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

Reblog: A Preston Ramble in January 2018

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Harris Museum, Preston

This post was written after a walk to Preston city centre, back in 2018. I mentioned The Harris Museum, which is actually closed for refurbishment at the moment. But at the time I heartily recommended a visit. I had walked past Highgate Wood on various occasions but had never visited – until this year. I wrote a separate post about it. Reading this post reminds me that it’s time to pay another visit to Bruciannis…

A city walk: Six miles

December was a lazy month so it was back to square one in January (actually make that square minus ten as I must have put on weight and become even more unfit and unhealthy during the Christmas season). To start the year off, a friend and I embarked upon a Suburb to City stroll, setting off three miles (approximately) from Preston city centre.

To those who don’t know Preston, it is a former industrial town in the North West of England. It’s not far from Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, and the beautiful Lake District is just over an hour’s drive away.

Originally called Priest Town (Priest’s Tun) in Anglo Saxon times, Preston has had a long and fascinating history. I haven’t time to mention it all here except the two key episodes on Preston’s timeline are the English Civil War and the Industrial Revolution/cotton industry. Check out the Harris Museum for a proper glimpse into Preston’s past!

We walked along a busy road on the way into the city centre. The worst thing about this urban ramble is the traffic. On several occasions, one of us would say something and the other person would say, what? And that’s because Garstang Road is one of the main routes and the sound of cars is tremendous. And yet, even on this hectic thoroughfare, there are a few gems…

Amid the large detached houses which line this stretch of tarmac, is a patch of woodland called Highgate Wood. And further along Garstang Road, there is a massive allotment. It takes you into another world, where you feel you have entered into a secret rural haven and although I haven’t ventured into Highgate Wood, I imagine it must be a similar feeling.

Moor Park is a large park. The Preston Moor Common formed part of Henry III’s Royal Forest of Fulwood, which received a royal charter in 1235. Horse races were held between 1736 and 1833, and that was the year Moor Park was officially recognised as a municipal park. According to Preston Guild City’s website, a hundred acres of the common was enclosed and renamed Moor Park. In the 1860s, unemployed cotton workers landscaped the park. And it’s where Preston marathon walker Tom Benson – who held at least six world endurance titles – walked laps (about 314 miles) of Moor Park over five days and nights in 1976. Without stopping.

Talking of famous people, did you know Star Wars’ R2D2 was a Lancastrian? Or rather, Kenny Baker who played him was a resident of Preston?

In the city centre, we had an enjoyable lunch at Wings and Beers, a trendy looking American-style sports bar, down Cannon Street, also home of the quirky Mystery Tea House  (incredibly difficult to find but trust me, it really does exist on that street!)

I don’t love my home city. Money is wasted on silly traffic schemes and ugly carbuncles are lumped onto beautiful Victorian buildings (check out the train station’s new extension). Progress is the buzzword of the powers-that-be but sometimes at the expense of beauty. But it is also a city of hidden gems and fascinating history. If you go, I recommend the Harris Museum (stunning architecture) and Avenham Park, Halewood & Sons Book Shop, Mystery Tea Rooms and the art deco Bruccianis, Winckley Street and Winckley Square. Look for the beauty and quirkiness and, in any town or city, it is there…

Even the Grade II Brutalist 1969 bus station – believed to have once been the second largest bus station in Europe –  has its devoted fans in this city!

On our way home, we walked along Deepdale – home of the famous Preston North End stadium. Sir Tom Finney used to play here and his statue can be seen. When he died, thousands of residents lined the streets to pay their respects as his cortege passed the streets of Preston – and the stadium – before the service at Preston Minster.

Facts of the Day

1. Preston North End (also known as PNE, Lilywhites and The Invincibles) was founded in 1880. A founding member of the Football League.

2. They were unbeaten in the inaugural season and were crowned first league champions. They also won the FA Cup that season.

3. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, founded in Preston, was one of the earliest women’s football teams in England, playing from 1917 to 1965.

