Inversion – a two wild walk via the summit of Fountains Fell

DSC_2394

I was beginning to feel the winter blues drift into my airspace so Mrs W suggested it would be good for me to get out for a wild walking weekend. It has been a while since I was last out.  The first thing to check was the mountain weather forecast; this showed something rather unusual. A cloud inversion was expected in the Yorkshire Dales for the whole weekend. Foggy in the valleys but clear blue skies were to be expected on higher ground. Another impact of this is that the usual reduction in temperature with altitude scenario is reversed, with it warmer on the tops of the peaks than down in the valley. The dichotomy of sitting indoors looking out at the fog vs. walking on fell tops bathed in sunshine was enough to rouse my lacklustre enthusiasm. The route I chose is shown below:

Fountains Fell Route - Dec-21

The elevated moorland between Ribblesdale and Airedale only rises to 400-550 metres, but this was enough. As soon as I reached 360 m, I punched through the cloud into warm sunshine. Whilst it makes meteorological sense, it is still an odd feeling to walk out of the top of a cloud and suddenly feel a whole lot warmer. The precise height of the top of the cloud had not been forecast, it was just said to be ‘well below 700 m’ so there was a chance that I may not have been clear of the cloud until I was on my way up Fountains Fell. Walking up into the sunshine really lifted my spirits. I’d walked this section of path before and remembered the impressive limestone crags to the North of the path and was jubilant to see them again in glorious sunshine.

DSC_2363

My route took me to Malham Tarn and joining the Pennine Way around the Tarn before starting the gentle climb to the top of Fountains Fell.

DSC_2367

You have to divert off of the footpath to get to the actual summit which is about 700m SW of the highpoint of the footpath – unsurprisingly many had made this diversion before me. I knew from a review of Geograph photos that some flat level ground lay just to the West of the summit. Here I would like to plug Geograph to anyone planning a camping enhanced wild walk. Details on a 1:25k OS map are really helpful in shortlisting good spots to camp, but the pictures, they speak louder still.

DSC_2374

To my delight there was a nice level rock free spot right next to the summit cairn which allowed me to orientate my tent to have a view of both Pen-Y-Ghent and the possibility of a sunset over the top of the cloud inversion which was filling Ribblesdale (Yorkshire), the Ribble Valley (Lancashire) and its tributaries.

DSC_2378

After harvesting water from a small rivulet near the summit, it was time to get my legs into my sleeping bag and split my time between reading my book and drinking in the view. Because I’d started at sunrise and managed a fine pace I was fully set up a good 45 minutes before sunset. The sun was setting behind the cloud inversion thus it was not possible to take any pictures until it was kissing the horizon. After that words fail me, so I’ll leave it to a slideshow of how the colours changed over the next hour.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My bladder woke me at 0230 but I opened my sleepy eyes to an unexpectedly bright light. I wondered if it was a torch but no, it was an extremely bright full moon! At 0630 it was time to make a brew and get packed up for a rather longer second day. I figured I’d rather walk the final stretch to the car (day 2) in the dark than pitch a tent in the dark in an unfamiliar location (day 1) so I started my walk from Langcliffe rather than Stainforth. In the summer I’d start from Stainforth to even the distance to 14 miles each day. I left my summit camp just as the sun bobbed above the Eastern horizon. First stop was Pen-Y-Ghent.

DSC_2419

From there I headed to the Western Side of the Horton Road (B6479). The limestone scars between Horton and Wharf looked inviting on the map. Here I have to confess to a navigational inexactitude. I kept following a well trodden path that stopped being the true footpath. I only noticed this as it faded out one kilometre into my error. The valley into which I should have headed to was filled with cloud / fog and I was already a long way off of my route so I thought I’d continue around the edge of the scar tops, enjoy the fine view and then hope to find a gentle slope down to the Wharf road.

DSC_2427

The map suggested to me that SD790, 700 looked a promising point to lose height, and indeed it was. I would not, however, recommend this to others due to a lack of convenient gates in the drystone walls that I needed to cross. The path free route I took across the tops was not arduous (deep heather often is, but this was not deep nor the ground uneven), was very attractive and legal as open access land. Had time been on my side, it would have been better to continue to Moughton Nab (SD798, 697) and pick up the footpath down to the road.

