Thursday, 31 December 2015

Walking Review 2015

It is that time of year again where I dust off my Blogger page (I really must integrate this properly into my website) and submit my walk review for the year. While I almost always post what an excellent year it has been for walking I think that has been especially true of 2015. First though some stats, in total I managed 67 walks over the course of the year (just one short of 2014) during which I clocked up around 520 miles in distance and over 85,500ft of ascent, not bad going!! 

My longest walk of the year, a near 15 mile exploration of Whernside and Scales Moor.

Approximately half the distance I walked was in the Yorkshire Dales. Indeed the 33 walks I managed in the Yorkshire Dales in 2015 equals my best since 2005. The Yorkshire Dales has always been the area I return to the most but for some reason it seems that this year I have been on a voyage of discovery in the Dales, not only finding new places to walk but retreading some of my early adventures. In fact one of the highlights of my walking year was enjoying the superb views from the likes of Buckden Pike, Fountains Fell and Nine Standards Rigg that were denied to me in earlier visits.

It was third time lucky for me when I finally got a good view from Nine Standards Rigg.
During the course of my wanders in the Dales I finally got round to visiting all the trig points within the boundary of the National Park when I bagged the trig on Calton Moor at the beginning of December. Meanwhile, back in June, I revisited the top of Yockenthwaite Moor and in doing so completed my second round of 2,000fters of the Dales.

By the trig point on Calton Moor, the final one I hadn't visited in the Yorkshire Dales.

 Although not comparable in terms of the quantity of walks I also had a fairly productive year in the North Pennines, with a total of 8 walks covering almost ninety miles of this often overlooked Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Highlights of 2015 included a superb walk contrasting the dramatic scenery of High Cup and the tarn laden moorland of Backstone Edge. Another grand walk was the linear walk from Murton to Stake Rigg visiting all the major summits in the Warcop Range.

Heading towards Mickle Fell on a cracking linear walk across the Warcop Range.

By concentrating mainly on the Dales and North Pennines I did somewhat neglect the more southerly Pennine areas, something I will have to try and make up for next year. Away from the Pennines I fulfilled a long held desire to go walking in the Galloway Hills in south-west Scotland. The walk over Merrick, the highest in the Southern Uplands, gave me a real taste of what a rough, lonely and utterly beautiful walking area it is. If I can get over my distaste for driving long distances it is definitely an area I'd like to explore further.

The Minigaff Hills in Galloway as seen on my return to Loch Trool from Merrick.

While I've always enjoyed a good waterfall I think it is fair to say that in 2015 I've gone a little bit waterfall mad. This is partly because I've finally cracked the art of getting a good waterfall shot (thanks Tim and Jack!). Perhaps also it is just a reflection of my obsessive nature and the need to tick off lists of targets. Having visited just about every summit, trig point and tarn in the Dales perhaps it is unsurprising that waterfalls would be next. On the other hand it could be that they are just so damn beautiful.

Aysgill Force, one of a number of beautiful waterfalls I visited in 2015.

Weather-wise I personally can't have too many complaints, indeed for the first ten months of the year the weather was remarkably kind. I didn't get wet very often, the skies were remarkably clear of haze and nor was it too hot during the summer. Of course it all started to go a bit wrong at the end of the year. While there has been a lot of press coverage of the flooding in December the wet weather really started at the beginning of November. The horrendous scenes we've seen on our television screens are a result not just of heavy rainfall over a few days, but from prolonged wet weather stretching back almost two months. It has stopped me from heading out a few times but that is but a mild inconvenience compared to the pain and misery it has inflicted on communities that have been flooded. 

Water everywhere above Cray Gill after the start of the heavy rain in mid-November.

2015 saw a record number of visits to my My Pennines website. In total the website saw over 78,000 visits during the course of the year, a 13% increase on the number of visits in 2014. In addition to a record number of annual visits 2015 also saw a record month in August when over 8,500 visitors came to the website. Strangely the most popular landing page continues to be, for the third year running, a walk I did on Winter Hill back in 2010. The My Pennines Facebook Page also continued to grow and with one day of the year to spend I reached the milestone of 1,000 likes. Thanks to everybody who has supported my website, Facebook page or Twitter Feed during the course of the year. Truly it would not be worth doing all this without your support.

My friend Wally on Wild Boar Fell's Nab, visited on one of my favourite walks of the year.

