Wednesday, 23 April 2008

If Disney did the Dales

I do realise that I'll probably get sued by the thought police for disney blasphemy, but hey you have to live on the edge some days.

If Disney did ‘The Dales’ I’m pretty sure that this walk would be their start point, ‘we’ll have a lovely backdrop and a gentle walk down to a pleasant waterfall where fairies used to live’, then we’ll have massive gorge with a waterfall you can climb up, oh and then a lake at the top of the mountain and animals and birds you don’t see elsewhere and then finish off with a massive ice age waterfall and a top pub at the end.

Except they’d trash it and rip the soul from the place, before applying as much sanitiser as possible just to make sure you couldn’t even catch a cold on site. Ok so I visited Disney last month and it did happen to be on an American holiday (I think they are allowed 5 per year). It wasn’t only that you virtually had to wear a safety harness to walk off the curb, it was the hollow looks in the eyes of the American people. I think this may have already spread further than Disney, the Americans have over serviced themselves right out of caring. The words still come out ‘have a nice day’ etc but the meaning is lost and the hopelessness is evident in every last syllable. Perhaps this is what happens when your elections are rigged and you have no say in your own destiny. Suffice to say Disney is pretty much off my holiday agenda in future although The Hulk is a mega ride.

Sorry, what reminded me of this wasn’t just the natural beauty and risk element of the dales but the previous evenings adventure into the Cas Ponte war zone.

Ponte Carlo was never the most salubrious place in the world, heck even the black death didn’t bother entering town but stayed a healthy 2 miles south. (from memory there is a stone near Ackworth that says the black death gave up here.....CB can verify) It does however have a decent town square with a ‘lively’ nightlife and some good local pubs…well it did a couple of years ago when I visited.

Whoever in their wisdom allowed the Xscape Complex, outlet shops and stuff to be built on a retail park between Cas and ponte and then put pubs into it really had to be off their heads. Firstly the soul gets ripped out of the town centre, I’ve not been there for 3 years but I would hazard a guess that it’s now pretty full of charity shops and 2nd rate branded outlets and a few pie shops. Conversely the precinct or Mall, trys to generate its dark soul by raising the living dead through the volume of music and blackness of heart in the topshop based pubs. Having had a meal in an overpriced branded Mexican we visited the safest looking pub and I reckon there wasn’t one tune played post 1985 and most were much earlier. Infact the last time I heard so much 60’s music was the Barclaycard xmas party circa 1983.

The company was good and the Stella worked a treat, though as I sang along loudly to Cum on Feel the Noise (not really) it did feal as if I'd been here once too often.

Even all this would have been ok but ….rather than put our friends to the trouble of re arranging beds and children, we decided to stay over at the £50 per night local premier lodge. I’m ok with the whole premier lodge deal normally, I never get round to using any ‘hotel facilities’ other than my room and the bar normally, so this one should have been ideal as they were the only facilities available….almost designed with me in mind.

Except we faced the railway line at first floor level, which on a Saturday night should have been ok ie the Pontefract main line is hardly going to be buzzin all night. It was tonight though with essential upgrading repairs as the phraseology has it. I was rescued by 5 pints of Stella and a stiff G&T and slept like a baby (wet myself, would be a top phrase here). Pam on the other hand didn’t….all night the trucks went up and down beeping the horns every ten minutes, she left the hotel at 5am. Having been rudely awakened I listed to the trucks for 15 minutes before they all packed up and went home and I slept like a second baby.

Pam got home ok, meanwhile having met Chris (another friend) we headed off for Malham at 8.30 Sunday morning. This trip had potential to be a fairly large group gathering at 10am on Sunday morning, but honestly the list of excuses from grown men was hysterical. It was like an England friendly in champions league week.

My 71 year old mother wants me to take her out to the pub, play pool and get her drunk on Saturday because she never has and I’ll need to drop her at the station Sunday morning.

My daughter has come home from Uni so I can help her with her homework and I’ll need to give her a lift back on Sunday

I’m normally a rough tough Yorkshire lad but I’ve got a bit of a poorly cough.

