Crossing the Caingorms – a seven day (90 mile) wild walk

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For one week a year I am allowed to take a solo holiday. This opens up the possibility of something more adventurous or demanding than would be appreciated by the whole family. Whilst weighing up options for a long distance walk I stumbled on a walk report on Walk Highlands whose photographs enchanted me. Once I’d turned the route into digital form and poured over the maps it looked a fully practical option. An eight day route crossing the Cairngorms with good wild-camping options for all the nights but one. That one night being roughly in the middle and offering a campsite thus the chance for a shower / beer / place to receive a restocking parcel.

Here is the route I planned:

Planned Route image

During the walk itself I opted to make some changes to the original route. Such is the beauty of a wild walk, not bound by fixed campsites. The gpx files for the original route and also for the actual route can be downloaded from the links.

Preparation

This was to be the longest solo wild walk I’d ever taken on, and in an area more remote / lacking mobile phone coverage more often than I’d covered before. For my safety and the peace of mind of Mrs W I bought a Garmin inReach unit. These allow you to be transmit GPS tracking data and to send / receive text messages via the Iridium satellite network, so from anywhere in the world with sight of the sky. I wrote a review of the inReach here.

My view of backpacking is to strike a good balance between comfort and minimising the weight carried. It should also be born in mind that I was expecting snow above 700 m and nights where the temperature would drop below zero. Ideally I’d have done this walk a month later, but the school holidays dictate my schedule. May would have been a good deal warmer yet still free of the dreaded midge.

When I weighed my kit, inc. food and water, it was 15.8 kg. But I did have an ice axe and micro-spikes with me, both of which I needed to use. I was very pleased with this weight for an unsupported walk. One secret was posting a re-supply parcel to my midpoint campsite in Braemar with food, fresh clothing, maps, batteries etc.

The walk

Day 1 – Blair Atholl to head of Glen Tilt (12 miles / 250 m)

An easy day to start with, alongside the very attractive River Tilt

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I had a super pitch at the end of the day, right next to the river. Had I walked on a further ¼ mile I could have been next to the Falls of Tarf. Might this have been better still? Perhaps, but I’d enjoyed my day and was more than happy.

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Day 2 – Glen Tilt to Gleann Taitneach (9 miles / 650 m)

The only uninspiring day of the walk. It should have ended well as the plan was to Climb Carn Bhinnein and walk across to Carn nan Sac to camp at 3000’. However the wind was very strong and a message from home base told me to expect 40 mph winds at 3000′ and I could already see the cloud base dropping. Surprising for a walk of this length (90 miles) in Scotland, this short high level section was the only part which was due to be pathless. I opted to camp in the valley.

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The highlight of the day was eating lunch next to Loch nan Eun. Whilst the wind was strong I found a sheltered spot totally out of the wind. The quality of the shelter only became fully evident as I set off after lunch to find the outflow waterfall flowing upwards!

Day 3 Gleann Taitneach to Knaps of Fafernie [Jock’s Road] (10 miles / 480 m)

When I woke in the morning the cloud was at 700 m, and as I muted earlier the next section was due to be pathless, and now also clearly viewless too. Thus I opted to divert my route down the glen.

Detour Day 2

No buses serve the A93 to Glen Shee so I hoped to be able to hitch a lift from the Spittle to Cairnwell Pass. I struck lucky with a great pair of Polish guys across for their holidays. My spirits were really raised by not having to walk along the road for two hours. That said the views from the road were still rather fine. As I headed up Glas Maol from the pass I hit my first snow. Occasionally I could now see summits, but by the time I reached 900 m I was in a white out – snow on the ground and cloud all around. Very careful navigation was the order of the day, even with a mapping GPS. It was a great path though, even though I didn’t get any views until I was pitching the tent at the end of the day.

The Knaps of Fafernie did not show the greatest potential for a camping pitch. The ground was either boggy or stony. In the end I trampled a patch of snow so it was firm and level and pitched on that.

