Thursday 30 August 2012

Smardale By The Book – approx 7.00 miles

Saturday August 25th 2012

Map: OS Explorer OL19 – Howgill Fells & Upper Eden Valley

Ravenstonedale – Greenside – High Greenside – Newbiggin-on-Lune – Dismantled Railway – Smardale Gill – Viaduct – Smardale Bridge – Todwray – Ravenstonedale

In a departure from the norm, and for the first time in I-can’t-remember how long, we decided to do a walk from a guidebook: in full, without deviation or extension.

The guidebook in question is Cicerone’s new for 2012 Lune Valley and Howgills by Dennis and Jan Kelsall. I picked up a copy with the idea it would provide inspiration to walk the fringes of an area we have come to know quite well, centred around Sedbergh. I’ll do a little review of the book itself later, but based on this walk it looks likely to be a good investment.

Even for a Bank Holiday, the forecast was unexpectedly grim, so we decided on a short-ish outing first, with the option of further walking later (if the weather was kind) or shopping (if it wasn’t). In the end, we shopped.

Ravenstonedale is a small village situated at the northern edge of the Howgill Fells, just off the A685 between Tebay and Kirkby Stephen. Parking is plentiful, and before long we had donned boots and waterproofs and set off under grey skies and low cloud.

We walked through the village, past the church and out along the road towards Sedbergh before taking to the fields near Town Head. Away to the south, the Howgills were sporting grey, cloudy headwear.

So far, though, we were still dry as we zig-zagged across the fields towards Greenside, crossing Scandal Beck by a stone bridge on the way. After a short stretch of metalled lane, we took to the fields once more, passing behind the farm at High Greenside and walking above Greenside Beck. Although summer has yet to put in much of an appearance this year, the signs of autumn are already beckoning.

Almost imperceptibly we had crossed a watershed. Scandal Beck runs northwards to join the River Eden, eventually reaching the sea at the Solway Firth, whilst Greenside Beck is a tributary of the River Lune, and heads west then south to empty into Morecambe Bay.

We joined another metalled track beside a ruined limekiln then crossed a couple of fields to reach Newbiggin-on-Lune. Although still quite early, we called in at the Lune Spring Garden Centre for tea and cakes. While we were discussing the question of whether to have scones (to rhyme with “gone”) or scones (to rhymes with ”stone”) the cheerful man behind the counter started to take our order. He peered quizzically into the cake tin: “Lucky for you” he said, as deadpan as you like, “We have both available today”.

Suitably fortified, we headed off again. The first few drops of rain were falling as we crossed the main road to meet a farm track heading for Brownber, passing the spring of St Helen’s Well – the acknowledged start of the River Lune – along the way.

The next section followed the track-bed of the disused Stainmore Railway. At one time, this crossed the Pennines connecting Tebay and Darlington via one of the highest sections of main line railway in England. Now, it provides walking access to Smardale.

We pressed on through strengthening rain, passing several examples of railway architecture and industrialisation along the way. And we were not alone – we passed several packs of bedraggled walkers as we went, most huddling for shelter wherever they could find it.

Soon, we crossed the Smardale Gill Viaduct, an impressive structure that had been about to be dismantled before restoration work allowed it to be re-opened in 1992.

At the far end, we turned right and picked up a clear, permissive path along the beck side, with great views back to the viaduct.

In the scant shelter offered by a hawthorn tree, we checked the guidebook, aiming to memorise the remainder of the route. In truth, navigation was pretty easy, and before long Smardale Bridge came into view.

We hurried on, keen now to end the walk and get out of the rain. Few photos were taken, as stopping proved uncomfortable. Soon, though, we reached the brow of a low hill, and Ravenstonedale could be seen amongst the trees ahead.

A final muddy section provided one last twist, but soon we passed under the main road and joined a stony lane into the village. The continual heavy rain had served to test our gear (to failure and beyond, in some cases) but it had not managed to dampen our spirits.

Which says something about the quality of the walk. Guidebooks may not be for everyone, but there are advantages to tried and tested routes. This was a nice little walk for a half day, and we would definitely do it again – but hopefully in better weather next time!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Edgton, Kempton & Hopesay – approx 8.00 miles

Saturday August 18th 2012

Edgton – Hazel Knap – Short Wood – Kempton – Shropshire Way (E) – Nichol’s Barn – Hopesay – Hopesay Hill – Terra Incognita – Shropshire Way (N) – Basford Bank – Edgton

It was a grey, overcast morning as we rolled into Edgton, a tiny village situated beneath the southern end of the Long Mynd, hidden at the centre of a web of narrow lanes. Flecks of rain dotted the car windscreen we searched for a parking space – luckily the Village Hall car park came to our rescue.

