85 – Chesil Beach to Charlestown

Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy the time of year.  But there is a certain part of me that wishes I were somewhere else on Christmas Day.  This feeling tends to occur at around 3pm.  Christmas Lunch is over.  The extended family have settled around the TV.  The windows are closed to keep the chill air out and slowly, but surely, the Queen’s Speech becomes obscured by a moist fog of satiated body heat as we all settle into a collective slump to waste away the final days of the year.

It’s not really my thing.

For several years we had endured the fog of Christmas and then fled to the coast on Boxing Day – to inhale the fresh air of freedom granted to us by the Great British Countryside.  In 2015 we couldn’t make Boxing Day, but the 28th was available and so in the early morning we fled down to Weymouth.

2015 you ask?  But I’m writing this in January 2018!  Yes, for that was our last Coastal Walk.  By 2015 our kids had grown into teenagers.  They had also grown tired of giving up every weekend to coastal walking.  I can’t blame them, and I am proud of what they have achieved – 700 miles from Southend to Swanage.  But they were at that time of their lives that I remember well when I was their age.  My wife puts it best: they are cocooned in their bedrooms like chrysalids, but one day their bedroom doors will open and they will emerge as beautiful butterflies.

But until then they need to be in their rooms and not down at the coast.  So today, 28 December 2015, was to be our last coastal walk for a while.

We left early – around 5ish (do you begin to see why there were objections in our household).  We arrived at Chesil Beach in the early dawn.  The lights of Portland called to us, but we were headed in the other direction, away from Portland and towards the wilds of West Dorset.

Our route today was the “inland” route following Chesil Beach.  Given I am writing this post some two years after doing the actual walk I hope you will forgive me my memory, which is mostly dictated by photos I took on the day.

I remember seeing what I assume were muntjac.

I remember our path was flooded, meaning we had to double back and navigate around fields.

I remember walking by Wyke Castle, built in 1865 and influenced by the Martello Towers of which we had seen so many during our travels.

And I remember the mud – the glorious mud!

But most of all I remember the beauty and warmth of the sunrise over Portland.

This will have to be the lasting memory for now.  As at January 2018 we are talking about going back for our next walk this Easter.  Will it happen?  I do hope so.  For now, there is one other thing I will need to remember:  Australia Road in Charlestown, Weymouth, for that is where we left off, and so that is where we will need to pick up.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Wyke Castle:  N 50° 35.679 W 002° 28.876
  • Australia Road, Charlestown:  N 50° 36.853 W 002° 29.915

Walk #85 Statistics:

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A Fall From Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England, standing proud in the Lake District National Park at 3,210 feet.  Although it is not my favourite peak (far from it in fact), I have walked up it four times.

The first time was when I was still at university, in 1993.  I always remember this climb, because we were in the snow, above the clouds.  To someone who had never experienced this before it felt as if we were in the Himalayas, standing above distant peaks trying to break through in the distance.  It was truly spectacular, and it took me until late 2017 (in fact only a few days prior to writing this post) to be lucky enough to have a similar experience.My next ascent was in 1996, when I completed the Three Peaks Challenge with some work colleagues.  The Three Peaks involves climbing the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) in under 24 hours.  We ran down the last part, finishing with half an hour to spare.  Exhausted, we all sat down in Snowdon’s car park, and after 10 minutes found we couldn’t get back up again because our muscles had seized up.  As we groaned and laughed and tried to straighten ourselves other walkers looked on with disapproval.  Not realising we had just finished a mammoth walk, they thought we were doubled up after little more than an after-lunch stroll!

We were lucky with the weather; Ben Nevis in particular was completely clear.  As I gazed out over the other Munros trying, but failing, to match Ben Nevis in height, I really did feel on top of the world.

I don’t have a photo of Scafell Pike from that trip – I suspect we were too busy keeping our heads down and trying to beat the clock.  The only other photo I have from that trip is at the bottom of Snowdon, after we had finished.   We were in high spirits and someone suggested we strip off and posed “naked” behind our company banner.  So it was that we appeared in the trade press and every now and again this photo comes back to haunt me.

My third climb was four years later, in 2000, and with several of the team pictured above.  It was absolutely scorching.  Jonathan (centre in the photo with the hairy chest) said he had brought some sun cream with him, so nobody else bothered.  Unfortunately it turned out to be after-sun lotion and not sun cream at all.  As a result we all got burnt to a crisp, to the extent that I am sure my flesh had started to slide off my bones, and where I suddenly felt that the heat beating down on me was nothing to the heat my burnt body was giving off in return.

