We arrived just in time for food at a pub in the valley. Andy asked for the key to the lodge and was met with a reply,
What’s the password?
Andy stared blankly but somehow got the key anyway.
Burnmoor Lodge is managed by the Burnmoor Lodge Club, set up by the owner of the lodge in order to manage and restored the building. The Club comprises of a very select group of people of which Andy is one.
Armed with a bunch of keys and heavy packs we set off up the hillside into the fading light and the clag.
Jared joked that this was another team expedition across a muddy hill, and that up here the sheep grew bigger in the damp clag. By the time we reached Burnmoor Lodge the clag was so thick the sheep could be the size of elephants.
The fourth key tried opened the door and by torchlight we were greeted by a room full of DIY and smelling of paraffin. A row of shiny Tiley lamps sat on the shelf above the fire.
The previous occupant had left a note apologising for not tidying as he had been on a 10 day working party and was tired. His sleeping bag and power pack were still in one of the rooms.
We unpacked sleeping bags and fell asleep.
Despite its remote location between Wasdale and Eskdale high on the hill, the Lodge has three upstairs rooms with bunk beds enough for 18 people – with new mattresses and pillows, and repairs to the roof and plastering ongoing. With only the Club to restore it, it will take a while, but I could see the place could be alright when renovations have finished.
In the daylight the hut actually looks organised – dining area with books and games, kitchen with all the usual stuff and a shelf choked full of jars of pickles and herbs. And a living room full of DIY stuff.
Climbing on Scafell Crag
After breakfast and sorting kit we marched across the bog next to Burnmoor Tarn, watching a Duke of Edinburgh group misunderstand the point of pacing themselves up the hill. It was great to look back down the hill and see our rather large lodge.
We stashed our bags at the top of Lord’s Rake and kitted up before descending the shaly, loose gully to the bottom of the routes.
Jared had chosen Botterill’s Slab a VS 4c 3-pitch route, while Andy and Stuart headed off for Moss Ghyll Grooves.
Getting to the bottom of Botterill’s Slab involved a slimy shuffle up green slippy steps to reach the start. We had to wait a while for teams to move up before we could climb, so we had the pleasure of admiring the drippiness of the route. It also faced north, so while crowds headed up Scafell Pike in the glorious sunshine, it was pretty cold in the shade.
The first pitch I didn’t enjoy much as it was very 3D and off balance and I took ages to wriggle up trying to avoid my hands being wet and cold. At least the cold kept the midges at bay. There’s something very British about putting your hand in a puddle as you climb.
The slab pitch was partly ok but the crux in the middle was a horrifying combination of tiny handholds and tiny footholds and Jared had a long moment before he could place gear. I did whinge my way up that bit. There’s a reason I only lead really easy routes!
The 3rd pitch was more straight forward and much easier, although it did involve a squeeze into and a thrutch up a green slimy chimney – which was definitely aided by the fact I was climbing with a bag with our boots in it.
Despite being green it has good holds and leads to a lovely little ridge scramble with an Alpine feel before the end.
We had a quick plod to the summit of Scafell before descending to our bags, and a quick refuel stop before heading down.
After a simple dinner and a beer in the sunshine (yes we carried beers up to the Lodge!) we heated water for a complex washing up session.
As the light faded we tried to light a Tiley lamp for light and heat but instead set it alight. Tiley lamps are not straight forward to light it seems!
The Lodge is in a beautiful location, perfect for wild swimming, and a great view of Scafell, especially at sunset. It felt like a privilege to stay at Burnmoor Lodge, and I’d love to return and see the progress the Club make in its restoration. I’d also love to see it used enough to keep it running, without the wildness of the place changing.
It will be especially exciting when the compost toilet proposed is installed – so the final days ritual of digging a pit is no longer required!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Here’s a great shot Emily took of me climbing Trafalgar Wall (Severe 4b) at Birchen’s Edge.
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!
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.
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.
From the bottom Plimsole looked like an easy scramble up a gully of large boulders.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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).
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.
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!
I’m guessing I have a lot to thank gritstone for, expect perhaps the grazes on my hands!
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.
From there we headed to Saltburn-by-the-Sea to wander along the beach to the imposing Saltburn Scar cliffs and back along the Cleveland Way through the Victorian gardens where a band was playing. Ted loved the beach but embarrassed me with his little dog syndrome, fighting other dogs whilst we were listening to the band.
From there we headed down to Whitby for a long walk along the beach from Sandsend into town, which at least knackered Ted out. On the way back we followed the Cleveland Way National Trail back to Sandsend.
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.
A great chance to hike and dog walk!
Day 1 -Burns Farm to Dock Tarn, via Walla crag and Watendlath tarn. Yes they really did take a frisbee with them!
Day 2 – Dock tarn in Borrowdale to Angle Tarn
Horrendous wet weather to kill the fun but the group kept the pace up and Beamish didn’t sulk too much either, having to sit in the cloud and wait around for them.
Day 3 – Angle tarn to Grisedale Tarn
We walked up from Grasmere up past Easdale Tarn to meet the group at High Raise, leaving Beamish at home for a rest and so we could pick up the pace.
A great day for sitting around drinking coffee and admiring the view. I love watching dofe groups from afar so that they get sense of personal freedom but we know they’re safe and well.
Day 4 – along the Thirlmere valley back to Burn’s Farm.
A gorgeous sunny day for sitting by Thirlmere and enjoying the view. The groups did really well finishing on time and all still smiling.