Walking Where The Ice Flowers Grow and the Helm Wind Blows

Walking Where The Ice Flowers Grow and the Helm Wind Blows

The Pennine hills are known as the backbone of England; rising in Derbyshire in the very middle of England and meandering northwards to cross the border into Scotland north of Hadrians’ Wall. For those who are up for a challenge, there is a hiking trail along this chain of hills – the Pennine Way. Renowned as England’s toughest National Trail (no arguments from me on that score), British walkers are celebrating its fiftieth annivesary. In 274 miles of wild walking there will be emotional ups and downs to go with the topographical ones. This is a description of my favourite stretch. I’ve walked and hiked all over the world but very few of those walks come close to touching this.

Upper Teesdale
The infant Tees near Langdon Beck

This magnificent stretch is around the half way stage on the route and, for many, provides that lift to the spirits which silences those little voices suggesting that you might quit (many do on the Pennine Way).

Our walk starts at the very traditional Northern town of Middleton-in-Teesdale, a great place to refresh, have a beer and a meal, resupply and regain your sense of proportion. The next 25 miles are sublime. The Pennine Way follows the banks of the River Tees upstream through a limestone landscape filled with waterfalls, rapids and wild flowers.

High Force
High Force Teesdale
Low Force
Low Force, Teesdale

This area was the last place in England to lose its glacier during the Ice Age and still boasts arctic flower species not to be found anywhere else in the Land. Given that it abounds with Alpine and Limestone species too, it’s hardly surprising that it’s a real hotspot for wildflower enthusiasts. The mechanisation in farming since World War Two has seen a decline in traditional hay meadows. The last few square miles are in Teesdale and are now heavily protected. A globally significant ecosystem teetering on the brink.

Pyramidal Orchid
Pyramidal orchid
Mountain Pansy
Mountain Pansy
Globeflower
Globeflower blooms in a meadow
Gentian
Gentian

On reaching Langdon Beck (great little Youth Hostel here), the Pennine Way heads out of Teesdale, westward across to the Eden Valley and the pretty village of Dufton. We may be saying goodbye to gorgeous Teesdale with its thundering waterfall and carpet of wild flowers but the fun is far from over.

Cauldron Snout
Cauldron Snout

After walking across the limestone pavement at Falcon Clints the route takes you up the side of Cauldron Snout to cross the roaring water on a little metal bridge. A couple of miles of upland pasture and you reach the jaw dropping spectacle of the land dropping away below your feet at High Cup Nick.

High Cup Nick
High Cup Nick
Eden Valley
Eden Valley

You have crossed the Pennine watershed and the path takes you down to the pretty, almost picture postcard, village of Dufton in the valley of the river Eden.

Cottages in Dufton
Traditional whitewashed cottages in Dufton

There is a welcoming pub and a post office which serves teas at Dufton. Make the most of them. The next stretch is hard.

Cross Fell
Storm on Cross Fell

Towering above Dufton is Cross Fell, at a shade under three thousand feet the highest point in the Pennines. Cross Fell has another distinction too, the Helm.

A comparatively small island sat in the North Atlantic, let’s make no bones about it in Britain we get wind. We’re so ‘matter of fact’ about high winds that we don’t bother to name them; no Mistrals, Scirocco’s or Levanters here. The weather phenomenon unique to Cross Fell is the only wind we give a name to – the Helm. To simplify a very complicated thing; a cap of stable air sits above Cross Fell and when strong winds blow down from the East they are channeled through the gap between this and the top of the hill, the wind then accelerates down the hill and hits the villages in the valley. Whilst doing all this the moaning and wailing sound is extraordinary. I’ve been caught out twice and on one of those occasions had to crawl off the summit plateau. A truly wild place.

Whether the Weather be Fair or Foul – Weather Lore for Walkers

Whether the Weather be Fair or Foul – Weather Lore for Walkers

In the United Kingdom we don’t so much have a climate as a lot of different weather; sometimes ‘all four seasons in one day’. With the gulf stream bringing warm water and mild air across the Atlantic Ocean from the west ; cold Northerlies blowing down from Iceland and Easterlies straight from Siberia and mix those in with the occasional hot Southerly straight up from the Sahara and you have weather which is notoriously difficult to predict. The weathermen certainly do get it right more often than not these days, but on occasions they have got it spectacularly wrong. It doesn’t help their cause that when this happens countryside dwellers and folklore exponents nod sagely over their cider and mutter things like ‘the bees weren’t flying, it was obvious bad weather was on its way’.

