A Day in the Dales

24 01 2016

Just got back from a hectic week or so in the UK on business.

Most of my time was spent a stone’s throw from Heathrow at the Stockley Park HQ of Canon Europe. As I wandered between the two Canon offices in the business park, I realised that I’d actually visited the Apple offices there years before in a previous life. At the time they were pushing their server business to us as a reseller. Seems like another world… definitely pre-iPod!

On the Thursday I got to drive to Reigate, which was an experience. In the 15 or so years I’ve been away, it would seem that small town England has been designated as a car-park. Every place I visited was blighted with cars parked on both sides of the street, leaving the narrowest of channels for everything else. Cars, lorries and buses. These streets are essentially just tarmacked-over cart tracks. Add to that the ubiquitous roadworks and even the shortest of journeys can take a disproportionately long (and unpredictable) time. I didn’t mind though. I was in the great company of a Dutch colleague who shared my dubious sense of humour and the time passed quickly. I really enjoyed getting used to driving on the left again. In a manual car. A diesel no less. It behaves very differently to a petrol car and is unforgiving if you skip a gear on the way up. Not enough revs, it seems. Thankfully muscle memory still seems to operate even at my age, and I didn’t come close to making any potentially fatal errors of lane selection. Or stalling! I only came close to getting in the wrong side of the car once too. Conversely, since I got home I have tried depressing the non-existent clutch in my automatic several times. I have to say though, the electronic hand-brake was a bit of a bugger to get used to. Unlike our manual HR-V it doesn’t automatically engage when you come to a complete foot brake stop, so if you don’t apply it (like in the old days) your car rolls back. Great for perfect hill starts though. Not sure what happens if your battery goes flat when you’re parked on a hill though…

It was also great to see so much variety of cars on the road too. Things are so limited here in Canada with the huge pressure from the US manufacturers. I had a Citroën Picasso C4.

Citroën Picasso

Citroën Picasso

Everything was electronic – not just the hand-brake. I think the speedo was broken though. Surely diesel cars don’t do 90 mph do they? (145 km/hr in new money). The wipers came on when they felt the windscreen was a little moist. The headlights came on when they thought it was dark enough. Pretty much everything except the expected GPS. “SatNav” as it’s known over there is a chargeable option on hire cars. I wasn’t going to pay for what my phone offered for free.

The Canon UK office in Reigate had a retro red LED display in reception to show visitors how much power they were saving by using solar panels on the roof. Great idea… presumably by someone who doesn’t actually live in the UK. It rains about the same as in BC. The numbers say it all really…

Solar Energy in Canon UK, Reigate

Solar Energy in Canon UK, Reigate

Yup: solar energy only works in places where the sun shines… they could have saved power by just painting zeros on a piece of cardboard.

After performing my duties in the office I took the opportunity to visit my parents in Yorkshire for a day, so I headed north and somehow beat most of the Friday night exodus from London on the M1. After a peaceful night’s sleep we drove to Malham on Saturday morning, visiting the cove there. I hadn’t been since I was a kid. It was incredible how peaceful the Dales are. As a National Park, the building and therefore traffic is restricted and it shows. It was just like I remembered it 40 years ago. Every other vehicle you see is STILL a Land Rover Defender! And not for show, either. These 4x4s earn their keep on the many farms.

As we entered the village, visitors cars were already parking along the side of the road (see above!), which indicated the National Park car-park closer to the village centre was likely already full. The view over the drystone wall to the hills in the west were stunning. This was a very typical view – sheep behind ancient drystone walls, gently rolling hills occasionally broken by limestone scars… and a sprinkling of snow on “the tops.” The tops in this case being Kirkby Fell.

West from Malham

West from Malham

One of the first things you pass as you enter the village from the South is the Wesleyan Methodist chapel, built in 1866. Just for context, that’s when the Colony of British Columbia and the Colony of Vancouver Island were united as British Columbia, with the capital at Victoria. 20 years before the town of Granville was incorporated as “The City of Vancouver”.

It was a typical functional building, a style familiar from my childhood and still common in many rural areas of Yorkshire. (Built to last, as they say!)

