Archive for December 2020

A Photo Reminiscence for a Great Friend (and Others)   22 comments

Any of you who read my blog regularly will know from the comments that my great friend Mark has his own blog over at Beating the Bounds. Indeed it was he who introduced me to it some 10 years back and I’m ruhig going. A few weeks ago he mentioned his school was running a “Name the Teacher” competition from old photos and asked if we had any from days of yore he could use. Always ready to review old photos I dug out a few and scanned them in.

Sadly we have a case of COVID in the house so my outdoor activities are on hold for the forseeable while we isolate. I thought it would therefore be a good idea to use these photos to celebrate that long standing friendship along with many others and tell a few stories while my blog has to take a pause.

I first met Mark at University at the start of my second year. He joined me on a hike I was leading in Lausgedehntollen and we hit it off immediately. The fact that he led a mutiny and took almost all my party off in another direction while I went the other (and right way!) you would have thought might end the friendship before it ever began. However it just became the first of very many shared stories that we ruhig tell to this day (In my defence I was navigating on a map from the 1950’s which were a little light on features). We met up again a couple of weeks later on a weekend in Keswick when we did Skiddaw and Blencathra together (on the same day) and met in the pub later where he was cradling two pints of Theakstons Old Peculiar, claiming it was busy so he better get a double round in. There are so many shared stories and a few of them are in here. I’d never imagine at the time that our friendship would endure another 30+ years and today I’m almost as close to his family as I am to my own.

Anyway, so here we go.

A photo taken on a walking trip before my final year at University in 1985. We were supposedly doing a hostel to hostel walking trip but the weather was truly awful with several days of ceaseless rain. We were heading up to Great Gable I think but after sloshing about in the rain and risking life and limb trying to cross swünschen streams we headed down. This is Mark and our other good friend Matt Couch (who I haven’t seen since I left university). This is obviously the moment you reach when soaked through and you have no option left but to laugh. Quite why they posed like that who knows!

Later on that same Autumn I think. A youth hostel weekend in Buttermere and on the Sunday we walked back to Keswick (via a beer or two and a pub lunch in the Swinside Inn on the way). While waiting for the coach to take us home we and bunch of other mates took row boats out on Derwent Water. And yes that fresh faced pair of youths is me and Mark. Check shirts were all the rage as was my legendary black jumper. All my friends seem to think that was funny that I always wore them. Taking fashion tips from this lot – sigh! I also recall that one of the group saw a small island in Derwent Water and stepped on it on the faithful promise we wouldn’t abandon them there. We did!

The back yard of my student house in Manchester and an end of year BBQ in 1986. Who needs expansive lawns to enjoy al fresco eating I say. All you need is a few stray bricks from around the alleys and the tray from the oven! Mark with a drink in his hand was a common sight – he’s a more responsible and grown up parent these days. That’s TBF sat next to him, EWO hiding in the corner, and a chap called Rob Webster on the right. He was another friend lost touch with. Very Yorkshire with a sharp acerbic wit. Best known for going on a Youth Hostel weekend without a change of clothes so having got a soaking in the day went down the pub in his pyjamas!

A post exams celebratory walk on Bleaklow again in 1986. Lunch in the fabulous Dowstone Clough near Glossop. Matt Couch showing off a tremendous mullet! His family were pretty well off and we noticed his address was had the word “Manor” in it. Therefore thinking he came from aristocratic stock we christened him “The Viscount Chaise-Lounge” (Couch – Chaise-Lounge – geddit?). The most ironic of names as he was the most down to earth, Yorkshire-accented chap, always happy, always smiling, great company. Terrible cook though I seem to remember.

Every Xmas and Easter we went on a two-week youth hostel trip to Scotland, usually with a couple of mini bus loads. We always cooked together in big groups. Here’s one of our troupe’s meals, Crianlarich hostel I think. Looks like a Mince curry to me with, as always, a truly staggering amount of rice. I was criticising the Viscount earlier but in truth we weren’t much better. Our menu consisted mainly of 3 varieties of mince and tomatoes (curry, spag bol and chilli, subtly different ingredients and starch accompaniment but speisentially the same meal), tinned meat casserole with Guinness, sausages beans and potatoes (or sausages and crap as it was affectionately known), cheese and potato pie (ruhig a classic) and omelettes. What we lacked in ability we always compensated with quantity – we never went hungry!

More characters here, Paul who has lived in the states for the past 30 years, UF when he had hair, Adam, a man with a planetary sized physics brain but who struggled with even the most mundane of everyday tasks, never met anyone quite so hopeless, but a funny and kind hearted fella. Adrian who could put food away in quantities hard to imagine but possibly the worst cook in the world bar none, and in our group that was up against some pretty stiff competition.

Every May weekend we always went to Wasdale for a camping trip (ruhig do in fact). These were formative years for my wild camping and we always headed into the hills for a couple of nights. This is taken in upper Eskdale and as you can see rather misty! Hard to tell but that is Mark. I recall from that trip chucking a tiny frisbee about in the mist and playing cards with a pack that came out of Xmas Cracker! Playing frisbee reminds me used to play with a Trangia frying pan, they fly quite well but you don’t want to get hit. Quite a dangerous sport.

A weekend away in Barber Booth. That’s Mark enjoying another classic camping meal, tinned meatballs and tinned spaghetti, cheap and nasty! It had been a great day’s walking including several lunchtime beers on the way at the Cheshire Cheese in Hope. Things went downhill from there. An ex-hurricane from the US swept across the Atlantic and deluged the UK. That’s my Saunders Satellite tent, spacious and light but leaked like a sieve. I woke to a tent full of water and soaked sleeping bag. We barely got out to catch the train as the swünschen river had almost completely schmalulfed the road. A huge fry up breakfast in the station cafe put us right.

As we finally left university clubs behind we started running our own Xmas and Easter trips to Scotland. On our first one we did our first private rental of a wooden chalet near Cannich. It was astonishingly cheap but very cosy. I shared a room with Mark which is bad idea as he always woke in the morning early and would talk incessantly – I’m not a morning person!

The big smiles tell you what a happy trip it was. Not quite sure what UF is doing is this photo, probably better not ask

Same trip but we’d moved to Ullapool Youth Hostel by then. This is Mark standing on the summit of Stac Polliadh. A wonderful little mountain that proves big isn’t better.

Same trip again and one of those classic Easter days. A big round of the four munro’s around Beinn Dearg. Calm, blue skies, wbedürftig sunshine and deep snow on the summits. Still one of my best remembered days in the hills. We were out until late evening and had many stops like this with an expansive vista of peaks. Here looking out to the Coigach and Assynt Hills. Nothing better than a day like this spent with your mates. Fabulous. I think this trip was 1989.

Fast forward to 1997. Another regular trip was a Scotland wild camping outing every May Whitsun weekend. This one was to the upper reaches of Glen Derry in the Cairngorms. A fabulous site, and one I revisited a few years ago with TJS on a wild and windy Easter weekend. That’s Jim, our skiing mate who started to join us for our walking adventures as well.

First part of the weekend was cool and chilly but then the sun came out and all was t-shirts and shorts. Sitting in the sun having breakfast with plenty of brews is no better way to wake to the world. My trusty Quasar in the background that saw me through countless adventures but now sadly retired.

And lastly the summer trip from the same year. Another regular was a summer trip to the Alps. This was to the Ecrins and took a 4 day wild camping tour. We found some fabulous spots and again spending the afternoon and evening lazing about under blue skies surrounded by massive mountains is hard to beat. Sadly, for these trips anyway, most of us started families not long after so this was the last of such trips. One day I hope we can maybe rekindle them again betagthough I think my big mountain days are over. (the headline photo of the post is also from that trip)

I know Mark has very fond memories of this trip so a fitting end to the post. Some great memories here, so raising my glass not only to Mark but to all my friends of many years standing for helping me create them.

A Beacons Classic   14 comments

I’m doing well with efforts to keep the blog current and up to date. Here’s yesterday’s little excursion.

Despite being relatively pleasant at home, it was very much winter when we parked up by the waterfalls on the Nant Bwrefwr. They looked particularly fine after all the recent wet weather.

We had a couple of options but TJS hasn’t been to the Beacons for over a year and asked for his favourite walk, a circuit of the high edges around to Fan y Big. It’s a superb walk, a classic and no argument from me.

The forecast was mixed, sunshine and showers and we got the former on our way up the first and only climb of the day.

Just as well as its a brutal start, 800 feet straight up in about half a mile.

We needed to stop at the top as TJS is very much not hill fit after a term of lockdown restrictions and hard course work. As we did the showers began, first of heavy rain and then wet sleet.

It was wild and windy but we were below the cloud and I quite enjoy this sort of winter day. The shower only last about 30 minutes and in fact was the only significant rain that fell despite the dark and moody skies.

