Sunday, 19 December 2010

Y Garn and Cwm Idwal

North Wales had a huge dump of snow last week. Northerly air flow combined with already freezing temperatures and weather fronts collected moisture off the Irish Sea, froze it and dumped it across Snowdonia. This therefore made it an obvious choice for this weekends walk. I spoke to our Northampton based friend Kelvin midweek who mentioned that he would be up that way this weekend too so we planned to meet up with him for an adventurous winter walk on Sunday. Kelvin being the hardened man that he is, slept in his van overnight in one of the A5 laybys in the Ogwen Valley. Temperatures dropped to minus fifteen that night! We on the other hand were nice and warm under a down quilt and electric blanket at home as I checked the weather forecast. The forecasts said it would be a very cold and sunny day, perfect conditions for a winter walk. So knowing we had to set off early to get there in time to make a proper day of it, we set the alarm clock for a quarter past six on Sunday morning.

Ogwen Valley from Y Garn's North East Ridge

We took an age defrosting the car as it was minus twelve degrees in Cheshire when we woke up. I have recently discovered that there is a problem with the heating system in my car too which the missus was not impressed with. Basically it decides when it will and won't pass through the warm air from the engine area so for the first hour of the drive we were freezing. To counter act the discomfort I knew the missus would be in I filled our Platypus water carriers with boiling water so she could use them as hot water bottles on the way. We got to Wales in good time as the A55 was clear. Amazes me how much time it cuts off the journey round Chester these days now it is continuous dual carraigeway from the end of the M56 to the A55. One thing I had never seen in my life until this moment was snow on a beach. I've been in Scotland when it snows but still never seen an actual beach with snow cover on it. The beaches along the North Wales coast looked great covered in snow and the Great Orme looked incredible. We came off the A55 near Bangor at the junction with the A5 and tried to use the services there, as we pulled in however all we could see was a car park covered in deep snow with abandoned cars strewn across its entrance and exit roads.

Afon Ogwen at Idwal Cottage

As we continued along the A5 towards Bethesda the snow got deeper and there were dozens of abandoned vehicles along the road. At Halfway Bridge we picked up a walker who was thumbing a lift to Idwal Cottage where we were heading. He was a cheery fellow and we had a good chat and laugh with him. As we approached Bethesda we could tell the place had clearly had a lot more snow than we had anticipated. Bethesda's pavements, cars and parking spaces were all completely buried under two foot deep snow everywhere. The village was surprisingly busy and locals with shovels were everywhere trying to clear their cars and pavements. We continued along the road with care until we got to Nant Ffrancon where a freak wind was blowing the snow from the fields on to the road. It got quite hairy in places but luckily a local farmer was on hand and was clearing away the drifts with his tractor and plough. We reached Idwal Cottage and had fun trying to find somewhere to park as all the laybys were feet deep in snow drifts. Nicky braved the cold outside, grabbed the spade from the boot and started digging out a parking space on the main road for us. The hitch hiking walker helped push the car in to place. With the car parked we got geared up ready for a proper winter walk. The day before I had been out to the fantastic Hitch n Hike gear shop in Bamford in the heart of the Peak District. I got Nicky some Grivel Monte Rosa crampons and got us both a pair of Kahtoola Micro Spikes which I had been craving for a long time. The Peak District drive the day before was awesome, despite reports of the roads being closed, in reality they were all open and passable. The Peak District looked amazing in surprisingly just a sprinkling of snow and the sun setting.

Myself, Nicky & Kelvin on Y Garn summit

We met Kelvin down the road at the Idwal Cottage car park toilets and cafe building. We hadn't seen Kelvin since we did the winter skills course together in the Cairngorms last winter so it was handshakes and hugs all round. We set off along the path to Llyn Idwal, passing through the gate and over the Llyn Idwal outflow which was covered in loads of incredible ice formations and of course as always with the backdrop above of Y Garn the target for the days walk. We chose Y Garn as the navigation is fairly straight forward, we've done it before and we know the going was going to be tough so had to choose something fairly short in distance. We soon reached the beautiful Cwm Idwal where monochrome snow and ice covered cliffs soared above a frozen Llyn Idwal, contrasted by perfect blue skies. From Llyn Idwal we could see fellow walkers on our route up the North East Ridge of Y Garn. It was obvious by their slow pace that it was going to be tough. We were soon making steady progress up on to the ridge itself via Pinnacle Crag. All the way we were extremely thankful for those who had broken the path and kicked steps before us. As we got around half way up the ascent clouds moved in over the surrounding tops and eventually covered us too. Visibility was not great but we easily made our way up the final ascent of the ridge to the summit plateau with relief and aching thigh muscles. The final part of the ridge is usually quite a narrow scramble but as is sometimes the case, with a wide area of snow packed on it the going was actually easier than normal.

Kelvin descending Devil's Kitchen path

On the plateau the visibility was so bad that we could only see around twenty metres in either direction. We turned left and used the impressive cornice as a hand rail to get us to the summit cairn. Trying not to step on the cornice itself at any point. At one point the white was so overwhelming it created an optical illusion that tricked us into not realising the snow in front of us was actually built up and at chest height to us. We walked straight into it, after expecting to walk just walk ahead and across it! The summit cairn provided a good shelter from the bitterly cold wind. We made ourselves some bucket seats in the snow and had lunch. All of us smiling and happy to be at nine hundred and forty metres above sea level in white out conditions with a bitter wind burning our faces. We felt alive! After trying to drink more of my frozen Lucazade, I took a bearing from the summit, for practice and just in case. The wind on the descent down the south side of the mountain was bitterly cold and stung all our faces. I was very glad of the Rab Balaclava I had brought from Hitch n Hike the day before. Kelvin took a few tumbles as we struggled through the deep snow towards Llyn y Cwn. After stopping to take a picture Kelvin suddenly realised he couldn't locate his camera. I started ascending the hill again following the path he took, with my thigh muscles starting to burn again. I turned round to hear "Found it!". I shot a disapproving glare at which they both laughed and trotted back down. As we got down to Llyn y Cwn on the col between Y Garn and Glyder Fawr the skies opened up to give us some pretty awesome and atmospheric views to the Carneddau on our left and Snowdon on our right. We played around near the frozen Llyn y Cwn where I landed face first in the snow and ended up falling down a hole to my waist at one point.

Nicky admiring the icicles

Our descent was via the Devil's Kitchen path. We struggled at first to find the proper path as others who had led the way before us had also gone way off course. We did eventually find the familiar wide open track that leads down to the small stone wall that crosses the path at the point where it turns in to a rocky scramble. The views from here looking over Llyn Idwal are always impressive, I'd say easily one of the best views in Snowdonia and today they were as impressive as I had ever seen them. We started to descend the slippery and steepening path. Nicky and Myself thankful at this point that we still had our Microspikes on our boots. We wore the Microspikes all day. Even when they are not necessarily needed you don't really need to take them off as they do not hinder your progress as crampons would. We had to be careful in places as the path was just like a slide in a playground but steeper, covered in compacted slippery snow and big boulders on the crags below. As I was carefully watching my own footing I suddenly heard a "Woah!"  from below me and looked down to see Kelvin at the bottom of one of these tricky slides lay akimbo across a boulder which luckily had stopped him in his path. Nicky and Myself skipped a heart beat and Kelvin just looked up and laughed and said "Phew that was close, maybe its time for crampons". Was a very funny and memorable moment. To get down Kelvin's slope I used a skill I learned on the winter skills course last year and chopped out several steps using the adze of my ice axe, I was extremely pleased with my skills.

