Thursday, 15 May 2014

Matley Wood and Matley Heath

It was the final day of the football season this weekend. Although you may think my biggest passion is hill walking, in reality it is actually football. I am a life long Manchester United fan and season ticket holder at Old Trafford. I am also a huge fan of my local non-league team Altrincham who I even had a trial for when I was young. On Saturday I went to Moss Lane to watch Altrincham take on Guiseley in the Conference North playoff final. We won the game in injury time of extra time. At the final whistle I joined the other four and half thousand strong crowd and invaded the pitch, it was a fantastic result. It hasn't been quite as successful a season at Old Trafford, but hopefully it'll get rid of the impatient negative stale glory hunting fans we have around the place who are only there because of our last two decades of glory. I'm a positive football fan and player and my team get my support always, win or lose. The following day on the Sunday I headed down to Southampton to watch United's last game of the season with my mate Neil, who had managed to get us VIP tickets in the Presidential Suite at Southampton's fantastic St Mary's stadium and tickets in the away end. Despite a fairly disappointing game we had a fantastic day out and even bumped into a true legend when we came out of a lift to find Sir Bobby Charlton stood in front of us. We asked for a photo and he kindly obliged. I was a little star struck to say the least as Bobby really is a true legend.

Neil, Myself and Sir Bobby Charlton at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton.
By now you are probably thinking... "why on earth am I reading a football story on the Trekking Britain blog?". Well it just so happens that as I was looking at a map of Southampton on my sat nav I spotted a big green area nearby. It was then that it dawned on me I wasn't far from the New Forest National Park, just fifteen minutes away in fact. So as the New Forest National Park is somewhere I haven't visited before I promised myself that as long as I wasn't too hung over on Monday morning I would go for a wee wander before I headed back to Manchester. I might even make a habit of combining my two greatest passions in one trip.

Matley Wood Car Park, New Forest National Park.
I had absolutely no idea where I was heading or what to expect so I headed for Lyndhurst as people were referring to it online as the unofficial capital of the New Forest National Park. On the way I pulled in at Ashurst and grabbed the Ordnance Survey OL22 Explorer map from the Post Office and picked up a tasty packed lunch from the Gossip Cafe to eat on my walk. The road heading into the New Forest National Park was already showing signs of things to come with natural woodland on either side of the road. My first stop was the visitors centre in Lyndhurst where I hoped to find some decent walking books. I had a look at a few but I wasn't that impressed. The Cicerone one was probably the best but I refuse to pay thirteen pounds for a book I won't use very often. There was an interesting book written by members of the local rambling club which looked good, I'll probably purchase it if I'm down there again. I did find one walk which looked interesting that I pulled off the internet on my phone and copied into Evernote so I had a local copy. In the end I decided to do that walk as one thing the writer said was that it was varied and showed everything the New Forest National Park had to offer in one short and easy walk.

Matley Wood, New Forest National Park, England.
I parked the car at the Matley car park just off the B3056 Beaulieu Road a mile south east of Lyndhurst. As soon as you leave Lyndhurst and head along the Beaulieu Road you experience another unique landscape the New Forest National Park is famous for, its wild heathland. Its certainly a landscape I had never experienced anywhere else in Britain. At times the relatively flat and dry wild heathland, flanked by natural woodland and backed by massive skies reminded me of places I have walked in Australia. One of the most common sights on the New Forest National Park's heathlands is the graceful New Forest Ponies and Horses. Everywhere you look they are grazing. Unfortunately as this adventure wasn't planned I had absolutely no outdoor clothing on me. When I set off from the car at the Matley car park I was wearing my best Adidas pumps, denim jeans, a cotton Captain America t-shirt and my bag containing only food, drink, map and my best going out jacket.

Squirrel in Matley Wood, New Forest National Park.
I headed towards the Matley Wood Campsite then walked through it following the main gravel road to a gated track at the back of the campsite into Matley Wood. I was expecting a busy campsite. There were several caravans but not one person anywhere to be seen. I followed the track through Matley Wood and was immediately taken aback at how natural the woodland was and how varied the species of trees. It was absolutely stunning and the birdsong was amazing. At one point I stopped suddenly as a Grey Squirrel sat perfectly silhouetted on the branch of a tree. That big grin I get when I know I'm somewhere special stretched out on my face.

