#217 – The Carneddau and Llyn Llyffant

The remote lake of Llyn Llyffant, the highest lake in Wales (820 metres above sea level)

The remote lake of Llyn Llyffant, the highest lake in Wales (820 metres above sea level)

Since moving to North Wales five years ago, I’ve become a big fan of the mountains of the Carneddau, and I’m still having fun exploring hidden corners where I haven’t been yet.   One place on my ‘to do’ list for some time was the highest lake in Wales – sitting at 820 metres (2690 ft) above sea level, Llyn Llyffant (‘Frog Lake’) is also one of the smallest lakes in Wales.    A trip there was long overdue, so last July I set out for a visit.

The route, clockwise from the car park

The route, clockwise from the car park

The Carneddau

The Carneddau

Setting out towards Cwm Eigiau

Setting out towards Cwm Eigiau

Cwm Eigiau and the crags of Craig yr Ysfa

Cwm Eigiau and the crags of Craig yr Ysfa

The tiny lake is located just below Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest peak of the Carneddau, but the most logical way in seemed to be via one of my favourite Carneddau spots, Cwm Eigiau.    The views on the walk-in are constantly changing, with the highlight being the magnificent climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa.

Craig yr Ysfa

Craig yr Ysfa

Legend has it that the crag was spotted by telescope in the late 19th Century by one of the famous rock-climbing Abraham Brothers – this would have quite a feat, as the telescope and user were in the Lake District at the time, about 150 kms away (90 miles or so), but there is a clear line of sight from Scafell Pike to Craig yr Ysfa, so the story may well be true.

Small waterfall on the Afon Eigiau

Small waterfall on the Afon Eigiau

The upper reaches of the Afon Eigiau, not far from its source

The upper reaches of the Afon Eigiau, not far from its source

From the Cwm I followed the small Afon Eigiau stream up to the lake.    The area is hardly ever visited, being off the beaten track, but in December 1957 it suddenly became the focus of much attention following a tragic aircraft crash.

*     *    *    *    *

English Electric Canberra

English Electric Canberra

The English Electric Canberra came into service with the Royal Air Force in 1951 as the first British jet-powered bomber, and for the rest of the decade the Canberra could fly higher than any other aircraft in the world, holding the world altitude record of 70,310 ft (21,430 metres).   Designed originally as an unarmed, high-altitude bomber the type became a versatile workhorse in service in the UK and beyond.

The initial impact point of the Canberra on Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo Sept 2014)

The initial impact point of the Canberra on Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo Sept 2014)

On 9th December 1957 Canberra WK129 was taking part in secret radar tests.    The aircraft had flown from RAF Pershore in Worcestershire to the Carneddau, where it carried out trials with a radar station on the summit of Drum (traces of the radar station can still be found there).    The Canberra continued out to Puffin Island near Anglesey before turning to travel back to base.

Aircraft wreckage in the Afon Eigiau

Aircraft wreckage in the Afon Eigiau

Looking up towards the lake of Llyn Llyffant

Looking up towards the lake of Llyn Llyffant

The aircraft was flying in patchy low cloud when it struck Carnedd Llewelyn on the ridge connecting the mountain to Foel Grach.   The forward end of the aircraft broke up,  leaving fragments of the forward fuselage on western side of the ridge. The centre section, wings and rear fuselage crashed to earth near Llyn Llyffant, though other pieces did travel some distance beyond here.    The destruction of the aircraft was such that the crew of two must have died instantly.

More wreckage from the Canberra

More wreckage from the Canberra

The reason for the crash remains a mystery, though the aircraft was below its safety height at the time of the accident.    A possible explanation is engine failure due to icing – icing conditions on the day of the flight were forecast above 3000 ft, and the initial impact point is at around 3280 ft (1000 metres)

*     *    *    *    *

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Llyn Llyffant

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Llyn Llyffant

Llyn Llyffant is now remote and quiet and would make a great wild camp site.    I stopped for a coffee and sandwich break, ably assisted (with the sandwiches anyway) by Border Collie ‘Mist’.

Next to the lake

Next to the lake

Looking back towards Llyn Llyffant

Looking back towards Llyn Llyffant

Left to right - Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du and Craig yr Ysfa

Left to right – Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du and Craig yr Ysfa

Small group of Carneddau ponies and the only humans I saw all day

Small group of Carneddau ponies and the only humans I saw all day

When it came time to leave I set off for another air-crash site nearby.  Although overcast, the visibility was great with great views back to the mountains surrounding upper Cwm Eigiau (Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du and Craig yr Ysfa) and despite the fair conditions, I saw just four other humans all day.

