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 28 April 2019

Friday 26 March - Roan Fell (NY451931; 568m)

Bike in red. Walk in the funny bluey sort of colour

The Met Office weather forecast for today said that it was going to be sunny in the morning but with heavy rain coming in for the afternoon (80% chance 1-3pm, 90% chance 3-6pm); the wind was to be constant all day. The Mountain Weather Information Service said it was going to be rainy with cloudy summits in the morning but brightening, with a rising cloud base in the afternoon, when the wind was also predicted to rise, possibly to 40mph.

Faced with two such contradictory forecasts, my faith went with the Met Office, and sure enough we woke up to clear blue skies. Sense would have dictated an energetic leap out of bed and an early start, so as to visit my hill before the rain came in. However, we shelled out £23 for a small patch of ground at a campsite last night, so wanted to make some sort of effort to get our money's worth. Unnecessary showers were had and we made as full use of the electicity as we reasonably could (i.e. we charged everything), before we finally rolled off site just as the clouds were coming in.

I should, perhaps, have set out immediately upon arrival, but I was hungry so a pause was had for coffee and an item we bought that described itself as a scone, but based on the ingredients list I'm not sure that was accurate.

I should, perhaps, then have decided not to do any hill today. We've got more days available to us that I have hills on the list for this trip, so we could have just sat around for the day, but I didn't.

I made it around 4 miles into the bike leg (just past the kennels of a pack of hunting hounds who were putting up such a racket that ear defenders should have been provided for passers-by) before the spots of rain became insistent enough for me to don waterproofs. It then rained on me for the whole of the rest of the outing.

There's a track that runs to within feet of the summit of this hill, and I've read at least one account where someone said they biked the whole way. I made it to the point where the gradient for the next 6-700m suggested that if riding it was possible for someone of my leg and lung strength (which I doubted), then it would certainly not be enjoyable, either up or downhill. Walking was, for me, the way forward.

Turning at the summit I could have believed the weather had improved, but the reality was that after battling a head wind, with the rain blowing straight into my face, it just felt dry and calm once the weather was on my back.

A rainy day, but far better air clarity than any day last week.

Lunch was eaten on the hoof as I strode back down to my bike. Arriving there I was not looking forward to the ride back (progress this year: I packed the mud guards and even have the front one affixed to the bike; it would have been handy to have added the rear one for today's trip). It passed quickly enough, but not without an small incident where I ground to a halt mid-stream, resulting in me plunging both feet into the water. Careless as I'd managed to keep my feet pretty much dry until that point, and this was the final of 6 or 8 fords.

Back past the barking dogs, a greeting to a farmer on a quad bike, then it was full steam ahead back to Bertie, with the rain in my face much of the way.

Mick met me at the door with a towel and my cuggiest PJ trousers. My bike is currently locked to a bench outside (no chance of emptying Bertie's boot to put it inside in this weather!) and the shower room is full of dripping gear. As I said earlier, perhaps I should have just stayed in today...

8.8 miles biked, 4 miles walked, a total of 450m of ascent.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Thursday 25 April - Blackwood Hill (NY531962; 447m)

The plan had been for Mick to join me on this hill, but then the plan had also been to park in a large lay-by that, it turns out, does not exist. We did find somewhere big enough to leave Bertie without blocking any accesses, but when Mick learnt that I could use my bike for much of the 5-mile outing, he set about emptying Bertie's boot to retrieve my wheels. It's possible that his eagerness in volunteering to stay behind was based upon having seen the hill; I admit it doesn't look very attractive when viewed across the wasteland of a largely-felled forest.

I had three possible routes noted for this top (four if you count combining two into a short-handled lollipop, which is the option I would have gone for had Mick joined me and we'd gone on foot), and my one concern in biking up through the forest was that the felling might have obliterated the breaks leading out of the trees from the upper track. Happily, as I huffed and puffed my way to that upper track (the first ride of the trip that has had me gasping), I could see that to the left of the most recently felled area was a break that was largely free of debris.

A while later, after ditching the bike and walking up to the top of that break, I had to marvel at my lucky timing. I imagine that in a few weeks, now that the trees to the right are gone and the sunlight can reach this ground, all sorts of plant life will spring up there. Today, however, I had a gloriously firm, cropped surface on which to walk.

Breaks in forests don't get easier than this!

Even better, with the recent felling activity, I wasn't hemmed in by trees, but had views.

The joyfully easy going continued once I reached the top of the forest

Before I knew it I was at the top, looking over the other (west) side of the ridge. After days of forests (mostly the mess of felled forests), it was lovely to look out over such an area of lumps and bumps:

I was back at Bertie just a few minutes more than an hour after leaving, much to Mick's surprise as he'd expected me to be gone for two. A good job he hadn't nipped out for a walk whilst I was gone - I might not have been amused to have been locked out two days in a row!

