Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My New Year's Honours List

Well, that's goodbye to 2013.  And what a year it's been for me!  Not only have I accomplished my aim to start country walking regularly again, but I've also fulfilled my very long-standing ambition of climbing a mountain.  In fact, not just one.  During the course of the year I've climbed five "proper" mountains, which in the UK is anything over 2,000 feet.  So as the year draws to a close I'm not only feeling very pleased with myself, I'm also highly motivated to continue and improve.  And as 2014 begins I will be writing in my blog about my aims and fitness plans for the year ahead. 

As well as feeling pleased with myself and highly motivated, I also feel very grateful for some of the excellent experiences I've enjoyed in 2013.  So with that in mind, and as a somewhat self-indulgent way of reminiscing on the year that's just passed, I've put together my very own New Year's Honours List. 

And, in no particular order, the winners are......
Favourite Mountain - Grisedale Pike 
I'm not quite sure why this one beats the likes of Skiddaw or Ingleborough.  Partly, I suppose, it's because it was quite strenuous, but not too tough.  Partly because I really loved the view and just the overall feeling/atmosphere on the summit.  But also because the name sounds great when it's said in Alfred Wainwright's accent!

Best Beer - Snecklifter
Brewed by the Cumbrian brewery Jennings, this is a rich and creamy taste of Lakeland.  I haven't been able to find it on sale anywhere except the Lakes, sadly.  For me it's a fitting reward at the end of a long Lakeland walk or climb.  So much so that towards the end of our lengthy and very tiring walk in Borrowdale I found that by chanting "Snecklifter, Snecklifter" I was actually walking a little faster.

Pub of the Year - The Wheatsheaf, Ingleton
This was a tough choice as I've visited some excellent hostelries this year.  The Wheatsheaf wins because it ticked so many boxes - homely accommodation, great food, good beer (Hobgoblin...a close second to Snecklifter), very friendly staff and great entertainment (an excellent three piece heavy rock band when we were there). 

Room of the Year - The Centre of Britain, Haltwhistle
This wasn't just a hotel room, it was a massive suite (sitting room, bedroom and spa bathroom) - all for the same price as an average bed and breakfast in the Lake District.   Alright, so Haltwhistle itself isn't an amazing place, but who cares when there's a hotel of this calibre so close to Hadrian's Wall!

Best Evening Meal - The Royal Oak, Braithwaite
This award was a no-brainer for me.  And if you ever get a chance to try their butterfly chicken with leek and stilton sauce and chargrilled sweet potato wedges, you'll know what I mean.  Hell, I could get in my car and drive there and back right now just to eat this meal! 

Walk of the Year - Grassington/Mossdale Scar
When I look back over all the walks I've done this year, this is the one that stands out in my mind the most.  The scenery was gorgeous, the route was varied (a variety of grassy pastures, limestone pavement, moorland and quiet country lanes) and also I can't quite describe how poignant and moving I found the experience of visiting Mossdale.  This is a walk I would love to do again.

Best Breakfast - The Centre of Britain, Haltwhistle
Not only does this hotel provide the most wonderful rooms of anywhere I've ever been, the food is pretty damned fantastic too.  In fact, it only just missed out on my evening meal award.   I could wax lyrical but instead just one word sums up their cooked breakfasts - perfection.  Enough said.

Hotel of the Year - The Centre of Britain, Haltwhistle
Amazing rooms, fantastic food and lovely staff, all at a very reasonable price.  This will be a hard act to follow next year...and I'm pretty sure I'll be visiting again soon!

Outdoor Retailer - Go Outdoors
I really, really would have liked to have awarded this one to a small independent, non-chain store.  But I can't.  Go Outdoors have a fantastic range of gear and their prices are hard to beat.  For example, I found a Rab softshell jacket I wanted in a small shop in Keswick and nearly bought it.  I didn't.  And then I found it at Go Outdoors for £45 less.  Unfortunately, I'm not wealthy enough to go around giving an extra £50 here and there, just to keep small businesses in business.  It's a shame really.  And so, with that in mind, I've added another category......

Independent Retailer of the Year - Daleswear, Ingleton
A VERY close second to Go Outdoors.  The prices are reasonable although the range (understandably) isn't quite as massive.  They do mail order and this service is excellent, although nothing compares with actually visiting their lovely big store in Ingleton which is a real treat to look around and the staff are extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.

