Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Exploring the towns and villages of the north

Located on the A65 between Skipton and Settle, and just within the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the village of Long Preston has always been somewhere I've travelled through rather than being a destination in its own right. In fact I've worked out that I must have passed through the village no less than 180 times on my way to, or on my way back, from walks in Bowland, the Dales, Howgills and Lake District.  Prior to last weekend when, for the first time I stopped in Long Preston for a walk, the most memorable thing about the village was the horrible blind right-hand turn back on to the A65 from the Slaidburn road.

The maypole on the village green in Long Preston

As it happened I had a wonderful walk (in particular the path along Long Preston Beck is a real gem) which made me regret not stopping there earlier. More to the point though it made me think in a wider sense about how many villages and towns I had now visited, either at the start, finish or during the course of a walk. I've worked out that, since 2004, I have set foot in over 200 towns and villages in the north of England from Castleton in the Peak District to Hethpool at the northern end of the Cheviot range during the course of a walk.

Hethpool, the small village at the entrance to the beautiful College Valley in the northern Cheviots

The objectives of most of my walks have been particular summits, trig points or specificr features such as a crag or waterfall. Inadvertantly, it seems that my passion for hill walking has led me to hundreds of places which I'd never have visited otherwise. If you also include all the places I've driven through but not actually stopped in the number would probably rise to over 500.

Out of all the towns and villages I've visited while out walking it would be extremely difficult to pick out a handful of favourites for this blog. Instead I've decided to highlight five places, in alphabetical order, that I've set foot in for the first time this year and which have made a particularly strong impression on me.

Arnside  - Arnside, along with Silverdale to the south, lends its name to the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of the smallest AONBs in the country. Arnside sits below the northern slopes of Arnside Knott looking across the Kent Estuary towards the Lake District. The seafront itself is understated and rather quaint. Carrying the train line from Arnside Station across the Kent Estuary is the magnificent 50 arched Kent Viaduct, a feature that, for me, adds immeasurably to the attraction of the view across the estuary. The combination of the village, estuary, viaduct, the views across Morecambe Bay, low limestone cliffs and Arnside Knott together make an irresistable package.

Looking down to Arnside and the Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott
Blanchland - Situated on the Northumberland side of the border with Durham in the North Pennines the medieval village of Blanchland is located in the upper Derwent Valley. The village is largely built of stone from the remains of a 12th century abbey. In the 19th century it became  a centre for lead mining, the archaeological remains of which add interest to the vicinity of the village. Apart from being very attractive in its own right the village is also a good place for starting a walk up on to the moors above, as I discovered just a few weeks ago.

Hutton-le-Hole - I do like a nice village green and I don't think I've come across one quite as impressive as that at Hutton-le-Hole, it even has its own beck running through it. Hutton-le-Hole is apparently one of the honeypot villages of North Yorkshire but when I first visited there in January it was very quiet. It is not hard to see why it is so popular, the village is beautifully situated in the Tabular Hills with the heathery moors of Hutton Ridge and Spaunton Moor just to the north.

The impressive village green at Hutton-le-Hole

Melrose - In August I spent a week's holiday with my family in the Scottish Borders where we stayed in a house in Melrose. It is no exaggeration to say thay by the time we left I was seriously thinking of forsaking the hills I love in northern England to move north of the Border and settle in Melrose. It is a lovely little town with great character helped by three outstanding features; the fantastic mini-range of the Eildon Hills, one of the UK's finest monastic ruins in Melrose Abbey and a beautiful stretch of the River Tweed.

Melrose Abbey and Eildon North Hill
Walsden  - Squeezed on either side by steep moors Walsden, like neighbouring Todmorden to the north, manages to pack an awful lot into a small space. The presence of a train station on the Leeds - Manchester Victoria line means that the village is easily accessible by public transport, something which cannot be said of a lot of places I go walking. Whilst the hill walking options from Walsden are quite varied the real gem in my mind is the presence of the Rochdale Canal that also runs through the village. I walked the section from Warland back into Walsden and it was a lovely, and in the autumn at least, colorful path. I aim to be back at Walsden station next year to head up Reddyshore Scout.

Walsden Church and the Rochdale Canal

I look forward to visiting even more new towns and villages during the course of my walking adventures next year.  

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Horse Head and Birks Fell Video

This is my latest attempt at putting a short video together from one of my walks. I actually took this footage back in April but my old computer was unable to handle editing the video files.

On this video there is less of me actually walking about and I've also added some music and a few stills as well. It was a super walk. Littondale is a beautiful valley in the Dales whilst the ridge walk from Horse Head to Birks Fell featured great views. The trig point on Horse Head Moor is one of my favourite places I've been to (read my original walk report).

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Newton Moor Video

This is my third attempt at doing a video. The footage was taken on last Sunday's walk up on to the modest height of Newton Moor in the southern Yorkshire Dales.

I'm quite pleased with some of the footage but I don't seem to be having much success in reducing the wind noise. See what you think.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

10 reasons to love the Northern Fells

On the 5th May earlier this year I got to the top of Great Calva and in doing so completed all the fells covered in 'The Northern Fells', Book Five in Wainwright's series of pictorial guides to the Lakeland Fells.

It had taken me 11 walks to do all of the 24 fells and I thoroughly enjoyed each one of them. Indeed I have a real soft spot for the Northern Fells. It is obvious though that not everyone holds them in such high esteem. For instance, I remember meeting a couple of other walkers on Brae Fell and when I said how lovely the area was they were fairly dismissive. Even Wainwright, who at one point in his conclusion to Book Five realises he is in danger of becoming too enthusiastic, backtracks somewhat and adds that compared to the fells surrounding Borrowdale, Langdale and Wasdale the Northern Fells are, "not in the same class."

Of course what constitutes good fell-walking country is highly subjective but I'd guess that most people would concur with Wainwright and that the Northern Fells wouldn't rate too highly in many people's favourite Lakeland areas. In an attempt therefore to change perceptions of the Northern Fells here are, in no particular order, my '10 reasons to love the Northern Fells':

1. Sharp Edge - Wainwright lists no less than 12 routes to the top of Blencathra. I've so far only done two of them, the first time up the Hall's Fell ridge and then the second time via Sharp Edge, perhaps the finest ridge in the Lake District. Striding Edge is more famous but Sharp Edge is better. For a start you'll meet a lot fewer people and there is a reason for that - it is a lot scarier!

2. Mungrisdale Common - The very antithesis of Sharp Edge, the broad, featureless expanse of Mungrisdale Common is, by any reasonable way of measuring these things, not even really a separate fell at all. It is actually, like Sharp Edge, a part of Blencathra. It is tempting to think that Wainwright included it in his 'Northern Fells' as something of a joke. Yet by including it far more people have crossed its 'summit' than would ever have done otherwise. My visit to Mungrisdale Common came on the same walk as Sharp Edge. It was on Mungrisdale Common that I sat and ate my lunch with no one else about whilst listening to the song of the local skylarks. In truth I enjoyed these moments of pure relaxation as much as the adrenaline rush of Sharp Edge. Where else in the Lakes can you get such a contrast?

The 'top' of Mungrisdale Common

3. I wandered lonely as a cloud - While the opening line of Wordsworth's most famous poem were inspired by a walk in the woods on the lakeshore of Ullswater they could refer to the Northern Fells. Wainwright claimed that apart from on Skiddaw and Blencathra he didn't pass any other walkers in two years of tramping the Northern Fells. While that is highly unlikely to happen nowadays (ironically, thanks in part to Wainwright) these fells are still remarkably quiet compared to most areas of the Lake District. For hill walkers who like to get away from the crowds the Northern Fells hold an appeal far greater than the fells of Borrowdale, Langdale and Wasdale. The only Wainwright I've visited three times is Knott and, apart from my wife who was with me the first time, I didn't see a single other person each time.

