Using digital to practice old school navigation

I love navigation challenges and having done my first orienteering event in the cold damp months of February I was disappointed when Covid hit that there wouldn’t be more over the summer.

Back in February when being given a paper map at the start and food at the end was what events were about…

Then a friend introduced me to a series of virtual orienteering runs via the East Pennine Orienteering Club (EPOC) and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Virtual Orienteering

Virtual Orienteering has become a popular activity with both Orienteering clubs and event organisers using technology to provide ‘events’ for people to continue to participate in activities.

Whilst there’s a few different apps available, most are using MapRunF which is free to download and simple to use. The app allows the facility to ‘cheat’ (assuming its not been disabled by the event organiser!) by following the red line you create as you move.

Given clubs are using it to replace the punch and card of old orienteering events, most are disabling this function and ensuring participants use good old paper maps which can be downloaded from their own websites.

EPOC events have been great fun as they’ve kept them both short and urban to encourage participation. Theres a choice of length for the linear runs and sometimes there’s score events if you want to freestyle.

I quickly became addicted to racing round villages and parks trying to get my phone to ping at the checkpoints.

A lovely event around Scammonden Reservoir area…

…but with my head down looking for the right spot I forgot about considering route choice as I headed through brambles

Having the opportunity to do a weekly event has been great fun for encouraging me to be active when I’ve been feeling lazy and fed up. It has also given me something to be competitive about at a time when there’s been little happening – which has certainly brought the fun back into navigating.

My attempt at Holmfirth Long event and how it looks on the result page of MapRunF
how the paper map looks to get around the course

During this never-ending period of ‘not-lockdown-but-not-normal’ a number of race event organisers have also been using the MapRunF to organise free events, enabling people to get remain engaged with their events and encouraging new people out.

While I’ve been running races for a couple of years the race in the cold wet months of February was the first time I ever tried an orienteering event. So full of the excitement of EPOC events I had a go at the Explore Events Peak Raid events series.

Set in the White Peak, an area not that far from home but not one I’ve really explored much, this ticked all the boxes for me. A chance to try 2 hour events and get more mileage in my runs at the same time as explore new places. I wasn’t taking the races seriously enough to try to win, it was more about having a go and testing myself.

Via the end of the 4 events I had battled through head high bracken, been eaten alive by midges on sweaty hot evenings, slide down the steepest path into Castleton and been chased through a field by a herd of scary cows.

While I’d happily finished the first event half an hour early as I’d had a nice run, by the 4th event I was definitely zigzagging to get as many checkpoints as possible and actually being frantically competitive!

Geocaching – a geeks treasure hunt

During Lockdown my mountaineering club had virtual catchups with members. During one of these Laura presented on Geocaching. I’m not going to explain what geocaching is as its been around for decades now and if you haven’t heard of it you’ve clearly been hiding under a rock.

Having had a look at the map and discovered I seemed to be surrounded by geocaches around my village, and being trapped at home I took myself out for a spot of hunting.

Now I have to say, there is nothing about geocaching which translates to traditional navigation skills. You basically look at the app on your phone and follow it to find a cache, sometimes solving a puzzle along the way to find the right location.

That said, it is a fun way to get out and find yourself in very odd locations – rummaging down the side of a fence in the long grass for a box, or under a rock on the top of the moors. Its certainly made a few of my local runs a bit more interesting when I’ve been fed up of running the same routes.

If you find yourself a bit bored, geocaching can certainly give you the excuse you need to get out. Many of the caches give you interesting information about the local area, history and geology.

Going digital then?

In a word, no.

I do use digital mapping for planning routes, or quickly checking something when I’m out running. But I love a paper map a bit too much and don’t trust phones to not die when I’m out.

I’m a firm believer that being able to navigate is a life skill everyone should have – that there’s nothing more confidence building than being able to head out with a map and have a fantastic walk. Its also essential to avoid being the idiot who had to call out mountain rescue as all you had was a mobile phone which ran out of battery.

I do promote the OSLocate app to all who come on my courses as its a fantastic free tool to give you a grid reference when you need it. And unlike What3Words doesn’t require you to have mobile phone coverage so will work even when you don’t have data. Giving you a quick grid reference allows you to see where you are on a map and get yourself back to where you need to be. (I might rant about W3W another time)

OSLocate is free on Android and IOS so get it downloaded.

Thank to all the Orienteering clubs and event organisers who have embraced technology and despite the massive organising effort have provided free events for everyone to participate in. I’m hooked on randomly running around the countryside to get my phone to ping, so long may they continue!

The 6 Trigs Circular

Stuck at home during the Covid-19 Lockdown I decided there had to be challenges I’d not done before right on my doorstep. Staring at an OS map it occurred to me my home in Marsden was surrounded by Trig points at some pretty good locations – and so the 6 Trigs circular was born!

The 6 Trigs Circular – 39 km /24 miles

Starting in Marsden village, the joy of this route is that it is possible to do as much or as little of it as you like. The route circles the Marsden area on mostly well marked trails with some good alternative paths to shorten the route.

The only exception to this is perhaps Black Hill – the route I took to get off the hill is the Old Pennine Way which is not very good, and I would definitely say avoid in bad weather as it would be easy to get lost.

While the route is mostly on good tracks and trails, definitely take a map if you don’t know the area well, as you could get easily caught out in poor weather.

If you want to see the route on OS Maps and download a GPX file here’s the link and here’s a zipped GPX file.

Route Description

Heading from Marsden cross the A62 and take the Kirklees Way path up the Wessenden Valley. The route here takes you past Butterley, Blackley and Wessenden Reservoirs as you head up the valley on the track.

As the track passes Wessenden Lodge it narrows and become a path. From here it then winds into Sike Clough and then Layzing Clough. Just before crossing the bridge at Layzing Clough you will see a faint path in the grass that heads uphill, and as you head further uphill this becomes more worn and easier to follow. While not an official footpath you’re on access land here so able to walk on this moorland. Follow the path as it heads uphill towards the visible Ravens Rocks.

Here you need to cross the fence and continue to follow the path, which eventually becomes a worn vehicle track, towards West Nab trig pillar.

From here you can see down into Holmfirth, Huddersfield and beyond.

From West Nab trig pillar head down hill and onto Wessenden Head Road.

Looking back up to West Nab from the road.

Watch the traffic as you follow the road, to reach the A635 Greenfield Road. Cross over here (definitely watch for speeding cars) and follow the paved Pennine Way path up to Black Hill summit.

This section is very easy to follow as its paved pretty much all the way, but as the sign says avoid this section after heavy rain as one of the rivers which you cross can be impossible if it is spate.

As you head uphill here you feel like you’re heading towards Holme Moss radio mast which is in the distant, but eventually the path steepens and leads you across the plateau to Black Hill trig pillar. Black Hill summit at 582m lies on the border of Kirklees in Yorkshire and High Peak in Derbyshire.

Looking towards Black Hill summit
The summit cairn
The summit Cairn on Black Hill

You can see from the height of the Trig Pillar (around a metre above the surrounding ground) there has been significant erosion of the moorland since it was erected in 1945. At the time the Pennine Way was created the route up to the summit involved wading through peat bogs, which had been stripped bare both through erosion from walkers but also pollution from the surrounding mills which had killed off vegetation.