The Moon and Tryfan

As the path skirts the bottom of the Devil's Kitchen itself we looked up to see a winter ice climber half way up the back wall of the huge dark and foreboding gully. Looking up at him I could only think two possibilities. He either has serious mental issues or gigantic balls. My legs were shaking just watching him. As the path turns right again a big buttress sticks out from the right, this usually has a waterfall down the side of it but today the water was spread across the buttress and had dripped off frozen and created probably the most spectacular icicles I have ever seen all in one place. I got a good shot of Nicky stood under them to give perspective as they were huge. We chatted to several fellow walkers and climbers on the final descent to the shores of Llyn Idwal. A short walk round Llyn Idwal saw us back at the path we left earlier. By now it was starting to get dark but a massive bright moon shone the path all the way back to Idwal Cottage and provided a stunning backdrop to a snowy Tryfan which looked even more grand than it usually would. We fed some left over sandwich chicken to a beautiful and friendly Robin at Idwal Cottage then left Kelvin as he went back to his van and Capel Curig for a Lamb dinner. Kelvin stayed over in Snowdonia for a few more nights as it was just too good to miss. Unfortunately we made our way home in the freezing cold car and went to work the next day as he was enjoying Moel Siabod.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Harrison Stickle via Stickle Tarn

We had a right love and hate relationship with the snow this weekend. The plan for the weekend was to go to Oslo to see A-Ha's last ever concert in their home town as Nicky is a life long fan. However we got to the airport and boarded the plane on Saturday morning only to be told that we couldn't go anywhere as Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was a foot deep in snow and any flight heading their way would have to stay precisely where they are. For is this meant sitting on the apron at Manchester Airport. We waited for four hours until we had to make the decision to get off the plane which luckily we could as we only had hand luggage. We basically had to make it to Amsterdam for a 1:30pm flight which had now been cancelled and the evening flight too was cancelled so we wouldn't have made or been able to cancel the hotel. We've lost a lot of money unfortunately and Nicky was devastated not to make it to the concert. So after a down Saturday I decided we had to get up early Sunday and make our way to The Lakes to make the most of the snow instead and turn it in to something good.

Nicky heading toward Pavey Ark

Knowing we would probably be getting up early but not drastically early, I knew by the time we got the the Lakes we would probably only have at the most four or five hours of daylight. So I had to plan a shorter walk than normal and also take into account the fact we would be slower if the snow is as deep as reports say it is. I decided on the Langdale Pikes from Stickle Barn Tavern up the Stickle Ghyll path as I knew the roads would most likely have been cleared out to Langdale and it is easy to get to once you get off the M6, so saving some time. After de-frosting the car we set off into the a perfect cold, crisp, and clear blue sky winters day. The cars thermometer as we got to Kendal showed the temperature outside to be -8 degrees Celsius. As we came over the hill towards the back of Bowness we looked forward to see a wonderful sight, there was a cloud inversion over the whole stretch of Windermere and above it the huge white snow covered Consiton Fells.

Stickle Tarn

I love how on winters days like these with perfect clarity the mountains look twice their normal size and so much closer. The roads were clear all the way to Langdale. When we arrived I was surprised to see so little people around. The National Trust's Stickle Ghyll car park was fairly treacherous with a good nine inches of snow on the ground. I went through my usual stomping around effing and jeffing at the ridiculous cost of parking to go for a walk in the Lake District. We set off from the Stickle Ghyll car park and headed up hill on the left hand side of the Ghyll. The water falls were iced over with icicles and formations looking magical. Mounds of snow on boulders in the ghyll added to the magic. After a short steep climb we crossed a wooden foot bridge over the ghyll then continued our ascent on the other side of the ghyll. One pair of walkers we kept passing had a beautiful Bearded Collie and Spaniel that were clearly loving their adventures in the snow. We eventually rounded Tarn Crag and crossed Stickle Ghyll at the boulder field before reaching the dam at Stickle Tarn.

Wild scene on Langdale Pikes plateau

Stickle Tarn was completely frozen over and looked as good as it always does but even better that normal as its back drop the stunning Pavey Ark was covered in snow creating a grand monochrome scene. We ate a chocolate bar at the tarn and headed then headed left to the south western shore of the tarn before starting the ascent to the col between Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle. The ascent is steep and quite dangerous in winter conditions but the snow was two foot deep powder with no frozen layers at all so a fall would just see you buried in snow instead of sliding down the hill side. We didn't even bother to get our crampons or ice axes out as the deep snow gave a certain security you wouldn't normally have on a hill side covered in frozen snow. This two foot deep obstruction was like every step we were walking over a fence, we followed the steps of those who had gone there before us but the going was still pretty tough. At one point Nicky said it was like walking through whipped cream!

Myself on Harrison Stickle summit

We topped out on the col and walked across to the large bowl shaped Langdale Pikes plateau. As we reached the plateau clouds came rolling in for literally only around ten minutes and added a wild an desolate atmosphere to the place. As we headed towards Harrison Stickle the cloud was starting to break up and was leaving small brocken spectres and halo effects as the low winter sun hit the summit rocks and the remaining cloud. The cloud was gone by the time we reached the summit and the views were incredible, though it was absolutely freezing now we had stopped. We headed off StickleGhyll gorge skirting Harrison Stickle. The path was quite scary in parts as here you knew if you slipped there was a good chance you'd end up in that deep Dungeon Ghyll gorge below. Eventually the path eases off and ascends over a grassy slop towards Pike Howe. Pike Howe is a wonderful rocky knoll that sits in the most perfect position for gazing down the wonder of the Langdale Valley. Nicky topped out on Pike Howe while I took a picture and we then took the zig zag path from behind Pike Howe back down to Stickle Ghyll. We topped off our exhilarating walk with a hot chocolate sat by the wood burner in the Stickle Barn Tavern looking out at the beautiful snow covered fells. Perfect Day!

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here.

Route Map...

Friday, 5 November 2010

Helm Crag from Grasmere

It had been way too long since I had walked along a mountain ridge thinking how lucky I was to be alive! I therefore looked at how many annual leave days I had left before the end of the year which I could utilise to get out in the mountains. I decided to book off several Fridays meaning that I now have no more five day weeks for the rest of the year. Last Friday I was free to do what ever I wanted, so after seeing the weather forecast the night before I chose to head up to the Lake District. The Lakes seemed to be the best chance of a rain free afternoon. The only problem was that I hadn't had a lie in for a long time so when my alarm went off at 7:30am I simply ignored it. I did eventually get my lazy backside out of bed around 8:30 and after having breakfast and packing I was on the road by 10am heading for the Lakes.

Grasmere Village

I wanted to do a walk I hadn't done before and as it was a Friday I wanted to try a more popular route which I would normally ignore due to its popularity but could take advantage of visiting during normal work hours. I had never done a walk from Grasmere and never looked around this popular tourist destination. On the Thursday night before there had been many Cumbria based tweeters saying that some roads were flooded and the lakes were higher than normal due to the rivers being in spate after heavy rainfall. Luckily the grim predictions never materialised and although some roads were passable only with care there wasn't anything to worry about. The rivers had water in them but none were flooded, the only flooding was Lake Windermere which was several feet higher than normal which was obvious at the pier in Ambleside where some of the buildings and boat moorings were under water.

Sour Milk Waterfalls & Far Easedale Valley

I arrived in Grasmere and looked for somewhere to park. I tried several car parks all run by the Lake District National Park Authority and was soon furiously effing and jeffing at the realisation that I would have to pay £7 just to park to go for a walk. The most popular walk around here being Helm Crag ridge taking most people just over four hours and yep you've guessed it, the charges go higher after four hours. Absolute disgrace in my opinion and will seriously affect my choice when choosing a National Park to visit in future. I'm not totally ignorant and fully understand the need to provide decent parking and keep local roads doesn't come free but £7 is a totally rip off! I literally was left with no money to spend in the shops afterwards which is a real shame as otherwise I would probably have nipped in to somewhere for a sandwich and hot chocolate after the walk.

