Archive for the 'Past Events' Category

Sea, Sand and Snow

When we all booked for the Easter weekend in coastal Norfolk I am sure snow was not anticipated! The view from Sheringham hostel window at breakfast revealed a light blizzard.

Boh led a small party of us from Sheringham to Cromer while the other 9 set off north of Cromer for a more strenuous walk. Multi layers, warm hats, scarves, mitts and gloves proved their worth in guarding us against the elements as we had a wonderful walk along the pebbles and sand, amid sea spray and flurries of light icy snow. The cliffs appeared to consist of soft sand, and wooden defences were protecting further erosion. Boh pointed out a brick war bunker on the beach which presumably may have fallen off the cliff judging by the slanted angle it was set at.

We enjoyed a tea/pub stop at one of the Runtons and walked via the railway line passing a golf course and some climbed up the tallest hill in Norfolk (a hillock). At Cromer we sat on the front eating ice creams, chips and drinking tea. A parachute glider hovered overhead. After a stroll along the pier and around the town we located the railway station and travelled back in luxury.

As it had been Liz’s birthday in the week, Dot’s on the day and Boh’s the next day all 14 of us went out for a pub meal at the Wyndham Arms. On returning to the hostel I gleaned useful tips on improving my pool technique thanks to Tony.

On Easter Sunday the larger party led by Andy walked to Overstrand. Liz and Kathy went on a 30 mile cycle ride. Dave had a virus and spent the day on the steam train. Alan decided to visit some public houses by bus. Boh, Judith, Brenda and myself took the steam train to Holt.

Holt station proved interesting due to a model train set and a hobbit dimension cottage made out of two adapted train carriages, inhabited until two years ago. Holt is an upmarket, quaint, friendly village. Most shops were closed, but we found an interesting Indonesian wooden art shop and a junky type of antique shop which was like a rabbit warren. We had a dash back to the station and just caught a train to Kelling Heath. Here we walked through the ‘Hundred Acre wood’ Before returning to Sheringham.

There are quite a few of us requesting less strenuous shorter walks. Boh says he is willing to lead them on the weekends he is on this year so calling all those interested!

The Birthday Party

During May 2009, a hardy small party of four had ventured into Glen Affric in extremely wet weather. The small Bothy at Camban provided some respite from the constant drumming of the rain drops on one’s rain hood. The burns were in full spate and the party spent most of the time drying out all our kit in Allt Beithe hostel only to get wet wading knee deep through two rivers on the walk out. This was to be my last attempt at any Munro in the area of the glen. The rain was so torrential and unremitting that no serious walking was done. On the way out through showers of hard snow pellets, sleet and rain it was resolved to attempt the trip in better weather in the following year of 2010, although at the time I was suffering from what later was found to be heart trouble requiring the fitting of a one wire pacemaker. Injury and illness amongst the four of us caused cancellation of the 2010 trip.

However it was, my walking friends in Leicester Local YHA Group decided that I must go to Ratagan and also Glen Affric SYHA hostel at Allt Beithe for my 2011 birthday and booked five of us into Ratagan and Glen Affric before the end of 2010. It was to be a week’s walking with the odd Munro ticked off along the way. I had a wish to climb a few Munros, and eight would be ideal. That was one a day.

The birthday party left Leicester on Saturday May 21st full of hope for a good week but by the time we reached Stirling SYHA hostel the weather had changed and it was raining heavily. And it rained all the next day on the way north as well as when Ratagan was reached. The weather forecast was for hurricane force winds of 120 mph and heavy rain for the Monday when it was planned to walk into Glenn Affric from Morvich. We were advised that to go into Glenn Affric would be a hazardous journey. We rescheduled our journey for the Tuesday. There were five of us, Liz, Kathy, Boh, Tony and myself, Alan, the author of this record. It was to be a test of our wet weather gear.

As one of us had never been to Skye, on Monday it was decided to drive over as far as Sligachan. Loch Duich was in turmoil, driven insanely mad by the hurricane force winds, dashing and splashing on the shore, but the Skye Bridge was open. The car windscreen wipers were struggling to cope with the wind and rain so we took coffee and cakes at the serpentarium where a four-foot long African snake was handled. Liz was so charmed by one that she adopted it on the spot. All these creatures had been illegally imported into this country and confiscated by customs. The water coming off the hills created waterfalls where none normally existed. The Sligachan Inn was empty. The bar staff were unused to this boredom and outnumbered us. No customers except for us who had just arrived. The very strong winds kept blowing the doors open against the pressure of the door closers. Buckets, cans and other receptacles were scattered about catching rainwater dripping from the ceiling overhead. The ferocious winds driving the rain under the roof covering or maybe the roof itself was being destroyed. We never asked so did not find the answer. Huddling next to the fire to the continuous accompaniment of the plop plop of the drips into various containers we rested and watched the weather raging outside over a pint of Pinnacle from the Cuillin brewery based on the premises. Then refreshed we all clambered back into the car thankfully parked just by the door, to enjoy the wild weather all the way back to the mainland and then to the Clagaigh Inn for a meal. It was here that evening it was decided that the 80th birthday party would best be held on Sunday night. It was the best value for money!

The morning of Tuesday dawned less wet and windy as promised by the weather forecast. Two chaps who had walked out of Glen Affric on Monday arrived soaking wet at the hostel later advised us that the way past Camban Bothy was not impossible but very very wet.

The route chosen was from Morvich via Glenlicht House at the end of the track and along the path past Camban Bothy. It was still raining when we set off up the track. We all were glad of the shelter in the lean-to at Glenlicht House to eat and watch the rainsqualls being blown past. We had made good time to this point. Leaving this shelter during a lull in the rain Kathy saw her bright yellow backpack cover disappear rapidly in the direction of Meall a Charra never to be seen again carried away by the strong wind. The waterfalls at Allt Grannda were magnificent on both sides of the gorge one of which needed to be walked through but we all did that with no bother. Camban, much improved with new sleeping platforms since our last visit in 2009, seemed a long way along the track, but was a welcome shelter from the elements. Outside a water vole had been spotted very bedraggled and not at all used to these conditions as could be seen from its expression. He headed for shelter some where around the back. The path summit at Croc Biodaig was at the end of a seemingly long uphill drag. Tales of wet weather walking were exchanged with the other Munro baggers in the kitchen common room at the hostel. The English warden kept the back door locked and all outdoor kit had to be removed before entering the building. No boots allowed inside anywhere. Comply or be refused accommodation. I left my boots in the entrance porch, as I needed them later to reach the bunkhouse 50 yards away, only to find that the warden had taken a dislike to them there and had placed them amongst all the others to dry. The inside of my boots were not wet. Damp, yes but not wet.

