A Rhymney Ridgeway Ramble

Ponies in a snowy field near Rudry.

If you didn’t live in Cardiff or Newport you would probably not consider walking in this area but as you know, I am always looking for different areas to walk and a few years ago I chose to explore that wedge of hilly land which is hemmed in between Cardiff and Caerphilly.
It is a glorious sunny February morning when I set off across the Severn Bridge and leaving the M4 near Newport I take back roads to reach the tiny village of Rudry. The hilly areas are snow clad and look most inviting, but this is beginning to melt in the morning sunshine.

Parking in the deserted car park on Rudry Common I take a path eastwards across the common before crossing the road I had driven on to get here. I later attempt to turn right on a path to reach Rudry. This is easier said than done as the path running to Rudry simply doesn’t exist despite the area being close to the Welsh capital. I cross a fence and walk down through some woodland but this becomes more and more difficult and in the end I have to cross another fence and then a second fence to gain the hamlet of Rudry. I now make a small diversion to visit St James’s Church at Rudry. Founded about 1254AD, this attractive grade II listed church started out as a wayside shrine used by pilgrims. There is a unproven myth that Oliver Cromwell sought refuge in the building during the English Civil War.

St James’s Church at Rudry dates from around 1254AD.

A Christmas card scene on the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk.

Winter delight. On the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk near Thornhill.

Leaving the hamlet I take a path south to a wooded ridge. At the top I turn right to follow the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk westwards. This 28 mile long recreational path runs largely along the skyline around Caerphilly. On this hilly stretch there is snow cover on the ground and with the bright sunshine, it makes for some very pleasant walking. For the next mile I continue through woodland before crossing a snow covered minor road which is hardly recognisable as a road. Ahead I walk along the ridge known as Cefn Onn and meet several other walkers and this is a good spot to stop for my morning break. I press on westwards and skirt an old quarry on its the north side and continue through more attractive woodland with the trees coated in snow although much of this is falling off in big lumps as I passed. At Thornhill I cross the busy A469 and soon reach a snow covered golf course. It is lucky that there is no play today as I find way finding here a bit of a problem and now have to search around to find my intended path. I have to deviate again later as the path towards Caerphilly Common doesn’t exist. I head further west before crossing Watford Road and making for the summit of Caerphilly Common on thankfully a good path. The summit is crowned by a trig point 271 metres and today there are good views and worthy of a few photographs and furthermore, this spot is popular with other walkers. It is a bit too cold for lunch on top and so I set off on what I think is the path which will lead me down to Caerphilly. I find that the paths in the area, and what is shown on the map don’t agree and I in trying to follow my route, I find myself on another golf course. Luckily again due to the snow cover the place is deserted and I skirted around the lower hillside to join my intended route.

On a snowy Caerphilly Common before descending towards Caerphilly.

It is now road walking into Caerphilly and down the main shopping street towards the castle. I find a seat overlooking the moat for a picnic lunch a bit away from the crowds but by now it has largely clouded up. Think of Caerphilly and you are likely to think of its castle or its cheese. The castle is impressive to say the least and is the second largest in area in Britain, and has the most elaborate moat system of any such castle. The present building dates mostly from the 13th century and was constructed by Gilbert de Clare in an effort to control the area called Glamorgan from his rivals. Over the centuries the castle saw several sieges and finally fell in to decay around the 15th century. Its famous listing Southeast Tower was caused by subsidence but made worse by the damage caused by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. The lean is greater than that at Pisa.
Caerphilly is also synonymous for its cheese which consists of a hard crumbly white cheese originally produced at local farms around the town to provide food for local coal miners. Production of the cheese stopped during World War II but has since made a comeback.
Comedian Tommy Cooper was born in Caerphilly and a statue to him complete with Fez overlooks the castle. Before I leave this interesting town I make a quick visit to the Tourist Information Centre.

Impressive Caerphilly Castle, the second largest castle in Britain.

I head east from the town, initially following the Van Road before branching left to pass the impressive Castell y Fan and its nearby dovecote. The building dates back to Norman times and was for many centuries the home of the Lewis family, who were vast land owners in Wales. The house is noted for its adjacent dovecote which is said to be one of the finest in Britain and has one thousand nesting boxes.

The dovecote at Castell y Fan on the edge of Caerphilly is said to be one of the best of its kind in the country.

I now follow a track eastwards towards Gwern-y-domen and on the way I branch right across fields however in the third field the going proves impassable due to the waterlogged ground. Like previous walkers on this path, there is an easy way through an adjacent field. Once over the Nant Gwernybara via a new footbridge I am soon on common ground and I shortly veer up to the right before a long steady ascent to bracken covered Mynydd Rudry 222 metres. Much of the snow cover from earlier has gone by now and from the top of this modest summit it was only a short walk back to the car after a walk with more than its fair share of path issues.

Turning a foggy day to your advantage

Even on a foggy day, the woodlands take on an interesting and somewhat mysterious view.

Autumn is a good time of the year for a trip to the Delamere Forest and is high on the list of places to go and so with a fine sunny day in Macclesfield we head off west for a family walk. As so often with an autumn morning, what starts out with a fine sunny day in Macclesfield, the Cheshire Plain is engulfed in thick fog. It becomes a bit of a disappointment as we head west through Knutsford and into the gloom of a very grey day hving left the sunshine behind but despite the fog you can make the day into an advantage givien the right conditions as so happened on this walk.

The sun is trying to break through the mist near Eddisbury Lodge in the Delamere Forest.

Again not far from Eddisbury Lodge in Delamere Fores,t the contrast of mist and shafts of sunlight make for a interesting picture.

