3.75 miles 1h 50m ascent 114m
Drust’s Hill, wet walk, pictish carvings, monument 1 and 2, old kirk
3.75 miles 1h 50m ascent 114m
Drust’s Hill, wet walk, pictish carvings, monument 1 and 2, old kirk
17 miles 560m ascent 8h 31m
This was our first section of the Cumbria Way, from Ulverston to Coniston.
We drove to Coniston, parked the car near the Crown Inn, and caught the X12 bus to Ulvertson, but that doesn’t quite capture the experience. I had set off without my spare (dry) clothes and, given the heavy rain, thought it would be tempting fate to go without a change of clothes. I hoped the brief detour back home would ensure, by a reversed Sod’s Law, that they were not needed.
Once at Coniston, in plenty of time, we kitted up ready for the walk, in light drizzle, with time to spare to make use of the facilities. Luckily I had some 20 pence pieces. A sign explained that by spending a penny I was ensuring that the public toilets remained open. So I felt both public spirited and relieved after spending a penny (attached to 19 other pennies). We then sheltered in a bus-stop provided, as a sign informed us, by the Coniston and Torver District Nursing Association in 1959.
The bus arrived in plenty of time, but it transpired that the driver had cut his hand. A passenger, who he clearly knew, did her best to patch him up using the bus’s first aid box but this clearly wasn’t satisfactory so she announced that she would go home and get some better dressings. Time passed and with the other passengers we boarded the bus. More time passed, the driver finished his snack, then settled into his seat, closed the doors and set off.
It occurred to me that the good Samaritan had not yet returned to the bus with her medical supplies. She had been left behind. Should I remind him? But before I could decide we stopped beside some houses and she rejoined us, with her bandages. The driver was soon patched up and the bus carried on, with some nifty driving as the bus-driver managed to squeeze us by a coach on a very narrow road.
Once in Ulverston, we made our way to the start of the Cumbria Way, which is marked with a sculpture containing a cairn of rocks from different parts of the Way.
By the time we started, the rain had decided to turn it down a notch such that waterproof trousers were deemed unnecessary. We posed for our “Start of the Walk” photos then took our first step of the 39,083 of the day.
And the walk started as it meant to go on. We found ourselves faced with a fork in the path and no pointers. The CW it tuns out is the left fork, which follows a small stream beneath mature broadleaved trees and hedgerows and walls dotted with wildflowers. A short footbridge then lead us to a narrow rocky path between two stone walls and this was just steep enough to quickly blow off any remaining chill in our muscles.
The path ended and we passed through a gate and on to a minor road. My attention was caught by a bench dedicated to “Happy Wilkinson 1926-1996”, and my cynicism led me to look closely and see if those really were Ps rather than adulterated Rs…they were Ps. After a few more paces I was glancing at the map and noticed that the CW route appeared to just touch this road then head off across farmland. We backtracked and found a gap built into the wall allowing us to climb into the field.
This was to be the first of many such slim gaps built into walls that we would encounter. I haven’t quite got the technique of shuffling through these but doubtless that skill will come.
The day was warm, and with walking I soon transitioned from comfortably warm to too hot, but the rain itself had stopped so I was able to stow my coat without getting my upper body wet. The grass we were walking through though was very wet and long enough to soak my trousers up to the knees.
In my mind I had broken this section into 3 slightly unequal parts, Ulverston to Gawthwaite, Gawthwaite to Beacon Tarn and Beacon Tarn to Coniston. The first part took in farmland, moorland, woodland, minor roads and farm tracks, farmyards, old churches (such as St John’s of Osmotherley) and small villages. We headed from farm to farm, confirming our position by finding the correctly named farms on our way.
Route finding was not without problems, however. We soon realised that the CW plaques were identical to those for other public footpaths except that the words “Cumbria Way” were written within the small direction arrow. Since many of the signs were weathered this led to some confusion. Was this weathered way marker a CW waymarker with the “Cumbria Way” words eroded, or did it point along some other footpath? Later we were able to factor this into our decisions.
I should perhaps digress a little here to reflect upon the usefulness of particular objects. Both Audrey and I have the Cicero Cumbria Way book. Identical, I would have said, but now experience has brought wisdom and I know better. It is not the object per se that is useful, but the object and its context. My book was resting, dry and safe on a bookcase a hundred miles away, while Audrey’s copy was in her rucksack.
