Thursday, 28 November 2013

Catbells, Borrowdale and the Knife in the Bog


 The day after climbing Skiddaw (see previous blog entry) I awoke expecting to find myself with stiff and aching limbs and, in view of what I had planned for the day ahead, I was both pleased and relieved to realise that this wasn't the case.  Because for the third day of our short break in the Lake District I had a circular walk of 14 miles in mind, which was to begin with a climb of one of the most well-known and popular fells in Lakeland.  The charmingly named Catbells.

Situated on the western shores of Derwentwater, just three miles from the town of Keswick, Catbells has a modest height of 1,480 feet (451m).  Its name is thought to originate from "cat bield" which meant "shelter of the wild cat".  The walk we had planned was taken from Country Walking magazine and began with a climb up Catbells via the most popular route, which is very well defined, and visible from the lower slopes of Skiddaw.

The path up Catbells is visible on the left

The famous Lakeland fellwalker, writer and illustrator Alfred Wainwright describes Catbells as a walk suitable for "grannies and infants" and for the first part of the climb upwards I tended to agree with this description.  However, towards the top I found myself faced with something of a scramble over loose shale and slippery rock.  I took a photo with my phone, simply because I couldn't imagine elderly ladies and toddlers negotiating this part of the walk with ease.  Perhaps that's not quite what Wainwright had in mind!

Steep scramble on Catbells

From this part of the walk we enjoyed wonderful views, both across Derwentwater, to Skiddaw and down into the Newlands Valley and the village of Little Town which was the setting for one of Beatrix Potter's famous little books, "The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle".

Newlands Valley

Walking along Catbells
The walk along the ridge was wonderful but all too soon our route took us steeply downhill and into the valley of Borrowdale from where we headed to the little hamlet of Grange for lunch before continuing through a wooded valley and to the foot of Castle Crag.  The sun was shining as we climbed up the steep path along Broadslack Gill, between Castle Crag and Goat Crag and, stopping to catch my breath at the top, I looked back at the view between the crags and across to Skiddaw.  It was breathtakingly beautiful. 

Distant Skiddaw viewed through Broadslack Gill

A short distance onwards and yet another stunning view opened up, across the reaches of Borrowdale and down to the village of Rosthwaite.  Patches of sunlight broke through the clouds to illuminate small sections of the landscape and I waited a while here, hoping that the cloud cover would break a little more and light up more of the scene.  After a time though it became obvious this was going to take too long and so we continued along our route, dropping down to the village of Seatoller.

Looking towards Rosthwaite

From Seatoller we followed the course of the River Derwent back towards Borrowdale.  I was astonished by the clarity of the water, which was the purest looking river water I have ever seen.  It was so enticing I couldn't resist stooping down to take a drink and splash some on my face.  Of course, I wouldn't usually advocate drinking river water.   But I could tell from just looking that this was as pure as water could be - and I suffered no ill effects!

Our route was now heading back towards the village of Grange and thereafter back to the foot of Catbells via the shore of Derwentwater.  As we passed by a youth hostel we spotted a familiar couple with their dog enjoying a cup of tea in the afternoon sunshine.  We had encountered this pair several times along the walk and had smiled and exchanged greetings with them.  Now we stopped for a chat and to compare notes , realising we were all following the same route from Country Walking magazine.  A short distance further along the route and the couple and their dog caught us up again, at which point I realised they had followed us in taking a wrong turn.  We could all see the correct route across a meadow and decided we could regain the path if we cut across the meadow.  At which point things started to go awry when half way across the paddock we hit upon a bog.   We all stopped for a while and considered the options - to turn around and retrace our tracks or to negotiate the bog.  Tom took the lead and, with a running jump, cleared the bog with ease, quickly followed by the couple's little dog.  They made it look very easy and so I followed suit, only to miss my footing, slip and fall over backwards when my left foot disappeared beneath the liquid mud.  To my great embarrassment I found that I couldn't get up and I had to be pulled out by the man taking one arm and his partner the other.   What the three of us hadn't noticed, being somewhat distracted,  was that whilst I was floundering about Tom had spotted something protruding from the mud.  As the couple hoisted me to my feet Tom bent over to pick the object up.  It was a knife with a long serrated blade; the kind used by a farmer or woodsman to cut through branches.  It was practically new and had clearly been lost by another of the bog's victims.  As the couple helped me regain my balance, Tom suddenly brandished the knife in our direction and exclaimed "Well would you believe it.  Look what I've got".  At this point the couple let go of my arms and, quickly jumping over the bog, made their way back to the path without saying another word.  It took a while for me to realise why they may have beaten such a hasty retreat. 

