I may not have met Robin Hood but I did encounter another famous citizen of Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest a few weeks ago – the Major Oak. This elderly and magnificent tree is at least 1,000 years old, has a 10m trunk and a canopy of 28m. It is so large, old and, unfortunately, vulnerable, that it has to be propped up and fenced in. But it is a truly grand sight indeed.
The Major Oak may be King of the Forest, but there are more than 1,000 ancient oaks in this woodland, making them ideal habitats for wildlife. To my eyes, they so looked like works of natural art!
We saw many hollow oaks, the heartwood is decayed by fungi such as beefsteak fungus and chicken of the woods. These hollow oaks are excellent habitat for wildlife, including insects.
To age a tree, one needs to count its annual rings. For the old trees of the forests, the Rspb, which manages the nature reserve in a partnership, looks at tree girth or diameter at breast height so the oaks don’t need to be felled. The above tree was over 100 years old, a mere youngster in these environs.
As for Robin Hood, the most famous man of Nottinghamshire? It is believed he lived in around 1200 – at least, this is when the stories start – at a time when the forest covered 100,000 acres. He is seen as a heroic outlaw, avoiding the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham and robbing from the rich to give the poor. It is hard to tell whether he really existed, whether the character is based on a real man or if there is no basis in fact. Whatever the case, Sherwood Forest definitely exists, even if it feels as if it belongs in a beautiful legend. And the ‘Merry Men (and ladies) are its stunning oaks and accompanying wildlife.
During our weekend stay in the lovely market town of Richmond, Yorkshire, we embarked on a long trek from the quaint village of Muker to the highest pub in Britain. Alas, I was driving later so I couldn’t have a wine (although on such a walk like this, I tend to have a thirst for water rather than alcohol!)
Muker is situated in Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales. All Creatures Great and Small vet James Herriot called it, “the most beautiful part of England”.
The first part of our journey out of the little village is particularly memorable. We stuck to a flagstone path through hay meadows, bordered by dry stone walls, and squeezing past ‘squeeze stiles’. Along the way, bypassing the old-fashioned laithes (cowhouses). The meadows are still managed in a traditional way, which is wonderful for biodiversity. From what I read in my Country Walking magazine, these upland meadows are rare and there are only 1,000 hectares in the North of England.
Alas, as it was February, we missed out on the vibrancy and colour which it appears to have when the wildflowers are blooming. So, note to self, come back in spring.
The next leg of the journey is by the River Swale. We were lucky to spot Oystercatchers and two dippers and Kisdon Force – the waterfall – is a gorgeous sight.
We reached a signpost advertising tea and cake, tempting but we had a job to do so we had to decline our invite to Keld and its tasty delicacies … Interestingly, the sign shows we walked some of the Pennine Way and The Swale Trail (not a walk I’m familiar with) crosses here too.
The river stroll turned into a more swampy moorland trail.
We would look at the map. “Not too far now,” Simon would say in a bid to boost morale. We started to believe we would see the beautiful sight of the pub – like an oasis – at the bottom of every incline.
I ventured, “I hope the pub isn’t too busy and we will find somewhere to sit.”
And then another thought struck us both.
What if the pub was closed and we would have to eat our cold cheese sandwiches out in the cold?
The pub eventually made its appearance, just when I started to wonder if it had closed down and was demolished or that it was an old wife’s tale told to gullible hikers.
But look, there on the horizon, was the inn. The Tan Hill Inn. A lovely sight. Somewhere to sit, a nice cup of tea, a snack…
It was busy (it appears popular with bikers) with a long queue but we found a seat, and enjoyed a hot drink and much-anticipated snack.
I would have been quite happy to stay there for a good while longer but it was time to head back.
I realised that the landscape wasn’t as natural as first assumed. All around are the signs of lead mining, spoil heaps from shafts underground.
These days the pub is frequented by bikers, tourists and hikers. Back in the day, it would have been miners who were regulars.