After this, the rest of the day is what I’d class as a ‘walk out’ – something to be done quickly to finish the day. I’d really enjoyed climbing Pen-Y-Ghent and seeing all the limestone formations. It was time for a swift pint then to drive home. Here I should give a shout out to the landlord of the Craven Heifer at Stainforth who keeps his beers extremely well and who poured me as good an example of Thwaites IPA as I’ve ever had. It’s not a modern style IPA, but still the hop oils shone through very nicely.

Renewed Freedom in Ribblesdale – a two day wild walk.

DSC_1879

Freedom!       Finally we are allowed out overnight, so long as we stay in self contained accommodation. I figured you don’t get a much lower chance of social mixing than in a solo tent onto top of a remote fell, so I took advantage of being on a three day week and headed for Ribblesdale. My objective was to spend a night on the apparently unremarkable fell of Cosh Knott. Whilst it seems to offer little as a fell in itself, its magic is in the views that it affords. It is somewhere I’ve visited once before but I did not manage to capture any photographs due to a fully drained camera battery. Whilst the sunset and rise was not spectacular this time, my recollection of this location will ever be in my memory for seeing the sun setting over Ingleborough and then the magic of a cloud inversion the following morning.

This time my idea was to take a more interesting ‘route in’. Unless many popular YouTuber’s, my wild-camping is facilitates a better, wilder, walk and is the cherry atop the cake; It is not the cake in itself.  Last time I followed the Horse Head Ridge around from Arncliffe, this time I walked up Ribblesdale from Stainforth. My inspiration was a stretch of the Dales Highway and it didn’t disappoint. A middle ground walk, not across the tops, yet not along the river. If you are on a multi-day walk in the Dales I find this works very well and is exactly the approach which Wainwright took with his Pennine Journey. I’ll allow some photo’s of the majestic limestone formations to tell the story…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a late lunch next to the Ribble the next section was a mundane, yet necessary, link between areas of virtue. I upped the pace to get to an enjoyable short section of The Pennine Way and then up the rough grassland to Cosh Knott. The ground was rough but not boggy. One of the practical beauties of this spot is the spring at SD 832,778. I filled my bottles and headed up to the trig point.

I got my tent pitched just ahead of a flurry of hail and headed inside for a brew. Sadly the clouds spoilt the sunset, but not the splendour of isolation and the views I was blessed with the following morning. It proved a cold night at -6 C but I was delighted with the performance of my winter rated Thermorest which allowed my sleeping bag to fully live up to it’s specification (-15 C).

DSC_1873

The flip-side of the cold night was clear skies and great views the following morning. Reputed as the best view of the Three Peaks in the Dales, I was delighted to agree.

My route on Day 2 was to take my up Plover Fell and onto Pen-Y-Ghent. Last time I did this in sub-zero conditions I struggled with the verglas on the rock steps at the top of the popular footpath section to Plover Fell. This time I was equipped with my micro-spikes but found that the weather afforded me dry rock with good grip despite the cold night. I didn’t hang around on the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent because it was humming with ‘Three Peakers’ but instead struck back onto the Pennine Way and headed for Fountains Fell. The view of the lesser seen East side of Pen-Y-Ghent was beautiful and the frost on Fountains Fell beautified its normally mundane appearance. This was to be my first time up Fountains Fell on a clear day and from this direction. Lunch on the summit was very satisfying. Again, what it lacks in inherent splendour is made up for by the views it affords.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now it was time to head back to the car but unlike the farmland on the second half of day 1, the high pasture between Malham Tarn and Stainforth is really pleasant. Wide, firm, grassy bridleways with lovely crags initially then views of Pen-Y-Ghent and Whernside once I’d passed back over the shoulder of Fountains Fell. What a great two days I’d had and it was almost legal 😉  It is a walk I’d repeat and has wetted my appetite for walking a longer section of the Dales Highway in the years to come. Ahead of that I already have my next long walk planned, I am really looking forward to some coastal walking. The freedom of taking a tent means I have two routes planned, one on the West Coast and one on the East and I’ll make my choice depending on weather in early May….

…so on that cliff hanger, and until next time, thank you for reading.

Limited daylight, limited distances, unlimited satisfaction – a two day winter wild walk.

