Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Burbage and Hope Valley under cloud

A few pictures of Burbage and the Hope Valley, taken this morning on a rather late drive to office (due to puncture)

Burbage Valley

Higgar Tor

Hope Valley

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Review: AZ Adventure Map Series

The Geographer's AZ Company , the people who, in the days before before SatNav, helped us navigate to around cities with their incredibly useful AZ street guides, are now publishing a range of OS 1:25,000 scale maps in book form.  Marketed as A-Z Adventure Series Maps, there are currently 12 titles in the series, covering The Peak District (Dark and White Peak), The Lakes (Northern and Southern Fells), Snowdonia, The Broads, Dartmoor and The South West Coast Path (in five parts).

AZ Adventure Series (SW Coast Path not shown)

I'd seen these in one of the outdoor shops in Hathersage a couple of months back and thought that they looked a useful format, so I was happy to accept an invitation to review one, when in came last week.  I chose The Dark Peak title, as that covers my local area for walking and cycling, including the western edge of Sheffield, though is 6 houses short of mine (but I think I'm unlikely to get lost on my own street)

It covers roughly the same region as the OS Explorer Map OL1, though not going quite as far west, stopping at Mottram (which is as close to Manchester as anyone needs to venture, in my opinion).

The AZ is the same size as the OL1 in two dimensions but is noticeably thinner and easier to fit in the map pocket of a walking jacket. 

AZ next to OL1 for size comparison

In terms of weight, the AZ is 140gms (approx) compared to the OL1 which is around 220gms for the laminated version, which admittedly adds considerably to the weight and bulk.

The AZ looks to be printed on slightly lighter weight paper than the OS use and it has a slightly shinier finish, which I initially thought might be waterproof (like a Harvey's orienteering map).  I ran the corner of one page under the tap.  It dried flat, which is good, but I don't know if pages would stick together, if the book was closed when wet.  Opened and folded back on itself, it just fits nicely into an Ortlieb A5 waterproof map case and with much less faffing than it takes to fold and stuff an OS Explorer into the same case.

AZ in Ortlieb A5 map case

The AZ provides a lot of additional useful information.  Pages 2-3 have a full OS 1:25,000 legend and pages 4-5 offer an index, presented as a 1:200,000 scale map, showing map pages for the region covered.

AZ Index Page

In the rear of the atlas, is a double page of useful information for walkers and mountain bikers, along with 8 QR Codes, which you can scan into your smart phone or other mobile device to bring up the websites of the local national park, the Met Office, MoD danger areas, mountain rescue, The Ramblers, the OS and Natural England.  This is great for armchair planning but probably less useful when you're lost on the hill and can't get a 3/4G signal.  The QR codes give abbreviated URLs off the AZ site, which redirect to the target websites.  One must assume that AZ will maintain these redirect pages.

Information pages at rear, including QR codes

Another nice feature are the fold-over tabs on the front and rear covers, which form useful bookmarks as well as repeating some key sections of the OS legend for walkers and mountain bikers.

Fold-over tabs act as bookmarks and show parts of OS legend most useful out on the hill

In terms of price, an AZ Atlas is £7.95 (but see below for discount offer until end of year) and an OS Explorer is £7.99 from the OS online shop.

So what's it like to use?  Well, it's an OS map, so the experience is pretty much what you'd expect.  We walked from Fairholmes up to Alport Castles today, a place I'd never visited in 30 years of living in Sheffield -so I did actually need to use a map on a few occasions.  Fairholmes falls right on a page edge of the AZ, which if course highlights the perennial problem with map books, as opposed to sheets.  On the other hand I usually walk with a 1:50,000 and leave the 1:25,000 at home or in my rucksack, because it's too much of a faff to wrestle with (especially the laminated one, I have).

I like the AZ.  It's easy to get in/out of a jacket pocket.  It's compact.  You can bookmark your page, to find it easily.  None of that always opening the map upside down or on the wrong side for your walk. In a high wind, you don't have to wrestle with a big sheet of paper to stop it blowing away.  I'm not sure how it will stand up to wet weather but unless you have a laminated sheet, it's the same problem with a standard OS 1:25,000.  Perhaps the most serious concern of using a map in book form, is when you need to take a compass bearing on an object that falls over the page.  Personally, I don't think this would be a big a deal for me.  I'm always going to take a 1:50,000 out with me as my main walking map and only use the 1:25,000 if I need to identify any specific detail, such as a wall or fence or hole in the ground.  Normally I leave the larger scale map at home for all the reasons I've given above.  The AZ is so compact, light and easy to use, I'll just always keep it in the rucksack.  I love it!

