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

Fountains Fell 07.06.2015

Fountains Fell is a fairly shy and retiring mountain standing between the Malham Tarn area and Penyghent.  Its proximity to these honeypots and its comparatively unexciting form perhaps go some way to explaining its neglect.  Even the Pennine Way avoids the summit, crossing the fell around half a mile from the highest point.  Nevertheless, the full traverse of the ridge makes for a satisfying and enjoyable round with far reaching views across the Dales, and is a good choice for anyone seeking seclusion in this ever popular area.

Although it’s possible to climb Fountains Fell from Malham Tarn, I always feel that I’m cheating if I start halfway up the hill, so we set out from Malham village instead.  This also gave us chance to enjoy the truly spectacular limestone scenery of the cove and the dry valley en route.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove

Although we could hear the peregrines as we climbed the path at the side of the cove, we weren’t lucky enough to see them, and they were silent again by the time we had reached the top.  We therefore continued up through the Watlowes Valley and part way up, we were rewarded with the sight of a weasel running about in the scree just to the side of the path, seemingly oblivious to our presence.  It was certainly by far best view I’d ever had of a weasel.

Watlowes Valley

Watlowes Valley

Weasel

Weasel

It wasn’t long before we passed the water sinks and reached Malham Tarn, where our objective came into view for the first time.

Water sinks

Water sinks

Fountains Fell comes into view across Malham Tarn

Fountains Fell comes into view across Malham Tarn

Beyond the tarn, we cut across to the bridleway that runs under Knowe Fell, before joining a path that was waymarked by the National Trust some years ago and which joins the ridge just to the north east of Knowe Fell.  There wasn’t much sign that anybody really uses the path!  It was a pleasant ascent though, accompanied all the while by the cries of the curlews, lapwings, skylarks and golden plovers.  There were also many mountain pansies and cuckoo flowers in evidence.  I investigated several shake holes as well, several of which had rabbit holes in the bottom, though it didn’t appear to me that any of them were in use by potholers.

Mountain pansies

Mountain pansies

Great Whernside on the horizon

Great Whernside on the horizon

Cuckoo flowers

Cuckoo flowers

The route along the ridge thankfully was much drier than usual, and we were soon enjoying the views across to Penyghent.  We also stopped to enjoy the antics of a couple of golden plovers for several minutes.

Golden plover

Golden plover

Penyghent

Penyghent

It wasn’t long before we reached the South Top of Fountains Fell (2172 ft), on which a neat new summit cairn now stands, it having been unmarked on my last visit.  Presumably this was erected by enthusiastic Nuttall baggers.  Just below this top lies Fountains Fell Tarn.  There were also large numbers of cloudberry plants growing in this area, though it was too early for any of the fruit to have developed.

Summit cairn on Fountains Fell South Top

Summit cairn on Fountains Fell South Top

Cloudberry flower

Cloudberry flower

Fountains Fell Tarn

Fountains Fell Tarn

Beyond the tarn, we made our way up the final rise to the summit of Fountains Fell (2192 ft), where we encountered a couple of amateur radio enthusiasts sitting in a hollow.  Not wishing to disturb them, we dropped down to cross the Pennine Way and continued on our way to Darnbrook Fell, the second of Fountains Fell’s subsidiary tops.  It was only in the vicinity of the summit and the Pennine Way that we met any other walkers on the fell.

Looking to Penyghent from near the summit

Looking to Penyghent from near the summit

Looking back to Fountains Fell from the ridge to Darnbrook Fell

Looking back to Fountains Fell from the ridge to Darnbrook Fell

Halton Gill in Littondale

Halton Gill in Littondale

The trig point on the summit of Darnbrook Fell (2047 ft) now stands well proud of the surrounding peat, demonstrating how quickly it has eroded away – in the course of no more than 80 years.

