Friday, 23 March 2012

My Top Six Ridge Routes: Part One

One of the wonderful things about walking in the Lake District is once you have climbed one fell you can usually walk for miles and miles across the ridges to other fells and see a myriad of other views.  It feels like you are on top of the world and it is just wonderful.  On these routes you often find silent pretty tarns, rocky ridges, grassy paths and imposing crags.  You can see the sea from some fells and as far as Scotland and the Isle of Man.  Or you can be looking towards beautiful blue lakes with striking mountains behind in one direction and rolling grassy hills the other.  It can take your breath away.
The Skiddaw Range - Ridge Route Example

I have walked many ridge routes but there are a few that really captured my imagination for the beautiful views, the type of terrain, how I was feeling at the time or a combination of all of these.  Here are the first three of my top six in no particular order and bearing in mind I still have five Wainwright fells to complete....

The first one has to be the High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike ridge from Buttermere.  This was one of the first ridge routes I did as an adult (so through choice rather than as a child complaining the whole way....I must have been a nightmare!)  I walked along the shore of Buttermere lake and through the woods with a gentle breeze rustling the tree tops, the lake glistening in the sun and the bluebells just coming to life in the warm spring air.  I took the path up towards Scarth Gap but then took a “short-cut” that went across the hypotenuse rather than the right angle (if my Mathematics teacher ever reads this he will be shocked I can remember anything given I spent most of my time daydreaming and looking out the was a mystery to both of us why I was in the top Maths class).  This was a mistake as I could not find the proper path and it was really steep and grassy.  It probably took me twice as long as the normal route!  As I rejoined the main path, I was exhausted from the climb and not yet at the top and then a swarm of fell-runners on a “fun-run” came pelting down a scree section barely out of breath!  I have such admiration for them as it would be utterly beyond me to run anywhere on fells let alone on scree.

Red Pike, Bleaberry Tarn & Crummock Water
As I reached the summit of High Crag, the views opened out to see Buttermere, Crummock Water and the Grasmoor Fells in front, with Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike behind.  It was beautiful.  All the hard work had been done by then and the walk to High Stile and Red Pike was just a gentle stroll with ever more beautiful views, including Mellbreak (one of my favourite mountains) coming into view and the striking sight of Bleaberry Tarn with the red soil of the appropriately named Red Pike behind.  The route down took me passed the Tarn and it was so very pretty I could have stayed and watched the water lap the side for hours.  A great introduction to ridge walking.

Ennerdale Water with moody skies
The second one is the Mosedale Horseshoe from Wasdale Head, mainly because Wasdale is probably my favourite valley.  On this route I began at the pub at Wasdale Head and climbed Pillar via the Black Sail Pass, Scoat Fell, Steeple, Red Pike (not to be confused with the Buttermere Red Pike mentioned above!) and then back down the Dore Head Screes.  In future, I would add Yewbarrow to the ending, which would make it perfect!  The weather was less promising for the first part of the walk but cheered up later on with sunshine.  On the way up Pillar, I met a guy who extolled the virtues of GPS and it was because of his recommendation that I purchased my own system.  This man climbs all the Wainwright’s over 2,500 feet every year and after Pillar was off towards Haycock (a fell I have yet to do).  The third fell on the list, Steeple, became one of my favourite fells – the views down towards Ennerdale Water were superb and I had the fell top all to myself.  It is rarely appropriate to describe a fell as “sweet” but Steeple was a sweet fell.  Sitting on top of Steeple all my worries and problems just melted away – it felt like I could conquer the world.  However, I decided to delay my bid for world domination and finish the walk.

Kirk Fell & Great Gable
The path between Steeple and Red Pike (via Scoat Fell again) was a lovely high level walk with the views of Great Gable, Kirk Fell and the Scafells becoming increasingly spectacular.  I decided to end at the Dore Head scree because I thought it would be too much to take in Yewbarrow at that point as I was feeling tired.  However, given I could not find the nice grassy path and therefore had to battle scree the whole way down, I am not sure it was the easier option!  But then I have a natural affinity with screes as regular readers will know!  It did mean I had the absolute pleasure of climbing Yewbarrow separately another time and that was heavenly.

View from Silver How
Third is the conclusion of my Langdale Pikes Saga in June 2011, which was a stunning walk.  From Grasmere I went up Silver How, Blea Rigg, Sergeant Man, Thurnacar Knott, High Raise and Tarn Crag, returning via Easedale Tarn.  This was a simply lovely ridge walk from start to finish.  Climbing Silver How was I think one of the only fells where the top really is where you think it is (not hiding further and higher away) and is quite quick to get to.  The views opening up behind to Grasmere are wonderful and with each fell summit reached, they get better.  The route from Silver How to Blea Rigg was a series of little grassy ups and downs and there was not another soul around.  Blea Rigg and Sergeant Man gave way to rockier and more rugged summits with superb views of the other Langdale Pikes.  

Easedale Tarn
Thurnacar Knott and High Raise, whilst not particularly interesting terrain (they are rather flat and a bit marshy) were still great as you felt on top of the world and I confess that given the whole saga of climbing the Langdale Pikes I was feeling euphoric!  My favourite of the day however has to be Tarn Crag, which is probably the least frequented of that group of fells, which is a shame as it was really pretty.  A cairn or two would have been helpful as without GPS I am not sure I would have found the summit as paths do not exist but unlike most other mountains I have climbed, there was a lot of moss and some of the tiny flowers you usually see in rockeries (if I were writing a food blog they would be “micro flowers” reflecting the term “micro salads”).  This was really unusual and made the walk fascinating even though I am hardly a budding botanist!  The route down via Tarn Crag was beautiful and I confess at this point I sat in the sunshine paddling my feet for a while.  Wonderful.

