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]

Monday, 28 December 2020

Mickle Fell (NY806245; 790m)

Distance: 12.6 miles
Ascent: 500m
Weather: Surprisingly good! Plenty of sunshine and almost no wind. Erica’s temperature gauge displayed zero both before and after the walk.  
Start Point: Track end on B6276 at around NY872211*

What an excellent outing! With the benefit of hindsight, I’m happy that we didn’t go yesterday, per our original plan. The forecast for Mickle Fell had been good enough, but Halifax was under a weather warning for snow (which didn’t materialise beyond three very short snow storms) and we didn’t want to go out to find that we couldn’t get back up the hill to Ma-in-Law’s house, so we deferred until today.

Here’s the story in photos:

There was no snow in yesterday’s forecast for Mickle Fell, so I didn’t expect these conditions on the drive in and as we abandoned Erica at the foot of the track we were to take:

Was this going to bode ill for conditions further up?

There were hints of blue in the sky in the direction we were going, and soon enough they were getting bigger…

…although it was still cloudy back whence we had come:

We jogged the joggable bits, even though the snow made it harder than expected, but on the way up there was much more walking than running:

Then, suddenly, we found ourselves in a layer of cloud. Noooo! Were we going to be shrouded all the way to the summit and most of the way back down?

No! In the final climb up to the ridge, we climbed back out of the cloud and from there enjoyed the most gloriously sunny, and calm, conditions…

…with the cloud below us…
...although it had burnt off by the time we got back down to that level.

Oh, but the going for the final 3+km! The high point is as indicated on this snap and for those final kilometres we were on an ATV track, rather than the engineered track that had carried us the first 7km. We got the impression that ATV track would, in the absence of snow, have been a bogfest in places. Today it was largely frozen, with a good layer of snow on top, which kept our feet drier, but was undoubtedly harder going than the bog would have been:

For too long the summit didn’t seem to be getting any closer**, but by the process of putting one foot in front of t’other, we gradually reeled it in:

The big cairn isn’t the very highest point, so I backtracked a little for a selfie where I managed to look incredibly like my late mother:

A quick snack and an about turn to retrace our steps. Once we were back on the engineered track we trotted all the way back to Erica…

…albeit I paused every now and then to try to capture the immense prettiness around us:
By the time we were three quarters of the way back, the sun had turned the glorious powder we had experienced to that point into heavier, wetter snow. The consensus was that we had timed ourselves well; we’d not have liked to have been out much later in the day.

Bonus snap: a standard wire fence looking inconceivably chunky:

(*Thanks go to Conrad for bringing this route option to my attention as I don't believe I would have considered it as an option otherwise. It's longer than the popular route, but has the benefit of being largely on Access Land and on a good track.

**When I finish typing I shall give this to Mick to proof read. When he gets to this asterisk he will likely tell me that the summit never gets any closer to us, we get closer to it, but I’m sure you knew what I meant.)

(1hr55 up; 1hr25 down. A bit slower than my estimate, but then I'd not anticipated the snow conditions)

Monday, 9 November 2020

Record Keeping

One of the tasks I set myself during the spring lockdown was to catch up with logging my Marilyns on, having realised that I was four years behind. As of today, I am completely up to date.

Occasionally people ask me how many Marilyns I’ve visited and I very seldom know the exact answer. At times I’ve struggled to even guess at a rough estimate. Happily I now have an exact answer, and if I manage to keep my logs up to date from now on then maybe I’ll be better equipped to answer next time I’m asked.


So, for the record I have to date visited 469 Marilyns. That includes 146 in England, leaving me with just 29 to complete the country. Sixteen of those are in the South West and could, I reckon, be sensibly tackled in a single trip. The rest are rather scattered and include:

Crowborough – on a residential street so I’ll only visit it if I’m in the area;

Mickle Fell – legally permission from the MoD is required as it’s on a firing range;

Normanby Top – walked within 500m of it on our Lowestoft to Ardnamurchan walk and being a trig point in a field next to a road, it’s not worth a special trip to go back, so it’ll only get mopped up if I happen to be in the area (okay, so I may engineer myself being in the area, but I’ll have to find more things of merit to do nearby to justify the trip)

Swinside – on private land, and I’ve already made one aborted visit to its foot. I’ll only visit it if I can either get permission or if I’m nearby in circumstances that suggest a quick sneak up and down would be feasible.

