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May Day Weekend – St Bees Head   9 comments

Our annual trip to the Lake District for May Day was upon us (we missed it last year but who’s counting). We headed up a day early (me and TBF) to make a longer weekend. Seemed a rash decision as it was grey, dreary and raining when we woke up on the Friday morning. Luckily it stopped just before lunch so rather than head to the hills we headed to the coast. First stop, Mawsons Cafe in Seascale for a sandwich and huge plate of waffles and ice cream. Then onwards to St Bees for a coastal walk (feeling rather bloated it has to be said.

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We’ve only ever been to the coast hereabouts on wet and dreary days so this made a nice change. In fact the weather had turned quite rapidly from rain to glorious sunshine.

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St Bees Head is well known to long distance walkers as the official start of the Coast to Coast walk and also home to some fine cliffs, hidden beaches and a seabird colony. It’s also home to an expensive car park by the beach. Note that in Seascale down the road the car park is free!

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The grass was green, the sky blue, the gorse flowering yellow and all was right with the world.

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It’s a splendid grassy romp along the cliff tops and on a Friday very quiet.

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Fleswick Beach is a couple of miles in and looked a wonderful place to explore.

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And just beyond is the colony of seabirds. I’m not an expert but they looked very similar to the Razorbills and Guilliemots that we’ve seen in Pembrokeshire so I’m assuming that’s what they were. The largest colony of cliff nesting seabirds in NW England said the sign. On reflection probably the only colony of cliff nesting seabirds in NW England. As far as I know there are no cliffs any further north before you hit Scotland and heading south you’d have to reach Somerset before the next band of cliffs (excluding Wales of course)

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Still it was an impressive, numerous, noisy and smelly colony and were pleased to be able to see it.

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We turned tail and headed back to the car. No time explore the beach as we were on a timetable to meet TJS off the train from Lancaster.

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The coast was just as enjoyable on the return.

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As we approached St Bees we received a message telling us he’d missed his train the hopeless git. No time to return to Fleswick Beach but we now had an extra hour to kill.

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We admired the views across St Bees beach and to the Lake District. Very different to see the mountains from this direction.

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And we did have time for a potter on the beach and a sit down on the sea wall.

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Not a bad day after such a dismal start and a superb bit of coast that is well worth seeking out. Its not all about mountains!

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The day was finished off with a pub meal and a few beers in the excellent Strands Inn at Nether Wasdale with our friends as they arrived. The mountains were calling for the next day.

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Return to High Vinnalls   4 comments

Short post and a few photos from a return visit to High Vinnalls near Ludlow

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My dad hasn’t been well and I went over with TJS to visit him while he was in hospital. He’s back at home now but waiting for a return for an operation to sort out some long standing problems.

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On the way home we met with TBF and her sister for a short walk. In truth it was a cloudy, cold and grey late afternoon with the threat of showers everywhere. We stayed dry but the walk was a brisk one and I didn’t take many photos.

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It was still great to get out on this very fine hill that my recent obsession with Marilyns helped me discover.

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Likely this one will become a regular favourite in years to come.

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A longer post with a lot more photos from my walk last year is here

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Easter Sun – Harter Fell and Birks Bridge   14 comments

I forgot to mention another day out on our Easter weekend. We decided the weather was good enough for a day out in the Lakes. After our swimming exploits we fancied another dip and walk.

We needed a small but interesting peak with a river swim. Dunnerdale and Harter Fell seemed to fit the bill.

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On a hot sunny Bank Holiday weekend the Lake District can be swarming with people. Dunnerdale is a stunning place but awkward to get to and off the radar so we found it relatively quiet by Lake District standards. Our route up Harter Fell was heading for the obvious outcrop of Maiden Castle in the photo below.

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We stopped off at Birks Bridge, our chosen swimming hole on the way and it looked excellent.

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We were excited for the swim later but first there was a mountain to climb to earn our right to a swim.

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The route up was brutally steep and mercifully quite short.

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We still needed a rest halfway up. It was a pretty hot and hazy day.

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Maiden Castle was fine rocky outcrop with some scrambling opportunities.

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It looks dramatic from most angles but in fact you can pretty much walk to the top around the back.

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From here to the summit is a scramblers delight. There are small rocky outcrops littering the slopes. A playground for budding and semi-retired rock athletes.

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Me and the DBs had enormous fun picking a route and finding some serious short challenges to test our skills.

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The summit itself is even better with several significant outcrops and superb views.

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We ate lunch, drank tea and played around on the rocks.

