#277 – Cwm Idwal and the end of Lockdown – “Rhyddid!” (Freedom!)

The entrance to Cwm Idwal, just off the Ogwen Valley

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Cwm Idwal

After almost four months of restricted travel in Wales due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the  Welsh Government finally relaxed the rules at the beginning of July.   The weather on high ground was forecast to be a bit gnarly, with strong winds predicted, but after weeks of looking at the mountains of Snowdonia from a distance, it was time for a visit – Cwm Idwal would do just fine!

The Afon Idwal stream, with Cwm Idwal beyond

The Afon Idwal bridge

Cwm Idwal, with Idwal slabs on the left

On arrival at the start point for the walk into Cwm Idwal, it seemed that the lifting of the lockdown restrictions was the best kept secret in Wales!   Because of the ease of access from the A5 road, the walk up to the lake of Llyn Idwal is normally one of the ‘honey pot’ attractions of Snowdonia, yet on this trip there was hardly a soul present – those who had made the effort were having a good time though.

Idwal Slabs, a popular rock-climbing venue (note the tiny figure on the small island)

Zoom view of the small island

Cwm Idwal is well known in rock-climbing circles for the climbers’ crag of Idwal Slabs, one of the earliest venues for the sport in the UK, dating back to the late 19th Century.    Rock-climbing isn’t the only attraction here, though – as I looked towards The Slabs, I could have sworn I saw a tiny figure on one of the small islands in the lake.    Sure enough, it was a couple of ‘wild swimmers’ having a great time

Wild swimmers having a great time

Climbers and mountaineers have been swimming in the mountain lakes for as long as the sport of rock-climbing has existed, but ‘wild swimming’ as a sport in its own right is much more recent – the introduction of wetsuits probably has something to do with it, though there are a growing number of swimmers who brave the icy waters with just a swimsuit and a touch of madness.

Approaching Idwal slabs, popular rock-climbing area ….

…. which looks a bit different in winter

The cleft of Twll Du (the Devil’s Kitchen) in the centre

Closer view of Twll Du

As well as being a rock-climbing favourite, Cwm Idwal is also well known for its high quality winter climbing routes, and the place becomes even more magical as soon as the snow falls and the streams freeze.    The best ice-climbing crags are around the well known Devil’s Kitchen, named Twll Du (Black Hole) in Welsh – looking up from below, the Welsh name is far more appropriate.

Nearly at The Slabs ….

….with a couple of rock-climbing parties enjoying the end of lockdown (centre of the photo)

The first climbers on Idwal Slabs for several months

Unsurprisingly for July, there was very little snow & ice climbing on offer on our visit (yep, that was a smattering of irony being deployed) but a couple of rock-climbing parties on ‘The Slabs’ were taking advantage of the ending of lockdown – it’s a good bet that there hadn’t been anyone on the crag since March, or possibly even Autumn 2019.

The upper path to Twll Du indicated by the arrow

Closer view with the arrow showing the location of the stream crossing

The approach to the stream …. © N Chadwick – Geograph

…. before the bridge was built  © Roger Cornfoot – Geograph

The new bridge crossing point © Mal Davies – Flickr

We had decided to take the lower level path around the top of the lake, rather than the upper path (indicated by the yellow arrows in the photos).   There used to be a stream crossing along the path, which must have caused some anxious moments over the years for those of a nervous disposition.    It doesn’t take much water to fill the narrow gully that is the stream bed, and inexperienced or nervy hikers would be confronted by what could truly be called a raging torrent!

The new bridge, seen from the cwm using a zoom lens (240 mm equivalent)

For those too nervous to risk the crossing in flood conditions, the alternatives (depending on direction of approach) were to either retreat to ‘The Slabs’ and take the low route, or for those unfortunate enough to be coming down, to head back uphill to Twll Du, not an attractive prospect at the end of a long day.   The stream has now been ‘tamed’ by the addition of a bridge – a step forward for safety but a blow against the spirit of adventure that draws many to this wild place.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ enjoys a swim in Llyn Idwal

Our day was pretty low key, but it was a real buzz to be back in the mountains and for once to be free from the crowds that usually swamp the place in summer.    I wasn’t tempted to copy the example of the wild swimmers we had seen earlier, but ‘Mist’ is always up for a splash in the lake – well, a dog has to build up an appetite, and dinner time was only a couple of hours away.

Then it’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where otherwise indicated

The images tagged ‘Geograph’ are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#276 – Moel y Parc – Sheeptracks, sunshine and more Offa’s Dyke Path!

Sheeptracks and sunshine

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Moel y Parc, on the northern end of the Clwydian Hills

June in North Wales, and we were still restricted to five miles travel for recreation and exercise, whilst over the border in England the lock-down had been lifted for hiking and hill-walking. After three months of restricted travel, even our local sections of the Offa’s Dyke Path (see post #275) were starting to lose their glamour – a trip out was needed.

The route from Bodfari

A ‘creative’ approach to what constituted five miles travel brought the village of Bodfari in range – just about! That set us up for a tidy little walk up Moel y Parc (Bare Hill of the Park). At 395 metres (1099 ft) altitude, Moel y Parc isn’t going to win many prizes for height, but the hill is famous for one special feature – a TV transmitting station with a mast 235 metres (771 ft) high, which is the tallest structure in Wales.

Close up view of the route – actual route in blue, where we should have been in red!

Taking a walk to visit a TV mast seemed to lack a little imagination, but there was another attraction, well for me anyway. Less than 1 km from the summit lies ‘The Loneliest Cairn’ in the Clwydian Hills. How do I know this? Because ‘Hoppy’ told me! More of Hoppy later.

Setting out from Bodfari

Interesting root system on the tree

Border Collie ‘Mist’ keen to be moving on ….

…. but there’s time for a quick look out towards Bodfari in the valley below

Bodfari was baking in 27° C, but leafy lanes kept us cool as we started gaining height, pausing on the way to admire the wackiest looking tree I’ve seen in a long time, with exposed roots as long as the tree trunk, and the whole thing lying over at a crazy angle. That might have interested me but didn’t seem to impress Border Collie ‘Mist’ any more than the view down to Bodfari, initially obstructed by trees.

Out of the trees at last ….

…. and better views down to the valley ….

…. with Bodfari far behind now

The col before Moel y Parc – decision time!

Then, at last, we got above the tree line, giving us better views to Bodfari and Dyffryn Clwyd (The Vale of Clwyd). Before long, we were at a post marking a col below Moel y Parc where a decision would have to be made. We were looking for sheeptracks and the loneliest cairn in the Clwydians.

13

Setting off upwards, looking for Sheeptracks

Time to bring ‘Hoppy’ in to the story. Hoppy is one of the ‘characters’ of the local mountain rescue team that I’m a member of (NEWSAR) and is known to one and all for his unique wit and sense of humour 😉 . Another of his claims to fame is that he is the brains behind several fell races in the Clwydian Hills, all of which help to raise funds for NEWSAR.

Hoppy, you’re a grand chap!

Following the high sheeptrack towards the Lonely Cairn

The highlight of Hoppy’s fell-running events is known as ‘Sheeptracks’. The race is 27-30 kms in length, with a new course every year, and consists of a series of checkpoints, with the aim being to navigate (and run!) between the CPs without getting lost! The race gets its name after the many sheep tracks on the Clwydian Hills, and the course is devised to make the best use of the tracks linking the CPs.

