Half Term and time for a well deserved holiday. It was a holiday of two halves, the first half being spent in Pembrokeshire, courtesy of TBF’s friend who kindly let us rent her lovely cottage in Llangwm for the long weekend.
Illness was in the air unfortunately. I was still recovering from a nasty virus and cough but TJS had it full-blown all through the weekend and was in very bad way. We attempted to head out on the Saturday. It looked promising with the threat of showers so we headed down to Stack Rocks. Within minutes of stepping from the car the rain arrived. It looked like a brief shower and all was sunny a few hundred yards out to sea but it rained non-stop for 18 hours. The day was pretty much washed out and we spent the rest of the day relaxing at the cottage.
The Sunday promised much better so we returned to try again as I was keen to explore more of this stretch of coast. We were without TJS who too poorly to come with us and looked really sorry for himself. Such a shame when a cold ruins a long looked forward to holiday.
Stack Rocks is a superb place with some amazing features and wildlife. The arch known as the Green Bridge of Wales is perhaps it’s most spectacular feature.
We also saw seals and of course the Razorbills and Guillemots that crowd the isolated stacks. The population is huge with every spare spot nested and hundreds more in the air and fishing in the sea. It’s a fantastic site
We strolled along the coast, the sheer edges and blow-holes are spectacular and fascinating but it makes for long walking as you hug the coast.
We found a fine spot amongst the wild flowers on the coast for lunch
TJF was slowing down and seemed to have had enough coastal walking. I was keen to explore further so TBF took her off to Broad Haven South for some beach fun while I walked the coast to meet them.
The coast here is absolutely magnificent, one of the finest stretches of cliffs that I know. The land side is pretty much flat but the cliffs are pretty much sheer vertical limestone pocked with caves, arches, blow holes and incised narrow inlets. The coast path official route runs a few hundred metres inland for the most part and misses all this. Most people seem to follow this route so by sticking rigidly to the cliffs and following its exact line, I had it mostly to myself
As befits such an intricate coast, it’s full of evocative and unusual names for the various features. Bullslaughter Bay, Flimston Bay, Moody Nose, Mewsford Point, The Castle, Newton Saddle, Huntsmans Leap, Long Matthew Point
The walking is surprisingly tough as the ground is hard under foot and the distances deceptive. Several times I had to detour the best part of kilometre to achieve a distance of a few feet.
There were a couple of these inlets where with a brave leap you could hop across the narrow sections. I declined.
There was one amazing headland at least a hundred metres across that had a cave all the way beneath it from one side to the other. I made a vow to return and kayak this whole section on a calm day. It would be a magnificent expedition.
This section was rock climbing heaven and there were dozens of people scaling the cliffs. I watched several parties of all ages having fun and the rock is perfect for climbing. Vertical but solid and lots of holds.
I pressed on past St Govans Chapel (nice and photogenic but swarming with tourists) and on to St Govans Head (spectacular and deserted).
By now I was pretty tired and footsore and as I suspected, the Funsters were starting to wonder where I was. The coastal scenery was still delivering superb vistas but I had to up to the pace to meet them before they called out the rescue teams :)
If there is s more interesting and intriguing stretch of coastline I’m yet to see it and considering the many wonders it has to offer and relative accessibility you can have whole sections to yourself. Just make sure you stick to the line of the cliffs or you’ll miss all the fun.
A cracking day was finished off with a BBQ in the tranquil surroundings of Llangwm.
On our last day, TJS was feeling a little better so it seemed only fair to have a lazy beach day at Marloes, one of our favourites.
We did nothing much except laze on the beach, re-route water flows (my personal favourite), poke about in rock pools and watch the tide come in. The weather looked on the cusp of rain for a while but eventually it turned into a scorcher.
Simple pleasures today
The evening back at Llangwm was beautiful and calm and I spent a happy hour snapping the boats in Llangwm Pill. It really is the most tranquil place made all the more fascinating by the way the tide creeps in out, almost un-noticed. Kind of creepy in a way
And then it was off to our friends in the north for the second half of the match
Regular readers will know of the family passion for adventure parks in the trees. We’ve done loads in France but never in the UK. Special May treat for the family took us to Go Ape in the Forest of Dean near Mallards Pike Lake. I was feeling pretty ropey, coming down with a nasty cold and hacking cough but I survived and had some fun which is of course the whole point. A video compilation and a few photos of our day out.
I’m not a big fan of forests, I find them oddly claustrophobic, preferring the wide open spaces of the mountains. The Forest of Dean has changed my views as it’s quite lovely. lots of natural forest (not military ranks of conifers), lakes and industrial relics from it’s coal mining days. I need to explore some of it’s shady glades as well as it’s treetop fun
I like my routine and I like a certain degree of constancy in my life. This is particularly true when taking the family camping. I’ve been to too many poor quality sites, places that charge the earth for less than impressive facilities (Sykeside near Brothers Water you have been shamed). However some places roll out the red groundsheet and the Church Stile campsite is the best. Always welcoming, spotless facilities, reasonable (by Lakes standards), never too crowded and with stunning views. A bit of a drive if you want to tackle the big mountains but well worth it when you have such a lovely temporary home to return to. We’ve been here 4 years on the spin now at May Day weekend and I don’t see that trend changing. Our home from home when the first family camping weekend of the year arrives.
Taking the kids out of school is a bit of no-no for a weekend so this year I took the day off as the advance party to get the tent set up while the rest of the family came up late Friday. This gave me a chance to get a day of solo walking in on the Friday. I had thought of a car camp on the road over from Broughton near the Black Combe but in the end I thought “what the hell” and booked into a Travel Inn, followed by a hearty breakfast at Booths in Ulverston (a fine supermarket chain if ever there was one with outstanding cafes attached). I was up at the top of the pass by 10 and wasn’t sure how to fill a whole day. In the end I decided on a double out and back. In the morning I’d wander out to Whitfell and back and in the afternoon do the same to take in Black Combe, a long admired mountain that I wanted to climb
Despite the promise of sunshine it was really rather cold and windy when I stepped from the car. Within a few minutes I was rooting around in the pack for some warmer headwear. There was sunshine temptingly close but grey and gloomy was my companion for now
Buck Barrow – and the wonderfully named – Great and Little Paddy Crags were marvellous with some scrambling to keep me entertained.
I strolled with purpose out towards Whitfell and suddenly, almost unnoticed the sun came out and there was blue sky everywhere.
The walk to the summit was magnificent and the views from the top inspiring although still cold. From here you have the coast on one side and the full Lakeland panorama of peaks in the other. It looks like fine backpacking country on these smaller lesser known hills but as I was to find out not everywhere is quite as dry as it seems.
It would have been a fine spot and time for some lunch but I was still full of Booths best so returned towards the car. I thought Kinmont Buck Barrow looked worth a trek (and it was) so I headed off across the col. I should have packed a pack-raft for this. Just a hidden lake with grass in it. Mountains can be sneaky buggers sometimes.
I’d thought about lunch at the car but I thought that was a bit sad and I was still digesting breakfast so I pushed on towards Black Combe, over Stoneside Hill and past the charity chair. It looked like another easy stroll up to the edge but there was more hidden water to get past first (this area really has some astounding amounts of water in it’s soil).
I managed to find a thin path that took me to the edge and then along the top of Whitecombe Head and Whitecombe Screes all the way to the summit of Black Combe. The cloud had filled in again but the views were still fine especially down towards Barrow in Furness and Walney Island.
Now I was hungry and settled down on the grass for a luxury lunch of crusty bread and Morecambe Bay potted shrimps – and very fine they were too. A cold beer would have been a fine addition if only I brought one but a cuppa made an adequate replacement.
As I sat there looking out at the Sellafield plant I recalled that back in the 80’s the owners were a tad careless with their safety protocols and had a habit of creating large amounts of toxic waste that they weren’t terribly sure what to do with (well who hasn’t created a batch of the worlds most lethal substance and then wondered where to stash it). I seem to remember that their answer to this taxing question was to dig a big hole on Black Combe and then bury it hoping no-one would notice. Not sure if that’s true but it was an intriguing thought as I counted my fingers to make sure I still had just the ten. I still have ten so perhaps it’s all nonsense.