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Day 4 Knaps of Fafernie to Callater Lodge (7 miles / 120 m)

The cloud was low again in the morning and according to the MWIS was not due to lift. I decided to read for a couple of hours in the hope that the cloud would lift late morning. The idea was to leave my overnight gear in the tent and just take lunch and water with me on a there-and-back to Lochnagar. 40 mins walk got me to the summit of Fafernie but the cloud remained thick, low and unbroken so I claimed the top (a new Munro for me) and headed back to the tent for my lunch.

Thankfully the day was saved by my decent down Jock’s Road into Glen Callater. Beautiful.

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That said, I can see why ‘Jock’ never got the same recognition from the civil engineering community as McAdam. His ‘road’ was undiscernable until I reached the base of the valley! However the views of the corries below Tolmount and Fafernie were breathtaking. It was wonderful to be greeted by such amazing scenery as soon as I descended below the cloud. (which didn’t lift from the tops until just before sunset).

My pitch was probably the finest wild camping spot I have ever enjoyed.

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Day 5 – Callater Lodge to Braemar (9 miles / 510 m)

In most long distant walks there is a ‘joining one nice section to another’ day. This was mine. It was also a demi-rest day. However I did enjoy the Callater Burn which was flowing well because of the snow melt. To add interest to the day I walked over Morrone on my way to my campsite and demi-rest day.

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I enjoyed the views of the bigger hills I was due to tackle next, then headed to the campsite. As seems to be common on all my long wild walks, any campsite proves a great disappointment compared to your other pitches. However my restocking parcel was waiting for me and I enjoyed a shower before heading into town seeking some decent beer. There was only one cask ale option in town, thankfully it was good. Braemar Brewing Co. had just opened in the town, they had one from them and three others from the Cairngorm Brewery (Aviemore) at the Invercauld Mews Bar. If you want a decent pint, it’s the place to go.

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Three of the beers were traditional, but Cairngorm’s Tradewinds was slightly left field and very nice. Made with Perle hops and elderberries. Perle is a hop I love (paired with Citra gives you tangerine flavours) and the combination worked really well. I just had to have another one because my phone hadn’t yet fully charged 😉

Day 6 – Braemar to Loch Etchachan (16 miles / 800 m)

Once I got the initial road section behind me, this was the one of the best days walking I’ve ever known. Ever. The trees and the mountain-scapes around Glen Lui and Glen Derry are breathtaking.

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I’m glad I walked down the glen, it was such a good day and the final ascent of 300 m at the end of the day didn’t seem at all challenging. It was fun to start the climb in a T-shirt and end up next to a frozen loch surrounded by snow. What a location, which I think it is probably the highest (proper) loch in Scotland at 3041 feet. I’d love to come back in the summer too.

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Day 7 Loch Etchachan to Aviemore (15 miles / 400 m)

Loch Etchachan sits in a bowl and ascending out of this on frozen snow meant finally using the axe and micro-spikes I’d be carrying all week. Sadly the cloud base was just below 3000’ but the MWIS suggested it would lift by late morning. There were still no views at the top of Ben Macdui so I sat in the shelter of the rocks around the trig point and pondered my options. It was late morning now and there had not been the slightest hint of the cloud cover thinning or lifting. I made a decision to alter my route and descend to the Rothiemurchus Forest by the most attractive direct route. With the benefit of hindsight this was a poor judgement call, because the cloud did lift at 1pm. However when walking solo I feel I should put safety higher up my priority list. On the positive side, my route down was mostly extremely attractive. At 1pm, as I was approaching Cairn Lochan, the cloud lifted but so did the force of the wind. I was now in two minds about my choice, but figured that given the nature of the Cairngorms, the chance of getting a sheltered tent pitch at 4000’ was not likely. My original plan had been to camp at the Wells of Dee, the highest source of a major river in the UK. I would have beaten my PB of highest wild camp from the night before too.

One cannot live ones life regretting our choices, so I sought to see the positive of my situation and opted to bag another Munro on my way down. Cread an Leth-choin, or in English, Lurcher’s Crag. The wind on the top was brutal, but the views spectacular.