For the latest news and features in Preston and surrounding area, read the Lancashire Post (a daily read) and for those of you who live further afield – http://www.lep.co.uk

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

A nature stroll through Grimsargh Wetlands – one of Lancashire’s newest nature reserves

Grimsargh Wetlands – The Island Lake

Grimsargh Wetlands is one of Lancashire’s newest nature reserves, having been created by transforming three decommissioned United Utilities reservoirs into a fairly small (it’s a 30-minute one-mile stroll around the reserve) but highly important nature reserve. Back in 2003, it was designated a Biological Heritage Site but it was in 2017 when it was formally handed over to the parish council. Grimsargh Wetlands Trust now runs the site.

The Island Lake

We hear much of a housing crisis for people, but there is also a ‘housing crisis’ for nature as humans take away more and more wildlife habitat so when I hear of new nature reserves being formed or current ones being protected, it gladdens my heart. I first heard of Grimsargh Wetlands through a newspaper article this year after the Grimsargh Wetlands Trust, which maintains the reserve, received a £10,000 grant. This inspired me to pay a visit.

It’s only a few miles away from Preston, in the village of Grimsargh but, after parking in a side street, off the main road, we were unable to find the reserve at first. There appeared to be no signs but, strangely, once we left, we kept coming across signage! (Isn’t it always the way?)

Annoyingly, we forgot binoculars but we still saw geese and swans with the naked eye. On the website it says there is a colony of ringlet butterflies and a possibility of hearing the distinctive curlew or glimpsing roe deer through the reeds. Bats have also been spotted here too.

The Mere

Directions on the internet stated it was at the back of a new housing estate. We found a path and followed, crossing a field. I think we took a wrong turning early on but our encounter with a group of children and their teaching assistants confirmed that we were heading in the right direction – especially when we came across a hide in front of The Island Lake. This is a shallow lake with mudflats. Following the path around, we came across The Fen. The Trust is hoping to create at least three ponds and increase the extent of reed beds in this marshland. There are also plans to grow more wildflowers at the reserve, especially by the viewing platforms.

Our walk took us back to the road and it was now when we noticed signs to the reserve!

We took another turning, away from the main road towards The Mere, another reservoir turned lake. Here we saw volunteers carry wooden boxes – tern nests – to an island on the lake. They were hoping terns would come to live and breed there. Interestingly, one of the volunteers said that Preston Docks – an urban location – has a colony of terns.

The reserve is next to the former Preston/Longridge railway embankment. I learnt that Longridge stone was taken from the quarries in Longridge, a small town near Grimsargh, to be transported to Preston and further afield.

It may not be the largest reserve but its habitat will be of great importance to wetland birds and other wildlife. And it is a very pleasant scenic walk for us humans too.

The Island Lake

For more details, visit: Grimsargh Wetlands | A Haven for Wildlife

Watch stunning drone footage of one of Lancashire’s newest nature reserves, which is being opened up to the public | Lancashire Evening Post (lep.co.uk)

Posted in Charity, Fitness challenges, Walks

Update – Fitness Challenge March 2021: Step into Spring for Marie Curie

Photo by Mnz on Pexels.com

In February I decided to sign up for a 10,000 Step daily challenge in aid of Marie Curie, which cares for terminally ill people. I bought two pedometers (one was a spare and has now been given to my mum) and shared my JustGiving page across social media. It was a way to get fit, get out of the winter lockdown doldrums and raise money for charity. A win-win situation you might say.

March 1 started well with a 30-minute YouTube video – Joanna Soh’s indoor step challenge. Unfortunately the 10,000 steps she labelled it was a little off the mark and it was nearer 3,000. Still, a good start. But a day home working once again took its toll and I didn’t gain many more steps. But I put on my dancing shoes that evening and danced to Soft Cell, the Proclaimers and some more tunes. Finally, eventually, I reached the magic 10,000 steps. Now for bed!

From then on, I formulated a strategy. Walking to the supermarket, meeting a friend for a walk (and discovering beautiful secret areas of my home town), walking my parents’ dogs….

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

There were days when I felt too lazy to go walking so I became a fan of YouTube step instructors. Joanna Soh, Leslie Sansome (Walk at Home) and Rick Buellis became my go-too instructors. Leslie was always cheerful and Rick had a handy stepometer on his videos to help me along.

