Back on the Moors

Despite moving to part-time work at the end of February I’ve been so busy that I’ve fallen well behind with writing up what I’ve been up to. There’s definitely more to life than working and I’m trying to make the most of my increased “free time” to get out and do more stuff that I enjoy. The problem them is finding the time to write it up. I’ll have to find a solution as writing up these posts allow me to look back and remember what I’ve been up to!

So, back in May a couple of weeks after my “Hebridean adventure” I managed to get up on the West Pennine Moors for a wander. I parked up at Rivington and then made my way over past Moses Cocker’s farm

Moses Cocker’s

and then took a path on to the moor. It was a grey morning but it was still good to get back onto familiar territory to stretch my legs and breathe in the, hopefully, fresh air.

The usual locals were out and about keeping an eye on me

Views soon opened up

as I made my way to the ruined farm known as “Old Rachel’s”

I stopped for a rest to refuel as my blood sugar had dropped, and took in the views. An elderly runner ambled past. I was intrigued as he was wearing wellies rather than the flimsy shoes normally worn by runners on the moors and fells. Two female runners, wearing more conventional footwear, came speeding along a little later. I have to admire their energy and dedication but I prefer a much gentler pace where I can enjoy the scenery and spend time thinking great thoughts!

I carried on following the path to Lower Hempshaw’s

Given the recent rain, I decided I’d not carry on towards Hordern Stoops, the path is notoriously muddy at the best of times, but to follow the track northwards. Just the day before I’d read a post by Michael of the Rivendale Review who had been up on the moors and had ventured up on to Redmond and Spitler’s Edges by taking a path that branched off the track a little further along from Henshaw’s, just where it veers off left towards the ruined farm at Simm’s. I’d taken this track some years ago and found that after a while it petered out and I’d had to make my way through the heather and bracken. It was very different this time. Many other feet must have passed this way since then as there was now a clear path that carried on up to Redmond’s Edge. It was muddy in places so a little “bog hopping” was required.

Although only a few miles from “civilisation” up here it’s real desolate, lonely “wild and windy” moorland.

And being moorland, after a rainy period the peat was sodden. As I made my way towards Great Hill I was thankful for the flagstones that had been laid down otherwise I would have been walking through a quagmire. It was certainly wet as the flagstones were flooded in places and I had to navigate some muddy patches where the flags had sunk into the peat. But the going was generally good.

I climbed to the top of Great Hill and stopped for a while for another bite to eat. It was windy so I was thankful of the stone shelter.

Long rang visibility was poor, so no views over to the mountains of the Lakes, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales, but I could make out Pendle Hill to the north east.

After a brief rest I set off down the path off the summit towards White Coppice. Before reaching Drinkwater’s I turned off down the path towards the ruins of Great Hill farm

and then doubled back heading east before re-joining the path along the ridge and heading towards Horden’s Stoops

Coming down off the Edge I could hear distinctive peewit call of a lapwing. I stopped and watch two of the birds performing their acrobatics before flying off across the moor. A sound and a sight that lifts the heart!

Passing the source of the River Yarrow I headed west for a short distance along the Rivington to Belmont Road before joining the old Belmont Road, these days a rough track, which I followed back towards Rivington.

The view over to Great Hill, Redmond’s Edge and Spitler’s Edge form the Old Belmont Road

Reaching the Pigeon Tower

I made my way down through the Terraced Gardens back to my car.

The Seven Arch Bridge in Rivington terraced Gardens

Here’s the route (also available here)

On the cliffs at Mangerstra

The weather on the Wednesday of my Hebrides trip wanted to remind us that we were in the Western Isles! We woke to grey skies and as we drove over the peat moorland that covers the interior of Lewis we were battered by the rain. We were heading for Uig, the largest and most sparsely populated district of the Isle of Lewis (not the port on Skye where we’d boarded the ferry the previous day) for a walk along the cliffs near the small village of Mangerstra.

We parked up near the small Abhainn Dearg (Red River) Distillery. Established in 2008 it was the first legal whisky distillery in the Outer Hebrides in almost two hundred years.

We didn’t have time to visit, but booted up, donned our waterproofs and set off up the road

After a couple of kilometres we left the tarmac and headed down a track that took us towards the Mangerstra and the cliffs beyond.

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After a short climb we were up on top of the cliffs. The rain had eased off as we walked close tot he edge taking in some pretty spectacular views

The geology was dominated by Lewisian Gneiss, one of the Earth’s oldest rocks

After a while one of the party spotted a curious little structure close to the edge of the cliffs.

We climber down and had a look inside.

The bothy was constructed by John and Lorna Norgrove, of the Linda Norgrove Foundation which was established in October 2010 in memory of their daughter Linda, an aid worker who was killed during an abortive rescue attempt after she was kidnapped in Afghanistan.

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The view from the window of the bothy.

The bothy is an original memorial to Linda in a very spectacular location and can accommodate up to 3 people overnight. For us it was a welcome shelter as a rain shower swept in.

As the rain eased off we carried on along the cliffs for a while before stopping for our sandwiches, sheltering behind rocks as another heavy shower swept in.

As we were eating some of us spotted something in the sky – a large bird with wings that resembled barn doors. It was a Sea Eagle (also known as a White Tailed Eagle). We watched it as it swooped across the sky before disappearing further along the coast.

