Alpine Exploratory's Blog - Reports from our recces, and more
Posted on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 . Permalink
Anna-Maria taking a break at Sell Gill Holes, a cave entrance on the side of Pen-y-Ghent.
(Anna-Maria writes:) After a difficult winter in the UK the summer finally feels like it is on its way. I was treated to mostly glorious sunshine for a short review trip in one of my favourite areas of the Yorkshire Dales as I trekked around the famous Three Peaks. My goal was to ensure that the new Tour of the Three Peaks directions are accurate, following some route changes both to Alpine Exploratory’s route and to the signposted Three Peaks Challenge route, but I couldn’t help but enjoy myself as I went.
While small patches of snow were still clinging to the sides of Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough, the grass was already lush and green and the sun was baking hot. This was despite the confusion caused by a few brief and brisk late afternoon hail and rain showers. Late afternoon wet weather is a common feature in any mountainous area and it was refreshing to feel that things are getting back to a more normal pattern at last.
The straight track between limestone walls, that runs above Clapham on the stage to Ingleton.
After my review trip to the Eastern Lake District a month earlier it was also a treat to be surrounded each day by plenty of life, both domesticated and wild. I heard several peewits (lapwings) and am certain that I also saw a few curlews. Meanwhile up on the moorland I was frequently warned away from ground-nests among the moorland heather countless times by worried skylarks protecting their nest sites. Elsewhere the hawthorn was starting to bud, spring flowers were in bloom and unstoppable lambs sprung about playfully in the fields while accusatory ewes kept a wary eye on me.
After my rave reviews about the Tour of the Three Peaks last year I wondered if the route would continue to live up to its promise and my memories of it. Fortunately it succeeded with awe-inspiring skylines and fabulous blends of colour from the moorland, fields and ever-present rocky features that have formed this landscape over millenia.
Ribblehead viaduct is seen from below, on the Tour of the Three Peaks, whether taking the high route over Whernside or the low route down the valley.
The three summits of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent dominate the landscape, with Pen-y-ghent being a particular pleasure to look at. It can often be shrouded by cloud but, when visible, has a distinctive and subtly beautiful silhouette. Walkers in the area are more commonly on top of it, rather than nearby looking at it, thanks to its summit being on the Pennine Way and Three Peaks Challenge. With this Tour of the Three Peaks route devised by Alpine Exploratory it is a pleasure to have time to enjoy views of all of the summits from several vantage points each day as you make your way through this grand landscape.
Pen-y-ghent is perhaps the most striking of the Three Peaks, especially in profile from Horton, despite being the lowest at only 694m.
This low-level route keeps the days at a manageable length without any complexities making it perfect for beginner multi-day walkers or those looking for a more relaxing pace of life with their walking. The large expanses of uninhabited terrain that you pass through each day allow plenty of opportunities to stop and bask in the sunshine, imagining that you are the only walker in the world. Yet despite this sense of peace and solitude, each evening returns you to humanity with a warm Yorkshire welcome accompanied by large and tasty meals and local ale everywhere you go.
It all adds up to the Tour of the Three Peaks being a relaxing, enjoyable and memorable trip, even for a seasoned walker like me.
Tour of the Three Peaks
- our 3-stage trek
Anna-Maria was joined by her mother Deirdre for this trek, and here is a report from Deirdre about the trip:
As a 'Golden Oldie' I enjoyed the walk enormously and although parts of it were challenging - particularly Day 4! I didn't feel at any stage that I wouldn't be able to complete the route. The compensation for working at it, included the fantastic views of the three peaks which changed (sometimes from hour to hour) as we covered the ground. Also the wonderful secrets like the waterfalls as we approached Ingleton, the frolicking lambs, the wealth of spring flowers, the enchanting village of Clapham, those astonishing tunnels rising up from Clapham and the Long, (long) Lane, understanding the rock formations and the gills into which bubbling becks mysteriously disappeared and the distant views of the Ribblehead viaduct which proved that you were getting somewhere!
The weather was on our side so I'm perhaps looking at that part of Yorkshire through rose-tinted spectacles ... but who knows, perhaps others will have that chance as well!
Posted on Friday, 3 May 2013 . Permalink
+ The 6-stage Great Glen Way in quick time, through the Scottish Highlands
+ Pete Ellis, who climbed Everest in 2012, reports from this flatter terrain
+ In late-April 2013, snow on distant hills, clear ground underfoot
At the Southern end of the Caledonian Canal, the man-made waterway connecting Loch Lochy,, Loch Oich and Loch Ness to make the Inverness to Fort William route navigable; here a red-hulled ship waits to descend to Loch Linnhe.
(Pete writes:) The Great Glen Way runs for 79 miles through the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness. Some see it as an extension to the West Highland Way, and yes, it does continue where the WHW leaves off. But it has a very different feel: easier underfoot, less up and down, and much more sheltered from the weather.