As nice as it would be to complete England, given that I will never complete the entire Marilyn list, there’s no logical sense in spending significant resources on going far out of my way to mop up the last dregs. I do, of course, still have a significant part of Wales and Scotland still to go (99 to go in Wales; Scotland is full of Marilyns and I’m not likely to exhaust the supply any time soon!).

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Hill-bagging in Herefordshire (and Gloucestershire): Part 2 - Wednesday 4 November

Cleeve Hill (SO996245; 330m)

The map suggests that a circular walk from the settlement of Cleeve Hill (to the north), making use of the Cotswold Way, would be a pleasing outing and everything we saw on the ground seemed to confirm that would be the case. We, however, suffered from an inexcusable level of laziness and parked in the car park nearest to this summit, giving us a stroll of about 3 minutes each way.

We did make the outing a little longer than that, looping around the common that was understandably proving popular on this cold but clear morning with wall-to-wall sunshine. I can only imagine it’s absolutely rammed with people on a warm summer’s day.

Gorgeous day for it!

Wandering across the common

Erica’s parked over by those masts. The car park was nearly full when we arrived and completely full by the time we left.

A fine view over Cheltenham

Bredon Hill (SO957402; 299m

The most contour lines of the seven hills on this trip

A journey on StreetView had identified a small pull-in alongside the road to the NW of this hill, so that’s where we abandoned Erica whilst we nipped up Bredon Hill. The estate clearly doesn’t want people wandering just anywhere and have thus installed plenty of waymarks across their fields, which is good. They have also, however, installed signs that suggest that some public footpaths are Estate Permissive Paths, which is not so good.

Having set out overdressed, the sunshine and lack of wind combined with the contour lines soon had us stripping off. This was the only hill on which either of us carried a bag; I’d picked up the bumbag just as we were leaving in case we overheated, and I’m glad I did. We just about managed to squeeze our jumpers and my windshirt in and I proceeded in just my baselayer, even though there were still pockets of frosty grass around us.

The modest effort of the climb was well rewarded as we reached the top of the escarpment from where (once we’d got out of the trees!) the views over the large plain below us were outstanding. It’s a summit with some interest too, with evidence of an old hill fort, plus a more modern tower.

The high point was within the fort, but a short distance from the tower, and I’m not sure why it’s listed a grassy rise rather than the boulder that is used as a reference point as to the location of the relevant grassy rise. Either way, I stood on both.

Atop the top, unless the top is really that boulder, but I stood there too

What a fine panorama there was before us

A friendly bunch at Woollas Hall Farm…

Despite having asked Mick to remind me to stop my watch from recording when we got back to Erica, we both forgot, and thus it was 68 miles later that I finally stopped it. Fortunately, the Garmin Connect App makes it easy to crop the route back down to its proper size, so I can report that on this hill we covered 3.2 miles with around 250m ascent.

What a fine bunch of hills that was, with the best weather window we’ve had in some while. I wonder when we’ll be able to get out again?

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Hill-bagging in Herefordshire (& Gloucestershire): Part 1 - Tuesday 3 Nov

You’d be forgiven for thinking this blog long dead, with the last post having been over a year ago. It’s not dead, I’ve just not done anything that qualified for inclusion here* in all of that time. In case you don’t know and are interested, I have been wittering away at length on our other blog at:, including a whole series of posts about the conversion we’ve just undertaken to turn an ex-NHS patient transfer vehicle into a small campervan.

