#323 – Arisaig and Carlotta’s Eyrie (AKA Carlotta’s Bothy or The Clifftop Bothy)

Looking down to Camas Ghaoideil, the bothy roof just visible (see next photo)
Same view with the bothy circled

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The North West Highlands of Scotland, Arisaig in the centre

If you wait for good weather in the Scottish Highlands, you can spend a lot of time doing just that – waiting!  Some of our best fine-weather experiences in the Highlands have been in May, but the 2022 version of May wasn’t playing the game, and ambitious hiking plans were postponed for better days.   It wasn’t just the weather that dictated the trips out though – we also had to find routes that were not too taxing for Border Collie ‘Mist’, now over 14 years old.

Closer view, showing the Arisaig area

Despite her age, the old dog still became excited when the walking boots came out, and we made sure we got out every day, whatever the weather.  On the occasions when better weather came along, we looked for outings suitable for ‘Mist’ but also interesting for the humans, and we always managed to find something.  The ‘something’ in this trip was a little known bothy known as Carlotta’s Eyrie, near Arisaig.

The Route out to Carlotta’s Bothy

You can find the answer to many things by using Google, but don’t bother trying to find out more about Carlotta’s bothy, because there’s little info out there.  During the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive used this part of the Highlands to train agents, who were then infiltrated into occupied Europe, and ‘Carlotta’ is thought to have been a trainee saboteur.  Other than that, nothing is known about the mysterious bothy constructor.

Looking out to Loch nan Caell after setting out from Arisaig
A walk through the trees near to the start, with ‘The Canal’ next to us
Further on, by Loch Dubh, with the track starting to deteriorate ….
…. until it finally vanished in the mud (Border Collie ‘Mist’ not much impressed)

Our route for the day wasn’t in any way mysterious as we set out from Arisaig village by the sea loch, Loch nan Caell.  On this occasion, Google did tell us why the stream running alongside our route was called ‘The Canal’ – it had been widened to float timber from a steam-driven sawmill to the sea.  That must have been some time ago as the stream is now slowly reverting to being just a stream.  Beyond there, the track steadily deteriorated, eventually becoming a muddy path that even ‘Mist’ tried to avoid.

The tumbledown tree
Another view of the tree, but no ‘cup and ring stone!
The stone, with its cup carvings © Luke Oldale

As we gained height, we left the worst of the mud behind.  We were looking out for a ‘cup and ring’ stone dating to the Neolithic to Late Bronze Age (4000-500 BC) but failed in our task – we did, however, find an amazing tumbledown tree which had been blown over but was still growing vertically from the horizontal trunk.  Local legends about the stone say that an apprentice blacksmith could gain additional skill and strength by washing his hand in the largest cup mark on the stone – I hope they had more luck in finding it than we did.

Looking down to the bay of Camus Ghaoideil, with the bothy roof peeping out
The bothy indicated by the circle
The bothy, seen from the stony beach
A closer view of the bothy

Beyond the tree, the ground dried out a bit, and a gradual slope took us down to the stony beach at the bay of Camus Ghaoideil.  The bothy is on a rocky outcrop above the beach, which became more obvious as we approached, but I ended up on a false start, looking down to the short climb onto the outcrop.  It is said that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted – the outcome of this recce was that Chris and ‘Mist’ would not be visiting Carlotta’s little hideaway.

First view of the scramble up to the bothy, looking down from the false start!
Second try – approaching from below
Over the scramble, and the bothy comes into view

Chris isn’t much into climbing things that you might fall off, and ‘Mist’ was too old to be mucking about on steep rock, so I left the two of them on a grassy bank, while I skirted round the outcrop to the start point of a scrappy little scramble up a shallow groove – good holds were provided by the tree roots and cracks in the rock, but a handy-looking rope dangling down the groove was also put to good use. Once up, a scrabble about over a rock slab led to the door of the bothy.

Inside now, the entrance behind and window on the right
The sleeping platform – room for two or three
The stove (at bottom right)
The view from the window

This isn’t one of those bothies big enough for a happy bunch of hikers to hold an impromptu ceilidh, but it’s cosy enough for 2-3 if they are good friends, more if the floor was used for sleeping.  I didn’t stay too long as Chris and ‘Mist’ were still on their grassy bank, so after grabbing a few photos, I reversed the Indian rope trick to descend the groove.  After a coffee and a sandwich, we set off to return by the way we had come – it was time to head for home.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except the image tagged as © Luke Oldale, which is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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#322 – An Old Man and a Big Hill for the Fairies (The Old Man of Stoer and Sithean Mor)

The Old Man of Stoer, all 60 metres (197 ft) of it ….
….and the small, flat summit of Sithean Mor, all 161 metres (528 ft) of it!

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work

The North West Highlands of Scotland (Stoer at the red flag just above centre)

May 2022 was our second visit to Stoer in Assynt, featuring the famous sea stack known as the ‘Old Man of Stoer’.  The first visit had been in September 2020, after the first Covid-19 lockdown had been lifted.   Very soon afterwards, a new lockdown was introduced back home in North Wales, with movement being confined to the county of residence.  In Scotland, however, there were no restrictions, so we stayed up there for over five weeks before worsening October weather finally drove us back south.

North Assynt, with the route on the far left (red flag)

The weather at Stoer on the couple of days of our first visit in 2020 had been a bit ‘gnarly’ – the photo of the Old Man of Stoer at the top of this post gives an idea of the conditions, and it was one of our few bad weather days on the trip – the location where that photo was taken was as far as we got before baling out and giving it up as a bad job.

Closer view of the route

A return visit had always been on the cards, and May 2022 saw us back at the car park for the Stoer Head lighthouse, which was also the start point for the walk.  The route was modest enough at 6.4 kms (4 miles) with no lofty heights to climb, so it would also be easy on Border Collie ‘Mist’ who was still enjoying her walks at the grand old age of 14.  The problem was, somebody had turned the wind machine on full!