The crash site of Avro Anson EG110

The crash site of Avro Anson EG110

On 14th January 1943, an Avro Anson on a training flight struck the side of Foel Grach.  There are several Anson crash-sites near to here, not because the Anson was an unsafe aircraft, but because there were many more flights over this part of Wales in WW2.    The crew survived the impact, and the pilot managed to walk to a farm in the valley below.    The RAF Mountain Rescue Team from Llandwrog (now Caernarfon Airport) set out and searched into the night, but had to take shelter in deteriorating weather.   The aircraft was found the next day with one survivor, the other two crew members having died of exposure.    There is now no trace of the crash.

‘Mist’ with Melynllyn (reservoir) below

‘Mist’ with Melynllyn (reservoir) below

Heading back along the ridge of Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau

Heading back along the ridge of Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau

The mountains of the UK are steeped in history, and the air-crash sites I had visited are part of that ongoing story, and make a fitting memorial to those who died, but I now had another important task lined up – ‘Mist’ was just about overdue for her dinner time, so it was time to head back home.

Back on the track – time to head for home

Back on the track – time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales, Aircrash Sites, Border Collies | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

#216 – “I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder…” (from ‘The Manchester Rambler’ by Ewan McColl)

The view down to Kinder Reservoir from Kinder Plateau

The view down to Kinder Reservoir from Kinder Plateau

Regular readers of this blog will know that every January I disappear for a week to work with my old mate John Bamber on one of the Safety Teams on the Spine Race (click here for the back-story of ‘The Most Brutal Race in Britain’).

Two men and a dog (l to r John Bamber, the author and Border Collie ‘Mist’)

Two men and a dog (l to r John Bamber, the author and Border Collie ‘Mist’)

Despite the race passing through one of the most remote wilderness areas in England on Cross Fell, we don’t get much chance to go swanning around on the hills, and even less chance to take a bit of R&R on other sections of the route, so a couple of weeks before the 2017 race I decided on an outing over Kinder in the Peak District, just round the corner from the race start-point at Edale.

The route, starting from Hayfield

The route, starting from Hayfield

I don’t get to the Peak District all that often, but one of my favourite rounds in this part of the world is the Kinder Plateau starting from Hayfield and going via Kinder Downfall (waterfall).  On the first Spine Race in 2012, John Bamber and I had walked out to the Downfall in freezing conditions to photograph the 15 racers as they passed – since then the Race has grown massively with around 250 athletes from all over the world taking part in three different events.

The ‘Mass Trespass’ commemorative plaque at Hayfield

The ‘Mass Trespass’ commemorative plaque at Hayfield

As well as being the start point for my walk, Hayfield was also the start point of the ‘Mass Trespass’ in April 1932, where over 400 walkers walked over closed moors that were ‘off-limits’ to the public.  The immediate aftermath was the jailing of five of the protesters, but it was the start of a movement that could not be halted and which finally led to the establishment of National Parks 1n 1949 and general ‘open-access’ to all upland areas in 2000.

Kinder Reservoir with Kinder Scout in the distance

Kinder Reservoir with Kinder Scout in the distance

Looking up towards Kinder Downfall

Looking up towards Kinder Downfall

My route – the high ground looming ahead

My route – the high ground looming ahead

I had ideal weather conditions for the day; the temperature was just below zero and the air was as clear as a bell – two weeks later on the first day of the Spine Challenger event (108 miles instead of the full 268 miles of the Spine Race) the hills above here were enveloped in a snow storm that made things ‘interesting’ for the racers to say the least!

The uphill bit starts

The uphill bit starts

Looking back towards Kinder Reservoir

Looking back towards Kinder Reservoir

On the Pennine Way at last

On the Pennine Way at last

My route passed above Kinder Reservoir before heading upwards to the Plateau – for a change I didn’t follow the small valley of William Clough, and instead went via the ascending brow up to Sandy Heys, giving me great views in all directions.  Before long I was on the Pennine Way National Trail, which is also the route for the Spine Race.

Looking back (west) ….

Looking back (west) ….

…. and looking forward towards the Downfall

…. and looking forward towards the Downfall

The stream above the Downfall ….

The stream above the Downfall ….

…. well frozen ….

