The annual Xmas gathering was here again and just like the last 2 years our chosen location was Ninebanks YHA in the North Pennines. The last 2 years has seen an “interesting drive” over the high roads from Penrith and Alston on snow and ice but no such fun this year with an uneventful journey and no drama – shame! The downside of the white stuff is that we’ve never been to Hadrians Wall a mere 30 minutes away, choosing sledging and walking over more scary driving.
Peel Crags from Steel Rigg
Me and D in particular were keen to see it having never been and this year was our chance. We were especially inspired as Mark and his kids had taken a summer hostel walk along the wall in the summer and were full of stories of how good it was. Armed with a plan Mark suggested we packed up the kids into the cars (I got most of them!) and headed to Steel Rigg to start the walk.
The weather looked “mixed”, possible sunshine, possible rain but in the end we only had one spell of drizzle while we were out, which alas coincided with lunch. We passed the remains of the first turret and then scrambled up onto Peel Crags.
The walking was superb and just right for kids, plenty of wall related stuff, scrambles and the like to keep the kids going and some wide open views for the adults to enjoy. For me it was great to see an area I’d never been before and one of Britain’s most famous landmarks. It’s not so much the wall itself that’s impressive but the concept of the wall and the effort it must have taken to build it. Such a long and immense construction (including the turrets, Milecastles and forts) in some pretty wild and inhospitable terrain. I kept reminding the kids that these features were all 2000 years old.
Crag Lough & Milecastle 39
We stopped of at Milecastle 39 for a rather damp lunch and for the kids to play.
L at Milecastle 39
From there we passed Sycamore Gap. I’m reliably informed that in the Kevin Costner film “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves” our hero is seen sitting at this very spot discussing what a naughty chap the old Sheriff of Nottingham is before popping over to Nottingham to teach him a lesson. Not sure why he needed to ride 300 miles from Sherwood Forest for this little chat but such is Hollywood.
We continued on over a long section above Crag Lough, it’s cold dark waters looking, well, cold and dark.
This was the most dramatic section for me and was the view I had in my head when thinking of the wall and it’s scenery.
D above Crag Lough
Crag Lough from Hotbank Crags
Crag Lough from Hotbank Crags
From there it was on to Hotbank Crags for what Mark reckoned was his favourite part of the walk he did in the summer.
The gang on Hotbank Crags
He was right, it was top drawer. Easy walking along a high grassy ridge with the wall for company.
Wall walking along Hotbank Crags
The kids were having a great time and making light work of the walk despite the cold and windy conditions. As we approached Milecastle 37 the low sun came out lighting up the wall and it’s surroundings in a most becoming fashion.
Sunset at Hotbank Crags
Looking back along Hotbank Crags
Hotbank Crags and Milecastle 37
We took in a section of the wall that you can actually walk on (D was especially pleased about that part) and dropped down to one of the famous forts, Housesteads. I had it in my head that this fort would be on flat ground down by the road but in fact it’s built on a hillside well up in the hills. It’s a huge and impressive roman site containing all the usual features you expect to see (underfloor heating, latrines, bath houses, granary).
Granary at Housesteads
Underfloor heating at Housesteads
Barracks at Housesteads
However it was already starting to get dark when we arrived so we were only able to give it a very cursory look (most of the kids had bailed to the warmth and fun of the interactive museum) before we called it a day. We’d finally seen the Wall and what a fascinating experience it had been, cracking walk and history lesson all rolled into one. It needs alot more of my attention if this little jaunt is indicative. If you want to read more of the history of the wall etc then what you need is to read an extensive account of summer stroll along the wall, taking in all the features. Luckily I know a man who has so pop over to Mark’s blog and read his account starting here. You can also read his own account of this day if you need more.
Couple of weekends back me and D decided on an early start to make the most of what promised to be a cold clear frosty day with a day in the high peaks of the Brecon Beacons.
Pen-y-Fan & Cribyn across the Neuadd Reservoirs,
Over the past couple of years I’ve approached along the splendid northern ridges that radiate out from Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn. For a change and to keep as much in the sunshine as possible we headed round to the southern side for the horseshoe around the Neuadd reservoirs. I’ve not been up this route since the 90’s so a good time revisit the route.
8.5 Miles, 2,500 feet of ascent
We were parked up and underway by 9am and the weather was stunning. Crisp, clear and cold and not a cloud in the sky, one of those days that you can reach out and “ping” like cut glass crystal. The road was covered in black ice and unfeasibly slippery so care was taken on the approach to the dam at the small lower reservoir.
The highest tops were white with snow so D was looking forward to a proper winter day. From the dam it’s a very steep 800 foot climb onto the edge of Graig Fan Ddu. This section is normally as wet as fishs’ wet bits but today it was mostly frozen solid making for an easier albeit very slippery climb. We were sheltered from the wind so it felt reasonably warm on the climb. As we hit the edge we also hit the wind and it was suddenly bitterly cold. D reached for his gloves to find TBF had kindly given him two left gloves instead of a matching pair.