Malham chapel

Malham chapel

As we walked through the village we came to the little traffic island with a road sign dating from years past. This “fingerpost” style was made redundant in the ’60s as part of the Worboys committee review. Note at the the top it says “Yorks W.R.” for Yorkshire – West Riding. The Riding has long since been dissolved in favour of simply West Yorkshire. As I left the country 15 years ago, the debate lingered on about whether the political entity of “Humberside” was still philosophically part of Yorkshire… wars have been fought over less.

Note also the 6 digit number at the lower part of the ring (you might need to click on the photo to expand it in order to see clearly)… this is an Ordnance Survey grid reference added as an experiment in West Yorkshire road signs to help the lost traveller to figure out where he was. The Ordnance Survey was a mapping project originally undertaken to help with the placing of guns (yup – a survey for ordnance) in Scotland in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745. It is now a comprehensive mapping scheme for the entire UK. Sometimes prefixed by a letter code (SD in this case) so you know which map or “sheet” to look for the grid reference on, it identifies your location to within a few metres.

Fingerpost - Malham

Fingerpost – Malham

Malham’s sign gives a reference of 900628 which gridreferencefinder.com confirms is where it claims to be. The extra accuracy of modern satellite mapping allows a 10 figure version of a grid reference to be given if you’re REALLY specific. Of course “just up the road from the Buck Inn in Malham” worked pretty well too!

GridReferenceFinder.com: Malham

GridReferenceFinder.com: Malham

As we headed NW on the Cove Road out of the village towards the Pennine Way footpath, we were rewarded with more stunning views (to the East this time) of the typical sheep enclosures in much of the Dales – the mosaic of drystone walls.

Shorkley Hill to the NE of Malham village

Shorkley Hill to the NE of Malham village

Panorama to the East and Shorkley Hill

Panorama to the East and Shorkley Hill

The cove was already visible as part of a broader limestone feature. It’s to the right in the photo below. From this distance though it was just a temptation. The winter sun was bright and the air crisp. A challenge to avoid shadows in the photos!

Malham Cove from the start of the path.

Malham Cove from the start of the path.

Time for some artsy photography now. To the left of the path was a road. Beyond that was a field with a small barn called – logically enough – High Barn. SD896633 just for “reference” :). Separating all these features were drystone walls. The layered effect struck me as worthy of capture. You can see we’re steadily gaining height and we’re right at the snowline, such as it is, after the light sprinkling.

High Barn, Malham

High Barn, Malham

The path we were on from the village to the cove was actually part of the Pennine Way. We were only walking a half mile or so of it, but it stretches 267 miles up the backbone of Britain. It used to be on my “to do” list, but I guess that’s no longer realistic.

It's way we do things in the Pennines

It’s the way we do things in the Pennines

As we got closer, the cove became more dominant and the black streaks it’s famous for become more noticeable. In Charles Kingsley’s Victorian book The Water-Babies these are attributed to the main character Tom (a boy chimney sweep) clambering down and leaving soot marks.

Tom's sooty marks on the face of Malham Cove

Tom’s sooty marks on the face of Malham Cove

At 80m high it’s very popular with climbers, but not on this chilly winter’s day. There was ice around and my father learnt to his cost that even a small amount is enough to lose one’s balance very suddenly. As we progressed towards the cove itself the sheep seemed pretty nonchalant at our intrusion. I inexplicably had a sudden desire for lamb shank and new potatoes…

Shaun? Is that you?

Shaun? Is that you?

Limestone is very hard-wearing, but glaciers make short work of it over the millennia. Slabs of it had been used to bridge the small beck flowing from the foot of the cove, and pools of water had frozen in the hollows making a most interesting effect.

Ice in the limestone footbridge

Ice in the limestone footbridge

The power of the glaciers to move huge chunks of rock around and wear away at the rock face defies imagination. I am always calmed in the face of such natural, slow-moving power.

One scoop of lime or two?

One scoop of lime or two?

Mother and daughter?

Mother and daughter?

Finally we were there and the sheer scale was apparent. It seems that during the harsh rains at Christmas which caused much flooding in the area, this long defunct waterfall once more gushed and was briefly the UK’s highest “single fall” waterfall once more. The sheer power could only be imagined on this lovely sunny day though.

The foot of Malham Cove

The foot of Malham Cove

The pleasant stroll back offered even more views of this lovely, relaxing place. I could feel the vitality of it soaking into my bones. So calming. Time stops in such places.