As I was reviewing the year in preparation for the writing of our family Christmas letter I realised that I have walked and / or wild-camped in each month from April to October of 2020. I came to this realisation at the end of November realising that this would be the first month to break the pattern. Almost coincident with this I came across an advert for pre-loved Hilleberg Soulo at a very reasonable price, well reasonable for a Hilleberg!

After a test run in the garden, I felt the urge to try it out in conditions to justify its design. I set off for Buttermere on a Friday evening and slept in the van overnight to facilitate a good early start the following morning. Being December the days were set to be short, with under eight hours between dawn and dusk. At 0810 on the Saturday morning, as the sun rose, I strode purposely out of Buttermere village and set off for Red Pike.

Looking back across Crummock Water

My proposed route would take me along the High Stile ridge to Green Gable and then over to Black Sail Pass to camp next to Cloven Stone Tarn as I have great memories of camping here on my first Coast to Coast walk some many years ago. The amount of snow on the ridge was rather greater than it appeared from down in the valley. OK, only 4-6” but enough to make it fun and enough to justify an axe for the final ‘drift filled’ gully to the summit of Red Pike. A number of hills have the epithet ‘Red’ but Red Pike truly is red with the scree composed of iron rich syenite. The views from the ridge were excellent.

By the time I got to the steep decent of High Crag the sun had warmed this West facing end and started to melt the snow. My decent was painfully slow. The shallow snow was now extremely slippery but nothing like deep enough for crampons to be employed. Over lunch I noted my average speed of the morning has been only 1.8 mph. I could probably still make it to Black Sail Pass before dark, but not if the descent of Great Gable turning out to be anything like that from High Crag. As I started down the far side of Haystacks I concluded two things (i) That Weston Junior would love the gentle scrambling at the top of this peak and (ii) The temperature was dropping very quickly. Today had been slow, tomorrow would likely be similar so I opted to stop early which would shorten the following day as well.

Since I had my Sawyer ultra-filter with me this gave me complete confidence to source water from Innominate Tarn and I found a suitable, if bumpy pitch which afforded a great view of Great Gable.

There was little wind, and so no real justification for my five season shelter. However, it’s geodesic design was really helpful in helping me find the best pitch of the bumpy plateau I had chosen as my stopping point (NY 208,123). I found the next morning if I’d walked a little further (209,119) I’d have had a much smoother pitch with as good a view. The temperature was soon below freezing, and whilst in my youth that would have made a gas stove problematic, the pre-heater tube on my Alpkit Koro did what it was designed for and it cooked my dinner without a hitch.

The following morning was overcast with the cloud base around 700 m. That I was at 600 m and did not have to re-traverse Great Gable in the cloud was a blessing. Today’s route would take me to Honister Pass then up onto the ridge on the Northern side of the valley. My descent of Grey Knotts was again slow, justifying my change of plans the day before. My slow descent dampened my spirits so I sought to re-state my manhood by setting a good pace up to the top of Dale Head. Getting there 10 minutes ahead of plan re-ignited my mojo and whilst I was now well and truly in the cloud I set off with gladness along Hindscarth Edge. I can only imagine this section of the walk affords amazing views down into the valleys on either side and is somewhere I plan to return in better weather. In fact I would love to do the whole walk again, but in the absence of snow to get all the way to Black Sail Pass to relive my experience of umpty diddly years ago

Where they were afforded, the views from Littledale Edge where super and I found myself descending back to Buttermere just in time for sunset.

The Soulo, whilst not in any way challenged, proved to be a fine shelter. The porch is just big enough for my liking (space for rucksack, wet outer gear, boots and space to cook (not that I could ever commend cooking with the door closed dear reader). I look forward to taking it out again when I can test it’s true metal. I would not seek to carry it in the summer, but in bad weather I can fully believe that it lives up to its reputation. And how many other one man geodesic tents are there out there? Now my wild walking can continue all through the winter when and if Mrs W affords me another weekend pass.

GPX route files can be downloaded from here and here.