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Lurcher’s Crag – the view from between the ears

After lunch sheltering just below the summit the map showed me a path down that looked good. How wrong was that! Should you ever seek to descend from this Munro into Lairig Ghru do not take the ‘path’ to the NW. Instead follow the shoulder down to the more major path running from Lairig Ghru past the foot of Creag a Chalamain. My route took me down the most challenging scramble I’ve ever attempted, the challenge coming from the unstable rock. Every third hand hold simply broke away. It is not a safe route to take. The longer route down the shoulder would not only be safer but much faster. It took me the thick end of an hour to descend 300 m.

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Then to try and continue to seek the gains from my loss of ascending the Devils Point, Cairn Toul, Braeriach et al I route marched the 7 miles down the tourist track, through the forest into Aviemore seeking to catch the last train South.

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After the first two miles the rocky path becomes much more pleasant to walk on and with tired feet I arrived at Aviemore Station at 8pm. My dinner was a cold feast from Tesco which I ate on the platform then took the train back to our van parked at Blair Atholl station. I was very glad to only have another 20 feet to walk from the train to my bed.

Conclusions

I’d say the walk was a mixture of amazing and disappointing – but the disappointment came solely from the periods of low cloud. I’d be very keen to go back and repeat the section from Braemar to Aviemore in more reliable weather. The heart of the high Cairngorms is like nowhere else in Scotland, wild and stunning.

Garmin inReach Mini 2 – a real world review

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The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is a satellite facilitated tracking and text message communication device. It is small and light and designed to be used in combination with a Bluetooth enabled smartphone to act as remote keyboard and larger viewing screen. As the name suggests it is the second incarnation of this device. I bought one of these earlier in the year to give my family peace of mind when I was on an eight day solo wild walk across the Cairngorms.

Executive Summary

I found the unit easy to use and my family found messaging me and following my location using the tracking page straight forwards when I was in the field. The battery life was excellent, it would have lasted 12 days between charges using the configuration I chose. The reassurance of having a ‘Daddy Tracker’ was highly appreciated by the family and I benefited from getting messages and MWIS summaries sent from home. It gets a thumbs up from me.

What does it do / why might you want one?

By linking to both the US GPS, international GNSS and Iridium satellite networks it can pinpoint your location anywhere in the world where you have sight of the sky. Then by using its connection to the Iridium network (which is what powers satellite phones) it can broadcast your position back to your support team / loved ones via a Garmin hosted webpage. It does this at a frequency anywhere from once every two hours to as often every two minutes.

Using the Iridium network it allows the transmission and receipt of 160 character text messages. These can be sent to a mobile phone, received as an SMS message, or sent to an email account. A link within outgoing messages allows recipients (e.g. home base) to reply to the inReach via a web based messaging portal or via SMS to a dedicated pseudo mobile phone account at Garmin.

Finally the unit has an SOS button which will transmit an emergency call and your location to the local emergency services and also your chosen two primary contacts. Thankfully I’ve not tested this, but once in contact with the emergency services you can share text messages to fill them in with your status, nature of your emergency/injury etc.

I got one so that my family could be assured that I was OK and we could keep in touch with each other for the long periods I was without mobile phone network coverage (in my case for 5 ½ of the 8 days of my trip).  I was walking alone.

How easy is it to use?

DSC_2647After a couple of short test walks I was able to consistently and easily use the unit. Whilst it can be used on it’s own, if you want to send bespoke rather than just preset messages this is MUCH easier when you link it (via Bluetooth) to your phone. The unit itself has only four buttons, so typing on it would be a very slow process. However, you can read even long messages on the unit itself with ease.  The screen looks like that on a Kindle. Linking to the dedicated app on your phone is quick and easy. Reviews I read ahead of buying it all suggest that the Mini 2 user interface is much more intuitive than the original Mini 1. I have a 10 year old Garmin GPS Map and know that I can attest that the Mini 2 much easier and more intuitive vs. the older style of Garmin interface.

When I used the manual on / off tracking mode I found I could easily turn off the tracking by mistake. I never did work out what I was doing wrong. My solution was to set it to auto-tracking which meant I never accidentally turned off the tracking. This worked flawlessly.

Sometimes in deep valleys, or where there was tree cover it flagged a ‘poor satellite connection’ and asked if I would like to delay sending my message until it was guaranteed to sent without any errors. I opted for the ‘wait’ option and found that it never needed to wait more than 30 seconds before sending my message – a delay of no relevance as far as I was concerned. In the manual it suggested that messages may take up to 20 min to arrive with the end recipient (or get from them to me). On two occasions I had a back and forth text conversation with no perceivable delay.

