Favourite Guidebook?

I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with guidebooks. After all, any walker worth their salt should surely be able to devise perfectly acceptable walks from an OS map – all the information you need is there. Indeed, by choosing a route off the shelf, it could be argued that you’re missing part of the pleasure of planning a walk. But, despite my slightly begrudging feeling towards them, my collection of walking guidebooks continues to inexorably grow.

So, I was wondering – do you have a favourite guidebook?

I suppose that lots of fell-walkers would plump for Wainwright. Or maybe one of the guides to the Munros – perhaps Irvine Butterfield’s book? Or the SMC guides? I suppose which is your favourite might, in part at least, be not just a function of your location but also of your age, after all these are all quite old books, and whilst the hills maybe haven’t changed much, new guidebooks seem to appear all the time.

When I started to think about this question, I didn’t have to consider for too long before I knew what would be my clear choice. I’m very fond of the books of Aileen and R. Brian Evans, the scramble guides…


..and the ‘Short Walks in Lakeland’ series, but ultimately I would have to choose ‘High Peak Walks’ by my namesake Mark Richards…


…and not only because I used to try to impress people by letting them think that I had written it myself. (It didn’t work for long: there’s a photo of the actual author on the front endpiece.)

The first guidebook I bought, it is handwritten with hand-drawn maps and heavily illustrated with hatched line drawings. In other words, it’s very much in the style of Wainwright’s guides, although I’m not sure that I realised that when I bought it. My copy has slightly wavy pages having been dampened a few times when carried in a rucksack on the hill.  Unlike any other guidebook I’ve bought since, with the notable exception, for obvious reasons, of the Evans’ guide to the Arnside and SIlverdale area , I think that I’ve done just about every walk in it. And Walk 6 – ‘Bleaklow Head and Higher Shelf Stones from Old Glossop’, I walked again and again, in the days when a number 53 bus from Manchester was my favoured transport to the hills. Usually, we took the alternative route across Shelf Benches and into Dowstone Clough, where I don’t remember ever meeting any other walkers. Peering into the book again now, I see that the section of path between Shelf Stones and Bleaklow Head is labelled ‘unremitting hell!’.

In fact, flicking through the book, and finding another favourite walk – a short route exploring Near, Far and Middle Black Cloughs near Woodhead, I realise that it was in following pathless routes like these, up Dowstone Clough, or Far Black Clough, that I gained the confidence to ask: why not follow Wildboar Clough instead ? or Shining Clough? And then began to branch out onto routes not covered in the guidebook.

Anyway, what prompted these musings when I already have several recent, and not so recent, walks to write up? Well – another question: when Grace Jones assaulted Russell Harty mid-chatshow, who was the other guest?


A clue:


Walter Poucher!

I heard a radio programme about him, and thought that maybe readers of this blog, or the older, hill-walking readers at least, might be interested. Turns out that he was quite an odd ball. As well as being the preeminent mountain photographer of his day, he was also a parfumier for Yardley’s, and would often take to the hills heavily made-up. The Radio 4 programme about him, ‘The Perfumed Mountaineer’ is here.

So – favourite guide books anyone?

Favourite Guidebook?

Walking the Coast and the WWT

Having advertised the fact that my next post would be about my weekend walk in Swindale I’ve decided to delay that just a little longer to gently push you in the direction of a couple of things which might interest you.

Firstly, today as I was driving home from work I passed…

…this gentleman, who is walking around the coast of Britain and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. I stopped to chat with him very briefly, feeling more than a little jealous. You can follow him on Twitter (I don’t do Twitter – Andy perhaps this is your chance to investigate ‘social media’?) or find out about his walk on his website.

Talking of social media – it seems that more and more people are switching on to the opportunities it provides. I’ve had an interesting couple of offers recently – of which more eventually hopefully. I was also asked to promote:

WWT logo thing.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s competition and event which you can find out more about here.

I can remember visiting Slimbridge when I was a kid. I haven’t yet been to Martin Mere which isn’t too far from here, but I’m hoping that I can fit in a trip this month, so expect more if I do manage it.

