Monday 15 April 2013

Gear Update: Craghoppers Ridge II Waterproof Trousers

Another item of clothing I hope can be consigned to the wardrobe for a few months now that spring is approaching are my trusty Craghoppers Ridge II Waterproof Trousers. In the original review (September 2011) I scored them at 24/30:

But what is the verdict after almost 18 months of use?

Well, still pretty good, as it happens.

As far as the colder half of the year goes, these are now my “go to” trousers for walking – whether rain is forecast, or not. The beauty is they are waterproof trousers that can be worn all day (as opposed to waterproof overtrousers and the inherent fiddle of having to take them on and off). They are not too hot for the moderately warm days of autumn and spring, and can be teamed with thermal leggings in real cold conditions (as during our winter trip to Mayrhofen in early 2012).

Also they have proved reliably waterproof in some quite nasty weather, are pretty comfortable and are as tough as old boots – and all for £50. In fact the only downside as I see it is that they rustle slightly in use. And (on a personal note) the sizing is such that I fall smack in between two sizes, with medium being a fraction too small and large a fraction too big.

To be honest, though, I had been waiting for a product like this for years, so it was likely I’d be happy with them – at least compared to what I’d used before.

Unfortunately, Craghoppers discontinued the style almost as soon as I had bought them, which was slightly disappointing. In retrospect, though, it was unsurprising: a new generation of softshell fabrics was arriving on the scene, offering waterproof performance and higher breathability with stretch comfort in one – and no rustle! The latest version of the waterproof trouser is the Steall (for Men) and the Aira (for Women), both rather different garments from what I can see and, with the fleece lining, possibly better suited to quite cold conditions by all accounts:

Overall, I’m very happy with the Ridge II trousers, and will no doubt use them extensively in the future. But it has to be said that technology has overtaken them, with new materials that can offer a greater package of benefits. However, the principle of proper trousers that are waterproof is a great step forward, and, in the less clement half of the year, I would be loath to go back to old-fashioned overtrousers.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Gear Update: Uniqlo Heattech T Shirt & Long Johns

As winter finally seems to be slipping away, and it’s icy grip on the nation relenting, it’s time, at last, to turn to warmer thoughts of spring and summer. But before we consign this bout of intemperate weather to the history books, I thought I’d do a quick update on a couple of products that can, hopefully, be hidden away for the next few months.

The first is the Uniqlo Heattech T Shirt & Long Johns, originally reviewed back in February last year.

I had no idea at the time that thermal baselayers such as these would prove essential for a British winter, but they’ve come in handy on several occasions over this long, cold spell, both for walking and when out and about.

Having had a further twelve months in which to consider their merits, I am still happy with my initial conclusions (originally scored at 30/30). They are durable, well-fitting, lightweight, comfortable and warm, and definitely prove resistent to pongs for several days in a row, even when working hard. And, despite the fact they have now been washed several times, there has been no discernable reduction in any aspect of performance.

One comment on the original post mentioned that there was a percentage of cotton contained in the fibre used, which conflicted with the information I had sourced. I checked this on the Uniqlo website and found that the Heattech range includes items made from a range of fibre types, some of which contain cotton and some which don’t. These definitely don’t, but care is needed to choose the correct blend.

Here is a link to the relevant part of the Uniqlo website (Mens's):

Stocks are currently low – possibly because we are about to enter the spring/summer season.

Monday 8 April 2013

Killington Wind Farm Proposal

Over the Easter weekend, we spent a few days bimbling round the fells and dales of this beautiful corner of the world. We had to drive home on the Monday, but before doing so we did a little circuit from Sedbergh, and I came across a leaflet about the proposed new wind farm at Killington Lakes.

Now there is a lot to this, and I don’t propose to go into the nitty gritty here in full. But links are provided for anyone that wants to find out more about the contractors:

and about the “against” campaign:

Local villagers have voted in support of the proposal (I’ll come back to that in a minute). Never mind the fact that it will be sited between two other wind farms – Armistead (3-5km away) and Lambrigg (1-2km away) in an area not long ago mooted for inclusion into a connecting corridor between the LDNP and the YDNP (and the subsequent “protection” that would imbue). And never mind that the “artists impression” in the advertising made these look smaller and further apart with the clever use of perspective, or that the turbines mooted for Killington will actually be 32m (100ft) higher than neighbouring Armistead, making them 132m high. There might only be three turbines proposed, but for those not familiar with metric measurements, and I daresay that will be quite a few (another ploy by the planners to play down the impact) that means in old money they will be 433ft high – the tallest, I am led to understand, ever built on land in the UK.