Whereas normally I would have ventured on longer treks further afield, restrictions meant I was supposed to stay local. So I turned this to my advantage and explored the hidden spots of my home town.

I discovered Preston’s Conway Park – literally 15 minutes walking distance away yet I’d never encountered it before – and rediscovered an ancient shrine, was delighted to hear a new nature reserve/park was being created and enjoyed the delights of various woodlands near me, courtesy of The Woodland Trust.

A Woodland Trust wood

I found that if I went outside for a walk, the steps added up, but leaving steps to the last minute was not a good idea. A lesson I learnt quite early on.

And by the end of it, I walked a total of 330,000 steps and raised £120. Now for my next challenge ….

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

Secrets of Preston: Conway Park

A riverside walk
Conway Park
The entrance – and exit – to Conway Park

Preston is full of surprises. In a previous post, I’ve told of my Highgate Wood mini adventure. A woodland I had walked past many a time and never once got round to venturing in until this year. At least I had heard of that particular beautiful spot but Conway Park was a place I had never even heard of. And when I did hear the name, for some reason I got it into my head that it was an area of open space, maybe a park for children to play, a grassy field with play equipment to one side. And that would be it. Fun for children, respite for parents but not of particular interest for walkers and explorers of secret nature havens and mini beauty spots.

Work being done on The Village Parklands

But one day, meeting up with a friend for a local walk, she told me about a map given to her by someone she knew. On it was our local area and mapped out was a walk. Conway Park was mentioned.

‘It looks like our normal local walk ‘, my friend said. And it did. But we set off anyway, following the map. Everything looked familiar until…

‘I think we go right here,’ Caroline said.

And that was when our usual suburban trek turned into more of a mystery trail. For there at the end of that cul-de-sac of houses was a signpost and, behind it, a park.

Conway Park

The sign said Conway Park. There was a path to the right and one to the left. We turned left and followed the woodland trail past a sports pitch with a pavilion, and then along a river.

A riverside wander

We came across a sign for a new 80-acre nature reserve/public open space, The Village Parklands, being created. I love it when I see natural spaces being protected or created instead of being destroyed.

The Village Parklands

We continued our walk along the river and finally ended up along a narrow wooded path, ending up at a different part of our usual walk! We had wandered past the public footpath many a time, never realising the secret behind it. As a child, I had a thing about secret passageways, and here was one I was discovering as an adult!

A secret passage …
The Friends of Conway Park, formed in 2015, is made up of members who work for the benefit of the park. The park itself is owned by Preston City Council. Currently the Friends has a crowdfunding campaign  (50K by May fundraising campaign) to improve the children's playground, create a dry standing area for watching football, and a new path along the length of the park. The park will eventually join up with the new Village Parkland.
Posted in Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Secrets of Preston: Clough Copse

Clough Copse

I ventured out on another local walk recently, this time to a little patch of broadleaved woodland owned and maintained by The Woodland Trust. It’s called Clough Copse, a 3.95 acre site that is popular with dog walkers and joggers. Located in Fulwood, Preston, it sits amid steep valleys and is surrounded by a large supermarket and housing – yet when I’ve been there it feels as if urban and suburban life is many, many miles away.

According to the Trust, trees include oak, ash, sycamore, holly, beech, elder, hazel and cherry. It was the start of March when I visited so I didn’t notice any flowers but I’ve heard bluebells, dog’s mercury, and red campion can be seen here. The little stream flows towards Savick Brook, which can be seen in Highgate Wood, which I wrote about recently.

These little refuges are fantastic for wildlife, for flora and fauna, but they’re also vital for us humans to reconnect with nature and recharge our batteries.

Clough Copse
Clough Copse
Posted in Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Secrets of Preston: Highgate Wood

Highgate Wood

For many of us, lockdowns and travel restrictions have made us more aware of our immediate surroundings. Whereas in the past, going for a walk in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales might be a common enough event for someone living in the north of England, at the moment there are restrictions and with it the fear of possibly being stopped by police for a ‘non-essential journey’.