That's it then.  My New Year's Honours List for 2013.  I was going to add images and links for all my winners, but they're all online.  If you want to know more, they can all be found via Google.  I hope my recommendations may prove useful to someone, but in any case I've enjoyed deliberating and picking my favourites.
And finally a massive thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write to me about my blog.  I've always enjoyed writing, and I do so love reminiscing about the lovely places I've been to and the fun times I've had,  but even so, blogging about it seemed somewhat egotistical and self-indulgent.  The fact that several of you have taken the time to write and tell me you've enjoyed reading the blog and have found some of the information useful means a lot to me and gives me the confidence to continue writing.  Thank you all!

So, all that remains is for me to wish all my readers a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, 2014.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Whernside (Yorkshire Three Peaks) - November 2013

As 2013 drew to a close I realised I had unfinished business in the Yorkshire Dales.  There was one of Yorkshire's Three Peaks which I had yet to climb.  The highest of the three - Whernside.

The idea of climbing all three in the same year appealed to me and so I decided to waste no further time.  As the weather forecast for the second weekend in November seemed reasonably favourable, we headed west again, initially to the Wensleydale village of Hawes.  Although we could have easily driven directly to Whernside, climbed the mountain and driven home again in the same day, the chance to spend a little longer in the Yorkshire Dales is one we’d seldom pass by.  And Hawes is home to two of our favourite places to visit in the Dales – the Wensleydale Creamery and the Wensleydale Pantry.  The “Pantry” is a little restaurant in Hawes which offers the most comprehensive menu I’ve ever seen, from cooked breakfasts to curries, steak dinners, pasta, cakes, pastries – just about anything you can imagine.  We are particularly fond of their cooked breakfasts, so a very early start landed us on their doorstep just after they had first opened.  Suitably stuffed with a “full English” we then made our way to the "Creamery", home of the famous Wensleydale cheese.  Here you can taste all the many varieties of Wensleydale, such as cranberry, ginger or even blue Wensleydale.  Even after a full breakfast, there’s always room to taste as many samples as possible before shopping for our favourites!

From Wensleydale it was just a short drive to the village of Dent, which is actually just over the border into Cumbria.  I wanted to stay the night here at the George and Dragon – a pub with its very own brewery.  I also planned to warm up for the Whernside climb with a walk around the beautiful Dentdale. Having checked into the pub though and sampled a glass of their ale by the roaring log fire, a walk began to seem less likely.  Even so, we stole ourselves away and headed off along the banks of the River Dee in crisp autumn sunshine.  Sadly, the sunny weather did not stay with us for very long and, as we began to climb up away from the river, we could see an ominous cloud rolling in along the valley.  No sooner had we put on our waterproof gear than the cloud had caught us up, engulfing us in a very sharp hailstorm with thunder rumbling over the hilltops.  This was all the excuse we needed to return to that cosy fireside and tasty beer.    And there we stayed for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Perfect way to spend a cold afternoon

Today Dent is in Cumbria, although it is within the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and historically was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire.  It’s a very beautiful little village and its main street is very narrow and cobbled.  Watching tractors rumbling along here was quite a sight, particularly if one met a car coming in the opposite direction.

The main road through Dent

We awoke on Sunday morning in Dent to find that there had been a very hard frost overnight.  After a massive breakfast we headed off to the Ribblehead Viaduct, the starting point for our ascent of Whernside.  As we approached we could see that the top of the mountain was white with snow, as were many of the surrounding hills.  The sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly, and having wrapped up well the conditions were actually perfect for a climb.

Whernside and the Ribblehead Viaduct

Ribblehead is the longest viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle Line.  Built between 1870 and 1874, the construction was undertaken by thousands of navvies who established homes for themselves and their families in shanty towns which they built on the surrounding moorland.  Over 100 navvies lost their lives building the viaduct, which measures 440 yards in length and 104 feet high.  The Settle to Carlisle Line is one of the most beautiful stretches of railway in the UK and in the 1980s there were plans to close it down which thankfully failed.  Leaving our car in the roadside car park by the viaduct, we set off along our route which to begin with followed the course of the railway, eventually crossing the line at Blea Moor Tunnel. 
Blea Moor signal box on the Settle to Carlisle Line
At 2,629 yards, this is the longest tunnel on the Settle to Carlisle Line, passing 500 feet below Blea Moor.  The tunnel took four years to complete and evidence of the spoil heaps from the tunnel's excavation can still be seen in the surrounding landscape.

