Four days on the Black Cuillin

Meet the gang – mountaineers Monica, Nick, Rob and Colin

So what is the Black Cuillin? It might be only seven miles long but this formidable chain of jagged peaks on the Isle of Skye is like no other in the British Isles and contains eleven Munro summits. The rocky summits tower skywards above sheer rock faces and consist of a complicated mix of the volcanic rock known as gabbro intruded with basalt dykes and several other rarer rocks including the very metallic peridotite which play havoc with your compass bearing. Knocking two pieces of peridotite together gives very much a metallic chink. The gabbro is very coarse and gives a good grip but the basalt becomes slippery when wet so it is idea to distinguish what you are walking on.
So here we are, four members of the East Cheshire Ramblers about to embark on quite an adventure. Due to the nature of the Cuillin’s we have hired a guide not only lead us up and down through the maze of crags but also to lead us roped up through trickier areas and to oversee and help us down anything we need to abseil.
For myself, I had only been up one of the Munro’s on Skye and that was the outlier of Blaven many years ago but for all of us, this was a new area to us all.
It’s a Saturday in May and the fine weather of the past week is at an end. Gathering at The Sligachan Hotel which everyone calls ‘The Slig’ we meet our guide for the next four days Tom who works for West Coast Mountain Guides. Like every day, it’s going to be an early start.
The weather forecast which as we find out is not always that accurate suggests that today will be the worst day of the next four so we opt to do the easiest walk of the four days to ease our way in and get a feel to the area. With Tom on board, we travel in one car to the start and today’s walk will be to scale two Munro’s – Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh 973 metres then Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh 918 metres.
Setting off from Glen Brittle Youth Hostel our rucksacks are filled of not the usual items. This time we have to stuff in a hard hat, and harness together with an array of carabiners. Out goes my heavy camera – I will have to make do with my phone camera and hence the quality of my photographs won’t be quite as good. I don’t even need a map. For myself, it feels a bit strange going into a mountainous area without a map but we have full confidence in Tom.
At a steady pace we trek uphill beside the Allt a’ Choire Ghreadaidh with Tom leading our little group and after a good hour and a half we are well up into Coire An Dorus. Ahead lies a narrowing stone shoot leading up to the narrow gully leading to the An Dorus Gap which will ultimately lead up to both Munro’s. After a brief break it’s time to put on our yellow hard hat and get kitted up with our harnesses. Tom produces a rope and links us all up to give us practice of walking with a rope as a group. The rope needs to be kept taut. For now the yellow hard hat will give us some protection from any loose rock from falling from above. As we gain height so the stone shoot narrows and we have some easy scrambling up over some bigger rock steps. The crest of the ridge comes very suddenly with a steep drop going down the far side over rocky crags towards Loch Coruisk. It’s here that we are going to leave our rucksacks to tackle Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh.

Tom, our guide leads out on the ascent of our first Skye Munro – Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh.

Nick, Rob, Monica or our guide Tom on our first Black Cuillin summit Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh.

From An Dorus Gap there is a rock wall on either side. Tom leads out to belay some fifty feet about and shouts down for us to start climbing. Roped together means progress is slow. The key is remembering how Tom tackled this first bit and where do you put your feet. One by one we work our way up this first bit of somewhat awkward rock face. Beyond, the steep ascent continues but for much of the way is just a scramble except for a couple of awkward steps. It’s our first experience of being somewhere with a big drop below. A large rocky tower, known locally as ‘The Wart’ is skirted around on the western side to gain the tiny summit. It’s one summit down and ten to go. And yes we have got a view despite the grey overcast day.

The route taken up and down Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh. Note the party making the ascent as we did a hour or so earlier.

Our route back is as our upward route except this will involve what is known as ‘down climbing’. With me roped up at the rear of the group on the way up it now my turn to lead and remember our upward route on the way down. It’s not as easy as you think as you are often climbing down semi blind feeling for good rock steps to ease your way down. It helps to lean out and to look down to get an idea where you are going. For everyone else you can guide them down, sometimes by catching hold of an ankle above you and guiding a foot onto a rock step. Meanwhile Tom at the top has secured the rope before climbing down himself.
Climbing out of the gap on the other side, this time with rucksacks also involves a short climb but we are soon on  ‘easier’ ground if you can call it easier where we stop for a short lunch break. Coming to lunch breaks – stops were always very short and time only to grab a sandwich and a quick drink before we are off again.
Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh, our second Munro of the day proves more of a straightforward ascent. We were no longer roped up which made progress is much quicker. Dumping our rucksacks once more we scrambled up among the crags and were soon on this second airy summit. Again we are fortunate enough to get good views. The promised rain is nowhere to be seen.
Retracing our steps we were soon reunited with our rucksacks and time for another quick snack. Tom now searches out a easier route down to the An Dorus Stone Shoot where we descend as per our outward route.
We reached Glen Brittle Youth Hostel by mid afternoon and Tom has been pleased at our progress.
It’s day two and after the first successful day on the Black Cuillin, the weather has taken a turn for the worst. The weather forecast suggests that it will improve as the day goes on and fingers crossed the low cloud will lift off the mountains. As usual it’s a early start and we meet up with Tom at ‘The Slig’. Putting off the infamous ‘In Pinn’ for a better day we opt to do the three northernmost Munro’s – Bruach na Frithe, 958 metres, Am Basteir 935 metres and Sgurr nan Gillean 965 metres.
From the word go, the weather doesn’t look good with steady fine rain and the mist and murk well down on the mountains. It’s a case of donning wet weather gear even when we start.
It’s a long walk in but it’s a good path to follow and it seems that we are the only ones setting out this morning. It’s such a pity that we have no views as the landscape ahead is quite spectacular with the pinnacle ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean towering ahead and to our left. As we gain height so that landscape gradually mists away. Reaching the western side of the Bhasteir Gorge we now need to clamber up to our right. There are several rock terraces and it’s very easy to take the wrong one. Tom scouts on to check that the route ahead the correct one. Once over this area we enter the hanging valley of Coire a Bhasteir but little can be seen. The whole place is choked withthick mist. Tom leads us up among scree slopes and crags towards the northern precipitous face of Am Basteir with a brief stop to put on hard hats. Conditions are certainly not improving and the fine rain at the foot of the mountain has turned to steady rain.
The decision is made to get to the top of Bruach na Frithe first which is the easiest of the three Munro’s planned for today. Dumping rucksacks, we toil up the steep scree slope below the overhanging northern face of Am Basteir and the cliffs are giving some shelter. The Bhasteir Tooth rises skyward into the mist but we do get an misty outline of this in the thick mist. Beyond, we round a craggy top before scrambling along to the summit of Bruach na Frithe. Crowned with a trig point it is the only summit with a trig point in this group of eleven Munro’s. It’s just unfortunate that the view is simply nil today.