Hoppy, you’re a genius!

Adrift – in a green sea

Hoppy had told me of a cairn that sits on the northwest shoulder of Moel y Parc, which few people know about and which is probably the loneliest cairn in the Clwydian Range. He also showed me on the map the rough line of a sheeptrack that heads straight for the cairn – all in all, it looked like a good hook to hang the walk on.

Hoppy, such vast local knowledge!

The view down to Dyffryn Clwyd (the Vale of Clwyd)

As we set off from the col, I had a rough idea where Hoppy’s route went, but there seemed to be a better-defined sheeptrack following a higher line and avoiding a green sea of newly grown bracken. So, we took the high road, avoided the bracken …. and ended up on steeper ground with prickly gorse bushes – neither Chris nor ‘Mist’ seemed to be much impressed!

Hoppy, you bastard!

Out of the bracken at last

In the end, I managed to navigate us back into the green sea of bracken and on to the correct sheeptrack – that’s after slithering down the steep slope we shouldn’t have been on in the first place. It appears that I should have listened more closely to what Hoppy had to say.

Hoppy, what a smart-arse!

The Lonely Cairn – at last!

Before long, we were on course to the Lonely Cairn, where it was time for a break. It’s worth pointing out that the Sheeptracks Race takes place in February when the bracken is low and there’s no need for bushwhacking through waist-high vegetation.

Hoppy, Oh what fun we had!

Lunch break – and a sunshade for ‘Mist’

There was no shade from the sun at the cairn, so I rigged up a bit of shelter for ‘Mist’ using trekking poles and a jacket. She tolerates hot days in the hills very well (see post #137) but I make a point of giving her breaks from the heat when possible. She will also drink on my request, and it’s easy to keep her hydrated – when she stops drinking, I know that she is well topped up!

Off again, still heading upwards

Moel y Parc TV mast ahead

After the break, it was more uphill, heading for the summit of Moel y Parc. At the top I had a play with the new toy, an ultra-wide zoom lens for my Olympus OM-D camera.

Ultra-wide lens, this image equivalent to 18mm full-frame

Standard zoom lens, this frame equivalent to 28mm in a full-frame camera

The new lens is the equivalent of 18-36mm in full-frame, which is wide by any standard, and I was able to include the TV mast along with the main Clwydian Ridge – the two images directly above show the difference. Photographers out there might expect verticals to lean over a bit with a lens this wide, but with the wonders of ‘Keystone’ correction in digital editing, I was able to get the mast perpendicular without any undue distortion – the two images above show the difference between ultra-wide and a more conventional wide.

The Clwydian Hills

….with a bit more of the Offa’s Dyke Path

Then it was time to head down to Bodfari, picking up another section of the Offa’s Dyke Path on the way – it’s a section that we have done before, but as it was heading back to the car it was in the right place at the right time. ‘Mist’ was still well hydrated and ignored a couple of springs on the way down, but she did settle for a paddle in the stream when we got back to Bodfari. Then it was back into a hot car and home for the best time in the day for the dog – feeding time!

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. – on the day that this post is published, our five-mile travel limit is being lifted by the Welsh Government, so I expect we will be getting out and about a bit before it gets changed back again!

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#275 – The Offa’s Dyke Path (Northern section)

Marion Ffrith on the Offa’s Dyke Path, with the sea in the distance

 

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It’s almost three months now since we were locked down in the Covid-19 emergency.  Although, at the time of writing it’s now possible to drive anywhere to take exercise in England, over in Wales we are still restricted to taking exercise within five miles of home.  We’re lucky in our part of Wales that we are surrounded by paths, hills and valleys, but after a while it gets a bit repetitive.   Fortunately, there’s an extra attraction just 400 metres from where I live – the Offa’s Dyke Path.

The Offa’s Dyke Path (in black) roughly following the Welsh-English border

The first National Trail to be established in the UK was the well-known Pennine Way, opened in 1965 and following the chain of hills running up the centre of Northern England.  The 177-mile (285 km) Offa’s Dyke Path came soon after in 1971, roughly following the line of the Welsh-English border and the 1200-year-old Offa’s Dyke.  It is disputed whether or not King Offa of Mercia was responsible for the whole length of earthworks that make up the Dyke, but it marks the establishment of a frontier between the two countries.

The northern and final section of the ODP, from the A55 Expressway to Prestatyn

The ancient Dyke can still be traced in places, but the path bearing the name is much more visible.    Over the past eight years, I’ve walked most of the trail from Llangollen to the sea, with the exception of a couple of less interesting lowland sections.   Best of all, the northern bit from the A55 to Prestatyn is easy to get to from home, so whilst locked down, ‘me and the missus’ (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) took the chance to revisit this section as two separate walks.

The two routes described in the blog – Mynydd y Cwm (First walk – blue dashes) and Prestatyn Hillside (Second walk – red dashes) – the arrows show the rough direction of the link routes taken to get to or from the ODP

The plan was to walk out to Mynydd y Cwm (Cwm Mountain) to pick up the trail (the link route is shown as blue arrows on the map above).    From there, we would follow the ODP until within striking range of home at Dyserth.   A few days later, it would be back to re-join the ODP near home to walk to Prestatyn, before following a link path back to Dyserth (red arrows on the map)

Day 1 – Mynnyd y Cwm and Marian Ffrith to Dyserth

The first route – Mynydd yr Cwm (Cwm Mountain) to Dyserth

OK – by now, regular readers will know that in Wales, anything just a little higher than the surrounding countryside will probably be given the title ‘Mountain’.   Even lowly Graig Fawr at 153 metres high (see later in this post) is honoured locally with the name ‘Meliden Mountain’, so Mynydd y Cwm or ‘Cwm Mountain’ deserves the title at 305 metres.    We set out to the hamlet of Cwm following the contours of our own mountain (Moel Hiraddug, 265 metres – see post #73) heading for the wooded summit above the houses.

In the woods on Cwm Mountain

Most of Cwm Mountain is commercial forestry, not my favourite when it comes to hiking, but there are some points of interest here.    The summit has a memorial to the crew of a Halifax aircraft that crashed into the hill on 5th December 1947 – unlike many of the aircraft accidents in North Wales, this crash occurred in peacetime, after WW2, though the crew of four had all served in the RAF in the war, and the aircraft had been converted from a heavy bomber to civilian use.

The actual aircraft – © A.J. Jackson Collection 2015

The Halifax was carrying a cargo of 96 bales of fabric with a total weight of 6380 kg (14036 lbs) from Lille in France to Speke near Liverpool.   The aircraft passed over the Wirral Peninsula, heading away from Speke, then flew west along the Welsh coast before turning inland near Rhyl to complete a circuit that would line up with Speke – the wind was from the East, so the aircraft needed this approach to land into wind.

The aircrash site memorial at the summit

The weather was poor at the time, with rain and low visibility.   The aircraft was also observed to be flying very low by witnesses at Rhyl and St Asaph, but as often happens, bad luck was to play a part.   Although flying too low to be completely safe, the Halifax might have continued to Speke had Cwm Mountain not been in the way – as it was, the aircraft struck a group of trees at the summit, but beyond this location there was no more high ground ahead on the route to Liverpool.