Thanks to the construction of a paved path and moorland restoration work Black Hill is now grassy again. If you want to see the history of the landscape this is a great article.

From the summit of Black Hill head Northwest on a small worn grass path, which eventually becomes more visible as it wanders down the hill. The is the old Pennine Way path – if you’re not confident with a compass I would double back the way you came from the summit trig.

The path reaches the flattening plateau and around the spot height marked on the map as 506m (but frankly, good luck to you if you can ascertain the spot on the landscape) it crosses a few river beds and then totally vanishes. In poor weather you would have to have a compass, experience and faith. In good visibility you can just about make out wooden posts which guide the way across the moorland.

Time to follow your compass!

There’s a new fence line to cross just after the most northerly of the fords at Dean Head Moss. From here keep following the posts and/or compass to eventually pick up the end of the old fence line which is marked on the map. From here follow the path (black dotted line on the map not the green right of way which isn’t on the ground) to reach the road. Phew, thats your only actual trick navigation section!

Here cross back over the A635 and head left along the road to continue to the small car park to follow the path (thankfully paved).

There’s been three moorland fires already this year so to avoid the devastation we had in 2019 the Fire Service are out monitoring the use of the moors.

To reach the third trig on this route requires an out-and-back dog leg, which perhaps lends itself to being cut from the route for anyone wishing to shorten it.

Looking at the map it would seem like the route is a wander across a pathless moorland to reach the Broadstone Hill trig pillar. However, as anyone in the South Pennines knows, if you see a perfectly straight waterway marked on a map it’s an old waterway conduit and as such is highly likely to have a path running alongside it. As it happens this one does and is well worn thanks to it being used by the gamekeepers to access the grouse butts nearby.

The start of the conduit is picked up at a point where there is a wooden sign.

From here it is 3 km to reach the trig pillar. When you get to where the conduit starts to head down hill there is a sheep fold marking where the path turns off to reach the trig itself. See, you’re never the first person to think a route to a trig pillar is possible.

From here you can see across Saddleworth and into Manchester.

As I turned around to head back along the conduit it started to drizzle. Not proper rain but just enough to make my run along the route feel like it was perhaps not going to be completed. As I reached the paved path again I was wondering if it was sensible to bail off when I reached the Standedge trail path.

Once back on the paved path I headed north towards Black Moss Reservoir and towards Marsden, joining up with the Pennine Way path again just after the reservoir.

On reaching the Standedge Trail I convinced myself I could at least do one more trig point and perhaps bail off later on, so continued on towards the A62 at Standedge. This is another point on the route to watch out for traffic.

It would be so easy to bail off and head for Marsden here!

Here you continue along the Pennine Way to reach the Millstone Edge trig pillar overlooking Castleshaw and Delph.

The route here is rocky as it passes the Dinner Stone and continues on. When you reach the stone way marker continue on the Pennine Way, across the moors towards Haigh Gutter.

Once at Haigh Gutter it’s possible to drop down the path into Marsden if you wish to cut the route short.

At this point there’s another out-and-back leg to reach the White Hill Trig point, just outside of Yorkshire in Lancashire. Crossing the A640 continue to follow the Pennine Way for 1.5km to reach the trig pillar.

At White Hill you’ve also crossed the border into Lancashire.

Once you’ve doubled back to the A640 there’s no other way to reach Cupwith without a long slog along the road. By this point of running the route I was trotting rather than running and grateful for little traffic. This isn’t a super busy road but as its over the moors traffic does tend to speed along.

looking down to March Haigh reservoir

Unfortunately its about 3.5km along the road to reach Cupwith, passing Buckstones Edge along the way. Once you’ve passed the carpark at Buckstones the road has a better verge.

Turn off the road at the first lay-by where there is a gate and the trig is visible. From here take the worn grassy path to reach Cupwith trig pillar. Number 6!

From here the route back to Marsden is to drop down to the Kirklees Way/Colne Valley Circular path next to Cupwith reservoir. While slightly longer I’d head on the North side of the reservoir to avoid a bog where the drainage ditch on the south side ends.

From here follow the Colne Valley Circular path downhill, where it joins the old Huck Hill Lane and circles between properties to drop you on the road near Marsden station. From here you can stroll/ hobble down to one of the many pubs or cafes to refuel.

6 Trigs!

Deviations/ Escape routes

Along the route there are many options for shortening the route if you so wish. The two trigs of White Hill and Broadstone Hill for example could easily be missed out.

The Standedge Trail after Black Moss Reservoir can be used to head back downhill to the village, as can the path from Haigh Gutter and the A640.

There’s loads of fantastic paths to why not explore them all, just make sure you have a map!

Of course there’s one more….

Yes I missed a trig pillar out. The observant of you will note that very close to Marsden there is also the trig pillar of Krives just East of Deer Hill Reservoir. I opted to miss this one out knowing that is in in the middle of quite difficult to access fields and I decided didn’t qualify as it wasn’t on ‘moorland’ terrain…..

Perhaps there’s a more urban version to do, which sends me out towards Huddersfield but I suspect that might include a lot of wading in undergrowth!

Tackling the Colne Valley Circular

I first walked the Colne Valley Circular when I moved to Kirklees 11 years ago. All I recall of that time was the mud, failing to find the route properly above Slaithwaite and more mud.

Trapped at home over Easter I decided to run the route one afternoon and figure out if it really was as bad as I remembered.

The Route

Firstly, if you’re keen to walk (or indeed run) the Colne Valley Way you absolutely must have a map. This is a route which is NOT well signposted and at various points it actually feels like you’re being prevented from progress. Persevere though, as the route has some hidden treasures along the way.

If you want a GPX of the route download this zip file.

The Colne Valley Circular is 13 miles long. I began from my home in Marsden, a perfect place to start as there’s a great selection of cafe’s and pubs to eat at when you finish.

Heading out of Marsden you walk through the derelict Crowther’s Mill and up the steep steps at Butterley Dam. If you want to know more about the history of Marsden I highly recommend a visit to the Marsden History Group webpage and Huddersfield Exposed for history of the reservoir.

From here head up the road slightly and pick up the path heading up to the farms and continue up the hillside. From here the route circles the hillside, dropping down briefly to a little bridge and back up to pass old quarries and past the Piper Stones before reaching Meltham Road.

From Meltham road the path drops down and passes another fantastic bench before it turns to cross fields and follows old lanes, passing farms and houses above Slaithwaite. Take note of the map as its not always clear when you reach farms which way the path continues to take you across the fields ahead.

There’s some fantastic benches along the route, and my favourite is the one closest to my house with possibly the best view of Marsden.

As it reaches Varley Road at Slaithwaite you also reach possibly the muddiest section of the route, at Kitchen Clough. Here the route drops down below the road and heads into the first field on your left. You’ll never spot the hidden stile here, and the sign ahead makes it look like you should go ahead. Don’t – you really do have to head left and into the boggy field. Yes the broken fence is the exit from the bog to cross the river. Good luck.

From here stick to the right side of the field as you’re heading for the house above to exit the field and onto the road. Its again not obvious.

Continue across fields, passing Heywoods Farm and on towards Linthwaite. When you reach houses make sure you turn left to head downhill towards the road.

Crossing the road you drop down the lane to the mill, through the yard (past the Bat Tower) and pick up the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to follow it towards Golcar.

The route crosses the road near the Titanic Mill, at continues along the canal before crossing it, and heading up through the woodland on an old track. Here you emerge in Golcar and head continuously uphill, passing through one of the many ginnels on the Golcar Lily ginnel trail.

At this point I confess to no longer running along the route as it is quite a steep continuous climb from the canal to the high point on the Colne Valley circular at Golcar. As you reach the end of the lanes and into the edge of Heath House Wood, I had to wonder why the route didn’t follow the steep drop down into the woodland and back up again (a nice alternative) but instead did a huge dog-leg around the top of the Clough. Perhaps I was tired in the sunshine.

Whilst it does feel like a dog-leg, it provides a good view across the valley to Golcar. Follow the path across the fields and right at the lane towards the Golcar Lily pub (a good stop for food or drink).

Following the roads you eventually drop downhill to Crimble Clough, (where the path isn’t obvious to access at the houses); drop into the Clough and back up again into the fields to Highfield Farm.

Its best to follow the road around Heath farm to access the route, which then crosses fields to head to Wilberlee.

At Wilberlee the route follows the lane downhill and round to Intake Road, before crossing through the farm and fields towards Merry Dale. Keep straight ahead along here, as its not always obvious where the route goes, especially in some of the fields.

Merry Dale is a lovely little valley; a cobbled lane takes you down into the woodland before it rises back out again on a stony track.

From the top of the track I would personally continue straight up to the road to end up near the Rose and Crown pub (another good stop), as the route across the fields towards Wham farm is not only not clear, but barred at one point by a temporary fence.

I’m inclined to think its down to the renovations at the farm to create expensive houses which has lead to the path no longer being attractive to homeowners there….

Eventually the road runs out and you pick up the path across Slaithwaite Moor. Where the path meets the Kirklees Way and heads downhill to Marsden, there’s another fantastic bench – you’ll have to go and check this one out as by that point I forgot I was taking pictures of them!

In winter the route downhill can be muddy but dries out quickly in the sun and sections have been paved in the last 10 years.

As you head downhill through the farm, you pass what I think is the only finger post which marks the CVC.

If you’ve headed out along the route I’d love to know your favourite bits and those you found a nightmare to navigate!

Running Hadrian’s Wall

Firstly, I’m not an ultra runner and have only run a marathon distance once. So it was with this knowledge that I cautiously planned to run Hadrian’s Wall Long Distance Path. I set myself the challenge to complete the route over 4 days (and one evening) and while that is easy for walking, I wanted to be able to run as much of the route as possible which would make it a challenge.

If you’re going to complete this route I recommend West to East as the wind will be behind you encouraging you on. For some reason more people seemed to walk it the other way. Its definitely possible to de entirely on public transport, as Carlisle and Newcastle are on main line stations, with good buses and metro service at either end to get you to the start/finish.

Finally, get yourself the Hadrian’s Wall Passport from either the Fort in Newcastle or Carlisle Tourist information, so you can collect your route stamps along the way. Its a nice memento of your journey!

Bowness on Solway to Carlisle – 15 miles

Having caught the train to Carlisle I dropped some stuff off at my hotel for the night and caught the bus to Bowness on Solway for an evening run of this part of the route. I had toyed with the idea of not bothering with this bit and doing Carlisle to Newcastle only, but the completer in me had to do the whole thing. The bus was £6.90 and was only 40 minutes, I had no excuse really. It was even sunny!

To be honest though, anyone who decides to start or finish at Carlisle still acceptably completes the route in my opinion. On getting off the bus in Bowness I trotted happily along the coastal path before the route winds on farm tracks into Glasson and then Drumburgh before hitting the long section of road all the way into Burgh by Sands. This would have been a dull section to walk but wasn’t much joy having to run.

From here there is another farm track into Beaumont before I discovered the disappointment of a path diversion resulting in more road. It was a beautiful sunny evening though so I tried not to complain.

Eventually I was able to pick up the path at Kirkandrew-on-Eden to reach the river and a lovely track into Carlisle. With all that road running my left leg was already starting to be unhappy as I reached Carlisle quite hungry. Despite the whinging to myself it was a beautiful evening of running in the sunshine.

Carlisle to Greenhead – 20 miles

I set off optimistic about the route today. I was finally going to see sections of Hadrian’s Wall and pass through open countryside. However, I’d barely left Carlisle before my knee started to scream so the pace was slow and tedious all day, though I ran as much as possible. The expectation of being able to run most of the route and actually having to stop and stretch every 4km, I felt disappointed and beaten.

The route heads out of Carlisle by following the river and country lanes towards the M6 and beyond. Upon reaching Crosby on Eden it heads briefly North to reach the remains of the Wall. Passing by the Wall’s Milecastles and following it’s ditch, the route starts to become hilly as it reaches the village of Oldwall and Newtown.

The miles of fields were a joy to run through and for every village the route passes through there is a house selling drinks and snacks or honesty boxes of snacks. I couldn’t resist the honesty fridges selling lollies!

The long slog uphill to Hare Hill felt hard work in the heat and with a sore knee, but the top marked a change to run on the flat for a while. I had a quick break at Birdoswald Roman Fort in order to collect my Hadrian’s Wall passport stamp before heading downhill to the river.

Marked on the map as a Roman bridge there is actually a large metal bridge over the river now but it’s still worth a visit for the impressive foundations of the former Roman bridge and the long section of wall.

From here it was a few miles more through Gilsland and into Greenhead where I finished running for the day. Of course I had booked accommodation slightly off the route and so had to stroll down to Blenkinsopp Castle for the night. Despite complaining to myself for not booking somewhere on the route, it turned out to be well worth the extra distance it as it was a lovely spot. A gorgeous pub with friendly hosts and a lovely room with my own patio! It felt like luxury on a sunny evening!

Greenhead to Chollerford – 17 miles

I woke stiff and feeling like the day was going to be a tough challenge. Having spoke to my partner that morning for moral support, he pointed out that I was running almost back to back marathons so I was bound to be tired and sore. Ok, I wasn’t doing marathon distances but it did make me realise that what I was doing was a challenge for someone who’d never done back to back long runs before.

I started the day with a trudge up the hill to get back onto the route at Greenhead. The running felt comfortable for a while and the views were amazing. This section of the route is pretty hilly as Hadrian’s Wall and the Long Distance Path follow the Great Whin Sill fault line. This long layer of dolerite rock surfaces in this area, forming a long crag and creating a natural boundary that made building Hadrian’s Wall here logical. (The Geological Society have a really interesting page about the Great Whin Sill – follow this link). At least the uphills gave me an excuse to slow down and walk for a short section.

This has to be my favourite section of the route, much of it I have walked before when completing the Pennine Way over 5 years ago. Passing turrets, Milecastles and old Roman Forts the route occasionally breaks for small country lanes before heading uphill again to wide views and more milecastles. The best views are from above Highshield and Hotbank crags.

