Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Tuesday 25 December 2007 - Merry Christmas Everyone

Happy Christmas to all the readers of this little indulgence. I have enjoyed writing the blog, even if (like now) it sometimes falls into arrears and is difficult to 'catch up'. I hope you haven't found it too tedious, and that some of you will find time to make an occasional comment. I do appreciate the murmurs of appreciation that appeared on a number of Christmas cards, and am encouraged to continue.
Have a lovely day; I hope your company was as good and your turkeys were as succulent as ours.
From all at Phreerunner Towers.

Monday 24 December 2007 - Lymm without Slurry

Another traditional ‘date for a walk’. For the second year, Richard and Jenny joined The Dishy Pharmacist and me, and my Mum, for a walk around Lymm. Last year’s walk has become the stuff of legend. I chose a ‘new’ route and when faced by a boggy field I decided to lead my victims a slightly easier way down a farm track. It was overcast, with poor light. The track had become deeply muddy but we could all see the glossy shiny concrete surface ahead. Pleased to be out of the mud, Mother (81) stepped onto the concrete only to find that it was actually ankle deep slurry. She splashed along for about 50 metres before escaping to higher ground. The rest of us had no option but to follow – we had already come through deep mud and weren’t inclined to either return that way or abandon Mother. Needless to say, our car – used for this trip – took some time to recover. The whiff in our kitchen where the footwear etc had been dealt with cast an odour over our Xmas menu, which appeared to come from an area of muck spreading.
So this year we returned to park outside the Church Hall, off Crouchley Lane. But today we were sensible and headed off in the mizzle to Lymm Dam, where a medley of Mallards and Coots clamoured for food. The light conditions are noticeable from my photos – all blurred. It’s a shame as the birds were so dense in the water that the picture could have made a pleasing patterned or textured image.

Ah well, here it is anyway.

Across the main road, a narrow pathway leads down steps then into the centre of the village. Quite safe, no slurry. From here the street leads to a bridge over the Bridgewater Canal, from where the towpath is easily accessed. We headed east, towards the unseen (and hardly heard) Thelwall Viaduct which provides a conduit for the M6 over The Manchester Ship Canal.
After about 1 km we turned away from the frozen canal, down a short ginnel to reach the disused course of the Warrington to Altrincham railway line, depicted in today’s postcard. This line was opened in 1853 and enjoyed a happy existence before being axed by Beeching in 1962. It continued to be used for freight up until 1985, when the prohibitive cost of maintaining a bridge over the Ship Canal led to its final closure.Happily, much of the route has been preserved as part of the 215 mile ‘multi-user’ Trans Pennine Trail from Southport to Hornsea. It would be a pretty boring walk, but is enjoyed by many as a cycle trail. I often encounter folk with panniers pedalling gently along, probably taking 3 to 4 days to cover the route. I may try it sometime. Anyway, we turned to the east and headed all of 3 km along the pleasantly slurry free track to the junction with the A6144 by the Farmer’s Arms. Passing the pub with some difficulty we turned left to shortly regain the canal towpath for a pleasant stroll back to Lymm centre and the ‘fleshpot’ known as Sexton’s Tea Rooms. The 8 km walk had provided much appreciated fresh (if rather dull) air before the onset of the annual gluttony, thankfully not tainted this year by anything ‘slurry’.

Sunday 23 December 2007 - Two Bits of Culture in One Day!

Some will question whether this was Culture or 'culture?'. Anyway, we all enjoyed Dad's Army at the Lowry Theatre, followed by the Hallé Christmas Carol Concert at the Bridgewater Hall, which roused me a little as I had a very quiet and peaceful chair at the Lowry and missed a lot of the first half!
More to come on this...
(Some time later)
Dad’s Army, as indicated above, failed to hold my attention for a while, but I did enjoy the second half, especially the familiar U-Boat crew classic.
In the first of the lost episodes, which have only survived in the form of scripts, the platoon try to ensure that Pte Walker is not drafted into the war by giving him flat feet. Pte Walker (with a look-alike of the original actor performing the role), who supplied the Home Guard with contraband whisky and cigarettes, is made to jump repeatedly from a ladder into a bucket of water to scupper his medical test in the episode, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker.
In the second episode, entitled A Stripe for Fraser, Pte Fraser turns power-crazed after being given a promotion.
The stage show finished with the Deadly Attachment episode in which a German U-Boat captain is captured by the platoon. Captain Mainwaring shouts his famous "Don't tell him, Pike" line when the German officer is attempting to discover the identity of the platoon.
So, worth a visit if it comes your way…Philip Radcliffe’s following review from the Manchester Evening News is a pretty accurate résumé in my opinion.

Dad's Army @ The Lowry
Philip Radcliffe
IT’S a strange déjà vu experience watching old TV favourites, dead and gone, represented live on stage. Clearly, old soldiers never die, they just get re-cast to come back and haunt us.
It says much for scriptwriters Jimmy Perry and David Croft, creators of one of the nation’s favourite sitcoms for a decade in their affectionate send-up of the war-time bungling by the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, that it is still richly entertaining 40 years on. Producer Ed O’Driscoll deserves credit for risking it. He and director James Robert Carson are entirely faithful to the original, not least in the brilliant lookalike casting. Inevitably, there is only an approximation to the likes of the great Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier and the rest – like an old master, a true original can only be copied - but it works a treat.
At first, you have a double take, watching the actors on stage whilst seeing in your mind’s eye the original inspired cast. But, gradually, you just become absorbed by the innocent pleasure. And the fun of familiarity brings extra delight – the established relationships, the well-worn catchphrases and the running gags.
The 15-strong cast, led by Colin Starkey as Mainwaring, David Warwick as Sgt Wilson, Richard Tate as Jones and Kern Falconer as Frazier, are a joy.
The show also does a service to our cultural history. Called Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes, it restores four episodes first shown in 1969, including the captured U-Boat crew classic, not kept for posterity.

So the seven of us who went along were all in a good mood as we topped up with pizza, before five of us headed into town for a second dose of ‘culture?’ for the day. The Hallé orchestra and choir donned their usual Christmas finery and entertained us with their traditional mix of Christmas music and audience participation. This most enjoyable couple of hours was enhanced by a chance meeting with Linda and Clive, who we hadn’t seen for some time.

Saturday 22 December 2007 - A RAB Super Dru Jacket

Yes, the postman came up trumps today, with this excellent pressy from The Dishy Pharmacist (aka Nallo Lady). Obviously, I couldn't open the parcel until Christmas Day, so the blogs have unfortunately backed up a little. In theory it's a holiday, with lots of spare time. In practice time spent on the computer is a rare commodity. I'll resume later...
(Some time later) The parcel has been opened and the garment fits. It’s very rare that I acquire clothing without trying it on, but I took the risk with this, on the basis of my good experiences to date of RAB kit (albeit these are my first RAB waterproofs) and the good price offered by Tower Ridge. I was tempted by the Montane Super-Fly Jacket offered by Bob and Rose at backpackinglight.co.uk, but the RAB jacket is 90 gm lighter and seems to have a similar spec, so there we go. Even then, it’s 100gm heavier than my old Berghaus Paclite smock, but I’m hoping that the new jacket, combined with a Vapour Rise (RAB, again) smock will work for winter conditions in which I’ve never used the Paclite. My existing (heavy) winter waterproofs are all worn out. So it’s a jacket for all seasons, as recommended by 'ptc' (Peter Macfarlane) in Trail magazine. Please note, it’s ptc and RAB in whom I’m placing my trust, NOT the sad (sic) mag.
I’ll report on performance in due course, but I’m saving this new jacket for severe winter days (none yet this winter) and multi-day trips.
Postscript
As at April 2008 the jacket has worked superbly, as planned. It has withstood downpours in New Zealand and winter days on Scottish Munros. But it's still fairly new, so time will tell as to its enduring qualities.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Friday 21 December 2007 - A Quiet Day’s Fishing, and a Frozen Canal

First, it was supposed to be a quiet day’s fishing!

