Mrs W was due to work this weekend, so Junior and I headed away for a weekend in York aided by our VW camper-van.  I was really pleased with this photo which was taken just after we had woken on the Sunday morning.

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A half term treat, going to Manchester on the train to catch a tram (and an incidental visit to the Museum of Science and Industry).

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Wet, wild and walling.



My walling partner John on the far side of the wall

Storm Brian (who makes this up?!?) and my DSWA ‘Introduction to Dry Stone Walling’ course coincided this weekend.  The two day course was held on a fell adjacent to Saddleworth Moor.  What an informative, fun and satisfying two days it was too.  Thanks to some heartfelt prayer, Brian held back the rain between 0900-1600 each day and saved his deluge for the night in-between.  I was teamed up with John, a retired telecoms engineering manager and we were allocated a 1.5 meter section of collapsed wall to take down, sort and then rebuild.

What a satisfying weekend.  We were pleased with our section…


John / My section – ready for the next 100 years

…and to see a whole 20 meters of new wall build by the 14 people on the course with the able assistance from our three instructors.


I’ve just started a sabbatical and hope to put my new skill to use on sections of dilapidated walls on a friends smallholding.  It takes years to become expert and fast, but I hope I can get a few meters of simple wall built for them by dedicating a day a week over the next three months – always assuming Brian doesn’t make a return visit!

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For Junior’s fourth birthday we spent a day at Diggerland in Yorkshire with his best friend.  We all enjoyed the day and the digger themed cake we’d made in advance…

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A Pennine Journey – Part 2

The story continues

Day 3 – Stalling Busk to Keld (16 miles)

A very pleasant day under blue skies, but little outstanding to make reference to.  Initially the route took us down to Semer Water and it’s outflow, the River Bain which has the unusual accolade of being said to be the shortest river in the UK. One highlight was the salad boxes we bought for lunch in Askrigg from ‘The Humble Pie’ – a mother and daughter enterprise with excellent food and service to match. We enjoyed our salad boxes and the attendant view half way up Askrigg Pasture. The most attractive part of the day was the section between Muker and Keld.


View from Muker Footbridge

Our accommodation for the night was to be a little querky and the fulfilment on an ambition: A Ger on the site misnamed as Swaledale Yurts.  It seemed pedantic to point out their error, but having had the great pleasure of two trips to Mongolia over the past ten years we have been instructed in the difference between the Russian curved walled Yurt and the straight walled Ger of Mongolia. We had dinner delivered to our Ger which was excellent and enhanced still further by a roaring wood stove.


A Yorkshire Ger


Romantic heating











Mongolian Gers – the homes of the Steppe

Day 4- Keld to Bowes (12 miles)

Today we really reaped the benefit of being within an extended period of dry weather as our route was to take us across the wet ground (bog!) known as Sleightholme Moor. First of all our route rose gentle up to the highest Inn in England – Tan Hill. Here, the welcome is always warm and the Theakston’s universally good, especially when you know you’ve earned it. Because of the ‘dry going’ across Sleightholme Moor it was really very attractive with views stretching a long way across the flat lands either side of the A66.

Our destination of Bowes has only one place offering accommodation, The Ancient Unicorn. Dinner was distinctly average and the beer disappointing but the room was nice and a walk around Bowes Castle a fun end to a lovely day.


Many character features, but in need of a little moderisation!

Day 5 Bowes to Middleton-in-Teesdale (12.5 miles)

We took a detour at the start of the day to go and see God’s Bridge. A large slab of rock forming a natural bridge over the Rive Greta.


The day then consisted of a series of fells and reservoirs culminating with a delightful downhill stretch into Middleton. The day proved a lovely day for me to talk with Mrs W. The chance to be child free and out in glorious countryside in the sunshine was conducive to bringing each other back up to speed with our thoughts on work, church, life, approaches to child care and so much more. People marry for many reasons, but for us we love time in each others company and the chance to talk and really discuss matters of significance. For me the finest view of the day was the collection of isolated pines on the descent into Middleton. A view so iconic of Eastern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.


Lonesome Pines

Day 6 – Middleton-in-Teesdale to Westgate (15.75 miles)

The morning of day six introduced us to very different terrain. All morning was spent following the river Tees. At this point the river is at its most attractive and included the chance to see the well known High Force and the lesser known (and secret is in the name) Low Force. The last time we had seen High Force it was from the other side of the Tees on our ‘enhanced’ C2C cycling route in 2011. There is no bridge across the river at this point, so you have no choice of vantage point, but it was clear from the Southern Bank that this was the side to best enjoy it from.