So it’s been a time to stay local and this is when I realise that a city like Preston has a lot of little natural beauty spots, well hidden from the rest of the world. Today I visited Highgate Wood in the suburbs of Preston. Its entrance is on one of the main roads (Garstang Road) into Preston. Why I have walked past it on various occasions but never thought to pay a visit I do not know. But I’m here now. It’s not a large wood but it’s a very pleasant place to stroll, with Savick Brook flowing in the middle, paths either side and benches dotted around.

The woodland is located in Highgate Park, also the name of an old residence built in 1876 which was once situated here. A group of residents called The Friends of Highgate Wood look after the woodland.

Savick Brook, Highgate Wood
Highgate Wood
The entrance to Highgate Wood
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Morecambe Bay: St Patrick’s Chapel and the Stone Graves

St Patrick’s Chapel and the stone graves

Heysham, near Morecambe, Lancashire, overlooks Morecambe Bay. At first glance it doesn’t appear to be a big place or have much of interest. But explore a little deeper, past the housing and the small village centre. There is the nature reserve where I once learnt about willow weaving. There is the ferry port where Simon and I sailed to the Isle of Man for a holiday. There is the nuclear power station…

But drive on past the ferry port and head to Half Moon Bay (not very well signposted in my opinion). Park opposite the little cafe (operating as a takeaway when we were there because of Covid restrictions), enjoy a hot drink, and then walk towards a modern artwork along the cliff.

Created by artist Anna Gillespie, SHIP is a sculpture of two figures sitting on the bow and stern of a ship. It is a celebration of the landscape and maritime heritage of Morecambe Bay, with one man facing ‘the old’ of St Patrick’s Chapel while the other man looking towards the ‘new’ of Heysham Nuclear Power Station.

Anna Gillespie’s SHIP at Half Moon Bay

But we had no interest in ‘the new ‘ today, so turning our backs away from the power station, we continued along a path towards the ‘old’. This is the fascinating St Patrick’s Chapel, a ruined Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, standing dramatically on the headland. The ruins are believed to date from the 700s or 800s. An excavation dated the site even earlier to the late 500s or early 600s.

St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

Author Karen Lloyd, in The Gathering Tide, writes: “There’s a local story that St Patrick, after whom the chapel is named, landed at Heysham bringing the Christian message from Ireland, founding one of the earliest Christian Oratories and communities on the headland.”

An information board about St Patrick’s Chapel

Archaeologists have found graves in the grounds of the Anglo Saxon chapel, these were of a later age and included the remains of a Viking woman, buried in a shroud, along with a decorated bone comb.

St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

It is thought that Vikings travelled to Heysham during the 900s, from Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The rock-cut graves atop the headland are a puzzle. Karen Lloyd says they “exude mystery and enigma.” Unfortunately there are no grave goods left and so impossible to identify a date for them. Karen says: “It’s thought they pre-date the first chapel to be built on the site. The 7th to the 11th century was a time of huge flux and change at Heysham that witnessed a mixing of cultures and belief systems”.

Curiously, while researching about the tombs afterwards, I read that they appeared on the cover of The Best of Black Sabbath CD.

The stone graves

According to Wikipedia, when another excavation was held on land below the rock-hewn graves, more than a thousand ancient artefacts were found. It turned out that people lived here 12,000 years ago.

The church of St Peter, again a Grade I listed building, sits behind the ruined chapel. An Anglo-Saxon church was once located here and even earlier back, in the 600s/700s, it’s thought a church was originally founded here. The church’s architecture dates back to various times – including the medieval ages – but was completed in 1864. Unfortunately we were unable to enter, I expect due to the restrictions at the time. It was a shame as I would have liked to have seen the Viking hogback stone (a grave cover dating back to Viking times) but we did have a wander around the graveyard. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric place to be buried, overlooking Morecambe Bay. At the back of the churchyard was a path taking us back to the ruins.

St Peter’s Church, Heysham

It would be a very peaceful place to be buried.

We passed through Morecambe on the way back home. I think this sunset encapsulates the spellbinding splendour of the Bay.

