Some Stuff About Me ......

I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire with my wonderful wife and soul-mate Helen. I have two incredible sons - Evan and Matthew - who are occasionally show up at home, usually when they're hungry or need money. The three of them are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love them all. I spent over 24 years in the Royal Navy, but since I packed it all in and got a proper job my life has gone from strength to strength and I've never looked back. I am a die-hard soul music fan, but my heart truly belongs in the fells of Northern England, it's what I was made for. Please read about my adventures and experiences ....

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Appealing Prospect ....

It's the Three Shires fell race on Saturday and I'm looking forward to it. Shameful as it might sound, I've never actually done an AL category race before so I'm hoping to put that right with this, plus the Langdale Horseshoe and Full Tour of Pendle races later in the year. I think I've prepared as much as I can, I did a course recce a few weeks back then went back with some Dallam A.C. mates on Saturday to do it again. Weather wasn't quite as nice as first time around, but we nonetheless managed to pick a much better line up the side of Wetherlam (still a tw*t of a climb), but the clag was down and it was a wet and windy descent down to the col and the rocky ascent up Swirl How. I see why they call it "Swirl" now, because the wind up there was insane! Everything else went pretty much to plan, I got the line off Blisco spot on, which I damn well ought to considering this was my fifth time up Pike o' Blisco in recent weeks! The line up Lingmoor Fell was hard, but more than compensated by a wonderful run down, it was raining heavily and myself and my host for the day charged on down to the Three Shires pub like our collective arses were on fire, it was brilliant - I hope I feel that good on race day.

Went back to Arnside YHA afterwards via Pete Blands where I picked up a small Platyplus water bladder, been after one for a while. A quick cuppa at the YHA and then it was round to mine host's gaff, an lovely home overlooking Morecombe bay, for a little soiree to celebrate Dallam A.C.'s 2011 BGR successes. Needless to say I had far too much of the red stuff and to say I had a baggy head next morning is only hinting at my abject misery. Helen was being heartless again - women generally are, in my experience - and kicked me out and into my wet fell shoes for a quick bash around Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag. I won't bore you with details, but it wasn't the happiest time I've spent on the fells and the weather was terrible. It was a relief to get into some dry clothes and get some hot coffee into me, I will never again venture into the hills in quite such a hungover state again ... it's not big and it's definitely not clever.

I will report later on how the race goes!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Still Tripping The Light Fantastic ....

I'm keenly aware that I have not blogged a lot of recent events and adventures and feel guilty as a result. Stuff has happened. Most notably my youngest brat did well in his AS levels and celebrated with a period of debauchery in London and then at Leedsfest, he's more or less sobered up now - what it's like to be 17 again eh? Other news is that I have had a minor op to remove a small lump that suddenly appeared on my shoulder, the doctor (a lady with whom I am rather taken) thinks it's benign but I'd be better off without it. Stitches came out yesterday, all looks OK, just waiting for biopsy results to put my mind at rest.

In the bigger and wider world I had a good time a few weeks back supporting Leg 4 of Ronnie Turner's BGR, also did leg 5 of Graham Briffett's BGR the following day, both successful, both loads of fun. I managed to mistakenly guide my pal Alix into a deep bog on the other side of Grey Knotts on Ronnie's round, she laughed about it, so I'm hoping that retribution will not be too severe :-) I'm sure she'll be comforted to know that the bog-monster got me while I was going over Great Carrs this past weekend, will tell all shortly!

BGR season is drawing to a close, so have been looking at other things to keep ticking over and ultimately get more experience for my own attempt next year. To that end have decided that I really must try and do some of the Lakeland Classic events, so have signed up the the Three Shires with some mates from Dallam and also the Langdale Horseshoe, quite a few folks I know doing this one, should be great fun. Anyhow, we (that's Helen and me) decided that a bit of recce for these races would be a nice way to spend the Bank Holiday weekend, so we packed up the car and last Friday headed for Langdale. I was too late to get into the NT campsite at Great Langdale, so had to settle for the other campsite thereabouts, Baysbrown Farm. I'll be honest and say I wasn't too impressed when we got there, it was absolutely heaving .... to be fair, I suppose it WAS a BH weekend, but all the same you expect a bit of peace and quiet don't you? Lots of drunken lads and screaming kids around, also it was a hell of a walk to the showers/toilet blocks, even the nearest tap was a half-mile slog up a muddy track. In the event it wasn't too bad, you get terrific views from this campsite and by the time we left it was a much more peaceful place, so don't be put off by my first impressions. Much cheaper that the NT site of course, just not as convenient for access to the fells.

