Saturday, 27 August 2011

Millers Dale from Monsal Head

Last weekend I went to the Monsal Head Social Meet to celebrate the Peak District National Park's 60th anniversary. The meet was organised by Terry Bond who has gained himself a reputation as one of the best outdoor short film makers in the country. One place Terry seems to have taken to heart over the last year is the massively underrated White Peak area of the Peak District National Park. The idea of the meet was to bring together Walkers, Backpackers, Wild Campers and Newbies with a particular focus on those who are regularly contributing to the the ever growing outdoor related social media networks. Twitter, Facebook and Blogs in particular have created a network of like minded individuals, most of whom had only met each other via the internet. So this weekend was a great chance for me to meet many people I had never met in person. The meet which took place at the Park House camp site was as a huge success. I was really impressed with the site, it was clean, friendly and had decent pitches. It is also just a five minute walk from Monsal Head where there is a cafe, hotel and pub as well as dozens of walking opportunities. Terry was spot on with the venue!

Monsal Head

Outdoor gear retailers and manufacturers were present. They helped provide gear for a raffle Terry organised that raised £160 for Kinder Mountain Rescue on Saturday night. There was Ali from Terra Nova who showcased a few of their excellent lightweight tents. Gareth Jones from Webtogs showcased some innovative tents new in from Nemo in the states and also joined us on our walk. Luke from Ellis Brigham who along with his missus were very friendly and knowledgeable as I have come to expect from Ellis Brigham staff. Luke handing me a free pair of thick Smart Wool socks was certainly a good start to my weekend! Amanda from Chocolate Fish Merino was wondering around with a folder full of technical information on the many types of Merino Wool and good and bad ways in which it is sourced. On Saturday night Mark from Rab turned up with a car boot full of Rab's next season gear, most of which was admiringly fondled for a long time. The scene, a field of outdoor gear geeks fondling each others tents and dealing out of car boots, must have been quite a bizarre one for any onlookers. The new Rab Microlight Event jacket was the star of the show from Rab, but with an RRP of £275 will be out of most people's budget unfortunately. Dave Mycroft of the My Outdoors website provided a few test tents on show. These tended to be more my kind of thing to be honest. One particularly nice one was the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2.1 tent. I could list all of the folks who attended the meet but instead have decided to add a list to the bottom of this post, listing some of the people who attended and their respective Tweets, Blogs and Reports.

Webtog's Gareth Jones tent demonstrations

Friday night saw us all down the Stable Bar behind the Monsal Head Hotel consuming local ales and surprisingly impressive food. My choice of ales is usually the sweet one and I chose the Farmer's Blonde. It washed down my Green Thai Curry and Sticky Toffee Pudding very well. After a head torch lit road walk back to the camp site a large group of us decided to stay up for an hour or two talking. Over the two nights Terry's drunken Monologues became legendary. I went to bed eventually, soon to be woken by a screaming baby in the neighbouring tent. This pattern followed on Saturday night too and I didn't get much sleep over the weekend. I had taken my ear plugs but even they couldn't stop the screaming keeping me awake. I woke at around 8am and started up my stove to boil water for my tasty home made Spicy Fruit and Nut Porridge which I make using the Freezer Bag cooking method. I was quite content with my porridge until I decided to wander across the field in the direction of the others who were all huddled around Dave Mycroft. Dave was knelt down over a large stove with two frying pans full of delicious rashers of bacon, handing out tasty bacon sarnies. I was showered, packed and ready to go walking by around half past eight but soon realised that no one else had quite the same eager attitude. It was at least an hour before anyone else was ready. Instead of going off on my own I decided to wait and was glad I did so as Gareth Jones, Phil Sorrell, Pilgrim Chris, Giles Babbage and Mike Beaumont all showed intentions of doing the same route I had chosen. The fact that this route involved a half way stop at a well reputed local pub may have been something to do with this.

The Red Lion at Litton

We set off in good spirits and the weather was looking good. The night before, my journey to Monsal Head was a nightmare with heavy rain all the way to Buxton and a Friday night rush hour on the A6. At Monsal Head at the start of the walk there is a stunning viewpoint down the dale from Monsal Head, with the Headstone Viaduct adding to the typical White Peak scene. We made our way down a steep and slippery path. Phil was the first to nearly slide down it on his backside. The path eventually reached the bottom of the valley and on a track now passed a field full of Geese. The track met the minor road which we then followed through Upperdale until it reached Cressbrook. At Cressbrook we stopped to marvel at the huge Cressbrook Mill which has now been completely restored. Across the road Mike spotted a beautiful large Grey Heron on the old mill pond, it flew across the pond of course as soon as my camera was ready to take a shot. The lads decided to take the higher route along the road in to Cressbrook Dale and I took my preferred route along the lower and quieter track passing Ravensdale Cottages. Ravensdale Cottages are in a stunning setting with a crag high above them and surrounded by natural green woodlands. I met up again with the rest of the guys at the footbridge to Cressbrook Dale. Heading through the woodlands we suddenly heard someone behind us on the path. It turned out to be Mark from the meet who was about to head east off the main path to ascend to the top of Wardlow Hay Cop. We left Mark and continued up the dale which opened out after the forest like so many of these White Peak dales. We headed west from Cressbrook Dale into Tansley Dale and ascended to farm fields. The weather was great, the company was great, the conversation was great, and it was a great day to be out. As we approached the quaint village of Litton we crossed a few stiles. At one of the stiles several toddlers were running towards us so we let them cross the stile and all made comment on how good it was to see young children out in the fresh air.