It was in that campervan (who goes by the name of Erica) that we nipped out for a quick hill-bagging trip last week. Not a single UK hill in over 12 months, then suddenly 7 tops in the course of 25 hours. Admittedly, they were neither big nor difficult; however, most of them had great views.

Seager Hill (SO613389; 272m);
Ascent = red; descent = green

Having realised in the nick of time that I’d programmed the SatNav for the wrong hill, we arrived to find the parking situation wasn’t satisfactory. Not wanting to leave Erica even slightly blocking the gateway, Mick was volunteered to stay behind and test out the comfort of Erica’s sofa, whilst I tootled off up the hill.

This is my least favourite type of hill, requiring trespass almost the whole way. Fortunately, it was only a total distance of 1.8 miles and without much ascent, so I took it at a trot. Some of the tracks I used had obviously seen vehicle use very recently, but I made it up and back without encountering anyone, although I did take a slightly different descent route so as to avoid passing a digger that had appeared and was moving some earth adjacent to my outward path. That took me down a track that wasn’t on my map, but I was pretty sure would take me back to my start point. It did, but at the cost of wet feet due to a waterlogged section only about 20m before the end.

Excellent views behind me.

I was back 20 minutes after setting out, ready to move on to the next hill and already looking at the clock and doing calculations as to whether it was going to be feasible to fit in five hills, plus the driving between them, before dark.

Aconbury Hill (SO505329; 276m)

After miles of muddy little lanes that left Erica with a covering of dirt we felt sure was only going to get worse as the trip went on, we arrived at the village hall in Little Birch, where public parking is permitted in return for a donation. There we ate a quick lunch…

first test of Erica’s cooking facilities

…before striding off towards Aconbury Hill.

Muddy path through the woodland

It was a muddy ascent through the woodland, but we managed to stay on our feet (and on the way down too!) to reach the trig point on the top.

Summit selfie

According to my hill lists App, the trig is the highest point of this hill, but I wandered over to a nearby point that looked higher. Often when seeing points that appear higher, when you get there they’re clearly lower. Not on this occasion, it seemed higher both from the trig, and when looking back at the trig, and I now see that there’s a comment on the entry in the database that that the land in question is at least as high. Definitely worth the small detour, even though neither this point, nor the trig afforded any views, being in amongst trees.

Spot the trig some distance behind me

This one was an even shorter outing totalling 1.25 miles with 60m of ascent.

Garway Hill (SO436250; 366m)

Of the five hills on the plan for Tuesday, this was the one that could sensibly be omitted, as I’ll have to pass it again at some point to access the hill that lays just over the border in Wales. On that subject: who could have foreseen, even at the beginning of this year, that there would be a scenario which would allow a visit to a hill on the English side of the England/Wales border, but would not allow us to cross the border to bag one on the other side?

A quick calculation said that there was still enough daylight remaining, and it wasn’t going to add a silly number of miles or minutes onto our day’s driving, so more tiny lanes, getting friendly with hedgerows and breathing in to squeeze past oncoming vehicles ensued before we arrived at a little pull-in to the east of Garway Hill. After walking up the track opposite, the decision not to drive up to the parking area at the top was confirmed as a good one. Erica has a lowered section running along her length (she was a wheelchair accessible vehicle) and the ground clearance would have been a bit tight for her on that heavily rutted track.

Mick wanders on ahead

Summit snap

As for the hill, it was quite lovely! A nice common of cropped grass and with excellent 360 degree views.

This hill was only a marginally bigger outing than the last, coming in at 1.6 miles with 100m of ascent.

Ruardean Hill (SO634169; 290m)

The most pointless hill I’ve done to date and I would have omitted it for that reason if it hadn’t been more-or-less on our way. We parked at a sports ground, walked across the road and then walked back again with another tick on the Marilyn list. About 30m of walking with 0 ascent and no views. Onwards to the next one!

May Hill (SO695212; 296m)

More tiny lanes, some with grass growing down the middle, took us to a surprisingly busy parking area to the west of May Hill. A popular place for dog walking, and understandably so, as it provided us with another short, but lovely, walk up to the top.

