Leck Beck and Ease Gill Kirk from Cowan Bridge.

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Another Wednesday night and another after-work outing, this time starting at Cowan Bridge which is between Kirkby Lonsdale and Ingleton. This row of cottages is the village’s claim to fame. It once housed the Clergy Daughters’ School, once attended by the Bronte sisters…

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…and the model for the Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre, although apparently the reality was even more brutal than the fictionalised version. Maria and Elizabeth both died of tuberculosis after an outbreak of typhoid at the school.

Fortunately, the walk along Leck Beck from Cowan Bridge is a much more cheery prospect.

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There were great swathes of flowers. An under-storey of Ramsons…

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…the subtle yellow tinge of Crosswort…

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…spikes of Bugle…

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…a really dense patch of Stitchwort…

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…lots of Bluebells and Hawthorn…

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…and another Wild Privet tree, which was heavily infested with webs full of caterpillars…

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The village of Leck.

I’m currently reading ‘Counting Sheep’ by Philip Walling and realising just how variable the sheep I pass on my strolls are. By Leck there was a flock of quite long-wooled sheep, very different from the hill-sheep you might expect to see in this area. Apparently, there are thought to be more breeds of sheep in the UK than in any other country in the world. Although, as usual, I really don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m going to stick my neck out and hazard a guess that this lamb…

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…is a South Down.

Leaving Leck I crossed a couple of fields and then entered Springs Wood…

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A substantial footbridge over the beck was leaning at an alarming angle…

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I suspect that after rain this can be a raging torrent.

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Just short of the boundary to open access land, I was intrigued by this lonely wooden cabin…

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…but can’t find any information about it on the interweb.

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I’ve walked this way at least a couple of times before, once with my Dad shortly after he retired, when he brought a caravan up and camped behind the Whoop Hall Inn near Kirkby Lonsdale and we had a very good week’s walking together. That must have been back in the early nineties and we had to stick to the footpath which follows the hillside somewhat above the beck. This time I decided to more closely shadow the watercourse, where possible. That immediately brought me onto some very soggy ground, an ideal place to find Marsh Valerian…

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Early Purple Orchid.

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Leck Beck.

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Cream-spot Ladybird.

I found three broken eggs on the ground, all around the same size (quite large) but all slightly different in colour.

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I had to climb away from the stream a little here to find a stile. I descended toward the stream again, but realised that the bank was too steep, so had to climb again to the path.

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I didn’t find Leck Beck Head, the resurgence where all this water flows from, but the path brought me to the edge of a steep sided ravine. I found a way into it, but, although no water was flowing through it, there were large pools and also rocky, dry ‘falls’, so that I was unable to make progress along the bottom of the ravine. I climbed out and then found another way in, further uphill which brought me to Ease Gill Kirk…

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…a really atmospheric spot where the walls of the ravine are absolutely peppered with caves, many of them, presumably, entrances into the The Three Counties System, “the longest and most complex system in Britain” (source) with around 89km of passages.

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I climbed out of the ravine yet again, then dropped down into it again a little further ‘upstream’. It was more open here and must have been very close to where I joined Ease Gill when I came this way last. (I’m a bit taken aback to find that was three years ago.)

A group of four Ravens were apparently very vexed by my intrusion and circled around ronking noisily. What I’m pretty sure was a Cuckoo dashed across the empty stream bed and into a tree above on the hillside. I followed, climbing away from Ease Gill, this time for the last time, and finding an outcrop of limestone to sit beside for a quick bite to eat.

The nature of the terrain changed from here on, as I crossed mostly pathless, heathery moorland, passing numerous sinkholes and quite a few potholes, usually marked out by the trees protruding from them.

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Smokey Hole or Peterson Pot, not sure which.

They have sonorous names – Smokey Hole, Peterson Pot, Death’s Head Hole, Eyeholes, Long Drop Cave, Rumbling Cave, Rumbling Hole and Short Drop Cave – but are not particularly exciting to look at, at least from above. Rumbling Hole does at least have the sound of running water to enliven it.

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Looking towards Morecambe Bay and Warton Crag – there’s a hot-air balloon flying in the distance.

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Great Coum and Crag Hill.

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Another largish egg, but clearly of a different species.

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Leck Fell House and Gragareth.

The moor was extremely busy with small birds.

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Meadow Pipit?

I heard lots of calls which had me thinking ‘Stonechat’, although why I felt so sure of myself I don’t know, because they aren’t birds I encounter very often. I was right though, for once; on a fencepost by Eyeholes I managed to photograph a male, though it wasn’t a very sharp image. Then a female regaled me from a perch on a Mountain Ash growing out of Long Drop cave…

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Leck Fell House again.

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This large, and slightly grisly, nest was in a tree growing from Rumbling Cave. I don’t think it was occupied. I’m not sure what the bone was, but it was quite substantial.