Graig Fan Ddu
The path was covered in snow that had melted and frozen solid making for very awkward walking – oh for a pair of micro-spikes – might be a bit late to write to Santa. It could have been tiresome but the sky was so clear, the views so good and the cold air so invigorating that it was a pleasure.
Graig Fan Ddu
D enjoys the winter conditions
Like much of the southern Beacons the edge was sharp and the valley deep giving an amazing sense of space and open-ness. Expansive is my word of the moment for this and the Brecon Beacons does it better than anywhere I know.
Pen-y-Fan, Corn Du & Cribyn
Rhiw Yr Ysgyfannog, Craig Gwaun Taf, Pen-y-Fan & Corn Du,
After a while the edge suddenly narrows to a ridge of Rhiw Yr Ysgyfannog and Craig Gwaun Taf. Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan suddenly loomed much closer and after a quiet morning we started to get a sense of the massed hordes who climb these two peaks from the Storey Arms.
D on Rhiw Yr Ysgyfannog and Craig Gwaun Taf
D on the edge
Quite why they choose this route is beyond me, it’s drab, dull and tedious and bettered by at least half a dozen superior ways to the top. I have a fear that it’s just convenience hiking where reaching the summit as quickly and directly as possible takes precedence over the judicious choice of a route with varied and sustained interest.
Corn Du & Pen-y-Fan
As we approached Corn Du a cap of cloud started to form on the highest summits, taking away some of the sun but creating some dramatic light for ample compensation.
Craig Gwaun Taf from Corn Du
As is my way I managed to find a very precarious perch under the cliffs of Corn Du to watch the clouds swirl under the still deep blue sky and have some lunch. I’ve probably given D the idea that all rest stops need to be somewhere where a casual approach could result in lost sandwiches and water bottles. It was I have to say though, a fine and sheltered spot to watch the show.
D lunches on Corn Du
We did try to climb up Corn Du after lunch but it was cold, windy, in the cloud and unpleasantly icy so decided it wasn’t worth it. There is a perfectly good path traversing the southern face that was sheltered and sunny. As Pen-y-Fan was still deep in cloud and likely to be crowded we just carried across its southern flank saving ourselves a couple of hundred feet of slippery descent. We plunged on down towards the col between Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn using deep drifted runs of snow rather than the icy path. In the winter light Cribyn looked magnificent, much higher than it’s 2,500 feet and we avoided the crowds ascending by following the extreme edge of the cliffs.
Cwm Nant Sere
Cribyn summit is a wonderful airy place but we timed it badly and there were at least 30 people on the top, a couple of University walking groups it looked like. They all stopped for lunch on the top so we left them to it and carried on along the edge of Craig Cwm Cynwyn, a magnificent high level stroll above the valley of Cwm Cynwyn, one of my favourite valleys with its broad perfectly formed glacial “U”.
D on Cribyn Summit
D on Craig Cwm Cynwyn
Craig Cwm Cynwyn
We dropped down to the next col. I tried to convince D to climb the next peak, Fan-y-Big and then go off piste across the grass back to the car. This was partly as it’s a fine peak with a higher level finish and partly because it’s the second funniest mountain name I know (the winners are the Lochnagar peaks of Big and Little Sh1t Cairn).
However this is quite a long walk over tough icy terrain and he was looking a little jaded so declined this most tempting of offers. Instead we took the easy and long amble down the old roman road back to the car. The clear winter light and towering fast-moving clouds made for some awesome views as we made our way down.
Billowing clouds over Pen-y-Fan & Cribyn
D was quiet most of this stretch but happily told me he was just “thinking”. I was proud that like me he uses a day’s walking to clear his mind and put everyday problems into perspective. I did warn him that it’s a short step from there to talking to yourself out loud which I find myself doing quite often on the hills these days. I’ve sometimes used the phrase “talking with mountains”, a little cheesy but I think it has a truth to it. A long hard day on the hills is more relaxing and detoxing than anything I can imagine. The mountains are my private therapist, listening to my prattling and helping me make sense of life. And all that by just listening.
Weary but fulfilled
And so we ended the day, invigorated and tired in equal measure. Blue sky and the crunch of snow underfoot is a sensation I never tire of. Enjoy the slide show, 2 tunes for the price of 1 today
A little postette and a few photos from a short walk I did with TBF and D a couple of weeks back.
Cats Back & Black Hill
L was off at the Pantomime (Oh yes she was!) so we took a quick dash to the nearest high level walk I know. I’ve posted about this walk before so you can read about it here.
The death of Autumn
Safe to say it’s a short, sharp and sweet stroll – or in this case very cold and windy stroll – up on to the eastern-most ridge of the Black Mountains, along Offa’s Dyke for a mile or so and then back down through an old landslip area to the car.
Sugar Loaf & Black Mountains
I’ve done this walk many times. It’s ideal for a short time span, an after work walk or a short weather window. You get a great reward of views for very little effort and the scenery amongst the wreckage of the landslip is fascinating. We were forced to wait out a snow shower in the car before we set off and although it was darker and gloomier than the forecast there were enough shafts of sunlight playing on the fields and hills to make splendid views.
