Friday, 31 July 2015

Low Force, High Force and Bleabeck Force - North Pennines AONB

We already knew that we wanted to see the famous High Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall from downstream 
in the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and when Dave spotted a route on The Walking Englishman which encompassed not only this natural wonder, but also its companion waterfalls of Low Force and Bleabeck Force as well, we decided that this was definitely a walk for us. We wanted sunny weather to get a pretty sparkle off the water and yesterday turned out to be just about as perfect as it gets! Grey and overcast here at Appleby, but as we drove an hour to Middleton-In-Teesdale (we got stuck behind a tractor), the skies cleared and the sun came out. Part of our drive was along the B6276 which is an amazing road for views. It's quite narrow with a steep drop on one side so the driver can't look about them too much, but the passenger can see for miles! So beautiful!

We parked up at Bowlees Visitor Centre on the B6277, not far past
Decorated wall stones
near Bowlees 
Newbiggin. The Centre asks a £2 donation for the car park and we could then walk along the Pennine Way for free to all the waterfalls. I spotted a couple of damp admission tickets on the ground by Low Force and we later learned that another car park more conveniently situated for High Force will not only charge £2 for parking, but also £1.50 each admission to the private footpath on their side of the river and their visitors are fenced in so don't get anywhere near such a good view. A couple of men had risked climbing out over the fence! Anyway, back to Bowlees and, if you will be nearby during the school Summer Holidays, the Visitor Centre is organising weekly events for kids. Wild Wednesdays include various nature and art activities at just £3 per child. The building itself is elegant with lots of local arts and produce on sale, and a pleasant cafe! We bought good traybake slices to takeaway at the end of our walk!

The only potential problem for us with the Bowlees route was the Wynch
The Wynch Bridge 
Bridge. First built in 1741, it was believed to be the earliest suspension bridge in Europe - until a chain broke plunging three of a group of haymakers into the river in 1802. One drowned. The current bridge replaced the repaired original in 1830 which makes it 185 years old although it looked as though the wooden floor planks were considerably newer. There's a confidence-inducing (not) sign warning against more than one person crossing at the same time, and saying that if walkers overload the bridge and it collapses, then it's basically their own silly fault. I got myself across as swiftly as I could and saved my admiration of the views for the safety of the riverbanks!

We were back on Whin Sill dolerite by the riverside. The same molten
Low Force from the pre-bridge side 
lava that helped create High Cup is widely in evidence at the Forces. Stepping on the rock made me think of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland - somewhere I have not yet visited, but would love to go. Low Force is the first of the three waterfalls we encountered and it can be viewed from both sides of the Wynch Bridge. The thunder of the tumb,ling water is exciting to hear and, not only does the path get close, but it is possible to step out onto the rocks and practically into the spray. Obviously the rocks do get slippery so this an entirely 'at your own risk' endeavour! The well-worn gravelled path heads alongside the river so is very pretty to walk and mostly level and easy, although not wheelchair accessible as there are odd rocks and tree roots to navigate.

I loved this stone sculpture of two sheep which protrudes into the path. It
Keith Alexander's sheep sculpture 
was made in 2002 by local artist Keith Alexander. One side is inscribed, "A wonderful place to be." and is attributed to A Walker. The other side reads, "It reverts to scrub. Once it's gone, it's lost." A Farmer. We learned that this area is home to the largest ancient juniper wood in the country and were surprised to see boot disinfection points on either side of a path section. An infection is attacking the trees so walkers are asked to wash and spray the soles of their boots to help prevent tramping disease across an even wider area.

High Force is a truly impressive sight! There are three shelves on the
High Force 
water's descent so it is furiously churning by the time it crashes into the river below. The waterfall is not on such a grand scale as Iceland's Gullfoss, but it is much warmer so we could stand and gawp for several minutes without needing to rush for cover! This photograph was taken from cliffs downstream and it is also possible to stand at the top of the falls watching the water rushing downwards. It was incredible to think that this is the same wide sedate Tees we crossed several weeks ago. As we continued upstream on our path, I wondered whether water creatures can tell that there is a huge waterfall up ahead. Does it exert any pull on the water behind or is the force purely at the point of the drop? Certainly the feeding ducks seemed completely oblivious! We were lucky to also see a pair of huge dragonflies flitting over our heads.