SPECIAL OFFER until 31 December 2012

Up until 31st December 2012, if you buy any A-Z Adventure Atlas from the AZ web site and quote the code TRTB250 at the A-Z checkout, you'll be able to get them for £5.45 each, including free postage.  That's a discount of £2.50 (or just over 31%) off the normal price.

Alport Castles

Oh and was Alport Castles worth the 30 year wait?  Well, yes, actually.  It's a really interesting bit of landscape.  Apparently, it's a landslip feature, said to be the biggest landslip in the UK.  300 million years ago, there was a massive river delta here, flowing into shallow tropical seas, out of which came the reef limestone of the White Peak.  This of course was in the days when we were considerably closer to the equator than we are now.  Today, despite being sunny and with no wind, it was chuffin' nithering.  I'll go back and appreciate it when things have warmed up again.

The Tower - Alport Castles

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Plan B

So in the absence of a place on next year's challenge and no big desire to sit by the phone waiting for the call, it's Plan B, which is... Fort William to Montrose by mountain bike and trailer

Corrieyairack Pass

The route will be pretty much out of the Scotland Mountain Biking guide, with perhaps a few small variations and is:
  • Fort William to Fort Augustus along the Great Glen Way
  • Fort Augustus over the Corrieyairack Pass to Garva Bridge (or Laggan)
  • Garva Bridge (or Laggan) to Glen Feshie - most likely Ruightechain 
  • Ruightechain  to Braemar
  • Braemar to Ballater
  • Ballater, possibly over but more likely round Mt Keen, to Tarfside
  • Tarfside to Montrose
This should come in at around 175 miles and 17,000'.  The plan is start off about a week after the Challenge, which means everyone should be leaving Montrose as we arrive. 

Glen Feshie

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review - Berghaus Full Zip Hoody

This is the first time I've been approached to review kit and I was pleased to find out that it was going to be something made by Berghaus.  I had a choice of fleece, hoody or rucksack and as I have quite a few of the latter two already, I opted for the hoody.

My first thought when I picked up the package was, "Blimey, this is heavy".  And it is.  I'd requested a large size and it weighs in at 760gms, so it's not about to get taken on any lightweight backpacking trips.

Berghaus Full Zip Hoody

It's 100% cotton, which accounts for the weight and is beautifully made, as you might expect from a company such as Berghaus.  The inner surface is brushed and has a soft, warm feel.   The stitching is excellent and there are no lose threads.  I really like the look of it.  It's a great colour and the styling is good, with ribbed, elasticated side panels, decent length sleeves and good sized pockets that you can bury your hands into.  A feature of pockets, that I have also on a cycling top, is an inner pocket formed from the 'pouch' of the outer pocket.  I don't know if this is intentional but its just the right size to take a walking or mtb guide book, or older style climbing guides.

The useful 'inner' pocket which conveniently takes a guide book

The draw tape for the hood is nice and chunky and would be easy to grip with gloves on.  The zip comprises looped metal teeth and works like a zip should.  Too often, jackets are spoilt by a cheap plastic zip with small niggardly teeth that are a pain to do up with cold hands.  Not this one.  Well done Berghaus! I also liked that it was a full zip rather than a pullover style, which makes it more versatile for controlling temperature.

The metal zip, beautiful stitching and slightly retro label

Another styling feature I like is the slightly retro feel to the labelling on both the large inner and smaller outer labels.  The Berghaus red, white and blue colour theme is carried though on the tape which runs round the neck, a smaller tape on the bottom corner, which seems to have no discernible use but looks nice, the zip puller and the hanging loop, although the latter is a very thin cord and looks like it may break or pull out if used too frequently.