Darnbrook Fell's undistinguished summit

Darnbrook Fell’s undistinguished summit

From Darnbrook Fell, the ridge line led us down to the Malham Tarn to Arncliffe road, with improving views down both sides.

Looking down into Littondale

Looking down into Littondale

Limestone tiers on the slopes of Fountains Fell

Limestone tiers on the slopes of Fountains Fell

The mile or so that we had to walk along the road before we could join the Pennine Way to return to Malham Tarn seemed to drag on for far longer than it should have.  Having re-joined the outward route at the Tarn, it was a simple matter to follow it through Watlowes Valley and past the Cove and so back to the village.  In such magnificent surroundings, repetition is never a hardship.

Watlowes Valley re-visited

Watlowes Valley re-visited

Limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove

Limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove

Looking down Malhamdale from the cove

Looking down Malhamdale from the cove

Some photos by Georgina Collins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three peaks in upper Dovedale 17.05.2015

It’s often said that there are no peaks in the Peak District (cue lengthy explanation as to how the Peak District came to be so named).  However, this is in fact completely untrue and our route on this day was to take us over two of the best defined peaks in the Peak District – Parkhouse Hill and Chrome Hill, along with the nearby Hollins Hill, which although less shapely than the other two still makes a worthwhile and satisfying addition.

Leaving Earl Sterndale, it was surprisingly chilly for mid May and I soon had to pause to add en extra layer.  We headed up and over Hitter Hill, which provided early views of all three ‘peaks’.

Parkhouse and Chrome Hills from HItter Hill

From left to right: Parkhouse Hill, Chrome Hill and Hollins Hill

From below, Parkhouse Hill looks quite intimidating.  In fact, it is an easy climb on grass, and only takes around ten minutes.  In no time at all, we were enjoying far reaching views from the summit (1180 ft).

Approaching the summit of Parkhouse Hill

Approaching the summit of Parkhouse Hill

Chrome Hill from the summit of Parkhouse Hill

Chrome Hill from the summit of Parkhouse Hill

Descending from the summit via the west ridge, there are several options for easy grade 1 scrambling.  I must admit that I chose to bypass some of them as the wind was quite strong and I’m not as confident in my down-climbing ability!

Easy scrambling on the way down

Easy scrambling on the way down

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Not as scary as it looks!

Unfortunately, it’s necessary to descend all the way to valley level before the ascent of Chrome Hill begins.  It’s a slightly longer ascent to Chrome Hill, though it isn’t as steep as Parkhouse Hill.  The retrospective views to Parkhouse Hill and lower Dovedale are magnificent and provide a good excuse to pause on the way up.

Parkhouse Hill from Chrome Hill

Parkhouse Hill from Chrome Hill

Chrome Hill’s summit (1394 ft) is also a magnificent viewpoint.  It surprised me to discover just how much smaller Parkhouse Hill appeared to be.

Hollins Hill from Chrome Hill's summit

Hollins Hill from Chrome Hill’s summit

Parkhouse Hill from Chrome Hill's summit

Parkhouse Hill from Chrome Hill’s summit

There is also some easy scrambling on the descent from Parkhouse Hill, though it is less continuous and easier than on the latter.  We also found some intriguing rock features en route, including a natural arch and a cave.

Natural arch

Natural arch

More easy scrambling moves

More easy scrambling moves

Cave on the descent path

Cave on the descent path

A slightly circuitous route has to be followed to reach Hollins Hill, but it’s a pleasant walk passing Tor Rock and with impressive views back to Chrome Hill.

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Looking back at Chrome Hill

Hollins Hill is very different in form to Chrome and Parkhouse Hills.  There are no sharp ridges here, though the northern edge drops off quite steeply, giving excellent views across to Chrome Hill on the other side of the valley.  Its summit (1476 ft) is the highest of the day and is crowned by an ancient tumulus.

Chrome Hill from Hollins Hill with High Wheeldon in the background

Chrome Hill from Hollins Hill with High Wheeldon in the background

Below Hollins Hill, we passed through a short stretch of woodland where there was a beautiful display of bluebells.

Bluebells below Hollins Hill

Bluebells below Hollins Hill

Bluebell carpet

Bluebell carpet

Shortly afterwards, we crossed the infant River Dove to enter Staffordshire for a short distance. Our return route took us through the picturesque village of Hollinsclough and alongside the youthful Dove, before traversing the lower slopes of Parkhouse Hill and re-crossing Hitter Hill to return to our start point in Earl Sterndale.

Parkhouse Hill proving that there really are peaks in the Peak District

Parkhouse Hill proving that there really are peaks in the Peak District

Some photos by Georgina Collins

Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa 05.04.2015

The through route between Glens Sannox and Rosa, via The Saddle, is often said to be the best walk on Arran that doesn’t actually ascend to a mountain summit.  It’s still a mountain walk though – The Saddle is at an altitude of 1417 feet on the ridge that connects Goat Fell with Cir Mhor, and given that both ends of the route are at sea level, there’s a fair amount of ascent and descent.  There’s even a short section of scrambling to add a bit of excitement to the outing. Throughout the ferry crossing, we’d been in thick fog, though given the excellent forecast we were optimistic that this would either burn off or that we’d climb through it and witness a cloud inversion.  It was still pretty foggy as we left the bus at Sannox and headed up the bottom of the glen, so we didn’t rush, in the hope that the clouds would begin to part.

Cascades in Glen Sannox

Cascades in Glen Sannox

Luckily, our optimism wasn’t misplaced, as the clouds started to clear the tops after we’d been walking for a couple of miles, so for the first time we were able to see the mountains that enclose the glen: Goat Fell, Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail.

Cir Mhor emerges from the mist

Cir Mhor emerges from the mist

A thin belt of cloud hanging below Goatfell

A thin belt of cloud hanging below Goat Fell

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Retrospective view down the glen to the fog-covered Firth of Clyde and the Ayrshire coast beyond

Just before we began the climb out of the glen, the path crossed the Sannox Burn, from which we were able to refill our water bottles and enjoy some of the tastiest water I have ever drunk.  As we began to climb, exciting views opened up towards Caisteal Abhail, and we were still able to catch glimpses of the fog hanging over the sea.

Slabs below Coire na h-Uaimh, with Caisteal Abhail behind

Slabs below Coire na h-Uaimh, with Caisteal Abhail behind

Just before the summit of The Saddle is reached, there’s a short scramble up Whin Dyke, though it’s fairly straightforward (grade 1 at a guess).  There is some loose rock though, so you do have to be careful, as I found to my cost!

Ascending Whin Dyke

Ascending Whin Dyke

The summit of The Saddle made a superb picnic spot and gave us ample time to take in the magnificent views.  My interest was also aroused by a curious looking rock formation that I took to be some kind of volcanic intrusion, but so far I have been unable to verify this.  Perhaps some kind geologist will be able to identify it for me?

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The (as yet) unidentified formationThe (as yet) unidentified formation

Looking towards Goat Fell from The Saddle

Looking towards Goat Fell from The Saddle

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Another view along the ridge leading to Goat Fell

The only problem with walking over a pass is of course that as soon as you get to the top, you have to start going down again!  Thankfully the descent into Glen Rosa is fairly kind on the knees, and the views back up to the peaks are equally as stunning as those from Glen Sannox.  The burn running through the glen also offers plenty of interest and beautifully clear water.

A rock pool in Glen Rosa

A rock pool in Glen Rosa

Looking back to Cir Mhor

Looking back to Cir Mhor

In its lower reaches, the burn enters a narrow rocky gorge and the National Trust for Scotland has erected a deer fence around an enclosure here to allow the natural woodland to regenerate.  It was heartening to see that the scheme is already reaping rewards, with birch and pine trees starting to return, even if the fence itself is something of an eyesore. It was around this area that we saw a golden eagle, a life tick for me and consequently a matter of great excitement!  We watched it for some time as it soared above the Goat Fell ridge, though unfortunately it was too far away to get a decent photograph.  Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly a highlight of the walk.