In an attempt not to make the sunburn any worse, we had to walk in long-sleeved shirts and trousers, wearing hats, neck warmers and gloves.  Every one else was in T-shirts and shorts, and we got more than a few strange looks on such a searingly hot day.

So with four climbs, you see, when it comes to Scafell Pike I feel as if I have been there and done that.

As a result, when Deb and I took the kids to the Lake District for their first time I was not that bothered about Scafell Pike.  My son Ben, however, most certainly was bothered.  It was England’s biggest peak and therefore had to be climbed as soon s possible.  So off we set again, this time via the Corridor Route.

The Corridor Route has a small nub of rock halfway along it.  You have to scramble over this before continuing to a big scree slope which is the final challenge before the summit.  The weather was fine and we made the top with ease.  Mission accomplished.  Ben was happy.

We descended the same way.  Down the scree slope and back onto the Corridor Route.  We were about half a mile from the nub of rock and had a clear line of sight down to it.  My wife was talking to me and I was watching a large group of about 20 people at the foot of the rocks.  The first of them had just started the scramble up and over.  All of a sudden another of the group, looking up from the bottom, took a step back.  He had clearly not realised that the path dropped away behind him.  He lost his footing and tumbled over.  I watched in absolute horror as he cartwheeled over and over, literally bouncing down the steep hillside below him.  His arms and legs flailed out from his body as he spun round and round, seemingly bouncing higher each time he hit the ground.  As he gathered momentum I saw he was headed towards an even steeper drop, which surely meant the worst possible outcome.  However, just as he span towards the edge, he hit some rocks.  This time he did not bounce.  He stopped dead.  He had fallen about 80 feet down a gradient of about 45˚.  It seemed as if he had only touched the ground maybe five times during that fall.

There must have been five or six groups of people between us and him.  At the time I remember thinking that their reaction was very strange.  They all stopped where they were and did not continue any further.  However, having thought about this I suppose it is a natural reaction.  They could do nothing to help, but to just continue on their way?  Walking callously on, right by someone who had just fallen and who must be injured?  I think they found that unthinkable.  Thus, they stopped where they were and just waited.

We didn’t stop.  I had a GPS with me and realised I could assist with calling for help.  We hurried passed the other people and got to the group with the injured man.  I took a reading on my GPS and went up to a woman who was on her phone and trying to get through to Mountain Rescue.  She had a connection but it kept cutting out; the line eventually went dead.  I asked how the man was and she said it looked as if he had broken his arms and legs, and was also bleeding.  But he was conscious.  They had a doctor in their group who was performing first aid.

I gave her the coordinates and said I would continue on down, calling their exact location through to Mountain Rescue as soon as I had a signal.

Luckily I got a phone signal about 350 feet further on.  I got through to Mountain Rescue, gave them the coordinates, and that was all we could do.  We continued on down.

I was expecting to see a helicopter quite quickly, but in fact it was about 2 hours later, almost when we were back at the car, when we heard the distant chopping of the rotors.  I realise now that Mountain Rescue had to send a ground team up first to assess the site and the man’s injuries.  By this time the weather was closing in.  That poor group!  After waiting a couple of hours for the helicopter, I imagine they then must have had to make their descent in the pouring rain.

And as for the fallen man himself?  I have no idea how he is today.  Wasdale Mountain Rescue published an incident report which simply said:

“A man suffered serious injuries when he fell around 20 meters from the Corridor Route. He was treated by the team and flown to hospital by RAF Boulmer”.

There are videos of him being winched up by the helicopter on Wasdale Mountain Rescue’s webpage, which you can see by clicking this link. But how the man is now I have no idea.  His injuries were simply listed as “multiple”.  I hope he is fully recovered now.

Experiencing this gave me a real appreciation of what Mountain Rescue do.  To be ready to drop what you are doing at a moment’s notice and head out into the fells at any time of day or night is no small commitment.  This is especially so when more than a few call-out’s are for missing persons who turn up safe and well a few hours later in a car park or pub.  Although 34% of call-outs in 2017 were for medical reasons and injuries, another 34% were for people who were lost and 19% for people who were overdue.  People who are lost can sometimes be talked down and so no call-out is necessary.  The “overdues” tend to result in call-outs between 6pm and midnight.

In 2017 there were 140 incidents for Wasdale Mountain Rescue, of which 101 resulted in call-outs.  In the peak months of July and August incidents came in at an average rate of nearly one a day.

