Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

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.