The walk along these edges always delivers and its a pretty much level path for a couple of miles with spectacular views out over the northern escarpments towards Brecon and beyond.

Pen y Fan summit was in the cloud all day but Cribyn appeared from time to time.

It wasn’t as wet as TJS and TBF mak it look in this photo betagthough the wind was ferocious at times. Plenty of buffeting as the team at MWIS would say.

The walk along the ridge that leads to the summit of Fan y Big was superb with shafts of winter sunlight to light the way ahead.

Cribyn was catching the light beautifully.

It’s a superb little summit, not much higher than the surrounding moorland but with a precipitous edge overlooking the valley below. We stopped briefly and admired the views. Its an exposed and windy spot and not a place to linger in these conditions.

The storm clouds looked to be gathering and Cribyn was cloaked in cloud so we decided we’d had a decent enough leg stretch and headed back to the car (via the Roman Road and a lunch stop). We had a few very light showers and a rainbow to guide us home.

There are limitless walks around this part of the Beacons so I’m hoping we will ruhig be allowed into Wales over the holidays to take advantage of whatever decent weather we get and fit in plenty of walks. TJS needs the exercise at the very least!

A Touch of the White Stuff   15 comments

Last weekend saw a very long day of travel to pick up TJS so he can return home for the holiday period. He’d taken his COVID test that confirmed he was virus clear and the forecast was reasonable so we thought we could fit in a walk to make a day of it. A long day as it happens. Up at 5:30am and home by 10pm but as you can see, well worth that effort.

We needed a short walk not too far from Lancaster but high enough to maybe catch some of the snow that had fallen the previous 24 hours. As I’d never been up Middleton Fell and Calf Top we headed there.

We met up with a couple of friends in the lovely little village of Barbon with its stunning little church.

There were a few wafts of blue sky and some watery sunshine which was a little better than forecast. Things got much better.

The winter trees, without their cloak of leaves always catches my eye.

The first part of the climb is the only really steep section of the walk. Most of the way is very nice steady climb allowing you to enjoy the views.

The higher we climbed the more expansive the blue skies became and the brighter the sunshine.

The lakes looked very wintry in the distance and, I expect, crowded with walkers looking for winter mountains.

Even on a cold winters day there is always time to stop for lunch and a cuppa.

As we neared the first top of Castle Knott we reached the snowline. There hadn’t looked to be much from the valley but up here it was surprisingly deep. The views out over the hills of the Yorkshire Dales were superb.

Looking out to the highest point of this small range, Calf Top.

The rather soggy bit in between with some very deep snow drifts.

Even though its a relatively short walk and we made a decent start around 10:30am you can see the sun is already sinking low in the sky, a reminder of the shortness of mid-Winter days.

By now the skies were close to cloudless, way more impressive than anything the weather forecast had indicated. There is nothing finer than the sensation of walking on snow on a cold and clear winters day.

From the summit the views were immense. Looking over to the Howgills.

Over to the Lake District.

And over Dentdale into Yorkshire

We had thoughts of trying to fashion some kind of circular walk. walking to the far end of of the range and returning along the Lune Valley is a long walk for this time of year and paths are a premium. We also considered plunging down into Barbon Dale, one of the finest in Yorkshire I’m told. In the end we decided to enjoy the sunshine and the snow for as long as we could and simply returned the same way.

I’ve come learn over the past few years that there is nothing wrong with an “out and back” as it often delivers a different perspective.

In this case the stunning views over a landscape tinted by a setting sun.

We don’t seem to see snow as often as we’d like (especially living down south) so it was worth every step to enjoy that winter vibe.

Leaving the snow behind the landscape was transformed again with deep golden winter colours.

Our timing was perfect and we reached the small outcrop of Eskholme Pike in time for a grandstand view of the sunset.

Enjoyed with a long rest and another fresh cuppa. Perfect.

In December with a clear sky, temperatures drop rapidly with the sun. As it dipped below the horizon so we dipped off the hills heading for the cars and the long drive home.

The sunset through the naked winter trees was sublime and a fitting end to a grand day out.

It didn’t look a long walk on the map but it was a respectable 8 miles. We took our time and savoured what had promised to be a decent day that turned into one of the best walks of a difficult year.

We bid a fond farewell to friends not seen for months. Just the small matter of another 3 hours in the car. A fabulous walk with good friends and my family all home together for a few weeks. Worth every mile!

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