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

Posted in Cheviot Hills, Northumberland, Random Stuff | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

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.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_6

Border Gate, Pennine Way and the Cheviot looking east

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_7

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.

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_11

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).

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_12

Windy Gyle with northern fells on the horizon

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_13

view south from Windy Gyle

Wintry Windy Gyle walk March 2016_14

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

Posted in Cheviot Hills, Northumberland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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

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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

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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.

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Newcastle bridges from the castle

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Tyne and swing bridges

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Across the Tyne to Gatesheed

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

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Newcastle Central Station

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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

The Late Shows 2015_13

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.

The Late Shows 2015_14

Upside down ball juggling in the lecture theatre

The Late Shows 2015_15

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.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_1

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.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_2

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

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_11

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.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_13

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.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_14

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.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_16

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.

The Cheviot via the Bizzle from Langleeford_34

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

 

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A Whitley Bay Walk – 5 miles around the coast- Seaton Burn, Seaton Sluice and St Marys Island

A 5 mile circular walk which starts from Whitley Bay crematorium then follows the Seaton Burn to Seaton Sluice, heading back south along the coastal cliffs to St Marys Island (check the tide times). You’ll see plenty of sea, lots of seabirds, quite a few planes and if lucky a few seals. Good walk in any weather but even better on a quiet calm Sunday evening, with blue sky and low sun illuminating the famous lighthouse. 

  • Distance     =  5.6 miles (9.01 km), clockwise route
  • Duration      =   1 hr 50 mins fast walk, (inc 10 mins on St Marys)
  • Total Ascent   =   470 ft, max height a modest 89 ft above sea level!
  • Start/Finish      =   layby in front of Whitley Bay crematorium
  • Sun 12th April 2015 – click on the Social Hiking Route Map below to zoom in/out

Whitley Bay and St Marys Island walk Route

This was a straightforward evening walk after having to cancel a trip to the Lakes due to heavy rain. I needed exercise and tend to forget there’s a fine coastline right here on my doorstep. The idea was to make a decent circular route so I drove just 5 mins from home and parked outside the crematorium (as it’s free). Crossing the busy A193 I shuffled over the fence and walked across the deserted mini golf at the end of the Links. Then over the road to join the track heading northwards behind the St Marys nature reserve (signposted to Seaton Sluice & South Beach).

This takes a straight line north on the west side of the reserve with a few viewpoints across the pond where you might spot wading birds, ducks, herons etc. Once past the reserve the track meets the coast briefly to give you a taste of the views to come. Whitley Bay and St Marys Island walk_12

The track then goes through a small car park where I left the coast to turn inland up the road named E End past the Delaval Arms. Then over the A193 roundabout continuing west along W End (signposted Earsdon B1325). After walking gently downhill you pass an estate of bungalows followed by a Northumberland & Seaton Sluice sign. I turned immediately right through a tiny car park and gate to join the Seaton Burn section. This follows the winding burn through trees skirting around the back of the houses and eventually emerges out into the open at Seaton Sluice.

Sticking close to the south side of the burn a feint path goes under the A193 flyover and onto the Sluice. Continue up towards the Kings Arms and survey the interesting scene below over the tiny old harbour, it’s a bit different. There’s some info plaques outside the pub worth checking out, it’s also worth crossing the footbridge over the “cut” onto “Rocky Island”. Here you can do a quick circuit where views north along Blyth Beach suddenly open up. This can be be calm or windswept but rarely uninteresting. Follow the path clockwise round to the headland where the sluice opens out into the sea. Now a succession of cliffs lead the eye to St Marys Island and lighthouse.

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Good spot this, so get the binocs out. Now to follow those cliffs firstly by taking the path straight back along the top of the Cut past a lonely house and over the footbridge. From here it’s simply following the line of the cliffs as much as possible down to St Mary’s Island. Initially there’s a grassy section in front of the houses which then joins the road before angling off towards a larger headland. This goes round farmland & a caravan park which you hardly notice if you keep near the cliff edges, (not too near of course).

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The causeway is covered for two hours either side of high tide, so pick a time when it’s clear as the island is definitely worth a visit (St Marys tide times). Bear in mind if you visit during the day especially at weekends this place can be heaving.

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At certain times the small shop maybe open with refreshments and a visitor centre. Always worth paying just to walk up the steep lighthouse steps for fantastic views out to sea. Kids love the numerous rock pools, as do a few adults, such as me:-) Planes circle overhead on their approach to Newcastle Airport, however today the seals took the eye. There were at least ten dotted around basking on the rocks, the most I’ve ever seen here. Many are technically in the photo below but far too camouflaged to make out. Definitely take binoculars, seals often pop up in the distant sea usually unnoticed by onlookers.

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Stay as long as you want but do keep an eye on that tide, part of the local tradition is watching tourists scampering back over a submerging causeway. This splodging fun can turn into danger though as the water gets deeper and currents kick in. There’s been a few incidents here and many a tourist has had to be ‘rescued’ by boat, so take care.

From St Marys it’s a shortish walk back along the causeway past the car park (ice cream van possible), then either along the prom or road back to the car. Sometimes you see Cormorants on the rocks airing their wings in the breeze (ps there’s always a breeze here).

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Looking back in calm evening light

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If time and energy allow then this walk can be extended south along the beach or cliffs to the iconic art deco Rendezvous Cafe for a cuppa. Alternatively just behind is the new Links Gallery cafe with it’s tasty Italian coffee & cake delicacies. Not that I’m obsessed with cake delicacies…..ok I am. Either way enjoy:-)

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Fun on the Fiddler! Ben More Coigach and Sgurr an Fhidhleir from Culnacraig, NW Highlands

An interesting walk in an area of outstanding scenery just north of Ullapool. Approaching from the west gives an entertaining scramble with beautiful blue sea views across the Summer Isles and distant Outer Hebrides. Even more inspiring are vantage points to the wilderness of Assynt with it’s uniquely individual mountains. Finally to end the day a gentle descent that personally I’d like added to every mountain.

  • Distance          =   6.6 miles (10.6 km)
  • Duration         =   4 hrs 40mins, (give yourself more time for the views)
  • Total Ascent    =   3,687 ft (1,124 m)
  • Tops                =  Ben More Coigach 2,438 ft (743m), Sgurr nan Fhidhleir 2,313ft (705m)
  • Start/Finish    =   Layby near Culacraig east of Achiltibuie, off coastal road from A835
  • Date                   =   Saturday 4th October 2014, start 1.30pm – finish 6.10pm
  • Click on the Social Hiking Route Map below to zoom in/out
Coigach and the Fiddler Route Map

Coigach and the Fiddler Route Map, anticlockwise from near Culnacraig

Transfer day on our October 2014 Highlands trip, after 3 nights in Plockton we were heading for 3 nights in Ullapool. We needed a mountain walk along the way, so Plan A was drive to Ullapool and do Coigach, leaving a short drive back to town for evening food & ale. Morning weather in Plockton was surprisingly good, almost too good as the best weather was supposed to be further north. Anyway after a reluctant goodbye to much loved Plockton we drove on past much loved mountains, all looking lovingly clear.

Coigach and the Fiddler Plockton

Morning in Plockton – a very late 9.50am

Coigach and the Fiddler (1)

Leaving the guest house in perfect weather, look at that sky!

We took an indirect but rapid driving route zig zagging east through Achnasheen then northwest via Garve. After an hour’s drive the lovely blue sky ended in an unlovely dividing line of impenetrable cloud. Ben Wyvis in the east was shrouded as was lovely An Teallach in the west. Approaching Ullapool our first sight of Coigach looked even worse, then it started to rain. All those lovely clear mountains passed along the way just to arrive in damp greyness.

Coigach and the Fiddler (2)

Very flattering photo of Coigach ahead at 11.40am

Coigach was one we wanted for the views, but no point turning back now so onward up the A835 past Ullapool, turning west at Drumrunie with fingers crossed. First choice of route from the east looked grim and very wet. The alternative from the west seemed a long drive away then a glimpse of blueness out to sea gave us the encouragement we needed. So off west we headed, passing lovely Stac Polly on a scenic loop around the lovely coast through Achiltibuie.

When stuck in a cloud of crapness one can only hope that the weather did what it did that day. Yes it was windy but there were no complaints as we arrived 30 mins later near Culnacraig under blue skies, eager to get walking.

There’s a layby with space for a few cars here, oddly a bit of shattered windscreen glass on the ground. Finally we set off on an anti clockwise route at 1.30pm, walking east along the road, soon turning off northeast following an obvious path heading upwards. Course this was our first mistake, we had completely missed the correct path heading southeast. Now we were heading instead directly for the Fiddler up our descent route, and had gained a bit of height before realising. I blame the long drive and over eagerness, mixed with sheer laziness to check the map.

Anyway rather than turn back we decided after uttering a few swear words to contour southeast hoping to angle above the gorge of the Altt Nan Coisiche stream. This was hidden from view but a definite barrier on the map. Luckily this worked out ok, a slight dip crossing the stream but putting us back on course after losing maybe 10 mins. The views out to sea were outstanding, the weather now thankfully exceeding all expectations.