The best forecast day for an assault on a Munro was Wednesday, this was the morrow and I said that an early start was necessary. We all lay in late. I was up first, as I needed to be up a hill and would go alone if no one else was ready. Kathy and Liz were concerned that the old bloke was out of his mind and needed to be looked after. Tony and Boh got out after we three had left to go up Mam Sodhail. My eyes were not good, as I needed to have cataract operations in both eyes when I got back although the appointment had not yet been set. Water was still coming crashing frantically off the hill cascading down the waterfall next to the narrow path up from the track. We rested at the Bealach in the stone wall shelter before turning right to follow the path upwards. We could see the objective. My legs were suffering a bit. I had been this far before in far better calm sunny weather, and had not been up a hill since my pacemaker was fitted. I was determined to get up this one even though our slow progress meant that we had to be content with just one summit. Time would not allow us the second one of Carn Eighe before darkness fell on the return. It was not raining nor snowing and there was the possibility that we would get a view from beneath the low clouds a few feet above our heads. Kathy and I managed to stop Liz from attempting the furthest hill first and we summitted across the boulder field. Rather later than we had wished, but we did get a view of the far glen glowing in bright-diffused sunlight from next to the wind blown icy cairn. Kathy set a return compass course for the Bealach and set off down. Fatigue set in. But we descended quite quickly although I needed lots of rest stops. Falling at times through the snow. On reaching the track in the glen, the girls went ahead and I enjoyed the solitude and the warm pleasant inner glow that comes with the satisfaction one gets when a goal has been achieved. As a septuagenarian I had bagged another in my task of Munro ticking. It was a big one; number fourteen in Munro’s tables. The evening was dry and the clouds a little higher as I strolled along the track knowing that this may be the last time I would enjoy this glen during my lifetime and I wanted to savour the moment. The girls kidded the rest of the Munro baggers that they had left me to ascend Carn Eighe and would be along shortly. A cup of tea was ready when I at last walked in. The next day was going to be wet again but not so windy. There were some that did not believe that we three had done it or that we had gone to the lower top and not the cairn. A wiry agile man who was trying to finish his last few Munros quizzed me and said quietly that we had gone to the top without doubt. I inwardly rejoiced, as I had not ticked off a Munro since 2008. At that time I was suffering with a heart problem that was diagnosed later.

The next day I rested out of the rain having already given up any idea of ascending Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, as I needed to regain my strength to walk out to Ratagan Hostel and the proposed Munro was An Socach, which I had been up in calm sunny weather some years previously. I stayed in the bunkhouse with a chap from Derby who needs a few hills to complete his total but did not fancy getting soaked to achieve his goal. The girls led the two men up the same route that had been used the day before to the Bealach Coire Ghadheil and turned left this time along the ridge over the top and over the Munro getting very wet during the walk whilst I and the Derby chap watched out of the rain from the shelter of the bunkhouse, for the party coming down off the hill towards the hostel. The hostel was locked during the day until 5.00p.m. despite the weather. The manager was from England and an escapee from the rat race in the City. Whilst waiting a long distance walker walked in, very glad to get out of the rain and the wind for once. He was on a journey from John o’ Groats to Lands End. We later discovered he was to fly to Holland for a few days before resuming his trek. He told the tale that in a Bothy book, seen a day or two earlier, he had noted that a certain Swedish girls choir met at the Bothy on Thursdays. We had seen the same message in the Bothy book at Camban. Those girls certainly got about for their choir practice. In some men’s imagination they were all blonde, buxom and under twenty-five.

It was noted that the two women in our party had climbed two Munros whilst the men had managed only one wet one!

On Friday Boh set the pace and led the way out back to Morvich. It was raining continually again. I never did discover whether the high pace set was because he was glad to get away from the remote hostel, get out of the rain, or he wished for a pint or two in a pub. I was bringing up the rear. After a sustenance stop sheltering at Glenlicht House where despite a visual search over the adjacent hillside there was no sign of the errant yellow backpack cover. I tripped, stumbled and fell over on the track shortly after leaving the shelter. I was tired and I had the car key. The earlier arrivals were sheltering in the National Trust Rangers display room when I arrived last in the pouring rain.

Back at Ratagan Hostel we met up with Chris and Alice. They were staying in the Wee Bunkhouse, a cosy six-bed garage size accommodation. Five blokes and Alice were staying requiring the blokes having got over their surprise at discovering that a female was in residence, to mind their p’s and q’s. Alice was amused.

The forecast for the Saturday was not much improved, as the conditions were high strength winds at high level and gusty wind and rain squalls lower down. Over breakfast it was decided that the most sheltered walk was from Totaig to Glenelg by the coastal track.

One car was by some arrangement left at the Glenelg hotel. The midges were biting at Totaig by the old ferry house and slipway where in September 1954 I had landed on my way from Eilean Donan by bicycle to Ratagan Hostel. We seven set off up hill past the Broch at Caisteal in bright sunshine and sheltered from the wind by the lee of the land. It was windy at high level as could be seen by the racing cumulus clouds. The walk was pleasant and uneventful until we reached the wide track that had been forested over some many years previously. It was torturous underfoot. The route was marked with yellow warning tape of a similar sort used to keep folks away from competitors in cross-country events. The tape was intended to keep us on a route of comparatively drier conditions under our boots but it was still slippery, very wet and waterlogged. The going got slower and slower after what had been excellent progress along the first part of the track. The forestry folk had cut a path between the trees three metres wide to indicate the previous route but forestry ploughing had destroyed the centuries old well trodden track through the trees and reduced it to peaty bog!

At Ardintoul, a place that although at the end of some tarmac, did not appear to be connected to any other place than Bernera Barracks, now part of some farm a few miles away. Off the end of the tarmac lane we were literally on the beach in rain showers and it was windy as well. Bright wind blown sunshine interposed the showers and a seashore stone wall provided some shelter from the wind and horizontal rain. It was not until we were in sight of the ferry crossing to Skye did we meet anyone. In this case a pleasant young Scottish woman wisely wearing waterproof wellingtons walking her wet dog. We exchanged the time of day. Further along the field track led to a galvanised five-barred field gate. We exited the dripping trees and were immediately on water streaming tarmac above Kylerhea ferry to the Isle of Skye. No one saw any otters at play. Two miles of road in drying conditions brought us to another footpath across fields to the Bernera Barracks and into Glenelg by the school. Our garments had dried and our boots were drying out. On the road in Glenelg village with the hotel almost in sight the skies darkened, and the heavens opened. The rains had come again determined to soak us before we reached the pub, which they did. The earlier arrivals had informed the local drinkers that a white haired old man, about to celebrate his first octogenarian birthday was approaching having walked from Totaig. This was not really believed and unknown to me. When viewing the alcohol offerings in this warm and pleasant hostelry I was asked my age. It was subject to a wee bet, of a double dram or two. It was thanks to my walking colleagues confirming my age from across the room, that a few drams were downed as a result of this gambolling? Gambling? The loser, in order to clear his account behind the bar had to visit the village shop to obtain money from the local ATM.

The vehicles arrived and I suggested that a visit to the other brochs in the area could be done, as I was the only one to have done so previously. It was raining again on the visit to the tall structures of Dun Telve and a few yards further Dun Trodden. We finished the days walking. The strong winds had not diminished. Norman arrived on his Triumph motorcycle. We were now eight. Would anyone else arrive?

On Sunday I awoke aged eighty.

There was a concern that the very strong winds that had been blowing all week would affect our plans. It was agreed that I would decide what to do, as it was my birthday. The principle of these was to find somewhere out of the wind so as not be blown away or soaked through by the wind blown rain.

