Another, and another, and another…

The Climbing Tree

Another weekend in January and the sun is shining again. Generally, the weather has been foul – on Thursday night we had lightening and one of the heaviest and most prolonged hail showers I’ve ever seen. But if it all comes good at the weekend then I’m a happy man.

Some old friends in the village – empty nesters – had young visitors, nieces and nephews, who joined us for a tour of Eaves Wood. We took them, as we always do in these circumstances, to The Climbing Tree, a large coppiced beech which was once the The Other Climbing Tree, but which seems to have supplanted the original Climbing Tree, a yew, in the children’s affections.


Our city-dwelling guests’ anxiety about the numerous perceived dangers of the woods, and trees and the ‘mountain’ we were climbing, were hardly assuaged when, shortly after I took this photo, A fell out of the tree and banged her head. She was shaken, and chose to go home (but doesn’t seem to be permanently damaged).

What was left of the party continued to Castlebarrow, where the views were magnificent – the Bowland fells and Ingleborough were white-over with snow.

Castlebarrow view 

And either side of the sun, were sundogs…

Sundog east 


When I raved to my friend the Painter about seeing this phenomena back in 2010, he was thoroughly underwhelmed – he sees them all the time apparently. It is his job to be out looking at the landscape and sky I suppose.

Sundog west 

Still, I haven’t seen them since then so I was quite happy. By blocking the view of the sun with a hand, you could just about make out a complete halo around the sun.

We were joined near the Pepper Pot by a sizable group of walkers, presumably from a club. I don’t belong to a walking club at present, but having had many formative experiences whilst out on club trips in the distant past (Oadby Hill-Walking Club and Manchester University Hiking Club) I generally regard clubs as A Good Thing. (Especially, when they’re walking where I’m not, heh heh)


We took a more circuitous route home, taking in a few more Eaves Wood landmarks – the ruined cottage, the giant ant-hill, and the Ring O’Beeches where one beech has a branch which bends down almost to the ground and which the kids like to swing on. B showed-off by climbing up and along said branch and into the bole of the tree – given our families recent propensity for misadventure I had to bite my tongue and look away. Fortunately, there was a great view of Ingleborough to look away at. (And also, B didn’t fall off.)

Snowy Ingleborough

(The rocks in the foreground are the top of the cliffs at Trowbarrow Quarry)

One of our young visitors was really enthused by the view. I told him that if he would come back in a few months, I would take him up there. His uncle, my friend T, wondered whether the invitation extended to him, since he’s never been up Ingleborough – so there’s another plan for this year.

Another sunny day, another stroll, another sighting of a sundog, another scheme for a day on the hill and another accident. I could really do without any more of the latter, but keep the rest rolling on.

Another, and another, and another…

Birding by the Kent – Kendal to Hawes Bridge and Back

River Kent 

Saturday brought real rainbow weather. It was quite dramatic at times: strong sunshine with forbidding black skies behind. We tried to get out for a walk, down to Haweswater to look at the snowdrops in the woods there, but we didn’t get far: the kids were scrambling on some rocks, S slipped and now has a proper shiner to show for it. So the walk was curtailed.

Sunday morning brought similar weather. This time I was out on my own, with the intention of giving my ankle a bit of a test (but nothing to strenuous!). During the short drive to Kendal it rained, and I wondered a little about the sanity of the enterprise, but as luck would have it, I parked the car on Natland Road just as the shower was petering out.

The plan was simple: to follow the Kent’s eastern bank as far as Hawes bridge and then return on the western bank.

It soon became obvious that it’s a popular path and I met several other strollers, dog-walkers and joggers. But no fishermen, despite the many signs claiming the angling for the Kent Angling Association.

The wind was whipping the clouds through overhead, but although I’ve read that it was very windy elsewhere, down here by the river it was mostly sheltered and in the occasional sunny spells it felt decidedly spring-like.


The Kent is a fast-flowing river and as it approaches Hawes bridge the angle must change a little and the river had white-caps and small standing waves. On the far bank a wall diverts some of the water into a channel which is very placid – in marked contrast to the river alongside.


Presumably it’s a millrace. Kendal mills produced paper and snuff and no doubt other stuff too. There was a small building a little further down – I wish now that I had paused a while to investigate.


In the woods around Hawes bridge I found my snowdrops.

By Hawes bridge 

This is taken from the bridge, looking back upstream. The river boils into the narrow fissure of Natland gorge here and the power of the thing is pretty spectacular. I hoped I might see a canoeist tackle the rapids, but no such luck.


Natland Gorge, looking downstream.


The millrace and the Kent again.

