by lanes and paths which form the old routes up the Dale which existed before the current main road was built.
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The sun shone, the lapwings lapped, there were meadow pipits on the hill and lambs in the fields, and even a patch of Coltsfoot and the keepers were setting fire to the moors. Yes, it was (eventually) spring. There was still some snow, though – some very large patches and old drifts of old, hard snow.
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I really should have done another reccy before doing this walk, but I just couldn’t fit it all in. The route was fine, though, apart from a couple of missing suckboards and a minor navigational brain-freeze. The “other” walk which me and LTD did the other week and which links up seven (or eight, depending on the counting strategy) is a cracking walk as well, in my ‘umble, and can be saved for future reference, either for the Wolsingham Wayfarers group, or the Wednesday Walkers Walking on Saturdays group or, even, another group. Or even a combination….
The walk was 12 miles and 1700 feet of upness.
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Guided walks by Wolsingham Wayfarers are free to attend, dog friendly, human friendly and excellent and details of their programme can be seen here (click it!) No booking required, just turn up.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Mizzly Stuff in the Howgill Fells

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This was another TGO Challenge preparation walk – the idea being to do lots of contours. As a fairly gentle [koff] introduction to this, I chose the Howgill Fells – one of the Howgill classic walks from Sedbergh to The Calf, Cautley Crag and Spout returning via the clarty bridleway from Cautley to Sedbergh, but with some additional contours added by the inclusion of Yarlside. This would all add up to about 1000 metres, which is only exceeded by four of the thirteen days of my TGO challenge route at 1350 metres.

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So, me, LTD and The Bro marched out of Sedbergh on what is now the Dales High Way route (not sure when this happened) – and we heaved our way up the first contours into the mist and drizzle. Navigation to The Calf is very easy since the path is heavily engineered and surfaced for much of the way and reliably turns up at the trig on the top even though it seems, at times, in the murk, that it’s going too far downhill at one point. But it isn’t.

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It was far too nithering to be sitting around lunching at the summit, so we did some proper navigation and turned up an short time later at the posh arty sheepfold in Force Gill (not in the beck, which is, of course, Force Gill Beck). This seems to be a nice place for a bivi or overnight if its a bit windy although sheepfolds always seem really attractive places to lunch out of the wind till you actually get there and then they’re usually draughty and often quite wet, having firtly interfered with the local drainage when they were first built, and, secondly, having played host to generations of sheep whenever it was they were actually used for gathering sheep. Still, it was out of the worst and as my chicken, tomato and mustard butty slowly disappeared, the clag, glaur and mizzle seemed to be lifting.

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We passed the top of Cautley Spout which was still wearing a bit of icing and followed the high-level path to Bowderdale Head, climbing the apparently huge and beetling grassy buttress of Yarlside by a thin trod which climbs next to the final re-entrant of Bowderdale Beck, a steep gully, speckled with mouse-holes, complete with entrance-piles of mouse poo. LTD is often interested in mice and has eaten one or two in his time. On this occasion, when I introduced him to one of the holes, he just ate some of the poo.  Dhuhh…. Should have let him have some of my chicken..

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We descended to Cautley by the long ridge to Ben End, found the bridleway footbridge, which is not quite where it says it is on the map, and plodded back to Sedbergh on the bridleway which was quite clarty and is now Wainwright’s Pennine Journey route. There were some very pregnant sheep on the bit. I must say, I do try to avoid going into pastures with lambing sheep with a dog at this time of year. This time the sheep seemed fairly relaxed about LTD, or maybe they were too heavy to move very far very quickly. I don’t think any harm was done, though – LTD was kept really really close and we did give the ewes time to waddle out of the way.

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It was 11 miles and 3600 feet of ascent, which was reasonable progress, I think.

There’s a map below in case anybody…..

As a footnote, I would confess to being a bit knackered after this walk, although the merlot I got at Kirkby Stephen Co-op later on helped with my recovery – thanks for asking.

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