A long discussion took place Sunday morning at breakfast, when it was obvious that the weather forecast was not wrong. The wind was in the wrong direction being somewhat westerly. We went to Plockton for coffee at the waterfront Plockton Hotel on Harbour Street. At least we were out of the wind and wet but were not comfortable. A middle aged Scot in full tweed regalia complete with kilt, long woollen socks, a woollen shirt, tweed Scottish style jacket, and a blonde female companion sat reading a pile of Scottish Sunday papers nearby. A touristy bit of shopping along the street ended with a visit to the Plockton Inn on Innes Street. This place was different; it had a pool table and was open all day, did meals and was warm and cosy. I was satisfied with a pint or two from the local Plockton Brewery, Plockton Bay Ale at 4.6%. All the Scottish Sunday Papers were bought. The games of pool were rather curious in as much as it was my birthday I was to be allowed to win. What the players failed to realise was exactly how bad my eyes were. I may have won the odd game with Norman and Tony. The very brilliant wind blown sunshine attracted some away from the hostelry to do the local walk above the houses and around the park. These hardy individuals set off in brilliant sunshine and were back some time later having been soaked by a heavy shower. The time had come to move from one pub to the next at Dornie.

The rain was sheeting down again when we reached the Clagaigh Inn. Parking was impossible but we got the OK to park right outside the door. I believe we were earlier than the time previously set. This did not faze the bar staff. I have no clear recollection of the initial events other than the booked table was rearranged to the main room from the pokey area under the stairs. Others bought drinks. Curiously I was sat at the head of the table with my back to the bar facing the fire. Through the windows on my right I could see the far hills, the rain, the scurrying clouds and the dimming sky in the west. The meal was good value. A birthday cake, brought all the way from Aberdeen was produced complete with eighty candles not a total of eighty but two – one number eight and one zero. I was distracted by something for on returning to my seat my straight pint glass of blackcurrant and lemonade was lettered. I did not notice immediately which caused some quiet amusement amongst the other seven at the table knowing that my eyes were dim. Some moments later when I lifted the glass for a sip I noticed “Aging Gracefully 80 Happy Birthday”. I smiled. The request for a cake knife was an unusual one, for the resident chef brought in a long sharp pointed butcher’s knife. I took the opportunity to personally thank him for the special veggie meal produced for the occasion and arranged by the collaborators. I cut the cake. Then I made a thank you speech thanking all for braving the terrible windy wet weather and travelling the 500 miles from Leicester to be present on the occasion of my birthday, which very often falls during the Spring Bank Holiday. During the evening it was discovered from the bar staff that my friend Alan, in America, had sold over the Internet the property he owned next to the pub. The manager made us welcome to come at another time to stay at the Red House. This is provisionally arranged for 2013.

To defray the cost of the expensive trip I bought the meal as a personal thank you for the pleasant birthday celebration Scottish trip. This caused a surprise amongst the diners as the chef this time collaborated with me and kept it secret. Fun was had all round. Thank you to the attendees once again for making my 80th birthday such a success despite the appalling weather. I was disappointed that my daughter’s family were not present but Truro is further away. Also my octogenarian Scottish walking friends were not well enough.

On the Bank Holiday Monday all travelled all the way back to Leicester.

Completing this write up in the early part of 2012, it has been reported that during this past year Scotland has had the wettest weather since records were first taken. There was little or no rain in Leicestershire.

It was too expensive to hire a kilt and full regalia for the party so the ladies were denied the opportunity to find out what nether garments are worn beneath. Thus I avoided any up-kilt photo shots. Maybe there will be a chance next time? Keep watching the group programme.

All Around Rutland

The Rutland Round is a circular walk of about 65 miles round the county of Rutland. The route follows near the perimeter of the county but deliberate diversions are made to visit Rutland Water and the county town of Oakham.

The walk was devised by John Williams, the rights of way officer for C.P.R.E. Rutland, with the co-operation of Rutland County Council. A lottery grant was awarded to assist with waymarking.

The group tackled the route as a series of 6 day walks starting in January 2011. The starting point was Braunstone-in-Rutland and 13 intrepid souls turned up on a dry but misty morning. The route took us through some pleasant rural scenery before a break at Belton-in-Rutland. The next section was very undulating and went up through Wardley Wood to lunch at Uppingham, one of only two towns in the county. Many of the finest buildings in Uppingham belong to the famous public school which has a strong emphasis on sport, possessing a greater area of sportsfields than any school in England. Jonathan Agnew and James Whitaker, 2 Leicestershire cricketers, studied here. It also has high musical standards and Harry Judd of McFly, who recently won Strictly Come Dancing, is an old Uppinghamian. The walk ended with some great views over Eyebrook Reservoir as we dropped down to finish below Stoke Dry.

In February, seven of us started out from Eyebrook Reservoir which is a very good site for birdwatching. The reservoir opened in 1940 to supply water for Corby steelworks. The RAF’s 617 squadron practiced here with bouncing bombs later used in the Dambuster raids of World War 2. After a break amongst the lovely stone buildings of Lyddington we walked up through Seaton which gave good views of the railway viaduct which crosses the Welland valley. It took 3,000 navies to build the 82 arches between 1876 – 1878. The rain caught up with us for the last half hour but we soon dried out at the end in the Exeter Arms, Barrowdon.

Round 3 in March saw six of us set off from the attractive village of Barrowdon with its village pond. A superb walk along the banks of the River Welland to Duddington on the Northamptonshire border was accompanied by a Red Kite which flew slowly in two adjacent fields. After lunch outside the church in Ketton we walked through the limestone quarries which supply the materials for the nearby cement works. Whilst not pretty this is a fascinating area and the land is being reshaped and landscaped as the quarrying progresses. A sunny afternoon finished at Rutland Water with a welcome cup of tea at the café.

In April there were nine of us setting off from Edith Weston to walk along the shores of Rutland Water and over the dam to Empingham. We continued to Tickencote where we stopped to look at the church, which has a magnificent Norman chancel-arch built around 1140. It has six semi circular orders each with a different pattern. After lunch at ‘The Plough’ in Great Casterton we walked through some very rural countryside before negotiating another limestone quarry at Clipsham. There were five buzzards circling over the quarry.

After a summer break, eight of us started walk 5 at Clipsham in October. The morning walk was rather flat and dull as it passed to the north of Cottesmore airfield, but it improved considerably in the afternoon with fine views across to Burley House. At one point we reached the meeting place of three counties, Rutland, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. This is where bare knuckle fights took place, hugely popular but illegal. In 1811 Tom Cribb beat an American, Thomas Molyneux in the heavyweight championship of the world. There was a crowd of 15,000 for the event. The site was chosen so that if a magistrate appeared from one county people could escape into another.

The final walk started at Whissendine in November when seven of us walked in the mist towards Langham. The church bells of Langham could be heard through the mist before we could see the village and sounded quite atmospheric. By 12.00 the sun was out and the autumn colours were showing well at Barleythorpe. We had a lunch break at Oakham which gave us a chance to admire its fine buildings. In the afternoon we briefly stopped at the bird watching centre at Egleton before returning to where it all started at Braunstone and a well earned drink in the Blue Ball Inn.

