walk-leading is fun but not for the faint-hearted

I’ve led three walks recently – and after each one I was mightily relieved to get everyone back safely.

In July I led a wonderful walk for Leadon Vale Ramblers in the Radnor hills, catching the bus from Kington to Llanfihangel Nant Melan and walking back via Caety Trelow, Glasbury and Hergest Ridge. As we crossed near the top of Caety Trelow a short but violent  thunderstorm hit us, with thunder and lightning pretty well overhead.  There was no cover. So there was nothing we could do but put on our waterproofs and keep going. After 20 minutes or so, the storm subsided and we carried on our walk. Shortly afterwards I received advice from the Ramblers about what to do in such a storm, which seemed to include rolling ourselves into  a little ball. I don’t know if that is the safest thing to do but it psychologically difficult to carry out.  Just for that short time we felt extremely vulnerable.

Two weeks ago I led a party of 11 (not Ramblers)  on the Three Welsh Peaks Challenge  – to climb Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan in 24 hours.  Despite a good weather forecast the rain soon came down  and when the remaining nine of us (two turned back earlier) reached the top of Snowdon at 9.00 a.m.,  those with less good waterproofs were getting very wet and miserable, despite the elation of the summit.  Soon into the descent one lad started shaking violently and his speech was incoherent.  He had hypothermia. This being Snowdon, I decided to return to the summit  and the cafe was fortunately just opening. We were able to warm him up and get a seat on the train down. Thank goodness for the cafe and mountain railway!  After that, things improved, including the weather. The ascent of Cader was straightforward and that of Pen y Fan at night with our head-torches positively inspiring. A great achievement, but enormous relief on my part.

That brings us to today, a gentle seven miler with Leadon Vale Ramblers in the Mortimer forest and Herefordshire Trail. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the Vinnals car park was completely closed because of a moto-cross rally!! We had to re-group nearly two miles further away.  We duly set off on an un-checked forest track, recommended by a helpful jogger. The track was lovely with stunning views and pretty level as well, so spirits were high, when we eventually linked up with the Herefordshire Trail at Burrington. But our return, we knew, involved crossing the race-track. We were on a bridleway which didn’t appear to have been closed for the day. There was however lots of red  tape blocking our path and some fierce warning notices. So we waited while  a few cars roared by at enormous speeds, drivers helmeted, but us defenceless. Anyway we crossed the track and reached the summit, High Vinnals, with its glorious panoramic views.  Here it was strangely quiet, which was good because we knew we had to cross the racetrack again. But then we heard the racing was over and we could complete our walk (11 miles not seven) in peace. And another huge sigh of relief for the walk leader.

 

Advertisements

Partnership is hard, hard work

Today was a good day for Bromyard walkers. A work party of five Ramblers and the local parish footpath officer installed  a gate to replace two dodgy stiles and some steps up a very steep bank. It was a long day from 10.00 till 5.00 pm and we were all tired by the end but the job was done, and as usual with the Ramblers, it was done well.

But this one day of work was the  culmination of more than a year of planning, persuading, cajoling and pleading to get the necessary funding. The need for the job was identified 18 months ago by the local parish footpath officer and by Bromyard Walkers are Welcome.   The total cost if done by a contactor would have been over £1,000. If volunteer labour could be used, the cost would be £350.  Herefordshire Council has little money for rights of way work. Worse,  their contractors Balfour Beatty, are bad at working with volunteers.  They will not even obtain landowner consent.  It was only through the persistance of Balfour Beatty’s  helpful locality steward (there are thankfuly always exceptions!) that funding for the gate was obtained, so £150 was funded with  £200 to go. Here the local parish council stepped in, thanks to a new and supporive chairman. The parish council is not the highway authority, and it has no money delegated to it for rights of way works  but they wanted to support the efforts of the parish footpath officer and agreed the £200 from their own resources.

So by February 2017, after umpteen meetings, the funding was in place and the materials ordered. Even then there was a long delay with Balfour Beatty’s supplier, and the materials were not delivered till July.

Now we can celebrate – but getting this sort of thing together is hard, hard work. The work on the day is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

 

 

Techno Tom

Sadly  I have fallen in love with walking technology. I used to be  a map and compass man but now I use an  iphone6 with several different apps. I have the whole of GB at 1:25,000 via the OS app. I’m already a subscriber @£20 p.a. to their service on my PC and the app comes free with that.  You seem to  need to  access the particular areas you need via your home wifi before you set off.  But once there, you are relying on GPS – you don’t need a mobile signal. As a fail-safe I also use GPS GB (free) which doesn’t have  a map but tells you your current  grid ref. and height wherever you are.  Most useful climbing  a munro when you really want to know how high you’ve got!

I also use Viewranger. If I need their premium maps, that will cost me extra so I tend to use Viewranger for tracking my route. This gives you brilliant stats on distance, altitude, speed, timing, and will work without purchasing their premium maps – not that these are particularly expensive.

Yesterday I was on the Brecon Becons with my friend Jim and discovered on the top of Pen y Fan (pictured) on a wonderfully clear day  that the Viewranger background map of GB is excellent for working out the view. There is a built-in compass so you can orient yourself and then expand or contract the map as you need, depending on the distance. So we could be sure that we could actually see Exmoor, something not possible with a paper map.

This brings me to my last app, Peak View Scanner. This is supposed to tell you exactly what mountains you are looking at over a 100km range but on my phone it doesn’t work properly. Very obvious large mountains do not appear whereas tiny hills do. Very frustrating.  I have logged these issues with Peak View Scanner but to no avail. Hence the Viewranger map comes into its own.

But of course I always have a paper map just in case. And that compass is in my rucksack!