The next three routes will be in the Part Two...

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hever: A Castle & A Labrador

A friendly duck in daffodils
Hever is a small and very pretty village in west Kent and of course is made famous by Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife who was beheaded for treason.  After the downfall of Anne Boleyn, her family were effectively ruined and the castle came into the hands of Henry VIII, who in turn gave it to Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, until her death in 1557.  Henry had rejected Anne of Cleves as a wife and divorced her but she was one of the lucky ones as she at least kept her head!  The castle fell into disrepair over the following centuries, particularly in the 1700’s when the Groombridge gang of smugglers used it to store their contraband (a different gang of smugglers from those featured in Ancient Woodlands and the Hawkhurst Gang).  Hever Castle was purchased by William Wardorf Astor in 1903, an American millionaire who became Viscount Astor of Hever.  He restored the castle and created the wonderful Italian gardens and maze.

Tilly the Black Labrador
St Peter's Church 14th Century, Hever
This walk had a difference as for the first time since I was a child I had a dog for company!  Tilly the black Labrador.  She is five years old with glossy black fur and deep brown soulful eyes that melt your heart every time you look at them.  We set off from the car-park near St Peter’s church in the centre of Hever and spring was definitely in the air!  The sun was shining and felt lovely and warm and the snowdrops and daffodils were out and looking beautiful.   The church is very pretty and the walk started through the churchyard to join the Eden Valley path (not to be confused with the Eden Valley in Cumbria!)  The sign near the church gates say it has been there for over 750 years, which would mean it was constructed in the 14th century (although I am not sure how many years the sign has been there!)  It is also where Sir Thomas Bullen (a different spelling but Anne Boleyn’s Father and Elizabeth I’s grandfather) is buried.

Beautiful Kent Countryside
The walk starts in woodlands and on the edge of the grounds to Hever Castle but very quickly opens out into lovely green fields with views across the Kent countryside that on such a day were superb.  You can at various points catch glimpses of the large lake in the grounds of Hever Castle.  Tilly was in her element and loving the sights and smells, although unsure about the large horse neighing and cantering in the field next to us!  As we took a footpath near some cottages, we had a pleasant surprise.  We came across a menagerie of animals!  Some seriously cute pink and black pigs with crinkly faces, ducks, hens, sheep and what looked like llamas to me but I believe are alpacas.  This was very unexpected but lovely.  

We walked passed ponds and streams sparkling in the sunshine, crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils waking in the spring warmth, crossed bridges and lanes and loved every minute of it.  The views were beautiful and the sky was an azure blue that made the soft greens and yellows of the trees and fields striking.  It reminded me why Kent is called “The Garden of England”.  I know I love the rugged mountains of the Lake District but Kent is a really lovely county with plenty of its own charms and attractions where you can walk for miles and never tire of the rolling fields, woods and orchards.  

Ancient Woodlands
 Then I discovered that Tilly is an Olympian in training.  As we approached one of several stiles on the route, I went to lift the dog-friendly fence post so Tilly could walk through the hole but rather than wait for me to do that, she flung herself with two leaps over the stile!  One leap onto the highest step on the side we were on and another within a millisecond right over the fence and into the next field!  She then turned around and sat down wondering why I was taking so long and did not just leap over like her.  That dog has no fear!  It may not have been elegant but it was fast and effective.  She did this several times over the walk unless I managed to get to the stile first!

Stock Wood
The last part of the walk takes you through two woods called Stock Wood and Newtye Hurst.  As Tilly and I went through Stock Wood, I could hear what sounded like a chain saw and assumed there was tree-felling happening somewhere in the woods.  It got louder and louder and I decided that actually it must be a light aircraft.  However as we emerged from the woods into a field, above was an extraordinarily large remote-controlled aeroplane that was doing loops and swoops and spirals really high up in the sky.  It looked like great fun and the adults and children flying it were clearly enjoying themselves (although I imagine it was a little annoying if you lived nearby!)  

Henry VIII Pub
We were soon back in Hever village and  Tilly (who had walked about seven miles to my five as she had been running back and forward so much) looked tired and seemed glad to be back.  We decided a trip to the picturesque Henry VIII pub would be a fabulous way to end the walk and it was!  

A Mini Trevi Fountain at Hever!
The Tudor history in Hever is fascinating.  I visited the castle on a separate day from the walk (raining sadly) and I would absolutely recommend it.  You can see history unfolding as you walk around the castle and gardens.  The Boleyn family bought Hever Castle in the 15th century but it was constructed in the 13th century by permission of Edward I.  The Italian gardens are full of architecture and ornaments brought direct from Italy between 1904 and 1908.  The lake sweeping away from the gardens into the distance is beautiful.  The castle itself is surrounded by a moat and still has a drawbridge.  The rooms are filled with ornate wooden features and panels, some from the 15th century and others from the 19th century.  You can see the room where Henry VIII stayed several times and also Anne Boleyn’s room. There are portraits and winding spiral staircases, letters and a range of memorabilia.  When the Drawing Room was redesigned in 1905, inspiration was taken from the pannelling at Sizergh Castle in Cumbria so there is even a Lake District connection!

Hever Castle
Anne Boleyn herself was an ambitious woman who played a dangerous political game and whilst she ultimately lost that game, her daughter Elizabeth I went on to become (in my view) one of the most successful monarchs in England so perhaps Anne won her game indirectly after all?  I am so glad that the American Astor family restored Hever Castle as for England to have lost such a beautiful castle, so rich in history would have been a tragedy.  Since 1983 it has been owned by Broadland Properties Ltd, who continue to maintain its beauty and elegance.

Pretty Crocus in the Hever Grounds

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