The trees along the river bank were busy with birds – and the birds were singing! Not full-throated music, but cheerful cheeping is a start.



Blue tit 

Blue tit.


Another river view.


My ankle was holding-up well and I was really enjoying myself. With the patchy cloud moving through, the play of light and shadows on the fells beyond Kendal was great to watch.




I didn’t see any goosanders this time on the Kent – in fact, aside from lots of mallards and a solitary goldeneye I didn’t do all that well for ducks. But as I walked around the loop in the river at Watercrook – once the site of a Roman fort, although I couldn’t see much evidence of it now – I did spot this group of feral geese on the far bank, apparently engaged in Tai Chi.

Geese tai chi 

Further round still a group of kayakers disturbed two herons and a cormorant. And then, after I had passed the sewage works on the outskirts of Kendal, I noticed a small dark shape floating down the river towards me. It kept disappearing under the water and, even from a distance, I began to wonder if it was a dipper. It was. As it came almost level with my spot on the bank it whirred off across to the far bank. And then hopped about on various perches: an almost entirely submerged stick, a pipe emerging from the wall which forms the bank here, a patch of dried and withered grass; and from each perch in turn it sang its socks off. I was quite a way away, but could hear it loud and clear. (You can listen to one here.)


I took loads of photos – sadly, all of them useless. I’ve stuck this one in just to show the stunning colours. (Browns I know, but lovely none-the-less.) The singing is territorial, and eventually it flew into this nearby culvert, a prime nesting spot for a dipper.


I was almost back to Romney bridge, where I would re-cross the river and shortly be back to my car. By the bridge a group of black-headed gulls were waiting expectantly on a railing by an unoccupied bench. Something about their pose made me smile. Another augur of impending spring: the gulls are in various states of transition into their black-headed breeding plumage.

Black-headed gulls*

I haven’t had a caption competition for an age – any ideas?

All-in-all a lovely morning’s walk, and great for birding. A full list: oystercatcher, cormorant, heron, goldeneye, mallard, crow, raven, jackdaw, rook, wood pigeon, robin, blue tit, great tit, marsh tit, chaffinch, song thrush, blackbird, dipper, domestic geese/greylag cross, black-headed gull. Also a small bird of prey seen too briefly to identify and a wagtail too far away and too dark against the water to be completely confident about.

Birding by the Kent – Kendal to Hawes Bridge and Back

Oolite Now – part III

Fragment of Cotswold Way

So, having become a little obsessed with this strip of limestone which extends across the country I naturally engaged in a little internet research. I found that the Cotswold Way largely follows the scarp along the edge of the limestone. (The chapter in Paddy Dillon’s guide to the National Trails on the Cotswold Way is available on Google Books.)

I found that some people believe that an ancient route, predating the Fosse Way, followed the limestone scarp across the country.

Also that there is an LDP called ‘The Jurassic Way’, mostly in Northamptonshire, running from Banbury in Oxfordshire to Stamford in Lincolnshire. Like the Cotswold Way it’s around 100 miles in length.

I was busy looking at maps of the Cotswold Way when A came to peek over my shoulder.

“What’s that Dad?”

And when I told her…

“I’ll walk it with you.”

She really is very keen.

So then I had a new mission: to find a walk which we could do together over a few days. Not too strenuous and with plenty of interest along the way. I chatted to CJ about it and he had what I thought was an excellent suggestion – in fact something he had walked with his son last year.

So, I have a plan! Not the Cotswold Way – we’ll leave that for another time, but something closer to home, with striking scenery and oodles of history.

Oolite Now – part III

Turned Out Nice Again.


It rained and it rained and then it rained some more for good measure. Here in the North-Wet we made copious cups of tea and quietly went about the business of evolving webbed feet and gills. It seems in retrospect, that we did very well to grab such a stunning day back before Christmas and even the walk over Whin Rigg and Illgill Head, with it’s unfortunate mud-skating incident, at least stayed much drier than many days have of late.

And then suddenly – some proper winter weather: cold, clear, crisp and frosty. Sadly, I’m still in no fit state to take full advantage – those lucky people who were walking in the Lakes, or North Wales and probably the Dales must have had a grand day. (I’ve seen some photos from the Glyders and a report from the Southern Uplands where the weather was cloudy, but eventually cleared. The Pieman was abroad in the Pennines, and a couple of friends from the village were, separately, walking near Ulswater and tell me that it was very fine, but I haven’t seen anything on t’interweb yet from the Lakes.)