Trout in River Wye

At Litton we made our way to the Red Lion. This is a delightfully cosy pub with low ceilings, set in a quaint and quiet village. The staff and locals were really friendly, even giving us recommendations on the local ales. Some of us had packed lunches, but those who ate there were really impressed with the food. I had a pint of Barnsley Bitter recommended by a local at the bar. One of the locals pointed out the strongest on tap so Gareth had an evil plan to give a pint of that to Phil. It backfired as he accidentally gave it to himself. We sat out the front on benches in the sun. Some of the folks who use their phones as GPS loggers were using the latest Power Monkey solar chargers to charge their battery hungry mobile phones. After enjoying a well deserved rest at the Red Lion at Litton we set off along the road through Litton Dale towards Tideswell Dale. We crossed the road at Tideswell Dale and then headed south along the road, before crossing again to the footpath on the other side. The path passed through a car park at Tideswell Dale then took a lovely stream side route through woodlands flanked by small limestone cliffs. At one point we found a large wooden sculpture of a water vole, which if you are extremely lucky can be seen in the area. There is somewhere on the web a photo of me dry humping this large creature. Surely this photo has to have been photo shopped as I am far too sensible to have done such a thing? The path split here and we took the one on the west side of the stream. The path eventually reaches a minor road which took us in to the small hamlet at Litton Mill. We stopped to look at the River Wye. Looking in the river we saw several large trout. We continued past the huge Litton Mill which has also been restored and is now posh apartments. What an incredible place to live was all I could think as we were passing the mill.

River Wye in Millers Dale

After Litton Mill the next few miles are simply stunning as the River Wye makes its way through the eastern end of Millers Dale. This is one of the best parts of the Peak District I have ever seen. The River Wye is absolutely teeming with large trout, and unlike most trout, do not flee at the first sight of you, instead they just swim around occasionally surfacing to feed on surface insects. We walked past a weir where one trout decided to sit in a beam of sunlight long enough for me to get a great photo. By this time I was starting to slow down as I do when I enter somewhere as beautiful as this, I could have sat for hours in one of the trees just staring in to the river. The woodlands surrounding the river were also stunning and full of bird life. The woodlands themselves were flanked by ever increasingly higher sheer limestone cliffs. The guys kept politely waiting for me but eventually I told them not to worry about me and go on ahead without me. One of the great things about being out with fellow regular walkers is that we all knew that if one of us separated it didn't matter one bit as we all knew where we were and would make our own way back safely. As the river approaches Cressbrook it slows down significantly as the weir at Cressbrook creates a huge pond in the river. As I approached the slower and wider River Wye the incredible white limestone cliffs of Water-cum-Jolly Dale took over the view across the way. There are trees over hanging both the path and river at one point, which provided a great way of seeing the trout in the river that were literally a few feet away. As the path approaches Cressbrook the impressive Rubicon Wall of limestone hangs over the path.

Weir at Cessbrook Mill

The rest of the guys headed through Cressbrook Mill and back along the minor road route we took earlier in the day. I decided to do a slightly different route back via the Monsal Trail which I had heard so much about. So instead of heading through the Cressbrook Mill I instead turned right and headed over the bridge that crosses the River Wye weir at Cressbrook. I took a few slow lens shots of the weir then ascended the path on the other side. The path heads along a contour on the hill over looking Cressbrook before reaching the Monsal Trail. The Monsal Trail is a brilliant facility for cyclists, walkers and horse riders. The trail uses the route of an old railway. In the last few years a project by the Peak District National Park Authority costing over two million pounds funding from the Department of Transport has seen the tunnels repaired, resurfaced and lighted to extend what was already a great trail. The tunnels allow people to pass from one dale to another in a unique way that wasn't possible before. I read some of the information boards along the trail mainly on the old railway and why it was there, then headed south east along it to reach the Headstone Viaduct. I have to admit I wouldn't like to walk the route of the trail as it is mostly in a complete straight line and the views are obstructed by trees. Walking in a straight line gives you an odd sense of not gaining distance. I'd much rather be down in a dale walking alongside a winding river any day.

My Terra Nova Superlite Voyager tent & my car Keisha

The views from off the Headstone Viaduct were of course pretty stunning, though the thing that stunned me the most on the viaduct was adults allowing children to throw some of the stones off the viaduct in to the dale below. There are a few paths that pass under the viaduct with walkers on them so throwing stones off from height was probably not the brightest idea! I crossed the viaduct and found Chris and Alex who had been down to Bakewell. They had some incredible photos of the numerous trout from the bridge in Bakewell. We ascended  the steep path from the viaduct to Monsal Head. The guys had all either gone back to the camp site or the Stable Bar. I spotted Mike outside the Hobbs Cafe enjoying a cake and cup of tea so went inside, grabbed a hot chocolate and flapjack, and joined him in the sun to have a chat about the good things in life. That night we all fondled more gear, had more laughs and spent the night in the Stable Bar before heading back to the camp site for more of Terry's drunken monologues. Martin from the Postcard from Timperley blog, whom I have met before as he lives round the corner from me, arrived on Saturday night too so it was good to catch up as he often has tales from far away places he has just visited. Sunday saw me heading home to watch the United match. I would have loved to have stayed another day and night but wanted to watch the match, had to feed the cat, and was on call for work on the Monday. A fantastic weekend with fantastic people and I can't wait for the next meet!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Just some of the folks who attended the Monsal Meet...