The plaque on the memorial

Sadly, this wasn’t the first aircrash in the area – on 29th December 1943, a B17 Flying Fortress of the USAAF was ferrying personnel from their Base in Suffolk to Woodvale, north Of Liverpool.  The aircraft had passed over Whitchurch and was heading for Rhyl, to turn east along the coast to approach Liverpool – the reverse of the track followed by the Halifax in 1947.

USAAF B17 Flying Fortress – © Unknown

It’s thought that the crew believed they had safely crossed the coast, but instead the aircraft struck a low bwlch (pass) between Mynydd y Cwm and the tiny hill of Marian Ffrith, at a height of about 210 metres, less than 1 km from the Halifax crash site and virtually on the line of the present-day Offa’s Dyke Path.   All 18 crew and passengers in the B17 were killed in the crash.   In this case, it seems that the crash was almost inevitable – looking at the track followed, it’s quite likely that the aircraft would have hit Marion Ffrith or Moel Hiraddug, had it survived the crossing of the bwlch.

Fallen trees blocking the forest track ….

…. with more to come

At last! The junction with the Offa’s Dyke Path

As well as visiting the memorial, I had another task planned.   The mountain rescue team I’m a member of (NEWSAR) covers this area, and because we rarely have incidents in this part of the country, there’s a lack of local knowledge in the Team about access points and evacuation routes from Cwm Mountain, so over a couple of trips I’ve plotted places where the track is blocked to vehicles, in case we are called there in the future.   Having logged where the blocked tracks were, it was time to go and find Offa and his Dyke.

Marion Ffrith on the right in the middle ground with Moel Hiraddug more obvious on the left

The white cottages of Marian Cwm in the centre with Marian Ffrith behind

Approaching Marian Cwm

Small limestone outcrops on Marian Ffrith

There are several ‘Marians’ around here – two farmsteads called Marian Mawr and Marian Bach (Big and Small respectively), plus the hamlet of Marian Cwm (Marian Valley).  These are all grouped around Marian Ffrith which means, simply, Marian Pasture.    It’s a rocky little hill in places, with small limestone outcrops, but with sufficient grazing for the local sheep.

Looking back to Mynydd y Cwm….

…. and looking forwards with the sea ahead

The ridge to the right is the start of the Prestatyn Hillside section

Looking west to the mountains of Snowdonia, only 25 miles (40 kms) away

Our ‘home mountain’, Moel Hiraddug, marking the end of this section

This isn’t high adventure by any standards  – the walking is through farmland, though it does have an upland feel to it.   The best of it though, is that the views start to open out after the claustrophobic feel of the forest, and I would imagine that if you had just walked all the way from Chepstow, the early sightings of the sea marking the end of the trek would be a real morale booster.    For me, the best view was of Snowdonia, a mere 25 miles (40 kms) away, but nearer to hand was Moel Hiraddug, rising just above our home, and the days finishing point.

Day 2 – Dyserth to Prestatyn

The ODP from near Dyserth to Prestatyn

Looking from Graig Fawr to Prestatyn Hillside (yellow arrows showing the route)

On the ODP looking back to Graig Fawr on the right, above the houses

Higher up on the Prestatyn Hillside section

The second part of the trip, a couple of days later, was from Dyserth to Prestatyn.   We often include the small outlying hill of Graig Fawr when we are heading this way, as it gives a great all-round panorama, including the final ‘Prestatyn Hillside’ section of the ODP (shown by yellow arrows on the photo above).

Looking back to the houses of Meliden with Graig Fawr on the left

Steeper section of path

Prestatyn ahead

This section has more of a hilly feel, though our highest altitude was to be a mere 200 metres, but the ‘up and down’ nature of the path, with views back to Meliden and forward to Prestatyn, brings an airy feel to the route.

Off the hillside and onto the road

Prestatyn High Street, very quiet during Covid-19 lockdown

Nearly at the sea, and the end of the ODP (or the beginning if you’re going the other way!)

Then all too soon, the path becomes road for the last section into Prestatyn.    Most hikers completing the ODP come from the quiet switchback path of Prestatyn Hillside to the more bustling Prestatyn High Street, but as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, the shops were all closed and the only people walking were the ones out for their (permitted) daily exercise.  The bonus for us was that it didn’t take long to clear the town centre.

Looking back to Prestatyn Hillside on the skyline

The final 500 metres to the sea must be a welcome sight for those who have completed the whole trail.    We took a final look at Prestatyn Hillside before our arrival at the Dechrau a Dewidd sculpture – this represents the sun, and for those who have just arrived from Chepstow, the ‘sun’ is in the West marking the end of their journey.    Not for us though, it was time to head for our return link route to Dyserth, and for ‘Mist’ the ever-welcome dinner time!

‘Dechrau a Dewidd’

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated as otherwise.

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#274 – Diary of a project – The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge guidebook (Part 5)

The north side of Ingleborough

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23 March 2010 – Route 6, Ingleborough from Chapel le Dale to Horton, solo – The final walk!

 On 23 March I set off to complete Route 6 (Chapel-le-Dale to Horton) and with it the whole project.   It was two days after the first day of spring, and although there was a chill in the air there was also a change from the short, wintry days to the first signs of the returning summer.

The Three Peaks area, showing Ingleborough and the route

Closer view of the route, with the link from Ribblehead railway station shown in dark green

Closer still view of the main part of the route, from Chapel le Dale to Horton in Ribblesdale

Perhaps the best sign as far as I was concerned was that I was finally carrying my summer weight rucksack for the first time since I had started the project the previous November; it felt as light as a feather compared with the winter gear I had been carrying.

Just off the train and heading for Chapel le Dale via the link route under the viaduct

Ingleborough ahead on the right, seen from Ivescar

I parked the car in Horton, the destination for Route 6, then as on some of the earlier routes, I took the train to Ribblehead.   Rather than take the quick and easy option of walking 2½ kms down the road, I took the old, familiar track under the railway viaduct, passing Gunnerfleet Farm, before heading past Ivescar to Chapel-le-Dale – 4 kms, but much more enjoyable.

Runners at Chapel le Dale heading for Ingleborough

Double stile just before the causeway path to Humphrey Bottom

Higher up the causeway path with Ingleborough getting nearer

By the time I reached Chapel-le-Dale, I had put an hours walking behind me, but had only just reached the start point of the route I was about to record.   The Hill Inn was about 150 metres down the road, but no time for that today – I was on a mission!   I wasn’t as lightly equipped as the three runners who were just setting off, but the lighter rucksack didn’t hold me back and I was soon across the causeway path to Humphrey Bottom and the final steep ascent to the summit.

Trig point, cairn and summit shelter

Although a dullish day, the summit plateau was cloud free, with great long-distance views – if only it could be like this every time!   The plateau is about as flat as it could be apart from a slight downward tilt to the east – in weather conditions like those shown in the photos, there is no problem at all finding the way off, but in poor visibility it can (and does) cause problems for some.

Ingleborough summit plateau

The hill has been a major attraction round here for many years, starting as an Iron Age fort over 2000 years ago, and more recently in the Nineteenth Century as a racecourse.  In 1830, someone built a hotel on the top (OK, call that a boozer!) which was wrecked on the day it was opened when the crowd became drunk and unruly!

