Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Three Norberts and a V Diff

I spent last weekend with some friends from university days, Nick and Anne, who live in Kendal and who are obviously in demand as a base for adventures in the Lakes.

On Saturday we walked up onto High Street from Hartsop.  It goes without saying that the weather was pants.  I don't seem to be able to go outside Derbyshire these without walking into rain.  Leaving the car park and a group of intense looking mountain bikers who were engages in assembly their double sprung machines (lets hope they didn't get them from Ikea), we strolled up the track to Hayes Water.   For some reason I had it in my head that Wainwright's ashes were scattered here and we debated why he would want to end up in such a uninspiring location.

Hayes Water

Actually, I've just checked and they are by Innominate tarn on Haystacks.  You can see my mistake, Hayes Water, Haystacks.  Anyway...

Summit of The Knot

We plodded up the bridleway and speculated if the bikers had set up their gears and would be making an appearance any time now (they did - in case you wanted to know).  And we bagged out first Norbert of the day, The Knot..

A brief word about Norberts

Norberts are my response to tickers.  Norberts are to be climbed because they are there, for the pure pleasure of the hill and not for any statistic (especially one that is meaningless now OS maps are metricated) that may have been attributed to them by some glory seeking, albeit possibly well-intentioned, individual.   The only rule for a hill to be counted as a Norbert is that it should have a summit.  Norberts shouldn't be tickable but that would rule out anything that was a Munro, Marylin, Birkett (i.e. most of the hills in Lakes), Corbett or Nuttal (and I'm sorry if I have missed any).  I haven't quite resolved this dilemma yet but I'm working on it.

There is a sub-class of Norbert, which is a hill that is 'in the way'.  It's the unwelcome hill that lies between where you are and where you want to be.  These I refer to as Fekkin Norberts although the descriptor may be modified to one of your own chosing.  Clearly one person's Norbert may be another's Fekkin Norbert and vice versa.

The Knot, sports a summit cairn and pillar built from stones pillaged from the nearby wall.  Nick, a planner for the National Park, was critical of this wanton destruction of local heritage, even though the wall no longer serves any purpose.  A brief photo stop against grey skies and we headed onto High Street.  Somewhere near the trig point we stopped for a snack and to sit in the rain and following that felt no inclination to go in search of the actual highest point, so we headed on to Thornthwaite Beacon.  High Street doesn't have much of a clearly defined summit (it's more of a ridge if one were to get picky about it), so its Norbert status is questionable but I counted it on this occasion. You can have hours of pointless fun with this malarkey.

The Beacon is a stone tower and must have some history to it but I haven't researched it yet, so I'm going to make some up.  Built by a jealous farmer, he locked his beautiful daughter in there to protect her from unwanted suitors and also so she could watch over his sheep during the day as they grazed on the fellsides.  Every night he would bring food to the tower and she would let down her plaited hair, which was the texture of tousled Herdwick wool (she wasn't actually that beautiful), with which to raise the basket of vittals.  What happens after that I'll leave to your imagination. I'm bored with this now.

The Beacon

The track from the Beacon is a knee-wrecking descent to a col, either side of which are magnificent U shaped valleys, and is followed by a lung-wrenching climb up to Stony Cove Pike, the third Norbert of the day.  And hey, the clouds lifted and the skies cleared and we were bathed in sunshine and it was good.  We could see half the Lakes and down to Heysham Head and over to the Howgills and across to Ingleborough. 

From there we headed over Caudale Moor and down a much longer knee-wrecking descent to the road and a conveniently sited pub, where we felt obliged to consume a small but refreshing glass of beer before continuing round the back of Brothers Water (in the rain) back to the car.