The top of Knott

4. Skiddaw - Recently, whilst staying in the Eskdale Youth Hostel, I got talking with a couple of other walkers who expressed some surprise when I said that Skiddaw was one of my favourite fells. It seems that despite being the 4th highest mountain in England (as well as being much older than most of the Lakeland Fells) there have always been doubters as to the worth of Skiddaw, hence Wainwright's eloquent defence of the fell. As Wainwright notes  Skiddaw is one of the noblest looking fells in the Lakes. I don't think I could ever tire of the view of Skiddaw from Keswick and Derwent Water. It is the true overlord of the surrounding fells, something that cannot be said for Helvellyn for instance.While the main path from Keswick may not be the most exciting climb in the world the approach via Ullock Pike, Long Side and Carl Side is magnificent and gives you a real appreciation for the sheer size of Skiddaw. My first visit to Skiddaw was via the Ullock Pike ridge with the descent made via Bakestall and the Dash valley and it remains one of my favourite walks. The views from the top are pretty awesome too.


5. Great Cockup - Up there with Bodmin Moor's Brown Willy and Lord Hereford's Knob in the Black Mountains for having one of the more amusing fell names Great Cockup is certainly a more original name than the endless number of Dodds that can be found in certain parts of the Lakes. However, there is more to Great Cockup than its chucklesome name. On a clear day the view north beyond Binsey, an outlier of the Northern Fells, and across the Solway Firth to Criffel and beyond is magnificent.

Enjoying the view from Great Cockup

6. Latrigg - Is there another fell in the Lakes where it is possible to get such a good view for so little effort? Latrigg is an easy walk from Keswick and the reward is a superb view south across Derwent Water. If the walk is extended by a descent along the east ridge to Brundholme and then a return to Kewsick via the old railway line then a lovely walk will have been had.

The view south from Latrigg

7. Trusmadoor - A small, narrow pass separating Great Cockup from Meal Fell, Trusmadoor is an atmospheric little gem.


8. Lonscale Fell's north-east buttress - It might surprise people when I say the most nerve wracking ascent I've made in the Lake District was up Lonscale Fell. As the fell is for the most part grassy and fairly featureless I decided to add interest by taking the route Wainwright describes up the north-east buttress direct to the east peak. While Wainwright describes the route as 'for scramblers only' he also says, 'there is little need to handle rock'. As the route became increasingly steep towards the top and the view back down increasingly precipitous I began to wish for a bit more rock for something to hold on to. I'll happily admit that when I got to the top my legs were a bit wobbly. At the time I vowed never to do it again, over a year later I quite fancy another crack at it.

9. Uldale Fells - To the north of Knott is a small group of hills called the Uldale Fells, including the likes of Great Sca Fell (about as different from the famous Sca Fell as it is possible to get), Meal Fell, Brae Fell, Longlands Fell and Lowthwaite Fell. The Uldale Fells are smooth grassy hills with steep flanks. They are a delight to walk on and I can think of no better compliment than to describe them as like a miniature version of the Howgill Fells. Like the Howgill Fells there are very few walls of fences in the Uldale Fells and this, combined with the nature of the terrain, means that walkers have a wonderful freedom to explore wherever they want. Another thing the Uldale Fells have in common with the Howgills is the presence of wild ponies. The first time I happened across these magnificent animals in the Northern Fells a small herd trotted right past us on the path leading to Trusmadoor. It was a thrilling moment and not one you are likely to experience in many other areas of the Lake District.

Wild ponies in the Uldale Fells

10. Carrock Fell - At the end of Book Seven, 'The Western Fells', Wainwright, somewhat reluctantly lists his favourite fells. Before doing so he mentions several other fells that were high on the list but didn't quite make it, mainly due to lack of height. Carrock Fell is one of those that didn't quite make it. Compared to most of the Northern Fells it is quite a rough hill with rock and heather in abundance. The climb up from Mosedale is enjoyably intricate, there being a distinct lack of a well trodden path. The best thing about Carrock Fell though is its rocky summit which is adorned with the remains of an ancient hill fort and which provides a super view across the Eden valley towards the North Pennines.