Terry Bond

Dave Mycroft

Gareth Jones

Giles Babbage

Phil Sorrell

Mike Beaumont

Pilgrim Chris

Matt Hobley

James Boulter & Rueben

Alex Atkinson

Chris & Laura Sumner

Paul Bates


Alvin & Gema Vassoodaven

Mark from Rab

Luke from Ellis Brigham

Amanda from Chocolate Fish Merino

Ali from Terra Nova

Martin Banfield

Andy H


Monday, 22 August 2011

Black Hill The Crowden Horseshoe

I was originally supposed to be heading up to the North York Moors this weekend so booked off the Friday and Monday on annual leave. However after reviewing the petrol bill for our recent trip to Ullapool including driving around while we were there hit nearly three hundred pounds I decided it was probably best to stay at home, save money, do the house work, help the missus who had a busy weekend, get some website work done and maybe go for a local walk on Monday if the weather was good. Turned out for once the weather was absolutely perfect locally! I woke on Monday morning to find perfect blue skies and fluffy white clouds. A few days before I read a tweet from someone on Twitter saying they had been up Black Hill in the Peak District and were shocked by how green the place was due to the excellent work done to restore the moors. Having not done Black Hill I decided a sunny dry day would be perfect for my first time on a hill with a reputation for being unforgiving in bad weather. It is quite a lengthy walk and in certain conditions can be a very serious outing. I have seen photos in guide books of Black Hill's summit, the 'Soldier's Lump' and it often looked like hell on earth surrounded by nothing but sinking black mud. These images are unfortunately still used even in modern guide books and still appears for example on the Wikipedia page for Black Hill. As you will see from the following trip report and photos the Black Hill I discovered was far from all that negativity and was a thoroughly enjoyable and fantastic walk!

Trees below Black Tor

The journey there was heavenly as everyone else was at work, the only difficult part being the usual bottle neck around Tintwistle. The bypass subject is a difficult one around these parts and although I do not wish to see beautiful and important woodlands like Swallows Wood destroyed to make way for a bypass you can't help but think that the thousands of stationary cars and lorries exhausts are doing more damage to the local moorland and woodland than a bypass would if traffic was able to just move through the area. There are so many areas of Britain that have dual carriage ways and motorways going through them that survive because the traffic simply passes through without affecting the surrounding environment. As I say it is a difficult one but I don't see the traffic disappearing any time soon and the situation will only get worse and if anything have a negative effect on the surrounding environment unless something is done about it. I arrived at Crowden, somewhere I have never stopped before, I've only ever flown past on the Woodhead Pass on the way to Sheffield or other Peak District walks. The car park, which I am very pleased to say is still free, is just off the main road and has a lovely wood behind it. There is a camp site at Crowden which I was pleasantly suprised with, it was very clean and had a great shop and facilities which walkers can use. There is also a youth hostel in Crowden so plenty of options for people wishing to stay over night.

Oakenclough Brook

After checking out the camp site I headed north along the road out of Crowden to the Youth Hostel. The road crosses a bridge over Crowden Brook before the Youth Hostel, here I stood on the bridge and listened to several Dragonflies heading up and down the brook. I headed through the Youth Hostel car park and north west on an ascent path through heather and ferns. The path crosses a pretty leat of slow flowing water, reflecting the blue skies. The path split in to several paths at times but they all eventually ascended to reach the much clearer and wider Pennine Way path below the cliffs of Black Tor. I headed north on the Pennine Way up the valley. The view ahead was a stunning wide moorland valley covered in purple heather, flanked by gritstone cliffs and roofed by blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I reached an almost out of place tree plantation of around a dozen trees of Oak, Birch, Fir and Rowan. I sat and listened for a while. I am a Senior IT Analyst on a major law firms busy service desk so my Monday mornings usually consist of phone calls from people requiring me to help them with their problems repeatedly reminding me that time is money. Today I was sat in sunshine looking at stunning scenery listening to Dragonflies, Grouse, Stone Chats, flowing water and smelling nothing but fresh air and blooming heather with all the time in the world. If only every Monday morning could be like this! I found a stunning yellow mushroom under the trees and took a few photos. I continued on the Pennine Way path through slopes of fragrant purple heather.

Laddow Rocks

As I approached the impressive cliffs of Laddow Rocks the path turns left and heads to and crosses the tumbling Oakenclough Brook. I took a few side shot view photos of Laddow Rocks then made my way along the path as it crossed the top of the cliffs. The views from Laddow Rocks were fantastic stretching all the way along and across the Crowden Great Brook valley. Looking back towards Crowden I saw the huge dark bulk of the neighbouring Bleaklow above Torside Reservoir. After Laddow Rocks the path passes the castles at the head of the valley then descends to Crowden Great Brook. The valley narrows at the end in to a deadly quiet and wild land. As I was stood texting someone on my iPhone out of the corner of my eye I saw something wiggle its way across one of the big Pennine Way paving stones. I was delighted when I realised it was a small Common Lizard. I carefully put my hand in a diamond shape around it and it crawled on to my wrist for a photo. The path crosses Great Crowden Brook several times before reaching a stile over the perimeter fence then heading up the final ascent to Black Hill. As the path crossed Crowden Great Brook I was watched by a lovely bobbing Dipper on the rocks, I was quite surprised to see it here as they usually prefer wider and faster flowing rivers lower down. Maybe the sunny weather meant the Dipper could get higher the moor for a rare scoff of the many insects on the upper brooks many rocks. I went over the dog friendly perimeter fence stile and started the final push towards Black Hill. The path all the way to the summit was of the huge Pennine Way paving stone type, of which I am a huge fan. These paving stones are the only solution I have seen that stop people wondering off path, everywhere I see them is a narrow path following a set line and lacking erosion. The only negative is that they can be hard on the knees at times.