I’d not walked the route before, so Simon’s suggestion to check out the routecards was an offer too good to refuse.
The first day took me from Fort William (the Adventure Capital of Scotland) around the head of Loch Linnhe and along the Caledonian Canal. One of the highlights of the canal must be Neptune’s Staircase, the flight of 8 locks which raises the waterway by 20m. I was once lucky enough to be at the locks as a steam train passed over the swingbridge at the bottom of the Staircase.
Once beyond the locks, it is level walking along the towpath all the way to Gairlochy, where most folk stop for the night. Not for me, however: I was continuing on to Laggan.
A bench beside the trail as the GGW looks North along Loch Lochy. The trail takes the distant wooded shoreline on the left of the loch.
After Gairlochy, the route takes to the forest along the edge of Loch Lochy. Sometimes deciduous woods, sometimes coniferous, often with views out across the loch and the possibility of spotting an osprey or an otter. One of the unusual highlights must be the Fairy Forest, where you are enticed into a magical section of woodland by fairy music (aka a large set of wind-chimes). Words cannot adequately describe the sights to behold – they have to be experienced. Enchanting!
Looking back to Ben Nevis, just visible as the right-hand of the three big mountains. The Nevis Range ski slopes are on the left-hand one.
Onwards then to Laggan, and a welcome B&B.
Day 2, and it’s another ‘Double Day’, continuing through to Invermoriston rather than the usual stopping point of Fort Augustus. Canal, Loch Oich, Canal is the order for the morning: another fairly flat section. The route beside Loch Oich initially follows the old railway before switching to one of General Wade’s military roads – memories of the West Highland Way come to mind.
I made good progress, reaching fort Augustus by lunch-time. A bustling little place with a number of tourists watching the pleasure craft being taken up the flight of locks. I couldn’t linger long though, as there was another 11km of walking to be done. Now beside Loch Ness, the last and largest of the three lochs that are connected by the Caledonian Canal, it seems a long way to Inverness.
Immediately climbing high as it leaves Fort Augustus, the GGW gives a view back to the promontories by the town.
The afternoon passed by quickly, and it was a pleasure to arrive at my B&B and be welcomed with tea and cakes. The sisters had done their research (or were they tipped-off by Simon?) and a happy time was spent reliving my memories of the last few years reaching the highpoints of different continents.
And so to Day 3, an easier day through to Drumnadrochit. The first half is similar to what has gone before, but the second half has a different feel. Instead of the lower slopes and protection by the forest, the route now takes a higher course above the tree-line and is more exposed to the weather. Fortunately not wet, but very breezy, with a tail-wind pushing me along.
A rainbow above Pete's pack, in plantations high above Loch Ness.
At Drumnadrochit, you can’t fail to notice that there is reputed to be a monster inhabiting Loch Ness: try the Loch Ness Experience if you need convincing, or not.
The final stage, Day 4 for me, Day 6 for the normal programme, is nearly 30km through to the Capital of the Highlands, Inverness. As on the second half of Day 3, much of it is above the trees in exposed terrain, and once again I was helped along by a good tail-wind. Finally, with about 6km to go, Inverness hoves into view with its spires, river and castle – the finishing point is in sight. Descending back to lower ground, a final piece of Caledonian Canal is walked (bizarrely, in the direction of Fort William) before picking up the banks of the River Ness for the final few km to the castle and the finishing stone.
The long, straight, smooth path that carries GGW trekkers into Inverness, on the last afternoon, here looking back to Wester Altouries in a grand open setting.
Memories of the Great Glen Way? Good tracks and paths, no mud, a Fairy Forest, birds singing in the trees, Lesley and Manda, and almost no rain. As the name suggests, it is a great way through the glen!
Great Glen Way
- please join us between April and September
Posted on Monday, 29 April 2013 . Permalink
The peak Seat Sandal above Grisedale Tarn, under heavy wind-blown snow in late March 2013
(Anna-Maria writes:) Late March was an eventful time for a trip, because the Lake District was hit by several feet of snow just before I set out. (Spring has arrived now that it's well into April!) With the addition of deep drifts of snow the more remote sections of the route became stunningly beautiful, if hard work.
This was a new route for me and sections of it took me into parts of the eastern and southern Lakes that I have not seen before; especially the areas of Kentmere and Troutbeck that walkers only tend to visit when they have a specific walk in mind.
The character of the East Lakes Circuit is one of big walks. While the South Lakes Circuit has an easy introductory feel, involving easy walking and short days, this route retains the easy walking but covers huge distances each day. Themes of both lakes and passes abound. Each day tackles a different body of water and uses passes to get between each of the valleys.
Setting out from Grasmere I was treated to a gentle warm up, walking the length of both Grasmere and Rydal Water to reach Ambleside. Other than a few patches of ice on the paths I found the going easy and was glad to arrive in Ambleside for a mid-morning cup of coffee before heading into more remote terrain. From Ambleside I briefly walked with views of Windemere before dropping over into Troutbeck and setting out on my first pass of the trip.