I stopped briefly for a drink and to get my stamp at Housesteads Roman Fort, one of the biggest forts along the Wall. From here the was one more hill and Trig point before heading downhill towards the road. Here I met the Long Distance Walkers Association Hadrian Hundred participants. A string of walkers heading towards me, with the expected jokes that I was heading the wrong way, the stalwarts with their heads down marching and not expecting to see anyone walking towards them and endless smiling faces happy to say hi. I was pleased when I met the last of them at Brocolitia Roman Fort and the little temple of Mithras.

Here the weather also turned and the end of the day was marked by cloudy skies and cold winds. The remains of the Wall also start to become less visible and marked more by ditches in the landscape. So it was a pleasure to reach Chesters Roman Fort and finish for the day.

I stayed in Acomb at the Queen’s Arms Hotel which was a hidden delight in this quite little village.

Chollerford to Newburn Bridge – 17 miles

I woke to rain and the prospect of standing around waiting for a bus to take me back up to Chollerford. Thankfully by the time I disembarked from the bus it had stopped raining heavily and turned to drizzle.

This section of the route hadn’t inspire me when I looked at the map and saw that for most of the way the path followed the road. I had expected it to be just the other side of a fence in a field and fairly uninteresting. I was really surprised to find it winds through small woodlands, and fields bounded by amazing hawthorn hedges and wild flowers. However, this section does have the highest quantity of stiles, in some place 5 within 50 metres!

Reaching Whittle Dene reservoirs felt like a significant marker as the Path continues on a from here to the A69 and eventually heads South to Heddon-on-the-Wall and the River Tyne.

Of course I’d chosen not to stay on the route but the other side of the river near Ryton, in what turned out to be the quirkiest B&B I’ve ever stayed in. If you’re ever in the area and want to stay somewhere reasonably priced with a four post bed, slip bath and a hall of buddhas, armour and Chinese cats then Hedgefield House is the place for you. It was a lovely place for my last night.

Newburn Bridge to Wallsend – 11 miles

This section of the route is entirely on tarmac as it follows a cycle track and winds through housing and along roads. As a walk it could be a bit dull as Hadrian’s Wall itself has disappeared but it makes a nice run into Newcastle. Eventually it meets the River Tyne again and leads you into the City itself. Running in the rain with a very sore leg I was definitely pleased to see the Tyne Bridges and feel like I was making progress.

As the route leaves the city centre of Newcastle it continues to follow the River, though in places its not well sign posted and I did find myself running through an industrial estate before I eventually found the path again. Its quite unremarkable as much of this area is industrial, being once the site of Tar Works which have left its mark on the river’s water quality, and now being the site of large international oil and gas and steel companies part of the Port of Tyne.

Hadrian’s Wall itself takes a direct line through the City of Newcastle but I think the choice to make the Long Distance Path follow the River Tyne is a good one. The route at this point might be lacking in history but the Tyne does have woodland along its edge and is much prettier than walking through housing.

Reaching Wallsend felt amazing. The Fort has a fantastic museum and cafe so if you’re finishing your journey here its worth a stop and a look around before you jump on the Metro back into the City – and of course get your last stamp in your passport. It was lovely that the staff were excited to hear about how I’d got on and what I thought of the route.

I would definitely recommend the Hadrian’s Wall Path, either as a running adventure or even as a first long distance path adventure. It is easy to break down into manageable distances with lots of places to stay along the route. It’s also super easy to do by public transport, which can’t be said for all long distance paths.

Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way

Opened in 1996 St Cuthbert’s Way is usually tackledin 4 – 6 days and to be honest that’s a really good idea. Over the course of three very long days Sharon, Ted and I tackled the route and discovered that pilgrimages don’t always have to be religious.

The route

The St Cuthbert’s Way winds for 100km from the market town of Melrose in the Scottish Borders, to Lindisfarne Island on the North Sea coast. It crosses through the Cheviot hills in the Northumberland National Park, takes in Roman roads and endless woodlands, riverbanks and open moorland. 

The route starts in Melrose, where St Cuthbert started his religious life in 650AD and ends in on Holy Island, at Lindisfarne Priory, his eventual resting place.

scw_main_map-600x190@2x

Planning your walk

There’s a plethora of companies willing to sherpa your bags around and book you accommodation, but its not difficult to sort out yourself. The official route website provides fantastic links to accommodation along the route, but popular accommodation search engines are also useful. Decide how far you want to walk each day and plan your accommodation accordingly.

Starting in Melrose we found accommodation easily as there is a range of pubs and B&Bs available, with plenty taking dogs. Ideal places to stay, depending on how many days you wish to complete the route in would be: St Boswells, Harestanes, Morebattle, Town Yetholm, Hethpool, Wooler, Fenwick and Beal.

Depending on your fitness its possibly to carry your own kit and not have your baggage transported. We packed light with little spare clothing, and bought food en-route in the variety of local shops. Sharon even managed to carry food for Ted and we both carried knitting for the evenings (albeit we never actually did any!)

The real planning challenge with this route is dealing with how you get from the start and finish. We decided to drive to Melrose and leave our car. When we finished we caught the bus back from Beal, via Berwick upon Tweed to Melrose. This is straight forward but takes about 2 hours depending if you make the bus connections (we didn’t and had to have lunch in Berwick!) Bus timetables can be searched for via traveline.

It’s important to carry maps, although the route is very well sign posted with way markers, so we didn’t struggle to find our way. As a rough guide the Scottish section of the walk is really dog friendly, with all of the fences cross through gates. Once in England Ted had to clamber or be picked up over stiles.

Day 1: Melrose to Morebattle 40km (25miles)

Melrose is a lovely market town and worth a visit in its own right. We arrived on Thursday evening and only saw the Abbey in the dark so we intended to spend some time there when we returned.

The route starts from the town centre and heads immediately uphill to the Eildon Hills. These hills would be a significant feature of our first day as despite our progress along the route they remained visible for most of the day. This is the high point of this section.

Crossing through Bowden and into St Boswells the route follow the path of Bowden Burn till it reaches the River Tweed. In hindsight St Boswells would have been a good place to get lunch as there’s a range of lovely cafes and bookshops. But we were on a mission to walk 25 miles so pressed on.

From here the route winds along the River Tweed till it reaches Maxton and meets the Dere Street Roman Road.

Dere Street was a surprise. I expected a surfaced track, perhaps suitable for bikes but this section of the Roman Road is given over to woodland and is a beautiful walk between fields and trees. Eventually the route meets woodland and Harestanes Visitors Centre. We had planned to get a (very) late lunch here. The cafe is advertised as open till 5pm, but stops serving food at 4pm – worth noting if, like us, you arrive late. We luckily managed to get left-over sandwiches from the fridge and had to keep dreaming of soup.

From Harestanes we continued on. If like us you stop at the visitors centre it does mean circling back around through the woodland north of the Monteviot House and Gardens in order to get back on to the river.

Here you cross a suspension bridge and follow the river before getting back on Dere Street Roman Road – here it is a stony track. Continuing to follow the route along through woodland and fields we continued on, the miles slowly making our feet tired. Despite the late hour the walk through the rapeseed fields and woodland was magical, with deer and badgers appearing in the dusk.

