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Journal: Cycling the Camino de Santiago

This blog is the journal I wrote while cycling the Camino. I’ll add more about the planning and preparation, soon!

Day 1: León to San Justo de la Vega

Set off late morning, the anticipated excessive faffing and a quick trip to Aldi for supplies meant a slower start. Getting out of León was a bit tricky but a bit of pushing bikes down one-way streets following the yellow arrows and we were clear.

A mix of trail and road, the roads had wide edges for bikes giving us lots of smooth tarmac to get some miles under our pedals. After Hospital De Orbigo, we opted for the trail over rough track to Cruceiro de Santo Toribio which provided a hearty dose of Type 2 fun in the heat and dust.

Arrived in San Justo de la Vega at just after 4pm. Now snoozing and contemplating dinner.

Day 2: San Justo de la Vega to El Acebo

An earlier start leaving Santo Justo de la Vega. We stopped in Astorga on the hunt for sellos (stamps in our credencial to show we have completed the Camino) but with the cathedral closed we headed on to Santa Catalina de Somoza for breakfast coffee and cake after the first climb of the day. A flat section on small but excellent roads along side the walker’s path gave respite before the big pull. We stopped at a medieval themed cafe for water before setting off for the highest point on the Camino.

At 1,505m above sea level, Cruz de Ferro is a place of significance, it is here that you leave a stone or token. I took a piece of gritstone from Stanage Edge, a place I have walked and climbed often, and left it in memory of three lovely people who died far too young. It was a moment of personal reflection too: it has taken a lot to get me here, but I’d made it and perhaps this is the start of a bigger change.

The next section was one to set the heart racing: firstly another set of descents and climbs (I am now sporting a set of chainring shaped holes in my calf following a wobble on a steep up bit) then 5km of brake-bashing descent 500m straight down to the gorgeous El Acebo where we are spending the night. Buen Camino!

Day 3: El Acebo to Villafranca del Bierzo

El Acebo is just blummin’ lovely. We were very reluctant to leave the mountain and with a shorter day ahead we took our time over breakfast. The air had the cold tang of high ground and, with the mantra ‘be bold, start cold’, we set off. 10km of down hill later and we peeled our frozen bodies off the bikes to look for coffee in Ponferrada.

Ponferrada is a larger town with the benefit of bike shops to pick up some spare brake pads. After a day in the mountains the bustle of navigating the market to get out and the route along the busy main road recommended by the cyclist guide was unpleasant. A stop at Cacabelos for fizzy drinks and sellos delivered by a sparkly-eyed elderly man at the church made up for Ponferrada.

A last haul up hill past a sweet smelling winery and we swung round the twisty streets of Villafranca del Bierzo and a rest day with Mum and Dad.

Day 4: rest day in Villafranca

Met up with mum and dad and had a fab evening and day doing very little except strolling round the town and keeping the bars in business. Stopped by the Ave Fenix albergue for a sello and ended up meeting a guy who used to live in the small Dorset town where my parents live.

We had a fantastic dinner in the hostel to reduce the calorie deficit in readiness for a challenging day ahead.

Day 5: Villafranca to Pedrafita de Cebreiro

The day of up. 30km of up, all the way from Villafranca to Pedrafita de Cebreiro. Not many photos of the day but I was pleasantly surprised that I pedalled the whole way and didn’t have to hike the bike and didn’t really drop to type 2 fun either. We wound our way through small villages on a quiet road to a perfectly nice hotel and another excellent menu del peregrino.

Day 6: Pedrafita de Cebreiro to Sarria

Sunrise was subdued above thick cloud that covered Pedrafita and the surrounding mountains, so lights were fitted to bikes and high viz tops donned. The first 5km to O’Cebreiro was more of the same up from yesterday making a tough start to the ride. A coffee and cake for breakfast as a warm up surrounded by the thatched cottages provided a kick start and we set off towards Sarria.

The broad road turned to tracks through villages after Triacastela, sometimes turning to rough gravel tracks through farms and hamlets with a bit of hike-a-bike needed.

The day was slightly spoilt by a car pulling out of a parking space with out looking resulting in me decking the bike and ending up with a bloody knee. Application of my first aid skills and plenty medicinal red wine over dinner helped! Buen Camino!