The summit of Bruach na Frithe. The only summit in the Black Cuillin with a trig point but today there was simply no view.

We pick our way back along the ridge and down to our rucksacks for our lunch stop in the rain. The rocks are all running with water and in a discussion over lunch we opt to abandon any attempt on scaling anymore Munro’s today. It does mean now that we will not achieve our target of doing all eleven Munro’s on this trip but having said that, few groups are successful in completing all these Munro’s on one trip. The weather needs to be on your side and secondly the party needs to be very fit.
Disappointed we head back downhill crossing a stream that has swollen in the past three hours. We are all quite damp and glad to get back for a decent shower and freshen up. So we are half way through our course but only three Munro’s climbed.
It’s the penultimate day and despite not a very promising start weather wise we opt for the longest walk of the four days. It’s just three of us today plus our guide as Monica has been attracted to the bright lights of Portree. Again we collect Tom from ‘The Slig’ and travel down to the camp side above Glen Brittle Beach.
It’s a early start with three Munro’s ahead of us with Sgurr nan Eag 924 metres on the cards first, followed by Sgurr Dubh Mor 944 metres and a ascent of Sgurr Alasdair 993 metres to finish with.
It’s a long walk in over relatively easy ground and slowly ascending with increasingly good views out to sea to Rum, Eigg and Tiree with the Outer Hebrides on the far horizon. To the west it is quite sunny but showers are building up already with a few shafts of rain falling here and there. After a good two miles we start to head up into Coire Ghrunnda and the terrain soon becomes steep with a jumble of house size boulders to negotiate. Tom has a good balance and is able to walk from boulder to boulder with confidence but the rest of us take on this part a bit more caution. A further steep rocky ascent which requires a bit of knowhow on way finding climbs up to a second hanging corrie and Loch Coir a Ghrunnda. It’s time for a short morning break before skirting the loch and pressing up the scree and crag slope over increasingly difficult ground. Nearing the crest of the ridge it’s time to dump rucksacks before picking our way along the airy ridge to Sgurr nan Eag where we get a excellent view. The hill cloud of earlier is lifting off the tops. It’s now a case of returning to our rucksacks.

A easy scramble at the start of the ascent to Sgurr nan Eag.

With a quick bite to eat we are off again bound for Sgurr Dubh Mor and this section of the walk proves quite tricky. Although we do manage to bypass the rock stack called Caisteal a Garbh-choire. The route chosen is called the ‘Runners traverse’ which skirts along the eastern side of several crags and this proves a little used route and involved a fair bit of scrambling.

Setting out across the ‘Runners Traverse’ which cuts out climbing over some rock stacks.

The view back along the ‘Runners Traverse’

On the ridge west of Sgurr Dubh Mor the rucksacks are left again before making quite a difficult ascent to this summit which involves a few awkward moves and working your way up a chimney. This summit lies off the main Cuillin ridge and it proves time consuming to reach. Roped up, Rob leads us down towards our rucksacks but takes us out onto an airy ledge which we decide to call Rob’s Traverse – an airy little walk with a big drop but good hand holds. It is like standing on the window sill of a three story building!
Re-united with our rucksacks, it is time to bag the last summit of the day and the highest in the Cuillins. To get to the summit of Sgurr Alasdair meant skirting along the southern flank below sheer cliffs on a steep scree covered slope to gain the south western ridge via a ‘chimney’ not far from the summit. The chimney proves a hard climb and in places we have to use our feet on one side and our back on the other to work your way up. As usual Tom was always above with the rope secured. The last little bit is an airy scramble to the tiny summit with the ground falling away either side into the abyss.

The summit ridge of Sgurr Alasdair with a view towards Sgurr Thearlaich.

For a few minutes we were the highest people in the Hebrides. Now for the descent which means working our way along a narrow rocky ridge down to the top of the Great Stone Shoot where we stopped for a break. Hemmed in by the rock walls of Sgurr Alasdair on one side and Sgurr Thearlaich on the other, The Great Stone Shoot is the longest scree slope in Britain but the angular stones come in all shapes and sizes, with the stones at the bottom generally smaller. The descent is incredibly steep and once in motion it is difficult to stop. This is where our builder gloves come in handy as virtually no one descends this steep slope without sliding down on their backside.

So we are going down there are we? The top of the Great Stone Shoot.

The view of the Great Stone Shoot taken on the following day. We descended this route from Sgurr Alasdair. At nearly 2000 feet it is the longest scree slope in Britain as is incredibly steep.

The foot of the Great Stone Shoot below Sgurr Alasdair.

Some of us were quicker than others and others (not in our party) spent more time on their rear coming down. The hard hats are essential and it was well advised to keep well apart from anyone else due to the amount of loose stone. Safely at the bottom we are reunited for the walk back to the car and a later than usual finish and our tally on the Cuillin Munro’s now totalled six.
Monica has rejoined us for the last day and we are now faced with our greatest challenge. The ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle 986 metres and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich 948 metres rated as first and second hardest Munro’s to climb.
From the start we have ruled out climbing Sgurr na Banachdich, – a Munro but a much easier one which can be reached without a guide. The decision is taken to climb directly from the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut up the western ridge of Sgurr Dearg and going via this route we gain height quickly. The ascent is fairly straightforward with just a little easy scrambling among the crags higher up. Other groups have set out before us and so are expecting a queue to climb the In Pinn. At least today, the visibility is excellent and away from the mountainous areas it is quite sunny.
We reach the top of Sgurr Dearg before noon and made the down climb of steep sloping rock with loose scree to the base of the In Pinn. In the silence of the late morning some thousand feet below us comes the sound of crashing rock and as we find out later, several hundred tonnes of rock had come away from the mountain side and has scattered down the steep slope. The biggest pieces are the size of a bus so we were just glad we were not in that area at the time. With Monica and myself reaching the point where we have to make the climb of the In Pinn first, Tom decides to lead us first as there is no queue. Meanwhile Nick and Rob will have lunch and await for our return. The Matterhorn and most Alpine peaks were conquered before the In Pinn and it wasn’t until 1880 that the In Pinn was finally climbed by Charles and Lawrence Pilkington. They were guided to the foot of the climb from Sligachan via Coruisk and Bealach Coire na Banachdich by a local shepherd called John Mackenzie.

