Posted in Fitness challenges, Reblog, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Trek Diary: Part 1 Oct/Nov 2017

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Rainbow en route to High Peak, Fairfield Horseshoe, Ambleside, Cumbria

I wrote this post a few months after starting my blog, back in 2017. I haven’t been able to go on any big walking challenges this year because of lockdown, so I’ve been looking back at some of my previous adventures.

May 2020

Like many of us, over the years, I have put on weight. Too many treats, over-reliance on my car and not enough exercise has meant a few pounds have been added here and there. But to be honest, this isn’t about weight. It’s about being happy and healthy. It’s a quest to be fit. Me and fitness have never got on. The minute the pace gets faster, I want off the treadmill. But I’m sick of feeling sluggish, of being out of breath too easily. I want to challenge myself next year. Perhaps a fundraising challenge. Maybe a mountain. Possibly a long-distance trek. Something that will motivate me to finally become fit and healthy. And stay that way. For good. Thus begins my bi-monthly trek diary.

Great Whernside – 650m (out of 704m). Three hours

Sunday, October 22 2017

I met Simon at Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales, a pretty little village of stone cottages and picturesque surroundings. Weather was okay to begin with, which was lucky as Storm Brian had been out and about that week. But as we walked along the track towards the hill of Great Whernside, passing a large farmhouse (now a Scout’s centre), the rain began. The drizzle got worse and the stone path gave way to grass – and bog. The higher we got, the boggier the ground became, the wetter my walking boots became (thank goodness they were waterproof), the unsteadier the ground and more blustery the wind. 🌧️

I’m sorry to say we did not make it to the top. Our (roughly) three-hour walk took us to about 650m of Great Whernside’s 710m. But all I kept thinking about was tea and cake! (We had brought water and sandwiches with us but somehow we lost the desire for a cold cheese sandwich on the cold, windy moorland).

We reached the village about 1.30pm and ventured into Bluebell Inn for a delightful pot of tea by the fire, just what we needed after being soaked through to the skin. A trip to Zarina’s cafe for more tea, a sausage buttie (not very healthy, but warming) and a Yorkshire curd tart. When in Yorkshire, eat what the Yorkshire folk eat… My first time eating the delicacy, and very tasty too.

And so my training began. Oh, if only it could be tea and cake all the time! ☕🍰

Walk Facts

1. Great Whernside is 704m (2,310ft) high. We walked roughly three hours from 10.30am to 1.30pm to reach 650m.

2. It is located on the boundary between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

3. Until 1997, there was no public right of way to the summit of Great Whernside.

Fairfield Horseshoe – Full day (eight hours) 11 miles (roughly) 873m

Saturday, November 4

Today’s challenge was a toughie. A hill walk from Ambleside, where we were staying for the weekend, up Low Pike (1,657ft/508m), High Pike (2,152ft/656m), Dove Crag (2,603ft/792m), Hart Crag (2,698ft/822m) to get to our destination – Fairfield (2,863ft/873m).

And then back down again via Great Rigg (2,513ft/766m), Heron Pike (2,003ft/612m) and Nab Scar (1,493ft/ 455m). I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

We were staying in Ambleside for a weekend and had decided Saturday would be our day for a hill walk. Laden with rucksacks and (for me) hiking poles, we headed away from the town centre. A resident told us we were going the wrong direction and needed to walk towards Sweden Bridge. A quick detour and we were on our way. Up, up, up (so it felt to me)…

Crossing Sweden Bridge took us into fields with Highland Cows, actually my favourite breed of cow with their shaggy red hair, but I always feel a little apprehensive around cows, especially if they have calves. However, these lasses were quite happy to share their fields with hikers.

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Our first hill was Low Pike (1657ft), I would keep stopping and turning to see the panoramic view (a ‘look at the view’ and ‘catch my breath’ stop) of Windermere down below. The higher up, the more expansive the scenery below – Rydal, Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere…

Once we reached Low Pike, S said we were a quarter of the way up. I was surprised, but I should have queried him more on this statistic. A quarter of the way up to Fairfield or a quarter of the way up to High Pike, the next fell? Needless to say the true answer would have disappointed me.

I believe it was around here where there was a short rocky scramble… and my boots got wet in the marsh.

