#42 – A quick walk up (and down) the High Street

The Riggindale Ridge, seen from Mardale Banks (JB)

 A walk up and down the High Street might not seem to be the first choice for a mountain day, but lovers of the Lake District will soon put you right.  On the eastern side of the Lake District National Park, a long high route over the mountains runs from Troutbeck near Windermere to Tirril near Penrith.  It is mostly famous for being a route that the Romans used between their forts at Brocavum (Brougham) near Penrith and Galava at Ambleside.  It became known as ‘High Street’.

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Posted in 2. Lake District, General Interest | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

#41 – Smearsett Scar

Smearsett Scar with Pot Scar beyond (JB)

Until about ten years ago, my knowledge of walking in the Yorkshire Dales was limited to the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Y3P) Challenge route, and the paths to various holes in the ground that my potholing club had visited.  However, there is far more to the Yorkshire Dales than just a challenge walk or the fixture list of a caving club, and over the last decade I have got to know the ‘Dales’ much more closely.

Smearsett Scar from near Stainforth (JB)

Approaching Smearsett from Little Stainforth (JB)

It still took me a long time to come across Smearsett, though with a height of a mere 363 metres the hill doesn’t exactly sell itself.  There is a surprise view on the Stainforth to Helwith Bridge section of the B6479, though if you are driving it’s probably best to stick to piloting your vehicle.  Smearsett is also quite prominent from the bits of the Y3P near to Horton in Ribblesdale – although small, the hill suddenly rears up like a wave breaking on a beach.  Thousands must see it every year without having a clue what they are looking at.

The author at Smearsett – 2008

Pot Scar from Smearsett summit

The second trip – snowing again!

My first visit was in 2008, researching a route for Walking World – their database for the Dales is considerable, so finding a gap on the map that indicates a potential walking route is a rarity.  Our first outing was just an excuse for a couple of hours walking in the snow – although the hill is small it catches quite a lot of ‘weather’.  It looked interesting enough to return to, but the weather on the second trip was almost as wild – these small hills are often full of surprises.

* * *

 

Steam train on the Settle-Carlisle line near Stainforth (JB)

My photographer mate, John Bamber, has been visiting the Yorkshire Dales as long as I have, so it was good to find that Smearsett was a gap in his forty years experience.  As there was little danger of the day becoming a high mountain epic, we were joined by Chris and Miv.  Final member of the party was Border Collie ‘Mist’, who appears in this blog so frequently that she is thinking of starting her own.  We had barely started out when we came across lurking photographers by the Stainforth railway bridge.  Round here that means only one thing – a steam train!

The River Ribble on a quiet day…. (JB)

…. and on a more lively day

With the ‘steamer’ out of the way we carried on over the bridge across the River Ribble.  The river was quietly behaving itself, though when the water level rises, the cascades 100 metres downstream become a raging torrent.  After that it wasn’t long before we reached the summit of Smearsett.  Fortunately things don’t end there – a long limestone ridge continues over the top of Pot Scar, before doubling back under the climber’s crag then finally heading towards the hamlet of Feizor.

The summit of Smearsett Scar, with Pen y Ghent in the distance (JB)

Summit of Pot Scar, with Smearsett behind

The climber’s crag of Pot Scar

On other visits, Feizor has always been quiet.  Today the tea room was well busy, but we didn’t linger long, other than to get the ice creams in.  Our return route took us on greenways to Stackhouse, and from there along the river path back to Stainforth.

'Elaine’s Tea Room' at Feizor

On the way to Stackhouse

The day was a great outing with good friends and good weather.  In fact, we seem to have been blessed by good weather on most of our trips out this summer.  To stop us getting too cocky, Chris, dog and I followed up Smearsett with a trip to Langdale a couple of days later – we have just finished drying the gear!

Stickle Tarn in Langdale – what a difference a couple of days can make!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (JB) © John Bamber

Posted in 3. Yorkshire Dales | Tagged , | 6 Comments

#40 – A double helping of West Yorkshire moorland

Stoodley Pike Monument, near Todmorden

 Wales has dominated the scene for last few weeks, both in the blog and on the walks, and no bad thing either.  However, a rich diet of Welsh hills sometimes needs something a bit simpler as a contrast.  We had to visit Hebden Bridge a couple of times during the week, so a couple of walks on the moors of West Yorkshire seemed to be indicated.  In 2005, Hebden Bridge was described in the British Airways magazine as “the fourth quirkiest place in the world”, probably due to the influx of artists, writers, photographers and green activists in the 1980’s – the town is also surrounded by great walking country.