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Leck Fell Road, looking toward The Forest of Bowland.

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A parhelion, or sundog.

For the walk back to Cowan Bridge I stuck to the Leck Fell Road – I don’t usually choose to walk on roads, but it certainly makes navigation easy and this is a very minor road, although there was a bit of traffic, much to my surprise.

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As well as the sunset, I was entertained by a Roe Deer racing away from me across a field and by a pair of partridges comically running away, apparently petrified by my presence, but inexplicably unwilling to fly to escape.

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Leck Beck and Ease Gill Kirk from Cowan Bridge.

Pen-y-ghent

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The kids and I were on a mission. I like to climb a mountain on my birthday, if at all possible, or failing that, as close to the actual day as can be arranged. I knew that this year I would be recovering from surgery, and so wouldn’t be up to much on the Big Day, but our Easter holidays had begun (although sadly TBH was still working), and the forecast for the Monday and Tuesday before my op were almost perfect. What’s more, I’d remembered that in ‘Walks in Limestone Country’, Wainwright says:

“April visitors will ever afterwards remember Penyghent as the mountain of the purple saxifrage, for in April this beautiful plant decorates the white limestone cliffs on the 1900′ contour with vivid splashes of colour, especially being rampant along the western cliffs.”

Purple Saxifrage, Saxifraga Oppositifolia, is one of the flowers which appear in ‘Wild Flowers in Danger’ which don’t grow in the immediate vicinity of home, but which can be found within striking distance, and which I’ve therefore decided to seek out.

The sun was shining, the kids were all on fine form, and we made rapid progress up to the south ridge and to the lower line of cliffs seen above. And there just a short, steep climb above the path, we found…

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Purple Saxifrage.

It was almost an anticlimax, but only in as much as I’d been expecting a bit of a hunt to find it. I’m not sure how patient the children would have been with any lengthy deviations anyway, so it was probably for the best that we came across it so easily.

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We climbed part way up the steep nose of the ridge, but by now, Little S, always the first to crack, was demanding a lunch stop. When we reached the second steepening of the ridge we found a relatively sheltered spot, out of the wind, behind a wall.

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For the first time in quite a while, I’d brought a stove and the makings of a brew. I really enjoyed my hot drink, doubly so since the boys, who had made their own lunches and seriously miscalculated on quantities, were soon eating my lunch as well as their own.

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The second, gritstone line of cliffs. “It’s so wrinkled, it looks like an old man,” opined Little S.

From our lunch stop it was quick work to make the summit.

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You can probably tell that it was very windy. There is a clever S-shaped shelter there in the wall and we sat for a few minutes. I think the kids would have quite liked to stop for another lunch, had it not come so soon after our previous halt.

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Ingleborough and huge flags for repairing the Pennine Way path.

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Our descent brought us to the western cliffs, where, just as AW predicts, the Purple Saxifrage is ‘rampant’.

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“Traces of the Purple Saxifrage have been found in Britain in deposits that were laid down 20,000 years ago, that is before the end of the last Ice Age. As each of the glaciers retreated north towards the Pole, the Arctic alpine plants – of which the Purple Saxifrage is one – followed up, going ever northward. The Arctic alpines were in turn followed by plants that could live at higher temperatures and, when the ice finally vanished for good, the Saxifrages and other Arctic alpines had to find refuge wherever they could on high mountains, cliffs and the like.”

“At first the plant looks as though it had been showered with white dust, but a close examination of the leaves reveals that each is flattened and truncated near the tip, and that, in the flattened area, is a pore from which small nuggets of limestone are expelled. One would hardly have expected this to happen, as the Purple Saxifrage favours sites that are rich in lime. But the plant also likes constant running water and perhaps this sometimes contains more lime than was bargained for. At any rate most Purple Saxifrages seem to have lime to spare.”

Wild Flowers in Danger by John Fisher

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Only Little S joined me for a short exploration of the base of the cliffs, A and B opting to sunbathe (and bicker) back down by the path. Wainwright has a drawing of a limestone pinnacle. I suspect that there may be a few such pillars along the entire length of the cliffs, but this one does look quite like the one in his drawing.

P1100194This is only a short walk – Wainwright gives it as 6 miles – but there are plenty of points of interest along the way. The next one being Hunt Pot.

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200 feet deep apparently. For us it provided another place out of the wind for lunch stop number two. Or in my case, another cup of tea and the privilege of watching the Gannets demolish the remainder of my lunch. To be fair, they did magnanimously share some of it with me.

The rocky cracks and ledges here, sheltered and protected to a certain extent from sheep,  were decorated with Primroses and Coltsfoot…

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Dark clouds were hurling in from the west now, but we had one more landmark to locate. Due to a bit of navigational muppetry, we came at it from above, following Hull Pot Beck…

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Where there were both Pied and Grey Wagtails flitting about.

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The beck becomes a dry stream bed when the water disappears underground…

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…and leads to…

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…Hull Pot…

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…an enormous collapsed cavern.

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The missing water emerges part way down the cliffs…

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But apparently, after heavy rain a waterfall flows directly into the top of the pot, which, on occasion, can actually fill with water. I can see myself making a return visit to witness that.

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In all, a great day out, in marvellous company. Certainly on a par with some of my favourite previous birthday hill-days. But, being greedy, I was determined to try again on the Tuesday and see if we could go one better. (More to follow!)

The kids meanwhile are quite taken with the idea of ‘The Three Peaks’. The boys, having done two of them in quick succession, would like to knock off Whernside, in fact were angling to do it the next day, and all three of them are keen to have a crack at the Three Peaks walk. I need to get into training!

Pen-y-ghent

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend – Great Douk Cave

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Our original plan had been to go back to Runscar Cave up at Ribblehead next, but a last minute inspiration saw us heading for Great Douk Cave instead. I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to us before; the Shandy Sherpa and I had been there before, with our friend Geordie Munro, a couple of times, once after a long hot summer walk and then again a few years later to explore more thoroughly. Both visits were a very long time ago and it turned out that we both had rather sketchy memories of the cave. Andy remembered, but I didn’t, that the waterfall which pours out of the entrance can be avoided by a little crawl above to the right. I remembered, but Andy didn’t, that a short walk into the cave brings you to Little Douk Pot where daylight can be seen high overhead.

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B in Little Douk Pot.

Neither of us remembered the series of little cascades which we, probably rather pointlessly, struggled to ascend dry shod by straddling the narrow passage with a foot on either wall. (The boys loved it). Nor did we recall just how long the passage was, or the great wealth of flowstone features.

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I took an awful lot of photos. (If you want to see more, simply click on one of the photos and that will take you to my flickr account). Actually, carrying the camera in my hand proved to be quite awkward. The case worked very well however: at one point I fell over – a bit of a shocking experience, the water was pretty cold – and dropped the camera in the water, but somehow it stayed dry, even though the case isn’t really sealed, or waterproof.

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With wellies full of water, Little S was cold again, but he was still really happy, full of enthusiasm.

This feature…

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…proved to be quite awkward to get past. The others managed by squatting on their haunches and shuffling by; I went past on hands and knees, which filled my sleeves and my wellies with water – this was before I fell over.

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Andy remembered, but I didn’t, that this was where, when the passage gradually gets lower, Geordie Munro discovered a tiny crawl and got very excited when it brought him to a new, larger passage, or at least that was what he thought, but in fact he had doubled back to the original passage, where Andy and I were waiting, much to our amusement.

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I’ve since discovered that it’s possible to continue through a section of crawling to reach Middle Washfold Caves, but we didn’t know that at the time, so where the passage got very low we turned and retraced our steps (not that I would’ve been up for a lengthy crawl anyway). At this point we were soaked and had given up on our efforts to keep our feet out of the deeper water, which made our return journey an awful lot quicker.

Fortunately, it wasn’t as dark as this photo suggests…

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…we were all still smiling, and the bunkhouse and clean and dry clothes were only a short walk away.

Discussion about possible caving outings for next Christmas has already begun!

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend – Great Douk Cave

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend – Skirwith Cave

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The little circle of friends who were assembled in Chapel-le-Dale originally met, in many cases at least, as members of the Hiking Club at Manchester University, so walking and climbing hills has always been central to what we do when we get together. But we have been known to branch out: canoeing, cycling, snorkelling, standing in the Kippax at Maine Road for example. Caving is another activity which some of us have dabbled in and it seems to be an easy one to sell to the kids. Two years ago we took many of them to a very wet Yordas Cave; last year we had a poke around in some of the caves close to the Ribblehead Viaduct.

This time we did it properly and first went down into Ingleton to rent helmets. (Three fifty for the day, with an excellent lamp too, a snip, and as it turned out pretty crucial I think). Once again, the vast majority of the younger element of the party were keen to have ago, but just three of the grey brigade. We started our spelunking with an exploration of Skirwith Cave, a former show cave which is just outside Ingleton and conveniently close to the road.

I’d already done my research before the weekend, but even so we had some difficulty initially in locating the current entrance. When you get to the small crag shown in the top photo, climb the steps and then bear right, looking for quite a small hole in the ground. (Photo near the end of the post).

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The former entrance?

