Posts tagged Lichfield walking poles

Into the WILD! Days 4 & 5: High Cup Nick to Cauldron Snout & beyond

High Cup Nick was spectacular. A gouge out of the landscape, we agreed it would probably be yet more breathtaking 1) were we to have approached it from the other direction and 2) had the weather been even half-way decent… But it was amazing nonetheless.

Right on its very top, we bumped into a walking party who told us the tale of an 18 year old girl they had encountered a little way back. They had spotted her apparently waiting for somebody, only to discover that it was indeed they for whom she was hoping… or anyone really… to help her out of the bog in which she had become stuck. Her story is one of bravery, actually. She had, at her tender age, started the walk with two friends; one of whom had twisted her ankle and had to leave, and the other had given up and gone home. But on she soldiered (not too happy to be identified by us, when we encountered her the following day, as the girl who had got stuck: “Does everyone know?!”) Anyhow, our walking party walked on and we filled our Aquapure in preparation for the first cup of tea we were to have on our funky stove.

Balanced Precariously above High Cup Nick

Balanced Precariously above High Cup Nick

And the rain it did rain and the wind it did howl… And our faces became fixed into the grimace of those who are determined to look like they’re having fun… We couldn’t stop for said cup of tea until we could find somewhere even vaguely sheltered, so we paused to rest our weary shoulders in a small dip, atop a rock, and ate a Snickers bar. From. The. Gods. It’s amazing, as one who is generally enormously snobby about chocolate (my favourite being Lindt 90% cocoa) how good a Snickers bar tastes under such conditions. It just wouldn’t have the same effect here in my comfy sitting room.

And on we marched, over that vast and exposed expanse of soggy grassland. And something miraculous happened… As we descended into Upper Eden Valley (yes, that really is its name), the sun emerged from behind the clouds, which blew away with alarming and delightful speed. And it stayed. We could see all sorts of revolting weather going on behind us, but overhead and before us were simply blue skies. We began peeling off layers: waterproof coats, fleeces, the legs of trousers…! Our path took us along the Eden River: a wide, babbling, rocky river of awe-inspiring beauty and proportions. We came to a bridge, rearranged some rocks to sit on, hunkered down out of the still rather powerful “breeze” and (drum-roll, please) made our first cup of tea on our funky stove. The water boiled in such a short time we were speechless. I opened a packet of plain chocolate Digestives and our bliss was boundless. Listen carefully to this next bit (especially as you’ll have to take care to remember these words when it comes to describing our supper): there is nothing in the world that can make you appreciate the smallest comforts when you are out in the wild with only the possessions you carry on your back. Nothing. You take only what you can carry. You possess, in time, only the moment in which you are living. Your company is only that person with whom you walk. Your entertainment is the awesome power of the nature that surrounds you. That afternoon I felt, possibly for the very first time, soaring  contentment and an utter sense of peace. I should have been nervous: yet again our little book had misled us. We didn’t know where we were going to sleep for the night; we were once again in the middle of nowhere without a plan (our forte) and yet… It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. The world felt right.

We pushed on through that scenery, keeping an eye out for a suitable spot to make camp. We passed through deserted farmyards, greeted many, many sheep, and all the while the Eden River gargled nearby.

Shortly before dusk we were attacked. Yes, you heard right. Attacked. By blooming midges. Thankfully, my ever-prepared companion had had the foresight to read many an article on the absolute necessities of such an outing and we applied, most liberally, our insect repellant. Repeatedly, as it happened. It was necessary!

And then!

We heard it before we saw it. The crashing, thunderous roar of gallons and gallons of water falling tumultuously from great heights. Cauldron Snout (unhappily named, in my humble opinion, for such a spectacularly beautiful piece of natural architecture) is dramatic and regal and irresistible. We scrambled down the rockslide that passes for a path down the side of the falls and (I can hear celestial voices singing as I recall this bit) there, at the bottom, far from any hint of civilisation with one of the most beautiful of natural wonders this country can provide as our backdrop, was the perfect spot for a tent.

Making Camp at Cauldron Snout

Making Camp at Cauldron Snout

I washed our clothes in the river, marvelling at the happiness such basic living could inspire.

Washing Clothes in Eden River

Washing Clothes in Eden River

Behind me the thunderous falls and my view: our tent and the open vista of the Northumbrian Fells.

View of the Fells from the Falls

View of the Fells from the Falls

Nothing but the distant bleating of sheep for company. And weren‘t we pleased with ourselves:

Smugness Personified

Smugness Personified

That evening, we had wine – cleverly decanted into a plastic bottle to keep the weight down – to accompany our tuna and Smash. Yes, you heard right. Smash. Just add water! Tuna, Smash, a little olive oil, salt and pepper and some garlic flakes. My God, it was good! Yes, I mean it (remember I said you needed to mark my words?) So good to have hot food with some flavour (thanks to the bits and bobs we’d brought with us – plastic travelling bottles and pots from Boots are perfect), a glass of wine and survey the incredible scenery.

Smash and Tuna Gourmet Delight

Smash and Tuna Gourmet Delight

I hope I’m not waxing too lyrical, but I have to say that that afternoon and evening were the most perfect and magical of my life so far.

To wake up to that view isn’t bad either (she understated).

We were up with the lark, wild-camping style, packed up and off in the direction of High Force with this for our view:

The Eden River

The Eden River

Can you beat that?

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Into the WILD! Days 2 & 3 – Hadrian’s Wall and on…

“To Hadrian’s Wall!”

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall

And off we yomped, alongside Haltwhistle burn with its tinkling waterfalls, leafy walkways and steep climbs. We took the pretty way. Oh, ok… we got a bit lost – all those bridges look the same on the map – and were rather bewildered as to how we had managed to get so far back from where we had intended to meet the Wall. Indeed, we spent a good hour by some quarry or other (whose name, mercifully, escapes me now) employing several methods including good old map-turning and rather natty orienteering, only to end up certain that we had, all doubt vanished, gone wrong. Oops. Great start.

But at least we now knew where we were. And Hadrian’s Wall was it. We fought our way through a herd of cattle (and have since read several articles about those who have recently been trampled to death by cross cows – a word to the wise: a bull on his own is far more dangerous than one with cows – he‘s far more interested in the cows; and never get between a cow and her calf – she’s likely to turn very nasty) and onto our rightful path. Contrary to what we had heard, the walk was almost entirely unpopulated. We encountered a mere handful of people and even those were mainly concentrated around the “hotspots”: those sites worthy of note that are accessible by car, requiring only a minimal amount of walking. It was the hilliest,  most breathtaking country; barren and beautiful with wide open views taking your eye further than any vista you can imagine. Those skirmishing Scots didn’t have a hope of the element of surprise.

Scouting for Scots

Scouting for Scots

Shoulders aching from the weight of our backpacks and knees groaning under the strain, we arrived in Greenhead at about teatime. The Greenhead Hotel is well acquainted with walkers – on this particular evening it was full of Ramblers – and has a menu to stick to the ribs of any hungry traveller. We ordered Cumberland sausage with mashed potato and onion gravy (which came with a token smattering of peas) and washed it down with the local Allendale Black Grouse. It was, with the noteable exception of our firm old favourite Theakston’s Old Peculier in whose country we had not yet set foot, the best beer we have ever tasted: smooth, black, almost Guinness-like and named after those very rare fowl to be found, I believe, only in those parts. We were lucky enough to see and hear them nesting in the grasses up on the wild hillsides.

Have you seen American Werewolf in London? Then you’ll get the idea of the kind of foolhardiness that was our next rather rash decision. A couple of beers under our belt and our Ordnance Survey Explorer map in hand, we decided to follow the advice of our little book and head for the nearby Access Land on which we would wild camp for the night. Access Land, for the uninitiated, is land that is generally used only for grazing and upon which wild camping is just about tolerated; as long as you pitch up near nightfall and are well away by first light. Our little book told us of a spot called Glencune Burn which, apparently, was just such a good spot and with a good hundred miles to go, we thought we’d try to get slightly ahead of itinerary. Perhaps we should just write an article on How Not to Do It…? Point 1: Stick to your plans. Or, if you really want to stray from them, make sure the replacement plan is well-researched and thought out!

Bravely, we set off for Blenkinsopp Common.

There is one word to describe the next few hours: bog.

Perhaps there are two, actually: bog and poo.