The route to High Pike was along a stone wall, fairly gentle. It was here where it started to drizzle on and off for the rest of the day. And the place where full rainbows were seen. Will we reach the pot of gold that is Fairfield?

I regarded the rainbow as a sign of hope – completing the Fairfield Horseshoe is possible, even for me! 🌈

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We continued to ascend Dove Crag and Hart Crag. Relatively gradual, happily, apart from a scramble section at the top.

At one point, Simon heard a mouse-like sound and I spotted a brisk brown blur from the corner of my eye. Silently, we ventured nearer and observed a tiny shrew scurrying amidst the rocks, before escaping into a hole.

It was hard to know when we actually arrived at Fairfield. The top is very flat, a ‘grassy plateau’ says Wainwright. There are many stone cairns which might be there to help hikers find their way in the mist although Wainwright thought the abundance could actually be a hindrance. Some ramblers were huddled in a stone windbreak shelter when we arrived.

The route down has a clear path. When there is no mist, it is easy to see where one is going.

We were descending Nab Scar when a young couple passed us. The woman was athletic looking, wearing sports clothes rather than rambling gear, and was striding along confidently, clutching a water bottle. The man, lagging behind – so much so I wasn’t sure if they were actually together or not – wore a jumper, jeans and wellies.

When it comes to hill walking, it is a case of walking boots…  yes. Wellies… no. A big no.

Anyway, the pair passed us. Not long afterwards, the woman came back up and approached us, asking if we had any spare water she could give to her partner. Luckily we did. He was lying on the grass next to the path, looking absolutely exhausted. S poured water into the woman’s 1 litre container. Later, we saw them, the worn-out man sitting next to the path. S gave them the rest of the water (the man had already drank the litre Simon had previously given) and three biscuits from the B&B. They thanked us and assured us they would be fine, and sure enough, we later on saw them descending the last section.

It turned out that, while we set off at 9.30am, their hike began after 12noon – in a bid to finish before it got dark, they had no choice but to rush the Horseshoe.

Passing Rydal Hall and Rydal Mount, we opted for a wander beside the river, pleasant until it became dark, started raining heavily, and we took the wrong turning out of Ambleside. An extra mile I could have done without! Still, an exhilarating if tiring walk and I look forward to my next adventure 🏃

Walk Facts

1. On the way to or back from The Fairfield Horseshoe, the hiker goes past Rydal Mount – the home of William Wordsworth.

2. Water is essential for hill walks! And it has a wonderful taste when you’re going uphill!

3. The Fairfield Horseshoe goes up one ridge and down another within a valley. Be careful in the mist.

Sunday, November 5

Stock Ghyll Force, Ambleside – One mile (roughly)

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Legs felt a little fatigued today so we enjoyed a gentle stroll to Stock Ghyll Force waterfall. This is a roughly mile-long woodland walk, 5 minutes from Ambleside. Leaf-strewn (in autumn) paths and steps along a river and woodland takes you upwards towards the waterfall. A very pleasant town walk (although it doesn’t feel urban in the slightest) for tourists and tired-out ramblers!

Walk Facts

1. Stock Ghyll is a tributary of River Rothley.

2. Once there were 12 watermills driven by the power of Stock Ghyll and other streams.

3. Stock Ghyll Force is a 70ft waterfall.

To read about a 2014 Hadrian’s Wall adventure, visit: https://mysabbatical2014.wordpress.com/

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Trek Diary – Part 3: February/March – Pendle Hill

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I wrote this post two years ago although I have been back to Pendle twice since then. I find it a fascinating place for its history but it’s also a very beautiful and atmospheric area to walk.  (March 2020).

Pendle Hill is famous among these parts of Lancashire, or should I say infamous? Have you watched Arthur Miller’s The Crucible? Where a frenzy of hysterics erupted in an American society in the 1600s and it was claimed some of the villagers were witches?

Well, something similar happened in Lancashire.

In England, the 1600s was a time of superstition, intolerance and persecution. King James I, who increasingly became more paranoid after the Gunpowder Plot, broadened the Witchcraft Act in 1604.

And so there was, quite literally, a witch hunt.

In 1612, in the Pendle area, Alizon Device cursed a pedlar, and believed she lamed him. An investigation followed and the situation spiralled into a massive witchcraft trial, with other residents being arrested and a nine-year-old girl giving evidence against her family and neighbours. Nine of the ‘witches’ were hanged at Lancaster Castle.

