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 25 November 2013

Stuff, Nonsense and Mouldy Wet Dog

It may have been something of an error to go slogging on the penultimate day of our holiday.

By the very nature of slogging, our shoes got wet, and as the entire walk was below water level, they didn't get the chance to dry out during any subsequent walking.

Arriving at our hotel last night, the car already stank of wet shoes, but as our room had a balcony we thought it was to be a short-lived issue.

Alas, such was their wetness (and our lack of newspaper) that even an airy night of 20+ degrees wasn't enough to get them dry (and I'll gloss over the condition of the socks!).

Today has been mainly driving and, on the couple of occasions when we have left the car, we have been overwhelmed by the fumes when we have returned.

I just hope we can get those shoes dry tonight or I hate to think what our suitcase will be like when we get home.


As an aside, we are now in Tarpon Springs, where the Greek bakery has made me wish that we had skipped Naples last night and headed straight up here. We've made a good effort on sampling the cakes in one sitting, but two days of cake eating would have been preferable. Yum!

Sunday 24 November 2013

M&G Go For A Slog

Mick's bites-the-size-of-small-countries had abated to more reasonable sizes this morning and I managed to convince him to go for a slog*.

We started off on the Florida Trail in the Big Cypress National Preserve, where, just for a look-see, we wandered an hour upstream before wandering an hour back. An interesting place, we declared, going through a mixture of open meadows and Cypress woodland, sometimes on dry land, sometimes through water.

Back at our starting point, and after lunch and a wash out of our shoes and socks (full of mud and silt), we wandered over the road where the going looked somewhat wetter.

Coming upon a college group being led by a ranger (who were stopped whilst one of their number tried unsuccessfully to locate her shoe which had been sucked off in some mud; she ended up limping back to the Visitor Centre) the ranger asked if we realised that we weren't on the Florida trail, but were on the 'Swamp Walk'. In all honesty, we didn't know where we were, but we were exactly where we intended to be.

Out to a stand of Cypress we waded, had a poke around, and waded back along different sloughs. It was less than an hour, but something very different to our usual walking (yes, we get wet feet in the UK, but not in such consistently deep or warm water.

(* slog = walking through the water, varying from ankle deep to thigh high, in the Everglades)


This photo belongs with the next post. I'm having some Internet issues tonight (cheap motel = great Internet; chain hotel = almost unusable Internet) and can't transfer it to my iGadget to attach it to today's main post.

This was the deepest water in which we found ourselves today.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Shark Valley

Arriving at Shark Valley (a misleading name - no sharks and flat as far as the eye can see) this morning we had a choice: to take the 2 hour tram tour or rent some bikes and do 15-mile circuit under our own power. In favour of the tram was that it includes a ranger telling us about the history and wildlife, plus the trams have roofs and it was a rainy day. In favour of the bikes was that we wouldn't feel so lazy.

Bikes won the vote, and off we set, me on a single-gear sit-up-and-beg with pedal-back-to-stop and a fetching basket on the front. Mick was on a similar steed, but without the basket or the begging.

The road being entirely flat meant the bikes were perfectly fit for the job and within 45 minutes we had cycled though half an hour of rain and reached the observation tower which lies at the end of the road loop.

The views from the tower were a little curtailed due to the heavy shower that hit whilst we were there - but at least we were under cover for that one. (BTW it was 25 degrees out, so it was warm rain.)

The return leg of the journey was more interesting than the outward one, mainly for the far-reaching views (the outbound leg was mainly bush-lines), the wild-life and the fact the road wiggled (whereas the outward leg was almost dead-straight).

The headwind combined with a quiet protest from my knees during the final three miles, but I suppose the protest was understandable as that's the first time I've ridden 15 miles in my entire life! Mick reckons it's the first time he's ridden that distance in 43 years.

Jolly good fun it was too and undoubtedly more so than we would have had on a tram tour. We even agreed that the grey day and showers were in our favour. There would be no shelter to be had on a sunny day.

Shark Valley was followed by Big Cypress Preserve where there were so many 'gators present that they almost ceased to be interesting. It being the location where we had originally intended to go backpacking, I was interested to go and have a look at the trails. Mick, however, is sporting some insect bites the size of small countries and thus is harbouring a temporary phobia of areas involving both shade and water.

We're now in Everglades City (which isn't a city at all; they seem to like their misleading names in these parts!) where we received the worst welcome at our accommodation that I have ever experienced. A minor mar on another excellent day.

Friday 22 November 2013

Vultures, Turtles and Ickle Baby Gators

Just a few photos today. I've been trying to type a post, but have lost patience with trying to type accurate and coherent sentences on a virtual keyboard.

I'll just point out that there is a turtle somewhere in the water shot, although it may not be too clear.

There is no photo of the ickle baby 'Gators, as I forgot to get the iGadget out.

Twas another good day (and silly hot).

(Note 1: I don't think the photos are going to land in this post in a logical order and I can't quite be moved to try to sort that.
Note 2: our car is the nicely wrapped Mini Clubman, not the sloppily wrapped vehicle being unwrapped by the vultures)

Wednesday 20 November 2013

The Anhinga Trail

Having left Key West this morning, the Everglades was our destination. Having lugged our backpacking gear around with us all this time, our intention was to spend a couple of nights camping.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we entered the National Park, having spent a little while in the Visitor Centre talking to a ranger and taking in the exhibits, so we headed straight for the campsite, just 5 miles or so down the road. The ranger had gone into such detail as to tell us which pitch to try to get at the campsite, and that we wouldn't find it to be busy. She was quite right about it not being busy. Apparently nobody told her that its currently closed for refurb.

