Getting reacquainted

This was a day of revisiting old hills in new ways. The route from Coniston Old Man to Wetherlam in either direction is one of the classic lake district rounds. It’s one I’ve done numerous times and will likely go back many more, but not on this occasion, or at least not in the usual way.

I’ve never been a fan of the drive up to the parking area where the tarmac ends at Walna Scar road. The road is steep and narrow and the parking area is usually over crowded. Instead I parked in the village and slogged up the hill on foot instead to the gate at the end of the road where the track turns in towards the foot of the Old Man. After only a few hundred yards I branched off towards a small rocky outcrop known as The Bell. There’s a grade one scramble up the obvious rib in the picture below that I knew of but had never done. The great thing about playing in the easy grades is that you can adjust the challenge level to whatever you’re in the mood for on the day. If there’s a move you don’t fancy, just go a different way. Anyone who argues that you have to do exactly the line in the guidebook is missing the point in my view.

The Bell with the scramble on the main rib

From the top of The Bell I wandered along a deserted hilltop to rejoin the main path below the steep the climb up to Low water. This is another place I rarely come to as I don’t often travel this route. I did this walk on a weekday so it was relatively quiet but on a summer weekend there’s a steady procession up through here. Low Water is an atmospheric spot on a gloomy day surrounded by looming crags and the detritus of past industry. On a few occasions walking in this area I’ve looked onto the eastern side of Brim fell that sits above Low water from the surrounding hills and thought it looked like there ought to be a way up the hill. There’s no path marked on the map but the trodden line in the grass suggested I wasn’t the first person to have had that thought. From Low Water to the summit of Brim fell I walked ground I’ve never walked before and didn’t see another soul. Mountains have a curious way of folding a lot of land into a small area. Even in somewhere as popular as the lake district it is still possible to find quiet corners if you learn to look past the lines on the map and to see the land as it is.

From the top of Brim fell there are a few options. The return towards the Old Man or the loop out to Dow Crag are both fine walks in their own right but on this day it was the ridge to the north towards Swirl How that called me on despite the freezing wind chill. The Coniston fells often seem to have a separate weather system to the rest of the lakes and today was one of those days. All through the day I’d seen snow showers blowing across the northern sky. By the time I reached Swirl How I could see a line of white capping the highest fells. From the Scafells in the west to Helvellyn in the east via Skiddaw and Blencathra in the north. My day in contrast had been overcast but dry and grew progressively warmer from here on out.

Crinkle crags and Bow fell

After the steep descent down prison band from Swirl How there’s a path that drops back down to Levers water and the coppermines valley beyond. The temptation of the easy roll downhill seems to be too strong for most people. This tends to leave Wetherlam as another of those curious quiet outposts reserved for the discerning few who make the climb uphill again. The polar opposite of the old man at the other end of the ridge, both geographically and spiritually. If the Old Man represents the hustle and bustle of lake district tourism, on Wetherlam you can still find a quiet spot to settle down out of the wind behind a convenient rock and absorb the view over a cup of tea or three. By this time May seemed to have remembered that snow was entirely inappropriate behaviour for a spring month and rolled out the sunshine and blue skies more in keeping with the season.

Little Langdale, Langdale Pikes and a snowy Helvellyn

After taking it all in I descended via Wetherlam edge. A route I haven’t done in so long it felt completely new. The area from Tilberthwaite gill back to the coppermines valley is another of those curious places folded away by the landscape. It seems to be tucked away in between the more popular routes and you can only see it by deliberately going there. By that stage my tiring legs were glad of the easy roll downhill back to Coniston village reflecting on the pleasures of covering new ground in familiar places, using the less trodden paths and following my feet to wherever felt good at the time.

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.

Gadding about the place

Welcome to my little corner of the internet. Feel free to stay a while. There’s nothing much to see yet but things will appear in the fullness of time. This is mostly a place for me to collect my walking trips around the UK and occasionally further afield. Over the years I’ve collected a few thousand photos of various pointy lumpy bits of England, Scotland and Wales. Mostly these end up sitting on the hard drive of my laptop unseen by anyone so I thought I’d create a space to share them. I write for myself and posts are likely to be intermittent depending on how often I can get out. Comments will always make me smile but please be nice. I’m no photographer and I make no apologies for the quality of the images. These are basically my holiday snaps taken with a simple point-and-click camera

There are 4000+ images from previous trips on my partners flickr account should you care where we’ve been before. Realistically the chances of me ever migrating all of those over here are pretty close to zero so I’m going to use this first entry to post small selection of favourites. At least there will be something pretty to look at until I get around to writing some more content.

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Skye – Looking down into Loch Coruisk

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Skye again – part of the Cuillin ridge

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Torridon – Beinn Alligin across Upper Loch Torridon

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Sunset on Loch Torridon

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Langdale pikes – This is what winter is supposed to look like

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The Scafell massif from Great Gable

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Ennerdale on a glorious September day