#31 – The Other Borrowdale

Looking southeast down Borrowdale, in the old county of Westmorland

 We went walking in Borrowdale last week in good weather, and saw only two people all day…What?!!

I should add that it was “The Other Borrowdale”, otherwise known as Westmorland Borrowdale.  The Cumberland Borrowdale, near Keswick, is the one that most people know well, drawing in walkers, climbers or people who just want to admire one of the most attractive valleys in the English Lake District.  Its namesake in the old county of Westmorland is quiet and neglected, and a good thing too!

Looking northwest up Borrowdale

The reason for the neglect is simple – most walkers don’t know that these hills exist. Borrowdale beck rises in the backcountry that is dismissed with the broad title of “Shap Fells”.  Just to confuse fans of the Lake District, there is a Wasdale and Wasdale Head just up the road about three miles away, but these are not Lake District hills really – they are more reminiscent of the nearby Howgills, and share the same sense of peace and quiet.  I have only been here on two other occasions, and that’s in forty years.

***

The first time nearly caught me out.  It was in the mid 1980’s, and I was out with Penrith Mountain Rescue Team on a training exercise.  As a search dog handler, and often working solo, I was expected to be able to navigate accurately.  My teammates obviously agreed with that principle, and I was elected to lead the first navigation leg – it might have had something to do with the thick blanket of mist covering the hills…

On the northern ridge - a bit more tricky when the mist is down

All was going well, with me on a compass bearing, timing the interval between two summits with a col in between.  The col seemed to arrive too soon, and the next top was roughly where the col should have been.  I kept quiet, thinking it best to “front it out”, but preparing myself to admit that I was lost.  We then went down again, before going up to the next top, which was exactly where it should have been.  The map I was using from the team Landrover was an old edition – the re-surveyed newer edition showed a ring contour missing on the older map, indicating a small rise…

***

No mist on this walk though, apart from ‘Mist’ our Border Collie.  We set off from Roundthwaite near Tebay and took a gently rising path up to Roundthwaite Common.  From there it was big skies and easy walking to Winterscleugh then on to Whinash, passing en route the small unnamed lump at 454 metres height that had nearly caught me out all those years earlier.  From there we headed for the intriguingly named “Breasthigh Road”.  In places the track has been washed out by storms, and at times we walked in the track, not on it!

On Breasthigh Road heading for the valley and Borrow Beck

From here we had to drop down to Borrow Beck, to return down the valley bottom.  I couldn’t remember how I had crossed the beck on what had been my second visit to these hills in the mid 1990’s, but there was no bridge marked on the map.  When Chris asked how we were going to cross, I muttered something about carrying her across if necessary, but the day (and my face) was saved by the biggest stepping stones in the world.

...the biggest stepping stones in the world

The easy track heading back towards the start point

From there it was a pleasant walk down an easy track heading back towards the start point.  We passed quickly through flower meadows that you would never find in the tourist traps of the Lake District, then on to the ruined farmhouse at High Borrowdale followed by the next farm at Low Borrowdale.  From here we had intended to continue down to the A685, with a 1.5 kilometre road walk to follow.  Chris and I agreed that this was a poor way to finish, and instead we set off upwards once again, re-crossing the ridge to return direct to Roundthwaite.  The dog wasn’t given a vote, but appeared to support the decision.

Flower meadows below Borrowdale Edge

Low Borrowdale Farm - about to re-cross the northern ridge ('Mist enjoying the shade')

p.s. – On my second visit here in the 1990’s, I had run both the ridges on each side of the valley, out on one and back on the other.  This walk only followed the northern ridge, and as we returned to the car there was already talk about coming back for the southern ridge…

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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

#30 – Mynydd Mawr

Mynydd Mawr from the Beddgelert road

The welsh language is bewildering for an english speaker, on first sight.  Like scots gaelic, it looks like an ‘alphabet soup’ of consonants, but unlike gaelic it is a logical language where every letter has a sound and every letter is used.    It also translates fairly logically as well, especially where place names are concerned.  So, Mynydd means mountain and Mawr means big, so we have Big Mountain.  Simples!

Mynydd Mawr from the Nantlle Ridge

Although Mynydd Mawr seems to live up to the title on the approach from Beddgelert, the mountain isn’t really that huge – at 698 metres altitude it is much more at home amongst the hills of the Nantlle Ridge than the higher hills of the Snowdon range, the Carneddau or the Glyderau.  That being the case, one of the best start points for Mynydd Mawr is the village of Rhyd Ddu;  the village is not only the start point for the Nantlle Ridge and Mynydd Mawr, but is also the home of the excellent Cwellyn Arms.

