Archive for ‘Day walks’

May 2, 2017

Ben Klibreck and a bothy night

by backpackingbongos

Over the years I have ended up planning to climb Ben Klibreck during the dark end of Autumn. This has never been a very good tactic, as I end up sitting in the van on the road below thinking ‘Perhaps not today’. This is usually due to a big cap of cloud cloaking its summit or a gale rocking the van.

The 27th November 2016 once again saw me sitting in the van on the road below the mountain. However for once the russet moorland grasses were lit by a low sun sitting in a wintry blue sky. After a long journey even Reuben was enthusiastic about leaving his warm comfortable seat and heading into the Highland chill.

The day was short so I decided that the route would be by the standard Munro baggers path. This was boggy and slippery until firm ground was reached on Cnoc Sgriodain. As is usual in the Northern Highlands the higher ground often gives much easier conditions underfoot. The lower slopes are usually a tangle of heather or tussocks, peat sucking at your boots.

A fine path contours the slopes below Creag an Lochan and my eye was soon drawn to the wild and empty land to the west. It’s a huge vista with barely any influence of man visible. It truly is magnificent.

One of the reasons why I have been so eager to climb Ben Klibreck the last few years is because of the imminent Creag Riabhach Wind Farm. This will see twenty two wind turbines up to 125 metres (410 feet) high, on the ground in the middle distance. If it finally gets built it will decimate this stunning part of Scotland, unnecessary industrialisation of a very wild area.

By the time I had averted my gaze and gained the ridge proper the clouds were rolling in, seemingly appearing from nowhere. However I suspect that they had been hiding on the other side of the mountain all along.

It was cold on the summit and the clouds obscured the view, I was enclosed in a damp and windy world, visibility down to a few metres. I had been using the app Routebuddy on my phone as a convenient pocket sized map. Unfortunately the cold immediately killed the iPhone battery as I was taking some photos on it. Luckily I always carry a paper map as back up, but where was my compass? I then saw it in my mind, safely sitting in the pocket of my backpacking sack that I would be using later that evening. I had forgotten to swap it between sacks as the day before I had been backpacking. The perils of doing a trip that mixes both day walks and backpacking routes!

Thankfully the return simply involved retracing my steps, it would have involved a lot of effort to actually get lost. As I picked up the narrow path once again the mist started to thin. Silhouettes of nearby hills started to drift in and out of view, the hidden sun providing a backlight.

Suddenly the mist parted like a curtain and I was treated to a very special sunset.

It was an amazing way to end a day on a mountain, however it is a strange feeling to have night come so early. It was dark around 3.30pm when I finally got back to the van, the sun would not rise until nearly 9am the following morning. It was going to be a long period of darkness.

I drove a few miles north across empty moors, a lack of lighting from houses or buildings a bit disconcerting. The roads were empty, the verges quickly eaten up by the inky darkness. There was absolutely nothing out there.

I initially missed the rough layby and had to double back. With no moon it was absolutely pitch black outside, the sort of darkness where you can’t tell your arse from your elbow. I relied on technology to pinpoint my exact location. My backpack was already packed and ready to go, heavy with coal and kindling. A few steps away from the van and it was gone.

I have to say that I panicked when I got to where I thought the bridge was and saw that it was not there. Thankfully after walking up and down the banks of the river by headtorch I found what I was looking for. The walk along the north shore of Loch Loyal gave me a handrail for navigation. The only sound was the crunch of gravel under my boots, the only thing to see was the red light I had attached to Reuben’s collar.

I finally approached the building with apprehension, would there be smoke in the chimney and candle light in the window? All was dark, cold and silent when I arrived at the door. The metal latch seemed loud, all there was inside was the faint ghost of woodsmoke. The bothy was empty and currently mine alone.

I bagged a small snug room for myself and Reuben, there was still the possibility of other visitors so I did not want to spread out in the main room. Candles were lit and the fuel I had carried in was soon filling the lum with fire and smoke. Dinner was cooked and cans of beer opened, Reuben snoring on his mat. For me a perfect evening.

With no moon and zero light pollution I kept popping out to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance. They did not but the sky was full of a billion stars.

Bed time was early, Reuben and I tucked away in the wood panelled snug, the door shut against anything that may go bump in the night, secured against the bothy ghosts.

Nothing did go bump in the night and many hours later I was outside before dawn having a look at the previously hidden surroundings. The bothy is located in a magical spot.