Coigach and the Fiddler (3)

Culnacraig in the trees, the car in centre, the Summer Isles beyond  – 1.45pm

Coigach and the Fiddler (5)

I do like a bit of blue sea in my views

Coigach and the Fiddler (6)

Hey there’s even more blue sea over there too

After some grassy slogging there was now just a straightforward ascent up and over that little steep bit ahead, then on to Coigach….we mistakenly assumed.

Coigach and the Fiddler (4)

On the way up to Garbh Choireachan – 2.20pm

The ascent up the Garbh Choireachan (the steep bit ahead) certainly looks easy, but it’s further than you think. Lots of boulders to walk around which gradually develop into rocky and scree terraces, it seemed to take an age to reach the skyline ahead.

Garbh Choireachan

On the way up to Garbh Choireachan – 2.50pm

Views opened up south  down Loch Broom over hidden Ullapool on to the Fannichs. Nice.

Coigach and the Fiddler (8)

Views opening up south down Loch Broom

Coigach and the Fiddler (9)

And still the views west get better –  3.00pm

Coigach and the Fiddler (10)

Finally nearing the skyline of Garbh Choireachan – 3.20pm

We hoped to reach a definitive ‘top’ with 360 degree views however every step seemed to yield more boulders ahead. There’s a myriad of tempting tracks, some clearly worn by humans, some by animals and some by natural erosion. We just wanted to crack on to Coigach but were now meeting a strongish wind from the south. So we ended up slanting left around the ‘top’, seemed like people had done this before including on a couple of GPX routes I’d downloaded. Again it took a while to scramble up to the skyline, still not sure of the best route here to be honest. With more time and less wind we’d probably have gone straight up. Either way we found ourselves on a surprisingly interesting ridge section. Course we would have known this had we checked things out properly beforehand. Going to mention that ‘views’ word again.

Coigach and the Fiddler (11)

Along the Garbh Choireachan ridge

Coigach and the Fiddler (13)

Along the Garbh Choireachan ridge looking east

Fascinating ridge walk ahead, sometimes on top, often along a side path with the ground sloping below. Never realised that this big lump beyond Ullapool was going to be like this.

Coigach and the Fiddler (14)

From Garbh Choireachan to Coigach (right) and the Fiddler centre below Stac Polly & Suilven

And then one of those rare special moments, Alan saw it first as it took off from a distant boulder. Then it soared upwards and over Coigach with barely a wingbeat. Yep a Golden Eagle. The world stopped revolving, bodies stopped breathing, mouths gaped open, and then it’s gone. All you hear is the voice inside your head screaming “Come back”🙂

Coigach and the Fiddler (15)

Looking back west along Garbh Choireachan, lot’s of sea to see

Eagles apart, the ridge is entertaining with some mild scrambles, how entertaining depends on the individual. Hint of exposure in parts and I used to love things like this but today I was less comfortable due to the wind. Kept expecting a gust to knock me sideways. It’s a pity we were mainly forced along the side bypass path rather than enjoying views on top. Another day maybe when concentration levels don’t need to be as high.

Just as the ridge ends and eases there’s a final sting where the path drops steeply to avoid more difficult scrambling. Not a favourite bit with my dodgy knees:-)

Coigach and the Fiddler (16)

The end of the Garbh Choireachan ridge

Coigach and the Fiddler (17)

3.50pm – in the dip looking back to the Garbh Choireachan, now for the easy stuff

From the bealach we noticed a much lower path circumventing the ridge along the northern scree slopes. Perhaps a quicker but far less entertaining way up/down if needed. Now 2hrs 20 from the car, the ridge had certainly slowed us down more than anticipated. Fortunately everything becomes pretty straightforward from here and it’s only a ten minute easy pull to the top of Coigach.

Coigach and the Fiddler (18)

On Coigach – 4pm

On Coigach there’s a welcome shelter where we stopped for refreshments; on Coigach the scenery is inspirational. One wonderful window across Assynt, spoilt only by the inglorious vision of an old man munching a Mars Bar.

Coigach and the Fiddler (19)

Ben More Coigach, wilderness, mountains, men, and Mars bars

Coigach and the Fiddler (20)

From Coigach south down Loch Broom

Coigach and the Fiddler (21)

From Coigach over our ascent route and Garbh Choireachan

Coigach and the Fiddler (22)

Views west over the Summer Isles from Coigach. Below lies our later descent route

After 2 hrs drooling at views south, east and west; now time for even better ones north.