Looking across the Eden valley from the top of Carrock Fell

Those then are my '10 reasons to love the Northern Fells'. Apologies to the east ridge of Bannerdale Crags which deserves a more than honourable mention as does the summit of High Pike with its cairn, trig point and handy memorial bench. I've not yet ventured into Roughten Gill but suspect that that too would prove to be another reason to love the Northern Fells.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Berghaus Freeflow 20 Rucksack Review

This is my first kit review so don't expect anything too technical, on the other hand I'm not going to indulge in the kind of 'kit porn' that I've come across in magazines such as Trail.

I've been using a Berghaus rucksack now for just over 8 years. It has served me faithfully but after over 400 walks and being carried for over 2,000 miles it is now getting a bit worn and, if I'm being honest, it is starting to smell just a little bit stale. Therefore when I was given the chance to review the Berghaus Freeflow 20 Rucksack I jumped at the opportunity.

I've taken the rucksack out once, on a 6.5 mile walk in Balderdale in the North Pennines. I've been using a Freeflow 25+5 so the Freeflow 20 was a fair bit smaller to what I'm used to. This in itself was not such a bad thing as it forced me to only pack the essentials though I still filled the bag right up. At about 870g it is certainly quite light and, as I'd not packed as much I normally would, I hardly noticed any weight on my back at all whilst walking, it was certainly very comfortable.

One of the main things to note about the Berghaus Freeflow rucksacks is the Freeflow system itself which is basically a frame that keeps most of the rucksack from direct contact with the wearer's back to increase airflow and reduce sweating. It is a feature I like though it can sometimes be frustating when packing as the main compartment area is forced into a curve.

The Freeflow 20 has one main compartment that can be unzipped to almost half way down which allows good access to the bottom of the pack. There is also a zip compartment on the back for easy access to items such as a map or compass. Other features include a hydration pouch that can hold a 2 litre water pouch, walking pole holders and two angled side pouches, one of which I used for easy access to my water bottle whilst on the move.

Something I have to mention is the raincover - or lack of it. The information on the tag claims that there is an, "integrated raincover that is stowed away in the top lid". I've searched every inch, not just of the top lid, but of the entire rucksack and haven't been able to locate this raincover. Having said that it is not a feature I'm particularly bothered about. From experience I find that raincovers tend to blow about quite annoyingly in windy weather (a friend of mine used to refer to them as a 'spinnaker'). It was a glorious day when I took this bag out so it remains to be seen how it would perform in wet conditions.

In conclusion the Freeflow 20 is a bag that I will happily continue to use, and indeed recommend - but only on shortish walks in favourable conditions. In reality though it simply doesn't have the kind of capacity I'd need to pack what I'd need for the kind of long pathless rambles in the hills that I often indulge in or even a shorter walk in very wet or wintry conditions. However, for short to moderate country walks in good weather it is perfect and a much better alternative to the heavy bag I'd normally carry.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Love walking, love beef, hate cows

The title of this blog should be fairly self-explanatory. As my website testifies I love walking. At the same time anyone who knows me personally will also know that I am a fairly unashamed eater of meat, my favourite meal is still a traditional roast beef served with yorkshire puddings and lots of horseradish sauce. So I love walking, I love beef but as the title says I hate cows. More specifically I hate coming across cows when I'm out walking as quite frankly they scare the crap out of me!

Coming across cows on the path is the sight that I dread the most when out walking
Now cows have a reputation for being fairly docile creatures who stand around all day chewing the cud and basically doing very little else apart from leaving very large 'pats' for the unwary traveller to step into. I know better though. You see I seem to have had problems with cows going all the way back to childhood. Indeed it was an incident on a school trip, when a cow took umbrage to the fact that I'd stroked it, that I gained my first nickname - Mattmoo. Since then I've always been wary of cows but it was not until I took up walking as a hobby that I've been forced into regular contact with them, often with scary results.

