Sunday, June 30, 2013

'Navigation for Walkers' Course At Northern College

I've just got back from a weekend residential course at Northern College: the course was 'navigation for walkers.'  The college is based at Wentworth Castle, an impressive eighteenth century stately home just a few miles to the south west of Barnsley. It's surrounded by extensive grounds and gardens which incorporate a tall obelisk, a rotunda, and a Greek temple in their design... and a fairytale ruined castle built that way as a folly; all dating from the same period as the house itself. 

It's a two-hourly bus service out to the college and the timing meant that I arrived at 1:15 for a three o'clock induction. This gave me plenty of time to settle in and take some photographs of the house, grounds, and gardens.

I was accommodated in a very nice single room in the Stables Block; sharing the toilet, kitchen and shower along the corridor with only one other person.

I left my bags secure in my room and headed straight for the 'castle' at the top of the hill, passing the obelisk on the way. I eagerly climbed all the way up the spiral staircase to the top of the main tower; being careful not to provoke the dragon.

There was another tower which I didn't climb up though.

The induction tour lasted for ninety minutes; Rachel, the woman who did it was totally unique, wearing a skin-tone 1960s-style air stewardess' uniform with what looked like tightly-folded matching napkins positioned as epaulettes-cum-shoulder-pads, metal chains hanging from every pocket, large chunky shiny metallic bangles and random pieces of ripped shoe leather clinging to her arms and wrists...and a combined tea cosy/ coiled first aid bandage sitting precariously on her head, ready to pounce - all the time speaking in a broad Barnsley accent and perching on six-inch-high leopard skin design platform shoes. Amazing...once seen, never forgotten.

After the evening meal we had a two hours classroom session covering map and compass work. This was practical and very good, mainly finding out what the symbols on a map mean, and then moving on to grid references and compass bearings.

On Saturday morning I woke up to find a grey squirrel running across the grass outside my bedroom window...and my camera battery flat; so, unfortunately I was unable to take any photographs on Saturday and Sunday.

After breakfast we returned to the classroom to discuss other issues.  We had to pay for lunch; breakfast and the evening meal are included in the cost of £39 [which I didn't have to pay because I'm unemployed/disabled] - it was only £2.50 though for a main course, pudding, and cup of tea.

We had a bit of time to get changed into our walking clothes, and started the walk at about 1:30.

The walk was about four miles long, in some lovely countryside surrounding the college; basically the eastern foothills of the Pennines. In pairs, we all got the opportunity to lead the group; navigating the course using map and compass. The weather was a bit cloudy and cool to begin with, but soon improved. Overall, the walk went well; one woman who seemed to be rather unwell struggled a bit though, but even she finished in good spirits. The pacing exercises were good fun; and we even saw some deer in the deer park located in front of the house.

There was no evening class on Saturday; we were set some 'homework' instead - completing our workbooks; all 29 questions...however, resting an OS map on a single bed isn't the most accurate way of checking grid references and compass bearings though.

On Sunday morning we had fun doing a short orienteering course, taking in all the interesting sights in the grounds and gardens. At the end of the navigation course I didn't have to hang around waiting for the bus; I was offered a lift back to Doncaster.


My overall impressions: A lovely location and surroundings, adequate accommodation and decent meals; and a really challenging and enjoyable course.

However, I think the subject matter covered tended to be a bit too academic and classroom-focussed, and the skills, knowledge and techniques learned would not be of much practical use when out walking on the moors. It might be straight-forward and easy to take a bearing or check map co-ordinates in the classroom,  when the map is fully open and laid flat on the table, however it's almost impossible when it's cold, wet, and windy in some of the wilder parts of the Peak District.

I would have appreciated some time being devoted to navigating when you're only able to realistically use your compass to locate north, learning the points of the compass and their relationship to bearings,  and using a few practical geographical and  geological terms to describe a route or location.

To be honest I already know most of what we did on this course, but it's re-assuring to confirm what facts and techniques I do know...and therefore assess what I'm capable of achieving in any particular situation and make the correct, safe decision.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tideswell Dale, Litton Mill, Ashford-in-the-Water, and Bakewell.

I forgot to take my hay fever tablet this morning and ended up suffering with all the symptoms; runny nose, runny and itchy eyes, sneezing spasms,  and a tickly throat. I looked in my basic medical kit and there weren't any tablets in there - something I'll have to rectify later. The hay fever wasn't too bad though; it used to be debilitating when I was's just annoying and slightly inconvenient now.