Sunlight in Borrowdale

Thankfully the rest of our walk was uneventful, just a long steady hike back to our car at the foot of Catbells.  We did see the other couple one more time.  I can't imagine why, but they appeared to be hiding behind a drystone wall.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Skiddaw (The Lake District) - September 2013

For as many years as I care to remember I've wanted to climb a Lakeland mountain and at the start of this year I decided that I would achieve this ambition before the year was out.   It's not that I'd never climbed a mountain before.  I had done so once, many years ago in the Brecon Beacons and even before that, in my teens,  I had made an attempt on Ben Nevis, which failed due to lack of preparation and a poor choice of footwear.  Around the same time, on a trip to visit family in Cumbria, I recall a bus journey past the lower slopes of Skiddaw, peering upwards to the clouded summit at which point a lady sitting opposite me suddenly said "Ah Skiddaw, shrouded in mist as usual".  For some reason, that moment has always remained with me and so, for this reason if no other, Skiddaw was the mountain I chose to be my first true Lake District climb.

So it was, on the Friday of the second weekend of my week's leave in September, we drove out to Cumbria, to the little village of Braithwaite just a couple of miles outside Keswick, where I had booked a three night stay in a lovely guest house which enjoyed uninterrupted views across to the Skiddaw massif. 
My climb of Ingleborough the week before had left me with stiff and aching legs, which had just worn off nicely by the time we left for the drive to Keswick.  After an early departure from home we arrived in Keswick in plenty of time to attempt the ascent of Skiddaw immediately, but instead we decided it would be a good idea to warm up first, and so we spent the Friday on a nine mile circular walk along the shores of Derwentwater and up to Walla Crag, before returning to Keswick and then on to our accommodation.  The day was very overcast, the lighting poor, and so I only took a couple of very lacklustre photographs. 


 View of Derwentwater

Once we'd checked into our room though, the sun came out and looking out from our window it was wonderful to see the very top of Skiddaw actually bathed in golden sunlight (photo taken with iphone).


 Looking across to Skiddaw from Braithwaite
 
The top of Skiddaw remained clear into the evening and, on our walk back from a most enjoyable meal at the village pub, the sky was clear with an almost full moon and we could see the torches and headlamps of people making a night-time ascent.  Under a clear sky, this seemed like a wonderful thing to do, by the light of moon and stars.  It left me with high hopes for a clear ascent the next day.  Sadly though, upon waking at first light, I looked out to discover that once again Skiddaw was "shrouded in mist, as usual".


 
For a short time I considered delaying our ascent until the following day, but with no guarantee of an improvement in conditions, we decided to go ahead as planned.  I must admit, I was beginning to find the prospect a little daunting and so there was also an element of "now or never" about our decision.   
At 3,054 feet (931m) Skiddaw is the fourth highest mountain in the Lake District and the sixth highest in England.  Described in many books as "mundane" or "easy", I nevertheless viewed it with trepidation as we set off along the path leading to the lower slopes of Latrigg at the foot of the mountain.  As with most mountains and hills, there are several different routes a walker can take, and we had opted for the most popular, known as the "tourist track".  This wide and busy path passes along the edge of woodland and skirts around Latrigg before heading ever upwards towards the lower summit of Skiddaw Little Man and then the eventual summit of Skiddaw itself.  As we climbed the cloud cover grew ever closer.

 

At around 1,100 feet on the slope of Lonscale Fell we encountered a memorial in the form of a Celtic cross.  This monument was erected in memory of Edward and Joseph Hawell, father and son, who were two 19th century Skiddaw shepherds.   The monument is inscribed as follows:-

In loving memory of
two Skiddaw shepherds
Edward Hawell.
Of Lonscale.
Born Octr 21st 1815
Died June 2nd 1889.
And his son
Joseph Hawell.
Of Lonscale.
Born Decr 24th 1854.
Died Feby 20th 1891.
Noted breeders of prize Herdwick sheep.


