Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Sunlit journeying from Coniston to Ambleside

19th June 2009

One of the nice things about a British bank holiday is that, so long as engineering works are avoided, you still can get a normal weekday train service on the day itself. That afforded me an early morning getaway to Cumbria for a day’s walking in Central Lakeland. Following the previous day’s lengthy walk, I wasn’t planning on doing anything too exhausting and so stayed away from testing gradients for a walk that took part of the Cumbria Way from Coniston to Skelwith Bridge followed by a mixture of road and footpath hiking, thankfully with more of the latter than the former, from there to Ambleside.

From the point of those who are sold on the idea of a Bank Holiday scorcher, the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was perfect in many respects. However, hot days are less good for those wanting to go wandering through the countryside. Without any semblance of a cooling breeze, there is the unavoidable strength of the sun with the heat inducing dehydration if you’re not careful. The first consideration makes a good hat and sun screen essential and ongoing watering addresses the second though regular shaded pauses are things that I am coming believe necessary too. It was also the sort of weather for shady havens next to water and I could expect to pass fleshpots as I continued on my merry way, especially given that I was staying lower down anyway.

2007 became a year when many of the trip reports that you would have found on appearing here described progress along long distance trails. Somehow, it has slipped my notice that there is one that has been edging towards completion without my consciously planning it. That trail is the Cumbria Way and I have walked most of its length between Skiddaw House and Coniston. In fact, it turns out that I have been in its vicinity all of the way, even if I didn’t follow the route to the letter; there is a missing part between Rosthwaite and Derwentwater but I ask myself if it’s worth the effort unless I added it to a longer hike because I had frequented that are a good deal anyway. Other than that there are the fells around the Back o’ Skiddaw on the way to Caldbeck and a stretch extending along the shores of Coniston Water before you get to mentioning sections beyond the Lake District proper that get you as far as Ulverston or Carlisle. The latter pieces may get left for occasions when I want something lower level and without encountering hoards along the way.

Returning to the section between Coniston and Skelwith Bridge, that was landed on the ideas shelf for a truncated day rather than the longer period of time that I had. However, the extension to Ambleside aroused caution in my mind so the bank holiday was when I made use of the option. The first trick to execute when you get anywhere is to get your bearings and so it was for me in Coniston. It may not be the biggest of places but it was my first visit so I took my time as I sought out the northbound leg of the Cumbria Way. The next entrance on the right after the leisure club is where the trail goes off road again and I set to making steady progress on National Trust land beneath the Yewdale Fells. The terrain was a mixture of woodland and pasture with gentler gradients. Others were out and about but it was far from crowded. The shadier spots like Tarn Hows Wood were welcome shelter from the heat of the day.

After a short spell over tarmac, the tarns at Tarn Hows were reached and that was were things became busy. The mixture of gentle trails, shady woodlands and water attracted the masses in droves but they remained steadfastly along the water’s edge and the required spot of negotiation didn’t take too long at all, a stone’s throw along the trail and I virtually had it all to myself. Mountain bikers made their way against me (legally, I’ll have you know) as I shortened the distance to the A593. The Way crosses the road to pick a path following the field side of a wall. This can be easy to miss so be eagle eyed with your map reading because I missed it at first and was left with the misimpression that I needed to walk along the road, not the most pleasant of things.

The trail eventually veers away from the road to follow the boundary of Tongue Intake Plantation before doing an about turn at High Park and travelling through the said woodland, a godsend on a hot sunny day. A road crossing takes you beyond the trees and onto more pastoral countryside. This was where I started to encounter more folk again, especially on the last approached to Skelwith Bridge. Another route warning is in order for around that passing point: don’t expect the Way to emerge onto the road like it does on the map because I seem to recall that an off road alternative is now signed instead. That threw me while going from Great Langdale to Ambleside in February but my awareness of the deviation allowed me to proceed as I had planned.