Battery life?

There is always a difference between the optimal values quoted by manufacturers and real world performance. In the case of the Mini 2 your battery life will depend primarily on four main factors:

  • The frequency you opt to send your location back to your Garmin web page
  • How many messages you send / receive in the day
  • Whether you leave the Bluetooth link on all the time or actuate it ‘as needed’
  • Terrain / tree cover impacting satellite coverage.

In my case these factors were as follows

  • My location was set to ping once every 30 minutes
  • I sent around 10 messages per day and received 2-4
  • I only turned on the Bluetooth when I wanted to send a bespoke message
  • I was only rarely in deep narrow valleys or under trees
  • I had the unit switched on for around 8 hours per day
Picture showing how I carried the inReach Mini 2

inReach Mini 2 – clipped and strapped to my shoulder strap for good reception and easy of use

With the above settings / conditions I consistently used 8% of the battery life per day over my seven full days of use. Thus I could have got just over 12 days of use from a single charge of the internal Li ion cell. This seems excellent to me and all most people would every need. The unit is charged using a standard USB / phone charger (USB C) and thus can be topped up in the field using a power bank. The internal battery is 1250 mAh, so around 40% of a modern smart phone for comparison.

How the messaging works

The message payment model works as follows:

Preset messages

You can set three ‘preset messages’ via your Garmin Explorer web portal. These are fixed messages each sent to a (potentially different) fixed group of recipients. All and any aspects of these messages can only be altered via the web portal. Once set on the web you sync to your device either via USB or via the app on your phone / Bluetooth. You can send as many of these preset messages as you like at no extra charge. You can choose to include a location link within them.

Bespoke messages

Each message is up to 160 characters. These can be composed on the unit if you really have to and have a lot of patience (it has only four buttons) or are more readily composed on your phone then relayed via Bluetooth to the inReach and then up into the deep dark reaches of space. You can choose to include a location link with your message if you wish.

The cost of bespoke messages and location pings depends on the level of subscription you decide to pay for. Each subscription package includes some complimentary messages / pings and then you pay per message / ping after that. Since these costs will likely change with time best that you look here on the Garmin site for more information. This third party video is good too.

Both outgoing and incoming messages count towards your quota and will cost you once this quota has been exceeded. (Currently £0.50 / message).

Once you message someone, they can message you back.

Weather information

You can pay to have a weather forecast sent to you, it is multi-day forecast and can be standard or premium. I didn’t use these services so cannot comment. I arranged for Mrs W to send me a summary of the MWIS mountain forecast every other day. This service proved excellent!

Web portal configuration

This is very important as the settings on the portal will determine what your audience will see and what functions they will have available to them. You share a URL with them of the form https://share.garmin.com/xxxxxx. You can password protect the page if you wish and choose whether you want it to be possible for friends to message you from here. But note that you pay for incoming messages too.

On the portal you input your emergency contact information (two people). Via the app, you can populate a contacts list with their mobile / email details, these can be easily imported from your phone’s address book.

Costs

Again, look at the Garmin site for up-to-date costs, but their model has three levels of package further split into whether you opt for a monthly or an annual plan, so six options in total. There is an annual subscription fee too which is lower for an annual plan than a monthly plan. One thing that was not clear on their website is that if you buy a month’s usage this appears not to be 30 days, or from the Xth to the Xth of the month, but is instead for the calendar month. Worth noting if you plan to use it in the early part of the month, don’t subscribe until the 1st of the month at the earliest

I would suggest however that you would want to be able to familiarise yourself with the unit and check you can configured the settings on the web portal correctly before you head off into the wild and allow 2-3 days for this before you first use such a device.

Final thoughts

I’ve written this review after my first use of such a device, but it was a very comprehensive eight day trial – it was used ‘in anger’ so to speak. I could not fault it for either ease of use, robustness or battery life. From what I’ve read the Mini 2 has an easier interface and slightly longer battery life than the Mini 1. Mrs W was greatly reassured to be able to track me and get “I’m OK” messages at the start / end of the day and at each rest stop. This was the longest and most remote wild walk I’ve done so far and I was concerned I’d start to feel lonely after 4-5 days, but thanks to knowing I could communicate from absolutely anywhere (and you can send / receive messages from inside a tent without an issue) was probably a major reason behind this not being the case.