I think we both totally wiped out by the previous week - that work stuff tends to get in the way of Real Life - so next morning we were up a bit later than we should have been, but managed to get out, fully booted and spurred by about 1100. That wasn't good actually, much faffage took place and we should try and make more of our days and get shifting in the mornings. The plan was to walk up Great Langdale, turn off through the NT campsite then up the track/lane to Wrynose/Hardknott in order to do a recce of the Three Shires route. This ended up taking a bit longer than we thought, truth be told, and by the time we'd faffed around and had an icecream at the pub that marks the start, it was getting closer to 1300. I must say at this point that we had an odd stroke of luck (and hence why we bought the icecream), insomuch it was one of "those" moments and we had to duck behind a hedge for a pee. Somebody else obviously must had the same problem, because as we sneaked behind the hedge I caught a glimpse of something metallic and there, amongst the grass and weeds was about ten quid in loose change! It was quite tarnished and must have been there for a while ... I have this awful vision of this dosh falling out of some lady's pockets and her getting to the Three Shires pub, intent on a glass of something cool and not having any money! I had a Flake Cornetto in her honour and, in a fit of conscience, put the rest into the Mountain Rescue collection box.

We eventually got moving and it was a nice, relatively easy start along a quiet lane and then rocky trail that leads you to the foot of Wetherlam. I don't mind saying that this was an absolute bastard of a climb, the ridgeline is very indistinct and the hillside covered by deep bracken with slippy rock/grass below that's very hard to negotiate. The Pete Bland race map indicates a direct line up the ridge, but I have to say I don't know if that's the best option for me. Come race day, I think a good route of ascent will be to carry on up the trail to the old mine workings then head due South from there to the summit. A steeper ascent for sure, but the going is much easier. Good views from the top of Wetherlam, I could see Skiddaw and the Helvellyn range without difficulty, although the unfamiliar angle fooled me a bit.

From the top of Wetherlam you head SW over some rocky up/down stuff via the curiously named "Prison Band" to Swirl How and then skirt around Great Carrs to the descent down to Wrynose Pass and the Three Shires Stones/checkpoint. It was while on Great Carrs that I came across this monument to a crashed RCAF Halifax Bomber (including wreckage), pretty sad-making stuff. I'd read about this in one of the Wainwright books but never expected to see it, apparently more of the wreckage litters the side of the fell.

It's fast, downhill territory here so we upped the pace a bit and were flying down the side of the fell when I plunged my foot into something I can only describe as the mud version of superglue. I tore my foot out of the shoe, leaving it firmly bedded into the mud and causing me - on the next step - to completely lose traction and go sliding down the hillside. I suppose this was a fell-running equivalent of a motorway blowout, yes? Once Helen had stopped laughing, changed pants etc we were on our way and I promptly put my foot into one of those horrible concealed holes that you get on peat moors, you know, where the flowing water has simply eroded a miniture chasm. Ow. Twisted my knee doing that and suppose I was lucky not to break an ankle, could have been so much worse .... so we got going again and the dodgy knee was soon forgotten as we headed down the fell towards Wrynose and the Three Shires Stones. If you've not seen them before (I hadn't), then it's pretty simple - there are three stones set in the ground that are supposed to mark the confluence of Westmoreland, Cumbria and Lancashire (i.e. W, C & L). I should point out that this is a checkpoint on the race itself and also the bottom the climb to Pike o' Blisco (I love the name of this mountain) and to be honest, it doesn't feel that bad going up compared to say, Skiddaw or Yewbarrow but I suppose it's all relative. The problem with this top is getting the line right OFF it to the East and the Three Shires and Langdale Horseshoe maps are full of dire warnings about people going walkabout and ending up in horrible places. Well, I sort of got it right on my first attempt but actually ended up too far to the North and followed the wall line down rather than up, meaning I ended up at the Northern end of Blea Tarn plantation behind a high wall ringed with barbed wire (and no, I was not in some sort of prison). This pissed me off greatly, not just because of my mistake but also because I snagged my new Salomon 3/4 running tights on some bit of wood or other and I am mightily annoyed. We made it down to the plantation and it was at that point that the heavens opened, so a bit dispirited we decided to call it a day and wobble back to the campsite. A bottle of Copper Dragon and plateful of chilli sorted out my moral issues and it was straight to bed, I slept like a baby ... but then I always do when out camping, wish I could say the same at home.

We were similarly useless the next morning and didn't really get going until around 1030, at least this time we weren't too far away from our starting point for a Langdale Horsehoe recce. This starts behind the famous Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel, winds back on a rocky path towards the New Dungeon Ghyll and then it's straight up the side of Stickle Ghyll, more or less at the bottom of Harrison Stickle. New territory for me, I've been over the Langdale Pikes a number of times but never from this neck of the woods ... I was enjoying myself hugely. This is a bit of a long trog, but you eventually emerge by Stickle Tarn, zoom round it and the first race check point is somewhere up there at the northern end of the tarn. It's a steep climb up the side of Pavey Ark, coming out to the East of Thunacar Knott (a BG top). As per race instructions, we set off on a bearing of 280 straight across the incredibly boggy and wet Martcrag Moor, dropping down into Stake Pass and straight up a nice gully that led us behind Black Crags and then into familiar territory behind Rossett Pike. You know, this seemed fast and I have to wonder if this isn't the best option for BGR leg 3? On the 4 or 5 occasions I've gone from Pike o' Stickle to Rossett Pike (including one "proper" support leg) we took a much wider line around what could be considered the tourist path (very boggy) and looking at the Pete Bland/Harvey BGR map the shorter route seems to be correct, I just never noticed before! Weather was getting a bit crappy now, but we plugged onwards around Angle Tarn and up to Esk Hause (checkpoint 3). It was getting really nasty now, wind and heavy rain so it was on with full waterproofs and a chance for me to realise how useless my ultralite Adidas "not-waterproof" trousers are, they will have to go. The race map calls for a traverse underneath Esk Pike but it doesn't look good to the uninitiated eye ... we gave it a try, but I can't say I'm impressed, however that could have been compounded by the rubbish weather. I've had some good advice from Rich G on this and am going to give it a go on race day - perhaps dropping a bit lower and playing Follow-my-Leader - because the only other option is over the top of Esk Pike and that could be ugly.

Anyhow, it was at this point we decided to pull stumps. The race route takes you onto Bowfell and onwards to Crinkle Crags, but the weather was totally despicable and Helen wasn't feeling too well. I took a command decision to get us off the mountains and the quickest way was down Rossett Ghyll/Mickleden and back into Langdale/Chapel Stile. Have to say this was a hell of a long slog and we didn't enjoy it, however we eventually got back to the tent, grabbed towels and headed to the showers to thaw out. Note: if you ever plan to stay at Baysbrown, the showers are free but generally crap, it took a while to get the feeling back into my extremities and I'm not kidding. You know, it was one of those "f**k my hands won't work" situations, not nice. Back in the tent, Helen hit the sack while I sat in my camp chair, made sausage butties and drank beer Well, someone had to do it.

It was a really windy night and made for interrupted sleep, however next day (BH Monday) dawned nice and clear. A hurried conflab and we decided to try and fill in the blanks from the weekend's recces, so we drove over to Blea Tarn and parked at the NT car park (5.90 for the day, yikes ). The plan was to do the Three Shires route up to Pike o' Blisco in reverse as that had been a problem on Saturday (note my whining about Salomon 3/4 tights - I never thought I'd see the day where I would be complaining about laddering my tights!) and then up to Crinkle Crags and maybe Bowfell.

This worked out pretty well. It was easy to see our mistake and we made good progress up through the bracken and around the crag. It's easy up to Pike o' Blisco via this route and the drop off to Crinkle Crags is very well marked and obviously a popular route. We decided to go over the crags (South to North) and then try and find our way back via the circuitous route defined on the race map. Of course, this meant tackling the infamous "Bad Step" as written about by Wainwright, so given a bit of trepidation from Helen I thought it would be better going up than down! All negotiated without a problem and we reached decision point at Three Tarns (the most northern point of Crinkle Crags and the southern foot of Bowfell). Time was marching on, so we opted to miss Bowfell and work out the route back. Talk about a balls-up, I wish I'd read what it had to say on the actual race notes rather than just working from the map. It looked like you could contour right round to the West, but despite considerable faffage and messing about it was clear this wasn't working and we had to drop down a *very* dodgy scree to get access to what we perceived to be the correct traverse. FAIL. I'm not 100% and still have to refer to some info from Rich G on this this subject, but I think the correct thing to do is to go over the first few Crinkles and then there is an option to drop off to the West and come up behind Long Top, then either downclimb the Bad Step or skirt around it. Either way, we messed it up completely on Monday and emerged well South of the last "Crinkle", having to double back to the trail down to Red Tarn and bottom of Pike o' Blisco.

So, it was up Mr Blisco for the third time this weekend and this time there were no mistakes. We picked up the runner's trod straight away and headed down the fell without mishap, coming out exactly on as prescribed at the top of Blea Tarn Plantation. Of course, it's much the same descent for the Langdale race, only for that one you drop off to the North and come out by the cattle grid under Side Pike. From there, I expect it's a mad dash down the path towards the NT campsite and to the finish at Old Dungeon Ghyll. We'll see eh?

That was the end of our recce weekend and it was back to the now deserted campsite and a swift cleanup/packup of tent etc before heading home. I'll admit to hating these moments and I think Helen does too ... we've spent so much time in the Lakes this year that it's a real wrench to leave the wonderful fells and stunning scenery, journeys home tend to be quiet affairs, but that could be due to exhaustion as much as anything else. The story isn't quite over yet, because hunger set in pretty quickly and a swift detour to Ambleside and the Walnut Fish and Chip shop was in order. It was good, but not a patch on the Kingfisher in Keswick, trust me on this one please

I'd say that was a weekend seized and beaten into submission.