Starting out from Stoer Head lighthouse
Looking back to the lighthouse
Looking north along the coast

It had been lashing down with rain all night, and it was still blowing a hoolie the next morning.  In fact, it was so windy that I nearly wimped out, but my missus wanted to stretch her legs, as did ‘Mist’, so I was out-voted.   Sure enough, the rain had already ceased and the wind was starting to drop, so I couldn’t really justify my lack of enthusiasm.

The crossing of the steep little gully © W Robison
The Old Man comes into view, seen from the path above the cliffs
The Old Man, as seen two years earlier in grimmer weather

The walk along the cliff top towards Stoer Point and the Old Man is interesting enough, especially if you like sea views – there’s lots of sea hereabouts! The main feature of note on the landward side was a steep little gully that lay directly across our path, diverting us inland for a short distance to a set of steps. Once beyond the gully it wasn’t long before the Old Man came into view – this time the weather was encouraging enough to continue towards the sea stack.

Looking down to the Old man ….
…. and an even closer view
Rock climbers on the summit of the Old Man © Julien Paren

Sea stacks are formed by erosion, when a cliff forms a rock natural arch which eventually collapses, leaving a column of rock.  The Old Man is made of Torridon Sandstone and has been eroded by weather over a long period of time.  It may be that one day it will collapse into the sea, but in the meantime, it makes a good focal point for hikers to visit, together with six rock climbs (ranging from VS 5a to E4 6a for those who like to know these things).  Getting on and off the climbs is far from simple, and involves either a swim or a rope manoeuvre known as a Tyrolean Traverse.

Having finished with the Old Man. It’s on to Sithean Mor (the Big Fairy Hill)
Approaching the summit
At last – the top!
The mountains of Assynt lurking under the clouds
The Assynt mountains seen on a better day © Lise Jarvis

Neither dog nor humans showed any inclination to climb to the top of the stack, so we turned inland for the highest bit of ground for miles – Sithean Mor (pronounced ‘sheen more’) which tops out at 161 metres (528 ft).  Sithean Mor translates as ‘The Big Fairy Hill’ but there were no fairies in evidence on this trip – perhaps fairies don’t like bad weather either.  In the distance, we could see the mountains of Assynt under cloud cover, but we had a few miles to travel that day so we made our soggy way back to the van – it was time to head for home.

It’s time to make our soggy way home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except the images where indicated otherwise, which are taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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#321 – Return to Coire Lagan in the Black Cuillins of Skye

Coire Lagan in the Black Cuillins of Skye

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

First things first, apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks – a long trip to Scotland gave me loads of new ideas for blog posts, but those photos ain’t going to sort and edit themselves!

The last post I published (see post #320) was a goodbye to my long-time mountain buddy, Border Collie ‘Mist’, but as well as still being with me in spirit on my mountain trips, she’s also still there in cyberspace – I have a couple of posts in the pipeline featuring ‘Mist’, so be prepared to bump into her a few more times.

The Black Cuillins of Skye (in he centre of the map)

We often manage a couple of campervan trips to Scotland in a year, and 2022 was one of those years.  We were up on Skye by late April, with the weather OK and no midges (they were not due to appear for another six weeks or so).  The new van had been out on a few ‘shake down’ trips during March and early April, but if the van was new, ‘Mist’ was starting to show her age (14).

The Cuillins showing the route and Glenbrittle campsite

Closer view of the 2022 route shown in blue, with the 2017 variation in red
Coire Lagan in 2017, on a much finer day
Looking across to the massive, complex cliffs of Sron na Ciche (2017)
‘Mist’ on the path to Upper Coire Lagan (2017)
‘Mist’ and the author in Upper Coire Lagan (2017)

In May 2017 we had hiked up into Upper Coire Lagan on a fine and sunny day (see post #225).  The upper corrie gives a taste of the grandeur of the Cuillin Ridge without having to risk serious injury or worse, so it suited me missus just fine – the photos above give an indication of just how magnificent the mountain scenery is.

2022 – at Glenbrittle with new van ….
…. but an older dog (still out in front though!)
Looking back towards the campsite on the way up to Coire Lagan
A different destination to our 2017 trip this time ….
…. towards the big crags of Sron na Ciche

The new campervan made a comfortable base for the trip, and the old dog was up for a mountain day, despite her age and a touch of rheumatism.  The problem with Border Collies is that they will try to do whatever you ask of them, and I wasn’t about to ask ‘Mist’ to do a return trip to the high corrie.  Instead, we headed out towards the massive, complex cliffs of Sron na Ciche, to a place I knew from my early climbing and mountaineering days.

1972 – climbing group having a break at our 2022 picnic spot (the author second from the left – with hair!)
The lower part of the ‘Cioch Direct’ route
Cioch Direct – the author in the lead on this pitch
Further up the climb
The Cioch Slab
The Cioch – © John Wray

Back in the 1970’s, I climbed there several times with a bunch of mates, one of the best outings being ‘Cioch Direct’ followed by one of the routes up the Cioch Slab to the impressive rock feature of the Cioch itself.  Our ambitions on today’s trip were much more modest – there is a stream crossing below the cliff that would make a great spot for a picnic, where I could view the climbs, and ‘Mist’ and me missus could have a nice, undemanding day out in the mountains.

April 2022 – heading back, we decided to go round Loch an Fhir-bhallaich for a change of scene
Heading along by the loch towards Coire na Banachdich
Looking up towards Coire na Banachdich ….
…. but we’re heading the other way, down to the valley.