We set off in poor visibility from the village of Norley. It’s a real disappointment and if anything the fog is at its thickest here with visibility down to forty yards. Well, we are here now and so we better get on with it. My route is open ended so I can vary it throughout the walk. Paths are initially followed before joining a lane towards Flaxmere. It is then into the woodland to reach the lake at Hatchmere. It is so foggy here that you could only see a few yards out into the lake. We take a waterlogged path on the north side before cutting up to higher and drier ground with pine trees but here it is obvious that something is on, as everyone is running with maps in their hands. It appears to be some sort of massive orienteering exercise. We follow tracks around to Barns Bridge Gates and then continue south towards Eddisbury Lodge and passing crowds of people on the way. At Eddisbury Lodge I decide on a detour, not only to get away from the crowds but to find somewhere to have lunch. With the cloud overhead looking thinner, there is just that chance that the weather on Pale Heights might just about to be in sunshine. Following the Sandstone Trail southwards and ascending we are rewarded with excellent photographic opportunities in that the sun is filtering through the top layer of mist. Walking along a tree lined track there are so many opportunities and we stop time and time again to take pictures. Pale Heights come into view and indeed it is in sunshine. A short ascent to the top of the hill reveals a fine sunny day. This will be our lunch stop and once more it is pleasantly warm. Over a leisurely lunch stop we watch the mist below drift by, with the landscape disappearing into the mist then out again. It is time to set off but not before a quick visit to the trig point which stands at 176 metres above sea level. Setting off eastwards then north east on a winding woodland path, we descend into the afternoon gloom once more but by now the mist is beginning to lift. We make our way through to Delamere Station then towards the small lake named Dead Lake on some old maps. With the mist almost gone, it makes a lovely peaceful spot for more photographs with the low sunlight. Heading north east again we meet several people but we still have time to pause for some pictures of the autumn colours. Finally, we turn north and cross some fields, then east to a minor road before entering Norley. It is then just a short walk in fading light along the village street back to the car after a most rewarding walk.

A still autumn day at Dead Lake in Delamere Forest.

Autumn colours in beech woods in Delamere Forest in late afternoon sunlight.

Exploring the ‘island hills’

A panoramic view from Collard Hill on the Polden Hills. An excellent view despite its modest height.

Somerset is a county I know well and for many years was my childhood home prior to the days of the 1974 boundary changes when a northern chunk of it became overnight part of the new county of Avon. Even though I’ve been away from the area for near on forty years, I love going back.
The northern edge of the county is dominated by the Mendip Hills whilst to the south rise the Blackdown Hills. The west is dominated by the Quantock Hills with Exmoor forming the westernmost part of the county. Between these areas is the Somerset Levels which I find a fascinating area. This part of the county may be low lying but is pierced by countless ‘island’ hills which often rise abruptly from the surrounding flat countryside. One such string of little hills dissect the Somerset Levels and rise no higher than around 120 metres and taper towards the west near Bridgwater and this little ridge is known as the Polden Hills. A little while ago I picked up a leaflet detailing a walk along the Polden Way. As trails go, this is a short one at a mere six miles, but to walk its entire length in a day I will need to tag a bit on either end so that I can catch a bus to the start of the walk. So now let’s set off to explore this little known part of Somerset.

It’s a real summer’s day with a bit of warmth and all too rare this year. I have earmarked this walk for some time to walk the short Polden Way and use Somerton as the start point and the finishing point in Street. This was the only feasible way to walk this path as I can catch a bus.
I reach Street in good time and have time to wander around the town which is famed for the Clarks Retail Outlet Village before catching bus number 77 to Somerton.

The Buttercross in the centre of Somerton dates from 1673.

St Michael All Angels Church in Somerton has an unusual octagonal tower.

Alighting Somerton by the Buttercross which dates from 1673, I first decide to take a look at the parish church. Its tower is unusual in that it is octagonal. The building dates from the mid 15th century with later alterations carried out in 1889. Somerton itself has a long history and was possibly the capital of Wessex for a time. In 949AD records show it was the site of the Witan, which was a form of Anglo-Saxon Parliament. Furthermore, the town gives its name to the present day county of Somerset.

Striding out along the lane towards Hurcot with the Polden Hills beyond on a perfect late summers day.

I walk east from the town and soon descend via a lane to reach the busy B3151 where I have a surprisingly long wait to cross. I am just glad to get onto the quiet lane towards Hurcott.
I pass beneath the railway line and soon see my first Polden Way logo sign.
The Polden Way is not marked on any Ordnance Survey Map but it is signed on the ground with fairly regular way-markers. The path which was opened a few years ago runs through an area which until prior to its creation was out of bounds.

The path initially leads uphill through pastures including passing through one field of bellowing cows. At the top I enter the extensive Copley Woods but with no path being marked on the map, and only a basic map leaflet to follow, it is essential that I keep an eye out for way-markers. At New Hill the path briefly leaves the wood to give an excellent view west over the Somerset Levels which here are dotted with little hills which rise above the levels like islands. It is a good spot to stop for my first break of the day.

A tantalising glimpse through the trees towards Castley Hill.

A view towards Dundon Hill which rises above the Somerset Levels, and like so many other hills in the area has a hill fort.

Back in the woodland, the path runs northeast towards Wickham’s Cross to avoid a deep wooded valley known as Combe Hollow. The path then continues along the crest of the well wooded Polden Hills with the occasional tantalising glimpse of the wide views beyond. I have some views at Hatch Hill before reaching the tall monument on Windmill Hill. This is the elaborate Hood Monument, which is a 110 foot Tuscan column and is now a grade two listed structure. The doorway at the base was sealed up in 1990. The monument was paid for by public subscription and designed by the architect Henry Goodridge. It was originally linked to the Hood family home at Butleigh by a mile long avenue of cedar trees.

The Hood Monument on Windmill Hill is a prominent feature in this area.

After crossing a minor road, I soon walk over the more open Collard Hill which is an excellent spot to stop for lunch and probably one of the best places I’ve stopped for a picnic lunch this year. There are wide views all round on this pleasant sunny day and the outline of hills over in South Wales is just visible.

One of many wild flower meadows passed en route and this one overlooks the village of Compton Dundon.