Distance 9 miles, Upness (and down-ness)  3300 ft

Sunday - Wallowbarrow Crag

On Sunday, Anne and I drove round to the Duddon Valley and climbed a route on Wallowbarrow Crag.  It's almost 20 years since I last climbed here and at least 10 since I climbed anywhere in the Lakes.  Wall and Corner (195 ft) is a Hard Diff in my 1984 guide but is now graded V Diff in the current edition, which works for me.  It's four pitches and the first one felt decidedly thin for a VD, whilst the second came with the added frisson of being wet on the crux moves.  I'm slightly embarrassed to admit I was starting to look for an abseil point when I decided to have one last go with a hand jam in a greasy, wet crack and a smear on the damp wall. Commitment is the name of the game and this seemed to get my head in the right place, as the final two pitches were just a dream, with good gear placements and lots of variety.  Best of all the sun was out and, standing on grassy ledges whilst belaying Anne up, I remembered how much I used to love this aspect of climbing.  It's just the fear thing I could never really come to terms with.

Wallowbarrow Crag, Duddon Valley

Monday, 2 August 2010

North to the Cape - Day 7: Glen Ling to Strathcarron

This was to be our last day and we had just 8 miles left to reach Strathcarron.  The tents were wet but at least it stopped raining while we packed them away.  We set off about 9:30 and I was glad that I had had my last breakfast of  noodles and soup for a while.  I really do need to change the menu (please, nobody suggest porridge).

We reached the Allt Loch Innis nan Seangan (I'm also relieved I don't have to type that again), which was easy to cross and started to gain height as the track turned north towards the bealach and forestry. It rained on and off but it was a pleasant and peaceful walk with varied views from the snaking River Ling, through scented pine woods and out to  more open countryside above Attadale.  There was little or no wind and it had got a bit midgy on this side, so we kept moving in a bid to outrun them, which was of course futile.

Upper Glen Ling

After a kink in the lane, to get round Attadale House and Gardens, we met the A890, which was really very unpleasant.  Apart from the feeling we had been spat back into the real world, there was no footpath or verges and quite a lot of fast moving traffic.  In addition the road climbs quite steeply as it cuts over the western end of Carn Ruaridh.  Why couldn't it have been built it alongside the railway line?  Periodically we would have to dive for cover as another vehicle sped past, and in places where there was a bit of a verge, we kicked our way through discarded bottles and cans.  It felt like a poor end to what had been a fine walk.  However, some relief was at hand in the form of two things. 

The first was an unexpected viewpoint, with a tourist information point describing the Moine Thrust on the far side of the loch.  I think it was probably  mentioned in The Joy of Sex but I'd long since given my copy to Oxfam to send out to Africa. 

Loch Carron from the view point

 The Moine Thrust

The second and even more exciting (yes, I appreciate that's hard to believe) was a tea room at the bottom of the hill (marked on the OS 1:50k as Pottery), assuming we survived the campervans driven by anxious tourists, who were not going to slow down for anything and risk losing momentum up this stretch of 1 in 5.  It took a few minutes to make ourselves presentable enough to go inside and we sat at the first empty table before anyone noticed the odour of socks and asked us to leave.  We might well have stayed there all afternoon but it was only another mile to Strathcarron, where a hotel room, hot shower and bar awaited us. 

Strathcarron Hotel

It took a little while to find anyone at the hotel to give us our key but the goth receptionist was a very pleasant lass (well I thought so).  Christine opened the window and put our boots and socks out on the flat roof just below it.  We could probably have bottled the smell and sold it to the military as a biological WMD. 

The bar was typical of many in this part of Scotland with pictures of the local shinty team on the walls and a motley assortment of people including two oil men and some local fishermen who came to sit at the table next to ours.  They were big and loud and it was impossible not to overhear their conversation but apart from a few words which sounded close to english, I've no idea what they were saying.  The younger of the three fishermen felt it necessary to repeat  back to the two older ones, everything they said but in the form of a question.  "They're putting in new bouys".  "So they're putting in new bouys?"  "Aye, that's right lad, they're putting in new bouys". After more than 10 minutes of this 'Groundhog Day' experience I was close to interjecting to ask if he had some hearing or comprehension problem but Christine saved me from myself and ordered some more Red Cuillin.