Great shepherd of thy heavenly flock
These men have left our hill
Their feet were on the living rock
Oh guide and bless them still


We rested a while here, taking in the wildness and outstanding beauty of the place.  Upon studying the inscription I was curious to know how Joseph Hawell had died at the age of only 36 years.  I imagined hypothermia perhaps, alone with his sheep on the hillside in the depths of winter.  However, having researched this upon my return home I discovered he had actually died of tetanus following a trip to the dentist.  Somehow I think he may have preferred my imagined end to his life.  I know I would!

 

From the memorial the path climbed steadily and steeply upwards and it wasn't long before we were surrounded by cloud.  I had read that the views from Skiddaw were magnificent, but all we could see was the path immediately before us, leading ever onwards and ever upwards.  It was quite busy I believe, as we could hear laughter and voices ahead and behind us as we climbed, but the visibility was so poor it was only possible to make people out once they were within a few feet of us.

Make no mistake.  This was hard work for me!  I did, however, find a couple of techniques I'd read about in preparation for the climb very helpful indeed.  The first was to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth in a steady and continuous rhythm.  This helped a lot and although I occasionally had to stop due to being out of breath, my recovery each time took just a few seconds.  I had also read that it was important not to view a climb like this as a race, but to go at a pace that felt comfortable, regardless of how quickly others were walking.  The same advice also suggested taking what I can best describe as "fairy steps", which is to say not taking too big a stride but to just slowly and steadily take little steps, almost toe to heel.  This worked incredibly well for me.

The summit was fairly crowded.  It was also very cold, very wet and very windy, the wind being a bit of a surprise as there was barely a breeze at the lower levels.  Once up there I gave out a cheer and posed for a quick iphone photo before turning to descend.  It really was too wild to remain up there for very long.  I was nevertheless elated.  In spite of what all the guidebooks say, this was a "proper" mountain as far as I was concerned.

 

The descent it turns out was harder than the climb.  We chose to descend on what is known as the "White Stones route" leading to the village of Millbeck, described in guidebooks as "steep, stony and difficult to negotiate".  I imagine it would be hard enough to climb up this route, but going down it, for me, was very tricky indeed.  On more than one occasion I lost my footing or found the slope too steep to stand on and ended up sitting down abruptly and sliding in the shale.  Fortunately this part of the descent didn't last for long, although most of this route down was very steep and very painful on the knees, even with the aid of two walking poles.

As we descended through the cloud the view began to open up.  The lighting could have been better, but even so this was a truly magnificent view.  


 The lower we got the brighter it became and by the time we got towards the bottom I took a picture of one of the very pretty Herdwick sheep; the breed synonymous with the Lakes (and the Hawells of Lonscale).


Once back on level ground again it transpired we had a walk of three miles to take us back to our car on the outskirts of Keswick.  It was by now a lovely afternoon, with plenty of warming sunshine and not even a hint of a breeze.  I was in high spirits.  I had climbed Skiddaw and it hadn't been too bad at all.  In fact, I'd thoroughly enjoyed every minute and was only too keen to do more.  All of them in fact!  Every mountain and hill in Yorkshire and the Lake District at least!
As we happily tramped along in the afternoon sunshine I looked up at Skiddaw and smiled.  It was still shrouded in mist.

To end this blog entry I'd like to share a screenshot from the excellent iPhone app I use as a navigational aid and record of my walks (more on this later).  This screenshot is an altitude graph of the climb which, I believe, speaks very nicely for itself.

 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Right as rain

It was whilst on the Grassington and Mossdale Scar walk, back in August, that I discovered my wet weather gear was far from ideal.  In fact, it would be fair to say it was useless!  All I had up to this point was a so-called waterproof and breathable jacket which I discovered was neither.   

And so it was the day after getting soaked at Mossdale that I bought myself a "proper" waterproof jacket and, a few days later, a pair of overtrousers.
These days there's a huge and bewildering selection of waterproofs to choose from and I didn't know where to start looking.  As it happened though, a little outdoor clothing shop in Grassington had a jacket I liked the look of on special offer and, having read its specification and tried it on for size, I knew this was the jacket for me.

