Wednesday 29 June 2011

Tilting At Windmills

Some of you may have come across the phrase “tilting at windmills” before, an idiom used to describe the fighting of a futile or unwinnable battle or the attack of an imaginary enemy. Derived from Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, the hero sets out to fight injustice through chivalry and tackles a group of windmills in the mistaken belief they are ferocious, long-armed giants.

Some of you will also be aware of the current mania amongst UK Governments to pepper our countryside with wind turbines. In fact some of you may well have been involved in planning meetings for schemes in your local area; I know I have – a proposal that would have seen a dozen turbines erected close to a neighbouring village. At 125m in height – that’s about 410ft in old money – they would have been visible for a radius of 50 miles. And we already have a 10-turbine installation only a couple of miles down the road.

Whilst it remains true that we need as a nation to look carefully at the different ways in which we can generate the power we crave, the “current thinking” as far as Government is concerned seems to be that only wind power can provide the solution. So committed are they, it would seem, they have virtually stopped looking at any viable alternatives. The Scottish Parliament, in particular, has a massive commitment to wind.

The Government might have a winning argument if the reasoning – I hesitate to use the word “logic” here, because logical it ain’t – behind this commitment were sound. But it would appear not to be. Power output figures seem to have been over-estimated and the “green” credentials of the subsequent electricity conveniently overlook the very “dirty” manufacturing process.

On top of this, no amount of wind farms can provide the power we need. Turbines cannot operate if the wind is too light, or too strong. At best, they can only provide a top-up at peak times – we will still need a huge commitment to nuclear or fossil fuel generation to provide the lion’s share of our electricity. I believe that in order to replace the power generation of a single coal-fired powerstation it would require a wind farm covering an area the size of Greater London.

However, it’s not the spurious reasoning for the blinkered pursuit of wind energy that is my main beef. What really makes me very sad and not a little angry is the way our wonderful wild places are being sacrificed in order to practice this flawed experiment. There are now great swathes of mid-Wales and the Scottish Highlands that are either covered in turbines or from where they can clearly be seen or are subject to planning applications for wind farms. Apart from the turbines themselves, access tracks leave great gashes across the hillside, visible from miles away.

As a former student of life sciences, I am always suspicious of those who trumpet the over-simplified “green” stance (a one-dimensional view considering only the carbon cycle) as opposed to the much more complex “environmental” argument (which, as well as the carbon implication, examines the full impact of the proposal on the local ecology, looks at the visual and noise pollution created and at the wider effect on the human geography of the area in question), the difference being that I cannot imagine a single environmentalist who would countenance the desecration of our countryside in this manner – these sites risk being damaged forever.

A real concern at the moment is the sheer number of planning applications being made. The Scottish Parliament in particular seems happy to condone this behaviour from the power companies, so much so that applications are springing up all over the place.

Take the Cairngorms, for example, one of Britain’s most important landscapes and renowned across the world for the uniqueness of it’s habitats. In 2003, this area was designated as a National Park – the largest in Britain – to confer a degree of protection on this very special place so that it could be managed and worked to both protect the environment and the economic benefits to the local community from sustainable tourism.

Now, the adjacent Monadhliath Mountains – themselves a unique wilderness area – are currently undergoing 8 planning applications with a total of 444 turbines proposed, many of which would be visible from the Cairngorms. Although local groups and interested parties will campaign against these applications, sooner or later some are going to get passed. So as well as the damage caused, visitor numbers to the National Park will likely plummet, harming the local economy, too.

What makes me so mad is that if it were proposed that such schemes were sited by St. Paul’s Catherdral, for example, or Stonehenge, there would be a national outcry – and rightly so. So why should it be any different for our wild places? There are precious few left and, as any true environmentalist will tell you, once the character of these areas is compromised, they will never be the same again. I also believe that many walkers feel the same at heart, too.

It seems hugely ironic, then, that in a book first published around four centuries ago about a man and some windmills and a sense of injustice that it could echo with such resonance down all those years. Yet here we are. However, this is not a futile or imaginary fight. We must fight, too; the difference being we must win, to safeguard our most special places for generations to come so that our children and their children after them can experience the same feelings of awe and majesty that we have been able to in the past.

