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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I rarely go to the beach. Even abroad I’m not that bothered but certainly in the UK I wouldn’t go – its not that the coast isn’t beautiful but it doesn’t drive my need for adventure in the same way as a hike through fields or up mountains would.
However, I’ve been dog sitting for a friend and thought a trip to the beach would be a nice change. Via a hill I’ve not been up before, of course! Which provided a great chance to do chunks of the Cleveland Way national trail a 110 mile route around the North and East edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.
First stop was Roseberry Topping just outside Middlesborough. It is only 320m high but is still a steep climb. Caused by a geological fault and a mining collapse it is a distinctive hillside and a major landmark on the trail. It is also very popular being so close to Middlesborough. Which Ted thought was fantastic as there was lots of other dogs to say hello to.
The joy of being a Duke of Edinburgh Assessor is being able to spend time in the hills and meet groups of young people who are learning new skills and challenging themselves with being self reliant in the outdoors.
This weekend I got to assess a friend’s group, which meant I also spent the weekend with his gorgeous dog Beamish. The scout group were more hardcore than some gold groups I’ve met recently as they were wild camping for three days straight as part of their Gold expedition in the Lake District – hiking from Keswick to Borrowdale, over to Grasmere and then up the Thirlmere Valley.
Welsh sunburn, now there’s a rare phenomenon but on Saturday’s hike we all finished the day sporting a varying degree of sunburnt necks and arms; looking more like Brits in Benidorm than hikers in Wales.
I’d picked Moel Hebog, the hill of the hawk, as our mountain for the day purely based on the delight of ice cream at Bedgellert at the end. There needed to be an incentive for my friends who were newbies to climbing mountains.
Moel Hebog turned out to be a good choice as the cloud around the summit cleared quickly while Snowdon remained shroud in cloud till lunch.
It was also guaranteed to be crowd free unlike Snowdon.
The real trouble with peak bagging it that its addictive. Having a burning need to finish lists and explore places I’ve never been before peak bagging provides me with the solution in a simple to organise method – look at the map identify unclimbed peaks and go.
So having had a great morning cycling around Lake Vyrnwy I still couldn’t cope with the idea of being so close to summits that need bagging. Clearly there’s a certain amount of madness in the need to be on the top of a relatively insignificant summit but nevertheless, its on a list and is technically a mountain so I had to go.