New Take on an Old Favourite   8 comments

With the weather being less than sunny the past few weeks, my chances to get outdoors for exercise have been few and far between (indeed its pretty awful today and not much better tomorrow). Spending most of my working day in front of laptop screen means that spending another hour doing the same thing has not been an attractive proposition, hence the blog silence for a couple of weeks.

Time to rectify that with memories of cracking day (3 weekends back I think) at the start of the cold spell.

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Trying not to drive too far and with Wales out of bounds, the eastern edge of the Black Mountains was the target. We normally only take short walks on this side parking high up but after our walk from Longtown the previous week we decided to start from there and walk all the way up to the main ridge, not something we’ve ever done before.

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A gorgeous morning, clear blues skies set off against the verdant green fields and a dusting of snow on the summits.

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We followed the same route up to the base of the open access land that we took the previous weekend. There are plenty of paths but not all of them are easy to navigate (as we also found out the previous weekend), so knowing this was easy to follow and no muddy impediments made for an easy choice.

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On a sunny day these are enjoyable sections and we didn’t see a soul all the way, another good reason for choosing this route.

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We reached the same point as last weekend but this time turned the other way to head for a path up onto the main ridge.

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There is an easy, if long, gently ascending diagonal path all the way to the top of the edge.

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Views across the Shire.

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As we climbed we reached a patchy line of wet snow.

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The path reaches the edge at the point of the Black Darren landslip that we’ve climbed many times.

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Almost within a few metres underfoot conditions were transformed to full winter with powdery snow and everything frozen solid.

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From here on, with all the ascent done, it was a pure delight to walk along the top in the crunchy snow and ice.

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I can’t be 100% sure but I think the couple of miles we walked SE along the ridge was the first time I’d done this particular stretch. If so it added and extra frisson of excitement to what was already a magnificent day.

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No greater feeling than walking on crisp snow on a clear blue winters day.

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And a Trig Pillar I don’t think I’ve bagged before.

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I love the contrast between winter in the foreground and the green fields below.

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Looking to Hatterrall Hill with Sugar Loaf in the background.

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The higher summits in Wales seemed to be experiencing much more in the way of clouds and likely that’s where we’d have been in normal circumstances.

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It was windy and pretty cold up top, but we did find a sheltered spot for lunch and a cuppa. It was here that we saw our only 3 people of the day, a couple out hiking and lone mountain biker taking extreme care on the icy path.

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We had thought about carrying on to Hatterrall Hill but decided we’d been far enough on a short winter day. We took another diagonal rake back down to the base of the access land.

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For a time we were full on into the face of the wind and out of the sun. It was perishingly cold and I pretty much ran down to reach the sun again!

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The path along the base of the edge was better than I thought. Rather it being the mud-bath I’d assumed it was more rocky and therefore running with water, effectively a stream and easy to stay dry. Where it did turn muddy there was a grassy field to traverse just above it that gave a very pleasant walk.

We dropped down to the valley bottom and crossed more delightful fields to Clodock and its church.

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We’ve stopped for a picnic with the kids here a few times and as with all our local churches it gives a fine backdrop to a blue sky.

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Apart from one extremely muddy stile the walk is finished by more fields of sunshine.

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Back to our new favourite walk start point at Longtown village hall. 8 miles of winter wonder.

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Local Walks for Local People   17 comments

So back into Lockdown we went. As with everything this government does with the pandemic the rules and guidelines are vague, ambiguous and confusing. This is especially true when it comes to outdoor exercise. Having checked the legislation, travel and the associated distance to take exercise is not specifically limited. Its just states “local”, wahtever that means – different things to different people. Personally I don’t see an issue at all with a short drive to take a walk, providing you take your common sense with you. Here are two walks on consecutive days to illustrate my point.

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On the Saturday we needed some food shopping and drove into Hereford, our nearest location for Supermarkets. We decided to take a walk while we there, trying to follow the guidelines to keep it local, much as we would have done if we lived in the City. I’d worked out a walk along both banks of the river that would likely be about 3-4 miles and give us some fresh air and exercise on a largely gloomy day. We parked up in a far-flung and quiet corner of the car park.