Walking the Coast and the WWT


A photo I inexplicably omitted after last week’s walk. I liked the way the honeysuckle winds around the tree trunk. The honeysuckle leaves are another ‘outrider of spring’. This phrase is lifted from Roger Deakin’s ‘Notes From Walnut Tree Farm’ which I’ve just begun to read. Expect much more about this book in forthcoming posts.

I have been out for several dawdles this weekend, all necessarily short and at toddler pace but fruitful and satisfying none the less. Can’t tell you about them yet because flickr is being awkward about rotating the photos I took in portrait orientation. As blogging has become an obsession (you may have noticed), my desire to get out and about at weekends has become even more pronounced. The need to stretch my legs, fill my lungs, blow away the cobwebs is ever present, but now I also need to explore, find new images, material – grist for the mill. Today I went to find out about a couple of things that I mentioned in posts almost exactly a year ago. Of which more later…(when flickr will play).

Finally, a quote from 365 Walks, whom I discovered in the blogroll at Walk – the magazine of the Ramblers’ Association.

Keep writing. Don’t let them block you. Keep walking. Don’t let life stop you. Watch for rainbows and feathers! Be idiotically persistent in your endeavors!

I love the idea of being ‘idiotically persistent’, I suppose some would describe that as being pig-headed. I can live with that.


Heaven 17 and the Strange Case of the Missing Birketts

I’ve never heard of Birketts before now. What random set of rules are there for Birketts, Mark?

The Birketts are listed in the book ‘Complete Lakeland Fells’ by Bill Birkett. Not to be confused with Marilyns, Nutalls, Hewitts or Wainwrights alternative hill lists covering the same or a greater area. The ‘random rules’ are indeed arbitrary, or at least unclear:

In deciding just what to classify as a top I have applied various criteria both to the 1:25000 OS maps and to the actual physical form on the ground.

So secret criteria then. One overt criteria is that the fells must be over 1000 feet high. Another is that they must lie within the national park. So Benson Knot above Kendal, and further east Lambrigg Fell, Docker Fell and Roan Edge are all out. These four are only just over a thousand feet and the last three are all hard by the M6, but to my mind at least, it’s logical to include all as Lakeland Fells and they can be strung together to make a very pleasant walk.

I seem to have somehow managed to bag 17 Birketts so far this year, and I’m not really supposed to be bagging Birketts. Funny little blighters aren’t they? – some real gems and some where the only question can be “why?”


I would like to bag 17 all year. Mike lives a charmed life.

After this exchange in comments on a previous post, and a sudden rush of blood to the head, I decided to take the latter as personal challenge and resolve to climb at least 17 Birketts this year. I was thinking that since I had already ticked off 3 on Sunday, this was a manageable total to aim for. Repenting at leisure, I realised that in January I had actually walked over another 5 Birketts, namely Tarn Crag, Sergeant Man, High Raise, Calf Crag and Gibson Knot. What’s more if we hadn’t skirted around the top of Codale Head, dropped off the ridge just short of High White Stones and left Helm Crag for another day due to failing light we would have had 8 that day. So with 8 down and only 9 to go perhaps 17 is not much of a challenge after all. Never mind – I shall stick with it, 17 is a satisfyingly arbitrary total to aim for, and as I have said elsewhere, I like targets which I’m confident I can meet or maybe exceed.

There are 541 canonical Birketts in total. If we allow my suggestions of the 4 above we could extend the list to 545. The problem with that would probably be deciding where the borders of Lakeland are, particularly in the east, if the National park boundaries are not used. So 541 then. Except that looking at the section of the book that deals with the Birketts around the Kentmere valley I found some other omissions. The description of the route over Brunt Knott above Staveley begins:

Unfortunately Potter Fell and its three tops, including that of Ulgraves, have had to be excluded from this walk because of access problems.

They are also excluded from the alphabetical and height order lists in the appendices. But because of the right to roam legislation, two of those three tops now fall within access land. Ulgraves still lies just outside. So – any Birketts completists reading: pull on your boots, there’s two more to bag (or three depending on your attitude to a little harmless trespass).