As always at this time of year I not only reflect on what I've achieved over the last 12 months but look forward with anticipation to what I hope to do in the next year. I've already started planning my walking itinerary for the coming year and unsurprisingly it includes more walks in the Dales and lots more waterfalls! In addition to making up for hardly visiting the South and West Pennines in 2015 I also hope that 2016 will be the year that I finally get round to visiting Kinder Downfall.

Watergrove Reservoir and Brown Wardle Hill on my only walk in the South Pennines in 2015.

Finally, as has become a tradition, here are my favourite walks, views and walking moments of the year...

Top 5 Walks of 2015:

Click on the links to read the full walk reports.

  1. High Cup and Backstone Edge (North Pennines)
  2. Whernside and Scales Moor (Yorkshire Dales)
  3. Wild Boar Fell and Swarth Fell (Yorkshire Dales)
  4. Merrick (Galloway)
  5. Buckden Pike via Buckden Gill (Yorkshire Dales)
Honourable mentions go to Cray Gill, Yockenthwaite Moor, Sir William Hill, Cross Fell, Attermire Scar, Mickle Fell, Cosh and High Seat.
My walk along High Cup and Backstone Edge was my favourite walk of the year.

Top 5 Views of 2015:
  1. The Galloway Hills from Merrick
  2. Mallerstang from High Loven Scar
  3. Three Peaks country from Cosh Knott
  4. Murton Fell from across High Cup
  5. Westmorland from Nine Standards Rigg
The views on the descent of Merrick towards Loch Trool were simply stunning.
Top 5 Most Memorable Walking Moments of 2015:
  1. More than a 'moment'. Spending an hour and a half in the company of the red squirrels of Snaizeholme. Utterly delightful.
  2. Descending Merrick towards Loch Enoch in the heart of the Galloway Hills. A whole new world ahead of me.
  3. Standing on Murton Pike, a small island in a sea of cloud during a temperature inversion.
  4. Taking my ten year old nephew Liam to the top of Helvellyn.
  5. Bagging the trig point on Calton Moor to complete my set of Yorkshire Dales trigs.
Spending time with the red squirrels of Snaizeholme was my favourite walking moment of 2015.
5 Least Favourite Walking Moments of 2015:
  1. Being ambushed by a herd of beef bullocks in a field outside of Knaresborough. I had to take cover in a fence corner and wait for the farmer to rescue me.
  2. My Panasonic camera, having survived a number of falls, finally came a cropper on 28th March when I slipped and dropped it on Sigsworth Crags in Nidderdale. Fortunately the replacement camera I bought, an Olympus EM-10 has proven to be a more than worthy replacement.
  3. Slipping in the snow on Norwood Edge and landing knee first on a rock buried under the snow. Very very painful but thankfully no lasting damage.
  4. Forgetting to put my gaiters on before heading over the full length of Darnbrook Fell in the snow. I got so much snow in my boots I began to get seriously concerned about how cold my ankles were getting and was very relieved to get back to Arncliffe.
  5. Getting a bollocking from a farmer in Raydale after rescuing a new born lamb that had been abandoned and was freezing up on Wether Fell.
Getting hemmed in by bullocks on a field near Knaresborough

Friday, 23 October 2015

Book Review: A Three Peaks Up and Under, Stephen C. Oldfield, Scratching Shed Publishing (2015)

I first came across Stephen Oldfield via his superbly informative blog, also named ‘A Three Peaks Up and Under’ and so when I heard he had a book coming out I knew I would have to get it. Due to my tendency to stockpile books it has taken me longer to get round to reading it than I’d hoped and in fact the book was published back in May.

Sub-titled ‘A Guide to Yorkshire’s Limestone Wonderland’, the book is the result of the author’s lifelong passion for the limestone scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and in particular the Three Peaks area of the Dales. It is, in the author’s words, “a celebration of a landscape”, both above and below ground, hence the book’s title. The author’s recollection of the origin of the phrase ‘Up and Under’, involving a toy monkey taking a 260-ft plunge off Malham Cove, is just one of the many amusing anecdotes that are sprinkled throughout the book.

After a fascinating introduction, in which Oldfield recounts the geological history of the Dales, the book is split into two main sections, ‘Up’ and ‘Under’. Rather than these being described as ‘walks’ or ‘caving trips’ Oldfield calls these ‘adventures’. The phrase is telling and it perfectly encapsulates the author’s approach to heading off to visit all sorts of features that can be found off the beaten track. 

Throughout the book Oldfield recounts times when his children have accompanied him on his adventures. Considering the horrified reaction my own daughter has whenever I mention the dreaded word ‘walk’ I realise that I’ve been making a huge mistake,  I should have been marketing them to her as ‘adventures’ all this time. Certainly the fact that the author has been able to share so much of his love for the Dales with his own children did make me more than slightly envious.