The Garburn Pass should be a wide and easy track although last week I was hindered by drifts of snow, hip-deep across the track. As the wind whistled towards me over the pass I found myself sliding backwards on wind-swept ice while I continued trying to battle forwards. I was grateful to eventually drop down into the welcome of the Kentmere valley and my bed for the night.
The next day, after an easy first pass over to a remote farm at the end of the Longsleddale valley I set out on my major climb of the day. The Gatesgarth Pass is a stunning trek, climbing most of the way between walls to reach the open area at Brownhowe Bottom. The sun, periodically peering from between grey clouds, glinted off the deep snow surrounding me and I realised how deep the snow was with no rocks or plants showing through.
Slow and steady determination eventually paid off and I was able to drop down towards the day’s lake – Haweswater. Walking the length of Haweswater should be an easy trek but walkers should not be deceived. After the two passes of the day it can seem longer than on the map and after the deep snow over the pass I was certainly glad to reach the pleasant village of Bampton Grange for the night.
Day three kept a lake feel for the day walking the full length of Ullswater and taking a rest from the climbing and passes. Ullswater is another long trek, taking you from the flatter terrain on the edge of the Lake District National Park at Pooley Bridge to the mountainous area near Patterdale, nestled between the High Street and Helvellyn ranges. On the way I was treated to varied scenery ranging from glorious snow-free valleys to narrow snow-covered paths through trees. At times I even felt like I should have been cross-country skiing along the lakeside rather than walking.
Haweswater is stretched out ahead, here seen from the Northern shore and looking East towards Bampton
My final day was expected to be a long day, swapping the previous day’s lake theme for one of high passes. The first climb of the day under the shadow of the Helvellyn range to Grisedale Tarn was relatively easy. While the climb was tiring the snow had been kept thin by winds whistling over the pass.
The descent by Raise Beck is usually a long and tough, though rewarding, descent due to its steepness and the narrowness of the path beside the stream. I was expecting a tough descent from the snow but instead found it immensely enjoyable. The wind had filled the gully with snow, perhaps 10-15 feet deep in places, and hardened the surface. It was possible to walk safely down the middle of the gully, imagining I was trekking down a ski run, and I was impressed to watch a touring skier appear over the top of the gully as I was starting out. She had skied all the way up from the road in the valley at Dunmail Raise.
In descent from Dunmail Raise, the gully becomes like a ski run because of snow deposits
With the first pass under my belt I decided to continue on the main route, climbing up beside Wythburn, looking back to views along Thirlmere, to reach a large flat area known appropriately as The Bog. This route was almost completely abandoned and I saw very few footprints in the snow as I climbed. Even in the height of summer this climb should prove to be peaceful after the busier pass of the morning but care will be needed at the top. I soon realised that the ground of The Bog is well-named as I sunk first through deep snow and found my feet continuing down through the mud.
As I ploughed through soft and deep snow the grey clouds that had overshadowed my review from the start finally cleared. Blue skies surrounded me with the sun shining off the snow and giving me my first sun tan of the year. Despite the wonderful conditions, I eventually had to admit defeat. The snow was just too deep and soft here. Instead I cut across the valley to rejoin the route at the top of the Far Easedale valley and finish my review with the long descent into Grasmere along the Coast to Coast route. I will no doubt return once the snow has returned to recheck the route through The Bog.
This was not a good review for wildlife, usually so present when walking in the Lake District. Both birds and animals were scarce, perhaps staying undercover from the large drifts of snow, grey skies and strong winds. However day three, as I walked down the length of Ullswater, was filled with buzzards with the most memorable sighting of five buzzards circling together, presumably parents and three youngsters. This filled me with hope that under better conditions this should be a spectacular walk for wildlife. Especially birds of prey and the red squirrels that are known to be near Bampton and on the climb up to Grisedale Tarn from Patterdale.
If you don’t enjoy technical walking but still want a challenge then this would be a perfect walk for you. The big distances of the East Lake District Circuit make each day a long trek but the rewards are remote views and more isolated passes. And you never know – you might spot some of those red squirrels!
East Lakes Circuit (Self-guided)
Our new trip!
Posted on Saturday, 16 February 2013 . Permalink
Big views to enjoy, knowing you won't need to walk over the top
(Anna-Maria writes:) The South Lakes is a beautiful area to walk in during the unreliable winter months. It is incredibly compact, compared to the more mountainous surrounds of the rest of the Lake District. Whether you head north, west or east from the popular tourist area of Ambleside and its immediate surrounds you can quickly find yourself needing to climb over high ridges again to move from place to place.
This circuit keeps to the lower areas near Ambleside, exploring low passes between valleys and leaving you with an intimate knowledge of how the different parts of this popular tourist area lock together, just like the pieces of a jigsaw.
For both novice walkers and more experienced walkers looking for a more relaxed pace for a few days, this area can provide stunning scenery and a sense of wilderness without ever straying far from relatively large habitations. It is easy to cut routes short if necessary and a good time can be enjoyed by everyone, whatever their age or ability, thanks to the lower heights that need to be achieved to cross between valleys.
With all these benefits I find that the South Lakes circuit is one of my favourite routes to review for Alpine Exploratory during the winter months. Winter review work can frequently be wet, cold and muddy, no matter how well prepared you are. Although a single clear winter day with snow on the ground can often make up for any number of wet days endured up to then.
Winter also brings the looming pressure of fewer daylight hours. In this respect the South Lakes route brings a great benefit. The routes each day are shorter than on many of our other routes. Wet and cold can be easily endured in the knowledge that walking a little faster can bring you to warm and cosy accommodation in a few hours. If necessary there is time to wait for a more reliable weather window in the day to walk and pubs abound for emergency breaks. Snow also rarely upsets plans on the South Lakes circuit. Low-level paths that are easy underfoot remain passable. Instead the snow merely adds some crisp beauty to the view.
This year had the added challenge of re-structuring the route for the new modular Lake District series. While we had walked the route before, we had never done it in this direction. Previously treasured views were lost, unless we stopped to look behind us. Fortunately whole new vistas opened up too.
We started our review halfway through the official circuit, setting out from Coniston in torrential horizontal rain and sleet. Coniston is a pretty village with some superb walking circuits that can be done from the door as day walks. The route we took gives you an opportunity to explore parts of several Coniston day walks by taking a winding, indirect route over to Hawkshead. There is the opportunity to stretch your legs on a pretty early morning climb through the deciduous wooded area of Guards Wood before crossing some of the less-frequented trails in Grizedale Forest later in the day.
The South Lakes Circuit has many pretty woodland stretches
Grizedale Forest was particularly beautiful for us this year as we were the first to make tracks in several inches of crunchy fresh snow. It was a perfect start to our review, despite the rain that kept up steadily during the morning.
Our destination that evening was Hawkshead, a village that is popular with tourists as it has strong links to Beatrix Potter, author of the children’s books. Everywhere you turn you can find mementoes of her stories. Thankfully a plethora of friendly pubs serving good food and a pedestrianised high street means that the village can ably handle the influx of tourists each year. In February, as we descended a boggy field towards the village, heads down against the continuing rain, we found that the village was comparatively quiet. We were certainly glad to be warmly welcomed off the snowy hillside by our accommodation hosts for that evening.
Looking back to the mountains in the East, leaving Hawkshead
By the next morning, most of the snow had melted away and the temperature had risen. We were able to stroll out of Hawkshead towards the glorious and remote-feeling Tarn Hows under a blue sky admiring some of our favourite views of this part of the Lake District. Looking back towards Hawkshead as you leave, the distant mountains in the East seem to be from another world compared to the gentle climb you are taking across fields and through small copses of deciduous trees to the tarn.
Grand views across Tarn Hows
This isn’t the end of pretty wooded areas either. Later in the day you get to drop through another pretty wooded area past the small but captivating waterfalls at Colwith Force. This theme of water and deciduous woodland is one that recurs throughout the South Lakes circuit. When compared to the denser coniferous plantations elsewhere in the Lake District, this old English deciduous woodland that you meet so often during the four days of the South Lakes Circuit walk can start to feel like a unique feature for this route.
Having spent a night at the busy town of Ambleside – the starting point of this route for most of our clients – we set out the next morning towards the Great Langdale valley. This was where the real surprises began for us. We felt that we knew this area well but walking it in reverse reminded us how much can be missed if you don’t look behind you enough when you walk.
The day from Ambleside out to Great Langdale is a perfect start for any walker who is new to the Lake District. The scenery is grand and towers above you, yet the walking is mostly flat. The day’s first surprise came as we climbed up Loughrigg Terrace, looking towards Grasmere. These views are far more superb than when descending the same piece of open moorland towards Rydal Water.
I love the route the South Lakes circuit takes along the shore of Rydal Water. It's easy to overlook this body of water, if leaving Grasmere and driving past Rydal Water enroute to Ambleside, assuming that this is just another part of Grasmere. Fewer people take the time to walk on the shores of Rydal Water compared to some of the other easily accessed waters in the Lake District National Park and this keeps Rydal Water feeling particularly special.
We were also overjoyed to spend several more hours than usual walking with the Langdale Pikes dominating the scenery simply by approaching them from the East rather than the South. The Great Langdale valley is wide and flat allowing an extended period of easy walking as your eyes draw you forward towards the towering peaks at the end of the valley. A real treat for the close of your first day of walking – especially if you are new to walking in the Lake District.
