Monday, 20 October 2014

Langdale Underground. Hodge Close and Cathedral Cave Arches.

Sunday was not so nice a day weather wise in the Lakes but we knew that on Friday heading off. It was supposed to be a day of intermittent drizzle and low clouds on the higher hills, again conditions that can make most of upland Scotland seem bleak and utterly miserable but just turns the lower bumpy hills in the Lakes into a pastel misty wonderland. Secretly, I actually enjoy conditions like this down here sometimes as it means my suggestions get listened to, where they wouldn't otherwise, in company usually fixated on high level mountain bagging.
  With the higher hill groups buried under clag and drizzle however I persuaded the team to trust me to lead them like the white rabbit in Alice into an underground wonderland via a network of scenic paths and rural trails. I had been doing my homework on the internet and the few clues and photos I'd seen when I typed in "Caving in Langdale" whetted my appetite for thinking out the box. Something I've always been known for since my earliest trips away. I like a wide variety of outdoor pursuits.

 "He's not right in the head that guy!" has been muttered several times in the past by reluctant mountaineers following in my wake, embarrassed by the indignity of embracing pursuits like crawling down random holes in the ground, mingling with ramblers, or trying out a juvenile DIY death slide down a slope on an old car tyre with obvious relish and no sense of shame. In short I've never grown up and don't intend to start anytime soon.
We piled into two cars and drove a short distance from our hut to Little Langdale before parking near Oxen Fell for a ramble. A few grumbles later and some more persuasion saw us in prime Beatrix Potter territory where the three photos above were taken. Grasmere is just over the hill. As a keen amateur photographer I love walks like this in chocolate box scenery but it was not to everyone's taste and the troops were soon muttering dark rebellion after passing a few pensioners with knobbly waking sticks and an invalid in a wheelchair with knobbly knees.
"Aw C,mon. We're mountain men!" They complained.  "Where are you taking us now!"
"Izzy wizzy. Let's get bizzy." I replied cryptically, pinching Sooty's line, uttered whenever he waved his wand and performed a magical illusion, with a mans hand up his bottom. Well,  I think it was his wand.
And behold... We arrived at the extensive slate quarries of Tilberthwaite and Hodge Close Quarry.
With steep bare cliffs, long tunnels, some mild scrambling, and even serious bolted climbing routes up the walls we left the ramblers behind and entered the realm of mole men.
Holes within holes. Surrounded by sheer cliffs and a vertical environment the troops were much happier and smiles replaced the frowns.

 Hodge Close Quarry was even better than expected and was reached down a narrow winding path into a deep stone trench containing a lower mini forest which was then traversed to the far end where several carved out arches led at last to a deep and dark reflective pool. This was the type of environment I played in all the time growing up, trying to catch illusive newts and losing a few friends occasionally in the process before they were filled in as being too dangerous for children. Important lesson learned early I counted all my mole men to make sure we left the quarry with the same number.
The main arches of Hodge Close Quarry. Troops still all accounted for.
Walking along the floor of the trench to the first of the arches. An amazing place and even better than expected. A good wet or murky day alternative.
Next up came the tunnels and caverns of Catherdral Quarry, a short distance away. The level of slate and copper mining in this area is impressive.
This first tunnel ran out after a short time but I was saving the main event for the grand finale.
The wonderland of Cathedral Quarry itself with its tunnels running a few hundred metres through the hillside like holes in Swiss cheese.
The main chamber.
View out to the sky above.
Mole men in the tunnels.
Alex looking for climbing routes up this pillar.
An entertaining half day if its wet or murky high up and a great end to our two day trip to the Lakes.
I like the Lake District. So much to do in bad weather. I used to own the well known yellow glove puppet as a nipper and got fairly good at all the gestures with the wand. Never liked Sweep for some reason and buried him in the garden. Well, I think it was Sweep... it was so long ago. Did Sweep have a tail and bark a lot in an irritating manner?
Yin and yang...light and dark... it's all good.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Langdale Trip. Pike of Blisco to Bow Fell Traverse. Lake District.

