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!

Chunks of the Cleveland Way

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lake district dog walking and DofE

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Great and Green Gale

Yes that typo is intentional- it was certainly a gale Saturday when we decided to head up Great Gable from Honister and we battled the wind across the fell tops.

The best bit about going away for the weekend with Mountain Rescue friends is the fact that many of them are climbers. Usually this means I get a chance to improve my frankly terrible techniques. The bonus this weekend was the lack of urgency to get out of bed and leave the bunkhouse as it had rained and snowed overnight, ruining any plans of climbing.

Thankfully by the time we’d got up the rain has stopped so we headed down the Borrowdale valley to the Honister Slate Quarry for a quick ascent onto the fells. Considering I was in the Lakes last weekend when the dregs of winter snow had almost vanished, it was a surprise to find a fresh dusting to play in.

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After a spot of lunch below Windy Gap we headed on the north west side of Great Gable to ascend out of the wind, which as we got on to the summit it became clear the return walk over Green Gable was going to be tricky to stay upright.

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Just before sitting on the summit for a quick nibble of sugary sweets, the wind literally blew me off my feet and onto my backside then my camera died due to the cold batteries. Time to head back.

Sca Fell via Cam Crag and Foxes Tarn

It was a last minute decision to go the the Lake District over Easter, one I thought I was going to regret as I sat parked in traffic on the M6 watching it rain.

I’d arranged to meet Tony from the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club at their huts in Coniston to find out more about the club and make the most of the weekend and 4 long hours later I arrived.

The Club’s huts are located near the Coppermines Youth Hostel, up a dirt track about two miles out of the centre of Coniston. As someone who camps regularly and is only an occasional user of Youth Hostels I thought the huts are a bargain for guests to stay in (less than camping!) and are in a fantastic location.

Waking up at 6am to the sound of the dehumidifier in the drying room, it was clear that Tony is an early riser and was keen I was too. We’d decided the night before to head round to Eskdale to go up Sca Fell and so set off bright and early.

The path up the River Esk is a gentle start to the day, which was good as while Tony is a keen mountaineer, in his 70’s now he’s certainly not running up fells anymore.

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We headed up the path next to Cowcove Beck to reach Great Moss – a boggy plateau in spring but with perfect views across the back of Crinkle Crag, Bowfell and the Scafell range.

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We’d opted for Sca fell rather than Scafell Pike as that was going to be notoriously busy on Easter weekend, and given we’d passed two couples each navigating with their phones and no maps, there was no way we were going to spend the whole day assisting the lost. Especially when one of the couples complained they couldn’t understand why Scafell Pike wasn’t better waymarked. I’m not elitist in anyway, the mountains are for everyone – but within reason. I don’t expect to have to teach map reading skills to hikers miles from the nearest road. Tony didn’t mind – the endless stopping gave him chance to keep eating.

We eventually scrambled up the rock face next to Cam Crag Spout waterfall.

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Being out with a seasoned mountaineer I had to admit that I was a bit wary that Tony would want a more challenging route and chance to get climbing up rocks, but it seemed the route up to Foxes Tarn was enough scrambling for both of us. To reach Foxes Tarn, a tiny tarn in the cwm at Sca fell, we picked a route across the rocks and grass to wind around the crag to the south of Broad Stand. It was a fun scramble, though not entirely on rock.

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I was more than a bit disappointed to see Foxes Tarn, its certainly not worth the scramble, being nothing more than a puddle with a rock in the middle. Its location though is certainly impressive and this route up Sca Fell is better than the trudge from Wasdale.

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There were some people on the summit of Sca Fell but nowhere near as many as could be seen on the summit of Scafell Pike. We headed across the top to descend down to Slight Side crag and back down across the bogs towards Eskdale- finishing with a well earned meal in the pub.

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Calder Valley Greenway – Huddersfield to Sowerby Bridge

Despite the grey skies I headed out on my trusty/rusty bike on Sunday. Having cycled the Huddersfield Narrow Canal a few times I decided in the drizzle it would be quicker and nicer to stick to the A62, so I made good time into Huddersfield as I bombed down the main road.