Red sky
Red sky at night, Sailor’s Delight

Red sky at night, Sailors’ delight…….

This certainly has its roots in scientific fact. The vast majority of the UK’s weather arrives from the west (off the Atlantic). If there’s nothing obscuring the light of the sun as it sinks in the west, there’s a very strong likelihood that the weather will remain clear overnight and into the morning.

Whispy winter cirrhus over Avebury. Wiltshire
Whispy winter cirrhus over Avebury. Wiltshire

Rain before seven, sun before eleven……

This one is probably correct more often than it’s wrong. Most of our rain comes from the west and is blown through on stiff Atlantic breezes. It generally takes three or four hours for a weather front to pass through.

May Blossom
This May blossom is well and truly out!

Ne’er cast a clowt ’til ‘t May is out………

Great advice if you can understand it! Allow me to translate; don’t put away your warm clothes until the May is out. The May in question is the ‘May Blossom’, predominately Hawthorn. In these  days of climatic uncertainty we should probably add; and dinna throw ‘oot the sunblock ’til December.

Sky with giant cumulonimbus clouds
Sky with giant cumulonimbus clouds
Storm cloud.
Flattened Cumulonimbus (an ‘anvil cloud’)

When clouds appear like cliffs and towers, the earth will be washed by rain and showers………..

True. The towering cumulonimbus clouds definitely herald rain, but light or heavy? If the clouds are ‘bubbly topped’ and look a little like candy floss they are unlikely to give much more than light rain. If, however, the top is flattened and wispy it points to there being ice in the atmosphere and there is the real likelihood of a heavy storm.

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Mares Tail clouds.
Cirrocumulus are composed almost exclusively of ice crystals.  CAMERA INFO: Camera Model Name     Canon EOS 300D DIGITAL Shooting Date/Time     23/06/2004 5:10:06 PM Shooting Mode     Program AE Tv( Shutter Speed )     1/125 Av( Aperture Value )     8.0 Metering Mode     Evaluative Exposure Compensation     +1/3 ISO Speed     100 Lens     18.0 - 55.0mm Focal Length     28.0mm Image Size     3072x2048 Image Quality     RAW Flash     Off White Balance     Daylight Parameters     Contrast          Normal     Sharpness         Normal     Color saturation  Normal     Color tone        Normal Color Space     Adobe RGB File Size     6254KB Drive Mode     Single-frame shooting Owner's Name     Leah-Anne Thompson Camera Body No.     0530102810
Cirrocumulus (Mackerel Sky)

Mare’s Tails and Mackerel Scales make tall ships carry low sails………

Pretty much true. The ‘mackerel scales’ are Cirrocumulus and are composed mostly of ice. They herald unsettled, squally weather. Mare’s Tails are a little more complicated – if they are pointing up cloud is descending, which generally is not good news. There is another rhyme;

‘Mackerel sky, Mackerel Sky, Never long wet, Never long dry’.

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Fair weather clouds

If woolly fleeces bestow the heavenly way, be sure no rain shall come today…

If the clouds look like fluffy sheep or small cushions of cotton wool, it’s your lucky day. These scattered cumulus really are fair weather clouds and indicate a settled weather pattern.

Beyond the sayings and the ‘old wives’ tails’ a little bit of commonsense advice…….

Always take a rain jacket. It’s also windproof and, if the weather gods are have really smiled on you, it will come in handy as a picnic rug!

A good practical method for predicting the weather for the next few hours whilst you are out; stand with your back to the wind. If the clouds are travelling with the wind, you’re in for pretty much of the same. If they are moving left to right, stand by for a deterioration.

