occasional snapshots of thought

Blea Tarn from Lingmoor

Scatterlings and Outliers

Posted on 9th July 2017

After a day of useful presentations and interesting conversations in Manchester, I returned to the Lakes with a new phone for the second leg of the May tour. The first leg had been pretty successful with 15 Wainwrights in 3 days, not a bad average. But I still hadn’t reached 100 and the weather forecast didn’t give much hope, describing conditions as “changeable”, which in Lake District speak means “raining most of the time with a few dry spells”. Under the circumstances it seemed like a good idea to plan for bagging a few outliers and low-hanging fruit.

As it happened, the Friday didn’t look too bad, so I decided to take on another of Stuart Marshall’s walks in an attempt to finish off the Far Eastern Fells, a Troutbeck Medley. The word “medley” is used here to mean a walk taking in a number of tops that have no geographical relation to one another save that they are all close enough together to make the walk possible in a long day. In other words, a walk that no right-minded person would do. Which, I think says more about my determination to wrap up the Far Eastern Wainwrights than it does about wanting to actually enjoy the endeavour.

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Looking south to Froswick and Ill Bell from the path to Thornthwaite Crag.

Horseshoes and Rounds

Posted on 20th June 2017

For the past few years, a group of like-minded educators have gathered to discus the specific issues involved with the teaching of web design. The group was formed by my good friend Richard Eskins at Manchester Metropolitan University and this year’s Web Teaching Today event was hosted by Richard at MMU. I took the opportunity to bookend the get-together with two trips to the Lakes with the prospect of bagging my 100th Wainwright.

My key task on this trip was to complete the Far Eastern Fells and I began the visit by tackling the most easterly (and lonely) of all the Wainwrights. I was following a walk designed by Stuart Marshall, from his book Walking the Wainwrights. The premise of this book is that it covers all the Wainwrights in the minimum number of circular walks. In this case, just 36. Each walk is designed to be walked in a day (providing there is enough daylight). Up until quite recently, I’ve considered Stuart’s routes to be slightly ambitious and have used the book to plan shorter versions or variations. However, I’m now confident enough in my fitness and my navigation skills to attempt some of his longer walks. The Swindale Round includes just 4 Wainwrights and at 11 miles, is one of Stuart’s shorter routes. Ideal for a day when I had to drive a couple of hours to the start point (I’d stopped over in Southport on the way up to the Lakes).

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Rainbow over Ullswater

Peat Hags and Skylarks

Posted on 30th April 2017

This post could easily have been titled, “Picking up where I left off”, because on the morning of 10th April, I parked the car in exactly the same spot I’d parked on my last visit to the Lake District, back in October. St. Peter’s Church at Howtown is at the start of numerous walks in the north-eastern fells and I was very glad to be back there after a winter hiatus.

I hadn’t planned a visit to the Lakes in April but it just so happened that I’d booked some leave over Easter and that coincided with my mum’s second knee replacement operation. So, I was in Southport to take her into hospital and to take her home later in the week. In between times, I managed two trips up to the Lakes, the first, to complete the Fusedale Round that I didn’t have time for at the end of last year, and the second to take on the Martindale Round.

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Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du from Cefn Cwm Llwch

Keeping my hand in

Posted on 22nd January 2017

The last time I did any serious walking was back in October and the next planned visit to the Lakes is in May so I took the opportunity afforded by some good January weather to make a trip to the Brecon Beacons in order to keep myself in reasonable fell-walking condition (keeping my hand in). For whatever reason, I’d never visited the Brecon Beacons before despite them being just two and a half hours from home by car. I know some parts of Wales reasonably well; many childhood holidays were spent in North Wales and I spent 3 years at university in Mid Wales but other than a trip to the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival in 1992 and a short break on the Pembrokeshire coast, I don’t really know the South at all. So, yesterday morning, I got up in good time (not too early), set the sat-nav for Brecon and set off in search of the Brecon Beacons.

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Looking east from Harrison Stickle summit

Self analysis in the Central Fells

Posted on 22nd October 2016

Stephen Hough, the concert pianist, was this week’s castaway on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. During the programme he said something that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing but he said something to the effect of “life is about negotiating that space between the extremes where everything matters and where nothing matters and happiness lies at the point of balance between the two”. I recognised this as an important illustration of the way my own mind works and have long been conscious of the fact that I have a tendency to an imbalance in favour of everything matters. In some respects, this is a good thing. I believe it makes me a better teacher, improving empathy and organisation. But in other ways it can be negative, causing stress, especially when I can see that there are problems with things I think really matter but over which I have no control (a frequent occurrence in university life).

One of the best ways I know of redressing that imbalance is to indulge in some enforced nothing matters activity. Or rather, nothing matters except for that particular activity. In my case, the activity happens to be solo walking in the Lake District fells. When I’m out there, completely alone and in the presence of significant natural beauty, nothing else really matters – it’s a great antidote (or at the very least, an effective coping mechanism).

So, last weekend I headed up to the Lake District, looking for the antidote and hoping to tidy up my fell walking record in the process by finishing off the Central Fells.

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The view from Great Crag

Unfinished Business in Langdale

Posted on 27th August 2016

For the second year running, I made an August trip to the Lake District with my daughter, Tilly. She’s a very good walking companion with plenty of experience from her Duke of Edinburgh Award and scouting expeditions and it makes for a welcome change to the solo walking, which I usually do.

The object of this visit was to take in some classic walks, the Langdale Pikes and the Kentmere Round and thereby get close to finishing the Central Fells and starting the Far Eastern Fells but as with most of my trips so far, our plans were compromised by the weather.

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Above Watendlath looking west

Taking the rough with the smooth

Posted on 6th August 2016

The 214 challenge is well under way and what could potentially have been a dalliance is now heading towards 25% completion. There’s no way I can back out now, provided I can maintain motivation even when facing the most frustrating of walks. One of the important lessons I’ve learned about fell walking is that, just like every other aspect of life, there is rough and smooth in equal measure. This is not something I was expecting but perhaps I was just naïve.

Of course, there are jaw-dropping moments of awesomeness, amazing views, blue skies, sheer drops, dramatic cloudscapes and thundering cascades. Not to mention the fantastic feeling of achievement when a particularly difficult or exhausting summit is bagged. But (and this surprised me) some of it is less than awesome. For example, the unpredictable weather that makes a mockery of well considered plans. Climbing a hard-won fell only to find that the summit is swathed in mist, depriving the walker of a rewarding view. The shin-deep bog that lies between this fell and the next. The uneven arrangement of fells, meaning that some days are filled with awkward logistics… Well, you get the idea.

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Striding Edge and Grisedale

A Year and a Storm

Posted on 19th June 2016

It’s now exactly one year since I began my fell walking challenge. I’ve completed 30 of the 214 Wainwrights; not bad for year 1 but I will need to step up the pace just a little if I’m to complete the challenge before my 60th birthday. I had wondered if I could sustain my interest in this project over the longer term but at the moment I’m still very keen. I’m just 5 Wainrights short of completing the Eastern Fells and I’ll be back in the Lakes for a week at the end of July to bag those and make a start on the Central Fells. With experience, my route-planning is getting better and I’ll be taking on the Central Fells in a much more ordered way.

Last Saturday I drove up to the North West because I had to be in Manchester on Monday and Tuesday. That gave me the Sunday for a quick trip to the Lake District. I had in mind a walk from Patterdale taking in Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike via Eagle Crag, the east ridge of Nethermost Pike and Hard Edge. I’d seen this walk described in the April 2016 edition of Trail magazine and decided it looked like a fun day out. I varied the published walk slightly by returning via Grisedale Tarn, just in case there was time to include Seat Sandal (as it turned out, there wasn’t). The 18km walk took eight and a half hours to complete.

Naturally, I checked the weather before starting out. The forecast was for “light cloud” and no rain until later that evening. I’m now very glad that the forecast was wrong because had it been right, I may never have attempted this walk.

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Book jacket illustration from The Outrun

Geographical Healing

Posted on 2nd May 2016

I recently read two books that have landscape as a theme; H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. The books are similar in many ways; both written by women in the aftermath of emotional turmoil and both the story of recovery by distraction. Macdonald distracts herself from a deep state of grief by training a goshawk called Mabel and Liptrot distracts herself from her alcoholic cravings by immersing herself in the landscape of the Orkneys.

H is for Hawk was given to me by a friend who admitted (after I’d read the book) that she failed to complete it. I have to admit that I got to a point about two thirds of the way through where I almost gave up but I’m glad I didn’t. The book is tough going and pretty dense but it is beautifully written and, in truth, it’s the quality of the writing that got me through this rather depressing read. The best parts of the book are the passages where Macdonald is out of that house and training Mabel. The descriptions of landscape are excellent.

H for Hawk is a book I was glad to get to the end of but The Outrun is a book I didn’t want to end; it’s a fresh and exhilarating read with plenty of contrast in time and space. Liptrot’s story is one of extremes. It begins by detailing her alcoholic misadventures in London and her experience in rehabilitation before moving north and to her recovery in the Orkneys. It’s a relatively simple narrative but the structure of the book is excellent with London flashbacks standing in for her pangs and cravings during recovery. There’s also an echo of Heart of Darkness as her journey towards recovery takes her to ever remoter islands and wilder landscapes. This is a book I could read again and I look forward to her future writing – highly recommended.

The Outrun cover illustration by Kai & Sunny.

Sheffield Pike cairn

The Unique Colour of March

Posted on 28th March 2016

When does an interest become an obsession? Are all obsessions necessarily bad? I guess these are questions that most people have to answer for themselves. Most aspects of life are relative; one person’s obsession may just be another person’s passing interest. My own personal obsessions mainly serve the purpose of temporary distractions from work and family life.

I know, I know, I’m conforming to type. I’m a white, middle-aged, middle-class, liberal-thinking bloke and I do the sort of things that white, middle-aged, middle-class, liberal-thinking blokes do. I collect stamps, I walk the Lake District fells, I watch football on telly and I drink bottled beer. That’s what I do for fun, my leisure time (me and half of all the other white, middle aged… blokes out there).

So nothing unusual here, I’m not breaking any moulds. It’s just that I often feel that I’m not the same as every other bloke of my type, and then it turns out that I am very much the same. This painful discovery happened again this week.

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