We fought through waist-high grasses, our feet disappearing ankle-deep in peaty bog, sheep poo and cowpats. The jovial mood produced by the pub’s fare was rapidly disappearing and hurtled headlong down the pan when we realised that part of that bog was Glencune Burn. You wouldn’t have a hope of pitching a tent there: it wasn’t possible to even stand without sinking… Disheartened, but not entirely discouraged, the only thing for it was to press on in the hope of finding somewhere more suitable. Which is when the path disappeared entirely in the midst of a vast field of cows and their calves and the biggest, stockiest, scariest, most evil-looking ginger bull you’ve ever seen in your life. He did not take his eyes off us once. The ground was threatening to swallow us whole, but it was anybody’s guess if it would take us before the bull did, or indeed one of his lady-friends protecting her littl’un. The sun was almost down; we had no visible means of escape; it was utterly impossible to camp here and panic began to set in.

Blenkinsopp Bloody Common

Blenkinsopp Bloody Common

It is hard to convey how dismally grim this part of the walk is. I’ll admit now that I was having grave misgivings about our “holiday” at this point: if it was going to be a week of this kind of soggy, miserable hell, I might well be catching the next bus (or cow, or donkey or whatever) home.

We scrambled through that field, hoiked our backpacks over the stone wall and took a breather while the adrenalin kicked in and abated. It was almost dark, we were off the beaten path and we had nowhere to camp. Our first night going it alone looked pretty doomed.

My beloved companion, sensing my impending mother-of-all-strops, put his best foot forward and launched us off to find a suitable spot to pitch our tent… to not much avail, frankly. However, on finding and following a vehicle-worthy track, what we did manage to do was find a signpost directing us back onto the Pennine Way. At which, of course, all panic dissipated and, safe in the knowledge that we were back on target, we set about pitching our tent on the edge of a field, out of sight of human or animal, in the proper wild camping style. We set it up quickly, got into our thermal jim-jams, inflated our bedrolls and snuggled into our sleeping bags just as the last light disappeared. Still without gas or fuel for our Kelly Kettle, there was no warming cuppa to send us off but we fell asleep almost immediately after our first rather epic adventure.

It was the most comfortable night of our holiday (with an obvious exception yet to come) and in the morning we discovered why.

All night it rained. It lashed down on us, we only vaguely aware of it in our snug and cozy tent. And it truly was: snug and warm and cozy. And so comfortable.

As we dressed, now a little nervous that, far from stopping the rain seemed to be strengthening in its determination, and stepped outside the tent we discovered that the “field” we had slept in was, in fact, a bog. The explanation for our night of extreme comfort was that we were, in essence, sleeping on a waterbed. We were drenched. I mean, soaked through. Our waterproofs went on over the top of saturated clothing; Jem was carrying a tent double its usual weight thanks to the water it was laden with. We were gone, dripping wet, and back on the Pennine Way before 6 o’clock in the morning.

A bit grumpy, frankly. And wondering if this was what the entire week had in store.

The next point in our How Not To Do It is about being prepared. If you are 1) in the middle of nowhere with 2) no realistic idea of where you are going to end up, it is as well to have about your person the wherewithal to nourish yourself. We had been clever enough to buy a pint of milk in the Haltwhistle Sainsburys the day before, but of course had no gas for our stove. We had been clever enough to bring along a Kelly Kettle (a fabulous invention in the right circs) but had no fuel for it. And, as you will no doubt have surmised, everything within walking distance was drenched. We had no food (“It’s all about weight – we’ll buy it as and when we need it”), no fuel and were cold, wet and hungry. Water we had in plentiful supply, thanks to our Aquapure (something I would heartily recommend to anyone undertaking a similar expedition), teabags and milk, but no means of heating the water. And we were gasping for a cuppatea. About an hour or so into our day’s walking, we decided to stop and attempt the Kelly Kettle. I am not kidding when I say it took an hour of fire-lighting, half the fuel from a lighter, several storm matches and, in eventual desperation, a night-light candle to get it going and hot enough for what turned out to be the hardest won cup of tea I have ever drunk. But boy! Was it worth it.

What we also had, I forgot to mention, was a bag of “muesli” (but not as we know it). Thanks to Jem’s rather delicate tum, it was wheat-free which, I guess, means that it uses rice flakes instead of wheat. The result is something that is utterly inedible unless you give it a good old soak first, but when you find yourself in the position in which we had landed up, it was manna. We had muesli, a cup of tea and on we went.