Thirty years as a mountain leader has taught me a lot. If you don’t have the odd thirty years to spare I can recommend Tristan Gooley’s book; ‘the Walker’s Guide To Outdoor Clues and Signs’  isbn: 978-1-444-78008-6 or check out his website

In the Footsteps of the Great Fell Wanderer

In the Footsteps of the Great Fell Wanderer

On the 7th June 1930 the 23 year old Alfred Wainwright, in the company of his cousin, travelled by bus from his home in Blackburn, Lancashire to Windermere in Cumbria’s Lake District. On arrival at Windermere they walked to the top of Orrest Head, a modest hill but a fine viewpoint. The panorama of rugged mountains, trees and lakes which greeted them astonished and transfixed them and changed Wainwright’s (AW) life forever.

In 1948 he secured a job at Kendal, in the Lake District, and every spare moment was dedicated to wandering the Cumbrian Fells (hills and mountains). He set about producing a series of handwritten (and drawn) pictorial guides to walking in the Lake District. The books are excellent, readable and worth buying for his illustrations alone.

By the early seventies AW’s guidebooks had introduced many thousands to the joys of walking Cumbria’s fells and he had also written a guidebook to the Pennine Way, England’s most challenging National Trail.

In 1973 AW published a guidebook to a Long Distance walk which he had devised himself; A Coast to Coast Walk. The route, some 190 miles in length links the Irish Sea, on the coast of West Cumbria, and the North Sea, on the coast of East Yorkshire crossing three National Parks enroute.It has become one of Britain’s most popular long distance challenges.

 

St Bees
Our starting point – St Bees, Cumbria

Starting Out – St Bees and the Lake District

Some people like to dip their toe in the Irish Sea some people put a pebble in their rucksack before setting their backs to the beach and heading for the path up onto St Bees Head. Salt water is not good for the boots and pebbles have to be carried which does not sit well with my ultra lightweight approach to backpacking – so the wet boot it is! If we all moved a pebble from one sea to another it might give the archaeologists and geologists of the future something of a riddle to solve. They would probably attribute it to some form of pilgrimage, possibly not so far from the truth!

Coast to Coast marker
On our way – heading east
Lakeland Fells

The first days walking gets you through the coastal plain and into the Lake District at Ennerdale. The scenery from here for the next four or five days is stunning.

Saint Sundays Crag
Saint Sunday’s Crag – the ‘ordinary’ route to Patterdale
Haystacks and High Stile
Haystacks and High Stile. Haystacks was AW’s favourite mountain.
Striding Edge, Helvellyn
Striding Edge, Helvellyn. The more exciting option for reaching Patterdale.

As you cross Haystacks, above Buttermere , you will be in good company. AW’s ashes were scattered here in 1991.

After a few days tough, but incredibly rewarding, walking you leave the Lake District and cross the limestone country to Kirkby Stephen, the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.

Half Way…….The Yorkshire Dales

Kirkby Stephen has a sting in its tail, Nine Standards Rigg, which has to be crossed before reaching the tumbling waterfall of Kisdon near the Dales village of Keld. You are now in the Dales.

Nine Standards Rigg
Nine Standards Rigg
Kisdon Falls
Kisdon Falls

The countryside has now completely changed. Swaledale has a feeling of wildness and remoteness about it but contains welcoming, attractive villages such as Muker, Gunnerside and Reeth. You will notice place names with Norse origins throughout this walk. Make sure you have a pint at the Black Bull on your way through Reeth.

Swaledale
Swaledale
Reeth
The welcoming village of Reeth

Beyond Reeth you reach the lively town of Richmond with its perfectly preserved Georgian Theatre and plenty of good pubs to choose from. From Richmond the route crosses the Vale of York and reaches the Cleveland Hills and the North Yorkshire Moors.

Final Push….North Yorkshire Moors

The landscape changes once again. Rolling heather moorland is now the order of the day. The route follows ridges and valleys through charming villages such as Sleights and Grosmont. Before reaching the cliffs and following the coastal

View across the moors.
View across the moors.
walking on the moors
walking on the moors

footpath to journey’s end at pretty Robin Hood’s Bay and the thrill of achievement (tempered with tiredness). To me there is nothing better than a challenge met head on and achieved. The weather is not kind all the time and the path is not well marked, so competence with map and compass is essential as is good raingear and stout comfortable footwear (make sure you pack your sense of humour too). This is all part of the challenge. You will meet plenty of friendly, interesting people along the way. You might even discover your real self, now there’s an intriguing prospect…..

