Monday, 11 November 2013

Lest We Forget: Remembrance 2013

A frosty start from Honister
The crowds coiled their way around the slopes of Green Gable like a rainbow-coloured ribbon and the snow-capped peaks sparkled in the sunshine like polished icing. It was a perfect day to be heading to Great Gable for Remembrance Sunday and as ever, the crowds were out in force.

Great Gable was gifted to the National Trust by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club. In 1924, a bronze memorial was placed on the summit cairn to remember those members of the Club who died in the First World War. Each year on Remembrance Sunday, hundreds of people head to the summit, where a short service is held to remember all those who have given so much for our freedom. 

A colourful ribbon of people
On Remembrance Sunday it is all about the occasion and the atmosphere rather than the views but the long-distance views towards Buttermere, Crummock Water, Ennerdale, Blencathra and the Langdale Pikes were spectacular and certainly added to the atmosphere. 

I was walking to the summit with a few friends, Ray, Andy, Stuart, Jimmy and Cindy and we chose the route up via Green Gable from Honister. I have been on the summit of Great Gable many times but each time I have been unfortunate with the clouds and not seen the views. Today looked like I was finally going to see what I had been missing. 

Buttermere Valley & a cloud banner
We kept a steady pace as we skirted the slopes of Brandreth and towards Green Gable. I kept stopping to take photos as the views that started to open up were sublime. The warm reds and golds of autumn were spreading across the mountain slopes in a striking contrast to the blue sky and the snowy peaks. Buttermere Valley had a cloud all the way across it as though the peaks of High Stile and Grasmoor were holding a banner of cotton wool.

Great Gable in the cloud with a queue of people
Scrambling over rocks and boulders, we reached the summit of Green Gable and saw several other routes converging from the Brandreth, Aaron Slack and Moses Trod paths. From above we must have looked like ants heading to an anthill. Sadly at this point, the cloud came in and it looked as though Great Gable would cling onto its cloud factory once more.

The last section of path to the summit of Great Gable is a rocky scramble and with so many people heading the same way it becomes a bottle neck and you actually queue to get there. I think this must be the only occasion that queuing to get on a mountain not just happens but is totally accepted as part of the experience. It really is part of the experience though and there is always a sense of a shared aim.
Colourful crowds

This year, with the ice and snow, the scramble was tricky in places and the going was slow and often not elegant but before long we were arriving at the summit along with those who had made the ascent from Styhead and Wasdale. With multi-coloured hats and jackets, it was a colourful place to be and there must have been several hundred people there. At this point, arriving rather out of breath from a swift ascent from Honister, our friend Phil joined us.
We will never forget
With the cloud enclosing us, a few words were spoken by a member of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and then the two minute silence was held. It was thought-provoking and memorable, with only the occasional dog barking. At the end of the silence the crowd applauded and it sounded like deep rolling thunder rumbling up the valley as there were so many people. It was simply awe-inspiring.

Views at last!
The sun was trying desperately to burn through the clouds so as the crowds dispersed we decided to wait on the summit for a while to see if the views appeared. We were not disappointed. The clouds slowly cleared towards Wastwater and the Wasdale fells of Kirk Fell, Pillar and Yewbarrow. The deep blue of Wastwater in the emerald green valley was beautiful. The Scafells and Langdale Pikes slowly emerged from the grey and finally I saw what I had been missing for so long. Great Gable has some of the most stunning views I have ever seen, especially at this time of year.

We headed off the summit, which was much quieter by then and down the tricky slope. I donned my micro-spikes for the occasion and got to the bottom unscathed. We returned via Green Gable again and back to Honister. A really lovely walk with spectacular views but more importantly a superb and poignant occasion. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

See more photos here
Read about Remembrance 2012 here

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Diary of a YHA Novice....

The last time I stayed in a youth hostel was whilst backpacking in Australia in 1999. I remember the enormous dorms, having to bring my own sheets, sharing a pokey little kitchen with a toaster that looked rather like a sandy beach with all the crumbs of residents-past lingering in it and queuing to use the communal showers that had dubious plastic sheeting separating them. I had a fantastic time in Australia but YHA’s were not somewhere I was planning on ever going back to. I do after all like my creature comforts.

So it was with trepidation that 14 years later I walked into the Ambleside YHA. I could not fault the setting – the hostel is on the shore of Windermere. Literally a few metres walk takes you from the front door to the water’s edge, where the gentle ripples lap the shore.
A beautiful setting

My first impressions were excellent. The hostel has recently been refurbished and it turns out things have changed rather a lot in the last 14 years! I received a warm welcome from the receptionist and as I was filling in the form and being given my keys I peered to my left and clocked the bar for future reference! Keys in hand, I headed up the stairs to the top floor in search of my room. Along the corridor were rows of bathrooms and individual showers – I was relieved to see there were plenty of them and they looked sparklingly clean.
The Room

So the room. The Ambleside YHA is a large hostel and even has a selection of en-suite rooms but I opted for a bed in a small dorm. There were two bunk beds, a basin, a portable heater and large wooden lockers for any bags and valuables. The beds all had matching green pillows and duvets, which were ironed and looked inviting. As I was on the top floor, I was amongst the eaves, which gave the room character and whilst the room was small it wasn’t pokey. The views from the window were superb across the lake.
The Bar!

It was early evening so after selecting a bottom bunk I headed down to the bar. And what a bar! It would not have been out of place in a nice hotel. There was a good selection of beers, spirits and wines, including prosecco (a personal favourite) a restaurant, conservatory area and outside decking. I settled into a sofa with a glass of wine, connected to the wifi network and watched a rather cloudy sunset over Windermere, with the imposing fells behind getting darker and darker as they disappeared into the night sky. I have stayed in expensive hotels that could not boast such a setting.
The staff were friendly and it was clear the restaurant itself was a destination of choice as several people were staying elsewhere but had come for the food and ambience. I am not surprised. It is excellent value and having tried the chilli con carne, I was impressed. I would definitely come back to the restaurant again and those visiting on warm sunny days can take advantage of the outdoor space. There is a self-catering area as well for those who want to be self-sufficient.
A room with a view

Little things matter and next to each bed was an individual light and a socket for a phone charger with a little platform to lay your mobile phone to charge over night. I had the dorm to myself for the two nights I stayed. I was worried the corridor would be noisy with people coming and going from the dorms and whilst there was the occasional door banging more loudly earlier on in the night, I was not disturbed and slept really well.
In the morning there were no queues for the shower (which was just across the corridor) and the superb view from the bedroom window even though cloudy was one that many hotels would covet. I headed out for the day with a spring in my step.
Ambleside YHA

So my youth hostel journey has begun and so far I am pleasantly surprised. Having not considered YHA’s for many years, my opinion of them has changed dramatically. Having started the journey with trepidation, I now find myself looking forward to my next stay with pleasure. Now which one to choose?
A restaurant with a view
I am working in partnership with the YHA to encourage people to get out and about and if (like me) you haven't thought about youth hostels for a while to perhaps think again....
Find out more about the YHA on their website 
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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Through the Clouds

Always something to look at
The Lake District is beautiful in all weathers. Sometimes even when the clouds are out in force, the wind is blowing and it looks as though it could rain any minute, I still want to get out on the fells. It isn’t always about the long-distance views (stunning though they are).

So it was one morning when I headed out to climb Lord’s Seat and Barf from the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre. On this route, much of the walk is amongst the forest and with the weather uncertain this seemed a good form of shelter (besides, starting from the top of the pass meant I was already a good way up the mountain!)
Sheltering in the trees

I made my way along the forest tracks up towards Ullister Hill. With the clouds swirling around, the tall trees seemed very eerie next to me and they came and went like shadows in the mist. Without views, I paid more attention to the beautiful purple heather, yellow gorse and tall grasses around me. The mist had left tiny water droplets like crystals on them and spider webs glistened as they swayed in the breeze.

"View" from the summit
After about a mile and a half I emerged from the trees and before long, I had reached the summit of Lord’s Seat. Apparently the name comes from a natural rock seat just below the summit but today was not a day to explore too long as the wind was becoming quite feisty. When amongst the trees it was barely noticeable so my decision to try a forest route was a good one. 

Misty view of the "mound"
After admiring the cloud for a few minutes, I headed off towards Barf into yet more cloud. I passed the imaginatively named “mound” (according to the Ordnance Survey map). Even in the cloud I couldn’t argue with that apt description as a “mound” it certainly was! 

The view from Barf was much the same as from Lord’s Seat when I arrived on the summit but then, briefly, the clouds blew north and a misty view down to Bassenthwaite suddenly appeared and almost as quickly disappeared. I wasn’t expecting any views at all so this made it even more beautiful. 
A glimpse of Bassenthwaite from Barf

Ever improving views
I came back through the forest and the lower I got the thinner the cloud became and the views to the valley, with a patchwork of fields got better and better. The tracks twisted and turned through the trees until I arrived back at the Visitor Centre. If the weather had been better I probably would not have chosen that walk and I would have missed out. The forest walk was lovely, much nicer than I thought it would be and I will definitely return regardless of cloud!

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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Sunset & Sale

The word “Sale” usually gets me heading for the nearest shoe shop. On an August evening recently however, it was entirely about climbing a mountain called Sale without a pair of heels or sale ticket in sight.

On Lothwaite
I met Gina, Dave, Gary and Stuart at Eskin near Bassenthwaite Lake and we started our ascent. Stuart had brought his two Collie dogs with him and they were running around happily making it look easy but the direct route to the summit is very steep! I was (unusually for me) leading the way but regular view stops were essential as we made our way through the bracken. Looking back the way we had walked, you could see across to Ling Fell (which we were heading to later) and into the quiet woods and valley below. We hardly saw another soul all evening.
Worth the walk to Lothwaite for this view of Bassenthwaite

The higher we climbed the more of the Solway Firth we could see. The sun was casting a pink glow on the sea as it peered through the clouds. When we reached Sale summit, the views towards Skiddaw and the surrounding fells were striking as the cloudy sky cast dark and forbidding shadows across them.

We headed to a lower hill called Lothwaite as it has excellent views (although at the time none of us knew what this part of the fell was called!) Bassenthwaite stretched out below us towards Keswick and a patchwork of emerald green fields framed the foot of the Ullock Pike ridge. We all agreed that on an evening like this there was nowhere else in the world we would rather be than the Lake District. 

Group photo on the way down Sale
The sun was close to setting so we made our way back down to the valley and then up the fell opposite called Ling Fell. It is about the same height as Sale but, I am relieved to say a gentler ascent. The path snaked its way through grass and bracken and as we approached the summit the clouds around the sun cleared and we had a perfect sunset towards the coast. The colours were like the dying embers of a fire and cast a warm pink and orange glow all around. It was so beautiful and so peaceful I could have looked at it forever. 
Sunset of the Solway Firth

At The Pheasant Inn
As it was now starting to get dark we took the direct route down Ling Fell, which was a bit slippery in places as the dew appeared and we decided to finish the walk at The Pheasant Inn. A really lovely way to spend an evening and now I have two favourite sales.

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