But there was a good two inches of ice on the canal, so fishing (even if I had a rod) was out of the question. I thought for a while that it looked like this:In my dreams, perhaps; that takes me back to an annual trip that sadly we will miss next year – and they already have as much snow there as they had all last winter!
What I actually saw was this: The schoolkids were more evident than usual, and fairly boisterous. Perhaps it was The End of Term. The bravest were standing on the ice at the edge of the canal. I tried my best to persuade them to cross, but not even the promise of the notoriety of a video clip on U-tube would entice them beyond the safety of a leap to shore.
I left them to enjoy their ‘skimming’ contest.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Thursday 20 December 2007 - A Visit to a Soil Farm

It was a lovely day, so after an early lunch I went for a walk from New Moss Wood, by Cadishead. I’d never been there before – it’s not far from home but one of those places I never seem to have ventured to.
I started at 1.20 in bright sunshine, up a seemingly endless tarmac road, stretching far into the distance. It was a no through road; the only car I met was a 4x4 with a lady walking her dog the lazy way. A couple of joggers were the last people I saw for over an hour. Occasional single storey residences littered the potholed route, some constructed of barge board or concrete, with corrugated iron roofs. Woolden View Farm was one of these – a small blue and white building with an iron roof. Horses stood motionless, as if glued to the spot by the frost.
The land is flat around here, and fields of bright green turf shone in the sunlight.
By now the motorway noise was quite noticeable and before long I was passing above the speeding vehicles on the M62.
Beyond here, past frost laden ploughed fields, at Ring Pit Farm, the potholes ended and a firm grassy track continued to the edge of Little Woolden Moss.
Blackbirds and Robins chirped noisily. I was soon completely alone, confronted by what looked like a soil quarry.
The path marked on my maps had long gone, so I followed a sign to the left that led through a sliver of woodland, thick with frost laden bracken, between the Moss on one side and lush farmland on the other side.
Continuing along the marked path I approached the vicinity of some heavy earth moving equipment with obvious road access. Without my GPS (carelessly forgotten – it’s always a boon when exploring the flat Cheshire countryside) I was unsure as to my precise location, so I decided to ‘stay rural’ and return through the narrow strip (unmarked on the map) of woodland, all the way back over the M62, to turn right at Oakwood Farm, where collared doves fluttered in the breeze. On the way I met a woman with a dog, curious as to the reason for my presence. “Bird watching?” “No, but I did see rabbits in the frost glazed earth of the Moss.”
Past some houses, I soon turned left down the ‘Glazebrook Timberland Trail’.
Friendly horses trotted up to me, and there was a nip in the air, with frost everywhere, as I strolled south beside Glaze Brook, with the yellow orb dipping into mist on the western horizon and beautifully silhouetted trees in the late afternoon sky. A left turn beside a hedge on an obvious if unmarked path led me back to a leap across a ditch to enter New Moss Wood for the last lap of this short walk. Finishing at 3 pm, it had taken about an hour and 40 minutes to do about 8 km.
I don’t think I’d repeat this route, but it was an interesting minor piece of local exploration!

Wednesday 19 December 2007 - Shutlingsloe – The Matterhorn of Cheshire

It’s the way traditions develop. Go on a particular outing that is enjoyed by all, and then make similar plans for the same time next year. The Christmas Walk on 9 December was one of those traditions. It is however a far smaller, more select, gathering that assembles at 7.30 on a December evening for our final evening walk of the year, which, tradition now dictates, is up Shutlingsloe, a mere 270 metre ascent from Trentabank to the 506 metre summit high above the Cheshire plain. This is the second highest peak in Cheshire (below Shining Tor) and in daylight its distinctive prominence is visible from afar.
Tonight Andrew joined The Dishy Pharmacist and me for the brisk stroll up and down the hill by the shortest route. There was a nip in the air and the icy paths were frosted over, the temperature having not really risen above freezing for quite a few days. Where we emerged from the shelter of the trees of Macclesfield Forest the wind felt strong and cold, but beyond that spot it eased and extra windproofs weren’t needed, though you can see from the summit photo that the other two were well covered up. The ‘Pennine Way’ type stone slabs leading to the summit were actually very slippery, so we walked beside them at times, but made good time and allowed ourselves a break on the summit, admiring the view, which sadly was beyond my limited technological skills to record. The moonlight was bright, with good reflections from the frost, so torches were not needed, though Andrew used one on descent to help him identify the least slippery route.
After this most enjoyable little excursion – all of 5 km and 270 metres ascent, it was an added pleasure to adjourn by 9 pm to the Leather’s Smithy for refreshments in front of the roaring fire and a ‘Famous Five’ reunion with Richard and Jenny (Jenny’s fear of the dark had overcome her burning desire to come on the walk, this year!)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Tuesday 18 December 2007 - Highlights of the Year – Part 4 – New Year’s Day 2007

We try to start with a good walk. It sets the year off with a good feeling.
After a lovely meal at home with Mike (why should my 22 year old rock guitarist son want to spend NYE with his dad and stepmother?) involving scallops, a few courses in between, and finishing with toblerone mousse (maybe that’s why he came!), we managed to get a good night’s sleep before leaving at 8 am and enjoying the quiet run up to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. It was a dull day but the tops were clear. We were pleased to find the extortionate NT cark park ticket machine out of action (£5 a day hereabouts) and whilst there were lots of tents ‘hung over’ the campsite, there was just one other couple in the car park. They ran off, and by the time we strolled up the path to Stool End at 10.10 we were totally alone.
We headed up Oxendale to reach the ridge at Red Tarn, shortly before which fleeces had been donned to counter the cool breeze.
A right turn took us past Great Knott and on to Crinkle Crags, the top hidden by outcrops and a spot of mist. We saw just one person before reaching the Bad Step, which proved an ideal, sheltered lunch spot. Lunch, however, was rudely interrupted when a chap launched himself down the greasy slab and surprised us by landing head first at our feet. Luckily he was shaken, not broken, but his mate, standing above, had turned white. We showed him the way down. It’s not so easily spotted from above, where the greasy slab looks like the easiest route as it’s a shorter drop. It’s best, for non-climbers, to reverse down the longer, less steep, route indicated in the photo above. It’s really very simple, even Wainwright had no problems here. But for the nervous it’s easy enough to avoid the whole thing by taking an alternative path to the west. It’s (sorry about all these 'it's's!) easy to go astray in the mist, so get your compass out!
The two chaps had not been here before. I think they were quite impressed (Cringle Crags is an Excellent Hill). We gave them some caramel shortbread (the only medicine we had) and they went happily on their way.
We continued over the Crinkles to Three Tarns, then over the deserted summit of Bowfell to Ore Gap, where we succumbed to donning overtrousers to combat the squally rain that had finally reached us - initially in the form of stinging hail that made our faces feel as if they were pin cushions.
Below Ore Gap we were in the lee of the wind, and the path down to Angle Tarn was free of ice for a change. Above the tarn our ‘people sightings’ doubled to its final tally of six for the day. There were three young people with fairly small packs but with sleeping mats and maybe bivvi gear, as well as completely unnecessary axes and crampons. Whilst we enjoyed the final instalment from our large flask, they faffed, clearly undecided (or divided) on what to do next. I had them down as being on a ‘Mission’ for Trail Magazine, possibly involving a winter camp with foolishly lightweight equipment, as part of that magazine’s continuing efforts (accidental or deliberate – I don’t know) to discredit the use of lightweight gear by sending inexperienced people into the hills with inadequate kit for the conditions.
We were soon speeding down Rossett Gill under a blue sky, to reach the valley in the gathering gloom of the short day, reaching the car at 4.10 (6 hours for the 15 km walk with 1150 metres ascent).
By now there was a nearly full moon to accompany us; a lovely evening.
We eschewed tradition by changing clothes, as we had a rendezvous with the ever hospitable Andrew and Rosemary at the rather upmarket Town House Hotel in Ambleside, where we pretended to be residents and enjoyed excellent helpings of afternoon tea and cakes before returning home in light traffic.

It’s Snowdonia’s turn this coming New Year’s Day, when the Dishy Pharmacist and I will be starting from Llyn Ogwen at 10 am for a walk over Y Garn and the Glyders, returning by the gentle route to Tryfan col and down past Llyn Bochlwyd. It’s about 11 km and just over 1000 metres ascent – 4 hours on Naismith’s formula, so we should easily be back by dark. If the weather’s foul, we’ll do something from Betws-Y-Coed.
All welcome.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Monday 17 December 2007 - Hoary Plynlimon

Today’s jaunt was triggered by a call on Saturday from an old friend who ‘needed a good walk’. He suggested joining us in the Glyders on New Year’s Day, but I perceived a more urgent need. So by Sunday morning we had worked out that Plynlimon, today, was a good choice, it being about half way between Manchester and John’s home in South Wales.
I left home at 6.30 under a dark and starry night with a hard frost, and a weatherman on the radio proclaiming ‘today’s hot spot will be Aberystwyth’, ie just near our day’s objective. By Oswestry I should have been admiring a sunrise like last Tuesday’s, but there was clearly a meteorological problem and the day crept in grey and cold, with freezing fog. I’d not got John down as a particularly punctual sort of chap, so I felt guilty arriving 15 minutes late for our 9 am rendezvous and clasping a hand icy cold from its 50 minute sojourn at our starting point, Eisteddfa Gurig.
Boots and fleece were donned and after parting with a £3 parking fee to the farmer (I won’t repeat here what John thinks of sheep farmers!) we set off on the easy path up Plynlimon, a biting wind tugging at our clothing. Everything had been whitened by a thick layer of hoar frost. John spent all day in his Neutrino down jacket, though I never did see any gloves (Note 1), and I was cosy after donning a layer of Paclite Goretex over the Vapour Rise smock when we got to the summit. It took little more than an hour, but up here at 752 metres we needed to descend some way to the west to a spot where we could enjoy a relatively sheltered tea break.
It was a real battle against the elements to regain the ridge, almost a crawl, and we were nervous about how we would fare on our easterly bearing through the fog in the face of the wind. But the conditions eased a little as we passed above the source of the River Wye, hidden in the mist.
The compass (John had embarrassingly forgotten to bring his) assisted us in transcribing an arc to reach the source of the River Severn. Here, where the county boundary fence turns ENE, John rashly expressed a measure of delight at my success in navigating in the mist.
We never did work out why the new looking boundary stone plinths were engraved ‘w.w.w. 1865’.
The wire fence looked very solid, with about an inch of hoar frost glued uniformly to the thin wires.
If there’s a plaque marking the source of the Severn, we missed it, as I erred to the south before chancing upon the obvious channel with the embryonic river and a well-made path. So we forded the River Severn and lunched on its banks before continuing down the path that soon entered Hafren Forest. Here the trees looked like a different type of fir, as the coating of frost gave them a grey appearance. We enjoyed a kilometre along the Severn Way before continuing on a forestry track in improved, if imperfect, visibility, chatting about trips. Earlier in the year one Jim Wickwire had contacted John and together with two Japanese climbers they had attempted Mount Burney in Southern Chile. Here’s John’s report on an earlier trip to Burney, which possibly triggered the call from Wickwire. It had been a wet trip, and John had become increasingly weary of Wickwire’s seemingly infinite library of tales of lost companions on earlier trips. These people had not been misplaced in the in the geographical sense, as we were now, but more in the ‘Storm and Sorrow’ sense. (Note 2)
Distracted by the chatting about Wickwire and Co, and John’s desire to start a blog to enable him to recount to the world some of his memorable trips, we found ourselves heading north. So we headed back down a path beside Afon Hore and followed ‘Wye Way’ signs. After a while we were going north again. So we turned around and headed back, in the wrong direction, down the hill. I think that by the time we turned around again to head back up the hill, John was probably regretting complimenting me on my navigation skills!
D**n these forest tracks and paths that aren’t on the map. And the fact that I forgot to bring a GPS!
This time we got round the northerly loop and at last escaped from the forest to head south on a good track, past a path to ‘The Source of the Wye – 1 km’, and on past old mine workings, a copse and a farm, to reach a barn a Y Drum, near which we were surprised to see that an entire small copse of trees had recently been felled.
After contouring south then west we disturbed a snipe before crossing a river by mistake. Stubbornly holding our ground, we declined to re-cross until confronted by high fences that forced us back onto our planned route. We then left the track to follow an ancient pathway, indistinct in places, crossing the river for a third time and rising to a col at about 500 metres from where, at last, we gained a splendid view of the sun as it emerged from an orange haze to briefly blind us before drifting down behind the ridge of hills beyond which the ‘hot spot’ of Aberystwyth lurks.
From here it was a pleasant stroll back to Eisteddfa Gurig where we enjoyed the dregs of our tea and the last crumbs of caramel shortbread before wending our ways home.
This was one of those ‘Grand Days Out’ in excellent company. Thank you, John for providing the stimulus. We saw nobody all day, as seems to be the norm in the Welsh hills on a weekday, outside Snowdonia.
Here’s the route, which worked out at about 23 km (probably 2 more than it should have been) with 960 metres of ascent, and took us about 7 hours.

Note 1 –John tells me that an early mentor was one HW Tilman, who when asked by John why was he not wearing gloves on a freezing cold day in the Atlantic, replied “I’m a sailor, John; proper sailors don’t wear gloves”. Hmmm.
Note 2 – A number of John’s friends, who had heard about Wickwire’s reputation for losing his companions, jested on his safe return from Burney – “Hello John, we didn’t ever expect to see you again!”

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Sunday 16 December 2007 - Market Day in Manchester

A crowded tram sped into Manchester on this bitterly cold, overcast day. There was a warm ambience of excited children, and once in Albert Square the tightly laid out stalls and the smells of sausages cooking and wine mulling soon dispelled any coldness in extremities. Father Christmas leered at us from in front of the Town Hall,
whilst a skiffle band handed out instruments from a huge box to anyone who wished to join in. The usual bustle of weekday lunchtime workers was today a parallel universe of which there was no evidence whatsoever.

It was crowded but easy going, everyone enjoying themselves. The six of us bought very little, but we think (hope) the children enjoyed the trip.

They certainly wolfed down some drop scones back in the warmth of our house, and were sufficiently energised to construct (it comes in a box from the loft every year!) and decorate our Christmas tree. A big thank you to Christmas Tree Engineers, Andrew (5) and Kate (3), should they read this.
Wow, I've got up to date at last! For how long, I wonder!

Saturday 15 December 2007 - Around Culcheth

It was a lovely calm morning, with a bright winter’s sun trying to raise the temperature to above freezing. But, with jobs to get done, it wasn’t until the afternoon that The Dishy Pharmacist and I could take stock and get some fresh air – much needed in my case after last night’s office party. By the time we had driven down the back lanes to Culcheth, just north of Warrington, it had clouded over, a sharp breeze cut through the air, and at nearly 3 pm the light was already beginning to fade. So there was just time for a brief exploration; we hadn’t been here before, of the following route:
It’s all of 6.6 km, with 19 metres of ascent according to Mr Anquet. The paths were well signed and easy going. They were well used too, the farmers here have been well trained – no slurry filled gateways, and meticulous signage. Well done, people of Culcheth. A blend of tarmac lanes, grassy field paths under hovering kestrels, and woodland such as that shown above, facilitated a pleasant stroll that, all too soon, ended back at the car after an hour and a quarter.
We learnt that in Saxon times Culcheth meant ‘on the edge of a wood’, but as the name dates from between the 6th and the 10th centuries there has been quite a bit of ‘water under the bridge’ and the trees we saw, if I’m not mistaken, were younger than 1000 years old!
The Squire of Culcheth lived at Culcheth Hall, but that is long gone and all that remains is Culcheth Hall Drive with its modern houses, and avenues of grand beech trees together with a surviving gate lodge.
A 17th century visitor to Culcheth was apparently Colonel Blood, a notorious adventurer and secret agent who married a daughter of the Lord of the Manor and involved her in his plot to steal the Crown Jewels.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Friday 14 December 2007 - Showell Styles (Part 2)

I referred to Showell Styles in my brief entry on 4 October when I was (like today but worse) playing catch-up with the blog. This is the man whose book ‘Backpacking in the Alps and Pyrenees’ inspired our trips to the Alps in the early 1980s before the days of step by step guides of the ‘Cicerone genre’. When we followed in Showell’s steps (his precise route was a bit vague) we enjoyed a daily reading from his book covering the area we had walked. It was great entertainment. Showell Styles died at the age of 96 in 2005. He was a prolific author and amongst his writings is this enduring ballad:

THE BALLAD OF IDWAL SLABS

by Showell Styles

I'll tell you the tale of a climber; a drama of love on the crags;
A story to pluck at your heartstrings. And tear your emotions to rags.
He was tall, he was fair, he was handsome;
John Christopher Brown was his name;
The Very Severes nearly bored him to tears ------
and he felt about girls much the same.

