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...

7 comments:

  1. Inspirational stuff. Congrats on wedding. sorry not commented sooner , been very busy.

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  2. I might be mistaken but Im sure there was once an article in TGO about someone going up one of the eastern munros in a wheelchair. Maybe the mists of time have got me mixed up?

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  3. Cheers Greg! Good news on the Tramper front, Dad has managed to get the seal replaced and gave the motor a good clean at the same time. He is already back on it! :-)

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  4. Just had another thought. I was brought up in Tebay below the Howgills. Theres a couple of goodish tracks that go off from Edge Farm above the village and a really long one from Ellergill further up the Lune Valley. Get to see the Howgills , the tracks are on the OS map.

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  5. Great report, Jamie - not surprising, but at the same time heartwarming, to see fellow-walkers pitching in to help.

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  6. Aye Kate, we spent so much of the day saying to each other how amazing fellow-walkers and like minded people really are :-) I think going a bit slower as I was with Dad meant we were talking to even more people than I normally would, had several lengthy chats with great people.

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  7. It's not a mountain but I bet you could get a Tramper up Moel Fammau near Mold in North Wales. It's the old County Top and has a good surfaced track leading up it.
    Not sure what the width access is like at the bottom gate out of the car park but I could easily find out.
    Karl

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