Time for a lunch stop and with a view like this on such a fine and warm day you are reluctant to move on. Brent Knoll which rises above the M5 motorway can be seen in the far distance. (centre right)

Setting off again, the B3151 is not easy to cross once more, as it is so busy. Walking along Ivy Thorn Hill I pass Street Youth Hostel where during my youth I spent a free weekend there on a YHA work party painting the gents toilets. I just wonder if the deep blue paint still graces the walls! The next section is well wooded again then becomes more open as I transverse Walton Hill. The western end has an old windmill which is now converted into a private dwelling and out of bounds. At a field corner I reach the end of the Polden Way but my walk isn’t over yet. I have done the easy bit, but now I have to negotiate several fields back to Street. The path north towards Walton is to say the least poorly signed and overgrown and in the first field I have to push my way through a crop of maize and with some relief find the wobbly wooden stile at the far end. Here, I do find a good hedge full of blackberries and find time to fill my sandwich box in a few minutes. A little beyond I have to squeeze through a hole in a hedge to take the path running east to reach Veal Lane. At the end I turn right and later left to continue on little used field paths to reach Street, but thankfully I have no more path issues. I walk through a quiet residential area to get back to the car and I still have time to walk up Nyland Hill, another so called ‘island hill’ near Cheddar which rises steeply on all sides to a modest 249 feet and crowned with a trig point on my return to base.

Nyland Hill rises to just 249 feet and has steep slopes on all sides. It is a spectacular place to view the Somerset Levels.

WHEN TIME STANDS STILL

One of many tracks that cross The Burren. Almost a stone desert but a superb day to undertake such a walk.

I wanted a fine day to explore The Burren in depth and to soak up the atmosphere of this unique landscape. The Burren is an area of north western County Clare and covering around 250 square miles and is the best area of karst landscape in the British Isles. The place is almost unique in the British Isles and is almost a stone desert. With very poor soils, the area is criss-crossed with stone walls where farmers eke a meagre living off the land. I had briefly visited the area before many years ago, but not to walk. Many pre-historic monoliths litter the landscape the most famous being the Poulnabrone Dolmen which has up to 200,000 visitors a year. Today however, I shall be nowhere near that location and will have the place almost to myself.

No sign of ‘Father Ted’ this morning, or come to that Mrs Doyle! The Parochial House near Corofin and the setting for the BBC Comedy series, ‘Father Ted’.

I’m staying in Ennis, and with an early start I’m off towards the coast of County Clare where I intend parking at Fanore Beach. On the way I want to make a diversion to visit the ‘Parochial House’ near Corofin, famed as the setting for the BBC comedy series ‘Father Ted’. With some research I’ve tracked the place down which is down a long lane in the middle of nowhere. The ‘Parochial House’ looks much the same as on the TV series minus its characters. Leaving, the weather now takes on a showery theme for awhile but thankfully this clears well before I reached Fanore Beach.

Its a glorious sunny day on the west coast of Ireland. I’ve set off from the car park at Fanore Beach as seen here in the distance.

Today I will be following the way-marked Black Head Loop for much of the way.
Parking up I set off south on foot along the road with a view out over a deep blue Atlantic dotted with the Aran Islands. I soon manage to leave the R477 and take a track parallel to this road and later continue on a lane uphill giving wider views. After a long gradual ascent I turn sharp left onto a stony track running between low limestone walls. My pace is steady and after nearly a mile I leave the main track where my intention is to get to the summit of Slieve Elva. Following a side track for a short distance I head across to a holy well which is marked by a simple cross. It is hard to believe that there is water in the well in this arid limestone countryside.

Its a steady ascent to around 1000 feet on the lane (left) before joining the track on the right to get onto The Burren plateau.

I manage to find the Holy Well marked on my map, made much easier as there was a cross.

I am expecting an easy walk to the summit of Slieve Elva but I am wrong. The area around Slieve Elva is unlike the rest of The Burren. To my surprise, an area of blanket bog and thigh deep tussocky grass sits on top of the limestone and covers a large area around the summit and so it is slow progress as I toil towards this rather flat and featureless summit. The trig point only comes into view from a couple of hundred yards from the top and is located on a low man made bank deep in tussocky grass. The trig point on Slieve Elva which at 344 metres marks the highest point of The Burren but frankly it isn’t worth the effort getting to this featureless top. I retrace my way back before cutting off a corner to join the main track once more and soon the karst scenery is becoming more pronounced. Now this is more like it! I pass a few other walkers coming the opposite way and we speak briefly. Later I begin a descent into the silent valley of the Caher River and this is The Burren scenery at its best. With deep blue skies and fair weather clouds, the day is turning out perfect. The landscape hasn’t changed for centuries and without the sound of any internal combustion engine or manmade noise it feels as if I could be walking in the 18th century. I join a minor lane in the Caher Valley where the crystal clear waters of the shallow Caher River trickled over the rocks.

It is now an ascent up another stony track in this silent landscape. Nearing the crest of the ridge a troop of pony trekkers came over the hill. Several people were walking with their horses and it really seems that I had stepped back in time. Another descent leads me into another almost deserted valley albeit one or two farms. Turning left I soon stop for my picnic lunch and observe a small herd of feral goats grazing and resting on the opposite side of the valley in the warm sunshine. Not a sound can be heard on this fine summer’s day as if time had stood still.

Stony tracks between limestone walls crisscross The Burren and this leads west from the Caher Valley. I followed this one from the top of the photograph down into this silent valley.

Pony trekkers appear on the horizon as I make my way east over The Burren. Its the only sign of human activity I’ve seen for some time on this walk and somehow you think that it is the only form of transport in a land where time has stood still.

Reminders of ancient field systems means that man has farmed this landscape for thousands of years.

A winding track leads up towards Poulenegh Hill and I contour along the hillside northwards. Ancient field systems can be made out across the valley to my left, and later I emerged onto open ground. Ahead Galway Bay is an emerald blue with a backcloth of the mountains of Connemara on the horizon.
It is a rocky descent towards the coast through rocky countryside with thickets which would have been near on impossible had there not been a path. At the foot, the path contours along the hillside but proves to be very overgrown and uneven and now my progress is slow. It seems to go for ever and nearing the end I meet some walkers coming the other way. I am glad to join an engineered track further on, which again contours along the hillside and now with good open views. I disturb a herd of cattle which now follow me at a distance for the next mile until they lose interest. I contour around Black Head and continue southwest with a new view, now towards the Aran Islands on this perfect afternoon. It is a gradual descent towards the R477 once more and there is a little road walking at the end to reach the car.

An engineered path contours high above the coast with the main road far below. To my north across a deep blue Galway Bay I can see the mountains of Connemara. What a lovely way to finish the last few miles of this walk.

