There’s Scawtite in them there hills

I’m on a journey from Portrush to Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland and the last full walking day before catching a flight back from Belfast City Airport so it’s a good opportunity to get another walk in the Antrim Hills. I want to get to Glenarm on the Antrim coast road where I can catch the morning bus into Larne but on the way there I want to make a diversion to visit one of Northern Ireland’s most photographed locations. It may be only a country lane I’m heading for but this lane is no ordinary country lane and I am keen to get some photographs before the tourists arrive. Dark Hedges is a fine avenue of beech trees featured in the television series ‘Game of Thrones’. I am not disappointed as on this early Monday morning I have the place to myself with just the occasional commuter passing by. The main approach to Gracehill House which itself was built in 1775 was planted with an avenue of beech trees which have become a main tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. Visit this place in the right atmospheric conditions you could imagine that it is straight out of a scene in the Lord of the Rings. This half mile long section of road is lined with mature beech trees with massive limbs forming a fascinating tree tunnel.

The mysterious Dark Hedges in a rural part of County Antrim.

The mysterious Dark Hedges in a rural part of County Antrim.

I reach Glenarm at 09.30am giving me twenty minutes to don boots and to catch the bus to Larne. Alighting from the bus in the town I soon bump into a couple of people from Canada that I had spoken with at length on the previous day not far from the Giants Causeway. Larne is well known as a terminal for car ferries from Stranraer and Carinryan on the Scottish coast but in my opinion the town has little else to offer so I walk through the town centre and take a break at a seat before heading west through the outskirts on several residential roads including Mill Brae and Ballyhampton Road to reach the open countryside. It is now a rather long uphill walk on the straight Mullaghsandall Road to gain the Antrim Hills Way which runs concurrently with the Ulster Way. This proves to be the least interest part of the walk as there are no buses which come anywhere near this part of the world. The Antrim Hills Way is very well way-marked with regular posts displaying the Antrim Hills Way in name and a white fern symbol on a purple background so there is no excuse to wander off the trail.

Sallagh Braes where the basalt plateau gives way to a massive semi circular valley (In appearance its looks very similar to Cown Edge).

Sallagh Braes where the basalt plateau gives way to a massive semi circular valley (In appearance its looks very similar to Cown Edge).

I am glad to be walking across fields on this well signed path but the first stretch proves to be a bit boggy underfoot. Within a half mile I am at Sallagh Braes at the edge of a massive semi-circular basalt escarpment that was created when glaciers cut into unstable slopes and caused a massive landslip. (In appearance it’s very similar to Cown Edge). I soon pass two other walkers heading south and now the terrain is turning more pleasant with firm ground and short cropped grass. I make good progress for several miles over Robins Young Hill then down to cross the Feystown Road. With a picnic site symbol marked on the map, I had hoped to stop here for lunch but there are no picnic benches and it is a rather cold spot. I chose a sheltered location just on the northern side of the road with a view east towards Scotland on what has turned out to be a rather grey day.

Miles of easy walking on short cropped grassland and marvellous views stretching to Scotland. This view looks south from just north of the Feystown Road.

Miles of easy walking on short cropped grassland and marvellous views stretching to Scotland. This view looks south from just north of the Feystown Road.

Despite the day being very dull and cloudy, the next part of the walk proves very interesting with easy walking over Ballycoos, Scawt Hill to reach Black Hill on short cropped grass. The route is frequented with many way-markers and really there was no need for a map on this section. Several way-markers have fold out information panels which gave an insight to the rich geology of the area. Scawt Hill is the location where several rare minerals have been found including Larnite, Rankinite and Scawtite. These minerals were discovered within the last century and occur as a result of magna being thrust up through the ground and heating the limestone. (Look at Google Wikipedia to get more information about these rare minerals and their chemical element).

Frequent waymarkers keeps you on the right route for several miles of hill top walking. Scawt Hill is in the distance. the rare mineral Scawtite takes its name from this hill where it was first found.

Frequent waymarkers keeps you on the right route for several miles of hill top walking. Scawt Hill is in the distance. The rare mineral Scawtite takes its name from this hill where it was first found.

Several way-markers have fold out information panels many of which explain the complex geology of the area.

Several way-markers have fold out information panels many of which explain the complex geology of the area.

A little further beyond is Black Hill, which is crowned with a trig point and at 381 metres is the highest point of the day. The visibility is excellent with views to Islay, Jura, Kintyre, Arran, Ailsa Craig, the Ayrshire coast and even the Isle of Man. Below me the Maidens Lighthouse out in the North Channel which winks three times every twenty seconds. From the summit, a well way-marked path leads northwest to reach the quiet road leading down towards Glenarm. Later I take a minor lane called Town Brae down to the village.

Glenarm claims to be ulster's oldest town and has little changed over the centuries and an ideal spot for period film drams.

Glenarm claims to be Ulster’s oldest town and has little changed over the centuries and an ideal spot for period film drams.

Glenarm is claimed to be the oldest town in Ulster and Altmore Street is lined with Georgian houses. Running off it, Castle Street leads to the barbican gatehouse which leads into Glenarm Castle and the seat of the Earls of Antrim. These streets lie just off the main Antrim coast road and are prone to be missed by most tourists and the locality makes a good period film set. (Some scenes from the recent BBC 1Television period drama ‘My mother and other Strangers’ were set in the village). I take a wander around the village before heading back to the car after a most enjoyable walk.

It’s now time to drive the Antrim coast road to Carrickfergus which is an interesting town on the northwest shore of Belfast Lough and dominated by its fine Norman castle built by John long man de Courcy in 1177. The castle was once almost surrounded by water but land reclamation and the construction of the harbour means that only one side overlooks the water.

Evening sunlight on Carrickfergus Castle. A perfect way to end the day with a wander along the seafront and around the harbour.

Evening sunlight on Carrickfergus Castle. A perfect way to end the day with a wander along the seafront and around the harbour.

A Gorgeous Week In Crete

Descending to Sweetwater Beach on the E4

Last Saturday eighteen long walkers returned safely from Crete on the annual continental walking holiday.