Wall with a view

Wall with a view

Back in the village I was surprised to see an emergency defibrillator on the wall of a building. There was a push-button key lock on it, and in an emergency you call 999 and tell them the unit number and they give you the code to open it and hopefully revive someone who’s heart has stopped. Plainly there’s quite a risk from hiking in these parts! The pub however seemed very welcoming to hikers – boots and all! “A warm Yorkshire welcome” says the sign… indeed! Shame about the missing apostrophe on the sandwich-board sign though. 😦

AED on the wall... just in case!

AED on the wall… just in case!

My two favourite beers in one place! Timmy Taylor's and Theakston's

My two favourite beers in one place! Timmy Taylor’s and Theakston’s

All welcome... boots included!

All welcome… boots included!

Just for context, here’s a snap from Google Maps to show the village (and thankfully it IS still a village – there is little development allowed) to the South, the cove to the North. See the pattern of drystone walls – they’re pretty much everywhere in the lower Dales. The limestone terraces are quite clear even on this satellite image.

Google Maps: Malham, Yorkshire

Google Maps: Malham, Yorkshire

It was now time for lunch, so we headed up the road to the NW to drop down via Langcliffe  into Settle. Even this gentle increase in elevation was enough to take us above the snowline, and we briefly stopped to take a few photos of the stark beauty that is The Yorkshire Dales.

Sheep pen on the moor near Malham Tarn

Sheep pen on the moor near Malham Tarn

Panorama back towards Malham from up on the moor

Panorama back towards Malham from up on the moor

Stile over the wall to keep the sheep in. Hikers can't forget to close it like they can with a gate!

Stile over the wall to keep the sheep in. Hikers can’t forget to close it like they can with a gate!

Long and winding road back to Malham from up on the moor

Long and winding road back to Malham from up on the moor

One more stop on the road to Langcliffe and Settle. Here we were looking to the North-West and could clearly see the magnificent Pen-y-Ghent to the North. It was a great way to end the trip out and I felt totally revitalised after only a few short hours in this amazing place. You’ll likely need to click on the first pano. shot to make it clear enough to see Pen-y-ghent on the far right. It was about 5 miles away.

Pano looking North from Langcliffe road. Pen-y-Ghent to the far right in the ditance

Pano looking North from Langcliffe road. Pen-y-Ghent to the far right in the distance

Just chillin... as sheep on the moor are wont to do.

Just chillin… as sheep on the moors are wont to do.

Pen-y-ghent looking as magnificent as ever it did.

Pen-y-ghent looking as magnificent as ever it did.

Once we were home, I treated the folks to pork pie with egg. For no other reason than I’ve never seen it here in BC and it reminded me of my childhood. If you fancy it yourself, try the BBC recipe here.

Pork pie with an egg in the middle... perfect end to the day

Pork pie with an egg in the middle… perfect end to the day





Ben Canales – Crater Lake

13 04 2013

Couple of years old now, but simply stunning.

Glad to see he dug a small “cold well” at the entrance to his tent.

ben canales – Search Results – Intelligent Travel.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/26968340]




A grand day out

3 02 2013

No, I wasn’t accompanied by Wallace and Gromit, more’s the pity.

Today, I had a lazy start, and finding myself alone in the house, I walked the devil-dog and prepared for a trip up Grouse Mountain. My son had gone camping in Whistler with the Venturers in support of the Cub Pack’s trip there. All well and good – I’m glad he’s volunteering his time to help others – but he’d taken half my gear with him! Instead of my lazy pull-on snow boots, I had to wear my leather Zamberlan fell-walking boots. No problem, it gave me an excuse to try out my new gaiters from MEC. (One of many presents I bought myself at Christmas… well SOMEONE has to, right?!)

It was raining steadily as I arrived at the base of the Skyride, but as we broke through, up into the cloud, it turned to gentle snow. Nothing major, but nice and refreshing. I put on my snowshoes (yes – also a Christmas self-present) and set off. It was quite heavy going with wet, soggy snow underfoot. Apparently there’d been no real fresh snow for over a day. As planned, I made 3 brief stops to take a breath and a sip of water, and was quite pleased to reach the summit of the walk in 46 minutes by my watch.

Made it! Now, do it all again in reverse.