There are times when you forget the outside world and travel back in time to a different century and on much of this walk I felt that I was a traveller walking through a landscape in a completely different time. For several hours, the only sounds were the natural ones around me, from skylarks overhead, to the sound of the hoofs of ‘pack horses’ if you can call it that, coming over the hill each being pulled by their rider. Sitting having lunch in a remote valley, and in the warm sunshine, I watched a small herd of feral goats just on the valley side opposite me, grazing and resting, and it is at times like this when you got to pinch yourself that this is the twenty first century. It’s on a day like today that you really appreciate that you have the ability to walk to these remote locations and savour these magical moments.

Conquering the tower

The climb looks impossible from the path towards Galmisdale Farm but there is a chink in its rocky armour on the hidden northern side.

Lying off the west coast of Scotland between Arisaig and Mallaig are four islands which form the group known as the Small Isles. These four islands have quite an unusual cocktail of names and comprise of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. For this walk I am heading for the second largest which goes by the name of Eigg. The name Eigg is Viking in origin and means notched island. Dominating the island is An Sgurr, which looks impossible to climb without ropes but it is easier than you think.

Its a fine sunny summers morning as the MV Sheerwater arrives at the Old Quay on Eigg.

My plan is to visit Eigg on the day prior to going to Knoydart but the weather forecast for that day seems not to be wonderful so I decide to bring the trip forward by one day despite having a half hour less to explore the island. I commit myself to the trip on the Sunday by booking the ferry and ensuring a place on the MV Sheerwater which plies out of Arisaig.

The day is starting out a bit cloudy but the forecast is good and sure enough having arrived at Arisaig, blue skies are much in evidence. The boat doesn’t leave until 11am so I have plenty of time to spare. It’s a smooth crossing on the boat which is only partly full and I disembark at the old quay. It has been many years since my last visit to the island and now a new jetty had been built nearby for the Caledonian Macbraynes Ferry. Many day trippers are heading to the tea room and probably won’t venture much further but I have a schedule to keep to. I want to get to the top of An Sgurr, the highest and most spectacular summit on the island and despite the fact that the summit is only 393 metres high, it will be a tough climb.

The daunting route ahead. These vertical cliffs rise sheer up to four hundred feet on three sides.

I’m setting off at a steady pace soon entering woodland before taking a track towards Galmisdale Farm which is located at the top end of some pastures. Beyond, the distinct outline of An Sgurr dominates the scene. From this angle the climb looks impossible with all sides forming sheer smooth cliffs. An Sgurr is formed of pitchstone lava which is harder than the surrounding basalt. It was formed around 58 million years ago by lava filling an old river bed. The surrounding rock has been worn away to leave is mile long rock ridge with sheer cliffs rising four hundred feet and in places overhanging on three of its four sides.

After taking a few photographs I reach the heather moorland and I take a path leaving the track to ascend the hillside. There are plenty of people making the ascent and a few descending and one man who has been to the top says it is the first good day of several to climb to the summit. The path ahead is heavily eroded with watery peaty areas. On my previous visit some forty years earlier I didn’t recall that there was even a path. With so many people climbing An Sgurr it is easy to see how the path has become eroded and I wasn’t looking forward to the return descent via this route. I toil onwards and upwards before finding the obvious chink in the armour on the north facing side of the ridge. A steep narrow scramble soon takes me to the crest of the ridge where I turn left to double back along the rocky ridge to the summit. It is lunchtime before I am on the lofty top and many other people are having lunch including a group who are on a ‘Wilderness Scotland’ holiday. I get chatting with them, and as they were staying on Knoydart, it was likely that I will bump into them during my visit there later in the week. I offer to take a group photograph of them on the summit before they leave. I find a spot to have lunch on this perfect day and the view takes my breath away. To the south is the tiny island of Muck with the view beyond to Ardnamurchan and Mull whilst to the northwest, Rum and Skye dominate the view whilst to the east, the horizon is dotted by many peaks. I have certainly picked a good day to this walk.
Time is ticking away and I really only had time to visit Massacre Cave on the way back. I would have liked to have visited the Bay of Laig and its ‘singing sands’ but this will be an excuse to come back. The famous ‘singing sands’ is the sound emitted when walking across the white shell sands.

A view from the top towards the Bay of Laig with Skye beyond.

This view is taken from the eastern end of An Sgurr where there is a sheer drop of four hundred feet on three sides. The peaty path I ascended via can be seen on the left of the picture.

The summit trig point on one of those rare moments when no one was there. The view looks towards Knoydart on the Scottish mainland.

I set off back along the narrow ridge and soon catch up the ‘Wilderness Scotland’ group but instead of staying with them, I opt to descend south from An Sgurr which proves a very steep option but feasible if I want to visit Massacre Cave. I edge my way down slowly through the deep heather before the vegetation changes to bracken and the gradient eases. From this side there are spectacular close up views of the rock structure of An Sgurr with basaltic columns at all angles which is rarely seen. I eventually reach the deserted settlement of Grulin above Eigg’s south coast where I good track leads east. It is now a good mile of walking with views up to An Sgurr on my left. Reaching the new wind farm which now generates most of Eigg’s power, I turn right and head down across easy ground towards the coast. I spot a path leading down the steep coastal cliffs which will lead me to Massacre Cave. The cave was once a secret hiding place for the islanders but in 1577 after a lengthy feud between the Macloed and resident MacDonald clans, the islanders took refuge in the hidden cave with a small entrance when they saw the MacLeods sailing towards their island. All the islanders went to hide in the cave and after a lengthy search by the MacLeods clan, the Macdonalds were only spotted when the Macleods were departing. The Macloeds clan returned to lit a fire at the entrance of the cave which resulted in the suffocated of the whole island’s population with the deaths of three hundred and ninety five people. Nearby is Cathedral Cave but today, time is too short to venture along the foreshore to this.

The less known southern side of An Sgurr. I descended via the steep slope on the extreme left of the picture. It is difficult to appreciate the scale.

Massacre Cave on the southern shore of the Island of Eigg is where the island’s population were suffocated in 1577 by the raiding MacLoed clan.

I have just time to visit The Lodge, the former home of the Laird on the island before heading back to the ferry.

