October 2016 – Seeking Out a Wee Dram

This blog post is slightly different from the usual type of posts which I publish in that whilst it takes place within superb walking territory it is more related to the trip itself than any walks, and I have no doubt that the title of the blog post will give a little indication as to its location and context. Whilst I do enjoy writing this blog, and I do very much enjoy reading blogs of others which relate to walking and the Great Outdoors, I must admit to not being greatly enamoured with general travel blog offerings. Maybe it’s just me, but the way that the majority of travel bloggers come across appears that they are primarily bragging about being in exotic locations in either the far east or south America; but, hey, it certainly beats working for a living like most of us have to. As a matter of fact, and do feel free to call me a grumpy bugger, I have deleted a few travel bloggers from my Twitter account as they just have a tendency to get right up my nose with the sanctimonious “look where I am”  showing off type of photos. I know this sounds like I’m whining, and possibly comes across as being quite hypocritical too, and I suppose it is, but let me reassure you that it is nothing to do with envy, but more to do with a dislike of the one-upmanship stance that seems so prevalent today – so there you have it, now I’ve got that off my chest I can carry on with what I had to write and show off about.

There is a slight back story to this blog post in that a number of weeks ago Mrs Muddy Boots was doing some online shopping and almost bought some more Harris Tweed for soft furnishing use at home. As a throwaway comment I said words to the effect of “why buy online when we can go and visit the place where it is made“. This generalised statement led to an intense week of precision planning in order to piece together a road trip up to the Isle of Harris, to the source of the Harris Tweed, if you will. Call me anal, but I even put a spreadsheet together to help with the organisation of the task – *sigh* yes, it did include mileages, costs and times. In my view, travelling 461 miles just to collect some Harris Tweed seemed a little extravagant, so in my general role as Chief Entertainments Officer for Mrs Muddy Boots, I decided to increase the remit of the road trip to encompass a number of distilleries as I knew that Mrs Muddy Boots would not turn her nose up at the prospect of having a wee dram or two.

Saturday 1st October – Day One – Home to Islay 345 miles

The start of this road trip involved getting out of bed at 4am, which was made more difficult for me by the fact that I didn’t fall asleep until about 1:30am on the Friday. It wasn’t quite the kid at Christmas, excitement type of thing but I do seem to struggle with falling off to sleep when I know that I have to be up especially early. Anyway 4am it was; I was up and dressed, albeit very bleary eyed and the car got loaded with the relevant bags and we were off north up the M6 by 5 o’clock. The reason for the early start was to get to the ferry terminal at Kennacraig in order to embark on the CalMac car ferry to Port Askaig, on Islay. We stopped at the Tebay services and changed drivers. Mrs Muddy Boots took over whilst I wound the passenger seat back and had a snooze to try and catch up on the sleep that I had missed on the night before. Before long we were pulling into the services again after Beattock and we both found refreshment from a McDonald’s sausage McMuffin and a strong cup of Coffee. Feeling rejuvenated by the refreshments and the snooze, I jumped back in the driving seat and we continued up some superb driving roads north of Glasgow, passing Loch Fyne (yes, the same one as the well known oysters come from) and some very grand scenery to Kennacraig where the ferry terminal is situated for the boat over to Islay. The scenery we passed was just a foretaste of what was to come.

20161001-img_2130
Fishing boat and mist on Loch Fyne

I was quite concerned about is getting there on time as we have ‘previous form’ for missing this particular boat. Around 20 years ago we came up this way and got to the ferry terminal just as the ferry was pulling out, and as a consequence we never got over to Islay; it was with very deep dismay that I had to cancel the accommodation on Islay and find somewhere else for the night. I needn’t have worried this time though, as the roads were quiet at this time of the morning, and it being Saturday too with no rush hour traffic to slow us down. Additionally, comfort was given from a SatNav display as you can see how your progress is from your estimated time of arrival which is indicated on the satnav screen and you can then adjust your driving tempo accordingly.

20161001-img_2134
Looking towards Dun na Cuaiche from Inveraray

Needless to say we got there much earlier than anticipated which I didn’t mind at all, so we sat around the ferry terminal looking out to sea, just waiting and enjoying the very warm autumn sunshine.

As we sat at the quayside a slow but steady stream of assorted vehicles arrived. There were builders vans, camper vans, pickup trucks, caravans, trucks, cars, motorbikes and cycles. All were orderly parked up in the relevant traffic lane as directed by the chap on the gate with the high viz vest. It seem quite relaxed and peaceful, the loch was lapping on the shore, birdsong was filling the air (well apart from the screaming little kid from the car in front) and there was very little that would indicate the frenzied activity that was to start when the ferry docked at the port.

At about 12:15 the ferry chugged into view in the distance on West Loch Tarbert and slowly made its way along the loch to the Kennacraig terminal with a  low and menacing rumble of large engines doing some heavy work. Quite suddenly as the boat approached the jetty, a large number of men sporting hi-viz vests and hard hats appeared from nowhere and proceed to undertake various tasks relating to the securing of the boat. An alarm went off somewhere on board and the bow doors slowly opened and in no time at all cars and trucks were being rapidly driven off and disappeared up the terminal approach road in a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes. It was the nautical equivalent of the F1 starting grid.

Shortly after this the various lines of vehicles which surrounded us were starting their engines and getting ready to board. The useless couple in front of us with the screaming kid seem quite surprised by this change in circumstance and as our line of vehicles started to move they decided they’d better get a hold of their offspring, who was still outside running about (and screaming) and fasten it into the child seat, thus causing us and everyone behind us to wait whilst they readied themselves. Surely they would have known at some point they would have to drive their car onto this big metal thing, the size of an apartment block, floating on the water, or maybe they hadn’t noticed its arrival as they were so engrossed in a Tupperware box of sandwiches they had packed for their journey. Perhaps they were just out for an early morning family picnic by the loch and inadvertantly got mixed up with ferry traffic. Useless people! We hadn’t seen the last of this pair of clowns as most of the ferry was to bump into them later as they let their noisy offspring run around the boat during the crossing whilst it shrieked like a maniac and bounced off the furniture. They looked useless too, and as my mother would put it, they had the appearance of a pair of “wet lettuces”. I am convinced humanity has reached its point of ‘peak intelligence’ and now seems to be on a downward slope of stupidity, a little like a bell curve type of graph. Each generation getting a little more stupid than the last. You can add ‘cynical’ to the list of names that are acceptable to call me.

As we were on the MV Finlaggan for 2 1/2 hours we decided to get something to eat at the “Mariners” restaurant on board. I must admit that the food was good and that I was also very surprised at finding this out; it wasn’t what I had expected. It was your basic “pub food” type fayre such as pie and chips, beef burger and chips etc, and it was very well executed and had a Scottish twist to every dish. The Beef Burger was Aberdeen Angus, the Steak and Ale pie had Scottish ale in it (a pint of heavy?) the fish was Scottish salmon, the Mars Bar was deep fried – no, only kidding with that one, but you get the feel for it. After finishing our lunch we went and stood outside on the observation deck as the weather was fine and we had a very clear view across the Sound of Jura and fantastic views of both Islay and Jura which were rapidly approaching, with the Paps of Jura being very prominent.

20161001-islay-jura-panorama
Crossing the Sound of Jura, heading towards Islay

We sailed up the Sound of Islay, the narrow strip of water which separates Islay from Jura and docked at Port Askaig which appeared to be little more than a collection of small houses clinging onto a cliff face and a winding tarmac access road leading  from the ferry terminal to the main road crossing the island. The ferry arrived at 2:55pm as scheduled and we had soon got back into our car and left the boat behind by joining the nautical F1 starting grid we witnessed previously at Kennacraig. There was one exception to this quick getaway as there were some cars still waiting on the boat due to a useless family with a screaming child being surprised by having to get back into their vehicle and drive away back onto Terra Firma. I really hoped we wouldn’t encounter this pair (and progeny) again. We made our way up the winding road that leads from Port Askaig to the A846 road that runs east-west across the island and kept pace with the tyre smoke and high velocity – I felt like Stirling Moss!

We got to the top of the cliffs that form the eastern shore of Islay and started driving through an undulating, agricultural landscape dotted with small bungalows with corrugated iron roofs. Mrs Muddy Boots said it reminded her of Ireland, and I had to agree. We took our first turning on the right which led us along a single track tarmac road leading to the Caol Ila distillery. This distillery was the first one of the trip and it was one which I had not really come across before. Due to the time the ferry got in we had missed the tour of the distillery so we had to just make do with buying a bottle from the distillery shop and trying a few wee drams as tasters prior to our purchase which was no bad thing.

The distillery has had a bit of a chequered past. It was started in 1846 by Hector Henderson and changed hands in 1854. In the 1880’s over 147,000 gallons of whisky were being produced annually. Through the 1920’s and 1930’s it changed ownership a number of times, and production was halted during the second world war due to the restrictions on the use of barley for distilling – (see the film “Whisky Galore“). Production resumed in 1945 and continued until 1972 when the whole distillery plant was demolished and rebuilt with production resuming in 1974. Today it is owned by Diageo. As well as producing its own single malts it is used heavily in the production of Johnnie Walker and Black Label blended whiskies. The single malts tend to score high ratings in spirit competitions and also on online forums.

We tried three different “expressions” as they are known and plumped for Caol Ila “Moch”. This particular whisky is lighter in style than the standard 12-year-old and takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘dawn’ and makes for quite an easy drinking dram. The nose is creamy and lemony with a peaty punch and a dry finish. After having a quick mooch around the outside of the distillery we jumped back into the car and made our way back to the A846.  We drove further along the road in the direction of Bridgend for about a mile and then took another right hand turn along an apparent farm track which led us to the Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced Boon-a-havn).

Bunnahabhain Distillery was built in 1880/1881 by a partnership which was incorporated in 1882 as the Islay Distillery Co., and later amalgamated with Wm. Grant & Co., (Glenrothes – Glenlivet) to form Highland Distillers, the present owners are Distell, as South African brewing conglomerate. Bunnahabhain is one of the milder Islay whiskies available and in its taste varies greatly from other fine spirits to be found on the island. The water rises through limestone and is transported by pipeline to the distillery, so it doesn’t pick up any peat on the way. Common bottlings are 12, 18 and 25 years old.

The drive towards Bunnahabhain from Port Askaig, passing over the long and winding road is great, and the location of the distillery is stunning. The road offers wonderful views of Jura, the Sound of Islay and the Rhuvaal Lighthouse on the most northern tip of Islay. The distillery is situated on the coast at Bunnahabhainn Bay and is quite large with a number of outbuildings which look to have seen better days. There is also a number of disused houses that form Bunnahabhain village and used to house the workers, which would today make fantastic holiday cottages. Again, we missed the tour at this distillery as it had been fully booked for a group visit which was my fault as I delayed in responding to the email from them. We tested a couple of wee drams and then decided to go for a fantastic 12-year-old which I have to say is as good as I expected. This particular “expression” seems to get a very high rating on whisky websites. An interesting fact is that the 12 yr old is a favourite dram of many Ilich (people from Islay).

After stowing the booty from the shop into the car we then made our way back down the winding road to the A846 and rapidly made our way to book into the Bridgend Hotel in which we were staying up for two nights. The Hotel had some good reviews online, but one has to bear in mind the 80:20 rule when reading websites such as Trip Advisor and go for a generalized overview and read between the reviews. Opinions are like arseholes, and everybody has one, although the cynic in me says that those who leave bad reviews are just doing it to try and get money off or something for nothing from the owners of the establishment they are reviewing. The role of the critic is too easy sometimes.

20161003-img_2491
The Bridgend Hotel, at Bridgend, Islay

We parked at the front of the hotel which was a mid-19th century stone built and gabled Victorian property on the A847 north-south road which runs through the island. The interior of the Hotel was well decorated and well furnished with some fantastic stag antler chandeliers on the staircase, and some very plush tartan carpets throughout the place which gave a contemporary feel. The reception was tucked away at the back on the ground floor and I ended up going into the bar at first to check in which is good mistake to make. We soon checked in and took our bags up to our room which was situated at the front of the Hotel overlooking the local community bowling green and well tended gardens to the side of the hotel. The room was well furnished, very clean and well laid out with an ensuite bathroom and shower. We had a table booked at Yan’s Kitchen down in Port Charlotte at 8pm. I took this time to lie on the bed for a short while and have a nap whilst Mrs Muddy Boots watched Strictly Come Dancing, and I found that listening to it was the perfect antidote to insomnia. After a short and refreshing snooze I decided to get ready to go out for the evening. Let me say this without resorting to bold text, or capital letters, that the shower in this en-suite is the best I have ever been in. Rather like being showered with a hot Karcher pressure washer. You didn’t need soap, any dirt was blasted clean off! I put my head under it and it was like having an Indian head massage, absolutely marvellous! I would go back all that way just to stand under this shower again.

As our deadline with Yan’s Kitchen approached, we proceeded to make our way down the A847 in the direction of Port Charlotte and along the road which runs on the north bank of Loch Indaal. We passed the Bruichladdich distillery and entered the small village of Port Charlotte. Port Charlotte was named after Lord Frederick Campbell’s wife, and it was set up mainly to provide housing facilities for the now closed Lochindaal Distillery workforce. Parts of the former distillery buildings are now in use as Youth Hostel and Wildlife Centre. The remaining warehouses are currently owned and used by Bruichladdich distillery to mature their Port Charlotte heavily peated spirit, named in tribute to the village and original distillery. No plans have been formally announced to reopen Port Charlotte Distillery to date. We actually drove past Yan’s Kitchen and had to turn around in the village and come back. It is situated next to a large car park so access is very good. I had got the details of this place off TripAdvisor and emailed through a booking and had a very courteous and quick response. The building is a single storey structure next to a beach facing Loch Indaal and on the outer edge of Port Charlotte. We went in and were warmly greeted by the staff, and were shown straight to our table. The sky outside was clear and the temperature was dropping, so we were situated to the side of the log burning stove and had a window seat – not that we could see anything much as it was dark, but I did ask for one on my email. There was a regular menu and a specials blackboard mounted to the wall, which unusually had a small section dedicated to tapas dishes. We started by ordering a plate of 6 oysters, however they only had three left, so we had these between us. We then moved onto our starters of clam chowder and then progressed to Yan’s Legendary  Seafood Platter each. The food was fantastic, simple but very well done and the clam chowder was just divine.

The seafood platter was great, although there much cussing as we tried to get into what appeared to be armour plated crab claws, and much crab shell went whizzing through the air as we struggled in vain with the crab crackers to get the succulent meat contained within. We very nearly had to apologise to a couple on an adjacent table as they were narrowly missed by some flying crustacean. In mitigation, it doesn’t help much when your fingers are covered with garlic butter. The platter consisted of scallops, lobster, crab, salad and fresh chips. We had to pass on the pudding as we were getting to the point of needing a wheelbarrow each to get us back out to the car. We paid the bill and waddled out and said that we would certainly come back here again.

The sky was cloudless and was patterned with millions of stars and the background sound of Loch Indaal ebbing on the nearby beach gave a magical feel to the night. Prior to heading back to The Bridgend Hotel we went back across the island and up the road towards the Bunnahabhain distillery. We stopped the car at a prominent point overlooking the Sound of Islay and I took the opportunity of getting my camera out to take some night time shots without any added light pollution. We then headed back to the Bridgend Hotel for a much needed nights rest after a long and busy day.

Sunday 2nd October – Day Two – The Distilleries Dash

I awoke well refreshed at about 6:40am. I looked out of the window and it was just coming light, the sky was clear and the air was very still. As breakfast at the hotel wasn’t served until 8:30 I decided to get out with my camera for an hour or so and see what I could get in the early morning light. I quickly dressed, quietly left the building and got into the car. Not knowing the area I decided to drive down to Bowmore, which was about 3 miles along the A846 road on the southern side of Loch Indaal. The Bowmore distillery is located in this small town, which is set around a small harbour and I thought I may get lucky with the light, or see something that would make a good composition.

I pulled up on The Square in the centre of Bowmore and parked in one of the many spaces available. I got out of the car, collected my tripod and camera bag from the boot, locked the car and walked down to the harbour. I stood for a while contemplating the scene and assessing the suitability for any decent photographs and I watched a middle-aged lady walking up and down the harbour wall. As she passed behind me she let out a cheery “Good morning, lovely morning isn’t it?” to which I nodded my acknowledgement although not as cheery as she was in the morning.

 I proceeded to take a number of photographs of the small harbour and the boats, and even walked along to the end of the harbour wall where I passed a white transit van which was parked up and had its side door slid open as if loading the adjacent boat but there was nobody around – complete silence. It may have been left open like this all night which I found a little strange. Where I live you have to be careful closing your house windows of an evening as you can end up trapping some scrotes fingers as they try to get in.

I walked over to the opposite side of the harbour onto a small pebbly beach and took some photographs of the Bowmore distillery which overlooks the loch at this point. I then had a short wander around the centre of the village which was very quiet at this time of the morning before deciding to make my way back to the Hotel for some breakfast. When we went down for breakfast we noted a large number of foreign visitors staying at the hotel. There were Dutch, Spanish, German, American and Japanese people sat at various tables in the breakfast room. I didn’t realise the draw of Islay was so widespread. The breakfast menu is quite extensive and I ended up going for the Full Monty, or Full Scottish Breakfast as it is formally known, which is the usual scenario for me in these situations. After a short time and finishing the last of the toast and marmalade and draining the pot of tea we decided we should make our way out for the day.

The first place to visit was the Bruichladdich distillery, and we arrived there at 9:30am which was a little too early to be honest. We drove into the distillery yard and everything was closed and quiet. We noticed a small sign on the shop door stating that the shop was open from midday until three so we decided we would leave and come back later if we could. The next distillery in the vicinity was situated at Bowmore, so we headed back along the loch, past the hotel and down to the small village. It was a short drive and we were there within 10 minutes. We parked up on the main road and walked up to the distillery entrance and were surprised to learn that it didn’t open on a Sunday – we weren’t the only ones disappointed by this, as quite a small crowd had appeared expecting entry. The distillery itself was in operation and the gates were open and you could wander around at will; I grabbed a few photographs and decided that we would come back later to try and buy a bottle of one of their products.

So far no success in the distilleries we had visited, but it was early on a Sunday morning. We then decided to head south on Islay and try our luck with the ones down on that coast. We travelled down the A846, past the airport and headed towards Port Ellen which is the largest of the towns on Islay. When we got Port Ellen we continued along the road through the town centre, past the harbour and took a sharp left turn and travelled along the south coast of the island until we got to the the Laphroaig distillery which was situated on Loch Laphroaig.

