#239 – The Spine Race 2018 – “roughing it” at Greg’sHut

Greg’s Hut – at 700 metres on the side of Cross Fell

The annual epic event following the 268 miles of the Pennine Way National Trail in winter has earned the Spine Race the tag line of ‘Britain’s most brutal’, and there won’t be many who would argue with that description.  Walking Britain’s hilly spine over three weeks is a big enough challenge for most, but the athletes on the Spine Race have just one week to finish the course.


Cross Fell in Cumbria is the highest point in the race, and is frequently the most inhospitable.  Perched at 700 metres on the flanks of Cross Fell, Greg’s Hut is a haven in a very hostile environment, a place where the athletes get a temporary respite from the wind and snow.

New addition to the team – Kevin having a cuddle with Border Collie ‘Mist’

Since the first edition of the race in 2012, John Bamber and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) have made Greg’s Hut our home for three days in January.  Our Safety Team has always had a medic attached, and this year we were joined by Emergency Practitioner Kevin – we knew that we were all going to get on fine when Kevin offered to drive us all up to the hut in his Landrover.  It’s a long way to walk when there’s a total of fifteen rucksacks to shift!

The Burns Night supper ….

It soon became apparent that Kevin was much more than a medic or taxi driver – he had suggested holding an early Burns Night supper at Greg’s, with the traditional haggis, tatties and neeps (aka haggis, mashed potato and turnip) and sure enough that’s what he served.  The question has been asked, did we ‘toast’ the haggis with the vin de pays of Scotland (go figure it out!) – all we will say on the matter is ‘What happens at Greg’s Hut, stays at Greg’s Hut’.

…. followed by a Full English the next day!

Chef Kev in action

As if the Haggis supper (complete with recorded ceilidh music) hadn’t established Kevin’s reputation as one of the new legends of the winter edition of the Spine Race, the ‘Full English’ breakfast he cooked on the cast-iron hut stove confirmed it – Kev’s cooking certainly surpassed the dehydrated ration packs that we had been dining on.

‘Mist’ out for her daily walk

The author gets to use his snowshoes but wishes he had brought skis!

Just below the Cross Fell plateau

Very icy conditions before the big dump of snow

‘Mist’ running round in the snow like a puppy

All this good living could well have added a few inches to the waistline, but I always have the excuse of a dog walk for a little exercise.  The first trip out towards Cross Fell was very icy, where crampons would have been useful, but a huge dump of snow on the Wednesday left me wishing I had taken skis instead of snowshoes – ‘Mist’ loves the snow and charges round like a puppy, leaving me standing!

Time to go

“Taxi for Mr Bamber!”

All good things come to an end.  When the final racer is through the CP, and our duties are complete, we have been known to swap a story or three by that cast-iron stove, accompanied by a wee drop of ‘Scottish Thinking Water’ (well, it helps me think!).  Then comes the problem of how to get back to civilisation.  For the past two years, Spine ‘sherpas’ have been dispatched to carry down gear, but this year we were going down in style.

Alaister – a welcome sight for the Greg’s Hut team

The author admiring the packing!

Setting off for Garrigill ….

…. with the Border Collie in front as usual

Local gamekeeper Alaister is a kindred spirit with a climbing and skiing background.  He had visited us earlier in the week, and vowed that he would get us out, whatever the conditions.  True to his word, he turned up with a tracked vehicle that could carry all our kit, and (almost) all the Greg’s Hut team.  The cab looked as though it would have been a bit cosy with driver, three passengers and a dog, but ‘Mist’ needed a walk, so I was quick to volunteer to start walking down.

Things didn’t go altogether to plan

While I was having a great time snowshoeing down with ‘Mist’ (though still regretting not bringing along the skis!) the others had to dig the machine out of a snow-filled ditch on the way down – by the time Alaister came back to collect me and the dog, I had covered quite a bit of the return route, and I think I had the best of the deal.

The Spine Race – living up to the ‘Most Brutal’ tag line

Then the Spine Race 2018 was over for me, as I was heading straight back home to Wales, whilst John was heading for the finish line at Kirk Yetholme.  The race lived up to its ‘Most Brutal’ tag again in 2018, but the members of the Safety Team head back every year, just like the athletes, and the Greg’s Hut crew are already looking forward to next year’s fun, snow, haggis and tall-tales!

Looking forward to next year

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with extra material © John Bamber and Kevin Mason

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#238 – Back to the Pennine Way and the Spine Race

The Montane Spine Race – 268 miles of Pennine Way – In winter!

© John Bamber

One from the archives this week – I’m away on safety cover for the race and they won’t run a power lead out to Greg’s Hut, so here’s another airing of my favourite blog post on the Spine Race (Click to read).

© John Bamber

Back with the regular block in two weeks time – that’s if we aren’t snowed in!

© John Bamber


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#237 – It’s a dog’s life!

Woof woof!! – it’s that time of year again where I sneak up to the Boss’s computer thingy and write my own blog – I definitely do a better job than him!

Winter in The Carneddau, and the Missus having fun ….

…. but she can’t keep up with me!

We didn’t get to play in the snow much last winter, which is a shame ‘cos I like running round in the snow – when we did get a bit of snow in the Carneddau (see that – I’m learning the names now!), I was first up the hill as usual.

Apparently this is the Lost Valley – doesn’t look very lost to me!

Me having a good time on the Cuillin Ridge

Me and the Boss in Upper Coire Lagan

Me setting off towards Stac Pollaidh – see who’s in front, as usual

Me and the Boss again, heading for Beinn Eighe

When we got near the top you could see for miles!

I’m still faster than him though!

I’m still faster than him though!

In May we had a great time in Scotland.    My first proper dog-walk was up something the Boss called the Lost Valley.  Well OK, explain this in words a dog can understand – if that valley is ‘lost’, how come we are walking up it??  Just sayin’!!

After the Lost Valley (which we now know wasn’t really lost) we went to Skye, where I had fun on a bit of the Cuillin Ridge, but my favourite day was up on Beinn Eighe – pity the Boss can’t keep up with me.

And I’m definitely faster than the Missus

Here we are in the Lake District

No lakes here though

No lakes here either

Still, I can always raid the Boss’s pack for his sandwiches when he’s not looking

The Boss and the Missus went to the Lake District a lot this year – there you go again, he calls it the Lake District, but where were all the lakes??   Sometimes humans make no sense at all!    Still, I sometimes get the chance to nick his sandwiches when he leaves his pack near me – all a dog needs really.

The Boss does this every year – still don’t know how he does it

I see he’s still doing that corny trick of shrinking the Missus – I hope he gets her back to proper size before my dinner time!

Anyway, he’s coming back to his computer thingy so I’d better go – a big WOOF WOOF from me, and see you on a hill somewhere in 2018 – don’t forget your sandwiches!

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

#236 – Foel Fras from Aber (with a short wander in the dark)

Foel Fras, seen from Llwytmor

There have been many distractions in 2017 keeping me from the hills and mountains of North Wales, the main ones being the hills and mountains of the Scotland and the Lake District.    When the opportunity for a Welsh mountain day came along, I already had a suitable candidate – a return to the Northern Carneddau to finish off the route I had started (and abandoned) in March (see post #220)

The route, shown in blue (the red route is the abandoned section of March 2017)

The mountains of the Carneddau

Border Collie ‘Mist’ with Aber Falls in the distance

The original plan in March was to approach Foel Fras from Aber Falls, then to swing southwest to Carnedd Gwenllian.    Instead I had run out of time after a minor epic on the ‘greasy slab’ above Aber and snowdrifts on Foel Fras, and at Foel Fras summit I had gone northeast to Drum to shorten the day.   This time I was going to take the Gwenllian option and what’s more, I had a plan!

Aber Falls, seen from the walk in

Zoomed view of the falls

‘Mist’ next to the remains of the woods at Meuryn Isaf ….

…. showing the woods after harvesting

The plan was simple enough – the ‘greasy slab’ was almost certainly going to be in the same state as last time following a long, wet spell, so I would head straight for the diversion by the woods of Meuryn Isaf and Meuryn Uchaf.    Arriving at the woods, I was greeted by a scene of devastation – the forest had been harvested, leaving a wasteland behind.    Commercial forestry isn’t always very pretty, with its straight, regimented lines, but a felled forest is worse.

‘Mist’ with the three ‘Orsedd’ hills behind (L to R – Foel Dduarth, Foel Ganol and Yr Orsedd)

Llwytmor Bach ahead

Llwytmor on the left skyline

The tiny shelter at Llwytmor Bach

I pressed on up the slopes of Llwytmor Bach, leaving the wasteland behind me.    Looking northeast I had great views across to the ‘Orsedd’ hills on the route from Drum down to Aber, but soon my view was restricted to the grassy mound of Llwytmor Bach.    There is a tiny stone shelter at the summit, which seemed as good a place for a lunch break – Border Collie ‘Mist’ was in full agreement, and did a good job of mugging me for my sandwiches.

Looking ahead to Llwytmor from the summit of Llwytmor Bach

Foel Fras, seen from Llwytmor

Starting the descent to the col between Llwytmor and Foel Fras

The final long slog up Foel Fras

Foel Fras summit

From Llwytmor Bach (690 metres) I started on a long slog up Llwytmor (849 metres) and Foel Fras (942 metres) with a loss of height of seventy metres between them.    Last March the walking had been made more arduous by snowdrifts.   This time the ground was waterlogged, on top of which I was recovering from a heavy cold, and the summit of Foel Fras was a very welcome sight when I finally arrived at the trig point.

The path towards Carnedd Gwenllian

The rocky summit of Carnedd Gwenllian on the right with Carnedd Llewelyn in the distance

Carnedd Llewelyn (left) and Yr Elen (right) seen from Carnedd Gwenllian

From Foel Fras the route was effectively downhill, apart from the occasional cheeky bit of ascent.   First on the list was a descent to Carnedd Gwenllian, previously known as Carnedd Uchaf (High Cairn) but now renamed after Gwenllian of Wales, the daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Welsh ‘Prince of Wales’.   Rising in the distance was Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest peak of the Carneddau, with its satellite peak of Yr Elen, but for me it was time to head west.

On the return leg with Bera Bach on the centre skyline

Passing below Bera Bach ….

…. with wild ponies below the summit

The path below Bera Bach and Drosgl was a good navigational handrail, allowing good progress.    Not that I was in any rush – I had started late in the morning to tackle an 18-km route, so it wasn’t a question of would it get dark before I finished the route, but when would it get dark.    Fortunately, this was also part of the plan – my missus hates walking in the dark (I think she likes to be able to see what she is about to fall off!) but I love it.

The sun setting over the mountains of the Glyderau

Getting dark with Aber Falls just visible (centre) – the light showing high left is the forestry work

Sure enough, after passing Drosgl the sun dipped down behind the mountains of the Glyderau, and as I turned the corner to head back to Aber Falls, the darkness took over.  For me, walking in the dark is a real pleasure, giving a different dimension on being out in the mountains – the only dimension that ‘Mist’ was interested in by now was a round dish containing her dinner!

Time to head for home.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. At the start of the walk I had a fumbly moment trying to turn off the automatic flash on my camera – in doing so I also managed to turn down the resolution of the images to a measly 640 x 480, which is why the pics are not particularly sharp.   It was a pity I only realised this when I got home!

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#235 – The Grasmoor Hills – a quiet corner in the North-Western Fells of the Lake District

Grasmoor (left) and Whiteless Pike

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

Having a Border Collie means a decent walk for the dog, every day.   Most of the time I’ll go with Chris, and we do a good number of hillwalking dog-walks together, but every now and then I’ll go off with ‘Mist’ for a solo day as on our Scottish trip in May (see posts #224 and #230).   August saw us back in the Lakes and on Day 1 our dog walk had been on Rannerdale Knotts (see post #234) – the views across to the Grasmoor Hills had been good enough to tempt me back there for a solo day, so that was the Day 2 dog walk sorted.

The route (in red – blue route is Rannerdale Knotts, post #234)

Grasmoor and the North Western Fells

The North-Western Fells of the Lake District are hills for serious walkers, the hills that the tourists don’t bother with.   The Grasmoor Hills are part of this neglected corner, a complex set of linked ridges with Grasmoor the highest at an altitude of 852 metres, but nearby Crag Hill (839 metres) is the hub where the ridges come together.   It’s a group of hills I don’t know all that well, so a route including Grasmoor and Crag Hill would tick a couple of boxes.

The start of 730 metres of uphill

Looking back towards Crummock Water and the Rannerdale Knotts Ridge

200 metres higher at the start of the Lad Hows Ridge

One obvious fact about Grasmoor becomes obvious the more you look at it – It’s steep from just about any approach!    I was starting from Crummock Water, and the previous days outing on Rannerdale Knotts had been a good recce – the wide, heathery ridge of Lad Hows looked like being a more gradual and pleasant approach route than some of the alternatives, so that was the plan.

Looking back, it looks as though we’ve gained some height ….

…. but there’s still plenty more ahead!

Getting near the top

Looking back down the ascent route to the Lad Hows Ridge below

As Last! Heading for the summit of Grasmoor

Although Lad Hows was probably a less strenuous alternative to some of the other options, the route wasn’t taking any prisoners!    Starting from about 120 metres altitude, I had an ascent of 730 metres over 2.5 kms.   That averages to about a 30% slope, around 1 in 3.  It’s one of those routes that looks like a long way up as you start, and still looks like a long way up when you are halfway there!    Then, suddenly, you are at the top.

Looking north towards Whiteside and Hopegill Head

Time to backtrack a short distance, heading for Crag Hill

Whiteless Pike in the middle ground with Buttermere beyond and the Scafell Range in the distance

Crag Hill ahead, our next destination ….

…. but a bit of downhill followed by some more uphill

The view to the north from Grasmoor summit gave the first and only views of Whiteside and Hopegill Head, but as I backtracked to head towards Crag Hill I had a great preview of my intended descent route along Whiteless Edge and Pike, with the Buttermere Hills beyond and the Scafell Range in the distance to the south.   To the west the view was dominated by my next target, Crag Hill.    This involved a 130 metre descent followed by 120 metres uphill to gain the height lost – the gap between the two seemed a good spot for a wet* of coffee, with a biscuit for Border Collie ‘Mist’.    (* wet = Royal Marines speak for a drink!)

Looking back to Grasmoor from Crag Hill with Wandope (on my descent route) on the left

On the summit of Crag Hill looking down the Coledale valley, with Skiddaw and Blencathra in the distance to the left and the Helvellyn Range on the skyline from the centre running to the right.

On the move again, it was just a question of heading upwards on a not particularly steep slope.   The view back to Grasmoor gave a different perspective on the hill I had slogged up from Crummock Water, but the best outlook came on the summit of Crag Hill, with great views out to Skiddaw, Blencathra and the Helvellyn Range.   I guess that’s the whole point of the Grasmoor Hills – they aren’t much to look at from a distance, but the views from them to the other hills are amazing.

Looking back to Crag Hill on the way to Wandope

The author and ‘Mist’ on Wandope ….

…. and new buddy for the day – Brendon from New Zealand

I had already had a couple of chats to other walkers on the way down to Wandope – the Grasmoor Hills seem to attract friendly characters.   Then on Wandope I met Brendon from New Zealand – I’ve never met a New Zealander I didn’t like, but Brendon was a gem!  He was knocking off the ‘Wainwrights’ and having a great time in the Lakes – it turned out that we both knew people in Glenridding (Patterdale), and ‘the craic was mighty’ as they say in Ireland.   By the time we parted company we had been nattering for over half an hour!

On the descent to Whiteless Edge with Whiteless Pike beyond – ‘Mist’ ahead as usual!

Looking across to the ascent route up the Lad Hows Ridge with Crummock Water beyond

On Whiteless Edge ….

…. with Whiteless Pike ahead – last summit of the day

Heading back to the valley with the Rannerdale Knotts Ridge and Crummock Water ahead

Brendon still had some mileage to get in before the end of the day, but my route back to Crummock Water via Whitless Edge and Whitless Pike was almost all downhill.    From the Edge there was a great view across to my ascent route up Lad Hows Ridge before my final descent to the ridge of Rannerdale Knotts and a steady walk back to the camper for the usual happy conclusion to a walk – dinner for the dog (slightly overdue) and a cold cider for me.

Heading for home on the path below Rannerdale Knotts ….

…. with one last look up to Grasmoor

Text and images © Paul Shorrock


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#234 – Rannerdale Knotts, Crummock Water

Sunset over Crummock Water

Rannerdale Knotts

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

It seems odd that, surrounded by hills and mountains as we are in North Wales, Chris and I seemed to have spent more time on Scottish and Lake District mountains this year.  August was no different, which is why we ended up at Rannerdale enjoying views of the sun going down over Crummock Water in the North-West Fells of the Lakes.

The route, going anti-clockwise in the loop

The North-West Fells of the Lake District

Looking out to Crummock Water at the start

The objective – Rannerdale Knotts ahead

We had decided on a less energetic dog-walking day for Chris on day one and a trip out on the higher Grasmoor Hills for me the day after.   Rannerdale Knotts seemed to fit the bill for Chris, and Border Collie ‘Mist’ wasn’t all that bothered about where we went, just as long as it involved dinner on the return, so Rannerdale Knotts it was.

The bridge crossing Squat Beck

Leaving the lake behind

The Rannerdale Knotts Ridge, viewed from the east

Rannerdale Knotts is an interesting little hill next to Crummock Water, and legend has it that the valley with the stream of Squat Beck was the site of a battle between a combined army of the British and Norse settlers fighting against the invading Normans.   There is little evidence to support the legend, but we decided there was no point in letting that spoil a good story, so keeping an eye out for marauding Normans we set off.

Time to start gaining height ….

…. with Chris not entirely convinced by the state of the path ….

…. but there’s always a good view to look at to take the pressure off!

The path turns out to be as steep as it looked ….

…. and even steeper in places

The hill rears up steeply on three out of four sides, and we had one of the steep sides as our way up.  The path started OK on grass but then became steeper with a set of loose-looking stone steps heading upwards.   Chris didn’t seem all that impressed with the state of the path, but it turned out to be solid enough, even if it did start gaining altitude fairly rapidly – at least the views helped to distract her a bit.

At last a chance for a breather ….

…. and more views down to Crummock Water

One more steep section ….

…. but fairly short ….

…. before it gets level

Once past the steps it was straightforward, if still a bit on the steep side.  A short section of steep grass pointed us at a rocky little summit with a gradually descending ridge in front of us.    The hard work was definitely over, though to be honest neither the angle of the slope nor any sense of difficulty had the pulse racing.

Looking southeast up the valley and lake of Buttermere ….

…. while the views to the northeast are the Grasmoor Hills

Steady walking along Low Bank ….

…. with Robinson and Hindscarth in the distance

…. and High Stile and High Pike rising above Buttermere

‘A hill that doesn’t get the pulse racing’ is perhaps a good description of Rannerdale Knotts, but we were, after all, just looking for a good dog walk with a view and this ticked the boxes.   The hill does have the advantage of being surrounded by other, higher mountains though, with good views over to Buttermere and to the Grasmoor Hills, my destination for the next day.

All good things come to an end – time to start the descent

Time to head for home

A sandwich and a coffee for the humans and a couple of biscuits for ‘Mist’ added further justification for the trip, but it is a small hill and it wasn’t long before we had reached the end of the descending ridge to drop down into the valley to return to the camper parked near the lake.    The sun slowly set on Rannerdale knotts and darkness fell over the lake.  The next day on Grasmoor was shaping up to be a good one.

Evening sunshine on Rannerdale Knotts ….

…. before night falls over Crummock Water

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#233 – Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag

Dow Crag seen from Coniston Old Man

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

Our mammoth Scottish trip in May this year was finally coming to an end, but we weren’t in a rush to get home and the weather was good.   No problem that we weren’t in Scotland anymore, there was still time for a Lake District hill or two.   What better than an old favourite, Coniston Old Man.   Chris and I have been there several times on different variations of routes (see posts #179 and #182) but there’s often a new slant on an old idea.

The route, followed anti-clockwise

The route, showing Coniston and part of Coniston Water

Setting off on the Walna Scar Road

There are several ways to set off up the hill, with the route through the old mine workings featured in post #182 probably being the most obvious (and the most popular).   There is another way though, that most walkers don’t bother with.   It doesn’t even feature on a map, though the path the route takes is obvious on the ground and also on Google Earth.  That was the way for us.

“Yes, it’s up there somewhere!”

Time to start heading upwards ….

…. with more ‘upwards’ to come

Looking back down the Walna Scar Road towards the start point – Coniston Water in the background

And still more up!

I had written up this route for the Walking World website a few years ago, and it’s been quite a popular download.   One subscriber had recently found difficulty following the route on one section, so I went back to see if there were any problems or recent changes that might have crept in.   As I already knew the route, there was only one way to test it fairly – Chris would have to navigate!  Was this going to be a white-knuckle ride?

Looking across to the Walna Scar Road – our eventual return route ….

…. but still no end to the ‘going up’ business

Moving through a rocky section ….

…. before things start to level out a bit

At last – the summit of Coniston Old Man comes into view

I use just about any means to navigate that doesn’t involve black magic (though I would give that a try if it worked) and a combination of GPS, altimeter watch and good old-fashioned map and compass might be employed.  When I write routes for paying customers though, I try to see things through the eyes of someone who isn’t carrying round every navigation aid known to man.   Or woman in this case, as Chris took the lead.

The author and Border Collie ‘Mist’ at the summit

Looking north towards Swirl How but we aren’t going that way ….

…. next on our list is Dow Crag

‘Mist’ with a new buddy – “Are you sure these things are friendly boss?”

On the descent to the col of Goat’s Hawse with Dow Crag in the centre

Luckily Chris was on form, and took Border Collie ‘Mist’ and me up to the summit with no great difficulty.   At the top it was time for a couple of photos, including a rare pic of me and one of ‘Mist’ with a new buddy!   From the top, the most obvious choices to follow were either the ridge to Swirl How or a descent to Goat’s Hawse to get to Dow Crag – the last time we came this way the choice was Swirl How, so it looked as though we would do good old Dow Crag this time.

Looking back to Coniston Old Man and the descent to Goat’s Hawse

The ascent from Goat’s Hawse to Dow Crag

Looking back towards Swirl How ….

…. and Coniston Old Man

The descent to Goat’s Hawse is steady enough, as is the ascent to the summit of Dow Crag, which goes on a bit, but not in a brutal way.    The clear spring air gave good light for pics for once, and a warm pleasant day made a nice change.   The top of Dow Crag is rocky and was crowded by its usual standards, so we gave it a miss and set off for the bit with the views.

Leaving Dow Crag and heading for Buck Pike

Coming off Buck Pike ….

…. with Blind Tarn below

Brown Pike ahead ….

…. followed by the descent to the Walna Scar Road

The route from Dow Crag along the switchback of Buck Pike and Brown Pike is almost like a ridge walk – well, it is if you have a good imagination and look to the east and not the west.   We spent a lot of time looking east!   Before long, the tiny lake of Blind Tarn came into view, and I vowed for perhaps the hundredth time that I would visit it one day.    Not today though, we were on a mission, and before long we were striding out down the Walna Scar Road, stopping only to take one last pic of one of my favourite views of Dow Crag.

Heading for home on the Walna Scar Road ….

…. with one last look at Dow Crag

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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