Sharp Edge with Sir Chris Bonington

As chancellor to Lancaster University, and honorary president to our hiking club, we like to invite Sir Chris Bonington along on one of our walks during the summer term. He’s always very happy to oblige, and this year chose Mungrisdale as the destination. It goes without saying that this trip is more popular than usual, and twenty-six of us set off en mass from the Mill Inn. Chris had suggested the route, which was up the relatively unfrequented eastern ridge onto the summit of Bannerdale Crags, and then across and up the much more frequented Sharp Edge onto Blencathra, before returning via the grassy ridge-line of Souther Fell.

Starting off on Sharp Edge

Starting off on Sharp Edge

The ridge up Bannerdale Crags made for a refreshing change from the usual route via Bowscale Tarn, and offered great views back down Bannerdale itself. The group split at the col before Blencathra, with some heading straight up the broad north-eastern ridge and the rest of us opting for Sharp Edge. A cliché it may be, but it felt a bit of an honour to be scrambling alongside such a legendary mountaineer with such impressive routes to his name. The grade I ridge was, as always, great fun.

Compulsory photo! On Sharp Edge.

Compulsory photo! On Sharp Edge.

Chris had his fair share of “are you who I think you are?” en route to the summit, and the day was in danger of turning into more of a photo shoot  than a walk when we actually reached the summit. Our route back over Souther Fell was much more quiet, and a perfect end to a brilliant day out which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. Chris was ever-grateful and made the point of making sure we knew so, adding that he was looking forward to next year’s outing – so am I!

Walking back over Souther Fell

Walking back over Souther Fell

Scrambling with bivvy gear – Alps training!

It seemed like a fantastic idea to do a grade 3 scramble fully laden with bivvy gear as perfect Alps training – we weren’t so sure of that half-way up Pinnacle Ridge, being thrown off balance by the huge bags on our back on every move we made! The idea came about when deciding what kind of “Alps training” to get done this weekend – climbing, fitness, getting used to lugging big bags around – when it dawned on us we could roll them all into one in a somewhat epic route from Patterdale back to Burneside, via the brilliant Lakeland classic grade 3 scramble of Pinnacle Ridge.

Despite the heavy load, I was thoroughly enjoying heaving myself over rocky steps and teetering over pinnacled crests. The ridge is in a fantastic position, the exposure is quite considerate and on a dry day (which it was) it is one of the most satisfying climbs in the Lakes. The technical difficulties are low for the most part, except for one pitch, the “Crux wall”, which amounts to a 10m wall of around Diff standard. The pinnacles themselves – which come after said wall and form the iconic picture of the ridge given in any guide book you see – are a lot easier than they look, but nonetheless are seriously exposed and a slip at the point could prove fatal. Despite its exposure, the ridge is surprisingly sheltered, and even on days when you’re being blown about all over the place on the summit, only a few breaths are felt on the ridge.

Imogen on the

Imogen on the “crux wall” of Pinnacle Ridge

Lorna, Imogen and me on the final pinnacles of the ridge

Lorna, Imogen and me on the final pinnacles of the ridge

I always forget how draining scrambling and climbing can be, and after the ridge I was already quite tired – I wasn’t looking forward to the walk over Fairfield and Red Screes and then up the other side of the Kirkstone Pass yet to come! We soon settled into a good pace and the sunny weather and plethora of typically-Lakeland views took my mind off my weary legs and aching shoulders. The lure of the Kirkstone Inn was too great when we reached the pass and we decided it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to rehydrate here before finding a bivvy spot somewhere towards Thornthwaite Crag: The choice of beer on my part as the rehydrating fluid probably wasn’t the best one!

By the time we had settled into our comfortable spot  just below the summit of Caudale Moor, the sun was already setting and the lighting changing to a lovely golden red. It’s always a special feeling, being up in the mountains late in the evening when everyone else is making there way home, and this occasion wasn’t any different. Some of my favourite moments in the mountains have been lying in my bivvy bag, gazing up at the stars, enjoying the cold evening breeze brushing across my face.