The route eventually ends up on country lanes as it leads to Morebattle, and passes the impressive Cessford Castle, a huge ruined tower.

We had called ahead to the Temple Hall Hotel to pre-order food and they obliged by providing hot pizza when we arrived.

Day 2: Morebattle to Wooler 32km (20miles)

After a great breakfast and a visit to the community shop to find lunch we left Morebattle a little later than intended. The route starts by walking along the lanes before heading uphill to Grubbit Law. Its worth noting that on the map it looks like you need to ford a river to head uphill but there is in fact a wooden bridge just beyond the ford, making crossing easy.

It was a hot day and while not high it was a pleasure to be done with uphill and walk along the top of the fell to Wideopen Hill summit. The summit at 368m is the highest point on the route and is marked as the halfway point on the St Cuthbert’s Way. It definitely provides fantastic views across the Borders.

Once in Kirk Yetholm we enjoyed the shade and had lunch where the route joins the end of the Pennine Way. It was interesting to find myself back here, having completed the Pennine Way in 2004 and not expected to find myself in the tiny village of Kirk Yetholm again.

From Kirk Yetholm we walked along the road to head up the fell to the Scottish/English Border. Here the division in the countries follows the fell top ridge line, and while marked by a gate and a signpost, you’d be forgiven not realising there’s a border.

Crossing through the gate the landscape of the Northumberland National Park did seem different, as if the requirement to mark access land and the appearance of sheep somehow transformed the feel of the landscape.

We followed the route downhill through fields, a felled woodland and onto a long and tedious farm track guarded by sheep before reaching the quiet village of Hethpool. Ted hadn’t had that many opportunities to bark at sheep so far and so appeared to ignore the yank of the lead to keep him quiet.

From Hethpool the route heads East along the side of Wester Tor before briefly being redirected around the farm at Torleehouse, and heading uphill to grouse moorland and a landscape similar to our own Peak District. The moorland track continues for nearly 5km over Gains Law before finally dropping down towards the market town of Wooler.

We arrived late on Sunday in Wooler and the Black Bull Inn didn’t do food, but thankfully the Milan restaurant next door served food till 10pm so we had time to shower and make ourselves look tidy before we headed out for food.

Day 3: Wooler to Lindisfarne 29km (18 miles)

We managed to leave at 9am from Wooler and headed along the roads on to Weetwood Moor. I confess that I’d looked the map and decided it was entirely possible to miss this uphill and down hill diversion by walking on the road. However it is a lovely stretch of moorland with great views and provides a great aspect to see the Weetwood bridge from. The road is also quite busy and frankly this final day of walking has more than enough tarmac already in my opinion.

From Weetwood Hall the route takes in country lanes and track for around 8km, even when it crosses fields it’s still a stony track. In the hot sunshine this became a bit of a tedious walk with our tired feet. When we reached the woodland we sat in the shade to have lunch, a lovely spot for a break with a view across the fields.

Further on we came to St Cuthbert’s cave. The Cave is an impressive overhanging sandstone rock supported by a single piece of stone, making it look precarious. According to legend, monks carrying St Cuthbert’s body from Lindisfarne took refuge here.

From the top of the hill above the cave the path winds down through fields and the Sheillow woodland before it reaches the village of Fenwick and the busy A1 road.

We continued on from here, taking care to cross the mainline railway and wandering through fields the reach the end of the Lindisfarne Causeway. The traditional route follows the posts across the sands to reach Holy Island. We did follow them as we had a few hours before the tide started to come in, however the sand is really estuary mud and so is very sticky and unpleasant in places. Ted’s feet were also sore on the sand so we bailed off to walk the rest of the way on the causeway.

We’d luckily arranged a lift back from the lovely Fred at Brockmill Farmhouse where we were staying for the night, so we had an hour to have food in the Crown and Anchor before we had to leave and beat the incoming tide.

Reaching the priory, the end of the route, felt like a great place to end a tough 3 day walk, and we were pleased to arrive in Holy Island at the end of the day when it was quiet.

Finding our pilgrimage

Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way turned out to be a pilgrimage for us both after all, even if it wasn’t a religious one. It was a journey which tested our ability to walk long distances to reach our destination and provided opportunities for us to explore a new landscape, cross boundaries and see Roman and Christian history.

I’d definitely recommend this route – the variety of terrain as it winds through the Scottish Borders into Northumberland makes it worthwhile.

GetOutside and explore the Dales Way

Sometimes in life the best adventures are those you don’t choose for yourself. The Dales Way doesn’t involve bog trotting or peak bagging, but instead winds through picturesque valleys and villages following the rivers. It was a beautiful weekend; full of wildflower meadows, sheep and sunshine. Except for the day we got thoroughly soaked in a thunderstorm, but more about that later.

The suggestion for Sharon and I to do a long distance walk together was first uttered over beers at Christmas (were we drunk?) and despite the potential for it to be forgotten about after the hangovers had vanished we committed to completing the Dales Way – a route which could be done over a long weekend.

Covering 80-ish miles (that’s the official length!) the Dales Way passes through villages as it follows rivers from Ilkley to Windermere.

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From Dalesway.org

Day 1 – Ilkley to Kettlewell – 22 miles

It was a very early start to get to Ilkley – Sharon’s dog Ted was as excited to be on a train journey to Ilkley as he was about the long walk ahead. Sharon and I were excited too but also aware we’d set the challenge of a 22 mile hike to Kettlewell and it was a very hot day.

The route from Ilkley winds along the River Wharfe northwards, through little clusters of houses and cross under the busy A59 as it reaches Bolton Abbey. This 6 mile stretch felt harder than it should as Ted was busy keeping cool in the river and we were baking in the sunshine. So arriving at Bolton Abbey at lunchtime we decided ice creams were in order.

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Bolton Abbey is hardly a hidden delight as it is  popular tourist attraction, but its the first delight you pass through on the Dales Way. The grounds of the 12th Century Augustinian monastery are worth a visit in their own right but provide a spectacular back drop to the walk and the route winds through the grounds woodlands as it crosses the River Wharfe.

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Eventually we reached Burnsall, a usual stop over on the route but for us a quick stop before we carried on to the suspension bridge over the river at Hebden.

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The narrow suspension bridge across the River Wharfe at the tiny village of Hebden was built by the village blacksmith, William Bell in 1885, with 262 yards of redundant steel rope. It is quite narrow so you might have a tight squeeze if you’re carrying a very large rucksack!

From here our next big stopping point was Grassington – at which time it had also become late enough to justify a stop at a pub for food and drink. This was a great idea but did make it very difficult to start walking again to reach our final destination for the day at Kettlewell. It was tempting to keep drinking in the pub!

Out of Kettlewell the Dales Way heads on to the fells of Lea Green, past old hut circles and across the limestone pavements above Swinebar Scar. As we started to descend into Kettlewell the sun was setting across the River Wharfe, making for a magical finish to our walk for the day.

