Archive for May 2020

Back Out in the Wider World   15 comments

A couple of weeks back the lockdown rules were eased and it appeared to be ok to drive to go for a walk. Whilst it seemed you could drive as far as you liked we felt that we still needed to keep driving to a minimum and avoid any of the really busy spots. As Wales was still out of bounds the obvious target was the Shropshire Hills around Church Stretton, less than 50 miles away and only an hour in the car.

I planned a route from a less well used lay-by and trying to make sure we planned the route and times to ensure we kept things low key and made social distancing as easy as possible. This meant an early start and taking the tools and supplies for a breakfast in the hills. This plan worked really well and having a freshly cooked bacon and egg butty on the walk is now mandatory and well worth the effort of carrying the stove around all day.

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The parking spot only had a couple of cars in it when we arrived and we headed up into the Hope Bowdler Hills planning to find some shelter (it was still chilly a few weeks back) under the Gaer Stone for breakfast.

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Its a steep climb up to the Gaer Stone but the views were superb. It felt so good to be back out for a proper long walk again.

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Although having said that we stopped after 20 mins for an extended breakfast stop. Enlivened by TBF losing control of the Jetboil components and they rolled down the hill for some distance in varying directions!

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It will become apparent through the post that I love the Shropshire Hills. They make for great high level walking with a real sense of height despite the fact they never rise over 2000 feet. On the east side they are characterised by broad grassy ridges and steep rocky summits like Caer Caradoc. On the west, by the Long Mynd and its steep sided valleys.

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We were just revelling in striding out for the first time in two months and so far had barely seen anyone.

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Caer Caradoc was our next target and a short steep climb had us on its summit ridge, studded with rocky tors.

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Looking back to our first few tops of the Hope Bowdler massif.

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The views from the summit were breathtaking. South to the Marches and Welsh Mountains.

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East to the Clee Hills

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West towards Snowdonia.

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North over the Lawley and the Cheshire Plain, The Wrekin dominating in the distance.

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As befits such expansive views the descent was brutally steep before we turned and headed down to cross the fields (and the A49, the only danger of the day) before picking up the paths across the Long Mynd.

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Looking back to Caer Caradoc.

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There were a succession of wonderful empty, grassy paths that take you south and up towards the top of the Long Mynd. It has many wonderful features of its own but its summit ridge isn’t one of them. Its broad and featureless with a road along the top and was the only point in the day where we saw anything that resembled “crowded”. Whilst Church Stretton and Cardingmill Valley can be busy the rest of the area is vast and sprawling and you rarely see many people outside these two spots.

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So it was today, after a short walk along the road we dropped into the long and sinuous valley of Ashes Hollow and all was quiet again.

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Its a wonderful place and if you stretch your imagination a little it could be one of the Lake District valleys or maybe a quiet glen in eastern Scotland. Despite its beauty and the gorgeous day, we saw only a handful of people on its long twisting course.

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Near the bottom it becomes quite a narrow ravine, a wonderful finish before the campsite and pubs of Little Stretton. Of course, all closed sadly, a cold beer or cider would have gone down well.

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One more hill to go and a steep climb up Ragleth Hill to finish the day (with a breather halfway up).

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A fabulous grassy romp and another favourite section, although after weeks of dry weather already looking brown. Last time I was up here in December it was lush, green and very wet!

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Twin Peaks of the Clee Hills.

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And Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler Hill bringing us back full circle.

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This I believe is Broom. Very similar to Gorse, albeit less prickly. What I’d never seen before was the yellow flowers with bright red patches. All I’ve seen before is just yellow. It was a stunning colour show as we completed our long walk.

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We’d been out for 8 hours by the time we reached the car and checking the distance when I got home it was 15 miles and not far off 3000 feet of ascent. Perhaps a little too much for the first time out in a while but we wanted to make the most of things and these hills are built for long walks.

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It was interesting that with all my cycling my lung capacity and general fitness was markedly better and I was flying up the steep bits. However cycling doesn’t have your legs carrying any load and I was most definitely not hill-fit. I was a wreck for the next few days, struggling round the house while my legs recovered from carrying my ample frame around the hills for 15 miles

Magnificent day though.

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Taking an Evening Constitutional   11 comments

Whilst the gorgeous summer weather continues and we now have chance to head out short distances for a walk we’ve been doing walks after the evening meal. We have a couple of candidates. Merbach Hill, subject of my last post and Garway Hill, which features here.