Sunset over Morecambe Bay, as seen from Morecambe Promenade
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Morecambe Bay: Beware of Quicksand

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay in Lancashire is beautiful. If the weather isn’t great, it can be moody and atmospheric. And on a bright, clear day, it’s even more spectacular when you can see the magnificent Cumbrian mountains in the distance.

But whatever you do, don’t ever walk across the sand without the Queen’s Guide.

I went on a fundraising walk across the Bay in 2012 for a local charity called Galloway’s. There was a group of us following Cedric Robinson, the Queen’s Guide to the Sands. He had his trusty stick and his vast knowledge of the terrain, having been the Guide for many years. Needless to say, we all got across safely. Tired, wearing dirty boots on our exhausted feet, maybe a little smelly of damp mud, water and sand, but we got back safely.

Morecambe Bay

But one day in August 2020, Simon and I visited Silverdale in Lancashire, overlooking Morecambe Bay. We walked along the beach towards Arnside, a little village located at the southern edge of Cumbria. I showed Simon the town across the bay, and told him that I believed it was Grange-over-Sands. I added that there was no way we could cross over there without the Queen’s Guide because of the danger of quicksand.

We carried on our walk, taking a route away from the beach, towards Arnside Tower, an ancient fortified ruin which deserves its own blog post. After a takeaway drink at a little cafe in Arnside, and a spot of plum picking, we headed back towards Silverdale, this time along the beach.

Curiously, while there had been many people on the beach earlier, these had all disappeared. It felt like we were the only ones, which might sound romantic except for what happened next, which was more reminiscent of a horror film.

Looking back, I remember signs warning of the danger of quicksand but assumed it meant sand further out. Of course, I knew it would be daft to trek across the Bay. I had said the very same thing earlier. But as we were walking very close to the edge of the beach, near the rocks leading away from the seaside towards the path, I thought nothing more about it, even when the sand started getting thicker, wetter and sludgier. The tide was coming in, yes, but it was still far off. No need to panic…

Morecambe Bay

Thank goodness for my new walking shoes!

But new hiking shoes or not, it really was getting harder to actually walk through this diabolical sand. Alarmingly, I also realised that I was slowly sinking in with each step I was taking.

The realisation hit me. This was no ordinary sand, this was quicksand. In my naivety, I had assumed the quicksand was lurking ‘out there’ but actually it was here and I was in it and I could no longer move. I was sinking and I could not move my legs.

Simon was faring no better. Even worse, he was further out than me and carrying a heavy rucksack. Even Simon was in difficulty.

It was time to start panicking.

Morecambe Bay sands

Thank goodness we weren’t too far from the safety of the rocks. Thank goodness Simon had the presence of mind to push me so I could clamber onto the cliff. I had lost one of my new walking shoes in the process but, again, thank goodness Simon found it (thinking it was a floating piece of litter at first) and threw it over to me before it was swallowed up by the mud.

One down, one to go. At first I assumed it would be easier for Simon to get out but he was a little further away and in the time that I had scrambled to safety, he had sunk even more. Despite his strength, he was having difficulty lifting his leg to take a step.

He was stuck.

It was like a horror film with a swamp monster hungrily looking for victims. The scary thing is that there really have been fatalities over the years. Perhaps the most famous case recently is the one of the Chinese cockle pickers in 2004. Tragically, 24 of them died.

Quicksand is a serious and deadly issue.

Treacherous sands

So these thoughts were going through my increasingly hysterical mind while I stood on the rocks. I felt that if I ran off to look for help, Simon would have disappeared under the sand by the time I got back. At one point, I desperately held out my handbag towards him to cling on to as if that would have helped.

Just as well Simon is clearer-headed than I am. Using determination, strength, willpower and sheer focus, he managed to lift one leg out of the muddy sand – and then the other. And again. One leg … at a time…

It was a slow process which felt like longer. But he got there.

Now there were two of us on the rocks, disbelieving as to what had just happened.

Simon told me that if he hadn’t have been able to get out, he would have tried to use his rucksack as leverage to propel him forwards. Watching survival expert Ray Mears on television has its uses!