Never mind, either, that they can be seen from Sedbergh, Kendal, and all the surrounding fells including, but not limited to, the Howgills, Middleton Fell, Barbon & Casterton Fells, Scout Scar, Grayrigg, and Whinfell Beacon.

Never mind the limited contribution these three turbines can make, or that the net CO2 reduction will be almost infinitesimal.

Also, never mind opposition to the scheme from the RSPB, Natural England, YDNP, the Yorkshire Dales Society, Friends of the Lake District, Cameron McNeish, all local parishes except one, two local MPs (Tim Farron and Rory Stewart) and even Cumbria County Council! Or that Killington parish, where the turbines will NOT be visible from, have opposed all other (visible) wind farm applications in the past! Or that the support from residents ran out at 55% - a majority, but hardly a convincing one.

No, ignore all that for a moment and I’ll tell you what REALLY stuck in my craw.

What with all the opposition (both currently and historically) to the scheme from the local community, the wider lack of support from surrounding parishes and towns, objections from local politicians and argument against from a variety of interested bodies directly linked with tourism, wildlife and protection of the area/National parks, you may be wondering why the local parishioners voted in favour of the scheme?

Well, I’ll tell you – it’s because they've had a FUCKING GREAT BRIBE!

OK, so this bribe has been camouflaged in such a way as to salve the conscience of both briber and bribee, but bribe it is, nevertheless. Here is a quote directly from Banks Renewables website about the scheme:

“Banks has also developed new initiatives around tackling fuel poverty and improving local broadband access as part of the wind farm project, in response to comments from local people about how the community benefits fund that would be associated with the wind farm might best be used.

The final decision on how to allocate the fund, which will amount to around £675,000 over the 25-year lifespan of the scheme, will be agreed with local people, and the broadband and fuel efficiency schemes have been put forward by Banks as examples of how the money might be used to secure a positive, long-term local legacy for the wind farm”.

For balance, and in the spirit of even-handedness, here is a link to the full press release:

So that’s how it happened! Nothing, in the end, to do with needs of the people, the greater good of the nation, or benefits to the wider community, etc, etc, etc. No: just a whopping hand out to the voters to the tune of £27k a year. Community Benefits fund = bung!

Not only that, Ladies and Gentlemen, but you and me are footing the bill for it. Whether the money comes from “profits” (overcharging us in energy prices) or subsidies (our taxes), each and every one of us is being forced to tacitly support such schemes and such behaviour.

It is rotten to the core!

If you feel as strongly as I do, either about the scheme or the blatant cynicism surrounding it, please follow the link below and click on the “Count Me In” tab on the left hand side to register your objection.

Thank you.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Easter In Dentdale – Day 3

Upper Dentdale & The PBW – approx 14.35 miles

Sunday March 31st 2013

Map: OS Explorer OL2 – Yorkshire Dales Southern & Western Areas

Dentdale – Ewegales Bridge – Lea Yeat – Stonehouse – Cowgill – Dent Head – Newby Head – Pennine Bridleway (N) – Dent Fell – Coal Road – Dent Station – Lea Yeat – Ewegales Bridge – Dentdale

Another chilly morning dawned, this time without the mitigating warmth of the sun. So it was under slate grey skies that we set off up the dale.

Suffering no ill effects from yesterday’s outing, we felt we were beginning to get back to something like proper fitness again. Considering what we have coming later in the year, this is good news! But we wanted another reasonably testing outing – one with a mix of distance and difficulty – to satisfy ourselves we are close to being ready for consecutive full days on the trail.

