Christmas 2013, and it was the longest time I'd spent in London since moving to West Yorkshire. We were down for a couple of weeks for a healthy mix of work and pleasure. It was great to have some quality time with family and friends rather than the usual quick pint here or brief coffee there! Continue reading Suburban Park Safari
"Nah man. The light's too flat. Might as well head straight to the pub!
" - Words that would have most certainly gone through my head on such a grey day ten years ago. Even in a landscape as stunning as the Northumberland National Park
Continue reading Walking the Wall in Flat Light
This week the National Trust revealed a concerning set of statistics. In recent surveys they discovered that 17% of people asked never walk more than 500 metres from their car and 1 in 4 people walk less than 5 miles in a month.
These statistics were announced in conjunction with the launch of their annual Walking Festival: 'The Great British Walk'
. They also revealed a list of top ten secret trails that can only be accessed by foot
One of the places featured on this list is Malham Tarn, which we happened to visit just a few weeks ago.
Continue reading A Day in Malham isn’t Enough!
Marmite, Coffee, Modern Art, Maggie Thatcher and seemingly, the Giant's Causeway!? I wasn't expecting the UNESCO World Heritage Site to be such a chalk and cheese landscape... but as we explored this famous area it became apparent that first impressions were quite divisive!
"Wow! Look at that!" said excitedly from one family, "is that it?" spoken with an air of disappointment from another.
Nothing in this world is liked universally, I've even met people who don't like the Beatles! Does the Causeway's fame set a precedent too high to meet some people's expectations? Is it possible that some don't see the excitement in the uniqueness of these rare rock formations? Or maybe the crowds of people clambering over every vacant space of the causeway turns some people off?
I found watching the large groups of people exploring this place almost as fascinating as the actual Causeway! Don't be mistaken, for me, the landscape is fascinating and a rather original place to visit.
The new visitor centre is quite spectacular in itself. If going round the centre fails to get you excited about this place nothing will. The architecture, design and exhibits all come together to create a truly remarkable and exciting visitor centre. Having spent some time hogging all the interactive exhibits, we made our way to The Giant's Causeway.
We decided to take the cliff top walk first and take a breather from the herds of people! The walk is stunning and the further you go the quieter it gets; each bay / cove revealing further varieties of rock formations which nesting seabirds take full advantage of. From the clifftops you get glimpses of the old coastal path that in the not too distant past people would have walked along. You also see the epic landslips that have engulfed large sections of it, which is obviously the reason for the path's closure. It's a shame because it looks like it was a quite spectacular walk!
After a while, we turned back, took a deep breath and descended into the tourist pit! You could spend as much time watching people interact with this space as you could spend looking around it, it's like a giant playground for all ages! Having lingered for what seemed an acceptable time, we made our unnecessary excuses to each other and headed off in search of somewhere a bit quieter.
We did however revisit the Giant's Causeway in the early evening where there were considerably less people and the light really brought the Causeway to life! For me, this was and is the best way to see it!
To conclude, this IS one of those 'must see' areas, you just have to be prepared to share it with a fair few other people!
Some landscapes are unquestionably spiritual, something about them just 'lifts' the soul. But there's no formula for them and like many things in life, they're all very subjective!
As photo briefs come and go, some you remember, some you try to forget and some stay etched in your memory, clear as day. One particular brief which will always stay with me was a portrait for an article on a couple who's son had died of a heroin overdose. They were a lovely couple who turned a potentially tricky job, into a rewarding and encouraging experience. One of the things I picked up on during the photo shoot was how important the time they had spent on Holy Island was and how they had an undoubtedly spiritual connection to that landscape and environment. This is something I found myself reflecting on when I visited Holy Island, also known as Lindisfarne.
I have to admit I didn't find a divine connection to Lindisfarne. I found the landscape intriguing, the history captivating and the bountiful wildlife enchanting. Yet I found myself walking the perimeters almost emotionless, which actually surprised me. Maybe it was the disappointment of a cancelled boat trip to the Farne Islands or a nagging concern about the tides and getting cut off from the mainland. Whatever it was, I was missing something that many before me, profess and evangalise about when visiting Holy Island.
This shouldn't be misinterpreted. Walking around Lindisfarne was awesome and I would recommend it to anyone. I just didn't find it as inspiring as I thought I would. Maybe it was the curse of expectation. This kind of scenario often occurs when I watch films: I have high expectations and am disappointed, low expectations and I thoroughly enjoy it! Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere?
After successfully evading the incoming that tide that mercilessly cuts Lindisfarne off from the mainland twice a day, we headed to our B&B in Beadnell. As we were shown to our room I felt a twinge of jealousy as I observed a hallway full of photos capturing close up encounters with Puffins on the Farne Islands. Encounters that I seemed destined (at that time), never to experience! Ignoring their taunts, we decided to go out and explore the Beadnell coastline.
The stretch of beach we found seemed fairly standard. Nothing surprising or of outstanding interest. Yet the cluster of rock pools pulled me in to investigate. Before I knew it I had spent over an hour moving from pool to pool, barely looking up, mesmerised by these unique micro universes. On one of the occasions I did look up, I noticed a Kestrel hunting not more than ten metres away! This arguably unremarkable beach had actually become a magical and unforgettable experience. I lingered and explored until the tide forced me to abandon my newly discovered worlds.
I pondered (while tucking into a steak and ale pie in a local pub), on how an underwhelming stretch of coast (at a glance) had upstaged a location revered and celebrated by hundreds of thousands. It's a lesson most are taught from an early age, but maybe one that takes a lifetime to learn; I scolded myself and renewed a promise to try and experience every landscape with reserved judgement and without any preconceptions!
Views from above lake Grasmere, historic tracks, coffin stone and handmade gingerbread!
Heron and a young red squirrel!
As I'm on a roll with writing topical posts, (something I always aim for but rarely achieve!) I thought I would mark this Valentines day with a walk from mine and CB's honeymoon. However, the romance doesn't stop there. This wasn't just any walk, this was a walk from the big cheese of the Romantics himself, this was a William Wordsworth walk!
My consistent references to 'lonely clouds' not only demonstrated my limited exposure to the works of this legendary poet but also highlighted my new wife's (there isn't an old one) exceptional patience when it come to the walking photographer!
It's hard to find a walk in the Lakes that isn't beautiful with gorgeous views and stunning scenery. This walk is no different. Maybe the difference with this walk is the sense of past, following the same rough tracks that others have walked for hundreds of years!
The walk starts and finishes in Grasmere, which made it into my top 5 list of most expensive places to park! The route is just under 6 miles and takes you round the lake (Grasmere), Rydal Water and on into Rydal. Rydal is where you can find Wordsworth's home, Rydal Mount, which offers a good opportunity to take a break and gulp down a cuppa!
The trail then heads back to Grasmere via the 'coffin route'. Before Ambleside had a church, coffins would be walked along this path all the way to St Oslwald's Church in Grasmere. Just before you reach Grasmere, there is a large flat stone known as the 'coffin stone' where pallbearers would rest the coffin and catch there breath before continuing on into the village.
At the end of the coffin route you pass Dove Cottage, which was Wordsworth's family home. Criminally (to some), we opted to remain ignorant in the ways of Wordsworth as we favoured some ginger bread and a pint. We vowed to read more Wordsworth as we tucked into some of Sarah Nelson's gingerbread
and supped on our Windermere Pale by Hawkshead brewery
Start Point: West Witton
Walk Guide /Map references OS Explorer OL30 & Collins Ramblers > Yorkshire Dales, David Leather
Distance: 7.5 miles
Highlights: Awesome Views from Penhill
Wildlife spotted: Shrew, Curlew (plus Chick), Swift, Swallow, House Martin, Pied Wagtail, Wheatear, Raven, Kestrel. (Walk is reputed to offer sightings of Peregrine Falcon and Brown Hare too!)
Watering Hole: Fox & Hound - Very quiet on arrival but it's a multi award winning pub with a good range of local ales and real beers
Tipple Tips: Swinithwaite Silver, Yorkshire Dales Brewery - Light and tasty Continue reading Panoramic views at Penhill
Our last day on the Isle of Skye began with a disappointing voicemail. Well actually the day began with an epic struggle to remove ourselves from bed into the shower and out into the car for 7am. Five days of driving, walking, late night card games and excessive biscuit consumption was starting to take it's toll!
We were driving to Elgol where we were booked on a boat for the Isle of Rum: star location in BBC's Autumnwatch series, as well as many other wildlife programmes. Another contributing factor in the mornings' fatigue was a night of hyperactive anticipation at seeing deer, White Tailed and Golden Eagles, otters, ponies, goats and much more! However the bubble of boyish excitement burst about 5 minutes into the drive when CB picked up a voicemail from the skipper warning that the seas were likely to be too rough to sail (or whatever correct term for a boat without sails is?!) out to Rum.
After a particularly stunning drive, we arrived at Elgol with low expectations. Just as well as all charters to the Isle of Rum were cancelled for the day. Not wanting to waste our efforts, we decided to jump on a boat headed for Loch Coruisk.