The summit shelter

The most welcome sight nowadays is the cross-shaped shelter near the surveyors’ trig point – as well as marking the high point, it also gives shelter from the wind which can tear across the summit.   It was a quiet, still day on this trip, but I didn’t linger at the shelter – it was time to head for Horton.

The fork in the path – the ascent path on the left and the descent (less obvious) on the right

If getting off the summit plateau can be difficult in bad ‘vis’, there’s another navigational trap just beyond – the path to Horton forks, with the ascent path from Chapel-le-Dale on the left looking more tempting that the fainter Horton path going to the right.   It’s fair to say that more people get lost on Ingleborough than the other two peaks together, making extra work for the local mountain rescue team (CRO).

On the descent now, looking back at Ingleborough

Once off the summit, I did as I usually do and looked back to where I had just come from.  Actually, it’s good navigational practice to look behind every now and then, in case there’s a need to reverse the route, but in this case it was an opportunity to look back, not only on the route of the day but the weeks that had gone into planning and shaping the guidebook.

Sulber Crossroads with the Pennine Bridleway crossing left to right in the foreground

Less than 2 kms to go and it’s nearly over! Horton in the dip to the right

I passed Sulber Crossroads and was soon overlooking the valley, with Horton just 2 kms away – it was the end of the walking, but I still had a couple of weeks work ahead, editing GPS tracks, sorting photos and finishing some of the other chapters on safety, history, etc.   The guidebook data was soon assembled by the publisher and the book went on sale – in the meantime, the Y3P route was getting a makeover.

 

My, but how things changed ….

Nothing remains static, and the Y3P is no exception.  The planners of the Yorkshire Dales National Park had come to the same conclusion about the bogs of Todber Moss that I had, and decided to re-route the recommended path.   They ended up taking the exact line that I had surveyed for Route 4, and the announcement of this coincided with the guidebook going on sale, and for some time, my guidebook was the only one showing the new ‘approved’ route.    In the meantime, the National Park improved the new path, so that it soon looked quite different ….

The link to avoid Todber Moss – how it looked in 2010 ….

…. and how it looked in 2015 with the new route now ‘official’ (seen at Horton Lane)

The gate at Whitber Hill / Sell Gill Beck seen in 2010 ….

…. and looking back to the same gate in 2017

The gate used on the original end to the ‘Northwest Passage’ link in 2010 ….

…. and looking back to the new, improved version in 2017

In a short time, the new route became a well-established path with improved gates and stiles and a good surface underfoot.    Look at it today, and it looks as though it’s been there for ever.

 

A new hill buddy hits the scene – Border Collie ‘Mist’

By the end of the year (2010), with the guidebook already selling well, I found that I had a new buddy to accompany me on the hills – Border Collie ‘Mist’.    Since then, the number of times I have been in the mountains without her running alongside (or more usually ahead!) can be counted on one hand.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ herding walkers on the Y3P in 2013

Her first time round the Y3P was in 2013 – I had recently joined NEWSAR, my local mountain rescue team in North Wales, and in June 2013, team members acted as safety cover for a sponsored walk round the Y3P.   Since then, ‘Mist’ has repeated the route several times, always looking fresh and ready for more even at the end of the day.

2015 – ‘Mist’ keeping them moving on the first peak, Pen y Ghent

So, for all dog lovers and especially Border Collie fans, here’s a virtual tour of the Y3P route with a helpful Collie to show the way.

The start of the Pen y Ghent section – lots of walkers to herd ….

…. got to keep them moving!

The first rock step on Pen y Ghent South Ridge ….

…. and ‘Mist’ still keeping them moving!

Steep ground on the rock step …

…. but eventually they all get to the summit!

Pen y Ghent behind now ….

…. with the only bit of road walking, heading towards Ribblehead

After a break, everyone is off again to Whernside, rising above the viaduct

Starting to get a bit steeper now ….

…. with ‘Mist’ taking time out hunting voles (she’s never caught one yet!)

Leaving Whernside with one more summit to go – (Ingleborough in the distance)

Final break at Chapel le Dale behind us with the last peak in front

The causeway path over the moor to Humphrey Bottom, with Ingleborough above

‘Mist’ and friends on Ingleborough summit

Herding the final customers on their way

We didn’t do the Y3P this year because of the Covid-19 restrictions, and as she will soon be 13, ‘Mist’ might have done her last Y3P Challenge – she’s still good for a long day in the hills, but the trouble with Border Collies is that (like us) they are often unwilling to admit that time is catching up.    I don’t know whether or not she will be up for the Y3P route next year, but one thing is for sure – in my memories, she will always be with me on the mountains.

Horton village and the finishing post ahead – for most Y3P walkers, the best part of the day

‘Mist’ © Babs Boardwell

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except for the image of ‘Mist’ above © Babs Boardwell

 

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#273 – Diary of a project – The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge guidebook (Part 4)

Heading for Pen y Ghent (JB)

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 In 1845, Sir John Franklin set out with 129 men and two ships to find a sea link between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans.    The fabled ‘Northwest Passage’ had become the Holy Grail of navigators since the 1500’s, but all expeditions had resulted in failure, including Franklin’s – he died in the attempt, as did all his men.   The link was finally made by Roald Amundsen on his 1903-6 expedition.

Pen y Ghent with a snowy cap

When I started working on the Y3P guidebook project in 2009 (see post #270), I had my own personal Northwest Passage problem to sort out.    Much of the route was well established and obvious, and included a crossing of the bogs and mires of Todber Moss, Black Dubh Moss and Red Moss.    I had fallen foul of these bogs on several occasions in the past (and when I  say ‘foul’ that’s exactly what I mean!) so one of the aims for my version of the Y3P was to find an alternative route.

Route 4 – Horton to Ribblehead via Pen y Ghent

Closer view of Route 4 – the old route variation shown in red, current route in blue

The Y3P route from the summit of Pen y Ghent to Ribblehead heads down a broad grassy rake, before setting off across country heading Northwest.   What had become the ‘traditional’ route (shown in red in the map above) took a direct line towards Birkwith, crossing the area of bog on the way.    Hikers tried to avoid the worst of the mire by going round it, resulting in a path about 30 metres wide which eventually became a part of the morass (note the figure in red in the second image below).

Todber Moss and some of the bog – ©Steve Partridge

“The worst of the bog is behind. Now it’s just slimy mud to contend with”. © Bill Boaden

My worst ever crossing had been in the 1980s when I had run the route – I ended up knee-deep in foul mud, and every time I tried to lift out one leg, I got cramp in the other!    The bog hadn’t been too bad when I had last done the Y3P in 2009, a few months before starting the guidebook project – despite that, the wanderings round the wettest bits had added substantially to the length of the trip.    There had to be a better way.

‘The Northwest Passage’, in blue between A and B, is the link for the current route

The unpromising start to the new link, viewed from Point A on the map above

There was a better way, at least there was on the map.    It started with a direct descent on the Pennine Way route, heading for Horton Lane (shown as A on the map above).  From there, the map showed a couple of paths heading over Whitber Hill.   These were not Rights of Way as such, but since the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000, Whitber Hill was on ‘access land’ and could be crossed without committing trespass.    The trouble was, the start to the possible link looked unpromising, to say the least (see photo above).