Mick, Matt and John S completed the whole walk but several others are hoping to fill in the gaps. It has definitely given us an extensive view of England’s smallest county.

Diary of a Theatre Trip

5:50pm – getting ready to leave.

5:55pm – still getting ready to leave.

6:00pm – leaving.

6:01pm – left.

6:10pm – collected interstellar Stella.

6:15pm – finally on way.

7:25pm – arrived at theatre.

7:45pm – seated and show starting.

Next 2 hours – almost continuous laughter, sometimes so hard that sides hurt and tears rolled down cheeks.

An outstanding performance by four brilliant actors, well worth the standing ovation they received. You really had to be there since mere words from this meekly pen couldn’t possibly do justice to that which we were privileged to participate in.

Read the book. Though only second best I fear.

10:30ish pm – arrived home.

Good night all.

A Capital Trip

7 of 8 intrepid explorers made it to YHA St Pancras by 2pm via car, train and coach; one unfortunate never made it. Five of us made our way to the Pub Behind the Hostel for lunch but they had stopped serving food, damn! looked like good beer too. Following a light lunch at another establishment we returned to the Pub Behind the Hostel. Excellent beer.

After much to-ing & fro-ing and fro-ing & to-ing, not to mention mobile phone texting & calling, (yes, this was one of those rare events where we had excellent mobile signals on all networks), all seven participants finally met and we made our way to book tickets for some excellent shows. Comedies (farces? in keeping with group tradition), since War Horse was fully booked for the next 3 months! A Turkish meal, the show, regrouping then back to the Pub Behind the Hostel for a nightcap or three. Excellent beer and wine.

Breakfast day 2, no comment. Everyone had plans, three made it Outdoors Show – decided the Birmingham event last year was much better. Met at Tate Modern, joined by Chris and Alice, for a pleasant walk to Borough, we are a walking group after all. Made our way to The George Inn for a delicious and very welcome meal. Back to the Pub Behind the Hostel for a Nightcap or three. Excellent beer, wine and cider.

Breakfast day 3, still no comment. What we all came down for; well, except for the cats & dogs washing the grime off the streets of London, which nearly made us change our minds’.

Pub crawl of Historic pubs of London, hoorah hooray. Walked to British Museum where we took refuge from the deluge. Then onwards, down Museum Street, across High Holborn to Drury Lane to The White Hart at 191. A veritable den of thieves and skullduggers in the past. Here we lunched, good grub and drank real ale. On then to Long Acre and The Freemason’s Arms at 81; very posh! but maintained its character. More real ale. A short walk down Bow Street to Catherine Street in Covent Garden where we found Nell of Old Drury at number 39 opposite the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, hmmm! A very small, but wonderfully atmospheric, bar with walls covered in posters of past shows, many signed by the famous thespians. Apparently an underground passage connects the theatre and the pub so that those same thespians can pop over for courage when not on stage. Another excellent pint downed followed by the hunt for Bull Inn Court. Found, after much searching, down a very narrow, twisty passage off Maiden Lane towards The Strand. Here at number 2 our final watering hole The Nell Gwynne Tavern. Doorstep sandwiches to sop up all the beer so far acquired then two more pints before making our separate ways to Leicester.

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend, must do it again!

To the Manor Borne

Well we finally got to Wilderhope on the weekend of 8th October 2010, after a failed attempt last year. The hostel had been booked last September/October time but had to be cancelled as nobody had the weekend free. Ten of us set out Friday October 8th in three cars. Norman arrived by motorbike early Saturday morning having had his arm twisted to take up the offer of a free bed due to Boh not being well enough to go!

The hostel, a gabled Elizabethan manor, stands in Hope Dale, between Wenlock Edge and the Aymestry ridge. Described as one of the most remote and least spoiled valleys in Shropshire. During the early part of this century it was uninhabited, derelict and in danger of being demolished. Ironically its neglect and inaccessibility at that time saved it from the Victorian alterations undergone by many other Elizabethan houses in Shropshire. When the Cadbury Trust purchased it in 1935/6 major repairs and renovations were started with the aim of returning it to its original condition as far as possible. Its proposed use as a youth hostel was ideal since it involved no major structural alterations, beyond the addition of washrooms with showers and water supply.

Its main features are its imposing architecture and setting, with external walls of small uncoursed rubble with dressed quoins which are in some places up to four and a half feet thick. Interior walls are timber-framed filled in with wattle and daub, two internal staircases (servants where girls dorm was) and main staircase up to boys dorms are circular and each step being made from a solid block of wood. I found hanging onto the central wood crafted rail with both hands and ‘flying’ down the two flights quite irresistible!

From the outside its setting had an ambience similar to Wastwater hostel, but instead of a lake in front it stood high overlooking grass, apple trees and fields in the distance. The interior was reminiscent, I felt, of both Whitby hostel and Wastwater too re the beams, ceiling décor, smell and feel of old wood. There was even a deserted house martin nest in the large imposing dark wood porch …anybody remember Whitby Hostel?

Those of us who arrived early Friday evening strolled down the quiet track to the pub – about a mile I believe. The pub was very pleasant and Andy sampled the food to his satisfaction. Back at the hostel later, we found the kitchen was not designed for the use of lots of individuals doing different things! The dorms were large and I think ours was 16 bedded. In spite of original window frames being in place we were able to open ours at night and I think the ablutions even met with the approval of Dorothy.

The walk on Saturday was a circular taking in Wenlock Edge. The weather was the kind best left unnoticed – depressing and drizzly. It was a bit disappointing as we could not really tell we were on an edge due to being enclosed by trees/bushes/hedges etc. It was also very muddy underfoot. However Sunday’s weather was spectacular sparkly and cold and bright. Sunday’s walk took us out onto the tops with wonderful views of the Shropshire hills.

The staff have to be mentioned. A bit like faulty towers when it comes to organisation. In spite of wanting our orders for meals in early – they never knew what the menu was going to be until the same evening – 6ish. As we left on our walk we told staff there would be 7 of us eating and anything would be okay excluding offal especially liver or tripe. At which point the staff member shouted to the kitchen staff – cancel the liver …… and the tripe! They were a very good humoured bunch and there were some interesting alternative visitors too including two storytellers with quite a story to tell! Ruth got bored of sitting around quietly Saturday evening as there were two other groups playing games/cards etc who seemed to be having a great time. Ruth duly went over to one group and asked if she could join in their games and frivolity which she did. Overall it was an enjoyable weekend I think all would agree.

Pints, Paths and Puttenham

So what, I was off to Surrey again and the North Downs, this time a return trip to Puttenham Eco Camping Barn. I do like walking the downs and the village of Puttenham is situated right on the North Downs Way, but that wasn’t the only reason for spending this long Whitsun bank holiday at Puttenham Eco – the village local The Good Intent was also holding it’s annual beer festival and spit roast that same weekend!