Our first view of the ‘In Pinn’. Note the climber on top. We will abseil off this side later. We will ascend via the ‘easier’ far side.

The side we ascended The ‘In Pinn’. monica can be seen in the stone shelter, bottom left. the ascent is very exposed on either side so best not attempted in wet and or windy weather.

Nick followed by Rob on the first pitch of the ‘In Pinn’. The guide only takes two of us up at any one time. Tom our guide is out of sight just over the pinnacle.

The view on top of the ‘In Pinn’ looking southeast. Being roped up and constantly on the move there are few precious moments to get photographs.

Tom sets off up the knife edge ridge to secure the rope for the first pitch and we watch carefully where Tom is placing his feet. Monica and I are attached on the rope at the bottom with Monica taking the lead. I follow on behind at the end of the rope. The first thirty feet is fairly straightforward but then you have to get onto the knife edge ridge with hand and footholds quite smooth over time. Re-united briefly with Tom he then climbs the second pitch whilst Monica and I cling on the narrow ledge above the abyss. Tom shouts down to start climbing. It is getting airy with an overhanging and infinite drop on one side, and a drop on the other side even steeper and longer. Now concentrating on what I am doing and planning each step is paramount. Now I know that climbing shoes are better than walking boots in this type of terrain. The footholds are so small that below the soles of my boots are hundreds of feet of air! I cling on trusting that my hands will hold as the knife edge steepens and daring not to look down. Thankfully the ridge eases but at the same time gets much narrower as we make our way to the airy summit with much relief.
It is now time to abseil down the steep side, an eighteen metre sheer rock face. Tom is going to do a stacked abseil meaning we would all go down the same rope. The massive rock on the summit has a fixed chain around it with carabiners which you can attach the rope. Now I am thankful that I had abseiled before and I am more confident for the descent. Tom descends first with me following and remembering what I had learnt on Tegg’s Nose a few weeks earlier. Lean well back, feet apart and let the rope feed through your hands as you walk backward down the rock face. It is all over in a moment with feet firmly on terra firma. Monica follows confidently and at speed and the three of us make our way back to Nick and Rob.
It is now their turn and again Tom leads on up the rock face before Nick and Rob start out on their ascent. Meanwhile Monica and I settle down to lunch in the shelter of a dry stone wall but it seems a long time before the three of them return and we are beginning to get cold.
We are glad to set off and made our way slowly down to the col above An Stac screes. On the way we pass the massive rock fall from a couple of hours earlier which lay right on our path and it seems that more rock is ready to fall, hence we don’t hang about here.

Dumping rucksacks we will now attempt the climb of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich which is said to be the second hardest Munro in the Black Cuillin. there are certainly some very airy drops as you work your way along the ridge.

On the summit of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh with the view towards Sgurr Thearlaich and Sgurr Alasdair. note the climber at the summit.

The summit ridge of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. The easiest route is to stay right on the crest.

Near the col we pause awhile and leave the rucksacks weighted down with a few rocks before making the ascent on the complicated Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. The summit is said to be the second hardest Munro to climb in the country and route finding proves not easy. For much of the way we are roped together and Tom opts to keep us right on the crest which in places has an almost sheer drop of several hundred feet on the western side. The summit is narrow with smooth steep slopes on either side almost as if you were on the apex of a rouse with steeply sloping roofs.

The red arrows show the route taken from Sgurr Dearg and The In Pinn to the top of the An Stac screes. there had been a rock fall of several hundred tonnes a couple of hours prior to this photograph being taken.

For the return, I lead the way, picking my way along the crest and all the time we are roped up. I find a ‘chimney’ which seems an easier route and once in it we are committed until we can gain the ridge again. Back with our rucksacks after what seems to be quite a long time we take a break before descending the An Stac screes which although much shorter than the Great Stone Shoot we still end up with us well spaced out. The walk out was from Loch Coire Lagan is noted for its smooth rock gouged out by glaciers.

Smooth rock gouged out by glaciers make these features look a bit out of place. This rock looked like a stranded whale. This photograph was taken in Coire Lagan on our last day in the Black Cuillins. The Cioch is shown up by the shadow it is casting on the rock face.

High to our left we spot two climbers high up on the rock face called The Cioch. This is a massive piece of rock which almost defies gravity and sticks out of the rock face. In 1986 it featured as the setting for a sword-fight in the movie ‘Highlander’. Our pace now quickens as we gain easier ground and in afternoon sunshine make our way back to the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut.
Overall we had bagged eight of the eleven Munro’s we had set out to do and the weather has been kind to us on three of the four days. I understand that you could go to the Cuillins and bag no Munro’s if the weather was bad and so overall we haven’t done too bad. Having said that, we are all very grateful to our guide, Tom Sylvester which without him, this adventure would not have been possible.

Group walk report 10th April

All assembled at Birchen Edge Trig point.

With the promise of a reasonable day it was somewhat of a shock as arriving at Curbar Gap Car Park we were greeted by a biting and raw easterly wind.

We set out by heading north on what was to be a walk along ‘five edges’ and first of all we followed Curbar Edge for nearly a mile before descending and doubling back below the cliff face. At Warren Lodge we took the lane downhill for a short distance then took paths around the southern side of Curbar village passing on the way the converted ‘lock-up’ which dates from 1780 and was used as a local gaol.

After stopping for a morning break we continued via Gorsebank Lane to reach Baslow where we took a path down to cross the busy A619 close to the Cavendish Hotel. We were soon in Chatsworth Park entering via the unusual Cannon Kissing Gate. We ascended across the park entering woodlands at Dobb Edge. At the top we turned sharp left to follow the concessionary path along the ridge and later at a sheltered spot behind a high wall we stopped for our lunch out of the wind.