I collected my stuff and wandered off on however many legs I now had back to the car with the skies clearing again as I reached it. A pretty damn fine day.
12 Miles, 20,00 feet of ascent
Putting the tent up was almost a pleasure in the warm sunshine – almost. I was joined by Uncle Fester for a few pints of outstanding Mild and some equally fine food in the The Strands pub – well worth a detour if you’re in the area. It was a chilly evening back on the camp site and I took some more night shots of stars and illuminated tents.
Alas that was as good as things got from a weather perspective. The Saturday was grey and gloomy despite a good forecast. We did a fine walk up Nether Beck to Scoat Tarn and Fell and back over Red Screes, Dore Head and Over Beck. I took only a couple of photos as the day just gloomier and colder as it wore on
8 Miles, 2,600 feet of ascent
The evening descended into the quintessential British pastime of a BBQ in the rain. The rain continued all night and hadn’t stopped by lunchtime the next day. What to do in this corner of the Lake District with a bunch of restless bored kids = Seascale
And what a fine choice it was. It had pretty much stopped raining by the time we got there and the kids had a whale of time messing about on the beach and on the astonishingly slippery pier with the waves bouncing over and through it. Lunch was provided by the absolutely delightful Mawsons Ice Cream Parlour. They managed to find space for pretty much 20 of us in it’s tiny interior and looked after us magnificently despite the obvious confusions of many hungry and fussy kids. The food was outstanding but the real treat is their ice cream which is to die for. Apparently the market for full cream has declined in these healthy times so they were left with waste that they didn’t know what to do with. Answer, Ice Cream and I’m glad they did. I think a trip to Seascale is now an essential part of any trip this way
It was still deeply gloomy but at least dry when we emerged 2 hours later. We wandered up the beach and passed another happy couple of hours. Kids love a beach and they forgot about what a dull and damp day it was. Happy kids = happy parents
Out of the depths of a very dismal Lake District morning sprang a pretty damn fine day in the end.
The Monday was a day for taking tents down and some epic football matches where I played a blinder in goal, though I say it myself, and several old family scores were settled in some brutal midfield battles. Football was the winner.
Back to the Strands for tea before the long drive home. Another weekend to add to the archives with the usual batch of great memories to fall back on when winter comes. Looking forward to 2015 :)
All things must end and so 3 days of glorious sunshine came to and end as we woke up to this
It had been a wild night with strong winds tearing at the tent in booming gusts. We knew it was coming so the tent was well battened down and was solid, although sleep was harder to come by. We had a long walk out so we were up early, breakfasted, packed an away sharpish. No views to detain us on this morning
It was a wild day and the wind was strong enough to blow you off balance, accentuated by the still heavy packs
At the col below Cir Mhor we lingered briefly to try standing up in the wind and then pressed on around the path that traverses the western flank. The wind from here to the point of descent into Glen Rosa was ferocious and picking through the bouldery path with a heavy pack was arduous. We had talked of walking out over the ridge of Beinn a Chliabhain but we plunged into Glen Rosa without a pause. Once down the first steep section the wind dropped and suddenly all was calm again. There were even signs that it might clear
Glen Rosa was a superb walk. Broad and wide open with a gorgeous clear stream and plenty of wild swimming pools for warmer weather. The sun became more visible with each step
Slowly but surely all the tops appeared except Cir Mhor which stubbornly refused to show itself
By the time we reached the corner to turn towards Brodick we were in full sun again and it was warm and balmy as it had been on the first day. Glen Rosa needs another visit
In my dreams I’d imagined that Brodick harbour was just down the road but this was a cruel deception. There followed 3 miles of slog down an admittedly stunning valley on tracks and Tarmac and I was feeling the heat and the pain in my knees from 4 days walking and heavy pack on hard roads. GM left me trailing as we walked, or in my case, limped into Brodick under a now cloudless sky
The seafront in Brodick is rather pleasant and we found a cracking spot to wait for the next ferry having just missed one. Several bottles of fizzy pop and a healthy portion of fish and chips from an excellent and well hidden chippy restored our spirits and we sat and whiled away a few hours ready for the boat home
The folly of just missing the previous ferry became apparent. The reason we had just missed it was that it was the earlier ferry that was now an hour late. Problems with docking in Ardrossan meant it couldn’t use it’s normal berth. By the time it had turned around a come back it was well over an hour late and the queue was enormous. We rather sneakily just slipped into the head of the queue, found a spot to sit on the sacks for a swift exit and departed the jewelled Isle
More messing about at Ardrossan meant we were pushing 2 hours late leaving and we had a long drive home. Still, after 4 days of amazing walking the journey seemed to fly by and I was back home in Hereford not long after midnight. Last years trip to Glen Scaddle was unbelievable but I think this year topped it. A long held dream to climb Arrans rocky summits fulfilled under perfect skies. Sensational stuff! :)
Another day, another beautiful morning.
Low clouds clung to the ridges but everywhere else was deep blue. A chilly start with a brisk wind but it promised to be another memorable day and so it turned out
We decided on a more easy paced day and packed light for a stroll across the nearby hills of Beinn Bhreac and Beinn Tarsuinn. The views across to Cir Mhor drifting in and out of cloud were majestic
They may not look much on the map but an crisp clear day they were a delight. The lower slopes are layered with deep heather and boulders but picking a grassy route through them was easy, enlivened by regular rodent sightings. One on the top the grassy summits make for grand walking. A summit camp in settled weather would be superb if you can haul water up!
It was a chill wind but with judicious positioning and sitting (a skill I’m justly proud of) we managed to find shelter and soaked up the views. The west was especially inspiring and the long ridge of Beinn Bharrain, Mullach Buidhe, Beinn Bhreac and Meall nam Damh just ached for a route. A walk across those tops is high on my agenda
With time on our side and a glorious day we took in Beinn Tarsuinn as well. Rough ground again on the slopes but the summit again a broad expanse of soft grass
We got our long awaited view of the Paps of Jura into the bargain
We were also paid a visit by a low flying Hercules Transport. Alas I wasn’t quite quick enough to set up the camera with the best settings so this is the best I could do
After a long laze on the summit the underwear insects were active again and we headed off back to the tent for lunch
Down at the tent it was windy but after more sitting expertise involving well placed rucksacks and rocks a warm and sunny lunch was enjoyed. It took a huge effort to follow up on the plan to pack up and move to another site to shorten the walk out the next day
I’d spotted what looked like a cracking site the previous day a flat patch of grass on the hillside just before the col between Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail. It took no more than a hour to pack and wander up there and in deed it was a magnificent spot
Still a liitle damp although nothing like the previous site it had a small bank to perch on to cook and make tea. A great supply of fresh running water a couple of hundred yards away and views to die for. The best wild site I’ve found for a long while. I got a little carried away with the photos but the tableau was just so magnificent that it was hard not to
With camp set up and bellies full it was time for an evening stroll across the col.
The weather forecast was for a spell of windy and cloudy conditions. Whilst we lost the clear skies we gained something better in the form of an ever changing light show from the setting sun
It was absolutely amazing. Dark mountains and shafts of sunlight, first orange and then deep red played on the western islands. Jura in particular was enlivened by natures own firework display
We both wandered about in a kind of happy daze, lost in our own world yet sharing this display of wonder and pleased that we had this to ourselves and that we’d made the decision to move up high. I’m not sure if I’ve picked the best of the shots but all the photos are in the slideshow at the start of the post
It was sad to see the sun finally go down and the lights go out, especially knowing we were likely to be in for a rough night. A short day from a walking perspective but a fine one
4.5 Miles, 2,000 feet of ascent
Another amazing day to live long in the memory. I’m surely going to pay for this good fortune sometime :)
Morning had broken. Another day on the Isle of Arran, another day in the sunshine.