And the members of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team are volunteers.  Hats off to them.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Seathwaite (Parking and Start of Walk):  N 54° 30.009′ W 003° 10.910′
  • Summit of Scafell Pike:  N 54° 27.254′ W 003° 12.699′
  • Approx Location (from memory) of the Fall:  N 54° 28.270′ W 003° 12.234′

Walk Statistics:

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Pen-y-Fan

Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons is a place of outstanding beauty and at 2,907 feet is the highest peak in southern Wales.  It is famous for the gruelling “Fan Dance” stage of SAS selection which takes place here twice a year.

It seems strange, therefore, that there is a gentle path up to the summit that is perfectly suitable for a Sunday afternoon post-roast lunch stroll – I swear you could get a pushchair up it!

Given its ease of access, don’t expect to be the only person on the mountain, nor a tranquil and peaceful walk.  The world and his wife will almost certainly be joining you if you take this particular path up.  Once at the top, however, you forget the people and concentrate on the views.  The landscape below is laid out for you like a carpet.  It’s beautiful!

The vistas are amazing, at any angle you care to view them from.

A word of warning, however, for those wishing to get summit photos.  Photobombing is rife up there.

By the way, it’s only a short hop over to the adjoining peak, Cribyn, and well worth the effort.  And there are further peaks beyond if you really want to walk that roast lunch off.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Pen-y-Fan:  N 51° 53.042 W 003° 26.190
  • Cribyn:  N 51° 52.910 W 003° 25.175

Walk Statistics:

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Wales’ Four Waterfalls Walk

In the Vale of Neath, to the southern part of the Brecon Beacons National Park, lies the Four Waterfalls Walk.  This is short walk of only five miles or so which takes in, as the name implies, four waterfalls.

This is an area rich in geology, where sandstone meets mudstone and where rivers have eroded the landscape over many years.  As well as waterfalls there are large cave systems running deep underground.  We passed numerous entrances where rivers seemed to disappear, or where holes in rocks simply fell away into an abyss of nothingness.

The first waterfall on the walk is Sgwd Clun-gwyn, meaning “the fall of the white meadow”.  There are two tiers to it.

The flat rock ledge about a third of the way down allows you to get up close and personal.

At its bottom it roars into a narrow plunge pool.  You can walk right to its edge.

Walk on from Sgwd Clun-gwyn heading south, through the forest adjoining the Afon (River) Mellte, to where it is joined by the Afon Hepste.  A short way up the Hepste is another waterfall, the Sgwd-Yr-Eira, meaning “falls of snow”.

If you thought you could get up close and personal at Sgwd Clun-gwyn, well, you can get very intimate indeed with Sgwd-Yr-Eira.

Sgwd-Yr-Eira is an overhang waterfall, meaning you can get behind the curtain of water into the space behind…

…and then look at the waterfall from another viewpoint altogether.

Head back up the Mellte and you will soon reach Sgwd y Pannwr, meaning “fall of the fuller”.

The lip of the waterfall is so shallow that you can walk on it without really getting your feet wet, and the plunge pool below is deep enough to, well, plunge into.

There were several groups canyoning when we visited.  It looked like fun…

…but we weren’t really dressed for the occasion.  Don’t do it, Poppy!

Just to the north of Sgwd y Pannwr is the final of the four waterfalls, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn, meaning “lower fall of the white meadow”.  This is another one you can clamber behind, but this time you need a little more than just waterproofs.

Four amazing waterfalls, all in a short walk.  Well worth a visit.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Sgwd Clun-gwyn:  N 51° 47.200 W 003° 33.625
  • Sgwd-Yr-Eira:  N 51° 46.690 W 003° 33.260
  • Sgwd y Pannwr:  N 51° 46.880 W 003° 33.770
  • Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn:  N 51° 47.025 W 003° 33.710

Walk Statistics:

 

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84b – Western Portland to Chesil Beach

The thing I remember most about the west coast of Portland is an arch.  It was fashioned from blocks the size of people, as if giants had been playing with Lego bricks.  Although most were placed in exact positions, there were a few stones that appeared to have been dropped in almost haphazardly.  This gave the impression that the arch was safe to walk through, but that something might just dislodge and flatten you in the process.

Just beyond this arch is the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve, an old abandoned quarry which is being reclaimed both by nature and local artists.  There were many sculptures to see, including some very ornately carved pieces.  The one I was particularly drawn to was not one of those that had carved an entire rock into something new.  Rather, it was a large rock that kept its natural form, but into which the artist had carved something that its size and shape had clearly suggested to them:

Having made a small detour through the quarry we got back to the coast.  And then, all of a sudden, the ground began to fall away from us and we were starting our descent back to Chesil Beach, its long and beckoning arm stretching away into the distance.