What followed was basically more bog, with intermittent rain showers and a few mouthfuls of beef jerky, until we reached a place called Slaggyford (great name, right?) There, both our map and our little book informed us of an old railway track, now called the South Tyne Trail, which would take us all the way to our next destination: Alston. The temptation was too great. “What?! You mean… avoid all this bog? Walk the last 5 miles along a path??” No blooming competition. Soggy and weary, as soon as we set foot on the South Tyne Trail out came the sun. Waterproofs were daringly removed, dry kindling gathered for the kettle and yet another abortive mission to light it. We had a second bowl of rabbit food doused in milk and found ourselves walking alongside a single-track steam railway. I blush to confess that this was the first time I used my Shewee. I shall not go into the sordid details here, but suffice to say I agree with all the positive feedback it has received. It is yet another modern miracle and I salute the person with balls (ahem – figuratively of course) enough to run with the idea.

On our last legs, having walked an entire day on two small bowls of muesli and some beef jerky, we shuffled into Alston and straight onto a set for Mad Max, aka our campsite. A site full of static caravans (basically a trailer park) on the edge of a parking place for skips full of debris and burning plastic it had roughly three pitches for tents amid the madness. But it was very friendly and felt far safer and more like home than the previous night… First mission: dry the tent. Dutifully we hung up the inner and pitched the outer. Second mission: blister plasters on. Third mission: hobble on blistered foot and hurty knee up the hill into town for supplies (See? We learn from our mistakes – Tracker bars, chocolate Digestives, more milk, nuts and fruit, Snickers, Twix and Choc ‘N’ Nut, Soreen Malt Loaf – prepared!) and find somewhere suitable for a drink and a hot meal. The Cumberland Inn served us with Black Grouse‘s cousin Allendale Wolf beer and the Angel Inn gave us Black Sheep and home-cooked lasagne, not to mention the company of two delightful elderly ladies visiting the area for an art course. It was deservedly very busy, that pub. The evening flew by and the night passed uneventfully. Thank God.

Tomorrow… How the hell do we get out of Alston??


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Crowhurst to Rye… 20 miles across 1066 country

The longest and most challenging of our walks so far (actually, ever, for either of us), this was our “ultimate fitness test” before the Pennine Adventure begins. Our longest day’s walking will be 19 1/2 miles from Alston to Dufton, so if we could walk to Rye, we’d be okay for that yomp. (Let us, for now, gloss over the fact that the days either side of that particular walk will see us marching 16 1/2 and 13 1/2 miles respectively – not much chance of a rest-up… gulp). This walk followed the 1066 Country Walk, which we picked up just beyond Battle and which culminates in Rye.

We set off shortly before 11 on Saturday morning, a backpack between us containing a bottle of water, some of Jem’s home-made sausage rolls (with added red pepper – scrumptious), some beef jerky and a cereal bar or two, not to mention our aforementioned waterproof coats (which, in the event, we only needed to keep out the chill at the end of the night). We also decided (given my hurty knee – altogether now… “Awwwww!”) to give our new walking poles an outing. Mine are a gorgeous pink (which in my world of blue is a wonderful thing) but are sadly lacking the funky little compasses that Jem’s splendid blues ones sport in their handle.

Brakes Coppice Park to Crowhurst Park

Initially, we planned to cut out a little of our route by getting a train to Battle first but having realised that if we just walked across country from home it would make no difference to our journey, we did precisely that and it was beautiful from the outset. A little country lane took us past Brakes Coppice Park campsite, which we have not visited but can certainly advise couldn’t be in a much more secluded and beautiful spot. We walked through stunning avenues of immensely tall trees and a well-signed footpath (much of which was rather steeply uphill) brought us out past Crowhurst Park – a holiday park of pine lodges and leisure centre with stunning views, but a little crowded together for my personal taste – to the main Battle to Hastings road. Where we came a little unstuck. It has been hammered home to us on several occasions now how very much people tend to dislike maintaining a footpath (or indeed even leaving the sign up) when it passes across or very close to their land. Harumph. Grumble over. But after to-ing and fro-ing countless times, disappearing behind a Church and an abandoned pub in our hunt, we finally found several notices warning the daring rambler to close gates and keep dogs on leads and on no account to even think about bringing an unauthorised vehicle anywhere near them.

It was another beautiful lane taking us down into some woodland (where a dog sailed over a gate to get to us, thus proving it utterly ineffectual), past some of the most beautiful wild-flowered meadows (complete with rather picturesque beehive) and onward through the uncultivated countryside.