On the bus I couldn't help but overhear the conservation between two older men sitting across from me: one of them was reminiscing about how many buses had to be put on to take trippers, mainly family groups,  back to Sheffield from the Burbage Valley and Fox House area of the moors when he was a youngster and few people had their own cars. Later on he told a couple of interesting anecdotes about when he was an Army Cadet and was taught navigation skills and range finding techniques by a retired Great War officer...I didn't catch the details.

The bus arrived at Tideswell Dale on time. I got off and went to the toilets and then got out my transistor radio to listen to the cricket commentary. The first thing I heard was the fall of the second South African wicket. A bad start for them, and their day didn't get any better; England easily won.

I walked along the gravel path at the bottom of the dale and then decided to take a concessionary path which isn't marked on the map, up to an old quarry which is now a lovely spot to sit and relax; a wildflower meadow with the quarry face as a stunning backdrop to catch the eye.

The path looped round and returned to the bottom of the dale. I then turned left and walked along the road to Litton Mill, bedecked with hanging baskets and floral displays. I continued alongside the river to reach a section of the Wye Valley known as Water-cum-Jolly Dale famous for its overhanging rockface, Rubicon Wall. Quite often the river floods this section; it was okay today, but the last I was here I had to take the high level diversionary footpath.

I then took the path which climbs gently up to the Monsal Trail. I briefly considered climbing even higher up to Monsal Head for refreshments, but I wouldn't have had the opportunity to walk along some footpaths I hadn't used before, and so stuck to my original plan...refreshments at the Old Station Café at Hassop.

I walked over the viaduct and through the tunnel and soon took the first path on my right leading down a lovely small dry valley towards Ashford-in-the-Water where I enjoyed a  glass of diet Pepsi at the pub, it was expensive though

It didn't cost me anything to take a nice photograph of the church.

I left Ashford by the road which heads to the north, finding the path that would take me back to the Monsal Trail, a bit further along the route. There were some lovely meadows and a formal parkland area, probably belonging to Churchdale Hall. At one of the farms I noticed an unusual sign; I was hoping it was French for 'bizarre dogs', but, as I suspected, and have now checked, it merely means 'beware of the dogs.' 

Putting the sign on the gate is a bit bizarre though.

I arrived at the road just before a roundabout, and even though I immediately spotted the railway bridge that carries the Monsal Trail over the road, the access wasn't well signposted.

I arrived at the café and bought a pot of tea and then lingered a while at a nearby picnic table listening to the cricket commentary before continuing on my way to Bakewell.

The bus was ten minutes late. As it approached Sheffield city centre the reason for the delay was understandable, a series of very complicated roadworks on Abbeydale Road.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review of Berghaus Freeflow 25+5 Rucksack

I've now used the rucksack for six walks and so feel that I'm able to give a fair and comprehensive review. As I wrote in my initial observations, the Berghaus Freeflow 25 + 5 is the best rucksack I've ever used. It's comfortable, rugged, practical, and well-designed. The rigid back is its best feature, preventing objects  from digging into me, or rubbing against my back...and cutting down substantially on the amount of sweat I produce; and therefore maybe I'll need to drink, and carry, less liquid.

The 5 litre capacity top pouch distributes the weight I carry high up on my shoulders; the best place for it, both for better balance, and preventing backache. I can put the heavy stuff in there, binoculars, radio, my torch, and a couple of extra bottles of pop...and they're easy to get at; especially by the person walking behind you.

Some other positive features are the easy to release clasps, only needing one hand; two hands are still required to fasten them though. If you've got cold hands or arthritic fingers I think this ease of use might well be very welcome...all the zips have easy to grab looped fasteners too.

The well padded waist band is very supportive to the lower back and holds the rucksack firmly in place, and would probably keep your lower back very warm on cold days - it also holds my map case securely in place, preventing it from flapping about in the wind and almost throttling me.

The shoulder straps are also well-padded, and easily adjustable on the move - so no chafing there.

There are quite large side pockets, elasticated loops to easily store your walking poles, space for a hydration bladder (I've never used one - they seem quite unhygienic to me; and a lot of work to keep clean and sterile) and a pull-out waterproof cover tucked away in a flap at the bottom which I haven't used yet but I'll most likely use it to sit on when the ground's wet; utilising the rucksack as a backrest.