If you are interested in finding out more about what is happening and how you can help, please visit Alan Sloman's Blog Here for much more information.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

A Trek Round The Shops On The Trail Of A New Jacket

Recently, I’ve been looking at buying a new hard shell waterproof jacket. It’s been several years since I last bought one, and a lot of things have changed since then, most notably in terms of materials, style, layering and design, and the advent of soft shell as well. So I thought it might be helpful to put some of my findings down, both good and bad, about the whole experience.

My brief, I thought, was straightforward enough. I was looking for a waterproof, highly breathable jacket with a decent hood, of modest weight and medium length that fitted me well, had a couple of pockets for a map and other essentials, and was robust enough to wear all day under a pack when trekking in poor weather. My intended use was primarily 3-season, but I wanted something that would be OK for milder winter days as well as occasional trips to the Alps.

I wanted a reasonable quality if I could, so I set what I considered to be an adequate budget that allowed me to look at some of the main players’ mid- to top-end jackets with the hope I might be able to find a deal when it came to purchasing.

Bear in mind that I am predominantly a hillwalker with occasional forays into the higher mountains, and that product features that might be of benefit to a climber or mountaineer might not be so valuable for the walker, and vice versa.

I studied some recent reviews: interestingly, although most reviewers seemed to use similar criteria by which to assess the jackets, no one manufacturer or jacket stood out above the others. In fact, in the case of the Haglofs Lim, one review scored it at 10/10, another at 3/5. These reviews really are just a matter of opinion, aren’t they?

Having done my research, re-read the reviews and worked out what was in stock at retailers I could realistically visit, I drew up my shortlist. Under consideration were:

Rab: Bergen, Latok, Latok Alpine

Mountain Equipment: Kongur, Morpheus, Diablo, Firefox

Mountain Hardwear: Stretch Cohesion, Axial

Montane: Venture, Superfly

Berghaus: Mera Peak

Haglofs: Zenith, Lim

Arc’Teryx: Alpha SL

Of course, some of the features could only be tested properly during the conditions for which they are designed, and I did not have the luxury of a wet weather outing or six months of rugged trekking in which to try them.

There are many different fabrics to choose from too, all claiming various properties of waterproofness, breathability, robustness, stretch, etc, so I wanted to try the latest from Event, Gore Tex and the other proprietry fabrics to see, as far as possible, how they measured up against each other, although I was unable to do this “in the field”. However, I did weigh up what I could in the shop environment – here are the particulars I examined.


Even after shortlisting, a couple of the jackets here were a bit above my budget. Although seemingly fine garments I had to mark them down for that reason – even searching the Internet most seemed to come in well over £200. (ME Kongur, Rab Latok, MH Axial, Montane Superfly, Berghaus Mera Peak, Haglofs Zenith)


Almost all this crop of jackets came up quite short. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it means you might need your waterproof trousers on more often. A slightly longer cut will give more warmth and protection around the hips and crotch, and will properly cover your mid layer garment. As a non-climber, the business of rucking under a harness is a non-issue. The Berghaus Mera Peak, ME Morpheus and Rab Bergen offered a slightly longer cut.


There seems to be an almost obsessive drive to achieve lower and lower weights at the moment, not only in clothing but in all outdoor kit. In some ways that can be good – no one wants a jacket that’s too heavy. But often it can mean that certain features might be in short supply, or even lacking altogether. I also believe it is part of the reason for generally short jackets mentioned above.

I’d already ruled out a few candidates that didn’t seem to meet my spec, but of the shortlist, the Berghaus Mera Peak and Rab Latok were the heaviest (both being over 700g and weightier than I was looking for) although both are no doubt great jackets they would be better suited to winter expeditions.


Allied to weight is durability, an important feature in a jacket that might need to be worn all day in bad conditions under a heavy pack. And, for the money, I want any new jacket to have a reasonable lifespan – 5 years at least. Several of the shortlist did seem to feel a bit flimsy, most notably the MH Stretch Cohesion, Haglofs Lim and Arc’Teryx Alpha SL.

That’s not to say they were bad, but probably designed more with summer use in mind (ie: only worn occasionally during rain showers) rather than for prolonged bad weather use under a weighty pack. I also think that in some cases durability has been sacrificed in the drive for lower weight.


This was actually the main peculiarity of many of these jackets. I am a size large for jackets, and have been consistently so for a number of years. I would expect a shell jacket (ie: an outer layer) to be sized to take a base layer and mid layer of some description underneath – fairly standard procedure, you might have thought.

In nearly all these cases, a size large was barely big enough over a thin base layer. Even some XL jackets left little room for the mid layer. But it’s not just a case of going up through the sizes until one fits, because by then the sleeves probably hang down by your knees. The only reason I can think of for this is to reduce the amount of material, and hence weight, used in any given size.

There was one notable exception on sizing who got it just about right: Rab, stand up and take a bow.


All the manufacturers, indeed all of the jackets, featured slight differences in cut. Of course, this is a matter of personal preference – what suits some will not suit others. But it is worth checking because it can make quite a difference to the comfort of the garment depending on your shape, build and posture. There were distinct differences noticeable. Is the cut more generous across the chest or the belly? Are the sleeves too tight? Is there any “spare” material anywhere? In one instance, the Montane Venture, I found the chin guard too close fitting for me, even on the XL. In another, nearly all the ME jackets seemed to be roomier at the back with spare fabric that might bunch up under a rucksack.


Many of the jackets featured hoods designed to be compatible with a climbing helmet. To you and me, that means large. Yes, they have an array of drawcords and other adjustments to cinch them down to a more useable size for the walker, but even if you can get a close fit to keep the rain out, that can still leave a lot of spare material to inflate or flap in the wind.

One or two were simply massive, with poor adjustment and little support, and would have flopped around in a light breeze, even fully cinched. Most were large with a good range of adjustment but often just with too much spare material, and the support in the peak varied wildly. It is worth checking carefully that your potential new purchase is not let down by a poor hood.

Remember; the high chin guard and voluminous hood may have advantages in bad weather, but when not in use and the jacket zipped open at the neck (as is normal in dry conditions) there can be an awful lot of loose material behind your head and round the neck/lapel area that can flap about in the breeze. To my mind, this was the only thing that let down a number of otherwise excellent jackets.

I think it is good if manufacturers can offer models that might make use of a smaller hood for those who don’t intend to ever use a climbing helmet. Surprisingly few seem to do so amongst the models tested, in fact just one that I could see: Rab. I only tested a smallish selection from a fairly narrow range of suppliers, but these models were the ones most shops opted to stock - in other words, alternatives might be scarce.

Pockets & Pit Zips:

A couple of jackets only offered one pocket in the pursuit of lightweight – Haglofs Lim and ME Firefox for example – possibly not enough for most people. Think about the acoutrements - map & compass, snacks, gloves - you might want close at hand.

It is good to note that most manufacturers made sure at least some pockets were situated high enough to be accessible when wearing a rucksack hipbelt.

Pit zips are liked by some and not by others. For me, they are not a deal breaker as long as other aspects of protection, breathability and ventilation options are good. Some of these models had them; some didn't. Extra venting can be a good thing if you run hot, but I'm not sure they were a necessary feature in my search.


With their short length, close fit and voluminous hoods, it appears that most of these jackets are aimed at the climbing and mountaineering fraternities. Some of the features that might suit them aren’t necessarily great for the hillwalker.

Most of the jackets I tried on seemed to be of the good quality that you would expect from top-notch manufacturers, and all had at least some excellent features or build quality. Of those tried, I was pretty impressed with the ME Kongur and Diablo, the Montane Venture and Superfly, the Berghaus Mera Peak and the Rab Bergen and Latok Alpine.