Later on, I fell in the mud. This tends to happen a lot on my walks!
There are a number of derelict farm buildings. Later I read about Hartland, which is supposedly haunted, and Crackpot Hall, a farmhouse and mine office. I wish I had read about these two features beforehand as now I try to recollect which empty structure was which. This was another curious sight… An old bridge but with possible outbuildings behind?
Other curiosities included a rusting tractor skeleton and this unusual tree within a tree…
All in all, we walked about 17 miles in total that day. It was time to go back to the cottage for a warm shower and a pizza takeaway.
Facts of the Day
1. Tan Hill Inn dates back to the 1600s and is Britain’s highest pub at 1,732 feet (528m) above sea level.
2. During the 1700s, it was used by miners. The last mine on Tan Hill closed in 1929. The pub used to be surrounded by miners’ cottages. These were demolished.
3. On December 31, 2009, New Year revellers were snowed in and were unable to leave the pub for three days!
4. Start planning at least one long-distance hike this year
5. Buy trainers for exercise classes
Since the start of 2019, I’ve set myself monthly goals to get fit. So in February, I set out the above goals. Did I succeed? Umm, no. I didn’t get the trainers, I kept procrastinating about planning the hike, I forgot about the yoga. Even the simple ‘do something active every day’ was sometimes forgotten about. What I have learnt though is that when I get distracted in my life – for good and bad reasons – the fitness regime gets forgotten about and left to one side.
On the positive side, although I did not reach 100 miles (coat-on, I’m sure I would have exceeded it had I counted every step I did), I reached 88 miles, nearly 100 and better than January’s 74 miles.
Pictured: A scene from the Muker walk
River Swale walk, Richmond (6 miles or thereabouts)
Muker to Tan Hill Inn and back (17 miles on my pedometer!)
Walk to Brockholes Nature Reserve (11 miles)
Walk into Preston city centre (8 miles)
88 miles. Running total: 162 miles (I’m also aiming to walk 1,000 miles by the end of 2019).
I had the same goals as last month but it gets worse instead of better! (Now you see why I didn’t update this post earlier!) I walked a grand total of 58.1 miles, just over half of my target. Nowhere near good enough.
58.1 miles. Running total: 220.1 miles
Pictured: A view from the Sherwood Forest woodland walk
Sherwood Forest woodland walk (7.4 miles)
Ainsdale Sand Dunes (6-7 miles or thereabouts)
The one goal I did achieve in March was to plan at least one long-distance hike this year.
So in May, Simon and I are planning to walk the entire Cuckoo Way/Chesterfield Canal – 46 miles – in two days! The 240-year-old canal traverses Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire.
In June, my friend Caroline and I are planning to walk Preston’s Guild Wheel. It will be 21 miles in 2 days and encircles the city of Preston.
Perhaps the Guild Wheel should have come first on the fitness schedule?! ☺️
So, as you can see, now I really do have to get a reasonable level of fitness.
So for April, I have the similar targets to before but as there is a goal I have made it harder. Will the proposed weekend hikes focus my mind? Let’s see…
1. Aim to walk 100 to 125 miles
2. Do something active every day for 5 minutes
3. Set aside 15 minutes 3 days a week for yoga (I’ve tried to make this more achievable by aiming for 3 rather than 5 days)
So is 2019 the year when, finally, I get fit and healthy? Every year I aim to be this magical fit woman, filled with energy, but the efforts of becoming this person is just too much for lazy me. Sure, I can trek up mountains but walking up those steep hills is tiring indeed. How wonderful to feel I could run up them instead of panting and puffing, in some discomfort, as I do presently.
Last year I set myself a fundraising swimming challenge (eight miles in four months) with proceeds going towards Butterfly Conservation and The Donkey Sanctuary. This was from February to May. I decided I still liked swimming but not that particular pool (it was too busy). I also walked 10,000 steps a day for a fortnight for The Big Issue Foundation, a homeless charity, in March.