Mini Man’s Micro Adventure

It was coming to the end of our weeks holiday and Junior seemed envious of my solo unsupported walk along a four day section of the Coast to Coast path through Cumbria. A sunny evening was forecast so I suggested he might like to go for a wild camp with his Dad. His eyes lit up, so we packed up his rucksack and repacked mine. His with the light voluminous items to make it look good and full and mine with the rest. I’d had a walk planned and plotted for this opportunity and Mrs W dropped us off around 1630 on the far side of our closest fell.

DSC_2672

I had arranged in advance to camp in on the fell-side field of a farming friend of mine which I knew had a glorious view across our valley. The walk in proved just the right length to be fun and adventurous but not a massive undertaking / effort for Junior. This needed to feel like an adventure which was fun, not difficult. We soon had dinner reheated which was followed up by hot chocolate and ‘emergency biscuits’ – I forget what the spoof emergency was this time. How many six year-olds get use of a Thermorest and a Mountain Hardware sleeping bag I wonder? It should certainly have been a more comfortable experience than my first few years of camping. Not that this was his first time, but it was the first walk where he carried most of his own kit. I remain very impressed by his Deuter Fox 30 rucksack, very comfortable, adjustable and well equipped for a child’s sack.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We were both asleep shortly after 2100 and work just before 0700. The bliss of camping out. The early hours brought heavy rain, but we were all but packed up ready for when this stopped by 0900. We killed time reading a couple of chapters of Roald Dahl, his author of the moment. Then we just had to drop the tent and walk down to the base of the valley to the village shop in our neighbouring community and await a lift home from Mrs W. A really good end to a week of week of outdoor adventures.

Leaden Hills under Azure Skies – a four day wild walk in the Northern Dales

With limited options today , thanks to both COVID house-arrest and inclement weather, it seemed a good time to reminisce about a micro adventure from the some time ago…

A weather window had opened and I had already had a walk in mind to make good use of it. The plan was to walk from Reeth in Swaledale to Ingleton (46 miles) and to take in Great Shunner Fell (GSF) and Ingleborough en route. I have really happy memories of climbing GSF in the snow when I was in the University hill walking group. Mark & I were the first people on the summit that day and virgin slow lay all around. We got out bivvy bags and sledged most of the way back down to the valley. It was amazing, and whilst there would be no snow this time, it was a peak I wanted to climb again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My route started walking up onto and along Fremington Edge. It is a magnificent Scarp Edge affording uninterrupted views on the Beck below. I had started a little late to avoid the low cloud which was forecast first thing. This worked well and meant it was lunchtime as I reached the cairn which marks the point where the Edge path heads down to the beck. The bridge across the beck had been badly damaged by the flooding earlier in the year and meant a small detour in and out of Langthwaite, itself a neighbour with the enticingly named Booze.

My route took me though the lead mines and smelting mills on the tops – this land had been badly scarred by the mining activity and not at all photogenic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

© Copyright Trevor Littlewood and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

My aim was to get to the much more picturesque Gunnerside Gill. This too had been a lead mining area, but being lower down and better irrigated the vegetation has grown back and it is now lush and lovely with the ruined mill buildings adding charm rather than mess to the scene. Shelter, beauty and a good stream – an ideal spot to camp for the night, so I did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following morning was gloriously sunny, a great day to be having breakfast next to a babbling stream. My route then took me over the shoulder of Black Hill and down into Swinnergill and possibly the most beautiful valley in the whole of the Dales which links Muker to Tan Hill. Three LDP’s go up or across this section of valley and it is no surprise.

DSC_1183

In no time I was on the other side of Thwaite and on the gradual ascent of Great Shunner Fell, the inspiration around which this route was planned. GSF is not dramatic in itself, but the views from it are. It proves a great reward for you efforts. As I ate my lunch just before the summit I reflected on how fortunate we are to have access to the modern materials which make backpacking over peaks like this easily manageable. I’m not an ultra-light ‘weight weenie’ walker, but having to only carry 13 kg vs. the 22 kg I used to heft in my teens and twenties brings so much pleasure with, now, a total absence of pain.