Made it! Now, do it all again in reverse.

I was a bit disappointed by the lack of view due to the low cloud, and had a chewy seed bar (like the sweepings from a parrot’s cage mixed with honey) to replenish my corpulence. One other hiker caught me up while I was at the top and we briefly chatted about the “high heels” feature on our snowshoes, since he had the same ones: MSR Evo Tour. They make a surprisingly big difference to the steeper uphill parts. They’re a pig to drop back down though, despite the rubber tab for the purpose.

MSR: Evo Tour

MSR: Evo Tour

In the MSR product photo you can see the steel bar at the back. You flip this up and it gives your heel something to push against when the snowshoes are at an inclined angle. So much more positive grip than just using your toes. Glad I paid the extra and got this model.

Well, I packed up my litter and headed back down. Part way back, I bumped into an older Asian couple who were deciding whether to turn back or not. The lady had dropped her hiking pole but was busy helping her (apparently perfectly capable) husband sort himself out. Men can be “needy” at the best of times, but I’ve noticed that some societies seem to accept it more than others. She seemed genuinely grateful when I picked up her pole and handed it to her, saving her having to bend down on the steep slope to retrieve it herself.

A snow bank, carved by the consummate artist: nature

A snow bank, carved by the consummate artist: nature

Slightly further on, there was a particularly steep section, and a bloke was stood to the side weighing up the best line to take. I took one glance, exclaimed “Bugger THAT” and took off into the virgin snow down the side. Obviously I had come UP that slope (aided by my high heels), but going down seemed likely to end only in one very fast arse slide…

I made good time down and within sight of the bear den the SnowShoe Grind (SSG) suddenly veers off the main track and takes a very steep 10m descent. Confident of my new snowshoes, I barely broke pace as I swung 90 degrees and set off down the slope. Remember that wet, soggy snow I mentioned earlier? Well… under the (too much) weight of an over-confident bloke it doesn’t matter how good your snow shoes are… it gives way.

I took my first arse slide since using my new snowshoes… right at the end. It was actually quite fun, once you remember to keep your feet up so the snowshoes don’t snag. Of course, I got snow up my back, but that was OK… I was pretty hot anyway.

Back at the lodge I finally (it was my third attempt at the SSG – second completed) found the electronic timing post for those wanting to be officially timed, and have their ascents added to their Grouse Grind totals. Typical – found it when it was too late.

The Electronic Timing post.

The Electronic Timing post.

Snowshoes off, back in their handy dandy carrying pouch, and off for a large chai tea latte and a wholemeal scone.

Back home for tea with a nice warm “got outside and did something” feeling in my legs. Luxurious bath filled the bathroom with my own personal steam cloud, and all is well with the world.

Turns out there’s a race up the SSG next weekend. I’m tempted. Not to seriously compete in the race obviously (I think you need to have completed it more than twice to be a contender, really!), but potentially just to say I was there, I took part, I finished.

What do you think? Want to join me? It’s in the morning though… too early to have a beer afterwards. Not for tea and scones though!





Incredible Trampled Snow Art by Simon Beck | Bored Panda

27 12 2012

Bored Panda do it again! Great find on their excellent design blog. British engineer Simon Beck now spends his winters in Les Arcs, in France. There, he gets his exercise by donning snow shoes and treading out geometric designs he’s created on his computer.

I love this kind of because I can stuff. It’s inherently temporary, in that snow melts and can be covered over, or skied through. But it is such a commitment of time and energy… all an expression of internal drive and, I suppose, love of what you’re trying to achieve. When it’s done, if it ever truly is, then it has a limited time to be appreciated before it gets altered by the wind, or more snow, or other people.

There’s something intensely human about setting out on such a grand task with no real guarantee of success or lasting result. A little like love itself.

Incredible Trampled Snow Art by Simon Beck | Bored Panda.





Ice with the Whiskey, Jack?

15 01 2012

Greetings, good reader! Well, made it back to White Rock in one piece – all digits still attached, so as promised, here’s what I got up to this weekend…

It was actually quite a mild camp as far as snow camps go. It never got above freezing, but the coldest night (Saturday) only dropped to about -8C. Positively balmy by snow camp standards. We got there after dark, and it was a steady -3C, clear and dry. Near perfect for setting up camp. