Probably the best route up the Cheviot from Langleeford – via Lambden Valley, College Valley and the Hen Hole – (13 miles)

For many of us The Cheviot often seems like a big boring lump of soggy Northumberland peat. But at 2,674ft this is England’s highest point outside the Lakes & Pennines. It’s few interesting features are hidden away on the remote north western edges (best accessed from the College Valley). Unfortunately those of us approaching from the more populated south east get the boggy lumpy side!

There’s three familiar route options, all from Langleeford in the Harthope Valley ;-

  1. Direct route up Scald Hill – popular, increasingly tedious, often annoyingly boggy
  2. Follow the Harthope Burn up the valley – some like it, not keen myself, feels hemmed in with limited views.
  3. Via Hedgehope – often climbed after the Cheviot but can be done first. A fine hill but in either direction the peat hags over Comb Fell are rarely less than unpleasant, spoiling what could be a fine route. Best kept for a dry period or after frost.

However here’s a fine fourth alternative, avoiding the Scald Hill ascent by a diversion north west. This longer but hugely more interesting route continues around the Cheviot then clambers up through its very best feature. Put simply, the best route from the east is simply to ascend from the west!

Covering 13 miles, 3 valleys and 3,300ft of ascent, this circular walk starts in Harthope Valley, through remote and peaceful Lambden Valley, joins remote and peaceful College Valley, then ascends through the fascinating craggy waterfall-filled Hen Hole. The Cheviot’s bog filled summit plateau is traversed on the firm slabbed path, with a final fairly rapid descent over Scald hill back to the car.

If you never felt any affinity with the Cheviot then try this. You’ll leave with a greater understanding of this remote area, and you might just begin to like it.

The Cheviot via Lambden Valley, College Valley and Hen Hole from Langleeford

The Cheviot via Lambden Valley, College Valley and Hen Hole from Langleeford

  • Distance  =   13 miles (21 km), anticlockwise
  • Duration  =   6hrs, (start 12.50, finish 18.50)
  • Total Ascent  =   3,300 ft (1,006 m), max height the Cheviot 2,674 ft (815m)
  • Start/Finish  =   Car park east of Langleeford, Harthope Valley, Northumberland
  • Walk Date  =   Sun 15th May 2016 (some late summer photos added for contrast)

Park at the popular grassy parking area near the end of the single track road up Harthope Valley, just before Langleeford Farm. Take the usual Cheviot route by walking westwards along the road. Almost immediately, leave the road at a small bridge over Hawsen Burn. The aim is to follow the north side of the Hawsen as it curves westwards. Avoid an inviting low path along the burn banks as this has become eroded and is infested with dense bracken in summer. It’s a faff, so instead angle northwards from the bridge up a feint track through heather as if heading directly to Cold Law. After 30ft or so veer north west keeping high above the burn. Trust me, it’s worth it. Soon the feint track turns into a path which joins a much wider access path still high above the burn.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford

Turn off the road northwards on the east side of the Hawsen Burn. Don’t follow the path by the burn, go diagonally up a few feet to find a higher track

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Same spot in late summer full of dense bracken

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_1

View back down the Hawsen valley after a few mins walking

Stay on this path, keeping to the left as it splits (photo below), gently rising north westwards. I tried a signposted track closer to the stream but this just slows you down, especially in summer. Not the most inspiring scenery so far, best views are backwards. Heard Cuckoos and saw my first Ring Ouzels, which livened things up.

Path spilt

Path splits, go left

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_2

Looking back east again from higher up the Hawsen Burn, Cold Law left

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The Cheviot suddenly reappears to the south west but our route heads round the lumpy thing to the right

Once the path levels, continue westwards by one of the heather tracks to meet a fence. If lucky you’ll end up opposite a wooden gate, if not then just follow the fence north till the stile appears. Do try and use the tracks as the heather ground is not particularly invitin,g unless you’re a grouse. Once across the stile, follow a path westwards.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_4

Cross the stile to start the Lambden Valley section

And on a nice late summer day

And on a nice late summers day

Lambden Valley – Now for a change of scene as the Lambden valley opens up ahead. Flanked by the Cheviot’s more attractive northern side, these are pleasant views many Cheviot baggers never see. The path descends gradually through heather moorland, watch out for hidden holes in the last section, harder to see in summer.

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Lambden valley ahead, the Schil on the horizon, head for the wood

A forest vehicle track is joined briefly then continue to a small wood below Preston Hill.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_6

Follow path round to the wood below Preston Hill

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Go over the gate then left along the side of the wood round a fallen tree

This used to be simply a bit of fun winding through the trees dodging conifer branches before emerging into the open. However recent tree falls have barred the initial woodland path. Best go over the gate and round the wood along it’s north side. Once past a fallen tree either follow the fence or nip over it back into the wood to find the path. This can be full of ferns in summer, so if poss try to get back into the wood.

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By-passing the trees, easy in May, less so in late summer

Bracken

Leaving the wood, head straight on, through more bracken in late summer

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_9

Westwards along the open Lambden valley descending gradually

This is now an attractive valley walk, more open and varied than the upper Harthope. It’s pleasantly peaceful here, colours vary through the seasons and the Cheviot shows off it’s finer side. Continue west over a small stream then sharp right over another stile to emerge above remote and lonely Goldscleugh. Cross a larger stream then pass the abandoned farmhouse and inhabited bungalow to join a pleasant little road section to Dunsdale.

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Remote and lonely Goldscleugh

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_11

Now along the private road to Dunsdale, nice views down to the river on the right

Amidst the air of solitude Dunsdale is now a holiday cottage so you might actually see a human being! Great views south up the Bizzle which gives an alternative route up the Cheviot. By now Langleeford seems far away, but remember that initial ascent, well you’ve just lost all that height gain just to arrive down here! But the best bit’s ahead.

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The Bizzle from Dunsdale, a rare feature on the Cheviot

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Looking back at Dunsdale

Walk by the south side of  Dunsdale cottage through a gate past the barn, then through the gate above (looking back east). Now to leave the Lambden Valley and start gaining a little height again turning south west still flanking the Cheviot. Another change of scene with views northwards down the College Valley.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_14

Looking back up (but really down) the College Valley northwards

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Looking to the route ahead with the Schil getting closer

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Now descending into the upper College Valley

Descend gradually through open ground then over a huge stile to ford the College Burn. Or before the stile head straight down and round the fence. The ford was a trickle in May but in late summer after a downpour was above boot height. I carefully traversed the stones using trekking poles for balance.

College Valley – Once over the river you join a wide path to the head of the valley. Now to follow the College Burn virtually to it’s source on the Cheviot plateau. College Valley has a well deserved reputation as a remote and beautiful place. Access is usually from Hethpool as vehicle access is restricted. A few cars are allowed up each day so you might see a few people at the Mounthooly YHA bunkhouse. Enjoy the situation and appreciate the variety on this walk.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_17

The main College Valley path south up the valley

College

Upper College Valley

Approaching the head of the valley you’ve reached the furthest point from the start. So far it’s been reasonably gentle which makes for decent progress. Now to finally turn back to Langleeford and start the ascent over Cheviot. Quickest route would be to follow one of 2 paths either side of the Refuge Hut, then trudge up to Auchope Cairn.

However if you want the best route up the Cheviot then take the Hen Hole, probably the most impressive hike in the Cheviot hills.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_18

Main paths go up to to the Refuge Hut, but we go to the left following the river bank

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_19

Looking back down the valley to the Schil from the College Burn 

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Following the burn as it turns east into the Hen Hole

The Hen Hole – A hanging valley formed in the ice age, this is the surprise of the Cheviot hills. There’s an initial path but then you end up criss-cross the stream trying for the best line of ascent. Nothing difficult, hands on in places. It’s as though all the waterfalls in the Cheviots were scooped up and deposited in this narrow ravine. The photos below give the best description even on a hazy day. I had a smile all the way through, it’s pure joy.

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Entrance to the Hen Hole

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Triple waterfall

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Just keep going

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looking back at the refuge hut

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Another waterfall

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Keep stopping for photos

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Looking back from higher up

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Even better angle

Reaching the end is a mixture of relief that you’re through, with regret that it’s over. But by now you’re probably in a rush to get back, I certainly was. But you are still in the ravine which opens up before turning 90 degrees right.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_32

Hen Hole turning right

I tried following the valley round but the path petered out and I ended up scrabbling around on mossy slopes. Far better to simply turn south and scramble up directly up to Auchope cairn. A viewpoint is soon reached and on a fine day the vista is extensive. Such a contrast to what’s just gone before.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_34

View west above the Hen Hole into Scotland 

Auchope

Auchope Cairn on a fine day

Auchope

Auchope view late summer

You just have to stop at Auchope. Have some food, drink, anything, just gaze and take a moment. After all, it’s the Cheviot plateau next, not much fun there! The route is simple, follow the millstone grit pavement, part of the Pennine Way. Firstly to a gate and stile, then taking the path to the Cheviot trig.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_37

Joining the paved Pennine way to cross the Cheviot plateau

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_38

Follow the yellow brick road, I mean grey millstone grit slabs

If you like bleak peat bogs then you’re in luck. Not much to be said for the Cheviot plateau, except be grateful you’re on stone and not floundering in the mire. It’s a means to an end, we are heading for the car and just as things get tedious, a giant weathered trig appears.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_39

Such an impressive monolith for such an unimpressive summit

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_42

Surprised by the damaged base and trig, reported to Ordnance Survey

The base and trig are in a poor state, I’ve reported it to the Ordnance Survey so hopefully they’ll make repair before it falls down. Anyway, the single pavement continues to another stile and at last a proper viewpoint, now looking east.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_43

Welcome view after crossing the peaty plateau, Hedgehope and the east coast

Now to descend over Scald Hill which can be boggy after rain, but is certainly better coming down than trudging up. And there’s quite an inspiring view ahead, with a potential coastal panorama depending on the haze. Lindisfarne and Farne Islands just visible.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_44

Scald Hill left, Harthope Valley down right – a far better descent than the walk up

Turn off for Langleeford which is quicker than it looks, usually only taking me about 70 mins from the trig without stops. A line of newly installed grouse butts were noticeable next to the lower path in September.

The Cheviot via the Hen Hole from Langleeford_45

Final descent to Langleeford and the sun’s come out!

So a fine tramp around, up and over the Cheviot, with plenty of variety and interest. I’ve never met a soul on some sections of the Lambden valley. There’s also a few variations available and I need to do a walk around the summit edges next. Finally 20 years after I first did the Cheviot, I’m finally getting to like the bloomin thing:-)

Variations;-

  1. Could be done in reverse of course, which gets the highest climb over the Cheviot done first, but the Hen Hole is best going up.
  2. Same route avoiding the Hen Hole – instead of the Hen Hole just head for the skyline either side of the Refuge hut. Then a steep and unforgiving trudge up to Auchope Cairn. This tests your stamina after the long walk-in. Fortunately the ground is very good and views outstanding, see below;-
  3. Longer 16 mile route from Langleeford including the Schill you can divert through the Hen Hole if required, tougher day.
  4. Shorter walk up the Bizzle, (though avoid summit bogs by walking round to Auchope)
Auchope

Views from the slog up to Auchope

Auchope

The Schil and College Valley

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How to access the Coquet Valley and Cheviot Hills by car through the Otterburn military Ranges, via Dere Street

Until recently I’d assumed there was only one permissible way to reach Barrowburn and the Coquet Valley by car. Along the twisty single track road from the east through Alwinton, there’s even a T sign outside the village! Then I heard of a twisty way through the military zone from the A68 near Otterburn. All was revealed when a walker very kindly gave me an access map whilst chatting on Windy Gyle summit, (as you do). So here’s a quick guide which hopefully might be of help anyone interested in this remote and remarkable area of Northumberland.

To quote the MOD; “there are no restrictions to public access on MOD land north of the River Coquet (Open Access Area). The remainder of the training area is operated under military bye-laws, and access is restricted when the area is used for live firing, (Controlled Access Area). However when it is not being used for live firing there are opportunities for cycling, riding, walking and climbing or just a drive in the car along the military roads” .

So the most important consideration is;- any road access from the west crosses Otterburn military ranges which are closed when live firing. Red flags warn when the ranges are closed. If no red flags are flying, visitors MUST keep to the roads or way-marked paths.

You can find Range firing times here, which apparently are accurate. I find the best option is simply to phone Range Control before travelling and ask if it’s ok to drive through Dere Street;- Range Control number is 01830 520569

Second consideration;- some of these roads are remote narrow single track, twisty and hilly in places, similar to some Lake District passes, (not as bad as Hardnott). Driving can be hampered by sheep on the road, farm vehicles or military trucks. Weather can change quickly with low cloud making navigation difficult. It can be bleak on the ranges and I wouldn’t go anywhere near in sleet & snow. This is for lovers of wild places, there’s no petrol stations, facilities or shops until Alwinton; just one remote and wonderful tea room, which sadly might be closing in October.

So why do it? Well in decent weather this might be the best road trip in Northumberland. Plus lots more;-

  • Outstanding Scenery – moorlands, valleys, green hills, rivers, loadsa sheep
  • Access to great hillwalking and cycling – plenty of routes in both Access areas
  • Military Ranges – eerily bleak, a ruined tank, grenade shelters, loadsa sheep
  • History – Chew Green Roman Fort, Dere Street Roman Road, Border Reivers etc
  • Follow the Coquet River virtually from it’s source to the sea
  • Visit remote and friendly Barrowburn Tea Room recommended
Dere St access to Coquet Valley Cheviots

Controlled Access roads from the A68 north of Otterburn

Two alternative routes to Chew Green & Upper Coquet Valley from the A68;-

Route 1) via Dere Street – covers the longest section through the ranges. Leave the A68 north of Rochester. Not easy to find as it’s not signposted. If coming from Otterburn, go through Rochester and it’s about half a mile past the Camien Cafe which has a big sign saying ‘Last Cafe in England’, (ignore the first right turn just past the cafe). Turn right at a farmhouse, the road bends sharply right going uphill into trees. Pass a MOD sign saying ‘Private Road’, carry on to a crossroads. Go straight ahead following the ‘Otterburn Camp’ sign. Continue north east past conifers till another crossroads, turn left northwards, passing a sign saying ‘Siloans Battle Run’. You are now on Dere Street, a Roman road running from York to Edinburgh. Continue straight bending right, past Featherwood Farm then taking a left (north) to Middle Golden Pot. Great viewpoint here. Dere Street bends left over a cattle grid then right. (Route 2 joins from the left). Follow Dere St past Outer Golden Pot, another great viewpoint with Commando memorial hidden off road, then past Chew Green view, which unsurprisingly has a view across to the fort site. Descend to a small bridge over a trickling River Coquet.

Route 2) Cottonshope Road – shorter route used by locals as the quickest access. Turn off the A68 northwards, virtually opposite Cottonshopeburnfoot, south of Byrness. This initially runs almost parallel with the Pennine Way. Continue north east to a junction near Middle Golden Pot, turn left (north), joining Dere Street and follow to the River Coquet as above. According to Ian at Barrowburn Tea Room this can be safe to use even when red flags are flying as it’s right on the edge of the area. I haven’t tested this yet. He stresses that occasionally they do shut the road as an Apache helicopter fires heat seeking missiles across the range. Makes a change from sheep on the road I guess.

From Chew Green along the Upper Coquet Valley – From the bridge the road turns sharp right uphill to Chew Green car park, also briefly meeting the Pennine Way. After the open moorlands in the Ranges now the road twists through the Cheviot hills passing Barrowburn and Alwinton. Lovely route in nice weather, see photos below how it looks on a sunny day. Gradually the valley opens out following the ever broadening River Coquet on its way to the coast at Amble.

Dere St access to Coquet Valley Cheviots_8

Map showing road access in Upper Coquetdale

Additional info –  The army have been training on the ranges since 1911, the area covers 58,000 acres, and 30,000 troops train here every year. Red flags around the range boundary are put up/down by two vans from Landmarc Support Services. Ian at Barrowburn Tea Room can tell you how many flags are involved and the boundary length. In fact anything you want to know, just ask him, nice tea & cakes too. There are many working farms on the ranges, sheep are moved away from firing areas. The ranges are open during lambing season 15th April – 15th May, and there’s at least one non firing weekend a month, and two weeks off at Xmas.

Download the Otterburn Ranges Controlled Access Area guide below, or pick up a free copy from Elsdon or Barrowburn Tea Rooms;-

Otterburn Ranges Controlled Access Guide

Single Track Roadsplease please follow the Highway Code on using passing places. “Some take things easy and drive very slowly, enjoying the landscape, but forget that behind them are people who make a living here without letting them pass. Such behaviour sometimes ends up in annoyed locals and stressed holiday makers”.  A good guide for drivers here I know it’s Scotland but you’re just next to the border. Enjoy🙂

Dere St access to Coquet Valley Cheviots_7

Grenade Range on Dere Street

Dere St access to Coquet Valley Cheviots_1

Outer Golden Pot, Dere St, looking east, Commando memorial 15 metres behind sign

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Viewpoint above Chew Green on Dere St looking east

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Chew Green viewpoint looking north over the Roman Fort (top left)

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Lowering the Red warning flags from Chew Green parking, here the road turns east 

Chew Green

Chew Green layby above a young river Coquet, Dere St crossing from the right

Cheviots 28.2.16

Trows Rd End can be the most secure car park in Northumberland

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Info board at Trows Road End / Slymefoot

Ian and Eunice who run the Barrowburn Tea Rooms are retiring later this year, so visit whilst you can. More info and a nice tribute here. I’m sure everyone wishes them well.

Barrowburn Tea Room, I cannot recommend this enough

Barrowburn Tea Room, I cannot recommend this place enough

Finally a short video of the Upper Coquet Valley from the hills above the road.

Windy Gyle weather forecast

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Adder Encounter in the Cheviots, Northumberland

Thirty-five years I’ve been slogging up hills in the Lakes, Highlands and Cheviots; yet I’ve NEVER seen one of these. Always been very high on my tick list, yep I’m weird that way:-)

Last weekend driving back through the Cheviot hills in Northumberland, a cyclist stopped me pointing at the road ahead. And there it was, a 2 foot long Adder and quite wonderful.

Capture

The brown stripes indicate a female (I think). Managed to resist attempting to pick her up, apparently it’s the cause of most bites and can be a bit uncomfortable. Luckily no one has died from their venom for 20 years, but best not tempt fate eh.

Absolutely thrilled to spot one, fascinating creature, very shy and hence rarely seen. They can move faster than you think too. Soon as my phone camera got near she instantly coiled, so I respectfully backed off and watched her glide off into the grass. Better to watch than take photos but here’s a quick video. Looking forward to my next encounter!

Thanks to @aboveandbeyond for this comprehensive adder info link.

Capture2

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The Cheviots in winter – a walk in the snow

A quick return to the Cheviots after last weekends return to hillwalking. I’d hardly seen any snow this winter, but now the hills were glistening brightly. Whilst others were enjoying epic days in the Lakes and Highlands, this might be my only chance. It was time to play out in the snow.

Late start again, parking at Trows Road End just west of Barrowburn. Last weekend a temporary base for an army exercise, today virtually deserted. Hopefully a quiet day, though the red flags were flying on the Otterburn Ranges, so possible heavy artillery fire!

The plan was to build up some fitness by doing a similar but longer route to last weekend. First addition would be a personal favourite, walking straight up Shillhope Law (1,644ft).

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016

Walking to Barrowburn with snowy Shillhope Law ahead

Nice and easy start walking along the road by the Coquet until the short sharp grassy ascent begins. Shillhope Law can serve as a pretty reliable fitness test; today’s result was pretty poor! Have reached the top in just over 30 mins, today it was more like 45. A thin snow covering wasn’t helping either, I’d forgotten this might slow things down. No real problem though, (that would come much later).

Views are usually really satisfying from Shillhope, always worth the diversion. Just visible on the southern horizon were the northern Pennines and Lakeland Fells. To the north Windy Gyle and the Cheviot both looked to have plenty of snow. This might take a while.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_1

Views north from Shillhope Law, Windy Gyle left, the Cheviot right

BOOM!! Just when you forget about the artillery a bloody big one rattles off! Always feels a bit too close for comfort up here especially when you see the gunsmoke rising.

Only downside of adding Shillhope is having to retrace your steps losing precious height. The upside is continuing up and over Kyloe Shin, for this is a splendid section with outstanding views. Always makes me smile, I’m easily pleased ya know.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_2

From Kyloe Shin, Fairhaugh and Usway Burn below, Border Ridge on the horizon

Next the descent then reascent through the Kidland Forest (to the left on the photo above). No diversion to Fairhaugh this time as I needed to get moving. Up and over the Middle, then down again to the Usway valley before the plod up to the Border Ridge. Some threatening clouds cleared and everywhere looked pretty damn good. Very uplifting, great to be up here and completely alone.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_3

Snow Plateau walk to the Border Gate

May look lovely but that snow slows you down. Luckily some tracks made progress doable.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_4

Windy Gyle – please reserve that blue sky for me, I won’t be long!

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Looking back, loving that snow and light

The ground funnels just before the Border Gate is reached, then comes a bit of Cheviot magic as views suddenly open up all around. I’ve often sat on the plank of wood here, but not today for obvious reasons.

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Border Gate, Pennine Way and the Cheviot looking east

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Border Gate, Border Ridge, Pennine Way & Windy Gyle west

Dramatic views up here today. Ah hold on, those footprints don’t carry onto Windy Gyle do they, in fact there’s no footprints. Great, it’s virgin snow ahead, this’ll be fun and I’ll be the first and only person on this section today! See, easily pleased.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_8

The way ahead, fantastic scenery, can’t wait to get up there

My first step missed the underlying pavement and disappeared. This fun virgin snow thing soon started wearing a bit thin – unlike the snow! Rarely firm enough to walk on without feet sinking to varying levels.  There’s boggy stuff around so a bit of concentration needed too – and getting slower!

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_9

Slow walking across the Pennine Way to Windy Gyle

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Eventually nearing Windy Gyle

My footprints zigzagged looking for the best line but it didn’t seem to matter. Wherever I tried was pretty tiring work, yet strangely fun, especially when I fell over. Eventually the final stile was reached and I stood on a heap of snow to get the photo below. Took three attempts as first one leg then the other collapsed; thank goodness no one was watching.

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Windy Gyle summit cairn, step into Scotland

Found footprints again and fortunately the snow wasn’t quite as bad/good up here. Despite the sky having clouded over, the sun still managed to burst through impressively. Zoom on the horizon in photo below to see the northern Lake District fells (left of the trig).

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Windy Gyle with northern fells on the horizon

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view south from Windy Gyle

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The Cheviot looking almost nice

Now to continue last weekends gloves test. The new Montane Powershell Pro Gippy’s were doing fine. Not quite grippy enough to keep my Pacer Poles tight, but as they’re smartphone friendly, you can keep them on for phone photos. After a bit of gloveless faffing about I still managed to get my hands cold again, so tried two pairs of Buffalo Mitts for the descent. There’s obviously a loss of dexterity but they did prevent that eye-watering stinging feeling, so will definitely stay as part of the winter kit. They’re lightweight and will easily fit into a extra small stuffsack (to stop me dropping them).

gloves

Buffalo Mitts and Montane Powershell Pro Grippy

I’d long since given up my intended descent along the Street in favour of the shorter route south via the Rowhope Burn and Trows Farm. Snow was definitely easier than up on the Border Ridge and the Border Gate ascent. Must be a wind thing dumping the snow on certain areas, and it’s certainly noted for future trips. Need to allow more time, or get fitter, though any more snow walking will certainly help the latter.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_15

Racing back (well almost), nice!

Last car in the car park, just before dark. Managed to hit a pothole driving back passing Wedder Leap, there’s a few bad ones about so beware especially any puddles. Think I’ll angle my headlamps down a bit next time to illuminate the tarmac.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_16

Last car, Rowhope Burn and distant Shillhope in fading light

A great day in the hills: Just goes to show that you can walk the same walks repeatedly, yet due to weather and light it can be feel different every time. BOOM!