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The subscription is relatively expensive at £35 pa plus £35 per month used (middle level plan) but if it facilitates an adventure, as it did for me, it feels well worth the cost. My original plan was to sell the unit straight after my trip (cheaper than rental according to my sums) but rental is an option. However Mrs W has asked me to keep hold of it, so there’s a commendation right there.

Dales Superhighway – a four day wild walk

Whilst out on a family amble I discovered that our route formed part of the Dales Highway. The section we were walking from Stainforth to Faizor was very attractive, so I looked into details for the whole route. It runs for 90 miles from Saltaire to Appleby-in-Westmoorland. The low level section at the Southern end was not of interest to me, but the route it took through the Yorkshire Dales and over the Howgills looked inspired so I planned a four day section from Settle to Appleby which had the practical benefit of a train station at both ends making this a logistically easy linear walk. Having completed this I would suggest that if you are interested in the ‘hill section’ as I was then a better option still would be to terminate your walk at Newbiggin-on-Lune where you can get a regular bus to the train station at Kirby Lonsdale and from there, the train back to Settle. Read on to find out why…

Day 1 – Settle to Simon Fell (12.2 miles, 740 m)

One reason why I prefer the Dales for my winter walks is that the underlying geology means it is mostly free of much mud underfoot irrespective of recent rainfall. The first section along the Ribble was an exception to this. It seems to be a very popular route for local dog walkers. However I was soon at Stainforth Force and I was blessed with sunshine, the prospect of a dry path and excellent views just minutes ahead of me.

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I love the limestone formations of Smearsett and Pot Scar which you see on the path to Faizor.

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I ate my lunch overlooking Austwick Brook Dub, a pool in the brook which used to be used to wash sheep free of parasites in Spring and Autumn. Those farmers wresting sheep in chest deep cold water must have been hardy men indeed!

After lunch I came to another lovely section walking next to limestone pavement with Pen-Y-Ghent as the backdrop.

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I enjoyed the solitude whilst I could as 90 minutes later I was on the eroded motorway which is the ‘Three Peaks’ route up to Ingleborough. Whilst I find this the least attractive approach to this hill, it was a price worth paying for the route thus far, and the prospect of camping on Simon Fell, a satellite peak to Ingleborough itself. The cloud started to close in as I approached the top and whist I enjoyed views on arrival, I was enrobed in cloud by the time I got the tent pitched so have no pictures of the pitch on night one. Had it been the summer I would have headed to Park Fell to be undisturbed.

Day 2 – Simon Fell to Dent (12.9 miles, 500 m)

Whilst I awoke in the cloud, after striking camp I did not have to descend too far to be free of the cloud and to find that it was Ingleborough alone in wearing a flat cap of cumulous. The rest of the area was in bright sunshine. This afforded a wonderful view of Whernside.

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The official route does not take you over the top, but it was too good a day to skip the summit. At the top the remnants of the previous week’s snow where still in evidence.  It was very windy on high ground so I simply kept walking on and skipped lunch. The route through the Whernside Tarns was attractive but then it was  a slog along the stony track that leads down into Dent Dale. However, the walk along the river into the village was very pleasant once again. I arrived unfashionably early so opted for shelter, warmth and a liquid lunch in my favourite of Dent’s two pubs.

The morning had been a mixture of bright sun and total cloud cover, but the late afternoon was wholly warm and glorious when out of the wind. I pitched myself in the campsite (hands up! I didn’t wild camp every night) and enjoyed my book until an hour before dinner when I once again retreated to the Sun Inn. They had Tiffin Gold from Kirkby Stephen brewery which was tasty, moorish and nicely session-able at 3.6% ABV. I was back in the tent and asleep by just after 8pm, such is winter backpacking. Today had really felt like a holiday.

It was too!