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This first visit looks clear and warm but in fact it was really quite chilly.

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We even managed to convince TJF to join us!

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Its but a short walk to the summit from the car park. Its quite an isolated spot so the views are expansive. As I’ve mentioned before you can see several counties from up here. Pretty sure I could make out 11 when I checked.

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There were a few people about and we got lucky to find the bench in the sun and out of the wind for a sit down and a summit beer.

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The plan had been to watch the sunset but it was far too cold to wait around.

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No matter. We’d had some exercise and fresh air to end the day on a high and nice to walk together as a family which is pretty rare and special. Something to savour in these dark times.

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Our second visit was just a couple of evenings back. Much warmer this time.

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Views across to the Forest of Dean.

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And to the Welsh Mountains, sadly still out of bounds.

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A close up of May Hill, one of Gloucestershires highest points and a fine hill I climbed back in January when it was cold and everywhere was sopping wet and muddy. Seems an age ago. With its coppice of trees on the summit its very distinctive and can be seen from a distance. I always look for it now when I’m up in the hills.

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Out of luck with the bench seats but the grass was soft and dry and made another fine overview too watch the sun go down – again with a cheeky beer.

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I’m enjoying my evening walks and its becoming a regular event at least once a week now in addition to my cycling exploits.

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Even though we have to use the car to get here I can report its considerably less than 250 miles and my eyesight is perfectly acceptable for driving……

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Posted May 29, 2020 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

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Birthday Hill   18 comments

Pinching this idea from Mark over at Beating The Bounds. In the past whilst not necessarily a birthday hill me and TBF have always tried to do something nice either near to or not necessarily near to our birthdays. Not always a hill but sometimes a coastal walk, some surfing fun or a weekend in Barcelona! This is on the basis that doing nice nice things is better than having nice things although I don’t see any reason why I can’t have both! 🙂

This year clearly doing nice things was going to be limited and I resigned myself to the happiness that comes with having all the family together and maybe a nice meal in the garden. Heading towards the weekend things seemed to look up. Not only was the forecast set fair but there were indications that taking a short drive for a walk was now ok. On that basis ahead of the big day we took a tentative drive up to our nearest eminence, Merbach Hill. We debated long and hard about whether it was the right thing to do or not. In the end we decided as it was only a 15 minute drive and that its a lonely, little walked spot at the best of times it was ok. Even though we’d printed off the revised guidance in case we were challenged, but in the event the few people we have seen up there (socially distanced of course) have been friendly.

On the morning of my Birthday we visited again and parked up at Arthurs Stone, an old burial site of some sort well sited overlooking the Golden Valley.

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Its a really pleasant a quiet walk along the lane, almost no-one drives up here, before heading out across the fields to the access land at the top. We’d come prepared and cooked breakfast, bacon and egg sandwiches and a cuppa near the top overlooking the Black Mountains. Next best thing to being able to hike them.

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I’d been bemoaning the fact that I didn’t know anywhere locally where we could see the spring bluebell show. We only used to come to Merbach Hill in winter when looking for a short walk near home. Its was with some surprise to realise its a fabulous place to see them and the show was truly magnificent.

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The photos don’t really do it justice but the whole woodland was just a sea of blue – well purple actually.

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The lockdown has taught all of us to appreciate the simpler pleasures. Had it not been in place I would likely not have ventured up here at this time of year and missed this wonderful display. A real birthday treat.

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We completed the walk and the day was finished in fine fashion. Cold beers in the garden, a chinese takeaway feast in lieu of a meal, homemade cherry ice cream and a zoom quiz with all my university friends. It was a little sad, as we should have been together on the campsite in the Lakes but it was great fun nonetheless and in a strange way made it even more special for me (even though I don’t really go for making a big party of things on my birthday).

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We’ve been using our extra freedom of the past couple of weeks to head out for local evening walks after tea. A few here from another trip to Merbach Hill when we even had the rare pleasure of TJF with us.

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The evening light is glorious and clear making for wonderful views, if a little chilly at this late hour.

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Merbach Hill has been a little saviour over the past few weeks and I intend to give it more love and attention in the future.

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Posted May 26, 2020 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

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Embracing My Inner Cyclist   14 comments

So with walking seemingly a non starter (other around my local lanes) I needed something else to ensure I stayed fit and healthy. I brought myself a new bike a few years ago with the intention of trying to use on my work at home days to get me out of the house and stay reasonably fit. I’m so glad now that I did as its been a godsend in these difficult times.

