Up onto the Carneddau – Drum, Foel Fras and Carnedd Gwenllian

The third day of my break in North Wales and I was keen to get up into the mountains. The weather forecast predicted cloud high up early on but that it would clear so I had a leisurely breakfast, packed my rucksack and set out late morning. There aren’t many access points to the Carneddau plateau from the north, so I’d decided to repeat a walk I’d done during my holiday the previous July, heading up towards one of the Welsh 3000 footers, Foel Fras via Drum. It’s a fair way up to there (almost 6 “map miles”) and I was going to be starting from only a few feet above sea level so it was going to be a significant ascent too. From the summit of Foel Fras there’s a number of options for the return and I’d decide which I’d take depending on how the day went and how I felt once I got up there.

The start of the walk retraced my steps from the previous day’s amble, along Gwylt Road, but this time I turned off the path up onto the moors just after I’d joined the Terrace Walk.

I passed Garreg Fawr that I’d climbed the previous day. This time I was heading for higher pastures.

Views of the mountains ahead

and, looking back, the sea

carrying along the track, the pylons came into view indicating that I wasn’t far from the Roman road

I reached the fingerpost

this time following the path towards Drum (pronounced ‘Drim’, it means ‘Ridge’ in English) my first objective of the day.

I passed a small herd of ponies – they wouldn’t be the last ones I’d see during the walk

Climbing gradually uphill towards Drum, I was on a broad track, which seems a little out of place given the remote nature of the territory. It was apparently constructed in the 1950’s by the army for a secret project testing a radar system known as the “Blue Joker”. Paul Shorrock has some details and photographs about the project in one of the posts on his excellent blog, which has a good number of posts featuring walks on the Carneddau.

Carrying onwards and upwards, Lynn Anafon in the valley below Llwytmor came into view

and looking back views over the foothills to the sea and Anglesey had opened up

There’s the summit of Drum. It’s also known as Carnedd Penyborth-Goch, but I’ll stick with Drum for this post – it’s a lot easier to type and I’ve a lot more Welsh spellings to try to cope with! The pile of stones is a prehistoric round cairn that has been demolished and hollowed out to form a shelter. It’s welcome for shelter on a windy day (very common up here) but it’s a pity that a prehistoric structure has been seriously compromised.

Time to stop for a while for a bite to eat and to take in the views. There’s Foel Fras, my next objective

Looking north towards the sea

east to the Conwy valley

There’s Tal-y-fan and Foel Lwyd

A couple passed on the track, making their way down the mountain – the first I’d seen since I set out

Setting off to Foel Fras, the military track was no more but there was a clear path which descended about 150 feet before climbing steeply up to the summit. The ground here was potentially wet and boggy and stepping stones had been laid over the worst sections to help keep boots dry and minimise erosion. The ground was relatively dry during my walk, though, following a drier spell of weather.

Looking down towards Lynn Anafon and Llwytmor Bach with Anglesey just about visible in the distance.

I found it a little hard going climbing the path up “the broad bald hill” (the English translation of Foel Fras) and had to take frequent short stops to regain my breath – a sign of getting older combined with, probably, a lack of “fell fitness” – but I eventually made it to the top.

Up to now I’d been walking on grassy slopes, but the summit is a landscape of shattered rock. Walking over to the trip point care is definitely needed to avoid breaking an ankle!

the summit of Foel Fras

At 942 metres (3090 feet), Foel Fras is the northernmost of the Welsh 3000 foot peaks and from it’s summit I had views over the high Carneddau plateau to several of the others including Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd, Yr Elyn, Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian. It had been a fair climb given that I’d started from only about 50 feet above sea level

I’d really have liked to complete a circular route, heading down over a few more peaks and then down to Abergwyngregyn but although there were several hours of light left, I knew that that would probably have been pushing things a bit beyond my capabilities and, in any case, I hadn’t enough supplies with me and the last thing I would have wanted would be to have a hypo up on this isolated plateau. So, I was going to return the way I’d come up. But I felt I could push myself a little more. The minor peak of Carnedd Gwenllian wasn’t so far away and from there I’d get a closer view of some of the other high mountains, so after a short rest I carried on along the path which descended a little, leaving the rocky summit and continuing over the grassy (and potentially boggy) ground.

Moving swiftly with no need for “blows” – it was easy walking – I made it to the summit of Carnedd Gwenllian in about 20 minutes

It was previously known as Carnedd Uchaf, but a campaign by the Princess Gwenllian Society led to a change of name in 2009 to honour the only daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, after who the nearby Carnedd Llywelyn is named. Although the summit is 3035 high it isn’t always included in the list of Welsh 3000 footers, as it only rises slightly above the plateau. But I’m going to count it!

The extra mile (or thereabout) was worth it for the views over to the nearby mountains across the plateau to the south

The view from Carnedd Gwenllian towards Foel Grach, Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd and Yr Elyn,
zooming in on Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd and Yr Elyn

After soaking up the views it was time to set off to retrace my steps back to LLanfairfechan. A circular route is usually preferable but a “there and back” allows you to get a different perspective and this one is a case in point as going down provides excellent views down to the sea.

Foel Fras with Llwytmor to the left

On the way back to Foel Fras I passed another herd of ponies with their foals

Approaching the summit of Foel Fras
Looking down towards the sea and Puffin Island
Looking down the mountains towards Anglesey
Looking over towards Drum

I started the descent from Foel Fras. It was easier than the climb up!

More ponies!

Reaching the Bwlch I had the option of varying my route by descending “off piste” down the grassy slopes towards Lynn Anafon. I could then make my way back to LLanfairfechan, but I’d be walking down a valley and would be missing the views down to the sea so I decided to keep following the high track.

On the way down from Drum

Another option I had to vary the route was to take the fork off the military track over to Drosgyl. I seriously considered this but decided against it as it would have added a little extra distance to the route and, after my diversion to Carnedd Gwenllian I was beginning to flag a little.

More ponies, probably belonging to the herd I’d seen on my way up
Approaching the Roman road

I carried on taking the now familiar path past Garreg Fawr stopping to chat with a father and daughter out for an evening walk with their dog. They were the 12th and 13th people I’d seen during my walk.

Looking back towards the mountains

I carried on along the grassy path down off the hills rejoining the minor road and then made my way back to my accommodation. It had been a long day but a good one! Time for a brew then a soak in the bath before making an easy meal and settling down for the evening.

I had another full day in Llanfairfechan to come and the weather forecast looked promising.

Sea or mountains?

Monday morning it was overcast when I got up. I’m not one for lying in (why waste the best of the day?) and I knew conditions were likely to change during the day so was hopeful of some sunshine. I was faced with a minor dilemma – should I head into the hills or go for a walk along the coast? Both have their attractions. I’d been up on the hills the day before so the coast would make a change, but then… I ended up doing both!

I always feel the coast is at its best when the sun is shining and it was still cloudy when I set out, so I thought I’d head to the hills and see what transpired. A short distance down what used to be the main road (that isn’t that busy since the through traffic is on the A55 which bypasses the town) I turned off down a quiet track with the hills in sight.

an old water fountain on Gwylt Road

It took me up to Gwylt Road, a minor road that runs parallel to the coast, turning into the Terrace Walk, with views over the town to the coast,

Looking towards the sea from the Terrace walk with Anglesey and Puffin Island visible

and then the Valley Road which eventually turned into a track up into the wilds. So a little more walking on tarmac than I like but it was a different way of accessing the fells to that I’d taken during my last break in Llanfairfechan. The Valley Road runs along the hillside above the Afon Llanfairfechan which runs through the Nant y Coed Local Nature Reserve, an attractive wooded valley.

Looking across the valley towards Penmaenmawr

Nant y Coed was once a tourist attraction created by late 19th century to local businessman John Rowland Jones, who charged visitors for entry. The estate was sold to the Local Authority in 1923 and can now be accessed and enjoyed for free. With proper planning I could have worked out a route that would have taken me through the woods, which would have been more pleasant than plodding along the tarmac. However, after passing the nature reserve the road turned into a track leading up onto the moors.

I was soon making my way through rough fields and heath

Looking back downhill towards the sea

I carried on along the track but at one point I missed a turning and ended up following what I thought was a path but turned out to be a sheep trod. A little scrambling through scrub, under low branches and over a tree that had fallen over a fence, I managed to regain the path and carried on heading upwards

Foel Lwyd ahead
Drosgyl ahead and behind it, in the distance, Y Drum

I carried on along the path until I eventually reached the old Roman road that runs along the pass through the hills towards Abergwyngeryn. Although known as the Roman Road and marked as such on the OS map, this is an ancient route that was used by prehistoric people and then later by travellers and drovers.

A long line of tall pylons carrying power lines also follows the valley. It’s hard to completely ignore them but it’s easy enough to cast your eyes to the high hills and mountains behind them or towards the sea.

It was decision time now. There were a number of options of routes up into the mountains but given that there was some low cloud and mist lingering higher up, and the sun was shining over the coast, I decided to head west along the track and then double back over Garreg Fawr towards Llanfairfechan.

I made my way to the hill that overlooks the town.

Someone had planted a Welsh flag on the top of its rocky summit

I stopped for a while – it was dinner time now so time to eat and take in the views over the sea to Anglesey and Puffin Island

to Penmaenmawr

and back over to the Carneddau

It was a steep descent back to the town

I made my way through the narrow streets

down to the promenade of the Edwardian resort

Looking east – the Great Orme in the distance

It was sunny, but somewhat windy as I set off heading west along the coast path, passing a group of houses which include three built in the the Arts and Crafts style which were designed by local architect H L North

I carried on towards the salt marshes of Traeth Lafan nature reserve

Since I was here last year a number of wooden benches have been installed which feature different types of birds that breed on the marshes

one even has a panorama of the hills

Looking over the salt march with views over to the Carneddau

Reaching another Arts and Crafts style house

I left the coastal path, crossed over the railway via the railway crossing and made my way back to my accommodation. This involved walking beside the busy A55 for a short distance. It’s surprising but you don’t really notice the traffic noise when you’re on the coastal path even though the road is not that far away.

Arriving back at the flat it was time for a brew and after showering I settled down with my book for what was left of the afternoon.

Rowen, Llangelynnin, Caer Bach and Tal-y-fan

Last week I managed to get away for a few days to North Wales. I stopped in the same accommodation in Llanfairfechan as last June – a good sized and well equipped self contained flat ideally located as a base for walks straight from the front door up into the northern Carneddau mountains as well as along the coast. I was lucky with the weather – generally fine although not too hot.

I set out early Sunday morning heading for Rowen in the Conwy Valley for a walk up on the hills. Luckily I’d checked out Google maps the night before as I discovered that the M56 near Runcorn was closed all weekend so that a bridge could be demolished. There was a diversion but you know what they’re like! So I used the knowledge gained over many years of travelling to Chester and North Wales to plot an alternative approach to avoid the M56 altogether and join the A55 east of Chester. I reckon it took me about 10 minutes longer to reach my destination than if I’d taken the usual route using the M56, but far preferable to sitting in a queue of frustrated motorists following the designated diversion.

I arrived in Rowen mid morning. It’s an attractive small village sitting at the foot of the eastern Carneddau hills and mountains. It was originally a working village with the occupants working in local farms and quarries or in home based textile production, spinning or weaving wool. Quarry workers would walk for miles to reach their workplaces and their are stories of some walking across the moors to Penmaenmawr on the northern coast and back every day. The Huw Tom walking route is based on following the footsteps of one such worker who became an active trade unionist and politician. I found out about it when I bumped into a couple of walkers following the route over from Penmaenmawr during my own walk.

There’s plenty of attractive stone cottages that used to house the workers that have been done up. No doubt quite a few are holiday lets. There’s a pub and a chapel (this is North Wales, after all) but no other facilities, although I think there’s a shop / cafe that’s open at weekends (although I didn’t come across it).

I’d found a route I fancied on using the OS map website and printed out a map the day before, but arriving at Rowen I discovered that, together with my OS map, I’d left it at home. No problem, I’d had the foresight to download the relevant map using the OS app on my phone. Alas, when I switched to the app I found that it hadn’t finished downloading and, not really a big surprise in an out of the way location, there was no phone signal. I thought I could more or less remember the route, so set off anyway. It was a fine day and I was hopeful I wouldn’t get completely lost. Fortunately, after a mile or so, the signal had picked up and the map finished downloading. I had strayed off the planned route, but was still heading in the right direction.

My route took me through pleasant woodland, through fields and across moorland

with views over the Conwy Valley

Having strayed off the original route a little I ended up cutting through some woods where there there was a massive display of bluebells. Although at the end of their season they were more or less in their prime here. My photos below really doesn’t do justice to the sea of blue that I saw.

Leaving the woods, a walk across a stretch of rougher moor brought me to my first destination – a medieval chapel in the middle of nowhere.

Llangelynnin old church is a fascinating, well preserved medieval place of worship built in the 12th Century with some later additions, including the 15th Century porch. It’s still in use today and there was a service in the afternoon on the day I visited (although I’d long gone before it started!)

The church stands on the mountainside, with great views over the Conwy Valley and the foothills of the eastern Carneddau a few miles from the nearest settlement (not counting the two houses a short distance away), and I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to build a church here. However, it stands on a number of old routes used by farmers, drovers and other travellers, including pilgrims on their way to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) and so was probably built to serve their needs. Drovers must have been an important target group as the small side chapel was built for their use – as well as an Inn and a cock fighting pit outside the churchyard boundary!

inside the small church looking along the nave.
Notice the writing (and skull and crossbones) on the wall
The octagonal font – probably from the 13th or 14th Century

In the corner of the churchyard there’s a “holy well”, which is alleged to have the power to cure sick children

I spent some time looking round the church and churchyard, but then it was time to carry on up the track that led up the hillside

Looking back down towards Conwy and the Irish Sea

I wondered whether I’d see any of the semi-wild Carneddau ponies. Yes, there’s a herd of them with some very young foals as I approached my next objective, the ruins of the Caer Bach (Small fort) Iron Age fortress.

Some of them seemed to be guarding the ruins from English interlopers

but they must have realised that I’m part Welsh as they didn’t attempt to impede my progress.

It’s difficult to show the extent of the remains of the prehistoric strongpoint in a photo but the top of the small hillock was encircled by the ruins

Some of the remains of the fortifications of Caer Bach

After resting for a while and a bite to eat I carried on. I could have stayed low and circled back to Rowen, but it was such a fine day, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I decided to tackle Tal-y-fan, the most northern mountain in Wales. I’d been up before, last autumn, and knew it was a fine viewpoint. This time I tackled it straight on climbing up the steep slope towards the top – with regular stops to regain my breath! It was hard work.

Looking back down from part way up the mountain

Nearing the top, views opened out over to the high mountains to the south

and northwards towards the Conwy valley and the sea

I joined the path towards the summit

Made it!

Looking towards the mountains including Drum and Foel Fras – I had plans for them
Looking north towards Penmaenmawr and beyond towards Anglesey and Puffin Island

It was a steep descent down from the summit to the bwlch (pass) between Tal-y-fan and Foel Lwyd and then crossed over the stile taking the path down the hillside to the old Roman road which was build over an even earlier route through the mountains. After a short stretch on the tarmac I turned off down the track that would gradually descend back down to Rowen.

You should have realised by now that there’s a lot of history up here and without even trying I passed a Neolithic standing stone

and the remains of a cromlech (Neolithic burial chamber)

Maen y Bardd – “the rock of the bard”

Carrying on, as the track turned into a narrow metalled road, I passed the Rhiw Youth Hostel

and descended very steeply back towards the village (knees starting to hurt a little now).

back in Rowen

Passing the village chapel I spoke to the resident of the house next door who acted as caretaker and he told me I could look inside

It was well looked after and was still in use. There was also an interesting little exhibition about the history of the village, the chapel and Methodism in general. Definitely worth a look.