The “Two Lads” cairns on Higher House Moor

Just line up the cairns and go….

 The first walk started from Crag Vale, just down the road from Hebden Bridge.  The main objective was Stoodley Pike Monument, which is usually tackled from Todmorden, making a shorter walk.  First landmark of the day was the “Two Lads” cairns on Higher House Moor.  We had to cross rough, untracked Pennine moorland to get there, but distinctive features like this are great for navigation.  Before we left the Lads I noticed that if you sighted along them, they pointed directly to the next landmark – how convenient is that?

The “Cloven Stone”

On the Pennine Way, heading for Stoodley Pike

The next landmark being the Cloven Stone – well, no mistaking that then!  No danger of losing the way from hereon either – The route follows a path next to a drainage ditch collecting water for one of the nearby reservoirs, and links up with one of the best known trails in the country, The Pennine Way.  On the Pennine Way we crossed over a much older way, the packhorse route from Crag Vale to Todmorden – the causeway stones marking the route looked as though they had survived several decades of horse traffic.

Crossing the old packhorse route from Crag Vale to Todmorden

Stoodley Pike Monument

Soon after that we were at the monument at Stoodley Pike, built to commemorate victory in one war (the Napoleonic war) and rebuilt during another (the Crimean War) following it’s collapse after being struck by lightening – it now has a lightening conductor, apparently!  The last section was an easy wander down towards the reservoir at Withens Clough.

Withens Clough Reservoir in the distance

Two days later, looking across the Calder Valley towards crag Vale and Stoodley Pike

Our next trip, two days later, started from near Hebden Bridge, high above the Calder Valley.  We were heading for Warley Moor, passing the standing stone known by the unusual name of “Churn Milk Joan” – theories abound about the stone, but it is most probably a boundary marker.  Not far after that we had an obstacle in our way – the Luddenden Valley!  To get to Warley Moor we had to lose 100 metres of height, which then had to be regained.

“Churn Milk Joan”

The descent into the Luddenden Valley

As with most things in life, it wasn’t really all that bad – the descent was steep, but a winding track helped us regain the lost height.  A lengthy stretch of plodding up a gradual rise brought us to Warley Moor Reservoir, where the dam was a useful link for the return route, following another drainage ditch (well named as “Catchwater Drain”) high above Luddenden.

The dam at Warley Moor Reservoir

High above Luddenden

The Catchwater Drain path allowed fast, easy walking, but after almost three kilometres of this we were ready for a change.  A gentle climb brought us to “High Brown Knoll”, our highest point of the day at 444 metres, before a steady descent back towards Hebden Bridge.  Two typical Pennine days except for one thing – no rain!

Start of the descent from High Brown Knoll

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 4. Northern England | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

#39 – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) via the Rhyd Ddu and the Snowdon Ranger Paths.

The east side of Yr Wyddfa from Llyn Llydaw

With mountains, being the biggest is often enough to attract walkers, though sometimes a hill is so eye-catching that it attracts attention anyway, regardless of height  – With Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) you get the double whammy of being the highest UK peak south of Scotland plus being a beautiful mountain on top of that.  Perhaps that’s a triple whammy, as Yr Wyddfa is also an icon of all that is welsh.

The west side of Yr Wyddfa from near Rhyd Ddu

The east side is the head turner, with the lakes of Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw nestling below dramatic crags.  The main attractions are the PYG and Miners Tracks, with the Snowdon Horseshoe winning the honours as the most challenging (and for some, scary) route on the mountain.  Consequently the east side is the busy side, and is certainly not for those who seek mountain solitude.  For that you need to go to Rhyd Ddu on the west side.

On the Rhyd Ddu path approaching Bwlch Main and the summit of Yr Wyddfa

***

I had been contacted a couple of weeks earlier by Ian who wanted to book a day on Snowdon for him and his son, Barny.  Part of the brief was that Ian preferred a quieter route.  No contest, then – up the Rhyd Ddu Path and down the Snowdon Ranger Path.  There is probably not as much drama here as on the east side, but there’s enough to be going on with, and it’s usually much quieter.  With good weather it’s nigh on perfect.

Summit of Yr Wyddfa under mist, viewed from Llechog

The trouble is, you can’t book the weather in advance, but the day we had picked was shaping up to be the best day in a wild, wet week.  Best was a relative term, though.  The day was overcast as we set off from Rhyd Ddu, and as we reached the top of precipitous cliffs of Llechog the mist was already creeping down onto the summit of Yr Wyddfa.