The entrance to Blea Moor Tunnel (the bump of earth in the centre
of the hillside to the right is one of the spoil heaps from the tunnel excavation)

Having crossed the railway at Blea Moor our ascent of Whernside began in earnest.  Just like Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough, the path up Whernside was very nicely maintained and paved which not only helps walkers to navigate their route to the top but also controls erosion from all those walking boots.  However, on this particular day those paving slabs and steps were glazed with sheets of ice, making them treacherously slippery and to be avoided if possible.  Slipping hazards aside though, the ascent of Whernside was actually very straightforward and easy.  It may be the highest of the Three Peaks, but it is without a doubt the easiest.

Approaching Whernside on icy footpaths
Snow covered steps near the summit of Whernside

Reaching the summit of a hill or mountain gives me a real sense of achievement and happiness.  Somehow the snow at the top of Whernside, albeit a mere dusting, amplified that sense of wellbeing.  It was magical!  The views all around were stunning.  Close by were the now familiar peaks of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough, just below the summit was the very cold looking yet beautiful Greensett Tarn and over to the west I could see the mountains of the Lake District silhouetted on the horizon. 
Looking towards Ingleborough from the summit of Whernside
After posing by the summit's trig point (it was Remembrance Sunday, and someone had thoughtfully placed a single poppy on the stone), it was time to make our descent back to Ribblehead.   

On the summit of Whernside

Luckily for us our descent of Whernside was on the sunny side of the mountain and so any ice and snow had quickly melted away, making the steep path down much easier to negotiate.   The sun was shining brightly and it very quickly became too warm for all the layers of clothing we'd needed on the summit.  A walk of approximately three miles took us back to the viaduct and our car.

Return to Ribblehead Viaduct

As we enjoyed a well earned beer in the pub which sits by the viaduct (the Station Inn), I felt reasonably satisfied to have now completed my own Three Peaks Challenge.  But at the same time this did leave me asking myself the question: can I complete all three in one go?  That's all there mountains and a total of 25 miles in under 12 hours?   I guess I'll just have to give it a try.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Bridestones (North York Moors) - November 2013

The main focus for our first walk in November was the group of rock formations known as the Bridestones which are in the North York Moors National Park on the edge of Dalby Forest. 

Setting off from the car park at the Hole of Horcum, our walk was a circuit of nine miles which started by following an ancient track known as the Old Wife’s Way.  Today this is a popular cycle track across the moors, but the origins of the name probably refer to ancient fertility rites associated with an earth mother or goddess known as “the old wife”, and the track actually leads to a group of ancient standing stones.  On this particular windy November day, however, we only followed it for a short distance before turning off towards the forest.

Dalby Forest covers a total of 8,000 acres and is known as the Great Yorkshire Forest.  In the care of the Forestry Commission, it’s a popular place with a visitor centre, cycle tracks, footpaths, adventure playgrounds and lots of public events throughout the year.  Situated on the northern edge, just outside of the forest are the Bridestones, a group of natural rock sculptures formed from alternating layers of hard and softer sandstone.  The unusual shapes have been created by the wind, rain and frost erosion over the centuries.

One of the "Bridestones"

Our walk approached the Bridestones from the north, taking us through the uppermost area of rock formations before descending into the forest itself.  The rock formations are divided by a steeply sided narrow valley and so to visit the lower Bridestones we had to walk back out of the forest and climb back along the opposite side of the valley to where we had previously walked.  We rested for a while and ate a snack whilst exploring some of the unusual caves and arches carved into the rocks before heading back towards the Old Wife’s Way to continue our circular walk.
Bridestones Rock Formation

Our route now took us by the foot of Blakey Topping, a conical shaped hill believed by some to be a “sacred hill” due to the location of a stone circle close by.  As we walked along we could see a large group of people making their way up the hill.  I imagine the views from the top would make it worth the climb and I made a mental note to include this in a future walk. 
Blakey Topping

For now though our route was heading northwards along a valley and towards a stone moorland cross known as Malo Cross.  Bizarrely, one of the fields we crossed contained a solitary llama who seemed as surprised to see us as we were him!   

It was getting quite late in the day now (it being winter and the days being much shorter) and so the light was quite poor when I came to take a photo of Malo Cross, which marks a point on an ancient pannierman’s way across the moors.  In the 19th century the cross apparently disappeared but was found again in 1924 in a private garden in the nearby town of Pickering and was then returned to this, its original location.  I also made a note to return here to get a photo in better lighting - something I can combine with an ascent of Blakey Topping in the Spring.

Malo Cross

From the Malo Cross our path took us around the edge of Saltergate Brow from where we had views across the moors to RAF Fylingdales, a radar base and ballistic missile early warning station.  Its primary purpose is to give the British and US governments warning of impending missile attacks (known as the ‘four minute warning’ during the Cold War), and in addition to this it can also detect and track orbiting objects in space.  These days the station consists of just one pyramid building, but several years ago there was a group of large white orb type structures.  Known locally as "the golfballs", they were something of an iconic sight.  I felt a little uneasy taking a photo around here!  Was it watching me?


The sun was setting quite quickly as we returned to our car at the Hole of Horcum car park.   Had there been more hours of daylight available to us I would have liked to have included a climb of Blakey Topping into the walk, but as daylight faded I realised we’d have to leave that for another walk. 

Incidentally, if anyone who reads my blog would like more information on any of the walks we’ve done, such as map details or route instructions, I would be only too happy to share. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Grisedale Pike (Lake District) - October 2013

Day two of our short stay in the Lake District started with a dilemma.  I had set out on our weekend break with the intention of climbing one of the larger mountains for which the Lake District is famous.  My preferred mountain of choice was Great Gable (2,949 feet), with the intention of ascending from Seathwaite in Borrowdale.  However, as our accommodation for the weekend was located in the village of Braithwaite, at the foot of Grisedale Pike, this slightly smaller mountain was held in reserve.

As it turned out, day two dawned with overcast skies and looking down towards the direction of Great Gable, through Borrowdale and beyond, we could see the clouds were hanging heavily over the mountain tops, meaning the majority of any climb would be undertaken in damp conditions with poor visibility.   Whilst I didn’t mind this so much, I remembered our recent ascent of Skiddaw in similar conditions.  Although this climb had been highly enjoyable, it was nevertheless a bit disappointing to have missed out on some truly spectacular views.  A glance towards Grisedale Pike showed very little cloud cover on the summit and so our mind was made up for us.  The car could have a rest and we would start our walk straight from the doorstep!

Before we set off, however, I found myself faced with a second dilemma.  Should I take my camera?  Readers of my previous blog entries will know that I had struggled to carry my Canon DSLR on long walks and had recently invested in a set of straps by Think Tank, enabling me to carry the camera from my rucksack’s shoulder straps.  Unfortunately though, this method of carrying a camera just wasn’t advisable for steep mountain climbing which invariably entailed a scramble up a rock face on certain sections.  As the weather seemed less than ideal for photographs, I therefore took the decision to leave the DSLR behind and rely purely on my iphone’s in-built camera.  This, it turned out, was a decision I later regretted and marked the beginning of my quest for a smaller, lightweight camera….which is to be the subject of a future blog entry.

At 2,595 feet (791 metres), Grisedale Pike is situated just over four miles west of the popular Lake District town of Keswick and one of the most popular routes of ascent is from the village of Braithwaite, our base for the weekend.  There was therefore a very well-defined path from a small wood called Hospital Plantation which climbed steeply up the eastern side of the mountain.  Very soon we were able to look down upon the white-painted houses of Braithwaite and beyond to Keswick and the shores of Derewentwater. 
Braithwaite from the ascent of Grisedale Pike
The path then levelled out for a while, which made for a very pleasant (and easier) walk, before once again the gradient increased.  Ahead I could make out the path on a ridge at the eastern side of the mountain.  It looked very steep indeed with a steep drop at either side and I approached this, the final section of the climb with some trepidation. 
Approaching the final climb to the summit
There was a little bit of a scramble up this rocky ridge which I found to be made difficult by the sheer weight of my rucksack pressing me down to the extent that at one point I actually needed assistance to get off the rock and stand upright.  Having completed the “proper” climb though, the summit was soon reached with that marvellous sense of accomplishment that I have only experienced once before, on the summit of Skiddaw.  It was truly exhilarating!

Although it was still heavily overcast, the view from the summit of Grisedale Pike was nonetheless magnificent. 
View from the summit looking south
As with most Lakeland walks, we soon found ourselves with company as a small group of walkers reached the summit shortly after us, and one of their party kindly took a photo with my phone of Tom and I together. 
Another Wainwright conquered!
I was at this point a bit disappointed not to have my DSLR with me, but I still managed a few shots of the view over towards our next destination and second Wainwright of the day, the nearby Hopegill Head (2,526 feet).
Hopegill Head from Grisedale Pike

From Grisedale Pike the walk to Hopegill Head was fairly easy, with a little descent in the first instance and then further ascent to the summit. 
The path between Grisedale Pike and Hopegill Head
Once there I also took some photos looking back to Grisedale Pike.  It was truly stunning.  How I wished I’d had my Canon with me! 
Grisedale Pike viewed from Hopegill Head
The descent was equally enjoyable and, thankfully, a lot gentler than the climb up, leading off the ridge known as Coledale Hause, between Hopegill Head and Eel Crag.  The path down passed waterfalls, crossed streams and offered excellent views upwards to the ridge we’d just traversed. 
On the descent
It also took us within sight of Force Crag Mine, the last working lead mine in the Lake District which closed in 1990 following a major collapse.  Eventually the stony path down joined the road to the mine which left us with a couple of miles of easy walking on the level before emerging back in the village of Braithwaite – conveniently outside the excellent Royal Oak pub where I celebrated my eighth Wainwright to date!
This had been a wonderful walk and had quite possibly earned Grisedale Pike the accolade of being my favourite mountain so far, with lots left to explore including, of course, Great Gable. 


Friday, 13 December 2013

Helm Crag (Lake District) - October 2013

I have wanted to climb a Lake District mountain for as long as I can remember.  Until September this year, however, it had been one of those ambitions I just hadn’t worked hard enough to achieve.  There was always an excuse.  I wasn’t fit enough.  I didn’t have time to prepare.  The weather in the Lake District is too unpredictable (it is a bit of a watershed).  Other holiday destinations took precedence.  Excuse after excuse!  I mention this to highlight just how much my climb of Skiddaw meant to me.  It was hard work and it was wonderful.  And it left me wanting more.  Which is why, just three weeks later, I found myself on the road at 6 a.m., driving westwards towards the Lake District again.

This time I had several peaks in mind.  I didn’t intend climbing all of them, but had decided to leave my final decision as to which of them I would tackle until we arrived in Lakeland.  The weather forecast was promising, but I realised that where the Lake District is concerned forecasts can never be entirely relied upon.  As the sun began to rise and we turned onto the A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith, all I knew for sure was that I would like to bag at least a couple of Wainwrights. 

Perhaps not all readers of my blog will be familiar with the work of Alfred Wainwright, although certainly there has been plenty written about him.  Born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1907, Wainwright (who became affectionately known to his followers as simply ‘AW’) was a fellwalker, author and illustrator whose seven volume “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells” has become the standard reference to 214 of the fells of the English Lake District.  Wainwright’s name is now synonymous with the Lake District and bagging all 214 “Wainwrights” has become something of an obsession for many walkers.  On my previous trip to the Lakes I bought myself an illustrated map showing all 214 Wainwrights along with a little chart which can be ticked and dated as each of the peaks is conquered.  Upon studying the map I was pleased to find that I had already bagged myself three Wainwrights – Skiddaw, Walla Crag and Catbells.  That just left 211 to go!
Map of Wainwright Fells
The village of Grasmere was our arrival point at just before 9 a.m. on this overcast October morning.   It was surprising to find the main village car park was empty!  Grasmere is not only a beautiful little Lakeland village, it is also the final resting place of the poet William Wordsworth and therefore a bustling tourist trap all year round.  Having changed into our walking gear we headed through its narrow streets just as the cafes and gift shops were opening their doors and the first of the tourists were emerging from their hotels and guesthouses.  We were heading off to climb the hills above Grasmere, starting with Helm Crag.
Helm Crag from Grasmere

As we walked out of the village to the foot of Helm Crag it was difficult to make out the rock formations on the summit which give the crag its nickname “The Lion and the Lamb” (apparently from Grasmere the rocks look like a lion and a lamb sitting side by side on the summit).  
The Lion and the Lamb - Helm Crag

At just 1,329 feet (405 meters), Helm Crag isn’t a mountain but its distinctive summit makes it one of the most recognised hills in the Lake District.  On climbing Helm Crag, Wainwright wrote “It gives an exhilarating little climb, a brief essay in real mountaineering”.  As we walked along the lane towards the foot of the hill it looked a lot higher than 1,329 feet to me, although in fact it turned out to be a steady and highly enjoyable ascent to a summit with spectacular views in all directions – looking over the Langdale Pikes, the Coniston Fells and the Helvellyn range. 
Looking west from the top of Helm Crag
The true summit of Helm Crag is another rock formation known as “The Howitzer”, a name given due to its artillery-like appearance from below.  We rested here a while and ate our sandwiches, all the while watching a steady stream of people making their way along the ridge.  It was beginning to get pretty crowded up there!
The Howitzer - Helm Crag

From the summit of Helm Crag our walk took us along the ridge, thereby bagging two further Wainwrights in the process – Calf Crag (1,762 feet) and Gibson Knott (1,385 feet) (three in one day!) before descending into Easedale and following the Easedale Beck into Grasmere again. 
The walk hadn’t taken quite as long as I had thought and so it was nice to have time to hit a few of Grasmere’s little shops and enjoy coffee and cake in one of the many cafes.  By this time of day Grasmere was teeming with people and the car park where we’d left our car was full to capacity.  It was time to leave and head north to Keswick, to check into our accommodation and figure out just which of those true mountains (2,000 feet+) we were going to tackle the following day.  But this will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Sutton Bank (North York Moors) - October 2013

Sutton Bank marks the western edge of the North York Moors.  Also known as Roulston Scar, its 1 in 4 (25%) gradient and hairpin bends make it a formidable hazard for motor vehicles.  Lorries frequently become stuck and caravans are prohibited from using this section of the A170.    However, Sutton Bank also provides what many believe to be the finest view in the whole of Yorkshire, looking over Hood Hill and Lake Gormire, across the Vale of York and the Vale of Mowbray to the distant Pennines.  It is one of our very favourite places.

The view of Lake Gormire and Hood Hill from Sutton Bank

On the first Sunday in October we left our car at the National Park Visitor Centre at the top of Sutton Bank and headed off on a circular walk of 12 miles, beginning with a very pleasant stroll through Hambleton Plantation where I was delighted to find an abundance of Amanita Mushrooms, commonly known as Fly Agaric, the quintessential toadstool.  I had never actually seen these before except in pictures, and so I was very pleased to have an opportunity to take some photographs of my own, even though the light was far from ideal in the thickness of the plantation.

Fly Agaric Toadstools in Hambleton Plantation

After crossing the busy A170, our route took us down a quiet country lane to the beautiful little hidden gem of Scotch Corner.  Here, tucked away in a quiet corner, sits a little stone chapel which was constructed in 1957 by the sculptor John Bunting as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Britain.  I had read about Scotch Corner in a book by the sculptor’s daughter, Madeleine Bunting, entitled “The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre”.   In her book Miss Bunting explains that the name Scotch Corner is derived from the bloody Battle of Byland which was fought nearby between the English and the Scots in 1322.  Her father was a very talented sculptor and the building contains many fine examples of his work, although it is usually locked and only accessible to the public on certain days. 
The Little Chapel at Scotch Corner
There is, however, an example of Bunting’s work to be seen on the high ground immediately behind the chapel, in the form of a carving of a Madonna and Child.  I took a few photos of this beautiful carving, but these don't show it at its best, due to sunlight dappling it with the shadows of leaves. 

Madonna & Child by John Bunting

Scotch Corner was such a peaceful and interesting place it was tempting to spend a while enjoying the solitude, but with ten miles of walking still ahead of us we pressed on, through pastures and woodland until eventually we emerged at Byland Abbey.  In the care of English Heritage, Byland Abbey was a Cistercian abbey founded circa 1147 and disestablished in 1538 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  The ruins are impressive, with the most notable feature being the remains of the magnificent west front with its ruined great rose window, which provided the inspiration for the great rose window of York Minster.  Byland Abbey is also home to some beautifully preserved medieval floor tiles and a cloister containing 35 niche seats.  There is also a small museum on site with an interesting display of archaeological finds.  On a previous visit we had enjoyed a tasty sandwich and glass of beer at the nearby Byland Inn, so we were somewhat disappointed to discover that this has now been changed to the Byland Tea Rooms.  Not a drop of beer in sight!  We continued thirstily on our way and stopped instead at the pub in the nearby village of Oldstead.

Byland Abbey West Front

Suitably refreshed, our route from Oldstead took us over fields and along quiet country lanes until we eventually reached the village of Kilburn, famous for two animals – a mouse and a large white horse.

Robert "Mouseman" Thompson (1876 – 1955) set up a business manufacturing oak furniture in the Arts & Crafts style in the early 20th century.  It is claimed that whilst he was in the process of making a piece of furniture for a church, a remark was made about being as “poor as a church mouse” and thereafter Mr Thompson took to carving a little mouse onto every piece of furniture he made.  Today his workshop is run by his descendants, who still manufacture high quality oak furniture, every piece bearing a small carved mouse. 