I start out on my return walk to the jetty as the boat is departing at 16.30pm but I do have time to venture up to take a look at The Lodge on the island. Built in the 1920’s this house was once the home of the Laird but is now in a rather sorry state of repair and much funding is required to bring it back into use. With a loop around to the north I join the road back towards the quay. The high cloud in the south has turned the sunshine milky by now. I reach the ferry with around ten minutes to spare and I am last to board a much more crowded vessel for the return to Arisaig. It has been a day well spent but there is just not enough time to explore the island in more depth. Well it’s an excuse for another visit and perhaps a stay of a few days.

Walking in the land of Gingerbread.

Audley’s Cross stands in a middle of a field and marks the spot where Lord Audley fell during the battle of Blore Heath. There is no public path to this location.

Why waste a fine day I thought! It’s time to go off for a walk and so it is a later than usual start for this walk. I have decided to walk from the Shropshire market town of Market Drayton which is synonymous with the making of gingerbread but why?
Gingerbread was introduced into Britain during the 14th century but the earliest record of gingerbread in Market Drayton comes from the late seventeen hundreds. By the early nineteen hundreds there were several bakers making gingerbread in the town and today, Billington’s is the only brand with a connection with the town.
The town was originally known as Drayton before Henry III granted a charter for a market in 1245 which still exists today.

I’m setting out from the large free but almost full car park close to the leisure centre on the southern edge of the town and first follow lanes to Broomhall Grange before taking a good

field path to Almington. I briefly follow the road through the village before taking an equally good path towards Blore Heath. I want to see if I can get to the cross at Blore Heath which does mean a trespass across a field. For a short distance I have to follow the A53 and with no pavements it means frequently leaping up and down onto the narrow verge. I chose a quiet moment in the passing traffic to scale a fence then to over a field to the cross marking the site where Lord Audley who was in command of the Lancastrian forces fell in the Battle of Blore Heath during the War of the Roses. The battle was fought on the 23rd of September 1459 and was one of the first major battles during this conflict which lasted more than thirty years. Despite the Yorkists being heavily outnumbered, and after a long standoff, their tack ticks won the day by falsely retreating to coax the Lancasterian forces across an overgrown valley where the Yorkists then counter attacked and won the day. Afterwards the Yorkist army pursued the Lancastrian forces across several miles of countryside.

Hales Church stands in a prominent position on a embankment.

I head south next via quiet lanes to the village of Hales where I opted to have lunch on a seat in the elevated churchyard. There has been a church on this site since Anglo-Saxon times but the prominent church here today dates from 13th century and the tower itself is 16th century. The path south from the village crosses the wide and peaceful valley of Coal Brook but somehow I lose the path as I near Wood Farm and end up on the main farm drive instead of crossing a field further west. Nearing the next lane, I hear a rustling noise behind me and on turning I now witness a dust devil or mini tornado which picks up straw and light material as it whorls across the field behind me. It is little more than ten feet wide but is picking up light material to a height of around thirty feet. At the end of the field it suddenly fizzles out but the event is far too quick for me to capture it on my camera. I now follow a quiet lane south in the warm spring sunshine before taking a good field track onto Cheswardine. The name of the village in Old English probably means ‘cheese producing settlement’. In Norman times there stood a moated manor house at the northern end of the village which later was rebuilt as a castle but today only earthworks remain in a wooded area. The village church of St Swithun’s just south of the original castle overlooks the village street and is the third church to stand on this site and the present building dates from late Victorian times.

The field path leading from Hales towards Cheswardine makes fine walking on a sunny spring day.

St Swithun’s Church, Cheswardine is the third church to stand on this site. It commands a fine view over the village.

Stonehenge in miniature. These stones are located on a residential road in Cheswardine.

I pause awhile here before taking a minor road to the west and passing a miniature stone circle on the roadside. At the back of some houses I take a path up to Haywood Lane which I now follow west from the village for a short distance. I soon branch left to take a field path down to the Shropshire Union Canal. The canal was once one of the main transport arteries across England prior to the coming of the railways. Today it is popular with leisure craft..

The Shropshire Union Canal close to Goldstone Bridge near Cheswardine.

I next follow the towpath the short distance along to Goldtstone Bridge then take the road west for about a half mile. A track then field paths are followed northwest next to reach Woodseaves Manor Farm and just beyond here I cross the A529. A short lane walk follows before I take a path across a field then it is along another lane southwest to Lower Sydnall. Branching right and following what is shown on the map as a road used as a public path I expect a well defined route but as it turns out it is just a faint path along a field boundary. The next path north is not defined and crosses large fields and for much of the way it is mostly guesswork. I eventually reach Sutton Farm and here turn right then left to follow a very uneven path along the edge of a recently ploughed field. I am thankful at the end to turn left on the quiet Sandy Lane. A good track runs north towards Market Drayton next and this is marked as a right of way of later maps. Entering the town I cross Walkmill Bridge which spans the infant river tern and afterwards I turned right to follow the residential road back to the car.

A week in Devon 3-8th September

This five day break was very different to the Ramblers’ normal trip away and thus I was concerned as to whether it would work well or be fraught with difficulties. I can say that it worked well and everybody seemed to enjoy it. Can I just say that this was the nicest group I have ever had the pleasure of being involved with.

Six of us went down a day early to reccie our walks and did eventually manage to stay in the Manor House, no mean feat. On the Sunday the weather was atrocious and did not bode well for the rest of the week. John Handley had to buy an extra layer before he even set off!! I have to say there is no way, under normal circumstances, I would have gone out in that weather. We returned with everything soaked and we hadn’t even started the trip. We did have a good evening meal and chat which made it all worthwhile.

We walked on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with Wednesday off to either visit the area or take part in the wide variety of activities. Golf and tennis were taken up by a number of the group.

Evening activities hey, when I discussed this idea with Frank we decided that nobody would be interested but we booked 10 pin bowling on the first night, just in case. Almost everybody turned up and really enjoyed themselves with Dave Gibson being the winner. The second night Ruth organised a fun table tennis tournament and again it was a great success. Frank being the winner, perhaps due to many years being spent in the youth club. The third night we were tutored in short mat bowling by Chris and Sue Munslow and again had a fun evening. The final evening there were several things on offer, including a 60/70 night which several people took part in. So not your normal ECR trip!!

Frank and I led the Meldon Quarry circuit on the Monday described as “a stunning walk, taking in fantastic moorland fringe scenery with views of the high moors and passing under the striking Meldon Viaduct”.