Based in Loutro on the south coast, we set off westwards on the 1st day to Marmara Bay from where we commenced the 800m ascent of Aradena Gorge.This entailed plenty of scrambling over pretty rough terrain.If people were expecting easier days to come they were somewhat disappointed, as all the walks were what could be described as challenging . Still, all survived ,with only a few tumbles and grazes.

The following day we descended the Imbros Gorge, following the route of the British Army retreat to the waiting warships in 1941.The 1st World War slogan “Lions led by Donkeys” could equally have applied to the campaign on Crete. In fact I’m sure I heard muttering to that effect over the week as I led the group over the difficult terrain.From the bottom of the gorge we walked westwards on the E4 back to Loutro via Sweetwater Beach.Instead of completing the walk with the rest of us Graham Bothwell chickened out at Sweetwater Beach, and caught a boat back. His lame excuse was that we weren’t going fast enough for him.What he failed to mention was that Sweetwater Beach is a nudist beach !

The 3rd day proved pretty gruelling ,involving a water taxi,a 3 hour coach journey,a 5 hour/1200m descent of the spectacular Samaria Gorge,followed by a 1 hour ferry journey back to base.

A shock to the system for some! Westwards on the E4

The following day we took a water taxi back to the base of the Samaria Gorge , and walked back along the E4 ,trudging through soft sand 20/60m above the shoreline for the first few miles.We enjoyed beautiful views of the coast and clear blue sea.

Graham was delighted to be given the opportunity of returning to Sweetwater Beach for a bit of rest and recuperation on the 5th day.

The steep 600m ascent behind Loutro on the final day in mid/high 20 degree temperatures was perhaps the most gruelling of the week, but rewarded with spectacular views of Loutro.It was worth the effort though to descend the narrow ravine that took us down into Chora Sfakion and a well earned lunch (and cold Beer!) in a waterside tavern.

Brian Griffiths

The alternative,and slightly easier way up the Aradena Gorge

Snowbound in the Brecon Beacons

Heading out towards Pen y Fan on a bitterly cold morning

Heading out towards Pen y Fan on a bitterly cold morning. The ground is frozen solid. One or those days where the walk was abandoned higher up as conditions were simply too bad.

So, the East Cheshire Ramblers are off to the Brecon Beacons this month and this area was an area of many excursions in my youth when I was an active member of the Bristol Youth Hostel Social Group. Come rain or shine our band of happy youthful walkers would head off once a fortnight to one of many youth hostels in England or Wales but often the group would spend a weekend at one of the ‘simple’ grade Welsh hostels in the middle of winter. I recall numerous occasions of turning up to a bleak cold lonely youth hostel on a Friday night to spend a couple of days walking with friends of a similar age, cooking meals, organising walks and transport and looking forward to a warm bed when we got home on a Sunday night. Regardless to the weather, the weekends were always planned well in advance but one such weekend does stand out as one to remember.
Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel lies just off the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil and was a favourite and much frequented youth hostel by the group but the events of a weekend in February 1978 shall remain in my mind for the rest of my life.
Like most weekends, the Friday evening would be a drive to some remote youth hostel somewhere down a dark lane in the middle of nowhere and on this Friday evening the drive was no different to most other trips away except it was cold, dam cold!
From a warm car it was the usual walk in pitch darkness loaded with rucksacks and boxes of provisions and guided only by a feeble torch to the lights of the youth hostel down some grassy uneven path. Now in 1978, Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel had no heating except for an open fire which we took in turns to stand by. With hands grasping the warmth from mugs of tea all round we would retire to a cold dormitory and fall asleep after much banter. Ah, those were the days!

Saturday dawned a cold day and already there was snow on frozen ground and after
breakfast our leader for the day, Richard led our party for two miles down the deserted A470 before turning right and taking a path to cross the Afon Tarrell. We continued north east on a sheltered lane to a cross roads where we turned right. Soon we were on the flanks of the Brecon Beacons and aiming for Corn Du but the ferocious and biting wind often bowled us over and we were blasted by ice particles in our faces. Progress was extremely slow and never before had I experienced weather as bad as this. We made painfully for Pen Milan and reaching about 600 metres the way ahead was often obscured with blinding blowing snow. It was here we decided to abandon our attempt on the Brecon Beacons summits. The ground at this height was frozen solid and we opted to make for the Storey Arms to find food and shelter. It proved a slow struggle across the open moorland of Y Gyrn but we were glad when the Storey Arms came into view only to find that it was not a pub. (Well you live and learn). By now it was lunchtime and we took shelter in a conifer plantation to eat ice cold sandwiches and drink frozen squash. With the weather deteriorating we decided to head back to Llwyn-y-Celyn via the main road. A short drive in the afternoon was spent at the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre trying to warm up with mugs of tea and coffee.

With the hostel being extremely cold, we ventured into Brecon during the evening in search of a warm pub. The pub we found was full of entertainment as the landlord’s daughter had got married that day and many of the drinkers were already drunk or merry. We returned by car to Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel with a bag of chips just as the snow started to fall heavily. The story doesn’t end here however as to go to bed, we dressed up in all the gear we had with balaclavas, bobble hats, coats, scarves etc. By now the hostel temperature was down to minus ten centigrade. We fell into an uneasy sleep with the wind and snow blowing outside. By the morning, the dormitories were covered in snow even inside the building with fine snow penetrating every nook and cranny in the building to give a covering from 2 to 18 inches on the floor and most of the beds were covered in snow. Beards and moustaches were frozen from our breath. On investigating outside it was soon apparent that we were totally cut off with the cars buried, some almost completely in snow and the snow drifts everywhere of three to four feet deep.

The driveway up from Llwyn Celyn Youth Hostel. A mammoth task ahead of clearing the driveway.

The driveway up from Llwyn Celyn Youth Hostel. A mammoth task ahead of clearing the driveway.

All hands to the pump. Trying to push a car up a slippery slope.

All hands to the pump. Trying to push a car up a slippery slope.

Help arrives. A farmer with his tractor to pull each car up the driveway to the A470.