  • 10.3 miles distance, 2,489ft ascent, max height Windy Gyle 2,031ft (619m)
  • Start/Finish = Trows Rd End/Slymefoot near Barrowburn, Sunday 6th March 2016
Barrowburn, Shillhope Law and Windy Gyle from Trows Rd March 2016

Barrowburn, Shillhope Law and Windy Gyle from Trows Rd March 2016

Link to Windy Gyle weather forecast

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A return to hillwalking, featuring the Cheviots, new gloves and 50 men trained to kill

Ten weeks ago whilst driving back from the Cheviot hills my trusty old Mondeo lost power up the steep road out of Rothbury. Repair would be expensive especially with an impending MOT, so the hills were out of bounds until a replacement was found. Last weekend with a new car and hopefully no illuminated warning lights, it was time to get back outdoors.

Plan A for a smaller car turned into plan D a bigger car, not quite sure how that happened. It certainly added some width uncertainty on the twisty single track road up Northumberland’s Coquet valley. Hopefully I’d soon get used to it and luckily there was little traffic on this rare sunny February Sunday.

Nearing the small lay-by at Trows Rd End I realised the army were in residence. There was also an odd brown thing I’d never seen before in the grass by the river. As I got nearer this turned out to be two snipers in camouflage gear, pointing rifles directly at my car. They were securing the car park. Now that’s a new experience!

Cheviots 28.2.16

The most secure car park in Northumberland

Managed to squeeze into a parking space, chatted with the army guys and joked about finding green paint scratches on my motor when I return. They were from Catterick on an exercise recruits had to pass before they could Pass Out. All in full gear, huge heavy packs and heavily armed. They set off in single file north to Trows Farm and I assume up over Windy Gyle, whilst I headed east to Barrowburn for a longer approach.

Cheviots 28.2.16_1

Troops head north, as I head east

It was unexpectedly mild. After only 5 minutes I’d removed my gloves, two clothing layers and switched caps. At Barrowburn Deer Hut I met more troops on their way down. Again in single file with full gear, heavy packs and heavily armed. I nodded to most, one even said “Hello Sir” (he was my favourite). I didn’t envy them, they were having a hard day at work whereas I’d escaped work to enjoy myself in the hills. Wearing light clothes, light pack and no weapons, I had it easy.

The easy bit was about to end as my ascent began. For various reasons this was only my fourth walk since the Highlands in October. After another 5 minutes I met a couple descending, they had come up from Cocklawfoot across the Border and were off for a cuppa at Barrowburn before walking back up the ‘Street’. My cunning plan was to chat to anyone and everyone to give my unfit body time to recover. But this was the Cheviots where solitude prevails, I wouldn’t see another human for 2 hours.

Cheviots 28.2.16_2

Views back down after the initial ascent from Barrowburn

Next came a few minutes in the Kidland Forest, I diverted down past Fairhaugh to check the storm damaged footbridge. No sign of damage as no sign of bridge! Couldn’t see any obvious alternative crossing over the Usway Burn without getting wet feet. Not sure how long till a new bridge will be in place. (Edit – new bridge now in place). A few more trees were down in this area and the path through the dark forest was blocked. A surprise but no problem to walk around.

Cheviots 28.2.16_3

Was no longer a footbridge over the Usway Burn at Fairhaugh!

Out of the restrictive dark forest into the open and up to The Middle, a small hill with big views. Then down into the Usway valley to join Clennel Street and a slow steady ascent up the side of Hazely Law. A grassy plateau is reached fringed by dark conifers where any feature seems magnified. The Cheviot came into view 4 miles away, attractively streaked with rivulets of snow, the peaty Cheviot is of course rarely attractive. I was instantly reminded about a special Cheviots quality up here. It can be breathtakingly quiet, no waterfalls, cascading streams, no people, no sheep, no noise. It aint the Highlands, it can’t compare to the variety of the Lakeland Fells, but on a day like this it can be joyously wild.

Cheviots 28.2.16_4

Wild and remote, walking through the plateau before the Border Gate

Cheviots 28.2.16_5

Looking back from the same spot, I do like it here

The damp ground was partly frozen, just enough to nicely firm it up without being slippy. At the Border Gate I met a guy descending from Windy Gyle. We briefly discussed the theory that the Munro of Lochnagar can be seen on a bright day from the Cheviot, neither of us were convinced. I then started up the paved Pennine Way along the Border Ridge.

Cheviots 28.2.16_6

The Hexpeth Border Gate looking east to the streaky Cheviot

Cheviots 28.2.16_7

The Border Gate and the route west up to Windy Gyle

Sometimes this section can be grimly exposed, a head down walk wrapped up against the wind. Today it was the opposite and I was still just in my ancient capilene base layer and still no gloves. Fitness wasn’t great, fairly slow going up to my favourite Cheviot summit.

Cheviots 28.2.16_8

Approaching Windy Gyle, over the stile and into Scotland

Three walkers were already sat in the large cairn taking photos, so I sat in the smaller one. Time for a nice cuppa tea, some jam tarts, chocolate brownies and views.

Cheviots 28.2.16_9

Tea on Windy Gyle, the Cheviot and Hedgehope

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View north from Windy Gyle

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More northern views from Windy Gyle

Gear testing time. Normally on Windy Gyle my hands get a bit nippy after faffing about on the phone. They can take a while to warm up, even wearing Gore-Tex gauntlets. I’d brought some new gloves to try but this unexpectedly mild weather wasn’t helping, (some people are never happy). I’d sat gloveless hoping for colder hands, bizarre but always best to try these things in controlled conditions. Firstly Montane Power Stretch Pro Grippy, liner gloves which are smartphone friendly and should give better grip adjusting walking poles on the move. Secondly Buffalo Mitts, very light and compact, yet good insulators according to reviews. I liked the idea of mitts and Buffalo’s are supposed to keep the heat in even when wet.

Cheviots 28.2.16_14

Buffalo Mitt & Montane Power Stretch Pro Grippy

The idea was the Buffalo’s would go over the Montane’s but I found the hands might warm up faster with nowt underneath. The heat from fingers clenched together could be better than separated by material. Not conclusive but I liked both. The Montanes are an improvement than my previous liners whilst the Buffalos could be really useful. I have two sizes so can wear one inside the other for maximum warmth. The smaller ones would also be great emergency gloves to carry all year round. Buffalo sizing is odd, I take a medium Montane but a large Buffalo, with an extra large one needed to fit either glove underneath. (see next weekends snowy walk for a glove update).

Cheviots 28.2.16_12

View west following the high ground before turning south

From the summit I took the longer route back along the Pennine Way then south via the ‘Street’ bridleway back to the car. Initially it’s as near a ridge walk as you’ll get in the Cheviots, but it doesn’t last long. Nice views, it can be very windy and if lucky you’ll see some wild Cheviot goats. Today I was lucky and virtually walked into em.

Cheviots 28.2.16_13

View south from the Border Ridge west of Windy Gyle

Cheviots 28.2.16_15

descending the Street bridleway southwards to the Coquet valley

I’ve discovered the Street can be very special. It keeps to the high ground gradually descending, with two bumps and two troughs. Both bumps are just slightly off the path but well worth the diversion if time permits. Up here in fading light enjoy a peaceful Cheviot experience, with shadowed valleys either side, below a mosaic of illuminated rolling hills. All you’ll hear is silence, or perhaps a distant shepherd and his sheepdog.

There are many advantages of starting and finishing late, the peace and light being two of them. The fact that I can’t get out of bed early is entirely coincidental.

Cheviots 28.2.16_16

Descending from Hindside Knowe, for once not the last car – very rare

Cheviots 28.2.16_17

Info board at Trows Road End / Slymefoot

Back at the car, that moment when you whip off your base layer and change into a clean freezing cold shirt. I did this manfully of course. Seems in the Cheviots no one can hear you scream🙂

  • 10.7 miles distance, 2,164ft ascent, max height Windy Gyle 2,031ft (619m)
  • Start/Finish = Trows Rd End/Slymefoot near Barrowburn, Sunday 28th Feb 2016
Click on the map to link to

Click here for an interactive map

Link to Windy Gyle weather forecast

Posted in Cheviot Hills, Northumberland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Afternoon on Ben Wyvis – the Social Mountain

Expect little and you may be surprised, that was our experience on Ben Wyvis. Intended as a diversion on a drive to Ullapool, it became a surprisingly satisfying afternoon. And we weren’t alone, many others were tackling the hill in varying ways. Seems it’s proximity to Inverness makes Wyvis a bit of a playground, a really social mountain. Good seeing so many enjoying the outdoors. And there were views too, glorious views; we did enjoy Ben Wyvis.

