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 31st January Tuesday “Welcome to the end of the world!” I called out to the Dotcoms earlier today as I arrived with Chris and Alan at Pott’s Corner.

Pott’s Corner is not the end of the world – it’s at the end of Carr Lane that leads west from Middleton almost in the shadow of Heysham Nuclear Power Station. “End of the world” is figurative but after sweeping round Lancaster on the new Heysham link road from the M6 and entering a much used landscape with its commercial parks, caravan sites and pylons the place had a very different feel from just about anywhere else we have ever walked.

 

Twenty four of us set out on a walk taking us down to Sunderland Point at the estuary of the Lune. With us Romano from Jamaica soon to be son-in-law of Paul a long time member of the group. He is one of the most relaxed individuals I have ever met and although considerably younger than everybody else (by 40 years!) he seems to enjoy our company and the Lancashire countryside. I worry little about how he fits in – he fits in fine.

Today though was different. The reason being that a mile into the walk we visited “Sambo’s Grave”. Walking with Romano as we approached it I became acutely conscious of the un PC nomenclature given to “Sambo”. Romano was curious. “How did he die?” he asked. “Of a broken heart might be the best way to describe it,” I replied.

For many of the Dotcoms it was a first visit. Andy who was leading the walk with his wife Ann gave us some details of how this memorial came to be at this lonely place. “Sambo” (it jars every time I use that word but there is no way round it) was taken from Africa as a slave to the West Indies and arrived at Sunderland at the mouth of the Lune as servant to the ship’s captain in 1736. Soon after he died and was buried outside the confines of the settlement.

 

This account of his death was published in Lonsdale Magazine in 1822.
After she had discharged her cargo, he was placed at the inn…with the intention of remaining there on board wages till the vessel was ready to sail; but supposing himself to be deserted by the master, without being able, probably from his ignorance of the language, to ascertain the cause, he fell into a complete state of stupefaction, even to such a degree that he secreted himself in the loft on the brewhouses and stretching himself out at full length on the bare boards refused all sustenance. He continued in this state only a few days, when death terminated the sufferings of poor Samboo. As soon as Samboo’s exit was known to the sailors who happened to be there, they excavated him in a grave in a lonely dell in a rabbit warren behind the village, within twenty yards of the sea shore, whither they conveyed his remains without either coffin or bier, being covered only with the clothes in which he died.
 

It is hard not to be moved by a visit to this memorial. It represents so much more than one young man’s death far from his place of birth. It is now a place of pilgrimage where people come to be reminded of a dark past. I am not sure what Romano made of “Sambo’s Grave” – he kept his own counsel – but somehow him being there added significance to our reflections.

30th December Friday. It has been unusually difficult to write this blog. On the last Saturday of November Brian, one of the founding members of the Dotcom Walkers suffered a severe stroke. He has not been able to walk since. It affected his left side - there is no sensation or movement in his arm or leg. After a week's stay in Royal Preston Hospital he was transferred to a specialist stroke rehabilitation unit at Chorley & South Ribble Hospital.

 

Looking for positives in this catastrophe is hard. The main element of hope lies in the fact Brian's speech recovered quickly - the slurring that characterised the immediate days after the trauma has all but gone. Brian's mind, personality and sense of humour are intact. Having speech will be a huge help in so far he will be able to communicate with the medics what is working and what is not.

The other positive is the strong family support he has - his wife Mary has hardly left his side while children and grandchildren and other members of the family have rallied round. Their love will give him a lot of encouragement as he works towards recovery.
 

I attribute the creation of the Dotcom Walkers to Brian. When he retired in 2008 he joined John, Bill and me on our regular Tuesday walks bringing his garrulous sociability to our outings. From time to time we would be joined by Andy B or Julie, John's daughter or my Katherine if they had a day off. It was an ad hoc informal group until Brian thought to invite Jim, his neighbour who had recently retired from the police. At that time no one else had met Jim so this seemed a new departure. Also I felt spurred to create a programme of walks - half termly of course because as well as being retired teachers John, Brian and I had wives who were still teaching.

Once the programme was published it became an easy thing to pass on to others. Soon our group was joined by Malcolm, Don, David and Val. At present there are over 40 people on the mailing list. We're not formally constituted - there is no secretary or committee of even rules. But if we had rules the first one would be if you enjoy walking with the group and know someone you think would also enjoy walking with the group invite them. It was the principle established by Brian and so in this way the Dotcom Walkers are his creation. My deepest prayer for 2017 is that Brian will be able to come for a walk with his friends again.
 

 

In total contrast to Brian's difficulties is the other big event of recent weeks. At 3.31am on Monday 5th December Eileen and I became grandparents to Francis who came into the world rather thoughtfully 16 days before his due date. We are besotted with this tiny bundle of joy who has brought with him so much happiness to John and Holly, family and friends. It makes me feel warm inside to see John caressing Francis in much the same way as I caressed him. And to underline the way love travels down the generations Francis will be known as Frank after my father born in 1925 and still with us.

My deepest prayer for Frank is that when he is my age - 66 - in 2082 there will still be enough of the English countryside to enjoy walking.
 

 

Saturday 19th November. "Where are you going then?" I asked the young woman to the rear of a party of four plus a dog at the junction of paths above Glenderaterra Beck yesterday.

 

"I don't know," she replied, "We're just having a wander about."

She, her companions and the dog (dressed in a fleece coat) were all well-equipped and they would have to be. Winter had come to the northern fells.
 

I was out with Bryan one of my contacts at the Lancashire Evening Post. He is mad keen on walking but lacks the experience to take himself into the hills. What started as a favour has now become a friendship. This was our third outing together. Readers may recall I took him round (or vice versa) the Three Peaks. In October David and I introduced the Ribble Valley Inns walks with a visit to the Clog and Billycock. On the route we passed the memorial to Alfred Wainwright on top of the hill behind the inn.

Because of this I wanted him to do a "Wainwright" as the next step in his education. A Wainwright is hill or mountain listed in the monumental Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells which was published in seven volumes between 1954 and 1965. My original idea was to walk the Kentmere Round which takes in at least seven Wainwrights but wasn't confident we could do it in the hours of daylight. Then one of my favourite Lakeland outings popped into my head. A circuit taking in Skiddaw
 

A number of times yesterday I'd rather wished it hadn't. Over the days leading up to the outing I had seen that the forecast was less than favourable. On Wednesday I advised Bryan in an email to ensure he packed a hat, gloves and scarf together with an extra layer, a hot drink and a torch into his rucksack. At that stage it looked like we would be in for a bit of a drenching at least for the first part of the day. Then the forecast nuanced into snow. As with many aspects of life decisions are made based on the perceived expectations of others. For me the planned outing was a day in the hills amongst many others - for Bryan it was a precious day away from the stresses of a newspaper office. It became a case of suck it and see.

I am an early riser - Bryan is an even earlier riser so it was arranged he would pick me up at 7.00am. 90minutes later we turned off the Carlisle Road taking the lane up to Ormathwaite. For most of the way it was straightforward but after we passed the entrance of Underscar Manor we encountered snow. As it struggled up steep sections Bryan's car began to suffer. Bit by bit we crossed snowy inclines with no realistic option of turning back or even pulling over to the side. On the console screen alarming messages popped up about the need to service the vehicle and have its brakes checked. Not surprisingly when we reached the car park we were the first car there. I directed Bryan on how best to align the car at right angles to the fence.
 

We booted up. Running through my mind were a number of concerns.

1. Having managed to get up the road would we be able to get down it especially if there was another snowfall?
2. Would I be able to navigate in the near white-out conditions we now found ourselves in?
3. If this was the condition at 1000ft what would it be like at 3000ft?
Above all I felt responsible - whatever would follow was my shout - not David's, not Malcolm's, not Edward's. I decided I would suck it and see.

 

 

Ascending Jenkin Hill the most prolonged climb of the walk the track, usually a broad obvious scar, was just about discernible as a slight indentation. At this stage there were rewarding views across Derwentwater to the north-west fells

 

but soon enough we entered whiteness. I was confident of the route and my ability to keep to it but was relying heavily on my previous experience of going up Skiddaw. I had gone up it in cloud but with the aid of the broad track. I had climbed it in snow but in bright sunshine. Now we were climbing it in snow and cloud and the two were indistinguishable.

We arrived at the fence that crosses from Little Man to Lonscale Fell. It was 10.00am. I announced a short break although Bryan didn't seem to be in the need of one. I showed him on the map our position. He was impressed with our progress. We pushed on into the whiteness. Somehow we managed to keep to the track made invisible. Half a mile later we reached the second fence - a significant one as it would later provide a handrail for the second stage of our walk.

 

 We then climbed up the final slope to the summit ridge. In comparison to the other three thousanders Skiddaw is an easy hill to climb in normal conditions but the walk along the ridge to the trig point always seems interminable. It did yesterday with a biting wind on my left ear but this assisted progress as snow was blown clear off the path and we could see the way ahead.

 

There was nothing to make us linger at the trig point so after the photograph we returned to the fence. Bryan could not believe the contrast between the fierce conditions on top to the comparative silence as we dropped out of the wind below the ridge. He commented that it was as if someone had flicked a switch.
 

We descended along the fence. At the corner I set the compass on a bearing for Skiddaw House. This assisted us on the first half of this section but soon we gaps in the cloud allowed me a sight of Sale How and we could even pick out what is usually a broad grassy track beneath the snow.

We lunched by Skiddaw House the isolated youth hostel that was once a keepers hut.

 

It was closed for winter as I expected it would be. It was midday and we had the satisfaction of knowing the biggest park of the walk was behind us. All that remained was to walk out. In this we were encouraged by the first walker we met, a chap down from Carlisle, who had a whim to walk to Skiddaw House and back from the Blencathra Centre.

Later we met the four young women and their dog. That the young lady who told me of their lack of plans with an air of total confidence did not make me question for a minute that they knew what they were about - probably experienced Himalayan trekkers out on a jolly.
 

Bryan and I pushed along one of my favourite footpaths above the Glenderaterra where without any appreciable effort the way becomes elevated as the valley floor falls away. We had our final encounter of the walk - another chap heading towards Skiddaw House to sample the conditions. I was relieved to hear his report that there were a few cars on the car park. He also alerted us to the awkwardness of the craggy corner as the path emerges from the valley. Thanking him we carried on to complete what had been an outstanding and memorable walk. Bryan was abuzz with the experience of prolonged contact with a wild part of the country in challenging conditions. He wondered if it was the same for me. I reassured him that experiences like that never become routine. At least they don't for me. I enjoyed it as much as he did.

 

Saturday 22nd October. Today marks the 200th Anniversary of the completion of the main line of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal - Britain's longest artificial waterway at 127 miles.

 

Living in the age of high speed everything it is difficult for us to appreciate that the quiet waters of the remaining canal system once represented a transport revolution that helped transform Britain from an agrarian into and industrial economy. They helped create the world's first industrial society.

The Leeds-Liverpool Canal was conceived as way of providing communication between the growing port of Liverpool and its industrial hinterland of cotton manufacture in Lancashire and wool manufacture across the Pennines in Yorkshire. Starting in 1770 with the first cut at Halsall near Ormskirk the waterway took 46 years to complete.
 

Earlier this year to mark the anniversary the Dotcom Walkers enjoyed a special excursion through Foulridge Tunnel. We met at the wharf at Foulridge and boarded the Marton Emperor manned by Martin and Matthew who took us through the 1640 yard tunnel.

 

Tunnels represent the height of engineering achievement but are difficult to appreciate. Aqueducts, viaducts and bridges display their splendours obviously. Tunnels on the other hand are by nature dark ways which hide the skill and endeavour which pushed through rock, clay and soil. Nonetheless our cruise through the tunnel and return was one of the highlights of the year.

 

Joining us on that occasion was Musmoo's husband David. He was possibly the most excited of our party to go through the tunnel. In part because he happens to be the membership secretary of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Society and also because of his intention to walk the length of the canal and some to mark the 200th anniversary. He had worked out that by starting in Hull he could create a coast to coast route including the Leeds-Liverpool of 200 miles. The 200 for the 200 is a way of raising funds for the Society.
 

As I write this David is on his penultimate day of that epic trek. On Thursday GPS Dave, Val, Musmoo and I went to Botany Bay Chorley to meet him as walked the section from Cherrytree near Blackburn to Wigan. We joined him as far as Bridge 63 close to Haigh Hall Country Park.

 

Given he had completed 147 miles since 8th October he was in remarkably good shape. He felt his pace was slackening but was still managing 2½ miles an hour.

His walk coincides with a cruise by the Kennet an interactive museum on the narrowboat owned by the Leeds-Liverpool Society. This had been recreating the first passage with great celebrations along the way. Tomorrow David and the Kennet arrive in Liverpool with more festivities planned. And rightly so - the Leeds-Liverpool Canal is a remarkable waterway. That its use has been transformed from an industrial artery to a recreational amenity to be enjoyed by the people of Lancashire and Yorkshire is thanks to preservation groups like the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Society. And of course walking 200 miles in less than 3 weeks is a pretty impressive achievement in itself. And just one other thing about David - 5 years ago he underwent a quadruple bypass heart operation. Well done mate - and enjoy putting your feet up on Monday.
 

29th September Thursday. Last Saturday week (17th September) Andy W and I went to look at a glacier. Perhaps it might be more accurate to state we attempted to look at a glacier because the low cloud was dense. Andy had seen a glacier before so when we arrived at the spot for viewing the glacier he was able to discern some of its features - crevasses and the like. In the thick mist above Argentiere I could hardly see a thing and wanted a close up view of it but Andy counselled caution - glaciers are unpredictable - their walls can collapse and rocks can roll off them without warning.

 

We were on the Norwest Fellwalking Club's holiday to Chamonix and this was our second day of poor weather. Our problem was we had shelled out 100 Euros for a five day lift pass and we were compelled to make the most of it.

After viewing the glacier we returned to the Grand Montets lift at Lognan and descended to the valley. We took a bus to Flegere and went up the lift there. More cloud. After lunching in the indoor picnic area we took the chair lift up L'Index. As we sat on the seat the lift attendant indicated that all we would see is "nuage". Twenty minutes later having been on one of the most miserable rides ever we had to agree with him. We didn't even get off the lift.
 

Back at La Flegere we waited for the cable car back to the valley. Unusually there were other passengers - a solo walker, a group of young people who passed the time taking countless selfies and a quartet of young women from the USA. "Well we've done it!" declared one and then they went into a group hug. "Done what?" I asked. "Just completed the Tour de Mont Blanc!" It seemed significant.

The next day was not a great deal better. We sampled the lift from Le Tour with no better results than the previous two days after which we walked back to Chamonix following the Balcon du Nord which was slightly more engaging than walking in fog. I was reduced to taking photographs of livestock

 

and houses. There was the novelty of walking in an Alpine valley but even that was wearing thin.

But then…Monday came and we had views of the dramatic heights. From our room we looked up to see the Aiguille du Midi appearing through the clouds as if a vision - somewhat reminiscent of Mont St Michel.

 

It is an 3842m (12,604ft) peak in the Mont Blanc massif. Remarkably it was first climbed in 1818 but now half a million visitors a year visit it by way of a two stage cable car. It is the closest a person can get to Europe's highest mountain - Mont Blanc - 4810metres high (15, 781ft)

 

In short order an expedition was arranged - David G, Vesi, Gordon, Andy and I set out for the lift. As we reached the plaza in front of the lift station a doubt was thrown into our plans when we saw the length of the queue. Clearly everyone in Chamonix and beyond had the same idea - especially after three days of low cloud.

 

Surely, we thought, it would take hours to move these people up the mountain. But happily it took just 40 minutes before we were on the platform. Along with another 55 people we squeezed into the cab and soon after commenced the first stage of the ascent to the Plan du Aiguille . The second stage did not necessitate a wait at all and soon we were climbing to the highest point served by an aerial lift system. This adds to the sense of wonder - not only are you treated to stupendous scenery but you cannot help be impressed by the audacious feat of engineering that has enabled you to see it.

After arriving at the lift station on the north pinnacle we crossed to the Central pinnacle over an open bridge. Here the icy wind made us stop to put on our jackets. Now in a bustling crowd I lost contact with my companions. I thought it likely they would go up the lift to the highest terrace and the must do attraction of "Stepping into the Void" which is a clear perplex cabinet attached to the rock over a sheer drop of 1000m. Blackpool Tower has a similar feature but…well it's not quite the same.

 

I joined the queue, had my photograph taken and returned to the bridge to seek my companions.

By luck I found David and Vesi and soon after Gordon and Andy - reunited we went onto the viewing terraces and took a million photographs between us. We went for a brew in Europe's highest restaurant and then took the lift down to the Plan du Aiguille. Our intention was to walk to the Mer du Glace, France's largest glacier. We picnicked beneath the Grand Montets but realised we could not complete our chosen route in time so decided to descend to Chamonix by way of Blaitiere Dessus. This necessitated a descent of 1200metres from the Plan. My longest ever.
 

Later GPS Dave teased us about our choice of routes. "Why didn't you go back to the lift?" but we didn't mind too much - we had had such a beautiful day in the mountains.

Tuesday was groundhog day in terms of weather. David and Vesi were on an outing to Annecy but Gordon, Andrew and I went once more to the very top for our fix of heavenly scenery.

 

Together we decided to "step into the void" although timed it badly as a coachload of Chinese tourist were in front of us and each one individually wanted five or six photos of the occasion. Aside from that glitch we had another perfect day in the mountains - another 4000ft descent from the Mer du Glace.

 

The following day we took a late flight home to Manchester. It was well after midnight by the time most of us found our beds.

As a postscript the celebration of David's 50 years as secretary continued last Friday when the Mayor of Preston, Councillor John Collins, invited him, Val and the committee for afternoon tea in the Mayor's Parlour. It turned out to be a most agreeable occasion and gave us the opportunity to thank David and Val for their service to the club.

 

Because of their dedication we have been able to walk in the best walking areas this country has to offer. Now over the past four years we have been able to walk in the best areas our continent has to offer. The words do not fully express my sense of gratitude but THANK YOU.

 

10th September Saturday. Being the chair of the Norwest Fellwalking Club is the easiest job in the world. Chair one committee meeting in October and then chair an (usually) uncontroversial AGM a few weeks later. The treasurer maintains the accounts and produces an annual report for the usually uncontroversial AGM. Everything else is done by the secretary - developing a programme, publishing a programme, arranging transport, taking bookings, collecting money, arranging social events, arranging holidays. Our secretary is GPS Dave and he has been in post for 50 years!

 

The Norwest developed out of the Leyland Motors sports and social set up in the early 1950s. Since most of the venues for outings were in the Lakes or Dales the coach run had pick up points from Leyland Centre through to the Black Bull in Fulwood so it is very much a South Ribble and Preston Club. Its unique selling point is that it does not require members to walk in led groups. Led groups are on offer but members are trusted to go on their own expeditions so long as they are back at the time appointed for return - 4.30 in winter 6.00pm in summer. This aspect which allows the rugged individual to make his or her own routes and timetable is a legacy of the days when there were a lot of rock climbers in the club and it is one that has been preserved in no small measure by the fact that our secretary David Johnstone has been in post half a century and provides a living link to the club's foundations.

So being chair of the Norwest is an easy gig except when…you have to organise a surprise celebration marking the 50 years of David's secretaryship. Through clandestine conversations I established early in the year that members thought this would be a good idea but since the club is run entirely by David apart from the finance side of things lines of communication were less than easy. I had to canvass committee members individually about a date and venue.
 

9th September soon emerged as a suitable date as the club (David) had organised a holiday to the Alps in the following week so it would be highly likely he and Val wouldn't be away the weekend before. One of our members Ann Taylor is Lady Captain at Penwortham Golf Club and suggested it as a venue. Looking into it as well as offering an attractive space, catering and bar facilities it was centrally located in the club's catchment. Committee members endorsed the date and venue and so invitations could be sent out.

Aside from the members themselves invitations went to former members some of whom lived in different parts of the country, David's family, David's Longridge friends collectively known as the Grumpies and the Dotcom Walkers. At quite an early stage I anticipated 100 guests and this turned out to be the case.
 

Two issues remained. The programme of the evening and a device for getting David to the Golf Club. While I conceived that there would need to be slightly more formal tributes from senior members of the club at the suggestion of club member Sheila B I settled on an "This is Your Life" format for bringing out guests once David had arrived. Older readers will remember instantly this iconic programme of the 50s and 60s hosted by Eamon Andrews

 

where celebrities and worthies were given a surprise presentation of their life's achievements with the help of the Red Book and a procession of family members, colleagues, associates and others. As I settled on this concept I made up a list of contributors who would lead out guests representing the different facets of David's life and service to the club. While it was a simplified version of the famous show I had gone so far as to download the theme song and script one liners for selected guests to read concealed behind a partition.

The one remaining problem was finding a way to get David to the club. I came up with the plan that a friend of one of the people who work at Northcote, Kaye, was opening up a new restaurant in Penwortham and had invited Val, me, Eileen and David with two other friends to the opening. It was a stretch but as we met Kaye earlier this week and she confirmed the "arrangement" David went along with it.
 

So - yesterday - everything was in place. Venue, catering, cake (a splendid one made by our member Pauline)

 

100 guests who all arrived a good half hour before David, Val and Alison were due. I was just about to brief everybody about the order of ceremonies when … I received this text from Alison. "Evening Bob, Val and I are ready, however DJ is at the emergency dentist near the bus stn. He has a fat face, in other words tooth infection. We have no idea when he will return. We told him he had to come but he doesn't know where. Drat!"

News soon followed that David was to have a tooth extracted!
 

As planned I made my opening remarks - welcomed the guests, thanked people for their contributions in the preparations for the celebration and then imparted the news that our chief guest was receiving emergency dental treatment and there could be no telling whether he would be coming at all. The reaction was I expected - while sympathetic to David's predicament (and mine) most people were highly amused able to see the ironic aspect of the situation. They had plenty to talk about among themselves.

I set about restructuring the programme. I brought the buffet forward, I ditched the "This is Your Life" format and then as soon as I knew that David was on the way set up a cake cutting ceremony when tributes could be made.
 

David arrived having had to pick up a prescription on the far side of the city in a rather forlorn condition. His face was swollen and sore and probably the last place he wanted to be was at a party regardless or not of it being in his honour. But his spirits picked up as he comprehended the scale of the event and I was relieved to find he was prepared to stay. Soon he was mingling with the guests.

So we had a proper ceremony in the end. Entertaining and suitably irreverent tributes were made Steve and John my predecessors in the role of Chair while my chief co-conspirator Bob the treasurer gave a no less amusing speech giving credit to David for preserving the essential character of the club over his 50 years of service. There were flowers for Val who as the secretary's secretary found she married a club as well as David back in 1971. Finally Tom made a presentation of his log of club walks from last year in which our secretary features prominently.
 

And that's it David features prominently in the lives of the club members. Through his service we have been able to walk in and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes our country has to offer. That's one aspect. The other is that we are allowed to do this on our own terms - go off on our own, with a friend or in a led party. That experience is beyond price so having a party to celebrate 50 years as secretary is but a token of our immense gratitude for what he has done for us.

 

THANK YOU DAVID!

 

25th August Thursday. When I found out that Craven Potholing Club were setting up a winch for descents into Gaping Gill in this week before the Bank Holiday I instantly decided that this would make a great summer outing for the Lancashire Dotcom Walkers.

 

From its inception the LDC walking group has followed the pattern of school term times for its programme. This is because although retired John and I were married to working teachers and so when the school holidays came along we spent that time with our wives. As our programmes became more formalised so the school term structure became more embedded with two modifications - the Dotcom Year starts in January and over the last few years there has been an additional outing during the long summer holidays.

Two years ago we visited Scarisbrick Hall which houses an independent school but puts on tours of the historic house in the summer break.

 

Last year we had a splendid trip to Hadrian's Wall which proved very popular. So when I read of the winch being set up for Gaping Gill I had no hesitation in choosing it as an ideal attraction for this year's LDC walkers' summer outing.

Gaping Gill is one of the wonders of Britain but one that is not easy to see and appreciate especially from the surface where Fell Beck flows into a depression beneath the slopes of Ingleborough and disappears into a hole. Unless you knew it was there it would be easily missed. It is only from below that the awesome spectacle of Gaping Gill can be fully comprehended. The fact is Fell Beck plunges into a vast underground chamber the proportions of which - it is said - are big enough to accommodate York Minster. The base of the cave is 322ft (98m) from the surface making Fell Beck the highest free flowing waterfall in Britain.
 

As it happens I have been to Gaping Gill and not by winch but was led there in March 1983 by friends at the time who were keen cavers. We went into the system by way of Bar Pot an entrance about 350ft south of Gaping Gill close to the footpath up from Clapham. It was one of the great experiences of my life and I possess a slight feeling of superiority having achieved it in the authentic way. With a winch in operation I thought it would be an experience every Dotcom would want to share.

 

Well no! Aside from people away on actual holidays there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm amongst the others. Mike O had been caving with a school party thirty years ago and didn't want to repeat the experience. While Chris didn't want the experience at all. In the end it boiled down to a group of ten. Fortunately it included David P of the Burnley Contingent who as a young man not only went potholing but was actually got trapped in a cave and had to be rescued. Naturally in all matters of organising the trip I deferred to David.

We agreed that an early start was essential and as the website stated the winch would be open at 9.00am I set the RV time at Clapham at 8.00am which necessitated a 6.45am departure from Preston. David had offered to lead interested participants in an active exploration of the chamber which meant a kit list of headlamp, heavy-duty gloves, waterproofs, knee pads and a complete change of clothes. Reflecting on this now I can see that the early start and the rather alarming implications of the kit list may have killed off any interest amongst the waverers.

So it was after consultations, phone calls, arrangements email and all that we were all set to go. And then…the weather intervened. 

Naturally I had been monitoring the forecast and was relieved that Tuesday was set to be clear. I noted that there was rain about in the preceding days and while persistent and heavy at times did not seem to be exceptional. Until Monday afternoon I felt quite relaxed about the trip. About this time I received two reports in quick succession alerting me to news footage of flood water gushing out of White Scar Caves, Ingleton. As these were a mere 2 ½ miles from Gaping Gill I began to check out the situation. I quickly established that the winch was closed owing to the large amounts of water flowing into the main chamber. To allow the operation Fell Beck is dammed upstream from Gaping Gill and water flows into a different entrance. Clearly water had breached this dam. The question was would the winch be open the next day and if so - when?

I telephoned Ingleborough Cave just over a mile from Gaping Gill. Once I had explained my predicament I was told, "I wouldn't advise coming any distance until you confirm the winch is in operation." Bugger!
I had invested so much time into the arrangements for the outing I was reluctant to let it go so I made the decision I would ascertain as early as I could the next day if there would be descents and rearrange the RV for noon if we received the green light. More phone calls, texts and emails to members of the party.
 

On Tuesday morning I contacted Clapham Village Store at 8.00am but they had no news of the winch but when I called a second time 90 minutes later they had just heard through Twitter that the winch was due to open at ten. I phoned all parties - two cars from Preston and as it turned out two cars from Burnley.

Don and Jim B picked up Brad and me on Strand Road and after a pleasant drive in bright sunshine we arrived in Clapham at 11.30am. David and Teresa drew up alongside us as we were sorting out change for the ticket machine. The car park was worryingly close to capacity. Malcolm and Barbara arrived soon after. We were now waiting for Geoff who was bringing Maureen. He appeared at 11.55am which is good for Geoff especially after how hastily the rearranging was done.
 

The route to Gaping Gill goes up to Ingleborough Cave and then through the narrow defile of Trow Gill before reaching the broad expanse of upland moorland below Ingleborough. At the start there is a choice - to go through the wooded estate of Ingleborough Hall for which there is a small charge of 65p or to take a bridleway that skirts round the estate. David P said it would be better to pay and go by way of the nature trail except that no one had any change for the machine. I went to the house found the warden who expressed surprise at my honesty and we negotiated a fee according to the notes in my wallet.

A short while later the warden passed us in a Landover and then as we emerged from the woods we saw him again on his return journey. Indeed as we were at the gate at the upper entrance we had a brief exchange with him and understood he had been on a mission to pin up a notice. We didn't think much of it at the time but as we reached the gate just beyond Ingleborough Cave there it was:
GAPING GILL IS FULLY BOOKED FOR WINCHING TODAY
Double bugger!
We had a conference. David's suggestion was to return to Clapham and drive to Kingsdale to view Yordas Cavern. Malcolm's suggestion - to have lunch. I overruled both. I decided that since the notice had only just gone up there may be a chance to blag our way onto the queue.
Don and I pushed on and arrived at Gaping Gill at 1.15pm but of course the closure was confirmed at the control tent erected just a few yards above the winching platform. "We've come all the way from Preston!" I explained to the club member on duty. He kindly pointed out that if we were to be put on the list it would be 7.00pm before we would get down.
 

There was nothing more to be done. In succession the other Dotcoms arrived already resigned to the fact that we would not be going down Gaping Gill. It stuck in my craw that had I stuck to my original plan we would have achieved our objective. My determination to get to the cave had been used at the wrong point - when it was already too late. We decided we'd have another go next spring.

 

After lunch and the official team photo (a sort of version of Scott of the Antarctic's photo at the South Pole - heroic in failure) there was a parting of ways. The Burnley Contingent made their way back to Clapham. The rest of us walked to the top of Ingleborough - almost the inverse of our intentions - instead of going down one of Britain's deepest holes we went up one of Yorkshire's highest hills!

 

1st August Monday. A little after 11.00 Friday morning as Bryan, David, Malcolm and I were talking on the car park at Ribblehead we were approached by a young man. "Excuse me - er do you know this area?" Wondering where this was leading to we indicated that we did. "Is Ingleborough or Whernside around here?" I pointed across the road. "That's Whernside." "How long will it take to get to the top?" "About two hours." This seemed to satisfy him. He returned to his car and after a brief consultation with his girlfriend they set off in the direction of the viaduct which would put them on the path to Yorkshire's highest hill. Was there ever a mountain expedition so casually planned?

In contrast "Bryan's Three Peak Challenge" had been planned in detail. I felt obliged to prepare a route card with culminate distances and feet of ascent. Bryan is one of my contacts at Lancashire Evening Post. A few months ago he emailed me, "I know this is a bit of a long shot but I have always wanted to do the Three Peaks of Yorkshire Route but I am not confident about finding my own way. Can it be arranged for you to guide me round." As I had some unfinished business with the Three Peaks I told him yes and the date was set for last Friday.
 

The Three Peaks of Yorkshire occupy a wedge of south western part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. They are three prominent hills over 2000ft high that dominate the limestone landscape and spaced far enough apart to allow a reasonably fit walker to climb all three in one continuous walk and return to the starting point - a distance of about 24 miles. The starting point can be from any road the route crosses but by custom is regarded as Horton-in-Ribblesdale. 

Before Friday I had completed the Three Peaks Trail on five previous occasions. The first time in 1985 Eileen actually joined me for the final leg from the Hill Inn over Ingleborough to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. For my regular readers who may find this hard to believe here is the photograph of us taken at the trig point of Ingleborough.

 

Following that I walked the route in 1991 with three pupils from the school in Burnley where I taught. Then in the noughties I did three solo rounds one from Chapel-le-Dale and two from Ribblehead including a clockwise walk. Yes I suppose I did know the area.

Five years ago Andy B, Don, Jim and I decided have a go at the Three Peaks. At that time Joe son of Andy and Ann had one of his occasional days off work asked if he could join us. Although it was spring the weather was atrocious. We were in full waterproofs from the start. On the wet and windy slopes to the summit of Pen-y-ghent we could see that Joe was beginning to struggle. He managed to reach the trig point and then on the long trek to Ribblehead found the going easier. However climbing Whernside he was no longer just slowing us down he was holding us up. On the descent there was no revival this time. As we reached the start of the path up to Ingleborough we offered him a choice - either 7 miles plus 1500ft of ascent over Ingleborough or back by road - longer but without a bloody big hill. He chose the latter and since I had done the Three Peaks before I went with him to make the long walk less lonely. We reached Horton at the same time at the summiteers. This was my "unfinished business" that prompted me to agree to Bryan's request.
 

I met Bryan for the first time when he picked me up at the Brown Hare Roundabout Penwortham at 6.00am Friday. I found him to be a fit looking 47 year old with a good sense of humour and a positive outlook. We hit it off as I knew we would from the few phone conversations we had. By 7.20am we were booted up and ready to meet the challenge. I took Bryan's photo outside the Pen-y-ghent Café

 

and off we went to conquer its namesake. The forecast was good but we had low cloud obscuring one of the great views of the Dales - the majestic profile of Pen-y-ghent seen from this approach. But at that moment this was the least of my concerns. The most of my concerns were centred on my feet.

On the Tuesday before after a nine mile low level walk I had become conscious of tenderness in my left heel. In an effort to remedy this problem I inserted insole cushioning into the boots. These seemed to offer relief on a four mile test walk but because my feet were slightly raised within the boots they caused blisters. On the eve of Bryan's Three Peak Challenge I applied plasters to my blisters and hoped for the best. Now as we ascended the first peak of the day my feet were beginning to trouble me.

I had another concern. Having done six previous rounds I knew that the section down from Pen-y-ghent across the boggy peat of Horton Moor can be confusing in mist. Now in mist and in a procession with three other parties Bryan and I reached the top where I took his photo at the trig point. Here I was surprised when one of the parties - a couple in their 50s continued along the ridge instead of crossing the ladder stile on the Pennine Way. Well perhaps they were doing some other route. All the same it made me check the map. By this time I had noticed that the trail was waymarked with dedicated "3 Peaks" discs helpfully located at key points.

 

This was something new from my 2011 walk. At the base of Pen-y-ghent where the trail heads north west to cross Whitber Hill on route to Birkwith there was now a made track as opposed to a boggy gash that was once the bane of Three Peak walkers. As we emerged from the mist I knew that I could forget about any navigational concerns. On the downhill section I was less aware of my feet.

At Ribblehead I had arranged for GPS Dave to meet us providing an element of logistical support. Malcolm came up with him to accompany us for the next section of the walk.

 

By now we were enjoying hot sunshine as we three set out past Ribblehead Viaduct following the school holiday crowds to the top of Yorkshire's highest hill. Having Malcolm with us added fresh impetus to Bryan's challenge - also he distracted me from my feet which were sore again. As we attained the summit ridge the views too were distracting - one of the finest days I have ever experienced on Whernside. For Bryan all this was new so Malcolm pointed out the different features presented to us from this wonderful platform on this exceptional day. We had lunch and I took Bryan's photo by the trig point.

 

Descending Malcolm noticed that I was not walking freely. He asked me what was amiss. I explained but refused his offer of first aid. I had got this far - what difference would another 10 miles make? At Chapel-le-Dale David was waiting for us and replenished our supplies of water. He also came to an arrangement to pick up Malcolm at Gauber as he was to leave us below Simon Fell while Bryan and I completed the walk.
 

As we started on the final stage we were aware of constant helicopter activity focusing on the area just below Ingleborough's flat topped summit where loads were being carried to improve the path. Another distraction for my sore feet.

 

After crossing Humphrey Bottom we started the stiffest climb of the day which brought us up close to the area of operations. Here we said thanks and farewell to Malcolm and started the final approach to Ingleborough needing to pause as the chopper brought another load in. And then we were on the summit plateau. "The only trouble is - the trig point is on the far side," I told Bryan. Not that he cared - he was on top of the world.

 

Past experience had taught me that the stretch from the summit back to Horton is the longest 4 ½ miles of any walk anywhere. The elation of having climbed the Three Peaks soon dissolves in the weariness of a walk that seems endless. With sore feet it is endless. Head down, step by step, yard by yard and mile by mile I was conscious that our progress was slowing down and I, nominally leading, was slowing my much fitter partner down. Just as we approached Sulber Nick we were caught in a heavy shower that forced us to don waterproofs. It made no difference to my discomfort.
 

And then it was done. We were back at the car. The relief of not walking after 11 hours on the move overrode the pain. The damage to my feet was as I expected when I took off my boots and socks - a whacking blister on the heel of each foot . I was surprised it was not worse. I only had myself to blame. I had decided to walk when not fully fit; the remedies I applied were counter-productive; I had turned down Malcolm's kind offer of first aid; I had failed to take advantage of David's logistical support. That places in me in the same novice category as the two young people who so blithely set out from Ribblehead to climb Whernside. Against this though is the satisfaction of clearing up my "unfinished business" and helping Bryan of fulfilling a long held and most worthy ambition.

Three Peak Walk in LEP 

 

15th July Friday St Swithins Day! It is billed as "the Burnley Contingent vs the Rest of the World" and is the Lancashire Dotcom Walkers annual bowls contest. 

We started it in 2013 at the Plough at Grimsargh which has a green and some bowls an important consideration as most of us do not possess woods. Out of 30 Dotcom Walkers only two are club players. I asked my former colleague Nigel to referee knowing that as a retired PE teacher he would quickly sort out the teams. The day was a success and so became established in the calendar.
 

The next two years we used the facilities at Bretherton because one of our number, Margaret, was closely connected with the club there. The green was much better that the Plough's - not that made any difference to most of us and it had the added appeal of being close to the Blue Anchor and its celebrated hot buffet.

In terms of results though the Burnley Contingent lost all three matches. Its members began to moan vociferously that the Rest of the World was enjoying home advantage. With this in mind it was decided to have this year's contest at Sabden Crown Green Bowling Club.
 

We happened on the club during a walk last summer. After starting our walk at Spring Wood Picnic site Whalley we arrived in Sabden about noon on a lovely sunny day. As we entered the village we noticed there was a groundsman cutting the hedges inside the grounds of the bowling club. We also noticed about the green a number of benches. "Can we use the benches for our picnic?" I asked the groundsman. "I don't see why not."

 

Not long after we had ranged ourselves in twos and threes around the green a lady member came by and offered to open the pavilion to allow us to use the toilets - always a boon, especially for the ladies. Jim S made inquiries as to whether we could use the green for our annual contest. We could and that is why we returned on Tuesday.

Once again we enjoyed excessively warm hospitality by John the club secretary and other club members. Soon Nigel was sorting out the teams and play got under way. With 27 Dotcoms out, Elaine not playing, Nigel refereeing and me happy snapping (I really am a rubbish bowls player) there were two teams of 12 broadly East incorporating the Burnley Contingent versus West. At 11.00am the first ends commenced.
 

It is not about the bowls of course but as an activity we can share there is little to detract from it. Firstly it is an easy game to play and understand so that even the most inexperienced can quickly get to grips with it. Secondly as Nigel arranges it with half our number playing at a time it allows the other half precious time to properly catch up with one another. Finally because we have been blessed with good weather and have enjoyed lovely setting it is well - fun.

On Tuesday part way through the second half matches a chap came up to the pavilion. "What is going on?" he asked. Evidently a club member who hadn't been informed of our booking. After I explained he introduced himself as Alan. "I'm the founder," he told me proudly pointing to his photograph in the gallery of portraits on the club house wall.
In the 1980s the land now occupied by the Crown Green Bowling Club had fallen into disuse. It was Alan who owned the village shop who had the idea to transform this waste ground into a bowling green. This entailed considerable community effort and fund-raising. If the rest is history then that history was around us - the stylish pavilion, the manicured green cut that morning especially for us and the benches that first drew us here. Funny what an idea can do!
 

The community spirit that Alan summoned to create this superb amenity may need to be called upon again. Like many villages in Lancashire's countryside Sabden finds itself in the shadow of local government cut backs. The library is due to close and the bus service is soon to be withdrawn. If it is the future of Sabden may not be a happy one. These sad thoughts in contrast to the enjoyable morning we had in the village. Needless to state that the Burnley Contingent lost yet again!

 

 27th June Monday. On a sunny day in August 1968 Malcolm, Angela and I were on our way to the ferry point for Venice.

 

We were driving in Angela's Hillman Minx and had been camping on the Lido di Jesolo as part of a grand post A level European tour. Studying the road atlas I spotted what looked like a short cut. Malcolm who drove for the entire 2,000 mile plus trip agreed we should try it. The lane soon reduced to a track on a raised embankment between two lagoons. Ahead we could see the main road we were aiming for but it wasn't clear that we could join it. I went to investigate to find the exit had been bollarded off. There was nothing for it but to reverse along the narrow track. I signalled as much to Malcolm.

 

The next moment the car was teetering on the edge of the embankment precariously perched and in immediate danger of sliding down into the lagoon. I ran to assist Malcolm and Angela out of the driver's side. "What are we going to do?" said Malcolm shaken that his reversing had caused the predicament. I must admit at that point while sharing Malcolm's anxiety I had a strong feeling of morbid curiosity about the situation. What if Angela's car slid down the slope and into the brackish waters of an Italian lagoon? How would we get home? What was going to happen next?
 

What happened next was quite remarkable. Within a very short time a quartet of four young Italian men appeared on the scene and were soon after joined by a German tourist and his son. Though there was no common language between us a plan was formulated. Enlisting the assistance of a pair of wizened fishermen working nearby who produced a stout pole the young Italians organised us all to push or pull the car back on track. With a lot of heaving this was quickly accomplished. Then one of them hopped into the driver's seat and reversed the car back to a turning point and handed the keys back to Malcolm. Through this act of ground level European cooperation Malcolm, Angela and I were able to have our day in Venice and more importantly get home.

I was reminded of the story when Malcolm got in touch at Christmas after a period of 48 years. The trip ended when we returned to London at the start of September and I opened the brown envelope with my abysmal A level results - one pass an E in British Constitution. Over the following months I lost contact with Malcolm and Angela. This was not due to any falling out - just our lives taking us in different directions. In March this year I arranged to meet Malcolm in Shrewsbury a half way point between his home near Llanelli and mine in Preston so we could catch up properly. The day went well. At the end of it before I took an afternoon train back to Crewe I invited him to join me, Andy, Don, Jim B, Jim S and Malcolm M for a few outings during our stay on the Gower. And that is how it turned out.
 

Usually our group once dubbed by Alison as "The Usual Suspects" organises an annual long distance trail. Last year it was Malcolm M's coast to coast effort with Andy going the whole distance while Don, Jim S and I offered moral support at different stages. However for quite some time Don and Jim S have requested we should try the Gower Peninsular - they had read good reports about it. As it seemed to be their turn to nominate a destination the rest of us agreed that we should go this year.

With the help of Maggie Don found us an excellent cottage in Port Eynon opposite the Ship Inn the village's only pub. It proved to be an excellent base to explore the attractive limestone scenery of the Peninsular with bus links to other parts of area. Although the weather wasn't consistently good we managed to walk every day. We had a great week with lots of highlights.
 

Welsh Malcolm joined us on the Sunday and enjoyed our company on a damp expedition to Oxwich Bay. The next time he joined us occurred when we came off the Peninsular to have a mountain day in the Brecon Beacons National Park. After linking up with him in Llandielo we went onto a remote road end beyond Llandeusant from where we scaled the Escarpments of the Carmarthen Fan. It was one of the most exhilarating walks I have had for a long time.

 

As we returned to Llandielo we were reminded it was Referendum Day as brightly tee shirted young people were drumming up support for Remain. Much good it did in Wales! On Friday morning we woke up to the result that the UK after 40years of EU membership had voted to leave. We were a house divided - the two Jims enjoyed a fleeting feeling of elation. Malcolm M, Andy and I were plunged into deep gloom. (Don made no comment). This is how Welsh Malcolm found us when he came to join us for the last walk of our trip - following the Coastal Way to Rhossili.
 

It was a bright sunny morning and the good weather stayed with us all day. Knowing we had until 4.50pm before catching the bus back to Port Eynon we were not hurried and so had the luxury of time to look at wild flowers, to explore the nooks and crannies of coastal limestone landscape and to relax.

 

In our relations there was a polite formality between the Remains and Leavers with Welsh Malcolm adopting a conciliatory stance of being a reluctant Remain. But there was the elephant in the room and if was difficult to find neutral subjects to talk about when the UK had just voted for a divorce from the EU.

In the early afternoon we descended to Mewslade Bay just as the tide was going out.

 

Since our arrival this had been pointed out to us as a worthwhile place to visit and Welsh Malcolm knew of its reputation. Here sea action on limestone had had dramatic effects on the scenery sculpting fantastic forms by the shoreline.

 

Across from Mewslade we could see the headland above its neighbouring beach of Fall Bay. That was our aiming point. In between a promontory of rock probably formed by a disintegrated cliff blocked our way. Welsh Malcolm and Andy chose to edge round on the seaward side of this while the rest of us chose to scramble over it. Don and Jim S improvised a route that involved tricky pitches above deep clefts in the rock which Malcolm M, Jim B and I followed.

 

For 20 minutes or so I forgot myself, forgot about the Referendum result, and forgot about everything except to cross the barrier. The exhilaration of reach Fall Bay and the satisfaction of completing the traverse without having to retreat had brought us all together again. It was a great way to complete the holiday.

Thinking about the incident I shared with Welsh Malcolm and Angela in 1968 I feel the Referendum result has pushed us into the brackish lagoon with difficult and expensive consequences. It will need the goodwill of our European neighbours to help us escape the mire - goodwill that is probably in short supply. It will need goodwill between the stayers and the leavers - we'll have to find a way to make things work. And there is one final lesson in all this - that the limestone we scrambled over as much as it is eroded by rain, wind and the sea will still be there long after the UK, the EU and humanity itself has ceased to exist.

4th June Saturday. Yesterday I made a phone call I had never hoped to make. It looked like we were going to need assistance from Mountain Rescue.

We were on the South Traverse below Great Gable. Trying to find a way across Little Hell Gate a well named scree slope one of our party, Frank, had arrived at a point he couldn't go further on the unstable ground and he lost the confidence to scramble back. Moments before he had dislodged some rock which following the laws of gravity had relocated several hundred feet below. Now lying face down Frank clung to his perilous perch watched by Andy B who had followed him up the side of the scree to the point he had ventured onto it, by Helen on the footpath some 60ft below and by me on the opposite side of the scree from Helen.
When Andy realised Frank was in trouble he thought we might be able to hail some climbers we had seen earlier. Thinking they might be unable to respond I decided this was my cue to contact the emergency services.

The day had started off so well. Don had driven Malcolm, Jim, Helen and me to Seathwaite which claims to be the wettest place in England. The weather was at odds with this claim - we enjoyed wall to wall sunshine the whole day. At Seathwaite we linked up with Andy B and his friend Frank. Frank knows Andy through playing together in a swing band. It was the first time he had been out for a walk with us.

With Andy B about three quarters of the way through his bagging Wainwrights project this expedition was intended to knock off four more - Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable and Brown Base. While the distance involved wasn't great - perhaps 8 or 9 miles but almost 4,000ft of ascent there was no doubt that this was to be a serious endeavour. From first to last the walk proved to be arduous.
 

Malcolm who grew up near Workington and so knows these western fells well was in charge of the route and for starters he led us up by Taylorgill Force on a path that was - well…interesting.

 

It involved quite a degree of scrambling in some sections. After which the route levelled out as we attained the broad valley above the waterfall.

At lovely Styhead Tarn we took an early lunch knowing the next section of the walk taking us below Great Gable on the south traverse wasn't going to be easy. Once we set out on it keeping to what path there was awkward.

 

It had a habit of disappearing or taking you away from the main line on promising worn trods that led to dead ends. It was absorbing but weary work especially in the hot sun.

At length we came below Napes Needle. Here Malcolm announced his intention to "thread the Needle" on a side path that would take him between the famous pinnacle and the bulk of Great Gable. Don and Jim elected to join him. They set out on their own adventure. Helen, Andy, Frank and I continued on the south traverse to rendezvous with ours. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the screes of Little Hell Gate.
 

I was the last to arrive at this feature and was a little perplexed to see Andy and Frank climbing to my right along the edge of the scree slope when I could discern a way directly across it. Helen decided not to cross until she was satisfied Frank and Andy had reached the other side in case they dislodged rocks etc. As Frank reached the point he felt he could go no further I took advantage of the pause to cross - a distance of perhaps 70 or 80 metres. So now our quartet were neatly triangulated - Frank with Andy 60 feet or so above us in the centre of the slope were the apex while Helen and I formed the base on either side of the slope.

As Frank made an attempt to move on he lost footing, turned onto his front, slid a few feet and dislodged a wheelbarrow's worth of scree down the incline. Face down he become completely immobile fearing any movement might herald a long, painful possibly fatal slide to the bottom. Andy exposed retreated to the stable ground at the edge.

This separateness contributed to the problem. Having crossed the slope once I wasn't prepared to return. Frank's predicament demonstrated unpleasant possibilities - it looked a long way down. Also we had little idea how long it would take the others to thread the needle - it seemed at that point in order to get Frank off we would need outside help which was why I phoned Cumbria police. The operator took the details and told me they would be passed on to Mountain Rescue. 

While I was waiting for Mountain Rescue to call me back Malcolm, Don and Jim re-joined us. Andy gave them a report. Don and Jim crossed the gully on the route I took. Don then scaled the side almost in line with Frank and then with sure footed care picked his way to join him.

Meanwhile Mike Owen of the Mountain Rescue had called me. I explained what had happened. "It will take an hour for the team to reach you. Is there any hope that the situation might resolve itself?"
Since by this time Don had helped Frank take off his backpack and encouraging him to turn around I thought there might be. "I'll phone you back in ten minutes," I said.
And indeed this was the happy outcome of the incident. Don assisted by Jim was able to guide Frank onto my side of the slope. A short while later we were friends re-united with Frank no worse for his ordeal than dusty clothes. He apologised for holding us up. I phoned Mike back to say we were all safe.
 

Not long after Malcolm led us onto Beck Head where we held a conference. It was decided that Kirk Fell and Great Gable would be left for another day. While the drama had subsided the demands of the route back to Seathwaite had not. It was a slog up - well a scree like path to Windy Gap while the final descent from Base Brown was precipitous to say the least.

It had been a memorable outing not solely because of the incident on Little Hell Gate screes. At the same time Frank found himself beached on the 570m contour there had been situations in threading the Needle in which Don again showed great presence of mind in extricating his companions. To my mind and to Frank's mind his practical approach to the crisis and with more than a dash of courage helped break the impasse.
All this and he drove us all the way to Seathwaite and all the way back. A bit of a hero I would say.

Saturday 21st May. Last Sunday the Norwest Fellwalking Club went to Glenridding. On the coach Andy and I considered options. "How about the classic round?" I suggested. He knew what I meant - Striding Edge - Helvellyn - Swirral Edge. While he pondered David G from across the aisle asked "Where are you going guys?" David is a returning member. He had joined the Norwest as a youth but university and career took him away from Lancashire and only re-joined last year along with his partner Visi. In fact he was somewhat surprised that the Norwest was still going and it had the same secretary as when he left 35 years ago!

I told David of my plan. "I was thinking of coming down by the Tongue on Dollywaggon Pike," he responded. I fed this back to Andy. He studied the map. "How about…going up by the Tongue?" Until the moment before I had never hear of the Tongue on Dollywaggon Pike though not surprised it had one and now my whole day was to be mapped out by this geographical feature. David seemed doubtful at this but he consented as the junior member of the group.

So it was that David, Visi, Andy and I stepped off the coach at Patterdale. It was a beautiful spring morning. As we climbed the rise that took us into Grisedale we were presented with 50 shades of green with a soundtrack of lambs bleating. We made good progress through the valley so that a mere 70 minutes from Patterdale church which was striking eleven as we passed it we reached Ruthwaite Climbing Hut. This marked the end of the known world for me. The next part of the walk would take me where I had never trod before.

 

Sensibly we had a snack knowing we were in for a test. "We are about to climb 400 metres in less than a mile," I told my companions after looking at the map. Of course the way we chose is not unknown territory - Wainwright in his guide to the Eastern Fells had described it as we had read in our treasurer's battered copy on the coach but the fact remains that out of all the people who climb Helvellyn from Patterdale or Glenridding 90% of them go by way of Striding Edge. Rightly so since it is one of the great walks of the British Isles. Having one seen an image of the dramatic arête what full blooded walker could resist it? At the same time I understood Andy's hesitation at the start of the day. Striding Edge would be a procession. David's suggestion had saved us from that. We had the cove below Dollywaggon Pike to ourselves.

 

There were times on that struggle up when I questioned our decision, questioned our map reading, questioned my pastime - why I could have been shopping in IKEA! But these were passing doubts quickly dispelled by the views we were rewarded with looking back down Grisedale.

 

Andy is one of the best navigators I know and he led us onto the Tongue from whence it was a straightforward climb to the summit.

It had taken almost as long to climb from Ruthwaite to the ridge as it had to reach Ruthwaite from Patterdale. And there was a strong sense I think in all of us that the main business of the day was over. Compared to the approach we chose the rest was …well easy. After a second lunch we continued north along the ridge taking in Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn and Whiteside before turning east and descending to Glenridding.

 

It had been a splendid day.

As I reflect on this now I realise the walk was about as much as whom I shared it with as the way we went. The discussion at the start of the day ended up with a contract - pretty much cast iron - this is what we're going to do and we are going to be together, walk together, eat and drink together until what we agreed to do is done. That is a powerful notion. The social contract is rooted in us as a species - the things we do together give us extra protection against the darkness beyond the camp fire. For many it is expressed not much further than a shopping trip or a dinner party but when I scaled Dollywaggon by a little used route, or when I did a Via Ferrata with Sheila, Brenda, Graham and a bunch of young people, or when Andy, Malcolm, Don and I did the Offa's Dyke Path I feel connected not just to the landscape but also to the rest of humanity.

 

21st April Thursday. The Queen's 90th Birthday. I wish I could write that we had the Lancashire Walks badge made to commemorate the Queen's Birthday but that would not be true. The fact is that for a long while - almost since the website was created in October 2007 I have wanted a suitable badge for our walking group - the Dotcom Walkers.

The breakthrough came last year when I dropped by at Jim's and he showed me samples of Susan's needlecraft. "What do you think?" he asked as he pointed to a row of colourful round felt patches. "I want one!" I said.
 

Of course like all the Dotcoms Susan is happily retired and has the widespread affliction of "I-DON'T-KNOW-WHEN-I-HAD-TIME-TO-WORK" syndrome to there the matter rested until the start of this year. "What do you think?" she asked as she showed me the design she had created in felt. "Yes that's what I want!"

 

Well more or less - "less" the snow-capped peaks of which Lancashire has none and the "more" was to be the backdrop of Pendle Hill in front of the central motif of walking poles and boots with the red rose of Lancashire.

From this point matters moved rapidly. Susan trawled the internet for a suitable manufacturer of her design. Following up a telephone inquiry she was directed to Jacquard Weaving Company in Withnell.

 

After making an appointment for her and Jim she invited me to accompany them. I was rather intrigued that Lancashire once the greatest producer of cotton textiles in the world still had a weaving manufacturer left.

Once we located the place we waited in the reception area which had on display a Jacquard weaving loom.

 

Joseph Marie Charles Jacquard (1752 - 1834) helped develop a process using punched cards that could program looms to create an infinite range of patterns and designs. Not only did this process revolutionise the manufacture of textiles but it was an important stage in the early development of computers. The Jacquard Weaving Company started with the type of loom we saw in the reception area. Now the process of weaving is fully automated using computers - so in a sense it has come full circle.

Gail came out to see us so Susan explained the commission. It seemed most things were possible - as well as the "can-do" attitude Gail exhibited the Jacquard process lends itself to bespoke work with short runs favouring small organisations. Gail told us that the website's name could be put on the badge even though it would entail small lettering while Debbie the company's young designer could replaced the snow capped mountains with Pendle Hill. Gail sensed that Susan's interest extended beyond just placing an order. Would you like to look around?" she asked. "YES PLEASE!"
 

We were led into a large workshop - a cross between and open plan office and art studio with various projects in different stages of production - embroidered ties, club badges, school insignia and emblems for a range of end users which were ranged around the room.

From here Gail ushered us into the production area where four and what seemed to me to be large looms - consoled and with yarn stretching up ceilingwards creating the warp while the automated shuttle or its hi tech equivalent clattered away at high speed and with a great amount of noise creating the finished fabric.

 

For the short time we were in the room the excessive noise was not a problem but I was reminded that cotton mill workers in general and weavers in particular would know how to lip read and in the days before work place protections often suffered deafness.

Our tour ended in the packaging area where the completed orders were made ready for dispatch. We were all impressed that this small company was able to occupy its specialist niche in the unforgiving global market.
 

A few weeks later the order was completed and in the middle of last month I was able to distribute the magnificent badges to the Dotcom Walkers.

 

No knowing or even researching the price of a badge I asked for £5.00 an outrageous mark-up but with the understanding the surplus would go to St Catherine's Hospice Care a charity which Susan and Jim have supported a number of years.

The result was because of their unquestioning and generous support we raised £150 which Susan, Jim and I presented to Nicola of the Hospice this past Monday. We invited Gail to take part in the ceremony representing Jacquard Weaving Company Ltd because this great Lancashire enterprise helped us to fulfill a long held dream. So thank you to Gail and her team and thank you to Susan.

 

Readers who would like a badge can contact me through this e mail: r.clare1@btinternet.com

 

27th March Easter Sunday. Yesterday Eileen and I decided to have a trip to Manchester - a place we go to perhaps two or three times a year. It is a mutually satisfactory arrangement - Eileen goes for a walkabout in the shops while I usually organise an urban walk for myself.

I left the train at Oxford Road at first thinking to wander down to the museum but finding myself attracted to the imposing 19th century palaces to commerce on Whitworth Street. Here I came across homeless people. They were lying under their coats in an unused entrance that provided them a platform slightly above street level - a man-made cave in fact - out of the wind and dry.

 

A short while later I improvised a route from the Town Hall

 

to Deansgate which took me past the Church of the Hidden Gem, the city centre's only Catholic church. I saw more evidence of homelessness in a passageway where a cluster of tents had been stationed as if a particle of Glastonbury had come to the North. Around the corner another encampment of perhaps half a dozen tents were parked in another walkway. There was no indication whether there were people in them. I assumed the occupants were out in the city trying to obtain the resources needed to maintain this way of life.

At that moment a traffic warden wove his way between the tents from the street on the far side from where I stood. He was West Indian by background. He seemed to share my bewilderment at this sight. "Who are they? Where are they from?" I asked. "mainly young people who can't get a job." He continued with a tone of resignation, "This is not the country I came to." Then, "Money, money, money - that's all everyone cares about these days." He voiced my own thoughts.

20th February Saturday. Back in autumn Sarah of St Catherine's Hospice Care contacted me and requested a meeting.

 

One of her colleagues had spotted a notice of Ribble Valley Inns promoting its walks programme where customers sign up for a two hour walk followed by lunch at one of their five pubs. St Catherine's was interested in a similar arrangement for the Mill its restaurant.

At the meeting I said I was willing to explore the idea but the RVI model could not be applied. The inns are all located in quiet rural spots with plenty of footpaths giving access to the lovely countryside; St Catherine's is next to Lostock Lane on the approach to the roundabout at the end of the M65 and probably one of most heaviest used roads in the north west of England. There is decent walking nearby in Cuerden Valley Park but in all likelihood you'd be killed trying to reach it from St Catherine's.
 

To overcome this obstacle transport had to be used - either the customers could me at Cuerden Valley Park and return for their tea at the Mill after a walk or better still be taken there by bus or coach. It was at this point in our meeting I put Ribble Vehicle Preservation Trust on the table.

Last January when I was in Boots trying to order photos from our Australian trip I found myself drawn to the screen next to me. The chap next to me was processing his photographs which were of vintage coaches and buses. "That looks interesting," I said. Quite quickly we were in conversation and soon found out that Bob was a member of the Ribble Vehicle Preservation Trust a group of enthusiasts who are dedicated in rescuing and restoring public transport vehicles - but particularly those used by Ribble Motor Services which was once had one of the largest fleets in the country.

 

He told me that their workshop was close to Freckleton and that their main day was Tuesday - PING! The Dotcom walking day. I wondered whether I could arrange a visit. Bob didn't think it would be a problem and told me how to get in touch with the Trust's chairman, Ray.

A few weeks later a hoard of Dotcoms arrived at the workshops on a bright sunny morning in March. I was a little uncertain how the Dotcoms would respond to looking around the place especially since I hadn't prepared them. The routine work of restoration may be absorbing for those involved but it isn't exactly cinematic. The visit turned out to be very successful - especially since just about every Dotcom walker is of an age to remember the vehicles when they were in service.

 

The Old Bill actually worked as a bus conductor and driver on the buses in late 1940s!

 

So when I was pondering over the question of transporting customers from the Mill to Cuerden Valley Park I thought of RVPT. Before my meeting with Sarah I had discussed the feasibility of such an arrangement with Ray. His response was encouraging.
 

Initially there was a date in November that looked promising but the RVPT did not have a suitable vehicle available. Meanwhile the Mill was keen to get the project off the ground so in January we set up a walk from the Park's main offices at the Barn. 15 hardy souls elected to join Jim S, Chris Mc and me on an afternoon when the forecast was for "rain later".

 

Boy did we have rain later. I led the party on a circuitous route saying stuff like, "If we had a clear day we could see across to Blackpool Tower from this viewpoint". At Town Brow car park the customers had had enough. "Can't we go back now?" asked one of the group plaintively. Spirits revived back at the Mill where Nicola and her team prepared a delicious afternoon tea.

On Thursday when we had arranged to walk again I was pleased to see Lesley a survivor from the January walk had enrolled again - a clear case of hope over experience. But there were two big differences with the Thursday walk. First the weather was forecast to be mainly sunny and second the Ribble Vehicle Preservation Trust were able to provide a bus - a 1950s Leyland Tiger Cub proudly painted in the livery of Ribble Motor Services.

 

On board were driver John (a retired bank manager), C Bob, (my friend from Boots) Chris another Trust member and Ray who as chair of the Trust I had had many phone conversations but had never met to that point. Also two Dotcom walkers - Paul and Jim B there because they lived near Freckleton I asked them to join the bus at the workshop and act as liaison - a good link between the bus and the walking group.

The 21 paying guests were most appreciative of the provision of this service. At 1.45pm Jim and I led them from the Mill to the lay by where the bus was waiting. After Sarah had taken a few photos a number of which can be seen in the LEP today we set off.
I arranged to be dropped off at Lisieux Hall home of Brothers of Charity Services Lancashire - sounds familiar - then you'll recall I have told you previously in this blog that I volunteer there. As a volunteer I knew something of the history of the site so our walk started with a brief stroll through the grounds. I pointed out the lovely view across to Winter Hill - one of my favourites - the modern masts, the wild moors and the ribbon development below dominated by the tower of St John the Evangelist adding the quality of timelessness to the scene.
 

From there we processed to Lower Cam Mill car park and into Cuerden Valley Park proper. As we reached the cycle route we had the Dotcom Walkers Photocall ™ which I include as an icebreaker. It consists of photograph people in groups of different categories - people who are left handed, people who went to the 2012 Olympics and so on. Once they got the idea people were game. Here's the group who have met members of the Royal Family.

That done we walked onto Town Brow where Jim B and Paul were waiting to assist with the road crossing. As we entered the main part of the park I contacted the team at the bus giving them an ETA of 3.40-3.45pm at Berkeley Drive. And so it turned out. From there we were quickly conveyed back to the Mill where another delicious high tea was waiting.
 

A great day out which arose from serendipity - a chance meeting in Boots, Nicola at the Mill wanting a means to bring in more customers in the afternoon, Sarah contacting me, me contacting Ray and Lesley and 20 others deciding it might be fun. Our thanks to Ray and his team at Ribble Vehicle Preservation Trust for making it possible.

Wednesday 27th January. Yesterday I set a new precedent and one that I do not welcome. Having looked at the forecast, consulted with David and looked out the window I cancelled the planned outing to Chipping. The walk was already one that had been rearranged since according to the programme we should have been going to Goosnargh but Andy and Ann down to lead that walk advised that the fields were still waterlogged from Christmas.


Having come to the decision to cancel the message had to be cascaded to the Dotcoms and quickly since the time was fast approaching the point when people would be setting off. We managed to get through to everyone by 9.00 - a result albeit a negative one.

This weather has had a disruptive effect on our activities. In November we curtailed a walk on Beacon Fell, in December the Fellwalking Club retreated from the Lakes unable to get through following Storm Desmond, also in December both the annual trip to TOP and the Northcote Boxing Day walks were cancelled. It looks certain that we will cancel the planned walk on Friday to Clapham because of gale force winds and heavy showers. It is all very depressing.

Still the break in normal routine allowed me to carry out an important errand - to go to the offices of Lancashire Evening Post and say farewell to Chris the illustrator who has provided maps for the website. More precisely he provides maps for the Johnston Press group and as part of our arrangements with the newspapers we have permission to use his maps.

It is an arrangement that goes back to the earliest days of the website when in November 2008 Craig Fleming the Assistant Editor of the Blackpool Gazette asked us to supply walks for its Saturday Leisure pages. So for seven years I have had a working relationship with Chris albeit one maintained through the medium of e mails.

 


Back in October Chris disclosed that he was to be made redundant along with the entire creative team at the Post - the date set for the end of January. Hence my errand to take him some tipple and a thank you card.

Chris has produced over 350 maps for us. This was his first

 

and this is the last which will appear on Saturday.

 

I am sorry he has to leave but was relieved to discover that he has a new post to go to. I hope the rest of the team have been as fortunate. His departure is a sign of the times - local and regional newspapers are facing extreme pressures which threaten their survival. The industry like the weather is going through rough times.


We would like to thank Chris for the work he has done for us. His maps have helped make the website. We wish him every success in his new job.

 

17th January 2016 Sunday. Happy New Year! Winter has arrived. Proper winter with frosty mornings, snow and ice. Happily the cold snap coincided with an outing to Dunsop Bridge. Malcolm, Don, Nigel, Musmoo and I set off on Friday morning from the Centre of Great Britain car park next to the Centre of Great Britain BT telephone box in bright sunshine and blue skies on a morning where the cold gives extra definition to every branch and twig. 

Musmoo is the latest member of our group. Last year she joined the Norwest Fellwalking Club which was where she found out about the Lancashire Dotcom Walking group. So she started coming out with us on Tuesdays. She then picked up that the Usual Suspects go out too. At one time it was every other week but now it is true to state that it is an occasional walking group. Friday was her first walk with us.
"I hope I won't hold you up," she confided as the arrangements were being made. This of course is the greatest fear by all new members to any walking group. I'm not sure why Musmoo raised the matter - she is a very experienced walker. On the drive across to Dunsop Bridge she and Malcolm exchanged notes on their experiences of climbing Kilimanjaro!
 

It was good to be out after the wet couple of months we've had from the back end of last year.

 

Constant rain is confining. Our route took us along the southern edge of Beatrix Fell to Back Lane near Slaidburn. "Does this look familiar?" I asked Malcolm reminding him of our navigational blunder of last April (see below) when we added three miles on our walk from Slaidburn to Wray walking pretty much the length of Back Lane twice.

Lunch was taken at a convenient bench on the drive up to Burnside Cottage. Behind us the high fells and before us the lovely Hodder Valley reputed to be the Queen's favourite part of her realm. Nigel chose to stand because of his back, Don sat on the wall while Malcolm, Musmoo and I shared the bench. I would not have swapped that spot for the best restaurant in the country.
 

In every way the afternoon stood in sharp contrast to the morning. We climbed the bridleway from the settled valley to the wild moors and as we did so a front moved in bringing with it a prolonged spell of hail and snow. As with reached the broad peaty plateau it was difficult to keep to the track as it became obscured by the white stuff. The ingredient of challenge had been mixed into the day.

 

Over the next hour as we made a traverse of Dunsop Head to the remote farmstead of Whitendale we were reminded of that the elements need to be respected. Yes the route was straightforward; yes we were well equipped and prepared; yes we were all experienced walkers BUT… it wouldn't have been good to have become lost up there. I must admit to a sense of relief as we descended to Whitendale.


From Whitendale it was a three mile walk along a service road to Dunsop Bridge. I could put away the map. As we neared the village we came across a shooting party. They had spent the afternoon bagging pheasants in the woods either side of the River Dunsop.

 

Our brief encounters with various members of the party was marked by a spirit of friendliness. They were doing their thing and enjoying it but could appreciate we were doing our thing and enjoying it. Blood sports is not my bag and even if I had the skills to shoot I am not sure if I could derive much pleasure from killing a bird or animal for sport but on my list of things to put right in the world it is very low down. So it was with no irony I asked one member of the party if he had had a good day. "Yes and you?" "Oh yes we've had a great day."

 

 

Monday 28th December. Earlier this year our friends at Ribble Valley Inns contacted me to ask if I could update their "GoWalking" booklet which was published two years ago. A new inn had been added to the group's existing four so we recced two routes from and near the Nag's Head at Haughton in Cheshire. RVI are part of Northcote Group based at Northcote Manor,

 

Nigel Haworth's prestigious hotel at Langho and as we set about our commission we received a new one - to submit eight walks that would encourage guests staying at the hotel to explore the nearby countryside. Since this is what we are all about it was a straightforward matter so that in a relatively short time RVI had a revised walks booklet

 

and Northcote Manor had published its own attractive booklet of Lancashire walks.

 

 


The next stage was to extend the idea of self-guided walks to a programme of guided walks from each of the inns. With GPS Dave leading we developed a series of walks from four of the five inns from late summer to mid October. These were well received and popular with the customers. For Northcote Manor David had worked out a similar programme for the guests staying  there over Christmas as part of a package. At least that was the plan.

After one of the most beautiful autumn I can ever recall the weather since mid-November has erratic. Mostly freakishly mild but with a great amount of rain. The week before Christmas John and I were on top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh without gloves - Scotland! December! No gloves!  

 

On returning there was so much rain at the weekend that I felt it best to cancel the Dotcom traditional end of year  outing to TOP. Yellow warnings had been issued and it was forecast to rain heavily all day. 

 

And then came storm Eva which hit Britain on Christmas Day. The front moved in dumping record levels of rain on already sodden ground. I should be more precise - Storm Eva hit Lancashire before sedately moving on to cause further havoc in Yorkshire. On Boxing Day morning there were seven severe warnings of flooding for Lancashire alone including one for Ribchester and one for Whalley. Whalley is 1½ miles from Northcote and Ribchester is 3 miles from Northcote. David contacted the manager at the hotel to advise him that the walk was off. I doubt if he was surprised. 

The flood alerts of the past few days have read like the contents page of "100 Walks in Lancashire"! Croston, St Michaels, Burnley, Padiham, Ribchester and Whalley. In Yorkshire both Leeds and York have been inundated. Once again we are left to ponder if this is a sign of the effects of Global Warming - and if this is it now what will it be like in 50 years? It is heartening that a Global treaty was thrashed out in Paris just before Christmas to limit the level of CO emissions people produce but it is hard not to be pessimistic when you learn that more energy is used to light Christmas lights in the USA than is used in countries such as El Salvador or Ethiopia for a year! We need to think more.
 

Against all this doom and gloom Eileen and I had the happiest of Christmas surprises when our Katherine's young man, David, proposed to her on Christmas Eve. Katherine and her brother John claim to be the first Lancashire Dotcom Walkers since they accompanied me on many a walk in Lancashire and beyond when they were children. Eileen and I are delighted Katherine's engagement. 

 

Sunday 6th December. Storm Desmond came through yesterday and dumped record amounts of rain on Cumbria. The Norwest Fellwalking Club's destination for today's outing was…Cumbria.
 

Not knowing what to expect we headed north out of Preston a little before nine o'clock this morning. After yesterday's deluge numbers were down on the coach with a few members showing that discretion is the better part of valour. 

As we reached Junction 36 of the M6 the sun made an appearance and we seemed to be promised a bright fresh day. On the way up we had crossed the Lune which was high, and noticed flooded fields on the Lancashire/Cumbria border but we did not read too much into these portents. 
 

At the A6 junction where the A590 turns to Barrow there was a tail back of traffic - the way through to Newby Bridge and beyond was blocked. It was not long after on the approaches to Kendal that we ran into slow moving traffic. A large pool covered the highway. It could be negotiated just by vehicles and presented no difficulty for the higher wheel base of our coach.

 

The next pool across the carriageway close to the services was a different matter.

 

Cars had no chance of crossing the lake. An HGV chanced it to the clear road on the other side but Andy our driver decided not to risk further unknown hazards on the way ahead. So we did something unprecedented in the club's 61 year history - we abandoned the outing.