I sometimes take the picnic bit seriously, and on this occasion carried stove and brew kit.  Lunch being over, ‘Mist’ was still looking good, so rather than return by the outward route, we cut across around the small lake of Loch an Fhir-bhallaich for a change of scene.  I had never been that way before, nor had I ventured up into Coire na Banachdich, the corrie to the north of Coire Lagan.  We decided that Banachdich would have to wait for another time, as I didn’t want to give  ‘Mist’ too strenuous a day, so we continued heading down, with the impressive waterfall of Eas Mor (the ‘Big Waterfall’) as a backdrop.  It was time to head for home.

The waterfall of Eas Mor (Translates as ‘Big Waterfall, which it is!)

Eas Mor from a different angle
Then it’s time to head for home.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, with the exception of the image of the Cioch © John Wray, which is taken from the Geograph Project and is reproduced under a creative Commons Licence.

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#320 – ‘Mist’ – a dog in a million!

December 2017 – My favourite portrait of Mist © Babs Boardwell

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

In West Yorkshire, January 2011

After the previous blog post was published (see post #319), I received a comment from an old friend asking after our Border Collie, ‘Mist’.  I had to give him the sad news that Mist had died a month earlier on 22 June 2022.  It wasn’t something that Chris and I had been keeping quiet about, we just didn’t want to make a song and dance about it.  Mist was 14+ when she died, a good age for many dog breeds, though fairly average for a Border Collie.

March 2011 © John Bamber

If you have been following recent blog posts, you will have picked up that Mist was becoming an old dog.  She was still getting out in the hills and mountains, but we were making the trips shorter and without too much height gain.  Just ten months earlier she had made the arduous ascent of Coire Raibeirt from Loch A’an to the cairngorm plateau (see post #308) with no more assistance than a push up the bum on the bigger rock steps, but once past the obstacles, she was away to her usual position in front.

Airborne! – March 2013 © John Bamber

On our May 2022 trip to Scotland, the dog walks had become much less energetic, though there was always a big show of excitement when the walking boots appeared.  Then in June, Mist went to the vet for a routine check.  Two internal tumours were detected, and I didn’t bother asking the vet if she could operate, due to Mist’s age, though I doubt if the vet would have agreed anyway.  We decided to let her go peacefully (the vet had advised “Better a week early than a week too late”).  So, two days later, Mist slipped away peacefully in a sunny garden at the vet’s surgery.

Pen y Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales, February 2011 © John Bamber

Now, this blog is about mountains (and hillocks) not dogs, and there may be some readers who don’t much care for dogs, which is fine – not all humans enjoy canine company.  So, the remainder of this post is going to be a collection of photos of British hills and mountains – it just so happens that there is an image of a black and white Border Collie in each frame.

Cautley Spout waterfall in the Howgill Fells, March 2011 © John Bamber
End of a Howgill day, March 2011 © John Bamber
Moelwyn Mawr in North Wales, August 2012
Rhinog Fach in North Wales, September 2012
Cwm Lloer below Pen yr Ole Wen in the Ogwen Valley, December 2012
Pen yr Ole Wen at Ogwen, North Wales, December 2012 © John Bamber
Pen yr Ole Wen, December 2012 © John Bamber
Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), February 2013
Moel Eilio near yr Wyddfa, March 2013
Tryfan in the mountains of the Glyderau, April 2013 © John Bamber
The Glyderau, April 2013 © Tom Strawn
The Glyderau, April 2013 © John Bamber
Near Glyder Fawr in the Glyderau, April 2013 © John Bamber
Big day out in the mountains of the Carneddau, July 2014
Yr Elen in the Carneddau, September 2014
Yr Elen again, a year later, October 2015
Yr Wyddfa, February 2016
Quinag in Assynt, North West Scotland, May 2016
Descending to Llyn Anafon in the Carneddau, March 2017
Ysgyfarnogod in the Rhinogydd (the Rhinogs), April 2017
Bruach na Frithe on the Black Cuillin Ridge, Skye, May 2017
Ben Eighe in Assynt, May 2017
The Glyderau with a view towards Tryfan, March 2018
The Daear Ddu Ridge, Moel Siabod in North Wales, April 2018
Near Levers Water, Coniston, in the Lake District, April 2018
On the way to Sgurr na Stri on Skye, with the Cuillin Ridge behind, May 2018
Glen Sligachan, Skye, May 2018
The Northern Corries of the Cairngorms, May 2019
Cwm Glas near yr Wyddfa, July 2019
In the Glyderau looking towards Ogwen, August 2019
Near Suilven in Assynt, September 2019
A wintery day above Cwm Eigiau in the Carneddau, December 2020
Foel Grach in the Carneddau, April 2021
Cadair Idris June 2021
Yr Elen in the Carneddau, July 2021
Yr Elen, July 2021
Elidir Fawr in the Glyderau, August 2021
Glyderau day, August 2019
Glyderau sloppy kiss! August 2019

It’s sad to lose any true companion, be that a human, dog or cat, but it’s all part of nature and time rolls on.  Things I will miss with Mist’s passing include the grace and beauty of a black and white collie moving effortlessly up a steep mountainside, those big brown eyes staring at me when the lunch pack came out of the rucksack and even the big sloppy kiss she would give (even though I could guess where that tongue might have been minutes earlier!).  Truly a dog in a million (well for me anyway).  Goodbye Mist, gone but not forgotten.

April 2013 © John Bamber

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with additional images from Babs Boardwell (Babs Boardwell Photography), John Bamber and Tom Strawn.

Posted in 1. Scotland, 2. Lake District, 3. Yorkshire Dales, 4. Northern England, 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

#319 – The Eildon Hills in the Scottish Borders

Eildon Mid Hill (left) and Eildon Hill North, seen from Eildon Wester Hill

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Selkirk and Melrose in the Scottish Borders (Eildon Hills in the centre)
Melrose and the Eildon Hills

It’s rare that we visit the Scottish Borders area, other than driving through on the way to the Highlands and real mountains, though occasionally we take a diversion as we did to the Grey Mare’s Tail in April 2021 (see blog post #304).  We weren’t going as far as the Highlands on this trip though, as it was just a continuation of the short shake-down cruise for the new campervan.  I’d previously read about the Eildon Hills but never been there – time for a visit then.