Our bivi spot in the evening

Our bivvy spot in the evening

The next morning, weather still in check, we summitted Caudale Moor, followed shortly by Thornthwaite Crag, Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike. By lunch time, we had made good progress and were just starting the ascent to Sleddale Forest and Potter Fell. Unfortunately, this meant leaving the well-formed paths of the Lakes’ more popular fells behind, and despite the dry spell of late, the going got considerably tougher! There were vague paths here-and-there, but for the most part we found ourselves bog trotting and marsh hopping over strangely spongy ground that we couldn’t help thinking we might disappear into at any moment. We were rewarded for all this hard work by the most amazing forest of bluebells just east of Staveley – photos nor words do justice to the breathtaking blue sea of delicate flowers that carpeted the entire forest floor. A perfect end to a lovely few days in the fells.

Ascending Potter Fell - you can see most of day two's route, from just past Red Screes onwards

Ascending Potter Fell – you can see most of day two’s route, from just past Red Screes onwards

Photos don't do it justice!

Photos don’t do it justice!

Exploring the hills of south Wales

I have very fond childhood memories of holidays in and around Hay-on-Wye, and some of my first ever hills (albeit carried on my Dad’s back!) I went up were Black Hill and Hay Bluff in the Black Mountains. Of recent, however, they’ve become somewhat neglected in favour of the bigger mountains of Scotland, and it’s not very often that we get the chance to travel south to explore the hills of south Wales once more. Another bank holiday weekend meant another chance for a few days away in the mountains, and as my parents and aunt and uncle (Paula and Pete) were heading to Pencelli – just outside Brecon – we decided to tag along to make the most of the opportunity.

The campsite was Pencelli Castle, which is probably one of the most expensive campsites in the UK. The facilities are good and the site very well maintained and with a lovely atmosphere, but I find it hard to see how they justify £23.80 per night for two people in a small backpacking tent – you can stay in a youth hostel for much less than that!

We headed to the quieter Black Mountains on the Saturday, and did a brilliant loop of Black Hill and Hay Bluff from the Glospel Pass. It was a lengthy but enjoyable walk in down the quiet and peaceful Monnow Valley – to the east of Black Hill. We traversed the entire length of the hill, over open fields and through wooded paths, before joining the more popular main route up from the southern tip of its south-eastern ridge. The ridge itself is spectacular, offering a good deal of exposure but always on a good solid path. I’ve come to think of the Black Mountains as big rounded lumps, so this surprised me a bit! From the main summit, myself and Lorna – under the false promise that point 703m directly to the west was another Nuttall – hacked across the heathery mass of open moorland to gain the Offa’s Dkye as it passed over, before jogging along it to catch up with the others who had taken the more conventional route to the summit of Hay Bluff (which was “deleted” from the Nuttall’s list a number of years ago for not having the required prominence).

 

Black Hill's southern ridge

Black Hill’s southern ridge

 

The pub we were heading to for tea wasn’t open until 7pm, and we were well ahead of schedule at this point. Fortunately, the weather was, as it had been all day, nigh-on perfect – warm sunny skies with just the odd breath of a cooling breeze from the south. This meant it was perfectly comfortable to lounge around in the sun, and we did so whilst watching the scores of paragliders attempting to take off (albeit somewhat unsuccessfully for the most part) from the summit. Those that did manage to take off and caught the updrafts correctly soon soared thousands of feet above us – mere dots in the sky. It looked like mighty good fun and I made a mental note to check out how much it would cost to get a license.

Paragliders on the summit of Hay Bluff

Paragliders on the summit of Hay Bluff

Pete and Paula chose the pub – the Bull’s Head in Craswall. It’s a unique little place with great beer and cider straight out the box, and absolutely delicious food. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area, even if it’s just for a drink!

The campsite on Sunday morning

The campsite on Sunday morning

The following day, we joined hoards of others on the route up Pen-y-Fan from the Storey Arms. We continued along the ridge, taking in all of the Brecon Beacons’ main summits in our traverse which ended up back at the campsite in Pencelli, via the Royal Oak for a well-deserved pint of course! The weather was, again, hot and sunny, and we used the opportunity once more to have an hour-long snooze on the summit of Cribyn. The route got steadily less tourist-tastic the further away from the Storey Arms we got, and we had the final few miles almost all to ourselves.

Lorna infront of Fan-y-Big

Lorna infront of Fan-y-Big

This traverse is one of my favourite routes in area, if not the country. It takes in some fantastically interesting scenery with some lovely views. The Beacons themselves are quite unique and I struggle to find anywhere else in the UK quite like them. From a distance, they look like that they should be made up of rocky crags and buttress, but up close you realise that most near-vertical slopes are mostly turf and grass.

We couldn’t have the weather completely our own way, and it got considerably cloudier, windier and wetter for the bank holiday Monday itself. As we were driving back that afternoon, a shorter route was picked, up Fan Frynych from Cwm Du. The route passed through the Craig Cerrig Gleisiad Nature Reserve, a beautiful area playing host to many rare Arctic-Alpine plants, and it made a great change from the previous day.

Summit of Fan Frynych

Summit of Fan Frynych

All three walks were completely different, re-affirming to me that south Wales is one of the best walking areas in the UK, with so much to offer. I’m already looking forward to our next visit to the area!

Bank holiday weekend in Galloway

It was a rather quick turn-around after our return from Ireland, as the very next day we were bound for Scotland on LUHC’s bank holiday trip to Galloway. The trip has become a regular item in the diary for the past couple of years, but until now I haven’t been able to attend, and so I was determined to make it this year!

The motivation behind choosing Galloway for the bank holiday weekend is to avoid the crowds that swarm the Lakes and Scotland’s more popular areas. The plan worked, as apart from a couple of people ascending Merrick on the Saturday, we saw no other walkers all weekend long! Why it isn’t more popular is a bit of a mystery to me, as it’s a beautiful area with lots of interesting and unique hills. The going is tough – mainly due to the lack of popularity meaning trodden paths are few and far between – but that just adds to the “wilderness” factor, which is always good in my book.

We camped at Glentrool Holiday Park, a small caravan and camping site just down the road from the House ‘o’ Hill pub. The site is rather pricey and the facilities aren’t great – the “showers” are more of a small dribble than an actual shower – but it’s in a nice location and only a short drive away from Loch Trool, the start of most walks in the area. The pub is great, and they stayed open for us especially on two of the evenings!

Near the summit of Merrick

Near the summit of Merrick

As I’ve already hinted at, our Saturday walk comprised firstly of the ascent of Merrick, followed by a loop of Loch Enoch that became known as the “Full Wharch”, comprising of Kirriereoch Hill, Mullwharchar and Craignaw. It was quite a strenuous loop, being around 20km in length and with 1800m of ascent. The going was tough on the pathless terrain, especially over Craignaw and down the western ridge of Snibe Hill, and the walk felt every bit of its 20km. There were plenty of rocky features to scramble about on going over this section, and we had some great fun. The day started sunny, but it soon clouded over, and a chill wind made it feel very cold.

Dunskey Castle

Dunskey Castle

The following day, all feeling a bit knackered from the Full Wharch, we decided to head to the coast and visit the pretty town of Port Patrick. Dunskey Castle, a short walk along the coast, was visited first. The castle stands on the site of one built in the 14th century by the Adairs of Kinhilt, which was subsequently demolished around 1500 by the McCullochs of Myrton and Cardoness, soon to be rebuilt in the mid-16th century by the Adairs again – a family that also owned the Castle of St John in Stranraer. By 1700 it lay derelict, and nowadays visitors are free to wander around the entire building.

Impressive rock pool damn engineering!

Impressive rock pool damn engineering!

After a bit of scrambling about on the rocks to the northern end of Port Patrick, we went for a walk up the coast to Black Head and Killantringan Bay, where Jim, Daniel and Richard built one of the world’s most impressive feats of rock pool engineering, comprising three separate damn to stem the flow of water down the beach and raise water levels behind the damns by a staggering amount!

Whilst the rest of the country seemed to be enjoying beautiful sunshine on our final day in Galloway, we were experiencing drizzle and low cloud. Determined not to be deterred, Jim, Richard and myself stuck to our original plan and went for a walk up Craiglee and down the Rig of the Jarkness. The cloud added to the atmosphere of the walk, and it felt brilliant to be wandering between little lochans and granite outcrops shrouded in the mist – it made the place feel rather special.