DSC_1187

It was extremely windy on the top and I exchange hand gestures with someone coming back down. Now I had just three km to get to where I planned to wild camp. Again time to reflect what a great resource the shared knowledge of the internet can provide. A review of the map did not suggest any suitable wild camping spots in the area, but when I shook the internet a blog of someone’s wild camp aided walk along the Pennine Way suggested a good pitch. I found the wall corner they had used but noted that this side of the fell was well sheltered from the wind today, so looked further and found a lovely flat spot with open views over Wensleydale. I know from experience that my Hilleberg doesn’t need shelter, it handled very strong winds in the Cheviots with aplomb so I took the pitch with a view.

DSC_1190

By the following morning the cloud had descended and I woke to whiteness all around. This section of the my route co-insided with the Pennine Way, making navigation a breeze. I walked down out of the cloud and into Hawes. As I headed out of Hawes and uphill I experienced an odd phenomenon. The cloud was fairly low and I kept thinking to myself, another two minutes and I’ll be in that cloud. Then ten minutes later I would say the same thing to myself, the cloud kept ascending just ahead of me and in fact when I reached the top of the Cam Fell ridge at Ten End the cloud had gone completely. What came next was probably the most beautiful section of the whole walk. Made better still by being unexpected. The view down into Widdale was stunning. It’s a closed valley, the road into which stops early on just leaving fields, walls and trees for the upper two thirds of its extent.

The path is now call the Cam Highway and I felt highly blessed to have this view and to have it to myself. Something else this highlights is the options which become open to you if you are able to walk for more than just a single day. Linear walks allow you to daisy-chain highlight sections without having to find a route back through less inspiring scenery which is almost always necessary if you are only heading out for the day. There are good circular walks out there, but there are places like the Cam Highway which are so enhanced by not having to turn around and head back to the car.

I was then to be treated to the vista of Ribblesdale, now in glorious sunshine.

DSC_1202

The contours that I saw on the map whilst I planned this walk strongly suggested that Ling Gill would prove a good wild-camping spot. Here I’d like to make a plug for the Geograph project, whose aim is to gather at least one photograph from each OS grid square in the UK. This can be a great way to confirm the terrain and ground conditions for a proposed camping pitch. The sun was beating down on me by the time I got to the stream at Ling Gill and it was too early to pitch the tent, so instead I used it as a pillow and had refreshing nap in the sunshine. Then it was tent up, dinner on and heading to bed even ahead of the sun, so I could be fresh for an early start.

DSC_1209

This was to be my first ascent of Ingleborough from the East. I got great views of the Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside, aided by my early start. It was a treat to climb this ‘peak’ using a path rather than the normal motorway. After a steep initial climb up Park Fell it was then a gentle ascent up a broad ridge to Ingleborough itself.

DSC_1214

It was odd to come to a crowded summit after ascending alone. I had made excellent time and it looked like I would be able to complete my 10 mile day by 2pm and reward myself with a beer to go with a late lunch from the Co-op which was my planned rendezvous point with Mrs W and Junior. Whilst I enjoy my time alone in the hills, I had started to miss them and thus the motivation for my early start and fast pace that morning. I was, however, regretting having left my hat in the car at the start of the walk as the heat from the sun was now actually hurting the top of my head. My solution was far from elegant, but at least it was effective.

DSC_1220

The track down into Ingleton was not as rough as I remembered it and was easier on my feet that I had feared. The range in Co-op shops might be limited but I love their emphasis on both Fairtrade and local goods. I was able to get a bottle of Ilkley Pale, from a brewery who have several excellent offerings in their range.

A Two Day Ridge micro-adventure

Wild Camp Route - Jul 19A weather window opened up so on Friday evening I headed to Threlkeld in the van to sleep at the start of my planned Lake District walk and wild-camp.  The route (see right) would take me from Thelkeld Mining Museum to Ambleside.  I chose the route because of the long ridge, the possibility of camping at height and the ability to get a bus back to start at the end of the weekend.

As I started off the tops of the fells were being kissed by cloud.

DSC_0457But this rose as the day went on and by the time I reached 800 m the cloud was above me.  The air was much clearer on the Sunday, but here are some highlights from day one.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My chosen night spot was Nethermost Pike (890 m).  The classic place to camp would be next to Grisedale Tarn (2 km further on), but I wanted a wilderness experience (as far as this can be possible in somewhere as popular as the Lake District).  Nethermost Pike is pretty much flat topped, but there is a slightly (6-8′) lower plateau on the Eastern Edge and with the wind coming from the West it was slightly sheltered.  Also it offered a better view from ground (my kitchen / bed!) level.