Monday’s other walk was led by Martin who is a walk leader at the hotel, and we started our walk from ‘The Warren’ pub close to Postbridge .  Martin was a mine of information (pun not intended) as he told us about the history of mining in the area and of medieval and earlier remains.  We looked at areas where miners would stay over the summer and saw where they would have grown vegetables and where they would have had rabbit warrens (hence the name of the pub) to supply meat on site.  The moor was beautiful providing a splendid air of isolation and moody rolling views.

A short walk was also led with by a leader from the centre. The weather was kind to us and everybody seemed to have had a good day when we met for dinner.

Tuesday’s long walk was led by Lyn, another walk leader from the hotel, and we started from Belstone.  We did an 11 mile tour of the Tors (pun intended) including Hounds Tor, connected to the famous Sherlock Holmes mystery ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’.  There was lots of climbing and we had constant rain in the morning, adding up to a tough walk.  However, we did not let it dampen our spirits and really enjoyed the 7 tors we climbed, and the views of Dartmoor when we did finally get them in the afternoon.

Laura Hall

Epiphytes in Wistmans Wood

On Tuesday John Handley led a walk to Wistmans wood. What an experience; see his description below. A short walk was also led from the hotel.

This ‘ecological ramble’ began beside a quarry which revealed the granite architecture of Dartmoor. From here we walked along a rough track into the moor. Beside the track gorse had been burnt to provide a flush of mineral nutrients for the sheep. We reflected on a Welsh saying – ‘Bronze under heather, silver under gorse and gold under bracken’.

Next came Crockern Tor, the open-air meeting place of the Stannary Parliament where Devonshire tin mining was adjudicated from the 14th to the 18th century, and where Sir Walter Raleigh himself presided on October 27th, 1600.

From here we followed a ridge, each tor more impressive than the last. Less impressive for the sheep. Up here, where the rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm, the growing season for grass is only 175 days compared to 300 days on Devon’s south coast.

Hence the tree line in western Britain is depressed and Wistman’s Wood at around 400m is one of the highest oak woods in England. It is a vestige of the wildwood that clothed Britain in early prehistoric times. The ancient gnarled oak trees have survived because the granite boulders between which they grow, known as ‘clatter’, are impenetrable to grazing animals – and not much better for ramblers! They are festooned with lichens and ferns and this is a truly atmospheric place.

After lunch we followed the Cowslic River to join the Devonport Leat. This beautifully engineered channel was constructed in the 1790s to carry drinking water to the expanding Plymouth dockyards. The leat brought us to the edge of the West Dart valley from where we looked down on Crockern farm. The landscape was grey and drab except for a bright green field beside the farm where animals had been regularly folded. We then looked at the grass beneath our feet and saw that it too was a healthy green and full of herbs. We were standing in a medieval enclosure where the ecological memory went back at least 500 years. Dartmoor may be a forbidding place but its landscape history is something to behold.

John Handley

On Thursday 7th September the walk started in the village of Gidleigh. The focal point of the village is the Holy Trinity Church which dates from the late 15th century and nearby are the remains of Gidleigh Castle which is a much earlier building.

From the village the route took us southwards through the densely forested area of Gidleigh Tor to cross the cascading Teign River. The path joined the Two Moors Way leading us through flowering pasture meadows of the lower slopes of Dartmoor.

At French Beer we left the path walking up on the moorlands and shortly reached the remains of Bronze Age hut circles.

Crossing the valley we climbed the slopes up to Thornworthy Tor. Dartmoor is covered with numerous Tors which are the remains of the granite plugs from volcanic activity nearly 30 million years ago. This high point gave us views of the moors and low lying land all round with Thornworthy Reservoir below.

Lunch was at another Tor, Kestor Rock. We sheltered from the prevailing wind surrounded by unconcerned Dartmoor ponies and their foals.

We headed again for distant slopes towards the ‘Long Stone’, three metres tall with initials carved into one face having a more modern use as a boundary stone.

We were now on Shovel Down which has an impressive range of remains dating from the Bronze Age including field systems, stone rows, stone huts, a cairn and the standing stone.

We hadn’t seen stone rows before so they were of special interest to us, being made up of stones which run about a metre apart roughly in a north south direction for a length of up to 180 metres including a Y shape where two rows meet. These may have had a ceremonial purpose.

We continued to walk along the stone rows towards an ancient Clapper Bridge then climbing to a higher point where we came across the impressive Scorhill Circle, before returning to Gidleigh.

Sue Munslow

And the rest of our time????

Diana Beech, in writing about the activities available, said:

The activities enjoyed by the “Gay” group included: archery, tennis (indoor and outdoor), long and short mat bowling, ten-pin bowling, table tennis, swimming, golf, adventure golf, dancing at a 60s/70s night and relaxing in the hydro spa.

Table tennis and bowling brought out the competitive side of many ramblers, creating much amusement for all. The swimming pools and hydro spa provided welcome relaxation after the walks.

Two members of the group didn’t walk but took part in crafts during the day. They sampled enamelling, patchwork and creative embroidery and really enjoyed them, paying about £3 each session for materials used. Pauline tried jewellery making and now is the proud owner of a necklace.

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This just leaves me to thank Sue and Chris Munslow and John Handley for leading walks as well as Martin and Lynn from the centre. Frank for his support throughout the planning stage and during the week. Also thanks to Louise for the amazing cream tea. Most of all thanks to all who attended for making it such a pleasurable experience.

Jane Gay

A walk along the prom

Walking along Morecambe seafront gives many fine views towards the Lake District.

It’s a wet miserable autumn morning and so for the start of this two day family break we end up in the Carnforth Tea Rooms and Heritage Centre on Carnforth Station. It’s a good place to while away a couple of hours as the heritage centre is full of railway history and memorabilia. The tea room is the setting for the 1945film by David Lean ‘Brief encounter’ starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. The premises have been tastefully restored to how it was in the film and Carnforth Station was referred to Milford Junction. On the platform stands the famous clock which played a symbolic role in this 1945 British cinema classic. In some respects a visit to the cafe today it is quite easy to re live the past and forget about the present day outside which tucking into a freshly baked scone and a cup of tea.
So much for this nostalgia, it’s time to get back to the present day as I have an afternoon walk planned. With a picnic in the car at nearby Hest Bank the brighter weather is edging in from the west with the promise of a fine October afternoon.
It’s a bus journey first from Hest Bank to Heysham and despite it being a Sunday, the number five bus runs quite regularly. We are leaving the bus at Heysham for the walk back along the seafront, a distance of just over six miles.

