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Saturday, 17 February 2018

TGO Challenge 2018 Training

Today’s pics are from yesterday’s walk at Dockray by Ulswater – Great Dodd, Calfhow Pike, Clough Head and return by the coach road. Lots of ice and not a vast amount of snow. No progress would have been made, though, without the khatoola spikes, which worked very well and were worn for most of the day.
Hennyway – down to business. One of the Things Required for a successful and enjoyable TGO challenge is a reasonable state of general fitness. Some of this can be gained whilst actually walking on the TGO challenge and people turning up on the East coast of Scotland are usually lean, fit and tanned (down one side anyway) – and a bit smelly.  Most of it is In The Mind, but I’m not going to be training for this as I believe I’m OK on this point, having already completed 13 TGO challenges. This is not to say that I won’t have the odd “Oh bugger, I just can’t be arsed” moment, but , hopefully any of these will be surmountable. (This is not guaranteed by the way) Your heart has to be in it, see?
But then there’s general fitness. I do need to train for this. The longest day on my TGO route is about 19 miles, so I think I need to be able to walk 20 or so. Other, previous TGO plans have not survived reality and, on one occasion, I walked 27 miles instead of the planned 15. This was partly because an old lady told me that it wasn’t all that far to the end and the “hotel” I had my eyes on, on the map, was now a family steakhouse and didn't have any beds.
And some of the days of my 2018 TGO have lots of contours on them – adding up to 4000 feet or so of uphill. I really could do with training for this.
I’ve done this before (13 times) and my settled method is to develop the distance walking by a) walking a lot (I already do this) and b) gradually increasing the distance up to about 20 miles by April. So, in February, I should do a 14 miles walk, March would be 17 miles and April would be 20. It hardly matters how much uphill is involved.
Secondly, I need to increase the amount of daily ascent. This means going to the Lake District a fair bit and doing lots of contours.
Where am I now?
Yesterday’s walk was 11 miles with 2800 feet of uphill. Clearly, this is a long way from the target ranges. So, quite soon, I’ll be on a 14 mile walk and there ought to be more Lake District stuff as well. We have a trip planned for the Malvern Hills, which, although distances are short, the map shows lots and lots of lovely contours.
What about other stuff? I don’t think I need to train for wild camping or cooking or the intermittent boozing that sometimes happens on a TGO (my TGO’s anyway) We have camping trips planned anyway – some wild, some not so wild and some pretty tame.
I’m hoping that documenting any progress that might take place might be helpful to any prospective TGO challengers out there. The key message from me is to do lots and lots of walking. Get a dog. Lose a bit of weight (I’ve gone from 86kg to just under 78 kg. Any more and my diabetic nurse might panic. My cardiac nurse will probably just send her weighing scales to be serviced.) (This doesn’t sound good, does it?)
This is not rocket science – it’s just general hill-fitness. The wild camping, in my view, is just camping without a tap or toilets. Carrying the loads is also a matter of conditioning and fitness – you just have to do it till it stops being impossibly difficult. Reducing the load helps a lot, though, and this is often a matter of experience and listening to good advice.
As far as the kit is concerned – I’m an utter idiot. My tent is heavy but comfy, I take heavy alcohol, my pack is second-hand, I take maps…….. but I’m seriously considering a kilt. Watch this space ------------->

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Walking and Mental Health

I blame Dr Beeching.
When I was but a sprog, I suddenly and unexpectedly passed my 11+ exam. The outcome of this  was that I would have to travel 8 miles to Ermysteds Grammar School For Boys in Skipton by train; the Barlick Flyer. This was an ironic name since the speed the flyer got up to was never more than about 12 mph. It was a steam train, and, on the way to the station, if you could see a column of steam on the horizon, you knew you had to speed up in order not to be outrageously late for school. The Barlick Flyer was fun.  It had individual compartments. You could smoke fags, or, in our case, dried bananas. You could ride in the luggage racks or you could swing out over the track holding on to the leather. strap on the door. You could discourage regular passengers from disturbing the privacy of your compartment by smoking a lot and doing some swearing and being noisy. You didn't get any nausea.
Then Mr Beeching decided to close the railway line to Skipton and, ahead of time, the Barlick Flyer was scrapped and we had to go to school on the bus. This would have been fine, apart from the travel sickness. Bus drivers from Earby to Skipton soon became drained by the stress of having me spewing up my  breakfast toast on the approaches to Skipton. I was also quite miserable. So Me Mam took me to see Dr Morrison who prescribed Dramamine, an anti-histamine which can prevent travel sickness. This went well for a short while. Dramamine, though, at the time, had soporific effects and, I spent much of my time asleep, both at school and at home. Then something went seriously wrong. I began to be confused as to whether or not I was asleep or whether I was in a dream. Reality and dreams became mixed-up. I would dream that I was at school and then I’d wake-up in bed, having missed the bus, and the school. I became fearful of whatever it was  lurking dangerously upstairs late at night. I remember walking up to the moors late one night with my friend, Neil and witnessing multiple shooting stars and becoming extremely frightened by the lights in the sky. It seemed that something horrendously sinister was going on.In the end,  I was hallucinating and not making any sense, a state masked by my notoriously dry/dark sense of humour and the fact that I was just 13 years old, and, like 13 year-olds everywhere, prone to quite surreal outbursts. . I had no idea what was going on almost any of the time.  Me and Neil kept on going on the moors, sitting and smoking and setting the world to rights. It seemed that nobody noticed the strange behaviour and I was much too out of reality that I didn’t say anything to anybody.  One day my mum put the dramamine down the toilet but never mentioned it.  I moved on to barley sugars and slowly returned to a vague semblance of sanity. Maybe I’d taken too many pills.
I strongly suspect that this was a period of travel-sickness drug illness though; a short episode when reality melded with a world of panic and fear which went away shortly after I stopped taking the tablets. I don’t think anybody else knew about this at the time. I didn’t think anybody else noticed it. Apart from me Mam.
Almost everybody I know has had periods of depression, sometimes really severe, debillitating  depression, sometimes anxiety, sometimes both. One friend is bi-polar and he has a friend who is definately paranoid and suspects people of talking about him when he’s out of the room. He has strange rituals and is reported to be convinced that I am God himself (must be the beard).
What I’m getting at here, is that depression is really really common and anxiety is not much less common and that many other mental illnesses exist, whether caused by drugs or brain chemicals or a physical illness, or whatever.  And I was approached last week by a company to blog about how walking is a help towards the recovery from mental illness. The odd things are that the peeps who approached me were from an Art Supplies company and questions about provenance have gone unanswered. I am determined to write the piece anyway. Its a puzzle I intend to ignore.
But it seems that a survey indicates that walking is the number 1 response by people who’s wish is to reduce stress in their life. I’m not specially surprised by this. But stress isn’t mental illness. Mental illness may be a response to stress, or an inability to cope with whatever levels of stress might be around at the time. But stress itself surely is a natural phenomena. Everybody is attacked by some kind of stress. Stress is what keeps you upright and functioning. Our ancestors lived with disease, the possibility of starvation,  random violence, accidents….  families…..  bad weather….  All a bit more seriously stressful than a traffic-jam on the M6, surely.
Later, I worked in an A&E department as a clerk. Much of this was quite good fun.  Much of it was quite hilarious. Some of it was quite, quite grim.  Then ,in another job, I had to visit a mortuary on a daily basis. This was not much fun. I get the occasional flash-back or nasty dream from each job. All of my early NHS jobs have memories attached, some very good, and some almost surreal in their levels of abject, dirty, snivelling evil. And all at the same the time, I’ve been hillwalking whilst unconciously processing all this stuff..
And can walking help?
Yes. It can help. It can be a relief from stress. If you need to be alone, you can be alone. You can sit in lush woodland and give yourself time to think. Or not to think. You can sit on a summer hill and hear the larks and the meadow pipits and not much else. You can listen to water. You can watch the clouds for a bit. Importantly, you can be alone with the world.
You can dip into a freezing dangerously deep, dark pool and come out euphoric anhd shivering
You can march along at a pace, getting blood circulating, being cold, being hot, not feeling, feeling not remembering or remembering.
If you’re lonely you can join other people to walk with. You can chat to them or you can be quiet.
You can be mindful and listen to your body. Or you can ignore it till it hurts
You can eat too much cheese and talk to spiders crawling up a piece of grass.
This is not going to stop the ghosts or the bad memories. This is not going to interfere with hallucinations or fear of something you can’t describe. This is not going to make you feel happy if you’re basically unhappy or pump you up if you’re flat. You have to be a bit better to make the effort. A seriously depressed person will probably be unable to get outside to have a walk.
But you can do it. You can have a walk and feel tired and achy afterwards. It won’t be unstressful. There will be frisky and dangerous cattle and horses and the weather will sometimes be against you and, sometimes, it has to be said, your choice of companions will have been poor. Sometimes they will be irritating, or annoying, or have exactly the opposite political views or will disappear over the horizon when they’re supposed to be a walking partner.
On the recent 100 Best British Walks programme, it was significant, though, how many people mentioned a “spiritual” element to their walks. I make no further comment on this except to say that this part is quite important for me and is why I enjoy my time in the countryside the most when it’s just me and the dog. (respects, though to everybody else I go walking with, obviously)
Clearly, I’m completely unqualified to pontificate in this way, but I would be interested in other people’s views on whether or not walking is any help in improving a person’s mental health.
Pics are from the delayed walk around Staithes in North Yorkshire. I came back clarty (covered in mud) LTD has lost all his mud in the back of the knipemobile, and in various other places he’s not really allowed in.  Dhuhh…  He’s a very clean dog.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Cheviot Hills: Clennel Street and Usway Burn