For the afternoon leg of the walk in which the sun made more of an appearance, we continued on the concessionary path to the A619 and crossed to the Robin Hood Public House before making our way up onto Birchen Edge. We paused briefly by the ‘Three Ships’ – three rock outcrops where the names of ships that Horatio Nelson served on are engraved into the rock face. The three names are Soverin, Defiance and Victory. Nearby is Nelson’s Monument which was originally erected in 1810 by John Brightman, a Baslow man. Reaching the trig point we took a un-defined path to the less known Gardom’s Edge. From here we headed northeast to reach the crossroads of the A621 and Clodhall Lane.

Heading west next we made for the Wellington Monument which was erected by a local man called Doctor Wrench who felt the need to counterbalance the memorial dedicated to Admiral Nelson on nearby Birchen Edge. Heading back towards the cars we took the path north soon passing the gritstone outcrop known as Eagle Stone rather than follow the edge itself. This lone boulder is quite a landmark and historically, an ascent of the stone was a rite of passage for the young men of Baslow who were suppose to climb the stone before proposing marriage to a local maiden. The day finished with a visit to the tea room at the Derbyshire Craft Centre.

‘I see no ships’. Graham conquers one of the Three Ships on Birchen Edge.

‘The crew’ at The three Ships Birchen Edge.

The Eagle Stone on Baslow Edge. a lone monolith and landmark in the area.

Group walk report 2nd April

The group above Kinder Reservoir.

By Sue Thersby

A recent East Cheshire Rambler’s circular walk started from Hayfield in Derbyshire. There were eleven of us, in spite of the rain. The first written record of Hayfield is to be found in the Doomsday Book when it was called ‘Hedfeld’ and was a natural clearing in the vast forest at the foot of the Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District (2088ft) and the southernmost point of the Pennine Chain. It became a mill village from the 17th century onwards and is famous as the birth place and childhood home of Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring in Classic ‘Dad’s Army’) whose home is marked by a blue plaque, which we passed on our way towards Kinder Reservoir.
We climbed up the cobbled path to the west of the reservoir before turning westwards to arrive at the shooting cabin, where we had our morning break. After crossing Middle Moor, our route took us northwards, parallel to the Glossop Road before we crossed it, just before the now closed Grouse Inn. We then passed through a couple of farms before joining the Pennine Bridleway for a short distance. Continuing our way past Higher Plainsteads and Rocks Farms, we climbed gradually up to Cown Edge, from where we had 360-degree views over the surrounding countryside with Glossop to the east and Charlesworth to the north. We walked along the whole of the ridge in a generally southerly direction until we descended to Rowarth, a small village, which is locally famous for the Little Mill Inn, a pub and restaurant in a former candlewick mill, with a waterwheel in the adjacent stream. The Little Mill has a retired Brighton Belle Pullman railway coach which is used as guest accommodation.
Changing our orientation to south-easterly we passed Laneside Farm before climbing up a bridleway which eventually took us to the Pennine Bridleway again and Lantern Pike. Here our party split up and the more energetic climbed up the Pike, which boasts an orientation table and has magnificent views, whilst the others contoured round it. Finally, we gradually descended back into Hayfield via Upper Cliffe Farm. We were lucky enough to find the local chocolatier open at the end of the walk for our usual refreshments.

Group walk report 30th March

In Lathkill Dale

By Roger Jubb

The small former lead mining settlement of Over Haddon was the starting point for an East Cheshire Ramblers walk. On a fine spring morning the group descended to Lathkill Dale passing St Anne’s Church and tea gardens.
In the valley we crossed the river and ascended steeply the other side to Meadow Place Grange Farm. After a brief rest our ascent continued later crossing Back Lane to reach Moor Lane. The morning break was taken at the Moor lane Car Park.
Joining the trail called the Limestone Way we now headed west across fields to reach Low Moor Wood to reach the farm buildings at Calling Low. The Limestone Way is a 46 mile long way marked path running between Castleton in Derbyshire and Rocester in Staffordshire. A little beyond we crossed Cales Dale, a deep wooded secluded valley to reach One Ash Grange farm where there were several newly born lambs.
A little beyond the farm, a field path was taken on the right and a pleasant lunch stop was found overlooking the upper reaches of Lathkill Dale.
The return walk was through Lathkill Date to Over Haddon passing on the way a cave issuing crystal clear water. The sunshine had stayed with us all day and we rounded off the afternoon with a well earned rest at the Old Smithy Tearoom in Monyash.

Descending through Cales Dale.

Sheep with new born lambs at One Ash Grange Farm.

Crystal clear water from a cave in Lathkill Dale.

Rounding off the walk with afternoon tea at The Old Smithy Tearoom at Monyash.

Group walk report 6th April

A narrow section of the riverside path close to the hermit cave at Anchor Church.

The East Cheshire Ramblers recently ventured to a new area for the group on a recent walk from Repton near Derby. The walk had a historical theme and started out with a visit to the historic St Wystan’s Church. The church has a fine Saxon Crypt which was built in the 8th century as a mausoleum for the Mercian royal family and the burial place of three Mercian kings. Repton is well known for its private school which dominates the village.

Heading east the village we set out by taking a good field path over Askew Hill and later along another path to Anchor Church which is the name given to a series of caves in a Keuper Sandstone outcrop. The caves were once home to an Anchorite hermit St Hardulph who lived here in the 6th or 7th century.

Graham tests the water supply at one of the unique ‘Ticknall Taps’.

Continuing via Ingleby we next headed towards Ticknall on field paths. En route we paused briefly at Knowle Hill, site of a former Italian landscape garden, developed in the early seventeen hundreds which later became a pleasure garden in the 19th century before it was semi abandoned.

At Ticknall we came across the first of several ‘Ticknall Taps’ which are identical cast iron water pumps installed around 1914 by Sir Harper Crewe to, what was then, the estate village to nearby Calke Abbey which provided fresh water.