 I am going to repeat my introduction to Chesil Beach which I gave a few posts ago:

Chesil Beach is a natural tombolo, the exact origin of which is disputed to this day.  It is 18 miles long, running from Portland in the south to West Bay in the north.  It is a pebble beach; its pebbles are fist-sized at Portland and gradually get smaller and smaller, ending up pea-sized at West Bay.  It is said that if a local fisherman landed on Chesil Beach in thick fog then he could tell you exactly where he was just by looking at the size of the pebbles!

As the pebbles were at their largest at this end of Chesil Beach, they made for easy walking.

The further north you go, however, the smaller the pebbles become and the tougher the walking becomes.  Even walking to the car park a mile and a half in we noticed that the walking became slightly more difficult.

Although I would like to walk the entire stretch of Chesil Beach one day, it was the wrong time of year for us today.  Parts of it are both firing range and nature reserve (a strange combination when you think about it) and the entirety of the beach is only accessible at certain times of the year.  We were at the end of our walk today, and by the time we would be back we wouldn’t be able to walk the entire length.  The inland route, which runs broadly parallel, would be our only option at the start of our next walk.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Arch: N 50° 32.855 W 002° 27.002
  • Tout Quarry Sculpture Park:  N 50° 33.175 W 002° 26.770
  • Chesil Beach Car Park and Walk’s End:  N 50° 34.700 W 002° 28.150

Walk #84 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

 

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84a – Western Portland Part II

As we continued our way north along the western coast of Portland we reached Blacknor Observation Post.  Build in 1940-41 it has expansive views over Lyme Bay, a large tract of water stretching almost 50 miles from Portland to Devon.

I say the observation post has expansive views, but unfortunately part of its roof collapsed in 2014, meaning the views are rather less expansive today than originally intended.

Next to the observation post are two gun emplacements.  These actually predate the observation post, having been constructed in 1914 to protect a torpedo factory and Admiralty oil tanks which belonged to the Portland Naval Base.  Each was designed to hold a 15-pounder gun.  During World War II these were upgraded Lewis Anti Aircraft guns, and it is said that one of these shot down a Dornier DO 17 bomber on Chesil Beach.  The guns were eventually removed in 1954.

Sat above the observation post is Blacknor Fort itself, constructed in 1902.  On the night of 27 April 1944 the fort witnessed the Slapton Sands tragedy (click here for more information on this tragedy), when nine German E-Boats attacked US troops during a night exercise in Lyme Bay.  The fort’s gunners were ordered not to attack the E-Boats for fear of inflicting enemy casualties.  The E-Boats were therefore able to attack unopposed, resulting in the death of more than 700 US troops.

Blacknor Fort is today privately owned.  We only caught a glimpse of its outer walls as we passed by.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Blacknor Observation Post: N 50° 32.548 W 002° 27.302

Walk #84 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

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83b – Western Portland Part I

The western side of Portland is the less favourable for walkers when compared to the eastern side.  There are no cliff paths down to the shoreline; no wild goats; no hidden coves or ruined churches.  The western side is a clifftop walk passing some bleak looking concrete buildings and, for the most part, not much else.

Whilst the western coastline of the island does not have the interest of the eastern side, it was here that we were lucky enough to see something that I had never seen before – a pair of hunting kestrels.  When I spotted them they were some distance away.  I fixed my zoom lens on my camera and took a number of pictures, but even the best was fuzzy and disappointing.

I felt sure that they would fly off before we got to them, but whilst they separated and started hunting from different spots both continued to move along the coastline in search of prey, allowing us to get close and observe.

They hovered on the air currents, allowing these to take them slowly down the coastline.  After a while they would fly back up the coast to their starting point and start the process again, ever alert for movement below which would signal prey.

Then, all of a sudden, one of them dived – almost too quickly for me to react.

It shot down to the scrub below, where it suddenly fanned its feathers out and hovered a few feet off the ground, clearly searching for whatever had made the sudden movement that had attracted it.

It suddenly veered towards a clump of plants which obviously offered more protection than the open grass.  It hovered again and then pounced into the thick of it.

Again, it was all so quick I hardly had time to react.  Had it caught anything?  I was unsure; it was shielded from view by the greenery.  It stayed there for a few moments and then flew out again, returning to the higher ground to begin its patrol once more.

Walk #83 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

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