High Cup Nick 15.05.2016

For the second day of our weekend in Dufton, we decided to visit the spectacular High Cup Nick, with a return over the moorland summit of Backstone Edge.  First however, we wanted to wander through Dufton Gill to see the bluebells in sunlight.  Having wandered through the woods on the Friday evening, we knew it was a sight worth seeing.  They really were beautiful.  And there are so many – possibly the most I have ever seen in one place.  Annoyingly I found that my camera battery had died, but luckily Andrew’s was in full working order.  All of the pictures in this post were therefore taken by him.

Leaving the wood, we took a farm path that would take us almost to the bottom of High Cup Gill.  Most people follow the Pennine Way from Dufton village, but a relative had tipped us off that a more dramatic approach was to take the footpath that climbs right up through the bottom of the gill, exiting steeply at High Cup Nick itself.

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The sunlight starts to break through onto to side of the gill

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Looking back out of High Cup Gill

High Cup Gill is sometimes claimed as ‘England’s Grand Canyon’ and though it has to be said that this is something of an exaggeration, it’s probably true to say that it is England’s finest example of a glacial valley.  As height is gained and the sides of the valley start to converge, it does become slightly claustrophobic – but truly magnificent.

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The slot on the left of this photo is the ‘Nick’ – a name that is often wrongly applied to the whole valley

The spectacular ring of crags that encircles the whole valley is part of the Whin Sill, an intrusion of dolerite (known locally as whinstone) that runs right through the northern Pennines, and forms such distinctive features as Cauldron Snout and High Force, as well as the Farne Islands and the outcrops on which Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castles are built.  The highest section of Hardian’s Wall also runs across crags formed by the Whin Sill.

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The climb out from the head of the gill was extremely steep, but this provided a good excuse to admire the view frequently.  Although there was a path throughout, it can’t be very well used as of the 30 or so people that we must have seen at High Cup Nick, not one had used our route through the gill, nor did anybody appear to be returning that way.

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This is the view looking down from the nick itself

Once we’d eaten lunch and satisfied ourselves that we had spent enough time admiring the view, we left the crowds behind to head up on to Backstone Edge.

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Climbing up towards Backstone Edge

On reaching the moorland above, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a footpath had come into being since my previous visit around ten years ago.  On that occasion, we’d had to wade through the ankle-deep heather, an energy-sapping experience that had worn the dog out and almost made us miss our train home.  This may have been before the implementation of the ‘right to roam’, which would perhaps explain why there were fewer people walking there at that time.

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The author by the large cairn at Narrowgate Beacon.  The onward route followed the edge of the moor round to the right.

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A last look back at High Cup Nick from Narrowgate Beacon

The path continued all the way to the summit of Backstone Edge (2293 ft); not really a summit at all, just a high point in a sea of rolling moorland.  The path seemed to run out beyond the summit, but by that time Great Rundale Tarn, our next objective, had come into view.  Oddly, although the tarn is named after Great Rundale, its outflow doesn’t feed that valley, but instead runs east, to join the Tees.

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Great Rundale Tarn

Beyond the tarn, we followed an old mine track down into Great Rundale.  It was rather loose and stony, but made for a quick descent.

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Heading down into Great Rundale

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The lower reaches of Great Rundale.  The structure on the left is an old lime kiln.

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Dufton Pike comes into view at the end of Great Rundale

Reaching the bottom of the valley with time and energy to spare, we decided to nip up Dufton Pike as it was such a nice day.

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Cuckoo flowers on the track below Dufton Pike

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Looking to Knock Pike and distant Cross Fell from below Dufton Pike

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Zooming in on Cross Fell

Once the track that runs across the base of Dufton Pike is left, the ascent becomes very steep, though it’s grassy all the way.

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Looking across the sunlight-dappled Eden valley to the Lakeland fells from the ascent

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Looking to Cross Fell and the Dun Fells from our ascent route

The views from the summit (1578 ft) are magnificent; more so than those from higher nearby fells.  This is mainly due to Dufton Pike’s pointed shape, which contrasts with the rolling moorland more prevalent in these parts.  The difference in shape is due to the underlying geology – Dufton Pike is formed from Borrowdale volcanic rock, more commonly found in the Lake District.

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Backstone Edge from the summit.  The track in the centre-left was our descent route from the former.

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The view to the south.  The prominent peak is Murton Pike – High Cup Gill is immediately to its left.