This is a horror story fit for Halloween. Not because there is any ‘devil worship’ or witches on broomsticks or wild cackling, but because a lethal blend of hysteria, superstition, paranoia and persecution got whipped up into a frenzy.

On a happier note, Pendle Hill is also noted as the location where Quaker founder George Fox experienced a spiritual vision.

Back to modern day and, thankfully, more tolerant times.

At Barrowford’s information centre, the woman at the tourism desk was very helpful, giving us not only a map and directions on how to reach Pendle, but details about a sculpture and witch trail.

I always picture Pendle Hill as nearby but it always seemed an awkward place to reach from where I live. We have tried twice before to reach its dizzy heights of 557m. Once, it was snowing. The other time it was pouring with rain. On neither occasion did we reach the spellbinding hill, but only the thereabouts. Perhaps there was a ‘curse’ and we will never reach it?

Barley wasn’t too far from Barrowford and thanks to the helpful information assistant, we recognised the landmarks as we drove past, including a statue of Alice Nutter, one of the witches (or supposed witches, as more likely) in Roughlee.

 

Fellow ramblers know the feeling of reaching a destination and then thinking, have I the right change for the car park? Luckily, Barley car park is very amenable, boasting many spaces, a charming café/souvenir shop, adequate toilets – and parking is a mere £1!

Past the children’s play area, pub, houses and a stall selling free range eggs… Onto a footpath along a river and lo, there is the route to Pendle Hill.

Simon warned me that, on the map, there were tight contour lines further on, meaning a steepness. But I forgot about that as, not long after we started, I sloshed and trampled about in mud and, humiliatingly, even slipped and fell. Embarrassingly, a couple shouted over, are you okay? Yes thank you, I muttered, embarrassed. S, having strided 10 miles ahead (or so it seemed), headed back. I didn’t know you had fallen, he apologised. I grudgingly accepted his apology.

Thankfully the boots were waterproof.

Anyway, no matter, I conquered the soaking wet mud which had no right to trip me up. Now to conquer the steep incline itself. I have dreams (Illusions? Fantasies?) of walking up Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Not like those crazily fit people who can do the two plus Snowdon in one day. How is that even possible? No, just one at a time for me. I’m not in a rush.

A friend later told me that there were other, more gradual, ways to climb up Pendle Hill. But by then it was too late. Every step was hard. It’s not even a massive hill, 1827ft/557m, but this section was gruelling. I thought longingly of Fairfield Horseshoe’s gradual ascent (certainly in comparison to this incline) until finally I made it. I was at the top!

We walked down a more gradual route. At one point, wondering if we were going the right way. But we finally reached a stream which we followed, ambling along to Barley.

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A cup of tea in the cafe later and we then set off on a Pendle Sculpture Trail. The path takes you past Lower Black Moss Reservoir and stunning scenes of Pendle Hill, then it’s uphill (ah, more steepness!!) until we reach Aitken Wood, located on a slope. By itself, Aitken Wood is a beautiful setting, but here nature meets art, culture and history in one swoop with the Sculpture Trail. We meet a life-size witchfinder, spot metal bats, owl and giant spider’s web and admire The Quaker Tree among many other artworks. Plaques have also been created, illustrating each of the witches. If you pick up a Sculpture Trail leaflet, you could even take part in a competition to win a hotel stay.

So two walks in one this, surprisingly pleasant, winter’s day. So enjoyable that we ventured back a month later. Ironically the weather was worse in March.

I fell again in the mud. Great. Why has it not dried yet?

Snow fell, we turned back half way – and then it stopped and we headed towards the hill again. The hill was as steep as last time. I was as unfit as last time.

I, wimp that I am, asked if we could turn back because of the potential snow.

We were about 10 steps from the top at this point.

We carried on.

At the summit, something was preventing us from walking straight in one line, something threw Simon’s hat away and he, rather comically, had to run after it, and something was trying to push us over the edge of the hill.

Be warned. The hill is possessed – by a terrible gale-force wind. Thankfully, the wind and snow gradually left us alone as we trekked down the path to the cafe where a mug of refreshing tea and a slice of delicious cake awaited us.