The Laphroaig distillery was established in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnston. The Johnstons who founded Laphroaig were from the Clan Donald and are likely to be from the MacIain of Ardnamurchan branch of the clan. The family anglicised their name to Johnston. The last member of the Johnston family to run the distillery was Ian Hunter, a nephew of Sandy Johnston, who died childless in 1954 and left the distillery to one of his managers, Bessie Williamson.

The distillery was sold to Long John International in the 1960s, and subsequently became part of Allied Domecq, which was in turn acquired by Fortune Brands in 2005, as one of the brands divested by Pernod Ricard in order to obtain regulatory approval for its takeover of Allied Domecq. Fortune Brands then split up its business product lines in 2011, forming its spirits business into Beam Inc. Beam was then purchased by Suntory Holdings in April 2014.

Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded in person during a visit to the distillery in 1994. The 15-year-old was reportedly the prince’s favourite Scotch whisky.

The distillery was open when we got there and the car park was quite busy. We entered the visitor centre and shop and enquired about the tour, however the lady at the counter said the first tour of the day had got under way and was fully booked. We didn’t really have the time to wait around until the next one though, so were content to try a few small samples in the shop to assist us with our purchase. We came away with a couple of different bottles to try: Laphroaig “Select” and Laphroaig “Triple Wood”, in addition to the land rental payment of a small 10-year-old. For the Laphroaig “Select”, the distillery has taken whisky from a number of different types of cask, including Oloroso Sherry butts, white American oak, Pedro Ximenez seasoned barrels, Quarter casks and first fill bourbon casks. Whilst still having the peatiness of a Laphroaig, it is a more laid-back addition to the Laphroaig range of single malts. The “Triple Wood” was originally launched for the duty free market, but you can now get it in various outlets. They mature this in bourbon barrels first, before transferring into quarter casks for a time, followed by a third maturation in Oloroso sherry European oak butts. Oodles of peat smoke and sweetness.

Whilst we were at the Laphroaig distillery the lady in the shop explained that there once was a dispute on the land where they source the water, and this dispute was caused by a neighbouring distillery wanting access to the same water source. In order to prevent others taking possession of the water on the land in future they are gifting a lifetime lease on a square foot of Islay to their visitors who sign up as “Friends of Laphroaig“. Laphroaig will in turn rent this square foot of land from you with payment being a small bottle of Laphroaig per year, which you claim in person, from the distillery when you visit. The upshot of this is that should any person, in the future try and get access to the same water source they would, via their legal representatives, have to contact everybody who owns a square foot of land in order to try and get their permission and this would delay the resolution of any dispute by a large number of years and cost a substantial sum of money to see through to its ultimate conclusion. I have a certificate on my study wall saying I own a little piece of Islay!

We drove out from the distillery back onto the main road and headed towards the next stop travelling east which was Lagavulin. This is situated directly on the main road itself. The distillery of Lagavulin officially dates from 1816, when John Jonston and Archibald Campbell constructed two distilleries on the site. One of them became Lagavulin, taking over the other—which one is not exactly known. Records show illicit distillation in at least ten illegal distilleries on the site as far back as 1742. In the 19th century, several legal battles ensued with their neighbour Laphroaig, brought about after the distiller at Lagavulin, Sir Peter Mackie, leased the Laphroaig distillery. It is said that Mackie attempted to copy Laphroaig’s style. Since the water and peat at Lagavulin’s premises was different from that at Laphroaig’s, the result was different.

We pulled into the small car park and were the only ones there which led us to think that perhaps it was closed. We followed the signs, and barrels, for the shop and visitor centre and entered through the small side door. Lo! and behold it was open – although they weren’t undertaking any tours. We browsed the selection of whiskies on offer, and also the range of branded quality clothing – Lagavulin polo shirt? We chose a four dram sample and were offered seats in the “sample room” where we undertook a tasting of the four different drams along with a selection of specialist chocolates that they also offer; one type of chocolate to accompany each whisky. The sample room is quite surprising as it was very tastefully decorated and furnished in a very traditional style similar to a Gentleman’s Club. As we sat there and the lady explained the difference between the four whiskies and a couple of German lads also took up residence in the corner of the sample room and undertook their own tasting session.

As I was driving I only had a wee nip and Mrs Muddy Boots had the greater amount to herself. We managed to work out which was our favourite of these different Lagavulin expressions and wandered back to the shop at the front of the building and proceeded to purchase a bottle of 16-year-old “Distillers Edition” whisky. By far the most popular of the “Distillers Edition” series, this double-matured Lagavulin has had a finishing period in sweet, sticky Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. It is, apparently, ‘a whisky that never disappoints’ and I can truly state that it didn’t. We really enjoyed the visit at Lagavulin and the visitor centre was very well-designed and comfortable, and the staff were very welcoming too. We climbed back into the car and made our way further along the main road until we got to Ardbeg which was the last distillery along this stretch of the island. As we pulled up at Ardbeg it became apparent that the owners, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, had spent a large amount of cash renovating and rejuvenating the buildings and a fantastic job of it they had done too.

Ardbeg Distillery is one of the three “Kildalton Distilleries” and can be found on Islay’s south coast. The name Ardbeg comes from the local village where the distillery is situated and is derived from the Scottish Gaelic: Àrd Beag, meaning Small Headland. It distills one of the peatiest whiskies on the island.

20161002-img_2436

Ardbeg distillery was established in 1815 and operated as a private concern until January 1977 when it was taken over by Hiram Walker who sadly demolished the best of the maturing warehouses. It was later sold to Allied Distillers, who ‘mothballed’ the distillery in 1981 and Ardbeg remained silent until 1989. During those years the buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair. Ardbeg Distillery was bought and reopened in 1997 by Glenmorangie Plc, and is now one of the fastest growing Islay Single Malt Whiskies. Glenmorangie invested heavily in refurbishing the buildings and plant. Glenmorangie Plc. is owned by the French company, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy). At Ardbeg they produce around 160 barrels a week. With each barrel they fill 250 bottles and so they produce a staggering 40.000 bottles of whisky each week. For that they work continuously, 24 hours a day, 6 1/2 days a week with 6 persons in the distillery and 3 in the warehouse. At the moment of writing the warehouses were completely full. Because of that the maturing takes place in other warehouses in Edinburgh. Ardbeg distillery get their Barley from Port Ellen Maltings. To maintain Ardbeg’s very distinctive character, the specification of malt used in the production of Ardbeg requires it to be at a minimum level of 50 p.p.m. phenol, which comes from drying the malt over peat fires, and so 60 tons of very peaty barley are consumed each each week.

Visitors to Ardbeg will find an added bonus; the very fine “Old Kiln Café”, where excellent lunches can be enjoyed including a taste of the end product. We didn’t eat, but the menu was excellent and the Cafe very busy. We came away with a bottle of “Uigeadail”. Uigeadail derives from the Scotch Gaelic for ‘Dark and Mysterious Place’ and is named for the loch from whence Ardbeg draws its waters which is high in the Islay hills above Ardbeg. It is a marriage of Ardbeg from bourbon barrels and sherry butts which gives a sweet and smoky finish and is very well regarded.

As lunchtime was getting close we made our way back north to Bowmore so we could have lunch at The Harbour Inn at Bowmore. This place had some good write-ups on Tripadvisor, and again, we didn’t really know what to expect when we got there. The drive north across the island took only 20 minutes and the road leading from north to south is arrow straight; it could have almost been built by the Romans, although they never got this far north. We parked up again in the centre of Bowmore, on the square opposite The Harbour Inn and entered the front door. What a surprise! This was certainly not what we expected at all. It was very tastefully decorated and quite contemporary in styling. We requested a table for two in the restaurant and were very quickly seated by the window. The view overlooking Loch Indaal was exceptional, with the Paps of Jura being visible on the far horizon.

20161002-img_2442
Looking out of The Harbour Inn dining room over Loch Indaal

There were a number of tables occupied although it wasn’t overly busy. We ordered a bottle of wine and a bottle of sparkling mineral water and proceeded to peruse the menu. We decided not to go for anything very heavy due to the large breakfast we had already had and the forthcoming, substantial evening meal back at the Bridgend hotel. We ended up starting with half a dozen oysters which were accompanied with Tabasco and shallots with red wine vinegar. Mrs Muddy Boots followed this with the “Seafood Board” comprising smoked salmon, prawns, capers, guacamole, shallots, pickled samphire, farm bread and salad. I had the seafood linguine made with fresh fish, shellfish and a cream sauce with lemon zest. Both dishes were very good, and very well presented too.

Whilst eating our lunch we decided that we would revisit the Bruichladdich distillery and then take a chance on the Kilchoman distillery as it was over there somewhere (we had passed a signpost for it earlier on in the day). We finished our delicious lunch, paid the bill and departed the Inn. However, whilst we were in Bowmore we called at the Islay Whisky Shop, which was a one minute walk around the corner from the Inn to see if they had a bottle of Bowmore on sale as the distillery shop was closed. Wow! What a selection! There was a wall full of whisky from floor to ceiling, and not just Islay ones. There was one bottle in there from the Port Ellen distillery which has now closed, and this was priced at £2,500! How much is that per snifter?  What I also found amusing is that this shop is also shown as being a “Spar” supermarket, with the sign above the front entrance door – I can tell you this with certainty; the “Spar” supermarkets near to where I live do not stock whisky at two and a half thousand pounds a bottle. After spending some time perusing the vast selection we came away with a superb Bowmore “Darkest” 15-year-old, which according to the box has flavours of “rich raisins and gentle smoke lead the way to a delicious chocolatey centre”. As is common with a number of whiskies now it is sherry cask finished, and more particularly uses Oloroso sherry casks and very good it is too – but can’t taste the chocolatey notes.

We left Bowmore behind and drove back along the A847, past the Bridgend Hotel (again) and along the north shore of Loch Indaal until we reached Bruichladdich again. Bruichladdich was built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers—William (32), John (31) and Robert (23). The Harveys were a dynastic whisky family that had owned two Glasgow distilleries since 1770. Using an inheritance, the three brothers combined their talents to build a third distillery, Bruichladdich, designed by John, engineered by Robert, and financed by William and other family members. At the time, the distillery was a state-of-the-art design unlike Islay’s older distilleries, which had developed from old farm buildings. It was built from stone from the sea shore and has a very efficient layout, built around a large, spacious courtyard. The uniquely tall and narrow-necked stills were chosen to produce a very pure and original spirit, the opposite of the styles produced by the older farm distilleries. Bruichladdich was run by William Harvey, after a quarrel with his brothers before the distillery was even completed, until a fire in 1934 and his death in 1936. Over the next forty years it subsequently changed owners several times as a result of corporate take-overs and rationalisation of the industry, narrowly avoiding closure until 1994, when it was shut down as being ‘surplus to requirements’.

The distillery was subsequently purchased by a group of private investors led by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid on 19 December 2000. Jim McEwan, who had worked at Bowmore Distillery since the age of 15, was hired as master distiller and production director. Between January and May 2001 the whole distillery was dismantled and reassembled, with the original Victorian décor and equipment retained. Having escaped modernisation, most of the original Harvey machinery is still in use today. No computers are used in production with all processes controlled by a pool of skilled artisans who pass on information orally and largely measure progress using dipsticks and simple flotation devices. On 23 July 2012, it was announced that Rémy Cointreau reached an agreement with Bruichladdich to buy the distillery for a sum of £58m.

We went back into the distillery yard with a feeling of deja-vu and parked directly outside the ‘Laddie Shop’. We went in and were confronted with a huge array of whiskies for sale. We didn’t know where to start, so asked for some assistance from one of the the three young ladies who were running the shop. After trying a few drams of different expressions (there’s that word again) Mrs Muddy Boots asked for something a bit different and the way she said it was like asking for something ‘under the counter’. The young lady produced a bottle of Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01, which is a tribute to the exceptional, heavily peated spirit that was created in the village, at Loch Indaal distillery, until its closure in 1929. It doesn’t taste too peaty initially, but has a long finish with the smokiness coming through at the end. We relieved them of a bottle. Whilst we stood in the shop discussing the various drams, we noticed a clear bottle on the shelf behind the counter. It turns out that Bruichladdich now produce Islay’s first gin, called The Botanist and the marketing blurb states that there are 22 ‘botanicals’ in the gin with the majority being foraged on the island. We did have a taste of this too, and took a bottle away for further research.

We left left the distillery at Bruichladdich behind and drove eastwards along the main road heading back towards Bridgend. About a mile east of Bruichladdich we came across a sign pointing to the Kilchoman distillery (pronounced Kil-ho-man) and we took an abrupt left turn and headed a long a single track tarmac road passing through farmland for about 5 miles. this was a bit disconcerting as I was convinced we had missed it due to the type of road. After a period of doubt we came across another sign leading is up a gravel track to a collection of large industrial type buildings along with a traditionally built farm house, so we went up the drive. Kilchoman is known as Islay’s farm distillery and is relatively new. It began production in 2005 and was the first new distillery to be built on the island of Islay in 124 years. The farm also grows its own barley, which is malted at the distillery and Kilchoman is quite unique in that all parts of the process such as growing barley, malting, distilling, maturing and bottling are carried out on the island, whereas a number of the other distillers take their end product out in tankers to bottling plants on the mainland.

20161002-img_2451
Barrels at the Kilchoman distillery

The number of cars in the visitor car park was surprising and the distillery shop was very busy when we entered, with the majority of people being international visitors. For such a young distillery there was quite a selection of products available and we need samples to help us decide what to get. We spoke to one of the staff members who sorted us out with a 3 dram sampling.

20161002-img_2455
From L to R – Kilchoman 100% Islay, Kilchoman Quarter Cask, Kilchoman Sauternes Cask

We considered the various samples and went for the Sauternes Cask release as it is a bit different. Spending more than five years in the casks from Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux, the whisky has takes on the influence associated with Sauternes casks while remaining balanced with maritime peaty smoke and sweet citrus. Only 6,000 bottles have been released at a strength of 50% abv, and it is quite more-ish.

Time was getting on and we left Kilchoman and made our way back to the A846 and headed towards the Islay Woollen Mill which we had learned about earlier on in the day whilst talking to the staff at Lagavulin. When we found it up a rutted track off the A846, tucked away in a valley next to the River Sorn at Redhouses. It is a small craft weaving place and has the appearance of one having travelled back in time a hundred years. Unfortunately it had just closed when we got there, but we did press our noses up against the glass to look at the products on sale in the shop and Mrs Muddy Boots got quite excited – this happens to her with soft furnishings and fabrics. We were disappointed to find it closed and sadly had to drive off ‘Tweedless’. I have since found out that the shop produces the tweed fabric for Huntsman, the well known (and very expensive) Savile Row tailors so I look forward to visiting again in the future.

It seemed a little early in the evening to go back to the hotel so we drove down to Singing Sands beach at Kilnaughton Bay to the west of Port Ellen and went for a stroll along the sands. We parked up on some grass next to the road and got out of the car and there was quite a stiff breeze blowing in off the sea, and a solitary kite surfer was making the most of this by showing his skills in the bay; he was travelling along at a fair lick too.

As we walked along the sands, I kept getting shots of the kite surfer as I had my long lens on, and over the time we walked from one end of the bay and we were making our way back the kitesurfer had also made his way back to shore. As we approached he was packing his stuff away and we ended up talking. He was Willi from Fraserburgh, and come over to try the beaches on Islay. We had seen him (or his car) earlier in the day at Ardbeg distillery, and he said he was just killing time there until the wind had got up to a sufficient speed for him to kitesurf at Laggan Bay. He asked me to forward him any decent shots, and I passed him my card. I did hear from him via Twitter, and sent him the best of the photos which I had taken. From Kilnaughton Bay we called at Laggan Bay as we were passing it on our way back to the hotel. We found it down a very rough and rutted track which was populated by hundreds of pheasants that kept running in front of the car, they were either suicidal or just very stupid. We parked in the dunes at Laggan Bay and walked a short distance to the beach. Along the way we passed a VW camper van that was parked overlooking the bay which was the drive of choice for the three surfer dudes getting changed inside, and judging from the number plate they had come all the way from the Czech republic too. We watched the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean for some minutes before turning around in the encroaching dusk to walk back to the car and head back to the hotel.

20161002-img_2486
The sun setting over Laggan Bay

One thing that I found a little odd whilst driving around Islay was that many motorists gave you a small wave type of hand gesture as you approached them from the opposite direction when driving along the roads. The first few times it happened I thought the drivers had mistaken me for someone else with the same car, but pretty much everywhere we went to, drivers approaching on the opposite side of the road lifted their hand up from the top of the steering wheel in acknowledgement of you. I eventually asked one of the staff at the hotel who was brought up on Islay what was going on and she said it was known as “the Islay wave”, and came about many years ago when very few people on the island had motor vehicles, and those that did would greet other vehicle owners in this manner; very much as classic car owners do when encountering a similar vehicle to their own and this tradition was still carried on. It certainly made me feel like a local.

We reserved our table in the dining room and went up to our room to freshen up. We came back down after a short while and made our way to the bar prior to entering the dining room. I was served by a young chap at the bar, whose accent stood out quite clearly as being Lancastrian. I asked where he was from and he initially said Yorkshire, but then elaborated that despite being born in Yorkshire he had lived most of his life in Lancashire. I asked him to be more specific and he sort of rolled his eyes a bit and then named his street, which is actually 5 minutes from the village where I live! We got talking about some mutual acquaintances and how my village pub had changed since its recent refurbishment. Why does this sort of thing happen? It has happened to me in Crete too. It must be down to six degrees of separation and all that; quite spooky in a way.

We went into the Hotel restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by the menu. We both had starters and a main but declined the pudding due to feeling stuffed from lunch. I had a Cullen Skink starter and Mrs Muddy Boots went for the Langoustines, and both were really well carried out. I cannot remember what we had for mains, although it was delicious and accompanied by plenty of vegetables. We had an enjoyable bottle of red and soon took to our room for an early night after all the dashing around the island that day.

Monday 3rd October – Day Three – Northward Ho!

We were up early this morning as we had to be off for the ferry back to Kennacraig. This sailing went from Port Ellen and departed at 09:45am and we had to check in by 09:15. As we were about 25 minutes away we had to check out by 08:45am. One last shower under the ‘Karcher’ and our bags packed we went and checked out. We settled the bill and rapidly made our way to the CalMac terminal at Port Ellen. There were a number of cars already queuing and we joined them. I got out and had a walk around, not that there was much to see. The ferry wasn’t even to be seen. It gradually appeared on the horizon, and slowly approached taking a bit of a zig-zag type of path to avoid the various small rocky islets and hidden obstacles.