That threw us a bit, as we didn't really want to drive 34 miles further up a dead-end road to the next campsite, where the ranger has told us the mosquitoes were still out in force. To give us time to contemplate, we thought we'd go and walk the Anhinga Trail, which is less than a mile long, but (because of its location and route) is crammed full of wildlife.

We weren't disappointed. In fact, quite the opposite - it was absolutely fantastic, as much for the sounds as the sights (splash, flap, squawk, splash, flap, ROAR).

The sights were impressive, though. Both of the photos attached have 'gators in them. The one with the view actually has two within the frame (although I don't know how visible the second one is in this snap).

Whilst seeing wild 'gators on their natural habitat was the icing on the cake, we were just as taken with the fish (perfectly visible in the clear water) and the birds - moreover, the birds we witnessed catching fish. Top stuff!

We would have investigated another trail, but decided to go back in the morning to join the ranger led walk and to visit another couple of nature trails, so headed out to find accommodation.

Homestead is where Mick spent months at a time in the years before Hurricane Andrew flattened the place, and that's where we ended up. As much as it would have been nice to spend a couple of nights in the tent, I'm quite happy to be in a comfy bed again tonight. My only complaint about our chosen accommodation so far is that the walls seem not to be sound-insulative. Let's hope our neighbour doesn't fall asleep with the TV on - I need to be fresh as a daisy for more Everglades Oggling tomorrow!

Coast to Coast

We walked miles again today, including a yo-yo coast to coast.

The day started in the cemetery, which may seem an odd choice, but it came recommended. The only shame was that we didn't find the self-guide leaflets until we were leaving.

Then came the Eco-Discovery Centre, which we would have visited yesterday when we were right next door, except that it doesn't open on Mondays. It was there that Mick came perilously close to losing his Tilley Hat. Thankfully, we hadn't gone far when he realised, with some horror, its absence and back-tracked to find it. That hat has accompanied him over so many miles that it really would have ruined his day to lose it.

Then started our first coast to coast walk as we ambled up to the north coast before walking down for an obligatory photo at the official 'southernmost point in the Continental USA'. A bit like the sign post at John O'Groats, it's not actually at the most southern point - but it's almost as close as you can get without being on the prohibited land of the US Navy.

We then returned to the north coast (twice more, actually) before our day was over (and our day wasn't over until we'd gone significantly out of our way to a restaurant which turned out to be closed). I'll pop up a separate post about our final coastal visit of the day.

We're all done in Key West now so there's only one way to go: back north.

Sunset at Key West

On our third attempt we took no chances and arrived at the square with 45 minutes to spare. A good job we did too, as we had already missed the prime viewing spots. We quickly staked our claim to a sub-prime spot (but one that allowed us a view of some unicycle-riding-fire-jugglers) and by 15 minutes before the sun hit the horizon, people were many deep along the quay behind us.

As sure as eggs are eggs, the sun dipped behind the horizon. Maybe I was the only one there to find it odd and unnecessary that it got a cheer and round of applause for so doing. Am I missing something? Surely it's a natural event that happens every single day?

The snaps attached were taken with the iGadget, so please excuse any quality issues - the ones taken with the camera are definitely more colourful.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Zachary Taylor State Park and the Customs House

We've walked miles today and, my goodness, it was a hot one for walking anywhere.

Our starting point was to walk down to Zachary Taylor State Park, where the map they give you made it look like there was quite a distance of trails available to us. Having walked all of the trails (and, in fact, almost the entire circumference of the park) within 40 minutes, including a few stops to photograph the many iguanas, we headed over to the fort. The fort was well worth the park entrance fee on its own and we spent a good while poking around and learning about its history.

The Little White House (presidential residence/office, particularly of Harry Truman) came next on the agenda, once we finally found it, but that proved just to be a quarter of an hour of mild diversion (admittedly, we only looked at the free exhibition, rather than taking the tour).

Really feeling like I was melting I was pleased to see a 'Cool Inside' sign outside our next stop, which was the Museum of Art and History at the old Customs House. Usually, I'm not a fan of air-con, but today I relished our hour and a half or so in this chilled building. We didn't just loiter either; it was a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable place and worth every penny of the admission fee.

Our final intention today was to get down to Mallory Square to enjoy sunset and to see the street performers, for which the square is renowned. Alas, exactly the same as yesterday, we arrived about 10 minutes after the sun had set and just as the last entertainer was finishing up. A real shame, as there were no cruise ships in tonight to spoil the view to the west.

Continuing the theme of this holiday, we've extended our stay here by a night. The Everglades portion of this trip is looking more severely curtailed than ever. We should have booked a 4 week trip, rather than a mere 3.5!

(Today's lack of a photo was not a repetition of yesterday's operator error, but just a complete failure to get the iGadget out to take one.)

Monday 18 November 2013

Bahia Honda State Park and Key West

Journeying down to Key West today we passed a number of state parks, but the one we opted to visit was Bahia Honda, which, from the descriptions I'd read, sounded like the most interesting. Alas, we found ourselves a trifle disappointed.

The entry fee was the same as for yesterday's park ($9), but it seemed to offer so much less. Certainly the views were stunning, but so they were from other points on the island too. And the 'walk onto the old railway bridge' was as short as the visitor centre was small.

