Friday, 18 January 2019

Dunbar. John Muir The Boy. The Sunshine Coast.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A day out in Dunbar on the far east coast of Scotland. Bass Rock above. Bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow then green bus to Dunbar from Princes Street, an express run to Dunbar.
I had visited Dunbar before but it had been many years ago since my last trip there. It hasn't changed much. In sunny conditions, calm or rough seas,  it's a spectacular place with a sheltered enclosed harbour, seen here, and a unique cliff top walk with extensive views out to sea.
The harbour entrance is not easy to find, especially in rough seas, as it is situated halfway along a line of jagged cliffs and the entire coastline here is a maze of reefs, flat rocks, soaring walls and submerged hazards. Hundreds of ship wrecks have occurred here over the centuries.
If Heaven exists on earth in Scotland this is my idea of what it should like. A truly beautiful place.
Dunbar is where John Muir grew up and where he formed his lifelong love of nature The John Muir Way starts here and retraces his childhood early rambles along the coast, up towards Edinburgh before cutting across the central belt to west coast Glasgow and then Helensburgh. The stretch from Edinburgh  to Glasgow was not walked by the Muirs as they travelled by train before setting sail for America.
Usually when I arrive here I'm straight down to the sea and exploring- keen not to waste a sunny day indoors but this time I visited John Muir's house and birthplace. You would think the early life of John Muir would be fairly idyllic as he left Scotland for America around 11 years of age... but not so as I soon discovered inside.
The Muir household was a very strict one. In his own writings later Muir remembers being frequently thrashed for escaping to the coastline, either alone or with friends. His father was devoutly religious and it was an extreme version of it. Playing was a sin as it was a extravagent pursuit so the Muir children had a strict regime of school lessons, household chores, then bible studies every night. Anything that deviated away from that was forbidden. The normal boyhood pursuits of running around and exploring the surrounding landscape always resulted in punishment afterwards. Although not a poor family for that era food was strictly rationed as well and the young Muir often went to bed
more famished after his meager meals than before. Any spare money the family had went to the church. By the age of 11 John Muir could recall, word for word, all of the New testament and most of the old, with the bible shut in front of him.
Cormorants. Indeed one of the reasons the Muir family left for America was the father's dissatisfaction with Scottish religion in general as he seemed to find them not to his taste and hankered after a far stricter variety to be found in parts of the new world where you had the freedom to plug into it fully without the extra trappings and traditions of the traditional church.
Imagine having all this on your doorstep and not being allowed to visit it and if you did being punished for it afterwards. That's probably what rankled with the young John Muir the most as being beaten for doing wrong was the normal approach in those times right up until the 1990s. Most youngsters just accepted it as a part of life if justified. Teaching right from wrong. What his father considered a major sin however was never one in his son's mind no matter how many thrashings he got for it. Always hungry, no doubt there would also be good pickings to be had here like ripe berries, certain flowers, stray crops in the fields, fish, and fresh eggs. He also had a bright inquiring mind, inventing labour saving devices from a young age and noting the different layers of rock around the coastline- already wondering how they were formed.
In America the family carved a new home for themselves in the wilderness and an older John Muir would walk 1000 miles across it, observing and trying to understand how different landscapes occurred but he never forgot his wanderings around Dunbar, made even sweeter by being forbidden encounters. He never lost his faith in God- just transferred it from books and paper learned by heart to everything he could see around him occurring in the natural world. In a way, nature became his religion, and he devoted his later life to it.
Curlew on the shoreline.
And no wonder with all this on his doorstep five minutes away. The cliff top esplanade walk along the coast running west and north towards Belhaven Bay. Easy and safe it's a great winding flat ribbon to follow as magical as any yellow path in OZ.
Rock formations from the walkway ten minutes from Dunbar Harbour.
Part of the winding coastal path running above the cliffs.
Old Red Sandstone. Looking back towards the harbour and its hidden entrance.
A set of steps leading down to the beaches. Dunbar in the distance.
A lone kayak exploring the coast. Big swells here and submerged reefs so not an easy paddling option except in perfect weather conditions. An area usually left for experienced kayakers if alone.
And leaving the clifftops behind you come to Belhaven Bay. A fantastic wild and windswept beach. One of my favourites in Scotland. Part of the John Muir Country Park. There is a separate car park and toilets here.
Belhaven Bay and Bass Rock. You can walk along this beach to the far end and the mouth of the River Tyne A spectacular outing. No bridge but a circular route slightly inland leads to several different paths as a return.
This is one. The back lands salt marshes which sometimes flood to create a barrier between the beach and the countryside inland but easy to get around by other paths.
On the return leg I opted for a low tide traverse under the cliff walkway as I had not done that before.
It turned out to be more adventurous than I had bargained for as the tide did not go far enough out in a few places, leaving a thigh deep wade  at two points. A committing traverse under the cliffs as you would be completely stuffed and stranded if the tide turned quickly. For that reason I would not recommend it as an option as escape routes are conspicuous by their absence.
I did not want the embarrassment of a drone and lifeboat rescue so I turned back when it became obvious it was too committing around one last corner with a deep water wade and an unseen traverse still ahead under high cliffs before possible safety and escape routes beckoned. Being a coward can safe your life at times. Also called common sense.
An easy part of the low tide traverse under the cliffs.
A deep water wade section. Too cold to strip off and swim it so back we go to the upper path.
On the traverse under the cliffs.
And another part of Dunbar Harbour to end the day. A great trip and destination.

