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Tue 23rd June 2015

Salters Way Drove Road Blog

Salters Way Drove Road Blog

Sunday 21st June 2015

Midsummer’s Day dawned full of expectation except that I was awoken at about 03.00 hours by heavy rain drumming on the roof, surely not an omen of things to come?

It was lovely to see The Regulars again and to welcome back both Alison, Peter, Val and Darren, none of whom we had seen recently – it is not an excuse to live abroad in County Durham, London or Greater Manchester although the latter does have the disadvantage of being on the wrong side of the Great Divide (aka The Pennines).

We set-off uphill a little earlier than advertised for the summit cairn of Hogdon Law (approx 540m) into the quite breezy westerly wind.  It was relatively cool and there was rain in the air.  The day’s weather was such that everyone instinctively decided to get togged-up with over-trousers and general wet weather gear even before leaving the cars.  The clue was being precipitated upon form a great height as we got ready.  Hats and waterproof gloves magically appeared on heads and hands over the next hour too.  By the time we topped-out for morning coffee at Hogdon Law we were wearing the same kit we had worn at the turn of the year.  It must be summer.

Then the fun actually began, it was called “Find you own way across the peat hags and mosses “ to the fence forming the eastern border of Kidland Forest.  The intention was to contour across from Hogdon Law to the vicinity of Black Butt just over a kilometre away.  Good game with added fun provided by the elements, heavy showers being foremost amongst them not to mention the saturated mossy conditions underfoot.  Then we had the privilege of being even more exposed to the wind and passing heavy showers as we trekked north towards Cushat Law via the Sting Head col clarty bit (note the classic British under statement).  The climb to the summit cairn on Cushat Law and lunch was punctuated by more showers, just for a change.   The phrase from a nonsense poem “After a drought of half-an-hour” springs to mind, except that we didn’t get a drought that lasted that long.  Lunch was taken backs-to-the-wind in whatever shelter we could find around the cairn which are never big enough to take a decent sized party.  Soggy sandwiches were enjoyed by all prior to the descent down Bush Knowe with Smalehope Burn to our south and using Shill Moor as our aiming point to gain the valley and gain the Salter’s Way.  Sometimes we could plainly see the detail of the surrounding landscape in bright sunshine, at others it simply disappeared in the poor visibility of the passing squalls.  For a few minutes over lunch we could clearly see Bamburgh Castle on the coast and south-east as far as Lynemouth, but it didn’t last long.  The downdraughts of cold air brought-on by the precipitation lowered the temperature quite noticeably and at one point it was bordering on sleet.  The three-hundred-and-sixty degree views continued to vary from excellent to invisible in the rain and low cloud.  All in all it was an interesting day both overhead and underfoot.  Phrases such as “If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have come” spring to mind and there may even have been some muttering in the ranks but I’m not paranoid.  

Think of the day as being a stress-test for your outdoor clothing and not a summer walk, clearly a misnomer.  As for the seminar and tutorial on drove roads, the conditions really weren’t conducive to either and they were cancelled due to lack of interest.  I will provide some notes for everyone who attended and promise not to ask questions or set tests on the content.  On receipt you can always adopt the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and press DELETE or deny ever having received them (another common SOP).

The day turned-out quite differently to how I’d anticipated it but was no less fun for that.  It was really excellent if, like me, you find the weather interesting – but there is no accounting for taste.  I bet everyone remembers this walk, on the day of the summer solstice, even if not for the reasons intended when signing-up.  The prevailing weather reminds me of the anonymous ditty:

 “ Whether the weather be fine, whether the weather be not, whether the weather be cold, whether the weather be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.”

And we did, I hope you enjoyed the experience.  It is fortunate that we British have a well developed sense of irony – I think?


Mon 22nd June 2015

Windy Gyle and Border Ridge

Windy Gyle and Border Ridge

We gathered at Wedder Leap unsure how the weather would play out. Many of us had followed closely the Met Office forecasts. Although the weather was dull to begin with it in no way dampened the spirit of the group. Towards the end of the walk the overcast weather gave way to our collective spirt and turned to sunshine. It was a warm and humid day so the light breeze was welcome at times. 

The group as a whole showed great pace and stamina. We reached the summit in a couple of hours.At the summit, we unexpectedly came across a group of Belgian paratroopers in full combat gear holding large stones above their heads. This wasn’t some form of punishment but part of a tradition which requires them to carry stones in their packs when they are ascending a summit. Then then scratched their names into the stones and placed them on the cairn. Quick to see the possibilities we thought that we could emulate this as Shepherd’s Walks walkers so we 'raised a stone' to our achievements!!

We noted points of historical interest along the way as well as the names of flowers and birds and surrounding hills. The curlews in full song just below the summit were a real delight to listen too. In good shape and on schedule we walked into the Barrowburn Tea shop for a well earned cuppa and cake. Basking in the sunshine, with the temperature now around 19 degrees Celsius, we enjoyed the lovely home made cakes before the journey home.

We hope to see you on a future Shepherds Walk walk.

Roy Kennard (Guide), Julie Barnett and Martin Ainscow (Volunteers)

Thu 11th June 2015

Helvellyn 6th June 2015

Helvellyn 6th June 2015

Helvellyn 6th June 2015

Some years ago I travelled to the north west of Scotland to take part in a mountaineering training week run by the mountain guide Martin Moran. Gathering on the first evening expecting a slide show or being entertained with romantic stories of mountaineering feats my bubble was burst when in strode Mr Moran and without any preamable he gave us instructions to read chapters 3 and 4 of his book Scotland’s Winter Mountains – The Challenge and the Skills because we were going to be tested in half an hour!

The subject of chapter 3 and 4? -  Weather and, in this case, specifically weather in mountain environments, which, for those of us who spend time in Britain’s highland places, often bears little resemblance to the general weather forecasts . His title for chapter 4 is The Infernal Conditions and how apt this title was for those of us gathered in the car park on Saturday 6th June ready to enjoy a day in the Lakeland fells.

A few weeks ago I had a group of determined walkers on Skiddaw in less than ideal conditions and once again a small group set off to climb Helvellyn in some of the strongest winds I have experienced in my 35 years of mountain travel. I must have remembered something from my impromptu weather lesson because I knew that as you climb higher the weather, whatever it is often gets worse. The temperature drops, wind becomes stronger and rain becomes more intense. I suppose we should be thankful that on this day we had no rain! Just the wind and what a wind it was - strong in the car park, wickedly powerful as we climbed up to Browncove Crags. Unusually as we climbed the people we met on the route were mostly descending. They had one message for us – the wind is too strong – we didn’t want to risk it. We struggled on until it started to become clear that the wind was gusting to the extent that it was difficult to stand up let alone communicate.
At around 750m in height I decided that I would ask the group what they wanted to do. We had to lie down on the path to talk to each other but a consensus was quickly reached – it was not sensible to carry on and in any case it wasn’t much fun. We descended, disappointed but safe and with everyone in one piece.

Alan Hinkes, the highly experienced mountaineer and guide talks about making proper mountaineering decisions. His contention is that no mountain is worth injuring yourself and making the right decision at the right time about whether to carry on or return another day can often be the hardest decision of all. On Helvellyn this Saturday morning the decision wasn’t, in the end, that difficult but it was the right decision. What we experienced was annoying and disappointing but that’s mountains and their occasional infernal conditions.

Thank you to John and Julie for helping out – your expertise, support and good humour is invaluable.