In the end, the ME Kongur, the Montane Superfly and the Berghaus Mera Peak were a bit over budget. For me, the ME Diablo and the Montane Venture had sizing issues, and Rab Latok Alpine seemed to have just a little bit too much spare material in the hood and round the face.

So, I plumped for the Rab Bergen, which seemed to me to have a good combination of modest weight and packed size, a good hood and pockets, and seemed tough enough to cope in rugged conditions. It was just the right length and comfortable to wear, and, to my mind, correctly sized to go over base and mid layers. What’s more, it’s made from Event fabric and only cost £125 – considerably inside my budget.

So here I am with my shiny new purchase, having done all I can from the point of view of research and trying on. Of course that's only half the story, and I want to test it's other credentials as soon as possible, so I can report back on that.

Now all I need is a rainy day …..

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Ladybower to Chatsworth 11th & 12th June 2011 – Day 2

Sunday 12th June 2011

Edging Closer: Hathersage to Calton Lees – 14.50 miles


Ordnance Survey Explorer OL1 – The Dark Peak
Ordnance Survey Explorer OL24 – The White Peak

Route Summary:

Hathersage – Church – Toothill Farm – Mitchell Field – Callow – Higger Tor – Carl Wark – Burbage Bridge – Padley Gorge – Grindleford Station Café – Derwent Valley Heritage Way (DVHW) – Horse Hay Coppice – Spooner Lane – Froggatt - Froggatt Edge – Curbar Edge – Baslow Edge – Bar Lane – Baslow – Chatsworth Estate – Calton Lees


Hathersage: Pubs, Cafes, Shops, Transport, Accommodation
Grindleford: Station Café
Froggatt: Pub
Baslow: Pubs, Cafes, Shops, Transport, Accommodation
Chatsworth: Café
Calton Lees: Café, Transport


Sunny at first, windy, cold and wet later.


I woke early, packed, had a snack breakfast and was ready to set off by 7.30. On the plus side it was a fine morning, all my kit was dry and I was well rested. On the downside I had a hangover I hadn’t earned, I ached all over and my feet were killing me. Perhaps I wasn’t quite back to full fitness after all.

Anyway, I hobbled off into the warm, morning sunshine looking forward to another cracking day. Despite yesterday’s wet weather, it had been a fantastic day – tough, but very rewarding – and today promised more of the same.

I wandered out of the village, past the church, and followed a narrow lane towards Toothill Farm. Hathersage is surprisingly well hidden from here, but eventually sufficient height is gained to see it nestling in the valley with Eyam Moor beyond.

With rocky bluffs ahead, I followed a track, then a path, past Callow and on to the open moor. A short climb later and I was atop Higger Tor. On sunny Sundays, when the day-trippers have had time to arrive, this place can be heaving. Today, now, I was there alone, and spent a few minutes taking in the views and soaking up the atmosphere of this special place.

A quick scramble down and I was on my way to Carl Wark, a presumed-Iron-Age hill fort whose elevated position and natural craggy defences have been augmented by man-made stone walling. It is hard to imagine that 30 centuries ago these windswept rocks were regarded as a place of safety and refuge. Again, with the place to myself, I had a chance to absorb a little of the history and mystique surrounding this lonely outcrop.

After another short scramble I made my way over the moor to Burbage Bridge and crossed the road into the Longshaw Estate. Keeping the brook on my left, I made my way down towards Padley Gorge, spotting both Dipper and Jay as well as a few early-bird walkers as I did so.

As is my wont, I stopped by Grindleford Station Café for Tea and a Bacon Roll. Well, it was about 9.45am, so the perfect time for breakfast, and it was good to have a few minutes’ sit down.

Suitably refreshed, I set off again – past Padley Chapel and across the fields to join the DVHW. On reaching the riverside path I received a text message and stopped to pull the phone out of my rucksack and compose my reply. A Goosander and chicks cruised by. Ahead of me I could see a ewe standing on the steep riverbank, seemingly agitated. Unusually, it didn’t run off as I approached but continued calling for it’s young. As I glanced into the river I could see ripples spreading from the bank, so I climbed down for a closer look.