We found ourselves referring to the book on a few occasions, usually in retrospect. Broughton Beck to Knapperthaw saw us stray from the route. Just past the village we came to a farm, and three choices of route, two had official footpath signs, one marked “Cumbria Way”. There was also the farm track itself, with a gate fastened shut and an unofficial (hand-painted) Cumbria Way sign. I suspect this unofficial sign is the correct one. We followed the direction indicated by the official sign, and followed weathered signs. This took us to a minor road at Nettleslack, perhaps 300m east of where the route would have joined.
This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except that there was a herd of cows with their calves walking up the lane towards us. I would have no problem walking through sheep, but cows with calves are another matter. We waited, and waited, and waited some more, but more cows were joining the group.
Eventually we decided to backtrack a few metres, get into the field on our right and bypass the herd. Unfortunately, though we could get past the cows, there was no exit from the field beyond them without climbing the wall. I was ready to suggest scaling the wall but by then the cows had passed the gate so we walked back, rejoined the road at the gate in the photo, and were on our way to Knapperthaw again.
Keldray Farm was the next challenge. We walked on to find our way barred by a rather unwelcoming iron gate. Heading back along the path Audrey spotted a track, much overgrown, and we followed that, finding for once a way marker confirming we were on the CW route.
We could soon hear then see cars on the B5281 which told us we were approaching Gawthwaite. This was our planned spot for a lunch break, and as we arrived so too did our friend the rain, but a lunch stop was a necessity and we made the best of it. I had hoped for a bench, warm sunshine and a lovely view, but we sat on a low wall beside a stream, visibility was poor, and it was a bit on the chilly side. But I was at least partly rejuvenated by the sandwich, pork pie, coffee and the jelly babies, washed down with coffee.
Beyond Gawthwaite we were in the Lake District National Park, and the walk to Beacon Tarn would take us past the 10 mile point, a rather arbitrary but nonetheless important achievement. The farms now looked more like hill farms and more time was spent walking in wilder moorland. We had fewer route problems on this section. Again we were walking in farmland or on minor roads but with an increasing amount of moorland.
Though we hadn’t climbed much above 200m the ascent from Cockenskell to Beacon Tarn sapped our energy and I was looking forward to our next refuelling stop. Beacon Tarn was Beacon Tarn, what more can I say. Perhaps on another day with the sun glinting on the water I might have stopped to enjoy the place, but trudging over waterlogged ground picking a way around standing water, and seeing nowhere to stop and sit just drove me to walk on. That said there was some colour hiding in the brown and green, lousewort (pink) and milkwort (blue) scattered among the grass and moss.
After leaving Beacon Tarn we entered another hollow with a small unnamed tarn surrounded by a larger area of marshland. The track here was uneven, rocky and in places waterlogged so we had to range away from the path at times. This higher ground then opened out giving us a view to the north. I am sure that in better weather we would have been able to see the Old Man of Coniston, but not today. Beneath us was Stable Harvey Moss (we were roughly two thirds of the day’s walk).
The footpath skirts the edge of the marshland and stays high enough to be dry most of the time. By now we were ready for our next stop and looking out for likely seats. If we found none I thought we would stop on the firmer ground of a track just past Black Beck. Unfortunately Black Beck was a stream to be forded, and with the recent rain the ford was wide and deep. This meant a bit of a detour to find a section that could be jumped.
Just before the aforementioned track we found some rocks large enough to sit on and close enough that we could still see each other without binoculars. By now it was becoming colder so we we didn’t tarry long, and despite the snack I have to admit that my morale was flagging.
We trudged on again, and looking at the lousewort and milkwort I had also noticed some tiny white flowers. I wondered aloud if they might be albino milkwort (if it exists) and Audrey suggested I have a look at its leaves. I did and … Wow! It was Bog Rosemary, the county flower of Kirkcudbrightshire. I had been on the look out for this wee flower for some time, and here it was. My flagging morale soared.
So I took the flooded Mere Beck in my stride, climbing a small tree to get across. I did begin to have some misgivings, though, when I saw Torver Beck ahead of me, its white water cascading over rocks. The misgiving grew as I drew closer, but then I saw Audrey, taking photos of the river, from the footbridge.
As we crossed the A5084, tired as our legs were, I felt the end was in sight (figuratively), with just 3 miles to go. As it would turn out, it was four miles to go, and felt like five.
These final four miles along the banks of Coniston Water, could have been quite enjoyable, the sun was shining, the path being beside the lake there little in the way of climbing, we walked through beautiful woodland casting dappled light on wildflowers, and when the woodland ended we walked through park type farmland with sheep grazing and their lambs gambolling about.
But we were tired, the path was uneven and covered with slippery tree roots, and there was no easy way to know how far we had walked. We were really only certain that we were close to the end when we could see Coniston and the fells beyond it. The old Man of Coniston, though, remained in cloud.
The building you can see in the photograph above is the 16th century Coniston Old Hall and we found its chimneys drew our eyes. They looked rather industrial and suggested to me that it had once been an industrial rather than residential building, but as far as I can find out it has always been residential (but now owned by the National Trust) and just has huge chimneys. They are referred to as “traditional chimneys” on some websites.
At Coniston Hall we were just over a mile from the car and at least we were walking in sunshine.
Walking the dogs and I realised spring is definitely here.
The equinox passed a couple of weeks ago, the air is filled with birdsong, some recognisable (teacher-teacher), some not, and though the broadleaves still stand bare, they have buds aplenty and the ground is carpeted with bright dog’s mercury in flower. Bracken is lifting its curled stems as I presume its ancestors did for hundreds of millions of years before there were any flowering plants.
Winter’s snowdrops and crocuses have gone, and the daisies and broom are expanding their numbers. The bright green leaves of bluebells mark where the explosion of blue will come in the next weeks, and where I saw just one bluebell a few days ago, now many are lifting their unopened flowers above the ground. The whites of wood anemone and wood sorrel are coming into their best and the first wood avens are in flower. Dandelions are making an effort and some have reached the clock stage already.
There are the yellows of wild daffodil, lesser celandine, creeping buttercups, golden saxifrage and primrose but the pinks are only just starting, the pink purslane and red campion growing within a few inches of each other. (PS I forgot the hairy bittercress and groundsel)
A few days ago I had walked off the path to investigate a hint of purple, to find a few violets. A couple of days later the dog violets are everywhere.
3.7 miles 3h 5m 344m ascent
Grey Mare’s Tail and Loch Skene
Originally planned as a walk to White Coomb but the Tail Burn was in spate, so we walked a little way along the loch’s eastern bank then went in search of Hogg’s Well, a small lochan, a wee bit above the loch. Then back the way we came.
5.7 miles 2h 45m ascent 356m
This was a repeat of November’s Snow on Colt Hill walk, but with less snow, less icy wind, more birdsong, an extra dog (Sweep came along as well as Eddie), and a red squirrel on the way home.
Audrey forgot her hat and gloves and I forgot my sandwiches. I was under the weather and by the col below Colt Hill was flagging a little but, fortified with jelly babies, was able to trudge on up the last few metres into the cloud and walk through the sandstone arch. The descent was a bit slippery but the humans managed to stay upright. Poor Sweep had slipped in the mud but all his sniffling about in the snowy grass had him clean in no time.
6.2 miles 2h 40m 355m ascent
Loch Trool Circular
After the wildness of Loch Trool we had a country of plenteousness and peace. (The Heather Moon)
Stricken with the flu then cursed with a dodgy knee, I had been out of action for a few weeks so other than short walks with the dogs I had gradually lapsed into unfitness. This outing was to gently ease me back into regular walking.
We found a surprising number of cars at the Caldons car park, given it was a weekday, but only saw other walkers a couple of times and then only in the distance. Caldons still has the look of a campsite with its paths and hard stands, albeit without any caravans or tents. Trees still stood over the old campsite but once we had crossed a couple of small footbridges the canopy was gone. Audrey had forewarned me that the forestry had been felling by the loch. She had been turned about and sent away by the loggers the last time she tried to walk here. I was still quite surprised how much it had changed.
The slopes beside the loch’s southern bank are now open, the trees gone, leaving the usual mess of broken branches and tree stumps. I think the experience of walking in a more open setting is quite different from walking in a forest. Even though one can glimpse more distant features through the trees when walking in forest, I find myself looking at closer features, the moss on tree trunks and the path itself, whereas with the trees gone, my eyes are drawn to the hill-side slopes and the hills.
I found myself wondering how long it might be before the ground is re-planted, and if it will be more conifers or perhaps the broadleaved trees that had lent their names to nearby features (Caldons/calltun/Hazel, Ringielawn/leamhan/Elm, and Drumnaminshoch/uinnsean/Ash). I seem to remember reading that the forestry commission work on a sixty year life cycle for pine but longer for broadleaved trees, with a couple of years left between harvesting and replanting. That said, I am sure I have seen plenty of areas which have been left longer without re-planting.
A couple of stands of tall Scot’s Pine have been left beside the loch, the second beside the tiny bay in the photo at the top of the post. I have a feeling as well that the path has been re-layed, but I can’t be sure. The SUW info sign about the Battle of Glen Trool seems to have gone with the trees, but as we reached the eastern end of the loch there we found ourselves back amongst trees.
Spring isn’t yet showing itself except perhaps for some subtle features. A stand of young conifers was a mixture of bright green, spruce I think, and some slightly taller orange trees which might be larch. I don’t think these are as orange in the winter and the more intense colour seems to come as the years new growth starts. Looking across the loch, as seen in the picture above labelled “Trool Stone Circle” there are trees across the glen of the Giarland Burn, and though it is not obvious in the photograph, the upper trees have a purple hue due to new growth.
The path winds climbing and falling above the loch often giving great views of the opposite hills with white ribbons of water tumbling down the Buchan and Gairland Burns.
The bog myrtle was beginning to make itself known beside the path, its purplish brown buds standing out against the pale yellow of the grasses. I crushed a bud for its sweet smell and after that I was sure I could smell it on the wind as we walked by more of the plants.
A small knoll close to the eastern end of the loch had what appeared to be a circle of stones, but I cannot find any record of a stone circle here so presumably these are just boulders that happen to look like a circle rather than a man-made artefact. (Edit: It looks as if this might have been the ruins of Ferrachbae, yet another name involving a tree, the trysting place of the birches, bey.)
The small footbridge at Glenhead is no longer there, but a twisting tree trunk crosses the water for the more adventurous explorer. I would have used it but what with my dodgy knee I decided to walk the extra hundred yards to the vehicle bridge.
We could see the Gairland Burn in spate from early in the walk, white against the brown of the hills, and once we reached it it was truly roaring.
And we couldn’t walk by Bruce’s Stone without a visit. The inscription recalls Bruce’s victory in the Battle of Glentrool.
“In loyal remembrance of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, whose victory in this glen over an English force in March, 1307, opened the campaign of independence which be brought to a decisive close at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314”
After the monument we were on road for a little while but were soon back on a footpath down to the western end of the loch. A couple of years ago we sat by the loch here eating our lunch, listening to the loud chattering of swallows as they danced across the water. No swallows in February though. And a bit chilly to stop for sandwiches.
A pleasant walk, a little different than my other visits here but my knee held up, until I sat down at home to type this, when it stiffened leaving me hobbling about.
3.8 miles 1h 45m 178m ascent
Another wee forest walk, this time in Glengap forest which takes its name from dock leaves. I had drawn out a simplified route on the back of an envelope, using the OS 25k as my source. We started at the X (on the map) near Glengap and set off with the summit of Bengray as our target.
We crossed the Red Nick Burn and followed the forest tracks. The mapped tracks were not always obvious on the ground. We were to take the second left then the third on the right. The second on the left though was difficult to differentiate from a forest break and when we eventually got the the third on the right I was uncertain if it was the third (the forest break having been the second) or actually the second.
The real test was to look out for the track on the left after a left hand turn in the path. On we walked unable to see anything but trees around us wondering if we were on the the correct track of the one running parallel to it. The map wasn’t much help because the parallel paths had the same ups and downs and crossed the same minor streams.
We walked past an opening to our left and I wondered aloud if that was a path but we looked along it and discounted it as a forest break.
A change of plan was needed so we decided to continue along the track we were on, which should have led us to within a couple of hundred metres of Loch Whinyeon no matter which path we were on. We could then decide whether to retrace our steps or head up Bengray from the Loch.
So on we went, for about another 200m before the forest track we were on came to an end with no obvious way on through the forest. This is very different from the appearance on satellite views on google maps, so the old track must have become overgrown. we turned about and headed back the way we had come.
The “forest break” we had passed tempted me and we decided to see how far it went. It soon became clear that this was the path we were looking for but it was now quite overgrown. The photo below is a little further along on a section where the old path could be made out. In other sections you wouldn’t know you were on a path.
The sections highlighted in green on the map at the top are heavily overgrown.
The OS 50k shows a route up to Bengray, but we did not find it. When the overgrown track eventually gave up the ghost, we tramped through boggy ground and then up a steep section through old bracken. We were then in mist and the going became increasingly difficult. Once up the steep slope we found ourselves still quite a way from Bengray’s summit with very uneven rough heather covered ground to cross.
I decided that with my dodgy knee I would turn back and Audrey agreed with the plan. I could have used Sweep, poor old dog, as an excuse but he actually seemed to by managing the heather OK.
6.4 miles 2h 38m 137m ascent
This was a wee walk along the old Paddy line from the viaduct over the Big Water of Fleet to the Little Water of Fleet. I had hoped to find the memorial to a crashed WW2 airplane , a Hawker Typhoon.
On the 18th March 1944 No.440 and No.439 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force were being moved from RAF Ayr to RAF Hurn, Bournemouth, via RAF Woodvale in Lancashire. Together the two Squadrons were flying a mixture of Typhoons and Hurricanes for offensive operations over France in the run up to the D-Day landings. While on the first leg of the flight to Woodvale P/O Mitchell in Typhoon JR439 lost control of the aircraft which dived into the ground close to the then active Dumfries to Stranraer railway line just to the west of the now demolished Little Water of Fleet viaduct and Loch Skerrow. It was however the following day before the wreck was found and confirmed to be that of the missing Typhoon. (from Peakdistrictaircrashes.co.uk)
Because the Viaduct is closed off, we walked up by the farmhouse at Cullendoch and then joined the old railway line, which is now a stony track. It seemed quite dull on the day but the photos look a lot brighter. There were a few drops of rain, enough to get jackets on and then off again, but that at least the rain brought some rainbows.
The search for the memorial was unsuccessful. We found a faint track parallel to the railway line and followed it to where I expected the memorial cairn to be, but despite rooting about it was nowhere to be found.
5.9 miles 2h 42m 347m ascent
I planned this as a walk up past the Striding Arch on Colt Hill and along to Lamgarroch but conditions meant we turned back at Colt Hill.
The walk began at Cairnhead where the road up from Moniaive, which had already become a rutted track, officially becomes a “no unauthorised entry” forestry track, though the gate stood open. We walked up the short track to visit the Byre, with its sandstone arch passing through a space in the wall where one would expect a gate. What does one call such a gap?
The wall has four sandstone blocks each inscribed with a name and date, presumably the names the place has previously been called: Conraicht 1547, Konrick 1600, Conrig 1804, and Cairnhead 1911.
Within the confines of the ungated wall is a raised platform of paving stones, inscribed with eight names: Arthur Bell, shepherd 1891, Samuel McCall 1871, Elizabeth McVittie 1851, John Fergusson 1851, James Barber 1824, Archibald Wallace 1821, William Riddell 1790, Matho Fergusone 1507.
“Matho Fergusone in Conrig of his 2½ mark land thereof” is mentioned as settling of amounts to the Master of Glencairn in a Council document from 6th Dec 1560, so I presume these names are of previous tenants/owners. The 2½ marks he paid was a tiend, a land tax amounting to one tenth of the expected output of the land that was paid to the church. A group of tenants in this area had “contemptuously refused to obey” orders to pay their taxes forcing William Cunynghame, Master of Glencairn, factor for the Kirk of Glencairn to apply to the Scottish Parliament to obtain letters requiring payment of these Church tiends. The Privy Council in Edinburgh made the order for the defaulters to pay in 1560. Matho Ferguson had 5 marks to pay for 2 years of unpaid taxes.