Waterfall at the head of the rocky gorge

Waterfall at the head of the rocky gorge

DSCN0246Even after the excitement of seeing a golden eagle, the day had one last treat in store for us – a glorious sunset as we sailed back to the mainland.

Sunset over Arran

Sunset over Arran

Some pictures by Georgina Collins

Causeway Coast Path 29.03.2015

The Causeway Coast in County Antrim has to one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline anywhere in these islands.  I’d wanted to visit the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede for some time, and with the walk between them being somewhere in the region of 10 miles, it seemed a good plan to walk from the one to the other, using the helpful bus service to make the journey in the opposite direction. Things didn’t look too promising when we alighted from the bus at the Causeway; the rain was heavier and more persistent than the forecast had suggested and didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to move on.  Undaunted, we headed down to the Causeway itself, telling ourselves that it was better to come on a wet and windy day, as this would keep some of the tourists away, and make the sea more dramatic. The Giant’s Causeway seems to divide opinion – I’d been told by some people that it was disappointing, while others had said it was one of the most spectacular sights they’d seen.  I suppose it all depends on what you’re expecting.  Personally, I thought it was amazing.  It may be relatively small, but what really impresses is the regularity of the formations.   Giants Causeway Giants Causeway1 ?????????? Giants Causeway3 Giants Causeway4 Giants Causeay5Legend has it that the Causeway was created by the Celtic giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn MacCool), so that he could fight his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner.  Perhaps this story was inspired by the presence of very similar formations on Staffa in the Inner Hebrides.  After all, at that time, it would have been much easier for the people of Antrim to travel to the Hebrides than to the rest of Ireland.  However, scientists now tell us that the 40 000 hexagonal columns are the result of a vertical breakage pattern in a cooling basaltic lava flow.

Although the Causeway is the highlight of this stretch of coastline, there are many fascinating formations to be found elsewhere.  Just beyond the Causeway is the Giant’s Boot, and beyond that, the Organ Pipes and the Chimney Tops.

Giant's Boot

Giant’s Boot

Organ Pipes

Organ Pipes

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Chimney Tops

Unfortunately, the exciting traverse path (visible on the above photo) is closed from a point just before the Chimney Tops are reached, due to land slippage.  We therefore had to turn around and ascend to the clifftops via the Shepherds Steps.  The cliff path is still a fantastic walk, though the lower path looks even better, and it’s sufficiently obvious that I think some daredevils must disregard the signs and barriers and use it regardless.

Looking back at the Chimney Stacks

Looking back at the Chimney Stacks

Luckily, the weather improved considerably shortly after we set out along the clifftops, and sun even began to shine!  Not so luckily, a couple of wet spots went unnoticed on the camera lens for a while, so some of the pictures are slightly spoiled by this.DSCN0107 DSCN0109 DSCN0112-2

The visibility even improved enough at time to allow us glimpses of Islay, with Rathlin was also being in view for much of the route.

Islay comes into view

Islay comes into view (far right)

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Rathlin Island

The whole route is so spectacular that it was hard to know when to stop taking photographs.  Here is just a selection from the next section, as we headed for Dunseverick Castle.DSCN0119 DSCN0123 DSCN0126 DSCN0136 DSCN0142There isn’t much left of Dunseverick Castle these days, but the setting is impressive enough.

Dunseverick Castle

Dunseverick Castle

Portnaweelan

Portnaweelan

Approaching Dunseverick Harbour

Approaching Dunseverick Harbour

Beyond Dunseverick Harbour, another section of the route has had to be re-routed due to land slippage.  Rather foolishly, we mistook the new path for the road-walking diversion that had been in place during its construction, and so ended up on the old path which although passable, was certainly rather awkward.  Shortly after this point, the path passes through a natural tunnel, which gives a lovely view of the wide sandy sweep of White Park Bay.