The Eildon Hills looking northwest from the A68

One of the best views of the Eildons is heading north on the A68, where three shapely hills come into view.  The scientists will explain that the three hills are the eroded and weathered remains of volcanic lava flows, but there is another explanation – it is said in legend that Michael Scot, a local 13th Century ‘wizard’, split one existing Eildon hill into the three hills you see today.  Scot was big on civil engineering projects, as he also altered the course of the River Tweed.  Or so it is said.

The route – Eildon Hill North (1), Eildon Wester Hill (2) and Eildon Mid Hill (3)
Heading up from Melrose with Eildon North Hill rising above ….
…. and looking across to Eildon Mid Hill
Approaching the col, the hub of the routes on Eildon

Our plan was much less ambitious and didn’t involve any hill splitting, river diversions or other wizardry.  We set off from the old Borders town of Melrose by a steadily rising path that leads to a col at an altitude of about 320 metres, and which forms a natural hub for the routes up to the three Eildon summits.   From there we followed the paths to the summits in turn, returning to the col each time.

Our first ‘Eildon’ – Eildon Hill North (shown as 1 on the map)
The path up number 1, Eildon Hill North ….
…. with ‘Mist’ at the summit

Eildon #1 was Eildon Hill North, standing tall(ish) at an altitude of 404 metres (1325 ft). In many ways it is the most interesting of the three – it was occupied as a hill fort in the late Bronze Age (about 1000 BC) by the Segovia tribe, who ruled and lived in upper Tweeddale until the arrival of the Romans. By 100 AD the Romans had started doing what the Romans did best, building stuff (see post #318), and a signal station took over the site of the ancient hill fort.

Looking back to the other two – Eildon Wester Hill (left) and Eildon Mid Hill (right
Melrose below us on the way back down to the col

The summit of Eildon Hill North gave good views of the other two Eildons as well as our starting point at Melrose. Also below us, but not in view, was the portal to Elfland, or so ‘tis said – a 13th Century tale describes how Thomas the Rhymer was enticed by the Elf Queen to enter her domain; when he returned seven years later, it is said that he was incapable of telling a lie, which obviously ruled out any chance of a career in politics. It must be getting a bit crowded in there by now because the Eildon Hills are hollow, and King Arthur and his knights lie there sleeping, ready to emerge at times of peril.

The path contouring round Eildon Mid Hill, with Eildon Hill North behind
On the way to Eildon Wester Hill (#2) looking back to Eildon Mid Hill (left) and Eildon North Hill (right)
Summit number 2, Eildon Wester Hill

Meanwhile, back at the col, it was time for hill #2, Eildon Wester Hill. We abandoned a wide track to follow a narrow path contouring around what would be our hill #3. The path scarcely gained or lost a metre in height, pointing us straight at Eildon Wester Hill, which was the lowest of the three at 371 metres (1217 ft) and probably the least interesting. We didn’t hang around long before heading back to the col, ready to take on Eildon Mid Hill (#3)

Eildon Mid Hill (3 on the map)
Reaching the summit of number 3, Eildon Mid Hill
Checking out the summit

We had saved #3, the highest hill, until last, though at 422 metres altitude it wasn’t likely to cause any difficulty, and nor did it – a survey trig point and a view indicator marked the summit, but as with the other two hills, the most interesting views were of the neighbouring Eildons. The weather started mucking about a bit at this point, and our Gore-Tex jackets probably looked like overkill to the family group dressed in T-shirts who were heading up as we went down to the col for the last time.

21 Rain moving in over Melrose (on the left) on the descent

From the col, the weather still looked as if it could change at any minute, with showers moving in over Melrose, but as we took the final turn downhill, it looked as though we would get away without a soaking. The whole route, with its three branches came out at 8 kms (5 miles) with a total height gain of 470 metres (1542 ft). Hardly earth shattering in its ambition but ideal for our aging Border Collie ‘Mist’ – although 14+ years old, a walk up a hill or two was still the highlight of her day.

The shower missed us, giving a fair-weather finish – heading down to Melrose

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#318 – Housesteads Fort and Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall – Peel Crags (nearest) with Highshield Crags and the lake of Crag Lough in the distance

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The Hadrian’s Wall area running from Carlisle to Newcastle

It was April 2022, and we were heading for Northumbria and the Scottish Border on our ‘shake-down’ trip with the new camper van.  If the van was new, Border Collie ‘Mist’ was starting to show her age at last (14+ years) but she was still capable of walking around 10kms, as long as there wasn’t too much steep up-and-down.  Our last walk out a couple of days earlier had been over Gowbarrow in the Lake District (see post #317) and had been just right for the old dog.

The central section of Hadrian’s Wall near Haltwhistle / Haydon Bridge

The plan was to increase the distance slightly but reduce the height gain, to work out what ‘Mist’ was capable of.  Neither Chris nor I, or the dog for that matter, had walked any of Hadrian’s Wall, but it was on the way to the Northumbrian coast where we were heading, so that became the plan.  Although the line of the wall does go up and down quite a lot, it’s easy to avoid much of the height gain and loss by following a parallel route.  So, that’s what we did.

The route (in blue) from Housesteads to Peel and return

If you’re British, you probably know a bit about the history of the wall, but for those who come from a different part of the world, or skipped school on the day that Hadrian’s Wall was taught, here’s a quick rundown.  In 500 BC, Rome was a mere city-state, but over the next 500 years, that city-state expanded to conquer the lands surrounding the Mediterranean before continuing to take modern-day France, Belgium and Holland.  In 55 BC, Julius Caesar (yes, that one!) set his sights on the island just off the French coast, known to the Romans as Britannia.