Robin Hood's Bay
Journey’s End
Beach and sea front at Robin Hood's Bay Yorkshire England UK Europe
You’ve dipped your toe or tossed your pebble, now find the pub!

Don’t forget to leave the pebble or dip your toe or you’ll have to come back and do it again!

The Coast to Coast is available as both guided and self guided walking holidays from long established operator, Footpath Holidays.

Walking Wild in Poldark Country

Walking Wild in Poldark Country

The recent eight part BBC dramatisation  of Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ has recently finished its run although its still there to enjoy on the BBC’s ‘catch up’ service ‘BBC iPlayer’. An excellent period drama woven around the fortunes of  the copper and tin mining industries in 18th century Cornwall. A good drama and a reasonable stab at social history too. All good historical dramas need endearing, attractive, charismatic characters who should also have visual appeal (Mr Darcy and Miss Bennett in ‘Pride and Prejudice for example). In the case of ‘Poldark’, in my opinion there were three; Ross Poldark, Demelza Poldark and the Cornish landscape,

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Sunset on the Cornish Coast
Wheal Coates, clifftop disused tin mine buildings on the cliffs at St Agnes Head, Cornwall, UK
Wheal Coates, engine house near St Agnes, Cornwall
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Mining was a precarious existence in more ways than one.

Unlike the characters, fictitious and out of reach, the landscape is there for all to enjoy and remarkably accessible. There is a footpath the whole way around the coast (all 320 miles of it), thankfully the path reflects the landscape it travels through; wild and rugged. A walk around the coast of Cornwall is not an easy undertaking, plenty of ‘ups and downs’ but the rewards to both mind and body are immense. A real lift to the spirits.

Stormy seas
Stormy seas
stormy Atlantic
The elements at work

As well as spectacular ruggedness and the colourful wild flowers, the sound of the Atlantic provides a constant soundtrack to your hike. It could be lapping peacefully, purring purposefully or exploding onto the cliffs and beaches with rock-splitting ferocity. You could do the same walk along the coast a hundred times, it will never be the same twice. The moods of the ocean just serve to underline just how wild and elemental this special place is.

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Sun City Hikers on Pentire
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Some of our walkers looking towards Trevose Head from Pepper Hole.

The cliffs are not relentless though. Every now and then turn a corner and a quiet inlet or a fishing village will take you completely by surprise.

fishing village of Port Isaac, on the North Cornwall Coast, England UK
Port Isaac (Port Wenn to Doc Martin fans)
Sunset over the harbour entrance at Boscastle on the North Cornwall Coast England UK Europe
Sunset over the narrow harbour entrance at Boscastle
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Pentire and Stepper Point from Hawkers Cove on the Camel Estuary

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that many of the scenes in the TV drama show rough, rugged scenery with no coast. There is a spine of moorland the length of Cornwall; wild rugged country with a covering of heather and distinctive granite outcrops. These moors are littered with standing stones, stone rows, stone circles and cromlechs (Known as quoits in Cornwall).

Rugged scenery on Bodmin Moor Cornwall England with Rough Tor in the distance
Across Bodmin Moor to Roughtor
The Men-an-Tol is thought to date to either the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Located on Penwith Moor Cornwall England these standing stones are steeped in myth and legend.
The Men-an-Tol is thought to date to either the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. It is steeped in legend and superstition.
Lanyon Quoit standing stones, a neolithic tomb on the Penwith Moor Cornwall England UK Europe
Lanyon Quoit. Neolithic monument.
Granite Tor
The cheesewring at Minions (totally natural, not man-made)

There are three landscape types guaranteed to get my pulse racing; wild coastline, untamed moorland and mountains. Cornwall’s Atlantic Coast and moorland fulfill two of these – laced with a healthy dose of history, heritage, folklore and romance you can’t beat it! The food’s good too.

Rocky Isles Off Land's End
Rocks at Lands End
Pedn Vounder
Beach near Porthcurno, Lands End

Fifty Shades of ……….Blue

Fifty Shades of ……….Blue

The English countryside has, for the last few weeks, been a sea of yellow. We have now reached the point where it begins to enter its ‘blue phase’.

