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At Chorley I was taking part in the "What's our Story? Annual Festival of Words".
This was something entirely new for me - I had been invited to take part and talk about how I came to write "100 Walks in Lancashire". I had diligently prepared a presentation on the theme of "Accidental Author" but had no idea what to expect. For this reason I made sure I was in time to watch the speaker on the programme before me.
Intuitively Michael realised that the comic strip style of "Roy of the Rovers" would be ideal for the project and approached David Sque an illustrator who between 1974 and 1986 worked for the magazine. David's brilliant realisation of Michael's text combined with several thousand emails, hard work, ambition, determination, scholarly research and vision has resulted in a remarkable book. I have since bought 3 copies. (See www.invinciblebooks.co.uk )
Things not running to plan theme continued into Tuesday. Our outing was to Kingsdale and was in two parts. A visit to Yordas Cave followed by a walk. The cave part worked out well and was much enjoyed - the difficulties arose with the walk.
We lunched on the limestone pavement above North End Scar shortly after we commenced our descent to the valley. Now had I seen where the footpath was supposed go following a wall over Low Plain an area of limestone crags I am almost sure I wouldn't have led 19 people down it. But ignorance is bliss and I confidently threaded my way through the layers of rock with the Dotcoms happily in my wake. As it happened there was nothing inherently dangerous in the descent - it just looked dangerous in retrospect as we headed round Wackenburgh Hill on our return to the cars.
Wednesday 29th March. Although Sofie's English was excellent something had been lost in translation - that something was my lunch!
Sofie's walk a couple of days later took in some of remains of the island's pre-Hispanic past. Talking to them both I found out they were about to separate from Free Motion into their own company - Hiking World is the result.
Now on the broad plateau of Wild Boar Fell we deferred to Malcolm's suggestion that we walk along to a group of cairns before bagging the actual summit. At the cairns there was perhaps an even greater appreciation of scenery made more beautiful in the bright sunshine. Some of us began to show off our knowledge of geography pointing out Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent and distant Pendle.
and after that Malcolm led us down to the shores of Sand Tarn a rather surprising stretch of water on these upland commons. Here we lunched. And after that he led us across the squelchy moor to the limestone escarpment of Stennerskeugh Clouds overlooking our parked cars. And after we had changed we decided on tea and scones at the Cross Keys Inn at Cautley to which Helen kindly treated us. It had simply been a most splendid day out - nearly all of it in bright sunshine and such a contrast to the day before when Storm Doris came sweeping in.
It came as a pleasant surprise therefore that our train - the 1.40pm - left for Preston on time. As the Virgin Pendolino pulled out of Glasgow Central the service manager apprised us of the situation. There had been disruption across the rail network but the train would go at least as far as Preston. RESULT!
I asked him about the situation. London seemed to be in lock down with no train movement in or out of the capital. As he served us the PA jingled. "Ah oh bad news," he sighed. He was right. The service manager announced that Preston station was shut for the time being and there was no prospect of progress beyond Penrith. As we were on Penrith station we settled down for what was to be a long wait.
Slightly sozzled we made our way to the taxi rank. In little time at all we were home in South Ribble.
South Ribble which in the past week has been voted the best place to live in the UK if you are in your 20s. Eileen and I are a little beyond that category but we do have a daughter, a daughter-in-law and a future son-in-law all in that age group. As with all surveys of this type they generate different results depending on the parameters they set but it was rather pleasing to know that the place Eileen and I chose to settle in 40 years ago is at the top of at least one list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
We booted up. Running through my mind were a number of concerns.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
and houses. There was the novelty of walking in an Alpine valley but even that was wearing thin.
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)
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.
I joined the queue, had my photograph taken and returned to the bridge to seek my companions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Readers who would like a badge can contact me through this e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Old Bill actually worked as a bus conductor and driver on the buses in late 1940s!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
By the time I reached Elswick protest signs were everywhere. I reached Roseacre.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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."
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.
28th February Saturday. Sorry - there's been a lot going on since Eileen and I returned from Australia.
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.
…yes led to
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.
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.
Now his is a sense of achievement I aspire to.
1st January 2015
Happy New Year! Greetings from Sydney.
Poetic justice! I gave up the expedition to Kurnell until Tuesday.
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.
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.
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.
On it are inscribed these words:
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.
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.
"Hello. Will there be a ceremony?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"I was thinking we'd be better off in Cathedral Quarry?" said Tom.
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.
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.
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.
Hint - no point on doing this journey on a wet and windy day.
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"!
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.
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?"
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.
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?"
But it could get worse.
"It's all the information phones carry now," observed Jim.
"Are you trying to cheer me up?"
Me: Eileen I have experienced a misadventure.
Eileen: What now?
Eileen: You're always losing phones!
Eileen: Does Andy lose his phone? Does Don or Jim?
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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"
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
•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.
•Tent with sewn in groundsheet, poles and pegs
•Stove & fuel, matches/lighter
•food for 2 days
•plasters and bandage.
(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.
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.
biggest applause was for Brian Layton as he descended into the camp at 8.23.30pm on Saturday evening.
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!
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
destination until about 10 miles out when Boreray appeared out of the mist. Perhaps a third
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
All would have been well had it ended well. The problem was that Dennis wasn't well. In our
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.