The stats: shorter than expected at 3 miles cycled with 120m ascent and 1.4 miles walked with 140m ascent.

(Today's 'stupid cow' incident. As I looked east from today's hill, I contemplated the hill on the other side of the B-road and felt sure that it must be a Marilyn. Which hill was it, I wondered, and when did I visit it, as I didn't have it on my list for this trip? It's only just now that I've looked at the map and discovered that it's Larriston Fells - yesterday's hill. I'd forgotten that one of the two options I'd noted for that hill was to approach it from the same (non-existent, as it turns out) layby as for today's top and it had been sufficiently long a drive around from Kielder Water that it made me forget how close it was to Blackwood Hill.)

Wednesday 24 April - Larriston Fells (NY569920; 512m)

That was a pleasantly straightforward outing, with it just being a shame that I set out too early, not realising (because the only thing visible from Bertie is nearby walls of trees) that the tops were shrouded in cloud. I was on my way down by the time the sun started to show through.

The ride up through the forest was easier today, being a gentle gradient and without yesterday's undulations.

I have a cheap bike, little experience and scant skills, but I did it anyway.
I'd read that it is possible to ride all the way to the mast, a fact confirmed by the sign in the snap above, but (even before seeing the sign) had thought that it would be too technical for me and that I would be walking from the end of the forest track. I didn't depart from my norm, though; when I reached the end of the track I thought I'd see how far I could get on the continuation of the route.
It got narrower once I left the forest, but it was a good firm surface.

I made it without difficulty all the way to the mast, which sits up above the high point of this 'Cross Border Route'. As the name suggests, I had, on my way, crossed the border into Scotland, which is where this hill is located.
A large pillar on the Scottish/English border acting as a milestone and as a statement of toll fees once applicable to this 'road'. 
With the bike abandoned, a bearing was taken (I could barely see the mast from the end of its newly constructed service track, never mind my summit two thirds of a mile away) and off I went.
I shall quote here verbatim part of someone's log on, describing their ascent from the mast:
"across horrendous tussocky, boggy, heathery sh1t to summit". That had set my expectations and for the first few hundred metres I couldn't have described the conditions any better myself (although the bogginess is currently minimal). Stepping over a fence that lay in my way, I was then lucky enough to come across a faint trod, which took me a good way towards the summit, when it either petered out or I lost it in a boggy patch. I picked up another such trod later and thus reached the trig point with not too much effort having been expended.
The mast would easily be seen behind the trig in this snap on a clearer day. 
My stay on the top was longer than it would have been if I hadn't put my open lunch box atop the trig (lid under the box). I was just looking at the weather forecast, eating a sandwich, when the wind deposited the remaining sandwich on the ground and removed the lid out of my sight. I hate littering, so had to make efforts to find it, which I did, surprised at how far its flight had been.

A different trod was taken on my return. Indeed, I think it may have been an ATV track, but it turned out not to be a good choice, as it veered off in an unhelpful direction leaving me to tackle more of the 'horrendous tussocky, boggy, heathery sh1t' than I had on my outwards yomp.

After a return to and through the forest that was hampered a little by a noticeable headwind, I arrived back at Bertie to find him all shut and locked up. This was a bit unfortunate as I didn't have any keys with me. However, I knew where Mick was headed on his walk today, and I had the advantage of a bicycle, so I set off in pursuit, expecting to meet him within minutes.

By the time I got to within a couple of hundred metres of his turn-around point, I'd convinced myself that he must have turned his out-and-back into a circuit and thus there was no point me pedalling that extra small distance. He knew what time I was due back, so it seemed too unlikely that he was still at the furthest point of his walk.

Rounding the final turn back to Bertie, I could immediately see that Mick still wasn't back. Figuring that his circuit through the forest had turned out harder or longer than expected, I sat down to wait. He arrived back an hour after I'd first returned, and it turned out that he had walked out and back on the very route that I'd cycled. The only possible conclusion is that he was indeed at the very furthest point of his walk when I gave up, 200m before that point, on finding him. He'd been a bit late leaving, I'd been an hour earlier back than expected.

Anyways, the stats for the outing were 15.2 miles cycled and 1.4 miles walked with a total between them of around 330m ascent. That ignores the 3.3 miles I then cycled in search of Mick.