A steep descent returned us to the old mine track and back to Dufton.  It had been a superb walk, made all the more so by the sheer variety of the scenery encountered, which proved if nothing else that there is much more to the Pennines than the ‘dreary moorland’ of popular repute.

All photos by Andrew Collins.

 

 

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Cross Fell 14.05.2016

My brother Andrew and I were spending the weekend at Dufton Youth Hostel, and having woken up to a glorious morning on the Saturday, decided that Cross Fell would make a suitable objective.  Monarch of the Pennines, at 2930 ft, Cross Fell is one of the ten highest mountains in England (though in which position depends upon how you define a mountain – a debate I don’t intend to enter into here!), and is higher than Lakeland giants Pillar, Fairfield and Blencathra.  The last two of these are clearly in view from Cross Fell’s summit on a clear day.  We had planned a route that would take us from the tiny village of Kirkland via and old mine track to the Pennine Way, which we would then follow over the Dun Fells and Knock Fell back to Dufton.

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Looking back down Kirkland Beck

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The old mine track heading for Ardale

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Kirkland Beck

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Cocklock Scar

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Looking towards Black Doors at the head of Ardale

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A closer view of the Black Doors

The mine track made for a very easy and gentle ascent, with excellent views into neighbouring Ardale.  It’s a much easier climb than many much lower Lakeland fells, though also much longer.

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Cross Fell’s summit dome comes into view

Shortly after parting company with the mine track, we came across a bothy at the side of the path.  It’s obviously been around for some time as it’s marked on the map, though what it could be used for, I found it hard to imagine.  There isn’t room to sleep inside and there is barely room to sit up.  Perhaps it was a place where coffins were rested when this track was used as a corpse road.

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The bothy at 674348

Rather than tackle the screes surrounding the summit dome, we continued to the junction with the Pennine Way, joining the latter for the remainder of our walk.  As we climbed towards the summit, we could see a couple of small patches of snow stubbornly clinging on in hollows on the northern slopes of the mountain.

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Looking northwards towards Cold Fell.  The tiny bright green speck on the right of the picture is a mountain biker.

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Looking towards Alston from near the summit

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A currick defending the summit plateau

We reached the summit just in time for lunch, which was handy as it would have been a shame to pass up on the opportunity to use the recently rebuilt wind shelter.  Unusually for a mountain famed for its winds, it was very still; almost silent at times.  Before sitting down, we had a wander across to the far side of the plateau.  On the way, we encountered a dunlin, which stood unmoving only a few feet away from us.  We thought it was probably trying to lead us away from its nest, so we made sure to tread very carefully to avoid standing on any eggs.

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Dunlin (Photo by Andrew Collins)

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Wind shelter and trig point on the summit

Whilst eating lunch in the summit wind shelter, we were joined by two gents whose large backpacks and conversation suggested that they were doing the Pennine Way.  In fact we were to encounter several other people who also appeared to be doing this.  I was slightly surprised, as I thought the Pennine Way had declined in popularity in recent years, though I guess this will be peak time of year for people to attempt it.

Though there is an extensive view of the Lakeland fells from the summit, I didn’t take any photos in that direction as it was a little hazy.

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Little Dun Fell (with the cloud shadow passing over) and Great Dun Fell (with the radar dome) from a currick on the south side of the summit plateau.  The hill in the background is Mickle Fell, highest in Yorkshire.  (Photo by Andrew Collins)

From Cross Fell, we continued along the Pennine Way to Little Dun Fell (2762 ft) and Great Dun Fell (2782 ft).  Thanks to the radar dome on its summit, Great Dun Fell must be one of the most distinctive if also most unattractive summits in England.  Still, I’d take this over a wind farm any day (scenically speaking).  I was surprised that it is possible to enter and wander around the radar dome compound – perhaps someone in NATS management is a keen peak bagger?

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Looking east from Little Dun Fell across the featureless Pennine moorland

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Looking back at The Screes on Cross Fell.  The red colour presumably indicates the presence or iron ore.  (Picture by Andrew Collins)

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Looking back to Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell from Great Dun Fell

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Knock Fell and Mickle Fell from Great Dun Fell

Just below the summit of Great Dun Fell, the path drops down into a particularly good example of a hush.  These were created by lead miners by damming becks and then releasing the water once a large amount had built up, so as to remove the upper layers of vegetation and soil and thus (hopefully) reveal the lead ore below.  There are many examples dotted about the Pennines and although they are a bit of a blot on the landscape, they are fascinating relics of the industrial heritage of the area.

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Dunfell Hush

On the climb up towards Knock Fell, I noticed a small area of limestone, complete with mini limestone pavement and a little further beyond, a tiny pothole.  A quick bit of research on ukcaving.com suggests that this is probably an entrance into the extensive Knock Fell Caverns.

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Limestone pavement on Knock Fell

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The small pothole

The limestone can’t be very extensive at surface level hereabouts, as we were soon back onto the boggy ground more typical of the higher Pennines.  There are even a few small tarns dotted about in the vicinity.

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Tarn near the summit of Knock Fell

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Boulder field with the imaginatively named Round Hill in the background

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Looking back at Cross Fell and Great Dun Fell from Knock Fell (Picture by Andrew Collins)

The summit of Knock Fell (2605 ft) is not particularly inspiring and even the summit cairn is a poor effort when compared with the nearby currick Knock Old Man.  The views are good though.

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Knock Old Man

The descent from Knock Fell seemed long, but it was gentle and there was an attractive beck for company.  This eventually joins Swindale, which forms an impressive gill in its lower reaches.

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Looking down into Swindale

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Another view of Swindale

Just after I had taken the photo above, I saw a ring ouzel flying low across the bed of the gill.  I wasn’t close enough to identify it visually (or to photograph it), but was its distinctive call gave it away.  Unfortunately it went into hiding, so I didn’t get a second look.

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Knock Pike from Swindale

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Dufton Pike

The walk back along the valley bottom was very pleasant, with good views of Dufton Pike.  As we passed Halsteads Farm, unbeknownst to us, a sheep was being driven into the lane just as we were about the pass the gateway leading from its field.  On running into the lane and seeing us, it did an about turn and within no time at all was back at the far end of the field!  No doubt the farmer and the sheepdog were cursing our unfortunate timing.  Happily the remainder of the walk back to Dufton passed without incident.

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Primroses growing by the side of the track we followed back to Dufton

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Another view of Dufton Pike

From Your Front Door: The Chevin 25.04.2016

When I received an email from Zoe at Outdoor Bloggers requesting posts on the theme of ‘From Your Front Door’, I knew exactly where I had to write about.  My home town, Otley is dominated by The Chevin, which is really the first of the Pennine hills as you travel up the valley of the Wharfe.  The name is thought to derive from the Celtic word cefn, which features unchanged in the Welsh language to this day, and means ridge.  Nowadays, The Chevin is a Forest Park, and is well-loved by local people.  I recently headed out one evening after work to explore it anew for this post.

The most popular route up The Chevin is via the Victorian steps that climb straight up to Surprise View from Otley’s old railway station.  It’s a good route, but it is a very steep climb and you do miss out the western end of the ridge.  I prefer to use the paths that climb up from West Chevin Road, or as on this occasion, Sinclair Field.

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Great Dib from Sinclar’s Field

 

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The path climbs along an escarpment through the trees

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Almscliffe Crag seen across the valley

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Great Dib – the steep slope here is the result of a post-glacial landslip

I headed from Great Dip up onto the highest parts of The Chevin.  The summit itself isn’t particularly exciting and I didn’t visit it on this occasion.  Far more impressive is nearby Surprise View (925 ft), which most people believe to be the summit anyway.  This stands in an area of open moorland, well above the woods.

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Open moorland near Surprise View

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The gritstone outcrop at Surprise View

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The person in this shot is standing on the highest of the rocks at Surprise View

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Looking north-west up Wharfedale.  Round Hill is the furthest hill in view.

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Looking east from Surprise View.  In exceptionally clear weather, the white horse at Kilburn in the North York Moors can be seen.

From Surprise View, I headed along Miller Lane to the Danefield Estate, the lower and more densely wooded eastern half of The Chevin.

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The sun was nicely catching this birch in Cleaver Wood

As I climbed up to Deer Park Plantation, a red kite flew just above the tops of the trees; a beautiful sight with the sun lighting up the underside of the body.  However, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get a photo.

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Deer Park Plantation

The highest part of the Danefield Estate is crowned by a trig point, which must have had an extensive view when it was first erected.  It now stands forlornly in a fire break between Deer Park and Memorial Plantations.