Rising to the Munro ‘top’ at 3,432ft, Ben Wyvis is a large flattish upland ridge situated 35 miles north west of Inverness. The name means ‘hill of terror’ which seems very ill-fitting as from most angles Wyvis looks a great green boring lump. It certainly wasn’t one we were excited about, nonetheless we were heading to Ullapool for a week and fancied a walk along the way. Weather was clear and Wyvis seemed ideally positioned; a new Munro, a new area, and relatively close to the road. Time was limited so we’d just do the standard out and back route, but we’d need to start before 2pm to make Ullapool for evening meal and ale.

  • Distance          =   9.15 miles (15.3 km)
  • Duration          =   5 hrs 55 mins, (inc 55 mins sat on top)
  • Total Ascent    =   3,120 ft (951 m), max height Glas Leathad Mor 3,432 ft (1,046 m)
  • Start/Finish    =   Signposted Wyvis Car park near Garbat, east side of A835
  • Date                  =   Sunday 4th October 2015, 1.30pm – 6.25pm
  • Random           =   Wyvis is 85th highest out of 282 Munros
  • Click on my Social Hiking Route Map below to zoom in/out
Map

Ben Wyvis out and back route from Garbat Car Park

We left Hexham at 8.15am, sailing up the M74 and A9, passing Aviemore at 12.15, through Inverness, arriving at the Wyvis car park for 1.15pm. Almost an uninterrupted drive, very little traffic and far quicker than expected. Good start.

Luckily blue sky and two parking places available, very good start! After the 5hr drive with just one brief fuel stop it was quick a stretch and boots on. A bloke wearing no rucksack set off ahead with his dog, followed by a young couple, then ourselves. It was October, we were in shorts, and it felt great to be walking in the Highlands again!

Car Park

Alan posing, look at those legs!

Wyvis

Quick scan of the info board then we walked along a straight path parallel with the road crossing a river bridge before turning east through a deer fence gate. Lovely easy path curving through small conifers. Legs were moving at a decent speed, we soon reeled in and overtook the young couple (satisfying). Couldn’t get close to that bloke and his dog though, he was going faster dang it.

Wyvis

Wyvis

Soon through the Forestry Commission section out into open ground with an obvious path ahead, leading invitingly up to the point of An Cabar. The Munro top is hidden from view nearly two miles further north eastwards along the plateau. This felt good, look at that sky.

Wyvis

Into the open, Wyvis and pointy An Cabar looking inviting above. Ignore the old man below, that’s An Teallach in the middle distance!

Wyvis

You’ll really appreciate this well maintained path courtesy of Scottish National Heritage, there’s no temptation to divert here as the surrounding ground looks very heavy going. Course this intensifies the social aspect by funnelling all walkers together, if there’s someone on this mountain, chances are you’re going to meet them either coming up or down. We met a procession descending, including family groups out for a stroll, then some runners impressively running down. We continued our sprightly pursuit of the fast moving Onemanandhisdog, but soon gave up as his pace was relentless (one of Alan’s favourite hill words).

Wyvis

After a few more minutes we suddenly saw Onemanandhisdog coming back down!! Surely he hadn’t made it to the top, surely something was wrong, surely I should ask?? Well it turns out this was his regular fitness route, he walks as fast and far as he can for one hour, then turns back. Not a bad place for a local stroll, lucky man, lucky dog!

The path zig zagged up steeper ground with some helpful steps, before reaching An Cabar – which inevitably wasn’t An Cabar, just the bump below. Nice spot for some views back. Looked like the weather was changing from the south though, a lot more cloud around.

Wyvis

Wyvis

Windproofs on now as we rather unsocially met a cool breeze. We angled left missing out An Cabar, before at last reaching the skyline and a flattish mossy walk north eastwards.

Wyvis

Wyvis

The top looked close, too close, and sure enough it was a false one, with the Munro cairn twice as far. Now what some might consider a featureless grassy mossy plateau only served to frame the views. Instead of watching out for your feet you could gaze around at the mountain horizons, I even ended up walking backwards, never usually recommended!

Wyvis

Above – looking north to the Munro. Below – looking east out to sea

Wyvis

Wyvis

The Munro top Glas Leathad Mor is the highest bit of gently sloping grass, featuring a small weathered cairn shelter and trig point. No other features up here so most welcome.

Wyvis

On arrival two guys were already taking photos on a tripod, so we left them to it and carried on past the cairn to take in the panorama.

Wyvis

A cold breeze soon cools you down when stationary, particularly when wearing shorts. We relocated to the sheltered side of the cairn and were soon layering up as we intended to linger. Binocs out (good packing decision) and fervent scanning of distant horizons.

We loved the views up here, immensely satisfying especially having just arrived in the Highlands. Although a southern haze had blotted out the Cairngorms, there was still numerous shadowy peaks in the south west. To the east, river estuaries snaking out to the Moray Firth with ships and seascape (I do like a bit of blue sea in my views). Around us were Wyvis’s rolling green outlying bumps, looking worth a revist. As if to emphasise this a lone lady walker cruised past ignoring the summit heading off instead towards the eastern spur. Obviously a familiar place for her and we were still sat here when she came back!

Wyvis

Lone lady heads out east with distant seascape

But for us the real fun was west and north. Wyvis stands alone with a large surrounding moat of lowland allowing an uninterrupted 360 sweep. Fascinating, from the west;- Torridon, the Fannichs, An Teallach, Ben Dearg group, Seanna Brae, the Assynt peaks, Coigach, Cul Mor, Canisp, Suilven and Quinag, (we’d become more acquainted with 3 of these in the next week). Further north, Ben More Assynt & Conival, Arkle, Foinaven, Ben Hope, Ben Loyal and Ben Kilbreck. Basically the northernmost Highlands on display.

Wyvis

Wyvis

Eventually we had to leave, reluctantly of course but Alan was getting cold hands (the big wuss), so off we trotted gazing back often. Cloud had thickened and within seconds the top was covered. Good timing or what, just added to the sense of satisfaction.

Wyvis

Cloud approaching as we head south

Wyvis

Eastern feature!

Two guys approached from the south heading for the top, only to miss the views entirely. Meanwhile we picked up the pace to warm up, seemed ages since that ascent in shorts. Alan was feeling it worse, couldn’t get his hands warm for ages, look at that pained expression below! Mind he can look like that most other times too.

Wyvis

We reached An Cabar, the southern top that we’d bypassed on the way up. Fixed to the cairn was an information board asking walkers to avoid erosion and keep to a suggested line. Bit late for us but interesting information, Wyvis is a National Nature Reserve with rare mosses, plants and Dotterel (see link at the end).

Wyvis

An Cabar gives best views over Dingwall and further to Inverness and beyond. Perhaps understandable that quite a few people only came up to here.

Wyvis

Now to retrace our ascent route back down the path to the car park. Even in these fading conditions when most Munros quieten there was still a social presence. We met the two guys from the top who said they hadn’t seen a thing due to the cloud. Another couple were coming up, then a lady running up, then another lady running up with her dog. We chatted briefly, turns out her name was Onewomanandherdog. Always impressed with anyone running up mountains, and always look back hoping they might stop for a sit down, just to make me feel less unfit.

Wyvis

We quickly and uneventfully carried on down to the car park and then the short drive to Ullapool and a welcoming guest house with loch views. Evening meal at the nearby Arches Inn, beer courtesy of Dundonnels An Teallach Ale brewery. Satisfied with a fine start to what became a fine week. Top target was Suilven but we did something better (to follow).

