#327 – Reprise – Two men and a dog, and the highest noodle bar in the UK (Having a fun time on ‘The Spine Race’!

A little bit late with the blog this week – I’ve been working away from home on the Spine Race, as safety cover in a remote Pennine bothy. The bothy and its Spine Race occupants have become part of the Spine mythology, but today I can come out and say it was me who first named our Greg’s Hut safety station the ‘Highest Noodle Bar in the UK’

Every year, John Bamber and I set up the ‘Noodle Bar., offering noodles (with or without John’s chili!), a brew and occasionally a shoulder to cry on if needed. Our only companions over the years have been some excellent doctors and medics, some of who actually volunteered to come out here, plus my Border Collie ‘Mist’, sadly no longer with us.

This post first went out in 2013 – I’m reprising this one last time, mainly for newcomers to the Spine Race, who perhaps know little of the history of the race, but also for regular readers of this blog who may have missed it, and wonder why I disappear every January (except during Covid lockdowns).

So, settle back and read the story of the first two editions of the Spine Race, and the inauguration of the Highest Noodle Bar in the UK.

Two men and a dog ….
. and the highest noodle bar in the UK (JB)
Greg’s Hut in January, altitude 700 metres – outlook bleak!

“Do you fancy a couple of days up at Greg’s Hut in January?”

If anyone other than John Bamber had asked the question, I would probably have answered with a reply that included sex and travel!  For those who don’t know it, Greg’s Hut is a bothy, high on the flanks of Cross Fell in the Pennines.  At 700 metres altitude, it can be cold and cheerless in summer, so the prospect of staying there in a Pennine winter was not on my short list of ‘Fun Things To Do’.  Why did I say, “Sounds like a good idea” ? … Ask the dog ….

Ask the dog ….
Having fun in Snowdonia …. (JB)

…. with the man with the beard

Never just an ordinary day out! (JB)

Mist – “I’m getting used to the boss and his daft schemes, but I know there’s something going on when his mate John (the bloke with the big beard) turns up.  Don’t get me wrong, John is a lot of fun, and I’ve had some great hill days with him, but it’s never going to be just an ordinary day out.  I suppose that’s why the boss said yes to the Greg’s Hut trip – those two are both as daft as each other!  Mind you, when they said I could go as well, I was packed and ready before them!”

Setting out on the Greg’s Hut recce for the first Spine Race 2012

It was autumn 2011, and John had signed up as one of the Support Team for the first ‘Spine Race’ to be held in January 2012 – not having anything better to do, I said that I would join him.  We decided that it might be a good idea to do a recce beforehand – I hadn’t been to the bothy in over twenty years, and John hadn’t seen it at all, so a check on luxuries such as a functioning roof seemed to be a good idea.

Greg’s Hut – roof intact!

Mist – “Haha … I still remember that walk!  I always think that the boss carries too much when we are in the hills – a bag of dog biscuits is all you really need if you think about it – but John turned up with this stuff called ‘coal’ in his rucksack.  It certainly looked heavy, and I was laughing all the way to the hut.  Humans never cease to amaze me ….!”

Spine Race start line 2012

John sets up the highest Noodle Bar in the UK

Two happy customers – 2012 winners Gary Morrison and Steve Thompson

Yes, it’s true, John carried about 10 kilos of coal in on that trip.  Just over a week later we were back again, with John setting up what was probably the highest ‘Coffee and Noodle’ bar in the UK – if it wasn’t the highest, it was certainly the most difficult to get to.  We had four visitors out of sixteen original starters, with the Hall of Fame including joint 2012 winners Gary Morrison and Steve Thompson, followed later by Mark Caldwell and Andy Collister.  Those guys had to work to get their noodles!

Spine Race start line 2013
‘Mist’ search training in Snowdonia (DH)

CP 1.5 at Malham Tarn (JB)

‘Mist’ and I were not at the start line for the 2013 event – we had a race of our own to run.  Whilst 47 elite athletes were starting the race at Edale, ‘Mist’ was completing her obedience and stock safety tests to begin training as a search and rescue dog with SARDA  (Search And Rescue Dog Association) Wales.  The two of us made the grade and were accepted as a trainee search team, and on the Sunday evening we set off from North Wales to catch the race up at CP 1.5 at Malham Tarn.

