Early this year I was invited by my friend Denise to help celebrate her 50th birthday by joining a group on the ascent of her last Corbett followed by dinner at the George Hotel in Inveraray. I accepted the invitation and booked two nights at Inveraray Hostel for May 26th and 27th. It was a long way to travel so I was keen to extend my stay and decided to head up early with my bike on the train for a bit of cycle touring. I had never been across to Mull and came up with a plan to spend three nights camping on the island. I booked a train ticket to Glasgow (with bike space) arriving on Thursday evening and a room at Euro Hostel Glasgow for that night. I also booked another night at Inveraray Hostel for Friday, giving me three unplanned nights before having to get back there on Tuesday.
Sculpture by Andy Maclachlan, Dunoon.
About a hundred metres down my road is the entrance to Oxleys Wood, also known locally as Badger Wood (though I have never seen any evidence of badgers). Just inside the wood there is a marshy pond which currently features an amazing display of Hottonia palustris (Water Violet, Featherfoil). In the foreground and somewhat out of focus is Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag), and though not an aquatic plant I couldn’t resist including a photo of Rosa Canina (dog rose) growing a few feet from the water’s edge.
My walking club (which has a Facebook Page) was at St Andrew’s Youth Centre in Coniston for New Year. We normally alternate between there and Hawse End on Derwent Water (where I was last year) but two years ago it was Buckden House in the Yorkshire Dales (and I went to Wales instead anyway) so this was my first time in Coniston for four years. I drove up on December 27th after the usual last minute packing frenzy and arrived at the centre at about 9pm. The next day I had a lie in and eventually went out for a short walk along the lake on my own. I had wanted to take a bike with me but my touring/utility machine was in bits so I took the fixie, which is not ideal for mountainous terrain! On the 29th I decided to try cycling round Coniston Water, which I did in an anti-clockwise direction in just under an hour.
Lunch on Dow Crag
Last Thursday morning a friend stopped by my house and picked me up on her way to Wales. We have mutual friends in Pembrokeshire and I had been thinking about a visit so it was too good an opportunity to pass up. On the Friday night we stayed with a friend in Goodwick, which is basically a suburb of Fishguard, and on Saturday morning I set off on my own to walk to Strumble Head along the Wales Coast Path. I didn’t have a map so I just started walking from the harbour and assumed it would be obvious where to go.
Church and boat at Llanwnda
As I left Harbour Village I was distracted by a footpath signposted to a burial chamber and decided to follow that, which took me somewhat inland of the official coast path. Just as I was thinking how much nicer it would be to be closer to the sea I came across some small cottages at Llanwnda. There was nobody around but one of the doors was open and there was a sign inviting people to go inside and make themselves a cup of tea or coffee. I stayed for a while and read some of the interesting literature on display but nobody else turned up so I signed the guest book and continued my walk with the idea of visiting again on my way back.
Strumble Head Lighthouse
About 10 minutes later I came to the the coast path proper and turned left. After a grey start to the day it was nice when the sun broke finally broke through and after such a long wet spell of weather I felt incredibly lucky to have picked this day for a walk. The path only dropped down to the sea once, where I lay in the sun for a while on a pebbly beach listening to sound of the waves. Shortly after setting off again I rounded a corner and got my first view of the lighthouse at Strumble Head. I carried on till I reached a WW2 coastal lookout post which was opened as a bird observation point in 1988 (apparently it is also well known for monitoring cetaceans and Sea Trust uses it to carry out shore based porpoise surveys).
View from observation point
I could have caught a bus back to Fishguard but I had plenty of time and preferred to walk, even though I would be retracing my steps. On the way I met a couple carrying binoculars who told me they had just seen an adder basking in the sun about twelve feet from the path. They tried to describe where it was but I failed to spot it. When I got back to Llanwnda there was still nobody about but I went back into the cottage and made myself a cup of tea. I sat reading a book and after a while I heard someone walking past with a dog who said she would send her husband down to see me. He turned out to be an interesting chap called Buzz Knapp-Fisher and we ended up chatting for a couple of hours about all sorts of things mainly related to renewable energy and green transport. He has a website called Us Energy.
Cottages at Llanwnda
By the time I said goodbye to Buzz it was getting fairly late but rather than heading straight for Goodwick I hurried back down the way I had come to rejoin the coast path and walked the bit I had missed in the morning. As the harbour came into view I phoned the guy I was staying with to see what his plans were and since he hadn’t eaten yet I walked into town to pick up some supplies before heading back up the hill to his place where he cooked a late dinner while I had a shower. I spent three nights in Wales and did a lot of other stuff but I had been looking forward to a long coastal walk and this was just what the doctor ordered.