Day 7: Sarria to Portomarin

A short but sweet day today. Sarria is a popular start for walkers and the paths were noticeably busier. The usual start to the day’s ride seems to be a lung-bursting steep ascent and today was no different. A lot of the trail to Portomarin is on tracks, the plan was to miss the most hike-a-bike bits and pick up the country lanes later in the ride.

We headed for the village of Peruscallo for coffee first. While chomping on a delicious pastry and chocolate concoction, we made a decision about the day’s plans. Combining the number of people on the paths (its Sunday so lots of families out for the day) and that, after riding a short distance I was a little concerned my tumble yesterday had caused a bit of damage to the bike, we decided to stick to the smoother main roads. This meant we rode across the bridge to Portomarin at lunchtime and met with mum and dad again for a much needed cuppa while checking the bikes over before wandering into the village for a beer or two.

Rest day tomorrow!

Day 8: rest day in Portomarin

Rest day! Walked along the flooded valley where Portomarin used to be before the river was dammed in the 1960s. Unlike Ladybower Reservoir in the Peak District, lots of the old village is still intact, including the bridge which locals still use when the level is low and the old bandstand.

It was hot today, 27C so most of today was spent in the shade reading. Met a guy called Russell who is funding his Camino by busking and caught up with the Canadian lady from Sarria.

Rested and ready for a longer hot day tomorrow!

Day 9: Portomarin to Arzúa

The long day – brought to you with a good dose of Type 2 fun. We set off under cloudy skies, to the gentle sound of the neighbouring hens joyfully eating their breakfast.

Our breakfast stop was 8km down the road at Gonzar in a bustling cafe. The country road then wound its way up to today’s summit at 700m before unwinding down to Palais de Rei. Then came a good deal of tarmac. Smooth and with gentle inclines it was to a road cyclist a small piece of heaven, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. And good tea is important!

A diversion on to the back roads with a small dose of tracks mixed in lightened my mood as did the opportunity to help a fellow cyclist who’s hired bike needed the strategic application of some cable ties. The road then lead to a lunch stop, Casa Domingo at Ponte Campaña. Excellent tortilla was chomped on by us, but the sparrows got most of the bread!

The hotel at Arzúa was a much welcome sight and after a shower and beer all was right in the world again. Another entertaining conversation with fellow Peregrinos over dinner ensued before collapsing into bed.

Can’t quite believe tomorrow is the last day on the bike.

Day 10: Arzúa to Santiago

Pushing the bike out the hotel lock up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from today’s ride. The trail follows the main road into Santiago so we decided to swap between the two depending on the terrain and volume of traffic (both those with engines and those with feet).

In the end, the trails were not too busy and are easy to ride on a tourer. The landscape is rolling countryside: beautiful and green and hard on the legs! A now usual stop for coffee at a cafe and sello broke the morning ride but with the end so close we didn’t pause for long.

At the top of what I renamed ‘Hill of a hundred false summits’ An enterprising man-with-van had set up a stall selling tourist tat and, more importantly, bananas. Refuelled, we began to leave the countryside and ride into the suburbs.

The last kilometre was on foot, pushing the bikes through narrow cobbled roads, down steps and past the noisy hubbub of the crowds. Down a last flight of steps and past a Galician piper (think bagpipes but with a single drone) and we turned, finally into Praza do Obradoiro.

Done. My first ever cycle tour. It won’t be my last and I’d still like to walk the whole 800km from St Jean some time. Buen Camino!

How I...

How I… learnt to ski

Going to Svalbard is going to be a huge learning curve for me, but the biggest challenge is skiing.  The cold, the camping, the days on my feet covering long distances are all extensions of things I have done before: I have a vague idea of what I am letting myself in for and know I coped.

But skiing is a completely new skill.

I couldn’t afford to just go to somewhere snowy abroad (I didn’t have the holiday allocation anyway) and Scottish snow is not something to rely upon, especially as it would almost certainly be perfect conditions on the weekend I couldn’t go! So I needed to find another way to learn.

My Skikes

Back at Yestival 2018, when I announced I was going to Svalbard and that I couldn’t ski, someone suggested roller skis. I filed it in the back of my mind until, while on a course in London, I saw someone roller skiing in Greenwich Park. Some research later and I discovered Skikes. These are a little different – sort of what would happen if rollerblades and a mountain bike had a baby. They are German and looked very bad-ass: my shiny toy sensor pinged and I contacted, John at Skike Sports North.

