Route finding

I’ve been coordinating guided walks for the Wolsingham Wayfarers for the last 6 months, and this month we were invited to host a walk as part of the North Pennines Walking Festival. The task was to find a long walk based in Wolsingham to suit experienced walkers for early October 2014.

Our regular walks are fairly moderate, to suit a range of walking abilities, so this is new territory for us. The challenge was on!

We decided straight away that the walk had to take us up to the fells. Wolsingham North Moor or Pikeston Fell? Pikeston Fell is bigger, higher and with more walk options. I was also really keen to make the magical, secret valley (shoosh, don’t tell anyone), the Meeting of the Grains, our official lunch stop, so ‘Pikeston Fell and the Meeting of the Grains’ it is.

Looking towards the Meeting of the Grains and Pikeston Fell

Looking towards the Meeting of the Grains and Pikeston Fell

We know where we’re going, now how to get there? My Taller Half is our walk leader, and he was keen to try some little-used paths taking in several fell-side farms – abandoned Linnew, shiny Sunniside, busy East Biggins, muddy West Biggins – before climbing to the Fell with the Elephant Trees beckoning. I wanted to find a truly circular walk, covering a good chunk of the Fell, the top of Hamsterley Forest, then back through moor, wood, field and river.

Pikeston Fell and the Elephant Trees

Pikeston Fell and the Elephant Trees

Our first route finding mission was educational. The initial circular option was ruled out when we came across a waymarker that pointed downwards into a boiling cauldron of a ‘stream’, and no safe way to cross. Maybe it’s normally a tame trickle, but we didn’t have time to wait the long weeks for our water table to drop to normal levels.

Not sure we want to be crossing that...

Not sure we want to be crossing that…

To compensate for this, we found a route – on map at least – that covered a smaller area but was still broadly circular. Route finding mission number 2 was scuppered when we took the wrong grouse track, and ended up going cross-country over bumpy, soggy, craggy, heathery moor, missing the Meeting of the Grains by a few miles.

Right then, how do we get across this lot?

Right then, how do we get across this lot?

Route finding mission number 3 was to check out how to link the two halves of the walk that we knew we wanted to do. The weather was wild and windy, and walking on the Fell-cum-windtunnel was unbelievably hard, but we were happy that, despite not walking the entire route in one go, it was a good un. Mission accomplished!

A day of wind, but also rainbows. And maybe a pot of gold?

A day of wind, but also rainbows. And maybe a pot of gold?

Until I got home and plotted the route on the computer. Fifteen miles of hard, hard walking. Pushing our brief a little (quite a lot), and on a bad weather day it would be a hard, hard, totally unenjoyable slog.

What to do? We’ve chosen a simpler way to get onto the Fell, and a simpler way to get off it. The final route is still fairly long – thirteen miles – but those miles are much easier, but still interesting, and if we get Weather we’ll be able to cope. Roll on the 5th October!

The final route. Less circular, more triangular

The final route. Less circular, more triangular

Who’d have thought that route finding could be so difficult?

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When dog meets horse

As a border collie owner, I often find myself wondering what type of human Holly would be. Would she be an intellectual? A teacher? A leader? Soldier? No, I have a sneaky feeling she would enjoy being a prison guard or a bodyguard.

At just over a year old, Holly’s farm dog genes are really kicking in (every time Holly tries to see off a farmer’s land rover, cattle, or more recently, horse-the-farmer-is-riding, I hear the shout above the urgent barking: “that’ll make a nice sheepdog”). She wants to herd: to control, guide, bend to her will. But she mostly wants to protect the pack (members and territory) from danger. Unfortunately, anything big or unusual that moves is considered by Holly to be dangerous.

So, we are out walking and pass by a field. Two horses wander over to see who we are. Holly goes batshit at them. These cob mares really don’t give a monkeys what Holly does, so I let her have a little bit of exposure therapy. Here’s what happened.

blog-2223“I’m keeping my eye on you!”

blog-2225“Am I bovvered?” also: “are you going to give me a scratch then, human?” (sadly, no – Holly won’t let me).

blog-2229“I’m gonna get you, you evil dangerous monster!! (and stay away from my Human)”

blog-2232“Oh my god, it looked at me! Abort charge!!”

blog-2241“I’m watching you… (what do I do now?)”

blog-2265“Oh my god!!!! There’s another one! I need reinforcements! … why don’t they run away?”

blog-2282By which time, the horses decide to liven things up and take the game to Holly. “Wheeee!”

blog-2359“Sod this, I’m going to play in the river”

So – prison guard – control, punish, escort? Or bodyguard – protect, escort, defend? I suspect the human Holly would enjoy both those jobs.

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That was the year that was

Trying to review the year based on what photos you took is always going to produce biased results. Rainy days? No rain in any of these photos. Parched ground and endless weeding? Can’t see any evidence here. Nevertheless, here is my photographic review of the year.

January to March

Snow. Snow snow snow snow snow. There were a few days with no snow on the ground, but they were boring so I didn’t take any photos. Holly grows from tiny puppy to adolescent dog almost overnight. The garden was chock full of birds.

Holly still looking puppyish

Holly still looking puppyish in the New Year

snowy conditions bring in lots of garden birds

Snowy conditions bring in lots of garden birds

February: what a difference a month makes!

February: what a difference a month makes!

March halts spring in its tracks

March and snow halts spring in its tracks

April

Spring makes a valiant effort to appear. Lambs are everywhere. The chickens arrive.

Lambs everywhere!

Lambs everywhere!

Chickens!

Chickens!

May

Finally, it feels like spring. Everything is late and some trees are only just starting to open their leaves. There is a mass emergence of ducklings and we get our only flood of the year. Unfortunately the flood waters damage one of our oldest bridges, cutting off Tunstall from the rest of the world until a temporary bridge gets installed (luckily this only took a week). I get an allotment.

There's a lot of catching up to do!

There’s a lot of catching up to do!

There's an explosion of ducklings

An explosion of ducklings

This old bridge is badly damaged in a flash flood

This old bridge is badly damaged in a flash flood

June

I get to go on a trip to the Farne Islands and take a stupid amount of photos. The allotment dries out and turns into a brick. The fields turn yellow with buttercups and I manage to get out just in time to see the spring gentians.

The traditional Farne Isle greeting from the arctic turns

The traditional Farne Isle greeting from the arctic turns

Puffins being harassed by gulls

Puffins being harassed by gulls

Watering can required

Watering can required

Buttercups!

Buttercups!

Spring gentian

Spring gentian

July and August

Summer! We take Holly out and about in Weardale and Teesdale. The garden pond explodes with life. I discover the hard way that 2 year old parsnip plants are bad for the skin.

Bowlees, Teesdale

Bowlees, Teesdale

We discover Holly doesn't like donkeys

We discover Holly doesn’t like donkeys…

or giant sheep

…or giant sheep

Purple heather

Purple heather

The chickens think they are herons

The chickens think they are herons

If your parsnips get this big, wear gloves when handling - the sap is phototoxic and causes bad sunburn. I found out the hard way

WARNING: If your parsnips get this big, wear gloves when handling – the sap is phototoxic and causes bad sunburn. I found out the hard way

September

Wolsingham show. There were horses there, what did you expect?

Horses...

Horses…

...horses...

…horses…

...and more horses! I'll stop now

…and more horses! I’ll stop now

October to December

Autumn makes itself known and winter knocks on the door. The main theme has been wind and rain, but we have not suffered the floods of last year, at least in this neck of the woods. The chickens destroy the garden, the allotment does not see enough digging action, and the repair work on the broken bridge begins. The days are short, but the sunrises and sunsets are pretty good. We started taking out monthly guided walks with the Wolsingham Wayfarers. I have lots of photos on the Wolsingham Wayfarers website.

Oh dear, where's the lawn gone?

Oh dear, where’s the lawn gone? (Click on image to see the temporary 5th ‘chicken’)

Repair work begins, finally, on the broken bridge

Repair work begins, finally, on the broken bridge

The only compensation for shorter days is that the sunrises and sunsets are at their best this time of year

The only compensation for shorter days is that the sunrises and sunsets are at their best this time of year

So, that was the year that was. Obviously not all of it. A bit of it. I’m slowly putting more photos online. I’m not using flickr anymore (the new flickr doesn’t work well on slow broadband). My latest photos are on Ipernity.

See you next year!

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Solstice musings

Today is the winter solstice. For the next six months it will get a little bit lighter every day. Hurray!

My poor blog has been terribly neglected this year. I can’t believe my last post was in July. Sorry blog :-(

So what have I been doing that’s kept me away from writing? Nothing that isn’t just an excuse. I’ve lost the two hours every day when I usually just muck about on the computer, and it’s in those two hours that a blog post is going to get written (if at all). The reason? That will be the dog walking.

I also have an allotment to attend to. I can’t really blame the allotment after the autumn equinox though. Digging in the dark is a fairly hit and miss affair.

What other reasons? It’s not the photography – that’s suffered too. I’m still taking photos, but have a longggg processing backlog. I’ll catch up. One day.

My final time-sucker is a local walking group I’ve got more and more involved with. I now spend two Saturdays every month planning or attending guided walks, and I look after the website (and now the twitter account). I’m also the group photographer. Check us out – we’re the Wolsingham Wayfarers.

So is there one stand-out reason for me not writing? I’m really proud of my blog, but I think with one thing and another I’ve let my attention slip. My blog doesn’t shout at me if I stop feeding it. With twice-daily dog walks my outdoor experiences have become a bit routine. I never have photographs ready to share while they are fresh enough to blog about…

But I won’t give this up. I’ll keep blogging. I just need to kick myself a bit harder and a bit more often. Catch you later. Hopefully not too much later.

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Gentle Giants

I grew up in Kent where the Shire horse is King, so there will always be a little part of me that thinks that it isn’t a proper heavy horse if it isn’t a Shire. However, round these parts the Shire horse is a Big Southern Softie and it isn’t proper unless it’s a Clydesdale.

I’m not really an expert on the nuances of heavy horses, but to me the main difference between a Shire and a Clydesdale is the amount of white. Clydesdales tend to have white running up their legs and under their belly. They also often come in various shades of roan – that’s where white hairs are intermixed with dark throughout the coat. Shires tend to have less white on their faces and the white on their legs stops at the knees. It’s a fair bet they share a bit of family history.

Why am I yattering on about heavy horses? Clydesdales are a Big Thing in the rural North. There aren’t many around, but there’ll be a class or two at all the agricultural shows, and it just happens that one of the annual Clydesdale shows takes place about three miles from where I live.

Dapple farm in Tow Law breeds Clydesdales, and has hosted the snazzily titled Clydesdale Heavy Horse Area 12 NE Show for three years. This year we went along to watch the proceedings.

Everyone parked up on a lay by outside the farm, and there were several photographers and bystanders opting to avoid the £2 entry fee by watching from the verge. They certainly had the better view – Tow Law sits high over Weardale and the views looking South and East are stunning. The view North and West (facing the showground) is less exciting, as the landscape here is flat. Basically a stone wall and lots of cars.

The show itself was friendly and intimate. There were only about six horseboxes, and the competitors clearly all knew each other. They still took their classes very seriously. Never have I seen so much pampering and talcum powder. The horses, on the other hand, could not have been more laid back if they tried. In fact, the liveliest horse, a pretty grey filly, lived on site. And she wasn’t that lively.

Within two hours, all the classes had been judged and people started heading home. Just in time, as the darkening sky was looking increasingly threatening. It may have been the end of June, but Tow Law essentially sits at cloud level, and the weather usually features a vicious wind.

I’m already looking forward to next year…

Photos below – click to view large – or visit my new Ipernity site to see even more.

Getting talced up

Getting talced up

Threatening skies

Threatening skies

Standing proud

Standing proud

Parading

Parading

Show champion

Show champion

 

 

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Seafaring

When I moved to the North East, oh, five years ago, I wrote a list. On that list was a bunch of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to see. One item on the list was to see puffins.

Five years later, and I hoodwink Durham Wildlife Trust to let me go on the Big Summer Volunteer Trip to the Farne Islands.

Graeme, who looks after all the Low Barns volunteers (of which I am technically one), insisted we all arrive early to ensure the coach would get away on time. He was on holiday for the Big Summer Volunteer Trip (for shame!) so he missed the sight of us getting sunburn waiting half an hour for the coach to turn up. After Winter-Spring, no one complained that it was too hot.

A rather distracted-looking coach driver showed up eventually (we think after getting lost, but he was a little vague on the matter) and took us on a tour around County Durham to pick up the Rainton Meadows rabble from the other side of town. Then we were off! Until the coach started making increasingly desperate beeping noises. Something was wrong.

Cue an unexpected pit stop on the A19. Highway patrol were with us within a minute, and we were allowed out so long as we stayed behind the crash barrier. After a slightly nervy half hour waiting for the coach to be sorted, we were off. Again.

working out what to do with us after our coach broke down

working out what to do with us after our coach broke down

making the most of the unexpected pit stop

making the most of the unexpected pit stop

As we were now running quite late, Craig, who was the Responsible Adult for the day, managed to get us booked on a later ferry. The coach behaved itself, and we arrived at the Billy Shiel’s stand in Seahouses with five minutes to spare. Phew!

waiting for the ferry

waiting for the ferry

In short order, we were packed like sardines on the Glad Tidings IV, wondering what had happened to Glad Tidings I, II, and III.

The next two and a half hours was a bird and seal fest. It was an amazing experience. The highlight for me was getting pecked by a determined tern who had learned that targeting people’s hands was more rewarding in terms of blood letting than aiming at their hats. Oh, and of course, seeing the puffins.

Photos below – click to view large – or visit my new Ipernity site to see even more.

tern attack! I'm sure this is the one that bit my hand

tern attack! I’m sure this is the one that bit my hand

puffins!

puffins!

puffin parent

puffin parent

jam packed

jam packed

incoming!

incoming!

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I like summer because…

I have the light to:

  • take photographs
  • go for long walks
  • spend time in the garden
  • grow my own food
  • spend time outside with Holly and the chickens
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