A final glimpse back to the Langdale Pikes
Our final day was another special day for us. It takes the walker into an area that can feel almost deserted compared to the rest of the South Lakes. While cars can be found queuing through the Little Langdale valley, waiting for their opportunity to get over the steep and narrow Wrynose Pass at the end of the valley, walkers crossing the bleak moorland of Blea Moss are not as common. In fact, walkers can become scarcer still as you continue forwards, gently passing from the Little Langdale valley to the Yewdale valley to reach busier roads and Coniston.
The easy crossing between tall mountains into Little Langdale
If you are new to multi-day walking this South Lakes walking route is the perfect testing ground for finding out how it feels to walk on consecutive days carrying your own luggage as you walk. The opportunity to pause for a contemplative break, inspired by grand views but safe in the knowledge that you can enjoy them without the worry of then climbing up and over them, can be a great introduction to the grand scenery of the Lake District. While the terrain is easy underfoot and problems are unlikely to occur you are also rarely far from help if you need it. This can bring valuable peace of mind to less experienced walkers or those wanting to introduce younger children to the grand mountain scenery here.
In so many respects the South Lakes circuit is a training ground for the bigger, longer and tougher walking challenges of the other circuits. Challenges I still have ahead of me this year as I look forward to reviewing the other new Lake District circuits over the next couple of months ready for this season's clients.
The South Lakes was the first area of the Lakes I ever walked in, and I still think it is one of the best introductions you can get to walking in the Lake District National Park. If you are new to this kind of walking trip, this South Lakes circuit will give you the opportunity to explore and fall in love with the Lake District for the first time, just as it did for me all those years ago.
South Lakes Circuit
- trek this route in 4 stages and 5 nights
Labels: lake district, uk
Posted on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 . Permalink
The 2014 Tour de France starts in Yorkshire! The race starts with 2 stages around the Pennines before a third English stage from Cambridge to London. Then to France for the continuation. The Yorkshire stages will be on Saturday 5 July (Leeds to Harrogate) and Sunday 6 July (York to Sheffield) 2014.
On the moor above Swaledale, the TdF route in view
It happens that the race route coincides with three of Alpine Exploratory's treks: the Pennine Way, the Dales Way and the Coast to Coast. While the route itself is likely to be packed with spectators, the hills will offer quiet and the chance of wider views of the action. We've had a preliminary think about how trekkers could combine the TdF with their treks, as follows:
Stage 1 of the Tour will pass through Hawes and Thwaite; long views will be possible of the Buttertubs ascent, from Great Shunner Fell which carries our Pennine Way stage from Hawes to Keld. Then Tour stage 2 will climb from Haworth to Hebden Bridge, the opposite of the Pennine Way's moorland stage from Hebden Bridge to Haworth. However, the Pennine Way's stage to Hebden Bridge gives perhaps the best chance to see the route, by breaking off from the moors to join the action on the steady Cragg Vale climb.
Of all the treks, the Dales Way coincides the most with the Tour. Much of Wharfedale is covered by the cyclists, between Grassington and Buckden, after an earlier visit to Ilkley. It's all go! On the second day of racing the Tour crosses the Dales Way near Bolton Abbey.
Coast to Coast
Stage 1 of the Tour follows Swaledale, close to the Coast to Coast's Swaledale alternative route to Reeth. This will be one of the most scenic helicopter shots beamed to the world. Vantage points close to the road, yet set apart from the fray, should be easy to find. The second stage runs too far South to visit the Coast to Coast route.
Coast to Coast
Please email us to plan your trek during the Tour; we can advise on exact dates, timings and places to stay. Thank you.
Labels: coast to coast, dales way, pennine way, uk
Posted on Thursday, 10 January 2013 . Permalink
New for 2013, we are glad to announce some new options on the brilliant Tour du Mont Blanc. This trek in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps typically takes 11 daily stages, across a fortnight's holiday. Our guided TMBs can now be joined for one week, in either the North or South halves. These match up to our full TMBs, to give people options to come and go. Please ask us for more details and we hope to see you on the trail!
Tour du Mont Blanc North (Guided)
Tour du Mont Blanc South (Guided)
Labels: alps, tour du mont blanc
Posted on Saturday, 4 August 2012 . Permalink
(Anna-Maria writes, after her June 2012 review)
The Coast to Coast walk is often taken on
as a challenge by those who haven’t done a long-distance walk before. It is a superb route giving the walker a
great sense of the grand differences between three of the English National
Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Yorkshire Moors. Despite this I personally wouldn’t recommend
it as a first long-distance route. I
think there are better and less intimidating routes to start out with, such as
the Dales Way.
The Coast to Coast is a tough walk that is not
for the faint-hearted. Many of the days
are long and the terrain, especially across the Lake District, can be hard
under the feet. I believe that the two
days I was reviewing last week are two of the hardest on the whole route.
