Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Friday 12 September 2008 - Follow the Dog

1202poster
Today I was required to act as chauffeur to Her Majesty, as she would be 'too relaxed to drive' after her visit to the 'Spa Resort' at Hoar Cross Hall.

I didn't mind. It gave me the chance to 'Follow the Dog'. My only previous experience of 'single-track' mountain biking was an encounter with The North Face Trail at Grisedale, a couple of years ago, as part of a longer ride.

It was a dull day, but fine for mountain biking along the forest trails of Cannock Chase. The 7 mile trail is mainly through trees.

1203trail
Obviously such paths are very easy at low speeds, but if you prefer a bit of momentum they can become a bit of a tree dodging exercise. I'm reasonably used to this from cycling in Delamere Forest, where there is no bespoke 'single-track' route - you just devise your own way through the trees. In Delamere there are steep drops and deep bogs to negotiate - if you feel like leaving the broad forest tracks. But here in the Chase they have spent a fortune in sanitising the ways through the forest, resulting in an experience almost anyone - at their own speed - would enjoy. And to go really fast would indeed be challenging. It took me just over 45 minutes to get round, excluding a short break to chat to another 'biker' (yes, that's what they call us here!) who was waiting for his mate. This chap had recently been the British Mountain Biking champion. He looked at my old bike with neither suspension nor disc brakes, and suggested I take care over the next section. I didn't, but I still couldn't keep up with them. The hardest bit was actually a short section of board about two feet wide, but that was easy compared with the boggy alternative.

So it was fun, and it's a shame we have nothing like it close to home, though some of the Peak District routes I follow are far more technical in nature.

I notice that a longer route, the Altura Trail is opening up in Whinlatter Forest, so the bike will have to visit the Lake District to try that one out.

Anyway, 45 minutes doesn't make for a day out. So, suitably refreshed, I headed off along a trail marked with green numbered signs. This was logging country.1203trail1
There's a large Shaggy Ink Cap in this picture, dripping with ink!

I followed the signs for over an hour - from about 115 to 167 before suddenly, after about 14 miles, finding myself back at number 127 for the run back to the Forest Centre. These tracks were quick, easy and enjoyable.
1204trail2
I was envious of another cyclist (sorry, 'biker') who was on a ride out from his home in Rugeley. It's a shame that the facilities weren't there when we were children in this area.

1205rubbishBut all was not entirely as it should have been. This was meant to be a picture of a deer, but the animal moved to fast for the camera!




After a fine cheese and pickle buttie and a flask of tea - whilst Sue was enjoying fine food at her Spa - I set off again, this time on foot.

Woodpeckers were pecking, squirrels were - well, running everywhere - and coachloads of youths were pretending to be apes. The newly opened 'Go Ape' course did look good fun, if very similar to the one at Delamere.

The path seemed to be taking me on 'The Route to Health'.
1206rabbit


This wildlife did remain still enough to be photographed.





And these made me feel as if I may be in an aquarium rather than a forest!

I didn't know what to make of this!
1209art
Maybe Weird Darren had built it to support his tarp whilst in the area, modelling for this:
1210wd
There were some nice 'textures' to be captured as well.
1211mosaic1 1212mosaic2

I was back at the car by 3 o'clock, when it started raining.
That was a fine excuse for a lazy afternoon reading the selection of fine literature I carry around for such occasions and admiring the wildlife at Blithfield Reservoir.







And then it was time for my chauffering duties. Her Majesty enjoyed a lovely sunset whilst my eyes were glued to the road as we cruised up the slippery M6 in Friday evening traffic at a steady 20 mph.1213sunset

Friday, 12 September 2008

Following the Dog

Today is 'Follow the Dog' day in Cannock Chase.

It was quite energetic following the dog this morning, but I'm now following a different dog - the one in this picture.

It's quite (well, very actually) restful. I may be here for some time!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Wednesday 10 September 2008 - A Pyrenean Adventure in Stockport

1001brecheTonight we trundled over to Stockport for Andy Howell's presentation to the Stockport Walking Group. We had previously supported him on his visit there last year to talk about the TGO Challenge. This time Baz (from London) and Shirley (Peewiglet) from Southport also made the effort to attend, and it was good to see my old workmate, Garry. It's a very friendly group, and the atmosphere in the Grapes afterwards was exceedingly convivial. Mr Sloman would not have been out of place in these surroundings. It was an ideal venue to catch up with Andy, and make new friends. About 30 people attended, despite the competing attraction of World Cup qualifying soccer on TV (not to mention a judo class).

Andy's talk was, as always, relaxed and fluent. He was not fazed at all by the judo class taking place in the room above - he'd had previous experience of having to compete with a 'sexual awareness class', in comparison with which this was a minimal distraction. His travails between Lescun and the Néouvielle Lacs National Park were beautifully illustrated. The Pyrenees is indeed a wonderful place to visit. Thank you, Andy, for sharing your experiences and inspiring others to venture to the area, which has something for everyone.

One of the natural icons of the Pyrenees, the Brèche de Roland, is shown above. I took that picture on 23 June 2006, a lovely sunny day for a stroll up to Pic du Taillon (3144 metres) via the Brèche. This gap in the frontier ridge is about 40 metres across, with walls 100 metres high. Whilst geological fact indicates that it was formed when a heavily eroded ridge collapsed, legend has it that a heroic warrior, Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, attempted to break his sword on the rock in the year 788, rather than let it fall into the hands of the Saracens. But the rock, not the sword, broke - allowing Roland to escape through the gap.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Litter

Following our return from the Alps, I noticed an entry from Alan Sloman concerning his encounter with some 'Shaming Rubbish'.

Alan was distressed with his failure to remove the offending items.

I've encountered some rubbish myself, on the little circuit around which I cycle most days in a vain attempt to retain some of the fitness gained in the Alps.  This is the small lay-by in Gorsey Lane, about half way round my route.

0801Rubbish-Home
I've thought about following Alan's lead and taking a little away every time I pass.  But that's not really practical.  Perhaps I should just take a half time break in one of the armchairs, if they aren't too soggy.

Hopefully the council will do something about this, but as the tip is round the corner, and the rubbish has been here for over two weeks, I suspect there may be a bit more to this story.

I commented on Alan's blog that we saw very little litter during our recent Alpine perambulations.  This does not mean that litter doesn't exist there.  Last year, near the Edel Hut, above Mayrhofen in Austria, we found evidence of litter in the form of this 'NO-LITTERING MEMORIAL' - a huge cairn of litter having been collected by youths in this area in 2004 and 2005.  'Take all your trash home' was the message.

0802Rubbish-Cairn 
One of our friends from the TGO Challenge, Markus Petter, the Austrian who this year started from three different places, has now revealed what he does for a living during the summer.  He has to be both admired and envied.  He leads working parties like the one that created the cairn shown above.

Markus reports as follows:
'I´m attaching another photo which shows my working party (all students from Vorarlberg) after the successful removal of weights of old waste from a mountain hut in the Silvretta area at 2,400 metres. I´ve been working for an alpine littering project during the summer time. We´ve been active in many mountain regions in Austria over the last few months.'

0803Tubinger_Hutte
So, there is litter in the Alps - some 30-40 bags of it here at the Tübinger Hütte.

Well done, Markus.

PS This is my first attempt at using Windows Live Writer.  It seems popular with some of my fellow bloggers.   Let's see if it works!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Sunday 7 September 2008 - Ancient Cheshire - Delamere

Sunday morning. Time for the walk that we postponed from Thursday evening due to John next door's birthday party.

The walk was along a route suggested by Tony Bowerman in his excellent book, 'Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral', and the historical information in this entry is taken from that book.

Sue and I set off with Night Bird and Birthday Boy (who for this morning came out of their retirement from walking) from Barnsbridge Gates car park, only slightly late after being held up by a slow load and a bicycle event. This is Sandstone Trail country. We joined the dog walkers and push chairs on the broad woodland path beneath tall oaks and sweet chestnuts. Soon after crossing the railway line we took a left turn and before long found ourselves at the Forest Enterprise Visitor Centre. I was looking for clear maps of mountain biking routes in the forest, but nobody has yet produced a guide of any interest - the trails simply follow the broad tracks, so if you want any excitement you have to devise your own route through the woods. I will return to do just that.

The guidebook was useful. Many of the paths are not marked on the OS 1:25000 map, probably because about 340 acres of farmland through which they pass (The Old Pale) were only purchased by the Forestry Commission in 2000. New paths led along the bottom of the hillside, with Eddisbury Hill and Pale Heights rising above us to the right as the drizzle started and waterproofs were donned.

As we passed below the ramparts of the ancient Eddisbury hillfort the view to our left encompassed the Cheshire Plain, with Joddrell Bank radio telescope's white dish in the middle distance and the western edge of the Peak District just visible through the murk. The hillfort is the largest Iron Age site in Cheshire, built to guard a trade route hundreds of years before the arrival of the Romans. The Romans overran it and levelled the rampart and ditch before perhaps using the hill as a signal station, after which it remained as a deserted ruin for some 800 years. Then in around AD915 the fort was rebuilt to help protect Cheshire against the Danes. Massive earthworks from that time still tower 6 metres above the silted up ditch.

Buzzards mewed above us, as herons flapped past, scouring the meres for food.

Beyond the hillfort the path emerges onto Eddisbury Hill Lane by a sandstone farmhouse. A right turn here led us over a small rise and past the 'Old Pale' cottages. Whilst the lane went left, we continued along a broad field path almost on the line of the old Roman road, the Watling Street, linking Mamucium (Manchester) with Deva (Chester).

Here we are on the path.

In 1885 one WT Watkin, the Victorian author of 'Roman Cheshire', made an exploratory excavation and found an 11 metre wide cutting near the path. He announced its discovery as 'the most remarkable section of a Roman road in Britain'. As you can see, it is now rather overgrown!

But we stopped for a spot of tea. Unlike Weird Darren, we do not have a Victorian cooking stove collection, so we made do with Richard's bottomless flask.

And there was chocolate caramel shortbread, of course. There always is.



A helicopter with a bright spotlight (sadly not reproduced very well) found us, then decided it was looking for someone else.
Never mind, we weren't lost, anyway.

My camera has become very difficult to use, so until the G10 arrives my snaps may be even worse than usual. The helicopter was difficult to capture. The lens cover of the Canon S70 refuses to stay open and has to be held firmly in the open position all the time, to prevent the lens from retracting, making image capture somewhat tricky.

Autumn is fast approaching. Even the willowherb is fading. But the yellow plumage of ragwort provided a little colour as we strolled along in the drizzle to rejoin the Sandstone Trail near King's Chair.

Then it was through mature woods, past shallow medieval quarries reputed to have been the source of the stone for Vale Royal Abbey, erected between 1277 and 1300.

In Nettleford Wood this steel and terracotta Sandstone Trail waymarker in the shape of a wild boar confirmed that we were on track.


Now we turned off the main path, along an alternative route to a viewpoint. On the way we spotted a kestrel in a tree. The perch commanded a fine view over grassland, and despite our close (and noisy) proximity the bird was not inclined to fly, preferring to survey its territory from this fine perch.
Then it was up to 'Pale Heights', in fine weather again, for panoramic views in the company of a collection of masts. From here we could admire the Welsh hills, the Dee estuary, the Wirral peninsula, the Mersey estuary, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Stanlow oil refinery, the Pennines and the Peak District.

A path below the masts brought us back around to the Old Pale ridge, where some new earthworks evidence the construction of a swirly sculpture. It's currently work-in-progress, awaiting completion and perhaps an information board.

Beyond this it was an easy stroll back down towards the Visitor Centre, then left past Eddisbury Lodge and its horse borne inmates, to rejoin the Sandstone Trail and the 'pushchair' route back to the car.

Our route is shown below - about 10 km, with just 200 metres of ascent. It took us 2¾ hours. Tony Bowerman's book suggests 7 km (incorrect) and 3-3½ hours.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Saturday 6 September 2008 - Red House Farm Maize Maze

Here we are, in the sunshine again, eating ice creams with Andrew and Kate and their parents, at Red House Farm after escaping intact from the Maize Maze. For the last few years the maze has become a summer fixture at the farm, and we got there on the day before the attraction closed, presumably for harvesting.

The maze incorporates a treasure hunt that makes sure all corners of the field are visited. You get a map, and a red flag to enable rescues to take place. (They do, frequently!)

There are quite a number of Dead Ends.

We must have walked quite a way in the hour and a half we spent in the field of maize, before finally escaping, victorious after having, led by Andrew and Kate, tracked down all the clues.

There are other attractions at the farm. This year they have a Barrel Train that was enjoyed by all those who tried it.

And the children played on the go-karts...
See Al groping for the gear stick!

Thank you to Al and 'Stay at Home Hazel', and Andrew and Kate, for a most enjoyable afternoon and a lovely meal afterwards.