I was in the last of three cars to arrive but was soon settled in and off down the road to the festival, to find the rest of our party. As I walked into the beer garden I was met by the sight of Liz supping from a half-pint glass of mushy-pea green liquor. I thought “strange coloured lime cordial they have round here”, even more surprising the thought of Liz with a ladies drink, with a lime and lemon? But, first impressions are so often wrong; Liz was actually drinking a glass of green beer – no joke! I did try some for myself, yes, it was beer, but the taste was rather bland for my liking. However, the number of glasses of green liquor, I saw around the beer garden over the weekend, it certainly went down well with the locals. The spit roast was excellent. Two slices each of beef, pork and gammon with a jacket potato plus as much of the various salads and relishes that you could get onto your plate, for just £6.50. It was the same the next night and the beer was in good condition for as long as it lasted but that night it had to be, to make up for the musical accompaniment – some dreadfully out of tune karaoke singing!

That first night I was reasonably comfortable, snuggled up in my four season sleeping bag but, as it turned out, it wasn’t so good a night for the rest of the group. In the morning, they were raiding the warden’s stash of extra sleeping bags and duvets, to keep themselves warm for the rest of the weekend. Puttenham Eco is aptly named; it supplements its electricity supply and makes its own heat from the sun, using solar panels and heat exchangers. Unfortunately, there is no other form of heating for the building, which means that if the sun goes in the barn’s unheated!

On similar environmental lines, the toilet flushes with harvested rain water; the system seemed unable to cope with ten of us using the one loo, until an emergency red button was discovered – one push, as required, and our toilet was reconnected and flushing again! That was our only problem with the ablutions, my thanks to all of the five males and five females who shared that same toilet and shower room for three days, without animosity. Most of us just waited our turn or reduced our usage, though one ‘gentleman’ did find a more novel way around the problem. As he admitted, each morning he sloped off to the local golf club, where he passed himself off as a member, and used their facilities instead – cheeky devil!

What about the real reason Leicester YHA runs its weekends, the walking? On the Saturday, Boh led a damp and drizzly eight mile circular from the camping barn, taking in part of the North Downs Way via the local woodlands and lakes to Shackleford and, yes, a pint in their “Cyder House”. That reminds me, I’ll have to have word with certain new member: if two elder members decide to have a quick snooze over their pint whilst sat on a nice comfy leather settee – they ain’t posing for the camera! We were back in the barn by 2:30 pm where some of us just caught up on lost sleep. Judith couldn’t rest and did a further walk out to Seal and back, whilst Liz’s car took a trip into Farnham for extra supplies.

That evening, cleaned and rested it was back to the Good Intent and more of their festival. The beer and the spit roast were still on form but there was a great improvement in the music on offer in the form of a band called Imitation . A young band from Oxfordshire, who we were told were out on their first gig. From the quality of their performance, especially that of their lead singer, Rosie, it won’t be their last! They certainly hit the right note with Liz: on one occasion when returning from the bar, I was nearly bowled over by her “pole dancing” around one of the outer poles of the marquee! No one bothered about the rain; it was a great sound on a great night.

What a difference a good night’s sleep makes, plus a drastic improvement in the weather by morning. Boh led us on a 14 mile walk on the Sunday, or so he said at the time, out towards Guildford and the remaining walkable section of the Hog’s Back, i.e. the bit that does not lie underneath the main A3 trunk road! To get to this ridge, we first walked out by the local golf course, where I did notice we were getting a few funny looks from the golfers, or was it Andy they were looking at – eighteen holes and then a ramble, he must be fit!

We made our usual elevenses stop at the top of that ridge, overlooking Guildford Cathedral with a clear view over the whole of the city. In fact, it was so clear that on looking further into the distance, we could see London and its various landmarks: the Post Office Tower, the arch of the new Wembley Stadium, the wheel of the London Eye and even the aeroplanes taking off and landing at Heathrow Airport were all discernible – a definite highpoint of the weekend. Our walk then took us through flower meadows, along canal towpaths and river banks and much more, to Shalford and lunch at The Parrot Inn.

Boh supposedly cut the walk short for the route back along a different branch of the river and canal, then a sharp climb back onto the ridge after which we needed another quick half at the Harrow at Compton and finally the footpath straight over the golf course back to Puttenham Eco. On returning home after the weekend Boh measured his walk more accurately and told me we had actually covered nearly eighteen miles that day – after we had all waited our turn to shower, no wonder we felt like getting an early night! Thanks Boh, it was still an excellent walk, I’m glad I did it and I hope I speak for everyone else. Tired or not, we all went to the Good Intent again that evening, only to find they had already sold out of the festival beers, with essentially another day of the festival still to go!

After a well earned night’s sleep, we cleared the barn, packed up the cars and were off to another old haunt of mine: The Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead. The punchbowl gets its name from the way the mists collect over its top like a huge smoking or steaming bowl. Andy, who also knows this area well, led us on a six mile circular walk through the woodlands of the bowl, down to Hindhead youth hostel at the bottom. At the hostel we chatted to three families that had hired it for the long weekend and investigated the possibility of booking it for ourselves in the future. After a parting cuppa in the Punch Bowl Café it was off back to Leicester, vowing to return again perhaps to Hindhead youth hostel.

Special thanks to our wardens and the owners of Puttenham Eco, I hope it is not too long before we are back again. Thank you to Mark, Liz and Andy for driving on this weekend and to Boh and Andy for leading the walks. My thanks also to everyone else for their company, especially to our new members Mark and Tony, who I hope to see out again on future events with the group.

And there were more goings on in Surrey.

The editor also asked me to make a mention of the Tanners’ folk night on the 7th and 8th May 2010, I will, though strictly speaking this was not a Leicester Group event but our members were made welcome there. After our usual pub meal at the Stepping Stones in Westhumble Liz, Boh and I arrived at Tanner’s Hatch youth hostel about 9 pm to the usual friendly welcome from the regular folkies and members of Rent a Crowd.

That weekend, as it turned out, one of their members, Lorna was celebrating her 40th Anniversary of going to Tanners Hatch; going there for the first time in May 1970 and she kindly invited us to join her festivities the next day. That Friday evening we sang ’til 1 possibly 2 am before retiring and on the Saturday morning Boh, Liz and I took a walk into Westcott via a very new footbridge over the local brook. An old chap working in his front garden at one end of the bridge was only too eager to give us the full ins and outs, political and financial, of how they acquired that new bridge. After which we retired to a local pub, where over a drink and bowls of his excellent home made soup, we chatted with the landlord over the possible outcome of the general election the previous day – no one came up with the actual outcome.

Then it was a stiff walk back up the escarpment to Tanners and more food. This time plates of ‘home made’ chicken chow mien, since Lorna and friends Sue and Anne said a Vesta Chicken Chow Mien was their staple 70’s hostellers meal. For myself, hostel self catering was more likely to be a tin of Irish stew filled out with half a tin of baked beans, followed then, by a tin of rice pudding, heated through in the same stewy saucepan – those were the days!