Grasmere from Helm Crag

Other than that Grasmere didn't disappoint and was the beautiful quaint Lakeland picture postcard village I had expected. I parked up at the Broadgate Meadow car park as it is nearest to the start of the planned walk. I walked past the shops and headed up Easedale Road. I passed the Butharlyp Howe Youth Hostel where a Robin kept me company for a few yards and reminded me that despite my recent trip to Australia and its stunningly colourful birds, hardy and full of personality English birds are still my favourite. The road crossed Easedale Beck at Goody Bridge before eventually reaching the ford and footbridge at Steel Bridge. From here I got my first sight of the Sour Milk Waterfall at the far end of the valley ahead, fully in spate and justifying their self explanatory name. The route I took was not over the bridge to Easedale Tarn but on towards the Helm Crag path. I still hadn't decided in which direction I would do this slightly circular walk but the weather moving in made up my mind. I knew more than anything I wanted to get up on top a mountain today so knowing the weather could stay miserable I wouldn't want to go home without standing on top of a mountain at some point so headed for the direct route up Helm Crag.

The Howitzer above The Pass of Dunmail Raise 

The autumnal leaves in the forests below the quarry at the foot of Helm Crag were breath taking and ticked another requirement of the day. This time of year looks incredible in the woodlands and forests but I find when we are having wet and cold autumn and winters that the window of time in which to see the autumnal rich red and gold colours can be a lot less than you would think and the leaves are soon gone by mid November. The ascent on to Helm Crag is fairly simple which along with its location above Grasmere Village make it a very popular walk. Having said that though you really shouldn't under estimate its quality. It is a great little mountain with stunning views in all directions, especially those over Grasmere and over to the Helvellyn and Fairfield range. The view down in to the Pass of Dunmail Raise is also well worth the easy climb, this great example of a glacial valley is often taken for granted when speeding along at 60mph through it on the A591 but from up here you can really appreciate its size and shape. It is like a much smaller version of the Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms in Scotland, though dissected by a major trunk road. As I reached the shoulder of the mountain I looked up to see a Kestrel hovering above and then sitting dead still in mid air on the wind.

Gibson Knott summit cairn

Helm Crag's summit has two rock features. I reached the first rock outcrop on the south side of the mountain which gets its name from the fact it looks like a 'Lion and Lamb' from Grasmere Village below, it is easily accessible. Moving on I reached the other rocky outcrop at the north end of Helm Crag which is also its highest point and known as either 'The Howitzer' or 'The Old Lady Playing the Organ'. This outcrop also gets its name from the outline image it creates from the valleys below. From here you get the best view in to the Pass of Dunmail Raise. To reach the top of this rock outcrop you have to tackle a short but steep and tricky scramble which I decided to leave for another day as it was still raining and the rock was very slippery, what a wimp! The summit is the Lakes equivalent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Rumour has it that even the great Sir Alfred Wainwright never reached the true summit!

Far Easedale Valley

I continued along the ridge crossing Bracken Hause to reach Gibson Knott. A fairly none descriptive summit but the boggy walk along the ridge was invigorating despite the continuous rain showers, increasing winds and lowering temperatures. After Gibson Knott the terrain got even more boggy and rocky but I was just happy to be out in the wild with nature doing its best to make me appreciate life. I really enjoyed the views across to Steel Fell which I had never considered before but it looks like a nice and easy ridge walk I'll consider in future. I eventually reached the stone cairn and tarn on the summit of Calf Crag and knew that looking at the watch I would only have just over an hour of daylight left so any plans to do an excursion up to High Raise or across to Tarn Crag would be out of the question. I followed the path down to the head of the Far Easedale Valley and descended in to the valley.

Roe Deer near Grasmere

I was pleasantly surprised at how wild the Far Easedale Valley was and despite battering wind and rain really enjoyed the walk back to Grasmere. While walking through the Far Easedale Valley you have the Helm Crag ridge to your left and from down in the valley it makes the ridge look twice as high and impressive as it really is. You pass by some lovely waterfalls and gills through the valley. After following the Far Easedale Gill down its valley I crossed it over a wide wooden bridge then used the rocky bridleway behind Brimmer Head Farm to reach Steel Bridge and the Easedale Road again back to Grasmere. As I was walking near Goody Bridge I heard an animal over a stone wall by the road, peered over the wall to see if it was just a sheep and was delighted to see what I thought was a young Red Deer, but have since been corrected and told is a Roe Deer, munching on grass in the field. At the sight of a drowned hiker it was startled and soon made off but it was beautiful and a great way to end a good day on the fells.

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here.

Route Map...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Monks Dale from Millers Dale

We are currently saving our spare cash for spending money on our honeymoon in a few weeks to Australia so any walks we do at the moment have to involve as little cost as possible. This means we either don't go or I go on my own as Nicky isn't a big fan of what the local area has to offer, she prefers the more impressive mountainous areas of the Lakes and Snowdonia. However I can sometimes tempt her with a trip to the White Peak as despite still being the Peak District it certainly take on a different look and feel compared with the dark gloomy Dark Peak that she grew up around. There was one walk in particular I thought of that for a while I had wanted to show her. Monks Dale is a lesser frequented National Nature Reserve known for its wildflowers, natural woodlands and stunning rugged limestone scenery.

Monks Dale

Monks Dale is typical of so many Limestone Dales in Derbyshire's White Peak area. It has an abundance of wild flowers and wildlife and changes with the seasons. It cuts deep like a ravine through the landscape showing scars of rock on the cliffs that flank its rich valley. One of the best things about Monks Dale is its solitude, it is by far one of the quietest of the Derbyshire Dales as most walkers tend to head along the main valley from Millers Dale up Chee Dale and Millers Dale itself following the lovely Wye Valley. We started our walk from the car park in Millers Dale. We turned left out of the car park up the road and then went over the concrete stile to the right in front of the small farm. As we crossed the stile we realised one of the young calves in the field next to the stone wall was making its way towards us bouncing along like a huge puppy. Nicky soon made acquittance with the beast and it took many a rub on the nose before sliding out its big wet tongue and giving Nicky the sloppy kiss she'd been waiting for all morning.

Nicky's gets some loving from a local

We headed into the Dale and down a very muddy path to the wooden footbridge that crosses the stream through the Dale. The last time I was here the stream was beautiful and had Mallards floating along its calm waters. I remember too having a lovely bobbing Dipper keeping me company for the walk. Today however the stream was completely gone! I was slightly gutted really as I love my rivers and streams and the joys of the distraction they give me. I stood and stared in amazement at the difference between then and now and remembered how last time I had sat watching the stream, now however there was just Nicky mocking me about how shocked I was and pretending to wash her face in the dried up river bed. We crossed the footbridge, despite there being no water to cross and made our way into the dale along the muddy and sometimes rocky path.

Nicky washing her face in the dried out river bed

As you enter the middle section of Monks Dale the valley opens up wide with the odd birch and rowan tree scattered among limestone scars and scree on the path side of the valley and a thick wood on the opposite side. At a point just after the scree we scrambled up an ascent to the right side of the valley to pick a spot amongst the limestone rocks for lunch. As we ascended we watched dozens of rabbits scarper, their little white backsides bobbing up and down left and right as they ran away from an unfamiliar shape. We found a great spot on warm rocks facing south down the dale with fabulous views. A noisy helicopter spoiled the silence for a while but landed in Millers Dale moments later. The spot we chose had an abundance of Blackberry bushes so we gathered a handful and devoured the natural tasty treats. After the wide section of the Dale it narrows out and the footpath heads down through the trees in to the very bottom of the valley floor and into the fascinating Monks Dale woods.