In comparison, Bleabeck Force is tiny! It is also unfortunately situated
Bleabeck Force 
opposite an ugly quarry, but we turned our backs on industry in order to appreciate the stream waterfall. The area here is part of Moor House - Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve which covers 88 square kilometres of upland habitats. It is Britain's leading site for research into the effects of changing climate on the natural environment. The Reserve is also famous for its unique Arctic-Alpine plants which have survived here since the last Ice Age.

Our lunch stop was up on a hillside overlooking the river and with gorgeous views across the valley. It was sheltered with rock slabs as seats and soporific in the sunshine. We had sandwiches with delicious ham from Tebay which is a great place that our friend Hedley had told us about. It is basically a motorway services on the M6, but instead of hosting outlets for the usual mass-produced food chains, this one is a farm shop with a deli counter, butcher counter and a huge range of foodstuffs. We bought pies, ham and vegetables on our visit and could easily have stocked up with dry goods, drinks and jars too - if we had the room! We are debating whether to make another stop during our journey south tomorrow!

Lunch was pretty much the most outwardly point of our walk and Dave
navigated us back to Bowlees with his specially printed out Ordnance Survey map, combining footpaths and tracks, some of which appeared not to have been walked in years. We passe a renovated Primitive Methodist Chapel which was a lovely building and now looks to have been converted into a holiday let. There was also a still-in-religious-use Wesleyan chapel and we racked our brains to remember who Wesley was and how long ago he was influential. The return leg wasn't as dramatic as the outward, but was still pretty in its own right and we felt very happy about being out walking in sunshine after a couple of days when most of our time was spent in the caravan or awning.

Overall, this wasn't a particularly strenuous walk. We were on the move for a little over four hours and covered about seven miles, but this did include lots of photography stops so our pace wasn't as embarrassingly slow as it might seem. And on the good side - nothing hurt!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The People's Act Of Love by James Meek / Edith Cavell by Catherine Butcher / The Explorers Club by Nell Benjamin


The People's Act of LoveThe People's Act of Love by James Meek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up The People's Act Of Love in a charity shop expecting a probable three star read and was happily surprised to absolutely love the book! Although it is set in Siberia, this is my eighth Scottish read for the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge so I have now achieved the Highlander level I hoped to attain. It is (just) still only July though so I think I will upgrade to The Hebridean and try to find another four Scottish books by the end of this year.

The People's Act Of Love is an intense swirl of characters and intertwining lives set against the bitterly cold and hostile environment of Siberia in the aftermath of the First World War and during the Russian Revolution. An army of Czechoslovakian soldiers are trapped holding the railroad they have won, desperate to go home, but forced to remain by the pride of their leader. A solitary male prison camp escapee appears out of the snow after many days walking. A lone widow and her son are struggling to make something of their lives despite the attentions of several men who seem only to let her down. And there is something really not quite right about the villagers of Yazyk.

This is very much a book about small acts and connections. Huge world-changing events are happening offstage so to speak, but Meek concentrates on how individual decisions can affect more than just a single life. I loved his prose and his way of implying so much more than is said. For example, at one point the widow, Anna, spots a one-shoed soldier limping as the regiment marches by. 'You lost a boot' she says. 'No', he answers, 'I found one.' That image of one of many soldiers, far from home and without even his own boots, really struck me.

Anna is a fascinating creation and proof that male authors can convincingly write female characters. I was also intrigued by the shifting realities of Samarin, the man from the prison camp, and by Meek's portrayal of the religious fervour of the villagers. They are Christians and it was interesting to be presented with extremists in this faith when the modern media tends to only offer up examples of other faiths as fanatics.