John was very keen to help and I became the proud owner of a pair of V9 Fire Skikes. It’s always worth joining the Facebook groups for obscure sports or interests, they are often full of keen people with a passion that want to share it, I was soon directed to instruction videos, hints and tips and offers of help and encouragement.

Skikes on my feet

It was on a  week’s holiday that I really started to get the hang of them.

Outside the cottage was over a mile of barely used rough tarmac leading to a forest track. I spent hours up and down, up and down while my calves screamed at me to stop. The next challenge was to Skike round the forest at home. This added the excitement of people and bikes and kids on bike darting around like over-excited squirrels, dogs and dogs on leads that stretched across the path in front of me.

I nearly bottled it. I reached the gate and a huge dose of imposter syndrome hit. Who on earth am I, a 42 year old woman wearing novelty rollerblades and elbow pads? What if I fall over in front of someone? What if I rolled, out of control, taking out small children as I catered towards the lake? I had a moment. I did have a bit of a cry. And then I remembered Zoe Langley-Wathen’s 100 Scary Days, a challenge to get out of your comfort zone. I hoiked up my brave pants and set off. And guess what? It was fine. I didn’t fall over and didn’t visit the ducks in the lake. No one paid attention to me but my feet got lots of admiring glances with exclamations of “they’re cool!”. So, on to the next stage. Snow.

Feeling smug having not fallen over in front of the crowds

Imposter syndrome again. Sat in my hired ski boots and salopettes, surrounded by cool looking people in funky ski wear while I sweated uncomfortably in my outdoor gear. I was fearful of finding out I was really crap at skiing. I had made one good decision to have a full 6 hour lesson at Chill Factore in Manchester, rather than broken in to 3 lessons. Other groups were spending the first half an hour recapping what they did the last time, whereas we just kept going. And I discovered I loved it. And I wasn’t too bad at it either. Our instructor Paul B was brilliant, he adapted the lesson so all eight on the course got individual attention and got the most from it. By the end I was happily parallel turning and a bit sad I had to go home.

Getting the hang of this skiing malarkey

Done. Next stop, Polar Training in Kvitåvatn. Eek.

Journey to Svalbard, Uncategorized

How I… Decided on a cold adventure

It started, as I think may adventures do, in the queue for mulled cider at Yestival.

A felt penguin wearing a fair isle jumper and bobble hat

I finished cycling the Camino in October 2017 (blog here) and was feeling a combination of the post-adventure blues and a lack of direction.  My husband had given me a felt penguin as a present from a business trip – The Penguin of Future Adventures.  I named her Isabella Bird. Isabella Bird was an explorer and the first woman elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, so it seemed a good name for an adventurous penguin.

A chalk board sign "say YES to new Adventures"

I had taken Isabella Bird to Yestival, stuffed in the side pocket of my back pack.  It was while queueing for the bar I met a friend i had made the previous year.  We chatted about our adventures and he asked me what I planned to do next.  I said I wasn’t sure: there were so many things I could do, another cycle tour, walk a trail, climb a mountain and that I was a little overwhelmed by the options.  After listening to me a while, he said “well it has to be a cold adventure or the penguin can’t go”.  And suddenly I had a direction: a cold adventure.

Cold is pretty much covered by places far north, far south or up high.  Far south seemed expensive and too big a challenge to dare to do.  Which left the arctic or a mountain.  A smaller pool of possibility, but still pretty big.  A opportunity arose in the form of the Fjallraven Polar, a dog sled expedition in the arctic.   Even though I had no expectation of getting enough votes to participate, I was surprised just how many people voted for me.  I liked the idea of a journey,  maybe a traverse; and though I like the idea of a dog sled, the idea of a human-powered journey  appealed.  Years of stress at work had made me unfit, I was not comfortable in my body.  I didn’t dislike my body, rather I had neglected it as was beginning to pay the price.  A human-powered journey gave me a reason to train.