In the grounds of the village hall we stopped for lunch by which time the sun was breaking through. We explored the village afterwards including stopping at the old lock up and visiting Sheffield House, an imposing three-storey house with the top floor being false. It was built in the 1840s by George Sheffield, who was a doctor, and William Sheffield, who was a veterinary surgeon. They emphasized the size and independent status of their property by adding a false third storey that carries the name ‘Sheffield’ prominently on its parapet.

A clever disguise. Sheffield House in the village of Ticknall has a false third floor.

Finally it was a visit to the churchyard to view the parish church and the remains of the medieval church. When the new church was built by the Victorians, they opted to blow up the old church leaving just the few ruins we see today. The return to Repton was initially along part of the National Forest Way and crossed numerous fields. The day was rounded off with a visit to Mrs Bee’s Tearooms in the nearby village of Findern.

The parish church at Ticknall. So what do you do when the medieval church becomes redundant. In this case, the Victorian’s simply blew it up leaving these remains in the churchyard.

Group walk report 3rd April

The ramblers are dwarfed in the chasm at Lud’s Church.

By Ken Hobbs

The sun was breaking through dark clouds as a group of seven walkers, led by Ken Hobbs, set off from Gradbach Car Park on a chilly April morning. We passed by the former Youth Hostel at Gradbach Mill, before crossing Black Brook and walking briefly alongside the Dane, before climbing through Gradbach Woods.
After rounding Castle Rocks, we scrambled through the natural chasm known as Lud’s Church. This was supposedly used by the Lollards, followers of John Wycliffe, for worship in the early 15th century. Another legend is that it is the “Green Chapel” referred to in the medieval poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.
Eventually we reached the ridge and turned south towards the fantastic rock shapes on the Roaches, at this point made eerie by swirling cloud. The cloud had dispersed by the time we had finished our coffee break, and after we passed the trig point at 505 metres we enjoyed clear views towards Hen Cloud, Tittesworth Reservoir and Leek in the distance. The eastern flank of the Roaches is still scarred by the wildfires from last summer, but there were signs of recovery. A group of schoolchildren sat at the side of the Doxey Pool, undeterred by the story of a mermaid siren that is said to live there! Finally we visited the stone plaque erected to commemorate the visit of the Prince and Princess Teck (the great grandparents of Elizabeth II) in 1872.
After descending the Roaches, we worked our way around the back of the rock formation of Hen Cloud, but there was no sign yet of the peregrine falcons that normally nest here. Our way back was along footpaths running parallel to the Roaches, through a number of fields, interesting stiles and farms with evocative names such as “Windygates”, “Pheasant’s Clough” and “Buxton Brow”, enliven by the sighting of a hare and a shower of hail!
At last we climbed back to cross the ridge at Roach End and descended back through Gradbach Woods to Black Brook, where often Dippers can be seen, but not today. Finally we passed through the Scout Camp and returned to the car park, tired but reflecting on an enjoyable nine mile ramble.

Scrambling out of the chasm as Lud’s Church.

Discovering hidden gems in our industrial pass

Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester – rush hour near the start of my walk.

When I first had an idea of walk from Manchester to Bolton via the Irwell Valley I was a little bit dubious. Picking the right route which took me through the best bits needed some research and one or two parts didn’t have the best reputation but as we shall see, this turned out to be a really enjoyable walk.

It’s a fine autumn weekday morning with the feel that winter is not too far away and I am leaving early to catch the very overcrowded 8.02am train from Macclesfield to Manchester Piccadilly. How glad I am that I don’t have to commute every day. Twenty five minutes stood crammed into an aisle in a railway carriage pressed up against strangers who are engrossed in ‘The Metro’ or their mobile phone isn’t the way I like to travel.
I am glad to leave Piccadilly Station and march up through the centre of Manchester ‘pushed along’ with the commuters many of which are still glued to their mobile phones and are eager to get to their workplace. I briefly pause at Piccadilly Gardens which has more than its fair share of ‘cardboard box folk’ who are not going anywhere, before continuing my walk via Market Street and St Mary’s Gate then crossing the River Irwell into the much quieter Metropolitan Borough of Salford. I now have the pavements virtually to myself. Manchester had changed since the days of my work with tower cranes everywhere and yet I once felt quite at home in this environment.

The River Irwell by Peel Park, Salford. I walked the left bank on the river as I headed north.

In Salford, I continue on the Blackfriars Road to reach the nearside of Broughton Bridge where I turn left to join the Salford Trail, a 53 mile walking trail around the borough and stay with this along to the Adelphi Footbridge. I cross this and continue through a small housing estate to cross the River Irwell yet again. Heading north, I stay by the river and through the attractive Peel Park. Salford is looking up in my books. I stay with the western bank of the River Irwell up to Wallness Bridge where I have to cross briefly to the eastern bank for a couple of hundred yards before re-crossing at the next footbridge back to the western bank. Later I have to cross the busy Cromwell Road and afterwards I am pleased to see that I can stay by the river bank rather than trek through a housing estate to the west as my map indicates. The River Irwell now makes a big loop and the area has been landscaped into a large parkland with a low lying area forming some ponds and a wildlife haven. This area was once the site of the Manchester Racecourse. Horse racing was first recorded here in 1647 and over the centuries it was intermittently used as a racecourse until 1963.

A distance view to Manchester from the site of the former Manchester Racecourse.

This section makes for some pleasant walking with the last of the morning mist over the river now burning off. To the southeast, is the hazy outline of Manchester City Centre with an array of tower cranes and new buildings. I note that Beetham’s Tower is no longer the tallest building in Manchester as the Deansgate Square South Tower had now reached its full height of 201 metres which from my later research means it is 32 metres higher than Beetham’s Tower. I cross the River Irwell yet again via a freshly painted green footbridge and soon skirt through Lower Kersal. I recall visiting this area many years ago to witness several high rise flats being demolished in a controlled explosion. Joining a path I reach a brightly painted red footbridge and again cross the River Irwell and take a path up the western bank. The autumn colours are giving a fine display as I head north through this fairly rural area. Later I walk alongside the large Agecroft Cemetery after which I cross the road by Agecroft Bridge and find a lone picnic bench for my morning break in the pleasant autumn sunshine.

A colourful footbridge over the River Irwell at Charlestown, Salford.

Autumn colours displayed alongside the River Irwell at Agecroft Cemetery.