Monks Dale woodland footpath

The woods of Monks Dale are made up mostly of Ash, Willow, Beech, Sycamore and Birch trees, it is a completely natural woodland and deep in the sheltered valley floor has created a unique and to some an unforgiving environment. Even in the driest of seasons and hottest of days the woods take on their own climate. The damp temperate atmosphere creates an almost rain forest like climate. The trees are plentiful and covered in colourful lichens and thick mosses. The woodland floor is carpeted with wonderful wild flowers. The floors of the woodland here is home to the likes of Herb Paris, Moschatel, Dog’s Mercury, Marsh Marigold, Brooklime, Blue Water Speedwell, Wood Anemones, Bird Cherry, Dogwood, Water Aven, Orchids, Campions, Cowslips, Butterbur, Wild Garlic, Harebells and Jack in the Pulpit whose berries we got a great macro shot of. There is a lovely moss and lichen covered stone wall that completely dissects the valley floor and follows the line of the stream all the way to the head of the Dale. The path through the woods is very tasking and a quick look of the map shows a green valley with a stream going through it which is very deceiving, your progress through the woodland path is slowed down quite dramatically by its rough rocky nature, fallen trees, damp undergrowth and various other natural obstacles. We kept stopping every so often just to create silence  and admire the mesmerising atmosphere of the wood, there was a constant buzz in the canopy above of Hoverflies and every now and then a Tit, Robin or Blackbird would rustle the leaves around us. We also spotted one of my favourite birds a Nuthatch making its way up a tree trunk next to us. The sun barely reaches the bottom of the narrow valley but on the odd occasion that it does the rays beaming down through the trees were stunning at one point catching a huge spiders web with its maker sat in the middle.

Monksdale House

Eventually the woodland path ends at a wooden gate through a stone wall and then after rounding a rocky outcrop you open out in to a wide meadow, so typical of the head of so many Limestone Dales. A road crosses the meadow, we sat on the roadside bench for while and then headed to the right and east ascending the steep road up to Monksdale House. At Monksdale House we followed the signs for the Limestone Way along a tractor track through the fields opposite the house heading south. We headed along the track, thankful of its stone walls as they keep us out of what was quite a chilly wind. We reached a standing stone in the fields on the left and had a closer look at it. The standing stone was typical ancient Carboniferous Limestone rich in Crinoid fossils. When the track headed back down towards Monks Dale and Millers Dale there was a large bank on the right covered in rabbit holes so leaned against the stone wall stood and watched as dozens of them ran around playing in the sun. We followed the track all the way back to Monksdale Farm on the opposite side of Monks Dale to the one we started the walk from. We walked through Monksdale Farm then through the gate and headed down the footpath to the valley floor again switching back on ourselves just before the bottom to cross the stepping stones which also seemed a little daft with no water. A short ascent back towards the road and we were back at the Millers Dale car park where toilets and an ice cream van awaited.

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here here.

Route Map...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common

It was quite a shock to friends and family when for this weekends get away from it all excursion we chose the biggest metropolis in the nation. London is a place that always fascinates me, as a teenager and in my early twenties my only experiences of London were football matches. Travelling darn sarf to watch United play various London clubs was certainly an eye opener. Those earlier trips made me realise just how huge and diverse a place it is. This last weekend was basically a get away from it all weekend with absolutely no plans and something a little different from our normal adventures in to wild places and the mountains. Wild places, walking and nature watching was going to be put on hold for a weekend... or were they?...

London skyline from Richmond Park

One of the things that saddens me most in my own city is the complete lack of green spaces. Manchester is where my heart will always be as I was born in this area and brought up here. Manchester's music, football, passion and pride can not be beaten. However its complete lack of inner city green space really saddens me, especially as it is the place I spend most of my daytime hours as I have worked in the city for over a decade. Even our beloved city centre green of Piccaddilly Gardens has now been concreted over to make way for fast food outlets and "Chav Grazing" areas. There are some small green areas in Manchester city centre but there are very few and they really are small. Millions of office workers and city centre shoppers would die for some relaxing green space to chill out during busy stressful weekdays. I've always said if I ever won the lottery I'd buy a huge area in Manchester City Centre, put a huge twenty foot fence round the entire plot and landscape it as naturally as possible to make my own and respectful member exclusive heaven. London is a different kettle of fish all together. London has some fantastic squares, gardens and parks to be really proud of and they are all well kept and respected. I was really impressed by them.

London Cycle Scheme

We set off for the capital on Friday night from Manchester Picaddily. The train was one of the new Virgin Pendolino tilting trains which was actually quite scary. The speed of these things is frightening and especially when they tilt at almost a forty five degree angle as you fly through the country's railway stations. We sat and watched the nations beautiful landscape. It is something special to watch out of a train window on a good day. We saw a cracking rainbow at one point and I was star struck as United legend Lou Macari passed us heading for the buffet. We were delayed slightly as there were cows on the line near Macclesfield! We arrived in London a few hours later and set up base camp at our Travel Lodge accommodation near Euston Station. Pretty basic accommodation but a great location. We went out for the night around Leicester Square and then China Town for a meal where I had my first and probably my last taste of Pigeon.

Fish in St James Park Lake 

Saturday morning we set off on a day of no plan at all but just walk around London. We set off in search of a place to eat breakfast and soon found Russell Square. Fantastic little green square just down from Euston Station in Bloomsbury. We sat in the sunny weather watching Pigeons playing around in the water feature cleaning their under wings and splashing each other. From there we made our way to Oxford Street to check out the shops but soon got sick of battling our way through thousands of very not like-minded shoppers. We got a Boots meal deal and had a look at our London AtoZ map, which we used to great effect to navigate the whole weekend, and found a green area on the map called Grosvenor Square near Mayfair. Again a splendid example of a well kept city centre park, most noticeable were the colourful flower beds teeming with buzzing insects and bees, certainly a good sign. After lunch we walked through the rather affluent Berkeley Square and Berkeley Street to Green Park. We walked through Green Park with its huge ancient trees which was buzzing with people in the sunny weather and came across a rather bizarre site. It was a meeting of Pug owners! Basically around fifty people all who owned a Pug dog. After standing in amazement at this bizarre site we walked past Buckingham Palace and in to St James Park which was also buzzing with people until it started raining and then everyone fled for shelter under the impressive Willow trees.

Almshouses in Richmond

We stood on the Blue Bridge in St James Park and enjoyed the spectacle of hundreds of fish swimming around in the lake. It was like a trout farm basin there were so many. Ducklings were diving under the water after them and we watched as they dived and there little feet paddled down behind them. We moved over to the far end of the park and found a group of Squirrels happily feeding from peoples hands which was a lovely sight. The rain continued to get heavy and persistant as we eventually reached Whitehall and Downing Street so we decided to head back to the hotel for a few hours power nap before heading out for the night. We went to the cinema and chose to go to the Odeon in Camden Town. Possibly the quaintest cinema you could image. We watched the new film Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in a screen only a dozen seats wide by a dozen rows, it was fantastic! Afterwards we headed back towards Leicester Square and found a lovely Italian down a side street where I devoured a delicious Calzone Pizza full of tasty Mozzarella. The Tube was closed by the time we came out of the Italian so we decided to walk back to the hotel instead of catching a bus or taxi. As we passed the church opposite Euston Station a lovely grey urban Fox ran across the road in front of us.