A lamb had fallen into the water and was struggling to get out. The river had undercut the bank slightly making it difficult for the poor thing to gain any purchase – it just slipped back. I spoke quietly to it, hoping to reassure it and not frighten it into deeper water. I think it finally understood I was trying to help, but it took two failed attempts before I could grab it with both hands and haul it out. You wouldn’t believe what a waterlogged lamb weighs!

While Minty was being successfully reunited with Mum, it had started to rain. So I popped my waterproof on and carried on – over Grindleford Bridge, through Horse Hay Coppice and along Spooner Lane to Froggatt, from where a steep path led up through the woods to the edge.

I turned south, following the track along Curbar Edge and Baslow Edge. The rain was now steady and heavy, and didn’t look like clearing anytime soon. The cold wind, previously ameliorated by the sunshine, now cut through clothing like a scythe. Despite this, there were several people walking the edges, all with a manic grin plastered to their faces as if they couldn’t quite believe this ludicrous manifestation of an English summer.

Heading down Bar Lane into Baslow I got chatting to a bloke, distracted myself, and missed my turning. Once back on track, I picked up the path into Chatsworth Park and rejoined the DVHW. When planning the route, I had imagined – quite literally – a “walk in the park” at this stage – a gentle stroll through the attractive grounds, past picnicking families and couples out for a romantic walk, with the “Palace of the Peak” as an impressive backdrop.

Instead, I found myself slogging through the rain avoiding enthusiastic horse riders. I was wet through, my rucksack had chafed in a couple of places and my feet were killing me, so I was very happy indeed to reach Calton Lees and the coffee shop rendezvous – Garden Centres have their uses. I had a pot of tea and a bottle of diet Coke, and scoffed two cakes – because I could! – and felt much better afterwards.

Then it was off home to rest and dry out. It’d been a brilliant walk – in fact a brilliant two days – and even though the last hour was a bit uncomfortable, it had done nothing to spoil my weekend at all. I’d seen loads of wildlife and some amazing views, done a bit more Access Land walking, rescued a lamb, got wet through and dry again several times, and clocked up over 30 miles. What a great return for just two days’ investment.

Monday 13 June 2011

Ladybower to Chatsworth 11th & 12th June 2011 – Day 1

Saturday 11th June 2011

A Bit On Edge: Kings Tree to Hathersage – 16.25 miles


Ordnance Survey Explorer OL1 – The Dark Peak

Route Summary:

Kings Tree – Slippery Stones – Cut Gate Path – Margery Hill – Wilfrey Edge – Howden Edge – Wet Stones – Cartledge Bents – Cartledge Stones Ridge – Back Tor – Derwent Edge – Whinstone Lee Tor – Cutthroat Bridge – Jarvis Clough – Moscar Moor – Crow Chin – High Neb – Stanage Edge – Stanage Plantation – North Lees – Bronte Cottage – Baulk Lane - Hathersage


Fairholmes: Snack Cabin
Hathersage: Pubs, Cafes, Shops, Transport, Accommodation


Sunny at first, windy, cold and wet later, clearing up for the evening.


This was an outing I had been planning for some while. A window of opportunity had arisen: I had researched my route and done my preparation, and had been keeping an eye on the weather as the weekend drew nearer. So, even though the forecast seemed a bit dodgy, I wasn’t about to be put off.

Getting to the Ladybower area from Derby by public transport looked like being a complex and long-winded affair, so I was very grateful for the offer of a lift. As it was, we arrived at Fairholmes just in time for me to squeeze on to the next bus to Kings Tree, where I sat listening to the murmur of happy chatter.

It was already 11.00am and I had some way to go, so I set myself a brisk pace and soon pulled away from the crowd. Early conditions had been pleasant enough, and the sun was shining as I crossed the elaborate packhorse bridge at Slippery Stones.

Picking up the Cut Gate Path, I was buzzed by a pair of MTBers. Ahead a couple more were slogging up the steep section, bikes slung over shoulders. I paused to catch my breath – behind me, over Cranberry Clough, the cloud was beginning to build.