A popular German band singing Irish speed folk. And very good at it they are. Lively stuff to match a seawater traverse under cliffs.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Yorkshire Trip. Wharfedale. Langstrothdale. Hubberholme Circuit.

On the Sunday of our Yorkshire trip the weather was much the same as the Saturday. In other words dull, damp and misty all day. If anything it was worse as it had been raining heavily overnight and it was still a light drizzle at lower levels when we looked out but above the 1000 foot mist level it appeared more intense as the skies were much darker up there. No one in the hut seemed particularly keen to rush up into it to bag summits. This view of the dale and Buckden was taken in the afternoon from the balcony trail when it had improved into a half decent day, late on.

Yesterday, the Saturday, we had climbed the two peaks while Gail had been geocaching on her own with her dog at lower levels but today, due to the weather, she would have human company. I had already picked a lower level balcony trail as a possible wet weather alternative on the map running from Buckden and Wharfdale up to the tiny hamlet of Cray then along the limestone cliff edge to Yockenthwaite through Langstrothdale, returning via the river and part of The Dales Way long distance path through the National Park.. As regular readers will know I have little interest in climbing invisible hills in the rain so had intended doing this route myself anyway- on my own if necessary, if the weather was bad.
As it turned out joining Gail at lower levels was a popular choice, with John, Craig, Doris and I all keen to avoid the rain as well with a lower level balcony route. This looked scenic on the map and it was in reality, even in cold muddy November. As it was the most obvious low level circular walk in the valley near Buckden this was also the route of Gail's chain of hidden geocaches to find.
Traditional stone built barns near Hubberholme. The route was well signposted and led us from Buckden, with it's public house hunting themes... the typical dry stone wall field enclosures popular throughout this area. I'm not sure if it was a lack of trees or because limestone was abundant lying around in chunks in areas that had to be cleared or if it was very easy and cheap to shape and cut, leaving fertile green grass pastures behind but well built dry stone walls and barns are a feature of this entire district.
Well seen here in Wensleydale. Being inland and high up they do get severe winters in this area with long lying snow at times. Further north the Scottish west coast mountains, even at 3000 feet tend to be more affected by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream ( North Atlantic Drift)  encouraging moist, slightly above freezing conditions year round, melting snowfalls quickly except above a certain level near the summits or inland so this area is more akin to a lower east coast Cairngorms type climate. Incidentally, this was the only brief glimpse of sunshine we spotted over the entire weekend, and that was on the drive back home.
I noticed that the sheep are larger here as well. Massive big beasts... just like the Cumberland Sausages. Maybe the stone walls offer some shelter from driving snow and rain. Looks like moss growing on it here, similar to a South American sloth due to the constant damp weather this autumn and winter. It has been largely grey and dull for several months now.
On the balcony trail above Langstrothdale. Limestone pavements near the cliff edge.
Heading down into the hamlet of Yockenthwaite to reach the river and double back along the Dales Way footpath. I was thinking at first the large stone barns were for storing hay and grain or supplies but then I watched a recent programme about this area where the farmer was using them to shelter the entire flock inside during heavy snowdrifts last year to prevent them getting buried for days under eight foot high snow drifts in all the surrounding fields. A really bad winter last year with the weather coming over from Siberia and Moscow.
A range of different types here....
and they have more meat on their tails than the average supermodel has standing on the scales :)
I was surprised at the lack of bird life on the walk, unless they had all disappeared to more sheltered environments, only crows and dippers spotted, even in the patches of woodlands we walked through.
A waterfall near Cray.
A minor road section.
One highlight of the walk was this old church near Hubberholme with an ancient graveyard and a history dating back to Norse times.
And lovely stained glass windows inside.
The Yorkshire born author and broadcaster J.B. Priestly is buried here as it was a favourite place of his.
A very small, hand sized, but detailed Last Supper carving that caught my eye on our travels around the district.
And two guys we met at the Great Whernside summit that wanted a record of it to show they were there on that day. Saturday. Better late than never. I have a two month backlog of posts at the moment.
Meanwhile...............................It was a hard walk for little legs....