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Day 2 – Kettlewell to Gearstones – 16 miles

Our overnight stay at the Bluebell Inn had set us up for a day of walking, a good sleep and good food. It was such a good morning we didn’t start till 10.30am and following the river we meandered through wildflower fields towards Buckden, the sun was shining and Ted was having fun playing in the river.

Reaching Buckden it started to cloud over and as we joined the road at Hubberholme we could hear the thunder in the distance. By the time we got to Yockenthwaite it was already raining heavily. From there it rained on and off until the heavens opened at Beckermonds and we got totally soaked as we crossed the river and started to head along the road. With heads down we trudged along.

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The route to Oughtershaw was a plod along the road, but once there we started heading along a track past Nethergill and Swarthgill farms before heading out on to the fellside.

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Heading up to Cam Houses and onto the hill top to join the Pennine Way the rain started to come down heavily and we were totally soaked on the plod down the track to Gearstones.

This isn’t the most inspirational part of the route at the best of times, I’ve walked this previously when doing the Pennine Way and thought then it should only be tackled on a mountain bike. So to trudge down the hill in the heavy rain was a bit of a demoralising end to the day.

 We’d been unable to get accommodation locally so we were lucky to hide in the hostel out of the rain while our taxi arrived to take us to Hawes. There seems to only be two taxis locally, both very competitive with each other but thankfully one was happy to pick up two soaked women and a damp dog.

Carrying all our own kit and travelling light, we were very grateful that the White Hart Inn in Hawes let us dry our clothes in their drier.

Day 3 – Gearstones to Sedbergh – 16 miles

Thankfully the rain held off for the route out of Wharfedale and into Dentdale as we headed across the fields and down the road under the Dent Viaduct.

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This section of the route includes a lot of road walking on country lanes and so we were pleased to reach Ewegales and start to head through the wildflower meadows towards Dent. Late spring is definitely the best time to walk this section of the route to see field of Bistort, Eyebright, Buttercups, Yellow Rattle, Red clover and Meadowsweet.

The fields in Dentdale are not bounded by dry stones walls like elsewhere in the Yorkshire Dales, but by laid hedges creating habitats and making the valley look softer and much more picturesque.

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After food at Dent we continued down the valley along the river and on country roads, eventually heading over the hill towards Sedbergh. By now Ted had worked out how to tackle the ladder stiles too. His first was a bit of a panicked scramble, a bit like me when I’m rock climbing!

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Day 4 – Sedbergh to Burnside – 16 miles

Breakfast at the Wheelwright Cottage was an experience, sat with two ultra runners completing the route in 3 days we stuffed ourselves with a full English breakfast on fine china plates. Ted got leftovers too.

The route out of Sedbergh was a contrast to Dentdale – gone were the wildflower meadows as the path follows the river under viaducts and past farms.

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The viaducts in this area are part of the former Lune Valley railway and would make fantastic cycleways if there was money to invest in them.  The Lune viaduct is made of Penrith stone with a huge cast iron central arch which carried the track 100 feet above the river.

After a morning of drizzle the weather did as predicted and stopped at 2pm so we had a pleasant afternoon walk through fields, eventually crossing the M6 and into Cumbria.



We arrived in Burneside tired and pleased to be stopping at a pub for the night so we didn’t have to travel far for food, and the Jolly Angler certainly didn’t disappoint.

Sharon and Ted pleased to be nearing the end

Day 5 – Burneside to Windermere – 10 miles

We’d planned to set off walking for 9am so that we wouldn’t have to rush our last day reaching Windermere station with plenty of time for the 3pm train we had booked.

However we both overslept and so had a mad dash out for breakfast and so we didn’t get going until 9.30am. Despite being tired we managed a decent pace to leave Burneside.

The route isn’t pretty as it heads out of Burneside around the back of the large Mill, but it eventually leaves town and heads through fields along the River Kent to Staveley.


This is an area of Cumbria I’ve never explored due to the lack of mountains and fells, but it is worth a walk through the farms and fields to see a quiet side of Cumbria without the crowds.


We had decided to branch off at the bridleway to finish at Windermere station making it easy for our journey home.

The Dales Way isn’t an adventure I would have chosen for myself, but was an opportunity for me to enjoy an adventure with a friend something I’ve not done often. What I learnt is that adventures don’t have to include mountains or extreme endurance to be achievements and the Dales Way is a fantastic route, accessible for all at whatever pace you wish to complete it.

Try Caving

I hate caving. I know hate is a strong word but having had a go I can honestly say, I hate caving. Wading around with wet feet inside cold wellies wearing a rubber boil-in-the-bag suit with a fibre pile onesie underneath so any physical exertion leads to being really sweaty. Having a mild panic attack in the dark, when the choice presented to you is to either wriggle through a tiny slot barely big enough to fit in or to slide down rock and somehow avoid landing in the pool of freezing water at the bottom. I feel a bit sick just thinking about it now. There’s always the choice to turn around but I’m not a quitter and like to push my boundaries of fear.

But I didn’t know any of this when I agreed to give it a go. I thought ‘It’s a bit like rock climbing, but underground’. Walking through passages marvelling at rock and fossils and wandering into huge caverns.
The reality is more like grovelling in the dark, wedging myself through rock and losing my dignity and nerve as I lower myself over the void to disappear into the abyss, dangling in free space.
The weekend was organised by Ben and Aly, both really experienced cavers and both in Mountain Rescue teams with experience in cave rescues, so if I was going to give it a go I was at least going out with experienced people. 

Learning rope access skills

We’d spent Saturday morning learning rope techniques to ascend and descend the ropes, get past knots in the rope (re-belays) and also passed clips where the rope has been anchored to the side to make the descent better (deviations). In Bradford Pothole Club’s hut, a couple of feet off the ground, it was easy and fun. I enjoy learning rope skills, and this didn’t feel like it was that different than the rope rescue skills we do in my Rescue team. This was going to be a piece of cake.
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Jess, Me and Aly rocking the onesies
On a hot sunny afternoon we then headed out to descend into Sell Gill, a cave system with all the rope work problems you could ever encounter. I didn’t have any problems getting down into the bottom of the cave. And yes, I had this look on my face all day.
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Just passed a deviation in the rope and continuing to head down
Later on, hauling myself back up the rope to get out I managed to jam my ascender (croll) at the top next to a knot. I was less than impressed with the ten minutes of wiggling it required to get it off. As you can imagine I was sweating in my rubber suit as I dangled, frustrated, trying to free myself. Ben at this point was being very reassuring with advice about how to free myself and was about to come and get me himself when I sorted it out. 
It wasn’t a horrible experience but Sell Gill isn’t the most attractive cave, as Ben pointed out its more of a training ground for learning the skills, so I was still wondering what the point of caving really is. Aly tried to explain that reaching the bottom of the cave is what cavers go underground for, but I’ll be honest I still didn’t understand.
I was even more confused to discover some of the club’s cavers had spent the day digging underground, to excavate new caves. I understand the desire to be the first to do something, even if it’s be in a cave, but really?! In the dark, cold and wet, digging dirt out of the ground.