I’ve promised to play footy on Sunday morning, and this one from the bloke who could quite easily be late for his own funeral.

And finally from the one person who could always have a legit excuse ‘I had a surgeon go in from the front and refit a disc into my spine and I think it may be a bit strenuous’ actually used ‘it’s a bit grey’.

So two of us went for a walk…..firstly and absolutely incredibly we drove into the meeting car park at 10am to the minute …again….go me! It's so going to go wrong when everyone does turn up.

There is a second analogy for this walk, it’s a bit like bloke shopping; waterfall…yup, Gorge…fits perfect, 3 minutes round the corner to the Tarn…yes like that, get another one when it wears out and then HUGE Cove…a bit like discovering a fully signed copy of Inflammable Material by SLF in your local HMV…..all within a ten mile round trip…..excellent value.

As they say in Ponte ‘great place for tolliday lad’.

We were double packing with maps and it was going to be 7.8miles no detour, over the bridge by the smithy and onto the solid concrete moorland…… saves the paths. There were lots of lambs gambolling about and no rain, all the way to Janets Foss. The only really odd thing is the coins clearly hammered into fallen tree trunks on their edges. Janet was the queen of the fairies and lived in the cave at the side of the waterfall. Whatever, it was a seriously pretty walk and a proper, if medium sized single drop waterfall.

Then on to the very famous Gordale Scar and don’t spare the horses….erm unless there happens to be a butty van in the middle of nowhere. Bacon buns 7/10 (why butter them?) and coffees and a sit down (we’ve only walked a mile so far) and we felt almost recovered from our slight hangovers. The walk from here to Gordale Scar isn’t actually that far, but the landscape changes by the yard as the vast tract of harsh moorland opens up above you and the rigid side of the scar comes into view. You know how sometimes you don’t really read the details of things and have an 'oh don’t worry it’ll be fine', attitude (I have a reputation here). Well I may have made this mistake on this occassion, the guidebook said 'a small scramble up the waterfall is a great shortcut'. Well as we approached said waterfall, Chris took one look at it and said ‘we’re not going up there’. He then referred to the guide which actually said ‘ a difficult, dangerous and hazardous scramble up the waterfall’, too much detail. It was a daft thing to do, Chris nearly fell once, I nearly bottled it, but then thought going down a shear cliff face 20 yards was a really bad option. Having scaled the most difficult part, we had our first casualty of war……I suspect both a little relieved and tired from the climb we managed to drop my camera 4 ft and it died……all pics from here on in are very blurred.

We then scrambled the next 200 vertical yards to the top, and as is happening all too frequently, bumped into the group of pensioners who had climbed just before us. At least it wasn’t a bloody jogger this week!

Cross country to the tarn accompanied by the sound of curlews and the amazing rock escarpments from the days when rivers ran over these surfaces. I was never sure how tarns worked when I was at school, it’s a the top of the mountain and the water runs into it….thats not right. It was again pretty spectacular though, so we thought we’d walk round it. As is usual now, neither of our maps had this bit on, so off map we went. We are clearly new to this game as neither of us were too blokey to ask the way. The answer of ‘keep going left’ was in hind-site a bit obvious.

It turned out a good call though as we saw a pair of wild deer at very close quarters, a pair of nut hatches and then calcareous grass.

This grass was at the far end of the tarn and you actually need a permit to walk on the footpaths over this bit of wildland. I was thinking its part may have been overplayed as it was billed as ‘contains calcareous grass of international importance’. That was until I saw the 4 hairy mounds. If you have ever been to ‘Mother Shiptons wishing well’, there are hundreds of Calcified teddy bears strung up in the hard water by the waterfalls. As a pretendy chemist I can understand how this works but 4 mounds looking for all the world sheep shaped and covered in grass is a bit bloomin odd. (I wish my camera had worked). We decided not to hang about and head off for the world famous cove for fear of becoming cousin it like. Mark Viduka would have no chance out here.

