June 2018:

Hello. We've finally caught up with our writing. Below we show the most recently edited entries first. Hopefully that's not too confusing. We'll switch back to reverse chronological order in the next week or two.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Website

That was 2017/18

If you'd looked at this blog over the past fifteen months you'd be forgiven for thinking we've not been up to much. On the contrary, we've squeezed a lot in but have been tardy at writing it up.

We're up-to-date now, so feel free to catch up. We have:

Finally, in case you missed it, we explained the reason for our busyness: we're moving.

Posted by pab at 20:33 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 25 May 2018

St Cuthbert's Way

Kirk Yetholm → Wooler

cuthbert-waymark.jpg Distance: 13.53 miles
Ascent: 707 metres
Duration: 4 hours 50 minutes

Scotland to England
« Not walked | Not walked »

The first thing the B&B owner asked us last night was, "Do you know how you're leaving Kirk Yetholm?"

return-to-pw.jpgThis village may be the northern end of one of Britain's best known trails but it doesn't have particularly good transport links. What it does have though is another long distance path.

So today, a day after finishing the only National Trail that crosses into Scotland, we're embarking on the only one of Scotland's Great Trails that enters England — St Cuthbert's Way.

the-cheviot.jpgThe section from Kirk Yetholm to Wooler is right in the middle of St Cuthbert's Way, which runs from Melrose to Lindisfarne. It follows the Pennine Way south for a couple of miles before heading east at the border.

The rest of the walk was across moorland and along gentle valleys in the shadow of the Cheviot: a perfect way to wind down after a week of heavy walking.

em-silhouette.jpg

We head home tomorrow, but we'll be back to cross the border again soon. After all, we may have nearly completed the National Trails of England and Wales, but Scotland has twenty-nine Great Trails for us to explore.

Posted by pab at 13:49 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Pennine Way

Windy Gyle → Kirk Yetholm

numbered-boots.jpg Distance: 15.12 miles
Ascent: 761 metres
Duration: 5 hours 21 minutes

Journey's end
« Not walked | Not walked »

cheviot-range.jpgWe said a sad goodbye to our temporary companions this morning and headed off in the minibus to begin our final walk of the Pennine Way. The bus route took us along the military road, in places still wreathed in the overnight mist, back to Trows farm, where we started the long climb back up to Windy Gyle. Low cloud shrouded the valleys to the north, a fitting symmetry to our first walk on The Way when we left Edale in September.

looking-north.jpg

The lumpen mass of The Cheviot is on a spur off the main route of the Pennine Way, but it seemed churlish to not reach its summit. You don't do this for the views: the hill's upper reaches form a gentle dome that obscures the vista in all directions. Back on the main ridge there's plenty to be seen, especially the spectacular gully of Hen Hole.

into-scotland.jpg

Before we knew it we were crossing the border for the last time, although the path still had a few tricks up its sleeve. Lazy map-reading meant that I'd assumed today's walk was "up to The Cheviot, then a long descent to the end". That's not what we got; the high-level route continues a switchback across summits and bealachs - going up and over White Hill is particularly cruel - before finally reaching the road just outside Kirk Yetholm.

From the road we reached the village very quickly, and in the village: the Border Hotel. There's a book kept behind the bar for Pennine Way walkers to record their completion, and a reward of a free half pint of beer and a certificate. While we drank we noted with pleasure our friends' signatures and comments with just a hint of sadness that we'll not meet up again.

border-hotel.jpg

Posted by pab at 19:26 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Pennine Way

Byrness → Windy Gyle

pennine-map.jpg Distance: 13.00 miles
Ascent: 880 metres
Duration: 4 hours 54 minutes

Walking to Scotland ... again
« Not walked | Not walked »

On the previous occasion that our walking took us across the border to Scotland we were accompanied by family and were celebrating the end of a 3,000 mile journey around the coast of England and Wales. Today's crossing was appropriately lower key, given that we've a much smaller distance under our belt this time.

byrness-hill.jpgDid I suggest a singular crossing? We actually passed from one country to another five times today, but didn't once see a sign indicating this. In fact, on at least one occasion the border wasn't visible on the ground at all — not even accompanied by the low "border fence" that we walked alongside for much of the day.

archaeological-area.jpgFrom Byrness we started our traverse of the Cheviot range of hills. Every minute was absolutely glorious, with spectacular 360 degree views almost every step of the way.

There are no settlements between Byrness and Kirk Yetholm, but the 28 mile distance the Pennine Way takes is a little too much to complete in a single stretch. (And with views like this, why rush?) The best solution is to stay at the Forest View Walkers' Inn in Byrness, which offers a pick-up service halfway through the range, thus allowing wayfarers to have a day with a lighter pack.

no-motors.jpgForest View is pretty much the only place to stay in Byrness, so it collects Pennine Way walkers into an informal community. It's a former youth hostel, bought by the neighbours when the YHA withdrew. Colin gladly clean and dry your boots before you even realise what's happening, while Joyce prepares a filling home-cooked dinner; soon everyone is gathered in the lounge chatting about their day's walk. It's a delightfully old-fashioned way to connect with people, and a brilliant way to share knowledge and experiences with kindred walkers. (Tonight we've met up with a couple we first saw in Twice Brewed, and then again this morning in Bellingham.)

While chatting with Joyce this morning I happened to mention that I quite like haggis. By the time she'd collected us from the path in her minibus she'd visited the butcher in Hawick to ensure a "special" of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties was on the menu tonight. It's that kind of place.

Forest View is on the market at the moment, but Joyce and Colin insist that they'll only sell to people who'll ensure this unique place retains its flare. Fancy a change of lifestyle? If only it was the other side of the border we'd be sorely tempted.

Posted by pab at 21:05 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Pennine Way

Bellingham → Byrness

lichen.jpg Distance: 15.54 miles
Ascent: 648 metres
Duration: 5 hours 48 minutes

Into the forest
« Not walked | Not walked »

walking-on.jpgThe weather changed overnight, and we began the day under thick grey clouds, a stiff breeze and lower temperatures. The dark sky made a fitting backdrop to an early climb up onto the heather moorland above Hareshaw House. The ground underfoot became increasingly wet and soft as we moved north, with the bog cotton, moss and heather joined by bilberry and the occasional stunted spruce. Looking back from Padon Hill, there was a distant outline on the horizon of what we thought was Cross Fell, a reminder of the distance that we've travelled this week.

fallen-trees.jpgThe open moorland soon gave way to commercial forestry, some of which had recently been felled. It's strange to think of this as harvesting — we're much more familiar with standard crops such as wheat or oil seed rape — but it's the reason that the forest exists at all. Walking along the stony access track, we didn't get to experience being in the dense planting, although a couple of short deviations from the road took us along wooded paths speckled with wild flowers and short birches.