With no facilities at the bothy I did the ritual walk of shame with the spade far away from both the building and water source. I was soon packed up, ensuring all litter was packed out, the fireplace clean and the floor swept. I was once again crunching along the gravel beach of Loch loyal, the sun finally rising for another short day. Onwards to my next adventure in the far north.

Achnanclach bothy is maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. Full details can be found here, including the bothy code. Basically don’t be a dick, respect the building and other users, carry out your rubbish and any you find, don’t shit near the building or water source, don’t visit in big groups, leave fuel for others. Pretty simple really.

May 6, 2016

Escape to the Elenydd

by backpackingbongos

With the Colorado Trail now less than three months away I thought that I should start some training. The idea was for a 51 mile linear walk south to north across the Yorkshire Dales over the May Bank Holiday. Predictably my annual spring cold arrived just in time to scupper the whole thing, along with a rubbish weather forecast for the Dales.

Although I was not well enough to drag my carcass for miles across the moors with a heavy rucksack I was not too ill to have a leisurely explore in the camper van. With it being a spring Bank Holiday I switched on my misanthropic people avoidance radar and set the van on a course for the Elenydd.

Obviously the readers of this blog are hill connoisseurs and know exactly where the Elenydd is located. It’s a huge upland area of Wales that stretches roughly from Pumlumon in the north to Mynydd Epynt in the south. It includes gems such as the Elan valley, a brilliant place to explore. However for this visit I decided to head for the area surrounding Llyn Brianne, north of the town of Llandovery. The Bank Holiday people avoidance plan worked, on the hills over the weekend I passed a total of two couples, both within a minute of leaving the road. The moors themselves were totally deserted, just sheep and very optimistic skylarks. A few phone pictures and words:

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The problem with getting to Wales from the East Midlands is that Birmingham and the West Midlands are in the way. Words such as M6 and M42 fill me with fear and horror. Somehow I avoided the awkward bit and found myself passing Titterstone Clee Hill. Considering that there is a car park near the summit I felt it would be rude not to pay it a visit. I sat in the comfort of the van for a while watching a hail storm slowly progress across the Shropshire Hills. It was a few minutes of violence when it finally hit.

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It’s less than half an hour round trip to the summit itself. There you can have huge views with very little effort. This is made even better when viewed under blue skies whilst a northerly wind leaves pin sharp visibility.

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The view to the east is obscured by a large mast and a selection of giant golf balls, part of a radar station. Add to that extensive quarry workings and it is not the most beautiful of hills. The views are stunning though.

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The Sugar Loaf Halt on the Heart of Wales line is apparently the least used railway station in the UK, with an average of five passengers a month. I was going to use its car park but it turned out that it does not have one. Instead I parked at the start of a forestry track nearby to ascend the 511 metre Garn Wen. Located at the edge of the Elenydd and overlooking the Mynydd Epynt the views encompass rugged moors, forestry, green valleys and pastures. Reuben did his best above to blend into the scenery. Spot the dog?

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One thing that really struck me about this part of Wales is the lack of windfarms. There was not a single one to be seen in any direction, and the views were massive. Dominant on the horizon to the south was the Brecon Beacons National Park. I could clearly see the Black Mountains, the Pen Y Fan hills and the Black Mountain. Their shapes are unmistakable and the rolling foothills led to the sheer sense of scale.

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The road around the Llyn Brianne gives a rollercoaster of a drive. High above the reservoir it is single track all the way with many steep sections and hairpin bends. I found a cracking spot to park up for the night, traffic being non-existent after about 6pm. I was joined for a few hours by a couple of local lads in their camper before they eventually headed home. The following morning the birds were up early and singing their hearts out, it felt like spring had sprung, although temperatures were still close to freezing.

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I have a feeling that Gopa Uchaf and Garn Gron are not high on many people’s tick lists. They are located on the western edge of the Elenydd, not far from the village of Tregaron. They both give the feeling of standing on the shore of a vast moorland sea, the gentle slopes rising and falling like waves. The moors give the impression of easy walking but they are far from that. If the tussocks don’t twist an ankle, they will wear down your resolve.

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Orange bailing twine reminds me of my childhood in Suffolk where I often found myself lifting bails of straw onto a wobbly wheelbarrow. We always had to earn our pocket-money as kids. Here it was used to tie a slowly rotting gate to a moss and lichen encrusted post. I’m not quite ready to use it as a belt just yet.

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The joy of a campervan is stopping anywhere that takes your fancy and being able to enjoy the hills with some degree of comfort. The road between Tregaron and Abergwesyn is also single track and there are plenty of arrows on the OS map to indicate the steepness. The Devil’s Staircase is impressive with its 1 in 4 gradient and several hairpins. I found a high commanding eyrie for the night and spent the evening with the tailgate open, enjoying the expansive views in the sun. I felt less smug the following morning when the cloud was covering the hills, drizzle being blown on the cold wind.

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The highest point of the Mynydd Epynt is probably the quickest hill bag in the whole of Wales, mostly due to the fact that it is a couple of hundred metres from the road. What makes it tricky though is that it is on an active MOD firing range. After a bit of online research I discovered that there was no firing over the weekend. I made a quick dash for it.

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The Radnor hills made a good stopover on the way back to Nottingham. To the north of the village of New Radnor they rise to over two thousand feet. However the most shapely of these is the lower Whimble, which apparently used to have access issues. The van was parked for the night in a high forestry car park and Reuben and I had a bimble up Whimble. The wind was blowing and the cloud was covering the higher tops but the view was still spectacular. The path to the top is surprisingly steep.

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The car park was a peaceful place to spend the night, with the exception of the usual late evening and early morning dog walkers.

Mid Wales is a superb place to visit when the more popular hills are going to be busy. Yes there are no rocky ridges and spectacular peaks, however there is a great feeling of wildness and getting away from it all. Even the quiet roads are a pleasure to drive, perfect to explore in a camper van.

April 3, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Downgrading from the Bongo to a Doblo sized campervan has taken a little bit of adjustment. During bad weather it’s not quite as simple as shutting the door and being protected from the elements. Everything takes a bit of thinking about, there really is not much room, especially with a wet dog in tow!

It is designed so that the kitchen is outside under the tailgate, fine if it is not hammering it down with hail being thrown at you on thirty mile an hour winds. Therefore with much shifting about of gear I managed to bring the cooker inside which enabled breakfast to be made with a modicum of comfort. To avoid suffocating in the small space a couple of windows have to be left open, the hail and rain finding an easy way in.

After a few days living in it in bad weather, things start to get a bit grubby inside, all sense of order is lost. You really can’t remember what has happened to your last pair of dry socks. You wonder if you will ever get rid of all those dog hairs.

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Each evening just before it got dark I would stand outside Chrissie and Geoff’s van with my nose pressed up against the window. Next to me would be a shivering staffy, his face a picture of unhappiness. More often than not we would get an invite inside and Reuben would prostrate himself on the sofa, a big grin on his face.

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On the Easter Monday Geoff and Chrissie decided that they would start to make their way south, leaving me with a cream egg. The forecast for the day was reasonable so Reuben and I went back into the hills to bag some more Donald’s and tops (hills over 2000ft in this part of the world). The day started off cruelly with a lung busting climb up the steep slopes of Ewe hill.

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It was whilst descending from the summit en-route for Alwhat where I came across a rather sad sight in these lovely quiet hills. A wind monitoring mast had been erected, a sizeable structure when up close. There are plans for the massive Lorg windfarm here with turbines up to five hundred feet high. One thing I had noticed over the past couple of days was just how many of these things had sprouted up in the surrounding area. It looks like the wind rush in these parts is not yet over.

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The grassy slopes of Alwhat was easily gained and a short descent and re-ascent brought us to the summit of Alhang. In the col between Alhang and Windy Standard there was yet another wind monitoring mast.

It was on the ascent of Windy Standard that some of the wind turbines that make up Windy Standard wind farm came into view. By modern-day standards these turbines are tiny at 35 metres high, the blades spinning furiously rather than the slow whoosh you get these days.

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To the north and east the landscape remains relatively untouched, rolling hills filling the horizon all the way to the snow-capped Lowther hill.

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The summit of Windy Standard itself is dominated by turbines which march down the ridges to the north. As far as wind farms go it certainly is not the most offensive that I have come across. With such small turbines they were not really that noticeable from the surrounding hills the previous couple of days. The roads that service them being no wider than landrover tracks. What was very noticeable however was the nearby construction of Windy Standard 2 wind farm. There massive wide highways had been constructed across the hillsides, banks of earth piled at the side. Numerous diggers and trucks were at work clearing areas the size of football pitches to lay the foundations for the massive new turbines. The whole area was a horrible mess. Coming home and looking at the internet there are already plans for Windy Standard 3 😦

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Reuben and I quickly turned our backs on the whole sorry scene and hurried down the slopes to the south. This was also due to the black clouds piling in from the north. With all the recent stormy weather the last place I wanted to be was surrounded by turbines if there was a threat of lightning! This lead to the head of the Holm Burn with its numerous drumlins, a good place for Reuben to pull a pose.