Chris (my pal) really does Lord of the Rings references and because the paths were a bit cliffy and rocky and windy all the way down we had 6 battles, 4 escape references and at least 4 magic tricks that were missed out of the movie. He even offered an excuse as to why the eagle mates weren’t called in at the beginning to save all the walking and fighting. They really should have just picked up Frodo at the start, flown him to the volcano and just dropped the ring in. (tm.. Andy Shawcross).Sadly the excuse was….they were on holiday!!!!.

Without doubt Malham Cove is utterly amazing, as I’ve probably pointed out I’m not great at sight seeing, but this thing is really up there with The Pyramids as amazing. Its actually too difficult to explain; just approach it from the top, climb down the sides and then stand at the bottom. This used to be a full scale waterfall in the very old days and all the bits are still there, except for the water. Just awesome.
We went and looked at the nesting Peregrine Falcons which was really cool as the RSPB had set up super power camera/telescopes for free viewing. We watched mad climbers going up sheer cliff faces and then we thought the pub would be a great finish point.

We played beer lottery and walked passed the first pub, hoping there would be a second. There was and the tuna sandwiches served with side salad were a solid 8/10 whilst the mega Kingstone Press cold cider gets an incredible 10/10. Back to the car and home without so much as a dribble of the promised rain…lets hope next weeks turnout is as brave.
Sorry for the music free zone...The Foals albums good. I'll upload something and a few extra pics soon

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Two by Two

'The Welsh Indy'

This weekend was a really strange one, absolutely no plans whatsoever to do anything. In fact a completely free Saturday and then a last minute walk planned on the Sunday. Well only half last minute, if indeed you can have half a last minute, not much time for shagging, drinking champagne and smoking a last cigar though. Anyway the culmination of all of this was back to plan A from last week (which Craig was due to walk) which was substituted for a last minute plan B. Even at this point I knew that plan C was going to end up being plan A and I even did some pre prep for it by running off an alternative route. Which in fact makes Plan C above Plan D, and the alternative route which was pre prepared plan C. Excellent well that’s all clear.

So the plan …..Meet Shad..... a different friend, but with even less ability to sell second hand cars (see the photo) and yes he did buy a gold BMW …..The shame of it.

Then to climb 'The Cloud’ near ‘Beartown’.

I've revised this bit thoroughly, the explanation goes, that back in the really old days (not to be confused with 70’s and 80’s nostalgia – which has frankly had its time) all real towns used to have a bear. It’s a bit like football now but clearly far more fun. The town dancing bear used to lead the big town party celebrations twice a year and then everyone learned to binge drink on local cider. Then one year (about 1610) Congleton’s bear dropped dead about a week before the party. If it was modern days you would have had at least 50 townsfolk dress up as bears and dance the night away, but back in those days without a bear you would be known as ‘craptown’. Now the bit I think most fair minded people will approve of, the happy party people of Congleton, swapped all the money they had been saving for a new town bible for Nantwich's bear…the party continued and Congleton became known as Beartown. Nantwich on the other hand became pretty dull and has no taxi’s on a Tuesday.

The Cloud is a proper hill in that its on the edge of the Southern Pennines and at 310m above sea level is over 1000ft.

A rather good poem - good last verse

I no I r a scientist but I’m allowed to read.

I think the Beartown theme and Shad being brought up in the countryside lead to a rather odd animal theme in this walk. We met at the station bang on the dot of 10am as agreed; in fact we both arrived at 1 minute to 10am. I can predict now that it won’t be this perfect next week.

Never to be a Craig substitute, but I just knew Shad would be the part and as he stepped from the car he was….like an Indiana Jones for the 21st century. ‘All the gear no idea’ his words not mine. I loved the liquid carrier backpack…I normally carry a bottle of water…Shad’s leaked in the first 50 yards. My old style cheap plastic bottle worked a treat.

After a bit of faffing mainly by me we set of on our 7 mile round trip, a bit of a walk by the canal, up a small hill, and a quick climb up the main hill, back down and home for lunch. Clearly that didn’t quite happen. We ended doing the entire first bit as planned and then decided we had loads of time so we would walk the second well known hill in the area Mow Cop. Even this was a sound plan, if it hadn’t been 7 miles away. We’ll get to Mow Cop later but the main event was all animal.