The first part of the walk was a trundle up the dale – essentially following the Dales Way via Ewegales Bridge, Lea Yeat and Cowgill to Dent Head viaduct. Some Dales Way-ers decry this part of the route, claiming that the lengthy road walk detracts from the experience as a whole, and instead take a higher route via the Craven Way from Ribblehead across the flanks of Whernside. But we (and others, happily) are of the opinion that Upper Dentdale is a unique place with a special atmosphere, and worthy of its place on the route.

Anyway, I digress.

Pottering up the dale is easy enough going. In compensation there is plenty of “countryside” in evidence to add interest to the journey – including some of the more arcane practices.

Later in the walk, we came across Crows tied similarly to the fence. Presumably, they are killed because of a perceived threat to young lambs, but I must admit I thought this type of practice – at least as far as Crows are concerned – had pretty much died out?

As if we needed any reminding, winter is still proving hard to shrug off: what little water there is still subject to its icy grip.

Just below Dent Head viaduct we paused for a quick break, glad of the chance for a hot drink and a quick bite. A bite of a different kind came as we passed under the viaduct and out on to the more open ground of Blea Moor – a powerful, icy wind nipping at any uncovered skin. Jackets were donned.

At the junction with the Pennine Bridleway we turned for home. Climbing away from the road along the stony track, with snow-capped Pen-y-Ghent and frozen Ingleborough visible away to the south, it was as if we had suddenly been transported to Narnia or the arctic tundra of the far North.

Soon, though, the hard work of the day was to begin in earnest. As we rose higher, the snow became deeper and the going more energy sapping. By the time we reached the top of Arten Gill we were ready for another break, so we found as sheltered a spot as we could, made more hot drinks and ate our lunch.

The next section – below Great Knoutberry Hill, as far as the Coal Road – made for a real wintry experience. The prevailing winds, funnelled along the dale, had driven the snow into sizeable drifts.

Plenty of fun was had floundering through the drifts. For some reason we found the gates easier to negotiate than usual, and the low-level signage provided a different perspective.

On reaching the Coal Road we found the way over to Garsdale completely blocked to traffic by the drifts. How long this might take to clear is anyone’s guess, but it’ll be a while if the temperatures stay as low as they have been.

We turned the other way. A trundle down the road, past Dent Station, and down the steep incline brought us into Lea Yeat. Sitting on a handy wall, we took another break for food and drink – and mobile phone retrieval: fortunately snow prevented a wetter or more inelastic landing.

From Lea Yeat it was a straightforward potter back along the Dales Way.

With miles in our legs and time on our feet in the bank, and some great time in the great outdoors, it had been the perfect weekend - if a bit on the cold side!

Friday 5 April 2013

Easter In Dentdale – Day 2

Deepdale, The Occupation Road & Dent – approx 13.10 miles

Saturday March 30th 2013

Map: OS Explorer OL2 – Yorkshire Dales Southern & Western Areas

Dentdale – Dyke Hall Lane – Deepdale – Mire Garth – White Shaw – The Occupation Road Blea Gills – Ralph’s Moss – South Lord’s Land – Barbondale Road – Gawthrop – Dent – Dentdale

After yesterday’s relatively easy trundle we wanted something a bit meatier to get our teeth into today, so we chose this circuit linking Dentdale, Deepdale and Barbondale by the Occupation Road.

The sun was already shining as we set off, and last night’s bitter cold and frost had all but dissipated as we made our way along Dyke Hall Lane and on into Deepdale. Even at busy times, this route below the western flank of Whernside is usually quiet, and today proved no exception – apart from a couple of chaps staying at Mire Garth Farm we saw no one at all.

Last time we came this way – unbelievably Whitsun 2010, if I recall correctly – the sun was shining and the fields full of meadow flowers. But today the ground was wet and marshy: despite the cold and lack of rain, too wet to be mud free, not frozen enough to make for easier going.

The climb out of the dale across White Shaw is always steep. With snowy patches and part-frozen ground underfoot purchase was sometimes difficult to come by, but we made the road without incident. Behind us, Aye Gill Pike and the distant Howgills were topped with the merest sprinkle of snow.

Ahead, though, was a different story. Here, winter was still holding sway, snowdrifts were very much in evidence, and the whole walk took on a new, more interesting dimension.

