Thursday 23 October 2014

Glasgow Parklands. Elixir of Autumn.


                                                        Leaf by leaf, tree by tree

                                                   the fading, falling transformation

from canopy to carpet takes place

                                           A favourite season for some, but not alas, for me

                                  or the wild creatures, as many of them will fade and die

                                          as heat and beauty retreat below the ground

                                  and the old familiar skeletons appear, stripped of flesh

                                           as darkness grows day by day into a tomb

                                                               a half life to endure.


                                                                eternal feminine

                                           as you sink beneath the ground day by day

                                       the warmth from your body becomes memory

                                               and the first long snows of winter appear

                                                     many go to sleep in the freezer

                               and never see the fresh hope of another spring burst forth.

                                                          Will that be me.... this year?


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.