The Scottish Tour Part 2. The Western Isles

It was raining as we boarded the Calmac ferry ‘Loch Seaforth’ to take us form Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The announcements warned us to expect heavy seas as wind speeds were up to gale force. The stabilisers would be out. Visibility was low as we left Loch Broom and sailed through the Summer Isles. It didn’t look much like summer with the grey skies merging with the grey heaving seas. We settled down in the quiet area on the ferry and were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the crossing was.

Lewis came into view and we were soon ashore and went straight to our B & B in downtown Stornoway.

The plan was to ride out to Callanish Stones in the afternoon.

The Callanish Stones that we failed to see

The promised gale force winds proved to be too much for us and we abandoned. The inland scenery on Lewis is endless heath and moor with thousands of lochans. Not a pretty sight especially with the grey skies with frequent squalls of horizontal rain. The island’s diverse habitats are home to an assortment of flora and fauna, such as golden eagles, red deer and seals. We saw eagles and seals on our journey.

The scenery of inland Lewis.

On Lewis life is very different from elsewhere in Scotland, with Sabbath observance, the Gaelic language and peat cutting retaining more importance than elsewhere.

On Sunday 17th June we crept out of Stornoway carefully avoiding all the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, where almost everything but worship, Bible study and eating is banned on the Sabbath.

On the road to the Butt of Lewis

The up side of this is that the road was deserted so we had the wind, rain and moor to ourselves. In the absence of any other form of shelter being open on a Sunday we followed Audax tradition and used a lovely bus shelter to get some respite from the weather.

Any port in a storm

We continued to the Butt of Lewis (Scottish Gaelic: Rubha Robhanais) which is the most northerly point of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The headland, which lies in the North Atlantic, is frequently battered by fierce weather. There were quite a lot of people here, despite it being the Sabbath, but I think they were all tourists like us – though all in motorised vehicles.

The Butt of Lewis

We were now at the official start – or end- of the Hebridean Way.

The Hebridean Way

The cycle route (NCN780) is 300 kilometres from the Butt of Lewis in the North down the length of the Outer Hebrides to Vatersay in the South. The route passes through 10 islands linked by a combination of causeways and ferries. The stunning landscape is varied and follows the dazzling Atlantic coastline on the western side of the archipelago and in places goes over rugged hills and along the moonscape of the eastern coast. The Outer Hebrides retain a culture that is different to mainland Scotland. Gaelic is often spoken as a first language and there remains a sense of culture and tradition on each of the inhabited islands that make up the archipelago.

Most people cycle South to North with the prevailing wind. We were cycling North to South and hoping for the best!

While we were exploring the Butt of Lewis  the rain stopped and there was some brightness in the sky so we made a detour to the Port of Ness with its once busy harbour and fine beach. We stopped for a while watching the Gannets fishing. The gannet’s supposed capacity for eating large quantities of fish has led to “gannet” becoming a disapproving description of somebody who eats excessively – a glutton.

Port of Ness harbour and beach

Our overnight billet was about 20km south so we were at the start of the 300km journey – into the wind as it turned out!

We had arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the now sunny afternoon and we walked to the nearby Atlantic coast. The scene was reminiscent of Cornwall. The Outer Hebrides reminded us of the Isles of Scilly in so many ways.

The coast on Lewis in the sunshine! Cornwall?

Monday 19th June 2017 the South of England was ‘suffering’ in temperatures over 30 degrees. The Isle of Lewis did not have that problem.

A humid start to the journey south

Next up – Harris!

Our route took us towards Stornoway, but we found an unofficial bypass by cutting across at Laxdale to the A859 which took us away from Lewis towards the more inviting landscape ahead. Harris promised to be more to our liking than Lewis.

Views of Harris  hills in the distance

The Isle of Harris is actually joined to the Isle of Lewis, and has a short border shown by a ‘dashed’ line on the Harris map. Harris has a wide range of landscapes, all of which have their own interest. On the West coast are the beaches with the large open machair areas like the other islands in the chain.

Machair is a Gaelic word and refers to a fertile low-lying grassy plain found on the western coasts of the Outer Hebrides. It is low lying arable or grazing land formed near the coast by the deposition of sand and shell fragments by the wind. Machair is the focus of most Hebridean crofting agriculture. In June when we were there it was covered in wild flowers.

Machair

We continued our journey along the increasingly remote A859, rounding the head of Loch Erisort and eventually Loch Seaforth came into view. The Loch forms the boundary between Lewis and Harris and was the boundary between the two traditional counties of Ross and Cromarty and Inverness-shire.

The Lewis – Harris boundary at Loch Seaforth

Loch Seaforth forms the boundary between Harris and Lewis. Our overnight stay was at a crofting cottage named Seaforth at the foot of The Clisham.

Seaforth

The Clisham is at 799m is the highest point on the Outer Hebrides. The highest point on the road climb is 201 metres. We were lucky that the weather was good for our journey over the Clisham and we had no problems at all. The scenery was varied and interesting and we are used to Dorset hills which are much steeper!

The climb up the Clisham

We enjoyed our ride through the pass and the long descent to Tarbert.

The descent to Tarbert

In Tarbert we met up with friends from Bridport who coincidentally were on Harris. We met them at the Harris distillery and they joined us for our ride along the East coast of Harris.

Bridport Cycles reunion at the Harris Distillery

It was the East coast that we were excited about. I knew from our planning that the isolated East coast of Harris was going to be a highlight of our tour. It has some of the oldest rocks in the world dated some three thousand million years old. The exposed rocks are a result of scouring by the glaciers in the Ice Ages. The area is known as ‘The Bays’ because of the many small inlets. The inlets are populated by small villages – or townships – each with their own unique character.

The East coast of Harris

The Golden Road winds and twists through the East Coast of Harris. The single track road runs from Tarbert to Rodel through the coastal townships which have Viking or Gaelic names. The name was given to this lovely winding road in part by the ‘locals’ who really did have to fight to get a grudging authority to spend the money to build the road.

The Golden Road

The spectacular scenery encompasses what is sometimes described as a ‘lunar ‘landscape.

Lunar landscape on Harris with the Isle of Skye in the distance

The sun came out to make our day perfect.