Help arrives. A farmer with his tractor to pulls each car up the driveway to the A470.

Time to get the cars started on the A470. There is no one else about.

Time to get the cars started on the A470. There is no one else about.

The A470 between Brecon and Merthyr. This view looks south towards the Storey Arms from aboveLlwyn Celyn Youth Hostel

The A470 between Brecon and Merthyr. This view looks south towards the Storey Arms from above the Llwyn Celyn Youth Hostel.

After breakfast we started to organise a major dig. Along with our group there was a party of scouts from Reading and together we started to clear the drive from the hostel up to the main road even using spare slates off the roof. As the wind was blowing so strong, the snow was blowing back and we were fighting a losing battle. Starting the car engines was another problem as under each car bonnet the snow had filled every nook and cranny. No traffic was using the Brecon to Merthyr road. By late morning a local farmer had reached us with his tractor and one by one the cars were winched up the hostel drive to the A470 but not without some damage. Later in the afternoon a snowplough reached us and with much bump starting of the cars we eventually got them all going. The snowplough then escorted us to Brecon and after a journey with a detour via Newport, we eventually arrived back in Bristol tired and exhausted.

Now I’m not expecting you to have any such bad weather like this; after all it will be late May but when you are on the bus on Roger’s walk on Saturday heading up to the Storey Arms, spare a thought of those walkers in those pioneering days of the late seventies.

Discovering a quiet corner in the old county of Radnorshire

The quiet village of New Radnor in a almost forgotten corner of Powys.

The quiet village of New Radnor in a almost forgotten corner of Powys.

Lying midway Llandrindod Wells and Presteigne the Radnor Forest is one of those overlooked areas of Powys and yet for many miles around it is the highest area with three summits over 2000 feet above sea level. Its northern slopes are cloaked in forestry whilst on the southern side there is a firing range but having said that the area makes for some fine walking where you will meet few people.
I had walked in this area in my youth hostelling days and with nearly forty years since my last visit I thought it was about time to explore the area again. With an early start from Bristol en route to Macclesfield this is a big detour and so I am pleased the day is dawning clear and sunny.

The sleepy village of New Radnor is my starting point but the weather forecast is set to change and even before I start my walk, high cloud is apparent in the west.

Parking in New Radnor presents no problems with a wide street through the village and the place is now bypassed by the A44. It is only 9.15am when I set out through the quiet village before heading up passing the church onto a field path. A right turn takes me onto a minor road before continuing with another field path contouring around to Harley Dingle. For once it feels quite warm but the air is cool on this spring morning and the odd gust of cold wind is just a sign of things to come. The army range in Harley Dingle, which forms a deep valley into the hills on the southern side is quiet and no red flags are flying.

A footbridge over the stream at the foot of Harley Dingle. The valley beyond is an active firing range.

A footbridge over the stream at the foot of Harley Dingle. The valley beyond is an active firing range. On this walk I take the path the hillside to the left.

The view you get whilst ascending Fron Hill. Harley Dingle which forms the valley area is unfortunately out of bounds as it is a firing range.

The view you get whilst ascending Fron Hill. Harley Dingle which forms the valley area is unfortunately out of bounds as it is a firing range. Today I skirt the skyline from left to right.

Looking across Harley Dingle to the shapely summit of Whimble but a firing range lies in the valley below.

Looking across Harley Dingle to the shapely summit of Whimble but a firing range lies in the valley below.

I’m taking the pleasant hill path to the left of the range ascending the shoulder of Fron Hill. It is a delight to be out on such a glorious morning and an opportunity for photographs. High cloud from the west is edging in but for now I still have the sunshine. Further up on the crest of the ridge I have a view south to the snow-capped Brecon Beacons but the high cloud is silently edging in and it won’t be long before I lose the sun. Veering right I come to a flagpole around which is a red flag tied near the base. I check the path ahead and decide that my route is just outside the army range. Further on, with a cold wind blowing I reach a lone danger sign. It is here I am leaving the track to make for the summit of Great Rhos which at 660 metres is the highest point in the old county of Radnorshire. Despite it being only a short distance to the trig point, it is across very rough tussocky ground potted with watery holes and so I have to tread carefully. The summit itself which is crowned by a lonely trig point is a bleak location and in this cold wind not a place to linger. To the northwest, snow-capped hills are just visible. A peaty path runs north which I follow to join a track which continues northeast towards a forest. This track however has suffered the unfortunate effects of scrambling bikes which had churned up the ground. Once in the forest, I stop out of the wind for my morning break. Shortly afterwards I make a right turn on another churned up track and soon leave the forest. I am now making for the second summit named Black Mixen and this takes me along a good path but I am now walking into an icy headwind which makes my eyes water. Black Mixen is 650 metres and is topped by an aerial mast and today a team of engineers were working at the summit. After a brief pause at the trig point I head east on a good track. By now the sun has gone and it its turning into a cold windy and cloudy day. Reaching the forest I am glad of some shelter as I turned right and head south. A little lying snow fills the hollows and shady places. My next objective is Bache Hill, 610 metres, but with an out of date map I am not sure if this is still open access despite it being moorland. I spot a hill farmer working his dogs so I varied my route slightly to be out of sight of him. I skirt along the bottom end of a field just out of sight before entering a heathery path. Still out of sight of the farmer I turn right uphill to make my way to the summit and the third trig point of the day. (Later research does show Bache Hill as open access).

On the descent from Whimble. fine walking country. The ridge in the distance was on my outward route on what started out as a fine sunny day.

On the descent from Whimble in fine walking country. The ridge in the distance was on my outward route on what started out as a fine sunny day.