A hidden gem. The old part of Heysham makes a pleasant historic diversion.

I have never explored Heysham before and the old part of the town still has the feel of a village atmosphere. The small Heritage Centre is open which is well worth a visit for its local history. A wooded path from the main street leads us up to a promontory on which stand the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel and the unique rock cut graves nearby. This is the best example of this type of grave in this country and six graves have been cut out of the sandstone. The chapel dates from the 8th and 9th centuries and we have timed it just right on this now sunny afternoon with a good view across Morecambe Bay towards the outline of the Lake District hills.

Unique rock cut graves cut out of the sandstone are the best example of any such graves in the British Isles.

The ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel commands excellent views across Morecambe Bay towards the Lake District.

A richly carved cross shaft in the churchyard of St Peter’s at Heysham.

Just inland and sheltered in woodland is St Peter’s Chapel and despite the church being closed the graveyard has some ancient crosses.

The Stone Jetty mid way along Morecambe Promenade makes a welcome diversion.

The Eric Morecambe Statue on Morecambe Promenade is a popular spot to pause for a photograph.

It’s now time to set out along the lengthy promenade into Morecambe. Many people are out walking on this fine afternoon and there was always plenty to see along this stretch of the coast. The tide was well out insomuch you can’t really see the sea. This reminds me of the saying about Morecambe that ‘on a good day you can see the sea and on a bad day you’re in it’. Well today was a fine day and you can just about see the sea!
The town of Morecambe really only came into fruition quite late in the 19th century. The arrival of the railway in 1850 to the new dock at Heysham began the influx of visitors mostly from Yorkshire to this part of the coast and the town for awhile was nicknamed ‘Bradford on Sea’. It became a thriving resort in the mid 20th century but since then a long decline has set in but money is now being spent again on sprucing the place up.
Walking the promenade we stop from time to time for photographs and a stop is made at the new and impressive lifeboat station. The Eric Morecambe Statue just beyond is a popular spot to have your photograph taken alongside the statue. Eric Morecambe was born in the town and changed his surname from Bartholomew.
Leaving Morecambe the promenade is quieter and small boats are beached on the silty shore. Heading towards Hest Bank the promenade finally runs out and we have about a half mile of rough upper foreshore to walk along to reach the car.

At the quieter northern end of Morecambe Promenade, boats are stranded in the mud at low tide.

A rocky ride to Craggy Island

The wreck of the MV Plassy dominates the skyline on the eastern side of the island.

The opening credits to the BBC sitcom series Father Ted shows aerial views over the fictitious Craggy Island. The island in real life is the easternmost of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and during this summer I decided to take to the high seas to visit this lonely outpost.

It’s a fresh windy morning as I make my way from my base in Ennis to Doolin on the Clare coast. With plenty of time to spare I am parking in the village then walking the last half mile down to Doolin Pier. The place is busy with tourists and I have taken a chance by not booking the ferry in advance. It is easy enough to buy a return ticket to any of the Aran Islands but the problem is finding the right boat to get on. Several boats bob up and down in the harbour with more just waiting offshore. It seems like organised chaos as first as a group of us are told we will be leaving on one boat then on another and whilst those with advance tickets soon set off, a smaller group of us are left on the pier. Sure enough we soon depart for the rocky seven mile crossing of South Sound. As soon as we are out of the harbour we hit the full force of the Atlantic and it isn’t long before some of us are getting more than fair of spray over us.
As we near the shelter of Inisheer then the sea becomes that bit calmer and after about fifty minutes of being tossed about on the sea we are glad to set foot on terra firma. Islanders are vying for business providing jaunting car rides or for bike hire but I am about the only one who is here to walk.

Jaunting cars and cyclists leave the quayside and all of a sudden you have been transported back a hundred years.

Like a beached whale, the rusting hulk of the MV Plassy has been stranded here for over fifty years.

A view from within. I am stood in what was once the front hold of the MV Plassy looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean.

As I head away from the bustling harbour I can hear the sound of horse’s hooves as a succession of jaunting cars pass me loaded with tourists. I have a full day ahead of me to explore the five square miles of this fascinating rocky island and want to see as much of the island as possible and to get to those places that jaunting cars and bicycles don’t reach. With the weather set fine I want to visit the shipwreck of the MV Plassy first and set off along the road passing the small island airport. It seems that many cyclists are heading this way as well as a few jaunting cars. The wreck eventually comes into view like a beached whale visible across a sea of stone walls. On closer inspection the wreck is much bigger than expected and I spend awhile exploring it and taking photographs of its rusting hulk set against the blue Atlantic sky backed by distant shower clouds. The MV Plassy was built in 1940 in Beverley, East Yorkshire and was a steam trawler. Originally the vessel took on the name of HMT Juliet but after WWII was renamed Peterjon and converted to a cargo vessel in 1947. In 1951 she was acquired by the Limerick Steamship company and renamed Plassy. On the 8th March 1960 whilst sailing through Galway Bay in a severe gale the vessel struck Finnis Rock off the south eastern side of Inisheer. The islanders rescued all the crew but the ship which was carrying a load of whiskey, stained glass and yarn was tossed ashore on the rocks and has remained there ever since and is now quite a tourist attraction. It has been made even more famous as it appears on the opening credits to the BBC comedy series ‘Father Ted’.
It is time to move on, and I follow the tarmac lane along the coast before taking a rough path and later continue via the rocky foreshore towards the gleaming black and white lighthouse which dominates the south eastern end of the island. As expected there is strictly no access to the inner lighthouse complex itself which is guarded by high walls but when no one was looking I scale an outer wall to stay with the coast as this is not trespassing. Today, the weather is just perfect to get some good photographs with wisps of cloud to add contrast to the deep blue sky.

The black and white lighthouse dominates the south east corner of the island. I had certainly picked a fine day to visit.