Walking from Patterdale to Shap the
intrepid walker gets a final flavour of everything grand that defines the Lake
District. The day begins with a long
climb up onto the ridge beside High Street. This particular climb takes a route exploring the small knolls and
secluded tarns that characterise the most remote areas of the Lake
District. A slightly scrambly descent,
again very characteristic of the Lake District, brings you to a trek along the
length of a final lake, Haweswater. A
farewell to the lakes that give their name to this National Park. The tired walker is left to cover a distance
of fields in the valley between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales to bring
them, footsore and weary, into the village of Shap, nestled out of sight in a
small dip between the boundary of Cumbria and the bustling M6 motorway.
Setting out from Shap the next day and
crossing the motorway, Yorkshire welcomes the walker with open arms. After the steep climbs and rocky paths of the
Lake District, the scenery changes with an unexpected suddenness. The mountains become less rugged, rounding
out into apparently lower and friendlier hills, often skirted around by the route
rather than climbed over as they have been in previous days. The ground also changes from rocky paths to
soft and springy peaty moorland, and much of the prickly and brash yellow gorse
is swapped for softer purple heathers.
The majority of this first day in Yorkshire
is concentrated on covering the remaining low ground to get the walker into the
Yorkshire Dales National Park. The
distance is consequently long, alternating between fields full of wild flowers
and sections of moorland. It is only
towards the end of the day that those on the Coast to Coast are permitted a
true introduction to the Yorkshire Dales, after a final steep descent and climb
to cross a narrow valley the true views of the Dales open up with broad lilac-tinted
moor tops separated by wide emerald green valleys.
Sadly, my trip wasn’t quite so
glorious. Having selected two of the
wettest days in early June I had a particularly unpleasant crossing of the High
Street ridge. As I ascended, the cloud
descended to meet me and visibility dropped to less than ten metres with
accompanying heavy rain and driving wind. Thankfully the route is easy enough to find over the top and I could
keep my eyes glued to the path as I started to descend towards Haweswater.
When I’ve walked this route previously I must
confess that I haven’t enjoyed Haweswater. It is a narrow lake with trees and steep valley sides surrounding the
path and preventing the open and glorious views that can be found on other
lake-side footpaths. However on this particular
day I was partway down the descent off High Street when the thick cloud blew
away and I was greeted by the welcome sight of the end of Haweswater with its
Day two gave me some element of dryness, at
least for the morning. Unfortunately it
wasn’t to last and, halfway through the day, the weather changed quite suddenly
from dry and overcast to torrential rain for the rest of the day. It was much like walking in a full strength
One of the greatest parts of doing a well-known
long-distance footpath like the Coast to Coast is the company. On a section of the route like this where the
choice of stopping places is limited, you quickly get to meet others doing the
route and find yourself meeting up with them at various points during the day’s
walking, providing varied walking company during each day.
I was honoured to make acquaintance with
many walkers braving this unseasonal summer weather, including several from
overseas who seemed to be incredibly happy with the Coast to Coast route so
far, despite the rain. In particular a
cheerful father and son kept my spirits up as we trekked for the final few
hours into Kirkby Stephen through the heavy rain.
Many of the walkers I met told me they had
loved the Lake District and couldn’t imagine anything to out-shine it. My personal favourite part of the route, the
Yorkshire Moors, is still ahead of them as I write this. I hope they all enjoy it as much as I do and
as you might too, if you decide to take on the Coast to Coast challenge.
Coast to Coast
- please join us and see it for yourself!
Posted on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 . Permalink
At dawn on Friday 25th May, Alpine Exploratory leader Pete Ellis reached the summit of Mt Everest, and in doing so became one of approximately 300 people who have completed climbs to the highest points on each of the world’s seven continents.
Pete on the summit of Mt. Everest - on the roof of the world!
Having climbed Kilimanjaro (5895m) in 1997 (and vowing never to go to altitude again), the quest began in earnest after an enjoyable and successful ascent of Aconcagua (6965m) in South America in 2007. Denali (6194m, otherwise known as Mt McKinley) in Alaska was next, followed by Carstensz Pyramid (4884m, Australasia), Vinson Massif (4892m, Antarctica) and Elbrus (5642m, Europe), leaving Mt Everest (8848m) as the final hurdle.
The 2 month expedition to the northern (Tibet) side of Everest proved to be the most taxing mentally and physiologically, with over 6 weeks spent at an altitude of 3 miles above sea level and air pressures down to 50% of what we are familiar with at sea level.
The final push for the summit began from Advanced Base Camp (6400m) on 22nd May, aiming for a window of calm weather for the summit day on 25th May. Overnights were spent at Camp I on the north col (7000m) and Camp II (7800m) before arriving at Camp III (8300m) for a few hours rest prior to setting out for the summit at 9pm on 24th May.
Climbing through the night, it took 7 hours to reach the 8848m summit, arriving just after dawn to see the Himalayas laid out in the clear early morning light. The descent (statistically, the most dangerous phase) was safely negotiated, and a week later Pete was back in the UK taking some rest before going out to lead holidays in the French Alps.