Matley Wood, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
It was a very strange day weather wise. On my way to the New Forest I could see from the car that although it was a mild seventeen degrees and mostly blue skies and sunshine, there were some nasty looking cumulus clouds gathering and I could see huge dark curtains of rain falling from them in the distance. One of those short sharp showers was suddenly falling on me so I took up the chance to shelter under a thick holly tree and just listen to the birdsong. I heard something scuffling round in the tree opposite me and couldn't figure out what it was. It must be a bird but it was moving around like a mouse clinging on to every small branch like its life depended on it. I spotted it and recognized it was a small lonely Tree Creeper. Once it stopped raining I made my way to the far end of the track through the forest where my way was impeded by a fallen tree.

Fallen Tree in Matley Wood, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
As the track came to the edge of the forest the views were incredible. Matley Heath reminded me of some of the places I had visited in the Australia bush. Dry barren land with isolated trees, and most of all the huge skies. Luckily for me in my Adidas pumps, the paths were relatively dry, there were only a few sticky mud patches to circumnavigate.

Matley Heath from edge of Matley Wood, New Forest National Park.
I had a look at the map to check the direction I should be heading then made my way north east across Matley Heath. Instead of sticking to the path I often wandered through the heather and bracken hoping to spot a snake. The New Forest's warm sandy heathlands are perfect reptile habitat and they are home to all species of snake found in Britain including the rare Smooth Snake. No such luck seeing one today though unfortunately.

Tree on Matley Heath, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
Stood in the centre of Matley Heath on a day like today was overwhelming. The panoramic views were to die for and the skies all around were huge and fascinating. I reached the far end of the heath where it crosses the Fulliford Bog which becomes the Beaulieu River further downstream. There were horses everywhere including a cute pony that I thought was being friendly and coming to see me before it completely blanked me and walked into the field on the other side of the track.

Fulliford Bog, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
The track then passed over a bridge that crosses the railway before rising to a small woodland by another open heathland. To the left now was the more visited Deerleap Inclosure. The heavens opened just as I was passing the small woodland. I took shelter under a tree and looked out to the open heathland and saw that the horses had the same idea sheltering under a set of wide fir trees.

Raining near the Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park, England.
Deerleap Inclosure trees reflecting in a puddle, New Forest.
The rain stopped several minutes later so I continued heading north east. The area immediately to my left was a deforested section of the Deerleap Inclosure that had been replanted. The thousands of young fir trees backed by blue skies made me feel like I was in Canada not Hampshire. These days the term inclosure as used in the New Forest seems to simply refer to an area of forest that has been enclosed by fencing to allow regrowth for timber production. There have been many acts through the centuries that refer to inclosures that were areas of unused land that were enclosed by fence and sold to land owners. Whether these so called inclosures started off like that I'm not too sure but these days it seems to be just a term used by forestry.

Young Fir trees in Deerleap Inclosure, New Forest National Park, England.
Young Fir trees in Deerleap Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
The track passed over another bog which was full of frog spawn and tadpoles then climbed onto the wide grassy strip of land between the Deerleap Inclosure on the left and the Longdown Inclosure on the right. I had a look at the map to figure out where I needed to turn right to enter the Longdown Inclosure. As described on the online walk directions it was as soon as the Deerleap Car Park came into view.  

Track between Deerleap Inclosure and Longdown Inclosure.
I turned right and ascended a track towards the Longdown Inclosure. The track passed over another small boggy stream. The track split and I followed the track to the right with the tall trees on my left.

Tall trees in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
All of a sudden the heavens opened again but this time it wasn't rain it was a hail storm. The hail was quite large and was coming down at some pace so I sought shelter. I spotted a big thick fir tree on the left a little further up the path so ran to its dry base. It was a perfect spot, the tree was so thick that I remained completely dry, there was a ledge for me to sit on and admire the forest views. There was even a tiny bird which must have been either a Wren or Pipit in the tree above me keeping me company, though I suspect I was enjoying his company more than he was enjoying mine.

Fir tree in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
Hailstones and Fir Cone in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest.
Birch and Fir trees in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
After the hail storm it was blue skies and sunshine yet again. I headed along the track towards the south west corner of the inclosure then turned right heading along another track and in the direction of an area marked on the map as Fulliford Passage where the path passes under the railway. The track crossed another deforested area with young fir trees. There were Skylarks and Stonechats in abundance. The Skyarks making a racket a dozen or so metres in the air as they do and the Stonechats were sat on top of the young trees making that unique sound they make that sounds like two pebbles being bashed together

Myself near the Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
So far my ill prepared choice of clothing hadn't been an issue as I used trees to shelter from the rain, it was warm, and the going underfoot had been relatively easy. Now however just a few hundred metres short of Fulliford Passage I found myself at the edge of a peat bog that looked more like what I am used to when walking in the Peak District.

Lapwing near Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park.
 I'd often looked down at the bogs in the Peak District and wondered who the fool was that left his trainers behind, now I was quite likely to become one of those fools. I tightened up my Adidas pumps and started the arduous task of navigating my way across the bog without sliding and falling into the bog in my best work jacket. To make things worse I was being attacked by a disgruntled Lapwing that was circling me and swooping down unnerving me at every opportunity.

Lapwing above bog near Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park.
I eventually gave up trying to carefully navigate the bog searching for grassy mounds and instead just thought sod it and walked straight through the lot of it. This is how my favourite Adidas pumps look right now.

My favourite Adidas pumps bog damaged.
I headed into the woodland by Fulliford Passage and was taken aback at just how incredibly enchanting the scene was. The woodland floor was covered in a velvet like green moss, there was a small stream running through it and a small wooden bridge. It was like something from a scene in Bambi. If I didn't have to head back up north to Manchester I could have sat there for hours.

Oak sapling and Bluebell at Fulliford Passage, New Forest.
Footbridge by Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park, England.
Stream near Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park, England.
Stream near Fulliford Passage, New Forest.
I headed under the railway through Fulliford Passage. On the other side was the far eastern side of Matley Heath. There were horses and ponies grazing everywhere. A lovely young Foal following his mother passed in front of me just before I turned right and headed through the King's Passage and back to the area of Matley Heath I had traversed an hour or so earlier. I turned left and retraced my footsteps back through Matley Wood to the campsite and back to the car. Within seconds of me closing the car door the heavens opened again. I sat eating a Mars Bar waiting for the windscreen to clear and reflected on what a great time I had on my first walk in the New Forest. I had expected the New Forest to be a bigger version of other forests I know well, but it is far more than that. It is far wilder, more natural, it has a fascinating history and incredibly varied and unique landscapes. I look forward to returning one day when I have more time, my proper outdoor gear and my camera.

Foal in the New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.

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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Place Fell & Beda Fell

I took a day off work last week to go for a walk in the Lake District as I realised it had been almost a year since I last visited. I took just a random day off and hoped for the best with the weather and I got very lucky. Tuesday was that sunny that when I got home I had sun stroke, a bright red head and super hero white bits where my sunglasses had been. It was that clear that I could even see the Consiton Fells in the very far distance from the M61 as I approached Preston n my way up, something I don't think I've ever noticed before. Despite leaving at rush hour it was an easy journey as its the school holidays. I have an online spreadsheet on which I keep a log of every mountain I have walked up, which I haven't looked at or updated for quite some time. Looking at the spreadsheet I noticed that last year, which was an unusually quiet year for me walking wise, I did not walk up a single new mountain. Every mountain I climbed last year was one I had done before. So the plan for this trip was to climb something I hadn't before. I looked at a few options but one in particular stood out as I had always wanted to do it and it wasn't too difficult for an overweight out of shape me. Place Fell by the side of Ullswater was ideal. Not only a mountain I hadn't climbed before but also one that would take me into an area I was yet to explore.

Sandwick Beck, Lake District National Park
The Howgills looked as stunning as they always do on a day like this, I say it every year, one day I must go walking in those stunning looking hills. As the M6 started its long descent to Penrith after Shap I got my first glimpse of a few patches of snow left on the higher crags and gullies on the eastern side of High Street. I turned off the M6 at Penrith then headed down the A66 then the A592 towards Ullswater. There were very cute lambs in the fields leaping around in the sunshine. I felt very happy to be back in the Lakes and so lucky to be here on such a beautiful day. When I reached Ullswater I turned left towards Pooley Bridge, somewhere that despite my many trips to the Lakes, I had never needed to visit or drive through. I was pleasantly surprised to find Pooley Bridge was a typical quaint Lakeland village. I'll definitely visit here again one day and stop for an ice cream by the river. After passing through Pooley Bridge I turned right at a small roundabout following the minor road signposted Martindale. I turned right at the next road junction, again following signs to Martindale. The minor road runs down the eastern side of Ullswater passing the huge Park Foot caravan and camping park and the sailing clubs at Thwaitehill Bay, Sharrow Bay and Howtown.