Picture courtesy of Simon Hunter20180317_125724

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A wander in Yarrow Valley Country Park

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I had heard of Yarrow Valley Country Park in Lancashire over the years but had never visited, despite it being just over half an hour away. I had also seen photos of kingfishers and field mice inhabiting the reserve so it was obviously a wildlife-rich place. But I often find it’s the places nearest to us that we tend to ignore.

But there’s a first time for everything and there’s certainly a first time for visiting this particular nature reserve, located near Chorley, Lancashire.

Usually nature reserves are maintained by wildlife and environmental charities but the 700-acre Yarrow Valley is actually owned by Chorley Council.

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For all its scenic beauty now, the location has had an industrial background, dating back to the 1300s. By the 1400s, there were at least two mills – a cloth and a corn mill – at the site (called Birkacre). Coal mines (coal was found near the surface) were later established in the valley in the 1500s and 1600s.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution, a cotton mill was built at Birkacre. Up to this point, weaving and spinning was done at home – now it would be done in factories. This proved controversial as domestic manufacturers lost business and in 1779, ‘machine breakers’ destroyed the mill during the Birkacre Riots. Maybe new technology has always been a risk to people’s jobs?

The mill was rebuilt and the focus was now on the textile finishing business (for example, bleaching). A private coal mine for the works was opened in 1880 but, by 1939, the mill and mines were closed and became derelict. It was only in the 1980s when the local council stepped in to create the park.

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There are three self-guided walking leaflets available. Birkacre History Trail (which shows the main sites of its industrial past) is a mile and a half and, according to the leaflet, takes an hour and 30 minutes to complete. This seems a long time for the mileage but it does include stopping and looking and reading about various points of interest.

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The Blue Walk is 4.5 miles long and takes two and a half hours and the Red Walk’s 5.5 miles trail is estimated to take three hours.

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Yarrow Valley Country Park’s Birkacre History Trail

We took a combined History Trail/Blue Walk route. The ponds are referred to as ‘lodges’ and at first I kept expecting to see wooden huts! There are three ponds – Small Lodge, Big Lodge and Top Lodge. Big Lodge, which had an array of swans, ducks and gulls, is the largest and is more like a lake than a pond (pictured below).

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Top Lodge has a reed bed and I suspect that, in better weather, much wildlife can be seen here.

One of the main sights is Birkacre Weir, this enables the water level of the river to be raised. Channels then allow the water to flow into the ponds. On the side is a fish pass, a ladder to help fish migrate upstream. It was built in 2002.

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We visited the park a couple of weeks after Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis and it was possible to see the accumulated rubbish (why can’t people use a bin?) and tree debris in certain parts of the river. But another remnant of the wild weather could be felt by the squelching mud under my feet. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I wore trainers rather than my usual walking boots.

Firstly, it was a country park so I was expecting paths (there are, but there was still mud!). Secondly, I decided to wear my good walking boots, which were in my car boot but then we went in Simon’s car and then…oh, no walking boots. So yes, I missed my walking boots and my trainers were a mucky mess by the time we got back.

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Butterbur, one of the sights spotted at Yarrow Valley Country Park

I write this a month after our ramble and wish I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the mud! Had I known my freedom would become curtailed by coronavirus, I would have treasured this trek more. A lesson to learn indeed. I hope you are all keeping well during these uncertain times.

Information from Yarrow Valley Country Park: Birkacre History Trail leaflet (by local historian Jack Smith).

Yarrow Valley Country Park can be found off Birkacre Road, Chorley, Lancashire. 

 

 

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Waterfalls in Teesdale

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Last year Simon and I enjoyed a visit to the historic market town of Richmond, Yorkshire. One of our adventures can be seen here: Muker and the highest pub in Britain (528m/1732ft)

We liked Richmond so much that this year we decided to spend Simon’s birthday weekend in the same town again. We had booked our b&b a month earlier; the weather was the last thing on our minds. But one month on and the UK had already suffered from the tantrum of Storm Ciara – and now Storm Dennis was due on our Richmond weekend.

Hmmm. I wondered if we hadn’t already booked our accommodation, would we have called the weekend off?

The roads going to and back from Richmond were fine, but one could see many of the fields were flooded.