White Park bay through the natural tunnel

White Park bay through the natural tunnel

The next stage of the walk is a rather awkward clamber across slippery rocks, before crossing the full length of White Park Bay to reach Ballintoy.  Beyond Ballintoy, the coast coast is left (though only briefly) for the only time in the entire route, before rejoining it for the last half mile to Carrick-a-Rede.

We arrived at Carrick-a-Rede to discover that the rope bridge had already closed for the day, which was a shame as this would have made a fantastic finale to the walk.  Luckily, all was not lost as we were able to return the next morning, which at least meant that we were able to devote the time it deserved.

Georgina crosses the rope bridge

Georgina crosses the rope bridge

Looking down through the rope bridge

Looking down through the rope bridge

The rope bridge was originally constructed to allow salmon fishermen to access the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede, which lies on the migration route for Atlantic salmon (hence the name, which means ‘rock in the road’ in Scottish Gaelic).  It has now been in use for around 300 years.  It certainly makes a wonderful end point for this magnificent and varied walk along the north Antrim coast.

Looking back to Carrick-a-Rede

Looking back to Carrick-a-Rede

Some photos by Georgina Collins.

Bowfell and Crinkle Crags 21.03.2015

Waking up to the forecast bright and sunny morning, plans were quickly made for a round of Bowfell and Crinkle Crags, with the option of Pike o’ Blisco if time and energy allowed.  We left the hut at around 9 am, making good progress along Mickleden and up the excellently repaired path that zig-zags up the slopes to the side of Rossett Gill.  What little cloud there had been first thing was rapidly burning off by this time, boding well for the views from the tops.

Rossett Pike from Mickleden

Rossett Pike from Mickleden

View down Mickleden from top of Rossett Gill

View down Mickleden from top of Rossett Gill

Angle Tarn from the head of Rossett Gill

Angle Tarn from the head of Rossett Gill

After a quick breather at the top of Rossett Gill, we decided to make a quick out-and-back to Rossett Pike (2136 ft), as this was one of Keith’s outstanding Wainwrights.  I was glad that we did as it only takes about five minutes to reach the top, and we were rewarded with superb views down into Mickleden and the head of Langdale.

Heading for Rossett Pike

Heading for Rossett Pike

Towards Langdale from Rossett Pike

Towards Langdale from Rossett Pike

After dropping down to the delectable Angle Tarn (must make this a destination for a wild camp someday), we headed up Ore Gap towards Bowfell.  From here onwards, stunning retrospective views to the Scafells, still with snow in the gullies, were to be had.  I made a quick detour to bag Bowfell North Top (2841 ft) – one of my outstanding Nuttalls – and was surprised to find a small tarn en route that was still completely frozen.  After bagging the North Top, I re-joined the others just below the main summit (2960 ft), where we were able to find a lovely sheltered spot to eat lunch.  In the sun, it almost felt like summer.

Esk Pike

Esk Pike

A frozen tarn below Bowfell North Top

A frozen tarn below Bowfell North Top

Bowfell fron the North Top

Bowfell fron the North Top

Langdale from Bowfell

Langdale from Bowfell

Scafells from Bowfell

Scafells from Bowfell

Crinkle Crags from Bowfell

Crinkle Crags from Bowfell

Marie left us a Three Tarns to head down the Band, as she was still experiencing some pain as a result of a broken ankle last year.  The rest of us continued over the Crinkles, though I couldn’t resist detouring to bag a couple more Nuttalls on the way – Shelter Crags North Top (2543 ft) and Shelter Crags (2674 ft) – particularly as on previous visits, I’d never been able to work out exactly which of the many lumps and bumps they were.