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Despite having lived in the area for 18 years I know little of the city outside its shopping areas. It was nice to take some time out to see the local sights. Some classic views of the cathedral and old river bridge and this pedestrian crossing, named either the Jubilee or Victoria Bridge depending on who you talk to.

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We were lucky to take the walk when we did as a few days later this entire area was completely underwater after heavy rains. As I write those floodwaters are rising again after another wet weekend.

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Sadly the walk didn’t work out as well as expected. The riverside path on the south bank is no more and looks like its hasn’t been there for years. We had to resort to walking through housing estates, along busy main roads and then cycle paths to reach this, the Canary Bridge (no idea why its called that)

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An unusual construction and not something I even knew existed although TBF uses it a lot as she works round there and uses her bike to get to work some days.

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We squelched back into town across a few very muddy fields (likely they get regular deluges of flood water). There was a path along the north bank but the first section is by a large sewage works so I didn’t fancy that.

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Some more classic views of the cathedral from the Victoria Bridge. Finishing the walk through Castle Green Park and the very pretty back streets that surround it. Again not an area I’ve ever strolled through before.

So keeping it local. Number of people encountered or passed during the walk, I’d estimate around 100.

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Next day we did the unspeakable thing of driving a short distance (around 10 miles, maybe 3-4 miles further than we drive to collect shopping) for a walk from the small village of Longtown. It was a cold and dreary grey day so we planned a walk across the fields and along the base of the Black Mountains ridge and then back.

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While there I took another chance to see a local sight I’ve never visited before. Longtown Castle. Its small and free and would make a very nice spot for a summer picnic.

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There is a local myth that there is an underground passage from the castle to Llanthony Priory on the other side of the Black Mountains ridge. This would be a major acheivement seeing as the castle actually sits on a ridge of its own that falls away a few hundred feet down to the valley floor before the ridge rises. Its a nice story though!

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There are a whole array of paths across the fields so its always something of a voyage of discovery as to how easy they are to find and how muddy they might. The route up was excellent, paths well marked and not all that muddy. This is the path that runs along the bottom of the access land and for a half a mile or so was a rather fine grassy trod.

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It then deteriorated into more of a mud-bath with a built-in water supply so we decided to head back down. The route across the fields from here was the best part of the day with some fine walking across dry grassy fields with expansive views.

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Our planned route down was via the church and riverside walk at Clodock. However one of the fields had a mix of dense crops protected by an electric fence with sheep that had turned the rest of the field into an extreme muddy mess. Not fancying a slide or electrocution, we just headed back down, happy with our walk and the required exercise and fresh air.

So driving 10 miles out into the countryside to take a walk. Number of people encountered or passed during the walk, an exact 4. I know which walk I think was the best and safest option in the circumstances.

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An Hour in Lancaster   10 comments

TJS really needed to be back in Lancaster to study as its not really a suitable study environment here at home. An exhaustive check of both the guidelines and the actual legislation confirmed that returning students to university was allowed so it was a 7 hour round trip to make sure he was home safely.

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Not fancying the prospect of turning the car straight around and heading home after 10 minutes of dropping him off we went for a short walk in Lancaster. TJS lives a brief walk from Lancaster’s large Williamson Park so we headed up there.

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The previous day had seen a heavy fall of snow in the city and the park was busy with people taking their daily exercise and sledging.

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In truth most of the snow was gone. People seemed to be sledging on the thin veneer of polished ice on the paths or simply on the mud!

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Some of the “runs” seemed terrifyingly fast, often ending in bushes, hedges, near misses with lamposts or just in deep muddy holes.

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For our part we kept our distance and viewed the action from afar, preferring to enjoy the views which from this high spot were exceedingly fine.

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The park is dominated by the Ashton Memorial and its a fetching sight.

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It’s looks especially grand when the setting sun lights it up.

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It made for a nice break and welcome fresh air before another 3.5 hours spent cooped up in the car. Mixed emotions as it was good to see him back where he wanted to be, continuing his studies as best he can and mixing in a limited fashion with his friends. Sad that, most likely, I won’t see him again in person until Easter.

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Posted January 24, 2021 by surfnslide in Lancashire

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End of the Festivities   10 comments

Last day of the Xmas break, another gloomy start to the day, replaced by blue skies after lunch. Time to head out for another short walk.

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Back to Kington and Hergest Ridge, busier than I’ve ever seen it, forcing us to park right at the bottom of the road. When we emerged from the darkness of the trees, the skies were equally dark. What looked like a very heavy shower was on its way.

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As luck would have it, it was bitterly cold, the ground pretty much frozen solid and micro-spikes a great idea if only I’d remembered them!

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What came out of the sky was snow, which at these cold temperatures was dry and powdery and despite the dark clouds not very heavy.

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I was pretty sure I could see brightness behind and the snow stopped as quickly as its started.

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Patches of blue appeared with the remaining flakes of snow. It was all rather pretty.

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However the eye-catching features in the sky were the clouds. Huge booming shapes, racing across the skies and catching the late afternoon light.

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The small glade of Monkey Puzzle Trees on the summit.

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Time was short so just a trip to the highest point today, no visit to Hanter Hill this time.

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Another massive cloud formation tearing across the sky.

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The frozen summit pond, clearly some people had braved wet feet to test the thickness of the ice.

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Looking out over the Radnor Hills.

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And a view into the lonely hills of mid-Wales from the summit high point.

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Time to head back and hope for some more light shows from the setting sun.

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You can feel the cold seeping into your bones from these photos!

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We got our wish as the light show behind the glade of trees was wonderful.

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I was left along way behind my family team while I took loads of photos.

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And a selfie.

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Looking across to the sunlit uplands of Bradnor and Herrock Hills from my last outing. Most of the snow had gone over the intervening couple of days.

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And this last shot – “Fire in the Sky”

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A short walk, a little over an hour but a fine way to finish of the holiday break

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Happier, Sunnier, Snowier Times   15 comments

It’s been a grey couple of weeks since the Xmas Break both in weather and mood. Lockdown is back, seeing friends and family (other than by video link) a distant memory. Lets cheer things up a bit a bit with sunny and snowy pics from a couple of weeks back.

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An afternoon when the sun came out so we made a quick dart to Kington Golf Club with plenty of open parking and nice high start just on the snow line. With its close cropped grass the light snowfall meant a complete cover of snow. Bad for golf but great for sledging. There were several families out enjoying themselves and it was great to see.

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We took on one of recent favourite local walks around Offa’s Dyke and Rushock, Herrock and Bradnor Hills.

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Once away from the sledging action we hardly saw another soul.

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It was perfect walking, the snow was only a couple of inches deep but a deep freeze gave that wonderful crisp crunch underfoot.

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The sun actually hid behind this small patch of cirrus for almost the whole walk but it gave wonderful lighting effects and wasn’t thick enough to stop it feeling sunny. I had my shades on most of the day.

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Its a fine walk across some huge fields of grass and whilst the views are not dramatic they are expansive.

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Looking out towards the Marches, Cotswolds and Malvern Hills.

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Plenty of sheep for company.

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The top of Rushock Hill.

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Looking back towards the Golf Course and Bradnor Hill.

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You follow Offa’s Dyke for a mile or so, one of the many places where its actually visible on the ground as a feature.

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Looking across to the Radnor Hills, in Wales and out of bounds.

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A view into the valley of the Lugg and Arrow from the top of Herrock Hill.

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And a closer view of the Radnor Hills.

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This was actually New Years Eve so even at 3pm the light was starting to fade.

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A steep climb brings you back onto the access land of Bradnor Hill and this lonely tree that always catches my eye.

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There are lots of fine paths around the Golf Course and its a friendly co-existence with walkers.

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Not sure which hole this is but there can’t be many tee shots with a finer view than this.

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Looking out Hergest Ridge and Hanter Hill.

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The walk back across the Golf Course was a delight. Wonderful crisp, icy snow and an almost cloudless blue sky under a setting sun.

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Obviously the Golf Course was closed. Putting on the greens might be something of a challenge!

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The Black Mountains visible on the horizon as the sun went down.

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As we reached the car there were still plenty of people out sledging and there were some decent long runs to be had. I should have brought my skis!

