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]

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The National Forest

Who is aware of the National Forest? If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a bit of a spiel taken from the National Forest website:

“Over twenty years ago, visionary leaders made the decision to create a new, large, forested area in England, to show all the many benefits that come from woodland near where people live and work. The area in the Midlands which came to be known as The National Forest was chosen in part because the woodland cover was very low (about 6%). There was also a great need for regeneration after the end of mining and, importantly, incredible public support for the idea.

Since then, the 200 square miles of The National Forest have been transformed through the planting of millions of trees (8m by October 2012) and the creation of many other valuable habitats.“

Mick and I live within the National Forest. When we first moved here, thirteen years ago, the ‘forest’ comprised some fenced off areas full of what looked awfully like dead twigs and information signs about ‘National Forest Tender Scheme Winners’. Of course, those twigs weren’t dead and over the last decade we’ve seen them grow into recognisable trees (including crab apples, apples, pears and cherries, if you know where to look).

Theoretically, it’s a fantastic resource to have so close to hand as through many (maybe even most; possibly all) of the plantations, permissive paths have been created. The problem is a lack of information about where these plantations are and where those paths lie.

I knew that there were routes through one local lump of trees purely because I’d seen the marker posts from public footpaths and had gone to explore, but it wasn’t until I devised a lengthy ‘quiet lanes’ route during mud season in 2013 that I came to appreciate quite how many little plantations are dotted around and that there’s far more access than I appreciated. So, I contacted the National Forest organisation and asked whether there was any information available as to where the plantations and permissive routes lay. “No” they said*.

So, I’m still on a journey of discovery. In 2013 I discovered a handful of routes and a lovely pond on the land directly opposite our old house. We lived in that house for 6 years and I walked the same local RoWs over and over again with no idea that there was any access, never mind a whole network of permissive paths, through the infant trees across the road (the two access points to that area are not helpful; I often get in by jumping over a fence at a gap in a hedge, right by the old house). I now walk that area regularly and a couple of months ago I discovered another path over there; I’m sure there are more I’m yet to tread.

Yesterday, in a different area (using another permissive path I only found last year), I found the path I had intended to take cut off but brambles and nettles, and noticed that I was stood next to a stile into a plantation, so I took it and went on another little adventure, resisting all temptation to look at a map and try and work out where it was taking me. And that was when it hit me that those infant trees are now really looking like proper woodland, and how nice it is that an area of fields has been transformed into something really quite pleasant to walk through:


I hope that snap conveys how pleasant a walk this is!

(*I can’t help thinking that the first sentence of the quotation I’ve included from the National Forest website would be better fulfilled if people actually knew where these forests were and what access was available…)

Friday, 29 May 2015

Another Surprise Five

Thursday 28 May

As we approached the car park last night, which would position us nicely for our first hill this morning, I had a great sense of déjà vu, commenting to Mick that I felt like I’d been there before and that there had been a chap in residence in the car park, in a caravan. Mick responded that the chap in the caravan had a generator running outside. Then I saw the Herring Road sign post, confirming that this wasn’t a memory trick; we had walked through this very car park on our Lowestoft to Ardnamurchan walk in 2011. The snap above is looking down on the car park this morning; Colin is the white van on the right.

Arriving in pouring rain yesterday afternoon, we expected (from the forecast) to be in for a very wet night, with the rain persisting into the morning. So, it was a surprise to peer out of a window this morning (after a night during which I’d heard not a drop of rain fall; the afternoon’s wetness had abated mid-evening) to find that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Cereal was wolfed, tea necked and at quarter to seven we made haste for fear of the fine weather being short-lived.

As I’m finding is often the case, when I stand at the foot of the hill and look at it, there’s a more obvious route than the one I’d picked from the map. On this occasion, I’d planned to take a longer route making the most use of the tracks and paths marked on my map. In reality we headed straight up, via a good trod. There was a bit of heather-bashing to the very top, but it was all very straightforward, and whilst there were clouds forming, it didn’t look like we were in for any wet weather before second breakfast.

Down we headed, via a slightly different line, involving a trod sporting half a dozen snare traps. If they are checked daily (as I believe the law requires) then they will all have been reset by now…
(2.3 miles, 700’)

Dirrington Great Law
Considering that this was the hill that had led me to even contemplate returning home via the east coast (we’d seen it from the Southern Upland Way in April and it had called my name), it was careless that I’d missed it off my list for the day! All’s well that ends well, though, and I realised the omission before it was too late (even if it meant that we didn’t do the hills in this area in the most obvious order), so after Spartleton we headed off to park in a gateway from which, so t’internet told me, I could follow a track all the way to the top of this pimple in the landscape.

The parking situation wasn’t such that Mick could join me for this one, so off I wandered on my own, wondering where this track was going to take me as it appeared to head off in the wrong direction.  Sticking with it, it did come good, even if it wasn’t the most direct line ever taken up a hill. By virtue of its indirectness (combined with the small stature of the hill), it would have given me the most ridiculously easy ascent if it hadn’t been for the strength of the headwind.

I did have to pause and back off at one point a few paces from the top, to allow a family of fluffy grouslings to cross the track ahead of me. Peeking around the corner again, they all seemed to have gone, so on I went, only noticing the sole grousling which had been left behind when I put my foot down about an inch away from it. My goodness, they’re well camouflaged, even when sitting on a track! I trod so very carefully the rest of the way.

Maybe I didn’t tread as carefully as I should, or maybe it was because I was scanning the ground for brown and yellow balls of fluff that I stepped wrong and took a good tumble on my descent. No harm was done, and I did spring back up like someone was watching, even though it seemed highly unlikely that I was going to have a human encounter on this hill. Sometimes unlikely things do occur though, and about ten paces away from the gateway back onto the road, I encountered a very chatty gamekeeper. For a full twenty minutes we passed the time of day, covering a great multitude of subjects, making Mick wonder if I was ever going to get away. We were later glad I hadn’t chatted for five minutes longer… 
(3.4 miles, 600’)

Lamberton Hill
This one has to be a contender for the most pointless Marilyn I’ve visited to date. It was so pointless that Mick declined to join me, even though Colin was neatly parked. So, on my own I left the road, went through a gate and walked up to the top of a field. Then I walked back down. To add a bit of interest to this visit to the high point of a grassy field, I did visit the hill fort which also lies within the field, extending the round trip to a whole three quarters of a mile with about 130’ of up.

Ros Hill
Having crossed the border back into England, this hill could have been another outing of less than a mile and only a couple of hundred feet of ascent, except that we found a good car park at the picnic area to the south of Chillingham Park, which meant that Mick could (and did) join me on this one. The revised start point gave us a steep start, but it was an interesting little walk, up onto heather moorland, via some big boulders (and apparently another hill fort, but I didn’t notice the evidence of this one), before heading up to the prominent high ground ahead of us, which was Ros Hill.

As we stood taking in the views, we couldn’t help but notice that there was one particular shower that looked to be on a collision course with us, so we upped the pace for the return journey. We failed to outpace the shower, but we did get lucky in that only the very edge of it hit us, not requiring any waterproofs (of course, we did don jackets, which is probably why it missed us).

It was rather a pleasant outing, and our last for the day … or so the plan said. 
(1.9 miles, 500’)

Long Crag
We reached our intended night-stop at half past one, second lunch was had (first lunch had been had in a different picnic area at 10.30am; I was hungry today!) and it was still far too early to call it a day, so we figured we may as well bring forward Long Crag, which was pencilled in for tomorrow morning.

A really nasty forest track (big chunky stones, like walking on a railway bed) took us so far, then a grassy break to our right looked likely to lead us out of the forest, so we thought we would give it a go. The presence of a well-trodden line soon gave us confidence that the route would work, and it wasn’t too long before we were out the top and onto the ridge just west of Coe Crags, from where we walked further west to the top of Long Crag, enjoying the views as we went. A suitably nice walk to end my month of Marilyns, I thought. I even extended the outing a little to include a visit to the top of Coe Crags, just to check out what could be seen to the east.

Then it was back the way we came, increasing pace as we made our way back along the nasty forest track, as there was an ominous darkness that suggested that we weren’t quite going to achieve five rain-free hills on this poor-forecast day. It was a close run thing. The last couple of minutes were accompanied by light rain, and a couple of minutes after we climbed into Colin the heavens opened. That was when Mick commented that he was glad I hadn’t been any longer chatting to the game keeper earlier in the day; we would not have wanted to have been out in that!
(4.7 miles, 550’)

The End
And that was that for this trip. Thirty-eight Marilyns, and a few other tops, the vast majority in good conditions. In combination with some involvement with the TGO Challenge, it’s been a very enjoyable time. I’m now expecting that the Marilyn count to remain static for at least a few months … but I will return to them in due course.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Allermuir Hill and Meikle Says Law

The conclusion I reached on the question of where to head next was that the Pentland Hills lend themselves to longer walks, taking in multiple tops, whereas the Marilyns to the east (starting with the Lammermuir Hills) involve several shorter outings. Given a damp and windy weather forecast for the next few days, I thought the Pentland Hills would be best left for better weather.

We didn't ignore them completely, though, as we nipped up Allermuir Hill on our way past, which (being so close to the city) is an excellent vantage point over Edinburgh. In the other direction is a scene of lumpiness.

Having visited our top (where we shared the summit with five other people, even though the day was still relatively young), the sensible route back down seemed to be along the ridge and over Caerketton Hill, so that's exactly where we went. I can't say that the second top gave views that were wildly different from the first, but the walk was a very nice one (3.5 miles, 1200').

Back down at our starting point, Colin's nose was then set towards the Lammermuir Hills, where we arrived just at lunchtime.

After a nice leisurely lunch (which, it turned out should have been at least 10 minutes shorter), my inclination to sit under a blanket with a book was far greater than my inclination to go and walk up a heathery lump which was smothered in tracks. I did, however, drag myself (and Mick) out, and soon discovered that my initial, unfavourable opinion of the hill was unjust, as we were soon off the surfaced tracks and onto tyre lines through heather, which eventually petered out completely to give us a rough heathery yomp to the top. (The OS has that track down as double dotted lines; I don't think it warrants that status; neither did our descent route, for that matter.)

So much did my opinion of the hill increase whilst we were on it that I decided against the option of retracing our steps and went back to the original plan of forming a circuit over Little Meikle Law. That was rough and heathery too, but easier going than the last bit of the ascent.

Having left Colin at around 1350', and with a summit height of around 1750', at a very quick glance this may have looked like a very low ascent sort of an outing. However, the first thing we did when setting out was to descend quickly down to a burn. That, of course, meant that the final thing we had to do was regain that height: a sting in the tail. To make that final climb worse, the rain which had already been falling lightly for a while really upped the tempo for the final ten minutes of our outing. With our end in sight, it didn't seem worth stopping to don overtrousers, so all we could do as our legs got soggier was to rue not finishing our lunch ten minutes earlier. (5.6 miles, 900')

(If today's snap was of better quality, you'd be able to make out Colin and a windfarm in amongst the landscape (incidentally, six windfarms could be seen from Meikle Says Law))

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Benarty Hill and Dumglow Hill

I somehow managed, having spent the whole of last week in a room with a plentiful supply of plug sockets, to leave Montrose with both of my laptop batteries flat. Careless! That has meant that I’ve not been able to look at my electronic maps, which in turn has meant that I’ve not been able to make any sort of a plan as to what to do beyond today (I’d come up with the plan thus far before leaving Montrose).

We are now at a campsite. The laptop is powered up, and I’ve spent a couple of hours plotting and contemplating – yet I still can’t decide whether to go to the Pentland Hills next and head home via the M6, or head for the Lammermuir Hills and go home via the M1. Decisions, decisions (gosh, I’m really not good at making decisions).

Anyway, before the campsite chores and the powering of devices, there were a couple of hills. Surprisingly nice hills too (I’m not sure why I didn’t expect either to be nice; maybe it was how they looked on the map?).

Mick didn’t much like the parking spot for Benarty Hill, so off I went by myself, almost immediately making a meal of the ascent as I walked back and forth trying to find the track I needed to get out of the forest. I didn’t find the track, but I did eventually find a path which led me nicely to the top of the forest, from where clear lines through the heather took me slightly circuitously to the summit. An excellent viewpoint, it was, and I enjoyed a few minutes up there before heading back down. I made a better job of the ‘down’ portion of the outing: I’d covered 1.7 miles in 45 minutes to get up, contrasted with 1.1 miles in 21 minutes to get back down!

Not dreadfully far away was Dumglow Hill, which was even worse for parking, although this time it wasn’t a litter-strewn lane (in fact the lane by the first hill had been one of the most litter-strewn and fly-tipped lanes I’ve ever seen) causing an uncomfortable feeling, it was a complete lack of parking for a Colin-sized vehicle at my chosen start point. Mick duly waited again (moving Colin when someone needed access to the gateway he was blocking), as I headed off. 

With this hill being well protected by forest I had taken careful note of other people’s routes and knew that at the track end I needed to go: “35m left, 35m south, 300m right”, which seemed like an odd set of directions (why left and right rather than points of the compass?), but on the ground they made perfect sense and worked a treat.

Breaking out of the forest my objective was still hidden by trees, and it was a treat to finally catch sight of it standing proud before me:

(there would be a photo here if I wasn't having technical issues)

A few minutes later I was on the top, waving down to Mick. 

(there would be a photo here too...)

I resisted all urges to try out other breaks through the forest (short cuts make for long delays and all that), so retraced my steps … until I got back to the track when suddenly a good break on my right seemed too good to ignore. My instinct was (for once!) right, and it cut off a chunk of distance without throwing any obstacles or difficulty in my way, although I suspect that in a few weeks once the undergrowth has got a bit higher, it may be a less straightforward option.

The stats for the outings were incredibly similar: both were 2.8 miles long, but the second hill involved 100’ more ascent at 800’. 

Now, what do you reckon? Pentland or Lammermuir Hills next?

Monday, 25 May 2015

East Lomond

Monday 25 May

At 4pm, with the car park rapidly emptying, off we set for East Lomond. The delay was worthwhile for more than one reason: the haze had lessened and the sunny periods become longer, with just the occasional wispy cloud drifting in to obscure it.

An easy path led us the mile and a quarter to the summit, and a topograph there told us what we could see in the 360 degree view. We didn't need any help to identify some of the landmarks, such as this morning's hills. Berwick Law, which we visited in February last year, was barely visible through the remaining haze.

Within an hour we were back at Colin, having met not a single person on this clearly (and justifiably) popular pimple.

(The snap is West Lomond and Bishop Hill, taken from East Lomond.)

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

West Lomond and Bishop Hill

Monday 25 May

My incredible run this month of 25 hills in excellent air clarity came to an end today. But, I can't complain; whilst there may have been a haze, it was still a fine day with plenty of sunny spells, albeit cool when we set out early this morning.

Our first objective of the day was West Lomond: one of a pair of very distinctive protruding pimples which sit either end of a ridge (I remember first remarking on them when walking on the south side of the Firth of Forth during one of our Big Walks).

After an easy walk in on a motorway-esque path it was a relatively short, but quite sharp, pull up to the excellent viewpoint of the summit, where we tarried just long enough to lose the heat we'd generated on the way up.

Steeply down to the south we then went before starting our ascent of our next objective: Bishop Hill. We were joined during that ascent by three gliders who kept us company until after we had cleared the summit. We were now to head back east, whereas they preferred the west side of the escarpment.

The route taken off Bishop Hill didn't feel particularly sensible at the time (as we yomped through heather, bog and tussocks), but as the outing came in 2 miles shorter than the route I had measured, it seems that we simply took a much more direct line than intended. I confess, there was a complete failure to navigate; not a single glance was had at the map - we could see where we needed to get to and we simply dead-headed towards it.

We reached the car park just at lunchtime, and had every intention of heading back out to East Lomond as soon as we had eaten. Then it came to our attention that it is a bank holiday today as, by the time lunch had been despatched, the car park was full to the gunwales. East Lomond has thus been postponed until late afternoon so that we don't find ourselves walking in procession.

Incredibly, considering the number of cars now parked around us, the only people we passed during this morning's 8 miles formed one large group of RAF personnel in camouflage gear. After passing them, about half a mile into our walk, they disappeared; I'm not sure whether it was the effectiveness of their camouflage, or whether they headed off over a lump in the landscape.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Turin Hill, Craigowl, King's Seat and Moncreiffe Hill

There were three more hills that we could have tackled from our position in Glen Esk, but I adjudged that the only one I was unlikely to include on a cross-Scotland route was Hunt Hill (which we visited yesterday), so the remainder were left for another time and southwards we finally headed.

The first stop en-route was Turin Hill, the site of a hill fort/castle, to the NE of Forfar. I'd been unable to locate anywhere nearby to park for this one (although there was a layby relatively close, on the B road, we discovered), so Mick offered to drop me at the bottom of the track and pick me up afterwards.

Had I read the route notes I'd made, I wouldn't have found myself climbing over barbed wire, with a strand of electric fence protruding either side, on my way up. It was only as I stood on the summit, looking back the way I had come, that the instruction of 'continue to the end of the woodland, where there's a gate' came back to me. So, having enjoyed the far-reaching views from the summit (and waved to Mick, who I could see parked up in a layby up the road) I took a slightly longer route back down, to take full advantage of the gates.

Next up was Craigowl Hill, a good handful of miles SW of Forfar. It seems that the majority of people who log their Marilyns on approach this hill via the tarmac track which leads all the way to the masts on its summit. However, as exploration of Streetview and aerial photos had failed to reveal a Colin-sized place to park for that approach, instead we went to the car park in the community woodland further W along the road. The result was a far more pleasing walk than the tarmac track would have been. A waymarked trail took us through the native woodland, and after only 200m on an old track, a gateway gave us access to a trodden line on grass all the way to the top. The result was not only a nice walk, but one that was half the distance I'd anticipated (I'd hoped there would be a way through the forest, but had measured a longer route in case there wasn't). It's just a pity about all of the masts and buildings on this top, which otherwise gave fine views down to Dundee and the Tay to the south and snow-spotted hills to the north.

The car park in that woodland was so nice (save for the multitude of bags of dog poo; it seems that many people there pick up after their dogs, only to then deposit the bag of poo neatly next to their cars) that it was tempting to stay the night - but the day was young...

... so off to King's Seat we went.

I'd decided that I fancied a linear walk over this one, so Mick dropped me off to the SE of it, and off I went. I soon decided that people don't usually tackle this hill from this direction (probably because of the lack of parking for this start point), and thus there was no trodden line. Well-advanced nettles stung my legs through my trousers before I weaved through blooming gorse, following which I picked my way up a section of gorse-graveyard, before finally yomping through heather.

It was the worst heather of any hill of this trip, being very old, very woody and knee-deep. I was certainly glad to reach the gleaming trig at the top.

A trodden line led me away from the summit and towards Black Hill, and I thought the rest of my outing would be relatively quick and easy. It wasn't. In fact it was hard work, through yet more heather, with a bit of bog and some very uneven path thrown in. I strongly suspect I had lost the line taken by most people. It was only when I climbed up to the top of Black Hill that I found not just a well-trodden line, but boot prints - and finally, the rest of the route was easy.

Another walker, heading towards King's Seat himself, was encountered on the hill fort to the SW of Black Hill, and from there it was just an easy trundle down hill to find Mick patiently waiting exactly where I expected to find him.

The next on the list, Moncreiffe Hill (lying to the S of Perth) wasn't on the agenda until tomorrow, as I had rather hoped that its car park would be suitable for a night stop. My hopes were dashed when we found it to be too sloping, so the hill was brought forward to today. To my surprise, Mick chose to sit this one out, so I was on my lonesome as I trundled up to the higher of the two hill forts and back, which I achieved in just under 35 minutes. It's a very good (and fast) path which has been engineered to wend its way gently up, forming one of a number of waymarked routes.

So, four hills and four excellent view-points on this very clear-aired day. I'll happily take more of the same tomorrow, please...

Distances: Turin - 2.3 miles; Craigowl - 2.8 miles; King's Seat - 4 miles; Moncreiffe - 1.9 miles.

(Today's snap: the trig poing on Craigowl Hill, together with a taste of the industrial nature of the top and hopefully a glimpse of the fine views to the north.)

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Hunt Hill

Saturday 23 May

TGO Challenge Control closed promptly at 1700 last night (the final finisher having come in an hour earlier), which left us free to head out of Montrose. The question was: to where? We hadn't even decided in which direction to travel next, but we couldn't stay put, such was our aversion to giving the campsite in Montrose a seventh night of our business.

Eventually a decision was made to head south, but as we sat in Tesco's car park cooking and eating tea, we were struggling to come up with somewhere to stay. So, we started our southbound journey by heading northwest, spending the night at Tarfside (well known to the Challenge community; this year well over half of all participants stayed there). I'd like to say it was a quiet night, but one of the groups camped on the playing fields didn't heed the "please be quiet between 2200 and 0800" bit of the notice that says you can camp there for free. We could have driven four miles further for a quiet night, as that's where we were headed first thing this morning, but such was our fatigue by half eight last night that even four more miles of driving was too much. It's a tiring business, sitting in a room for a week, you know!

Having relocated those final four miles at just after nine this morning, we watched the car park fill around us as we drank tea, before heading off ourselves. I had been a little undecided as to which hill to visit and had finally opted for Hunt Hill. A good decision, I thought, as we watched most people (including a particularly large group, with a clipboard-wielding leader) head for Mount Keen, which had been the other main contender for our time today.

I soon learnt, as we approached Loch Lee (the length of which Mick had walked only a week ago) that the clear blue skies were deceiving as to the true nature of the day. That head-wind had a bite to it and, rather than dejumpering (as I had expected to need to do), I was soon digging around for my gloves.
Only one couple was seen up to the point where we left the track to head up our hill, and unsurprisingly nobody was encountered on the hill itself. We did see plenty of hares and there must be quite a population of deer, as their trods helped us through some of the heathery sections. Dropping down off the hill into Glen Lee was another story; it was busy with day-walkers and the occasional backpacker.

The plod back alongside Loch Lee (oh to have a couple of bicycles to hand...) was broken by a good chat with a family group, before we returned to a car park which had overflowed onto all nearby verges.

Although it clouded over whilst we were out, it proved to be a fine day to be out and quite warm as the day went on. A very enjoyable day it was too, with gorgeous surroundings, and excellent views from our hill (the snap attached is looking down to Loch Lee, from our ascent route).

The stats for the day came out at 10.9 miles with an amount of ascent that I've not yet worked out.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Make That 21

I just couldn’t resist! When I saw last night that there was a little pimple of a Marilyn that sits just off the road in Ballater, by the name of Craigendarroch, I had a vague thought that maybe I could visit it on my way over to Montrose, and that’s exactly what I did.

There are paths which lead to its summit, but for my ascent I took a direct line through the pleasant woodland. Not fancying the same route for my descent (it having been so steep in places that I could reach out and touch the ground ahead of me), a slightly more gentle route, down a well-trodden line, was taken.

No clever measuring device was carried, so my best estimate from measuring on the map is that the outing came in at 0.9 of a mile, with 600’ of up, taking smack on half an hour. I might have lingered a few minutes on the top, except that my arrival was timed perfectly to coincide with a passing shower. A shame, as two thirds of the outing was done under fine skies.

Not only did I not think to take my Garmin Gadget, but I also omitted to take a camera. Thank goodness for multi-purpose devices - here are a couple of snaps taken with my phone*:


(*My proper, modern phone that is, so hopefully better quality than the last few which I’ve posted from my old (but trusty) Blackberry.)