DSC_0466

dsc_0467

Good view from the kitchen

It was really glorious on the Sunday morning with only the Herdwick for company, the air was clearer and I didn’t see a soul until I descended to Grisdale Tarn to collect some water.

DSC_0475After a longer than expected detour to take in the top of St Sunday’s Crag I had my lunch on top of Fairfield and then started the descent via Hart Crag, Dove Crag then High and Low Pike into Ambleside.  There I was able to celebrate with a pint of Windermere Pale from the Hawkshead Brewery.  A great example of a modern British pale ale

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The whole route totalled 23 miles with only 6000′ of height gain.  Next time I’d like to tackle it in the winter.

A night at the hill station

During colonial times, Brits who found the hot climate of Asia too much built ‘Hill Stations’, places which could be retired to for recreation at temperatures much more like the cooler homeland that folks left behind.  Last weekend was warm, so Junior and I headed to the top of Pendle for the night.  Earlier this year was his first unaided ascent of this local landmark hill and I promised that if he climbed it again without dawdle or complaint that after this we could camp on the top.  Junior can be an unusually good lad, as happy to be bribed with adventure as chocolate cake.

We headed up from the Clitheroe side via the steepest ascent (his choice) and found the plateau to be unusually windless and still 22 Celsius at six o’clock.  With shelter from the prevailing wind direction provided by the Scout Monument (which we were glad of by the morning) we enjoyed dinner, hot chocolate and biscuits.

In the morning he hurtled down to enable me to get to my drumming engagement at church on time.  Impressive for five and three quarters I reckon.  A great boys night indeed.

dsc_0441

Inspiring the next generation of cycle tourists – a mini tour to the sea

dsc_0125

I enjoyed a lot of time outdoors as a child, but my wildest camping spot was within feet of my parents caravan and longest bike ride was 10 miles with a break in the middle. I joined the Scouts at 13 and a whole new world opened up to me. So now with my own boy, I am hoping to whet his appetite to the simple pleasures of walking, cycling, canoeing, wild-camping and the like rather earlier in life. I want to prove there is (a better) life beyond the X-Box.

With half term coming up, I muted an idea to Junior (now five) – would he like to cycle to the seaside and take a tent for our accommodation? He was pleasingly enthusiastic about the prospect, so the idea was born. The primary goal of the trip was for it to be fun throughout and to be something he would want to repeat. Thus I planned a route of just 20-23 miles / day which would mean we it would take us a day and a half to get to Knott-End-on-Sea via one of the flattest routes possible in this hilly area.

By taking the same route out and back (which to avoid big hills was itself unavoidable) this meant we could leave all the camping gear in place at the end of day one and travel light on day two. The first day took us from East Lancashire to Garstang and a friendly basic campsite. To keep the weight down we left the stove at home and opted for a pubs for our evening meals, no great hardship. Heading West from here takes you through Chipping if you stick close to the river/s and this proved a great lunch spot with the seats they have outside the church. Mid afternoon saw us arriving in Garstang in time to set up the tent and have a hour in a local playground before seeking out our dinner.

On day two it was just 10 miles of flat riding over the Fylde Plain to Knott End. I chose this as our initial destination because it meant we could catch the passenger ferry over the River Wyre to the better beach and playground at Fleetwood. The ferry only had us and one other passenger, and the pilot volunteered to show Junior the controls and let him rev the engine and sound the horn. Someone was in seventh heaven, a useful reminder to see the pleasure in the simple things of life.

Wyre Ferry.jpg

Once at the coast the drizzle started, but whilst this disappointed me it seemed not to dampen Junior’s spirits. He loves trains and trams so we took the tram for a few stops South and then back again before seeking out the playground which again he loved. The last ferry back was at 1445, and fuelled from a huge hot chocolate mid morning we were happy to wait until we were back in Knott End to get our lunch out of the supermarket. A short ride took us to a steam engine we had seen on the way out. A great lunch spot if you are five.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day three saw us pack everything up and trace our route back home. By chance we crossed the river Wyre several times on the route, with it being smaller each time as we headed back closer to it’s source. This fascinated Junior. On our return journey he commented that the bottom of his feet hurt – this I can only assume was because he was pushing so hard on the peddles – certainly I could feel his welcome input on the short steep climbs when I shouted back ‘push hard please.’ He had done just that.   Stopping every 6 miles rather than my normal 10-12 miles worked really well, as did the provision of pressed fruit bars at each break.

