Monday 30 March 2020

Evening Around (yes, you've guessed it, it's Crook, Innit?)

 Me and LTD set off quite late, taking advantage of the fact that some eejit had been fiddling with all the clocks. Apparently, it was now British Summer Time and, to celebrate this, it had been snowing overnight and, whilst there was no lying snow in Crook (presumably the ground had warmed up a bit) - there was a dusting to be seen on the Weardale Moors from the top of Cold Knott, a lofty height of just 256 metres overlooking Crook roundabout on the A68 and a large part of Upper Weardale.
 This route is about 5.7 miles and with 450 feet up uppity and exactly the same amount in a downhill direction. Its a nice walk although one of the public footpaths ends at a fence where it should cross a fence, but there's an alternative one a bit further along the field. So that was OK, then,

 There were a few doggy walkers about early on, a family group and a man dressed in camo with some binoculars - and lots and lots of ewes with lambs. There's plenty of space to pass far, far apart, though and most people seemed to want to avoid me rather than me avoiding them. Maybe it was the bloodstained PPE and the axe. People can be funny about how you dress around here.
One field has been half ploughed , so this might get difficult when Farmer Brown finishes the ploughing - and the footpath goes right across the middle, so it will be muddy. Some of the other paths, specially in Kitty's Wood are getting muddy with all the extra traffic. On the upside, Crook Ramblers and Groundworks did a litter-pick in Kitty's Wood in the winter, collecting 26 bags of litter, a bike saddle, an estate agents "For Sale sign and a derelict tent with a hole in it and - wait for it.... thee place still looks fairly tidy. There is some extra litter blown-in from neighbouring fields and a few extra crisp packets. And we almost caught a sunset, but it was nithering cold and I hadn't a headlight or any other kit so I'd have had to alter my intended route if it had gone dark (Local woods have a  lot of brambles to trip over)

Anti-clockwise for this one!

Saturday 28 March 2020

Another Shortish Walk: Holy Well and Bitchburn

Yet another 5 mile walk to prevent the brain from going completely off the rails (it still has 3 out the 4 wheels on the rails). Actually, spending yesterday in the sun in the back garden with LTD snoozing away beside me was no bad thing. I don't have much to worry about, really - I have an NHS pension and an age-related pension, so, provided the government doesn't run out of money actually, that's a bit worrying innit?
This walk was a bit of an exploration - that is to say, I explored paths I'd never explored before. But the route works - it's a bit obscure at one point and I did get seduced into a random exploration of North Bitchburn Woods from Howden le Wear, but that was interesting and I return and explore some more. Bitch Burn (or Beech Burn) is a significant stream with some deep pools, but it flows through Crook and it has, quite obviously, carried large amounts of plastic downstream, much of which is stuck in the flood debris, which also seems to consist principally of the remains of industrial buildings and lumps of coal. But it's potentially a very nice spot and, unmapped by ordnance survey is a huge asset to the people of Howden le Wear who, judging by the wear on the paths, use it quite a bit.

The walk also sports a really really old oak tree and, at the moment, pregnant sheep and newly born lambs. It's really important to keep the dog, if you have a dog, under very very close control amongst the sheep and lambs. Just sayin' - don't let the pooch run about is what I'm saying.

And, in contrast to yesterday's weather, today it was cold and there were  driving sleety showers, which is not LTD's favourite thing. In fact a naughty shower just like this interrupted his rolling in something I couldn't identify. And he ate whatever it was before I could take it off him.
The walk is 5.4 miles and 550 feet of upness, starting from Crook Market Place. I did 7 miles, due to not starting or finishing in Crook Market Place, but from Pietowers and including a perambulation of North Bitchburn Woods and getting lost a bit at one point. Here's a map.

Friday 27 March 2020

Dog Yoga

 OK, so we had a day off today. It was lovely and warm in the sun in the back garden today. And it was Merlot Friday, so....
Here, Lucky The Dog demonstrates various dogyoga positions which are ideal for the mental health on a warm and sunny spring-like day. I meantersay, it might rain or get cold soon, so you have to take opportunities exactly as they arise. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I would say, though, that after this, LTD was so exhausted that, after tea, he had to retire to his crate and hasn't been seen since. Must be tired out, the poor wee lamb.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Short(ish) Doggy Walks From Pietowers #1 and #2

 There's something about quiet streets and no aircraft that reminds me of the streets of Earby on a Sunday afternoon in July when most of the town had gone off to Morecambe and Blackpool for a week when all the mills closed down for holiday week. There's no actual restriction on walking at the moment, although dark clouds of disapproval may be gathering just over the horizon. But, to stay off the ventilator, it seems a good idea to either retain some lung fitness, or, if you haven't really got lung fitness, you might decide that with all this spare time, you could go out and get some. This might well involve following your pet dog up some steep contours for a while. Having experienced the Foot and Moth crisis in 2001 when all rights of way were closed and an enforced lay-off for several months due to me having a dicky ticker, I understand just how easy it is for an old fart like me to lose fitness. So, you gotta keep it up, innit?

 I know it says two walks in the title of this blogpost, but I actually did three. Its just that I did one twice....  Providing I can keep this up and, bearing in mind that LTD is very keen, I'm hoping to do a different route every day for as long as it takes to run out of routes. The first two are both 5 miles and 500 feet of lovely, brown uphill contours. (Downhill contours are also brown by the way, it's just that they don't count)

 I am commending these trundles to anybody who might like to try them. There's plenty of space to spread out although they're a lot more popular than they were a week ago when people had to go to work and the sprogs were at school. It seems that walking about , usually solo, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes with kids and dogs in tow is now the Thing To Do. As secretary of Crook and Weardale Ramblers, I think this is brilliant.