Still, we whiled away a pleasant few hours in gorgeous hot weather, walked the nature trail and back along the beach, before overshooting the rest of our intended stopping-points for the day and heading straight down to Key West. Arriving late in the afternoon, we have done far more walking here than we did in the park, albeit most of it was in the dark and all of it was on the city streets. I'm not yet sure what to make of Key West, but I will say that if someone brought me here blind-folded and I had to guess where I was, I wouldn't think it was the USA.

We will explore further in daylight tomorrow.

(As for today's photo, Mick confirms that I did take one, but it seems that my inability to see the iGadget's screen in the bright sunshine made me miss hitting the 'take picture' icon. Please just imagine perfect seas, skies and palm trees.)

Sunday 17 November 2013

John Pennekamp State Park, A Geocache And Some Big Fish

Being 17 days into our Florida trip we should be embarking on a six day backpacking trip just about now. The plan had been to spend a week around Orlando, a week looking around the Keys and a week backpacking in the Everglades. The plan got altered in week 1 when I realised that 7 days at Disney just wasn't enough.

We did finally drag ourselves away to head south, arriving yesterday (Friday) at Key Largo.

The John Pennekamp State Park was first on the agenda for today and I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn't expect it to be so educational a visit. As well as visiting the very informative visitor centre, and generally ambling around, we walked all 3 of the nature trails (two of which were a whole 1/2 mile in length!).

It was on one of the nature trails (which were variously mangrove or hardwood hammocks) that I spotted a couple walking around off-trail, smart-phone in hand, looking under various logs.

"They're looking for a Geocache" I said, and a few moments later (a few yards beyond where they were thrashing around) I saw a tell-tale trod. On our way back along the trail the couple had gone, so we dived off down the trod and within seconds Mick had spotted the cache location. That's now our 4th random Geocache find (but our first abroad). Being the first people to sign the log today, it appears that the couple, who were so obviously looking for it, missed the give-away path leading to its location.

With our park explorations declared complete, Robbie's Marina was our next stop, where we didn't indulge in a bucket of fish to feed the tarpon, but simply watched firstly the spectacle of the big fish swimming so close to the dock, and then the bigger spectacle of lots of other tourists feeding them. It was an impressive sight - and funny as people recoiled as the monster fish leapt out of the water, huge mouths agape, and headed straight for their fingers.

All that ambling had worked up an appetite, so after an hour sat on a swing looking out to sea (what a lovely colour of sea too) it was off for a big dinner and my first ever taste of Key Lime Pie.

A bit more State Park ambling may ensue tomorrow.

Monday 26 August 2013

To, From and To Kirk Yetholm

“This feels like it’s been some odd kind of illicit meeting” said Mick as we headed off in opposite directions at 7am on Friday morning. Mick was heading off north, as I returned to Byrness to pick up the car to drive up to Kirk Yetholm.

Although the day held promise, it wasn’t a good morning for views. In fact, with the cloud right down the visibility varied between ‘a few’ and ‘quite a few’ yards, meaning that within twenty minutes I was wondering whether I was walking in the right direction or whether I had veered off and was accidentally following Mick. The compass confirmed that I was heading the right way.


The cloud was breaking up by the time I got back to Byrness and the sun poking through

The conundrum of the morning was how a walk, which had been 95% uphill the previous day, was now 60% uphill on the return leg. The further mystery was who had snuck up during the night and nicked all of my energy. Whilst I was now carrying a very wet tent, two sleeping bags and two Neo-Airs as well as the rest of the usual gubbins, my pack was still not heavy, so it wasn’t that which was sapping the energy from my legs.

At least I had a good long sit down ahead of me, as I drove up to Kirk Yetholm, where I might have been tempted to just sit and contemplate the world, except that I didn’t have a phone signal and Mick was expecting to see me on top of The Schil. So, I left the car and uphill I went. Then I paused, thought a moment, rummaged in my (now almost empty) pack and went back to the car. Ten minutes after first leaving, I set off uphill again, this time with my lunch in my pack.

I do like this area, although on this day it was a little lacking in clear views, but the Pennine Way route doesn’t half go up and down. It was the downs which were disturbing me most, as I knew that I would have to go back up them later in the day.

I nearly failed in mustering the enthusiasm to go up to the top of The Schil, but having paused for a two-minute sit down, and a bit of a sugar boost, at the foot of the final climb I decided that it would be silly to get that close and not make it to the summit (I was sure that I hadn’t visited the summit itself last time I walked this section and couldn’t remember whether I had the first time either).

I was only about 100 yards away from the top when Mick came striding towards me but there was no way I was going to get that close only to turn back, so as Mick sat down for lunch I continued on. Having left my bag with Mick I didn’t have my camera with me, so don’t have any photographic evidence. I’m not sure I would have taken any photos even if I had got my camera, as it was so windy up there that I was concentrating on remaining upright.


Things became much easier after lunch. Perhaps my morning lack of energy had much to do with the strength of the head-wind I had been battling? Even so, I was mightily glad when Mick decided that, having walked the high route a couple of times (or three in my case), and with the views being largely absent, we would see what the low-level route was like.

Very pleasant was the answer, although in clear weather I would definitely recommend the higher option.

I didn’t join Mick for the final bit of road walk, having left the car before it, so past him I went to wait for him by the Border Hotel, where he arrived having spent 13 and a bit days walking the Pennine Way over the course of a month and a half, all in good weather (indeed, he wore shorts the whole way and although he did put his jacket on once, the rain had stopped by the time he had it zipped up).