Just as we were setting off, a rather large Buzzard flew overhead which set the tone for the day as Shad asked ‘how do Eagles kill deer’. This then lead to a ‘what’s the most dangerous animal’ (English animal that we may see) conversation.

I quite like lists and scoring things and I suddenly pictured this as a yet to be invented pack of Top Trumps (70’s nostalgia).

Some of the animals / things seen and considered

Horses – were my obvious number one choice, danger factor 9/10. Teeth, hooves x4, running and barging ability, height and bulk, trample coefficient etc.

Shads response to this was Geese – danger factor 4/10 although one of us reckoned they have been known to eat small children. Honking, pecking and swooping ability. Further research among young children had moved the danger factor up to 6/10

Swans- 7/10 big angry geese

Sheep – 2/10 unless dropped on you

Llama – yes we saw these too 4/10 they are really just big sheep with a bit of a good spit on them

Staffordshire Bull terriers – 9/10 and for all the obvious reasons, but mainly because they are just mad. It would have scored ten but the one we saw was called flower! Unless that’s what the bloke shouts to his Mrs when he wants her to follow him.

Kestrels 4/10. lots of swooping, pecking and talon ability on offer but a bit bloomin timid when faced with anything sizeable…although again one of us claims to have seen a kestrel run off with a squirrel. (in an 'I’m going to eat you' fashion rather than nipping to Gretna)

Badgers 8/10. This is a late entry again on further discussion. Described as ‘just as vicious as polar bears’. Although given a choice I think I’d rather face a badger in a bare pawed duel. Anyway as ‘one of us’ knew.....if you tuck your trousers in your socks and fill your trousers with nuts, the badger with stop biting you as he thinks the nuts cracking are actually your bones. Yeah thanks Indy.

Moles 2/10 and ok we only saw the mole hills but Shads grandfathers job was ‘the village mole catcher’……really. Catching moles has a special technique which is top secret so I can’t disclose it but; the best time to catch them is 5pm, you need salt and some sort of box. Any suggestions as to how these three facts work in harmony would be good.

Holly Bushes – 3/10 absolute gits at close quarters but not that mobile. However double points if played after dark.

Giant Panda - 1/10 mainly because we didnt see one, but there was a huge field of cane growing in the oddest of places

Mushroom Trees - 5/10 we did see one of these, but I think you would need to be drunk before eating the shrooms and they would probably be deadly hence the 5/10

Other animals seen but not discussed in too much detail, Bumblebees (nice wasps) Cows (stupid) Goats (don’t fall asleep in clothes next to them), Herons (friendly), Zebra,Giraffe,Warthog,Tiger and Mountain Lion….just look at the pictures. And the birds, Sparrow hawk, Wrens and Jays.

As a final conclusion on this, I still think that horse are the Ferrari V12 of the Animal top trumps and will only be defeated by something crap like a rabbit with a twin wankel engine. (detail 70’s nostalgia)

We made it up the first hill with barely a problem except the view of the Cheshire plain as promised in the guidebook was obscured by the low clouds, or was the hill just very high. Photos taken and trig post climbed we headed off to Mow Cop and the Old man of Mow.

It had rained a lot and we spent most of the next 7 miles slipping and sliding on mud, trees and even wet roads, so much so that we almost became Cheshire Inuit. I’m not sure how true it is that Inuit have 25 words for snow but we certainly had 10 words for sliding in a 70’s schoolboy sort of way. Heelies, Double Heelies, short sidies, inside sidies, toe catch, fronty and double foot and’ double inside sidie’ although only once as it was almost fatal. You should hear my marbles repertoire it’s legendary.

We did have a short stop in a pleasant pub called The Cross Lanes, where we checked directions, had a swift half and then Shad even outdid Craig’s dietary habits by ordering a packet of pork scratchings for Sunday lunch!!!!