Ian and Barny above the Llechog cliffs

Admiring the (considerable) drop from the top of the Llechog cliffs

The path above the cliffs is wide and secure, with no sense of exposure or drop, but on the final approach to the summit of Yr Wyddfa, the path crosses the narrow col of Bwlch Main – this translates roughly as ‘the Narrow Pass’, and it ‘does what it says on the tin’!  It’s nothing like as long or scary as Crib Goch, but it is definitely not a place to stumble, and in high winds would be quite dangerous.

Ian crossing Bwlch Main

Beyond the bwlch, with the Llechog cliffs behind and on the right

Beyond the bwlch we were still just below the cloud line, but as we went up the mist came down, until visibility was considerably reduced.  I had originally suggested this route to Ian on the grounds that it was less busy than the popular routes on the east side.  Despite this, it was busier than I have ever seen it, though nothing like as crowded as we found the summit of Yr Wyddfa.

Low cloud on the final slopes to the top – Barny in action as photographer

Barny and Ian at the summit of Yr Wyddfa

It was cool at the summit, so we didn’t linger too long over summit photos.  Our lunch break was taken behind the shelter of one of the walls of the visitor centre on the summit, which was the only option – the visitor centre itself was packed, wall-to-wall.

Crowds just below the summit

…and more crowds above the zig-zags of the Miners Track

The route off the mountain stayed busy until the top of the zig-zags above the Miners Track, as this is where several routes come together.  Descending to the right the PYG and Miners tracks were the busiest, ascending half right was the path to Garnedd Ugain on the Snowdon Horseshoe, and straight on several walkers were following the path by the railway, heading down to Llanberis.

Quiet at last! The Snowdon Ranger Path, with Mynydd Mawr in the distance

The small lake of Llyn Ffynnon y Gwas on the descent route

Our route was a descent to the left down the Snowdon Ranger Path.  From here we regained the peace and quiet (and the views) that we had enjoyed on the ascent path – a great way to finish the day.

***

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Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

#38 – Pen y Fan (The Brecon Beacons)

Typical Brecon Beacons scenery

 You would be wrong in thinking that the mountains of Wales end at the boundary of the Snowdonia National Park.  A bit further down the road the Brecon Beacons National Park has more than a mountain or two.  The Beacons National Park is also almost as popular as Snowdonia, both NP’s having more than 4 Million visitors a year.

Fen y Fan and Corn Du on the skyline as seen from Libanus, near Brecon

 You would also be wrong in thinking that the mountains of the Brecon Beacons are an easy option for hill-walkers.  This is the area used by the SAS to evaluate and train their new recruits, though if you fancy something a bit easier there is always the Brecon Beacons Traverse challenge – 72 miles and some 17000 feet of ascent, all to be completed in less than 24 hours!

The initial ascent from the Storey Arms

 Our aim was much more modest than either the SAS assessment or the Beacons Traverse – the route was from the Storey Arms to Pen y Fan via Y Gyrn and Corn Du. The initial ascent from the Storey Arms is steady enough, though our aim was to branch off left from the well worn track to follow the Right of Way marked on the map.  Although the Right of Way isn’t as easy to identify on the ground, it does avoid a 50-metre height loss on the better-known path – it also includes the poignant memorial to little Tommy Jones

The Tommy Jones memorial obelisk

‘Mist’ by the memorial obelisk

The inscription says it all – “This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones aged 5 was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login on the night of August 4, 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his remains were discovered Sept.”  

It remains a mystery how the boy came to this high place.

The path above Cwm Llwch

Beyond the memorial, the pace picks up a bit with a narrow path that hovers above the steep drop into Cwm Llwch.  The literal translation of Llwch is dust, and cwm is a valley, making Cwm Llwch “Dust Valley” – with the dry weather we had, this was an accurate description, with the red sandstone leaving a fine dust underfoot.

The final approach to Corn Du above Cwm Llwch

Looking down the Cwm Llwch path from Corn Du

The main reason for picking the path via Y Gyrn had been to avoid losing height into the small valley of Blaen Taf Fawr.  The other reason was to avoid the crowds following the more popular ascent route – however, we soon caught them up on the summit of Corn Du.

Crowds on the summit of Corn Du

 Corn Du translates as “Black Horn”, and from some angles the summit can appear to be ‘pointy’ and black in the light conditions that usually prevail in the Brecon Beacons.  Corn Du also appears to be the busiest summit, although at 873 metres altitude it is lower than Pen y Fan (886 metres).  In fact, Pen y Fan is the highest summit in Britain south of Snowdonia, but the top is strangely quiet after the hubbub of Corn Du.