I now search for the farmer in case I am trespassing and as I can’t see him and descend on the southern side of the hill. The last hill of the day is Whimble and for much of the way to this last summit I follow a good track along the windy hillside. Now Whimble is open access not that I know that on this walk and there seems to be only one recognised path up to this shapely summit which fails to make the 600 metre mark by one metre. First I have to pass a large shed and beyond I take the direct path to the summit of Whimble. Close to the exposed summit I find several quarried out hollows and ironically a good spot to have lunch out of the bitter wind. It is quite grey now and so lunch is a hurried affair. A steep but defined path leads down the western side before I cross a fence onto the edge of heathery moorland. In the meantime red flags have been hoisted but no sign of any army activity. There now follows a long descent towards New Radnor firstly alongside a forest and here I pass the only other walkers of the day. Eventually I join a steep lane which leads down to the centre of the village and the end of an enjoyable walk. On reflection I feel that this is an undiscovered part of Wales. Take away the firing range the area has the potential to be a first class walking area if a bit of money and facilities were pumped in like a few small car parks, signing, and additional paths.

Journey’s end – Completing the Jurassic Way

A warm summer's evening looking towards Barrowden Church, the starting point for todays walk. (picture taken in 2006 as weather bad on this occasion).

A warm summer’s evening looking towards Barrowden Church, the starting point for today’s walk. (this picture was taken in 2006 as weather bad on the occasion of this walk).

It’s my last day walking the Jurassic Way, long distance path that I had started to walk several years ago and the plan today is to walk from Barrowden to Stamford and catch the mid afternoon bus back to the start. With over fifteen miles to cover I am making an early start and I park in the same spot as on the previous day in the village. After a few days of fine weather, my luck is running out as I set off on this gloomy dull morning with the possibility of rain not too far away. I head down through Barrowden then set off across the water meadows of the River Welland to reach the nearby village of Wakerley. A field path is followed up around and behind the village church before joining a road. Next I continue through Wakerley Great Wood in the morning gloom and beyond I cross fields to reach the A43. On the far side there is an area rough grazing as I skirt around Fineshade Abbey. In medieval times Fineshade Abbey, an Augustinian priory, was established on the site of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle known as Castle Hymel. The priory came to an end with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1545 and a fine country house known as Fineshade Abbey survived until it was demolished in 1956. Only the stable block now remains and was more recently converted into private housing which is still retains the name of Fineshade Abbey.

The path now runs through tall grass but soon I am back on a better field path to reach a lane. This leads to Top Lodge Visitor Centre which I briefly visit. The centre depicts the history of the local area. To get to the next village of Duddington I have a fair bit of woodland walking ahead of me and now the rain starts which seemed to be setting in. It gradually gets heavier so I stop by a seat to don full wet weather gear. This woodland forms part of the area known as Rockingham Forest. The forest once covered around two hundred square miles and stretched from Northampton all the way to Stamford. Created by King William I not long after the Norman Conquest, the area was an important hunting area for several centuries but by the time of King Charles II much of the forest had been sold or given away. Deforestation continued over past centuries to leave only small fragments of this once extensive forest. Today there are only a few forested areas and most of these lie southwest of Stamford and to the south of Corby. Checking the map in the shelter of a sawmills I now turn north but this path proves quite overgrown but thankfully I soon join a better forestry track. The A43 is crossed once more as I enter the attractive village of Duddington where I make for the village church by which time the rain has stopped so it’s time to get out of my wet weather gear in the church porch. It’s also a good time to stop for elevenses.

Duddington is an pleasant village with many old cottages and today the place is fairly peaceful but this has not always been the case. Being at the junction of the busy A43 and A47 trunk roads the village is now by-passed. Its just a pity that the day is so dull and not worthy of any photographs.

Picturesque cottages line the village street in Duddington. (this picutre taken in 2006 as weather was wet when i walked through the village on this occasion).

Picturesque cottages line the village street in Duddington. (this picture was taken in 2006 as weather was wet when I walked through the village on this occasion).

Duddington Mill on the River Welland (as seen on a visit in 2005).

Duddington Mill on the River Welland (as seen on a visit in 2005).

A old parish boundary sign on the border of Duddington, Northamptonshire and Tixover in Rutland (picture from 2005).

A old parish boundary sign on the border of Duddington, Northamptonshire and Tixover in Rutland (picture from 2005).

I leave the village via Mill Street and cross the River Welland once more via the historic fifteenth century bridge. I join a field path to reach Tixover Grange and cut across another ploughed field by which time my boots are clogged with mud. A better field path leads to the edge of Geeston and here I make a right turn along a road and once more cross the River Welland. This river forms the country boundary between Rutland and Northamptonshire and today I will cross it several times. I now have an ascent across fields to Easton on the Hill but most of these fields have been recently ploughed and un-walked. Progress is slow as I pick up so much sticky mud and I have to stop several times to remove a large accumulation of mud off my boots.

Easton on the Hill is a large village with the older more attractive part close to the church. Its claim to fame was that Lancelot Skynner came from the village. His name will probably not be familiar to you but he was the captain of the HMS Lutine which foundered in a storm on the West Frisian Islands off the coast of the Netherlands in 1799. The ship was carrying shipment of gold and the bell from the ship was salvaged. Today the Lutine Bell is housed in Lloyd’s of London and is used for ceremonial purposes at their headquarters.

Before stopping for lunch, I make a small detour to visit the 15th century Priest’s House, a National Trust property which as it turns out is closed. Well its time I’d stopped for lunch so I head for the village church to find a seat. It proves a cold spot on this cloudy damp day and so I am keen to move on. A good path descends northeast from the village and at the foot crosses the railway line then passes beneath the busy A1. Nearby and unmarked is a feature unique in England insomuch it is the meeting point of four counties – Rutland, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire and the City of Peterborough, the latter being a unitary authority. A walk through Town Meadows leads me into Stamford where I have plenty of time to explore the place at leisure.

Stamford is an interesting town with a history dating back to Roman times. Ermine Street passes through the town and in its early history served as an inland port. Very little is visible today of the town walls but centre of the town has a plethora of historic churches which I shall have to visit another day when the weather is better and I have more time. Stamford was used as the setting for the television adaptation for the George Eliot novel Middlemarch.

This is the end of my walk along the Jurassic Way and all I need to do now is to catch the bus back to Barrowden on this dreary afternoon before the drive home. I arrive in good time at the bus station and the solitary bus parked at one of the stands is the service I want. I settle down to a good read of the free Metro newspaper before moving off and I am satisfied that I have achieved the completion of yet another long distant path.