It was a weekend trip to the Lake District that was keenly awaited by certain members of our club. The Lake District is a funny one in that it seems to polarise the views of Scottish hill walkers and mountaineers. Some people dislike the ever present crowds, the chocolate box scenery, the fact that it's in England, the extortionate parking fees for some of the more popular car parks, and the perceived  "tamed" nature of the landscape much beloved by painters, poets, artists and ramblers groups. I'm firmly in the camp that love the place but maybe the reasons listed above were partly responsible for the low turn out for a hut near Langdale that sleeps more than a dozen. That and a poor weather forecast for our first winter meet of the season. Alex taking in the view on the balcony of our hut for the weekend. This building sits in a side dale/valley high above Langdale itself.
Six of us made the trip down from Scotland through torrential downpours on the motorway and the local animals, as usual, seemed very pleased to see us. The grass down here must have something extra in it judging by the above photograph! Poor donkey!
Myself, Alex, Graeme, Grant, John and Alan spent a pleasant Friday night in the hut then went to sleep with the sound of lashing rain and blustery conditions. Normally in Scotland a poor weekend weather forecast as bad as this one would be greeted with gloom by most of the folk going away on a trip north with thoughts of miserable knee deep bogs, soaking clothes, boots and socks wringing after a short time, wading bridgeless rivers, and dismal views of bits of hills through the murk. The Lake District is civilised however and you are never far from a well made network of low level paths, interesting landscape, small attractive towns and villages and even underground wet weather alternatives. These days I mainly leave Scotland and the Munros for the English hill going folk who seem to relish wild and challenging conditions  in a grim empty bracken infested landscape. Scotland for the English- Lake District for the Scots I say now I'm older and wiser :o)
Next morning, Saturday, the heavy overnight rain had abated and the forecast said it would improve into better conditions as the day went on. Normally in Scotland there is so much boggy ground and range after range of soggy mountains that it can actually influence the forecast and stubbornly hang on to the murk and gloom despite an improving picture but we believed it here so we donned waterproofs and set off from the hut heading for Pike of Blisco, 706 metres in gentle drizzle.
 Alex had a big day planned with a bagging round of the Pike then Great Knott, Long Top, Crinkle Crags, Shelter Crags and ending on Bow Fell, 902 metres. Graeme and Grant didn't fancy this with the present wet weather conditions and had a longer lie in before completing the same traverse slightly later, once the weather improved.
This is a view of our first hill of the day, Pike of Blisco, but taken on the way back when we were heading back down into Langdale.
Needless to say we had only walked a short distance up the hill when the light rain stopped and the sun came out. One thing about the Lake District I've always admired is how rugged and complex the mountain groups are down here and how much bare rock is usually on show. Lakeland has an incredible amount of savage but extremely beautiful mountains, each boasting great individuality of character packed into a relatively small area and if there are any dull mountains in the Lakes I've still to find them. Even the tiny peaks here have great character and singular beauty. Superbly constructed paths and picture postcard views in every direction make Cumbria a photographers dream and the hills seem easier to ascend as well. It's a win- win situation as far as I'm concerned. Halfway up the first hill we reached this easy scramble and from then on it was clusters of bare rock and heavily weathered andesite  and rhyolite slabs that felt like sandpaper rough Gabbro in places all the way to Bow Fell, the 6th highest mountain in the Lakes at 2,959 feet.

 The infamous "granny stopper" of the "Bad Step" a tricky, heavily polished, obstacle on the traverse along the ridgeline.
 Scafell Pike, 978 metres and Great End, 910 metres area still clinging onto a bank of dark clouds while we walked in sunshine just below on the ridge traverse.