 

Setting out to Vercovicium Roman Fort (AKA Housesteads) on a misty, moisty morning

Things didn’t go well for Caesar, as the British tribes who inhabited that offshore island were not too keen on becoming part of the Roman Empire.  Caesar gave the project up as a bad job, and the Brits were left alone until 43 AD when the Emperor Claudius decided to have a go.  The British were still an uppity lot and around 122 AD Emperor Hadrian decided on a substantial wall to mark the northern extent of Roman Britain.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ checking out the remains of the fort, almost 2000 years old (the fort that is, not the dog!)

The wall that bears Hadrian’s name was built from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east, to Bowness-on-Solway near Carlisle in the west – we know this because (1) the winners write the history books and (2) an amazing amount of the 73 mile wall and its forts are still clearly visible, almost 2000 years later.

The west walls of the fort of Vercovicium Fort, now known as Housesteads ….
…. still in a remarkably well-preserved state after almost 2000 years ….
…. and which will probably still be standing there in another 2000 years

Construction of the fort known as Vercovicium by the Romans, but later named Housteads after the nearby 19th Century farmhouse, started around the same time that work started on the wall.  It is the best-preserved Roman fort in the UK, and was part of a network of forts, mile castles and turrets along the length of the wall.  The wall and forts were more than defensive locations though, they were also a statement – “We’re here and we’re staying here”!  And stay they did, for the next 300 years or so.

Looking north from the fort into ‘barbarian’ lands, with the mist just starting to lift in the distance
A section of Hadrian’s Wall, heading west from Housesteads
One of the best-preserved sections of Hadrian’s Wall, at one time the northern frontier of Roman Britain

At this point in this blog post, some readers will already be viewing with glazed eyes, so time to start walking!  The scenery around the wall is pleasant rather than dramatic, and if it wasn’t for the Roman ruins there probably wouldn’t be as many visitors to the area.  Looking north into what were once barbarian lands, the views are of rolling countryside with forests in the distance – the main interest remains the wall.

A helpful sign, just in case we forget where we are
Milecastle 37, one of the 80 milecastles built along the wall
A Roman’s view of the barbarian lands beyond the Roman-controlled wall
A final look into the milecastle

Fifteen minutes of easy walking brought us to Milecastle 37, one of 80 or so milecastles along the wall. 16-32 soldiers would have been lodged here, probably changing watches on a rota system with the 800 men based at Vercovicium.  The milecastles controlled movement from the badlands in the north to the civilised Roman-controlled lands south of the wall, and the milecastle is in pretty good nick for a building almost 2000 years old, as is Vercovicium.

The wall continues to the west ….
…. following the line of the high ground
The more recent farmhouse at Hotbank, adjacent to Milecastle 38
The wall continues over the bumps and dips ….
…. including the famous Sycamore Gap

Beyond Milecastle 37, the wall follows the line of high ground, using that high ground as a natural line of defence.  The wall and ridge line would probably have given us better views, but in deference to the old collie, we followed a good green path running below and parallel to the wall, passing Hotbank Farm and Milecastle 38 before arriving at one of the best known sites for photographs, the famous Sycamore Gap – I’ll let you work out how it got its name!

The wall beyond Sycamore gap ….
  …. with more ups and downs
The dramatic drop down at Peel ….
…. with a view of the remains of one of the turrets on the wall
Looking back to Peel Crags with its steep drop

So popular is Sycamore Gap, that I must have spent about fifteen minutes waiting to get people just where I wanted them for a photograph of the famous tree – I bet they didn’t have that problem when they used the tree as a location in ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ starring Kevin Costner.    Once I had the shot I wanted, it was more ups and downs before we arrived at the dramatic drop down to Peel Farm.

The classic view along the wall looking east, with Peel Crags, Highshield Crags and Crag Lough

We carried on for a short distance to get the classic view along the wall featuring Peel Crags, Highshield Crags and Crag Lough – a bit of a photographic cliché, but still a good view.  Then it was time to turn round and retrace our steps – as you might have guessed, a walk along a wall is always going to be, err …linear?!  It had been a gentle trip out for ‘Mist’ and after 10 kms she was still looking good.  That’s the thing with dogs though, they’re just glad to be having a wander out with new strange smells to check out.

Heading back to Housesteads, with a final view of that tree

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#317 – Gowbarrow and Aira Force in the English Lake District

On Gowbarrow Fell with Ullswater in the distance

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The north-eastern Lake District, with Ullswater in the centre

It was mid-February 2022, and we were looking at changing our campervan for something more up-to-date.  Soon, the deed was done and we needed a couple of ‘shake-down’ trips before launching off on our annual May trip to the Scottish Highlands.  Where better to start than the Lake District.

Ullswater and the surrounding area

A couple of days in Langdale at the beginning of March was a good start to the shake-down process, followed a week later by four days at Threlkeld near Keswick.  The next trip was to be a fortnight in Northumbria and the Scottish Borders, but we just couldn’t keep away from Lakeland – Ullswater and Aira Force are just a short hop from the M6 Motorway, so a couple more days there seemed like a good move.

The route – anticlockwise starting near Aira Force (bottom left)

I lived at Patterdale at the south end of Ullswater in the 1980s, and I know the area well.  In fact, I got to know the mountains surrounding the lake very well but spent little time exploring some of the lower hills in the area.   So, the plan for this trip was to put that to rights by taking a circular route from Aira Force around and over Gowbarrow.