Anyroad up, we didn’t miss out completely. On Saturday the kids went to Dalton Zoo with their grandparents. I had work to do, but in the afternoon TBH and I drove up to Bowness where we had a short stroll along the lake shore and then went for afternoon tea at the home of the world’s most expensive pudding (which amazingly, at £22,000, has now sold). The afternoon tea is a bit cheaper than that.

Sunday morning was clear and frosty again and I tried, in vain, to tempt the ankle-biters to come out to witness the sunrise.


Maybe they knew more than they were letting on. The moon was clear and bright in the western sky, but without climbing to a vantage point, which I didn’t want to do because of my ankle, I could see that the sun had risen, but couldn’t actually see the sun!


I know…a little more patience was required.

Still, I like to get out whilst everything is coated in frost…

P1152337 P1152341

Later we were in Arnside. The boys and I had a walk along the promenade…

Arnside viaduct P1151101

Ammendment: of course there was a blogger out in the Lakes.

And – a back-packing trip from Snowdonia with stunning views and cute ponies to boot.

Turned Out Nice Again.

Oolite Now – part II

With my interest in all things geological, and maps in particular, sparked by Garry Hogg’s idea of following the oolitic limestone across England, I remembered that amongst my legions of as yet unread books I had a copy of Simon Winchester’s biography of William Smith – ‘The Map That Changed The World’.

Smith – ‘the father of geology’ –  produced what is widely accepted to be the world’s first geological maps. Most notably this map of England and Wales, published in 1815.


The oolitic limestone, it transpires, was important to ‘Strata’ Smith – he grew up in Oxfordshire, on the oolite, and his interest in geology began with the fossils he found there as a boy. As a young surveyor he moved to work in the Somerset coal-fields, and to plan a canal to link those coal mines with Bristol. Travelling down mine-shafts and cutting the canal gave him an insight into the complex ways the strata, including oolitic limestone, were folded together in that area. Later he lived in Bath where the iconic buildings are clad in oolitic limestone and the hills to the east of the city are of the same rock.

In the middle of ‘The Map That Changed The World’, Winchester breaks off from telling the story of Smith’s life and discoveries to recount his own journey along the limestone, starting, like Hogg did, at Burton Bradstock.

Small wonder that William Smith found the area around Bath the most congenial for his studies. Not only was it an attractive town, jammed with interesting personalities and lively minds; it was also happily sited at a place in the country’s immense geological mosaic in which the Middle Jurassic rocks outcrop in a blindingly obvious way. The general line of their outcrop, which extends all the way north from Dorset to the Humber in Yorkshire, some 200 miles, is one of the great dividing lines of world geology, once seen, never forgotten. Around Bath, close to where a northbound traveller like me today, Smith two centuries before, first comes across it, it is stupendously memorable.

On the western side of the line are the timid, milquetoast Clays and weakling Shales of the Lias, of the lower Jurassic; on the eastern side are the tough, thick Oolitic Limestones of the Middle Jurassic. On the western side the consequential scenery all is valley and marsh, river course and water meadow, lowing cattle and in high summer, a sticky, sultry heat; on the eastern side, underpinned by the Limestone, everything has changed – there is upland plain and moor, high hills, high wind and flocks of sheep, and in the winters fine white snows blowing on what can seem an endless and treeless expanse.

And on the very line itself, at the point where England has tipped herself up gracefully to expose the Limestones at her core and to reveal the huge physical contrast between their hardness and the silky softness of the Lias Clays below, is a long, high range of hills and cliffs. This line is, for the most part, an escarpment edge that rolls far to the horizon, separating vales and downlands from high plains and uplands.

We see this line in scores of places. Down at the southern end of the country – the Bath end – we see it where Crickley Hill and Birdlip Hill rise hundreds of feet above the town of Cheltenham. We see it where Wooton-under-Edge (a village set on Lias Clay) nestles below the village of Oldbury-on-the-Hill (on Middle Jurassic Limestone). We notice, we feel it, when we drop sharply down from it via a dangerously twisting switchback road as we descend westward from the high plains of Snowshill (on the Middle Jurassic) to the antique shops of the clay-valley town Broadway (on the Lower). We can see it unroll over a dozen miles if we drive along the traffic-clogged roadway of the A46, on the stretch between Bath and Stroud: on going north, everything visible to the left is Lower Jurassic Clay, and hunches low to the horizon; everything to the right is Middle Jurassic Limestone and rises high, its edge topped with oaks from which big black crows take in the view of the grassy fields below.