Another day on the ridges was in order but not until breakfast in the morning sun by a mountain stream under a blue sky. Life was pretty fine
We headed across the grassy slopes towards Cir Mhor. What we’d started to notice were the obvious pathways in the grass for the small voles and mice. The whole ground was a maze of them. Then we began to see glimpses of them scuttling through the grass. I’ve only ever seen the most fleeting of glimpses in the past but here they were everywhere. I’m not sure if it was the warm weather drawing them out but they came to be a feature of the weekend and I saw them pretty much everywhere we walked
As with the previous days the weather was glorious and the views especially across to the western hills were magnificent
In what seemed to be no time at all we were at the col between Caisteal Abhail and Cir Mhor. Both mountains looked dramatic beyond their height
The wonderful clean rock of the north face of Cir Mhor is eye-grabbing and we stopped many times on the ascent to take it in
Despite it’s dramatic appearance from most directions it’s an easy climb with a good path all the way to the top
The summit is satisfyingly small though, giving an almost Alpine flavour and considering it’s popularity was relatively quiet. I was enjoying myself but GM as always had ants in his y-fronts and hassled me to get moving
Next on the list was A Chir, Arrans hardest summit. It looks fairly benign from this view but looks can be deceiving
On left of this photo by the way is the famous Rosa Pinnacle on Cir Mhor which GM has climbed in his more adventurous youth
After some excellent easy scrambling we came to this point where the ridge vanished into a deep cleft. One look was enough to tell me I was out of my league as well as the exposed looking ridge beyond it. You can see a couple of guys descending it if you look closely. I turned around and left GM, much the better mountaineer than me to it and headed for the easy path that traverses around. Within minutes GM had caught me up a he didn’t fancy it either. (when we got back home we Googled A Chir and discovered that the point where we turned back was a famous bad step or mauvais pas and that most people take rope for this section. Whoops.
We traversed around and after a stop for lunch tried the summit from the other side. Much easier but still pretty exposed so again I left GM to it and enjoyed ambling about on the lower part of the ridge. This in itself was great fun, with some sheer cliffs, clean rock and a spectacular gash through which the rest of the ridge to Beinn Tarsuin and Beinn Nuis was visible. I wish I’d given the summit a better go bit a combination of being spooked by the other half of the ridge, concern that I’d have to reverse whatever I’d climbed up and just general middle aged wimpiness led to my discretion
Here’s GM posing on the summit ridge
The climb up Beinn Tarsuinn is a stiff one and in the warm sun I found it punishing and hard work. The sky had turned a little hazy but the walking was still magnificent and the views from the summit breathtaking
We had planned on traversing out to Beinn Nuis but we thought an extended late afternoon by the tent and tea in the sunshine was a much better idea. We plunged down the NE ridge which was an inspired choice being a easy angled grassy spring of a descent
We decided to traverse around the hillside back to the tent. Looked easy on the map. In reality after a long stretch of deep grass with a dried crust that made it like a walk through spring snow we hit a steep slope of trackless deep heather and boulders. Schoolboy error. There was even a rather nasty deep ravine to get over. Indiana Jones should be my nickname (I have been called Indy by some wags at work in the past). The ravine did have the advantage of a cool clear mountain stream to grab a well deserved drink from so not all bad but not as good as the extra 100 foot of ascent that would have avoided all this pain altogether.
After the aforementioned tea in the sun, very nice it was too, GM retired for the night and I went for a walk along the path towards Glen Catacol
One of the pleasures of backpacking in good weather is a to take a late evening post prandial stroll. You feel you not only have the local area but the whole world to yourself
Alone with my own thoughts it’s true de-stress in every sense of the word. No pack to weigh you down and no particular goal in mind, you just walk. You enjoy the views, you think, and just absorb
Back at the tent I had another fun evening playing night shots. My best efforts so far
Yet another cracking day.
