April 2018:

Hello. We're catching up our writing. Below we show the most recently edited entries first. If you'd prefer, here's a list of everything in reverse chronological order. Hopefully that's not too confusing.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Pennine Way

Blackshaw Head → Ickornshaw

pry-hill.jpg Distance: 15.40 miles
Ascent: 706 metres
Duration: 6 hours 28 minutes

The wind-blown moors
« Not walked | Not walked »

We started today's walk in mist and drizzle, which only started to clear once we'd made it to Wadsworth Moor. The surface of the Walshaw Dean reservoir became a clear reflecting mirror, an idyllic blue that almost overcame the memory of the traipse over soft ground to reach it.

widdop-reservoir.jpgMuch of the day has been on high moorland; heather and rushes thriving in the boggy ground. At various places flagstones have been laid to make life easier for those following the National Trail; not only do these provide a solid path across the wettest sections, but they also act as reassuring navigational aids on expanses of land devoid of obvious features. Today was our first real experience of the wettest bogs of the route, and we're now learning how these areas of ground slow us down and make for tricky, unreliable walking.

top-withens.jpgThe sun didn't last long — the low clouds returned on cue to add dramatic lighting to the most evocative section of the walk over Withins Height. Top Withins is thought to have been the inspiration for Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Its setting is certainly dramatic enough, but the many paths which lead to the now-ruined farmhouse don't come close to the bleakness experienced later in the day.

ickornshaw-moor.jpgIt didn't help that the drizzle returned during the later stages of the walk, but cold, boggy Ickornshaw Moor seemed to stretch on forever; clumps of brownish heather hiding deep, water-filled peaty gulleys. There are several standing stones marked on the map close to the path but either the mist, or the end-of-walk tunnel vision, meant that we didn't see them. It was a relief to finally head downhill into the fields around Cowling, and the sight of neat rows of terraces marking the end of the walk.

Posted by pab at 19:20 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Pennine Way

Standedge → Blackshaw Head

wainwright-route.jpg Distance: 17.19 miles
Ascent: 616 metres
Duration: 6 hours 39 minutes

It's Grim Up North
« Not walked | Not walked »

m62.jpgWhile the previous two days have been mile upon mile of desolate moorland, today, human attempts to tame the landscape have been very visible, starting with the ventilation shafts for the Standedge Tunnels that were visible from the conservatory of the Carriage House Inn where we spent the night. These tunnels are amongst the longest and deepest in the country, three carrying railways while the earliest is a canal tunnel. The audacity of the Victorian engineers in deciding to carve a hole through four miles of solid rock is awe inspiring.

roman-road.jpgTwo other cross-Pennine routes from different eras came later. First was the M62 motorway (which will forevermore remind me of the JAMS' industrial dance single "It's Grim Up North" as well as our friend John Davies' walk ten years ago). Then a little later we found ourselves on the cobbled remains of a Roman Road, a critical trade route.

Throughout the day we've seen reservoirs; some built to feed the canals while others supply fresh water to the northern conurbations of Manchester, Burnley and Rochdale.

stoodley-pike.jpgThe last landmark of the day was a different affair altogether. Standing proud on Stoodley Pike is a needle-shaped column intended to celebrate peace won after the Napoleonic battles, though I get the feeling it was more a monument to military might than a call to laying down of weapons. If you intend on climbing the monument, be sure to take a torch -- there's no illumination on the spiral staircase that leads to the balcony.

Today's stretch of the Pennine Way ends just above Hebden Bridge, a former mill town, and it's hard to imagine, given its green setting today, how it would have looked with black smoke belching from the chimneys of the many industrial works, steelyard and cotton mills. Although the loss of industry has shaped the town, it's tempting to think that the change has been a good thing overall.

Tonight, we're staying in a B&B on a sheep farm just outside Hebden Bridge, which we got to after walking along steep, narrow footpaths up the hillside. We've been treated to hot baths and a delicious home-cooked meal of roast lamb and vegetables ("everything's our own except the tatties"); a satisfying end to a tiring day.

Posted by pab at 21:19 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Pennine Way

Torside → Standedge

torside-reservoir.jpg Distance: 13.04 miles
Ascent: 776 metres
Duration: 5 hours 43 minutes

Community
« Not walked | Not walked »

crowden.jpg"How did you get on today?", asked the woman at the bar. "You know, with your walking." I didn't recognise her without her bulging rucksack and red hat. We'd talked yesterday shortly out of Edale. It was easy to spot the Wayfarers then, full of enthusiasm. Pragmatism has stuck in now, with the wild campers shedding excess food, the B&Bers thinking about baggage transfer services and everyone realising there's a long way to go yet. I suspect we'll meet up every now and then in pubs and youth hostels; share tales from the trail, but otherwise be very British about things (even now, we don't know each others' names).

emley-moor.jpgMany reviews of the Pennine Way describe the first two days as the toughest, and it's not hard to see why. Today, the path started with a slog up a stony track to crest Laddow Rocks, before creeping along the edge of a cliff overlooking Crowden Great Brook. After a gentle descent along sometimes narrow and rocky paths, criss-crossing fords through the Brook, we ascended the rough, bleak and boggy Black Hill, before making our way back down to the A635. A beautiful vista opened out from the top of the Hill: as West Yorkshire came into view we could make out Emley Moor Transmitter (the UK's tallest freestanding structure), a large power station, and a wind farm outside Holmfirth. There was a deep clough to cross on the way down, with a typical knee-wearying descent and ascent along steep, slippery tracks.

wessenden-frame.jpgThe way ahead, around the north of Wessenden Moor, was easier. Reservoirs came into view, acting as useful waymarks in what otherwise seemed like featureless moorland; the never ending Blakely Clough, which separates Black Moss and Swellands reservoirs, was particularly monotonous.

Near the end of the walk we passed a roadsign declaring this to be Saddleworth Moor, a vast expanse of moorland, which it is widely believed holds the as-yet undiscovered grave of one more of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley's victims. The Moors Murders took place round about the time that the Pennine Way was opened.

As our heads hit our pillows in the Carriage House Inn our new friends are comparing camping gear in the pub's garden. It's rare for us to find this level of community in our walking routes; hopefully, we'll see them throughout the week.

Posted by pab at 17:34 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Pennine Way

Edale → Torside

start-edale.jpg Distance: 15.63 miles
Ascent: 843 metres
Duration: 6 hours 55 minutes

Starting out
« Not walked | Not walked »

Here goes then: our first attempt at walking the UK's first National Trail. The Pennine Way was opened in 1965 and stretches for 250 miles from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders. All being well we'll have a celebratory half pint in Kirk Yetholm two weeks tomorrow.

hope-valley.jpgAnd it started so well! A low cloud inversion hung in the Hope valley as we climbed out of Edale. The village where the Way starts is currently hosting Bogfest 2017, which features an organised walk along half of our route today, so we set off early to avoid the crowds.

jacobs-ladder.jpgAlmost immediately we climbed strenuously to the plateau of Kinder Scout, a hill that's taken on the mythical status as the birthplace of the Right to Roam movement eighty-five years ago. It was a further sixty-eight years before the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 made a good start on the campaigned-for rights in England and Wales, but south of the border we're still way short of the world-leading access rights conferred by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. For a hill that has such significance in social history, we'd expected it to feel more significant in some way; in reality, the hard slog up its stony flank removed any romantic notions that we may have had.

The map suggested that after the initial climb, the remainder of the walk would be easy: a scamper along the plateau and then a descent into Torside.

edale-rocks.jpg

What we'd not bargained on is how complex that "along the top" walk would be. The Way is the least well waymarked of any National Trail we've seen so far and even when on the correct route, each step needs to be carefully considered since the ground is in equal parts peat bog and rough rocks. To be fair there are lengthy sections laid with flagstones too, but the other parts slowed our pace severely. On this stretch the comical call of the occasional grouse lifted our spirits slightly. What other animal quite literally shouts "quack"?

torside-clough.jpgRoute finding is tricky for other reasons too. On top of Bleaklow Head there are very few visible landmarks and the ascending path is hidden in a deep cleft. It started to rain on this section, and the intermittent drizzle persisted for the rest of the walk.

The highlight of the lengthy descent at the day's end was a friendly black and white cat on the valley floor who had been patiently watching us make our way down, ready to welcome and love anyone who'd stop to say hello.

So there you have it. Fifteen miles down, two hundred and thirty-five to go. We have started; when will we finish?

Posted by pab at 19:14 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Pennine Way

Malham → Horton in Ribblesdale

Distance: 15.82 miles
Ascent: 963"" metres
Duration: 6 hours 24 minutes

Limestone country
« Not walked | Not walked »

Malham Cove and Pen-y-Ghent are two of the Yorkshire Dales' big-hitters. Today's walk started at the former and finished at the latter; it was bound to be a gem.

Unfortunately the weather didn't fully cooperate. While it remained dry, low cloud and high winds reminiscent of our walks across the moors earlier in the week meant that we didn't get the classic views which postcard creators crave.

In fact, although our guidebook has promised views of Pen-y-Ghent for days, we'd not seen it until we began the descent of Fountains Fell, the preceding climb. As we reached the summit of Fountains, the mist cleared briefly to unveil the challenge that was up next, before veiling it once more.

And what a challenge. Climbing the southern ridge is an exciting way to ascend Pen-y-Ghent: a tough, stepped approach with a short section of light scrambling. With the wind doing its best to throw us from the rock, our hearts raced until we finally reached the summit plateau, the highest point along the Way. After a brief shelter from the wind, we took the long, slow, gentle track down the hill and across the moor to Horton.

This is limestone scenery at its best.

Notes: ascent from south much more interesting than laborious slog from west, but handwork necessary.

Posted by pab at 20:49 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 21 August 2017

Film

Wind River

cinema-ticket.jpgPart of the joy of seeing at least one film a month is that I end up seeing things I wouldn't otherwise watch. Rather than select a specific movie this month I went along to our local Odeon's Screen Unseen preview night. The deal is that for £5 you get to see a film, but you don't know what it is until the BBFC certificate appears.

Tonight's film was Wind River, a slow-burning drama set in the wintery hills of Wyoming. It's all culture clash, unchecked testosterone and an out-of-depth outsider.

Ultimately it was a good film, but rather too violent for me. The title card says it's "based on actual events", and there's a closing card that suggests the purpose of the film was to highlight a particular issue. I don't think it did that well, but it was an interesting telling of a story that left me scratching my head once again at American gun law while also recognising how little I know of native Indian reservations.

Posted by pab at 22:45 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Film

Dunkirk

cinema-corridor.jpg

I feel as if I'm the only person who didn't think this was the Greatest Film of All Time. I get it: war is horrible, yet it inspires unparalleled acts of bravery and patriotism. I just don't feel this film took me forward in my thinking; if anything, the events of Dunkirk evacuation seemed smaller on screen than they always were in my imagination.

Posted by pab at 21:54 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Film

Hampstead

cinema-screen.jpgMy presence lowered the average age of the audience by about ten years.

There is nothing worthwhile about this film. Just don't bother.

Posted by pab at 22:05 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Film

Miss Sloane

projection-room.jpgMiss Sloane is a fantastic thriller set deep amidst the lobbying world of Washington DC. Jessica Chastain barely leaves the screen and deserves all the accolades she has received for the ice-queen act that doesn't let up one minute.

Highly recommended.

Posted by pab at 15:37 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Cotswold Way

Tormarton → Bath

frosty-start.jpg Distance: 17.51 miles
Ascent: 640 metres
Duration: 6 hours 22 minutes

Pilgrims' end
« Not walked | Not walked »

A sharp frost overnight had hardened the ground, giving us some respite from slithering around on muddy paths, but the air temperature was still freezing as we set off from Tormarton. The landscape had also changed, from grazing pasture to huge arable fields, and it was hard to see where the chalk escarpment had disappeared to.

dyrham-wood-notebook.jpgAfter crossing the busy motorway, the route turned south, passing more strip lynchets and erratic fields before skirting Dyrham Park, with its grand house just in view. Dyrham Wood, at the top of a gentle climb from the estate, has a message box for visitors to leave details of interesting sightings, but the real joy was in reading walkers' accounts of their journeys so far — some bounding with energy, others ... not.

griffin-monument.jpgBeyond Cold Ashton, we spotted the first of a series of metal flagposts marking the site of the 1643 Battle of Lansdown. Although the Royalists eventually forced the defending Parliamentarian army to retreat, many were killed or wounded, including Sir Bevil Grenville, who had led a force of Cornish pikemen. Grenville's monument on the edge of the battle site is one of the oldest war memorials in the UK, a sad testament to a loved leader.

royal-crescent.jpgWe could see Bath for some distance away, and as we gradually got closer to it, we sensed we were leaving the ancient countryside of hill forts and flinty chalk downland behind us. The final route into the city centre took us past fine Georgian houses and the famous Royal Crescent (with selfie-stick toting tourists), before we made our way to the official end marker outside the doors of Bath Abbey.

Amongst the crowds of people we felt slightly wistful for the peace of the open fields, but it was a fitting way to end this beautiful walk of contrasts.

bath-abbey.jpg

Posted by pab at 14:13 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Cotswold Way

Wotton-under-Edge → Tormarton

holloway.jpg Distance: 16.47 miles
Ascent: 626 metres
Duration: 6 hours 19 minutes

Pastures and parkland
« Not walked | Not walked »

Setting off from Wooton, we took time to visit Hugh Perry's almshouses on Church Street; this quiet group of stone houses, standing around a small chapel, was built to house poor men and women, on the injunction that they "constantly attend upon the public prayers". Suitably chastened, we followed the Cotswold Way into farmland, walking along deep, overhung lanes filled with beech leaves.

This is ancient farming country; hillsides were marked with the ridged echos of old strip lynchets, evidence of a long history of use. This stretch of the Way also took us past the site of two mills, used for grain and fulling cloth, a reminder that the sheep grazing nearby would once have been part of a major local economy.

After a brief reminder of William Tyndale (the route passes Little Sodbury church, where Tyndale heard preaching that inspired him to start translating scripture into English) we continued through the extensive Iron Age hill fort of Sodbury Camp. Unlike some of the smaller forts along the path, Sodbury is well preserved, giving a sense of containment and safety inside the hefty walls.

dodington-park.jpgIn complete contrast, Dodington Park is a mannered, clipped, Capability Brown estate, where trees and landscapes have been artfully managed to create an aesthetically desirable vista. The temptation to run wild across Sir James Dyson's immaculate lawn was strong, but we resisted, heading out to the untamed woodland beyond.

Posted by pab at 15:04 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Cotswold Way

King's Stanley → Wotton-under-Edge

wotton-hill.jpg Distance: 16.21 miles
Ascent: 944 metres
Duration: 6 hours 4 minutes

A meeting with Tyndale
« Not walked | Not walked »

trig-point.jpgMuch of today's walk continued along the clearly-defined chalk escarpment, peppered with the remains of tumuli and long barrows, and old quarry workings. Nympsfield barrow was surprisingly extensive, with an impressive height that would have taken skill and effort to build. The even larger Uleybury hill fort was well worth walking around to appreciate the massive earthworks built by its founders.

stinchcombe.jpgThe path took us steeply over the quarry-marked Cam Long Down, dropping briefly into the busy market town of Dursley, before another strenuous climb to reach the top of Stinchcombe Hill. There's a cheat's option of walking across the neck of this high ground, but we walked around the edge of the plateau, taking in the view of the Severn bridges and the distant hills to the west.

tyndale-monument.jpgThe Tyndale Monument at North Nibley was also very clear on the horizon — a graceful tower tucked amongst trees on the hillside. Built in 1866 in the village of his birth, it commemorates William Tyndale's work translating the Bible into English, for which he was burned at the stake as a heretic. In the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation it felt especially appropriate to visit.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Our guide book shows a direct route to the Tyndale Monument but the path has since been diverted; where the path leaves the road just south of North Nibley, follow the bridleway to SO 744 957 before turning back to rejoin the main Cotswold Way. The diversion is signposted on the ground.
Posted by pab at 15:23 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Cotswold Way

Birdlip → King's Stanley

bright-woodland.jpg Distance: 17.13 miles
Ascent: 730 metres
Duration: 6 hours 11 minutes

Like a rolling cheese
« Not walked | Not walked »

coopers-hill.jpgThe beginning stages of today's walk took us through more deciduous woodland, in clearer weather than we'd had yesterday. A very pleasant wander along a gently-climbing woodland track eventually brought us out to the foot of Cooper's Hill, famous for the annual cheese-rolling race. It's much smaller, and steeper, than either of us imagined. Thankfully, rather than crawling straight up the face of the hill, the route zigzags around the back of the hill to gain the top of the escarpment. Standing at the top — with a cheese-roller's-eye-view of the slope — we could only imagine the bravado needed to attempt the chaotic run back down to the bottom. It wouldn't be pretty.

vineyard.jpgMuch of today's walk was through quiet woodland, with wild arum, wood violets and ransoms already showing fresh green leaves. We'd seen gleaming white clumps of snowdrops amongst the remains of tumbled-down stone walls, too, so it was slightly ironic to watch a stream of traffic being marshalled into the grounds of Painswick House, which was advertising its own snowdrop display, presumably at a cost. We stopped in Painswick, a beautifully-preserved stone-built town, for a very welcome coffee.

severn-plain.jpgClimbing once again to the chalk ridge, the best views of the day were at Haresfield Beacon, where the path takes a circuit of the Iron Age hill fort known as The Bulwarks. The Severn plain and the distant Black Mountains were visible from this airy promontory, making up for previous murky horizons, before we decended again to meet the canal and mill building on the edge of Stroud.

Posted by pab at 15:03 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Cotswold Way

Dowdeswell → Birdlip

moss.jpg Distance: 10.96 miles
Ascent: 523 metres
Duration: 4 hours 19 minutes

Cheltenham and Gloucester
« Not walked | Not walked »

mud.jpgHeavy rain passed overnight, turning much of today's route into thick, claggy mud. It left behind a low cloud which muffled all views. Despite the mizzle we managed to see the Devil's Chimney, an interesting rock stack left behind by quarrymen on Leckhampton Hill.

cheltenham-view.jpgLater on we also caught a glimpse of Cheltenham, with GCHQ's "doughnut" offices just visible (though not mentioned on the toposcope). Another view claimed to show Gloucester Cathedral, but we couldn't make out a thing.

treetops.jpgMostly though, we've been walking in woodland, slowly making our way around the hills that fringe these two towns. On such a dreary day it's no surprise that the highlight was lunch. We can highly recommend the café at Crickley Hill nature reserve for jacket potatoes and cake.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Once again our guidebook is out-of-date. South of the A40 the Cotswold Way now climbs almost as far as the A436 before turning west at SO 990 186, rather than passing through the centre of Lineover Wood.
  • The A417 by the Air Balloon pub at SO 935 161 is the most dangerous road crossing we've ever had to make: traffic approaches the roundabout in two lanes at insane speed, and there's a blind corner to make it even trickier. Good luck.
Posted by pab at 15:28 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Cotswold Way

Winchcombe → Dowdeswell

cheltenham-racecourse.jpg Distance: 11.69 miles
Ascent: 567 metres
Duration: 4 hours 27 minutes

A familiar but distant hill
« Not walked | Not walked »

For the fifteen years Greenbelt was held at Cheltenham Racecourse I looked up at the stony cliffs of Cleeve Hill and wondered what the view was like from there, looking back at the town. We finally found out. Today's walk has been a long zig-zag up and over the hill, finally dropping down to the A40 just east of Cheltenham.

landrovers.jpgThere's been plenty to see, including the magnificent ancient burial tumulus of Belas Knap, the impressive Jacobean opulence of Postlip Hall (now a cohousing community), and — audible for a good half mile before we reached them — a group of men (and it was mainly men) driving Landrovers around an improbable course in a disused quarry. We've also seen rather more mud than we'd have liked.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Since our guidebook was published the path has been re-routed east of Cleeve Hill. After passing Belas Knapp, instead of continuing on to Wontley Farm the path now turns right (north-west) at SP 011 250 along a field edge, then downhill through Breakheart Plantation to meet a road at SP 009 262. It then heads north-west again, turning left in front of Postlip Hall and picks up the bridleway around the left and back of the hall to SO 999 272 before running east to the clubhouse at Cleeve Hill.
Posted by pab at 14:40 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Cotswold Way

Broadway → Winchcombe

shenberrow-hill.jpg Distance: 12.24 miles
Ascent: 505 metres
Duration: 4 hours 25 minutes

Back on the horse
« Not walked | Not walked »

We're back on the Cotswold Way after a couple of months' break. At one point we passed a man struggling to get back on his horse after passing through a gate; sometimes resuming a long walk feels like that.

stanton.jpgLeaving Broadway behind us, we slowly ascended to the escarpment, a prominent feature that we'll keep company over the next few days. The Cotswold escarpment is marked with evidence of earlier settlers: the route passes the remains of the ramparts of Shenberrow Camp, one of several Neolithic Hill forts that made the most of the excellent defensive position offered by the limestone cliff. The same golden limestone features in many of the older Cotswold buildings, including tiny estate village of Stanway, with its grandiose gateway and hall.

A steep climb back up the escarpment from Wood Stanway, over increasingly muddy fields, gave us an exhilarating view of the Malvern hills across the Vale of Evesham, before we turned west to circle the outside of the Beckbury Camp earthworks. We enjoyed the birdsong filling the beech woods on the decent down to the ruined Hailes Abbey, before squelching over fields to meet the sunken lane into Winchcombe.

Posted by pab at 14:54 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Cotswold Way

Chipping Campden → Broadway

start-marker.jpg Distance: 6.18 miles
Ascent: 204 metres
Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes

The year's final trail
« Not walked | Not walked »

Our walking plans for 2017 included completing two more National Trails. We realised a while ago that was too ambitious, but today at least we can start on one of them. This short walk sets us up nicely to walk the rest of the Cotswold Way, hopefully early next year.

As has become the trend, the Cotswold Way starts at an elaborate modern marker: a stone disc set into the pavement beside the Market Hall, engraved with words from a previous resident of the town, T.S. Eliot:

Now the light falls across the open field leaving the deep lane shuttered with branches dark in the afternoon

Rather unloved next to it is the original marker, a much simpler affair stating "Bath 100m". I much prefer it.

Since we were cloaked in mist for the entirety of this short walk, we don't have much to report.

broadway-tower.jpgWe've been here before anyway, on Jane's 40th birthday weekend. But even before then, in a way these hills have a story intertwined in mine. I remember Dad pulling over in the car when Jez and I were nine so he could point out Broadway Tower. Only much later did I discover that Mum and Dad spent their first night as a married couple in a hotel in the village. Through the mist and my faded memory I caught a glimpse of a story that began fifty years ago.

Posted by pab at 12:49 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 11 August 2017

North Downs Way

Dover → Boughton Aleph

england-coast-path.jpg Distance: 25.91 miles
Ascent: 938 metres
Duration: 7 hours 38 minutes

Coda
« Folkestone | Not walked »

"Hold on," you're thinking, "didn't you finish the North Downs Way last week? How can you be back for more?"

round-down.jpgAt its eastern end, the North Downs Way presents two options for getting to Dover. We took two days over the northern option last week, which goes via Canterbury. The southern option is more direct, continuing the line of the Downs to Folkestone before turning to Dover. It's a bit tricky to split the southern route into two sections so I've come back for a mammoth final leg, walking from Dover back to where the routes split just outside Boughton Aleph.

I'd done much of the first half before — but in the opposite direction — on the coastwalk almost fifteen years ago. Things have changed though: it's great to see the new England Coast Path waymarks.

channel-tunnel.jpgSomething else I didn't see last time was the Channel Tunnel terminal. It's huge — and noisy! Although operational for almost 25 years I've still not used it myself, so I found it fascinating looking down at this, our new frontier with Europe.

llama.jpg Once past the tunnel I turned inland, gained the crest of the downs, got my head down and walked. Ultimately today was a trudge, a "ticking-off" exercise in the warm sunshing. When I finally got home I'd walked over thirty miles, the most I've ever done in a day. These National Trail codas are getting to be a dangerous habit.

Posted by pab at 21:04 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

North Downs Way

Canterbury → Dover

oast.jpg Distance: 20.48 miles
Ascent: 468 metres
Duration: 6 hours 47 minutes

The pilgrimage continues
« Not walked | Deal »

via-francigena.jpgWe were surprised to see that the path out of Canterbury was still called "Pilgrims' Way," and that it was accompanied by small waymarks of a yellow person carrying a bag. These indicate the route of the Via Francigena, a thousand kilometre route from Canterbury to Rome. If we didn't have any other walking projects on at the moment it would be tempting to follow along.

The route through the last twenty miles of Kent is relatively unremarkable. It's much of the same: wide open fields, chalk downland, oast houses, villages and parkland.

banksy.jpgDover itself came as a bit of a shock. After all this countryside, being thrust into the town was a jarring experience, especially as the town is defended by a busy dual carriageway road to the port. The town seems to be generally bypassed by most people — it's not interesting enough to stop in, on the way in or out of the country, but it's significantly influenced by its proximity to mainland Europe. On the seafront only a Banksy mural begins to wonder what will change here in the next few years.

So that's it: the North Downs Way is complete. Whilst we're tempted to walk on to Rome, we're instead getting on the train home to plan our next National Trail.

dover.jpg

Notes for future walkers:

  • If your guidebook tells you that the Trail ends in the Market Square, it's wrong. Continue ahead through a subway to the seafront where a plaque embedded in the prom provides a much more fitting conclusion to the walk.
Posted by pab at 16:34 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

North Downs Way

Charing → Canterbury

pilgrims-way.jpg Distance: 18.61 miles
Ascent: 440 metres
Duration: 6 hours 12 minutes

Even pilgrims pay
« Not walked | Not walked »

It was clear from early on today that we were approaching somewhere significant: the path grew wider and busier.

harvest.jpgWe passed through fields of wheat being harvested, endured another thunderstorm (is this a regular "Saturday thing" on the North Downs?), saw orchards full of minibuses and chalets for migrant workers. There are dozens of sermons here waiting to be written.

pilgrim-arrival.jpgAfter a long walk, we two pilgrims finally arrived in Canterbury. Delighted to reach the cathedral before it closed, we paid the admission fee (walking The Pilgrims' Way wasn't listed as a qualifier for free entry) and sat in the vast, quiet space.



canterbury-cathedral.jpg

Back out in the cloisters two Dutch women approached. They'd seen us earlier on the walk, where their tour coach had stopped for lunch. I'm sure we missed some of the historical detail by not having a tour guide with us, but I much preferred arriving this way.

Posted by pab at 16:45 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

North Downs Way

Holingbourne → Charing

pilgrims-rest.jpg Distance: 8.36 miles
Ascent: 208 metres
Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes

A byway, open to all traffic
« Not walked | Not walked »

For most of today's walk the route is technically a "byway": a route open to all traffic. Others were certainly making the most of this, with half a dozen trail motorbikes passing us at one point, and a handful of Landrovers squeezing past a little later.

landrovers.jpgThis green lane is the old Pilgrim's Way, and although its surface doesn't seem to have been updated in hundreds of years, its "open to everyone" nature similarly remains. I wonder whether pilgrims of old were similarly squeezed into the margins of the path.

Posted by pab at 21:46 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

North Downs Way

Cuxton → Hollingbourne

meadow-flowers.jpg Distance: 16.92 miles
Ascent: 699 metres
Duration: 6 hours 33 minutes

Out of place
« Not walked | Not walked »

Seven years later, it's high time we finished walking the North Downs Way.

kits-coty-house.jpgThe first few miles were on tarmac, crossing the river on the huge Medway Viaduct alongside the roar of the M20 motorway and the whoosh of high-speed rail. We never quite escaped the noise of people moving faster than us, but the path soon returned to downland and before long we found ourselves dropping to the foot of the escarpment alongside the remains of a 6,000 year-old burial chamber.

shy-horses.jpgKit's Coty House looked completely out-of-place, the kind of thing you'd expect in west Wales, not here in the deep south-east of England.

stormy-downs.jpgBack on the downs we found ourselves caught in a thunderstorm before the walk was over, lightning striking the ground quite close by. The one positive result was that the thunder drowned out the otherwise incessent sound of traffic.

Posted by pab at 19:57 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 26 March 2018

Yorkshire Wolds Way

Ganton → Filey

staxton-wold.jpg Distance: 11.42 miles
Ascent: 378 metres
Duration: 3 hours 21 minutes

Sprint to the sea
« Not walked | Scarborough »

We had intended today to be far more leisurely. Instead we got up early and raced to Filey, frequent glimpses of the sea drawing us forwards.

raven-dale.jpgDespite the pace we had time to appreciate our final walk through a deep Wold, at Stocking Dale, where the trail is overhung by hawthorns and scrubby birches, and filled with the sounds of skylarks and songbirds. Once the path rose again to follow field edges, it felt like we'd reached the end of the rolling terrain that we'd become accustomed to. Instead of a sudden change, the landscape gently evened out into flat fields, with increasing numbers of houses. By the time we reached Muston it felt like we'd left a week's worth of pastoral wilderness behind us.

The plan to catch a late afternoon train home was scuppered by Northern Railway massively reducing their services today due to industrial action by the RMT. That left us with twelve miles to cover before the one and only train at 1230; a tall order, but just about achievable. In the end, we found we'd covered the distance at 3.3mph – too fast to really appreciate the scenery.

acorn-marker.jpgSince leaving Hessle we've passed sturdy acorn distance markers every five miles measuring the distance from each end of the trail. These seem to be a unique feature of the Yorkshire Wolds Way, but I'd love to see them adopted by other National Trails — they provide a reassuring rhythm to the walk and an encouragement of progress being made, counting down to the finish line.

filey-station.jpgWe reached Filey with almost an hour to spare; sufficient time to drop to the prom where we linked this walk with our coastwalk but not quite enough to make it to the formal end of the trail and back. (Good job we walked that stretch back in 2013 then.) The Yorkshire Wolds Way ends where the Cleveland Way begins, on the top of Filey Brigg. In a way we've come full circle this week.

So that's National Trail number twelve complete. Depending on how you count, just two or three more to go, and we're already over half-way through the longest of those.

Posted by pab at 12:16 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Yorkshire Wolds Way

Thixendale → Ganton

thorpe-bassett-wold.jpg Distance: 21.95 miles
Ascent: 718 metres
Duration: 7 hours 3 minutes

Springtime
« Not walked | Not walked »

thixendale-dawn.jpgSpring has well and truly sprung, although there was a little frost on the ground first thing before the sun had risen over the deep Thixen Dale. The clear skies transformed the rest of the day. There wasn't a cloud in sight, and the contrast between today's glorious weather and that of the previous weekend is remarkable.

wharram-percy.jpgThe highlight of this leg was always going to be the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy. For us, this came after a four mile walk across empty valleys, a much more evocative way of approaching the site than the 500 metre jaunt from the car park. All is not as it seems though. The derelict church was in regular use until 1949, its ruined appearance dating from ten years later when the tower fell. Of the medieval village there is little to see — just outlines of buildings on the ground. Even less evident is the railway which passed through the site until the Beeching cuts. This isn't the cut-off place that romanticists would have you believe.

guardian-warriors.jpgThe landscape changed again on this section, deep dales giving way to a defined escarpment edge, and just after passing Wintringham we caught our first glimpse of the North Sea. At West Knapton, the point where we turned east, stands a modern artwork said to depict the Enclosures Act, but it left me rather cold.

We didn't linger long; we had a lot of ground to cover — more than originally intended, but we've set ourselves up very nicely for the final push tomorrow.

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Saturday, 24 March 2018

Yorkshire Wolds Way

Goodmanham → Thixendale

lambs.jpg Distance: 20.27 miles
Ascent: 798 metres
Duration: 6 hours 51 minutes

Folds and dales
« Not walked | Not walked »

sylvan-dale.jpgOur B&B hosts - both seasoned Wolds Way walkers - warned us that the route would dramatically change at Millington, so we set off with a degree of foreboding. The path from Goodmanham to Millington was much the same as yesterday: all arable fields and chalk downs. But once we'd climbed above Millington village we crossed a succession of winding, deep and empty dales.

thixendale-spiral.jpgThe sensation was rather claustrophobic. Alone apart from the sheep, there was nowhere to run, and no civilisation for comfort. The grassy hillsides towered over us and the only escape was to walk to the end of the dale, rather like being trapped in a tunnel. The villages in these undulating hills often get cut off after heavy snow; it's not hard to see why.

Iwolds-halfway.jpgn Thixendale we passed the halfway mark for the Yorkshire Wolds Way. It's come about so quickly; a product of this being the shortest National Trail and the fact that we've taken on a pretty long day today.

Tonight we're staying in the Cross Keys in Thixendale. There's no mobile reception, no television and no Wi-Fi. The comforts and securities of our modern lives are absent, but sat next to the open fire, listening to the chatter of locals and visitors, waiting for a hearty pie, we couldn't be more content.

Posted by pab at 16:35 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 23 March 2018

Yorkshire Wolds Way

South Cave → Goodmanham

sancton-wold.jpg Distance: 11.30 miles
Ascent: 375 metres
Duration: 3 hours 38 minutes

A bit of south in the north
« Not walked | Not walked »

cave-castle.jpgFor all its grandeur, and despite its quirks, the Cave Castle Country Club is a walker-friendly hotel. We weren't the only people at breakfast with a Wolds Way guidebook, and as we checked out the receptionist made sure that we'd "picked up some snacks for the walk" at breakfast. (Suddenly the individually wrapped pieces of homemade lemon drizzle cake at the cold buffet didn't seem out of place.)

The walk itself was very much a case of "getting on with the job," following a path that felt like many other National Trails of the south. Lots more chalk downland, reminiscent of the Ridgeway. Lots of straight, old, green lanes that reminded me of Peddars Way. At one point we even saw a vineyard, like on the North and South Downs. And to remind us that the weather still isn't settled, a dash of cold wind that for once had swung round to face us.

swin-dale.jpgThe countryside here is getting bigger: the route took us across larger hills, and at one point through an extended dry valley, speckled with stony chalk. The landscape felt more undulating than yesterday's gentle introduction, as we turned away from the brown Humber estuary and headed deeper into the Wolds.

Even accounting for the better weather we've been surprised to see so many people on the Yorkshire Wolds Way. Our B&B hosts for tonight provided the answer: the trail has featured on TV a number of times this past year.

Posted by pab at 16:50 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Yorkshire Wolds Way

Hessle → South Cave

yorkshie.jpg Distance: 13.38 miles
Ascent: 381 metres
Duration: 4 hours 34 minutes

Yorkshire, part II
« Not walked | Not walked »

humber-bridge.jpgThe Yorkshire Wolds Way starts on the banks of the Humber, in the land of cream telephone boxes. We've been here before, on our coast walk. Back then it took us seven days to walk 105 miles to Filey along the coast. This week the Yorkshire Wolds Way should get us back there in five days, by the shorter 89 mile inland route.

cream-phone-box.jpgWe may be broadly in the same part of the country as the Cleveland Way, but the landscape is quite different. The limestone escarpment is replaced by gently rolling chalk downland, the high moorland by huge arable fields. Thankfully, the weather has moved on too, with a real sense of spring in the air.

grave-mouse.jpgOne charming link with earlier in the week is at All Saints, Brantingham. Standing in the churchyard are two wooden grave markers, quite simple in design but beautifully aged. Seventy years ago these were carved by Robert Thompson of Kilburn, whose workshop still produces furniture and other wooden objects, each adorned with a signature carved mouse. The ways these grave markers are slowly weathering and decaying fits perfectly with their purpose; before too long they too will have returned to the earth from which they were crafted.

We'll be keeping an eye out for more of Thompson's work as we make our way across the Wolds this week.

Posted by pab at 15:40 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Cleveland Way

Kilburn White Horse → Helmsley

cote-moor-road.jpg Distance: 8.79 miles
Ascent: 176 metres
Duration: 3 hours 3 minutes

Wildlife wakes up
« Not walked | Not walked »

This final stage of the Cleveland Way is very different to all the others. Almost immediately the path turns its back on the escarpment edge and heads into rolling farmland. Soon it descends to follow a wooded glade towards the ruined abbey at Rievaulx. It's then a short (and seemingly popular) stroll through muddy fields to Helmsley and the end of the Cleveland Way.

blackdale-deer.jpgAs the landscape changed, we started to notice more wildlife too. We left behind the grouse of the wild moorland, replacing them with phesants and partridges. Hares dashed across arable fields and deer scampered through the gently wooded slopes.

What a walk! Five years since we started walking this National Trail, we finished it having endured the worst weather we've ever walked through. Surely walking the 109 miles from Saltburn to Helmsley is enough? You'd be forgiven for thinking so, but we've still got half a week to go. Tomorrow we start another walk, another National Trail, and with Filey as our destination. Let's hope the weather plays along.

helmsley-signpost.jpg

Posted by pab at 12:25 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Cleveland Way

Osmotherley → Kilburn White Horse

black-hambleton.jpg Distance: 13.91 miles
Ascent: 486 metres
Duration: 4 hours 57 minutes

The Hambleton Hills didn't get the memo
« Not walked | Not walked »

A brief amble around the outskirts of Osmotherley took us onto the edge of the Hambleton Hills, an area of heather-rich grouse moorland. As we skirted Black Hambleton we were gently snowed on, adding to that still lying; the general thaw hadn't reached here yet. Despite the drifts and slush, this was an easy, mostly level stretch that quickly brought us into woodland at Steeple Cross.

hambleton-drove-road.jpgThe Cleveland Way leaves the old drove road just before High Paradise Farm, and as tempting as it was to stop at the tea room, we headed south through a mixture of woodland and open fields, following the edge of the escarpment. The ridge swings back and forth, offering panoramic views across the plain to the east, before winding up Sutton Bank.

sutton-bank.jpgThe residual snow — deep in places, melting to wide puddles of brown water — hid the outlines of some of the tumuli and disused quarry pits that mark the area, and made for slow going as we negotiated the limestone cliff edge. Our persistence was rewarded as we reached the end of Sutton Bank, accompanied by a glider taking off from the adjacent airstrip, and took what local author James Herriot claimed to be "England's finest" view to the south and east (though it was a little too hazy for us to agree).

kilburn-horse.jpgThe white horse hill figure facing Kilburn is slightly less majestic — a greyish, lumpen nag close-up — but easier to appreciate from the village below.

kilburn-mouse.jpgAlthough not on the path, it's worth visiting the village of Kilburn — particularly the church and pub — to see the woodwork of local craftsmen who adorn each of their pieces with a tiny church mouse. Founder Robert Thompson ("The Mouseman") is buried in the cemetery.

Posted by pab at 16:54 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Cleveland Way

Garfit Gap (Wainstones) → Osmotherley

cold-moor.jpg Distance: 9.68 miles
Ascent: 672 metres
Duration: 4 hours 2 minutes

Thaw
« Not walked | Not walked »

"I hope you have a better day today than yesterday," offered a total stranger as we left the village this morning. Maybe word of our presence had leaked from the pub. Perhaps like the first cuckoo of spring, the first walkers to arrive indicate that winter is over.

And so it was. Throughout the day we watched the fields below the escarpment turn from dazzling winter white to luscious springtime green.

broughton-bank.jpgThe first descent after the aptly named Cold Moor was painfully slow, each foot having to be lowered gingerly into the drifts of snow. By the time we were making our third descent there was hardly any snow to be seen, and the final miles into Osmotherley were characterised more by mud than ice.

carlton-moor.jpgThe dry weather and blue skies opened up the views north and west. In the distance we could make out the backbone of the Pennines, laid out in a long row. We'll be back soon to finish them off.

lww-clain-wood.jpgWe've walked through the thaw and seen the seasons change before our eyes. The cold wind is still about, but it's lost its ferocity.

Posted by pab at 19:41 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Cleveland Way

Kildale → Garfit Gap (Wainstones)

warren-moor.jpg Distance: 10.89 miles
Ascent: 756 metres
Duration: 3 hours 57 minutes

Exposed
« Not walked | Not walked »

We seem to have become instant celebrities in the hotel where we're staying tonight. "You're the first walkers we've seen this year," said the receptionist at check-in. Her colleague was falling over himself to offer us a lift to the start of tomorrow's leg, a packed lunch, and advice for the route ahead. At the bar we were told we were "at least two weeks early for walking." Everybody expressed astonishment that we'd walked at all today. I think we share their surprise.

Snow continued to fall overnight and throughout the morning. The cold easterly didn't let up, gusting at 50mph and dropping the wind chill temperature to -10C.

boundary-stone.jpgWe saw scarcely a soul, so we had the views across the Cleveland Vale all to ourselves: a patchwork of crisp white fields, dotted with sheep huddled together for warmth. Ours were the only footprints in the virgin snowscape.

Climbing out of Kildale we passed a monument to the crew of a Hudson aeroplane that crashed nearby in January 1941. Although the four airmen survived the crash, they didn't survive the two days out in the cold before they were discovered.

wainstones.jpgThe highlight today was the descent through the rocky outcrop of the Wainstones. Here the snow had drifted 25cm deep in places. Thankfully by this time we'd started to see other footprints and were able to safely follow them through the maze of crags.

garfit-gap.jpgNo more snow is scheduled to fall, but tomorrow is still due to be bitterly cold. Hopefully the path will remain walkable, and not disintegrate into a paste of slush and mud.

Posted by pab at 16:09 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Cleveland Way

Saltburn-by-the-Sea → Kildale

cook-monument.jpg Distance: 15.39 miles
Ascent: 1089 metres
Duration: 5 hours 19 minutes

Snowberry Topping
« Runswick | Not walked »

For us 2018 is about unfinished business. We're trying to finish off all the National Trails in England and Wales. Five years ago we walked the coastal sections of the Cleveland Way; it's time to finish the trail with the inland leg.

This morning though, we weren't sure we'd even start. Overnight a bitterly cold easterly formed, bringing dangerously gusty winds and snow showers. The Met Office has responded with an Amber Warning, and were it not for the fact that we'd booked onward accommodation elsewhere we might have remained snug and warm in the Saltburn Spa Hotel.

Remarkably, we managed to walk the entire distance without having to execute any of the potential exit strategies we'd come up with.

highcliff-nab.jpgThe snow arrived in short, sharp, needling bursts. One minute we were enjoying breathtaking views towards Middlesbrough and the coast in bright sunshine; the next we'd have quarter an hour of total whiteout, with powdery snow swirling around us as we were battered by the wind.

roseberry.jpgThe highlight of the walk should have been Roseberry Topping, an isolated hill off the main Cleveland Ridge. Here the weather did its worst, with gusts threatening to blow us off the steep, stony path to the summit. The view from the top was glorious, but not one to linger over today.

After passing a monument to Captain Cook, who grew up in nearby Great Ayton, we descended into Kildale and stopped at the most welcome Glebe Cottage Tea Room. Never before has a cheese and tomato toastie been appreciated so much.

toastie.jpgTomorrow the weather is due to be marginally warmer, but the snow threatens to be heavier. Whether or not we'll make it out the door is anyone's guess.

(News tonight tells of an endurance race that was called off early due to worsening conditions between Guisborough and Kildale. We are hardy/lucky souls.)

Posted by pab at 16:55 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Celtic Connections , Music

Breakbeats and pipes

Relive our Saturday night in Glasgow last weekend.

The full sets from Bothy Culture and Beyond are now on iPlayer: the storming Gaelic techno/trad/drum&bass support from Niteworks, and the headline GRIT Orchestra.

Unmissable modern "World Music" from our islands.

Posted by pab at 22:54 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Celtic Connections , Personal

Why Scotland?

For the third time we've spent a January weekend in Glasgow for the Celtic Connections festival. Two gigs stood out.

First, on Saturday night was Bothy Culture and Beyond. If the 80-piece GRIT orchestra recreating a seminal Scottish electronic dance album isn't enough, why not add a 10-voice cantor choir, an aerial dance company, and a trials cyclist rowing across the audience before bunny-hopping round the crowd before climbing a model of the Cuillin's Inaccessible Pinnacle in front of an 10,000-strong crowd at Scotland's largest indoor venue? I've not mentioned the metaphysical Gaelic poetry; the Islamic, Scandinavian and Irish musical influences; or the stunning support set from Skye-based techno/trad band Niteworks.

Jaw-dropping, indescribable and utterly bonkers. You owe it to yourself to watch the gig after it's broadcast this coming Saturday night.

bothy-culture.jpg

The second highlight was an altogether different scale. In the intimate Tron Theatre Northern Flyway brought together harmonious, ethereal music with beat-boxing and stunning videography against a continuous backdrop of birdsong. It'll tour in the Autumn; don't miss it.

northern-flyway.jpg

Over the weekend I realised: this is why we're moving to Scotland; you simply don't get this level of innovation in the arts elsewhere. Hopefully we'll be able to visit Celtic Connections 2019 by at most a forty-mile train journey instead of the four hundred miles we travelled each way on the sleeper this week.

Posted by pab at 19:04 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Personal

Change Everything

front-door.jpgWelcome to 2018, hopefully the year in which we finally make the big move we've been talking about for years.

We're sorry that this blog has been quiet for most of 2017. We'll fill in the gaps later, but for now we're preparing for the Big Adventure. Step one starts this week: sell the house.

Posted by pab at 21:28 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Coastwalk

Dornoch → Golspie

a9-distances.jpg Distance: 18.12 miles
Ascent: 182 metres
Duration: 6 hours 1 minute

Cleared
« Tain | Brora »

As a student in the early 1990s I shared a tiny flat on Sutherland Avenue in London. Back then I didn't know who road was named after, or about the vast region of Scotland that shares the road's name. Yesterday we entered the old county of Sutherland and will not complete its coastline until sometime in 2019.

ben-bhraggie.jpgFor much of today we've been crossing land owned by the Sutherland Estate, and for the entire walk we've been watched over by "The Mannie" — a statue of the first Duke of Sutherland that dominates the view for miles around. It was erected in 1834 on a hill above Golspie. One hundred and sixty years later persons unknown attempted to blow up the statue in order to destroy a reminder of this exploitative landowner.

littletown.jpgAt the start of the 19th century the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland were responsible for some of the most egregious acts of what became known as the Highland Clearances. In order to turn their land over to large-scale sheep farming they decided to relocate communities of crofters to the coastal fringes and encourage them to take up fishing and arable farming. One of the destination communities was the part of Dornoch now known as Littletown, which became a kind of refugee camp in 1814. Here the Highlanders built homes and "improved" the land, but were ultimately still indebted to the Sutherland estate to whom they continued to pay rent, and whose land they improved. Contemporary records claimed that this was a futile effort, and indeed today it's hard to discern any evidence of arable land use.

One hundred years before the clearances the site of the settlement was the scene of another grizzly occurrence. The last person in the UK to be lawfully executed for witchcraft was burned at the stake here in 1727. I wonder whether the Sutherlands knew full well what they were up to, and in selecting the Littletown site were sending a not-too-subtle message to those they had evicted.

loch-fleet.jpgSo on today's walk from Dornoch to Golspie, the Clearances were never far from my mind, particularly when looking up the verdant glens now clear of townships, cleared even of the sheep farms that replaced them and which now wait for the sporting pleasure of the wealthy.

Notes for future walkers:

  • The Witch Stone is in the easternmost garden on Carnaig Street in Littletown (NH 801 893).
  • In Embo, walk through the caravan park past the last row of houses, then turn left towards the sports ground. The track to the disused railway begins behind the pavilion / community shop (NH 816 930).
  • We left the disused railway where the minor road from Fourpenny turns west (NH 803 947).
  • Look out for seals on the sandbanks at NH 790 957.
  • We followed the A9 from The Mound at the head of Loch Fleet to the road to Pinegrove Contact (NH 794 987). This was a bad move since the track from the cottage to Balblair Wood became difficult to follow at NH 794 981). We ended up retreating and following fields before re-entering the wood at NH 803 977. If we were to walk this leg again we'd either leave the A9 at Kirkton to access the wood at that same point, or try to find our way along the foreshore from The Mound.
  • We couldn't find the track running south on the east side of the Culmaily Burn so walked the road to Littleferry instead.
  • From Littleferry we found it easy to pick up paths and then the beach to Golspie.
    Posted by pab at 19:47 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

    Wednesday, 26 April 2017

    Coastwalk

    Hilton of Cadboll → Portmahomack

    tarbat-ness.jpg Distance: 12.94 miles
    Ascent: unknown
    Duration: 5 hours 38 minutes

    On paths
    « Nigg Ferry | Tain »

    This is the last "out-of-sequence" walk, sewing together the sections we walked earlier in the week. It's a stunning walk, on excellent footpaths all the way. Unsurprisingly this walk is described in a number of local guide books.

    beinn-mhealiach.jpgOn the eastern side of the peninsula the paths were generally beneath the cliffs, but rose to the clifftops as we reached the northernmost point. From here the view to the north opened out and it was startling to realise that the last headland we could see was likely the very last headland: Duncansby Head, just shy of John O' Groats. Our island really does have a limit.

    Early on we startled a small herd of deer who were making the most of the lush grass on the coastal fringe. Later on we detoured to avoid a field full of frisky bullocks.

    hilton-cross-slab.jpgNear the start of the walk is a replica Pictish cross-slab. We'll have to look out for the original next time we're at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

    portmahomack.jpgSince we'd not had enough of old stones we finished off by visiting the Tarbat Discovery Centre — a museum in St Colman's church on the edge of the village. It's crammed full of stones and artefacts from the peninsula, and well worth an hour or two. Don't miss the atmospheric crypt: an ancient space that still bears the traces of an infamous act of violence, provoked by a long-running feud between two rival families. These cold, damp stones have many stories to tell.

    Notes for future walkers:

    • There is a good shoreline path/track from Hilton of Cadboll all the way to the slipway just south of Tarbatness Lighthouse (NH 945 871) though in the latter stages it rises to the clifftop (signposted).
    • From the lighthouse road (NH 943 872) there's a signposted route across fields to Portmahomack.
      Posted by pab at 20:48 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

      Tuesday, 25 April 2017

      Coastwalk

      Nigg Ferry → Hilton of Cadboll

      cromarty-firth.jpg Distance: 10.03 miles
      Ascent: 272 metres
      Duration: 3 hours 27 minutes

      Stones
      « Cromarty | Portmahomack »

      At last we're picking up where we left off in September.

      The bus driver was a little surprised when we asked for singles to Nigg Ferry since the ferry won't be running for another three months. He was even more shocked when we told him we were planning to walk in this weather. While the forecast was marginally better than yesterday, in practice it looked worse. The snow had settled across Nigg Hill so after climbing the excellent track to Castlecraig Farm we opted for the inland roads via Nigg village instead of trying to stick to the coast.

      nigg-church.jpgTaking this route gave us the opportunity to look at Nigg Old Church, which is a beautiful building with inventive woodwork. Nowhere else have I seen a raked bank of pews, or pews that can be transformed into communion tables by means of a couple of latches and slides.

      Also in the churchyard is an otherwise unremarkable stone labelled the "Cholera Stone". During the 1832 cholera outbreak (the same one that wiped out half of Inver ten miles to the north), a church elder saw a mist rising from the graveyard and on deciding it was the cholera itself, threw a blanket over it and fixed the blanket in place with this stone. Hugh Miller of Cromarty relates this as an apocryphal tale in his contemporaneous 1834 work Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland but makes no comment as to the method's success or otherwise.

      shandwick-stone.jpgInside the church is a carved Pictish cross-slab. We passed another one in-situ on the hillside south of Shandwick, protected from the elements in a modern glass case.

      shandwick-mermaid.jpgShandwick, Ballintore and Hilton run into each other and are collectively known as the Seaboard Villages. They seem to have a thriving community with an artistic bent; a series of five sculptures in Ballintore reflects the local culture.

      It was in these villages that we picked up a stone of our own, as has become custom when we cross a thousand mile boundary. Gretna is 4,000 miles behind us and possibly only about 3,000 miles ahead. We press on.

      4000-mile-stone.jpg

      Notes for future walkers:

      • From Nigg Ferry the signposted Castlecraig Circular Walk is an excellent start (NH 797 689). This loops south from NH 807 690 via North Sutor but we stayed on the hard surface to Castlecraig.
      • From NH 811 712 a signposted path leads to Bayfield Loch; it may be possible to follow this through further fields around Hill of Nigg to avoid road walking.
      • We stayed on the roads: NH 804 715, NH 827 738, NH 850 750, NH 858 751.
      • From Shandwick to Hilton we followed the shoreline path.
        Posted by pab at 19:28 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

        Monday, 24 April 2017

        Coastwalk

        Portmahomack → Tain

        dornoch-firth-storm.jpg Distance: 10.76 miles
        Ascent: 124 metres
        Duration: 3 hours 14 minutes

        Wintery showers
        « Hilton of Cadboll | Dornoch »

        Today's weather forecast was for "wintery showers" so we selected another short route of mainly road walking. We're filling the gap that we opened on Saturday, but not in the "right" order.

        Only a little under half of today's walk was pleasant: the section from Portmahomack to Inver. The remainder was a march along a road trying to ignore the unseasonably cold weather, strong winds, hail, sleet and rain that pounded our faces.

        But that first part — the beach walk — is to be recommended, affording wide views across the Dornoch Firth to the hills beyond. We watched as the sky darkened, obscuring the far shore, an ominous sign of what was to come.

        inver-cholera.jpgInver seems to have had a troubled past. Half the village succumbed to cholera in 1832 and was buried in a mass grave to the east. A cairn marks the spot, its mournful brass plate stoically calling "Let Inver Live". A little over a hundred years later in December 1943 the entire village was evacuated so that surrounding land could be used to train troops for the D-Day landings.

        There is no shop on Shop Road. The Inver Inn was closed. With the weather closing in we couldn't avoid the march to town any longer.

        Before we reached Tain we'd had enough so took the most direct route possible to the nearest tearoom.

        Notes for future walkers:

        • A signposted path leads from the road end in Bainabruach to Inver.
        • In Inver/Skinnerton, turn right at Main Street to join the Shore Path. On reaching the shore, the cholera monument is a little east of this point.
        • From Inver we walked on the obvious minor road towards Tain. Local traffic is fast here, although one driver stopped to offer us a lift.
        • After crossing the railway on the final approach to Tain, we turned up Kirksheaf Road (NH 789 816).
        • There's undoubtedly a better route to be found, but not in today's weather.
        • The "o" in "Porthahomack" is short.
          Posted by pab at 16:59 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

          Saturday, 22 April 2017

          Coastwalk

          Tain → Dornoch

          irn-bru.jpg Distance: 8.42 miles
          Ascent: 65 metres
          Duration: 2 hours 46 minutes

          To the north
          « Portmahomack | Golspie »

          This year we're doing things differently. We've got so far north on our walk that driving all the way from home eats up two days. Instead we took the sleeper to Inverness, have hired a car and are here going to squeeze all of our coastwalking for the year into one long holiday.

          So why haven't we picked up exactly where we left off in September? Buses. The Tarbat peninsula isn't served by buses at the weekend and in order to walk at all today and tomorrow we're leaving a small gap that we'll fill in a few days' time.

          dornoch-bridge.jpgThis approach also means that we've been able to select an easy walk to get us back into the swing of things. Unfortunately most of it was along the road. (This may become a recurring theme of the remaining miles to John o' Groats.)

          The obvious route from Tain is to follow the A9 across the Dornoch Firth. We were able to avoid some of the road by dropping to the foreshore between Glenmorangie Distillery and Dornoch Bridge.

          dornoch-cathedral-windows.jpgDornoch itself is a charming small town, a cluster of distinctive buildings grouped round a small cathedral. We can heartily recommend the Carnegie Courthouse Tea Room for a post-walk cuppa.

          Notes for future walkers:

          • glenmorangie.jpgWalk through Glenmorangie Distillery's grounds to reach a bridge under the railway and gain access to the foreshore (NH 767 838). The beach can be readily followed all the way to Dornoch Firth Bridge where you'll have to clamber up the embankment to reach the road. We think this route should be passable at any state of the tide.
          • At the north end of Dornoch Firth Bridge, you can escape the A9 again by scrambling down the west side of the bridge (NH 747 863) then under it to reach a track leading past a bird hide to a minor road at Cuthill (NH 749 876) which leads in to Dornoch.
            Posted by pab at 20:40 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Thursday, 13 April 2017

            Film

            Ghost in the Shell

            laptop-texture.jpg

            There could be an interesting story in here, but I was distracted by finding the "futuristic" visual style unconvincing. Meh.

            Posted by pab at 21:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Sunday, 2 April 2017

            Gig

            Over the Rhine, Cecil Sharp House

            over-the-rhine.jpg

            "Every American act is on an apology tour right now," said Karin Bergquist before continuing, "but I guess you have your own problems." Indeed. But hopeful music can heal and that's why I'll always try to catch Over the Rhine when they cross the Atlantic to play on our shores.

            Posted by pab at 23:33 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Friday, 31 March 2017

            Gig

            Nadine Khouri

            nadine-khouri.jpg

            After seeing Nadine Khouri in a support slot in Glasgow we were keen to her headline a show. Tonight at St Pancras Old Church she didn't disappoint. Opening with the first two tracks from her album set up the gig perfectly.

            Performing as a four-piece gave more depth to the sound, but I think I'd preferred her solo set. Either way she's an artist we'll be keeping an eye on in the future.

            Posted by pab at 23:40 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Monday, 27 March 2017

            Tech

            Pick a number

            Remember those "pick a number" mathematical games children play on each other? Here's one.

            Pick a number between 0 and 76. Now multiply it by itself 17 times. Subtract 77 from the result, and keep subtracting 77 until the number you get is less than 77. Done? Excellent.

            For example, 2417 = 290,797,794,982,682,557,415,424. You'll need to subtract 77 a total of 3,776,594,740,034,838,407,992 times reaching the result of 40. (I didn't promise you could do this trick in your head.)

            You've just encrypted a number. In the example, 24 has become 40.

            Take the resulting number and repeat the process, but this time multiply it by itself 23 times and then subtract 77s. You should end up with the number you first selected.

            Continuing with the example, 4023 = 7,036,874,417,766,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Making 91,387,979,451,511,688,311,688,311,688,311,688 subtractions of 77 gives the original number, 24.

            This is an example of RSA encryption: an algorithm first described publicly in the 1970s. It's at the heart of many so-called "strong encryption" systems. The pairs of numbers 17,77 and 23,77 are the encryption and decryption keys.

            Whenever you browse a secure website, or send a secure message, this is pretty much the kind of thing your computer's doing. (Except that rather than encryption keys a couple of digits long, you're using keys hundreds or thousands of digits long.)

            I've been able to describe the encryption algorithm in just a couple of sentences. The magic is in how to select the encryption and description keys, but even that uses only basic maths and could be implemented by anyone with a pretty basic level of programming experience.

            This is why it's futile to insist that WhatsApp or Apple "assist" Governments by making their encryption breakable: if they do, those who want strong encryption will just get a teenager to re-implement strong crypto for them in about a dozen lines of code.

            The maths can't be uninvented. Dissemination of the knowledge could be outlawed, but is that really feasible? If this blog post ever disappears, you'll know that's what's happened.

            For the curious, RSA relies on carefully choosing three numbers — d, e and n — such that this property holds:

            m, m<n: mde mod nm

            Such numbers can be found like this:

            1. Think of two prime numbers; call them p and q.
            2. Multiply p and q together; call the result n.
            3. Calculate λ: the least common multiple of p-1 and q-1.
            4. Now invent a number, greater than 1 but less than λ, which has no common factors with λ other than 1; call this d.
            5. Find e, such that d multiplied by e modulo n is equal to 1.

            The encryption key is e,n; the decryption key is d,n. Don't share p, q or λ — the security of the crypto system revolves around the fact that d is difficult to derive from e if you don't know p, q or λ. Of course in practice the original prime numbers will be very large, with hundreds of decimal digits.

            For my example, p=7, q=11, n=77, λ=30, d=23, e=17.

            Rivest, Shamir and Adleman's 1977 paper that introduced the RSA cryptosystem for the first time is surprisingly simple and well worth reading.

            Posted by pab at 20:27 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Film

            Life

            odeon-ceiling-lights.jpgIf Hollywood made a sinister Doctor Who episode called "Squids in Space", eliminated the title character and pushed it into a downbeat register they'd end up with something very similar to Daniel Espinosa's film "Life".

            It's a big-production, brainless, box-ticking space melodrama but nevertheless a reasonable way to while away the last afternoon of a two-week holiday.

            Posted by pab at 17:48 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Wednesday, 22 March 2017

            Offa's Dyke Path

            Bodfari → Prestatyn

            end-stone.jpg Distance: 12.02 miles
            Ascent: 679 metres
            Duration: 4 hours 7 minutes

            Completing the circuit
            « Not walked | Colwyn Bay »

            Frankly today's been a bit of a disappointment. It started last night when I saw the weather forecast which turned out to be depressingly accurate: after a week of reasonably dry walking, I was in for another soaking.

            laughing-horse.jpgBut more than that, there were no real thrills to the walk. It felt as though all I was trying to do was get to the finishing line on Prestatyn prom, plodding on along country lanes and across increasingly muddy fields.

            llamas.jpgThere were a few notable moments: watching the clouds lift from the snow-capped summits of Snowdonia to the west; meeting two llamas who were grazing freely on a farm track at Tyddyn-y-cyll, and chatting with the woman who was out reconnoitering the route for her six-day assault on Offa's Dyke Path in August.

            I suppose I shouldn't be too down though. Today was always going to be about the end, and when the rain stopped I slowed my pace to savour the last high walk on Prestatyn Hillside before dropping down into the town.

            So that's it. The final Welsh National Trail complete, and my eighth overall.

            Where to next? I currently have two further National Trails partly complete so I'd like to knock off the rest of the North Downs Way and Cleveland Way this year. That would just leave one southern National Trail (the Cotswold Way) and four in the north (the Pennine Way, Pennine Bridleway, Yorkshire Wolds Way and Hadrian's Wall Path). It's time to set myself a challenge: I'd like to complete all of these by the time the England Coast Path officially opens in 2020. I'd best get planning.

            completers-book.jpg

            Notes for future walkers:

            • After you've finished, pop in to the leisure centre right next to the end marker. At reception they hold a visitors' book for completers to sign. I was only the second in 2017.
              Posted by pab at 16:46 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

              Tuesday, 21 March 2017

              Offa's Dyke Path

              Llandegla → Bodfari

              moel-famau.jpg Distance: 19.31 miles
              Ascent: 1507 metres
              Duration: 7 hours 2 minutes

              The end in sight
              « Not walked | Not walked »

              The theme of today's walk was set by the fingerpost sign right at the start. "Prestatyn 29" it said. This is only the third signpost I've seen with a distance to my final destination. Under thirty miles. The end is in sight.

              And then a short while later the end was literally in sight, since on attaining the Clwydian Range I saw the sea for the first time since leaving Chepstow.

              It's been a gloriously sunny day, but the cold wind hasn't quite made it t-shirt weather.

              moel-arthur.jpgThe sun has brought people out in numbers. Over the succession of hillforts that cap the Clywdian Mountains I met more people than I have for the rest of the week combined. Most popular seemed to be the walk to the Jubilee Tower that dominates the summit of Moel Famau ("mother mountain").

              From here I could see many familiar places: Prestatyn of course, but also the mouth of the River Dee at Talacre, the entire Wirral peninsula with Liverpool beyond, and way in the north the forest at Crosby. My focus though is the first of these: Prestatyn and the end of the walk.

              Posted by pab at 16:14 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

              Sunday, 19 March 2017

              Offa's Dyke Path

              Llanymynech → Pentre nr Chirk

              disused-railway.jpg Distance: 19.28 miles
              Ascent: 1227 metres
              Duration: 6 hours 44 minutes

              Industry
              « Not walked | Not walked »

              llanymynech-kiln.jpgAll of a sudden Offa's Dyke Path has felt the impact of industry. Immediately on leaving Llanymynech it climbs to the limestone quarries of Llanymynech Hill. (These quarries are well-worth exploring. There's a huge continuous lime kiln that inside feels like the crypt of a brick cathedral. The view from the top of the hill above the inclined planes looking back over the Severn valley is stunning.)

              Further on, the Path crosses two old mineral railways, and approaching Chirk you can't avoid noticing the plumes rising from the Kronospan factory.

              chirk-castle.jpgHaving said that's it's still a predominantly rural walk, passing the abandoned Oswestry Racecourse, a succession of small villages and lanes, and of course, Chirk Castle.

              gate-of-the-dead.jpgThe Path officially bypasses the Castle, but I took the permissive path from Castle Mill past the enigmatically titled "Oak at the Gate of the Dead" to the building and had a good look round. It's a worthwhile detour.

              Notes for future walkers:

              • The distance above includes a there-and-back detour from Castle Mill on the River Ceiriog to Chirk Castle.
                Posted by pab at 17:20 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                Saturday, 18 March 2017

                Offa's Dyke Path

                Buttington → Llanymynech

                buttington-fingerpost.jpg Distance: 10.70 miles
                Ascent: 73 metres
                Duration: 3 hours 24 minutes

                The Severn
                « Not walked | Not walked »

                There was something very familiar about today's walk, right from the beginning. The fingerpost at the start is the first one I ever saw on Offa's Dyke Path thirteen years ago. Back then I started driving alternate weekends between Woodbridge and Aberystwyth, taking the road that crosses the River Severn at the same point as the Path.

                severn-breidden.jpgToday's route follows the Severn and then the Montgomery Canal as they make their way across the plain. Initially the Breidden Hills provide the backdrop — another familiar sight from those east/west drives, although from this side the hills reveal that they're being slowly dismantled for aggregate. At the summit sits the obelisk of Rodney's Pillar and I can't help but think back to childhood party games involving keeping a cherry atop a mound of flour while excavating scoops.

                lifting-bridge.jpgAlong this stretch I caught up with Gustavo, who I'd seen across the first field outside Hay four days ago. He's from Brazil, on holiday here, walking Offa's Dyke over two weeks before moving on to Hadrian's Wall. My schedule is tighter than his so I pushed on ahead.

                Almost precisely when the drizzle started I came across a self-service home-made cake stall outside an isolated house on the river embankment. Perfect timing!

                pentreheylin-salt-warehouse.jpgOf the entire Offa's Dyke Path, this is probably the section most capable of coping with rain. Once away from the Severn and a mile or two of Dyke across farmland, the route follows quiet roads and well-surfaced tow-paths to Llanymynech.

                Notes for future walkers:

                • The embankments shown on the map crossing fields between Buttington Bridge and Strata Marcella Abbey aren't visible on the ground.
                • If starting from Welshpool it's probably more enjoyable to follow the Montgomery Canal all the way to Strata Marcella rather than walk down to Buttington Bridge.
                • Be sure to leave time to explore the Heritage Area at Llanymynech just beyond the north of the village.
                  Posted by pab at 14:41 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                  Monday, 20 March 2017

                  Offa's Dyke Path

                  Pentre nr Chirk → Llandegla

                  waterproof.jpg Distance: 16.02 miles
                  Ascent: 743 metres
                  Duration: 5 hours 28 minutes

                  The rainy day
                  « Not walked | Not walked »

                  eglwyseg-mountain.jpgI knew it couldn't last. Ever since setting off nine days ago I've managed to stay broadly dry, but this morning I woke up to the sound of heavy rain hammering down on the roof of the B&B. I enjoyed an hour of sunshine in the middle of the day and another as I finished off the walk so it's not been entirely bad, and certainly not a patch on the downpours I endured on Glyndŵr's Way last summer. My new waterproofs have proved themselves very well.

                  pontcysyllte-aqueduct.jpgThe highlight of the day was undoubtedly Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Even without its quantitative achievements (longest and oldest in the UK, highest in the world) this would be a remarkable piece of engineering. It famously only has a protective fence on the towpath side of the canal, resulting in an exhilarating sense of exposure to the drop to the river 38m below.

                  cyrn-y-brain.jpgThe weather forecast for tomorrow is much colder and dry but with very strong winds. It'll be a long walk over the mountains.

                  st-tecla-window-thumb.jpg

                  Notes for future walkers:

                  • Accommodation is scarce in Llandegla, but the camping pod at Bryn Dŵr turned out to be perfect: basic but sufficient. (They even provided bedding, which is normally excluded in the pod.)
                  • Food options are likewise limited. Be sure to arrive early and stock up from the wonderful Llandegla Community Shop.
                  • It's well worth popping into St Tecla's church to find out about the nearby well and look at the stunning painted window.
                    Posted by pab at 17:17 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!