#282 – Grindsbrook Clough, Edale

Heading up Grindsbrook Clough near Edale

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

 In August 2020 we were looking for somewhere suitable to head for in the camper van – regular readers will know that Chris and I (plus the ever-present Border Collie ‘Mist’) try to avoid campsites, not because we are too tight to pay but because we want to escape from crowds, not join them.    Sadly, the actions of some going ‘wild camping’ during the Covid-19 lockdown, had brought criticism from local communities, and no wonder!    So, we thought we might be pushing our luck a bit to go off-grid and opted instead for one of the campsites at Edale in the Peak District.

The area around Edale

Newfold Farm, previously known as Coopers Camping, was the choice.   Now, it has to be said that before he retired, Mr Cooper was one in a million, but for all the wrong reasons!  For someone making a living in the hospitality sector, Mr Cooper had a manner that was, at best, eccentric and at worst positively rude!    The thing is, the campsite is in a great location, with the hills of Edale Edge starting as soon as you walk out of the village.

The route – clockwise from Edale village

The start (and finish!) – The Old Nags Head

So we took a chance, and found the new campsite owners to be friendly and welcoming.  The two village pubs were both adopting to Covid rules and there was a cracking walking route out of the village, heading up Grindsbrook Clough – in short, we had all the ingredients for a good couple of days.  What’s not to like!

Heading out from the village on the original Pennine Way trail

Paved path to start with ….

…. and an interesting footbridge

The Pennine Way, opened in April 1965, was the first National Trail in the UK – 268 miles in length, it takes most hikers 2½ to 3 weeks to complete.    The Trail starts in Edale, at the Old Nags Head pub, and finishes in the Scottish border town of Kirk Yetholm.    The route originally headed out of the village by Grindsbrook Clough but had to be changed due to excessive erosion –  now, with less hiking traffic, the worst of the erosion is healed, so we stepped back in time to walk the old start of the Pennine Way.

Heading into Grindsbrook Clough ….

…. with quite a lot of water in the brook below

Looking back down towards Edale ….

…. before the clough starts to narrow

It soon became obvious that there had been some recent rain hereabouts!  The view from the path down to Grinds Brook showed the stream to be full and muddy brown in colour, but initially the valley is wide with the water far below the path.    However, as the valley starts to narrow, the path and stream get closer to each other, finally becoming good buddies.

Still lots of water

The view down the clough, shortly before the stream crossing

The crossing point ….

…. and a place to wring out socks after crossing!

Looking at the map, it was obvious that a stream crossing would be called for eventually, and so it came to pass.    The crossing point was reasonably narrow, but Chris didn’t fancy boulder hopping, with the chance of a tumble – the easiest option was to do as walkers in Scotland often have to do, and to wade.  The water was warm(ish) and only knee-deep, and once socks had been wrung out we were ready to carry on up Grindsbrook Clough.

Beyond the stream crossing, heading for the upper part of the clough

Looking back down Grindsbrook Clough, just after the Y-fork

Border Collie ‘Mist’ nearly at the top

Wind eroded stone – looking towards Grindslow Knoll

Beyond the crossing, the clough narrows even more – just before the top, where the route joins the plateau of Edale Moor and Kinder Scout, the valley splits at a Y-fork.   We took the left fork, which I found out later is probably less interesting as an ascent, but this way you suddenly appear at the plateau by a strangely shaped wind-eroded stone.    It was also a good place to stop for lunch and a brew.

The view east to Edale Edge

More eroded stones ….

…. with Grindslow Knoll in the distance

There were several options on where to go next, but on this occasion we opted for a wander by more eroded stones, before heading over towards Grindslow Knoll.   From there, we set our course to the Edale valley, with a final descent down to the current Pennine Way route – as a treat for my birthday we were off for a Covid compliant fish and chips at the Nags Head, but ‘Mist’ was just as happy with the usual meat and kibble.

The path to Grindslow Knoll

The Edale valley ahead ….

…. with the final descent – time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 4. Northern England | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

#281 – Bryn Cader Faner

Bryn Cader Faner, otherwise ‘The Hill with the Chair with the Flag’

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The Northern Rhinog mountains

The route to Bryn Cader Faner

Setting out – Moel Ysgyfarnogod on the skyline

A week after our trip to Rhinog Fach and Llyn Hywel (see post #280) Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) were back in the Rhinogs again, this time at the northern end of the range.   Our last visit had been in April 2017 for a walk up Moel Ysgyfarnogod (see post #221).   On that trip, we had thought of visiting the ancient stone circle of Bryn Cader Faner on the way back, but postponed that due to lack of time and a boggy marsh barring the way – time to put that right.

Small tumulus (burial cairn) on the route in

Border Collie ‘Mist’ with yet another tumulus ….

…. with a small stone circle nearby

‘Mist’ next to the stone circle, showing the size of the stones

The route out to the stone circle is over moorland rather than mountain, but it’s mostly around the 400-metre contour and a bad weather day wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun – thankfully, we had sun with just a gentle breeze.   Bryn Cader Faner (‘The Hill with the Chair with the Flag’) is over 4000 years old and we passed several ancient cairns along our route that possibly dated back to the same era – this area must have been very special to the people of the Bronze Age.

‘Mist’ checking out the locals, with a disused sheepfold just beyond

Getting nearer – Bryn Cader Faner is the small ridge in the centre of the image

Interesting looking dish-shaped stone on the route in ….

…. and yet another sheepfold

The climate in the Bronze Age was milder than nowadays, and it’s likely that it would have been habitable to humans.   Today the weather is much cooler with the main residents being sheep, and any stone structures still standing are likely to be old sheepfolds – we passed several on the route in, along with an interesting looking dish-shaped stone, but the main interest was the stone circle ahead.

Closer to the circle ….

…. with the stones just becoming visible

The track approaching the circle from the south ….

…. and finally a good view of the stone circle itself

Bryn Cader Faner

It is believed that the centre of the circle was a burial cairn, which measures  8 metres (27 feet) across and is 1 metre (3 feet) high.   Around the outside of the cairn there were previously up to 30 slender stone slabs, about 2 metres (6 feet) high, leaning outwards like spears, though there are now only 15 remaining.

Archaeologist Aubrey Burl, who until his death in April 2020 was regarded as the foremost authority on British stone circles, described Bryn Cader Faner as ‘one of the wonders of prehistoric Wales’.    Unfortunately, not everyone has shown the same reverence and respect over the centuries, with probably the worst act of vandalism being committed during WW2, when the army used the stones for target practice!

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in the distance, about 20 kms to the north

We spent some time at the circle, including time for a lunch break and a brew of coffee.  The stones were the star of the show, but 20 kms to the north of us we also had a great view of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) standing 1085 metres high (3560 feet) with a cap of cloud around the summit.

The route back, with the soggy bit coming up!

The north side of Llyn Eiddew Bach

The south side of the lake

Then it was time to head back, crossing the marshy ground that leads to the small lake of Llyn Eiddew Bach (‘Small Ivy Lake’).  As we arrived back at the car, there was a great view across the estuary of the Afon Dwyryd (‘Two Fords River’) to the village of Portmeirion – it’s famous as a tourist attraction in its own right, but some may remember it as the setting for the cult 1967 television series, The Prisoner.  All of which was of no interest to ‘Mist’ as dinner time had already come and gone.

Portmeirion , about 5 kms away on the estuary of the Afon Dwyryd .…

….with a closer view of the famous village

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales, Stone Circles | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

#280 – Rhinog Fach and Llyn Hywel

Llyn Hywel with Rhinog Fach standing above

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The Rhinogydd and surrounding mountains

Our first period of Covid-19 lockdown had finished at the beginning of July, and Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) hadn’t wasted any time getting back to the Welsh mountains (see post #277).   We even grabbed a trip to the Lake District (see post #279) but it was now time to do some more exploring back home in Wales – where better for a day out than the Rhinogydd (the Rhinog mountains).

Closer view of the route, clockwise from Nantcol

The Rhinogydd is an area avoided by the masses – you won’t find a queue to get to any summits here, as happened recently on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), nor will you find piles of litter, abandoned tents and discarded portable BBQs.   The reason is simple – these are rough, gnarly hills that won’t tolerate being mucked about with!   It is possible though, to have a great day out without any undue distress, you just have to pick your ground.

The view of Rhinog Fach starting out from Nantcol

The last time I was here was unbelievably as long ago as 2012 (see post #96) when I’d had a great day out with ‘Mist’ on the best that the Rhinogydd has to offer, which included just about all the high ground starting at Rhinog Fawr then heading south.    I didn’t think Chris would appreciate a long, rough day after our Covid-enforced break from the higher hills, but I had a route up my sleeve that would take us into the heart of the action – the lonely lake of Llyn Hywel.

Heading up towards Bwlch Drws Ardudwy ….

…. with Border Collie ‘Mist’ out in front as usual

The great thing about walking out to a lake is that you get the feel of the area without necessarily having to commit to a big mountain day, though ‘Mist’ looked ready for anything as usual.    We started out from the farm at Nantcol, where the farmer charges a reasonable (in my view anyway) £2 to park up for the day – good value compared with the £10 for the car park at Pen y Pass at the start of the most popular routes up Snowdon.  And that’s if you can find a space!

Looking back at the progress made

Approaching the bwlch

From Nantcol,  a steady path leads up to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy  (in Wales, a bwlch is a mountain pass)  between Rhinog Fach (the Small Rhinog) and its slightly higher neighbour, Rhinog Fawr.   The path isn’t used a great deal and is totally unlike the manicured trails found in the tourist areas.   It’s a route that gives plenty of time for looking around, without the danger of falling off anything or being hit by a carelessly lobbed bottle.    It’s wild, but in a sort of easy-going way.

Passing the small lake of Llyn Cwmhosan ….

…. then the ascent starts for real!

Well, that’s ‘easy-going’ until it’s time to start heading upwards – this might not have been a route up a mountain, but it was certainly a route in the mountains.   The path obviously doesn’t get a load of use, and it soon disappeared in steep heather and boulders.   It would have been easier to find the path in descent, looking down on it, but going up it was easy to lose the route by straying no more than a couple of metres.   It was hard work all round, especially for ‘Mist’ who couldn’t get a run-up at the boulders and rock steps, and it was with some relief that we emerged a couple of hundred metres short of the lake. 

Out of the rough stuff at last!

It was there we saw the only other humans we saw all day – we had a pleasant chat with the guy and his female companion, talking about photography amongst other things.   He mentioned that he had videos on YouTube, and I thought his name sounded familiar, and so it should have done!   Nick Livesey is a well-respected professional photographer (and thoroughly nice guy) – his book ‘Photographing the Snowdonia Mountains’ is a great inspiration to those of us who try to capture images of the mountains, but is also a great read for lovers of mountain photos.   Get it on your Christmas present list!

Llyn Hywel and Rhinog Fach

Passing Llyn Perfeddau on the way back

The view out to the coast

Llyn Hywel is a beautiful, quiet spot, and we lingered for a brew and a bite to eat.   From there, an easy and gradual descent across open hillside and tracks took us back to the valley at Pont Cerrig.   A short walk up the quiet road led us back up to Nantcol and the car, with a great view on the way of Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr, with Bwlch Drws Ardudwy in between.   The only view ‘Mist’ was interested in was the contents of her dinner dish back home!

Rhinog Fach (left) and Rhinog Fawr, with Bwlch Drws Ardudwy in between

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s.   The last post previous to this one was at the end of August, but with good reason – we took advantage of a temporary improvement in the Covid situation to get away in the camper, with a six-week trip to Scotland.   We probably would have returned a bit earlier until we got the news that if we headed home to Wales, we would be locked down locally in Denbighshire, so we stayed on the road instead!    Now, as I write this, all of Wales is locked down again for two weeks, but that should give me a chance to sort out about 1000+ photos!

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

#279 – Walla Crag, (nearly but not quite) Bleaberry Fell and Derwent Water

Bleaberry Fell, with the summit shrouded in mist

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Spring 2020 in the UK will be remembered by many for the unusually warm and dry days of April, May and June.   It will also be remembered for the Covid-19 lockdown, and during those fine weather months, we were confined to hiking on our own patch (see posts #275 and #276).   I shouldn’t complain – there are folk who would drive for miles to get to the northern end of the Clwydian Hills, but when the restrictions were lifted it was good to branch out a bit further to Cwm Idwal (see post #277).

Derwent Water and the route

The route in blue, with the abandoned section in red

It was mid-July before we ventured out of Wales for a short stay in the Northern Lake District.   Our first day out to Castlerigg Stone Circle (see post #278) had been mizzly and damp, but Day 2 was forecast to be better.    Sure enough, the rain stopped but the cloud base was still low, and the planned trip over Bleaberry Fell and High Seat looked like being nothing more than good navigation practice in the mist.  Ever optimistic, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) decided to give it a go.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ sets off, leading the way as usual

On Bleaberry Fell, the ‘other mist’ comes down even lower

Approaching Walla Crag ….

…. with the view down to Keswick, Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake ….

…. while on Bleaberry Fell, the mist might just be lifting

‘Mist’ (the dog that is) is a welcome addition to any hike, but me missus does like to see where we are going, and the ‘other mist’ rolled in and out as we set out from Castlerigg.   By the time we reached the top of Walla Crag it looked as though things might clear up a bit, and there were views over Derwent Water and the surrounding country, though there was still a big grey cap over the hills around Borrowdale.

The view from Walla Crag

Heading south from Walla Crag ….

…. with constantly changing views across Derwent Water

Looking towards ‘The Jaws of Borrowdale’ in the distance ….

…. and the view to Cat Bells and Maiden Moor across the lake

So, a compromise was reached – we would take the lower track to Ashness Bridge and see how things looked when we arrived there.    I like to head for the summits as a rule, and it’s easy to forget that there are some cracking views on lower ground, so we enjoyed the constantly changing views over the lake and Borrowdale as we dropped down to Ashness for a lunch break.   The tops were still murky and misty, and before long we hit on an alternative plan.

The Bob Graham memorial cairn ….

…. and the plaque

One of the objects of the trip had been to find the cairn built to commemorate Bob Graham.   This was harder than expected due to the size of the cairn (small) and the height of the surrounding grass (high) – persistence paid off, and after some searching, we located the memorial.   In June 1932, Bob Graham completed a circuit of 42 Lakeland fells in 24 hrs,  covering 66 miles (106 km) with a height gain of 26,900 feet (8,200 m) – the most remarkable thing about this achievement was that it would be 28 years before anyone repeated it!

The Bob Graham Round © ‘Thincat’ (Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

In my 30’s and 40’s I acted as pacer/navigator on several Bob Graham rounds done by other runners (my usual patch was the stretch from Dunmail to Threlkeld over Fairfield, Helvellyn and the Dodds)  but to my regret, I never got round to attempting the whole thing myself.   It’s a tough test, but one that continues to attract mountaineers and club runners, and by the end of 2019 there had been more than 2300 successful rounds in summer conditions.

Barrow House, now an independent hostel but previously a guest house run by Bob Graham

We celebrated Bob Graham’s achievement with a brew of coffee before finally admitting that the high-level route was going to be a boring wander in the clouds.   Then inspiration struck – in all the years I’ve been walking and rock climbing in Borrowdale, I had never walked along the lakeside path by Derwent Water.   So, we headed down through the woods passing Barrow House, which Bob Graham had run as a guest house from 1943 to 1961.

Boat jetty on Derwent Water

The view back to Walla Crag from the lakeshore

St Herbert’s Island with Cat Bells ridge beyond

‘Mist finds a new friend

Down by the lakeshore, the views were familiar but different, giving a different angle to the usual panorama from higher up.   One of the highlights was the view back to Walla Crag, emphasising the vertical distance down to the valley from the summit rocks, where we had earlier watched hikers wandering around, totally oblivious to the drop below.   The main highlight for ‘Mist’ was meeting up with a young male Collie, who could almost have been a twin.

On the way up to Castle Head

The view south into Borrowdale from Castle Head

On the way back to Castlerigg, we headed for the top of Castle Head, a mere 161 metres in altitude, but with a surprising view into Borrowdale – over the years, I must have driven past there several hundred times without ever setting foot on the hill!    Then it was back to the Crag Bar at the Heights Hotel, where the landlord usually has music from the 1970’s playing (Tubular Bells on our visit) – a nice, cold cider was our extra reward on top of what had already been a rewarding day.

Our reward!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except for the map of the Bob Graham Round, which is reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

Posted in 2. Lake District | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

#278 – Castlerigg Stone Circle (and other things!)

Castlerigg Stone Circle – on a fine weather day! © Unknown

July 2020, and the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were finally lifted in Wales (see post #277). Our neighbours over the border had been travelling to mountain areas in England for a couple of weeks now and it was time to join them. Sadly, the actions of a selfish minority were hitting the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons, with wild locations and beauty spots being ‘trashed’ by so-called ‘wild campers’.

Rubbish abandoned by so-called ‘wild campers’ in the Lake District © Unknown

Wild camping is not legal as such in England and Wales (different laws apply in Scotland) but has been tolerated for decades where campers have behaved responsibly. Years of goodwill were ‘trashed’ in a couple of weeks, along with abandoned tents, chairs, clothing, food and other less-pleasant waste. Several weeks on, this behaviour is now more correctly being called ‘fly camping’ to associate it with anti-social fly-tipping.

Abandoned tents and other rubbish, left in the Lake District © United Utilities

Unfortunately, campervans have for some unknown reason been included in the generic ‘fly camping’ references. For years Chris and I have used our camper to visit quiet, wild places – we have enjoyed these places responsibly, leaving nothing more than the faint marks of our tyres, and often carrying out rubbish left by others. It was far too sensitive an issue to risk parking the van in a wild location for now, due to the risk of heavy-handed official enforcement or local vigilante action. We were going to have to use a campsite.

Campsite © Andrew Jervis and the Geograph Project

Some believe that campervan users who avoid campsites are too tight to pay campsite fees – for us, that’s not the case, and I would happily pay a local farmer to park up for the night in a quiet corner with a good view. I don’t like campsites because they have rows of vans and tents, like a small housing estate – not my idea of having a good time. Our problem was that camping was suddenly on everyone’s wish list of ‘things to do’ in the summer of 2020, and vacant places were not easy to find. In the end, we found a place near Keswick, not ideal but not as bad as some. As a bonus, it was near Castlerigg Stone Circle.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick

The day dawned in a grey, mizzly way, not at all uncommon in Cumbria – those complaining about the rain need to stop a moment to consider why the area is known as the Lake District! Still, there is a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, so we set off with Border collie ‘Mist’ to Castlerigg Circle, all of us wearing our waterproofs, including the dog.

Near to Castlerigg Stone Circle, Chris meets one of the locals ….

…. and ‘Mist’ finds a very strange looking sheep

For those who are reading this and thinking that Collies are born with a perfectly good waterproof coat, that’s completely correct. In fact, they have two coats, a thick outer coat of coarse hair to keep out the worst of the weather, and a softer inner coat to insulate – the problem is, once ‘Mist’ is wet through, she stays that way for the rest of the day. Not a problem for the dog, but not very convenient in the confines of a camper. Our solution is a natty looking dog jacket that keeps off the worst of the weather. So, with the party suitably togged, we set out to step back in history.

Castlerigg Stone Circle was created about 4500 years ago in the Neolithic period (New Stone Age) and was built by Neolithic farmers. It is believed that they would have moved their settlements on a seasonal basis, spending winter in the low fertile lands and moving to the upland grazing in summer, a pattern followed in other farming communities throughout the world even today. However, they must have been highly successful farmers to have the spare capacity and resources to build monuments such as Castlerigg.

Why they built circles such as Castlerigg is a mystery and will probably remain so. There are more than 300 stone circles in Britain, most of them being later Bronze Age burial monuments, about 3000-4000 years old. These later Bronze Age circles often contain the remains of human cremations, but their earlier Neolithic predecessors in Cumbria such as Castlerigg, Long Meg and her Daughters and Swinside circles do not contain formal burials.

One suggestion is that the early circles were used for astronomical predictions. It has been plotted that at the autumn equinox, the sunrise at Castlerigg appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, 3½ kms to the east. Some of the stones are aligned with the midwinter sunrise and others with positions of the moon. This again suggests a sophisticated community who had the time and vision to concern themselves with matters beyond mere subsistence farming.

Other research has connected Castlerigg with the important stone axe industry that thrived in nearby Langdale and was one of the earliest examples of organised industry. Stone axes started out as basic tools, but by the Neolithic period they were often made to be decorative and ceremonial objects. There was an important trade in these later ornamental items and Langdale axes have been found throughout Britain and Ireland and even as far as Continental Europe, and it is possible that Castlerigg was a meeting place where the axes were traded.

The trading of axes could also have been linked with early religious practices and Castlerigg was undoubtedly an important meeting place for the Neolithic farmers in their seasonal movements. So, take your pick – religious centre, trading post, community meeting place, astronomical calendar, Castlerigg Stone Circle could have been all of these and perhaps more. Even today it still draws visitors like a magnet.

By the 19th Century, the circle was so popular with visitors that action had to be taken to stop tourists chipping pieces off the stones to take away as souvenirs – perhaps anti-social behaviour by visitors is not such a recent problem! The site was taken into guardianship in 1883 and was one of the first ancient monuments to be given legal protection by being scheduled as such. Todays visitors seem happy enough to take just photographs away with them

The mizzly rain finished as we arrived at the Circle, but that was as good as it was going to get. Overcast and cloudy skies don’t always produce good photographs and the drama of a full-blown storm might have given better pics. I started by trying to get shots without people in them before the penny dropped – this was a place where our ancestors came to meet, and people would have been part of the scenery. What could be more natural than adding modern-day visitors to this timeless site?

Always impressive – but best seen in fine weather! © Unknown

Most of the images in this post are mine, with a little polishing to make them more presentable, but let’s face it, the star of the show is the Circle itself and has been for the past 4500 years.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where otherwise indicated.

Posted in 2. Lake District, Stone Circles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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

The entrance to Cwm Idwal, just off the Ogwen Valley

(For the best viewing experience, left click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back)

Cwm Idwal

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

The Afon Idwal stream, with Cwm Idwal beyond

The Afon Idwal bridge

Cwm Idwal, with Idwal slabs on the left

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

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

Zoom view of the small island

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

Wild swimmers having a great time

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

Approaching Idwal slabs, popular rock-climbing area ….

…. which looks a bit different in winter

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

Closer view of Twll Du

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

Nearly at The Slabs ….

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

The first climbers on Idwal Slabs for several months

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

The upper path to Twll Du indicated by the arrow

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

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

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

The new bridge crossing point © Mal Davies – Flickr

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

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

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

Border Collie ‘Mist’ enjoys a swim in Llyn Idwal

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

Then it’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where otherwise indicated

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

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

Sheeptracks and sunshine

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

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

The route from Bodfari

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

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

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

Setting out from Bodfari

Interesting root system on the tree

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

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

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

Out of the trees at last ….

…. and better views down to the valley ….

…. with Bodfari far behind now

The col before Moel y Parc – decision time!

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


Setting off upwards, looking for Sheeptracks

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

Hoppy, you’re a grand chap!

Following the high sheeptrack towards the Lonely Cairn

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

Hoppy, you’re a genius!

Adrift – in a green sea

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

Hoppy, such vast local knowledge!

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

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

Hoppy, you bastard!

Out of the bracken at last

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

Hoppy, what a smart-arse!

The Lonely Cairn – at last!

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

Hoppy, Oh what fun we had!

Lunch break – and a sunshade for ‘Mist’

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

Off again, still heading upwards

Moel y Parc TV mast ahead

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

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

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

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

The Clwydian Hills

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

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

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1 – Mynnyd y Cwm and Marian Ffrith to Dyserth

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

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

In the woods on Cwm Mountain

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

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

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

The aircrash site memorial at the summit

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

The plaque on the memorial

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

USAAF B17 Flying Fortress – © Unknown

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

Fallen trees blocking the forest track ….

…. with more to come

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

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

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

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

Approaching Marian Cwm

Small limestone outcrops on Marian Ffrith

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

Looking back to Mynydd y Cwm….

…. and looking forwards with the sea ahead

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

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

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

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

Day 2 – Dyserth to Prestatyn

The ODP from near Dyserth to Prestatyn

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

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

Higher up on the Prestatyn Hillside section

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

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

Steeper section of path

Prestatyn ahead

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

Off the hillside and onto the road

Prestatyn High Street, very quiet during Covid-19 lockdown

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

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

Looking back to Prestatyn Hillside on the skyline

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

‘Dechrau a Dewidd’

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

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

The north side of Ingleborough

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

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

The Three Peaks area, showing Ingleborough and the route

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

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

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

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

Ingleborough ahead on the right, seen from Ivescar

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

Runners at Chapel le Dale heading for Ingleborough

Double stile just before the causeway path to Humphrey Bottom

Higher up the causeway path with Ingleborough getting nearer

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

Trig point, cairn and summit shelter

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

Ingleborough summit plateau

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

The summit shelter

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

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

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

On the descent now, looking back at Ingleborough

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

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

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

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


My, but how things changed ….

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

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

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

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

…. and looking back to the same gate in 2017

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…. got to keep them moving!

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

…. and ‘Mist’ still keeping them moving!

Steep ground on the rock step …

…. but eventually they all get to the summit!

Pen y Ghent behind now ….

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

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

Starting to get a bit steeper now ….

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

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

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

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

‘Mist’ and friends on Ingleborough summit

Herding the final customers on their way

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

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

‘Mist’ © Babs Boardwell

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


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

Heading for Pen y Ghent (JB)

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

Pen y Ghent with a snowy cap

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

Route 4 – Horton to Ribblehead via Pen y Ghent

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

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

Todber Moss and some of the bog – ©Steve Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The route wasn’t always straightforward ….

…. and was sometimes downright misleading

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

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

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


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

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

27 January 2010 – a misty, moisty wander

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


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

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

Approaching the summit shelter in snowy conditions ….

…. and finding it occupied in even snowier conditions

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

At the bottom of the ‘grassy rake’

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

The two hikers teetering on the slope above the rake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bridge at Nether Lodge ….

…. and an abundance of places to head for!

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

The long track heading for Ingman Lodge

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

…. followed by a bit of car dodging to Ribblehead

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

The dark line of Ribblehead railway viaduct with Whernside beyond

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

For today, the route finishes here


To be concluded in the next post.

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

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


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