Land of the Giants! Giant hogweed set against a deep blue autumn sky was a common feature along this walk.

The countryside is becoming progressively more wooded as I continue alongside the riverbank but what is notable is the amount of towering giant hogweed which although has died bank makes for some interesting photographs against the deep blue sky. Around Clifton Junction there is some industry to my left mostly hidden among the trees and soon I find that I am following the course of the former Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal. To start with, little of it is visible but I soon cross the River Irwell on the old Clifton Aqueduct which once carried the canal. North of the River Irwell I follow the course of a long gone railway which lead to a footbridge over the noisy M62 motorway. At this spot was once the site of the Molyneux Brow Railway Station on what was once the Accrington, Clifton and Colne railway line which ceased operations during 1931. I stay with the course of the former railway on the northern side before dropping down to a lower path bordering a long abandoned sewage farm now very overgrown and returning to nature. What surprises me next is that I come alongside a plant nursery tucked away and hemmed in beside the river on a sunny south facing bank. A little beyond I turn right onto a path again and now find evidence again of the former Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal. Entering Ringley, I pass St Saviour’s Church and made down to take a look at the ancient Ringley Bridge which spans the River Irwell here. The bridge dates from 1677 and was built to replace an older wooden bridge which was swept away in floods in 1673. Nearby is an interesting clock tower which dates from 1625 and is now once more in working order.

The historic Ringley Bridge with the restored clock tower in the back ground.

Crossing the A667 I now follow the canal towpath for the next mile to the Prestolee Aqueduct. This proves to be an interesting section of the canal as it runs along the side of a steep hill side. Directly below is the community of Prestolee complete with church and mill which could pass as a scene one hundred years ago. Along this section, the towpath is in the process of being repaired. I next cross the ancient Prestolee Aqueduct which opened in 1793 and spans the River Irwell and just above it is the Prestolee Canal Staircase. The site has been cleared of vegetation to reveal the extensive stonework. Plans are afoot to restore this flight of locks. What is unusual is what work that has been carried out and several features made out of large scale Meccano have been constructed including a seat, picnic benches and largest of all a Meccano Bridge over the canal. It is a good spot to stop for lunch and a first for me to have lunch sat on a Meccano seat.

The historic Prestonlee Aqueduct, one or two historic aqueducts over the River Irwell in the area.

Not your usual lunch stop but this makes you look quite small!

This is the one I made earlier! Meccano Bridge at Nob End.

Autumn colours along the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal at Nob End.

My walk towards Bolton for now stays with the canal for the next mile which at first is covered with a thick carpet of green algae. Where the canal opens out, the autumn colours are very picturesque. I continue to cross the A6053 and to enter the Moses Gate Country Park. I want to branch off to see what is left of Darcy Lever Old Hall which was marked as italics on my Ordnance Survey Map. Prior to this site I walk through an area which warns of contaminated soil. Entering a group of farm buildings I can’t find any evidence of Darcy Lever Old Hall which I think had been demolished.
I cut through on some side paths and between houses to reach the path linking the former Liverpool, Bolton and Bury Railway Line. It has now been opened up as a footpath and crosses two railway viaducts, firstly the Darcy Lever Viaduct which spans the River Tonge and the B6209 and then the Burnden Viaduct which spans the River Croal and the busy A666 dual carriageway. Beyond, I join a side road then head up the B6356 to Bolton Station. I am in good time and could have spent an hour looking around the town but my feet are tired and the railway timetable shows a train is due for Manchester Piccadilly. I buy a ticket and am soon on my way back to Manchester for my onward journey home. It has been a good day out and with the sunny skies and the autumn colours has made this a very photographic walk coupled with the copious amounts of industrial archaeology.

Arnside Coach walks (Saturday June 8th) – What to see

Carnforth Station Clock (Long walk)
The long walk kicks off from Carnforth, a small railway town but today tourist flock to the Heritage Centre, situated in the railway station. The station was called ‘Milford Junction Station’ and became famous as the location for the classic 1945 film ‘Brief Encounter’ starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The famous clock which featured in the film has been restored and we will make a small detour to visit the station and view the clock.

The famous station clock on Carnforth Station.

Warton Old Rectory (Long Walk)
Under the care of English Heritage with free entry, Warton Old Rectory is now in a ruinous state. It was built in the early 14th century as the official residence of the rector for the nearby St Oswald’s Church. The building became ruinous early in the 18th century. It was not affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Warton Old Rectory

St Oswald’s Church (Long Walk)
This fine church dating from the 12th century dominates the village and is grade II listed. Extensive restoration was carried out on the building during the 15th and 16th centuries and the building has historical connections with the ancestors of George Washington, the first president of the United States. The church is well worth a visit and on my reconnoitre, taped background choral music made the building fell like a place of piece and sanctuary. One of the two village public houses is named ‘The George Washington’.

St Oswald’s Church at Warton.

Warton Crag (Long Walk)
This area is an extensively wooded and is a nature reserve. Our walk will wander among the moss covered limestone crags and will ascend to the summit which is crowned with a beacon and trig point at 163 metres. Nearby there are extensive views across Morecambe Bay and beyond. The crag is the Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to several rare plants and rich in butterflies including the rare pearl bordered fritillary and high brown fritillary. The area is a regular breeding site for peregrine falcons.

A panoramic view from Warton Crag across Morecambe Bay.

Leighton Moss (Long Walk)
We will pass alongside the southern fringe of the RSPB Leighton Moss Nature Reserve. The area has the largest reed beds in northwest England. One of its visitors is the Bittern. To our left the salt marsh provides a habitat for birds such as avocets.

Mine at Crag Foot (Long Walk)
All that is visible today is the chimney of the former haematite mine at Crag Foot. Even now there are rich deposits of iron ore in this area which weren’t mined because of poor prices. Iron ore was originally taken from the site by packhorse and after the coming of the railway age, the iron ore made its journey south from the nearby Silverdale Station. A small tower which we pass on the foreshore was built as a chimney in the 1780’s and its purpose was to smelt locally mined copper but the venture soon failed due to law suits. Today it is grade II listed.

The old chimney on the foreshore and part of a failed attempt to smelt copper in the area.