…. well frozen ….

…. and not much of a waterfall today!

…. and not much of a waterfall today!

The highlight of this part of the Pennine Way is Kinder Downfall.  Sometimes the wind blows so strongly here that the water is blown back up the cliff and in severe winters the waterfall freezes making a steep but interesting ice-wall for local climbers and mountaineers.  Today the water level was very low, and most of what there was had frozen, reducing the stream to a trickle.

The view back to Kinder Downfall, barely a trickle

The view back to Kinder Downfall, barely a trickle

Kinder Reservoir in the distance and the ‘Mermaid’s Pool’ just right of centre

Kinder Reservoir in the distance and the ‘Mermaid’s Pool’ just right of centre

The frozen stream became a barrier to progress, and I slithered about 100 metres upstream rather than go skidding off a frozen rock.  The view back to the Downfall was an anti-climax, with just a trickle of water going over the edge, but there were compensations in the great view to the west, looking down to the ‘Mermaid’s Pool’ and Kinder Reservoir.

Kinder Scout trig point (633 metres) ….

Kinder Scout trig point (633 metres) ….

…. with Border Collie ‘Mist’ posing as usual

…. with Border Collie ‘Mist’ posing as usual

Heading south on the Pennine Way

Heading south on the Pennine Way

The dog and I carried on south along the Pennine Way, visiting the trig point at Kinder Scout on the way.  Near Edale Cross it was time to leave the Pennine Way and to head back to Hayfield.  All the paths I had followed had been well frozen, making a great change from the mud that is usually found along the route, but blue skies and sunshine on top of that had been an unexpected bonus.

Time to head for home

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 4. Northern England, Border Collies | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

#215 – A dogs life! (in 2016)

1

1a

“Woof – Every now and then the Boss goes out of the room and then it’s my chance to take over his blog.  He’ll never learn!  So, here’s what I’ve been doing all year.”

2

“We had the usual nonsense back in January, where the Boss and some of his other daft friends go on this thing called the Spine Race – one thing is sure, there’s always lots of snow for me to play in.”

Spine Race 2016

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“As if that wasn’t enough running around in the snow, one of the guys on the Spine called Javed decided he hadn’t had enough, so he ran back to the start – funny old business, I just don’t understand humans.”

Javed does the double Spine Race

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“Woof-woof  –  There was still lots of snow around back home in Wales in March – I’m not sure that the Missus likes playing in the snow as much as I do though!”

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“Still, I can always rely on her to remember the dog biscuits!”

Late winter in the Carneddau

6

“In April the Boss took me out on another hill in Wales called Tryfan – say what you like, but these hills all look the same to me”

Heather Terrace on Tryfan

7

“We had some fun in May though – we went up to Scotland, and I’ll tell you what, those hills make our hills look a bit small!”

8

“I think the Boss called it Quinag, but I got a decent walk out that day.”

Quinag in the North West Highlands

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“On the way back we went to somewhere called Skye – that was fun as well”

A day on the Quiraing

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“I still like the hills back home though, and in July we had a great dog walk in the Berwyn Mountains – and the Missus brought dog biscuits again.”

Berwyns day

11

“August was fun, ‘cos we went to the seaside in Pembrokeshire, lots more walking and the Boss even found dog-friendly pubs as well – I should think so!”

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

12

“In September the Boss and me had a day out in the Carneddau Mountains – now they are proper hills I can tell you.”

Back in the Carneddau

13

“In October we went to somewhere the Boss called ‘The Lakes’ – huh, we didn’t see even one lake, but at least I got a good walk.”

Skiddaw and t’back o’ Skidda

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“In November we ended up in Derbyshire – I’ve got to say, they don’t half get a lot of misty weather there.”

Bleaklow

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“And to round off, we had proper snow back home – Woof, ready for some more of that!”

Snowdon in the snow

16

“Well, I’ve had a great year, and it looks like the Boss and the Missus have as well – I just hope that he can remember how to get her back to her real size, after all she carries the buscuits.  Woof Woof!!”

Text and images © Paul Shorrock (With a little help from Border Collie ‘Mist’)

Posted in 1. Scotland, 2. Lake District, 4. Northern England, 5. North Wales, 6. Mid and South Wales, 7. Everywhere Else!, Border Collies | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

#214 – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in the snow – The PYG Track and Llanberis Path

The view across to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) on the Beddgelert walk (post #213)

The view across to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) on the Beddgelert walk (post #213)

The view of a snow-covered Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) on our Beddgelert walk (see post #213) was very tempting, but November snow in England and Wales doesn’t usually hang around for very long, so I needed to get a move on if I wanted to have a day out on the ‘white stuff’.    Settled weather and a couple of cold nights were encouragement enough, so two days later I was back in Snowdonia for a bit more mountain fun.

On the PYG Track above Glaslyn

On the PYG Track above Glaslyn

I’ve done the PYG Track/Llanberis Path version of Yr Wyddfa more times than I care to remember, so why repeat it?    Simply because it’s a classic day out through incredible scenery to one of the finest peaks in the UK.     So it gets very busy – so what?    Others are entitled to their share of heaven!     I left the car in Llanberis and used my ‘old git’s’ bus pass to get to the start point at Pen y Pass.     From there I would take the PYG Track to the summit, followed by a long downhill stroll back to the car on the Llanberis Path.

Starting out from Pen y Pass (Note the red warning sign by the path)

Starting out from Pen y Pass (Note the red warning sign by the path)

Border Collie ‘Mist’ enjoying another mountain day

Border Collie ‘Mist’ enjoying another mountain day

In summer the mountain railway hauls passengers from Llanberis to the summit of Yr Wyddfa, but in winter the track is usually blocked by snow towards the top of the mountain.    This puts the summit café out of action, which means that the facilities summer tourists would expect are not available, and warning signs at the start of all the paths up the mountain make this clear.     In fact, as the winter develops, mountaineering skills are often required to make the trip safely, but many still get caught out.

Crib Goch ….

Crib Goch ….

…. often mistaken for Yr Wyddfa (just appearing in the centre)

…. often mistaken for Yr Wyddfa (just appearing in the centre)

Setting out on the PYG Track from Pen y Pass, the eye is drawn to an obvious peak – many mistakenly assume that this is Yr Wyddfa, the summit of Snowdon, but it is in fact Crib Goch.      Yr Wyddfa doesn’t come into view on this path until the start point of Crib Goch is reached, and making the wrong route finding decision here can literally prove fatal, making the Crib Goch Ridge one of the main accident blackspots in winter.

Not much snow on the PYG Track at this point ….

Not much snow on the PYG Track at this point ….

…. and not much looking back ….

…. and not much looking back ….

…. but that changes after the Miners Track junction

…. but that changes after the Miners Track junction

Crib Goch wasn’t on my itinerary today though.      It was almost certain that any snow on the ridge would have been stripped off by the wind, and I was after a snow day, so I carried on towards the junction of the PYG Track and the Miners Track.     Quite often this is where the snowline starts, as was the case today – small groups dithered around, deciding whether to carry on or turn back, but I was ready with ice axe and crampons and after a quick brew of coffee it was time to crack on.

 Poorly equipped walker slithering down the path ….


Poorly equipped walker slithering down the path ….

…. and definitely not having a fun day

…. and definitely not having a fun day

Just beyond my brew stop I met the first of several walkers who were not having a good day – a woman with a bag slung across a shoulder and wearing inadequate bendy boots, was slithering uncertainly down the path.    I asked her if she was OK, and she hissed through clenched teeth that she was, so we went our separate ways – I kept a watchful eye on her until she reached easier ground.

Better equipped walker – just on the ‘zig-zags’

Better equipped walker – just on the ‘zig-zags’

Further up, the path has a set of prominent zig-zags and the trickiest part of the route under snow for those without winter gear is potentially from here to the bwlch (pass) at the top of the PYG Track.     What snow there is collects naturally on the path and gets compacted by the passage of many pairs of boots.    The result is a ribbon of icy snow where boots can scarcely get a grip without the use of crampons.

Beyond the ‘zig-zags’ heading for the Bwlch (Group of walkers just above centre)

Beyond the ‘zig-zags’ heading for the Bwlch (Group of walkers just above centre)

I met two big groups on their way down, with none of them wearing crampons.     I decided that it would be a good deed to use my ice axe to cut some steps for them, but there was also a bit of self-interest involved – had anyone slipped, I would have felt obliged to help, so it was better all round to prevent an accident.    I was somewhat bemused with the second group though, as a couple of them stood next to me leaning on their ice axes as I cut steps for their mates – they seem to have got the message that they should “carry an ice axe in winter” but hadn’t got round to actually using them!