Setting out on the circular route around Gowbarrow Fell

When it comes to ‘lower hills’, Gowbarrow is definitely on the shortlist at a mere 481 metres (1578 ft) height.  It’s thought that the name comes from Old Norse and probably means ‘Windy Hill’ – the area has other Old Norse names dating back to the 9th Century onwards, when the Vikings first started to settle, so you will come across beck (bekr) for stream, Force (foss) for waterfall, Tarn (tjorn) for a small lake and Fell (fjall) for mountain.

Looking back to Ullswater
A popular lake for boating
The gradually rising narrow path above Ullswater ….
…. winding its way around the hillside
Looking east to Hallin Fell and the High Street mountains ….
…. and looking to the west, with Aira Point just left of centre

Our route took us east from Aira Force (more of which later) on a gradually rising narrow path.  Gowbarrow isn’t going to get you into a sweat, either through exertion or excitement, but like many lowly hills, it’s a great place to view the surrounding country, and the views of Ullswater and the surrounding fells compare well with the views from Hallin Fell, just a couple of kilometres away on the opposite side of the lake.

The path continues ….
…. with the views opening up to the southwest
Not exactly crowded
The summit of Gowbarrow Fell, and the view towards Glenridding to the southwest ….
…. and looking northeast towards Pooley Bridge
The view north with Blencathra (left) and Carrock Fell (further away right)
Closer zoom view of the southern side of Blencathra, 12 kms away ….
…. and the distant Carrock Fell, 14 km

The narrow path continues for a while before taking a turn to the north, followed by a second turn, this time to the west, to the small summit of Gowbarrow with its stone cairn – the views of the Ullswater area included much of the lake, and further away to the northwest, the northern hills of Blencathra and Carrock Fell were also visible.  I had taken two cameras (Olympus) on this hike, one with an equivalent 35mm lens and the other with an equivalent 200-600mm lens – the longer lens was included in the hope of getting some red squirrel images but ended up being used for long landscape shots due to a ‘no show’ by the squirrels.

Round the far side of Carrock Fell, with Ullswater coming back into view
The descent towards Dockray, with a badly eroded path to deal with ….
…. but path repairs are in hand (Dockray to the right, at the very top of the image)
‘The Royal’ at Dockray – it would have been rude not to visit!

Our next port of call was a short diversion to the hamlet of Dockray, but before that, we had to negotiate a badly eroded section of path.  Our route had been deserted, but this was March and I guess that hundreds of boots must pound along here in summer – a bit lower down we found helicopter drop bags full of stones to repair the path.  Once past the worn section, we were soon at ‘The Royal’ at Dockray for a cool cider – well, it would have been rude not to!

A distant view of Aira Force, with the bridge at the top of the waterfall just visible
Next to the bridge ….
…. and looking back to the bridge

Our route back to the van went via the 20 metre (65 ft) waterfall of Aira Force, one of the best-known waterfalls in the Lake District, if only for its connection with Romantic poet William Wordsworth. It’s a favourite on the tourist circuit, but the best views are out of reach at the moment, due to damage caused by fallen trees – I did the best I could to get a decent photograph from the accessible viewpoints before heading back to the van to top up my cider levels.

Closer view of Aira Force

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. It was T-shirt weather for the Gowbarrow hike, but three days later we nearly found ourselves marooned up near Simonside in Northumbria – it snowed overnight, then froze in the early hours, making the steep road out like a skating rink.  I’d decided that there was no way I was launching a 3-tonne camper van down a steep icy slope, but by the time we had taken Border Collie ‘Mist’ for her morning walk, the road was thawing out – one consolation would have been that getting cold cider would not have been a problem!

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#316 – Helm Crag and Far Easedale

Helm Crag (centre) in the late-afternoon sun, February 2007

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Helm Crag at Grasmere near Ambleside, in the English Lake District

“The journey of a thousand miles, starts with a single step” – Lao Tzu

“I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more…..” – The Proclaimers

Writing a blog is sometimes like taking that first step in a journey of a thousand miles.  All sorts of things can get in the way of that first step, but the reason I haven’t posted anything for almost three months is quite simple – we’ve been away from home for over half of that time, visiting places new and old, and more importantly getting more material for the blog.  In fact, I’m still sorting and editing photos from the trips!  Oh, and we covered quite a bit more than a thousand miles.

The route – out along the north ridge and back down the Easedale valley

Three months is a long time to disappear though, so while I’m getting on with the admin and edits, here’s a story from 2007.  I’ve written 72 walking routes for the Walking World website, mostly between 2007-10 (see – http://www.walkingworld.com/) but this one was the first – a classic Lake District walk including a busy, iconic peak and a lonely, deserted valley away from the crowds.  This is ‘Helm Crag and Far Easedale’.

Setting out from Grasmere in February 2007 ….
…. with Helm Crag rising above
The tarmac road ends ….
…. giving access to the hill paths ….
…. before reaching the edge of the open fellside

We set out at the beginning of February 2007, on a clear and almost cloudless day.  I say ‘we’ but I mean just Chris and myself – Border Collie ‘Mist’ didn’t become part of our lives until December 2010 (see post #5).  I must have been a pain in the arse to walk with back then because I took loads of photos to act as a prompt when I came to write up the route, instead of writing notes (I later used a digital voice recorder, which speeded things up a bit!).  The initial; part of the walk is along a quiet tarmac road, but tarmac is tarmac and it was good to get out onto the hillside at last.

Early view of the ridge to Calf Crag, with Gibson Knott just right of centre ….
…. and the view back to Grasmere with some late morning mist over the lake

Helm Crag sits at the southeast end of a ridge running northwest to Calf Crag.  Helm Crag is certainly no giant at 405 metres height (1329 ft), with Calf Crag not much higher at 537 metres (1762 ft) and most of the ridge joining them being around 400 metres. Despite the lack of height, the views of the surrounding country are impressive, with the main attraction being the first objective, Helm Crag.