There we took the obligatory selfie at the trig point, before I wandered around the adjacent stand of trees to find what appeared to be the highest point. Meanwhile Mick educated himself as to the history behind the trees:

If we’d had a map showing all of the paths on this hill I’m sure we could have made a circuit of our outing, but in the absence of such knowledge we simply retraced our steps for the fifth time of the day, commenting as we went that in different circumstances it would have been nice to have spread these hills over three days and made more of an event out of each one. Ne’er mind, though; given that we’ve been confined to home for all bar three days of the last 9 months, even rushing up and down hills was a joy to do.

There were still two more hills on the list for this trip, but with the light now fading out of the day, they were going to wait until the morrow.

(*Not strictly true. If I’d known in February how the rest of the year was going to pan out I would probably have penned some words about the two hills we visited whilst in Spain. I also have a running post that I wrote almost a year ago, but intended (as I sometimes do with running posts that I want to record for my own future benefit, but that don’t really belong here) to hide retrospectively between more topical posts. As there have been no such topical posts, that post still sits on my hard drive, patiently waiting for publication.)

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Earl's Seat (NS569838; 578m)

Monday 21 October
Distance: 8.9 miles
Ascent: 470m
Weather: Lightly overcast and cold

Short version account of the day: A really hard outing that nearly defeated me just 2.5km into the intended 16km. The day was saved by turning an out-and-back into a linear walk.

Long version:
Before a hill-bagging trip I usually research my potential hills in some depth. I'll use StreetView to check out local roads and parking places and to see what routes others have taken, then I'll plot my intended route and note the start point, route and mileage & ascent figures in my hill-bagging notebook.

Our rough intentions for this trip (where we were going and how long we were staying) changed so much during September that I didn't do any of that. In fact, we thought we were only going to be spending 10 days in Scotland, five of which were to be with other people, so the entirety of my planning was to note a few hills that I wanted to visit around the Newtonmore area.

I have thus been 'winging it' this week, and it was only when I got back to Bertie after yesterday's outings that I decided, as the weather forecast was due to be fine, I'd like to go up Earl's Seat today. We were going to be driving along the B822 anyway and with a county boundary (thus almost certainly a fence or wall to follow) running east from that road to the summit, it looked a feasible route. At the point of making this decision I had no mobile phone reception to see how most people approach this hill and later, when I did have reception, it didn't enter my head to do so. Not that it would have changed my plan; I've approached many a hill from a different direction from everyone else as I prioritise ease of parking.

The parking turned out to be perfect. We were heading for a car park further along the road, but right on the boundary found a parking area that looked suitable for spending the night, meaning I could get up and go this morning without needing to either get my bike out or trouble Mick to drive me back up the road.

Pedestrian gateway, Forestry Commission sign (no forest, mind), well-trodden line, all right opposite Bertie's night-stop. This looks good!

Bertie's heating kicked in three times during the night (it's quiet when it's running, but sounds like a jet engine for about 2 seconds when it fires up, so I tend to notice it), which told us it was a cold night. Unsurprising given the clear sky to which we'd gone to bed. It was thus no surprise to step out this morning to a frosty world.

Looking back down to Bertie. Most of the ground I crossed this morning was semi-frozen but the most striking hard frost was down in the glen

The going up to the first minor top (Holehead) was easy, if boggy and almost (but not quite) frozen enough to bear my weight.

I'd seen this from a distance but was still surprised to come over a rise and find it right in front of me.

I think I can say with some confidence that most people go up to Holehead, admire the view from the trig point, then retrace their steps. From there to Hart Hill the path became but a trod and the going became rough. Boggy wallows, a few hags and with deep heather in places.

Over there is Earl's Seat. I'm not sure whether this snap conveys how rough and wet the going was in between me and it.