The picture below shows a very muddy and relieved me.

Muddy clothes and a smile of desperate relief
The treacherous sand

Facts about Quicksand

  1. Quicksand is ‘loose wet sand that sucks in anything resting on it’ (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). It forms in ‘saturated loose sand when the sand is suddenly agitated. When water in the sand cannot escape, it creates a liquefied soil that loses strength and cannot support weight’ (Wikipedia).

2. Guides to the Sands have used laurel branches for marking safe routes. They have done this for centuries.

3. These ‘brobs’ are seen in Turner’s paintings of Morecambe Bay.

4. According to Wikipedia, it is impossible for a person to sink ‘entirely into quicksand due to the higher density of the fluid…sinking beyond about waist height is impossible’. However, ‘continued or panicked movement, however, may cause a person to sink further… it can lead to a situation where other factors such as hypothermia etc may harm a trapped person’.

Posted in Thoughts on life and spirituality, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Morecambe Bay: Sunderland Point and Sambo’s Grave

Sunderland Point

Lancashire’s underrated scenery is often ignored in favour of its more popular, more famous, more spectacular neighbour, the Lake District. Lancastrians will often head to the Lakes for a day’s hiking or a weekend away (I am no exception, look at my previous mountain rambles detailed on this blog!) Holidaymakers will drive past the county in their bid to reach Wordsworth’s Paradise of the Lakes and Mountains. Even my Lonely Planet Walking in Britain book features the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District and the Lake District but apparently there are no walks to be had in Lancashire! No scenic beauty!

Wrong.

There are many beauty spots in this very county and one such is Morecambe Bay, a destination crammed with nature, beauty and history.

Sunderland Point

Even in the modern age, there are places of stillness and tranquillity where you feel far, far away from the 21st century – and one such spot is a remote village called Sunderland Point. Author Karen Lloyd describes it as “if a warp in time as well as space had been crossed. Take away the street lights and TV aerials and you could imagine yourself back in the 18th century”. I cannot help but agree, that too was my impression of this unique olde worlde place.

It sits at the southern end of Morecambe Bay, at the end of a tidal causeway – which helps give it an isolated feeling – and overlooks the River Lune.

But behind this serene exterior lies a dark past. This lovely, tiny hamlet of only a few houses, which overlooks such a peaceful scene, actually has a tragic history.

Sambo’s Grave

There is a spot in this remote haven called Sambo’s Grave. Sambo (the name given, no one knows his real name) is believed to have been a black slave boy, possibly the only survivor of a shipwreck off Sunderland Point, although no one really knows his story.

In 1796, this grave was erected by Rev James Watson – about 60 years after the death of ‘Sambo’.

This remote hamlet was once seen as important because of its connection to slavery. In the early 1700s, the village was developed as an outport for the neighbouring city Lancaster, which was heavily involved in the slave trade.

According to Karen Lloyd’s The Gathering Tide, between 1736 and 1807, around 29,000 slaves were carried from West Africa to the West Indies on Lancaster’s ships.

However, Sunderland’s contribution to the slave trade was short-lived. By the end of the 1700s, Sunderland was no longer the go-to port. There were problems with the River Lune silting and competition from new ports – the newly constructed neighbour, Glasson Dock, and the much bigger Liverpool. Sunderland Point had now become ‘Cape Famine’.

It is strange to see a juxtaposition of beauty – the scenery, the tranquility, the wildlife – and the horror of the misery and suffering of slavery.

The grave was erected 60 years after the boy’s death

And yet, have we, the human species, moved on? Perhaps not. There are still atrocious human rights abuses taking place all over the world on a daily basis.

Our species can send astronauts out to space and to the moon, create vaccines and boast about AI and the latest technology, and yet too many humans still don’t know how to treat others with even the most basic levels of compassion and respect. How to treat others in the same way they themselves would like to be treated.

But I still have hope that one day our descendants will have a future where people can live alongside each other in harmony and peace. One can only hope…

Sambo’s Grave

Information about Sunderland Point comes from The Gathering Tide by Karen Lloyd

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/