Life in the big dog kennel (JB)

Mist – “Laugh!! I nearly wet meself! John (the one with the big beard, remember – pay attention at the back!) – John had brought this huge kennel along (I think he called it a tent, but I know what a kennel looks like – I AM a dog, after all).  Anyway, it snowed all night, and I had a great time chasing snowballs around, but it didn’t look like a lot of fun in that kennel, what with loads of cold, wet humans in there.  John was having fun, though”

2012 – backpacking the gear to Greg’s Hut

2013 – travelling in style (JB)

Yet again, John showed the world that an extremely large dump of snow was not going to interrupt his new career of ‘extreme noodle chef’.  Having sent all the happy customers on their way, we then set our sights on our old friend, Greg’s Hut.  The previous year we had to backpack all our gear in, assisted by a group of porters who didn’t hide quickly enough when we went looking for help – this time we had a ride up the hill track in Phil’s 4X4.

‘Johnnie’s Noodle Bar’ open and ready for business (JB)

Mist – “Yes, that was quite a trip – just as well we had the help, ‘cos I didn’t fancy carrying in two days worth of dog biscuits!  John must have had a brainstorm, ‘cos the week before he carried up twice as much of that black stuff (coal, isn’t it?!) to the hut – didn’t we all fall about laughing when we arrived and found that it had all gone!!”

Racers leaving Greg’s Hut …. (JB)
…. with a long, cold run ahead (JB)

It’s true – over the space of a week, someone had either used or pinched 20 kilos of coal from one of the most deserted places south of the Scottish border.  If they burned it in the stove, they must have inaugurated the highest sauna in the UK – if it was pinched, I hope they suffered a hundred bad backs carrying it away!  A re-supply carried us through, and ‘Johnnie’s Noodle Bar’ was open for business once again.

A busy night at ‘Johnnie’s Noodle Bar’ (JB)

All good things have to come to an end though, and in less than two days the surviving athletes had passed through ‘Greg’s’ – time to hit the road again.  After a day at Bellingham we set off for the finish line at Kirk Yetholm.  However, there was a cloud on the horizon – in fact there were lots of clouds, accompanied by a storm warning from the Met Office.  Our little corner of the UK was about to get a visit from Mr Snow!

Mist – “Snow? I should say so! Some of the time you couldn’t see your paw in front of your face!”

Just before the blizzard arrived (JB)
Heading for the finish (JB)

People who say that they have been in a blizzard in the UK are usually mistaken – a heavy snow fall with a bit of wind ‘doth not a blizzard make’.  However, having been in a couple of blizzards over the years, I can confirm that THIS was a blizzard!  What’s more, we still had two teams out on the final ridge of the Cheviots.  These are ‘little’ hills, around 500-700 metres in altitude, but sometimes latitude means as much as altitude, with the latitude of the Cheviots being about the same as that of Moscow.

Last group to finish, heads held high (JB)

The next day the storm had passed.  The two groups had done exactly the right thing, and had gone to ground in two different mountain refuges on the ridge (the term ‘refuge’ is used loosely – think more along the lines of garden sheds).  During the night Stu and Joe from the support team had gone up on the ridge for a welfare check, with John and I as backup, and found themselves looking out for their own welfare instead!  The ‘garden sheds’ were life savers though, and the next day the two groups mustered themselves and walked off the ridge with heads held high.

The loneliness of the Pennines in winter (JB)

There’s a narrow line between adventure and misadventure, and these athletes know all about that – their performances are frequently heroic, often inspirational.  They make the week of the Spine Race an event to look forward to each year, and being a member of the Spine ‘Mountain & Medic’ Support Team is very special to me – that and my part time job as sous chef at the highest noodle bar in the UK.

Mist – “Couldn’t have put it better meself  – any noodles left, John?”

(JB – assisted by Naomi Dodds and Olivia Cheetham)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock.  Images tagged (JB) © John Bamber, and (DH) © David Higgs – For permission to use any images, please contact the blog author.

Posted in 3. Yorkshire Dales, 4. Northern England, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#326 – The Preseli Hills in Sir Benfro (Pembrokeshire), South West Wales

The wild Preseli Hills – on the Golden Road, looking east

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!

Southwest Wales, with the Preseli route in the centre

If you are reading this, wondering where on earth the Preseli Hills are, you will be in good company.  The highest point in these little-known Pembrokeshire hills, is Foel Cwmcerwyn, a mere 536 metres (1759 ft) in altitude, and the upland areas are grassy, rolling moors with occasional rocky tors.  For many, these tors are the major interest – 4000 years ago, some of these rocks were transported 140 miles (225km) to become part of Stonehenge, a major feat of logistics at any time in history!

A closer view of Mynydd Preseli (The Preseli Mountains) – 2014 route in red, right of the blue route

This was a second visit to Preseli for Chris and I – in 2014 we had walked part of an ancient roadway known as the Golden Road (the 2014 route shown in red in the above map).  It’s possible that the Golden Road may have been one of the original Ridgeways of Britain, used in prehistory to avoid the dense forests in the valleys, but it is also believed to have been used 5000 years ago by Neolithic travellers, trading gold mined in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland with Wessex. Whatever, it’s old!

The route, clockwise from Rosebush in the bottom left

Our trip wasn’t going to involve any gold trading; it was a ‘filling in the gaps’ route to include part of the Golden Road that we had missed out in 2014.   Our base was the village of Rosebush, a Welsh village with a well-known pub where customers in the bar are encouraged to order their drinks in the Welsh language.  Ironically, the village name is English – Rosebush is assumed to be an anglicised version of the Welsh Rhos y Bwlch, which means the Pass of the Moor.

Setting out from Rosebush
Heading up towards Pantmaenog Forest
The view looking back
Foel Cwmcerwyn ahead, the highest of the Preseli peaks at a lofty 536 metres
The summit trig point ….
…. with the author getting in the action as a model!

Virtually all our height gain on the route was in the first 3kms from Rosebush to the summit of Foel Cwmcerwyn – lowland fields with sheep led us to a prominent track heading up to Pantmaenog Forest.  Beyond there, the ground started to look more like moorland, rather than farmers’ fields, and a steady walk took us almost 300 metres higher than our start point in the village, to the summit trig point at 536 metres altitude.

Heading from Foel Cwmcerwyn towards the main Preseli ridge and the Golden Road
The next objective in the distance – Foel Feddau, 467 metres in altitude
The final slopes of Foel Feddau ….
…. before reaching the summit

Views from Foel Cwmcerwyn were extensive and included a good bit of our intended route.   Foel Feddau was our next hill feature, and a faint path across the moor took us in the right direction.   A small amount of descent was followed by some minor uphill before arriving at our second summit and its Bronze Age burial cairn, probably around 4000 years old.

Next objective -the ridge just left of centre ….
…. and the faint path leading to it
Typical Preseli scenery ….
…. with rock tors scattered about
Looking back to where we had come from ….
…. with Foel Feddau in the centre and Foel Cwmcerwyn on the left

From there it was moorland wandering, pleasant enough in good weather but probably a bit more challenging in bad weather conditions.  The route was picked to get some distance back in our legs, after being restricted to shorter walks for a while.  15kms wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but ‘it gets you out of the house’ as the saying goes.  5kms of that was on a quiet road, but that gave ample opportunity to brush up on my Welsh for the Tafarn Sinc pub – “peint a hanner o seidr, os gwelwch yn dda” would do nicely (“a pint and a half of cider, please” if you are struggling with that!).

Time to head for home ….
….before arriving here – Tafarn Sinc at Rosebush

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 6. Mid and South Wales | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

#325 – Merry Christmas and a happy New Year in 2023

Well, this is going out on Boxing Day 2022, a day when UK hikers, hillwalkers, mountaineers and climbers traditionally head out for the hills and mountains to walk off that extra helping of turkey and Christmas pud, so I’ll save the next blog post for a couple of weeks.

So, what are you waiting for, get those boots out! See you back here in a couple of weeks.

Posted in 1. Scotland, 2. Lake District, 3. Yorkshire Dales, 4. Northern England, 5. North Wales, 6. Mid and South Wales | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#324 – One last dog walk – a wander in the mountains of the Southern Carneddau, July 2022

The Southern Carneddau – Carnedd Dafydd on the left with Pen yr Helgi Du on the right 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!

Eryri (Snowdonia) with the mountains of the Carneddau in the centre

If you are a regular reader, you would probably have seen the recent post (see post #320) which announced that my Border Collie ‘Mist’ had died at the respectable age of 14.  After ‘Mist’ was cremated, Chris and I distributed some of her ashes on our local dog walks near home, but I had made plans to take ‘Mist’ for one last walk in the mountains of the Carneddau.

The Carneddau, showing the route
Closer view of the route

Before moving to North Wales in 2012, I hardly knew the Carneddau, but since then these mountains have become one of my favourite areas to walk.   (If you search on Carneddau in the Blog page search box, you will probably find enough posts to fritter away half a morning!)    Just the place for a final dog walk, and I knew exactly where I would be going.

Looking up towards Pen yr Ole Wen (left) and Cwm Lloer ….
…. and looking across the valley to a cloud-draped Tryfan
The East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen coming into view
‘Mist’ in Cwm Lloer – December 2012

The Carneddau range covers quite an area, so there was a lot to go at.   One of my favourite trips, and one that ‘Mist’ had always accompanied me on, is the circuit of mountains starting with Pen yr Ole Wen via its East Ridge, then continuing above Cwm Lloer to Carnedd Dafydd.  From there, on to Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest peak in the Carneddau, before heading down to Pen yr Helgi Du, and returning to the valley via Y Braich.

The rock band on the East Ridge – the short scramble is in the left-leaning groove, just to the left of centre
The short scramble – no problem if you have opposing thumbs!
A bit more of a problem if you only have doggie paws! (July 2014)
Looking down the scramble

The East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen has a rock band that appears from below to block further progress, but there’s a lovely little scramble that has only one defect – it’s too short!  It has its moments though, especially if you have paws instead of opposing thumbs, and I always used to put a harness and rope on ‘Mist’ instead of risking an accident.   On a traverse of the range from Ogwen to Conwy in 2014 (see post #160) I reported that “the last time we came this way, ‘Mist’ had struggled a bit getting up the rock obstacle – I can now report that her rock climbing standard has gone up by at least a grade, and at one point the dog overtook me, making this her first lead on a rock route!”

Once past the scramble, it’s a steady plod to the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen
Tryfan, now cloud free
Carnedd Dafydd (just left of centre) seen from Pen yr Ole Wen

Once above the rock step, it’s a steady plod to the top of Pen yr Ole Wen, where I scattered some of Mist’s ashes on the summit.    I had planned to do the same by the summit cairn of Carnedd Dafydd, where she would usually try to mug me for one of my sandwiches, but a group of young Mountain Leader trainees had taken over the top, so rather than have a bit of dog grit land in their sarnies, I did the decent thing and moved about 25 metres downwind.

The summit of Carnedd Dafydd looking east © Philip Halling
Looking east from Carnedd Dafydd with Carnedd Llewelyn on the left
Cloud brewing up above the cliffs of Ysgolion Duon
Almost the same location in July 2014, with Ysgolion Duon cloud free
Heading east, the cloud closes in ….
…. but gradually starts to clear

From Carnedd Dafydd, the route passes above the cliffs of Ysgolion Duon.  Irregular patches of cloud were blowing in and out, but it’s a route I know well, and I only stopped once to check the direction of travel, in the middle of a particularly dense bank of fog.  Before long the hill cloud began to clear as I headed upwards to Carnedd Llewelyn.

Carnedd Llewelyn ahead ….
….with a view across to Pen yr Helgi Du, the last summit of the South Carneddau Circuit
Above Craig yr Ysfa with Pen yr Helgi Du ahead – just the rock step to sort out
Looking back to the rock step – note the figure dead centre
Looking back to Craig yr Ysfa, with Carnedd Llewelyn hidden in the cloud

Carnedd Llewelyn was my third location to leave some of ‘Mist’ behind – that being done, I started heading down the gradually narrowing ridge that crosses above the climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa.  Another rock band provides a bit more amusement requiring some ‘hands on’ scrambling – ‘Mist’ always found a quicker way down this than I did, probably by following the scent of others, but this time I had to find my own route.

The lonely summit of Pen yr Helgi Du – just two sheep for company

From the rock band, the route heads in a southerly direction, crossing the ridge of Bwlch Eryl Farchog before heading up to the final summit of Pen yr Helgi Du, where I left my last bit of ‘Mist’ behind, sharing the summit with two sheep.  From there, it’s an easy return to the valley down the broad ridge of Y Braich, a route I’ve followed several times before with ‘Mist’, but this time I was heading down alone – it was time to head for home.

The way down – the broad ridge of Y Braich in July 2014
Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with the exception of the image tagged © Philip Halling which is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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

#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

Posted in 1. Scotland, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

#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

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

#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 , , , , | 20 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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