So we'd done what we set out to do - 70 miles from Glenfinnan to Strathcarron with16,000 ft of ascent . We'd deviated from the original plan in terms of some of the places we stopped at night but it had all worked out pretty well.  We'd had two nights in bothies, two in tents, two in hotels and one in a garden shed.  I'm pleased we took the route through Knoydart and not Cameron McNeish's with his 'up the middle' start.  I walked Glen Affric and Glen Lichd last year on the challenge anyway, and they are both very fine,  but I think the North to the Cape start is much more in the spirit of what a route to Cape Wrath should deliver.  I don't know if it is the toughest long distance walk in Scotland, a description  I have read in a few places.  I'll maybe have more of an opinion when I've done the rest of it.  If we had been continuing, we would certainly have taken a day off at Strathcarron.  Knoydart is full on, intense, rugged and wild. You're hemmed in by the mountains and sea all the way.  It's a good value for money route that you have to commit to and be confident in your navigation, hillwalking and camping skills.  Until Shiel Bridge, any escape route would need a least a day to reach somewhere useful, unless you could get a ride out from KLH.

So this leaves the question of when we will come back to complete the remaining 120 miles to Cape Wrath.  It won't be this year and if we get on the Challenge next year, it may have to wait until 2012, which would be very frustrating as I am itching to experience the rest of the trail.

The End

Distance for the day: 8 miles and 1600 ft of ascent.  Totals from Glenfinnan: 70 miles and 16,000 ft.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

North to the Cape - Day 6: Shiel Bridge to Glen Ling

Just north of Shiel Bridge is the place where the North to the Cape route, which we were following,  and the Cape Wrath Trail,coming in from Glen Lichd,meet up and continue on to the Falls of Glomach.  After that there are a few variants, which we had mused over but the wet weather and heavy going underfoot inclined us to stick with the Book's route via Killilan and Glen Ling to Strathcarron, from where we would be getting the train back to Sheffield in two days time and return to the day jobs.  For now, the biggest hurdle to overcome was leaving the comfort of the hotel.  The high winds and heavy rain had continued most of the night.  Looking out of the window at 8am, the clouds had lifted a little but it was still raining steadily. I focussed on packing the rucksack and collecting still damp items of clothing from the drying room.  I wanted to get off before either of us articulated the idea of calling it a day and getting a lift to Strathcarron.  At the same time I felt a slight pang of guilt at dragging Christine back out into the wind and rain for another two days.  But this was what we had come to do, so it had to be done.

We finally got away at 10am and headed for Morvich, passing the Jac-O-Bite restaurant which Steve Gough and I had called in at during our first day on the TGO Challenge last year.  Well to be strictly accurate, during our first 500yds from signing out at the hotel!  Despite the rather naff name, the J-O-B does extremely good coffee and cake.  Thankfully it didn't open until 11am, so we had no temptation for further delay.

Glen Shiel and The Jac-o-bite

The road to Morvich and the forestry section above Strath Croe is not terribly exciting but it made a welcome change from the previous day's endless splodging over trackless moorland.  The rain came and went in heavy showers and we gained height up to the Bealach na Sroine, which has a line of cairns spaced every hundred yards or so.  I know this is a tourist route but even in dense fog it, I would have thought it would be almost impossible to get lost along this narrow corridor.  By this time the cloud lifted enough to give some fine views to the north and a sizeable river ending abruptly in some white stuff.  OK, so maybe this was going to be worth turning out for. 

The Allt Coire Lochan disappearing over the Falls of Glomach, viewed from the northern end of Bealach na Sroine

This stretch is such a contrast to Knoydart.  These hills seem much friendlier and the whole place has a far less serious feel to it, which was not unwelcome after the previous four days.  There is an NTS sign at the top of the falls warning you it's a dangerous place (you don't say) and a steep path down the side which leads to a couple of natural viewing platforms where one can gaze in awe at the power of nature and capture it inadequately on an SD card. 