My stats for the day were 14 miles walked with 2900’ of up. Mick’s were 21 miles with an unknown amount of up.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Byrness to Chew Green

When Mick set off to finish off the Pennine Way at the beginning of last week, I was so kind (even if I do say so myself!) as to offer to go and pick him up when he finished. It probably goes without saying that I had no intention of driving all of that way without getting a small walk in.

Mick had spent Wednesday night just north of Bellingham…


A good, well-concealed pitch. It even had a good view.

…and had a 13-mile walk in to Byrness where I hoped to intercept him, before continuing on to Chew Green for the night. I had a 210-mile drive, but by good timing I managed to arrive just 30 minutes after him. Admittedly, arriving 30 minutes before him would have been a better idea, as I had told him that if I wasn’t there as he walked through then he should leave me a ‘clear indication that you’d passed through’ and continue, whereupon we would revert to Plan A (which would see me meeting him at Chew Green).

Thanks to the wonders of mobile phone technology (and the fact that there is a signal at Byrness – a fact that I had doubted when making plans), Mick sat drinking coffee until I arrived and (after I’d put away a large pot of tea and a huge slab of cake myself) off we set.

It’s a pull up out of Byrness and often we lost sight of each other, not just because Mick is far fitter and faster than me, but also due to the bracken being over six feet high and overhanging the path. Thankfully, it didn’t remain that way for too far.

The infamously boggy bits of that section of the Way were boggy indeed and it confounds me how seemingly 95% of the route have either been flagged or about to be (I’m exaggerating hugely, but there has been so much flagging laid that it is feeling that way), much of it being without any apparent erosion problem needing to be solved, yet these boggy wallows haven’t even had duck-boards laid over the worst bits. Still, it makes it more interesting!

We might have carried on beyond Chew Green as it wasn’t late when we got there, except that I’d forgotten to bring a second water bladder for ‘camp water’, and we weren’t going to pass any other streams, so down to the stream we dropped and took advantage of our ‘usual spot’ (this being the third time we have camped here; there is no other wild pitch we have visited so much).

The light blob in the middle of the left side of this snap is our tent; the two ‘buildings’ are a shed and the back of a lorry:


And here it is, taken a bit closer:


It surprised us how green and grassy it was down there, as we’ve previously only been there in April.

My stats for the day were 5 miles with 1200’ of ascent. Mick walked 19 miles, with an amount of up that I can’t quite be moved to measure, and definitely involving more bog than I experienced.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

A Visitor In The Middle Of The Night!

It appears that Mick’s day went uneventfully today (unless you call losing your leg in a bog an event) and he managed to make it to his maplessly to his night-stop.

Last night was a tiny bit more eventful for him. This is the text message I received at 0630 this morning:

“Got woken by rustling noise in the middle of the night when a hedgehog came to join me. I took pictures and pushed it back out.

Just going to run and scream past the neighbour’s tent.”

Having talked to Mick this evening, it turns out that the hedgehog (a big and healthy one) had a good graze through his food bag before the rustling woke him. Still, in all of those nights we’ve spent in a tent, that’s the first time there’s been a food theft, so we were well overdue an incident, although I had expected it would be a mouse, not a hedgehog, which would be the culprit. Apparently, having moved his bag into the tent, he used his shoe to guide the hedgehog back outside.

As for the second half of Mick’s message, I didn’t ask, but I believe that was a reference to getting his own back on the kids which spent last evening running screaming around his tent (and, for the avoidance of doubt, I don’t believe for a minute that he would have carried out his threat!). Personally, I say that if you choose to stay on a campsite in the school summer holidays, in good weather, in the week leading up to a bank holiday weekend, then you expect it to be full of families and there to be a certain level of noise.

Hedgehog in tent – amazing what you can find with a quick Google search!

Tuesday 20 August 2013

A Major Gear Failure – And A Major Omission


Random photo: the radar station atop Great Dun Fell, as we saw (or didn’t see) it in 2008

At a ridiculously early hour of yesterday (Monday) morning, I drove Mick to the local train station for him to await the first of a series of trains that would see him arrive in Appleby just before noon, for him to continue his Pennine Way jaunt that started in that lovely weather in July.

He phoned me today and, with a solemnity to his voice, told me of a “major kit failure”. My mind was racing as to what critical item it could be and how he would cope without it; I was visualising an accident involving a foot-long gash in his tent, or something similar. It turned out be his MP3 player, which froze and refused to come back to life. He likes his audio books when he’s walking by himself, so it was a sad loss for him, but a relief to me that it wasn’t anything serious.

After talking to him, I came into the living room and my eyes happened upon a set of printed maps sitting on the sofa. I wasn’t alarmed. From where I am currently sitting (in my favourite armchair), I can see no fewer than seven piles of printed maps (which does suggest that I need to do a bit of tidying in here!), but their position on the sofa did pique my curiosity as to what they were.

Yep – they were Mick’s Pennine Way maps. I phoned him and asked if he was missing some maps. “Funny you should ask” he said “I’ve just been searching and can’t seem to find them”.

So, he will be continuing north with no MP3 player and with no maps save for the electronic ones on his phone. Ooops.

Mick texted yesterday to say “Someone’s put a bloody great golf ball on top of Great Dun Fell!” I’ve borrowed this photo from Mark Moxon, but I imagine that it shows the view as Mick saw it yesterday, which is quite a contrast to the snap at the top of the post!

Tea Atop Creag Leacach

Friday was the day we were to head back south, but we had enough time available to us to pop up to drink tea and admire the view on a couple more hills so, continuing the theme of ‘quick and easy’ we picked two to the east of the Glenshee ski centre, which (once again) gave us the advantage of starting at over 2000’.

