Friday, 25 September 2009

The High Road

According to the song, “Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”, with the chorus

“O ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak’ the low road,
An' I'll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond”

which, according to legend, was written by one of a pair of young Jacobite soldiers of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army after their capture by the English. The lyrics were given to the the other soldier to take back to Scotland to give to the first’s sweetheart. The “low road” refers to the underground spiritual route used by dead Highlanders’ souls to return to Scotland to their, according to another song,  “wee bit hill and glen”.

The rest of us, mere mortals and living Highlanders alike, are stuck with using the high road which, on the west coast, is often the A82 over Rannoch Moor and through Glen Coe. South of Glen Coe there are plenty of big hills but, in many respects, Glen Coe is the entrance to the big rugged rocky mountain ranges of the west coast of Scotland. Leaving Glen Coe as the road plunges over Rannoch Moor; a wild moorland far removed from the ‘tartan shortbread tin’ images of the Highlands. On Sunday morning a turbulent, threatening sky was building over Rannoch Moor almost as a reminder that in bad conditions this is as dangerous a place to be as any of the big hills further north.

South on the A82

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

South from Ballahulish

After Bill Williamson’s Ramsay Round attempt on Saturday and Wynn’s breakfast on Sunday all that remained to do was pack up and head south. Perversely, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, the weather improved throughout the journey south. The route through Glen Coe and over Rannoch Moor is almost always rushed but when I saw the sun over Loch Leven I decided the views were worth stopping for. The mountains on either side of Glen Coe were still wreathed in low clouds and I wasn’t quite able to capture the sunshine and swirling mist but the clouds on the hills south of Rannoch Moor produced very dramatic skies. Here are some of my favourites.

Looking west down Loch Leven Looking west down Loch Leven


Towards Kinlochleven

Towards  Kinnlochleven

Aonach Eagach

Aonach Eagach

South over Rannoch Moor South over Rannoch Moor

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Bill Williamson’s Ramsay Round

Almost 12 months ago Bill completed a Bob Graham Round, since then a Paddy Buckley Round and last Friday travelled north to tackle the Charlie Ramsay Round to complete all three within a year. September Ramsay Rounds are rare, not least, because of the shortage of daylight. Weather forecasts were promising but as Friday midnight approached so did low pressure which threatened to make Saturday afternoon less than ideal. I was fortunate to be able to join Bill’s support team and help on the short middle leg.

Final preparations at Fersit  Jean & Wynn with Chris as he finishes sorting kit for Leg 2


Early morning light at Loch Trieg

 Very early morning light at Loch Treig

morning light at Lock Treig  Early morning light at Loch Treig

Almost ready for Leg 2

 Alan recovers from Leg 1 while Bill prepares for Leg 2 with encouragement from Rob


climb out from Loch Treig

 Climbing out from Loch Treig

Loch Treig

 Loch Treig

Stob Coire Sgoirdain

 Stob Coire Sgoirdain and waterproofs are needed

Beinn na Lap

 Brief respite in Beinn na Lap

Loch Treig

 Back down to Loch Treig for some sunshine


Abhainn Rath

 Beautiful and remote Abhainn Rath south of Loch Treig


Regrettably the good weather we enjoyed on the second half of the leg wasn’t to last and as the evening wore on it deteriorated savagely.

Bill’s brief summary of the attempt -

“In retrospect it wasn't a good idea to do leg one in the dark.
It was a pitch black night and I kept getting on really rough terrain slowing us down.

Sorry for the "short cut" up Aonach Mor Alan. We were well to the left of the main path, I'm thinking of sending in details to the SMC and claiming a new route

Coming off Stob Coire Claurigh again got it wrong, when some light appeared I found myself in the middle of a large boulder field and had to clamber over them for ages until I could get on to the grass.

By this time I'd left my support hoping to meet them again after Stob Ban but they'd had trouble coming off Stob Coire Claurigh as well so I had to go over Stob Coire Easin on my own with only one power bar.