It was a long walk up to the Folly at Mow Cop which was actually a Sunday House for some posh nitwits back in the old days in Cheshire. or as Wikipedia would say;

‘At over 1000 feet above sea level Mow Cop is one of most instantly recognisable features in the area. Mow Cop Castle was a folly built by Randle Wilbraham in 18th century.’

Still it was a great view, particularly if you jumped over the fence which said don’t go past this point.
The Old Man of Mow round the corner is really very odd and well worth seeing as it does have a ‘what the heck’ factor. It’s a huge outcrop of stone which from some angles looks like a miserable old bloke.
Just for reference you can actually drive to these things but the 14 mile treck here was also ok!. We were now pretty tired and had a five mile walk back, but at least it was downhill and along a flat canal. Except it was very very muddy all the way and as our legs started doing impressions of Bambi on ice we had to criss cross canal on bridges to keep on the path. There was plenty more sliding including seeing the evidence of a fabled double heely. The other top thing that happened is that we watched a Heron ‘hunt’ (stand still and stick its neck out) and then catch a fish…good thing to see.

Near the end we were pretty knackered and I think the bloke who collared us to help him park his canal boat was nearly chucked in the canal as he faffed for 10 minutes while we held ropes. I dropped mine in the mud a few times just to see how loud I could get him to tut.

Still the cold Magners in the pub was nothing short of spectacular and we did feel pretty pleased with ourselves.
And some more photos

Next weeks plan is a short walk round Malham, can’t possibly go wrong.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Sandstone Trail vs Melling Road

Last minute planning could well be the new black.

Originally we had planned to climb 'The Cloud' near 'Beartown', but events overtook us and so a plan b was hatched. Craig decided to walk to Sunderland on a railway track, which, short of starting at the top of a mountain and walking down is without doubt a cop out. Actually I did that in the summer, it was bloody tricky walking down an Alp. Much trickier than a flat stroll on the way to Sunderland especially if you give up and turn around after a couple of miles.

Saturday was a better plan, go to the Grand National and then head off to The Cavern to see a few bands.

I decided that the only thing to do was find a local hillier option for a short walk. The Sandstone Trail runs right through the middle of Cheshire from Frodsham to Whitchurch via a number of hills and is about 35 miles long. I opted for The Sandstone Trial, ie just the top bit, although I think the whole thing looks like a good plan for the summer.

Left on my Billy (as my daughter would say) I headed for the start point in Helsby. The small car park had one disabled slot which brilliantly had a huge amount of mud dumped in it...what were they thinking. Unless of course it was hiding an old 3 wheeler vehicle.

It turned out the walk had at least 2 and maybe 3 hills built in and the climb was supposed to be only 300metres but it felt like a whole lot more.

You can get these planned walks off a website and they have maps and everything you could possibly need to make sure you stay on track..even GPS downloads. The more fun option though is to print off the route with pictures only, and then try and match these up with what your looking all works fine until you realise that trees move and houses change colour. Oh and then 'they' (whoever they may be) close the footpath halfway because (and this is true - see the picture) of 'fear of landslide'. This is Cheshire and this was on the exceptionally flat bit, if landslides are now sneaking up on people on flat land Craig had better look out. I've posted the pictures and I think the council workers (oh it just had to be) who did this have watched the 60's horror film 'The Blob' once to often.

Having negotiated this terror I was then faced with 'Warning Smartwater'.... and it catches criminals, oh well at least its good smartwater........for now. As the movies have now entered this blog its only a matter of time before we have 'Westworld' smartwater flooding your wellies before you know it.

And then about 50 yards further on I was faced with a real terror, the route decided to go across a field containing a giant horse. Now I hate horses, well actually I hate most things animal on a one to one in a field basis: just too unpredictable. My mother once lead me into a field when I was about 8 yr old to 'pat the nice little dobbin' the bloody thing turned round and booted me up the backside...and my parents just laughed. A couple of years later I got stuck in a stable with a racehorse which decided to bite me, so this isn't an irrational fear. Anyway I bravely strode right passed the horse knowing I was a master in chinese burns should it give me any trouble.