6.2 Miles, 2,600 feet of ascent
Despite the meagre miles walked and ascent I felt weary when I turned in but relaxed like no other activity can. More of the same please
Easter is backpacking time. For the past few years its been the tradition to use the long bank holiday for a trip to the highlands for some proper backpacking. After much debate with GM we settled on Arran as I’ve never been and GM visited only once several years back. The long drive up was tedious with heavy traffic and dreary weather but we were bouyed by the promise of high pressure settling over Scotland. After a night in a motel in Kilmarnock we woke to a cloudless sky and a frosty car (cue the comedy sight of GM driving the car to a sunny corner of the car park to pack, peering out the only clear portion of the windscreen in the bottom right-hand corner!)
We arrived in Adrossan for the mid-morning ferry and waited with the thronging masses. Arran sat across the water beckoning us with its delights
There is something exciting about traveling to your destination by boat. After fortifying ourselves with a pretty decent fried breakfast on the boat (tip, get straight in the queue when you get on the boat). I was as happy as a clam just wandering the decks watching Arran get closer. I’ve always wanted to climb it’s rocky peaks so to see it under an awesome day was brilliant
Our plan was to approach from the north and walk through to Brodick to catch the ferry home. Arran has an excellent bus service and we were dropped off at Lochranza ready for the adventure.
The weather was superb as was the walk up Gleann Easan Biorach. A trifle boggy in places but the scenery was superb. I’d had a nagging cold and sore throat for several days but it vanished within minutes of setting off. Something to be said for the powers of sunshine and fresh air.
We’d had a plan to camp near Loch na Davie. We had no idea what the terrain would be like although our fear was it might be a little boggy. It was a gorgeous spot but apart from a couple of isolated knolls everywhere was wet. After an hour of wandering about we eventually settled on a spot further down the valley to the south next to the river.
It was a fine position but whilst superficially dry, soon became soggy after we’d trampled around setting up camp. We decided that the front porch needed some protection so we proceeded to pave it with slabs of granite from the river
Lunch in the sun next to the stream was awesome and it took some effort to convince ourselves that more walking was required.
Caisteal Abhail was directly above us so obviously a direct ascent was called for. The steep slopes and deep heather were astonishingly hard work and I was fading badly by the time we broke through to the grassier upper slopes.
What you need at this point is something to lift the spirits and the rocky summit of Caisteal Abhail looming over the spectacular Garbh Choire was just the ticket
What a spot! The long sea lochs spread out below us and the tors of the summit were superb. We’d thought about camping in Garbh Choire and whilst it looks like there are places to pitch, most of it was already in shade. It really was a cracking spot.
Suddenly the going seemed easier and we flew (relative in my terms) to the top. The views to the main Arran ridges of narrow granite edges and tops was amazing, accentuated by the lowering evening sun. The summit is littered with tors of granite and you could spend happy hours up here just scrambling their various tops.
As we reached the summit Arrans most arresting peak Cir Mhor came into view, it’s northern facet a sheer wall of clean rock
Even Ailsa Craig could been seen out in the sea like a life-raft of rock.
The main top is another giant granite tor which GM took direct but I walked around to its easier side.
We sat on the summit pretty much in silence, awestruck by the tapestry below us
We had planned to wander down to the Ceum na Caillich, The Witches Step to see how hard it was and perhaps traverse through Garbh Choire back to the tent. When we realised it was already after 6pm we thought better of it and headed down for tea at the tent. The terrain of heather, bog and large holes was tedious on tired legs. I managed to find one rather large hole with a handily placed sharp edge of rock at shin-bone height causing me to bleed rather lavishly through my trousers. I’ve had worse being a clumsy git.
After a ludicrously outsized tea of noodles and stir fry (we like to eat well) we settled down to enjoy the evening in our little patch of wild Arran heaven. Nothing finer than watching the setting sun splash varying shades of colour across the mountains while you sit in peaceful isolation. It’s hard work lugging a heavy pack around the wild terrin of Scotland but the rewards are well worth it on an evening such as this.
I finished off the evening trying to take night photos using the tripod in particular the glow of light from inside the tent. Much harder than it sounds but I’m learning and it was great to have excuse to wander about in the dark watching the stars when normally you head inside the tent when it gets dark.
A cracking start to the trip. Arran was already delivering in spades
6 Miles, 2800 Feet of ascent