The People's Act Of Faith is very Russian in its style and pace although it does manage to mostly avoid the confusing patronymics! I can appreciate that this won't be a book for everyone, but I loved it.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


Edith Cavell: Faith Before the Firing Squad by Catherine Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Edith Cavell by Catherine Butcher from its publishers, Monarch, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. It will be published on the 18th September 2015 and is available to pre-order now.

I photographed a stained glass window depicting Edith Cavell while we were in Norwich. I was interested to learn more about this remarkable woman and so was delighted when, soon afterwards, this biography of her was offered for review. Subtitled 'Faith Before The Firing Squad', it is obvious that her story is not going to end well and her execution at the hands of the invading German army in Belgium was the event that secured her 'fame' a century ago this year in 1915. Cavell has faded from popular memory since the First World War, but resurgent interest this year will culminate in the issuing of an official UK coin bearing her image - and not before time!

Catherine Butcher has pieced together Cavell's life from various sources including previously published biographies and original letters. She allows us a glimpse into Cavell's fervently religious childhood, her schooling and early career as a governess, the start of her nursing career and how she led the creation of the nursing profession in Belgium. Unfortunately, although this is only a short book in which to portray such a full life, Butcher has also included a remarkable amount of padding which often made me wonder if she had really accumulated enough material for a whole book. Monarch is a Christian publisher so I expected religious bias, but much of Cavell's early life is taken up with quoting, word for word, passages that she would have heard from the Bible, rather than describing in detail how the family actually lived.

I liked reading excerpts from Cavell's own letters and would have appreciated more of such material. Butcher does give a balanced view of this independent woman and her incredible strength of character. She isn't a saint(!) and it was interesting to learn different people's perceptions of her attitudes and behaviour. However I would have preferred a more in-depth investigation into her life.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


The Explorers ClubThe Explorers Club by Nell Benjamin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a download of The Explorers Club via AudioSYNC. The book is actually an audio recording of the successful play, produced by LA Theatre Works, and so is only about an hour and a half long although it does also include an interesting interview with scientist turned writer Eileen Pollack. One of the first women to study physics at Yale, Eileen reveals that little in the way of attitudes towards women in science has changed since the Victorian era!

The play itself is quite silly, but entertainingly so, and has a serious message behind its shenanigans. Our heroine, Phyllida, has returned from discovering a lost tribe, bringing one of its number with her. Grudgingly impressed by her scientific endeavours, the all-male Explorers Club consider allowing her to join their ranks, but cannot countenance her sitting in the same room for Brandy And Cigars. Sexism, racism, religious dogma and class snobbery all combine to produce a humorous farce. I did like that the characters all had good accents (no Dick Van Dyke moments!) and the cast understood their comedic timing, but there was unseen physical comedy as well which left me with a sense of missing out.


View all my reviews on Goodreads

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

It's been a #ShopLocal day in Penrith

We caught a glimpse of historic Penrith last week when we popped in to
Penrith Millennium Trail marker 
see the RSC broadcast of The Merchant Of Venice at the cute little Alhambra cinema. (A great venue with very comfortable seating and sensible ice-cream prices.) If you didn't see this production, do keep an eye open for encore screenings as it is excellent theatre. The mirrored golden set is a wonderful idea and the performances are, as you would expect, superb. I particularly liked the portrayals of Antonio and Portia. The play was scarily contemporary in its plot and message with the intolerant attitudes driving the story being, depressingly, pretty much the same four hundred years ago as they are today.

Penrith is a misleading town! It appeared run-down as we drove in, but
Blue plaque for William Pearson, Charge Of The
Light Brigade participant 
supports an impressive array of upmarket independent shops and cafes. The Millennium Trail was laid in the year 2000 and consists of 83 pavement markers radiating from the town centre. There are a number of walks taking in these markers and map leaflets are available from the Tourist Information Office. Penrith also has eight blue plaques, although we only spotted this one pictured, commemorating the life of a Charge Of The Light Brigade participant. We saw buildings dating back to the 1700s and 1600s and there are many gated alleys and twittens (or whatever the Cumbrian word for twitten is) all of which are signed. Photography is tricky as streets are either not wide enough to get enough distance or streaming with traffic, but this is certainly an interesting town to visit. We strolled around for an hour so before we began shopping in earnest.