Day 3 – Dent to West Fell : Howgills (12.6 miles, 740 m)

This was to be the best day. I started walking at 0830 and was greeted by warm sunshine.

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My route would take me via Sedbergh. You might imagine that the path would follow the same route as The Pennine Journey, which I completed in 2019, but this is not the case. I was soon walking new ground with the Highway living up to it’s name and leaving the river earlier and heading over the ridge between Dentdale and Garsdale at a higher point. I loved leaving tarmac and rocky tracks behind and also the early panorama of the Howgills.

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One major highlight over my overall route was that I would be crossing the whole of the Howgill ‘range’ from South to North and seeing them set out before me whetted my appetite.

DSC_2557I had thought that the climb up to Calders would be hard work, but in my minds eye the peak seemed far closer to Sedbergh that it is in truth. The reality is that it is a steady walk which is not over steep. There was not a cloud in the sky which was wonderful, but don’t be mistaken into thinking it was warm.  The wind was a steady 30-35 mph and finding any shelter for lunch was a challenge. Thankfully, just before the final climb to Calders I was able to sit in the lea of a small hummock to eat my lunch. I rued the lack of drystone walls which are myriad in the Dales. Once fed I needed to press on to keep warm given the windchill. My route took me over the Calf, shortly after which I was able to collect water, but I had to break the ice at the edge of the tarn to access it.

The hills of the Howgills are not dramatic like those of Western Cumbria, nor do they have the limestone features of the Dales but something about them appeals to me, perhaps it is simply because they are different. One thing for sure is that they offer very little by way of shelter from the wind.

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The Calf (676 m)

After passing the Calf I had the fells to myself and I enjoyed romping along and drinking in the views as I headed for the most northerly top, called West Fell, which my research suggested would be a good place to camp. The wind remained strong and steady, the forecast told me it was not expected to rise overnight and it was evidently free of gusts. I know from my first test camp in the Soulo  that it was easily capable of handling this wind speed (Force 7) , but I was glad of the quality of the mountain forecast which I reviewed before choosing which tent to bring. When I got to my planned pitching point the ground was level but once again there was no hint of shelter. Looking further down the path towards Bowderdale suggested the ground was mostly soft and uneven for the next section. Soft ground is no good if you want your pegs to hold. (I found out the next day that my judgement was sound, there were no good camping spots further down on West Fell.)

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All the guys out and double pegged – Hilleberg Soulo

It was a really lovely evening if you discount the wind. Using what I had learned over the past four years of wild camping made what could have been a difficult tent pitch something controlled and reasonable. My top tip is to always double peg / back stake your first two peg placements. I had a great view over the smaller North Eastern Howgills but was not blessed with an ‘Instagram Ready’ sunset on this occasion. I knew I had to be setting off at 0730 the following morning so after dinner and finishing my book it was soon time for sleep. The buffeting of the wind must have been what woke me every two hours, but in between I slept soundly enjoying the juxtaposition of the strength of the wind and the warmth and security of my shelter.

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Day 4 – West Fell to Great Asby (11 miles, 140 m)

Whilst it proved a wet day, the intensity and frequency of the showers were far lighter than the forecast suggested. Sunbiggin Tarn is beautiful in the sunshine, less so in the clag. Day four was a massive anticlimax after days 1-3. Should you be following in my footsteps I would suggest finishing this route at Newbiggin and on a high. There is a regular bus from there to the train at Kirby Stephen.

But I don’t want to end this report on a low point…

Final thoughts.

The route which the Dales Highway takes through the Dales and the Howgills is really attractive and I enjoyed these days immensely. I’ve wanted the opportunity to camp on Simon or Park Fell for a couple of years, and starting from Settle makes either of these an ideal endpoint. Water can be gathered high up on the route to this ridge meaning you don’t have to carry it very far. I didn’t get a prolonged view but it was super whilst it lasted. It was fun to put my five season tent to good use and take advantage of elevated camp spots, especial night three in the Howgills. Having the map open whilst I write this has given me ideas to enhance this route still further for those who are happy to wild camp to take advantage of route options unfettered by having to reach fixed accommodation. I now have in mind an amended route, a ‘Superhighway’ if you like.  Once it’s complete I’ll publish here for comment.

