Friday 18 July 2014

A Tale To Remember

Lovely Derwenthead Cottage: Once the cafe at Seathwaite

This blog post will be a bit of a ramble, in both meanings of that phrase. I wanted to try to tell a true story about events one stormy night, seventy two years ago in the beautiful English Lake District in September 1942.  It was not a tale of great national or international importance, but was one which affected ordinary people who were living, holidaying or serving their country in the Lake District at this time. It is, therefore, a story that I believe is worth preserving, but a relatively recent and, to me, unwelcome change means that it may now be forgotten.

It will also, however, trigger my reflections on a number of things. I set these out for no reason other than self-indulgence, in that over the last few years I have become interested by the very act of writing.  And, like the not very talented amateur artist or musician, I can still get pleasure from my limited abilities, even more so if I think that people actually read what I have penned. It has taken many years for this interest to surface, as any love I had of it was crushed by the sarcasm and low marks I received from a diabolical English teacher who taught me to O Level all those years ago when I was in a grammar school in Shrewsbury. When I ultimately got the highest possible grades in the externally marked Literature and Language examinations he informed me that I had done well because of the constant pressure he had put me under.  He didn’t understand the oft quoted remark to trainee teachers that children need to be praised at least four times for every single criticism if they are to blossom.

The Langdale Pikes from Glaramara

In the Easter immediately before those English O Level exams, I made my first proper visit to the Lakes on what was known as ‘Arduous Training’ with the school Combined Cadet Force. I think it fair to say that my life has, to a very significant extent, been shaped by that trip in 1973. Indeed, I wrote about this on my first ever post on this blog, called Love at First Sight.  During that week a group of us went on a three day backpack in the fells, camping one night at Seathwaite Farm, having walked across the hills from, I think, Great Langdale.

At Seathwaite we visited the café that until recently was housed in one of the cottages. And on the wall was an old framed newspaper article, which I stood and read.  It was written in 1945 by someone who went under the pseudonym ‘Glaramara’.  If you do not know the area, I should say that Glaramara is the name of a lovely mountain near Seathwaite.  It told about the events of 4 September 1942.

The summit of Glaramara, looking towards Keswick and Derwent Water
On this night in 1942, 'Glaramara' was staying at Seathwaite Farm.  A terrible storm raged outside as he and his companions had dinner.  They noticed a party of three young men heading passed into the hills, who they assumed were either very brave or very foolish.  Soon after four more men went passed, and then more, and they realised that a mountain rescue was underway.  The police arrived and confirmed that there had been a climbing accident on the Ennerdale face of Great Gable.  Whilst 'Glaramara' and his companions swapped climbing tales, Mrs Edmondson, the farmer’s wife, began to make hot drinks and food, and prepared blankets for the rescuers and injured climbers.

By now it was 10 o’clock at night, and the noise of an aircraft flying low overhead, circling, and dropping flares could be heard.  Soon after, they saw the torch lights of the resuers returning. They brought with them three injured climbers. One was a Cambridge professor who had fallen fifty feet.  His fall had pulled his wife off her stance and she had fractured her leg. Their third companion had managed to hold them both on the rope from his belay point and whilst he, too, was injured, he had managed to get down to Wasdale to raise the alarm.

High House Tarn on Glaramara
This was not the end of the night’s drama. The ambulance which had arrived at the Farmhouse would not re-start, and another had to be sent for, not coming until one in the morning.  All the while, the storm was raging, and first aid was being administered to the injured, whilst forty rescuers crowded in the farmhouse out of the storm.  Then news arrived that a bomber had crashed and a search party had to be organised to look for it and for any survivors. Later, it emerged that the plane had come down near Rosthwaite, and all the crew had lost their lives.

The party remaining in the farmhouse got to bed in the early hours to be woken soon after six by noises downstairs. Sour Milk Ghyll had broken its banks, and the farmhouse was now badly flooded. The rest of the day was spent clearing up the devastation of this dramatic night. The newspaper article showed spectacular photographs of the flooding across the valley; and if you go to Seathwaite to this day you can still see the boulders and stones that have littered the valley floor since that night.

The events of this night fascinated me as a sixteen year old as I read them on the café wall. And that article stayed with me, because I made a point of always stopping at the café on my walks through Seathwaite over the next 30 years. I bored all my companions making them read it, or wait for me whilst I read it again, after finishing our cups of tea and cake. On one visit they had some reproductions of the article for sale, and I purchased one, but put it away in a cupboard when I got home.  Then on a stop at the café a few years ago I was horrified to see new décor, and new pictures, and the old story on the wall was gone.  I asked the lady behind the counter about it. She was new and had no idea what I was talking about. It felt like part of my own history had been destroyed.

The café at Seathwaite closed down soon after. It is now a holiday cottage, which presumably brings greater financial returns. The last time I went through the farmstead refreshments were being half-heartedly sold from a stone hut. I walked on by and headed for the cheerier offerings in Keswick. But I did get that poster out of the cupboard, and it is now framed and hangs on the wall of a passageway in my cottage. I doubt anyone except me ever reads it, or even notices it there. But it reminds me of those days when I was young and I first discovered my love for the fells. And I smile sadly to myself and remember.

I am sorry about the poor quality of this photograph and for the reflection of the flash

Thursday 10 July 2014

Mirror, mirror on the wall: Reflections on the 2014 TGO Challenge

On St Cyrus beach
 As I walk along the streets of Penrith, or the lanes of NE Wales, I am often stopped by strangers with the question “Mr Fellbound, do tell us what the Challenge means to you.  Share with us. Do”.

It seems presumptuous of me, a mere two times Challenger to give my views and reflections. Actually, I do not believe what I have just written.  It is not at all presumptuous. It’s just that these are based on my limited involvement in this great event. So they are the views of someone who has limited involvement in this great event. Ok? 

Challenge People

Without a doubt the vast majority of Challengers are lovely people. Of course you meet some absolute ars*holes, and I am sure that some Challengers will think I am one of these, but we ars*holes are few and far between. It is not just the friendliness of the Challengers that you meet. Or the many acts of kindness you see or benefit from.  It’s also their inspirational determination. You constantly observe, or learn by chance, of superb feats they have achieved.  Ultra long distance walks such as Lands End to John of Groats, the GR11, the National Trails and so on. Overcoming serious illness. Climbing high mountains in far off places.  Long Challenge days ticking off large numbers of Munros, whilst I struggle along in the glens. Walking for three days with the sole coming off their boot. Walking for the best part of a couple of weeks with blisters or a hurty knee or similar. Of my thirteen days of walking this year I only had two days where I walked completely on my own. On all other occasions I had wonderful companions. You know who you, are so thanks.

My Route

For the second time I took a lowish level route. What some would regard as merely a lengthy stroll was still, to me, a Challenge. And that is what matters. Each to his or her own. So whilst I sometimes feel I should have planned some tougher, longer days, I was happy with my route. There was, though, one massive, prolonged disappointment that I had partly anticipated from my route planning, but which was far worse in reality.  My route from Torgyle Bridge to Garva Bridge was absolutely blighted by the impact of industrial scale development in the most unsuitable of landscapes. For two days I followed massive, bulldozed tracks, with enormous lines of new and old pylons all around me. And on every horizon around Fort Augustus there seemed to be wind farms. So the walking in these places was easy on the feet, but not easy on the eye. I silently fumed throughout these days, my emotions oscillating between sadness and anger.

Best day? I know it was short and easy, but walking alone along General Wade’s Road from Phones to Kingussie in lovely sunshine.  Absolutely gorgeous

I have no pretensions of being a photographer but I was very pleased with this picture of the early morning at Garva Bridge, captured on my Kodak Box Brownie Instamatic

My Food and Drink

Best tasting meal? The Gathering Place Bistro in Braemar.  Worst meal?  A Mountain House Chilli Con Carne.  Nicest coffee and cake?  That café on the A889 between Laggan and Catlodge.  Most expensive coffee and cake?  That café on the A889 between Laggan and Catlodge. Best whisky? That’s a close one. Toss up between the malts Hugh Emsley and John Sanderson were carrying – and I can’t remember the names of either. Best pudding? Birds instant custard made in a plastic food bag at the Shielin of Mark bothy. Luxury food item? Tube of Carnation condensed milk. Most versatile foodstuff? Primula Cheese Spread.

My Gear

My pack was about 13kg with 3 days food. For many that is very heavy. This is partly because of a number of deliberate choices.

Tent: So glad I took the Scarp 1. It’s just brilliant, and I don’t care that there are lighter shelters about. Headroom is excellent and it is nice and airy, and those long corner struts keep the fabric well away from your face at night.

Pack: The ULA Catalyst pack is far too large according to many. I don’t care about that either. Its hip belt sits on my hips, and I’ve not yet come across another rucksack so good for someone who is 6 foot 3 inches.