The skies had been clear earlier in the morning and as we set out it was still fine down to the south of us...


…but looking to the north, the skies were rather heavier and I feared that we were going to be climbing into our waterproofs before we got to the top of our first hill.


That’s Carn Aosda, up which we had been a couple of days before.

Glas Maol was our first objective (although, on reflection, we would have been better reversing the order) and after no small amount of huffing and puffing (on my part at least) we found ourselves on its summit. With the summit lying on a big plateau, it’s not the most interesting top we’ve been on, although I did later find that it has the distinction of not being just a Munro, but also a county top.


Disaster was averted when Mick noticed that the lunch box was not in his pack before we left the summit, and over we headed to Creag Leacach, which is a far more interesting and pleasing hill than Glas Maol (according to my criteria as to what makes a hill nice; other opinions may vary). Here’s the view over to it (and as you can see, the weather was turning fine after all):


A wide, gentle, grassy ridge sits between the two hills from where the ascent up Creag Leacach looks much harder than it actually is. With the going made more interesting by stoniness and a couple of boulder fields it held my attention until, before I knew it, we were spying the first people we had seen out all day, as we approached the summit cairn.

With the sun upon us, it was a fine place to stop for sandwiches and tea (even if it was a bit of an early lunch), before we turned around and enjoyed the same route back down to and along that lovely grassy ridge. Had we parked slightly further down the road, there is an obvious (and very nice looking) circular walk (which admittedly we could have followed even from where we parked, but finishing a circuit with a 600’ ascent didn’t appeal to me), but we didn’t entirely do an out-and-back as I didn’t feel the need to revisit the summit of Glas Maol on the way back.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the route we took for our initial descent, but we did eventually hit the trod we wanted, from where we headed over to rejoin the main ascent path. There we accidentally led a couple astray, as they made that school-boy error or seeing us approaching and assuming that our route was the one they wanted. Quite how the missed the great scar of an ascent path, which you can see for miles, I don’t know:


Even in this little snap it’s an obvious path!

The only reason we know they didn’t intend to go the way we had come, was because we looked back and watched them contour a while, have a chat, head steeply upwards and then eventually traverse back over to the path.

As for us, we continued our ‘ridiculously steep’ theme, as we short-cutted the track on which we had ascended. Having successfully negotiated all of the steepness, I managed to come a cropper immediately upon stepping back onto the flatness of the track. Like stepping onto a plate of ball-bearings, it was, as I stepped onto the layer of stones which lies on top of the old tarmac surface. Fortunately, no damage was done as my legs flew out from under me and I came crashing down.

As for that heavy sky, as the forecast suggested it would, it returned as the day went on and the rain started about five paces before we entered the car park. Not bad timing, I’d say.

The stats for the day were 7.3 miles walked with 2200’ of ascent.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Tea But No Cake on Creag Nam Ban

When Laura asked, last evening, whether we fancied strolling up a little flowering-heather-clad hill with her today, we didn’t take much persuading, even though the forecast for today didn’t look overly promising. As it turned out, not only was the hill absolutely lovely, but the weather was good too.

It was just before 10.30 when we left Laura’s and headed over the Dee where, after a few minutes of walking down the road, a car stopped for a chat. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Laura who the driver recognised, but Mick & me; it was the endurance-runner-chap who we had met on Carn a Gheoidh yesterday (it turned out that in spite of his tiredness he had managed all eight of his Munros; today he was on his way to the Lochnagar tops).

An access issue saw us having to head past our hill to do a bit of an out-and-back detour to get past a deer fence, before we started first skirting the hill and then heading up  it.

As Laura has promised the heather was magnificent in its purpleness (and fragrant too), and it was set off nicely during the many blue-skied intervals.


By-and-by we reached the summit and aside from the stunning 360 degree views, there was also a convenient dip which gave us shelter from the keen breeze for our lunch break (where we enjoyed the flask of tea I had today taken, following yesterday’s unforgivable omission!).


During lunch one aspect of today’s weather forecast did materialise: the wind picked up such that by the time we left our sheltered hollow, we staggered our way off the summit. Suddenly walking the rest of the ridge seemed like it would be unnecessarily hard work.

We didn’t abandon the plan of a circular walk. Instead we took advantage of deer-trods as we skirted the side of the hill, gaining shelter from the forest as we went.

Just as the constant picking the feet up high might have started to get a bit tiresome, we reached the track which was to take us back to civilisation, from where some little roads took us back to our start point. There Laura provided us with lashings of tea, which slipped down nicely after the efforts of the day.

The stats were 9.6 miles walked, with 1400’ of ascent. It may not be an obvious hill to climb with so many other biggies nearby, but if you find yourself in the Braemar or Ballater area on a nice day then I would highly recommend Creag nam Ban as a lovely hill with an excellent view.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Neither Tea nor Cake atop Carn a Gheoidh

The Cairnwell has got to be the Munro with the easiest access (particularly if you take the chair lift!), sitting with its summit just under 1000’ above the huge car park at the Glenshee Ski Centre.

We didn’t take the chair-lift, but made our way steeply up firstly a track and then off-piste under a very old and rusty looking drag-lift…


… up onto the ridge (where we met some wholly inappropriately dressed people) before popping out on the summit just 45 minutes after having parked Colin.

There’s a nice view off the south end of the summit:


Although the top itself isn’t overly appealing:


From there it was an easy walk, via Carn nan Sac to Carn a Gheoidh where seven of us, plus a dog squeezed into the little summit shelter for lunch. It was a lovely warm day out of the wind, so we were all grateful for that windbreak.