Scafells from Three Tarns

Scafells from Three Tarns

Bowfell from Shelter Crags North Top

Bowfell from Shelter Crags North Top

Bowfell from Shelter Crags

Bowfell from Shelter Crags

The views from the summit of Crinkle Crags (2818 ft) were outstanding, and I was just able to pick out the Isle of Man (though I haven’t been able to identify it in my photograph).  Just below the summit, the Bad Step provided the briefest of scrambling fixes (grade 1, but it’s only 10 feet high!)

Oxendale fron the Gunson Knott gully

Oxendale fron the Gunson Knott gully

Out to sea from the summit of Crinkle Crags

Out to sea from the summit of Crinkle Crags

Descending the Bad Step (1)

Descending the Bad Step (1)

Descending the Bad Step (2)

Descending the Bad Step (2)

Beyond the South Top (2736 ft), I left the others to head off on my own on an extended Nuttall bagging trip.  I headed first for Little Stand (2428 ft), which has perhaps the best view of the Scafells of the entire route.  It was quite a relief to leave the heavily eroded paths behind – although this area is still really a part of Crinkle Crags, it’s away from the main ridge traverse or popular ascents and consequently sees far fewer people.  There are paths, but they are fairly intermittent, particularly in the wetter areas.  There’s still plenty of rock around, but far less than on the main ridge, so there are a few boggy areas, but also a number of attractive tarns.

Looking towards Little Stand

Looking towards Little Stand

The Scafells from Little Stand

The Scafells from Little Stand

Cold Pike and Pike o' Blisco

Cold Pike and Pike o’ Blisco

Leaving Little Stand, I headed next for Cold Pike Far West Top (2198 ft), which according to the Nuttalls ‘must be one of the most unfrequented summits in the Lakes.’  It’s an attractive top though, and I hope that this won’t be the only time I visit.  I continued to Cold Pike West Top (2241 ft), before finally heading for Cold Pike itself (2300 ft), which is a superb viewpoint for the Coniston fells and for Pike o’ Blisco.  By this time, the sunlight had started to take on its softer evening qualities, which highlighted the complexity of the landscape beautifully.

Cold Pike Far West Top above Gaitscale Gill

Cold Pike Far West Top above Gaitscale Gill

Looking back towards the Crinkles from Cold Pike

Looking back towards the Crinkles from Cold Pike

Pike o' Blisco and Red Tarn from Cold Pike

Pike o’ Blisco and Red Tarn from Cold Pike

Wetherlam from Cold Pike

Wetherlam from Cold Pike

I was tempted at this point to drop straight down to Red Tarn, but resisted and headed back up towards the Crinkles so as to visit Great Knott (2283 ft), my last ‘new’ Nuttall for the day.  It’s surprising that more people don’t make the detour as it’s only a couple of minutes away from the main path and is a fabulous viewpoint for the head of Langdale.  Still, I’m as guilty as everybody else, as I’d never visited it on any of my several previous traverses of the Crinkles.

Langdale from Great Knott

Langdale from Great Knott

Bowfell and Glaramara from Great Knott

Bowfell and Glaramara from Great Knott

Zooming in on Skiddaw from Great Knott

Zooming in on Skiddaw from Great Knott

Back now on the main path, I dropped down to Red Tarn, before making my final ascent of the day to Pike o’ Blisco (2313 ft).  Coming at the end of a fairly long day, this is quite a tiring climb, but it’s well worth it for the views from the top, as well as for avoiding the unpleasant descent into Oxendale.  I paused briefly at the summit to admire the breathtakingpanorama, before starting the long descent via Redacre Gill back to the valley.  So as to avoid walking on tarmac, I left the main path where a narrow traverse path heads directly for the head of the Blea Tarn road, and dropped down to the Old Dungeon Ghyll from there via the campsite.