Inner label, chunky hood draw tape and insubstantial looking hanging loop

So far, so good.  What's it like to wear?  Well here, for me, a bit of disappointment set in.  The first thing I noticed was that it was quite a tight fit.  I would have not normally expect to need a larger size.  I'm not especially big:  5' 10" and 39" round the chest.  Apart from the base layer, I usually wear outer layers that are a looser fit, so as to trap some air.  I tend to run hot when I'm moving and chill off quickly when I stop.  This was a large size but whilst there was plenty of length in the body and sleeves, it felt tight round the chest and on the arms.  The next thing I noticed was that I felt cold in it, even indoors.  Perhaps this is the wrong time of year to be wearing cotton. I can see myself wearing it on a warm summer evening, with a light breeze blowing in off the sea or sitting at the top of a crag but it doesn't feel right for outdoors in November. 

I think the cold feeling is in part due to the cotton fabric (I've grown used to micro-fleeces)  but also due to the tightness.  I considered that maybe on what I guess to be the targeted demographic of hoody wearers, i.e. teenagers and twenty somethings, it would fit less snugly.  My son Joe was back from uni in Liverpool at the weekend and I handed it over to him to try out. He's around 5' 8" and thinner than me and it fitted him well round the body although the sleeves were perhaps a bit long. The pictures are of him modelling it, not me, by the way.

Hood down

Hood up

Unzipped and showing the deep pockets

His comments about it were:

"Like the hood, covers my head but doesn't obscure the vision.  Warmer than I'd expect from that kind of hoody and feels really well made.  Cuffs very long but they can be rolled up and they're good for wearing with gloves."

So there you have it.  A nice looking and well made garment, as you would expect from Berghaus.  Good for indoors and summer use, though Joe found it warm enough outside in November. The sizing seems a bit questionable to me but it's probably aimed at a younger audience.  Not really practical for lightweight backpacking due to its weight and would be slow to dry if it got wet.  I can see it getting a lot of use down at the climbing wall - but that would be the one in Liverpool!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mountain Bike Adventures in Scotland - Gleann Eannaich and Linn of Dee

After the Rothiemurcus/Abernethy tour, we had three days left and the plan was a quick trip up Gleann Eannaich (or Glen Einich, which is easier to type) and a possible two day tour out from Braemar or Ballater.

Terminating in a rather impressive headwall, a trip to the end of Glen Einich from Coylumbridge requires reversing the outbound route (or a desperate carry up to Carn na Criche or spending the rest of one's life by the loch). 

We started the day by calling in at the Rothiemurchus Centre for a coffee and to buy some local cheeses and meat.  The former was easy enough but the latter proved troublesome.  Nobody seemed to be serving in the 'deli' section and when someone did eventually notice us, we started to ask about some of the different cheeses on offer and got a got a rather grumpy response because we hadn't decided what we wanted.  I guess it's just the Scottish approach to customer service.  Actually it's a bit like mine to clients who can't tell me what they want their database systems to do!

Glen Einich
We drove up to the car park at Loch An Eilein and headed out on the bikes along more trails though Rothiemurchus, following the signs for Glen Einich .  As you enter the glen, the gradient picks up a little but it's nowhere especially steep and we were soon looking down onto the river below us, gripped between steep valley walls.

The start of Glen Einich

There are a number of stream crossings to be negotiated.  The MTB guide book says three but we encountered seven - which could all be cycled with varying degrees of feet wetting, although in flood, some would have been impassable. 

Crossing one of the smaller streams in Glen Einich

It's uphill all the way to Loch Einich at the head of the valley and as there seems to be a continual wind coming down the valley, it feels a bit of a slog towards the end but that is more than offset by the many textbook examples of post-glacial landscape features.  It's like Drumlins R Us!

A drumlin fest

We had a chilly lunch sat by the loch, where we strained our eyes for the footpath up onto Carn na Criche and considered what it would be like to do the ride in winter. 

Loch Einich

Then we headed back the seven miles to the start.  It's a 1200' climb up from the car park, although it hadn't really seemed like it.  It made for a very fast ride back, the more so because the wind was now at our backs.  Standing out of the seat, absorbing the bumps with our legs and ploughing through the streams, it's impossible not to have a big grin on at times like this.  It may go nowhere but it's a great little ride.