Common Lizard on my wrist

As I reached the first view of the summits trig point pillar, the paved path crosses a lovely peat bog pond with Dragonflies. All the way up the summit area I was constantly waiting to turn a corner and see an impassable quagmire of deep unforgiving peat bog. It never materialised and the rumoured success of the regeneration work was confirmed, this once barren and ruined landscape is now completely transformed and an abundance of green grass and wildlife. A combination of properly paved paths, reseeding from the air, perimeter fencing to keep sheep away, biodegradable netting of hags and lots of dedication from the Moors for the Future partnership has completely changed the future of Black Hill. There are currently discussions on similar proposals for Kinder and Bleaklow including the perimeter fence, after seeing the results on Black Hill I know which box I will be ticking. The summit of Black Hill is known as Soldier's Lump. This name relates to the Royal Engineer surveyors who were given the task of erecting trig points as part of the original survey to map Britain. Erecting trig points on thousands of hills across Britain is no easy task. If you are unaware of what was involved in this feat I would suggest researching it to appreciate how these regular features you see on walks were first installed, and their vital importance to the maps we use today. Black Hill was a difficult hill for them to erect a trig point on its highest point as they could not find any solid ground on which to erect a trig pillar in the usual way.

Black Hill summit Soldier's Lump

From Black Hill summit the views were not amazing as it is a very wide summit area. The peaks of the Yorkshire Dales were in view to the north as were the West Pennine Moors. The most obvious feature in view from the summit is the huge seven hundred and fifty foot tall one hundred and forty ton Holme Moss radio transmitter. From the summit I wanted to head south to south east towards Tooleyshaw Moss and its unique stone cairn. That route I thought was going to be fairly easy as it is after all the continuation of the infamous Crowden Horseshoe, however there was a very deep bog in the way so I had to retrace my steps back towards the pond then turn left over less boggy ground. In the end I managed to reach the stone cairn at Tooleyshaw Moss and the normal path was then easy to follow as it was flanked with wooden marker posts every few hundred metres. The stone cairn at Tooleyshaw Moss could have in the past I imagine have created a false summit for walkers in bad weather with many thinking it was the summit of Black Hill as from a distance it is sometimes first when approaching from the south. As I was stood next to the stone cairn a fighter plane flew extremely low and fast over Black Hill. It didn't look like the usual RAF Tornado planes you see when out and about so I am guessing it could be one of the Eurofighter planes from BAE.

Stone cairn on Tooleyshaw Moss

After Tooleyshaw Moss the path follows the eastern side of the Crowden Horseshoe through peat hags, marked all the way with wooden marker posts and the odd small stone cairn. I have to admit if I did Black Hill again I probably wouldn't bother with this eastern side of the horseshoe as it was very bland compared to the western approach. I crossed over the perimeter fence again at White Low, then as I reached the descent of Westend Moss I sat down in the heather slope to have my packed lunch with a sunny view over Crowden to Bleaklow. I chose not to walk over to the trig pillar on the top of Hey Edge and instead descended Hey Moss to the track that heads up Crowden Little Brook. The track passed under the spills of the old Loftend Quarry. To be honest they are probably the most aesthetically pleasing quarry spills I've ever seen and are made even better by the small plantations. The local sheep were sheltering under the trees to shelter from the warm sunshine. I crossed a stile over looking Crowden and made a short steep descent down to the Youth Hostel I walked along earlier. A short walk back down the road led me back to the camp site where I bought a cold drink from the shop then headed back to the car. A great day out, especially the approach along the western side of the horseshoe. I managed to get back home just before the rush hour too. I caught the sun quite badly as I only chose to put sun cream on half way through the walk, don't think I will ever learn that lesson!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Inchnadamph The Bone Caves

This was the last day of our week away in Ullapool. The weather was like the rest of the week, unpredictable with the possibility of showers. We planned on doing something fairly easy as there was heavy rain forecast for the early evening onwards and we had all had adventurous days the day before, myself doing the whole of the Quinag massif and the others had driven to the far north to walk out to Sandwood Bay. We had spoke all week about visiting the Bone Caves near Inchnadamph as none of us had bothered with the small walk before as we usually head for the hills or longer day walks. Looking at the guide books a few days earlier we were surprised to find that the actual Bone Caves were not those at the end of the glen above Inchnadamph but actually down a glen a few miles south of Inchnadamph. The day before I spotted a really tiny wooden sign at the proper car park saying 'Bone Caves' so now knew where it was. So we set off from Ullapool late morning and headed along the drive along the A835 towards Inchnadamph, a road I could drive down every day of my life and never get bored. Stac Polly looked fabulous as everything around it was dark and cloud covered yet it was lit up basking in sunshine by itself. After a short while we reached the sign posted car park at the foot of the Allt nan Uamh glen.

Badger Cave above Allt nan Uamh

The visitor boards at the car park were in a bad state but there was a box of free informative leaflets on the history of the Bone Caves. There was also a sign on the information boards letting visitors know that they are due an upgrade in the near future. We set off along the footpath passing a few lovely waterfalls on the Allt nan Uamh to the right. The footpath then rises steadily and bends in to the glen. The glen is beautiful. I have to admit as I said above I have ignored this walk thinking it would be really easy, close to the road and full of tourists. I couldn't have been more wrong to be honest. There was not one single other person the whole day, the car park was empty, the glen was beautiful, there were several fascinating features and the views were stunning. The walk to the caves is not as simple as I had first thought either and requires a moderate two and a half mile walk along an often rocky path. After rounding a bend in the glen we reached something that was just awesome. I had seen on the map a feature marked as the Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring. I have seen many springs before and seen places in limestone areas where streams and small rivers suddenly appear from the ground and out of caves. However this was something else it literally appears from nowhere and is no stream or small river it is a full on flowing river. We all stood and looked puzzled for ages as we tried to comprehend how on earth a very shallow large puddle of water suddenly developed enough water to be a full flowing river just a metre further down. You really do have to see it to believe it.

Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring

After the Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring the normal river course continues up the glen but dries up after a few hundred metres. We continued along the valley following the path by the dried up river bed. The big crags of Creag nan Umah that contain the Bone Caves were now visible at the head of the glen. As we were silently moving along the glen we had the fright of our lives as a speeding RAF Tornado jet darted across the valley from one side to the other in less than a second. Usually you get a slight distant noise indicating the arrival of a fast moving jet but as we were down in the low glen it just suddenly appeared and certainly scared the hell out of me. Most guide books show the path as sticking to the northern side of the Allt nan Umah until the far end of the glen passing the caves then looping back to them after crossing the Allt nan Uamh. It seems these days that the preferred route is now along a better laid path which crosses the Allt nan Uamh before the caves and ascends a safe steep path up to Creag nan Uamh. So we crossed the dried up river bad and headed up the clear and well laid path through heather and ferns and then over steep rocky ground to Creag nan Uamh and the Bone Caves. Up to our right as we ascended this path Steve spotted a bird which turned out to be a big Buzzard that sat on the rocks on the skyline above and watched as we passed by.

Steve & Craig in Bone Cave

The Bone Caves which walkers can explore consist of four main caves. There is the Badger Cave, Bone Cave, Reindeer Cave and Fox's Den. The first cave on the right hand side is the Badger Cave which we put our packs down in. We looked out from the cave and marvelled at the view across to the rather splendid looking Beinn nan Cnaimhsaig while Craig who is probably half the size of the rest of us explored the back of the cave. Steve and myself also tried to explore the rest of the cave but unfortunately crashed our heads on the roof of the cave, although it sounds like we were both daft I have to admit I was by far the most daft as I followed Steve out and watched him do it first then did it myself in the same spot. We went off to explore the second cave known as the Bone Cave, this cave has a small narrow passage connecting it to the third cave known as the Reindeer Cave. The guide books and the information leaflets stated that only a small child would be able to crawl through this small narrow passage. Craig set off through the narrow passage and appeared out of the other side where Steve, Elaina and Myself were waiting with our cameras. Looking at the narrow passage was quite scary when it was dark but looking at it with a head torch I felt there was a chance I could fit through it and drag myself through. I foolishly shared this thought with Steve who then challenged me to do it and said if I did he would buy my meal that night. Always one for a challenge I obliged and prepared myself for the squeeze. It was a terrifying ordeal, I don't like dark tight spaces like that. I was ecstatic with relief when I got out of the other side and found myself in the Reindeer Cave with Steve and Elaina pointing cameras at me while shaking their heads.

Narrow passage from Bone Cave to Reindeer Cave

Anyone expecting to see actual bones in the caves or walk any distance in to deep caves will be disappointed by the Bone Caves but that isn't what they are about. Cavers exploring further in to this cave system and the surrounding area have found the bones of animals as far back as forty seven thousand years ago. The list of species found is incredibly long and includes the likes of Northern Lynx, Polar Bear, Arctic Lemming, Arctic Fox, Brown Bear, Wolf, Reindeer and also includes four thousand year old  human remains. The caves are a designated Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is not known for definite why so many bones were found in these particular caves but one theory suggests they were washed in by the melt waters from glaciers. I would suggest reading the free leaflets that are available at the start of the walk to help your imagination wonder off to the world that left us these clues. The more important bones such as the Polar Bear and Lynx skulls are kept in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, though there are casts of some of the bones in the Visitor Centre in Lochinver for you to look at. After checking out the Fox's Den and eating Mars Bars in the Badger Cave we headed back the way we came. The views down the glen on the return were stunning from the descent path. I could see Spidean Coinich on The Quinag in the distance that I had tackled the day before so bored the rest of the group again with stories of the previous days adventure. On the return route I decided to stay off the path most of the way and walked down the dried up river bed. The different types of rock along the the rivers bed were fascinating. We reached the incredible Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring again then made our way back through the glen to the start. If you have ever dismissed this walk like myself then don't as it is a great wee walk. After the walk we headed down to Lochinver to get Pies for folks back home and then made our way to the Kylesku Hotel where we spent our last night of the holiday consuming Seafood Platters, drinking a pint of An Teallach and watching Seals in the loch. There is no better place on earth than this part of Scotland in my opinion I will go back every year of my life that I can. Great week in a great place with great friends.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Quinag The Three Corbetts

The weather forecasts late on Wednesday promised Thursday would be the best weather day of what was too be a pretty wet and windy week. With that in mind I knew Thursday had to be the day I climbed to the top of a significant mountain. There are dozens of spectacular and unique mountains around Assynt but sadly I have only climbed to the top of a handful of its hardest and highest mountains. I wasn't feeling that fit as I haven't done much hill walking recently. The walk up Stac Pollaidh two days before had me clutching my sore knee a few times and my big toe which I broke two months ago was also still giving me grief. I decided I would have a go at a Munro so I chose Ben More Assynt as the walk didn't seem too long or technical. The route I decided on was the popular one from Inchnadamph via Conival. Elaina had mentioned that Quinag could be a fall back option as you can climb in from the road the passes over from Loch Assynt to Kylesku. This was a route I had spotted before when travelling over the pass, and Quinag is a mountain that had always caught my eye both when I have seen it with my own eyes and when read other peoples accounts. So I decided I would head for Inchnadamph to do Ben More Assynt but if I changed my mind and wanted a slightly easier option I would head for the car park on the pass below Quinag and just do the first of its Corbett summits. I packed most of my gear the night before. I was delighted when I woke the next morning to see sunshine beaming through the curtains for the first time this week!