Chris on 14 December 2009 – the search for the link route

10 December 2009 had been a good day (see post #272) with Route 2 over Whernside completed in good weather.    It seemed that there would be few chances, if any, to get out and find a solution to the ‘Northwest Passage’ problem before the end of the year, but four days later opportunity knocked.    Chris and I took a wander up Horton Lane to Point A on the map above and set out to cross Whitber Hill.

The route wasn’t always straightforward ….

…. and was sometimes downright misleading

The ground was sodden and we were ‘suckered in’ by a fairly new gate next to the stream of Sell Gill Beck – a faint path by the beck took us down to the lower part of the Pennine Way, which was exactly where we wanted to be.    The local farmer obviously had different plans though, as the gate between us and the Pennine Way was chained and locked (it isn’t a Right of Way).    We climbed it to head back to Horton, but we couldn’t have potential guidebook readers having to climb locked gates – the search continued.

Blea Moor railway tunnel – as (not) seen on 30 December (JB)

So, that was that, at least until the New Year.    Well, not quite – On 30 December, John Bamber went on a solo trip to Blea Moor Tunnel (Route 2) hoping to get a photo of a steam train for the book.    After battling for an hour in near blizzard conditions, he arrived at the bridge next to Blea Moor tunnel.   He bent down to get his cameras out of his rucksack and heard the “whoosh” of the train passing below him in the cutting, possibly the first time a train has ever been early in Britain!   In John’s words, “It made no difference because you couldn’t see anything for the horizontal snow”.

 

27 January 2010 – Route 4, The Todber Moss alternative with John

In late January, John and I set out on yet another foray to find an alternative to crossing Todber Moss.    We tried a different way down to Sell Gill Holes, but the route was far from straightforward to follow and had yet another padlocked gate.  Still, that eliminated another dead-end.   A misty day didn’t produce many useful photos, but I spotted a possible link joining the Pennine Way near to Sell Gill Hill, which looked promising for my next attempt.

27 January 2010 – a misty, moisty wander

We had intended to walk a long, linear route from Horton to Ribblehead.   The plan was simple – we met at Ribblehead, left John’s car there, drove together to Horton in my car then started the route to walk back to John’s car.   He would then drive me back to Horton to collect my car – what could possibly go wrong?   Halfway through the walk, John started laughing, before telling me that he had left his car keys in my car!   We trudged back through the mist to Horton.

 

10 February 2010 – Route 4, The Todber Moss alternative, solo

10 February – Route 4. Following a pair of hikers on the Pen y Ghent upper rock band

Approaching the summit shelter in snowy conditions ….

…. and finding it occupied in even snowier conditions

The weather forecast for 10 February suggested that sunny intervals were on the menu – good enough for me, then.   To solve the travel logistics of a long linear walk, I took the train from Shipley (where I was living at the time) to Horton – the plan was to walk Route 4 over Pen y Ghent to Ribblehead, then to take the train back home.    On the ascent of Pen y Ghent, it looked as though most of the winter snow had gone, but the summit shelter told a different tale.

At the bottom of the ‘grassy rake’

At the shelter, I chatted to a couple of hikers I had followed up the rock bands of the South Ridge – after getting their consent for a photo, I carried on down the grassy rake heading down the Pennine Way.  Except, the ‘grassy rake’ was anything but!    The snow had been packed down by the effects of boots and weather and was lethally slippy.    There were no huge drops, but the steep slope below the rake led straight into a collection of boulders.   To make matters worse, I hadn’t brought Ice axe and crampons.

The two hikers teetering on the slope above the rake

A slip would probably have been survivable but ploughing into the boulders below would have hurt – a lot!    40+ years of mountaineering experience without a serious injury, plus a ‘dollop’ of guile and cunning, got me down the rake in one piece, but I was glad to be off it.    Looking back up the hill, I saw that the two hikers I had spoken to at the summit had also recognised the potential danger of the rake, but their solution was to try and pass above the obstacle.    I don’t know how worried they were, but my heart was in my mouth as they teetered across the slope, and I waited below until they reached safe ground.

Passing the gate found on 14 December (see earlier image) with the ground now frozen ….

…. with a look back at a snowy Pen y Ghent

The (unlocked) gate above the Pennine Way at Sell Gill Hill – the key to the new link

With all on solid ground, I headed down the Pennine Way to Horton Lane (Point A) and followed the faint paths over Whitber Hill.   The gate photographed on 14 December was no longer surrounded by water, as the ground was frozen, and at Sell Gill Hill a five-barred gate gave easy access to the nearby Pennine Way coming out of Horton.   Although the ground on this section had the potential to be wet, it was far better than the Todber Moss alternative – the ‘Northwest Passage’ had been found!

A brief clear spell with Whernside in the far distance (15kms walking distance – but not today)

The track-crossing near Birkwith, with the weather closing in again

The bridge at Nether Lodge ….

…. and an abundance of places to head for!

Although feeling quite pleased with the whole thing, I still had to finish off the rest of Route 4.   Sunny intervals had been forecast, which is exactly what I got – however, the weatherman hadn’t mentioned the snow squalls in between the sunny bits, but there was something wild and elemental about the weather that added to the day, and it didn’t seem to take long to reach Nether Lodge.

The long track heading for Ingman Lodge

The impressive Ingman Lodge, otherwise known as Lodge Hall ….

…. followed by a bit of car dodging to Ribblehead

From Nether Lodge, the route to Ribblehead becomes much less interesting, following a vehicle track to Ingman Lodge before joining the B6479 Horton to Ribblehead road – being winter, it was quiet with little traffic, though summer is a different story.    However, there aren’t any viable alternatives for those on the Y3P route, so I pressed on to Ribblehead.

The dark line of Ribblehead railway viaduct with Whernside beyond

Beyond Ribblehead and its railway viaduct, Whernside looms above to remind Y3P hikers that they still have two more peaks to go.   Not for me today, though – I had a train to catch to take me back home to West Yorkshire.   With an hour or so to spare, I did what any sensible person would do – a couple of pints in the Station Inn went down very easily!

For today, the route finishes here

 

To be concluded in the next post.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged (JB) © John Bamber.

Images tagged Steve Partridge and Bill Boaden are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/

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#272 – Diary of a project – The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge guidebook (Part 3)

Ingleborough in the distance, seen from Whernside (JB)

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My first trip out recording the Y3P Challenge walk (see post #271) had been a bit, err …. damp!   Gore-Tex jacket and salopettes were dried within a day but it was a couple of days before I had completely dried out my (supposedly) weatherproof camera.   Still, there was no point in waiting around for a heatwave, so two weeks later I met John Bamber at Ribblehead to have a go at Route 5 – the weather was still a bit ‘iffy’ though!

 

3 December 2009 – Route 5, Whernside (the steep way) with John.

Route 5 – blue route from Ribblehead (anticlockwise). Return route in red, black arrows are Route 2

Weather still a bit ‘iffy’ – the author on the steep east side of Whernside (JB)

 Yep, this was going to be Whernside the steep way!    Route 5 was a more direct version of Route 2, which was completed a week later (see below).    (The fact that the routes were not in numerical order didn’t matter at this point – that would be sorted out later.)    Apart from being a longer trip, Route 5 followed the course of the Whernside section of the Challenge Walk – well, almost.   The ‘official’ route round the Y3P follows the black arrows on the map above, but I had a cunning plan!

John setting out from Ribblehead in ‘less than perfect’ conditions

The route the runners take on the annual Y3P Fell Race takes a direct line up the hillside near Winterscales Farm – it’s short and brutal but much faster if you’re running it.   I reckoned that even at walking pace, the ‘direct’ route could cut about 20 minutes off the time to the summit, and when we returned a week later, I was to be proved right.   John and I might have made an even faster ascent if it hadn’t been for the snow!

The author taking a photo of ….  (JB)

…. John taking a photo

Brew time!  The author ‘chilling out’ at the summit shelter (JB)

Yes, our steep and uncompromising route up the side of the fell had a covering of wet, claggy snow, which didn’t add anything to the concept of a speedy ascent.    We both added extra photos to the growing portfolio of Y3P shots, John with a couple of Canons, me with my Olympus Tough camera, newly dried out from the Ingleborough trip two weeks earlier.    As we finally slithered to the summit, a brew of coffee seemed like a good idea.

Off the hill at last …. (JB)

…. heading for Chapel le Dale …. (JB)

…. where there just happened to be a handy pub! (JB)

Well, it would have been rude not to have called in! (JB)

On the way down, the day began to brighten and it seemed that the early snow conditions wouldn’t last long.   Sure enough, as we headed down to Chapel le Dale, the snow was starting to thaw and as we reached the road it was good to know that another GPS Track Log was in the bag.    That deserved a small celebration, and the Hill Inn was open – well, it would have been rude not to have called in!

Almost back to the car – and the sun came out! (JB)

The route back to the car avoided the road by following the farm lane by Winterscales Beck to Gunnerfleet Farm, a longer walk than following the main road but much quieter with no traffic, an important consideration for hikers following the route in summer.   As if to have a laugh at our expense, the sun came out as we arrived back at Ribblehead.

 

5 December 2009 – Route 1, Pen y Ghent with Chris.

Pen y Ghent – anti-clockwise from Horton in Ribblesdale

Passing the village school on the way out – not a promising start to the day

Two days later I was back in the Yorkshire Dales again, this time with Chris.   Once again the day was dank and dull with no prospects of getting decent photos, so another GPS Track Log would have to do instead.   It was no hardship to do this walk though, as it’s my favourite Yorkshire Dales route.

Rock step on the South Ridge

Chris – not looking impressed

Things ‘faired up’ on the way back

It was cool and misty up to the summit, where things took a sudden change, and we were reminded that Pen y Ghent means “Hill of the Winds”.   The mist disappeared, but the wind was what is known in Yorkshire as “a lazy wind” – it can’t be bothered going round you, so it goes straight through you!   The descent route was icy, required extra care, but on the way down the weather ‘faired up’ a bit, as we say in the North of England.

 

10 December 2009 – Route 2, Whernside with Chris and John

Whernside – anti-clockwise from Ribblehead

What a difference a week makes – the start of the Whernside ‘pretty’ route

On the approach, with a bit of cloud lingering on Whernside (JB)

A week after the first Whernside walk with John, we were back again, and with the full team of Chris, John and me.  This time it was the Whernside ‘pretty’ route, which would be a good introduction to guidebook readers who had never seen the hill before, and a much gentler ascent than the brutal runners route that John and I had followed a week earlier.

A bit of stream hopping (JB)

Waterfall in Force Gill …. (JB)

  • …. and the man with the beard in action

  • The last pull up to the summit ridge …. (JB)

…. which by now was in the mist (JB)

At last we had a sunny day with blue skies, so decent photographs were a possibility.   Sure enough, the lower part of the walk was in the sun, with John clicking away like a man possessed, but as we reached the summit ridge, we were in the mist again.   No point in summit photos then!

The author and Chris, nearly at the top …. (JB)

…. then it’s time to head back down (JB)

Looking down to Ribblehead and the railway viaduct (JB)

Back in the valley ….

…. with journey’s end ahead (JB)

We reached the top and carried on down the other side, following part of the route that John and I had taken a week earlier.    The day was drawing on, so the shorter route back to Ribblehead by the old bridleway was the best option.   As we arrived back at the start point, the light was starting to go, but the day had been the best so far.

Catching the last of the light …. (JB)

…. as the sun went down (JB)

That was four of the six routes completed, three within the space of a week.  The main challenge remaining was finding a solution to Route 4 that avoided the bogs of Todber Moss, but with Christmas fast approaching it looked as though that wouldn’t happen until the New Year.

 

To be continued.

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

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#271 – Diary of a project (Part 2) – The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge guidebook

Winter over Ingleborough

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There’s a saying in the military, known as the 7 P’s – “Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I soon realised that if I was going to write a guidebook for the Y3P (see post #270) I needed a plan before I even took a step on the ground.

The author taking some of the first steps on the Y3P project (JB)

Inspiration struck – I would write three simple circular routes (Routes 1, 2 & 3) up each of the Three Peaks for visitors who had never been there before. These would be followed by another three routes (Routes 4, 5 & 6). These would be linear routes, again covering the Big Three, but this time concentrating on covering the actual Challenge route on each mountain. The idea was to give Challenge walkers a good recce of the route on the ground with the opportunity for a bit of fitness training thrown in. The final route (Route 7) would be the full Challenge route itself.

Routes 1,2 & 3

Routes 4,5 & 6

The final Challenge route (Route 5 changed to include the longer option by Little Dale)

Some of my best days in the hills and mountains have been solo days, where there’s no one to please but yourself! By 2009 I had two years experience of writing walking routes and I knew that a bit of help would come in useful, so I recruited a couple of extras. My usual walking companion is my missus Chris, and she had patiently waited on literally hundreds of occasions whilst I took photographs of route waymarks and dictated walk directions into a pocket voice recorder – the Y3P was to be a doddle for her!

“That’s another fine mess he’s got me into” – a soggy looking Chris in the Lake District

‘The Man with the Beard’ – John Bamber and lots of cameras on the South Ridge of Pen y Ghent

John Bamber, on the other hand, is as daft as me, perhaps more so. I met John in my late teens, and our first project together was canoeing from the Isle of Man to Blackpool, a distance of about 100kms (60 miles) in a straight line. After looking at tide tables, we realised the crossing would be anything but a straight line, and we covered a good bit of the Irish Sea in the 24hrs it took to make the crossing. We subsequently shared the experience of sailing a 27-foot open boat around Morecambe Bay and the Irish Sea, and both started potholing at around the same time.

Blackpool 1971 after canoeing from the I.o.M – The author (silly hat + hair!), JB (no beard, far right)

When I gave up the underground to concentrate on the mountains, John carried on caving. He’s since discovered the joys of high places, and is now an experienced alpine mountaineer, as well as having substantial experience of working in the Arctic. More importantly for the Y3P project, he is a better photographer than I am – he also has lots of cameras!

John Bamber (left) and the author with Border Collie ‘Mist’ – Glyder Fach, Snowdonia, April 2013 (JB)

There is another regular character who has appeared in almost all my blogs over the years, but who wasn’t involved in the Y3P project, and that’s Border Collie ‘Mist’. It’s hard now to imagine setting out on a hill trip without her, but in Autumn 2009 she hadn’t appeared on the scene and it would be over another year before she became my regular hill buddy.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ on a later trip up Pen y Ghent, February 2011 (JB)

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was going to take four months to log the various route variations on GPS and to gather the photographs. GPS logging was no problem, but it perhaps wasn’t such an inspired decision to start in November on a project requiring a large number of photos – having said that, the Yorkshire Dales can be dank and miserable in High Summer and glorious in Winter. So, ‘travelling hopefully’ I started on 18th November 2009 with the first route.