Five minutes later the rain began, sharp and stormy. Then came the hail! Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to pack my winter waterproof, so with hatches fully battened down, I continued the climb.

The path southwards over Margery Hill is fairly easy to find as long as you keep your wits about you. The rain relented slightly as I joined Wilfrey Edge and watched the recent bout of inclement weather move away along Howden Edge.

Despite the unpleasant conditions, there was plenty of wildlife to see. On this section I spotted both Curlew and a Short-Eared Owl; a little further on what I think was a Common Sandpiper.

I followed the clear path along Howden Edge, later branching off towards the obvious knoll of Wet Rocks where I passed a group of twenty-or-so arriving from the west – it may have been a poor day, but there were quite a few people about. It may have been the group from the bus, but it’s difficult to tell under waterproofs.

Then I struck out eastwards across the open moor – keeping on the high side of the catchment for Abbey Brook – at first on a clear track, then narrowing paths and finally over rough moorland, gradually swinging south east to cross Abbey Brook at an easy point beyond the eastern end of its steep sided gorge. Pushing through the heather I inadvertently startled a Mountain Hare, which bounded away in a perfect circle right back to its lair.

I took my lunch sitting on some nearby rocks enjoying a brief sunny interval. Another short spell of bog-trotting brought me to the flagged Cartledge Ridge Path, an easy route up to the distinctive outcrop of Back Tor which I reached about 2.00pm – as did a significant squally shower!

Fully waterproofed again, I set off along Derwent Edge past a series of bizarrely eroded rock formations. As the forecast had predicted the weather was definitely coming from the western quarter, as the hail and thick rain beat an erratic tattoo on my jacket’s hood.

In brighter interludes there were spectacular views west to the Great Ridge, the Vale of Edale and the Kinder Plateau. Occasionally, Red Grouse chuntered off into the distance.

Passing the Derwent/Moscar path crossing, I soon reached Whinstone Lee Tor where I’d hoped for a bit of a break, but another heavy shower cut it short. So I carried on down to Cutthroat Bridge, crossed the A57 and set off up Jarvis Clough. At the end of the clear track a less-obvious route aimed roughly due east towards the edge, gradually petering out into a series of indistinct sheep paths. I picked my way carefully forwards, alone apart from a multitude of birds – Red Grouse, Lapwing, Curlew, Quail and Meadow Pipit.

Finally, I found my way to the base of the edge. Further south, the ramparts are the haunt of climbers, but here there are breaches in the fortifications that allow the walker easy access to the top. I slipped through a gap near Crow Chin and took a short break.

By now, the skies had cleared and the sun was shining, although the wind was freezing. I stopped to chat to two climbers who couldn’t believe how cold it was for mid June! But the edges in the evening sunshine are a beautiful sight, my tiredness forgotten as I passed over High Neb towards Stanage Edge proper.

I dropped off the top near Long Causeway following the path below crags speckled with climbers, picking my way down towards Hathersage via North Lees, Bronte Cottage, Brookfield Manor and Baulk Lane, with glorious views back to the crags.

By now I was making fairly slow progress, but I didn’t mind. There was a game of cricket taking place on the village playing field, and I stopped to watch a few overs.

The Youth Hostel is quite close to the village centre, so it was a simple matter of popping out for something to eat and a few pints at the Little John pub. That first pint of Hartley’s XB really hit the spot – putting that “end of walk” grin on my face. Bliss!

Wednesday 1 June 2011

A New Day

Another weekend, another Bank Holiday. They do come thick and fast at this time of year. Not that I’m complaining, mind – I reckon I could manage a three-day weekend every week.

Anyway, Whitsun found us in the Western Yorkshire Dales once again – a favourite place of ours, but with an unfavourable weather forecast. Saturday dawned overcast and wet, so we spent the morning ducking into gear shops and bookshops. In such circumstance, who could resist buying something? We couldn’t.

