The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 18 April 2015

From Colt Hill

I don't think this snap is going to do justice to quite how good the air clarity is today.

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Friday, 17 April 2015

SUW Day 4: White Laggan Bothy to St John's Town of Dalry

Friday 17 April
Distance: 14 miles
Weather: partial cloud but some good sunny periods

With a 14-mile day ahead of us, we had a lie-in this morning so we wouldn't arrive in town too early, thus it was a quarter past eight before we picked our way down the side path from the bothy back to the Way.

The first 6 miles of the day were on a track though a commercial forest and were uninspiring, save for a few good views. It's possibe that distance might have been shorter had we heeded the 'SUW closed ahead, please follow diversion' sign. However, I completely missed the sign (it wasn't until we reached one at the other end of the diversion that I became aware of the closure) and althought it transpired that Mick had seen it, he hadn't read more than the first line and didn't think it important. As it went, we didn't encounter any forestry works directly on our path and no-one stopped us walking through.

The next bit of forest was far more pleasant*, as we followed a narrow path through a wide break in the trees. Beyond the forest was one of two highlights of the day as we went over Shield Rig, where the big open space gave no hint of civilisation anywhere near (I should have troubled myself to get the Blackberry out for a photo at that point, but I didn't; sorry).

The next highlight of the day (after a 3-mile road walk which was hard on the feet) was Waterside Hill. We may have topped out at only 150m, but the views were superb (the snap above is looking back the way we had come), as was the firm grassy path underfoot.

From there St John's Town of Dalry was clearly visible just ahead of us and a short while later we arrived. After a number of failed attempts to contact the B&Bs listed in the SUW accommodation guide, we took a room at the Clachan Inn, where they didn't bat an eyelid at showing us to our room at 2pm. They were most apologetically negative in response to my question as to whether they have any live music on tonight, not realising that "No" was exactly the answer I was looking for. Nothing worse, in my view, than trying to sleep in a room above a bar, when there's loud music immediately below you.

(*As we walked along that nice path I noticed a metal badge on a waymarker post saying (I thought) "ultra" and, giving it only the most fleeting thought, I wondered why only this post out of the many we've passed had a maker's name badge on it (as I assumed it was). I've now found out that it said "ultreia" and that it's the sign used to indicate that there is a kist containing waymerks nearby.)

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Thursday, 16 April 2015

SUW Day 3: Waterside to White Laggan Bothy

Thurs 16 April
Distance: 16 miles
Weather: glorious

It's not unusual for people to accuse me of being mad for my tendency to travel on foot and live a chunk of my life outside. I seldom agree, but ever now and then I see a tiny glimpse of their view and this morning was a case in point. I'm not sure whether it was the fact that the fly sheet was so frozen that it held its shape when we took it away from the poles, or whether it was watching Mick struggle to get his feet into his frozen-solid boots that did it. Twenty minutes later we were walking along in the sunshine and suddenly it didn't seem a mad thing to be doing at all.

The photo above was taken on the summit of the diminuitive Glenvernoch Fell, where second breakfast was taken. It wasn't really far enough into the day to warrant our first break, but it was a nice location as well as seeming a likely point to get a phone signal to send yesterday's blog.

Onwards through some slightly squelchy terrain, followed by some (far worse) horribly churned up by cows, we passed by a <1-minute old lamb and reached Bargennan. There, so an information sign informed us, the SUW gave us two route options. We took neither. There's an old path shown on the map, cutting straight through the (now mainly felled) forest, and we decided to have a little adventure by following it. Past experience has told us quite firmly that such paths are not always evident on the ground; moreover, where a forest is concerned they can involve nightmarish obstacles caused by blow downs, and bog. (Hmmm, perhaps some would say, armed with that knowledge, that we were mad to even think of going that way?)

We certainly lost the course of the line as shown on the map, and I'm not sure I'd recommend our route, but we did successfully come out the other side and with far less difficulty than expected.

Approaching the south end of Loch Trool it suddenly became apparent that we were in the environs of a car park; suddenly there were lots of other walkers. Most seemed to be doing a circuit of the loch and it looked a good choice; the views from the south side were excellent - the best of the trip thus far, being now in rugged, lumpy surroundings.

Our lunch location, just under 5 miles before the end of the day, gave us chance to finally defrost and dry the fly sheet, as well as giving us clear water from the adjacent babbling burn. I know that the colour of water is no indication as to its purity for drinking purposes, but it's definitely more pleasing to have clear water, free of debris, than the peaty stuff we've been drinking the last couple of days.

Beyond the loch, the waymarkers surprised me as it transpires that the SUW has been rerouted since my map was published. We followed the new route and it sped us over the pass (stunning views down to Loch Dee) and onwards to White Laggan Bothy.

Arriving so early we considered continuing on, but failed to come up with a compelling reason so to do. So, I'm writing this, sitting behind the bothy on a plastic school chair, with a glimpse of Loch Dee through the trees ahead of me and surroundings in general which bear little resemblance to those of where we woke this morning.

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SUW Day 3 afternoon snap

Over Loch Dee

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SUW Day 2: by Craig Fell to Waterside

Wed 15 April
Distance: 15.5 miles
Weather: wet first hour, then increasingly bright until wall-to-wall sunshine achieved.

Disturbances in the night involved trains, rain, a slamming kissing gate and a woman talking. I've a feeling that two of those may have taken place inside my head, but they woke me up all the same. The rain, however, was real and it was still going strong when we awoke.

After an hour and a quarter of staring at the ceiling of the tent I decided to procrastinate no more and by 0830 we were striding off, in rain that didn't feel as bad as it sounded from under nylon.

If I had to choose one word to sum up today it would be "soggy", and that wasn't to do with the rain (which stopped after an hour). It felt like we walked though more boggy terrain than firm. Aside from the sogginess, the day was perfectly pleasant.

We don't have a guidebook for the SUW, but if we did I'm sure it would have told us more about the historical features we passed today (e.g. chambered cairn, Linn's grave, standing stones) than we gleaned from the information signs. Likewise, the beehive bothy wouldn't have come as a surprise; I knew there was one on the route somewhere, but hadn't expected it to appear so soon. In a nice clearing in the woods, with views to the SE, we came upon it to find a chap sitting outside in the sunshine. He had stayed last night and upon waking to rain this morning had decided to stay put another day.

It being gone noon, Mick asked if we were going to lunch there, but I had other plans. The top of Craig Airie Fell was where I had earmarked for our break and it was a good choice with 360 degree views encompassing the sea in one direction and hills in the other (and five wind farms, but the least said about those the better).

From the top (where the tent dried nicely whilst we polished off an obscene amount of cheese) we could clearly see our originally intended night stop, just a couple of trail-miles further on. However, as we had walked further than planned yesterday it made sense to do the same today, hence we continued another 5 miles and are now about half a kilometre off route (the detour being to find somewhere discrete to camp) on a pitch that's just fine ... on my side of the tent.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Southern Upland Way (SUW) Day 1: Stranraer to by Craig Fell

Tues 14 April
Distance: 10.75 miles
Weather: overcast with just a few spots of rain

An eight-hour journey deposited us in Stranraer* today and, thanks to an early start, it was only 2pm when we arrived giving us plenty of day remaining to stretch our legs over the course of a few miles.

Opting not to follow the SUW out of Stranraer, we walked along the sea-front for a while before turning inland. The thinking was that we would be road walking whichever way we went, so we may as well shortcut to the more interesting bits. Merrily we went along (well, as merrily as one can when carrying a full pack for the first time in 10.5 months!) until, when Mick stopped to nip behind a hedge, I killed time by perusing the map. It was then that I realised that we were supposed to have made a turn a kilometre earlier. Ooops.

Backtracking would have been the shorter option, but instead we took to a pleasant woodland track, which took us onto the Way. From there, being a national trail, waymarkers were plentiful.

White Loch, in the grounds of Castle Kennedy, was picturesque indeed, and there we nearly met another couple of backpackers, except that she was busy on the phone and he had wandered off a distance. I wonder if they're heading our way?

A couple of miles later, on a short section of road, a large armoured vehicle rumbled to a stop next to us. The mightily-thick drivers door swung open and the driver confessed to being a bit lost. Directions were given whilst wondering why the army doesn't equip its vehicles with SatNav (or an able navigator, complete with map).

We had thought we would stop for the day about a mile after that encounter, but the terrain didn't include any flat, level, tent-sized patches, so on we went. A couple of off-path forays saw us twice nearly settle for "it'll do" spots (only ticks stopped us the second time), but both times the decision was to hold out for something better.

A bit of extra interest was thrown into our continuation when a Waymerk cache was found. Waymerks are special SUW coins which are placed at various points along the Way. I didn't look up any information about their locations before we set out (and Mick had never heard of them; he wondered what on earth I was wittering about when I realised what I had spotted just off the path) so if we find any more it will be purely through chance.

Just as we met the railway line along which we travelled just a few hours ago, some grassy areas presented themselves in amongst the old woodland. "That'll do nicely" we said, and that is where we are now ensconced - although with no phone signal here we'll be long gone before anyone reads this.

(*Stranraer isn't strictly the start of the SUW, but as it has a railway station and is on the coast it was the start point we selected.)

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Friday, 10 April 2015

Birks Fell

Friday 10 April

When I told Mick, before this trip, that I had worked out starting points and route options for 14 hills, he exclaimed “Fourteen!” in such a way that I promptly reassured him that I had no intention of squeezing all 14 into the space of a week, but that it was best to be armed with information so that we could pick and choose accordingly.

Thanks to the glorious weather that we’ve enjoyed, it turned out to be no squeeze at all and today we went up the fourteenth and final hill of the trip: Birks Fell.

Although we could barely make out Buckden Pike across the valley, such was the haze, it was another lovely sunny day. So, when we had visited the summit we figured that, rather than going straight back down, we may as well walk the ridge to the south east, via the tarn and the trig point, to pick up the bridle way which leads down to Starbotton.

The Dales Way then took us along the river (with a clear high-water mark which told us that the path had been underwater sometime this last winter) back to our start point in Buckden.

As tempting as it was to pop up Buckden Pike to see what it was like when not under drifting snow and in a howling wind (and by now the haze had cleared), we opted instead to journey south in search of an ice-cream vendor. It was, after all, turning out to be the warmest day of the year so far. (Incredibly, it was only last month that we were on Buckden Pike in full winter conditions.)

So, that’s it for this trip; we now have three days of rest before we start the Southern Upland Way on Tuesday.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Hoove and Dodd Fell Hill

Thursday 9 April

The plan of attack this morning was to try to get up and down Hoove and through the Tan Hill Road before the closure kicked in (it’s a one-day closure, for today only). The plan failed, in that we didn’t make it to the road in time, but by 7.45 we had, in the glorious glow of a clear-skied early morning, been up and down Hoove.

“A horrible hill” was Mick’s verdict, which I thought a little harsh. It was one of those completely featureless ones, with a plateau large and flat enough that it’s impossible to discern the highest point with the eye alone. Our approach probably didn’t show off the hill to its best advantage either, as we yomped pathlessly from the North Yorkshire/County Durham border, through tussocks, bog and heather.

Perversely, we probably doubled our total ascent for the outing on our way back to Colin. Having ascended a slightly longer route so as to keep to the higher ground, we returned via a more direct route, taking in the dips and climbs. Even so, it was still a very modest outing, at 2.5 miles with just over 200’ of up.

Having driven around the houses (but not as around the houses as expected as it turned out that yesterday’s road closure at Gunnerside had re-opened), and paused for second breakfast at the top of Butter Tub Pass, off to Gayle, and a little beyond, we trundled, to a place which is probably not a common starting point for an ascent of Dodd Fell Hill.

Another period of pathless yomping through bog and tussock saw us to the top of the hill, where we met a SOTA (amateur radio) chap just reeling away an impressive meterage of wire, whilst he and Mick talked radio frequencies and we chatted about various hills.

With the day being young (it wasn’t even a quarter past eleven yet!), we didn’t do an about turn on the summit, but rather we turned westward to drop down to the Pennine Way before picking up the road above Oughtershaw Side. It’s just a pity that the day, which had started out so clear and sunny had become so hazy, obscuring the views down the valleys.

With no more hills on the agenda today, by twenty past noon we were at leisure to spend the rest of the afternoon with our feet up and reading our books … except for our planned amble into Hawes later to pick up some supplies and eat chips.

(2.5 miles, 200’; 4.8 miles, 500’)

Wild Boar Fell, Rogan's Seat and Kisdon

Wednesday 8 April

Wild Boar Fell, the first of 3 tops today, was notable as being the first hill of this trip which had a mountainous look to it. That wasn't strictly related to its height (708m - the biggest of the trip), but rather due to its rugged, pointy appearance from our easterly approach. It's not just a fine-looking hill from the valley either; the plateau was equally pleasing, and we spent a good while enjoying it in the sunshine.

Watching Tocano (sp?) flying below us on our descent (they became something of a feature of the day), we impulsively tried a bit of a road-walking-avoidance short-cut, which worked a treat (and only involved the tiniest bit of trespass) and by 11.30 we were off on our way to Keld for our next 2 hills.

That journey didn't go to plan. In the same way that we were plagued with closed lay-bys last Friday, today we kept encountering road closure notices. A significant back-track and a detour saw us to Keld a little later than expected.

We've liked Keld since the first time we visited and the village and surroundings were as pretty as ever, but Rogan's Seat itself was a wholly unremarkable hill (except as a viewpoint to see over a dozen heather burns going on all around; obviously the ideal conditions for it today). With a very good track leading to within 100m of the highest point, and with the last 100m of height being gained over the course of 2km, it was also a very easy one.

Back down at the Pennine Way junction, just a stone's throw from Keld, we had a decision to make: whether to do Kisdon today or return for it tomorrow. Logistically it made sense to do it today (even though it was rapidly heading towards tea time and tummies were thinking about rumbling) so off we set.

Having had the binoculars out from across the valley, to scope out the best wall-avoiding route up, we promptly discarded all of the mental notes made per our cross-valley observations, and just followed our noses. A good tactic on this occasion, as 25 minutes after deciding to go for it we were standing on the top - it would have been silly to have had to return tomorrow for such a quick and easy walk.

With two more closures affecting roads we intended to use tomorrow, a bit of replanning has been required. As a result we're not where we expected to be tonight, but instead sitting very close to (and almost at the same height as) tomorrow morning's summit. What is the local authority up to closing almost every route in the area at the same time?!

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Howgills from Wild Boar Fell

Just having elevenses (at 10.25) on top of Wild Boar Fell, with the sun beating down, hardly a breath of wind, and skylarks tweeting all around.

The views are fine in every direction, but for this snap I've chosen to go in the direction of the Howgills again.

Quality of the snap is probably appalling - phone cameras have moved on a long way since this long-obsolete model of Blackberry was launched - but hopefully it gives some vague representation of the views.

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Howgills from Aye Gill Pike

Taken Tuesday afternoon

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