Sleeping bag:  Rab Neutrino Endurance 400. When will I get it into my thick skull when buying sleeping bags that manufacturer’s comfort ratings are a joke for someone who sleeps as cold as I do? I reckon they are at least 5 degrees too optimistic. This bag should be ok to freezing point. So why was I so cold when it got down to one or two degrees even wearing a hat, PHD down jacket, fleece top, trousers and socks in the bag? It’s not even light at over 900 grams. I was cold most nights.

Sleeping mat: Neoair X Lite large size mat.  This has now done two Challenges and a number of other overnights. Great. And it didn’t go down. As I keep saying, the large size is wider and far more comfortable than the regular size.

Footwear: Inov8 Terroc 330s, new style, with the insoles they came with. Absolutely fine, and they drain and dry well despite some of the gloom mongers' prophecies when the upper fabric was changed this year. X socks. Brilliant too. Mind you I wouldn’t wish the smell on anyone after a day in wet peat.

That’s enough about gear.

Early morning brew: bliss

And to conclude:

So will I apply to do the Challenge again in 2015? I’m not certain. For me, between getting a place in November and setting off in May it becomes all pervasive, dominates much of my thinking and possibly intrudes too much into real life. I am sure I must bore my ever supportive wife silly in talking about it.  I can’t really explain this notion properly or even articulate why this pervasiveness is a problem. Nor is the Challenge cheap – the way I do it.  Fares, dehydrated food, new bits of gear, 3 or 4 nights in B and Bs, 4 or 5 meals out, pub visits.  Yes I could cut out most of that but….

The other factor in my mind is the route. I can’t see myself doing much in the way of big hills or miles of trackless stuff. I’m not physically or mentally up to that, certainly if walking alone, or if the weather is dubious (and in Scotland it normally is).  This is a limiter, because I would also want to seek to avoid the pylons and the wind turbines and that is becoming harder and harder to do. The Scottish Government might think that it is scaremongering to say that such development could harm their economy but I am sure that it really will start to drive tourists to other places. I may be one of these. Perhaps they do not care.

So whatever I decide I know that in the Challenges of 2013 and 2014 I have had two superb experiences that will, literally, remain with me until death or dementia. I met many fabulous people and generally had a wonderful time. And that, of all the feelings that the Challenge evokes, is the one thing that could see me buying the TGO magazine this October. An Oban start sounds good......

TGO Challenge Day 13: The End of the Affair

Distance 14km, Height climbed 186 metres, 2 hours 35 minutes. Weather: Lovely


Day 13: Route
"From mountain to sea the very best of Scotland" - that's the Challenge for you!

Confirmation of our navigation skills at St Cyrus

Last day of the 2014 Challenge. I was up early, as was John Sanderson, so we set off together to walk to the beach at St Cyrus. John kindly kept his pace to below his normal four minute mile and so I was able to keep up. It was possibly the best day of the fortnight weatherwise, fair and warm. The route to St Cyrus from Northwater Bridge isn’t spectacular but still perfectly pleasant, all along country lanes, excepting the track over the hill of Morphie and the cliff path down to the beach.
From the top of the cliffs
We shouldered our packs down to the beach rather than abandoning them at the top – well it wouldn’t feel right not to make sure your pack had done the full journey, coast-to-coast, shoreline-to-shoreline, would it?

Lovely St Cyrus beach: This must be one of the reasons so many Challengers finish here
And so we arrived at the beach, the end of our Challenge. We did the normal things that Challengers seem to do.  Being British we shook hands and mumbled "well done old chap" at each other.  Being in Scotland we had a slug of whisky from the hip flasks. Being at the sea in the sunshine we had a paddle (John bravely dipped bare feet in the water; I managed to get my trail shoes in). Being Challengers we marked our crossing with that circle in the sand thing. Being blokes we found two pretty young women, who happened to be walking their dogs on the beach, to take our photographs. 
I brave the cold North Sea
With John Sanderson - a great running companion

We then made our way back up the cliff path. As we left the beach we met the American group of Joe Valesko and his two colleagues from Z Packs, just arriving.  They all had unfeasibly small packs on. Having checked out Joe's gear list on the Internet I note his first aid kit weighs about 0.5 of a gram, which by my reckoning means it must contain about one paractamol and an Elastoplast. When we got to the top of the cliffs we heard a hollering and a whooping from far below us as the Americans did those high dive things slapping each others' (should that have an apostrophe?) hands, and then screams, and more whooping, and more a hollering as Joe took a dip and realised that the North Sea is slightly cooler than the waters round Florida. Johnboy smiled at all this, but my upper lip went decidedly stiff at all that palaver, I can tell you.

Then it was off to the café for morning coffee and cake before the bus to Montrose and Challenge Control to sign out. I’d finished a day earlier than planned. After some agonising the previous day I had decided not to hang around for the Challenge dinner but to get home and that is what I did.
Signing out at Challenge Control, Park Hotel, Montrose
That’s two Challenges under my belt. Will I enter again next year? Not certain. I shall touch on the reasons for this when I do my final post, with some reflections on the 2014 Challenge.

And it felt good

Tuesday 1 July 2014

TGO Challenge Day 12: All Tucked In, and a Sad Confession

Distance 27km Height climbed 217 metres. 6 hours 30 minutes. Weather: Much the same.

The North Esk just down from Tarfside

Day 12 Route: Part 1
Day 12 Route: Part 2

I breakfasted at the tent then went off to feast my face on bacon rolls and mugs of tea at St Drostan's. 

"Why did you eat so many bacon rolls, mister?"

"Because they were there, that's why".

The bridge over the North Esk has been closed by the landowner who claims it is dangerous. A cynic might think he had other motives. Some Challengers, I understand, now ford the river here.  I saw no point in this, there being a perfectly good bridge a couple of miles downstream, so I set off along the road towards the Retreat. Soon after a miracle occurred. I actually caught up with another Challenger who was walking even more slowly than me. It was Gordon Green, and it wasn’t really a miracle. It was simply that Gordon had a very poorly and painful foot. Oh yes, I can walk faster than a man in intense pain. I walked with Gordon for a while, until Seb Coe and Steve Ovett arrived, and I then broke in to a sprint and tagged along with them for the rest of the day.

John and Ian crossing the bridge over the mighty North Esk River. Ian is poised and ready to sprint on along the track.
We crossed the river and then took the footpath along the south-west side of the river towards Edzell.  Our progress was so fast that we whizzed passed, without seeing, the bridge that would have taken us to the ‘Blue Door Route’ and also the path that would have led us off road and enabled us to by-pass the might conurbation of Gannochy. To my eyes, these spots on the route were just a speed crazed blur.

Edzell was reached in good time, with its renowned café, The Tuck Inn, and an early lunch / third breakfast beckoned.  There then followed a trip to the butcher’s shop, which sells pies to die for. Fortunately, we didn't need to, we just got our wallets out and tucked in to another lunch.

Eating fried stuff before we hit the pie shop

Day 12: Route Part 3

What a change a day can make to the scenery

North Water Bridge campsite

How do I fit in that tent?

Alan Rayner rubs his hands with glee at spotting an unattended hip flask

Then it was along more tracks, and that long straight road, and more tracks to the camp site at North Water Bridge, to be joined by a fair few Challengers over the next couple of hours. That evening we all sat around a roaring camp fire singing songs. I made that up. We sat at the picnic tables and chatted and had the odd snifter until Zebedee sprang up and told us it was time for bed.

Finally, on a serious note, I have to express my gratitude to readers who have expressed concern and support for me over my possible addiction to Primula Cheese spread.  This is no laughing matter.  Like many substance abusers I have found myself covering this up for a long time, whilst secreting tubes of the stuff around the house – in the bottom of my sock drawer, in the toilet cistern (Primula tubes are watertight) and so on. I believe that the first stage of treatment is to admit to the problem. Hence these blog posts. I have done some extensive research on the Internet and think that fellow sufferers would benefit from the following information from the webbed thing:

"The cause, apparently, is casomorphins - protein fragments, derived from the digestion of the milk protein, Casein.  The distinguishing characteristic of casomorphins is that they have an opioid effect. Dependence can develop, leading to withdrawal syndromes with abrupt discontinuation. Opioids are well known for their ability to produce a feeling of euphoria, motivating some to recreationally use opioids." 

There it is. Out in the open. I confess. I am a recreational user of Primula Cheese.

For those of you worried that you might be following on that same sad footpath of physical and psychological degeneration from which I am now seeking escape, here is a useful link to a website in which you can learn more about this terrible peril. It catalogues the stages of addiction, which include a desperate need for more cheese, a rejection of other food stuffs, nightmares, hallucinations, a belief that everyone else is walking faster than you are, and an obsession with alpine cow bells. My simple advice is, therefore, vary your lunchtime diet, do not eat Primula on more than two consecutive days, and seek help before it takes control of your life. Hey, and let's be careful out there.

JJ, Johnboy, Alan, Ian and Rob Jones