There are one or two negative points I feel I need to cover; they are only minor points though. I've read other reviewers stating that because of the bowed design of the rigid back support this limits the amount of space available in the main part of the rucksack. I tend to agree with this observation, but this isn't a problem for me since I only have my sandwiches, waterproof clothing and a few extra bits and bats in there...and because they're packed in more tightly they don't move about; good if you need to jog to make up time.

Another minor problem I've noticed is that the rucksack is a bit unstable when it's full and placed on the ground; it tends to fall over. This is a particular drawback for myself since I travel on buses and trains all the time and it gets in the way, blocking the aisles - I also have to make sure that I clasp the waist band together otherwise people have tended to tread on the 'wings' least the clasp is easy to undo when I need to get off the vehicle and put the rucksack over my shoulders.

One final problem I had, which was probably my own fault though for not properly  configuring the rucksack to my body size, is that a stay on one of the shoulder straps has already come unstitched: it doesn't seem to affect the usability of the  rucksack though.

Overall I'd say that the Berghaus Freeflow 25 + 5 Rucksack is a very good general purpose rucksack for day hiking, either on your own or with friends; comfortable,  well-designed and well-made, practical  and easy to use...what else could you want?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sprotbrough, High Melton, Marr, Brodsworth Hall, Pickburn, and Woodlands.

Never more than a ten minute car journey from Doncaster Town Centre.

Another local walk today; taking in a classic car rally at Brodsworth Hall: A chance to show off Doncaster at its best I suppose. I love the Peak District and go there nearly every week; however there's still some lovely countryside and pretty villages in my local area to enjoy.

I caught the first bus to Sprotbrough, a lovely local beauty spot on the river. I arrived just as the Humber Princess was approaching the lock on the canalised section which bypasses the weir; this wasn't planned on my account, just a fortunate coincidence. Later on I saw her sister ship, the Humber Pride, sailing in the other direction taking its cargo of oil to Rotherham.

I rushed down to the lock so that I could see her pass through; there isn't a lot of room to spare, especially today since the captain was being very careful not to kill a family of ducks which was trapped in the lock.

Walking back in the other direction I paused to take the classic shot of Sprotbrough.

I continued walking along the river upstream, noticing that a major angling competition was underway; there were hundreds of competitors with some very expensive was a team competition. Most of the anglers were actually sitting on platforms placed in the river.

I had a quick look at what I could see and photograph from the hides at Sprotbrough Flash Nature Reserve; nothing much though, the lighting was poor.

After about a mile I got my first glimpse of Conisborough Viaduct.

I climbed up onto the viaduct using the path and took some photos, yet again I wasn't happy with them and so I've not included any. 

The next stretch is part of the Trans Pennine Trail along old railway lines at the base of Conisbrough Crags. There were good views of the castle from here...and an abundance of wild flowers. I have never seen so many moonpennies in my life.

Next I reached the road and passed by Denaby Ings Nature Reserve, a lovely spot to visit, but I didn't have time today. I then crossed the fields, climbing up to High Melton, where I posed for a self-portrait outside the campus of the university centre; it's a very shiny, and reflective sign.

My route continued across some featureless agricultural land until I reached Melton Wood, passing close to the wind turbines at Marr, and then crossing more fields until I reached the village. It took me several minutes to cross the busy road before I was able to walk down the lane which leads towards Brodsworth.

I popped in to Brodsworth Hall to look at the cars, see how the gardens are, and get a cup of tea; I might as well take advantage of my English Heritage membership. The tea was delicious and restorative, the gardens were okay, but could have been better...the cars were naff though, dating mainly from the 1960s and 1970s and painted in a wide range of garish colours - the type of vehicles I remember being parked outside houses on council estates when I was a child.

I didn't stay long, only about an hour, and then took the quickest route, via Pickburn, to Woodlands and the bus back home. As I was walking through the estate down to the main road a bus came as I was near to a bus stop. I got on, but it probably wasn't a good decision; the bus found every estate it could on its route into town, taking three times longer than I was expecting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kinder Scout With Chris and Simon

I arranged to meet Chris and Simon at Fox House at 09:50 this morning. I was confident of getting there on time since there are two buses scheduled to travel towards Fox House, the 65 to Buxton and the 214 to Matlock, both scheduled to leave at exactly the same time, from the same stand at the bus station, and taking the same route to Fox House....obviously scheduled to arrive there at the same time too...09:50.

The Buxton bus showed up first and I arrived at Fox House on time. Chris and Simon were a bit late; I had to wait ten minutes for them.

Chris drove us to the starting point for the walk and we parked as near to Mam Nick as we could. We walked westwards along Rushup Edge: I don't know why it's called an edge, since to me, it doesn't seem like an edge at all; more like a less spectacular continuation of the Great Ridge.

After about a mile and a half we turned right and crossed open moorland and headed towards Brown Knoll. I have read online that the crossing of this moor (which isn't named on the map) can be very boggy at times; well, today it wasn't. The path was easy to follow, and the mist had even lifted a bit, so I didn't need to rummage for my compass.

We ate our sandwiches at the trig point; both Simon and myself commented about the amount of cotton grass here.

It wasn't far, nor much of a climb until we reached the Kinder plateau; There was one section where we were exposed to the western wind and Simon mentioned that he wished he'd brought his gloves. It was really rather cold here, and quite was much warmer and more sheltered down in the groughs a few minutes later. 

We walked along the route of the Pennine Way for a few minutes before forking to the right to pass by some well-known rock formations; Noe Stool, Pym Chair, and the Wool Packs. The latter looked particularly otherwordly in the swirling mist, intermittently illuminated by the sun straining to poke through both the cloud cover and the translucent light. 

The groughs were beckoning us, and so we headed into the maze which is Kinder Scout. Chris lead the way; I suggested that whenever he needed to decide which way to go, he should choose to walk to the left. We had fun getting just a teeny weeny bit lost; we found an area which had been re-seeded and gullies that had been blocked in some systematic way, to prevent further erosion I suppose - I like the effects of the erosion though.

A large rocky outcrop eventually loomed into view; we were back at Pym Chair. We re-traced our footsteps and then descended down Jacob's Ladder; in places I held on to the top of the wooden fence to steady myself - I was surprised at how smooth and worn the wood actually was. I suppose many thousands of people must have done the same thing over several decades.

Before reaching Upper Booth we took a path which led us through some lovely pastoral countryside to Dalehead; no doubt the scenery would have been stunning, if only we could have seen beyond about a hundred yards.   

Just beyond Dalehead we entered access land, and since we didn't fancy climbing right up to the top of Rushup Edge using the footpath which ascends at a very steep angle, we located a path of some sort which eventually ended up at the bottom of Chapel Gate, a well maintained track; which is closed to traffic at the moment though.

I took a photograph of a tree which was only about the same size of me; it reminded me of a bonsai, or an image on a Japanese woodcut print. 

The final section of the walk was the climb up the road to Mam Nick, and then the last few hundred yards back to the car. I was soon struggling though; my thigh muscles were refusing to work, and I ached all over; Simon was struggling even more so, and looked quite unwell, and so Chris and myself decided that I would wait for Simon at the lay-by not too far from the top whilst he would go to the car and drive down to pick us up. Simon was very relieved...and I wasn't complaining.

Chris soon arrived with the car; it was parked no more than half a mile away on the other side of the hill. Simon and myself got in, and because it would be a difficult place to turn round, being near a blind summit and a sharp bent, we decided to drive down into the Edale valley and then continue towards Hope...where I arrived just in time to catch the bus.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bakewell, Calton Houses, Calton Lees, and Chatsworth House.

I went to the toilets at Sheffield Railway Station and tripped up over a cone which was put there to cover up a wet and slippery patch: fortunately this was the only time I slipped or tripped today.

The weather forecast was for bright sunshine and the hottest day of the year; when I got to Bakewell it was cool and quite misty, and so I only took close-up photographs. The shots I've selected feature a pot plant next to the sink in the toilets, and an interesting café sign.

I left Bakewell and walked up to the Monsal Trail and headed eastwards for probably less than a mile to its current end at Coombs Viaduct. I continued walking along Coombs Road, which is a farm track at this point. By now the clouds were clearing and the sun was warming me up: there were lovely views back towards Bakewell, although the town can't actually be seen because a hill blocks the view.

I then climbed up through a wood and arrived at Calton Pastures, one of my favourite places in the Peak District. I enjoyed some absolutely stunning panoramas as I walked down towards Calton Houses, and then along the lane to Calton Lees.

Just before reaching Calton Houses I noticed a piece of rubbish at the side of the path: I read the ironic.

There are some lovely cottages at Calton Lees, all owned by the Chatsworth Estate.