But not immediately though. On our retreat we came off at Junction 35 to see if we could make it to Carnforth - no go. We next speculated about a visit to Morecambe via Lancaster - no go. We headed towards Kirkby Lonsdale and got no further than Melling. It was now approaching 11.30 so Andy found himself timed out on his tachograph so was obliged to take a break. Fortunately  this was at Bull Beck picnic site. A number of us tucked into an early lunch

 

while a small party decided to stretch their legs and walk to Caton. Across to our right the flood plain of the Lune was well and truly flooded.

 

A little before mid-day Andy started up the engine and after picking up the walkers in Caton we made our way back to Preston - oddly unfamiliar because this time of year we only see it in the dark when we return from an outing.

When something unprecedented occurs you have to search for how you feel and think about it. Today my main emotion was one of bemusement along with a strong sense of dislocation. The normal activity had been irreparably jarred so you struggle to adapt to the new situation. Then this is followed by the realisation that this reaction to being slightly put out it is nothing to compare with the impact of having your home or business flooded. As I write this thousands of people are in temporary accommodation and are facing an uncertain future; tens of thousands are without electricity - how about that for dislocation!

 

Think about Storm Desmond in my warm, dry and well-lit lounge I wonder what it might signify. Is this just a freakish one off event which followed the wettest November on record and so it was hard luck that all the expensive flood defences constructed since the last record storms were not up to the task? Or is it a signal that runaway climate change is here? And hey if this is down to Storm Desmond where will be with all this when Storm Zach comes along? 
 

 

Sunday 15th November: You'd have to say Gilbert was unlucky. We met him and his wife Dili at the top of Cautley Spout. They were on holiday from the Netherlands. We being the Usual Suspects -Jim, Nigel, Don, Helen and I catching a window in the weather before the storm Abigail hit us. 

As soon as it had been decided we would go to the Howgills Jim was so determined to do the trip since he had managed to miss every previous outing to the area over the seven years we have walked together so Thursday was his first visit. Now what are the odds for that? Well not that long as a matter of fact because contrary to Jim's impressions there had only one previous outing. So we call it evens.

I found myself in the novel position of leading a Usual Suspects walk. Andy was out through injury and Malcolm had a stinking cold. Now what are the odds that both would be off together - it has been quite a while since it occurred. 10 Usual Suspect walks a year on average over seven years - call it 35 to one. Not that I minded. We had RVed at Malcolm's and he had refreshed my memory of the route from the top of Cautley Spout to the Calf the highest point in the Howgills and it was at the top of the Spout where we encountered Gilbert and Dili the young Dutch couple.

As we passed them we checked if they intended on going up to the Calf. Yes they were and followed us a polite distance away up to the trig point. I thanked them for coming all the way from Holland just to take our photo.

 

When we came to take theirs Dili's camera battery was flat so I took one of them with mine.

 

Their plan was to do a round over Calders and Arant Haw to Sedbergh and then return to their car along the valley. The classic route in fact but a long one for a shortish late autumn day. I had half considered it myself but ruled it out as being too ambitious. We kept company for the next half mile to the top of Calders. Here we said farewell to them pointing out the broad track to Arant Haw with directions on how to get to Sedbergh. Their chances of completing the walk before darkness would depend on how long a lunch they took in Sedbergh but I would say they were 50-50. 

We branched off skirting round Great Dummacks on a grassy track to a fine view of Cautley Crags. Since it was 12.30 we decided to have our lunch. As we were tucking into our butties I noticed a movement over to our right from the direction we came. "Are those our Dutch friends?" It turned they were. Sensibly they had a change of heart and decided to join us on our descent. No problem with that although we had to point out we elected to follow a pathless spur down to the valley bottom. The odds for us choosing such a course being very high - 100/1 since we nearly always keep to recognised paths and tracks.

It worked out well and on the long descent we enjoyed conversation with Gilbert and Dili because it just so happened we were all fluent Dutch speakers…no I've just made that bit up. In common with all their compatriots Gilbert and Dili had excellent English. The time passed quickly. 

When we arrived at the bottom it was a short stride to the lay-by. "I hope you'll join us for a tea at the Cross Keys Inn," I said to Gilbert. "I think I would like a beer," Gilbert replied and this is why I would say he was unlucky - the Cross Keys is a temperance hotel!

 

 

So we rounded off a great day out with tea and cakes in front of a roasting fireplace regaled with stories of the Inn's history from its landlord Alan Clowes.

 

It had been a splendid outing - climbing alongside England's highest waterfall, walking up to the Calf and enjoying all the fellowship of sharing a walk. I later found out that the odds of Gilbert finding a pub with no beer is about 68,700/1 but I am quite sure he would not think of himself as being unlucky. 

Friday 23rd October. It has now become an annual fixture for the Dotcoms to climb Pendle Hill in October. Two years ago David and Teresa had a plan to take us up "an easier way" according to David. When the day arrived he declared himself unfit but declared that Teresa would lead the walk. It turned out to be one of the wettest and most miserable outings the Dotcoms have ever endured. Undeterred Teresa led us up to the Lower Ogden Reservoir, through Fell Wood and onto Driver Height.

 

 

After crossing Spence Moor Teresa announced that the exposed inhospitable location was suitable for lunch.

 

After we held a huddled conference.  A few Dotcoms were still game for going on to the summit but most were not. Teresa agreed to lead the main party back to Barley down Ogden Clough while I and a few others pressed onto the summit. 


As it turned out the summiteers had the easier time of it. Soon we hit the flagged path which gave us an unproblematic walk to the trig point.

 

The descent of Teresa's group down Ogden Clough has now become the stuff of legend.  It involved a heroic crossing of the beck - usually a trickle but after the wet weather of that month in full spate. Sandra slipped into it, Teresa became fully immersed as she helped Sandra and then decided to stay in the stream until her party were safely across. Since then further details have emerged - all gruesome. The main point though is that everyone returned.

 

In the words of the great Jerome Kern song "Don't lose your confidence/if you slip/Be grateful for the pleasant trip/pick yourself up/dust yourself off/and start all over again" I decided to put Pendle onto the programme in October last year. The weather wasn't quite as bad but there was not much in it.  With David fit enough to lead a party he and Teresa came up with a planned alternative should the weather  fail to improve. By the time we arrived at the Upper Ogden Reservoir the weather had failed to improve so David led the (fool)hardy up to the top while Teresa took the rest of us across to Black Moss and the sculpture trail. 

 

Call it lack of imagination if you like but as I drew up the programme for this autumn I automatically put Pendle on as the final walk of the half. I sub titled it "David and Teresa's Pendle Trial". "Do you mean this?" e mailed Malcolm. "I most certainly do!" I e mailed back. Briefing David I asked him to devise a plan so that everybody could reach the summit. "We'll go from the Nick O' Pendle then." Referring to the top of Sabden Road as it climbs over the ridge towards the A59. (The nearest thing Lancashire has to an Alpine Pass). 

 

Jill and Sandra who do not much enjoy anything with a slope were persuaded by David's assurances that in previous weeks they had encountered far tougher Tuesday walks and in a spirit of hope triumphing over experience 21 of us gathered on Tuesday to walk up Pendle from the Nick. It was a great day out with early mist lifting to give us golden October sunshine.

 

As we arrived on the summit David brought out the bunting, the flag of St George and a tub of chocolates.

 

It was a great moment and one that we shared with three young mothers and their very young babies carried up in slings.

 

Well why not? It's not without precedent - J. Arthur Ransome's grandfather carried him to the top of Coniston Old Man when he was six months old. My most fervent prayer is that when these infants are our age 60 years hence that they will be able climb Pendle as we did on Tuesday in fine weather and wonderful fellowship. They have certainly been given the best possible start!

 

3rd October Saturday. Olá. Eileen and I have just returned from ten days in Spain staying at Nerja on the Costa del Sol. I have long wanted to visit this resort and it didn't disappoint. Following the "episode" at the Continental on August Bank Holiday Monday I did not need Eileen to tell me to place a limit on my walking but nonetheless was able to make a couple of exploratory walks into the nearby hills. These gave me magnificent views of the resort and the mountains that provided  its backdrop - especially the majestic El Cielo 1508m.

 

Any disappointment I may have felt in not climbing it was more than compensated by visits to two other attractions - one natural and the other historic.

The limestone caves of Nerja were just a couple of miles from our hotel and so there was no excuse not to visit them. In the list of Spanish tourist attractions they are the third most visited and therefore since their rediscovery in 1959 by a group of school children have benefited the local economy considerably. 
 

In terms of "preposterous time"  limestone sits on the "recent" end of the geological past. The processes that went on to create the wonderful formations we admire today started a mere 5 million years ago. The most impressive feature is to be found in the Sala del Cataclismo which is dominated by a huge column of limestone 13m by 7m at its base and 32m tall - the biggest of its kind in the world (to date). 

 

On Tuesday I went to the number one tourist attraction in Spain - the Alhambra Palace. We had visited before in 1996 with John and Katherine and for this reason Eileen decided not to join me. Also it happened to be market day in Nerja.
 

Shortly after 8.00am the crowded excursion bus picked up a group of us from the hotel and I found myself on the back seat with Ron and Eda from Manchester who if I describe as an elderly couple it is only by virtue of the fact they were a few years older than me. 

We arrived in Granada at ten and our rep took us on an hour's walking tour of the city centre which turned out to be quite compact in terms of the city's main attractions. She had previously explained that visits to the Alhambra were restricted to pre-assigned time slots. Ours was for 2.30pm. This gave me a good couple of hours to explore the city on my own. As luck would have it I had picked up a leaflet and map at the tourist office which provided me with a most satisfying walking route. Following directions I headed north from Plaza Neuva along the course of the River Durra beneath the heights occupied by the palace. Progress was often interrupted by photographic stops. The streets were thick with history. I climbed up the steep hill of Cuesta Del Chapiz to reach the Mirador San Nicholas which offered a sublime view of the Alhambra. It was 1.00pm and so could think of no better place to eat my butties.

 


Well pleased with my morning's walk I made my way back to Plaza Bibi-Rambla to RV with the rep and the rest of the tour party including Ron and Eda. Walking back to the coach Ron had a funny turn which he thought was due to something he ate, so much so that Eda and I thought it necessary to put him under fairly close escort. Fortunately by the time we reached the Generalife entrance he had recovered enough to contemplate the 2 ½ hour guided tour that was to follow.
 

The Alhambra Palace represents a high point in civilisation when architecture, craftsmanship, artistry and landscaping combined to produce features that please the eye and satisfy the spirit. Formerly a fortress the palace was started in the 14th century during the period of the Nasrid Dynasty the last Muslim rulers of Spain.    

Our tour took us first through the lush gardens of the Generalife which, with its pools and fountains and sound of running water was paradise as Arabs conceived it with the roots of their culture in the near waterless Arabian Peninsula. 

 

We were then led across to the confines of the walled city. The Alhambra occupies an elongated sandstone bluff that dominates the surrounding countryside - there is no doubting its defensive qualities. Our tour took us down the east side passing the Parador de San Francisco (the most expensive in Spain) to reach the complex close to the Palico of Carlos V. The Nasrids Palace was situated by this. The purpose of our visit. 

From its exterior there is nothing to prepare you for the wonders inside.

 

Light, water (again), plaster, marble and tiles exquisitely worked in this world that seemed to be removed from earthly concerns.

 

And yet earthly concerns came in legions to trouble the last Moorish king of Granada Muhammed XII and these beautiful apartments echoed to the sound of wailing. The Christian armies of Isabel and Ferdinand were at the gate in the last act of what is termed as the "Reconquest of Spain". Given safe passage his mother ordered him, "Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man." This was in 1492.

For the next hundred years or so the Muslim population of Spain lived uneasily with their Christian neighbours but more and more fled to North Africa until they were finally officially expelled. It was one of history's massive migrations and one not well remembered. 
 

"Did you enjoy your visit to the Alhambra as much as the first time?" Ron asked me on the way back to Nerja. He was amused when I told him I enjoyed it better because in 1996 we had two children in tow. Yet something must have rubbed off because both John and Katherine are history teachers and I know they appreciate that there are different versions of the past.

 

 1st September Tuesday. Yesterday around 2.00pm I was having a celebratory pint of cider in the Continental having just walked the 21 miles of the Guild Wheel in less than 6 hours.

 

I was feeling rather pleased with myself. 

Being a Bank Holiday the pub was very busy so that I had to wait before putting my order in for soup of the day. As I waited the feeling of well being changed and I found myself in an altered state - an acute sensation of unwellness. I became hot, clammy, dizzy and nauseous. At this point the waiter brought my soup and bread across. I tried one spoonful of soup hoping this might settle me. It did not. I closed my eyes in attempt to collect myself…
 

The next thing I became aware of was staring up at the face of a waitress. She told me I had collapsed, that I was not to move and that an ambulance had been sent for.

Looking back on this now I realise that the waitress - Clare - may have been the Continental's designated first aider - she was very good. She maintained a reassuring dialogue ascertaining my name, asking me what recall I had before toppling off my chair (…er none!) and about family contact numbers. As it happened moments before the episode I had texted Eileen a triumphant message and my mobile still was on the table. Clare asked one of the customers who had witnessed my collapse to contact Eileen which he managed to do without making her excessively alarmed. A while afterwards Eileen and Katherine showed up explaining they had been delayed by traffic. John and Holly arrived. They were soon joined by paramedics also explaining that the traffic had caused them to be delayed. 
 

Once there though Jessica and her partner briskly took over. After a number of checks and tests they put me on a stretcher and wheeled me out to the ambulance. Jessica seemed rather anxious I should take the soup and bread but unusually I had no interest in food at that time. We settled on taking the bread. Eileen came with me in the ambulance - I must have looked terrible because it was mirrored in the concern on her face.

At the hospital I was taken to the resuscitation ward of A&E and there because my blood pressure was low I found myself the centre of a considerable amount of professional activity - the staff nurse linked me up to a drip, Jonathan the junior doctor took blood, another nurse put me on a blood pressure monitor while the consultant, Mr Whittaker started with the ultra sound. 
 

As I explained the background to my collapse and as the ultrasound results showed that the vital organs were all in good shape and as my b.p. returned within a normal range the professional activity subsided and diverted itself to more urgent cases. The crisis had passed. Later I was x rayed for my sore left shoulder - the side I fell on. Nothing broken but I may be sore for a week or two. The diagnosis was I had fainted owing to dehydration and over exerting myself. Mr Whittaker as he left observed, "I'm all for walking as exercise but…" He didn't finish the sentence.

Lots of things - thankfulness. From start to finish I was in capable hands - Clare, Jessica, the staff on A&E. Yes a big THANK YOU for the National Health Service. A big THANK YOU to my family. A feeling of embarrassment. In the Continental the under manager who later was one of the staff who assisted me advised me that he wasn't taking orders for a while as it was so busy - rather truculently and (hopefully my friends can vouch for this) uncharacteristically I commented "What for soup for Godsake!" I was tired. Returning to the fateful table he came across soon after to reassure he would get the soup to me as soon as he could. Finally that period of unconsciousness just before I came round was the pleasantest sensation I can ever recall. 
 

A lesson learned. I am an OAP now and I cannot push myself in the same way I did ten or twenty years ago. But in the words of Frank Sinatra 

"That's life…Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race".

 

8th August. Saturday. On Thursday I know I said to a number of people, "One of the walks in the book starts right out there on the car park." I was in Rivington Hall Barn at the wedding of my son John to Holly our lovely new daughter-in-law the latest member of that exclusive club of Mrs Clares. 


Lots of people claim to be the first Lancashire Dotcom Walker. There's Elaine who joined me and John G soon after we launched the website in autumn 2007. There's Bill who started to come out with John G and me in the summer of 2008. But my children John and Katherine press their own claim and as the eldest John feels his takes precedent.

When John was born late on Sunday evening 24th April, 1983 it became the best day of my life. Five years later when Katherine came along I had another best day of my life.

In between times as soon as he could walk John came with me on walks which were nearly always in Lancashire so that by the time his sister was born he had climbed Parlick, Great Hill and Winter Hill …Winter Hill which forms the backdrop of Rivington Hall Barn the venue on Thursday.

In the morning we had rain - that fine rain, the sort that soaks and there seemed a lot of it. Like so much weather this summer the amount of rain seemed far more than predicted by the forecast. Yet by the time John and his groomsmen walked down our drive the rain had stopped and it stayed stopped. 

 


A short time later Eileen (who looked stunning as mother of the groom) caught up with him and the gathering guests outside the church. I was rather anxious at that stage waiting for my brother, sister, sister-in-law and 90 year old father to arrive from London. They turned up in good time. As dad took his seat he asked "Have you heard about the Australians?" Thinking he meant the Australian side of the Clare family someone told, "No they won't be coming Frank." In fact what he was referring to was the fact the Aussie cricket team had been skittled out for 60 at Trent Bridge.

It cannot be said that the wedding ceremony ran smoothly - it was sort of ad libbed with Eileen and I in the front pew giving cues to the many non catholics behind us and even Father Abiba a sort of locum priest not helping when he read John's part from the order of service. And the hymn singing…well let's pass over that. And despite that - NO because of it the service was lovely. Holly looked amazing and beautiful and Corrine, a student from Katherine's school, sang so sweetly that for evermore those who were present will say, "I remember John and Holly's wedding when that girl sang."

After the ceremony John and Holly appeared on the steps with hands clasped on upraised arms and there was such happiness as they drove off in the dormobile to Rivington Hall Barn.  

 

And such happiness  later - a dream, a happy dream, a summer's evening dream. Of course I cannot judge dispassionately but the wedding speeches by John's father-in-law Mark, by John himself and by the Best Man, Chris were as a set the best I have ever heard at a wedding. 


In his John made reference to learning trust and patience from me because of the walks I took him on. Trust that I knew where I was and patience to know that when I said the finish of a walk is not far when to his young mind it always seemed a distance. Talking of his mother and the love she showed him he almost broke down thus winning the heart of every woman in the room. 

And the dream went on and on - the great food followed by more photographs followed by the disco and the dancing and the socialising.

 

So many people came up to me to compliment me on John and the wonderful choice he had made with Holly as a life partner. "He thinks a lot of you," Chris the Best Man told me, "especially his mum." Jake said this too, and so did his brother Joe and later Frankie at the bar and then David another one of the young people husband of John's friend Victoria.


David was fulsome in his praise of John and what he had observed during the day. "I have three girls. I hope I can bring them up like you have John. " He seemed to be asking for guidance. "Do you love them?" "Yes of course" "Then that is all there is." 
 

I might have added  "…and take them on lots of walks."

 

Tuesday 28th July. On Saturday morning Suzanne and Rob joined me for a walk at Auchendennan by Loch Lomond. We were staying there to attend the wedding of Johnny and Anna close friends of my daughter Katherine and Suzanne. During the walk Suzanne told me about how she had introduced the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme to the school where she teaches.


The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme was established in 1956 as a way of offering young people to achieve goals in four areas - public service, pursuits and projects, physical activity and expedition. Within these areas there was a wide range options allowing a young person to put together their own programme. Perhaps reflecting something of the Olympic spirit participants could enter the scheme at three age related levels - bronze for 14, silver for 15 and gold for 16 plus. While the scheme was piloted by youth organisations such as the scouts, Boys Brigade and St John's Ambulance the award and indeed quickly embraced by them other accredited bodies like schools could run the scheme. 

 


I participated in it myself. In fact probably more than anything it was doing the DofE that ignited my passion for the outdoors and in particular the outdoors of the North. 

Easter 1966 and a section of the 4th Hendon Boy's Brigade Company decamp to Cooper's Farm, Edale just a year after the Pennine Way was officially opened. If that was mentioned at the time I have subsequently forgotten it. At the heart of this venture were four participants of the DoE silver expedition - Chris Miall, Eric Connold, Keith Osbourn and myself. With us were two officers Des Kellard and Alan Downes  and a cast of half a dozen or so other company members broadly along for the ride. 

Easter Saturday morning saw us in Sheffield centre before embarking on the expedition proper. I forget what errand took us there but it gave me the opportunity to have my first proper look at the North. Some of what I noticed chimed in with southern pre-conceptions - for example young women with head scarfs covering curlers or recently bouffanted hair styles. But beyond this I enjoyed the brash confidence of the place - this before the North had the stuffing kicked out of it in the recessions of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 00s.

Later Des dropped off Chris, Eric, keith and me off in Miller's Dale. It was pouring with rain. Our rucksacks already heavy with metal frames, already heavy with tents, sleeping bags, stoves, food and clothes soon became heavier still sodden as we traversed the limestone upland to the base of Rushup Edge. From here more by luck than judgement we navigated ourselves over its cloud shrouded flanks and down to Edale where in gloomy light we erected our tents and made our evening meal. I guess we would have been in quite low spirits.

By contrast the next morning was a perfect spring day. We climbed up to Hollins Cross and then followed the ridge to Lose Hill above Hope, dropping down to the valley before scaling Win Hill. I can still recall the vivid blueness of Lady Bower Reservoir in its bed of dark conifer plantations. We linked up with Des at the road end of the dam. From here he transported us to a wild camp pitch by Cutthroat Bridge - a name that we soon supplied with imaginative surmise. 
 

That night it turned bitterly cold - so much so we were all awake before daylight. Moreover our camping Gaz cylinders were running out. We had barely enough fuel to heat our baked beans. Des appeared hours later to drop us off back at Lady Bower and we commenced the final day of our expedition. 

 

The route took us over featureless moorland which soon began to test our map and compass skills. At a point where I was no longer sure where we were Eric not an academic boy received a shaft of illumination remembered from the training we had "got" taking a bearing and then led us unerringly to rendezvous with Des and other members of the party who were ready to take us back to London.


That DofE expedition made a deep impression on me so much so that Edale became a sort of Mecca and I returned to it time and again over the next few years. Also I knew I wanted to live in the North of England close to the hills and moors.

I am quite sure Suzanne possesses the same sense of service that Des Kellard did. The time that man gave me and other boys lit a fire in me that has never been extinguished. I hope I remembered to thank him. And thanks also to Prince Philip, for creating a scheme - non-competitive, broad in the activities it encompasses and egalitarian in practice and outcomes  that has made such a difference to so many young people - over 7 million in fact. 

 

 

Thursday 18th June. It is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

 

This is one of the defining events of modern European history when after prolonged conflict the forces of reaction and conservatism finally put a cap on the radical ideas let loose by the French Revolution and the new world order settled down to a long period of Pax Britannica. Was victory at Waterloo a good thing? It is still too early to say. 


Last week I arrived at a significant personal milestone when I turned 65. Yep I am now an Old Age Pensioner joining the ranks of the Old Bill, GPS Dave, Malcolm and Don and a few Dotcom ladies whose right to a private life I totally respect.

I was more than surprised by the fact that so many people noted this event than I did myself with two birthday meals with my family, one on the day itself and the other last weekend, with lashings of birthday cake at Voice For All the advocacy group of Brothers of Charity services where I volunteer, with lots of good wishes on Facebook and with as many cards as I have years, not to forget all the thoughtful and kind gifts I received. I went through all this 5 years ago so what is going on?
 

Of course I am well and truly in the zone of having fewer birthdays to look forward to than I have already had. Perhaps marking off birthdays at 5 year intervals is a way of saying, "Oh you're still around - how nice!"

I discovered later that Eileen had been hoping to celebrate with a special outing but the thing was my 65th birthday fell on a Tuesday - the Dotcom walking day. There was no question of any other outing.

27 Dotcoms met at Entwistle. Those of you who follow our ramblings on Facebook will be aware that we always start with a group photograph. It was at this point David, Val and Jill presented me with card and gifts. Yet another Dotcom whip round - there was no need.

 Stuart led us on an excellent circuit taking us up to the top of Broadhead Valley and bringing us back to Edgeworth and Wayoh Reservoir. It is a less visited area of the West Pennine Moors and one we all enjoyed enormously. At lunch time I shared some of the cake given to me by my friends at VFA and the box of chocolates kindly bought by David and Val. In this way the walk was marked as special.

 

On Tuesday we had another birthday. Mike O is 51 weeks older than me. I enjoyed Mike's birthday walk as much as I enjoyed my own. The combination of good companionship, being outdoors and passing through a lovely landscape is hard to beat. And even in a group as big as we have become there are many occasions when there are no birthdays at all. Yet all those days - all those Tuesdays over the past seven years have felt just as special as the birthday walks.

 

We have a simple formula. We enjoy walking. We are happy when we walk. We walk a lot. We are happy people.

So I am sure Mike O had a happy birthday on Tuesday and I most certainly did the week before. Will I enjoy old age - too early to say but so long as I keep walking there is a very good chance.
 

 

 23rd May Saturday. Last week as Malcolm, John and I were approaching St John's Church in Calder Vale with fell in with an elderly couple - that is a couple a little bit older than us.
 

For a short while we conversed about the weather and feeding birds which we gathered was the purpose of their walk. The lady told us that she had lived in Calder Vale all her life - she was 79. "I didn't notice a shop - is there one?" I asked her. "No. Closed four years ago." Pause. "Is there a bus service?" "No that was cut last year." 

 


Soon we were alongside the lovely church and about to enter the playground where she played as a child during the war years. We bade the couple farewell and set out on our walk but my mind has kept returning to the elderly lady and what she revealed. It was noteworthy enough for me to relate the conversation to the Dotcom Walkers when Malcolm and I returned to Calder Vale on Tuesday for the weekly walk.

It's an odd place - Calder Vale. Firstly it is very well concealed - a self-contained industrial village hidden in a wooded valley between Garstang and Beacon Fell at the end of a cul-de-sac. The industry is provided by a large and imposing textile mill first brought here by the allure of water power in the first part of the 19th century. Quakers built it and much of the village - stone terraces sloping downhill to the River Calder. Being Quakers they saw no need for a pub.

The mill has had its ups and downs including periods of closure but it is active now - another factor contributing to the oddness of Calder Vale - it has a working mill.

 

No pub, no shop, no bus and yet it possesses a textile mill a remnant of the once great textile industry that dominated the landscape of Lancashire. 

 And here's the thing - it manufactures the material that is used for keffiyehs - the traditional Arab headdress worn throughout the Middle East. It is said that Yassar Arafat wore a keffiyeh made from cotton woven in Calder Vale. One wonders if the death squads of ISIS are similarly clad.
 

A curious link - from the burning sands of the Arabian Peninsular to this gentle wooded valley. Is it me and the age I've reached - I collect my OAP next month - that the world seems to be going to the dogs?  From whichever way you look at it there seem to be so many symptoms of a sick globe. Boat people trafficked mercilessly across cruel seas to heartless continents, the ridiculous over valuation of football and celebrity at the cost of a decent living wage for the poor, the excesses of fast food, cheap alcohol and easy access to gambling and pornography, and dogs of war in the Ukraine and the Middle East committing atrocities with impunity knowing that America and Europe have a busted flush so they are unlikely to be called to account. 

 On Tuesday Malcolm led 17 of us from Calder Vale onto the edge of Bowland Forest. As always it was a walk of good companionship and good cheer - all of us appreciating the season and the views. There is little we can do about the destruction of the treasures of Palmyra but we can strive to make good the space we occupy. 

 

Saturday 9th May.  The Coast to Coast Walk is one of the world's most popular long distance routes.

 

It crosses northern England from St Bees Head on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea and is 190 miles long. It can be done in reverse though its creator Alfred Wainwright advises against it. By going west to east the prevailing winds come over your right shoulder and are not blown onto your left cheek. 

Why so popular? Firstly because Wainwright established it with his exquisite pen and ink guidebook in 1973. It was not his intention to create a definitive route - more provide an exemplar to inspire walkers to make up their own. However even though the original route has had to be amended and updated the essential character of the Coast to Coast has remained unaltered. Secondly because for the reasonably fit walker it can be completed in less than two weeks making it an ideal summer holiday walking tour. Finally because it traverses three national parks - the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors and some of the finest scenery in the north of England. 
 

Last weekend Jim and I went up to join Malcolm and Andy B at Keld close to the half way point of the C2C. In the previous six days they had dipped their boots in the Irish Sea below St Bees Head and accompanied by Don had crossed the Lake District by way of Ennerdale, Borrowdale, Patterdale, Kidsty Pike, Haweswater and Shap. Then they continued over the Westmorland limestone plateau to Kirkby Stephen. Here they bade farewell to Don to press on over Nine Standards Rigg to rendezvous with us at Keld Lodge. After goodbyes to Jim's Susan who acted as our taxi service we set off together down Swaledale in the direction of the North Sea.

 

Soon into the walk we arrived at a very significant crossroads - where the Coast to Coast crosses the Pennine Way. This was opened in 1965 but Wainwright (who wrote an early guide to Britain's first long distance path) would have recalled an earlier meeting of ways. In 1938 he passed through Keld on a two week walking tour taking him from Settle up to Hadrian's Wall and back. His holiday coincided with the Munich Crisis when the British public were tortured by the possibility of war until the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a deal with Adolf Hitler which promised "peace in our time."  AW described his experiences in a journal which was published after fame discovered him as "A Pennine Journey".

Two years ago the 75th anniversary of that holiday Andy B followed the newly established Pennine Journey Route with the support of Jim, Don, Malcolm and me. None of us could commit to the 16 days necessary to complete the 247 miles but we could do stages.  I started out with Andy from Settle. Jim joined us at Bowes and we three went up to Hadrian's Wall. Here as Jim and I finished Don joined Andy for the rest of the walk. Malcolm joined them at Dufton for the final stretch back to Settle.

The crossroads is almost exactly the half way point of the C2C. Jim and I had hardly walked a mile at this stage. It was not easy to gauge how Malcolm and Andy were feeling but they seemed to be in good shape.  Week, weather and way unfolded - Swaledale, Vale of Mowbray, North Yorkshire Moors and finally the coast.

 

Sunshine, cloud, wind and rain.

 

B&B, guesthouse, hotel.  Encounters and conversations and sometimes walking alone with one's thoughts. The rich tapestry that makes following a long distance trail so thoroughly enjoyable. On Thursday evening we reached the slipway by the Bay Hotel Robin Hood's Bay and Malcolm and Andy asked Jim and me to cast the pebbles they had picked up from the beach at St Bees into the sea. The walk was finished.

 

For Jim and me having done a little over 95 miles in six days and in doing so crossed North Yorkshire from its border to the sea it was a moment to savour and share the post challenge euphoria of our friends.  For Andy while he had walked every step of the way with Malcolm he would quickly acknowledge that Malcolm's achievement being of a different order. 
 

Returning to the Pennine Journey Walk of two year's ago Malcolm had linked up with Don and Andy at Dufton as planned but after they all set out towards Brough he developed almost incapacitating pain in his legs. After struggling on to Garsdale Head with the some help from public transport he realised that further participation was fruitless. He decided to retire. It was a low point.  "You must have wondered whether or not you would be able to do another trail walk," I said to him sometime on the C2C. "It was worse than that. I wondered whether I would do any type of walk again." 

Fortunately although the condition was not immediately diagnosed once it was he responded to treatment and improvements followed so much so that last year he joined us on the Furness Way a five day trek of which he walked four.   
 

As we started to plan this year's walk when Malcolm suggested the Coast to Coast "because I don't know how many years I have left" without any further discussion the rest of us fell in with the idea. To plan a long walk is one matter - actually doing it is another. So as Malcolm reach the shore on Thursday evening he was not just completing a 190 mile walk but a two year recuperation back to fitness. 

 Keep trying, hold on and never give up hope. Well done Malcolm. Enjoy the rest. You deserve it.
 

 

Sunday 18th April. On Thursday I found myself at a loose end so decided to go for a cycle ride. I looked at the map for inspiration and my eyes settled on Roseacre. I knew it to be one of two sites in Lancashire where Cuadrilla, the oil and gas company to set up drilling operations for shale gas by a method called hydraulic fracturing more commonly referred to as "fracking". I am not sure where I imagined Roseacre to be but it was a lot closer than I thought - practically in my back yard. Well perhaps not but certainly within easy reach of a morning's ride. I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about.


As I reached Inskip I was coming across the first signs of protest.

 

By the time I reached Elswick protest signs were everywhere. I reached Roseacre.


Having ascertained the location of the site from a couple on a walk I looked into a fairly nondescript field at a fairly nondescript wood - Roseacre Wood in fact. It was hard to believe that this place had caused such controversy.

 

Shortly after I spoke to a resident who lived a little further down the lane. Her cottage would be on the route of all the traffic needed to construct and service the operation. Quite a contrast to the rural peace of the present. 

"The life of a well is ten years," she told me. She was young enough to endure a decade of disruption. "But they'll leave all of the discarded equipment. They won't clear the site." I asked her where the other fracking well was located. "At Plumpton on Preston New Road." I thanked her and wished her luck. She smiled resignedly. 

I made my walk to Newton-le-Scales and had lunch at the Bell and Bottle. It had been my original intention to head home after a bite and a pint but as I mulled over what I had seen and heard I realised that the job was only half done. I set off down the A584 in the direction of Blackpool. 

Beyond Kirkham I turned off the main road for Great Plumpton and immediately crossed a United Utilities pipeline under construction. Hmm - a coincidence perhaps. I crossed back over the A584 towards Westby and met Alan, a householder taking his ease from mowing the lawn. He had a great deal to say on the subject of fracking. He quickly dispelled one of my illusions. "It's not just two wells. If this goes through there will be hundreds." He had become highly suspicious of the planning process especially in relation to the United Utilities pipeline. "They say its "unfortunate" that the pipeline leads from the reservoir across the proposed drilling site. But fracking need a lot of water and its as though the infrastructure is being put in place before they have permission to drill." He also had something to say about how the plans had been managed politically. "They chose the safest Tory seat in the country knowing local councillors could be whipped into line to nod the thing through."
 

I was building up a disquietening picture of how the world works. I wondered what school the chair of United Utilities went to and what school the chair of Cuadrilla went to.  Alan also informed me that when there had been test drilling in 2011 his house had been affected by an earth tremor.


With directions from Alan I located the Preston New Road site which is where United Utilities have their own site office for the pipeline. I ventured onto the site and asked about the pipeline. "Its all there on the notice," he said pointing to the planning notice at the gate, "No, nothing to do with Cuadrilla - just a coincidence."
 

By now I had a better grasp of the fracking landscape and had one more aspect to check out further along the road at Peel Hill. As I reached the garden centre I knew I had arrived at the epi centre of resistance. There arrayed along Preston New Roadwere large posters making very serious claims against fracking.

 

 

I cycled down Moss Lane to meet John Toothill an eco warrior.

I found him in his office of Maple Farm Nursery. I had bearly registered my interest in his protest and he was off giving me chapter and verse of all stages of the campaign. Initially with slick PR work and blandishments from Cuadrilla local residents were initially well disposed towards to the idea of shale gas extraction. But has John and other local people looked into the implications of fracking they became more and more alarmed. Public meetings did nothing to quell their fears. "I lost faith in the democratic process when 12 local councillors declared they had an interest.
 

Hadn't Fylde Borough Council thrown out the application? I asked. Yes but on the narrow grounds of noise level and traffic concerns. It was a far too limited objection and could be easily mitigated by Cuadrilla when the application goes to appeal. John wanted the risk to public health through atmospheric pollution to be listed as an objection. 

I spent 45 minutes talking to John Toothill and on the long cycle home I had much to ponder on. We have to keep the lights on don't we? Now because of the reluctance of successive governments to grasp the energy nettle we have arrived in this situation which is the equivalent of sucking up the dregs of a glass with a long straw. Extracting shale gas seems so expensive of water - vast quantities would be needed. What seems remarkable about the issue is that we do not seem to possess any reliable information to help us find out properly of what is at stake. 
 

The following day, Friday, I went for another cycle ride - in the opposite direction ending up in the West Pennine Moors above Chorley. On Barn Lane I saw this notice.

 

Hold on a minute - solar energy is what anti-frackers have asked for? "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists between the disastrous and the unpalatable." (JK Galbraith). 

 

Arriving home there was a letter from South Ribble Borough Council informing us that the Penwortham By pass had been approved on a route that would take the new road about 200yds from where we live. No - not in my backyard but something that will be obvious from our bedroom windows.

 

11th April Saturday. "We must stop deferring to each other," I instructed Malcolm as we rejoined our intended route after overshooting the required junction - the ONLY junction - by 1 ½ miles. Doubts had begun to arise when we turned a bend and were facing Waddington Fell. Our plan was to walk the Hornby Road - the opposite direction. This error cost us over an hour.

I didn't question Malcolm because I just assumed that because it was his idea to walk the Hornby Road he knew where he was going. Perhaps he did not question me because I am author of "100 Walks in Lancashire" so must know where I am going.  However aside from adding 3 miles to an already long walk from Slaidburn to Wray there were no serious consequences from our mistake and once back on route we made good progress.

I have read somewhere that the Hornby Road has been described as the finest moorland track in the north of England and it did seem that way as we left the last outpost farm to step into the heart of Bowland. Though not straight there were Roman origins or may be pragmatic Roman utilisation of what was already there an ancient track linking the Hodder and the Lune valleys. 

 

The light almost white shaded track rolled out before us ribboning up to the top of the Croasdale. We crossed the watershed into the upland valley with White Hill on our right and the massif of Wolfhole Crag and Ward's Stone over to the left. This was most certainly one of the old ways. A little over 400 years ago the so called witches of Pendle - 10 women and two men- were hauled along this track to face trial and execution in Lancaster. We passed one of those commemorative stones that were placed at sites around Pendle, the Ribble Valley and Lancaster to mark the 400th anniversary in 2012.  

 

 

Below White Hill we came across a couple up from Dunsop Bridge by way of Whitendale. Apart from a reticent birdwatcher we overtook earlier they were the only walkers we encountered all day. An hour later we were overtaken by a quartet of motor cyclists giving their trials bikes an airing. I'm not sure they were meant to be there but they were not doing any harm. Certainly there was no danger of mowing down hordes of walkers because there were none.

Odd isn't it? We were out on the warmest day of the year so far, on one of the best upland tracks in England and we had it to ourselves. This in one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. What are people afraid of…getting lost?

 

31st March Tuesday. On the 12th of this month I took receipt of 100 copies of "100 Walks in Lancashire".

 

I soon discovered that distributing 100 copies of "100 Walks in Lancashire" was as much a project as writing the blessed thing.Fortunately nearly all orders were concentrated in three networks - the Dotcoms, the Norwest Fellwalking Club and the Reading group. By last Tuesday morning when I handed over a copy to Jim to give to Helen I had disposed of every copy.

So now I await the reaction.

Jeff at the Reading group has already walked No 19 and spotted a typo with the map in the frontispiece which had located it south of Ormskirk and not east of Lancaster. Mortified that I hadn't picked this up in proofreading I went through a trough of self-reproach until I realised I hadn't been sent that map with the proofs - so at least that error wasn't mine. Phew.
 

All the same I have qualms. While I know that there are many amongst my book buying public who will place "100 Walks" on their bookshelf where it will safely remain I fear the day when Jean or Tom or Graham announce they are off to do walk 37 and they are never seen again!

So one door is closing…I received an e mail last week from Kaye a marketing manager for Ribble Valley Inns which is part of the Northcote Manor group. Two years ago she approached me through the website with a commission to provide two routes for each of the pubs…sorry I mean Inns to be published in a special free booklet that would be available for their customers. You can see how it would work - come to our pub…sorry inn…do a walk and then enjoy a lunch or dinner. Pretty much the founding principle of www.lancashirewalks.com 

It was an interesting project and with the help of the Dotcoms - GPS Dave, Andy B and Nigel we sorted out a series of walks for the Clog and Billycock, Pleasington, the Three Fishes, Great Mitton, the Highwayman at Nether Burrow and the Bull at Broughton (in TOP not the Broughton in Lancashire or Cumbria.)

 

Kaye was very pleased with the work and the result was a most attractive booklet which proved so popular that the pubs …sorry inns…quickly ran out of copies. (Let's hope a similar fate awaits "100 Walks") I suppose that made me a best non-selling author! 

In her e mail of last week Kaye explained that the group wanted to re-issue the booklet in order to include a new acquisition - the Nag's Head at Haughton in Cheshire. As well as being flattered I was interested. I had a look at the map. There were plenty of footpaths near the pub…sorry inn. But more significantly it was situated a few miles from the Peckforton Hills - a lovely wooded area of upland not particularly high but noticeable on the Cheshire Plain. Before taking on the project I consulted David of the GPS. The logistics of getting to the village would be difficult without his help. Like me the task interested him. I emailed Kaye to say we were in.

Then a new element was introduced into the proposal. Craig the managing director of Northcote Manor who had been copied into the e mails requested we prepare walks for the famous restaurant and hotel which is not a pub or even an inn. What can I write about Northcote Manor and its reputation for fine dining under the direction of world famous chef patron Nigel Haworth and award winning  head chef Lisa Allen? Let's just leave it at I probably cannot afford to eat there!

 


Clarifying matters with Kaye she confirmed that I was to supply walks for Northcote Manor as well since over the years many of the guests had requested information about local walks. (Oh wise, perceptive guests to realise there are wonderful walks in Lancashire.)

Giving the new proposal some thought I knew I had the walks within the portfolio to create an interesting booklet. The only thing missing was a walk from the hotel itself. Then I had another thought. Next month Eileen and I are spending a few days in Harrogate with John and Diane. Next comes the Long Walk when I join Malcolm and Andy B at Keld to complete the C2C with them followed by a holiday in June with Eileen. The window for opportunity to sort out the additional project was narrow. When I asked Kaye about the time frame she told me "as soon as possible."

Saturday was as soon as possible and Saturday was WET! Moreover I had no backup to call upon. I was on my own and that meant taking the bus to Langho.  As I made the journey staring out into the drenched countryside I wondered if any of the Northcote Manor guests had ever arrived by the 280 Preston-Skipton bus service. As I alighted near Chapel Lane I was more or less on route and in the next two hours I checked it over and took photographs - no easy task in the pouring rain. As I finished the walk the rain eased. I took the bus back to Preston and later that day wrote up the route for the proposed booklet. On Sunday I put together a selection of walks with maps and photos and sent them to Kaye copying in Craig.

I was a little surprised when Craig replied almost immediately. He expressed pleasure in what I had given him but asked that I include a few more locations in the booklet - especially Dunsop Bridge which seemed to be popular with the guests. "No problem" I replied. An hour later I sorted out the additional routes and forwarded them to Kaye and Craig.  

It crossed my mind whether I had made this process too easy that would in some way diminish the worth of what I offered. But then I thought of Nigel Haworth who makes the creation of a fine meal look effortless. How has that been achieved?  Answer. Years of experience, dedication and very hard work involving long unsocial hours. I am not comparing my work to one of this country's leading chefs. Writing about walking routes is an interest that has evolved after I finished teaching on an ill health retirement. But I do know something of dedication and hard work. 

 

28th February Saturday. Sorry - there's been a lot going on since Eileen and I returned from Australia.


The big thing - I mean THE BIG THING is the book. I mean THE BOOK. "100 Walks in Lancashire" is now a reality.

 

It is a dream come true or will be on 6th March. That a publisher, Crowood Press, on very little evidence entrusted me with the project and has placed a lot of resources into producing and then promoting something I have written - well that's… humbling.


Then there's another aspect. A book carries with it an aura of authority - especially one whose purpose is to guide people around Lancashire. That means exposure and unintended consequences - it will be out there with my name on it and ready to be rated in Trip Advisor type reviews - "…out of 37 walking books about Lancashire this is rated 36th!"  Or  "…this book is totally useless. I started out in Rufford and ended up in Southport!" And so I wonder why on earth could I possibly agree to that exposure. But I said yes.

And yes has led to …

the wonderful support I received from people in the groups I walk with - people in the Norwest Fellwalking Club and the Tuesday Dotcom group. People willing to give time to the business of checking my directions to see if they worked. People willing to chauffeur me to all parts of the county. That's humbling too.

yes led to
…discovery. I found places I have never been to before, paths I hadn't walked and scenes I had never looked on.
 

…yes led to

…a sense of achievement. That I was able to orchestrate and organise the resources to see a big project through from beginning to end working within a very tight deadline and to give it my best. But what is a sense of achievement?  

The book opens with a walk along Blackpool's Golden Mile. For purists this might not seem much of a walk but it does reflect my philosophy of all walking is good walking. Also it was a useful device to introduce the other 99 walks. I ask the readers to take a trip to the top of Blackpool Tower from whence they will see the canvas of the guide spread out before them. 

Earlier this week I was in Blackpool attending the North West Regional Forum for self-advocates with learning disabilities. Organised by Pathways Associates

 

and the North West Training & Development Team

 

this is the only conference of its kind in the UK and is now in its 10th year. It is an inspiring thing to be involved with.


I went as part of the Brothers of Charity Services (BoCS) self-advocacy group Voice For All.  When I first became a volunteer with BoCS  the then Volunteer Co-ordinator Kathleen Page told me that I would receive far more in return for the few hours a week I devote to volunteering - how right she was. 
 

The Blackpool Conference epitomises everything I have learned from my work with Voice For All. The delegates display an open, accepting and natural friendliness in all their relations. They are seriously non-judgemental. They appreciate everything that is done for them. They are kind and supportive to each other. All this in spite of the obstacles and difficulties they face in their everyday lives.

In the final session Craig stood up to speak. Partially sighted and with a learning disability where his memory is so short that when a thought enters his head he has forgotten what he wanted to say by the time he attempts to articulate it (a common fault with many of us) he is one of the shyer members of the VFA group. Yet as the roving mic came to him he was able to thank the conference organisers - this in a room of 200 people. He sat down to the warm applause of his fellow delegates.
 

Now his is a sense of achievement I aspire to.

 

1st January 2015 

Happy New Year! Greetings from Sydney. 


At the close of our first week here Kath my sister-in-law took us to La Perouse a suburb on the northern edge of Botany Bay. On Tuesday this week I made my way to the southern edge of Botany to view the site of Captain Cook's landing 29th April 1770. At this end of our trip it seemed like completing a circle.

Between the two visits we have packed a lot in. We spent a fortnight in Victoria staying with my cousin Boyd and Fiona in Melbourne. Through them we were not only able to catch up with nearly all the Clare Clan Australia but saw a good chunk of the state and the city. We had a wonderful time.

Since our return to Sydney we celebrated Christmas Eve with a Harbour cruise, over indulged as usual on Christmas Day and then went to Watson's Bay to watch the start of the Sydney-Hobart Race as a fleet of 117 competitors sailed through the Heads. It was a stirring sight.

My outing to visit Captain Cook's landing place was my second attempt. Those of you who feel I was not sufficiently punished for what I put Eileen through at Rookwood Necropolis ("the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere") will take heart from this.

Through the Internet I had established that the site was at Kurnell on the bayside of the peninsular that swings northwards to the entrance of Botany Bay. I typed in details to "Planmyjourney" website and printed off an itinerary of a train and bus journey taking about an hour and fifteen minutes.  This seemed too good to be true even by the excellent standards of Sydney's public transport system. Alighting from the train at Redfern I transferred to the bus. After the glow of self-congratulation faded I realized that while I was no doubt in the city of Botany I was a considerable distance from Kurnell yet was closing in on the ETA. As I looked for clues on the route the bus passed a street sign Kurnell Street! I hadn't paid sufficient attention when I typed in destination.

There was little point in getting off the bus in the midst of the endless suburbs of Sydney so I stayed on it to its terminus and found myself deposited at a massive shopping centre frenetically busy with the post-Christmas sales.

 

Poetic justice! I gave up the expedition to Kurnell until Tuesday.


More attentive application of "Planmyjourney" gave me a two train route to Cronulla. From there I had the option to take a bus to the heritage centre in Kamay Botany Bay National Park. However with about an hour to wait for the bus I decided to walk. 

My route took me from Cronulla, a surfers' resort,

 

along its golden beaches to an area of sand dunes ecologically important and used as a film location for a number of Aussie films most notably "Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdrome". At the end of Wanda Beach I rounded a headland into Boat Harbour and then picked up a coastal path leading to Cape Solander and incorporating some fairly impressive coastal scenery.

 

For a while I had this corner of the continent to myself and it was hard to believe it constituted part of Australia's largest city. 


I passed the lighthouse at Cape Bailey set back from the cliffs in a sea of vegetation.

 

Then from Lookout Hill I had a view of Botany Bay and the grassy slopes of La Perouse on the opposite side of the Heads. Captain Cook was minded to call Botany Bay by the less inviting name of "Stingray Bay" but changed his mind when his scientists Joseph Banks and Matthew Solander collected their specimens and brought them onto the Endeavour. If he could see the bay now he would probably revert to Stingray Bay  or since his etymology was in descriptive mode "Oil Terminal Bay" or "Container Port Bay" or most obviously "Airport Bay" since on the far side from the heads Kingsford-Smith is gateway  for the city, New South Wales and Australia. At first glance Botany Bay in not as attractive as its name suggests.

A burnt out car signaled the end of my coastal idyll and soon after I reached the car park on Cape Solander. From there I walked down the road to the Kurnell Heritage and information centre set in pleasant parkland on the shores of the Bay. 

I have always been impressed by the Australian tendency to commemorate its significant sites - compared to Europe the country hasn't much history but it makes the most of what it's got. Hence just about every city, town and country settlement is littered with statues, plaques, monuments telling you this and that about how the place started and important dates in its development. Given this I was expecting far more of the site where modern Australia was conceived. 
 

There was a flagstaff displaying three flags - Australia's, New South Wales' and the flag of the Aborigines. There was a stone monument dedicated to Daniel Solander. There is a marker stone to one Forby Sutherland a seaman who was the first British subject to die in Australia. And then there is a tall obelisk erected on the centenary of the landing. Overall it seemed rather low keyed.

Cook's landing occurred during his first voyage - primarily a scientific expedition to observe the transit of Venus from the South Sea Islands. During the voyage Cook circumnavigated New Zealand and sailed up the East coast of Australia. Claiming land for the crown was an incidental by product of the voyage.

Had not Britain lost the War of Independence and most of its North American colonies Australia might have been left alone for a good bit longer. As it was after 1783 Britain no longer had a dumping ground for its convicts which led to the Home Office blowing the dust of Captain Cook's charts to establish a penal colony in Botany Bay and the rest as they say is history.

The First Fleet of transported convicts and convict warders and warders' families sailed into Botany Bay in January 1788. Governor Arthur Phillip felt that as a site for settlement it had numerous shortcomings so relocated to what became known as Sydney Harbour a short way up the coast and here the tenuous grip led to the creation of a thriving modern country.

Australia is a great place to visit and I find much I like, admire and enjoy in its way of doing things. From the great sacrifice of its young people in two world wars based on allegiance to the Motherland to its vibrant contribution to the arts through film and literature. It is clean, efficient and has lots of public conveniences also clean. Yesterday evening Kath, Eileen and I went to watch the display of fireworks at the Harbour - a display that signals the start of the New Year. Sydneysiders are consciously proud that this event is televised for the world to see. But…

BUT…

There is another story not of progress - a story of displacement, disease and death written in tears and blood. Australia was not an empty continent when James Cook landed in 1770. It was home to a people with their own vibrant culture, language and way of life who were brushed aside by the colonizers. Though Captains Cook and Phillip were not inhumane men they came to represent an implacable force the Aboriginal people were incapable of stemming. For them Cook's landing was not a triumph to be celebrated but a tragedy to be mourned. 

In the park close to the information centre there is a recent monument called "Meeting Place".

 

On it are inscribed these words:

Botany Bay is a place of profound significance to Australia and Australians. 
At this place in April 1770 Aboriginal people gathered as a converted British coal ship, the Endeavour, appeared on the horizon, and continued into the bay. As the landing party approached, two aboriginal men advanced to the beach to challenge the group of strangers as they prepared to come ashore.
The bounty of this place was such that it held the strangers here eight full days to replenish, to collect and to marvel. Yet this brief encounter set in place a chain of events that would lead in less than 20 years, to the founding of a British colony on aboriginal land.

Celebrated as the birthplace of modern Australia, mourned as the site of the original dispossession of the Aboriginal people, a place that has remembered and has silenced, a symbol of hope for reconciliation, this is a meeting place of histories, cultures and people.

Perhaps this explains the lack of triumphalism surrounding Captain Cook's landing place. Coming to terms with the way previous generations treated the Aboriginal people is Australia's greatest challenge. 

 

Monday 8th December. "Is my wife on this bus?" I desperately asked the driver. He acted nonplussed. I looked down the coach relieved to see Eileen half way down. I endorsed my ticket and took my seat. Another outing had just gone into the annuls of Great Cock ups. I really do not know how it is but nearly all my unsuccessful expeditions are the ones I do with Eileen.

We were in Rookwood Necropolis, "the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere" which is situated in the southern suburbs of Sydney. That's right Sydney Australia. As part of our 40th wedding anniversary celebrations we're on a six week stay "Down under" mainly visiting relatives. This first week of our break had brought us to Sydney.

Now I know I will have readers who will be now beginning to shift their sympathies towards Eileen. Hey Sydney Harbour Bridge - the Opera House and Bob puts a cemetery on the itinerary! Well by Saturday we had seen Sydney Harbour - Bridge and Opera House I have 725 images to prove it. Also we had had rewarding expeditions out to Manly close to the entrance of the great harbour and in addition to La Perouse close to the entrance of Botany Bay where a French navigator made a brief stopover in 1788 a few days after the arrival of the First Fleet. 

On my previous visit to Oz I had browsed around a number of burial grounds - in Beechworth, Victoria, in Alice Springs and up at Port Douglas, Queensland and found them fascinating places to visit in that they revealed the history of European settlement in those areas. So when I discovered that Rookwood Necropolis "the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere" was not a great distance from where my sister-in-law Kath lives I decided it would be worth a visit.

My plan was a simple one. Get there, have a look around and then take the bus back. On reaching the place Eileen soon made clear she didn't want to spend more than the hour and ten minutes interval before the next bus back to Burwood. This necessitated a modification in my plan. It was a bit like being asked to tour Pompeii in an hour. As it happened the most interesting section of the cemetery was close to the terminus - the Old Catholic section - which had a well signed historical trail which took us 45 minutes to complete.
Still with a comfortable margin before the bus was due I left Eileen at the stop to investigate a headstone that had caught my interest not too far away. I returned to Necropolis Circle and as I reached it the bus ten minutes early trundled past me. I ran towards the stop but Eileen was not in sight. The bus did not stop as might be expected at the terminus of the route but headed back to Burwood.

 

As I reached the stop Eileen was sitting on a low wall hidden until that point by a shrub. Exasperated I said to Eileen (Eileen would have chosen "shouted") "Why didn't you stop the bus?" "Because you weren't here!" she shouted back. "But I was just there," I pointed to the place 100 yards away where I had reached the circle. But further analysis of the situation we both knew would be futile.

There is a well-known adage used by/about politicians. When you're in a hole - STOP DIGGING! It was one I chose to ignore then. Both of us nursing bruised feelings I decided - at Eileen's prompting - to explore the rest of the cemetery. "You might as well we have all this time to kill before the next bus." So leaving Eileen with her bus ticket I set out to locate the War Graves which I was to discover were some considerable distance away.

 

I found them all right close to the Crematorium but then committed a fatal error. Instead of retracing my steps I attempted to improvise a route to create a circuit. I quickly realised the folly of this decision but continued on my ill-fated course. I was soon hopelessly lost in the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere.

I sought direction from a young couple in the new Catholic section but they were not much help but to point me vaguely in one direction with the less than heartening words that I would get there - "eventually". I had now reached the point I had to try and contact Eileen by mobile. I left a voice mail message to the effect that if the bus came she was to get on it. I later found out that that message went to my brother Ed back in the UK- one above Eileen on my phone list.

I came a across the Flower shop and armed with clearer directions I arrived at the main drive and on the bus route. "WHERE ARE YOU? THE BUS IS HERE" Eileen texted me. "AT THE NEXT STOP. GET ON THE BUS" I text back. The bus came in sight stopping at the second stop some 300 yards along the drive. I was in fact at the third stop. I frantically waved it down as it approached and without any prologue abruptly asked the driver if Eileen was on the bus.

Eileen's relief was such that the amount of recrimination was relatively low in proportion to the situation. There were one or two further aftershocks - when I thought I had lost my wallet (it was in the bottom of my rucksack) and when we opened the sandwich box for our belated lunch the contents of which had been completely rearranged by my frantic jogging. "I am NEVER going to come out with you again when you plan something like this" Eileen told me as we caught the second bus. I certainly be not suggesting another cemetery tour in either hemisphere.

 

Wednesday 12th November. I had no idea whether there would be a Remembrance Day observance at the War memorial in Accrington as we set off from nearby Haworth Park yesterday. For the first time since the Dotcoms were formed Remembrance  Day fell on a Tuesday so it was felt we should mark the occasion by starting our walk in Accrington. Why Accrington? Well mainly because of the Accrington Pals.

 

"Pals" battalions were a creation particularly linked to the British Army in World War One. At the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 the small professional army was sent to France as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  This comprised of 150,000 troops.  After the first weeks of the war it became clear that many more recruits would be needed to replace "the Old Contemptibles" who had been killed and wounded in the early clashes as well as match the resources of the huge German Army bearing down on the Western Front. Reluctant to conscript (that is force) young men to join the army Lord Kitchener started a recruitment drive made famous by its iconic poster "Your Country Needs You"

 

in which it was understood that friends, neighbours and work colleagues who enlisted together would stay together in platoons, companies and battalions. This programme was particularly successful in the north of England and in of all the 50 towns that had "Pals" battalions the name of the Accrington Pals seems to have a particular resonance. 

 

In part this is due to the musicality of the phrase. In part it is because of Peter Whelan's play of the same title. But more than anything it is because what occurred on 1st July 1916. This was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The 11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment was under orders to capture a village called Serre. Weeks of artillery bombardment were have meant to weakened the German defences so much so that the men were told that all they had to do was to stroll across no man's land to capture the enemy trenches. Nothing could have been further from the truth. As the Accrington Pals emerged from their lines they were met with withering machine gun fire. It was a this instance the great flaw in recruitment drive became obvious - neighbours and workmates who joined up in great numbers - died in great numbers. In 20 murderous minutes of the 700 men taking part in the attack 235 were killed and 350 were wounded. The effect on the town - at that time the smallest county borough in the country - was devastating. 

Some of this I explained to the 25 Dotcom Walkers before we set out to Oakhill Park. As we arrived about 10.45 there were a few people gathered near the Memorial. As the Dotcoms mingled and inspected the impressive memorial I approached a gentleman wearing a beret and British Legion badge. 

 

 

"Hello. Will there be a ceremony?"

"I don't know. There usually is and this year you would have thought so."
 

Just then a small party arrived. One was a bandsman who took station on the steps of the memorial. Another I later found out was a retired vicar Kevin Logan. After a moment the Rev Logan asked for our attention and then conducted a brief and dignified service. His timing was impeccable for as he finished his opening remarks we heard the sound of a distant cannon signalling the start of two minutes silence. The bandsman then played "The Last Post" and Kevin read the time honoured extract from Laurence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen". "They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old." We finished with a prayer and the National Anthem. 

It was nicely done. It was fitting. It was something I am glad of which we were part. In the main the Dotcoms are of a generation who are the grandchildren of the men who marched away. We are the children of the men and women who sacrificed so much in World War Two. The lives we enjoy today  we owe to them. Two minutes silence a year for Remembrance seems so little when you come to think of it.

 

 Wednesday 22nd October. "So fair and foul a day I have not seen" mutters Macbeth in the Scottish play. He could have been talking about yesterday. 

Last year by far the most challenging Tuesday walk was when Teresa had led us on a route which she and her David had billed as "Pendle the easy way up." Weatherwise it was a dreadful day and full of incident. After the coldest and wettest lunch stops of the year a vote was taken on whether to continue to the summit or descend directly to the village. Almost predictably we were divided down the middle. While it's not really satisfactory to split a group there was sufficient experience in the two parties to adopt both options.

As it turned out the summit party had the easiest walk. There was a clear path to follow which led onto broad flag stones taking us to the trig point. Apart from the fact Geoff left his umbrella by the trig point and was virtually down when he realised my only concern was how long we had kept the early descenders waiting. 
Not very long. It had taken them almost 30 minutes to cross a stream during which time Sandra had stumbled and ended up on her back while Teresa had slipped up to her waist into a raging torrent and then heroically assisted her party to cross it on the basis she couldn't get any wetter. As the summiteers arrived at Barley car park Teresa's group had barely taken their boots off.
 

This year I decided to put the walk on the programme again on the premise that the weather couldn't possibly be as bad as last year. Well it can if the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo comes along. This hit the coast of Lancashire full force in the early hours of yesterday morning. By the time Chris, Sandra and I had set out from Penwortham it looked as if the worse was over. Indeed on our drive to Barley the sun made an appearance. However by the time we parked up it had turned atrocious.  

"We're cursed!" said Teresa as we kitted ourselves up with waterproofs and then she and David led thirteen of us up towards the Ogden Reservoirs in driving raining. At the lower reservoir there was some respite and then we had driving hail.

 

 At Bill Smith's memorial we had reached the moment of decision. David would lead those who wanted to continue to the top which Teresa would take anyone else along the flank of Pendle on a lower level walk. Again we were evenly divided. For a change I joined Teresa's group. 

By the time we had made our way across to Black Moss the weather had less foul and between the squally showers the sun came out. Near Pendle House we caught sight of the summiteers on the ridge above us exhilarated by the high winds on top. They seemed to be having a good time. Indeed we all had a good time. We had been out in the skin tingling elements and what else would we be doing - poring over our stamp collection? Watching day time television? Shopping for goodness sake? And while were weren't out in the wilderness or the middle of a wild ocean we had a nice little adventure to remind ourselves we're still alive. Thank you David and Teresa.

 

 

Tuesday 9th September. The Old Bill is 80 today! Happy birthday Bill. In the normal course of things we would have planned a surprise on today's walk but he's at Lourdes this week so we gave him a surprise last week. Between us GPS Dave and Val and I conspired a special lunch at the Corporation Arms, Longridge - Dotcom Pub of 2011. This was during our first walk back after our summer break. Everybody was in on it including Bill's family. Shortly after 1.15 a nonplussed Bill stepped out of the bright sunlight

 

to be greeted by 35 people and then sat down for a lovely meal including a birthday cake. It was a great Dotcom occasion.

 


I first met Bill about 30 years ago when he sat down next to me on a Norwest Fellwalking Club coach. We hit it off right away. Bill was still in the fire service then and he had joined the club for a particular reason. It was Rambling Association affiliated and this qualified him for entry into the Lakeland's 3000s Challenge Walk. This is one of the toughest walks in the country. Starting in Keswick the route climbs up to Skiddaw (3053') and then heads down Borrowdale to take in Scafell Pike (3210') and then Scafell (3162') before crossing the Central Fells to scale Helvellyn (3118'). Then a gentle trot back to Keswick. Total distance 45 miles and there is just one more thing - the round has to be completed in less than 24 hours.

Bill completed that challenge seven years in a row. He also competed in a number of mountain marathons - once or twice with GPS Dave and on one occasion with Andy W was placed for a prize. 

Given all this it was quite flattering for John and me that Bill started joining us on a regular basis on our Tuesday walks. In fact he was the first Dotcom walker to do so. Compared to what Bill had pushed himself to do John and I were mere potterers. Still he enjoyed our company and we his even though Bill is a quiet man and rarely wastes a word. This was back in 2008 and in early October Brian started coming out with us. 

Bill and Brian immediately hit it off even though in terms of conversation Brian more than makes up for Bill's reticence. We did a walk near Halsall and had settled on the Ship at lunch time. Brian, John and Bill found they had ballroom dancing in common. I felt somewhat left out. 


By Christmas Jim and Andy B had joined we four to form the founding members of the Dotcom Walkers.  I have nicknamed this founding group "The Old Contemptibles" - the first to be sent a half term programme of walks. We had a special meal at the Grapes at Croston and we had our first awards ceremony. Bill got the prize for being the oldest Dotcom walker - by a long chalk!   

Perhaps to an outsider it may seem disrespectful that I keep emphasising "old" when referring to Bill but here's how I see it - so long as Bill keeps walking then the rest of us are inspired to keep walking and he gives us a yardstick by which to measure our remaining active years. Bill is almost 16 years older than me and still going strong. Hopefully I have at least 16 years more of walking enjoyment.

Bill has seen the whole story of the walking group unfold so it was rather wonderful that so many of us could sit down with him at the Corporation Arms last week. Unfortunately Brian and Mary were away on holiday but Brian arranged through me a special gift. It was a framed photograph of Bill and Jack, Brian's grandson, on a walk we did earlier in the year near Lisieux Hall. Bill and Jack have the same birthday. Jack is 4 today.

 

Here is one of my most fervent prayers - that when Jack is Bill's age 76 years from now, and Bill is 156 years old, Jack will still have a lovely countryside to walk and enjoy in the good fellowship of others. 

Happy birthday Bill. Happy birthday Jack.

 

12th August Tuesday . The Glorious Twelfth! Out in Bowland today and for the next few weeks there will be restrictions on access as the grouse shooting fraternity have their fun. 


Not so glorious on Sunday when I went out with the Norwest Fellwalking Club. The well trailed low pressure system came sweeping through coinciding with the trip to Langdale. Since seats on the coach are booked in advance you feel obliged to go out no matter what the weather is like. 

Walking to the nearest pick up point to my house I needed to don my waterproofs. A dismal start to the day which hadn't much improved by the time Andy W and I alighted the coach at Elterwater. We has settled on a low level route through to Little Langdale and then crossing into Langdale by Blea Tarn. 

At Elterwater we were pleasantly surprised to find a tea room had opened since our last visit - the Maple Tree Café which had opened in May. As the weather was not encouraging we decided to pop in for a brew and teacake. 
As we left the café half an hour later we met with club members Christine, Ken and Tom who had left the coach at Skelwith Bridge. As the rain had eased off somewhat we spent about 20 minutes chatting with them during which it was established they had the same broad plan as us and so we agreed to link up.

Together we made our way to Colwith Force which instantly compensated us for the wet weather - one thing about rain - it makes waterfalls that much more of a spectacle. The Force was in full spate. Thirty minutes latter at Stang End Andy and I indicated that we had in mind to go to Hodge Close and lunch there.
 

"I was thinking we'd be better off in Cathedral Quarry?" said Tom.

Andy thought he had been there before and I knew I hadn't. While I knew Hodge Close had many merits, not the least being it is an impressive man-made hole in the ground caused by the extensive slate mining around Tilberthwaite, Tom's quiet insistence in favour of Cathedral Quarry won me over.

But first he had to find it. He knew it was close to Slater Bridge - one of Lakeland's most iconic and photographed near the outlet of Little Langdale Tarn. After a quick map check we located the track to the bridge and then soon after the switchback to Cathedral Quarry. Passing below huge spoil heaps we arrived on a tree line shelf where a notice indicated we were at Cathedral Quarry.

Tom led the way in - along a 100 foot tunnel into a massive chamber lit by daylight from a huge window above to the right.

 

I have been in large caves before - both natural and man made but there was a singularity about this one that deeply impressed me. It was certainly well named - the cavernous space could certainly accommodate a cathedral with room to spare. 


Its most impressive feature was the massive pillar  of rock in the middle of the main chamber that soared to the ceiling 40 feet above our heads.

 

I was reminded of illustrations of Napoleon's troops in Egypt dwarfed by the huge proportions of ancient temples.

 

Of course it was not as elegantly shaped as ancient Egyptian pillars but every bit of space around it had been carved out of the rock by human effort. 

The cave is part of a system of quarries and there were side tunnels to be explored. The easiest without a torch lead through to a rock strewn depression adjacent to the main chamber. It had been a long time since I had been impressed by a feature on a walk as I was on Sunday. Moreover as Tom knew it was out of the rain and so an admirable place for lunch.
In the afternoon we made out way across to the Langdale Valley by way of Blea Tarn. For a while the rain completely stopped and allowed me to take photographs of the attractive lake before we descended to the New Dungeon Ghyll for our rendezvous with the bus. 

 


I have been a member of the NWFC for over 30 years and during that time have walked over every part of the Lake District or at least I thought I had until Sunday. To my mind this exemplifies what I love about walking most in that there is always the chance of discovering something new. 

So THANK YOU Tom for showing me Cathedral Quarry.

 

 17th July Thursday. For the past four years I have helped out my friend GPS Dave at the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon which he organises. This is a two day navigation event in which teams of two race over the hills to a mid-camp and race back the following day. Its participants do this for fun and universally regard it as a far better activity than clubbing in Manchester. As a non-driver I usually arrange a lift up with one of the other marshals but this year I was already staying in the area at Grange-over-Sands. Reluctant to travel all the way back to Preston only to be driven back to the venue centre near Patterdale I decided to make my own way by from Windermere having got a lift there from John Griffiths (Founder of www.lancashirewalks.com) 

 

At the bus stop by Windermere Station I quickly ascertained that there was no bus direct to Patterdale except at weekends and school holidays. This did not come as a complete surprise to me and I had prepared myself for a bit of a walk. The question remained walk from where? Just then the open top service bus Route 555 to Ambleside pulled up. On a bright summer's morning in July it was a no brainer - I would start the walk from Ambleside. 

The open topped bus services run by stagecoach through the Lake District is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery. North of Brockholes the National Park centre there is a particularly fine view across Windermere of the Langdale Pikes.

 

Hint - no point on doing this journey on a wet and windy day.

Deposited in the town just before noon I set myself the target of reaching the Kirkstone Inn for a one o'clock lunch. The Kirkstone Inn is located at the top of the Kirkstone Pass and claims to be at 1480ft Britain's fourth highest pub. 
 

The route took me along one of my favourite paths up past Stock Ghyll Force

 

by farm lane to Middle Grove and then to the ruined farm at High Grove. From there I continued to intercept the Ambleside Road just below a section well named on the map as "The Struggle"! 

 

My plan worked out well and I made lunchtime positioning myself conspicuously outside the Inn in case any marshals or competitors should be passing by to give me a lift to the event centre. Alas no such luck so I headed downhill on a concessionary path that led past the eponymous Kirkstone

 

and descended to Brothers Water. From there it was a matter of joining the Patterdale road and walking round into Deepdale.

 

Well over 1200 competitors take part in the SLMM and it is a great event to be involved with - even as a lowly marshal. I have a great admiration for the participants who compete at a very high level in a sport that receives  little press attention and no television coverage. So it was no big deal to walk the seven or eight miles across to the event centre but I retain a small sense of achievement when reflecting on the day I crossed Kirkstone Pass the old fashioned way - on foot.

 

 25th May Sunday. "Have you got your camera, Bob?" asked Andy. 

"How about your wallet?" asked Jim.
"Where's your hat?" asked Don.
"Have you remembered your rucksack?" asked Malcolm. 
 

This was on Thursday afternoon as we were returning from our five day walk along the Furness Way. It had been a super break but on that final day I had been in a subdued mood when I realised I had lost my mobile phone. Retired policeman Jim carried out the initial inquiries. "When did you last have it?" 

Casting my mind back I recalled using it the previous day at our lunch stop near Park Crags, overlooking Coniston Water and I feared I had left it on the fellside.
 

The Furness Way is a 75 mile route across southern Lakeland from Arnside to Ravenglass. Much of it traverses pre-1974 Lancashire North of the Sands. Even though all of us were familiar with the area having driven through it countless times on our way to the high fells we were surprised and delighted to discover much of the walk was new to us. Moreover until we reached Coniston we had hardly seen another walker. We had the lovely hills and lonely farms to ourselves.


And then there was the weather - four out of five days sunny. This we knew to be butterfly weather thanks to our young friend Russell who took us on a nature walk at the beginning of the month. Equipped with the knowledge he imparted we kept a close eye out for butterflies. We saw lots.

 


Andy who organised the walk was limited when he came to book accommodation because we had left it later than usual. (Down to me not being sure until March about my availability because of THE PROJECT.) Thus we had two nights in Grange-over-Sands with Dave the proprietor of Somerset House B&B taxiing us from and back to Crosthwaite. From Grange we walked onto Lowick Bridge and then took a bus to Coniston for our lodgings at Lakeland House returning to Lowick the following day. This arrangement allowed Malcolm a morning of rest while the rest of us walked back to Coniston on the east side of Coniston Water. 
 

From Coniston we all took the Walna Scar Road to Seathwaite where we stayed conveniently close to Newfield Inn at Seathwaite Lodge. All the accommodation passed what Andy calls "The Spouse Test" i.e. "Would you be happy to bring your wife/partner to stay here?"