The Occupation Road wends its way around the flanks of Great Coum, Crag Hill and Towns Fell, until it reaches Barbondale Road some 5½ miles later. In days of yore, it was a smooth, green packhorse track, allowing the movement of goods such as peat and coal from the high fells. Now, apart from the first mile or so (which has been repaired), it is quite badly damaged, deeply rutted and eroded, and prone to being wet and muddy for much of the time.

So the deep snow was a help to progress, at least in parts where the crust was firm and the snow compact. Admittedly, it was possible to break through to the puddles beneath and get an unpleasant boot full of cold, muddy water, but this happened to only one foot and didn’t detract too much from the sense of enjoyment.

After a couple of miles, we found a slightly sheltered spot for lunch. On a day such as this, a mug of hot soup is a real spirit lifter – as are the views, which are always a real highlight of this path.

We continued along the track, past the turn-off to Slack, and on to reach the top of Flintergill – the direct route down to Dent. We had initially intended to make our way back from here, but the day was yet young and we were keen for more, so we modified our plans and carried on.

On reaching Barbondale Road we passed a couple of farmhands sorting sheep. With snowy patches at higher levels and bitterly cold nights, bringing the expectant ewes off the fells to lamb in lower, more sheltered fields makes a lot of sense.

Finally, in the late afternoon sunshine, we wandered home – through Gawthrop and on towards Dent, where the lure of a pot of tea was too much to resist. Cake also appeared, consumed with no guilt whatsoever as we looked back on a good day’s walking.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Easter In Dentdale – Day 1

Firbank & The Lune Valley – approx 7.35 miles

Friday March 29th 2013

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

Firbank – Fox’s Pulpit – New Field – Whinny Haw – Stocks – Goodies – Dales Way (N) – Crook Of Lune Bridge – Lowgill – Lakethwaite – Old Scotch Road – Firbank

I was beginning to think Easter would never come. Since our last trip north about a month ago, the days – at least the weekdays – have flowed by like treacle: viscous and slow. To top it all off, the forecast during the previous week had predicted such foul, wintry conditions that we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near our digs even if we tried: so much so we had even contemplated hiking in if necessary.

In the end, there was nothing to worry about. Blue skies and bright sunshine greeted our mid-morning arrival, and the snow-capped Howgills were looking at their best. It was bitterly cold, though – something that would be a common theme all weekend, and which made us constantly aware of the juxtaposition between winter and spring in which we found ourselves.

After a stroll along the lane past Fox’s Pulpit, we cut across the fields to pick up a track past Whinny Haw. Away to our right, views extended beyond the Howgills to Middleton Fell, Great Coum, Whernside, and the other high fells in the area.

As we descended towards Stocks, we picked up something of an entourage, and for a few minutes we were quietly but purposefully followed at a distance of about two paces. It was quite comical, really: when we stopped, they stopped; when we moved on, so did they. What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?

After a short road section, we took a field path that dropped steeply down below Goodies, and crossed the dismantled railway line to reach a bridge over the River Lune. I don’t think we have ever seen it with so little water in – much of the riverbed seen here is usually under water.

Beyond the bridge we connected with the Dales Way. Heading north, we followed the undulating path along the riverside, passing across pasture and through woods, stopping briefly for lunch by a rocky beach. Despite the pleasant conditions, the Bank Holiday and the fact we were on a major walking route, we saw few people – no problem, really, as peace and quiet were being sought. Ambling along in the sunshine, it was easy to imagine that spring was almost upon us.

From Crook Of Lune Bridge, we followed the Dales Way further, along the lanes, beneath Lowgill Viaduct and on through the hamlet. Road, river and rail all pass through here, taking advantage of a low pass through the fells, and you are always aware of the them – not least the nearby M6. But filter out the drone of the traffic and the scenery more than compensates – especially the views back to the Howgills.

Beyond the motorway, the Dales Way heads off into the eastern fringes of Lakeland (and succumbs to a change in character which we found not entirely to our liking when we did the whole route a few years ago). Today, though, we kept to the lanes, and made our way back to the car.

For a short, half-day walk, this route passes through quite varied scenery. Being near to the motorway, is a good option if you are travelling to or from the area, and the views of Lune Dale and the surrounding fells – particularly the Howgills – are excellent.