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To say 2020 has been a bad year is an exercise in fatuous understatement and 2021 is hardly off to a flier. At least our last day of walking of the year wasn’t a bad one.

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Posted January 17, 2021 by surfnslide in herefordshire, Walking

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White on Black (Hill)   14 comments

Our return from confinement coincided with the arrival of winter. We don’t see snow all that often down here, even less often to have it coincide with holidays or weekends. With plenty of the white stuff around we’d normally have head to the Welsh Mountains but they are out of bounds again for a while. Luckily the eastern side of the Black Mountains are in England so we headed to the base of the Cats Back ridge on Black Hill to take in some winter walking.

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The snow line was perfectly placed at just above car park height! Driving the narrow lanes in this part of the county can be a challenge in winter conditions (as the minibus driver who got stuck as we parked up found out!)

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A steep start had us quickly onto the Cats Back ridge and into the surprisingly deep and crisp snow.

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The clouds and watery sunshine setting off the scene perfectly.

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I’ve walked up here many times but never in snow. It’s a narrow ridge by south Wales standards, never difficult at any point but the compacted snow gave it a new sense of enhanced seriousness.

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Not exactly Crib Goch, Striding Edge or the Cuillin but a fabulous walk none the less.

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Its one to really savour in the right conditions as once you reach the start its pretty much level going for over a mile easy walking over the small rocky steps. To do so in snowy conditions was magnificent and a rarity in these globally warmed southern climes.

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Looking back down from near the summit of Black Hill.

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It’s a popular walk and most people turn back at the Trig point. We pressed on with a vague intention to reach the top of Hay Bluff.

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However as hardly anyone had walked this far, the compacted snow was replaced by deep drifts and it became hard going. The clouds and low angled light more than compensated for the exaggerated effort.

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We passed a couple and their very lively labrador who was having enormous fun in the snow, doing “zoomies” around us while we chatted.

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We decided that it would be a long and tiresome challenge to reach Hay Bluff in these conditions so we found a sheltered spot for lunch and decided to return down the Olchon Valley.

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No hardship in that, it’s a fine valley and very quiet. The steep section near the top took some care with the snow and icy rocks.

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The real care was needed near the bottom where the wet snow on the slick muddy ground increased the risk of an unwanted mud-slide!

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Our luck was in with self-isolation done, time at home and snowy conditions on our local hills to enjoy!

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Released Back Into the Wild   14 comments

After a period of self isolation for the family over Xmas (everyone all now fit, healthy and no major symptoms) we’ve been allowed back out into the world. A short post from a little celebratory stroll up on our local Merbach Hill.

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Some nice winter colours in the forest but it was extremely soggy and slick with mud in there. A far cry from the bluebell displays when we were up here in the early summer during lockdown 1.

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Views out to mid-Wales from the summit.

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And back towards the Marches, Worcestershire and Shropshire.

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Out to the Black Mountains.

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Looking back to the summit from the pastures on the way back. The sun was out by this time. Seems a different world than when we sat up here on my Birthday in May enjoying an al fresco breakfast in the warm summer sunshine.

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Winter trees always attract my photographic eye.

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This tree on the road back to the car at Arthurs Stone is always striking whatever the season.

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Posted January 1, 2021 by surfnslide in herefordshire, Local Walks, Walking

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A Photo Reminiscence for a Great Friend (and Others)   22 comments

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Any of you who read my blog regularly will know from the comments that my great friend Mark has his own blog over at Beating the Bounds. Indeed it was he who introduced me to it some 10 years back and I’m still going. A few weeks ago he mentioned his school was running a “Name the Teacher” competition from old photos and asked if we had any from days of yore he could use. Always ready to review old photos I dug out a few and scanned them in.

Sadly we have a case of COVID in the house so my outdoor activities are on hold for the forseeable while we isolate. I thought it would therefore be a good idea to use these photos to celebrate that long standing friendship along with many others and tell a few stories while my blog has to take a pause.