As luck would have it the slightly lower rock pyramid of Bow Fell was clear and sunny and all of us were knocked out by the stunning nature of the surrounding landscape and the sheer expanse of naked rock on show. It reminded my of the Skye Cuillin in places and the Steeple-Pillar Traverse was the same last year. Hardly a blade of grass in sight.
The ridge on the opposite side of the valley was the same with the sugar loaf dome of Pike of Stickle prominent and climbers favourite Gimmer Crag, boasting acres of quality rock face in a high vertical setting above Langdale. Both Alex, John and myself had climbed Gimmer Crag rock routes years ago and been very impressed by the steep committing nature of the rock climbs here with increasing exposure from the first move. In particular on "The Crack" an amazing 80 metre, 3 pitch VS early test piece which I fell off several times as a second due to the 4b hand traverse being saturated with running water after a day of heavy rainfall. Luckily, I had a good leader to drag me over the soaking crux. The Magnificent Kipling Groove HVS sits close by named by the first pair of climbers to tackle it successfully because its...
"Ruddy Ard".
A view of our traverse line to Bow Fell, highlighted in the sunshine.
The superb scenery of Lakeland, the equal of most Scottish Peaks for ruggedness and beauty and better than many hill groups I've slogged over north of the border. ( Don't shoot me I'm only the messenger :o)

The delightfully rugged summit of Bow Fell.
We descended down the easy path of "The Band" back into Langdale, happy in the knowledge we had bagged several Wainwrights and had snatched a fantastic hill day from what was a poor initial weather forecast for the weekend. Blue Sky Scotland saves the day again.
Another great bonus of the Lakes is the fact that you don't need to climb to the summit of mountains with all your gear to go rock climbing as many of the Dales/valleys are festooned with quality rock routes at low levels. This is Middlefell Buttress on Raven's crag which lies just above the pub and boasts an incredible number of stunning rock routes at all grades. Very few areas of Scotland can compete with a top quality crag like this one right above a classic pub. Great list of routes at every grade and small slide show of good climbing photos here. Love the one with the climber facing the sheep looking down the route. Click on the white arrows in the photo gallery.
Alex and I climbed Middlefell Buttress, a so called Diff with a desperate direct start, years ago here and it felt about VS in places due to the polish on the holds. You could see your reflection in the rock looking back at you and the expression was a mixture of worry and laughing disbelief.
Alex and the crew heading for the well known pub below the crag. Still a cracking place for a few pints and bad boys Alex and Alan liked it so much they stayed on here and got drunk while myself and John tackled the walk back up the hillside to the hut in the dark with head torches. A couple of hours later our merry miscreants finally turned up and had a belated dinner. It gets dark early now and by half six it's pitch black outside... a fact they seemed to forget on the walk back to our sleeping accommodation. Tut Tut.
A view of the Langdale Pikes area and the cute black bodied, white faced sheep that dot the landscape.
Two drunk guys make dinner in the hut :o)

Video is another tune by the Smoke Fairies recorded over in Dingle in Ireland. I like the interlinking guitar and vocal folk harmonies of this pair.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Inverclyde. Loch Thom.Greenock. Port Glasgow. Epic Bike Tour. The new Guide Book