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The lonely trig point

The red kite came back to taunt me as I was standing by the trig point, this time making sure that it was just high enough in the sky to make a poor photograph.

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Path junction at Flint Wood.  You could go for a different walk every day for a week or more on The Chevin, there are so many paths.

I headed down through Quarry Wood towards Caley Deer Park, passing the only wetland area on the hill as I went.

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Wetland area above Caley Deer Park

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Part of the old deer park

J. M. W. Turner used to stay at Farnley Hall on the other side of the valley.  The Hall was the seat of the Fawkes family, who owned the Danefield Estate at that time, and it was whilst staying with the family that Turner was inspired by a thunderstorm passing over The Chevin to paint Hannibal Crossing the Alps.  Turner would also later paint the crags themselves.

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Looking across to Washburndale from above Caley Deer Park

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Knotford Nook and the entrance to Washburndale from the ‘Turner viewpoint’, as I call it

From the deer park I headed back west, passing the Main Crag en route.  Though popular with climbers, there weren’t any about on this occasion.

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Caley Crags

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Another View of the crag

Beyond the crags, I headed through Poolscar Wood and soon found myself at one of my favourite spots on The Chevin, the bridge over the Holbeck.  One day I intend to walk the full length of this beck, keeping as close to the water as I can.

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Looking up the Holbeck…

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…And looking down

Foxscar Wood is home to the remains of an Iron-Age settlement, though it has to be admitted that a very good imagination is required to reconstruct it.

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The site of the Iron-Age settlement

Danefield Wood, the westernmost of the plantations on the Danefield Estate, puts on a great display of bluebells in May.  I noticed that they were just starting to come out as I passed and made a mental note to return in a week or two.

The Chevin had one final treat in store for me – as I crossed East Chevin Road, I was witness to the most glorious sunset.  I’ll leave you with a few pictures of it – which show far better than my words can why you shouldn’t dismiss what you can find from your front door.

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Exmoor Coast Path 25-27.03.16

We’d decided to spend the Easter break walking the first section of the 630-mile South West Coast Path, with a view to possibly walking the whole lot over the course of the next few years (or even decades).  We left Minehead in glorious sunshine and spent the next three days walking the full coastline of the Exmoor National Park, an area that none of us had previously visited.

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Journey’s beginning – the monument that marks the start of the trail

The first section of the path runs through attractive woodland and zig-zags steeply up to the open moorland of Selworthy Beacon.  From the start, there were far-reaching views across to the Glamorgan coastline.

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Leaving the woodland for the open moors

We didn’t follow the path over the summit of Selworthy Beacon, but instead opted for the ‘Rugged Alternative Coast Path’, which runs closer to the sea and offers more dramatic views.

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Dropping down into Grexy Combe on the Rugged Alternative

The path drops in and out of several combes.  In Henners Combe, we encountered a lamb that had somehow found its way out of the field.  It was obviously in some distress, as all the other sheep seemed to have been rounded up from the field.  I later reported it at the National Park Centre in Porlock and can only hope that the farmer was alerted.

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As this was only a short day’s walk, we made several diversions out to little headlands

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Admiring Selworthy Sand

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Looking down to East Combe and Selworthy Sand

By early afternoon, we were already approaching Porlock, where we were staying the night, so took our time to enjoy the sunshine and the views.

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Bossington Beach from our lunch stop on Bossington Hill

The official route of the coast path bypasses Hurlstone Point, but it looked too inviting to ignore!

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Hurlstone Point

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Bossington Beach from Hurlstone Point

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Cliff scenery above the descent path

Just below the Point are the remains of a Coastguard station, which seems to be as far as most people walk; we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by others, having enjoyed much of the earlier part of the day in relative solitude.

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Primroses in the woods just outside Bossington

Our second day took us from Porlock to Lynmouth, a much longer stage altogether.  Much of the early part of the day was spent in beautiful woodland.  Culbone and Embelle Woods are particularly noteworthy, being rare examples of the so-called ‘Celtic Rainforest’, which would once have covered much of the western parts of these islands.

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Thatched gatehouse to the Worthy Toll Road

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Culbone Woods

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These gnarled trees are typical of the ‘Celtic Rainforest’

Around the middle of the day, we reached the psychological and more-or-less literal halfway point, when we crossed from Somerset into Devon.  Unfortunately it had just begun to rain heavily, a state of affairs that remained for the rest of the day and so no photos were taken.  The scenery was as superb as ever, but I think it’s fair to say that we weren’t in the best state of mind to appreciate it!

