Saturday, 26 May 2012

Three men and a lady...............walk the Lairig Ghru.                May 23rd.

  Some way into the walk Brian suggested that the things you need for a great day out were;
A warm day with sunshine and blue skies so you could walk in T shirt and shorts if you wanted;
A gentle breeze on your back to keep you cool and blow away moisture;
Superb scenery:
Good company.
 On May 23rd, walking the Lairig Ghru we had them all, surprising considering how cold and wet May had been up to May21st. The gods smile on the righteous!
  The Lairig Ghru is a mountain pass walk in the highlands of Scotland, connecting Speyside with Deeside, and is approximately 19 miles long by foot, 60 by road.
 The trip had been discussed for months, planned for weeks and finally undertaken. Four of us, me, Harry the routemeister, Brian the punmeister and his wife Margaret, gadgette.
Harry and I met Brian and Margaret in Pitlochry and we drove in a convoy of two cars to Coylumbridge near Aviemor.There walking gear and some clothes were transferred to Harry's car and the four of us drove to Braemar, leaving Brian's car in Coylumbridge.
In Braemar we signed in at the Schiehallion guest house, where we were made most welcome. With time to kill we walked around the small town.
Pub quiz question. Where was Treaure Island written?
Answer: Here
The birthplace of Jim lad, Blind Pugh, Long John Silver and a crew of characters.
                                The plaque is above the door.

  A new feature: a system of barrels along the same lines as flitches to grade pubs.
We went to a hotel/restaurant /bar for a drink. The cheery Northern Irish barman informed us that there had been two and a half feet of snow in the Ghru the day before. Very encouraging. The bar had two ales, I drank one called Trade Wind, but can only award two barrels. like the moon the pub had no atmosphere.
Moving on to the Braemar Lodge for dinner we found that establishment had food but only bottled beer. No barrels. But Margaret enjoyed a glass of wine.

 Next morning three of us enjoyed the traditional Scottish breakfast, which is remarkably like the traditional English breakfast. Our hostess warned us to watch out for large stags which could be a nuisance and small tics which could be trouble. Then off to the Linn of Dee, some six miles out of Braemar, to start the walk.  The map needed for this walk is OL403 in the explorer series and the car park is at GR0657783445 approximately.
We paid the parking fee, a mere £2, for 24 hours, kitted up and set off at 9.45 am. There are several footpaths leading out of the car park, the one needed for the walk is signed Lairig Ghru. Easy.
Getting ready for the walk at the Linn of Dee and the starting point.
  The first section of the walk, to Derry Lodge, less than two miles, is easy going through woodland and open country. The footpath is well made up and is also popular with mountain bikers who can sneak up behind you but are generally very friendly.
                    T shirts and blue skies. Harry, Brian and Margaret near Derry Lodge.
 Leaving Derry Lodge the path deteriorates but is still fairly flat as it follows the stream up Glen Luibeg until it reaches the Luibeg bridge. Probably in the height of a dry summer it is possible to cross the stream below the bridge but on our trip, with melt water pouring down we went those extra yards and crossed the bridge.

                Luibeg Bridge and below, the stream.

   From the bridge the path begins to climb steadily, but never really steeply all the way to the Pools of Dee. About a mile beyond Luibeg Bridge the path enters the Lairig Ghru proper. And this is where the scenery really starts. On the left hand side the Devil's Thumb, Cairn Toul and Braeriach, on the right Ben Macdui. All of them snow covered but with the heat of the day the snow was melting fast and the streams roared down the mountain sides, providing cold fresh water on a thirsty day.

                                         The Lairig Ghru, about 12 miles to go!
 Like many others I suffer from a complaint called "earworm".  Usually I sing early Lennon- McCartney tunes to myself, like "I've just seen a face" or "Eight days a week" or Paul Simon songs, but today's worm was "Cool Water", the Marty Robbins version of course.
 About 1pm a Herbiespot was declared. Sitting in the sun the temperature about 20 degrees (68 F) surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery Britain has to offer, eating sandwiches and drinking ice cold mountain stream water takes some beating.