A few minutes later we were rising gently across the fields towards Short Wood, the views opening up to the northwest.

Soon we were skirting the southern edge of the wood on a path clear at first, but increasingly overgrown and indistinct. Fortunately the handrail of the trees made for easy navigation, particularly where the way markers performed a disappearing act.

Having crossed the ridge, the views were now open to the south and west where the distinct camel-hump of Burrow Hill dominated the foreground.

An overgrown, nettle-strewn copse proved tricky to negotiate until a rickety stile deposited us on to a clear track of limited headroom.

A little further on, the path cut into the trees. It was a warm, humid morning – especially under the trees – the kind of conditions that gave the thick undergrowth a distinctly jungle-y feel. Our route cut a feint line through head-high brambles and bracken, still soggy from recent rain.

Before long we reached a clearer track through the woods, and exited into the open once more. A handy tree-stump provided the opportunity for a snack break before we made our way down into Kempton, a tiny village straddling the B4385.

Here we picked up the Shropshire Way, heading eastwards. This route was now to be our companion almost all the way back. A clear, metalled track rose steadily out of the village – making for easier going and route finding – whilst behind us the views opened up once more.

At the brow of the hill, we took to the fields again. As we had found in Short Wood, this year’s warm, wet summer had encouraged hefty plant growth: both weeds and crops – seemingly equally rampant – lay collapsed in a soggy tangle across the path.

To our right, Burrow Hill rose steeply to its crowning hill fort, whilst ahead the more obvious tops of the Stretton hills were coming into view.

A steady descent brought us into the third village of the day – Hopesay. Quite by coincidence we passed a teashop. Should we go in? Well, it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Two cream teas later, we were climbing out of the valley on a steep path that cut a clear swathe through the bracken up on to Hopesay Common. The view behind us – back over the village towards Burrow Hill - was worth the climb alone.

For the next mile or so, we were walking into the unknown. “Here be dragons,” proclaimed maps of old in the face of uncharted territory. There may well be dragons hereabouts – after all, we were close to the Welsh border – but there were none in evidence today: the Shropshire Way is well signed and clear on the ground and the turn northwards very apparent. We followed the handrail of a wire fence rising gently on a grassy path with fantastic views all round.

As we neared the road we passed a stile marked with the legend “The Moving Finger Writes” – a quote from one verse of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khyyam, and the origin of the title of Agatha Christie’s novel featuring Miss Marple.

The verse in full is:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Put simply: whatever you do in life is your own responsibility, and you can’t go back and change anything you later regret – so choose wisely! Quite what the connection is between the quote and the area (if any) I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting way of individualising a stile!

The final section of our route followed quiet lanes, still mostly keeping to the Shropshire Way. Since Hopesay the cloud had gradually been clearing. Now bright sunshine accompanied us as we trundled back into Edgton.

All in all, it had been a good walk: a little overgrown in places (especially Short Wood, where the sodden, head-high vegetation and muggy atmosphere made for an uncomfortable passage) but in the main offering varied going and some fabulous views given the relatively small stature of the hills we traversed (in particular those to all quarters from Hopesay Common).

We’d definitely do this circuit again, although we both reckon it might be at it’s best on a frosty, winter’s day – crisp underfoot, and with a light dusting of snow on the higher tops.

So, having writ, I’ll move on – without regrets!

Friday 17 August 2012

An Olympic Legacy

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that over the last two weeks or so, Britain – or, more specifically, London – has been hosting the Olympic games. By almost every measure, this has been a roaring success, and Team GB has exceeded expectations with a medal count unheard of for over 100 years. The Paralympics are soon to follow, and there is every reason to be optimistic about the success of this event as well.
So, after seven years of build-up and a summer’s worth of events, we are soon to be moving into what is termed the legacy phase of the project. And the big question being asked is this: can we capitalise on the social, economic and sporting benefits that have been generated by a successful games?

The first two categories are relatively easy to define and measure, being as the impact will be felt in the short- to mid-term. Bar some re-working, most of the construction projects are already complete, and further economic benefit will become evident as the country picks up in terms of tourism and inward investment.

But the sporting benefit – at least outside of the range of our elite athletes – will be slower to manifest itself and harder to measure, taking perhaps a decade or even a generation to become fully clear.

Getting more people involved in more sports is easy to say, but harder to do. One of the major obstacles to achieving success will be the availability of sufficient facilities – there simply won’t be enough tennis courts, swimming pools or cycling tracks available immediately to accommodate everyone whose interest has been piqued.

And this is where walking can step in.

All those who do so on a regular basis know the benefits walking can bring, both physically and mentally. It is simple to get started, cheap to do and easy for all the family to get involved, needing little specialist training or equipment – especially at the outset.