We drove to Braemar that afternoon, which is an astonishingly long way by road from Aviemore as it involves a half circumnavigation of the Cairngorms.  As a result, we arrived at the Caravan Club campsite at 5.20 and were a bit surprised by the rather curt welcome we received from Norma there, who told us that they shut at 5.  What?  What sort of campsite shuts at 5pm in June (for goodness sake)?  She  then proceeded to berate us for not being CC members which meant she was obliged to charge us an extra £7/night.  We tried reasoning with her that if she felt that offended by this imposition, we would be pleased to accept the member's rate but that only seemed to add fuel to the already blazing fire.  The real problem was that Norma was just about to sit down to her fish supper when we rolled up and her chips were getting cold.  She did point us in the direction of the Callater Lodge for tea, which is a bit of an odd affair (tartan carpets and the feeling of being in someone's living room) but they serve up a very fine roast beef dinner.  We then took a stroll along to the Fife Arms, which was a fairly depressing place full of coach trippers (and more tartan carpet), though I imagine it livens up once a year when the TGO Challenge passes through town.

The next morning (Thursday) it was raining and we passed a couple of hours in "Taste.." consuming coffee and cake.  I first became acquainted with this establishment in 2009, hungover after a rather heavy session the night before at Mar Lodge and en route to Gelder Shiel. It's a nice little tea shop but the name "Taste.." troubles me.  It has a . too many to indicate completion or termination (or a state of fullness) and a . too few to suggest continuation or expectation (of a state of fullness).  Maybe it's a deliberate attempt to generate discourse and debate amongst people who would otherwise be playing chess or reading existentialist books by Jean Paul Sartre or who just have nothing better to do.  Having nothing better to do, we spotted a number of examples of dodgy grammar in Braemar, in particular the chippy advertising Curry's Pizzas .  Curry's Pizzas is run by a couple of enterprising Indians neither of whom I suspect are called Curry.  Although, not to diss them too much, they do some bloody good chips, especially when you've just got back from facing down The Geldie Burn on a bike (but I am getting ahead of myself).  The whole of Thursday was a write-off, with us iterating though periods of eating, reading and sleeping.

It was still raining at the start of Friday morning when we waved a cheery goodbye to Norma and returned to the cafe of challenged punctuation.  By 11 the rain had eased and we decided to drive up to the Linnnn of Deeeee and ride up to White Bridge. 

At White Bridge, I looked at the map and said,

"If we go along this track, we could cycle up to the start of the Lairig Ghru and then come back past Derry Lodge". 

"Ooh that's a good idea", said Hilary. 

She didn't actually say that but we did set off along the track (up Glen Dee), which gave the appearance of having been recently 'upgraded' with a wide, well drained surface...

White Bridge from Glen Dee and the  well surfaced track
which tempted us along it, snaking back to the bridge
past a little waterfall (where the nice smooth track gave way to something more 'natural'...

River Dee

and which became increasingly thinner and more challenging to ride.

When there's more walking than pedalling...

At this point we thought, bugger this for a game of soldiers and turned around.  Back at White Bridge, I suggested we go and look at Geldie Burn and maybe ride up to Bynack Lodge.  You probably sense that the whole project was starting to disintegrate through lack of any real advanced planning.

Crossing Geldie Burn

Geldie Burn was successfully crossed with nothing more than wet feet, well ok, shins.  The same cannot be said for the return crossing but I have no pictures of that.  It's difficult to take photos when your hands are covering your eyes in an attempt not to see your cycling partner lying prostrate in the Geldie Burn with a bike wrapped round her.  Tum ti tum.

Bynack Lodge

At Bynack Lodge, the going was still good and we carried on south towards the bealach into Glen Tilt.  Had we done the five day, round Cairngorms trip originally planned, we would have been pulling the trailers along here, so it was a useful recce (and promises quite a bit of walking)

Towards Glen Tilt

We continued to the bealach and peered down Glen Tilt.  As we had to drive back to England that evening, we thought there probably wasn't time to continue on to the Falls of Tarf.  So after the obligatory chocolate stop, we pointed the bikes northwards and the rest is history and already sufficiently alluded to.

It's always pleasing to snatch success from the jaws of defeat and we came away feeling we had made the best of a cold, damp day and clocked up another 17 miles in the process.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Mountain biking adventures in Scotland - Rothiemurchus and Abernethy Forests

When I first thought of an MTB trip in Scotland, the original plan had been a 5-6 day tour round the Cairngorms on the bikes with trailers to carry the camping gear - based on the route in the Vertebrate Scotland Mountain Biking guide.  We'd bought a couple of trailers cheap on eBay at the back end of last year and even before the first ride, I had doubts about it's ability to stand the course.  My main concern was the rather dodgy quick release spindle with the trailer attachments, which seemed not so much a quick release but more of a randomly spontaneous one.