With surprising speed, the ferry quickly moored up, and the vehicles and passengers soon disembarked and we were being signalled to board. We parked the car up on the deck, left it and went up to the passenger lounge. For the majority of the journey we sat at the back of the boat and watched Islay slowly recede from our view. We were sad to be leaving, but excited about the prospect of further adventures. The news had warned about high winds and ferry cancellations, but this didn’t seem to be affecting this particular route, so we dismissed it.

20161003-img_2544
Approaching Kennacraig

On the approach to Kennacraig I stood on the front observation deck and ended up chatting to Giancarlo who had a two day holiday on Islay with his pal from Glasgow. He had come over from Italy on Friday, stayed at his mates place and they had driven up to get the boat on Saturday morning, and he was now making his way back home. Giancarlo worked for Eurostar and had a month off work to use his holidays up, although the two days on Islay would have been had it been me. We were soon pulling into Kennacraig, and the announcement came over the PA system to make our way back to the vehicle deck. We went back to the car, got in and readied ourselves for the 142 mile drive up to Mallaig via Oban. We went up the A83 (the main which runs the length of the Mull of Kintyre) and left it at Lochgilphead, and took the A816 all the way to Oban. As we approached Lochgilphead I received a text message from CalMac ferries notifying us that our ferry from Uig on Skye the following evening had been cancelled due to the high winds experienced today. now, I consider myself a logical problem solver, but this had me beat! How can this happen, and what was I going to do about it? I certainly didn’t want to cancel our stay on the Isle of Harris, so I phoned Calmac. They swapped our cancelled ferry booking to one departing from Ullapool, which would drop us in Stornoway, and then I would then drive down through Lewis to Tarbert on Harris. A long way around, but the problem solved! Apart from this last minute re-jig the journey was uneventful and the roads were good. We arrived in Oban a little after midday, so we parked at the station and made our way around to the CalMac ferry terminal to search out the The Green Shack. Again, like most places on this trip I came across it on Tripadvisor and it has had a number of reviews in the national broadsheets so must be something special.

We arrived and it was packed, with people sat outside tucking into lobsters, mussels, crabs and various other seafood delicacies. The prices were ridiculously cheap – 95 pence for an oyster. We went for a selection of sandwiches; a smoked salmon, a crab and a prawn sandwich and all were as thick as your arm with contents (the smoked salmon was best). We found standing room at one of the wooden tables and waited whilst half a dozen oysters were quickly delivered on an aluminium tray with ice and lemon. These didn’t last long and were sweet and creamy, and then two lots of mussels in wine and garlic were delivered, hot and fresh as you like in a polystyrene clam shell burger box. This steaming pile of bivalves were soon reduced to a cold heap of empty shells. This place is superb, if you visit Oban go here, then to the distillery.

We saved the sandwiches for later in the day, and left the Green Shack behind and walked past the harbour up to the Oban distillery on Stafford Street. The distillery was built in 1794 by the brothers John and Hugh Stevenson and operated by them until 1866, when it was bought by Peter Curnstie. It was then acquired by Walter Higgin in 1883 and rebuilt. In 1898, Alexander Edward, who also owned Aultmore Distillery, bought out Higgin. In its first year of operation, it suffered major losses when a major blending company, Pattison’s of Leith, went under. In 1923, Oban was sold to Dewars and joined Distillers Company in 1925. It fell silent from 1931 until 1937 and again from 1969 to 1972 when a new still house was built. In 1989 a new visitors’ centre was installed.

20161003-img_2562

We have visited here previously, although it must be around twenty years ago but I don’t think much had changed with the process and we needed to press on towards Mallaig, so it was just a quick nip into the shop and grab a bottle. We picked up a bottle of Oban “Little Bay” and was ably assisted by a young American guy who had obviously been on the tour and was listening intently to our indecision – thank you sir! Great choice you helped us with. Oban Little Bay is “married in the smallest casks available at the distillery, 200-litre ex-bourbon barrels. This has resulted in a rich whisky with notes of stone fruit, spice and honey” – so there you are! We went to pay and the chap on the till asked if we had been on the tour, we said we hadn’t, but said we were to honest to lie about the tour to get the £5 discount – this must have impressed him, so he have us the discount anyway; stout fellow!

We made our way back to the station car park and stowed the bottle in the boot with the ever expanding collection, jumped back in and fired up the engine and continued our way up to Mallaig. We drove up the coast road heading for Ballachulish and then Fort William, past Glenfinnan viaduct and along the A830 into Mallaig.

We made good progress for the 86 miles, and pulled up at the CalMac ferry terminal on the harbour at Mallaig. As we drove in there were a number of cars waiting for the 18:10 departure to Armadale. As we slowly approached there were two CalMac staff members milling around and they stopped us, checked our names and tickets and said that due to the high winds the ferry may not sail this evening. This put quite a damper on our progress as we just had to sit and see what the captain wanted to do when he docked.

We parked up in the queue of cars, stopped the motor and got out for a wander around Mallaig as we had some time to kill. It was a larger town than I had expected, although this wasn’t my first time here I didn’t really recollect much of it from my previous visit. The fish and chip shop was open and doing a roaring trade, and the Co-Op supermarket was bustling too. After seeing the sights, we made our way back to the harbour and watched the ferry chugging across the Sound of Sleat and lazily making its way back to port. It pulled in, moored up and the traffic and passengers disembarked. We were extremely pleased to see that the crew started loading the waiting traffic, and thus avoiding a 113 mile, and two and a half hour drive to the Skye Bridge. I’m sure there was nothing at all to be worried about and this was just how the CalMac staff like to amuse themselves on a slow day.

The ferry soon pulled out of the harbour and chugged its way across the very choppy waters to Armadale on the southern tip of Skye. This was a different type of car ferry from the larger boats we had been on and was tossing about a fair bit on the water. I can see why they gave a warning about it not possibly sailing. No sooner had I wandered about and then got a seat in the passenger lounge and made myself comfortable we were pulling into Armadale and had to make our way back to the car. We climbed in, started the engine and got ready again for the Le Mans type start and the mad dash up the A851 heading towards Broadford. We were soon back on dry land, and rapidly making our way up the A87 through Skye in the vanishing light. We could make out some of the impressive looking hills as we drove around the head of Loch Ainort, but in the disappearing light we couldn’t make out too much, and I was trying to keep an eye on the road. We passed the Sligachan Hotel, and continued north through Glen Varragill and were were soon dropping down into Portree. We drove through the town and followed the SatNav directions to The Cuillin Hills Hotel.

We found this tucked away in its own grounds to the north of Portree Bay. It was a grand place, and was certainly an upmarket type of establishment. We checked in and the lady on the reception desk was very helpful in establishing times etc, for our revised journey to catch the ferry in Ullapool. We made our way to our room, which was very large and well furnished, and so hot you could prove bread in it. We opened the windows, freshened up and went out into Portree to sample the nightlife…well, more accurately have a couple of beers and get somewhere to eat.

20161004-img_2600
The Cuillin Hills Hotel in the morning light

We wandered around Portree with our noses pressed to the glass of several swanky looking eateries, and whilst they had tempting menus, none of them seemed to hit the spot. We went for a drink first to The Merchant bar on Bosville Terrace and took a seat facing the bar. There were a few people in the bar, but it wasn’t crowded by any means and I ordered a couple of pints of Skye Ales lager and a bitter. There was a gut stood at the bar who had a large plastic bag with some flat pack type book shelves in it. It transpired that he had nipped out to collect the shelves from a local shop earlier in the day and had decided to call in for ‘a quick one’ on his way back home. The way he was swaying and staggering suggested that the quick one, had morphed into a long several. We sipped at our drinks whilst making a decision on where to eat – the restaurant adjacent the Merchant Bar looked quite inviting, with a decent menu too. After much discussion we drained our glasses and went back downhill to see what would take our fancy, and as we walked from Wentworth Street, uphill towards Bosville Terrace we took on the stance of the Bisto Kids as we smelled a curry house. We eventually found the Taste of India on the first floor of a row of shops. To date we had been fine dining and also on a seafood odyssey, so the thought of a curry was an excellent change. It must have been the beer that got our taste buds wanting for something spicy. The entrance to India Spice was in the centre of the building, with a staircase leading to the first-floor restaurant. As we walked up the stairs our sense were assaulted with the familiar scents of the spices used in the food. It was mouth-watering. As we entered the restaurant the Maitre’d showed us to a table for two next to the window. The menu was a combination of the standard ‘Indian’ food such as Rogan Josh, Dupiaza etc, despite all the staff being Bangladeshi, and in addition there were several Chef Specials which I had never seen before, and were apparently authentic Bangladeshi cuisine. We went for the usual poppadoms, mains, naan bread and several cold beers. We finished our meals and handed back clean plates, and left reasonably impressed by the food we had just had. We made our way back to the Cuillin Hills Hotel, waddled upstairs to our room and went to bed.

Tuesday 4th October – Day Four – The Skyes the limit?

I woke quite early in the morning, glanced out of the window and the sky looked promising, so, again, I decided to get out with my camera before sunrise. I had tried the previous evening but everything was just wrong about the scene; the lighting was too harsh, the composition etc, etc. There was a glorious sunrise, and I went out down to Portree Harbour to see if I could get anything useful.

I stood outside the hotel, on the lawn in the growing light and looked towards the Cuillins which were wonderfully framed on the horizon. I was initially doubtful about the hotel name, and said the Mrs Muddy Boots that they were a tad ambitious and the name was possibly the result of a marketing focus group, and there would be Cuillin this, Cuillin that and Cuillin t’other on Skye – I was wrong about the hotel name, and could not be more pleased that I was. I drove down to the harbour, parked the car and proceeded to get various shots in and around the harbour. I was surprised to see a large group of Japanese tourists stood on the corner of the harbour with cameras and furiously clicking away in the direction of the sunrise. One enterprising chap had got a hold of a pair of step ladders and was using them as a makeshift tripod. This group slowly dispersed and I wandered around looking for good view points and decent compositions. I ended up at the end of the small pier next to the jetty for the lifeboat. A group of three lads came walking down the harbour and we ended up chatting. They were on a motorbike tour of Skye and had come from West Yorkshire and were just mooching around until they could get breakfast at their hotel. I  knew that feeling so I made my way back as I didn’t want to miss my breakfast.

We went down to the dining room and had a wonderful repast over looking Portree Harbour and the majestically distant Cuillin mountains. We loaded the car with our bags and went and checked out, looking forward to the delights of Skye and anticipating our lunch at the Three Chimneys at Colbost.

20161004-img_2638

The Cuillins from Sligachan

Our first port of call this morning was to the Talisker distillery at Carbost and overlooking Loch Harport. It was an easy drive to get their, leave Portree on the main road south, get to the Sligachan Hotel and turn right along Glen Drynoch.

After a short distance take a left turn down a steep hill on a single track road and follow this until you get to the distillery itself. As we arrived the car park had a scattering of vehicles, so we got out and headed towards the shop, just before going in I wanted to grab a shot of the outside of the distillery and made the mistake of hanging around for too long next to a coachload of foreign visitors. By the time I had got my photos, the crowd from the coach had a head start on me and the scene inside the shop and visitor centre was chaotic and added a considerable delay to our wee dram sample and purchase routine.

The distillery was founded in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, and built in 1831 at Carbost after a number of false starts on other sites when they acquired the lease of Talisker House from the MacLeod of MacLeod. The distillery was rebuilt 1880–87 and extended in 1900. When a new lease for the distillery was negotiated with the chief of Clan MacLeod in 1892 the annual payment was to be £23.12s and a ten-gallon cask of best-quality Talisker. It was rebuilt in 1960 after a stillhouse fire completely destroyed the distillery. The distillery operates five stills; two wash stills and three spirit stills. All the stills use worm tubs (condensing coils) rather than a modern condenser, which are believed to give the whisky a “fuller” flavour (itself an indication of higher sugar content). During this early period, the whisky was produced using a triple distilling method, but changed to the more conventional double distilling in 1928. Talisker was acquired by Distillers Company in 1925 and is now part of Diageo. After the 1960 fire, five exact replicas of the original stills were constructed to preserve the original Talisker flavour. In 1972 the stills were converted to steam heating and the maltings floor was demolished.

Talisker’s water comes from springs directly above the distillery via a network of pipes and wells. The malted barley used in production comes from Muir of Ord. Talisker has an unusual feature—swan neck lye pipes. A loop in the pipes takes the vapour from the stills to the worm tubs so some of the alcohol already condenses before it reaches the cooler. It then runs back in to the stills and is distilled again. Talisker now has an annual output of three and a half million litres of spirit and was the favourite whisky of writers Robert Louis Stevenson and HV Morton. In his poem “The Scotsman’s Return From Abroad”, Stevenson mentioned “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”

I managed to corral one of the staff into offering a couple of drams as a taster, we both went for the same sample which is as 2001 vintage of Talisker’s Distillers Edition, which is double matured, with the finish taking place in Amoroso casks, similar in style to sweet oloroso sherry. This adds sweetness and extra fruitiness to the smoke, and I can safely say that there is a lingering sweetness on the palate well after the initial smokiness has dissipated. It is a great easy drinking dram.

After leaving Talisker, we stowed our bottle in the boot of the car with all the others, and then proceeded to drive up to Colbost, a distance of 24 miles, for our lunch date at the Three Chimneys. We got there sooner than anticipated. Colbost is on the north west tip of Skye and on the road to nowhere and the Atlantic. It is approached down a single track tarmac road with many passing places, and it is not the sort of place you can get to in a hurry. It was fortunate we got there early as we had a 140 mile drive from here to get to our redirected ferry from Ullapool. Needless to say, the lunch was excellent, I’m not going to even try to describe it here as others have done so many times previously on Tripadvisor and in the National broadsheets. What I will say is that I have never been to a restaurant before where they serve different butters to accompany different breads. I felt I was clock watching all the time as I knew we had to be away for 1:30pm to get to Ullapool for the check in time.

We had three courses each and I finished with a wonderful chocolate pudding whilst Mrs Muddy Boots had a selection of cheeses – she doesn’t do sweet stuff. We paid the bill and it came to £135 for the two of us, including a good bottle of wine and a couple of bottles of mineral water which wasn’t too bad at all considering the reputation of the place. I did read after I had booked it that it was listed in the top 50 world restaurants. We paid the bill and reluctantly, but speedily, left the restaurant behind, and instead of slowly meandering up to Uig we were on a race meeting to Ullapool – thanks CalMac, you’re just great!

We quickly made our way down the Isle of Skye, over the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh, up the A890 along Glen Carron, the picking up the A832 through Wester Ross. The stretch through Glen Carron was spectacular. There were some great straight parts along this high level and isolated road and we did make up a lot of time. I did keep an eye on the ETA of the Sat Nav and the time started to tumble as we progressed. We then jumped on the A835 which climbed all the way up to Loch Glascarnoch with its impressive looking dam at one end above the Aultguish Inn, and we continued  to rapidly follow a Land Rover Discovery alongside Loch Broom whose driver clearly knew the road. We ended up in a convoy of traffic headed by a large truck who could maintain a fair turn of speed too, and all of us pulled into the ferry terminal at Ullapool with five minutes to spare and to rest a while to let the adrenalin rush subside. On getting in the car at the restaurant I hadn’t really expected to make it here, but we had. The boat was already docked, and a long line of cars and trucks were waiting silently to board.

We had been handed our boarding passes as we screeched to halt on the car park, and we now clung onto these ready to drive onto the boat. We hadn’t been parked for very before the the vehicles started to fire up their engines and make their way across Shore Street and onto the loading ramp. We were soon on board and parked up. We climbed out of the car, locked it and went up to the passenger lounge.

20161004-img_2720
Ullapool on Loch Broom

The boat pulled away from the jetty and made its way along Loch Broom and headed in a north westerly direction towards the Outer Hebrides. The mainland gradually disappeared and we headed towards the Isle of Lewis and watched a wonderful sunset behind the island.

20161004-img_2737
Leaving the mainland behind

The crossing was uneventful, and the sea was flat all the way across. Gradually the looming darkness was replaced by the twinkling lights that ran along the houses and shops on the shoreline of Lewis. When we pulled into Stornoway it was dark, although the port was well lit.

20161004-img_2751
The Port at Stornoway

The PA system asked us to return to our cars, and we were soon making our way up the metal ramp to get back onto dry land. The exit strategy for leaving the port seemed to be based on the 70’s childrens cartoon Wacky Races. Cars were zooming down various side streets in the centre of Stornoway, around roundabouts, through traffic lights and all seem to converge in a long line on the A859 travelling south. The convoy of vehicles we were in were making very good progress, and must have been lead by someone familiar with the road; most likely a local chap. I was pleased to be following, albeit at a small distance, a car in front and I could use his tail lights (and the SatNav display) to show any curves in the road. Every now and again when we hit a straight piece of road, a local driver would thrash past in the dark. I was doing around 70mph, and these guys were really blasting past – there were no street lights, and it was pitch black. I decided not to even try and keep up; we were headed south to Tarbert on Harris and I wanted to make sure we got there in one piece. The roads were well maintained and had a number of sweeping bends around rocky headlands or lochs. It took about 50 minutes to drive from Stornoway to Lewis, and as it was all in darkness I couldn’t say much about it.

We pulled into the car park of the Harris Hotel at just before nine o’clock. We went and checked in at reception, and then went straight to the bar and dining room. We had telephoned ahead to let the hotel know about our change in ferries, and they said they would keep the kitchen open so we could get some hot food. We got ourselves a couple of beers to drink whilst we perused the menu. We were more concerned about keeping the kitchen staff hanging around, so we went for something quick. We both had Cullen Skink, followed by the Aberdeen Angus Burger and fries. The food was good and plentiful, and beer cold and refreshing. It had been a long day, so we had a whisky nightcap and Mrs Muddy Boots went back to our room whilst I brought all our cases in and lugged them upstairs so she could have something clean to wear the next morning. I’m not that fussy; I change my socks once a week whether they need it or not! We fell asleep to the sound of a small stream trickling past our window. During the night I awoke and looked out of the window to see a huge blanket of stars covering the clear sky. It did cross my mind to get in the car, (well, to get dressed first) and drive up to Callanish Stone Circle on Lewis and get some night photos, but the lure of a soft bed dragged me back. What a Slacker!

Wednesday 5th October – Day Five – Tweed wearing, gin swillers, what-ho?

We went down to breakfast in the rather grand formal dining room, and found ourselves crammed into a small off shoot at the rear with several other guests who were all whispering to avoid each other’s morning conversations being overheard. It was like the management were trying to hide us all out of sight in case we frightened new visitors. I chose the full Scottish breakfast, which is very much like a full English but with the addition of some haggis and usually an oatcake so hard you could nail it to the sole of your boot for a temporary repair. Mrs Muddy Boots went for the smoked fish with poached egg; she had the eggs but left the fish and she said it was slimy. I tried it, and it seemed fine and very smoky – but then I have never been a fussy eater. We discussed what we would do today, and decided that we should get ready and check out. After checking out we drove the very short distance to the first delight of the day, and the primary reason for coming up here. The Harris Tweed shop – on Harris! A shrine to the art of the weaving crofters.

20161005-img_2760
The High Altar of Harris Tweed!

We parked outside the Harris Tweed shop near the ferry in the centre of Tarbert. There are two buildings here, one is a large converted house and the other is a more modern type of ‘shed’ structure. We went into the house first, and it turned out that we had wandered into the Warehouse for the rolls of Harris Tweed.

Thre was a distinct ‘woollen fabric’ smell to the rooms. The rolls of cloth and the variety of colours available was huge. There was a young guy working in the shop called Brendan, who discussed the protection that Harris Tweed is given and the strict rules governing its weaving. For the uninitiated, The Harris Tweed Authority is the legally appointed governing body responsible for upholding the integrity of Harris Tweed in accordance with the Harris Tweed Act of 1993. They are involved in instigating litigation, issuing of the Orb Stamp trademark (see photo above), inspection of mills and weavers sheds, promotion of the industry and safeguarding Harris Tweed on the behalf of the islanders of the Outer Hebrides.

We had a good look around but Mrs Muddy Boots didn’t take up my offer of buying 5 yards of cloth and getting my tailor to make a jacket up for her. We thanked Brendan for his time and crossed the street to the other shop. The other shop sells all manner of Harris Tweed products, from hats, coats and gloves to bags, scarves and slippers. In addition to the Harris Tweed, there were other Hebridean related goods. Mrs MB came away with a very nice pair of gloves, along with assorted gifts for relatives. We stowed these in the back of the car and then walked down to the Harris Distillery.

The distillery is almost brand new. It opened in 2015, and is unable to sell it’s whisky until 2018, that year being the age its cask reach the minimum three year period for a spirit to be legally recognised as whisky. In order to provide cash flow, the distillery is producing its own gin, and joins the growing ranks of artisan gin now available in Britain. We wandered around the very new, and very modern looking shop/visitor centre which was also a testament to the modern miracles of interior design and good marketing. We ended up chatting to the South African lady who was operating the shop and she said they had a small problem with the gin. They estimated selling 20,000 bottles to give enough cash to keep the distillery going in it’s first year, however they had now sold 60,000 and couldn’t get the distinctive glass bottles produced quickly enough to keep up with demand. Some problem eh?, at £30 a bottle – as our American friends say “You do the math”

20161005-img_2761
Isle of Harris Gin

We came away with a couple of bottles to try, and they joined the rest of the stock in the boot of the car. Our next stop was south and over the hill that sits adjacent to Tarbert. We headed south on the A859 towards Seilebost. About a mile before Seilebost we took a right turn at a bus shelter to take the single track tarmac road to Luskentyre. We headed along here until we got to the end of the road, and parked the car next to a small block of public toilets. We got out of the car, and went through the small metal gate leading to the beach. After a short 5 minute walk through some small sand dunes we had got to the majestic Luskentyre beach. Now think of a tropical beach in the Caribbean, but without palm trees and with a sea temperature a notch above freezing, then that is Luskentyre. It is a beautiful place, and we got the right weather for it too, although I would wager it takes on a different hue with slate grey skies, hurricane winds and horizontal rain.

20161005-img_2812
Waves breaking at Luskentyre beach

We walked along the beach for a while and took in the remote beauty of it. There were a number of people there to prove its popularity. We walked back the way we came and as we passed back through the dunes we were met with a retired lady who had a rolled up beach towel under her arm. “Going for a dip?” I enquired, and she replied with a “Sure am! I’m here so I may as well” which is an attitude I quite like; don’t stand on ceremony, just bloody well do it.

We knocked the sand off our boots and climbed back into the car, and set off back on the road to Tarbert. Along the way we passed a sign for Harris Tweed & Knitwear and this being in Mrs MB’s range of interests, we took a right turn and drove down to Grosebay. We parked up and entered the small shop, and had a look around. Mrs MB seemed to entertain herself by picking up pristine garments from shelves, unfolding them, scrunching a sleeve up, letting it go, saying “Hmmmmmm” sotto-voce and then placing it, in disarray, back on the shelf it came from. She certainly knows how to create work for shop assistants. It seems that this method is favoured by many women when shopping for clothes.

We didn’t purchase anything from this place despite unravelling their well manicured displays, although I did feel quite embarrassed about that and felt that we ought to in lieu of the general dishevelment that Mrs MB had left the shop in.

We turned the car around, made our way back to Tarbert and crossed up onto Lewis and headed towards Callanish to visit the famous standing stones. Lewis and Harris are actually one island. There is a boundary between the two, but no border guards patrolling as I could see. We continued north on the main road to Stornoway, and then took a left turn and picked up the A858 toward Callanish. This road was excellent and had some real long straights in it, which were great for overtaking slower traffic such as trucks and tractors. We soon arrived at the car park to the visitor centre for the standing stones. We walked up through a small wooden gate in a gap in the drystone wall and the stones were there. We had a wander and I tried taking some photos, but every angle had someone in shot so I just gave up. I should have gone very early in the morning when the thought crossed my mind about the clear sky when back at the hotel. We retired back to the cafe on the visitor centre, and ordered fish and chips and decided to sit outside in the warm sunshine and eat. There was a small wooden hatch in the wall of the cafe, and the food was dispensed from here, although we did have to walk all the way around the building in the first place to get to these tables. We ate our lunch overlooking Loch Rog looking to the south west of the visitor centre. After clearing our plates we decided we should head back down to Tarbert to get the ferry back over The Little Minch to Uig on Skye.

We arrived back at the ferry terminal at Tarbert and awaited the boat. We were quite early despite a large number of other cars waiting. We locked the vehicle and walked back to the distillery, and entered the ‘canteen’ and ordered a couple of gin and tonics prior to our boat ride. They were served with pink grapefruit and a local tonic water – and very good they were too.

20161005-wp_20161005_15_38_44_pro

Isle of Harris gin with Walt Gregor’s tonic water. The small bottle is Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water to add to the gin.

We were by now used to the ferry routine, but it still hadn’t lost its spell of making you think you were ‘really’ going somewhere. The boat was soon loaded, and did an about turn to head across the Little Minch towards Uig on Skye. I sat out on the observation deck, taking in the late afternoon sunshine, and finding the sea breeze very refreshing. After a couple of hours we approached Uig, and its setting on Skye looked very impressive in the setting sun. We entered Uig Bay and the boat moored up at the vehicle jetty. We exited with the usual squeal of tyres and clouds of exhaust smoke. As we drove out of Uig, we rounded the head of Uig Bay and the road climbed high up above the town and gave an amazing, wide clear view of the bay. In fact, a coach load of people had pulled over in front of us and they were all getting out and clicking their cameras to record the scene.

20161005-img_2948
Uig and Uig Bay from South Cuil

We quickly made our way south, back across the island and headed towards Sconser, which was south of Sligachan. We drove straight past the entrance for Sconser Lodge and had undertake a U-turn a mile or so up the road and come back down the hill. We turned right off the main road and approached the hotel down the gravel driveway to a grand neo-Gothic late Victorian Shooting Lodge built by the MacDonalds, overlooking Loch Sligachan. The sun was setting as we arrived. We entered the Hotel and was greeted warmly by Norrie, the receptionist, waiter, Maitre’d and everything else that a hotel needs. Norrie is an ex-semi pro footballer, with a keen wit and an engaging charm. We checked in and I went back out to the car  and brought our bags up to our room. We had booked a table for dinner at Sconser Lodge, and after freshening up went down to the dining room.

We were greeted again by Norrie, and shown to our table. The dining room was very subtly lit with electric lights and there were candles on every table. There was gentle Celtic styled background music playing and the quite clink of glasses and cutlery with low murmurs of conversation. The menu was simple and good. The chef is Craig, who is the owner of this gem of a place. We had a nice bottle of red, a Rioja I think, to go with the steak we ordered. The steak was cooked exactly to my liking, and was accompanied by a simple green salad and hand cut chips. It was delicious! I finished with a chocolate pudding, and Mrs MB finished with a separate spoon so she could help herself to my pudding. We finished the last of the wine and Mrs MB decided she wanted to go up to bed and watch TV for a while. I had other plans; I grabbed my camera and tripod and went outside to see if I could get any decent shots of the sky or the hotel.

20161006-wp_20161006_08_00_42_pro

The view from the window of our bedroom at Sconser Lodge

The sky was absolutely clear and a myriad of flickering pinpricks of light were shining in the blackness above me. I gingerly walked down the concrete pier facing the hotel to try and get some shots of the front of the building, with the sky twinkling above. Unfortunately, there were external spotlights on and these over exposed the shots I tried. As I was stood in the darkness looking at the hotel front, I noticed two people leave the front of the hotel and set up a tripod on the small lawn adjacent to the pier. Obviously other hotel guests. After a couple of minutes they had moved away from the front and had disappeared. I decided that I would get into the car and drive to Sligachan Bridge to see if there was anything worth doing there. I got into the car, reversed out of the parking space and headed back up the gravel driveway. As I approached the gateposts two people were illuminated in the headlights, so I wound the window down and asked if they wanted to jump in and come up to Sligachan Bridge to do some night-time photography. The two people were Travis and Shannon, from Washington State and they were on a road trip of Scotland. Shannon was the photographer and Travis was relegated to photographers assistant, which usually meant carrying her kit around, especially the sticks (tripod) – in fact he became known as ‘stick boy’. We drove up to Sligachan, parked on the small car park before the bridge and made our way out to the old bridge. The sky was incredibly clear, and the Milky Way was clearly visible.

20161005-img_2971
Milky Way above the Cuillin Mountains

Shannon had the foresight to bring a head torch whilst Travis and myself stumbled around in the dark slipping on wet rocks and standing in muddy pools. We tried various vantage points and various angles to take some longer exposure images, but it is difficult to really see what you have captured on the small LCD screen on a DSLR. You need to wait until you get back to a PC to appreciate what you have got, or in my case what I didn’t get.

At around 11pm we made our way back to Sconser. We parked the car and the hotel was in complete darkness. I got my key out, and to my surprise there was only the room key on the metal ring and no front door key. Travis came to rescue as he said there were two keys on his key ring, so he tried the door and the keys didn’t fit. We were in trouble! I didn’t really feel like sleeping in the car, and there was hardly any room due to the whisky onboard. Fortunately, Mrs MB had left our room windows open so I managed to get her attention and she came down to the front of the hotel and opened the doors to let us in. A close call indeed!

Thursday 6th October – Day Six – The Long Drive Back

We came down for breakfast early and had a wonderful seat by the window and watched the sunrise over the Loch and the ferry and various fast moving RIB’s shuttling to and fro on the water. After finishing a hearty breakfast and we were going back up to our room to pack, Travis and Shannon came down. We exchanged cards and said our goodbyes and we went to check out.

After loading the car up we made our way down to Glen Brittle to take a walk to the Fairy Pools. These are a series of waterfalls, and turquoise/azure pools in the river Allt Coir’ a’ Tairneilear which runs down from the peak of Bruach na Frithe, Sgurr na Bhairnich and Sgurr an Fheadain which form the main peaks of the Cuillins. We headed along the road towards the Talisker distillery, and turned left some distance before. We continued along this narrow tarmac road until we reached a car park on our right. The car park was very busy, but we managed to find a space.  Opposite the car park was a path leading to the falls and looking down the path one could see a long line of visitors. As we were here we went for a look. It was absolutely packed with visitors and difficult to get a ‘clean’ shot. I did try from various angles, but the sun was directly in front of the lens and was over exposing the image so you couldn’t make any details out. After twenty minutes or so of trying different locations i decided that I was wasting my time, and I don’t think my heart was really in it due to the numbers of people present. We started making our way back along the mile and half long path to the car park when I noticed two familiar looking figures walking towards me – it was Shannon and Stick Boy. At breakfast they did say they would be visiting the Fairy Pools, but I didn’t expect to bump into them. We had a brief chat about the conditions and parted again. When we got back to the car park it was less busy than when we arrived, so I made a note to myself that on my next visit I should come at dusk and hopefully it would be quiet.

We got back in the car, pressed ‘Home’ on the Sat Nav and set off back across Skye and headed towards the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge. We stopped in Portree to fill the car up with fuel, and had to queue for 20 minutes which I found unusual, then after I had paid the exit from the petrol station was then blocked by a large truck filling with diesel at the high capacity pump next to the road. Chaos ensued!

The roads on Skye are great and we made rapid progress south towards Kyleakin. We crossed the impressive single span concrete bridge and expected to head towards Fort William, our Satnav though had a different plan. The SatNav has the facility to get updated traffic information and will automatically re-route if there is a time saving due to traffic accidents or roadworks. We got as far as Spean Bridge and the device then took us up the A86 alongside Loch Laggan, and was headed for the A9 southbound. Fortunately it took us past the Dalwhinnie distillery, which was not on our planned itinerary, so we just had to call in (and this would make up for missing the Ben Nevis distillery at Fort William)

20161006-img_3040
Can you guess where we are?
20161006-img_3045
The condensing ‘worms’ at Dalwhinnie

We entered the shop and visitor centre and it was packed solid. It would seem that we arrived just after a couple of coaches. We didn’t have time to ponder or even have a wee dram to test, so we just grabbed a bottle of Winters Gold, paid and departed. Apparently, it’s made only with spirit that has been distilled between October and March, and interestingly enough, they suggest that you try serving this expression frozen! It is “An assertive, spicy, honeyed Dalwhinnie with enough sweetness and character to be served straight from the freezer (as intended).” It is a bit more-ish though.

We got back into the car, and picked up the A9 which is a ‘proper’ main arterial road passing up the east coast of Scotland. Again, we were making good steady progress until just before Blair Atholl we hit a large retail outlet called “The House of Bruar”. I know the name from the many parcels that I have taken to the Post Office in order for Mrs MB to return her internet shopping. In fact I think the Royal Mail would cease trading if she stopped returning items bought late at night after a glass or two of wine. We pulled into the large car park and got out, I was dragged into the Women’s Countrywear department and made a series of low grunts as I was expected to voice enthusiastic opinions on different coats, jackets and hats which she tried on. What I have now started to do is to take her into the power tools section of DIY stores and ask her opinions on cordless drills, saws and screwdrivers. She always replies with a “How am I am supposed to know which is best?” to which I reply “Just wanted your opinion as I am supposed to know about handbags and shoes”. After grabbing some food and reeling with shock after parting with 200 quid for some woollen tartan blankets, we got back into the car. We then set off back down the A9/M9, past Stirling and Cumbernauld and picked up the M74 outside of Glasgow. We then continued south for a few hours until we got home late in the evening. It was approximately 450 miles from Glen Brittle to Home.

20161006-wp_20161006_22_35_15_pro
The total haul from the trip.

I did miss out on quite a few things to see on Skye, however I will be back up there quite soon. Although it is a long drive, it isn’t difficult to get to and a bit more pre-planning would help with the natural wonders that are awaiting for the revisit.

This has been quite a lengthy blog post compared to the usual stuff, so I’ll sign off now and get back to the normal stuff as soon as possible.

Cheers,

MB.

 

 

Three Shires Stone to Pike O’Blisco

The walk noted below was a real nice change for me, as it had been devised by my pal Steve (@LakesRamblings on Twitter)  and for a change I wasn’t poring over maps, trying to find somewhere with a bit of interest which I had never visited before, but I know he has a fair selection of Lake District books and guides in his study, and suspect he consulted a Wainwright or a Poucher before settling on this course. I drove up there, so not too much of a change then.

Steve has a penchant for the Lake District, and a couple of years ago very nearly moved to Borrowdale, which would have been both a great bonus and a minor irritant. He is one of my oldest friends, is very well read; up to date on current world issues and offers the salvation of intelligent and thoughtful conversation so his moving up to Borrowdale would have deprived me of some eloquent discussion, however, if he had moved it would have provided somewhere to stay up in the Lakes. Every silver lining has a cloud.

Distance – 2.7 miles

Ascent – 1,111 ft

Estimated Time – 3hr 15 mins

Memory-Map-OS-5.mmn
OS Route Map
3d-map-view
3D OS Route Map
route-profile
Route Elevation Profile

The chosen route was starting at The Three Shires Stone on Wrynose Pass, as this had an 800ft advantage over starting from Oxendale in Great Langdale. As we arrived there was plenty of roadside parking available for us, and I reversed into a nice spot parallel to a Land Rover Freelander. We climbed out of the car and proceeded to change our footwear. We hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs and then set off in a northerly direction.

20160625-img_0386
The Three Shires Stone on Wrynose Pass

The routes to the summit of Pike of Blisco are limited if you want to stick to the OS public footpath ways, and so we headed ‘off piste’ over Low Teighton How and towards Green Crag and then on toward Black Crag.

The view down to Little Langdale  from Green Crag was wonderful and a dappled sunny day was manifesting itself in the valley below us.

20160625-img_0286
Looking down to Little Langdale
20160625-img_0274
A natural infinity pool above Little Langdale

The going was hard as there was no path at all, and we started to follow sheep tracks which headed in the general direction of the summit to make the walking a bit easier. The ground was quite boggy in places so we tried to stay quite close to the various rocky outcrops which littered this high place and there were many tussocks of rough grass. We climbed up and over Green Crag and made a meandering path toward Black Crag whilst taking in the wide and expansive views all around us.

20160625-img_0291
Curious Sheep

I didn’t know it, but the reason behind Steve heading towards Black Crag was so he could see ‘The Needle’. This is noted in Wainwrights’ fourth Pictorial Guide book about the Southern Fells, and he had obviously researched this prior to choosing this route as it is a bit off the beaten track. It is like a miniature Napes Needle on the flanks of Great Gable.

Wainwright notes that he could find no reference to this being climbed when he wrote the pictorial guide in 1960. How things have moved on! Here is a recent clip of it being conquered.