Spanish Bluebell
Spanish Bluebell
EnglishBluebell
English Bluebells

The most obvious sign of the ‘bluing of the landscape’ is in the woodlands where carpets of bluebells bear witness to the fact that we’re in that transition period from springtime into early summer. This being England and all, not even the gorgeous bluebell can steer clear of controversy. There are two varieties; the native English Bluebell and the non-indigenous Spanish Bluebell. The Spanish version spreads more vigorously than the native and also hybridises with it, the worry is that soon there will no longer be a pure strain of English Bluebell.

Germander Speedwell
Germander Speedwell
forgetmenots
forgetmenots

The hedgerows are sporting some very fine Germander Speedwell and Forgetmenots. Not much controversy here although I guess one man’s wildflower is another man’s weed!

milkwort
milkwort
Ground Ivy
Ground Ivy

Grassy meadows, especially on limestone and chalk base rocks are taking on a subtle blue sheen as vast patches of Ground Ivy and Milkwort come into bloom.

Harebells
Harebell
Gentian, Cotley Hill
Gentian, Cotley Hill

Coming soon to many hillsides will be Harebells and, more rarely, Gentian. We are fortunate that our local hillside gets a good annual crop of Gentian.

Maritime Squill is about to put in appearance on the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and West Wales. We have found our first wild orchids of the year – but as they were purple, they don’t count as a shade of blue.

Down by the river, the invertebrates are carrying on the blue theme. The Damsel Flies are gorgeous.

Turquoise damselfly (Platycnemididae)
Turquoise damselfly (Platycnemididae)

From Hardy to Jurassic – Sample Dorset’s Delights

From Hardy to Jurassic – Sample Dorset’s Delights

Rural, rustic, idyllic, quirky even. Its difficult to pin a label on the county of Dorset. Its coast bridges the gap between the traditionally perceived West Country and the more metropolitan coast of Hampshire with the large ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. On the coast to its west lies Devon, to its east Hampshire and the Solent. Inland it shares borders with the very rural counties of Somerset and Wiltshire.

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Hambledon Hill in Cranborne Chase, deepest inland Dorset
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Gold Hill, Shaftesbury. Near the border between Dorset and Wiltshire

Many people will feel that they know Dorset from the books of Thomas Hardy and, if they do they might well think of Dorset as a county where there are few happy endings! The truth is that if you’re an outdoor enthusiast there will be happy outcomes galore.

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Corfe Castle and its village. The castle is now in the care of the National Trust
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Egerton Hill, just inland from the coastal strip.

The inland areas of Dorset, Cranborne Chase in particular, provide idyllic rolling scenery and charming villages perfect for ramblers, horseriders and cyclists.

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Man o’ War Bay, near Lulworth
Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks, Dorset

For those requiring more physically challenging pastimes head for the coast. Challenging and invigorating hikes along the dramatic coast, mountain bike rides and road cycling around the stunning Purbeck Peninsula, scuba diving around Old Harry Rocks and Kimmeridge Bay and some good rock climbing on Dancing Ledge at Kimmeridge.

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Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay
StAldhelmsHead
St Aldhelms Head

Dorset’s unique geology has given rise to some stunningly distinct coastal scenery such as the huge shingle spit known as Chesil Bank with a tranquil tidal lagoon behind it – a haven for seabirds – and the distinctive arch of Durdle Door. Plenty to interest photographers and artists.

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Chesil Bank


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Durdle Door, Lulworth

At the end of Chesil Bank is  the beach resort of Weymouth which hosted the sailing events for the 2012 Olympic Games so I think the box marked ‘Sailing’ is well and truly checked.

So where does ‘Jurassic’ come into it. The unique geology has made Dorset a mecca for fossil hunters; regular finds from the Jurassic period range from simple ammonites to fossilized T Rex footprints. The mecca for fossil hunters is the genteel resort of Lyme Regis. The coast of Dorset and East Devon has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site named……the Jurassic Coast.

The beautiful beach at Lyme Regis Dorset England UK Europe
Lyme Regis
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Fossilized Ammonite from Lyme Regis

 

Fifty Shades of………Yellow!

Fifty Shades of………Yellow!

The landscape of England has transformed in the last couple of weeks to a pastiche of various shades of yellow. The daffodils are almost over now, just a little splash of colour left.

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The last of the daffodils in Norton Bavant

Springing up in their place in the hedgerows, the dandelions have put in an appearance. In the woods the primroses are out in huge numbers.

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Primroses in the woods at Selworthy, Exmoor.

On the downland, heathland and the moors, the gorse is still blooming. Very colourful and with a beautiful aroma (reminiscent of coconut) gorse adds a golden lustre through the late winter and early spring. Don’t grab a gorse bush, though, the gorse prickles are one of the sharpest and most painful you will find – which explains why it hasn’t been eaten by hungry cattle or deer during the winter!

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Gorse bushes on Milk Hill, Pewsey

By far the most dramatic addition to the landscape at the moment are the  bright yellow fields of Oilseed Rape  which dominate the arable farming areas.

Many people see it as a relatively new crop, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the first century, the Romans introduced it as a feed crop for animals. It has no pollen, as such, but gives off an oily fragrant substance. It is a member of the cabbage family. It is grown for its oil (known in North America as Canola Oil), which is light, healthy and excellent to cook with. Rapeseed was reintroduced to England in the seventeenth century, when the lowland fields were drained. The Dutch drainage engineers needed a light oil to lubricate their pumps. The fields will be blooming for another few weeks, but the crop will be in the fields for months whilst the pods of seeds fill with oil.

Oilseed in bloom, Cotley Hill
Oilseed in bloom, Cotley Hill

The fifth (not fiftieth – OK, I exaggerated) shade of yellow appearing in large numbers on unspoilt grasslands is provided by the majestic Cowslip. The cowslip is a species in decline as it does not respond well to chemicals.

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Cowslips, Norton Bavant.

If yellow is not your colour, relax, change is on the way. The first of the bluebells are with us and will soon be dominating our Beech woodlands.

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Bluebells, Wylye Valley

 

Try A Little Heritage With Your Hiking

Try A Little Heritage With Your Hiking

I’m sure that most people enjoy a walk or hike for its own sake; exercise, relaxation, fresh air – the benefits are obvious. Add another element to the walk and, for most of us, the enjoyment goes up another level. The obvious enhancements to any walk include great views, wildlife, wildflowers and, for some, the thrill of an exposed path on a mountainside or sea cliff. There are an increasing number of paths that have another theme – heritage.

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Chapel on Glastonbury Tor

The immediate thought provoked by the word ‘heritage’ might be a castle or an old mill from the time of the industrial revolution. Further reflection however will reveal a wealth of subject material; ancient monuments, industrial heritage, historic buildings, landscape heritage, literary heritage – the list goes on.

Lanyon Quoit Cornwall
Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall

Many Long Distance Paths are centered on heritage. The Offa’s Dyke Path is a National Trail which follows the defensive earthwork which Saxon King Offa built along the  border between England and Wales (it just so happens that it passes through nearly 200 miles of stunning countryside too). The Great Stones Way and White Horse Trail pick out some of Wiltshire’s wealth of archaeological heritage. Probably the best example, though, is the Hadrian’s Wall Path, a National Trail running the length of the famous Roman Wall across the very north of England.

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Mile Castle, Hadrian’s Wall

 

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's Wall
Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall

 

Britain’s industrial heritage has yielded some interesting landscapes and enhanced some great walks; the South West Coast Path visits the mining landscape of the Cornish Coast (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), The Cleveland Way passes through the former alum mines of North Yorkshire and the White Peak Way passes a number of Derbyshire’s former cotton mills. Canal towpaths are a wonderful legacy of our industrial past; the Kennet and Avon Canal, from Reading to Bath effectively spans the country from coast to coast, linking Bristol and London.

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The Kennett and Avon canal, Widcombe Locks, Bath
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Watermill, Mapledurham on Thames

A number of  walking trails have been tied to literary themes; the ‘Hardy Way’ in Dorset visits villages which featured as locations in the books of Thomas Hardy, in the North of England there are walks based on the works of the Bronte Sisters. In the Highlands of Scotland there is the Rob Roy Trail (based on Sir Walter Scott’s fictional hero).

Thatched Cottage in Thomas Hardy's Dorset
Thatched Cottage in Thomas Hardy’s Dorset

The number of paths themed around architectural styles or historic buildings is huge. Notable among them are; the Three Castles Path in Wales, the Border Abbeys Way in Scotland and yet another Three Castles Path in southern England. In truth any country walk you might take in England that visits a village or two is likely to contain at least one medieval building – the church.

St James' Church, Tytherington
St James’ Church, Tytherington

So whether your preference is for a side order of heritage with your hike or the full main course; in the United Kingdom you’re spoiled for choice.

Brentor Church
Brentor Church, Dartmoor.

 

Dreaming Of White Horses

Dreaming Of White Horses

‘White Horses’ is the friendly name for waves which break into white crests when the sea is a little rough. One of Britain’s finest sea cliff climbs was named ‘A Dream of White Horses’ because of the boiling white breakers below the cliffs. I grew up beside the sea and on windy days the bay and estuary were full of ‘white horses’. Now I live in historic, timeless Wiltshire, completely landlocked and a good forty miles from the nearest coast. ‘White Horses’ means something completely different to the local Wessex folk.

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The Cherhill White Horse
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The Alton Barnes White Horse

The chalk soil on the hillsides stands out against the grass and there is a long tradition of carving huge figures on the chalk hills. These figures, mostly white horses, are visible for many miles. The image at the head of this post is the Uffington White Horse which is thought to date back to the bronze age (3000 years). It is a very precise, stylised figure stretching over the hillside. Even stranger, it can only really be seen properly from the air. Just to throw a bit of legend into the mix, it is on this hill that legend has St George slaying the dragon. There are now long distance walking and hiking trails which link these iconic  figures, some of which date back many centuries, some as recent as the 18th century. Relaxed walking on short, springy grass through a timeless landscape. An unbroken connection with the past – ‘it’s there to find if you have the mind’.

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The Westbury White Horse
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Hackpen White Horse

 

Hot and Happy On The Igneous Malverns

Hot and Happy On The Igneous Malverns

I spent yesterday ‘fleshing out’ a route description for one of our self guided walking tours . This time in the Malvern Hills, a chain of spectacular conical hills rising from the flat valley of the River Severn.

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Worcestershire Beacon, Malvern Hills
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Small Tree, Big Mistletoe. Hangman Hill, Malverns

The Malvern Hills are volcanic rock, much harder wearing than the sedimentary rocks of the valley they rise from. They are famed for their spring water and the town below the ridge of hills is a spa town. The Malverns has the landscape designation as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and a European Union designation as a ‘GeoPark’.

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British Camp (also known as Herefordshire Beacon)
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Malvern reservoir, nestling below Herefordshire Beacon

The southern end of the chain falls within the county of Herefordshire and the northern end in Worcestershire. The highest peaks are Herefordshire Beacon (also known as British Camp due to the presence of the earthworks of an ancient hill fort) and Worcestershire Beacon.

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Stone Path Marker, Malvern Style
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Looking south along the chain from Worcestershire Beacon

Yesterday we decided to walk the whole chain, out and back. The total distance was just over 16 miles in hot, clear conditions. The temperature was 20c (68F) with barely a breath of air. It will certainly get much  warmer this summer but the temperature in England five days ago was 8c (46F) with a biting easterly wind, so the warm sunshine was a bit of a shock to the system, albeit a pleasant one!

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A gorse bush in full bloom.
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Ponies in the mist.

Plenty of other ‘happy hikers’ were out enjoying the trails in the sunshine as well as mountain bikers and paragliders. There was a euphoric feel to the day, almost as though everyone was convinced that springtime really was here to stay. The gorse bushes were in full bloom and their distinctive ‘coconut’ fragrance was everywhere.

Big walk, big landscape, big pack, hot day – a day like this has to finish with a drink, but in Herefordshire with a strong tradition of cider and Worcestershire where beer holds sway – what to choose? We avoided the stress of choice by having one of each!