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Smiles and laughter were in abundance. Scrambling around on perfect warm rock under a blue sky is a pretty damn good feeling.

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I’m still surprised that this is my first ascent of this rocky peak, most likely the best known and largest of Lakelands major fells I’ve never climbed. I’m glad I saved it for such a superb day.

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Despite the fun we were all eager to head down and enjoy a different kind of fun.

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As we headed down the haze seemed to clear a little and the views were increasingly dramatic.

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Our happy group finishing the hike part of the day.

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And into the water!

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This early in the year I expected the water to be bitingly cold and the swim refreshing but short.

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In fact the water was no colder than in the height of last years heatwave and we spent a good hour playing, swimming, jumping and generally messing about.

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The river runs through a narrow and deep gorge with a waterfalls at the upstream section. We had enormous fun squirming our way up the waterfalls, some more ungainly than others!

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We sat on the sunny banks to warm up, thanking our luck to have such glorious hot weather at Easter. I’m pretty sure this is the earliest point in the year I’ve ever been wild swimming. Still seems surreal to have such hot weather 7 days after I shivered in winter cold in the Brecon Beacons.

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We headed home a very happy and contented bunch. Sadly TBH had a very bad case of dizziness that left her in pretty bad way hardly able to move or open her eyes the previous day. Whilst much improved on this day she decided to rest at home in the sunshine. Such a shame she wasn’t able to join us but it was great to her up and about and looking much better for a day in garden when we got home 🙂

An absolutely top notch day of scrambling and swimming in the sunshine.

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Easter Sun – Silverdale (and around) Antics   10 comments

More weather madness as a bitterly cold day in Brecon Beacons was followed a week later by record breaking hot weather at Easter. We’d timed this to perfection with another visit the the Hotel Silverdale and our top notch friends who seem to tolerate our repeated visits with very good grace.

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We packed in a lot over the four days around this rather beautiful and unspoilt corner of Lancashire.

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An early morning walk to the shop to stock up on provisions via the The Cove and The Lots.

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After lunch (or before maybe) a cycling trip to Trowbarrow Quarry.

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I’d rather foolishly committed to a mountain bike ride around the many bumps, jumps and drops in the quarry with the Dangerous Brothers. They’d been reminding me for weeks not to forget to bring my bike seemingly concerned that I would chicken out (which was my plan all along).

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I couldn’t let them down and did indeed have a go at most of the stuff they peer-pressured me into (although I decided not to try any of the jumps on the basis I’m far too heavy!)

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I admit it was enormous fun and other than one wobble on a very steep drop that had me bouncing through tree branches I survived unscathed. As you can see above they even convinced their dad to give it a go!

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Its a stunning spot on a clear sunny day and we all enjoyed a laze around as well as some more frantic two wheeled activity. I was actually a little disappointed that we never found time to head up there again.

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We also found time to play with a boomerang in the fields behind the house.

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Much harder than it looks actually.

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Only a couple of attempts came close to coming back to the thrower. Doesn’t matter as we had enormous fun trying.

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We took a walk up to Arnside Knott one morning. A fine small hill (England’s smallest Marilyn in case you were interested)

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A gloriously hot and sunny day that had us searching for the shade to keep cool.

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Superb views across the Kent estuary

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And back via Arnside Tower.

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An afternoon trip to sunbathe and swim at Levens Deer Park.

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The water was startlingly cold but refreshing. I think its the earliest in the year I’ve ever been fresh water swimming.

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The DBs of course were back in their element jumping of the banks (although as an honorary DB I joined in as well)

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The evening on the patio was a festival of BBQ meat (and some Vegan stuff for those that way inclined) and a roaring fire burning the remains of the kids old swings.

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And no trip here is complete without the classic walk around the coast to Arnside and back over Arnside Knott.

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Arnside, packed with visitors, no seats in the cafe so an alfresco and delicious hot pie on the pier was a more than adequate compensation.

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More views from Arnside Knott to finish off a superb weekend in the sunshine with good company, loads of activities and fine selection of food.

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Big thanks to the Silverdale massive for taking care of us and making it into a wonderful mini-holiday.

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“They’re Friends from Work”   12 comments

The fact that I like to hike in the hills seems a source of constant humour for my work colleagues with me the butt of the jokes. I was surprised to find that secretly some of them actually hankered for a hike in the hills so I said I’d lead them out on one my favourite south Wales hikes in the Brecon Beacons.

A little gang of four assembled at the cafe in Talybont on Usk for a fry up before heading for the mountains. (The title of the blog is in reference to one of my favourite lines from the Marvel movies – very topical at this time)

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A round of the Neuadd Reservoirs taking in the highest summits of the Beacons range. We were all rather caught out by just how cold it was.

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Here is the first of our little band posing for a photo. She decided to tone down the colours for this hike!

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Its a short and very steep climb up on to the edges that had is puffing hard. Luckily the sweat was soon removed by the ferocious and icy wind that was blasting at us across the valley.

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The photos don’t really do justice to just how cold and windy it was, enough to blow one our team clean off her feet a few times.

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Whilst the sun disappeared for the rest of the day, the cloud base was high and it stayed dry, which is a much as you can ask for on day planned a long way in advance.

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I had inform my new comrades that a key objective of any hike is make regular and lengthy stops to brew up and eat lots of food. They seemed quite keen on the idea despite the chilly wind, especially when I produced home-made cake that TBF had lovingly prepared.

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We reached the top of Pen y Fan – together with a few dozen other people and posed for a team photo for me on south Wales highest peak.

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Despite blisters and foot problems (this is quite a tough walk by south Wales standards) they agreed to continue the summit bagging and we took in Cribyn as well.

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And another couple of happy looking group shots.

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Including one with yours truly in it, demonstrating an odd pose and leg angle that says very clearly why I try and avoid being photographed in the first place.

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After another brew and scoff stop I convinced them that we could bag one more summit. The fact that my work colleagues share a distinctly smutty sense of humour and that the summit was called Fan y Big had nothing to do with it.

One last summit photo on the rock outcrop on the summit. They look happy that I’ve dragged them out on a bitterly cold day to wander about in the hills when they could have been home watching TV and doing domestic chores.

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And then it was time to head down across grassy slopes and bog and return to the real world.

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I normally walk either on my own or with the family down here so walks can be a little repetitive. I really enjoyed this day immensely for a variety of reasons. It was great to share my passion for both hiking (or should I say mountaineering) and for the Brecon Beacons with new companions. It was equally good to see them really enjoying the day as much as I was (well they said they did anyway) and I have to admit I enjoyed showing off a bit. They have all been out in the mountains before but never as regular thing and seemed to relish the challenge and chance to enjoy the outdoors. This is what keeps me sane through the drudgery of modern life and I really hope they went home with the same feeling of spirits lifted. We certainly laughed a lot on this hike as we always do at work. We are close knit bunch and my working life would likely be intolerable if they weren’t around to make me smile and keep me grounded.

I really hope we can do this more often and hopefully persuade some of my other work friends to join us. Who can’t love a hike!

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Snowdon Horseshoe with The Hardman   21 comments

I’m behind again – just when I’d caught up as well. Back to the last weekend in March for a rare trip out to Snowdonia with The Hardman. He’s planning on a run over the Welsh 3’s and some of his friends haven’t done the narrow ridge of Crib Goch so he wanted a reconnaissance mission. I agreed to join him as the forecast looked like it might be a decent day and worth the 5 hours return trip in the car.

Things didn’t start well. TH wasn’t at the appointed spot we’d agreed to meet (a very handy lay-by that’s free to park and only a few hundred yards from where you have to pay £4). After 45 minutes he still hadn’t arrived and I was worried he might have had some car problems (or maybe just forgotten that the clocks went forward!).

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With no phone signal there was nothing I could do but set off and see what transpired. As I reached the start of the new path up to Pen y Pass from Pen y Gwryd there he was! He’d decided to completely ignore my well written instructions and paid to park. Ah well, times to set off and the increasingly good views soon had us back in tune with the day.

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The weather improved markedly, much more than expected such that by the time we started up the PYG Track there was abundant blue sky. On decent days the path is normally a long train of people but the gloomy start seemed to have kept the crowds at bay.

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The views down the Llanberis Pass and across to the Glyders were amazing.

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And of course Crib Goch looms large and dramatic in the view from here. East Ridge (our route) on the left, North Ridge on the right.

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Fine views across Llyn Llydaw and to Y Lliwedd from Bwlch y Moch.

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Onwards with the steep climb up to Crib Goch. A tough undertaking at the best of times but at Hardman pace even more so! The rocky spur halfway up gives some great, easy scrambling.

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The final section of the ridge pulls you up towards the summit.

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The summit is one of the few in England or Wales with a real sense of narrow exposure. This is looking down the North Ridge. I did this one a couple of years back. Harder and narrower than the East Ridge but its a real pain to get to.