So 544, excluding tops beyond the National Park (I notice that there are several more potential tops between the A6 and the M6 which are excluded, above the Lune Gorge, around the ‘other’ Borrowdale if you know it). At a rate of 17 a year that’s exactly 32 years. (There’s clearly some kind of magic at work here, can it be just coincidence that 544 is a multiple of 17?). Of course, I have climbed a lot of them before, but it seems somehow ethical to make a clean start and blog them all. Hang on though – I’ve already blogged two last year – Scafell and Slight Side. 10 down and 534 to go. It’s a doddle this armchair bagging.


The uncredited quotes come from Bill Birkett’s book, Ken at Where The Fatdog Walks, Mike at northern pies, and Martin at Summit and Valley.

Heaven 17 and the Strange Case of the Missing Birketts

Ice Bell

I love to walk alone, but a walk in good company is hard to beat. I’ve know X-Ray for a few years now, but we normally meet in the Wagon and Horses, the George and Dragon, the Sun or another of Lancaster’s many hostelries. A perfect opportunity to natter you might think, but there’s nothing quite like a lengthy stroll to grease the gears of conversation. We covered a lot of ground on Sunday. One of the many topics we touched upon was school sport, and our attitude to competition. Now unlike X-Ray, I’m very competitive – not to the point where I let losing upset me, but I like to compete and when I compete I like to win. An element of that competitive streak informs my blogging.

For a while now Ron, of Walking Fort Bragg, and I have enjoyed a rivalry over Crooked Tree photos (Tom at Wigger’s World seems to have unwittingly entered the fray with an outstandingly twisted tree). Photos on Ron’s blog have also prompted me to search out images of spider’s webs and water droplets. The stunning wildlife photos on In a Dark Time have me pondering whether I need a new camera. Which is a purely hypothetical speculation since I shan’t be buying one any time soon, and anyway we know what’s said about bad workman and their tools…

The quality of thought and expression on several blogs that I follow makes me wonder whether I really ought to ‘keep my mouth shut and be thought a fool, rather than open it and remove all possible doubt’.

Anyway, whilst we descended into the Kentmere valley on Sunday, our bridleway crossed a tiny streamlet, thoroughly coated in ice. And (in the bottom left corner of the photo) a long icicle which by hanging into the stream had accreted new layers of ice at its base to create an ‘ice bell’. I’ve spent enough time on icy hills, I must have seen this phenomena before, but was I ever aware that I was seeing it? This time I was looking out for it, inevitably because I saw photographs of ice bells on the Internet. Incidentally, were this a competition then I’m afraid that Riverdaze would win hands down. But I’m happy – I found my very own example and have added one more motif to my totemic alphabet.

Next time I intend to get a close up which is actually in focus.

Ice Bell

Written on the Wind

Loren at In A Dark Time was tagged, and linked here in his responding post. I thought that I would follow his lead and use the opportunity to link to some blogs that I enjoy reading. The rules of the meme are as follows:

rule the one. link to the person who tagged you.
rule the second. post the rules on your blog.
rule the third. write six random things about yourself.
rule the four. tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
rule the fifth. let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
rule the sixth. let the tagger know when your entry is up

I intend to ignore ‘rule the fifth’ – if any of the recipients read this post and decide to join in then so be it – but that’s up to them. Hopefully, one or two people may follow a link and discover a blog that they enjoy and might not otherwise have come across. Loren’s post certainly served that purpose for me.

Six random things:

One: as a mathematician this incorrect and widely prevalent use of the word ‘random’ to mean arbitrary annoys me much more than it should.

Two: my brother and his family are over from Zurich, visiting my parents in Lincoln and we went to see them this weekend, for the first time since last Easter. I met my nephew for the first time and my youngest son met his uncle, aunt and cousins for the first time. I took one photograph and the batteries ran out on my camera:

We were visiting an open farm with a huge indoor play area. I suppose I at least took a family photo, even if it was the wrong family.