Loch Assynt from Spidean Coinich ascent

I set off on my own as Nicky was having to study to complete her assignment which had to be in the next day. Elaina, Craig and Steve were all off to see the beautiful Sandwood Bay. I had done Sandwood Bay a few years before with them so I decided against doing it again for the sake of getting up a mountain on the best possible day. As I headed out of Ullapool the weather was great and the stereo was on full blast, banging out The Best of James. I rounded the bend at the stunning Ardmair pebble beech over looking Ben More Coigach with a smile on my face. By the time I'd passed Knockan Crag the weather wasn't looking quite as promising on the higher tops. Cul Mor was holding a lot of cloud and as I got closer to Inchnadamph and pulled in to the car park I realised that both Conival and Ben More Assynt weren't to be seen. I looked across Loch Assynt towards Quinag and it was basking in warm sunshine. This made the decision to go for the easier option of Quinag much easier. So I continued along the main road, drove past Ardvreck Castle and turned north on the A894. At the top of the pass I pulled in to the decent sized car park and parked up. It was sunny and I was about to climb a new mountain in Assynt. I set off along the clear footpath that heads out towards the corrie and Lochan Bealach Cornaidh. When the footpath reached the first lot of rocks I turned left and headed towards the eastern slopes of Spidean Coinich. I expected great things from Spidean Coinich and I wasn't disappointed. After passing a pond full of lilies I started the long arduous slog up the gentle eastern slope of Spidean Coinich. This eastern side of Spidean Coinich is what is known as a 'dip slope' of quartzites. I have often passed over the road pass and marvelled at the white and light colours of Spidean Coinich and its neighbouring peaks. I have however, never walked on such a mass of quartz rock before and I was quite shocked at how hard it was to keep on my feet where it was wet. The surface was like marble, almost like trying to walk on the floors of the Trafford Centre when they are slippery, wet and at a forty degree angled slope.

Spidean Coinich

As I made my way up Spidean Coinich the views across the corrie and Lochan Bealach Cornaidh to Sail Garbh were amazing. I stopped on several occasions turning a complete circle and staring in amazement at the world around me. Just before the summit there was a drop down to a beautiful small unnamed lochan. As I reached the top the quartz gave way to Torridonian sandstone, which was weathered in places and was kind of like a limestone pavement on its side, creating what looked like huge man made walls. It was an incredible sight and I soon found that almost the entire summit area was surrounded and held up by this incredible natural geological marvel. As I reached the summit I honestly at one point found it hard to believe that one of these huge cliff walls wasn't man made. The top of Spidean Coinich was extremely windy so I didn't stay around for long. I headed north west along the ridge passing another lovely lochan, this one known as Lochan RuadhBealach a Chornaidh and told myself that despite my original plan of doing just this mountain then back to the car, I would see how I felt at the bealach. If I was up for it I would at the least carry on and climb up and down Sail Gharbh, the highest peak on Quinag and then the second Corbett of the day.

Sail Gharbh

The drop to Bealach a Chornaidh was quite far, which I already knew would be the case as in order for the Corbetts to be classified as such they require a drop between each of at least five hundred feet. I made it to the path which comes up from the corrie and heads up on to Sail Gharbh and I didn't even need to have the conversation with myself, I already knew what I wanted to do and set my sights on not just Sail Gharbh but also the third Corbett of Sail Ghorm. I knew this would not be an easy walk, but I still had several hours of daylight left and all the time in the world, in one of the greatest places I'd seen. The ascent path to the ridge out to Sail Gharbh was fairly steep and muddy in places but soon reaches the bealach on the ridge. A direct walk along the ridge and over a few false rocky summits and I was stood at the highest summit point on Sail Gharbh with incredible views across back to Spidean Cionich and all its glory. I have to say of the three mountains Spidean Coinich grabbed me more than the others, it is simply stunning and its geology is fascinating and worth looking up if you have the time. The summit trig point pillar on Sail Gharbh was quite bizarrely sheltered within the confines of a circular stone shelter, something I hadn't seen done before. So I took a self timer shot of myself on the summit of Sail Gharbh then looked across to Sail Ghom and the ridge sweeping round to it. It seemed miles away and it felt like it too! I descended Sail Gharbh and made my way to the unnamed peak which sits at the centre of the T shaped Quinag mountain massif. The view point from this central position is fantastic with all three Corbett mountains and their attaching ridges leading off in three different directions.

Sail Ghorm

From the centre point on the unnamed peak I made my way over yet two more peaks before finally reaching the long slog up to the summit of Sail Ghorm. On the way to Sail Ghorm there is an out crop of rock that you can walk out on for a great photo opportunity. Its like walking the plank over the hundreds of Assynt lochans. From the same bealach you also get great views down towards Kylesku and its majestic bridge. Sail Ghorm's great advantage is its seaward facing views which today were bathed in sunshine. After enjoying Sail Ghorm and being rather pleased with myself for doing all three Corbetts I made may way back along the ridge to eventually reach that central point again. This time rounding the central point peak to reach the bealach where the steep muddy path drops back down to Bealach a Chornaidh. I followed the path along its three and a half kilometre route back to the car park via Lochan Bealach Cornaidh. The path disappearing on several occasions, I also lost it as I was looking in awe at Glas Bheinn across the way. My feet were pretty sore by the time I got back to the car park so before crossing the road I sat on a wooden bridge and dipped my feet in a small stream. I felt so great knowing I'd bagged all three Corbetts and done a walk twice as good as I had planned. Buzzing with adrenaline I raced back to Ullapool rocking in the car to Guns N' Roses while gazing out the window at the likes of Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor, Stac Polly and Ben More Assynt all looking incredible in the sunshine. A roasting hot bath was had when I got back to the cottage. Nicky and Myself had delicious fish from the Seaforth in Ullapool for tea then waited for the others to return with happy tales from Sandwood Bay where they had a great time in glorious weather all day. A fantastic day on a fantastic mountain massif. The Quinag is an amazing roller coaster of peaks, each of them slightly different, my favourite by far being Spidean Coinich. The next day we were heading back from Lochinver towards Loch Assynt on the A837 and looking up to the Quinag from its western approach, it is a massive seven kilometre undulating roller coaster of a ridge walk from there and I'm so glad I've done it. The day after we saw it from Kylesku where the two Corbetts of Sail Ghorm and Sail Gharbh soar above the land like to huge giants with big shoulders.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Stac Pollaidh from Loch Lurgainn

First time I saw Stac Pollaidh I repeated the same sentence that most walkers do... 'Wow, I have to climb that one day!' It is a truly magnificent spectacle. It is by no means the highest and it is tiny compared to its bulking neighbours. What makes Stac Pollaidh or Stac Polly as it is more popularly known, so special is its rugged proper mountain look. When viewed from the main Ullapool to Lochinver road children always say the same thing 'it looks like a volcano' and it sure does. The mountain rises to a stunning ridge of shattered Torridonian Sandstone with difficult weather sculptured pinnacles and terrifying loose scree gullies. The mountain itself is simply stunning and unique but what makes it even more special is that it sits in the middle of Assynt, surely one of the most incredible places in the world. The weather today wasn't great again and was actually worse than had been forecast. So being low in height and next to the minor road out to Achiltibue, Stac Polly was a fairly safe yet satisfying option, on what could turn out to be a rainy day. It is an easy walk to get to the lowest point on the summit ridge. The route is a heart shaped circular walk round the back of the mountain. Walking either way on the ridge itself  is not as easy and getting to the actual summit requires a very stretching move up one particular rock pinnacle.

Stac Pollaidh from the car park

So Steve, Craig, Nicky and Myself set off in good mood as the weather didn't look too bad in the morning. By the time we got to the car park at Loch Lurgainn the sun was shining and the stunning profile of Stac Polly had a blue sky background. Heading down the Achiltibue road getting loser to the mountain you can't help but feel exciting looking up at it and knowing you will soon be stood on top of it. The Loch Lurgainn car park was full so we had to really squeeze Steve's car in to get a space. We got kitted up and crossed the road to the kissing gate. The path that ascends from the kissing gate is lovely with birch trees, heather, bilberry, ferns and mushrooms. The path came to the deer fence and second kissing gate and led out on to the open moorland below Stac Polly. Years ago the ascent of Stac Polly was done from here by just heading directly up its steep screes. These days the delicate scree has been protected from imminent human destruction, properly laid and long lasting path now loops the mountain with a detour path ascending at the back to the ridges lowest point. As we got higher on the path and rounded the shoulder of Stac Polly the weather took a turn for the worse. The views across Loch Lurgainn to Sgorr Tuath were very atmospheric. At one point we were stood on the path looking south east to Cul Beag and either side of us were huge walls of clouds moving in like curtains around Stac Polly and us, and from this moment on it rained.

Craig & Steve as the weather moves in

We ascended the ascent path to the ridge round the back of the mountain. Usually the views out over Loch Sionascaig to Suilven from here are some of the best in the nation, but today they were pretty awful. On the odd occasion the clouds did thin slightly to show us Loch Sionascaig. The first time I climbed Stac Polly was a few years ago with Nicky, it was a perfect sunny day and we had the time of our lives tackling the ridge and even made it to the actual summit. So when we reached the ridge in wind and rain it was a difficult decision but Steve and Myself made the decision to head back down and save it for a better day on this occasion. It really isn't worth standing on top of a mountain in such a stunning location without a view. After following the other descent path heading north west off the mountain we stopped at a viewpoint with pinnacles to take some photos and eat our lunch. As we sat and ate lunch the weather got worse and turned in to strong cold north westerly winds and driving rain. We moved quickly down the mountain and tried dancing to the sun gods as we descended the mountain, it didn't work and it got very wet and cold. I didn't take any waterproof pants and my walking trousers got soaked. After rounding the western end of the mountain the hill started its descent back down towards Loch Lurgainn and we were very relieved when the weather improved and the wind and rain both settled down.

Craig & Nicky on Stac Polly with Loch Scionascaig behind

On the final descent Craig had fun jumping off some large boulders. Again the moody atmospheric views across Loch Lurgainn to Sgorr Tuath were really impressive. We took photos of Steve and Craig on rocks below Stac Polly then headed through the kissing gate down to the lovely rocky path back to the road and car park. Despite the bad half hour of stormy weather we had a really good time on Stac Polly. It was a real shame we didn't get to show Craig what Stac Polly is really about,  having been up there ourselves before, we know just how special that walk along its crest really is. The weather didn't improve for the rest of the day and we headed back to Ullapool for a house warmed by a wood burner and Elaina's tasty home baked cooking. While showering after the walk I felt a nasty bite on my leg near my backside and realised there was something biting me. I grabbed it and pulled it off with my nails, one look at it on my hand I knew straight away what it was. Yuk, nasty blood thirsty tick! I called Nicky in and asked her to give me the once over, and she found another behind my knee. We take these nasty critters seriously as we know friends and family who have suffered Lyme disease from the nasty things. The one on my backside worried me as it had given me a nasty bruise. Luckily I was okay. Steve also found two on himself a few hours later. The next day the weather was much worse and it rained all day, so we stayed in and watched Harry Potter and Lost DVD's.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Culag Woods from Lochinver

The plan was for another sunny summer holiday in Ullapool. The weather gods however, had other plans. The forecast for our chosen week is wet and windy for most of the week according to the dreary weather forecasts. It seems most days so far we have spent glued to the television watching the ever worsening weather forecasts and rioting back home in Manchester, as the noise of driving rain falling on the plastic conservatory roof gets louder. The drive up on Saturday put us in a positive mood as despite torrential rains and thunder through Cumbria, the drive up was perfect with no delays. As we reached Inverness on the A9 the skies opened up in front of us, we had blue skies as we crossed the country from east to west to reach Ullapool. I love the fact that as you descend to Inverness you see the North Sea then less than an hour later you reach the Atlantic Ocean at Ullapool. We met up with our friends in Ullapool and opened the doors to our stunning self catering property that we lived in for a week two years ago. It was great to meet up with our 'north of the border' buddies again and we all nipped down to the fantastic Seaforth seafood bar and bistro where I had a tasty Red Mullet with Chili Jam, washed down with a pint of An Teallach. After eating we headed down to the harbour to see the Ullapool harbour Seals, which on this rare occasion were shy. While down at the harbour I spotted a black and white cat sneaking around the ferry port piers, it looked surprisingly similar to the cat that was advertised as missing on the front of the recent edition of the 'Ullapool News'. The next day we phoned the owners to let them know it could well have been their much missed little moggy.

Are you brave enough footpath

So the next day we had been hoping for a sunny day but instead were presented with a dull start with occasional showers and brief sunny spells. First intention was to head north to Lochinver and the infamous Lochinver Pie Shop, a massive favourite of ours. We pulled up at Lochinver and Craig decided immediately that the activity of stone skimming was more important than pies so we headed down to the shores of Loch Inver to show him how it is done. We entered the pie shop and each of us got a few pies with the intention of eating them over the next few days. I however just couldn't resist and being the infamous 'Pie Eater' that I am, I couldn't even wait to get out of the shop. A rather scary member of staff in the shop came straight over and gave me a stern telling off for eating my 'take away' pie in the shop, much to the amusement of the others. I sulked and left the shop to eat my Venison and Cranberry pie in the rain. The obvious bad weather option if you are around Lochinver is Culag Woods. These woods are fantastic. On our first trip to the woods several years ago Nicky and myself entered the woods with the intention of doing a quick morning walk of no more than an hour long. We left the woods seven hours later! The woods are now owned and looked after by the locals who founded the Culag Community Woodland Trust. They are an incredibly well looked after gem. Kids love the woods as they are littered with fun things like a play area, wooden animals, information boards, hidden dens, trees and wildlife.

Mushrooms on Culag Wood floor

So we headed for the upper 'Woodside' car park despite the drizzle. Getting to the car park is easy, you just follow the Achiltibue road that ascends from the village. The road passes a small school by a loch, surely this is the worlds most idyllic setting for a school! A loch covered in lilies, overlooked by Suilven. We ate our pies in the car at the car park in case the drizzle stopped which it did. We covered each other in Avon Skin so Soft to put off the ever increasing midges and set off through the gate in to the woods. We turned immediately left heading along the narrow and dark 'Are You Brave Enough?' footpath. This is a great route that is easy to follow as you just keep the stone wall to the left at all times. The path passes through Pine and Conifers then snakes its way through Birch and Beech. We all had fun at this point as the trees were holding a lot of water on their leaves. Every time someone grabbed a trunk for balancing they shocked and soaked anyone under its canopy. The woodland floor was dotted with mushrooms and fungi of various shapes, sizes and colour. The path eventually got us to the stunning White Shore beach. White Shore is a lovely curved bay of pebbles on the shores of Loch Inver. Just behind the beach there are fishing nets and fallen trees that have been turned in to an adventure playground. We had fun as usual, Steve pretending to be Patrick SwayzeInver we set off along the Shore Path. We took photos at the lookout point in the forest that has been purposely framed by the installation of a wooden photo frame sculpture.

Sandy on top of Daphne

Last time we were in the woods with Steve and Elaina we didn't walk up to the viewpoint so we made a point of doing so this time. The view point is at the top of a wee hill called Cnoc na Doire Daraich which translates to the Hill in the Oak Woods. So we headed up the Viewpoint Path which climbs through delightful woodland, passes a looming cliff then turns and climbs above Loch Inver and the woodlands to reach a wooden bench that gives a great view across to Suilven. The ascent path was bordered with beautifully colourful heather in summer bloom. From the viewpoint Suilven looks striking and like the shape of a huge bell from here. We tried to enjoy the view but the midges soon saw us descending after a few photos. The descent brings you at at a play area with a see-saw, teepee and a twigloo, which Craig just had to get in to. We turned left and followed the main path again. We took a detour along a wooden boardwalk to have a look at the big Culag Bog. Louise nearly took a tumble in to the bog at one point as she was too busy talking instead of looking where she was going and missed a step down on the boardwalk. After the bog which to be honest wasn't exactly teeming with wildlife we got back on the main path. We passed a few wooden animal sculptures in the trees along the way including a horrible looking spider. We found an excellent den at one point so all the boys jumped in to it for a photo. We got back to the cars and drove home along the more scenic route via Achiltibue and took a detour out along the dead end road on the peninsula. I took my first ride in Sandy and Louise's new Landrover now known as Daphne which was great fun, a beautiful and versatile machine that was surprisingly comfortable. I reckon they are going to have some great trips in Daphne. We pulled in at the shores of Loch Buine Moire where we were gifted with a panoramic view of Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh. We got home and Elaina made us all a tasty meal, after which we went for a bike ride around Ullapool and along the Ullapool River track in the dark which was great fun. Not a bad day at all considering it had rained for most of it. Fingers crossed for a better day tomorrow.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...