I put LTD’s second cosiest coat on for this trundle because it was cold. No, I mean really cold. Nithering, in fact.

It was sunny at Dawn’s seaside changing hut but the A68 had lots of horizontal snowflakes being chucked at it.


As for me, I had my Lidl toasty baselayer (£4.99 and has a hood, although it’s hard to get it the right way round in the early mornings) – and a TGO fleece (The 2010 lime green one) and a down jacket topped with a very old but newly refurbished Paramo jacket.  Plus hat, gloves, spare gloves, Louise’s favourite type of trousers and long johns. So we weren’t too cold.


The object of our attentions today was the bagging of the obscure and slightly soggy Nettlehope Hill – about 480 metres of tussock grass. To get there involved walking along Clennel Street, the old cattle droving road from the Border to places like Hexham and Newcastle. This provides good, fast walking, if you’re into fast walking, which LTD is, but I’m not. Not really.


Dawn didn’t bother with the actual summit of Nettlehope Hill and to be honest, she didn’t miss much. The highest point is obscure and the hill is a rounded lump, so views aren’t spectacular. Dawn took a straighter route and we met again just before the descent to The Castles

We returned to Alwinton by dropping down to the Usway Burn at Batailshiel Haugh farm and followed the lovely valley back to the Coquet at Shillmoor.


There was just the thinnest dusting of snow to make it look a bit like winter, but, mainly, the sun shone and the wind blustered but didn’t manage to penetrate my multiple layers of cosiness.

The walk was also accompanied by the usual occasional crump of  artillery shells going off nearby. LTD hates fireworks and thunder but doesn’t seem to notice explosions care of the Royal Artillery. Odd that.

We did 10 of the Queen’s miles and 2100 of the Duke of Edinburgh’s feet. Not the actual feet. Obviously.

nettlehope map

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Langstrath Dipping Possibilities


Y’see, I hadn’t forgotten about the pools of Langstrath. We now have a short hiatus or space in the Pieblog before we do more walkies this weekend (free guided walk from Westgate to Rookhope over the tops on Sunday starting at 10:00 c/o Weardale Wayfarers and lead by LTD, closely followed on the blunt end of the lead by Yours Truly – bring own egg and tomato butty)

Hennyway, below is a bunch of photographs of some pools which can be found in Langstrath. Langstrath is the rather beautiful side-dale of Borrowdale, accessed from Rosthwaite which has a car park and a pub, or there’s a bit of parking near the school.

There’s a moderately easy walk of around 8 miles which heads up the West side of Stonethwaite Beck as far as Tray Dub and returns to Rosthwaite after crossing the footbridge there by the Cumbria Way path on the East side of the beck. Route finding is pretty straightforward.


There are pools suitable for dipping,  some hugely deep and some fairly shallow, at various points on the walk. The star pool is Blackmoss Pot which some people will jump into from the rocks above. This is much too dangerous a prospect for me, though, I can tell you, and I would probably die almost immediately on sudden contact with the cold water. This  would probably spoil my day out completely.

Two of these pools – Galleny Force and Blackmoss Pot are listed in Daniel Start’s excellent book “Wild Swimming” available at all good bookshops and one or two bad ones.

Ideally, you’d want to wander up there on a warm day, maybe with a picnic,  or you might be heading towards Rosthwaite after a day on the fells, in which case a nice dip might well be Just The Thing. I am aware that some people do like to dip at any time of year and that some people may well feel over-dressed in a cozzie or in their undies or shorts, or whatever. I’d just point out that the footpaths are often very well populated with walkers so you might want to use some discretion about this.

Whatever is your desire, the deep, green pools of lovely, clear water are inviting and very “refreshing”.

Should you not be sufficiently wet after this plodge, there’s more pools available a bit further up the beck from Tray Dub


Sunday, 21 January 2018



Its like the middle of January out there, folks.  We seem to be having a winter this…  er….. winter. Me and LTD’s last three walks have been increasingly snowy.

Midweek, we went to Bolam Lake in Northumberland, passing four cars off the road on the A68 and another just by Bolam Lake’s car park. There was a bit of drifting off the fields.


This was the occasion of the Wednesday Walkers Walking on Saturdays Except To Say That It Was a Wednesday. I was at the back today, making sure nobody came adrift and that all the gates were as they were before we passed. My personal objective was Shaftoe Crags, a small hill that had defeated the gentle attentions of me and Dawn way back in 2017 when we’d been somehwee else and thought it looked interesting.

There was snow. Not all that much snow. And there was ice. A fair bit of ice. We went across the fields to Bolam church where there’s a repaired hole in the wall after a member of the Lufwaffe, somehow disoriented by the absence of Sunderland docks below, where it ought to have been,  and being harried by two RAF fighters, jettisoned his bombs, one of which bounced off a grave and entered the church making  a new hole in the wall. Apparently he came back to have a look fifty or sixty years later and received a cordial welcome from the locals, specially as he hadn’t killed anybody, I suppose.


After a chilly trek around the flatter bits of Northumberland, our leader announced that he was shortening the walk and wouldn’t be visiting Shaftoe Crags. I mentioned that in this case, I’d be leaving the walk, and there was a general consensus that maybe we should head up there anyway. In any case, the walk avoided the summit, so I nicked off and bagged it anyway. It was only 150 metres away.

We did 11 miles altogether.


And then there was a doggy walk – a routine one up the Deerness Valley Railway path to Stanley Beck and through the woods back over to Stanley Crook. Now the snow was deeper and, in the pristine fields where nobody had ventured before, LTD was able to charge about and bark and eat some snow. It was almost  6 miles of hard work. But the winter is quite beautiful in the sunshine.

It gets no warmer. I have a Weardale Wanderers guided walk to lead next weekend, so LTD suggested that we’d better do a reccy. This route is an ex-Durham County Council walk which heads up from Westgate in Weardale, through Slit Wood and over the tops to Rookhope. We didn;t get as far as that.


Slit Wood had just a moderate snow cover which got noticeably deeper with distance. By the time we headed out over the moor to Scarsike Head, it was generally knee deep and quite soft. Some parts were navel-deep and the whole event turned into a desperate struggle. Even LTD was struggling. We battled on up the hill, eventually achieving the stile onto the road at the top. Here, a chap with a landrover said he’d been stuck there overnight as the snow made deep drifts on his line of retreat. He expected to be there for at least another night. He had managed to nip home and return and refused some hot coffee.


It was clear that I wouldn’t be able to complete the route and would probably run out of steam before having to do the return journey from Rookhope to Westgate. So we abandoned and walked (struggled) down the road back to Westgate. For the first mile there were deep drifts, hard to see in the available lighting. A 4x4 came up the hill and met me at the point where the tarmac became visible. I told him the road was blocked. He seemed quite grumpy in the way that some 4X4 drivers like to reinforce prejudices against 4X4 drivers, so he went on his way up the hill. Hopefully, the chap with the landy got away in a reasonable time. He did seem pretty relaxed about it and mentioned that it wasn’t the first time…

A few minutes later, he returned, at some speed. He obviously didn’t have time to chat about the snow drifts.


We only managed 5 miles altogether. We were both knackered, frankly, and spent the rest of the day supping tea (or in LTD’s case, snoozing in his cosy bed next to the radiator)

I’ll have to go back sometime this week and finish the reccy. The lesson is that if you think you might need snowshoes, take some snow shoes, yer big daft twerp.

As a post-script, I would say that whoever repaired the footpath in Slit Wood, you’ve done a cracking job.

And I won’t be taking any loony comments from Westgate locals about what people choose to plant in their gardens or whether or not they like to put a notice on their gate reminding walkers to keep their dog on a lead and to pick up the dog’s poo. Just sayin’

Will the winter continue in the same fashion? Will I remember to take the correct kit next time? Will the ice on my whiskers melt before I get home?