The boat trip on the Bella Jane
was great, we saw a couple of Shags (for those with a similar maturity level to myself, I mean Phalacrocorax aristotelis
), a Great Northern Diver (this is a bird) which was a real thrill and plenty of Harbour seals which are always a welcome sight to me!
Once we arrived at Loch Coruisk we had one and half hours to scramble/ ramble. With an estimate time of 3 hours to walk the circumference of the Loch, your options for exploration are a wee bit limited. With hindsight we would've done the longer trip. For anyone considering the walk back to Elgol from Loch Coruisk, consider well, because I saw the 'bad step' section of that walk and I would say 'danger of death step' might be a bit more appropriate! But then, I'm not really known for my love of heights, quite the contrary in fact and apparently in the good ole days herdsmen would walk their sheep and cattle this route.
The area is simply stunning, and it's easy enough to reach some mountaineering-esque viewpoints! After taking it all in and getting over the awesomeness of such rare views (for us anyway) we decided to walk away from the Loch and our rambling shipmates. We happened to stumble upon a beautiful sandy cove (with no footprints!!) it was the most peaceful experience of the holiday by far; until we noticed the time and had to peg it back to the mooring!
Our serendipitous visit to Loch Coruisk was possibly the highlight of the Skye trip and is a real 'must see' for any Skye Walking Jedi!
Sounding like something out of a good Indiana Jones movie (when Harrison Ford was the young one)... A hunt for the 'Swastika Stone
' on Ilkley moor seemed like the perfect Sunday adventure for a couple of lazy morning ramblers.
The Swastika stone is thought to be either Bronze age (like many other stones found in the area) or Iron Age and there's some ambiguity over the stone's meaning too, although in a number of ancient civilizations similar designs are thought to relate to the sun. The stone is located a relatively short walk west of White Wells Spa Cottage
, which has had accessible baths since 1703, was instrumental in giving Ilkley its Spa town status and has reported visits from the likes of Charles Darwin. The stones are such a short walk from here (a couple of miles I'd guess), we decided to extend our walk. I say 'stones' because there are in fact two Swastika stones. One is a Victorian replica which actually helps pick out the pattern of the considerably fainter original sat just behind.
Our walk continued past the stones, past Panorama Reservoir and onto Hardwick House farm, where I got momentarily obsessed with some very photogenic sheep! From the farm we walked down until we reached the River Wharfe where we followed the Dales Way back into Ilkley town centre. Nature on the walk included numerous encounters with curlews and red grouse, which seem to occur on many of our Yorkshire walks, and we also caught sight of a tree creeper.
We finished the day at the Cow and Calf Hotel with an enjoyable pint of Leeds Pale Ale but before making our ascent to the watering hole we stopped off to refuel. The Vintage Tea Room on Wells Road is an original, friendly and very well done tea room with irresistible homemade cakes and a list of speciality teas longer than my photography equipment wish list (which is larger than a News International legal bill!). A cream tea for two was just what was needed to make the final steps on our Ilkley walk!
A carbohydrate-heavy brunch and some strong coffee was just enough to get us into the car and onto the road on a less than inspiring New Year's Day. But the promise of a raging river Tees and some stunningly raw scenery, all followed by a pint in one of my favourite pubs ever, kept us motivated as we drove to our destination.
As we got out of the car at Holwick, County Durham we were struck by the amount of water around. This was a continual theme of our New Year's Day Walk, as we encountered a significant number of impromptu streams and waterways carving their way down the slopes and over walkways. One was particularly problematic and caused much amusement (especially to those with wellies) when a couple of us (myself included) slipped on take off falling in knee and elbow deep!
The Tees was magnificent and High Force (not quite the highest waterfall in England) was thundering! Totally worth dragging four hungover walkers out on a rather grey and wet day. The pace quickened with the thought of real ale and an open fire at the Strathmore Arms. As our return route drifted away from the torrential Tees, we made our way back on higher ground through rugged and ancient looking farmland.
There are clearly a variety of ways to walk this stretch of the Tees with several opportunities to cross the river (including a rather fun "one at a time" hanging bridge). We stuck to the footpath that keeps to the left of the river and then takes you up a hill, and onto heathland which in turn leads to an elevated view point opposite High Force. A little futher up there is another viewpoint right next to the Waterfall which is equally dramatic. This is a relatively short walk of around two hours (at hangover pace) and could be longer if you are a photography enthusiast as there is plenty to point your camera at, even on a dull day!
We made it back to a warm, welcoming Strathmore Arms
in Holwick. With one wet leg from a misjudged leap over a stream making the chip butty and pint of Black Grouse (Allendale Brewery
, Northumberland) all the more tasty!