river-rede.jpgThe onward path takes a lovely route alongside the River Rede, emerging onto the A68 at St Francis' church near Byrness (which, we've learned, is pronounced Burr-ness, and while we're at it Bellingham has a soft 'g': Bell-in-jum). It's well worth stopping to look inside the church — there's a monument and commemorative stained glass window to the men, women and children who died during the building of the nearby Catcleugh Reservoir which supplies drinking water to Tyneside. The idea that children lost their lives as a result of industrial accidents, as recently as the beginning of the 20th century, hardly bears thinking about. As much as this is a beautiful landscape, it's also had a history of hard, unforgiving labour.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Avoid the worst of the boggy bits and the fallen trees by turning west just before the trees at NY 814 936, then following the minor road north past Gibshiel into the forest, joining up with the formal route again at NY 799 955.
  • Although the guidebooks recommend avoiding the footpath detours off the track through the forest, we found both to be quite delightful.
Posted by pab at 17:28 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Pennine Way

Rapishaw Gap → Bellingham

pennine-fingerpost.jpg Distance: 13.26 miles
Ascent: 447 metres
Duration: 5 hours 10 minutes

The Pictish lands
« Not walked | Not walked »

So often "Hadrian's Wall" is used as a convenient shorthand for the England/Scotland border. Even politicians have confused the two as equivalent. The Pennine Way is clear that they're not the same thing. We may have crossed the wall into the land of the Picts today, but it'll take us nearly three days before we finish a walk in Scotland.

hotbank-crags.jpgImmediately north of the wall is a large expanse of moorland. Looking south from there the Whin Sill is an impressive natural defence, topped by the dark line of Hadrian's Wall, its north face in shadow.

wark-forest.jpgToday's walk alternated between moorland and forest. Tomorrow will be a similar story. In the early part of the 20th century the wild land here was artificially planted with spruce trees to create Europe's largest man-made forest, providing the United Kingdom with a sufficient supply of wood should it be required in a future Great War. It's an odd history, but one we were grateful for as the trees provided shade from the unrelenting sun. The only downside to the shelter of the trees was the slightly softer, wetter ground; picking a route around marshy mud brought back memories of our walks on the earlier sections of the Way last year, where this was the frustrating norm.

refreshments.jpgAt Horneysteads Farm we were grateful for another intervention: the owner keeps a barn unlocked as a "walkers' pit stop", with toilet, kettle, chairs, outdoor magazines and a well stocked fridge of goodies in exchange for donations. We've left the crowds behind, and are relying on the generosity of strangers. It's a wonderful thing.

Notes for future walkers:

  • If you're starting at The Sill and want to avoid the worst of the rollercoaster of Hadrian's Wall Path, follow the line of the old Roman Military Way instead. You can pick it up just south of Peel Bothy where the road running north from The Sill turns left. It took us a little under an hour to get to Rapishaw Gap from The Sill on this route.
Posted by pab at 20:40 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Pennine Way

Greenhead → Rapishaw Gap

hadrians-wall.jpg Distance: 9.17 miles
Ascent: 681 metres
Duration: 3 hours 27 minutes

The Wall
« Not walked | Not walked »

thirlwall-castle.jpgWe made no progress north today. Instead we walked east along The Wall, you know: Hadrian's one. It really exists. Somehow we've lived on our island all this time without witnessing first hand its most famous archaeological site.

bhf-walkers.jpgFrom Greenhead to Rapishaw Gap (just shy of Cuddy's Crags) the Pennine Way follows the line of Hadrian's Wall as it relentlessly pursues its journey from coast to coast, rolling over hills and clefts without diversion. The best preserved sections of the wall are along this stretch, and were being enjoyed today by an eclectic mix of people: Pennine Way walkers like us, other long distance wayfarers on the coincident Hadrian's Wall Path, day trippers, foreign tourists, dog walkers, rock climbers and those participating in a British Heart Foundation charity walk.

Where the Pennine Way leaves the wall we bumped into a fellow walker who has been on the same schedule as us for the past three days. Unlike us though, she's pushing on to Bellingham tonight and will finish the trail a whole two days ahead of us. With so much to see we're glad to have a shorter day today, but we'll miss comparing notes with our occasional companion.

milecastle-39.jpgInstead of continuing on the Way we ended this knee-straining, undulating, historical pilgrimage with a visit to Housesteads Roman Fort, a small township built against the wall, which had been home to a garrison of 800 soldiers. It's well worth a visit to get a sense of how people lived and survived in this bleak frontier landscape. Then on the way to the new Youth Hostel at Twice Brewed we visited Vindolanda, another Roman settlement -- this one predating the wall. There's much to see at both sites and we didn't do either justice. We'll have to come back.

But the Wall is really the star today, in all its splendour. From the too-frequently photographed Sycamore Gap, to the little sections where the only hint of masonry was an unusually linear earthen mound, it's amazing that any of this 2,000 year-old structure survives at all.

Notes for future walkers:

  • If you're going to repeat our exact walk, we recommend stopping for lunch at Vindolanda (where there's a decent-looking café) rather than Housesteads (where the best you'll get is a pre-packed pasty).
  • To walk to Vindolanda from Housesteads, take the track running south-west from Housesteads museum. Where the track reaches the B6318, turn right briefly before picking up a bridleway on the opposite side of the road. Note that most maps show this bridleway to the east of the track, not west. Follow the bridleway to East Crindledykes farm, then take its access track to a minor road. Turn right on the road, then take the second road on the right which leads directly to Vindolanda's main museum.
  • From Vindolanda to The Sill, leave the site at the opposite end, follow the road to a t-junction then turn right.
Posted by pab at 17:52 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pennine Way

Alston → Greenhead

alston-lambs.jpg Distance: 17.08 miles
Ascent: 633 metres
Duration: 6 hours 26 minutes

The last of the Pennines
« Not walked | Not walked »

One of the guide books that we're using warned that today could be 'your least favourite day' on the Pennine Way. This morning beneath blue, cloudless skies and a shining sun, we were ready to prove the author wrong.

knarsdale.jpgStarting out over pleasant farmland, we soon passed the earthworks of Whitley Castle, a Roman fort. A drystone wall now runs through the middle of this impressive structure, but it's still possible to see the multiple ridges of its fortified banks. If we'd had more time (and weren't so close to the start of the walk) it would have been worth taking more time to explore, but other Roman ruins were calling us onwards.

the-hill.jpgUnlike some of the previous sections of the walk, there was a lot of careful route-finding today, which contributed to a feeling that we were putting a lot of energy into not making much progress. The path took a series of twists and turns as it took us under a pair of viaducts, back alongside the River South Tyne, and up and down over more pasture, before finally meeting moorland again at Lambley Common. Here, the landscape changed, becoming the open, rushy ground that we've grown used to, although considerably drier and less boggy than we expected. At times the path wasn't visible on the ground at all, and we just had to aim in a rough general direction

dappled-mare.jpgStanding on Blenkinsopp Common, with the wind blowing through the parched grasses and the 8-bit piping of the lapwings overhead, we could just about see the line of what will define tomorrow's walk: Hadrian's Wall. It felt as though we'd left the Pennines behind and finally moved into border country.