Approaching the South Summit ….
…. with the North Summit just beyond
The North Summit, also known as ‘The Howitzer’

It was the Victorians who started giving daft names to hill and mountain summits. Helm Crag is itself a short ridge with two summits, the south summit being known as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’, presumably because it looks like a lion and lamb from the valley at Grasmere (hmm, sorry but I don’t get that one!).  The north summit is also known as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ (yes, confusing isn’t it) or ‘The Old Woman Playing the Organ’ (really?) or ‘The Howitzer’ (a bit more plausible) depending on where they are viewed from.  If a daft name is needed, ‘The Howitzer’ is the most appropriate, but ‘North Summit’ does it for me!

The author mucking about, going up to the summit, posing like a good ‘un before retreating – safely!

In fact, the North Summit is by far the most interesting feature of the hill (well, to me anyway) because it has the distinction of being one of the few summits in the Lakes where you have to rock-climb to get to the summit.  It’s a short climb and not particularly difficult by rock-climbing standards, but it would hurt if you fell off (a lot!) or would be downright embarrassing if you had to be rescued from the top.  The famous English guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright chickened out on the summit bid, but he lived to be 84 – watch and learn.

From the North Summit – Gibson Knott in the middle distance
Heading up to Gibson Knott with the ridge beyond
Looking back along the ridge to Helm Crag
Looking down to Brownrigg Moss from Calf Crag, at the end of the ridge

For those who survive the scramble to the summit (or sensibly do a Wainwright), the view to Gibson Knott indicates the way forward.  The Gibson Knott-Calf Crag ridge is one big grassy frolic, giving easy, pleasant walking – in my hill running days, I ran the ridge several times, and it’s one of those gently undulating ridges that doesn’t ask much from the runner but which gives loads back.  On this trip Chris and I walked, gradually gaining height to Calf Crag before starting the descent to Far Easedale.

The view down to Far Easedale with the winter sun starting to set
Down in the shadows in Far Easedale, with the sun still lighting up the ridge

Far Easedale is a delight, being deserted and quiet, though the fact that the nearest car park or bus stop is over 5 kms away contributes to that.  If you seek solitude, this is where you will find it.  We found it as the February sun was starting to dip behind the hills – as the valley is narrow, it doesn’t take long before the shadows start to take over from the sunshine, leaving only the high ridge and Helm Crag in the sun. Possibly the best way to finish a short but rewarding day out on the fells of the Lake District.

Final view of Helm Crag basking in the late-afternoon sun

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. Apologies to those of you who have been hanging around waiting for a new post – I’ll try to keep up!

p.p.s. Apologies also for some of the colours in the images – digital photography has come on leaps and bounds since the photos were taken (15 years) but there’s only so much that can be done in editing.

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#315 – The Precipice Walk near Dollgellau

Precipice –

  1. A cliff with a vertical, nearly vertical, or overhanging face.
  2. A situation of great peril.
The Precipice Walk – yep, looks like a precipice!

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

North Wales – the Precipice Walk is at the small flag, near the bottom of the map
Map showing the surrounding terrain – route in the middle

The Precipice Walk had been on the ‘to do’ list for a couple of years.  It sounded like an interesting little route, but the ‘little’ part of it was the problem – a drive of nearly two hours for a walk of 5½ kms.  We do more than that at home on the daily dog walk!  However, we hadn’t been out for a hill day for several weeks and the short hours of daylight in January wouldn’t allow time for a long hike, so perhaps it was time to visit the Precipice Walk.

The Precipice Walk – anti-clockwise from the start point

There was a time when mentioning a walk with a precipice would have been an instant no-no from Chris – our day on Crib Goch back in 2002 had done nothing to encourage her to try another precipice, but this precipice walk sounded more benign.  A bit of research even found a 5-Star review on TripAdvisor, with not a single ‘Terrible’ comment; in fact, the punters seemed to love it!  It had to be worth a two-hour drive.

Setting out on a sunny morning
Llyn Cynwch with Cadair Idris beyond in the distance
Things start to get steeper

We arrived on a cold, crisp January morning, with frost still lying on the grass in places, a result of the clear skies overnight.  I’m usually moaning in this blog about dull, flat light for photography, but not today – in fact, the day was sunny and bright, but the low January sun was to cause different problems for photos on the way round, with the sun often shining right into the lens.  Ho hum, another challenge then. 

The view across to Rhobell Fawr
Heading out towards The Precipice ….
…. accompanied by ‘shadow people’

The route passed near to the small lake of Llyn Cynwch on the way out, but that would have to wait until our return.   Although the route isn’t especially high, it gave some great views out onto surrounding hills including Cadair Idris (see posts #150 and #300) and Rhobell Fawr (see post #205) and the low sun gave us a bit of company in the shape of two humans and a dog – our own shadows!

About to turn the corner ….
…. to look down to the Afon Mawddach, over 200 metres below
Afon Mawddach and the A470 road (the small white dot in the centre is a motorhome!)
Into the shade, with the big drop still below
Out into the sun again – big drop still there
Chris on the precipice section with the valley over 200 metres below

We soon turned the northern corner of the route to head south along the ‘precipice’ bit, with the Afon Mawddach and the A470 road 200 metres below us in the valley.  We also had the sun directly in our eyes, apart from the short sections where bends in the path put us back in the shade.  Sun or shade, the drop to the valley was ever present, adding a bit more interest and drama.

Off the steep ground, looking out to the Mawddach Estuary
Foel Faner ahead
The small summit cairn of Foel Faner with the moon rising
The view to the Mawddach Estuary from the summit of Foel Faner ….
….and the view in the other direction, with Rhobell Fawr (far left) and the Aran Mountains (far right)

The precipice didn’t last for long though and soon we were off the steep ground, looking out to the Mawddach estuary.  We briefly abandoned the return section of the Precipice Walk to include the short climb up to the small summit of Foel Faner, an ancient hill fort.  The 360° view was enhanced by the bright sun, but the moon rising to the east reminded us that the day would soon be slipping away.