On the Sunday of our stay, we took a trip to see Low and High Force Waterfalls in Upper Teesdale, County Durham. They’re located within a National Nature Reserve.

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However, we had to take two detours as one road had a sign warning motorists to go no further because it was closed due to flooding.

And another road was open but a massive puddle flooded it. A large 4×4 could get through but a small Skoda?

Maybe not.

We didn’t take the risk anyway.

So instead of going through Barnard Castle (which is a small town with, you’ve guessed it, a castle), we went through the village of Middleton instead. On our way back we enjoyed a hot drink and warming tomato soup at a little cafe called Rumours.

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There is a car park where we nearly parked last year. On that occasion, we hoped to have a quick walk before heading on our way back to our respective homes. But there was a charge that had to be paid by a certain number of minutes – or else a lovely fine would come through the door.

And they had CCTV to check.

You also had to pay extra to actually see the falls.

So after a quick exit, hoping that we hadn’t been in the car park for more than 10 minutes, we had the luck of spotting a lay-by where cars could park for free and you could walk for free to see the falls.

That time we didn’t see High Force, but we still had a pleasant walk along the river, enjoying the calmer sight of Low Force.

One year later, we parked in the lay-by again. Evidence of Ciara and Dennis (the rain of which we endured the evening before) could be seen in the muddy paths. Thankfully I was wearing good walking boots!

We walked along a single-person bridge over the River Tees. A sign which is often ignored considering the numbers of people on it that afternoon. When I strolled across, three people were behind me!

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The first bridge was built in 1741 and, according to the sign at the site, ‘was the earliest known suspension bridge in Europe ‘. Tragically, three men fell in the river in 1802 after one of the chains snapped. One of the men died. The current bridge was built in 1830.

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Low Force was just as scenic as I remembered. It drops over the Whin Sill, a layer comprising a hard rock called dolerite. Locally, it’s known as whinstone.

As we followed the muddy path towards High Force, we admired artistic carvings along the walls.

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Juniper trees seemed bigger than I’d seen before – but unfortunately a sign declared that a disease was killing them in the area.

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There were boot wash facilities en route but whether walkers took this precaution is another matter.

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High Force is a dramatic scene. As I mentioned, we had just had two storms in a fortnight and bystanders could see the amazing effect of this on the waterfall. The power of the River Tees gushing down the 70ft cliff edge is highly impressive. With the heavy rainfall, it formed two falls but I have heard that, in exceptional conditions, the level of the river could even reach and flow down the middle section of rock.

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It looked rather intimidating too, but thankfully we were safe at our viewing point!

Despite appearances, High Force is not quite the highest waterfall in England, according to Wikipedia. It seems Cautley Spout in Cumbria is nearly 590ft (180m) high! But the Wikipedia entry also says High Force ‘does have the largest volume of water falling over an unbroken drop when in full spate’.

It’s an amazing sight to see.

Fact of the Day

The word ‘Force’ comes from ‘Foss’, an Old Norse word for waterfall. The word came with Viking settlers more than 1,000 years ago.

(Information from a sign at the High Force site).

 

Posted in Fitness challenges, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Preston Guild Wheel: Part 3

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Walking along the River Ribble, towards Avenham Park

Day one of the Guild Wheel, seven or eight miles of it, was relatively easy, certainly compared to the 14-mile stretch which faced me today.

From the Tickled Trout Hotel, I walked on along the River Ribble towards Preston city centre. Some ways into Preston are less than beautiful, but the three miles along the Guild Wheel takes one along the scenic river route and into Avenham Park, what must be Preston’s hidden treasure. If you ever visit Preston, seek it out. It’s down the side streets but well worth the detour.

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One time I walked this way – via the River Ribble – with Mum (just to the city centre, not the whole Guild Wheel route). There was a nervous moment when we came across a herd of cows but there were no calves and they ignored the strange two-leggeds. This time the bovine beauties were safely in a field, enjoying their grass.

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I had a little tea break at the cafe in Avenham Park and then set off again.

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Past the New Continental Pub, a popular entertainments venue, into Broadgate and here I continued along the river.

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Eventually this took me to Preston Docks. Now it has pubs, cinema, shops and residential waterfront living but it was once a major industrial point, which opened in 1892. Cotton, timber, oil, coal and fruit were among the products imported and there was even a ferry service to Northern Ireland. By the 1970s though, the Docks started to decline until it eventually became today’s leisure and residential centre.