Knowing full well I was going to have to cycle around the backstreets of Huddersfield anyway as the Narrow Canal disappears around the university at street level, I decided against jumping on the Broad Canal and opted for the A62 right out of town, until I got near to Deighton train station, where I then joined the canal to cycle to Cooper Bridge. (Following the green line that follows the canal on Sustrans map below.) I’d not previously cycled this section of the canal network so I wanted to check it out.

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The route is a bit rough but otherwise a nice alternative to the main A62 road, which at this point can start to get a bit congested with traffic, even on Sunday morning it isn’t much fun. The Huddersfield Broad Canal along the section from Deighton to Cooper Bridge is a great and quiet alternative; bumpy to cycle and the path is narrow in places, but it looks like the towpath is undergoing improvements.

IMG_3397 IMG_3404Once you reach this final lock you join back with the A62 and are faced with 2 choices in order to get to Brighouse and onto Sowerby Bridge (my intended destination) on the Calder Valley Greenway – 1) the A644 which takes you direct to Brighouse but across Junction 25 of the M62 (no thank you!) or to continue along the Canal, following the Calder Hebble Navigation. No contest in my opinion, traffic free canal wins hands down. Or so I thought.

I quickly realised why this section isn’t marked as a cycle route on Sustrans website.

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To start with the route is a nice amble along a rough road across fields away from the canal, that is until you reach the road end at Brearley Bridge. Here your first challenge is to get onto the canal. With a bike this involves wheeling across the adjacent muddy field – the lovely steps next to the bridge for access to the towpath are no good for getting a bike down.

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From here the towpath slowly disintegrates into what I could only describe as a quagmire. Had it been raining heavily I would have struggled to make it at all on a bike. I’m a bit disappointed with myself for not stopping and taking a picture of how horrendous the route becomes as it gets closer to and goes under the M62.

Frankly it was so muddy that despite a tow path nearly 2 metres wide I was hugging the tree line to stay out of the super deep sections – its beyond ruts and puddles. Even peddling slowly with feet out I nearly slid off a few times in the stretch of mud 1 foot deep that lasted for about half a mile. I needed a mountain bike to make it through.

I was surprised to see two dog walkers out, as even for walkers this section of towpath isn’t much fun. Which is a massive shame as its the only alternative to dicing with death at the M62 roundabout and is actually a pleasant section of canal. I’ve read somewhere that this is in a section of planned improvements to ensure a connected cycleway in the region – so fingers crossed!

Here’s a snap from the Pennine Waterways website of this section taken from the water.

Thankfully, as you near Brighouse its easy to hop on to the road to cycle into town and then pick up the very lovely tarmac Calder Valley Greenway which takes you into Sowerby Bridge.

The Greenway along this stretch of the Calder Hebble Navigation is fantastic as its mostly off the roads and very well surfaced. But in between dodging the hoard of Sunday morning dog walkers and peddling fast to get to Sowerby Bridge before I was totally soaked and starved, I didn’t take photos. I was pleased to have got there in 2 hours despite the slower speed along the muddy section.

Had it not been raining hard as I got into Sowerby I might have cycled on to Hebden Bridge, but it was lunchtime so food was calling.

Celebrating 30 years of Slaithwaite Moonraking

Someone’s just made a passing comment that the further you get from civilisation strange rituals and celebrations exist. That may be the case (I live a community which certainly has some interesting festivals). However I prefer to think that the further you get from the monotony of urban life, art and creativity flourish.

Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival certainly demonstrates that. Started 30 years ago by Satellite Arts the festival takes place every other year, and this weekend saw the birthday celebrations.

In the 8 years I’ve lived in the valley Slaithwaite has transformed into a place with growth in artisan businesses creating and selling individuality and uniqueness – from the local cooperative Green Valley Grocers to the Emporium with space for local artists to sell their creations – from the Handmade Bakery with its amazing range of breads and pastries to Empire Brewery creating a range of locally named real ales.

So it was fantastic that this year’s Moonraking festival included a celebration of all that is fantastic about the village and providing the influx of visitors with an opportunity to see more than just the lantern parade. I have to admit to being surprised to find McNair Shirts tucked away in the mill creating high quality merino shirts. Gorgeous and designed as a lifetime investment, but a bit out of my price range.

So by the time the Festival kicked off we were already a bit merry from eating and drinking.

Here’s the story of Moonraking from their website and some of my photos from the evening:

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