The toilets at the Chatsworth Garden Centre at Calton Lees were very welcome; as was the pot of tea in the café. From here I had intended to make my way to Baslow, via Pilsley, but as I was walking alongside the river I realised that my bowels were working loose again, and the process of walking was making things worse. I went to the toilets again at Chatsworth House and then just hung about waiting for the bus, taking a few photographs. 

I enjoyed myself today, as I always do when visiting the Peak District; but my bowels let me down - I think I must have eaten too many grapes yesterday.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fox House, Stanage Edge, and Hathersage.

Walking with Chris and Simon again.

I arrived at Doncaster Railway Station this morning just after a train had departed for Sheffield and so had to wait twenty five minutes for the next one, just about the longest gap there is between trains. During this time three trains left for London. Doncaster has a very good service to the capital, less good to other places much nearer though: trains are less frequent, and it takes longer to reach cities such as Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln.

My train did arrive on time though, and my bus from Sheffield to Fox House as well. Chris was waiting for me when I got off the bus. After spending a few minutes in the car park whilst Chris and Simon put on their boots we set off across the moor to reach the footpath that goes along the top of Burbage Rocks. The weather was excellent, and there were some lovely views.

We discussed which route to take, continue going along the top of the rocks, or drop down into the valley and then climb Carl Wark and Higger Tor at the other side. We wanted to get to Stanage Edge as soon as possible so that we could walk most of its length, and so we pressed on, going straight ahead.

We soon reached the Upper Burbage Bridge and then briefly walked along the road until we found the path leading to Cowper Stone and the beginning of the edge. We posed for photographs at the trig point and then headed northwards, passing hundreds of climbers wearing the very colourful safety equipment that is part of the modern sport. When we spotted a young man confidently bouncing down a vertical rock face..Simon and myself started reminiscing about our times abseiling many years ago, myself at the other side of the Peak District, near Bollington in Cheshire, and Simon in the Lake District; we agreed that we were both confident at the time too.

Just before reaching Crow Chin, which I consider to be the northern limit of Stanage Edge, we stopped to eat our sandwiches in a sheltered location which was warmed by the sun.

We then continued for a few more minutes until we located a way of getting down to the path which goes along the bottom of the rocks. I pointed out that since neither the heather nor the bracken had grown much higher than a few inches, and the ground didn't seem too waterlogged, today would be a good day to break out across open moorland and head towards Bamford Edge. Simon and Chris agreed, Chris being quite eager as he lead the way. He soon discovered that the easiest terrain to walk across was where the heather had been burnt back last autumn, the unburned areas were a little harder, and the small low-lying areas of [not very deep at all] bog were the most difficult. Chris got his feet wet and Simon had to stop a couple of times to remove something from the inside of his boots.

We safely reached Bamford Edge, but too far south to enjoy views of Ladybower Reservoir. We briefly considered a bit of a detour, but when we noticed a large group of hikers posing for photos on Great Tor, we didn't bother, and continued walking in a southerly direction until we reached the road.

Our original plan was to walk back to the car at Fox House, but Simon wanted to have a bit of a look round Hathersage: he's never been there before. The crossing of Bamford Moor had been quite tiring for us all, and when Simon mentioned that Chris could travel on his '+1' concessionary travel pass, the decision was made: we'd catch the bus up the hill from Hathersage to Fox House, where Chris and Simon would go back to Leeds in the car and I'd stay on the bus to Sheffield. Our route to Hathersage took us along country lanes, through woodland and across fields, at times even briefly heading back towards Stanage Edge.

Near to one farm there were a couple of stiles which were constructed over stretches of electric fence. The farmer had done an excellent job with clear signage and more than adequate insulation so that there was no danger of accidental electrocution for even the clumsiest or most infirm person. Being a city boy from Leeds, Simon hadn't encountered an electric fence before and wanted to check that there was actually any current in the wire. He discovered that there was and the shock it gives you is quite unpleasant.

Our time in the centre of Hathersage was a bit shorter than we'd intended. There was a game of cricket being played, and we stopped to watch a few overs, standing in the lane, positioning ourselves in line with one of the batting creases. The batsmen were scoring well, not having any difficulties, until a bit of confusion when taking a run. It was quite a tight decision for the 'run out'. There appeared to be only one umpire, and he was standing at the bowler's end and so didn't have a good view. The three of us all yelled "Out" and put up one finger each, indicating that the batsman was out. I don't know if the umpire took any notice...but he did give the batsman out.