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Down in the glen is an atmospheric ruin, this must have been a truly remote spot before the advent of the motor car. I sat on the low wall that surrounds an old stand of trees, soaking up the rare warm rays of the sun.

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The only difficulty of the day came at the end of the walk whilst trying to get back onto the public road. I ended up inadvertently trespassing through someones garden, luckily no one was at home. I felt guilty as I joined the track, sending up a chorus of barking from the nearby farm.

Back at the van I fancied a change from the hills and decided to drive to the Solway coast to spend the night. Dalbeattie provided some half decent fish and chips en-route for Powillimount. I arrived at the beach during the golden hour, the sun just beginning to descend behind the hills to the west. It is a lovely spot but I decided not to stay the night. There was too much coming and going and sadly the car park was full of blowing litter. Instead I sat on the rocks for a while as the last of the Easter bank holiday disappeared into a warm glow.

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* All photos taken with iPhone 6s Plus.

March 30, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part one)

by backpackingbongos

The headlights on the van pierced the darkness as I steered a course along the bumpy track in the depths of the Galloway Forest Park. A small gravel car park overlooks the deserted settlement of Polmaddy, invisible under the inky black sky. I had been driving for seven hours, especially tiring after a day at work. The Easter weekend had given me a five day slot to escape into one of the quietest places I could think of. I was keen to use every moment of it.

Ten minutes of fumbling saw the Doblo being turned from a daily run around into a fully fledged micro camper, complete with a full length and very comfy bed. Reuben could be heard exploring the immediate surroundings, his name tag tinkling on his collar as he sniffed and pee’d his way along.

It’s always very exciting waking up in the morning after arriving somewhere the night before in the dark. I removed the blinds to a sparkling morning, birdsong filling the crisp air. Coffee was brewed and breakfast eaten outside whilst Reuben once again sniffed at and pee’d on his surroundings.

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I was going to meet up with Chrissie and Geoff later that evening, but first I wanted to make the best of the unexpectedly good weather window. The van was pointed in the direction of the Green Well of Scotland where it was deposited on a grassy verge. The plan for the day was the 797 metre summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. This rises head and shoulder above the immediate hills, its grassy dome punctuated by rocks piercing the earth. It’s a simple grassy walk, firstly along a track before breaking off to ascend Dunool and then contouring round to the summit of Beninner.

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Lunch was had sheltering behind a boulder that provided scant shelter, Reuben shivering until I put on his warm jacket. He did not turn down the crusts from my sandwiches. I kept close to the steep fractured western slopes on the way to the deserted summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. The view was across miles of empty hills and on towards the Central Belt. The weather was on the turn, cloud building from the west and the wind gusting to gale force. The zip on my jacket got stuck and I managed to break it whilst battling the wind. This resulted in it being zipped to the neck but gaping in the middle. I like to think that it accentuated the fine curve of my belly.

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A drystone wall provides a steep but direct way back down to the track, on which I followed a short distance behind a couple. As a misanthropic hill walker this made me uneasy as I wanted the whole hill to myself with none of my fellow humans clogging up the view. There were also practical considerations such as do I quickly overtake or stop regularly so as not to get too close. You probably now understand why I rarely visit the Lake District.

The weather forecast for the following day was for wind and rain of Biblical proportions, apt really considering that it was the Easter weekend. A sheltered woodland site was therefore chosen to spend the night and meet up with Chrissie and Geoff and their very energetic hounds. No sooner had the van once again been turned into a camper they turned up. The dogs spent a good hour running after a ball, enough to ensure that they would be sensible during the evening.

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A top tip when wild vanping in a very small van is to invite along people with a very big van. This means that you have the benefits of something easy to drive with great fuel economy but also somewhere warm and comfy to spend the evening. Sadly Chrissie does not drink so Geoff and I had to finish a bottle of red and some beer all to ourselves. Nonsense was probably spoken and I later retired to the cold Doblo with a dog who would have much rather stayed in the big, warm and very comfy van.

The weather forecast duly delivered the next day, trees creaking in the wind, the continuous pounding of rain on the van roof. The planned four mile walk was quickly dismissed. A quick yomp was followed by lots of sitting in the big van, the heating creating a sauna from our wet clothing, steaming hot drinks and snoring dogs adding to the pleasant fug.

We later relocated to a much more remote spot, six miles up a dead-end valley, accessed by a single track road. The amount of water pouring off the hills and into the Water of Ken was an impressive sight. Fields had quickly become lakes and water was crashing down the steep rocky sections of river.

It was a night with the vans being rocked by increasingly strong winds, rain coming in violent squalls, punctuated by moments of calm. These moments of calm would often catch you out if you dared go outside without full waterproofs. Hail would be thrown at you without warning, sending you running and cursing.

The following day had promised improving weather and I was lulled into a false sense of security whilst climbing onto Colt Hill with Reuben. The sky quickly darkened and curtains of hail swept down the valley. The icy crystals were painful on exposed skin and Reuben quickly let his displeasure be known. We huddled together behind a stone wall as ragged clouds covered the hills. The storm departed as quickly as it came but it set up a regular pattern for the rest of the day.

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The reason I had chosen Colt Hill was because I wanted to see one of the Striding Arches, a collection of sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy. You can read about the project here. Large sandstone blocks make up this particular arch, perfect Reuben thought for giving his back a good rub.

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The way back to the vans was through a dark mossy forest, the trees draped in living curtains of green. Ideal for making art work of my own, although I’m not sure Reuben was very impressed.

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A mile or so further up the valley from the vans we passed the lonely cottage of Lorg. From what I can gather on the internet it has been deserted for years. It is a place that really appeals to me, an isolated cottage at the end of a remote glen in a little known part of the country. It even has telephone poles and an electricity supply. However things in this quiet glen could soon be changing, the men with machines are planning to industrialise the immediate surroundings. More of that in the next post.

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January 7, 2016

A New Year week in Weardale

by backpackingbongos

We managed to bag ourselves a cheap cottage for the period between Christmas and New Year. This was in Weardale in County Durham, an area of high moorland in the North Pennines. The drive up on Boxing day was horrendous, the north of the country being deluged by rain and floods. The A1 was a world of spray and a couple of accidents, whilst the A roads were often hidden under water. The river Wear was a thunderous beast as we drove along the road through the valley to the village of Westgate, and our rather compact home for the week.

Myself and Reuben managed to get out and about on the hills most days, with Corrina joining us for half of them. The weather continued its mild, damp and cloudy theme, although the sun did occasionally put in an appearance. I have to say that I am rather smitten with this part of the North Pennines. It’s wild, rugged and empty once you climb onto the hills. Only two people were passed whilst out hiking. Here are a few phone pictures giving a flavour of the hills and dales.

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The first morning dawned clear and crisp so I walked straight out the door and onto the hills. Under blue skies patches of mist were draped over the higher hills. This is looking towards Fendrith Hill.

 

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The high moorland watershed between Weardale and Teesdale, again looking towards Fendrith Hill. I was on my way to the summit of Westernhope moor. The ground was very wet.

 

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Heading back into Weardale above the hamlet of Brotherlee.

 

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At the top of the Boltslaw incline is the ruin of the engine winding house, very atmospheric in the mist that plagued us that day.

 

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Easy walking on the moors above Rookhope. My top tip when visiting Rookhope is not to park in the village hall car park. This now appears to be for the exclusive use of the nearby residents. The gate was locked when we got back and we had to go door knocking to find someone with a key…….

 

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Corrina does not go into the hills with me very often so I promised her big views into Northumberland from the summit of Bolt’s Law. Visibility was down to a couple of hundred metres.

 

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A very well camouflaged dog. He now has a flashing red light on his collar so we have at least a small chance of spotting him.

 

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A golden dawn on the moors above Stanhope.

 

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Summerhill Force in Teesdale was rather disappointing in its volume considering all the rain that had fallen.

 

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However on the plus side you could walk behind it.

 

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Atmospheric old mine workings alongside Rookhope burn.

 

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Currick on the Northumberland / County Durham border.

 

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A boggy trudge to Dead Stones from Killhope Cross.

 

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Looking towards the shelter near the summit of Dead Stones. It looks like the roof could cave in at any moment.

 

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Climbing out of West Allendale.

 

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Ewe looking at me? Sheep keeping a close eye on Reuben in West Allendale.

 

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Dark clouds building over the summit of Hard Rigg.

 

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I stopped for a while on the summit of the A689 at Killhope Cross, at 623 metres it’s the highest A road in the country. The rain started to turn to snow.

 

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The hills above Cowshill are full of the remnants of the lead mining industry.