The future of farming, food and landcape post-Brexit

I attended a most interesting conference organised by CPRE Shropshire.The whole event was very professionally run by CPRE. Speakers were dragooned into sticking to their time limits with unexpected ruthlessness. The result was plenty of time for questions  and we finished on the dot. The speaker list was varied and stimulating.  As always, it was nice to meet and chat to like minded individuals and catch up with acquaintances.

OK, so what did I learn? Four main points:

  1. Christopher Price from the CLA gave an informative account of what is actually going on in government to determine the future of farming and the environment.  He said that the 25 year strategy paper on the environment was nearly ready but the sister paper on farming was held up because of the UK’s concern to develop a UK single market for farming post-Brexit. This is particularly difficult  because agriculture is  a devolved function and Scotland will not accept this approach.
  2. Mark Measures graphically illustrated the problems and wastage   created by soil erosion and poor soil quality
  3. Liam Bell, a gamekeeper, explained how there are conservation benefits, such as more lapwings, from shooting lots of ducks
  4. But most interesting for me was Joy Greenall, an organic farmer from Newcastle on Clun who talked about her 130 acre farm Cow Hall.  Only the previous  day I had walked on the section of Offa’s Dyke near her farm and seen for myself the unusual cultivated uplands of the Clun forest. Her highest field is 1,300 ft, and this is the only one she ploughs –  because it is the flattest!  So keen students of my tweets will recognise that I have used the same photo twice – one for the walk tweet and one on this blog.

Thank you CPRE for such an interesting event.

We don’t know how lucky we are

I have just returned from a memorable holiday with friends and family in Guatemala  and Mexico. In Mexico we explored the volcano of Iztaccihuatl. The minibus took us a long way up and then we climed about 1,200 ft on foot to a height of nearly 14,000 ft, the highest I have ever been on land.  It was a wonderful chance to explore a beautiful remote landscape. The volcano is not active so the slopes were not covered in ash as they are for instance on Etna in Sicily.

The guide told us that on these regular tours he has virtually no native Mexicans. All his customers are foreigners. A Canadian on our trip explained that he  and other Canadians occasionally organised work parties to try and clear some of the mountain trails which would otherwise disappear altogether from neglect.  There is apparently no tradition amongst Mexicans of mountain walking.

So here is my point. We do not always appreciate how incredibly lucky we are in the UK to have inherited BOTH an amazing  variety of beautiful landscapes   AND a tradition of exploring and enjoying them, supported by a hard-won series of access rights. Let us continue to protect and enjoy our heritage.

 

A day in the life of a parish footpath officer

I have been a parish footpath officer for the five parishes which make up the North Bromyard group for five years. And today has been one of the most satisfying days so far. Back in 2011 I identified a glaring problem with a path known to its friends as Wolferlow 11. There was no bridge over the stream – nor had there been apparently for 20 years. The helpful landowner told  me he redirected hapless walkers across a nearby bridge about 100 metres away. I then had the idea to try and get this nearby bridge  made into the proper route by a footpath diversion.

The wonderful Rachel Dixon, the footpath warden, helped me, the Council agreed, the  parish agreed, the proposal was advertised and all was going amazingly well. Then a problem. The Council wanted some sort of shared responsibility agreement with the landowner (though bridges are their responsibility). The landowner understandably refused, and there was delay upon delay, with little hope of progress, despite the  dozens of chasers I sent out.  I told myself it didn’t matter too much because I had signed the  new route as a permissive route – but really I was pretty disgruntled.

Then in September  2016  – out of the blue –  I saw that the legal  Modification Order had been actually  made. Even now I don’t know how the problem  was resolved, but resolved it was. So today with some apprehension I went out to inspect Wolferlow 11 to see whether the Order had now been confirmed and the new route signed.  And, yes,  it had been done!

Now you can see the point of the photo. You can see the new waymarker on the same post as the older permissive sign. But not any longer you can’t, because now I have removed the permissive sign.

For a PFO there are some days of enormous frustration and disappointment when landowners or contractors have not done the work they promised, or when a new problem emerges. But there are plenty of good days, and this was definitely a good day.

 

south west coast path

We have finished the south-west coast path.  My brother George has organised  a group of us walking the path in twice-yearly sessions, starting six years ago, and now we have walked all 630 miles of it, finishing at the south side of Poole harbour just yesterday. In fact only two of us, George (in red) and Mark, have walked every inch but about 15 of us have walked most of it. I’ve done about 570 miles.

It is a wonderful national trail. Some of the going has been more diffciult than we expected, with the frequent steep climbs  up 200 steps followed immediately by 200 steps down being a particular favourite.  But the sea has been a constant source of pleasure, from the wild  and stormy conditions at Harland Point, which blew George’s glasses clean off his face (never to be found), to the waves pounding the path at Dawlish as we walked by the side of the newly-restored railway track, to the final delightful stroll from Old Harry rocks to Poole harbour.

The bed-and-breakfasts we have stayed at have nearly all been excellent. Even the infamous Captain Jack at Lynmouth has provided a host of good stories.

The waymarking is, as you would expect, mainly very good. However it was disappointing that the Lulworth ranges were closed to us, requiring a long inland diversion of average quality. As we walked round the ranges, all was quiet. No evidence at all of any firing taking place. We must hope that Natural England will achieve some sort of resolution of this problem when this section of the England coast path is implemented. Talking of which, we walked through one completed section of the England coast path, from Weymouth to Lulworth Cove, without seeing any evidence at all of the wider coastal  access that the  England coast path is supposed to provide. That is such a shame. There should be notices explaining the beach access and the spreading room, but unless I missed it, there was nothing.

The south-west coast path is a wonderful natural asset of which the UK can be very proud.  It clearly brings in huge revenues to local B&Bs, hotels, pubs, restaurants and taxis. Let us hope it continues to flourish.