Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein

It is barely above zero in Crianlarich, with freezing fog descending and the hillsides will wake whitened.  So it is just as well that we are in Croxley Green.

Path up to the Green
Path up to the Green

A farewell to the old year, by walking the old paths:  the Croxley Green Boundary Walk, which is a lovely, unchallenging walk, just right for recovering from a flu-filled Christmas season.  The whole path is six and a half miles all around the parish boundaries.

There is a lot of variety around a village of no great size, but then it is not an average village.  It is a Metro-Land place but at the very edge, which bumps roughly into Hertfordshire’s big town at one end but ebbs away into the Chiltern farmland at the other, allowing a green ring to be drawn around the parish, on its hill between the Gade Valley to the Chess.  It has woods, muddy paths, the canal, fields and farms, and of course the Green.  The a nice, hot supper and a farewell to the year.

It has been a year of surprises, of things done and things left undone, but all that is done with now as we open new challenges.

I finished on an old, familiar path, but in the New Year there are new projects.  Watch this space.

The River Chess
The River Chess

With a glowing grate and a pie piping hot

And so we begin the Christmas break, well earned and welcomed.  Time to stretch and breathe and to recognise all our blessings, which we might not have seen in the welter of the working week, but stop and listen.  Hear the hymns and carols and the sermon, however familiar, that might bring forgotten truths to mind.  Then step outside into raw nature, where wild creation is untampered with, and feel and hear the wind in the mountains and the trees singing creation’s own praise to its creator.

In the outdoor world you do not get away from Christmas – only from the commercial encrustations.  In the lane, in the wood or on the hill, you are sharing a sky with a couple who once threaded their way through the Judaean hills towards the town where an ancestor, a shepherd-king, guarded his flocks from lions beneath the open canopy of heaven, hiking through villages and through empty, desert places, stopping at night in tents around a bare fire built somehow in a treeless land, turning the warmth of the city behind them to find a hilltop town.  Later they would flee through the wild desert from the wrath of a city-dwelling king.  Christmas is all about the outdoor life.

For a week or so even for those town-bound, desk-bound salary-workers, the time is yours to turn your eyes up and explore the world about you.  Take to the fields and to the hills:  find the beauty that lies just beyond your vision.  At the end of the road there may be that perfect country pub, and there may the logs burn bright and the steak and ale pie be piping hot.

A merry and a blessed Christmas to one and all.

Hope grows in the British Antarctic

The British Antarctic Survey has just announced today that they have remeasured the mountains of Palmer Land and they are higher than we thought.  More than that:  the highest mountain in the British Antarctic Territory is actually Mount Hope, not Mount Jackson as we always thought.

We have been getting it wrong all this time the about the territory top.  I feel sorry for the BAT team who reached the summit on 23 November 1964, thinking they had reached the highest point in the British domains.  Will their children now be kitting up to scale the new top?

I know this is a bit further than most mountain walkers will go, but it is a British mountain, an impressive part of the Further WildMount Hope rises to 10,626 feet, two and a half times the height of Ben Nevis, wind-scoured and ice-bound:  beyond the reach of the everyday hiker.  Still, as Sir Ranulph said, there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

I have listed the county tops of the United Kingdom, but what of the territory tops?  It may have to be the next endeavour to wander the heights East Caicos and Cayman Brac, but the BAT?  Not this year.

There’s no such thing as bad weather

“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  It is snowing now even in those parts of Britain that were not affected last week, but a wee bit of snow is not a challenge:  your wardrobe is.

(I will let readers argue whether the quote at the head of this page was first said by Alfred Wainwright or Sir Ranulph Fiennes, but both knew their business.  Sir Ranulph knows every extreme of weather having walked to both the poles, through the Himalayas, across the Arabian deserts and so who can contradict him?  In Norway, incidentally, the snow would just be considered a light introduction to autumn.

First thing, get yourself a good pair of shoes:  when you go into work in the morning you cannot wear those smart black patent-leather work shoes full of holes that you usually do.  Smart work shoes that don’t fall apart at the first blow of winter are available

(In Norway, where they know a thing or two, shoe shops are not hidden round the back, at the cheap end of the high street and they are not 90% impractical women’s shoes with a corner for men as a concession – they are prominent.  They understand the need for shoes that stay dry and stay in one piece.)

Those thin socks won’t work either:  get some oversocks.

If you get stares when you wander in with solid shoes on your feet, be comforted that you are the only one in the office who is not about to lose their toes to frostbite.  It is good weather out there, when your wardrobe is right.

 

Baleful legend of Cadair Idris

What is it about Cadair Idris that threatens so much and has drawn so many wild and woeful legends?

This looming fell is not the highest mountain in Merionethshire (an honour belonging to Aran Fawddwy) but is the most famous. It is a long, lofty ridge of peaks and troughs with its summit known as Penygadair at 2,930 feet; a challenging climb but one which draws many robust hikers. Its distinctive shape and beauty are richly evocative of the wild landscape over which it presides.

Here at the top of the mountain is a scoop in the rock forming a giant’s chair – for this mountain is the ‘Chair of Idris’, and filling its seat the placid tarn known as Llyn Cau.

This is an enchanted place, but hikers should not tarry overnight. It may be tempting to slumber by the tarn in the shelter of Craig Cau, but alone as you may be, beware of what is said of this place.

The Giant’s Chair and Llyn Cau

Now, even in dismissing local legends as heathenish nonsense, you will know the every year some unfortunate soul is dragged from the slopes of Cadair Idris, having overstretched himself or been caught in unexpected storms, and one must have sympathy with the mountain rescue teams who trudge the cursed slopes to find the lost walker who thought an iPhone was enough to navigate the timeless mountain, and to rescue him before nightfall.

This is a mountain which had stood for millennia even before Adam was formed from the dust; its slopes have been carved by ancient ice and scoured by untamed winds. It knows a thing or two that a brief visitor cannot.

The bards of old sang that Idris the Giant sat here in his chair, and many princes dwelling in the valleys about this fastness have been named ‘Idris’. Before you climb, as you may, from Dolgellau or the Mawddach, you should know that the howling wind is the baying of the Cŵn Annwn, the hounds of Gwyn ap Nudd, foretelling a death, and the tarns are bottomless and contains spirits vengeful when woken, or so has been said.

And bards frequently climbed these slopes, for it is said that anyone who sleeps on Cadair Idris alone will awaken either a madman or a poet; and few can tell the difference.

Links

Yeah Blaby, yeah!

In Blaby today, at a meeting of the Association of British Counties, which I am always happy to help.  I am presenting a number of projects; some hosted or planned on WildþingUK are hosted for the ABC and some of their new projects on footpath signage and mapping are of particular interest.  Well, that and the fact that I am the Vice-Chairman.

It’s a cheering gathering from across the land, all with a love of our places, and in particular our counties:  Yorkshire and Lancashire prominent as ever: the achievement of the Friends of Real Lancashire and of the Yorkshire Ridings Society over the years are shown in the local events they organise, the boundary signs around the county boundaries, the proliferation of rose-bearing flags and the strengthening of local identity in the face of official indifference.  We could spend all our time admiring the achievements of the Association too, but there is more to be done:  boundary signs, more resources for the public, and public engagement.  I will do what little I can.

County flags are popular now:  I look forward to seeing the result of the current competitions to design flags for some of my favourite shires:  Berwickshire, Sutherland and East Lothian, with Herefordshire’s bull charging up close behind.

Now to grab a sandwich, then it’s down to discussing footpath signage, ruby and Lancashire paths.

It is an interesting little place Last time I was here in Blaby, I finished the day by climbing Leicestershire’s county top, Bardon Hill, but it will be getting dark early, it is raining hard and much as I love the Leicestershire countryside (“Tally-ho!”) I have things to do tonight, M1 permitting.