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Anyone that knows me will tell you I’m not and never have been an especially keen cyclist. Its always been a means to an end. A cheap form of transport before I had a car or a way to access the mountains when the terrain allowed. Over the past couple of years I’ve found a few rides of around 10-15 miles that I undertake when I have time working at home although its been sporadic especially through winter when cycling in the cold and wet is not much fun.

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On realising it was going to be only form of real exercise for many weeks I took a decision that I should head out every day. So far I’ve managed that apart from one day and since lockdown started I’ve clocked up over 700 miles. Considering I’ve been at work for all that period other than weekends and Bank Holidays and the longest single ride was 35 miles, I’m pretty proud of that. I’ve been trying to make it a habit such that I won’t break it when we are back to something resembling normal. Its my intention to take some form of exercise every single day which you would think is obvious for an outdoors person but when your work takes you out for almost 12 hours a day it can be tough.

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So I’ve been expanding my range of bike rides and taking on some longer routes over weekends. This has obviously been helped by endless days of sunshine and blue sky when cycling is a very much more enticing prospect.

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I stick to my usual 3 or 4 routes during the week fitting in a ride either between daytime meetings or at the end of the day. I’ve also been combining cycling with essential trips to the local butchers and farm shops for supplies. In addition to cycling I’m also determined to give more support to my local businesses who will really need it as the crisis continues. It adds cost but the value for money is the key as the supplies of meat and veg are an order of magnitude better.

These next few photos are taken from a small hill I cycle past regularly. Its called Cockyard Tump and as well as having a great name offers some superb views.

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The actual top is on private land a few metres from the road but I noticed the gate was open and no-one was around so I saw no harm in a quick wander in my bike shoes.

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Looking back towards my home village of Madley.

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I’ve actually enjoyed scouring the maps looking for routes to maximise the almost endless collection of country lanes that a county like Herefordshire provides. These are taken from Bredwardine Bridge over the Wye where we’ve swum in the past.

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I managed to put together a route that circumnavigated Hereford from home using mostly C-class roads, a couple of miles of B-Roads and only about a mile of A-Road. Another route (the longest I’ve done that I was rather proud of)

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Views from the highest point near Aconbury Hill.

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The River Lugg at Moreton. I’d have been underwater on this stretch just a few weeks before yet now the local rivers are almost down to record lows!

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Taking a well earned snack break on the bridge.

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Its taught me to rediscover not only how subtly beautiful the county is but to enjoy the less obvious delights. My first few weeks coincided with the burst of yellow of the Rapeseed fields.

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Crops of bright green waving in the breeze.

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And views I must have cycled past many times and just never stopped to notice. A view to Burton Hill above Weobley (a missing Marilyn I need to climb at some point)

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As my cycling fitness improved I decided to tackle a slightly more ambitious route (most of my local roads are essentially flat). I found a road that climbed to around 300m which didn’t look too steep. I always carry a pair of ordinary trainers on a bike ride in case I have a catastrophic failure and have to walk home so I figured I could walk up the hill if I had to. To say I was chuffed to cycle all the way to the top without a break is an understatement.

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My joy was further enhanced by the route from the top of the “pass”. A glorious high level traverse, rolling along without any major climbs with spectacular views across to the out of bounds Black Mountains.

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It was a warm sunny day, I’d done the hard yards and had a nice long swift descent to look forward to.

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I stopped by the roadside for a snack amongst the wild flowers on a deserted road. I almost liked cycling at that point! 🙂

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I repeated the route a couple of weeks later although in reverse the road up up was much tougher, steeper and longer and I was at my bike fitness limit but still managed the climb.

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Just before the drop I decided to take in a very short walk. There is a missing HUMP up there called Mynydd Ferddin so I hid my bike behind a hedge and took a 15 minute wander to the top.

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It was a much cloudier day but the views were still grand and it was nice to do something without feeling saddle sore.

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No-one around and I suspect this path rarely sees any visitors. Even by Herefordshire standards this is middle of nowhere territory!

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Looking back on my first hill climb for a couple of months.

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Another one of my treasured discoveries from this ride. The stunning Dulas valley near Ewyas Harold.

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I’m still keeping the cycling going although less frequently now that the slight relaxation in lockdown rules is allowing me to head for some walks again. I intend to cycle every day other than when I can fit in a walk. Lets see if I can keep that Lockdown resolution.