Bridleway to Patterdale from Sandwick, Lake District National Park
Eventually the road reaches the foot of The Hause which is like a miniature Hardknott Pass or Wrynose Pass. I was quite surprised at how steep and winding this road was. I am certainly glad I wasn't attempting it in winter as I would imagine this is most probably impassible in winter conditions. Though saying that, you could probably just park the car here and walk up and over The Hause instead if need be. As the road descended from The Hause I followed signs for Sandwick and crossed a lovely bridge over the Sandwick Beck which looked awesome reflecting the blue skies and reddish brown hillsides. After negotiating an incredibly sharp right switchback turn and following the road for another mile I reached its end at the quiet hamlet of Sandwick. At Sandwick I parked up, geared up, then headed west along the bridleway to Patterdale.

Ullswater from Scalehow Beck, Lake District National Park
The bridleway was littered with dazzling red Peacock Butterflies and Skylarks flapped away just a dozen or so metres above the grassy flanks of Sleet Fell to my left. I was in heaven. When the bridleway reached a stone building on the right I turned left up the right hand side of a small stream and ascended an unclear path through bracken towards a path passing under a rocky outcrop marked on the map as High Knott. As the path rounded High Knott and ascended into the narrow valley of the Scalehow Beck the wind became strong and surprisingly chilly. Looking back towards Ullswater the views were really starting to open up. I was thinking that it would probably be a few hours and at least until Place Fells summit before I would see another person, but as I reached the quarry above Low Moss Gill I spotted a group of school children with leaders who were packing up camp after wild camping in the valley for the night, there was probably around twenty of them in total. They must have had fairly strong tents to have stayed in the narrow valley overnight as the winds were very strong. I waved at one of the leaders and made my way towards the old quarry building where I took shelter, donned the much needed wind shirt and had a drink and Snickers bar ready for the ascent of Place Fell.

High Dodd from Low Moss, Lake District National Park
From the old quarry building, which was a very effective wind break, I continued my ascent of the path towards Low Moss the flat wide grassy ridge between High Dodd on the left and Place Fell on the right. The Skylarks were now in abundance and making their usual crazy tunes. From Low Moss many of the guide books will tell you to go round on a path that avoids the direct route and instead takes a more scenic route via Mortar Crag and The Knight which I have to admit does give better views over Ullswater. I was quite enjoying the wilder side of the fell and its views towards the incredibly long High Street to Loadpot Hill ridge so I carried on up the more direct route. When I neared the top of Place Fell the views north towards the Helvellyn range came into view, with snow still clinging on to the cold gullies, it was an impressive sight.

Place Fell and Helvellyn in the background, Lake District
Helvellyn from Place Fell, Lake District National Park
As I approached the exposed summit the all round panoramic views were breathtaking. "What a day" a fellow walker said to me, a conversation starter that was used by the majority of the walkers I met through the day and they weren't wrong. Just before the summit there was a lovely tarn that reflected the blue skies and was backed by wild views towards the far eastern fells and that incredibly long ridge from High Street to Loadpot Hill.

Place Fell summit tarn with the long ridge of Loadpot Hill in the background
After taking several photos from the summit of Place Fell I found a sheltered spot out of the cold biting wind to eat my lunch, tweet to Twitter and post to Facebook photos that were guaranteed to make all my friends, colleagues and website followers extremely jealous.

View north east from Place Fell summit, Lake District National Park
View south west from Place Fell summit, Lake District National Park
The views across to the Helvellyn range from Place Fell's summit were incredible. The remaining snow clinging on to the cold north east facing gullies created a contrast that added to the grandeur of the huge mountain landscape.

Glenridding and Ullswater beneath Helvellyn, Lake District National Park
I moved across to the side of the summit area to get a few photos down to Glenridding with Helvellyn in the background. I stood staring at views that rival anywhere on earth on a day like today.

Glenridding and Ullswater beneath Helvellyn, Lake District National Park
Striding Edge and Swirral Edge on Helvellyn, Lake District National Park
Brotherswater from Place Fell, Lake District National Park
I headed south from Place Fell and descended the surprisingly loose and steep path down Steel Edge to Boredale Hause. The views were now south over Brotherswater towards the eastern fells. At Boredale Hause I did think about walking up to the summit of Angletarn Pikes but decided against it and instead headed left towards Beda Fell.

Patterdale and Brotherswater from Place Fell, Lake District National Park
Boredale flanked by Place Fell left and Beda Fell right, Lake District
Instead of taking the proper path towards the ridge of Bedafeel Knott I instead chose a sheep path that clung on to the steep northern flanks above Boredale over Freeze Beck and Blue Gill. The sheep path was treacherously steep and almost non-existent in places. It was also one of those paths that wrecks your lowest foot as you are constantly battling with the slope sideways on. One reason I took this route was that I had an inkling if I had any chance of seeing the Red Deer of the Martindale herd it would most likely be in the sheltered valley heads of Boredale or Bannerdale. My inkling paid off and when I reached the scary Red Scar I was delighted to see far below me the Red Deer grazing and lazing in the sunshine.

Red Deer in Boredale, Lake District National Park
Place Fell across from Red Scar on Beda Fell, Lake District National Park
I sat at the top of the frightening drop of Red Scar and looking from left to right I could see Blue Skies, Mountains, Snow, Rivers, Lakes, Buzzards, Skylarks, Red Deer, Fellow Walkers and Sunshine. I sat there for around twenty minutes taking it all in.

The Nab and Rest Dodd across Bannerdale, Lake District National Park

After Red Scar I realised the steep sloping path was only going to get worse and my left foot was really sore. I decided to turn against the slope and clamber up it until I reached the crest of the narrow grassy ridge at Bedafell Knott. Looking along the ridge I could now see the rest of Beda Fell and the route ahead. Beda Fell was a lot quieter than Place Fell and felt somewhat wilder.

Beda Head on Beda Fell from Bedafell Knott, Lake District National Park
Walking along the wide easy going grassy ridge there were awesome views down into the quiet valleys of Boredale to my left and Bannerdale to my right. This would be a fantastic place for a wild camp as there was plenty of ideal flat dry grassy areas. I passed a man who was as happy as myself, he told me how Beda Fell is one of his favorite places to walk and I could certainly see why.

Ullswater from Beda Head summit on Beda Fell, Lake District National Park
I reached Beda Head, the highest point on the Beda Fell ridge and took photos. Ullswater reflected the endless blue skies dotted with fascinating wind sculpted plane contrails. From Beda Head I descended the narrowing ridge Low Brock Crags, Howstead Brow then Winter Crag before reaching a perfectly placed wooden bench above Garth Heads Farm.

Wind sculpted plane contrails above Ullswater
At the bench I turned left and descended the steep bracken path to Garth Heads Farm. At the farm the path passed through a narrow gap flanked by stone walls. Flying from wall to wall were dozens of Siskins, a unique small yellow bird that resembles a Sparrow, Finch and Budgie.

Boredale Beck bridge near Garth Heads, Lake District National Park
At Garth Heads I had to choose whether to walk back along the tarmac road for a mile to Sandwick or take a route on the map over Boredale Beck and along a marked footpath above the top wall rounding the flanks of Sleet Fell. I decided on the latter and headed towards what on the map appeared to be a bridge over Boredale Beck. Unfortunately the bridge turned out to be an unmarked ford. There was a small footbridge a few metres up stream, getting to it though meant walking through a wide and boggy area that wasn't pleasant. Looking down into the clear Boredale Beck I spotted hundreds of fly larvae which I presume are that of the Caddisfly strewn across the rocks.

Caddislfy Larvae in Boredale Beck, Lake District National Park
The ground on the other side of the beck wasn't great either. I navigated a stile in the top wall above a farm building then turned right and headed back towards Sandwick. I looked down to see two huge piles of dung that were far too large to be that of Red Deer. I turned a corner and there in front of me on the path were two huge cows with their calves. I'm not too confident passing these beasts at the best of times but when they are with their young I'm really not keen as they can be very defensive if they feel their calves are threatened. I headed up hill and traversed a slightly higher alternative route to avoid them. I sat in my car and refreshed my aching feet by removing my hot trainers and sweaty socks. It was a fabulous day out and my face was beaming with satisfaction all the way home.

Beda Fell across Boredale, Lake District National Park

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