This was the first long journey we’d done with his new tag-along and I can say we were both impressed with it. My primary reason for choosing the Burley Piccolo was that it is the lightest tag-along on the market (apart from it’s sister model the Kazoo). Also, uniquely, it has gears which Junior soon got the hang of; meaning he could contribute more and do so more easily on the climbs. In typical American style it warns you to go no faster than 15 mph for fear of anything up to and including death! It’s not limited to this speed in truth, but the gearing does not allow him to pedal above 15 mph. However if the road means I’m able to go at 15 mph with a 26 kg load behind me then at that point I guess I don’t need help! As Newton would remind us, you only need to put in major effort when you are accelerating (or fighting the acceleration due to gravity when going up a hill).

Junior said he wants to go again – on that basis alone the trip was a success. I enjoyed his joy at simple things too and some father and son time with pie, chips and a pint in the pub. (Just a half for Junior of course…)

The Hot One…

Looking across the Bowland Fells from Wolfhole Crag

First there was the wet one, then the dry one, followed by the cold one and now I’ve enjoyed a hot one! What am I talking about? My most recent wild-camping micro-adventure of course.

As anyone in the UK knows, this summer has been unprecedented for heat and lack of rainfall and Lancashire has been more extreme (relatively) than many other areas of the country. This made this an excellent time to explore the normally ‘moist’ upland of the Bowland Fells. The fear of moorland fires meant it felt like I had the whole AONB almost to myself as well. This only went to enhance the feeling of wild isolation which is a key facet of such a trip for me.

The route was to take me from Jubilee Tower where I could abandon a car, over the highest peak in Bowland, Ward’s Stone, across to and then along the Hornby Road, which also formed part of my first wild-camping weekend.  From there my route was to run along the Hodder and across Waddy Fell to the farm of good friends of mine as a fitting end point. Having personal open-access across their land made up for the lack of footpaths to sensibly link Slaidburn to West Bradford.

The forecast for the weekend was hot, sunny and dry. Ironically the weight I lost in deciding not to carry any waterproof gear (just my excellent Paramo Showerproof Smock) was at least compensated for by the extra water I needed to carry.

Jubilee Tower Nr. Quernmore

The car park by Jubilee Tower had been locked to discourage people from walking on the moorland, but thankfully there was still space next to the road to abandon the car. Fire risk signs abounded which re-enforced the care I already planned to take when it came to using my stove that evening. The route initially took me to the top of Grit Fell, from which the views stretched to the Yorkshire Dales and the Kent Estuary as well as across Bowland itself. The Southern Lakes were shrouded in haze however.

Grit Fell

Grit Fell

I had the fell to myself as I walked along the ridge which gentle rises up to Ward’s Stone. It was entertaining to read the comments on how wet the ground is between these two fells on a day when all the scrub was so dry as to be crispy.

The path from Grit Fell is difficult: crossing Cabin Flat, it weaves its way across hidden pools of stagnant water, the presence of which is betrayed by a form of red grass. White markers supposedly point out the way, but more often result in leading the walker astray.

I really did count my blessings to have the chance to be here after such a dry spell. Ward’s Stone is a flat topped hill, not unlike Pendle in that respect, and has the unusual distinction of having two trig points on it, one at either end of the summit plateau.

Following a well maintained dry stone wall took me East to the grouse shooters track which had been my inspiration to refresh my acquaintance with wild-camping last year. Having made an early start and managed an excellent pace I wanted to make the most of the day. The beauty of walking alone is that after a hastily arranged conference with myself (over lunch) I decided it would be better to split the distance of my days (initially 10 / 14 miles) more evenly and also take in an extra peak. I find trig points hard to resist so after lunch I abandoned my pack for 30 min and headed up to the top of Wolfhole Crag. It may be a few years before you can just again head where you fancy on this fell-side without waders or a snorkel!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the rewarding view I dropped down to a stream and collected some water. Then it was up to the Hornby Road. Initially I thought I’d use my original sheltered spot for that night, but rather than head SE to this I instead headed to the NW. I wanted to cover an additional two miles before stopping, and rather than looking for shelter I wanted a spot open to the breeze to help moderate the heat. After a total of 13.5 miles I spotted a small plateau on the side of White Hill, nestled below Great Bull Stones. I was very tempted to walk to the summit to get a site with great views, but the practical desire to be near some washing up water and fatigue led me to stick with the plateau.