Warduck’s Wall and Jenny Brown’s Point (Long Walk)
If the tide is out on our visit, we will see the remains of Warduck’s Wall stretching out into Morecambe Bay. This was a venture to reclaim land between this area and Carnforth. Started in 1877, the project was abandoned in 1879.
Who was Jenny Brown? My research has shown that she was the daughter of a local farmer who had a farm at the point in the sixteen hundreds.
Not far from this spot was the scene of a disaster in 1894 when the pleasure yacht ‘Matchless’ capsized in rough weather with the loss of 25 persons. Most of them were on a day out from northern mill towns.

Jack Scout (Long Walk)
We will walk over this rocky limestone headland which has good views across Morecambe Bay. A small diversion off our route is ‘Giant’s Seat’, a large seat made out of limestone blocks. The area is owned by the National Trust.

Lindeth Tower, Silverdale (Long Walk)
Now used as a holiday let and private, we do pass and see this unusual Victorian folly. Built in 1842 by Preston banker Hesketh Fleetwood this is a three storied castellated tower and is grade II listed. In the 1840’s and 1850’s Elizabeth Gaskell stayed in the tower and wrote her novel ‘Ruth’ here.

Lindeth Tower – A Victorian folly is passed as we near Silverdale.

Silverdale Cove (Long Walk)
Our walk takes us along the coast and down to this attractive cove which is surrounded with limestone cliffs and Silverdale Cave.

A lovely stretch of coastline to follow as we descend towards Silverdale Cove.

Arnside Tower (Long, Medium and Short walks)
This substantial ruin is dominant on the skyline for the medium and short walking groups for some time before reaching it. This tall ruin dates from the latter part of the 15th century and is constructed of limestone rubble. The tower was originally five storeys high. Following a severe fire in 1602, the tower was restored and was in use up until the end of the 17th century after which is became ruinous. Around 1900 a large portion of the south wall collapsed and today despite it being grade II listed the tower is in a poor state of repair.
Just beyond the tower, all three groups will stop at Arnside Tower Farm Cafe where afternoon tea, coffee, cakes and locally made ice cream can be bought. (I can recommend the ice cream !)

Arnside Tower – a ruinous pele tower which dominates the skyline.

Arnside Knott (Long, Medium and Short Walks)
It is well worth the effort to ascend to the 159 metre summit. Although most of the hill is covered in woodland, there are excellent views just to the south east of the trig point over Arnside Tower and Morecambe Bay, whilst from the viewpoint on the northwest side of the hill you get a good view over the Kent Estuary and if clear you can pick out most of the main summits in the Lake District. The is a toposcope at this point.

On Arnside Knott and the view over Arnside Tower with Morecambe Bay beyond.

The view over the Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott. If it is clear, we should have a good view towards the Lake District.

Arnside (Long, Medium and Short Walks)
This is the finish point of our walk. The village has several cafe’s overlooking the Kent Estuary. The Kent Railway Viaduct built originally in 1857 and 505 metres long crosses the estuary just upstream from the village. We may be even lucky enough to see the ‘Arnside tidal bore’ which occurs just over an hour before high tide. A siren sounds twelve times to warn people to leave the beach prior to its arrival. In favourable conditions the bore can be up to a foot high and is caused by the tide rushing in over the vast expanse of sands.

Arnside and the view along the front which overlooks the Kent Estuary.

Milnthorpe (Medium walk)
This is the start point for the medium walk. Milnthorpe is a small market town on a busy crossroads and was once a port on the River Bela.

Dallam Tower (Medium Walk)
On the medium walk there is a good view to this grade I listed house. It is not usually open to the public and was built on the early 18th century on the site of an earlier building. Prior to that there was a pele tower on the site.

Dallam Tower and its parkland from the path across the Deer Park.

Dallam Deer Park (Medium walk)
The 190 acre deer park is passed through on the medium walk which gives mile of fine open parkland to walk through. Walkers should see the herd of fallow deer which freely roam the park. The walk passes close to the grade II listed deer shelter.

The grade II listed Deer Shelter and fallow deer in the park south of Milnthorpe.

Fairy Steps (Medium walk)
This is one of the highlights of this walk and a spot where you will need to squeeze through a narrow and polished limestone cleft. You will need to remove your rucksack for this. It is a right of way and old coffin route for burials heading for the church at Beetham as there was once no consecrated ground at Arnside. At one time coffins would need to be hauled up the cliff face. (A easier route has now been created little further south which avoids all difficulties). A local saying is that if you can negotiate Fairy Steps without touching the sides of the chasm then you will see a fairy! This may only be possible for a small child.

The narrow limestone cleft known as Fairy Steps.

Hazelslack Tower (Medium and Short Walks)
This is where both the medium and short walks converge but both will reach this point via different routes. Hazelslack Tower is a ruinous pele tower dating from the 14th century and is now attached to a farm. The building lies on private ground but there are excellent views from the path and lane nearby. Like Arnside Tower, Hazelslack Tower is a fortified tower house and many were built in the borders of northern England and southern Scotland and used as watch towers where signal fires could be lit a the garrison to warn of approaching danger.

The ruinous pele tower known as Hazelslack Tower.

Silverdale Moss (Medium and Short Walks)
Part of the Leighton Moss Nature reserve, both walks will have views to this area between Hazelslack Tower and passing beneath the railway.

As you can see, there is plenty to discover on all of these walks in this outstanding corner of England. There are still spaces on the coach for this walk so don’t miss this great opportunity to walk with friends on what we hope will be an excellent day out. See the E-mail sent out by East Cheshire Ramblers on May 1st giving full details of booking and pick up times from Macclesfield and Wilmslow.

Lincolnshire’s dish of the day.

Abandoned tropospheric scatter dishes at the former RAF Stenigot are a landmark for many miles around.

Lincolnshire is not all flat. Much of the county is gently undulating with the highest ground rising to around 550 feet above sea level on the Lincolnshire Wolds. The Wolds have been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and this area of Eastern England has the highest land between East Yorkshire and Kent.

For this walk the weather couldn’t have been better with deep blue skies and strong September sunshine greeted my wife and me as we drove from our base in Lincoln across the Wolds to start our walk from the attractive village of Donington on Bain. We found parking in a cul de sac road south of the church and by mid morning we set off passing the small village church to join the Viking Way southwards. The Viking Way is a pleasant way marked 147 mile long trail running from Barton upon Humber to Oakham in Rutland which over the years I have walked in its entirety.