This was where I thought I would get lost but the trail is so well signposted, with clear markings on the road itself and on signs, that it was remarkably easy to find my way.

The Guild Wheel also passes a railway track – the train sets off from the Ribble Steam Railway Museum.

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Circling the Docks, I found myself next to a main road. For the first time, I doubted my map-reading skills. And for the first time, the signs seemed a little lacking compared to before. The road section is a tad boring but then I found a sign and realised, thankfully, I was on the right track!

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After crossing a bridge over a dual carriageway, my river and dock stroll turned into a canal ramble, along Lancaster Canal.

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And then it was past the university sports hall, and into the world of suburbia and new housing developments.

And at 3pm on Sunday, I reached home. A full circle that was 21 miles long and took about 28 hours (with a night’s sleep in between).

And if I wasn’t tired on the Saturday after 8 miles, I was definitely ready for a sit down and a cup of tea after my 14-mile stretch on the Sunday!

Posted in Environment, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A wander around the RSPB’s Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve

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The West Midlands, especially around Birmingham, has a reputation of being a built-up, urbanised sprawl – but there are some rather idyllic parts here too.

One such peaceful haven is Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve. I was lucky enough to visit here one sunny October day and here are some of the beautiful views I saw…

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As well as the beautiful scenery, wildlife we spotted today (mostly at the hide overlooking the lake) included heron, swans, coots, cormorants, lapwings and gulls.

My godchildren especially enjoyed the mud kitchen, making mudpies (yum, delicious!), the bat trail and a nearby children’s playground.

Even where there are large cities – this site is close to Birmingham after all – there is always natural beauty nearby.

Facts of the Day

1. RSPB Sandwell Valley was once used by the nearby colliery.

2. There are a variety of habitats including wildflower meadows, woodland, scrub, wildlife garden, ponds and lake.

3. The site is based around Forge Mill Lake and is part of Sandwell Valley Country Park.

4. The address is: RSPB Sandwell Valley, Tanhouse Ave, Great Barr, West Bromwich, Birmingham B43 5AG.

5. For more information on the RSPB, visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/

 

 

Posted in Self-sufficiency, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Masham Sheep Fair

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Perhaps my dream of a self-sufficient smallholding isn’t really for me if my reaction at a farming event, when meeting and greeting the animals, is “Oh, how cute” and “Hello, if I had a bigger garden, you could come and live in it and help cut my grass”. No wonder Simon had a wry smile on his face!

Perhaps I should stick with my pigs * and chickens!

We were visiting Masham after a morning at Ripon and Thornborough in Yorkshire. We had no expectations of any type of event but it so happened that it was the day of Masham Sheep Fair.

Who knew there were so many different type of goats or sheep? Or that a very clever collie could successfully herd a group of gaggling geese?

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We bought some tasty goat and sheep cheeses at a stall and watched a very entertaining sheep show, learning about the different breeds.

The craft stalls were inspiring and I felt so motivated, I bought myself a knitting pack, with wools and needles.

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During the winter nights, I could knit some gloves – that’s the aim anyway. I haven’t knitted since I was about 10!

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* guinea pigs! 😀

 

 

 

Posted in Environment, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A Day on the Dunes

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Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes, near Louth in Lincolnshire, is a very peaceful seaside spot. Instead of sandcastles, ice cream and sunbathers, there are mudflats and ponds, salt marshes, wildflowers and sand dunes.

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Natural England manages the 556-hectare National Nature Reserve section, while Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust manages the remainder of the area.

When we first entered the reserve, we walked along a path through wildflower-rich grassland, encountering ponds en route. This walkway took us to the dunes and saltmarsh.

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It is an important site for wildlife. We didn’t see any Natterjack toads but did come across many insects, including grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies.

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By holding out a stragically placed stick, Simon rescued a struggling dragonfly who was in danger of drowning in one of the ponds.

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We also came across two discarded dragonfly larval cases – they weren’t dead, they were skins of two nymphs (juvenile). Once the juvenile is ready to become an adult, they cast off their old skin. They are well prepared for this life-changing event, with a new skin underneath.