Happily day three dawned largely bright and sunny, and stayed that way for most of the day, apart from the odd very brief shower.  The coast path zig-zags steeply up to Lynton, but no lesser an authority than Richard Gilbert’s Wild Walks directs that ‘walkers should swallow their pride and take the Cliff Railway’, so we opted to do this instead.

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The bottom station of the Cliff Railway

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Looking back down to Lynmouth from the Cliff Railway

Lynton is left via the North Walk, a Victorian promenade, which leads to one of the highlights of the walk, the Valley of Rocks.

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Lynmouth from the North Walk.  The headland in the distance is Foreland Point, which we crossed at the end of day 2.

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Valley of Rocks

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Wild goats are common in the Valley of Rocks

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The western end of the Valley of Rocks, with Duty Point behind

Beyond the Valley of Rocks, we were onto a minor road for the next couple of miles, apart from a brief clifftop path around Crock Point.  The road is left at Woody Bay, beyond which more woodland and moorland walking leads to the dramatic inlet at Heddon’s Mouth.

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Woody Bay

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One of many dramatic situations on this section of the path

At Heddon’s Mouth, it is necessary to descend almost to sea level before climbing back up to around 800 feet.

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Heddon’s Mouth

Beyond Heddon’s Mouth, the route runs mainly across whale-backed moorland hills.  The path sticks to the seaward edge of Holdstone Down, rather than crossing the summit, and gives fantastic views all the way.

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Looking east from Holdstone Down

Holdstone Down is followed by another long descent, before the final pull up to Great Hangman.  We certainly felt this climb, coming as it did towards the very end of the walk!

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Looking back towards Holdstone Down from Great Hangman

At 1043 feet, Great Hangman is the highest point on the entire South West Coast Path and is also the highest sea cliff on the British mainland.  The curious name is thought to be derived from the Celtic am maen, meaning ‘hill of stones’.  Given the size of the cairn, it would certainly be apt!

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Great Hangman’s summit

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Heading towards Little Hangman

Great Hangman has a twin, Little Hangman, which formed our next objective.  This lies a little way off (and uphill of!) the coast path, but it promised to be too good a viewpoint to be bypassed.  We weren’t disappointed.

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Looking back to Great Hangman from Little Hangman

From Little Hangman, it was downhill all the way to our final destination, Combe Martin.  Although we were sorry to be coming to the end of three days of superlative walking, we were also elated by the wonderful scenery we’d experienced, and were already planning a return visit to carry on where we left off!

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Looking back at Little Hangman

 

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Wild Pear Beach with Little Hangman behind

Some photos by Georgina Collins.

Blencathra via Bowscale Fell 13.03.16

Blencathra is a favourite for people heading up to the north Lakes for the day, due to its ease of access from the main road to Keswick and the fact that two fantastic easy ridge scrambles (Sharp Edge and Hallsfell Ridge) can easily be combined with the summit in only a few hours.  On this occasion however, we’d decided to take a slightly more esoteric approach from the north via the relatively unfrequented Bowscale Fell (2303 ft) and Bannerdale Crags (2241 ft).

I wanted to approach Bowscale Fell via Bowscale Tarn as I was intrigued by the legend that it is inhabited by two immortal fish.  Sadly there were not in evidence on our visit.  It was also a popular spot with Victorian romantics, but seems to have fallen from the tourist radar in more recent times.

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Bowscale Tarn

It’s a pretty steep climb up to the summit from the tarn and there were still a few bits of snow about, but nothing serious.

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Skiddaw from Bowscale Fell

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Bannerdale Crags (L) and Blencathra (R) from the summit.  Our onward route was via the snow-encrusted edge on the left.  The Helvellyn range is in the background.

Heading now for Bannerdale Crags, we left the path to follow the rim of the corrie, which gives superb views down into Bannerdale itself.

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Bannerdale Crags with Bannerdale below

The summit lies a little way behind the crags, but still gives excellent close-up views of Blencathra.

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Blencathra from Bannerdale Crags.  The most prominent peak in this view is actually the subsidiary top of Atkinson Pike (2772 ft).