Loch Thom Wilderness.
This was going to be the last post on the Skye trip but my camera expired during the Storr walk and I had to use Alex's spare camera for our last hill day. As I don't have the photos from him yet I thought I would post this outing instead. Throughout the spring and summer I have been engaged in my new project which is a guide book detailing popular but also lesser known walks and cycles in my local area. 
I was intending to write the follow up to Autohighography as I did have elaborate plans to expand some of the darker complexities, hinted at throughout the first book, which would take it well beyond any hillwalking memoir into a completely different realm entirely, which was always my intention, but the general lack of interest for this deceptively simple to read novel ( I've earned £5 so far after it being on sale on kindle for six months:o) and my reluctance to spend another two years of my life locked in a room every night typing on a computer persuaded me to ditch that in the meantime for a book people might actually want to buy for a couple of quid.. even for the photos alone if they don't actually live in the area.
I am in good company however as most writers fail to make any money from writing no matter how interesting the book. Herman Melville (author of sea faring classic Moby Dick and a book often quoted as one of the greatest American novels of all time) gave up writing for a regular 9 to 5 job with steady cash flow, and 95% of other well known authors, artists and entertainers struggle to make a living from their work. In some respects you almost need to have a private income to be able to afford the luxury to write books for a living as I've already spent 100 times more than I've earned so far from my first one.
Port Glasgow from The Cycle Track.
As I soon discovered writing my guide book, it is not enough to know the routes yourself. Many of these trips had to be done again as my knowledge of them was out of date for detailed route descriptions even if I had only discovered them myself a few years ago. ( New roads, new estates, closed lanes or detours etc since then.) 
B788 into Greenock.
Many of these walks and cycles I have therefore revisited and have enjoyed doing them all over again this past year. One of the finest was this trip to Greenock and an epic tour (Well, for me anyway) covering what felt like most of the hills in North Inverclyde. For this run I had company in the form of Alan, who unlike Alex, doesn't mind steep hills and town and country cycle rides. We both agreed this was a fantastic tour of a great area.
THE ROUTE: Start at Cornalees Bridge Centre beside Loch Thom (see first photo) GR NS 247722. Firth of Clyde Map. Sheet 63. Park car here and cycle on glorious, mainly traffic free, single track minor road around Loch Thom then take the rough track to Dkyefoot along the south side of the Gryfe Reservoir. A mountain or hybrid bike is required as this track and the loop running back over from "The Cut" is fairly rough going and probably too much for a road bike though smooth tarmac alternatives are available down into Greenock.  The minor road (yellow on map) is then followed past High Mathernock to reach the Route 75 cycle track leading north to skirt the upper edge of Port Glasgow. (See second photo)
A cracking balcony trail is then followed along the cycle track as it passes high above the Inverclyde towns of Port Glasgow, Greenock and Gourock.
Greenock's Titan crane from the cycle track.
Half submerged sugar boat and small yachts in the Firth of Clyde. The sugar boat was on its run to the Tate and Lyle sugar factory when it came to grief in the Clyde, which is pretty shallow at this point.
It sank in 1974 after a severe storm which saw it hit another boat and sustain damage causing the captain to ground it on this sandbank when he realised he couldn't reach a safe haven in time. It's a surprisingly large boat up close and the aquatic life and seabirds love it.
The full story and better pictures of it here.
THE ROUTE; The cycle track continues along the edge of the houses before winding down into Greenock but we headed instead for the minor road past West Dougliehill which would bring us out on the B788. We already knew this would provide further balcony trail views over the River Clyde estuary then a brilliant long freewheel down into Greenock.(see third photo and this one below)
At this point you can stay high and head in the direction of  Drumfrochar train station and Overtoun to reach "The Cut" A rough but cycle friendly track takes you over the hill back to Cornalees and the car. 26 kilometres approx. 3 to 4 hours. Trains are available for those without a car.

As we felt fresh however and the day was still young I thought I would combine everything I knew about Greenock and Gourock, walking wise, into one mammoth bike tour.( I realise this is not a long day by keen cyclists standards ,being only around 40 km and climbing sub 200 metre hills, but there are a lot of them to climb and I'm approaching my dotage fast so it was an epic for yours truly.)
Victoria Tower. Greenock.
Although Alan had travelled through Greenock before, like a lot of folk he had never explored it properly and there are many hidden surprises for visitors. One of the reasons for the guide book is to pass on 40 years worth of knowledge before I kick the bucket and the book describes many walks and interesting cycle trips in areas many folk might dismiss as not being worthwhile. Greenock is a case in point as I've always loved the place since I explored here in my teens and met the two girls who would influence and change my life in a new direction. The music of the Velvet Underground and the first realisation that you could actually move people into different areas of development through mere suggestion, like pieces on a chess board, became my twin obsessions here as we launched ourselves between buildings and across rooftops in an early rudimentary version of Parkour. Both of them provided me with a lot of input and fresh ideas as regards " The Great Game" which was to become my life choice.