(Other stuff:
1. On my way into the forest yesterday I came across a notice of closure of Access Land on 26/27 April, making it fortuitous that I missed those dates by two days. It didn't give any details as to why (except for the uninformative statement of "for public safety"), but today it became apparent that it's for the Pirelli Carlisle Rally. It said that rights of way were unaffected, but it was clear on today's outing that there will be much happening on the tracks I covered, even if they're not part of the live race. Coincidentally on one of our Big Walks (Kent to Cape Wrath I would guess), we passed through the Rally area of Kielder Forest on the day before the closures, but on the day that cars were out making their course notes. Our timing was even more marginal that time as if we hadn't foregone an intended rest day a couple of weeks earlier, our forward progress would have been thwarted by the event.
2. This is another hill that most people approach from the other side. It's a much shorter outing from that side and (based on the newly laid track up to the mast coming from that direction) there's a good track. I only chose to do it from the Kielder side because we were comfortably parked there anyway.
3. I followed the Lakeside Trail for the first half mile or so today, having cycled the road and forest track to get to the same point yesterday. That was a mistake - it wiggled around with pointless ups and downs thrown in. I returned via the track/road.)

Tuesday 23 April - Sighty Crag (NY601809; 520m)

The first wiggling of my legs as I awoke this morning suggested that yesterday afternoon's hill had been a mistake. My quads were most definitely making their presence felt and it looked like yesterday's intended rest day was going to have to be moved to today, as there are no quick-and-easy Marilyns to be had from our current location.

Mick, fine husband that he is, volunteered to make me breakfast in bed and much lounging was done. When I finally emerged from under the duvet, it was to find that my legs weren't as sore as I'd thought. Were they up to a 14-mile bike ride and 3.5 miles of yomping over monster tussocks and through heather? By late morning, I decided that yes, they were.

Most people attack Sighty Crag from the west side. I was approaching from Kielder Water (to the NE), simply because I couldn't find anywhere suitable to park a Bertie-sized vehicle nearby on the west side. That gave me a longer outing, but as most of it looked cyclable, I decided it was the better option.

The ride in involved more coasting downhills than I would prefer (it doesn't take a genius to work out that coasting on the way in means pedalling on the way out), but was otherwise uneventful and a little over an hour after setting out I was chatting to a tree planting chap just before the end of the track. He's part of a team of four who are in the process of planting 10,000 broadleaf trees, which will take them around 3 weeks. It's a slow process, he explained, with the need to use a stake and protective tube for every tree. Their progress on the other side of the track, which is to be re-conifered, will be quicker.

A minute later I stopped again, this time to chat to a bird protection chap who was checking on the Peregrine Falcons nesting nearby, to see if they're sitting on eggs yet. He was full of helpful information, such as the advice that I would have been much better approaching the hill from the other side.

I had expected to walk from where he was parked, as my map said that was where the track ended. However, a couple of very rough tracks have been put in leading towards the forest edge, which was fortuitous as, with all of the felling, the fire breaks I'd intended to use to exit the trees have been obliterated. Those tracks turned out to be too tough going for me to ride, so the bike was soon abandoned in favour of my feet.
I was glad for the continuation track, even if it was too rough/steep for me to ride.

The walk turned out to be far easier than I'd expected. Only about 100m of forest detritus had to be negotiated between the track-end and the open hillside, where I picked up a vague animal trod that helped me along until I reached an indent in the landscape down which ran a stream. That indent was mainly grassy, with a few areas of quivering bog and a few more of monster tussocks, but there wasn't much heather down there, so it was comparatively easy.
Comparatively easy walking in a dip in the landscape. I seem to have photographed a section with more heather than was typical alongside the stream.

Reaching the top of that stream, the going was right up there with the hardest sort of wading through tussocks and heather, but only for a third of a mile. As I reached spot height 508m I could see that I was only a short distance from a fence that leads all the way to Sighty Crag's summit, and where there's a fence there's generally some sort of a trodden line next to it.

So it proved to be, punctuated here and there with some deep peat hags, although I imagine the going for the entirety of this section would have been rather more challenging if it hadn't been so dry lately.
Standing on the high point, with the trig behind me
Lunch was had on the summit before steps were retraced. My descent route can't have been far removed from that of my ascent, but I seemed to find easier terrain sooner on the way back, reducing the amount of heather-tussock-wading still further.

The return bike leg was slowed not just by those pesky undulations, but also by a headwind, but even so, I arrived back at Bertie almost three hours ahead of the 'panic if I'm not back by' time I had agreed with Mick (no mobile phone signal where Bertie is currently parked, so I couldn't update him on progress).

The stats for this one came in at 14 miles exactly for the bike ride with around 310m ascent and 3.4 miles for the walk with around 150m ascent.