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As well as nature’s dramas, the remnants of military history can be found on this reserve, in particular the beach… Today we can still see a corroded Comet tank and a ruined pillbox, dating from the Second World War.

 

The Air Ministry bought the site in the 1930s and old vehicles, that had been driven onto the beach, were used as targets. The dunes were mined and pillbox built during the Second World War as an anti-invasion defence.

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Being here reveals how the landscape changes over time. It is thought that the dunes began forming in the 1200s after large storms blew sand and shingle and, even now, the tides and wind is changing the landscape slowly but surely. New saltmarsh and dunes are still being created today and Simon told me he saw a difference from the last time he was there.

At certain times of the year, seals can be found with their pups along the coast. The adult seals don’t look as cute as you might think, being big and clumsy and even a little violent with each other (the males at least). The babies are very cute but, of course, it is advisable not to go near and disturb them.

In July though, there are no seals but we did come across this poignant sight… A seal’s skull.

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A purple orchid

It is a lovely quiet area, I even came across a comment on an internet beach forum saying it was an ideal place to go for a naked walk and skinny dipping!

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For more information on The Wildlife Trusts, visit http://wildlifetrusts.org

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

The Stair Arms: Stairway to an ideally located Scottish break

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When one thinks of rural Scotland, the Munros and the Highlands, the islands and the lochs may all spring to mind, but there is beautiful countryside nearer to England.
And if the gentle farming countryside – complete with romantic medieval castle – isn’t all that far from the bright lights of Edinburgh, so much the better for those who want ‘the best of two worlds’.
The Stair Arms Hotel, just outside Pathhead, in Midlothian, is one such location. The Victorian coaching inn dates from 1831 and was commissioned by Lord and Lady Stair – hence the name. It is very handy for those of us who live in England. Pathhead village, a conservation area, is located a mere 12 miles south of Edinburgh.
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We came by train for a one-night stay. Our relatives lived nearby so it was a useful stop-over. From Preston, the trains to Edinburgh go frequently and from there it was a train to Eskbank and a taxi ride on to the hotel.
There is also an hourly bus from Edinburgh to Pathhead.
If you go by car, then it is easily found on the A68, a main road which takes you from the North East of England to Edinburgh.
There are 12 rooms in all, with a family room and two suites.
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Our twin room was elegantly and smartly furnished with a calming grey shade.
It was clean and had everything you would expect from a hotel room – tea, coffee, TV and so on. The bathroom, in the same style as the bedroom, was roomy with all the facilities needed.
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After our train journey, we were famished so it was pleasing to hear we could choose our time to dine in the restaurant. We decided on 6pm, a good choice considering how ready we were to eat.
The comfortable and recently refurbished restaurant boasts a roaring log fire in winter. There is also a cafe area with a range of home baking.
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The menu offers an ample selection of locally sourced dishes, some with a distinctive Scottish flavour such as Cullen skink, Lady Stair – bread of chicken stuffed with haggis – and haggis fritters.
We were given a tasty pre-starter of warm bread and dips. Mum chose scotch broth for her starter and I opted for a Cullen skink. This dish was made with potato, cream and smoked haddock. I hadn’t heard of this creamy soup-like starter before but it was delicious.
Haddock and chips and a steak and ale pie were our main courses. They were big meals, scrumptious, but we were both very full by the end. Too full for a dessert unfortunately.
The following day, breakfast was a choice of cereals and then a waitress took our orders, there was a good choice but after our large evening meals, poached egg on toast seemed a fairly light option.
Crichton Castle is the nearest tourist attraction to the hotel and is within walking distance.
Handily, after checking-out, we were able to leave our luggage behind at the hotel for this walk.
The route to the medieval landmark is along a country road and, according to the sign, it is two miles from Pathhead.
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The castle, which overlooks the Tyne Valley, is certainly worth a visit. It is both historical, as all castles are, and very unusual.
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Architecturally, the castle has a number of notable points. The courtyard, when remodelled in the 1580s, was inspired by Italian buildings  and is decorated with diamond-shaped stonework. It is very Mediterranean looking and unique for a Scottish castle.
The first known scale-and-platt stair (straight staircase) in Scotland is also found here, again dating from the 1500s. Up to this point, castles had spiral staircases.
Historically, the castle was begun in the late 1300s/1400s and was first lived in by the Crichton family, later passing to the Hepburn earls of Bothwell.
Mary Queen of Scots celebrated her brother’s wedding at Crichton in 1562. Five years later, she married the castle’s owner.
The castle has also found fame within the lines of the poem Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott.
The nearby church was founded by William Crichton in 1449.
After our morning of medieval time-travelling, we ventured back to the Stair Arms where we had lunch – fishcake and haddock goujons and a lovely big pot of tea. Haddock appears a popular option here!
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The Stair Arms is a small family-run hotel, run by the Ramsay family for the past 25 years. We found the service warm and helpful.
The hotel also has two function rooms and caters for weddings.
One of the function rooms opens out to a picturesque garden – perfect for wedding photos.
But if you’re just looking for a place to stay while exploring the attractions of Edinburgh and the wider Midlothian area – including the Pentland Hills, Vogrie Country Park and Rossyln Chapel – the Stair Arms is a very handy and comfortable place to stay.
The Stair Arms Hotel
A68, Pathhead
EH37 5TX
For more information, ring 01875 320277 or visit: http://www.stairarmshotel.com/
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Ancient Anglesey