Views from the Golden Road out to The Minch

We had a sneak preview of the beaches on the West Coast of Harris but our journey was moving South onto Berneray. The West Coast of Harris will have to wait for another day.

A glimpse of the West Coast of Harris

We had time to pose for a photo with the well travelled Dorset flag at Leverburgh whilst waiting for the evening ferry across the Sound of Harris to Berneray.

The Dorset flag at Leverburgh

Berneray is one of fifteen inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. It is small with an area of 10 square miles. There is strong evidence that Berneray has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The island is scattered with ancient sacred sites, stone circles and historic buildings. We made a detour to the island’s West Beach which was pretty spectacular.

The West Beach on Berneray

We continued our journey south crossing from Berneray on the 900m causeway to North Uist officially opened by Prince Charles in 2000.

The causeway to North Uist

Our route down through North Uist took us along the Atlantic coast with the beaches and Machair to our right and the bog with heather and lochans to our left. The East coast of North Uist is more rugged.

The Atlantic coast of North Uist

The wind from the south west increased through the day. There isn’t any shelter and at times it became quite hard work!

Coastal scenery on North Uist – you can’t see the head wind

The landscape changed as we continued our journey across another causeway to the island of Benbecula. This island is essentially flat and we stayed there overnight before crossing yet another causeway onto South Uist.

South Uist is the second largest island on the Outer Hebrides and has a population of about 1700.The population is 90% Roman Catholic. We were riding along the West Coast which has a sandy beach broken occasionally by small estuaries.

Estuary on the West coast of South Uist

The machair along this coast was extensive and featured enough level ground for a footie pitch.

Football pitch on the machair

South UIst is connected to the next island on the archipelago, Eriskay, by a causeway which opened in 2000.

South Uist to Eriskay

It was off the shores of Eriskay that the ship the S.S Politician foundered in 1941 – and from here that the local seafaring community set sail to salvage her precious cargo of whisky, which was in short supply on the islands during the war years. Island fishermen used their boats to reach the wreck, reportedly bringing thousands of the bottles ashore. This event gives the story-line to one of Scotland’s most famous stories – Whisky Galore.

There was an improvement in road width and surface as we entered Eriskay.

Better roads on tiny Eriskay

The coastal scenery across to Barra opened up as we approached Eriskay Harbour.

Eriskay harbour

Once again Calmac provided an excellent ferry service across to Barra.

The Calmac ferry to Barra

Barra is the second southernmost inhabited island in the outer Hebrides, after the adjacent island of Vatersay to which it is connected by a short causeway. The population is just over 1,000.

The area of Barra is about 60 square miles. The only centre of population is Castlebay.

Descending to Castlebay

The west of the island has white sandy beaches backed by shell sand, machair and the east has numerous rocky inlets. The predominant faith on the island is Roman Catholicism.

Barra’s tiny airport, near Northbay, uses the beach called An Tràigh Mhòr (“The Great Beach”) as a runway. Planes can land and take off only at low tide, so the timetable varies. Voted the world’s most stunning landing spot, Barra’s airport is claimed to be the only airport in the world to have scheduled flights landing on a beach. The aircraft currently in operation on Barra is the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, flown by Loganair to and from Glasgow. There are usually flights every day of the week in the summer. The beach is also a source of cockles.

Barra Airport

We circumnavigated Barra and then continued South across the causeway to Vatersay.

The end of the road-Vatersay

The Hebridean Way ends at Vatersay

Vatersay is the most southerly inhabited island on the Outer Hebrides. If you want to ride the Hebridean Way I strongly recommend that you start here and ride south to north with the prevailing wind!

The west coast of Vatersay like the other islands has wonderful windswept sands bordered by the rich Machair grasses which were awash with wild flowers.

We returned to the tiny undulating lanes on the rocky east coast of Barra.

The rocky East coast of Barra.

The next day we were on our last ferry taking us back to Oban.

What a great adventure – the Outer Hebrides are best explored at the speed of a push bike!

The Hebrides

 

Top tips!  Book accommodation as early as possible and at least six months in advance.  Barra is particularly difficult. Cycle South to North with the prevailing wind. The ferries are regular but infrequent.  Check ferry times when planning your days.  There are very few places where you can get any help with mechanical problems with your bike. Service your machines before you go and take tools and spares in quantity!

 

GPX Files

Day 8: Aborted trip to Callanish Stones

Day 9: Stornoway to Butt of Lewis

Day 10: Lewis to Loch Seaforth

Day 11: Loch Seaforth to Leverburgh

Day 12: Berneray to Benbecula

Day 13: Benbecula to Lochboisdale

Day 14: Lochboisdale to Eriskay | Tour of Barra and Vatersay

Day 15: Another tour of Barra

The Scottish Tour Part 1. Oban to Ullapool

We stayed overnight at a B&B just outside Oban. In the morning before we left we posed for a picture – in the rain. I was very excited! It was 3 km down to the ferry (ever mindful that we had this 3 km and 171m of elevation to ride on our return).

Leaving our B&B in Oban

We were the only cyclists waiting in the rain at Oban as we watched the incoming ferry dock.

The Oban to Mull ferry

It was still raining heavily when we got off the ferry on Mull at Craignure. We cycled the 18km to Salen, where we stopped for our first coffee and cake. We prolonged our visit long enough for the rain to ease off. On again around the West coast of Mull. This is a scenic route with a few hills and a wonderful waterfall.

Eas Fors on the west coast of Mull

The views out to Ulva and the Trenish Isles were fantastic and distracted us from the hills.

Looking south across Loch na Keal to Ben More

What goes up must come down and we had a glorious descent down to Calgary Bay.

Empty road descending to Calgary bay – blue skies and sunshine

When we were planning this trip we ensured the schedule allowed time for relaxation off the bikes and time to explore.

Relaxing at Trenish Point. Just beautiful.

We arrived at Mornish school house our overnight stop about 1500 so we had time to visit Langamull beach before dinner.

As we left Mornish the following morning it was quite dull and it rained a little on the undulating ride to Tobermory.

