Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

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

Saturday 6 August 2011

Saturday 6 August 2011 - The 'Lull before the Storm'

I've had a lovely day.

After a lie in and a trip to Brioche 'In for croissants to go with my coffee, I took the cablecar up to Planpraz.

Light rain didn't seem to be putting off the paragliders, who land right outside the apartment. So I ignored it (it went away) and enjoyed a flowery walk to Flégere, a couple of hours away. I have to say - whilst there were lots of flowers - they were distinctly more 'seedy' than a month ago in the Maritime Alps.

After lunch in the sunshine with an Irish lad who's doing the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) - he says the paths are fairly quiet and no advance booking was needed to get a bed each night - I continued along the TMB route to Chalet des Chéserys before heading down to bustling Argentière and returning to Chamonix beside l'Arve river.

Six hours and about 17km (10+ miles) with 500 metres ascent in the Scarpa Manta boots was quite enough for today. I'm back at the apartment to gather my pile of kit and head off to join my Jagged Globe group in Hotel La Chaumiere on the other side of town.

It's not raining ... Yet. It feels in more ways than one like the lull before the storm, as I sit drinking coffee in this nice quiet apartment.

The picture was taken this morning from the patio. Aiguille du Midi is out of frame to the right, but the higher parts of Mont Blanc have been in cloud all day. 

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Friday 5 August 2011

Friday 5 August 2011 - Back in Chamonix

Sue and I spent a happy few days here a couple of years ago, when our backpacking plans were foiled by her poorly neck. The photo on the last posting was from that trip.

John and Janet have again kindly allowed me to use their apartment, since I've got here a day early for my Haute Route trip. I've only been here a few minutes and look at the mess!

At under six hours, door to door, the journey took me rather less time than many parts of Scotland require. And that was despite a 'go slow' by ground staff at Manchester, delaying our departure by nearly half an hour.

Geneva was efficient by comparison, and I enjoyed (yes, Enjoyed is the right word) my brief encounter with the luggage carousel. It started up shortly after we emerged from passport control. We waited in anticipation as it clattered around pointlessly for a couple of circuits. Then a lone blue bag appeared at the top of the ramp, before rolling gently down to the carousel. There wasn't another bag in sight. I picked the blue one up and headed for the exit, trying not to look too smug!

Chamexpress soon turned up to whisk me and four others to Chamonix - a door to door service that had me fumbling for the keys to the apartment when I arrived earlier than expected...

Thanks for your comment, Alan - this trip may be 'Very Interesting', I suspect, when the gentle preamble is over. 

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The Haute Route

A view towards the Mer de Glace from near la Flegere

I’m off on my travels again.  This time without Sue – she’d love to come but unfortunately her neck problem prevents her from doing so.

She’s a keener climber than me, so would be less out of her comfort zone than me on this trip.  ‘La Haute Route’, or ‘High Level Route’ was conceived in the 19th century by some of the pioneers of mountaineering.  It traces a line from Chamonix to Zermatt, across the Pennine Alps, by linking a number of glacier passes, with the opportunity to visit a few summits on the way.

Early in the 20th century the concept was hijacked as a springtime skiing expedition, and in that form its popularity has grown over the years.

There’s also an easy low level walking route that has become established as one of the classic Alpine ‘hut to hut’ treks.  I’ve done that a couple of times, but have always hankered after following a higher line.

So, courtesy of a Jagged Globe alpine course, I’m getting my wish, albeit not quite in a purist manner (we get a taxi from Champex to the Mauvoisin dam).

The itinerary sounds fairly energetic and sociable, so I won’t want to spend all my free time squinting over my ‘phone, but I’ll try to provide a flavour of the trip as it progresses.

I’m just off to catch the 18.25 to Geneva, so I should reach Chamonix later tonight.  Tomorrow, weather permitting (it’s bad over there at present) I may go up to la Flegere for views across to Mont Blanc and (pictured above) the Mer de Glace, where the following day (subject to an atrocious weather forecast that may result in significant adjustments to the planned trip) we’ll be honing our ice axe, crampon and glacier travel skills before embarking on the high level trek.

Can’t say I’m looking forward to the ‘Alpine starts’!

Bye for now.

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Thursday 4 August 2011

Wednesday 3 August 2011 - ‘Wonderful Weets’, with East Lancs LDWA Group

Setting off from Letcliffe Park without Stuart

This was a walk for ‘Plodders’ – those folk in the East Lancs LDWA group who are not intent on rushing about like the more ‘hard core’ members.  Accordingly, a leisurely start is appropriate, and it being my turn to drive, Rick and his neighbour, Pete, called round at 9.30 for the slow pootle up to Barnoldswick, where 11 relaxed souls and a Maude assembled at Letcliffe Park in plenty of time for the 11 o’clock start.

But Stuart was still missing.  He is hampered by having to care for an elderly mother, and as his Jeep clattered over the speed bumps the rest of us scattered to avoid the debris.  ‘Dakar’ had been reached; Stuart slewed to a halt and joined the party.  I think Rick and I were probably pleased not to have been chauffeured by him today!

However, it was to be a short walk, so there was no particular rush, and Reg had inserted a number of jinks and stiles into the route, so anyone venturing to depose him as leader soon got their comeuppance by either taking the wrong path or having to wait at a stile for all twelve of us and Maude to negotiate the obstacle.  Younger readers may not appreciate the time it takes 12 old codgers and a lumpy dog to get over a stile, or even through a gate!

The jinks in the path and the waiting at stiles allowed most of us to retain our breath despite the gradient, which we hadn’t really noticed until we looked back down to Barnoldswick (pronounced ‘Barlick’) from this row of cottages off Folly Lane.

Garden 'furniture'!

An ordinary row of cottages, perhaps, but one appeared to be the residence of an ex-VW Beetle owner, and another is clearly home to a sculptor.

An ordinary row of cottages? Sculpure

The sculptures were really quite impressive when viewed from our onward path.

The same 'ordinary row of cottages'

After wandering from Star Hall, along the Pendle Way, to Weets House, Reg, our indefatiguable leader, declared that due to a plague of flies on the summit of Weets Hill, we would stop for lunch here.  After all, it was 12.15….

Lunch near Weets Hill summit

I wouldn’t say there were ‘no flies’ just here, but there weren’t many small flies, and the big hovery ones didn’t seem to like Reg’s aftershave, so we enjoyed a very pleasant and well earned break.  (I’ve meticulously eliminated all the flies from the above picture, by the way, pixel by pixel – it took ages!)

Plodding on up to the summit, we found several bundles of writhing wasps.  In the middle of each bundle was a big wasp, a queen.  That’s probably enough of a clue as to what was going on…

A 'riot?' of wasps?

Just below the trig point, the view towards Ingleborough and the Lake District required imagination through the haze, so Rick and Terry studied something closer.

Weets Hill, 397 metres

The plaque reads:

‘In memory.  Mabel Emsley. 1907 – 1994.  Died aged 87 years.  If love could of kept us all together.  You’d of been with us forever and ever. Godbless.’

The flowers of Lancashire are blooming well at present.  Hereabouts the ling is coming into flower, tormentil is going strong, and there’s lots of St John’s wort, white clover, thistles, foxgloves, harebells, buttercups, brambles, campions, and many more, including this striking Yellow Loosestrife.

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris)

Down the Pennine Bridleway track from Jenny Wren’s bench (who was she?), and across the road from the Loosestrife, Lane Side Farm, clearly lovingly renovated, gained John’s attention.  Or was he doing something else?

Lane Side Farm

Across the road from a verge of betony, bales littered a field that had recently been mown, their black dots seemingly stretching towards the horizon on this humid day.

View north from near Barnoldswick

Here’s the betony – the haze didn’t get in the way of that.

Betony (Stachys officinalis)

As we neared the conclusion of the walk back at Letcliffe Park, we wandered gently through pleasant lanes, but it was a struggle to keep up with all these badges that were tearing up the metres and landing me with double vision and a breathless limp.

Badge man Terry

Well!  Perhaps not!  It was all Reg’s fault.  He had decreed that everyone should proceed in military style along the lane.  Most do actually appear to be in time!

Striding out

Before the turn into the park past mansions presumably built for the local mill owners, Bancroft Shed*, an old engine house, was encountered.  It was shut today but seems to be open on Sundays.  Worth a visit, perhaps. 
 The Engine House - Bancroft Shed

The walk took a little over three hours – a very leisurely affair, in good company and over interesting terrain.  Weets Hill, though modest in stature, would be a fine viewpoint on a clear day.

Here’s our route, but you don’t really have to stick to it – there are lots of options around here, and for a slightly longer outing you could head to the north of Barnoldswick and return to the Park via the canal.  Our route was about 10 km in length, with around 300 metres ascent.

Our route - 10 km, 300 metres ascent, 3 hours approx

Thanks to Reg and the other ‘Plodders’ who contrived to make this stroll so pleasurable, and to Pendle Heritage Centre’s excellent café in Barrowford for the splendid cake and tea that many of us enjoyed on the way home.

Click this line for a short slide show.

*Stanley Graham’s story about the steam engine is here.  I’m sure there’s a lot more available from here, but just reading this one fascinating story took me ages; here’s a short extract:

‘The engine fascinated me. If ever there was an example of pure, concentrated engineering, a working steam engine has to come somewhere near it. It embodied all the laws of thermodynamics, gas theory and mechanics. It was, on the surface, so simple and yet the more you studied it the more complicated it became. Imagine peeling an onion and on each succeeding skin you find writing, by layer three you are the stage of ‘Gone With the Wind’, a couple of layers later you are on a complete copy of the Bible and shortly after that you are expecting the complete ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’! I remember reading a report once of the retirement speech of one of the great railway Chief Engineers, he said it was a pity he was retiring because after 50 years in the job he felt he was on the verge of understanding the simple slide valve! I think I know what he meant. I’m sure this applies to many more situations in life, if not all, but the steam engine brings it home to you very forcibly.’

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Sunset in Timperley

Sunset from a bedroom window in Timperley - 2 August 2011

“Hey, look outside” shouted Sue from the garden.

Whilst not an unusual sight, it was worth the glance, making a welcome break from trying to catch up with Google Reader on this rejuvenated computer that has returned from its holidays with an extra 1TB of storage space for all those photos we need to sort through.

It has been mostly local stuff during the last few days; a brief pause for breath before the next onslaught of activity, albeit worth a couple of postings if I can find the time.

The next image was taken earlier today by my 86 year old mum, during a family gathering of four generations.  It’s one of the best pictures we’ve seen of young Jacob, who is growing up by the day.  Well done, Dot.

Jacob and Kate - Eccleshall, 2 August 2011

Sunday 31 July 2011

Thursday 28 July 2011 – The Brine Pumps of Cheshire

Brine pump H152

The famous five duly assembled at 6.50 pm in the Golden Pheasant at Plumley, for tonight’s short stroll devised by Notchy, our resident guide to the by-ways and footpaths of Deepest Cheshire.

The walk didn’t start until 7.30 (you never know who might turn up, but today we drew a blank), allowing some of the congregation to top up with beer or rosé wine.

Premature arrival at the Golden Pheasant allowed time for refreshments

After a brief potter down the main road, during which it was noted that the otherwise posh station (it had tubs of flowers) needed the white lines on the platform repainting, we took a turn towards Brookhouse Farm and soon came upon a trickle of water that was trying to negotiate its way through the ever more invasive Himalayan Balsam that was lining its banks.

Notchy explained that this was Peover Eye, a river that runs from near Macclesfield, almost past his house in Lower Withington, and on to join Smoker Brook (hence the name of the pub) in Lostock Gralam before moving on to become the River Weaver.

Peover Eye

Impressed by Notchy’s local knowledge, we allowed him to hold court for a few minutes as we strolled down a lane towards Holford Hall.


We moved from the gentle ambience of a country lane, across the railway line to a desolate post industrial area with Street Furniture.

Street furniture

The works that used to be here have been flattened and fenced off, leaving an unused lane beside the railway line, lined with Rosebay  and Great Willowherbs and the bright yellow blooms of Common Ragwort.

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

A left turn took us into an area of industrial antiquity that has now become meadow land used for grazing cattle.

It’s the scene of what was once a huge industry, as vast salt deposits lie below this part of Cheshire.  For several hundred years, salt has been extracted from the heart of Cheshire.

Wikipedia tells me that rock salt was laid down in this region some 220 million years ago, during the Triassic period. Seawater moved inland from an open sea, creating a chain of shallow salt marshes across what is today the Cheshire basin. As the marshes evaporated, deep deposits of rock salt were formed.

A settlement, Condate, was built during Roman times at the current location of Northwich.  The Romans used lead salt pans to extract the salt from the brine. Salt pans and 1st century brine kilns have all been found around the Roman fort.

The salt beds beneath Northwich were re-discovered in the 1670s by employees of the local Smith-Barry family. The family were actually looking for coal when they accidentally discovered rock salt in the grounds of their house, Marbury Hall, Marbury, north of Northwich. Salt extraction started shortly afterwards.

In the 19th century it became uneconomical to mine salt, and so extraction was achieved using water as a solvent. Hot water was pumped through the mines, dissolving the salt, with the resultant brine being pumped out and the salt extracted from the brine. This technique was known as ‘wild brine pumping’, as compared with ‘natural brine pumping’, which involved the pumping of natural brine (as opposed to industrially dissolved brine) but which resulted in weakened mines and led to land subsidence as they collapsed. I understand the ‘natural brine’ levels have now returned to ‘normal’.

I can’t locate the exact history of these particular pumping stations, (see header, and the picture below) but they are neatly labelled and contain pipes and boiler houses, etc, which look as if they were in use for wild brine pumping until relatively recently.

According to Wikipedia, manufacture of white salt for food and allied industries is now concentrated in Middlewich, in the manufacturer, British Salt, who sell under the name Saxa, and also through third parties e.g. supermarket own brands. Salt produced by British Salt in Middlewich apparently has 57% of the UK market for salt used in cooking.

The UK's largest rock salt (halite) mine is at Winsford. It is one of only three places where rock salt is commercially mined in the UK.

Brine pumping 'furniture'

Leaving this area of industrial archaeology, we moved into Cheshire farmland.  As we have previously discovered, many Cheshire farmers are ignorant of the needs of walkers and fail to keep paths free from crops.  Here’s one of several examples found on tonight’s walk.  This crop, whatever it is, is extremely difficult to walk through, and the farmer had left hardly any space between the crop and the hedge.

Cheshire crops leave no room for footpaths

Would you believe that this is a picture of a waymarked footpath?

Is this a footpath? 
Do you believe me now?

Yes, the footpath does go that way

Despite my better judgement, I was encouraged to avoid trampling the crop.  A way round was found.  The next obstacle was a field of sweetcorn, well over head height.  By now the light was fading, so my photos are all blurred due to Notchy’s red hot pace (thirst was getting the better of him).  At least it hadn’t rained, otherwise we would all have been drenched from the vegetation.

Past some friendly horses with what appeared to be blinkers, (but they turned out to be fly/midge hoods), we progressed along easier paths and lanes through the Cheshire countryside, to emerge on the main Plumley to Lower Peover road near Holly Tree Farm, which is home to a family of meercats.

Local residents of Plumley and Lower Peover 
“I need a beer” gulped Notchy.

And he got one….

The Golden Pheasant

So ended a very pleasant 8.5 km, 2 hour outing, as per the easily navigable route shown below.  The vegetation really wasn’t too bad, and the route was interesting, but at this time of year you should stick to doing it in dry conditions, or you’ll be soaked by the crops.

Our route - 8.5 km with minimal ascent, in around 2 hours