Felt very vulnerable here as they also had my cag and I could see the weather was changing, didn't know what I would do at Treig for a waterproof.
Half way up Stob A'Coire Mhead I spotted what I thought was someone on a training run coming off Easin by the time I got to the top he'd caught me, it was Alan with my cag and food.

By the time I got to Loch Treig I'd lost 1:10 not a good start

On leg two Chris and Ian were brilliant, I managed to rehydrate and get going again even though the cloud base dropped right down and the rain started.
By the time I got to the ruins at Loch Elide Mor I'd clawed back ten minutes but on the climb up Sgurr Elide Mor I bonked and lost 15.

By Binnean Beag another 6 had gone but the weather was getting worse now with gusts of 50 mph. I was knocked to the ground a few times going up Binnean Beag but the worrying thing was I couldn't keep warm going uphill, when I got back down to the col I was shivering and knew then I couldn't make the time as in a few hours it would be dark again and get even colder plus I was going into a headwind so I decided to call it a day.”


It was a huge privilege to be part of Bill’s team, to be able to contribute to the attempt and to share in the commitment of everyone involved. The disappointment of the final phone call was palpable and greeted with disbelief by all of us – we were all so sure, despite the difficulties, that Bill would make it. I have no doubts that we will all be back for next year.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Lake District Mountain Trial 2009

To quote from the event’s Website -

The Trial is an annual event held at different venues in the Lake District in mid-September. It is considered to be one of the major events in the fell-runner's calendar. The Men's and Women's courses will be severe tests of route choice, navigational skill and stamina in difficult mountain country. The men's route will cover a maximum of 20 miles and the ascent and descent of about 8000 ft. The women's route will be shorter (about two-thirds of the men's distance). Owing to the severity of these courses, applicants are vetted for fell-running experience and there is a minimum age of 21. The Short Trial caters principally for novices over 18 years old and veterans over 50. The course is about 10 miles in length with about 3500 ft of ascent and descent.

Sunday was my second Trial and having taken about seven  hours in 2007 I was hoping to be able to improve, mainly by making ‘less naive’ route choices. At the first check point I overheard another runner discussing his ‘plan for the day’ with one of the marshals - “today isn’t about times, it is about survival” - and that was before it was really warm and while water was still plentiful. Two hours later at check point 4 with the first difficult route choice looming I was beginning to realise the wisdom of the overheard plan. Deciding to minimise climbing rather than seeking the most runnable routes would mean slower progress and more difficult ground to traverse but it had an additional advantage of staying high in cooler air away from the stifling heat in the valleys – it did, however, mean a fairly long stretch without water. By check point 5, some 7 and a bit miles later, I thought I was still eating and drinking enough but as soon as I dropped down to Seathwaite Tarn and out of the slight, but cooling, breeze the last of my water disappeared very quickly. Progress slowed and check point cut off times started to threaten. From check point 6 to 7 was a fairly desperate race against the clock and dehydration. At Seathwaite Tarn I had been caught be another few runners and we stayed as a group of four until approaching check point 7 when two of us were dropped. From check point 7 though 8 to end the route was all downhill and I managed, only just, to hang on to the other runner (No 194, I think) until we reached a very welcome stream. Refreshed and rehydrated, we walked and jogged to the end together – a very big thank you, Mark. I finished in 80th place in 8:18:25, 10th Vet 50 of 20, which is a slightly better age group place than in 2007 but slightly worse overall. I estimate my route to have been around 27 miles with over 9000 feet of climbing which makes it a  pretty hard day out.

Full Results and much more at

I intended to take photographs all the way round the the route but the rough ground around Bowfell and the Crinkles meant I wasn’t moving quickly anyway and I needed to just keep moving and towards the end the cut off times were too threatening. Most of those below were taken on the first half of the route – between Eskdale and Allen Crags.

Eel Tarn Eel Tarn with Slightside & Scafell beyond


Check Point 1 Check Point One – a “water station”

Burnmoor Tarn

Burnmoor Tarn

looking over Wasdale

Clouds above Wasdale Head




First look down into Wasdale

Wasdale Head

High Fells at Wasdale Head

on Allen Crags

Traversing below Allen Crags with Great Gable in the distance

Langdale Pikes

Towards the Langdale Pikes

the Scafells

Sca Fell and Scafell Pike

Upper Eskdale

Down into Upper Eskdale and the other side of Slightside


Little Langdale

Little Langdale


Seathwaite Tarn

Seathwaite Tarn

Monday, 14 September 2009

Sunny Sunday Sunrise in the Lake District

Driving to the Lake District Mountain Trial very early on Sunday morning I was fortunate see the first light arriving over Coniston Water and the nearby mountains – not quite sunrise, I know, but the alliteration was too good to miss. As always, all photos will open in a new window on clicking.



Coniston Water

Coniston Water before all the mist burns off again

Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man

Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man with the early morning sun just arriving


Looking away from Dow Crag

From the same place as the one above but looking towards the sunrise


Wrynose Bottom

from Wrynose Bottom waiting on the sun


Wyrnose Pass

looking back through Wrynose Pass

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Winter Hill Masts from the Two Lads

Winter Hill masts

Almost a summer’s evening yesterday and wanting to take advantage of the evening sun whilst saving my legs for the weekend I settled on a bike ride up to the Two Lads on Winter Hill. Sadly the largest of the three cairns which stands about 6 feet high is now badly vandalised and in a state of considerable disrepair which seems, only, to encourage others to do more damage.

Where Eagles Fly

Unsurprisingly, the weather forecast was poor (heavy rain driven by 40-50 mph winds at 3000 feet) because last Saturday was the Grisedale Horseshoe fell race. On Friday I decided to join Pauline and run “Where Eagles Fly” instead. Revived after a few years’ absence, it is one of very few LDWA Challenge Events in the north west of England we haven’t done which made Pauline’s decision to tackle it on her own all the more commendable. The result was she spent hours poring over the route details, plotting them carefully on the map and fretting for days about the messy route finding at the start and not long before the end. Having made a last minute decision, I plotted the route, had a quick look at it and thought I knew the area well enough to work the bits I wasn’t familiar with. Organised by Morecambe Bay & Bowland Group the event starts from Burneside Cricket Club and having opted for the runners’ start at 09:00, an hour after the walkers, the club was quiet when we arrived. This is great, low key event attracting, probably, just enough people to make it worth running. The tea and toast at the start is included in the entry fee and provides a leisurely second breakfast.

Tea & Toast before the start

Tea and Toast at Burneside

Initially the route wanders out of Burneside going north for the low fells above Longsleddale, one of the more remote dales on the eastern edge of the Lakes. Crossing wet boggy upland before dropping into Longsleddale and the first check point at Sadgill. I was in second place here, the leader was about out of sight and I could see no one behind me although the leading walkers and the rest of the runners couldn’t be far away. Beyond Sadgill the route climbs into the clouds, at least on a day like today it does, on its way to Gatesgarth Pass and the descent into Mardale. Longsleddale is a quiet, remote place and all the better for it.

down Longsleddale Looking back down Longsleddale

up Longsleddale

up Longsleddale towards Gatesgarth Pass (and the cloud base)

Having stopped to put on a waterproof top before reaching Gatesgarth Pass I saw a couple of runners behind me and began to suspect I would have to work hard to keep my second place. The bridleway down into Mardale is a rough rocky one and the grass on the left is better running, even if did produce two standing glissades before I reached the valley floor and the second check point. Stopping long enough only to refill a bottle and take some biscuits, I wanted to be away and out of sight before the chasing runners arrived – these events aren’t races, most organisers don’t publish results and the “challenge” is to complete the event ahead of the cut-off times but that doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive.

Small Water Beck Small Water Beck

I also wanted some photos of Mardale but even below the cloud base everything was grey and wet in very flat light and most of Mardale just disappeared into the greyness. The becks and their waterfalls were pretty full and with a little more time I might have spotted the rain drop on the lens! There are three stone shelters by the side of Small Water on the way up to Nan Bield Pass. According to legend, or Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial guide to The Far Eastern Fells, which is much the same thing:

“Testimony to the former importance of Nan Bield Pass as a route for travellers and trade are the three shelters alongside the track where it crosses the bouldery shore of Small Water – erected for wayfarers overtaken by bad weather or darkness. These shelters are roughly but soundly built and roofed. but they are low and can only be entered by crawling. Once the body is insinuated snugly in their spider-infested recesses, however, the weather my be defied.”

two shelters at Small Water Two shelters on the shore of Small Water

Beyond the shelters the “track” becomes a path and starts to climb steeply for Nan Bield Pass which is above the cloud base and well below the summit of Harter Fell and the ridge over Kentmere Pike and Shipman Kotts which is descended to Kentmere village for the next, and last, check point before the finish. Approaching Nan Bield I could hear the chasing runners talking and see one of them pointing upwards in my direction. Knowing I could stay out of sight in the clag above I pressed on for Harter Fell and turned into the blustery headwind for the long run off down the ridge. Over Kentmere Pike and still ahead, over Shipman Knotts and still ahead but now down out of the clag and if they are close only the twists and turns of the route can conceal me. In and out of the last check point, pausing only long enough to collect some blackcurrant cordial and away before the other runners arrived. By the top of the next ridge I began to relax and looked for some final photographs of the high fells.

Kentmere Horeshoe in cloud Back to the Kentmere Fells wreathed in low clouds

Beyond here the last four miles or so looked really messy on the route description but I thought I knew the area well enough to work it out. Wrong! Almost immediately after stopping to take the above photo I was unable to reconcile the number of gates on the route description with those I had counted since the last position I was 100% happy with. Fortunately, I met some other entrants who had retired and were making their way back to the start and they pointed me in the right direction. Ironically, I have been over all of the remaining miles a number of times but always in the dark and it wasn’t long before I was again unsure of my exact location and deciding, wrongly, I had overshot a turning I headed downhill knowing I would reach the River Kent which would get me to the finish. The end of the route is along the banks of The Kent so I wasn’t concerned until I realised the twists and turns of the meandering river were going to add about 2-3 miles on to the route. Too late to sort it now and so I just jogged gently along the grassy river bank to Burneside and the finish. I lost, probably, half an hour and should have spent more time working out where I was before deciding I had overshot the turning I was looking for. This is a lesson I need to learn before next weekend’s Mountain Trial or it is going to be a very long day, indeed.

Pauline finished not too long afterwards having got lost in the clag after Kentmere Pike, recovering after the Kentmere check point and with a little help from Jenny reached Burneside without getting lost. This is a long hard route and one to come back to and do again, paying more attention on the last section. The route in passing through Mardale goes through the territory of Eastern Lakeland’s remaining Golden Eagle which we saw soaring above Ulleswater a couple of years ago, hence the name “Where Eagles Fly”.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Keswick to Barrow Haute Route

Originally a competition between the Navy and the shipyard; the 40 mile Keswick – Barrow road race takes place in early May and is now open to all comers in teams of four as long as they are raising money for charity. Keswick to Barrow is interesting journey as long as you don’t have to do it by road and, fortunately, road races are not the only races held in Cumbria. By linking bits of fell race routes it is perfectly possibly to travel from Keswick to Broughton Mills on the high fells and from there make your way to the coast finally following the beach to Barrow.

                                                             Moot Hall, Keswick

Last Saturday, not long after 06:00 we met other members of the Rucksack Club (Ros [Meet Leader],Self, Pauline, Helen and Geoff (Keith was parking his car)) at the Moot Hall ready for “The Haute Route” to Barrow. The route initially follows the anti-clockwise Bob Graham until heading for Catbells and the Anniversary Waltz route before dropping into Honister Hause. Up and over Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable then round Great Gable for the Wasdale route to Esk Hause Shelter. From there the Langdale Horseshoe over Bowfell and the Crinkles and on to the Three Shires Stone. Thereafter, the Duddon Valley and Dunnerdale race routes would take us as far as Broughton Mills. Finally careful footpath selection would get us to the sands of the Duddon Estuary and all the way to Barrow.


Little Town and Newlands

The low clouds over the Derwent fells would be with us all day although the sun did try to break through the clouds as we approached Catbells summit.

Derwent Water

The sunlight was followed, almost immediately, by the first of many rain showers driven by a strengthening breeze. The climb along this ridge is particularly satisfying because there is a gradual transition from Keswick through Portinscale to Catbells – from town through village and out on to the hills and then to the high fells so that by High Spy you really are “out on the fells”. Today we wouldn’t climb Dale Head turning, instead, for Honister Hause where we would meet Rae and our support vehicle with food and warm drinks.

The climb out of Honister follows the Bob Graham route but at a more leisurely pace which saw us high enough to just catch a fast disappearing rainbow on the Buttermere side of the hause.

Honister Hause

The climb to Green Gable over Grey Knotts and Brandreth improves enormously as Brandreth is approached with views into Buttermere and Ennerdale opening up. I always look longingly into Ennerdale – my favourite valley and home of my favourite fell race, the 23 mile, 7500 feet Ennerdale Horseshoe.


Over Green Gable and down Aaron Slack to contour under Great Gable to Sty Head where removal of only one waterproof jacket was enough to produce another brief shower.

Geoff descending Green Gable

Geoff descending Green Gable


Aaron Slack

Geoff, Helen, Pauline and Keith enjoying the scree descent into Aaron Slack.


Sty Head

Sty Head (above) is our next objective where, after taking a variety of routes round Great Gable we regrouped ready for the long climb to Bowfell following the Wasdale route to Esk Hause Shelter from where the Langdale Horseshoe route would take us to Ore Gap and on to Bowfell. With little shelter beyond Ore Gap the strength of the wind was more apparent and just beginning to hint that the forecast deterioration in conditions might not be too far away. Dropping down off Crinkle Crags we passed the Langdale Pikes (below) catching sun between fast moving clouds casting dramatic shadows.


Langdale Pikes

From here, just an easy drop into the Three Shires Stone for more food and drink and the last big climb of the day. Up the Duddon Valley race route towards but below Little Carrs and Great Carrs.


towards Cockley Beck

Just after the picture above and immediately before entering the clouds a storm could be seen brewing out to the west. We were probably just unlucky – as soon as we hit the most exposed ridge of the route, one where we had to stay on the windward side the wind hit peak strength driving heavy rain and hail showers before it. Although our descent at the far end of the ridge coincided with the last of the showers, at Goats Water Hause we happily agreed to go round Dow Crag rather than over it.

Goats Water

Dow Crag had climbers on it but it wasn’t until afterwards when we were having close look at the photos did we realise, we had a couple in the photo below.

Dow Crag


Dow Crag climbers

The enlargement is taken from a small area on the right of the above picture, about 3 cm from the right hand edge and about 5 cm from the bottom.

I hope it might be possible to see them on the full size image above which will open in a new window on clicking but if not, clicking the enlargement will open it in a new window and their white helmets should be seen without too much difficulty.






Blind Tarn

From Goats Water a rising traverse, passing Blind Tarn, to Walna Scar Road and then over White Pike for the descent to Broughton Mills. Finally and mainly after dark we followed the sands in Duddon Estuary to reach Barrow Town Hall just after one o’clock on Sunday morning.

Barrow Town Hall

Still smiling after 18 and a half hours, 46 miles and a bit over 10,000 feet of climbing – a grand day out. Thanks are due to Ros for keeping the whole thing together, to Rae for providing support from beginning to end, to Helen, Keith and Pauline for their great company throughout, to Carole who helped at the end after having cycled from Keswick to Barrow and finally to Alan to provided the additional transport needed to get us back from Barrow.