 Both of these two routes would start at the Health Centre car park on Hope Street and there's maps at the end of this post should anybody want to try to follow them. They're both relatively easy, very low on risk (take care crossing the roads) and have friendly ponies, spring flowers, skylarks, curlews and chiff-chaffs and all that kinda stuff. And they're doggy friendly.

 And on Dowfold Hill , which, be warned, has a short but brutal uphill struggle to the stile at the top rewarded by a fine view of Crook and the North Pennines and North Yorks Moors, PLUS four fabby-whizz new stiles installed quite recently by Groundworks (but it was our idea!)

 Maps below: I went clockwise, but this is not compulsory.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Things Missing in 2020 and Things to Do Instead

 The Big Thing wot's disappeared from the list of events planned, and, even arranged, for 2020 is The Great Outdoors Challenge (TGO). For those who don't know, this is an annual event where walkers get the privilege of walking from the West Coast of Scotland to the East. Walkers have to be self-supporting and can do pretty much whatever they want, after first having their plans checked by a vetter who, when satisfied, signs-off the route.
 Most of the TGO is great fun (most!), and people come back year after year to do the walk, meet old friends, get wet, some get drunk a few times, some have outrageous numbers of Full Scottish breakfasts. Pretty much everybody (with a few exceptions) will have several wild camps on the way and will be eating dehydrated food....
 2020 would have been the sixteenth time I'd done the walk (assuming that I would have finished it!). Most of these have been solo. My three children , who aren't children anymore, have also completed it, and The Lad walked with me in 2019 on his fourth trip. The photos below are all from that trip. The three above are from training trips, which brings me to.... Training is very much an excuse to go backpacking. We've had just one gentle "training" trip this year - with JJ and Beryl who is not really called Beryl. This was a two-night, three day walk in the fog and gloom hills just a bit to the right of Barbon. It was fun. It was cold. And it was damp. Ideal conditions, in fact.

 The reason I went with these two was that we'd planned to do the TGO together next May. We had a route which our vetter described as "interesting" which went from Oban to Glen Etive to Bridge of Orchy to Loch Rannoch, round the back of Schiehallion, to Aberfeldy to Kirkmichael, Glen Isla, Forfar and Lunan Bay. It was a straightish and short route but a good one.
 Then somebody in China ate a mandolin or something and everything fell over. Our next training walk was to be to Lanarkshire. Companions dropped out early on, but I was determined to go and had stocked up on dehydrated scoff and gas and had briefed the dog. On the Friday I was buying trail food (I was going to try goats cheese and wraps) and was planning to do the packing on the Sunday for an early start. But the virus situation escalated and loads of people turned up at the usual places (Snowdon, Malham, Glencoe) and the A9 was chocablock with voluntary refugees seeking isolation in huge numbers together. There was a general consensus that this was daft. Boris mentioned it in a press briefing and I didn't pack my pack.

 Me and Beryl also had a trip planned to Cadair Idris, to attempt to complete  the route I'd tried with several others a few years ago but which was taken over by some "experienced"  people brought along by one of the group members. Basically, they, and a windy day, took off in the wrong direction together with the group. I determined never to organise another such walk with a group bigger than two or three others, and, mainly just me and Dawn, or just me and LTD.  The bigger the group, it seems to me and the more negotiation and compromise is involved. It starts with just one saying "can I come"  and they bring somebody else, and somebody else turns up who wants to alter the route to a better way in another direction and ... and.....  But that trip became a virus victim as well, so the route is incomplete.
Then, there's Robin Hood's Picking Rods. This is linked to the TGO challenge gathering which, this year was to be in Hayfield. Previous gatherings were at the Snake Pass Inn. One of these was cancelled due to snow.

 I managed a few more walks with Crook Ramblers and the March Long Walk in Northumberland, buy the writing was on the wall and , now we are limited to local walks.  This may not be too bad provided it doesn't go on too long. But it's made me plan and put some structure to my daily doggy walks with LTD.

 So, this is The Plan. I get to go out once a day "for exercise". Crook isn't so bad for getting out into the countryside. In fact, it's pretty easy, although the countryside is on the far, lower ends of North Pennine ridges. The North Pennines, being notoriously wild and a bit empty are, nevertheless quite gentle. The contours are mainly socially isolating and donl;t get too close to each other. And so with the local countryside.

And, it seems, that there's a brand-new constituency of walkers. These are well spread out and don't get too close to each other. There's lots of space. They're families, blokes with dogs. Girlfriends out together. Teenagers. Mums and Grannies. My impression is that they're making the best of it and that most of them haven't done much in the way of exploring the countryside before, or, at least, recently. There's always a silver lining innit?

 So, I'll be systematically working my way around Crook in a clockwise direction (widdershins is bad luck), doing doggy walks of 5 or so miles, maybe up to 7. There'll be a map and some pictures and, maybe, some locals will pick these up of That Interweb and, maybe it will inform about where it's possible to go. I think I'm stuck around Crook, but outlying villages will be included: Billy Row, Stanley Crook, Tow Law (maybe), Howden le Wear, Willington......  It's summat to do anyway.

Pic below is dinner at St Drostan's hostel at Tarfside - an establishment taken over by TGO peeps every year to provide refreshments, breakfasts, dinner, sympathy and hot showers before challengers make the final lurch towards the North Sea.