The end of the Jurassic Way in Stamford and signs that the weather is improving after a wet and gloomy day. This is the river Welland which flows through the town.

The end of the Jurassic Way in Stamford and signs that the weather is improving after a wet and gloomy day. This is the River Welland which flows through the town.

Filling a gap on the Offa’s Dyke Path

On the Offa's Dyke Path after leaving Knighton one gets a panoramic view along the Teme Valley

On the Offa’s Dyke Path after leaving Knighton one gets a panoramic view along the Teme Valley.

I have a long term ambition to walk the complete length of the Offa’s Dyke Path and over the years I have nibbled away by walking odd sections which now leaves several gaps in the path to complete. One problem is that buses are a bit thin on the ground to say the least and so many walks have to be done as’ circulars’ unless you are back packing. One big gap which still remains to be walked is the section between Knighton and Welshpool which will take around four circular walks and one ‘bus’ walk to complete this section and so on a fine sunny day last September I opted to do a circular walk north from Knighton.

I’m en-route from Portishead to Macclesfield and so it’s an early start for my journey north to Knighton so it was well into the morning before I start out walking. The car park at the Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre is virtually full and I set off on a fine sunny morning to follow the Offa’s Dyke Path north. The path crosses from Powys into Shropshire shortly after I start and a marker indicates the boundary between England and Wales on a little bridge. Here you can stand with a foot in both countries and get your picture taken if you wish. After crossing the railway then a minor lane I am faced with a steep ascent. A few other people are out walking on this most pleasant day. At the top of the ascent I next follow the path along the ridge with good views over the Teme Valley and beyond. Having passed another group of walkers I decide to stop on the summit of Cwm-sanahan Hill for lunch. It’s a glorious spot to while away the day but it is still early in my walk.

A lunch stop on the summit of Cwm-sanaham Hill with a wonderful view all round.

A lunch stop on the summit of Cwm-sanaham Hill with a wonderful view all round.

Setting off once more, a descent soon follows to the isolated house at Brynorgan and shortly beyond I reach a lane where today I will leave the Offa’s Dyke Path. It is a case now of cutting across country to reach the Glyndwr’s Way so I am half expecting a few path problems on this next section of the walk.

Descending along the Offa's Dyke path towards the isolated house at Brynorgan.

Descending along the Offa’s Dyke path towards the isolated house at Brynorgan.

For nearly a mile, I follow a quiet lane then opt to take a path south as it is signed. After crossing a few fields I reach Lower Trebert which I am expecting to be a deserted farmstead but I am wrong. Loose barking dogs are in the yard of this farm and initially I look for a way to avoid the farm. The farmhouse door is open so I decide to shout to see if anyone is at home. A woman comes out and says that the dogs are alright so I cautiously crossed the yard and exit through a high gate on the far side. Luckily I have my walking pole with me. I am soon at another large farm complex at Graig and despite lanes passing through this farm they look more like tracks. Joining one such lane I descend to the village of Lloyney entering Wales as I reach the settlement. Now being in rural Powys I am now expecting path problems and I have plenty of time and feel that I might be venturous and tackle a few paths.

Walking towards the castellated Knucklas Railway Viaduct.

Walking towards the castellated Knucklas Railway Viaduct.

A green patchwork of fields is so typical of this area around the Teme Valley northwest of Knucklas.

A green patchwork of fields is so typical of this area around the Teme Valley northwest of Knucklas.

Leaving Lloyney my plan is to get over to Heyop and I set off up a minor lane before taking an unsigned path on the left crossing fields which will cut off a corner before returning to the same lane. The path exists to a degree but on both field boundaries the stiles have all but gone and remains of one such stile is well hidden in a hedge. Back on the lane I reach a point above Vineyard Farm and this is where I am expecting problems. I just happen to see a farmer so ask him if the path still exists through the farm and he tells me that it had gone but he wasn’t the owner of the land and I detected that he was sympathetic that I couldn’t go that way. It meant altering my route for the next few miles but as it turned out it would be very pleasant. I set off along a green lane before it drops down towards Knucklas passing on the way the slight remains of Cnwclas Castle on a steep mound. Built around 1220AD by the Mortimers, little remains of this castle other than a few mounds. There were numerous battles in the area and the castle soon fell into a ruinous state not long after it was built. Just below is the impressive castellated Knucklas Viaduct built in 1865. The owner of the land over which it ran had a say in its construction and hence ornate towers were built at either end. I drop down into the sleepy village of Knucklas before taking an uphill lane to the south. On the ascent I decide on taking the path towards Bailey Hill and this path affords some good views. I later join a quiet
road briefly before taking a track to the south and this enables me to take a small detour to reach the trig point on Bailey Hill. I sit awhile on the summit admiring the views on this fine September afternoon. It is so peaceful insomuch I could have sat there for hours. In the end I do draw myself away and set off east now with the Glyndwr’s Way which passes the top end of Downes’s Dingle. It is so nice to be out walking in the late afternoon on this perfect September day with lengthening shadows and no one else is around in this peaceful countryside. A long descent now follows with the grassy track becoming stony and later becoming a narrow lane as I drop down to Little Cwm-gilla. Crossing a lane I leave the Glyndwr’s Way and take a signed path below Garth Hill as my route back into Knighton. Despite it being a bit overgrown, it is a good route to enter the town. The tea shop at the visitor centre is just closing when I got back but time enough to buy an ice cream before making the journey home.

A section of the Glyndwrs Way with the view towards Bailey Hill.

A section of the Glyndwrs Way with the view towards Bailey Hill.

The long track descending towards Knighton on a fine September afternoon.

The long track descending towards Knighton on a fine September afternoon.

A satisfying end to the day with a walk across pastures into Knighton and just in time to get an ice cream at the end of my walk.

A satisfying end to the day with a walk across pastures into Knighton and just in time to get an ice cream at the end of my walk.

On the 29th of April this month I will be leading this walk again for our group but in the opposite direction. Of the couple of path issues, (two stiles) these were reported to Powys County Council and the RA after the walk so hopefully these have been resolved. The start out time will be earlier than when I walked it and so we should be back in good time for those who wish to use the cafe at the Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre, so lets hope for good weather!

A land where time has stood still

A quiet October morning in Barrowden with the autumn colours beginning to show.

A quiet October morning in Barrowden with the autumn colours beginning to show.

It’s the penultimate day walking the Jurassic Way and today is going to be a much shorter walk than the previous two days and just a mere twelve and a half miles. I reach the attractive Rutland village of Barrowden in good time for the little shuttle bus which plies between Stamford and Uppingham so I am in plenty of time to wander around the village first including visiting the parish church.

Barrowden village green and pond. A lovely peaceful spot to wait for the bus.

Barrowden village green and pond. A lovely peaceful spot to wait for the bus.

The bus journey takes me to Uppingham where I can take another bus to Caldecott to walk across fields to Gretton and hence pick up the Jurassic Way where I left off on the previous day but this would make my walk too short. Well that is my original plan but instead I decide to walk from Uppingham and visit the historic Bede House in Lyddington en-route to Gretton.

Uppingham I find is an interesting small town frozen in history with many old buildings and dominated by its large private school which was founded in 1584.
I set off south and I am soon out of the town and following an undulating field path passing through playing fields before crossing ploughed and recently seeded fields to reach the attractive village of Lyddington. I now make for the interesting Bede House which originally formed the medieval wing of a palace belonging to the Bishops of Lincoln. Sir Thomas Cecil, son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister converted it into an almshouse in 1600 for twelve poor ‘bedesmen’ over 30 years old in age and two women over 45 years old in age who were all free of lunacy, leprosy or the French. Today, most of the rooms are unfurnished but a couple are which gives an insight on how conditions were in those days.

The Bede House in Lyddington under the care of English Heritage.

The Bede House in Lyddington under the care of English Heritage.

Continuing south from Lyddington I pass many cottages of attractive warm golden stone and turn left at the end of the village. A roadside seat a short way along this lane and below Bee Hill is a good spot to have an early lunch and today I am in no hurry as I have ample time to complete the walk before nightfall.

Glorious sticky mud which clogs the boots. Thankfully this field wasn't too big to cross as I neared Gretton.

Glorious sticky mud which clogs the boots. Thankfully this field wasn’t too big to cross as I neared Gretton.

With sandwiches eaten I’m heading next towards the hamlet of Thorpe by Water but now the clouds are looking quite angry to the north east and there was no shelter around. I press on to reach the B672 just as the first spots of rain start. There is much open field walking next across the Welland Valley to reach Gretton and it seems likely that I will get caught in a heavy spell of rain. As luck will have it, it is fortunate that I reach a small underpass at the disused railway just as the rain comes on heavy and I couldn’t have wished for a better shelter. This is not marked on the map so it is a real bonus and so for the next half an hour I stay put as there isn’t much point in crossing large open fields and getting wet. When I do set off I cross an impressive new footbridge over the River Welland before striking out across open pasture with cows grazing. I am so glad that I had made the right decision to hold back awhile. Ascending towards Gretton I have to cross some sticky ploughed fields and in this part of the country the mud does really stick to your boots which impedes your walking pace. At long last I join the Jurassic Way which involves initially some road walking through the village of Gretton before taking a field path to the east. I get the impression that this area has been quarried for iron ore in the distant past and has now been landscaped. It’s a lonely section of countryside with large fields and bordering woodland blocks and devoid of any habitation but I later turn north by the isolated Harringworth Lodge. I cross more fields and following field boundaries, some with limestone walls which is like walking through a part of the Cotswolds. A minor road is crossed and I later make a descent to the Wellend Valley. Dominating the valley is the impressive Welland Railway Viaduct which at 1,275 yards long and has 82 arches. It was completed in 1878 and is the longest masonry viaduct across a valley in Britain and is a Grade II listed building. At the foot of my descent is the hamlet of Shotley and now I head west along a road into the village of Harringworth.

The impressive Welland Viaduct which crosses the valley at Harringworth and the longest masonry viaduct over any such valley in Great Britain.

The impressive Welland Viaduct which crosses the valley at Harringworth and the longest masonry viaduct over any such valley in Great Britain.

My route to reach Barrowden is now alongside the River Welland following a field path. Heavy clouds are threatening again and in this part of the world there is little shelter. I reach the unusually named Turtle Bridge as the first spots of rain are felt but have time to photograph this interesting location. I am surprised to find a county sign on the far side welcoming me to Rutland despite being on a green lane.

Now this is unusual - a county boundary sign on a green lane as you pass from Northamptonshire into Rutland.

Now this is unusual – a county boundary sign on a green lane as you pass from Northamptonshire into Rutland.

It now seems likely that I am going to get caught in a shower and so opt to see if there is any shelter at a nearby disused railway bridge. From the farm track I manage to get down the embankment to find some shelter and it isn’t long before the rain goes off. The next mile is just a case of walking along a field boundary before crossing a couple of ploughed fields. The rain is intermittent now and thankfully doesn’t amount to much. I finally join a lane into Barrowden and head up through the village back to the car.

Social and Events Calendar – Update from April 2017 onwards

 

Here are the ECR Events organised for the current Programme, April to June, and also those in planning for our future programmes:-

Saturday 8th April Grand National Sweep and walk organised by Rosie Forth.

Friday 21st April 11-30am a tour of Robinson’s Brewery with the additional option of lunch and a visit to Staircase House. Organised by Brian Griffiths. Fliers have been circulated and I think this is fully booked but please contact Brian to check on availability if you would like to attend.

Friday 21st April  Start of walking for Health programme. These are walks of about 2 miles on flat ground with no stiles. They will run approx. every 2 weeks and a programme will follow.

11th May  start of Evening walks programme

19th-21st May Week end away at Brecon organised by Ann Thompson. A flier has been circulated and more information will follow shortly for those who have expressed an interest.

