Archive for January, 2013

January 14, 2013

Windy Gyle with the northern pie man

by backpackingbongos

The upper Coquet valley is one of my favourites in England.  The last village is Alwinton before the single track road twists and turns deeper into remote hill country.  This is not a landscape of high mountains and rocky ridges though.  The attractions are much more subtle, hidden amongst the hills velvety embrace.  These gently rolling hills allow you to get far away from the maddening crowd.  Solitude is easy to find if you want it.

Solitude was in abundance as I passed through a deserted Alwinton in the dark and drove up the valley.  The road is a complete mess, an assault course of giant pot holes that were invisible in the dark.  I was surprised that I had all four wheels remaining when I parked up at Buckham’s bridge for the night.

16.5 kilometres with 620 metres ascent

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I spent the night undisturbed by any passing traffic and I forced myself out of my rather warm and cosy bed.  I drove a few miles back down the valley to the car park at Wedder leap, where I had arranged to meet Mike Knipe and his dog Bruno (aka The Northern Pie man).  I was early so set about demolishing most of a box of Frosties and numerous cups of coffee for a healthy nutritional breakfast.

Mike duly turned up and after introductions we set off up the road.  We were passed by numerous 4×4’s complete with quad bikes on trailers.  Lots and lots and lots of them.  The odd thing is that the owners did not fit the usual moorland churning demographic.  They were what I would call a bit tweedy.  We would find out their purpose later that afternoon.

Once across the river Coquet we took to a fine track that climbs above the Hepden burn, giving good if rather murky views down the valley.

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If you like remote valley walking then this bit of the Cheviots is the place to head.  We crossed the watershed and dived into a forestry plantation before picking up a track above the Usway burn.

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Hidden right in its furthest depths is the exceptionally isolated farm of Uswayford.  Mike and myself soon formulated plans to turn a neighboring wooden cabin into top-notch hostel accommodation so that you all can come and visit.  It really did have a location to die for if you like it remote.

The wind turbine above the farm looked like it was ready to take off in the strong wind.  It was spinning at the speed of a helicopter rotor.  For me this is the perfect use of green technology.  The power was being used at source for a property that is a long way off grid.  At only a few metres tall it blended in well with the landscape.  Small scale local energy production is much more preferable than plastering the hillsides with 500ft turbines and then transporting the electricity hundreds of miles by giant pylons.

With Mike telling me tales of ‘orrible murders we continued further up the Usway burn, the water carving a rocky course though the grassy hills.

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With no sheep in sight the dogs were let off lead where they raced around after each other, a bit of barking and counter barking going on.  The humans meanwhile struggled on through the increasingly large tussocks.

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We finally arrived at Davidson’s Linn, a rather remote and slightly underwhelming waterfall.  It is actually a very attractive spot but would get laughed at if it turned up at a party hosted by the Teesdale waterfalls.  It’s made even more attractive by its out of the way location.

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There was a few minutes of rocky excitement as we scrambled to the top of the falls.  There are actually two waterfalls, the smaller one hidden from view by a little rocky arête.  The rocks were wet and a slip would have involved wet feet and possibly wet underpants.  I waited at the top with a camera to see if such a moment could be captured.

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There are some cracking camping pitches at the top which we passed on the way to a sheepfold that provided shelter for lunch.  Reuben decided to latch on to Mike as he has learnt that I don’t share my lunch.  He had to make do with the crumbs from Mike’s beard as he licked his face.

The climb onto the border ridge after lunch was at an easy gradient and we were met by lowering cloud.  By the time that we had trudged up the slippery flag stones to the summit of Windy Gyle the clag had firmly set in and we saw pretty much nothing.  We did briefly sneak into Scotland though.

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It was pointless staying up high so the bridleway towards Trows was taken where visibility was once again restored.

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It was whilst descending towards the farm that we found out what all the quad bikes were for.  There appeared to be a hunt in progress.  This involved lots of hounds running across a distant hillside with men in camo sat watching through binoculars whilst sitting astride their machines.  Even the riders on horses appeared to be doing not very much.  Everywhere we looked we noticed groups standing motionless watching, it really did not look very exciting.   I wonder how strictly the hunting with dogs ban is enforced in such remote areas?

The most worrying thing was just how red everyone’s faces were, either alcohol was being enjoyed or many of the participants are heading for an early grave with high blood pressure.

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An enjoyable day in the hill with good company.  Mike is the only other human being I have ever met who knows what a Dewey is.  I cannot think of a better way to enjoy an afternoon than discuss various hill lists.  My inner geek was unleashed as we discussed obscure hills.  Reuben and Bruno appeared to rub along well, neither taking chunks out of the other.

Mikes version of the same trip is here.

January 11, 2013

The Cheviots – bimbling round the Breamish

by backpackingbongos

My plan to sneak off from work early was foiled by a last minute emergency.  It was therefore much later than anticipated when I found myself trundling north in the Bongo, via a fish and chip shop.  Five hours later I pulled into the car park at Thrunton wood, just outside the Northumberland National Park boundary.  With the van lights turned off I was surprised at just how dark it was, light pollution being almost non-existent in this remote spot.  On the wrong side of midnight I set off into the woods to walk Reuben, noting which branch I took on the track.  The contrast from a rather frenzied afternoon at work could not have been greater.  I slept well in the van that night, even with Reuben slowly pushing me off the mattress on the floor.

16 kilometres with 640 metres ascent

Breamish

It was a short drive up the Breamish valley, set within the National Park.  The narrow road was deserted and I parked up just before Hartside, where the public road ends.  There is verge parking for a few vehicles, I was the only one there that morning.

With the dog saddled up we set off down the private road towards Linhope.  Although very mild the weather did not look very promising, the higher hills hidden under solid grey cloud.  A track skirted the main house and followed the boundary of a wood.  Shooting pheasants must be a popular past time in these parts as there was a veritable plague of them making pheasanty sounds all around.

We passed the bridleway we would be taking across the moors, our initial destination being Linhope Spout hidden further up the valley.  As height was gained Hedgehope hill was just beginning to reveal itself.

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It had been a few years since I last visited Linhope Spout and either my memory is rubbish or it has shrunk a bit.  It’s a nice enough spot but I don’t think it would be worth the effort of fighting through the masses during peak season for a visit.

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The bridleway took us to the edge of the moor where somehow I managed to walk completely in the wrong direction.  I was doing the hikers favourite of making the map fit the landscape.  I realised that I could no longer lie to myself so had a proper look before walking back to the edge of the moor.  I made more of an effort after that.

Hedgehope hill finally shrugged off its veil of mist, showing itself to be an inviting looking hill.  There are two rocky warts on its southern flanks, Great and Little Staindrop.

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A small rocky outcrop just below Rig Cairn provided an excellent spot in which to start on the contents of my flask and enjoy a sandwich.  Getting Reuben to pose next to the cairn it amazed me just how well camouflaged he is against the winter moorland grasses.

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The bridleway marked on the map towards High Cantle is ruler straight, the path on the ground not following the definitive line.  I regretted leaving my gaiters in the van as I squelched through the soft peat.  Although not particularly high moorland there was a special wild quality about the area.  The view towards Hedgehope at one point almost feeling Grampian in nature.

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The hard won height gained was soon to be lost as the bridleway steeply plunged into the upper Breamish valley.  Ahead I could see the Dewey of Lints Lands but my enthusiasm for a detour had diminished just for a tick.  Instead I walked slowly downhill enjoying the wild solitude of these gently rolling hills.

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Near the river was the ubiquitous railway goods carriage which was being used for storage.

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We followed the valley downstream to the isolated farmstead of High Bleakhope.  The modern style building looks slightly out of character in this wild and remote setting.  It appeared to be empty and I fantasised about winning the lottery as I started walking the tarmac road at the end of its very very long drive.  It is located several miles from any public road.

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We set off the dogs barking at Low Bleakhope and started the climb up the track of the Salters road.  The good solid surface gave quick progress and we quickly gained height.  The view back up the valley made the farms seem even more isolated.

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This part of the Cheviots are not very dog friendly.  The open access land prohibits dogs except on rights of way.  Therefore the days walk had been planned by joining up the green dotted lines on the map.  Above the track sits the prominent cone of Shill Law and no right of way to its summit.  It was the first week of January and there were no birds nesting so I went up anyway.  Reuben was happy to lead the way.

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The summit is a great vantage point, high wild moorland on three sides of the compass falling towards the east coast.

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It’s shelter is a substantial structure and thankfully was orienteered towards the east, providing relief from the strong westerly wind.  I sat staring at the view for a long time, finally emptying the contents of my flask and lunch box.  Reuben looked on expectantly.  He was unsuccessful.

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The light was beginning to fade, early January giving short days sandwiched between the many hours of darkness.  We set off down the steep and tussocky north east ridge.  Reuben managed to get the wind in his sails, showing his pleasure by having a good roll around.

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The lower slopes were pheasant territory, with feeders set next to the track at regular intervals.  The air was full of the birds as we made our way onto the tarmaced right of way.  This would eventually lead back to the farm at High Bleakhope.  However we turned the other way and headed back to the van via Alnhammoor.

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January 9, 2013

My favourite outdoor blog of 2012

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that I get a great deal of pleasure from reading other people’s blogs.  I currently have roughly sixty in my Google reader, meaning that I usually have something new to read each day.  There are however some blogs where I look forward to new posts much more than others.  For me the perfect blog encapsulates an individuals love for the great outdoors with their personality seeping into the content.  You get to know the author, even though you have never met them.

I really appreciate well written posts alongside photos that make me want to pack my bags, saddle the dog and head out the door.  This is why I nominate Self powered as my favourite blog of the last year.  David is a great wordsmith with his posts being beautifully written, backed up with some gorgeous photos.  I suggest that you head over and check out his blog.

A close runner-up is the Sportswool diaries.  Warren and Esther packed up their jobs and have been cycling around the world, so far covering North America and Europe.  They are currently in Thailand after cycling through Malaysia.  Warren has a way with words that immediately transports you half way round the world.

What are your favourites?

January 7, 2013

Those empty rolling hills

by backpackingbongos

I really feel like the cobwebs have been brushed away after spending four days in the Cheviot hills.  The Bongo was my base for three nights, parked up each time in a remote out of the way spot.  Then last night I headed to a bothy to sit in front of a roaring fire whilst listening to the wind blow through the eaves.

The Cheviot hills are a wonderful place to get away from it all, especially in January.  They were pretty much deserted, just the whisper of the grasses under a huge sky.

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I’ll do a write-up in the next few days.

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