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(Very) Early Morning on Bryn Arw   15 comments

All the talk over the weekend of my previous two walks had been about the good weather and the crowds out in the mountains across the UK. This included scenes of madness at places like Pen y Pass and the Storey Arms as sunshine and panic over the impending COVID-19 crisis really started to hit home.

It was becoming clear that any trips to the mountains would have to be carefully planned and discrete to avoid adding to the crowds and the potential spread of this unknown foe. I hatched a plan that I would get my walking fix by only heading out either very late in the day or early in the morning. I figured if I got up the same time I head to work in the office (around 6am) I could fit in a walk and be back home at my desk before 9am, avoiding any people as far as possible.

The Monday after our two previous walks I put this to the test with one of my favourite short walks, Bryn Arw.

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Even in the peak of the day and on many visits I’m still yet to meet anyone on this diminutive hill and its fine little ridge.

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At 6:45am when I set off that was more than true. Despite feeling somewhat bleary eyed it was grand to be out at first light and the chill air and sharp frost soon had my eyes open!

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The usual range of views was there but its rare for me to see them in this light. I’m not much of a morning person. Sunrise behind Ysgyryd Fawr.

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The fabulous grassy path along the ridge. It’s one of my all time favourite stretches in South Wales. Mainly as I always have it to myself. Its one of those places I’m surprised isn’t better known as an easy couple of hours walk.

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Across frosty fields to the Sugar Loaf.

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The Social Distancing measures yet to reach these ladies…

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A really enjoyable outing and one I was looking forward to repeating in the coming weeks while working at home.

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I was back at my desk before 9am, bright-eyed and ready for the day.

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What that day brought was increasing talk of Lockdown, a phrase none of us had ever used before but is now in the global psyche. By lunchtime it was clear that staying at home would be the instruction for all of us.

My thoughts turned from outdoor activities to my son, TJS. He was still in his student house in Lancaster, on his own and was planning on coming home by train later in the week. I was really worried about his train travel or whether the lockdown would stop him travelling at all. I just wanted him home, safe with us. By lunchtime I’d convinced him that he needed to come home now and that I’d collect him. I left at lunchtime and had him back home in time for a late tea. By the time we got home the new Lockdown was in force.

He’s become used to the lively atmosphere of a University city and finds our peaceful home in rural Herefordshire a little dull. However in the current circumstances, even though he is obviously missing his friends, I think he’s relieved to living somewhere that’s much safer than a city with more opportunities for outside exercise (and a regular supply of beer from the old man!)

For the foreseeable, hill walking was off the agenda and our local fields are not very good for walking. An alternative means of exercise would be needed.

Red and Black Darren   11 comments

After our long walk the Black Mountains the previous day were still a little weary but the glorious weather seemed set fair so we fancied another walk. Knowing the local area well after 16 years we picked a favourite with an out of the way, rarely used car park and a walk where its a rarity to see anyone.

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If you’ve been a regular reader you’ll recognise some of the images of the Black Darren, a landslip that’s created a short rocky “ridge” off to the side of main range. When we parked up it was clear that the farmer has been feeding his flock here. The sheep had completely denuded almost all the vegetation and trampled what was left into the mud. Hopefully it will recover its greenery in due course.

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As expected the area was deserted and we had what felt the whole of the landscape to ourselves.

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The rocky nose makes for a short and entertaining little scramble.

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Once on top its a lovely little grassy ridge.

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Views across the quintessentially British Herefordshire fields.

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We found a sheltered spot (it was still windy and still March so chilly with it) for a brew and a snack.

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Onwards and upwards on to the main ridge.

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A short stretch of Offa’s Dyke before heading back down.

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We had no idea what the next few weeks or months would bring. At this point it was just good to be out in the sunshine.

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Vale of Ewyas Round   13 comments

The weekend when the scale of risk of the COVID-19 crisis was really beginning to hit home was also when winter ended and spring arrived. Back on March 21st, amidst closing pubs and restaurants and the first signs that the word “Lockdown” would become our new watchword, me and TBF went out for a couple of walks. The long, wet and miserable winter had us yearning for a walk in the sunshine.

We debated long and hard as to whether we should or not but with extensive local knowledge of the The Black Mountains we felt we could find a route that was easy, quiet and avoid any “crowds” or indeed any more than a handful of people. Having said that I’ve walked the Black Mountains extensively over the past 16 years and have never seen them “crowded” at any point. That is normally reserved for Pen y Fan and the popular routes to South Wales highest summit.