(Side note: another benefit of being well away from urban development was hearing a cuckoo, as we approached Haltwhistle Golf Club. It made us aware of just how long it's been since we heard one around Maidenhead.)

Posted by pab at 18:41 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 18 May 2018

Pennine Way

Dufton → Alston

leaving-dufton.jpg Distance: 20.04 miles
Ascent: 1056 metres
Duration: 7 hours 26 minutes

Settling an old score
« Not walked | Not walked »

A combination of good weather, leave allowance and determination means that seven months after we reluctantly called time on our previous effort, we're back on the Pennine Way. And what a way to start: the longest and potentially toughest section of the Way.

cross-fell.jpgBoth of our guidebooks describe today's section over Cross Fell with foreboding, highlighting its potential difficulties with harsh weather, tricky navigation and energy-sapping climbs. Thankfully, after a cold night today began with clear blue skies and light winds, and as we made our way out of Dufton the tops of the fells were clear and cloudless. It was a good omen.

The route climbs steadily, over Knock Fell with its square cairn, on to Great Dun Fell with the curious golfball radar station. We had the route to ourselves, with just the rabbits, curlews and lapwings for company.

Cross Fell, the looming plateau, had been in sight for most of the morning but ascending to it was mostly straightforward (follow the numerous cairns). We're aware that we caught it on one of its rare peaceful days, but standing in the sun by the cross-shaped summit shelter it seemed that the fell's earlier name, Fiends Fell, was rather undeserved. The views from the summit were glorious, not least due to the absence of roads and buildings. This is a truly wild place.

gregs-hut.jpgThere's opportunities to go really wrong on descending from Cross Fell; even in clear daylight, we veered into wet ground, but once Greg's Hut came into view we were able to navigate towards it safely. We popped inside and felt extremely grateful to the Mountain Bothies Association for maintaining shelters like this; had we continued our walk in October it's highly likely that the availability of a place like Greg's Hut would literally have been life-saving.

The rest of the descent followed a hard, stony path over grouse moorland for several miles, heading to sheltered Garrigill in the valley, surrounded by fields of sheep with young lambs, basking in the sun.

south-tyne.jpgAlmost the best part of the walk came last: the final few miles to Alston follow a lush, bucolic path along the River South Tyne, full of flowers and sweet meadow grass. It felt like a totally different walk, and a great way to end a day that redeemed our previous encounter with the Way.

One final note: if you're looking for somewhere to stay in Alston we highly recommend the Youth Hostel, if for no other reason than because you can enjoy watching red squirrels eating their dinner and breakfast outside while you enjoy yours.

Posted by pab at 15:47 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Gig

U2: The Joshua Tree 2017

joshua-tree.jpg

Tonight was the second time we've seen U2 play at Twickenham Stadium. Previously it was on their Vertigo Tour twelve years ago. Despite writing a glowing review of it at the time, my chief memory of the gig is of being a little disappointed.

Sadly, for me, tonight hasn't redeemed Twickenham as a venue.

mirrorball.jpg

Sure the gig was spectacular, the music and visuals were as rich as you'd expect, and it was interesting to hear the band's break-out 1987 album recreated on stage. But somewhere along the line I felt something was missing.

I've now seen U2 play live five times, and I hope to see them again in the future. Until then the U2 360 gig will remain my favourite, not this one.

Posted by pab at 23:54 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Inverness, Loch Ness and the North East Highlands

The Forest in the City

great-glen.jpg Distance: 2.06 miles
Ascent: unknown
Duration: 35 minutes

Walk 2: Craig Phadrig

While Emma has a well deserved lie-in, I slipped out this morning for a final walk before we head to the station. Though I remarked yesterday that Inverness isn't surrounded by high hills, it does have a few elevated spots. Craig Phadrig is one of them: a steep-sided dense wood rising to 172 metres, capped with an old hill fort.

There was nobody around, and on the route I found myself face-to-face with a deer.

I love our long walks, but a short trip like this reminds me well that you don't have to go far to find serenity.

Time for breakfast. Then home.

Posted by pab at 10:12 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Inverness, Loch Ness and the North East Highlands

'Ness

river-ness.jpg Distance: 4.94 miles
Ascent: 81 metres
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes

Walk 4: Ness Islands and Tomnahuirich

Inverness surprises me every time I visit. I always expect this town at the northern end of the Great Glen to be surrounded by high mountains, but in practice you have to go a good few miles before reaching any land more than five hundred metres above sea level.

This walk eschews the hills altogether and captures the genteel side to Inverness by following the chain of small islands that add interest to the River Ness. It then touches the Caledonian Canal, and climbs the necropolis at Tomnahuirich.

ness-bridge.jpgIt's very Victorian: cast iron railings and suspension footbridges along the river, and grandiose memorials in the cemetery.

It's also a great way to relax after a hectic fortnight of hiking. We'll spend all of tomorrow on the train slowly winding our way back south. But for now, the Capital of the Highlands is captivating.

Posted by pab at 20:12 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Gig

The State Broadcasters

state-broadcasters.jpg

Oh Oxford, you failed again. Only a handful of people turned out for tonight's gig so the audience was outnumbered by band-members.

Such a shame: The State Broadcasters brought their folk-tinged melodic Glasgow pop to the legendary Jericho Tavern and played wonderfully. Unfortunately their promotor didn't work hard enough to bring in an audience (there wasn't even any indication in the bar that there was a gig tonight) so ultimately it wasn't the gig it could — or should — have been.

Let's all forget about tonight's gig, and remember instead the performance in front of a home audience back in January.

Posted by pab at 23:13 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Gig

Carleen Anderson: Cage Street Memorial

There are a few artists who you just have to see perform live when you get the chance. Carleen Anderson is absolutely top of the list for me, having one of the most versatile voices I've ever heard.

carleen-anderson.jpg

In recent years, Carleen's been exploring different ways of exploring the story of her roots in America's gospel-rich deep south, and her migration to the UK. And so her first words tonight welcomed "the congregation," and the show journeyed seamlessly between gospel, jazz, soul and blues backed by her virtuoso band.

It was an astonishing and unmissable evening, even though the theatre was barely half-full. Music fans of Oxford take note: you missed out on a legend.

Posted by pab at 23:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Coastwalk

Brough → Castletown

dunnet-head.jpg Distance: 12.05 miles
Ascent: 352 metres
Duration: 4 hours 45 minutes

The North
« John o' Groats | Weymouth »

While tourists consider John o' Groats as the top corner of Scotland, plenty of bores will point out that Dunnet Head is the place which really wears that crown. This is the most northerly point on the island; the general direction of all our walking is south now.

dunnet-east.jpgAs a final coastwalk for this year we've taken a full circuit of the headland.