Just before Hart Hill I got the first view of my objective, still over 4km away, and of the terrain I needed to cross to get there. I dithered at length. It wasn't the getting to Earl's Seat that was concerning me, it was the fact that I was going to have to toil my way through the same rough bogginess (including a descent and reascent) on my way back. Add in already having freezing feet and the fact that I was plunging them into icy water on a regular basis* and the return journey was looking even less attractive.

I texted Mick to let him know how I was getting on and that I was considering turning back. In response he kindly offered to come and pick me up from the road to the south of Earl's Seat if I wanted to make the route a linear one. I dithered some more. I plodded on a bit further. I dithered some more. Finally I concluded that I'd spent far too long on Hart Hill dithering, made a decision and marched on towards Earl's Seat. The speed didn't last long. I was soon passing through hags and deep bogs again, needing to be vigilant about old rusty wire on the ground that was the exact same colour as the surrounding autumn upland grass, although at least for the moment I was going generally downhill, making the stretches through knee-high grass and heather easier going.

I'd been bashing through a particularly rough section when I suddenly found myself on an ATV track. I've no idea where it'd come from and thus whether it could have been useful to me much earlier.

My intended route had skirted the head of Fin Glen, so as to avoid losing too much height. By the time it was in my sight I'd modified my plan: to dead-head to the summit. As my recorded route at the top of this post shows, that's exactly what I did.

On the summit. Note the earphones. My entire walk had been powered by two particularly engrossing running podcasts involving endeavours far harder than this little walk. Note also that there's a well-trodden line behind me. Unfortunately, that wasn't the way I'd come up nor the way I was going down.

See that windfarm over there? That's where I was for yesterday's first hill.

Descending to the south included some reascent to another minor summit (Dunbreak) and the need to wade through another 24 icy bogs.

I was mightily glad to make it through Ballagan Farm without being savaged by any dogs, to find myself on the road where Mick was to pick me up just a few minutes hence. I plonked myself on a handy rock, looked at the map on my phone ... and realised that the lat/long I'd sent Mick was wrong. It was about 200m (and out of sight around a bend) before where I was sitting. A quick trot down the road and I was in the right (well, wrong really) spot and a couple of minutes after that along trundled Bertie.

I'm sure I have done hills that I've found as hard as this one, but just now I'm struggling to name one. I'm also sure that if I had done this very route in one of the dry Aprils I've enjoyed in Scotland in recent years, I would have found it a joy. The surroundings were truly superb.

(*Describing the outing to Mick later, I said that I had waded through 57 icy bogs. That was a fictitious number plucked out of the air, but I doubt it was far wide of the mark. As a result of all this bog-wading, I kicked myself again for having failed to pack a pair of waterproof socks for this trip. I also pondered whether I would have been better wearing my boots. My feet would have been warmer, but also would have been much heavier for all the high-stepping. A tough call, but I think if I was to do the same again tomorrow (please, noooooo!), I'd still chose the mesh trail-runners.

As an aside: my legs were fine after yesterday's bike rides; not tired, heavy, aching or sore. My shoulders and arms were a different matter. Who'd have thought that they could be so exercised by riding a bike?!)

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Carleatheran and Meikle Bin

Sunday 20 October

In 2008, on our way from Land's End to John o'Groats, we passed through a gap (named the Spout of Ballochleam) in a stunning escarpment to the S of the town of Kippen. On one side of that gap sits a hill called Stronend, to the other side sits Carleatheran, both Marilyns. As nice as it would have been to have walked both as a single outing with Mick*, hugging the top of the escarpment, the logistically easier option was to park at the N end of Carron Valley Reservoir and visit both Carleatheran and, across the glen, Meikle Bin (of whose summit we passed within 2km in 2008), leaving Stronend for another time.

Carleatheran (NS687918; 485m)
Distance: 10 miles biked, 0.5 mile walked
Ascent: Around 400 or so metres
Weather: Sunny! A bit of frost on the ground first thing.