All the team at Alpine Exploratory would like to send our congratulations to Pete on this tremendous achievement.
Posted on Tuesday, 22 May 2012 . Permalink
(Anna-Maria writes:) Last week I travelled up to Yorkshire to pick off the lower-level Tour of the Three Peaks route as well as two sections of the Dales Way that Chris and I hadn’t been able to finish at Christmas, thanks to the torrential rain and knee-deep bogs. Despite the weather being better on my two Dales Way review days, I really want to focus this blog-post on the Three Peaks as it has to be one of the most beautiful walks I know of in the UK, even when shadowed by grey clouds.
The impressive Lune Viaduct on the Dales Way
Routes like the Coast to Coast and Pennine Way give a varied overview of the various National Parks we have to offer and the two Lake District circuits currently offered by UK Exploratory help you get to know the characteristics of the different Lake District areas, yet I consider the Tour of the Three Peaks to be better than all of them.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks is a well known challenge walk, requiring the challengers to climb the three well-known “peaks” (more like reasonably high hills) of the Yorkshire Dales in quick succession, returning to their starting point in as short a time as possible. The three peaks in question are Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.
I love an outdoor challenge as much as the next person (assuming that the next person is also an outdoor enthusiast, of course) but this approach to the area doesn’t do it justice.
While Pen-y-Ghent is the best known, perhaps because it is one of the summits also passed over by the Pennine Way and has a characteristic scramble to the final ascent, anyone spending much time in the area will quickly find that it is the characteristic wide and flat summit of Ingleborough that most surely dominates the surrounding landscape. Whatever approach you are taking to this area of the Yorkshire Dales and even once you are here, it is almost certainly Ingleborough that you will see every time you look up.
Even under grey skies Ingleborough dominates the landscape
By taking the line of least distance between the peaks on the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge you fail to see the beauty of their surroundings or to appreciate the true dominance of Ingleborough. The three summits have shaped the landscape around them and you won’t get to truly understand either the summits or their area by ticking them off as quickly as possible on your challenge sheet.
UK Exploratory understands this and has developed a walk that not only allows people to climb the summits but to move between them by way of a longer tour round the area. It is only a small area, but by taking the more circuitous route you get to know it intimately, understanding how each valley intersects with the next, finding the hidden waterfalls and gullies hidden on the southern slopes of Ingleborough and appreciating how these peaks rule over the landscape around them.
The size of the summits, paired with the depth of the valleys between them, means that each day brings completely different views, despite the closeness of the surroundings. You quickly learn that Ingleborough, placed at the heart of this walk looks different from every angle: dark and sinister with its steep slopes when viewed from the north, yet lush, grassy and genial with an approachable countenance when you pass its southern aspect.
Last November I had the pleasure of reviewing the high-level route of the Tour of the Three Peaks. This is a big walk, taking in one of the summits each day before dropping back into the valleys for the evenings. To couple with this high-level route the company has an alternate low-level route for each day, allowing an easier day for those who don’t want to climb high every day.
I love high routes with their expansive views and as such I didn’t have particularly great expectations for my low-level review last week. Instead I was looking to this as a job to be done, nothing more. I take it all back now.
The low-level route seduced me with its unexpected beauty, passing far enough between the summits to allow splendid views of each one. It may miss a couple of the more exceptional corners explored by the higher-level route in the ascents and descents, but there are still some beautiful areas including the final waterfalls into Ingleton. It was also rather pleasant to enjoy so much stunning scenery without being buffeted by the winds on hilltops.
Wild garlic in full flower on the riverbanks
This area of the Yorkshire Dales also brings another pleasant surprise. Its quietness. Despite the long sections of field walking on the lower route, perhaps one of my greatest dislikes of low-level walking in the UK, this whole area lacks the unpleasant busy character of other National Park areas.
There’s no queuing at stiles waiting for a crowd who are coming the other way, or trying to find a way to overtake another party of walkers going at a different speed on a narrow path. In fact, the lower route is even quieter than the high route, where you are likely to bump into people powering through the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge or doing circular day walks around one summit.
After enjoying the route so much and having spent two review trips getting to know the area in depth, I spent time with some of the route-writing team brainstorming on ways we could adjust the current route to extend people’s understanding of the area and to make the route into an optional three-day route, perfect for a long weekend break, as well as the current four-day format. This slightly changed route, still with its brilliant flexibility for each day between a big climb or an easier lower-level ramble, will hopefully be released before the end of the summer so look out for it and grab the opportunity to get to know this quiet and less well-known area of the Yorkshire Dales.
I love it and I think you might too.
Tour of the Three Peaks
Posted on Tuesday, 10 January 2012 . Permalink
(Anna-Maria and Chris write:) This is one of the wettest reviews we have done in some time and is likely to stick in the memory for a while.