On returning from my Challenge debacle, I underwent some retail therapy in the form of a BoB Ibex trailer and did a few practice runs with it around the Peak District, loaded up with camping gear.

Practice run over Houndkirk Road to the office towing the Bob Ibex trailer

Hilary decided to stick with her eBay copy-BoB but bought a Bob quick release spindle, which sort of worked with some modification involving bolts and wingnuts.

By the time we set of for Scotland, we'd also moderated our original plan to something less ambitious in the light of a few unknowns including: the weather, which continued to be wet giving the liklihood of impossible stream crossings and our uncertainty about the ridability of some of the tracks coupled with our levels of fitness (the guys who wrote the guide looked like they had bigger legs than us and there's a limit to how much pushing we wanted to do.)  So the new plan was a couple of single days rides without the trailers (including the 'Well Ard'verikie ride previously blogged) followed by a two day trip with an overnight wild camp .  If that went ok we planned to fit in a second two day ride, though that never happened because of the weather.

By the time reached Coylumbridge and parked up at the campsite, we'd roughed out a route through Rothiemurchus with an overnight wild camp at or near Ryvoan Bothy, then through Abernethy Forest to Loch Garten and back down to Aviemore.  The chap who runs the campsite suggested a couple of useful variations, which included an overnight camp by the River Nethy on the track over to Bynack Mor and to come back down the Speyside Way from Boat of Garten, which runs by the railway line and avoids a lot of on road stuff.

It seemed to require a lot of faffing to pack up the trailers and get the bikes ready and it was midday before we set off.  I seemed to have woken with a headache, which I can only attribute to whisky fumes - the merest whiff does it.  Anyway we set out from the back of the campsite along well surfaced wide tracks through Rothiemurchus to the Cairngorm Club footbridge, where we had to  separate bikes and trailers and sherpa them across. 

The Lairig Ghru from Rothiemurchus

Then skirting the southern shore of Loch Morlich we had a stop for lunch by the road, with a brief siesta in the sun and then a whizz down the road to Glenmore Lodge, which I have to say looks considerably different from the one I first saw in 1961 on my first caravanning holiday in Scotland. 

The track above Glenmore Lodge towards Ryvoan Bothy

The only real climb of the day was from there up past the aptly named An Lochan Uaine or Green Loch in the direction of Ryvoan Bothy. 

The Green Loch

Before the final climb up to the bothy, we took a track on the right, which heads eastwards out past Bynack Mor to the Fords of Avon.  We were only going a short distance along it and made a wild camp by the bridge over the R Nethy, with magnificent views up Strath Nethy, over to the Bynacks and across to Abernethy Forest.  (I've since learnt, this is referred to as Bynack Stable by those in the know.  The stable was a wooden hut, which blew down in 2004.  It is no longer marked on OS maps)

View from the tent looking up Strath Nethy

It was three in the afternoon and whilst Hilary did her Duracell bunny bit and went for a walk round the Cairngorms, I dozed in the tent, listening to the music on the iPod. 

Wild camp at Bynack Stable

It takes a long time to get dark in the Scottish Highlands on midsummer's day and it didn't feel like I'd been asleep that long before I was woken by the sound of vehicles outside the tent and the banging of doors.  I checked the time.  It was 4am.  I'm a nervous wild camper.  I always expect some sort of bother but I had hoped we were far enough away from anything and anyone to escape it.  Whoever they were, they were soon gone, leaving the two Toyota trucks parked at rakish angles by our camping spot.  Well really! How inconsiderate.

I was just finishing breakfast, which was a truely meagre affair, when the owners of the vehicles returned.   It turned out they were from the RSBP, doing a survey of nesting birds in the area and culling the odd deer that they came across, which accounted for what I thought earlier had been a gun shot.

The Bynack Stable car park!

We packed up and retraced our tyre tracks for a couple of kms, then hung a right towards Ryvoan Bothy, perched up on the skyline.

Ryvoan Bothy

View from Ryvoan back towards Glenmore and Rothiemurchus

From the bothy it was just a seemingly endless, fast downhill through Abernethy Forest.  I wove the bike and trailer around puddles just for the fun of it and noticed how much more Hilary's trailer bounced around compared to the BoB, justifying to myself that the extra money I'd spent on a BoB with a spring was worth it (no, no, I really do think it is.)

We'd planned to call in at Loch Garten to see the Ospreys.  Hilary was already an RSPB member and the attractive young girl behind the desk convinced me that I should join as well, with a vague promise of seeing her tits (the Crested ones that visit the bird feeders opposite her cabin) though I never did get a sighting.  I've waited 50 years to see a Crested Tit and it looks like I will have to wait a bit longer.  We did see the Osprey, through some binoculars, along with some Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and Red Squirrels.  We just missed seeing a Capercaille.

From Loch Garten we did a bit of road work before cutting through a some more forest to the Boat of Garten, where we called in at the shop for something to eat.  I seemed to have a lot of trouble convincing everyone around me that I wanted BOTH of pies on display in the cabinet and I wanted them right away and I didn't care if they were hot or cold and that they could be filled with bits from a scabby cat (any variety including Scottish wild ones would do), it really didn't matter.  I JUST NEEDED TO EAT!  And breathe...

After lunch, we set off up the road opposite the shop along the Speyside Way and passed under the railway and I stopped to hold a gate open for Hilary and was about to take a drink from my CamelBack when I realised it wasn't there.  My daysack was in fact on the table, outside the shop, back down the road.  So I unhooked the trailer and raced the mile or so back the way we'd come and collected it and raced, more slowly, back again. 

"Now we're even", said Hilary, alluding to the time  a few months earlier, when she had left her daysack in the car park in Linacre Woods on a Sunday ride.  "At least you didn't have your money in it"

"Well, actually I did.  And my credit card.  And the keys to the campervan.  But I wasn't too worried because I knew you'd have the spare set with you"

"Err, actually I left them in the van"


Anyway, we continued along the SpeysideWay as it turned south over open moor, running alongside the railway line towards Aviemore and we entered the town round the back of the golf course and through a housing estate and got spat out onto the main street and it started to rain.  I hate Aviemore.  I won't even begin to describe my dislike of the place, in case I offend anyone.  We mused over whether we should find a cafe to sit out the rain and decided on balance that we'd be just as well heading back to the campsite and a bottle of beer, which is exactly what we did.  And the rain stopped and we washed the bikes and opened the beer and felt both smug over such a splendid trip and at the same time, slightly subdued that it had ended all to quickly and wondered if we should have gone for plan A and the bigger adventure.  But that is waiting for another time.

Distance: 11.5 miles on first day and 26 miles on second day.  I never did measure the height change

About a BoB

The Bob Ibex weighs 8 kg, so with 11-12 kg of camping gear and bike spares, the whole thing comes in at around 20 kg. On the flat you hardly notice it's there (until you cycle without it). On steeper hills that require a get of and push, the pushing can be quite an effort. Gates with springs can be a real pain. BoB also make a trailer without suspension, called the Yak. Although the Ibex is more expensive, I think the suspension is worth the extra money. We noticed that the wheel on the unsuspended trailer had a tendency to leave the ground a lot on bumpy terrain, whilst that on the Ibex just flowed along. It's a nicely engineered bit of kit.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

NY Moors Mountain Biking

It's always a surprise to get away for a weekend and find that not only is the weather better than forecast but it's actually fabulous.  So it was last weekend which was bookended by rain the previous week and dense fog the following.

Saturday: Swainby and Whorlton Moor

Because of work commitments, we didn't leave Sheffield until Saturday morning with three routes programmed into the GPS, all based around Osmotherley.  This is a village which nestles in a cliched kind of way under the western edge of the North York Moors.  Yellow sandstone buildings with terracotta pantiled roofs and woodsmoke rising from their chimneys, lining narrow streets full of parked cars, all contribute to the impression that this biscuit tin lid of a village is now a haven for tourists and second home owners.  I've made a few visits here in the late 70s, always at night, on my way to Sheepwash Car Park and the start of the Lyke Wake Walk.  This time we headed up a different hill to a different car park, at the curiously named 'Square Corner' below Black Hambleton, whose northern aspect is indeed dark and a little bit brooding in the Autumn light.

Black Hambleton from Square Corner

We had a choice of two routes, one from the book and one I'd made up, which looked like it might be a bit shorter and less hilly.  So we did the latter (and it turned out to be longer and more hilly).  After a short road section we got onto a mile of doubletrack heading north, which increased in gradient and technicality until finally forcing a brief walk down some rock steps (because we are lightweights and can't do jumps).  Then after spitting us out onto the road at Scarth Nick there was more, even faster descent down into Swainby.  Hmmm, I mused to myself, we seem to have lost quite a bit more height than I had envisaged.

The castle between Swainby and Whorlton

Out from Swainby, we passed Whorlton Castle (or maybe it's Swainby castle - it's a bit of an early infill between the two villages) before striking out onto a bridleway mainly comprising hostile vegetation and  glutinous mud.  Clarty is the word used in this part of the world to describe these conditions.  Pedalling just spun the back wheels deeper into the ruts and it quickly became a GOAP (Get Off And Push).  We had been warned by some locals but of course we chose to ignore them in favour of adventure, jammed chains and a puncture.  We then enjoyed a brief section of the LWW down to Huthwaite Green (enjoyable that is apart from an encounter with two large horses that left me covered in burrs and ill-tempered) before making a small navigational cock up and missing the intended bridleway through the forest, instead riding a nicely graded, firm, wide track up onto Whorlton Moor. 

At this point we hit Open Access land and a notice scratched on a metal plate, saying No Bikes.  We took this to mean motor bikes (since any alternative interpretation would have required a descent and re-ascent of a few hundred feet each way) and followed some other mountain bike tyre tracks on the LRT which thread across the moor.  The sun was starting to drop and it was getting a bit chilly but the views were expansive and the surroundings utterly silent and devoid of life save for us and a lot of grouse.

Shooting Hut on Whorlton Moor

After a brief snack stop at the Shooting House, it was an easy ride south(ish) along the continuing LRT over the moor back to Square Corner, the whole thing coming in at 13.5 miles and 1600' of uppityness

Back at Square Corner

Sunday: Black Hambleton and Hawnby

Sunday was a day of sun and this route was straight out of the book, promising lots of off road across open moorland - and that's what we got.

Starting from Square Corner again (it's such a fab name, I think I shall start all my routes from there from now on) a broad track climbs steadily over the western shoulder of Black Hambleton.

Track over Black Hambleton - looking back northwards

It's all ridable but gets a bit steep towards the top, forcing old blokes like me to have a rest (or maybe two) on the way up.  But the effort is rewarded by spledid views north and west with autumnal colours which my camera has completely failed to capture.

Looking west from top of Black Hambleton - moors, forests and fields

From here the fun just never stops, with a fast, wide track under a massive, sun-filled sky and only a couple of gates to break the momentum.

Fast riding on flat, wide tracks

If you're only into MTB technical stuff, this route probably isn't for you.  I go mountain biking as a way of moving through the landscape, off-road, to reach more remote areas more quickly and it seems to me, this is a 'must tick' ride.

Arden Great Moor - looking back along our route

At the edge of Arden Great Moor there is a confluence of routes and the feeling that a follow up visit is going to be needed to explore all of them.  On this ocassion, the book made the choice for us and after the initial climb up, we now had the promise of losing all that height - and it was just a huge amount of fun with the gradient (and speed) increasing as we dropped lower into the valley. 

The NY Moors are frequently a contrast between fun, easy riding high up on the moors and poorly maintained, muddy bridleways down in the valley, often with challenging navigation. And so it was here, starting with a GOAP up a steep muddy slope, followed by three attempts to find the gate into a wood - including finding the right wood but that was partly my fault for (mis)reading from my MemoryMap GPS instead of doing it 'Old School' and getting out the paper version and a compass from my rucksack.  It was worth the effort though and the dappled light filtering through the trees, the smells of autumnal vegitation and a brief encounter with a Roe Deer, which ran out in front of me, made up for having to dismount a push past a few boggy sections. 