Coigach and the Fiddler (23)

The Fiddler from Coigach with Assynt beyond

Coigach and the Fiddler (24)

More Fiddler and Assynt from Coigach with our route swinging right then left

Just imagine all these photos from Coigach put together to make one dodgy 360 degree video? Well a team of specialists have done exactly that!!

Only time for a 15 min stop then from the cairn we picked our way north eastwards across a strangely flat lunar surface. The aim is to swing round towards the spur of the Fiddler, but not too soon. We probably swung slightly late but there are no difficulties here and progress is swift if slightly boggy.

Coigach and the Fiddler (25)

Alan approaching the Fiddler – 4.30pm

Before the final ascent we looked down at one of the alternative paths from the east. Didn’t look too inviting, though the scene above it did. Also spotted a couple behind us, the first humans of the day and an advantage of the less popular hills (Grahams).

Coigach and the Fiddler (26)

Looking down north over Lochan Tuath before ascending the Fiddler – 4.40pm

A steep steady 15 minute ascent brought us to the last top of the day Sgurr Na Fhidhleir. This incredible vantage point favoured by photographers is marked by a small cairn with little shelter. Only a few feet away are sheer cliffs plunging downwards to a green lochan filled wilderness. Strongest winds of the day here so crouching best for photography.

Coigach and the Fiddler (27)

Views north from the Fiddler, more interesting than Mars Bars

What a situation and what a wonderful view, quite incredible. See below.

Coigach and the Fiddler (28)

Assynt with Stac Polly, Suilven, Cul Mor, Cul Beag and distant Quinag

Walking out slightly to the north east tip gives a vertiginous experience, as if you’re detached from the ground. Remote Seana Bhraigh

Coigach and the Fiddler (29)

Should have raised my arm shadow here and pushed him off

Coigach and the Fiddler (30)

Assynt

Look at the shadow of the Fiddler cast against the mountainside below!

Coigach and the Fiddler (31)

Shadow of the Fiddler

Coigach and the Fiddler (32)

Mart very definitely in the hills

Much fun on the Fiddler trying to identify the horizon, remote Seana Bhraigh spotted in the east. Quite a difficult place to leave even on a windy day, if any calmer I might still be up there. 5.15pm though and we needed to get down in time for an Ullapool evening meal. Now for that descent; nothing special, just a straightforward southwest line back to the car on sloping moorland.

Coigach and the Fiddler (33)

Descending south west from the Fiddler

Coigach and the Fiddler (34)

Back up to the Fiddler from the descent to the car

However soon the ground becomes surprisingly sandy, lightly cushioning footsteps making walking a pleasure. Add in the gentle gradient and an ever enticing seascape and lowering sun over blue island-dotted seas. All helps to make this the perfect descent for a guy with dodgy knees, I loved it and we raced down. (Ok gets a bit eroded at the end).

Coigach and the Fiddler (35)

Descending to Culnacraig, the Summer Isles glistening like a glisteny thing

Coigach and the Fiddler (36)

Back at the road, 6.05pm, looking up at the now more familiar Garbh Choireachan

Back at the car just 55 mins later at 6.10pm, a walk of 4hrs 40 mins with some brief time on tops, never enough time of course. Highly enjoyable, amazing scenery, yes you could tick this off in the cloud but it’s one for the views most definitely. Now back to Ullapool, check in at the B&B then food and beer. The drive back was spectacular, bibs required for persistent drooling.

Coigach and the Fiddler (37)

Summer Isles sunset

Coigach and the Fiddler (38)

Stac Polly – 6.40pm

Coigach and the Fiddler (39)

Stac Polly, ok ok it’s Pollaidh not Polly

Coigach and the Fiddler (40)

Final scene nearing the A835 with the Fiddler left, Pollaidh right – 7.00pm

Good food at the Arch Inn, Ullapool, best beer was the An Teallach.

Driving Stats

  • Left Plockton; – 9.55am, Garve 11.00am, Ullapool 11.30am, Culnacraig 1.05pm
  • Depart Culnacraig; – 6.25pm, junction with A835 7.07pm, Ullapool 7.25pm
  • Achiltibuie is 25 miles drive from Ullapool

PS; on the coastal drive to Culnacraig I spotted a ‘Piping School‘ which for one brief moment I thought was to do with icing cakes, I kid you not. We just don’t see these things in England.

See the previous days walk up the The Quiraing and Sron Vourlinn, Isle of Skye (6.5 miles)

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