The ‘Standing-stone’ at the Bwlch, with walkers coming off Crib y Ddysgl ….

The ‘Standing-stone’ at the Bwlch, with walkers coming off Crib y Ddysgl …

…. and more heading for the summit of Yr Wyddfa

…. and more heading for the summit of Yr Wyddfa

Approaching the summit by the railway line

Approaching the summit by the railway line

Getting some practice in taking ‘selfies’

Getting some practice in taking ‘selfies’

Arriving at the bwlch brings a dramatic change of scenery, with the narrow confines of the upper path replaced by long-distance views in all directions.     This is a major junction of paths to and from the summit, and is busy on most days of the year.     I followed the upper section of the railway line to the summit, watching a paraglider pilot having fun – after a quick ‘selfie’ and another wet of coffee it was time to start heading down.

Time to head back – leaving the summit

Time to head back – leaving the summit

‘Mist’ enjoying a run on the snow-covered Llanberis Path

‘Mist’ enjoying a run on the snow-covered Llanberis Path

The snow starts to thin out above Clogwyn Station

The snow starts to thin out above Clogwyn Station

Beyond the top of the PYG Track I set off down the Llanberis Path.     In summer this is a tedious slog up and an easy yomp down, but in winter it carries a particular hazard – the railway line makes much easier walking than the path, but one section between the top of the PYG Track and Clogwyn Station is another accident blackspot.     The railway gets banked up with snow, which then freezes to the hardness of concrete – a slip here can lead to a slide down a convex slope to the cliffs of Clogwyn Coch, and there have been several fatal accidents here over the years.

Dusk starts to fall – looking back up the railway line near to Clogwyn Station

Dusk starts to fall – looking back up the railway line near to Clogwyn Station

There’s something very satisfying about finishing a mountain day as the light starts to fade.     Chris (me missus) doesn’t really go for walking in the dark, so two days earlier I had timed the end of our Beddgelert walk to coincide with dusk – today there was just myself to please, and leaving Pen y Pass after midday had guaranteed a finish in the dark, and the changing colours of the sky made a spectacle that was almost impossible to capture in a photo.

Looking northeast towards the Glyderau

Looking northeast towards the Glyderau

…. and looking southwest

…. and looking southwest

If the photos didn’t do justice I could still enjoy the show.    Eventually it was time to break out the headlight, and I noticed several pin-pricks of light on the surrounding hills as others had the same idea.    I wasn’t in any great rush to finish, and even Border Collie ‘Mist’ seemed to have forgotten it was well past her dinner time.     We finished in the dark as planned, with the lights of Llanberis below – the perfect end to a perfect day!

Time to head for home ….

Time to head for home ….

…. with the lights of Llanberis below and my headlight reflecting on the dog's harness

…. with the lights of Llanberis below and my headlight reflecting on the dog’s harness

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

#213 – Beyond Beddgelert

Looking down to Llyn Dinas

Looking down to Llyn Dinas

November 2016 saw a sudden change from the mild autumn we had been enjoying to a short, sharp taste of winter to come.    Chris didn’t fancy anything too dramatic and Border Collie ‘Mist’ was happy to be out anywhere, so it was my choice then – a couple of years earlier we had spent a warm, sunny autumn day in the hills above Beddgelert (see post #168) but had missed out a chunk of ground near to Llyn Dinas.    Time to remedy that then.

The route

The route

Walking out from Beddgelert with the Afon Glaslyn on the left

Walking out from Beddgelert with the Afon Glaslyn on the left

Sygun Copper Mine, now a tourist attraction

Sygun Copper Mine, now a tourist attraction

The path from Beddgelert to Llyn Dinas

The path from Beddgelert to Llyn Dinas

Llyn Dinas and the lakeside path

Llyn Dinas and the lakeside path

It’s strange going to popular tourist spots out of season, and Beddgelert was the quietest I have ever seen it – it was definitely not an ice cream day, with a biting wind coming from the west, though a bright sun did much to lift things.    We left the town, heading alongside the Afon Glaslyn towards the lake of Llyn Dinas, passing below the Sygun Copper Mine, now an important tourist attraction for this part of Snowdonia.    No tourists today though.

Time to start heading upwards

Time to start heading upwards

The view back to Llyn Dinas ….

The view back to Llyn Dinas ….

…. and the way ahead

…. and the way ahead

Just when you think it has levelled out ….

Just when you think it has levelled out ….