20160625-img_0303
The Needle, Black Crag, Wrynose

After spending some time mooching around The Needle, we pressed onward, and upwards. The route was quite steady from here, and there was an obvious path to be taken, well at least more obvious than the sheep tracks which litter the place. As we approached the summit of Pike o’ Blisco, the ground surrounding the top was a maze of rocky outcrops and a circuitous route was taken to actually get to the summit cairn itself.

20160625-img_0328
Summit cairn of Pike o’ Blisco, looking South East

The summit had a number of grassy areas on which to sit and to take in the view. It wasn’t busy like Scafell, but there were three or four others up there taking in the views and munching on their lunch.

Steve and myself sat on the northern slope overlooking Great Langdale, whilst we consumed the sandwiches he had very kindly provided. The views were very extensive and uninterrupted except for the view up to the North West. This was looking towards Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and beyond to the Scafell range. The clag was down, and it was all shrouded in mist. In fact it looked as through it was a magnet for holding the cloud and mist and thus allowing the rest of the lakes to have clear views. As we sat having our lunch, lone wisps of clouds passed by in front of us which were floating over from Crinkle Crags, and larger amounts of mist tried grasping out towards us, but never enveloping the summit enough to cause concern.

Whilst we were lingering on the summit a rag-tag group of walkers appeared in shorts, trainers and vest type tops and T-shirts. It was a group of young lads, around the very early twenties age group who were over from Newcastle. The Geordie reputation for wearing only a T-shirt in all weathers was ably demonstrated here, as everybody else on the summit had a fleece and shell jacket on – well, I had just just a fleece (..and trousers of course!) but it wasn’t warm enough for just a T-shirt. I got chatting and asked them where they were off, and they pointed over to Pavey Ark and Stickle Tarn. They asked how long it would take, and I estimated about 6 hours. They were going to go along Crinkle Crags, along over Bowfell and Rossett Pike to cross over Stake Pass and thus over to Pavey Ark. I asked them where their map was and they confirmed they didn’t have one, nor a compass. They then set off heading for the the thick clouds shrouding Crinkle Crags – Mon Dieu! No wonder we need Mountain Rescue Teams.

20160625-img_0352
The view down Great Langdale from Pike o’Blisco summit

We finished our sandwiches and made our way down. The route Steve had chosen took the path almost directly down to Red Tarn. The temperature had risen considerably now were were off the tops, and we took the opportunity to remove boots and socks and dangle our feet into the cooling waters of the Tarn. I half expected my feet to hiss as they touched the glittering water. It was wonderful to lie back on the soft grass and have the Tarn soothe and cool me plates of meat, whilst I closed my eyes. I could have stayed there for a couple of hours and dozed in the warm sunshine.

20160625-img_0340
Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and the band from Pike o’ Blisco summit

 

20160625-img_0360
No Muddy Boots here, but wet feet in Red Tarn

After drying my feet and pulling on my socks and boots, we were off again along a well made path leading below Long Scar and heading the direction of Wrynose Pass. We made rapid progress along here and made a steady descent back down to the Three Shire Stone at Wrynose. We passed it by, and went back to the car where we gratefully took off our rucksacks and boots, put them in the back of the car, changed our footwear and set off to Ambleside in search of that Alfred Wainwright favourite, fish and chips.

Post Script

Whilst sat in a back street fish and chip shop in Ambleside we heard a number of familiar voices. It was the group of Geordie lads I was talking to on the summit of Pike o’ Blisco – the MRT had not been called out for them afterall. They had gone along Crinkle Crags by following somebody else who knew the route, and got to Three Tarns where they threw the towel in. They turned right down The Band and walked back to their cars and then driven to Ambleside for fish and chips like ourselves. I was pleased to see that they had come to no harm.

Burnsall to Thorpe and back

The walk today was a small circular stroll along easy paths, and was undertaken as an appetite sharpener for finishing in The Red Lion Hotel in Burnsall. Burnsall is a very attractive and compact village sitting on a delightful spot on the River wharfe in Yorkshire, with a very attractive Church, a small village school and a great pub.

Distance – 3 miles.

Ascent – 413 ft

Estimated Time – 2hrs

os-map
Map of the Walk
3d-maps-burnsall
3D view of the walk

When we arrived in Burnsall it was very busy, (as it usually is) and we had to park up near St Wilfrid’s Church. On the walk today myself and Mrs Muddy Boots were joined by our friends and neighbours Paul and Sue. We have known them since we moved into the village where we live, and they are great company to be with. We started the walk by first going in The Red Lion and topping up our fluids, and we were fortunate enough to get a seat outside at the front of the pub. (There are seats at the back on the garden which was very, very busy). After having just the one pint, purely as a taster, and reserving a table for later in the day, we left our seats and walked down by the side of the magnificent Burnsall Bridge to pick up the Dalesway path which runs alongside the Wharfe.

20160529-img_0130

Lambs next to the River Wharfe

The path runs alongside the Red Lion rear garden and passes behind the houses which line the main street running through Burnsall. It is a well made and popular route. As we strolled along in the warm May sunshine, the whole world seemed very green and looked idyllic with the sun reflecting off the slow moving river. We made our way behind the old school and Church, whilst seemingly saying a constant ‘hello’ to people coming the opposite way.

20160529-img_0138
The School and St Wilfrid’s Church
20160529-img_0144
Riverside houses in Burnsall

We continued along the undulating path, sometimes walking next to the river and other times looking down on it from high above, and all the time being on a well made surface. We passed a family who were out picnicking by the river and were having fun with an inflatable dinghy, although I suspect the water was cold.

20160529-img_0156
The River Wharfe near to The Stepping Stones

When we got to the Stepping Stones and suspension bridge, the Dalesway continued across the river in a north easterly direction, and we started to climb uphill in a south westerly heading. We were passing through lush, green pastures and climbing steadily up towards the B6160 that forms the main arterial road through the valley.

20160529-img_0175
Burnsall and Thorpe Fell, with Tennant Lathe to the left (from above the suspension bridge)
20160529-img_0186
Looking back to Hebden Moor from the Bridlepath towards Thorpe

As we climbed towards the main road, the path became easier and flattened out so as to make the walking easy indeed. We crossed the tarmac road, and started walking up the steep single track named Kail Lane. This walled lane lead to the small hamlet of Thorpe. This was a steep climb and soon had us panting for breath. Gradually the road levelled out and the walking, and talking became easier and we took a left turn down down a farm track. We now started walking back down hill and following the track through the fields until it crossed Badger Lane.

20160529-img_0189
The farm track off Kail Lane
20160529-img_0195
The route down to Starton Beck

We continued following the path down to Starton Beck, and crossed this by means of a small planked bridge, and headed uphill through more green pasture, and passing through a number of small Yorkshire squeeze stiles in the drystone walls.

20160529-img_0198
Typical ‘squeeze’ stile.
20160529-img_0204
The hill above Badger Lane

We continued walking along the verdant and vibrant grass until we crossed Badger Lane, which is the access road to Tennant Lathe farm. We climbed up again after crossing badger Lane, before walking downhill into the flat farmland surrounding Burnsall. we passed through a caravan park which I didn’t know existed and crossed a small field before entering the main street of Burnsall via a narrow ginnel in the houses lining the main street.

20160529-img_0216
The path leading to the road through Burnsall

After we had got back into Burnsall we walked back through the village and down to the Red Lion. It was still busy, and a side of Morris Dancers had turned up and were loitering outside the pub. The deadline for our reserved table was approaching so we didn’t hang about to watch, and made a quick drat inside through the low door to bag our table, have a pint and order our tea. The food at The Red Lion is always good, so I was ready to relax after being the days’ tour guide and tuck into some vittles after an enjoyable walk.

20160529-img_0219
The Red Lion at Burnsall, and a side of Morris men getting ready for action

Garsdale and Grisedale

 

Today’s walk is a bit of something different and I pondered long and hard over the map to try and find somewhere that I was unfamiliar with within the usual areas of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. As usual one of the main governing points relating to walking was the inclusion of a suitable pub, and the pub featuring today is the Moorcock Inn which is just down the road from Garsdale Station. I had been the past the pub numerous times previously whilst driving along the A684 towards Hawes. I did a little bit of research on the Internet prior to setting off on the walk and it transpired that the pub was under new management and have been closed for a brief time for refurbishment so this seemed quite promising, and another appealing point about it was the curiosity I had harboured when I had passed previously.

20160521-IMG_7383_4_5HDR
The Moorcock Inn at Garsdale Head on the A684

As usual we set off on a Saturday morning and approached via Sedbergh on the A684 Hawes road. We managed to park at the side of the road near the adjacent junction with the B6259.

Memory-Map-OS-5.mmn
OS Route Map
3D Route Map
3D OS Route Map
Route Profile
Route Elevation Profile

We got out of the car, changed our footwear and pulled our rucksacks out of the boot and made a start on the route, however, that start proved to be short-lived because Mrs Muddy Boots needed to use the loo and so a visit into the Moorcock Inn was required so she could use the facilities. We walked around to the front of the pub and entered through the door and were pleasantly surprised by the internal layout, with the large room on the left being a relaxed seating area with a counter at one and providing coffee, teas and cakes, and the area to our right containing the public bar and dining area. The ‘coffee’ area had stone/slate flooring whilst the dining area to our right was carpeted, there was a large sign reminding inconsiderate walkers about their footwear when entering the dining area.

20160521-IMG_7764
The discrimination I receive!

Whilst Mrs Muddy Boots availed herself of the facilities I went and purchased two large coffees, a scone with cream and jam, and a substantial piece of chocolate cake and took a seat by the window. I can’t remember the exact cost for this but I did check with the lady behind the counter to see that she added it all up correctly as it seemed a little low, however she confirmed that the price was correct – Yorkshire prices again! You can’t beat’em!

We lingered over our coffee and cakes and then decided we really had to make a move and exited the pub via the front door and turned right onto the main tarmac road. After a short time of walking west along the road we came to a signpost on our left which indicated the Trans-Pennine Bridleway, we took this route and headed towards Dandrymire Viaduct on the Settle and Carlisle line, we passed under the vast structure and then started a gradual ascent of the path leading to Garsdale Station.

20160521-IMG_7398_399_400HDR
Dandrymire Viaduct

We ventured slightly off the planned route and walked onto the platform of Garsdale Station itself, and came to the conclusion that it was a shame that the majority of railway stations in this country were not of the same high standard of architecture and upkeep.  It had all the appearance of being a heritage line, not an actual station on the national network. The station was built in 1876, as was Garsdale Head itself, which is a collection of railway workers cottages and the station buildings themselves. It was originally called Hawes Junction however this changed when the line to Hawes was lifted (although the Wensleydale Railway is trying to reinstate the tracks back along their original route)

20160521-IMG_7439
Well kept station buildings at Garsdale
20160521-IMG_7421_2_3HDR
Garsdale Station looking south… Next stop St Pancras!
20160521-IMG_7411_2_3HDR
Garsdale signal box needing a touch of paint

Whilst mooching about on the platform I spotted a little red squirrel which had come from the pine forests situated to the south of the down platform and it skipped, hopped and darted along the platform, then down onto the track, across the track and then scurried up onto the platform I was stood on and subsequently disappeared between some of the nearby houses – I went to try and find it to get a close up shot, but couldn’t see it anywhere. I was really pleased at seeing this as red squirrels are a rare treat and I was fortunate to have my camera to hand and grabbed some shots of it.

20160521-IMG_7432
Red Squirrel waiting for the train

We departed the railway station and descended the tarmac access road until we got back onto the main Sedbergh to Hawes Road. We crossed at a farm called East Clough and then headed upwards through a field with Highland cattle and plenty of mud. Mrs Muddy Boots wasn’t happy about the cattle at all, as she convinced herself that they were all bulls and they were going to charge, in my view they look quite friendly and just generally disinterested.

20160521-IMG_7470
Image from a shortbread tin

We soon reached a wild, grassy plateau and looked down into the valley to our left in which ran Grisedale Beck, and tried to see what was highlighted on the map as Clough Force, however there was very little to be seen, except an excavator down in the bottom where the beck ran which appeared to be clearing the remnants of the recent flooding; it was possible that Clough Force had been swept away or we were looking in the wrong place. We continued walking along the footpath and came across a recently renovated vernacular Pennine farmhouse which is marked as Blake Mire on the map. It had a new access road created to it and the view from this location was quite extensive and uninterrupted which  gave the appearance of it being quite isolated, which it could be after heavy snow.

20160521-IMG_7472
Farmhouse at Blake Mire
20160521-IMG_7511_2_3HDR
Disused barn with Blake Mire farmhouse to the rear

We passed through the small picket gate in the surrounding drystone wall, past the shippon end of the farmhouse and we picked up the new access road rather than the public footpath and this quickly took us down to Grisedale Road, which is the main public thoroughfare that runs up the valley and forms the main access route for these isolated farmsteads. Grisedale Road is marked as a public road on the OS map but is really single track tarmac strip and has clumps of grass growing through the centre of it due to its lack of regular traffic. We continued walking north on Grisedale Road and gradually ascending the side of the valley. Grisedale itself is now largely unpopulated but was at one time an area of quite extensive farming, and higher up the valley there are a large number of now derelict farm buildings such as West Scale and East Scale farms which have an romantic, secluded isolation to them, although it is a bugger of a trip to nip to the local shops – I presume Tesco would do deliveries here though.

20160521-IMG_7553
Looking south down Grisedale from East House farm

We continued walking up the metalled road until we got to East House which is the last farm on this road. The tarmac road continues past East House, going steeply uphill until the tarmac abruptly stops and the route turns into a gravelled bridlepath that runs along the side of the valley at high level. This appeared a little odd at first, as though the tarmac gang decided to knock off on a Friday afternoon and then come back on Monday to continue laying the black stuff and just didn’t turn up again to continue the job. Once we got to the end of the tarmac road the path actually levelled out and we had a choice of turning left, up and over Grisedale Common, or continuing along to South Lunds Pasture. Being the gluttons for punishment that we are, we turned left up the hill and across the tussock strewn moorland grass, and headed along the bridlepath over Turner Hill and then down towards High Shaw Paddock. The steep uphill climb soon had us out of breath and panting, and we had to stop a number of times to get our breath back and to take in the extensive views. As we were ascending Grisedale Common we were being followed by two other people with large rucksacks who gave the impression of backpacking somewhere, although the major long distance routes were not nearby. We continued along the bridlepath, reached the summit of Turner Hill and began the easy descent down to High Shaw Paddock.

20160521-IMG_7568
The view east from Turner Hill
20160521-IMG_7586
Looking north to Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang from the descent of Turner Hill
20160521-IMG_7601
The derelict High Shaw Paddock with Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang Common behind

On the approach to High Shaw Paddock took an offshoot footpath to our right that led to Shotlock Tunnel. The field in which we walked through was a little rough underfoot with very little definition of the path and made for quite hard going, it was obvious that the footpath through it had not been used in years. We quickly descended the hill and arrived at a small metal gate along which which was a gravel track parallel to the railway lines, we passed through this and turned right over Shotlock tunnel and back onto the B6259 road leading up to Mallerstang.

20160521-IMG_7625_6_7HDR
Looking north from Shotlock Tunnel

After crossing the tunnel we arrived at the road and took a right turn to the south west and after about 100 yards we climbed up a steep road embankment to a public footpath that lead through a wall and down a hillside to an area called Beck Side. As in Grisedale, there were a number of run down and derelict farm buildings here, and it must have supported a much larger population that it does currently.

20160521-IMG_7637_8_9HDR
The sign to Beck Side
20160521-IMG_7662_3_4HDR
Remains of an old farm house at Beck Side

We crossed over the infant River Ure and walked alongside it for a short distance, this obvious riverside path removed some of the planned route and we bypassed some recently rebuilt farmhouses in an area called Lunds. The footpath we took actually ran past what appeared to be an old chapel with a number of long neglected grave stones within the consecrated ground surrounding it. We paused here for a short time and actually went into the chapel itself which was a small stone structure the small valve tower at one end and was whitewashed internally with a timber pew against one gable. There was very little information about this building so I made a mental note to look it up when I got back home to find more about it. It was quite sad looking at the structure and the surrounding gravestones as they have long been forgotten by the families that had paid for them to be erected and to act as a memorial to their loved ones. The majority of the headstones were over 200 years old and date from when the population of this area would have been much larger than it is now. The descendants of these people are most likely moved on to other parts of the country or even the world and wouldn’t know they even exist.

20160521-IMG_7665
The interior of Lunds Chapel
20160521-IMG_7683_4_5HDR
Lunds Chapel with decaying gravestones
20160521-IMG_7689_90_91HDR
Looking north beyond Lunds Chapel

We left the little chapel at Lunds behind and ascended Cowshaw Hill with its lone timber signpost indicating the route of the public footpath we continued making our way along to  Blades Farm. On the way to Blades Farm we happened to cross one of the worst fields in existence.

20160521-IMG_7692_3_4HDR
Lonely signpost atop Cowshaw Hill

The footpath was marked across the field on the map, however we could see no sign of it when we got there.

.0a1

nd had to make out an approximate route from A to B. The ground underfoot, which could not be seen due to the length of the grass, was rutted and uneven and increased the risk of twisting one’s ankle. After struggling across this extremely poor ground for fifteen minutes we arrived at the farm track that led to the Blades habitations, and we both agreed that this was the worst path we had ever crossed in a long long time and just walking steadily on even ground was a blessing. We continued along the farm track that led to Blades and passed left through a small gate, behind the buildings and crossed a small secluded beck, and ended up on a gravelled track that provided access to Blades.

20160521-IMG_7704_5_6HDR
Secluded Beck behind the Blades farmhouses

Soon this left the Blades access road and turned into a public footpath running alongside the River Ure we stopped at Ure Force where the river tumbled down a number of limestone slabs and created an interesting waterfall and pools.

20160521-IMG_7716
Ure Force tumbling over limestone slabs

At this point we walked onto a well made track and a substantial bridge crossing the River Ure which led from Yore House back to the main tarmac road leading up to Mallerstang. We took an obvious shortcut of a footpath along the nice grassy swathe which brought us out directly to the rear of the pub.

20160521-IMG_7749
Bridge leading to Yore House

We arrived back at the car and changed our footwear (again!) and decided to go back into the Moorcock to rebalance our fluids and also to peruse the menu. We entered the pub and as I approached the bar and ordered a couple of drinks, Mrs Muddy Boots found a table and read through the menu. The menu wasn’t huge, but appeared to be good home cooked food; nothing fancy, nothing drizzled, just good cooking which one would expect in a pub like this. It turned out on reading the menu that this was a “temporary menu” and was only in place until the new owners had managed to find their feet and produce something better – I really hope they stick to well produced ‘pub food’ and not gastropub stuff with jus’, drizzled this and that and pan-seared stuff. The pub was busy but we found a table, sat down and sipped our drinks and studied the menu. A large number of people in the pub were eating too, so we could see what was on offer as various plates of food were brought out, and it looked good too, so we proceeded to go back to the bar and order our evening. We both went for steak pie and chips; the pie was home-made and the proportions provided were more than ample for two hungry walkers. We got stuck into the food when it arrived and really made short work of it, and due to the proportions we had to decline the pudding. After finishing our evening meal and ordering some more drinks the time to leave arrived and we had to reluctantly face the long drive back home.

As we made our way along the A683 towards Sedbergh, and the M6, and drove west into the setting sun,  we were treated to a superb sunset with the sun dipping behind the Howgills which was a fitting end to a great day’s walking.

20160521-IMG_7800_1_2HDR
Sunset behind the Howgills

 

 

Underground, Overground, Rambling Free

On the walk today I decided not to have a ‘formal’ walk as such, and to have more of a gentle stroll and my map perusal is led me along the flanks of Ingleborough. The main reason behind choosing this area was a work colleague saying that he thought the Old Hill Inn, at Chapel le Dale had been recently refurbished (according to a friend of his) and not having been in their for many a year, I thought this a suitable location to finish the stroll and rebalance the fluids.

Memory-Map-OS-5.mmn
The route of the walk
Elevation Profile
The route profile
3D Route
A 3D view of the walk

We drove up to the Old Hill Inn via the road from Ingleton and we found a small layby just on the left after the pub were we managed to find a space to pull over and park. We proceeded to get out of the car, change our footwear and load our rucksacks onto our backs with the intention to head off along a Bridleway at Philpin Sleights. This was the intention, but the magnetic attraction of the pub was stronger than that of the Bridleway and we ended up being drawn into its comfortable depths.

We entered through the front door and were greeted by what seemed a recently refurbished, traditional pub interior which didn’t look too bad at all. I went to the bar and ordered a couple of beers from the barmaid who was ‘on duty’ and started to engage in a little chitchat with her, I asked if they were serving food later, thinking it would be useful to get an idea of the fayre on offer prior to calling in after our walk, to which the response was they “had a party of twenty four people coming from a nearby bunkhouse and that they would be too busy to accommodate anybody else“; it wasn’t quite service with a scowl, but I knew my place. We took the hint, and our beers, and Mrs Muddy Boots and myself went and sat in the “conservatory” which was affixed to the side of the pub to try and come up with a Plan B for our tea. I put the word conservatory in quotes, because in its widest sense the construction we went and sat in was akin to a home-made greenhouse from the 1950s and was desperately in need of refurbishment. Even a lick of paint would have made a huge difference, although this did not stop people coming sitting in it which is probably due to the view which it afforded down the valley, and not the charm of the structure itself. I slowly sipped at my pint of Black Sheep bitter and watched a group of children and their parents playing on the grass adjacent to the car park, and as I got to the bottom of my pint the loud shrieking and screaming from the children made the decision for us to move on, get our walk done and plan for our evening meal somewhere more conducive.

I exited the pub from the front door and turn right back up the tarmac road and after a short while turn right again onto work very well made Bridlepath that led in the direction of Ingleborough and past a well made and substantial Lime Kiln.

20160514-IMG_7199
Lime kiln at Keld Bank.

As we both made our way along this path we were quite aghast at the numbers of people who were undertaking the Three Peaks challenge walk. As we squinted into the distance, and followed the path that rose rapidly up the flanks of Ingleborough we could see a long line of people that look like ants which were progressing slowly up to the flat top summit of this noble mountain. If I hadn’t known it was the 3 Peaks challenge walk I would have guessed at it being a pilgrimage to a site of religious significance. There must have been several thousand people out that day undertaking this twenty six mile circular route involving Pen Y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

20160514-IMG_7342_3_4HDR
Ingleborough close up

I shouldn’t really complain as I have done the three Peaks about five or six times now, although the last time was perhaps 15 years ago, maybe even longer. Way back then, whilst the walk was popular there didn’t seem to be the same huge numbers of people undertaking it as there are now and I can’t really establish why there has been such a rise in the popularity of this arduous trek. It could be down to the Internet and social media allowing a greater number of people to hear of it, but who knows really? What I do know was that I was truly shocked to see such large numbers of people out on the side of the hill. We ambled along the path and after a short time took a left turn alongside a dry stone wall to take us away from the pilgrimage and this lead us to the top of a limestone plateau where we managed to make out a path which didn’t seem to be marked on the map and followed this along the grassy pasture.

20160514-IMG_7211
Limestone plateau above the 3 Peaks path

We arrived at a large group of limestone boulders which made an ideal seating arrangement so we sat.  Whilst sitting in the warm sunshine, we looked eastwards towards Souther Scales Fell were we thought we could see a paraglider pilot setting up his wing. We sat for quite some time trying to work out if it was a paraglider pilot or not, when out of absolutely nowhere, and appearing like an apparition would, were two cavers with the knee pads, boots and helmets they wear when underground.

20160514-IMG_7266
Paraglider pilots trying the breeze

These two human moles came sauntering past us without a care in the world and then proceeded to disappear out of sight again in the middle of a field. We turned away as they walked past us, and within ten seconds looked back and they had vanished – into thin air! We were quite intrigued now and we got up to continue our stroll and headed back across the field, where we once again came up on the two human moles who had reappeared, and we got talking. They explained that they were just exploring the chambers in caverns in the limestone beneath our feet and then proceeded to point out several holes in the ground which led to this subterranean world and these were the holes in which they were disappearing into.

20160514-IMG_7263
The Vanishing cavers (and pilgrims climbing Ingleborough in the background)
20160514-IMG_7296
Entrance to a subterranean world!

They did indicate one in particular which was at a field boundary that was so large you could walk into it and progress beneath the field on which we were just walking. We found it where they had described and decided to enter the little chamber. It started to get much darker probably due to the fact that our eyes were not accustomed to the darkness it was quite easy to make your way along although there was a little stream running through the bottom of the cave. We went in for about 50 m but it was becoming quite difficult with a rucksack on my back and the decreasing amount of light so we decided we should turn round and make our way out. After being underground for just a short time the sunlight seem quite blinding and after much blinking and squinting we again became accustomed to being outside.

20160514-IMG_7303
Cave entrance – near to Douk Cave Pasture
20160514-IMG_7301
Inside a long entrance chamber from the above photo

We climbed back out of this little cleft in the earth and continued walking towards Ingleborough on the top of the limestone plateau and we progressed until we reached the path that formed the main route of the three Peaks. The numbers of people undertaking the 3 Peaks had not declined much in the time that we are away from this route and more were still coming. When we go out walking we tend to choose Saturday because it is less busy than Sunday, and we seem to see very few people on the routes which we take which is sometimes more by accident than design, however today proved the exception and we became a little disheartened by the numbers of people around us so we decided to make our way against the flow of the ‘pilgrimage’ back to the car and to come back another day when it was less busy.

We made rapid progress against the flow of bodies, and were pleased to reach the car parked on Low Sleights Road, where the decision was made to go down into Hawes, have a pint there and call in Hawes Chippy for our tea – a rare treat, but one that always seems to tick all the boxes. Chippy Tea here we come!

A Circuit Around Littondale

Today is a Saturday, and it is also walking day; the first day of the weekend and the day for catching up on those jobs that cannot be done during the week. One of those jobs related to my car which had been off the road for some repairs and I had been lucky enough to have the use of my mothers car for the time that mine was unavailable. I had agreed to drop it off for her on Saturday morning so I decided to get it washed and valeted prior to taking it back and then setting off on the walk.

We got to the car wash, and they said it would take about an hour as there were others in the queue before me. This gave us time to kill. Fortunately there was a Cafe next door to the car wash and they were open for breakfast. Mrs Muddy Boots persuaded me, against my better judgement to call in and grab some breakfast. I knew temptation would get the better of me, and it did, and a “Full Monty” was duly ordered. We sat down with our cups of tea and awaited delivery of our food. After a short time the waitress appeared with two rounds of toast each and then a large plate each of bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms, black pudding, sausages, tomatoes, hash brown and fried bread. All this for £4.95 including the tea and toast. I did think this would be sufficient to keep me going for the next few days, if not for the duration of our walk today.

WP_20160423_12_38_59_Pro
The Full Monty

After finishing off the huge breakfast, we collected my mothers car from the car wash and valeting shop and drove it back to her house. We then proceeded to drive to the Yorkshire Dales along the A59 towards Skipton and then up wonderful Wharfedale and into Littondale.

On arriving in Arncliffe the only practical place to park was outside the Falcon Inn. There are no parking restrictions as such, but I am wary of parking outside the houses of others as they may require the place to bring shopping in from their cars and I don’t like being inconsiderate. Additionally, I live in a small village which has a very popular village pub, and many people go for a ‘run out’ to this country pub and then park directly outside my house which is very frustrating when trying to unload my car, and even more frustrating as the pub has a large car park which these inconsiderate people seem unable to use. As is usual on walking trips, Mrs Muddy Boots has to nip to the loo at regular intervals, so we went into the Falcon so she could avail herself of the facilities and thus I started this walk with a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker inside me.

Distance – 6 miles
Ascent – 937 feet

OS 3D MapRoute Profile

We exited The Falcon through the front door and turned left to walk down the side of the pub. This took us along a walled track past a small, attractive telephone exchange and along onto what possibly was an old drovers road that lead up the fellside.

20160507-IMG_6967_8_9HDR
Old Drovers Road Leading from Arncliffe

As we started gaining height we came across a signpost on our right indicating the path to Malham which was six and a half miles away, via the Monks Road (as the OS Map has it). Fountains Abbey used to own much of the land around here, so it is likely that the name of this path came about from its use by the Abbey.

20160507-IMG_6970
Signpost outside Arncliffe

We made our way up the Monk’s Path which rose high above Cowside Beck and above Yew Cogar Scar. The sun was trying to break through the clouds and it was quite warm. As the path began to level out we sat down on the soft, springy grass whilst admiring the vista up Littondale. The sun had broken through the cloud and was now beating down on our faces. We lay back on the soft grass looking upwards watching the clouds changing shape and passing by against their blue background. Well, with the huge breakfast, and a couple of Timothy Taylor’s inside we both nodded off for an hour. I awoke to the sound of skylarks and sheep, whilst Mrs Muddy Boots slowly stirred, stretched languidly and mumbled about staying there for another couple of hours.

After a short time we reluctantly arose, pulled our rucksacks on and continued gently ambling our way along the Monks Path high above the tumbling Cowside Beck with the glorious expanse of Littondale stretching out behind us, and apart from us there was nobody else around.

20160507-IMG_7001_2_3HDR
Looking back to Littondale from the Monk’s Path
20160507-IMG_6998_6999_7000HDR
Arncliffe from the Monk’s Path
20160507-IMG_7010_1_2HDR
The View up Littondale
20160507-IMG_7013_4_5HDR
Looking toward Potts Moor and Out Moor above Litton

We continued walking steadily uphill and arrived at a small dry valley named as Clowder on the map. We turned off the Monks Path and proceeded to walk upwards across the tussocky moorland between small limestone outcrops of this dry valley until we reached the highest point of the walk. We were quite fortunate as there were a number of intersecting drystone walls up here with gates at the points they intersected and some small sheepfolds which allowed us to pass through into different pastures.

As we started the descent to High Cote Moor, Mrs Muddy Boots started walking back uphill towards  a section of galvanised wire sheep fencing blocking a tumbled down part of a wall. At this point there was a sheep which looked like it was scratching its back against one of the timber fence posts. As She got closer she shouted me to come back up as the sheep which she had seen had both its horns tangled in the wire fencing and could not free itself. I walked up to the fence and the sheep was wanting to run away from me. I got a strong hold of it by the horns and managed to free one side of its head, and then the other. Now I know sheep are a bit thick, and their sole ambition in life is to die, but I do feel this one sensed I was trying to help it and it stopped struggling after a short while until its head was free again, and at this point it trotted off and at a distance of about ten yards, stopped, turned around and made several short bleats which I understood to be it saying “Thank You” – you can’t beat a nice bit of anthropomorphism!

After my good deed of the day we continued walking down the hillside to the obvious bridle path at High Cote Moor. We picked up the path and made our way along it north eastwards gradually descending to Arncliffe Cote.

20160507-IMG_7040
Looking down to High Cote Moor
20160507-IMG_7056_7_8HDR
Cote Gill dropping over a limestone outcrop
20160507-IMG_7080_1_2HDR
Looking up Littondale from above Arncliffe Cote

We made steady progress down from High Cote Moor as the bridlepath was both well made and clear. We passed through the small, ancient farmstead of Arncliffe Cote and eventually arrived on the main tarmac road up the valley. We turned right and made our way along the road to Outgang Lane which lead us to the River Skirfare, which sounds like be a Norse name if ever I heard one, although I am no expert on these matters. Our arrival at the river was greeted by a substantial steel footbridge leading across to Hawkswick, although we didn’t cross the bridge, but turned left to the path which runs alongside the river.

20160507-IMG_7115
Footbridge to Hawkswick

As we made our along the valley floor through lush, green pasture land back to Arncliffe there were parts of the path that had been washed away by the floods earlier in the year and deep scars in the earth on the river banks were indicative of the force of the water that had come down this valley. As the ground was flat we managed to get a good pace going and we soon arrived back in Arncliffe via the Old Vicarage, which is a grand looking building for such a small place, and we passed between it and the church of St Oswald.

20160507-IMG_7157_8_9HDR
St Oswald’s Church, Arncliffe
20160507-IMG_7169
The village stocks at Arncliffe, on the approach to the Lychgate of St Oswalds (should be brought back into use in my opinion)

We walked through the little side streets of the village and came out on the Green onto which most of the cottages face. We walked up the green and back to The Falcon Inn. As is usual, we had to rebalance our fluids, and on entering the pub a couple of pints of the landlords finest brew were ordered. The Falcon is unique in that it has no cellar and very little space behind the bar, and the casks are tapped and a large jug is filled from which the Landlord then fills the pint glasses with a practised ease.

20160507-IMG_7184_5_6HDR
The Village Green at Arncliffe
20160507-IMG_7187
The Falcon Landlord handling big jugs with ease

As we sipped our beers we contemplated ordering our evening meal here, however we decided that as this was the second time we had been in here in one day we should try further up the valley at Litton and see what the Queens Arms was like. After we finished our drinks we drove up the valley a couple of miles until we got to Litton. There were a large number of cars parked outside the pub, so we weren’t hopeful of getting a table, however when we got through the door and ordered a drink the bar staff found us a table for two in the dining room.

WP_20160507_19_23_51_Pro
Testing a pint of Greene King in the Queens Arms
WP_20160507_19_24_57_Pro
Wall map in the dining room of the Queens Arms

The dining room was very well presented with attractive table settings. We ordered Steak Pie and Chips and a King Prawn Curry, both of which were really delicious and were served in ample proportions too. We had to decline the pudding. We slowly finished our drinks and reluctantly paid our bill and left the establishment. We got into the car and began the long drive home whilst discussing what a great day we had both had.

Littondale, we will be back!

 

Helvellyn via Raise

This is the first blog post this year! My! how time flies? I haven’t been out walking for a while, well, since before Christmas to be honest. My forays into the great outdoors were curtailed in the New Year by a very heavy cold, and once this had started fading I had the sybaritic pleasure of a trapped sciatic nerve which figuratively and literally was a pain in the arse. The occasional weekend has been lost to home decorating too – a toss up between the sciatic nerve and decorating as to which was the most pleasurable. I’ll let you decide.

The walk featuring on this post was up Helvellyn. I had been knocking the idea around my friends and neighbours in the village pub where I live, and a number of them quite fancied doing it, but trying to get a consensus on who could do what, and when, was proving a difficult task. I do find that one has to be spontaneous with the outdoors, and you cannot plan on the weather being right so you have to seize the day when the weather provides the opportunity. Unfortunately my friends and neighbours social lives do not work around spontaneity due to football games, grandchildren minding duties, assorted family commitments and wanting to be back home on a Sunday at 4:30pm to start cooking tea when you live alone. As a result of this potential hassle, the walk was just me and Mrs Muddy Boots. It was by no means a new experience for me as I have been up Helvellyn more times than I actually remember and from a variety of different routes at all compass points.

Distance – 7.12 miles
Ascent     – 2801 ft
Estimated Time – 6 hrs

Memory-Map-OS-5.mmn
OS Route Map
3D Route View
3D Route Map
Route Profile
Elevation Profile

We decided to drive up to Glenridding and go via Shap and the Penrith M6 exit, certainly not shortest of routes to Glenridding, but it does avoid Kirkstone Pass and so could be quicker. On the exit from Penrith we called at the Rheged Centre to buy a pair of tickets to the forthcoming Premiere Weekend of Blencathra: Life of a Mountain, the second Lake District documentary by award winning producer and director Terry Abraham, and sequel to the excellent Scafell: Life of a Mountain. Terry is not your ‘usual’ media type, he has a passion for the hills and also for what he does, and more to the point, he is an all round good bloke too. Watch his stuff, it is well worth it – see here for more details of Terry’s web pages, and Terry’s YouTube Channel

Having procured the tickets, and safely stored them away we continued our journey down past Stainton, which holds a number of special memories for me, and then alongside Ullswater to Glenridding. The evidence of the recent floods was still writ large here, with construction machinery and scaffolding still in evidence. We parked at the large car park in Glenridding, and when we went to pay the parking fee we found the card readers for paying the car park fees were out of action, and this posed a dilemma, as being like the Queen and not carrying any cash we had to go and park elsewhere. We drove up towards The Travellers Rest and left the car near there. A quick change to more suitable footwear, and hoisting the rucksack onto my back, we were off. We progressed up the valley to Greenside Mine, a now disused, but still utilised lead mine. The old mine buildings now form a motley collection of outdoor type hostels, including an official YHA place. It is good location to stay, being surrounded by some superb fells.

20160417-IMG_6351_2_3HDR
Catstye Cam from the path below Stang End
20160417-IMG_6387_8_9HDR
Striding Edge from Stang End

We took the zig-zag path up by Swart Beck and as we climbed we looked forward to the delights of Lucy’s Tongue. The sudden and steep climb up had us soon gulping for air and stopping frequently to take in the view, and to get our breath back. The path here is a continuation of the Bridleway that forms Sticks Pass and had the appearance of a cart track – I certainly wouldn’t like to be the horse pulling a cart up this slope. We continued plodding upwards and followed the line of Swart Beck and as we approached the summit of the beck we came across a number of cave rescue personnel undertaking a training operation in what was possibly an entrance to the old mines themselves. The ground began to level out and the going got easier as we got closer to the old mine tips. The landscape was quite bizarre up here, and really resembled a moonscape which was the end result of years of mining. At one point we came across a large expanse of sand which formed a ‘beach’ adjacent to Sticks Gill which did look out of place – all that was missing was a bucket and spade and an ice cream seller. In the far distance to the East, below the line of Sticks Pass, we could see the small, triangular shaped, wooden huts of the Lake District Ski Club.

20160417-IMG_6454
The Timber huts that Comprise The Lake District Ski Club

We decided to take the route along the line of the old chimney flue instead of walking along the flanks of Greenside and the Sticks Pass bridleway. The chimney flue route is regularly used as a path to the Ski club huts by its members. What on Earth is a chimney flue doing up here you may ask? The chimney flue was part of the processing works at Greenside Mine. The lead ore processing gave off quite toxic fumes, and so this chimney and flue were constructed to avoid poisoning half of Glenridding when the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. It is some substantial achievement too, however the chimney at the flue termination is nothing Fred Dibnah would be proud of. We continued up the line of the flue along the flanks of Raise, and steadily made progress towards the Ski huts. We decided to take a break near to the chimney and have a sandwich, and to my surprise Mrs MuddyBoots had secreted a sneaky can of beer in her rucksack which certainly made a nice addition to our lunch stop.

20160417-IMG_6417_8_9HDR
Glenridding from above Greenside Mine
20160417-IMG_6402_3_4HDR
The Old Chimney Flue Above Greenside Mine
20160417-IMG_6435_6_7HDR
Looking up the old chimney flue, with Raise in the background
20160417-IMG_6438_39_40HDR
The remnants of the Old Chimney east of Raise summit
20160417-IMG_6423_4_5HDR
Helvellyn summit from the Old Chimney

After attacking the sandwiches we continued our way upwards and leaving the chimney behind, the path became very indistinct; it is very different in winter as you can see the route others have taken, but once the snow has gone the path disappears too. We slowly worked our way to the toblerone shaped Ski Hut, passed through the timber fences either side of the piste and got ourselves onto the eroded walkers highway that is Sticks Pass.

20160417-IMG_6457_8_9HDR
On The Piste at The Lake District Ski Club

The going underfoot was certainly easier, but the wind was incredible! We had been in the lee side of the hill on our way up and had felt very little breeze at all, but now we were on a high ridge that runs straight to Helvellyn summit with the wind funnelling straight up the hills to our right overlooking Thirlmere and gaining further speed in the process. It was the sort of wind that catches a hold of your legs as you walk and tries to make you misplace your feet. We continued onwards along the wide path and lost altitude going down to a col above Red Screes only then to climb back up to the summit of Whiteside Bank. To our surprise a couple of mountain bikers appeared over the summit and were making their way down, which was impressive due to the fact that they must have pushed their bikes up to the summit of Helvellyn first in order to make this descent. The MTB’ers passed by us and the ride down looked great fun. The view from the summit was excellent though, with great long range visibility right up to the Solway Firth, and beyond.

20160417-IMG_6460
Mountain Biker coming down Whiteside Bank towards Raise
20160417-IMG_6479_80_81HDR
Looking to Bassenthwaite and Skiddaw from Whiteside Bank (Solway Firth in distance)
20160417-IMG_6482_3_4HDR
Looking towards (L to R) Helvellyn summit, Lower Man and summit of Whiteside Bank

Yet again, we went on the roller coaster walk downhill to a ‘Pile of Stones’ according to the map, to then get to the steep rocky approach of Lower Man, which was just one huge pile of stones. From this low, foreshortened angle it really did look quite steep, and my memory of it being like this had faded with time.  We gradually ascended Lower Man, and between the puffing and panting we got onto the path leading to the summit of Helvellyn. The approach to Helvellyn summit gradually got easier and the path snaked south west well away from the North East facing cliffs. There was still a substantial cornice overhanging the cliffs and the steep drop down to Red Tarn beyond them and fortunately no footprints in the cornice either – the foolhardy mustn’t have been up here for a while. We passed by the summit cairn and made our way to the summit shelter, a cross shaped stone wall with built in stone seating. This was the first time ever that I had got to the summit of this place and had it to myself (well, apart from Mrs MB). We sat and finished the sandwiches, and she magically produced another tin of beer! The highest beer I had ever had in England. We sat at the summit for about twenty minutes whilst we finished our lunch and consumed the beer, and gratefully took shelter from the incessant wind. I did note a number of cigarette ‘dog ends’ scattered around. I know smoking is classed as anti-social, but I didn’t think smokers were so inconsiderate as to leave remnants of their habit up here too. I had a mental image of someone struggling to get to the summit with all the fresh air that was blowing around, lifting their yellow, bony, nicotine stained fingers up, sparking one up, taking a huge lungful before declaring loudly “..That’s better!“… with a couple of lung wrenching, rasping coughs afterwards just to emphasise the point.

20160417-IMG_6527_8_9HDR
Helvellyn summit from the ascent of Lower Man
20160417-IMG_6564-2_5-2_6-2HDR
Snow cornice on Helvellyn Summit with cairn
20160417-IMG_6576_7_8HDR
Walkers descending Swirral Edge

We packed our rucksacks back up and made our way down. For the first part of the route, the way down was the same as the way up. As we picked our way down the ‘quarry’ that was Lower Man  and reached the lowest part at the Pile of Stones, the sight of another upwards plod to Whiteside Bank didn’t really fill us with any joy whatsoever. We trudged onwards, the wind still doing its best to knock us over and step by step we arrived at the summit of Whiteside Bank on the return leg. It really didn’t look this far on the map.

20160417-IMG_6579_80_81HDR
Mrs Muddy Boots descending Lower Man on path towards Whiteside Bank

At this point our route diverted from the one we came up and lead us south of Raise summit to a path that crossed above Red Screes which gave a great view down to Brown Cove and Keppel Cove. The path here was superb and looked to be recently refurbished, possibly by the ‘Fix the Fells’ team, I don’t know who did it but it made for pleasant going. This was the lull before the storm, as the path progressed it got very steep and took in a number of S-bends that would make an Alpine pass a walk in the park. It is great to find a well made path such as this, but my knees really took a hammering on this way down. I usually find a walking pole helps take some of the punishment off my knees, but I didn’t bring it with me. It does become hard work juggling a walking pole and a DSLR at the same time and a third hand would sometimes be useful.

20160417-IMG_6591_2_3HDR
Helvellyn and Brown Cove seen from Glenridding Common

We continued zig-zagging down the gravel track at the side of Glenridding Common until we got onto the route leading from the disused dam below Keppel Cove. Here the gradient thankfully levelled out and we then had a steady and rapid descent all the way back down to The Travellers Rest.

We usually call in for a pint at the nearest pub at end of any walk, but today we felt so weary that we just changed our boots, climbed in the car, sat there for a while and decided to drive straight back home, where we had a curry awaiting us. The Travellers Rest would have to wait until another time.

It is a good route to take to get up to Helvellyn summit and does avoid the ridge of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. I have done Striding Edge a number of times, even in winter with crampons and axe, but Mrs Muddy Boots didn’t really fancy doing it again (once was enough apparently), hence this alternative route.

 

Sunday 11th October – Bolton Abbey and Strid Wood

As autumn had truly arrived, Mrs Boots and myself decided to have a short stroll around Bolton Abbey, the ruins of a 12th Century Augustinian monastery on the banks of the River Wharfe, in Yorkshire. Previous experience here, and from when we did the Dalesway, showed it could be quite glorious and a riot of colour when the trees were in peak form.

20151011-IMG_5059
Autumn Leaves near Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire

As the walk was along very well made paths through woodland, the usual outfit of ‘walking gear’ was discarded and the Country Gent look of a window pane check Harris Tweed jacket and jeans came into play although I did stick to a pair of leather walking boots as a nod towards practicality. It was like I was walking straight from the page of a Barbour catalogue, and all that was missing was the chocolate Labrador dog and flat cap. In all fairness, it made a nice change from a pair of walking shorts and my well travelled, (and well worn) Berghaus ‘Windstopper’ fleece that is usually covering me in the cooler months.

Total Distance – 5 miles
Total Ascent – 690 ft

Memory-Map-OS-5.mmn
OS Map of the Route

3D Route

3D View of the Walk

Route Profile
The Elevation Profile of the Walk

It had been a few years since we last came here, and the places for car parking are quite abundant due to there being several car parks available, so we decided to stop at the Bolton Abbey village car park and walk down to the ruins of the priory. We drove past the Devonshire Arms coming from the A59 and turned left into the village car park. I did remember to bring some change along with me as I thought it was a ‘pay & display’ type of arrangement, however I was wrong and we had to pay on entry, or to be more accurate we were robbed on entry by a kind faced, pleasant elderly chap in a wooden hut who was masquerading as Dick Turpin without the garb of a Regency fop. The chap didn’t even wield a pair of flintlocks and demand that I ‘stand and deliver‘ either, but one thing is certain is that it was Highway Robbery. This car park attendant relieved me of eight quid whilst keeping a gentle smile on his face…yes, that is no typo, EIGHT ‘EFFIN QUID! – Having no choice to park elsewhere as we were hemmed in to the rear by other vehicles, we entered the car park, found a space and stopped the motor. We thought it prudent to avail ourselves of the facilities provided in order to maximise our value for money, although I didn’t really need to go. For some mistaken reason I had thought the car park was a National Trust one, and had the anticipation of smugly using our membership to avoid laying out the cash. It transpired that the car park actually belongs to the Bolton Abbey Estate, part of the Duke of Devonshire’s back garden, and we know that Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, does cost a few bob to maintain so who can blame them for getting as much as they can – supply and demand and all that malarkey.

We left the car park and its facilities and strolled through the ‘village’ of Bolton Abbey towards the ruins of the Priory. Calling it a village is a tad ambitious really, as it seems to be no more than a collection of about twelve houses. I’m not an expert on the collective nouns of dwellings and the numerical thresholds, or other criteria that dictate what they are called, but it is definitely not a village in my book. In the same way that people who live in the suburbs of big cities call their own areas villages, such as “Didsbury Village” in the endless, sprawling, monotonous suburbia to the south of Manchester. The last time this area could have been close to a village would have been at the start of the industrial revolution; how can it be a village when it is completely surrounded by masses of housing and urban sprawl and there is no demarcation of a Green Belt?… Pfff! I rest my case m’lud.

We continued to head towards the Priory ruins, and passed through a very rough looking opening in the old, but nevertheless impressive Priory boundary wall which appeared to have been made by some builders I’m sure I have mistakenly tendered work to in the past. We followed the well made gravel path downhill towards the river Wharfe and the Priory ruins.

20151011-IMG_4882
Ruins of the Augustinian Priory adjacent the village of Bolton Abbey

As we got closer to the ruins we could see the masses of people gathering down by the river and stepping stones. I had forgotten how busy this place gets at weekends and we should have known what it would be like from our second experience visiting here  which was more than twenty years ago, and an episode in our life that we still talk and laugh about to this day. We first came here late one evening in summer in the early 1990’s and not long after Mrs MB and myself had met. The area was deserted and had an air of romantic dereliction about it, so we decided that we would come back during the summer with a picnic hamper and blanket and sit by the river relaxing in the sunshine and admiring the ‘picturesque’ in the manner of late eighteenth century aesthetes such as Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey. Later that year we proceeded to do exactly this. We made a good range of picnic type comestibles, packed into a wicker picnic hamper, complete with leather straps, fine porcelain crockery and silver cutlery and set off to Bolton Abbey. We arrived there mid morning, and found a decent spot close to the river. There was just us and a couple of others walking dogs. We laid out our blanket and settled down on it under the growing heat of the morning sun in anticipation of relaxing solitude whilst languidly nibbling on the treats we had made. Visions played through my mind of a scene from a Merchant Ivory film production, all dappled sunlight and soft focus cameras. During the next two hours the whole of Bolton Abbey transformed from an oasis of beautiful and quixotic solitude to a Yorkshire Dales equivalent of Blackpool beach in the 1930’s, and then to further ruin our day, we had placed the wicker basket on an unseen ant-hill and they were now happily crawling all over its contents. We quickly packed up and despondently trudged back to the car in dismay, vowing never to go back to Bolton Abbey, or more veraciously, never to go back on an August Bank Holiday weekend.

We had a wander around the Priory ruins and studied them in greater detail than I have ever done before. As I work in construction I always look at these ruined buildings with the thought of the physical labour and cost that went into putting them together, and how much the outlay would be today to build such a monument, if it could get built at all with the restrictive planning laws we now have in force. After a lengthy mooch we left the Priory behind and crossed the river Wharfe by the footbridge (we avoided the famous stepping stones on which there was a large queue forming due to a woman in a burka who had got two thirds of the way across and then panicked and had frozen) and followed the Dalesway footpath along through the woods which run beneath Cat Crags. Whilst there were a number of people around, it was certainly less crowded than the Priory ruins. We ambled along the well made path which snakes its way roller coaster-like through the mature deciduous woodland until we started to drop downhill to a ford in the road and crossed Pickles Beck by the adjacent footbridge and picked up the Dalesway to continue walking along the riverbank again.

20151011-IMG_5038
Bolton Priory from Cat Crags above the River Wharfe
20151011-IMG_4994_5_6HDR
Remains of stone tracery in the North Transcept
20151011-IMG_4918_19_20HDR
The Roofless Chancel at Bolton Priory

We soon crossed the wooden bridge over the Wharfe and approached the Cavendish Pavilion where we decided to stop for tea and scones. The Pavilion has undergone a large transformation in the twenty-odd years since we first came across it. It is also a wedding venue now and scrubs up well for an old girl (the Pavilion was originally built in 1890). Now, I don’t want to be a whinger, but the price for two teas and two scones with cream and jam seemed to have come from the same “How to Fleece Your Customers with a Smile” book as the car parking charges. It was about sixteen quid for two. One of the reasons we go to Yorkshire is for Yorkshire prices, and these were not Yorkshire prices.

20151011-IMG_5163
Wooden Bridge over the Wharfe at Cavendish Pavilion

We decided to sit outside to eat and drink and to watch the world go by as the weather was quite pleasant. It was interesting to note that about 85% of the people walking past were young families who appeared to have come from the same mould as each other. The Dad was late thirties dressed in a nylon down jacket, jeans and Hunter wellies. The ‘missus’ was also dressed similarly but with blonde hair in a pony tail, and it felt like I was sat watching an Ark building convention due to the large number of “Noah’s”  running around. A name that seems to be the male equivalent of Chelsey, fashionable now, but a hinderance to its owner in future when it comes to getting your CV on the ‘must interview’ pile when applying for jobs. The Cavendish Pavilion car park was visible from where we were, and they we all getting into and out of the same type of Audi / BMW. What came to mind was that they were all trying to be so different from their contemporaries, but have ended up being the same, even down to their choice of children’s names. Identikit Families – maybe there is a section in Ikea where you can get one?

We finished our tea and continued on our way along the Dalesway footpath and continued up through Strid Wood. The ultimate objective of the stroll was to get to the Strid. This is a narrowing in the bedrock of the river and the whole of the river Wharfe tries to pass through this narrow cleft in the rock. Imagine the river being twisted through ninety degrees for a short distance and then back again and this will give a reasonable representation of the Strid. The Strid is only about two metres wide, and foolhardy visitors have in the past tried to jump across this roaring chasm. Failure is invariably fatal, however, as there is no recorded incidence of anyone having survived a fall into the swirling dark waters of the Strid which mercilessly sucks its victims into the underwater caves and eroded tunnels which lie hidden underneath each side of the rocky channel. It has even been immortalized by William Wordsworth in his poem, “The Force of Prayer

20151011-IMG_5121_2_3HDR
“The Strid” on the River Wharfe

We had a lengthy pause at the Strid before turning around and walking back the way we had come. The path was much quieter now with the majority of the families having headed home, no doubt to get their evening meals and get little Noah ready for school. This is one of the reasons we always set off later than most on our walks because the crowds tend to have a herd instinct and will all vanish around the same time of day. The sun had started to lower in the sky and the light was fading as we approached the Priory, and we continued past back through the gate in the old priory walls and across the road to the car park. Again, we maximised our value by taking advantage of the facilities on the car park again and eventually got back to the car.

20151011-IMG_5090
The River Wharfe at Strid Wood
20151011-IMG_5158
The Bodgers Camp near to Cavendish Pavilion
20151011-IMG_5205_6_7HDR
Bolton Priory and The Stepping Stones

All in all it was a pleasant stroll and the autumn trees were truly magnificent in their varied hues. The walk is very accessible and could partially be done by those with limited mobility, however they may struggle on the steep sections through the woods nearest the Priory. Give it a go, but try to get there on a quiet sunny day in mid Autumn.

 

30th May, 2015 – Kingsdale and Gragareth

This is an account of a walk I did several months ago with Steve, one of my oldest friends, and it is a blog post which had slipped through the blogging net. When I say ‘one of my oldest friends’ I mean we have known each other for a long number of years, and not that he is getting on a bit and into his dotage. If I remember correctly, he is a couple of years younger than myself, although from looking at us you would think he was much, much older; he did have a difficult paper round as a kid, and it must be that which has taken it toll on him.

The aim of the walk was “to climb Lancashire’s highest hill“, which is now Gragareth at 2,057 feet, or  627m – seems simple enough doesn’t it, but there was much agonising behind the scenes before we got to this point. By way of a bit of background history to this “Lancashire’s highest hill” business, we have to glance at a bit of English Government gerrymandering that still causes people to sigh heavily to this day. Prior to the passing of the Local Government Act in 1972, and the resulting County Boundary changes that then took place in 1974, the highest hill in Lancashire was Conistons’ “Old Man” at 2,634 feet high, or 803m, however since 1974 it was “moved” into Cumbria. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I just cannot bring myself to recognise the ‘new’ county boundary of Lancashire, and I still refer to Lancashire as being the old county Palatine boundary of Lancashire, or ‘historic’ Lancashire complete with its bits ‘north of the sands’.

Furthermore, technically, where I live, now comes under ‘Greater Manchester’, which I find very odd as it is a County that has a boundary which is not shown on maps, has no county boundary signs at its borders and whose governing Council was abolished nearly thirty years ago in 1986. In fact, ‘Greater Manchester’ has been out of existence as a County for longer than it was actually in existence and yet people still refer to it as part of their address. How this state of affairs came about is even more puzzling as it was created purely as an administrative area and not a geographic replacement for Lancashire. “Greater Manchester” is a bastardised mongrel of a County in my opinion and the ‘historic’ Lancashire should never have been disposed of… Well, legally speaking it hasn’t been disposed of as this statement clarifies…


We confirm that although the changes brought about by the 1972, and indeed, subsequent legislation, have altered the administrative boundaries of the County (of Lancashire) for the purposes of local government, they have not affected the boundaries of the Palatinate.

Duchy of Lancaster – 29th August 1996 

…and who is the Duke of Lancaster you may ask?.. For those in the dark on the answer to this, it is HM t’Queen, or Liz, as she is known in these parts. If the Queen says it is so, then I’ll not doubt her, or off to the Tower it will be for me.

As both Steve and I are proud Lancastrians, being born the correct side of the boundary changes in the early 1970’s it was difficult for us to reconcile, as technically, and according to my boundary belief system, we should be going up the Old Man of Coniston to get to Lancashires highest hill – however, as Steve said, we cannot live in the past and must change with the times, so for this walk Gragareth is the highest point in Lancashire, albeit only temporarily so in my mind and through gritted teeth. I digress with my rant, so back to the walk..


Distance – 7.9 miles
Ascent – 1,378 ft
Sandwiches – Cheese & Ham salad


Elevation Profile
OS Route Map
3D Image of route

I picked Steve up on the Saturday morning after making a huge pile of sandwiches to sustain us on the walk, and the weather forecast was going to be fine but overcast. Having looked at the maps the night before, I decided that the best route for us to get there was to drive up to Ingleton on the A65 and then take the minor road which leads up through Kingsdale. 

On the way up I was recalling that I had been up in this area the week previously to grab some photos, and that I had called into Ingleton and had a full breakfast at one of the two cafes in the centre. Now, this put an idea into Steve’s head, and Steve being a chap who loves his food he made the robust suggestion that we should stop en-route and do the same again. I’m easily convinced, and as I had not eaten at all this morning I thought it would make sense to prevail on the hospitality of the Inglesport Cafe and partake in one of their ‘All Day’ offerings. So it was sausage, eggs & B all round, accompanied with tea and toast and all the other trimmings. We feasted on the comestibles placed in front of us and then sat there for quite a while looking like a couple of really contented Buddha’s. We then decided to make a move or this walk wouldn’t get completed. We slowly stood up, waddled down the stairs and out into the main street and back to the car to continue our journey.

Kingsdale is one of the lesser known Dales in Yorkshire and one of its valley sides is formed by the massive bulk of Whernside and the flanks of Gragareth comprise the opposite side. It is a place I had never visited before this walk and made a mental note to visit again at some point in the future and explore it further. It is long and largely uninhabited with a minor road running along its length and dropping down into Dentdale at its far end. There are only a couple of isolated farms on the valley floor in the dale and that is it. Trying to find the place was difficult though as there are no road signs saying “Kingsdale this way”, we took a number of wrong turns up various dead end farm tracks and passed through several small hamlets prior to picking up the road through the dale at Thornton in Lonsdale.

We parked at the head of the valley at a place marked on the OS map as High Moss. This was where a junction was formed between a substantial bridleway and the minor tarmac road. As we got out of the car, the wind hit us. I had shorts on, as I usually do, but it still made me give a sharp intake of breath and I had to rummage for my Berghaus Paclite shell to give me a bit of wind proofing to my upper body. We changed footwear and hoisted our packs onto our backs and set off along a very well made bridleway. The bridleway made for good going and the gradient was gradual. We took this path as we could make good, easy progress then head up the flanks of Gragareth and walk along the summit ridge.

The bridleway ran straight and flat at an area shown as Foul Moss, and the view from here was excellent and very open. You could make out the bridleway snaking its way around the head of a small valley and along the flanks of Great Coum. This must have been a pack horse or drovers road at some point and is marked on the OS maps as “Green Lane (track)”, it is also known locally as “Occupation Road” and thought to have been named from the time of the Enclosure Acts in the late 18th Century, although it has been suggested that the road may even be Roman in origin.

Bridleway at Foul Moss
Ingleborough from Foul Moss
Looking up to the Gragareth ridge from Foul Moss


As we crossed a small ford on the track leaving Foul Moss behind, the road surface changed dramatically from even, flat gravel to boulders and puddles. At some point in the last few years, the track had undergone some maintenance and was very good, up to this ford, and the track after this was just a morass of boulders, puddles and bog – perhaps it was where the money ran out. It was difficult going even on foot, never mind trying to get a train of loaded pack horses through here. As we rounded the bend in the track and approached Blea Gills we took a left turn and headed straight up the fell-side. As we left the track behind we could see a chap in the distance following the track and coming in the opposite direction to us, and he was pushing his mountain bike. He had clearly given up being able to ride the thing along the bridlepath and was using it as a true ‘pushbike’. I really felt for him and his disappointment. This sudden uphill exertion came as a shock to the system I can tell you, as we had been making steady, easy progress along a reasonable track, and now with legs pistoning, heart pumping and lungs heaving we were climbing up the steep side of the ridge from Great Coum to Gragareth. Slowly, as both legs and lungs were giving out, we approached the top of the ridge and the view of Kingsdale below started to open up as we gained height and gave us the reward we needed.

North to Deepdale and Dentdale from above Blea Gills

We got to the summit of the ridge at a place shown on the map as “Saddle of Fells”. We had a brief discussion here as to the choice of route. We could go around north to Great Coum and Crag Hill in order to ‘bag’ a couple more summits whilst we were up here, but that would have meant doubling back along the path we had just walked along to ultimately get to the object of the walk which was Gragareth. We quickly decided to head straight for Gragareth. At “Saddle of Fells” we turned and headed south, leaving Great Coum and Crag Hill for another day. 

The view to the Irish Sea from “Saddle of Fells”


As we left the “Saddle of Fells” behind and headed in the direction of Gragareth, we gained more height as we ambled towards Green Hill. Along the summit of this ridge is a large and substantially built drystone wall which forms the boundary between the two Counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Consider it as a sort of a mini Hadrian’s Wall separating civilisation from the barbarian hoards. Which group is which is up to you to decide.

The top of this ridge is just barren hillside with the wind whipping straight across the summit from off the Irish Sea in the distance. As it is flat on the summit of the ridge, the vegetation just acts as a sponge and retains water, and although the weather had been good for a few weeks previous, the walking underfoot was very boggy indeed. The path followed the route of the boundary wall and to be honest with you, it turned into a bit of a trudge with much grumbling between the two of us. The distance from the “Saddle of Fells” to the summit trig point of Gragareth was two miles – it certainly didn’t look two miles on the map, and at one point we were doubting ourselves and wondering if we had actually walked past the trig pillar as there are few identifying features up here.

The County boundary wall looking North

Eventually we found it. The summit trig pillar! Whilst not feeling as elated as Hillary and Tenzing were when they completed their famous summit climb, we were still happy to have come across it and realised we were the highest people in Lancashire at that time. The summit was deserted, and it didn’t look as though many people actually bother to come up here, even though the views are terrific, but why should people come up here when they have X-factor and Strictly Come Dancing to provide entertainment? Bread and circuses in my view but let’s not get onto that.

The highest point in Lancashire, the trig’ pillar on Gragareth

Whilst up on the summit, I suggested that we go and have a look at the Three Men of Gragareth, which are some large stone cairns on the hillside around 100m down from the top. After a quick discussion, we concluded that they weren’t on our route and added another 150m or so to our total ascent, so we decided to also leave them for another time too. 

Summit Panorama towards the Irish Sea

We took the quick way down and crossed the boundary wall over into Yorkshire with a descent into Kingsdale; I didn’t have my ‘papers’ on me but the border guards were not to be seen – I think there was a game of cricket taking place somewhere so they were distracted. After crossing the wall and descending slightly, we decided to sit down and look at the view over to Ingleborough and have our sandwiches. The vista just dropped away into valley far below us and the dark bulk of Ingleborough with its distinctive silhouette was on the horizon and even further away the profile of Pendle Hill was also visible.

Pendle Hill on the horizon

We found a suitable rock to sit upon and Steve went at the sandwiches like a man possessed. He ate all his, and then had a try with a couple I was struggling with; he has a legendary appetite and I don’t know where he puts it. Food finished, we reluctantly stood up, shouldered our rucksacks again and made our way down the steep escarpment that forms one of the sides of Kingsdale. We followed a drystone wall as we made our way down, and were surprised to see the angle of the ground on which it had been built. We struggled walking down it, and I certainly wouldn’t have liked to carry stone up it to build a wall. We passed an area to our left marked on the map as Turbary Pasture, a name which I had seen previously in the Dales and after doing some reading later about the name, it denotes an area of land set aside for the cutting of peat. I have come across it a couple of times on other walks, and there are also Turbary Roads, which presumably lead to areas where the common folk could dig peat for use on domestic fires in the absence of using wood or coal for cooking.

Looking down into Kingsdale
Looking North, up to the head of Kingsdale

The photographs don’t give the sense of scale of the drop of the escarpment, it felt like standing on the edge of the world as the moorland slipped away in front of you. There are very few trees, or other features in the dale and the long straight stonewalls make for excellent navigation. They are a testament to the skill of the men, long gone, who put them up without aid of the mechanical devices we now have, but just sheer graft and skill. I would have thought they would be proud that their work was still here, and standing after what must be a couple of hundred years in wind, rain and snow. Impressive monuments indeed, although very much anonymous.

Drystone wall in Kingsdale

The descent starting taking its toll on our knees, so we were pleased to see the road at the valley bottom. The ground was also rough underfoot and I had gone over on my ankle more than once. As we got onto the macadam surfaced road, it was a blessed relief to start making good progress and taking some long steady strides. We were soon picking up the pace and had soon got into a decent rhythm. 

We strolled past Yordas Cave, which was just off the road in a plantation of trees, and didn’t really give it much attention, however we should have had a look as it used to be a ‘show cave’ and is quite impressive inside. Our loss! The sky was gradually darkening and time was getting on, and we both had the anticipation of settling back into the car and taking the weight of the legs. We walked for nearly an hour along the road back to the car, it was 2.6 miles in total and it seemed an absolute age. In all the time we were walking along the road not a single car passed us by, although Steve kept asking in a plaintive voice, “Are we nearly there yet?”

As we approached the car a great sense of relief came over us and Steve very nearly kissed it, such was his appreciation. It was wonderful to take the pack off, and it is surprising how heavy the camera and a couple of lenses can become after a time. After changing our footwear and settling into the front seats, we set off back, via Ingleton obviously, so Steve could then call at the chip shop for some food in order to sustain him until he got home and had his ‘proper’ tea. The tape worm must have been pressuring him.
All in all, a good day’s walking, (and eating for some!) Kingsdale is worth another visit. If you want isolation then it is the place to be. In winter after a hard snow fall, you wouldn’t see another person for days. I look forward to seeing it again.



Sunday 13th September 2015 – A review of the GriSport "Peaklander" walking boot

This blog post is a departure from the normal type of blog in which I write about the walks I have been on and describe the route taken etc, and to further differentiate it from the ‘usual’ stuff it has the added benefit of video – did I hear someone at the back say Betamax?… or if getting down with the kids, it has a “vlog” (video blog) embedded in it. Progress eh?

As some of my readers will know I send out the occasional Tweet now and again to fill in the time between going out for walks and taking photos, and the other week I was quite surprised to be contacted on Twitter by @Grisport_UK, a manufacturer of walking boots. GriSport made the kind request of asking me to undertake a boot review for this very blog, to which I agreed. So, those kind folk up at GriSport sent me a pair of leather “Peaklander” walking boots which I then proceeded to try out. Now, this review is my own opinion of the boots, and everybody and his dog has an opinion, so should you feel inclined to disagree with what I’ve written then by all means do so, however, do note that I have tried to be objective and reasoned and to give a fair account of what I thought about them.



GriSport are an Italian footwear manufacturer who is based in the foot hills of the Dolomite Mountains – walking territory indeed! They were established in 1977 and have extensive research and development facilities, and through this have become a major supplier of footwear in Europe with a growing reputation for good quality, technical footwear and they have a very large range of walking boots available too. Their mission is “to provide the most comfortable footwear available”. I had heard of GriSport, and seen their boots in the shops, but I had never really paid much attention to them when I had been browsing the footwear sections of my local outdoors shop. Still, when a manufacturer contacts you and offers to send you a pair for review, you do tend to sit up and pay attention.
The Peaklander, fresh out of the box
After a brief discussion with GriSport, the boots I received were the “Peaklander” which is an ‘oiled’ leather (according to page 3 of the brochure), 3 season walking boot in my size of 45 (UK size 11). The boots are available in either brown or black and I received the brown ones. “Oiled” (possibly a mis-translation of waxed?) leather was not something I had really come across or considered before, but there was, or is, a slight oily feel to the surface, not that anything comes off on your hands or anything, so don’t hold that against them and after use it soon vanishes. The boots felt quite light, and I was surprised at this lack of weight when I took them out of the box. I got the scales out and they weighed in at 710g (1lb 9oz) each, which is less than my regular Berghaus Explorer Trek GTX’s which are 745g (1lb 10oz) each, and substantially less than my winter boots, the original Scarpa Manta M4’s at 1010g (2lb 3oz). The brochure gives a weight of 1120g, which I presume is for a pair, and even when halved to 560g for each boot is still way out from what my digital scales say. Perhaps the gravity is less in Northern Italy than it is in North West England, which would account for this discrepancy.
 
The boots look very attractive indeed (what did you expect? They’re Italian!), and are made from one piece leather. There is a line of triple stitching above the instep to join the uppers together. They are lined with a Spo-Tex waterproof and breathable liner, which I guess is GriSport’sversion of GoreTex™ and works just as it should. The sole is a “Track On” sole, which again is GriSport’s own make, and is virtually the same in texture and hardness as the market leading Vibram sole. Grisport do use Vibram on some of their other boots, but not on this model. The sole has deep cleats and a varied tread pattern which should offer grip in all directions and the deep cleats are shaped so they don’t hold mud.
Get the “Peaklander” on your feet and they are very comfortable indeed. I strapped them on and then went up Pen Y Ghent. They were comfortable from the off. No breaking in needed at all and no hotspots either on my feet. The boot is snug, but not too tight, which should give good dexterity and stability when hopping from rock to grass across boggy moorland as your feet feel more in touch with what is happening around them. The footbed seems quite wide too, which suits me fine, but I will have to put a few more miles in to see how the boot handles longer distances. The heel and sole curve has a nice smooth rolling action, and the well-padded ankle cuff provides some stiffness, but allows some flexibility. The is quite stiff which will give good support on uphill stretches, and the torsional stiffness along the boot is really good. This should help prevent your ankle tiring when walking across an uphill slope. The boots have seven bronzed steel eyelets fixed to each side of the bellows tongue, and these have plenty of room in them for the lace to easily pass through, (unlike some recent approach type shoes I bought last year, no names disclosed but a well known manufacturer). The seven lace fixings comprise of four closed eyelets to each side, and three hooked ones, the first of the hooked eyelets has a self tensioning profile to it, to prevent to lace becoming loose when in use.
GriSport ‘Peaklander’ with Pen Y Ghent in background

The boots were used on various types of terrain; grass, limestone, up and down stiles, along tarmac and through a stream too – they performed very, very well, and were comfortable throughout. I have perhaps done about 6 miles in them so far and not a pinch or grumble from the ‘plates of meat’. I must admit to really liking these; however I will be doing quite a few more miles in them and posting up my findings in a month and in six months in order to give a more objective review over a great time scale.

The route taken up Pen Y Ghent was from Horton in Ribblesdale, and up the lane leading to Brackenbottom. This then took the main 3 Peaks Challenge route up the prow of Pen Y Ghent, following the Pennine Way. We camped over as we arrived on Saturday evening, and had chosen the same weekend as The Royal Signals has chosen for their Lanyard Trophy which took place on the Saturday. The campsite, which in my experience is usually sparsely populated had transformed into a military camp – however, they were very accommodating and managed to squeeze us into a corner with a few other civi’s. The Lanyard Trophy is an inter-regimental challenge of differing regimental teams having to complete a 40 mile hike all with 40lb packs on their backs. Just thinking of this tires me out, but it would have been a good test of the GriSport boots. After chatting to one of the participants, he told us the winning team this year did it in just over 10 hours, and included the Three Peaks in it. The slowest team completed in just over 18 hours. 

We set out on Sunday morning, passed through Brackenbottom and started climbing the path to Pen Y Ghent, where we met with a constant stream of people coming in the opposite direction who were doing the 3 Peaks for a heart charity. I must admit to being taken aback by the number of people passing us. I have done the 3 Peaks about 6 times previously and the last time would have been in the mid 1990’s (my personal best is just over 6 1/2 hours) but I don’t remember it being like this – I’ve seen less people in Manchester city centre! We got to the Pennine Way and decided to turn around due to the numbers of people streaming off the summit – it would have been a battle just climbing up there against these numbers and a large number were carrying blow-up dolls; it seemed more of a stag party than a charity walk.

An old lime kiln below Pen Y Ghent

I’m all for raising money for charitable causes; I’m a trustee of a charity myself, but I must say that the numbers of people I experienced on this short stroll have really put me off going to any of the Yorkshire three peaks at any other time than Winter. Call me a whinger, but the numbers do seem to be out of control.

Anyway, we got back to Horton in Ribblesdale and then went to The Crown Hotel for some lunch, only to find that they had stopped serving food; however, to their credit, they did knock up several bowls of chips and some bread and butter – so it was chip butties all round! This surprised us because we have never been to a pub with so many notices pinned up telling us what not to do – you know the type “Don’t do this, Don’t do that, Don’t do the other, No this, No that, No the other….” All on A4 paper and laminated too!



 
So far, so good then? What’s the downside? Well, erm, ummm, I can’t really think of one. The only thing that does spring to mind is that they look like they have seen more action than they actually have had. I think it is down to the oiled (waxed??) finish on the leather – any scuffs from climbing over walls and stiles etc show up a light brown scratches, and areas of greater wear and friction have become slightly lighter in colour too. I don’t doubt that this will disappear with a bit of boot care or surface treatment, and it doesn’t affect the performance of the boot in any way; it is just cosmetic, however it did surprise me when I took them off. I will report back on this in a few weeks, but my overall impression was one of a very well made, very comfortable walking boot, and one to look out for in the future.

Watch this space, as I’ll update the blog in the coming months as I get more used to the boots.

Thanks for reading.