That evening - our last - we were in a deep contentment. We had enjoyed one of the best day's walk ever on what had been so far an enjoyable trek, an excellent meal at the pub washed down with real ale and a couple of malt whiskeys. Life could not get any better.
 

But it could get worse.

Luckily that beautiful day was not marred by me finding out my mobile was missing. That came the next morning as I was packing my bags. After a thorough search I realised it was not in Seathwaite and that it was somewhere between Grizedale  Forest and the Duddon Valley. 

I became pre-occupied with two strands of thought. First the massive inconvenience of being without my mobile especially as I was using it as the point of contact for the walk I have organised for 3rd June Volunteers Week Walk. With Spring Bank Holiday weekend approaching I foresaw complications and delay. 
 

"It's all the information phones carry now," observed Jim.

 

"Are you trying to cheer me up?"

More crucially there was the thought on how my loss would be received by Eileen. I could visualise the conversation. 
 

Me: Eileen I have experienced a misadventure.

Eileen: What now?

Me: Quite inadvertently and without any intention and despite my best efforts to have it otherwise sometime yesterday I contrived to lose my mobile.
 

Eileen: You're always losing phones!

Me: Not "always". I have misplaced it a time or two but not lost.
 

Eileen: Does Andy lose his phone? Does Don or Jim? 

Thursday although somewhat overcast and a little showery was a far better day than forecast. Besides it was Andy's 63rd birthday so at breakfast in Seathwaite he received our gifts which were as much a thank you for organising the walk. 
 

Our plan was to cross to Dalegarth and if the weather held Andy could bag Harter Fell

 

as part of his Wainwright Project. The weather did hold and Andy, Jim and Don climbed the fell while Malcolm and I waited on Harter Brow - having both of us completed the Wainwrights.

Later at our lunch spot on the banks of the River Esk the final options were discussed. We could finish the walk with an eleven mile march taking in Muncaster Fell but we would be under time pressure to catch the last train from Ravenglass to Preston. In all probability we would have made the train but we wouldn't have enjoyed the walk. So we went for the second option. On reaching Dalegarth we bought tickets for "The La'al Ratty" the narrow gauge Eskdale to Ravenglass Railway.
 

Malcolm was always going to take the train for nostalgic reasons. He had first ridden on it over 60  years ago as a (young) child. He was please we had elected to join him. So in the end we five didn't complete the Furness Way - we'll leave that last bit for another day - if ever - it doesn't matter. To cap it all Andy produced the birthday cake lovingly made by Elaine which we sampled on the journey to the coast.

 

On Ravenglass Station other people's mobiles came back into reception including Andy's. There was a voicemail message from the owner of café in Coniston where we had a brew the previous day after rendezvousing with Malcolm. 

 

 

"One of your party has left a mobile. Please contact the café to make arrangements for its return." MIRACLE NUMBER ONE. 

This was the newly opened Bespoke Folk Café (See www.bespokefolkcafe.co.uk ) As we ordered our brew we enjoyed a bit of banter with the lady who served us. She was keen to let us know that she offered walker friendly accommodation at a reasonable price. She had seen us set out for the bus earlier that morning and had worked out where we stayed. MIRACLE NUMBER TWO. When she found the phone on an outside couch where I left it she knew where to track down Andy's contact number.

When we reached Barrow-in-Furness on a very crowded train full of workers returning from Sellafield I phoned the café. The lady's first suggestion was to post the phone but as she was taking down the address I heard her husband in the background say, "Preston? That's on our way to Chester. We can drop it off tomorrow." MIRACLE NUMBER THREE. My phone would be delivered to my door the following day.
 

This is how I became reacquainted with Saint Jane of Coniston. She was on her way to see her newly born grand-daughter for the first time and her husband Saint Steve of Coniston kindly put themselves out to carry out a mission of mercy on their trip down to Chester. 

Back at Barrow once a happy outcome to the missing mobile saga was assured by friends who had sensitively restrained themselves from comment most of Thursday felt they now had licence to tease me. "Where's your camera, Bob?" Etc, etc, etc. But I do not worry because I know all I have to do is to pray to Saint Jane of Coniston and they will be punished!

 

 

Wednesday 14th May. As of today THE PROJECT is over. At 9.13am I posted the manuscript of "100 Walks in Lancashire" to Crowood Press. 

 

In a previous life I was a GCSE examiner which involved three weeks of intense marking of 400 or 500 papers evenings and weekends. To send off the final scripts was one of the best feelings to experience somewhat akin to going up in a balloon.

Well now I am airborne.
 

Back in August when I accepted the commission I sensed that Alan Murphy my contact and I assume my editor at Crowood was clutching at straws when he approached us through this website. What he offered was my chance of a slight smudge of immortality in the world of walking literature. He really had no idea if I could deliver. I had no idea whether I could deliver but I had built up an archive of 200 of my own walks in Lancashire which I knew I could delve into. 

Also I had BACK UP. 
 

In reality I am just the front man. BACK UP are the people who have given up time and effort to check out the routes that will make up "100 Walks in Lancashire" when it's out next year. And of course they have checked out routes which will not be included because for one reason or another I have discarded them.

It is a humbling experience to know that a great number of people have planned a day out (and in many cases a number of days out) because I asked them to check out a walk. That they have done this willingly and with no expectation of reward beyond a simple thank you goes far beyond what anyone could reasonably expect. In the final publication there will not be space for acknowledgements and because of that I must acknowledge here.
 

I start with my friends at the Norwest Fellwalking  Club. John and Pauline Dixon, Tom Oakes and Ken Moss, Geoff Wildman, Keith and Kath Wildman, Eric Alty, Bob Singleton, Alec Wrennall,  Jean and Jim Nettleship, Ann Taylor, Graham Preston, Brenda Nixon, Martyn Hanks and Andy Walker.

Next the Dotcom Walkers - Edward Walton and the Burnley Contingent, Malcolm McCulloch, Nigel Hext, Andy Burton, Andy and Ann Luscombe, Paul Taylor, Don Beal, Jim Bentham, Jim and Susan Skipper, Mike O'Callaghan, Margaret Simmonds, Sandra Livesey,  Dave and Teresa Preedy.
 

Next come  others -  Brian and Eileen Dernaley, companions on several walks and at mountain marathons; Dave Eastham who I first met nearly 40 years ago when Eileen and I first lived in Preston. And without the website there would have been no commission - my thanks to John Griffiths who set up www.lancashirewalks.com are eternal.

And last but of course we could never say least comes David Johnstone the long-time secretary of the Norwest Fellwalking Club. From the moment I accepted the commission to the moment I completed it he has been a constant companion, trusted counsellor and good friend.  So with the list of acknowledgements that will never be listed in the published edition comes a dedication that will never appear in the published edition.

"100 Walks in Lancashire" (Revised edition) is dedicated  to David Sherwood Johnstone who has spent most of his life helping people discover the simple joys of walking. 

 

20th April Sunday. On Tuesday John, Brian and I walked from Windermere to Staveley.

 

 

We were in Windermere to celebrate Diane's special birthday and it was special in all sorts of ways. John and Diane had booked No 1 The Terrace part of a grade II listed building to accommodate a changing cast of family and friends. It was palatial to say the least.


Just as well for last Saturday John and Diane's son Andy pulled off a spectacular surprise. Just as the family were readying themselves for a chef cooked dinner they had arranged for Diane's favourite singer Miranda Sykes (See www.sykespreston.com ) to come and give a private concert. When Diane opened the door Miranda and her two accompanists sang "Happy Birthday" as an opening for their performance. The main lounge was a perfect venue and large enough to accommodate musicians and audience.

Eileen and I heard about all this when we arrived the following afternoon as the advance party for the second group of guests. On Monday we were joined by Anne, Sandra, Pat, Brian and Mary and together with John, Diane and Helen (Diane's daughter) enjoyed a murder mystery evening on a theme set in the Scottish Highlands.

 

This explains why on Tuesday morning John (founder of this website), Brian (founder of the Dotcom walkers) and I had our walk across to Staveley.


Sandra, a regular Tuesday walker, would have joined us but for an appointment back in Preston. Instead she decided she had time to walk to the top of Orrest Head and back before catching her train. The path started  about 150 yards further along from the Terrace on the opposite side of the road. Since Orrest Head provides one of the best views in the Lake District for the least effort - a sign indicates 20 minutes to the top - it was a walk that even Eileen was prepared to do. We went up with John, Diane and Helen on the Monday morning. 

 


The modest height (780') has huge significance for fellwalkers as it was from here in 1930 that 23 year old Alfred Wainwright saw the Lake District for the first time.

 

He had never seen anything more beautiful and he vowed that if he ever was offered the chance to live in or near the Lakes he would take it. The opportunity came when he was accepted for a job in Kendal in 1941. From that time on nearly all his spare time was devoted to walking his beloved fells. In 1952 he commenced his encyclopedic "Illustrated Guide to the Lakeland Fells"  which transformed the lives of thousands of his readers who were equipped with a detailed and reliable guide for exploring the fells. The Guide was characterised by Wainwright's determination not to have a single letter of printed typescript in any of the seven books. Every drawing, map and word was rendered by his own hand. Wainwright went on to be a publishing phenomenon - selling millions of books. TV and radio appearances followed. His life transformed because of a 20 minute walk. Two years ago the Wainwright Society (See www.wainwright.org.uk)  replaced the view indicator to mark this special spot.

 


Orrest Head was so close to where we were staying that I could not resist the temptation to walk to the top on each of the three days we were at Windermere. Given this it is rather curious that the first time Eileen and I stayed at Windermere -on our honeymoon - I didn't walk up it at all. For some reason it wasn't on my radar. Inadvertently John and Diane's decision to rent No 1 The Terrace had brought us back to where our married life had started 40 years ago. So that added something to the specialness of the occasion. 

John, Brian and I enjoyed our Tuesday walk. We did it in bright sunshine and had glorious views of the Lakes - especially from School Knott. After picking up the Dales Way we arrived in Staveley at lunchtime enjoying a pint and a sandwich at the Eagle and Child.

 

Afterwards we had just a few minutes to wait for the bus back to Windermere. It wasn't a life changing walk like the one Wainwright did over 80 years ago but a pleasantly memorable one I think during a highly memorable few days at Windermere. THANK YOU to John and Diane for inviting us to share in the celebrations marking Diane's special birthday. 





 

 

Monday 17th March. "It was…mystical." Nigel was describing his feelings two weeks ago when we reached the top of Black Fell and enjoyed a wonderful 360 degree panorama of the Lake District.


This was recalled on Friday's walk around Foulridge.

 

It struck a chord. "I know someone who can relate to that." And I reminded Andy, who was leading our walk, of the time when he and I were on the Dales Way coming over Cam Fell Road. Earlier that day we had set out from Hubberholme on the third day of our long walk. The previous day we had had wall to wall sunshine from Appletreewick to Hubberholme through the heart of the Dales. But on the morning I describe we walked into a grey, drizzly clag.

We made our way up Langstrothdale and then climbed out of it to Oughtershaw both of us absorbed in our own worlds - the confining effect of fog. It made you wonder why you were there. We were there because the previous summer we had done a walk in Dent with Andy M and Geoff and I had pointed out to him as we sat in the Sun Inn that we were on the route of the Dales Way. Until that point he was unaware of its existence but was immediately interested. "It goes from Ilkley to Windermere," I explained. "Let's do it," Andy replied.

As we climbed onto Cam Fell our private thoughts might have been summed up with "Sod this for a game of marbles!"  The morning had seemed arduous but as we briefly joined the Pennine Way the walking became easier. Still in thick mist we started on a gentle downward slope.

 Then it happened.

I had drawn a little in front of Andy when quite unexpectedly the curtain of fog was suddenly pulled aside. Before us were the Three Peaks of Yorkshire surprising us not only because of their sudden appearance but also because of the unusual view we had of them. "Look at this", I called back to him. He was looking at it. For Andy that moment seemed endowed with significance. The sight moved me. The sight moved Andy almost to tears.

This he recounted to Don and Nigel on Friday. As we walked we made some attempt at deconstructing such experiences. "Why does it happen?" I wondered, "after all it is only looking at an arrangement of the Earth's surface."

 

"I'm not a religious person," said Don, "but when I walk something touches my spirit. I cannot properly explain it." He seemed to be doing very well - we all knew what he meant.
 

Religion had been something of a theme last week. On Tuesday Edward led the Lancashire Dotcom Walkers on a circuit from Brierfield on a route that took us past the Inghamite Church on Wheatley Lane. 

 


By arrangement the minister there, Mathew, gave us a talk about Benjamin Ingham and his place in the history of the Church. Born in Ossett, Yorkshire in 1712 he was an associate of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield when he was at Oxford - part of "the Holy Club" that sought to bring reform within the Church of England. Eventually they broke away from the church altogether to form the Methodists. While Ingham was much in sympathy with the Methodist communion he developed an independent stance in his preaching mainly due to the influence of the Moravians. There was little doubt he was a gifted and charismatic preacher so that by the time he died in 1772 he had established 18 societies - mainly in the Craven District of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Today the church on Wheatley Lane together with a Canadian church are all that remain of his legacy.

 


Yet this is not a "last of the Mohicans" story or even "Last of the Summer Wine" story. The Inghamite Church on Wheatley Lane is a vibrant communion - a bright burning candle of faith. It is also friendly and welcoming. After Mathew's talk we enjoyed a brew and were able to chat with church members Tammy and Lorraine. The Dotcom Walkers are a broad church incorporating all aspects of Christian faith and none - but I think we all came away impressed by the Inghamite Church on Wheatley Lane.

 

 

21st February 2014 Friday. It's been a fraught week. For quite some time my computer has been playing up. By Monday it was becoming so awkward that I took the precaution of backing up all my documents and photographs and sending in several weeks' of walks to the newspapers we supply. On Wednesday the difficulties were becoming acute. The PC wouldn't switch on straight away, took ages to respond, and would close down websites. I lost work failing to remember John's Three Rules of Computers - "SAVE YOUR WORK, SAVE YOUR WORK, SAVE YOUR WORK!" 

 


It was then that it occurred to me that an annoying pop up Daemon Exe. Error was telling me about something called MSVCR.dll. Could this be the source of the mischief? I carried out a search and discovered that this indeed could well be the problem. Not only that but there were all sorts of quick fix solutions. Without too much thought and no research I was drawn to one that claimed a fix in three easy steps. The price seemed reasonable - £25 and within seconds of purchase I was watching a scan that highlighted an impressive number of threats that carried varying degrees of threat levels - mostly amber and red. By now I was so confident that I had resolved the problem I felt I could now go for the walk I had previously arranged with GPS Dave.

At the end of the scan I was directed to an 0800 number for "technical support". I was put through to Yolanda. She possessed a distinctive southern drawl that was slower than my computer. I imagined her working from a wooden shack in an alligator infested Mississippi swamp. After some awkward preliminaries she gave me a link that allowed her remote access to my computer. There were numerous long silences which were not filled with Vivaldi, Mozart or the Carpenters.
 

Once started though in front of my eyes the screen began to fill up with a bewildering array of windows taking me on a journey into the inner cyber space of my PC - areas where I would never have found or even suspected left to my own devices. Places which to that moment I was happily ignorant. "Well," I thought," Yolanda really does know her stuff - she'll sort this in no time."


Yolanda came back on the phone. She attempted to explain in Computereez something of the monumental sickness afflicting my PC. At last she said something I could understand. I think she was reading from a script. "Y'all two options. Y'all go to Kerries…"
"I beg your pardon…"
"Kerries - you have a Kerries don't you - the Computer Store."
"Oh Curry's"
"Yeh, like I said, y'all go to Kerries to have it fixed. That'll cost y'all between £200 - £300. Or I can fix it today for £150."
"Yer what?!*"
"I can fix it for you for £150."
"I don't think so."
"Wazza matter wid you - waz the problem?"
"The money!"
"Okay then - I'll do it for £98"
"NO THANK YOU" and I quickly concluded the interview.
 

This encounter shook me somewhat and left me reflecting on my gullibility. If something looks too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true. The bait was put on the end of a hook and I snapped it up. Doubtless there was something in the terms and conditions that covered the company Yolanda represented. But no doubt like others I was attracted by it appearing to solve my problem easily and inexpensively. This is the world we now inhabit - Last gasp market capitalism where even in well-ordered societies the consumer is seen as a mark. In the end I counted myself fortunate to learn the lesson so cheaply.

When David appeared not long after I asked him to go by way of a local computer shop in Lostock Hall where I arranged to drop off the computer. (Something I should have done in the first place.) 40 minutes later we were in the countryside above Colne checking a route for the PROJECT. 

"What will you do without the computer?" David asked knowing full well my reliance on it. "Clean my boots, clean my shoes, tidy my wardrobes, sort out the glass cupboard, clean the house, rearrange my bookcase."
In the event the Computer Shop sorted out the problems in 24 hours and order was restored in my Universe and my neat and tidy house!

 

13th February Thursday. Hello it's been awhile. Firstly Christmas came and went. This was followed by a holiday in Tenerife where Eileen and I grabbed some winter sun. All this taking me away from THE PROJECT - that is my commission to update "100 Walks in Lancashire" Pub Crowood Press. On return from Tenerife I spent almost a week catching up with other matters and then returned to the Interface and managed to process 50 walks by the end of January.


"You must have been very busy!" Anne observed last Saturday at dinner. It sounded like a reprimand. "I know it's sad and all that but you need to move on from your Aunt Rose." "I suppose you are putting more stuff on the Facebook page instead of the blog," Jean observed on Tuesday. Again I sensed I had another disappointed reader.

I meant to do a blog on Sunday but was distracted by something that had caught my attention in the Saturday Guardian in its new monthly supplement "Do Something" which featured a walking group from the Bristol area. Readers were invited to post contributions about their walking group experiences to the online Guardianwitness page. I need little encouragement in these matters and sent in a number of photos as well as a report on the background of Lancashire Dotcom Walkers.  I think I over egged the pudding in that my ten photos were more than all the other contributions until that point . Anyway, I thought, that would be that - until this morning. We're on the front page of the Guardian!View front page in printer friendly format


Not "Eye of the storm: hurricane-force winds lash Britain as floods continue". Not "Interest rates on hold as Bank says recovery "unsustainable"" but right at the bottom in a plug for the Guardian Witness app. This photograph - one of the ten I posted on Sunday.

 


I can see exactly why the Guardian used it. Cropped its long and thin and fits the page. Every picture tells a story. Here is the story of that day - 30th April 2013.

There was very nearly no walk at all. Quite a few of us were considerably delayed by an accident on the M65 and reached the RV at Hurstwood well after the appointed time. John and his daughter Julie couldn't reach us before we set off and went elsewhere to do their own walk. Nigel and John coming from Blackburn turned up a good half hour after the main party set off for Widdop. Teresa and I waited for them as they booted up and then after skirting the reservoir at Hurstwood led them onto the Gorple Road.

The Gorple Road is not a road at all - but a wide well made moorland track and is one of the best in the north of England. We four made good progress but even as we crossed into TOP we still had not caught up with the main group. As Widdop came into sight we linked up with Geoff

 

who had waited behind to offer a route across to the lunch time picnic spot - a shooters hut  below Gorple Reservoir. Since the main group were now just 15 minutes ahead John, Nigel and Teresa dropped down to Widdop to catch up with it.

 

Geoff and I took the moorland path across to the hut. 


By this time after a grey start the sun had come out and it was so very good to have some time with my old friend. Once we reached the hut we had a short while to wait before Don and Edward appeared before the main group. A number of us chose to have our lunch in the hut only to find it considerably cooler than sitting outside in the spring sunshine.

After lunch the photo - not everyone is on it. Margaret doesn't do photos was sitting on a hummock nearby. And of course the photographer - not me but my old friend Geoff - with my camera I hasten to add in case there are any disputes over copyright!
 

The return to Hurstwood involved a climb back to the Gorple Road and then a descent to Cant Clough Reservoir over featureless moorland.

 

From there it was a short stride to the car park. Dave and Teresa's route also introduced many in our group to the wild moors of the South Pennines - what Dave chose to call "Burnley's Lake District". It had been a superb day out - thoroughly enjoyed by everyone - the more so as a day rescued from the unhappy circumstances of the start. 

In these times of storms and floods and extreme weather it is good to be reminded of days like the one we spent in Widdop.

 

Friday 6th December. Yesterday the greatest statesman of our age - no, the greatest man of our age died. He changed the world from a prison cell. Nelson Mandela (1918 - 20013) Rest in Peace.

We are approaching the 100th anniversary of Douglas Mawson's departure from Antarctica. This is why there was an item on him on Radio 4 and an article in yesterday's Guardian.

Mawson's is not a name that readily springs to mind when thinking about the personalities in the great age of Antarctic exploration like Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton. He occupies a similar place as the fourth man to walk on the moon (Alan Bean) - known to some but not many. Yet his is a heroic story. Prior to his Australian backed expedition of 1911 he had already notched up some notable firsts - member of the first party to climb Mount Erebus and in the first party to reach the magnetic south pole.

The 1911 Expedition that Mawson put together (having turned down an opportunity to join Scott's ill fated Terra Nova expedition) had a strong scientific purpose - to collect geological and environmental  data of what was still an unknown region.
In 1912 Mawson led a mapping party of two others into the interior. 500k from base one companion died when he fell into a crevasse along with the bulk of the food supplies.  On the remaining sledge there was a week and half of rations. Mawson and his remaining companion set off for base camp with the knowledge they were unlikely to make it. In order to increase their chances of survival they began to eat the dogs but this in fact had the opposite affect since the high levels of Vitamin A in the livers of the dogs began to poison them. Mawson's companion began to crack up under the stress and he too died. Remarkably Mawson pressed on to the coast just in time to see the expedition ship steaming away. Luckily though a small group of men had volunteered to wait for him and they were all picked up a year later in December 2013.

What adds to this epic tale of survival is the fact that Mawson never neglected the scientific purpose of the expedition and continued to make his observations.

I should have listened more attentively to yesterday's weather forecast. I knew there were weather warnings but somehow thought these applied to Scotland and North east England. I had decided to photograph a walk from Colne - part of the PROJECT - and one that Andy B had previously checked out.

Boarding the train I had the Guardian where I read about Douglas Mawson, a copy of the route with Andy's annotations and notes, a printed off map showing the route and the OS Outdoor Leisure 21 The South Pennines map all in a plastic wallet, together with waterproofs and camera. I had walked to the station in the calm early morning catching the 7.22.

As we neared the terminus I could see that the weather had started. I made my preparations. On went the scarf, hat, gloves and waterproofs. I stepped out into it and made my way to Alkincoats Park.  This earlier part of the route I had checked out in July when Eileen had reason to go to Boundary Mill. It meant I could cover the ground quickly but already the weather conditions were becoming challenging.

Strong gusts brought lashings of rain across the park. I was taking photographs whipping out the camera and trying to snap before rainwater blurred the lens. Still by the time I passed Slipper How Reservoir I felt I was making progress.

At this point I needed to consult Andy's notes - not easy with the drenching rain swirling  round. Concentration is difficult. Wind is a very distracting element. I foresaw future problems - water was seeping into the protective plastic wallet.

I worked out the route and then not long after arrived at a notice setting out a footpath diversion. It was not easy to study with gale force winds sweeping over the fields. And what kept occurring to me was Douglas Mawson - my experience in the midst of habitation against his on the edge of an unknown and unpeopled land.

By the time I reached Blacko Andy's notes had dissolved. By the time I reached Barrowford the OS map had dissolved but by then I was in familiar territory. I worked out the best way back to the train station. I have never been on a more difficult short walk. It took me three hours to work just under 5 miles - a rate that would have probably killed Mawson. By the time I arrived in Preston the storm had blown itself out and it was actually sunny.

Back home I became aware I had been in a news event with reports of widespread flooding,  storm damage and sadly a fatality in Scotland. Sometimes I have suspected the news channels of exaggerating the effects of the weather but having experienced it yesterday I knew there was substance in all the reports instead of the usual speculation.

Now the death of Nelson Mandela has pushed all those concerns to the side. His values, his dignity, his statesmanship, his compassion, his quest for justice and freedom have provided the golden rule by which we all measure ourselves. Will it be ever said of a banker, a hedge fund manager, an on line betting operator "he made a positive difference to millions of lives"?

 

Saturday 30th November. There is new star in the firmament and it has my name on it - that is one of my names - Ison.  This name given to me at baptism in honour of my grandfather and as I later discovered my great grandmother Sarah Ison born in Coventry in 1850.

Family matters have been at the fore this past week with a family funeral. My Aunt Rose died on Remembrance Day. Apparently things are so busy at North Watford Crematorium that Wednesday was the first available slot.

In the car as we waited my family and I tried to make a list of good things that might be said about Aunt Rose. It was harder than trying to name ten famous Belgians.

"She was resilient," offered Louise my sister. Given that Rose was 92 there was no denying that.

"She was always smart," was my contribution. Bandbox, not a hair.. and now I come to think of it not unlike the Duchess of Windsor.

"She covered for me when I was short changed," Dad remembered thinking back to 1941 when he was a butcher boy and Rose 4 years older was the cashier. She made up the difference without telling the manager.

But we kept straying off point recalling the other side of the balance sheet - the cold self-interest, the cutting comments, the judgemental eye and the fact she was always first in the queue at family buffets. It was thanks to my second cousin Helen that we came to see Rose a little more clearly. Helen's eulogy was fair, generous and unsentimental .

Rose was born in 1921 one of a family of 5 girls moving from inner London to the suburbs near Stanmore in the 1930s. My Dad's family lived on the same street. Not long after the war broke out Rose met and then married Eddie Beech, an enlisted soldier. He was killed in the Sicily Landings of 1943. A few weeks later his son Alan was born.
After the war Rose was courted by my dad's eldest brother Dick and they soon married. Dick a Dunkirk veteran and Sicily campaign veteran too adopted Alan as his son. I had no idea that Alan wasn't my natural cousin until my early adulthood. Seven years older than me he was my childhood hero.

In 1964 Alan married Jacky and they had two girls - Rosie (my god-daughter) and Helen. On leaving school Alan had gone to work at Lloyds the insurance house and forged an exceptional career for himself as an underwriter.

In 1982 Uncle Dick died. He was cremated at the North Watford Crematorium and I have never seen such grief at a funeral - Rose, Alan, Jacky and my father were inconsolable. The British Legion and the Dunkirk Veterans Association were in attendance.

Widowed again resilient Rose carried on band box smart at family dos in her accustomed place at the front of the buffet queue. Her granddaughters married. Great grandchildren came along. Alan phoned every day. My mother phoned her every week. Then Alan took ill and died in 1995. Two husbands and her only child dead. It makes you think.

Rose was not an easy woman to include - not one to show love or receive it. Yet for 17 years my cousin's dear wife, Jacky, put up with Rose's ways and included her in all family celebrations. We all recognise that. On Wednesday Rose was given a dignified funeral and Helen spoke well.

 I think about this line from Anne Bronte's "Agnes Grey" "The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than any one can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking." It seems to sum up Rose's resilience.

 

Saturday 19th October. On Thursday I found myself driving a vehicle for the first time in six years. This is how it came about..

Back in September I explained the PROJECT of revising a book of 100 Lancashire walks to my friend Kathleen who is the volunteers co-ordinator at a charity that supports people with learning disabilities. "That's good," she remarked, "because you can make sure it includes walks for people with disabilities."

I have to confess that until that moment I hadn't given the matter a great deal of thought and Kathleen's reaction had brought me up short. Since it was established six years ago this website has published over 250 routes and all but a handful are certainly not suitable for a wheelchair or pushchair or the less agile walker who cannot manage stiles. In fact so many of our walks involve stiles I could rightfully claim we possess the World's largest photographic archive of Lancashire stiles!

I soon discovered that while I hadn't given the matter of access much thought a lot of people in Lancashire had. In particular the County Council's countryside service working with its partners at the Forest of Bowland and in local business had developed a number of wheelchair/pushchair friendly routes. As I studied these I noticed that "tramper Trails" had been set up in some of the county's loveliest locations. "This I must see, " I said to myself and arranged with GPS Dave to go to Scorton on Thursday.

First we went to Grizedale. The way we arranged it was to follow the road as far as we could.  Then David dropped me off at  Fell End Farm to drive round to the other end of the valley thereby saving a great deal of time. As I passed behind Nicky Nook taking photographs for the website (See Walk of the Week 24th November) I "got it" - what Kathleen and people in the countryside service understood - that access to Lancashire's beautiful countryside as epitomised by the beautiful Grizedale Valley should be available to all.

 

Next we went to Cobble Hey Farm and Gardens. This establishment has built up a deserved reputation for itself as a visitor attraction. The tramper trail here was impressively and entirely off road. Also in linking in with nearby public rights of way it was routed along concessionary paths crossing Cobble Hey's land. In other words but for David and Edwina's goodwill the trail would not exist.

The trail first went to the top of Peacock Hill a superb viewpoint taking in the Fylde and its coast. From there it cut across to Delph Lane and then dropped to Landskill before returning to Cobble Hey. In character entirely different from Grizedale but no less attractive.

 

Thus far all route checking on foot and to that point no tramper. On our return to the farm David the farmer soon remedied that. Taking us to the barn the tramper was at last revealed. Of course I had seen versions of it before but had no reason to study one close to. It was a type of three wheeled scooter with a chair seat.

"Have a go," David the farmer urged me and David after explaining the controls. So I found myself driving for the first time in six years.

We took it up the steep sided slopes of Peacock Hill and I found it robust, stable and simple to use with a top speed of 5mph; an ideal way to enjoy the outdoors.

Before we left Edwina related to us the story of a school visit which occurred not long after Cobble Hey acquired the tramper. The class included a little girl whose mobility would not allow her to join her classmates as they went out to explore the fields. She and her support  assistant  resigned themselves to a less than thrilling wait at the farm. Once the farmer took in the situation he produced the tramper. After a quick lesson explaining the controls the little girl was off - her day transformed by a piece of well-located technology - much to the envy of her classmates. How things, people, ideas and even remarks can transform days and lives!

 

 

Tuesday 1st October. "I feel privileged being here," Geoff confided in me at one point over the weekend. "Here" being deepest Snowdonia. I felt exactly the same.

In part we were privileged because of the weather. Three days of warm sunshine allowed for an unimpeded exploration of the area. On Friday Andy, Jim and I went up to the summit of Snowdon by the Rhyd Ddu path which approaches it from the west. (Geoff had gone off to view Carnarvon Castle.)

I had been to Snowdonia before and climbed many of its highest peaks including Snowdon but until this past weekend hadn't properly appreciated it. I think I may have been guilty of dismissing it as being too small compared to the vast wilderness of the Highlands. Being small is entirely the point. The high peaks are so compact it is possible to walk them - or perhaps run them in a day. For visitors it gives them the sense that a few days stay and they can see it all. So as Jim, Andy and I gained height and looked back over crag, lake and forest I "got" Snowdonia in a way I hadn't experienced before.

But Geoff meant "privilege" in another way altogether. We were guests of Andy at Snowdon View built as a farmhouse in the early part of the 19th century and then extended to become a guest house in the early part of the 20th century. Andy's forebears had owned the estate that included the farm and in the 1970s his father's cousin inherited Snowdon View. By this stage a few years after it had ceased to be a guest house it was badly need of repair and substantial renovation was necessary to ensure the place did not fall down.  And then a rather remarkable decision was made. Not to sell it off; not to permanently occupy it; but to retain it as a holiday home for use by the wider family and their friends. Hence Andy's connection.

"Holiday home" may conjure all sorts of Laura Ashley and Clarence Cliff images. Certainly "privilege" would not be a word that would spring to the lips of Geoff's Diane, Jim's Susan or my Eileen. One glance at the array of mousetraps in the scullery would be enough to make Eileen turn on her heel and drive home.

In its present condition Snowdon View would not make the grade for a holiday cottages brochure. Set amongst trees on a north facing slope the already ill lit interior feels gloomy on first acquaintance. It made me think of a down at heel bunkhouse. Nothing matched with anything - furniture, curtains, bedding, crockery,  cutlery.  In numerous places the fabric of the building was in need of remedial attention - sagging floorboards, ill fitting doors and gaps by window frames. In short the place defied every notion of modern taste. It was old fashioned in the sense that the word "old" could apply to several past eras.

But for all this the house functioned well as a place to stay. I quickly learned that if I was in want of a utensil all I had to do was to look for it. The kitchen was well equipped and was even well ordered. Throughout the house everything worked. There was hot running water. The toilet flushed. It was fine.

This is a bloke's assessment of course but I noticed in the visitor's book there were countless positive comments by the hosts of people who have stayed there women as well as men. Snowdon View generated affection.

So for four blokes staying over three nights in early autumn with good walking nearby and beer in the evening it was… a privilege.

 

 

Wednesday 25th September. Today is our GPS Dave's 70th birthday.

When David and Val first joined us in 2009 I was a little surprised. After all he had been the long-time secretary of the Norwest Fellwalking Club and had organised countless outings to Lakes and Dales and beyond. In addition he organised mountain marathons involving thousands of competitors in remote locations - huge events. What could he possibly gain from dawdling around the Lancashire countryside with a bunch of blokes (mainly) talking about football?

I was very glad that he did of course especially as he quickly made himself useful by leading us on a number of walks. Brian nicknamed him Lord Garmin as a feature of the walks in those days was to await the GPS's pronouncement about the route whenever we reached an important intersection. "Oh it doesn't like this" was a frequently used phrase as we began to drift down a track; to which the Dotcoms would respond with weary grumbling until David hit upon the line that the GPS did like.

So David and Val have been coming ever since and his energy and propensity to give service has meant he has contributed considerably in many of the projects we have become involved with.  He is generous, kind hearted and a good friend. So here we would like to say Happy Birthday David and here's to many more.

 

 

Sunday 15th September. "Where's Graham?" I asked as we were about to set off to climb the Via Ferrata on the Piz di Cir. "Gone to change his underpants!" Jim called back as he was passing through the foyer of the hotel chalet Al Pigher.

We were there as part of the Norwest Fellwalking Club's holiday in the Alta Badia Dolomites, Italy. This was a new departure for the club. In the past there had been the occasional weekend away but always in the Lakes or Dales. GPS Dave assisted by Val decided to expand the club's horizons and so came up with the proposal to take a party to South Tyrol. The package they put together was so attractive that even Eileen could not resist it - so a new departure for me - on a walking holiday with my wife!

Attending to Eileen's comfort and happiness meant I could not dedicate myself to all the walking I might have done. I turned down the chance to climb Sassongher (2665 metres) with Jim and Jean as well as one or two other demanding walks. However I was really pleased that Eileen did far more walking than I expected her to do and so, like everyone else, had a most enjoyable holiday.

As with other parts of the Alps, South Tyrol is walkers' heaven.

Manicured paths and trackways, detailed information boards usually with pictorial maps showing the network of routes available and frequent sign posts indicating walking times to destinations make way finding easy. We were advised to buy a pass that gave us access to ski lifts and local buses and thereby increasing the range of walking possibilities. All grades of walk were on offer and it was this, together with the great company we were with, that drew the admission from Eileen that she actually enjoyed the walks she did.

 

As part of the compact we made on booking the holiday I would have one day dedicated to more serious walking. It quickly emerged that this would be on the Wednesday of the week when Graham, Brenda , Sheila and I would join hotel manager Justin and three of his staff on their day off to climb one of the many Via Ferratas in the area.

"Via Ferrata" ("Iron Way") is a generic term to described climbing routes which have fixed ropes, cables and ladders to assist climbers up mountains. Though in existence before World War One the term came into being during the conflict between Austria and Italy when both sides had to move men and supplies through the mountains up to the front line.

The old front line was quite close to where we were staying and on the Thursday a few of our party went up to see it high on top of the Falzarego Pass.

Here at Fort Tre Sass (now a museum) the Austro-Hungarians defended the frontier in a bloody little sideshow that was fought to a stalemate. Although the Italians could not claim military success they found themselves on the winning team at the end of the war and were rewarded with South Tyrol as part of the settlement. Being winners - their term - "Via Ferrata" - stuck.

Graham had not gone to change his underpants - at least I'm pretty sure he hadn't - and on an early bus together with Brenda and Sheila we made our way to the Gardena Pass to RV with Justin, who celebrated his 40th birthday on the day we arrived, and his young staff - Martin, Lawrence and Emma all of whom were ridiculously young. Thus we had an old team - I'm sorry to be so ungallant towards Brenda and Sheila but both admit to being grandmothers - and a ridiculously young team.

Justin had stopped by to pick up equipment from the hire store in Corvara so once kitted up with helmet, harness and carabineers we set off towards the Piz di Cir. Although at the top of the pass we were 2,136 metres (just over 7,000ft) there was still a stiff ascent just to reach the base of the rock face. Here Brenda suffered as the ridiculously young team bounded up the sharp slopes like mountain marmots. However Justin was ever mindful of the Old Team and with his encouragement we arrived at the start of the Via Ferrata wondering what might come next.

A short metal ladder marked the beginning of the serious stuff. Here Justin gave us instruction on how to keep secure. The two carabineers were clipped to the cable alongside the ladder. When they reached an anchor point one would be unclipped and clipped on beyond the obstacle. Then the second would be moved to join it. He then sorted out the order of climb - he led followed by Brenda, Sheila and Emma.

 Then Lawrence followed to lead me and Graham with ridiculously young Martin bringing up the rear.

If I came near to requiring a change of underpants it would have been the moment I clipped on and started to climb the ladder. It so happened that part of the route went round the rock so one after another Justin, Brenda, Sheila and Lawrence disappeared around the corner. I was climbing into the unknown.  There were plenty of footholds and handholds so technically not a great deal was being asked of me and once I found myself into the rhythm of clip off - clip on - clip off - clip on I began to enjoy the experience.  "Enjoy" is not quite right. In concentrating on what I was doing I lost all sense of time and space. Reflecting on it now I know I was on a practically vertical rock face but I felt no fear after that initial pitch.

After some time had passed - I cannot tell you how long -we reached the broad shelf below the peak and here we were able to gather. For the final part of the climb to the peak there was just room for three at a time so Brenda led Sheila and me to this pinnacle. There I managed to put the camera on timer and record our achievement. 

Emma, Lawrence and Martin went up after us. Graham was satisfied with what he achieved with the Via Ferrata and rightly so. We were all elated - far higher than the elevation it said on the map.

The descent although tricky in parts did not seem as hard as I anticipated. It looks us down a steep gully between rock buttresses. Once we were all safely down we took a stroll to Jimmy's Hutte and celebrated with a beer. (The ridiculously young Martin had a vodka and coke). From there the Old Team took the ski lift down to Colfosco and then finished our day with a lovely forest walk to Corvara. It had simply been one of my best days in mountains.
Later I sent a teasing text to Don and Andy who had done the Via Ferrata at the top of Honister Pass with Malcolm's family Karen, Richard, Jeanette and Ian earlier this year. I stressed the fact that I had done the "real" Via Ferrata but I am grateful to them. I wouldn't have thought of doing a Via Ferrata without their example.

 

Grateful too to Justin and his ridiculously young team for spending their day off patiently taking the Old Team up the Piz di Cir, grateful that Graham, Brenda and Sheila wanted to do it with me and very very grateful that David and Val took the time to organise a holiday that led to a wonderful experience.


 

 

 

Tuesday 27th August. Going up to the SLMM in July I asked Jim who was a successful author of text books whether he continued to write since he retired. "No!" he said emphatically. At that time it struck me as odd. Surely a wordsmith who gained some satisfaction from crafting words, sentences, paragraphs to communicate ideas would not want to stop writing.

The SLMM is as much an orienteering event as well as a race. Now I have tried orienteering in the past - even joined a club and competed in a few events. But I never took to it. As a school teacher with enough stress in my professional life I found myself stressed at orienteering events. Yet I couldn't put my finger on why. After all I was navigating myself around a course, often in picturesque locations and getting plenty of fresh air but I wasn't enjoying it. When I related this to GPS Dave he came up with the answer instantly.

"It's the clock," he said simply.

Of course it bloody was.  As soon as the clock starts ticking you are under pressure to find the controls as quickly as possible. If you don't you feel depressed. Well as least I did. It seemed silly to do an activity that replicated the emotional conditions I worked under.

A couple of weeks ago we had a website inquiry from a publisher wanting to update a Lancashire walks guide. I indicated interest. The publisher explained the commission. The book was first published in 1992 and revised three years later.  I was to check over existing routes, amend them if possible, and replace those I deemed unsuitable. I could do that - why I had written over two hundred Lancashire walks. I happily signed the contract and the clock…started…ticking.

I have until 30th June next year to process, amend, re-write or produce 100 walks in Lancashire. That is 10 per month. What was I thinking? Suddenly Jim's emphatic "NO!" came to mind.

After the first flush of euphoria of a dream fulfilled ("I can now put "writer" on my passport" I exulted to my daughter) reality returned. Preparing 10 walks per month! At present I write up 5 at the most. And of course the bar is set much higher than future chip paper.

As these thoughts began to sink in I returned to a state of OFSTED sleeplessness. Arrogantly, stupidly I had bitten off more than I can chew. On Saturday night I was fretting. I slept poorly and I had a NWFC outing the next day. Ostensibly I was leading the A party. I was without any expectations about the walk at all. Really. All my pre-occupation about my commitment to the publisher had driven every other thought from my head.

Not many people wanted to join David and me - just Martin and Christine.

 Martin first joined the club 40 years ago when he moved up from London. Chris joined it 5 years ago. David's route started on the Coast to Coast path east of Shap and HE led us across to Crosby Ravensworth. We were entering country I had never walked before. I was entering it with agreeable companions. I have walked with Martin several times but it was the first occasion I think I had walked with Chris. By the time we reached Crosby Ravensworth every care I ever had were behind me.

We stopped at the Butcher's Arms a community owned pub. A shandy for David, tea for Chris and real ale for Martin and me. Martin is a world traveller so in view of current affairs I asked him if he had been to Syria. Oh yes. Impression?  Very good - the people were exceptionally friendly there.

Afterwards we checked out the church at Crosby Ravensworth which was a particularly attractive building with stone carving a feature.

 

Here we encountered Tom, Ken and Carl club members all on their own walk but going back to Shap on the same route as us. We made our way up the Haberwain Road and then crossed to Hardendale.  Before we crossed the M6 and dropped into Shap David spotted a flutter of Peacock butterflies.

 Close to the end of the walk a black cat crossed my path.

It had been an exceptionally enjoyable outing. It included exploration, companionship, conversation, lovely scenery and escape.

Escape from THE PROJECT. That is what I call my commitment to the publisher. Yet already I have had a number of kind offers to assist me and I know I can rely on a number more.

Sunday was escape. Yesterday because of it - because of the fundamental, therapeutic, primeval and stress-busting activity of walking I was able to start THE PROJECT. I sorted out four walks. Only 25 days like that I will pass the final control. Now scroll up to 30th June 2014 to see how I did.

Sunday 18th August. On the Dotcom Facebook page Andy B calls me a "wimp" because my perspective about Thursday's weather is somewhat different to his. A clear case of cyber bullying to my mind! It was wet on Thursday and from the top of Sticks Pass through to Calfhow Pike we hardly had a view. Even before Sticks Pass the waterproofs were on and they stayed on all the way back to the cars. Andy B can romanticise all he likes but there is no denying we had a soaking on Thursday - ask Jim, ask Don who spent lunch on top of Great Dodd attempting to keep rainwater from saturating their sandwiches. At that stage neither felt they had been compensated by a ten second glimpse of Sheffield Pike.


It was my second soaking of the week. Last Sunday the fellwalking club went to Dent. Andy W and I had an ambitious plan to climb Whernside from Kingsdale. As we reached the Occupation Road the first heavy shower hit us. "Hit" is apposite here because as Andy described it later it was like being drenched with a power hose. Oddly we both made the same cardinal error - neither of us thought to put on our waterproof leggings. Call it complacency, call it laziness but the result was the same - we had a miserable walk round to the top of Kingsdale. Andy not one to be easily discouraged at one point was ready to look for an escape. I persuaded him that we might as well press on since going back would be as tedious as pressing on.

The showers had eased off as we reached the road and in turning left our persistence was rewarded with what I regard as one of England's finest views - the long look down into Deepdale. It speaks to me of everything I love best about the landscape of northern England - close by the barren heights of peat and heather, while below the variegated green of woodland and pasture. This comes close to my ideal of perfection. It pleases my eye. It feeds my soul. It is why I walk. 

 
All thoughts of climbing Whernside had dissolved on the Occupation Road so Andy and I commenced our descent towards the Elysian Fields. Later we caught up with David and Val on the edge of Dent.


Postscript: At the café Tom brought in disturbing news. One of his party, Eddie, had badly injured his wrist (broken it as we later found out) trying to evade an alpaca. As Tom described it as they were on a footpath crossing a field where a small herd of alpacas were enclosed, one of them, a rather cute looking animal, seemed to take an amorous interest in Eddie. It homed in on him and in trying to escape he fell awkwardly.  Is this the first recorded incident of alpaca attack in Britain?

 

 

Thursday 11th July. "Thank you for marshalling!" called a competitor as I was preparing to leave. Typical fellrunner - so damned polite. "Thank you for turning up!"

He had turned up at Beckside Farm nestled in the vale below Black Combe for the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM) ran last weekend over Corney Fell.

 Given the constraints set by the notion of "Lakeland" the organisers of the event, now in its 35th year keep surprising its patrons with its locations for the event centre and mid camp.

Having competed last year at Wasdale Head - or at least guided through the Beda Fell course by Stewart, I found myself reincarnated once again as a car park marshal. To think I once made it to the elevated heights of helping with registration. Still it was a warm, sunny afternoon and after donning my hi-viz jacket, re-acquainting myself with David, John, Bob and Paul, introducing myself to Eddie and Kev I settled down to carry out my duties. We quickly worked out a modus operandi so that by mid-evening as competitors began to arrive in number we would have given the impression of a well-oiled machine.

In the four years I have been involved with the SLMM I am always struck that no matter how large a field appear on Friday afternoon by the time the last arrivals are parking up it doesn't seem quite big enough with the marshals working hard to make the best use of the remaining space.

The car park is just one element in the list of considerations for the location of an event centre. Nearby there needs to be a field big enough and suitable enough for camping. The campsite has to be serviced with water courtesy of the farmer and toilets courtesy of the organisers. The majority of competitors camp on the Friday evening. It makes sense; any local B&B accommodation quickly fills up.

Nearby the camping field or as was the case this year in it, the hired marquee is erected which acts as a hub over the weekend and if the weather is unpleasant becomes a dining area at the end of the race when the competitors eat their post-race meal. In and around the marquee a mini village builds up with stalls, displays, tee shirt distribution, sports kit suppliers and a tea bar.

Sometimes in the marquee but sometimes in a nearby farm building the registration centre is established. Here a squad of other marshals (who no doubt led blameless lives in a previous existence) process the 600 odd teams that have entered the race.
This points to the fact that there are two main aspects to event organisation and its use of marshals. Firstly is the general servicing of the event centre and mid camp requiring more general marshalling. This is run by our very own GPS Dave - David Johnstone, a job he does superbly well.

Then there is the servicing of the race itself under the supervision of the Race Controller Chris Hall. He is ultimately responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the competitors. Given that a race will involve over 1000 people following courses over hilly, uneven ground with the strong possibility of low cloud and driving rain the Controller has to do everything in his power to minimise risk in what is a hazardous environment.

 

Working closely with the controller is the planner. This year SLMM turned to the vastly experienced Brian Layton. 

 I'll re-phrase that; vastly experienced competitor with well over 130 mountain marathons under his belt. This year was the first one he had planned. "I'm doing the reverse of what you did last year, he told me at the start on Saturday morning. Well… that was kind of him to remember but I can hardly count myself in the same league.

The planner lays down the courses in seven main classes of increasing difficulty. These are mapped out with a number of control boxes at which the competitors record their progress along the course using a micro-chipped "dibber". The SLMM is as much a test of navigation as it is a fell race. In the days before a race takes place the controls have to be put into position by a specialist team of marshals and then checked by the controller. Finally at the end of the race they will need to be collected.

The huge amount of data generated by a field of over a thousand competitors taking account of different permutations of age and gender so everything is reduced to a single print-out given at the finish is remarkable. There are lots of results services but SPORTident''s close relationship with the SLMM and in particular the calm efficiency of Andrew Leaney is a significant factor in the success of the event.

Andrew oversees registration and the distribution of dibbers. Last Friday evening his station was on an elevated platform above his team which included our friend in the North - Alison. I couldn't help thinking that this made him rather God like in his relationship to the marshals and competitors.


The start of the event on Saturday morning needs heavy marshalling. From 8.00am at one minute intervals teams are timed out. Over the four years of my involvement and I suspect for many years before that the start has been supervised by husband and wife team Phil and Babs. On the previous evening at a location away from the event centre - some years up to half an hour's walk away - using canes and barrier tape eight channels are laid out. This is the realm of Phil and Babs.

Babs has a naturally friendly manner - something the competitors appreciate as they set out to do battle with the fells - I write from experience.

On their way to the start the competitors pass through kit check and map collection. Since mountain marathons are two day events the organisers have to be satisfied the competitors are properly prepared for an overnight. Rhona the event's doctor and Karen, the physiotherapist, were assigned this duty.

Next maps are distributed followed this year by map corrections. With courses spread out over a wide chunk of Lakeland the organisers must go to considerable lengths to obtain the necessary permission from landowners, the National Park authority, the National Trust and English Nature. Lack of reply in the process of negotiation cannot be interpreted as permission. A few days before the Corney Fell event Brian Dearnaley (another Dotcom walker) was alerted to a sensitive habitat that needed to be marked up as an out of bounds area. Although the way the planner had laid down his courses there was little prospect that competitors would encroach on this site it had to be demonstrated that the information had been passed onto the teams.

At around 9.30 David and I set out for mid camp on the far side of Corney Fell at Stainton. Remarkably by the time we arrived having completed a few errands on the way the first competitors had beaten us to it. I recall finding this one of the most striking aspects of the SLMM at my first one in 2010. I thought about the competitors - some making extremely long journeys to reach the event, camping overnight and then, with an early start getting out onto the hills for three or four hours and then spending the next 20 hours in some remote field in Cumbria. "What do they do now?" I asked Andrew Leaney.  He replied, "Drink beer!"

Beer, soft drinks, milk and bottled water pre-ordered by the competitors are brought to mid-camp by the caterer. This is a recent innovation. Until 2010 the caterer made a calculation on how much of these items to bring. What was not factored in was the high volume of sales generated by the very hot Saturday consequently later arrivals went without.  I recall witnessing a team age by ten years when I informed them that the beer had run out. By early afternoon last Saturday a steady stream of finishers were collecting their stash and pitching their tents.

Organisationally this means that all the empties need to be collected and prepared for disposal. This is one reason why mid-camp has to have a good number of marshals. Once established and competitors are well into the consumption of their supplies frequent bin bag sweeps are carried out through the encampment to pick up empties. This was my raison d'etre, why I qualified for a hi-viz jacket, why I was entitle to free meals and why competitors on their way home thanked me and my fellow marshals.

What goes in has to come out sometime and in a manner that does not upset the farmer so portable toilets are an essential feature of mid-camp. Well over 1000 people settled down to sleep on Saturday night. Now ask yourself - what is the first thing most people do in the morning? With the chasing start at 7.15am and the main start at 8.05am the toilet queue builds up early. By 6.45 the line was 200 metres long and growing.

From the competitors viewpoint it is a factor to build into their preparations. From David Johnstone's viewpoint there does not seem to be a formula for calculating how much toilet paper to bring. It was somewhat perturbing to see this notice displayed in each of the cubicles.

 

On Sunday morning after assisting David on empties collection I made my way to the start a little before 8.00 to watch the mass start and was immediately roped in to man a box for clearing the dibbers. By this time a great mass of competitors had gathered close to the starting channels. At 8.05 the lines were opened and the field trundled down to our position, clearing their dibbers at one end and then registering their start time at the other in a process somewhat analogous to a mincing machine. Brian Layton was on hand to watch the direction of travel as the front runners set out on their routes.

15 minutes later when nearly everyone was through I returned to a virtually empty field, some breakfast and a leisurely toilet stop where I did not have to queue for half an hour.
There was a cluster of retirees who waited patiently close to the marshal's encampment. Back in 2010 new to the game I responded sympathetically to a competitor who was clearly limping from a muscle pull and indicated that he would get a lift back to the event centre. "Why did you have to tell him that?" David asked, "Now they'll all want a lift." From this I learned the formal response should be to refer the competitor to the camp doctor, Rhona Fraser, who will pronounce whether a competitor walks back or gets a lift. As it happened this year the number of retirees was small enough to be accommodated by the marshals' cars. (Note future competitors this was a matter of luck and should certainly not be regarded as a precedent!)

About an hour after the last competitors were on their way to Beckside David and I set off by road. Apart from the portaloos there was not a single scrap of evidence to show that over a thousand people had spent Saturday night there.

As it happened back at the event centre where the first arrivals were having their kit checked by the marquee David felt he was sufficiently covered with marshals to stand me down. This meant Jim (who had stayed up from Friday evening and Saturday morning's registration) and I could leave sufficiently early to get home to watch the closing stages of the Men's Wimbledon final. Andy Murray's achievement was magnificent and he deserved all the praise heaped on him by the press and an adoring public but after being close up to the SLMM I found all that gush somewhat disproportionate. Wimbledon centre court is not the only place for sporting heroics. The trouble is that fell runners are such a self-effacing bunch that it is as much the taking part as winning. In fact for most it is just the taking part. So thank you indeed for turning up.


Sunday 16th June. This week I have had cause to think about the notions of "private" and "public". In recent weeks the marketing department of a rather prestigious chain of pubs - sorry inns - has asked us to produce a set of walks. Flattered and excited I set out to fulfil the commission as efficiently as I could within a relatively tight time frame. With help from my friends, Nigel, GPS Dave and Val I sorted 7 out of 8 within a relatively short time.

For the last we had an interesting and promising lead. The inn was in TOP and so not on familiar ground. GPS Dave and I checked out an obvious circuit which went around a large country estate. When we returned to the pub - sorry inn - we explained our mission and the manager suggested we go up to the estate and introduce ourselves as she had heard they were keen on the idea of walks through the estate even though it was private land.

Somewhat encouraged by this turn of events we made our way to the estate office in a mood of curious anticipation. We noticed that there was an air of relaxed openness about the place as we stepped into the reception area. Immediately we received a positive response from the receptionist. Unfortunately the person who could help us best was out somewhere on the estate. She tried to contact him but without success. So I left my e mail address and a brief outline of what we wanted to do - describe a route that might allow the inn's patrons to walk through the estate.

I followed up this visit with a phone call the following week. Again I was unable to get through to the person I needed to see so I left my number requesting I'd be contacted when he was less busy. By Wednesday of last week I was ready to go across again and since there had been no response to my phone call I left a message on the contact page of the website explaining my intention of checking out a short route along with my mobile number.

With GPS Dave away on holiday I had to go under my own steam which means public transport. I set off at 7.45am Two and a half hours later the bus dropped me off close to the estate. There was a detail on the other walk we had done I need to check first. By 10.45 I had done this and walked into the estate.

A good chunk of the estate has been developed as a business park so although technically "private property" there has to be open access for employees, visitors on business and deliveries to the many firms located there. As I made my way to the estate office I took numerous photos quite confident I could quickly plan a route and complete my commission. All that would be required was permission and a plan of the park.

The receptionist recognised me as I walked into the estate office. But once again the person I needed to see was out on the estate with visitors. There was a rather busy almost frenetic atmosphere about the place - comings and goings with some big event in the planning.

The receptionist caught the attention of one of the managers. Again I explained my purpose. "We would have to have a meeting for that." Well yes. "It is something we want to do." Well yes. "But we're very busy at the moment." Well yes. "You can't just walk in here and expect to see someone."

There ought to be a word to describe the emotion I felt on the long bus journey home where you come up with a suitable riposte to a statement like this 20 minutes later which would have been "Well, pal, if someone had had the courtesy of answering my calls I wouldn't have just walked in here!" (Littered with a few choice expletives.)

Instead I gave the receptionist my phone number - again and walked out. A minute later I walked back in - a thought had occurred to me. "Is it possible to have a map of the estate - in a pdf file perhaps so when I talk to someone about the route I can refer to it," I asked the receptionist. The manager I had dealt with previously intervened. "You can get that from the website." My defeat felt total.

I had a long time on the bus to mull over this exchange. The nub of the problem was that all the other walks necessitated the use of public rights of way, public footpaths, public bridleways and open access land. The shortest, easiest walk to describe meant walking through "private property" so immediately meetings became necessary - meetings forced into the hectic working day of hard pressed managers who have no time for everyday courtesies. My request was right at the bottom of the in tray.

Contrast this experience with an altogether different one on Friday. Through our Facebook page we had been contacted by Liz Holden from Canada seeking help with her family tree. As she, her husband Gaetan, and in-laws Danielle and Pierre would be staying in Lancashire as part of a holiday I arranged to give them a tour of Haslingden where there was a strong family connection.

Prior to this outing through www.haslingden.org.uk  I got in touch with Jackie Ramsbottom a college librarian and local historian to see if she might be available to talk to Liz. At quite short notice Jackie changed her rota and arranged to meet us at Holden Wood. She was able to provide Liz with a great deal of information about possible leads and when we left her Liz knew she had made an invaluable contact for her future researches.

Jackie had left us at St James' church which owing to recent incidents of vandalism is normally locked but at even shorter notice than I gave Liz, the vicar Roger Smith, arranged to be open with the help of verger Alec Taylor (just returned from holiday the day before and the hospital that morning following a pre-op). Alec, a delightful gentleman, was waiting for us after lunch and pleased to show us the unexpectedly impressive interior of St James'. He had served there as verger for 28 years.

Jackie, Alec and Roger together with Dotcoms Chris, Jim and Sandra who helped me out on the day, had put themselves out in a way not predicated on the notion, "how much is this going to cost and what do I get in return," but rather of giving service to another person when called upon without any thought of reward - a precious and diminishing commodity in this age of the global market. Friday rescued my week.

 

 

Monday 27th May, Spring Bank Holiday. "It's your walk, Andy!" I kept reminding him to the point of irritation whenever there was a decision to be made on the trail. Except it wasn't his walk - it was David Pitt's walk  - a guide to the 247 mile route that follows Alfred Wainwright's 1938 walk from Settle up to Hadrian's Wall and back. So it was Wainwright's walk! (Except he did it in 210 miles.) Sometime last year the Craven Herald reported that a blue plaque had been unveiled on Settle Station commemorating Wainwright's walk.

Elaine saw the piece and pointed it out to Andy B. From that moment he wanted to do the trail. To do it in the year of its 75th Anniversary endowed the project with a touch of significance.

When Wainwright wrote his account of a two week walking tour set against the background of the 1938 Munich Crisis he was an unknown 31 year old local government clerk from Blackburn. It was only after the success of his guides to the Lakeland fells that he decided to publish "A Pennine Journey" almost 50 years later. The book provides a fascinating insight into the personality of the author, into walking as recreation in the 1930s and into aspects of rural life.

It was a time when access to the countryside was still widely restricted - especially in the north. There were no national parks and no areas of outstanding natural beauty. There was no Pennine Way. Indeed much of Wainwright's walk was done on tarmac. There was no easy means of arranging accommodation in advance so none of the places where Wainwright stayed were pre-booked. Some of the places where he stayed were not formally bed and breakfast accommodation in the sense we know today. He carried all his baggage including his beloved maps and cigarettes and matches. Outdoor gear was not yet developed so Wainwright walked in jacket, flannels and shoes. To protect him from the rain he had a cyclist's cape.  These were the conditions when AW set out on his journey.

"Journey" has become an overused metaphor these days - a word applied to any project over time and usually uttered by talent show contestants. "I've been on an incredible/fantastic/amazing journey!" Even when it's applied to its proper use - the act of going from one place to another - it hardly conveys the time and effort of walking to Hadrian's Wall and back. AA Route Planner gives a journey time of 2 hours and 18 minutes from Settle to Wall - not the six days it took Wainwright.

This explains the appeal of Wainwright's book - especially to those who share his passion for walking. He stepped out of Settle Station with a simple objective in mind on a journey that led him to a keen appreciation of the landscape of northern England. Years later after the guides to the Lakeland fells were published trail walking had become an established pastime AW made two monumental contributions to the field. His "Pennine Way Companion" is regarded as one of the best guides to the long distance path. Five years later in 1973 he devised his own trail "A Coast to Coast Walk" which is probably the most popular long distance walk in Britain.

So Wainwright's Pennine Journey of 1938 has become a long distance path in its own right and it's become Andy's Pennine Journey because every journey is unique and particular to the person undertaking it. None of the other Usual Suspects were able to join Andy for the whole walk but each of us was able to commit to shorter sections of it. Setting out last Saturday I accompanied him from Settle to Hadrian's Wall while Jim joined us on Tuesday at Bowes. On Friday we handed Andy over to Don

who will keep him company all the way back to Settle with Malcolm linking up with them at Dufton.

My journey took me away from the familiar of the Dales into the North Pennines - the east flank of which I had never walked before. The grand sweeping views and sparse settlement came as a revelation.

 Like Lancashire the west of County Durham is another chunk of overlooked countryside. Apart from a large group in Upper Teesdale we only saw one other walker in the three days it took us to cross the county.  Escape from "the madding crowd" was as much an object as getting to the Wall and back for Wainwright. 75 years later that is still possible for all our worries about being a crowded island.

Tonight Andy and Don are at Alston. Tomorrow they scale the highest part of the route - Cross Fell. The weather forecast is not encouraging but it is hardly relevant - Cross Fell is a step that has to be taken for it lies in the way of Dufton and Brough and Garsdale Head and Sedbergh and Ingleton and all the way back to Settle where on Sunday afternoon Andy will return to the railway station along with Don and Malcolm. "It's your walk Andy!" and the rest of us feel rather privileged to have had our own Pennine journeys as part of it.

 

 

Sunday 5th May. "It was a slog," said Don. "It was murder," said Jim. "It was hard going," said Andy. "It was one of the hardest walks ever," said I. After listening to our moaning Elaine asked the question begging to be asked, "Then why do it?"

This was at breakfast on Day Two of our two day training walk around the Six Trig Points of Hebden Bridge. Good question. Malcolm had spotted an article by Andrew Bibby some while ago and thought it would make a good outing. As described the 26 mile route takes in the skyline above Hebden Bridge and as a challenge should be done in one day. Andrew Bibby calculates about ten hours for the walk ("Runners will be able to knock off some hours off that time." (!))With Andy preparing to walk Wainwright's Pennine Journey in a few weeks' time - over 240 miles in 16 days - I thought it would be a good idea to use the route as a training walk. We split the route into two sections Day One - Hebden Bridge to Widdop - 16 miles. Day Two Widdop to Hebden Bridge - ten miles. Alas Malcolm had to rule himself unfit and so it would be just the four of us attempting the entire challenge.

The six trig points are Sheepstones, High Brown Knoll, Stanbury Moor, Lad Law, Hoof Stones Height and Bride Stones. Set out in this order the route follows an anti-clockwise course. After leaving one car at Widdop we made our way to Hebden Bridge to commence day one.

The walk started benignly enough with an amble through the centre of Hebden Bridge and then picking up the eastern spur of moorland above the golf course to bag the first trig point. Next we had a two mile traverse of moorland to pick up High Brown Knoll a hill Jim, Andy and I had visited a couple of years ago. At this stage there were footpaths to assist progress. We reached it a little before midday. A third of our objectives achieved before lunch time of day one. We were quite pleased with ourselves though we had noticed the more we walked the harder it was becoming underfoot.

From High Brown Knoll we pressed onto the A6033 Keighley-Hebden Bridge Road. I was rather amused by the fact that this remote location warranted a bus stop. (We surmised it had been put there for students visiting a nearby science station). I mocked up a photo of Jim waiting by it.

If Jim had known then what was to follow he might have been strongly tempted to take the bus!

What was to follow was four hours of slog along the broad ridge of moorland to reach Stanbury Moor and then Lad Law. Peat, heather, bog, stone and tussocks of grass combined in various ways to disrupt our rhythm.

There was little by way of feature to distract us - a wall where we had our lunch, and Top Withins where the ruin of Wuthering Heights had been soullessly rendered safe with incongruous cement. Here on the Pennine Way we had a brief respite from ankle bending ground and were able to get into a stride. But not for long. Walking from Stanbury Moor to Lad Law seemed akin to walking the Sahara Desert. I became somewhat fed up - a rare emotion for me on a walk. Inwardly I cursed Andrew Bibby for creating the walk, I cursed Malcolm for suggesting it, cursed Andy for organising it and most of all cursed myself for putting it on the programme.

As we entered late afternoon Andy snuffed out what spirit I had left by informing me that the height I had fervently hoped was Lad Law was in fact a lesser height and we still had two miles to go. "Two miles of this!" I uttered plaintively. Andy doesn't make many navigational errors but on this occasion he had miscalculated. As Don and I breasted the height I knew I was looking down into the Promised Land of Lancashire. Not long after we were on the road to Widdop completing Day One.

 

Day Two was a completely different kettle of fish. To begin with Helen, a regular Thursday walker joined us. Secondly the weather which had been acceptably good on day one turned glorious. Thirdly the route was shorter and far more varied. The route linked up a number of walks we had done previously and this making of connections is always quite satisfying. Right at the start we were on the Gorple Road where Don and I had walked on Tuesday with the Dotcom Walkers. There were still some stretches of pathless moorland to negotiate but all in all it was a much easier day.

 

At lunch time we were at the last trig Bride Stones and had just the descent to Hebden Bridge to make. As we walked along the Rochdale Canal into Hebden Bridge we could not pass the pub at Stubbins Wharf without having a celebratory pint.

We all agreed that it had been a worthwhile experience and an ideal training walk but it is not one we are likely to do again. Special message for Malcolm. If you want to do this walk you're on your own mate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 29th April. Last Sunday I took part in the St.Catherine's Hospice Care Cross Bay Walk. There was a bunch of Dotcom walkers with me - Jim and his Susan both of whom do a lot of work for St Catherine's, Andy B and his grandson - Max, John S, Jim B and Don.

This was the real McCoy Cross Bay walk with Cedric Robinson, the Queen's Guide and appointment which gives him £1 a year and a cottage with no damp course. It is a post he has held for 50 years this year so 2013 is Cedric's Golden Anniversary of Cross Bay walks.

Jim, Susan and I left the hospice on a coach organised for the trip around about 11.30. There were about 30 of us going up to Arnside. There we linked up with our friends and others who had gone along under their own steam - a big crowd of others. Altogether we were a group of about 120. It happened to be the first weekend of the Cross Bay walking season.

Last Saturday had been a lovely sunny spring day. Last Sunday lunch time spring packed its bags leaving a note "I'll be back in two weeks" and let winter in again. Waiting on the promenade we had to endure miserable weather. About 2.30pm donned in a yellow highlight waterproof  Cedric appeared, introduced himself to the organisers from St Catherine's and then at a brisk pace set off along the shore towards New Barns.

I had walked with Cedric before - in 1982 when he had been doing the job a mere 19 years. Then I was doing a post graduate course at Lancaster University and joined the Geography Club which had booked Cedric for one of its outings. He seemed to have shrunk since then - perhaps it's all that sea water.

So the impish figure in yellow highlight waterproof set off towards Blackstone Point and 120 people had a little trouble keeping up with him. At the point we stepped out onto the sands. Here we were still within the confines of the Kent Estuary but soon the scene changed as we headed out onto the "Wet Sahara" of Morecambe Bay.

Back in September (See below) when Eileen and I made the crossing with Alan Sledmore I was very much aware of a Team Sledmore - there was an obvious presence of helpers backing him up. Cedric's team were less noticeable and the only time I became aware of them was as we crossed the River Kent. Here across the channel was a tractor and trailer and two or three assistant guides.

The crossing of the Kent represents a significant moment on the walk. Hitherto though drenched by the weather our feet were not too wet but fording the Kent entailed wading through water thigh deep. Between two laurel spray markers Cedric made us form a line abreast and then briefed us on an area of soft sand marked out on the opposite shore that we had to avoid. On his whistle we moved across. By this time the poor weather had eased off and the afternoon was clearing. The sun was making an appearance.

Before landfall we had one more channel to cross - one where a larger area of soft sand had materialised since Cedric's checking the route and he seemed visibly agitated as he directed the throng to move away from it. Once we were all safely on the salt marshes close to Kents Bank we processed along the shore to the station. By this time I had worked my way to the front and was able to have a quick chat with the Queen's Guide. "Had he ever led the Queen herself across the sands?" No but he had guided Prince Phillip. "Had he ever met the Queen?" Yes when she gave him his MBE and then on another occasion - a dinner at Lancaster Castle. Had he ever worked out how many miles he had walked over the Bay? A team from Sheffield University had once estimated the  distance he had walked was the equivalent of going twice around the world. How had the job changed in the 50 years since he started?  It's getting harder. The weather is making it harder. Climate change? Well something is going on. The sands have become more unpredictable.

 

We reached Kents Bank station in lovely late afternoon sunshine.  For Cedric just another group of the few thousand he had led down the years but for the rest of us a walk that is truly memorable especially in Cedric's Golden Anniversary year.


 

 

 

Good Friday 29th March. On Tuesday the Dotcoms enjoyed their picnic lunch in the quiet churchyard at Arkholme. Inside the chapel there was this notice.

Our response was one of surprise that there were as many as 50 Thankful Villages in the country given the slaughterhouse carnage of World War One. Also surprise that so many young men went away to war from this one small Luneside village.

It has been the coldest March for 50 years. I remember well the winter of 1963 - year of the Beatles and the Beeching Axe. Near my secondary school the Welsh Harp (or more officially Brent Reservoir) in North west London froze over and during lunch times I would go there with class mates to test the thickness of the ice.

So March has given us more adventures in the snow. Over in Yorkshire Andy B was hit by last weekend's snowfall. He told me that there wasn't as much as previous falls but the strong winds blew it all into the narrow lanes close to his home causing deep drifts of compacted and impassable snow.

Mid month I joined our friend in the North, Alison, and her friend from the South, Derek, on a walk across the Coniston Fells. Going up on the train to Windermere that day promised so much - one of those clear, cold, bright days where the landscape is scoured of all but its essential features - a blank canvas onto which nature can splash spring. It stayed that way until GPS Dave and Val dropped us at Cockley Beck when cloud came in. By the time we were half way up Grey Friar the snow was coming down fast. On the map there is a clear right of way to the summit but we found that on the ground there was no such defined path. In the conditions we found ourselves wayfinding would have been difficult but for Alison's wondrous smart phone and its wondrous GPS app. We later discovered that Wainwright did not describe the approach we took which explained the lack of path. All in all it was a tough ascent.

The rest of the walk however, across to Great Carrs and down Wet Side Edge to Wrynose Pass, was a doddle. As we reached the Three Shires Stone the snow was beginning to stick; so much so that Alison advised a couple of drivers crawling up from Little Langdale to turn back which they did.

I met up with Alison and Derek again the following Sunday St Patrick's Day when the club went to Braithwaite. Along with Andy W we set out to do a circuit taking in the group of fells which usually form the end or beginning of the Coledale Round - one of the great walks in the Lake District. It was a day of mixed weather - with a few snow showers punctuating clearer spells. Underfoot the walking was excellent. At lunch finding ourselves on the exposed ridge of Sail Pass we christened the bivy tent. I cannot claim it was a comfortable experience but at least it kept us out of the wind. After that we enjoyed a traverse of Scar Crags and Causey Pike before descending to Newlands Valley.

We returned to Braithwaite and the Royal Oak where we met up with David and Val and other club members all of whom were in a particularly happy mood as they exchanged experiences of a good day out. As we were finishing our drinks ready to board the coach Eric walked in somewhat flustered. Eric has been a long time member of the club and someone who is quite happy to walk alone if no one is going his way. We had seen him that morning as we were walking up Barrow.

"David I think I have a problem." His problem turned out that he left his rucksack on top of one of the fells and he wasn't exactly sure which. His rucksack containing wallet and house keys the loss of which would be highly inconvenient.

As club secretary for over 45 years David has heard it all or thought he had until that moment. He was utterly bemused.  "How can you forget a rucksack?" As an expert on losing things myself I'm in no position to pass judgement but I could see where David was coming from. A rucksack is not small.