Falls of Glomach

One postive thing about rain in Scotland is the way it brings out the waterfalls.  Glomach is about the same height as Gaping Gill main shaft is deep and I'm happy never to have seen this much water going down GG.  Feeling slightly wobbly, which may have been the exposure or hunger, we climbed back to the top of the falls and had a bite to eat, thereby treating the symptons for both possible causes in one go. 

The track down the left side of Allt a Glomaich is well defined and mostly risk free save for a few awkwards steps lower down.  The Allt na Laoidhre, which crosses the path, required wading. 

Crossing the Allt na Laoidhre

Stopping on the far side to wring water from socks (and boots), we had some more lunch before continuing down to Glen Elchaig, where a good bridge crosses the River Elchaig. 

Looking west down Glen Elchaig

The track and subsequent road to Killilan isn't that exciting but it did allow us to pick the pace up a little.  There is a bunkhouse at Camas-Luinie and if you know that, and the fact that there is nowhere to camp at Killilan, you would take the road on the left about a mile before Faddoch.  We didn't know either of these facts, so we headed straight to Killilan, with its neatly trimmed grass verges and tidy fields.  It felt like being in Switzerland but a Switzerland where nobody lives.  It was 6pm by now and we were getting a bit past our use by date for the day.  We sat on a wall just by the sign pointing to the bunkhouse 2km away and brewed up some soup.  Neither of us felt like doing it.  It was 2km and it was in the wrong direction. When a  car drove past I flagged it down to ask about camping.  The occupants were very helpful and suggested we could probably camp by a shed just over the bridge.  It sounded a bit vague and when we went to look at it, it was in a field of sheep with no easy access to fresh water, despite the R. Ling being close by.  It wasn't raining and we still had at least 3 hours of daylight so I suggested to Christine we continue on for another hour to look for somewhere in Glen Ling.  This wasn't greeted with any real enthusiam but the options were limited, so we headed up the road to Nonach Lodge, ignoring the somewhat off-putting sign saying private road.  We were half way up the road when a car drove up full of fisherman (fly not Captain Birdseye).  They stopped and asked us if knew where we were going.  I tried to sound confident.  I'm a consultant.  I spend my life trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about.  Rather perceptively, they asked if we were looking for somewhere to camp and said that there was a good spot by the river about 35 minutes walk along the track which follows the river.  They said we needed to turn right at the end of the road and go through the gate by the hen house.  This was slightly confusing as the hens had gone to bed, as their owner explained to us when he came out to ask if we knew where we were going and explained the route again.

It had turned into a lovely evening and knowing we had a place to camp, our spirits lifted as we passed through the iron gate.  The track leads to a gate in a deer fence, at the point where the power lines cross the river.  Immeadiately after this the path forks.  The obvious route goes uphill whilst the route following the river is less clear.   So excited was I about getting the tents up, I would have missed it, had Christine not shouted me back.  It was a good job one of us still had an eye on the ball.  The River Ling is a proper Scottish salmon river, wide and pondering for long stretches, punctuated by small cascades and deep pools and whilst not a fisherman, I can see it must be a fabulous place to stand and wave a fly around on a bit of string.  I can't remember the detail now but I do recall that the rock slabs in the riverbed offered some interest to a weary walker with Ben Killilan rising up behind.    There are two camping spots but the first is well above the river, so not so convenient for fresh water.  The better one is about five minutes further on, a little before the Allt Loch Innis nan Seangan, and is a large expanse of flat grass separated from the shingle shore and River Ling by a small flood embankment.  The midgies were out by the time we got there and pitching the tents was a rapid affair and I remember collapsing inside and after a while, forcing myself to get the stove on and warm up some food.  It was 9pm.  Another satisfying day, where we'd overcome the temptaion to give up at Shiel Bridge and ended up two miles further on than planned.  It rained during the night but only lightly.

Our camp in Glen Ling

We'd covered 16 miles and a climbed a tad over 3000ft that day and were 62 miles from Glenfinnan.