In total there are thirteen adventures above ground and seven adventures below ground, with a chapter devoted to each. Each chapter contains information on where to start, how to get there, what to take with you, an overview of the adventure and then a fairly detailed description of the adventure itself and the sights that will be seen on it.

While adventures over each of the Three Peaks are described I can guarantee that few people will have walked these particular routes. I’ve always thought that I knew them very well but even I came across a few features that I’ve missed on the slopes of Penyghent and Ingleborough. For example, after reading the book I’ll certainly be making a trip to visit the Allotment on the slopes below Simon Fell and Ingleborough. An unremarkable area as viewed on the OS map it is seemingly full of remarkable potholes, including Juniper Gulf.

While Oldfield and I are in many ways kindred spirits in our approach to exploring the Dales above ground I have to say that going underground has never really appealed to me. I’ve stood outside or above plenty of caves and potholes but apart from once going about 40m into Attermire Cave my underground experience is very limited. I’ve always thought that the dangers far outweighed the benefits. Having read this book I’m now reassessing that view.

Not that Oldfield doesn’t make it clear that these can be dangerous places - they are, particularly after rain. However, he also shows that with the right equipment and common sense some of these caves can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It is to Oldfield’s credit that he makes it all sound like so much fun, even crawling through a narrow passage or getting very wet wading through underground pools.

Overall the book manages that rare feat of being both humorous and at the same time incredibly informative in an easy to understand way. The author’s background as head of a primary school standing him in good stead in this respect. What shines through the most though is Oldfield’s sheer passion for the subject. Despite over forty years of exploring the limestone wonders of the Yorkshire Dales the author’s enthusiasm remains undimmed and positively shines through on every page.

Highly recommended.

A Three Peaks Up and Under is available to purchase online from Scratching Shed Publishing.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Walking Review 2014

Well it is fair to say that 2014 was another wonderful year of walking. The short Boxing Day walk around Swinsty Reservoir just nudged me over 500 miles for the year, spread over 68 walks. Although it was not a year in which I tackled lots of big hills I still managed to clock up almost 82,000 feet of ascent, the equivalent of climbing Everest almost three times from sea level!!

On Numberstones End enjoying one of my favourite views of 2014.
2014 was a milestone for me personally as it saw me celebrate my 10th anniversary of hill walking. To mark the occasion my friend Matt and I relived our first walk taking in Gordale and Malham Cove. Unfortunately there was too much water to risk scrambling up the waterfall on Gordale Scar but we still had a great time reminiscing about our early days walking together. Shame we don't get to do that very often anymore.
Reliving my first walk around Gordale and Malham
 Back in 2004 virtually all my walking activity was restricted to the Yorkshire Dales. While it is still one of my favourite destinations for a walk, these days I do like to mix things up. In addition to covering nearly all the upland regions of northern England in 2014 I also got my first taste of walking in the Shropshire Hills. Based for a week in Church Stretton I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones, Caer Caradoc and the Clee Hills. Definitely somewhere I'd like to go back to in the future.

The Stiperstones, one of the highlights of my visit to Shropshire

The main reason for visiting the Shropshire Hills was to bag the five Deweys (hills over 500m) in the area. Indeed, having completed all of the Wainwrights and all of the English Hewitts and Nuttalls (with the exception of a couple on Dartmoor), ticking off my list of Deweys was the main focus of my hill bagging activities in 2014. During the course of the year I completed all the Deweys in the Peak District and the North Pennines, managed another seven in the Cheviots and several more in the Lake District. With just seven left to do now in the north of England at some point I'm going to have to drag the family down to Devon for a couple of weeks, so that I can make some inroads into the Deweys on Dartmoor and also finally complete the Hewitts as well.
On the top of Shill Moor, one of seven Deweys in the Cheviots I bagged in 2014
2014 also saw, after months of hard work, an upgrade to my My Pennines website. A host of additional features were added including route maps and many more photos. The changes seem to have gone down well and in April I achieved the highest number of visits to the site in a single month with 7,922. Strangely the most popular landing page continues to be a walk I did on Winter Hill back in 2010. I do find it interesting to see what my website ranks for on Google. Perhaps the most bizarre is a photo of me and Matt on Great Pinseat taken back in 2005 which ranks as one of the top Google images for the search term 'thigh slapping'!!!

Bizarrely this photo of me and my friend, taken in 2005, ranks highly in Google search for 'thigh slapping'!
Weather-wise I can't have too many complaints despite my long standing frustration with the accuracy of weather forecasts. Although the Met Office still got it wrong on more than a few occasions in truth I cannot recall many times when a summit view was obscured by hill fog. Nor did I get wet that often - a notable occasion being an absolute drenching during a thunder storm on Haystacks. The weather was rarely that dramatic, one other occasion that is still fresh in the mind is the sideways snow while walking across Gilmonby Moor.

On Fleetwith Pike with my nephew Liam not long before encountering a thunder storm on Haystacks.
By far the longest walk of the year and the most challenging one I've done for some time was the inaugural Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge walk. Mainly to protect my knees I've generally avoided these kind of walks but I wanted to help raise money for what is effectively my local mountain rescue team. Taking part in a mass organised event was also something of a departure for me. I managed the 22 miles in 7 hours 36 minutes which I was really pleased with especially considering I'd hurt my knee a fortnight before and just ten days before the walk I was still having problems walking up and down the stairs. I may well have a crack at a few more challenge walks in 2015.

The summit of Great Whernside, the third final summit on the Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge Walk
As it always does at this time of year I not only reflect on what I've achieved over the last 12 months but look forward with anticipation to what I hope to do in the next year. I do love a list and I've already got an idea of about 50-odd walks that I'm aiming to do in 2015. These include revisiting Darnbrook Fell and Yockenthwaite Moor so that I can complete my second round of 2,000fters in the Dales. Elsewhere in the Dales I plan on doing a lot more walks in Wensleydale after a wonderful walk up on to Ellerkin Scar in December. I'm also hoping to do a fair few more walks in the North Pennines as well as making my way down to the Peak District to finally visit Kinder Downfall.

After a superb walk on to Ellerkin Scar in December I hope to visit Wensleydale again in 2015.
Finally, after a great deal of agonising, are my favourite walks, views and walking moments of 2014...

Top 5 Walks of 2014:

Click on the links to read the full walk reports.

  1. Calders and The Calf (Howgill Fells)
  2. The Cleveland Hills (North York Moors)
  3. Dale Head to High Snockrigg (Lake District)
  4. Stiperstones (Shropshire Hills)
  5. Ellerkin Scar and Mill Gill Force (Yorkshire Dales)
Honourable mentions go to Musgrave Scar, Long Mynd, Rosedale Head, Rylstone Edge, Carter Fell, Ingleborough, Ilkley Moor and a lovely evening walk on Cracoe Fell.
The direct route up Calder, my favourite walk of 2014.
Top 5 Views of 2014:
  1. Wensleydale from Ellerkin Scar
  2. Crummock Water from High Snockrigg
  3. Wildboarclough from Shutlingsloe
  4. Wharfedale from Numberstones End
  5. The 360 degree panorama from Brown Clee Hill in Shropshire
Crummock Water from High Snockrigg - one of my favourite views of 2014.
Top 5 Most Memorable Walking Moments of 2014:
  1. Completing the Wharfedale Three Peaks Walk, my longest and toughest walk for over nine years. So glad my knees managed it!
  2. Exploring the chasm of Lud's Church in the south-west Peak District
  3. The beautiful evening sunset as I descended Ilkley Moor in late July
  4. Watching Tim and his sons, Dan and Jack, sledge down Park Fell on their backsides
  5. The moment when the sun hit the superb waterfall of Mill Gill Force. An almost mystical experience.
The sun sets as I descend Ilkley Moor, one of my favourite moments of 2014.
5 Least Favourite Walking Moments of 2014:
  1. The car breaking down just short of the car park on Titterstone Clee Hill. What should have been a bonanza walking day of four walks was mostly spent waiting for the car to be fixed.
  2. My camera and tripod getting blown over on Great Wolfrey Crag. Fortunately it was only the filter that was smashed, the lens was intact but I didn't know that until several hours later when the camera shop had managed to remove the filter.
  3. Losing my brown leather hat on Grassington Moor. I'd not been sure of it when I bought it the previous year in Malham but as it got more battered I got really fond of it. I'll have to buy another in time for spring.
  4. Injuring my knee coming off Cracoe Fell, a fortnight before attempting the Wharfedale Three Peaks. For three days I could barely walk up the stairs. Amazingly it recovered and with the help of a knee support I did the challenge walk without too much difficulty.
  5. Getting the worst soaking of my life during a thunderstorm on Haystacks.
My camera very nearly copped it when strong winds blew my tripod over on Great Wolfrey Crag.