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And the the highlight of the day, the narrow crest of the ridge. In my youth I was able to hop along the crest, mostly only a foot wide but in these less nimble days I prefer the handrail approach.

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It really is quite narrow and exposed and you’d have to head to Lochaber or Skye to find anything quite as challenging in the UK.

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Looking back from the final pinnacle.

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The Hardman on the short steep (and exposed scramble) over the final pinnacle.

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A brief stop for first lunch and onwards to the ridge of Crib y Ddysgl, not as narrow but with plenty of interesting scrambling moves of its own.

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Over the summit of Garnedd Ugain and on to to join the masses on the main Snowdon routes to the summit.

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Not as crowded as it can be, but still the usual comical mixture of under-equipped and unhappy people clearly surprised by just what a long climb it is and how cold it was up there. We didn’t linger and just walked straight over the top heading away from the crowds and towards the other half of the horseshoe (the full route enclosing the dramatic east corries of Snowdon).

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The distant views were a bit hazy and for most of the day we were under a cap of dark cloud. However it was localised and as the sun dropped into the western sky where clouds were less we had some extensive sunny spells and dramatic light effects. The route down to Bwlch Ciliau is still under improvement and the final section is very loose and unpleasant.

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As we reached the bottom the sun came out and we stopped for lunch number two.

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Y Lliwedd is a wonderful peak but its always quiet whenever I’ve done it no matter how busy Snowdon is. Probably its just too much extra effort for the main mob and possibly as its not over 3000 feet. Whatever the climb up its west ridge is a delight with lots of scrambling if you have the energy to seek it out.

Looking back to Crib Goch.

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And Snowdon.

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Watching you, watching Crib Goch.

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The ridge is not narrow but the views from the edge are magnificent and precipitous.

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And our two heroes on the final summit.

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Moel Siabod cast in sunshine in the distance.

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Just the matter of a long descent back to the car.

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And see final sunshine on the Glyders to finish an awesome day on one of the UK’s finest (if not its quietest) mountaineering routes.

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I drew the route into my OS Map software. It told me there was over 6000 feet of ascent so I’m now rather unsure of any figures it comes up with. The the 10 miles distance seems about right though at least.

Thanks to TH for convincing me it was worth the drive.

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Winter Weekend – Ben A’an   14 comments

Last day of our winter trip and we needed a walk before we took the long drive home. The forecast was really poor so a small hill was in order. Ben A’an in the Trossachs fitted the bill and its a regular feature in any list of high quality small hills.

The weather on the drive over was appalling. Torrential rain had us at double wiper speeds and we were looking at a wash out and heading home early. As we approached the car park the skies suddenly and abruptly cleared to almost cloudless blue! The views across Loch Achray to Ben Venue were superb. It almost tempted us to climb it again but apart from a hardy trio of Matts and Hard Men we stuck to the plan for Ben A’an.

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What it lacks in altitude, Ben A’an more than makes up for in steepness. Apart from a short level stretch about halfway up its pretty much a thousand feet straight up.

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We got battered by a very heavy shower on the climb but as we neared the top the skies turned blue again and the sun came out.

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We pressed on as quickly as tired legs allowed figuring clear spells might be very short lived.

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The summit is impressively rocky even though in essence its just an outcrop of a higher and blander heathery mound behind.

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As we climbed the views over the Trossachs forest and Loch Venacher were top drawer.

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It warms you up for the sensational view across Loch Katrine from the summit. Its easy to see why this diminutive little hill is so praised and popular.

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Ben Venue across the Trossachs Pass

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The summit was insanely windy and it was quite a challenge to stand up straight or scramble about on the slippery summit rocks.

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We were incredibly lucky to hit the top in the middle of quite a lengthy blue interlude and the views all round were magnificent.

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Looking back towards Ben Ledi we climbed a few years back.

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Despite the ferocious wind we found a superb lunch spot, grassy and completely sheltered. Nothing finer than sharing a summit with good friends, in grand weather with expansive views.

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We had planned to explore some of the other rocky outcrops up there but it was pathless and heathery.

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Our appetites for a walk had been satisfied and we’d had superb views and with a long drive to come decided just to head back down.

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The blue skies belied the fact a massive downpour was on the way which we didn’t quite beat to the car before getting changed.

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We bid everyone a fond farewell after another cracking weekend. Despite some very uncertain and at times wet weather we’d had 2-3 days of great walking and life doesn’t get better than that. As we drove away the sun came out again treating us to one final view of Ben A’an across Loch Achray. Nice memory to sustain us over 7 hours in the car.

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