There is just so much stuff to kill around here.  Apart from the deer, we saw braces of Red Partridge, pheasants and grouse and probably all the rabbits on the world.  You could easily grow fat on game pie all year round up there, unless of course you're a vegetarian in which case you might look to move to somewhere more suited to the cultivation of cereal and root crops since the bilberry season is quite brief.  Also, the farmers are all friendly and even the off-roaders on trail bikes held a gate open for us with a cheery hello - it's so difficult to maintain a grumpy old bigot stance towards these folk in the face of such friendliness - dammit.

In Hawnby, we stopped at the tea shop, which had a rather too shady tea garden and rather to soggy scone before a steep pull up the road up onto Bilsdale Moor.  We were heading for the Bilsdale West transmitter, not because we had any special desire to see a 1000' mast close up, (though it was interesting for me - my Dad did a lot of work in the 50s installing microwave links in the north of England and up through Scotland as far as the Orkneys) but rather, there was a stonking great track which went north past the mast for a few miles before doing a U turn and returning us to Square Corner

Bilsdale West transmitter from the north

We arrived at the mast, after a light lunch and short siesta in the sunshine and realised that the OS 1:50,000 didn't quite line up with what was on the ground.  This is another problem with the Moors - tracks disappears.  The book wanted to take us off the LRT onto a bridleway but it no longer exists as far as we could see.  We found something which fitted the description but in a different place - and it was a foorpath.  So instead of thrashing through heathery singletrack, we were forced to carry along the wide, fast and fun route, which got even more fun as we turned south and started dropping furiously into a valley and back to farms and the road.  A final thrash along yet another poorly maintained bridleway got us back to Square square box, errr Corner.  A total of 21.5 miles and 2700' of up (and down)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sheffield Moors Partnership

"The ‘Sheffield Moors’ is a collective name for a group of connected and adjoining upland, and predominantly moorland sites that are all in public or charitable ownership. Collectively, they provide an amazing and very accessible landscape for people and wildlife across some 56 square kilometres (21 square miles) of the Peak District National Park" [1]

The Sheffield Moors Partnership comprises 34 stakeholder organisations including the main agencies who manage the area at the moment, namely:Peak District National Park Authority, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust (who jointly make up the Eastern Moors Partnership), Sheffield City Council, Natural England and The Wildlife Trust (Sheffield and Rotherham) along with 'user groups' including the British Mountaineering Council, Ramblers Association, Ride Sheffield (who represent the local mountain bikers) and Dark Peak Fell Runners. There are many more.

The Partnership has published a consultation draft masterplan covering the next 15 years from 2013-28.  It's a weighty, well-written, thought-provoking and exciting document and essential reading if you live in or make use of the recreational facilities of the area.

Burbage valley in Winter

You can download a copy from their website at along with maps and other supplementary documents.  (I had a few problems downloading some of the maps but got them eventually).

Some of the highlights of the document include 15 new bridleways, which will neatly link up many of the existing ones.  This is  essentially 'up-rating' existing wide and sustainable footpaths and should excite the local mountain bikers.  It certainly has my heart racing at the thought of it!  Also, a 'low key, low impact' campsite in Lady Canning Plantation (between Sheffield and Burbage) and various woodland management works including the felling of the coniferous plantations in the Burbage valley and replacing them with a mix of native woodland trees and open moorland.  The latter is likely to have a striking visual impact, which in the short term won't be pretty but in the longer term one would hope would be a vast improvement over three largely impenetrable coniferous areas that are there now.  I have some concerns over how they will extract the timber without causing some fairly serious damage to the moorland - there is no easy way to get it out.  A friend of mine who is a tree surgeon has suggested using horses to drag out the logs.  Apparently it's a tried and tested method, albeit slow and expensive.  There's much more included in the proposals: restoration of heathland, blanket bog and mire, wildflower meadow restoration, increased areas of scattered trees and shrubs to encourage and assist wildlife to move across the landscape and other habitat restoration and management.

The Causeway from Stanage Edge looking towards Dennis Knoll

There is a public consultation period running up to 23 November 2012.  I went to one of the roadshows last week and had a long chat with Rita Whitcome, the project officer.  I will be sending her my thoughts on the proposals in the next week or so.

If the moors around Sheffield are important to you, download and read the masterplan and send Rita some feedback.  She'd love to hear from you.

Whisps of cloud and smoke in the Hope Valley from above Callow Bank, Stanage

[1]    Masterplan 2013-28 Consultation Draft, Sheffield Moors Partnership (2012)