Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ivanhoe Way 2009

Walked: 25/7/09
Distance: 35m
Time: 15 hours overall.

This is the second time that I've walked this path. It passes fairly close to my house, and so the first time, I devised the plan of starting at the opposite side of the circular route so that I'd be able to stop at home to have lunch and top up on water and food, meaning I wouldn't have to carry as much with me.

At 7:30 am (an hour and a half later than planned) I was looking up at Bardon Hill, said to be the highest point in Leicester. Strictly speaking, the path doesn't go to the top of the hill, but skirts around the edge. There is a footpath to the top and down the other side, and a great view from the top, and so I prefer to do that.

It's quite a short and gentle climb to the top, through woodland. Note the ripening rowan (mountain ash) berries, giving lovely splashes of red against the green surroundings. They are apparently best picked later in the year.

A benefit of starting a bit later than planned is that the sun was up and the mist burned off, so the views from the top of the first hill were wonderful.

The walk passes through a wide variety of terrain - open country and crop fields, hills, canal towpath, dismantled railway, road and the odd housing estate, National Forest and (here) older woodland.

10:00 am Swannington has a very interesting old inclined railway with winches that pulled the trains up. The path just misses the best bits of that.

The beautiful countryside looks at its best in the sunshine. I'd picked a warm dry day (the weatherman turned out to be right) and in fact it was a bit too hot at times.

A-maize-ing. Walking through maize that's above head-height is a little bit claustrophobic!

12:30 This view over Staunton Harold reservoir is one of the best views in the area. Sorry Leicestershire, this spot is on the border of Leicestershire with Derbyshire, and the view is looking into South Derbyshire.

I really like Moira Furnace, and this part of the walk between Ashby and Measham really is very pleasant.

Many of the paths between Snarestone and Stanton-under-Bardon cross fields. Here they are generally very well maintained.

6:40 pm I think this next picture is my favourite shot from today. While walking along this canal towpath, I didn't see any boats or walkers. It was so quiet too. Really tranquil and idyllic.

8:15 pm Nailstone spire came into view as the sun was setting behind me. I love the way that spires are such good landmarks, helping you to orientate yourself as well as being good 'mental milestones'.

Once the sun had set, I couldn't take any more photos, and swopped my camera for a torch. I had hoped to finish before it got dark, but had to navigate the last few miles in the dark. Finally finished (absolutely exhausted) at 10:30pm = 15 hours.

More information about the route is available at

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Blackfordby spire

  • Walked: 19 July 2009
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Terrain: Some inclines and stiles
  • Summary: Starting at Shellbrook, Ashby de la Zouch, walk to Blackfordby, continue out to Woodville, then back in a loop to Blackfordby and back to Shellbrook.
  • Time: 2.5 hrs
I usually start this walk from home, and approach Blackfordby church from a slightly different direction, but today I decided to start at Shellbrook (just outside Ashby) which is a convenient place to start, and goes through Prestop Wood, a very pleasant part of The National Forest. I've watched these trees (on the left in this picture) grow from about a metre high and they're now adolescents, I guess, way above head height.

It was a murky day today, giving the black spire an atmospheric background.

Strawberries? Raspberries? No, much bigger. This is the second time in a week that I've seen robin's pincushions. A friend pointed one out earlier in the week, and I don't remember noticing them since I was a child. A parasite attacks a dog-rose, which reacts by growing this fluffy red nest:

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Offa's Dyke Path (north) Knighton to (nearly) Prestatyn

For a first long-distance path, Offa's Dyke turned out to be an excellent choice. It has a real variety of countryside and good camping facilities at the right intervals. The path is a National Trail following a defensive boundary coast to coast along the Welsh border. The whole Trail is 170 miles, but divides neatly into north and south parts at the visitor and exhibition centre at Knighton . We chose to walk the north part from Knighton northwards to Prestatyn (97 miles).

Being a man-made feature, it crosses a variety of terrain; hills, river plain, scree slopes, boggy moor, forest. The whole length of the dyke hasn't survived the centuries, but it is visible for much of the walk, and in places the ditch and mound is quite dramatic. As the days passed and the countryside changed, the presence of the dyke gave the walk a real sense of continuity and purpose.

We were lucky to have good weather, a tad too hot at times, a few showers, but generally excellent.

This is a great time of the year for walking. Honeysuckle, elderflower, cammomile were still out in flower, wild garlic made its presence felt occasionally, bilberries were ripening and wild strawberries were already ripe.

We chose to back-pack with tent, food, stove, buying meals on the way when possible. That meant heavy packs, which was a hindrance on the hillier sections.

This path is the best waymarked path that I've seen. It would be wrong to even think about attempting a walk relying on waymarkers alone - even on such a well-maintained route, they can be missing, defaced, overgrown or you can simply fail to spot one. I wouldn't go out on a walk now without 1:25,000 OS maps, but fortunately we discovered the National Trail guide, which for the price of one good book contains OS mapping for the whole route.

Day zero - arrived at Knighton with enough time to get to the first campsite at Pampwnton, back to Knighton for a meal and some extremely enjoyable entertainment from superb Elvis impersonator 'Eddie as Elvis'.

