Monday, 27 August 2012

Walking With Others

Walking with Others

Organised Walks

We've started doing some walking with others. For some, walking with others and participating in organised walks will be nothing new; but for us, this is a new departure. 

Up until now, the only group walking has been on navigation courses or a 'wild' camp. Occasionally, we've inadvertently found ourselves in a queue winding our way up Whernside or Pen-Y-Ghent in appalling weather, and when we walked  the Coast to Coast it was often a bit of a trail as the B 'n' Bs emptied themselves of their guests at roughly the same time. On these occasions, where we could, we contrived to take a slightly different route or stop for a breather, snacks and coffee, or to take in a view and snap a photograph. Generally speaking, our walks have been solitary affairs, drinking up the scenery in splendid isolation.  A walk was often considered a success if the number of people we came across could be counted on one hand. It often invited the question, 'Do we count the paraglider who's just about to hurl himself off the hillside on the other side of the wall? The mountain cyclist? The walkers on the path some 100 metres or so distant?'

A big downside to walking with others is one of pace, particularly in a group where there is a big difference in the levels of fitness. There's nothing worse than being at the back of a group walking uphill as your lungs seem about to explode and every step upwards is a struggle, whilst those ahead appear to tackle the hillside like mountain sheep. Naturally, a good group leader will ensure that a designated person will offer support and encouragement to those that trail. Part of the enjoyment of our walks is to take photographs - aide memoires of a route and an enjoyable day. In a group, stopping to take a photo can mean suddenly finding yourself dropping behind the other walkers. It can also be problematic taking photos without strangers finding their way into the corner of your viewfinder. Stops can be difficult to guage. Whilst a hillside talk about something of interest adds to the knowledge of the area, more than a couple of minutes can mean stiffening limbs and a quickly cooling body; although time for a slurp of coffee or water and a boosting snack is most welcome. As is a lunch stop. Fine weather, a great view and homebaked goodies makes for a longer lunch stop. 'We haven't walked far enough for lunch', was the moan of one in the group yesterday. Okay, it was chilly and it was raining and perhaps all the best rocks were taken, but we were ready for our fifteen minutes of munching. Conversation can be tricky too. I'm not one for chatting when walking uphill, although some people seem to be able to manage it. Ramblers are friendly and interesting to chat to, although other groupings, where disparate souls come together, not so. Sounds of the wind, rain, hail and the countryside are dulled when walking in a group. A walk might be great if undertaken by just a couple of people. However, obstacles like stiles and becks, when walked by a large group, can elongate the timing of a walk significantly.

With so many potential downsides, are there any redeeming features of an organised walk?
First and foremost, an organised walk means that you can walk with a leader who has intimate knowledge of an area and its history. Yesterday we passed a grassy mound that we would not have given a second thought to had we been on our own. It was an ice house. Thousands must take the path each year, unaware of its existence. In an organised walk, a leader will have reccied potential paths to take should conditions underfoot become unsuitable for the group. Route finding is out of your hands when on an organised walk. Although we always have a map and compass with us, a group walk does mean that we can enjoy the benefits of walking without the potential pressures of navigating. A lunch time stop is a great time for perusing the map to see what route we have taken so far. It's good for identifying nearby summits and other ground features too. 'Safety in numbers', the expression exhorts, but also safe in the knowledge that the route is well known, the leader can navigate and there are safety procedures in place. Our safety shelter is omitted from the rucksack on the day of an organised walk - one less thing to carry. Walking regularly with a group, where the destination, distance and height of ascent is known in advance has great benefits. You find yourself walking with new friends... like minded people, learning about other great walks that they have undertaken. (Future potential walks for yourself) You develop a commitment to walking - come rain or shine - when it would be all too easy to look out of the bedroom window and give it a miss. The health benefits... toning up, weight loss, fresh air, life's burdens melt away. As newcomers to an area, the organised walk enables some fact finding. One walk becomes a springboard to another and another. You find that paths are well walked or not. Sage advice from those that have been fortunate enough to have been walking in the hills all their lives... 'Wait for a dry day when there's no wind'.

Yes, there are downsides to walking with a group. Yes, there's nothing quite like getting out there to experience the countryside by yourself as you navigate yourself around. But there's joy to be had in the organised walk too.