After a short rest in a stone bus shelter, I carry on up the steep hill towards Loughrigg Tarn. The tarn wasn’t my destination so I veered right at the junction and picked up a right of way leading off to the left and uphill through more National Trust property. Passing a scout encampment, the gradient eased as I carried on traversing the slopes of Loughrigg Fell. Following one last blast of ascent and views over Windermere, it was downhill again. At this point, I was very reminded of a circular walk from Ambleside that took me up and over Loughrigg Fell while passing Grasmere and Rydal Water. My plan was to go to Wales that day but a cancelled train was the cause of sending me north instead. It is too easy to feel fed up when this happened but views towards the Pass of Dunmail Raise and more allowed those feelings to be displaced and satisfaction to be derived from the day’s outing.

There were no such negative thoughts as I dropped down to cross the road into a very pleasant tree-shaded Rothay Park. A pause for a short while was in order before I continued to catch my bus to Windermere’s train station. If you were lazing in Rothay Park, you may have been oblivious to this but I spied a bank of cloud approaching from the south as I yomped over Loughrigg Fell; skies had been becoming more milky as the day wore on in any case. By the time that I was in Windermere, the cloud bank was making its presence felt and helped me to feel that I wasn’t leaving for home prematurely. As it happened, I made way home from Macclesfield’s train station in dampness, a definite contrast to the weather that I had encountered on my wanderings that made me feel that going north was the right thing to be doing. Saying that, the damp ending placed no dampener on my recollection of the day.

Travel Details:

Return train journey from Macclesfield to Windermere. Bus service 505 from Windermere to Coniston and service 599 from Ambleside to Windermere.

Taken by surprise again?

28th May 2009

About this time last year, I was feeling a tad sore after a weekend in Scotland where I was surprised by some of the best weather that I had seen there in a while. It was as if I was taken by surprise and reluctantly left because I was of the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that a certain lack of planning meant that I may not have made the most of it. Looking back on it now, it may not have been as wasted an opportunity as I thought it to be at the time. After all, that Sunday sojourn on Kerrera sharpened my appreciation of island scenery and perhaps inspired the Hebridean island hopping session that occupied me for a week later on in the year.

This year, with various things that have been going on in my life together with a stretch of lacklustre weather, I would have been forgiven for being surprised by the weather yet again, just like last year in fact. Now that I think of it, the weather has behaved similarly on both times. The run up to the same weekend last year would have been no preparation for what eventually arrived either. However, there is an important distinction between the two years: the locations blessed by good weather. Last year, Scotland got it better and had a generally good May with the TGO Challenge seeing more dry sunny days than usual. England did better this time around but it all depended on where you were and when you were there; it turned wet in Cheshire on Monday.

Overall, Cheshire did well with a steadily improving Saturday that coaxed me out on the bike in the evening time after an afternoon shopping expediton. Sunday was even better and I spent my afternoon and evening on a stroll from Leek back home by way of Tittesworth Reservoir and Danebridge. On Monday, I popped up to Cumbria to hike the Cumbria Way from Coniston to Skelwith Bridge before skirting Loughrigg Fell on the way to Ambleside. That was the cause of taking me through a honeypot or two (Tarn Hows comes to mind as a particular fleshpot) but the quieter parts more than made up for this.

One plan did fall by the wayside and that was the idea of following the Derwent Valley Heritage Way north from Baslow until either Grindleford, Hathersage or Bamford; the end point was to depend on progress and the time of the next train home from either of these stations. The plot certainly was fluid but a late bus caused its abandonment on Sunday so it goes onto the ideas shelf for another time. Another route option is to go around by Baslow Edge, Curbar Edge and Froggat Edge, proper hill wandering if you will and a variation of the original theme, but that also still awaits its opportunity and goes beside the DVHW on that proverbial shelf.

All in all, I cannot declare 2009’s Spring Bank Holiday weekend wasted and, anyway, that’s not the way that I feel about it at all. Any period of time that allowed chances for walks and cycles can only have been used well and, as if that were not enough, it has sown the seeds for future excursions too so it has been more than fruitful. Having more good weather than was expected can be a test too because you need to pick where you want to go when the temptation is to go out and gorge yourself; having only so much time has its uses. Trip reports for the walks themselves should follow but there’s the prospect of good weather next weekend so that may cause the postponement of their appearance. Of course, that depends on how things come together and only time will tell on that score.