It was there that we met the chap who had run past us a short while earlier. He’s currently running 40-45 mile days and today had 8 Munros on his agenda, although he did concede that he may cut short as he was a bit tired from the previous three ‘heavy days’. I don’t think you’d get me out of bed for a week if I tried just one his days!

It was also there in the shelter that disappointment hit. I had got away with the substitution of chocolate bars in place of the usual cake for pudding, but then Mick asked for the flask of tea and I had to confess that I hadn’t made one :-(

This was a bit of an ‘out and back, out and back’ sort of a walk, so we retraced our steps from Carn a Gheoidh, back towards the ski centre and up to our final hill of the day, Carn Aosda – another Munro that you can access via a chair-lift, albeit only in winter.


With the assistance of gravity, we were back down in the car park 20 minutes after leaving the summit (no, we didn’t run – it really isn’t very far) and here I sit now, taking advantage of the 3G signal at the top of the pass.

If you don’t mind walking through an out-of-season ski resort, and don’t mind a few bits of ski-resort equipment littering the hills, it’s a good and easy day out. Moreover today, as the weather was kind to us, without a single shower and with easy underfoot conditions.

I’ve no idea yet what the stats for the day worked out as (I’ll add them later), as I accidentally stopped the Garmin Gadget a couple of hours into the outing.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Tea and Cake on Ben Rinnes

Our walk today started at Benrinnes Distillery, where they don’t have a public car park, but where they were quite happy for us to leave Colin for a few hours, although they did forewarn us that there wasn’t a path up Ben Rinnes from there, and that we would have to ‘pick your way up’.

That news came as something of a surprise as the map shows not just a path, but a track leading from there. It turned out that the map was right and that the distillery employee had perhaps not ever tried exploring the rear of the property.IMG_5568

Yep, that’s definitely a track!

That track took quite a way up the hill and fortunately I was looking in the right direction when Mick walked straight past the little path that was to take us via the little rocky outcrop and then to the summit.

We stayed dry until we were just before the rocky outcrop, when a shower hit. It turned out to be heavy enough a shower that I came to wish I’d put my overtrousers on, as my trousers were soon plastered to my legs. The shower duly passed, and the legs dried out surprisingly quickly. Here’s a look at the view through two of the rocks on the rocky outcrop bit:


Actually taken on the way back down; it was raining then too.

Our first visit to the summit only lasted as long as it took to take a self-timed photo. With another shower almost upon us, we hot-footed it to hide behind a rock, where we found a family sheltering under a convenient overhang.

“Are you on holiday” was the first question and within thirty seconds I was convinced that we were about to find that Mick knew the man’s brother (having already established that both previously worked on Nimrods at Kinloss), but that turned out not to be the case. Instead, we discovered that they used to live about 2 miles away from us at home! They were the only people we saw during our outing, which is surprising considering what a nice, straightforward hill Ben Rinnes is and that (if you can put up with a few showers) it was a nice day for it.

(There would be a picture of the view from the top here, except that I don’t have a 3g signal and it’ll take too long to post more than 2 photos!)

With tea drunk and sandwiches and cake eaten, I nipped back up to the summit between showers for a few more photos before we left, then down we went. We should have set out at a sensibly early hour, and made a day of it by taking the circular walk which is obvious on the map, but as we weren’t out early (and as I’m inherently lazy!) we simply retraced our steps.

The stats were 6.66 miles walked with just over 2000’ of ascent in 2 hours 20 minutes of walking (less than an hour on the way down, because the terrain was so nicely springy that we ran part of it!).

Monday 12 August 2013

Tea, Cake and the Altyre Estate

Today’s stroll could so easily not have happened. Mick & I managed to motivate ourselves to drive up to Louise’s house, but having passed through some heavy showers on the way we started suggesting some modifications to the plans, the least ambitious of which was to spend the day sitting in Louise’s living room drinking tea and eating cake.

Tea was duly drunk in said living room as a few more showers passed, but when a sunny period finally appeared we gave each other a pep talk and out of the door we went.

We made it as far as the car park from where our walk was to start but didn’t take a single step before deciding that it was time to stop for lunch. Another shower came in just as we were finishing lunch, and we giggled at the thought of our outing being transformed from a walk to just a picnic, but Mick was acting as chief motivator and after a jacket-faff, off we strode.

The most notable thing about today’s walk was how similar it was in appearance to Cannock Chase! There was mixed woodland, with a good smattering of silver birch trees, lots of bracken and tracks of a very similar ilk to our local stomping ground. Admittedly, on Cannock Chase we don’t have a loch (which you can only just see through the trees in the snap below), but that’s only because the Chase is in England and therefore it has ‘big ponds’ instead.


As a result of the time of year, everything was very green, which greenery often prevented any views, even when we were standing on a rise. Every now and then there was a gap in the trees and then the views were fine. Unfortunately, you can’t see the features in this little snap. It really was quite lovely!


When we joined the disused railway line which was to take us back to our start point, in amongst the many plants lining the path, there were wild strawberries and wild raspberries aplenty (with the blackberries developing nicely to take their place in a few weeks’ time). Jolly tasty they were too. I would claim that the cake we had at our cake-stop was jolly tasty too, but that would be immodest, as I made it!