Till one day, while climbing at Ogwen, he fell (just a figure of speech)
For the president's beautiful daughter, named Mary Jane Smith---What a peach!
Her figure was slim as Napes Needle;
Her lips were as red as Red Wall;
A regular tiger, she'd been up the Eiger...
North Wall, with no pitons at all!

Now Mary had several suitors, but never a one would she take,
Though it seemed that she favoured one fellow, a villain named Reginald Hake;
This Hake was a cad who used pitons,
And wore a long silken moustarsh,
Which he used, so they say, as an extra belay----
But perhaps we're being too harsh.

John took Mary climbing on Lliwedd, and proposed while on Mallory's Slab;
It took him three pitches to do it, for he hadn't much gift of the gab.
He said: "Just belay for a moment---
There's a little spike by your knee-
And tell me, fair maid, when you're properly belayed,
Would you care to hitch up with me?"

Said Mary, "It's only a toss-up between you and Reginald Hake,
And the man I am going to marry must perform some great deed for my sake.
I will marry whichever bold climber shall excel at the following feat
Climb headfirst down Hope, with no rubbers or rope,
At our very next climbing club meet!"

Now when Mary told the committee, she had little occasion to plead,
For she was fair as a jug-handle hold at the top of a hundred foot lead.
The club ratified her proposal,
And the President had to agree;
He was fond of his daughter, but felt that she oughter
Get married, between you and me.

There was quite a big crowd for the contest, lined up at the foot of the slabs;
The Mobs came from Bangor in Buses, and the Nobs came from Capel in Cabs.
There were Fell and rock, climbers', and rucksack,
And the pinnacle club (in new hats)
And a sight to remember!... an Alpine club member,
in very large crampons and spats.

The weather was fine for a wonder; the rocks were as dry as a bone.
Hake arrived with a crowd of his backers, but John Brown strode up quite alone;
A rousing cheer greeted the rivals;
A coin was produced, and they tossed.
"Have I won?" cried John Brown as the penny came down.
"No you fool!" hissed his rival, "You've lost!"

So Hake had first go at the contest; he went up by the Ordinary Route.
And only the closest observer would have noticed a bulge in each boot.
Head first he came down the top pitches,
Applying his moustache as a brake;
He didn't relax till he'd passed the twin cracks,
And the crowd shouted "Attaboy Hake!"

At the foot of the Slabs Hake stood sneering, and draining a bottle of Scotch;
" Your time was ten seconds," the President said, consulting the Treasurer's watch.
Now Brown. if you'd win, you have to beat that.
" Our Hero's Sang Froid was sublime;
He took one look at Mary, and light as a fairy,
Ran up to the top of the climb.

Now though Hake had made such good going, John wasn't discouraged a bit,
For he was the speedier climber Even Hake would have had to admit.
So smiling as if for a snapshot,
Not a hair of his head out of place,
Our Hero John Brown started wriggling down...
But Look! What a change on his face!

Prepare for a shock, gentle ladies; gentlemen, check the blasphemous word;
For the villainy I am to speak of is such as you never have heard!
Reg Hake had cut holes in the toes of his boots,
And filled up each boot with soft soap!
As he slid down the climb, he had covered
With slime every handhold and foothold on Hope!

Conceive (if you can) the terror that gripped the vast concourse below,
When they saw Mary's lover slip downwards, like an arrow that's shot from a bow!
" He's done for!" gasped twenty score voices.
"Stand from under!" Roared John from above.
As he shot down the slope, he was steering down Hope...
Still fighting for life and for love!

Like lightning he flew past the traverse... in a flash he had reached the Twin Cracks
The friction was something terrific---there was smoke coming out of his slacks
He bounced off the shelf at the top of pitch two,
And bounded clean over it's edge!
A shout of "He's gone!" came from all... except one;
And that one of course, was our Reg.

But it's not the expected that happens, in this sort of story at least;
And just as John thought he was finished, he found that his motion had ceased!
His braces (Pre-War and elastic)
Had caught on a small rocky knob,
And so... safe and sound, he came gently to ground,
'Mid the deafening cheers of the Mob!

"Your time was five seconds!" the President cried. "She's yours, my boy...
take her, You win!"
" My hero!" breathed Mary, and kissed him; while Hake gulped a bottle of Gin,
And tugged at his moustache and whispered,
"Aha! My advances you spurn!"
Curse a chap that wins races by using his braces!"
And he slunk away ne'er to return.

They were wed at the Church of St. Gabbro; And the Vicar, quite carried away,
Did a hand-traverse into his pulpit, and shouted out "let us belay"
John put the ring on Mary's finger
A snap-link it was, made of steel,
And they walked to the taxis
'Neath an arch of ice axes,
While all the bells started to peal.

The morals we draw from this story, are several, I'm happy to say:
It's virtue that wins in the long run; long silken moustaches don't pay;
Keep the head uppermost when you're climbing;
If you must slither, be on a rope;
Steer clear of the places that sell you cheap braces---
And the fellow that uses soft soap!

Thursday 13 December 2007 - Bird Life by The Bridgewater Canal

A stroll down the canal today attracted the usual flotilla of Mallard, anxious to find small children with large crusts. The Mallard have been joined for the winter by the noisier Black-headed Gulls. Other water loving permanent residents are the pair of Mute Swans whose young have now dispersed, Canada Geese, Moorhens, Grey Wagtails and occasional Coots and Kingfishers. They will soon get their first taste of ice on the canal – it’s always amusing to watch the puzzled birds landing on the ice! The hedgerows harbour lots of Dunnock, Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Wrens, whilst higher in the tree canopy are found Woodpigeons, Feral Pigeons, Collared Doves, Blackbirds, Kestrels, Magpies, Jays and Carrion Crows, and if you are lucky you may catch the undulating flight of a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
To name but a few. I must try find an expert / walk more slowly sometimes!

Wednesday 12 December 2007 - Highlights of the Year – Part 3 – Berliner Hohenweg - 27 July 2007

The Berliner Hohenweg, or the ‘Zillertal Rucksack Route’ as Allan Hartley describes it in his Cicerone guide published in 2003, was my choice for a hutting route with just The Dishy Pharmacist, to follow our week with other friends in the Dolomites in July.
I still plan to do a report on this trip as the guide book appears to have been completed in a hurry and contains numerous minor ‘debatable’ issues. In fact the route is simple enough to do without a guidebook, though I hope to produce an A3 pamphlet (or equivalent, ie 4 pages of A4) that people could print off. For us, the guide book provided evening entertainment with a red pen, but it also contains a lot of information about excursions from the basic route. Allan Hartley is a mountaineer of the climber genus and clearly enjoyed the diversions more than the basic route that we undertook, so people like Ali and Lay would probably benefit from the book, and reach a number of Alpine summits. For the more pedestrian amongst us, the route is clear, well marked and well used, and Kompass 1:50000 map No 37 – ‘Zillertaler Alpen Tuxer Voralpen’ is all you really need.
The whole trip was a ‘Highlight of the Year’ but I’ll focus on just one day, the last day’s walk from Friesenberg Haus to Gams Hut:
We rose at 6.45, as usual, in our small dormitory where the other beds remained unoccupied. But the dining room was full of breakfasting Alpinistes from 7 o clock. It was hazy, with cloud already obscuring the peaks, but warm enough for shorts as we left on the 14 km trek to Gams Huts before 8 am. The first section was bouldery and passed a small lake, Wesendkarsee, at 2375 metres, where last year I camped in beautiful weather with Mark and Juliana, and I also camped there back in 1993. It’s a great spot facing south east with fabulous views.
The cloud engulfed us here, but it was still bright and it soon cleared again, but felt very humid. We passed Kevin and Alison, the only other Brits seen all week. They planned to descend from Kesselalm as Kevin has a cold. Soon afterwards we passed Manfred, a 67 year old from Cologne who is the only person to have been on the trail with us all week. They all started early as the guidebook suggests 10 to 12 hours will be needed, though the signs say it is a 9 hour day. Manfred has seen gamsbok (antelope) but so far we have only seen a large cobweb and have heard marmots whistling. There’s a sharp descent to Kesselalm (no axes needed this year – we had used one to negotiate a frozen gully last year) where two curious grey calves were frolicking in the meadow. An attractive waterfall oversaw an excellent half hour brew stop. Sue ate several handfuls of bilberries – ripe and warm from the sun.
A hot climb followed, through green meadows with loads of flowers. There were fine views from here, and throughout the day, across the main valley to the route we had enjoyed during the first three days from Edel Hutte.
Pitzen-Alm provided a welcome stop, with a small café perched on the edge of the slope dispensing welcome Schiewasser and Apfelsaft on its balcony. They were surprised we had arrived so early; we must have been going well! We were now well ahead of the others on today’s route. We met Alphonse coming the other way, and he promised to say ‘Hello Manfred’ when passing the gentleman from Cologne. We had done this earlier in the week, and Manfred, walking alone, was always chuffed to be greeted like a long lost friend by complete strangers!
Next, we climbed from the Alm, passing through areas of pasture and boulders, not far above the firs. The gradually increasing cloud at least provided shelter from the burning sunshine, and a few drops of rain were felt as we crossed another boulder field.
The final couple of miles were on a precipitous narrow path, high above the valley, with stream crossings requiring care. Here, at last, we spotted a gamsbok browsing in the steep grass just below us. There were masses of colourful wild flowers, from Houseleeks to Harebells, around here.
Only when we rounded the easternmost point of the main ridge below which we had been walking, did we get a view of our destination, the well appointed Gams Hut, at 1916 metres the lowest we had stayed in all week. The path weaved down through more bilberry bushes, with fine views down the ever widening Ziller valley. We arrived at the Hut at 2 pm, after a 6 hour walk including an hour of stops. Interesting in the context of the 9 to 12 hour timings suggested by guide book and signs, especially as we were not rushing.
We enjoyed a cooked lunch in the Hut, as always, and basked in the satisfaction of successfully completing this high level traverse, before providing a welcoming party for Manfred, who arrived tired but happy and much in need of the beer we had set up for him.
This was the only hut we had felt a need to book in advance (Friday night, close to a holiday town) but only a handful of others arrived. It seems that many folk are put off by the prospect of a long day with steep slopes and boulder fields, and they descend to Ginzling from Kesselalm or Pitzen-Alm. The hut log reveals just 5 visiting Brits in the 8 weeks since the hut opened for the summer. The cloud sat at about 400 metres above us but the expected storm didn’t materialise and the three of us enjoyed our final meal together – schnitzel and salad, with Manfred providing Schnapps, which appeared to be the hut warden’s ‘home brew’. We couldn’t resist topping the meal off with apfelkuchen, which left the two of us with just 6 euros to buy coffees on the way into Mayrhofen the following morning.
There is a slide show of this trip (100 images) - please let me know if you wish to view it.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Tuesday 11 December 2007 - Sunrise over Timperley

On a crisp morning we enjoyed this beautiful introduction to a wonderfully sunny day during which the temperature hardly troubled the mercury. Sadly, various chores obstructed the best use of the day, but I’m sure there will be many more days like this to put to good use.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Monday 10 December 2007 - UK Outdoor Bloggers Christmas Pantomime


If you go down to the woods today you’re bound to be in for a surprise.


This may well be a first for the UK outdoor on-line community.
So please be generous with your applause (and boos) as we welcome you to enjoy a walk with the 2007 UK Outdoor Bloggers Christmas Pantomine.
Or is it all enjoyment?
Follow a multiple track route to try to get to the bloggers party on time…..or will all the refreshments have gone by the time you arrive?



Congratulations to London Backpacker, Aktoman, Ali and Lay, John Hee, Weird Darren and The Bearded Git, (and anyone else whose input to the adventure I have yet to discover) who appear to have managed to put this together and upload the intricately linked adventure so that it all works smoothly. Great fun!

Meanwhile, the Cheshire countryside was a bit damp today, as portrayed by the postcard.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Sunday 9 December 2007 - A Sunday Stroll in the Best of Company

Twelve people turned up for the pre Christmas Walk, as planned, though for some reason most of them parked some way down the road. Andrew was blamed for leading them astray.
Waterproofs were donned as there was a fine mist on the Roaches, but once past Roach End we were below the cloud and getting hot, so a pause for tea was welcome. Despite being absent, due to a ‘better offer’ – a day in Lapland – The Dishy Pharmacist had left me with an ample supply of Caramel Shortbread in my bum bag. Tradition dictates that this goes down well.
So we strolled merrily on along the prescribed route to the dark damp declivity that is Lud’s Church.
This natural cleft is over 100 metres in length and over 20 metres high in places. The light of day rarely reaches and damp mosses curl down from the walls. Even on the sunniest of days, it is possible to hear the drip, drip of water from the ferns which cling to the sides of the cleft, which has been identified as The Green Chapel – the very place where Sir Gawain met and battled with the Green Knight one New Year’s Day long ago.
Graham seemed convinced that half the party was likely to be sucked into the glutinous pond near the entrance, and some guidance was given to enable the less agile amongst us to plot a delicate route across the half submerged rocks and log in order to effect our escape.
My photos on this dark day just didn’t turn out, so those fearing exposure to these pages by way of a group photo need not have worried, they were always to fast for the shutter!
A pleasant hour by the banks of the River Dane brought us to the sanctuary of The Ship Inn. Although the ‘Golden Jackal’ had now been drunk, the Landlord’s Bitter was excellent and we arrived to find the Hikers Bar full of people apart from our reserved table for 12, in front of a roaring fire. This proved to be a fine venue for lunch. My ‘hot beef sandwich on freshly cut granary bloomer bread with prime sautéed beef, caramelised onions, salad garnish and handcut chunky chips’ was tender and succulent, and the rectangular orientation of the table meant that everyone was within earshot of each other, so it was a most convivial hour and a half, discussing the triumphs of 2007 and our plans for 2008.
We were sorry to have to down that last chocolatey mouthful of fudge cake and discard the blue hospital bootees, before continuing our tramp. But the weather was warm and dry, if a little dull, and the planned route was followed up to Hanging Stone (see last Wednesday’s blog), where Keith kindly posed for today’s ‘Postcard’.
Then everyone headed on along the concessionary path to Roach End, ignoring my feeble murmurings that this was not actually the intended route. Never mind, it’s a nice path that I’d somehow never been on before, and certainly much drier than the lower route through fields, and 2 km shorter (just 16 km for the day). I gave in gracefully to Graham Illing’s ‘Don’t do Boggy Fields’ dictum on this occasion. By the time we got back to Roach End, everyone was more than happy to stroll down the quiet lane back to the cars, idly chatting in the gathering gloom of the December afternoon.
A lovely day out, in excellent company; thank you everyone for turning up on a day when the dire weather forecast turned out to be a tad misleading but would have discouraged less committed souls!

I wonder whether any other ‘Outdoors Bloggers’ will turn up on next year’s pre Christmas stroll...

Saturday 8 December 2007 - The Battle of Culloden - April 16, 1746

Is this suitable subject matter for an Outdoors Blog? I don’t know. But it did happen in the outdoors, so here goes.
Whilst in Madeira in November Alan pulled out some of his old maps etc of the island. He collects documents relating to the history of the island. On the back of one of these documents, a copy of the London Illustrated News from April 1844, was a report on the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. These days I would head to Wikipedia to find out about such events. Here’s a link to the relevant entry (and it has many further links, you could spend hours on this one topic!), from which I’ve borrowed the reproduced painting by David Morier. Wikipedia says that some 50 ‘Hanoverians (English) died in the Battle, with 1250 Jacobites (Highlanders) being killed. It’s odd how over the years the stories of such events can be differently reported. I reproduce below the 1844 version of events, from which you will note that 600 deaths on each side were reported. Though the Wikipedia entry is much more comprehensive, I wonder which version is more accurate.
But after reading this I can only marvel at our modern day ‘free passage’ to Scotland and am saddened by the ongoing conflicts in such potentially wonderful parts of the world as Afghanistan.

THE BATTLE OF CULLODEN
“Drummossie Muir, Drummossie day,
A waeful day it was to me!
For there I lost my father dear,
My father dear and brethren three.”

Tuesday last was the 98th anniversary of the celebrated battle fought on the estate of Culloden, about three miles north-east of Inverness, on April 16, 1746, and which is memorable as having put an end to the Rebellion. On the night preceding the Highlanders had intended to surprise the Duke of Cumberland, in his camp, at Nairn; but this scheme having failed, they took up a position on the Moor of Drummossie, their left wing towards the house of Culloden, where the declivity of the hill was soft and marshy, their right slightly protected by a stone wall. The ground was unfavourable, and the Highlanders were weakened by hunger and fatigue, so that it had been judged expedient to withdraw to the hills; but the difficulty of finding subsistence for the men, and the importance of protecting Inverness, determined the Prince Charles Edward, and his councillors, to venture a battle. Drawn up in a line in the position above mentioned, while waiting for the signal to charge, the Highlanders suffered greatly from the English artillery. Exasperated, at last, beyond endurance, the centre rushed forward; and the last charge of the Highlanders, under their patriarchal discipline, and with their peculiar arms, is thus vividly described in Chambers’s “History of the Rebellion” :-


“A lowland gentleman, who was in the line, and who survived till a late period, used always, in relating the events of Culloden, to comment with a feeling of something like awe upon the terrific and more than natural expression of rage which glowed in every face and gleaned in every eye, as he surveyed the extended line at this moment. Notwithstanding that the three files of the front line of English poured forth their incessant fire of musketry; notwithstanding that the cannon, now loaded with grape-shot, swept the field as with a hail-storm; notwithstanding the flank fire of Wolfe’s regiment, onward went the headlong Highlanders, flinging themselves into, rather than rushing upon, the lines of the enemy, which indeed, they did not see for the smoke till involved among their weapons. It was a moment of dreadful, agonising suspense, but only a moment, for the whirlwind does not sweep the forest with greater rapidity than the Highlanders cleared the line. They swept through and over that frail barrier almost as easily and instantaneously as the bounding cavalcade brushes through the morning labours of the gossamer which stretch across its path; not, however, with the same unconsciousness of the events! Almost every man in their front rank, chief and gentleman, fell before the deadly weapons which they had braved; and although the enemy gave way, it was not till every bayonet was bent and bloody with the strife.
“When the first line had been completely swept aside, the assailants continued their impetuous advance till they came near the second, when, being almost annihilated by a profuse and well directed fire, the shattered remnants of what had been, but an hour before, a numerous and confident force, at last submitted to destiny by giving way and flying. Still, a few rushed on, resolved rather to die than thus forfeit their well-acquired and dearly-estimated honour. They rushed on, but not a man ever came in contact with the enemy. The last survivor perished as he reached the points of the bayonets.”

It is said, that in one place, where a very vigorous attack had been made, their bodies were afterwards found in layers three or four deep.
The right wing of the Highlanders, advancing at the same time, was attacked in flank by the English cavalry and broken; the left withdrew almost without sharing in the fight. About 600 men were killed on each side. The battle, however, was decisive; the Prince fled to the mountains, and some days after, gave notice to his partisans to provide for their own safety, declining to continue the contest with 8000 men, who were ready to meet him in Badenoch. This memorable event has given rise to many plaintive popular songs; a verse from one of which, pathetically lamenting the horrors of war, has been quoted above.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Friday 7 December 2007 - The Munro Society

A surprise item in today’s post was The Munro Society Journal – No. 1, 2007.
I’m not an active member, having joined following my ‘compleation’ of the ascent of the designated 284 of Scotland's hills over 3000 feet in height in 2004 – I think I just filled in a form sent by the Scottish Mountaineering Club – and the effect of a standing order and inertia is that I remain a member. So it’s nice to receive something other than a routine newsletter. This ‘Journal’ is a nice little 50 page booklet in A5 format – a mixture of articles and poetry together with some striking photos.
The Presidential Remarks refer to accusations of the Society being ‘elitist’. I do recall Roger Smith, former editor of TGO, and the main man behind the TGO Challenge, bemoaning in his TGO column the fact that he had been declined membership, and suggesting that given his wide experience and other ‘qualifications’ this rejection was perhaps unfair. Whilst I have great admiration for Roger I do feel that the President may be correct in his assertion that the Society is in fact the reverse of elitist, requiring but one condition of membership (a round of the Munros) and being open to all beyond that single stipulation.
The Journal does in fact embrace contributions from non-members. In particular I was entertained by an article from Dave Hewitt, whose ‘Baggerwatch’ column (axed by TGO a few years ago) is missed by many and who edits Scotland’s Hillwalking Fanzine, The Angry Corrie (TAC). Dave writes about ‘When is a round not a round?’ and likens a round of Munros to a round of golf. The latter does not really cater for repeating holes during the course of a round, so arguably a round of Munros should only start when the previous round has been compleated. This leaves those who have repeated numerous ascents during our first round in a bit of a quandary! Dave refers to one chap who has climbed 6000 Munros in total, but has completed only one full round. So should he complete a second round, the ‘Golfer’s Method’ would require him to make a further ascent of Ben Lomond in order to qualify for a third round, despite the fact that he has already climbed that hill 1300 (yes, one thousand three hundred!) times.
It’s an interesting debate, but I have to say I checked this out with the Clerk of the List in 2004 and was told unambiguously that repeat ascents made during earlier rounds could be included in the tally for future rounds, so there is no need to start again unless you wish to utilise the artificially purist Golfer’s Method.
My reason for referring to Dave’s article is that he clearly doen’t share Roger’s view. He is happy to contribute to the Journal despite being a non-member; his own obtruse, individualistic, way of becoming a Munroist is to complete his round on his 1000th Munro, and he has just a few to go, so 2008 could be a good year for Dave.
Having referred to TAC, I would normally provide a link to TAC’s home page, but the first thing I came across on TAC’s website was this, Graham Stephens’ long awaited report on Graham Illing’s final Munro epic in July 1994. This event was before I had met either of these Grahams and is the stuff of legends, so it’s great to see a report on the actual legendary day, which more modern tales of distress (even Weird Darren’s) struggle to match (certainly in terms of alcohol consumption).

Well done, Munro Society, I shall enjoy reading the rest of this Journal.

Thursday 6 December 2007 - TGOC Issues and ‘Digital Challengers'

Alan Sloman’s blog on 3 December – please do read it – most eloquently describes a process of preparing for a particular outdoors challenge, in this case the annual two week TGO Challenge walk across Scotland.
Through the ‘noise’ of the Message Board, The Digital Challenger “…wonders, if after all their detailed inquiries as to how boggy a path will be, or how rough a certain bealach may be or how heavy their pack should be or how much water they should carry, what sort of socks they should wear and the length of their shoe laces (round or flat?) if they will ever manage to drag their corpses from one side of Scotland to the other if it rains and their plimsolls get soggy...”
Next year will be my second year of doing the Challenge. This year I asked a few questions about food parcels and the ferry across Loch Ness, camp sites, etc, and received some very sympathetic and helpful responses to my naïve queries.
I have not yet planned next year’s route in detail. I want to do that together with Sue, when she has time, so that we can take joint responsibility should it ‘all go wrong’! However, after last year’s experience as a solo walker (the report is here) I have a clear idea of sensible daily mileage and ascent targets, and as it’s only my second challenge we can choose an excellent ‘new’ route without any duplication of last year’s ‘thin blue line’ (that’s reference to the line plotted on the digital map on the computer). We’ve had the first two days planned for ages, as Sue wants to bag the seven Munros of the South Cluanie Ridge.
This brings me to another issue concerning Digital Challengers, especially those from overseas. Mark Alvarez from the USA has actively joined the TGOC ‘fraternity’ and the message board is potentially of particular help to people like Mark who may not have first hand experience of Scottish hillwalking. It quickly became evident to Mark that questions of gear – waterproofs, footwear, tents, etc – are very much open to personal opinions, a wide range of which can be seen in response to a simple question such as “what type of waterproof?” So the ‘Digital Noise’ is fine, but it does sometimes have to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially where the writer is of the ‘Digital Macho’ type with a name like ‘LeonardoX’ or 'Boom Boom’ with no email address and sometimes extreme or controversial ‘angles’ on topics on which their writings show little evidence of expertise.
Here’s a message I sent to Mark concerning one of these peculiar little jokey messages:

One correspondent on the Message Board states:
"Mark, whatever figure you arrive at as elevation gain for your chosen route, the amount of climbing will still be the same.
And when walking, if you encounter a feature known as a Munro, then walk around it, rather than over it. That's what the old drovers did and they were clever fellows."
He or she is joking, obviously, but this could be misleading and whilst I don't pretend to understand the first sentence, I would point out that the 'drovers' had a completely different agenda to that of the modern-day Challenger. If the weather is good, and it often is in May, the high level ridges can be absolutely magnificent. It's pretty easy to work out from the map where high level camps may be feasible (the Message Board can be a help) and personally I would always give myself the option of a high level route, reserving the lower level, and often much boggier, midgier and perhaps tick ridden route for poor weather - the ‘Foul Weather Alternative.”

My advice is that anyone seeking genuine helpful assistance could do worse than contact stalwarts such as ‘Mr Grumpy’, Alan Sloman, Ian C, Derek Emsley, Ian Shiel and Phil Lambert (and there are many more) and treat some of the jolly jesters with the suspicion they deserve!
As regards gear, you could do worse than contact Bob and Rose (pictured above with Loch Ness on this year’s Challenge) of backpackinglight.co.uk for guidance. They are well informed as to what might currently be the best gear for the intended purpose and they can usually supply it at a competitive price. They are always happy to discuss the pros and cons of any particular item.

That’s all the Digital Noise you’ll get from me today!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Wednesday 5 December 2007 - The Ship Inn and The Hanging Stone

A break in the weather gave me the chance to nip out to The Ship Inn at Danebridge for a little circuit to clarify this coming Sunday’s route. There was one short impassable section encountered on our 10 October recce, and I just needed to check the way around this.
So I parked outside The Ship and strolled across the bridge over the River Dane and on up to The Hanging Stone, a prominent landmark in these parts, and a splendid viewpoint to boot.
A crossing of the River Dane at Danebridge was first recorded in 1190, where it was known as Scliderford, meaning a slippery ford. In 1357, Sliderford Bridge was constructed, but was rebuilt in the seventeenth century, using stone. Unfortunately, this was washed away by floods in 1631 and replaced a year later by another, more sturdy, bridge. The present bridge dates from around 1869, and was funded by the two Counties of Cheshire and Staffordshire, with each paying £1,000 for its upkeep; materials being supplied by the Brocklehurst family, of Swythamley Hall, who were major landowners during the eighteenth century.
The Hanging Stone perches on the hillside like a giant fist, a sentinel overlooking Swythamley, on the Staffordshire side of the River Dane. Swythamley Hall stands in a fine park and was originally a mediaeval hunting lodge belonging to the Abbey of Dieulacres near Leek. The hall was granted to the Traffords by Henry VIII in 1540 and became their home and that of their successors, the Brocklehursts. Unfortunately the original house burned down in 1813, so the modern building is a rebuild dating from then. The Brocklehursts had an adventurous history. One of them accompanied Shackleton to the Antarctic. The Hanging Stone bears a plaque to Colonel Brocklehurst, who was killed in Burma in 1942. A game warden in the Sudan, he started a private zoo at Swythamley when he returned to Britain, and during the Second World War the animals were released into the countryside because there was no food for them. The wallabies from the zoo survived and bred around the Roaches until the late 1990s. Sightings of them have surprised many walkers and climbers over the years. The plaque reads:
“Lt. Col. Henry Courtney Brocklehurst. 10th Royal Hussars and Pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, 1916 - 1918. Game Warden of the Sudan. Born at Swythamley, May 27th, 1888. Killed Whilst On Active Service, in Burma, on Commando. June 1942.
Horses he loved and laughter, the sun. Wide spaces and the open air.
The trust of all dumb living things he won, and never knew the luck too good to share.
His were the simple heart and open hand, and honest faults he never strove to hide.
Problems of life he could not understand, but as a man would wish to die he died.
Now, though he will not ride with us again, his merry spirit seems our comrade yet.
Freed from the power of loneliness and pain, forbidding us to mourn or to forget.
Erected by his devoted brother – 1949”

There’s a second, earlier stone plaque at the foot of the stone:
“Beneath This Rock
August 1, 1874 was buried
BURKE
A Noble Mastiff
Black and Tan
Faithful as Woman
Braver than Man
A Gun and a Ramble
His Heart’s Desire
With the Friend of his Life
The Swythamley Squire”

Swythamley has been convincingly identified as the castle of the Green Knight of the classic mediaeval poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and nearby Lud's Church as the knight's 'Green Chapel'. This probably means that the unknown author was connected with Dieulacres in some way.

I continued on past Back Forest to Roach End, then through modern day ‘access land’ to gain the Roaches ridge. Dropping past the rocks I stopped by the BMC’s Don Whillans Memorial Hut for a flask of tea. There were numerous parties of schoolkids, climbing or lunching in a brisk shower of rain; there were no less than 7 school minibuses in the lay-by.
My route then took me easily past Pheasant’s Clough to Green Lane to complete my recce by finding an easy way around the impassable path.
Continuing by a boggy route past Turner’s Pool, I watched a fisherman land a 9 pounder and then return it to the pond. A short stretch of tarmac past a converted chapel brought me back to The Ship Inn, which is believed to date from the sixteenth century.

There are numerous stories associated with the pub, mainly concerning the name. It is presumed that a relative of Sir John Brocklehurst, who owned nearby Swythamley Hall, Sir Philip Brocklehurst, sailed with the explorer Shackleton on one of his many expeditions to the Antarctic, as an Assistant Geologist, although history states that he may well have been a paying guest. It was often thought that the sign on the Ship Inn related to the famous Endeavour, a 1914 expedition, but it depicts the Nimrod in Antarctic Ice. Others say that the Ship is named after another vessel, known as the Swythamley, which was owned by a close friend of the Squire, and that the pub was named in his honour. These days it is renowned for the fine real ales on sale, and a popular restaurant. I enjoyed a glass of Golden Jackal to conclude this pleasant stroll.

Tuesday 4 December 2007 - A New Camera

At last. Sue has chosen her long-awaited birthday present. Here it is, and it looks fantastic. But the images will be huge, so careful editing will be needed (or another external hard drive!).
Good news as well for a local business, Equipment Express in Altrincham. This small retail business, established in 1989, now competes with internet prices (and achieves most of its sales over the internet), and given the ‘extras’ and a three year warranty I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere.
The free case appears to be the weak link, it’s awkward to use; but luckily we have a spare, if rather aged, Camera Care Systems case that should provide all the protection that is needed.

Monday 3 December 2007 - Highlights of the Year – Part 2 – The Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) – Saturday 10 February 2007

This, my fourth CSM, was a great day.
We were up at 6 am in our hotel in Montebello. After breakfast in the room shared by 5 of us we got the bus to the start and the four of us in the ‘Scrabbled Skiers’ team set off at around 8 am together with 100's of others in good weather with occasional snow flurries. The skiing was fairly easy. Michael shot off ahead, Helen dropped back, and Sue crashed. Ken, as a ‘Coureur des Bois’ had an earlier start.
Due to poor snow conditions in the east, this year’s route had been changed. It now comprised 4 sections each day, Sunday’s route being a straightforward reversal of Saturday’s. It was just 70 km each day instead of the usual 80 km.
I had never even dreamt of completing all the sections in a day, due to early cut off times and my inability to ski at any speed. But Sue and I stayed together and whilst she had quite a few falls over the two days, including one incident with a bush from which it took ages to untangle her, I discreetly removed my skies to deal with the trickier icy sections. (This is Not Cheating!) Towards the end of the third section I was baulked by a number of folk spreadeagled down a steep hill. Sue had dodged them but I’d stopped to allow them to tidy themselves away before flying down this exciting hill in what I thought would be my last action of the day.
But at the checkpoint Sue was shouting ‘they haven’t closed it’, so without a second thought I went straight through, being the last person before the 2.30 ‘cut-off’. Whilst Sue ended her day with refreshments at the checkpoint, I was now ‘last man’ having missed the refreshments, at the start of the 17 km section.
Time for some adrenaline to kick in!
I soon started to pass groups who had started between one and two hours earlier than us and had clearly rushed through the checkpoint before taking a break, so I was encouraged by all the overtaking. And then I spotted Linda, usually one of our team but this year attempting the whole course as a ‘Coureur des Bois’. I knew that she was taking the event very seriously and that her training had been completed before ours had even started. She wasn’t at all impressed to hear my cheery ‘hello’ – I was not someone she had expected to see at this point! Anyway, with the aid of a couple of drinks stations and a few chocolate covered raisins, I managed to maintain a good speed to the finish, in the tracks of Ken and Michael, who had been much quicker over the 70 km course that had taken me about 8½ hours.
The hot bath followed by a delicious a la carte meal at La Lanterne Restaurant concluded a brilliant day.
The following day Sue and I enjoyed a leisurely 56 km, knowing that we couldn’t possibly ski fast enough to manage the 2.30 pm cut off due to the configuration of the course and today’s short final section.
Even speedy Michael failed to make the cut today, but Ken, with his early C de B start, did succeed in completing the whole course and got the medal he’s been trying for over the past few years. His moment of fame came later at The Banquet, when he went ‘on stage’ together with all the others who had succeeded in this not inconsiderable Challenge.
[For those who do the TGOC, the CSM Banquet is a Canadian version of the Thursday night dinner, buffet style, but otherwise the same trusty format, with a French Canadian clone of Uncle Roger.]
Later we discovered that Linda was sufficiently traumatised to have stayed in bed on Sunday, having retired from this event ‘for ever’.

But Sue and I had got Silver and Gold individual awards, and our Scrabbled Skiers team actually received the Bronze Medal in the mixed touring team category. Wow!

Sue and I are sorry not to be able to take part in 2008; this event has produced some memorable days, not least my first attempt in 2004, recorded in all its gory detail here.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Sunday 2 December 2007 - Il-Quccija - A Maltese Celebration

The Quccija celebrates a baby’s 1st birthday. At the Quccija guests consisting of relations and close friends are invited by the parents to their home. When the guests are assembled the child is brought in and if it is a boy he is traditionally presented with a tray containing corn, sweet meat, coins, an inkstand, a candle, a rosary, a book, a sword and other toys. If the child is a girl, needles, silk ribbons and an egg take the place of the sword and the inkstand. Nowadays other items are included on the tray such as a stethoscope, a computer, a calculator and such like.
The choice the baby makes on this occasion is believed, according to Maltese tradition, to give an idea of his future disposition and the profession which the child will follow. For example, if the child chooses corn it is a sign of a liberal character. If the inkstand is picked out it points towards an inclination for trade or the bar. If the choice falls on coins, commerce or industry is indicated. The choice of an egg means that the girl will have a house full of furniture and children.
It was a pleasure to see Will and Caroline, and their 1 year old, Drew, who we had not met before. They have moved into the Surrey countryside so it was our first visit to their new home in Hindhead, where they have taken on the derelict ground floor of a substantial old property and have spent the last year making it habitable. After having no garden in London they now have extensive grounds, and though today’s weather wasn’t conducive to exploration, Sue and I did spy a grassy tennis court that will entice us back to this lovely spot.
The afternoon’s ‘formal business’ found Drew, encouraged by his elder brother and sister, choosing most of the toys on the tray – the modern boy must keep his options open, perchance – but he did keep returning to the coins, for what it’s worth.

Saturday 1 December 2007 - Center Parcs

The Dishy Pharmacist and I headed across the Peak District to Sherwood Forest on a beautiful morning, the sun doing its best to burn its image onto our retinas as we sped eastwards.
On arrival we dashed off to villa 713 after our usual wrestling match with the giant, but full, car park. Then our feet hardly touched the ground on the way to the squash court, followed by archery, flexiball, badminton, and short tennis, before most of us adjourned to the swimming pool for a break before dinner. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Peg served a sumptuous lunch back at the villa.
We left Stuart to find a stranger to partner him in the Badminton Tournament; he did well, returning later with a winner’s certificate. We heard a lot about this unexpected triumph.
The lamb was delicious, and the bread and butter pudding was obviously appreciated as it vanished in a trice.
The traditional slide show followed, though this year it was in digital form, with pictures from the Dolomites and the Vanoise to entice the others into visiting those fabulous locations. Here’s the Dolomites vista that has graced the foot of this blog during November (prize for spotting the exact location still awaits a home!).

Just waiting for the bill now, Robert!

Friday 30 November 2007 - Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Tomorrow is our annual pilgrimage to Center Parcs at Sherwood Forest, where our group of nine will do sporty things all day and then enjoy a meal and a slide show in the chalet. This is one event we don’t get involved in organising – it’s all down to Rob and Lyn – well done and long may your travails continue, R&L!
They even organise the food, and I have volunteered a dessert to follow lamb and apricot hotpot, so I spent an hour this morning preparing this pudding, which needs no further attention until the oven tomorrow night. It’s easy and delicious. Here’s how, for 9 people, but it can just as easily be made for any number of folk. (Excellent for two, actually.)

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Ingredients
14 slices of 5mm thick good quality white bread, one day old, from a large loaf
225 gm dark chocolate with 75% cocoa solids, chopped
600 ml whipping cream
6 tablespoons dark rum
165 gm caster sugar
120 gm butter
¼ tsp cinnamon
5 small eggs

To Serve
Well chilled double cream

Equipment
Ovenproof dish, lightly buttered, approx 15x30 cm base x 5 cm deep (smaller for reduced quantities)

Method
Remove the crusts (whizz them into breadcrumbs for future use) to give roughly 10 cm squares. Cut each one into 4 triangles.
Place the chocolate, whipping cream, rum, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Don’t let the bowl touch the water (or allow granny to suck the eggs)! Wait for all the ingredients to melt and for the sugar to dissolve. Then remove the bowl from the heat and give it a good stir to amalgamate the ingredients.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then pour the chocolate mixture over them and whisk again very thoroughly.
Spoon a 1 cm layer of the mixture into the base of the dish and arrange half the bread triangles over the chocolate in overlapping rows. Then pour half the remaining mixture over the bread as evenly as possible and arrange the rest of the triangles over that, finishing off with the rest of the chocolate. Press the bread down gently so that it gets covered evenly with the liquid.
(At this stage it looks like the above picture.)
Cover with clingfilm and allow to stand at room temperature for two hours. Transfer to refrigerator for a minimum of 24 (but preferably 48) hours before cooking.
Preheat oven to 180C. Remove the clingfilm and bake on a high shelf for 30-35 minutes. The top will be crunchy and the inside soft and squidgy. Leave to stand for 10 min before serving with chilled double cream.
Delicious.
[Adapted from the recipe in Delia Smith’s Winter Collection]