Greenock has many hidden gems. The Square around the Municipal Buildings Complex and Town Hall containing the soaring Victoria Tower is where we had lunch. This is beside the back entrance to the Oak Mall Shopping Centre and contains many of Greenock's oldest and most elaborate structures when the town had real money to make lasting statements in bricks and mortar. Unfortunately, many of them are now in a sad state of affairs as Greenock has seen its population shrink by half since that happy heyday and money is in short supply to rescue these old buildings. See them while they are still around.
A view of WellPark Mid Kirk and old Greenock streets.
A Greenock female resplendent in rich autumn colours.
The rolling beauty of urban Inverclyde (most of which we traversed on a bike)

Directly above Victoria Tower (75metres, 245 feet tall) and Wellpark Mid Kirk, a set of steep stairs (hard work on a bike immediately after a cold Cornish pasty :o) climbs in Aztec temple fashion up to Well Park itself. This little postage stamp flat oasis is one of the unsung jewels of Greenock. Small but packed with interesting features like the unique white war memorial seen here. Views are panoramic from this outlook. (you can avoid the stairs by entering from the main gates on Regent Street thus turning it into a flat option if you just want to visit the park by car.
A detail on the anchor chain.
Don't see many Viking influenced galleys on your average war memorial. The ancient well that gives the park its name is here as well.
Half of Well Park is in this photo. Not big but on a sunny autumn day like this one it feels tropical and rainforest lush. Victoria Tower doubling for Angkor Wat in the background only without the humidity and the inevitable tourist crowds.
From here we cut down towards the Esplanade then cycled along this for three thankfully flat kilometres into Battery Park and then Gourock.

As Alan had never been up Lyle Hill (seen here from Battery Park) to visit the Free French Memorial and was still keen we snaked our way uphill again towards it via Coves Reservoir (another little known jewel of the area.)
A walk/ bike trail also leads from here to Tower Hill in Gourock. This is signposted. The Lyle Hill/ Bow Farm area came next and was a further climb uphill! WAH!!!!!  I was starting to get wabbit oot by this point. The old legs really feel it after the mid 50s pass and you have to force yourself on. Easy stuff for enthusiastic keen young cyclists though. Mid afternoon by this point.
A view across the Clyde from the Esplanade.
Lyle Hill was eventually reached and we had another brief stop here before tackling the remaining climb back over the hillside by the land rover track past The Cut to Cornalees Bridge Centre. Being a nice day numerous local teenagers were skinny dipping at the small reservoirs but being made of sterner stuff we pressed on over the rough track back to the car. A run up Dunrod Hill 298 metres, without the bikes, followed for the view of this surprisingly wild and empty area.
Down in Greenock it had been warm and sunny but obviously a passing shower had troubled this higher realm as several rainbows appeared along with dark departing clouds. A small fishing boat seems to hold the pot of gold here. My new camera ( half price in sale) seems slightly different from the old model, despite being the same make. The pictures seem lighter somehow as dark clouds are not picked up the same way by the lens.
I darkened this second photo taken a short while earlier to highlight the obvious double rainbow and give a more accurate view of how overcast it looked in reality. I must have bought a blue sky camera that can't capture rain clouds properly. Damn my luck. :o(
 A cracking and varied trip and a full day out at 7 hours and around 40km of mainly up and down cycling. Best bike trip of the year so far though. Highly recommended.
There are around 80 selected walks and cycle rides in the book, many little known. Also included are 140 colour photographs, plus accompanying text, providing an original profile into each area. This is just one example and obviously more precise info and details are included in the guide itself which will be published on kindle soon... if I can be bothered. Roll on another fiver in the bank.