When we reached Westfield, the first place with a pub, we decided virtuously to wait until we got to Icklesham before succumbing to the temptation of a cold pint of beer on this hot and sweaty walk. We were actually to rather regret the decision as Icklesham seemed to get further away rather than closer. But it was a positive delight when we did get there (in spite of the rather rowdy clientele in the very beautiful, olde worlde Queen’s Head). Squirreled so effectively away that we managed to walk straight past it, the Queen’s Head has (I hope this description is not yet getting boring) stunning views, a play area for kids, a perfectly good looking menu and sensibly advises that it welcomes children but they should not come to the bar and adults are cordially requested to remove them before 8.30pm. All very sensible.

Feeling decidedly hazier, we crossed the busy road to rejoin our 1066. It was pointed out to us by a very friendly and keen-to-be-helpful chap driving past us and off we yomped again. This part of our walk took us past an over-laden plum tree (not on anyone’s land as such and therefore easy and delicious pickings), through extensive orchards (I am always impressed when landowners do both mark and adhere to the original footpath and this one surely did) which we surmised must be a cider orchard and at the end of which we espied a rather beautiful black windmill atop a hill. Here we stopped for a picture and, as we did, encountered said friendly, keen-t0-be-helpful gentleman walking his dog. He informed us, in his helpful way, that the windmill belongs to Sir Paul McCartney and that the ground floor is used, occasionally, as a recording studio. It was, allegedly, as a result of the land belonging to “McCartney” that the field was full of rabbits…. I’m afraid I failed to follow that logic. Nice spot, though…

McCartney's Recording Studio

And on we went. Through vast fields full of sheep, past the odd chained up sheepdog causing the lovely Jem to fair leap out of his skin, over a traditional unelectrified railway, to Winchelsea. On the approach to Winchelsea, the views were… okay, okay, you come up with another word…? Breathtaking. That’ll do. From one of the very few benches we encountered, we looked out over Pett Level to the sea. It was, all praises be to the gods of the weather, the most glorious of days and, although rather sweaty (quick drying, high wicking tee-shirts to be reviewed upon our return, when we’ve had a chance to test them) we couldn’t have asked for more.

The descent (and it really is a descent) from Winchelsea towards Rye was nothing if not painful. My knee, in spite of having worn a support which seemed to do little more than give me a rash thanks to the tightness and sweatiness of it all, was becoming excruciating on the downhill. Uphill and on the level, it was just peachy, but downhill… not. Really very not. Jem’s calves, too, by this stage were causing him some considerable discomfort, but the end was in sight. We were grateful for our walking poles, although we did only discover within two miles of Rye that we could tighten the handles and put considerably more pressure on them. Doh! Duly noted for those trekking days, huh? Jem has also just read that one walking pole is about as much use as one shoe. Daily rambles are one thing, but climbing the Fells – you need two. The last stretch to Rye was a feat of enormous effort and stamina, I have to confess, on both our parts. When we emerged blinking into the town, the signpost proclaiming one more mile to the centre almost forced a sit-in. I threatened, bottom lip wobbling, to sit and wait for beer and food, but Jolly Jem kept my smile in place and on we trekked for a pint in the Mermaid Inn, one of Rye’s oldest establishments, I believe used for smuggling in them there olden days, and also quite possibly haunted. But I might be making that up… It is situated in Mermaid Street, a picturesque cobbled street of pretty cottages covered in climbing flora and home to a very cool black cat. Truth be told, though, it was a little upmarket for two sweaty walkers and, our first drink duly consumed (they even decanted our bag of dry roasted peanuts into a little bowl for us – there’s posh!) we headed down to the waterfront where we found the much more downmarket Baileys. There we had another beer and a massive cheeseburger with chips each. Probably not the best burger we’ve ever eaten (that honour would have to go to Cafe Belge in Bexhill – I swoon salivating just thinking of it) it was from. the. gods. on that particular evening. We engendered much curiosity with our walking poles slung through the straps of our backpack and utter disbelief that we could, would or might even have wanted to walk so far in one afternoon.

Mermaid Street

Sore and aching, and just one more beer for the road from the Old Bell Inn – much more spit ‘n’ sawdust and rather full of unutterably bored-looking teens – we headed for the station. Once on the train we were informed that we couldn’t get as far as home that night. Trains run till all hours in the opposite direction, but who wants to get from Hastings to London after 10 on a Saturday night? We did. Or at least part way. Sigh. So we hopped out into the middle of a very scary Hastings night, with drunken arguments and much chip-consumption going on all around us, and found a very affable and affordable taxi driver to take us home where we tumbled with gratitude and relief into our bed for a very well-earned sleep.

On Sunday, we did nothing. I mean, nothing. At all.

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