Saturday 3rd June: 9 miles easy Coastal Ecology walk organised by John Handley from Wirral Country Park Visitors Centre, Heswall. Walking to Little Eye and Hilbre Islands off West Kirby at low tide. Marine landscape, birds, and animals. The number of participants is limited to 20 so booking with John is essential:- john.handley@manchester.ac.uk.

Wednesday 14th June Coach trip to North Wales organised by Andy Davies. This is to Ruthin and more information will follow shortly.

Thursday 22nd June. Walk and a meal at the Old Smithy, Monyash. Organised by Ann Thompson

Advance notice for next programme: July – December 2017

1st July Ramble with a Ranger organised by Jane Gay

Saturday 8th July:  HS2 Walk organised by John Edwards. Walking 7 to 8 miles of the proposed HS2 Route around Ashley with the Landscape Architect, Joanne Philips, who is conducting research on the impact of large scale infrastructure developments upon the landscape and the opportunities for exploring mitigation measures in early consultations with local communities and Groups like ECR.  For more information see: www.jophillips.net and  http://www.miriad.mmu.ac.uk/.  Numbers limited so please book your place with Kathryn Carty by 24 June: cartykathryn@btinternet.com.

Saturday 29th July Picnic walk. Long, medium and short walks are being organised finishing with a shared picnic.

12th August  Coach trip to Anglesey organised by Steve Hull

17th August last of the evening walks followed by Supper

3-8th September Trip to the Manor House Hotel Devon organised by Jane Gay. This trip is now confirmed with 30 attending and others are welcome to join us.

23 September -1st October Bollington walking Festival

23 September Ramble with a Ranger organised by Jane Gay

11th November 2 pm: ECR AGM at Macclesfield Tennis Club.

Friday 17th November 7.30 pm Area AGM hosted by ECR at Kings Arms PH, Alderley Road, Wilmslow SK9 1PZ. All members are welcome to attend.

23rd December -7th January: RA National festival of walks.

 

Early notice for Programme in 2018

15th-24th June 2018. Barnaby Festival, Macclesfield. Leaders are invited and encouraged to plan Walks in, or reasonably close to the Macclesfield area, so that ECR may participate with walks in the Programme of this Festival of our “home” town, and show-case our Group’s activities to potential new members.

 

If you have any ideas for future events please contact jane.gay@icloud.com.

Our Social and Events Programme has expanded considerably over the past few years and is now of the size where the schedule requires close co-ordination to avoid clashes and to try to ensure an even spread of dates across the year. Early consultation with Jane really helps with this and is greatly appreciated by the Committee.

 

 

Ramblers Roadshow 2017

This event was organized by the Ramblers Association held at the Palace Hotel in Buxton on 19th March 2017.

There were about 80+ members attending from all around Greater Manchester and High Peak areas including East Cheshire Ramblers.

There was a morning and afternoon session of workshops:

  1. First aid for walkers and basic navigation
  2. Introduction to walk leading
  3. Getting more people walking
  4. Recruiting and Retaining Members
  5. Basics of Rights of Way
  6. Supporting the volunteer journey
  7. How to run successful short walks
  8. Managing challenges on group walks

There was an introduction from the Membership and Retainment Officer. A couple of videos were shown one featuring June Mabon (ECR member) and her Trafford Footpath team and then we headed to the various workshops.

Steve Osborne wrote “I chose First aid for walkers and we had 3 scenarios with instructions from a trainer from The British Red Cross. The next hour was on Basic Navigation, an introduction to maps given by a young member of staff.  After a hot buffet lunch the afternoon sessions were introduced by the chairman of the ramblers trustees.  Were you aware that the Ramblers have more female members than male but the proportion on the government team is low.  Of the 15 candidates for 7 places in the forthcoming election only 3 are female.

In the afternoon I attended Managing Challenges on group walks.  This was a joint presentation with again young members of staff.  Good to see that there are younger staff members and also some young delegates at the sessions.

Plenty to discuss in this session and hopefully all gained some knowledge and practical advise which will be used on future activities.

There are plenty of useful resources (volunteer toolkits) in the Ramblers website.  Have a look.

There will be future roadshows, have a look and enjoy a day out, meet head office staff and fellow ramblers and improve your knowledge.”

Adrian Flinn wrote “ In the morning I attended the Introduction to walk Leading workshop. This was an interactive session. All the basic information used in this workshop can be found in the Ramblers website www.ramblers.org.uk/volunteer-zone/support-and-development/volunteer-toolkits

The following toolkits are particularly useful and I would recommend that all walk leaders visit the website to refresh our knowledge:

  • Walk leader: key resources to support individual walk leaders
  • Insurance: a guide to the Ramblers Association insurance including incident reporting. During the session it was explained that if you appoint a back marker for your walk (not mandatory but highly recommended) this person must be a current member of the Ramblers otherwise the insurance will be invalidated
  • Ramblers Routes: advice on devising good walking routes and using the Ramblers Route system as a route developer – see in particular the Route Development Manual

In the afternoon I went to the workshop on Recruiting and Retaining Members. Some key information from this session that I picked up:

  • the majority of new members find out about the Ramblers via web searches and recommendations from friends or family. Therefore is important that the groups have a good local on line presence, a website that is regularly updated and informative ideally with links to social media (ECR have an excellent website managed by our webmaster Roger Fielding)
  • the majority of our members join for social reasons (eg. walk with a local group, meet new people and improve their health)
  • why people walk? The 3 top motivators were to exercise followed by for fun and then to enjoy time with friends and family. This information helps to understand what we need to do to keep members interested.
  • Why members leave? Health and age are an important factor. Can we do more with these leavers? (ECR runs a full social and events programme that members of our group have access even if they don’t walk)

The workshop leader will provide in due course an electronic copy of the workshop notes which I will share with our Membership Secretary and Webmaster and the rest of our ECR Committee.”

23 March 2017

A border crossing

If you are on the train, you will probably pass this sign at around 100 mph but if you are walking the coast it is only a small diversion from the path.