I venture west next along the coast but the going underfoot isn’t that easy. Above the limestone wave cut platform is a jumble of rocks and behind this the ground is littered with smaller rocks many hidden in the grass. It is time to head back to the village via one of the many narrow lanes hemmed in by limestone walls. Everywhere you look there is a sea of small fields many which aren’t much bigger than your average garden. Entering the village I intermingle with all the tourists that haven’t ventured that far. The signal tower which stands on the highest part of the island is really out of bounds so I make my way down to O’Brien’s Castle. The rocky knoll on which it stands gives a good view over the area but there are many tourists at the place. The ruinous castle dates from the 14th century and was a stronghold of the O’Flaherty family and many of the descendants still live on the island today. I opt to go elsewhere to have my lunch and find a sheltered grassy track away from the crowds.

O’Brien’s Castle is located just above the village and dates from the 14th century.

A sea of tiny fields, many not much bigger than your average garden and what a spot to have lunch on this perfect day.

For the afternoon I have ample time to explore the western part of the island. I set out via a quiet narrow lane hardly wide enough for a car soon passing the whitewashed island church then set out south westwards on another enclosed lane only this time the lane stops well short of the coast. Ahead lie a maze of small fields each surrounded with limestone walls with few openings. There is very little surface soil and my progress towards the coast is slow as I search out the easiest crossing points of each wall. There are a few small gates but in some cases loose stone had been stacked up where there were once openings. Without doing any damage I reach the coast and this time I decide to cross the storm beach to walk on the limestone wave cut platform. The walking is most pleasant and in this quiet corner of the island known as Tonefeennay I pause several times and sit to just watch the rolling Atlantic. It’s a wonderful spot that I could have stayed there for hours. I stay with the shore along the western side of the island, always wary of any big waves coming in. To my left Foul Sound separates Inisheer with the neighbouring island of Inishmaan. Here the waves are sending columns of spray into the air. I opted later to join the lane which runs just above the beach back to the main village but now shower clouds on the horizon are steaming in off the Atlantic and in this part of the world there was absolutely no shelter. I press on at a slightly quicker pace and I am back at the village before any rainfall, and threatening as it looks, the shower passes to the south of the island.

Atlantic surf crashes against the limestone pavement on the western coast of Inisheer. Beyond, across the sound is the island of Inishmaan.

Shower clouds pass close to the island and the white beach becomes briefly deserted. The colours are so sharp here with a most inviting aquamarine sea.

I still have some spare time on my hands and so set about by wandering around the village and down to the lovely white sandy bay. I time it just right to get some excellent pictures of shower clouds, white sands and the aquamarine sea in the bright sunshine. Eventually it is time to head back to the quay for the roller coaster of a ride back to the mainland. Again the deck is awash periodically with sea water and I gather some people are taking quite a soaking and end up with rather wet feet before the end of the voyage.

Returning to the quayside at the end of a perfect day. Ahead is a fifty minute boat ride of being tossed around in the Atlantic.

Breakfast on Helvellyn

Its a warm May morning and its only 7 am and I am on the summit of Helvellyn having breakfast. Once more I have the whole place to myself.

It’s going to be a very hot day and I’m in the Lake District with the family who will not want to toil up a mountain and so I have a cunning plan.
With a temperature forecast to sore up to around 28 centigrade it is worth bringing your plans forward by a few hours. The weather forecast is set fair for the day and so the plan is the set out walking by about dawn and to be back by mid-day which gives a free afternoon in which to visit Levens Hall on the southern edge of the Lake District and its fine topiary gardens.

I am up by 4am and with dawn breaking I decide to head off to climb Helvellyn before the day gets hot. After a light snack I am on the road by 4.50am and drive north on empty roads to Wythburn Car Park north of Grasmere. The only downside is the cost to park there but there is really no alternative. It is £4.50 for just four hours to park in this empty car park. Setting off by 5.40am I make my way up through the dark cool woodlands at a steady pace. Above this, the good stepped path runs up the mountainside. The first rays of sunshine are lighting up the hills opposite and mist hangs silently over Thirlmere. Good and steady progress is made as I gain height but even this early in the day it is quite warm. The early morning sunshine is lighting up more hillsides and the mist is gradually dispersing as I gain height under a cloudless sky. I’m still in shade as I toil up the western shoulder of Nethermost Pike catching the first rays of sunshine as I near the col to the north of this hill. The ‘wow’ factor soon comes into play as I stair across to the black outline of Striding Edge. Now a short ascent lies ahead to reach the summit of Helvellyn which I gain in the next ten minutes.

Nearing the summit of Helvellyn and its not yet even 7 am on this perfect morning.

The morning sun reflects off a mirror like Red Tarn. It’s worth getting up early for.

The view north from Helvellyn on a perfect May morning.

Speechless I stand alone on the summit under deep blue skies with a view to Criffell in Scotland to the north and the Pennines to the east appearing above a misty Vale of Eden. Below, the sun is reflecting off the mirror like Red Tarn. I sit awhile on the summit having a snack. There is not a sound or a breath of air on this perfect morning. The climb has taken exactly an hour and a half. I am reluctant to leave this fantastic viewpoint on such a lovely morning. I have to be back to the car by 09.40am which gives me time to walk along over Nethermost Pike, and High Crag to Dollywaggon Pike and again this turns out an excellent ridge walk under perfect conditions. On Dollywaggon Pike I again rest awhile, timing it carefully to give me time for my descent.

My route south towards Dollywagon Pike. I’ve still not seen another walker today.

Setting off, I return to the col between Dollywagon Pike and High Crag then contour across to reach the path I took up to Helvellyn. I then follow my outward route down to the car park taking exactly an hour from leaving Dollywagon Pike. The descent now is in sunshine and I meet one woman walking uphill with two dogs and already feeling the heat of the morning. We chat briefly and she says she had got up early to undertake this walk. I am soon back at the car ready for the short drive back to Crosthwaite near Kendal just as most people were heading out for the day.

Descending towards Thirlmere and the day is already warm. I shall be back down to the car by 9.30 am.

I certainly recommend getting out really early to do a’ daybreak’ walk. It is a way of seeing the countryside in a completely different light so next time when you can guarantee a fine sunny day. Get an early night then get up very early the following day and aim to get out walking just before sunrise and you won’t regret it.