We see the phenomenon exhibit itself over and over as we rumble northwards across the land – we see it through central Gloucestershire and Warwickshire, through Rutland and Leicestershire, across Nottingham and Lincolnshire – such that when, a day or two after I had left the warmth of Dorset, I found myself in the cold of Lincolnshire coasting along the A15 northbound from Lincoln (where there stands a fine Jurassic cathedral, made of just the same age limestone as that at Wells, down at the far southern end of the outcrop) to Scunthorpe, almost exactly the same held true. To my right rose high limestone plains, buffeted by North Sea winds, dotted with sheep, flat enough and suitably exposed for the building of great Air Force runways and training schools and hangars, To my left, lay a long low valley, thick with farms, populated and cosy. The Middle Jurassic formed the upland landscape to my right; the Lower Jurassic the lowlands to my left.

Better and better. A walker following the western edge of that ‘buttercup-yellow line’ would be teetering along an escarpment edge. High drama!

Now I know the A15 from Lincoln north to Scunthorpe well. I drive it quite often on the way to and from my parent’s house – they live about a mile from that road and from RAF Scampton where the Red Arrows practise. You may feel sceptical about Lincolnshire’s ‘high limestone plains’ and perhaps this should be taken with a sizeable pinch of salt – but I do recognise the description, up to a point. The A15 is another Roman road – Ermine Street – arrow straight. Sensibly it follows a ridge of higher ground (about 60m above sea level so not that high!) ; to the east the land falls away gently but a little way to the west is the Lincoln Edge – two or three closely parallel contours dropping down to a valley which, on the Landranger map, has many adjacent grid squares completely devoid of any contours. Lincoln itself sits on the edge, the Castle and Cathedral atop the edge and the more touristy shopping streets dropping down to newer parts of the city below.

Walking the Lincoln Edge would mainly involve walking along a B-road so perhaps not ideal. But I must admit that Hogg’s idea has certainly kept me happily occupied in spare moments whilst my dodgy ankle, now thankfully on the mend, has precluded the making of more immediate concrete plans.

Oolite Now – part II

Plantar Fasciitis

Matthew Bennett left this comment:

Hi Mark I have put a video together on the merits of insoles to help foot, knee or hip pain which your readers may find helpful.


Having suffered from plantar fasciitis last year I found myself quite tempted to try Superfeet. (Do you have shares Matthew?)

You can find this video on Youtube here.

Plantar Fasciitis

Oolite Now – part I

A Limestone Pilgrimage

The third section of Gary Hogg’s ‘And Far Away’ concerns a walk from the Dorset Coast to the Cotswolds which is actually just the first section of an envisaged longer route. Mooching about on the beach near Burton Bradstock he recalls the genesis of the idea for the route:

I remembered how I had first conceived the idea, looking up by chance one morning at the geological map hanging on the wall a yard away from the table in the window at which I write. There it was, that butter-cup yellow streak, slanting away across England from the Dorset coast, north-east-by-east, to vanish at the Humber and reappear again for the last few miles on Pickering Moor in Yorkshire.

Geological map of England

Here the oolitic limestone is 12 (in pale, rather than buttercup, yellow) Follow this link for another lovely old map in which the oolitic limestone is divided into 2, of which one, the lower oolite, is buttercup-yellow.

When I became sufficiently curious to superimpose another map on the geological map that had attracted me I made the interesting discovery that the old Foss Way, the original Roman road from the Dorset coast to the North Sea Lincolnshire coast, followed this line of buttercup-yellow for a very considerable portion of its 180-odd miles. The legend on the map showed me that the colour in question stood for oolitic limestone. If then I mapped out a walk that used the Foss Way as a line for my left flank to rest on I could follow this limestone across England for as far as I liked to walk.

Fosse way map

In fact, the Fosse Way ran from Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum). And 180 miles seems like a hopelessly inadequate under-estimate. But, let’s not quibble – it’s a lovely idea, which has quite captured my imagination.

Oolite Now – part I

Whin Rigg and Illgill Head from Miterdale

An (edited) exchange of emails with my old friend CJ:

In a moment of weakness, TBH has suggested that I meet up with you for a walk. Are you free at all this week?

Where did you have in mind?

I didn’t have anywhere in mind. Do you still have Wainwrights to do that aren’t miles from anywhere?

If I am to complete my Wainwrights this year (which I did hope to do.) I need to do Wasdale tomorrow. Either Seatallan/Buckbarrow or Whin Rigg/ Illgill head. (I’m saving Scafell til last!)

Have you seen the forecast – 100mph gusts apparently. Hmmmm. 9.30 at Miterdale it is then.

In fact we were both early, arriving just after 9. I’d very carefully prepared the night before, but managed to leave my home-roasted-ham sandwich somewhere by the front door, and my socks in the fridge. Or possibly vice-versa. Fortuitously, the village shop in Eskdale Green has outdoor gear on the floor above the usual village grocery and newsagent set-up, so I picked up some new socks there (but not any lunch, because I wasn’t yet aware that I’d left it behind).

Breaking with tradition here’s a map (at the start rather than the end)..

Wasdale Screes from Miterdale Map

From the car park in Miterdale Forest, we used the forestry tracks to climb to the stream below Great Bank. The ascent of Great Bank from there was a bit of an obstacle course because many of the trees have been felled and left in situ to rot. The forestry which hadn’t been felled was equally awkward because the trees are so close together.

Great Bank

Clearly there are a few Birkett-baggers (or other lovers of obscure Lakeland crags) who come this way, because there was a faint path leading into the trees on the left-hand skyline. With hindsight, I would recommend a more direct approach, picking a way up through the crags.

On Great Bank

Muncaster Fell, the west Cumbrian coast and Irton Pike from Great Bank.

Great Bank turned out to be a pretty good viewpoint. Like quite a few of the more obscure Birketts I’ve visited, it has more going for it than the map might suggest.

Irton Fell and Whin Rigg from Great Bank

Irton Fell and Whin Rigg from Great Bank.

From there we dropped down to hit the wood at its narrowest point and then it was a steady, and soggy, plod up to Irton Fell (point 395 on the map). It was very windy, but some way short of the ‘hurricane force’ winds predicted by some sources. Anyway, from here on in our route was cunningly designed to put the wind behind us along the ridge and then, hopefully, to be reasonably sheltered on our return.

On Irton Fell we met a path and the walking from there became much easier, despite the wind. CJ and I chatted about anything and everything as is our wont. I asked him what he would do when he’d finished bagging the Wainwrights. Here are some of his ideas:

  • Walk for pleasure.
  • More cycling.
  • More wild swimming – perhaps swimming in all of the tarns.
  • Some long distance paths.
  • The Outlying Fells (“If I can’t kick the habit.”)

I’ve been trying to convince him of the merits of the Birketts, but I don’t seem to have won that one. Yet.

We were soon on Whin Rigg, Wainwright number 209 for CJ.

Illgill Head from Whin Rigg

Illgill Head from Whin Rigg

The wind was very cold, so it wasn’t a day for hanging around, besides which CJ had forgotten his flask so we only had one cheese sandwich and a small flask of hot blackcurrant between us.

We were on Illgill Head (number 210!), almost bang on midday. From there we dropped down the north-eastern shoulder and were in sight of the path which would take us above Burnmoor Tarn and round to Tongue Moor when I fell. The ground was sodden and fairly treacherous, a thin smear of topsoil would slide off down the slope and you were lost. CJ had already slipped over a couple of times and I had been hubristically boasting about the efficacy of my trekking poles as an aid to balance. They didn’t help at all in the event – my left foot scudded downhill, my right stayed firmly planted and I found myself doing the splits. My ballet days are far behind me and I really shouldn’t attempt the splits. My weight came very heavily onto my right leg, in a very awkward position and then I put in a couple of forward rolls for good measure.

When I untangled myself and my poles and assessed the damage I found one irretrievably bent pole and one very painful ankle. Any thoughts I’d had of persuading CJ into a detour onto Boat How were immediately dismissed. In fact CJ suggested ringing for the Mountain Rescue, but I thought that I could probably hobble as far as the car.

The long walk down Miterdale, which might otherwise have been very pleasant, became a bit of a trial. Purgatorial would be a bit strong – I sort of enjoyed it, in an odd way. But it hurt. I was extremely glad of my remaining pole.

The cloud had been lifting through the day and now we even had a spot of sunshine. CJ opined that we would finish the walk without getting wet. More tempting fate – as we approached the farm at Low Place (which might be helpfully renamed ‘mudbath’) it started to rain.

I put my cag on, so naturally it stopped again. I wish that always worked.

River Mite

The River Mite.

Great Bank from Miterdale

Great Bank again.

Two postscripts.

On Friday, with my ankle and foot continuing to swell, I went to see the GP. He tells me that nothing is broken, but that I can expect 6-8 weeks to recover. B*****!

And an extract from another email from CJ:

Well that’s me done! All Wainwrighted. Had a few hairy moments on Scafell in quite a lot of snow. Total whiteout in fact, probably needed winter gear. We had to walk off Slight Side down to Burnmoor tarn. Lucky we’d done our walk 2 days before to give me the lie of the land or we might have been in trouble.

One happy ending then….

….at least, it will be if I can sell him the idea of Birkett-bagging!

Whin Rigg and Illgill Head from Miterdale