For the second day in a row, I went for a walk without a map and so left all of the navigation to Louise and she made an excellent job of it, duly delivering us back to our starting point after 6.9 miles of walking (with just a modest 400’ of up) and without any backtracking required. The only downside to our enjoyable outing were the showers which continued to pass through, followed by the warmth of sunshine. Mustn’t grumble, thought – we named any number of combinations of weather conditions, which would have been worse.

(I would have included more photos and a map, but I seem to have used a big chunk of the mobile internet limit already, so I’m economising today!)

Sunday 11 August 2013

Tea and Cake at Revack Lodge

You may gather from the location of today’s walk, that we’re not local to home at the moment. Revack Lodge is just outside of Grantown-on-Spey and as we were to be up in this neck of the woods for a few days we suggested that it would be nice to meet up with Louise and David for a bit of a walk. It turns out that Laura’s not as far away as I thought either (although she was on the road to join us this morning before Mick and I were even awake!), so it was as a party of five that that gathered (and faffed at some length) in the car park at the Lodge.

Louise had come up with a good route which, at six miles, we had agreed was the perfect length of give us a stretch of the legs whilst still leaving enough time to enjoy coffee and cake at the Lodge’s cafe afterwards.


The GPS faff. Four of us recorded today’s route. Only Mick let the side down on the recording front (allegedly for battery conservation purposes).

Uphill went the path, warming us all up nicely, but I confess that I was somewhat dubious about how good the view point at the top would be. Being so hemmed in by trees, it just didn’t look like there was going to be a miraculous view, but then we came to the top and to the clearing, and sure enough we could see lumpiness for some distance in front of us.


The bench, combined with the view, screamed ‘stop for cake’, but we really had only been going for ten minutes so the cake stayed in my pack to wait for a more appropriate time of day.

I would write a bit of a description about the rest of the walk, but concentrating on the company and conversation, as I was, I really can’t recount much of the route we took. I do remember this stile, which was designed for people with longer legs that the majority of today’s party boasted.


The weather forecast showers for today and it wasn’t wrong, but it was during a dry interlude that we paused for lunch. It was under leaking skies that we finished lunch, having all dived into our waterproofs as another shower passed.

I do recall that we joined the Speyside Way and that shortly afterwards we left it. Then I nearly trod on a frog. I thought it was a beetle at first, but beetles don’t generally jump like that and on close inspection I found it to be this tiny chap:


A significant pause was had in the last half a mile, to try to identify a bird of prey which was flying along with a whole pack of buzzards, circling and mewing above us. After much consideration the consensus was that the bird which didn’t look quite like a buzzard was in fact another buzzard. There were a lot of them around.

Back at our start point coffees and cakes became the focus and jolly good they were too, as we sat, compared the recorded route distances, and watched the red squirrels out on the bird feeders.

The stats for the day were 6 miles walked with around 900 feet of up. Unless any late entries are made, Mick won the award for the most ticks found about his person (although he was wearing shorts). Some time after the walk, I found that two had crawled their way up my trouser-clad legs too.

Here’s the route we took (we didn’t walk along the B road, even though the recorded track makes it look like we did – there’s actually a path which runs first one side of the road, then the other:


Sunday 4 August 2013

Yorkshire Three Peaks (in 23 Hours)

With another year of my life having passed, I took the opportunity to choose a couple of birthday treats to fill a few days of last week. The first was a trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford (for a performance of All’s Well That Ends Well), and the second was a quick over-night trip somewhere easy to reach from Halifax (where we were dropping Ma-in-Law back off on Friday morning).

As is so often the case, with two days to go before the intended trip, I’d only vaguely looked at some maps and was struggling to come up with a logistically-easy plan, when Mick happened to mention the Yorkshire Three Peaks. “That’ll do!” I exclaimed – we’ll go and backpack the three peaks over two days.

Setting out from Horton-in-Ribblesdale at just a few minutes before 3pm on Friday afternoon, we soon got the overwhelming feeling that we were heading the wrong way as we greeted about a million people (I may be exaggerating slightly…) heading downhill. This photo doesn’t convey quite how many people were on the path:


You can, however, see the rain which just skirted to the west of us. To the east the sky was black and thunder was rumbling around. By good fortune, only a handful of drops hit us.


The thunder wasn’t the only thing to be rumbling. We had been far enough up Pen-y-Ghent to put us beyond the point of ‘just nipping back’ when we realised that the supplies we had stopped to buy on our journey north were still sitting in the car. That gave us rather meagre rations to see us through the next 24 hours.

Having made do with a few jelly sweets on the summit, we debated which way to go next (along to Plover Hill, to follow the old Three Peaks route, or to follow the clear path which is the new Three Peaks route). The decision was to follow the new route, which was a bit unexciting by virtue of being a good path almost all of the way, but was also quick and easy. It’s a bit of a scar on the landscape, but necessary given how many people walk this way:


The new path is the grey one. The lighter coloured one further behind me is the Pennine Way.

We didn’t stay on the Three Peaks route the whole way. As that route crosses the Ribble Way we took to that Way, on the basis that it was more likely to give us somewhere discreet to camp.

Then we erred. There is a clear rule which says that if you come across a perfect pitch within an hour of sundown, or within a mile of your finishing point, then you take it.

What you see in this next photo is a lovely bit of flat cropped grass on a bend in a stream. We got so far as taking our packs off and discussing exactly where to pitch. Then we had a rush of blood to our heads and decided to carry on to the next stream, which is where we had intended to stop. The previous three streams had all had good pitches alongside, so surely the next one would too…


…the problem was that we weren’t where we thought we were, and the pitch shown above turned out to be exactly where we had intended to stop, which also happened to be the last likely-looking stream on the map.