If you are on the train, you will probably pass this sign at around 100 mph but if you are walking the coast it is only a small diversion from the path.

It may be only 29 miles long but the Berwickshire Coastal Path is a hidden gem. Running from Berwick upon Tweed along the coast to Cockburnspath it connects up with the Southern Uplands Way at its northern end. Several years ago I walked it from Berwick upon Tweed northwards to St Abbs and caught a bus back. The outstanding section from St Abbs to Cockburnspath is high on my list to do.
As for this walk I am joined by my wife and daughter and we will be walking south from the attractive little fishing town of Eyemouth to Berwick upon Tweed.
There is a fairly good bus service between Berwick upon Tweed and St Abbs via Eyemouth so we are catching a morning bus to Eyemouth.

Eyemouth Harbour on a still fine summer's morning. In the distance is Gunsgreen House famed for its smuggling history.

Eyemouth Harbour on a still fine summer’s morning. In the distance is Gunsgreen House famed for its smuggling history.

It is already mid-morning by the time we reach Eyemouth and the local shops are proving more of an attraction than setting out on the walk. I end up looking around the attractive harbour before meeting up with my wife and daughter outside the Tourist Information Centre by which time it’s time for the customary morning coffee break. We do eventually set off around this picturesque harbour. There is plenty to see but we don’t have the time to visit the prominent Gunsgreen House so this will need to wait until another day. Built in 1753, the house was once owned by John Nesbit, a respected gentleman of the town who led a double life as being a smuggler and the cellars below his house were used to smuggle contraband.

Walking the Berwickshire Coastal Path south of Eyemouth.

Walking the Berwickshire Coastal Path south of Eyemouth.

The cliffs at Blaikie Heugh are the highest on this section of the coast at just over 100 metres.

The cliffs at Blaikie Heugh are the highest on this section of the coast at just over 100 metres.

Leaving Eyemouth, we decide to stick to the coast as there is an obvious path rather than follow the path inland. It does mean dodging the golfers, and asking permission to walk this route they are quite happy for us to go that way. A good and pleasant coast path leads up to Blaikie Heugh which at just over 100 metres is the highest point on the walk. A few people are out walking including a couple of groups doing the ‘Duke of Edinburgh Award’. Along this section we stop several times to admire the good coastal views. My intention is to drop down into Burnmouth for lunch but my wife spots a cliff top seat just prior which is a good spot if a little windy. As it turns out, the small coastal village of Burnmouth didn’t have any decent seats to stop for lunch after all.

To reach the shore at Burnmouth we have to turn inland briefly before taking the steep lane down into the coastal village. The cottages at Partanhill to the north look interesting, huddled in below the cliffs and reached only along a rough track but Burnmouth itself has little to offer other than its attractive setting.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path hemmed in between the railway and the cliffs above Lamberton Beach makes for several miles of good coastal walking.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path hemmed in between the railway and the cliffs above Lamberton Beach makes for several miles of good coastal walking.

The path out of the village at neighbouring Cowdrait is hidden between houses and the ascent is somewhat overgrown until we reached a field at the top of a wooded slope. Heading south next, we stay close to the railway for the remainder of the walk and the peace is only occasionally interrupted by speeding trains. We are hemmed in between the main line railway and the cliffs. Initially we follow a farm track to Lamberton Holdings before continuing on a good path until it enters a nature reserve where it becomes a bit overgrown for this section. There are display boards every so often depicting the local history, flora and fauna and it appeared that this section of isolated coast was once a haunt of smugglers. We make steady progress south with trains passing by at high speed every so often. We pass a few serious walkers and after a few miles we reach the border with England. Here we make a small diversion to view the historic sign by the East Coast main railway line. Even the coastal path has signs but the one welcoming you to Scotland is much more prominent than the England one. It is ironic to think that this is not only the more northerly footpath in England but England’s most northerly point also.

At the border between Scotland and England. A much bigger sign entering Scotland at the most northerly path in England.

At the border between Scotland and England. A much bigger sign entering Scotland at the most northerly path in England.

We soon come to Marshall Meadows with its cluster of mobile homes and caravans which is in complete contrast with the walk so far. There is no access to the bay here as it is ringed with cliffs. My wife is getting tired so accompanied with my daughter I route them inland to the A1 where it is an easy walk to the Travelodge, our base for a few days. Meanwhile I want to see a couple of coastal features at Needles Eye, a rock stack and Brotherston’s Hole, a sandstone inlet a little further beyond. Rounding another golf course I now finally leave the coast and take a path inland before joining residential roads back to Berwick Travelodge.

Needles Eye. One of several coastal features in this area.

Needles Eye. One of several coastal features in this area.

Berwick upon Tweed is a fascinating town and one rich in history. With so many historic wars between Scotland and England it has found itself in both counties but has been in England since 1482. The substantial Elizabethan ramparts make an enjoyable evening walk as so was the case on our visit. Centrepiece in the town is the fine Town Hall which was built between 1754-1760. The suburb of Tweedmouth is separated from the town by the tidal River Tweed. Three bridges cross the Tweed close to this point with the historic fifteen arched Berwick Bridge being the oldest. With a length of over 1,100 feet, construction began in 1608 and took sixteen years to build. It is now a Grade 1 listed structure.
Alongside and upstream is the Royal Tweed Bridge which was built in the 1920’s and until the 1980’s was the main road bridge carrying the A1 but probably the most iconic bridge is the Royal Border Bridge which carries the East Coast main line some 121 feet above the River Tweed and consists of twenty eight arches. It was opened in 1850 having taken three years to build.

Berwick upon Tweed Town Hall dominates the centre of the town.

Berwick upon Tweed Town Hall dominates the centre of the town.

The Elizabethan Town Walls make a lovely evening walk around Berwick upon Tweed.

The Elizabethan Town Walls make a lovely evening walk around Berwick upon Tweed.

The Royal border Bridge carries the East Coast main line railway over the River Tweed seen here at sunset.

The Royal Border Bridge carries the East Coast main line railway over the River Tweed seen here at sunset.