Did I mention the charms of the post walk hostelry and tea room?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Nine Standards Rigg & Tailbridge Hill

Nine Standards Rigg & Tailbridge Hill

Circular from Kirkby Stephen - 10 miles

Waking to a beautiful blue sky punctuated by white fluffy clouds, today was an opportunity to visit an old friend and make acquaintance with a new one.
Hedgerow - viaduct walk

Coast to Coasters tend to leave Kirkby Stephen by way of the pretty market place and Frank's Bridge as they start walking to Nine Standards Rigg and the watershed. Our route followed a fingerpost in South Road across a couple of fields before entering Stenkrith park to join the Merrygill and Podgill viaduct walk. After crossing the second of viaducts, we came out onto the road that skirts Hartley quarry. 
Tarmac becomes track

As the road climbed, the views became more breathtaking. The Eden Valley, the Howgills, Mallerstang and the Northern Pennines. The metalled road became cobbled track up the bridleway on Hartley Fell. A beautiful, high-backed, wooden seat provided in memory of a man who clearly loved the spot, gave us the excuse to stop, take in the view and rehydrate. It was a warm day and we were going to need to drink plenty of water. We followed a wall until a fingerpost signalled a permissive path, which for a while followed the course of Faraday Gill. A runner, back pack swinging from side to side, passed us. It looked like hard work. 
Tailbridge Hill from our route up Nine Standards Rigg

The summit cairns came into view, disappeared and reappeared as we walked further up. A wooden bridge and some judiciously placed pieces of stone enabled passage over a boggy bit of the pathway. Some wooden steps had long since become redundant as the top soil had eroded from the many footsteps made by the unknown numbers who journey this way each year. Today was a dry day and the path up was relatively easy, but we were still very surprised to see a pink sparkly pair of flip flop sandals start their descent of the hill. The stuff of nightmares - the stubbed toes - the potential broken ankle - the broken leg - the callout to mountain rescue. You do wonder!
High Dukerdale from Hartley Fell

From the cairns, we made our way to the hillfinder before taking a bearing to a bridleway at Rollinson Haggs. As the name suggests, it was squelchy underfoot and there was some careful negotiation across vegetation that we knew to be bog lovers. A fairly quick descent took us across Rollinson Gill and down to a stone wall. From here we discovered the little gem of Dukerdale lit by the afternoon sunshine. We sat just a short while before taking a bearing to the summit cairn of Tailbridge Hill, our second objective. Although a path could be seen in the grass from our starting point, it may have petered out. It was a gentle up, and before very long we were standing next to quite a substantial cairn. 
Tailbridge Hill cairn

What we had not forseen was the view here on Nateby Common. It was wonderful. The village of Nateby, its neighbour, Kirkby Stephen and the hills that surround the Upper Eden Valley. A good place to finish the last of the coffee and drink in the surroundings.
Taking in the view from Tailbridge Hill

Carefully, we dropped down quite quickly to a stone wall. We followed it until we joined the minor Nateby road, coming full circle at Stenkrith Bridge. Looking down we saw where we had joined the viaduct walk earlier in the day.

Looking back towards Tailbridge Hill

From the familiar to the new - Tailbridge Hill had been a revelation. Earlier in the day we had shared our walking plans with a passing dog walker. 

'That will be a nice walk.'

Rather an understatement.


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Green Bell & Randygill Top

Green Bell & Randygill Top

6.6 miles

 As the walking day was to start late and the forecast was for very good visibility, we thought we'd 'bag' another couple of Yorkshire 600s in the Howgills. They appear as rounded hills on the skyline, as opposed to the jagged, craggy silhouettes of the Lakeland Fells. They almost seem neglected, as the long distance footpaths of the 'Coast to Coast' and the 'Dalesway' eschews them. Sedburgh, a stoppover point on the 'Dalesway', provides a gateway for the Southern Howgills should long distance walkers wish to be lured away from their main objective. To the west, the M6 carries the walker to the lakes. I wonder if they realise what a jewel they are missing out on.
Path up Pinksey

We parked to the side of a minor road between Newbiggin-on-Lune and Weasdale. We took a bearing from the road at a fingerpost, as although a footpath was signed, there was no evidence on the ground up Pinksey. It was somewhat soggy underfoot. We paced and timed our progress, eventually linking up with a less than convincing track further uphill. Two figures were ahead of us on the skyline.
Howgill ponies

Much to our surprise, we were greeted by two friendly Howgill ponies. Sadly, we had nothing to offer them, but they seemed happy with their lot munching on the hillside grass. Our route took us below the highest point on Stwarth, where we had our first proper view of the first objective.
Towards Green Bell

Heading due south, we could see a clearly defined path through the rough grassland. Typically, the trig point of Green Bell couldn't be seen until we had virtually reached it. Perhaps the olympic spirit had subconsciously got to AB, but uncharacteristically there was a raising of the arms in triumph as the summit was 'bagged.' Our lunchtime spot gave us great views of other Howgill tops. 
Green Bell trig point