An amble down Great Langdale

16th February 2009

It’s amazing how pondering ground conditions during periods of cold weather can be a harbinger for foreboding. You get to think of iced-up roads and pavements that’s even before you consider how it might be at greater heights. As it turned out, there seemed to be even less snow (saying that there was no snow at all wouldn’t be such an inaccurate description) lying about at lower levels on my visit to Cumbria the Saturday before last than I encountered on a previous one in December when I went exploring the Howgill Fells. However, I didn’t have to look very far to find the white stuff with many a fell coated in it. Following various warnings and some fatalities, I stayed low to follow the Cumbria Way on a hike from the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel to Ambleside. Even though I was hopeful for some sun, grey clouds blocked out the sun for most of the time that I was on my hike; ironically, the sun had stayed out while I was awaiting a bus at Windermere.

To get to Langdale, I needed to run the gauntlet of some roadworks, but any delays proved not to be disruptive to my scheme. In fact, when I got to Old Dungeon Ghyll, I pottered a little north-east to look up along Mickleden to gaze upon those snow-covered summits. I soon turned around to the task of passing one hotel to make progress on the way towards another. Because parts of the track along which I was going to take the form of a watercourse, there were stretches of ice that commanded care and attention as I passed. Still, I was on a quiet stretch with a good few folk heading down Mickleden and others heading for the Pikes.

After getting to the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, a crossing of the B5453 and Great Langdale Beck took me on a journey along the other side of the valley. There were enough people around for me to wonder if I was going to get stuck in a hiking convoy, but that was to melt away to leave me some space within which I could enjoy my surroundings as I journeyed along the lower slopes of Lingmoor Fell. That took me a little higher for a while, but the terrain levelled out when I returned to the banks of the beck again. In a field near Baysbrown farm, a tractor was out muck-spreading and the loading of the spreader forced me to divert from the track that it had obstructed. It was so easily avoided that there was no point in fuming over “wilful” obstruction of a public right of way. After passing an empty campsite, I skirted Chapel Style and my surroundings took on a less rural feel until the village of Elterwater was left after me.

Once past that village, it was a case of reaching the shores of Elter Water and following them around. My first sight of the lake in question was through trees, but the woodland was soon exited to reveal a very idyllic setting. It’s being accessible meant that many were out and about on often muddy paths, but their presence was no perturbation to me and I didn’t begrudge their presence at all. Even in the greyness, the beauty of the spot was without question, with the Langdale Pikes and other fells forming a pleasing backdrop to the lake. Even with the gloom, the setting was sufficiently wondrous as to cause me to make a mental note of the idea of returning when the skies are clearer, should that kind of opportunity arise.

Loughrigg Fell from Skelwith Fold, Cumbria, England

Skelwith Bridge was the next point passed though trees obscured any view of it. As it happened, I inadvertently continued a little further along the Cumbria Way than I had intended before leaving it for the day. After shadowing the Coniston road for a little while, I ventured onto it and made my way towards Skelwith Fold and Clappersgate on a mixture of minor roads and public footpaths while a spout of sunlight momentarily lit up Loughrigg Fell. From there, I made good progress along roadside footways into Ambleside to catch a bus to Windermere, from where a railway journey home. It goes without saying that the outing had been a good one, though it looks like a return is needed if I am to come away with the sort of pleasing photos that I would enjoy sharing with others. Hopefully, I can make the journey there on a quieter day too.

Travel Arrangements:

Return train journey to Windermere, 555 to Ambleside, 516 to Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and 599 from Ambleside to Windermere.

From Borrowdale into Great Langdale

5th June 2008

Last Saturday was a day when I was torn between possibilities. One dilemma that I didn’t face was whether to go somewhere for a dander or not; that one was settled. It’s where I was going that was the outstanding question, and the choice was between Wales and Cumbria. Even though Dolwyddelan tempted and remained a backup in the event of anything going awry on the travel front, it was Cumbria’s Lake District that was to get my vote because a walk in Borrowdale was in my head for a while and I hadn’t been to the area since last July anyway. If my time was more restricted, then my decision could have been very different.

My journey to Borrowdale was set to involve many changes: Stockport, Crewe, Penrith, Keswick. With this number ahead of me, it would have been better if passengers could control themselves and police didn’t need to meet what was to be my train from Crewe. Luckily, I had a twenty-minute wait in Penrith in prospect, but losing ten minutes due to a delayed train soon chopped that down to size and delays can beget further delays. As it turned out, I had no cause for concern, and I easily made my bus to Keswick. However, I was reminded of my connection to Borrowdale when I saw slow traffic on the A66 and more people getting on at Threlkeld than I had ever seen before. It so happened that the Borrowdale bus was late, sufficiently so that one would start to wonder if it had departed without my seeing it. Keswick bus interchange was a busy spot that day.

Following all those opportunities for groundless anxiousness, I found myself in Rosthwaite, relaxed and enjoying wonderful sunshine. Eating an ice cream, I found my way onto the Cumbria Way that I was set to follow all the way into Langdale. Being a sunny day in the Lake District, solitude was not to be expected, but there were to be moments when I had a lot of space to myself. Still, it never seems to surprise me how easy it can be to lose them. Even so, Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite were hardly overrun anyway, but most of those perambulating about them seem to have got nary a thought of going further afield. With the sights that were on offer, I suppose that it is hard to blame them.

Having skirted past Stonethwaite, another choice presented itself: to stick with the original plan to walk to Dungeon Ghyll or tramp over Greenup Edge to Grasmere. If things got a bit too crowded on the former, the latter was to be my plan. They didn’t, and I managed to drag myself onward to leave the Grasmere option for another day. A sign for Watendlath had tempted me earlier, but I managed to put that into my stash of ideas for the future too. Thus, I struck on for and through Langstrath, a wide, open and empty space in keeping with its Scottish-esque name. Also in keeping with any pseudo-Scottishness, it was here where I met next to nobody but a goodly number of Herdwick sheep.

Langstrath, Stonethwaite, Cumbria, England

The seemingly obvious southbound exit from Langstrath is to follow the valley’s beck to Angle Tarn and drop down from there by the side of Rosset Gill. This is not the way taken by the Cumbria Way, though; instead, a more direct route over Stake Pass is its choice. On paper, this is a seemingly unimpressive 200–300 metres of ascent. In reality, as with many slopes in these parts, that apparent “walk in the park” can be a lot more testing than those numbers might suggest. For one thing, you can guarantee steepness and erosion means that route finding involves a spot of blundering about on a maze of paths, many deviating from the “correct” one. Couple all of that with the hot and often breezeless day, and you have to take it nice and slow on the ascent. A descent still offers plenty of footholds, but you still need your wits about you so as not to take a more horizontal position than you would like.

On reaching the top, I soon found a spot to rest a while after my exertions. By this stage of the day, the sky was full of cloud and the sun had become well hidden. It remained pleasantly warm, though, and I enjoyed the flatter gradients before the descent that faced me. The state of the path down couldn’t be more different than the one that I used on my way up. The National Trust have been keeping an eye on things and have been doing some further work over the past few months to improve things. I might have said that it didn’t need the attention and that the path from Langstrath to Stake Pass needed it more. There is a counterpoint to this of course: the way up from the floor of Langdale is a busier trail because of the proximity of such delights as the Langdale Pikes, Pike’o’Stickle and many more. The result of the attentions was that I made steady progress down a well-built and pitched path that would be obstructed in places by big bags of big stones.

That descent and obstacle dodging completed, the track really levelled out and, apart maybe from the deepness of the loose stone surface in parts, it was easy and undemanding walking all the way to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. If I had arrived twenty minutes earlier, I might have caught the 16:30 bus to Ambleside, but a wait of over an hour, in blissful surroundings with the sun attempting to get through the cloud, for the next one was no hardship. I did consider walking further along Great Langdale, but reconsidered it on the grounds of time and wiled away the time on a shorter stroll instead.

When the bus did turn up, we found out that it terminated in Ambleside rather than Kendal as per the timetable. There were those who were far from happy with this state of affairs, more than likely those with ongoing connections. I suppose that anyone who was going south of Oxenholme would have had the limitations of late Saturday evening services on their minds. As with my travel that morning, any connection anxiety was needless since we easily made a connecting bus from Ambleside. That got me to Windermere in plenty of time for the start of the railway journey home, with changes in Oxenholme and Manchester. The sun was out as I was leaving; was it an effort to coax me into a return trip for those walking ideas that I had to set aside earlier that day?