St Andrew’s Church at Donington on Bain dates from the 12th century.

The path south from the village was good and well defined as we followed field boundaries later joining a lane through Fox Covert. A left turn took us onto the aptly name Sandy Lane. At the end we turned right to follow a quiet road to reach the small isolated church at Stenigot, a grade II listed building. It was a left turn here to make a long ascent for Lincolnshire standards up through the hamlet of Stenigot.

The isolated church at Stenigot lies well away from the village.

At the top of the hill I went in search of a trig point which being at a road junction I thought would be an ‘easy bag’. It was anything but as I had to crawl under a hedge, over a fence into a field and back over the same fence to reach the well hidden trig point. With a few scratches to boot I had to return the same way. I had told my wife to wander on which she did and she was well down the lane by the time I emerged from my little adventure.

The 360 foot high former radar tower at RAF Stenigot is one of a few left that formed a vital link in Britains defence during WW2.

We had hoped to cut the corner by walking via the track passing Cold Harbour Farm but this was private and so we had to walk around via the roads to join our intended track leading to the ex RAF Base at Stenigot. The site is dominated by the disused 360 foot tall Stenigot Tower, now a grade two listed structure and was once one of a chain of radar towers used to detect incoming German aircraft during WWII. We stopped for a picnic in a field nearby with a view southwest across Lincolnshire. We spoke briefly to some residents living directly below the tower who surprisingly didn’t really know what the tower was for.

Taking the lane west, we soon turned right on a track north and soon made a diversion to visit some disused tropospheric scatter dishes, dumped in a corner of a field. Again these were a landmark for miles around and I was able to explore the dishes at close quarters. Back on the track north, my wife decided to head back to the car as we were quite close to our start point so I gave her instructions which way to go.

A peaceful September afternoon on the Viking Way at Biscathorpe. This is where the trail crosses the infant River Bain.

I for one wanted to explore Biscathorpe, a medieval deserted village a little further north and in any case it was too early in the afternoon to finish the walk. Going our separate ways I started meeting many other walkers and got chatting with one man when I crossed the next lane. The track ahead was most pleasant with wide views under a deep blue sky and it was just good to be out. Skirting around to the west I joined a lane down to Biscathorpe, a parish which today has only three buildings. A few people were out walking here. The lane ran west across a common area passing through a couple of fords with cows grazing in the area. I didn’t really have time to go to explore the mounds forming the medieval village but instead made a small diversion to visit the little church nearby. There are many deserted villages in the Lincolnshire Wolds but these villages didn’t disappear during the Black Death, but apparently it was due to the changes in agriculture practises as during the fifteen hundreds, sheep farming became more profitable over agriculture and was much less labour intensive resulting in many labourers moving away. My return to Donington on Bain was along the Viking Way which followed fairly closely to the infant River Bain and later along the road back to the car.

St Helen’s Church at Bicscathrope – one of only three buildings in this deserted medieval village

Mighty Nephin

The bulk of Nephin rises above the Plains of Mayo.

Nephin is a mountain few of us have heard of but rising above the Plains of County Mayo in the north west of Ireland, this hulk of a mountain is quite a feature in the surrounding area. With a prominence of 768 metres it is the highest standalone mountain in Ireland and yet it’s not even a ‘county top’ with that claim going to Mwellrea which is just eight metres higher.
Conical Nephin rises from the surrounding plain to 806 metres or 2646 feet in old money and its name translated means either ‘heavenly’ ‘sanctuary’ or ‘Finn’s Heaven’.
If the mountain was ‘plonked’ down in southeast England then it would probably have a cafe on the summit and a chairlift but here in Ireland only a sketchy path leads to the top.

‘A stile’ This looks promising. A sketchy path does go part way up the south western ridge. I had to negotiate getting through the forest below to get to this point.

Nephin has always been a mountain that I wanted to climb and being isolated from any other peak it would be idea for a half day walk. The only feasible way of climbing was to ascend and descend the same way. One big problem is that on most sides the mountain it is surrounded by farmland and so access is limited to a few points. I had done my research and found that the easiest way to climb the mountain was from a forestry track to the southwest.
Arriving fairly early, I parked in the secluded entrance to the forest track and after scaling a gate was soon heading up the easy forest track which abruptly ended at a clearing. I now had the hardest part of the walk by pushing my way through around two hundred yards of forest undergrowth and removing my rucksack to squeeze under tree branches. Having crossed a bard wire fence I was now on uneasy tussocky grass before negotiating a bank covered in bracken to gain the southwest ridge. I soon came across a fence and was pleased to see a stile so at least I was in the right area to climb the long southwest ridge. For now there wasn’t a path and any such sheep path tended to veer off along the southern side of the mountain. I toiled upward but at least the terrain was becoming easier. I did eventually find a path which petered out as I reached stonier ground. Despite no path from here onwards, the ridge was dotted with cairns. The early sunshine was disappearing and patches of cloud occasionally brushed the summit but thankfully this wasn’t an issue. One hour and forty five minutes I was on the 806 metre summit but timed it as cloud obscured the top briefly. I had donned my waterproof coat earlier as it was quite cold at this altitude, and I was even wishing I had brought gloves with me despite it being May.

The fine walk up the south western ridge does have a sketchy path and the views are opening out nicely.

Almost there as the terrain becomes stonier as I near the summit.

Clouds begin to brush the summit as I make the last few steps towards the trig point.

At the trig point I stopped for my morning break and surveyed the view but due to the cloud base being only just above the summit it was a bit limited and furthermore it wasn’t a place to while away the day as it was quite cold. Having taken a few photographs I set off down the way I had come. The weather was improving and cloud base lifting to reveal a most pleasant but cool day. I stayed with the path on the way down which became rather sketchy and decided to enter the forestry at a different point. This was not a wise move and I had to skirt around to my original upward route. I had expected to have seen other walkers on this fine Saturday but I reached the car without meeting anyone. It was still only 11.30am and I had been up and down inside 3 hours.

The view from the top and almost into the cloud.