Pint

Wyvis is a good half day out, a straightforward grassy Munro with amazing views to Scoltand’s most northern mountains. Never underestimate any hill of course, always take a compass, it’s featureless on that ridge so in cloud you’ll need it. Apart from the small lone summit cairn there is no shelter from cold winds, so take adequate clothing. We started in shorts but had to layer up, gloves essential. Even Martin Moran on his winter Munro traverse experienced an avalanche here, just shows you🙂

An alternative route is to ascend up to the Munro then carry on north over Tom a’Choinnich before curving south west back to the path. Didn’t do this so can’t comment, it should gives views of northern corrie but Walkhighlands think the out & back better. Maybe as you keep those high views longer. Either way, enjoy.

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An extended Winter Hill and Rivington Pike walk from Lower House – 10 miles

Having done this excellent walk a few times I can’t find a way to improve it. But how do you make a short feature-filled route longer? One option is simply to walk round it twice. And that’s what I’ve been doing as a substitute for the bigger stuff in the Lakes and Cheviots. Can be a bit squelchy in places which limits options, so imagine a giant angled hamburger and off you go…

Full original 5.5 mile route details are here A Summer Walk on Winter Hill and Rivington Pike via Two Lads – from Lower House If you’re familiar with Lancashire and haven’t been up yet then you just need to do it. Choose a clear day as the views really lift the experience – a fascinating mix of cities, coast, distant mountains, ruined Italian Gardens and a bloody big TV mast;-

Take binocs as if lucky you might see – Manchester, Bolton, Snowdonia, Anglesey, Liverpool, Southport, sea, ships, Preston, Ribble estuary, Lytham, Blackpool, the Lake District fells, Pendle Hill, the 3 Yorkshire peaks, the Pennines and more.

Rivington Pike and Winter Hill from Lower House - Route Map

A good starting point is Lower House Car Park SD6314 (aka Pigeon Tower Car Park), end of Belmont Rd off Sheep House Lane. Bit quieter than the touristy Barn area and there may be an ice cream van waiting for you!! Another recommendation is to definitely finish through Rivington Terraced Gardens. There’s 5 different sections over just 5 miles;-

  1. From Lower House car park – gradually ascend under the Lever Bridge curving round to steps up Rivington Pike. Nice & easy to get yer legs moving, views open up across the Lancs plain, lots of people.
  2. Enjoy the views on the busy Pike – walk down to the ‘road’ along to the dog kennels and up to Two Lads (Crooked Edge). Less people, more kestrels.
  3. Two Lads to Winter Hill – slight ascent joining the road on a plateau dominated by the ever nearing 1,000ft aerial ahead. Wonder at masses of giant cables leading the eye up to the the size, built in sections, hollow allowing internal access with giant support cables snaking up to the sky. Check out the aircrash plaque on the wall. Fewer people.
  4. Follow the road past Scotchmans Stump – angle left through the aerials, stop at the oddly placed trig point for best views to the Pennines and Lakes, (Isle of Man on a good day). Then onto open moorland (bit squelchy) to Noon Hill (ancient burial cairn). Usually on your own for this last bit so feels a million miles from the busy Pike. Saw two deer here recently.
  5. Down to the Pigeon Tower – take the ‘road’ track on the right for speed & less features down to the car park. Or walk around the Tower down steps through the ruined Italian Gardens and down over the Lever Bridge. Thats if you want more interest, which is recommended

Extending the Route – always best avoiding much of the boggy tussocky central area and sticking to previously walked tracks. So after walking around the original route once you descend down to the Pigeon Tower – turn southeast, walk along the road then back up to the Pike.

Route One – 9 miles 1,580 ft ascent, took 3hrs 17 mins.- at the Pike take the direct path north east straight across to Winter Hill. Then rejoin the route back round the aerials to Noon Hill and down again to the Pigeon Tower. Route map below.

Extended 1 Vranger

Tried a shortcut here from below the Tower steps through the trees which was steep & slippy and didn’t save much time, plus missed some of the ruined gardens.

Route Two – 9.6 miles 1,740 ft ascent – took 3hrs 37 mins – simply the standard route redone, at the Pike continue south east round to Two Lads and up to Winter Hill. I tried another shortcut along the ‘road’ heading north from the Tower back to Lower House car park. It’s a little faster, steeper and less interesting than going through the gardens.

Winter Hill and Rivington Pike twice route 2

Note the choice of paths through the boggy section east of Noon Hill. I think the south one might be less wet than the north….maybe. This is where light boots are recommended.

Best Route Three – 9.8 miles 1,740 ft ascent, took 3hrs 24 mins  – same route as above, taking the south path both times to Noon Hill and coming down through the Gardens from the Pigeon Tower. I was a bit quicker and kept moving as time was limited.

Winter Hill and Rivington Pike twice route 3

The above is my favourite, click map for details. Not very imaginative though serves to remind what a fascinating walk this is and why it’s become such a favourite. Conditions often differ second time around, sometimes clearer and less busy, or vice versa. Any other suggestions welcome.

Thanks to Matt @mypennines for his original walk info here and also to Alex @atkypne for his GPX route on Social Hiking here.

Some links on Rivington Gardens, William Lever

PS. Much longer extension including Great Hill;- Walking the Chorley 3 Peaks – White Coppice, Great Hill, Winter Hill, Two Lads and Rivington Pike – from Lower House Car Park (12 miles)

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A Blog From The Blue Tit Box 2015 – Basic Instinct

Anyone following last years success inside the blue tit box would understandably be looking forward to springtime 2015. However the downside of a nestbox camera linked to your telly is having a ringside seat when things go wrong. This year things went wrong, just like disastrous 2013. If anything the events served to remind that nature is indeed a struggle.

Initially preparations had gone well with a blue tit roosting overnight from September, far earlier than before. This seemed to alternate between a male and female bird based on whether they tidied away their nightly droppings in the morning. I was experimenting to get more light into the box by fitting a sliding wood panel over one of the plastic windows. Bit of elastic band high tech stuff here ;-) The birds didn’t seem to like the ‘windows’ so the plan was to introduce more light gradually once the eggs had hatched. More light gives more colour, less light gives infrared black & white. Also bought a new large screen TV to view the events on, so just needed the birdies to cooperate….

Blue Tits Spring 2015-crop

Sleeping Blue Tit as nest building begins

  1. 19th March 2015 – Nest building began (5 days earlier than last year)
  2. 27th April 2015 – First egg laid
  3. 5th May 2015 – 7 eggs laid
  4. 16th May 2015 – First hatching
  5. 17th May 2015 – Sixth chick hatched (3 less than last year)

So this year 7 eggs, 6 of which hatched and all seemed fine. First similarities to 2013 started with an over reliance on using the garden suet bell feeder. Supposedly to help supplement the parents this was often used for the chicks. Was also a while before the male was seen bringing food in. Then things started to improve with increased feeding of mostly live food. All looking good on the telly…..

The Downside – One morning I was surprised to see a parent dragging a dead chick out. Next morning the same thing happened except this time another problem had developed. Surviving chicks had become tangled with dead ones, possibly due to breakage of the unhatched egg. The mother’s instinct was to clean the nest and nothing was going to stop her. Confused as to why she couldn’t remove the remains she frantically continued tugging away. And so began a grisly removal of a dead chick, piece by torn piece. Meanwhile the surviving chicks were being dragged around the nest, with physical damage seeming inevitable.

26th May 2015 – The end result of this process over two days was one surviving chick with a leg sticking out at a worrying angle. I could only hope this would somehow heal but this was not to be. The mother again sensed something was wrong and would peck at the damaged leg. Somehow the sole chick endured, with both parents still feeding by instinct.

The mother continued to be agitated often prodding at the chick or tapping the side of its beak to check it still opened. When tidying the base of the nest she would see the damaged leg and try to get it out. This desire became all consuming with the pecking increasing incessantly causing the joint to fray.

Finally next evening she tried to rip the damaged part of the leg off. I couldnt watch. Next day the leg was just a stump and the chick alive but not very steady. Again somehow it seemed to endure through this period and was still getting enough live food to survive.

Lone chick with parent

Lone chick with parent

8th June 2015 – By some miracle on a warm spring day the chick managed to leave the nestbox sometime during Monday 8th June 2015. With only one leg it’s ability to follow the parents and learn to feed effectively would be hugely reduced. Sadly I know it didn’t get too far – and that was the end of the Blue Tit experience for this year. All that effort for nothing, nature can be tough.