Having plenty of time to spare, we decided on reaching Glenderamackin Col that we would make a detour out to Mungrisdale Common (2077 ft), famed as the most boring and pointless Wainwright of the lot!  With a reputation like that, I could hardly resist finding out for myself what the fuss was about.  The walk to it was certainly not pleasant – the flattened and yellowed grass suggested that it had until recently been covered by snow and  I quickly discovered that my boots were no longer waterproof.  The summit itself isn’t especially exciting, but it does have decent enough views and overall, I think it is still a worthwhile diversion.

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Borrowdale and the Scafells from Mungrisdale Common

Heading back towards Blencathra via Foule Crag, we encountered large patches of rapidly-melting snow as we gained height.

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Foule Crag

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Looking back along Foule Crag from Atkinson Pike.  Bannerdale Crags is in the sun on the right of the picture.

Blencathra’s summit (2847 ft) was as usual, rather busy, but who could begrudge company in such magnificent surroundings?

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Looking towards Gategill Fell Top and the North-Western Fells from Atkinson Pike.  (Photo by Andrew Collins)

 

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A closer view of Derwentwater (Photo by Andrew Collins)

Leaving Blencathra’s summit with reluctance, we headed down to Mousthwaite Comb, looking across towards the scramblers on Sharp Edge as we went.  We had considered descending via Sharp Edge, but the steep grassy slope above it was covered in melting slow and we weren’t carrying ice axes.  The edge itself would probably have presented us with no problems, being below the snow line.

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Two scramblers on Sharp Edge

Beyond Mousthwaite Comb, we left the popular paths behind again and headed for Souther Fell (1713 ft), our final summit of the day.  Like Bowscale Tarn, this too has a legend attached, no fewer than 26 people having claimed to have witnessed an army marching across its summit one summer’s day in 1745, but one that left no trace of its passing.  Spooky, eh?

Ben More (South Uist) 14.07.2015

At 2034 feet, South Uist’s Ben More may not be one of the highest of that name in Scotland, but it is the only Graham and the highest mountain on the island, where we were spending a two week holiday.  This of course made it irresistible to me.  We’d been monitoring the weather forecasts for some time to ensure that we picked a good day for the ascent, and we weren’t disappointed.  In fact, this was to be one of the few days during our stay that the summit was free of cloud for the whole day.

There are very few paths on South Uist, but we did manage to find an old peat cutters’ track that led towards the foot of Ben More and only left us with around half a mile of bog to cross before the going eased as we started to gain height.

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The peat-cutters’ track that leads towards Ben More

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Nameless lochan at the foot of the ascent route (well, there’s no name on the map)

We were surprised to find that there was a faint path leading up the mountain, though it was quite easy to lose it in the heather and peat hags that we encountered at intervals.

As we gained height, St Kilda appeared on the western horizon, and I was surprised at just how big it appeared to be, given its distance.  Both Hirta and Boreray were very clear and seeing them certainly intensified my desire to get there someday.

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Superb retrospective views all the way up

Most of the ascent is really quite easy and pleasant, with improving views all the time.  The view across to Hecla and Ben Corrodale is particularly impressive.  I had really wanted to do a grand traverse of all three mountains from Loch Skipport in the north to Loch Eynort in the south, but the complete absence of public transport to either end of the route meant that I had been unable to organise this, although it did occur to me that this traverse could be incorporated into a longer backpacking route, with an overnight stop at Uisinis bothy.  Food for thought for the future…

Not long before reaching the summit ridge, we had a superb view of a white-tailed eagle soaring directly overhead, though unfortunately it was still too far away for us to be able to take a photo with the camera we were using.

The highlight of the route is undoubtedly the summit ridge.  This offers pleasant easy scrambling in places, with impressive drops on both sides and a traverse path for the cautious.  Never able to resist anything like this, I tried to stick as closely as possible to the crest, which was relatively easy as the day was calm – something of a rarity in these parts!

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Looking back along the summit ridge

The views from the summit were every bit as good as I had expected, ranging from St Kilda in the west to Ben More on Mull in the east, with the hills of Harris, Skye and Rum all clearly visible.  Even the diminutive hills on Coll and Tiree could be picked out.  Closer to hand, the view down into the wild Glen Hellisdale was awe-inspiring, with Ben Corrodale and Hecla standing proudly behind it.  The contrast between the western side of the island with its flat machair and endless sandy beaches, and the wild, uninhabited mountains of the east was really quite striking.

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Looking down into Glen Hellisdale

An enormous cleft splits the north face of the mountain, and it looked as though it was possible to walk round the head of it and up to a promontory to its east, so I decided to go and take a look.  Walking away from the summit, we were accompanied by a couple of golden plovers for some time, both of which came obligingly close enough for photographs.

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A golden plover poses for a photo

Looking down into the cleft was really quite awe-inspiring, and it looked to me as though it would be possible to climb up it from the glen below, though I doubt that anybody ever does as there are no doubt easier routes even from this side.  Apparently the cliffs on the northern side hold some interesting climbs, first recorded in the 1930s, and given their isolation, probably little repeated since then.

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Admiring the view into Glen Hellisdale

I usually dislike going up and down the mountain via the same route, but on this occasion I was more than happy as it allowed me to repeat the summit ridge and to enjoy uninterrupted views across the machair and over to St Kilda.

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Returning along the summit ridge

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It seemed to take no time at all to reach the bog at the bottom.  As we were passing the lochan again, we noticed a diver out on the water.  Although it was too far away to be absolutely certain, we decided that it was probably a red-throated diver, a first for me.

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Looking across to Eaval on North Uist, with the hills of Harris in the background

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Ben Corrodale and Hecla

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The views on the way down were just as good as on the way up

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The (presumed) red-throated diver with chick

Some photos by Georgina Collins

Mingulay 09.07.2015

Lying 10 miles south of Barra, Mingulay is the second most southerly island in the Outer Hebrides and this relative isolation has led to it being dubbed by some ‘the near St Kilda.’ On the calm day that we visited, it took little more than an hour to reach by boat from Castlebay, but there is no pier and I imagine that in any but the best weather, it must have been a very isolated existence for the people who once lived here, the last of whom left in 1912. Even in good weather it can be tricky to land as I demonstrated only too well – we had to transfer to a smaller boat to take us to the island itself and as I was disembarking from this onto the rocks, a sudden swell made me lose my balance and almost fall into the sea! Luckily I managed to keep hold of the rail and disaster was averted.

A steep scramble brought us to the one intact building on the island – the old school house, which is now used by the National Trust for Scotland warden. From here, a path runs north towards the remainder of the village. This path is in better condition than most of the buildings and it is easy to imagine the schoolchildren running along it to and from classes. Most of the buildings in the village are in an advanced state of disrepair. They would have been of the traditional blackhouse design, so of course the thatched roofs are long gone, leaving the rest of the buildings at the mercy of the winter gales. The beach is also encroaching upon the village now, and some of the old houses are partially buried in sand.

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The remains of the village, slowly being engulfed by the beach

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All that’s left of one of the blackhouses

As there isn’t a great deal to see in the village any longer, and we were keen to visit the high western cliffs for which the island is famed, we headed straight for the hills. We aimed initially for a prominent cairn in the bealach between McPhee’s Hill and Carnan.

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Looking back to the village from the cairn at the belach

From here we got our first sight of the awesome cliffs of Biulacraig, which rise straight from the sea to a height of around 750 feet. It was a dizzying spectacle looking down at the sea far below.

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The awe-inspiring cliffs at Biulacraig

 

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The deep inlet at the base of the cliffs

Disappointingly, it seemed that many of the birds had already left for the year; although there were still probably many hundreds of fulmars and guillemots about, it wasn’t quite the sensory overload that I had hoped for.

It was hard to leave the awesome cliff scenery of Biulacraig behind, but with time limited and much still to see, I headed for Carnan, the island’s high point. Although only 896 feet above sea level, it is a fantastic viewpoint, giving spectacular views of Pabbay, Berneray and Barra in the near distance, and towards Skye, Rum, Mull and Tiree further afield. I wished I could have stayed for much longer.

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Looking north from Carnan; Barra in the background

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Berneray – the southernmost of the Outer Hebrides

The descent towards the village was surprisingly tricky as the vegetation grows in such a way as to conceal any holes that might be lurking in the ground. Mindful that this would not be the best place to break or sprain my ankle, I proceeded with care. The bonxies were also eyeing me suspiciously though, so I was keen to move as quickly as I safely could!

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The village bay from my descent route

Reaching the village with a little time to spare, I headed across the beach to see if I could take a quick look at the puffin colony. I thought I saw some of them flying out to sea, but my watch told me I was due back at the boat in ten minutes, so I had to content myself with that.

Some photos by Georgina Collins