Venturing into Alum Pot

I admit to being filled with a sense of dread after hearing two cavers spent Saturday night trapped underground nearby and had not been rescued till 5am. So I was a bit happier that Sunday’s trip out was to Alum Pot, a day lit shaft that descends 80m into the ground. At least I wasn’t going to spend all day in the dark I thought.

We initially headed upstream, wading through the river to reach Dr Bannister’s Handbasin, a huge underground pool. We had an awkward climb up a short waterfall to exit the last bit of the cave, awkward enough but much more so in wellies. 

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Once back out in the real world, we walked back down to the entrance to head downstream and into Alum Pot itself. The route down wasn’t too complicated and involved mostly walking through passage ways or around the edge of pools.

It was along this bit of the route that I was presented with the option of squeezing through a narrow crack to wriggle through, or sliding further down rock to avoid a pool. I can confess that watching Jess crawl through the gap and even thinking about having to follow her, made feel sick and teary. I opted for the slide down and managed to avoid the plunge pool.

From here we continued to ‘Dollytubs’, a roped descent down 15m to where we could see Alum Pot and daylight. Descending Dollytubs required a traverse along a ledge and to reclip the rope past a deviation as we descended. 

Even getting my descender (stop) onto the rope felt like a mental effort as I leaned over the drop. Ben did point out to me to just get my bum on the wall to balance, clearly logical thinking isn’t a skill of mine when I’m concentrating on not panicking! Despite always being clipped to a rope and therefore safe, I didn’t have faith in the gear, which is ridiculous I know. Clipped to a rope I wasn’t going to fall. So every time I had to faff with the stop I felt a bit uneasy. 

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Yes, I did shut my eyes to descend!
I was happy to get into Alum Pot and see daylight, and the descent down Greasy Slab was actually pleasant in the daylight. Alum Pot feels like another world when you look up to daylight, surrounded by leafy vegetation, moss and slime.

It was like being in Jurassic Park, another world that I wouldn’t ever see again and that hikers who pass by the surface never get to see. I knew I was lucky to have the opportunity to be there.

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Owen sat on ‘The Bridge’
The 45m descent down from below ‘The Bridge’ the large rock seen in the photo above, wasn’t really any more difficult that anything I’d done so far, only one deviation clip to get passed by unclipping and re-clipping.

Dangling in free space with daylight showing how far away the floor of the cave was, and the roaring sound of the waterfall pouring down made the whole thing feel a lot more scary. Plus having to sort out a deviation which was more than an arms length away and manage to re-clip it back on the rope without letting go of it was stressful.

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By the time I eventually got to the bottom of the rope I only had to walk along and do one more 20m descent down to reach the Sump, an underground pool and the end of the cave system. But on seeing the last rope descend down into the dark again and trying to sort out my rope whilst getting soaked under a waterfall I’d reached the edge of my mental strength.

Am I disappointed I didn’t see the Sump? As I sarcastically put to Ben as he tried to encourage me to continue, “its just a puddle”. Ok, I’m sure to cavers out there the Sump is something special and worth a visit, but I just didn’t care enough at that point to carry on. I was mentally wiped out. 

I’m still not disappointed either. I don’t have a great head for heights which is a problem with climbing at the best of time, but in dark and wet caves I’d found my limit. I felt bad for letting Ben down. For me it was a big enough achievement to have got to where it did. 

Hauling myself back up the 45m rope was challenging enough for me.

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Whilst I’m unlikely to ever go caving again, I would recommend a trip into Alum Pot if you can find someone to take you. Its not somewhere to go without experience – you need to be able to rig the ropes and understand ascending and descending safely. Being able to do that with Ben and Aly was great.

I was totally amazed and grateful for Aly’s calm and cool manner in dealing with me, being stubborn and sobbing at the bottom of Alum Pot. She’s an amazing caver and clearly really good at coping with novices like me. She was also out in front the whole weekend rigging the ropes and taking responsibility for safety. Whilst I’m not sure caving would ever have been for me even if I’d started younger, I believe girls need more role models like Aly. I found her totally inspiring.

I’d also like to say a massive thanks to Ben for letting me tag along, for being a good teacher and being calm when teaching me skills, and giving me the opportunity to see the amazing world of Alum Pot. And for taking photos – without which I’d have manage to banish all memory of the day!

#summeroftrad and learning to lead

I didn’t think back in January when climbing outdoors made it on to my year’s ‘to try’ list, that I would become addicted to it. So much so that it seems to have replaced hillwalking as this year’s outdoor activity – I’ve had only 2 days trudging over mountains since the end of the winter season (2?!) and 16 so far out trad climbing.  This might have something to do with the ever decreasing list of hills left to bag, and most of these being boring slogs over moors to featureless tops. It might also have something to do with a whole world of route lists on crags suddenly open to me – the tick list addict.

When I started trad climbing at the start of the season, it was to build my confidence and skills on more exposed routes, so that the big mountain routes of the world are more achievable, and Project Tink isn’t just a dream. Little did I know that I would actually grow to love climbing just for the sake of it, and love spending the day climbing up various routes on short crags.

I also didn’t think I would end up leading routes this year either.

I’m not going to pretend moving into trad lead climbing has been easy. Without friends willing to show me how to place gear and give me the confidence to have a go I’m not sure I would have ever tried. Trad climbing is a strange esoteric activity and the grades of routes are completely incomparable to indoor climbing grades. Trad climbing is hard to learn unless you pay a lot of money for a course at a mountaineering centre, or have friends patient enough to show you and crucially friends you trust.

I’ve learnt loads from climbing with Emily Pitts from Womenclimb this summer, most of all I’ve gained a massive amount of confidence, both in my climbing and my ability to laugh at myself when I dangle instead! Here’s Emily climbing a route at Birchen’s Edge.

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Here’s a great shot Emily took of me climbing Trafalgar Wall (Severe 4b) at Birchen’s Edge.

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Here’s Emily leading her first route after knee surgery, hence why its only an easy Diff called Cornette at Cow’s Mouth Quarry. This was the first route this year that I looked at and thought I could have lead it, as it was only 10m high and an easy break about half way. The clouds of midges put me off though!

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Here’s Dave belaying Seazy, Seasier and Sard. Dave is great to climb with as he climbs for fun not ego so the routes are never too knee-trembling-ly hard.

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My first lead was Summer bank holiday weekend with the Karabiner Mountaineering Club on Holyhead mountain in Wales. The route was called Plimsole graded Hard Difficult (HD) in UK trad climbing grades, so supposedly easy. I’d like to pretend that after a morning of climbing much harder routes and having loads of type 2 fun (the kind where you get scared but its still fun), that I enjoyed the experience of leading my first route. But does that ever really happen? Even the gungho guys I know probably didn’t enjoy their first experience leading trad, though I don’t think they’d admit it.

Plimsole well and truly destroyed me mentally. I don’t think it matters how well you climb, having to overcome the fear of falling and having confidence in your new skills of placing gear is much more of a mind game than seconding a route. I’ve managed to haul myself up routes as a second this year that I would never be able to lead.

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From the bottom Plimsole looked like an easy scramble up a gully of large boulders.

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Half way up I found myself trembling on the top of a boulder, trying to place a nut that I was confident would hold me at the same time uncontrollably sobbing through fear. Its the mind game I hadn’t mastered.

I found myself lacking the confidence to step onto a block with no footholds and the handholds a long stretch away. Of course I managed it eventually and got myself to the top of the pitch where I had to pull myself together to sort out the belay anchors and bring up my two seconds, Emily and Dave. After the ordeal of the first pitch I was proud of myself for still wanting to lead the second pitch, despite both Emily and Dave saying some of my nut placements weren’t ideal. Luckily the second pitch was loads easier and shorter.

On reflection it wasn’t really the technical skills I had issues with; most of the anchors where easy to sort out it, and I understood climbing on twin ropes. My issues were the fear of falling. Somewhere in the back of my mind that January winter accident 6 years ago in Scotland has tainted all of my adventures.

After crying so much on Plimsole I really didn’t think I’d lead a route again for a long time, but just like Scottish winters after my accident, its best to have another go quickly or risk never doing it again.

So, one Sunday afternoon with a group of friends we headed to Wharncliffe crags near Sheffield. We climbed 3 routes of varying difficulties – with me finding the traverse on Hamlet’s Climb graded HVD, way harder than Remus graded Severe.

Here’s Jess and Owen on Cheese Cut Crack (a VDiff route). I’ve learned a lot from these two since they first took me outdoors in Wales, and out of everyone I know they are two people I would trust to take me anywhere.

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I hadn’t planned to try to lead another route that day as I was happy just being out climbing with friends. But I managed to lead Alpha Crack – only a Diff, which is the easiest climbing grade – but I don’t care about that. It was important for me to give it a go and get over my fear and manage the route without freezing.

I also managed to avoid any tears despite feeling a bit stuck at one point. So whilst it might be a technically easy route it was a big deal for me as only my second lead route. I’m also pleased Owen got a shot of me looking awesome (that rarely happens!)

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Dealing with injury and getting active again

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last month. I’ve done nothing worthy of writing about. By that I mean I haven’t walked more than a mile in a day – its been mind numbingly boring and cabin-fever frustrating.

After a fantastic trail run at the Keswick Mountain Festival and then completing the Dovestones Diamond 10k in the rain a week later I felt fantastic and totally ready for running a half marathon. Nevermind the summer months rock climbing and peak-bagging over the fells.

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Then I managed to tear my right calf muscle which put pay to any ideas of running more races. I wouldn’t mind if I did it on a long romp across the moors, or during a race – then I could understand it being from overuse. Instead, I stepped off a kerb crossing the road and it went just went pop! I knew right away that it wasn’t going to be something I could just walk off.

So for the last month I have spent a massive amount of money (I dread to think) on physio, but its been worth every penny. Nothing means more to me than being able to enjoy being active outdoors, so I don’t care about the expense. During this period of hobbling around and calf stretching I have also learnt that my left knee which I twisted 6 years ago has a degenerative tendon so I need to start strengthen around it. And my left big toe which causes me agony when climbing is degenerative arthritis – nothing to be done about this according to the specialist, just deal with it when it gets worse. Not good for 33! Can I trade in my legs for an upgrade?

So lots of physio and a steroid injection in my toe later I managed to get back out for a hike this weekend. Nothing spectacular – I picked a couple of peaks that were on the tick list, but would normally be a terrible dull romp over the moors on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. I didn’t want to over do it, and the hills need ticking eventually… (even injury doesn’t stop me being addicted to peak bagging!)

I was also dog sitting Ted, my favourite border terrier, who has also been suffering from a limp. Once out on the hills though you’d never have known we were both injured – Ted especially, as he pulled me along all day wanting to chase sheep.

We headed up Gragareth, a hill supposedly the highest point in Lancashire sat firmly in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I’m not going to lie, its not a fantastic ridge with miles of interesting terrain. It is a moorland fell top which stretches out as miles of grass and sphagnum moss bog which would be awful in the depth of a wet winter and midgy ridden on a hot summer’s day. Thankfully it was neither yesterday, so while we got soaked bog trotting, it was otherwise a perfect day for such a walk. Ted did take a dive in a bog up to his neck though which wasn’t ideal.

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The whole round only took about three and a half hours, which was good, as by the time we got back to the car, my knee was screaming and my calf aching. I was also hoarse from shouting at Ted to slow down. Well, at least we got out!

First trad climbs of the season

I’ve actually had two false attempts before this week when the rain ruined any attempt to get out with friends. Thankfully it was dry at the weekend and I headed up to my closest crag at Pule Hill for a spot of abseil practice and climbing, ahead of a trip to the Alps this summer.

What do you think of this rope combo for self rescue?

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Pule Hill is a fantastic outcrop of gritstone with a quarried area. As my first climb of the season I was a bit unnerved by the exposure of Amen, a VDiff which requires managing your height under an overhang and stepping across a void onto a flat wall. Honestly, it induced a lot of swearing for a VDiff!

The route starts heading into a crack, I always feel comforted in a chimney, despite the slime. But when I realise I need to step out,  I have to challenge the feeling to panic. I headed up the face onto the platform below the overhang and then had to work out how to balance, step across the void, grip and haul my way up the flat face across the other side of the chimney, and then bridge my way up onto the top. A lot of swearing indeed!

I wish I’d just followed Kevin and his 5 year old son William who took a scrambling route adjacent to Amen.

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Jess and Owen were climbing on the HVS that runs over the impressive arch of rock, and so Kevin, Steve and I headed over to Pilot Crack next to it, a severe which started with a relatively easy set of steps onto the platform which runs under the arch of a pillar of rock, (to the right of the photo of Jess climbing).

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Unfortunately I’d realised at this point I could bail out as I could walk off under the arch, so when I felt off balance doing the last bit I gave up too easily. Followed by the comment from William that I was a scaredy-cat!

So I’ve found my Achilles heel in trad climbing – if I can bail out for an easy option, I will.

So the only solution is to multi pitch so I can’t bottle it and bail out. Better than that, to head out with a club of amazing and supportive climbers who won’t let my over rationalising take over, encouraging me to bail out.

So I head out Wednesday evening with the Karabiner Mountaineering Club to Alderman Rocks near Dovestones Reservoir. High up on the hillside, Alderman Rocks are an amazing outcrop of gritstone which has an amazing view across the Chew valley.

Despite my protests of wanting to start on an easy climb Andy had me heading up Pigmy Wall a severe, and whilst it tested my nerve due to the lack of handholds it was a nice short route for the start to the evening. We finished the route by climbing the last pitch of Rib and Face (a nice VDiff), here climbed by Giry who went before me.

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It was the third climb up Great Slab Arete (severe) when I truly questioned myself. A third of the way up the first pitch I couldn’t see the foothold round the other side of the Arete and so I did have a moment of panic. Thankfully I made it and managed to smear and haul myself up the rest of the route without too much swearing.

The final climb of the night was Great Slab (VS 4c), by then I was feeling a bit more confident and also happy to admit defeat since I assumed it was above my grade. Despite the tiny holds for feet and hands I did manage to get myself up it without too much swearing. Just look at the view Andy had from his belay spot!

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I’m guessing I have a lot to thank gritstone for, expect perhaps the grazes on my hands!