Three: I learned the word ‘Botanomancy’ today from Twisted Rib – one of the links from Loren’s post. I lifted a title from there that seemed appropriate for something as ephemeral and frivolous as an online game of tag.

Four: I am fanatical about music, although my blog rarely reflects that fact. I’ve been listening to Mark Lamarr’s marvelous God’s Jukebox show and the opening track, ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ by Slaid Cleaves was new to me and, I thought, pretty wonderful. Thanks to the wonders of Youtube, I can share a live version with you:

Five: I’m anaemic, and too tired to do six random things before bedtime. Now believe six impossible things before breakfast……

Oh OK, Six: I like Lewis Carroll.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.

So…to the links.

I would have chosen Solitary Walker, except Loren beat me to it. I’m way behind with Google Reader and in these circumstances there are certain blogs that I check for updates before any others. These are some of them:

Walking Home to 50

Walking Fort Bragg

Northern Pies

Must Be This Way

Postcard From Timperley

And because one man’s obsession with camping stoves has turned out to be strangely compelling:


Written on the Wind

Books and the Net

Not a short story By Edgar Alan Poe, but some thoughts about some books I have read recently, or am currently reading, and how I acquired them.

…at a time when so many of us are concerned about our carbon footprint, they have no need to travel to the other side of the world to understand more about themselves and their relation to the world they inhabit. In this sense, many of the stories in this issue are studies in the local or the parochial: they are about the discovery of exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Jason Cowley in the Editor’s Letter from Granta 102 ‘The New Nature Writing’


Every so often I stumble across something which resonates, feeling like a call to arms or a manifesto for my blogging. Clearly, I wouldn’t make any grand claims to be a ‘new nature writer’, but: ‘exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary’ – whether I succeed or not, that’s what I’m after.

I don’t ordinarily read Granta, but at the moment I have two issues by my bedside. The other is 90 : ‘Country life: dispatches from what’s left of it’.

I decided that I needed to lay hands on a copy of 102, after reading about it over at Walking and Writing and then watching an interview with Robert Macfarlane on the Granta website. I then managed to swap ‘The Book of Evidence’ by John Banville for it, through Readitswapit. I only recently discovered this site and have subsequently swapped about a dozen books, including the other issue of Granta. If, like I did, you grew up watching Saturday Morning Swap Shop then you will immediately appreciate the concept. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been able to get hold of recent novels by writers that I like – ‘Beyond Black’ by Hilary Mantel for instance. But better yet, it can be a little like browsing in a second hand book shop and discovering a real gem that you have never previously encountered: I swapped have just finished reading  ‘Corduroy’ by Adrian Bell, an account of farming in Suffolk between the wars which is by turns interesting, comic and lyrical.

Before that I read ‘I Bought A Mountain’ by Thomas Firbank another account of farming, this time from just prior to WWII. It is very different from Corduroy, but equally enchanting. And for mountain lovers, it includes an account of a record breaking traverse of the Welsh Threes. I had heard of this book many years ago, but had forgotten, when I read about it at Walkabout in the UK (where there is an excellent article about Firbank’s life and other books – I shall have to look out for those). Shortly afterwards I found ‘I Bought A Mountain’ whilst browsing in a charity bookshop – as John says: ‘All very karmic’.

Then there are recommendations on Amazon. Whilst looking at recent paperbacks that I covet (Beechcombings by Richard Mabey, Wildwood by Roger Deakin and Great British Journeys by Nicholas Crane) I checked out one of the ‘customers who bought this book also bought’ links and have now added ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie to my wishlist. I’m hoping that Readitswapit will provide all four eventually.

I suppose the point is that my blog reading and surfing compliments and prompts my more traditional reading.

Finally a short quote from another Readitswapit acquisition, ‘The Book of Dave’ by Will Self:

The warm air was fruitylicious and butterfly rustled.

Wonderfully evocative. I’ve only read the opening chapter, but it’s so reminiscent of Russell Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker’ that I can only imagine that the very clever Mr Self is deliberately making an homage.

Books and the Net