Leaving the chapel I stopped for a little while and chatted to the elderly gentleman about life in Rowen, rugby (he followed Rugby League too) and life in general before heading back to my car. It had been an excellent walk packed with scenery, history and prehistory.

It wasn’t so far to where I was staying – a few miles up the valley to Conwy and then along the A55 coastal road. I stopped at the local Co-op to pick up some supplies and then it was a short drive to my accommodation. I settled in, showered (it had been a hot afternoon) and fried up a steak and some potatoes, then settled in for the evening. I had hopes for a decent few days and had several walks in mind. To be continued!

Appley Bridge to Parbold

Last Tuesday, having been stuck indoors for a few days I decided to get out for a walk. I decided on an easy, local route, catching the train to Appley Bridge and walking along the canal to Parbold, returning on paths through fields and woods.

A short walk along the road from the station and I joined the canal towpath

It was easy going as there’s only one lock on this section so it’s pretty much flat all the way.

Getting closer to Parbold there were narrowboats moored up along the bank

The old windmill – now a gallery selling paintings and prints by a local artist

I left the towpath on reaching the village. I was looking forward to a brew and a bite to eat at the very nice little cafe opposite the old windmill. Alas, I too late I discovered that it’s cloded on Tuesdays (and Wednesdays too at the moment according to the note in the window). There isn’t another cafe in the village (as far as I know) so I continued on my walk, taking the lane lined with expensive houses (it’s a posh little place is Parbold) and then footpaths through the fields which led to a bridge over the canal.

The track led to the railway line, which I crossed using the level crossing

Carrying on along the lane I reached a t- junction where I turned right along a mettaled road, which eventually turned into a track and then paths through woodland and fields.

Looking across the fields towards Ashurst’s Beacon
The bluebells are blooming!
Sheep sheltering from the sun

I climbed over the stile into the “Fairy Glen” –   a narrow wooded valley created by Sprodley Brook which has, over time, cut down through the underlying sandstone to create a narrow valley with small waterfalls and cliff faces.

The path to Appley Bridge cuts across the bottom of the valley, but I decided that I’d extend the walk up and then back down before turning off towards my destination.

Lots of bluebells on the hillside

It’s a popular place and I passed several family groups enjoying the sunshine and playing in the woods and by the stream – the teaching unions were on strike that day.

The path wound it’s way up the hill, through the woods and over bridges crossing the stream

At the top of the valley I doubled back and then took the path towards Appley Bridge where I made my way back to the station along the road.

It was an enjoyable, easy walk on a pleasant, sunny afternoon. There was a sting in the tail, however. Towards the end of the walk I was experiencing a little discomfort in my right knee. Not too unusual, I thought, as I do have trouble with my knees, particularly coming down hill. But during the evening it became more painful and it was clear I’d done some damage to a ligament. That was a pain in more than one way as I have a little trip planned in a couple of weeks. So for the last week I’ve rested, avoided driving and stayed indoors even through I would have been tempted to get out for a walk on a couple of nice days. A bit of a disappointment as this is my favourite time of years when everything is fresh, the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. It’s feeling a lot better today so fingers crossed it will be alright when it’s time for my break.

Back on the Moors

Last week, after a few days stuck in front of a computer screen, I was itching to get out again. I hadn’t been up on my local moors for a while – in fact, not since early January, – so I decided to drive over to White Coppice and get up Great Hill.

I parked up by the cricket field, booted up and set off up the short steep path up onto the moor. I spent many hours up here during my teenage years. I could walk to White Coppice over the Nab in about an hour. It’s then a couple of miles up on to and across the moor to reach the summit of Great Hill

The view at the bottom of the climb

I was pleased to find that the path wasn’t particularly muddy – except for a few places. Not so bad considering recent rain. But the peat on the moor off the path looked like it would be quite different. It takes time to dry out.

After a short while the summit came into view.

and shortly afterwards I reached the ruined farm buildings at Drinkwaters. It’s a popular spot for walkers to take a break and I decided that’s what I’d do.

I was very disappointed to find that Joe’s Cup was missing and it’s “house” had been damaged. Sadly, mindless vandals can get up here.

Joe Whitaker was a fell runner from Wigan who used to train regularly up on these moors. There’s a spring just down from the old farm – that’s probably why it was called Drinkwaters – I used to be able to find it when I was younger and when I was up here with friends or on my own used to draw water to make a brew, on a meths or calor gas stove. Apparently Joe would stop off and drink water from the spring, using a tin cup. After he died, at the early age of 52 in 1991 his friend built the monument and incorporated his cup. It was there, undisturbed, for quite a few years and seeing it gone and the little monument gone made me feel quite sick in the stomach.

Disappointed and feeling a little low – the theft and damage had affected my mood – I carried on and soon reached the summit where I stopped for a while to take in the views

Visibility wasn’t so great so the views were limited and hazy.

Pendle Hill and Darwen Tower
Winter Hill and Rivington Pike

I took the path down the hill in the direction of Winter Hill, but I wasn’t going over the Redmond and Spitler’s Edges today. Instead, I turned west and headed towards the ruins of Great Hill Farm

I had considered crossing the moor over to Round Loaf, but my suspicion about how wet the peat would be was confirmed and I didn’t fancy a trudge through the quagmire.

Great Hill Farm ruins

Instead I carried on along the path then cut up back towards Drinkwaters, dodging the best I could the boggy patches

Back at Drinkwaters

From there I carried on back down the path retracing my steps from the ascent, before turning off on the track towards Brinscall. It had been very quiet up on the moor. I’d only seen three other people and there were no sheep – at this time of the year, lambing time, they’re down in the pastures. There were plenty of small birds – larks and wheatears in particular – but eventually I head, and saw, a curlew. I’d have been disappointed not to have come across one but they are an endangered species, numbers having fallen dramatically. But I can usually count on encountering one up here at this time of the year.

Reaching the metalled minor road, instead of going straight down towards Brinscall, I took the path directly ahead, through the fields. Plenty of sheep with their lambs now.

I was surprised to see a few Herdwicks with their black lambs in amongst the usual white fleeces.

I made my way to Abraham’s Temple – not, not a religious site but another ruined farm. I’ve no idea why it’s called that! Surprisingly, I’d never been on this part of the hill before.

I turned 180 degrees to start making my way down off the hill, passing another ruined farm

I carried on along the paths through the fields

until I reached the metalled road, wich I crossed and started down the path through the woods of Wheelton Plantation (also known as Brinscall Woods). This website gives the background to their creation

the planting of Brinscall woods was intended to keep people away. In the 19th century the Lancashire moors were being cultivated to provide more and more water for neighbouring Liverpool. In the mid 1800’s there was both a cry for a better quality of available water, and multiple outbreaks of the highly infectious disease Typhoid.

To meet the demand for clean water, and to prevent contamination, the areas where the water was drawn was cleared of all human residents. To make sure no one returned to their former homes, the lands and estates of the numerous manors and farms in the area were planted with thousands of trees, rendering them useless. 

So, like the clearing of the farms on Anglezarke Moors, this was the work of the Liverpool Water Corporation

The path led through the woods down the hill to the Goyt

which I followed back to White Coppice

A walk around Colden Clough

A few days after my return from the Lakes, I was itching to get back out again. I’m keen to do some more exploration of the South Pennines, so on a fine and sunny Thursday morning I hopped on the train to Hebden Bridge.

I’d worked on a route which would head up to Heptonstall and then round the Colden Clough – a steep sided valley that curs into the Pennine hills to the north of the Calder valley. But first, I had to make my way through the town,

I crossed over the old packhorse bridge (which has been repaired and rebuilt several times following the floods that have plagued the town in the past)

and then started the climb up to Heptonstall by the VERY steep cobbled lane up

Part way up I stopped to take in the view over Hebden Bridge. I could see several streets of the “over and under” houses that are characteristic of the town. The tall terraced houses were built with 4 or 5 storeys were built as a solution to the limitations created by the limited space in the narrow Calder valley. In most northern industrial cities and towns workers’ houses were often built “back to back” – i.e. two houses sharing a common rear wall. This wasn’t so feasible in Hebden Bridge so they built one house on top of another. One house occupies the upper storeys which face uphill while the second house in the lower two stories face downhill with their back wall against the hillside.

Eventually, huffing and puffing after a steep climb. I reached Heptonstall

There’s been a settlement here as far back as at least 1253 and it was even the site of a battle during the Civil War. Historically, it was a centre for hand-loom weaving, The work was done in the worker’s own homes, usually on the top floor and the old cottages and houses have long rows of stone mullioned windows on the first-floor which were meant to allow in plenty of light for the weavers.

High up on the hill it was away from the dark and damp valley floor. However, during the early Industrial Revolution, with the advent of water power, the new factories were built by the source of their power, the river, so Heptonstall went into decline. As a consequence, it’s almost as if it’s been frozen in time. I guess that for many years the buildings would have fallen into disrepair, but with the resurgence of Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall has also become a desirable location and the old houses and other buildings have been renovated.

This looks like a laithe house, where the barn (laithe), used to house livestock, is adjacent to the living accommodation. They’re not internally connected, so there are separate entrances for the living and livestock areas. This is a common type of farm building in West Yorkshire and over into Lancashire and parts of Westmorland and, like this one, today they’re often converted into more modern living arrangements

passing a close of houses

I made my way to the churchyard – there was a grave I wanted to visit.

There’s actually two churches there, one of them a ruined shell. The original church, dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was founded c.1260, but was damaged by a gale in 1847. The new church which replaced it, dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, was built just across the churchyard. 

There’s a lot of graves in the old churchyard, but after hunting around for a while, I found the one I was looking for – the resting place of David Hartley, the Kong of the Crag Vale Coinerswho was executed in York on 28 April 1770.

Some consider the coiners to be local heroes, Calderdale “Robin Hoods”. Others consider them as a bunch of vicious rogues. In either case, they are the subject of a rather excellent prize winning novel, The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers, who lives in the area, and there’s a TV series due to start on the BBC in the near future based on the novel.

Due to the novel, the Crag Vale Coiners have become better known and this probably accounts for the coins scattered on the headstone, left by other visitors. Thre weren’t any when I was last here a few years ago.

The old, ruined church
The “new” Victorian church

I walked through the old graveyard and the “new” church and then into the churchyard extension. I wanted to visit another grave. The American poet who had been married to local lad, and former Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes

Time to move on so I joined the path that was part of the Calderdale Way. I was going to follow this route for a while now

and was soon treated to a magnificent view over the narrow Colden Clough over the Calder Valley and on to Stoodley Pike

I carried on along the Calderdale Way, high above the valley on a narrow path with a steep drop down to my left

climbing over over and past outcrops of Millstone Grit.

