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!

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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…

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A Mini Micro Adventure – The Next Generation*

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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?)

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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.’

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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.

A dusting of snow and two below (-2 C)

After two weeks of continuous rain here in the North West we was blessed with a forecast for a sunny weekend.  A little chilly perhaps but I felt in the need of some sunshine, so I was kindly granted a weekend pass by Mrs W, packed my rucksack and headed off to the Yorkshire Dales for a two day walk with an overnight stop under canvas (well silicone impregnated rip-stop nylon to be exact).  After my two outings in 2017 I am a total convert to the concept of micro adventures.  This time it was a circumnavigation of Kingsdale.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…