Once everyone had arrived and was fed we were all taken on a nature walk by Bruce. Bruce is on of the locals I have got to know from going to Tanners Hatch over the years, he is now an accomplished botanist and professionally interested in the management of countryside. His guided walk was interesting and very informative but a bit longer than Lorna had envisaged. Hence, a worried call on her mobile back to the hostel, to take the pudding out of the oven for half an hour! Disaster averted, on our arrival back, we were all served up with bowls of hot apple crumble and custard, as the usual 70’s accompaniment to the Vesta meal – as members’ kitchen meals go, a bit up market than my stewy rice pud!

This was followed by two or three hours of reminiscing over times and friends, now past and gone, but never forgotten. Tales of ‘Tanners by gas light’ before the electric generator was installed, working or skiving parties at Tanners plus tales of horrible tricks played on fellow hostellers – don’t mention Ex Lax! As more people arrived, the guitars and other instruments were soon taken out and the folk night proper got underway, including two or three unaccompanied ballads from yours truly. The singing went on well into the night finishing at about 4 am, Sunday morning. And, this was accompanied by even more food, as a large buffet had been prepared whilst we were out on the nature ramble.

I did grab a few hours sleep but as usual I was one of the first to get up and, as thanks for the huge repast of the night before, I made myself busy tidying and doing the washing up before most people were awake. As soon as people were awake and we had said our good byes we just headed back to Leicester again – no need for more walking after a day like that! Many thanks Lorna for allowing us to join in and thanks again to Liz for driving on this one.

I’m sorry, but I know longer make Leicester Group bookings to these folk nights but if you are interested in joining me at one please contact me and I will explain the booking procedure.

Amongst the Daffodils

It’s the time and place that inspired one of the nation’s favourite poems, which may be why a spring visit to lakeland is such a fixture in the group programme. Be that as it may, this year’s jocund company of expectant walkers gathered at Elterwater youth hostel for two days of mountain walking.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, full of promise for the day ahead. We decamped to the Old Dungeon Ghyll car park near the head of the valley, and were soon striding out towards Stool End farm and the beginning of the walk proper. Ahead of us loomed The Band – a rugged promontory bearing a steep path to the col between Crinkle Crags and Bowfell.

Before long, our own rugged band were labouring their way to the top, making frequent pauses to look over their shoulders at the fine view of Langdale in the hazy sunshine (and not to take a breather, honest!). Progress was steady, interrupted only by the customary elevenses break, and we soon reached the three small tarns which mark the top of The Band.

It was too windy to spend much time resting – once the group were gathered we turned right to climb towards the summit of Bowfell. After a lunch break in a sheltering outcrop of rocks, we reached the top and were able to take in the view. Bowfell is a wonderful vantage point – in the dead centre of the Lake District it commands great views in all directions. Sadly it was too hazy to see any great distance, but still ample reward for our efforts to get there.

Taking our leave from the summit, we picked our way across the rocky landscape towards our next objective. In places, patches of snow lay as a reminder of the winter. Seasoned by our experience on Cader Idris, we were able to cross them without incident – dropping down to Ore Gap before climbing once more to the top of Esk Pike.

Finally we reached Esk Hause, a crossroads high in the hills where paths meet from Borrowdale, Wasdale, Eskdale and Langdale. Ahead of us stood Scafell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable, but they would have to wait for another day – it was time to head for home. Bearing right, we took the path down to Angle Tarn. Mickleden valley was bathed in evening sunshine as we descended alongside Rossett Gill and followed the Cumbria Way back to the car park – the completion of a splendid (if demanding) day’s walking.

Sunday was distinctly less promising in terms of weather, but still good enough to entice us back into the hills. This time the walk started at the hostel gate, following Langdale Beck towards Chapel Stile. The church bells rang out as we approached the village. I don’t think they were warning the inhabitants of our arrival, but in any case we were soon through and into the country beyond.

A brisk climb brought us to Dow Bank, in the middle of a line of high ground separating Elterwater from Grasmere. Turning eastwards we followed this “gently undulating” ridge to the beginning of Loughrigg Terrace.

The second climb of the day took us to the top of Loughrigg Fell. We passed a large party of Chinese students coming down, who were apparently on some kind of exchange trip. They seemed to be enjoying the experience, though some of them weren’t exactly dressed for it. On reaching the trig point we sat down to rest, and to enjoy both the view and a well-earned lunch.

Rested and refreshed, we began our descent back into the valley. Picking our way around the lumps and bumps which grace the top of Loughrigg, we were soon dropping towards Skelwith Bridge. A break for further refreshment in that village’s well-stocked tea shop was followed by a final mile along the shore of Elter Water back to the cars.

Another excellent group weekend, my thanks go to the drivers and everybody else who made it so enjoyable.

Cold Mountain at Corris

Last year we spent Easter at Corris and, while sitting in the Braich Goch hotel having a number of medicinal pints, the proprietor happened to mention that they had a bunkhouse and also a beer festival next February. Sitting there relaxing in a gentle hoppy haze we decided that we would book another weekend for that and in a fit of fervour I agreed to do the organising.

I then totally forgot about this till Dave mentioned it some months later and we got an e mail from the Braich Goch checking that we were serious about the booking. At first I thought we’d never get 12 people in February to return to Corris and Cadair Idris let alone a beer festival in a village with no shops. However bit by bit the numbers built up and we ended up with ten (though admittedly I press ganged my son Tom and his girlfriend into it, he was keen on the beer bit and I swear I mentioned Cadair to him as well).

So off we went back to Wales and the hills and the sheep — whoops! – mustn’t mention sheep — remember Trefin? I went with Liz and Boh, this time we kept to the main roads and missed last year’s tour of the country lanes — with the result we got there first at 5pm and found the festival in full flow. There were about 12 varieties of real ale with exotic names and strengths and by the time the others came several hours later we had already sampled a number of them.

By now it’d started snowing, though fortunately everyone got here OK in the end. Walking out of the door of the hostel to greet a new arrival a gritter roared past and covered me in grit and very wet slush. At least that should stop me from slipping on Cadair. We also met the hostel cat who was a tabby with a delusion he was a Manx as a passing lorry had taken off his tail. Needless to say Chris soon struck up a rapport with him.

By now the festival was in full swing and the local band arrived. I forget their name but apparently they’re very big in Machynlleth and reminded me of some middle aged late punks with a demon keyboard player in a pork pie hat. It was at this stage that Dave reached for his ear plugs though the pub was heaving and it was obviously the mad night of the year in Corris (I even thought I saw Owain Glyndwr dancing in the crowd and also King Arthur, who is reputed to sleep in the nearby hills but must have been woken up by the noise).

So next morning we woke up bright and early. Tom had gone missing from his bunk and I thought he’d had enough and done a runner, but he was sleeping in the lounge as he’d found the combined snoring of our dorm a bit much for him — I’d forgotten to warn him about that as well. We looked out of the front door and saw nothing except mist in the valley and several inches of snow. So it looked like a good day for Cadair via the Minffordd path and off we went at a healthy 9am.

On the way we passed some sort of portakabin by some road works with the title “Welfare Office” in large letters on it. What was this? — a bold plan to bring welfare services to rural Wales or was it for distressed sheep — sorry said it again! — strange though as there wasn’t a house for miles.