I first met Mark at University at the start of my second year. He joined me on a hike I was leading in Llangollen and we hit it off immediately. The fact that he led a mutiny and took almost all my party off in another direction while I went the other (and right way!) you would have thought might end the friendship before it ever began. However it just became the first of very many shared stories that we still tell to this day (In my defence I was navigating on a map from the 1950’s which were a little light on features). We met up again a couple of weeks later on a weekend in Keswick when we did Skiddaw and Blencathra together (on the same day) and met in the pub later where he was cradling two pints of Theakstons Old Peculiar, claiming it was busy so he better get a double round in. There are so many shared stories and a few of them are in here. I’d never imagine at the time that our friendship would endure another 30+ years and today I’m almost as close to his family as I am to my own.

Anyway, so here we go.

A photo taken on a walking trip before my final year at University in 1985. We were supposedly doing a hostel to hostel walking trip but the weather was truly awful with several days of ceaseless rain. We were heading up to Great Gable I think but after sloshing about in the rain and risking life and limb trying to cross swollen streams we headed down. This is Mark and our other good friend Matt Couch (who I haven’t seen since I left university). This is obviously the moment you reach when soaked through and you have no option left but to laugh. Quite why they posed like that who knows!

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Later on that same Autumn I think. A youth hostel weekend in Buttermere and on the Sunday we walked back to Keswick (via a beer or two and a pub lunch in the Swinside Inn on the way). While waiting for the coach to take us home we and bunch of other mates took row boats out on Derwent Water. And yes that fresh faced pair of youths is me and Mark. Check shirts were all the rage as was my legendary black jumper. All my friends seem to think that was funny that I always wore them. Taking fashion tips from this lot – sigh! I also recall that one of the group saw a small island in Derwent Water and stepped on it on the faithful promise we wouldn’t abandon them there. We did!

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The back yard of my student house in Manchester and an end of year BBQ in 1986. Who needs expansive lawns to enjoy al fresco eating I say. All you need is a few stray bricks from around the alleys and the tray from the oven! Mark with a drink in his hand was a common sight – he’s a more responsible and grown up parent these days. That’s TBF sat next to him, EWO hiding in the corner, and a chap called Rob Webster on the right. He was another friend lost touch with. Very Yorkshire with a sharp acerbic wit. Best known for going on a Youth Hostel weekend without a change of clothes so having got a soaking in the day went down the pub in his pyjamas!

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A post exams celebratory walk on Bleaklow again in 1986. Lunch in the fabulous Dowstone Clough near Glossop. Matt Couch showing off a tremendous mullet! His family were pretty well off and we noticed his address was had the word “Manor” in it. Therefore thinking he came from aristocratic stock we christened him “The Viscount Chaise-Lounge” (Couch – Chaise-Lounge – geddit?). The most ironic of names as he was the most down to earth, Yorkshire-accented chap, always happy, always smiling, great company. Terrible cook though I seem to remember.

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Every Xmas and Easter we went on a two-week youth hostel trip to Scotland, usually with a couple of mini bus loads. We always cooked together in big groups. Here’s one of our troupe’s meals, Crianlarich hostel I think. Looks like a Mince curry to me with, as always, a truly staggering amount of rice. I was criticising the Viscount earlier but in truth we weren’t much better. Our menu consisted mainly of 3 varieties of mince and tomatoes (curry, spag bol and chilli, subtly different ingredients and starch accompaniment but essentially the same meal), tinned meat casserole with Guinness, sausages beans and potatoes (or sausages and crap as it was affectionately known), cheese and potato pie (still a classic) and omelettes. What we lacked in ability we always compensated with quantity – we never went hungry!

More characters here, Paul who has lived in the states for the past 30 years, UF when he had hair, Adam, a man with a planetary sized physics brain but who struggled with even the most mundane of everyday tasks, never met anyone quite so hopeless, but a funny and kind hearted fella. Adrian who could put food away in quantities hard to imagine but possibly the worst cook in the world bar none, and in our group that was up against some pretty stiff competition.

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Every May weekend we always went to Wasdale for a camping trip (still do in fact). These were formative years for my wild camping and we always headed into the hills for a couple of nights. This is taken in upper Eskdale and as you can see rather misty! Hard to tell but that is Mark. I recall from that trip chucking a tiny frisbee about in the mist and playing cards with a pack that came out of Xmas Cracker! Playing frisbee reminds me used to play with a Trangia frying pan, they fly quite well but you don’t want to get hit. Quite a dangerous sport.