The quieter summit of Pen y Fan (886 metres)

Sometimes size really is everything, which is possibly why we chose Pen y Fan for our lunch stop, though being able to find a bit of empty space might have had something to do with it as well.

Chris, Barbara and ‘Mist’ on the summit of Pen y Fan

Pen y Fan Summit, the highest top in the Brecon Beacons

On the descent - heading for the ice cream stall

From Pen y Fan we had to retrace our steps briefly to contour below Corn Du to follow the other popular route down to the car park near Pont ar Daf, where we found a stall serving superb local ice cream – perhaps there’s a good reason after all for following the popular route!

Corn Du from Pen y Fan on the return route

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

 

Posted in 6. Mid and South Wales | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

#37 – The three peaks of Yr Eifl

The three peaks of Yr Eifl seen from the northeast

I’m an unashamed fan of the Llŷn Peninsula.  This is, without doubt, one of the most delightful parts of Wales, and on a good day the mix of mountain and sea can’t fail to please.  So two visits in the space of a week was a real treat, even if both trips involved an early start and a severe dose of the M60 morning rush (if sitting in standing traffic can be regarded as a ‘rush’).  Still, it’s a price worth paying for Yr Eifl at the end of the drive.

Garn Ganol – the 'Centre Cairn’ seen from the top of Nant Gwrtheyrn

Garn Fôr – the 'Sea Cairn’

Yr Eifl means ’The Fork’, for reasons that become obvious on the approach from Caernarfon –  the three peaks are presented like the prongs of a fork, with Garn Fôr (‘Sea Cairn’) to the right, looking as though it might slide into the sea below.  The centre prong is Garn Ganol (‘Centre Cairn’), the highest hill in Llŷn at 564 metres.  The third peak of Tre’r Ceiri (‘Town of the Giants’) is perhaps the most intriguing of the three, with an Iron Age hill fort ringing the summit.

Tre’r Ceiri – ‘Town of the Giants’

The two trips were booked by Natural Retreats, a company providing luxury self-catering holidays in some of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the UK.  Last weeks walk had been with Neil and Kay, in what was less than perfect weather – despite a chill breeze and hill mist we had managed to get round the three peaks in a reasonable time.  This week the trip was part of a press promotion by Natural Retreats.

Penny and Vince starting out up the bridleway

The team for the day was broadcaster and journalist Penny Smith, with Vince Leigh doing the honours as photographer.  My job was to pick the most interesting way over Yr Eifl’s three summits, and ‘Mist’ was working hard at just being a Border Collie!  My favourite route round the three is to start off from the car park at the top of Nant Gwrtheryn and to follow the bridleway up to the ‘bwlch’ (pass) on the old pilgrims route to ‘Ynys Enlli’ (Bardsey Island) – Garn Fôr is just above the bwlch.

Garn Fôr and Bwlch yr Eifl (‘Pass of the Fork’)

At 444 metres height, Garn Fôr isn’t exactly the biggest of hills, but its slopes are steep and strewn with boulders.  There is an easy option, though.  A set of concrete steps lead up to the repeater station mast to the south, and from there a well constructed set of stone steps allow easy progress to the summit.  Well, they did today – last week Neil, Kay and I had slipped and slithered our way up and down these steps in damp weather conditions.

Garn Ganol from the slopes of Garn Fôr

Next on the list was the ‘Centre Cairn’.  We had to retrace our steps down to the bwlch, and from there is was a steady pull up to the summit of Garn Ganol, highest of the day at 564 metres.  The views from the top are extensive, and include the Isle of Man, the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, the Lake District and much of Snowdonia and Cardigan Bay.  Not for us, though – last week the hill mist had restricted the views, today heat haze was the problem.

Vince and Penny at the summit of Garn Ganol

View to the hill fort on Tre’r Ceiri, with the outer walls and hut circles visible

From there we descended yet again before the last summit of Tre’r Ceiri.  The outer walls of the hill fort, and the hut circles within the walls, can easily be picked out from Garn Ganol.  It’s best to allow ample time for a wander round, something that we had utterly failed to do – a combination of chatty fellow walkers and bilberry picking had eaten into our available time, and Penny and Vince had to get back to the Natural Retreats cottages at nearby Pistyll.  So, we breezed into the fort by the gateway at the northwest side and breezed out again by the other gateway to the southwest of the fort.

'Mist' at the southwest gateway of Tre’r Ceiri

We yomped the remainder of the walk back to the car.  Penny and Vince dashed off to the next phase of their mission, and I enjoyed a sunny drive back along the North Wales coast.  ‘Mist’ continued, as she had all day, being a Border Collie…. she went to sleep!