Through the forest to start with...

...before leaving the trees behind

 However, the visit to the pub has to be earned, so off we set in great weather conditions.  There are possibilities for a circular route, but I was recording the route for Walking World, and wanted to keep things simple for anyone downloading the walk.  This meant that a linear route was going to be an easier option.  The route starts out through forestry land (not my favourite) but before too long we were out above the trees.

Getting steeper...

...and even steeper

Out above the trees also meant a change of gradient, from ‘fairly level’ to ‘getting steeper’.  The view above was a steep upward slope, though the views back towards yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) were good for adding some variety.  Then, all of a sudden, we popped out onto the small subsidiary summit of Foel Rudd.  From here we had a view, at last, of the summit of Mynydd Mawr.

The view to Mynydd Mawr from Foel Rudd

Long drops down to the Nantlle road

A broad ridge leads round in a wide arc with some long drops on the left down to the Nantlle road.  Not far beyond is the summit, with the remains of an ancient burial cairn, its stones now plundered by walkers to build shelters.  Pick a good day, and the views are outstanding.  Being a linear route, our return route was familiar ground, but the views weren’t – the constantly changing outlook made the route look like a completely different walk.  And being a relatively short walk, it didn’t seem long before we were back at the waiting Cwellyn Arms.

The summit cairn

On the way down – the Cwellyn Arms awaits

p.s. For those wishing to view the walk on Walking World, it should be going live within the next couple of weeks – search for Route ID 6086

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

#29 – Binsey, lonely sentinel of the Northwest Lake District

The windswept summit ridge of Binsey

For forty years I managed to avoid walking up Binsey.  It wasn’t a conscious decision – I just didn’t know that Binsey was there!   “OK then”, I hear many of you say.  “Where’s Binsey?”  Good question.  There’s a village called Binsey near Oxford, but for the hill called Binsey you have to head north.  Binsey stands alone on the northwest edge of the Lake District,  like a lonely sentry watching over the Solway Plain towards Scotland.

The view north to the Solway, with Scotland beyond

Looking north towards Scotland isn’t what Binsey does best, though.  Binsey does a much better job of providing a viewing platform for the Northern Fells of the Lake District.  Being isolated from the mass of the Lake District hills gives the ability, literally, to stand back and admire.  Taking centre stage you have the Skiddaw hills.  Most hill goers are used to seeing Skiddaw and the Northern Fells from the south, usually from Keswick, so this different aspect is new and unexpected for many.

The Northern Fells of the Lake District from Binsey

Close-up view of Whitewater Dash waterfall, to the northeast of Skiddaw

The constantly expanding view from Binsey to the south does introduce one problem, however.  The ability to walk backwards uphill doesn’t come naturally for most of us, so on Binsey there is a constant need to stop and look back, rather than miss something.  Looking forward again, the hill looks like a grassy lump, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find that the summit is a rocky ridge that feels higher than a mere 447 metres.

The summit ridge, with the Trig Point and Bronze Age cairn behind

The summit might be less than impressive for those used to higher hills, but Binsey has been of greater importance in the distant past – the stones just to the north of the Trig Point were originally a Bronze Age cairn, set in a commanding position.  Continuing over the crest of the summit gives a great view down to Bassenthwaite Lake, and on a good day it’s possible to pick out the Scafell group of hills and Coniston Old Man.

The view south to Bassenthwaite Lake

Driving past Binsey on the A591 from Keswick to Bothel, it’s easy to see why the hill doesn’t command a bit more respect – in fact, it’s easy to drive by without even noticing it, which is why I had never really registered that Binsey was there.

Binsey from the A 591 road

The view from our friends garden near Wigton gives a great long distance view towards Skiddaw, which is easy to pick out when caught by the late sun in summer or when snow-covered in winter.  But what’s that to the right of Skiddaw?  Connie wasn’t in any doubt whatsoever when asked – “That’s Binsey”, she said.  And of course she was right, and I’ve been looking at Binsey for years.  Sometimes you have to make a bit of effort to see what’s there.

Skiddaw (left) and Binsey (right) from Lessonhall, near Wigton

p.s.  The walk up Binsey happened a few weeks ago – such is the unassuming nature of the hill that Binsey has been shoved to the back of the queue whilst I’ve been blogging the North Wales trip.  So, at last, I’ve done the decent thing.

p.p.s.  Those of you who use the Walking World website will find Binsey as Route ID 6022

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#28 – “Over the sea to Skye” (and Harris) …and no midges!