Wildcamp plateau

I didn’t really need the tent and slept with the door open all night.  After dinner I alternating a chance to read my novel and drinking in the view until I was too tired to keep my eyes open any more.

View from my overnight camping spot

Day Two was to be as hot and sunny as Day One. My route took me down the Croasdale Valley, because this could take me into Slaidburn without recourse to any road walking.  I would not recommend anyone take this part of my route in anything but extreme dry weather – the ground was badly poached by a group of Belted Galloway Cattle and clearly a very moist (calf deep) route in a normal year. I, however, was blessed to trace the brook down into Slaidburn with dry feet. It was too early for the fine institution which is the Hark to Bounty, but OK to use the boot washing taps to top up with some clean water to see me through the rest of my day.

The rest of the route was not wild, but it did have the satisfaction of allowing me to walk (all but) all the way home. After following the Hodder I headed up and over Waddy Fell. I did this far faster than I expected. It’s not as big as it looks, and after nine months farm work I am more ‘walking fit’ than I’ve been for 20 years. The top of this fell is normally boggy, but at the risk of overplaying the theme, today the moss was so dry it was crispy. This allowed a shortcut to my lunch spot with Pendle as my lunch companion.

Pendle viewed from Waddington Fell.

Pendle viewed from Waddington Fell.

I reflected on an excellent weekend: I’d had the higher Bowland Fells all to myself in glorious sunshine and the kaleidoscope of the colours of nature as the backdrop to my little adventure. Whilst I believe self sufficiency in life makes for a poorer existence, just for a weekend it does my soul no harm but instead makes it sing.

All I had to do then was to look for landmarks on my friends farm and get myself to the edge of their land.  From there the going was easy.  Having estimated I’d be with them by 1500 I beat this by a whole 100 minutes. There’s life in this old chemist yet!

Where next? I am pondering the Lake District and the chance to camp by an elevated tarn.  All suggestions welcome…

A Mini Micro Adventure – The Next Generation*

DSC_0002

Being on a sabbatical year has given me a lot of time to think, to develop but also more time to have fun with Junior. After a trial nights’ camping in the back garden in the Spring, we discussed taking it up a notch. Initially I thought we could camp on top of Pendle (and one day I hope we will) but I realized that he was still not old / strong enough to walk to the top without being carried some of the way. And, in saying this I hope I don’t shatter too many illusions, I’m not Superman! I cannot carry full kit for two and 19 kg of flesh and bone too.

As some of you may know during this year I am working two days a week on a local sheep farm. It’s great fun! This farm is on the fell side and reaches 850 feet at its highest point. From this point you get a great view across the valley to Pendle. So with the permission of my wonderful farmer friends we headed up to an empty field on the fell top where the grass was recovering (they work a grazing rotation system) and pitched up for the night. It was a glorious evening, dry and warm out of the wind. This was my chance to introduce Junior to the skills of wild camping. Finding a sheltered site, clearing obstructions (and sheep poo also in this case) and pitching the tent. Assuring him the tent would not blow away (how many kids have the assurance they are in a Hilleburg and safe from everything apart from the apocalypse?)

DSC_0045

It was great to see the excitement on his face that we were going to ‘cook up’ some hot chocolate on our stove as a treat to enjoy as we savoured the view. OK, I enjoyed the view and Junior was more taken with the biscuits which ‘tasted better on top of a hill.’

DSC_0046

He slept well and in the morning the excitement continued as Daddy cooked porridge without even getting out of his sleeping bag and he got to eat his also without getting out of bed. Hopefully some good memories have been laid down and this will warm him to the idea of more such adventures in the future.

*I was tempted to entitle this ‘Fell Trek – The Next Generation’ but imagine the humour might fall cold on all but the most geeky of my readership.