There’s often a tendency to humanise animals, Disney, Pixar, even Johnny Morris in the old days, cute animals with human characteristics. It’s tempting to imagine what they’re thinking but in reality some are just simple creatures governed by instinct and stimulus, struggling to breed and survive. Of course they can also often look cute in the process🙂

BBC’s Springwatch aired at the time with excellent Chris Packham sharing interesting information. Their cameras followed 10 chicks that all eventually left the nest, however reports suggested 2015 was a bad year nationwide for Blue Tit’s after a damp spring.

Also the belief had always been that Blue Tits somehow timed their nesting to coincide with a profusion of juicy green tent caterpillars found in trees on new leaf growth. Latest research apparently suggests Blue Tit’s simply breed and hope for the best; sometimes timing is right, sometimes not. This year it wasn’t, but overall the species are doing very well, probably thanks to thousands of nest boxes around the country.

Without a camera box I’d never have realised how tough nesting can be. Always assumed an empty nest meant they all got out ok, obviously things are a little more complicated. Anyway here’s hoping for lots of juicy green caterpillars come Spring 2016, otherwise I’m on the wine again😉

Links from a far happier 2014 nesting….

  1. Week 1 in the Blue Tit Box
  2. Week 2 in the Blue Tit Box
  3. Week 3 have they gone yet?

Link to the box supplier Handykam if you fancy setting this up yourself!

Happier times - 2014 box with young chick

Happier times – 2014 box with young chick

Posted in Random Stuff, Tit Cam - Blue Tit Nest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Night on the Toon – Newcastle Late Shows May 2015

An evening in Newcastle at the annual Late Shows. Fantastic free shows hosted at many venues usually closed in the evenings. There’s a fascinating diary of events with an atmosphere like a mini Edinburgh Festival. It all started in 2007 yet I never knew anything about it, so was delighted to be invited by friends for a cultural night on the Toon…

  • Some of the events –  Music, comedy, poetry, art, exhibitions, pottery, fluorescence, magic, circus, cycling, open mic, science, films, tunnel tours, 3d printing, craziness
  • Some of the venues;- Academy of Music & Sound, Ouseburn, Baltic, Biscuit Factory, Discovery Museum, Hancock Museum, Hatton Gallery, Jazz Cafe, Laing Art Gallery, Sage, Shipley Gallery, Swing Bridge, Castle, Tyne Theatre, Victoria Tunnel
  • Aim – promoting museums, galleries & the arts, part of the Museums at Night project

My Late Shows introduction would be a couple of events on the Saturday evening. Now what’s the best way to start a cultural night….yep at a good pub, so first stop was the Bridge Hotel for a pint of local real ale. Then a short walk across the road for a bit of castle hang drumming…

Simon Wood at the Castle Keep Great Hall

With just a keep and gatehouse remaining, the castle that gives Newcastle it’s name almost goes unnoticed in the city. Indeed in 20yrs living up here I’d shamefully never even visited. We crossed the cobbles from the pub to enter the Castle Keep and picked up a glow stick which acts as your badge for the evening, (I was excited already). Then into the Great Hall, which I can confirm is very definitely a great hall.

Projected onto the stone walls high up to the high ceiling were scenes from the origins of the castle. Sat in front of the stone fireplace was a man in a spotted shirt playing hauntingly good music on what looked like three giant woks….

The Late Shows 2015

Simon Wood and his Hang Drum, nice sound nice backdrop

The Late Shows 2015_1

Great ceiling at the Great Hall – Newcastle Castle

This was Simon Wood and his hang drum, an instrument only invented 15 years ago. Here’s some info on Simon and his drums, his music is strangely compelling especially when reverberating around this historic old stone chamber. Here’s a very brief recording to give you a taster;-

One of the things with the Late Shows is many people drop in and out of venues, buses are laid on for events, and there’s a constant stream of people wandering around.

And on that note it was time to explore the keep as it’s one of those places that you pass by without realising the fascinations within. Bit like the tardis with a huge central high ceilinged room wrapped by narrow corridors and corner spiral staircases. At the base are cellars and a marvelous old chapel, whereas at the top you suddenly and surprisingly emerge onto the roof for a skyline view of the city.

The Late Shows 2015_2

Newcastle bridges from the castle

The Late Shows 2015_3

Tyne and swing bridges

The Late Shows 2015_4

Across the Tyne to Gatesheed

A trainspotters paradise too with an aerial view of the station and snaking railway lines.

The Late Shows 2015_5

Newcastle Central Station

The Late Shows 2015_8

More Toon across the Black Gate

Descending from the roof along the spiral stairways gave this view down on the great Hall.

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The Great Hall from above, Simon still drumming away

Just time to catch a more upbeat tune from Simon and his drums…

We left the busy Keep and walked over to the Black Gate where unfortunately the queues were too long, so carried on towards the central station. Interesting atmosphere in the streets with an eclectic crowd all mixed in with the usual crazy saturday night hen parties.

Circus at the Mining Institute…

Another building I’d driven and walked past without a second thought. Outside some street fire jugglers gave a clue to the events inside.

“The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers NEIMME;  dedicated to the research and preservation of knowledge relating to mining and mechanical engineering. Founded in 1852, the Institute, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, possesses one of the largest collections of such mining knowledge in the world,[1] named the Nicholas Wood Memorial Library after its founding member, housing over twenty thousand volumes” (wikipedia) 

Fascinating building housing amongst other things a queue locals would describe as ‘hyowge’. This snaked around and up the stairs right up to the bar….did someone mention a bar? Quick drink later we decided to join the queue which eventually brought us down into the hyowge and dramatic library…for circus stuff.

First act was a juggler lit up in the dark on a tightrope, however the rope wasn’t tight it was loose, held by a group at one end making the whole thing a lot more difficult.

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Preparing the rope in the library

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An illuminated looserope walker/juggler

We managed to stay for the next act where three acrobats slowly entered to stirring music and on to the stage in front of us. Now you’ve probably watched something like this on the telly and been mildly impressed but trust me, the telly is a one dimensional flat experience. You need to grab a ringside seat to comprehend the effort and strength involved. Muscles trembled, bulged and strained revealing the physical effort needed to maintain such balanced poses. My jaw dropped open several times, not a good sight, unlike the 3 acrobats who got a very well deserved round of applause. Must admit this was really impressive and great fun.

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Incredibly entertaining acrobats

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Well deserved applause

Next we went downstairs to join a half empty Edwardian Lecture Theatre without really knowing what would happen. It soon filled up and Hannah performed a warm up routine before introducing an aspiring young juggler whose deadpan humour belied his age. Very funny. Followed by a lady who juggled balls with her feet whilst doing handstands, as you do.

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Upside down ball juggling in the lecture theatre

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Not with my bad back

The acts were from Circus Central an arts charity based at Shieldfield Green in Newcastle. They offer courses in juggling, tumbling and various other circus things! Seem a great bunch, worth checking their website out below.

Just enough time after this to grab a late half in the Bridge Hotel before heading home. Hyowge thanks to Kate for the invite and to everyone involved;- the acts, exhibitors, participants, many helpers and the crazy crowds for supporting it all. If you are in the north east next May then I urge you to grab yer glowstick and take advantage of this wonderful event:-)

The Late Shows 2015_16 (2)

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The Cheviot from Langleeford via a northern detour – Lambden Burn, Dunsdale and the Bizzle – (Cheviots 12 miles)

Long ago the Cheviot was an exciting volcano which unfortunately evolved into today’s peaty boggy upland plateau. Summit views are disappointing and there’s few features, yet at 2,674ft this is England’s highest point outside the Lakes & Pennines so a draw for many walkers. Best routes are probably from north west and College Valley, whereas those of us approaching from the south face the remorseless slog over Scald Hill from Langleeford in the Harthope Valley.

As a variation to this route I diverted off to reach the northern Lambden Valley, following the river before ascending up the side of the Bizzle. After navigating the summit bogs to reach the huge trig of the Cheviot, the descent is over Cairn Hill then down along the Harthope Valley back to Langleeford.