The White Horse of Kilburn is a chalk figure which was carved into the side of the hill overlooking the village.  The largest and most northerly hill figure in England, the Kilburn horse is 318 feet long, 220 feet high and covers approximately 1.6 acres.  It can be seen from the northern outskirts of Leeds (approximately 28 miles) and is said to be visible from as far away as 45 miles (in Lincolnshire).   Originally cut in 1857 the work was financed by a Kilburn resident called Thomas Taylor, with the cutting being undertaken by a local school master called John Hodgson and 20 helpers.  During the Second World War the white horse was covered over so as not to provide a landmark for enemy bombers.  The white horse is definitely best viewed from a distance - the closer you get the less of it is visible!

Approaching the White Horse at Kilburn

Our walk climbed steeply up the side of the hill, emerging above the white horse from where we had a very pleasant walk along the edge of Roulston Scar, past the Yorkshire Gliding Club.  Along the way we watched the gliders soaring above and being towed off the edge of the cliff by a small plane – a thrilling sight to observe!

Glider being towed at the Yorkshire Gliding Club

This was the first walk I had undertaken since the purchase of the Think Tank camera carrying system; the subject of my previous blog entry.  It was a lovely, bright day with no risk of rain, and so I was able to carry my camera from my rucksack straps for the entire length of the walk.  It was very comfortable indeed (I just needed to take extra care when climbing over a stile) and I thoroughly enjoyed having my camera so easily accessible.

It was quite a tiring walk, with fairly steep climbs here and there.  This just left me with a longing to climb another Lakeland peak or two.  And so I started to think about a return trip to the Lake District, which will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A weighty problem

I love my camera.  It doesn't quite go everywhere with me, but if I'm going on a walk I definitely want to take it along.  This isn't just so that I can take images to use in my blog, although since I began blogging earlier in the year I have been taking even more photos than usual.  The main reason I want my camera along though is because I make a portion of my income from the sale of stock images and so it's important that I never miss a shot.   

As a semi-professional photographer I have a good DSLR camera with an excellent set of lenses.  My camera body is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and my main "walk-about" lens of choice is the 24-105 L series.  This might not mean anything to any non-photographer readers of my blog, but to put it simply it's a bit of a beast, weighing in at approximately 4lbs.  When that's added to everything else I carry in my rucksack (drinks, waterproofs, etc) it makes for quite a heavy load.  I've certainly felt the strain at the end of a long walk or mountain climb. 
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 24-105mm L series lens
As my walking has increased in terms of distance and strenuousness, I've also discovered a few other problems associated with transporting my camera gear and getting good shots.  First of all, even if the sky is overcast and the lighting less than ideal when I've set off on a walk, this isn't to say the conditions won't improve as the day progresses.  So as tempting as it may be to leave the camera behind on such days, I've invariably wound up kicking myself as the sun has come out or a particularly beautiful scene has emerged which I've only been able to capture on my iphone.  Then on other days my camera has been with me for the whole walk but has hardly left the rucksack.   Even when I have the camera with me, carrying it out of the rucksack wasn't an option for several reasons.  The weight of it means that carrying it round my neck with the neckstrap is just too uncomfortable.  Also this can be hazardous to the camera as it swings about whilst I'm negotiating a climb over rocks, for example.  So for these reasons I have been carrying the camera within a padded case within my rucksack for the entirety of my walks.  Then, when I have needed to use it, I have to stop, remove my rucksack, take the camera out of its case, take my shots, replace it and put my rucksack back on.  All of this has added a considerable amount of time to any of my walks. 

Once I began to climb mountains (starting with Pen-y-Ghent back in August) I started to consider the possibility of buying a compact camera just for lengthy or mountainous walks.  This is something I will write a blog about later, but in the first instance the solution I came up with is the Think Tank Camera Support Strap system, shown below.
Think Tank Support Strap V2.0

This system consists of a pair of short straps which affix to the camera's neck strap with two strong metal hooks.  The two straps can then be locked onto the front of a rucksack's shoulder straps by means to two plastic locks, thereby enabling the camera to be worn from the rucksack, as shown above.  The only downside to this was that the Canon EOS neckstrap doesn't have suitable metal loops through which to affix the Think Tank support straps and in order for the system to work I also had to purchase a Think Tank neckstrap as well.  In total the whole system cost me just over £30.
Think Tank Support Straps

At the time of writing I have had this set-up for just over a couple of months and have undertaken several walks where I've been able to carry my camera from my rucksack's shoulder straps for the entire length of my walk.  The furthest distance I've walked whilst carrying my camera this way has been 12 miles and I can happily report it was very comfortable indeed, with the added advantage of my camera being easily to hand at all times. 

The only time I have not carried my camera via the Think Tank system has been when climbing a mountain which involved a scramble up a rock face.  On that occasion I chose to leave the camera behind, much to my regret when I missed some wonderful views in beautiful lighting.  It was at that point that I began to seriously consider purchasing a smaller camera purely for walks. 

And so my search for a suitable small camera began, but this will be the subject of a future blog.

Bransdale & Rudland Rigg (North York Moors) - September 2013

The last weekend of September found us walking a little closer to home, in the North York Moors National Park at Bransdale, which is considered to be the most isolated of the moorland valleys. 

We began our nine mile circular walk from the hamlet of Cockayne, parking by the  little church of St Nicholas.  Although there has been a church on this site since the late 13th century, the present building was erected in 1886 and was extended in 1934.  It's what's known as a chapel of ease, which means that it's a small church built within the parish of a larger church for the "ease" of those who are unable to travel to the main church.  In this case the main parish church is All Saints, Kirbymoorside, a distance of some nine miles away, across isolated moorland. 

St Nicholas Church, Cockayne

From the church we walked along the road and across a field to Bransdale Mill, an 18th century watermill currently in the ownership of the National Trust and used today as a bunkhouse.  In the early 19th century the mill was owned by a William Strickland of Farndale whose initials W.S. are displayed in iron lettering along with an inscription to the effect that he rebuilt the mill in 1812.  

Bransdale Mill

A short distance from the buildings, in a field overlooking the mill, I discovered a sundial bearing the inscription "Time and life move swiftly".   I took a few photographs of the mill and the sundial with the intention of trying to find out more upon my return home.  Disappointingly, I haven't been able to find out very much at all about the Stricklands of Bransdale.  All I've discovered so far is that William Strickland's  son Emmanuel, who for a short time was the Curate at Ingleby Greenhow, was responsible for a number of inscriptions at Bransdale Mill.  And a little further on the walk another curious inscription turned up...more on this later!
Sundial, Bransdale Mill
From Bransdale Mill our walk returned us to the road and then onto the high moorland between Bransdale and Farndale.  Here the road between the heather climbed steadily over Shaw Ridge, past lines of grouse butts and eventually onto Rudland Rigg.  Here we turned onto the old coaching road known as the Waingate, which leads from Kirbymoorside to Stokesley.  I was keen to photograph one of the old stone waymarkers which were erected to guide travellers across this isolated section of moorland.  This one is inscribed "Kirby Rode" on one side (road to Kirbymoorside) and, less distinctly on the other side "Stoxle Rode" (meaning Stokesley road). 

Waymarker on the Waingate, Rudland Rigg

The name "Waingate" derives from the Anglo-Saxon name for wagons, the wain (as in "haywain" or "wainwright") and on this ancient isolated track it was easy to imagine packhorses, wagons and stagecoaches transporting food, wool, timber and passengers.  Rudland Rigg would have been the motorway of its day!
A mile or so further along the Waingate sits the Cammon Stone ("common" stone), a single standing stone dating from the Bronze Age.  The stone stands at approximately 1.6 meters high, has a cleft down the centre and is inscribed with curious lettering which translates from Hebrew to the word "hallelujah  ".  This, like the inscriptions at Bransdale Mill, is believed to be the work of Emmanuel Strickland and, looking at the wonderful views over Farndale, it's easy to see why this particular word sprang to mind.

 The Cammon Stone
Hebrew "Hallelujah" inscribed on Cammon Stone

We continued along our route until the national trail the Cleveland Way crossed the Waingate at Bloworth Crossing.  Here the Rosedale Ironstone Railway crossed the Waingate as it headed towards Ingleby Incline above Ingleby Greenhow (home to Emmanuel Strickland).   Ingleby Incline is 1430 yards long and ascends to an altitude of 1370ft at the top starting at 1 in 11 gradient steepening to 1 in 5 by the top.  Little wonder then that there was once a rope shed at Bloworth, where ropes were stored to pull the engines.  Today the only evidence of the railway are the remains of some sleepers at the crossing point.  From here the Cleveland Way follows the track of the former railway line, heading off to the left on my photo below, whilst the Waingate continues winding its way over the moors towards Stokesley.

Bloworth Crossing

We retraced our steps back along Rudland Rigg for a short while before taking a track down into Bloworth Woods.  The woods here are owned by the Forestry Commission and although the track is not a public right of way it's what's known as a permissive footpath which enabled us to cut back towards Cockayne, passing signs of intensive forestry work.

Forestry work in Bloworth Wood

This was my first every visit to Bransdale.  After the busy footpaths and hills of the Lake District it was pleasant to walk in such a peaceful  and isolated area, and I'm sure we will return here again before too long.