As a member of the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum I was invited to the official opening of a new permissive bridleway at Cross Farm near Harpenden. Being the cycling representative on the forum I naturally planned to ride there and I invited fellow members of the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum to join me. There was a slight complication in that the event was not expected to finish until 18:30 and our monthly WHCF meeting at Campus West in Welwyn Garden City was due to start at 19:00, giving us only half an hour to cycle a distance of about eight miles. A couple of people said they wanted to attend so we decided to delay the start of the meeting by half an our to allow time to get there.
A Muddy Lane
Ignoring my cold I set off in the rain on Wednesday afternoon and was one of the first people to arrive. I was greeted by Will and Jan Dickinson of Cross Farm who had the idea for a bridleway a couple of years ago. It was a “missing link” situation where people were crossing their land anyway so they thought it made sense to provide an official route, and the Local Access Forum were happy to provide them with encouragement and support. By 17:30 a fair few people had arrived including one other WHCF member, plastered from head to toe in mud after riding through floods and across Nomansland Common. Most people had arrived by car, including a number of LAF members, a Rights of Way officer and County Councillor Teresa Heritage. A tractor and trailer had been organised to take people up Cross Lane to the north end of the new bridleway, just west of the St Pancras to Bedford mainline. Jan and her daughter went ahead on horseback and we followed on our bikes.
Cutting the Ribbon
After a short speech Councillor Heritage cut a ribbon and there was a photo opportunity before we set off to walk/cycle/ride the new route. I am glad I made the effort because we were the only two cyclists present and it was important that all user groups were represented. The surface would probably have been fine were it not for the recent heavy rain. My friend had a full-on mountain bike and didn’t seem to have any trouble but the rear tyre on my hybrid was spinning a bit in the mud. The route crosses Mud Lane and carries on down the west side of the railway as far as Ayres End Lane, a total distance of about half a mile. At that point you can cross the bridge and continue down an existing maintenance track on the east side of the railway towards Heartwood Forest. The tractor arrived to ferry people back to the farm for refreshments but we got there first after cycling back along the bridleway. I could have stayed longer chatting to people but we had a meeting to get to so we set off and rode back past The Wicked Lady to join the Ayot Greenway which took us all the way to Campus West, arriving only a couple of minutes late.
I have been making it a habit to climb a mountain on New Year’s Day and I managed to maintain the tradition this year. On December 28th I drove up to the Lake District to join my walking group at Hawes End on the Western shore of Derwent Water. On the 29th a load of us set off walking together as far as Little Town where we split into two groups. One group headed up to Robinson while my lot ascended the ridge to Hindscarth. By the time we reached the summit the wind was gusting at 70 mph, making the frequent hail showers rather unpleasant. I took a short video on my old Cannon IXUS and although the quality is not great it is quite dramatic. The weather didn’t seem to be getting any worse so we continued on to Dale Head then down to Dalehead Tarn where we took advantage of some shelter to eat our sandwiches. After lunch we descended via Rigghead Quarries and joined the Allerdale Ramble for a fairly long but easy walk back to the centre.
Lunch at Dalehead Tarn
On the 30th I decided to have a rest day so I went back to bed for a while after breakfast. When I eventually got up I cleared the remaining breakfast stuff and had a bit of a tidy up before putting on my waterproofs to walk to Keswick in the drizzle. I had a look round The Puzzling Place, bought a Ben Elton book in the Oxfam Shop and sat for a while with a coffee in The Square Orange cafe bar before walking back. Whilst I was dossing a group went out and reached the summit of Skiddaw in relatively calm conditions. This was probably the only day where it was below freezing on the tops and there were reports of significant accumulations of snow.
Having had a rest day I was looking forward to getting out on the 31st so I joined a group planning to climb Sail. In fact, due to inclement weather most of them turned back after Scar Crags leaving me and five fellow masochists to carry on. Despite high winds and constant driving rain we reached Sail and carried on over Crag Hill to Grasmoor where there was a geocache to locate – any snow from the previous day had melted so with six of us it didn’t take long to find. We dropped down to Coledale Hause where, despite wet feet and no let-up in the weather, we all agreed to do Grisedale Pike. There were three reasons for this; to avoid a boring slog down the valley, to complete the Coledale Round (though we cheated by missing out Hopegill Head), and because there was another geocache to locate. Anyway, I always do the Coledale Round when I stay at Hawes End (see for example my report from two years ago), just like I always climb the Old Man of Coniston when I stay in Coniston. We found the geocache on Grisedale Pike and descended to Braithwaite, arriving just as it turned properly dark. I did the final two miles of road walking on autopilot, dreaming about being dry.
Crag Hill in the Rain
New Year’s Eve dinner featured Cumberland sausage as usual. After the main course the kids treated us to a performance of their own abridged versions of the first four Harry Potter films. I think I was the only person in the audience who had not read any of the books or watched any of the films, but that didn’t seem to matter too much. There was then desert, cheese and a quiz before seeing in the New Year with fireworks.