  • Why do this route? Well it’s certainly different and you leave the world behind as it’s bloomin quiet, I saw no one for 5 hours. The best views from the Cheviot are from the edges and on this route extensive views north open up which are usually hidden.
  • Disadvantages?  Could seem a bit soul destroying losing that initial height gain to drop into the northern valley. Also no nice pavement to follow on top, you’re at the mercy of the peat bogs and have to steer through them. Easier than it looks though.
  • Extra ascent and mileage which is either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how far/long you want to walk.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford Route Map

  • Click on my Social Hiking Route Map above to zoom in/out
  • Date     =   Sun 8th March 2015
  • Distance   =  13 miles (20.8 km), anticlockwise
  • Duration      =   6hrs 23mins, (start 12.06, finish 18.30)
  • Total Ascent   =   3,030 ft (923 m), max height the Cheviot 2,674 ft (815m)
  • Start/Finish      =   Car park east of Langleeford, Harthope Valley, Northumberland

After a short drive along the very pleasant Harthope Valley I parked at the familiar large layby east of Langleeford. The walk starts along the standard route south west along the road then turning off right and angling west onto the open hillside towards the Cheviot. (For this route a better choice may be to cross the road from the car, heading north west following a curving track along the Hawsen Burn. Have done this twice before however in summer there can be annoyingly dense high bracken to wade through).

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford

Leaving the road to start up to Scald Hill

I was soon walking uphill and feeling a lack of fitness due to lack of hill days. I hadn’t felt up for this walk but have learnt to ignore that and just get on with it. Did manage to overtake a couple though, who as it turned out would be the last human beings I’d see till back in Wooler hours later.

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Looking back east to the distant hazy sea, over the initial ascent

About 2/3rds of the way up Scald Hill I started the diversion by leaving the path, turning northwards heading initially towards Broadhope Hill across tufty grass. Over a stile a soggy peaty path dips down then up alongside a fence, before finally taking a left/west turn to begin the Lambden Valley section.

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Diverting north from the path towards Broadhope hill across grassy stuff

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Crossing the stile over typical peaty Cheviot terrain

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Follow the fence, dip down then up then turn left at the gate

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At the gate turn west to start the Lambden valley section

These are views here many Cheviot baggers will miss, looking along the Lambden valley to the Schill and across the northern slopes of the Cheviot.

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Now to follow the Lambden valley, with the Schill distant left

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North eastern brooding slopes of the Cheviot

The path drops gradually through open heather moorland then briefly joins a forest road before an interesting 4 minutes through woodland. Bit of fun here winding round tree stumps, dodging conifer branches, before emerging into the open over a stile. (Update – some trees now block the start of the forest path).

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Join the forestry track before the tree section

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If possible, angle left at the post into the trees, or if fallen trees block the way, go over the stile, follow the fence then back into the wood to find the path

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Dodging tree stumps adds variety to the day

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Through the trees and over the stile

A sense of solitude kicks in as the route carries on westwards gently down to the isolated buildings of Goldscleugh. By now all previous height gain has been lost and Langleeford already seems a million miles away.

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Goldscleugh, it’s quiet here

A final road section takes you to the equally isolated farm at Dunsdale, where the ascent of the Cheviot starts all over again.

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The road west with the Schill far ahead

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Dunsdale ahead, leave the road at the post & take the left track through the heather

Dunsdale’s a good place for a refueling stop before the inevitable steep slog uphill, also a good place to survey the Cheviot in all it’s northern glory. Far more interesting than it’s dull southern slopes. The obvious feature is the Bizzle, a steep cleft formed by the ice age. There are routes either side, I fancied recreating one done 20 years ago in snow up the eastern side.

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From Dunsdale the ascent goes left of the Bizzle cleft up to the Cheviot

Wasn’t necessarily looking forward to this as I could still remember the peaty bog fest awaiting up on top. A path looked visible heading up to a cairn which would hopefully ease progress, so off I plodded. Unfortunately the path kept away from the Bizzle’s edge then petered out, so I veered right to get the cliff views. Nice views but surprisingly breezy, a northern wind was funneling up the flanks making progress hard. Had to move away and ended up on spongy energy sapping grass, before eventually reaching the cairn of Great Hill. My lack of fitness was evident here but the views back down kept getting better and better, with the white farmhouse of Dunsdale getting smaller and smaller.

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Remorseless is the word, heading up by the Bizzle

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Looking down at Dunsdale, getting smaller

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The Bizzle from above, slightly blurred due to the strong wind

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Eventually the cairn seen from Dunsdale is reached and the hard work eases on Mid Hill. Had a short rest sheltered (slightly) by the cairn from the wind. Views though were great, different is the word to use here. Pity it was hazy though as really wanted to check the northern horizon, will have to return with binocs on a clearer day.

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On Mid Hill, hazy but good view, the College Valley running mid left to right

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On Mid Hill looking west over the Bizzle to Braydon Crags & the Schil

No putting it off, now for the bogs, I was hoping for a track to follow but after a quick wander over the crags I found nowt. Was just a case of taking a bearing and picking a line through the scattered peat hags. Depending on how weird you are there may be some satisfaction in this challenge, my route turned out reasonably ok, no wet feet, no snorkel or flippers needed.

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Looking south at the boggy plateau ahead, Urgh!

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Looking back north over the exciting terrain

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Hope on the horizon, is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s a bloody big trip pillar

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So close and yet so far, some concentration is needed to stay dry

An uplifting sight on this peaty plateau is spotting the huge summit trig on the horizon. Soon I was very close then started laughing at the boggy mess barring the way. Discovered some footwear lost in the mire, fortunately no one still attached. Inspired by the challenge of maintaining dry boots I used skills honed in the maze at Tatton Park to weave through. A final turn west to reach the sanctuary of the stone pavement then walking up to the solid foundations of the trig. I ate brownies on top and took a video to celebrate. Of the scenery, not the brownies.

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The Cheviot

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Video from the Cheviot, turn sound down, bit windy;-

According to Wikipedia; “The view is obscured greatly by the flatness of the summit plateau. Nevertheless, on a clear day the following are visible (from west, clockwise); Broad Law, Moorfoot Hills, Pentland Hills, the Ochils, Lammermuir Hills, LochnagarRos Hill, Long Crag, Urra Moor, Tosson Hill, Burnhope Seat, Cross Fell, Helvellyn, Scafell Pike, Skiddaw, Sighty Crag, Peel Fell, Queensberry“.

I’ve certainly seen the Lakes from the Cheviots, never yet the Pentlands but to see the Munro of Lochnagar would be amazing. Today due to the haze I mostly saw bugger all, and bugger all people were up here too, completely deserted, which was nice.

Descent options to Langleeford are, in speed order;-

  1. quickly follow the pavement east descending rapidly on decent ground to the car
  2. west along the pavement then curve south down then east along the Harthope Valley,
  3. full circuit over Hedgehope – some bad peat to negotiate but very nice on Hedgehope

Tempted to do the first, didn’t have time for the third and I fancied something different. So I did a number two, (maybe should rephrase that). The lowering sun through the hazy light with a hint of lenticular clouds was fantastic, very peaceful.

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DO NOT leave the pavement, my pole went deep and I nearly followed it

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Nearing the turn off, with Windy Gyle 5 miles in the distance

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Turn south at Cairn Hill for the Harthope Valley or Hedgehope

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Descending the Cheviot looking south

My first time along the valley and I was initially ok with it then a little nonplussed. It’s longer than you think and of course views are limited in a valley. There was a choice of keeping to the stream or a path slightly higher on the northern side which seemed to keep a straighter line and avoid little ups & downs. Still it was different, though I certainly wouldn’t fancy this as an ascent route, far too tedious, the other two options are better.

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Turning east at this signpost for the Harthope Valley path

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Back to the car near Langleeford, last in the car park as usual🙂

Would I recommend this? Well, Yes & No;- No if you’re after a quick ascent up the Cheviot. Yes if like me, you fancy something different and longer. Next time I hope to be fitter and will explore the west side of the Bizzle over to Braydon crag.

On the theme of doing something different I recorded an audio commentary for this walk;- only 9mins 58 seconds if you fancy a listen;- http://voicebo.com/widget_v1/9tEuKn

I’ve honestly tried to love the Cheviot but my preference is still the upper Coquet Valley walks up Windy Gyle with all the variety on offer🙂 Check some out here

 

Posted in Cheviot Hills, Northumberland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments