Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Friday 3 February 2012 – British Mountains

A British Mountain View

We passed over here yesterday.  A fine view.  But where is it?

Anyway, it looks like a fantastic weekend for strapping on the crampons, grabbing the ice axes, and having fun.

Enjoy!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Jacob – 9 Months, and reports of a New Arrival

Jake - 9 months

The old Vaude papoose has been lent to a friend, and last Saturday Jake graduated to a new transportation system, in which he sits in a backpack, facing forwards.  We’ve known children object to this, but he was inserted without complaint, looked around for a while, then went to sleep, like his mum (Kate) used to do in a more rudimentary version of this kit.

He’s just been woken in order to be transferred to a car seat, and Sue managed to capture this ‘not too grumpy’ image.

Meanwhile, on 1 February (yesterday) Kate’s cousin Ellie managed to ‘cough up’ her own little boy after a couple of hours hard work in her living room, making me a Great Uncle (for the second time, actually).  Congratulations, Ellie.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Friday 27 January 2012 – A Long Preston Amble

Martin, with Attermire behind

I pottered up to Long Preston for a morning stroll with Heather, of TGO Challenge fame.  It had snowed overnight above around 250 metres, but everything was rather soggy and sunshine was intermittent at best.  I’ve been looking enviously at all the wonderful photos from people who managed to get out on the following day (Saturday), but hey – we had a nice walk, and my knee survived.

Only a few pictures were taken, and those worth retaining were all taken from about the same spot – a small col to the east of Sugar Loaf Hill, from where the rugged outline of Attermire Scar provides a stunning backdrop, and there are also good views back down towards Ribblesdale.

Heather, and the view to Attermire

Our brief glimpse of the sun at this, our far point of the walk, was soon eclipsed by the blackness of a rain laden sky which thankfully kept its counsel (just about) until we were able to take cover in Heather’s house, where tasty Welsh rarebit and salad was comfortably washed down with a welcome mug of tea.

Looking back to Black's Plantation

On the way back to Long Preston we passed The Hawes, a 100 acre site where native broadleaf woodland was planted in 2003.  The site, which Heather thinks has recently changed owners, is intended to attract a wide variety of wildlife, and welcomes visitors.

Further along the track, Bookilber Barn, wrecked for many years after a fire, has been converted into luxury holiday accommodation for up to 12 people.  Strangely, I’m unable to get any idea of prices from its website!

Here’s the route we took – a very amenable little excursion from Long Preston - 14km, 270 metres ascent, taking a leisurely 3 hours.

Our route: 14km, 270 metres ascent, around 3 hours

Thanks for your company, Heather, I enjoyed this short outing.

The rest of the pictures are here.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Thursday 26 January 2012 – Audlem to Nantwich – A Stroll along the Shropshire Union Canal

The Shropshire Union Canal near Audlem

Dave and I had planned this little excursion over some Christmas jollities, and our plans actually came to fruition, with Andrew joining us for a short stroll alongside a canal.

The 12.05pm 'number 73' from Nantwich bus station took about 25 minutes to deliver us to St James' Church in Audlem. Outside the Gothic church, which dates from around 1278, is a pillared buttermarket, built in 1733, next to which is a 'bear stone', to which a bear was chained whilst men paid fees for their dogs to bait it.

St James' Church, Audlem, plus Buttermarket and bear stone

There are plenty of pubs in Audlem.  Today we chose the Shroppie Fly, a former granary warehouse that has only relatively recently been converted into a pub.  The bar is made out of the original Shroppie Fly – a grain carrying barge that used to work the canal.  A log fire roared in the middle of the lounge.  Good ale, and bacon and egg butties, prepared us for the cool but bright weather outside, but we were still reluctant to venture from the cosy warmth…

The large crane outside the pub is a relic from the past – it was used for loading and unloading, involving the canal and a now defunct railway.  In days past a cheese boat sailed to Manchester; every Saturday morning local farmers would cart their cheeses down here for loading.

The Shroppie Fly

Lock 13, just outside the pub, is the lowest of a flight of locks that descends into Audlem from the south, ensuring good business for Audlem's hostelries, and especially this one.

Today’s stroll was basically just along the towpath, in a northerly direction to Nantwich.  The sun was on our backs, casting long shadows.  Beyond Moss Hall – a timber-framed manor house dating from C17 - clear views to the north east on this cool January day drew the eye as far as the western edges of the Peak District.

A view from the Shropshire Union Canal near Audlem

A Thomas Telford aqueduct sees the canal over the River Weaver, far below, with an information board disclosing a few of the birds you can expect to spot hereabouts.  Today there were large groups of Canada Geese, mallards, moorhens, kestrel, sparrowhawk, mute swans, rooks, crows, wood pigeons, starlings, numerous hedgerow birds, and back in Nantwich the brief sighting of an unmistakable Little Grebe or ‘Dabchick’.

A new marina has opened on the west bank of the canal.  Lots of boats are clearly stored there for the winter, and some were being lovingly maintained/restored as we passed by.  Further on, this lone tree, home to a few rooks or carrion crows, caught my eye.

A lone tree on the west bank of the Shropshire Union Canal

Milestones are judiciously placed to nudge travellers along their way…

At the height of the canal era, fast ‘fly-boats’ would speed along here, between Birmingham and Ellesmere Port, carrying up to 25 tons of goods such as butter, cheese, ham and grain from the farming communities, and coal, timber and limestone from industrial centres.  To make the journey as fast as possible they travelled through the night, with the aid of huge oil lamps.

Canalside milestone

The Shropshire Union Canal Society has provided frequent facilities for 'cruisers' – on this stretch there’s a whole series of picnic benches with frames for disposable BBQs - making no doubt for a leisurely and convivial summer's evening scene.

Picnic benches - courtesy of the Shropshire Union Canal Society

Half way along our walk we encountered a top secret diversion. It was a difficult job, but after some debate we cracked the code and successfully worked out the secret hieroglyphic that pointed us towards the ‘bunker’.

Which way to the Top Secret Bunker

Sadly, the location (see map below) is so secret that people only seem to be able to find the place at weekends during the winter months.  It was locked up and we were unable to spy on any secret goings on.  The Secret Bunker would however provide an interesting diversion should this walk be attempted at a weekend or in the summer.  The website is quite fun in itself!

Soon we were back beside the canal, heading towards Nantwich again and passing under the railway before taking a right turn away from the canal.

Arriving at a pedestrian crossing, in the absence of a lollipop man a decision was made not to attempt to cross in front of the traffic.

Whoosh!

A pleasant stroll through the market town of Nantwich, where St Mary's Church is known by some as the 'Cathedral of South Cheshire' returned us to our cars, judiciously placed in a leafy suburb next to a welcoming tea shop (aka chez Dave and Maggi).

St Mary's Church, Nantwich

Here’s our route – 14 km in about 3 hours:

Our route - 14 kn, in 3 hours

Very enjoyable too – here’s a slideshow with some of the same text and a few more images.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A Weekend in Tyndrum – 21/22 January 2012

On the breezy summit of Meall Odhar (656m)

Oops, I’ve got a week behind!  Sorry!

Annual trips to Canada and a variety of other factors have resulted in the winter bunkhouse weekends that I was in the habit of organising being missed for the last few years.  That’s a shame, as they were enjoyable affairs.  But this year our visit to Canada is later than usual, so I was delighted to be able to tag along on this XXL Hillwalkers Club weekend based at the By The Way Hostel in Tyndrum.

A leisurely journey up north in constant rain (perhaps the reason for the lack of traffic) on Friday afternoon was punctuated for me by afternoon tea and Shirley’s excellent carrot cake, with John in Kilmarnock.  Well worth the effort.  We were classmates at Guisborough Grammar School and hadn’t crossed paths for nearly 13 years.  John’s garage is a motor cycle museum – the WW1 bike he is currently working on looked magnificent.

Anyway, I was soon enjoying a giant burger and chips in the Real Food Cafe, in the excellent company of a number of XXLers.

By Saturday morning it was still raining and clearly blustery high up.  Twenty or so of us set off in different directions, mainly with modest objectives, all carefully letting others know where we were going.  I joined a small group whose plan was to venture to the summits of two nearby 2000 foot hills, Meall Odhar and Fiarach, having decided that my original aim to get to the loftier 3053 ft summit of Beinn Chabhair was perhaps a little optimistic.

Those who hadn't started in waterproofs soon rectified their omissions as our group of seven took the forest track towards Cononish, the site of a proposed gold mine, then up over easy rough ground to an obvious fire break. Meall Odhar lurked easy looking above.

Through the firebreak, we ascended for a distance of about 200 metres, keeping to the left of the stream, before taking a right and a left and rising to a long rake left onto an open hillside with fine views towards Beinn Dubhchraig, Ben Oss and Ben Lui.

"Grim up there!" muttered Alastair, who with Margriet not feeling too well, strained to keep the group together.

After a while, six of us reached Meall Odhar summit - 656 metres – pictured above.  Margriet assures us that she also made it to the top, a bit late, but she did join us later for lunch.

Meall Odhar summit - 656 metres - a trifle breezy

That's Beinn Ghuirn (880 metres) in the background - I think Jerry made it to that summit before the wind strengthened (it was merely breezy at this point).

We soon turned tail – looking ahead to our next objective, Fiarach, whose 652 metre summit presented itself as an easy looking little bobble on the near horizon.

Lunch was taken in a sheltered spot at the foot of the firebreak.

The convex slopes of Fiarach soon beckoned for all apart from Margriet - “I’ve already been up there” she announced “I’m going to have a relaxing afternoon”.  The rest of us safely negotiated a nail biting river crossing (see map below) before meandering up the easy convex slopes of Fiarach.

By now it was rather windy; we tried to stay in the lee of the wind, heading past a small waterfall towards a high point in the distance.

We reached that high point. The wind pinned us down. It was still about 500 metres across the plateau to the true summit, with very little more ascent.  Alastair and I waited for the others to arrive.  He crawled over to them.  I tried to stand – a mistake - and twisted my knee with the sickening tweak that indicates real damage, as I was blown across the hillside. Luckily, we had deliberately chosen this easy hill with no significant crags.

I watched as Simon retreated on hands and knees in search of less extreme conditions.  Meanwhile, Alison’s rucksack had been opened by the wind.  Its contents floated around the top of the hill for a while before mainly being recovered by a manically crawling rescue party.

It was a challenge to move anywhere - Alastair reckoned the wind was around 70 mph.

Crawling away from near the summit of Fiarach, where we got pinned down

Trying to escape from being pinned down, we mainly crawled/bumslid to a slightly calmer area before descending on easier ground.

I struggled with my sprained knee, and was glad to (eventually) reach the relative calm of the valley and the easy West Highland Way path, from which there were good views back to Meall Odhar and Beinn Ghuirn.

In 1306 the Battle of Dalrigh took place near here.  Clan MacDougall’s warriors defeated Robert the Bruce and in the process gained a royal jewel called the Brooch of Lorn.  Robert the Bruce had recently killed the Red Comyn, a rival to the Scottish Throne.  After losing the battle of Methven in June 1306 he fled into the Highlands, eventually making his way into MacDougall territory. Unfortunately for Robert the chief of the MacDougalls was a relative of Red Comyn. A simple stone bench beside the West Highland Way marks what is believed to be the site of the battle.

Nearby is the ‘Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword'. It is said that Robert the Bruce ordered his men to fling their weapons into the loch to lighten their load. Amongst the weapons were his massive sword, which was reputed to have been between five and nine feet in length.

The Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword

We soon passed a vegetation-free scar that marks the site of a lead crushing plant; minerals that leached into the ground have prevented vegetation from growing for many years in this area that is rich with minerals.  The proposed gold mine at Cononish is indeed just ‘up the road’.

It was something of a relief to return to the sanctity of the hostel by 4pm, leaving plenty of time to prepare for a most enjoyable ‘Burns Supper’.  We discovered that only those with modest aspirations for the day had succeeded in their objectives, and others had like us failed to reach summits that barely exceed 2000 feet.  Our aspirant Munroists had all been driven back at around 700 to 800 metres.

Here’s our route: 18km, approx 1000 metres ascent, 6hrs 45mins.

Our route: 18km, approx 1000 metres ascent, 6hrs 45mins

Stuart's Burns Night Speech made for a perfect grace, before we were tucking into an excellent Burns Supper and the camera took cover for the night.  This was the camera that was recently ‘drowned’ following its dunking in a sink for a few minutes after a mountain bike ride.  Total immersion in a bowl of rice seems to have revived it.  Today was too wet for me to risk a more pricey possession!

A Burns Night grace

Sunday 22 January – saw me leaving for home after breakfast.  The sprained knee needed rest, not exercise.

It also benefited from frequent stops, this one just about catching sunrise over the Crianlarich Hills.

Sunrise over the Crianlarich Hills

The David Stirling Memorial - unveiled in September 2011- celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the SAS (Special Air Services) Regiment, with new plaques in remembrance of the Regiment’s casualties.

The David Stirling Memorial

The Memorial enjoys a fine panoramic view to the west, which for a short period will grace the head of these pages.

Readers will be pleased to hear that my sprained knee is slowly improving.  I hope it recovers as well as the Ixus 105 camera that was used for Saturday’s photos.  There’s an album covering the whole weekend that can be viewed as a Picasa slideshow (39 images) here.

This will, I’m sure, be remembered for some time as a trip when numerous folk who had climbed all the Munros, many of them in winter conditions, failed to summit the small hillock known as Fiarach.  Few can boast of such a dramatic failure!