 
The Rab Momentum ladies' jacket is made from eVent fabric , which employs a waterproof and breathable membrane. Its unique composition allows millions of tiny pores to breathe at their full potential.  It was originally designed for Alpine climbers and weighs just 310g and so packs up very light for carrying in a backpack.  As with most items of Rab clothing, the hood is designed to fit over a helmet if necessary (useful for when I go cycling), and the strong "Aquaguard"  zip is fully water proof, as are the zipped pockets.  I bought mine in the rose colour (as shown) which is very nice without being too gaudy.  
When it came to overtrousers, I wanted a pair that were completely waterproof, breathable, light to carry and easy to put on in the event of a sudden downpour.   After a little online research, I chose the Berghaus Deluge .  These are made from waterproof and breathable AQ2 fabric and come in a women's specific fit, with a shorter leg length available (a deciding factor for me).  Having an elasticated waist and three-quarter zips means these trousers can be taken on or off with ease and the zips also provide additional venting if required.   They are comfortable enough to wear over a pair of shorts on rainy summer days and the articulated knees mean movement is very easy, even when climbing over stiles.


I got the chance to try out my new wet weather gear the day after my ascent of Ingleborough.  About half way round a proposed eight mile circular walk from Ingleton it began to rain.  The coat and trousers were quickly removed from the rucksack and on in literally seconds, which is just as well, as the gentle rain steadily increased into a full blown cloudburst!  We continued to walk for a while until visibility got so bad we decided to abort the walk and made our way back down to Ingleton, where the roads were flowing like rivers.  In spite of all this my new gear kept me as dry as a bone and very comfortable indeed.  The temperature was quite mild and we walked at quite a fast pace, but even so I didn't overheat at all and I'm therefore happy to be able to recommend both these items of clothing.




Ingleborough (Yorkshire Three Peaks) - September 2013


In mid September I decided to take a holiday, but instead of going away for an entire week I chose to have extended weekend breaks at each end of my week's  leave.  It was time, I had decided, to climb a little higher.
The first weekend was spent in the Yorkshire Dales at Ingleton, my aim being to climb my second Yorkshire Three Peaks mountain - Ingleborough.   At 2,372 feet (723 metres), Ingleborough is the second highest mountain in Yorkshire, just under 100 feet higher than Pen-y-Ghent's 2,277 feet and only 43 feet less than Whernside's 2,415 feet.   There are several routes of ascent, but as our base was the village of Ingleton we decided to leave from the car park of the pub where we were staying for a couple of nights. 

The weather was perfect for our walk - blue sky, sunshine and only a light breeze.  As we set off along the lane towards Ingleborough the ascent was gentle and across the fields, over the limestone valley, we could see the distant peak of Whernside.

 
Along the lane Ingleborough beckoned.  It looked quite daunting from this level, a mass of grey shale and plateaus, although a path was faintly discernible, winding its way through the lower grassy slopes.
 
 The lower slopes entailed some highly enjoyable walking, which wasn't too strenuous and offered some sumptuous views of the mountain which, strangely, seemed to be further away with each step.


 Even on the steepest part of the ascent the mountain would fool us, as each plateau was climbed, yet more waited, and each one felt like it should be the summit.   I found it quite tough going at times and it didn't help that when I stopped for a breather I was overtaken by a three-legged dog who, along with his owner, scampered along and upwards with complete ease.  I had already decided that the following weekend I was going to attempt to climb one of the Lake District's highest mountains (Skiddaw) and I mentioned this to a lady who stopped for a chat as she passed us on her descent.  "Skiddaw isn't any harder than this one", she commented.  "It's just that Skiddaw is much longer".  I took encouragement from this and pretty soon afterwards the broad plateau of Ingleborough's summit opened up before us.  The summit is actually half a mile in circumference, but even so it was pretty crowded up there with groups of people huddled around the central cairn and what appeared to be a school trip.
 
On the summit we enjoyed a picnic lunch whilst watching a hang glider swooping and soaring along the valley.  The view was magnificent!  On a clear day, such as this was, you can see the peaks of Snaefell on the Isle of Man (84 miles) and as far as Manod Mawr in Snowdonia (103 miles).  The Lakeland fells stretch along the western horizon - Great Gable, Scafell, Helvellyn, Grasmoor and High Street to name a few - all calling me to climb them in the future. 
 
The summit of Ingleborough in itself is a fascinating place with a rich history of its own.  The word "borough" or "burgh" means "fort", and this was once the site of a large Iron Age hillfort settlement, the home of the Brigantes, the largest tribe in Celtic Britain.  In fact, It may be that this was a base for Venutius who led several rebellions after his 'divorce' from Cartimandua the Brigante's Queen who was a supporter of the Roman invaders. 
 
Ingleborough 's rich heritage doesn't just include what's visible above ground.  It's just as well-known for what lies beneath in its network of potholes and caverns.  Two of these are open to the public as show caves.  Ingleborough Cave is situated on the south side of the mountain and was first opened to public viewing in 1837.  White Scar Caves were discovered in 1923 and have been open to the public since 1925.  Situated to the west of Ingleborough, on the main road from Ingleton to Hawes, White Scar is the longest show cave in the UK.  In addition to these two cave systems open to public view, Ingleborough hides a network of caves  accessible only by properly trained and equipped cavers.  The most famous of these caverns is Gaping Gill, a 322 feet  deep pothole with the stream Fell Beck flowing into it.  After falling through one of the largest known underground chambers in Britain (comparable in size to York Minster), the water disappears into the boulder-strewn floor and eventually resurges adjacent to Ingleborough Cave.

 
I was very keen to visit the entrance to Gaping Gill, which necessitated a partial descent of Ingleborough followed by an ascent again to take us back to the path we needed to follow back to Ingleton.  I had read that at certain times of year (on public holidays) the Bradford Caving Club will winch members of the public down into Gaping Gill for the payment of a fee, and I wanted to see for myself what the cave entrance was like.  I had an idea I might like to try this, but having peered down into that hole, I'm not so sure now!

After a brief rest at Gaping Gill we were faced with a second ascent of Ingleborough - not quite all the way up, but almost.  And this ascent, although well laid out with paving slab steps, was even tougher than our original route.  Once at the top of Little Ingleborough (just over 2,000 feet) we found a path steeply down towards Ingleton.  That was two Three Peaks down - one to go!
Finally for this blog entry, a few words about the village of Ingleton and our base for the weekend, the Wheatsheaf Inn. 
Situated on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Ingleton is an excellent base for visiting the area.  There are several pubs and guest houses and apart from the nearby Three Peaks and Ingleborough's caves, there is also the very beautiful Ingleton Waterfalls Trail.  This is a four mile circular route taking in several spectacular waterfalls and areas of outstanding beauty.  The land is all privately owned and an admission charge is made to take part in the trail, but having visited here previously I can confidently say I believe it's well worth paying to see. 

The village of Ingleton hosts several special events throughout the year and it just so happened our stay coincided with their annual Wild West Weekend which, to be honest, I found totally bizarre.  To see American Civil War soldiers and partially-clad squaws wandering around the small village was surrreal!  Apparently, there was a battle re-enactment on both the Saturday and the Sunday, which we managed to avoid (not my thing!).  In the village there are a couple of specialist walking/caving shops and situated on the outskirts by the main road is Daleswear, a large outdoor clothing and equipment retailer which stocks an excellent range of reasonably priced merchandise.  The second day of our weekend was very wet, so I spent a very happy couple of hours shopping here.
The Wheatsheaf Inn turned out to be a bit of a find for us.  As walkers we like to stay in a certain type of place.  We're not into hostels or bunk barns, but at the same time neither are we keen on places that are too fancy.  What we like most of all is a good honest pub/inn where muddy boots are welcomed, with good food and beer and all the usual amenities and comforts, such as en suite, TV, tea and coffee making facilities, etc.  We're not bothered if the decor is dated, as long as the room is clean and the temperature can be regulated by means of a radiator and a window that opens.   The Wheatsheaf Inn met all these requirements...and some!   Excellent food, comfortable (but not too fancy) room, great beer and friendly staff.  We certainly plan on staying there again one day.

I was sad to be leaving Ingleton after just a couple of nights, although at the same time I was both excited and apprehensive about the trip I had planned for the following weekend - a visit to Keswick in the Lake District and (I hoped) an ascent of Skiddaw, which will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Stone Crosses and Heather (North York Moors) - August 2013

August is a good time to visit the North York Moors.  At this time of year the heather is in full bloom; a carpet of purple in every direction, at some points extending as far as the eye can see.  It really is very beautiful. 

In late August we drove to Castleton on the northern edge of the moors to walk a 12 mile circuit through Westerdale, to Rosedale Head and then back to Castleton via the village of Botton.  We drove to Castleton early in the morning, driving through thick fog for the entire 40 mile journey, all the while believing it would soon burn away with the rising sun.  However, this didn't happen until well past midday and so the first half of the walk was very damp with poor visibility.  Occasionally a light breeze would pick up and the mist would swirl, giving a brief glimpse of features in the landscape.


 
Just outside the village of Westerdale, nestling amongst trees in a valley bottom, we came across an interesting little bridge which I photographed, in spite of the light being very weak and flat.  I was curious about this little bridge which spans the River Esk, as it left the road but didn't seem to actually lead anywhere.  Subsequent research has identified this as Hunter's Sty Bridge, a medieval packhorse bridge possibly built by the Knights Templar who are thought to have had a preceptory in the Westerdale area in the 12th century.  The bridge was restored in 1874 by Colonel Octavius Duncombe, from the Duncombe Park Estate at Helmsley which owned most of the Westerdale Moor area at that time.


As we walked out of Westerdale and towards the head of Rosedale via Castleton Rigg, I was hoping the mist would clear in time for our midway point.  I had planned this to not only coincide with our lunch stop, but also to enable me to photograph one of the three moorland crosses along our route.  As we passed the first of the crosses the mist did indeed begin to lift, enabling me to get a reasonable photograph.

There are many crosses and standing stones all over the North York Moors.  Some mark the boundaries between parishes or areas of grazing land, some are waymarks to aid travellers across the open moors and some mark the places where monks would preach to the local communities.   I have long had a fascination with the moorland stones and crosses and so I was very keen to have the opportunity to visit and photograph three in one day's walking.  The first we encountered was Fat Betty, also known as "White Cross" due to the fact that it is periodically painted white to enable it to act as a visible waymark. 

 Fat Betty isn't actually a cross as such, it's more a short stump with a wheelhead cross on top.  Possibly dating from the Norman period, Fat Betty marks the boundary between the parishes of Castleton and Rosedale.  There are a couple of legends as to how the cross came by the name of Fat Betty.  One tells the tale of a nun named Sister Elizabeth who lived at nearby Rosedale Abbey  and was, to put it politely, a generously proportioned lady.  The second myth tells the tale of a farmer's wife called Betty who fell from the back of her husband's cart as they travelled home from market one foggy night.  When the farmer retraced his steps in search of his wife, he found that she had been turned to stone.
 
A short distance along the road from Fat Betty stands the first of the two Ralph Crosses.  The tallest and most recent of the two marks the crossroads between Castleton, Westerdale, Rosedale Abbey and Gillamor, and is known as Young Ralph.  Standing at nine feet high, Young Ralph is the most famous of all the moorland crosses as it is used by the North York Moors National Park as their emblem.  It is thought Young Ralph was erected in the eighteenth century, possibly to replace an older medieval cross on the same site or perhaps to provide a taller version of the ancient Old Ralph which is situated approximately 300 yards away from the road.

 To get to Old Ralph involved a tramp through the heather as there was no clear path at this point.  However, when we eventually found him the mist finally disappeared completely, the sun came out and we enjoyed a very pleasant picnic lunch, sitting on the base of the cross. 

Crucem Radulphi is listed in the Guisborough Charters  of 1200AD and therefore this cross possibly takes its name from Bishop Ralph of Guisborough Priory who in 1200 was granted grazing rights in this area.  Local legend, however, tells that the cross is named after a Danby farmer name "Aud Ralph" who erected a memorial to a traveller who died on this spot.  Local legends are fun!  There's also one that states that if Old Ralph ever gets up and joins Fat Betty then they will marry.  Now THAT I would like to see!!

 After an enjoyable lunch in the presence of Old Ralph we retraced our steps back past Fat Betty (stopping to give her Ralph's best wishes) and then made our way across the moors to above the village of Botton.  Here the sun was shining and the heather was blooming - the very best kind of day to be out on the moors.


Before returning to Castleton we passed through Botton, which is a lovely secluded little moorland village I'd never heard of before this walk.  I was intrigued to see various little workshops and shops and it quickly became apparent that the village was a special kind of community.  Botton, it turns out, is a Camphill Community with a population made up of 130 "villagers" who are all adults with learning disabilities and 150 "co-workers" who assist them with work on the community's five farms and in various workshops where products are made to sell to the public.  It was very peaceful as we passed through, and being quite late on a Sunday afternoon there was no sign of activity until we walked along the lane out of the village where we had to stand aside to make way for a herd of longhorn cattle.  Apparently, Botton was the subject of a 2005 Channel 4 documentary entitled "The Strangest Village in Britain".  We didn't find it strange at all.  It was actually very peaceful and charming. 

 

Our walk ended back in the village of Castleton  from where it was a short drive to the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge and time for a refreshing beer before heading home from what had been a rewarding and highly fascinating moorland walk. 

 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Grassington & Mossdale Scar - August 2013

Our trip to Pen-y-Ghent called for an overnight stay so that we could enjoy a second day's walking in  the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.  We chose to stay in the popular Dales village of Grassington and to walk a circuit of 12 miles directly from Grassington, taking in the dramatic and tragic Mossdale Scar.
 


The forecast was for a chance of showers but the day started out with bright sunshine, providing perfect lighting to pick out the drystone walls and barns for which the Yorkshire Dales are famous.


Soon after climbing out of Grassington the terrain became gradually more rugged and we started to see exposed sections of limestone. 

 
The Great Scar Limestone of the Yorkshire Dales was laid down on seabeds some 300 million years ago .  During the last ice age glaciers scraped away the surface exposing the natural joints in the underlying limestone rock. Slightly acidic rain dissolved these vertical joints creating the limestone clints and grikes (blocks and the crevices in between), which make up the  limestone pavements and  I was particularly keen to photograph a section of pavement above Conistone, a few miles north of Grassington. 
 
The soils lying over this rock are usually very thin and of low fertility and, in combination with consistent grazing, often results in a rich diversity of lime loving grasses, ferns and wildflowers for which the limestone country of the Dales is famous.

 
We lingered a while around this lovely stretch of pavement so I could capture as many photographs as possible before the weather closed in, then from here we walked a further couple of miles to Mossdale Scar.  The wind picked up and rain clouds gathered ominously as we sheltered in a grouse butt to eat our lunch.
As we made our way down to Mossdale Scar it began to pour with rain.  This was unfortunate as I was hoping to take some photographs, but it was also fittingly poignant. 

Mossdale Scar is a limestone cliff below which the Mossdale Beck disappears underground to emerge at Black Keld nearly three miles away.  Exploration of the cave system of Mossdale Caverns was begun in 1941 and continued until tragedy struck on 24th June 1967.  On this day ten young cavers entered the caverns to begin an exploration.  Three hours later four of the party left the cave and shortly afterwards it began to rain heavily.  One of the party who had left the cave returned to the entrance to discover the beck had broken its banks and the entrance to the caverns was completely submerged.  She raised the alarm and a rescue attempt was undertaken which lasted throughout the night and into the following day and involved a large group of people diverting the course of the beck so that an attempt could be made to reach those trapped inside.  Sadly, when rescuers were eventually able to enter the caverns, all six of the young men trapped inside were found to have died.  Due to the difficulty of bringing their bodies out through the narrow tunnels, the coroner decided that they should be left in situ, the cave sealed off and declared a grave.  A plaque in memory of this tragic event (the worst in caving history) was later placed on the cliff above the cavern entrance.

 

We sheltered for a while under the cliff of Mossdale Scar until the rain began to ease.  It felt strange and eerie, knowing that while we stood there beneath our feet lay the bodies of those six young cavers and although it was a beautiful and atmospheric place, I was a little relieved to move on.

From Mossdale it was a steady tramp across moorland down to Grassington through intermittent rain showers and back to the pub for a change into dry clothing and a welcome pint of the Grassington Ale (a locally brewed beer which is truly delicious).

I've done many walks this year and I think this one remains my favourite.  It was both beautiful and sad.  And I have every intention of returning to Mossdale Scar before long so that I can take some photographs and pay my respects again to those six young men who lie beneath the limestone.

 

Monday, 4 November 2013

The right trousers

One of the most unsuitable items of clothing to wear on a walk is a pair of denim jeans.  They're heavy, with thick seams and if they get wet they're very slow to dry.  At the start of the year jeans were all I had and so finding suitable legwear quickly became a priority.

As the year has progressed I've acquired a variety of shorts, cropped and full length trousers and this short review is about my two favourite pairs.
First there's the Berghaus Ortler Ladies' Walking Trousers. 


These are lightweight, three season pants which basically means they're most suited to spring, summer and autumn conditions, but not suitable for the depths of winter.  Having now worn them on a cold windy day, I can vouch for this being the case.  However, in warmer conditions they are very comfortable indeed.  The fabric is light and breathable and temperature control is aided by the addition of a zipped vent on each leg.  The bottom of the legs can be cinched with elastic drawstrings which is useful  to ensure they sit at the top of boots and therefore don't get too dirty in muddy conditions.  The fabric is very quick drying and can stand a shower without becoming too uncomfortable.  What I especially liked when choosing these trousers is that they come in different leg lengths (many well known brands are only available in one length  - long, and I'm quite short).  Two factors which could stand improvement are the lack of stretch (although they're loose fitting enough for that not to cause a problem) and the lack of zipped pockets.

My very favourite trousers are the Craghoppers Kiwi Pro Stretch. 
 
 
I bought a black pair (with a pretty pink lining!) which are superbly comfortable and also look smart enough to wear out.  A little warmer than the Berghaus, they are also highly breathable and shower resistant (although I've yet to test this out in wet weather).  What I especially like is the addition of zipped pockets which means I can carry loose change with confidence.  These trousers also come in different leg lengths and the fit is very true to size.  Again, these are "three season" trousers and, like the Berghaus, would not be suitable for cold, winter walks.

As I started the year with next to no suitable kit, I've had to invest in various items as the year has progressed.  These days there's a bewildering choice of stuff out there, so I hope my short reviews might prove helpful to anyone looking for similar items.  Next time I'll be writing a review about waterproofs.

Pen-y-Ghent (Yorkshire Three Peaks) - August 2013

One of the most demanding walks in the UK is the "Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge", which  requires walkers to climb to the peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside in under 12 hours.  This entails walking a distance of 25 miles and approximately 7,000 feet of ascent in total.  Those who successfully complete the challenge within the 12 hour timeframe are eligible to join the Yorkshire Three Peaks Club.  Whilst it is certainly one of my ambitions to complete this challenge, in the first instance my aim is to concentrate on conquering the peaks one at a time.

And so it was in August this year that I set off to tackle Pen-y-Ghent.  This wasn't just to be my first "Three Peaks" summit,  but also at 2,277 feet  Pen-y-Ghent is officially a mountain.  At the beginning of this year, when I took up walking seriously again, I promised myself I would start to tackle hills and eventually mountains.  It had taken a little longer than I anticipated, but after my adventures in the Preseli Hills of Wales I felt ready for a proper mountain, albeit a small one.

 
There are several routes to the top of Pen-y-Ghent and we opted to take the most popular southern ascent.   Leaving from the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the route climbs steadily to begin with, following the line of drystone walls until the serious final stage, which includes something of a scramble on bare rock.  It's a very popular walk, with people converging on the summit from all directions.  Joining us on the ascent  were family groups, fell runners, dog walkers and those taking part in the bigger challenge.

 
We chose to make the walk a circuit (approximately 8 miles) and so descended by the gentler northern slope, thus passing by Hull Pot.  This is a natural feature, formed when the roof of a natural cave collapsed and said to be the largest natural hole in Britain.  My photograph doesn't really do it justice - but it was a long way down!  The only way down to the bottom is by rope.

 
Unfortunately the day was overcast and the light less than favourable for photography (most of my pictures were taken with my phone), so although I did take a shot from the summit, the view looks rather lacklustre.  However, the lack of sunshine did make for a more comfortable climb.

 
The climb wasn't too difficult and it left me wondering whether I could perhaps tackle the full challenge after all.  With one peak down and two to go, I decided to reserve judgment until I'd properly acquainted myself with Ingleborough and Whernside.