On New Year’s Day someone asked if I wanted to go for a run. I used to run a lot and had been meaning to start again so I agreed. We started off up Cat Bells but neither of us was really fit enough to run uphill so we just walked quickly and reached the top in about half an hour. We carried on to Maiden Moor and High Spy, running when we could, then it was then back down towards Dalehead Tarn to pick up the same return route as on my walk a few days earlier. Running back along by Derwent Water I got into my stride but was glad to get back to the centre for a shower and a cup of tea. The following day I was aching as I drove home but what a great way to start the year.
I know 2011 is not over yet but I want to send out an email before Christmas and rather than including a load of detail I will just point to this blog entry.
No really big changes for me this year. I am still living in the same house with the same lodger and doing much the same sort of work. I suppose the biggest change is that after a couple of years of searching and false starts I finally bought some woodland in Hertfordshire – if you are interested in that then you can check out my new blog called Ware Park Wood.
Lunch at the summit of Cadair Idris
I will just mention a few other highlights of my year. I started 2011 in Wales where I climbed Cadair Idris on New Year’s Day – and again on Jan 2nd! In March I travelled to Riga with my parents and sister. In April I provided the soundsystem at London 420 in Hyde Park and in June I experienced my first Glastonbury Festival, working with Bicycology in The Green Fields. In July I went to my uncle’s Golden Wedding Anniversary in Devon then stayed on a boat in Exeter and went for a sail to the Mewstone with my friend Al, stopping for the night in Brixham and then Torquay. Finally in September I stayed a couple of days in the Kielder Forest and did some mountain biking. After Christmas I will be going up to the Lake District and joining a large group for some energetic hill walking. I plan to maintain my tradition of climbing a mountain on New Year’s Day.
Mountain Biking in the Kielder Forest
In terms of work I am still self-employed and basically doing odd jobs (dog walking, gardening, tree work, occasional house sitting) but I probably spend more time doing unpaid than paid work. I am still a member of Bicycology but I have been getting more involved in local cycle campaigning too, both with the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum and a new all-Hertfordshire organisation called CycleHerts. I am also now a member of the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum. Veolia has finally, and in the face of intense local opposition, submitted its planning application for a giant waste incinerator in Hatfield. I have been helping Hatfield Against Incineration by delivering leaflets to local residents and I used my mobile soundsystem on a couple of protests. I was also invited to take the soundsystem along to a festival in Letchworth.
My Mobile Soundsystem
I had big crop of apples this year and made numerous apple crumbles. I also picked a lot of wild plums to make jam and my grape vine yielded about 10 litres of juice which I have frozen in plastic bottles for the summer. Out at the front I planted a Heavenly Blue morning glory which flowered spectacularly for many weeks.
New Flowers Every Morning
That is probably more than enough information for now. As well as this blog you can also find me on Facebook and Google+ (and a lot of other places if you look hard enough). I hope you have had a good year and best wishes for 2012.
Autumn has arrived but today was warm and sunny so I took the opportunity to cut the grass again, which meant first picking up a few day’s worth of windfall apples. Last week I stewed up a big batch and made three apple crumbles which went down a treat. After putting the mower away I took some time to have a good look round and it inspired me to get my camera. The first photo is of the largest of my three woodpiles, about half my supply for the winter. The lighter coloured wood is ash and above that is sweet chestnut, most hand sawn and all hand split. That should keep my Ulefos stove going for a while. In the upper left of the photo are some of the apples which haven’t fallen yet and on the right is rain water collection from the corrugated iron roof of the shelter – I just slit a piece of green plastic pipe using a jigsaw and clamped it round the edge of the roof. It is only a couple of square metres of collecting area but I used the water to help keep my pond topped up through the summer.
Ready for Winter
The second photo is of grapes ripening on the vine. Last year my grapes and potatoes got hit hard by a late frost but this year conditions have been favourable. I will wait a while longer before harvesting and juicing them. They taste fine straight off the vine but they are small and seedy so I prefer turning them into juice. I just put them in a big stainless steel pan or clean plastic bucket and mash them with a potato masher. Once they are all mushed up I pour the pulp into a large stainless steel colander, pressing down to get as much of the juice through as I can, and then leave it to settle before decanting into plastic bottles. I am not interested in making wine because it is apparently easy to end up with something almost undrinkable and I am not really into alcohol anyway. The juice on the other hand is amazing – almost like a syrup. I expect to end up with about a dozen litres of the stuff so the question of storage arises. I could pasteurise it by boiling but I feel that would somehow diminish its powers so I plan to freeze most of it.