Low Force


High Force

Eventually you cross the river and have to leave it behind, heading up onto the fell side again. This proved a lesser walked part of the route and demanded compass work to get us to the road to Westgate. It was a long trudge on the road, but at least this was rewarded with some lovely limestone outcrops beside the road. Our destination was Hill House East for the night. Whilst all of our accommodation was good, Carol and John were the crème-de-la-crème of hosts. You just cannot beat being greeted with tea and John-made cake on arrival. Their hospitality was without equal. They were even able to provide me with a book explaining the history and chemistry of the local lead mining which really helped us appreciate the ruins we would see over the next two days which had been left from this long dead industry.

That night we ate ‘simple food done well’ at the Hare & Hounds , home to the Wear’d Ale brewery… …work it out! The brewery is in the cellar and the beer truly excellent. It would reason enough to visit Weardale again. A return weekend beacons because the scenery, whilst secondary to the quality of the ale, would offer excellent day walking.

Day 7 – Westgate to Blanchland (10.75 miles)

The scenery from Keld to Middleton may have been simply pleasant, but in Weardale we were back in a Dale every bit as fine as Wharfdale or Littondale.


Wonderful, not weird!

IMG_7958It was made more interesting still by the remnants of the lead industry. This area had once been the richest source in the world of this famously malleable metal.  Following an abandoned railway line gave an easy route into the Rookhope Valley, home to the one remaining arch of the Rookhope horizontal chimney. This remarkable piece of ancient industry was once the vent stack from a lead smelting works. When it was working, this ingenious horizontal chimney ran for two miles up the hillside to take the fumes away from the works, rather than take the conventional approach of building 100 feet vertically.

After lunch we headed up Bolt’s Law Incline, once the location of the highest standard gauge railway line in the UK.   The remains of the engine house, whose stationary engine pulled carried up the slope can still be found at the summit. Great views were afforded along with a peppering of attractive conventional chimneys left over from the areas industrial past.


From the fell top we dropped down into the virtually medieval Blanchland. Not wanting to take out a second mortgage to stay at the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel (which did look idyllic) we had arranged for the landlord from a hostelry in the neighbouring village of Edmondbyers to collect us at the end of the day.

Day 8 – Blanchland to Hexham (11.75 miles)

Today was a case of putting in the miles to finish our week of walking. Having been blessed with such good countryside to this point much of this final day was something of an anticlimax. However thanks to the book I was lent by Carol on the Thursday evening I was able to enjoy the full splendour of Dukesfield Smelting Mill. As an industrial chemist, understanding the functionality of these structures brings an extra depth to the pleasure of finding and exploring them. This too had a length of ‘horizontal chimney’ as we had seen in Rookhope, but in this case passing through a chamber which was (when the smelter was operating) packed with brushwood. Today we might use demister pads to condense out liquids from a stack but I can imagine this would have worked almost as well and could be replaced from the local woodland when required. This brushwood and the horizontal section of chimney were so designed to make it easy to collect the condensed lead and silver which with volatilized out from the smelting hearth. And who better to do this job than children, small enough to walk through this confined space. Different times indeed!


Not a bridge but the support for the vertical flue.

Our journey ended at the splendid Hexham Abbey. Wainwright would have had harsh words with us for stopping at a point just five miles short of what he considered to be the climax and primary goal of this walk, Hadrian’s Wall. He, however, was only half way through his holiday at this point and had the time to walk home. We had to get a train back to Settle to enable us to be at back at work on the Monday.



Any long distance walk has it’s high-points and also some less fabulous stretches to join some of these together. However enjoyment is more about attitude than opportunity and on the mundane sections Mrs W and I simply enjoyed each others company (free from the pressures of work and fast pace of keeping up with our three year old son) or we revelled in understanding Victorian lead smelters (OK that would be mostly me!), a well earned lunch or an excellent pint of local ale. The walk did fulfil its brief, in that we walked across the whole breadth of the Yorkshire Dales on a route with better views than the Dales Way and (almost) free of the bogs which are the signature of the Pennine Way. Next time we will finally get to see ‘the wall’, walk the whole length of the Howgills and then through Dentdale and out to the splendid Western edge of the North Pennines. Unlike Wainwright I think I am looking forward more to the return journey than his destination, but perhaps ‘the wall’ with enchant us as it did him? However, sadly this will have to wait until 2018 / 19, so watch this space…

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24 hours in the forest without trees – A micro adventure

DSC_1478Up until March of this year, it had been 24 years since I’d last been true wild-camping. Back then it was two separate nights above 2000 feet on passes of the Lake District whilst walking the Coast to Coast. Then the urge to go once again came across me in 2013, something I actually only fulfilled earlier this year. After my return to this pursuit my appetite was whetted. However, as I noted earlier it was far more that my appetite that got wet, most of the rest of me did too that weekend!