We headed off south-east along a clear way, quickly losing height before the gentle climb up to the cairn on Randygill Top.
Randygill Top cairn

A couple of photos and we headed off down to Leathgill Bridge - a grassy col linking Randygill Top with Hooksey. From here we had a good view of Leath Gill as it joined Bowderdale. It was only a short pull up onto the highest point on Hooksey, taking a path which followed the centre of the broad ridge. Descending all the time, we reached a corner in a stone wall. (The edge of access land) It was a little soggy in places as we followed the wall boundary through a metal farm gate until we came to a minor road at Cow Bank.
Path up Hooksey taken from Randygill Top

From enclosed fields, we could hear the buzz of a tractor collecting up rolls of hay. As we headed along the road through the tiny hamlet of Weasdale, our presence was acknowledged through an open farmhouse door as friends stood chatting. 

We had passed only one other walker.
The fells had been ours for the day - so lucky.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Nine Standards Rigg

Nine Standards Rigg


Nine Standards Rigg - a name engraved in the memories of 'Coast to Coasters'. It's situated some 4.5 miles from the small market town of Kirkby Stephen, and on a good day the cairns that give it it's name can be clearly seen from the town.

Its summit marks the Pennine watershed. On the Kirkby Stephen side, all watercourses flow to the west. As the summit is crossed, the walker soon finds themselves in Yorkshire, the watercourses flowing east to the North Sea.

Nine Standards is often the subject of conversation on walking forums as it has the reputation of being boggy. AW (Wainwright), in his Pictorial Guide, details three potential routes for the walker heading to Keld from Kirkby Stephen, according to the time of year. In 2010 we took the 'blue August to November' route which heads east before dropping down into Whitsundale. It was indeed boggy as we traversed peat hags. Before our 'crossing' in 2010, the subject of which route to take was very much to the fore amongst fellow walkers, as the weather was not promising.
Cloud finally revealing the Nine Standards - August 2010

That first climb of Nine Standards was shrouded in mystery. It rained. Clouds hung low. Our objective was elusive as mist swirled around and the 'up' seemed interminable. We weren't alone, as it seemed many were making the journey that day. It wasn't until we were within the last 100m or so that we finally saw them - the stone cairns - as the mist lifted and the rain ceased. We'd seen pictures of the standards, but nothing had quite prepared us for the sheer size of them. Many theories abound about why they're there. But if they were to feign  an army encampment, a better situation they could not command.

What we had not appreciated, on that first climb of Nine Standards Rigg, was the view from the top. There had been none. Fast forward to April 2012. A beautiful, clear day with blue sky and sunshine. As we climbed higher the views grew more expansive. The path took us through pure white snow, which looked stunning against the unsullied sky. We had sat on a ledge on one of the cairns to drink coffee and eat our lunch. We were in no rush - we weren't heading to Keld on this occasion. The objective was to enjoy the view that had elluded us nearly two years previously.
Nine Standards Rigg - April 2012

Today our climb of Nine Standards Rigg was but a part of a circular route. A blue sky and broken white cloud cheered us as we made our way up. The path was dry in all but a few places and visibility was good. The legs didn't seem to ache as much this time. Coffee and our packed lunch were eagerly awaited. Others were at the top today, but we still managed to find a 'perch' on one of the cairns. 
Wild Boar Fell from Nine Standards Rigg

Below us, the Upper Eden Valley, spotted with trees, lay before us like a blanket. To the north, the Northern Pennines stretched out into the distance and 'toy' lorries made their way along the A66. To the south, stood the Mallerstang Ridge and Wild Boar Fell. To the south-west, the Howgills. We picked out the fell that we had climbed earlier in the week. In front of us, the Lake District fells provided the backdrop. Little had we realised, on that rainy August day two years ago, what we had missed. We could return to this spot again and again and it would always refresh the soul. Facing east lay miles and miles of empty moorland - not our objective today.
High Seat from Nine Standards Rigg

'It was a fairly gentle climb up', said one walker at the summit into his mobile phone. 
'We've got the boggy bit now.'
He was walking east.

Approach to the summit of Nine Standards Rigg - 10th August 2012


Thursday, 9 August 2012

Yorkshire 600s

Where to go?

The Howgills

What a fabulous day for walking! 
We checked out the Mountain Weather Information Service website yesterday evening and early this morning. All was looking favourable - no rain, cloud-free summits, negligible wind and good visibility.

Several options were discussed, but as we were unable to start walking until late morning, something close at hand was favoured. Our walk today would enable us to 'bag' a couple of Yorkshire 600s.