I even debated wether I should post about these walks, such was was my self-conscious worry as to whether I should have gone out in the first place. Two months later and I now feel that we were ok based on the circumstances at the time (it was the weekend before lockdown was formally put in place) and what we knew and practised diligently about Social Distancing.

We planned a route around the bottom end of the Vale of Ewyas, taking in the hill fort of Twyn y Gaer, Llanthony and back via Hatterrall Hill.

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It was a gorgeous day, warm in the sunshine but with a very brisk and very cold wind. A day for stretching the legs rather than stopping.

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Its a long plod up the road the the slopes of the hill fort but on top the views were wonderful. As per my plan to keep things low profile there was, as expected no-one up there as its a long way of what passes for the beaten track in the range.

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On a calmer day it would make a wonderful spot for a long lazy lunch but the biting wind forced us to push on.

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Its a long steady walk along the ridge to Bal Mawr where we planned to drop down into the valley before returning on the ridge on the other side.

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We managed to find a sheltered spot beside a small woodland for a short rest.

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The cairn and remains of some sort of burial mound on Garn Wen

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Its a lovely walk down to Llanthony via Cwm Bwchel with views to the priory.

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The priory itself was deserted as it was late in the day by the time we passed through. The path we followed avoids the car park and the main priory itself, heading around the back as it were.

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We followed the Beacons Way back up to the ridge, a splendid gently rising traverse that I’ve not walked before turning this into a new favourite route.

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This was before the clocks went back and this late in the day the light was starting to fade. We were also under pressure of time as TJF had informed us she’d gone out for the day to work without her keys and would likely be waiting outside on the doorstep before we got home!

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It was a very brisk walk back down to the car on that basis. A really enjoyable walk albeit with a constant nagging doubt as to whether we’d done the right thing. In the event we’d seen less than 10 people across the whole six hour walk and we were diligent in making sure we stepped well away, well more than the stated 2m, on the couple of occasions we passed people on the path.

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Harry the Dog   19 comments

A little diversion from the usual posts with some fond remembrance. I’ve been looking through all my old photos for some blasts from the past to post about when I came across some photos of my dog, Harry, from back in the 90’s. He’s been on my mind the past few months as one my friends also has a dog called Harry and he’s been going through a tough time with joint and ligament problems and numerous operations. A post remembering the good times we shared with our own Harry seemed appropriate.

First few are taken from a backpacking trip and a few day walks in the Eastern Cairgorms

On the track to Derry Lodge

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On the summit of Braeriach.

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Creag Leacach

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Glas Maol.

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Memorable cloud inversion from Ingleborough

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Absolutely no idea where this was taken.

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Or this one.

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Coniston Fells looking back to the Old Man – I think.

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He was a handsome fella.

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Maybe Yorkshire?

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In the Upper Tees Valley somewhere near Cauldron Snout

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Another guess – Fisherground campsite in Eskdale.

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Full on winter conditions in Langdale. He loved the snow and he loved company so he was in his element here.

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Another cold winter trip and this little stone marker had us laughing for obvious reasons.

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One of my favourite photos that’s up on the wall in my home. A dog with a stick or stone (or a dead smelly something) is a happy dog.

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Wild camping in Glen Tilt. Harry was a mountain dog and went everywhere with me. He had a pretty decent tally of Munros and was approaching 100 I think.

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A well remembered day, ski touring in the Lake District. On the way down I was skiing in normal walking boots (almost impossible if you’ve ever tried) with Harry on a lead attached to my pack. I skied one side of fence, he went the other! 🙂

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Pembrokeshire Coast.

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These last few were taken at my old house in Kidderminster.

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You can see he has lost some of his sparkle and the brightness in his eyes.

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Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with cancer and we had to do the right thing. He was only 7-years old. Broke both mine and TBF’s hearts and I’ve not owned a dog since initially as I felt I could never go through the pain again. Time heals and I can now look back with great joy at these wonderful photos, remembering all the good times, the mountains we climbed together and our deep friendship. His life was cut short but we had some great times, lots of laughs and plenty of adventures. I still miss him more than 20 years on.

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Ending on a brighter note and a very happy photo. There are better images of Harry in the post but this one made me smile as soon as I saw it. Both us us out together doing what we both loved, both with broad smiles, a shared love of the outdoors (in this case the Malverns). Great memories of a true friend.

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Posted May 14, 2020 by surfnslide in Family Trips, Walking

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