After walking a little further along the coast we cut in land across the peat moor, joining the track that took us towards the village of Mangeresta

Looks like one of the locals has had a little mishap!

an original design for a water pipe from a spring in the hillside

We passed through the village and carried on along the narrow road heading back towards where we’d parked up. The party started to split up and I found myself at he back with Ria, the Dutch member of our party, as we were taking in the views. Suddenly we spotted a shape in sky the distance. A Sea eagle, perhaps the same one we’d seen before. We stopped to watch and Ria produced a pair of binoculars from her pack. After a while a second one appeared! We stopped for a while to watch them swooping through the sky close to the coast. The rest of the group, further along the road, missed out.

Carrying on the cloud appeared to be starting to clear and the Uig hills, which had previously been largely hidden by the low cloud, became visible.

After a while we descended back down the hill towards the minibus, taking in the views of the white sands of Uig beach.

We dumped our packs in the back of the minibus and John our guide suggested we might want to walk over the beach while he drove the minibus further along the coast where he would meet us.

It’s another spectacular beach with a vast expanse of golden sand. It has a particular claim to fame as it was here that the Lewis Chessmen were discovered in 1831 by Malcolm MacLeod, a local crofter. The 78 intricate individual pieces made from walrus ivory and whale teeth had probably been carved in Trondheim in Norway during the 12th century. Nobody knows why they ended up here.

Malcolm’s family were soon “cleared” from their homes and he ended up selling the chessmen for £30 – a lot of money for him but a paltry sum for such exquisite objects. The majority ended up in London in the British Museum, with a small number in Edinburgh. A small number have been loaned to the museum in Stornoway, and we were able to see them later in the week.

Unfortunately we didn’t find any pieces as we walked across the beach. A pity as the last time one was sold after it was discovered in a drawer in Edinburgh, it went for  £795,000. A bit more than Malcolm received.

The tide was out so there was a vast expanse of sand to cross. I was interested in the rock formations. The geology of Lewis is dominated by Gneiss, one of the oldest rocks on the Earth, formed up to 3 billion years ago.

John made it easy to find him!

We returned to the minibus and drove back over to Stornoway where there was time to shower and take a short rest before heading out for a very decent curry at a local hostelry.

The Beaches of Harris

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An early breakfast on the Tuesday of my holiday in the Hebrides, before we were picked up for the drive to Uig to catch the ferry over to Tarbut on the Isle of Harris. We’d had two good days walking in (mostly) fine weather on Skye but now the skies had turned grey with rain in the air. It stayed changeable for the rest of the break.

Harris isn’t a true island as it’s part of the same land mass as Lewis. Harris occupies the more mountainous part of the island. In the past, travel between the two “islands” would have been difficult – even today there is only one road that connects them – and so there were effectively two communities isolated from each other.

Source: By Andrewrpalmer / Orionist – Own work, based on File:Outerhebrideslewis2.png., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19583044

The ferry took about 2 hours to sail across the grey seas of the Minch. We disambarked and then parked up. There had been a request by some of the party to call in at the Harris distillery and the Harris Tweed shop, both of which are by the ferry terminal, “to support the local economy” as Liz, one of our party, put it!

The Harris Distillery, which likes to call itself “The Social Distillery”, was founded in 2015 by a US-born musicologist, Anderson Bakewell. Intending to provide local employment it started off with a staff of 10 people and today employ almost 40 permanent staff. The aim is to create a Harris malt whisky, something that hasn’t been made legally on Harris before. The single malt will be bottled as The Hearach – the Gaelic name for an inhabitant of Harris – but as it needs time to mature in the cask it is not expected to be on sale for a few more years. In the meantime the distillery has produced Harris gin, for which they use nine botanicals, including local sugar kelp, that, we are told, ‘capture the elemental nature’ of the island. In it’s distinctive bottle it’s become quite a trendy tipple. I wasn’t buying as I was flying back to Manchester, but I had an idea for a birthday present…..

Shopping done it was back in the mini bus and then drove along the west coast of South Harris which is particularly noted for its beaches. We weren’t there to sunbathe – which is just as well given the grey skies and cool temperature – but to do some walking. The roads was narrow and mainly a single carriageway with passing places, but traffic was very light. We drove past the large beaches at Luskentyre and Seilebost and pulled into a layby just after Horgabost where we “disembarked” and crossed over the machair on to the sandy beach of Traigh Iar.

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At the end of the beach we climbed a low hill up to the large prehistoric standing stone, known as the Macleod Stone. Erected about 4,500 years ago it stands 3 metres in a prominent location on the headland.

From the beach and the headland there were good views over the sea to the island of Taransay, Britain’s largest unoccupied island, about a mile off the coast, which was the location of BBC’s documentary series ‘Castaway 2000‘ .

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Looking over to Taransay
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We took a slightly longer route back to the minibus, with views over to Horgabost beach,

passing through a field of cows and their calves. One of the cows took a close interest in our party and get closer than comfort to some of the group.

We got back in the minibus and drove further down the coast road to the small settlement of Taobh Tuath (known as Northton in English) where we stopped at a “honesty shop” where we purchased some pasties and pastries for our dinner. We then set off on another walk over the machair towards the headland, crossing a couple more smaller, stunning sandy beaches

Our objective was a ruined late medieval chapel of Rubh’ an Teampaill.

There used to be a village here which the chapel would have “served”,. Another example of a Clearance settlement. The population were evicted in 18th Century.

Right next to the chapel there’s the remains of a Broch, an Iron Age round tower,

the stones of which were probably used in the construction of the medieval building.

Returning to the minibus we set off back to Tarbut where we had a table booked at the local hotel. To get there we took a diversion driving down the “Golden Road” that winds and twists between the rocks, lochans and rugged coastline on the eastern side of South Harris. It allegedly got its name because of the high construction cost. Before it was built there was no proper road on this part of the island and travel was difficult leaving the small settlements isolated from the rest of Harris. Many of the people evicted during the Clearance of the more fertile land on the west coast ended up here having to try a scrape a living on the barren rocky land.

Returning to the main road we stopped at a small gallery of the Hebridean Design Company near Tarbut, owned by Doug, a friend of our guide, where we were able to reinvigorate ourselves with a coffee. The gallery specialises in artistic glassware and rather original designs embroidered onto Harris Tweed. More “supporting the local economy” was in order!

Back in Tarbut we enjoyed a meal at the Hotel Hebrides Restaurant before returning to the minibus and driving along the spine road, across the mountains, onto Lewis and onwards to it’s capital Stornoway where we were staying for the second half of our trip.

A walk from Strath Suardal

We’d been promised a fine day for the Monday when a longer walk was planned, but it was grey and overcast when I woke up. It stayed like that during a long drive across the island, taking about an hour, to Broadford where we stopped to stock up with supplies for our dinner. A gang of workmen beat us to the sandwich counter and nearly cleaned it out leaving us a limited choice! We grabbed most of what was left! There was a strong, cold wind blowing offf the sea and I was beginning to doubt that I’d brought enough layers with me.

Returning to the minibus we drove down a narrow lane to Strath Suardal where we parked up near the ruined former Parish Church of Cill Chriosd (Christ’s Church) and graveyard. There was still a cold wind – although not as strong as by the coast – but there were signs that the cloud was beginning to clear.

We booted up, wrapped up, and set off down a path on to the moors, following the route of an abandoned railway line that at one time was used to transport marble from nearby quarries which had been in use until the early 20th Century.

Further on, athe OS map showed that we were walking through a wooded area, there wasn’t a tree in sight. Just lots of peat bogs.

The path headed towards Loch Eishort – a sea Loch

As we approached the shore we could see the Isle of Rhum on the horizon.

Close to the shore we could see the remains of a ruined crofting settlement. This had once been the village of Boreraig whose population had been forcibly removed during the Highland Clearances – a notorious event in Scottish history.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries landowners, particularly Clan chieftans who had been absorbed into the British ruling elite following the Battle of Culloden, livng extravagent lifestyles accumulated large debts so looked to maximise their income by raising their tennants rents. However, they soon discovered that they could make more money by establishing large-scale sheep farms on the land. To achieve this they brutally evicted their tennants, who scraped a living by crofting, small scale fishing and gathering kelp from the sea shore. Families were forcibly ejected from their homes and, in some cases the thatched rooves were put to the torch. Often the landlords “offered” “assisted passages” for their tenants to emigrate, notably to Canada, and Australia. In practice, the landless tennants had nowhere else to go so had little choice but to board the ships the landlords arranged to carry them away. Conditions on the ships were poor to say the least and many of the passengers died of disease or hunger before they reached their destination.

Boreraig was one of the last village to be “cleared” in 1852 by their landlord, Lord Macdonald. His motivation, apparently, was ‘benevolence, piety, and humanity … because they were too far from the church‘. (source : https://canmore.org.uk/site/11562/skye-boreraig). Nothing to do with naked greed, then! Today the remains of the tennants’ homes bear witness to the tragedy.

The ruined Clearance village
Another view of the ruined village

After a short stop to contemplate the ruins, the injustice, lack of benevolence or piety and the inhumanity, we carried on along the shore of the loch, stopping after a while to eat our dinner on the rocks overlooking the water

Looking up Loch Eishort – there’s a hint that the cloud is beginning to clear!
Looking down the loch towards Rhum
Looking back up the loch – the cloud definitely clearing

We carried on, gently climbing and then turned a corner to be greeted by a view of the Black Cuillins – clear of cloud (well almost completely clear) for the first time during our stay on Skye.

Looking towards the Black Cuillins

These iconic mountains are composed of gabbro, a coarse igneous rock, also found on Carrock Fell in the Lakes which I’d climbed a few weeks before. The Black Cuillins, though are almost certainly well out of my comfort zone these days.

The weather continued to improve

Eigg and Rhum, two of the “Small Isles”
Passing Suisinish, another Clearance Village. The ruins were not as visible and obvious as at Boreraig

The geologist Sir Archibald Geikie witnessed the forced evictions from Suisinish: ‘As I was returning from my ramble a strange wailing sound reached my ears at intervals on the breeze from the west. On gaining the top of a hill on the south side of the valley, I could see a long and motley procession wending along the road that led from Suisnish. It halted at the point in the road opposite Kilbride, and there the lamentation became long and loud … Every one was in tears; … and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. When they set off once more, a cry of grief went up to heaven; the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed; and, after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole wide valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation’.

Taken from “Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide”, by Mary Miers, 2007. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

https://canmore.org.uk/site/11423/skye-suisnish

Carrying on along the path, the rounded hills of the Red Cuillins began to dominate

I could probably manage to climb some of these if I put my mind to it!

A panorama of the Back and Red Cuillin ranges

The path continued on towards the loch shore and then veered off and joined the minor road to Broadford. A mile or so along the tarmac, dodging a few cars, and we were back at the ruined church and graveyard.

It had been a good, walk with great views and historic interest.

We all changed out of our boots and drove back to Portree where we parked up and headed off to the pub for our evening meal. I snapped this view across the loch towards the mountains from the car park after our meal.

A good way to end our last full day on Skye. We had a ferry to catch the next morning.

The Quiraing

On Sunday during my stay on Skye the early mist started to clear, promising a fine day and, indeed, the weather got better and better during the morning.

The view from our B and B, Ronan House

After breakfast the minibus arrived at the B and B ready to drive us to the start of our walk. We collected the rest of the party who were staying in another B and B and drove to Portree where we stopped at the Co-op to pick up some sandwiches and supplies for our dinner (midday meal!!). We then headed along the Trotternish Peninsula and just past the small village of Staffin turned down a narrow road which eventually climbed steeply to the starting point for our walk in the Quiraing.

The Quiraing is a giant landslip on the eastern face of Meall na Suiramach at the northern end of the Totternish ridge caused by volcanic rocks sitting on top of a softer sedimentary layer. The softer rocks being crushed by the pressure from the heavier rocks above. Like Mam Tor in the Peak District, it’s still a “live” landslip and the road up to the car park, which continues over the mountains to the other side of the peninsula, requires frequent repairs. The car park was busy as, with its dramatic landscape, it’s something of a honeypot and it was also a Bank Holiday weekend.

After parking and booting up we set out

The view along our route
The view back along the Totternish ridge

Our route took us along a path along along the clear path below the high cliffs, a little rough in places, which climbed gradually giving views over the dramatic rock formations.

After a while we reached a steep path which climbed up on to the top of the ridge and we doubled back, still climbing. On a beautiful morning there wer fantastic views over to the mainland and the Western Isles which stretched out along the horizon.

Looking over to the Western Isles
Looking across the sea to the Scottish mainland

It was a little boggy on the top of the ridge, but nothing too bad and our boots coped, but I imagine that it would be rather a quagmire after any serious rain and during the winter.

Reacing the end of the ridge the path descend steeply down to our starting point. It wasn’t an easy descent as the path was in quite badly eroded in places and wasn’t clear in places. Some sections covered with scree, and I regretted not taking my walking poles out of the back of the mini-bus.

Looking back towards the path we’d descended

Reaching the bottom of the hill it was time to stop, take a rest, grab a bite to eat and take in the views over the hills and sea at the end of a great walk.

A wet and windy Coral Beach  

It had started to rain as we left Inverness, and was drove down the increasingly winding road alongside Loch Ness, past Fort Augustus and over the bridge to Skye the rain became heavier and an increasingly strong wind began to blow. So when we reached the island the rain was coming at us horizontally and visibility was so bad that it was impossible to see the mountains. We drove around for a while and then our guide, John, decided he’d drive us over to the Coral Beach and see whether the conditions were good enough for a short walk. We were lucky. The rain had all but stopped, although there was a strong wind. Undeterred, we booted up, donned our waterproofs and braved the conditions.

The beach, which is just north of Dunvegan on the north side of the island, is made from crushed white coral like Red Coralline seaweed, (also known as Maërl). On a sunny day with the waters turning bright turquoise it looks like something you’d expect to see in the tropics. Not so much during our visit, mind!

It’s a very popular tourist attraction. But on a wet and windy day we had it more or less to ourselves, although there were a small number of brave soles leaving as we arrived and a few others arriving as we were returning to the minibus.

The first section of the beach is covered by black rocks. We made our way tentatively across them, trying to avoid slipping

and then walked along the sandy shore and then climbed the Ghrobain, a small hill at the end of the beach.

It was a bit of a struggle to avoid being blown back down again but from the summit we had a good view over the deserted sands.

We descended down the steep slope of the hill and headed back to the minibus. It was time to make our way to our accommodation. Our group was split between two outstanding B and B’s. I was staying at Ronan House, where I had a twin room to myself and access to a guest’s lounge with a view over the valley and nearby loch.

I had a shower and changed, and not long after the mini-bus returned to collect us and take us to Portree, the main town on the island, for our evening meal.

The forecast for the next day promised a major change. We kept our fingers crossed!

My Hebridean Adventure

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I’ve wanted to visit the Scottish Islands for a long time but never got round to actually organising a trip other than an abortive visit to Arran which had to be cancelled due to an impending storm. But now I’ve got more time on my hands I decided I really ought to sort something out. One of the problems was deciding where to start – which islands should I visit, where should I go and what should I do when I got there and where should I stay? To resolve these questions I took inspiration from John, the husband of Anabel the Glasgow Gallivanter, who had joined an organised cycling trip along the length of the Outer Hebrides. So I looked at the available options and booked a week’s walking holiday on Skye, Harris and Lewis with Hidden Hebrides, who specialise in small group trips. They organised everything (except my journey too and from Inverness where the group gathered to be transported to Skye) – transport, accommodation, meals and routes – which really took the stress out of the holiday and meant I could really relax and enjoy myself. The only thing they couldn’t organise, of course, was the weather and as this was the Hebrides we had a mixture of brilliant sunshine, wind and rain! There’s a lot to write up about this trip so this post will provide a quick overview.

I’ve never done a group holiday before so was a little worried about whether I’d be the odd one out and whether I’d get on with the other people in the group, but there were no problems. There were only 7 of us (the maximum on Hidden Hebrides holidays is 8) and we all had something in common – a love of walking. There were 2 Scottish couples who were close friends but this didn’t create any difficulties. The other two members of our party, were like me, solo travellers – one Dutch and one Brit who had, until recently, lived in Manchester. Everyone mixed and gelled very well.

I travelled up to Inverness by train – An Avanti Pendolino to Edinburgh where I transferred to the Scotrail train to Inverness. It was a full day journey and the second leg took longer than the first, but that was compensated by the excellent views out of the window as we made our way relatively slowly with regular stops via Perth and then through the Cairngorms.

A slight delay meant I arrived in Inverness just after 5 pm. I checked in my hotel – the Premier Inn beside the river Ness – and, as it was a beautiful evening – took a walk along the river to the Ness Islands before my evening meal.

The next day wasn’t so nice. It was a grey start with rain promised and the latter started as I made my way to the station to join our guide and the rest of the group.

After the introductions we loaded our gear into the mini-bus and set off on the road to Skye. The rain got heavier and heavier during the journey which took us along the banks of Loch Ness (no monster seen – the weather was far too miserable so it must have stayed down in the depths of the loch!) and then on to the Kyle of Lochash where we crossed over the bridge onto the island. On the way, we stopped off at Eilean Donan to take in the view of the castle which has featured in films and TV programmes including the well known Highlander film while we ate our sandwiches. It’s very picturesque, even on a miserable day

Eilean Donan castle

After returning to the mini bus it was only a short drive before we were on the Isle of Skye where the weather continued to deteriorate until we were being battered by horizontal rain and strong winds.

We drove around for a while but the rain and low cloud meant there was little we could see of the the high mountains and the conditions were not conducive for enjoying a walk. Nevertheless, we managed to get out of the van for a walk on the Coral beach when the rain eased up. It wasn’t half windy though!

The Coral Beach on Skye

It was good to get out and stretch our legs and enjoy some fresh (and it was fresh) air and the scenery was pretty good, despite the conditions.

Returning to the van we drove over to our accommodation for the first 3 nights of our break. The group was split between two B and Bs and I had a room in the really excellent Ronan House, a real 5 star stay.

After we’d had time to settle in our Guide, John, returned to pick us up and with the rest of the group we drove over to Portree, the main town on the island, where we had a superb meal at the Cuchullin Restaurant on the main square.

My main course – perfectly cooked scallops on risotto

After a good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast, the early mist started to clear, promising a fine day – a complete change compared to when we arrived.

The view from Ronan House

John, our Guide, who decided on the walking route depending on conditions, drove north from Portree, past the Old Man of Storr up to the Quairaing at the northern end of the Trotternish ridge. The circular walk is very popular which isn’t surprising due to the spectacular, rugged and dramatic scenery and the views, on a beautiful day, over to the Scottish mainland and the Western Isles.

After a drive round the northern coast we took a short walk to stretch our legs up the pretty, so called “Fairy Glen” near Uig.

In the evening we had another tasty meal in Dunvegan.

We were promised another good day on the Monday but it started out rather grey and chilly. We drove over to Broadford, where we picked up supplies, and then on to the Strathaird Peninsula. Our walk took us past historic Clearance villages, along a sea loch with views over to the islands of Eig and Rum, and then, just after the cloud cleared and the weather turned bright and sunny, as we turned a corner, we finally got a view of the magnificent Cuillin range of mountains.

We were back in Portree for our evening meal

Looking over to the Black Cuillins from Portree

before returning to the B and B. We had an early start the next day as we had to catch the ferry from Uig over to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

The next three days would be spent on Harris and Lewis. Although nominally two “islands” they are actually part of the same land mass, which constitutes the 3rd largest island in the British Isles. Harris constitutes the mountainous southern part of the island with the larger Lewis being flatter (although not exactly flat!) and dominated by peat bogs.

The ferry took just short of 2 hours to reach Tarbet where we disembarked and made straight to the Harris Tweed and Harris Gin outlets which other members of the group were keen to visit to “support the local economy”. After they’d spent their money (!) we set out to visit the renowned beaches of the western coast.

After a drive along the dramatic twisting and turning “Golden Road” on the eastern side of the island – so called because of the cost involved in its construction – and a meal in Tarbert, we drove down the spine road over to Stornoway, the main town on the island, on Lewis where we settled in to our accommodation for the next three nights. Not as fancy as Ronan House, my room was well appointed and comfortable.

The next day we drove through the rain over the peat bogs to the west of the Island and the remote settlement of Uig (same name as the port on Skye) with it’s magnificent beach where the renowned Lewis Chessmen were discovered.

We parked up near the small Abhainn Dearg Distillery and then set out in the rain for a walk along the dramatic cliffs nearby. Fortunately the rain eased off early in our walk.

Returning to our starting point we left our packs in the van. We then set off for a walk across the beach while John drove over to meet us at the other end .

The weather forecast for the next day wasn’t at all promising so no long walks were planned. During the morning, one of the highlights of the tour, was a visit to Marbhig, a crofting village in the South Lochs region of Lewis. Our guide, although British and from the flat lands of Peterborough, had married a local woman and lived on a croft in the village. As we took a walk around the village he explained about the crofting system, the way of working the land, how peat was cut for fuel, the history of the Clearances and the Pairc area crofts. A real inside view.

During the afternoon we drove over to the other side of the island to visit the Neolithic Callanish Standing Stones 

We had another half day in Stornoway before catching our ferry back to te mainland. We spent it exploring the grounds of Lews Castle, a Victorian Neo-Gothic Stately Home built for James Matheson who owned the island, which overlooks the town

and then visiting the excellent little museum where there were a small number of Lewis Chessmen displayed, which are on a long term loan from the British Museum.

After a visit to the shops in town to “support the local economy” we made our way to join the minibus ready for the ferry journey over to Ullapool on the mainland.

Then we drove back to Inverness for the end of the holiday. The 4 Scots were dropped off at the station to catch their train to Edinburgh while the rest of us were taken to our respective accommodation. We were all staying close to each other so decided to meet up for a final meal.

As there were engineering works on the railway I’d booked a flight back to Manchester from Inverness. This had the advantage of allowing me to return home for the Challenge Cup semi final when we were playing our old “enemy” Saint Helens. I shared a taxi with Liz, who was booked on the same flight. Despite a message to say the flight was going to be delayed we actually left on time and arrived ahead of schedule in Manchester! I said goodbye to Liz and waited for J to pick me up and drive me home. I arrived in good time for the match which, after a nail biting second half, we won!

I’d really enjoyed the holiday. The weather had been mixed, but this was the Hebrides. (I’ve heard that it rains on Harris and Lewis 2 days out of 3!).

I hadn’t done as much walking as I’d hoped, partly due to the weather but also the preferences of the whole group had to be considered. But I had a good time, had seen some magnificent scenery, visited some historic monuments, learned about the history of the islands . I’d enjoyed having some company, making a change from my usual solo walks and trips. I’d definitely consider booking another guided small group walking holiday, probably with Hidden Hebrides (I’d certainly recommend them to anyone considering a walking trip on the Scottish Islands). I quite fancy the Shetlands next!

Well, this has been quite a long summary. Despite that, I’ve a lot more I want to write up to record my memories. So more posts to follow!

A walk from Parbold

Last Thursday promised to be a fine day – time to take advantage of my changed work:life balance and get out for a walk. I didn’t feel like travelling to far so a local ramble was in order. I’ve spent countless hours wandering on the West Pennine Moors ever since I was a teenager, but I’ve never explored the countryside to the west of Wigan – unless you count a couple of stays at the Tawd Vale and Bispham Hall Scout camp sites when I was in the cubs and scouts – and even then we didn’t stray too far. So I decided to take the train over to Parbold (only a 15 minute journey from Wallgate station on the Southport line) for a walk that would take me through over a couple of small hills, down a hidden “fairy glen” and along a stretch of the Leeds Liverpool canal.

After a relatively dry spell of weather the the footpaths over the fields and through the woods were dry and the going was good. However, this would probably not be a good route to follow in the winter (unless there had been a hard frost) as looking at the uneven nature of the paths it was pretty clear that much of the route would be very muddy after a period of wet weather. Wellies would definitely be in order!

I left the station and walked through the village joining a quiet lane and then out onto the path through the fields

Belted Galloway cattle with their calves

After crossing a minor road I reached Hunter’s Hill. There used to be a quarry here, but it’s been transformed into a small Country Park and Nature Reserve

My route skirted the edge of the site from where there were extensive over the West Lancashire Plain over to the coast, with Blackpool Tower visible in the distance. There was a hint of the Lake District Hills on the horizon, but they were hidden in the haze.

Leaving the Nature Reserve my route took me down hill on a minor road

Passing the entry to Harrock Hall

before turning down a quiet lane

which would take me towards my next destination, Harrock Hill

I passed some attractive stone barn conversions (you’ve got to have a few bob to live around here – a pleasant area within commuting distance of Liverpool, Manchester and Preston)

and then turned off, climbing over a stile onto a path that led through the woods and across a field and then onto a path through woods up to the top of the small hill

At the summit there’s the remains of an old windmill, which dates back to the 17th Century

Leaving the summit, I turned south down another path through green fields which had extensive views across to the West Pennines

Looking over to the moors – Great Hill, Anglezarke, Rivington Pike and Winter Hill

Further along the path the views opened up to include Pendle Hill and the Bowland Fells

I was passing land owned by the Harrock Hall estate, my route effectively circumnavigating Harrock Hall, although it was hidden in the trees. The Hall dates back to the 17th Century and was extended in the 19th Century and is a listed building. It used to be the ancestral home of the Rigbye family, local landowners, and John Rigby, a Catholic martyr, was born here around 1670. He lived during the turbulent Tudor period when both Catholics and Protestants were executed due to their beliefs. Rigby was executed in 1600 and was canonised in 1970. A Catholic 6th Form College in Wigan is named after him.

I reached another minor road at High Moor and after a short distance on the tarmac turned down another minor lane and then along a path across the fields

Reaching the main Wigan to Parbold Road, I crossed over and set off down the Fairy Glen another Country Park. It’s 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. Despite living only a few miles away, and having driven past many times on the way to Southport, I never knew this very peasant hidden valley was here.

I emerged in fields overlooking Ashurst Beacon on the other side of the Douglas Valley

I carried on through fields and woodland where there were displays of bluebells

eventually reaching the Leeds Liverpool canal

I carried on along the towpath towards Parbold

More bluebells on the other side of the canal

I reached Parbold where I left the canal near the old windmill which has been converted into a gallery selling art works.