The vicious pack of cows that set on me just outside Renwick
For example, last August I was walking back to Renwick towards the end of a superb walk on to Black Fell in the North Pennines when I was confronted with a field with some cows in it. Now because of my bovinephobia I stood a while contemplating going the long way round via a road. In the end I decided to 'man up' and face my fear, though I still tried crossing the field whilst staying as far away from them as possible and with my eyes averted in order to cause the least offence. I got to within 15 metres of the gate on the far side when they just started to run towards me. I certainly wasn't going to wait and ask them what they wanted so legged it to the gate which I then hit at high speed, flipping me over and landing me on my back on the far side. Thankfully there was no one around to have seen my spectacular vault over the gate nor the subsequent hand gestures I made at the vicious brutes once I realised I was safe. It was more than my pride that was bruised though, I had a sore shoulder for a week and a bruise up the whole of my right shin which lasted about a month.

Young cows can be quite curious
Young cows and calves are a particular problem. Whilst a lot of cows are admittedly just as nervous of me as I am of them the youngsters have, to me, a rather unhealthy streak of curiosity. I remember one time in 2005 when returning from a fine tramp in the upper reaches of Colsterdale and Nidderdale I was crossing a field full of cows and calves. A small group of calves decided to check me out so the mummy cows followed to keep an eye on them. Within seconds I had cows heading towards me from all directions so I clambered up on to the nearest drystone wall for safety only for all the cows in the next field to come and check me out as well. I stood on that wall for almost 5 minutes completely surrounded before I plucked up the courage to jump off and make a dash to the nearest gate and safety (fortunately I got over this particular gate without any mishaps). On a more recent occassion I can remember being tracked by a young cow, which kept calling back to the rest of the herd, for over 400m across open fellside before it eventually gave up and left me alone.

The terrifying 'Bull in field' sign
I've had numerous other incidents over the last few years and just a couple of days ago my mere presence seems to have a sent a gang of bullocks in to a frenzy as they charged up and down alongside the rather flimsy looking fence desperately trying to get to me on the adjacent path. Given the rather dubious protection of said flimsy fence I climbed over into the next field for extra protection. Strangely enough though I've not really had too many problems with bulls. I've seen plenty of 'Bull in field' signs but most of the time said bull was nowhere to be seen (in fact they are almost never seen which makes crossing a field with such a sign all the more nervewracking just in case the local bull is equipped with some kind of invisibility cloak).

Bull on Fellbarrow
The one time I came close to a bull without the protection of a wall was, rather bizarrely, on the summit of Fellbarrow in the Lake District. It was stood just yards away from the trig point. I'm still rather proud that I plucked up the courage to go up to the trig point and take some photos but to be truthful the bull barely moved, it seemed to be too engrossed in the view across the Vale of Lorton to the North-Western fells to have any interest in me, and to be honest who can blame him. It should also be said that I've had very little problems with 'hairy' breeds of cattle such as the Galloway, Belted Galloway or Highland cows, all of which can today be found on the high limestone pastures of the Dales, particularly around Malham and in parts of Ribblesdale.

Highland cow above Malham
Other than the omnipresent fear of getting trampled by rampaging cows (and lest anyone think I am being over the top it does sadly happen to unfortunate walkers) there is another reason to dislike cows. Farms, often not the most fragrant of places anyway, are usually much worse for the presence of cows. I hate it when I have to cross a muddy farmyard especially when you just know that the 'mud' you are squelching across is an unholy mixture that is at least two parts cow dung and urine. Cows also have a tendency to trample wet ground into a quagmire which makes even crossing a field they have vacated a rather messy experience.

If given the choice I'd prefer to avoid farmyards altogether and it would make me happy if I never had to walk through another field of cows again. Unfortunately this just isn't practical. If I want to continue exploring our glorious countryside I'm just going to have to find a solution to my dislike and fear of bovine kind. Perhaps I could ask one of those bulls if I could borrow his invisibility cloak.