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

Heading for Pen y Ghent (JB)

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

Pen y Ghent with a snowy cap

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

Route 4 – Horton to Ribblehead via Pen y Ghent

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

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

Todber Moss and some of the bog – ©Steve Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The route wasn’t always straightforward ….

…. and was sometimes downright misleading

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

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

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

 

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

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

27 January 2010 – a misty, moisty wander

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

 

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

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

Approaching the summit shelter in snowy conditions ….

…. and finding it occupied in even snowier conditions

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

At the bottom of the ‘grassy rake’

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

The two hikers teetering on the slope above the rake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bridge at Nether Lodge ….

…. and an abundance of places to head for!

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

The long track heading for Ingman Lodge

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

…. followed by a bit of car dodging to Ribblehead

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

The dark line of Ribblehead railway viaduct with Whernside beyond

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

For today, the route finishes here

 

To be concluded in the next post.

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

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

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

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

Ingleborough in the distance, seen from Whernside (JB)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author taking a photo of ….  (JB)

…. John taking a photo

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

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

Off the hill at last …. (JB)

…. heading for Chapel le Dale …. (JB)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pen y Ghent – anti-clockwise from Horton in Ribblesdale

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

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

Rock step on the South Ridge

Chris – not looking impressed

Things ‘faired up’ on the way back

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

 

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

Whernside – anti-clockwise from Ribblehead

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

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

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

A bit of stream hopping (JB)

Waterfall in Force Gill …. (JB)

  • …. and the man with the beard in action

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

…. which by now was in the mist (JB)

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

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

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

Looking down to Ribblehead and the railway viaduct (JB)

Back in the valley ….

…. with journey’s end ahead (JB)

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

Catching the last of the light …. (JB)

…. as the sun went down (JB)

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

 

To be continued.

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

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

Winter over Ingleborough

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

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

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

Routes 1,2 & 3

Routes 4,5 & 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 November 2009 – Route 3, Ingleborough, solo.

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

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

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

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

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

…. and even the locals were looking a bit damp

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

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

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

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

…. often just a trickle in summer

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

The summit in good weather ….

…. but not so good on this trip

Heading back by Simon Fell

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

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

…. before the night finally arrives

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

Early evening on Ingleborough in more pleasant weather conditions

To be continued.

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

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

Approaching Pen y Ghent from Brackenbottom near Horton

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

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route in the Yorkshire Dales

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

The Three Peaks and the Challenge route

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

Early morning mist on Pen y Ghent

Afternoon sun on Whernside (JB)

Ingleborough evening (LS)

A dusting of snow on Pen y Ghent

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

10

Winter sunset over Pen y Ghent

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

Ingleborough from Simon Fell

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

2009 – Early morning start at Ribblehead ….

…. and early morning mist on Ingleborough

Kim on the summit of Whernside

The author and Kim on Ingleborough

The last one! Pen y Ghent

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

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

Ingleborough – Spring 1969

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

Stormy weather over Ingleborough (JB)

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

2009 – Pen y Ghent – on skis!

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

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

 

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

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

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#269 – Y Gamallt and the Migneint

The Llynnau Gamallt (Gamallt Lakes) seen from Y Gamallt

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

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

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

The moors of the Migneint in Snowdonia (centre)

The route

The area including Blaenau Ffestiniog

Closer view of the route

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

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

Ffynnon Eidda – ©Jeremy Bolwell

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

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

The cliffs of Craig Goch, Y Gamallt

The shooting hut by the lakes

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

Fast-moving Border Collie in search of crumbs!

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

Leaving the shooting hut

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

Heading back, with the Craig Goch cliffs beyond

Last view of  the Lakes

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

Time to head for home

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

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

#268 – Conwy Mountain and beyond

Conwy Mountain ….

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

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

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

The route

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

Setting out

Gaining some height

The view back to Conwy ….

…. and the view towards the summit

Small climbing crag – for small climbers?

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

The summit in the distance ….

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

Looking down to the A55 Expressway

The approach to Castell Caer Seion

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

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

Heading on towards Sychnant

Bwlch Sychnant (Sychnant Pass)

The view down the pass towards the village of Capelulo

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

The hill path above Capelulo ….

…. a bit narrow in places

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

Off the narrow bit at last ….

…. crossing the open moor of Waen Gyrach

Wild Carneddau mountain ponies

Ancient stone circle at Cefn Llechen

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

Passing Llyn y Wrach ….

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

Heading back towards Conwy Mountain

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

On the old bridleway

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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

#267 – Two days in the quietest corner of Snowdon

Looking down into Cwm Glas – Clogwyn y Person in the middle ground, Crib Goch behind

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Llyn Glas with the Crib Goch Pinnacles above

I described the lovely, quiet corner of Cwm Glas in an earlier post after a trip there in 2014 (see post #154).    It’s hard to believe that Cwm Glas is about 1 kilometre as the raven flies from the highest, busiest and most visited mountain in England and Wales, and I had been meaning to explore more of this high mountain valley, but it was 2019 before I returned, along with my usual hill companion, Border Collie ‘Mist’.

Llanberis Pass (centre) with the two routes to the south of the road

The two routes – April 2019 (red) and July 2019 (blue) with the 2014 variation (green)

Well, there’s nowt like making up for lost time, and in the space of three months, the dog and I had two great trips into this haven of peace.    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not moaning, as some do, about the crowds who hike over Snowdon (or Yr Wyddfa to give its correct Welsh name).  Yr Wyddfa is a lovely mountain and it takes more than a few hundred humans to spoil it – it’s just that the lonely  Cwm Glas still has a wildness and grandeur about it.

The April 2019 route in red with the 2014 alternative approach in green

The first trip was on a warm April day.  I decided on the direct route into Cwm Glas (Green Valley) via Cwm Glas Mawr (Big Green Valley).    The bus from Llanberis solves car parking problems, and there’s a stop opposite the start of the route at Blaen y Nant.  I followed the route I had taken in 2014 but decided on a variation, taking a more direct line between the two cwms instead of the variation (green on the map) that I had taken last time.

The direct approach to Cwm Glas from Cwm Glas Mawr (broken ground left of centre)

A handy looking path took me straight on this time, and the short rocky headwall ahead proved to be nothing of a problem – well, not if you have the reach of a human and hands with opposable thumbs.    It soon became obvious that the steep rocky headwall was going to be a bit much for ‘Mist’ until a couple of friendly guys offered the assistance of a rope.

Looking back down Cwm Glas Mawr

I think they were both itching to find an excuse to get the rope out, but I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.    I quickly improvised a harness out of a tape sling, clipped the dog on the end of the rope, and climbed up behind giving her an encouraging push up the bum when things became more difficult.

Higher in Cwm Glas with the small lakes of Llyn Bach (right) and Llyn Glas)

Selfie of old git and faithful companion (you decide which is which!)

The difficulties being behind us, I released the dog from her harness and said goodbye to our new buddies.   A retreat from the steep bit would have cost time and effort but it wasn’t long before we reached Llyn Bach (Small Lake) having by-passed Llyn Glas (Green Lake).    The steep slope out of Cwm Glas didn’t seem to take long, and in a short time the dog and I were posing for a celebratory selfie.

Back with the hustle and bustle of the Llanberis Path ….

…. probably the least pleasant way up or down ….

…. but we aren’t going that way!

Having taken the bus from Llanberis, we had to return there to collect the car.    The usual option is the least pleasant part of one of the best mountains in the UK – the Llanberis Path.    It’s a horrible slog, and I’ve never been up to the summit by this route.   The descent isn’t much better, but this time I was going off-piste to follow the skyline above the Llanberis Pass.

View down to the Llanberis Pass

Still following the railway ….

…. and still getting great views of Llanberis Pass

The Llanberis Path drops below the Mountain Railway at Clogwyn Station, and that’s were the crowds were heading.  The dog and I stayed by the railway instead, with great views down to the Llanberis Pass along the way.   It’s the first time I’d come this way, and it would make a superb runners route, but I was happy to amble down in my own good time.

The only sign of human activity – an old wire fence

Looking back along the descent route with Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in the distance

I re-joined the Llanberis Path near to Hebron Station on the railway, after taking a last look back along the descent route – one thing for sure, I think I’ve walked the Llanberis Path for the last time!

The July 2019 route in blue

The other route into Cwm Glas that I’d been itching to get back to is the Fox’s Path into Cwm Uchaf (High Valley) from the Crib Goch path.   I had written in the 2014 post (see post #154) about the great mountaineering route up the Clogwyn y Person Arête – we had taken the Fox’s Path that day, but I was wondering how difficult it would be to find after a gap of forty years!

Crib Goch summit – often mistaken for Yr Wyddfa by walkers

The summit of Crib Goch (Red Ridge) is the most obvious peak to hikers following the PyG track from Pen y Pass and is frequently mistaken for Yr Wyddfa, so much so that there are now discreet warning signs pointing out the correct route.   The route up to the summit of Crib Goch isn’t too bad unless you absolutely hate steep stuff, but the fun starts on the (in)famous Crib Goch Ridge.

The Crib Goch Ridge (August 2009)

A great day out – but not for the nervous! (August 2009)

It’s very ‘hands on’ as routes go, and although fit hikers with a head for heights have little difficulty, it’s a black spot for Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team who spend a lot of their operational time helping cragfast walkers down to safety.    It’s one of my favourite ways to Yr Wyddfa, but ‘Mist’ isn’t as agile as she was as a young dog, and I didn’t want any dramas, so the Fox’s Path was on the menu instead.

The rough line of the Fox’s Path

On the path to Crib Goch, looking down on the causeway and northern end of Llyn Llydaw

The route up Crib Goch looming ahead ….

…. but we aren’t going that way

The line of the Fox’s Path sets off as if heading for the summit of Crib Goch, but takes a turn to the right to contour round the flank of the North Ridge instead.    I had managed to acquire a small group of followers who didn’t really look as if the Crib Goch Ridge was their usual sort of route, and when I turned off on the Fox’s Path I wasn’t sure if they would continue following me.    They didn’t, and the Fox’s Path was mine alone – well me and a Border Collie.

The Fox’s Path to Cwm Uchaf and Cwm Glas ….

…. clinging to the hillside above the Llanberis Pass ….

…. before turning the corner into Cwm Uchaf

The view of the Crib Goch Ridge and Pinnacles as seen from Cwm Uchaf

I remembered little of the route from the last visit forty years earlier, but it obviously doesn’t get much traffic.    The path, clinging to the hillside in places, is little wider than a sheep track and is just the sort of place my missus hates!    A tumble or slip would be quite serious in places, but it’s a really neat path which heads round the North Ridge of Crib Goch to end up in Cwm Uchaf.    As the path turns into the cwm, the view of the Crib Goch Ridge above is one that people don’t usually see.

‘Mist’ has a paddle in Llyn Glas

Start of the slog up and out of Cwm Glas

Last view down into Cwm Glas ….

…. before joining the hordes on the top section of the Llanberis Path

‘Mist’ celebrated with a cooling dip in Llyn Glas before we headed up into Cwm Glas for the final ascent to join a short section of the Llanberis Path.    Every time I go to Cwm Glas, I seem to take a slightly different way up, and this time it was probably my worst choice of route ever!    After a slog of an ascent on a warm July afternoon, the dog and I joined the crowds to descend by the Pyg Track.

‘Mist’ at the marker stone at the top of the PyG Track

It had been another great day out, and for the dog it was about to get better in a couple of hours – it was almost dinner time!

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s.  I always include maps and pics to give an idea of where me and the dog have been. Please, please, please don’t use these as navigational aids if you follow these routes – they are just for illustration and the boys and girls of Llanberis MRT are busy enough!   If anyone needs accurate grid references to find the routes, just get in touch.

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