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Anglesey is an island separated from mainland Wales by the Menai Strait and connected by two road bridges – Britannia Bridge and the Menai Suspension Bridge. Like many islands, it is sparsely populated. Apparently the number of people who live here (69,751 people) is fewer than the population of the medium-sized city I live in! So very rural, underrated and beautiful. And as for the history, well… Simon and I stayed on the outskirts of Anglesey for a week and here are three of the sights we saw.

Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber

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I hadn’t realised how impressive or fascinating Bryn Celli would actually be but it is certainly worth a visit. It is reminiscent of, but smaller than, the Irish monument in Newgrange. We meant to return on the Summer Solstice but got the dates wrong.

To be honest, I liked the idea of seeing the sun rise but wasn’t very keen on the thought of getting up at 3am to travel there!

We did return however as there was an archeology day at the site, full of interesting stalls with experts who could tell us about neolithic food and tools and so on… We also listened to a talk about another archaeological dig in the next field where more ancient finds are waiting to be discovered.

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According to CADW’s Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey, Bryn Celli, the Mound of The Dark Grove, is one ‘of the most evocative archaeological sites in Britain’. It was excavated in 1928/29 and it appears that it started off as a henge (ritual enclosure) in Neolithic times before making way for a passage grave. A stone burial chamber was then constructed and covered by a mound.

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It is believed that the entrance could have been important for ceremonial reasons. A platform of white quartz pebbles were discovered here. Other finds in the chamber and passage included human bones, flint arrowheads and mussel shells.

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A ‘Pattern Stone’ was also discovered at the back of the chamber. It can now be found in the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff – a replica (pictured above) has been set up at the site.

Barclodiad Y Gawres Burial Chamber

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Our second neolithic visit was Barclodiad Y Gawres burial chamber at Cable (Trecastell) Bay, along the cliff path. Apparently, a key can be collected at a shop in Llanfaelog but we did not know this until later. If you have a torch, you will still be able to see the stones from outside.

Curiously, the name means ‘the Giantess’s Apronful’, and is believed to come from local tradition.

Five of the stones were decorated, including spirals, zig-zags and lozenges. These designs are also found in the Irish tombs.

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Llanddwyn Island, off Newborough Beach

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Our third trip to the past was to a tiny island off Newborough Beach. Llanddwyn is a tidal island so most of the time, except for the highest tides, it is quite possible to walk across to this island which, to me, feels quite magical.

It is also fascinating in terms of geology and nature (it forms part of the National Nature Reserve of Newborough Warren).

 

We came across a cross, the ruined St Dwynwen’s Church – built in the 1500s on the site of the original chapel – and a lighthouse in this delightfully idyllic setting.

The island is associated with St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers (like a Celtic St Valentine) and sick animals, who lived during the 5th century. The island’s name means the church of St Dwynwen and her church here was an important shrine during the Middle Ages. The Celtic cross was a much more recent addition, dating from 1903.

I don’t know if it was St Dwynwen’s influence or just the stunning natural setting, but this amazing spot really did feel magical and a place well worth going to on a pilgrimage to.

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Information courtesy of Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey and Wikipedia