Our first port of call was Cranstons butchers where we picked out two beef truffles for our dinner tonight. If 
Herb display on
St Andrew's Church fence. 
we eat before I finish this post, I will let you know what they are like!
Rich, dense beef patties topped with onion, bacon, grated cheese and a pat of garlic butter; bake in the oven for half an hour. Fantastic! Cranstons has been in town since 1914 and, with produce like this, I'm not surprised!

Lunch for me was a delicious Eggs Benedict at The Lemon Tree cafe where Dave had a Pastrami and Emmenthal grilled sandwich. Friendly service, but they shot themselves in the foot with their portion sizes - we didn't have room left for dessert even though the pudding menu was very tempting! The Lemon Tree is in the Devonshire Arcade, an elegant structure originally opened in the 1860s as the entrance way to the market. Among the independent shops here is a good greengrocer where we stocked up, and a fishmonger's shop that looked enticing. We considered their locally smoked mackerel but already had a fridge-full.

Outside the arcade, nearby by in the centre square is a very dangerous
shop! JJ Graham's was established in 1793 has been in its current location since 1880. They had lots and lots of items to tempt us! We did manage to escape without buying cake, but only because we were weighed down with Scottish jam and local butter, a pie each for lunch tomorrow, and lots of cheese. We tried samples of a Norwegian caramelised Gjetost and a Porter cheese from nearby Cahils Farm - and bought both! I will bake another soda bread loaf to do them justice.

Luckily we got away without getting rained upon although it is coming down heavily now and we seem to have a couple of leaks in our new awning. Not too impressed with that. The zips on the front doors are soaking wet even though they appear sheltered by canvas which is dry. There is a caravan supplies shop in Penrith where we got some black streak cleaner this morning. Perhaps we should have looked for waterproofing spray as well?

So be warned! 


Monday, 27 July 2015

Just a little local walk around Brampton

I am still suffering from our High Cup Nick walk last Thursday. My
shoulders and quads ached from the boulder descent for two days until I discovered a tube of Ibuprofen gel in our first aid box. I had forgotten we had brought it! The gel has made walking, especially up and down the caravan step, much more comfortable, although our gentle four mile stroll on Saturday was pre-painkillers. Dave said he didn't mind ambling at a much slower pace for once and the loop took two and a half hours. Uphill slopes were fine, but downhills had to be done with real baby steps to avoid stretching my legs too much. And stiles were just painful! Fortunately, after the first half hour or so, I could feel my muscles relaxing into the exercise, but still had to be careful not to stumble when the path was unclear.

I'm not sure where we walked, which will no doubt annoy anyone hoping
to follow the same route. Sorry! I know we started downhill through the cow field in front of our campsite and I took a photo back upwards to the caravans in a line. Bailey is the furthest left of the right-hand group. There are effectively two five-pitch sites here, separated by sheds and trees.

We came to a stream and a ford through which we could have gone, or
we could have used the handy bridge. There was a nice light in this wooded area and it felt tranquil. Not as magical as Dufton Ghyll, but somewhere pleasant to pause and ponder a while. We turned right, not crossing the stream and found ourselves leaving Brampton Watermill which has a large old millstone as its signpost. Crossing the road and up past Espland Hill Farm, we were ambushed by ridiculous numbers of flies. I mean real cover-your-head-with-your-jacket flies. Yuk! They stayed with us for ages as we walked along a narrow overgrown track on the edge of woods looking out over cow and sheep fields. In compensation, we did spot some fabulous fungi and met a black Labrador called Harvey.


We met the Pennine Journey route again around here. Our footpath
forked across a tough grass boggy field which we floundered in for several minutes before spotting a bridge across the stream in its centre. If you find yourself here, don't follow the direction indicated by the footpath sign! Instead walk on another twenty yards or so and you should see the bridge in the middle of the field to your right. Dave is pointing back from the bridge to the track in this photo. You might notice the lack of path linking the two!

I coped with varying field-exiting contraptions including incredibly
wobbly basic stiles, low narrow sections of stone wall with metal bars across, and this new-fangled metal gate with footpads. We had not seen one like this before. It was solidly built and easy to manage. The gate led into a weird area of messy land. It looked as though a drainage ditch had been dug some time previously and the spoil from it left alongside to return to nature. Mostly overgrown, there were also part-submerged builder's sacks and Dave nicked his leg on hidden barbed wire. The cut bled, but doesn't seem to be infected.

We were intrigued and concerned by a fenced-in duck pond, populated
by dozens of birds. There looked to be far too many for the space and the water was filthy. What was weird was their swimming back and forth, packed together in a shoal like fish. It reminded me of the obsessive circular swimming we saw an otter doing in an aquarium zoo once. The ducks looked healthy enough and there was a big heap of grain inside the fence, but the whole set-up didn't 'feel right'.

Our path continued in a dead straight line until we found ourselves emerging onto the road by Clickham Cottages, one of which has a large black and white toy dog in its window! I appreciated having got out for the fresh air, but was absolutely knackered which is both irritating and embarrassing. I am obviously nowhere near as fit as I think I ought to be! Since this walk, we have had two quiet rain-bound days in and I am pretty much back to moving normally now. I need to be - we want to go and see the waterfalls at High Force and Low Force this week and I can't still be hobbling for that!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Skin by Ilka Tampke / Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie / The Ministry Of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

SkinSkin by Ilka Tampke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Skin from its publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. The book will published in the UK on the 6th August and is available for pre-order now.

Blog followers will know that we have been immersed in Roman history for the past week as we were pitched up by Hadrian's Wall so this was the perfect time to read Skin by Ilka Tampke. Skin is set some eighty years before the Wall was constructed and the second Roman invasion is about to devastate Celtic communities across what is now Britain. I liked how Tampke kept this imminent threat always simmering malevolently in the background. We know the coming army will succeed eventually. What we don't know is how each individual Celtic tribe will fare.

Our heroine, Ailia, lives a precarious life with one such tribe. An outsider since birth, she has no idea of her ancestry and therefore no 'skin' - no formal identity. This lack prevents her from full tribe participation and means she has no access to education. Her yearning to learn is a poignant theme throughout Skin. Through Ailia's eyes we see aspects of tribe and community life as well as being introduced to imaginings of religious practice.

There are frequent spiritual journeys in Skin and I wasn't convinced by telegraphed plot twists being solved by mystical occurrences. I think a Young or New Adult audience might get more from Skin. It's romantic storyline is sweet and portrayed coyly enough for younger readers. Personally, I would have preferred more history and less magic.

Buy the hardback from Waterstones.


AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave bought a copy of Americanah new at Waterstones three months ago and I have only just got around to reading it. I have too many books!

I was interested to see, when reading other reviews after having finished Americanah, that a lot of people didn't like the discussions and arguments about race or the imagined blog posts, preferring the Ifemelu-Obinze romance instead. Personally, once Ifemelu had left for America, I wasn't always convinced by the apparent longings to resume their relationship and enjoyed reading the race discussions instead!

Americanah has a large cast of characters, some of which appear and reappear briefly so keeping track of everyone wasn't always easy. I did read the book over just a few days and think that if I had taken much longer, I could have gotten very lost. As a white Brit I did occasionally cringe at spotting things I have done or said being pulled up by Adichie. She has a wonderfully sharp eye and I love her ability to create such realism on the page. There are so many different people speaking here, yet none felt false or overdrawn. Ifemelu herself is a fantastic creation - a proud confident and emotional woman who even without her blog's anonymity seemed able to speak as she saw. I was irritated by the ease in which her blogs took off though. How many of us bloggers have really got 1000 views for a third post without spending a single minute on promotion?!