We didn’t realise that immediately. In fact, we didn’t realise that until much later in the evening when, in playing with Mick’s phone we found that the UK mapping, which had disappeared in April had suddenly and spontaneously resurrected itself.

Aside from not being alongside water (and having a neighbouring sheep with a very bad cough), the pitch we did find was pretty good. A couple of remaining chunks of wall hid us from the view of two farms across the valley, and the views were excellent.


This pitch isn’t just ‘by’ the Ribble Way, it’s ‘on’ it!

I only just noticed that this next snap, looking back towards Pen-y-Ghent, has a faint rainbow:


Saturday morning dawned wet. The rain absolutely hammered down and our previous concerns about rain getting through Rita Rainbow’s end vents in heavy, wind-blown rain were completely borne out (although perhaps that rain wouldn’t have got through if we had clipped the vents into the ‘closed’ position). Fortunately the flood was largely contained … by Mick’s wool socks and t-shirt which soaked up the worst of the water nicely. Unfortunately for Mick, he didn’t have a spare top with him.

By the time we dragged ourselves out of bed, cut the stove windshield in half and coaxed a cup of tea each out of the stove (it had been five years since I last used a meths stove, which was sufficient time for my hatred of meths to be subdued enough to think it a good choice for this trip), the weather had brightened, although none of the soggy stuff (and there was quite a lot of soggy stuff) had chance to dry.

Further along the Ribble Way we went, before bearing off to follow the line of a public footpath which would take us to near Ribblehead. On the way we had to cross over this bridge, which from above just looked like a very nice, but reasonably unremarkable, old packhorse bridge.


Thanks to Mick having stopped for a faff at this point, I clambered down to look at it from the downstream side, and it really was picturesque:


Then onto Ribblehead we went.The viaduct is a much photographed sight, and at a glance this just looks like another ordinary snap of it. But, if you look carefully you might just be able to make out that there’s a goods train atop it, which is almost exactly the same length as the viaduct.


The train’s a bit clearer on this one, before it got fully onto the bridge:


Last time I was on the B-road (all of two weeks ago), there was a tent ‘wild-camping’ at the roadside. This time there were just a few motorhomes at the roadside, but someone had been a little more discreet in the tent pitch, being under one of the arches of the viaduct – complete with their car.


It was 8am as we set out up Whernside and there was already a stream of people ahead of us – mainly made up of a group of twelve, but with a few singletons and couples dotted around too. Some were moving swiftly, no doubt doing the Three Peaks Challenge.


The weather was being a little unkind to us at this point. The earlier low cloud had lifted, but it was trying to rain on us, and it was very breezy and cool up on the top. We didn’t tarry at the trig or, at least, not longer than it took Mick to have a shoe faff.

The path down the south side of Whernside is horrible. Steep and variously eroded or comprised of the worst sort of stone-staircase. Urgh.

Things took an upward turn at the bottom of the hill when we saw a sign not dissimilar to this one (I didn’t think to snap the sign on the Whernside side; this one was later):


Whilst the sign is permanent, and clearly left there when the snack bar is closed, we had faith that on a Saturday morning in August, it would be open. And so they were. They don’t just sell cups of tea and snacks, but also everything that a hot, cold or wet Three Peaks Challenger could want:


Rain ponchos, new dry socks, hats, gloves, orange squash with ice, all day breakfasts, plus the full menu

We made do with tea and chocolate bars, and a goodly sit was had before we headed off for our final hill of the trip. Past the impressive limestone pavement, and up another stone staircase we went…


…before getting to the steep bit. The first time I approached Ingleborough from this side was when I did the Three Peaks Challenge myself, and on that occasion my heart sank to see the steepness of that final section. In reality, it’s a well-constructed path, with a few switch-backs thrown in, which makes it easier work that it looks.


I was still huffing and puffing by the time I hauled myself to the top thought!


That’s not the top of the hill, mind. That just takes you up to the ridge, where it’s just half a kilometre or so further onto the summit – which looks deceptively empty in this shot:


There really were a lot of people around.

We still managed to get ourselves a sheltered slot in the shelter (ousting two other chaps to sit in a quadrant on the windward side) to scoff some cake, glad that the day had warmed up since we had left the top of Whernside.

The path down into Horton is generally a quick and easy downhill, with just the occasional rocky area which stops you from striding out. I must have been striding too, as when a couple we passed commented that we walk fast, Mick replied that he doesn’t walk that fast, but was just trying to keep up with me – something of a departure from the usual state of affairs.

We were far from the fastest people on the path, as we were passed by quite a few people running. Most of them looked like runners. One (wearing Montane Terra pants and boots) looked like a Three Peaker who was either approaching a deadline or had realised that could achieve quite a good time if he got a shift on. Poor chap looked knackered!

The sunny intervals were finally prevailing by the time we reached Horton (although, thanks to the wind, all of the passing showers of the morning had been very short-lived), where we made a bee-line for the cafe to make up for the food deficit of the previous 24 hours (a deficit which wouldn’t have been so big if Mick had discovered the half bag of peanuts in his hip-belt pocket a bit sooner!).

It wasn’t a bad trip, and certainly left me feeling exercised, but I really must pre-plan a few trips so that we don’t find ourselves doing something ‘quick, easy and obvious’ next time. Whilst this route has its merits, it was all (except for the Ribble Way detour) on made paths and it’s very busy.

The stats for the 23 hours we were out were:

Day 1: 9.2 miles with 2000’ of up

Day 2: 15.3 miles with 3300’ of up