But if you look at walking guides to the area you'd be led to believe it's not possible. There's a road to the lighthouse at the tip and a frequently described path down the western side, but we couldn't find any suggestion of a path along the east. Fellow hikers: it exists, or rather, the route is eminently walkable, and with the sun flooding the heather slopes it's absolutely gorgeous.

north-highland-way.jpgWhere the B855 turns inland to climb Dunnet Head we noticed a small disc waymark that gave us hope. Inscribed the North Highland Way, it seems to be the genesis of a walking route along the north coast. We'd be inclined to try and follow the route, but saw no further waymarks all day. (Perhaps like the Cumbria Coastal Path the route has been abandoned.)

hoy.jpgFrom the northernmost point of our island we looked across to the island of Hoy. Standing proud above the bulk of the landmass was the top of the Old Man of Hoy, a famous sea stack which will certainly be on our itinerary when we finally visit the Orkney Islands. (We really are spoiled for choice when it comes to places to visit on the Atlantic Archipelago.)

dunnet-bay.jpgAfter traversing the beach at the back of Dunnet Bay we finished our walk at the Castletown harbour. Apparently in the 18th and 19th centuries flagstones were shipped out from here to pave the streets not just of Edinburgh and London, but also Sydney and New York. Reconciling that with the deserted quayside and sleepy village took a significant stretch of the imagination.

castletown.jpgSo that's our last coastal walk for the year. Our goal for 2018 is to reach Cape Wrath and complete the north coast of Scotland. Walking the east and north coasts will have taken five years; we expect the west coast to take twice as long. Would you consider joining us?

Notes for future walkers:

  • The east side of Dunnet Head is walkable! Head north from the corner of the B855 at ND 219 741 and stay near the clifftops.
  • The trickiest part of the west side of the Head was the two steep descents from Chapel Hill, mainly due to the misleadingly large number of paths that want to take you inland.
  • From Dwarwick Pier we started walking outside the fields but soon had to hop the fence where the path was eroded; best stay inside the fields all the way.
  • We descended to the beach of Dunnet Bay at ND 214 710 and stayed there all the way to Castletown. Neither the Burn of Midsand nor the Burn of Garth were difficult to cross (though the latter was deeper).
    Posted by pab at 20:17 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

    Thursday, 4 May 2017

    Coastwalk

    John o' Groats → Brough

    mirror-selfie.jpg Distance: 12.71 miles
    Ascent: 196 metres
    Duration: 3 hours 52 minutes

    West from the Dutchman's house
    « Keiss | Castletown »

    With LE-JoG done, it's time for us to pick up on JoG-LE again. We're heading west.

    The walk started out well with a good footpath leaving John o' Groats, but that quickly petered out. We soon tired of trying to find a coastal route across fields so dropped back to minor roads.

    jan-de-groot.jpgA tombstone in the church at Canisbay marks the grave of a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, who was granted a license to run a ferry to Orkney. It's curious seeing evidence that Jan was anything other than a fable, dreamt up as a quaint story to tell tourist day-trippers about how a place got its name.

    chickens.jpgIn an attempt to encourage more tourists to the far north of Scotland, a touring route — the North Coast 500 — has been created. Its popularity has rocketed of late and we were expecting the roads we walked on today to be busy with NC500 cars and bikes, but traffic was reasonably light.

    mey.jpgWe eventually hit the beach again just before the Castle of May, a collection of tall, square stone towers looking out over the Firth, chiefly famous for being a favourite haunt of the Queen Mother. On any other day, we would have stopped to explore the stone-walled gardens and enjoy a pot of tea in the castle grounds. Instead we dashed past the gates and paced on along the roadside to Brough to catch the bus back to Jan de Groot's old house.

    Notes for future walkers:

    • From the John o' Groats signpost there's an excellent path leading west, but it stops just after a track heading inland at ND 377 734. We took the track to the A836 to Huna.
    • In Huna (ND 358 733) we tried to follow the coast again, but it was too rocky so headed inland again from the Haven of Seater (ND 354 732).
    • For a little relief from the A836, turn off on a winding local road just after the road to Gills Pier (ND 326 726, ND 325 727, ND 326 727, ND 324 727, ND 321 728).
    • We turned off the A-road again at ND 311 738, continuing onto a track to the shore at ND 293 745 past the Castle of Mey to Harrow (ND 290 741, ND 282 741, ND 281 973) before following local roads (ND 273 745, ND 265 744, ND 244 727, ND 237 737) all the way to Brough.
      Posted by pab at 20:30 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

      Wednesday, 3 May 2017

      Coastwalk

      Keiss → John o' Groats

      mervyn.jpg Distance: 14.05 miles
      Ascent: 352 metres
      Duration: 5 hours 32 minutes

      Where the land runs out
      « Wick | Brough »

      heather.jpgAsk anybody about the extremities of our island and they'll mention John o' Groats. The journey from Land's End in the south-west is so famous that even purists, who know the place has no geographic significance, have to admit there is at least a psychological consequence of reaching this destination.

      boars-of-duncansby.jpgHowever, for us the most exciting moment came much earlier. As we climbed the Hill of Crogodale we saw for the first time the island of South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkneys, separated from the mainland by the Pentland Firth, running white with the wild water of the Boars of Duncansby. After so many years of heading north, we were reaching a turning point, the moment when our island runs out.

      stacks-of-duncansby.jpgAs ever the scenery was the star: the springy heather of the clifftops; the Stacks of Duncansby below; the never-ending swirling of the sea-birds darting between nests.

      John o' Groats itself may be little more than a small harbour, a café, a signpost and an oversized car-park, but the signpost is the reason everyone gathers here. We arrived shortly after a group of cyclists who were making a big deal of their thousand-mile ride from Land's End. Our LE-JoG walk has taken us 2,400 miles and we've still got JoG-LE to complete yet.

      jog-signpost.jpg

      Notes for future walkers:

      • We found it relatively straightforward to walk outside the fields on the coast all the way from Keiss to Freswick (though it was a little tight in places).
      • We crossed the Burn of Freswick on the bridge behind Freswick Castle (ND 377 671), then took the track up from the beach (ND 378 677) to the minor road (ND 377 679) which we followed to its end (ND 392 686).
      • From the road end we continued along a track to the quarry (ND 395 687), then headed north across the heather and bog staying relatively close to the clifftops all the way. The going was a bit damp, but not difficult.
        Posted by pab at 19:46 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

        Tuesday, 2 May 2017

        Coastwalk

        Wick → Keiss

        noss-head.jpg Distance: 11.80 miles
        Ascent: 173 metres
        Duration: 4 hours 10 minutes

        Castles and beaches
        « Lybster | John o' Groats »

        birds.jpgAt last, we've left the main roads! It's a little too far for us to reach the end of the east coast today so we split the remaining distance at the hamlet of Keiss which is well-served by the John o' Groats to Wick bus.

        castle-sinclair-girnigoe.jpgThe walk was of two halves: first a clifftop amble past the lighthouse and castles on the Noss headland, followed by a four mile walk along the sands of Sinclair's Bay.

        burn-of-lyth.jpgAbout one third of the way along the bay, the Burn of Lyth empties into the North Sea. The books we'd read suggested that this was a potentially deep and treacherous river, but we found we could cross it with little difficulty.