Away from the madding crowds of the Lake District and the honeypot villages of the Dales, The Howgills seemed an obvious choice. Now and again it's wonderful to find a walk when the only people about are those that are silhouetted on the horizon. A walk that when you stop, only a far off bleat can be heard. A lunchtime spot that gives 360 degrees of fabulous fellside views... the Lakeland crags, the Northern Pennines, The Dales, as well as The Howgills.

Looking beyond the A685, key features from Wainwright's Coast to Coast could be recognised...the distinctive white church at Orton, Sunbiggin Tarn and Smardale Fell (It's viaduct could also be seen). Nobody knows how many would be walking that route today as they made their way to Kirkby Stephen.

A solitary figure passed us as we 'bagged' our first objective of the walk and drank in the views. 

For a get-away-from-the-world walk, The Howgills could not have been bettered today.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Mallerstang Ridge Walk

Mallerstang Ridge Walk

8.5 miles

It promised to be an ideal walking day; not too hot and the clouds high in the sky. We found a parking space at The Thrang, just off the B6259.

Wild Boar Fell
Turning onto the Pennine Bridleway (part of Lady Ann's HIghway), we steadily climbed the fellside on a clear track. Glorious views of both Mallerstang Edge and Wild Boar Fell, the other side of the valley, were to be had. On the western side of the valley a train on the Settle to Carlisle line ran on schedule. On the fellside horizon ahead sat a monument being visited by a couple of other walkers. Lowland leg muscles gradually warmed up as we approached The Watercut. A stone monument of two halves, the space between resembled a river. Peering through, we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the upper Eden valley.
The Watercut

We continued along a levelled off bridleway to Hell Gill Bridge. Much to our surprise, from the south, came a steam train emitting great plumes of white steam. It must have been one of the occasional 'specials' that run at weekends. A bonus sight.
Hell Gill Beck

After crossing the bridge, we left the bridleway and followed the edge of Hell Gill Beck over rough ground. It was hard going... wet in places and at others the grasses were thigh high. We crossed a stile over a fence and followed it up the fellside. The terrain changed at Scarth of Scaiths with peat hags, cotton grass and bog-loving plants the order of the day. Carefully and fleet of foot, we picked our way through finding drier grassy tufts. We continued to follow the fence up steeper ground again as we headed north.
Scarth of Scaiths

On Hugh Seat we made our way to Lady's Pillar where we stopped for our picnic. To the north and east miles of fellside stretched out. To the west stood Wild Boar Fell. To the south we were surprised to see all three Yorkshire 'Three Peaks' in relief. Flat topped Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent's lion were easily identified. Whernside, from this viewpoint, seemed so much more impressive.
Whernside from Lady's Pillar

Our route was waymarked with cairns and the visibility was very good. Nevertheless, we took bearings and measured distances on our OS map to calculate ETAs to practise our skills. It wasn't long before we were at Gregory's Chapel. (pile of stones) Then we were heading north up to High Seat. (another misnomer) From here The Eden Valley was spread out before us in the valley below.
The way down from Mallerstang Edge

To return to the valley we headed west. We descended quickly for 350m before the ground dropped away very steeply at Trough Riggs. Far down down below, it seemed, we could see the wall of a field enclosure where we needed to join a track. I don't mind admitting I felt a little concerned about how we would get down. We reccied possibilities. Craggy rocks and waterfalls. Finally, we took the plunge and carefully zig-zagged our way down a steep grassy slope, taking time to lean into the hillside. Height was lost quickly and as we looked back at the ridge it was hard to believe that we had come down it. It had been quite exhilarating. We continued along an indistinct path until we reaced Outhgill. 
Mallerstang Edge

More treats were in store as we came across an Andy Goldsworthy 'cone' at the side of a cottage garden. We turned south onto the B6259. We passed the 'Jew' stone and a squirrel bridge as we returned to the parking spot.

We had passed just a handful of other walkers on the whole walk. A great walk.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Eden Valley Viaduct Walk

Eden Valley Viaduct Walk - Kirkby Stephen

 2.5 miles

This is a great little circular walk starting from the tourist information centre, Market Square in Kirkby Stephen.

We headed south along the High Street. 100m after the High Street becomes South Road, a fingerpost can be seen across the road. The footpath (gently rising) crosses three fields populated with sheep before it joins the Nateby Road (B6259). With Stenkrith Hill on the left, there was just 250m of road walking before we turned through a gate into the wooded Stenkrith Park.
River Eden at Stenkrith Bridge

Here a footbridge crosses the River Eden. Upstream, the river seems to enter a cauldron as the riverbed forces the water through narrow channels before it plunges far below Stenkrith Bridge. Downstream, the river seems much more benign as it glints in dappled sunshine.