Oh no! What's happened to the footpath?!
The Dales Way is a delightful walk passing through two valleys (Wharfedale and Dentdale) before cutting up under the shadow of the Howgills and striking out across the valley between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District to allow a final day of Lake District walking. This final day allows the walker to get a real feel for what it is about the scenery that differs between the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales and the more rugged terrain of the Lake District.
A stone bench at the Dales Way start
Our review was carried out over the New Year period. We often review routes over this holiday week and while it has sometimes allowed us to review routes in snowy conditions in the past, this year led us to wading through unexpected streams and rivers and plenty of mud. Fortunately the accommodation that we use welcomes muddy walkers and we were warmly greeted each evening despite our condition.
Unfortunately the wet weather had a heavy impact on the wildlife. Other than a fleeting glimpse of a deer and, on another opportunity, a heron (who was presumably much happier than we were with the damp outlook), our animal encounters were less wild and more domesticated, passing as we did through numerous fields of sheep which are being kept on lower pastures during the winter months.
The weather also provided some unexpected challenges for us. The riverside path on the final day had been completely consumed by the river and was knee-deep in flowing water and we found that even the simplest field crossings had become shin-deep mud to be waded through with care. There was a definite sense of adventure as a result of this and we only hope that the rain abates for a while to prevent similar flood damage occurring to the Yorkshire and Lake District routes as we saw in early 2010.
Ho hum - what a day!
Anna-Maria on the slightly damp footpath
Ah well - press on along the path...
As a long distance footpath the Dales Way is perhaps one of the kinder routes for those who haven’t walked a multi-day route before thanks to its flatter nature. The first two and a half days and the beginning of the final day are all characterised by riverside walking with very little climbing away from the river while the middle days cross low moorland, staying at the lowest points wherever possible.
This is not a route for those looking for hilltops and far-reaching views. Instead it is an opportunity to explore some of the lesser-know corners of the Yorkshire Dales and appreciate the more immediate beauty they can provide.
This is definitely a route not to be overlooked. While the Dales Way is frequently overshadowed by the more widely known Pennine Way and Coast to Coast, the Dales Way has a subtlety. It allows the walker time to think and to appreciate the surrounding countryside rather than providing constant challenges in the climbs or strenuous terrain.
The signpost in Ilkley showing the Dales Way route
The Dales Way certainly felt like a companionable route. With paths than were often wide enough to walk two-abreast we were able to talk together with ease and the relatively easy terrain (when not wading through knee-deep bogs thanks to the days of torrential rain) provided time for contemplation of New Year’s Resolutions still to be begun.
- please join us on the route!
Labels: dales way, yorkshire dales
Posted on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 . Permalink
(Simon writes:) After my September trip, I went back to the Dolomites for the first half of October. This extended time allowed me to walk some remaining sections of our new routes, and to get to know better the villages, hotels and travel routes. In contrast to early October 2010, this year's early Autumn in the Dolomites was warm and sunny with little snow on the ground. Lucy Stewart joined me part-way in, on this trip that covered a good deal of this corner of Italy.
In the Northern reaches of the Alta Via 1, the long-distance trek that we offer for 2012, here are three approaches to storage.
The grey bulk is the Croda del Becco, the first side peak reachable from the AV1, and here seen from the South.
Summer was a while ago, with winter yet to come, hence all is quiet at the chair lift above Passo Palafavera. In summer this lift can help walkers on the AV1.
From Cortina I rode the bus and train to Venice, for urban exploration. Here is a courtyard glimpsed through a gate. The city has much to see in every direction.
Back up North, and this time a Northern gateway to the Dolomites, Innsbruck. This small Austrian city in the midst of mountains has a cool and crisp charm in great contrast to Venice. There would be pleasure in crossing the Italian Alps from Innsbruck to Venice, the AV1 forming the trekking section.
Innsbruck's colourful houses sit below its mountains. Fresh snow fell on the Brenner pass on the way in and out of Innsbruck.
Back in Italy at Dobbiaco, one of the many pretty towns in Val Pusteria. German language dominates in this Northern part of Italy, that once was part of Austria. More snow fell this morning, but it was light, and soon disappeared.
Above Cortina, woods were illuminated by a dappled light.
Back in the mountains, a walk to Rifugio Cita di Fiume was warm in the afternoon sun. We then ventured to Cortina, Corvara and Ortisei across the many passes that divide the separate valleys.
A final stop in Treviso was a contrast again, with hustle and bustle in the typical Italian way, mixed with an almost-Venetian network of alleys and buildings.
Please join us on our 2012 program in the Dolomites, which will run from 1 July to 20 September 2012. We offer guided and self-guided treks in this beautiful area of the Alps.
Dolomites Alta Via 1 (Self-Guided)
Dolomites Explorer (Guided)
Labels: alps, av1, dolomites
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