There’s a pub here

and a cafe

Time to reinvigorate myself with a brew and a cake!

https://explore.osmaps.com/route/12160988/parbold-hunter-hill-harrock-hill-fairy-glen?lat=53.599618&lon=-2.764020&zoom=13.4160&overlays=&style=Leisure&type=2d

The Bridestones and various other rocks

On Easter Saturday I decided to take advantage of the good weather and get out for walk. Travelling over the Easter holiday isn’t always an easy experience – the roads can be jammed and engineering works can make train travel difficult. However, I didn’t have any problem taking the direct train from Wigan to Todmorden for a walk I’d been planning for a while up to the Bridestones up on the hills to the north of the town. I wanted to take a look at the collections of millstone grit outcrops, with stones weathered into weird and wonderful shapes, of which there are a number up on the moors here.

I’d based the walk on a route in The West Yorkshire Moors by Christopher Goddard which I’d bought during a visit to Hebden Bridge a few years ago. It provides a good guide to this part of the Pennines with suggested walking routes with hand drawn maps including directions, walking instructions and background information. I didn’t follow his route exactly – I made a couple of “deviations” but it helped me navigate the otherwise potentially confusing web of paths up on the moors.

Looking up to the moors from the town as I left the station I could see that it was a little foggy, but it was burning off and I expected it to have cleared by the time I got up there – I wasn’t wrong!

I walked through the streets of terraced houses and started the steep climb up the steep rise of Meadow Bottom Row, passing a series small rows of of terraced houses set perpendicular to the road

and then past some interesting old houses

Chimney House on Meadow Bottom Road. This is a rather curious house which seems to have been converted from a former industrial premises and the chimney has been incorporated into the dwelling. I couldn’t find any information about the house but am intrigued as to its history.
Another view of Chimney House
Traditional style Pennine houses. Those windows suggest the original occupants would have been involved in spinning and hand loom weaving before the rise of the all conquering factory system of cloth manufacture in the north of England

The road had turned into a track by now and I turned off down a path that took me through some woods and then up onto the moor

near the golf course and the first collection of millstone grit outcrops that I’d encounter during the walk – the Butt Stones.

I climbed up to take in the view over the moors and down towards Todmoden (I had no interest whatsoever in the golf course!)

The view down to Todmorden. Still a little murkey due to the morning mist
Looking over the moor towards Whirlaw

After clambering back down I joined the Calderdale Way which, here, takes the route of an ancient lane. In the old days travellers would have followed trails high up on the moors rather than have to traverse through the wet and boggy valleys. Albeit the moors up here would also be described as such (and still are!) but it would have been worse down in the valleys.

It was easy walking along the path which climbed gently along the side of the moor. The path was contained between dry stone walls with fields on either side – there were several lonely farms up here.

In one of the fields I spotted some rather peculiar flat faced sheep which looked rather like four legged Teddy Bears. I’d never seen anything like them before. A little research suggests that they might have been Southdown sheep, although I’m no expert and could easily be wrong.

The “teddy bear” sheep. Unfortunately I had to zoom in and the photo isn’t too clear.

I approached Whirlaw and this is where I made my first deviation off the route, taking the path around the hill up towards Windy Harbour farm

joining the Todmorden centenary Way I encountered the stone carving of the Wizard of Whirlaw – looking like a Yorkshire version of an Easter Island statue.

The Wizard of Whirlaw

I haven’t been able to find out who carved this statue, but it was inspired by the novel of the same name, published in 1959, written by William (Billy) Holt, a well known character round these parts. I first came across him way back in the 1970’s when I read Millstone Grit, a book of a 50 mile journey around the Pennine towns of what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire and East Lancashire, which includes an interview with the 77 year old Billy. His life story is fascinating. He started work in a mill when he was 12 years old, but although he didn’t enjoy school he had a tremendous thirst for knowledge, teaching himself German. Like many working class men he joined up in 1914, seeing it as an opportunity to experience some excitement away from the monotony of the mills. After the war he became politicised, joining the Communist Party and leading a protest against the Means Test that led to a 9 month prison sentence. He stood for the local council while he was in jail and, although he didn’t win, came close to defeating the prominent sitting Councillor. However, on leaving jail he stood again and this time was elected.

He became a newspaper correspondent, travelling abroad to countries including Russia and covering the Spanish Civil War and also during and after WW2 did broadcasts for the BBC. Later on he ran a pioneering mobile library service and developed a ‘model’ farm. At the age of 66 he made a trip across Europe on Trigger, an aging ex-rag-and-bone horse he’d rescued. And as he clearly had time to spare(!) he took up painting and writing, authoring several novels and autobiographical works including the Wizard of Whirlaw.

I carried on along the path until I came to the collection of boulders that comprise the Whirlaw stones

I scrambled up on to the top of the rocks to take in the view

before carrying on and re-joining the Calderdale Way

After a short while I came to a squeeze stile which I squeezed through heading north up the hill through the heather

climbing up towards Bridestones moor

Bridestones farm

and cutting across up to the summit of the ridge and the main collection of shattered, weathered rocks

I’d reached the Great Bride Stones

There were a number of climbers “bouldering” – scrambling up the gritstone boulders

This collection of Millstone Grit rock formations stretches for about half a mile along the ridge. The rocks have been eroded by the wind and rain creating weird and wonderful shapes

The most famous being the Bottleneck Bride, a large boulder precariously perched on a narrow neck of rock.

The Bottleneck Bride

There was, apparently, a groom stood next to “her” once upon a time, but today “he” lies prone on the ground next to her having fallen over – or deliberatly knocked down – some time in the past.

There are other Bridestones on Staindale Moor, within Dalby Forest, on the edge of the North York Moors and a prehistoric cairn near Congleton in Cheshire bears the same name.

No-one knows for certain how these rock formations got their name, but one theory is that it is derived from the Celtic diety Bridia, also known as ‘Brigantia’, the goddess of the Brigantes tribe who lived in this part of England before the Roman Conquest.

I spent some time here looking around the rocks before setting off again following the path along the ridge.

before cutting across and taking the path heading down hill by Redmires Water.

At the end of the path I was back to Stony Lane and the Calderdale Way.

I turned left and followed the track and carried on for a while until I turned off down another track towards the next set of rocks the Orchan Stones, passing a couple of friendly ponies in a field by the junction

Reaching the Orchan Stones

I clambered up to the top to take in the views

Looking down to Todmorden
Looking over to Lancashire
Looking back up to the Bridestones

It was time to start my descent back down to the town. My route took me past Lower hartley Farm where I was “greeted” by two sheepdogs who started barking loudly as soon as the saw me. Luckily they were in the farm yard and garden and weren’t able to get out.

After crossing the field and along a track I started to descend

down to Rake Farm

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The 16th Century farm house had been done up very nicely

I carried on down the farm track, passing another farm

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and shortly after that I reached the edge of the town. I walked through a housing estate and then took a path through the woods and fields back to Meadow Bottom Row.

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Passing the little streets of terraced houses I descended and was soon back into the main part of the town down in the valley.

The trains to Manchester are very regular but I wanted to catch the one that went straight back to Wigan without the need to change at Manchester Victoria, so I had about 40 minutes to wait. I had a bit of a mooch around the town centre and bought myself a couple of tins of diet coke from Aldi (I didn’t fancy a hot drink but needed some liquid with some caffeine).

The border between the historic counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire
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The neo-Classical town hall which sits over the historic border between the red and white rose counties

Arriving back at the station I didn’t have too long to wait for my train

Rivington and Winter Hill

The mini “early Summer” was coming to an end – cooler and wetter weather was forecast to arrive. So, before this came to pass I decided I’d get out for another walk, this time closer to home on the West Pennine Moors.

I drove over to Rivington and parked up between the barns, booted up and set off to climb up the Pike. Some work was taking place in the Terraced Gardens which had resulted in some of the paths being closed so I decided to climb up the old road to the north of the Pike

emerging near the Pigeon Tower

Rather than turning right towards the summit I turned left and set off down the old Belmont Road

Looking over Anglezarke Moor

and then took the path up to the top of Noon Hill

where I stopped for a while to take in the familiar views

The peat seemed to be dry after the good weather the previous week so I decided I’d head up to Winter Hill. The path over the moor up to the top is notoriously boggy but I thought I’d take a chance!

and it was dry at first but I soon hit a fairly lengthy boggy section so a little bog hopping was required, but I soldiered on and eventually hit dry ground again.

Long range visibility wasn’t great, so the Lakeland Mountains, Pendle Hill and the Three Peaks were hidden in the haze, but there were good views down to Belmont and the morrs beyond

I carried on over the ridge passing the forest of telecommunication masts, passing Scotsman’s stump commemorating the notorious murder of a travelling salesman on the moor in 1838.

“In memory of George Henderson, Traveller, native of Annan Dumfrieshire who was barbarously murdered on Rivington Moor at noonday November 9th 1838, in the 20th year of his age.”

Reading up about the murder I was surprised to discover that at the time Winter Hill wasn’t as bleak and lonely as I’d have expected. There were a number of mines up on the moor (there remains evidence of some of them if you look hard enough), a brick and tile works, an ale house and even some houses. There was what was probably a well trodden route between Smithhills near Bolton to Belmont and on towards Blackburn. George Henderson wasn’t lost, as might have been supposed, but was on his way to Belmont having enjoyed a pint or two at the alehouse on the moor. There were several people around on the moor that day who were able to act as witnesses at the trial of his murderer.

I carried on along the road past the TV transmitter

and then joined the path over the peat towards the minor summit of Two Lads

The cairns on Two Lads

I’m curious about the name of this summit. Did it originate because of the two cairns standing there or are the cairns a reflection of the name? One story is that two young men froze to death up there, but who they were, and when it happened are lost in the mist of time, if, indeed, it happened at all.

I set off down the path over the moor to Pike Cottage

Looking over to the summit of the Pike from the path to Pike Cottage

where there’s a small cafe. Time for a brew and a snack!

Refreshed I carried on along the track towards the Pike.

I decided against climbing tot he summit but carried on along the track and then descended down the steep path at the edge of the Terraced Gardens by the Ravine, which I’d first “discovered” during a walk at the beginning of the year

Looking up the Ravine
Looking back up the Ravine from the bottom

The Ravine is an “enhanced” natural feature, created by the landscape designer, Thomas Mawson, who was responsible for the design of the Terraced gardens. It had fallen badly into disrepair, but had been restored during the major renovation of the gardens in recent years. 

From the bottom of the Ravine it was easy going back along the gentle paths through the woods to the car.