18 November 2009 – Route 3, Ingleborough, solo.

Route 3, starting at the flag and travelling anti-clockwise

That’s where I’m heading – Ingleborough and Great Douk

I picked Route 3 as a good start point, as it didn’t really matter which order I did the routes in. I had previously covered the route for WalkingWorld a couple of years earlier, but with a different start point and going the other way round. This time I was starting from near the Hill Inn at Chapel le Dale, and following the Y3P route up to the summit – then, instead of following the Y3P route to Horton, I headed to Park Fell and followed the low path back to the cave at Great Douk, before returning to the start point.

The start to route 3 – how it looks in good weather ….

…. but good weather wasn’t on the menu ….

…. and even the locals were looking a bit damp

It turned out to be a foul day, with rain and strong winds, but at least it gave me a chance to test some Gore-Tex salopettes that hadn’t been used much.

What the higher part of the route looks like on a dry day ….

…. but pretty wet when I recorded it – note the stream flowing down the hillside in the centre!

The same stream at the top of the main ascent ….

…. often just a trickle in summer

One of the objectives of the day had been to pick up some decent photos of the route, but it wasn’t to be – streams that were normally just a trickle were now raging torrents, and the extensive views on the almost flat summit plateau were non-existent.

The summit in good weather ….

…. but not so good on this trip

Heading back by Simon Fell

I had started fairly late, which guaranteed a finish in the dark, but I like night walking and it was enjoyable in a soggy sort of way. As I reached Great Douk cave I was surprised to see approaching lights, which turned out to be two hikers who were doing the Challenge route. Unfortunately for them, Great Douk Cave isn’t on the Challenge route, but I broke the news as gently as I could. I had about 10 minutes walking to reach my car, they had about 3½ hours and a crossing of Ingleborough ahead of them.

Getting near to Great Douk, and it’s getting dark ….

…. before the night finally arrives

Final score at the end of the day was Gore-Tex salopettes – 2, rain – nil, but as a photographic trip it had been a washout. Still, at least I had the track logged on GPS and there was always the chance that the next outing would be better. Some chance of that, as December rapidly approached!

Early evening on Ingleborough in more pleasant weather conditions

To be continued.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged (JB) © John Bamber and (LS) © Les Staves

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#270 – Diary of a project (Part 1) – The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge guidebook

Approaching Pen y Ghent from Brackenbottom near Horton

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Back in 2009, I was looking for a new project.  A couple of years earlier I had started writing hiking routes for WalkingWorld and had a great time doing it.  In fact, it soon became obvious that there some plum routes that hadn’t been covered, including Sharp Edge on Blencathra, the North Ridge of Tryfan, the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete on Ben Nevis – I had a busy time writing up some of the best mountain walks in the UK for the best UK route provider.    There was plenty to go at then!

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route in the Yorkshire Dales

Despite the fun trips for WalkingWorld, I fancied something more involved, something like a guidebook in fact.   I put out feelers to a couple of publishers and received a reply from Discovery Walking Guides – they had already published a guide to the National Three Peaks Challenge (Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in 24 hours) but didn’t have the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Y3P) Challenge walk in their titles.   Would I like to submit a proposal?   Would I?   I should say so!

The Three Peaks and the Challenge route

The Y3P is about 24 miles in length, with a total height gain of about 1585 metres.    Most walkers start at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and go anti-clockwise, taking in Pen y Ghent followed by Whernside then Ingleborough before returning to Horton – in other words, the equivalent of a good mountain day in the Scottish Highlands.   The ‘Challenge’ is to complete the walk in under 12 hours, which is hard enough to be challenging but easy enough to be possible.

Early morning mist on Pen y Ghent

Afternoon sun on Whernside (JB)

Ingleborough evening (LS)

A dusting of snow on Pen y Ghent

It is believed that the origins of the Challenge go back to 1887 when two teachers from Giggleswick School went for a walk over Ingleborough.   They were having such a good time that they carried on over Whernside and Pen y Ghent.   Ten years later, four members of the Yorkshire Ramblers set a record of 10½ hours to complete the Three Peaks.  The present record for fell-runners is an incredible 2¾ hours!

10

Winter sunset over Pen y Ghent

View from Whernside towards Ribblehead railway viaduct (left) and Pen y Ghent (right skyline) (JB)

Ingleborough from Simon Fell

Just a few weeks before Discovery Walking Guides expressed their interest in the Y3P as a title, I had completed a round of the route with an old friend from my time in the Royal Marines.    I hadn’t seen Kim since we finished training in 1975 – I had left the Corps five years later in 1980 as a lowly lieutenant, but he had completed a full career engagement, retiring as a major.

2009 – Early morning start at Ribblehead ….

…. and early morning mist on Ingleborough

Kim on the summit of Whernside

The author and Kim on Ingleborough

The last one! Pen y Ghent

The author (experimenting with a ‘mean & moody’ look) and Kim on Pen Y Ghent

We did the 23-mile walk without any prior preparation other than caching some water at the road crossing points.    With a combined age of 110, a finishing time of just under 9 hours was a fairly good result.  I had suggested the unconventional start point of Ribblehead, taking Whernside first then Ingleborough followed by Pen y Ghent.    The only low point of the day was following the original route over Todber Moss and Red Moss – in Yorkshire, ‘Moss’ usually translates as bog!   I decided at that point not to repeat that bit of the Y3P experience ever again.

Ingleborough – Spring 1969

My first ever trip up one of the Peaks had been much earlier in Spring 1969, when a bunch of us from the Air cadets went up Ingleborough.   The photo on the summit (see above) shows some gnarly looking clouds in the background – about twenty minutes later we were wrapped up in a maelstrom of snow and wind, and after walking around the plateau to find the way off, we realised that we were back at our start point.   Fortunately, it stopped snowing and blowing after half-hour and we escaped, passing hikers in t-shirts and shorts on the way down, on what turned into a warm sunny day.

Stormy weather over Ingleborough (JB)

Soon after that, I completed the full Challenge route for the first time, with some mates doing their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition.    We took three days, with rucksacks weighing about 15 kgs (over 30 lbs) – tents and stoves were a bit heavier back then!   Then, in the 1980’s I ran the Challenge route with my dog in under six hours – I was caught by the bogs of Todber Moss on that trip as well!

2009 – Pen y Ghent – on skis!

As well as previously completing the challenge route more than once, I had also walked each of the three peaks individually several times, and on one occasion I had even skied most of the way up Pen y Ghent before ‘bailing out’ due to avalanche conditions, so you could say I knew the ground fairly well – what I didn’t know was how to go about writing a guidebook….