After about a mile I emerged on a narrow country lane

which I followed for a short distance before joining a narrow track, still following the Calderdale Way. Up here, the route is following an old packhorse trail.

At one time the routs which are quiet and peaceful today would have been busy with packhorse trains transporting goods such as salt, milk, coal and lime, to and from the settlements in the Pennines and further afield. High up on the hillsides, like this one, they were away from what would often have been marshy and boggy valley bottoms.

The path went through some fields where I attracted the attention of some local residents.

The path here is a very good example of a ’causey’ – a paved packhorse trail which probably dates right back to the 17th or 18th century. I’d been along one during my recent walk above Todmorden too. Many of these causeys stretch for miles across the moors.

Looking over the fields I could see one of the small settlements that are scattered on the hills and valleys around here.

Eventally the path started to descend towards the bottom of the clough.

Where it crossed over an ancient, narrow stone clapper bridge

Looking upstream
and downstream

I was now on the Pennine Way and would follow the route now back down to the Calder Valley. There were some steep steps to climb

Looking back to the footbridge

which took me to a narow track, which I crossed and I continued on along the Pennine Way

Looking across the fields

The path took me through fields with good views of the countryside all around. it was quiet and peaceful up here and I could hear the bubbling cry of curlews flying over the moors in the distance.

Topping the brow of a hill a view opened up across to Stoodley Pike

Reaching a small group of houses the route started to descend steeply down the sides of the valley.

I passed several houses on the way down. At one time these would have been hives of industry – homes of farmers and their families who were also participating in the “dual economy”, supplementing their living with spinning and weaving textiles before the rise of the factory system during the Industrial Revolution. the architecture of the houses reflecting the dual purpose.

The path wound down the hillside, down into theCalder Valley

Reaching the main road< I crossed over and took the turning down a lane to the canal, where I left the Pennine Way and joined the towpath to head back towards Hebden Bridge.

There were quite a few narrow boats moored up along the canal – many of them probably houseboats.

Getting closer to Hebden Bridge there were clusters of houses close to the river and canal

Getting close to Hebden Bridge, now
More “over and under” houses as I reached Hebden Bridge

Arriving back in Hebden Bridge I had a mooch around the small town and ate my sandwiches sitting in the park

Then it was time to return to the train station to catch my train back to Wigan.

I’ll be making more use of this train route in the future as there’s more potential for walking routes to explore the Calder Valley.

Walla Crag, Bleaberry Fell and Surprise View

The last day of my break in the Lakes was a belter. I’d arranged to meet up with Helena, a relative from the North East who is a keen walker and we’d been talking about walking together in the Lakes for a while. She’s a similar age to my daughter. I’ve never been able to convince either of my offspring about the pleasures of hill walking so it was nice to get out with a young person who likes to get outdoors. She’s much more energetic and adventurous than me, having tackled Sharp Edge, for example, and is a keen “wild swimmer” too. She’s been staying over in Keswick the previous night and I picked her up from her B and B and then set off, driving down the Borowdale road.

We parked up in the Great Wood car park on the shores of Derwent Water and set off up through the woods, eventually reaching a path where we turned right towards Castlerigg farm and then, crossing over a narrow footbridge, we took the path up the hill towards our first destination. Views opened up over Derwent Water, the fells to the west of the lake, and, to the north, Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Lonscale Fell and Blencathra

After a short steep climb and we reached the summit of Walla Crag. Not so high, but a great viewpoint over Derwent Water and the western fells. The air was very clear so we could see over the Solway Firth to the hills of Galloway in Scotland. 

We stopped for a little while taking in the views, snapping photographs and chatting with other walkers who’d made their way up to this popular viewpoint. Then it was time to set out again heading for our next destination, Bleaberry Fell, a relatively modest fell at 1,936 feet high – not quite a mountain if you take the definition as 2,000 feet. It’s an easy, gentle walk on a good path across the boggy (particularly after the recent rain) moorland, with a bit of a bite at the end. Helena was quite patient with the old man making his way slowly up the steep climb to the summit! When we reached it, there were great views all around.

Over to the east towards the Helvellyn range

Clough Head and the Dodds
Over to Helvellyn
Looking south west down Borrowdale over to the Scafell Pike and Great Gable

Some other walkers we talked to were planning on walking over to High seat – an option which makes for a good circular route – good, that is, except that this entails crossing “the infinite swamp of despair” as described by Black Crag in his recent video on Youtube. Even Wainwright reckons that “this is a walk to wish on one’s worst enemy“ and given my experience on waterlogged fields and moors over the past few days, I didn’t feel like dragging Helena through the bogs. Instead we retraced our steps towards Walla Crag but before reaching it turned off down the path descending down towards Ashness Bridge.

A view over the lake as we made our way down from Bleaberry Fell to Ashness Bridge

Reaching, Ashness Bridge, an old pack horse bridge, which is an easily accessible and very popular “honeypot”, there were quite a few people, snapping photographs and selfies. After taking our own photos (!) we made our way a short distance up the road to visit another well known honeypot viewpoint – “Surprise View”. Amazingly, I’d never actually been up to it before.

The view from “Surprise View”
Looking down towards the south end of the lake and the Lodore Hotel

We returned to Ashness Bridge and then took the path that hugged the bottom of the fell that would take us back to the car park at Great Wood

but before returning to the car, we made our way to the lakeside at Calf Close Bay. It’s become something of a tradition when I’m over this way to check out the Hundred Year Stones to see whether they’re submerged in the lake.  They were partially submerged this visit

The stones were created by Peter Randall-Page to mark the centenary of the National Trust in 1995

As we walked back to the car park we both commented that we could kill a coffee, but the nearest place to get one was back in Keswick – or so I thought. Crossing the road we spotted a mobile coffee van parked up in the car park! We couldn’t believe our luck so made our way over with some haste ! Talking to the owners, who were from Liverpool originally, we found out that it was a new venture. The coffee was delicious and provided a much needed caffeine boost at the end of the walk.

We debooted and I drove H back to Keswick where she was staying for a second night, but I was time for me to set off home after another good short break in the Lake District. It had started out horrible and wet, but the weather had improved over the few days and this had a been a great end to my visit.

Gowbarrow Fell

The third day of my break and I had hopes for an improvement in the weather. I’d had a rough night, though, hadn’t slept well and still felt a little dodgy in the morning. But I hadn’t come up to the Lakes to stay in bed all day so decided I’d get out anyway, but to not stray too far and not try anything too ambitious.

I set off in the car and drove a few miles along the lake shore and parked up in the National Trust Aira Force car park. I decided I’d repeat a walk I’d done a few years before going up past the waterfalls and then on to Gowbarrow Fell. Aira Force is something of a honeypot, and being the school holidays it was fairly busy when I arrived, although I had no trouble finding a parking space, and there were plenty of family groups starting to make their way up the path.

The waterfalls and fell are part of the Gowbarrow Estate that used to be owned by the the Howard family of Greystoke Castle. They had an old hunting lodge or Pele tower close to the Ullswater shore which they renovated and converted into what is now Lyulph’s Tower, set among its own sporting estate. They landscaped the area around the force, and used it as a pleasure garden, planting over half a million native and ornamental trees, and established a network of tracks, footpaths and bridges. In 1906 the Estate went up for sale and after a fundraising campaign it was purchased by the National Trust, probably saving it from being developed and public access prohibited.

Setting off from the car park I followed the course of the beck and soon came to Aira Force, the first of a series of waterfalls. As expected it was quite a sight, plunging some 65 feet down the hillside, and my photographs cannot do it justice.

I chose the fellside path and started to climb parallel to the beck, which descended down the hillside in a series of waterfalls

I stopped to have a closer look and take a few photographs before continuing on the path up the fell.

turning right just before the gate to start a steeper climb up towards the summit

Looking back as I climbed, views started to open up over the lake and towards the high fells

and then, higher up, Blencathra appeared over tot he north west.

Looking west towards snow capped Helvelyn and the Dods

and over the lake

Approaching the summit of the modest fell

The views from the top were pretty good – quite different from when I was on Little Mell Fell the previous day!

Looking towards Helvellen
Great Mell Fell

After taking in the views it was time to start making my way round and down the fell. It was a great day for photos and I couldn’t help but keep snapping away with my phone. Eventually I reached the viewpoint at Yew Crag. Tome to stop and savour the views over the lake – and take some photos, of course.

It was one of those days when you just wanted to stay put, but eventually I had to continue down the path which now started to descend back down towards the car park. On the way down  Lyulph’s Tower, a hunting lodge built in the 1780s for Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, who owned the estate. They kept a large herd of deer for hunting up on the fell.

Back down by the beck, I made my way towards the tea rooms where I stopped for a brew, before deciding to take a stroll over to the lakeside, passing clusters of daffodils.

Most people know Wordsworth’s Daffodils poem, and he wrote it after a visit with his sister Dorothy to Glencoyne Park, just a short distance along the lake, on 15 April 1802.

It’s only a few hundred metres to the lake shore from the car park and tea rooms. As I approached it I sensed a change in the weather – there was a cold wind blowing and the lake, which had looked calm when observed from up on the fell, had turned quite choppy

Time to make my way to the car and as I debooted I felt some rain drops falling. The shower didn’t last long and I was soon back in sunshine as I drove back down the lake, but I could see heavy cloud had gathered amongst the high fells at the head of the lake.

I’d got over my rough patch but was feeling tired when I was back in my flat at the pub. Time to take a shower and settle down for the rest of the afternoon. This would be my last night in Dacre and I had a plans for the next day.

Map from NT website

Little Mell Fell

There are some days when I doubt my sanity – and the second day of my short break in the Lakes was definitely one of them!

From the bedroom window in my accommodation I had a good view over the fields to Little Mell Fell. Climbing the small Wainwright was an obvious objective for a walk from the front door. It’s slightly higher sibling, Great Mell fell, is close by and I thought I might be able to tackle both of them. However, it didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned.

It had rained heavily the day before and for part of the night and he weather forecast for the day wasn’t so clever, but bright spells between the rain was promised, so I donned my gear, including waterproofs, and set out.

I had a few miles of tarmac to plod over – not my favourite surface for a walk, to say the least – but the pastoral scenery and small settlements I passed through were pleasant and scenic.

After a few miles I was able to turn of the tarmac onto paths through the fields. Now remember that we’d had some heavy rain. Consequently I found myself wading through waterlogged ground and some deep mud. At times submerging my boots. Luckily I’d had the foresight to wear my gaiters, but I still had some cleaning up to do that evening.

I could see some dark cloud arriving and it wasn’t long before it began to chuck it down. I soldiered on – some sections of the route being not unlike the battlefields of the Somme (minus trenches and shrapnel fortunately).

After a while I was back on tarmac on a road that went round the bottom of the fell

The rain had eased off an there was some sunshine and I was beginning to feel a little optimistic.

That didn’t last too long, though as the black clouds returned. I carried on along the road which started to climb up towards the hause where I would be able to access the path up to the summit of the fell.

As I reached the top of the brew I was hit by heavy rain driven by a strong north westerly wind. This came as a bit of a shock as I’d been sheltered from the wind by the fell. There were a few cars parked up in a lay by and I could see a group coming down the path. A couple with a young child emerged from one of the cars and after donning their gear climbed over the stile to join the path to the summit. I followed them and found myself in yet anothrt wet and muddy waterlogged field.

As I climbed the rain came down and I was battered by the wind. It’s not a big climb but it’s steep and much of the path was waterlogged. There are views over Ullswater, but not while I was going up and down

Looking back towards Ullswater.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to reach the summit,

where I had great views of nothing much at all

Battered by the rain and with nothing much to look at I didn’t stop for long and made my way back down the path trying very hard to avoid slipping and sliding down the steep slope.

I was glad to rejoin the road. I abandoned any idea of heading over to Great Mel Fell and decided to join the Ullswater Way heading towards Pooley Bridge.

I followed the road that took me past the caravan site at Cove. The rain eased off and I looked back towards the fell which, wouldn’t you just know it, was now clear.

I was now of the Ullswater Way.

Looking across the fields towards Ullswater and the higher fells at the head of the valley
Looking across to Ullswater

It followed the minor road for a while before turning off across the fields passing the site of Maiden Castle and heading towards Waterfoot, near Pooley Bridge

The weather had improved somewhat with the rain easing off and some brighter interludes (to use Met Office speak)

It was good to be walking on grass again, until descending down into another waterlogged field where I had to try hard to avoid my boots becoming submerged in cold water and mud – I wasn’t completely successful to say the least.

The route emerged from the fields at the Waterfoot caravan site. I could now have set off back up a minor road towards Dacre but decided I’d like to get a closer look at the lake. So back through some more sodden fields

The lake looked nice, though

I thought about walking the half mile or so into Pooley Bridge for a break and a brew but checking the Met Office app on my phone I could see that some more heavy rain was on it’s way, so I decided to make my back to Dacre.

I avoided the fields sticking tot he road and cutting through the caravan site to join the minor road up toward Soulby

and then turning on to the road to Dacre

I was glad to arrive back at the Horse and Farrier and my accommodation as the dark cloud appeared

where I could change get out of wet clothes and make myself a brew.

After showering I settled down with a good book. The weather continued to be changeable and later in the afternoon this was the view from the windows in the bedroom

and the lounge

That’s the Lake District for you!


I’d planned on having a brew and a bite to eat at Blackwell, but the house, and cafe, were busy, so I decided to drive the short distance to the Windermere Jetty Museum (also part of the Lakeland Arts Trust) where I had a warming bowl of cullen skink and a pot of tea

There was an exhibition of photographs of Forty farms in Cumbria, based on the book by  Amy Bateman published by local company Inspired by Lakeland.

Looking out from the cafe at the Windermere Jetty Museum

After looking round the exhibition, it was time to head off to where I was staying for the next 3 nights. I’d been late organising the trip and as it was being during the school holidays the Lakes were pretty booked up. I prefer self catering accommodation to a traditional B and B and was lucky to find somewhere – a flat over the annex to the village pub (the Horse and Farrier) in the village of Dacre, near Pooley Bridge. It was a little further out than the area where I’d usually stay but there was some potential for walks from the door or a short drive away.

The Horse and Farrier
My flat was on the first floor of the annex to the pub.

After unpacking the car and settling myself in, as it had stopped raining, I popped out to have a mooch around the small village.

It’s a pretty place with whitewashed cottages, probably once occupied by agricultural workers but now converted into desirable homes and holiday lets.

Dacre is alleged to be the site of a monastery where a gathering of kings from throughout Britain took place on 12 July 927 when Athelstan the grandson of Alfred the Great, was proclaimed king of all England. Other versions of the story locate the meeting a few miles away at Eamont Bridge, on the outskirts of modern Penrith. Who knows the truth? It’s so long ago that it’s lost in the mists of time.

I wandered over to the castle a grade I listed building. Originally one of many fortified tower houses, or Pele Towers in what was a wild and lawless border region, it was modified in the 17th century by the fifth Lord Dacre, who added the large windows. Today it’s owned by by the Hassell-McCosh family who rent it out as a private home. 

Nearby, and just across from the pub (I could see it through the lounge window) is St Andrew’s church, which probably stands on the site of the former monastery where the meeting of kings may, or may not, have taken place. It was built in the 12th century and still has Norman features, although many modifications have taken place since then. It’s a listed building.

Exploring the grounds I spotted what I first thought to be a strange tombstone.

Then I spotted another one on the other side of the church drive.

A little research on the net on returning to the flat revealed that they were the Dacre Bears and that there were actually four of them.

Here’s the other two which I sought out later during my stay. They are round the back of the church

It’s possible that they are pre-Saxon and may originally have marked the boundaries of a pagan sacred site.