And so when it came to Scafell Pike in April, it felt easier than I expected.
So challenges help me to keep motivated and so I have devised new ones for 2019, to be spaced out over the year so I always have something to aim for.
1. I signed up for RED January. It is a challenge, created by mental health charity Mind, to help people support their mental wellbeing through exercise. It’s also about raising awareness of mental health issues. R. E. D actually stands for Run Every Day, but thankfully this is not essential (I’m not keen on running!) It’s more about getting active every day in some way. I’m aiming to walk more, at lunchtimes or to work.
I hadn’t done any yoga for a few years. I sprained my ankle two weeks prior. My fitness levels had dropped alarmingly (and because of said ankle, I couldn’t get back to fitness again) and I was going on my own for an activity weekend with a group of people who I had never met before.
Hmmm, was this Yoga-hiking weekend a good idea?
Originally, I had the idea of walking up Ben Nevis in September this year, this was to mark a ‘special’ birthday, but I did Scafell Pike instead and, through one reason or another, Ben Nevis fell through. But I still wanted a fitness challenge to aim for and I came across Yoga Hikes.
I enjoy hiking and keep meaning to go back to yoga so this seemed like ideal motivation and the fact I would be staying at Victoria ‘opium poet’ Thomas De Quincey’s 1700s cottage, overlooking Rydal Water, a heavenly place if ever there was one… Yes, I decided, four months beforehand, I would go for it.
The cottage and its location was as old, cosy and idyllic as I hoped for. A main road separated the cottage from the Lake, but otherwise, it was perfectly located, half way between Ambleside and Grasmere.
My single bedroom was snug, the floor a little creaky but that’s what you would expect from a historic building.
Bedroom at Thomas De Quincey’s Cottage
Bedroom at Thomas De Quincey’s Cottage
When I first arrived, I had a moment of panic thinking I was the only one arriving on my own, especially as it sounded as if most people had come with others. Would I be seen as ‘Miss No-Mates’ (high school emotions coming to the fore!)?
But this feeling of insecurity was quickly allayed when the guests started arriving.
Four of us were on our own. The others had come with friends, family or a partner. In any case, it didn’t matter, no one was cliquey and the general friendliness meant there was always someone to chat to on walks.
Guests started arriving from 4pm onwards and we enjoyed tea and homemade cake in the sitting room. (This was a healthy balanced yoga break, lots of healthy activities but cake was definitely allowed, and so it should be!)
Yoga was on at 6pm in the evenings. We had five sessions altogether, two in the mornings at 7.30am (such a healthy start to the day made me feel very good!), one on the evening we arrived and two after our walks. There were breathing techniques and physical yoga, sometimes using props.
Despite my sprained ankle (which was nearly better at this point), the yoga techniques were flexible enough that there was a posture for all abilities. Sun salutation, cat, cow… We could go as far as we could. Yen, the yoga teacher, was sensitive to guests and didn’t push anyone beyond their limits.
All food was vegetarian/vegan. One evening there was a vegetarian buffet of peppers, falafel, pitta bread, hummus and so on. The second meal was stuffed mushroom. We were pleased that dessert was still on the menu on this yoga retreat! Breakfast, which was straight after yoga, was a choice of cereal or porridge, toast, egg, beans. On the Sunday we had the option of an enjoyable veggie burger with our breakfast.
Our walk on Saturday took us from the cottage to Easedale Tarn via Loughrigg Terrace and Grasmere. We hiked upwards beside a tumbling stream to our breathtaking spot for lunch (which was provided by Yoga Hikes), Easedale Tarn.
Our 10-mile (or so) ramble back took us to the gingerbread shop in Grasmere (established in the 1600s) where we had a 15-minute stop in case anyone wanted to buy the famous gingerbread. Also on the way was poet William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage.
Sunday’s walk took us to Loughrigg Tarn. Another moderate but hilly walk of about 10 miles. This time we went the other direction away from Grasmere. Our picnic break was again at a picturesque area, this time Loughrigg Tarn.