There are also lots of ramblers clubs already in existence across the country for those who prefer a more social, less independent option. And there is a ready-made network of paths criss-crossing the country already in place, ranging from gentle walks in the park to serious mountain scrambles.

Beyond that, there is the undoubted draw that Long Distance Paths and National Trails have on tourism from abroad – something else the legacy committee have targeted to increase in the wake of the Games.

In theory it should be perfectly simple to capitalise on these circumstances. But it is here I feel that an opportunity could be missed if we are not careful. We all know about the cuts in funding to the Public Sector: cuts that have impacted heavily on perceived “non-essential” services such as Rights Of Way departments. In turn, that will have a huge effect on how the ROW network is maintained and protected, with a potential loss of access through unchallenged illegal blockages and poor maintenance the likely result. And nothing is more likely to deter potential users than that.

So I believe the time is right to consider a radical proposition.

Rather than leaving the network at the mercy of the financial axe man as it is at the moment, now is actually the time for some meaningful investment and a long-term strategy of protection and improvement.

It is well understood that every £1 invested in support of the outdoor industry delivers a return several times higher. For what would be a relatively small sum of money (compared to the whole cost of staging the Games) we could deliver a legacy whose ramifications would last for decades, if not generations.

A physically and mentally fitter population; a boost to tourism (and hence the economy) that would allow small businesses to grow and new ones to be started; more jobs, spread across the whole of the country and in areas that often have little or no other work to offer; income for high streets keeping countryside towns and villages vibrant and viable.

It all seems a bit of a no-brainer to me.

But will anything happen?

Monday 13 August 2012

A Wet Wolds Wander (12/8/12)

A photo-lite trip report this time – I forgot to take my camera!

Like millions of other Brits, we have spent much of the last couple of weeks mesmerised by the goings-on at London 2012. Although we had been grumpily underwhelmed by the prospect in the weeks, months and years prior to the opening ceremony, come the day we caved in and got hooked by stories emanating from the Olympic Park and elsewhere.

But despite the obvious success of Team GB, by last weekend it seemed the time had come to get out and do a bit of exercise again for ourselves, having contented ourselves with most local potters in recent weeks.

So, with a decent forecast predicted, we packed lunch and a minimum of gear into the car and headed for the Cotswolds. It had been a fair while since our previous visit, so we were happy to settle for an old favourite circuit from the pretty village of Guiting Power.

Now I know many people consider the Cotswolds to be little more than a countryside theme park of chocolate-box villages for the minor aristocracy, “get-off-my-land” media-types, and writers of middle class angst novels; the air rich with the pervasive whiff of money, privilege and horseshit. But despite these obvious attractions, look carefully and there is still an undeniably beautiful landscape of wooded hillsides, long ridges and clear streams waiting to be explored.

Although perhaps less suited to the hill-walker or backpacker, the Cotswolds is an area buzzing with opportunities for the day walker and LDP-er. Besides the eponymous Cotswold Way, within a 3-mile radius of Stow-on-the-Wold alone there are no fewer than 9 other waymarked LDPs with a huge variety of length, difficulty and theme on offer – the Wardens Way, the Windrush Way, The Diamond Way, the Gloucestershire Way, the Gustav Holst Way, the Oxfordshire Way, the Monarch’s Way, the Macmillan Way and the Heart Of England Way – let alone the web of interconnecting paths yet to be “Way-ified”. Phew!

Anyhow: with our circuit chosen and our rucksacks packed, we headed off under a disconcertingly grey sky. Despite a reasonable spell of weather and an encouraging forecast, the promised early morning sunshine had faded, and before we had crossed more than a couple of fields, spots of rain began to fall. Weather forecasting appears to have much in common with the investment industry: past performance being no guarantee of future outcomes.

Over the next half an hour, a steady drizzle set in, and we took an early lunch in case conditions worsened. Which they did, and for the next 90 minutes we trudged along – happily enough, immersed in our own thoughts – through full-on rain, occasionally distracting ourselves from soggy discomfort by discussing the performance or otherwise of our current crop of summer gear (of which more in a future post!).

In the end we decided to cut down our planned 13-mile route, taking a shortcut along metalled lanes to lop off around 3 miles of walking. Of course, at this point, the rain relented slightly – but not altogether, as a final soaking just before getting back to the car demonstrated.

So, not quite the sunny ramble we had envisaged. However, in spite of the soaking we had enjoyed our outing, although it was a relief to shed our sodden rucksacks, jackets and boots when we got back to the car.

One important lesson we did learn, though: being out in the rain can be quite enjoyable – but it helps if you have a bit of decent gear to keep the elements at bay!