Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Wansfell and Wansfell Pike from Ambleside

Ambleside always feels like a very welcoming place. With Loughrigg on the one side and Wansfell on the other it is safely nestled in and feels very cosy. The fells themselves are just as friendly, with easy access from the town and both offer a satisfying walk.

Wansfell has the added bonus of taking in the delightful Stock Ghyll Force waterfall on the way to the path up the fell.

With the number of daylight hours at their shortest in December, it is the ideal time to enjoy these lower fells which are straightforward to get to. We set off up the road towards Stock Ghyll Force just after lunch. The volume of rain which had fallen recently meant the falls were at full flow and as always were a joy to behold.

After the falls, the walk up to Wansfell Pike is an obvious and straightforward march up the path up the grassy slopes of the fell, with frequent stops to enjoy the vista opening up behind us. In particular the low sun cast some lovely light over Ambleside and beyond.

The weather took a brief turn for the worse when we reached the summit of Wansfell Pike, and we encountered a group huddled behind the wall hastily putting on their waterproofs. We had set off fully kitted out in winter gear so no need to stop as we headed alongside the wall that goes from Wansfell Pike to the fell summit of Wansfell.

This is a beautiful walk that feels very remote despite being a stone's throw away from Ambleside. The fell top was very quiet, the only people we passed were some hunt beaters, who it must be said did not look best pleased to see us! Oh well we were on a public footpath and enjoying the walk so we carried on the undulating path that took us to the summit cairn.

As per usual, as soon as the summit was in sight, the winds picked up and apart from a brief interval to snap a couple of pictures, we didn't hang around.

There wasn't a great deal of daylight left but we decided to vary the walk a little, taking a return route via the Troutbeck side of the fell before coming round back to Ambleside via The Hundreds, along Nanny Lane before passing through Skellghyll Wood.

The sunset provided some fantastic scenes across Windermere, which my camera sadly didn;t capture too well but this was a magical moment. It was getting quite dark by the time we reached the woods but not so dark that we needed to break out the headtorches.

Before we knew it we were back at our cosy bed and breakfast in Ambleside, happy with the gratifying walk we had just completed.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Another Winter Lyke Wake Crossing

And once again the North Yorks odyssey that is the Lyke Wake Walk had drawn us in. This was  my second attempt - the first time ended with me quite clearly thinking (if it’s possible to think clearly after a straight walk through the night for nineteen hours) “never again”! That thought only lasted on night and I remember at breakfast in the bed and breakfast in beautiful Rosedale the next morning how we already started planning the next crossing.

That actually took longer than anticipated, and so a year and a half later, Claire, Dave and myself were joined by Lyke Wake Walk newcomer Jimmy.This time around we were doing the walk without a support vehicle – no-one waiting at strategic spots to cheer us on and welcome us with hot drinks and food. More importantly no chance to bail - once we had set off from Osmotherley, that was it, no turning back.

We met up at the mast in Ravenscar, as we needed to leave a car there. Dave and Jimmy had spent the afternoon driving round the moors, dropping off bags of food and drink on the way so we wouldn’t have to carry too much. At 9:40 pm, we were back at Osmotherley, hands on the Lyke Wake stone for a quick photo, before setting off. And once again it begins...

As with my previous crossing a Winter crossing is bitterly cold, and the first mile was actually really tough going, attempting to walk on slippery asphalt that was like an ice rink. It was good to get off the road and into the countyside proper. For me, this is the moment when the Lyke Wake Walk really comes into its own, as you trudge along through the pitch black with a couple of head torches lighting the way. On some stretches on the moors, we all turned the lights off and could easily navigate my moonlight and this was quite a magical moment.

The next few miles use good woodland paths and cross a couple of fields. Previously we were accompanied by ghostly sheep in these fields but they seem to have been tucked up somewhere warmer on this cold night.

You then the higher ground of the Cleveland Hills, on the long haul up and over Carlton Bank. From here you have a spectacular view of the lights of Middlesbrough down to the north of you, and the sprawling hills around you.

By now we had settled into a decent walking pace, passing the newly opened (but at this time of night very much shut) Lord Stones Cafe and the night was still very much magical. By the time we hit the railway path and Bloworth Crossing we were going at some speed, and it meant that this section flew by and before we knew it, we could see the Lion Inn not far ahead. Here was our first food stash, and Dave and Jimmy had done us proud, providing with a gourmet feast. Home-made cookies, sandwiches, pasties, bananas and bottled water which miraculously had not frozen.

After this break I was nearly frozen solid and it was time to break out the hand-warmers to try and warm up a little as we headed off along road headed away from the Lion. Soon enough we had passed the sign for Fryup and it was time for the dreaded bog section. Except this time, the bog pretty much stretched from here all the way to Ravenscar as it was muddy all the way.

I maintain that the infamous bog isn't as bad as the next section - the bog you anticipate, but for me the next section past Blue Man I'Th' Moss is just as bad, and twice as long!

After a very long trudge, we had slowed right down, but that was to be expected. Eventually we reached the road at Wheeldale, and then headed down into the ravine. Normally we would use the stepping stones to cross the beck, but after recent heavy rains these were underwater and there was no real way of telling how slippery they would be. We weren't keen on completing the walk soaking wet and ice cold, so we walked upstream a little until we found a section we could just about jump across. Jimmy and Dave were once again the heroes here, going over first and helping me and Claire.

Simon Howe was next, and a brisk climb up from the beck was actually enjoyable for me, as it helped me warm up a little. By this point Dave and Jimmy were both suffering a little from bad knees, which is never pleasant. From Simon Howe, the early warning installation at Flyingdales no longer seemed so far away but even here the ground was decidedly boggy underfoot. We watched a train pass by as we reached the North Yorks Railway track, and at this point, we were still very much full of food and laden down with drink, so we left the food drop here intact and picked it up the next day when driving back.

I had been dreading the next section, as the walk along Eller Beck up to Lilla Cross last time was a bit of a nightmare with no discernible path, and a lot of streams to jump across. However this time, the direct footpath has been cleared and is easy to follow which we were very pleased about.

Once we had got up to Lilla Cross we could finally see the mast at Ravenscar. Once again, it seemed incredibly far away and at this point I could see some of our party getting a bit disheartened. I took a slurp of Claire's rather disgusting energy gel and off I went. This was the worst section for me as far as the path was concerned. Thick heavy, wet clay that stuck to your boots like glue and made for heavy going. This is also the point where two miles on the map feel like five miles on the ground - the section to Jugger Howe just feels endless!

Claire was really not looking forward to Jugger Howe, but although I had suffered a bit on the last few miles, Jugger Howe didn't phase me. I love the view as you go down the steep steps, cross the footbridge and back up the other side, knowing that the end is so near.

And yet so far. It's back on the metalled track across Stony Marl Moor rather than soft or boggy ground and this is a killer on the feet! The very last section is another that feels longer than it ought to. However this time round, finishing in daylight was a massive boost to the morale, as you could see the mast getting closer and closer, instead of the dull trudge it is in the dark with nothing there to motivate.

The sun was setting and by the time we reached the mast, the moors behind us looked beautiful and inviting. Beyond the mast we could see the vast expanse of the North Sea, and it was joy all round as we completed the walk at Ravenscar, exactly 18 hours after setting off from Osmotherley.

So that was it, LWW crossing number two completed for me. It felt a lot easier than the first time round. I think this was largely due to knowing what I was facing and being mentally prepared for the duration of each section and the challenges ahead.

Completing the Lyke Wake Walk gives you a real sense of achievement. It isn't impossible, nor is it the sole reserve of extreme walkers, but it does require some planning, patience, determination and a will to complete it. I admire anyone that attempts the walk.

We stayed the night in the excellent Flask Inn on the Whitby road, with its super comfortable beds, and cosy bar. Once again, we had some folk saying "never again" in the bar that evening, and by the next morning plans for the next crossing were being made. The Lyke Wake Walk just gets under your skin.