The entrance is quite small and requires a muddy shuffle down quite a steep slope, but brings you into a larger, level passage with some excellent flowstone features…

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After a while, you reach a boulder choke which looked awkward rather than tight, but I decided to stop at that point, whilst most of the others crawled through and explored a little further. It gave me a chance to go back for some more leisurely exploration and to take some more photos…

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Emerging from the entrance…

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It had been a short, but hugely enjoyable little outing. For many of our band, it was also quite sufficient: some wanted to get cleaned-up so that they could attend the carol service in Chapel-le-Dale’s tiny chapel, others had just had enough. Only the my boys and the three adults were up for another cave trip….

(Tune in next week. Same bat time, same bat channel.)

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend – Skirwith Cave

Two Years On

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Two years ago, for the first time in many years, I met with some other members of the Further Maths class I was in whilst in the Sixth Form. That get together took place down in Norfolk. This time we were in a city riddled with sandstone caves.

Famous for an archer…

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…and the oldest Inn in England (allegedly – the back halves of some of the rooms are caves).

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The high windows of this windmill gave great views over the cityscape…

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Appropriately, George Green (1793 – 1841), the son of one of the millers here, was a mathematical physicist, famed for Green’s Function.

Later we took to the river in a rented boat.

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Very pleasant it was too. Music, chit-chat, a picnic, home-brewed beer, champagne. And lots of birds to see…

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Most notably the Sand Martins whizzing over the river and in and out of nest-holes in the bank…

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They were much too fast for me to photograph. This is as close as I got…

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In amongst the Martins, gratifyingly, a solitary Kingfisher, the first I’ve seen in quite some time.

This Buzzard…

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…had me very confused hanging perfectly still above the riverside fields. I didn’t think that Buzzards could hover, but this one was using an updraft to maintain its position and presumably keep an eye on some tasty morsel below.

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Oh….did you get it?

Nottingham!

Two Years On

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend I: The Caves of Ribblehead

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Nobody look at the camera, it only encourages him.

Our thirteenth annual-rent-a-hostel-pre-Christmas-weekend-with-our-camping-friends (snappy title eh?). The first ten of those were characterised by snow, ice, and generally artic weather conditions. (At least when viewed through my backward-glancing rose-tinted spectacles.) But for the last three years, since we decided to relocate to Chapel-le-Dale above Ingleton, the weather has been mild, wet and generally abysmal. To be fair, this year’s trip, amidst all the general carnage, had the best weather of the three to date, with some decent dry spells between the showers.

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On the Saturday we took the kids for a longish walk up to the moor beyond Ribblehead Viaduct.

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We were well prepared with head-torches and wellies and had a very enjoyable poke about in some of the caves to be found up there. Hardly surprisingly, they were pretty wet, and some of us resolved to come back for another look-see when the conditions are a bit drier.

I’ve explored and written about these caves in a bit more detail before – there’s a post about them here, which includes a link to a more much complete and expert account on another blog, if you are thinking of trying the caves yourself.

By the time we’d finished our exploration, the weather had deteriorated considerably and I think the children who had remained found it rather a long trudge back in the rain and gathering gloom. Still, chilli, guacamole, corn bread and tortilla chips (for 22) followed, accompanied by the usual banter and re-hashed jokes. Marvellous.

Chapel-le-Dale Weekend I: The Caves of Ribblehead

High Close Weekend

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And so, in the virtual world of this blog, we reach November and a very wet weekend spent at High Close Youth Hostel above Langdale in the Lake District. Our regular group of old friends, with whom we regularly meet up, are approaching 50 (well some of us are, some are well past 50 and some still have a fair way to go). By way of celebration the Mad Man booked the entire hostel and, widening the net, invited a whole host of old faces to join us. It was an interesting weekend – almost all of my oldest friends were there, people I’ve walked and holidayed with for 30 years, whose weddings I’ve attended, whose children I’ve watched grow up, but then there were many more people there whom I knew 30 years ago but have barely seen since. I think that there were 56 of us all told so there was plenty of conversation to be had.

Which is a good job, because the weather was dreadful – and this was before the arrival of storms Abigail through Frank. On the Saturday, during a slight lull in the hostilities, some of us had a wander up Loughrigg – I set off slightly ahead of the group, as is my wont, and didn’t see them again until the summit due to some injudicious navigation on their part (they went a long way round). The photo above was taken on our circuitous descent route when we sheltered in Rydal Cave which isn’t a cave at all, but rather a former quarry which used to provide roofing slate.

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On the Sunday morning it actually brightened up briefly, long enough for me to take an early stroll down through the woods of the High Close Estate…

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…to the road at the bottom…

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…but by the time I was following the stream back uphill it was raining heavily again.

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Later a small band braved the weather to wander down to the falls at Skelwith Force and back again, but it was foul whilst we were out and my camera stayed firmly in my rucksack.

It would have been nice if the sun had shone, if only for a while, but it was great to see everyone and I don’t think we allowed the weather to put too much of a damper on the occasion.

High Close Weekend