Even short legs can walk a long way

The emerging theme of spring 2016 seems to be returning to explore some of the popular areas I’ve always travelled through in the past on the way to somewhere wilder and more remote. The weather forecast reckoned that Good Friday was the only gap in an otherwise soggy weekend so we took off for a day in the Peak district. An early-ish start saw us parking up in Hope with the intention to walk through Cave Dale and up to the Mam Tor ridge.

The first part of the walk was fairly quiet. By the time we got to Castleton it was apparent that a significant fraction of the population of Sheffield had the same idea. Not that I can blame them on a day like today. This area is one of the peak district honeypots so we knew before we left home that it would be busy. Once we found our way through the back streets of Castleton we found ourselves in Cave Dale. This is one of those geological wonders created by the interaction of limestone and water. It seems to be open to debate whether this was created by water erosion from a melting glacier or a cave system that collapsed. A combination of the two seem plausible.

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Cave Dale

It’s further up here than it looks on the map. On the plus side when you do emerge at the top most of the climbing for the day is done. If you remember to turn around and look behind you then Peveril castle looms over the dale. It looks pretty well defended from this side.

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Peveril castle over Cave Dale

From the top of the dale it’s an easy wander across to where the road emerges from the top of Winnats pass. If like us you’re here on a bank holiday then you can enjoy the views of England’s green and pleasant land as you plod along in the queue to reach the top of Mam Tor. As much as I like a bit of peace and quiet on my walks I’m also in favour of more people getting out to appreciate the green, brown and rocky bits of this island so I can’t really complain. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever shared a hill with quite so many people at once. The area around the summit cairn was crawling with people. There is a superb view over the Hope valley from here in spite of the haze.

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Hope Valley

It’s a shame about the cement works but I suppose it helps the local economy and these things have to exist somewhere. There was a chilly wind blowing at the top of the hill bit once we dropped over the leeward side a bit it was a lovely spring day which made an ideal spot for lunch. The path along the ridge to Hollins Cross and Lose Hill was a constant procession of people in both directions. What you do see in these popular spots is a much broader selection of people. Outdoorsy folks with rucksacks and proper boots passing families out for a day in the sunshine with granny and the kids. That can only be good thing in my view. There’s enough room for all of us out here. The Mam Tor ridge separates the Hope valley from the Edale valley. As you walk along the ridge the view to the north takes in a large chunk of the Kinder Scout plateau over Edale.

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According to The Walking Englishman where we found this route it’s 8.5 miles around this loop. Great website for those that want to get out and explore by the way. By the time we were about two-thirds of the way along the ridge those with short legs were starting to feel the distance a bit. We decided to cut the corner and skip the summit of Lose Hill for today. It’s not like it’s going anywhere. That means it’s downhill all the way from here. The descent is steep which makes it hard on the knees but it’s worth it. If you choose the right path off the hill you’ll find yourself passing the marvellously named hostelry The Cheshire Cheese. All that remained for the day was a well-earned pint and a healthy reminder that even short legs can walk a long way.

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Even short legs can walk a long way

Smells like spring

If I had any readers they’d have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet around here. Partly due to a busy life doing other things, partly because the few times I have been out I just haven’t felt like writing.

As the weather starts to turn a little warmer then that strange little something deep in my bones that feels the call of the outdoors starts to rise with the rising temperature. So last Sunday the itch was scratched with a bit of a bimble around the bottom of Borrowdale with my better half. This walk was her choice but it was a good one. Castle crag is one of those hills I’ve always meant to get around to but somehow the call of the higher pointier bits means we always drive past on the way to somewhere else. On this occasion we found a spot to ditch the car on the side of the road near Rosthwaite. No mean feat since there appeared to be some sort of race happening. Nevertheless off we went ambling up Borrowdale back in the direction of Grange.

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Castle crag doesn’t look much from here. It’s the slightly pointy bit in the middle

When I sit at home on a cold wet night in February I have to admit that this is not the sort of place that draws the imagination but on the first sunny day in spring there is much to be said for the simple joy of being alive in a beautiful place on a beautiful day. We took our sweet time and very sweet it was too wandering along the banks of the River Derwent exploring the man made caves and avoiding the odd over exuberant spaniel who was convinced my pork pie was for him, or her I didn’t look that closely.

Somewhere before we turned uphill to sneak around the back of the crag the title of this post came about. Walking through the woods there was a distinct smell of warm dry leaves and dead bracken. The trees are still bare and the leaves haven’t quite come through yet but this is one of my favourite times of year. There’s still a nip in the morning but if you get out of the wind it’s pleasantly warm in the middle of the day.

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In another few months a swim might be tempting

As we turned up the hill around the back of the crag we encountered the crowds coming the other way. On a sunny day in spring who can blame them. On the rare occasions that it happens I love have a little corner of the lakes to myself but I still have to remember that I’m a tourist here just like everyone else. The terrain round here is all very gentle until you turn up the path to Castle Crag itself. Then this little hill starts getting delusions of grandeur and it’s twenty minutes of blood steep work to the top. Just before you reach the top you stagger over the top of a left over spoil heap from the slate quarry and stumble into a sculpture park. One day I will come back here for a wander around after the crowds have gone home.

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Not the best picture but the best I could get among the crowds

After the slog up the hill someone was feeling ever so slightly pleased with themselves at this point

DSC00098If you ever find yourself in the area with a couple of hours to kill the view from the top is worth the climb. Unfortunately the return of the sunshine means the return of the dreaded grey haze. I’m no photographer but even the few pros I’ve ever met reckon that there’s nothing you can do. The pictographic memory of those views we walk for will forever be less than the reality, at least until next winter. I suppose that’s just an excuse to get out more.

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From here we wandered along a path marked on the map as the Allerdale ramble towards Seatoller. Funnily enough once we passed the end of the path that leads directly back to Rosthwaite the peace and quiet returned. There were definitely fewer people on this last loop. From the hillside above Seatoller we took a turn through the woods and ambled back to Rosthwaite.

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I have no more words to add so I’ll leave this post with one last picture. This comes from earlier in the walk but this is a rare thing indeed, a picture with me in it that I don’t hate. Possibly because it was taken when I wasn’t looking. Yes I know that the background is utterly burnt out but I don’t care

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With the return of light and warmth so the call of the high country returns with it.

Peace in the rain

This post is really about why I go walking at all. Like many people these days I spend my working days at a desk, in an office, in front of a computer screen. However it wasn’t always that way. I was brought up in rural Northumberland surrounded by the pennines. Hadrian’s wall was just another wall at the top of the hill. Like most people I didn’t take that much notice of what was on my door step. In those days going for a walk didn’t involve forward planning or driving for several hours. It just required putting on a coat and walking out the door. The coat was compulsory, it rains a lot in the North, the rest I made up as I went along.

I spend far too much time tearing around like a blue-arsed fly trying to fit in the many trials and tribulations of modern life. The run up to Christmas has been no different and I hadn’t been out for far too long until recently. Just like everyone else I have many demands on my time, some of them very pleasant, some less so. I called this blog takingmytime for a reason, hill time is my time. I’m more than happy to share that time with anyone who wants to come along but if no-one wants to come with me then I’ll quite happily go on my own. It’s in my bones and if I don’t get a regular hill fix then I’m not a happy soul.

My partner and I headed to the lake district for a New Year break in Eskdale. We knew the weather for the first day was lousy so we holed up in front of the fire in the Brookhouse Inn where we were staying and wiled away the day reading books with good beer and good food. A highly recommended pass time and one of my favourite hostelries if you happen to be in the area but not what we went for. With New Year’s eve promising yet more rain and Claire losing an argument with a fry up I decided that I was heading out no matter what. With the high fells well clagged in and looking likely to stay that way I decided to follow the River Esk as far as the edge of Great Moss below the Scafells and see what happened by the time I got there. There’s a track that takes you straight from the front door of the pub to join the river so off I went.

On reaching the river I turned upstream and crossed the first available footbridge to follow the far bank of the river as far as Wha House bridge. As I followed the track east the jumble of hills around the head of Eskdale kept calling me forward. Hills have a habit of doing that I find.

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The road over Hard Knott pass goes over those hills but I wasn’t heading that way today. At Wha House I crossed back to the North/East side of the river. After all the recent rain I didn’t fancy my chances of crossing the river higher up and this would put me on the right side to turn for home later.

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Upper Eskdale is an area I’ve never really explored before. Like a lot of hill country it turns out there is a lot of land folded into a small area up there. I barely scratched the surface on this trip and there are enough knolls and hollows to fill several more trips. The trail starts of as a land rover track and gets steadily narrower as you go further up the valley. The ground along the river bank was completely waterlogged which seem to have been a recurring theme of late.

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The one good thing about all this rain is that the waterfalls are in full flow and we do like a good waterfall round here. Around the time I reached Lingcove bridge the rain started in earnest. Unfortunately that meant it was too wet to take any photos from the path the clings to the hillside above the gorge that holds the River Esk. Yet another excuse to go back in the summer I suppose. Even in the rain it’s a lovely spot.

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As you reach the top of the gorge you emerge onto the edge of Great Moss. I’ve camped out there in the past but I wouldn’t fancy it today. It would be like sleeping in a full bath of cold water. The Scafells are somewhere is the cloud to the left of the picture below. No point in heading up there today. I’ve been before and there will always be another day. Outside the shelter of the gorge it was blowing a hoolie across the moss so I found myself a good sized boulder to hide behind for lunch.

With the boulder cutting off the worst of the wind and head-to-toe gore-tex keeping out the wet I found a few moments of perfect calm. Staring into the mist I didn’t care that that it was raining or that not even waterproof boots will stand up to being repeatedly plunged in bog water indefinitely. For a brief moment in time nothing else mattered but here and now. England’s green and pleasant land comes in many shapes and sizes and this was my time.

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Eventually I shook myself out of quiet contemplation, assisted by the wind chill and the lack of feeling in my fingers, and turned for home. I headed over the high ground above the path and skirted around the toes of Scafell before picking up another path that wended it’s way across the fell to eventually take me back to the road at Wha House. From there it was a short spell of tarmac bashing dodging the puddles back to Boot. By the time I made it back to the pub water was starting to creep in around the edges and pretty much everything was deposited in the hotel drying room.

After a hot shower, an excellent meal and an extensive survey of the whisky menu New Year’s eve finally ended in the wee small hours of New Year’s day but that’s another story. Two weeks later my boots have just about dried out and my feet are starting to itch.

 

High Cup Nick

My partner and I were heading off to the lake district for the New Year and also trying to find time for a walk with some friends which we were all determined to fit in some how. After a bit of head scratching and perusing of maps we settled on High Cup Nick in the North Pennines. It’s en route to the lake district so we could keep on heading west and our friends could head back east.

A couple of text messages and we convened in the village of Dufton. Given the recent decidedly soggy weather the fact that the pennine way runs through the village and leads directly out to High Cup Nick is a distinct advantage, at least for the first half of the walk. You can’t actually see the nick from the village and it’s a bit of the pull up the hill before you get the view around the corner. It’s worth the wait though.

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The standard route sticks to the top of the escarpment until you get to the farthest point of the nick. At this point you can either continue around the far side or drop down through the middle to head back. The days are short at this time of year and we didn’t have a lot of time in the first place so we decided to improvise a route down the hill side. It’s steep and it was a bit slick under foot after all rain lately but passable with care. I should imagine it’s child’s play in summer. The stream in the bottom took a bit of crossing including one flying leap for those with short legs but everyone made it intact.

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The thing about walking through a narrow, steep sided valley is that all that rain which runs off the hills has to go somewhere. In this case it found it’s way to the bottom of the hill and discovered that there was nowhere else to go. Everywhere I’ve walked over the last few weeks has been absolutely sodden. It appears that the whole of the North of England is just saturated. With the water table at roughly ankle height there was nothing for it put to plodge our way out. Oddly enough no one really seemed to mind. Hill walkers are a peculiar bunch at times. At least there were plenty of excuses to stop and admire the view behind. We were even blessed with enough sunlight to make shadows at some point. I’m second from the left holding the camera.

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It was enough to make us squint anyway. Not the most flattering photo, although I say that about every photo of me, but I’m the lanky one on the left.

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From this point it was a steady wade out of the valley and then a wander back along the minor road that runs from Murton to Dufton. Having travelled many miles and braved high wind and high water the worst aspect of winter walking was still ahead of us. The pub was closed!

 

Blown away in the Yorkshire dales

In the spirit of cramming in the miles while I can over the Christmas period I decided to make the most of a break in the endless rain for a quick dash to the Yorkshire dales on December 23rd. I parked up in Kettlewell and set off for the top of Great Whernside. It’s a big lump this hill and it dominates the views in this part of Wharfedale. I’ve gazed at it from afar on a number of other walks but never really gotten around to walking up it. There’s a good landrover track that takes you from the village up through the meadows before you step out onto the open fell.

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As I gained height the view behind opened up over Wharfedale all the way to Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough in the distance. After all the recent rain the plateau before you reach the main ridge was absolutely saturated so a bit of bog trotting couldn’t be avoided. For those who like a bit of historical interest while you’re bimbling about there are memorials to several plane crashes on the slopes of Great Whernside. There is a simple wooden cross  not far from where I took the picture below. If you want to know exactly where you’ll just have to go and explore for yourself. It isn’t very big, no more than 8 inches high. When I passed the weather had taken it’s toll and the cross had fallen over. I propped it back up again but who knows how much longer it will last. Best of luck finding it

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What you can’t see in the pictures is the freezing gale that was blowing over the ridge. Up at the summit I couldn’t hold the camera still enough to take a decent picture. I did manage to find enough shelter among the car sized boulders to scoff a sarnie or two but it was too cold to linger so I was soon off again. The path at the end of the ridge drops quite steeply before crossing open ground to meet the Cam gill road that links Kettelwell to Wensleydale. Unfortunately that open ground is pretty level so all the rain that had drained off the hill had gathered on the flat ground. After a bit more bog trotting through ankle deep water I made it to the road (why do I do this again?). Crossing straight over the road you join the Starbotton road (read cart track). Instead of continuing to Starbotton I turned left at Cam head and followed the track back to Kettlewell.

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Looking back to the ground already covered

From this angle there is a fantastic view straight down the length of Wharfedale. The low winter sun was creating interesting light patterns all over the place but I’m not enough of a photographer to get a decent picture with the sun shining straight in my face so you’ll just have to use a bit of imagination to fill in the gaps.

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Wheeldale Moor

This walk actually happened on Monday 20th December 2015 but this blog didn’t exist back then. Every year I like to take a decent chunk of time off over the Christmas period. Every year I imagine the cold clear blue skies over the snowy mountains. Something like this. More often than not the reality is grey and drizzly and I end up plodding through a bog somewhere to stave off cabin fever. This year was no different.

December 2015 saw exceptional amounts of rainfall, even for December. With flooding all over the country the water table had risen to roughly ground level. Nevertheless, if I don’t get a regular hill fix then I get very grumpy indeed. Especially if I have little else to do. The North York Moors are my nearest area of hill country but I’ve never spent all that much time there. Every time I do go I promise myself I’ll make more of an effort to explore the area since it’s so close by. I can be ready to start walking within an hour from my front door. Needs must so I parked up at Goathland and set off for what turned out to be a long plod around Wheeldale moor and the surrounding area. I estimated this walk at 10-12 miles but since that was done very roughly from the gridlines on the map I might be flattering myself a bit. Having not been out for several months it felt like a lot further.

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After setting off along the dead end road that leads to Hunt House I was able to cut across country to pick up the path that goes across Wheeldale moor via the Blue man i’th moss standing stone. This is Yorkshire where even the map makers are tight with the letters in the placenames. I have to admit the these are not the places I day dream about when I’m sat at home on a cold winter night planning the next walk but I’d still rather be here than being in the office. What you do get in this part of the world is an awful lot of sky. I was brought up in the country and there is a sense of space that just isn’t there when you live in the city.

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Blue man i’th moss

The next stage of the walk involved some unavoidable tarmac bashing along the minor road of Smith’s Lane. However the tedium was alleviated by the discovery of what looked like marine fossils in a standing stone by the side of the road. Given that this area is roughly 300m above sea level these must have been laid down a very long time ago. The image below suggests some ancient otter-like creature trying to work out how to open a shell at the edge of a long-vanished sea trying to get at the tasty morsel inside.

 

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Not long after passing this stone I turned to cross back over the moor and start heading back to the car. Funnily enough I was paying a lot more attention to the surrounding rocks than I usually do. From this part of the moor you can see all the way to Whitby abbey sitting high on the cliffs. It doesn’t really come out in the picture as the air was too hazy so you’ll just have to take my word for it, it’s there.

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After crossing the moor I made my way down the hill to join the path of the Esk valley railway walk and followed it back to Goathland. Until I joined the railway I hadn’t seen another soul since I left the village that morning. Miles and miles of open moor and I had it all to myself. There are worse ways to spend a Monday afternoon.