Black Darren & views across Herefordshire
Shafts of Sunlight
It’s great that D is a real mountain man now and seems to appreciate the mountains even in the less than perfect conditions. I’m taking great pleasure from his ever-increasing confidence and appreciation of the mountain environment and sharing my passion for the outdoors with him. TBF enjoys it too of course>
End of the day
Enjoy the Photos and the Slide show
Buoyed by a fine walk the previous day, another hearty fried breakfast and the bonus of Uncle Fester now a member of the team we were mad keen for another day – well most of us anyway. F & J had to return home to collect the kids so the rest of us set off into the hills.
After heading west the previous day it was east this time and a route up to Fairfield one of Lakelands better known peaks.
6.2 miles, 3,200 feet of ascent
The classic walk is the “Fairfield Horseshoe” but that starts from Ambleside so we fashioned a route up the Western ridges with a planned return over Seat Sandal. The pace was if anything a little slower than the day before perhaps a result of the previous evenings late adventures, more likely that the advancing years makes 2 days fell-walking on the trot something of a challenge.
It was a chilly morning with some clear patches, another great walking day and again we thanked the gods for smiling on us for the second day in a row.
We paused by the side of Greenhead Gill to argue about the best way. I wanted to go via Alcock Tarn to see what it was like. We’d walked past it last year but even at the modest altitude of 1000 feet it was in the cloud and pishing with rain so I wanted to see it in the sunshine.
Grasmere, Alcock Tarn in middle left of the shot
I lost and we took a route up via Stone Arthur so Mark could bag another Birkett (any rock, boulder or tussock worthy of a name). As you can imagine there are hundreds of the bloody things and Mark has dragged us over plenty the last couple of years. I’m kidding of course and they have given us the chance to explore some of the lesser known ridges and quieter spots and in the Lakes that’s a blessing.
It was a steep toil up to the top but well worth it with some cracking views all around. We managed to find a relatively sheltered spot for a long early lunch and to contemplate the now relatively easy climb to the ridge and beyond.
Lunch on Stone Arthur
We reached the ridge at Great Rigg where winter really reared its head with a light dusting of snow and biting cold wind. The southern ridge of Fairfield is a real delight, wide, easy angled with open views across most of the Southern and Eastern mountains. I’ve been up Fairfield a couple of times and only once from the south on a damp, misty day back in the 90’s so I was really enjoying this chance to see it properly.
Approaching Great Rigg
Fairfield and Helvellyn
If winter had reared its head on Great Rigg then it bit us on the ar5e on the summit of Fairfield. It was icy cold with a strong biting wind that forced a very swift and hasty retreat off the huge summit plateau. It was a panic of hastily donned hats and gloves. There is always a day at the start of winter when it catches you unawares with your mind still tethered to summer and autumn. The wind snapped that tether.
Even though the sky was now heavier with cloud the views were superb with St Sunday Crag looking especially proud above Grisedale. We plunged down the steep and scree covered west slopes down towards Grisedale Tarn.
Grisedale Tarn and Seat Sandal
I mentioned that I’d been up Fairfield a couple of times in the past. My first visit was not my most auspicious day in the hills. That day, 27 years ago we’d traversed St Sunday Crag without incident and after a brief stop on the summit of Fairfield headed off in the same direction as now towards Grisedale Tarn. We were in dense cloud so I dutifully took a bearing and then promptly ignored it. As we emerged from the cloud-base I was a trifle disappointed that the tarn wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I tried to blame it on conservationists filling the tarn in but no-one believed me. After much faffing about (we were a large group of Hiking Club people with me as leader) we found the Tarn having gone too far south and ended up heading down Tongue Gill. I was a little embarrassed to say the least and our plan to take in Helvellyn was over. Still, the worst was behind me or so I thought as we took the broad easy path down Grisedale. I promptly fell over and cut my hand open quite expansively on a sharp rock – I’m looking at that scar now. Humiliation complete and my so-called friends who were with me that day in 1985 and were with me on this day still remind me of it with some measure of hilarity. Gits!
Grisedale Tarn, St Sunday Crag & Fairfield
Back to the present and I recalled every steep scree ridden step of that descent. After a brief and very cold stop at Grisedale Hause we headed up the very steep slopes to Seat Sandal.
Seat Sandal summit
It’s quite an isolated and stately peak yet surprisingly no-one in our little posse had ever climbed it before. Not sure why as it’s a grand hill with great views north to Skiddaw and Thirlmere and south back down to Grasmere. The day had turned a little drizzly and it was still cold so we simply headed down the nice grassy and easy angled ridge that took us pretty well back to our cars at the Travellers Rest. After a some goodbyes and a warming cuppa in the pub it was time to head home
Grasmere from Seat Sandal
You can read Marks alternative view of the day here
Top weekend for one and all, some great walking, a super sunset and cold wintry day on the high fells. Combined with happy companionship of old friends it was as always a weekend to remember