Panhandle Perambulation – A two day Wild Walk in the NW Dales

Our family day walks in the Yorkshire Dales are unusually restricted to the Southern areas as the journey time to somewhere such as Dentdale is deemed too far.  So with Mrs W heading away with Junior to see her brother for the weekend, I poured over a map and came up with a two day route with a fell top overnight stop.

Barbon Fell Route Map

The Opensource map suggested there was a path, unmarked on the OS Map, from a parking spot just outside of Leck up to the shoulder of Gragareth and indeed it was there complete with gates and stiles.  I didn’t get to see the notable ‘Three Men’ until my return on day two however.

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The (former) highest point in Lancashire – Gragareth

Once up onto the ridge the path was much smoother and well walked and afforded great views over Kingsdale towards Ingleborough and Whernside.  Ironically my route all but coincided with my winter weekend walk of 2018 which also took me to Great Coum.  I was simply the other side of the wall, which marks the former boundary between Lancashire and Westmorland.

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I had lunch in the shelter of a peat hag with a fine view of Morecambe Bay.  After ascending Great Coum the descent to Bullpot Farm was gentle.  Bull Pot is one of the entrances to the UK’s largest cave system which stretches some 70 km in total, dendron like, length.  Ultimately I dropped down to Barbon Beck and the foot of my second ridge of the weekend.

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When I plan a route like this I look at the overall structure of the ridges and places I will be able to source water but don’t often focus on all the other details.  Thus the ascent up to Castle Knott was a good deal steeper than in my minds eye.  Just the time to add two litres of water to my pack weight!  I reviewed the water options on the fell top and the two tarns looked very small, and the past few weeks had been very dry so I carried my beck water up with me. (I found the tarns to be stagnant and alive with fly lava, so a sound decision despite my water filter.)

I was very hot by the time I got to the my new ridge-line, but from here it was just less than a kilometre to the top of Castle Knott.  My original plan was to camp on the col just beyond this top but the wind was light and the views from the top inspiring.  Walking NW along the shoulder that extends away from the main ridge yielded a flat spot large enough for a solo tent with views over Morecambe Bay, the Kent Estuary and the Southern Fells of Cumbria – perfect!

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On the menu in the evening was a freeze dried meal from a company I’d not tried before, Lyo of Poland.  I was attracted by their use of all natural (and low FODMAP) ingredients and enjoyed my Five Spice Chicken very much.  In the UK they can be bought from Basecamp Foods – I suspect that I will be going back for more.

Overnight the cloud dropped and when the sun woke me at 0400 I was surrounded by cloud.  I had hoped that the breeze would keep my tent dry, but thankfully the pan-handle shape of this week yielded an extra bonus… …after getting a few more hours shut-eye.  I had brought a bum bag with me for essentials and although I packed up all the rest of my gear, I left it in the tent with the hope that tent would be dry for my return there-and-back walk to the end of the ridge.  Despite a lazy start, I was walking away by 0830 and by this point the cloud had lifted above 3000′ yielding panoramic views.  The ridge from Castle Knott to Great Maws was really like the Howgill’s in its shape and nature.  An hour later I was sat at the end of the ridge enjoying a fabulous view the Howgill’s themselves and also down into Dentdale.  I love this part of the world, and whilst the cloud cover meant it wasn’t a great day for photographs, I’ll let them tell the rest of the story.

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The return walk yielded fresh views and lost nothing for having been walked before.  The tent was dry upon my return so I struck camp and dropped back down to Barbon Beck for lunch.  I suspected that the rest of the walk would simply by a necessary ‘walk out’ but was delighted by the beauty, and ultimately the narrowness of Ease Gill. It is dry rivers such as this which point to the possibility of cave systems underneath – the water needs to be flowing somewhere…

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Another path which was only to be found on the Opensource map led me straight back to the car.  It had been a very enjoyable and empowering weekend and an other example of how it can be good to walk lesser know fells between the bigger peaks.  You get to see the spender of the larger peaks but without both the the full height gain and the heavy traffic they attract. The day had been getting warmer by the hour, and now I was down at valley level I experienced the full power of the sun.  Fortunately I was able to drop the roof on the car and drive home topless!

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