        Just after the Burn an arrow-straight railway runs inland, perpendicular to the beach, for five miles. Pipeline packages are constructed on the railway and then dragged out to sea. One imagines this may present a more difficult obstacle to cross from time to time, but there was activity today.

        Notes for future walkers:

        • There's a good signposted path around North Head in Wick from ND 336 950.
        • We stayed on the minor road through Papigoe and Staxigoe to Field of Noss Farm.
        • From the farm, a good path leads via Noss Head and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe to Ackergill Tower (ND 352 547) where we joined the shore.
        • We had no problem wading across the River of Wester on the beach (ND 340 576).
          Posted by pab at 18:07 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

          Monday, 1 May 2017

          Coastwalk

          Lybster → Wick

          whaligoe-descent.jpg Distance: 17.18 miles
          Ascent: 376 metres
          Duration: 5 hours 39 minutes

          He might return to Whaligoe
          « Dunbeath | Keiss »

          We had hoped to spend most of today on tracks and paths, but after being frustrated by overgrowth early on near Occumster we once again reverted to the road. Surely tomorrow we'll have more success. With a fair distance to cover, we got our heads down and paced forwards, no doubt missing plenty of spectacular coastal scenery. (Evocatively named places such as Craig a Backy and Muckle Red Craig will have to remain in our imagination.)

          In all honesty missing out wasn't such a hardship, since we knew precisely where to find a remarkable feature that would more than make up for it.

          whaligoe-steps.jpgThe Whaligoe Steps aren't signposted from the road. They're also not exactly prominent on the Ordnance Survey maps either, but I've known about them and been looking forward to visiting them for years. I first came across them in Billy Connolly's World Tour of Scotland almost twenty-five years ago.

          Built to service a tiny fishing harbour, 350+ steps zig-zag their way down the impossibly steep seventy-metre cliffs. My favourite story though, is of the lady who resurrected them years after harbour had been abandoned. "Since Christ was a fisherman," she reasoned, "when he comes again he might come by boat". With the steps repaired, were he to land at Whaligoe Jesus would at least be able to reach civilisation.

          whaligoe-harbour.jpgWhether this comment is tongue-in-cheek or an earnest calling, the story — like the Bible verses painted on harbour walls — affirms the deep commitment to faith that still pervades this corner of our island.

          Today the waves were breaking hard on the Whaligoe rocks and it was difficult to imagine anybody ever landing a boat here, let alone doing so on a regular basis.

          brig-o-stack.jpgWe followed the main road until just outside Wick where we finally found a reliable path to the clifftops at Old Wick Castle. The seascape here is stunning: tall cliffs pounded by the relentless sea, stacks and crags somehow resisting erosion, and slender natural arches that looked gossamer-thin.

          trinkie.jpgOn the edge of the small town the path passes the Trinkie tidal swimming pool cut into the rocks, and then drops to the harbour side. We rolled our eyes at the tourist information sign that told of days when there were so many boats "you could walk from one side of the harbour to the other without getting your feet wet" — almost every coastal town seems to claim this.

          ebenezer-place.jpgWhat nowhere else can claim though, is the shortest street in the world. Scarcely long enough for its signpost, Ebenezer Place is formed by the narrow doorway at the sharp end of a wedge-shaped hotel.

          Wick had an air of sadness about it, but nonetheless survives. With eyes closed we could see the bustling port that it once was, when the hotels were all full and the planned town around the distillery had shops on every corner.

          I can't help but think that in the era of the Digital Economy places like this would be ideal for telecommuters, but for some reason that's a revolution still to come. Perhaps I need some of that quiet faith that Wick will gain a new life.

          Notes for future walkers:

          • We spent most of the day on the A99, but started on local roads (ND 248 354, ND 252 357). We had tried to continue further on tracks through Mavesy but got stuck at ND 261 358 so retreated to Hillhead house and rejoined the main road at ND 257 363.
          • Be sure to visit the Whaligoe Steps; access is from the end of the lane at ND 320 403 (not signposted, although the road opposite the lane is signed to the Cairn of Get).
          • We left the A99 for the last time at ND 357 484, joining the coast near ND 365 480. Go to the coastal side of the fence as soon as you can.
            Posted by pab at 19:53 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

            Sunday, 30 April 2017

            Coastwalk

            Dunbeath → Lybster

            dunbeath-castle.jpg Distance: 12.71 miles
            Ascent: 491 metres
            Duration: 4 hours 34 minutes

            Power of the sea
            « Helmsdale | Wick »

            In the interests of making forward progress we've had another day of mainly road walking. The John o' Groats Trail's splashes of white paint suggest a more coastal route across fields is possible here, but frankly we didn't have the energy for it today. So it was back to the A9, and where that headed north across the Flow Country to Thurso we stayed with the A99 coastal road.

            beatrice.jpgIn the end it wasn't a bad choice. From the high land we could see the platforms of the Beatrice Oil Field fifteen miles out at sea, and the more recent adjacent wind farm: two very different forms of energy harvested from the wild North Sea.

            laidhay.jpgJust north of Dunbeath is the Laidhay Croft Museum, which was well worth a visit (and not only for the coffee shop). Stuffed to the rafters with artefacts of bygone crofting era, this traditional thatched Caithness Longhouse was deeply evocative, and a real change from the ruins we saw at Badbea.

            As relief from all the tarmac we made diversions to three harbours: Dunbeath near the start, Lybster at the end, and most impressively of all Latheronwheel at the halfway point (this was made all the more impressive by the stunningly beautiful strath leading to the harbour).

            latheronwheel.jpgOn each occasion the power of the North Sea was dramatically evident, with waves pounding against the stubborn cliffs that stood each side of the narrow harbours. It was difficult to imagine that the tide is ever sufficiently still to allow navigation, but these places were clearly central to the life of the village communities.

            Notes for future walkers:

            • To reach Dunbeath harbour from the top end of town, pick up a track running east from the old road at its hairpin (ND 160 295).
            • A path leads back up to the A9 from between harbourside cottages at ND 163 295.
            • A signposted path to Latheronwheel Harbour through Latheronwheel Strath leaves the A9 at ND 186 327.
            • For a rest from the A99 we took the track south to Forse at ND 218 345; it was quite wet in places. We then followed minor roads (ND 219 342, ND 221 343, ND 222 342, ND 227 343, ND 226 349. We couldn't find a way across the Burn of Achsinegar so returned to the A99 before leaving it again at ND 231 353.
            • Where the track to Achastle-shore turns west (ND 232 340), we followed white-painted marks along the clifftops all the way to the viewpoint above Lybster Bay (ND 242 344). A good path leads from there down to the harbour road.
              Posted by pab at 17:36 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

              Saturday, 29 April 2017

              Coastwalk

              Helmsdale → Dunbeath

              heilan-coo.jpg Distance: 15.18 miles
              Ascent: 442 metres
              Duration: 4 hours 36 minutes

              The A9
              « Brora | Lybster »

              In contrast to yesterday, today we made the decision to walk on the road all the way. Anywhere else a single-digit A-road would be a horrible experience, but we're so far north that the A9 wasn't too bad: levels of traffic were more akin to what you'd expect from a B-road.