Geocaching can be as easy or hard as you like to make it. Just a gentle stroll in the countryside finding little plastic boxes or a hunt through tunnels, caves, old mines, caches hidden on remote islands, or up mountains. There's even a cache on the space station I'm told.  Or as this video shows it can be an athletic day running on into night time- a tour de force endurance test of stamina and energy by the looks of it on a crazy traverse line across cliffs and in caves in darkness. I'd love a go at this as long as I still had sufficient arm strength to make it all the way around. Not a problem 10 years ago but with declining upper arm pulling power and increased belly size I'm more uncertain if I would find it hard lifting through the overhangs. You would certainly know you'd had an epic day out after this geo hunt.
Link to that entertaining video here.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Yorkshire Dales Trip. Great Whernside. 704 metres, 2,310 feet. Buckden Pike. 702 metres.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A weekend club trip in late November down to the Yorkshire Dales saw us stop at Penrith first, seen above, and the wonderful 'little chippy' where they serve the most amazing Cumberland Sausage suppers. ( the mighty Cumberland- the King of sausage folk, which makes a standard jumbo sausage look like a human pinkie by comparison, size for size, on the same plate.) The last time I visited the Yorkshire Dales, many years ago, and munched down a mighty Cumberland without it putting up a struggle, it was another club trip in November and we were camping near Horton in Ribblesdale. During the night, either through a rain shower or heavy dew the tents got soaked then froze solid to the ground creating sparkling flysheets that stood up by themselves even after the pegs and poles had been removed. In the morning it was around minus 5 below but bright, sunny, and clear.
This time the club had booked a hut in Buckden, a small village directly under Buckden Pike and as I always like visiting new areas, especially down in England, I was keen to go. When you book months in advance however it's just down to pot luck what the weather will bring. On this occasion it was mild and moist- not raining but thick hill mist settled over the 1000 foot high mark with no indication that it would shift or climb higher. A view of Kirk Gill Moor and Birks Fell area here.
The hut we were in was a good one, no camping this time, so we got a lift down to Kettlewell, a larger village a few km away and set off from there. Our intention was to do a full circuit of Great Whernside and Buckden Pike, two of the hill giants of the area, then return to the hut on foot straight off the last peak. Hut arrival above.
The village of Kettlewell. I have seen loads of photos of the Yorkshire Dales in sunny conditions in spring and summer and in famous films like The Railway Children, shown recently at Christmas here, and filmed not too far away. Lush green fields, bright flower meadows everywhere, abundant heat, wall to wall sunshine, and dry stream beds. No doubt it was like that during the UK's long lasting summer heatwave but by the time we arrived it was more like 'Bleak House'.... or 'Happy Valley', a police TV drama about drugs, depression, suicide and crime filmed in Hebden Bridge, which is not that far away. ( Hebden Bridge now is actually a fairly trendy, gentrified place full of tourists, independent shops and artist groups but it's a former mill town so it did go into decline for a period after they shut- like a smaller version of cotton and fabric mill hub Paisley, in Scotland. Fortunately for Hebden Bridge, the various old buildings, scattered around in a wooded valley looked picturesque and was rescued from terminal decline due to this fact and its Yorkshire Dales, golden bubble location. It's not that far away from the Bronte Sisters House, The Parsonage, which is already a major tourist draw on the same road through the dales from the south.
I was just glad it wasn't raining, although damp, and it was still an interesting place to visit although it seemed to be in shut down mode this late in the season. The last time we were down here we had gone under the mountains with experienced caving friends, crawling and walking for several km of darkness, caverns, wormholes, and tunnels into the extensive limestone cave systems for six or seven hours each day so we had hardly seen sunshine then either, or much daylight, that trip. Although winter it was not as cold as we expected once below ground level. One of the best adventures of my life as caving to that standard is a rare event with hired ladders, ropes, and serious equipment for major drops in height  through dancing waterfalls and surreal streams roaring far underground.
On this occasion little splashes of colour here and there still lingered on however. John and Craig walking towards the hills.
A fox door knocker. Hunting seems to be a theme in the Yorkshire Dales, harking back to a more heavily wooded, wilder past- Yorkshire was once part of the Danelaw, a large chunk of Britain settled by Norse/Vikings from Denmark and other Scandinavian groups looking for new lands. Which is why today, in this present era, we all speak English mostly, but have different outlooks and mentality shaped by our origins, values and beliefs. It was just largely feelings before but now backed up by accurate DNA testing.