Horses - 0/10

Dogs 0/10 they eat footballs

Monkeys with guns 10/10

Giraffes 8/10

The good thing about Helsby Hill and Woodhouse Hill is that you do get great views right across the Mersey Basin from along the ridge. Helsby Hill also has one of those trig points, the white triangle posts that all big hills should have so you feel good getting to the top. My feeling of joy was only slightly dented by some Roland from Grange Hill figure bounding up the hill not even out of breath. He should try 20 benson a day for 15 years and see how he gets on. The top of the hill also has loads and loads of flat solid stones, although this does seem to be used as some sort of alternative marriage / first girlfriend register for Helsby citizens. Yes Shaz and Bob may be 4Ever but do the seagulls need to know?

Back down the hill and ready for a trip to Aintree

At the risk of having some trainspotting past brought into greater focus than wanted, I really do think that if anything has got its act together lately its rail travel in the UK. I know I'm not a southern 'travel to London' punter that you hear every now and then having a good winge about fares, trains and other peoples arm pits...but £6 return to Aintree is a bargain. And all on time.

Its not that I don't trust all my mates implicitly but I do like to have a hand in the organisation of any event.

These tickets were left exclusively to Craig and as he handed me my possibly overpriced ticket it read ' Princess Royal Stand 'Roof'. Now I'm no Jessie when it comes to the weather (yeah yeah I know I left Glasto early last year but that was life or death) but watching from the roof on a cold wet winters day sounded a bit mad. Luckily (a word that works most of this day) Craig had bagged plum tickets in a posh stand with a great view and its own bar. The only mistake we had made was to not really dress up! and I know I'm a bit lackadaisical when it comes to fashion and smartness, but as an ex mod Craig has no excuse, I've dropped the picture in here just to illustrate how bad he was

Having checked out the form ie read the Racing Post for 10 minutes on the train we were armed with 2 horses per race ready for the place pot on the first 6 races. Using this fabulous technique we proceeded to pick 4 winners in the first 5 races and still very much in the placepot...including both of us backing the winner of The National, happy days, beer and tickets paid for. Race 6 proved a little unlucky as our dead cert favourite finished a poor last and the place pot went up the swanny...still it was only about £56. Then a touch of genius, if all else fails pick number 17 ( I once won at roulette bigtime using this technique), and true to form Honest John galloped in at a handy 22-1 in the last race with two slightly giddy idiots jumping up and down and cheering it all the way to the winning post - everyone else seemed a bit glum.

Still collect winnings, have a last look round, get a photo with the Grand National trophy by stopping the poor soldier with the 4st bronze load and maybe a quick pic with Red Rum before heading off to the pub.

And it really was a top pub, built to the very limits of getting around the smoking ban, it was a pub atmosphere old style, with singing and spilling of beer and smoke and even good natured chanting. The full scale dance off between two chaps was a bit odd, but maybe I've found the generation gap. 'huh dancing in public and not in a club...Jessies' actually they were damn good: in an 8 mile without the words style.

Back to town again on the fabulous train system and down to Matthew Street to see a few bands in The World Famous Cavern.....except never ever agree to meet someone at The Cavern as there are now about 8 of them on the same street. I think if John Lennon actually farted in the general direction of your pub you're served a compulsary name change notice. Having tried one Cavern which had a band on, we were then directed to a more Cavernous place that didnt, however in the 'Back Cavern' we heard the music. At only £3 entrance fee for 5 bands we probably should have sussed that they were all going to be a bit Flaming Lips...

First band on 'Would be Kings' most certainly wont be...and having put our ears through hell they then came up to us and gave us a free CD. As all the other punters were mates and mams and dads we were clearly A&R men ie old. The second band were just as bad so we cut our losses of £3 each and headed to a pub to watch the boxing.

Link to the WBK best tune Red on Red

Dull boxing, our chap won sandwich Corned Beef and Cheese....thats exotic in Liverpool - anyway 7/10 in my book. If anyone knows what the Corned means in relation to the beef please let me know.

Back on the train and home via a Kebab shop obviously.

Kebab 4/10 needed more alcohol. And I actually went home with more money than I set out with, well after the Edinburgh trip thats blessed relief.