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


The Ministry of Special CasesThe Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Ministry Of Special Cases in a charity bookshop because I liked the idea of reading a novel set in Argentina. As it turns out, there isn't a strong Argentine flavour to the book, but it is still an interesting read.

We meet Kaddish Poznan, a Jewish man living in Buenos Aires with his wife, Lillian, and their adult son, Pato. The son of a prostitute, Kaddish is effectively excluded from the Jewish community for refusing to 'forget' his mother. He makes his living by discreetly chiselling names off gravestones in the dead of night for other Jews who are more successfully leaving their pasts behind. Englander manages to wring darkly comedic moments from this absurd situation and his novel's first half is considerably lighter than the second half. The main themes of family, ancestry and identity are explored initially through the interactions of an averagely dysfunctional family. Then the son, Pato, is disappeared leaving his parents to cope as best they can, each in their own way, as the world they thought they understood crashes around them.

The portrayal of Lillian's increasingly desperate search for her son and her failure to accept the inevitable truth is particularly poignant and I thought that this was the real strength of the book. Kaddish is a buffoonish character, forever guilty about his inability to provide for and protect his family, and I didn't think he grew much, if at all. His madcap schemes and certain world view were set, as it were, in stone. Cameo characters are well-drawn and add depth to the tale. I liked the bureaucrat lunching in the corridor, Doctor Mazursky, the General's wife and the girl who found the caramels.

The Ministry Of Special Cases is a very Jewish novel. I was reminded of Bernard Malamud's The Assistant amongst others in the expectation of disaster. Its humour is of the wry, self-deprecating kind and I just knew early on that these people weren't going to end up in a happy sunset. Their story kept me reading and interested throughout though and Englander has a great descriptive turn of phrase. His understanding of human nature keeps his characters believable and helps to shed a little light on this shocking time.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads


Friday, 24 July 2015

The Pennine Way! Dufton to High Cup Nick

OK, so we didn't walk much of The Pennine Way yesterday, but I am still
Volcanic Whin Sill at High Cup Nick 
loving being able to wrap myself in a hint of its 'glamour'. Imagine: Simon Armitage woz 'ere! We got lucky by arriving at Dufton's little car park in time to snaffle the last-but-one space. You'd probably need to be up before dawn to park there on a sunny weekend! Walking through the village to the start of our footpath allowed us to appreciate the pretty cottages, have a brief chat with a local woman who wished us sunshine for our walk, and to spot an MOD red flag. It was more drooping than flying, but checking the map at its base established that we would need to be several miles off course in order to get ourselves shot at. Hopefully we wouldn't get that lost.

Dave had been concerned about the first leg of our walk which would be
I'd heard about 'the red flag
flying' but not seen one before 
a pretty much continuous ascent for a good hour or so. A description on The Walking Englishman suggested his party were 'jiggered' by the top and they are experienced walkers. As it turned out, the gradient is not particularly steep, just relentless, so we were able to keep going with a few breathers, more an excuse to turn around and admire the view you understand, not just that we needed to pause. I do love an expansive view and this has to be one of the best. As we got higher and higher, new miles of countryside were revealed and it felt quite special to be there. We had expected to be sharing with lots of other walkers because this is one of the most famous routes, but were alone for much of the climb. We did pass a man expertly rebuilding a dry stone wall, continuing an apparently rare art form these days, and his sheepdog, Nell, managed to sucker Dave into throwing a stick for her to rush off after - only the once though!

A wonderful view 
Levelling out, close to High Cup Nick itself, we passed this 'infinity
Hannah's Well 
stream' known locally as Hannah's Well. A narrow waterfall fell to our left, crossed the path and then dropped away over the sheer cliff to our right. Dave had found a leaflet in our campsite's information hut about the geology of High Cup Nick so, for once, we were confident that we knew what we were seeing. The sheer Whin Sill layer was created about 295 million years ago by molten lava rising up within the earth then seeping sideways before it could build up enough pressure to explode as a volcano. This magma layer cooled over a period of maybe fifty years to form the sheet of dolerite igneous rock which is, in places, up to 90 metres thick. The Whin Sill is the first such area where geologists worked out how it had been formed and so any other 'sill' worldwide is named for this one.

High Cup Gill is a distinctive valley caused by glacial erosion. It was
Approaching High Cup Gill 
exciting to see it opening out ahead as we approached. The first photograph on this post shows the Whin Sill on each side close-ish up, and this photo is from further back to show the curve of the valley. We walked along one side, occasionally brave enough to get close to the edge and peep over. Steep grass slopes alternate with areas of tumbled rocks and boulders and, on the far side, we could see fissures caused by water coursing down over long periods of time. Sheep and cattle in the valley appeared smaller than toys.

The valley apex is known as High Cup Nick because there is a cleft in the
From the top looking down 
cliff through which a stream flows. Grass banks gave us a respite from the wind and a place to eat our apple and sandwiches. It was cold here though so our break was curtailed after fifteen minutes. We already knew that The Walking Englishman's wife had not enjoyed the boulder scramble down from High Cup Nick into High Cup Gill, but from the very top it doesn't look too bad. Certainly the boulders are more stable than your average Spanish scree path so I thought I would be ok. This was a mistake! The start IS ok, but then we turned a corner and spent the next hour on a basically terrifying descent that I hope never to have to attempt again! My leg and shoulder muscles are aching still today.

From the bottom looking up 
Once safe on the valley floor, there isn't a path as such but our direction
Sticking by the stream wasn't always an option 
was obvious as we had to walk the length of the valley in order to get out again. I certainly wasn't going back up those rocks! We got even more of a sense of High Cup's majestic height from looking up than we had done looking down. Arriving near the farm at the valley entrance, we had to cast around for our route out, but once we spotted that it must be via the farm itself we were fine. We were tiring by this point though so chose to cut off a mile by heading part-way towards Dufton on the narrow road. Fortunately traffic is very light and there were verges onto which we could leap. A footpath after about twenty minutes allowed us to briefly join up with the Pennine Journey route. I was delighted by the artistic red stripes in the dry stone walling here. The red seemed to glow more brightly than it appears in the photo but hopefully you can get the idea.

Red striped stone walling 
Then, at about the five-and-a-half hour mark and as we were both getting a tad fed up, we stumbled across a magical place to finish up our walk. Dufton Ghyll, managed by the Woodland Trust, is a serene and tranquil little oasis of trees, lichens, babbling brook and ancient stone. If felt like the kind of place where fairytales ought to be set and I loved the greenish tinge to the light. We failed to see red squirrels, but I was amazed how just this change in what we did see around us had such a lightening effect on our mood. And, as if by magic, we exited Dufton Ghyll right by Dufton car park!

Dufton Ghyll 
We walked for a few minutes over six hours in all and think our route was probably about ten miles. Persons experienced in scrambling down rocks could easily cut a half hour off this time! Looking back up the rock scramble, we might have been better off hugging the grass on the right hand edge and then coming down on grass too. However that would have given us nothing to cling on to so might have taken longer. Probably a course on basic Rock Climbing For Nervous Girlfriends is the answer, but it really didn't look too scary until the moment when it suddenly looked even scarier to try going back up! I did enjoy my great sense of euphoria at having finally completed the descent.

One aspect of our walks that I do appreciate is seeing so many free
range herds of cows and flocks of sheep in huge green pastures. I soreally do hope that this way of farming doesn't become a thing of the past - a quaint tourist attraction. Global policy makers are currently in New York negotiating Sustainable Development Goals. Some see factory farming as the best way to feed the world. They think only about the large quantities of “cheap” meat, ignoring the health issues and drastic environmental problems that come with it. Two European Commissioners are negotiating the future of the food system on our behalf. We must urge them to choose humane, sustainable farming – and not put factory farms forward as the false solution to feeding the world. Compassion In World Farming has a quick click to send a message to our European Commissioners, but this must be done by the 31st July. Please add your voice now.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Our first Cumbrian campsite and a petition for chocolate-lovers

We didn't have to drive very far yesterday to reach our next campsite. We
A warm welcome to Appleby! 
are now pitched up at Croft Ends Farm, just outside Appleby-In-Westmorland. There are actually two campsites here, each of five pitches. One is the official Caravan Club CL, a pretty green field with hardstanding pitches. The other is more of a caravan storage area surrounding a large grey space and electric points and taps along one side. Guess which we are in?! We are disappointed as we were told over the phone when booking that both are the same, and they are the same price - our most expensive CL yet at £16 a night. £2 of that is for the awning which is definitely cheeky considering how much effort it took to bash tent pegs through the hardstanding. If you stay here and want an awning up, make sure to bring heavy duty steel pegs and a proper metal hammer. The standard mallet made no impact at all!

Croft Ends Farm campsite 
On the plus side, each pitch has its own water tap and grey water drain
The locals are curious 
and there is a nicely planted corner with a bench from which to gaze and ponder. Waste and recycling facilities are close by in the CL field next door, and there is also an Information Hut there with lots of leaflets, walking maps, DVDs to borrow and a small selection of books. We have a pleasant view across a field of cows and calves up to hills that are invitingly close by. The wind is blocked by a caravan storage barn too, which is a relief after the gales of Gilsland.

We took a wander around Appleby town on Tuesday afternoon. It is
Picturesque bridge in Appleby 
steeped in history - the first settlement here believed to have been Viking - and contains several buildings of Elizabethan times and older. In common with many towns hereabouts it used to be fortified with walks and gateways. Doomgate has to be my favourite street name so far! We have missed the annual horse fair which happens in June and the town has had a market charter since the 1100s. Nowadays there is a good range of independent shops and cafes including a good greengrocers and butchers. We got jam and cheese at the bakery-grocer which has an interesting range of products but is distinctly pricey! We noticed property in estate agents' windows is suddenly much more expensive than Northumberland and the Borders.

We have lots of potential walking here to evocatively named places such
Duck and her ducklings in Appleby 
as High Cup Nick, High Force and Low Force. We are also within easy reach of Penrith where there is the Lonsdale Alhambra Cinema amongst other attractions. We took our seats there last night to see the RSC broadcast of The Merchant Of Venice. I wasn't sure if it would be able to match the fabulous inventiveness and spectacle of last week's NTlive Everyman, but it's not a play I have seen before and the synopsis was certainly intriguing. We were very impressed with the venue itself and the seats are wonderfully comfortable. Plus no rip-off refreshment prices in the interval - an Expresso Magnum ice cream was £1.60. We both loved the play. A surprising set of bronze back wall and floor gave it an unusual appearance and I liked the three caskets dropping in almost as if in an old episode of The Adventure Game. (Remember that?!) I can't say I liked any of the characters. Their portrayals were superb, especially Antonio, Portia and Shylock, and the suitor Aragon, but what a bunch of devious self-serving hypocrites! There's much to think about and the introduction was so right in saying how uncannily accurate this four hundred year old play is in showing us our own world today.

On Tuesday I signed a Care2 petition speaking out against Cadbury's
unsustainable palm oil usage, the deforestation it causes and their procrastination on moving to sustainable sources. Cadbury know there is a problem in their supply chain and have vowed to make their palm oil deforestation-free, BUT not until 2030! Why not NOW, Cadbury? The rainforests of SE Asia are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the production of unregulated palm oil. This is causing extensive habitat loss and extinction of critically endangered species. Will there still be anything left to save in fifteen years time?
Please add your name to this petition asking Cadbury to act now.