              Two miles out of Helmsdale we met a pair of walkers coming the other way who were heading to Land's End, camping wild each night. Our walk may be longer but their approach is definitely harder. They told us of the John o' Groats Trail, a recent initiative to establish a coastal route between Inverness and John o' Groats. If it gets off the ground that would certainly improve this leg. (It seems the white paint we saw yesterday is the genesis of this trail.)

              The coastline here is more rugged than further south. Instead of beaches there are tall cliffs and deep gullies; grazing is replaced by moorland dense with heather and bracken.

              badbea.jpgAbout halfway along a path heads out to Badbea, a clifftop village that was the resettlement destination for nearby clearances from Strathnaver. It's a narrow strip of land, the boundary wall of the cleared sheep farm cruelly close to the cliff tops. The community lasted eighty years or so but on a bitterly cold, windswept day like today it's impossible to imagine staying even one night. (The clue is in the name; it really is pronounced "bad bay".) Another half a mile down the road is the Grey Hen's Well, from which the villagers drew their water.

              berridale.jpgThe road climbs before following contours most of the way, descending to sea level only by the tight bends of the infamously steep Berridale Braes. Berridale harbour is worth a detour. Again the fierce wind didn't allow us to linger long, but the setting is beautiful with uniform cottages and a bouncy bridge across to cottages at the back of the beach.

              lichen-dunbeath.jpgUltimately though it's been a slightly unsatisfactory day, chiefly due to the road walking. However, Badbea gave us plenty to think about as we pounded the tarmac.

              Notes for future walkers:

              • We walked on the A9 almost all the way from Helmsdale to Dunbeath.
              • There's a path from between the houses on the north side of Berridale Harbour that reaches the A9 by the cemetery.
              • About a mile south of Dunbeath you can pick up the old road into the village; cut down to it just after the crash barrier on the right comes to and end (ND 153 285).
                Posted by pab at 21:45 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                Friday, 28 April 2017

                Coastwalk

                Brora → Helmsdale

                helmsdale.jpg Distance: 12.45 miles
                Ascent: 108 metres
                Duration: 4 hours 35 minutes

                Sutherland Safari
                « Golspie | Dunbeath »

                North of Brora a good path runs for two miles along the golf course and dunes, at the back of the beach, as far as Clynemilton. At this point most other accounts of walking the coastline seem to stick to the main road all the way to Helmsdale.

                There is a better way.

                loth-burn.jpgIf you don't mind splashing across a few stream outfalls (and wading across one – the Loth Burn), you can walk the entire distance on the shoreline. Splashes of white paint on occasional fence posts suggested that others have found this route too, but even when they turned inland we continued on the coastal fringe. There are a couple of rocky bits, and one or two places where the railway and the high water mark squeeze together, but this is a much more enjoyable route than dodging the fast-moving traffic on the A9.

                adder.jpgFor us it became a Sutherland Safari. In addition to the usual suspects (seals in the water, deer on the land) we were also treated to starfish on the beach, adders lazing in the Spring sunshine, and most exciting of all a family of otters scampering and diving on the rocky foreshore.

                otters.jpgIn the interests of making faster progress we, too, succumbed to the road a mile or two south of our destination, making us more grateful than ever that we'd eschewed this straightforward option for most of the day.

                One thing road walkers do get to see is a monument celebrating the deliberate reduction of wildlife diversity. In a lay-by on the north side of the A9 at NC 941 099 a gravestone-like marker declares this to be the location of the slaughter of the "last wolf in Sutherland ... in or about 1700." I imagine wolves and sheep-farming were seen as incompatible, so this is yet another curious remnants of the Clearances of the early 18th century.

                In Helmsdale there's a sculpture commemorating those who emigrated as a result of the Clearances, and an excellent local museum that covers the time in depth. You really can't escape the issue round here.

                Notes for future walkers:

                • We were able to walk along the shoreline 95% of the way from Brora to Helmsdale on a mixture of beaches (sometimes rocky) and grazings. We suspect this can be done at all states of the tide.
                • We had to wade across the shin-deep Loth Burn (NC 954 098).
                • Tired of shingle, we joined the A9 for the final stretch into Helmsdale from ND 018 142.
                • In Helmsdale, don't miss the monument to the clearances at ND 026 152.
                  Posted by pab at 18:03 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                  Thursday, 27 April 2017

                  Inverness, Loch Ness and the North East Highlands

                  The Mannie

                  Distance: 6.22 miles
                  Ascent: 459 metres
                  Duration: 2 hours 26 minutes

                  Walk 18: Big Burn Glen and Ben Bhraggie

                  The Pathfinder Walks title of this walk is descriptive enough: it is a walk featuring two topographic elements. First the luscious glen of Big Burn, and then an ascent of the adjacent Ben Bhraggie. But who are they trying to kid? The walk can only be about one thing: The Mannie, a huge statue on the summit of the Ben that dominates the Sutherland coast in a way that makes me feel very uncomfortable.

                  the-mannie.jpgThe "mannie" in question was George Granville Levenson Gower, the first Duke of Sutherland, husband of Elizabeth. The statue claims to have been paid for by subscription of his tenants; my impression is that the contributions weren't entirely voluntary.

                  His gaze is fixed on the distant horizon, roughly south-east. It's a such a curious orientation that one can't help but wonder whether the intended symbolism is in what his back is turned to: the vast tracts of Highland that he and his wife cleared of crofters to make way for more profitable large-scale farms.

                  The statue stands on a large stone plinth, the bottom three metres of which has been recently clad in a sturdy metal gauze. Such is the divisiveness of the Duke's reputation that even in recent years stone blocks have been worked loose in an attempt to topple the man, thus the crude defence.

                  The view from the summit is tremendous, and we were able to see pretty much the full extent of this week's walking, from the Black Isle in the south right up to the far corner of Caithness.

                  Leveson-Gower's wife Elizabeth died six years after him. Like him she's buried in Dornoch Cathedral although she's not celebrated with a huge statue. Instead on the floor behind the altar are a series of stones with this potted biography:

                  In the vault beneath are deposited the remains of Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Sutherland and in her own right Countess of Sutherland. Born at Leven Lodge near Edinburgh XXIV May MDCCLXV, left an orphan by the untimely and almost simultaneous death of her parents she succeeded at the age of thirteen months to possessions amongst the most extensive and a title amongst the most ancient in Scotland. To that title her right was keenly contested but by her guardians zealously and successfully maintained.

                  elizabeth-grave.jpgEducated under the care of her grandmother Elizabeth Hairstanes widow firstly of William Maxwell of Preston and secondly of Charles Erskine of Alva Lord Justice clerk of Scotland.

                  Married in MDCCLXXXV to George Granville Leveson Gower first Duke of Sutherland K.G. her attachment to Sutherland and her clansmen was shared by her husband and during a happy union of XLVIII years was fostered by his encouragement guided by his judgement and made effectual by his wealth.

                  Eminent in the exercise of a strong intelligence and excelling in various accomplishments she enjoyed through a long life of energy and usefulness the admiration and love of her family and friends.

                  She died in London XXIX January MDCCCXXXIX having on her death bed desired that her remains might rest by the side of her husband in the cathedral church of Dornoch, the burial place of her ancestors.

                  While her Mannie was indeed buried in the cathedral, we could find no monument to him within its bounds. Still too contentious, perhaps?

                  There's a fascinating story to be told here; Elizabeth and her family could have been feminist role models challenging primogeniture, but she'll forever be associated with the Clearances and even now two hundred years later, the wounds run too deep to heal.

                  Posted by pab at 21:20 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                  Coastwalk

                  Golspie → Brora

                  sputie-burn-waterfall.jpg Distance: 7.04 miles
                  Ascent: 122 metres
                  Duration: 2 hours 38 minutes

                  Done robbing
                  « Dornoch | Helmsdale »

                  dunrobin-castle.jpgGolspie seems to be dominated by two reminders of its former overlords: the huge statue of the first Duke of Sutherland, up on a hill overlooking the town (more on this one later), and Dunrobin Castle, which lies a short walk to the north. Unlike some of the bleak ruins that we've seen along the coast, the castle has survived changes in power and fortune and still stands, a white, Disneyesque riot of pointed roofs and narrow towers, on a low rocky outcrop. The seat of Clan Sutherland, the current building was extensively remodelled during the early 19th century and now resembles a French chateau, but the original was a sparser and more obviously defensive building, which had seen off an attempted Jacobite invasion. Its owner at that time passed it to his daughter, the future duchess Elizabeth, who was instrumental in clearing her tenants from their long-held grazing land to the wind-blasted coastal strips where they eked out a difficult living. It was hard to walk past Dunrobin without thinking about this, and the extreme imbalance of power at work.

                  carn-liath-broch.jpgIn sharp contrast, the Iron Age broch at Carn Liath was striking for its size and engineering skill. The northeast of Scotland has a lot of broch sites but Can Liath was the best-preserved example that we've seen so far; there's enough left of the building to explore the hollow wall construction, and follow the network of guard chambers on the way in to the circular central space. On a warm, sunny day like today, with a sight of the sea, it felt like a beautiful way to live.

                  apricot.jpg

                  An easy walk along the grassy foreshore gave way to a shingly beach, and the glorious double mini waterfall of the Sputie Burn, which pours into a clear pool on its way out to the sea. After a brief pause to enjoy the scent of the gorse, the sound of the rushing water, and the sight of an inquisitive seal watching us, we headed on to Brora where we were met at a boat shed by The Softest Cat In Scotland™. A lovely end to a stunning walk.

                  Notes for future walkers:

                  • There is a signposted shoreline footpath all the way from Golspie to Brora.
                    Posted by pab at 21:19 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Monday, 2 October 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    The Helm Wind (pause)

                    One warm bath later, we accepted the inevitable: it's time to stop for now.

                    The fells round here play host to our island's only named wind, rising from the Eden valley and wreaking havoc on the west side of the hills. The weather forecast say that it's only going to get worse over the next twenty-four hours, so with regret (but a little pride) we're calling time on the Pennine Way for now, stopped in our tracks by the Helm Wind.

                    (There's also the small matter of the massive bruise on my shin from yesterday's fall and an ankle that doesn't seem to be getting any happier.)

                    We'll be back next year. We don't give up that easily. The hills will be waiting for us; hopefully the wind will have died down.

                    appleby-station.jpg

                    Posted by pab at 10:35 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Sunday, 1 October 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    Middleton-in-Teesdale → Dufton

                    high-force.jpg Distance: 20.70 miles
                    Ascent: 918 metres
                    Duration: 8 hours 25 minutes

                    Force of nature
                    « Not walked | Not walked »

                    Our schedule has three twenty-mile days. Today is the first. It should have been simple: follow the River Tees upstream to a gap in the hills, then enjoy a gentle descent along "the finest scenery the Pennines have to offer".

                    Let's start with the river. The first few miles were tremendous: a great path through fields to the outstanding waterfalls of Low and High Force. Even mist and rain couldn't detract from these powerful cascades.

                    falcon-clints.jpgUnfortunately the path soon got rougher. At Falcon Clints it dropped right down to the bank of the fast-flowing Tees and was interrupted three times by jumbles of huge boulders that slowed our progress to a literal crawl, before revealing the third and most impressive waterfall of the day: Cauldron Snout. The volume of water rushing through this narrow gorge is fearsome, and to pass it walkers have to find hand-holds on the slippery, polished rocks while trying not to think about the consequences of falling into the deep.

                    cauldron-snout.jpgBy the time we'd reached the track at the top we were only halfway through the day's walk, and despite worsening weather conditions we felt it would have been foolish to turn back. (More fool us.)

                    The onward path was certainly easier in terms of terrain, but walking into the rain blown by a strong, gusting wind was tiring. At one point I twisted my ankle while crossing a stream and quickly found I was enjoying "a little lie down" in the water. (It was certainly refreshing, but not to be advised.) Somewhere roundabout here my phone battery ran out.

                    Drawing us forwards was the reputation of High Cup Nick: that celebrated symmetrical valley perfectly framing a view of Lakeland hills beyond. Our guide book, and the walk descriptions we'd read online, described this a a major highlight of the Pennine Way.

                    high-cup-nick.jpgSadly, when we reached High Cup Plain — almost blown over by sudden, fierce gusts of wind — all we could make out was the edge of the scar. The landscape beyond was lost in an opaque white sheet of low cloud, and we weren't going to get a reward for our efforts today. With compass in hand we found the top of the Narrow Gate path down to Dufton, and slowly limped towards our destination, via a seemingly interminable descent.

                    Dropping beneath the clouds, and finally losing the worst of the wind as we lost height, it felt like a different day: one that hadn't actually involved the physical, mental and emotional effort that we'd just expended. Our painful limbs and dented spirits knew otherwise.

                    Posted by pab at 20:00 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Saturday, 30 September 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    Tan Hill → Middleton-in-Teesdale

                    sleightholme.jpg Distance: 17.26 miles
                    Ascent: 559 metres
                    Duration: 6 hours 46 minutes

                    Halfway
                    « Not walked | Not walked »

                    In terms of number of days walking, we've now started on the second half. Our guidebook told us that partway through today's walk we passed the halfway mark in terms of distance too. With no significant injuries to report, it looks like we just might make it to Kirk Yetholm by this time next week.