2009 – The author on the Whernside ridge, looking towards Ingleborough (JB)

 

What I needed was a plan.   (To be continued)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged (JB) © John Bamber and (LS) © Les Staves

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#269 – Y Gamallt and the Migneint

The Llynnau Gamallt (Gamallt Lakes) seen from Y Gamallt

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In my last blog post (see post #268) I made the comment that “You’re never far from a mountain in Wales”.    It also has to be said that you’re also never far from a bog!  Regular hikers in the Peak District and Pennines can rightly lay claim on the blackest, foulest bogs in the UK, but Wales is up there in the ‘Bog Top 10’.   Mind you, some bogs are not what they seem to be.

The moorland of the Migneint with Arenig Fach (l) and Arenig Fawr (r) beyond – © Nigel Brown

The Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt Special Area of Conservation is thought to be the biggest area of blanket bog in Wales – it’s also an eco-system which can store more greenhouse gasses than the Amazon rainforest.    Recent work there has restored the bog to its original state by filling in centuries-old drainage ditches, which is helping to prevent floods in lower areas as well as capturing greenhouse gasses.    Thankfully, our planned walk back in February 2019 avoided the wettest area.

The moors of the Migneint in Snowdonia (centre)

The route

The area including Blaenau Ffestiniog

Closer view of the route

At this point, many readers will be thinking ‘where the hell is this?’    Snowdonia is better known for its soaring peaks and rocky crests or big mountain ranges such as the Carneddau, but where do you find the Welsh equivalent of the Amazon rainforest?   And why would anyone want to hike through a soggy blanket bog?   The lonely outpost of Y Gamallt gave us the best of both worlds, a glimpse into the Migneint without getting our boots too wet.

The Ffynnon Eidda well on the Gwynedd-Clwyd border – © David Medcalf

Ffynnon Eidda – ©Jeremy Bolwell

The interest began even before we arrived at the start point.   High on the B4407 road between Pentrefoelas and Ffestiniog lies the ancient Ffynnon Eidda (Eidda’s Well).   Eidda is believed to be a 6th Century Welsh saint, but the site was probably a holy place before Christian times.   The well is now surrounded by a low stone enclosure with the inscription ‘Ffynnon Eidda – Yf a bu ddiolchgar’ (‘Drink and be thankful’) and in the 18th and 19th centuries it was a stopping place for cattle drovers herding their animals towards Pentrefoelas, then on into England.

The view from Y Gamallt, overlooking the Llynnau Gamallt (Gamallt Lakes)

The cliffs of Craig Goch, Y Gamallt

The shooting hut by the lakes

We weren’t tempted to test the possible healing effects of the spring water and carried on to the parking place for our walk at Llyn Dubach (Small Black Lake).   We then had a short (1 km) walk back up the road before heading across country towards Y Gamallt and the soaring cliffs of Craig Goch (Red Crag).   The views were superb and constantly changing, but the cliff-top walk didn’t last long before we were heading down to the twin lakes of Llynnau Gamallt and an old shooting hut, now used by fishermen.

Fast-moving Border Collie in search of crumbs!

Weird or what – picture of David Bowie plus …… a dodgy looking axe!

Leaving the shooting hut

Being a bit of a fan of bothies, shooting huts and the like, I decided to get some pics of the interior – a bit shabby by standards, but this didn’t phase Border Collie ‘Mist’, whose search for possible crumbs left by the fishermen was so rapid that the photo came out blurred!   Even more odd was the photo of David Bowie next to the window…..next to a dodgy looking axe!    What that was all about, I have no idea!

Heading back, with the Craig Goch cliffs beyond

Last view of  the Lakes

Then it was time to head back.   It had been a short outing on a short February day, but worth the effort if only to walk through an area that doesn’t get much attention from hikers.   We probably spent as long travelling to and from the area as we did walking, but the best time was to come, at least for the Collie – by the time we arrived home it was dinner time.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except Images tagged Nigel Brown, David Medcalf and Jeremy Bolwell, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

Posted in 5. North Wales, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#268 – Conwy Mountain and beyond

Conwy Mountain ….

…. otherwise known as Mynydd y Dref (‘The Town Mountain’)

(Left click images to zoom in, use browser return arrow to go back)

You’re never far from a mountain in Wales.   The main interest is in the old favourites such as the Snowdon group, the Glyderau, the Carneddau and others, but any reasonably large lump of ground is likely to be called ‘Mountain’ by the locals.   So, near where I live, we have Graig Fawr at a magnificent 153 metres altitude, but it’s known to the locals as ‘Meliden Mountain’ – and why not!

The route

Half an hour away, down the A55, sits the attractive walled town of Conwy, with its magnificent 730-year-old medieval castle.    Above the town sits ‘Conwy Mountain’ at 244 metres height.   The Welsh name for the hill is Mynydd y Dref which means ‘The Town Mountain’ and the summit is topped by the remains of a much older fortification, about 2500 years old.    It’s also a great dog walk!

Setting out

Gaining some height

The view back to Conwy ….

…. and the view towards the summit

Small climbing crag – for small climbers?

You won’t find solitude here, because the ‘mountain’ is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders as well as us dog walkers – there’s even a small crag where you often see youth and school groups doing some easy rock climbing, as we did on our visit.  For Border Collie ‘Mist,’ it must be heaven with new, unfamiliar ‘doggie’ smells all over the place.

The summit in the distance ….

…. with views out to Conwy Bay and Great Orme (centre)

Looking down to the A55 Expressway

The approach to Castell Caer Seion

The remains of the ramparts on the south side of the hillfort

As height is gained (bearing in mind there isn’t a lot of height!) the summit comes into view with the remains of the 2500 years old Iron Age fort of Castell Caer Seion – the name should correctly be Caer Seion which translates as ‘Fort Zion’, but a mistranslation into English around the end of the 17th Century added the Castell bit.   There’s not a huge amount to see, which is hardly surprising after 2500 years, but the line of the ramparts can be traced quite easily.

Heading on towards Sychnant

Bwlch Sychnant (Sychnant Pass)

The view down the pass towards the village of Capelulo

On the other side of the pass, with Conwy mountain behind on the right

The hill path above Capelulo ….

…. a bit narrow in places

The multitude of paths over the mountain converge at Bwlch Sychnant (‘Dry Stream Pass’).    Most dog walkers stop here and go back to Conwy, but we usually carry along the hillside path above the village of Capelulo (‘Ulo’s Chapel’).    There’s a lovely section where the path clings on to the hillside, though I wouldn’t say that Chris was all that keen on it!

Off the narrow bit at last ….

…. crossing the open moor of Waen Gyrach

Wild Carneddau mountain ponies

Ancient stone circle at Cefn Llechen

The narrow hill path soon arrives on open moorland at Waen Gyrach which is on the very edge of the Carneddau and was on the home stretch of my Carneddau traverse in 2014 (see post #160).   It’s quite common to see the local wild mountain ponies down at this level, and there are also frequent reminders of ancient human habitation and remains, one of the most notable being an ancient stone circle at Cefn Llechen (‘Slate Back’), probably 4000-5000 years old.

Passing Llyn y Wrach ….

…. which looks like a good place for a paddle!

Heading back towards Conwy Mountain

On the return, we passed the charming small lake of Llyn y Wrach, which translates as ‘The Witch Lake’.   The likelihood of witches in the neighbourhood didn’t seem to put ‘Mist’ off a paddle, but it was now time to cross back over Sychnant to head back to Conwy.   Perhaps not the greatest trek in North Wales, but did I mention? – It does make a great dog walk!

On the old bridleway

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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