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A weekend away in Barber Booth. That’s Mark enjoying another classic camping meal, tinned meatballs and tinned spaghetti, cheap and nasty! It had been a great day’s walking including several lunchtime beers on the way at the Cheshire Cheese in Hope. Things went downhill from there. An ex-hurricane from the US swept across the Atlantic and deluged the UK. That’s my Saunders Satellite tent, spacious and light but leaked like a sieve. I woke to a tent full of water and soaked sleeping bag. We barely got out to catch the train as the swollen river had almost completely engulfed the road. A huge fry up breakfast in the station cafe put us right.

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As we finally left university clubs behind we started running our own Xmas and Easter trips to Scotland. On our first one we did our first private rental of a wooden chalet near Cannich. It was astonishingly cheap but very cosy. I shared a room with Mark which is bad idea as he always woke in the morning early and would talk incessantly – I’m not a morning person!

The big smiles tell you what a happy trip it was. Not quite sure what UF is doing is this photo, probably better not ask

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Same trip but we’d moved to Ullapool Youth Hostel by then. This is Mark standing on the summit of Stac Polliadh. A wonderful little mountain that proves big isn’t better.

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Same trip again and one of those classic Easter days. A big round of the four munro’s around Beinn Dearg. Calm, blue skies, warm sunshine and deep snow on the summits. Still one of my best remembered days in the hills. We were out until late evening and had many stops like this with an expansive vista of peaks. Here looking out to the Coigach and Assynt Hills. Nothing better than a day like this spent with your mates. Fabulous. I think this trip was 1989.

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Fast forward to 1997. Another regular trip was a Scotland wild camping outing every May Whitsun weekend. This one was to the upper reaches of Glen Derry in the Cairngorms. A fabulous site, and one I revisited a few years ago with TJS on a wild and windy Easter weekend. That’s Jim, our skiing mate who started to join us for our walking adventures as well.

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First part of the weekend was cool and chilly but then the sun came out and all was t-shirts and shorts. Sitting in the sun having breakfast with plenty of brews is no better way to wake to the world. My trusty Quasar in the background that saw me through countless adventures but now sadly retired.

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And lastly the summer trip from the same year. Another regular was a summer trip to the Alps. This was to the Ecrins and took a 4 day wild camping tour. We found some fabulous spots and again spending the afternoon and evening lazing about under blue skies surrounded by massive mountains is hard to beat. Sadly, for these trips anyway, most of us started families not long after so this was the last of such trips. One day I hope we can maybe rekindle them again although I think my big mountain days are over. (the headline photo of the post is also from that trip)

I know Mark has very fond memories of this trip so a fitting end to the post. Some great memories here, so raising my glass not only to Mark but to all my friends of many years standing for helping me create them.

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A Beacons Classic   14 comments

I’m doing well with efforts to keep the blog current and up to date. Here’s yesterday’s little excursion.

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Despite being relatively pleasant at home, it was very much winter when we parked up by the waterfalls on the Nant Bwrefwr. They looked particularly fine after all the recent wet weather.

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We had a couple of options but TJS hasn’t been to the Beacons for over a year and asked for his favourite walk, a circuit of the high edges around to Fan y Big. It’s a superb walk, a classic and no argument from me.

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The forecast was mixed, sunshine and showers and we got the former on our way up the first and only climb of the day.

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Just as well as its a brutal start, 800 feet straight up in about half a mile.

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We needed to stop at the top as TJS is very much not hill fit after a term of lockdown restrictions and hard course work. As we did the showers began, first of heavy rain and then wet sleet.

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It was wild and windy but we were below the cloud and I quite enjoy this sort of winter day. The shower only last about 30 minutes and in fact was the only significant rain that fell despite the dark and moody skies.

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The walk along these edges always delivers and its a pretty much level path for a couple of miles with spectacular views out over the northern escarpments towards Brecon and beyond.

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Pen y Fan summit was in the cloud all day but Cribyn appeared from time to time.

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It wasn’t as wet as TJS and TBF mak it look in this photo although the wind was ferocious at times. Plenty of buffeting as the team at MWIS would say.

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The walk along the ridge that leads to the summit of Fan y Big was superb with shafts of winter sunlight to light the way ahead.

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Cribyn was catching the light beautifully.

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It’s a superb little summit, not much higher than the surrounding moorland but with a precipitous edge overlooking the valley below. We stopped briefly and admired the views. Its an exposed and windy spot and not a place to linger in these conditions.

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The storm clouds looked to be gathering and Cribyn was cloaked in cloud so we decided we’d had a decent enough leg stretch and headed back to the car (via the Roman Road and a lunch stop). We had a few very light showers and a rainbow to guide us home.

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There are limitless walks around this part of the Beacons so I’m hoping we will still be allowed into Wales over the holidays to take advantage of whatever decent weather we get and fit in plenty of walks. TJS needs the exercise at the very least!

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A Touch of the White Stuff   15 comments

Last weekend saw a very long day of travel to pick up TJS so he can return home for the holiday period. He’d taken his COVID test that confirmed he was virus clear and the forecast was reasonable so we thought we could fit in a walk to make a day of it. A long day as it happens. Up at 5:30am and home by 10pm but as you can see, well worth that effort.

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We needed a short walk not too far from Lancaster but high enough to maybe catch some of the snow that had fallen the previous 24 hours. As I’d never been up Middleton Fell and Calf Top we headed there.

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We met up with a couple of friends in the lovely little village of Barbon with its stunning little church.

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There were a few wafts of blue sky and some watery sunshine which was a little better than forecast. Things got much better.

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The winter trees, without their cloak of leaves always catches my eye.

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The first part of the climb is the only really steep section of the walk. Most of the way is very nice steady climb allowing you to enjoy the views.

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The higher we climbed the more expansive the blue skies became and the brighter the sunshine.

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The lakes looked very wintry in the distance and, I expect, crowded with walkers looking for winter mountains.

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Even on a cold winters day there is always time to stop for lunch and a cuppa.

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As we neared the first top of Castle Knott we reached the snowline. There hadn’t looked to be much from the valley but up here it was surprisingly deep. The views out over the hills of the Yorkshire Dales were superb.

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Looking out to the highest point of this small range, Calf Top.

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The rather soggy bit in between with some very deep snow drifts.

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Even though its a relatively short walk and we made a decent start around 10:30am you can see the sun is already sinking low in the sky, a reminder of the shortness of mid-Winter days.

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By now the skies were close to cloudless, way more impressive than anything the weather forecast had indicated. There is nothing finer than the sensation of walking on snow on a cold and clear winters day.

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From the summit the views were immense. Looking over to the Howgills.

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Over to the Lake District.

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And over Dentdale into Yorkshire

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We had thoughts of trying to fashion some kind of circular walk. walking to the far end of of the range and returning along the Lune Valley is a long walk for this time of year and paths are a premium. We also considered plunging down into Barbon Dale, one of the finest in Yorkshire I’m told. In the end we decided to enjoy the sunshine and the snow for as long as we could and simply returned the same way.

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I’ve come learn over the past few years that there is nothing wrong with an “out and back” as it often delivers a different perspective.

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In this case the stunning views over a landscape tinted by a setting sun.

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We don’t seem to see snow as often as we’d like (especially living down south) so it was worth every step to enjoy that winter vibe.

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Leaving the snow behind the landscape was transformed again with deep golden winter colours.

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Our timing was perfect and we reached the small outcrop of Eskholme Pike in time for a grandstand view of the sunset.

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Enjoyed with a long rest and another fresh cuppa. Perfect.

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In December with a clear sky, temperatures drop rapidly with the sun. As it dipped below the horizon so we dipped off the hills heading for the cars and the long drive home.

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The sunset through the naked winter trees was sublime and a fitting end to a grand day out.

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It didn’t look a long walk on the map but it was a respectable 8 miles. We took our time and savoured what had promised to be a decent day that turned into one of the best walks of a difficult year.

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We bid a fond farewell to friends not seen for months. Just the small matter of another 3 hours in the car. A fabulous walk with good friends and my family all home together for a few weeks. Worth every mile!

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