Tobermory

Tobermory was built as a fishing port in the late 18th century and is now the main town on Mull. It is a picture-postcard of a place with the brightly painted buildings along the main street to the pier.

We were there in plenty of time for our second Calmac trip across to Ardnamurchan.

Calmac are vital to the economy of the Highlands and islands of Scotland

Calmac operate throughout Scotland’s Hebridean and Clyde islands, stretching from Arran in the south to Lewis in the north. Operating 475 sailings per day in summer and around 350 per day in winter, they carry in excess of 4.9 million passengers per annum.

We landed at Kilchoan and made quite a long, planned detour to visit Ardnamurchan Point which lies at the Western end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It is the most Westerly point on the British Mainland.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has been guiding ships safely through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849.

We were ready for our second cake stop by the time we got back to Kilchoan but Sunday closing denied us this. We slogged up the B8007 (not feeling much like James Bond) in ever increasing humidity before a quick descent to sea level at Loch Sunart. The Nadurra Visitor Centre was open and we welcomed an opportunity to escape indoors with tea and scones in front of their fire. We dripped in there for as long as possible and then completed our day with a splendid ride through Glenborrodale to the Salen Hotel.

Humidity was still high as we began day 3. Facilities for cake shopping and cafes are abundant at Acharacle but this was too early in the day even for us. We continued along the A861 undulating all the way with splendid views until we reached a flat kilometre of road along Loch Moidart. Here we discovered the first of many references in the local culture to Bonnie Prince Charlie. The seven companions who accompanied Bonnie Prince Charlie aboard Du Teillay on his voyage from France to Scotland in 1745 came from here. Our thoughts were drawn to the huge hill ahead of us that would take us into a new landscape. Through the drizzle at the crest of the hill we could admire the wonderful Sound of Arisaig ahead of us. We had to continue all the way to Arisaig before finding a cafe for coffee and cake.

We bumbled along the coast road at Arisaig admiring the wonderful beaches

We arrived at Mallaig with plenty of time to do our shopping at the Co-op. Our overnight stop at the Flora MacDonald hostel on Skye required us to self cater! The beer weighed heavy in my panniers but it wasn’t very far to ride.

Mallaig ferry terminal. Note the shadows

We delayed our start on day 4 due to the torrential rain. Knoydart was across the Sound of Sleat but it was obscured in the low cloud. At 1000 we ventured out and were immediately soaked.

Ian on the Skye Bridge. Wet wet wet

Kyle of Lochalsh provided us with Hectors Bothy and we dripped in there until the rain stopped and the sun came out. Our route wiggled its way through lovely forested, quiet lanes with glimpses of Loch Carron before emerging onto the A890 at Achmore.

The sign post at Achmore. Well up north now.

Grinding slowly up the hill at Stromeferry (no ferry) we suffered our first midge attack and stopped to retaliate with our Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ spray. It seemed to work but they couldn’t keep up anyway once we were descending along Loch Carron to our overnight stop at Strathcarron.

The sun was shining as we cycled along Loch Carron to start Day 5. The first hill took us up and over to Loch Kishorn.

North Coast 500. A stream of Westfields, it was quite fun to have them all wait in passing places while we cycled past!

We were now on the North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to Route 66.The route runs to and from Inverness, up the West Coast and back via the rugged north coast. The route is proving very popular with motorists of all types. There were fleets of classic cars, streams of motorbikes and the dreaded camper vans. Although the route has brought much needed revenue to the Highlands it has mixed blessings. Complaints that the motorhomes do not contribute anything positive were frequent from local business. We had no intention of going over Bealach na Ba but cyclists are experiencing congested roads and the beautiful village of Applecross ‘wrecked’ since NC 500 has become popular.

Our onward route was beautiful and secluded as all the traffic was going around the coast, so we enjoyed the ride though Glensheildaig Forest to Sheildaig. Nanny’s cafe at Sheildaig on the shores of Glen Torridon was most enjoyable. Superb cake!

We ascended to the viewpoint above Loch Torridon.

The viewpoint above Loch Torridon

Once around the head of Loch Torridon at Annat the next 30km to Kinlochewe through Glen Torridon were fantastic. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Beautiful remote wild scenery through Glen Torridon

Our overnight stop was at the Loch Maree Hotel.

Loch Maree Hotel

The views from the Hotel are fantastic.

We braved the midges to walk along the Loch.

Loch Maree

One of the highlights for Ian was feeding vegetable peelings to wild deer that turn up at 1600 every day for their treat.

Daily visitors at the Loch Maree hotel

We had the inevitable morning shower to wake us up as we continued our journey to Gairloch. The well placed Coast Coffee Company on the pier provided a refuge for us to drip in.

The scenery was excellent as we continued our way along the North West coast of Scotland.

Gairloch

Our route for the day allowed for a visit to the superb National Trust Gardens at Inverewe.

Inverewe Gardens

Our overnight stop was at Laide and we left our bags there and rode out to Mellon Udrigle beach.

Mellon Udrigle is a stunning white sandy beach offering unparalleled views of some of the spectacular Highland mountains.

Backed by dunes and framed by rocky promontories, Mellon Udrigle is one of the most attractive pieces of coastline in Wester Ross. With clear, turquoise water and clean white sand, the beach is spectacular in itself without its stunning location. However what makes the beach really special is a distant mountain vista possibly unequalled from any low level viewpoint in Scotland. To the north east the views include the distinctive profile of Suilven, near Lochinver, taking in the mountains of Coigach, including a glimpse of the top of Stac Pollaidh. To the south east the views conclude with a glimpse of An Teallach.

Mellon Udrigle beach with fantastic mountain backdrop

Our last day of riding on the Scottish mainland took us along Gruinard Bay passing Gruinard Island infamous for anthrax testing in World War 2.

Our first climb of the day gave us a fantastic view over Little Loch Broom.

Little Loch Broom

The following 15km to Dundonnell hardly required a turn of the pedals as it was predominantly downhill.

The next 26 km to Braemore junction had an ascent of 430 metres with a maximum elevation of 340 m. It was superb riding across the bleak, remote moor once we got up there.

The high point of the tour. 340 metres above sea level! (This is not the Alps!)

Another long, speeding descent brought us to Corrieshalloch Gorge for a planned exploration stop.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

After a testing walk (I’m not keen on high bridges) we enjoyed coffee and Malteser cake from the Gorge refreshment van and finished our mainland riding with 20km down the A835 into Ullapool.

Ullapool looking serene in the evening sun

GPX Files

Day 1: Craignure to Moornish Schoolhouse

Day 2: Moornish Schoolhouse to Salen

Day 3: Salen to Mallaig | Armadale to Flora McDonald Hostel

Day 4: Flora McDonald Hostel to Strathcarron

Day 5: Strathcarron to Loch Maree

Day 6: Loch Maree to Laide

Day 7: Laide to Ullapool

The Reluctant Cyclist

I love riding my bike, but my husband Ian does not share my passion. He has always supported my sporting endeavours without breaking into a sweat himself. He maintains and services my bikes. He even cleans them for me. He pretends to take an interest when I am wittering on about Strava segments. He takes me to events and stands around for ages supporting me and says ‘well done dear’ or ‘never mind dear’ in the appropriate places. He even comes out to rescue me in the team car when necessary. But he’s always avoided actually riding a bike. Getting out of breath, getting sweaty, and having aching legs was never going to happen.

This changed in the summer of 2016 when he decided to have a go at mountain biking. I’m still not really sure why he did this but I think there was an element of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ The whole idea was that it would be something we could do together.

Early outing on the new mountain bikes

It took a couple of months for him to get used to the sweaty, out of breath, aching legs element of the sport and it became a familiar sight to see him bent over the bars at the top of a hill cursing and swearing to himself.

‘You’ll enjoy it’ she said…

However, he has gradually got used to it and he has got pretty good and although I can’t say he is avid, he has come to enjoy it mostly.

A rare cycling smile

In the year since he began riding he has become much fitter and now weighs the same as he did when he was 19! Not quite the same shape though and less hair!

He was persuaded – albeit very reluctantly – to ride the Dawes Galaxy that I used for LeJog in 2013.

The £150 ebay Dawes Galaxy

He was not keen and thought road riding ‘boring.’ However, he has gradually come round to the idea that a touring holiday, on his terms, was a possibility. He is still quite reticent about this – and we start our Scottish Highlands and Islands tour very soon. All the accommodation is booked. We are going!

All smiles ready for our tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands

The Western Isles have been on my bucket list since I was a student in Edinburgh in the 1970’s. I have never been there. On my LeJog adventure I really enjoyed the West Coast of Scotland so we have devised a round trip from Oban. We ride North to Ullapool where we get the ferry to Stornoway and then we ride up to the Butt of Lewis and then all the way down to Vatersay.

Ian’s T and C’s are that there will be no rain, no midges, and no hills! T and C’s that we can control and are more realistic include daily distances and elevation that are manageable without it being too arduous. In practice this means the maximum distance is 80km in a day with less than 1000m of elevation. Total distance will be about 750km which is getting on for 500 miles in 14 cycling days with about 10,000m of elevation. There are a couple of short days which I call rest days! Accommodation is comfortable and requires minimum effort. In practice this means nice hotels with good food. There is one night in a hostel (private room with en suite) where we will have to self cater. He can cope.

Other equipment that has been deemed necessary for the tour includes:
Gortex waterproof boots.

Warm, dry feet…tick

Nice shiny new panniers.

Waterproof panniers…tick

Plenty of this…

Commercial quantities of midge repellent…tick

And a little bit of this.

Completely superfluous sunscreen…tick

It’ll be fun. I really really want him to have a nice time. Much will depend on the weather so I’m hoping it will not pour with rain and blow a gale all the time.

The Long Walk continues in the Lake District

We had had fine dry weather for the first four days of our Long Walk. The 5th day it became a bit wet as we entered the Lake District National Park. The 6th day it was definitely raining with low cloud. We had to get from Haweswater to Ambleside and had planned to go over High Street and Thornthwaite Crag. We decided to take a lower, though longer route and avoid the high fells in the wind, rain and poor visibility.

We walked beside Haweswater to the car park at the end and then set off up towards the Gatesgarth Pass. It’s one of those off road roads which are not that nice to walk on but we gained elevation steadily and soon left the valley behind. At 570m on the pass we were in thick cloud with horizontal rain being driven at us by the strong wind. This verified our decision to stay relatively low. The bad decision was to wear shorts – rather chilly!

We hastened on down into Longsleddale. At Sadgill we took the path over to Kentmere.

On the way to Kentmere

It was great to get off the ‘road’ and we took a footpath over the side of the fell down into Kentmere. The drought which the Lake District had been enjoying in early spring was now over and the fells were once more wet and soggy with water running everywhere.

Kentmere is a small village in the South of the Lake District. It has a population of 160 and is a popular place to start many walks as it is at the end of the tarmac road and gives good access onto the fells. Our onward route towards Ambleside took us over the Garburn Pass which is a restricted by-way. Another off road road but one that no longer allows motorised vehicles. The pass brought us down into Troutbeck and after a precipitous walk up to Townend we found that the Old Post Office cafe was still open. A very welcome break in front of their real fire.

The remaining 5km to Ambleside was along Robin Lane and then through Skelghyll Woods. This is a well constructed path which is a very popular, easy walk between Troutbeck and Ambleside. It was a pleasant end to a long day and it had stopped raining!

The next day was dry and bright so we were able to continue with the Long Walk as planned. The plan started with a ride on a bus to Grasmere where we once again picked up the Coast to Coast route up from Mill Bridge to Grisedale Tarn.

Archie at Grisedale Tarn

We walked round the West side of the tarn and up the pitched path to Dollywagon Pike. The path is mostly 10 – 15 years old now and receives heavy use. The hillside it sits on is unstable and needs constant maintenance to re-do and lengthen drains and repitch sections that have moved. It is a fine path to gain elevation and we were soon up to 850m. Another kilometre on the ridge brought us to Nethermost Pike. There was a keen wind blowing and I made use of a small stone shelter to change my clothes as conditions had quite suddenly become very cold. Fortunately, despite carrying as little as possible I had included enough warm clothes to be comfortable and safe on the mountains. We continued to Helvellyn.

Helvellyn summit

After a quick photo shoot we continued to the North, leaving the crowds behind. We continued over Lower Man and up onto Raise.

The summit of Raise

We continued walking north crossing the Sticks Pass which connects Thirlmere with Ulswater. Then followed Stybarrow Dodd, Watsons Dodd and Great Dodd and continued to the Northerly end of the ridge at Clough Head.

Clough Head

It was then a simple matter of making a beeline for Threlkeld where we were staying for the night. I haven’t said much about our overnight billets and they were mostly very good. However, – do yourself a favour and NEVER stay at the Horse and Farrier at Threlkeld!

The next day was very wet. We had planned to go up Skiddaw but instead we walked directly to Keswick. Following the floods in December 2015 the Keswick to Threlkeld Railway path suffered serious damage. Two of the railway bridges that cross the River Greta and around 200 metres of the path surface were washed away and Rawsome Bridge was left in danger of collapse. The cost to repair the path is estimated at £5m and there is still extensive work to be done. In the mean time there is an alternative route and this is what we followed. We spent some time in Keswick with the attractions of shopping and cafes but these were quickly exhausted. Our next mode of transport was by motorised launch from Keswick to Hawes End.

On the boat in horizontal rain

The weather had not improved and we were soaked to the skin when we arrived at Littletown Farm for our overnight stay. This was a mere 2km walk along the valley from Hawes End. At one point I was lifted off my feet by the wind.

After a very comfortable night in the Newlands Valley at Littletown we woke to find the rain was still pouring and the wind was still blowing around 20mph in the valley. Once again we had to modify our plan. We had to get to Wasdale Head. The plan had been to go over the high fells at the head of the Newlands Valley, over the Honister Pass and visit Great Gable. It was still a long walk to get to Wasdale and our safest route was to cross over Maiden Moor and drop down into Borrowdale at Manesty. There had been so much rain that the roads were now flooded and all the streams were roaring.

Wet, wet, wet

We continued on the bridleway passing Castle Crag to Seatoller.

It was decision time.

At Seatoller

The shortest way to Wasdale Head was over Sty Head Pass at 488m. In the present conditions we were heading directly into a very strong wind – steady at 25mph – gusting over 30mph with driving rain. We were already soaked to the skin despite being clothed top to toe in gortex and poor Archie was also looking fairly bedraggled. The alternative was a very expensive taxi back to Keswick and on to Wasdale via Cockermouth, Whitehaven and Gosforth. We decided to have a go but were not sure if we would make it over the pass.

It was very noisy. The wind was roaring and everywhere water was thundering down off the fells. We crossed Grains Gill at Stockley Bridge.

Stockley Bridge – library pic . It was massive when we were there

This is a library picture. The conditions were too wild to get any pictures of our own. We then had to cross several small streams – cascading down the hill. I was worried Archie would get washed away but he had no problems.  We made our way to the banks of Styhead Gill which we then followed upwards. We met 2 parties of walkers who had abandoned their attempts to get any further due to the strength of the wind! Ian was starting to flag – he hates the wind – and it was all starting to get a bit sketchy. Archie was game though and he stoically continued to make forwards progress.

Thankfully there is a footbridge across Styhead Gill. The rain stopped for about 10 minutes and this brief respite enabled us to get across the bridge and soon after Sty Head Tarn came into view. Ian commented that the sea state on the tarn was suitable for BCU 4* sea assessment! We  only had about another 500m and we would be at the pass. It wasn’t until we got to this point that I began to believe we would make it. Once we were at the pass we could immediately begin to descend into Wasdale.

The path from Wasdale was an old packhorse trail. At the highest point is the confluence of paths from Wasdale, Eskdale, Borrowdale and Great Langdale. We were coming up from Borrowdale.

Sty Head forms an important navigational and safety point between Great Gable and Scafell Pike, and there is a Mountain Rescue Stretch Box at the pass. We briefly cowered in the shelter of the stretcher box and checked the map and GPS to make absolutely certain that we were dropping down into Wasdale. A mistake at this point would have been bad. Archie led the way doing his mountain goat impersonation down the steep sections of the path. The wind affected him much less as he is so low to the ground. For a 10 year old little terrier he was very impressive. The conditions were really harsh and Archie just got on with it. This is a dog who can ‘man up’.

After what seemed like too long we caught a glimpse through the cloud of Wasdale opening up ahead of us. We were saved! It was all going to work out well. The amount of water thundering off the hill was really impressive and very noisy. As we lost height the world became a better place and we made our walk thankfully to the Hotel where we had a room booked. It was that £30 deposit we had paid that drove the day!

It was worth it though. The staff made a great fuss of Archie: towelled him down and gave him biscuits. We were shown our room with a hot radiator and a hot shower and an adjacent drying room. Our room quickly resembled a sauna and we had to prop the sash window open with the Good News Bible!

Broken sash window fixed.

There was beer and food in the Ritsons bar. There was even a dry calm weather forecast for the following day.

What a difference a day makes. The following morning we walked back up to the stretcher box at Sty Head. It was dry with a gentle breeze! Sty Head looked very calm.

A much calmer day – at Sprinkling Tarn

We walked along the bridleway passing Sprinkling Tarn to Esk Hause. At this point most folk go up to Scafell Pike but we continued onto Esk Pike down to Ire Gap and then onto Bowfell. The path then drops steeply down to Three Tarns and then up onto Crinkle Crags. Crinkle Crags is much too good to be missed. It is a rough rocky mile of craggy slopes with many ins and outs as well as ups and downs. The ridge is a delight with the scenery constantly changing. Our first top was the Shelter Crags and after that there are five tops of Crinkles all above 750m. Wainwright describes it as Lakeland’s best ridge-mile. Archie agreed and he very obviously enjoyed our traverse of Crinkle Crags.

Crinkle Crags

We dropped of the crags and walked down to the pass near Red Tarn. We were having a really good day so we decided that an ascent of Pike o Blisco as an extra peak was in order. We had great views of the Langdales from the top and enjoyed the long descent down to the Blea Tarn Road. From there we had planned to go over Lingmoor Fell to get to our overnight stop at Elterwater. It now looked enormous so we backed out and walked along Greater Langdale instead. This was an easy if rather long winded alternative!

The Britannia Inn had food, beer and a comfortable room. Our last day dawned dry and bright so we decided to do our ‘half-day’ walk as planned. Little Langdale is much more picturesque than Great Langdale. We continued past Little Langdale Tarn and walked up a long grassy ride towards Swirl Howe. On the walk to Swirl Howe at Great Carrs the path passes a memorial.
This is the site of a wartime air crash and bears the sad remains of a Royal Canadian Air Force Handley Page Halifax bomber.

Memorial on Great Carrs

The undercarriage, together with a wooden cross and memorial cairn lies on the top of the ridge with the rest of the wreckage spread down Broad Slack.

Summit of Swirl Howe

It looked like a very long way from Swirl Howe to the summit of The Old Man of Coniston but it is less than 3km with outstanding views all around. We had seen nobody on our walk thus far but as we approached the Old Man of Coniston we could see crowds of people at the summit. This is a very popular fell. Many people who would not consider themselves regular hill walkers walk up there from Coniston. It was a lovely day and it was good to see so many inappropriately dressed people enjoying the fells.

Our last summit – Old Man of Coniston

For us all that remained was to wander down the well-worn path into Coniston. There was time for a celebratory ice cream while we waited for the bus back to reality.

Celebratory ice cream

The Long Walk

The gpx file for this section can be found here.

Day 5: Brownber Hall near Newbiggin on Lune to the Haweswater Hotel.

After walking from Skipton to Newbiggin on Lune over 4 days we turned left on the 5th day and headed west towards Shap and the Lake District.

The route we followed was familiar as it was the Coast to Coast route we had walked in 2016. This year we were going the other way. It soon became clear that we were going the ‘wrong’ way as a steady procession of C2C walkers were heading West to East.

Deja vu

We walked up onto Sunbiggin moor to the magically named Sunbiggin Tarn which is a mecca for bird watchers. We were on a mission with 34 kilometres ahead of us so we bounded on our way enjoying the grassy surface. It had been an unusually dry spring in the North of England and there were fire hazard signs on the moor. We crossed the B6260 above Orton and now, still in the Yorkshire Dales National Park thanks to the 2016 boundary change, we walked across the Crosby Ravensworth Moor.

The Crosby Ravensworth moor contains a number of interesting historical features. There is a Roman Road near to the Black Dub monument. This records a stopping place of King Charles II and his invading army from Scotland in 1651. A number of bields and ancient cairns are dotted about and on White Hags there is a stone circle made up of granite boulders.

Is this the Roman Road?

The presence of granite is another of the fell’s points of interest. Although the main underlying rock is limestone the area is also notable for a number of erratic granite boulders. In a couple of places in the Orton Fells these granite erratics are called thunder stones. The most impressive boulder is right on the C2C path. It sits on a heavily crushed plinth of limestone.

A granite erratic

Oddendale is a small settlement east of Shap and from there the route is close by the M6. It is very odd to be out on a long walk with car whizzing by at 70 mph. How wonderful it was to be one of those out walking and not sitting in the car going somewhere else.

So far on our Long Walk we had enjoyed dry, warm, sunny weather. As we approached the M6 it became increasingly cloudy. We left the Yorkshire Dales National Park behind as we crossed the M6 to Shap. Heading West from Shap we entered the Lake District National Park and guess what – it started to rain!

Still smiling…

Our route from Shap went through the hamlet of Keld and then across the moor down in to the beautiful remote valley of Swindale.

We looked down into the valley and could clearly see the result of work which was carried out in 2016.

The original straight channel and the new bendy river

A couple of hundred years ago the beck was straightened out in an attempt to create more farm land – however, this turned out not to be the best solution for helping wildlife to thrive or for managing flooding.

So, in an exciting project that benefits both people and wildlife, Natural England, the RSPB, the Environment Agency and United Utilities have worked together to put the beck back to something like its original, bendy course.

The Swindale Beck work is part of wider efforts to restore rivers in the UK so that natural processes help manage flood risk and benefit people and wildlife.

There were also hundreds of very new lambs in this valley and we saw our first Herdwicks.

Herdwick sheep

There was yet another short climb out of Swindale and over the moor – passing through a field of just born lambs and down to Naddle Farm and on to the Haweswater Dam.

Haweswater is a reservoir built in the Mardale Valley. The controversial construction of the Haweswater dam started in 1929, after Parliament passed an Act giving the Manchester Corporation permission to build the reservoir to supply water for Manchester. The decision caused public outcry, since the farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green would be flooded, with their inhabitants needing to be relocated. The original natural lake was raised by 29 metres.

Manchester Corporation built a new road along the eastern side of the lake to replace the flooded highway lower in the valley, and the Haweswater Hotel was constructed midway down the length of the reservoir as a replacement for the Dun Bull. The road continues to the western end of Haweswater, to a car park,

It was along this road that we now briskly walked in the drizzle towards the Haweswater Hotel which was to be our billet for the night.

Haweswater in the drizzle with low cloud base (still beautiful)

The gpx file for day 5 can be found here.

The Long Walk Part 1. The Yorkshire Dales and the Howgills

Skipton to Newbiggin on Lune.

Day 1

Skipton is a few miles outside the southern boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The National Park was extended in 2016 by 24%. The extension is in the North Eastern part of the park and now includes the Northern part of the Howgill Fells and up towards the A66. It extends west to the M6. This extension meant that this first section of the walk was entirely within the Yorkshire Dales – even though parts of it are in Cumbria and even a small amount in Lancashire.

The official start of the Long Walk was at the Truman statue in Skipton.

The Truman statue in Skipton

This is a bronze statue of the Yorkshire and England cricketer which was unveiled in 2010. We left Skipton via the beautiful Castle woods. The weather was dry but quite cool with a brisk north easterly breeze. We crossed the A59 and entered Skipton Golf Course. We had a fine view of the £13m flood alleviation works which has been developed by engineering firm Ove Arup.  Skipton and the surrounding area has suffered some serious flooding events in recent history. The scheme involves the building of two flood storage reservoirs on Eller Beck and Walter Hill Beck and the installation of flood walls in the town centre which should protect the town and surrounding area from further flooding.

As soon as we entered the National Park we were on fine open moorland.

Into the National Park

We were walking with cousins Ian and Rachel who kindly helped us with logistics and were joining us for the first few miles.

We celebrated the ascent of our first peak – Sharp Haw (357m) with a group selfie.

Group selfie

We were following the Dales High Way on this first day and we went down to the hamlet of Flasby.  The Dales High Way is a 90 miles Long Distance footpath from Saltaire in West Yorkshire to Appleby in Cumbria. The return to Saltaire from Appleby can be made on the scenic Carlisle to Settle Railway.

The Dales High Way took us on through Hetton- where we somehow walked past the pub- and then over several miles of open moor up to Weets Hill (414m). The view from the trig point encompasses Pendle to the west, but its outstanding view is of the limestone country to the north. All three of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks can be seen and even Malham Cove is visible.

All that remained was to walk down the lane to Malham. Of course it was not downhill all the way because after Goredale Scar we had to climb up again.

We found a permitted footpath that kept us off the road and led us down into our destination for the day Beck Hall at Malham.

23km | 750m ascent


Day 2

The following morning we were off bright and early heading for Malham Cove in lovely spring sunshine. Our destination for the day was Horton in Ribblesdale. The Pennine Way was also going that way so we routed along it.

The first feature is Malham Cove. The large, curved feature was formed by a waterfall carrying meltwater from glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago. Above the cove is a fantastic limestone pavement.

Limestone pavement

We walked through a limestone gorge which led us out onto a huge plain occupied by Malham Tarn, which is a glacial lake. The surrounding area is a wetland of international importance. Unusually in May 2017 the area was extremely dry having not had any rain for several weeks. This was soon to change!

North of the Malham Tarn Estate, which is managed by the National Trust, the route heads once again onto open moor with excellent limestone scenery. The route climbs gently to Fountains Fell –the 4th Yorkshire peak after Pen y Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. The view from Fountains Fell was spectacular with Pen y Ghent looming large.

Pen y Ghent in the distance

The route drops down to the Silverdale Road which we followed for a mile or so before following the path across the moor and onwards to the ascent of Pen y Ghent.

Pen y Ghent is part of the Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge. This involves the ascent of Pen y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in less than 12 hours, a journey of 38 km with 1500m of elevation. Luckily we were here on a weekday and there were not many other people walking. At weekends the area can get very busy and this puts pressure on local resources and on the path itself.

A lot of the paths used on the challenge have been rebuilt using 300kg flagstones. Work is underway on the northern side of the hill to replace a badly eroded gravel path.

Path maintenance

A lot of the paths have been built in the heavily used areas and our feet were longing for some nice soft grass after several hours of these stone flags.

As we descended, Jan our host at Middle Studfold Farm, called to offer us a lift to the house from the middle of Horton in Ribblesdale. We accepted!

25.3 km | 950m ascent


Day 3

Middle Studfold Farm is a country mile from Horton in Ribblesdale. It is an exceptionally good B&B and offers evening meals too. In the morning we decided to walk along the river back to Horton and to the start of the climb up Ingleborough. The river was very low due to there having been no rain here for 4 weeks.

Thr river levels were very low

It was a very pleasant start to the day with wild flowers beginning to bloom and lots of very young lambs enjoying the sunshine. We weren’t following any particular long distance path, just our own route from Horton to Dent.

The climb to Ingleborough from Horton in Ribblesdale is quite long and mostly gentle. It was in our minds that we had a long day ahead of us and we were moving along steadily. We were pleased to catch up with another walker and exchanged a few words. It turned out that this 83 year old was an ex fell runner and was just getting out to do what he could these day. I’ll be very happy if I can be walking in terrain like this in 20 years time!

The top of Ingleborough (723m) is a bare moonscape of broken limestone. We paused for a flag photo on the trig point.

Ingleborough summit

The onward route is extremely steep downhill off the top of Ingleborough down to Chapel-le-Dale. We crossed magnificent limestone pavements and passed a huge shakehole, Braithwaite Wife Hole. We crossed the road at Chapel-le-Dale. There is a pub here and we had a terrible lunch there, but we won’t go into that.

The last of the 3 peaks is Whernside – a high whale like lump. It is the highest of the 3 peaks at 736m. The ascent is pleasant enough to begin with but then it becomes very steep for about 500m and I found this quite tiring. I was pleased when it eventually became less precipitous and we could stride along to the trig point. It was mid week so we were alone up there but I can imagine it becomes very busy at weekends and holiday times.

The summit of Whernside

It was already 15:30 and we still had about 10km to walk. Although this was prevailingly downhill there was a lot of paving or rough stony tracks. Our feet were getting quite sore so when we eventually got down to the River Dee we were very pleased. There was no water in the River Dee, which was a bit of a surprise.

The very dry River Dee

We walked along the River Dee, which eventually did get a little water, towards Dent. We were now in Cumbria on the western slopes of the Pennines and still within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The village of Dent is on the Dales Way and Dales High Way and the George and Dragon is a popular stop for walkers. It is one of those that the companies who transfer baggage use. We were very pleased to arrive eventually at 17:45 and enjoyed a pint (or two) of the traditionally brewed craft beer from the local brewery.

All 3 of us were very tired after a long day walking in the sun and wind.

32.1 km | 1100m ascent


Day 4

The next day we were walking over the little visited Howgills but first we had a lovely, gentle walk along the River Dee (now flowing a little more strongly) towards Sedburgh. After 4 miles we crossed the river and at Brackensgill proceeded to climb around the shoulder of the Frostrow Fells through woodland and a walled track to emerge through a gate onto open pasture overlooking Sedbergh with an excellent view of the Howgills beyond.

Sedbergh is a small town in Cumbria though historically it was in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Sedbergh dates back to Saxon times. Sedbergh school is an independent boarding school in the town. It was established in 1525. The schools are the main employer in the town but Sedbergh has become England’s book town with independent book shops and dealers who operate from the Dales and Lakes Book Centre. Other major sources of income are farming, retail and tourism.

We contributed to the economy by buying some excellent chilled blackcurrant drink that helped us on our way to the next stage of the journey – The Howgills.

The Howgills

The Howgills are the hills on the right as you drive North to more interesting mountains in the Lake District and Scotland. They are visited much less and are very quiet. They are also grassy which to us was most welcome after several days of paved tracks and rough stony lanes in the Dales. The Howgills are in Cumbria and in 2016 became wholly in the Yorkshire Dales National Park when the boundary changed. They are separated from the Lake District in the west by the River Lune which runs along the M6. They are formed from Ordovician and Silurian rocks rather than Carboniferous limestone found elsewhere in the Yorkshire Dales. They are characterised by the lack of walls and fences.

The climb up from Sedbergh was initially steep but opened out onto gentler grassy slopes. There were a series of minor summits as we made our way North.

Minor summit along the way

The highest point on the Howgills is The Calf at 676m.

The summit of The Calf

We were hoping it was going to be a nice grassy path all the way down to Bowderdale where the Howgill bridleway meets the Lune Valley and the A685. It was quite nice and grassy and a lovely clear day with far reaching views but those undulations took their toll so we were once again pretty tired by the time we got down.

Far reaching views from the Howgills to Lakeland

That wasn’t the end of it though – we had an interminable 3km walk along a lane to our destination: Brownber Hall.

Brownber Hall was our favourite stop on C2C in 2016 and this walk was arranged so we could stay there again. This year it was even more fabulous because it is licensed. A further development in the very near future is a restaurant.

Thus ended stage one of the 2017 pub crawl with some very nice Eden Best – a gorgeous, light chestnut best bitter.

Cheers…

27.3km | 1010m ascent

The gpx file for days 1 – 4 can be found here.

The Long Walk 2017 – aka a 172 mile pub crawl

One of the most enjoyable adventures we had in 2016 was walking the Coast to Coast with our Border Terrier Archie.

Archie

Archie is 10 years old now but he’s pretty fit so we decided to do another long walk. C2C was great fun but there were bits of it we enjoyed more than others. We decided to plan our own route creating a long walk through challenging upland wilderness in the North of England.

The attractions of planning our own long distance walk.

  • Lots of planning with maps out!
  • Discovering new and interesting places.
  • Covering vast areas of the country.
  • Being autonomous.

The logistics can be challenging. Planning a walk over a two week period creates an organisational challenge – especially when a small dog is in the team. There are a limited number of accommodation providers who are willing to accept even a small, well behaved dog, so our route and distance between accommodations was largely dictated by where we could find to stay. We carry all our own stuff so camping is not an option. We carry as little as possible and wash stuff out at the end of each day. After a couple of weeks everything is getting quite riffy.

Pre-booking accommodation is essential given the limited options. The down side of this is pre-booking usually requires part payment in advance, so not getting there is not really an option.Wasting a deposit would not sit well with my northern roots.

We had a time window of 13 days. Two days were needed to travel to and from the walking area so we had 11 days to walk.  We have kind relatives living on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales who were willing to help us out with logistics. A rough plan emerged to walk North from Skipton taking in the Yorkshire 3 peaks and the Howgills.

The Dorset flag reaches Whernside the highest point in the Yorkshire Dales

The Howgills – rounded green hills. Fewer visitors than the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. 

Then there would be a link day when we would walk west from Newbiggin on Lune to the Lake District. We then reckoned we could have a splendid 6 days walking around the highest bits of the Lakes. At the planning stage I tried to create a walking day of about 6 hours. As it turned out some were longer – none were shorter!

Our first night was with our relatives in Burley in Wharfedale and then they took us to the start of our walk which began at Skipton. At the end of the walk we were kindly scooped up at Windermere and returned to Burley.

Understanding relatives provided a taxi service and began our walk with us. 

Accommodation on the walk was at:
1. Beck Hall, Malham.
2. Middle Studfold Farm, near Horton in Ribbelsdale.
3. George and Dragon, Dent.
4. Brownber Hall, near Newbiggin on Lune.
5. Haweswater Hotel.
6. Lacet House, Ambleside.
7. Horse and Farrier Inn, Threlkeld.
8. Littletown guesthouse, Newlands near Keswick.
9. Wasdale Head Inn.
10. Britannia Inn, Elterwater.

The places we chose to stay were prioritised because they were dog friendly. However – they were predominantly pubs or were licensed. Brownber Hall was a return visit as we had voted it the top place to stay on our 2016 C2C.

The moor bewteen the Howgills and the Lake District. 

It was overall the winner this year too, although some of the others also warrant a return, most notably The Wasdale Head Inn, Littletown Guesthouse and Middle Studfold Farm. The only place we would definitely not return to, even if they paid us handsomely, is the Horse and Farrier at Threlkeld!

The stuff we carried was the same as C2C in 2016

We once again chose the hair shirt method – not using a company such as Sherpa to transfer our baggage. We carried the minimum amount of stuff to be safe and comfortable on the high mountains in the Lake District whatever the weather, so we had all the usual clothing and equipment required for that.

In addition we had a change of clothes to wear in the evening. A small amount of toiletries and some medication and first aid stuff. We started with 2 maps and 4 days food for Archie. We posted the remaining food for Archie to Brownber Hall along with the Lake District Maps.

Long distance walking is low intensity exercise and we seem to mange perfectly well on minimum fuel. We eat as much as we can manage at breakfast and then most days we don’t really eat anything else until the evening. I know this will not suit most people but it suits us and we didn’t lose any weight! This may be due to the attention we gave to liquid and solid refuelling every evening, of course.

Helvellyn

The weather was out of our control. When looking at the route options between accommodations I did bear in mind foul weather alternatives. Unfortunately we did experience a few unsettled days in the Lake District. On the walk to Wasdale Head the conditions were such that no amount of gortex could prevent us being completely soaked. There are no sun terraces with rows of deck chairs at the Wasdale Head Inn. Drying rooms a plenty though – says it all really.

The Long Walk was a great success. All 3 of us enjoyed it enormously.  So for 2018 – how about the Southern Upland Way.  Another long distance coast to coast walk in the borders of Scotland?