Yorkshire husband waving a piece of paper in vindication. "See!  I always told you Elizabeth- these buggers are different from us here." (wife (78 percent Irish, waving her own slip)- "I want a divorce! we're incompatible now! I always knew it!")
Red berries. a popular choice in this area in gardens for a late colour burst.
Then we were off up the hills- my companions being John, Craig and Doris. I marveled here at how green and grassy the paths looked given that the Yorkshire Dales are a popular walking venue whereas many of Scotland's paths are getting completely trashed due to wet weather and visitor numbers, even in the local parks- which is presumably why fat bikes have been developed, allowing riders to stay upright in the mud.
All too soon however we reached the mist line.
Hag Dyke Hostel, at 1,500 foot high. Originally a remote upland farmhouse but now accommodation for self catering Scout and Guide groups plus others who wish to use it to access this area, reached by a land rover track. Only with booked permission of course.
As well as bagging hills John was also geocaching on behalf of his wife Gail- both committed enthusiasts of this apparently highly addictive sport of finding little hidden objects in holes- as driven as any drug junkie or Munro bagger. (I know the signs- I've been that gleaming eyed Gollum in search of my precious prize.)
Up here I had to retract my earlier statement that Yorkshire appeared to be all grassy delightful paths around the hills. Although still not raining it was very wet underfoot with miles of bog trotting between summits. Thankfully only ankle to knee deep in places rather than the waist deep mud holes on The Cheviot, which I sampled a while ago. (Waist deep there and still going down before I grabbed the edge of the seemingly bottomless pit of mud.)
As it was too cold to hang around Craig and Doris headed off after the first summit of Great Whernside while John and I hunted for caches in the mist.
The Polish memorial to an aircraft crash near the summit, not uncommon in mountain areas in poor conditions. A lonely spot.

The summit of Buckden Pike. It shows how cold it was up here when this little iceberg was sitting in water yet not melting. Probably just around the freezing level as pockets of old snow still lingered in the deeper hollows and north facing slopes. Obviously it can be minus 15 below but on a sunny, windless day its fairly pleasant, even at night if you keep moving or find shelter. Change that to 2 degrees above freezing but add soaking rain, sleet and strong summit winds and it's a harder proposition to survive a night up here. After visiting some of the vast exposed summits on the long distance Pennine Way which travels along the high spine of Northern England I have full respect for anyone completing it. Very little shelter exists on the ridges and summits so it would be a real challenge in bad weather despite being under the 3000 foot mark. And a lot of bog bashing in that 266 odd miles (or 430 km.) as well.
After 6km of bog bashing ourselves we reached Buckden Pike just as darkness was appearing. Head torches out we had about an hours descent in fading light then total darkness, John still hunting diligently for caches. I meanwhile was starting to enjoy myself again and this was the trip I remembered how much I love night walking. The 6 km between summits I had grumbled about how bad it was but now I was in my element again and much warmer out the wind. Happy in the 'night garden'.
I even stayed out an extra half hour to explore the village and surroundings at night.

This is another group that should be better known by now. Been a fan of these two for many years.  Genuine original artists making music are still out there but seem to be marginalized, and in the shadows much more, barely scraping a living at it through live touring. Any album and singles sales are much diminished compared to pre-internet levels. It is what it is though. Great back catalogue of original songs, fine harmony singing and intricate guitar melodies are usually a feature of this duo. Hopefully every plug helps to spread the word, however small. Gutted when Alisha's Attic broke up, another fantastic close harmony UK duo, after three great albums worth of original catchy material. Much harder to last these days and reach iconic status without a strong music industry promoting you and those that do survive are often not the most talented or best examples of original sparkling entertainment... going by recent trends.