We turned east onto the now dismantled railway. It's now a beautiful walk, as the footpath curves through the former railway cutting. Coppiced trees provide gentle rustling and a dappled effect. Bridleway gates underneath railway bridges in the distance look inviting and beckon you through. Former railway buildings act as information points, telling the history of the line, and provide shelter should there be a sudden downpour. Eventually, the walk heads in a north easterly direction as it straightens out. The walk opens up as the route crosses the Podgill and Merrygill Viaducts. The Northern Pennines and Eden Valley can be seen from here. Steps down to the left enables the walker a closeup view of the amazing feat of Victorian architecture and endeavour.
Kirkby Stephen church nestling amongst the trees

The Northern Pennines

Leaving the second of the viaducts, we joined the minor Hartley road, taking off-road  footpath alternatives where they were offered. We crossed the bubbling Hartley Beck and passed pretty cottages in Hartley village. 
Hartley Beck

We headed west at the village noticeboard along a tarmac footpath that took us through a sheepfield and on towards Frank's Bridge. From here, we could see Wild Boar Fell. 
Wild Boar Fell

Once again we crossed the River Eden before heading up through a ginnel to the Market Square.

A beautiful walk... accessible to most.

Friday, 3 August 2012

High Rigg Fell

High Rigg Fell - 354m

5.5 miles

Today's walk was another Lake District  National Park volunteer-led circular. We started from Legburthwaite car park, just a short walk to the A591 Keswick-Grasmere Road through woodland. It was just a very short distance on the wide verge before taking a footpath to the right.
Towards Thirlmere

To lowland legs it seemed quite a sharp pull up the fellside and we quickly gained height. As we turned round to take in the view, we were not disappointed. There were fabulous views to Thirlmere and the Helvellyn range. Our route continued less steeply, undulating along the western edge until the summit cairn was reached. Our picnic stop.

What a spot!
Skiddaw from High Rigg

Keswick could be seen in the distance. Looming large, Skiddaw and Blencathra dominated the view. Through binoculars, a path up Skiddaw could clearly be seen as could the route followed by the Cumbrian Way. In the valley below, we could see Castlerigg stone circle. It was proof, if any was needed, that a great view can be had from a modest height. It was the sort of spot that you would be happy to return to again and again.
Blencathra from High Rigg

All too quickly, we resumed our walk, dropping down the fellside to a minor road and the picturesque St. John's-in-the-Vale chapel. It was only 100m or so before we left the road and joined a bridleway heading south at the foot of High Rigg, St. John's Beck stretching out in the valley below. As we passed behind Low Bridge End Farm and underneath Wren Crag, our walk was nearing its end. It wasn't long before we came to the path that we had taken earlier in the day... we had come full circle. 
St. John-in-the-Vale chapel

A fabulous little walk. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Walla Crag

Walla Crag -  379m

7.5 miles

The weather forecast wasn't desperately encouraging and we're still finding our 'walking' legs, so we decided to take a guided walk run by volunteers in the Lake District National Park. 

The walk started in the centre of Keswick, making its way through beautiful manicured gardens and by the Theatre By The Lake, joining a flat path at the side of Derwentwater. It was good to see many people taking an opportunity for a stroll by the lakeside. We stood on the viewpoint of Friar's Crag, to survey Lord's and St. Herbert's Islands, and Catbells on the otherside of the lake. Fellsides around the lake and beyond disappeared into many shades of grey, giving the scene an ethereal quality. It was here too that a monument to John Ruskin had been erected, suggesting that this view had been one of his earliest childhood memories.
Catbells & St Herbert's Island

Leaving the lakeside path behind, we took a gently ascending path through Great Wood before crossing Cat Gill and passing underneath Falcon Crag. After a gentle descent, we came to the picturesque, stone-built Ashness Bridge. We ate our pasties and cake to the magnificent sound of cascading water rushing down the beck. A wonderful spot.

Ashness Bridge

Onwards and upwards, we followed a clear, well-walked track up the fellside to Lady's Rake and the summit cairn. Beautiful views dissolved into the mist. Bassenthwaite Lake could be seen in the distance. Clouds hung low, obscuring Skiddaw, emptying their contents over us, rain stinging our faces. Refreshing.
Walla Crag cairn

The descent via Springs Wood quickly returned us to the outskirts  of Keswick and our starting point. With relatively few on the fellside with only natural elements making up the soundscape, the bustling pedestrianised centre came as a bit of a shock. Our guides had made our walk interesting and it had been a lovely route once we had left the busy lakeland path. I'm sure Walla Crag will be a Wainwright that we return to.