Our weekend was so packed with walks and yoga that there wasn’t much spare time, but for a couple of hours after Saturday’s walk, we were left to our own devices. I had a rest in my room, reading a book I had brought, but some people took advantage of the hot tub available.
There was a variety of abilities. One lady found the first walk to Easedale Tarn difficult and the next day went on a more gentle stroll to Ambleside with another guest who also opted out because of tiredness.
If anyone found the yoga or walks too difficult, there was the opt-out option and no one would judge you.
By the time came to say our goodbyes, I found that I had really enjoyed the weekend, despite my initial misgivings about going on my own. Now all I have to do is start practising yoga again!
Here’s an obvious fact – the more exercise you do, the fitter you will feel. But if you stop exercising for a four-month period, that fitness level will drop. And the delight at finding Scafell Pike not quite as hard as first thought because there had been a swim/walk campaign in the three months beforehand… Well, that joy will be non-existent when walking up Skiddaw with no fitness plan in place prior to the walk. Scafell Pike was a hike. Skiddaw – and Little Man, a cruel juxtaposition if ever I saw one – was a trudge.
If you look at the photos of me doing it, I appear to be taking my clothes off (well, my coat and jumper, it got increasingly hot), then at the top putting them back on again! On, off, on, off…
We set off from Keswick, where we were staying for a weekend. A walk out from town, bypassing the Pencil Museum, took us on a upward path where we met quite a few walkers. Further up, it turned out there was a car park – so we could have got away without this gruelling hill to begin with!
But that was only a little stroll up a staircase in comparison of what was to come.
At the car park, there was obviously an event going on. From earlier signs in the town centre, I suspect it was a race for fell runners. A group of people I much admire but could never belong to! Oddly we didn’t encounter any up the hill, but I think their course went a different route. Enticingly, amid the army tents, a tea and cake stall greeted us. But we ignored this most pleasant venue and carried on to our date with Little Man.
Little Man. Ha! As apt a name as Liverpool’s famous and fabulous ‘Little Boy’ (he’s actually a puppet giant), Little Man is also a giant in these hills. My lack of fitness levels was becoming increasingly apparent to me, why had I stopped swimming once I reached my target? Why was Scafell Pike an easier climb when it was actually higher? Lesson to self: you really do feel the benefits of consistent exercise.
Funnily, although the weather wasn’t terrible at that time, there was hardly a walker to be seen. The greatest majority of people were mountain bikers, speeding up or down the scree.
Ah, yes, the scree. I’ll get back to that later.
The problem with Little Man is there is no consideration for those who wish to visit him. No rest spots of delightful flatness. Just a steep slope uphill. You’d think if you were visiting a Little Man he would offer you a nice rest for weary legs, but no.
There were a few times when I pondered ‘are we there yet?’, after reaching a cairn. And then another cairn… And another.
Eventually we reached the top of Little Man and the weather was getting tough. Mist and rain and wind. Should we carry on to Skiddaw or go back? We approached a couple who showed us where we were on the map and we trudged on.
Ever the troopers.
The wind and fog got worse. And there were so many fake cairns mimicking the summit – although later, I realised they actually were very helpful as they guided walkers back down the hill. When the top was finally reached, there was no splendid view to be seen, just a grey-white sky.
On the way down, I was nervous of the scree and scattered stones, of which there were many. Especially on the steeper than normal sections. We passed a group of mountain bikers who also made it to the top. How they managed, I’ve no idea. It took me all my time to edge down carefully.
We walked back via Carl Side, another hill, although I was past caring at that point. I wanted warmth and a cup of tea.
And everything went okay until Ouch!!!
(Ironically we weren’t that far from the bottom at this point).
Cue swear words (I don’t generally swear unless I am very p….off, which I was then!) as I fell and landed on my left ankle. To fall on a bottom is embarrassing but fairly painless but an ankle?
It was painful. Thankfully, I was able to stand, delicately picking myself back up. And walk. But not as easily as before.