…. there’s more uphill!

…. there’s more uphill!

From the lake, it was time to gain some altitude.   The low sun meant that we started in the shade, but before long the sun was right in our faces – I had guessed it was going to be a sunglasses day, but had left them at home, so the pair of us screwed up our eyes against the bright light and the cold wind.   ‘Mist’ waited as patiently as an impatient Border Collie can, but was happy to take a break when the sandwiches came out and even happier to help scoff them.

The view across to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) ….

The view across to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) ….

…. looking just a little bit like Everest!

…. looking just a little bit like Everest!

We managed to find a spot in the sun but out of the wind where we also had a grandstand view of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) to the north.    It was obvious that Mr Snow had paid a visit, and using a bit of imagination (well, OK then, a lot of imagination!) there appeared to be a similarity with one of the views of Everest.   Members of the 1953 Everest Expedition trained on Yr Wyddfa before the first ascent by exped members Tenzing Norgay and Ed Hillary, so perhaps my comparison wasn’t too wacky.

Looking back at the start of the descent down Cwm Bychan

Looking back at the start of the descent down Cwm Bychan

Great views to the Moelwynion (Moelwyns) with (l to r) Cnicht, Moelwyn Mawr and Moelwyn Bach

Great views to the Moelwynion (Moelwyns) with (l to r) Cnicht, Moelwyn Mawr and Moelwyn Bach

It was soon time to start heading down into Cwm Bychan, with its relics of the cableway once used to transport copper from the mines down to Nantmor.    The air was as clear as a bell, with great views out to the hills of the Moelwynion, and I made a mental note that we must get out that way again in the near future.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the start of the Fisherman’s Path, Aberglaslyn ….

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the start of the Fisherman’s Path, Aberglaslyn ….

…. with the Afon Glaslyn flowing noisily below

…. with the Afon Glaslyn flowing noisily below

The rocky bit of the path, directly above the river ….

The rocky bit of the path, directly above the river ….

…. sometimes a bit too directly above the river for some!

…. sometimes a bit too directly above the river for some!

Our return route was through the Aberglaslyn Pass – the Fisherman’s Path is one of the most dramatic lowland paths in North Wales, with the route in places clinging to rock walls above the noisy waters of the Afon Glaslyn.    I love night walking but Chris doesn’t share my enthusiasm, so I had timed things nicely to return to Beddgelert just as dusk descended.    As we arrived back in the dying light I had the spark of an idea – Yr Wyddfa had looked great under snow, and the weather for the next few days was settled – a return trip was on the cards.

Through the gorge at last ….

Through the gorge at last ….

…. reaching Beddgelert with the dusk

…. reaching Beddgelert with the dusk

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

#212 – Bleaklow from Snake Pass

The Pennine Way near Bleaklow

The Pennine Way near Bleaklow

I’m not saying that I’ve turned into a ‘fair weather walker’, but It’s good to be able to pick and choose hill days according to the conditions.    It doesn’t always work that way though – I had to taxi Chris to an event in Stockport and was looking for a short-ish day out for me and Border Collie ‘Mist’.    The Pennine Way National Trail passes nearby, crossing the A57 Snake Pass road, so that was an easy decision – the harder decision was whether I should bother on a damp misty afternoon.

Setting out from Snake Pass, with Higher Shelf Stones in the distance

Setting out from Snake Pass, with Higher Shelf Stones in the distance

The Snake Pass gets its name, not from the winding nature of the road (or even the presence of snakes!) but from the Snake Inn on the east side of the high point of the road.    The road was completed by Thomas Telford in 1821 as the Glossop to Sheffield Turnpike, and with a high point of 512 metres it was the highest turnpike road in the country – the Romans were here first though, and built their slightly higher road about 1,500 years earlier.

The Pennine Way starts off as a well-made path ….

The Pennine Way starts off as a well-made path ….

…. but slowly starts to merge in with the moors

…. but slowly starts to merge in with the moors

The one thing that both Telford and the Romans would have recognised would have been the bleak weather, and the nearby summit plateau of Bleaklow is well named.    On my visit the mist was swirling round Higher Shelf Stones, which was exactly where I was heading.    I took the Pennine Way heading north, which starts out as a well-made path, but it isn’t long before the moor starts to take charge.

Looking east, down to Hern Clough, the visibility not too bad ….

Looking east, down to Hern Clough, the visibility not too bad ….

…. but me and Border Collie 'Mist' are heading west towards Higher Shelf Stones!

…. but me and Border Collie ‘Mist’ are heading west towards Higher Shelf Stones!

The moor becomes more Pennine in character

The moor becomes more Pennine in character

First signs of the crash site

First signs of the crash site

Before long it was time to leave the Pennine Way trail to head off into the mist.   This wasn’t just an aimless wander though, I was on a mini-pilgrimage to visit the site of a modern tragedy.    On the 3rd November 1948, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber of the United States Air Force was on a routine flight from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to the US base at Burtonwood near Warrington – the aircraft never reached its destination.

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B-29 Superfortress

B-29 Superfortress

B-29 Superfortress, "Overexposed"

B-29 Superfortress, “Overexposed”

The Crash site

The Crash site

 The B-29 Superfortress was one of the largest aircraft used during WW2 – it was certainly the most sophisticated.    It was designed as a high-altitude bomber, with a pressurised cabin and remote control gun turrets, able to fly higher than the enemy fighters of the time.     The type only saw service in the far east against Japan, but after the war the B-29 stayed in use until the advent of the modern jet fighter made it obsolete.

One task at which the B-29 excelled was photo-reconnaissance, and the B-29 involved in the Bleaklow accident was one of these variants.     Nicknamed “Overexposed”, the aircraft had flown photographic missions in 1946 at the atomic weapons tests at Bikini Atoll, and afterwards flew in Europe during the Berlin Airlift in 1948.

On the day of the accident, “Overexposed” was on a routine ‘milk-run’ to collect mail and pay from Burtonwood.     Scampton was a much smaller airbase, lacking the comforts that US aircrews took for granted, so instead of just the basic crew needed to fly the aircraft the whole crew turned out for some serious R&R and leisure time at Burtonwood.

It isn’t certain what happened to cause the aircraft to crash on a routine 30-minute flight, but it is known that the high ground was hidden by low cloud.     The Captain would have been aware of this, and should have maintained height longer – instead it appears that he commenced his descent to Burtonwood on the planned schedule, but a strong headwind meant that the B-29 had not cleared the high ground.

“Overexposed” struck the ground at an altitude of 612 metres; nearby Higher Shelf Stones was the highest ground on the planned route at 621 metres altitude.     Had the B-29 had been a mere 10 metres (33 ft) higher the accident may never have happened.     First on the scene was the RAF Mountain Rescue Team from Harpur Hill – team members had been training on the moors nearby and secured the scene before the recovery of the victims the next day.

The US officer in charge of the operation had requested (more like demanded) that helicopters be provided to assist the operation, but these were still few in number and had a low payload.     The officer then demanded (more like insisted) that a road be built to the site – anyone who knows the Pennine moors will appreciate how impossible a task this would have been.     In the end, it was the RAF team who set off across the moor with general-issue folding stretchers.

A contemporary account makes harrowing reading – it was obvious from the injuries sustained that all the crew had died instantly.    In the event, the stretchers were not needed as the Americans provided body bags, making the recovery operation much easier.  No one knew about PTSD in those days, so the RAF lads simply ‘got on with the job’ – it is recorded though that they were very grateful for the containers of hot stew provided by the Americans, a rare treat as food rationing was still in force in the UK

The memorial plaque © Geotek

The memorial plaque © Geotek

© Anthony Parkes

© Anthony Parkes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The memorial

The memorial

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The Trig Point at Higher Shelf Stones (621 metres)

The Trig Point at Higher Shelf Stones (621 metres)

Border Collie “Mist” at Hern Stones

Border Collie “Mist” at Hern Stones

The site had a melancholy feel on my visit, though a dank mist did nothing to lighten the mood.    Some argue that the aircraft wrecks are unsightly or even gruesome, and should be cleared from the mountains and moors, but I disagree – they are part of the history of these lands, in the same way that the old abandoned mines and quarries are, and in some cases the sites are classed as war graves.

Near Hern Stones, the Pennine Way follows the stream leading to Hern Clough

Near Hern Stones, the Pennine Way follows the stream leading to Hern Clough

The Wain Stones

The Wain Stones

The weather wasn’t getting any better, and I had to complete my duties as taxi driver, so a brief visit to the trig point at Higher Shelf Stones was followed by an even shorter visit to Hern Stones and the famous Wain Stones (see post #19).     Then it was a quick yomp back down the Pennine Way to the Snake Pass road, leaving the moors to the ghosts of the past.

Back on the Pennine Way, heading for home

Back on the Pennine Way, heading for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated – these images are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

p.s.  unknown to me at the time, my mates Richie and Babs Boardwell were just a bit further down the Snake Pass, having their own Peak District day – a pity I didn’t know, as Babs is a much better photographer than I am!

Posted in 4. Northern England, Aircrash Sites | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

#211 – Cat Bells – small but perfectly formed!

Heading south on the Cat Bells Ridge

Heading south on the Cat Bells Ridge

Our day on Skiddaw (see post #210) had been a change from our local hills in North Wales, and a check on the weather forecast showed it looking fair for the day after.   It didn’t take long to decide to grab another lakes day, but where?    A short hill day before driving back to Wales (including a dog walk for Border Collie ‘Mist’) was looking favourite, and we were in the Northern Lakes so it had to be Cat Bells.

Starting out

Starting out

Cat Bells is regarded by many as a bit of a soft option, and no wonder.   A height of 451 metres (1,480 ft) isn’t going to set many pulses racing, either through excitement or exertion, and it’s widely regarded as a family day out – so what’s wrong with that, I ask.  The well-known Lakeland walker Alfred Wainwright said of the hill,  “It is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together, a place beloved. Its popularity is well deserved.”

On the low east-side path, with Derwent Water to the right

On the low east-side path, with Derwent Water to the right

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been up here, but one occasion was July 23 1986.   I remember it because it was the day that Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, and rather than stay at home with wall-to-wall royal wedding on the TV, I decided a walk up Cat Bells with my oldest daughter Kelly would be a good alternative.   My youngest daughter Heather was too young to make the walk at two years old, but Kelly romped it at 3¾ – Cat Bells certainly is a hill for all ages.

The start of the uphill ….

The start of the uphill ….

…. and a little further on

…. and a little further on

The popularity of the hill has its downside – get to the start point after nine o’clock on a warm Sunday morning with good weather guaranteed and you can be certain that every parking space in the area is full.    Well, not quite every space, and a bit of local knowledge soon turned up enough room for the camper.

Still heading upwards ….

Still heading upwards ….

…. and a busy day!

…. and a busy day!

Our route was the classic circuit – the path on the lower slopes of the east side of Cat Bells took us to the popular start point near Hawse End, followed by a southerly traverse of the Cat Bells Ridge before descending at Hause Gate and heading down towards Manesty.

The Northern Fells behind – the Skiddaw group (left of centre) and Blencathra (right)

The Northern Fells behind – the Skiddaw group (left of centre) and Blencathra (right)

Border Collie ‘Mist’ checking out the route ahead

Border Collie ‘Mist’ checking out the route ahead

Looking south on the Cat Bells Ridge with the summit looming ahead

Looking south on the Cat Bells Ridge with the summit looming ahead

Everyone having fun!

Everyone having fun!

We expected it to be busy, but found it not too bad – several family groups with kids mingled with the older generation, but there is enough room for everyone up there.  Joining in with the fun were a couple of paragliders taking advantage of good soaring conditions over the summit ridge.

The view north on the Cat Bells Ridge, with Skiddaw (centre) and Blencathra (right) in the distance

The view north on the Cat Bells Ridge, with Skiddaw (centre) and Blencathra (right) in the distance

Chris at the top of the scrambly bit near the summit ….

Chris at the top of the scrambly bit near the summit ….

…. and heading south from the summit to start the descent

…. and heading south from the summit to start the descent

Despite all the family joviality going on, there are a couple of short rocky scrambles to add interest to the day – it’s the kind of ground that fell-runners hurtle up or down but where the less confident or those with creaky legs might suddenly think, “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be an easy day out!”    In reality, the rocky bits really are short and add interest like a bit of extra seasoning.

Paraglider pilot having fun over Cat Bells summit

Paraglider pilot having fun over Cat Bells summit

The start of the downhill bit ….

The start of the downhill bit ….

…. heading towards Manesty in the Borrowdale valley

…. heading towards Manesty in the Borrowdale valley

Good old Cat Bells! –  Not the biggest or the longest or most difficult day out in the Lakes, but plenty to occupy three hours or so.   And did I mention the views?  The photos probably give an idea, but if you have never been there, you’ll have to go and find out for yourselves!

On the way home

On the way home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 2. Lake District | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments