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]

Sunday, 20 September 2009

K2CW: Route Outline

I will post the full itinerary separately, but here’s a rough outline of the route that we’re planning to take from Kent to Cape Wrath:

  • Saxon Shore Way (which follows the cliffs) from St Margarets to Dover
  • North Downs Way (the southern option, not going via Canterbury) from Dover to Rochester
  • Local paths and lanes to Dartford, thence to the south bank of the Thames (note Geoff: that’s the south side, so no need to sneak through the Dartford Tunnel!)
  • Thames Path to Kew
  • Grand Union Canal to Birmingham
  • More canals through Wolverhampton until we can pick up some local paths to Cannock Chase
  • Staffs Way to Rocester then the Limestone Way (with a few diversions/shortcuts on local paths) to Youlgrave (pretty much following the Cicerone End-to-End Trail route at this point)
  • Various paths to meet up with the Pennine Way at the burger van on the A635 (double egg bap and two mugs of tea for me, please), then almost immediately leaving it to go via the Kirklees Way to Marsden
  • Paths and lanes via Ripponden and Sowerby Bridge* to pick up the Calderdale Way to get us to Halifax where hopefully one of Ma-in-Law’s famous roast dinners will await us
  • Various paths and lanes get us to the Dales Way LInk via Bingley to Ilkley where we pick up the Dales Way
  • Leaving the Dales Way just before Windermere we have the bit of the route that involved the most planning and re-planning. As it stands we’re going via Helvellyn to Scales, thence to the east of Blencathra to pick up the Cumbria Way
  • Reaching Carlisle via the Cumbria Way an incredibly brief encounter is had with Hadrian’s Wall Path before we head north taking the best route I could come up with until we reach Hawick
  • Just over a day later we join up with our LEJOG route and maybe out of laziness or maybe because I couldn’t see anything more attractive, we follow that route the whole way to Kilsyth. This time I will make the time to have a go on the Falkirk Wheel, but I’m also aware that this section involves my two least-favourite days of the whole of our LEJOG walk
  • From Kilsyth it starts to get interesting as we head west as if we’re going to join the West Highland Way, but then off to follow (more or less) the route of the Highland High Way** all the way up to Fort William. We’re missing out a few of the Munros included in that route, but also adding in a couple.
  • At Fort William the Cape Wrath Trail gives us our route to our destination, which again involves a few days that we’ve seen before. I’ll be particularly interested to see whether the zig-zag through the forest above Inverlael is more obvious now that the End-to-End trail has become quite a popular route.

*If memory serves, I’ve shamelessly stolen Martin’s route, or a very close approximation thereof, to get us from Ripponden to the Dales Way

** Like the Cape Wrath Trail, the Highland High Way is not an official route but just one described in a book. That book is long out of print. Eventually I decided that I wanted a copy of it. Out of print books tend to demand quite a lot of money second-hand. Never before have I paid that much for a little guide-book!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Kites. Red Ones. Lots of.

For the last six months I have travelled up and down the M40 an average of once per week.

As many will know, the immediate vicinity of the M40 in the Stokenchurch area is the home of a large number of Red Kites*. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of journeys I’ve completed without seeing a single one and on a sunny day can easily see a dozen or more. They can be quite distracting too – a truly magnificent bird soaring high over you deserves a glance – but sometimes they swoop low over you too and it’s difficult to keep your eyes on the road when they’re right there in front of you with fantastic colouring and the constant balancing-wiggle of that tail.

This afternoon I could have had a real treat if there had been somewhere for me to pull over to observe (tsk – why do the hold ups occur at inconvenient times, rather than when there’s interesting stuff to look at**?), for there off to the west of the carriageway was a ‘swarm***’. I couldn’t do an accurate head count, passing at speed as I was, but I would say that there were at least 15, if not 20, of them gliding around together.

Only once before have I seen that many playing together. On the other side of the carriageway was a singleton. I wonder what that one had done to be ostracised? Or maybe it just hadn’t noticed that there was a party going on a hundred yards away?

A couple of miles further on and another singleton was spotted. Single amongst other Kites that is, as it was being mobbed by crows****. Unlike the displays of crows versus buzzards, which I’ve always witnessed to involve much ducking and diving (plus the occasional bit of retribution when the buzzard gets fed up with the attack), the Red Kite just continued soaring, apparently unmoved (or at least that’s how he appeared in the few seconds he was in my view).

The Kites do seem to have made a remarkably successful comeback, particularly in around that bit of the M40. Let’s hope that they spread further afield too, so that more people can enjoy them.

Red KiteA photo shamelessly stolen from t’internet

* For anyone who is not familiar with the bird the foolproof recognition tip that my late father (who was a bit of a birder) passed on to me was that it’s the only bird of prey with a forked tail. The ‘fingers’ of the wing feathers are also quite distinctive.

** Not entirely true. During a ‘trapped in motorway hell’ sitting-with-engine-off-for-hours incident a few weeks ago I did have a Hercules circle me quite a few times before, right in front of me, throwing half a dozen chaps out of the back who duly activated their parachutes to drift gracefully down to ground. Then I twiddled my thumbs for another hour and a half.

*** Swarm?! What is the correct collective noun for Red Kites anyway?

**** To me a ‘crow’ is anything that’s big and black. I have no clue about distinguishing a crow from a jackdaw, raven or such. Similarly birds of prey are generally BBJs***** and anything like a sparrow is a LBJ******.

*****BBJ = Big Brown Job

******* You can work LBJ out for yourself can’t you?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Next Big Walk

From Kent to Cape Wrath it is - or K2CW as I’m calling it for short.

The initial seed of a plan started to form when I was watching the weather forecast shortly after returning from John O’Groats last year. Whilst Mick was looking at the bottom left and top right and thinking “That’s a long way we just walked”, I was looking at the opposite two corners and cogs were starting to turn in my head.

For a while very little serious thought was given to the route, planning and logistics, other than to look at a map and try to decide where the bottom right hand corner lies (and if there’s an officially recognised answer which varies from our start point then I would rather not know!). With it proving a bit tricky to decide exactly where the south-east corner of Britain is, I decided it was our walk so it was our prerogative to pick the point that looked to be: (a) a reasonable contender for the ‘bottom right corner’ award; and (b) reasonably easy to get to; and (c) reasonably pleasant to walk from. The winner was St Margaret’s at Cliffe, just up the coast from Dover.

A few weeks back the planning finally began. As it had taken me a year to plan our LEJOG route, and with our planned start date only a handful of months away, it seemed like time was of the essence. As it turned out the planning was much simpler than LEJOG for various reasons (but that’s a subject for a different post). Last weekend I finished tweaking and declared that we have a route and an itinerary (which isn’t to say that there won’t be changes, but with one fifty-mile exception I’m reasonably happy with the route that we have).

Here’s a rough approximation of our route (very rough – I’ve sketched it without reference to a big map with place names on it, so it’s based on the version of Britain that’s in my head):

K2CW sm The route is coming out at a smidge over 1000 miles (1017 to be precise, but based on last year’s experience it will get slightly shorter when I print the maps and realise that I’ve plotted a long way round at some point) with around 150,000 feet of ascent. A significant chunk of that hilliness is in Scotland where (weather permitting) we’re planning a good handful of adventurous days over hills.

We’ve even picked a date out of the air on which to start: 2 April 2010*.

I’ll talk about the chosen route, and will publish the itinerary, separately.

(*usual disclaimer applies: I am female and thus at liberty to bring that forward).

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Lengths and Breadths

We never set out to walk the lengths and breadths of Britain.

On 7 July 2008, when we reached John O’Groats, our ‘lengths and breadths of Britain’ map looked like this:

LEJOG It might have stayed looking like that, except that Mick quite fancied walking Wainwright’s Coast to Coast and taking advantage of still having a modicum of fitness left over from LEJOG we popped across from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in September 2008. Our map then looked like this:

coast LEJOG and C2C sm

Still we had no master plan. Then, about this time last year, I came to fill in the TGOC application form and got to the question of “Why do you want to take part in the TGO Challenge” (or some such similar wording). I gave that some thought. One reason was because quite a few people had told us that we should. Another reason was that having walked the length and breadth of England and the length of Scotland it seemed like a good addition to our collection of lengths and breadths.

So, by the end of May this year, the map was looking like this:

LEJOG C2C TGOCGradually the theme had developed and there was a job to be finished. Our attention turned to Wales.

Being gainfully employed this year, having already taken most of May off, and with the length of Wales being longer than can be squeezed into a few days, we put that one on the back-burner and instead concentrated on the easy option. Every year a mad bunch of people walk across Wales in a day, so it looked eminently achievable for us to walk across it in a long weekend. Hence in early August this year our map had gained another line:

LEJOG C2C TGOC AWW smFive lines out of a possible six completed it was inevitable that we had to set our sights on the full set and I even have a vague plan as to what our route will be (based largely on the Cambrian Way route, which will hopefully avoid significant problems with footpath upkeep issues in mid-Wales). So, it would be reasonable to think that our next sizeable walk will make the map look like this:

Done plus Cambrian smBut, no! The length of Wales is going to be kept on the back-burner for a while yet, for first there is another line that we’re going to add to our map…

…to be continued…

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Dora's 1st Outing

It has been something of a cultural week thus far.

On Sunday we spent an uncommonly long time perusing Carlisle castle (often in the rain).

Had all gone to plan both this and Monday's itinerary would have been with Ma-in-Law, in consideration for whose interests we chose the location for our long weekend. Alas, she was taken poorly at the last minute, so it became a holiday for two - but we stuck with the planned touristy activities nevertheless.

Monday was fortuitously dry (mainly) and before opening time we were at Vindolanda waiting for another dose of culture.
Once again we proved that we have the ability to spend longer than most examining things historical - so much so that we were running out of time to visit the Roman Army Museum and having bought a joint ticket we felt obliged to go there.

The Roman Army Museum I found disappointing (if you're in the area my recommendation would be to just spend a long time at Vindolanda; preferably on a nice day as it's an outdoor attraction).

Tuesday the weather in the North West was dreadful, but that wasn't a problem as we simply spent the morning window shopping in Keswick. Any thought of walking anywhere was soon discounted, given the wind-driven lashings of rain, and so in the early afternoon it was to home that we headed

Our sojourn there was short. This morning we were on the road again, this time to Wrexham where we enjoyed a tour of Erddig house and gardens. Unlike any other visitors, we had a personal tour guide and also got to see some areas that are closed to the public. An excellent excursion to a worth-visiting National Trust property.

From Wrexham we were on the road again, this time to Barmouth.

Why in the world people come on holiday here I do not know. How the eating establishments here survive is a further mystery given the general poor quality, often hideous-datedness and dearth of customers outside of August (there is only one decent place in town and that was booked out). But we are only here for one night and with particular business to attend to. By 10am we will be on our way again.

For the first time in my history with Barmouth (I lived here for a while and thanks to a (now ex-) family property have always had a bed available to me) we are camping. The campsite isn't too shoddy and we do have sea views, albeit at the expense of a level pitch.

And purely because she hadn't enjoyed an outing in the 10 months that we've had her, Dora (our Aztec Dura) is having her first trial. She's overkill for the conditions and we thought we would never be done pegging out all of those guys, but she's very spacious and I'm sure that if we were caught by a freak storm she would cope admirably.

Tomorrow's agenda (after a trip up a hillside with a bunch of beheaded flowers) is to visit either Chirk Castle or Powis Castle. Chirk will likely win purely for the reasons that we camped within sight of it on our Big Walk last year and met a chap at the Oykel Bridge Hotel who knew it well. What better reasons for a visit could one have?
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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Night Before

What I didn’t mention was that I set out on the Chase on Friday with something of a sore head.

Thursday night had seen a celebration.

Perhaps not everyone celebrates pending unemployment like it’s a Good Thing, but I saw the fact that Mick had resigned from his job last week (which was only supposed to be for six months from last November in any case) as a cause for opening something bubbly.

So, by Christmas at least one of us will be unemployed and will have the time again to regain some of the lost fitness and enjoy proper amounts of fresh air and exercise.

You’re Mad!

“You’re going in this weather?” Mick asked me incredulously as I bade him farewell on Friday morning to take myself for a bit of a leg-stretch on The Chase.

“It’ll have stopped by the time I get there” I said doubtfully, looking out at the dark sky and lashing rain.

“You’re mad!” said Mick.

I thanked him for the vote of confidence (I put it down to jealousy; I’m sure that if he didn’t have to work he would have happily come along with me) and dashed along the drive to the car.

Twenty minutes later I pulled up in the usual car park on The Chase and got quite damp around the edges as I conceded that waterproofs were going to be required.

It seemed that most people had been put off by the weather, as I can’t have seen more than a dozen people in the 8.5 miles that I covered, and half of those were from a distance. As it went the weather wasn’t as bad as it had threatened to be. The rain did eventually give way to showers and having learnt my lesson the week before I took to sheltering under trees rather than taking the trouble to don waterproofs only to need to take them off ten minutes later.

Everything was very green and lush, except where it was the startling purple of heather in flower, and except in the vicinity of this sign which I particularly liked for its being so precise about what was being cut:

Bilberry Cutting WarningI saw no evidence of any machinery in use, just a couple of men with gardening implements, and lots of cleared and burnt areas like this one:

Bilberry Cut and Burnt It looks like the war against Phytophthora Ramorum is still being waged, but the ‘disease control area’ signage is still woefully lacking and confusing (as I passed half a dozen ‘you are now entering a disease control area’ signs, but not a single ‘you are now leaving a disease control area’ one).

The 8.5 mile route was the usual one. I walked it anti-clockwise, because I always do. The only times it sees me in a clockwise direction is when I’ve just walked it clockwise, am after a 17-mile brain-in-neutral training walk, and can’t face walking it the same way twice in one day.