"Travelling hopefully” in Wester Ross on the way to Ullapool - Skye in the background

The lad serving diesel at the garage in Tairbert on the Island of Harris had asked me if we were on holiday.  “Yes,” I replied, “but we’re heading back today on the afternoon ferry.”  “You’ll be lucky,” said the lad, laughing.  As another gust of wind rocked the van, I could see that he might have a point…

Looking back to a stormy mainland on the way out to Lewis and Harris

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive … ”   This famous quotation echoes the Taoist saying, “The journey is the reward”, and never were truer words spoken.  Our journey was to the islands of Skye and Harris in the Northwest of Scotland, an area where the winter months are characterised by strong winds and bad weather, whilst the summers are blighted by the curse of the Scottish Midge.

The An Cliseam Horseshoe

The plan, then, was simple – go in May when the worst of the bad weather is past and the midges are not yet active.  Those reading who have never encountered the Scottish Midge could never imagine how such a small insect can cause such misery, but suffice it to say that one in five working days are lost in the Scottish Forestry industry over the summer months.  Equally, most readers would find it hard to believe that a storm could last several days.

An Cliseam from the southeast

The original plan was to go to Skye first, grab a couple of hill days, then carry on to Harris.  The plan was severely dented from the beginning by high winds, making walking at sea level unpleasant – the hills were out of the question.  The solution was to reverse the trip, heading up to Ullapool over a couple of days, before crossing over to Lewis and driving down to Harris – the time spent travelling would allow the winds to settle down a bit.  At least, that was the plan!

The An Cliseam Horseshoe from near Tairbeart

The reality was different, however.  My main objective on Harris was An Cliseam, which is the highest peak in the Outer Hebrides, and I had a great route researched, planned and mapped – all I needed was a day of reasonable weather.  Similarly I had my sights set on a section of the Cuillin Ridge on Skye, to be collected on the way home.  After all, the strong winds wouldn’t keep it up for two weeks…

The An Cliseam hills from ruined cottage near Tairbeart

Which is, of course, exactly what happened, though we didn’t know at the time that most of the northern part of the UK was also being buffeted about by the winds.  Still, we did have a good trip, and at one point a saying from my days in the Royal Marines came to mind – “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted.”   When the sun came out the views were great, and ‘Mist’ our Border Collie had a great time on low level walks.

Windswept Border Collie - 'Mist' having a good time!

The lad at the garage in Tairbert was dead right, with the ferry cancelled due to the high winds.  We accepted the situation and opened another bottle of red wine.  It seems that in this case the journey really was the reward.   At least there were no midges – apparently they don’t like horizontal rain.

The ferry to Uig on Skye - M.V. Hebrides a day late

Sun at last, but still blowing - Staffin on Skye on the way home

p.s. Watch out for a return match, possibly in September before the worst of the winter weather and when the midges aren’t as active…!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 1. Scotland | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

#27 – At last! The real Whernside!! – (Whernside and Ingleborough – two out of the Yorkshire Three Peaks)

Olivia and Roo on Ingleborough, with Whernside in the distance

The Yorkshire Three Peaks (Y3P) are like old friends.  I’ve known them for years, since I started hill walking, in fact.  Like old friends, sometimes a few years will go by without any contact, then you meet up again and it’s just like old times.  I had re-acquainted myself with the Y3P in 2009, at the same time meeting up with Kim Tyrrell, an old mate from my time in the Royal Marines.  We had a great day out on the Y3P challenge route, and as far as I was concerned that was probably enough Y3P for another decade or so.

Within a few months I was back on familiar ground, writing a guidebook for the Y3P Challenge walk for Discovery Walking Guides.  Chris and I saw a lot of that part of the Yorkshire Dales over the winter of 2009-10, so much so that at one point she had asked, “Could we go somewhere else for a walk”?  John Bamber, another old mate, had also been involved with the project, helping out with photographs, and the guide was published in July 2010.

Journey’s beginning – the railway station at Horton

One of my earliest customers for the book was Roo, who we first met with her lovely family halfway up Cadair Idris.  She was planning to do the Y3P challenge in June 2011, and had already done a training walk over Pen y Ghent – I received an email asking would I like to join them for the next training walk over Whernside and Ingleborough.  Well, any excuse for a walk, and despite an ‘iffy’ looking weather forecast, the day dawned fine as I met Roo and Olivia at the railway station at Horton in Ribblesdale.

Ribblehead Viaduct

The intention was to start at Ribblehead and from there to walk the Y3P Challenge route over Whernside followed by Ingleborough, then to finish at Horton.  So, after our short train ride we set off by walking under the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct.  This put us on track for one of the less popular ascent routes on Whernside, the one that the fell runners use.

You can’t run up that!!” – the fell runners’ way up Whernside

The runners’ route is steep, and somewhat brutal and ‘in yer face’, but it takes a straight line almost to the summit, and possibly saves as much as 30 minutes over the prettier route.   The animated and interesting conversation that had continued from Ribblehead died away, but by the time we reached the path on the summit ridge we had gained an extra 30 minutes advantage on the guidebook time, on top of the 30 minutes for going the steep way.  Result!

The path on the summit ridge, heading for the top

The descent to the Hill Inn at Chapel le Dale went well, with our time advantage intact and growing.  A water stop gave time for a short break from walking – it also gave time for the rain to arrive, though it didn’t linger too long, and had started to ease off during the ascent of Ingleborough.  Another steep section loomed ahead, but before long we were on the summit, sharing the views with several others.

The rain started to ease off during the ascent of Ingleborough

The summit

Striding out on the way down to Horton

Having done the usual summit things it was time to head off down to Horton.  The path varies in quality, and goes on a bit, but several sections saw the pace picking up, and more minutes shaved off the predicted time.  There was even time to admire some of the spring flowers on the way down – sections of the Ingleborough area have a managed grazing regime, to prevent sheep cropping everything down to ground level.

Bird's Eye Primrose

Early-flowering Purple Orchid

Although the flowers made a welcome addition to the route, the main feature was Pen y Ghent on the horizon – not on today’s itinerary, but it just didn’t seem to get any nearer!  Then, all at once, it was over – A short slope led down to the railway with Horton just beyond.  A good day for all of us, with Roo and Olivia having done two of the three peaks in less than the predicted time – Wish ‘em luck on 18th June when they do all three in less than 12 hours – or even better, click here to sponsor them!

Pen y Ghent in the distance

p.s.  The Y3P guide is still available direct from me for £8 and free postage – click here for more details

p.p.s  When she isn’t tramping the hills, Roo is an artist who paints ordinary things in an extraordinary way.  To see her website click here

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#26 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 3)

Carnedd Dafydd from Pen yr Ole Wen

 Day 3 of the trip dawned fine and sunny, unlike the day before.  The previous two days had given us great walking, but hadn’t exactly been true to the title “A short walk in the Carneddau” – In fact, Day 1 had been quite long  and the weather on Day 2 had dictated a change of plan, and although the walk had been short, it hadn’t been in the Carneddau at all!  However, the last day had to be reasonably short, as Shreyas and Ravi had a train to catch, but I had the perfect route in mind – Carnedd Dafydd from Ogwen.

Ravi and Shreyas, with Tryfan behind

 We started from the long lay-by on the A5 near Gwern Gof Uchaf farm and campsite.  The path up to the small lake of Ffynnon Lloer gave great views of Tryfan and Y Garn, and brought us to the start of East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen.  The path gains height steadily, and is a far more pleasant proposition than the South Ridge rising directly above Ogwen Cottage.  There is even a pleasant  ‘hands-on’ scramble up a short groove, spoiled only by the fact that it isn’t long enough.

The short scramble on the East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen

Shreyas making short work of the scramble!

Beyond there the path weaves about a bit,  still gaining height with several frustrating false summits.  Then, suddenly, it all goes flat (in the best possible way) and in good weather conditions the scenery is amazing.  Pen yr Ole Wen is in one of the best positions to get all round views of Snowdonia, and some time was spent admiring the panorama.  In fact, the only hills that you can’t see all that well from here are the remaining hills of the Carneddau, mainly because Carnedd Dafydd (David’s Cairn) is blocking the view.

Shreyas approaching the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

Ravi on the summit

So, the solution is to continue to Carnedd Dafydd.  The route follows a broad ridge, passing Carnedd Fach (The Small Cairn) before finishing on Carnedd Dafydd itself, our highest summit of the day at 1044 metres altitude.   The group of hills is named The Carneddau (The Cairns) after the many cairns found hereabouts, some of them very ancient indeed.  Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn (Llywelyn’s Cairn) are popularly believed to be named after Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and his brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd.

The route to Carnedd Dafydd

Carnedd Llewelyn (right) and Yr Elen from Carnedd Dafydd

The story of Llywelyn and Dafydd, the last true Princes of Wales, is not a happy one.  In the 13th Century the English, under Edward 1st, were in the process of bringing Wales under English control; Llywellyn and Dafydd were both captured and killed, and to complete their control of Wales, the English took Llywelyn’s daughter, Gwenllian, and imprisoned her for life, as they also did with Dafydd’s sons, Llywelyn and Owain.  Edward subsequently gave the title “Prince of Wales” to his own son, and the title has gone to English princes ever since.  Gwenllian, the last heir of a Welsh dynasty, has recently been commemorated by the Ordnance Survey, who have renamed Garnedd Uchaf  (The High Cairn) as Carnedd Gwenllian.