The final refinements of the plan came from talking to three amazing women: Sarah Williams, Adelaide Goodeve and Helen Turton.  Sarah invited me on a Facebook live chat in the Tough Girl Tribe to talk about my adventure ideas and get some support from the tribe.  This sparked the memory of Adelaide’s Svalbard adventure, after a good chat about it and allaying some of my fears she put me in contact with Helen and her company, Newland.  A call to Helen and the plan was fixed.  Svalbard! 

Back at Yestival in October 2018, I stood on stage and told everyone my plan.  No turning back.

Me with Isabella Bird the penguin of future adventure on front of the Say Yes More sign
Yestival 2018 – putting my brave-pants on to speak on the stage
How I..., Training and Qualifications

How I… passed my Hill and Moorland Leader qualification

The three Mountain Training Association qualification that are direct entry so don’t require a preceding qualification are Lowland (LL), Hill & Moorland (HML) and Mountain Leader (ML). Mountain Leader is the most popular, possibly because its better known and some organisations default request a mountain leader for leading groups regardless of the terrain. Although ML does cover all the bases, I would argue that the navigation for HML is often tougher – mountains are notable for having lots of distinguishable features unlike moorland! ML is also the most expensive of the three qualifications and the training and assessment is longer (two 5 day sessions, HML is two 3 day sessions), so I’d really recommend thinking about which is right for you and what you want to do with the qualification before signing up.

For all the qualifications you have to log 40 days in the relevant terrain, I live within easy driving of several areas of hill and moorland terrain so I could quickly decide to get out and log another day or bail if the weather was horrendous knowing I’d just go the next weekend. If I lived in the South East of England or Scotland I might have made a different decision on which qualification I picked! The Mountain Training Association (MTA) has a good guide to the courses here: https://www.mountain-training.org/help/articles/which-scheme-is-right-for-me

I took my assessment in February 2019: when I started the process is less clearly defined. I first learned that the HML qualification existed at the Women’s Climbing Symposium in October 2015, although I probably had walked the required 20 quality hill days (QHD) needed for the training, my records were vague so I only backdated about 5 walks. In hindsight, I was probably being over cautious and a bit of a perfectionist! My training was in January 2017 and though I planned to take the assessment in early 2018, I went through a rough time at work so decided to be kind to myself and delay it until 2019. Although technically possible to complete the whole course in 50 days, that’s not going to give you a good quality DLOG and a good DLOG is important.

So what’s a DLOG? This the MTA log for your walks. The best advice I was given during the training is to have a varied and detailed log, the log gives the assessor a view on the breadth of your experience. I recorded everything: lowland walks, climbing, winter mountain days and HML days that didn’t quite meet the criteria or were duplicates: showing that you are not just doing walks to gain the qualification but are an all-round outdoors enthusiast is seen as a positive. Of all the qualifications, HML terrain is the trickiest to define, there are mountains that fit HML criteria and moorland that can be classified as mountain terrain. The MTA defines it as:

  • Open, uncultivated, non-mountainous high or remote country known variously as upland, moor, bog, fell, hill or down.
  • Areas enclosed by well-defined geographical or man-made boundaries such as roads (areas that border mountain regions and do not have well defined boundaries are excluded)
  • Areas of remoteness that are exited by the group in a few hours, returning to a refuge or an accessible road
  • Areas where movement on steep or rocky terrain is not required (in either a planned or unplanned situation)

The areas that I walked were: White and Dark Peak District, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Clwyds, Denbigh Moor, Long Mynd, Northumberland National Park, Southern Uplands.

A map and compass on a walkers lap, looking towards a range of hills
Checking the navigation on Offa’s Dyke, Clwyds

You have to log walks in at least three different upland areas and in all seasons. The easiest way to record the route is to use a GPS tracker, which is what I did. I then used the description space on the log to record wildlife I had seen, explanations for a decision made such as why I cut the walk short or kit I chose to take, who I was walking with and any points of interest. I also added photos relevant to the comments I made in the description space. At the assessment, I was complimented on the quality of my DLOG: a good log isn’t enough on its own to pass but it definitely helps.

The book that became my bible for this was Hillwalking, the official handbook from the MTA. EVERYTHING you need to know is in here! It covers LL, HML and ML so some of the sections are not relevant but still interesting to know. The other book that I read was Nature of Snowdonia: A Beginner’s Guide to the Upland Environment – this is relevant for all upland areas and collates it all by seasons which meant I only swatted up on the relevant season for my assessment. It’s a bit hard to get hold of but worth it. Additionally I would do a bit of research on the area I had planned a walk, any history or geology that would be interesting to a party of walkers.

A headtorch lights up boots by a wooden bridge
Waiting in the dark after night navigation

The training is exactly that: it covers everything you need to know for the assessment. But again preparation helps you get the most from it! I started putting together a list of questions I had on the syllabus as I completed the last few walks for my DLOG and made sure I had answers to all of them before the end of the course. I was given feedback on the areas I needed to focus on: the 20 walks after the training are the consolidation and the time to practice this before the assessment. Training focuses heavily on navigation, including night navigation and micro navigation. I purposely booked a course in January for the long night, night nav will take at least 2-3 hours (longer if the other groups get lost…) and the following day starts at 9am sharp so the earlier you can start the longer you get in bed! Take plenty of food and drink on night nav day, we stayed out from the day’s walk and though I did have enough with me it was more luck that judgement, my group had to wait as the other group got lost. Having a cereal bar and a bit of hot Vimto left made it a more pleasant experience! There is also classroom based work on topics like the weather, we were asked to do some homework so having my laptop back at my accommodation was handy.

The walks logged between training and assessment are the consolidation period and the time to practice the new skills gained on the training and to polish old ones. Although it felt a bit silly doing it with friends, I acted as if they were a group of strangers at the start of the walk: doing a kit check, showing them the route, asking if they had any questions. I practised micro navigation, looking for ring contours or reentrants on the map and using my GPS to check I had found them. If you have a friend experienced in micro and night navigation do ask them to test you, this gave me a lot of confidence for the assessment that I wasn’t just setting myself easy challenges or being too hard on myself. I made sure I planned routes that meant I had to walk off path as much as possible and get used to walking on a bearing but also (and probably more importantly) from reading the ground, such as following contours. I also made sure I walked in bad weather – not to the point where it was unsafe – but to have trust my kit and be comfortable being uncomfortable.

A group of walkers in wet weather gear stand on a rock path amid bog and heather.  Mist shrouds the rocky outcrop ahead.
Logging walks in all weathers is important

I also took advantage of the MTA mentoring program, at the time running as a trial but is now rolled out across the North West and South East with other areas to follow for MTA members. This was hugely beneficial to me, my mentor supported me on specific skills I wanted to focus on, ran through scenarios with me and generally be someone I could call on to as the occasional silly question. If the scheme is available I’d really encourage you to apply once you have completed the training.

The qualification requires you to hold a first aid qualification, preferably specifically for the outdoors and a minimum of 16 hours training time. I took mine about 9 months before the assessment so that it was still in date for the assessment.

If you are already a keen hill walker, you will have the right kit. There are no specific additional bits of kit, other than taking what you would need for a group. Carrying a spare hat, gloves and fleece is expected: for the assessment take spares from your own kit but for leading groups I have bought spares from https://www.decathlon.co.uk/ which are cheap and good quality just in case I forget to ask for it back at the end of a walk! You will need a good first aid kit and a group shelter. The group shelter was the only kit I had to buy specifically for the assessment but others on the assessment had borrowed theirs.

For the assessment, preparation is king. For the three days you need to act like a walk leader at all times and be ready to go on time, its not cheating to have your last few walks in the assessment area so you are familiar with it under pressure! I stayed at the assessment centre with self catering facilities and took meals that were quick and easy to make and didn’t require thinking. Some others went to the pub or went to look for somewhere to eat but for me that added an extra thing to do when I was tired and needed to eat, prepare for the following day and have a quiet evening. It felt a little anti-social but I was there to be assessed on something I had work hard for and a night on the beers could have scuppered everything! About 2-3 weeks before the assessment you will be set some pre-work to do, a question paper and to prepare a 5-10 minute talk on a preset subject: mine was on hypo- and hyperthermia, the other candidates gave a talk on wild life and on the access rights.

Steep, rounded rocks overlooking a heather-covered valley.  The sky is cloudy with hints of blue.
Snack stop on the Kinder Plateau

I keep my kit collated in dry bags so I could check my pack at a glance and know I had everything. After an initial bag check by the assessor where we talked about what we had and why, we rationalised the group kit among us to lighten out packs. MTA uses OS Explorer map and you are expected to have your own map with you for the assessment. Get the weatherproof one as the assessor will dot the map with a permanent marker for your navigation target. The extra few pounds for a map that won’t disintegrate in the rain or move inside a map pocket and misalign the target is worth the stress reduction!

The assessment was nearly all on the hills and focused on navigation. While one of the candidates was leading the navigation, the others had to follow and show the assessor where we were when the leader declared they were at the designated ‘dot’ on the map so you are concentrating the whole time. The biggest bit of advice I can give is tell your assessor what you navigation plan is and if you change your strategy, tell them! I was properly flustered on my first navigation leg but the assessment is three days and the assessors know that the stress levels are really high: there is plenty of time over the three days to make up for an early howler. You’re expected to act like a leader so while navigating do check the others are OK and still following you! The assessor also asked questions on flora and fauna, geology and the topics you need to have a basic understanding of, I was also asked to talk through how I would deal with an emergency scenario. The night navigation for HML is about getting off the hill safely at the end of a long day, the practice is the same as for day navigation with one taking the lead and the others following but keeping track on the map. On the last day, you’ll be told if you have passed, deferred or failed. Forgetting to bring you first aid certificate will get you a deferral: so don’t forget it! A deferral is when you have not quite met the standard required and you need to complete part of the assessment again, ideally back at the same assessment centre.

And that was it, I passed and was given some great feedback. It was a brilliant experience and a huge confidence boost, I’d really recommend gaining the qualification to anyone that likes to lead others out in the hills.

So how much did all this cost? Below are the outline costs of the course or specific things I paid for, I have not included my walking kit as I had most of this already and any costs incurred were from replacing worn out items or shiny things I couldn’t resist! I didn’t keep a record of the costs for the walks in my DLOG so they are also not included.

3 years of MTA membership£110
3 years DLOG subscription (£1.99 per month)£75
Hillwalking handbook£17
Nature of Snowdonia book£15
Non-residential training course£210
Training course accomodation£15
First Aid course£120
8 person shelter£59
Waterproof OS map£15
Residential assement£240
TOTAL£876
Uncategorized

Navigation practice in the Clwyds

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for maps.  I could spend hours looking at them, exploring the wilds from the comfort of home.  When it came to using maps to navigate, apart from a few basic school geography lessons, I was self-taught.  This had its disadvantages, mainly in sticking only to well marked paths as I had no confidence in my ability which limited the walks I would do.   The advantage was that I had no idea about how pace or time, or how to use a compass other than to know which way was north, which meant I had to interpret what I could see around me to what was on the map.

IMG_7299

Now I have been taught ‘technical’ navigation, I need to practice before my assessment.  The best way to do this is something called micro-navigation.  If you look closely at an OS 1:25000 map, there are tiny details, perhaps a few millimetres in size on the map: micro-navigation is finding these on the ground.  The trickiest can be something called ring contours.  Contour lines, orange on an OS 1:25000 map, show the height change on the ground in 5 metre intervals.  A ring contour is a small patch of ground that is just high enough to breach the next contour: the challenge is that this could be that the ground around the ring contour is 4.9m higher than the last contour and the area in the ring contour is 5.1m.  Now cover this in heather and bilberry bushes and it all gets interesting!  This is where pacing comes in: if you know how many steps it takes to walk a distance you can measure how far you need to walk on the map.IMG_7307

So that was today’s entertainment!  There is a special kind of contentment when you look at the map, look around you, then back at the map and smile quietly when you know exactly where you are.  And then you have definitely earned cake.

 

Uncategorized

Following the Aire

Starting out from Malham in the Yorkshire Dales, Sarah and I crossed the Aire Janet's cave waterfalland walked along field edges and dry stone walls heading towards Gordale Scar. After a gentle mile, we came to Wedber Woods, rich with mosses and the first bright green leaves of wild garlic. Pausing at Janet’s Cave waterfall, with its deep clear pool that on another day would be inviting for a swim, we left the woods up the rough steps to the road.