Red Deer in Richmond Park

Sunday the weather was blue skies again so we decided to go find another good park area we could go and chill out or walk for the day. Looking on the web I was trying to find that view you often see of the city skyline from a park on a slight hill somewhere in London. I found Richmond Park and decided we would head out to Richmond and go discover the park for the day. Looking at the AtoZ on the Tube en route I realised we could actually do a long linear walk by traversing both Richmond Park and the almost adjoining Wimbledon Common and then get the Tube from Wimbledon back to Euston. The route would involve about seven and a half miles walk from station to station so seemed possible and interesting. We got off the train in the lovely town of Richmond and headed along Sheen Road towards East Sheen, passing some extremely pretty looking Almshouses on the way. We entered the park near East Sheen Common and walked through the common which was a breath of fresh air indeed, the common is natural woodland with several paths winding their way through it. We came to Bog Gate the northern pedestrian entrance to Richmond Park.

Female Gatekeeper butterfly

Richmond Park at almost 2500 acres is the largest Royal Park in London and is home to around 650 roaming Red and Fallow deer, foxes, butterflies, birds, rabbits, ducks, insects and more. The pastoral landscape of hills, woodlands, ponds, gardens, flowers and grasslands set amongst ancient trees offers a peaceful respite to visitors. This really is an oasis in the centre of a huge metropolis. By the Bog Gate entrance there was the kind of buzzing noise you would usually associate with over head power lines, however in this instance it was the more natural sound of hundreds of Grass Hoppers in the rough by the wall. As we entered the park there was several Red Deer sheltering under trees from the sun so we too sheltered under on of the ancient oaks and ate lunch admiring them. It was great to see so many locals walking their kids and cycling around the park. We headed off over The Bog as it is named on the map, though it was more of a dried out grass land. Before coming down South I had heard people talking of how dry the grass is down here during this dry summer and we really saw for ourselves how dead the grass was around the parks and commons. We saw dozens of Rabbits and were often gifted a sight of the beautiful Gatekeeper butterflies. After eating sweet Blackberries off the bushes on The Bog area we reached Sawyers Hill. Sawyers Hill is a road that traverses the park, only open during daylight hours. We sat on a bench on the top of the hill and admired the incredible contrasting view of the London skyline above the wild park. All day there was a constant line of planes above coming in to Heathrow, fascinating at times when you could see four planes at once all lined up in the sky on there way in to land. From Sawyers Hill we headed down to the Pen Ponds that were populated by ducks and birds of all types. We eventually reached the roads leading out to the Robin Hood Gate entrance. Once we reached the gate we headed through and across the main road crossing over to Wimbledon Common.

Pen Ponds in Richmond Park

Wimbledon Common is the largest expanse of heathland in the London area. The western slopes, which lie on London Clay, support mature mixed woodland. The Commons are a flagship site for the stag beetle. Most of the Commons are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. And of course home to the TV series The Wombles! We crossed the bridge over Beverley Brook and then followed the bank of the brook for a while until we spotted fish in the brook and had to take a closer look. The fish were plentiful and some were really big Salmon. It was great to see so many fish in the brook as reading up on the brook I found it had been lifeless for almost a century due to pollution but recent efforts over the last decade have brought it back to life and from what we saw it is full of life. We went slightly wrong as I being a big lover of rivers and streams was keeping close to the brook. We found we were at the bottom of the west side of Robin Hood Road which would take us to the eastern side of the common. We headed up Robin Hood Road, a long up hill track through fantastic natural woodland. We reached the far end of the common by Springwell Cottage and followed roads past the dried up golf course and out to Wimbledon itself. We made our way down the hill to the station and set off on our long journey home via Euston Station. Brilliant days walk and you would not have a clue you were in a big metropolis at all. If you ever have a weekend in London then I'd highly recommend getting the Tube to Richmond and walking this route to Wimbledon over Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. We probably saw more wildlife in this weekend to London than we usually see on a weekend in The Lakes.

I didn't take many but uploaded the photos from the weekend here.

Route Map...

Monday, 26 July 2010

Blencathra via Sharp Edge

After the work fortnight from hell which found me at the doctors with chest pains it was time to get back to the things that chill me out in life. My new wife wanted us to spend the day out in the hills together for only the second time this year, lets face it she was hardly going to get an argument from me! She has a few things on her mountain to do list including Scafell Pike, Striding Edge, Tryfan and Sharp Edge. Weather forecast wasn't great but said it would be mostly dry. Last minute, in fact literally as we entered Cumbria she decided on Sharp Edge, a walk I have only done once before myself, the last time on an incredible winters day with my walking mate Rob.

Sharp Edge

We made our way up the M6 in good time to get to the start of the walk at the Scales layby on the A66 by midday. I was trying out my new OMM Adventure Light 20 rucksack today for the first time. This is the most incredibly well thought out minimalist lightweight rucksack, ideal for summer walks. Packing it in the morning was easy and recently I've made an effort to stop taking stupid amounts of gear with me when walking in summer. The financially tight side of me wants my gear to work all year round, but in reality you really do need separate gear for summer as its just pointless carrying and wearing heavy or over specified stuff you don't need in summer. The thing I like most about the pack as well as its ridiculous weight of 445g is the sloped bottle holders on either side which are perfectly placed and shaped, meaning I don't risk pulling my back every time I try to put my drink back. So gear ready we set off up the steep bracken path above Scales. After slogging a few hundred metres up hill I suddenly realised after the indecision of where we were going I'd left the map in the car. I set off back down the hill and got to the car and realised I'd not only forgotten to walk with them, I'd actually forgotten to bring them! I wouldn't ever recommend anyone go out onto the fells without a map but in this case as I had done the walk before, knew it well and looked at it several times the night before.

Nicky in the Glendermackin Valley

We made the steep ascent up the bracken path to skirt over the crags above Mousthwaite Comb. We were soon on top of the ridge separating Mousthwaite Comb and the wild Glendermackin Valley in the desolate 'Back o' Skidda' area. We headed off up the Glendermackin Valley looking up all the time at our first glimpse of Sharp Edge, looking brooding half covered in swirling mist and clouds that kept rising and falling over its dinosaur like profile. After passing dozens of other walkers on the path we headed off left up the newly laid path by Scales Beck. This newly laid path was quite a shock as it wasn't there last time I trod this way, a fine example of how to make a permanent and none intrusive path it is too. It'll be there for decades, looks fairly natural and there is no need for anyone to stray either side of it. We reached the huge glacial amphitheatre of Scales Tarn a place which when less people are around is a wonderful lunching spot, today however there were too many people around to really be able to take it all in. I put my poles away and we got ready for the ascent to the start of Sharp Edge. At this point as is always the case here the ridge separates those who are less experienced from the braver as the in experienced take the easier alternative on to Scales Fell from the other side of the tarn.

Nicky on Sharp Edge

We got on the ridge and the fun started. Its a shame there are not more ridges like Crib Goch, Striding Edge and Sharp Edge around. They are the most fun you can have on a mountain in my opinion. Having to concentrate your brain and exercise every part of your body is so invigorating. Knowing full well that any mistake in these situations could realistically be fatal adds extra fear and fun at the same time in a weird way. You feel at one with a mountain when you are exploring it and walking over it, but to be clinging on to it for dear life is one step further! The ridges pointy and crumbly old rocks, Blencathra being made of Europe's oldest rock, were not wet despite the looming clouds and mist. A good thing as we approached the infamous 'Bad Step' a large piece of smooth angled rock that is a regular haunt of the local Mountain Rescue teams. We passed safely over the Bad Step and moved on towards the final part of ridge. The final part of the ridge is a steep but fun climb which eventually tops out on the saddle between Blencathra and Atkinson Pike.

Nicky on the final part of Sharp Edge

Once on the summit we strayed off path slightly, running parallel to the usual path and looking for the cross made of white stones that I've seen on photos and Google Maps. We never found it and all we saw was sheep. Looking at Google Maps now, I can see that we were not far from it, but as we had no map wandering off in the mist was kept to a minimum. We reached the summit and the views were, erm well there wasn't any! We took a photo and decided it probably wasn't the best idea to stand or sit around on the windy summit  so we set off down Halls Fell Ridge. I wasn't too sure if Halls Fell Ridge came straight off the summit and had no map but was fortunate to find another mapped walker who let me look and confirm it was off the summit. We headed off down the rocky descent of Hall's Fell Ridge. The ridge was good fun, not as hands on as Sharp Edge obviously but still good fun and usually the views off it are incredible. This way down seemed to take a very long time and after confirming on a map I now know why as it is four times longer than Sharp Edge, which makes sense really as you are going the full drop from mountain summit to the A66 which you are not at all when you come up the other way.

Hairy Caterpillar

We saw a big hairy caterpillar on our way down the final descent off Halls Fell Ridge. As we got towards the easier end of the ridge we were reaching the cloud line and as we came from under the clouds the views were glorious. An endless patchwork of sun lit farmers fields led away from the mountain in all shades possible. To our left and right were two of the other ridges that head off the tougher south side of Blencathra. To our left Doddick Gill looked great with walkers silhouetted on its fine ridge line and to our right the darker Gategill Fell.When we reached the crossing at Gate Gill we headed left along the path which skirts the top of the farmers last wall all the way back to Scales.

Nicky descending Halls Fell Ridge

I was sad to see that the farmer has still kept up the stupidly protective barbed wire covered gate at Doddick Gill, I wouldn't mind so much if he'd used the section above the fields but it is still open moorland. To be honest the path all the way back to Scales needs to be improved as it is a fairly busy route and it has a few dodgy sections. The unavoidable slippery rocks that you have to descend to get down to the crossing at Scaley Beck could be avoidable if the farmer would let the path go a tiny detour round the rocks into his field. Sadly I predict someone will really badly injure themselves there. We luckily managed the slippery rocks though the people after us seemed to struggle, I myself fell on the path just before as the soil path is wearing away on the drop side but you can't actually see it under the bracken. Except for these unfortunate spots it is a nice route back to Scales but to be honest I'd be tempted by the road instead next time which is sad. When we got back towards Scales we stood by the conifers above the farm and watched in amazement as two Swallows flew almost bat like around our heads backwards and forwards. A great day out on a great mountain, just a shame we didn't get to see the magnificent views that can be had from her summit.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Force Crag Mine

My dad came up last week for my wedding and brought along with him his fantastic Tramper all terrain disability buggy. We have done a few walks before with this incredible machine. A few years ago we travelled up through the wild Cwm Eigiau valley in Snowdonia on a very rainy day and also trekked up to Stockley Bridge above Seathwaite in the Lake District on a perfect sunny day. The plan this time was if possible to get him to the top of a mountain so he could experience big views. I posted a thread on the outdoor forum to see if anyone could come up with possible routes I hadn't thought of myself. The problem is that the Tramper can't handle really major steps, stiles, fences or walls. Therefore the task was to find a route to a summit that involved none of the above and just a fairly easy going unobstructed bridleway or track. This proved to be a lot harder than you might think. Several of the suggestions when actually investigated turned out not to be feasible due stiles and walls in most cases or temporarily locked gates.

Myself & Dad by Stockley Bridge

I being a walker and a lover of wild places know all to well why this is and accept the situation, though I do think it is a shame that we can't give disabled access to at least just a few  mountain summits in Britain, there is after all hundreds if not thousands of hills and mountains in our nation and anyone who wants to get to somewhere quiet and remote can do so with a little effort and planning. The recent over the top reaction to the tarmac of the Miners Track in Snowdon is just ridiculous and anyone who like myself regularly uses this track will know it doesn't actually make one single bit of difference as the Miners Track itself was already a wide highly accessible road surface. If anything the constant over the top reaction has actually highlighted to the wrong kind of person that the track is now there, no one would have known much difference otherwise. I think you'll find the first place the over the top reaction started was the Daily Mail... which says it all really!

Dad on Tramper in Cwm Eigiau

So anyway enough of my opinions! One useful recommendation was the Lake District National Park's 'Miles Without Stiles' project website. With over forty routes listed and detailed, all without obstructions for lower and higher category disability vehicles, this is a brilliant resource and positive step in the right direction to including disabled access to Britain's wonderful wild areas. We chose the Braithwaite to Force Crag Mine route as I had recently walked the Coldale Horseshoe that circles this lower level alternative. I knew the road to the mine would be a great way of easily getting into a wild and wonderful environment. Our rather exuberant plan was to try and get the Tramper up the path to Coledale Hause, though this would totally depend on the condition and difficulty of the ascent path. I knew for a fact the Tramper would make it from Coledale Hause up to the summit of Hopegill Head but wasn't sure about the final ascent path to Coledale Hause from the valley.

Dad on Tramper above Braithwaite

We did the usual compulsory gear stop at Keswick then drove up to the car park above Braithwaite. Parking wasn't easy as it was a good day so all the locals were rightly taking advantage of the good weather. I realised on the way that I had, for only the second time in several years, forgotten my camera. So all shots would have to be taken on Dad's camera which luckily he didn't forget! The Tramper came out of the back of my dad's new Citreon Berlingo, perfect for transporting the Tramper and other accessories, and a few minutes later we set off along the slow and easy ascending mine track into the valley. As the mine track bends away from the car park and skirts the valley above Braithwaite with views across Keswick and the huge Skiddaw, you soon get that buzz from being somewhere special but with very little effort. As we entered the valley proper and passed the last farming walls a Kestrel swooped past us at head height.

Common Lizard from track to Force Crag Mine

The valley has the Coledale Beck snaking its way down the valley floor and the side with the track is covered in lush ferns and bracken. Half way along the length of the valley something started walking across the track in front of us, I quickly recognised it as a Lizard. We approached it gently and let it go on to my hand taking care not to damage its tail. It was a female Common Lizard which as you'll see from the picture looked like it may be pregnant. Fabulous creature. After getting a cracking macro shot we put the Lizard back and it soentered the grass slope on the opposite side and disappeared down a small hole. Another group of walkers came along the track with a disabled lady on a standard shop mobility scooter like you would see in a super market or on a high street. This track from the car park to the mine is great for such a vehicle and will get people out in a wild place that would otherwise sadly be out of their reach. They had a few twitchers with them too who said that the Kestrel was in fact nesting up in Force Crag the impressive head wall of the valley that gives the mine its name.

Dad fording Coledale Beck on Tramper

When we reached the path down to the ford over Coledale Beck we headed down to the beck and forded it with no problems at all, the Tramper making easy work of the crossing over awkward stones. Up the other side and the path obviously started to get more like a mountain path. The Tramper made good progress though was obviously now working harder than normal. We got probably half a kilometre along the steep rocky path and then it all went wrong. The Tramper had a fault last year where the oil seal broke when the motor got hot, this seamed to have happened again and we could clearly see the oil dripping out of the motor on to the wheels axle. Dad carries a good toolbox with him for the tramper along with other kit to deal with emergencies like fuses going, electrics needing temporary fixes etc but nothing would resolve this particular problem. We stood looking in dismay at the thought of pushing it back and then Dad turns to me and says "you know it doesn't free wheel don't you?". My heart sank at the thought of calling Mountain Rescue! Dad was clearly understandably disappointed and as I stood by watching him try various things knowing nothing would fix it I looked up at the summit of Grisedale Pike above us basking in sunshine. I was on that summit a few weeks ago and would do anything on earth to be able to stand on that mountain with my Mum or Dad and experience a summit view with them which sadly I may never do due too their disabilities. It was a very sad moment but as with most of my life I will take the positive from the situation and make the very best of my own life while I am still in good health and climb many mountains for them and bring them back the views in my photos.

Force Crag Mine

We both pulled ourselves together and after wedging a piece of metal into the motor to stop the ratchet we managed to get it to free wheel and started on our long mammoth task of getting the Tramper back down to ford the beck half a kilometre below. After much pushing and steering and breaking over big rocky slopes we got to the bank of the beck. We realised by this point that it was going to be harder than we'd first thought free wheeling the Tramper as it has an automatic locking system on it when it goes a certain speed and this seemed to now be coming on every ten feet or so halting our progress even further! The thing weighs a ton too, I had a look at the Tramper website when I got home to find the reason my shoulders were hurting so much is that the thing weighs 146kgs!

Dad on Tramper above Coledale Beck

We struggled to drag the Tramper across Coledale Beck, I had no choice but to get soaking wet in the water. By the time we got to the other side a young couple had turned up and started helping us. To be honest without their help there is no way on earth we'd have got it up the other side and back to the track. Once back at the track we knew we were safe and it was just a case of pushing Dad on the tramper back down the slowly descending track for a few kilometres. The only problem of course being that it locked on the brakes every so often. Plenty of people passed and chatted including a lovely couple who used to live round the corner from us when we lived in Sale, one old fella from Sheffield was with us for a while and took the burden off me by pushing the Tramper for a while, he was an old climber with a buddy who is disabled and said he'd be back to do the route with his mate soon.

Dad on Tramper heading toward Coledale Hause

It was certainly an adventure and Dad will be gutted that his Tramper is now out of service until he finds out if he can afford to get the motor fixed. He took it really well though and we both still had a great day out, in a fantastic place and met so many great people as you always do when you are somewhere like that!

I have uploaded the few photos we took here.

Route Map...

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Scotland 2004

As some of you will know I am getting married on July 10th so life is taken up by mountains of wedding tasks at the moment instead of actual mountains! I've not had time to do any blogging of late but I did find this old trip report from one of my first proper trips to Scotland with two of my best friends Nikki and Woody from 2004. You could say it was a first ever blog entry for me in a way. Hope you enjoy it, obviously it was written several years ago so its not well written but I'm sure you'll enjoy the trip, it was one of my favourite ever holidays and extremely funny...

Friday, we set off to Scotland and got to Glasgow in the land speed record of 2 hours 20 minutes. Glasgow was the miserable dump it usually is. We stopped at Loch Lomond on the way up to the highlands for lunch where Woody was told his soup of the day would be Wild Game and the look on his face was classic! We got to Glen Coe late evening, the area had a lot of rain fall before we arrived and the water was pouring of the mountains and we managed to see a road side waterfall in full flow. We got to the Red Squirrel camp site in Glen Coe and set up camp, then went down to the Clachaig Inn for a beer or two, Nikki and Woody had the local tipple, 7% Beast of Skye. We then got back to the camp site and played in the raging torrent of a river then went bed and laughed at how pathetically small Woody's airbed was.

Woody & Nicki by waterfall on A82 in Glencoe

Saturday, we got up in the morning to find that Nikki's marshmallow teacakes had been nibbled at by a mouse, the furry friend was then named by Woody as "Nathaniel". Nathaniel was to become a big part of our holiday. He left his droppings for us in our food boxes and on top of our clothes bags. After bacon butties in front of the mountains that surrounded our tent, we went for a drive down the gorgeous Glen Etive. We saw some dodgy looking smugglers who had vans and looked like they were waiting for a delivery to come down the sea loch at the end of the glen and Woody accused them of being Pirates. Then on the way back out of the Glen a deer walk out of the forest about twenty metres in front of us, looked at us then scarpered. We also went for a small forest stroll through thick dense forest and saw some fantastic cartoon like mushrooms. On our way back to the camp site we visited the Glen Coe visitor centre where Woody decided it would be funny in the toilets to splash water all over my lower regions to make it look like I'd p*ssed myself! We set off in the afternoon on our mission to bag our first munro (mountain over 3000ft above sea level). We chose to climb one of Scotland's most appealing mountains, the Beauchelle Etive Mor, which stands proud next to the main A82 road and is a hell of a view. We saw the track leading down towards the bottom of our planned walk and tried to park the car, I saw a huge rock in the ground and thought the car would go over it, which it did, however we then became stuck on it! We tried everything to get the car off the rock with no success and feared that any damage to the engine would mean the holiday could be over after one day. Luckily three fellow walkers came to our rescue and between the five of us we managed to bounce the car to safety. The great escape it certainly was. So eventually we set off up the gully of Coire Na Tulaich, which we underestimated as it was a really hard scramble. Eventually after some pretty scary moments and Nikki thinking her life may be over a few times, we got to the summit. A great achievement even for Baz`and Woody but especially for Nikki who had never climbed a mountain before so to climb this giant was a true achievement, although when we got to the top she was really ratty as her lighter no longer worked! We had gone up later than expected so had to leave the cloudy summit quickly. We got to the top of the gully we had scaled already and Woody decided it was time for us all to go Scree Sliding down it which was great fun! We got to the bottom of the walk in pitch black. After our hard efforts we went to Fort William and rewarded ourselves at my favourite chinese restaurant, the highland star chinese.

Woody, Nicki & Myself on Buachaille Etive Mor summit cairn

Sunday, Nikki gets up and makes Woody his first ever Bean and Sausage casserole. We decided to go to the Sea Life Sanctuary in Oban as the weather hadn't quite picked up yet. On the way we stopped by at Castle Stalker where we also ate wild berry's along the old rail line and on the beach Nikki and Woody decided it would be fun to throw stones at Baz from a distance while he took pictures of the impressive old castle. The Sea Life Sanctuary was great watching the feeding of the otters and the seals. We then did a wooden playground challenge which involved us not touching the ground at all and Baz was winning until his premature celebrations at the final hurdle caused him to fall on his arse right at the end and the giant seals outside were a good laugh too. We visited Oban itself and went to see the McCaigs Tower that stands above the town. Woody was patronised by a 5 year old. When we got back to the camp site we decided to have a barbecue and fire on the river bank. The fire was the usual Baz and Woody disaster but eventually got going and the peat bricks we'd bought were great. The barbecue was tasty and then a clear up was needed so Baz took everything back, at which point Nikki shouted at him "Make sure you put all the food away". After sitting out for a while Baz decided to go find the torch in the tent, however Nathaniel had other ideas, Baz had stupidly left the plate of cheese in the tent and Nathaniel had smelt it and was happily munching away on it until Baz disturbed him, Nathaniel angry at Baz for disturbing his cheese supper decides to charge at Baz in the tent to which Baz screamed like a little girl "Woody help me!". Woody and Nikki came to rescue Baz from the terrifying experience of meeting a tiny mouse! Baz was told off for leaving the cheese out and in his defense said that "Only cartoon mice eat cheese". As the battery powered torch was getting dim we decided to get the gas lamp out of the car boot which hadn't been used for ages, after turning up the gas it wouldn't light straight away but eventually blew up in Woody's hand as Baz just stared motionless while a disturbed Woody looked on in horror as a ball of flame was dangling from the end of his arm. We all calmed down eventually and sat by the river again, the sky cleared and Baz told Nikki and Woody to look up and they would see a shooting star, then 30 seconds later a shooting star flew across the sky to there delight as it was there first, and was the first of many we saw that night. At the end of the night two loud scouse lads turned up and scared the living daylights out of us as they crept up on us in the dark.

Castle Stalker in Loch Laich

Monday, the plan for Monday was simple "Lets Do It". We had to climb Ben Nevis while we were up there. Baz and Woody were excited and nervous and Nikki was just nervous. We started off from only 30 metres above sea level to tackle the long ascent of 1343 metres, a scary thought. It was very hard going at some points as it seemed to go on forever along the zig zag path, the views across to the west were something else, the weather was just right for the views on the way up but the summit was covered in cloud. We reached the summit with a massive sense of achievement. Two other lads who had done the climb decided to get naked on the summit cairn. After celebratory lunch in a shelter on the summit we descended the mountain and took a much steeper short cut which again involved a little scree scrambling. We then had a pint at the bottom then went into Fort William for a pub dinner and played guess the Westlife song!

Nicki, Myself and Woody at Ben Nevis summit trig pillar

Tuesday, packed up camp in good time, the car was over loaded and Nikki had to endure yet another journey squashed in the back and being attacked by Woody's huge wardrobe! Nikki had wanted to Pedalo while we were on holiday so we took to the still waters of Loch Leven. The weather was now scorching hot and sunny. After the hour pedaloing on Loch Leven we then set off on our trip to Skye. The road to the Isles and the ferry from Malaig was the plan. We stopped off however on the way to see the gorgeous white sandy beaches at Camusdarach and Morar. We'd got barbecue and food on the way through Fort William so had them on the beach and then Woody decided to run into the sea in his boxers followed eventually by Nikki in her underwear and then slowly by a whimpering Baz in his apparently too tight boxers who didn't like the cold Atlantic Ocean. All these underwear frolics meant we had ran out of time and when we got to the ferry port at Mallaig we discovered that the ferry had already gone as the usual ferry was broken down in repair and a smaller one in its place. So our only choice at this time was to get a B&B as we didn't need the hassle of tent erecting and taking down etc. We eventually found a great little B&B in the middle of the country behind the beaches at Camusdarach, so we setup there and then went to the beach and had bacon butties while watching the sun go down. Woody started feeling a bit off as we were all going bed and then got some kind of fever or food poisoning which is now known as "Woody Disease". He was up for 5 hours with the disease and in a really bad way, lucky we were in a nice B&B and not the tent really! He got worse and worse and eventually Baz and Nikki had to drive out at 3:30am to somewhere they could get a mobile phone signal to call NHS direct who suggested to stop drinking fluid for an hour then go sleep then don't eat for 24 hours so we got back and made Woody do as the nurse said and he felt a little better and could sleep.

Nicki and Woody in Pedalo on Loch Leven

Wednesday, Baz and Nikki start the day with a cracking full english breakfast as a rather morbid looking Woody starts his 24 hour fast. We leave the B& B and set off for the ferry again only to find that once again we are too late! The ferry has gone and the biggest problem is that we have to get to Skye by 10am for our whale spotting trip. So Baz starts stressing as we are going to miss our trip, Baz phones the whale spotting tour people to let them know and they offer to send the speed boat to come and pick us up from Mallaig much to our delight! Woody still looks like Mr Dead but comes with us on the boat, we didn't see any whales but saw plenty of Porpoises. We also got to have lunch on Eigg which had some fantastic views towards the mainland. The driver of the speed boat decided to show us what it can do on the return trip and we got a hell of a white knuckle ride! We had to waste 2 or 3 hours in Mallaig so we went back to Morar and had a barbecue on the white sands there in the glorious sunshine, absolute tranquility, until two scallies turn up and put there car stereo on full blast with crap music and play footy on the beach, so Baz decided to pick a fight with them not realising that he had no backup as Woody was dying on the sands asleep with the swan geese pecking his head. We got back to the ferry very early after our last two attempts but got there too early and sun bathed on the car park while a weakened Woody slept in the car. The ferry was quick over to Skye and we arrived in the sunshine to pitch the tent, however it was left to Nikki and Baz to erect the 5 man frame tent on there own as Woody slept on the grass next to the pitch. At night Baz starts to feel a bit ill and goes bed early as Woody ends his fast by eating half a brunch bar.

Woody looks half dead on Morar Sands while Nicki soaks up the sun

Thursday, Baz storms out of his bed and declares he has caught the "Woody Disease" and rushes to the toilet. Today is the day of the Loch Coruisk boat trip and trek and Baz has to stay at the tent as he is too ill, this leaves a driving dilemma as Baz is only person who can drive his car. So Woody joy rides Bazza's car and Woody and Nikki go on there own day of fun. Baz has told them both the wrong time for the boat trip so they panic and rush to Elgol, tackling sheep and cows in the road on there way. They arrive to the relief of the boat leaving an hour after they first thought, but also to the case of the payment not going though as it didn't go through on Bazza's debit card. They eventually get on the boat which takes them through to Loch Coruisk which looked great in the sunshine. They leave the boat and go on a small trek bagging there first Cullin which they named Wooky. They have great fun walking through waterfalls and Woody discovers he can walk vertically up the cullins rock, Nikki also tried this and ended up hanging by three fingers off a sheer cliff. On there return journey Nikki joy rides Bazza's car and they pull over into a small pub where they meet Stu the p*sshead farmer. They spend a few hours driving around the Isle Of Skye as Woody took hold of the map and got them lost. They arrive back at camp site and Bazza greets them bored and in relief of finding his car in one piece. Bazza hasn't eaten all day and in his weakened state goes bed early. Nikki and Woody have the greatest ever fire on the beach behind the tent and aid the sand shrimps with there mass suicide.They watch shooting stars on the beach and then go to bed at 2am, Nikki stamping on Bazza's head on the way to bed.

Nicki on Meall na Cuilce above Loch Coruisk

Friday, easy day today, Woody is just about recovered from the Woody Disease and Baz is still weak after yesterday. So we set off on a tour of the island in the car. We went first to the amazing coral beach just north of Claigan where we played Frisbee and soaked up some more of the glorious sunshine. We then drove to the other side of the island and had a picnic underneath the Storr and visited the Kilt Rock and the Quirrang. For our last night in Scotland we decided to go to Portree for the night, we ended up in a few places but the last bar was by far the best with some live music from a guy called Greg McKay. Woody nags Baz all the way back too camp that night to stop for firewood but Baz is too busy concentrating on things like foxes running out in front of the car and the dodgy Skye roads in the middle of a dark night. Baz goes bed early as he has long drive tomorrow and Woody and Nikki go to the beach for one last night by which time the rain from the week before has returned. As Baz starts to fall asleep he is woken by a noise under his car outside which eventually ends up in the tent, Baz is safe in the inner part of the tent but starts to panic like mad as the noise gets louder and starts running round the tent and all over everything. A scared Baz hears Woody and Nikki returning and screams once again like a little girl "Woody Help Me!" Nikki and Woody rush to the tent and as Nikki pulls the zip up she screams like Baz as something scarpers out of the tent and brushes past her legs! We will never know to this day what it was but it certainly scared Baz who was still shaking 15 minutes later!

Woody and Nicki on the Coral Beach near Dunvegan

Saturday, the weather had turned pretty nasty by now and wind and rain helped in our decision to go home today and not tomorrow. We packed up the tent and put it away all soaking wet knowing full well it would have to be dealt with when we got home. We set off on the journey home which would in the end take us more than ten hours. We went back to the mainland over the Skye Bridge so we could see the areas Kintail and Glen Sheil, and also pass the beautiful Eilain Donan Castle which we visited just after we had got back on the mainland. We then drove in good time towards Fort William before we hit the traffic jam which was caused by an accident just outside Fort William at Spean Bridge. The police opened the road after some time and we eventually arrived home late on Saturday night.

I have uploaded the photos from the week here.

Route Map... ( Buachaille Etive Mor from Altnafeadh )

Route Map... ( Ben Nevis from Achintee )