Heading towards the top of the Ysgolion Duon cliffs

The East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen from Afon Lloer

From Carnedd Dafydd we followed a typically “Carneddau” style plateau, heading towards the top of the cliffs of Ysgolion Duon (The Black Ladders) where the intention had been to find a path straight down to Fynnon Lloer.  Having failed to locate the top of the path, we resorted to the original plan and followed an easy grassy descent back to the stream of Afon Lloer, and the path we had used earlier in ascent.  A quick descent to the road followed, with Shreyas and Ravi eventually heading to Bangor for their train connection, hopefully with many happy memories.  For me it was home for a quick turnround, then straight off the next day to Mid-Wales, and a walk in the Brecon Beacons a couple of days later.

Shreyas and Snowdonia panorama

p.s.   For those who are enjoying the blog, you can get an email alert of a new post by clicking the “Sign me up” button on the right margin.  Or why not share the blog with your mates on Facebook?

p.p.s   Off to Skye and the Hebrides today, so the next two posts might not appear at the usual time or day (early Monday morning), all depending on finding internet access.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#25 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 2)

Yr Aran from Llyn Gwynant

So, Day 1 had started the weekend well.   However, Day 2 was to prove more challenging….

.

Yr Aran seen from the west

 Sometimes I can guess what the weather will be before drawing back the curtains of the camper.  The sun of the previous day was well hidden behind a curtain of mist.  The trouble was, the Carneddau was equally hidden.  Now, I can yomp across hills in the mist all day, and have a good time, but the aim was to give Shreyas and Ravi a good day – on top of poor visibility a cool wind was racing across the Carneddau plateau, an area not exactly well known for being sheltered.

The Watkin Path

For a good day I would have to look elsewhere.  Something worthwhile and interesting was called for, but with options if there was a sudden change in the weather.  It just had to be Yr AranYr Aran is a shapely and interesting mountain, but at 747 metres altitude, it isn’t the biggest by a long way.  That suited the day just fine, because I was looking for quality, not biggest.  Of course, I wasn’t going to get any reasonable photos – one grey cloud looks pretty much like another!  No worries there, though, as I had a few in my image library, so the views you see here are the views that Shreyas and Ravi missed.

The West Ridge of Yr Aran

In picking Yr Aran for the day I had also managed to stay in the original brief – Shreyas had asked for less crowded routes, and Yr Aran doesn’t seem to attract the crowds.  The reason is simple – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is about 3 kilometres away, and that’s the one that everyone comes for.  We started the route at Nantgwynant, where the Watkin Path heads off for Yr Wyddfa, but after the top of the fine set of waterfalls we left the crowds behind and headed for the West Ridge leading to the summit of Yr Aran.

Final part of the ridge to the summit

The word ridge often implies an exciting tussle between fresh air and gravity, but not so on this ridge.   As ridges go, it’s fairly broad, with a stone wall running along the crest.  The height is gained without any real grief, and the views of the surrounding hills are outstanding, and are yet another good reason to come this way.  As the wall reaches a col with a descent on the other side, the route turns sharp left to head for the top.  The summit is surprisingly small, but is a great place to admire Yr Wyddfa.

Yr Wyddfa from the summit of Yr Aran

Shreyas and Ravi had to take my word for this, as we had been in mist since leaving the Watkin Path near the waterfalls, but even with low visibility the route held interest.  Following the time honoured ritual, lunch was at the top, before we returned to the col and the steep descent.  The way down is a bit bouldery and scrambly at first, but not unpleasantly so, and as the angle lessened we came out of the mist at last.  A steady walk took us back to the Watkin Path for a look at the Gladstone Rock.

The way back down the Watkin Path

The Watkin Path has been described as, “the most demanding route direct to the summit of Snowdon”.  It’s certainly not my favourite way, which perhaps fails to show gratitude to the railway entrepreneur Edward Watkin, who conceived and executed the idea of the path bearing his name.  Edward was fairly well connected, and had his mate William Gladstone, the then Prime Minister, come along to the opening in 1892.  Being a politician, Gladstone spotted an opportunity for a speech, delivered from what is now known as the Gladstone Rock.

Yr Aran (centre) with Yr Wyddfa higher and to the left

The day had been rescued, with an interesting way up an interesting hill, away from the crowds.  So, two days done and one to go.  As we headed back to Bethesda I was hoping for better conditions for the third and last day – we had a date with the Carneddau.

(To be concluded next week)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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