Red track = bike; purple track = walk

Since I used my bike to access some hills in April this year my cycling has extended to a few trips to supermarkets and laundrettes, mainly using my Brompton on German cycle paths. It's therefore no surprise that by the time I had huffed and puffed my way up to the top of the windfarm road, on a track with some noticeable undulations (so not all down hill on the way back!), I was putting this ride into the category of 'quite hard'. The uphill headwind didn't help either, but I'm sure it was still a whole lot easier than the first few rides I did to access hills, when I bought my bike in 2017.

Morning light looking up the Carron Valley

The prominent point is Meikle Bin, my second hill of the day.

At this point in 2008 we left the track (which wasn't marked on the map we were using at the time) and headed across to the ruin visible in this snap, from where we made our way up through the Spout of Ballochleam.

Before I reached the end of the track, as marked on my map, I could see that it had been extended and although I couldn't be certain of its destination, I felt sufficiently confident that it was going in a helpful direction that I didn't abandon my bike and take to my feet. Instead I teetered on a cattle grid and man-handled my steed over the railing (there was a taller-than-average locked gate on the other side and the cattle grid's side railing offered the point of least resistance).

At the highest point on the windfarm track, I turned off onto a rough track and a short distance later abandoned the bike at the point where the track degraded to unsurfaced and boggy.

Five minutes later I was at the summit.

Summit selfie

Summit view. Whilst I was being blinded by the sun to the SE, the views to all northerly aspects were mighty fine.

Another five minutes had me back at my bike** and half an hour later I'd toiled back up the ups and whizzed down the downs and was back at Bertie, an hour ahead of schedule and two hours ahead of the 'panic if I'm not back by' time (we had no mobile phone reception where Bertie was parked, which always puts pressure on me to be as quick as possible to minimise Mick's worrying time.)

Meikle Bin (NS667821; 570m)
Distance: 6.2 miles bike, 1.2 miles walk
Ascent: 220m bike, 160m walk
Weather: Still a lovely day but a bit cloudier and a bit warmer.

Red = bike, purple = walk

I'd not intended to head out for this hill until after lunch, but having enjoyed a croissant and coffee for elevenses, and once my feet had thawed out (I'd carelessly wandered into a bog during the first outing), I thought I may as well get on with it. 

As the stats suggest, this ride in was far easier than the first one had been, even on legs that were starting to feel the efforts of the day. The walk turned out to be surprisingly easy too. My expectation had been the need to bash out of the forest then climb pathlessly up to the summit. When I started seening "Meikle Bin' signposts at every junction, I began to expect that there would be a path, but it was only when I reached it that I came to appreciate that this is a popular hill.

The well-trodden line to the summit, dotted with people

Summit selfie

My final ascent would have been more moderate if I hadn't got myself into a race with a woman (she had been gaining on me and my perception was that she was trying to get to the top before me, so obviously I then *had* to go faster. Yep, completely ridiculous). I fair trotted back down having enjoyed another excellent set of views from the top. Being a pointier hill, and with no windfarm on its flanks, they were good in all directions.

Looking down over the reservoir

Thanks to gravity and only a few minor undulations in the forest track, the return biking leg was quick and easy.

An enjoyable couple of hills, although in hindsight I would have preferred to have visited Meikle Bin on a weekday morning, when it would have been a little less busy, particularly with dogs, some of whom were desperate to put their muddy paws on my jacket.

(*In the event, Mick didn't join me today as he was resting a thigh strain he incurred yesterday.
**Even though on most of my hills it's highly unlikely that anyone will happen along and take my bike, I do always lock it up. Except today I opened my hip-belt pocket, looked at the key hanging there and wondered how I could possibly have with me the key to the wrong lock, as the one that fits my 'beefy' lock always lives in that pocket. I didn't even try it, as it so clearly fitted the 'puny' lock. It was only when I went into Bertie's drawer in between my hills and saw the two key types side by side that I realised I'd had the correct one with me all along. Doh!)