Eric's strategy for resolving his problem was to borrow money from David, enough to book himself in for B&B and undertake a quick search that evening before dark and then rise early the next day to complete the search should it prove necessary. So as club members boarded the coach at 5.30, Eric set out to see if he could recover his rucksack. Roaming in the gloaming.

On the journey home Andy W and I speculated at length on possible outcomes. Our view was the rucksack would have been spotted by other fellwalkers and handed in at Keswick police station (if it still has one!) We were also concerned that Eric had left his search too late in the day and was putting himself at risk.

Thankfully there is a happy ending to this tale. Retracing his footsteps in the snow Eric located his rucksack that evening and then in a rather different mood to the one he went up with, descended to Braithwaite with the prospect of a hot dinner and a few beers before him to celebrate his good fortune. Moreover dusk was beautiful as night drew in over the Vale of Keswick with its backdrop of the Northern Fells. So for a man who loves hills in all their moods Eric was treated to scene of loveliness which he wouldn't have had if he had not forgotten his rucksack. Funny how things can turn out like that.

 

 

 

 

Thursday 28th February. On Sunday Eileen decided on an outing to Boundary Mill. Since I had no plans I went along for the ride. Sometimes when Eileen goes to Boundary Mill I organise myself a walk since the countryside is very accessible from the store but on this occasion I chose instead to take a closer look at the town.

In Colne there is no escaping Wallace Hartley who can be described as the town's most famous resident. Just about everyone in the world will know of Wallace Hartley even if they cannot identify him by name. He was the bandmaster on the Titanic who led his band onto the deck to play for the passengers as they were being organised into lifeboats as the ship was sinking. It was an act of duty and courage the survivors particularly remembered and it was widely reported after the disaster. No one member of the band survived the wreck.

Remarkably Hartley's body was recovered in the days after the sinking and in May 1912 was brought back to Colne for burial. It was estimated that 40,000 people lined the route of the funeral procession from the Bethel Chapel to the cemetery. I viewed both the memorial on Albert Road

and the family headstone in the cemetery.

I learned about the Titanic at my mother's knee - the "unsinkable liner" that sunk and because it was meant to be unsinkable didn't carry sufficient lifeboats so when it sank there was a great loss of life and while the passengers waited to be boarded on what lifeboats there were "women and children first" the band played on and the last thing it played as the ship slipped into the icy waters of the North Atlantic was the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee".

 In this way like a lot of people I knew of Wallace Hartley even before I knew his name. Some people and their stories are never forgotten but others…

In 1890 a young clergyman and his family arrived in Colne. The Congregational minister T.A. Leonard was brimming with energy and ideas. One of his ideas was realised the following summer. He had a notion that young working class people might enjoy spending Wakes Week in the countryside rather than going to the usual seaside resorts of Blackpool and Morecambe. So he organised a four day trip to Ambleside for 32 young men - members of the town's Democratic Guild. The programme consisted of long walks including an ascent of Helvellyn complemented with evening talks about aspects of the countryside. The activity holiday was born! Such was the enthusiasm of the participants ("Eee it were champion!") that in 1897 the Co-operative Holiday Association was formed with Leonard as its general secretary. Its aim:

To provide simple, strenuous, recreative and educational holidays to promote friendship and fellowship amid the beauty of the natural world.

By 1913 the CHA (Later Countrywide Holiday Association) had 13 British centres and was catering for 20,000 guests. Incidentally its target audience were young people between the ages of 18 and 30. What would Leonard make of 18-30 holidays today? !!!

Leonard went on to found the Holiday Fellowship (HF) which continues to the present, was a prime mover in the establishment of the Youth Hostel Association (YHA), had strong links with the founders of the National Trust and the movement to create National Parks. On the creation of the Ramblers Association he became its first president. (For more details about Leonard's life see the article about him by Douglas Hope on www.yorkrambling.btck.co.uk  )

In a very real sense T.A.Leonard could be called the Father of Outdoor Leisure in this country and that started in Colne, Lancashire and until Sunday when I put in a search on the Co-operative Movement in Colne I hadn't heard of him.

Memory and history. Wallace Hartley is rightly remembered for the last two hours of his life. Leonard's lifetime achievements have been forgotten by just about everybody.

 

Sunday 27th January 2013. It is said that the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow. In the past week we could have done with some of these.

On Monday we had apocalyptic "end of civilisation as we know it" snow. This is snow as a media event heralded by grim faced reporters in Berghaus jackets fronting scene of traffic chaos warning of impending doom. These reports incorporating police messages of "Don't travel unless it's necessary" a formula always difficult to interpret, bounced me into sending a contingency e mail to the Dotcoms ahead of our Tuesday walk, something I strive to avoid since it spreads doubt and uncertainty.

It was unnecessary too as there were no travel difficulties on Tuesday and everyone turned up at the RV on time. On this day we had "perfect walking snow" as we completed a circuit of Sunnyhurst Woods, Darwen Moor, Roddlesworth Woods and Tockholes.

This was our first visit to Darwen's Jubilee Tower since its restoration in 2011. As reported on this blog in November 2010 this well-known Lancashire landmark had been severely damaged in the autumn gales of that year and I wondered at the time how speedily would it be repaired given that local government is strapped for cash these days. Thankfully local businessman Stephen Hartley of WEC group (See www.wec-group.com ) stepped in to arrange for the dome to be replaced thus once again making it possible to climb to the top of the tower. The Dotcoms spent an enjoyable 20 minutes admiring the superb views from the lower and upper platforms. Had he been there we would have all given Mr Hartley rousing applause for his generosity.

We set off again trudging through the "perfect walking" snow in lovely walking weather. At Slipper Lowe Car Park on Tockholes Road however we came across a different kind of snow. A motorist in an automatic Mercedes needed a lot of Dotcom weight to help him off the car park. It transpired he and his girlfriend had been there an hour and a quarter after tobogganing in the woods. This type of snow turned out to be "I-told-him-not-park-there" snow. Well more precisely "I-told-him-not-to-f-king-park-there-the-f-king-dickhead" snow. She was so fed up she forgot to thank us.

Fortunately as far as our walk was concerned "I-told-him-not-to-f-king-park-there-the-f-king-dickhead" snow did not affect us and we went into Roddlesworth plantation to enjoy the snow that magically transforms the dormant trees into objects of beauty.

On Thursday the Usual Suspects (a Dotcom sub group - motto "further, higher and no pub lunch") had an encounter with more snow. We had decided to walk the ridge overlooking Rylstone and Cracoe just north of Skipton (TOP I'm afraid). There is a fine obelisk memorial there which we were keen to visit. We settled on an approach from Barden Moor starting at a narrow lane a couple of miles beyond Embsay. Almost immediately as we set out we realised we were dealing with a different type of snow. In most places it was about a foot deep - sometimes drifting much deeper. This was "awkward-to-walk-on" snow. 

Looking back I am impressed that we managed to walk so far in it. Snow a foot deep requires a high stepping action and a lot of concentration. Snow a foot deep also blankets and obscures feature. A feature not obscured was a grouse shooting hut which we reached an hour into the walk. We felt gravitated towards it and inside its benches offered relief for our sore thighs.  The trouble was that the hut was not on route and it was not until much later did we realise the error. We found ourselves temporarily disorientated which is Dotcom speak for "lost".  We weren't just slightly lo… temporarily disorientated, we were massively TD. I mean we looked at Skipton thinking it was Rylstone! But that's snow for you - and there is probably an Eskimo word for how we spent the next couple of hours but unprintable here.

Needless to say we spent a great deal of time stumbling about until we located the main bridleway which we had contrived to leave just before the hut stop. Since time was getting on we decided retreat was the best option leave the obelisk memorial for another day.

Looking ahead to this coming week we have the papers warning of doom and catastrophe with the BLOODY THAW!!! No doubt this will be accompanied by rain - something we do have 50 of our own words for - drizzle, downpour, stair-rods, driesh, shower, precipitation, persistent rain, torrential rain….(fade)

Sunday 20th January 2013. On Tuesday instead of walking with the Dotcoms from the Derby Arms I set out from Masca in Tenerife for a gorge walk down to the sea. Eileen and I had booked ourselves some winter sunshine - 10 days in Playas de las Americas. Although it has the reputation of being Blackpool in the sun over the years Tenerife has provided me with some of the best walking experiences of my life.

The island is in fact a volcano - Teide which counts as Spain's highest mountain at 3718 metres (over 12198 feet in old money). On our first visit in 1987 it was possible to reach the summit with the permit that is required nowadays. As it happened that holiday coincided with my cousin Alan's and his family. We linked up with him and his wife Jacky and Eileen, John and I drove up to the funicular station at the base of the peak, funiculared up and then walked the final 100 metres or so to the summit. It was one of the great moments of my life and one I'm pleased to have shared with my family. Believe me there is nothing better than to stand at the top of something.

It was a few years before our next visit which was when I discovered the Barranco del Infierno. Approached from Adeje this canyon could be described as a Canarian version of Ingleton Falls. Certainly in the past it attracted large numbers of tourists who would follow it as it serpentined into the high mountains. Sadly this spectacular and accessible feature has been shut for the past few years owing to local authority wrangling over liability in the event of rock falls.

My most memorable walk on Tenerife took place in 2003. Setting off from the Paisaje Lunar set in the pine forests near Vilaflora my aim was to scale the peak of Guajara one of the peaks of the caldera below Teide that forms Las Canadas National Park. Soon after I started the walk I realised I had overlooked two things in my early morning preparation. First I had not put an extra layer in my rucksack. At 2000 plus metres even on Tenerife the air can be distinctly chilly. Second I had not put in any type of sun cream.  Would I be the first walker ever to die of hypothermia and sun-stroke at the same time? Fortunately I was able to fulfil my objective and thus reach the highest point (2715m over 9000ft) I have ever walked to without the aid of a funicular or similar conveyances. Also I was treated to a spectacular view of the caldera.

Tuesday's walk was completely different from all previous experiences on Tenerife in that it was a guided walk arranged through Sun Holidays. (Seewww.sunholidays24.com ) (Eileen is not so keen on me going out on my own these days - especially when we are abroad). I must say I was rather surprised how many people were on the excursion - 56! Our guides split us up into three rough linguist/national groups - the Baltic States and Poles formed one group, Germans, Dutch and Belgiums formed another and the last group was made up of Scandinavians and British. This was done at Los Gigantes the village resort nestling close to the impressive cliffs that give it its name - cliffs we would see at the end of our walk after we boarded a boat taking us back to the resort.

After the sorting out of nationalities came the distribution of kit at some sort of storage garage beneath a café in the upland village of Tamaimo - 600 metres upland; the road to it looping in a series of hairpin bends. I'm pleased to say my trail boots passed muster and I had no need for rucksack or pole. I paid the balance for the excursion, used the facilities and boarded the bus for the last stage of the ride to Masca.

The situation of Masca makes no geographical sense. Why would anyone want to settle this remote valley with its precarious terraces that for many years had no road link with the outside world?

Our party was conveyed in a 35 seater coach and mini bus crossing a col at 1000 metres before descending to Masca by a road with a great number of hair pin bends. On numerous occasions the driver had to reverse across these to complete his manoeuvre. There was a brief photo stop to allow us to take in the scene. All around the stupendous mountains and still some way below the village - now one of the main tourist magnets of the island and not just for those who want to walk down to the sea. Out in the sea other Canary isles - La Gomera and La Palma - could be seen.

The mystery of Masca's improbable location was explained to me the following day by Philip a long stay holiday maker in our complex. "It was a pirate hide out," he told me during a game of boules. "Ideal for them in that it couldn't be spotted from the sea but they could spot ships. The only way to reach it in those times was by the path you went down."

The path by which I went down was with a party led by Victor from Chile. Consisting of 20 English speaking English and Scandinavian speaking English we were led from the small village square to a bridge about ten minutes into the walk.

This was the point of no return and Victor made it clear that if anyone had any doubts about their fitness to complete the 5 mile 8 kilometre walk then this was the last opportunity to go back to the coach. I understand on that day one couple realised that what would follow wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

Well it was and it wasn't. We were in fact in the equivalent of a country park, but nonetheless it turned out to be a demanding descent. The descent bit of it meant there wasn't much lung stretching exertion but the demands on concentration were constant.
Despite having passed muster at the boot stop in Tamaimo my trail boots were in fact on their final outing. They had little grip and I began to have misgivings that I didn't fork out the 3 euros it would have cost to hire replacements. Thus I was ever conscious that there might have been pitches where they might fail. Well guess what? They didn't! However it was a worry whenever we approached an awkward pitch. I could always tell when were about to reach an awkward pitch because the party would concertina up as Victor assisted each of us over whatever awkward obstacle interrupted our progress to the sea.

As a precaution I had put on sun lotion and noticed as I did that no one else bothered. Of course I was in a party of Guardian reading Swedes who knew being in a canyon the entire four hour walk would be in the shade.

At various points Victor would stop and explain aspects of the geology or ecology of our surroundings. It turned out that cats were a problem.

 Feral cats, once pets in the village had run rampant killing every form of small wildlife they could get their claws into to creating a disaster for there existed species unique to this part of Tenerife. A few years ago some attempt was made to tackle the problem. A round up bagged 60 cats which were released in less sensitive areas of the island - our boules pitch it their litter is anything to go by! This measure seemed to work for a while with the variety of wildlife in the canyon increasing. Alas the cat loving villagers of Masca continued to keep cats, cats which found the wildlife more alluring and the problems have returned.

Although the walking was wild, owing to the communal aspect of walking in a tour party along with other tour parties, and individual parties going up as well as down, the close proximity of humanity made the place seem less wild. "This is not special because I'm here in the company of many others including Swedish Guardian readers"  - as if popularity takes away some of the beauty. Is the Grand Canyon less grand because millions go each year to be awed by its awesomeness?


The canyon, ravine, barranco I walked down on Tuesday was one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited.

What was thrilling was the unpredictability of the route as it wove its way through the rock. At the base a narrow stream wound its way to the sea. This was water that flows with gravity rather than worn through the rock - there was nothing porous in the geology of the place. By the water reeds grew to ridiculous heights seeking the sun.

After two hours of walking enclosed by the high walls of the gorge Victor's life was made complicated when a lady in our party became unwell. A predicament presented itself. There was no way back and there was still some way to go. Clearly a lady unwell could slow the party down putting us behind the schedule he was working to. After a prolonged lunch stop Victor put the lady under his close supervision. From that point on - a further 90 minutes - he shepherded his charge down to the coast.


So after four hours in the shade of the mountains we finally reached sunlight, sight of the sea and not long after the sea itself as we arrived in the tiny cove. Victor was relieved that in the end it had turned out to be another successful descent; the lady was relieved she had no more exertion to exert. Still she must have wondered at the prospect of a boat ride back to Los Gigantes. For this we had to wait a further hour or so but given the demands of the walk it was good just to sit in the sun with that feeling of "righteous tiredness" on having completed one of Tenerife's most celebrated challenges.

 

 

 

 

Sunday 6th January, 2013. I have been doing some research into 1953 and discovered it to be a quite remarkable year. It was the year of the Queen's coronation - 2nd June; the year of the conquest of Everest - 29th May; the year Crick and Watson announced they had discovered the structure of DNA; the year John F Kennedy married Jacqueline. Momentous stuff eh.

On the sporting front American golfer Ben Hogan walked off with the Masters, British Open and American Open; Maureen Connolly became the first woman's tennis player to win the Grand Slam; England won back the Ashes for the first time since the infamous "bodyline series" of  1932/33; and in an all Lancashire FA cup final Blackpool defeated Bolton Wanderers 4 - 3. On that day Stan Mortenson scored the only Wembley FA cup final hat trick but was over shadowed by the skills of team mate Stanley Matthews so much so that the 53 Final is still referred to as the Matthews Final. When Stan Mortenson died in May 1991 people wondered if they would be going to "The Matthews' Funeral"!

And talking of funerals there were a number of noteworthy dispatches in 1953. Uncle Joe Stalin died in March pretty well near the top of the league of the Mass Murderers table. It was he who was attributed with the epigram; "One person dies and that's a tragedy - a million die and that's a statistic".

In October 1953 Welsh poet Dylan Thomas went "into that good night", none too gently having succumbed to certain life style choices and the New York smog.

Nearer to home and heart the lovely Kathleen Ferrier, the internationally renowned concert singer, died of cancer in October a death - a tragedy - that was said to have taken the glow off the Coronation.

Kathleen Ferrier is one of those people the more you hear about the more you like. Born in Higher Walton, just outside Preston she showed early promise as a pianist. Unfortunately her father being an elementary school teacher and of modest means, did not have the money to send her to music college.

On completing her schooling Kathleen went to work as a GPO telephonist first at Blackburn and later at Blackpool, continuing her music career as an amateur. In 1934 she might have achieved prominence of a different kind when she auditioned for "the Speaking Clock". Imagine the dulcet tones of Kathleen Ferrier enunciating "At the third stroke the time will be 7.25 precisely".

Given that she had was later adjudged to have had one of the finest contralto voices ever recorded recognition came at the comparatively late age of 25 after she won a singing competition in Carlisle. From that point on she committed herself to the life of a professional singer building up her reputation throughout the war years but then in the post war period becoming an international star. She worked with the greats - Britten, Sergeant, Bruno Walter who responded to her dedication and endearing modesty.

In 1951 she was diagnosed with cancer so that her last two years of life became a test between professional engagements and desperate treatment. In February 1953 she sang in what was to be her last performance , a staging of "Orpheus" under the direction of Sir John Barbirolli. The first night opened to critical acclaim but at the second performance three days later, weakened by radiation treatment, her femur partially disintegrated. Now get this - quick action by cast members, providing support, allowed Kathleen to complete the performance without the audience realising there was anything amiss. No wonder she was so deeply mourned when she died later that year.

In March last year close to the centenary of her birth the Dotcom Walkers met at the small memorial garden by Cann Bridge Street, Higher Walton. We even sang a snatch of the song most closely linked with her name, "Blow the wind southerly". (Not expertly though Geoff can hold a tune.)

On Thursday last week I showed the garden to Eileen. We had just been making arrangements with Laurel a caterer, who has a shop on Cann Bridge  Street. (Check out www.laurelscatering.co.uk) You see 60 years ago my Eileen was born in Blackpool - hence the purpose of our trip. The party turned out well - good food, thanks to Laurel, a great band fronted by a great singer Sara Cheston, and surrounded by friends and family. We had a good time.

But before all that life affirming stuff kicked off Eileen and I paused and reflected on a life "that seemed in this world to bring a radiance from another world."

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 1st January. Happy New Year. Could it be a propitious omen that 2013 starts on a Tuesday the day of the week which the Dotcom Walkers have discovered is the best day to go for a walk? Personally the old year finished on a high. Two reasons. First this photograph I took of Peter, a member of the Norwest Fellwalking Club (see www.norwestfellwalking.org.uk  ) balancing on the trig point of Longridge Fell during the club's Christmas outing two weeks ago, was published not only in the Lancashire Evening Post but also the Observer.

The Observer (the World's oldest Sunday newspaper) has a feature in the New Review section entitled "My Sunday in a picture". After the outing on 16th December I sent the photo of Peter in. I was a little disappointed when it wasn't used on 23rd December and then forgot about it until electrified when I opened the New Review to do the Sudoku.

I have known Peter almost a quarter of a century when we moved next door to him and Joan and their three girls in the mid-80s. In those days he was a passionate climber and would spent whatever time work and family commitments allowed tackling exacting routes and then relating them to me over the garden fence with accounts punctuated with expressions like "v.diff" and "HVS". I recall one time Peter arriving back one summer's Sunday evening looking very weary. "The Welsh 3000s" he replied to my query. It was the first time I had heard of this challenge walk - to complete all 15 of the 3000ft peaks in Wales within 24 hours and without using transport. No wonder he looked tired.

After Peter and the family moved across to Fulwood I didn't see him for a year or two until I returned to the Fellwalking Club after a sabbatical to discover both he and Joan were members. Characteristically he still seems to possess as much energy as he did when I first met him and is known in the club for often choosing long routes. In 2001 the foot and mouth crisis resulted in access to the countryside being severely restricted as the government attempted to contain the disease. For the club it meant a succession of outings to towns and cities. We all felt it but Peter was more depressed than most. "It's like being in an open prison," he said memorably.

Peter has not long retired from working at the Royal Preston Hospital. Whenever he had time to spare he would try to pop in on Marlene during her long stay there in the first part of 2012. Both she and Bill were deeply appreciative of his thoughtfulness. So I am rather glad I managed to capture something of Peter's jaunty cheerfulness with my snap and that the Observer chose to publish it.

The second reason for my finishing 2012 on a high is that I achieved a target I had set myself for this year almost within hours of formulating it on Boxing Day. With John's help and by working on this website I have developed my computing skills enormously over the past five years. For a while I have harboured an ambition to extend into making film presentations. Doubtless John would have put me on the right track but the difficulty these days is that when we're out on walks we simply do not get the chance to talk matters through as we did back in 2007. Back then there would be just be him and me - now we regularly go out with a group of 20 or more. Neither of us would want it any other way, but the Dotcom Walkers have had an impact on our collaboration. With both of us committed to voluntary work on other days of the week, we have little time to discuss how to move the project on.

2012 had been a good year for the Dotcom Walkers as a group. It had grown substantially with many new people joining us, yet had managed to retain an informal, relaxed and friendly ethos. It was this I wanted to celebrate and I knew I wanted to do it through a superior slide show - thus my target for 2013.

On Boxing Day I explained this to my 17 year old nephew Jack. "Oh you need to use "Movie Maker"," he told me. "You've probably got it on your computer." Well such has been my advancement in computer skills I rather knew I hadn't. With an hour to spare before "Match of the Day" Jack agreed he would show me. Possibly within 15 minutes of sitting next to me in my study he had helped download and install "Movie Maker" and had given me a tutorial in its use. I was away. You can view my first attempt at using "Movie Maker" by following this link to the Lancashire Dotcom Walker's page on Facebook and checking out "Highlights 2012"

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lancashire-Dotcom-Walkers/189276921110897?ref=hl



Of course it will mean more to the Dotcoms than others but I am fired up to apply my new skill in 2013.

 

Now here's the thing. As a school student Jack would be the first to admit he struggled to fit in with "expectations". He certainly did not leave school with the bench mark "5 GCSEs two of which must be English and maths". Yet as far as I am concerned he was an excellent instructor. As a retired teacher this confirms what I feel about the way education has been distorted - no damaged - by the need to "drive up standards". Luckily for Jack he was shown how to use technology to help him pursue his deep interest is creating music. Luckily for me I spoke to Jack about my desire to make better presentations before "Match of the Day". In life timing is everything. Have a good year.

 

 

 

Friday 21st December. According to the Mayan calendar today marks the End of the World. Just as well then that on Tuesday the Dotcoms completed their walking year with their annual excursion to TOP. This tradition had had a chequered history and indeed predates Lancashire Walks by a number of years. Geoff use to organise such trips when we worked together at Barden High School, Burnley.


We were joined on Tuesday by my sister-in-law Kath over on holiday from Australia and Geoff and Andy B were quick to remind her of her near miss with death on her previous Christmas outing in 2007. A group of us had met at Conistone in Wharfedale on a dreadfully wet day between Christmas and New Year. Looking back and in view of what was in store it is remarkable that no one had the wit to say, "Look here everyone this weather is set for the day. Let's cancel the walk and retire to the pub." Instead unquestioningly we set off up Conistone Dib the narrow limestone canyon leading up to the moors.


It was here that the incident occurred. The way Geoff tells it is that a large rock - the size of a football - that had been resting on its limestone shelf for thousands of years decided at that moment to roll off it. The rock hurtled down into the midst of our party brushing Kath's arm as it crashed to the ground. I am convinced had it struck on the head she would have been seriously injured or even killed. I had heard of rock fall of course but never seen one up close and personal. Since Kath was unharmed we continued our walk on one of the most miserably wettest days any of us had ever experienced.

The following year we enjoyed much better weather when the Dotcom Walkers met at Starbotton. We refer to this as the Seven Father Christmas's Walk for as we crossed into Littondale we encountered eight chaps on their annual get together weekend - seven dressed as Santa Claus and the eighth as a dog. This last one hit the fancy dress shop after the Santa outfits had run out.

That day was memorable for another reason. Andy B had organised for us to have lunch at the Queens Arms, Litton.  Being an out of the way sort of place we thought it would be quiet. However fair weather had brought people out and as seven of us walked in we were immediately preceded by a party of four and succeeded by two couples. All put their orders in before us. The kitchen was overwhelmed and we waited over an hour and a quarter for our rabbit pie. Any other time of year this turn of events wouldn't have worried us and we would have settled into an extra pint. But in mid-December mid-way through a ten mile walk such a wait had consequences.

After lunch we followed the valley bottom to Arncliffe which we reached at 3.00pm. With light fading Jim, Bill, John and I expressed serious doubts about re-crossing the ridge back to Starbotton - 2 ½ miles away; surely safer to work our way round by road.  However Andy was in no doubt that we could cross the ridge in daylight. He turned out to be right - but only just. We reached the cars in total darkness.


In 2009 our intended trip to TOP was disrupted by snow. Andy B and Geoff couldn't get off their drives. In South Ribble we improvised a walk from Farrington to Much Hoole and back across the moss. Brian refers to it as "the Doctor Zhivago" walk since at one point we had to walk along the snow bound railway track and it reminded him of a scene from David Lean's 1965 epic starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.

In 2010 snow affected us the other way round - in the west we were snowed in while Geoff and  Andy B completed the planned route from Grassington on what Andy described as "one of the finest walks I have ever undertaken." (It's a matter of note and minor irritation  that just about any walk Andy B gets out on and I don't are nearly all "the best walks ever"!)


Last year we went to Lothersdale a slice of TOP much overlooked apart from the fact that the Pennine Way runs through it. Andy led us across to Elslack and then back over Pinhaw Beacon. John's daughter Julie and Peter's daughter Stephanie were in the party and since we had hit the school holidays so was John's grandson Alex. This lent a family atmosphere to our group accentuated at lunch time when the first Dotcom walker Elaine met us at the Hare and Hounds happy in that she had just become a grandmother.

And so to this year.  In a week of miserable weather Tuesday turned out to be fine. 19 of us gathered at the Wuthering Heights, Stanbury just outside Haworth. This is remarkable as 8 people who regularly walk with us had other commitments. John and I had reconnoitred the route back in November when we had a weekend in Haworth with our wives and friends. We walked across Penistone Hill, dropped to the Worth Valley and came back through Haworth itself. I was disappointed to find the church closed for Christmas rehearsals but this was more than compensated by a remarkable meeting - Charlotte Bronte herself came walking up the street close to the Parsonage.

Of course it wasn't Charlotte Bronte but a young woman presumably from the museum dressed in costume from the 1830s. She was delightfully obliging as everyone in the group with a camera insisted on a photograph.

Back at the Wuthering Heights we completed our walking year with a fine meal and good beer in front of a roaring fire. It had been another good Christmas outing. We had been gifted fine views and fellowship. Don frequently reminds us in Tiny Tim fashion to remember how blessed we are that we have the health and fitness to enjoy our walking. Of course there will be a time when for each of us the end will come - if not today but sometime all too soon. When that time arrives for me I hope I have enough of my mind to look back to be warmed by the memories like the ones I have of Christmas Past. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

Saturday 10th November. As the year moves towards winter a terrible spectre hangs over the countryside - ash die back disease which threatens to destroy 80 million ash trees in much the same way Dutch elm disease wiped out our native elm in the 1970s. Whether or not earlier government intervention might have prevented ash die back being imported seems academic. It's here now and will have to be dealt with.

In Denmark it has wiped out over 90% of the ash tree population. 90% and we hear of this now! What were the news organisations doing when Denmark lost even 10% of its ash woodland? No doubt focusing on the really important matter of the colour of Simon Cowell's pyjamas. Celebrity culture is dangerously distracting and ash die back proves the point. Had the media outlets been doing their job properly then we would have been alerted far sooner about the threat and would have been better prepared to deal with it. (Of course there is the argument that celebrity culture actually suits the establishment but that it another thread altogether.)

We can only hope that the lessons of ash die back will make everyone more vigilant about future threats to our native woodland - it would be unimaginably awful if there came a disease that killed off our oak trees.

If the countryside dies we wouldn't be far behind.

On Tuesday the Dotcoms met at my home in Penwortham followed by a breathless tour of the district featuring cultural gems such as the electricity substation, the electricity pylons that straddle the river and the great construction site building part of the flood defence scheme. The Burnley Contingent is still recovering in shock and awe.

 

We were joined by two UCLan students - Yanrong from Singapore and Kerstin from Austria. Yanrong, or Yin as she asked us to call her, contacted me a week or so back and requested an interview with John and me as a project for her degree in international journalism. I suggested they should join us on the Tuesday walk and carry out the interview during or after the walk. This arrangement turned out well and it was good for us old fogies to be in the company of young people with their eyes firmly fixed on the future.

Before the walk commenced I had to impart some sad news. Last week on 2nd November, All Souls Day, Marlene, Bill's wife, passed away at Royal Preston Hospital with Bill and their son, Matthew at her bedside. This is a grievous blow to Bill and the family and deeply sad for those of us in the group who walked with Bill.

For John and myself (and our wives) there exists a special connection with Bill in that he was the first of the Dotcoms to join us on a regular basis. Marlene never walked with us although when I first knew her - 25 years ago - she was an active member of the Norwest Fellwalking Club. In recent years as her mobility became impaired she found walking difficult. But in a sense Marlene joined us every time Bill was out. Without fail after our lunch time stop - usually in a pub - Bill would phone Marlene to give her a report on the walk to that point; who was out, the weather, the conditions underfoot and the quality of the fare at the pub. In my photo archive I have dozens of photos of the group with Bill on the end with the mobile clamped to his ear.

Sometimes when Bill wasn't walking he and Marlene would arrange to meet us for lunch and this gave Marlene a more direct way of participating in the Dotcom Project. It was always a good day when Marlene could join us.

In recent years Marlene had to endure a great amount of pain with a condition that wasn't immediately diagnosed. Bill became burdened with worry. The worse thing for him was when Marlene suffered severe attacks of pain there was little he could do to help her.Pain drives out everything and creates a dark shadow.

At the start of this year Marlene underwent major surgery and she spent a great amount of time in hospital. The procedures seemed to work and there was hope that Marlene might look forward to a better quality of life. In June she and Bill were able to join us as the Derby Arms, Thornley and she was able to catch up with her friends. A few weeks later they came to Brian and Mary's garden party and those of us who were there are grateful for the happy memories of that evening.

I will remember that time with affection but the memory I will most treasure was the night of John's surprise 60th birthday party in June last year. Remarkably we had an almost warm evening so were able to sit outside. Later we lit our chiminea and after the other guests had left there was just John, Diane, Eileen, myself with Bill and Marlene. Earlier that day Marlene had been particularly afflicted with pain and Bill had been in some doubt whether to come. He and she and we were so glad that the attack subsided to enable us to share that communion of firelight and conversation.

Marlene - daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother and once, a long time before her health gave way, a young woman like our companions on Tuesday looking forward to the future. She went on to fill it with wonderful things - with Bill and Matthew and family holidays and walking and dancing and travel and work and a life well lived - over 50 years of it shared with Bill. She loved and was loved and that is all any of us need.

 

Marlene Beetham 1938 - 2012

 

 

Monday 29th October. Yesterday I went to see Jim run in the Preston Guild Marathon. For Jim born in 1952 and therefore a "Guild Baby" he simply could not not let it go by as it was the first time such an event had been staged and he might not be up for the next one in 2032. The conditions were awful. After a week of benign weather - indeed some of the best weather we have had for a while, things reverted to form with a low coming in from Iceland bringing with it a cold wet wind. This is not what marathon runners want to contend with.

The course consisted of an early loop up to Penwortham and then took the field west of the city to Treales (the half way mark) where another loop took it to a remote rural location before swinging back to Preston for a Flag Market finish.

Penwortham was a good location to view the spectacle. Penwortham Way is crossed by two pedestrian bridges and the road bridge at Cop Lane. Also there was the turn in the loop just before the Millbrook roundabout. I stationed myself on Cop Lane bridge in good time to watch the first runner come through

and then over the next half hour the rest of the field as they streamed beneath me rounded the turn and headed back to the city.

Trying to pick a mate out from 1200 runners was harder than I thought. I was pretty sure Jim wasn't wearing the green butterfly costume he donned for the Great North Run last year. I caught a glimpse of someone resembling Jim took a chance and cycled down the ramp to take a position close to the race. I was in luck "Is that you Jim?" I called.

It was. At that moment the wind and rain were not quite so severe as they were later.

After Jim passed I checked my map of the route and worked out I might intercept Jim close to Tulketh Brow. I waited there a while but must have missed him and set off home. Passing close to Penwortham Way I caught sight of the much bigger half marathon field. At home I read the newspaper, did the suduko, sent off a few e mails, had a nice warm soup for lunch and then worked out that Jim would be soon finishing the race so went off to see it. I was in luck just as I placed my self near the finish the people in front of me moved giving me an unimpeded view of Jim as he crossed the line.

 He seemed rather nonchalent about his achievement and talked matter of factly about the difficult conditions out in the sticks when two or three miles were run in the face of a gale.

I took his photo with his competitors medal and together we found Susan. At the Guild Hall this proud friend left Jim and his proud wife who whisked him home for a well deserved bath and meal.

The Preston Guild Marathon run on the day the clocks went back brings to a conclusion a remarkable summer of events - the Olympics and Paralympics and Preston Guild itself.The end of quite a remarkable chapter.  

 

 

Thursday 4th October.

Number 1 oven at Auschwitz could only incinerate 340 corpses a day so there was nothing for it but to build a bigger and better oven at nearby Birkenau. Such was the warped mentality of the Nazis. On Monday Eileen and I spent the day touring the museum part of our city break to Krakow, Poland - a duty and a paying of respects to those that were murdered there and elsewhere under Nazism. It turned out to be as sombre and harrowing as we anticipated.

The visit took us first to Auschwitz which had been set up as a prison camp for Poles in the spring of 1940. Based on a former Polish army barracks it was soon filled thousands of people who had infringed the crazy penal code of the occupying power.

After June 1941 Soviet POWs were brought there. During this phase of its development inmates died as a consequence of ill treatment and starvation. Later when the policy of "the Final Solution" came to be enacted the mass killings of Jews took place. Our guide Anna led us around the exhibits mainly housed in the 22 barrack buildings. She provided a dispassionate commentary inter-mingled with grim statistics - we were not spared the details of mass murder.

In the second part of the tour we were taken to Birkenau - a death camp by design not adaptation.

Ironically it seemed less confined than Auschwitz. Here were located the railway sidings where the infamous selection of prisoners took place. As the transports arrived prisoners were given a perfunctory medical examination - those judged fit to work were marched into the camp; life expectancy 3 - 4 months. The rest, mainly the old, the young and expectant mothers - on average 80% of the intake, were taken directly to the gas chambers and murdered. Over 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz - the vast majority, 1 million, were Jewish.

We travelled back to Krakow on a silent bus. Inside the head the question "Why?" "Why?" kept hammering away. It starts with the distortion of language - if a group of people is labelled "vermin" then the next step "extermination" becomes easier. Once started there is no return. In September 1941 over 600 Soviet POWs were gassed in the first use of Zyklon B. Leaving aside all the other atrocities committed by the Nazis to that point, this deliberate and cold blooded act took the perpetrators across the line. To admit one unjustified killing, let alone 600 would have required a calling to accounts no one would be willing to pay. So 600 became 6,000 became 6 million. Later when the enormity of the factories of death came to light only the banal excuse "I was following orders" was offered as a defence.

The museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau is a moving memorial to the dead.

Since 1947 it has dedicated itself to explain the story of what happened there and to serve as a warning in history. The story is told with reverential unflinchingness. (See www.auschwitz.org )

As depressing and shocking and gruesome as the place is Eileen and I were both glad we had gone there.

 

 

 

Monday 10th September. "Once every Preston Guild" is about the frequency of times Eileen joins me on a walk. She joined me on Saturday along with my cousin Boyd and Fiona after driving us to Silverdale to take part in the Cross Bay walk.

Now I do not know why it is that in the past I have arranged hundreds of successful walks for school parties, visiting relatives, Dotcom walkers, fellwalking club members all completed without difficulty often ending with the warm glow of congratulation and positive superlatives yet my walks with Eileen have nearly all been disastrous.

However on Saturday hope triumphed over experience so when she expressed interest in the venture and I told her that the walking would be easy across the flat sands of Morecambe Bay and it was the type of thing grandmothers and children easily take in their stride I felt I was telling her nothing less than the truth.

Walking across Morecambe Bay from Lancashire to Cumbria goes back to pre-historic times - indeed in pre-historic times it was the only viable means of travel. Until the advent of the railway horse drawn coaches would use the sands to reduce the long, tedious and difficult journey by what roads existed then - 5 hours from Hest Bank to Cartmel as opposed to 2 days. It was a no brainer as they say but it was not without risk.

There are two main hazards. The first is the tide which when it goes out creates 120 square miles of "wet Sahara" but when it arrives comes in with surprising rapidity often with fatal results for the unwary. In February 2004 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in what became known as the Morecambe Bay Disaster.

The second hazard is the nature of the sands. The rivers that flow into the Bay - notably the Lune and the Kent channel their way out to the Irish Sea in a manner that can alter from tide to tide shifting the sands and making them unstable. In many places so unstable that to stand on them would be to sink into them again with fatal results.

For these reasons no one should walk across the sands without a guide. The most famous guide is Cedric Robinson who holds the post of Queen's Guide to the Sands a position he has held since 1963. In 1982 on my only previous walk across the sands I had the chance to meet Cedric and talk to him about his singular occupation.

I had expected to see him on Saturday and in a way I did - from afar; he was leading a huge party across to Kent's Bank from Arnside. I was unaware there was another outfit that did the walk until we turned up for registration close to Gibraltar Point Farm, Silverdale. This was the Cross Bay Walk led by Alan Sledmore.

The first thing that struck us as we turned into the car park field was how many people were there - possibly 150. An element of the walk was sponsorship for a charity "Freedom From Torture". Given how things turned out for Eileen this might be seen as an example of prophetic irony.

 
From this point errors in my decision making came thick and fast. With the weather grey, misty and threatening rain there was an element of
doubt in Eileen's mind. She resorted to her stock question, "How far is it?". "From Silverdale to Humphrey Head 4 1/2  miles." There - right there the seeds of all ensuing difficulties were sown - I should have known better - Eileen should have known better. In a straight line it is 4 ½  miles and had that been so we would have completed the walk in two hours as I airily predicted. It turned out to be nearer 8 miles with all the necessary convolutions to cross the sands and channels.So that was MISTAKE NUMBER ONE I had sold the walk to Eileen, Boyd and Fiona on a false prospectus - I had not done sufficient research.

And to cap it all since I had airily predicted we'd be back early afternoon I added, "No need to bring sandwiches - we'll have them when we get back." MISTAKE NUMBER TWO.

At the same time I committed my third error. When it came to footwear I offered this guidance to my party - trainers and socks and a dry change for the far side. It was guidance I failed to follow myself electing instead to wear wellington boots. I was the only person wearing wellington boots and was conscious that this fact did not escape the attention of my fellow walkers who looked on with a knowing smugness that is only generated by Guardian readers. Later as the combination of sand and water rubbed blisters onto unexpected parts of my feet half way through the walk I came to regard it as divine retribution for MISTAKE NUMBER ONE & MISTAKE NUMBER TWO!

Still things started off well as Alan and his team led us down to the cove at Jenny Brown's Point and onto the sands. Once the whole party were across the stile leading onto the beach we set off on the Cross Bay Walk. In a way I found the walk was somewhat akin to being on a cattle trail - Alan in the lead, with his helpers walking alongside at point or in the rear and after a while an escort of tractors (think of chuck wagons in "Rawhide")

and quads - all part of the Cross Bay experience.

Indeed overall it was fun - especially fording the River Kent up to our thighs

 after which there was no reason to carry on wearing my wellington boots. At frequent intervals we would come to a halt - mainly to allow the back markers to catch up. One lengthy pause was described as a lunch stop at which all the Guardian readers broke out their slices of quiche and thermos's.

Alan's walk was what it was and one I would have no hesitation promoting to grandmothers, children and Guardian readers but from the midway stage Eileen began to suffer with her knee. In May she had had a half knee replacement and while she has managed well as it has gradually improved, two hours of walking aggravated it painfully.

Two hours of walking and still nowhere near the Cumbria shore. I hadn't immediately noticed - too busy taking photos or talking to one of the guides but as soon as I did I recognised the signs and knew there was no way I could extricate us from the situation.

The sun came out. We plodded on. The sands maybe flat but they are the wrong kind of flatness in that the rippling effect of the tide creates an uneven surface especially designed to add pressure to Eileen's knee.

 As we reached the shore she was seriously unhappy and then came another realisation - the walk finished with an ascent of Humphrey Head. "Have we got to go over that hill?" Eileen asked when it was perfectly obvious with the ribbon of Guardian readers happily skipping up its slopes.

"That's not a hill," I explained as I changed into my dry trainers. I had adopted denial as the best strategy.

At around 3.00pm we caught up with Boyd and Fiona at the outdoor education centre on the far side of the not-a-hill where tea and biscuits were on offer - another element of the Cross Bay Walk experience. A short while later we strolled up to take our seats on one of the coaches that would whisk us back to Silverdale. I began to relax somewhat - at least there would be no more walking. But the Gods hadn't finished with me yet.

After what seemed a long time on the coach between Flookborough and Silverdale as we approached the turn for Gibraltar Point a quick word from one of the team led the driver to make an unnecessary diversion to the top of Hollins Lane. He was not for turning back or going down the lane. "I'm afraid you'll have to walk it from here - ten minutes down the road," announced the team member without a hint of embarrassment. 20 minutes later we finally reached the car park where the coach that had set off behind us was depositing its passengers. At 4.25pm Boyd, Fiona, Eileen and I had lunch.

I do not expect Eileen to join me on a walk until next Preston Guild.

Footnote: The celebrations of Preston Guild came to a conclusion yesterday evening with a firework display in Avenham Park. Overall the once every 20 year event had been done in great style and seemed to be a fitting conclusion to this extra-ordinary summer with the Queen's diamond jubilee, the Olympics and Para Olympics. Now it's back to reality and Tuesday walking with the Dotcoms...

 

 

 

Monday 27th August Bank Holiday. A week after the official opening of the Guild Wheel Eileen and I together with John and Di cycle it.

This is how it came about. On Friday evening John and Di came to ours for a hotpot supper. Late in the evening when more than one bottle of wine had been consumed - not by John as he was driving - someone - not me as I value my life - suggested we should have a go at cycling the Guild Wheel. My recollection is that it was Eileen but she vehemently denies this. Initially we planned to do it today. However on studying the weather forecast we realised that yesterday was a better window. Saturday was awful and Preston went into the records for being the wettest place in the UK. It turned out that Sunday was just about perfect for a long cycle ride.

Here is the back story. The longest ride to date Eileen has done is 16 miles and that was over six years ago. The longest ride Diane has done to date is 12 miles last week. The Guild Wheel is 21 miles round and from our house it is 1 ½ miles to join it. I want to reiterate it was their idea. At 11.00am yesterday we four set out to cycle the Guild Wheel. We decided to do it clockwise.

Here is another element in the back story - I have cycled it before at the end of June with our Katherine. I was interested to see if there had been any changes since then. There had been. It was like the difference between the last dress rehearsal and first night performance - more than anything it had an appreciating audience.

As with the Olympics where we took national pride in something that was done superbly well so with the Guild Wheel - it has been done well. To begin with it is well signposted. When Katherine and I did it two months ago there were places we went astray and there were times when we needed to check the map. Yesterday we had no such difficulties. Another feature added since my last ride is the siting of mileposts which give you the distance from the Official start whatever your direction of travel.

The second aspect of the Wheel is how much off road safe cycling there is. There are a few sections where you need to share the road with motor vehicles but these are minimal and are along quiet lanes. On the busy A583 Riversway and the A6 at Broughton the planners have utilised the pavements creating "share the pathway" stretches with pedestrians. At all major roads traffic light crossings have been installed where they did not exist before. This meticulous attention to the safety of users will make the Guild Wheel particularly appealing to families and we saw many on our circuit yesterday. In fact judging by the numbers of people we saw yesterday the Wheel will turn Preston in Cycle City.

We chose our day well. There was some doubt about the weather at first but by the time we reached the Docks the threat of rain was receding. We crossed Blackpool Road to join the Ribble Link canal - a cycle path that follows the UK's most recent waterway. Through Cottam we found ourselves in a peloton of 8 or 9 other riders who kept company with us to Durton Lane. Dropping through the steep ascent of Red Scar Woods Eileen had the first of two tumbles - luckily coming off in a patch of soft growth. None the worse for this she was able to enjoy her lunch at Brockholes where we had our picnic.

 This just left the river stretch back to Avenham to complete (where Eileen had here second mishap after getting into the wrong gear on the approach to the Old Tram Bridge.)

The timing of the Guild Wheel could not be propitious for its conceivers and creators coming a few weeks after Team GB's success in the Olympics winning 7 out of 9 medals in the Velodrome added to Lancastrian Bradley Wiggins Gold in the time trial and Tour de France Triumph. (Before you quibble he is as Lancastrian as John and me!)

Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council together with their partners have created a wonderful and enduring legacy for this year's Guild - one that will grow and grow popularity. It is a feature in which all involved can take immense pride- a different kind of pride from mine and John's in our wives for completing it!

Sunday 19th August. This has been an event full weekend.

Yesterday Jim, Helen and I went across to Barley to take part in the world record attempt for a gathering of people dressed up in witches costume (black cloak, pointy hat and broomstick). The gathering was one element of a sponsored walk over Pendle in aid of Pendleside Hospice. As regular visitors to this website will know it is an event we have helped promote in our own small way.

We arrived early in order to register and prepare. Jim was fully immersed in the spirit of the occasion and quickly dressed up in the stipulated costume with some personal touches no doubt helped by his wife Susan. Helen, who had probably come along as an interested observer became infected with Jim's enthusiasm and was persuaded to purchase the costume from a stall holder on the green. I remained an interested observer; not that I felt dressing up in witches' costume wass beneath my dignity but because I wanted to be free to roam with my digital camera.

At about 10.30am hundreds of witches began to congregate along the perimeter of the green where Radio Lancashire's Ted Robbins was acting as Master of Ceremonies.

When Jim and Helen made their way to be counted in I wished them good luck and walked through the village to find a good position on the hill.

As I reached the broad pastures below Pendle House I was immediately impressed by the date 1612 displayed in giant figures on the flank of Pendle - a reminder, if any were needed, that it is 400 years since the Pendle Witch Trials. The figures were made up with sheets of off-white cloth and the team responsible were just completing their task as I approached the steep path to Big End. There were a lot of other people about too many wearing the high visibilty jacket of marshals (one of my specialised subjects!) moving into position. I made my way to the trig point keeping close to the edge of the summit plateau.

As if on cue a mist came in from the west providing an atmospheric element to the scene.

Meanwhile far below Jim and Helen were filing off the green  with 480 other people dressed as witches having set the record and put themselves in the Guinness Book of Records. It had been a stipulation that the gathering had to last for ten minutes an interval that assisted the sponsored walkers not dressed as witches a head start. I wasn't particularly surprised when a fell runner appeared at 11.45. "It's not a race!" exclaimed the marshal.

I dropped back to the top of the steep path to wait for Jim and Helen and enjoy the procession. I had a long wait so I saw a lot of witches.

After 75 minutes my friends came into view. As I fell in with them they reported that Jim had been much in demand by photographers and this had delayed their start. They then had a long wait at a bottle neck of a kissing gate. This had the consequence of stringing out the field. Together we walked to the trig point so I could take a photograph of Helen and Jim

and then descended by way of Ogden Clough. By this time early afternoon the sun broke through so as we reached the village we were greeted by a festive scene. Helen and Jim collected their medals and after changing queued for their veggie burger. Before leaving we had a drink at the Pendle Inn where numerous witches, ex-witches and witch supporters sat in the gardens to enjoy the sun. A rare thing this summer. Well done to Julian Jordan  and his team for creating a great event.

This morning the weather returned to its default position - WET - not long after the official opening of the Preston Guild Wheel.

Eileen and I had cycled down to watch the ceremony.

Wait a minute, long time readers will be wondering - "CYCLE"! The fact is in recent weeks after six years of not cycling because of my impaired vision (apart from that time with Don on the back of a tandem) I have found the confidence to get back on a bike. I have to be careful and over longer distances will need another to join me but the fact remains Eileen and I have rediscovered the joy of cycling. And right on cue the Guild Wheel is officially opened.

We reached Avenham Park just before the ceremony started and I was pleased to see my friends Mike and Kathy Atkins from the Norwest Fellwalking Club. I wasn't surprised to see them at the official start behind the tape which was then about to be cut by the Chairman of Lancashire County Council. Mike and another far sighted individual Peter Ward were the prime movers behind the creation of the Guild Wheel a 21 mile multi-use greenway that circles Preston. "You must be very proud!" I called to Mike as he was about to set out after the tape had been cut. Mike shrugged in a self depracating manner. Three years ago at the AGM of the Norwest held at the Derby Arms Thornley, Mike gave a presentation explaining his vision for the Wheel. In between times he has been seriously ill yet has battled through not just to see the fulfilment of a dream but to actually set out to ride the whole route on this day of celebration. Well done Mike.

Saturday 11th August Earlier this week I returned from the London Olympics which as you know already are "amazing", "incedible", "indescribable" and "cannot be put into words".

Last Friday with Mary, Michael and Sandra I was enjoying a drink at the Swan in Hampton Wick not long after completing the long journey down. As we were leaving a thought occured to me. "Did the RACE pass by here on Wednesday?" The manager, a Kiwi, answered in the affirmative. "Did you see it?" "No, I was too busy serving in here." We had missed Bradley Wiggins' gold medal winning ride by two days. I went onto explain that we came from the same area of Lancashire that Bradley comes from but he was more interested by the area's links with non Olympic rugby.

Mary and her son Michael are great sports fans and through a mixture of fortunes found themselves with spare tickets. They invited first me and then Sandra to join them. I am not a great sports fan. This has probably due to the fact I was rather useless at most sports at school and would find myself being picked second from last when we were on football during games lessons. Yet when the chance came to go to the Olympics I did not forgo the opportunity, I was curious.

So what were they like?

Well they were "amazing", "incedible", "indescribable" and "cannot be put into words" to quote the 50 (so far) Team GB medal winners As the nation slides into an economic abyss it manages to pull off staging a spectacle of greatness - great in organisation, great in style and great in spirit.

Organisation: You do not have to be in London long to identify the distinctive purple and red livery of the army of volunteers ready to answer your questions. They seemed to be everywhere in the capital and were especially present at key points in the transport system. Sometimes they would be seen in clusters - barnacle shelves of volunteers always on hand.

Mary has severe mobility problems. The volunteer army were well attuned to assisting people with mobility problems. Given that tickets are allocated through lottery meant that there was no way of predicting where a seat might be in a venue. There did not seem to be any difficulty for her (and Michael) changing seats for a more accessible spot.

Style: Aside from the much criticised (at the time of its first showing) Olympic logo which in the context of the Olympic Park made perfect sense there was a style that was pleasing to the eye. The Games looked good so they felt good.

I was ready to be offended at the use of branding much reprted in the Guardian - a MacDonaldising of the Games. While Macdonalds had prominent sites on the park, in the venues there was no noticeable branding. A balance had been achieved.

Spirit: Of course as host nation has a very different feel from being a guest. There was little doubt that there was always a louder cheer for a British competitor but beyond this I felt the Olympic spirit was present - a spirit of goodwill fostered through the non-hostile medium of sport. It was wonderful to be part of a crowd made up of people from across the globe.

Our first contact with the games was a football match at Wembley - a quarter final between Mexico and Senegal; two nations I haven't visited, have no relatives in or any other connection with.

 

Since there appeared to be more support for the Mexicans we decided to shout our support for Senegal. It was a great occasion and we had 120 minutes of entertainment since the match went into extra time. Mexico won 4 - 2. It didn't matter. 81,000 people had come together to see a competition.

The following day we watched women's water polo. It is a sport I had only the vaguest notions of how it is played. In the session we attended there were two matches Hungary Vs Russia and Australia Vs China. It was enthralling. I wonder at the grass roots of this sport. How many water polo pools in Hungary, Russia, Australia and China? How do you identify someone with the potential to become a good water polo player. What are the essential skills - swim - throw a ball - throw a ball while swimming.

I have seen a water polo match a long time ago in Malta and a bit on tellie - the Olympics before last and other bits. So from seeing virtually nothing I find myself in an arena where I see the best in the world. That is like going from Janet and John to Dickens.  This makes you feel special as a spectator - this is significant because it is an Olympic event and you are actually present as if you are one with the competitors. In the China vs Australia match we cheered mostly for the Australians - a one off. The Aussies won but that didn't matter (except to the Chinese water polo team.)

So all in all my experience of the Olympics as well as being entertained made me feel proud that London has hosted a great games. In the dimming light of our national greatness the organisers have provided a platform for a wonderful spectacle of sporting excellence. They were amazing, incredible, indescribable and difficult to put into words.

 

Tuesday 31st July: If I see another jelly baby I think I'll scream. Apparently jelly babies possess some energy giving qualities prized by participants in this past weekend's Montane Lakeland 100/50 mile race and at most of the checkpoints there were lashings of jelly babies to help the competitors of this ultra-event.

An "Ultra" race is any event that exceeds the traditional marathon distance of 26 miles. Have you run a marathon lately? Well just imagine setting out on a race nearly four times that distance. This is what 262 men and women did on Friday afternoon from John Ruskin School on a race that bills itself as a tour of Lakeland. (620 runners started on Saturday from Dalmain taking part in the 50 mile event - humph, a mere 50 miles!)

Ultra events need ultra-marshalling which is where GPS Dave comes in. For the past three years he has been asked by the people who run the results service SPORTident to collect the control boxes from the checkpoints after the runners have passed through. Knowing I have developed a fascination for this type of event he invited me to join him.

After reporting in at the event centre at Coniston we made our way to Wasdale Head where David introduced me to Martin Stone of SPORTident. Martin was there to set up a communication link back to the centre as mobile reception is non-existent at Wasdale Head. I was soon to learn that Martin had a more than impressive CV himself at one time holding the record for the number of  Munros climbed in 24 hours (amongst other things). We were soon joined by the team of marshals who were going to run the checkpoint. They happened to come from the Burnley area and were led by Maria whose sister Audra was running in the 100.

Maria and her team quickly set out a water station, soup and bread, energy drinks and of course jelly babies.

By 8.00pm all was ready and then it was a question of waiting. Before he returned to the event centre Martin estimated we would see the first runner at around 8.30pm. 8.34 the cry went up "Runner" and 24 year old Ed Batty trotted across the packhorse bridge and into the barn to dib at the control. Maria's team snapped into action intent on ministering to Ed's needs though he wanted for little. Within a few minutes he was on his way to Buttermere by way of Black Sail pass.

Dusk was upon us and as the main field began to stream through the station many began to extract head lamps to take them through the night.

At 10.47pm a cheer went up from the marshals as Audra Banks stepped into the light of the barn. Not surprisingly she received special attention and was given a loving embrace from husband Stuart as she stepped back into the darkness to commence  the long climb up to the top of the pass.

At this stage the checkpoint had a rather different mood compare to the buzz of mid-evening. By now there were a few retirees awaiting transport back to Coniston. Subdued by weariness and disappointment they waited patiently for the minibus to arrive. However we couldn't close the checkpoint until all the runners were accounted for. By midnight all but two had passed through.  There was a fair amount of discussion about the remaining two. Had they retired at Eskdale and not been "dibbed"? Had they passed through our checkpoint without dibbing? This speculation wasn't assisted by the fact that despite Martin's earlier efforts to set up a link we could not make contact with the event centre. Finally at 12.26am the errant competitors came in from the dark. They were sorted out some sustenance and a bag of jelly babies and sent on their way to Buttermere (where they later retired.)

Maria and her team completed the clear up of the station then took themselves off to bed. For David and me our duties had barely started. With the help of the farmer Andy Lopez we disconnected the box and phone line. Related by marriage to the legendary fellrunner Josh Naylor, Andy farms land that includes Yewbarrow, Pillar, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Lingmoor and the western slopes of the Scafell Pikes. He gave us his impressions of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics before bidding us farewell.

There was something of a feeling of release as we commenced the long drive round to Buttermere. We were now on our designated task of rolling up the carpet behind the runners. At each of the remaining checkpoints we waited for the back markers to come through and then packed up the equipment before moving onto the next. By and large we viewed the race from the perspective of  the last competitor. A 100 mile race produces a massive margin between first and last. When the eventual winner Terry Conway dibbed his last dib at Coniston at 1.21pm on Saturday afternoon David and I were at Dockray over 50 miles back along the course and would still have a 70 minute wait before the last competitor came through Checkpoint 7.

The perspective of the last competitor is a rather dispiriting one - the checkpoints were varied but the scene was nearly always the same and somewhat akin to last gasp of an all-night student party.

 Each had a scattering of retirees tending their sores or dozing in their chairs, each had their weary marshals, and each had their trays of curled up slices of bread, luke warm soup and uneaten jelly babies. Each had their seemingly interminable waits for the back marker. David and I did a considerable amount of waiting.

At Dalmain north of Ullswater the 50 mile event set off at noon on the Saturday. Humph only 50 miles! We missed that but with quite a number of 100 milers retiring at this midway point we were able to get a little ahead of the most of the field at Mardale Head and made a vain effort to catch up on sleep for only the second time since Buttermere. That checkpoint with its two large army surplus like tents seemed like a forward command post in the Falklands War.

Here we had a quick chat with our friend Brian Layton veteran of over 125 mountain marathons. This was the first 100 miler he had attempted and was going well. We waved him off as he set up Gatesgarth. (He completed the race at 8.17am the following morning - not bad going for a chap of 61!). 

We had two long waits at Kentmere (after 1.00am) and Ambleside (after 5.00am). At the latter I caught a snatch of a conversation between two lady competitors in which one said to the other, "Normally on 100s..." I didn't hear the rest but remain bemused that competing in hundred mile events might be regarded as "normal" in some parallel universe. The ladies were Shirley and Karen and I'm pleased to say both completed the course. Here is the photo I took of them later at Tilberthwaite.

At 6.00am we took a breather at the event centre in Coniston assisting Martin. The vibrant atmosphere of the finish with the generous cheers for the elated, sore, drop dead weary competitors reinvigorated us so that an hour later when we could see that there were just 10 more competitors to arrive at Checkpoint 13 Tilberthwaite we set out to complete our duties.

By this stage we were on first name terms with the people at the back of the field having encountered them previously at Ambleside. When Hans and Gerta from Holland dibbed through we packed up the kit and then pressed on to Wrynose to take in the compulsory checkpoint there. In dropping off these boxes our duties were at an end. "Has it given you plenty of material to write about?" asked Martin. Well just a bit.

What did I gain? Well I had a grand tour of Lakeland viewed through the narrow prism of sleeplessness. Besides the competitors I met a lot of interesting people with great stories. Of the competitors themselves - well to say they occupy a different level of fitness and endurance doesn't cover it. As Brian Layton pointed out when I spoke to him at Checkpoint 10, "This is all about the  head."

At Tilbertwaite Mark, one of the 50 milers had had it and was ready to retire. "No," he was told firmly by Ann "You're too close to the finish." "I can't do it - I won't do it," he responded. "Yes you can and I'm going to make sure you do. Come on it's just a short climb and then we're in sight of Coniston." Scott in charge of the checkpoint chimed in with the fact in the 5 year history of the event no one had ever retired at Tilberthwaite. Mark looked far from persuaded but he struggled out of his chair and putting one painful foot in front of another followed Ann up the steep slopes of the Yewbarrow Fells. He finished the race at just before 10.30am. My guess is that he'll remember Ann with gratitude for she had enough in her head to give Mark the extra motivation he needed to complete the ordeal. I cannot recall whether or not Mark ate a jelly baby at the start of the final stage but my brief encounter with him epitomises all I admire about the people who do this type of event. When things are at their worse somehow they manage to find something of their best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 10th July. It was 50 shades of grey when Don and I set off for Wasdale Head on Friday. The weather had turned nasty  again and Radio Two punctuated its broadcast with dire reports of travel disruption all over the country. We were heading up to marshal at the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM) except for me this year there was something of a difference - I was  competing. Yep at the age of 62 when one might think I would have more sense I had persuaded myself instead of chronicling the event from the viewpoint of a spectating marshal I should do the event itself.

For some reason when I put this idea to GPS Dave who organises the SLMM he responded with disconcerting enthusiasm. He thought  it was an excellent idea and did everything he could to facilitate it.

The first task he set himself was to find me a suitable partner. In all but one of its classes the SLMM is a two person team  event. It is not unusual for him to receive requests from singletons to match them with another. Sometime in February he asked  me, "How would you like to do it with a 37 year old lady?" Ignoring the double-entendre and knowing David as a wind up merchant  I replied I did not mind and would be happy with whosoever he paired me off with. A few weeks ago David informed me I would be  doing the event with Stewart an experienced fellrunner from Freckleton and ten years my junior. I met him for the first time at  the end of last month when he joined us for a Tuesday walk. Stewart had already competed in a number of SLMMs albeit in a higher  class and had all the gear.

For the Saunders and other similar events held over two days the most important piece of gear is the tent. This accounts for  the association of Bob Saunders with the event. Having established an international reputation as a manufacturer of tents Bob gave his name and generous support to the Lakeland Mountain Marathon over 30 years ago. Sadly Bob died in April this year and so  for his family, the events team and many participants there was a poignant significance to the 2012 SLMM.

So Stewart came with the gear, the food, the experience and the patience to take me out on my first mountain marathon. On Friday evening we were both assisting with registration during which he finalised administrative aspects of our entry and attached the  "dibber" on my wrist.

This would electronically record our progress through the controls. Early next morning we met again to  sort out our rucksacks and made our way to the start.

Unbelievably given the weather so many of the competitors had to force their way through to reach Wasdale the morning was  beautiful.

From the event centre close to the Wasdale Inn there was a 20 minute walk to the start lines in Mosdale. We collected  our maps and joined the procession heading up the valley. Under the supervision of Phil and Babs we went through the funnel  picked up our control cards and then knelt down on a convenient hummock to mark the maps with the control points we had to pick  up. This made it serious. Get this part of it wrong and much time would be wasted on the course. However I had already formed a  view of Stewart that I could defer to his judgement in this an in every other aspect of the next 30 hours.

Once Stewart was happy with the course we set out - UP! Up was the only direction from Mosdale. Our way up took us to the first  control - a "re-entrant" some way up Gatherstone Beck. "I don't like re-entrants," Stewart told me, "They can be tricky." I 
found myself not liking re-entrants myself. Still with the procession of competitors we located it easily enough.

By the time we reached the second control on top of Black Sail Pass the main difference between fellrunner and fellwalker was fast becoming apparent to me. Now I have always regarded myself as an above averagely fit walker - hadn't I not long completed the West Highland Way? But I had now realised that Stewart's and every other competitor's fitness was of a much higher level. On  first impression fellrunners seem to do a lot of walking even in the higher classes but it is not walking as you and I know it. 

Nobly at the start of the event Stewart had volunteered that he would allow me to set the pace but as the day wore on it was  obvious he was incapable of fulfilling this commitment. As I caught up with Stewart at each control box I took a breather. Then 
on setting out within 10 seconds he would be 10 metres in front. After 5 minutes I would be trailing by 100 metres. I became well acquainted with Stewart's back! It was like having an exuberant greyhound on the leash.

 

Fitness levels was one aspect of it. Another was the ground we traversed. When Andy, Don and I walked the West Highland Way we  considered the top end of Loch Lomond the most difficult part of the trail. Rocky paths split with tree roots made it difficult to achieve any sort of rhythm. But at least it was a path. On mountain marathons the way the controls are placed means you are  not on paths for long. This is opposite to the type of walking I'm use to so while Stewart seemed to cross the fells efficiently  and gracefully I made hard work of it awkwardly clambering over rock and through bracken.

Footwear didn't help. It was not until we arrived at mid camp in the afternoon when I realised of the 900 odd competitors I was  the only one wearing walking boots. Everyone else was wearing running shoes. At the start of the event I made the decision to  wear boots because they were what I was accustomed to but it was a decision I came to regret especially on the second day when  they were particularly unsuited to the ground we covered and seemed to weigh a ton.

As in all else Stewart's camp craft made the experience of mid camp less uncomfortable than it might have been. Marshalling at  mid camp at two previous events I can't say I was looking forward to the experience. It seemed that I didn't eat properly, sleep 
properly, wash properly and even with the provision of portaloos crap properly. For some people this would count as an ordeal. I was in good hands with Stewart though who did just about everything while I tried to make myself useful by collecting water. I  was surprised how quickly the time passed between arrival and bedding down. For many of the competitors the social aspect of mid  camp is what they enjoy most about mountain marathons. Away from the blaring and incessant noise of civilisation there is time to talk properly with others.

The second day started early and by 7.00 we had breakfasted and having picked up our control cards were plotting the route back to the event centre. At 8.05 with the mass start I dibbed us out and in procession we set out for the first control of the day. 

 
I was in reasonable shape but still struggled to keep up with Stewart. As the route took us over Seatallen Stewart pointed out  some of the features we had encountered the previous day. The shape of the country began to make sense to me. However the window  of appreciation quickly shut. As the day wore on I was wearing down. Tired, weary and sore Stewart had to pull me through the  final few controls. The last part of the course ran parallel to the road and it was a little disconcerting to see a procession of cars leading from the event centre along the shores of Wastwater - competitors going home. Finally after 6 hours 46 minutes  and 46 seconds on that second day I dibbed my last dib and we finished. I had completed my first mountain marathon.

I received all sorts of warm praise - from David, Val, Joe, Don, Brian, Eileen and of course Stewart himself. It was if I had  passed an initiation test and joined the company of the select. If only. I take tremendous satisfaction from completing a  mountain marathon but I know without Stewart's experience and encouragement I could not have done it. All I can say I have some  insight into what it is like to compete in a mountain marathon and for that a big THANK YOU to Stewart for his care, kindness  and immense patience in taking me round.

First epilogue. .On his way home yesterday GPS Dave and Val chose to go by way of Eskdale and Hard Knott Pass. Somewhere on route  who should they encounter but the two Mikes out to climb Scafell Pike as part of Mike E's project of scaling the 4 peaks of
Britain. So well done to Mike E for completing that mission.

Second epilogue. Reading through last Sunday's papers I discovered to my acute embarrassment that the best-selling book "50  Shades of Grey" and its sequels were not the crime thrillers I thought them to be but instead extremely racy sex romps 
containing graphic depictions of sado-masochistic sex amongst other things. These were the books I had chosen to give Geoff's  Diane for her birthday. I knew she had taken them on holiday. I sent a text to Geoff explaining my error and apologising to Diane.

I received this text back from Geoff. "With sun cream on both hands she started to massage his back. Geoff thought he was  dreaming. It was only when he tried to move he realised that he had been drugged and tied to the bed. Except 50 Shades of  Croatia by E.L.James. t.b.c."

Almost immediately after I received this text from Diane. "Well I've just finished reading the second book and lent the first to  somebody we met here. She says they've sold out at home! I must say I was surprised by the content but more shocked by the fact  you bought them for me. Ha ha. I'll be buying the final one when I get home."

There seem to be several lessons here but I'm too tired to look for them and besides today Eileen and I are off on holiday ourselves. I'd better help with the packing.

   

 

 

 

Friday 29th June. There had to be a price for all that sunshine we enjoyed on the West Highland Way and yesterday Andy B and I paid it.

We had planned a walk in Langdale so Andy could make progress with his Wainwright fell bagging project and had worked out a route taking in six or seven summits. Though the forecast wasn't promising we had pinned our hopes on the word "showers". I am quite certain there were no alerts amber or otherwise. As we set out from the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel it was dry.

It seems we no longer have weather any more - instead we have "weather events". A week ago a "weather event" caused havoc in many of the places featured on this website. Croston was turned into an island when both the Rivers Yarrow and Lostock broke their banks. Last Friday was a wet, gloomy and forbidding day and I felt the need I had to aplogise to Diana when she came out on our Tuesday walk from the Derby Arms, Longridge. She was quite unperturbed. "We get weeks of that in China."

As Andy and I turned onto the path leading to Pike O' Blisco the rain came in. Quickly we donned our waterproofs. Within minutes it was clear that if it was a shower it was going to be prolonged and heavy. That route to the top of Pike O' Blisco had what AW calls a " "sporting" variation finish with some rock scrambling leading directly to the main cairn". So we had that at least.

Dropping towards Red Tarn we agreed that we should at least bag Cold Pike and then make a decision about the rest of the route. At times the rain diminished to a light drizzle and there were breaks in cloud allowing us to see the odd vechicle crawling up Wrynose Pass. We improvised a traverse to Cold Pike arriving at 12.45pm. I took Andy's pic on what seemed to be the highest of three rocky humps and then looked about for shelter to eat our sandwiches.

There may have been times in my life when I have been wetter but not many. We had chosen a spot below a tall crag that was out of the way of what little wind there was, but offered no protection from the heavy rain that soon completely drenched us. There was no question of carrying on to Crinkle Crags - a quick map check and we worked out a route that would take us back to Red Tarn and down by Oxendale. Then the thunder and lightning began.

Now I know there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of being struck by lightning when you're in the hills. The trouble is that I can never remember them. Is it better to stay still or keep moving? Is it better to find shelter near a rock or to be in the open? Andy and I now unwilling participants in a "weather event" decided to drop off the fells as quickly as possible. Our only concession to safety was to take Andy's walking poles off his rucksack.There was water everywhere - pouring from the sky, flowing down the fellsides and even springing from the ground against the force of gravity.

By Red Tarn we joined us with a group of young men who were on a D of E expedition. By this time the worse of the weather had passed and in their exuberant company we picked our way down Oxendale to Stool End.

I was soon to discover that this event had caused major disruption across Cumbria. When Andy dropped me off at Oxenholme Station the West Coast line was blocked at Tebay by a landslip. Fortunately I was able to take a train back to Preston that had been turned around. I arrived in Preston to a warm summer's evening and hundreds of irate passengers who were having to re route their journeys.

Eileen was amazed when I related our experiences. "It's been sunny here all day." Then she wondered whether I was frightened. "Well there were moments," I admitted. Looking back though to yesterday's lunch with the unstoppable rain seeping into every seam of my waterproofs my predominant emotional response was one of contentment. On the face of it there wouldn't seem to be a single positive aspect in our situation - to be out in the wilds, at least an hour's walk from help, in foul weather - for many people I have described a version of hell. Here's how I look at it - I was out of doors, with my good friend, confident in our ability that we would find our way down and actually enjoying the spectacle we witnessed as we descended Oxendale. Life can't always be like the West Highland Way - thank God!

 

 

Sunday 3rd June: Mike E has a project; to climb the highest peak in each of the four home nations. I knew of this when the Usual Suspects were planning the West Highland Way and so invited him and Mike O to join us at the end to climb Ben Nevis. (He has already bagged Carrauntoohil and Snowdon.) On Tuesday afternoon as Don, Andy and I reached our B&B on Belford Road, Fort William having not long completed the WHW the two Mikes drew up in the car park. The next morning we all set out to climb Britain's highest mountain.

Of all the national highest peaks Ben Nevis is probably the easiest and most accessible.Its well defined Tourist Route is accessed from a large car park at the visitors centre in Glen Nevis. After crossing the River Nevis it becomes quite simply a case of putting one foot in front of the other on a steady climb all the way to the summit which stands at 1344 metres above sea level. (Incidentally unlike other mountains where you often start from an already elevated situation, on Ben Nevis you climb nearly every last metre as you start close to sea level.) Unsurprisingly the Tourist Route attracts tourists so we soon found ourselves in a procession.

Andy, Mike O and I had climbed Ben Nevis before. Andy did it in 2007 when he took part in a 3 Peaks of Britain challenge walk which included Scafell Pike and Snowden and to be attempted within 24 hours. As if to connect him with that occasion we met a group of young people on their way down who were taking part in the challenge. They were in high spirits glad the first peak was out of the way and ready for the long drive to Wasdale.