                    So we set out from Tan Hill with a renewed sense of purpose, although that was tempered by trepidation for what was up first: Sleightholme Moor.

                    The path here is marked by a sequence of white posts, spread just far enough apart that the next is only visible once its neighbour is reached. Where the ground underfoot isn't a tangle of heather roots it's a peaty bog, and the combined effect of the terrain and the incessant rain made the moor feel endless.

                    Red grouse had the right idea: hunkering down from the cold wind, oblivious to the fact that their shelters were shooting butts.

                    deep-dale-shelter.jpgThe rain persisted almost all day.

                    At Deep Dale one end of a gamekeeper's hut is used as a walkers' shelter, and the pencilled graffiti on its wooden walls tell the tales of many who've trod this path before. "The horror!", quotes one, while another simply repeats "the blisters will not beat me" three times as a mantra.

                    middleton-shadows.jpgAs our shadows lengthened we finally crossed the River Tees and dropped into Middleton. We'd had the briefest of glimpses of the sun, but the forecast for the rest of the week doesn't look good at all.

                    Posted by pab at 20:08 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Friday, 29 September 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    Hawes → Tan Hill

                    great-shunner-fell.jpg Distance: 16.90 miles
                    Ascent: 1038 metres
                    Duration: 7 hours 12 minutes

                    The lonely Inn on the hill
                    « Not walked | Not walked »

                    swaledale.jpgMy abiding memory of today's walk will be of the last half hour; of climbing up and up, across wet, boggy moorland as the late afternoon sun threw shards of light down onto the hills to the west. It will be of slightly soggy toes, and a sense of leaving villages behind. I will remember the bleakness of the landscape, how we seemed to be heading into the middle of nowhere, and how at the last minute a building came into view. I'll remember taking off my boots outside and walking into the dimly lit bar. I'll not forget the welcoming warmth of the open fires and the equally friendly community gathered there.

                    Tonight we're staying at the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Britain.

                    stonesdale-moor.jpgThe Inn feels like a lonely, solitary survivor, but it hasn't always been out here on its own. The surrounding hills contain coal deposits, which were worked from the end of the 17th century; the Inn provided board and hostelry for the mining community that settled here. When the mines gradually closed during the 1920s the Inn offered accommodation and refreshment to people exploring the moors in newfangled motor cars. We're just the latest in along line of weary travellers.

                    tan-hill-inn.jpgThe climb from Keld to Tan Hill was the second of two today. The other was up and over Great Shunner Fell, which we ascended during intermittent rain. Between the fells the path took us through Thwaite (with its lovely tea room where we sat outside as the rain fell gently into our cups) and Keld (blessed with waterfalls). The villages are linked by Swaledale, the Pennine Way taking a high route through the valley and providing us with the most stunning views so far.

                    But all this is by the by. Back at the Inn, ale has been quaffed, a giant Yorkshire pudding has been devoured, and we've washed ourselves in brown water drawn from a borehole. Today was all about the destination. Time for bed.

                    Posted by pab at 21:52 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Thursday, 28 September 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    Horton in Ribblesdale → Hawes

                    sell-gill-hill.jpg Distance: 14.09 miles
                    Ascent: 502 metres
                    Duration: 5 hours 27 minutes

                    Cracking walk, Gromit
                    « Not walked | Not walked »

                    Getting out early this morning gave us the opportunity to watch the rising sun strike the terraced side of Ingleborough, which was still swathed in mist after the overnight rain. The heavy showers also meant that the stony path was running with water, and the wet mud was especially boggy. The initial ascent out of Horton had us swiping at clouds of midgies.

                    ling-gill.jpgOnce on the gentle ascent up to Cam Fell, the views began to open out and we were treated to the thundering sound of Sell Gill Beck pouring its brown, peaty waters into one of the celebrated potholes in this area of limestone country. It was tempting to look down into the cavern, with its fringe of ferns, but the obvious danger held us back.

                    ribblehead.jpgThis isn't a stand-out walk in terms of major landmarks, but it more than makes up for it with panoramic views across the surrounding fells. Standing on the ledge of Dodd Fell felt like being on the edge of the sky.

                    descent-to-hawes.jpgHeading down the valley into Hawes, we crossed several muddy, boggy fields, before making it into the small town. It's the home of the famous Wensleydale cheese, so a trip to the "cheese experience" visitor centre is essential (and not just for the plentiful free samples). Wallace would approve.

                    Posted by pab at 08:35 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Wednesday, 27 September 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    Malham → Horton in Ribblesdale

                    limstone-pavement.jpg 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 was also characteristically Yorkshire. 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 that postcard creators crave.

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

                    pen-y-ghent.jpgAnd 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 so far. After a brief shelter from the wind, we took the long, slow, gentle track down the hill and across the moor to Horton.

                    Today we've enjoyed the best limestone scenery despite the weather.

                    Notes for future walkers:

                    • The ascent of Pen-y-Ghent from the south is much more interesting than the laborious slog from the west, but handwork is necessary.
                    Posted by pab at 20:49 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    Tuesday, 26 September 2017

                    Pennine Way

                    Ickornshaw → Malham

                    leaving-cowling.jpg Distance: 18.36 miles
                    Ascent: 746 metres
                    Duration: 7 hours 6 minutes

                    Muck and Manure
                    « Not walked | Not walked »

                    Our guidebook tells us that Wainwright suggested this leg of the walk was "mostly muck and manure." For once, we're inclined to agree with the much-overrated grouse. Today has been spent walking through rolling farmland, but that doesn't sum up the grubbiness of what we've encountered. (As we left last night's B&B we were advised to don gaiters. It was good advice.)

                    east-marton.jpgThe first mucky moment was an ill-judged footing near a field gate. What I expected to be a veneer of mud on top of a concrete track revealed itself as a thin crust on an ankle-deep soup of cattle effluent. Later we crossed a field which was in the process of being sprayed with liquid manure. The stench was so laden with ammonia that we had to work hard to suppress our gag reflexes as we dashed for the other side. For the rest of the day the smell of cattle seemed to follow us everywhere, and each cow we passed seemed to be in on a joke from which we were excluded.

                    approaching-malham.jpgThere were of course highlights. Among them were crossing into the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the walk along the River Aire. But by far the best moment when the limestone escarpment finally came into view, revealing Malham village above the bubbling Aire, framed by the dominating backdrop of Malham Cove and Goredale Scar.

                    At last we've reached that we've both visited before. Tomorrow the familiar scenery should continue, hopefully with a little less muck. (Thank goodness for YHAs with outdoor taps and drying rooms.)

                    Posted by pab at 18:43 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    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!

                    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.

                    Posted by pab at 17:30 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

                    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!