Onward to Gordale Scar and the steep limestone cliffs which funnelled us to a second waterfall on Gordale beck. The beck was running high and the limestone wet and slippery so, after snacking on boiled eggs and peanuts, we turned and stomped up the road to Lee Gate. An easy walk over grass cropped short by Swaledale sheep brought us to High Stony Bank. Unsure how clearly marked our intended path would be, we measured the map and paced the distance to find an old sign and we set out across the pathless moor.

Though the sky remained grey the moorland was alive with the dancing Lapwings, serenades of the Skylarks high above us accompanied by Curlews hidden from view. We stopped for lunch on a boulder drinking hot Vimto and eating sausages and home made trail mix. After the obligatory dance pose, we faced the challenge of fording Gordale beck which had turned the bridalway into a wide stream. With a little careful planning and use of walking poles our socks remained dry and we began to head back south. A herd of Belted Galway cows, complete with ring-nosed bull paid us little attention and after another short stomp on tarmac we met the Pennine Way.

It was here, a few metres from its source at Malham Tarn, the river Aire disappears without fuss underground to emerge a mile away at Malham Cove. The polished limestone of Ing Scar demanded concentration as we wound down to the limestone pavement above the cove. Stepping across the stones like chess pieces moving across the board, we made it to the steps. Weary but happy with thoughts of the cake waiting in the car for us, we followed the Aire back to Malham.

Start time 11am, 5 hours 35 minutes, 16.6km with 303m ascent.

Uncategorized

Fabulous February: Capel Curig, Roaches and Eskdale

It’s been a real mixed bag of weather for February walks.  Only one was an official Rando’ Girls walk with Sarah and her friend Amar in the Roaches: what was was supposed to be a nice easy explore around the fascinating gritstone turned out to be a short, sharp walk in horizontal snow.  Keeping it short kept it mostly Fun Type 1 with some Type 2 thrown in to make it worth while!  Located in Shropshire on the edge of the Peak District, the Roaches have been loved by climbers since the early 1900’s.  On more clement days, its fascinating to watch the climbers as you walk along the foot of the cliffs.  Mindful of the snow, we parked at in the valley bottom before following the river Dane and Black Brook steadily climbing through Gradbach wood.  Leaving the woods, we walked along open moorland crossing the road to Roach End.  The Magic Tent (my orange shelter) was pulled out for lunch and we sat inside munching boiled eggs and drinking hot Ribena, warm and dry out the weather.  Fed and watered, we walked up through the snow and wind to the trig point.  We called this a success and turn back to retrace our steps to the car.  8km, 3 3/4 hours, 385m ascent/decent.

Just a few weeks before (technically in January, but I’m ignoring that) in Capel Curig, Viv, Nick and I were treated to glorious skies over Snowdonia as we finished a walk that started in snizzle (snowy drizzle). After a slow start in the excellent Moel Siabod cafe, we headed out through forest to avoid the worst of the rain.  We lunched on a deserted forest track before finding the lovely isolated Llyn (lake) Bodgynydd before heading back past Crimpiau through hills with a glorious mountain-y feel to them.  16km, 5 1/2 hours, 558m ascent/decent.

The last weekend of February was another non-Rando Girls weekend back in Eskdale in the southern Lake District which has a very special place in my heart.  The weather was due to be epically awful, so a short stroll on the Saturday was planned and an anticipated soggy Sunday walk too.  Saturday we set out towards the river Esk, which was in spate (sudden flood) and after some changes of route from flooded paths we had a suitably awe-inspiring, but safe walk.  Sunday we were up and out to avoid the rain.  High winds kept us from the fell tops but Eskdale moor is a beautiful place with great views of Illgill Head, Eskdale Fell and Kirk Fell (if they hadn’t been in the clouds).  An unexpected cuppa at Burnmoor followed an invite from the Burnmoor Lodge club, which is undergoing restoration.  Having walked past it and wondered who owned it its great to see it is loved and has a great group trying to get it to a basic but usable state.  I’ll be adding that to places to stay!  Keeping low we followed the river Mite along it’s valley, stopping for lunch before heading up over Brat’s Moss.  Site of ancient habitation, there are stone circles and cairns it was especially atmospheric in the strong winds.  A steady stomp brought us down to Boot and back to civilisation and a pint at the Woolpack inn.  13km, 6 1/3 hours, 734m ascent/decent.