When I first climbed Ben Nevis in September 1998 something quite memorable occurred. I was approaching the summit plateau in dense mist and passed a party of Europeans - I couldn't work out from exactly where. I reached the trig point and then found a spot behind the observatory to lunch with others who were scattered about. Such was the mist that I could no longer see the trig point but was aware by the ripple of excitement that the Europeans had arrived about 5 minutes later. Then they hushed themselves into silence and commenced to sing a snatch of a hymn or anthem in their own language (I assume) as a way to mark their achievement. I couldn't see them but what I heard seemed like the sound of angels.

On Wednesday the two Mikes, Andy, Don and I reached the trig point at about 1.20pm after four hours of climbing. This time there were no angels to entertain us, alas, but we were pleased with our accomplishment.

For Andy, Don and me it was the pinnacle of what had been a great walk from Milngavie made for the most part in hot and clear weather. (Unusually hot and unusually clear!) It was another trail we could tick off from THE LIST. More than any done before we did it in the company of many others. By the time we reached Drymen at the end of day 1 we had already come across more trail walkers than we saw on the entire Offa's Dyke Path.

Two groups we came to know quite well. At King's House we caught up with a quartet of ladies who turned out to be farmers' wives and who ran their own B&Bs. This was their second LDP - the first being the Coast to Coast which they did last year. Before that they had done no serious walking. At the risk of seeming ungallant but mention must be made of Dilys who was 68. (On this basis I feel inspired to learn a foreign language or take up music lessons.) Accompanied on the trail by two husbands they were wonderful people and great fun.

As was the group of Scots we fell in with at Kinlochleven. This included a husband and wife team Dave and Lynn who had kept company with four 25 year old lads from Livingstone undertaking to complete the walk in 5 days instead of six.Once again all were relative newcomers to long distance walking. Dave told us over a game of pool at the Tailrace Inn that he used walking as a way to help him lose weight (down from 20 stone to 14 in a little under a year). While the four lads had been persuaded by one of their number to tackle the trail as an alternative to a boozy city break.Together we reached the official end of the West Highland Way in the centre of Fort William on Tuesday afternoon. This allowed us to take their photograph

 and Dave to take ours.

Footnote: After our Ben nevis climb Andy and I were following the others from the Ben Nevis Inn where we had enjoyed a celebratory pint with Alan and Dennis from Pendle Ramblers. As we passed through a gate a fell runner came down the track towards us. We asked him had he been to the top. No it was just a training run as he was working at six. Had he ever done the Ben Nevis Race. Yes he had. "What's your P.B.?" "Two hours 30" Imagine dear reader what that feat entails - 12 miles and over a 1000 metres of ascent. It had taken us seven hours. "What's the record?" at which he seemed to go misty eyed. "One hour 25 minutes -" then reverentially "Kenny Stuart". Those fellrunners - they're a different breed. Kenny Stuart's 1984 record is 1 hour 25 minutes and 34 seconds.

 

Monday 21st May. In Bowland you have a fence or you have a wall and that is all you have to remind you you're connected with society for everything else is empty. In the midst of our crowded isle you can attain nothingness - a desert of peat, heather and the odd outcrop of gritstone.

On Thursday Andy B, Don and I traversed the highest part of Bowland, a trek of 13 miles, without encountering another walker. For companionship we had each other and a wall or sometimes a fence which came in very handy when crossing the frequent quagmires one must negotiate whenever one enters Bowland.

No one outside of Lancashire gets Bowland. No one outside of Lancashire has heard of Bowland(except Andy B). Last weekend the Guardian and the Observer produced a two part supplement entitled "Great British Walks". Of the 100 walks listed there was not one in Lancashire which meant that the Forest of Bowland one of the great areas of upland Britain did not feature.

We were out on a training walk for the West Highland Way which we will start this coming Thursday. Thanks to Malcolm  (HoK) who met us at the end and kindly drove us back to our starting point we were able to follow a linear route. This took us  from Dunsop Bridge, over Whitendale Fell close to the geographical centre of Great Britain, up onto the ridge at Wolfhole Crag and then along it over Ward's Stone, Grit Fell and Clougha Pike to drop down to the car park on Rigg Lane, Quernmore.

Ordinarily Malcolm would have been with us, and also Jim; both had been booked onto the WHW. However owing to illness both are not fit to undertake the 90 odd miles through the West Highlands. Health - or perhaps the lack of it has been a major theme of 2012. Bill's Marlene had a long period in hospital following surgery, Andy L is recovering from heart surgery and more recently Eileen has had a part- knee replacement. John continues to suffer from pain and discomfort with arthritis and the desperate remedies needed to control it. It's just as well Geoff has invited his friend Mike a retired GP on the Tuesday walks who will not only have to endure Doctor Doctor jokes but worse will have to put up with the Dotcoms discussing their ailments.

Going back to Malcolm and Jim it's not too long ago that we were recording their great achievements in 2011 - Jim successfully completing the Great North Run and soon after Malcolm climbing Kilimanjaro.

Between them they represented the robust fitness we all aspire to as we trundle through our Saga years. Their loss of fitness, as well as being extremely tough on them, has come as a reminder to the rest of us of our frailties and the sudden changes they can bring about.

"Make the most of it while you can because you never know when it could be taken away from you." This piece of Eyorish wisdom was given to me quite a few years ago by Malcolm himself. It made an impression on me then and continues to guide my thinking now. Indeed I would say it is a philosophy that is held by all the people I walk with - to get out of doors, to enjoy the great gift the British countryside, to share that enjoyment with others, to push one's body over the miles so that at the end one reaches a state of "righteous tiredness" - in other words to say "YES" to life.

I hope it will not be long before Malcolm and Jim are returned to full health so that they can contemplate the next project on THE LIST. We wish them and all our friends and relatives who are unwell a speedy recovery.

 

 

Tuesday 1st May: "Don't mention the (Napoleonic) War!" I wanted to advise Corrie Taylor our guide around Dove Cottage on Sunday. The subject came perilously close in Wordsworth's life and times and our group included a quartet of French visitors. We had arrived in heavy rain immediately after a huge party of Japanese tourists. ("Don't mention the Pacific War!") - we being myself, Peng Na or Diana and her 8 year old son Zihe or Harry over in the UK on an extended stay from Guangdong Province, China. ("Don't mention the Sino-Japanese War of 1894!" or for that matter "The Rape of Nanking"!)

Three years ago John and I had the very great pleasure of meeting Gychen Guangwai - or Chen who joined us on a few walks and even a camping trip to Hawkshead. A teacher of translation he was doing some post graduate work at UCLAN. He even supervised the translation of some of our walks into Chinese. Following his return we kept in touch and earlier this year he gave us news that his wife Diana had the opportunity to come to UCLAN and they needed a bit of help locating suitable accommodation and a school for their son, who would be accompanying his mother. Such is the power of the internet that most arrangements had been made so there was little for me to do apart from providing some general advice. As it turned out school and house share were found in Penwortham. Diana and Harry arrived at the end of February.

Incidentally the adoption of English first names arises from the practice of teaching English in Chinese schools. At their first class the teacher will assign pupils an English name corresponding in some way to the pronunciation of their Chinese name; not, as I supposed, to save English speakers from embarrassment each time they mangled the pronunciation of Chinese names.

Since February Eileen, Katherine and I have seen Diana and Harry on a regular basis but Sunday was the first real chance to take them out to show off the English Countryside. GPS Dave who in his other life is secretary of the Norwest Fellwalking Club arranged seats for them on the trip to Grasmere.

This I thought was perfect. Grasmere was one of the places we took Chen. On the 9th June 2009 we took him for a walk around Rydal Water from White Moss Common. A few days later in bright sunshine he went to the top of Helm Crag.

With this remembrance in my head I looked forward to showing Diana and Harry beautiful Lakeland scenery.

It is a well-known fact that if you want it to rain you wash your car. If you want it to rain a lot you organise a barbeque. And if you want floods you declare a drought. We did not suffer floods on Sunday but there was a great amount of unseasonable weather - hurricanes swept through Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Herefordshire and most of England besides. Though it was raining heavily in Preston as we left we broke clear of it on the M6. We knew the rain would follow us but as we reached Grasmere we were given a window to go for a walk before the severe weather arrived.

Starting at Wordsworth's grave in St Oswald's church we made our way to Redbank Wood and then onto Loughrigg Terrace. As we broke out of the wood Harry was immediately confronted with the steep upward path leading to the top of Loughrigg Fell. "Can we?" he asked pointing towards the summit. Well why not. Though Diana and Harry are not what I would class as experienced walkers they stuck to the task and I can now say with some pride I have now taken every member of Chen's family up a Lakeland Fell.

Moreover we managed it before the rain came battering in.

 

 

Thursday 5th April: As the 20th fellrunner came towards Andy W and me as we headed up Gatescarth Pass on Sunday I called out, "Is this an event or are you training?" "Training for an event," came the brusque reply. "Which one?" I called to his back. "The Lakeland 100!" There were quite a few on it too; even as Andy and I turned towards Mosedale they were still processing down to Long Sleddale. By then we had ascertained that the training non-event had started near Pooley Bridge and would finish in Ambleside - a distance of 30 miles. A mere 30 miles because the event they were training for was this times three plus ten - the Ultimate fellrace until someone comes up with the idea of the Lakes and Dales 200!

Encountering the steam of fellrunners gave Andy and I another topic to talk about. We considered stamina required even to contemplate setting out on a hundred mile run. We agreed that beyond superfitness there had to be iron will power that imposed itself "heart and nerve and sinew...long after they are gone." And what of motivation we wondered. Well not fame - famous fellrunners are rarer than famous Belgiums. And not money - a quick scan of the main mountain marathon sites reveal one prize of £500 which was to be spent on expenses to do another mountain marathon in the Artic Circle. The winner of the US Masters Golf tournament which has just started in Georgia, will receive $1,440,000. We concluded that aside from the satisfaction one gains from meeting a challenge and overcoming it, fellrunners seek the respect, approval and acceptance of other fellrunners.That's it.

Later when we caught up with GPS Dave at the Greyhound, Shap he was immediately interested as he had marshalled the event last summer. A demanding event places high demands on marshalls and over the course of the weekend David got very little sleep. "Would you like to join me this year?" I told him I would think about it.

Ordinarily on a club outing David would have walked with Andy and me but he had been suffering from severe pain in his shoulder. So severe that he had to pull out of our walk along the Sandstone Trail.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that back in February after the "Slip/sliding" outing in Delamere Forest I had resolved to walk the entire length of the Sandstone Trail after being charmed by the short section David, Big Tony and I covered on that Sunday. My plans advanced considerably when Eileen and Katherine arranged to go to Tenerife over the Easter break. A few weeks back when I mentioned my plans to David he asked, "Would you mind if I came along too?" Well why wouldn't I. Straight away David did what David does - he refined my plan so the walk would be done more efficiently. I had warned him that in setting out from Whitchurch, Shropshire I was intent on a longer first day and we wouldn't arrive arrive at the accommodation in Tarporley until early evening. David found an earlier train which meant an earlier start but less pressure on the first day. Having checked with me he bought the train tickets so David was in.

But then he was out. Even before Sunday he phoned to explain about his shoulder problem. He knew he would aggravate it carrying a rucksack. I was disappointed for him - I knew he was quite fired up about doing the trail.

So on Tuesday this week I set out on the Sandstone Trail without David and his GPS and yet as it turned out he was with me every step of the way. When I reached Jubilee Park, Whitchurch at 8.30am I texted David as it occurred to me at that moment GPS Dave and by extension non-GPS Val were the only people who knew where I was. It also occurred to me that by the simple expedient of sending a message every couple of hours I had a built in safety net should I have any sort of an accident. So from start to finish David was able to chart my progress on Memory Map replying to my texts with words of encouragement. I would rather had his company but I had the next best thing.

Sometimes in life things can be done by just one person - no one else in the world can do that task, fulfil that role, rise to that occasion, answer that prayer no matter whether it is great or small. Yesterday afternoon I sent my last text message to GPS Dave to record I had finished the Sandstone Trail and he replied his congratulations.

On the train back to Preston - booked by David - I glowed inwardly - what an achievement - 34 miles in two days...wait a minute..what's that? Why that's little more than a training run for those guys and gals dropping down from the top of the pass on Sunday!

 

 

Saturday 24th March: Legend has it that if you can climb the Fairy Steps without touching the sides then you will see a fairy.

The narrow cleft up a limestone cliff onto the escarpment was on our route on Tuesday. A record breaking number of Dotcoms - 24 - had set out from Arnside. When we passed through the Fairy Steps we were 25; we had been joined not by a fairy, at least I don't think so, but by Big Tony, who typically had missed the start but then as if by magic had suddenly appeared.

 I was at once pleased to see him and inwardly groaning. Big Tony meant bother at lunch time.

We don't have many rules but one I've tried to insist on is NO PUDDINGS! I have judged that as our numbers have grown pub lunches are long enough without them. Well you know how it is - introduce a rule and someone will make it their mission to break it. To Tony, the No Pudding Rule is like a red rag to a bull. He will flout it whenever the opportunity arises. Yep my fragile authority is challenged by a 78 year old rebel! By himself it wouldn't represent much of a problem since Tony's participation on walks is at best semi-detached. There are occasions when he starts with us but then will wander off three fields away on his own route. Other times he will make an appearance at lunch because he doesn't do rain. Last year he was out for the annual trip to TOP insisted on having a bacon butty at the RV cafe just as the rest of us were setting out and that was the last we saw of him not just for the day but the next five weeks. Tony walks to the beat of a different drum and it is something we've all got use to. My issue with Tony is his corrupting influence on Paul and Don.

Some people would sell their souls for wealth or power or the love of a beautiful woman, but Don and Paul would sell theirs for a sticky toffee pudding. It doesn't take much for Tony to tempt them. "What do you fancy Don?" he will ask breezily picking up the dessert menu as the plates are being cleared and the rest of us are coining up. "Apple crumble with ice cream or spotted dick with lashings of custard?" Like Oscar Wilde Don can resist everything except temptation and always succumbs to Tony's wiles. For this reason I have dubbed Tony Brother of Beelzebub.

To give them their due the Pudding Club or as they prefer to call themselves the Dessert Aficionados (DAs for short) tend to order their afters before they finish their main course and thus far haven't held us up too much. It is just I would rather they had their dessert instead of a main course.

On Tuesday Paul and Tony had their cake and ate it in time to join the rest of us for the customary group photo outside the pub. They made little attempt to conceal their jubilation as we set out for the return leg.

It was a lovely afternoon. The sun broke through - a fitting appearance for the vernal equinox so not even the DAs' rebellion could dampen my enjoyment of the woods with their scents of spring. Later we dropped to the Coastal Way close to Storth and followed it back to Arnside. Somewhere on route Tony went off on his own path.

Saturday 25th February. "Who knows we're here?" is a FAQ on the walks I have done over the years. On Thursday it was asked by Andy as we lunched above Great Blea Gill. As it happened Eileen had asked me the previous night. "Where are you going tomorrow?" "The Howgills." "The where? Never heard of them." And that seemed to be that though I'm pleased to report Eileen had committed the name to memory thus reducing the search area to forty square miles had anything gone wrong.

Wainwright compares the Howgills to a "huddle of squatting elephants" and once that simile is in your head it is difficult to shift it. Their rounded treeless heights are not dissected by walls as with the Yorkshire Dales or the Lakeland fells and once up on their ridges the walking is superb - easy, unimpeded yomping.

On Thursday there was nothing easy about the approach Malcolm led us on. After meeting Andy B on the tiny lane that runs parallel to the M6 across the Lune Valley we followed a path by Carling Gill and with the effects of mist and fog soon found ourselves in a lost world - far less visited than other parts of the Howgills. As the route took us deeper into the steep sided valley I remarked that it felt as though any moment we might see a pterodactyl flapping above our heads to which Andy added "Followed by Raquel Welch"...and therein lies the difference between my fantasy world and Andy B's!

By this time we were having to do a fair amount of scrambling - some of it on quite exposed ledges. It was an aspect of the Howgills I was unfamiliar with. Add to this the spectacle of high waterfalls - especially the Spout - well it came as something of a surprise to both Andy and me and contributed enormously to our enjoyment of the outing. We should have known better - it's not the first time Malcolm's tendency towards understatement had given us the unexpected on a walk.

The afternoon had a rather different character.

As we topped Simon's Seat we were completely enshrouded in low cloud and at the same time had to battle with a strong wind coming from the west. Sensibly we stopped to put a layer on and then traversed a ridge back towards the Lune Valley navigating over a succession of tops each indistinguishable from the other.

At length we reached a spur that took us down to the lane where the cars were parked. As we descended we came out of the cloud to enjoy our first distant views of the walk. It seemed almost surreal to look across the river to the busy M6 and the West Coast Railway line - great arteries of our nation; drivers and railway passengers would not suspect that these hills to the east could be capable of producing the absorbing drama that had been our day. We changed into our fresh clothes well contented.

That mood quickly changed to near farce. When Malcolm attempted to drive off the grass verge the car's wheel began to spin in the soft earth. Andy who had just finished changing by his car came across to give us a push. It was all that was needed to putus onto the tarmac and cover his neatly pressed smart casual trousers in a comprehensive splattering of mud and sheep dung. Now that's what happens when you have impure thoughts - Raquel Welch indeed!

 

Sunday 12th February. "In these sort of conditions stay at home," Maggi Morris the Director of Public Health (Central Lancs NHS) urged listeners of Radio Lancashire on Thursday morning. "Thank you for that and now over to our roving reporter Claire Ashmore who is talking to three fellas about to go out for a walk.""I'm here in ice bound Brookhouse, near Lancaster Ted and with me are Bob Clare, co-founder of Lancashire Walks and his friends Malcolm and Don."

We had been invited to contribute to the Talk to Ted programme on the theme of friendship. Justine had e mailed me the previous day -subject:"Interview Request". The problem was there was a walk planned and I had no intention of giving that up for a 10 minute slot on local radio.

I telephoned Justine to explain. She said, "Don't worry - tell us where you're walking and we'll send the van." She went on to tell me more about the theme of the programme. "It's about friendship. We've heard your website was set up with a friend and now you have other friends who join you for walks. The slot is for 9.50." So it was arranged that Malcolm, Don, Andy B and I would contribute to the programme before we set out for our walk. Since Justine had gone to so much trouble how could I refuse?

Thursday morning saw the return of mist and ice. Shortly after 9.00am Don, Malcolm and I were northbound on the M6 listening to the dire traffic reports on BBC Radio Lancashire (it seemed only polite to listen to the show before being on it!).At some point Andy B telephoned me to say that owing to the ice he could not get off his drive and so would not be joining us.

In between time we discussed aspects of the topic Justine had planted there in our chat of the previous day.Seemingly the show's theme had arisen through two recent news reports.

The first concerned a palliative nurse called Bronnie Ware who in her years of talking to dying patients had come up with a list of five regrets that had been expressed time and again.(See www.inspirationandchai.com/Regrets-of-the-dying.html ) Number 4 was "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."

The second report was about David Beckham who revealed in an interview for a men's health magazine that over the years 20 good friends had been reduced to three "really good friends".The Daily Mail, at least in its online edition gave this the slant that David Beckham had only three friends.Well that's the Daily Mail for you! I think David (if I can call him that) was making an altogether different point. For someone like him inhabiting the weird world of celebrity to have three friends is a result - I didn't detect any trace of self pity.

I do not know David Beckham of course (but have friends who saw him make his professional debut at Preston North End) but my impression of him is of someone whose friendships fit within a framework of a range of positive relationships - parents, grandparents, sisters, wife and children. It may be a PR illusion but I don't think so. So there will be no need to invite him to join the Dotcoms to increase his circle of friends.

So Malcolm, Don and I met up with Claire Ashmore and her van in freezing Brookhouse on Thursday morning.

 

 After lots of difficulties with reception Claire took the plunge and gamely interviewed we three about walking and friendship. At intervals she pointed the microphone at Malcolm or Don and they made their contribution and the result wasn't too bad when I listened to it on iplayer later. In the end the link was abruptly cut and that was a wrap. We said our farewells to Claire and then defying the advice of the Director of Public Health we went to the top of Caton Moor and set out on our walk along the icy track and I would like to think had circumstances turned out in a markedly different way we three would have counted as David Beckham's really good friends and he would have been with us!

 

 

Monday 6th February."Slip sliding away/Slip sliding away/You know the nearer your destination/The more you're slip sliding away" Paul Simon's song could have been chosen for the fellwalking club's anthem yesterday when we went to the Delamere Forest.

Consider all the rain we've had this winter; freeze that with a cold blast of Siberian air; add a layer of freshly fallen rain; freeze that and you have the recipe for treachery. We could not trust one foot in front of another. After half an hour of leaving the coach GPS Dave, (in his late 60s), Tony (in his late 70s) and I (a spring chicken at 61) gave it up as a bad job and headed for the café at the visitors centre.

There we caught up with Alec's Group B - ladies all to a man - that man being Alec of course. A cake and a cappuccino later we felt a new resolve to venture into the forest.We headed up to its only viewpoint - Old Pale adorned not just with a radio mast but also a recently placed stone circle marking out the seven counties that might have been seen from there had there been no mist. We came across the Lancashire stone first

followed by TOP's stone, then Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire. In the centre on a stone platform like Joseph parading before his brothers was the Cheshire stone. Its metal plaque provided a rather literary historical overview of the significance of the spot. The following gives a flavour of the inscription, "Then when the Roman legions marched, their swords glinting and flashing, they ousted the settlers and used the strategic height as a signalling station".

By now, a little after mid day the sun was making a feeble attempt to penetrate the mist and by common consent we paused for lunch.We then picked our way down the far side of the hill join the Sandstone Trail. This middle distance path links Frodsham in the north to Whitchurch in the south just over the Shropshire border.

It was good to be out and as we turned northwards the sun made another brief appearance adding a pale lustre to the rather attractive scene before us. we were passing between tree lined paddocks as the trail dropped towards the dark stands of conifers in the forest.

At that moment I decided I would walk the Sandstone Trail - soon.

At the road Tony had had enough and he broke away to return to the coach. David and I worked our way around to Hatchmere - the village, and then to Hatchmere itself, an ancient sheet of water that had its genesis after the last ice age and yesterday seemed to be merging into another. Water, ice, reeds, mist, trees and not a breath of wind. Perfect stillness. And as you stare across the mere into the forest comes the sense that as you are watching it, it is watching you.

And then back to the ordinary, back to the road, back to the coach which quickly fills with club members returning from their little adventures, and its back on the motorway and back home and that is another outing done...just another Sunday - nothing special, nothing special at all.

 

Thursday 26th January: Australia Day. On his day last year Eileen and I went to the aborted races at Hanging Rock where we were promised a picnic by my cousin Jerry and his wife Allie. Kangaroos had entered the grounds and could not be persuaded to quit the race track where their presence was deemed a health and safety hazard to runners and riders. I expect years ago they would have shot the critters and have done with it but under the glare of ABC television this was not an option open to the organisers. How quickly has a year passed.

On Tuesday the Dotcoms met at Bolton-le-Sands for a walk along the Coastal Way to Carnforth and then back along the canal. It was a claggy day so we had no views across the Bay to Cartmel and Grange. Moreover the tide was coming in and had reached the very edge of the shore as we rounded the point by the Keer Channel. Indeed when I stopped to phone in our lunch order by the time I finished I found water lapping at my feet. How quickly the tide comes in on Morecambe Bay!

We dined at the Refreshment Room on Carnforth Railway Station.

When 19 of us walked in I think we rather overwhelmed the staff there but they managed to feed and water us as well as tend to their other customers and we enjoyed a diverting meal. We were diverted because the Refreshment Room on Carnforth Station was the main location of the British cinema classic "Brief Encounter"filmed in 1945.

Adjacent to the Refreshment Room there is a visitors centre with a fascinating collection of memorabilia from the period.

As we poked around looking at some of the exhibits I began to wonder what it is about this film that makes it one of the most acclaimed films ever made in Britain. Everything that happens in the film is encapsulated in the title which amounts to not very much at all. Following a brief encounter while waiting at a railway station Laura Jesson played by Celia Johnson realises she has developed "feelings" for Alec Harvey played by Trevor Howard and Alec realises he has "feelings" for Laura but both are married so without ever consumating the relationship or getting anywhere near it decide it is best not to see each other again. The film is about the conflict between a person's emotional life and middle class conventions - the middle class conventions win.

 In "Middlemarch" George Eliot writes "We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, "Oh, nothing!" Pride helps; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our hurts -- not to hurt others."

At the end of the film while the audience feels sympathy for the two protagonists it also feels the right outcome has been reached. Given that the film was made as the war was coming to an end it might be seen as an appeal for the return to normal life with values of civility,decency, duty and restraint after the turbulance of the war years when brief encounters between servicemen on leave and lonely wives and girlfriends were rather more commonplace than we would like to believe.

In this second decade of the 21st century we seem a long way away from the Refreshment Room of David Lean's film. What would have Celia made of Big Brother or Trevor of the Jeremy Kyle Show? Not much in the way of civility or decency there and certainly no restraint. We may have lost things that we needed to lose since 1945 like a colonial empire and measles but "Brief Encounter" with its clipped middle class accents and impeccable manners reminds us of how we British once liked to be seen.

 

Tuesday 17th January. "Where would you like to walk to celebrate your special birthday, Brian?" I asked him in a rare act of benevolence a few weeks ago. He gave the matter a few moments thought. Although in the past three years Brian has been all over the county it cannot be said that places make a great impression on him. "That place where we had the snow." I knew immediately what he meant - not last winter's snow nor the snow of the winter before that but the snow that fell at the beginning of December in 2008. Missed it? Well if you had come with Brian and me to Great Harwood on Tuesday 2nd December you would have enjoyed a winter's wonderland with fine views over the Ribble Valley and Dean Clough Reservoir. Oddly at the end of the walk by the time we reached Blackburn ring road on our way home the snow had all but disappeared.

We were out that day because it was on the first Dotcom Programme of walks. I had felt to publish one because ... because... well because of Brian. In those far off days of three years ago Brian had recently retired and had joined John, Bill and me on regular Tuesday outings. From time to time Andy B would link up with us. After three or four outings Brian asked if he could invite his neighbour Jim also recently retired. Had not Brian invited Jim I would not have felt compelled to publish a programme of walks so in quite a real sense Brian is the inventor of the Dotcom Walkers.

Back in 2008 for one reason or another Bill, John, Jim and Andy were otherwise engaged reducing the Dotcoms to two. Today four regular walkers were absent reducing the Dotcoms to 18!

2012 has seen an infusion of new blood. Last week were joined by Jim B and John S as well as Nigel. Nigel worked with Geoff, Andy B and me in Burnley and since the walk started in Mellor close to where he lived we contacted him. For Jim B and John S it was quite different. Until last week neither of them had met any other Dotcom walker or each other. Separately they had contacted me through the website and had asked for details of led walks. Jim had heard me on Radio Lancashire back in November while John used the contact form to send an email. Both managed to locate the RV and joined the rest of us as we trudged our way round through the mud. They appeared to enjoy it and both returned this week to take part in Brian's birthday walk. Happy 60th birthday Brian!

 

 

 

Friday 6th January 2012. Yesterday GPS Dave and I went to check out a route at the eastern end of Longridge Fell which will become walk of the week 5th February. He picked me up in Longridge centre and we drove out along Clitheroe Old Road to Birdy Brow. As we did so the weather looked awful. The back end of the storm which swept Britain on Wednesday was still doing its worse. We lamented the wet winter we have had and were resigned to a soaking. The only comfort I could draw as I surveyed the dark clouds and the driving rain was at least I could test the new waterproof my kids had bought me for Christmas.

Almost immediately as we drew up on the small quarry car park the rain began to ease off and by the time we set off fully kitted up it had stopped. We still walked into the teeth of a strong cold wind but above the clouds were beginning to break up. By the time we made our descent towards Chaigley we were enjoying views across the Vale of Chipping towards Bowland and then as we turned for the return leg we had the magnificence of Pendle to appreciate. In fact neither of us had rarely seen it in a better light. We congratulated ourselves on having the prescience to set out on a walk that looked so gloomy at the start and yet had turned out be so wonderful. By the time we sat down at the Corporation Arms for lunch with Val we exuded a glow of deep collective self satisfaction.

Looking back it is just remarkable how quickly that was dispelled. It was dispelled on the bus back to Preston when checking my rucksack I realised my camera was missing. I texted GPS Dave and a short while later he texted back to tell me that there was no sign of it in the car. Not in my rucksack and not in the car and I didn't take it in to The Corpy - there remained two possibilities. At the end of the walk having finished changing I put the camera in the pocket of the rucksack but failed to zip it shut so it somehow contrived to fall out unnoticed either when I transfered the rucksack to the boot of the car or else later when I took the rucksack out of the boot at the bus stop. Yet as we left Birdy Brow David scanned the site in case anything was left; also he went back to the bus stop and had a look and even asked at the nearby shop in case it was handed in.

My mood had swung from exultant self admiration to depressed self reproach in 15 minutes. I ruminated on the reception the loss of a camera would have at home. Once I made a thorough search of my rucksack and person when I arrived home there was nothing left to do but to come clean. "I've had a mishap" I told Eileen and Katherine as we finished tea. "What now?" Eileen replied. "You're always losing cameras,"she observed after I explained. Eileen veers towards hyperbole whenever she comments on aspects of my conduct. I have lost a camera before - 12 years ago when I left one on a wall close to Blea Moor signal box. That's the "always" Eileen was referring to. Katherine's take was that I shouldn't have owned up at all. "I never tell you two if I lose things," she told us, "I just go out and replace them." "But you don't have a joint bank account," I replied.

And so I start the New Year on a bit of a downer. The camera wasn't an expensive one like Geoff's or Andy B's and the cost of replacing it will be less than what I paid for it since digitals have come down in price over the past year. What I lament most are the loss of the photos I took on what turned out to be - quite against expectation - a wonderful walk. I was so looking forward to downloading them and reliving the magic of yesterday's outing. Such is life as Ned Kelly said on his way to the gallows.

Happy New Year.  

 

 

Wednesday 21st December. "Whose woods these are I think I know,
                                                His house is in the village though;
                                                He will not see me stopping here
                                                To see his woods fill up with up snow."

No snow this year - so far. The last two years we had a lot of snow, snow that laid, snow that stayed. Snow that prevented the annual trip to TOP (That Other Place.)

On Sunday there was a little bit of snow about when the Norwest Fellwalking Club had its Christmas walk from...the CorporationArms in Longridge. (What a surprise) It was GPS Dave's big day. He and Val put considerable thought and effort to ensuring club members have an enjoyable day. Bacon butties and coffee to start - a three course Christmas dinner to finish and a walk in between. It is the one outing when the whole club walks together. Usually most members go out in small groups or even on their own.

 Of course walking in a group of 30+ people creates its own problems - stiles and kissing gates become bottle necks and should the weather become inclement the waiting around as the party files through, over or across an obstacle becomes distinctly uncomfortable. I don't know but suspect this is why David and Val arrange for little surprises and treats along the way - port and mince pies at John's gardenhouse or the timely revelation of a bottle of spirits. On Sunday while it was soggy underfoot the day was beautifully clear with the walk timed to perfection. We arrived back to the Corporation just as the light was fading. There are few pleasures better in life than enjoying a walk in the countryside in good company and ending the walk with the prospect of a good meal in a cosy pub, particularly on a winter's day.

Amongst the many cards I received was one from Martyn a club member of almost 40 years. Martyn is the most widely travelled person I know - he has been to 184 countries and so there are not many places in the world he has not yet been to. He is also an artist. Therefore he creates his own cards usually based on a place he has recently visited. In the past year he went to North Korea. Here is the card he gave to his friends on Sunday.

On Monday came the news of the death Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea. I was struck by the difference of how North Korea and its ruling regime were represented in the news and the charming scene depicted by Martyn's  pen and ink drawing. "Rogue state", "Pariah status", "Axis of evil" and "Weapons of mass destruction" were the sort of phrases bandied about in the newsrooms none of which would make a good caption for the Pohyon Temple at Myohyong San. Of course appearances can be deceptive - the site is a tourist showcase which Martyn managed to draw in the 30 minutes his minders supervised the rest of the touring party into the official gift shop during a four day trip. But if such sensibilites exist in North Korea to conserve a lovely part of its Buddhist heritage then surely it must be worth the effort to reach out to them in more positive ways than we have done to far..

Cursory research on Google and I find out that Myohyong San means Mountain of mystic shapes and fragrances and that the temple complex was bombed by UN forces in 1951 causing much damage. I am reminded of the South Korean film "Welcome to Dongmakgol" set in a secluded Korean Highland village during the Korean War. In it remnants of a North Korean battalion and remnants of a South Korean Battalion cleansed of their ideological baggage by the innocence of the villagers make common cause to defend the village when the war threatens to destroy it. Good film - check it out.

Yesterday the Dotcoms enjoyed their annual trip to TOP in the rather secluded Lothersdale. 13 of us walked across to Elslack Reservoir and then returned by way of Pinhaw Beacon. Apart from the fact that the Pennine Way passes through Lothersdale the rest of the area seems insufficiently celebrated in the annuals of walking. We all thoroughly enjoyed the route Andy led us on and we all thoroughly enjoyed lunch at the Hare and Hounds afterwards.

We were joined for lunch by Elaine who was the first person to walk with John and I as we set up this website - the first Dotcom Walker. On Friday I phoned Elaine up, "Bob, I'm on tenterhooks - Catherine has gone into hospital." Later Catherine gave birth to lovely Eveline Mae weighing in at 7lbs 9ozs - congratulations to Catherine, Tom and proud new grandmother Elaine. And so with this news of a baby at Christmas its time to sign off wishing all our readers a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

                                "The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
                                  But I have promises to keep,
                                  And miles to go before I sleep,
                                  And miles to go before I sleep."

 

Wednesday 14th December. Yesterday was a day of two highly significant - one could almost say historic - encounters. The first occured on the car park of the Corporation Arms. The Dotcoms were about to set off on the Christmas walk to be followed by our Annual Awards ceremony. GPS Dave spotted other walkers likewise preparing nearby. "Are they anything to do with us?" I shrugged. I'm fairly liberal with my invitations but I was pretty sure they were not part of our party. Never one to be curious for long David approached them. No they were not with us but their own group which met weekly to do a walk from a website...Lancashire Walks! They were about to do this week's walk of the week devised by GPS Dave. It was something they did most weeks which I found rather heartening. For the first time I was in the company of readers independent of friends, family and Dotcom walkers. Quickly we introduced ourselves and after one of their party took the ritual group photo of us we parted GPS Dave having created a new route especially for Christmas. Reflecting on this now I should have invited "my readers" to join us - they certainly seemed most agreeable people and I know they would have had a warm reception from our group. That I didn't was mainly due to the fact I had a lot on my mind - our Annual Awards is the biggest day in our calendar.

The second historic encounter occured after the walk. By arrangement we returned about 1.45pm to link up with Jim, Susan, Tony and Andy L who were not walking. They had been looking after our guest of honour Craig Fleming, assisant editor of the Blackpool Gazette.

Craig was the first person to recognise the worth of the website when he invited John and I to contribute to the walks page of the Gazette at the back end of 2008. Through this arrangement we have been able to use the maps produced by illustrator Chris Wyatt on our pages - a perfect partnership. Entering this marriage was not entirely straightforward. Craig had originally approached us soon after John and I launched the website and after an exchange of e mails matters were left rather inconclusively.
 

In autumn 2008 Craig contacted us again. This time he had a pressing reason - he was about to undergo treatment for serious illness and he wanted to tie things up so to reduce the work load for his colleagues while he was away. No sooner had we established the relationship then Craig went off on sick leave; yet the channels of communication had been safely embedded so for the six months or so while Craig was absent things carried on as he would have hoped. Since his return I have been in almost weekly contact with him by e mail or phone apart from holidays. And yesterday was the first time John and I met him face to face.

Over the years our awards ceremony has become a more elaborate affair. In 2008 just nine of us went for a walk near Croston and then enjoyed a lunch at the Grapes Hotel. Yesterday 21 of us were grandly feasted by the Corporation Arms our pub of the year. After the meal came the prizes with many of the Dotcoms stepping up to the mark to give out awards and make speeches. Special tribute was given to Malcolm (HoK) and GPS Dave who now join Bill in the Dotcom Hall of Fame. Finally proceedings were concluded with a presentation to the pub itself by Chris. That our chief guest enjoyed the occasion can be seen on the Guestbook page. (Below he is pictured with Chris and Paul MacNeil of the Corporation Arms.)

So two historic encounters in one day - one related to the other. If Craig hadn't invited us to contribute weekly to the Blackpool Gazette we wouldn't have felt compelled to research and post weekly walks and we wouldn't have met our readers on the car park of the Corporation Arms. Funny old world - I put it down to Schrodinger's Cat and that is most definitely another story.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 30th November. In the corner of the churchyard of St John's, Hutton Roof the war memorial's list of names is headed by T.B. Hardy.

At the outbreak of World War One he was vicar of St John's and 51 years old. When he first volunteered to join the army chaplaincy he was turned down for being too old. Eventually he was accepted and assigned to the 8th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment in August 1916. He then embarked on a remarkable career time after time showing "conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty" that won him "the respect and admiration" of his division. First  he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) after rescuing men stuck in mud in no man's land. Next he won the Military Cross (MC) for tending to casualties during a particularly heavy engagement. Then in July 1918 he received the Victoria Cross (VC) "For the most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on many occasions." Theodore Bayley Hardy was wounded in action in October 1918 and died a week later on 18th October in Rouen two days short of his 55th birthday. He was one of the most decorated non combatants of the First World War.

There were times during yesterday's walk which started at the church in Hutton Roof when I felt rather like a combatant in World War One. Thirteen of us set out to traverse Hutton Roof Crags to drop down to Burton-in-Kendal. I had anticipated difficulty and strived to avoid it. Several factors entered my thinking. Firstly I had had visited the area before and knew the terrain to be testing. It is an area of high limestone crags punctuated by woodland and thickets with a matrix of unwaymarked paths. This is not your Yorkshire Dales limestone country with short tufted grass and sweeping views - compared to that it is a jungle. To counteract this problem I downloaded two detailed maps of the area and felt I had worked out a reasonable route. Secondly GPS Dave is away with Val on holiday in sunny Lanzarote. No GPS Dave = no GPS and one of those would have come in very useful. Thirdly the weather - wet and windy weather was due to sweep in during the afternoon. This led me to make a late alteration in my plan - to visit the trig point first.

After group photos at the start of the walk and a vain attempt to dilute responsibility by explaining I had consulted Malcolm HoK (Hero of Kilimanjaro) and Brian D, a vastly experienced fell runner who has recently joined us on we set off. The upward path seemed clear enough and I reasoned so long as we kept breaking left as we gained the high ground fairly soon the trig point ought to come into sight. Well it didn't. This disquietening fact began to sink in as we entered a dense thicket of hawthorn at which point my mobile rang. It was from Geoff who along with Paul had been bringing up the rear. "Bob, where are you?" I had little idea but now the priority was to reunite the party a feat that at that moment seemed would have had a better prospect of success had we been in Hampton Court Maze. Immediately Jim and Don set off to locate Geoff and Paul, soon after followed by Brian D. Meanwhile Malcolm (Hok) went ahead to see if there was an obvious way through to the trig point. My command was disintegrating before my eyes. "Are we lost?" asked Eileen D directly. "Yes," I replied. About this time it began to rain - the jolly old rain and the cock up was complete.

Fifteen minutes later all together again I located a definite looking path heading north and I led the Dotcoms down to the lane and then onto the bridleway that took us into Burton-in-Kendal. At the Kings Arms we received a warm welcome from the landlord Neil and our friend Alison who dropped by on her way to an appointment. In a cosy area in front of an open fire the troubles of the morning receded.

After lunch it was still raining hard but soon after we set out it began to ease so by the time we reached Dalton Lower Road it had stopped completely. My plan was a simple one - to cross the fell and then drop into Hutton Roof on a footpath through Hutton Roof Park - BEFORE DARK. I estimated we had just enough time. Then as we breasted the highest point of the road Brian D complicated matters and suggested an alternative route cutting into woodland to return via the elusive trig point. The Dotcoms were divided. Seven elected to take the more straight forward route. Four - Don, Jim, Madeleine and Eileen were amenable to Brian's suggestion. I saw no reason we couldn't do both and joined the trig point party while the rest continued to Hutton Roof Park.

As far as the navigation was concerned I knew I was in safe hands - Brian is a veteran of at least 50 mountain marathons and has planned at least two. (See Blog of 5th July to find out what is involved in planning mountain marathons). Underfoot the walking was difficult - damp leaves on top of limestone. I fell twice quite heavily - the second time in a claggy patch of mud. As we reached the open fellside we followed a good track that led us up to the trig point. In dying light under a brooding sky the views were fantastic -across to the north east the dim outline of the Pennines could be discerned while out to the west the shallows of Morecambe bay were illuminated by the odd shaft of sunlight lending the scene an ethereal quality to what we witnessed.

We were all rather pleased with ourselves.

Unfortunately we could not tarry long. Brian checked his compass and we commenced our descent.

Ten minutes later when the path disappeared into a deep cleft our progress came to a halt. We returned to a narrower path that led down to a wall and then edged along it. By this time light was fading fast and we ended our walk on an awkward section threading between limestone slabs and woodland. It was difficult to get into any kind of rhythm. It was at this point I realised Madeleine who I know to be a kind, sweet natured and generous person has become fully immersed into the culture of the Dotcoms for when I announced, "The village is in sight." she immediately retorted,"But is it the right one?"  Et tu Brute!

We arrived about five minutes after the others. It had been a day of incident ending with a nice little adventure but it may be some while before we return to Hutton Roof Crags.

  

 

 

 

 

Sunday 30th October. On Friday I checked out a walk between Preston centre and the new Wildlife Trust reserve at Brockholes. I started at Avenham Park. It and its neighbour Miller Park have recently benefited from a huge improvement project financed in the main by the Heritage Lottery Fund. I would say from what I saw on Friday that the upgrade in now in its final phase and the park is beautifully spruced up just in time Guild year. I have to applaud the City Council and its officers for having the vision to protect and develop this important cultural asset.

A while ago I read that Preston, of all the Northern towns and cities that expanded rapidly during the industrial revolution, has the most open space proportionate to its size. Including Avenham and Miller Parks it has seven large parks scattered across the city. So investing in parks continues a long tradition of municipal activity. Now the desire is to look forward and adapt these spaces for the needs of the 21st century. Almost symbolising this is Ian McChesney's striking design for the Pavilion  which houses a visitor centre and the Riverside Café.

With its curved structure, glass frontage and angled sloping roof it seems to mimic a meander in the nearby river. A bold and confident building pointing to the future.

However it is another aspect of the council's preparations for Guild year that is the most exciting. As I set off upstream I found myself on a section of the Guild Wheel. This 21 mile multi-use greenway, in its final stages of development, will encircle the city with a safe route for cyclists and walkers. It is a 21st century equivalent of the Round Preston Walk established by the Ramblers Association for the 1972 Guild. One of the main differences between the Round Preston and the Wheel besides surfaces suitable for bikes, is that "spokes" will also be part of the plan with dedicated routes back to the hub of the city centre.

As it happens one of the driving forces (or perhaps pedalling forces!) behind this scheme is a member of the Norwest Fellwalking Club. Mike Atkins, a retired local government officer, explained the proposals and the vision at the club's AGM two years ago. It is one thing to have a dream but another to see it through and the fact that the Guild Wheel is on target for July 2012 owes much to Mike's dedication.

Against this background of imaginative and forward thinking public works comes a downside. As I entered the woods below Fishwick Golf Club the track had been significantly improved from when I had last walked there in 2008. On that occasion Bill and I found ourselves diverted my sewerage works and ended up in dense undergrowth close to Mete House - an episode that left mental scars on us both to this day.Therefore it was good to walk along the freshly surfaced section towards Brockholes Bridge. For about 400 metres the way has railings presumably a safety measure since there is a bit of a drop down to the river.

 As I reached them it became clear that these had been under attack.

 In places there were gaps - especially at each end.

 Also several top struts were missing and a number were bent through being forcefully kicked. It was a depressing sight. No sooner than it was in place than dark minded people find opportunity for mischief.

I was soon uplifted again when I arrived at Brockholes Wildlife Trust Reserve. Opened just this year on the site of worked out gravel quarries this remarkable facility is cheek by jowl with Junction 29 of the M6 Motorway - a less likely place to find a nature reserve has never existed. If this is not enough then comes the breath-takingly original concept of the vistors centre.

At first sight you are transported back to pre-historic times - a stirring of folk memory of seeing the village on the lake. It looks like an iron age settlement than once adorned the lakes and lochs of ancient Britain.

Close contact reveals it is constructed of modern materials to meet modern needs.

Perhaps the most forward thinking aspect of the design is the fact the centre "floats" on a concrete platform made bouyant by hollow chambers. Developers on flood plains will be very interested in this as a solution to the problems posed by climate change.

In these times of economic gloom the improvement of Avenham and Miller Parks, the creation of the Guild Wheel and Brockholes Wildlife Trust Reserve appear like beacons of faith in a better future.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 16th October. On Friday afternoon I found myself walking into Blackburn City Centre along Whalley Road. I had been checking over a route from Mellor but missed a lift home from Eileen who had been visiting a close friend nearby. I reached a bus stop and began to study the timetable. As I stood there I was joined by a young Asian chap and between us we decided that it might be quicker to walk into the city centre as buses were less than frequent on that stretch.So together we set off.

My companion had a friendly engaging manner and after a few minutes of conversation I was rather glad of his company and looked forward to a diverting half hour or so. I learned he worked in public service and in the past had been based in Burnley close to where I taught. He told me his wife was a primary school teacher and was on supply since they had an infant daughter. Then the phone calls began.. "Excuse me I have to take this - it's the wife," he explained when the first one came in. I moved a few paces ahead not taking particular notice of what was being said and after a few minutes the call ended. We resumed our chat.

The phone rang again. "All right then - you do that! Go on, go on. I don't care. Do what you f**king well like!". I detected a subtle change of tone and moved several paces ahead somewhat nonplussed. The call ended. My companion caught me up. "Sorry aboutthat I'm having a bit of a domestic with the wife." I felt the need to give him something back. "Oh, we all have them - I've been married 37 years myself" but in my mind thought I had never had a phone conversation quite like that with Eileen - at least not in the hearing of others. Another call. He call ended it. Another call. He call ended it.

In between time he switched back to affable and gave me a few unasked for details about his marriage. He took the next call. "Just do it. That's fine. Go on then. Go round to your mother's for three hours. That's fine." By now Thwaites Brewery was in sight and increased my pace. Still on the phone the young man turned towards a side street. I was about 50 metres ahead. He stopped for a moment. "Hey mate," he called in a helpful way, "just keep going and you'll see the signs for the rail station." and then went back to growling into his phone. A totally surreal encounter.

I haven't managed to debrief Malcolm yet about his Kilimanjaro climb. He was out with the Dotcoms on Tuesday but as I was keen to use the route for the website I was engaged in taking lots of pics. Geoff interogated him closely. Hopefully in the next week or so Malcolm will post an account of his feat on the website. Those of you with Facebook Accounts can go to Lancashire Dotcom Walkers to view a gallery of his photographs.

I did managed to debrief Matt who went up to Fort William to walk the Cape Wrath Trail. That didn't quite work out as Matt hoped - he had numerous set backs including discovering he had left his expensive compass at the Backpackers in Fort William when he was one day into the trail. He decided to go back to retrieve it and remarkably found it still there. "Seek and ye shall find" as the good book says. Back on the trail he was assailed by awful Scottish weather and became very damp and dispirited at one stage. He linked up with John from Newcastle - the only person he saw on the trail and together they managed to find their way through to Ullapool. Here time constraints meant that Matt had to call it a day. "Did you enjoy it," I asked him. "I wouldn't say that but I'm glad I did it."

 

 

Saturday 8th October. On 3rd November 1948 Superfortress RB29 (F-13A) 44-61999 "Over Exposed" of the 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron of the USAF took off from RAF Scampton Lincolnshire on a routine flight to USAF base at Burtonwood,Cheshire. It never made it. About 20 minutes into the flight it crashed on the high moors above Glossop killing all 13 members of the crew.

12 years ago Geoff and I visited the site of the crash and were impressed by the scale of devastation still evident and the amount of debris strewn along a shallow gully below the summit of Shelf Moor.On that day we had previously made inquires at the Tourist Information in Glossop. "We're looking for the site of a plane crash," Geoff explained to the gentleman on duty. "Which one," replied the gentleman on duty, "there are 57!". It turned out that the gentleman on duty was something of an expert and when Geoff gave him a few details he was able to pin point precisely the scene of the crash on the OS map. A few hours later in dense mist Geoff and I located the site just north of the trig point.

For a while Geoff has been wanting to arrange a Dotcom outing to view the wreckage and on Thursday four of us Jim, Madeleine, Chris and myself met him in Glossop. Leaving Geoff's car at the top of Snake Pass on the A57 we set off from Old Glossop on a route that crossed Cock Hill, picked up the Pennine Way and then worked across trackless moors to the crash site. Earlier there had been some doubts about going at all as the weather forecast was for strong winds and heavy showers. This turned out to be quite accurate but for the most part we had good visibility. In terms of the quality of walking it was a splendid day out.

On one part of the walk Chris told me about an article he had read recently about "Dark Tourism" and I suppose we wondered whether or not we were engaged in a form of it. Dark Tourism accounts for the popularity of places which have stained history in some way - the futile sacrifice on World War One battlefields, the death camps of world war two particularly Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and more recently Ground Zero, New York. In our secular age these sites seem to fulfil a need in a similar way asplaces of pilgrimage do for the religious. They give us pause for thought.

On Thursday as we approached the crash site we were exposed to a fierce shower of hailstones - unpleasant but making you feel sensationally alive. Most of the Dotcoms were born about the time the 13 young American airmen lost their lives. As we enterretirement and our latter years it is being recognised that more than any before us and probably any that follow we have been a particularly fortunate generation - we escaped world war and economic depression; we have enjoyed the blessings of cheap energy; we have lived lives of affluence unimaginable to our grandparents and possibly our parents.This state of affairs is not something we have constructed - it is just the way things have turned out. You get what you are given and you make the most of it. It's just that our children and grandchildren may not get the opportunities we enjoyed and may come to regard us with envy or worse.

We spent about 20 minutes at the site in a sombre mood contemplating what happened there almost 63 years. Thinking about catastrophe and sudden death takes away the right to complain about trivial concerns. Perhaps this is the appeal of "Dark Tourism" - the need to confront the horrors of war, terrorism and totalitarianism to remind us to be grateful for all that we have in our own lives. Pause for thought.

NB. Andy B located this link

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9Os9-EyWzg&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

for a short film about the crash site.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 27th September: I recently read that Tuesday is considered by some as the most depressing day of the week. The excitement of the weekend is behind and it is still a long way to go before Friday. Ever since John and I started walking together Tuesday has been our favoured day for walking and then once the Dotcoms started coming with us it has become set in stone. It is an admirable day for walking. It allows Monday to be set aside for housekeeping and chores and then propels you into the rest of the week. Before you know it it's the weekend and you're looking forward to Tuesday again.

Today the Tuesday walk took us to Lancaster - right into the heart of the city centre from the Crook O' Lune picnic site. 15 of us walked and we were joined by Andy L at Merchants 1688 a most agreeable establishment on Castle Hill. The weather was beautiful - at last, when the kids are back at school, we are experiencing an indian summer.

This has been a phase of Dotcom high achievement. The Sunday before last Jim and Don competed in the Great North Run both finishing just outside of two hours. Don ran for Help for Heroes while Jim ran in costume for St Catherine's Hospice. Here we see him in his full glory as a green butterfly  (symbol of St Catherine's) in a photograph voluntarily supplied by his wife, Sue, who had more than a hand in designing and making the outfit.

Between them Don & Jim raised just under £1000. A fantastic result.

Undertaking a challenge of an altogether different kind is Matt Pomilia. Matt, who my son met while studying at North Carolina, joined the Dotcoms last September for a walk from Croston making him one of the youngest Dotcoms. A couple of weeks back he e-mailed me to ask advice on his intention to walk the Cape Wrath Trail. This 200 mile trek through the North West Highlands is about as challenging as any in Europe. It is probably Britain's most demanding long distance path. I had little advice to give him except to state the obvious that it would be a test of his self sufficiency since on some days he would pass through areas with no settlement whatsoever.

At the weekend Matt came to stay in Preston and John asked me if I could organise a walk while he was here. I was determined to give him a foretaste of what he might encounter in Scotland - we went to Bowland with its featureless hills of peat and heather and even a bothy type building at Langden Castle. Moreover we had Scottish like weather - driesh in the morning. It was like Scotland in another respect. As we were beginning our ascent of Fairsnape we met a couple coming down in the mist. It was 5 hours before we saw another person.

I led Matt and John and Dexter the pug (John's girlfriend's mum's dog) over Fairsnape, across Brown Berry Plain and down to Langden Castle. We returned by way of Fiendsdale. It was a tough 13 miler and I have to admit once or twice I was - well not  lost - but temporarily disorientated. This gives me pause to think about what confronts Matt charting his way through an alien landscape. I have walked some parts of Saturday's route perhaps 50 times over the years and still became - not lost but temporarily disorientated. I hope Matt's navigational skills are up to the challenge he has set himself. Before he set off we put in place a system of checks - if I don't hear from him by next Monday - five days into the walk I am to alert the authorities.

Matt and John held up well for what was a very demanding walk - but the real star of the show was plucky little Dexter who covered the equivalent of 60 miles on his short legs.

 For a short period in the walk Dexter became - well not lost, no certainly not lost - just temporarily disorientated and it was a great relief to have him back at our feet.

Meanwhile, as I write this Malcolm is setting out on his attempt to climb the highest mountain in Africa - Kilimanjaro. Some Tuesday walk that matie! We look forward to hearing all about his adventures on his return.

 

 

 

Wednesday 21st September. The Autumn Equinox: Walking below Wiswell Moor yesterday we reached part of the lane where trees were beginning to display their autumn tints prompting me to announce to Andy and Geoff who were alongside me at that moment that autumn really is my favourite season. Geoff responded by saying he enjoyed them all and it was his resolve to make the most out of them. Andy said that his Elaine instead of being uplifted by the sight of autumn colours was instead reminded that the snow and ice of winter soon follows and she hates snow and ice.

The Dotcoms were out from Spring Wood picnic site and we lunch at the White Hart, Sabden. Sadly that pub is on the market with a tale of disappointment and lost dreams. We had last visited it two years ago - it was Geoff's first walk with us post retirement. It earned high approval ratings so I had no hesitation booking it again. Ann, the landlady, said she would post a menu so we could pre-order on the day. Before that came however I decided to check out the route last Friday. On reaching Sabden I found the White Hart shut (it was about mid-day) and this notice by the front entrance, "We would like to apologise but there is no food available until further notice due to severe illness. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused. We hope that we can resume soon." I wondered at the scale of calamity that had prompted this notice and began to re-adjust my plans.

Back home I thought it best to phone the White Hart anyway before booking in at the antiques centre tea room (and, in truth, with a degree of morbid curiosity.) I spoke to Ann again who assured me about the menu. But what about the notice? "Well I had a mild heart attack a few weeks ago and I have to take things easy. But I can manage a party of walkers." And manage she did - most excellently. A dozen of us sat down in the main lounge and we found Ann's fare wholesome, tasty and - here's the clincher - superb value for money.

From her son Andrew, training to be a commercial pilot but helping behind the bar, we learned that Ann is planning to sell up the White Hart and then retire to the Isle of Bute, where property is cheap. As we left I thanked Ann and told her how much wehad enjoyed lunch. "I realised that when the plates came back," she said with the voice of experience.

The White Hart is a traditional English pub with its lounge, and parlour and games room and snug and library of discarded volumes on a high shelf - a mixture of Readers Digest Condensed books, novels by Georgette Heyer or Daphne de Maurier and outdated travel guides. This was the setting of yesterday's lunch - the Dotcoms, all of whom have reached the autumn of their years, in a place with its best years behind it. Rather sad, with a whiff of nostaglia - like autumn itself.

7th September: Wednesday. Back to school, back to work and back to Tuesday walks for the Dotcoms. Yesterday we reconvened after the summer break at Parbold Village Hall and from there GPS Dave led us on a six mile circuit taking in the top of Parbold Hill. Somewhat disappointingly the trig point on Parbold is inaccessible; it is surrounded by a the forbidding fence owned by United Utilities which has some sort of plant there.

Lunch was at the Rigbye Arms a fine establishment at High Moor. Remarkably given recent weather we were caught in just one short shower. All in all so good to be out - a wonderful antidote to the depressing news of late.

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad" and it has seemed to have been a summer of madness - not least the riots. Now being viewed as our nation's "Katrina Moment" the four day shopping-with-violence fest at the beginning of August has given everyone pause for thought. At their height over the weekend of 6th & 7th August it was like staring into the inferno through a gaping hole punctured through the veneer of our civilisation. Frightening. By Wednesday 10th August the madness subsided as the police gained control aided by the weather (a cold front swept in on that day) and it was time to take stock.

The first striking aspect was the use of social network sites that allowed the rioters to organise themselves, home in on targets and then swiftly regroup when the police appeared. This was a generational element to this between the old who hardly know how to set a video recorder and the bluetooth savvy young. Less commented upon was the degree of co-operation demonstrated by the rioters. In some parts of London it is almost lethal for a young person to step outside their immediate neighbourhood yet for that weekend some sort of truce was in operation again communicated through Blackberry. So instead of fighting each other (8 teenagers have been murdered in London in 2011 up to that point) they worked together. If this catches on we'll really be in trouble. Note also how 8 wasted young lives hardly registers as news but the destruction of property does.

The second aspect of the riots was the rampant materialism of the participants - so sportswear shops, designer fashion shops and electronic equipment shops  were mobbed while other outlets were ignored. Waterstones escaped unscathed but this may be due to the fact the rioters are all on Kindle now. There was no overt political motivation for the disturbances. They seemed to be motivated by greed.

Of course the politicians we quick to condemn - The Prime Minister David Cameron (repaying £1,000 of parliamentary expenses) said the riots were not about poverty but responsibility. Education Secretary Michael Gove (repaying £7,000 of expenses) put the riots down to years of educational failure - so there you go - it was the teachers' fault after all. Could it be that after seeing bankers, politicians and premiership footballers take their cut, the underclass felt it was time they too had a slice of the cake?

Another piece of depressing news has been the revelation that Tony Blair is godfather to Rupert Murdoch's youngest daughter Chloe. This is disclosed in a forthcoming article in Vogue Magazine. Apparently Mr Blair was "robed in white" and the baptism took place in March last year on the River Jordan "at the spot where Jesus is said to have undergone the same ceremony".These details, if true, reveal much about the relationship of the Blair administration with Rupert Murdoch - no need to place someone like Andy Coulson at the heart of government when the Prime Minister is a close personal friend. Equally they are revealing something of Rupert & Wendi's relationship with God - what's good enough for Jesus etc. I won't comment on the white robe until I see it.I wonder did Vogue Magazine pay Wendi Deng for the exclusive interview? We can only hope Mr Blair takes his God parent duties seriously enough to instruct young Chloe in some of that "eye of a needle" stuff.

So in short it was good to be out walking again on Tuesday and I am one who happens to think that if more people spent more time walking (especially in the Lancashire countryside) the world would be a much better place.

 

 

6th August Saturday. On Thursday afternoon Jim, Andy B, Malcolm, Don and I completed a long walk between Derby and Edale. It had taken us four days. Owing to various projects we realised we were not going to have time in the autumn to fit a walk in so unusually we settled for a trek at the height of summer. I say "unusually" because in recent years we have tended to avoid school holidays. Perhaps more than anything this characterised the walk in that many of the places we passed through were crowded with holiday makers and trippers enjoying the good weather - at least until Thursday morning. As a holiday destination Derbyshire has a lot to offer - industrial heritage along the Derwent Valley, the inland resorts of Matlock and Matlock Bath, Chatsworth House and superlative walking country. Each day of the walk presented much to divert and interest.

When we planned the walk the original intention was to follow a trail "The Derbyshire Gritstone Way" which had been described by the Derby Ramblers Association in 1980. Unfortunately no one had ever thought it worthwhile to update the route possibly because it had been supplanted by the Derwent Valley Heritage Trail in a much more glossier edition. In the end we dove-tailed the two routes and came up with one of our own devising. While we enjoyed much of the valley walk, we went up to Gritstone edges at the first opportunity and had a wonderful day traversing them from Baslow to Stanage Edge.

And then there was Edale of course where the walk ended. This straggly village means so much not just in the history of walking but also in my personal development as a walker. On Thursday afternoon as we dropped into the village I was transported back 45years ago to my first visit vividly recalled. Along with Eric Connold, Chris Miall and Keith Osbourne I was undertaking the Silver Duke of Edinburgh's Expedition in the Easter of 1966.

We were under the supervision of Des Kellard and Alan Downs, officers of the 4th Hendon Boy's Brigade company. Base camp was set up at Coopers Farm on Good Friday with perhaps eight or nine other lads. On Saturday the four of us doing the Expedition walked in pouring rain and with heavy packs from Millers Dale to Edale. The Sunday was springlike as we crossed from Edale to Ladybower. That evening we camped close to Cutthroat Bridge so evocatively named that it could not help stir our imaginations.On the Bank Holiday Monday we walked up alongside Howden Reservoir before crossing the moors to Strines Bridge. That day I remember as being bitterly cold. 

So walking to Edale seemed almost like a pilgrimage to the shrine that lit my life long passion for walking. Of course it wasn't just the place but Des and Alan too, both family men who gave their time so generously to introduce us and many other boys from north west London to the outdoors.

But the place too. When we set up camp that Easter the Pennine Way was not one year old. The notion of a long distance trail is attributed to Tom Stephenson who wrote an article proposing such a path in 1935. This was just three years after the mass trespass of Kinder Scout when ramblers from Manchester and Sheffield walked up to the plateau in protest against the restrictions of property laws. A wall in The Old Nag's Head commemorates these events making Edale seem like hallowed ground. On Thursday evening Don, Jim, Malcolm, Andy and I enjoyed a celebratory drink in the Old Nags Head opposite that wall.

There is one more connection I would like to describe. In January 1985 I joined the staff of Barden High School Burnley. At the end of the previous term the Head of PE, Alan Binns retired. So I didn't get to work with Alan but Andy and Geoff did; Geoff closely as they were in the same department. For a few years after the opening of the Pennine Way Alan and other teachers would lead parties of pupils along the Pennine Way - all 267 miles of it. As a retired teacher I find this feat breath taking. It is one thing to do it yourself but to organise teenagers and work out the logistics over two and a half weeks ensuring their needs are met as well as being mindful to their health and safety is truly remarkable. Almost incidentally to this Alan wrote the first guide to the Pennine Way.

Back in 1966 under the rubric of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme we had to carry all our kit - tent, groundsheet, sleeping bag, food and stove as well as clothing for three days. Alan and his colleagues and the boys under their supervision had to carry their kit from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. Andy, Malcolm, Jim, Don and I were not going to let that detail spoil our walk - we had Derek, Malcolm's brother-in-law to take our baggage from stop to stop and we're all very grateful he did. Thank you Derek.

 

Sunday 24th July. Frequent users of this website may have noticed a disruption to service through Friday to Saturday morning when apart from the introductory page not one of the walks was accessible. This is how that came about. Earlier I had been working on the website updating a couple of walks and removing images applying techniques that John had shown me as part of myprofessional development. As I opened the site I realised that the host server people were also at work updating things from their end. When I tried to publish what I had done the session was timed out. Feeling slightly frustrated I wrapped things up as I had to get across to Blackburn to have lunch with a friend. On the bus I used my mobile to view the website which was when I discovered the glitch - every page "Server error" and blank.

My first reaction was one of horror. I remembered that I had had to delete some files I had moved to the wrong area of the site I thought that perhaps I had accidentally deleted the folder containing all the pages and wiped out every walk - almost four years of work sent into a cyber black hole. When TE Lawrence "Lawrence of Arabia" wrote "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" he left the original manuscript on Reading Station - it was never recovered. He had to rewrite the whole thing over again. That was the prospect I thought I was facing on Friday morning.

Later when I returned home while the host server was still busy I was able to ascertain the essential data was still in place and that the problem arose from publishing the site. And then just at the point I was preparing to sort out the problem I lost internet connection. After doing all the checks I phoned technical support at the provider. I was informed that there had been some work being carried out at the exchange and normal service would resume the following day.

What is it about our reliance on the internet makes us feel as though we've been cast away on a desert island when it fails? I was forced to go out and help Eileen with the gardening. That was bad enough but when on Saturday the Broadband light on the hub was still flashing orange I felt bereft. I reasoned that perhaps the problem was taking longer than expected. The immediate problem on the website had been sorted out by John who had picked up my message and restored the walk pages.This morning I contacted technical support again and after a 10 minute call with Anil I was once more connected to the internet. Relief.

And yet what petty, trivial concerns these are. Until Friday morning I wondered anything in the news could surpass the phone hacking scandal.To see the mighty Murdochs humbled, the usually assured Prime Minister on the back foot and knowing the rest of the tabloids were cleaning out their stables with the help of the delete key seemed vitally important. But then came news from Norway. Mass murder was coldly calculated - explode a bomb in Oslo that would divert police away from the area of the camp and in the confusion the killer could set about the business of deleting young people's lives.Its incomprehensible that any ideology can justify such an atrocity. Over 90 people killed most of them teenagers.

In September 2001 I climbed to the top of Black Combe and came across a makeshift shrine close to the trig point. It was dedicated to a young man called Peter - a slate inscribed with his name, a card from his grieving parents and flowers from his brothers and sisters. Four days after 9/11 which had claimed thousands of innocent lives I was reminded how the loss of just one life can have a devastating affect on others.

 
Saturday 16th July. For quite some time Malcolm has been banging on about using his and Kate's caravan near Cockermouth as a base for exploring western Lakeland. "We really ought to go up and stay at the caravan," he would say. "How many of us can it accommodate?" I would ask. "Six easily" and would explain the arrangements. I suppose I wasn't paying a great deal of attention remembering touring holidays in my parents' caravan where "six berth" while technically feasible if one person slept in the sink - it had another connotation - "cramped". This might account for my lack of enthusiasm and there have been so many other projects to keep us going that Malcolm's invitation wasn't taken up. However when it was decided we would do the Ennerdale Horseshoe or at least one of its variations there was no good reason not to use the caravan.
 
On Wednesday afternoon Don, Jim and I set out for Cockermouth.We were to join Andy B and Malcolm and Kate. Malcolm and Kate had gone up at the beginning of the week and such was the power of my pre-conceived notion about their caravan I thought to myself "Kate's brave prepared to live cheek by jowl with four other blokes." In my overnight bag I had even packed toilet roll in case the "facilities" had shortcomings.
 
Therefore it came as a bit of a surprise when we found the holiday park at its elevated location above the town. These were "statics" of course and not a wheel in sight. And it was a huge surprise when we stepped into the palatial lounge of Malcolm and Kate's static with two large settees, television, book rack, nest of tables and deep pile carpet. Then there was the view - the North Western fells in all their glory.I felt like an airline passenger who had been upgraded from economy to first class.
 
 
That evening we went for a meal at "The Bitter End" in the town centre and then had a wander. It was my first close up view of the town. It had suffered grievously in the 2009 floods and there were still signs of reconstruction here and there. We had a look at the confluence of the Rivers Derwent and Cocker. It was difficult to imagine how two gently flowing streams could be responsible for so much damage.
 
Of the walk itself at 19 miles and incorporating 10 Wainwrights - it felt tough. Our biggest problem was fluid. In the morning as we strode over Great Borne, Starling Dodd, Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag this hadn't been a concern as we drank in the stupendous scenery on display in perfect weather. So it was we reached Black Sail Youth Hostel in good shape. There we were even able to make ourselves a brew as we relaxed and enjoyed our picnic.
 
For Don it was a trip down memory lane as he had passed by the remote hostel when he did the Coast to Coast in 2007. Not long after we reached Black Sail who should come walking up the valley but Batman aka Steve Bradley who was doing the walk for the charity Stick 'n Step which supports children with cerebral palsy across the north west of England. (See www.sticknstep.org). The day was now hot and Steve explained the batsuit was not the most suitable apparel for walking the C2C. As he left we wondered did he wear the same suit every day or did he have a change of batsuits in his batbackpack.
 
Looking back on it now my sympathy for Steve Bradley has increased in the light of our afternoon experience. The ascent of Pillar under a sweltering sun seemed interminable and soon we were using up our supplies of water and other fluids at a worrying rate. From Black Sail pass Malcolm began to suffer agonising cramp in his thigh so for periods of the climb couldn't walk at all. Little wonder then that it took us over two hours to reach the summit.
Once on the ridge with a breath taking panorama of the Scafell Pikes matters became a little easier and when we arrived at Scoat Fell   Malcolm was able to rest up while the rest of us went to bag Steeple which is an outlier from the main route. With the toughest part of the walk now done the remaining two fells Haycock and Caw Fell were more easily scaled.
 
Late in the afternoon we found a solitary walker on Caw Fell. A native of Cleator Moor and only a little younger than us he admitted his lack of experience in fell walking. It had already taken him four hours to reach that point from Ennerdale Bridge but he seemed intent on going on and sought Malcolm's advice on possible routes down. By that time it was about 6.00 and we couldn't help feel slightly uneasy as he headed along the ridge towards Haycock with a plan to drop down someway beyond. We reckoned he could get down safely in light but he was going to give himself a huge walk back down the valley.
 
Even for us the descent to the valley and the subsequent two mile walk back to the car park made for a weary conclusion to the day's adventure. We had been out for over 12 hours. Back at our luxury accommodation showered and refreshed by a blizzardly cold beer we looked forward to the meal Kate had kindly prepared with a feeling of righteous tiredness. With a combined age of just over 300 we five had completed one of the toughest rounds the Lake District has to offer.
 
After dinner Don rewarded himself with a bath. A proper bath. Yes a bath in a "caravan" - and to think I packed toilet paper just in case the facilities weren't up to scratch. On behalf of Jim, Andy, Don and myself a big THANK YOU to Malcolm and Kate for their hospitality.
 
Tuesday 5th July:On Saturday morning I heard the chimes of the Chapel Stile church clock strike one o'clock, two o'clock, three  o'clock, four o'clock and five o'clock. Still awake at 5.45am I decided to rise from my tent and commence my duties. Yep, that 
man Johnstone had persuaded me to marshal at the 33rd Saunders Lakeland Marathon. My weariness was somewhat compensated by the  spectacle of seeing the sunrise on the Langdale Pikes down the valley on a perfect summer's morn, but I was somewhat put out to  discover that other marshals like Jim and Peter, along with Val had bed & breakfast accommodation. Hmmm - that option was never  offered to me.
 
My first duty was to help Chris, the controller, waymark the way to the start, which was about 15 minutes' walk from the event  centre at Bays Brown Farm. At registration the previous evening and from 6.30 Saturday morning locating the start was a FAQ. 
Given that there are well over a thousand competitors mostly in teams of two a staggered start is necessary. In some events  missing your start time can result in time penalties but with the SLMM the start times on day one solely function to avoid  congestion.
 
As Chris and I completed our task we were joined by 60 year old Brian Layton a competitor in the solo Klets class. It became  quickly apparent that Brian was well known to Chris and the marshals at the start. Little wonder - it was his 117th mountain 
marathon! In a sport that appears to be highly addictive he was a mainlining junkie. As we waited for his 8.00 start time he  told me that his first event was in 1987 giving an average of five events a year.
 
 
 
It was a beautiful morning - at least I could appreciate that - and I doubt if I have ever seen Langdale look better, but  amongst the competitors there was a muted self-containment knowing that they were about to be seriously tested by the warm 
weather, the fells and the planner's siting of controls. Once through the start, runners collected their control cards a little  way up the fellside and then almost immediately found a spot sat down and planned a route.
 
For non-mountain marathon runners it may be useful at this stage I attempt to describe what mountain marathon running entails.  Strictly speaking it is not a marathon in the classic 26 miles sense. It is far more demanding than that. In terms of distance 
it is an approximation of a marathon but the key word here is "mountain". The running covers the high fells (as in the case of  SLMM) so competitors do not enjoy the luxury of tarmac but have to risk ankle, knee and hip on uneven rocky paths where the  least error could result in a fracture or a bad sprain. But there is more to it than that. Mountain marathons are two day events so everything competitors need to spend an overnight in the open has to be carried on  their backs. Now this introduces us to a major element in the sport. Obviously the less weight you carry as you follow a course  the better and the more competitive participants would gladly sleep in the open unencumbered by food, sleeping bag or tent if it gave them an advantage. To ensure an element of fairness there is a "minimum kit requirement" that requires participants to  carry all the essentials necessary for any mountain expedition. This means all competitors have to have:
 
•Suitable footwear
•Rucksack
•Sleeping bag
•Waterproof jacket with hood and waterproof overtrousers (not pertex or other shower proof materials)
•Long trousers / tracksters or similar
•Thermal vest or similar
•Warm thicker top
•Hat & gloves
•Torch (suitable for emergency night navigation)
•Compass & Whistle
•Pen / pencil and paper.
Each team must carry the following at all times:
•Tent with sewn in groundsheet, poles and pegs
•Stove & fuel, matches/lighter
•food for 2 days
•emergency food
•plasters and bandage.
 
At mid camp on Saturday evening I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Alan Whelan from Watford. He and Harry, his 14 year old  son, eventually won the Wansfell Class.
 
For Alan, it was this element that made the sport so appealing. "When I'm at home I have a house, furniture, a car - so much stuff - with events like these everything I need I carry on my back. I feel liberated. That  is why I enjoy them so much."
 
So distance and fells and weight and ... "controls". Mountain marathons are not simply a physical exercise - they are intensely  a mental exercise too. When Brian set off for his 117th mountain marathon on Saturday morning he was having to negotiate a  course determined Charlie Sproson. Charlie, an elite runner himself, set out the courses. For him it was an intensely physical  and intellectual exercise too. AND IT WAS HIS FIRST EVENT AS A PLANNER. Charlie, a young looking 38 year old, determined every  decision every one of the 588 teams made on day one, and a somewhat lesser number made on day two. Charlie had to work out 10 or so controls on each day for each course that had to incorporate an increasing degree of difficulty. Moreover he had to check  them and re-check them. That means walking or running over them in the months before the event to see if they work. There is  stress and there is stress but I wonder if there is any stress equal to that of a course planner waiting for the first team to appear on the skyline above mid camp on day one or the events centre on day two.
 
To ensure each team follows the controls each station is monitored electronically. At registration each team(or solo) is issued  with a "dibber" which has to be inserted into each control station. This feeds back information to the terminal at the centre 
(or mid camp). Therefore not only do the organisers and competitors receive information about the times it also acts as an  additional safety check. At any given time Andrew Leaney, the results co-ordinator can find out where a team last "dibbed" into  a control.
 
It seems incredible that anyone would wish to submit themselves to this type of experience. Yet I have seen it and on a big  scale . To see over 500 tents at mid camp is impressive. This year mid camp was at the southern end of Thirlmere below Steel 
Crags. Yet another sublime location and worth every penny of the entrance fee. John and I went round over Dunmail Raise to  prepare the site. John, a plumber by trade, set up the water station. Then we created "Marshals' Mound" and put up our tents at  a convenient distance from the portoloos.
 
And then we waited. And waited. And waited. Early afternoon the first team arrived. Thereafter bit by bit the camp filled. I  decided on a walk mid-afternoon to head up the valley below the Wythburn Fells and watch the procession of runners come down the valley. This decision gave me the best view of Thirlmere ever. Is there anything in the world that can surpass the English  countryside on a summer's day and that was what I was given on Saturday afternoon.
 
On return to mid camp David asked me to return up the valley to assist Rona, the event's doctor, who was helping an injured  competitor back. Also supporting were a couple of lasses from Sunderland Strollers amongst the loveliest human beings ever  placed on earth. Not a team passed them without their encouragement. "Go lads - a nice can of beer waiting for you at the end."  I pointed out to Alison that she should have said, "A nice glass of chilled sauvignon blanc!" given the profile of the competitors.
 
I have to say that one of the most moving experiences of my life occurred at mid camp. Nearly all the teams were down by 7.00pm  but there was a small number still outstanding. As each of these were spotted trotting down the valley a huge applause erupted  from the other competitors - genuine, non-ironic appreciation and fellow feeling. And this is one of the reasons why I so admire mountain marathon runners as a class. To outsiders it may appear exclusive but once you're in it is totally inclusive. And the 
biggest applause was for Brian Layton as he descended into the camp at 8.23.30pm on Saturday evening.
 
After a bit of rubbish collection and catching up with a few competitors I had been acquainted with I ended up with John and  David in David's car where we stayed to avoid the midges and drink wine. About 11.00pm I retired for one of the best night's  sleep ever.
 
On Sunday morning waking up refreshed and knowing I was refreshed I quickly organised myself to assist with the issuing of  control cards. For the front runners there was a "chasing start" where at 7.15 the leaders were released and all those  competitors within 45 minutes of their day one time followed at intervals. I took a few pics at the start but when I returned to camp Chris, the controller, was concerned that a stile a short way up the valley might be so congested after the mass start that teams might go through a nearby gate and leave it open. He did not want to risk the farmer's ire so asked me to supervise the  gate. Soon after 8.05 possibly 900 competitors passed by me at that gate. Some broke left to head up towards the ridge by Steel  Fell but most crossed the footbridge and in bright morning sunlight scaled the Wythburn Fells.
 
Once I had made sure all had passed through I returned to the empty camp and after David had taken down the tents returned to  Langdale with John. Here, after the business of emptying rubbish into a skip, I settled by the start to wait for the leaders to return. I felt for  Charlie, the Planner, who in the spirit of a wartime air force leader had sent his squadrons out on a mission and was anxiously  awaiting their return. When Steve Birkinshaw breasted the ridge at about 11.00am the relief was almost tangible. Soon after Alan and Harry Whelan followed Steve down the flank of Lingmoor. Theirs a remarkable tale of incisive decisions that  yielded results which Alan was quickly willing to share with Charlie at kit check. Charlie approved. Charlie was happy that his  course could be interpreted in a way he envisaged. My previous contact with Alan gave me a sense of connection so I was more than pleased with his and his 14 year old son's  achievement. If I meet him next year I feel I will have made a lifelong friend.
 
Thereafter it became a procession - incrementally at first so bit by bit the leaders in each class filled the places. At 2.30 an awards ceremony took place while much of the field still had to stream in. Typically those not in the winning places were  totally unconcerned about who won. Theirs was an achievement in itself - being part of it, running two days under a hot sun,  over unforgiving fells and pitting their wits against the planner. They had had their fix and were happy. As an observer I could not help but envy them and resolve to attempt at least one mountain marathon before I die.
 
PS: Good news in our house today. Our Katherine secured her first teaching job today.
 
Friday 24th June. Eileen and I have just returned from ten days in Turkey. We stayed in the resort of Hisaronu almost an English enclave not far from the coast at Oludeniz. Oddly enough it is an area that reminded me of Parlick. Parlick's steep side slopes and relative accessibility from a road make it a centre in Lancashire for the sport of paragliding so that it is not unusual to see a half dozen or so paragliders over Fell Foot when the winds are favourable.
 
The sport at Oludeniz played at an entirely different scale - indeed the small resort can be regarded as one of the world centre's of paragliding blessed by the combination of high mountains and good year round winds. If you're mad enough to want to try paragliding there are plenty of companies to help you. All told about 105 professional pilots work in a dozen or so outfits launching from a purpose built runway close to the summit of Mount Babadag which towers 1700m above the coast. This is how I found myself harnessed up on Wednesday afternoon ready to make the leap with my pilot Pero.
 
I had to remind myself that it was my idea and this what I had paid my £50 for. I chose to go with Focus (see www.focustourism.com) a well established tour operator in the area. Shortly after three a mini bus pulled outside our hotel and I found myself in the company of a dozen passengers and pilots. The pilots had that air of swaggering self confidence which extreme sports probably need. From Hisaronu it was a 30 minute drive to to the launch point and it was quite a ride in itself as the road hairpinned above precipitous edges and the lovely pine forests that adorn the coast.
 
As the minibus reached the launch area there was an immediate reaction amongst the pilots. It was clear that the wind or should I say lack of it was the subject of their concern, an impression confirmed by three pairs of paragliders waiting on the runway. It turned out there were two strategies for coping with this situation. 1. Wait it out 2. Move to a different launch site nearby where the wind might be stronger. The Focus team decided to wait.
 
Two of the three waiting tandems successfully launched but the pair immediately before Pero and I had a serious mishap when they failed to clear the end of the slope and were dragged painfully across the stony flank of the mountain for 50 feet before landing in a dishevelled heap. Fortunately neither pilot or passenger sustained serious injury but this was not the type of thing you want to witness before your own launch.
I was harnessed up and helmeted up and given my training. "This here is the seat. When we're in the air - sit. When I say run - run." That was it - 10 seconds of instruction and to think I once attended teacher Inset days devoted to marking a register. I had no time to ponder over much on this brevity of guidance - Pero was harnessed to his sail and then clipped onto me. One of the Focus team stood facing me waiting for the wind to fill the canopy behind us. I studied his face wondering if its craggy features might be last face I'd ever see.
 
Then everything happened in a rush. There was the upward whoose as the sail chute opened behind us. "Okay walk." We started to walk. "Okay run" I remembered to run. Breaking into a trot, quicker and quicker and then we were lifted clear of the ground, clear of the trees, clear of the mountain. Even Pero who did this 5 times a day from April to October gave a whoop of exhilaration.
We caught a termal that swept us upwards and as we relaxed into our flight Pero pointed out feature on the coastline far below - St Nicholas Island, the Blue Lagoon, Butterfly Valley. "Would you like to try some extreme?" he asked. "Er what does that entail?" "Well this!" and the next moment we went into a tight ever accelerating spiral as (I surmised) Pero pulled down on the stays. It was a heart jolting, stomach turning 20 seconds that seemed much longer and I was reaching the point where I wondered how do you pull out of a spin when Pero did something else and we continued our descent at a more stately pace.
As we closed on Oludeniz  I was given my second piece of training."As we land - stand" and so we swung round over the cafés, bars and restaurants - we a sight so commonplace there that no one pays particular attention Pero guided us to the landing area close to the promenade not 20 metres from where Eileen was waiting.
Wednesday 8th June. I was rather hoping 60,000 hits would come up today the reason being that today is John's 60th birthday. By way of celebration we had a walk up Parlick yesterday. Last year during a Radio Lancashire interview John disclosed that walking up Parlick was his favourite walk in Lancashire. Not being one to disappoint I asked GPS Dave to devise a route from Fell Foot taking in that lovely hill. The weather was mixed to say the least and we were caught in a particularly heavy downpour just before lunch. Lunch was at the Tillotson's Arms and they put on soup, sandwiches and chips which went down well with the Dotcoms. For dessert David and Val treated us to lovely Italian chocolates they had brought back from their recent trip. We finished up with a brief exchange of cards ceremony as its my birthday tomorrow. In attempting to express my thanks I made a not altogether articulate speech about what it means to enjoy the friendship of those who choose to walk with us.
 
It started with two broken down people coming to an arrangement that during term time they would go for a walk once a week, usually on a Tuesday somewhere in Lancashire. Six years ago John suffered a cardiac arrest on an evening out at a pub quiz. His life was saved by the prompt actions of three off duty police officers who applied CPR for 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. Almost the moment he came out of his coma John came to the decision that he would not return to his job teaching. He had had a history of heart problems culminating in a quintuple by pass operation and this episode at the Red Lion was a warning sign.The process of applying for an ill health retirement is a lengthy one. A year later when I had my stroke John's application had still not been fully completed.
 
Unless you are a teacher yourself it is difficult for a non teacher to fully appreciate the particular nature of stress in teaching. I tried to convey it to one of the doctors who treated me after my stroke when he noted I had a history of raised blood pressure. "I am a secondary school teacher and at the moment the school is being reorganised." That was only half of it so when on that Sunday morning in May 2006 when I woke up with changed vision if almost seemed to be the natural conclusion to a series of events including a brutal OFSTED judgement and professional setbacks which had eroded my health.
 
Taking stock after returning from hospital I counted myself lucky in that strokes can kill, maim and disfigure. I had been left partially sighted losing my left side peripheral vision. In the long term the biggest life changing consequence has been I am unable to drive. In different circumstances I might have decided to go back to work and for a while I tried to keep an open mind but like John I felt had a close escape and wasn't prepared to return to what would have been a difficult situation (new school, new staff, new kids) with sight impairment. Occupational health saw it that way too and (eventually) I was pensioned off.
 
My darkest moment in hospital was when I wondered whether I would ever walk the wild places again. At that stage my sight was so confused I could scarcely work out where I was. This is where John came in. We had been brought together through mutual friends some five years previously and while we hit it off immediately, the way teaching is, our friendship had not developed much beyond the monthly dinner parties we shared with our wives and Anne, Sandra and Pat. On a visit in June 2006 I might have mentioned my frustration about not walking to John and he might have suggested an outing though he had no idea where we might go  and I might have said well I have a few notions and he might have said how about Tuesday and ever since then if you want to know where John and I are on a Tuesday during term time it we'll be on a walk.
 
Malcolm belongs to a housing charity where he attends "care and repair" meetings. "Care and repair" is a good description for what happened between John and me in that first year after my stroke. Our first walk was the Mawdsley Jubilee Trail - a seven mile circuit of that delightful West Lancashire village. At that time it was the limit of what John's condition allowed him to do. From that day each Tuesday morning John would turn up about ten and I would announce the destination. Most weeks we would have a pub lunch and occasionally we would be joined a friend or one of our children. It was always in Lancashire and it was always healing.
 
Later after the website was established and we had met our self imposed target of producing 52 walks "one for each week of the year" we were invited to contribute to the Blackpool Gazette. In the process of checking over previously published routes we felt at liberty to invite people to join us on a regular basis or at least I did. First Bill and then Brian and then Andy B. After Brian had been coming out for six weeks he asked if he could invite his neighbour Jim who he thought might enjoy the walks - well he did - just a bit.
 
Now we were six I felt some formality was required so instead of announcing destinations on the day I produced a programme of walks each half term. In producing a programme I thought of more and more people who might be interested in joining us. Malcolm, Don, GPS Dave. Suzi came, Jim's wife Sue came, David's wife Val came. This meant that suddenly the pubs were having to cope with 10 or 12 people at lunch time instead of six. We began to pre-order our lunches.Malcolm invited Andy L, Don invited Paul, David invited Tony. Care and repair. Geoff retired and came out with us. Alison retired and came out with us. I met Chris at a mutual friend's 60th party, found out he was retired and at a loose end and he came out with us. A former colleague of Eileen's and Brian's, Mike E, was at the wedding in Palazzola last spring, seemed interested in the walks so I asked him to join us. Within a few outings he asked Mike O to become a Dotcom walker. Mike O brought his dog. So now the pubs were having to cope with 20 plus walkers (and a bowl of water for the dog!).
 
By now you may be aware of a theme. I confess. www.lancashirewalks.com is my conceit. The Dotcom Walkers are my creation. My care and repair. Apart from Brian not one of the people who walk with us knew John before they walked with us. Yet every one of them feel as much connected to John as they do to me because...he is receptive, he is kind,he is wise, he is good humoured; he is incredibly forebearing, brave and resilient;everything we know about him makes us respect him more. He has gone through the darkest places a human heart can travel and emerged the other side; Above all he is a wonderful companion on a walk.
 
Yesterday with GPS Dave's encouragement John practically ran up to the top of Parlick Fell and Jim was there to take the photograph.
 

 Later we celebrated our birthdays at the Tillotson's Arms in the warm embrace of our friends. Care and repair. John and I have had quite an experience together and may it continue for some time to come. HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY JOHN!       
 
Monday 23rd May. A favourite question of Geoff's is this; "If we were looking on this scene 100 years ago what would be different?"This is one of the reasons Geoff makes excellent company whenever we're out on a walk together - Geoff just doesn't walk through the countryside he interacts with it. His question came to mind yesterday when Andy W and I met up with Alison in Grasmere. Andy and I were out with the fellwalkers and normally left to ourselves would have gone up high. I came with other plans - to complete a circuit of Grasmere and Rydal Water which a friend showed me over 35 years ago and was my first proper introduction to the Lake District. I realise now I could have had no better introduction.
 
So what had changed in 35 years. And the answer is very little. The biggest impact on my remembrance of that first walk has been made by the Wordsworth Industry around Dove Cottage. In those far days in the 1970s Dove Cottage was just a cottage.Since then it has extended somewhat with the museum, shop and the Jerwood Centre there accommodate the worldwide interest in William Wordsworth.Perhaps more than anyone it is his sensibilities that has formed our appreciation of wild landscapes and natural beauty. When we admire a view we see it through his eyes and his words brought the first waves of tourists into the Lake District.
 
Beyond Dove Cottage we three followed the Coffin Road along a terrace above the busy A591. The weather was blustery and showery. At Rydal we browsed in the lovely church and shortly afterwards picnicked in the grounds of Rydal Hall. This was a leisurely affair despite the showers - we had no hurry. In the afternoon the weather improved so that we were treated with sublime view of Grasmere and Dunmail Raise as we made our way up to the summit of Loughrigg Fell.
Over the years I have walked the ciruit a number of times - with two parties of school children, with Brian, with Chris, with my brother Ed and his wife Beverley and with my own children when they were young. "We are so very lucky," Alison said as we dropped off from the trig point to start our descent. Lucky in so many respects - lucky that we are fit enough to scale the heights, lucky that we have been given the eyes to admire beauty, lucky that we have the communion of friends to share our delights and lucky that this blessed gem is on our doorstep. Thirty five years and thirty five years more and thiry five years after that - my deepest prayer - God preserve it. 
 
 
Next month the Dotcom walkers feature in "Lancashire Life" magazine. Just before Eileen and I went to Australia Keith Carter who has a regular walks page contacted me about joining the Dot Coms for a walk and writing it up. This was set up in early March not long after we returned. We started from near Botany Bay (purely coincidental)on a bright Tuesday morning, cut across to Wheelton by the fields and back lanes lunching at the Dressers' Arms before returning along the canal. Keith was most definitely "My Generation" and fitted right in with our group. It turned out he had written a recent guide to Offa's Dyke so that was a connection with those of us who had done it. All in all we enjoyed a most pleasant walk with him and he with us and you can read all about it in Lancashire Life. 

 Wednesday 11th May. From the moment the seven of us stepped out of the car park yesterday's Dotcom walk seemed to go wrong. I missed a footpath which gave us an unnecessary walk along the Grane Road which is a very busy thoroughfare. If the Dotcoms realised they were too polite to draw attention to it. A short while later at fork in the paths not conforming to the information on the map I chose the wrong one and although compensated by lovely views back down the valley,

this error did not escape the attention of the Dotcoms, especially when the path we had taken came to a dead end. As often happens in these situations I quickly compounded the error. Instead of retracing our steps the 500m or so back to the route, I decided to climb out of the gully to attempt to intercept it further along. If the path you need is on the right and you turn right sooner or later you will cut across it - right? Well not if there is a plantation of densely growing trees in the way. The end result of the debacle was when 30 minutes later we hit the right track I failed to recognise it as such, turned right instead of left and led the Dotcoms back to the Grane Road about a kilometre from our starting point. Thoroughly fed up with the way things turned out I improvised the best route I could to the pub where we had booked ourselves in and we reached it in good time for lunch.

 As if to maintain a proper balance in the events of the day I then proceeded to come off route on the return leg too. By this stage we had left Tony back at the village. Feeling under the weather he decided to take the bus back to the car park. (An option the other Dotcoms soon wished they had taken.) By the time I confessed I had once again erred the Dotcoms went dangerously quiet (- or perhaps they were simply weary). The situation was made more awkward because Chris's hernia was playing up and he wasn't walking freely. When we reached a lane I thought it best that he, Brian and John should make their way along the road while Jim, Don and I strike out across the moors and collect the cars. Given all that had gone before this plan might have turned out to be a recipe for disaster but it came good so that an hour later we were friends reunited and on our way home.


All's well that ends well and the Dotcoms were gleefully looking forward to reporting my failings to GPS Dave since he is normally on the receiving end of their banter about direction finding. I had considered putting a super injunction on all this but I cannot afford one.

And yet, and yet the travails in the wilderness were marvellously rewarded. As we struggled to regain the route on the outward leg Don spotted something in the grass. "Look a vole." Then a moment later. "Look a snake!" and there it was curled, dark and diamond patterned - an adder. I had never seen a snake in the wild in this country and had no idea that they might inhabit the moors above Haslingden but there it was - alive and in a state of stupour as if waiting for the sun to warm it up. Thrilling to be in the presence of Britain's only venomous snake and in that encounter all other cares and worries melted away.  

Saturday 30th April. A few weeks ago about the time I was putting together his half's programme of Dotcom walks Brian e mailed me, "How about an "avoid the Royal Wedding Walk"?". Owing to the rather odd holiday patterns this year mainly caused by the Easter being so late, I was a walk short so was easily able to accede to his request. I decided upon Dunsop Bridge which although is in the heart of the Duchy of Lancaster, has the merit of very poor mobile phone reception, thus eliminating the temptation of anyone trying to follow events at Westminister Abbey on their smart phones. Eight Dotcoms gathered on the car park at Dunsop Bridge and while some no doubt harbour republican sympathies most were there to escape the irritating television coverage such occasions produce. Indeed Mike O stoutly declared that he was a constitutional monarchist while GPS Dave had managed to purloin a souvenir flag which he proudly attached to his rucksack. We had expected Andy L and Ann to join us but surmised by 11.00 they had been unexpectedly delayed and of course without phone reception we had no way of finding out whether or not they were on their way. Remarkably the car park was full and it seemed that a great number of other people had a similar idea to Brian's.
 
Thinking about the last big fat Royal Wedding - Charles and Di, I recall that Eileen and I were in Malta with Don and Maggie. Our wives were intent on watching the spectacle but in those far off days before satellite television this was less easily arranged. Eventually we found a side street cafe with a TV set with an aerial that was just able to pick up a signal and either with Don or me moving the blessed thing around our spouses had some sense of the ceremony; "Ooo look at that dress!" By and large though it looked like London was engulfed in a blizzard. All the same this shows how these public events plant points of reference in our own lives.
 
So about the time the knot was tied we set out from Dunsop Bridge on a route of GPS Dave's devising. We followed the River Dunsop right up the valley to Whitendale. For the most part there is a good tarmac service road for United Utilities and the farms at the head of the valley, a feature which makes the area popular with Sunday strollers. All but one of us are retired so Bank Holidays and weekends do not have quite the same meaning they once had, but yesterday seemed different; we were in good spirits and enjoyed being out on a lovely spring morning. Such was our distraction we didn't bother to look back to where Andy L and Ann were trying hard to catch up. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise when they did so at Whitendale Farm.
 
The next section of the walk was a steep climb to Dunsop Head. With a few members of the party not fully fit I was concerned about this climb and so hung back bringing up the rear. However everyone coped with the ascent admirably, though no doubt one or two were relieved when GPS Dave announced it was a lunch stop. We ranged ourselves on the lee side of the ridge wall and ate our sandwiches about as far as we could possibly be from a television set. David did not bring champagne but he brought champagne truffles instead - by luck one each.
 
The next part of the walk, across Beatrix Fell to the trig point and descent to Beatrix Farm, was new to all of us. We were fortunate to tackle it after the dry spring we've had. Even so Andy L sunk to his thighs when crossing a stretch of moss, needing a few helping hands to extract him.
 At the trig point we had the obligatory trig point photograph and soon after dropped down to Beatrix and across to the Dunsop Valley.
 
Great walk, great route and great walking companions. Whatever our affiliations are not one of us would not want anything but happiness for the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as they start their married life together and I for one will not forget how I spent their wedding day.[ I need to make clear that should deliberately avoiding royal weddings turns out to be a prosecutable form of sedition it was Brian's idea and I will be pleased to let MI6 know where he lives.]
 
Saturday 23rd April. If you need it to rain after a long period of dry, sunny weather all you have to do is to light your chiminea and invite friends around for a drink. This is what John and Di did yesterday evening when they asked Eileen and I to join them. After one of the finest driest spells of weather on record it threw it down. Not to be daunted by the rain, thunder and lightning we stood our ground - or more precisely sat it out under umbrellas. Eventually the rain stopped. Still as they say the gardens needed it.
 
It was late when we retired and I had an early start. A good few weeks ago when Jim, Don, Andy B and Geoff were out in the Yorkshire Dales they put up a hare. That very same evening there was a report on the local news asking for people to report such sightings. Jim logged onto the website www.brownhare.org.uk and this led to an invitation to a walk and talk at Longton Brickcroft this morning by Samuel Bolton of the North West Brown Hare Project.
 
While I have often seen hares on walks over the years until today I hadn't given them a great deal of thought. A hare spends all its life making sure it isn't eaten by predators. To this end it has one main strategy - flight and this is achieved at pretty impressive speeds - up to 45 mph. In Britain there are two main species - the mountain hare which is mainly confined to Scotland, though in the South Pennines there is a population of about 1500. This is native to the British Isles. Then there is the brown hare which was probably introduced in the early Middle Ages. At present there is no recent data to provide an accurate figure of how many brown hares there are which was the point of Sam's talk.
 
 
In a sense it was a training event so that participants can contribute towards a survey carried out in the North West. We were shown how to identify a hare (bigger than a rabbit, a loping run rather than a scuttle, and black tips on the ears), where to look, (arable land but with mosaic field use is best) when to look, (hares are nocturnal so basically dawn or dusk), how to look, (a transect route across a 1k grid) and how to record a sighting.
 
Disappointingly on the walk Sam led did not yield a sighting of a hare - he explained we were probably too late for that. What was nice was to see shelduck grazing in one of the fields and on the way back Sue, the warden of the Brickcroft,  pointed out a fungi circle - St George's Day mushrooms. I cannot say that they had anything about them to distinguish them from any other mushrooms but it seemed good to see them on their name day.
 
The other noteworthy aspect of the event was the number of young adults in the group. Had I been asked to predict the age profile of the turn out beforehand I would have said predominantly 50 plus Guardian readers and while  there was a smattering who fell into this category, half were under 30. I found that rather encouraging.
 
So now thanks to Sam's excellent talk Jim and I are all fired up hare spotters and have laid down plans of where we will mark out a transect route. It just leaves one question - how many Dotcom walkers will join us at 5.30 on a fine summer's morning?
 
Saturday 16th April. Eileen and I have just returned from a couple of days in Edinburgh. I love Scotland - it is probably my favourite place in all the world. I love the Highlands, islands, lowlands, Southern Uplands, borders, villages,towns and cities. I never tire of visiting the place. Eileen, on the other hand, is completely indifferent to Scotland and if it came to the point of take it or leave it, she would most definitely leave it. Therefore it is hardly surprising that this was only our second visit to Scotland together, the previous one being over thirty years ago and that with Don and Margaret.
 
Thanks to travel vouchers from my family for my special birthday last year, we were able to stay at the Carlton, a city centre hotel close to the Royal Mile. Our fourth floor room had a superb view of Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh's famous hill. I worked out it was close enough for me to climb should the opportunity present itself.
 
Opportunity presented itself on the first morning of our stay. By habit I am an early riser while Eileen tends to lie in. I woke at 6.20 and by 7.00 was out the hotel. Without a detailed map I had to improvise a route through the streets down to Holyrood which lost a bit of time, but was gratified that by 7.30 I found myself on the slopes. I reached the summit at 8.00am. RESULT! I celebrated by texting everybody I know so they could share in my sense of exultation. There is nothing better than climbing a hill before breakfast - especially one as renowned as Arthur's Seat.
 
That early morning walk seemed to set in train a succession of other results. We looked in at Greyfriars Church to see the grave of "Greyfriars Bobby" the faithful dog as well as his owner Auld Jock John Gray, and James Brown, the sexton and friend to Greyfriars Bobby. It seemed being linked with Greyfriars Bobby was something of a selling point, as demonstrated by the pub round the corner which took its name from the mutt.
 
Another significant last resting place was to be found in the churchyard of Cannongate where Adam Smith is buried. His grave took some finding; I had half expected the Adam Smith Institute to have put up pointers in neon. Not a bit of it - although there is an inscribed stone tablet laid before the headstone. THE PROPERTY WHICH EVERY MAN HAS IN HIS
OWN LABOUR AS IT IS THE ORIGINAL FOUNDATION OF ALL OTHER PROPERTY SO IT IS THE MOST SACRED AND INVIOABLE. I presume these words come from his hugely influential work, "The Wealth of Nations". So it was a result for me to locate Adam Smith. And it was a result to see Robert Louis Stevenson's monument in St Giles' Cathedral,
and it was a result to climb to the very top of the Scott Monument on Princes Street - up all 287 steps, and it was a result to look down on the city from Calton Hill close to the National Monument.
 
And the biggest result of all was that although Eileen declined to join me on my walkabout of the city, preferring to mooch about the shops, she came away with a much more positive impression of Scotland. "Next time," she told me after we boarded the very crowded train from Waverley, "we'll try out Glasgow. But nothing less than four star mind you."
 
Monday 11th April. Last Thursday Jim, Don, Malcolm, Andy B and I found ourselves on the most boringest fell in Lakeland. In Book 5 of his "A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells" Wainwright observes of Mungrisdale Common: "There is little on these extensive grass slopes to provide even a passing interest for an ordinary walker, and nothing at all to encourage a visit", which rather begs the question why did he bother to include the fell in the first place. Our trudge to the cairn that marks its highest point came after the high drama of ascending Blencathra by Sharp Edge.
Sharp Edge is most definitely not boring - an arete overlooking Scales Tarn that makes you instantly alert. Over the years it has been responsible for ten fatalities as well as numerous incidents involving the Mountain Rescue. Luckily on Thursday conditions were just about perfect so we crossed it without too much bother.
 
It was a good day for Andy B who added five new fells to his growing list of Wainwrights. Wainwrights are the 214 fells described in the seven volumes of the aforementioned Pictorial Guide. On one level it may strike the non-walker as a nurdish ambition to climb all these fells somewhat akin to trainspotting. Indeed there is a compulsive aspect to peak bagging, but this pales into insignificance against the monumental compulsion of the man who created the Guides in the first place - Alfred Wainwright, born in Blackburn, Lancashire. Started in 1952 it took 13 years for Wainwright to complete the Guide, which arranged the fells into seven geographical groups. Focusing on one area at a time he exhaustively described each fell, its various ascents, natural features, summit, the views from the summit, connecting ridge walks all with detailed accompanying maps and all done in pen and ink without a single piece of typeset in any of the seven books. Just as remarkable is the fact that Wainwright's Guide still proves to be an invaluable reference for anyone planning a hill walk in the Lake Distict. I checked "The Northern Fells" myself on Wednesday evening.
 
There was a downside to Thursday. Alison had started the day with us, but unfortunately did not feel up to the ten mile yomp we had planned. As we commenced the first steep ascent of the walk she decided to retire rather in the manner of Captain Oates sacrificing her day so we could push on and enjoy ours. I think I was surprised more than anything since Alison is a key member of the Thursday club and has accompanied us on much more demanding walks that the one we did last week. Had I given the situation more thought I might have been able to work out a route where Alison and I could have intercepted the others later, once she had recovered her wind. But being a bloke I didn't. Later as we lunched beneath Sharp Edge we received a text to tell us she had reached the top of Bowscale and then returned to Mungrisdale. So we missed her attractive, witty and diverting companionship on what turned out to have been another great day in the hills. There will be other great days - I am sure of it - and Alison will be there to share them.
 
Monday 4th April: On Sunday the Fellwalking club went to Dockray a lovely village on the road above Aira Force near Ullswater. It was a rather special day. GPS Dave, the club's secretary and his wife Val were celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary. Before lunch David led us on a walk over and around Gowbarrow - a modest fell of 481m - but one with sublime views over the southern part of the lake.
After a brief shower the day began to improve; so much so that a rainbow could be seen by Aira Force when we reached it in the early afternoon.
 
On route we had come across a weary line of college students out on a practice expedition for their Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. Well that took me back 45 years - to Edale in 1965 when Mr Kellard or more exactly Lieutenant Kellard of the 4th Hendon Company of the Boys' Brigade organised an Easter weekend expedition for a group of us up from North West London. It was my introduction to the "North" and I loved it. I simply could not believe that such wild and wonderful country could exist between the sprawling conurbanations of Manchester and Sheffield. I made a resolution to myself at 15 that one day I would live in the North. So six years later when I was at teacher training college and met a lass from Blackpool - well it was love at first sight.
 
Back to Sunday. Around about 2.00pm six of us settled down to a leisurely lunch at the Royal Hotel, Dockray. Before the food arrived cards and gifts were produced to mark the occasion. Later Tony who has known David and Val from before their marriage gave a heart warming speech underlining the significance of the date and then produced his special surprise - he had just published a history of the club and could think of no better day than Sunday to launch it. David and Val were given the first copy as a present.
It was well received and immediately Val began to skim through the photos and text on instant journeys back into the past. 40 years ago David had already been club secretary over four years - a position he has filled so well that no one has ever thought to challenge him.  So Val ended up married to the club as well - the secretary's secretary. Thus a considerable chunk of the club's history is the biography of David and Val's married life together. Through the club hundreds - possibly thousands of people have been introduced to the wonderful landscapes of Northern England, Southern Scotland and Wales. The club stands out because it allows those that do not wish to be led in a group to go off on their own. That was what attracted me to the Norwest in January 1983. Club members have been very fortunate with their other officers for the service they have given over the years, but all would acknowledge a special regard for David and Val and their lifelong commitment.
 
It was a lovely day on Sunday; the daffodils were in bloom too.   
  
 
Monday 14th March: Hello. I have returned. My regular readers may have thought I had gone for a picnic at Hanging Rock but the truth is far more prosaic in that it has just taken a while (three weeks in fact) to settle back after seven superb weeks "Down Under". 
 
At last I have a chance to respond to Andrew Baines' kind observations of a few weeks ago in the guest book. I had little idea that the viaduct to which he refers at Preston Junction extended so far back from the river.Sometimes you need to be reminded of what went before. Although Andrew is a good deal bit younger than me, I think I'm right in saying he grew up in Penwortham and would recall Preston Junction no doubt from his train spotting days.
 
He also reminded me of outings with his daughter Emma although I am not sure about White Scar Caves. I certainly took her and my Katherine to Ingleborough Cave along with their school friends Louise and Ruth. That would be when the girls were in Year 6. I had
discovered that the best way to persuade Katherine to go for a walk was to allow her to ask a friend to join us and the first person she always asked was Emma. In this sense Emma was the first Dotcom walker. We went on many an expedition together in Lancashire, the Dales and the Lakes. She was an ideal companion in that not once did she moan or whinge and seemed to appreciate being out in the fresh air. Part of this I'm sure was due to her upbringing but I hope there was an element of enjoyment too. I know I always enjoyed her sweet tempered and agreeable companionship.
 
Coming home I wondered if I had returned to "Pottersville". "Pottersville" is what Bedford Falls became without the life of George Bailey (played by James Stewart) in Frank Capra's 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life". [If you are having trouble making sense of the last sentence then watch the film.] At the same time deep cuts are being made in public services Barclays Bank announce that its chief executive Bob Diamond will be rewarded with £6.5 million bonus and far from being excessive this was in fact showing restraint because he was due to receive £9 million. Eileen and I are still sore at the charges to our account (albeit with another bank) made for withdrawing our money in Australia. Isn't it odd that institutions that strive to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by taking advantage of off shore jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands, show no scruple in collecting fees from their clients. I am beginning to rant...
 
Going back to Hanging Rock. As it happened on Australia Day, 26th January, we were supposed to picnic there whilst attending the race meeting. Hanging Rock was on the farside of Mount Macedon, Victoria where we were staying with my cousin Jem and his wife Allie. As we drew up at the entrance the car park attendant came across. "You'd better turn round mate, there ain't no race meeting here today." This was rather perplexing as we could see the car park was full. "'roos on the track - all the races have been cancelled." We wondered whether this was a wind up but he continued in earnest - "Of course if you want to go in but there are some pretty irate people in there." There was no point in joining them so we adjusted our plans. Later on the news we got the full story.  A mob of kangaroos had esconsed themselves in the paddock and nothing could persuade them to move elsewhere.(see www.youtube.com type in "Kangaroos at Hanging Rock")
 
Saturday 19th February. Sydney. On Thursday I found myself following in the footsteps of Billy Connolly, Robert de Niro, Princes William & Harry, Bruce Springsteen, Nicole Kidman and most recently Oprah Winfrey. I climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge.

"Introduce yourself and explain why you want to climb the Bridge," prompted one of the team members as she prepared to kit us out. I was first up. "My name is Bob," I started in the confessional tone of an AA meeting, "I'm from Lancashire in the UK and I want to climb the bridge as a way of saying goodbye to Australia after seven great weeks here." My fellow bridge walkers put up other reasons - for a couple from Rotherham it was a honeymoon present, for a couple from Plymouth it was to celebrate a ruby anniversary, a Swedish young lady had no idea why she wanted to climb the bridge.There were 14 of us - the maximum size group for a bridge walk.

This ice breaking exercise followed more serious formalities - signing a health declaration form, taking a breathalyser and once kitted out passing through a metal detector. This last presumably to catch out anyone who might attempt to sneak a camera through as photography is not permitted on the bridge walk.

Once we had on our lycra overalls on and had stowed our belongings in lockers we were introduced to our guide, Maria, who was to supervise us for the 3 hours or so of our walk. We were led to an area to pick up the most vital piece of equipment - our safety harness. This belted around the waist with an attachment to a metal ratchet-like runner. As we stepped out onto the bridge this was clipped onto a cable that followed the entire route of the walk. In the event of a slip or a fall the device would lock onto the cable. By this means exposure to risk was reduced to an absolute minimum.

Risk was further reduced by the provision of training. Maria led us to a steel framework of ladders and gangplanks that towered up perhaps 30 feet in the cavernous hall. Impressing upon us to always keep three points of contact with the metal and not to climb a flight until the previous person was clear, we had a practice on the frame; up two flights, across a platform and then down two flights to floor level. Satisfied we had managed this exercise without incident we were issued with a radio and headset so Maria could stay in contact us throughout the walk. With all this preparation behind us Maria led us out onto the bridge.

Completed in 1932 Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world and is an international symbol of Australia's energy and achievement. It was constructed over a period of 8 years and provided employment for 1500 workers during the severe economic depression of that time. All its statistics impress but here's one to hold on to - 52,800 tonnes of steel girders used for the approach and span itself are held together by six million rivets. Each rivet required a team of four men to fasten. Late in the walk Maria asked us if would be prepared for $1000 to walk out onto the structure itself unprotected. She had no takers. During the construction of the bridge riveters worked unprotected and without any of the health and safety measures we now take for granted for just $4 (four) a week.

The first part of Bridgeclimb took us on a gangway on the southern approach and then by the south east pylon we scaled a number of ladders to bring us above road level and at length onto the base of the arch. At various points extra supervision was provided by colleagues of Maria's. Incidentally that day was Maria's 26th birthday so that each of these station's she was greeted with hugs and kisses.

With the most strenuous part of the climb behind us we were at ease to look about us and take in the stupendous view. The approach to the summit was negotiated by a long flight of wide, shallow, steel steps - very easy walking indeed. Below the flag of Australia Maria took a group photo. Out in the harbour Fort Denison fired its customary 1.00pm cannon. It seemed to add significance to the occasion. My antipodean adventure had come to a natural conclusion. (Eileen's too - down below in the Rocks she had bought herself a pair of Ugg boots).

 


We have enjoyed every moment of our seven weeks here and what we have seen and done has given us a deep appreciation of this vast country. We are deeply indebted to our relatives Eileen's sister Kath in Sydney, my cousin Boyd and Fiona in Melbourne, cousin Jeremy and Ali at Mount Macedon who accommodated us during our stay. A special thanks to Boyd who acted as our travel agent arranging flights and giving us superb road trips from Sydney to Melbourne and in the Centre. Early in our visit I knew that we would have to come again - we can only hope it's not too long.

Wednesday 16th February. Sydney. G'day again - we're back despite the best efforts of extreme weather. In fact for all of our trip we managed to avoid extreme weather and for most of it had pretty good weather.

When we set out a calendar month ago with cousin Boyd and Fiona we had little idea where would be taken except in the general direction of Melbourne on a road trip that would take at least five days. It quickly became apparent that cousin Boyd had little idea where he would take us. He genuinely had no plan in mind except head vaguely towards the south coast.

Normally I would find such lack of detail somewhat unnerving, but since Boyd was driving we
found it easy to adopt the national motto of "No worries" and enjoy the ride. And what a
ride down the lovely south coast, across to Canberra, through the Snowy Mountains to descend into Eastern Victoria. It gave us a facinating insight into Australia's history and geography.

In Melbourne we spent two weeks catching up with my cousins and second cousins. In the 1950s two of my father's brothers migrated here as ten pound poms. Since then their families have thrived and prospered so it wonderful to be with this overseas family.

Our future trip plans became a matter of their concern - especially when cyclone Yasi made its appearance on the edge of the weather map. It was heading directly for Port Douglas. We had planned to spend the last part of our trip in Port Douglas.The news channels were soon reporting that Cyclone Yasi was one of the biggest ever recorded - a category five. Cairns airport was closed and Cairns hospital was evacuated. Cairns is an hour south of Port Douglas. We seriously wondered whether Port Douglas would still exist by the time of our intended visit.

As it turned out Yasi crashed across the Queensland coast to the south of Cairns. It caused a great deal of devastation to buildings and crops but with remarkably little loss of life. We encountered the tail end of Yasi when we were in the Red Centre close to Alice Springs. Such is the recent unseasonal rainfall in the Northern Territory that the Red Centre is now well and truly green. The tailend of Yasi brought a good deal of additional rainfall. By this time Eileen was expressing serious doubts about travelling onto Queensland. We did not book accommodation until the very last minute and found a most warm welcome awaiting us when we arrived last Monday week. So many people had been put off northern Queensland by the coverage of the floods and the cyclone that it was even quieter than usual. And what's more we had a great stay.

We suddenly realised ourselves to be fully subscribed members of Generation Skype. Out of season Port Douglas has two types of visitors - backpackers on their gap year - and retirees like Eileen and myself who form a well defined demographic profile and who are able to intrude on the lives of their children and grandchildren through their subscription to "SKYPE"(TM). What is it about the visual that provides the reassurance that all other forms of communication lack? Yet I predict it will unleash hordes of grey nomads unfettered by the fear that the house may have burned down in their absence because of their weekly - no daily updates with their progeny back home. And what is even more remarkable about SKYPE - it's free!

While we were in Port Douglas we decided to go on an evening cruise up the inlet on "Lady Douglas" a lovely old launch. We turned up at the appointed time to find that the craft was not in dock. As we waited with a dozen or so other customers it made its appearance swinging around the berths heading towards us. It was clear it had been chartered out for a wedding party. Once it had moored the bride, groom and a small group of family and friends came ashore to our applause and congratulations.

Noteworthy enough but Eileen soon discovered from the crew a more extraordinary aspect to this event. It turned out that the groom had no idea that the wedding had been planned when he stepped on the boat. Some while ago he had come to an understanding with his partner that they would marry but only on condition he would have absolutely no involvement with its preparation. Taking him at his word and after securing a written undertaking to this effect, the resourceful young lady went ahead and planned the wedding cruise and then sprang it on him last Monday - St Valentine's Day.

"How did he respond?" asked Eileen absolutely astounded. This question must have passed through the registrar's mind. She had conducted over 618 weddings and not one where one of the parties had entered the ceremony without a hint of what was to come. "We have never seen anyone look happier." At this point I could point out that the inlet where the Lady Douglas cruises is the home of the esturine crocodile - the poor bugger had no alternative but to accept his fate; but I cannot be that cynical. His bride had literally pushed the boat out in a huge embracing daring gesture. For me it is hard to find anything else that can encapsulate the spirit of this country - but even more is the fact that her man gratefully accepted it. Good on yer both!

Saturday 15th January. Sydney: This is our last full day in Sydney until we return here next month. Tomorrow, weather permitting, my cousin Boyd is arriving from Melbourne to take us on a road trip back to Victoria on a route that hopefully will avoid floods. The Queensland disaster has rather overshadowed widespread flooding elsewhere in Australia - in New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria. It has been reported that a 40 mile section of the Great Ocean Road is closed due to mudslides. Think of that - the equivalent of the M6 between Preston and Kendal being shut. Boyd has a property in the Otways near there so we'll have an update tomorrow.

With this catalogue of destruction it seems almost disrespectful to state we continue to hugely enjoy our stay here. Kath has ensured we have seen all her favourite places. Yesterday we were back at Bondi and lunched at The Iceberg Club. This venerable sporting institution is situated at the south end of the beach. To gain membership of the Iceberg Club applicants must swim in the sea three Sundays out of five for a period of five years. Hence the name - essentially it is a winter swimming club. Thankfully we were not required to meet this stern requirement and gained admittance on a temporary free membership pass. This small formality gave us a table on the terrace overlooking one of the most famous beaches in the world.
 

Later we followed the coastal path south to Covelley Beach passing by a number of other
beaches - lesser known outside of Australia but all provided with a range of facilities to
ensure families and surfers alike were well provided for. Incidentally I calculate Eileen walked a distance of 7k in total without comment - I dare to wonder if she had made a secret New Year's resolution.

Close to where Kath lives is the bustling centre of Burwood. Vibrantly multicultural with
the emphasis on Chinese, outwardly it has not much to distinguish it any other suburb of
Sydney but while I have been here I have stumbled on some interesting facts about Burwood.

 

For example back in 1932 one Jessie Menzies went to St Paul's church and was married to one Donald Bradman. Already an established cricketer everything was still before him -especially the "Bodyline" Ashes series of 1932/33.He went on to become the greatest batsman of all time with a career average of 99.94% first class runs. The marriage lasted over 65 years until Jessie's death in 1997.

Just a short distance down the road off Belmore Street is Burleigh Street. Number 4 now a medical centre was the childhood home of Malcolm and Angus Young. I doubt if regular readers of the Blog or any Dotcom walker would have any idea of what the Young brothers went on to achieve but in their own field no less remarkable than Sir Donald Bradman. In 1974 Malcolm and Angus together with a few others formed the heavy metal band AC/DC. Still going strong today after a turbulent history and world wide sales of 200 million albums they are one of one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Even if you have never heard a bar of their music many people might recognise guitarist Angus with his trade mark attire of school boy shorts,shirt tie and cap. Philip Larkin observed; "Nothing like something happens anywhere." Certainly something seemed to have happened in Burwood.

 I am not entirely sure when I will be able to access theinternet again so I wish you all "g'day" for the time being while Eileen and I set forth to explore more of this incredible and vast continent.


Tuesday 11th January Sydney: 2010 was Australia's wettest year on record. It seems to me that already 2011 is attempting to surpass this statistic. Up in south east Queensland there is extensive and devastating flooding. ABC news informs us that the area affected is the size of New South Wales! New South Wales is a pretty big place - 3 1/2 times bigger than the UK.That's a big flood. The difficulty the authorities and people face in Queensland is that they cannot properly start reconstruction until it stops raining - and it shows no sign of stopping yet.

It was raining yesterday when we reached Katcoomba in the Blue Mountains National Park. Remarkably this was accessible by using the Sydney suburban rail network. From Katcoomba we took the explorer tourist bus which operates a hop on/hop off service in the resort. We alighted at Echo Point to view the Three Sisters - striking sandstone rock formations and the stuff of aboriginal legend. Unfortunately the rain and mist were so dense that we had no sight of them.

As often happens in these situations Eileen began to speculate on the area's potential for shopping. At nearby Leura there was a mall of some kind so it was arranged I would meet her Kath and Anne a couple of hours later while I undertook my first bush walk. Although unequipped with a map, I could see the trails about were all clearly signed, so without too much preparation I descended the Giant's Staircase into Leura Forest. Although the walk I had so hastily planned was not a great distance - no more than a couple of miles; I had not factored in this descent - 900 steps of it.

Once committed I felt I had to go on, dropping by steep flights of stairs - in some places hewn into the solid rock below the base of one of the sisters - to be submerged into the warm temperate forest of the Jamison Valley.

 

At length I reached the trail. Pleased to be on the horizontal again I walked in the direction of Leura fully aware that what goes down 900 steps has to come up again. For the while though I enjoyed the forest. I doubt if I have ever been in the midst of a bigger one. Near Marguerite Cascades I lunched beneath a gazebo and then shortly after found the upward track. I attempted to keep count of the steps - it helped to pass the time.

As I climbed out of the valley and reached the rim of the canyon the cloud finally lifted and at last I was given wide views of the mountains. I was 20 minutes late in meeting up the ladies but I am pleased to record that they had already decided to do what I was about to propose - to once again hop on the explorer bus, return to Echo Point and have their photo taken by the Three Sisters. And so I took THE SNAP of this part of the trip - the Three Sisters by the Three Sisters.

 

 

Andy B chides me in the guest book for not mentioning the Ashes which had been secured at Melbourne and then won convincingly at Sydney. We missed that party too but passed a battalion of the Barmy Army in a bar when we went out to Bondi. They demonstrated no signs of diplomatic delicacy in sparing the feelings of their hosts. This is a nation in mourning not use to being beaten by England at cricket - especially on its home turf. The innings defeat at the SCG provoked a lively correspondence in the newspapers here. My favourite was the letter that suggested that the Aussies would stand a better chance if they spent more time in the nets rather than at the tattoo parlour.

Friday 7th January:Sydney. New Year's greetings from down under. We arrived on New Year's day - a few hours after the party. mind you after 24 hours of travel with just a brief stop over in Dubai it felt as though we had been to the party. We were all pretty well lagged. We - Eileen, her sister Anne and myself made our way to Eileen's other sister Kath who settled in Oz over 20 years ago. Champagne was soon opened and we consumed two bottles before ten o clock in the morning. Completely out of it we spent the rest of the day attempting to adjust our time clocks.

 Few cities are as instantly identifiable as Sydney with its iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House and so we did not leave it long on Sunday before we set out to have a looksee. I am pleased to report that it involved a bit of a walk. I am even more pleased to report that Eileen made no complaint - she was somewhat distracted. coming in from the Inner West most passengers alight at Central Quays, but with Kath as our guide, we went onto St James. From here we walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens to the Domain and picnicked close to Mrs McQuarrie's chair with a fabulous view across the harbour. From there we walked back to Central Quays by way of one of the most remarkable buildings in the world - the Opera House.

 

Yet as impressive as Sydney's harbourscape is I find the less celebrated architecture of its suburbs equally fascinating. In the older suburbs close to the city centre much of the residential housing is laid out in tight terraces originally constructed to house factory workers but now highly desirable (and expensive) real estate. They are distinguished in particular by decorative wrought iron on verandas.

 

 

Further out Where Kath lives in Croydon the style is markedly different. Streets are laid out with mainly uniform plots each occupied (in the main) by single storey houses., (They are not called bungalows in Australia). The style is influenced - especially in the shopping parades - by art Deco.


We find ourselves a short distance from Liverpool Road. And here is the enigma of being a Pom in Australia - that you can feel right at home in an alien land. There is even a suburb called Pendle Hill in Sydney.I find I have a strong conviction that had Eileen and I had come to Australia about the same time as Kath, we would have stayed here.

Monday 27th December. Well it had to come out sooner or later - I couldn't continue the life of deception and lies I had enmeshed myself in. It started earlier this year when Eileen needed some new and expensive curtains altering - this was during the period when her home improvement project was going full blast. That's when I met - well let's call her Sabrina. Young, slim and vivacious she made an immediate impression. I can see her now expertly looping the curtain hooks as she balanced on top of the step ladder. Her job done she left us to enjoy the effect - the main lounge was finished after weeks of work; redecorated, sofas recovered, new rug, two dozen new cushions, new light fittings and - the crowning glory - expensive new curtains. It was perfect.

That very same evening I sat down in my armchair by the window where I habitually write up my diary . It will not surprise those that know me that I write in different coloured pens depending on the entry I make. Mostly I write with my blue Rollerball but if I am writing about a walk I use black. Naturally I place things on the window sill to the right of my armchair. I was in the act of swapping pens when I noticed to my absolute horror that the tip of my black pen resting on the hem of the new and expensive curtain. The stain was tiny and had the curtain been of dark fabric I would have no need to concern myself. But the curtains were ivory and the blemish noticeable even to me. As luck would have it Eileen was out of the room or she would have seen my face blanche to the same colour of the curtains - and so I embarked on my life of secrets and lies.
 
After futilely attempting to remove the stain with washing up liquid, shower gel and a brillo pad (and that really did make matters worse) I worked out that if I folded the hem just to the minutest degree I could conceal my crime. In fact when the curtains were open the stain was safely hidden - the greatest danger lay when they were drawn. It was then I had to be particularly vigilant. From that day on I made sure I always drew the curtains and then make
the necessary adjustment. Days passed into weeks and weeks into months. My deception became easier with the longer days and after awhile deceit became so ingrained into my personality I forgot about the thumb nail  size stain on the bottom of the new, expensive ivory curtains until ... last week.
 
Ordinarily Eileen's chance discovery of such an act of wanton carelessness would result in prolonged (and deserved) recrimination but as so often in life timing is everything. We had already had our ACR (Annual Christmas Row), her energy was spent and we had moved into a phase of peace and reconciliation - in short I got away with it.
 
My walking year has just ended as it began - at the Derby Arms, Thornley near Longridge. GPS Dave had asked me to assist him with the Derby's Christmas walk which has been running for a great number of years. Dave was leading the long walk which was a combined route of ones he had devised for the pub and which John and I published back in March.
 
It happened that my niece Joanne was staying with us along with James, her fianceé so they were able to taxi me up to Thornley and join the walk. It turned out to be a magical and memorable day. (like so many in the past year). The Christmas walk from the Derby Arms is a very popular event and well over 150 people had booked so the pub had a real buzz when we arrived. James and Joanne became engaged on Christmas Day a fact I quickly intimated to Val and Alison (assisting with the short walk) and who immediately made a lovely fuss over the happy couple.
 
Out on the walk itself - once more in a Bruegel snowscape - I enjoyed the confidence David placed in me bringing up the rear as a back marker. In this role I met Pauline who deserved a certificate for the way she gamely followed the party dressed somewhat like a fashionable  Mary poppins - long overcoat, high heel boots and umbrella and who declined all suggestions of cutting the walk short. She was wonderful company and despite the difficulties her attire gave
her climbing over stiles she made no complaint. It turned out she had visited Australia a dozen times so she furnished me with many a useful tip for my imminent trip.
Back at the Derby Arms David, Val, Alison, James, Joanne and I lunched grandly. Alison reminded me that her first walk with the Dotcoms earlier in the Year had also been at the Derby. Connections layered on connections. That walk had been with Don and Andy L and GPS Dave and Val on the day Don spotted the snowdrops. (See 18/02/10) That was not long after she had returned from her big trip - to Australia. Connections... 
And the Derby where William and Carol work so hard to ensure their customers have an enjoyable experience and who made the weekend so unforgettable when James and Joanne decided they wanted to do as their parents did, as David and Val did, as Don and Maggie did, as Andy L and Ann did, as William and Carol themselves did, as Eileen and I did: to make a commitment that for the rest of your life you will care for one another - for better or worse - even if one of the parties accidentally and with no malice or aforethought manages to put an inkstain on the new ivory expensive curtains.
 We're off to Oz now - Eileen and I so a happy new year to you all from the Dotcom Walkers and all of us at Lancashire Walks. See you in 2011.
 
Thursday 16th December. Being elected "The Lancashire Dotcom Walkers Pub of the Year" is a mixed blessing. Of course it must be very nice to have hard work, enterprise, superb cuisine, well kept beer recognised - the trouble is that once they have made their award, the Dotcoms insist on coming and giving it to you. They always have their Christmas bash at their Pub of the Year. On Tuesday we gathered on the car park of the Bay Horse, Fence, near Burnley. Things started off reasonably sedately with photographs  on the forecourt and a most agreeable walk. It was when we returned that matters got a little out of hand.
 Sensibly Matt Hunter, the manager had put us in the conservatory - 22 of us could be seated there - just. In fact the way the tables were arranged couldn't have been better for our purposes. However it posed a difficulty in a couple of ways - firstly I had  to hurriedly rearrange place names and secondly as MC over the riotous assembly that ensued I was somewhat trapped and could not easily communicate to Matt and his staff. The main impact of all of this was that the timetable which I had so meticulously planned and discussed beforehand went completely out the window. We sat down at 1.00 and we left at 4.20. In between these times we made a lot of noise and had fun.
 We use the occasion to have our own awards ceremony. This year John and I decided to pay special tribute to Bill. Ordinarily Bill would receive a prize for being the oldest Dotcom walker. However since July Tony has joined us and he is 55 days older than Bill which is good news for the rest of us but deprived Bill of an award. This is when "the Dotcom Hall of Fame" idea came up - we've got to put him somewhere so we'll stick him in there.
Yet what started as a typical piece of light hearted whimsy quickly transformed itself into something more serious. In his induction speech John reminded us of Bill's achievements in competing mountain marathons and endurance walks in the time before he joined John and me. Now while we all admire him for the range of his experience it's his personal qualities we love most. Kind, gentle, considerate and although a man of few words, when he speaks we all listen. Years ago when she was quite small my daughter Katherine would often accompany me on the fellwalking club's outings. On the coach ride home she would always seek out Bill and his wife Marlene, clamber onto Bill's lap and quickly fall asleep safe within his arms. In his life Bill has had to do unimaginably hard things but I know him best for the tender loving care he bestowed on katherine when she was little.
There were other awards and prizes too. Brian gave a nice speech of appreciation to our "Molls" those ladies who choose to hang around with us and put up with the endless talk of football and other blokish topics. Jim as the Dotcom who went out on most walks presented the award to the Bay Horse when the photographer from the Burnley Express showed up - again with a nice vote of thanks.
 
So all in all it wasn't too bad but I would like to add a big THANK YOU to Matt and Tracy and Sara and the rest of the staff at the Bay Horse for their smiling forebearance.
 One more thank you to make - to Chris for his quiz that started off proceedings. It provided a helpful diversion as we took our seats. This brings me to this year's Christmas quiz. As will be observed - it is buried deep within this blog. Last year I dedicated a page to it and rashly announced a prize for the first all correct response. Within two hours the website received two all correct answers. Again I will award a prize but since I have recently cleared out the loft be warned - you may be just a station on the way to the Charity shop!

In the next and final blog of the year I will announce the winner. By the way Dotcom walkers are automatically disqualified from taking this quiz - when they did it at the Bayley Arms, Hurst Green it was another sad story. Divided up into four teams Catholics, Anglicans, Agnostics and Atheists - the Atheists claimed victory with a measly 5 out of 15. However the Catholics said that the doctrine of papal infallibility applied to quiz teams of the faith in the vicinity of Stonyhurst. It was then left to the agnostics to adjudicate but they failed to make up their minds, leaving the field free for the Anglicans on the basis if it is not anything else it must be C of E. Well that's the Dotcoms for you - anything for an argument. Merry Christmas.
 
Tuesday 30th November. It was Bill who reported it - that Darwen Tower took a hit in those gales of two weeks ago - the ones that mauled Blackpool's illuminations. Today on the way home from a walk we had a good view of the tower from the M65. It no longer looks like a rocket ready for blast off; instead it has the appearance of a smartie tube. I hope its repairable and does not fall victim to the cuts.
 Yes we did manage to venture out today. A dozen Dotcom Walkers set out from the Emmott Arms at Laneshaw Bridge on a circuit that included Wycoller. Earlier there had been a few anxious phone calls but I reasoned that if we could get off the estates we would have a clear run to Colne. This proved to be the case. At Laneshaw Bridge I decided not to push our luck and go that extra mile to a car park on the Haworth Road; instead we followed the Pendle Way across a winter wonderland. It was magic. Later we were met by Andy B who came out to meet us - he had walked through from his place just across the border in TOP.
 
John and I were in TOP at the weekend. For the past four years together with our wives and other friends we have had a weekend away just before Christmas kicks off. Its our last toe hold on sanity before all the madness of the festive season - decorations, shopping, Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, food shopping, the ACR, over-eating, over-drinking, indulging, the bloody Muzak playing "God rest you merry Gentlemen" and the unrelenting assault of TV adverts. Somehow that weekend away - a sort of retreat - allows us to charge our batteries before we enter December.
 John and Di have taken this idea one step further - every other year they "Don't Do Christmas" at all. No decorations, no shopping, no Christmas cards, no wrapping gifts, no food shopping, no ACR, no over-eating, drinking, indulging. Instead they make a donation to charity and take themselves off to somewhere quiet and totally relax. If this idea catches on it will spell the end of consumer capitalism.
 
The snow had not really reached TOP on Saturday morning - just a dusting overnight. We had a walk around the Bolton Abbey estate and probably saw the Abbey at its best on a cold, clear day with bright sunshine. As the song says "The Best things in life are free" (though not quite - it was £6 a car to park near the Cavendish Pavilion).
 
Thursday 25th November: One calendar month away from Crimble. Can you believe it? And now snow is here - can you believe that? By here of course I don't mean here here - but in the general sense that a good deal of it has fallen elsewhere in Britain. Today, as Malcolm and I looked out towards the Lakeland fells, there was most definitely snow on the highest tops; while on news reports there has been a big fall in Aberdeenshire and North east England.
 Malcolm and I were out with Don, Andy B and Jim on an Offa's Dyke Reunion walk so to speak. Malcolm had organised the expedition to Farleton Fell the prominent hill overlooking junction 36 on the M6. Though pleasing on the eye it is easy to dismiss because its so close to the roar of the motorway. Don felt he had dismissed it too long and that's why we were out on a clear but bitingly cold day.
The ridge leading up to the highest point is a limestone wonderland which we all enjoyed exploring. Later we returned to the car by way of the Lancaster Canal.
 
Beyond Tewitfield, close to Burton-in-Kendal services the Lancaster Canal is cruelly dissected by the M6 and some of the other roads to create "The Northern Reaches" - stretches of canal no longer connected with the main waterway. Pleasant to walk and to fish but useless for their main purpose - boating.
 
In the 1970s when the act of official vandalism was proposed a campaign group, The Lancaster Canal Trust was formed to fight a desperate battle to save the intregrity of this part of canal. To no avail - it was deemed by the Ministry of Transport that the canal would be culverted and not bridged; a cheaper solution but one that ignored the  wider social, cultural and public amenity benefits of the waterway. The Lancaster Canal Trust lived on - one of its aims being "to restore the Northern Reaches". At first glance this may appear to be a rather Quixotic ambition but its other main aim was no less ambitious - to construct a "Ribble Link" so that the canal would be connected to the main waterway network. At the beginning of this decade "The Ribble Link" was created - the first piece of inland waterway built for over 100 years. In the words of the Frank Sinatra song "High Hopes": "Oops there goes another rubber tree plant!"
 I think Schrodinger's Cat crossed our path today - or towpath. As we reached the canal we looked for somewhere to have lunch. There was no immediate spot and so at length we improvised a place in the sun between bridges 159 and 158. "You watch," I predicted, "there'll be a bench 5 minutes after we set off." My prediction wasn't at all accurate - the bench appeared about two minutes after we set off. I think that bench is Schrodinger's Bench and it is always some mathematical calcuable distance from the unsuitable spot you decide to picnic with the corollary that the worse the spot you decided to picnic the more appealing will be the spot you come to soon after. As it happened our improvised spot was fine and the bench was just a bench but it made a good place to take a photograph of the guys.
 
On Tuesday Don, Jim and I were on the Lancaster Canal near Catforth. It was a record breaking day - 20 Dotcom walkers including Jim's wife Sue, Don's wife Maggie and after lunch at the Plough at Eaves - Eileen. Although we forwarded our order the staff at the Plough had a very busy time of it. Still in these austere times a group of 20 walkers is not to be turned away. I could annouce to Lancashire's licensees here that the programme for 2011 walks is still under discussion and that I am completely corruptible - for a free lunch your pub can be on one of our Tuesday routes!
 
Talking of pubs the Dotcom Walkers have voted on their "Pub of the Year". Again it's a pub in the Burnley area - the Bay Horse at Fence (See www.bayhorsefence.co.uk ) When we visited it in early June it impressed everyone on the walk. Now some may feel that the attractive blonde manageress unduly influenced the blokes but it was Alison's first choice too. Paul liked it so much that he took Yvonne there for her birthday soon after; and as a real clincher to show its worth of the five Dotcoms who nominated it one was Bill.
 Once I counted the votes I telephoned the Bay Horse to inform them on the great honour that had been bestowed on the pub. I spoke to Matt. I reintroduced myself but before I could begin to explain he said, "The walkers - I remember you." I cast my mind back to that day - no I don't think we were at all riotous. In fact by our standards we were models of decorum. The Bay Horse is a justly popular eatery and since us thousands of customers would have passed through its doors, some of them even walkers, but Matt remembered - now that impresses me. We look forward to revisiting the Bay Horse next month to make our presentation.
 
Friday 12th November. Hubris is a precarious place. I was there yesterday but not for long. In January Eileen and I will be doing our BIG TRIP visiting family and sight seeing in Australia. Because of this I am trying to ensure our commitments for the Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Evening Post cover the seven weeks we are away. This has entailed planning and checking a great many routes and working to a tight (self imposed) timetable. I grab opportunities whenever they arise. One arose yesterday when Katherine on her way to Edge Hill University was able to drop me off at Burscough before eight in the morning.
 As I set out on the trail I was feeling rather pleased with myself, yep on Hubris Cloud Number 9 for organising a walk that would be done and dusted before lunch time. Not even the appalling weather could upset me. It did however force be to stop and put on my full waterproofs which was when I came tumbling down to earth. Carrying out my check of pockets camera - check, wallet - check, keys - check, mobile - mobile? - MOBILE! No mobile.
 In my mind I recalled I had made a particular point of charging it up and putting it in my
fleece pocket as we set off. In my mind I remembered checking my pockets as I got out of Katherine's car. By now my hubric state had completely dissolved as I considered my options. My first reaction was to phone Katherine and ask her to check the car - DOH!
 As often happens in these situations my actions are motivated not so much on my own account but how I think Eileen will react and I play potentential scenarios in my mind; "You lost what?" or "How on earth did you manage that?" or "You're always losing things," a generalisation which although it contains an element of truth is likely to provoke a row.
 With these scenes flashing before my eyes I decided to retrace my route back to the start - a mile distant. Being up early and with the weather the way it was I could be sure that no one would have been out and so picked it up. I walked back to Burscough scanning the ground as I went - I checked every part of the route in a state of urgent misery. I stumbled over a tree root badly bruising my knee; a crashed into a low branch (which I didn't see because I was too intent on looking at the ground) grazing my forehead. The appalling weather became even more appalling but I hardly noticed it in my quest to find the phone.No joy. I returned to the point where I made the discovery of loss all the time searching. Fruitless. So there was nothing more I could reasonably do but continue the walk I planned.
 Dishevelled, distracted and dislocated I checked over the route in a mood completely opposite to when I set out 75 minutes earlier. The weather improved somewhat and there was much to interest along the way but I couldn't say I enjoyed the walk.
 Later at home I phoned Katherine who was just going into a lecture. She hadn't noticed my mobile but would check after the session. When she did she found my mobile where it had slipped out of my fleece pocket to under the seat. REFIEF! JOY! And a metaphysical question; Why does God do things like that? Like Schrodinger's Cat my mobile phone was lost in an alternative universe as a punishment for my self satisfaction. Unaccountably I asked Katherine not to tell her Mum.
 Tuesday 2nd November. Well what do you know - the first episode of "The Trip" Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's new comedy series was titled "The Inn at Whitewell" and features The Inn at Whitewell - there could only be one. Even while we were there two weeks ago a camera team came through with a well known broadcaster to do a piece on the terrace. My advice is you'd better make the most of Lancashire's best kept secret - the Bowland Forest before the crowds come in. 
On Saturday John and I passed a momentous milestone - our 100th walk was published in the Blackpool Gazette. When we look back to the way the relationship started it is a miracle. Craig Fleming who edits the Saturday supplement "Life!" for the Gazette approached us about six months after the website started and asked if we were interested in submitting walks. Of course we were but a misunderstanding where he was waiting on us to do something and we were waiting on him to do something led to a break in communication. It was Craig who eventually got back in touch and it turned out he had a pressing reason; he needed to set up a reliable source of copy for his colleagues while he took a leave of absence. So it was that we launched at the end of November 2008 and the rest, as they say, is ...
Craig gave us parameters that we were happy to work within. Our routes should be within resonable distance of Blackpool. Well that's Lancashire and what we did and continue to do. Having the Gazette as our partner confered two other benefits. First we kept the maps to illustrate the routes which was a big boon since we did not have the resources to put on OS maps. Secondly we could put on the pdf files of the Gaztte pages as printer friendly versions. So all in all we have benefited greatly from Craig's persistence. And today we passed 45000 hits.
 
19th October Tuesday. This day is historic. Today Eileen became a Dotcom walker. Here is the picture to prove it.
The outing was to Dunsop Bridge and we had a good turn out. I was not going to inflict the full walk on Eileen. I saved that for my friends. The route I chose is one that has earned the nickname "Brian's nemisis". This is because two years ago on a cold, wet, windy day in November  Brian needed a great deal of encouragement to scale the steep incline up Mellor Knoll.The experience was seared into his memory. Since then whenever I make arrangements for walks I make a point of describing them as "flat". Of course two years of "flat" walking means that the steep incline was not in least bit bothersome for Brian. Mind you in the last four weeks he and Mary have become the proud grandparents of baby Jack and I have no doubt he feels as if he could fly over Mellor Knoll - not even the woes of Liverpool FC can diminish his happiness. 
 
A great feature of the walk are the stepping stones across the Hodder at the Inn at Whitewell. They strand a lovely reach of the river and saved us a good half hour's extra walking. Back in September they were well and truly submerged which shows what a wet August we had and what a dry autumn has just passed. 
 
Eileen probably got the entirely wrong impression of the Dotcoms when SATNAV finally brought her to the Inn. The Inn at Whitewell doesn't do lunches  - it does "luncheon" instead. No we do not normally eat as grand as we did today - but somehow it seemed an occasion. Between us we might have come up with a dozen reasons to celebrate - the safe arrival of a grandchild, recent retirement, walking Offa's Dyke Path, improving fitness and health; or simply being out in a lovely countryside with good companions - and the wife too, of course! 
 
Friday 8th October. Yesterday John and I took our first walk together minus Dotcoms for I don't know how long. In the beginning it was just us two and recuperative walks in the countryside - not even a website to distract us. We decided on Worden Park, Leyland and here we stumbled across what must be a shining examples of "the Big Society" which the Prime Minister David Cameron keeps banging on about.
 
After strolling past the formal garden and checking out the maze, we walked through the
stable yard to start the walk proper. This was when we noticed the walled garden.
 
Both of us were familiar with Worden Park having visited it in past years on family outings, but this feature was one that neither of us had previously seen close up. We were drawn to its entrance.
 A young woman, sensing our curiosity asked if she could help us. "Is this open to
the public?" we enquired. In answering us, Sarah explained that the garden was undergoing improvement and restoration through a partnership project between South Ribble Borough
Council and a charity involving young adults with learning disabilities.The more Sarah
talked about the project, the more she enthused, detailing forthcoming events - half term activities planned for later in the month, a community open day on 29th October and from
4th December Christmas wreath workshops (for which booking is essential).[Follow links for
the walled garden onwww.brothersofcharity.org.uk or tel: 07834480375 ]  It was impossible not to be impressed with her energy and the scope of the project under her supervision. When she had to be called away a volunteer, David, showed us around pointing out its features - a vinery, a melon pitch, raised beds, vintage brick built sheds - we spent a fascinating quarter of an hour in his company and were sorry to we had to depart.
 
Earlier in one of the rooms at the hall we happened on a group of ladies making patchwork quilts for the wounded soldiers from Afghanistan. Wall garden project/quilt project part of a big society - far, far bigger than any bonus a city banker sees as an entitlement. Let's hope activities like these survive the cuts.
 
Wednesday 6th October:
 
At 2.00pm on Monday afternoon Malcolm, Don, Andy B and I went for a paddle in the sea at Prestatyn.
We had just completed the 182 mile Offa's Dyke Path that hugs the Welsh Border from Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow. It had taken us 12 days averaging at 15 miles per day. We were tired but rather pleased with ourselves. The weather which had severely disrupted the Ryder Cup in Cardiff did not take too long to catch up with us and there were a couple of days when we received a drenching but those aside,we enjoyed mainly clear days - and when we took our paddle it was a lovely sunny day.
 
Jim joined us for the first three days to Hay-on-Wye and his good company launched us into the remaining 120 miles. With him we crossed the Black Mountains on a superb ridge walk from Pandy to Hay where Sue was waiting to whisk him away for a long weekend in Bath. He and Sue caught up with us later in the walk near Welshpool and kindly brought back some of our dirty washing, and then quickly regretted the offer on the drive home when it began to hum to them.
 
We rather wished Jim, a retired policeman, could have been with us when we encountered MR VERY ANGRY near Knighton. We were on a short road section about a mile outside the town, walking in single file with Andy in front. As we approached a bend a small saloon careered around it at high speed. As it passed us Andy shrugged his shoulders in a gesture that was meant to convey "you need to take more care". The driver soon 100 yards behind us, slammed on his brakes, paused, and then in an erratic manner reversed his car back towards us almost ramming Don and Malcolm into the hedge.He emerged. In his early thirties, head shaven and stockily built he was Mr VERY ANGRY.
 
"HAVE YOU GOT A F**KING PROBLEM WITH MY DRIVING? HAVE YOU A F**KING PROBLEM?" he opened rhetorically. "WHO THE F**K DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? F**KING DICKHEADS!" He then proceeded to a more threatening mode. "COME ON THEN - I'LL TAKE THE F**KING LOT OF YOU ON." We four stared at him rather nonplussed. "YOU MAKE ME F**KING SICK, YOU F**KING SMUG B**TARDS," he continued his tirade. There was another threat to take us all on and smash our faces. He had worked himself into a proper lather. "I'M ON F**KING MEDICATION FOR ANGER MANAGEMENT AND IT'S NOT F**KING WORKING." At this we thought it wise to move off. He was still screaming abuse as we crossed a stile and resumed the path. We were fearful for the next person he encountered.
Luckily Mr VERY ANGRY was the exception - all of our other people encounters were friendly ones. We met Geoffery and Anne who were on the trail to Knighton, Julian from Cardiff who like us was Prestatyn bound, Rob McBride who was conducting an ancient tree census for the woodland trust, (see www.ancienttreehunt.org.uk ) and Paul Broadbent, a bookbinder,  the son-in-law of Mrs Price our landlady of our last B&B, Plas Penucha.
 And this brings me onto an essential element in the success of the trip. In any long distance walk there are two main logistical considerations - accommodation and baggage. If you decide to camp then you carry everything you need on your back. For Andy, Malcolm, Don and me all around the 60ish mark this was not an option. In staying at B&Bs you can still carry baggage but it is far nicer to have baggage carried between your stops. Now we could have arranged this in-house but it would have entailed many hours on the phone. Instead we chose a specialist company to do it for us. An internet trawl came up with Byways Breaks, a Liverpool company run by Carolyn Yates. Not only was she very competitive against other like companies, but she was speedy and efficient. Carolyn planned out our trail and sorted out some wonderful places for us to lodge. Moreover the kindness and hospitality of the owners could not have been bettered.Indeed as each day passed we looked forward to what newdelight awaited us in the evening.
 
We stayed in a converted pub in Pandy and had it to ourselves, ancient farmhouses near Cwm Trefonen and Froncysyllte, two old coaching inns,a stately 19th century house near
Welshpool and on the last evening, almost as a special treat - Plas Penucha, a 16th century country house with extensions styled during the period of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the 20th century. Our gracious hostess Mrs Price informed us that her grandfather had been a leading Liberal MP of his day (late 19th century) and that
Lloyd-George had stayed there. As we sipped our wine in the oak panelled library each of us was allowed to speculate whether we were sleeping in the room where the Welsh Wizard himself slept.
 
We had a fierce debate about what to vote as "Digs of the walk" and in the end decided to remain undecided - it would be too unfair to put the accommodation into a league table. What we were agreed about was that we all owed Carolyn Yates of Byways Breaks ( www.byways-breaks.co.uk) our gratitude for her part in what was an outstanding experience. Offa's Dyke Path is a beautiful trail and it is something of a challenge to walk it but Carolyn's meticulous service made the walk a holiday. (Please don't tell Eileen!)
 
Wednesday 22nd September: It was my turn to forget my boots this week when the Dotcoms met at Towneley Hall yesterday. Fortunately I was wearing my trail shoes, which although became rather muddy, allowed me to participtate. I suppose I was somewhat distracted with John still in hospital (no operation yet - still too much swelling) and final preparations for the Offa's Dyke Way to be completed. Indeed it was doubtful whether I would do the Tuesday walk at all. In the event I was very glad I did averting a near disaster - GPS Dave had based his route on the wrong pub. The pub GPS Dave had keyed into his route has now been demolished. This did not dawn on me until we were 4 miles into the walk and nearing Crown Point, two miles away from the Ram Inn, Cliviger. A swift route change and a sudden change in pace allowed us to reach "The Dotcom Walkers' 2009 Pub of the Year" and hour later than I intended. Once again the staff provided excellent service and the Dotcoms gave it a high approval rating.
 
After lunch we had a browse around St John's Churchyard opposite which has a number of noteworthy residents. Of particular interest was Jerry Dawson, goalkeeper for Burnley FC and England who played for the club between 1907 and 1929. In 1914 Burnley reached the FA cup final but Dawson, the automatic choice for goalkeeper, realised he was unfit and asked his manager to replace him on the team sheet. In an age before substitutes he felt he had to give his team mates the best possible chance. Burnley went on to win and in recognition of his noble gesture Jerry was awarded a winner's medal. Almost in keeping with his altruism, he appears low down on the headstone below other family members.
Returning to Towneley the Dotcoms stopped in their tracks outside a garage. The householder was at work painting a mural on its back wall. His subject was a Canaletto view of Venice.
"It's the first time I've tried this," he reported to us. Well you don't say! Given his inexperience it seemed to me he was making a pretty good fist of it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
This evening the Offa's Dyke contingent are off to Chepstow. You may find out about that in two weeks - if I'm still standing.
 
Sunday 19th September: "In 40 years you'll be doing this!" I said to my guest Matt, a 26 year old from Chicago who joined the senior citizens outing to Croston on Tuesday. And as if to underline the nature of the company he had elected to join, GPS Dave announced he had forgotten his boots. He rejected my offer of trail boots half a size too
small, and instead chose to walk in sandals. 12 of us altogether set out for Mawdesley which given the weather earlier that morning was a good turn out. At 9.00am it was sheeting it down; yet once again the day turned out fine - "Tuesday Weather" is what John calls it. In over four years of walking together we have very rarely received a soaking.
 
Matt, a friend of my son's from the time when he studied in North Carolina, seemed to enjoy
his foray into the English countryside with 10 old geezers and an old geezer's wife. Naturally we introduced him to Ye Olde English pub - the Black Bull at Mawdesley, complete
with attractive landlady, Kate, who gave back as good as she got when collecting the Dotcoms' lunch order. By the bar I found a recent issue of "Alecry" the West Lancs CAMRA
magazine which included a quiz set by Lancashire Walks. Coincidentally one of the questions was about the Black Bull, Mawdesley. All in all quite an outing for a day that started so gloomily. Let's hope that Matt will be doing something like in 40 years time.
 
Thursday's weather turned out better than forecast too, but Jim, Malcolm and I declined Andy B's suggestion of a sunrise walk from the Nick of Pendle to the summit. Instead we met him at an altogether more sensible time of 9.30. (Don would have been there too had my daughter passed on his message of the previous evening.) In recent weeks these additional walks have been more earnest because next week Malcolm, Don, Andy B and I are going to start walking the Offa Dyke's Way. Jim is joining us for the first three days. We have been in training. Last week we did a 15 mile yomp from Kettlewell across to Malham Tarn and back. While we are looking forward to pitting our stamina against a national trail we know that it will be a test us for all of us except Don, who has done the Coast to Coast; everything after day six will be a walk into the unknown.
 
On the family front John, my son,broke his ankle this weekend playing football. The
fracture is a serious one and will require surgery to fix it; there is no knowing when the
procedure can be carried out- possibly Tuesday. Certainly It looks like his season is
over. He may have to take his exercise in a more sedate form - like walking for example.
Visiting him in hospital we noticed Trevor, a former colleague of mine, recovering from a half hip replacement in the next bed. His niece is married to John's boss. Small world as they say. Let's wish both John and Trevor have a speedy recovery.
 
Monday 13/09/10 Yesterday the fellwalking club went to the Eastern Lake District. I found myself leader of the A group.Andy W and another member Jean elected to come with me GPS Dave who had just returned from a break in the Alps had provided me with a suggested route that took us across from Shap to Askham. Oddly enough though all three of us have wide experience of walking in the Lakes for the most part the route took us through countryside
none of us had much visited. Added to this the weather was lovely. A rather unusual thing
occured at Rosgill, a hamlet a mile or so from Shap. We had reached a point where we decided to have a break and after trying to find a bench, decided upon a plastic grit container.
There was just enough room for the three of us to sit. After a few minutes the householder
from the cottages opposite came across and said, "You can carry on sitting there if you like, but if you would like a cup of tea, a sit down and a great view come across." Perhaps slightly bemused by the unexpectedness of this invitation we followed him into his kitchen. The great view was across the valley north westwards and we soon had a brew in our hand.
 
Our host was one Nick Lindwall a 61 year old truck driver, although he seemed to all of us to have been far too well spoken to just be a truck driver. He was curious to as to who we were and I explained about the Norwest Fell Walking Club. "Do you walk yourself?" I asked him. "You may be sorry you asked that question," he replied. He then proceeded to tell us his rather extra ordinarystory. Sometime last year he became so exasperated with the Government he wrote Gordon Brown a letter expressing his disgust. He then decided to deliver it in person by walking from Rosgill to London. That's over 300 miles! His route was a straightforward one - down the A6. He maintained a brisk pace - a march as he described it and stayed mainly in Premier Inns where he could be assured of a bath. Border Television not surprisingly found his undertaking newsworthy and filmed him at different stages, especially at Downing Street, where he reached the steel security railings and handed over the letter. I think Nick said this errand to drop off a letter took him two weeks averaging 25 miles a day. He has plans to deliver another letter to the coalition - this time congratulating it on the job it's doing. And after that he hopes to recreate the feat of his great grandfather who walked from Aberdeen to London. Somehow Jean, Andy and I thought that Nick was unlikely to have been a Guardian reader but we admired him for his single minded determination.
 
Sunday 29th August. So we have arrived at the end of summer. In another life I was a teacher in Burnley, which until four years ago had its own school holiday pattern. Schools would break up for summer during the first week in July and return in the second week in August. I never quite adjusted to it. "Missed the Glorious 12th again," I would mutter as set off for East Lancs on the first day of the school year.
 
There is no formal programme for the Dotcoms during school summer holidays; instead there are "arrangements". Depending on who's around forays are made into Lake and Dale. In general these are longer, higher and more demanding than Tuesday walks - and there is no pub lunch.
 
We kicked off with Coniston at the end of July. Malcolm, Don, Jim, Andy B and I were out for that. The forecast was dire but we reached the top of Dow Crag without waterproofs. I said to Jim, "I regard every minute without rain a bonus." Well that did it of course. More or less from that moment it began to pour down. By the time we reached the Old Man every tourist was heading down and we weren't long in joining them. As has frequently happens in these situations Malcolm's experience took over. We crossed Brim Fell and descended to Lever Water by a fairly precipitious path that would have been easy to miss in the claggy rain.
 
Malcolm was not able to join us on the next jaunt to Keld but Alison was. For Don and Alison who at separate times have completed the Coast to Coast this was a trip down memory lane. Keld is a rather special place for walkers since it lies on the crossroads of two long distance paths - the already mentioned C2C and the daddy of them all - the Pennine Way.
 
Again lunch was a sodden affair in the lee of a shooters' hut above Gunnerside Gill. By the time we reached the village though the day had improved immeasurably. The best thing about that day, aside from the fellowship of being out with friends in beautiful surroundings, was the view Don, Jim and I were treated to on the way back as we drove over the watershed towards Kirkby Stephen. 
 
I missed the next walk - Eileen whisked me away on a holiday in Turkey. Don, Jim and Alison met up with Malcolm and his wife, Kate, in the north Lakes with the purpose to scale Skiddaw. At least this is how I left it before my holiday. When I phoned Malcolm on my return I discovered there was an extra element. Don had brought along Paul.
 
The last time Paul featured in this blog was in February when he decided (sensibly) not to climb Pendle to the top, but instead head back down in the company of Brian and Elaine. In the past Paul has had heart problems that impose limitations on what he is able to manage. Yet on 11th August Paul reached the top of Skiddaw. From Paul's perspective Don had conveyed the impression that they were out for a stroll around Keswick. Goodness knows what went through his mind when it dawned on him that he was in the company of walkers intent on a serious expedition.
 
I have heard Alison's, Jim's and Malcolm's account of how Paul got to the summit of Skiddaw. In this they were all consistent - Paul struggled but Paul made it. It is hard for anyone to get to the top of a mountain so in view of his medical history Paul's is a remarkable achievement. Just as remarkable is the fine judgement of Malcolm, Kate, Jim, Don and Alison that allowed him to try. Of couse there is another way of looking at it - they were just selfish b**tards and were not going to allow Paul to spoil a day out in the hills.
 
I heard most of this from Jim and Alison last Wednesday when we walked the Langdale Pikes - all of them. Malcolm, Don and Andy B and not forgetting Paul were otherwise disposed. Ours  was an open ended outing - we decided to get up to Stickle Tarn and then take it from there depending on time and weather. As it turned out the weather was just about perfect and in choosing the central fells were treated to a 360 degree view of the high fells of the district.
 
On reaching Stickle Tarn we were confronted by the sheer cliff of Pavey Ark. Now what happened next hadn't been planned though it had crossed my mind we might attempt Jack's Rake if conditions allowed and my companions were up for it.  Jack's Rake is a rocky traverse across the face of Pavey Ark running from right to left and involving about 400 feet of ascent. It is much more of a climb than a walk. Wainwright writes "Jack's Rake is just about the limit that the fellwalker reasonably may be expected to attempt." The conditions were fine and my companions were up for it. We climbed Pavey Ark by way of Jack's Rake.
 
I had been up Jack's Rake about four times previously but the last occasion was ten years ago just as the fells were being opened following the foot and mouth crisis. Then Jamie, Mark and I had to disinfect out boots before heading up Stickle Ghyll. There were a few moments on Wednesday when I had to remind myself that it was my idea to climb Jack's Rake; but when Jim led us over the last 100m to the summit I experienced the wonderful euphoria that comes out of meeting a difficult challenge and overcoming it. Alison and Jim felt it too. And I sincerely hope that back on 11th August Paul had the same feeling.
 
 
 
 
 
Monday 09/08/10 There are some places you need to return to again and again to remind
yourself just how lovely they are. Upper Wharfdale is one such place and where the club went
yesterday. After a doubtful morning the sun broke through in the afternoon making the scene near Buckden truly beautiful - that combination of fell and wood and river which never fails to lift the spirit. It was a favourite spot of the writer J.B. Priestley whose ashes are scattered in the churchyard at Hubberholme. We had gone into the church for a looksee and to spot the Thompson mice, trademark of the pew makers, the Thompson brothers of Kilburn. Alison found six before we walked on to the George catching it just before it closed for the afternoon. There we discovered that the Buck Inn at Buckden had closed indefinitely with the last tennants suddenly leaving for want of decent custom - a weather related economic failure. This intelligence caused some consternation amongst the fellwalkers especially the Cuttle brothers who extended their walk to Kettlewell arranging with GPS Dave to be picked up there because they will not brook tea after a day in the hills.
 
Earlier at Cray we noticed that preparations were being made for a fell race which we surmised was the Buckden Pike fell race. We decided to hang around and watch the first junior race - under 9s. Under 9s! Many people might regard a fell race involving children under 9 as a form of abuse. Of course they were not required to run to the pike and back - just to a marshall in a field corner about 400metres up the fellside. It was enjoyable to watch, especially as they steamed back to the finish and the warm encouragement of the small crowd of supporters. It was striking how much this sporting event was a social one too - a remnant of community life almost utterly lost in towns and cities.
 
Monday 26th July. On Wednesday of last week the Dotcoms concluded the summer term with a walk to Paythorne from Gisburn. It was a good turn out - 14 walking plus one more for lunch at the Buck Inn, a most friendly establishment with excellent food and beer. Everything in fact to put the Dotcoms in a good mood for the summer holidays.
 
Last week was one of life changing significance for my household. On Tuesday Katherine graduated from Liverpool University. This was done at great ceremony at the Philamonic Hall. The day was made even more memorable by the weather which, according to one taxi driver, was reported as one of the wettest ever recorded in the city. Before the ceremony many a bedraggled graduand had to be straightened up by an usher before collecting their degree from the Vice Chancellor. Mortar boards and gowns are not the best apparel on a wet day in Liverpool. It was still bucketing down early evening as we enjoyed a celebratory meal with Eileen's sister, brother-in-law, nephew and nephew's partner in an Italian restaurant opposite the waterfront. Later on the way home our train was delayed 40 minutes at Wavertree when a safety check had to be carried out on the line owing to weather related factors. We crawled wearily into our beds just before midnight.
 
Then on Wednesday Eileen went into work for the last time so that was another BIG DAY. For 34 out of 36 years teaching she had worked at the same high school in Preston so it was potentially an emotionally charged day, though I must state she held herself together remarkably well. Of course there are many aspects of the job she is sorry to leave - not least in her role as year head where she developed a wonderful rapport with the youngsters in her care and their parents too. But against this is the ever increasing clamorious and unrealistic demands exerted by central government and insisted by OFSTED which took away the enjoyment of teaching. Too much time watching your back and not enough devoted to tending to what is before you.
 
So now Eileen has reached the blessed isles of retirement and can look forward to coming out with me and the Dotcoms on many a walk over hill and down dale...well,er,... WATCH THIS SPACE!
 
Sunday 18th July. On Thursday John and I went to Beacon Fell Country park to check out a
walk that will appear in the Blackpool Gazette in September. Beacon Fell is one of those
infuriating places that look close on the map yet seem to defy all efforts to reach them -
like a pole in the centre of a maze. Bad news on my copy for the Gazette since a third of
my 750 words will be used up in attempting to describe a straightforward way to get to the
start of the walk.
 
The walk John and I did took us across the fell with a great view of John's favourite hill
- Parlick Pike - and then a return following the River Brock. It was a walk we did with
Bill two years ago, so we knew of the memorial oak dedicated to the memory of Cyril Spiby.I never met Cyril but knew of him through a number of his walking guides to Lancashire which were published in the 1970s. For a number of years he was Chair of the Preston Group of the Ramblers Association. When we visited that spot with Bill he seemed to recall that Cyril was a postman which when you think of it is a great job for someone who loves walking. I find I have a great affection for Cyril since it was through him I came to discover the loveliness of Lancashire's countryside even before I became acquainted with the Lakes and Dales. On my desk I look at a copy of "The Round Preston Walk" which the Preston Group of the RA put out 25 years ago on the occasion of the RA's jubilee year. Its foreword was written by Cyril a year before his death. The oak tree is growing well in a lush wood by a lovely stream.
 
Monday 5th July. Don and I made the very grave mistake of taking what GPS Dave told us at  face value. "What do we need to bring for the weekend?" "Well other than your tent and  sleeping bag just a knife, fork and spoon - we can sort you out with everything else." We  had been roped in to helping him at the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (see www.slmm.org.uk ) an event  he organises. Now in its 32nd Year this two day mountain navigation race took place over  the past weekend at Wet Sleddale near Shap. It attracts competitors from all over the  country testing their skills and stamina by running or walking over wide tracts of the  Lakeland Fells mainly in teams of two. Given that about a thousand people enter in the  event GPS Dave needs a team of helpers to assist him in staging it. This is where Don and I  came in - as lowly marshals.
 
On Friday evening and Saturday morning we were placed on car park duties along with Paul, 
John, Karen and Bob and their boys. Luckily we had a large space to work with but even so I was surprised how it filled  up. A large marquee had been set up as the event centre and by mid evening we were  directing competitors to it for registration. By now the complexities of managing a  mountain marathon were beginning to dawn on me.
 
To begin with there were seven classes for the teams differentiated by distance and heights of ascent. These adopt the nomenclature of Lakeland fells; Scafell being the most demanding  and Beda fell (designated for walkers), the least. The routes had been laid down by the  Planner, Brian Dearnaley, and consisted of 9 or 10 of checkpoints which must be visited in  the order indicated on a control card. There was also a solo event, Klets, for elite fell  runners. Their checkpoints could be visited in any order which the runners considered most 
advantageous.
 
Years ago controls were verified by a punch clicker that left a pattern on the card to be  checked on return at the end of the race. Now, unsurprisingly, new technology had allowed  verification to be managed electronically. At registration the competitors are given a 
small SI card which is attached on a wrist band. This is then dipped into an electronic 
station at the checkpoint and registers with a beep. At the finish a station is linked into 
a computer and the information from the card is downloaded to provide a printout of the 
competitor's performance as well as feeding into a results list.
 
Returning now to the Planner, Brian, and the logistics involved in setting out courses.  Although he is able to use controls in more than one class nevertheless he still has to  position up to 70 checkpoints. A fine judgment has to be made, based on past experience, to ensure each 
is sufficiently challenging for the class. Then the position needs to be checked and  rechecked; and finally the station has to be put in place a short time before the event takes place. (And 
of course collected afterwards.) Once again hi-tech has given considerable assistance in 
this process with the application of GPS but nonetheless this is no substitute the leg work 
necessary to ensure a course works.
 
Over a two day event the location of "mid camp" is significant consideration. It has to be 
reasonably accessible by road to allow the service vehicles onto the site. It has to  provide a good camping ground for 500 plus small tents and have a clean supply of water.  This year it was at the top of Longsleddale a beautiful valley off the A6 and rather remote.  And this was where Don and I had our bone of contention with GPS Dave.
 
On Saturday morning having completed our car park duties we went up to the start to watch 
the competitors as they set off. They had been handed their maps a short while before and 
had made their way to the top of a rise. Overseeing proceedings was Chris Hall the  Controller who is responsible for the management of the event. An odd thing occurred as the  teams crossed the race line - nearly all seemed to kneel down, and with their control card  which they had just been issued, and plotted out a route to pick up their checkpoints. Once  satisfied with their route they set out for the day. Fortunately the good weather we  enjoyed on Saturday allowed this to be done in relative comfort.
 
Returning to the now deserted venue it became impressed on us to take down our tent as 
quickly as possible and travel across to Longsleddale in Paul's landrover. This was a drive 
of forty minutes or so delayed by road repair works a short distance above the church. (One of those annoying little hitches that cannot be factored in to the planning of an event).Once 
we were on the site of mid camp our tent was quickly erected by the events team and  instantly commandeered as Mid camp control centre where Andrew Leaney set up his lap top  ready to process the first competitors who (remarkably in my eyes) had already arrived.
 
Don  and I were therefore tentless and carless and a good five miles from any pub. We had no  food of our own and to top it all we found to our chagrin that after we went for a walk to kill some time that the beer that  was on sale by the outside caterers had run out. For the remaining part of the afternoon we  took over the final station by "our" tent. Being a marshal when the beer has run out on a hot afternoon in July is not a great thing -  for some reason returning teams become rather disgruntled when you inform them this  unpalatable fact and seem to blame you before trudging wearily away to put up their tent. Early evening Andrew  announced that all but a handful of the field had been processed freeing Don and I to see  if we could scrounge a plate to eat the food mustered up by one of the other helpers.
 
At 8.00 Chris Hall held a meeting to brief the team on the morrow's arrangements. There 
were three key times. At 6.45am the day's control cards would become available. At 7.15 the 
chasing start would commence where the leaders in each of the classes would set out followed by those competitors within 45 minutes of the their time. At 8.05 until 8.30 the rest of the field "the mere  mortals" as one competitor described them, would follow in a mass start.
 
Now Chris and Andrew and GPS Dave tell me that all those details were in the information 
sent out before the event. Yet between then and 6.40 the next day each of us were asked 
repeatedly "What time tomorrow?" or "When can we collect our control cards?" but maybe 
that's what happens when the beer runs out and there is nothing else to do except pester 
the marshals.
 
A thousand people turned in to their sleeping bags at the top of Long Sleddale on Saturday evening - most of them  well before ten. Had it not been for the marshals drinking through their hidden stashes of  alcohol you might have heard a pin drop on that site. Don and I who had not brought our own  sufficed on a can of beer and some wine and retired early.
 
Sunday dawned grey and I at 5.45 I resumed a duty I had attempted the previous evening - 
ensuring the portaloos were adequately supplied with toilet paper. It is one thing to run 
out of beer but to run out of toilet paper too...
 
At 6.45 the controls were given out and the great camp started its disappearing act. Over 
the next hour and 45 minutes it simply dissolved. As arranged at 7.15 across the beck Chris and  part of the team were supervising the chasing start. Meanwhile GPS Dave, John, Paul and  Andy W were collecting the cans and cartons that had been bought on site by the lucky 
competitors who had arrived early enough. Bit by bit the holding area for the mass  start began to fill up. At 8.05 the field poured through starting lines and immediately  divided into three distinct streams. One breaking up the steep slopes leading up to Rough  Crags. A second line headed up the valley to the west of the Sprint and the third line  swung back across the river through what remained of the camp and began to scale the equally steep  sides of Sleddale Fell. It was a stirring sight accentuated by the relative muteness of the  throng. No happy chatter - just grim determination to do what the control card demanded and get back to Wet Sleddale as quickly as possible.
 
Once again Don and I found ourselves scrounging plates (and cursing GPS Dave) to have a 
hurried breakfast. Then we broke camp with remarkable alacrity. Paul in his landrover drove 
Andrew back to his car at Sadgill so he could return to the Event Centre and set up the 
finish. Then he came back for Don and me and helped us take down the tent. By ten we were 
back in Marquee watching the arrival of the first finishers. However by this time Wet 
Sleddale was living up to its name.
 
Sunday turned out to be grim. Strong winds swept drenching rain across the fells to deliver 
an extra test to the competitors. The contrast with the previous day could not have been 
more extreme. No matter how good the kit no one escaped being completely and utterly 
soaked. Visibility became severely restricted hampering further the teams and solos as they 
forced themselves around the controls.
 
And yet here's the thing as more were processed through the finish and had their kit 
checked, the atmosphere in the marquee seemed to buzz with ... well..happiness. Of course 
people who compete in mountain marathons are a tough breed whose idea of luxury is a 
windowless bothy in some remote Scottish glen and what's a little rain after all; and then 
of course there was the natural euphoria of meeting and overcoming the challenge of the 
courses devised by the Planner; but it seemed more than that. They were people who had been  in touch with a life affirming experience. I doubt if anyone of them had ever watched day 
time TV. While I have always admired fell runners on Sunday afternoon I was somewhat  envious of their fellowship.
 
For GPS Dave, and Chris and especially Andrew, the weather created a number of awkward  problems. Dave's big concern was the marquee which at times threatened to balloon off its pegs. For the best part of two hours Don, Paul, Andy W and others battled to remedy some of  the shortcomings in its erection. There were just as serious consequences at the finish  control since rainwater and laptops do not combine very well. An improvised arrangement  using bin liners and an umbrella enable Andrew to continue his essential work.
 
Around about two there was an informal award ceremony when Bob Saunders, whose generous  support has helped establish the event, congratulated the prize winners. And then gradually  the big tent began to thin as competitors drifted back to their cars or camper vans and  departed. Don and I concluded our involvement with a bit of table clearing and outside  rubbish collection. We made our farewells and resolved that next year we would not be duped  by GPS Dave's minimum kit requirements of knife, fork and spoon but would enter the event itself where would have a better chance of survival!
 
Thursday 1st July. Yes it's my fault - no sooner do I put the word "drought" onto the blog look what happens. Thunder and lightning; raining cats and dogs; and weather systems
stacked up in the Atlantic to spoil every Gala, village fete, wedding, sports day,
graduation ceremony, barbeque from here until the end of August. I hope those of you who
have found yourselves uttering those consoling words "well the garden needs it" are
satisfied. Added to this change of weather GPS Dave, Val, Don and I will find ourselves
under canvass this weekend helping at a mountain marathon event. Great!
 
However the change in weather suits the mood of the nation following England's exit from
the World Cup. I suppose we ought to thank the Germans for putting us out of our misery.
Now we can relax and actually enjoy the football. But I do feel sorry for the poor blighter
who is stuck with a million Cross of St George flags that he won't be able to shift until
the European nation's football finals in two years.
 
I'm not much of a sports fan so national humiliation on the playing field does not much
affect me as it does some of the Dotcoms or my son who told me on Sunday morning that he
couldn't sleep the previous night because he was worried about the outcome of the match.
Many things can disturb my sleep but a football result is not one of them. In fact this
week I have been paid one of the nicest compliments ever.
 
Through the website we had a request for a link with a recently opened outdoor shop in
Tarleton. By and large  using the website for advertising is something John and I have
avoided and besides in a "gentleman's agreement" with the Blackpool Gazette a condition of
using their maps is that we remain non-commercial which now that I think of it is quite
flattering - this website a threat to the advertising revenues of Johnson Press.
 
Anyway in an exchange of e-mails, the shop's proprietor Jason Andrews wrote this: "I was
hoping I might get a mention on your blog." (!!!) Well how else could I respond after that with Jason implying I actually have an audience? I took the earliest opportunity to meet this persipacious person. I found him at work on his website (www.trek-outdoors.co.uk) in the shop on Church Road, close to Hesketh Lane, Tarleton. After introducing myself we enjoyed a 20 minute conversation about his plans for the business and how he sees it developing. It was refreshing to meet someone with a positive outlook in the current economic climate. Another thing quite evident was Jason's knowledge of his stock was based on his extensive outdoor experience. For customers visiting the shop I could see they would benefit from an excellent personal service. As the son of a small businessman I know something of the challenges that face a new venture like Jason's Trek-Outdoors and wish him every success.
 
And since I'm in the mood to promote worthy causes let me finally recommend a book I read
while I have been researching Lord Leverhulme for the walks we do from Rivington. Roger
Hutchinson's "The Soap Man" (Pub: Birlinn 2003) tells the story of Leverhulme's connection
with the Western Isles in his twilight years.It is a remarkable story and superbly told.  
 
Friday 25th June As regular readers of this blog may suspect it has taken me quite some
time to readjust following my week on the Western Isles.It was such a good trip,in the
company of great friends and the culmination of so many months of planning that everything since has felt a bit like "well what now?"
 
Part of "what now?" has been distracted by a number of things - great sport not the least
of it with a thrilling England versus USA played at the Congressional hearings over the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Watching Tony Hayward was a bit like seeing a seal being tossed around by a pod of killer whales before being devoured. Oddly America has no law against cruelty to CEOs. So while watching the boss of a huge multinational squirm was quite entertaining I couldn't help be struck by the self delusion of his inquisitors.Theirs is a country sees cheap petroleum as its entitlement and up until now they haven't been over bothered about how it is obtained. If the regulatory regime is so lax that it has led to the disaster in the Gulf then they only have themselves to blame.
 
Yet again the weather in the North West of England is making headlines. Unless there is
significant rainfall soon then a hose pipe ban is likely to be introduced in the next two weeks. Yep we are facing the prospect of a drought! Six months ago the western part of Cumbria had floods. Five months ago the region had snow that stuck around for weeks. It
seems that the weather no longer knows the word "temperate"; it keeps wanting to beat its own record. So now we're in the driest spell for... I think 39 years but I may be mistaken.
 
On our Tuesday walk around Stocks Reservoir the Dotcoms were able to see the
consequences of low rainfall for themselves. It was our second visit this year. When we were there in March the water level seemed well up. On Tuesday it was a different story.
Mind you this worrying state of affairs did not have a big impact on the Dotcoms - they
were fully engrossed in World Cup football. Until then England's performance had been
rather lamentable. A score draw against the USA and a no score draw against Algeria. The Dotcoms spent the entire seven mile circuit of the reservoir in animated discussion as to England's chances against Slovenia. Next week I have put on the longest walk of the programme so far... my guess is that whatever the result of the game against Germany on Sunday, the Dotcoms will not notice.
 
I note that the USA came top of the group. Good to see that the Americans are getting the
idea of what the word "world" means.  
 
Wednesday 2nd June Around about one pm on last Friday Geoff, Andy and I reached the
top of Conachair the highest point of Hirta, the main island of the St Kilda group. This was
the climax of months and years of planning and one of the great moments of our lives. Our
photo was taken by a fellow visitor, Charlie from... Scarisbrick, Lancashire! You go to the
very edge of the British Isles and bump into someone who lives just down the road.
 
St Kilda did not disappoint though it did surprise. Although the last permanent residents
were evacuated 80 years ago this year, there is a noticeable almost intrusive human
presence today. Within 5 minutes of landing it was somewhat perturbing to hear an engine
start up and then see a Landover driving on a road up to the radar station on Mullach Mór.
Since the mid 1950s there has been a Ministry of Defence post on Hirta which accounts for
the rather characterless cabins close to the pier. Moreover as a dual world heritage site
it attracts working parties of conservationists and archaeologists over the summer months.
There is even a shop! It is not Primark or Marks and Spencers but you can buy postcards and
souvenirs.
 
We had been taken to St Kilda on Orca II a 55ft motor cruiser skippered by Angus Campbell
of Kilda Cruises (see www.kildacruises.co.uk) one of two firms in Leverburgh, Harris, that
specialise in taking visitors to the archipelago. When Andy made the arrangements in
November he found he had booked the last three places for our slot. Even so making a
booking is no guarantee that you will actually get there since any trip to St Kilda is weather dependent. All week we had kept a very close eye on the forecast. Farquhar our host at Grimisdale Guest House (see www.grimisdale.co.uk) thought the wind was up on Thursday
which might have led Angus to cancel. We were mightily relieved when around 7.00pm the
phone call came through for a start the next morning. We had another flutter of anxiety
when one our the passengers told us on his previous trip they had been an hour out at sea
when a call came through that the seas at Hirta were too high to make a safe landing.
 
Orca II cruises at 18 knots and has a top speed of 29 knots, but it still takes almost
three hours to reach the islands which lie 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. Near the
end of the outward voyage I found myself wondering whether I had taken my motion sickness
pill and if I was about to have a second sighting of my breakfast. I thought the crossing
choppy but Andy, a more experienced sailor than me, said he hardly noticed it. But that's
Andy B for you.
 
Our passage did have diversion though. For the last few weeks we had been watching Monty Hall's Great Hebridean Adventure on BBC2 which included a trip to St Kilda. His companion
on that trip was Jimmy McLetchie who as previous nature warden had appeared in several episodes. Before Angus set off he had to wait for the Berneray ferry to bring his crew member which turned out to be none other than Jimmy. He proved to be a most informative and interesting man, and despite his celebrity happy to answer our countless questions.
 
The weather may have been good enough for us to go but it didn't allow us to see our
destination until about 10 miles out when Boreray appeared out of the mist. Perhaps a third
of the size of the main island Hirta, and a little lower at its highest point, 379m, it
nevertheless impresses. Two outlying stacks make it take on the shape of a dragon's head as
you sail past from the west. To the Vikings it would have seemed to be on the very edge of
the known world.
 
Beyond Boreray Hirta loomed. We rounded the huge cliffs below Oiseval to reach village bay.
We were quickly tendered ashore, and after a brief chat with the deputy warden, set off the
explore the island. St Kilda owes its dual World Heritage site status for its natural and
cultural significance. We did the natural bit first. Walking through the remains of the
village we headed up to a feature called the Gap on the skyline. This took us up 160m
through an area of "cleits" the stone built stores that can be seen all over the island. 
The Gap was well named for it provides an alarming viewpoint for looking at the tallest cliffs in the British Isles. Cliffs that are home to thousands of seabirds - mainly fulmars and kittiwakes. Seabirds that provided the human inhabitants an economy. It was from the Gap that we made our way up the steep sided slopes of Conachair and then crossed to the radar station on Mullach Mór. Although relatively easy walking it was an area of hazard in that it was guarded by Great Skuas who clearly objected to people treading on their patch. One couldn't help be reminded of Alfred Hitchcock's horror film "The Birds" as we were dive bombed. Each of us had our Tippi Hendren moment. Once by the radar station the danger receded.
 
There is a large colony of puffins on Hirta but during the time we had we were not able to
locate it. After descending to a viewpoint overlooking Dún a narrow isle so close to Hirta
hat it seems attached to it, we dropped down to the village.
 
Main Street arcs round a few hundred metres from the shore and comprises of two types of
structure - the shells of the houses from the time of the evacuation, which had been
erected in the 1860s and the much older Blackhouses the traditional dwellings of the
Hebrides. Closer to the pier six houses have been re-roofed. One serves as a museum while the others are used by members of the working parties. What was particularly moving about
the ruined houses was that in each of these was a small hand painted plaque naming the last resident to live there before they were taken off the island. By this simple means a connection was made with the lives of the St Kildans 80 years ago.
 
More poignant was the graveyard lying behind the middle of the street. Here generations of
St Kildans were buried beneath plain and unmarked headstones. Life was hard on this remote
island and not many of its folk lived to old age. Infant mortality was high with many
children succumbing to tetanus.
 
The islanders led a unique and dangerous way of life. The whole economy was based on the
harvesting of seabirds and seabirds eggs. Until the beginning of the 20th century there was
sufficient value in oil and feathers to support a community that went back hundreds of
years. To reach the birds and their eggs the men had to be highly skilled climbers risking
their lives on the high cliffs, crags and sea stacks of the island group.
 
The work of the Cragsmen was governed by the seasons and the migratory habits of the
seabirds, and particularly directed by the Parliament which convened outside the post
office. Here all the able bodied men would meet to decide upon the day's activities.
 
For the St Kildans it was a way of life that could not be sustained. By the early years of
the last century the writing was on the wall. Feathers and seabird oil no longer had a
market. One of the biggest factors in its decline was its place as a tourist attraction for
steam cruises from the mainland. The St Kildans fell in love with money to such an extent
that they made themselves unpopular in the places where they were resettled. In August 
1930 the last St Kildans were taken off Hirta and the islands were left to the birds and
the sheep.
 
Around about 4.00 we were taken off and with Angus at the helm we went across for a closer look at Boreray and its vast colonies of gannets, fulmars and kittiwakes. As well as being enthralled by a wildlife spectacle of awesome proportion, this increased our admiration for
the St Kildans of long ago who scaled the cliffs to carry out their grim harvest.
 
And then it was time to return to Leverburgh. With better visibility Andy, Geoff and I stood for a long time to watch the islands at the edge of the world slip over the horizon. (Above as feature in Blackpool Gazette)


Friday 21/05/10 Last Sunday the fellwalking club went to Shropshire. We ended up
(eventually) at Bishops Castle which is the very limit of the club's range. The venue had
been put on the programme at the suggestion of the treasurer Bob S who had picked up a
leaflet somewhere and found it appealing. A confident chap is Bob S to risk the ire of 50
club members on the basis of tourist information literature.Those fellwalkers are worse
than the Dotcoms when they feel put out and can turn positively nasty. However it did turn
out very well. Bishop's Castle was a lovely little town - a gem set in quintessential
English countryside.
 
GPS Dave and Val were back from their holiday in Switzerland. It is one of their favourite
destinations. Once, on top of Fairfield Dave spent 20 minutes trying to persuade a couple
from "down south" not to go to Austria which he regarded as being totally inferior but
instead change their booking to Switzerland. They went on their way somewhat bemused by his
fervent sales pitch. Luckily there was no repetition of last year's disaster when Dave and
Val missed their train in Paris, but the weather was not as good as they had hoped for.
This photo shows how spectacularly changeable Alpine weather can be.
 
The weather on Sunday was perfect and we found ourselves on "The Blue Remembered Hills "
trail. This is a reference to AE Housman's "A Shropshire Lad".  Poor old AE would probably
be described today as having "issues" but he certainly had a knack of expressing a sad
yearning for the past. On Sunday there was no sad yearning - just full on appreciation
for being in the present as spring moves into overdrive.
 
On television there has been a timely series with Monty Hall a marine biologist who spent
six months on North Uist as a voluntary nature warden. One of the episodes had him on St
Kilda so Geoff, Andy and I have been treated to a sneak preview of what to expect. Ash
clouds and weather permitting by this time next week we would have had our time on St Kilda
- a culmination of a long held desire to go to the very limits of our beautiful country. Monty Hall's "Great Hebridean Adventure" has been a delight to watch and even though we'll
be away I am determined we'll watch the last episode - at the Lochmaddy Hotel on...North
Uist!
 
Finally back to AE Housman who wrote one of my favourite poems:
 
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
 
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
 
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
 
By this calculation I'm soon to be down to ten and that's no room at all. So if you don't
mind I'm off now - to squeeze a little more life into my years.
 
14/05/10 Friday. Seven is a magic number and on Tuesday the Dotcoms were reduced to that by the list of authorised absences. GPS Dave and Val were away on holiday and so I became GPS Bob except I didn't have or need a GPS as we made our way along the Reelers Trail. This
section of the Witton Weavers Way took us under the M65 and into Roddlesworth and Tockholes and despite the fact that part of the route took passed "Lancashire's Waste Mountain" - the land fill site at Stanworth, all my companions found the walk enchanting. We lunched at the Rock Inn, our second visit, and once again it earned high approval ratings from the Dotcoms. (See www.The-RockInn.com ) It has an airy situation and from its car park we could easily pick out Blackpool Tower and Black Combe. Regrettably I had to impose firm discipline after Sue dared to suggest my shorts needed ironing. Blinking Dotcom Walkers! Still I soon sorted her out.
 
On Thursday there were seven of us again as we met up in Staverley. We met there so that we could convoy to Kentmere in two cars instead of four. Parking is always difficult in Kentmere and the available spaces fill up early. It seemed to me that we bagged the last two parking places so our expedition to complete the Kentmere Round got off to the best possible start. Yet another great day in the hills - weather, views, company all combined to result in a most rewarding outing. Though not included on the classic round it is difficult not to visit Thornthwaite Crag with its distinctive beacon cairn and it made a good lunch stop.
 
Later, on Harter Fell, we spotted a pair of dotterels, though we didn't know what they were at the time. They were scouring the ground for whatever dotterels feed on close to the summit cairn and seemed undaunted by our presence no more than 20 metres away. Jim B (Don's brother-in-law) was able to move in quite close to take this pic. I'm not sure if I have ever seen a dotterel before but I enjoyed looking at the pair we saw. I also enjoyed this description in my field guide; "Distinctly patterned wader with no real affinity for water." What a marvellous concept! You cannot help paraphrasing it; like - "highly qualified teacher with no real affinity for the classroom." I met a few of those in my career - they were called OFSTED inspectors. Oops...only joking!
 
Friday 07/05/10 Sometimes its an ill wind that blows nobody some good and I'm not referring
to the one that's still blowing volcanic ash from Iceland and threatening my trip to the Outer Hebrides. On Bank Holiday Monday Eileen woke up, found me in the study and announced, "I've changed my mind about going to Cheshire Oaks." I did my best to conceal my glee but
then she added, "We'll go to Boundary Mill instead." Announcements like these do not leave a
great deal of room for negotiation, but since it was promising to be a bright day I organised myself for a walk. In fact I went on a great walk from Boundary Mill, escaping quickly into the countryside and enjoying superb views of Pendle. Eileen enjoyed her shop too. Result - matrimonial harmony. It has given me an idea "Five Walks from Boundary Mill" to allow HaBs (Husbands and boyfriends) to kill time there as an alternative to reading the paper in the café.
 
On Tuesday the Dotcoms had their inaugural picnic. We have had the odd picnic before now when there hasn't been a pub on route. However for the past 15 months every week has included a pub lunch. I have to say that when I put picnic on the programme there was dissent in the ranks.Some members had clearly become too accustomed to soft and easy living. Furthermore as many were at a loss as to what to bring I felt I had to issue guidance. "Bring something for yourself and something to share." This vague guideline had predictable results. Don had a bottle of red wine in the left hand pouch of his rucksack and to balance this up had a bottle of white in the right. He also carried a pile of cheese and onion sandwiches.Brian unfortunately couldn't join us that day but nonetheless sent in 5 kilos of potato salad; Andy M brought 12 meat pies - and so did Malcolm; Paul brought 12 custard tarts; Chris brought 12 apple pies; Alison's contribution was 12 mini chocolate flapjacks. Needless to say that all of us took grub back with us. As architect of this debacle I wasn't in a position to complain about the 5 bottles of beer, bottle of bucks fizz and bottle of sparkling apple juice that I had to carry back and weighed an absolute ton.And yet for all our surplus it was a very pleasant occasion. We relaxed in lovely spring sunshine in the grounds of Sawley Abbey - good food, good wine, good company. You could be as rich as the Sage of Omaha himself and not enjoy it better. 
 
Don brought his cheese and onion sandwiches on Thursday when he, Malcolm and I went into the Howgills. Another great day in the hills. The route, of Malcolm's choosing, illustrates the
essence of walking. Over the years I have walked up and down Cautley Spout perhaps a dozen
times to or from the highest point in the range - the Calf. Malcolm's route gave us a
completely different approach and culminated with a descent along the edge of Cautley Crag.
I forget what Don and I were talking about as we followed the faint path across from Little
Dummacks, but the view as we reached the edge stopped us mid sentence.
 And there was  I thinking I knew the Howgills. Direction of travel, time of day, season, company or lack of it, all ensure that every walk is different from all the walks before. That's why I love walking. It's been a good week. 
 
Friday 30/04/10 On Wednesday Don did a very kind thing. Having borrowed a friend's tandem he rode across to my house and together we went on a cycle ride. It was my first cycle ride for for four years short of a month. In May 2006 I suffered a stroke which affected me in just one respect - it took away my left side peripheral vision. Compared to what it might have done - er like death or permanent paralysis, I consider myself lucky to have got off so lightly. However as minor as my disability is, it has affected my life profoundly. Since the day of the stroke I have never driven a car. I really did not need the DVLA to tell me that the depletion in my range of vision made it too dangerous for me to drive. They sent me for an eye test anyway and then told me I was unfit to drive.I have missed cycling more than the driving. It was something I could share with Eileen, who although not much of a walker, enjoyed forays out on the flatlands near our home. However she lacks the confidence to go out by herself and so like me, as not been on a bike since my stroke.
 
Aware of this Don has been on a project to rectify the situation and to this end has gained use of a tandem. So it was that on Wednesday we made our first ride together on a bicycle made for two. Neither of us had ever been on a tandem before. After a practise run up and down a conveniently located cycle path we set off to where Jim and Brian live about two miles away. We arrived there without mishap. Jim and Brian are next door neighbours so I roused them out to be the first to witness the possible new stage in my life - passenger on a tandem stage. It both amused and fascinated them. Instantly Jim wanted a go himself which Donald obliged. Jim then persuaded Brian to follow suit. That done Don and I set out for a fifteen mile sortie out to Croston and back. It worked out very well and I enjoyed it immensely. However there is just one snag with Don's project - Eileen. We will have to see whether she has it in her to do all the bits that the front rider has to do - steer, brake and change gear. Still she hasn't vetoed the idea - yet.
 
23/03/2010 Friday Whenever I arrange an outing with Geoff I say to my family; "Today I'm out with Geoff." This is code for "I have no idea what time I will be home." To go out with Geoff is an open ended commitment - anything could happen; we could end up anywhere. Yesterday we had a straightforward plan - a circuit of Stocks Reservoir. This was an expedition Geoff had been keen to do for some time. As it happened it worked out well for me charting a future walk of the week. It was a beautiful spring morning when we set out from School Lane car park and it stayed fine all day. Our conversation seemed to meander in the same manner as the trail we followed; our past lives as colleagues in the same school, the volcano and its fallout, other volcanoes, the ways and whims of our respective partners, the rugby club, photographs, remembrances of walks past, love, life and death. At one point Geoff asked me if I had ever visited Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh. I had not. He made a mental knot in his handkerchief to show me his photographs of some of the tombstones there which are characterized by a rather ghoulish representation of the afterlife. Ten minutes later he forgot what he made an effort to remember.So had I. We spent the next hour retracing our conversation until we re-remembered what we had jointly forgotten previously. I think this must be the equivalent of two people walking into a room and simultaneously wondering why are they there!
 
So it was a great day out and it was just a case of going back to Burnley, Manchester Road station - or so I thought. No. "We'll stop by in Newchurch to see the Witch's grave, Bob. I think we have time for that." Of course I could have said,"Don't be daft my old china - its three o'clock now." But somehow I do not like to curb my friend's enthusiasm. But I did want to make that 3.57 train. So along the back lanes we reached Newchurch in Pendle and had a quick look-see. Thankfully Geoff didn't engage in conversation with a quartet of visitors chatting at the entrance. We found the Nutter family plot - took a photo and then, "Well we better see if we can catch this train." This at 3.35 by the church clock. Any chance we might have had was drastically reduced by the traffic on Colne Road and its traffic lights. I was dropped off at 4.00. Trains run on time these days. I had an hour to wait. Geoff phoned, apologised and suggested I had a brew and I could give him some in service training on sending e mails, something he hasn't mastered yet. So ten minutes later I was in his sitting room leafing through his photos of Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh. As for the Inset that would enable Geoff to properly join the ranks of the Dotcoms - not a chance - Geoff had forgotten his password, and no amount of prompting could help him retrieve it.
 
15/04/2010 Thursday. On our Tuesday walk this week Don and I together with our wives set off down the Via Nazionale, walked up the Capitolino, walked down again, walked through to the Colosseum, walked around the Colosseum, crossed to the Palatino, dropped down into the Forum, edged round the Victor Emanuel Monument, crossed Piazza Venezia and then found a restaurant where we enjoyed our beer which we calculated was around £7.00 a pint! Had I dared to suggest to Eileen a walk of similar length in England I wouldn't have even been given a short shrift. Having said that her arthritic knee was playing up so we finished off on the open top tour bus.
 
We were in Rome for the wedding of Tony and Rachel which had taken place on the previous Saturday - a lovely occasion held at Palazzola, overlooking Lake Albano, opposite the Pope's summer palace at Castel Gondolfo. For the past 90 years the place has been used by the English College as a place of prayer and retreat. In recent times it has developed as a conference and wedding venue. (see www.palazzola.it)
 
 
Saturday dawned bright and warm and turned out to be near perfect. After the intense final preparations of the morning, family and friends gathered on the terrace before moving onto the chapel to attend the ceremony. Rachel was  respectably late, looked beautiful and happy as she and Tony, who of course looked handsome and happy, exchanged vows. The wedding meal was taken on the terrace in the late afternoon, followed by dancing and fireworks.
 
Near perfect? Well there is the sorry tale of the Best Man, Dennis. He was due to arrive on
Friday evening after spending the earlier part of the week in Lourdes on a pilgrimage with
young people from his diocese. This entailed a rather involved travel plan that was rendered
much more difficult by a transport strike in France. He spent an unscheduled night in Paris
before picking up a flight the next morning. Even then his travails were not over when the
flight he was on had to divert to Switzerland because of a passenger having been taken ill.
Dennis arrived at Palazzola early afternoon with just about enough time to change into his
suit.

All would have been well had it ended well. The problem was that Dennis wasn't well. In our
brief chance to speak to him before the ceremony he explained that it had been reported to him from members of the pilgrimage party that many of them, children and their helpers had been going down with a sickness and diarrhoea bug, and he suspected he may have picked it up. So it turned out. Poor Dennis didn't make it to the exchange of rings before he had to absent himself from the Chapel. He valiantly attempted to make some sort of comeback, but in the end withdrew altogether to his room where he was miserably sick. In a weakened state he made a reappearance around the end of the evening too delicate to even sip on water.
 
On Sunday he had sufficiently recovered to give his Best Man's speech at the farewell dinner
arranged before the guests dispersed. It was well worth waiting for - funny, warm, wise and
a perfect benediction to Tony and Rachel's wedding.
Even then Dennis's tribulations were not over. As I blog this he has been grounded by the
activities of a volcano in Iceland causing all flights into the UK to be cancelled - and out
for that matter. This is an unprecedented event in the history of British aviation; not that
is any consolation for those like Dennis stranded in airports across the world until it is
deemed safe to fly back to Britain. So a prayer to St Christopher and God speed to Dennis;
let's hope he's soon home.
 
Thursday 8th April.Yesterday was not a good day for me remembering things. First of all I forgot to pack a clean pair of underpants in my gym bag. That necessitated a diversion to Primark in the city. I cannot think of when the last time I bought myself a garment of any kind, and when I told Eileen later of this she almost purred her approval - underkecks today who knows what next - an Armani suit maybe, except I don't think Primark stock those.
 
The next thing I forgot was my mobile phone. I left it on Andy B's kitchen table. Along with Geoff we had been putting the final touches to our planned trip to the Western Isles at the end of next month. I had used my phone to book a couple of guest houses on the Uists and then forgot about it until I was on my way home. Since Andy B lives in TOP and I don't drive this had the potential for much inconvenience. It's odd but I did not think I would ever find myself in a position where I would miss having a mobile - in fact it was worse than not having underpants on. On the train, at the bus stop, when I reached home I was pining for my phone. Its something I had observed in my children but did not think would come to me. I
telephoned Andy when I arrived home mid evening and once he found it he kindly agreed to
find a way of posting it securely. In the event he and Elaine gave me a lovely surprise
when they came by this morning a dropped it off - a 70 mile round trip, much inconvenience
for Andy and Elaine but it put me out my misery.
 
The highlight of our Western Isles trip will be an excursion to St Kilda, that remote
archipelago to the west of Harris, once inhabited but abandoned in 1930. Some people choose
to celebrate their special birthdays with a holiday in the Seychelles or a shopping trip to
New York. Geoff and I both 60 this year will celebrate ours  on St Kilda with our good
friend Andy who is a little younger. Two things about St Kilda - I don't think I will have
coverage for my mobile; and I'd better remember to pack my underpants because I am
absolutely certain Primark hasn't opened a store there - yet. 
 
Thursday 01/04/10 Last week John Gillmore of BBC Radio Lancashire e mailed me to see whether John and I were interested in being interviewed for his afternoon programme. You bet I was; though John tends to hide his light under a bushel and is a little more reticent about these
things. For me I see it as another step on the way to realising my ultimate ambition of our
website taking over the world.
 
So after an exchange of e mails with "Gilly" it was arranged for John and I to go across this afternnon to the Blackburn studio to participate in the programme. If you are quick - i.e. read this within one week of today - you will be able to listen to the interview on BBCiplayer. Regular readers of this blog will recall that John Gillmore has featured on this page before when I went to a recital given by Roberto Garcia Lopez back in October. Gilly was the presenter on that occasion which I described as being "in the best traditions of the BBC". (Scroll down and check it out if you don't believe me.) Well I have to say today was also in the best traditions of the BBC. We were looked after from the moment we stepped into the building to the time we left. Gilly's producer Versha saw us into the studio and introduced us to Gilly. We had a short while to wait before we went on air during which we had a pleasant chat or at least it seemed that way. As we were to learn these off air discourses played an important part in the on air interview in that Gilly used them to supplement the material he had gathered about us. As for the interview itself - it was thorough. Every aspect of the development and the scope of the site was covered; we were given a good airing.At the same time it was a treat to observe the inner workings of a live radio broadcast. So a big thank you to Gilly, Versha and the staff at BBC Radio Lancashire.
      
 
24/03/10 Wednesday John and I have always said to ourselves that when we meet someone in the act of following one our walks that day will be a Red Letter Day. Today around about lunch time I was checking out one of the walks we are preparing for the Derby Arms, at Thornley near Longridge. Our description was suffering from what I call the "Emmerdale Effect"; that is the photos for it were taken in January when there was a great deal of snow about, and so have gone past their seasonal sell by date. So with the help of GPS Dave I was revisiting locations to photograph them again. This is when I came across the ladies of The Great Eccleston W.I.
 
They were negotiating a treacherously slippy slope leading down to a footbridge described in the Thornley walk that had appeared in the Blackpool Gazette two weeks ago. With a slight increase in my heart rate, I wondered, could this be it? Had I at last stumbled across people doing a Dot Com walk? However I was in a bit of a dilemma. The slippery slope had proved to be an irksome obstacle and if I identified myself, they might have held me responsible and given me a good barracking or worse.
 
I decided an indirect approach was best. "Are you doing this for pleasure?" I asked one ladies to the rear of the party. This was when I found out they were the Women's Institute from Great Eccleston. In a brief exchange I ascertained that walking was an established part of their programme but so far this year they hadn't managed to get out as much as they usually do because of the weather. "And you - is it for pleasure too?" Lovely lady - my opening. "No I'm working." So I explained about Lancashirewalks.com. The reaction was one of polite enthusiasm and not, as I hoped, "Oh really we love your walks and do them whenever we can," but neither was it, as I feared, "Hey girls, here is the rascal that put our limbs and lives at risk with his inaccurate and wayward description. How about debagging him right now and launching him down that slippery slope?" So not quite the red letter day John and I hope for one day soon; but a red letter day all the same because of this encounter. A few moments later I was asked to take a photo of the ladies of Great Eccleston W.I.  which I was pleased to do, allowing me to take one with my own camera.
Saturday 20/03/10 These days when the Dotcoms gather for a walk there is an informal kit inspection. This is a feature that has become more noticeable since we admitted ladies last year. In fact the ladies are most definitely in charge of kit inspection. At first I didn't recognise
this for what it was and innocently endured a bit of gentle leg pulling about the state of
my boots or the fact that my track suit bottoms had seen better days. However since GPS Dave and Val gave me boot cleaner for my Christmas present I have become much more sensitive to matters of attire. My boots were in a dreadful state at the back end of last year and finally gave up the ghost in early December. Andy B tells me he's had his boots for over ten years. But that's Andy B for you. I would like to be able to say "Well you don't do as much
walking as I do." But since Andy has been my companion on the Dales Way, the Cumbria Way and the StCuthbert's Way that wouldn't be true. The standard for boot care is set by Bill.
Bill's boots always look better than newly bought whenever he puts them on. That's National
Service for you. As for track suit bottoms - they may not be the most elegant piece of kit I
possess but they're comfortable, windproof and easy to wash; and they do not cost an arm and
a leg. I'm not sure how much life they have left though. Sue and Val have recently been
joined by Alison - forming a veritable committee for Public Safety. I have already been
issued with a verbal warning about my trackies, though thankfully, so far, my boots have
passed muster.
 
Last Tuesday the Dotcoms did a walk from Crown Point near Burnley. It is pleasing to note
that the Waggoners has re-opened its doors and we lunched pleasantly there. The highlight of
the walk was viewing the panopticon, the Singing Ringing Tree, just below the car park. This
striking piece of public art impressed us immensely. Constructed from steel pipes in a design to suggest a wind blown hawthorn, the sculpture produces a mellow hum as the wind catches it. Its architects Tonkin-Lui have created a feature that not only fits into the landscape but actually enhances it. In my view the Singing Ringing Tree deserves as much recognition as Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North.
 
Sunday 14/03/10 Schrodinger's Cat has exercised the Dotcom walkers for quite some while - ever since Brian, our scientific officer, introduced him or her in December when the Dotcom's did a walk around Longridge.
 
Oddly that cat has had a habit of turning up ever since. It turned up immediately in the Daily Mail, spotted by Val, endowing the cat with a mystical quality. The week before last Malcolm and I went to see the Coen brothers' latest film "A Serious Man" which contained a reference to the cat which made us laugh - our very own in joke. It was probably that which made me think about the cat when I went to the Final Frontier - the LOFT!
 
The past twelve months Eileen has been on a project of home improvement. Last week, coinciding with Katherine's convalescence, the project arrived at my study. Result three days of disruption and inconvenience during which I missed the Dotcom outing to Glasson Dock. On Thursday afternoon the fitters tightened the final screw and in the manner of ship builders turned the room over to me ready for commissioning. It was soon apparent that the stuff I had accumulated over the previous 21 years was not going to fit into the new build. I commenced decluttering.
 
Soon I had three piles; one for the charity shop, one for the tip and one for the loft. The problem was that before I could put stuff in the loft, I had to go there and do some serious rearranging of the stuff already there. That is when I encountered Schrodinger's Cat. I noticed it about an hour after I started and if cats smile it was most certainly smiling at me and if cats speak this one was saying; "You can tidy this loft as much as you like but no one is going to know!" On my to-do list I had slated in three hours for loft tidying but I knew the cat was right and by that time I had done enough to dispose of the third pile. A useful cat is Schrodinger's cat.
 
 The study is good though but I made the mistake of letting Eileen know which she sees as vindication of her long campaign of persuading me to change it. This will give her project fresh legs - the bathroom next and then, ye Gods, the bloody loft!
 
Sunday 07/03/2010 This has been quite a week. On Thursday my daughter Katherine phoned from Liverpool where she studies to tell me she had been taken into hospital. My anxiety was compounded because the extension I picked up on has a fault so I could hardly hear her. I
gathered she had been taken in with abdominal pains and was awaiting the results of tests. I
took the details and then waited for Eileen to come home. Once she received the news and had
spoken the Katherine we set off for Liverpool.
 
The City is not a great distance from where we live - a little less than 30 miles - yet it
always seems an awkward place to get to. Living close to the A59 Liverpool Road we nearly
always go in on that route and although it is direct, using it never seems straightforward,
especially when you're in a hurry. It is as if the road is reluctant to take you to the city
and has all sorts of ways to impede progress - especially traffic lights. Suffice to
state we had a frustrating drive.
 
At length we reached the Royal Liverpool a monstrous building in the heart of the city
constructed in the East German style. We made our way to emergency admissions to find
Katherine in a state of stoic distress and a great deal of pain. While we were there the
registrar saw her and after examining Katherine offered her diagnosis that she was 90%
certain it was appendicitis. I think we were meant to be reassured by this, but it was odd
how that 10% of doubt played on our minds as we drove home later that evening.
 
As it turned out it was appendicitis and a keyhole procedure was performed the next morning.
Katherine is home now to begin her convalescence. The Royal Liverpool may not ne housed in the most attractive building in the city, but its staff couldn't have been more helpful, treating both Katherine and us, her very concerned parents with kindness and consideration.
 
The 48 hours of drama had come at the close of a stressful week for Eileen. On Tuesday
Ofsted had made an appearance at her school. OFSTED - don't get me started! Like most
teachers I have a deep seated loathing of OFSTED and all its works and this antipathy has
stayed with me even though it is over four years since I have been in a classroom. I could
write a lot about OFSTED but my GP won't let me. Eileen survived Tuesday.
 
Until Katherine's to do my week had been entirely different. The high pressure system we are  experiencing has given us more cold, bright weather - absolutely wonderful for
walking. On Tuesday the Dotcoms went to Newton in Bowland and went on a splendid walk up to Stocks Reservoir. That day was Jim's birthday and we celebrated it very pleasantly at Hark to Bounty Inn, Slaidburn. It was Enid's birthday too - she was another diner who told us about her birthday having heard us sing to Jim. It seemed to be an invitation so we sang to her too. 
 
 On Thursday five of us met up in Widdop which I'm afraid to report is in TOP. Malcolm led us on a moorland circuit taking in Dove Stones and Lad Law. Once again a day spent mainly in snow. Our cameras didn't stop clicking. A day's walk is my panacea for all ills - including Ofsted and recovering from surgery. Hopefully Katherine and I will be able to go for a walk or two before she returns to university. 
 
Thursday 25/02/10 This week could be titled "One Wedding and a Funeral". The wedding was at the very posh hotel the Devonshire Arms, near Bolton Abbey, in TOP. Along with my fellow fellwalking club members we found ourselves mingling with the guests as we attempted to locate what passes for a public bar in a very posh hotel. I think they called it a brasserie. Imagine the scene - top hat and tails encounter 50 walkers booted in waterproofs and with rucksacks as they passed through the lounge areas in search of refreshment at the end of their walk. There must have been a moment when the groom's family wondered whether we represented some wild branch of the bride's family to that point unrevealed, and vice versa of course.
 
The day had started in Grassington, once again in snow. GPS Dave made the decision not cross
the moors but instead follow the Dales Way. This covered a lovely stretch of Wharfedale made lovelier still by a covering of snow. It is also an area with some very interesting signs. One that caught my attention went: PLEASE KEEP YOUR DOGS UNDER CONTROL, PREFERABLY ON A LEAD. I don't think I have ever seen the word "preferably" use in this context before.
My favourite was this sign. It possesses a directness altogether lacking in the dog notice, and yet retains an air of mystery - there is no indication to where the tents will be shifted.
 
 
The Dotcoms had snow on Tuesday - not so much but sufficient to allow Val to make and throw a snowball that hit me on the back of the head. Blinking Dotcom walkers. This turned out to be the day of the funeral. Our lunch stop was the Butlers Arms, Pleasington, which is very
close to the cemetery and crematorium. As we reached the pub the staff were keen to serve us
quickly and usher us to our reserved table. I wasn't altogether surprised at this as on a previous occasion John and I were not served at all because of an expected funeral. That must have been a big one. The one on Tuesday seemed on a rather modest scale and once more created the incongruous mingling of suit and boot. Meanwhile the Dotcoms are becoming a little concerned about Malcolm. Ever since that incident in Bleasdale last month we have been keeping a close eye on him but on Tuesday he escaped our supervision and look what happened!
There is a time to die and a time to wed and a time to slide down slides and a time to...chop down trees. The trees in question are the avenue of horse chestnuts beside the river in Miller Park, Preston. As I blog these trees are being removed. The council have been forced to act because the trees are dead or dying from Bleeding Canker and have become unsafe to the public. Part of me would like to echo the old Phil Harris song "Woodman, woodman, spare that tree/touch not a single bough/for years that tree has protected me/and I'll protect it now." However I am persuaded that the work is necessary. Rather alarmingly Bleeding Canker is a widespread problem affecting almost half of all horse chestnuts in the UK. So I am sad that the trees have to be destroyed; magnificent in any season and majestic in autumn. They will be replaced but I am resigned that I will not see their like along that reach of the river in my lifetime.
Thursday 18/02/10 "Oh look!"Don exclaimed after we crossed a stile onto a lane. He pointed down to the verge. Snowdrops! It wasn't my first sighting but nonetheless was in accord with Don's delight at seeing these lovely flowers. Small, unobtrusive and easy to forget when spring is in full rage; but how they gladden the spirit when first noticed. Nature's promise that winter will come to an end.
 
Returning to the great winter walk up Ingleborough, thank you to Broni and David for their kind message on the guest book posted a couple of days back. Jim and I spent several minutes with them in a mood of mutual congratulation that we all had the good fortune to be out on such a wonderful day. They had arrived at the summit shelter about a minute before we arrived. Bronwen was inspecting the view indicator set in the centre of the intersecting walls of the shelter. David was breaking out the sandwiches thereby confirming one of my theories of walking which goes like this: walk up any prominent hill in the United Kingdom, take out your lunch and within five minutes you will be joined by other walkers. By the time Jim and I bade farewell to the couple the summit plateau was positively busy. Of course, you may point out, Ingleborough is a popular hill, it proves nothing. However I have tested my theory at the top of some fairly remote hills such as Mount Keen, the most easterly Munro. Walking up it entailed a seven mile approach during which I saw no one. After reaching the summit I took out my lunch and immediately a couple came into sight across the rock and heather...just a minute, Broni and David?...no it couldn't be, could it?
 
Saturday 13/02/10 My anxiety level always increases when Eileen takes me shopping to buy me clothes. Earlier today we had found our way into the clothing department of a supermarket near Colne. I had laboured under the impression that we were there to buy food and drink and failed to see the warning signs. As we hit the menswear aisle Eileen deftly took down a pair of trousers and said, "Here. What do you think?" I offered no opinion. I felt tight about the throat. Of all the garments I feel most anxious about it's trousers. My waistline tends to be a moveable feast. Eileen's ideas on what my waistline should be are fixed. ("I'm not going to be married to someone with a 36" waistline!") We found the fitting room. I walked in as if  to the scaffold. To my horror I realised instantly as I pulled the trousers over my knees that there wasn't a hope that they would even zip up. I took them off and examined the label - 32". They had been put on the wrong hanger. A stay of execution, but I was not out of the woods yet. Eileen checked and set off to find 34"s. Perhaps my silent supplication to St Valentine worked - there were no 34"s left and my heart rate returned to normal levels. I made a mental note to do more at the gym.
 
On Thursday Jim and I had a perfect day out walking up Ingleborough which is in TOP. In fact Ingleborough is one of the Three Peaks of TOP. It was cold but without a breath of wind and we spent most of the day in sunshine. Looking south we could see Pendle Hill clearly, while across to the east there were superb views of Pen-y-ghent. It was without doubt one of the best winter walks I have ever been on and it was great to share it with my friend Jim.
 
 After Pendle, Ingleborough is my most climbed hill and one of my favourites. It is majestic in scale and situation. I love its flat topped distinctive profile so that it can be easily identified from a great distance away. I first went up it in 1976 on an outing with a church youth group I was involved with. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that I had to be encouraged up and coaxed up by the young man leading the party. Although 26 years of age I was a smoker and seriously out of condition. I doubt if I enjoyed that initial contact with the peak, but I must have made some kind of resolution to improve my fitness level. Since that time I have completed the 3 Peaks Challenge on five occasions and have been on Ingleborough possibly 20 other times. I have scaled every fell in the Lake District as well as three dozen Munros. So why, somebody tell me, do I struggle to get into 34" trousers?
 
Friday 12/02/10 On Tuesday the Dotcom Walkers climbed Pendle Hill. It was an outing postponed from January. I had in mind back then of  issuing a press release"DOTCOM WALKERS START THE NEW DECADE ON A HIGH!" In the event the weather intervened so our first outing was a low level affair and somehow "DOTCOM WALKERS START NEW DECADE ON A LOW!" just did not have the same ring to it.
 
As we set out from Barley I had a number of cares. For a variety of reasons I knew that for some of our party Pendle would be a challenge. I had built into my plans a contingency that if anyone decided enough was enough, they could meet us later when we descended Ogden Clough. As we passed Pendle House I knew the moment of decision had arrived; the steep, stepped incline of Big End is unforgiving to anyone suffering from shortness of breath and unkind to vertigo sufferers too. At around the 450m contour Paul and Elaine realised they had reached the point where it was sensible to go back. Brian said he had reached that point too. The three made their way back to the village.
 
Reassured that each would look after the others, the rest of us made our way to the top. Of course GPS Dave forged on ahead in his usual fashion, so much so that he probably spent 15 minutes cooling his heels before the stragglers caught up. For Don, despite 36 years a resident of Lancashire, it was his first time at the summit of Pendle. There were other quiet achievements. Bill, 75 and still going strong. Of course Bill, a modest man, would not see it this way. In his prime he competed in a number of mountain marathons, many with GPS Dave, and attained a level of stamina and fitness the rest of us can barely imagine. Then there was John, who over the past 12 months has suffered from difficult health, so much so that some days he has struggled to put on his boots. He was well pleased with himself as he reached the trig point. And then there was Chris recovering from a serious heart condition. On his first walk with us back in September he laboured on the incline from the River Ribble back to Hurst Green. He was as pleased as punch to have made it to the summit, and we were all pleased for him.
 
So in a mood of mild euphoria, we headed down towards Ogden Clough. I was half expecting to see Elaine, Paul and Brian somewhere along this section of the walk, but rather unsurprisingly they didn't make it past the Pendle Inn.
 
So Brian didn't climb to the top of Pendle Hill - but all of us know he was perfectly capable. I am sure Elaine and Paul appreciated his cheerful companionship back to Barley. The rest of us appreciated that while climbing a hill can be hard; choosing not to climb it can be even harder.
 
Friday 05/02/10 I was in W.H. Smith's this morning looking for a poetry anthology to send to a friend in America. "Excuse me," I asked one of the assistants, "where's your poetry section?" This stopped her in her tracks. "Hey Shel," she called to another, "do we have a poetry section?" "Naw," replied Shel. "We use to have two books but we sent those back." If anything this detail seemed to make the situation even more depressing. Part of it reflects on me personally. As a profession had English teachers such a malign influence so as to put off the great British public from ever reading poetry again once outside the confines of school? So not good news for the poets of Preston. Instead of a poetry section a whole new genre has grown up in the past few years which I think is listed as "Tragic True Life Stories". These narratives, no doubt of cathartic value to the writer and the readers they attract, focus on childhoods full of unimaginable misery and abuse. While there is a place for this type of literature, has it become so marketable so as to replace poetry? Somewhat bemused I walked up to Waterstones and found the volume I was looking for.
 
Wednesday 03/02/10 Yesterday was Candlemass or "Groundhog Day". It's the day that marks the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The groundhog element was originally a central European one taken to America deriving from the idea that if the groundhog comes out of its hole on 2nd February and sees a shadow it will deduce that there is still a deal of cold bright weather about and will go back to finish off its sleep. Of course thanks to the Hollywood film with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell  "Groundhog Day" has taken an entirely different connotation - meaning a day that seems to endlessly repeat itself. So yesterday was a Tuesday, and it was another walk with the Dotcom Walkers and it was in Lancashire and it was a pub lunch again...but no day spent walking is ever Groundhog Day. Each walk - be it along a route followed many times before - is different; one of the reasons why walkers love walking.
 
 
The Dotcoms loved their pub lunch provided by Paul, Hayley and Sue Davis at the New Inn Foulridge. This was the second time we had visted the pub and both times it has made an excellent impression. Typically there are ten or more walkers on a Tuesday so we phone our order ahead. Yesterday, at the New Inn no sooner had we bought our drinks and settled in our seats than Paul served us our meals. Cask ales in superb condition, great food, friendly service - the New Inn received top marks from the Dotcoms. So much so that they burst into  spontaneous song as they stepped outside the pub! www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gQb-JW8VrE
 
 
 
Saturday 30/01/10 As I reached the summit of Parlick on Thursday afternoon a little way behind Andy B, Jim and Malcolm, it felt a little bit like completing a hard week at the office. I had been out walking Sunday, (Hebden Bridge;TOP, with GPS Dave and the fellwalking club), Tuesday (Dunsop Bridge; not TOP, with the Dotcom Walkers), Wednesday, (Edale, Derbyshire to visit friends staying there) and Thursday. This amount of walking was exceptional even for me and did not go unnoticed. Indeed it threatened to bring discord into the otherwise harmonious intercourse between self and spouse. "Let me get this straight," said Eileen as I packed my rucksack on Thursday morning, "you're out every other Sunday walking, out Tuesdays walking, out Wednesdays walking and will be out Thursdays walking. Is that right?" Her point, I think, was when could she rely on me being in to deal with tradesmen and the like. As a house husband, by definition, I am expected to spend a modicum of time in the house! But, as I explained, the Wednesday walk was exceptional - indeed it was on so many levels.
 
Chris, my oldest friend, and his partner Trish had booked an apartment in Edale Mill for last week and I arranged to go over for the day. It was very much a trip down memory lane. I first visited Edale in 1965 when undertaking a Duke of Edinburgh's Award expedition. I loved the place. I thought it was magical that the Peak District National Park should exist between two vast conurbations and retain its integretity. Going to Edale as a 15 year old made me want to walk the wild places of Britain. Since then I have discovered that Edale caused much the same reaction in tens of thousands of working men and women from the mills, mines and foundries of Lancashire and Yorkshire during the 1920s and 30s.Every weekend the railway between Manchester and Sheffield would disgorge crowds of ramblers onto the platform at Edale. However the high moors of the Dark Peak were at that time forbidden territory guarded by gamekeepers and it took an access battle to establish the rights we enjoy today. From that movement came the Ramblers' Association, the National Parks and the Pennine Way which starts in Edale and was established in...1965!
 
At one point on Wednesday Chris, Trish and I wondered if by accident we had strayed onto the Pennine Way. When I arrived at the Mill it was proposed we do a six mile walk following the edge of the moors. As Trish had a guide I didn't take a great deal of notice of the route which appeared perfectly straightforward. It seemed less straightforward two hours later when we were trying to locate the path that would lead us down to Grindsbrook Booth. There was still a deal of snow on the ground and low cloud had reduced visibility to 40-50m. Our map checking conferences increased in frequency. As often happens in these situations we made features we had seen through the mist fit in with our interpretation of the map.We convinced ourselves we had overshot the required path by some considerable distance. After crossing the top of a deep defile which had no obvious exit apart from the precipitious type which my friend Geoff always calls a "one way ticket" we made the decision to drop off by any viable slope. A short time later I felt I had located one. "Ok let's take it easy, stick together and stop if there is any sign of a drop," I advised as we started our descent. After five minutes I was cheered to see a ruined wall. As we lost height we found ourselves out of the cloud and there below across a stream was a clear ribbon of path. "Salvation is at hand - its the Pennine Way!" I called to my companions. After we gained the path and walked into Grindbrook Booth we realised we had not reached the Pennine Way at all but were on the route Trish had intended. We had only overshot the exit by a short distance for all our fretting. It had seemed quite an adventure while it lasted and we were all very pleased to return to the warmth of the apartment and a brew. I reminded Trish that our previous walk together in the Lakes we had over extended ourselves when I was in charge of the route. I cannot be certain but I felt she was rather cheered up by this notion - as if she somehow paid me one back. I can't think she had been talking to Eileen. 
 
Friday 22/01/10 In an editorial written 87 years ago today, the Manchester Guardian celebrated the existence of so many societies included in the Rambler's Federation, a precursor of today's Rambler's Association. "To live submissively in great towns, without ever going out to get an embrace of mother earth and renew one's acquaintance with solitude, is a deprivation, almost a creeping disease. In an appreciable degree one is remade, and made better, every time one spends a long day among the heather or the peat..."
 
Yesterday Malcolm, Don, Andy L and I went to Bleasdale to renew our acquaintance with solitude though the day wasn't as long as we planned because when we reached the car park on Delph Lane, Malcolm realised he had forgotten to bring his jacket. It was a hazy day and sunshine did break through; nevertheless by Fiendsdale Head Malcolm felt that he should not risk over long exposure to the biting wind. Since at that point we already had a fine traverse of Hazelhurst Fell the rest of us concurred with Malcolm's decision without demur. As it happened our descent to Bleasdale gave us a magnificent view of Fairsnape. Reaching Fiendsdale Head had not been without incident. There was still a deal of snow about, especially in gullies. For an ectomorph like Don, six feet of nothing and ten stone, this represented no hazard. For an endomorph like me, shorter and wider, it was a different story and several times I had to be extricated from deep banks of snow.
 
On our walk back to the car there was further incident. Just beyond Hazelhurst Cottage in the
road a wounded jackdaw lay. The others reached it before I arrived on the scene. I guess it must have been a young bird because at first I did not recognise it as a jackdaw at all. It had the tell tale bright eye of the species but I usually think of jackdaws as rather scraggly whereas this specimen seemed to possess velverty soft feathers. As I approached Malcolm and Donald were discussing what should be done. Don's a born countryman and he was in no doubt. "We'll have to neck it," he explained, "otherwise it will suffer; a fox will get it or it will starve to death. I'd do it myself but I got these mitts on." As I reflect on this now this seems a rather thin excuse. "How do you do that?" asked Malcolm as Don passed the bird to him. The bird patiently waited while its fate was determined. Andy L and I looked on with morbid curiosity. Malcolm took his glove off. "You just pull its neck there," Don pointed with his mitt. Tentatively at first Malcolm attempted to gain some purchase on the bird's neck. The bird rather naturally, wasn't keen on him trying and made valiant attempts to snap at Malcolm's hand. At length a steely determination overcame Malcolm and he pulled hard on the neck, so hard in fact that he yanked off the critter's head. "I don't know how I feel about that," I told him. "I don't know how I feel about it myself," he replied. After platitudes of reassurance, (and here as a retired English teacher I think of the ending of "Of Mice and Men") like "You had to do it, Malcolm" other reactions set in. Soon we were inventing epithets for our friend - Don's was "the Butcher of Bleasdale" which was a bit rich since it was his idea in the first place. Then there was "Mac the Murderer" and "Mac the Knife". And so in this spirit we made our way back to the car. Of course Don, Andy and I all know Malcolm as a gentle soul who under normal circumstances wouldn't hurt a cockroach - but of course we now have a dilemma. Is this a warning sign? And just what should we say to Malcolm's wife?
 
  Wednesday 13/01/10 Yesterday the Dotcom walkers were able to make a start on their new year programme with a superb walk from the Derby Arms, Thornley, near Longridge.
GPS Dave has a long association with the Derby as it has been the venue of the fellwalkers AGM for a number of years. Recently Dave has been asked to devise a number of walks from the inn to add an extra dimension to an already impressive programme of events. Hopefully John and I will be able to make our contribution to the process of describing routes. So indirectly this is what led our steps to the Derby.
 
It has to be said that for many Dotcoms it was their first opportunity to get out into the countryside since the snows came before Christmas and there was a wonderful sense of release as we made our way across the pastures with fine views of Longridge Fell to our right and Parlick to our left. Thus already in a good mood, we returned to the Derby for a fine lunch.
 
And then two slices of magic. As we were finishing a lady at the next table asked me to take a photo of her and her great aunt. Alice Hesketh was celebrating that day her 80th birthday. I was happy to perform this service and we all sang "Happy Birthday". It happened that Alice was a retired music teacher but she didn't take our raucous rendition amiss.Then almost immediately after one of our party, Chris, spotted Barry McQueen in the next bar. Barry who? you maybe prompted to ask. Well Barry had been on BBC2 the previous evening and nearly all of us had seen him. As Blackpool's Town Crier he had featured in Michael Portillo's excellent "Great British Railway Journeys" based on Bradshaw's Guide. Indeed Barry sang a musical hall song about the guide during the programme. With little encouragement he sang it to us. Also he did a very kind thing - he declaimed a special birthday greeting to Alice. The photo above shows Barry with William, the proprietor of the Derby, and myself. He also posed with the rest of the Dotcom Walkers, which most people might regard as above and beyond. It was entirely a chance encounter since Barry was at the Derby to provide entertainment for a group of retired post office employees. So Alice's birthday was magic and having Barry sing to us was magic also. As reported in the Blackpool Gazette
 
On Sunday Dave, Andy (he who was once verbally abused by a Howgill dairy farmer) and I were treated to another piece of magic. Though there was still a great deal of snow around the Fellwalking club's outing to Ambleside went ahead. (We know that a number of other clubs cancelled on that day.) We chose to climb over Loughrigg a fell of modest height that sprawls along the west side of Rydal Water. We descended past Lily Tarn and here we came across a delightful scene. A group of parents and children had set up station to create a sledge run and ice rink - a winter adventure playground. It was a zone of pure fun; despite the biting wind you couldn't help be lifted by the peels of laughter and the sense of enjoyment that emanated from the gathering. It was such an antidote to all the miserable coverage the weather has had in the news producing a similiar affect to enduring two episodes of "Eastenders" back to back. Witnessing that scene reminded us that we should never forsake the opportunity to "lighten up" when it comes along.
 
Tuesday 05/01/10 For the first time we have had to cancel a Dotcom walk because of the weather. This new year is starting as the old one finished - with snow. We were due to go to Barley and scale Pendle but at eight this morning the flakes were coming down thick and fast. We may have made our way through to the M65 and onto the Padiham by-pass, but it would have been plain silly to attempt those small roads from Fence through to Newchurch. So Pendle will be left for another day.
 
 Still it has allowed me to undertake what I call "the Big Tidy" when I make a serious attempt to declutter the house. This can be a dispiriting exercise on way we have fallen prey to rampant consumerism. For example in the course of emptying drawers in the lounge and dining room I undercovered 8 mobile phone chargers. These were all extra to the ones we actively use. In addition I came across six headsets for personal stereos or ipods. As yet I have to ascertain whether these still function; in the meantime I'd be pleased to take offers. Some areas of the house were real hotspots for stuff - not used or misplaced. Containers with curtain hooks, clothes  pegs, ubiquitous hair grips (not for mine I hasten to add), an odd glove, small keys, pencils, rolls of cellotape, packets of tissues, adaptor plugs, scissors (from Ikea), receipts dated December 2006 and memory sticks. On top of this is our propensity to save the packaging in which new stuff comes in, just in case we have the need to take the new stuff back should it fail to function at some point in the future. So I spent the morning trawling through drawers and making a start on "the Big Tidy" but you know what - I would have rather been on Pendle!
 
Friday 01/01/10 So we enter a new decade. Today's Guardian the leader stated: "On historical precedent nothing big should happen next year. Big things rarely do in the 10th year of the century. 2010, like 1410 or 1810, will be an interim year." Well I certainly hope so - I have had it up to here with turbulence - though I suspect some of the recent turmoil we've had has yet to fully unwind - maybe 2010 will be the year when coyote finally hits the floor of the canyon.
 
 So let's be positive - 2010 will see the 75th Anniversary of the Ramblers Association - one of the truly great British Institutions and we at Lancashire Walks look forward to marking that in some suitable way. As well as vigorously campaigning for the access to the countryside we now enjoy, the RA was a leading pressure group for the creation of national parks and long distance footpaths. The type of lobbyists that gave lobbying a good name.
 
Finally something from Anne Frank who was murdered 65 years ago this year in Bergen-Belsen. She wrote; "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and God wishes to see people happy amidst the simple beauty of nature." Quite apart from the fact she wrote this in the confined and claustrophobic atmosphere of a secret attic, it is a testament to the way the human spirit can transcend dreadful situations. Of course I sincerely hope that none of you are "afraid, lonely or unhappy" and indeed wish you all a most Happy New Year; but should you feel low at anytime go and seek solace in the countryside; advice that Anne Frank herself was not able to follow.
 
Thursday 24/12/09 Despite my best efforts the ACR (Annual Christmas Row) arrived exactly on time to plunge the already cold weather a few degrees frostier between spouse and myself. Last year the casus belli had been my habit of playing on my Nintendo DS at the tea table. This year I thought I had led a blameless life. On Sunday morning I avoided the ACR by the skin of my teeth. It was the day of the fell walking club's Christmas outing. 
 
I set out through the estate to pick up the club bus a little under a mile away. The ground was treacherous underfoot as a thin layer of snow covered sheets of black ice. In making my way to the pick up point I tumbled  four times - luckily without injury. I arrived just before the bus and boarded it with the other club members assembled at that point. Checking through my pockets I realised my camera was missing. I knew immediately it had spilled out of my fleece pocket on one of my falls but I wasted a few minutes of phoning my daughter to check I hadn't left it in the lounge. She confirmed my worse fears. By this time the bus was in Preston centre. I got off having made arrangements with Andy (he who was once abused by a Howgill dairy farmer) to take my kit to the venue where I would catch up with the outing later. I then arranged for my son to pick me up to retrace my route. Again this took a little more time to set this up thus diminishing the chances of success. We turned down the last street before the pick up point and there 200m along in the middle of the road was the camera in its case unmolested and undamaged. "Seek and ye shall find" as the good book says and while I was not keen to lose a £150 digital I was driven by the much stronger motivation of not provoking the ACR. I really am glad I found the camera because Bill was sporting a particularly festive hat he had picked up from Thailand.
The club members quickly dubbed this the "Viagra Hat"! Those fellwalkers - worse than the Dotcom Walkers.
 
Speaking of which we had a plan to venture into that other place on Tuesday. However the weather intervened with further snow. This led to a great deliberation conducted over the phone, with a fair amount of imput from our spouses, about the wisdom of venturing out. We knew it would be relatively clear on the main roads but couldn't predict conditions on minor roads. In the end the South Ribble contingent managed to find its way to Farrington and from there managed a ten mile walk across to Much Hoole and back.
Apart from the time we spent in the Smithy Arms we were out in snow all day and in the evening were treated to the type of sunset that Scottish painter Farquharson celebrated in his studies of sheep and snow.
 
So the weather returns as a perennial theme. As Brian pointed out on Tuesday this is the first time in many years that our area of Lancashire has had successive nights of snow - all this at the end of the week which saw the Climate Change talks end in Copenhagen. So one cannot help but feel that something is going on.
 
It is now a certainty that we'll have a white Christmas though as pretty as it looks, its not quite the rose tinted version that old Bing use to croon about. I cannot recall a verse referring to "traffic gridlock" or "transport chaos."
 
Now as for this year's ACR it seems from Eileen's side I am spending too much time on the computer. Now while I had a few grievances myself, I must admit it has absorbed me of late. So after wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year I will sign off now until January - I have a few fences to mend.
  
Thursday 17/12/09 On Tuesday the Dotcom Walkers held their second annual awards ceremony at the pub they had voted their Pub of the Year. It came as no surprise this turned out to be the Ram Inn at Cliviger, though it has to be said that there was no sign of attractive female staff in school uniform - they were far too busy for that. Indeed we were lucky to make the booking at all and it was only after I pointed out to the manager that we would be there to present a certificate in recognition of the Ram Inn winning such a prestigious honour  that he squeezed us in. On top of having to accommodate a record number of us - 17 - I had also arranged for a photographer from the Burnley Express to come along at probably the busiest part of lunch. So all in all, inadvertently and from the best possible motives, we were a pretty disruptive influence on the Ram Inn on Tuesday even before the awards ceremony. This was carried out with typical good humoured boisterousness, boos, whistles, cheers and heckles like "Where's mine?" Little wonder then that as we were leaving I overheard one local talking to another about "the walkers" meaning us. I didn't quite catch what he said but the tone was unmistakable - it was as if he was discussing an infestation of rats. Given all this the pub lived up to its deserved status and we enjoyed excellent service once again. So a big THANK YOU to manager and staff of the Ram Inn, Cliviger for hosting our second awards ceremony. Below is a picture of the usual suspects as they set out on the pre-lunch walk near Coal Clough Wind Farm. [GPS Dave is only wearing the Santa's hat to match Don's red gaiters.]
 
Friday 11/12/09 This website is very sensitive to the weather. The weeks of wet have had a depressing affect on our hit count. After a record November which was mainly due to the newspaper coverage we received at the beginning of the month, the first days of December have been very slow - just limping over the 22,000 mark. Of course many potential users will have been distracted by Christmas shopping but in my view that's all the more reason to escape. Escape I did this morning which dawned cold and clear and with quiz team Mike's lift I was in Burnley Centre before 9.00. Just after 9.00 I was on the Gorple Road which in my opinion is one of the finest moorland tracks in the north of England. There is something about the confidence in which it leaves Worsthorne - for over a mile dead straight east climbing past the last vestiges of settlement up to the barren, treeless moors. I dropped down to Widdop Reservoir which I'm afraid to say is in that other place. There the mist persisted creating lovely effects on the still water.
 
It was as if I had stumbled on some Scottish loch.
 
Last week I was away in London. The Dotcom walkers have made many observations about the timing of this trip which (as it seemed to them) conveniently coincided with an event that I had roped them into - and that is most definitely another story. In London I took the opportunity to indulge in one of my interests - browsing about in cemeteries. One day I went to Kensal Green in the morning and Highgate in the afternoon. Between them they contain a pretty good cross section of the great and the good of the last 200 years. I suppose it is a macabre form of celebrity spotting with the difference the celebrity cannot run away. At Kensal Green I found Anthony Trollop, Wilkie Collins, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir John Rennie, the engineer who surveyed the Lancaster Canal. At Highgate I found Sir Ralph Richardson, George Eliot and of course Karl Marx.
 
It seems to me that old Karl is due for a little bit of re-appraisal in the light of market meltdown. Perhaps he had a point after all. Sobering thoughts on a sobering monument.
 
No such sobriety when the Dotcoms went to Morecambe on Tuesday. Before setting out to Heysham we viewed Eric Morecambe's statue. Sculptor Graham Ibbeson has captured the spirit of the man so well that we were all lifted as we gathered round to pose for the obligatory photograph. All of us had so many happy memories of a man who made us laugh.
 
Sunday 29/11/09 We're back! It was a great weekend and we were there in Cumbria the very same time as Prince Charles who praised the "Cumbrian spirit" in the aftermath of the floods. He was way over west of course. Even so where we were - Appleby-in-Westmoreland seemed fully prepared for apocalyptic wet weather if the sandbags were anything to go by.
 
Although I have travelled widely in the north of England, the area where we stayed was not over familiar to me. I doubt if it tops the list of any "must see places before I die" and yet it was delightful. Yesterday we were even endowed with a spell of dry weather. This allowed the ornithological set in our party to spend a happy hour observing the happenings at a nearby feeding table where not only a spotted woodpecker was spotted but (unornithologically) a red squirrel too. Given the weather we have had in recent weeks Saturday was most certainly a bonus and we were particularly blessed by the view from the back porch of the cottage at breakfast time.
 
On Saturday afternoon John and I found ourselves walking towards the sound of gunfire! We were a short distance north of an army firing range. For much of our walk from Appleby centre back to the cottage we were in earshot of some heavy duty ordnance - automatic weapons and artillery; sounds completely at odds with the quiet charms of the countryside we traversed. It seemed to us that there was an earnestness in these happenings - a preparation for somewhere a good deal warmer than Cumbria on the first weekend of Advent.  Talking to our landlady this morning the exercises seemed in no way unusual - just the territorial army doing their thing.
 
Friday 27/11/09 Today John and I together with our spouses are off to Cumbria for a weekend with friends in a cottage. Luckily we will be in east Cumbria; west Cumbria is a place of devastation after the "biblical" amounts of rainfall it has had in the past week. When you see footage of stone bridges collapsing it seems incredible that there was not a greater loss of life - that said the police officer who did die was in the act of preventing others putting themselves in mortal danger; so in doing his duty he saved others. A few years ago weather events on this scale would have been put down to "freakishness" - just the capricious weather doing what it does from time to time. But of course these days we are prone to wonder if such events are linked to the dark theme of our times - Global Warming. One of the problems with meeting the threat (and consequences) of climate change is that we no longer possess the financial resources to meet the challenge. Besides the fact NATO is involved in a costly war in Afghanistan, we have had to spend trillions propping up the financial system after it went into meltdown last year. There is nothing left in the locker. Just how Cumbria County Council will be able to repair its battered infrastructure against a background of cuts in public expenditure time will tell; my worry is that "the once in a thousand year" event will become far more frequent and our civilisation will not have the means to cope.
 
Thinking of "freakish" weather conditions Geoff, Andy and I witnessed a stunning sight in the Dales of that other place two weeks ago. We caught a perfect sunny morning, lifting mist and cloud everywhere except on Pen-y-ghent, which was encased in its own layer of cloud.
 It still is a beautiful world for all our worries!
 
Wednesday 18/11/09 Yesterday we held the Dot Com Walkers annual Christmas Quiz which this year was at the Grapes Hotel Croston. The service, food and beer were all excellent - well done the staff at the Grapes; I wish I could say the same for the Dot Com Walkers! What a sorry tale. Not only did they make little impression on this year's quiz, but only managed to score one extra point on the one they did last year. So in Ofsted terms they would have to be declared a "failing" walking group.
 
To be fair to them some were still a little distracted from the previous week's walk which saw us on Thieveley Pike, Cliviger. We had been accompanied one again by Xioayan Lin or Emma our 25 year old translator, who once again was completely unfazed by being the only woman in a group of blokes. Indeed since there were seven of us, this had the potential to be played out as a modern version of a pantomime fairy tale - "Xioayan Lin and the 7 old geezers".  Here we are on the summit. (The other geezer is taking the photo!)
 
 
But as attractive as Xioayan Lin is as a walking companion she was not the source of the distraction. It was another Emma, the manageress of the Ram Inn, Holme Chapel, who having served us a splendid meal exchanged banter with us old geezers. It had been noticed she was sporting a tie, doubtless some statement of corporate image promoted by the brewery. As an ex-teacher, Brian told her to do it up. To which she quipped perhaps he would like her to dress in school uniform. There was universal acclaim for this offer and that is the reason for the lack of concentration that produced the abysmal performance at yesterday's quiz.
 
After lunch we had a browse around St.John's churchyard opposite. It is the last resting place of Burnley and England goalkeeper Jerry Dawson, who in the course of a record breaking career for most appearances for his town's club, was awarded a winners' medal for the 1914 FA cup final; a match he didn't actually play. The story is that he picked up an injury in the days leading up to the match and realised he wouldn't last 90 minutes. In an era long before substitutes were allowed he sportingly declared himself unfit. In recognition for his selflessness the FA awarded him a medal. He never got the chance to play in another final.
 
Not far away lies General Sir James Scarlett who led the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.
 
 
This action is almost totally forgotten when compared to the Charge of the Light Brigade and yet took place in the same battle and was successful. Perhaps so called "failing" institutions (schools, hospitals, Dot Com Walkers) should take heart from this lesson of history - do not fret about your failure, just employ someone like Alfred Lord Tennyson to celebrate it : "Half a league table downward/into Ofsted we all floundered/Clipboards to the left of us/Clipboards to the right/Inspectors scribbled and wondered..."  
 
Saturday 07/11/09 This has been a record breaking week for us as measured by the number of visitors to the website. On Monday evening Matthew from the Lancashire Evening Post left a message on the contact page explaining he had seen the press release I had put out on last week's record - not being one to hide our light under a bushel. When I phoned him at his office I found he had also picked up on the fact we have a page of walks translated into Chinese. He was intrigued with this and decided to run a piece. He arranged for a photographer to come out the next morning to take a picture of John and me to go with his article. "It would be fun if you could be shown eating with chop-sticks," he added. I must admit I was rather perturbed by this notion. In the event Neil the photographer who appeared with pleasing promptness on Tuesday did not mention chop sticks and completed the shoot with brisk but thorough professionalism. There were a good number of indoor shots taken in my study and then he asked if I had a laptop handy so we could go outside. This was the photo that went in Wednesday's Evening Post. Read LEP article here They say a photo is worth a thousand words and that one that went in the Post gave us 250 hits. I hope the Lancashire Evening Post find some kind of affirmation in this; not only people read the paper, but they act upon its contents too.
 
Unusually John wasn't able to join us on Tuesday as he had a meeting. Seven of us linked up in Woodplumpton and completed a circuit using the Lancaster Canal. It was good to welcome Bill back from injury. Away from the canal and across fields the route was excessively muddy.
 
 
This was hardly surprising given all the rain we have had in recent weeks. Remarkably no one complained to my face about the muddiness of the route chosen and Bill even said the softness of the ground gave his heel some relief. Don was under the weather nursing a bad cough. Not only did he fail to eat all his chips at the Hand and Dagger, but, even more tellingly, he did not wear his red gaiters.
 
Sunday 01/11/09  On Tuesday we passed the 20,000 hit mark. This came a few days before the clocks went back so during the course of BST the site has doubled its visitors. Small beer against Stephen Fry on Twitter but heading in the right direction.
 
Returning to last weekend's walk when we left the village we headed up to Gaping Gill which is Britain's largest cave with sufficient room to house York Minster. Of course from the top there is not a great deal to see - just the peaty waters of Fell Beck sluicing into a large hole.
 
 At Spring and August Bank Holidays local caving groups set up a winch to give the non-potholing fraternity a chance to see this hidden wonder. I have yet to avail myself of this opportunity though a long time ago I was led into the bottom of the cavern by potholing friends. It was an unforgettable experience.
 
 There is a noticeboard close by explaining Gaping Gill and ending with this warning, "The approaches to the shaft can be slippery and dangers lurk in seemingly innocent entrances." I just love the language of this sign and wish it could be more widely used; "Caution is required when entering this meadow as it contains a bull whose temperament is such that the presence of walkers may induce it to act aggressively." Or; "In our view wandering on to the pristine lawn before you would spoil the aesthetic look we are striving to achieve."
 
As an aside it was drawn to my attention that recently Peter Mandelson described students as "consumers of the Higher Educational experience." This demonstrates just how deeply rooted the free market ideology has become in Britain. We are now "consumers" before we are students, patients, travellers, citizens and even people. It seems to me that we need a new word to describe people who try not to consume so that a counter identity can be developed. I suggest "sustainers". I am not sure how good a sustainer I am, but as walking has a minimal impact on the planet's resources, then hopefully that is enough to offset the energy needed to run my computer and provide light and heat to the room in which I work.
 
Monday 26/10/09 Yesterday I was out with the fellwalking club on an outing to the Yorkshire Dales. The weather was not good and in fact deterred some of the club's most experienced members from walking to Ingleborough's summit. The winds were fierce up there. Earlier, after alighting the coach in Clapham, much the same type of weather discouraged a prompt start on the route GPS Dave had planned for us. We browsed about the outdoor shop and some of us made purchases. As the transaction concluded I asked the proprietor if Café Anne was still open. "No it's not," came the reply, "Anne's dead. She died earlier this year of lung cancer. She was diagnosed last year but lived long enough to see her first grandchild." Whoa! That was a lot of information to take in and I have been digesting it ever since.
Café Anne was a piece of Hampstead transported to the Yorkshire Dales - a place where Bohemians and struggling artists would feel at home. The walls were a collage of posters, paintings and postcards - a colourful mix of art great and small, serious and comic. No order was placed on this collection - it was arrangement by whim. Light in Café Anne seemed always subdued. It had trouble getting in - past the posters on the door and the clutter on the window sill - and wasn't much enhanced when it arrived. I doubt if there was a matching set of anything in the place - plates, cups, mugs, cultery. The house style was that there was no house style. There must have been a menu with the bill of fare but prices did not seem to follow the cold logic of more efficient establishments. So in all these aspects Café Anne was quite unlike any tea room I have ever been to - but it wasn't in any of these things that made it more memorable than any other tea room. Of course the food always seemed delicious especially if I had been caught out in foul weather - what could be more welcoming than a bowl of homemade soup with a chunk of freshly made bread? But that wasn't it either - nor the cakes. It must have been Anne Davies herself who earlier this year died at the age of 57.
 
Yet of Anne I have only one clear recollection. It was as if she and the café were an organic whole. My vague recollections of Anne consist of warmth and friendliness the ingredient that made her establishment the popular haven it became. My clearest memory is of the last time I saw her in September 2004. I had taken my Australian cousin over Ingleborough. After we lunched outside the tearoom on bacon barms and a mug of tea. Unusually we were the only two customers. Anne, small, pretty, barefooted and dressed in black drifted out to have a smoke. I must have commented on the lack of custom. "Oh I prefer it like this. I like the peace," she replied. I guess Anne was not overly concerned with the material world and wherever she is now - I hope she's at peace.
 
 
 
Friday 23/10/09 Earlier this week a few of us went up to Northumberland to walk a section of Hadrian's Wall between Brocolitia Fort and Greenhead. It was a good trip. The weather forecast had been dire but we managed to evade the showers over the two days we walked. I think the highlight was our visit to Vindolanda and its museum.
The site, not far from the quaintly named Twice Brewed, was established almost 40 years before Hadrian ordered the wall to be built. To the casual visitor it may not seem all that spectacular yet it was here that the most exciting finds of Roman-British archaeology were made in the 1970s. Preserved in mud for over1600 years were writing tablets recording the everyday concerns of people living on the frontier of the Roman Empire.
 
At first the language of the tablets looked strange and indecipherable; Robin Birley in charge of the excavation wondered if it might be ancient Syrian, but on closer analysis by experts at Oxford University, it was found to be everyday Latin. Not the polished high brow Latin of Tacitus or Livy, but the jottings of soldiers, merchants and traders as they went about their business. In an odd way they are almost analogous to text messages - quick, often misspelt and not always grammatical. So through the tablets historians are able to develop a detailed picture of the life of the common people living in the empire.
 
The most well known of the tablets is 291 leaf No. 1 which was written by Claudia Severa (the earliest known example of writing in Latin by a woman). "On 11 September, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation...to make the day more enjoyable for me..." The immediacy of this text makes me feel very close to Claudia, and I do hope she had a happy birthday. (For more information check out www.vindolanda.com and http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk )
 
Speaking of birthdays Andy (fellow St Cuthbert's pilgrim) and I have a project in 2011. We intend to walk the Pennine Way between his birthday in May and my birthday in June - a block of 19 days. For one of us it will be a special birthday. So it was that on the first day of our Hadrian's Wall walk we crossed the Pennine Way. Perhaps next time we will be at this spot will be early June 2011 if all goes well.
 
 
 
A few weeks ago the Dot Com walkers were joined by Lin Xiaoyan a 25 year old graduate who is assisting us with translations. I arranged  a lift for her but then wondered whether she would feel intimidated by getting into a car with three old blokes who were strangers to her. Not a bit of it. Quite unconcerned and without any display of nervousness she took her seat and chatted happily all the way to Hurst Green. I mentioned this to our friend Chen in an e mail and his take on it was very interesting. "I cannot help mentioning the one child policy here. Young men and young women turn to be a little neutral now because there is only one child in every family, so they have to play roles used to be played by both sexes in those days. As a result, girls turn to be more aggressive and boys milky. When you meet a brave Chinese girl you don't have to be shocked!" Whatever the reason it was very agreeable to have an attractive companion like Xiaoyan join us and she wasn't at all aggressive in the slightest.
 
Friday 16/10/09 On Tuesday a record number of Dotcom Walkers came out with John and me when we checked out a route from Spring Wood Picnic Area, near Whalley. Ten walked while Bill and Marlene once again joined us for lunch - this time at the White Hart Inn, Sabden. Dotcom walkers came into existence when I published the first programme of walks covering the half term to Christmas this time last year. (As retired teachers old habits die hard so John and I still divide the year up into terms.) Since then a group of six regulars has grown incrementally. As John once said, "We just can't get rid of them!" and nor would we want to. As if to make up for last week we were treated to a perfect autumn day - "mists and mellow fruitfulness". Here's the gathering in a photo taken by yours truly.
That was the second excellent walk I had this week. On Sunday I was out with the fellwalking club. It happened to be Andy's (he who was recently seriously verbally abused by a Howgill dairy farmer) birthday. GPS Dave, Val and another friend Alison were determined to make the day memorable. Now once again the weather played its part and this combined perfectly with the route Dave planned. We started in Ambleside and crossed to Elterwater via Loughrigg Terrace and finished the walk in the grandeur of Great Langdale. Here's a view of Grasmere which was on the superlative route.
We lunched at the exceptionally busy Britannia Inn, Elterwater and were back in good time for the coach at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. It was a day that was not just memorable for Andy, (who when you know him is the least likeliest person you would think would ever deserve serious verbal abuse), but all of us who shared it with him.
And today I had a third outstanding walk with I-don't-know-I-found-time-to-work Geoff. This was an expedition of my conception. For a long time I have wanted to show him the terraced gardens of Lord Leverhulme's estate at Rivington. It turned out to be a perfect autumn's walk on a perfect autumn's day. In a very relaxed way we meandered through the grounds up past the ravine to the Japanese garden, and then onto the Great Lawn, and up to the site of the bunglalow, and then to the pigeon tower and then finally to the Jubilee Tower on Rivington Pike itself.
It was on our way down that we enjoyed a magical encounter. On their way up were a young couple with their ten day old baby. She, Hannah Elizabeth, was asleep in a sling across her father's chest. The couple could not conceal their happiness; that they were three instead of two and that they were taking their lovely daughter out on her first proper walk on the most perfect morning. So this is what I fervently wish; that 60 years from now that Hannah Elizabeth will be able to enjoy an autumn day as I enjoyed it on Andy's birthday, or with the Dotcom walkers, or in the happy communion with a friend like Geoff.
 
Monday 12/10/09 Last week I needed to check out the walk from Pilling (Coastal Walk No.2 on the website). This entailed me using public transport. I had looked at the timetable for the Knott End Ferry and had interpreted it to be on its winter schedule - sailing on the hour from Fleetwood. Eileen dropped me off near the station in good time and I caught the 8.15 to Blackpool North. I aimed to get the 10 o'clock ferry so felt I had a good margin for the rest of the journey.
 
At Blackpool I was directed across the road to the bus station and was delighted that the first bus I came across had Fleetwood as its destination. The engine was running and the driver was in his cab. Now my first exchange with the driver should have alerted me that my desire to go to Fleetwood might be less than straightforward. "This bus goes to Fleetwood(?)" I said with a statement turned into a question. "Does it?" replied the driver in a vague sort of way. He then checked the scroll above his cab. He confirmed that Fleetwood was indeed the destination and explained the route also took in Blackpool Victoria Hospital. "How much?" He looked at his fare table. "£3.45" Now there - right there - my second warning. Seeing me hesitate he offered me a dayrider ticket for an extra 5p. By this time my brief encounter with this individual had rather befuddled me because I accepted the offer. (As I am partially sighted I carry a concessionary pass in my wallet which I would have been able to use after 9.30 anyway.Doh.)
 
So at about 8.55 the bus set out to Fleetwood; six miles up the prom. Except this bus route didn't go anywhere near the prom. In fact it went just about everywhere else but the prom. At 9.30 I found myself in Poulton which I had passed through an hour earlier on the train. I went to Carleton, Thornton, Cleveleys, Rossall on a convoluted route that not only took in those places but seemed to trundle down every street, avenue and crescent. An hour and 20 minutes after setting off the bus reached the North Euston Hotel and I was able to escape. As I reached the door I said to the driver, "Please don't tell me that is the quickest route between Blackpool and Fleetwood." He did two things. In answer he equivocated, muttering that there may be other routes. But before he did that he did what that b*stard of a customs officer did at Charles De Gaulle airport when he confiscated our bottle of Cuban rum, - he smirked. Now I am not prone to violence but I own that violent thoughts passed through my mind at that moment. I felt like dragging him from his cab, frog marching him across the prom and kicking his sorry a*se into the murky waters of the Wyre estuary. Instead I retained my composure and explaining that I was late for work, stepped off the bus.
Luckily the ferry service was more frequent than I had been led to believe so I wasn't too far behind my self imposed timetable. Later, having walked over the route, I took a different bus and got back to Blackpool in half the time of my outward journey.
 
In contrast to the sense of frustration of being taken all around the houses the next day's outing was entirely pleasurable. My friend ("when-did-i-find-time-to-work") Geoff arranged for us to see a concert at BBC Radio Lancashire on Friday afternoon. This turned out to be a real treat. Billed as "An Intimate Afternoon with tenor Roberto García Lopez" and presented by John Gillmore we were entertained and educated too, with a programme that not only included Pucinni and Strauss, but also music from Roberto's birthplace Argentina. Accompanied by his wife Joanna Porter, Roberto enthralled his audience (a packed house) on an occasion that was in the finest traditions of the BBC. After both Geoff and I were convinced that we had seen a star of the future. The photo shows Roberto and Joanna being interviewed by John Gillmore.
 
 
Tuesday 06/10/09 This week Lancashire Walks Dot Com celebrated its second birthday. On the 2nd October 2007 John Griffiths and I went to Cinderbarrow picnic area and from there reconnoitred the route "Around the Yealands." After, John gave me a tutorial on e mailing documents and photographs; instruction I soon put to use. A day or two later I received a text from John telling me the walk was published. It is difficult to convey the excitement I felt when I first clicked onto our website - perhaps "electrifying" gets closest to it. It was not just the realisation of a long held ambition to write about walking, but to see the words and photographs elevated by the professionalism of John's website design. From that beginning the website has made impressive progress. In the first year 5,000 hits. In the second year 13,600 hits. Through it we now contribute to the Blackpool Gazette and the Lancashire Evening Post. And of course it has led to the informal walking group who now accompany us on our Tuesday walks - the Dot Com walkers...
 
Speaking of which we were out today. 9 of us met at the Visitors Centre on Beacon Fell which given the forecast and weather was quite remarkable, demonstrating just how ingrained is the habit of walking on a Tuesday. It rained with varying degrees of intensity the whole of the morning. GPS Dave gamely led us around the fell and we gamely followed. Then we made our way to Inglewhite where once again Bill and Marlene joined us for lunch. Outside it was still persisting it down and so we arrived at consensus - Bill would ferry the drivers back to Beacon Fell and for the first time since this venture began a walk was curtailed. SHOCK! HORROR!
Here is a picture of the Dot Com walkers soon after we set out. (Don is wearing red gaiters but it was so wet he has covered them up with two layers of over trousers!)
 
 
Tuesday 29/09/09 This has been a week of miracles! But it didn't seem that way as Andy and I dropped off the Howgills on Sunday. This was when we were subjected to serious verbal abuse by an irate dairy farmer. "WHAT THE F**K ARE YOU DOING DOWN THERE?" he bellowed at us, just as we were about to consult the map. "CAN'T YOU READ A F**KING MAP? THE F**KING PATH'S OVER THERE YOU STUPID BUGGERS!" "No need for that kind of abuse," I said rather primly. Now our error was an easy one to make. We had been on a good track and deep in conversation and hadn't picked up the waymark pointing to the right. As it happened we were talking about the farmer who we had encountered a few minutes earlier on his quad driving his herd to the milking shed. He had warned us that one of his cows had taken a tumble and he was dealing with it. Indeed we passed the unfortunate beast and could see it was in a distressed state; on its side with legs straight out at an angle. So naturally Andy and I were pondering on the implications this would have on a hard pressed farmer. I suppose indirectly we got our answer - it just added to his stress. So our straying had given him the chance to vent his anger and frustration - so maybe that's a miracle, because he might have taken it out on a wife, a child or even himself.
 
 Andy and I were out on a fellwalking club outing, the secretary of which is Dave of the GPS. Dave and his wife, Val, had not long come back from holiday in Bavaria where they had had a wonderful time. However their journey there suffered major calamity in Paris. In making their connection for the overnight sleeper to Munich "someone" misread the train time. Result - the train left without them, and they were stranded at the station late at night and in need of a hotel. Now I have interpreted this incident as a miraculous sign because I'm pretty certain that had this had happened to me and my spouse, (or indeed 89% of couples) there would have been blood on the tracks and one of us would have been in police custody ready to plea justifiable homocide. Certainly there would have been an exchange of opinion that would have been expressed in such terms to put a Howgill dairy farmer in the shade! Returning to Dave and Val, late evening in Paris; they found a hotel, made a phone call to a (very good) friend who through neat work on the internet was able to find a train the next morning and so with a little more inconvenience and a fair bit of expense they were able to make their way to Bavaria. 
 
But the real miracle occured yesterday! Now I am not someone who would describe himself as devout, but I have friends who are and one of them, Mary, invited me, along with two of her other friends to visit the Carmelite convent on St Vincent's Road, Preston to view the relics of St Teresa of Lisieux which are on a UK tour, so to speak. I found myself assisting Martin, as we joined the queue leading into the chapel. In his 70s and somewhat frail, two nasty accidents had left him uncertain on his feet. Having processed past the casket we made our way once again onto St Vincent's Road which was very busy with traffic. At this point I saw my wife, not entirely surprised since she teaches at a nearby catholic school. Then several things seemed to happen at once. As Eileen and I waved in recognition, Martin kind of swerved towards me making me step back into the road just as a car swerved towards the kerb and braking on the heel of my left shoe. This turn of events distressed those that witnessed it more than me. I was immobilised not by injury but because the shoe was trapped. Eileen quickly comprehended my predicament and exhorted the driver to reverse an inch or two after which I was free. The driver drove away and I walked away - a rather different outcome from the one that might have been. So that's the miracle that happened to me. Now the fact that I had been in the presence of the relics of St Teresa moments before may be just a coincidence but...
 
Thursday 24/09/09 On Tuesday the Dotcom Walkers reached the top of Lancashire, or at least the four of us who made up the summit party. John and Brian had ruled themselves unfit to tackle the long ridge walk and so it was arranged to rendezvous with them at Leck Fell House. Given our recent form on meeting up at prearranged locations this may appear to have been a high risk strategy, but it worked out well. However I must now confess that as the rest of us approached the summit of Gragareth the route necessitated a 100 metre deviation into that other place. The question being is this still a Lancashire Walk? A question that provoked a raging debate for the remainder of the walk and is still unresolved. Dropping down to Leck Fell House we encountered the Three Men of Gragareth, large cairns that seem to exude a difficult to define quality but let's say "brooding presence". They are of such antiquity that they are marked on the OS maps whereas other similar features are "Pile of stones" of which there are quite a few thereabouts. Wainwright's "Walks in Limestone Country" has an illustration of them on the cover. Brooding presence or not they made a great photo opp and here we have Three More Men of Gragareth - Jim, Andy and Don. Only one of them is a Lancastrian by birth - which one? (Don is wearing red gaiters to celebrate his 60th birthday this week. Many happy returns Don!) 
 
 
On Wednesday I enjoyed an away day with my friend Geoff recently retired and still enjoying every minute of it. ("When did I find time to work."etc) Geoff, who cannot pass a ruin without examining it, conceived a plan to visit Shap Abbey. We met at Oxenholme and then travelled up the A6, which allowed us to stop by the memorial at the top of the pass. Now there maybe other memorials dedicated to truck drivers but I am unaware of them, so the possible uniqueness of this one delights me. THIS MEMORIAL it intones, PAYS TRIBUTE TO THE DRIVERS AND CREWS OF VEHICLES THAT MADE POSSIBLE THE SOCIAL AND COMMERCIAL LINKS BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH ON THIS OLD AND DIFFICULT ROUTE OVER SHAP FELL BEFORE THE OPENING OF THE M6 It would be easy to mock the epic resonance of the sentiment here which recasts Hector and Lysander as lorry drivers, and the siege of Troy as a hard winter in Westmoreland, but that said better to be reminded of everyday heroism than the dubious achievements of vacuous celebrity.
 
 The rest of the day was dedicated to visiting ruins. 13th century Shap Abbey in the morning.
 
 
And 17th/18th (?) century Sleddale Hall in the afternoon.
 
Oddly enough through its association with the film "Withnail and I", Sleddale Hall has become a place that attracts more devotees than the abbey. Even Geoff and I felt it had a significance far greater than just being a derelict set of farm buildings, and neither of us could claim to have watched the film. So what's that all about? Have we fallen prey to the dubious achievements of vacuous celebrity?
 
Sunday 20/09/09 How perverse of the weather! When the summer holidays come to an end and everyone returns to work, with children and spouses back at school; what happens? We have a heat wave! Well perhaps that's overstating it, but certainly a period of dry, settled weather. On Tuesday the Dotcoms gathered near Cockersands Abbey for a walk that took us agreeably to the Dalton Arms, at Glasson Dock. The weather was glorious - blue skies and fabulous views. We even managed to find a hill - not a very high one at 23m - but still a hill, and could see the Lakeland fells distinctly. Bill and his wife Marlene joined us for lunch, so it was a good turn out.
 
 
And a good turn out too on the previous Saturday to help my daughter Katherine celebrate her 21st birthday. It was a great occasion and a real pleasure to be joined by so many members of the family and so many friends. At the end of the night my friend Geoff who had acted as official photographer suggested a couple of group shots, thus allowing the greatest concentration of feminine beauty ever assembled under one roof to be recorded for posterity. Of course the resolution necessary to post the photo below does not do the subject matter justice - so you'll just have to take my word for it!
 
 
Thursday 10/09/09  Tuesday did not start well. Eight of us at the Sunnyhurst Woods car park having followed detail instructions on the e mail to the RV point, one of us, no names - no packdrill, armed with a GPS, waiting in a different part of the woods. It took 35 minutes to sort out this misunderstanding. To be fair to Dave I had sent him a map different from the route I had finally planned which rather compounded the débacle. I couldn't understand why he couldn't come up to the car park as instructed in the e-mail, and he couldn't understand why we were reluctant to join him at the start of the walk as indicated on his map. When eventually we linked up his explanations were greeted with a degree of autumnal coolness by the other Dotcom walkers. I made a mental note to label my documents a little more carefully before sending them into cyber space. Yet despite this awkward start we had an excellent walk across to Roddlesworth Woods and then back into Sunnyhurst Park and this will become October's walk of the month once I have sorted out the route. Lunch was taken at the Rock Inn, Tockholes, where we found the service friendly and efficient, and the fare wholesome and tasty. By the time we finished the walk we were in good spirits.
 
 
Unusually Bill wasn't able to join us on Tuesday. Bill was the first of the Dotcom walkers to accompany John and I on a regular basis, and since May 2008 has rarely missed an outing. In one way I wasn't surprised about his absence in that he had not long returned from Thailand where he had been on a family visit with his wife, Marlene. But it wasn't this that prevented him from coming. For the last few walks he had been troubled with a sore heel, and this hadn't improved over the summer break. So regretfully he bowed out. This did give us the opportunity of signing his birthday card though. Yesterday Bill celebrated his 75th birthday. Many happy returns Bill! And let's hope its not too long before you can join us again.
 
Monday 31/08/09 "Back to school"! Well at least for our spouses who are now wondering where the six week holiday went. For Eileen and me there was a cruise which took us to Croatia, Venice, Istanbul and Athens; so that wasn't bad. Lots of memories - sailing in and out of Venice, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
 
 
Now as wonderful as these sites were the highlight of the holiday came on the last afternoon when with the invaluable assistance of Damian, an Englishman now living in Scotland, I won the lounge bar quiz. This was a feat that I had been trying to achieve for the previous three cruises; and even though the prize of luxury ice cream seemed rather incidental, I must admit I derived (worryingly for my wife) a great deal of satisfaction from this victory. Below Damian and I celebrate our success on the last evening of the cruise.
I began to feel homesick when I received a text from the Dot Com walkers enjoying an away day on Pen-y-Ghent. I missed the unpredicability of an English summer. Now since my return I have had rather too much of that - well in fact, no, - what we've have had has been predictably awful.
 
August has been a good month for the website. In fact our second best month since we started and hits passing the 17,000 mark. September will see a new aspect to our work. We have been invited by the Lancashire Evening Post to contribute to its weekly walks column. In readiness for this venture which commences on Saturday, the Post needed a photograph and arranged for a staff photographer to come out and take a few pictures of John and me "in a rural location."  For convenience I chose the Dolphin, on Marsh Lane, near Longton as the rendezvous point since its not far from where John lives. At 11 this morning we linked up with David (I think) from the LEP who set up the shot, took his photos and then shot off to his next shoot. I doubt if we were ten minutes on the job. Still it allowed John and I to get a walk in before lunch. On a perfect morning we strolled back to Penwortham along the Ribble Way.
 
Tuesday 04/08/09 Today Malcolm, Don and I went over Ward's Stone to check over the route before it is submitted to the Blackpool Gazette. For Don it was his first time so he was extremely fortunate that he traversed the ridge in typical August conditions - very low cloud and frequent squally showers. All the same it was a great walk across one of Lancashire's finest moorlands. We put up a lot of grouse no doubt in final preparations for "the Glorious 12th" and enjoyed our lunch in the shelter close to the Tarnbrook Wyre, at the top of Gables Clough.  Here's a photograph of Don and Malcolm by the (1st) trig. point on Ward's Stone. As you can see Don has thoughtfully put on gaiters to match Malcolm's jacket.
 
Quite a deal of our conversation was devoted to travellers' tales. Since our return from the St.Cuthbert's Way Don has been to Greece and Malcolm to southern Africa. Malcolm's was a big trip taking in the Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta, Johannesburg and Soweto. Here's one of his photos which I would like to caption; "Wildlife crossing the River Darwen close to Hoghton Bottoms" but know I wouldn't be believed.
 
 
What a wonderful sight!
 
Wednesday 29/07/09 When is this "wonderful" summer going to get started. At the moment it looks too much like a variation of 2007 & 2008. It seems to be following a similar pattern - good in spring and early summer with a spell of two weeks of acceptably warm weather, and then the grey starts. Meanwhile the Mediterranean is burned to a frizzle. Our weather no longer possesses moderate tendencies - everything is done in extremes so we have "wettest", "coldest", "driest" (not so much of this lately), "hottest" months/years "since records began". And just how often do we hear the expression, "the Met Office has just issued a severe weather warning"? Now of course for people who enjoy the outdoors poor weather does not act as a deterrent. All the same it would be nice to think that once the school holidays begin we could reasonably expect a few weeks of warm, settled weather just by way of a change. I think my disappointment with the summer is due to the way it was trailed. We were promised a gloriously hot one where every evening the entire population would gather around their barbeques and no doubt complain about the heat. For the forseeable future that ain't about to happen. I feel sorry for those people who were suckered into booking a camping holiday...
 
Speaking of which my wife Eileen and I went across to Hayfield yesterday to see John and Diane on their campsite. John and I went for a walk around the approaches to Kinder Scout and ascended a moderate hill, South Head which gave us fine views across to Kinder Scout itself. And then, as we returned to the campsite, it began to rain...hard. For me though there was another highlight close to the campsite. In the quarry car park there is the memorial stone dedicated to the Kinder Trespass, which I referred to last week. Here it is.
 
 
Tuesday 21/07/09 Recently we have entered a lively correspondence with Allan Friswell, a retired teacher and author of walking guides. (Does this sound familiar?) Kindly he has checked out a few of our walks and fed through comments, corrections and clarifications which we have been pleased to incorporate into our route descriptions. Most recently he looked at our walk from Foulridge but added an interesting adaptation following the east shore of Slipper Hill Reservoir. This is a path we have yet to follow but will do soon given that Allan sent us a photo that just makes you want to go there.
Hopefully we will link up with Allan in the near future. Already it is clear we have a great deal in common.
 
Today was the last day of the Dot Com walking programme. Seven of us were out in the wilds of Brindle. John, my partner in this enterprise, (not my partner in that other way - we're both married men, don't you know!), is away with his wife, in that Holy of Holies as far as walkers are concerned - Hayfield, Derbyshire. It was from Hayfield that the Kinder Trespass set out in 1932 to challenge the laws that prevented access to the high moorland between Manchester and Sheffield.  It is thanks to people like Benny Rothman and his like, prepared to go to prison, that people like me are able to enjoy the uplands of northern England. From that spark came National Parks, the Pennine Way and the (un)exceptional notion that walking is the panacea of all ills. If there is not a statue to those "access martyrs" then there ought to be! The campaign starts here!!!
 
Tuesday 14/07/09 Our attempt to go "global" has so far been rather feeble. Our usual good coverage by the Lancashire Evening Telegraph but little interest elsewhere. Stuart Flinders of BBC North West Tonight was polite but didn't think a walks website with chinese translations was very newsworthy. Of course it may not be on a par with dinner lady from Oswaldtwistle climbs Mount Everest, but it does contain a bit of interest, more say than brown paper bag seen flying around in Bury centre. Clearly we are up against wily editors who see through our facade and spot us for what we really are - blokes who have a bit of a walk before and after a pub lunch. Speaking of which...
 
A good walk and a good lunch today. Eight of us met at Anglezarke to check out the route before publication in the Blackpool Gazette. We lunched at the Yew Tree on Nick Hilton's Lane, a short distance off route. The service was excellent. It was welcoming, friendly and efficient. Two of us plumbed for soup and sandwich combo, while the rest opted for the Traditional Fish Lunch Special. And this was declared excellent too. So thank you to the staff of the Yew Tree.
 
 
Monday 06/07/09
 
"Preparing to go global" - this accounts for our new feature; a page dedicated to walks translated into Chinese. Of course it would be nice to think we will have the potential to appeal to an audience of one billion readers yearning to find out what the countryside is like in this part of the world. However we remain a walking website of moderate ambitions and our aim is slightly lower than the entire population of the People's Republic. Somewhere between 2,000
to 3,000 Chinese students come to Lancashire to study at the University of Central Lancashire. Since nearly all are continuing their education at an advanced level all possess very good English. Our Chinese page is not for them, but for their families showing what a wonderful part of the world their son or daughter has come to study in.
 
We have been generously assisted by three people in particular. Sheng Hou is a 27 year old business management graduate from Suzhou, a city not too far away from Shanghai. Somehow he fitted in the work of translation in between his full time job. As did 26 year old Xiajun Ni who is from Shanghai itself. She is a graduate in Human Resources. (Both pictured below)
 
 
Our friend  "Chen" - Gychen Guangwai, has already been introduced on these pages. A teacher at the School of Translation in Guangdong University, he has accompanied John and myself on a number of walks since he linked up with us in May. As a specialist translator (whose Masters thesis was a study of James Joyce - ye Gods!) Chen has been able to proofread the walk descriptions as well as translate walks himself. Sadly Chen is returning to China in the next few days, but John and I know we have made a firm friend. Hopefully at some point in the future we'll walk together again - who knows - www.guangdongwalks.com - will become a future project. (For the time being please don't waste your time clicking on this link!)
 
 
 
Wednesday 17/06/09

We now call it "Annual Camp" and it is now in its third year. At some suitable point in the summer John and I travel up to Hawkshead and set up camp. The next few days are spent seriously walking. Then on Friday we set up the second tent in readiness for our wives who join us for the weekend. A pretty good arrangement but first there is a trick to be managed. My wife, Eileen, unlike the rest of us is temperamentally unsuited to camping - in fact she HATES it!  So sometime in January we wait for a suitable moment to broach the subject - usually after the third glass of red wine at a dinner party. Then John's wife, Diane, will extract from her a grudging acknowledgement that some aspect of the previous camp was quite enjoyable. Assent is taken as a binding contract to go on the next one. Diane was probably a press gang officer in a previous life. All the same Eileen had a good weekend with us and even managed to reach the top of Latterbarrow. Here is the photo to prove it.

This year our stay at Hawkshead was made particularly special in that we were joined by our friend from China, Gychen Guangwai, who has linked up with us through UCLan and is helping to translate a few of our routes into Chinese. It was "Chen's" first experience of camping. I have admit he does seem temperamentally suited to camping; though for a real test he needs to try it under normal conditions i.e. unrelenting wind with persistent rain. Other Dotcom walkers declined our invitation to camp with various (suspicious) excuses but did come up one day for a walk into Little Langdale from Tilberthwaite. This gave us the chance to bag another packhorse bridge!

 

We have returned from camping to discover the dismantling of a well known Lancashire landmark in our absence - the gasometer at Southport. I had heard a rumour that it was due to demolition, but it was sad to see it in a part dismembered state while I was checking out July's walk of the month. Perhaps it wasn't the most attractive landmark in the world, but the fact was it served as an instant point of recognition and was more easily picked out than Blackpool Tower  from Lancashire's westerly hills.

 

Monday 25/05/09

Last week a group of us walked St Cuthbert's Way between Melrose in the Scottish Borders and Holy Island, Northumberland. It was a week of competing highlights - impressive abbeys at Melrose, Jedburgh and Lindisfarne, the stately River Tweed, great views from the Eildon Hills, reaching Kirk Yetholm the end of the Pennine Way (the walking of which is slated in as a project in 2011), crossing the border and just after St Cuthbert's Cave our first clear view of the coast. When we reached the causeway linking Lindisfarne to the mainland, two of us, wearing shorts, elected to cross by way of the Pilgrims' route, following a line of tall marker poles. At first, with the receding tide, we wondered at the wisdom of this choice; it was difficult to work out the safest line. After a bit of trial and error, we made our way across a tricky section and the rest was easy. In the end a wonderful way to complete a long distance footpath.

 

 
By unanimous decision Tilldale House, Wooler, was voted "Digs of the Week" and Don, Malcolm, Andy and I would like to thank Mrs Devenport for making our stay such a comfortable, nay, luxurious one. Without doubt she provided the best bed and breakfast accommodation we have ever stayed at.
 
 
Tuesday 12/05/09

 

Tuesdays are sacrosant. We never make any other plans for Tuesday - Tuesday is and always has been, (at least since we started walking out together in June 2006,) walking day. At first we were on our own. Then after a while we were joined by an agreeable third party on occasion. Now it is not unusual to arrange a walk for five or six others - old friends for the most part who have reached the blessed isles of retirement. Today we broke a new record and reached double figures. We walked from Downham down to Sawley by way of Rimington - and the day was perfect; blue sky, bright sunshine.

 

 

 

Today we had a guest from China - Gychen Guangwai, a 37 year old university teacher on an extended visit to UCLan, Preston. Kindly "Chen" has agreed to assist us with translating some of our walks into Chinese. While it would be nice to think this would give us the potential to reach an audience of one billion readers, our sights are more modestly aimed; to appeal to Chinese students at Lancaster, Preston and Ormskirk.  We wouldn't want them to go home without sampling the beauty of the English countryside. We would like to wish Guangwai a most enjoyable time in the UK and hope his visit is a successful one.

Thursday 30/04/09

April has been a record breaking month on the website - almost 1,800 hits. Of course this is small beer compared with Nightjack or even Gordon Brown on You Tube, but for a walking website with moderate ambitions, let's say it impresses us.

Preparing for a walk in a couple of weeks in the Ribble Valley we were saddened to discover that another favourite pub has recently closed its doors for the last time - the Black Bull in Rimington. Not only was this a pleasant place for a lunch time stop with good food and ale, but it had the added interest of being an informal museum with its fascinating display of railway memorabilia. Like many country pubs the Black Bull was an integral part of village life, and Rimington will be a poorer place without it. A tax regime that is meant to dissuade anti-social drinking appears to be killing the places that are licensed to control it, while the real culprits, the supermarkets, continue to promote alcohol at heavily discounted prices. The trouble with supermarkets is that they want it all and will not rest until they have it all. The demise of the English village pub is a mere footnote in the march of progress. Make the most of your local - it may not be there for much longer if things continue as they are.

Wednesday 8/04/09

As retired teachers we find it impossible to not to divide the year up into terms. Of course this is reinforced by the fact that our wives are both still practising teachers. And so we have now reached the Easter holidays. Last week as an end of term event it was arranged for a two day jaunt between Lancashire and that other place. This was seen as a training walk for when we do the St.Cuthbert's Way in seven weeks. The route was worked between two friends' houses both called Andy who live about 15 miles apart with a good chunk of the South Pennines in between. We started at Andy M's in Cliviger a little after 9.00am last Tuesday and walked across to Cowling where we spent the night at Andy B's. The following day we came back by way of Wycoller and Lad Law. A particular highlight among many was spotting a deer in the woods close to Hurstwood. I did not manage to photograph that but I caught one of this new born lamb near Knarrs Hill Farm on the Pendle Way.

 

 
Many thanks to Andy B for his superb organisation and hospitality, and Andy M and Margaret for the best cup of tea ever at the end of the walk. Oh and Elaine too for taxiing us to and from the Dog and Gun on Tuesday evening.
 
Yesterday Don and I went for a walk from Brindle. (John is away camping) This will be May's Walk of the Month. Now Brindle is a place easily overlooked since it lies close to the intersection of the M65 and M61 motorways. I had been to Brindle before and indeed walked from there, but needed to be reminded what a lovely place it is. I was reminded by the pub landlord, not Al Murray, but Robin Tillbrook of the Cavendish Arms. A walker himself he invited John and me for lunch so he could show off the potential of the area and of course his excellent establishment. Now you may think me easily corruptible but I cannot praise the Cavendish Arms highly enough. It manages the trick of being proudly at the centre of a thriving village community, while at the same time appealing to visitors attracted by its deserved reputation - and not a pool table or slot machine in sight! So thank you Robin for lunch but had we arrived there by chance, the Cavendish Arms would have still received high praise - and we would have paid for our lunch! (I'm only sorry John was away and could not share this with Don and me.) Below a photo of Robin Tillbrook.
 
 
Sunday 29/03/09

 

Another red letter day for this website - into 5 figures with the 10,000 hit milestone passed around ten o'clock this morming, auspiciously on the first morning of British Summer Time. Back in January the Dotcom walkers were asked make their predictions as to when this day would arrive. [As it happens we were in the Waggoners at the time - see last entry.] My own forecast was for the second week in June which seemed a realistic projection based on the stats at that time. It's Andy who turned out to be closest - his prediction was for 30th March. I'm afraid he doesn't win a pound for each hit but I daresay we can manage a free pint of cask ale. Any predictions for the 100,000 hit mark?

Friday 27/03/09

Sad news from Burnley. The Waggoners on Manchester Road, close to Clowbridge Reservoir has gone the way of many a pub - it is now shut. We thought highly of this establishment - it had good beer, good food and was a warm and welcoming place. If pubs like the Waggoners are finding it difficult then the crisis has just become a catastrophe. I recently read that almost 40 pubs a week are closing.

If pubs were people what's happening would be called a plague.

Wednesday 18/03/09

A date for your diaries - Saturday 30th May is National Get Walking Day organised by the Ramblers Association. (See www.ramblers.org.uk  for further details of events organised locally). So if we haven't persuaded you so far to step out into the wonderful diversity of Lancashire's countryside, make a resolution to do so on the last Saturday of May.

Sunday 15/03/09

This year is beginning to race away. At the end of January it took off its hob-nail boots and put on its spikes and is now dashing towards Christmas! On Tuesday last the Dotcom Walkers went up to the top of Parbold Hill. Now at 157m 515ft Parbold is not what you call high - even by Lancashire standards yet the views we had on Tuesday held our party rapt for 15 - 20 minutes. Conditions were near perfect. A pair of binoculars were produced and then animated discussions followed; "That's Avenham." "Is it really?" "No it's not." "So it is!"

Over the past few weeks we have enjoyed a varied programme - Sunderland Point, Waddington Fell and then Parbold, although some Dotcoms found issue with the mud on Tuesday. What has been particularly noteworthy has been the willingness of the inns we have visited to accommodate our requirements. Now that we regularly go out with groups of eight plus it has been helpful to order in advance. Each time we have phoned in our order it has been taken entirely on trust and where we have had to adjust our timings we found the establishments could not have been more obliging. So thank you the Globe at Overton, the Moorcock near Waddington and the Rigbye Arms, at High Moor - your good service has been very much appreciated.

Saturday 21/02/09  

Checking out the Hoghton Tower walk during the week, my nephew, Matthew, and I came across a public notice indicating that the path alongside the River Darwen on the far side from Hoghton Bottoms was to be closed indefinitely due to erosion making one section of the walk unsafe. Since we had just come that way we were well aware of the hazard. Indeed it was depicted in the original route description. Violent disturbance, perhaps a flash flood, had mangled the path necessitating an awkward clamber in and out of the gully.In the Lakes this would be a commonplace scramble, but perhaps unexpected on a sedate reach of the river Darwen. When I returned home I was able to quickly amend the webpage re-routing the walk. Had the walk been in a guide book such a change would have to await the next edition. This incident has reinforced my feeling that the internet is an ideal medium for publishing self guided walks. If you, our readers, encounter anything that needs amendment, please get in touch through the contacts page and we will act upon it.

Friday 13/02/09

This has been a busy week. Regular visitors to the site will note that there is a new development. A dozen walks now have a printer friendly version thanks to our association with the Blackpool Gazette. Since 29th November our walks have been published in the Blackpool Gazette and these versions are now available in pdf format. This will make life easier when users print off route descriptions. For the first time in two and a half years John had to pull out of a walk because of a heavy chest cold. This meant I had to go out and do the really arduous work of checking over a route. It was tough going leading the Dot Com walkers, an unruly bunch at the best of times, around Stonyhurst and along the Ribble Way. Then to cap it all - lunch in the Shireburn Arms Hotel washed down by a pint of Hen Harrier! Well someone had to ensure the show goes on. Meanwhile in his garret, John had the cushy number of sorting out the website. Still I have to grudgingly admit the result is pretty good. A big week for John in another way - with the arrival of a grand-daughter, Faye, yesterday. Congratulations to Rick and Emma.

 Thursday 5/02/09

This week we checked out March's "Walk of the Month". When it goes on our regular readers may think it is a wind up. The photos show a world of snow! It's a bit like those episodes of Emmerdale where you can work out when it was filmed by the weather.

Friday 29/01/09

This week John and I went for a most enjoyable walk with BBC Radio Lancashire reporter/producer Steve Becker; a walk featured in Brett Davison's Wednesday's drive time programme between 4.00 pm and 6.00 pm.

 

  

We started with an interview at the bottom of Howick Cross Lane, Penwortham and then, following the Ribble Way, ended up at the Dolphin Inn, Longton. At various points we linked to Brett back in the studio by mobile phone. Not surprisingly Steve turned out to be an experienced walker himself - indeed more experienced than John and I put together - but he welcomed the chance to do a piece on the hoof so to speak. It turned out to be a perfect winter's evening - cool, still and with a hazy mist lending a little atmosphere to the scene. Our five mile walk quickly passed and we were able to do the last link from the Dolphin just as we were about to sup our self rewarding pints of Bowland Brewery's Oak bitter. All in all a most pleasant few hours with an agreeable companion.

Thursday 8/01/09


Our year has started on a high - well 399m above sea level. On Tuesday we checked out  the route for Hameldon Hill. It may be one of the coldest winters for 30 years but for walkers it has been wonderful. We had a thin layer of snow and brilliant sunshine with clear views. Though not one of the most attractive summits in Lancashire with its paraphernalia of masts and aerials that panorama we had on Tuesday afternoon made us all pause at the wonder of it all.

Monday 4/01/09

Regular visitors to this site will have noticed the appearance of maps on some of the pages. From the outset we have been aware that the mapping arrangements have not been as helpful as we would like. Without paying a license to the OS (beyond our meagre pensions) the best we could do was to provide a link to the Lancashire County Council's Mario site. This would at least give readers a general sense of the area of a walk, but could not show the route in detail. All this is changing. Since the end of November our walks are being published in Life!- the Saturday supplement of the Blackpool Gazette. Each walk is illustrated by the newspaper's art department and it is these maps that are finding their way onto the site. We are sure they will help readers explore the corners of the county we describe. We will take this opportunity to wish all our readers, friends, family and supporters a happy and prosperous 2009.

 Sunday 9/11/08

It is a year since this web site started and during that time we have been to every corner of Lancashire. Now we're in the process of revising and modifying the routes we've published, giving us the opportunity to revisit every corner of Lancashire. This could be regarded as a rather mundane exercise but those who love walking will understand there is always something new to observe even on the most frequented paths. Season, light and weather mix and match to create scenes afresh. There has been another dimension this second time around in that we're now more regularly joined by friends and family members. On one occasion in September there were seven of us out together. We have even been prompted to print a programme of future walks. We're becoming an industry!  

Wednesday 17/09/08


There are many places in Lancashire to see autumn in. On these pages we particularly commend Nicky Nook, White Coppice and Silverdale. Indeed in the next few weeks we shall be returning to these locations to check, revise and modify the routes. As walk of the month though we opted for Beacon Fell and the Upper Brock Valley. In high autumn the river stretch is particularly lovely. We checked it out yesterday with our friend Bill, who, incidentally, was celebrating his 74th birthday. For Bill our excursion turned out to be a trip down memory lane. As a child he had camped in Nissan Huts close by Higher Brock Mill. Passing by there brought back a flood of happy memories.

Quite a few times we use the phrase "may be muddy underfoot after prolonged spells of wet weather." Well given the summer we have just had which seemed to be one long prolonged monsoon our recent walks have been marked by tramping through saturated fields and across sodden moors. The best advice is be prepared for mud for next few weeks at least.

Thursday 17/07/08 Now that all 52 walks are complete we are free to go off on 'away days'. Today we drove up to the lake district and tackled Helvellyn. We started from Patterdale and made a detour on the way up to 'bag' another of Wainwright's 214 Lakeland Fells, Birkhouse Moor (718m/2356ft). Next came Helvellyn itself via Striding Edge. By now the weather was atrocious with driving rain, low cloud and a rising wind. Luckily Striding Edge was sheltered from the wind otherwise we would have been forced to be sensible and turn back. Lunch on top of Helvellyn, the third highest peak in the Lake District (and indeed in England) at 950m/3117ft.


We proceeded to 'bag' another couple of Wainwright's namely Nethermost Pike (891m/2923 ft and Dollywagon Pike (858m/2815ft). Down via Grisedale Tarn (which itself is at approx 540m/1770ft).A difficult walk in good weather, tough in bad weather but perversely enjoyable and leaving one with a sense of righteous tiredness.

Wednesday 16/07/08
A red letter day.
Yesterday we completed our 52nd and therefore (for now) last walk of this project. Today that walk has been posted on the website. For Bob this has been an ambition realised - to publish a series of walks of his making. For John a voyage of discovery rekindling an earlier love of walking and discovering Lancashire's hidden secrets. For both of us part of our rehabilitation after serious illness curtailed our careers as teachers.

Thursday 10/07/08


Almost there - 51 walks completed and just one to go. Of course there is much to do once we have all 52 walks in place. They will all need checking which is a job akin to painting the Forth Bridge - once completed we will have to start again. We have many ideas for enhancing the website but would welcome suggestions from our readers. Please feel free to contact us via the contact page.
Last week we went camping to Hawkshead in the lakes and managed some (for us) quite strenuous walks. Much as we love walking in Lancashire the Lake District always comes as a delight.