Things we learned today: When you want to finish your hot cocoa and go to sleep, an insulated mug is a real pain.

Day one - Pampwnton to Brompton Crossroads. 15m

Our first real day of this walk. This is the toughest section of this walk with regular steep climbs and descents. Fortunately, the mist soon cleared so that we could appreciate the long views over this very unspoiled part of the country.

The distance wouldn't have been such a problem but the heat and the weight of our packs made it tougher. Very relieved to arrive at a great campsite about half a mile away from the Trail.

Things we learned today: The doc-leaf trick really works. Walking south to north is great, because the sun is generally on your back rather than in your face, and the writing on the map is the right way up!

Day two - Brompton Crossroads to Four Crosses. 20m. Walking as if I'd just got off a horse. If yesterday's theme was many sheep and few trees, today was just the opposite. Thankfully this second leg is a flatter walk, much of it alongside the Severn, but the distance and the sun made it a challenge.

The Golden Lion at Four Crosses is highly recommended. Friendly owners, the lowest price we paid for camping, good facilities and informal live music in the pub in the evening.

Things we learned today: the dyke isn't apparent all the time, either because the path doesn't follow it, or because bits of it just aren't there any more. Other things such as river flood defences and dismantled railway lines can look like the dyke.

Day three - Four Crosses to Bronygarth. 16 1/2 miles. Walking as if a horse had just got off me. More rises and falls today and a variety of very picturesque countryside. A nice surprise when yesterday's flat river plain opened up below us as part of an expansive view.

This was a real nice day's walking, and would make a wonderful walk on its own.

Things we learned today: if a campsite is marked on the map, don't believe that it's really there unless you've also seen it in a guide and have phoned them to check. If a forest is marked on the map, bear in mind that trees can be cut down!

Day 4 - Bronygarth to Llandegla with detour to Llangollen - 17 1/2 miles.

The day starts close to Chirk Castle, which we'd spotted the day before. It's a castle that has been continuously inhabited since the thirteenth century. We took the optional path through the National Trust grounds, a permissive route that's only open during the summer.

At Froncysyllte you have to choose whether to follow the official Trail and get a great view of the 120-foot canal aqueduct, or to detour over the top of it. The walk across the top really is an exciting or scary walk depending on your head for heights.

It was a shame to unexpectedly lose the dyke today. The guide simply mentions that this is the last we'll see of the dyke with no further explanation. I think our path leaves the route of the dyke before Offer's Dyke merges with an older earthwork. The remaining part of the National Trail to the coast was simply devised by the pioneers of the Trail.

Today's route should have been 15 miles, but we added 2 1/2 miles by taking a trip into touristy Llangollen for some essential provisions. (Meths for the stove. My evening cocoa / cammomile tea was under threat.) For most part the route is very rural, and even when it does pass through villages, there is often nowhere to even buy water. In Llangollen however, we had no problem finding a camping shop and some good freshly-made cobs.

After Llangollen followed a very long afternoon. After some wonderful views of a ruined castle, we joined first minor road and then precarious path half-way up scree slopes, which to me didn't feel quite as safe as the guide assured us it was. It would have been more exhilarating, but the heat this afternoon was oppressive.

World's End is a very picturesque ford with stepping stones. This made a nice break between the long hot walk along the scree ledge and the long slow climb to follow. A few miles across moor and through forest would have been much more enjoyable were it not for the fatigue.

Things we've learned today: If the sun's on your back, make absolutely sure and double check that you've rubbed on sun-block properly. Wild strawberries are delicious, but you have to pick an awful lot of them to make the same amount as one cultivated strawberry.

Day five - Llandegla to Moel y Plas and half a day's rest. Now within 30 miles of our goal, Prestatyn, but we're both too tired and footsore to face the 17 1/2 miles we'd have to do today in order to make it before we have to set off for home on Saturday. The next two campsites are after 3 1/2 miles and 17 1/2 and so we decide to take the short option and then rest, hoping that we'd then recover enough to face the 14 mile walk across the Clwydians the next day to finish just 12 miles short of Prestatyn.

Moel y Plas is a beautiful location and an excellent campsite. It feels so remote, but is a natural lake used for fishing. The centre there serves wonderful food and the owners and staff went out of their way to look after us.

Things we learned today: how not to make soft and delicious camp-bread.

Day six - Moel y Plas to Bodfari over the Clwydian range. 14m. The last day of walking, and a fantastic day's walking over some great hills. For most of the way, the spectacular views were obscured by low cloud and rain. We were grateful for this in a way, as we'd been worried about doing this hilly section in the oppressive heat we'd experienced over the past few days. I'm not sure whether I'd rather have been dripping with sweat or dripping with rain, but I guess you can't choose.

The weather did mean that we were alone at the Jubilee Tower, which has a car park nearby and is usually teeming with visitors.

The weather had lifted by the time we were within sight of the sea. Even though we wouldn't reach Prestatyn, it was visible from the tops of the hills, which gave us some sense of completion.

The campsite at Bodfari, and the amazing menu at the nearby pub made our last night very comfortable.

Things we learned today: public transport is remarkably reliable.

More photos at