Heading back by the shore of Llyn Cynwch
Reflections across the lake

Llyn Cynwch was included on the way back, with hardly a ripple on the water, but the lengthening shadows told us that it was time to head back to the car, and our two-hour return drive.  It was time to head for home.

Mid-afternoon and time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#314 – Yr Elen and the Dragons Teeth

Yr Elen, seen from Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo from 2015)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Yr Elen from Foel Grach (2014)

Readers of this blog might well think that I have moved to live in Scotland, based on the number of posts on Scottish mountain trips over recent months (10 out of 12 to be exact) so time to redress that with a post featuring a Welsh mountain.  We did this route in July 2021, and on the timeline, this should have been published between post #304 and #306, but finally it’s time for the lovely Yr Elen to step forward into the light of day.

North Wales, with the Yr Elen route on blue at the centre
The mountains of the Carneddau, with the Yr Elen route in the centre in blue
The Yr Elen route, clockwise starting from Gerlan near Bethesda

The mountain is often approached from Carnedd Llewelyn on the north-south ridge of the Carneddau – as Yr Elen is one of the fifteen 3000 ft peaks (915 metres) of Wales, hikers following the Welsh 3000’s Challenge route have to divert out and back to tick it off, adding 2.5 kms and 250 metres of height loss and gain.  Not for us on this trip though – our route for the day was the quiet, lonely ascent from Gerlan, near Bethesda.

Setting off up the valley of the Afon Caseg, with the clouds down on the Carneddau
Carneddau ponies, not worried at all by clouds, humans, or Border Collies
The clouds lifting a little, but still brushing the top of Yr Elen ….
  …. but clearing more as we headed up the wide valley
The valley narrows ahead

We set out heading east up the wide valley of the Afon Caseg, which translates as ‘the Mare’s River’.  Clouds were covering the tops of the Carneddau, which didn’t seem to bother a small group of Carneddau ponies, who live on the mountains here all year round. The valley stays wide for about 5 kms, at which point it starts to narrow – by the time we reached the narrows, the cloud was almost burned off the hills by the warm sun.

Looking up towards the Northeast Ridge of Yr Elen (the ‘Dragons Teeth Ridge’)
Wet, mossy hollow by the Afon Caseg
The entrance to the hanging valley of Cwm Caseg, our route over on the left, just to the right of the stream
Looking down to the small lake of Ffynnon Caseg (The Mare’s Well)

Our route was to the small hanging valley of Cwm Caseg, then up the Northeast Ridge of Yr Elen, also known as the Dragons Teeth Ridge, a route that I had followed before with Border Collie ‘Mist’ (see posts #159 and #186).  On the way, we passed a wet, mossy hollow that I had not seen of previous visits, probably because this time I had taken a slightly easier line of ascent for Chris and for a Border Collie who is now officially an old girl – the upshot was that we arrived in the cwm above the tiny lake of Ffynnon Caseg (the Mare’s Well) instead of next to it.

What we missed on this trip – Ffynnon Caseg …. (as seen in 2015)
…. and the small, ruined hafod (2015)
Heading up the steep slope.  Beware, dragons teeth ahead! (as seen in 2015)

It is said that Ffynnon Caseg is where Carneddau ponies go to give birth to their foals. It is one of the loneliest and quietest places in Wales, with the only sign of human activity being the ruins of a tiny hafod (summer dwelling). Above the lake, the slope heads steeply upwards to gain the crest of the Dragons Teeth Ridge – once on the crest of the ridge, the drop on the other side of the ridge suddenly becomes obvious.

‘…. the drop on the other side of the ridge suddenly becomes obvious’ – looking down to the valley we had walked up
There’s quite a drop below as well (image from 2014)
More teeth to come (2014)

The ‘obvious drop’ was straight down to the valley we had walked up, and Chris was a less than happy bunny about the amount of fresh air below us – the views up and down the ridge were equally airy.  Chris would normally have had my undivided attention on steep ground, but as mentioned earlier, we had an old, though enthusiastic, Border Collie along as well.

A younger Border Collie ‘Mist’, waiting for me to catch up on an earlier trip (2014)
Higher up the ridge, but still waiting for the human (2014)

Collies are a bit like some humans, and ‘Mist’ isn’t ready to accept yet that she doesn’t have the physical strength of a young dog.  That usually isn’t a problem – on difficult ground I now attach a long leash to her harness and stop her before she tries to climb awkward steps, followed by a shove up the bum to clear the obstacle.  This is exactly what we did, then having got ‘Mist’ through the rocky section, I returned for my other ‘client’, who was waiting patiently below.

On the summit of Yr Elen, with Foel Grach (left) and Carnedd Llewelyn (right) beyond on the skyline
Team pic #1 – Chris, with Carnedd Llewelyn behind
Team Pic #2 – Rare shot of the author plus dog
Team Pic #3 – ‘Mist’ at the start of the descent route

Without too many dramas, we all regrouped and followed the last easy section of ridge to the summit, and there was time for ‘Team Pics’ in the sun before we prepared for the descent down to Gerlan.

Looking down towards Foel Ganol, with Gerlan and Bethesda in the valley below

The way down was steady and a complete contrast to the drama of the Dragons’ Teeth.  A faint path crosses Foel Ganol (‘Bare Hill in the Middle’) and a lower un-named peak, before heading down to a crossing of the Afon Caseg to get back to the outward path.  Stream crossings can have their moments, but the water level on this occasion was low.  I spent a couple of minutes looking for an easy crossing point for ‘Mist’, and having done so I looked across the stream to see the old dog already across and grinning back at me – she has a few more miles in her yet!

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

 

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