                                       Herbiespot par excellence.
  Lunch over we continued the steady climb to the top of the pass, the Pools of Dee.
Geography time, put on the jacket.
The Pools of Dee appear to be over the divide and not to have a stream emerging from them. They are not and they have, the water goes beneath the stones on what appears to be a morraine and flow down to the river Dee. And while we are at it, it is a U shaped glacier carved valley. Back to the gym.

   The Pools of Dee, not quite at the summit of the pass.

                                            U shaped indeed.
  The path from the Pools is the hardest part of the walk. From here to the top of the pass (which stands at 747m or 2450 feet) the ground is strewn with boulders and large pieces of rock, ankle breaking territory if you don't take care. And there were occasional snow patches, depth and hardness unknown.

                                           Harry in the snow.

    Picture gallery. After all the scenery is part of the walk, especially this one.

        The Devil's Thumb, Cairn Toul and Braeriach.

                                           A fat plodder.
                         Views like this make the effort worthwhile.
  The rocky path continued  over the summit still with patches of snow and streams running down from the melting snow on the peaks. We made use of one snow patch buy filling our water bottles with the cold powder, it melted quite quickly in the heat, providing a refreshing drink.
 The path emerged from the rocks and was now going gently downhill. At one point another path led off to the left, don't take it, it wanders back to Braeriach. The Lairig Ghru walk goes steeply downhill on a well built path towards a stream which it crosses. On one of the large boulders is a memorial plaque to a gentleman called Sinclair, a D. Litt and Colonel of the Officer Training Corps at Edinburgh University. Sadly he died on the Cairngorms in 1954. Beyond his memorial the path levels off and crosses moorland before entering Rothiemurchus Forest. The first stretch of woodland looks like a remnant of the Caledonian Forest, firs and pines with a few birches and spaces in between and a sweet little notice asking if you have seen any reindeer in the area. Looked hard, never saw one, perhaps in the dark you can spot red noses in the distance.
 Once you cross the Cairngorm Club Footbridge the almost attractive woodland reverts to being a wood factory with pines arranged in neat lines. Looks awful.

                 Looking back from Rothiemurchus Forest.

              Getting very near the end! This path seemed to go on forever but was easy walking if a little on the dull side after the Ghru itself.
  Brian and Margaret were about 15 minutes ahead of Harry and I (We had stopped to take photographs, that's my excuse!) and as we approached the car Brian ordered us to dump our sacs in the boot of the car, keep our own boots on and get in.  It was 7.30pm. Within minutes we were in the Bridge Hotel downing a pint of Stag I give this pub 5 barrels, if it only sold Watneys Red I would give it 5 barrels. The Stag was one of the best pints I have tasted for a long long time and was quickly followed by a second.

                The first mouthful went down quickly, and very well too, followed by a few more.

                                Four weary but very happy walkers. still with their boots on!
   As this was the end of the walk here are the readings from good old reliable Higear.
  Number of steps  :     43308               Miles 19.661
 Reluctantly leaving the 5 barrel Bridge we drove to Aviemore, signed in at the Cairngorm Guest House where we warmly welcomed by Peter in the most exotic braces I have ever seen.
  After showering we went to the Cairngorm Hotel, as opposed to the Cairngorm Guest House for dinner of fish and chips and some more Stag, after all we were dehydrated with the walk. We decided to end the day with a whisky night cap, we deserved it.
Back in the guest house sleep came very quickly. On Thursday morning we had a leisurely full Scottish breakfast and drove back to the Linn of Dee. The route we took goes through Coylumbridge, Nethy Bridge, Tomintoul and Corgarff. It is one of those roads that should appear in a list of "Britain's Beautiful Drives" that appear in the weekend  sections of quality newspapers! Back in Braemar Brian and Margaret decided to stay on for a couple of days, Harry and I drove slowly home, stopping at Carfraemill for afternoon tea.

For more details of this walk, and others too go to
It is a terrific site, gives a distance for the walk of 19 miles and also gives ascent, a profile of the route, a map and several descriptions of the walk. The site suggests the walk should be done from Coylumbridge to the Linn of Dee but given the conditions, which were perfect, I think we did this walk the right way round and the other gruesomes agree.
  I think this is the longest and most gruelling walk I have done for some time and to be honest feel quite proud of our achievement Who knows, could repeat it next year.

Contains OS data(Copyright) Crown copyright and data base copyright 2012.

The following are a selection of Harry's photographs. He takes excellent pictures, not like me, I'm just a snapper
Harry the photographer
Brian and Margaret

Me, Margaret and Brian
Resting by the Dee
                         Looking back.

Photographs by permission of Harry Nagel.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Absolutely topping walk James old fruit.  May 18th

Pub quiz question; Which Yorkshire captain went to Australia three times but never got a game?*

 There are four of us out today, punmeister, routemeister, halfmarathonmeister and me.
  Courtesy of Brian the punmeister we have "borrowed" a map produced by Diabetes UK, Great North Walk, 2011 for a charity walk.
 We got off to a poor start by driving in the wrong direction, too busy chatting in the car, before anybody realised and we had to turn round and head for Pinchinthorpe at the western edge of Guisborough in Cleveland which used to be in Yorkshire.
 Theoretically easy to find from Newcastle, through the Tyne Tunnel, down the A19, turn left on the A174, after four roundabouts turn right on the A171 and soon you are at Pinchinthorpe Visitor Centre.
 Pinchinthorpe Centre is on the edge of woodland,  has trails for esay walks, mountain bike trails and a Trim Trail with a variety of torture instruments, plus a selection of lovely wooden carvings of insects and animals; I liked most of them, but especially the fox.

                                            Fantastic Mr. Fox at Pinchinthorpe.
A group of junior school children were excitedly waiting for their warders to assemble the mountain bikes they had come to ride and we headed straight for the Purple Mountain Cafe for a bacon roll and tea. The roll was awarded 3.5 flitches, friendly staff, nice surroundings and good bacon, but why can't the British make decent bread rolls?
 Should you decide a map is necessary OL26 is the one and Pinchinthorpe Centre is at GR594153.
  This is the route we meant to follow:
  We started well, past the railway carriage that seemed to be used as a classroom but after about half a mile we made wrong choice number one  and instead of walking towards Home Farm turned up into Bousdale Wood and wandered  south along forestry roads to High Bousdale Wood, turned north east and walked through Hutton Lowcross Woods. The trail eventually became no more than a muddy path which climbed quite steeply. Eventually we found a sign that said "Hanging Stone" and took the path to this outcrop. A good place to be because it gave us a sight of the monument we had planned to visit and the solitary bump that dominates the area.
Heading south from the Hanging Stone we crossed Newton Moor and Great Ayton Moor before heading downhill to a carpark, picnic spot and information board at the foot of the  path leading up to Easby Moor.
On Easby Moor there is a memorial to Captain James Cook:
               Monument to James Cook on Easby Moor. To give some idea of its height, that is Harry routemeister standing by the railing on the left.

Naturally there is an inscription that gives a very brief account of Cook's life;
                                                  The plaque on the monument.
  James Cook was born in the village of Marton, now a suburb of Middlesborough, in 1728. He joined the merchant navy, transferred to the Royal Navy, saw action in the Seven Years War which gave Canada to Britain. He was a brilliant surveyor and cartographer, mapping Nova Scotia and the St. Lawrence River in Canada.  He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. Like Captain Bligh he was sent to the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus and whilst there, as captain of the barque Endeavour  mapped the north west coast of America before crossing the Pacific and landing in Australia, which he naturally claimed for the crown and the prison service. More maps too, the east coast of Australia and New Zealand. On his third Pacific voyage he was killed by the inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, in 1779. Although his exploits as cartographer and explorer are still admired, as a British Empire builder he is a bit frowned upon today by lefty revisionists. On his voyages he made his men drink lime juice to prevent scurvy, hence the nickname "limey" for the British.
 It was breezy  on the moor and not very warm so we headed downhill to find a sheltered place in the wood for a Herbiespot. Ben had his home made ginger biscuits again, he puts us to shame.
 From the monument we retraced our steps down hill and back over the moors but when we joined the Cleveland Way on Newton Moor we turned left and after going downhill climbed to the top of Roseberry Topping, the bump that dominates the area.
  I have given up on the Geography and become a Geologist. Roseberry Topping is an outlier of the NorthYorks Moors, sandstone laid down in the Jurassic periods sometime between 208 and 165 million years ago. Although eroded by ice wind and rain the sandstone cap protects the shales and clays beneath. In 1912 for a reason that is not entirely clear, possibly a geological fault or maybe as a result of alum mining the top collapsed, leaving today's distinctive shape. Next week: plate tectonics in one easy lesson.
The name Roseberry Topping has evolved, very slowly from the Viking for "Odin'sberg" to Roseberry. Topping means a hill top and is good old Yorkshire dialect.

The classic view of Roseberry Topping. It is such a popular walk that the path has been paved with old mill flagstones.

Looking north from Roseberry Topping. It was not a very bright day!

Again we retraced our steps from the hill and turned left across Roseberry Common and onto the same forestry road we had started on, eventually returning to the centre at Pinchinthorpe.

                                 Not many trees are safe from this woodpecker


  A parliament of owls; they look as wooden as some of our politicians
   My Higear claimed a walk of 11.7 miles and the Benbragometer said the same.
Outdoor App worked well today although I inadvertently switched it off on Roseberry Topping.. However I noticed and started it again, recording the day out as two walks.  Together they  totalled 11.37 miles. I have yet to learn how to download them onto a blog, but I have appended a couple of maps below.
On the way home we stopped at a Premier Inn which was also a pub, the Cross Keys.
They had an American bitter which was rather like Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Black Sheep. The punmeister cracked a good one but I can't remember it. The memory tablets are not working.
* Answer; Captain James Cook
 One of the most fascinating things about writing this rubbish is the Stats page on the blog,  particularly the Audience section. Most of my readers are in the UK, second is the US and then, much to my amazement, Russia. Last week there was somebody from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I suspect most foreigners know that in England we play cricket and that other cricketing nations are, on the whole ex Empire or Commonwealth countries. The greatest cricket contest is the series between England and Australia which takes place here or there every two years. The two countries play for a trophy called "The Ashes" (Google it). A single game can last five days and there are usually five games in a series. Games can end in a draw, even after five days, and spectators still enjoy it!
Anyway this explains the pub quiz question, I hope.

Contains Ordnance Survey Data(Copyright) Crown Copyright and data base right 2012.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

All in all it's just another walk on the wall...............May 11th.
  Today there are just three of us, a trigadgie: Dave the vogelmeister, Ben the halfmarathonmeister and me. We have chosen to walk a section of Hadrian's Wall, the Roman construction that crosses England from Wallsend on Tyne to Bowness on Solway. Some people living in the south think it is the border between England and Scotland, ignoring the fact that part of Cumbria and a large chunk of Northumberland lie north of the wall.
  The walk is from Birdoswald Roman fort to Steel Rigg near the wonderfully named Twice Brewed. It is a linear walk so requires some organisation or the use of a bus which qualifies the walk as a real gadgie day out.  (See To be a gadgie   August 27th 2011)
 We drove from Newcastle west along the A69 to a spot near Henshaw where we turned right on a minor road signposted "National Park Information Centre" and left the car in the centre's park  (£3 for a whole day and you can use the ticket in any National Park car park) on the B6318, often called the Military Road.
Booted up we waited for the AD 122, a bus that runs from Newcastle to Carlisle keeping quite close to the wall. The bus only runs from early April to late October and there are not many in the day so if you want to use it check the timetable.
Teacher: " Who can tell me why the bus has the number AD122 ?"*
It is possible to do this walk without a map but should you want one OL43 covers the most interesting parts of Hadrian's Wall. The Twice Brewed National Park Centre is at GR752668

Whilst waiting for the bus we watched a class ofjunior school children emerge in a crocodile from the nearby YHA and walk towards their coach. As they stood waiting their teachers got a shield for each child from the bus. The shields were rectangular, brightly coloured with golden designs, a triumph for Blue Peter presenters. The children formed up into four groups and made a "tortoise" and in turn slowly charged the teachers who pelted them with soft balls. It was great fun for all, participants and observers. I should have taken a photograph, but the thought police would be on my trail.

                                  The AD122 bus, figured it out yet?
We took the bus to Birdoswald Roman fort, the journey takes about 40 minutes and after a quick look at the fort and a chat with a couple of Americans who seemed to think it always rains in England we set off east along the wall.

The start of the walk; just outside Birdoswald. (Which also has a YHA)

                       Birdoswald Fort: there is much more really.
 The wall walk crosses fields high above the River Irthing which was in full spate, not surprising considering the rain that has fallen recently.  There are some bits of graffiti carved into the wall by bored builders some 1890 years ago (a clue). They are not always suitable for children but fans of  A Life of Brian will fondly recall Biggus Dickus.                                                                                                                              After about a mile the next point of interest is the remains of the Roman bridge at Willowford. There are two major points of interest: first there is a considerable amount of the eastern pier remaining and second, the river is now some hundred yards away. History and Geography in one easy lesson.

  The eastern pier of the Roman Bridge at Willowford.

  At the farm just beyond the bridge evidence that many buildings along the wall were built from stone removed from Hadrian's border line lies in a stone in the barn wall which has the builder's name carved into it.
 A poor picture; the stone above the plaque is carved and is clearly visible in real life, honest.
       A few fields beyond Willowford the  path has to leave the actual  wall as it goes through the village of Gilsland (you need to cross a railway line, beware of trains)  but soon rejoins and continues across fields to Holmhead where we stopped to have a look  Thirlwall Castle. A 14th century small castle on the Tipalt Burn it is a ruin, but a nice one.
                                       Thirlwall Castle.
  So far the walk has been easy, across fields with only gentle slopes but after Thirlwall Castle the wall starts to climb to its most exciting stretch, along the Whin Sill, the dolorite extrusion that made a natural defensive line for the wall in the first place and provided strong foundations for castles such as Bamburgh.
Some two miles on we madeWalltown a Herbiespot and sat in the sun outside the information centre. Nearby a pond fills the hole left by quarrying for whinstone, highly suitable for road building.
                          The pond at Walltown.
 From here the wall has been built along the edge of the Whin Sill making it difficult to attack or easy to defend, whichever point of view you take. For sentries patrolling the wall there would have been clear views to the north and south, cosy milecastles every Roman mile (1618 yards or 1480 metres) turrets, two between each milecastle, and forts, several on the wall itself and more close by, settlements with pubs probably.
( A well preserved milecastle site is at Poltross  Burn which is the boundary between Cumbria and Northumberland at Gilsland)
                        Milecastle number 48, Poltross Burn near Gilsland.

                                The wall follows the line of the Whin Sill.
 We passed through a Roman fort (Aesica) at Great Chesters. In the centre was an arch which could well have been the vaulted roof of the fort's "strong room" and in one corner was an altar people had left coins on it as an offeing. Suspicious lot aren't we ?

The altar at Aesica fort. I have no idea how the bus has reappeared but experience has taught me that if I remove it I could lose everything, so it stays. Could make you think about 122 though.
  Not far from the fort we came to Cawfield, another whin stone quarry which had been allowed to destroy a section of the wall!.
It is possible to take the Roman Military Way which runs parallel too but below the wall itself and is the remains of the high speed road supplying the wall and forts.We opted for this easier way but soon lost it, perhaps the money ran out for the Romans too. Actually at this point it runs very close to the wall itself.
At this point Dave told us that, as secretary of his running club he had been asked to read out a circular announcing that a gay running club was being formed on Tyneside.
"Is it called 'Out and About' ?" asked Ben.
And then, as we approached the end we saw a Newcastle United fan lamb to really make the day.
                                         Mint sauce, mint sauce.
We were now near Steel Rigg and the road down to Twice Brewed.
Crag Lough is my favourite part of the wall and although we didn't walk past it today it was clearly visible as we finished, so here it is, again.
                              Wall, Whin Sill and Crag Lough.
 Back at the National Park Visitor Centre we compared pedometer readings.
Reliable Higear said 11.76 miles, two ped Dave averaged 11.63, the Benbragometer had run out of battery and the 69p App was a total disaster having switched off again.
Dave measured the walk as 10.1 and I measured it at 10. But taking in wandering around castles and forts 11.5 seems reasonable. A good walk with quite a bit of climbing involved but very interesting. And we didn't go to the pub!
*Please Miss, Hadrian had his wall started in AD122.
 Books of the blog:
For really serious wall reading J. Collingwood Bruce's Handbook to the Roman Wall revised by David J. Breeze is probably the best.
For lighter reading David J. Breeze and Brian Dobson's Hadrian's Wall  takes some beating.