Bunches of Grapes
I was supposed to be blogging more often but it has been over two months since my last entry so I will attempt a brief summary of some of the stuff I have been up to. In May I got my Guzzi on the road, did quite a lot of gardening, visited some woods that were for sale, went to West Sussex for a weekend camping on an organic farm, attended a Bob Dylan birthday tribute at the Savoy Steps (where part of Dont Look Back was filmed) and replaced the washbasin taps in my bathroom after a joint on one of the pipes burst dramatically.
Busy in the Kitchen
In June I went to the London Green Fair, built a bigger bass bin for my new soundsystem and used it on a protest against a proposed incinerator in Hatfield (see Hatfield Against Incineration), did a fair bit of tree work, set up a field kitchen on a campsite in Cambridgeshire for a friend’s 40th Birthday party and cycled from Bristol to Pilton where I worked with Bicycology in the Green Futures Field at Glastonbury Festival (see my report on the Bicycology Blog).
This month I have already represented Bicycology again at an event in Letchworth and am hoping to have a quiet couple of weeks now before heading down to Devon for my uncle’s golden wedding anniversary. Of course I did lots of other stuff but I think that covers the main events.
A couple of weeks ago I decided that it would be a good time to visit Scotland for some skiing and I ended up booking three nights bed and breakfast accommodation from Tuesday 23rd Feb at the Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms. With the amount of equipment I wanted to take it seemed like driving was the best option so I packed everything but the kitchen sink into the car and set off. I actually left on the Sunday because I wanted to visit a friend in Sheffield and stop in the Kielder forest, so I reached the Cairngorms on Tuesday afternoon and conditions looked great with blue skies and the sun shining on snow covered mountains.
I stopped in Aviemore to buy some supplies and spoke to a number of people who said that skiing conditions were about as good as they get, so I was looking forward to the next few days as I drove up to the Lodge. Glenmore Lodge is actually a big outdoor activities centre and that evening I sat in on a lecture about avalanche rescue, after which I went to the noticeboard to check the weather forecast. Apparently there was snow on the way. I had brought both downhill and cross country skis with me and I was advised to try downhill first because the wind was forecast to increase over the next two days. This turned out to be excellent advice!
I got up early on Wednesday, had breakfast and got in the car to drive the few miles up to the car park at the base station of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. It was snowing lightly but the ski area was open so I bought a lift pass and got on the train. A few minutes later I emerged from the top station into a stiff breeze with about 100m visibility. I hadn’t been on downhill skis for a few years and the conditions made it a bit of a challenge. There were drifts already building up in places and the flat light made it difficult to judge the terrain. After a few runs I started to get the hang of it and had an enjoyable day despite the poor weather. At about 3pm the train stopped running due to to deteriorating conditions and the tows started closing shortly after that. A snow plough had been trying to keep the road and car park clear all day but it was still an interesting drive back to the Lodge where I made use of the sauna to ease my aching limbs.
The next morning I woke up to find that about half a metre of new snow had fallen overnight and it was still snowing! The road up to the ski area was apparently impassable and there was avalanche risk on most aspects. Undeterred, after a large breakfast I strapped on my cross country skis and headed up the valley to the Ryvoan bothy. The route up there was fairly well tracked by people who had come down after spending the night, so I made rapid progress. At the bothy I met a load of people with dogs who had come over from the Lake District to train them for avalanche rescue. The training involved burying people in the snow and sending dogs out to find them.
I should have volunteered to be a victim as it is the sort of thing you don’t often get the chance to experience, but I had been looking at the map and decided to try to reach the forest about a kilometre further on. This turned out to be more difficult than I expected as I could not see any sign of a track and I had to plough through snow that often came up above my knees. I did eventually reach the forest where I had a short rest before turning back. I thought the return journey would be easier because I would be able to follow in my own tracks but they had largely drifted over already and I was glad to get back to the bothy for another rest. Skiing back down to the lodge was a doddle and I enjoyed it so much I went out again later to break another trail through the woods. I was still out at dusk and the scenery was magical – a true winter wonderland.
On Friday morning I had to check out by 10am but my car was buried. There was no way I could move it but I dug my way to the door and threw everything inside then spent some more time exploring the forest. By the time I got back to the Lodge the JCB was working on the rear car park and I managed to free my car but although the A9 had apparently re-opened I didn’t fancy trying to drive out. Fortunately for me there were some cancellations at the Lodge so I was able to get a bed for the night. On Saturday morning I heard that the road up to the ski lifts was still blocked and not expected to reopen till Sunday so I went out for one more go on the cross country skis before checking out and setting off for home.
If I had arrived in the Cairngorms a few days earlier I would have had some fantastic skiing, but then if I had arrived a day later I would have got stuck on the A9 and never even reached the Lodge, so things could have been much worse. It is strange being back down South where things are green instead of white. More photos in my Cairngorms 2010 flickr set.