I haven’t been able to find anything about the other people named.
The Byre at Cairnhead has a sandstone arch passing through an upper window. This was the first of Andrew Goldsworthy’s Striding Arches and was built in 2006. Three others stand on the nearby hills, Benbrack, Bail Hill and Colt Hill, and I believe there are others in the USA and NZ. Each arch is a little “under four metres high, with a span of about seven metres, consisting of 31 blocks of hand-dressed red sandstone weighing approximately 27 tons”. So I doubt they will be stolen. The three hilltop arches can be seen from each other, but from the byre arch one can only see the that on Bail Hill.
Despite visiting this spot several times, I hadn’t previously been into the byre itself, only glimpsed the inside through the windows. I’m pretty sure the door has been locked before, but it was open today so we got to see the inner part of the arch. Having looked around at the carvings and sculptures, and confirmed that we could only see the arch on Bail Hill it was time for some walking.
I didn’t expect any sheep to be roaming about given the weather but there was one and I decided to take a short-cut with Eddie to avoid him noticing it. That meant a slightly steep, slippery descent directly from the Byre Arch to the forestry track rather than following the track itself around.
Once back on the muddy track we strode on up the glen. Autumn had turned down the saturation on the greens but some remnants of nature were still shining through. We passed trees laden with crabapples (both common and siberian), the former were intensely bitter and the latter tasteless, though both had the characteristic apple crunch when bitten. Indeed I heard that crunching sound from nearby and turned to see Eddie spitting out the remnants of an apple. Obviously too sharp for his taste.
Surfing the net for the etymology of crabapple I came across the following paragraph several times, and here it is reproduced again: “The crab apple is actually the wild apple, source of all domestic apples grown today. There are two thoughts about the origin of crab in this sense. The first notes that the Scottish form is scrab or scrabbe, seemingly from a Norse source, as there is Swedish skrabba “fruit of the wild apple tree”. This would suggest that crab and crabbe are aphetic forms of a much older word. The other possibility is that it derives from crabbed, which itself means, etymologically, “crooked or wayward gait of a crab” and the several figurative senses that follow from that (disagreeable, contrary, ill-tempered, or crooked). One of those senses might have been applied to the fruit of the crab apple: not right, not pleasant, ill-flavored (because crab apples are very sour and astringent).”
By the time we crossed the Dalwhat Burn the ground beneath our feet had changed from muddy to frozen, and as we walked on we found ourselves walking on frost and eventually snow deep enough to crunch beneath our feet.
A bitingly cold wind blew directly in our faces as we walked along the forestry track, only letting up after we turned at the small waterfall and walked into the lee of Black Hill. The snow here was a little deeper but the going much easier now we were sheltered from the wind.
Once we reached the col between Black Hill and Colt Hill we were back in the wind and the temperature, or at least our temperatures dropped quickly. We turned up Colt hill which has been denuded of trees since I was last up here. That allowed us better views but unfortunately it left us directly in the wind throughout the climb.
The snow here had either drifted or fallen more heavily. Either way we had to climb the last 100m through knee deep snow. It was a little deeper in places where small hollows were hidden by the snow and I saw Eddie disappear into a couple of these as he bounded up the hill. I had my share and judging be the occasional shriek from behind me, Audrey had not avoided all of them.
At the summit the snow was shallow except where it had drifted. The wind however was both stronger and colder, a classic north wind. The views were surprising good despite the relatively low cloud. We could see Dodd Hill, Moorbrock Hill and Benninner cloaked in snow but Cairnsmore of Carsphairn was lost in cloud.
There was too much snow for us to continue on to Lamgarroch, and it was too cold to hang about at the summit so we headed back down. It was much colder on the descent, presumably since we needed to put in less effort. Poor Eddie was collecting balls of snow in his fur and wasn’t very happy about it, so we pressed on quickly to get out of the deeper snow and away from the north wind.
The walk back down was a lot easier and we warmed up once out of the wind and Eddie was soon back to his usual self exploring the trees beside the track. I had worried that we were in for a chilling once we were back out of the shelter of Black Hill, but it seemed to have relented a little for us.
Given the cold, we had our sandwiches once we got back to the car.