Thankfully I had my walking poles with me to help and we headed back into Keswick where we enjoyed a much-needed caffeinated drink and a warm shower, and then our evening meal in a local pub.
It took nearly two weeks for my ankle to heal properly.
Afterwards I turned to my trusty guide Wainwright, expecting him to agree that Skiddaw is a long, tiring, difficult mountain to climb.
Instead he writes in his Northern Fells Pictorial Guide: ‘It has been derided as a route for grandmothers and babies, rather unfairly: the truth is that this is an ascent all members of the family can enjoy. It is not so much a climb as a mountain walk to a grand, airy summit’.
Was Wainwright talking about the same mountain?! ⛰️⛰️⛰️
(To be fair, if it wasn’t for the scree, lack of fitness, blustery weather and sprained ankle, I’d have liked Skiddaw and Little Man more). 🏔️🏔️🏔️
Facts of the Day
1. Skiddaw is the fourth highest peak in the Lake District.
2. Skiddaw Little Man is one mile away from Skiddaw. It is classed as a ‘subsidiary summit of Skiddaw’.
3. Skiddaw is mentioned in the fourth book of John Keats’ poem Endymion.
On paper, Catbells should be a fairly straightforward and easy-ish walk. At 451m it is no Scafell Pike. And true, whereas on Skiddaw we barely saw a walker (surely a bad sign?!), on Catbells, there were many older ramblers, families, day-trippers and holidaymakers. But I didn’t get the impression of there being many hardened mountain walkers. And Wainwright himself says:”Catbells is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together”.
But I had a sprained ankle (yes, yes, I know I should have laid in bed and drank copious amounts of tea but it wasn’t too bad a sprain) and although it wasn’t broken, merely bruised, it did mean that this hill climb would be a little harder than it ought to be.
We thought there might be a long and tedious road walk before the climb itself, but a helpful lady at the tourist information centre told us there was a short walk along the road which led into a pleasant wander through woodland – or we could take a boat trip. That sounded rather appealing to me, feeling rather lazy, but we took the scenic wooded route anyway.
So walking through Keswick town centre, we passed a bridge over the River Greta (on the way back, we witnessed a heron and a guillemot at the river) and saw the pencil museum across the road. Then turned left, onto the Cumbria Way, past the village of Portinscale towards the Lingholm Estate. We greeted alpacas chewing sweet grass in a field and carried on via the woodland, where we came across this unusual fungi on tree.
And here are a few views of our walk up Catbells… And the scenes from the hill itself, looking down to Derwentwater.
If you are looking for a hill climb to do with your family – whether children, teens, middle-aged or retired and fit parents, this is a brilliant walk. Lovely scenery and wonderful views, not much scrambling and not too steep or strenuous. It is still a hill, still a challenge, but if you’re moderately fit, you can do this. It makes a great ‘first’ hill climb or, if you’re a lover of peak bagging, your first of 214 Wainwright’s! Not one for lovers of solitude though as it’s a popular climb, probably for the reasons I’ve given.
I got confused at the top as it looked as if we hadn’t reach the summit. Where was the cairn for me to take a photo saying ‘I did it?!’
But there is no cairn and there wasn’t one in Wainwright’s day either. The ridge continues to Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head, Handsworth and Robinson which can provide a horseshoe walk if you’re in the mood and have the time.
But we didn’t so we climbed back down the same way, tracing back our steps through the woodland – where waterproofs were quickly donned during a fierce downpour – and headed into Keswick, ready for a warming cup of tea and a bite to eat at an American-style diner.
Facts of the Day
1. Catbells could be a corruption of Cat Bields (the shelter of the wild cat) – but this isn’t certain.
2. Catbells overlooks Derwentwater, and its nearest town is Keswick (you can walk from Keswick to it).
3. There is a memorial stone to Thomas Arthur Leonard (1864-1948). He founded the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship and was a pioneer for outdoor holidays for working people.