After an excellent lunch at the Barbon Inn we found the weather had improved a little, so we took a short stroll along the river and back, just to stretch our legs and get a bit of fresh air, and hatched plans for something a bit more challenging for the following day whatever the weather.

But on Sunday morning we woke once again to low cloud and more rain. Given that we were still functioning at less than 100% our resolve crumbled rather easily. Still, the Howgills will be there another day. Instead, we borrowed our friends’ dog and walked along the Dales Way to Dent whilst considering our alternatives, which was when we hit on the idea to try something new.

We made the short drive to Dent Head and parked beneath the viaduct. Walking up the road (at this point part of the official Dales Way route) we soon reached a gate on our left replete with new signage for the Pennine Bridleway, a newly created route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders that, on completion, will run from Middleton Top in the Peak District to Byrness in Northumberland. This section has only just been officially opened and represents the northern-most part of the trail so far.

We headed off up the well-graded track. Despite being well below the surrounding summits we were quite exposed, buffeted by strong, blustery winds and squally rain. On a clear day, the view south from here would be marvellous, taking in all of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and surrounding countryside.

The track became grassy underfoot as we crested the hill, the length of Widdale stretching before us. A slightly boggy descent brought us to the top of Arten Gill and a crossroads of paths.

We left the Pennine Bridleway and followed the path alongside the Gill, the stream and it’s tributaries plunged down the hillside, swollen after recent rain. Ahead was the Arten Gill viaduct and the hamlet of Stone House in the dale beyond.

Turning left, we picked up the Dales Way and followed the road alongside the River Dee as it tumbled over a series of small waterfalls, the water dark with peat. A short climb brought us back to the car.

By now it was mid afternoon. Having eaten nothing since breakfast, we decided to drive to Hawes for Fish & Chips and a look round. As the afternoon wore on, the cloud began to lift and there were hints of sunshine breaking through. It seemed a pity to waste the best part of the day, so we planned to head back via the Coal Road and find somewhere to take a short stroll.

Pulling over on the verge, we could see a gate and track leading up to our left across Access Land. At last, an opportunity for a bit of off-piste walking when we had the time to try it and no lengthy route to be thwarted if we couldn’t get through!

Wanting to trust to more “natural” route finding dictated by the lie of the land and the obstacles we might encounter, I left the map behind. Having followed the track for half a mile, we struck off uphill alongside a wire fence. Neither this, nor the track (I later found out) were marked on the map.

Being moorland, the ground was a bit wet and boggy in places, and picking a suitable route through was necessary but easy enough. Lapwings’ cries filled the air, and the ground was speckled white with bog cotton. Soon we came to the top of the rise and found ourselves looking over a small pond I later confirmed was Widdale Little Tarn.

The views were spectacular. By now the cloud had dispersed slightly, sunshine had broken through, and a breathtaking panorama of high and wild fells was laid out before us – a view I imagine few people will have seen. 

Back at the car, we were quietly excited about the potential we had uncovered. OK, many will have walked pathless routes before, some very regularly I should imagine. And true, we were barely more than half an hour from the road. It wasn’t even as though we were breaking new ground – there were fences and walls up there, for heaven’s sake, so I’m not claiming this as some major navigational achievement! But to walk somewhere with no path marked on the map or evident on the ground and no fixed route predetermined was a valuable piece of experimentation that has unlocked a wealth of opportunities for future exploration.

I wouldn’t be too concerned now, with suitable allowances, to plan a longer walk in which Access Land plays a significant part. Our normal kit, including map/compass and GPS, would be fine, although gaitors might be a useful addition. Other than that, the main difference is that route finding on the ground needs to be much more pro-active so you don’t work your way into a dead end, and an open mind and flexible approach certainly helps. 

Monday, the weather was again poor. So we just did a brief walk beside the River Rawthay before beginning the long journey home. In many ways, we’d had a quiet and unremarkable weekend, at least from the point of view of epic walks and major attractions with well under 20 miles of walking actually completed. But we definitely came away with much to think about, having pushed our boundaries a little further than before.

That orange shading on the map suddenly seems full of potential, and we will definitely be back for more.