Summer evening over Yr Eifl seen from Morfa Dinlle

p.s. – really busy week.  The Yr Eifl day was great, with Penny and Vince being witty and amusing company.  Next day was a walk in the Peak District, followed two days later by an afternoon sailing on Windermere.  The sad note of the week was the funeral of Mike Steel on Tuesday, a dear mate who will be sadly missed – good wake though, only marred by Mike not being there.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

#36 – “And now for something completely different” – Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Mor from Rannoch Moor

The A82 road from Tyndrum to Glencoe must rank as one of the most scenic and dramatic drives in Britain.  Amongst all this drama, Buachaille Etive Mor stands head and shoulders above the surrounding hills, a mountain amongst mountains.  It is almost always associated with Glencoe, though to be correct the mountain belongs to Rannoch Moor or Glen Etive – the name means “The Big Herdsman of Etive”.

The northeast face of Buachaille Etive Mor

The northeast side is the real head-turner, with what appears to be an almost impenetrable barrier of steep rock walls and deep gullies.  There are ways through the maze of rock, but most of these ways are the preserve of the rock climber.  There is, however, an exciting, elegant and not too difficult route through the defences of the northeast face – Curved Ridge.  The ridge is classed as an easy rock climb or a hard scramble, depending on which guidebook you are reading.  Because of this it sits on the fence somewhat.

Scrambling up to the start point.

The team for the trip was a couple of old mates, Ian Rogers and Mark Bradley.  Curved Ridge is also another old mate, and I had done the route three times previously.  We had set out early to drive to Glencoe from Ian’s place near Carlisle, and on arrival found “The Buachaille” far from inspiring.

The day was grey and dismal, but there are few things in life that can’t be improved by adding a bacon ‘sarnie’. So the plan was, drive on down to Glencoe village, investigate the bacon, and then head on back to the mountain.    The plan was a total success, though we had to endure a swarm of midges that had set up shop right next to the bacon butty van.

Mark below the slabby rock wall at the start of the route

When we returned to the mountain, the day had brightened up enough to make it worth while getting our boots on. Leaving the car at Altnafeadh we set off on the path past the white cottage at Lagangarbh, at first heading for Coire na Tulaich, which was to be our descent route.  We then peeled off to traverse under the brooding northeast face before we started heading upwards on the eroded path next to the rock feature known as “The Waterslab”.  Some easy rock scrambling brought us to a slabby rock wall that marks the start of the route.

The author leading the second rock pitch

One way to tackle the slabby wall is by the thin  groove on the right.  However, there’s a neat way to by-pass that to save time, which is exactly what we did, passing the remains of a dead deer on the way.

After that the route wanders back and forth, with no route finding problems – on a ridge like this you just carry on up! After a while the route becomes a little steeper, and a rope becomes a sensible insurance policy.  There are only a couple of short rock pitches, but a fall from one of them would be terminal.  As it was a wet day, and I had a heavier than usual rucksack, it didn’t take long for me to suggest roping up.

Ian at the top of the second rock step

The weather continued to be fickle as we sorted out the rope and continued upwards.  On a warm sunny day this section is simple enough, and the route is considered to be either a Grade 3 (s) scramble or a moderate rock climb – I’ve soloed this section when I was younger, but age makes caution (or perhaps in this case cowardice) an honourable option.

On top of that, the rock was cold and wet, with the visibility constantly changing from clear to misty.  I belayed at the top of the pitch and was rapidly joined by Mark and Ian.   Then, just as the route was gaining interest we arrived at the top of the difficulties.  As the bacon sarnie was just a memory by then, it seemed a good place for a late lunch and a coffee.

A good way to finish Curved Ridge is to continue over to Crowberry Tower and to climb that, but ‘iffy’ visibility made the gully behind the tower an easier route finding option.  From there a bit more easy rock scrambling took us to the summit, and a rapidly clearing sky – typical!  From the summit the route to the top of Coire na Tulaich was easy enough to find.

Heading from the summit to the descent route down Coire na Tulaich

Coire na Tulaich is the easiest way off “The Buachaille”, leading straight back to the start point at Altnafeadh.  It’s a place to exercise care though, as it’s steep and eroded in places.  In winter it requires much more caution and judgement – there have been several avalanche accidents here in recent years, some of them fatal.  No snow today though, and it didn’t seem all that long before we were back in the car heading back to Carlisle.

The top of the descent route down Coire na Tulaich

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 1. Scotland, Mountain Safety | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments