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February 2000

5 February

First day of a weekend in the Lakes; Bob and I were staying overnight at Coniston Youth Hostel but most of the gang came for Saturday. Having said that, we split into two groups and I walked with Charles.

It was my first chance to see two things. One was JD in his new high tech gear (rather than his Son of Wainwright image); very odd. The second was Charles' new boots. He'd been buying these for two years but couldn't make up his mind. He had allegedly bought these in December but didn't wear them when we went on Great Calva.

I'd got this walk from one of Bob Allen's books; he calls it the Greenburn Round. Parking by the road part way up Wrynose Pass (just past Kings How), you go up Wetherlam Edge on to Wetherlam itself. Then over Prison Band to Swirl How and back by Wetside Edge. Being peak baggers we diverted from the main route to take in Black Sail (a Hewitt) and Greyfriar (a Wainwright).

Prison Band and Swirl How from Black Sail (Photo: J Dawson)

The weather wasn't brilliant; par for the course as far as my recent hillwalking is concerned. The cloud was about 1500 foot which meant we saw nothing from the tops. For all that the ascents on to Wetherlam and Swirl How were rocky and made you think so they were enjoyable. Below the cloud the views of Greenburn, Little Langdale and Lingmoor\Side Pike were super, not least because I don't know them particularly well.

We met the others in the pub. They'd walked from Grasmere; their cloud level had been above 2400 foot. As far as the weather is concerned, I'm becoming to think that I've shot an albatross without realising it.

6 February

Another manky day on the Southern Fells; the cloud cover was below 1000 ft. Mindful of our bad experience on Glaramara in December, Bob and I took the conservative option going to Great Langdale. The main target was Rossett Pike, the only Wainwright that neither of us had done. I'd walked past it a couple of times in my pre-peak bagging days.

I'd forgotten what a slog it is up Rossett Gill. We were in cloud most of the way and the wind was showering us at times with spray from the stream. We got up on the Pike (no views again) and abandoned all hope of going elsewhere; the visibility was very tricky. We went to Angle Tarn (which we nearly failed to) and then took the cheerless path across lots of boggy ground to the head of the Stake Pass and returned to Langdale along it.

We got below the cloud just before we joined the Stakes Pass path. It lifted quite a bit for 5 minutes and we got a decent view down Langstrath. Sergeant Crag looks more significant from that angle. However it was evident that we'd had the worst of the weather because the cloud had lifted right off Lingmoor and almost off Pike o' Blisco. I suspect that the Langdales were also clear but we were too close to the lower sections to tell; they say that the Langdales are very good on visibility. The only good thing to be said about our weather was that the forecast rain held off. 

I'm sorry to whinge on about this. I used to say that you need to have the bad days to appreciate the good days. At the moment I'm on such a roll (as far as the big hills are concerned) that I'm thinking that it would be nice to have one good day to make up for the bad.

13 February

A lovely day with the Ramblers. The sun was out for most of the day and I walked in shirt sleeves. The walk was in the Churnet Valley around Oakamoor, which in rambling terms is quite a well-kept secret. The views are terrific although I prefer the autumn because it is heavily wooded and you get better colours then.

I'd done most of the walk before; Geoff Loadwick led it then and it is in his book ("Walks on and around the Staffordshire Way"). Stuart and Maggie led this one and they started at the Ramblers' Retreat cafe in the Churnet Valley.

We had the pleasure of walking across my favourite estate but, amidst the muck, slurry and Quasar raids, the deer were looking very pretty and the views were splendid.

The afternoon involved several short climbs and the group became surprisingly strung out. I got a bit naughty as a result. Stuart had shown us his root and I walked on ahead at my own pace back down Dimmingsdale. But a strange thing. I passed a couple on horseback and said "Hello" without stopping. Apparently when they reached the others, they asked whether they had recognised me and gave my name. I'm now waiting for someone to contact me about this.

20 February

The SRG dinner ramble. I was leading the A walk (8 miles) and Norman the B walk. 

My first setback was being told that the meal was due to start at 2pm rather than 2:30. As we set off slightly late I needed to set a good pace to get back early enough to give everyone time change for the meal and get a drink in. There are others who would say that the aim was to get back before the B group so that the queue for the bar would be smaller.

The weather was good and we had pleasant views for Tittensor Chase, Cumberstone Wood (where we stopped for coffee) and the edge of the Hanchurch Hills. The walking is relatively easy with only one short pull up into Beech.

We did beat the A group back leaving time for 2 rounds before the meal.

22 February

Beryl's birthday and, as she was off for half term, I had the day off work and we went out to Downs Bank for an amble.

Downs Bank is a miniature Cannock Chase, just north of Stone. We took a high path around it, avoiding all the dogs that were out exercising their owners, before striking out for Barlaston and then the Wedgwood factory.  Back via the top end of Barlaston, Wastebarn, the Cullamoors and Hooks Green before walking round the opposite edge of Downs Bank. On the last section we found a new monument. The local parish councils have erected it to mark the Millennium. I think that it is still incomplete; it looks as though there is going to be a metal plate in the centre with the panorama.

The weather was sunny but the wind was cold. The views were better than I recalled them and we could pick out Sunday's walk from a number of vantage points. The spot picked for the monument is particularly good. Not a long walk but a pleasant pootle.

26 February

Another relative pootle with Beryl. We weren't going to walk together on the Sunday so we decided to have a wander round on a free Saturday afternoon.

A second reason is that the Staffordshire RA is undertaking a millennium footpaths project. They are trying to establish a record of all the footpaths in the county that members have walked during February. I am keen to get a full response from SRG members to show how we do our fair share of keeping local footpaths open. Unfortunately I haven't done that much in County his month so I was glad to do another local walk even if it was quite short.

To make it really local we walked from home, taking the main path to Haughton. There is some unpleasant flooding of the path in places. Down to the disused railway station and back to the Hand & Cleaver. This is all well-walked stuff although the hedges around several stiles could do with a good trim. We took one path from Hollybank Farm to the large pond above Moor End Farm which I've tended to avoid (map-reading cowardice). I think that I've only walked it once before when someone else was leading an SRG walk; I've always had the feeling that it would be tricky to find across ploughed fields but it was relatively easy. Back down to the farm and home along the lanes.

The bird life was interesting. There was a solitary buzzard over the second field and we later saw a pair (presumably the first bird was one of them). I always enjoy seeing buzzards flying. I know that they are increasing in numbers but I've never seen any quite so close to home before. There are lots of small woods and copses around here which should suit them even though these exist mainly for pheasant-rearing. We also saw a kestrel but that is not at all unusual.

27 February

Beryl was working so I had a pass-out. The original plan was to go to Eskdale with JD to do some Wainwright-bagging. However the weather forecast was dire so JD pulled out but by then Bob was signed up for the walk. We also decided that we did not want to do so much driving for bad weather so we settled on a walk which I've had planned for some months; the ridge taking in Great Coum and Gragareth on the Cumbria-Lancashire border.

Unfortunately I can't say a lot about the actual walk. The weather was truly vile; given recent trends, any day on which I go off to the hills and Ron is leading the SRG walk stands a pretty good chance of adverse conditions. The cloud meant that I can't describe the views; the driving rain meant that I couldn't see that much close up and my map disintegrated in all this so I cannot even describe the route with accuracy.

Actually we got there early and were walking by 8:15 so we started off in the dry. We were parked high on the road above Leck and we could see the Three Men of Gragareth on the skyline; these are tall cairns but they are well below the summit.

We set off in the opposite direction across Leck Fell looking at pot-holes. I had wanted to do this having read Wainwright's description in his Limestone Dales book. I did of course start my walking career in such scenery, even if this was further east in God's own county. This is impressive countryside with a character all its own.

A slight piece of geographical embarrassment led to our rock hopping across the stream in Easedale (I'd mistaken a barn on the opposite bank for the barn marked on the map).  

We then started climbing and this didn't stop until we got to the top of Great Coum via Great Crag. The Nuttalls describe Great Coum as providing a surprise view of the Howgills. Fat chance!! Somewhere along the way we picked up the cloud, rain and wind and we were reduced to following walls. At least the wind was behind us on the ascent. As we turned towards Gragareth it was coming straight at us driving the rain, edged with hail, into our faces. We lost the line of the wall at one point (the map was in a poor state by this time) and we had to hack across rough, boggy moorland to get back to it. That really sapped the energy and ideally we would have stopped for a rest. The wind-chill made this equally impractical so we pressed on to Gragareth. 

Fortunately there was just enough of the map left for me to make out the walls to follow off the summit but it really did expire at that point. We kept going down on a track and we seemed to be on the right sort of compass bearing but neither of us had any great faith that we would end up in the right place. I hadn't been aware of Bob's concern until he shared my amazement when we reached the road. We still weren't sure whether we went right or left to get back to the car but a little bit of checking sorted this out and we were in fact only about a quarter of a mile away from the car.

We soon had confirmation of how much water had fallen. It was about 2 miles back to the main road. En route there were three fords which hadn't existed on the way up. There was another one on the M6 which was altogether more scary.

You know how to matter how remote the area in which you walk and no matter how vile the weather, you always meet other walkers whilst you are out. Well we didn't today; that says something about the conditions. But there were two cars parked by ours.  


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