This time I waited for a good forecast before packing my bag. Whilst reading about our local AONB I was entranced by photographs of ‘Langden Castle’ It lies on the ancient road from Whalley to Lancaster and was apparently the site of an early overnight stop for prisoners being taken to the county town assizes.   As you will come to see, whilst it sports some unusually fine Gothic arches around the door and windows it is not today and is likely never to have been any more than a humble dwelling.   Today it is part sheep shelter with a locked middle section which I can only imagine is used by the local grouse shooters.   What the photo’s did show however, is a nice patch of grass out front and a brook close by from which water can be drawn (further down stream water is extracted by UU from this same brook to sate the thirst of the people of Lancashire.)

Langden Castle

Langden Castle

But enough rambling, it’s time I was telling you about my walk. This was to be a linear trek and thus only possible thanks to the kind chauffeuring service of Mrs W. On a bright sunny Saturday morning she dropping my off just outside of Chipping and the foot of attractive if diminutive peak of Parlick.   This sits on the very Western edge of the Bowland Fells and as such affords fabulous views all down the Lancashire coast as well as across to the fells themselves. It forms the end of an attractively curved ridge which I followed to the top of Fairsnape Fell.


The ridge round from Parlick to Fairsnape Fell.

An interesting feature of this ridge is that it is used by the local gliding club as a way to get lift and I enjoyed the company of three gliders that morning. From the greater high of this second fell I was afforded remarkable views from Snowdonia in the South, to the Southern fells of the Lake District to the North to Pen-y-Ghent to the East. I was travelling light with only my phone as a camera and could not do the views justice. It was a little hazy in the distance, but I was to find that this would clear later in the day.


The Yorkshire (Dales) Peaks in the distance…

From Fairsnape Fell I followed a fence line to Fiendsdale Head – not the friendliest sounding place, but a good spot for lunch with a view down Fiendsdale Clough. By this point I had the fells to myself which is exactly what I had been hoping for.

DSC_1464I had a choice at this point, plot a pathless route around to Hawthornthwaite Fell and then down into the Langden Valley, or go down into the valley first via the footpath, set up camp and then head back up to the unusual trig point on the top of said fell. I felt happier with the idea of yomping through untracked heather without my pack, so I headed down the Clough towards my proposed camping spot next to the castle. The heather on the route down was glorious, surely only 1-2 weeks from ‘peak purpleness’

 The path down keeps swapping sides of the brook and I regretted deciding to leave my gaiters at home, but with some nimble footwork kept my feet dry as I crossed back and forth over an ever-growing brook. Where the path says it is on the map and reality do not quite coincide until the valley floor broadens out as you join Langden Brook itself.

Once at the castle I set up my tent and then headed back up the fell side again. Initially my route to Hawthornthwaite fell followed a shooters track, but when this ended I followed a couple of bearings to the summit. Given the absence of any kind of path I can only imagine this is a lesser visited summit. The views from the top were fabulous with the haze having cleared Also interesting was the trig point.


Significant erosion on the top of Hawthornthwaite Fell

Since at least most of the ca. 3 meters of foundations must have become exposed before the pillar toppled, this shows that the erosion on top of the peak must amount to the same loss of height to the fell. Perhaps 10 years ago the view was a little better!?!

By the time I had got back to the tent I had covered a reasonably respectable 11.5 miles and it was time for dinner. This I enjoyed with the valley to myself. The evening afforded more sunshine and the solitary experience I had been hoping for.



Kitchen with a great view

 Then there was plenty of time to enjoy my book, interspersed by opportunities to drink in the view. After an early night, I rose early the next morning and walked 45 minutes out to the Trough road to meet Mrs W who gave me a lift back to church were I was due to drum in the band.

 When is a day more than a day? When it is a full 24 hour experience. Hopefully I’ll get a chance for another such weekend before winter sets in…

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Training ride…


Preparation for our family cycle tour across France on the Canal des Deux Mers route is now in full swing with the arrival of Junior’s new accessory.  He can now contribute to progress with his own set of pedals.  He may only be 3 1/2 but I could feel his input.  I’d say it was around 10-20% easier than pulling him in his trailer and on this point I’d agree with Tesco’s…

…every little helps!

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A Pennine Journey – Part 1

IMG_7953I have been fortunate to have walked all of England and Scotland’s National Trails, bar one, and thus I’m always keen on a fresh idea for a long distance walk. Pouring over a new OS map last year something caught my eye, a LDP called ‘A Pennine Journey’. This was new to me, but I tend to view most ‘new’ LDP’s with some scepticism. Most, it appears to me, have been devised to pull in grant funding to a local authority or to appear in a tourist brochure. Few if any seem to have been designed as great ways to explore great geography without compromise. It was this lack of exciting new route opportunities that led me to devise my 8-in-5 walk around the Lake District that Mrs W and I enjoyed in 2012 and led to walking a section of the GR10 in 2016.

The Pennine Journey was different though, as a little web research revealed to me. It is a walk based on a route devised and walked by Wainwright in 1938. In his case he wanted to escape the pervasive negativity all of Britain was feeling, with a looming expectation of war with Germany. His goal was to walk across the Central/Eastern Yorkshire Dales up to Hadrian’s Wall (something he longed to see) and then come back by a more Westerly route. The more I looked into this, the more the route appealed to me. We were not seeking escape from anything as significant as WW2, just the chance to leave the hassles of work behind for a week in the fells. Wainwright seemed to have picked a route with just the right pleasure : challenge ratio that appeals to me. The Pennine Way tips this ratio to far to the former in my opinion (unless you really enjoy bog-snorkeling!) and the Dales Way is something too tame to attempt before I’m 70. A rough outline of the route is shown below, we had only a week so walked the first half, from Settle to Hexham.

PJ Map

Wainwright would have wrung his hands that we walked without reaching his primary objective, Hadrian’s Wall. However for me the logistic simplicity of getting a train back from Hexham defined our end point (and the start of Part 2 when opportunity allows in 2018 / 19)

For us, it is unusual to holiday so close to home, but being blessed to live within a 30 min drive of The Dales is no hardship. So even though we only woke at 0730, we were starting our walking holiday by 0930 – a pleasant change from a pre-walk plane ride. There is a really good guide to the walk edited by David Pitt but I’d had decided to try and split the initially daily distances more evenly that is suggested in the guide.

 Day 1 – Settle to Halton Gill. (14 miles)

A dry start, and only one day forecast to yield rain in the next eight gave us a spring in our step as we left Settle. By late morning one great bonus of AW’s route became clear. It gave you routes to Dales Honeypots than were virtually unwalked. This not only means more wilderness and less people (always good in my book) it also means new vista’s on familiar hills.


The real route goes around Penyghent and takes you past Hull Pot. This giant sink hole is very impressive, but having seen it before we decided to take a detour over the summit. It was windy on top but worth it. IMG_7905

As soon as we started on the path to Plover Hill it was amazing to note that every other walker that day was taking the ‘standard route’ up and down to Horton, not one person was to be seen on Plover Hill. We thus soon left the madding crowd far behind. The view down to Litton Dale, Foxup and Halton Gill soon opened up before us. Our accommodation that night was to be one night in a self catering cottage. We were fortunate to be able to book it for just the one night and carried with us a homemade curry which just needed reheating.

Day 2 – Halton Gill to Stalling Busk (13 miles)

IMG_7911Day two was rather overcast and hazy. Our route started in earnest, steeply out of Littondale up to the Horsehead Pass. From there we dropped down to Hubberholme in Wharfedale only to find someone had stolen all the water in the Wharfe!

I jest of course, it is a unusual feature of several Dales rivers that when the water table is low they run underground for some strengths only to reemerge further downstream. Arriving in Buckden I was disappointed to see that The Buck (PH) was closed seeking a new landlord. Beer was substituted for tea and cake at the excellent Westwinds café. Mrs W was delighted. We then headed via Cray to a Green Road that crosses over the attractively bleak Stake Moss and down to the Hamlet of Stalling Busk. Our host was both quirky and really welcoming. When I said I was going out for a stroll to see the architecturally unusual local church I was volunteered to take her dogs for a walk with me. Ahh, the benefit of being married to a vet, making me [perceived to be] naturally good with all animals. Roast beef, with meat from the family herd ended the day very nicely indeed.