Once we arrived at the mountain, the mist had started to clear except on the tops, and all the trees were covered in snow – which looked great. The sky was blue and the sun came out as we started climbing the infamous steps –or staircase to heaven as a rock band (Sorry Dave) once put it. The steps were very giant friendly for anyone over 8 ft with long legs but unfortunately none of us were that size. Is there an 8 foot high planner who makes a living out of planning massive steps in upland areas? The snow was starting to melt off the trees and we all got roasting, but the snow looked brilliant against the blue sky with bits of cloud rising out of the main Cwm around the lake like smoke from a waiting Welsh dragon round the corner.

As we began to climb up the south ridge we could see the lake half frozen over but I failed to get Liz to repeat her swimming in the lake feat from Brecon two years ago. When we got to the top of the first ridge there was a great view over half frozen Tal y Llyn lake with snow everywhere and fleecy clouds floating below us. The thing with Cadair is that it is really a collection of several summits and you can’t see the highest summit till you’re right on the top, so you think you may have reached the top but of course you haven’t.

You get up to 690 metres on one summit and then on to the next at 791 metres. It was at this stage that the clouds covered the tops and the snow that must have been lying there for some time turned out to be a foot deep (oh, and I forgot the wind as well). Last time I came over this one it was boiling hot! You then get to a bit of path right near the edge with a 900 foot drop to the lake at the bottom. There were footprints in the snow going right to the edge but then turning back… Was this a member of the kamikaze walking group who changed his mind at the last moment and got a lifetime ban from the group? — who knows.

So at 791 metres you comfort yourself with the thought that the highest peak is only 893 so it’s a mere 300 feet or so to go — then you hit the downhill. If we’d all carried old tin trays with us we could have tobogganed down to the bottom but as we hadn’t it was a matter of slip slide and slurp in the snow drifts down to 700 metres which made it 600 foot or so to the top. That’s not much really but you couldn’t see the top and it was uphill through a foot of snow. I’ve got a photo of part of the group disappearing up the snowy slope in the mist which looks very like Scott trying to find the South Pole having wished he hadn’t made a madras curry of the last husky (overdid the garlic too said Evans, as he disappeared in to the blizzard saying ‘I may be gone some time’).

Having inadvertently mistaken Boh for a polar bear we dragged on upwards through various snowy clad rocks rocks till we found the summit with a highly frozen trig point. (It was at this point that I was asking myself do I like hill walking or am I just a ******* masochist?) After a brief lunch in the bothy at the top with well chilled chardonnay and sarnie glace we noticed that the cloud had cleared from the summit — as it often does on Cadair — remember Kings, where it cleared and Dorothy could see as far as the sales in Barmouth? The sea still looked cold and oddly the valley to the north was snow free while the one to the south wasn’t. Last year when we came up we could see Snowdon to the north, the Brecon beacons to the south and well into England in the east. This time it wasn’t as clear though you could make out the Snowdon range.

So on to the downhill. First we had to go across a snow covered plateau and the mist came down again. This and the wind made it look very like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and at one stage I thought I saw a ghostly French dragoon till I realised his helmet and plumes was in fact Dave’s multi coloured woollen hat. Anyway eventually we started going steeply downhill — and downhill — and downhill — till we were sick of going steeply downhill and almost started wishing we could go uphill again. Eventually we got out of the thick snow and the views were great with the fading winter sunlight over the sea and the snow clad hills. Then down the “giant’s’” steps and to the car park and the general feeling that that it had been ‘One hell of a walk’. Also congratulations to Donna. Tom and Lisa on completing it on their first walk with the group – they’re not all like this one!

Back at the Bunkhouse it appeared that Shep the singing sheepdog and his band from Pontllanfraith Uchaf had cancelled due to lambing problems and were replaced by the heaviest metal band this side of Dinas Mawddwy. Led by Dave we then decided to try the village pub which thank goodness is still open and the very hospitable landlord fitted us in for food and quite a lot of drink — we must have given his takings a good boost. By the time we returned to the bunkhouse the party was still in full swing (King Arthur had just got barred and gone back to his cave in the mountain) but they’d run out of my favourite stout and most of us crashed out fairly quickly. After last night’s experience Tom opted to sleep with Dave and Stuart who proved snore free!

So next morning most people went off but some of us stayed for an “undulating” walk up the side of the valley from Corris to the old slate mine at the top and then on to Upper Corris and back via the teashop. On the way we passed the ‘Italian House’ where an Italian spent a lifetime building models of Italian buildings in the garden from a large variety of bricks.

This led to a keen ethical debate on the role of women between Liz and Stuart — did Mrs Italian pine away alone in the house while her chauvinist neglectful husband sublimated in his garden with his beloved bricks or did she breath a sigh of relief when he went outside and settle down to watch the telly in peace free from his endless talking about bricks? Perhaps this topic could be on the agenda at the next AGM?

Anyway that was that and for once some beer assisted idea raised in a pub had led to a great weekend.

In the Snow at Grin Low

We have been to Grin Low cottage (situated south of Buxton) on 5 previous occasions over the last 10 years. Those being the new year weekends of 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and a Bonfire weekend in November 2003. As this was our 10th anniversary since we first set foot in the cottage, the Group decided to make this a special occasion by subsidizing the bednights, providing a free meal and free transport for those not traveling independently.

Thursday – New Years Eve

With my passengers, Dave and Margaret, I set off for Grin Low. Passing through Ashbourne, we noticed snow on only the very highest hills but as we started to head over higher ground towards Buxton, the snow appeared at the roadside to greet us.

We reached Grin Low cottage at about 3.45pm and were surprised that Grin Low’s car park was buried under 3 feet of snow. I had no option but to park on the side of the iced up driveway, at the side of the cottage, the long entrance to the Grin Low caravan park. There’s never any caravans here at this time of year, so I was puzzled to see so many other cars parked close by with hordes of people walking about. The snow had obviously galvanized the local population into winter pursuits, skiing, tobogganing etc. On past new year visits, it was rare to see anyone else around but this level of snow had changed all that.

On entering the cottage, we found that Norman, Ruth, Judith, Tony and Laurie had arrived a good hour before us. So we all set about laying out the New Years Eve buffet, At about 6.00pm, the next car arrived with Alison, Clare and Mikhail. But they got stuck, so I and Norman helped to get them off the main road and on to the driveway. Brian was the only one now that we were waiting for, He was bringing his Hi-Fi equipment, so we could have some music, but where was he ?

It was a lovely clear moonlit night and with all the snow, you barely needed a torch and I was sorely tempted to go on a late night walk to Solomon’s Temple, only half a mile away. But as the weekend organiser, I felt duty bound to keep a look out for Brian. Eventually, he arrived at 11.15pm, overshot the entrance and got stuck a few yards up the road, trying to turn around in a gateway.

But a few willing hands came out to perform the second rescue of the evening. Apparently, Brian had overslept after a tiring Wednesday evening. Probably been out drinking into the small hours again. But he arrived in time to see in 2010 with the rest of us. He was unable to join us on any walks, he’d forgotten to bring his boots.

Friday – New Years Day

Tony volunteered to lead a walk from the cottage to the Goyt Valley. The original idea would have been to drive up to the Cat and Fiddle pub on the A537 but it wasn’t worth driving anywhere in case we got stuck, the Cat and Fiddle was blocked off anyway.

So we set off minus Brian but plus Sarah who had driven up from Leek, to join us for the walk and to stay for one night. It was a nice sunny morning but we were to have a few snow flurries later on.

We walked on the A54 for a short while before turning onto a minor road towards Goyts Moss, though what should have been a road was now a snow track. The road was under 4 feet of snow, it was amusing to see the occasional top of a road sign sticking out of the snow. After this, we joined a footpath that led us to a road at Goyts Moss. It was hard going as we were sinking into deep snow most of the time. The road, when we reached it, was little better, as it was very icy underfoot. We arrived at the ruins of Errwood Hall for lunch, most of the walls were still standing but there’s no roof, lucky for us the sun was still out. It was quite noticeable that out of the entire group, Mikhail was the only one not wearing any headgear. Being Russian, he found the conditions rather pleasant as British winters just do not compare with what Russia experiences.

Our progress had been painfully slow so any ideas about walking up Shining Tor were dismissed, even walking a further half mile to see an old chapel wasn’t practical as we would have been in danger of losing valuable daylight.

So we headed back the way we came and couldn’t believe our eyes when a car passed us on the road. We reached a road junction, sorry I mean a snow track junction. We would take the left turn for a mile to reach Buxton but before we did, we noticed that the car that passed us was stuck on a hill leading towards the Cat and Fiddle pub, it was soon joined by 2 other cars. Dave tried to persuade one of the drivers not to follow the other idiots but to no avail. Admittedly, the road was a on a one-way system but considering the conditions, they could have been forgiven for driving out what was technically the wrong way, never mind the fact they shouldn’t have driven out there in the first place.

Back at Grin Low, we were greeted by the arrival of Andy, Chris and Alice and that evening we achieved a record of having all 16 bunkbeds filled. On past new year weekends at Grin Low we’ve only managed 13.

The 3 course (free) meal kicked off with an excellent starter, a butternut squash soup that Alison made for us, an idea that she had discussed with me before the start of the weekend, which I’m grateful for. The main course was down to me, a cheese and tomato macaroni with chicken. Here I’m grateful to help from Chris and Brian, special thanks to Margaret for bringing the garlic, skinning the tomatoes and providing some olive oil. I was a bit nervous about cooking for 16, so I’m very grateful to Alice for her help in organizing the preparation and to Sarah for some of the cooking and her advice which was invaluable. Everyone appeared to enjoy the meal, so I’m relieved about that.

We then tucked into a fruit salad provided by Ruth, which went down very well, originally, this was intended for the previous night’s buffet but I asked Ruth if she could save it for this following night’s meal, for which I’m grateful.

But all was not over yet as Dave treated us to one of his coffee liquors, for which he is famous. I departed to bed with a warm glow and a full stomach.

Before the night was over, Chris treated us to his “all in one” firework display, though it didn’t go off at first and appeared to be an expensive dud. Chris then very cooly examined it, picked it up, pulled the fuse wire further out (DON’T DO THIS AT HOME FOLKS) put it down, then relit it. Everyone, especially Alice, thought he might blow his head off and yelled at him to leave it be. But his plan, though extremely risky, worked.  We were then treated to a 10 minutes or so, firework extravaganza and thankfully it was the multi-firework that went off with a bang, not Chris.

Saturday – 2nd January

We awoke on Saturday morning to a fresh covering of snow and glancing at the sky, it was obvious there was more on the way. Andy, who had planned to walk with us before heading home, decided not to risk it and drove home early. Also on their way home was Alison, Clare and Mikhail. Sarah gave Margaret a lift home.

Kathy arrived with Dorothy, not to stay over but to just do the day’s walk with us. The original plan for today was to drive over to Macclesfield Forest but that idea had to be abandoned, it wasn’t worth the risk considering the conditions.

Instead, we walked from the cottage again on a walk led by Chris. We crossed over the Grin Low road and walked down a footpath, heading in the direction of Flash. Walking over Stanley Moor, it made a change to be roaming over scenery that you normally only see on Christmas cards. We passed walls now only 3 feet high thanks to the snow drifts. Passing over the hill of Brand Top we dropped down a valley and crossed over an icy footbridge. We then walked along a track to Summerhill. It was then half a mile up to the “Travellers Rest” pub. But it was a painful ascent as the snow just flew straight into our faces, stinging the eyes, even though with our hoods up and being forced to look down at the ground, it still hit us. You couldn’t admire the scenery, let alone see who was walking next to you.

After what seemed hours, we reached the pub and sanctuary. We were greeted by roaring log fires and a cosy snug atmosphere and sat down for lunch. Whereupon Kathy treated most of us to a glass of mulled wine and refused to be recompensed for it. It was a very generous gesture and most welcome. The mulled wine was just what was needed to warm us up. Those not drinking the wine had tea or coffee instead, no one was in the mood for cold beer.

As we were about to leave, Norman persuaded the friendly landlady to take a photograph of the group. We then set off in thick fog as the snow had eased off, along the main A53, this being the quickest and most direct route back to Grin Low. The one unpleasant hazard with this was that we had to endure being splashed with slush from passing vehicles. Finally, we were back on to the Grin Low road but it was disappointing to see it covered with ice and snow after it had previously been gritted. But it didn’t deter Kathy from heading back home, taking Judith with her. I was sorry to see them go because I’m sure Kathy would have appreciated Grin Low cottage but I know they had things to do back at home, especially Judith.

The idea for the evening had been to partake of a “takeaway” meal, but the intervention of more snowy weather put paid to that idea. Everyone except me had enough food to make a decent meal. Norman invited me to share a fish supper with him and Ruth, for which I was grateful and I shared my last half bottle of wine with them.

Saturday evening was rather sedate as there now was only 9 of us left in Grin Low but Norman did entertain us a little by showing us his slides with the aid of Brian’s lap top.

Sunday- 3rd January

The day dawned sunny and bright, and normally it had been a tradition that on the last morning at Grin Low we would take a short walk to Solomon’s Temple, but we agreed to pass on it this time. We decided to set off home as soon as possible. We all set off together, making sure that all our cars started up OK and that no one was stuck.

In Conclusion

The most successful new year weekend at Grin Low since Dave Self’s 2001 venture. But the success of this weekend is thanks more to the people who came along and supported it rather than my organisation, I owe it all to them. In the best traditions of our group, everybody mucked in together and enjoyed themselves. There was no one spoiling it for others, no negative vibes.

99% of our group that have been to Grin Low Cottage have enjoyed it, so it’s hard to comprehend anyone not liking it. Grin Low with its thick walls, always keeps the warmth in, this was particularly appreciated this weekend with sub zero temperatures outside.

The snow, by and large, did add to the atmosphere this time, though it did change our timetable somewhat. Norman summed up the mood by asking if this could be our last but one weekend, instead of perhaps the last.

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be the last. But it is the last one for me to organize. If anyone else wants to take the plunge and organise another trip to Grin Low, whether at new year or on any other occasion, they are more than welcome and if they do, I would gladly add my name to their list.

I thank everyone who took part on this weekend, what more can I say?