Red Tarn and Wetherlam

Red Tarn and Wetherlam

Wetherlam and Swirl How from Pike o' Blisco

Wetherlam and Swirl How from Pike o’ Blisco

Langdale Pikes from Pike o' Blisco

Langdale Pikes from Pike o’ Blisco

Looking down into Great Langdale on the descent path

Looking down into Great Langdale on the descent path

Looking back up at the Crinkles from the valley bottom

Looking back up at the Crinkles from the valley bottom

Beamsley Beacon and Round Hill 18.01.15

Strangely enough, despite having lived in Otley for almost two years, I had never climbed Beamsley Beacon or Round Hill, even though I must have been able to see the latter almost every day.  Indeed, Round Hill must be as close to home as Ilkley Moor, yet I have walked on Ilkley Moor countless times.  Keen to remedy this omission, and looking forward to seeing the renowned views from Beamsley Beacon at last, we planned a route that would take us up to it from Bolton Abbey, along the ridge to Round Hill, and down to Ilkley for the bus home.  Although fairly modest in terms of distance (around 10 miles), we thought it would be enough for a short January day, particularly as we were expecting to find snow underfoot.  The weather forecast promised a largely bright and sunny day, but that turned out to be somewhat overly-optimistic…

Alighting from the bus at Bolton Abbey, we made our way across the river (using the bridge rather than the submerged stepping stones), and up the bridleway to Storiths.  Just as we reached the higher level path on the eastern side of the river, the snow began to fall, which did at least provide an atmospheric view down to the priory.

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Looking down to Bolton Priory and the Wharfe from the high-level path on the eastern side of the river

Undaunted, we made our way to Storiths and followed a pleasant field path across to the A59, before dropping down to Deerstones and ascending towards Beamsley Beacon from there.  Despite the snow, the paths were surprisingly easy to follow.

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Snow-covered pastures near Storiths

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Looking up to Beamsley Beacon from near Ling Chapel Farm

On beginning the climb along the ridge to the beacon, we were very quickly enveloped in mist, but as the ridge line is fairly rocky, it wasn’t hard to follow.  It didn’t take long at all to reach the trig point, but there was no view – in fact by this time we were in near whiteout conditions.

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Heading along the ridge

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At the trig point with the beacon site behind

Beyond Beamsley Beacon, I had my doubts as to whether or not we should continue, as visibility was very poor.  However, the path was just about visible as a depression in the snow, and my compass bearings confirmed that this was taking us towards Round Hill, so we decided to give it a go.  It was actually very atmospheric and enjoyable, and proof (if any were needed) that you don’t need to go to the Lakes or the Highlands to find challenging navigation (although the consequences of getting lost in a whiteout there would of course be much more serious.)

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The onward path to Round Hill

Shortly after passing the trig point, we reached the actual summit of Beamsley Beacon (1312 ft), which is named ‘The Old Pike’ on the map, but doesn’t seem to be marked on the ground in any way.  Beyond here, the terrain became much more featureless, with only the occasional boundary stone to act as a marker, including one set into a natural boulder, named by the OS as the ‘Grey Stone.’  Shortly after this, we reached the wall running across the top of Round Hill.

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The wall near the summit of Round Hill

The summit of Round Hill (1342 ft) came as something of a disappointment really, as it is marked only by a very small cairn and is really only a slightly higher mound on a moorland plateau.  It’s certainly much less distinctive than Beamsley Beacon, even though the latter is only a subsidiary top of Round Hill.  I can’t say what it is like as a viewpoint, as we could only see mist and snow.

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On the summit of Round Hill

The descent from Round Hill was pretty straightforward, initially following a wall, before joining a shooting track and then a lane down into the town.  On the way down, we passed through Middleton Woods, which it would be good to explore on another occasion.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable walk, despite the weather.  Although we were disappointed not to have seen the views from Beamsley Beacon, the day was made memorable by the winter conditions and interesting navigation.  I will now have to go back and do this walk on a day of bright sunshine a blue skies!

All photos by Georgina Collins.