…to be continued in A Penning Journey Part 2

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Bedraggled in Bowland – A micro-adventure

A lot seems to have happened since my last micro-adventure, which was now almost two years ago. Mrs W and Junior were to be at a weekend conference in Derbyshire, so my appetite was wetted (and by the end of the weekend it wasn’t the only thing that became a little soggy) and the idea for a micro-adventure was born.


 Step back just over four years, when Junior was just a large bump; Mrs W and I enjoyed a low-level walk in the Forest of Bowland. Part way round brought us to Tarnbrook, a hamlet at the end of the road with just fell-side wilderness beyond. Coming down Gables Clough was a stream, one of the two feeder branches of the River Wyre, and next to it a track running up into the fells and disappearing into the horizon. One look and I was hooked, I was determined to find where this path led, because it seemed tantalizingly likely that it would lead up into one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of England. From what I can see, it is possible to get further from roads and houses in places in the Forest of Bowland than it is anywhere else in England. Scotland offers a lot more wilderness for sure, but Bowland is on my doorstep. Junior was born a few months later, I changed jobs – twice – and thus the delay in realizing my dream.

Pouring over a map revealed that grouse shooters track could take me up to a fell top Roman road known as The Hornby Road. This gravel track could take me to the middle of nowhere, and what finer place to walk to and set up camp for the night. The forecast looked poor for the Saturday, but to improve for the Sunday morning so I decided to brave the rain and go. Abandoning the car at the top of the Trough of Bowland I headed off on the Wyre Way to Tarnbrook and then up my tantalizing track. The initial plan was to climb Mallowdale Fell and then take a footpath to the East to enable a longer walk NW along The Hornby Road. However the weather closed in and I was unable to find any trace of the footpath. OK, in fairness I didn’t look that hard, because the ground either side of the track looked particularly soft (i.e. thigh deep peat) and uninviting. I followed the shooters track all the way up onto the Roman Road on the top of Salter Fell. Occasionally the cloud lifted for just a few seconds and revealed a view of the colourful NE flank of Mallowdale Fell.

The weather was not conducive to a lunch stop so I decided to up the pace and head for the first spot I had identified as a likely place to wild camp. The wind was building, so finding a flat patch of ground next to the crux of two stone walls, itself within a short stroll of a stream (for washing my pots after dinner) soon saw me pitching the tent.


Shortly after the heavens opened so I was delighted to be out of the weather and eating my lunch. It was only two o’clock but I had a good book with me and was warm and secure inside the tent. I love being in a tent, I find it endues such a sense of peace and secure restfulness. Three hours later I woke up refreshed and with the need of a pee and then some dinner. I was delighted to see that the cloud had now lifted for the day allowing me to drink in the view I had walked here for.


It proved a wild night but I was secure in a Niak from who I consider Europe’s premier tentmaker, Hilleberg and glad to be tucked behind the wall. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but experiencing wild weather in a tent doesn’t keep me awake, it actually helps me to sleep.

The next morning the storm had not passed as had been promised by the previous days forecast. In a lull I got the tent down and set off along the Hornby Road. The cloud was higher, but the wind was a steady force 8 and then the rain restarted.


Because of all the previous rain I decided to take what should be a drier path back to my starting point. The Withendale valley did not seem as attractive as it had seemed on the map, but having the rain stinging my eyes might well have flavoured my view. It was then a case of pushing on over two ridges back to the fell road. I stopped in the lea of some farm buildings in the valley for a quick lunch and then started up Whinn Fell to get back to the car. Upon getting some chocolate out to finish my lunch ‘on the hoof’ I was amused o find that all the sheep in the field came running to me in the hope of being fed


Finally I was back at the car. 8.5 miles on Day 1 and 10 miles on Day 2. These grouse-shooters roads offer a great way to get into these otherwise inaccessible fells whilst maintaining dry feet, but next time I’ll hold out for a sunny forecast.

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Planning for 2017

Mrs W is out at a Christmas party and Junior is now fast asleep, so I have some time to start looking into the proposed cycle tour for 2017.  The brief I set myself was to find a route which was both flat and interesting with the idea that with a flat route we could bring Junior with us.  As this point it is unclear whether this will be in a trailer or on a tag-along.

The route I’m looking into is the Canal des Deux Mers.  A chance to cycle across France with less than 400 m of height gain in ca. 7-9 days of riding.

Planning a cycling holiday is a great way to bring a little sunshine into a December evening.

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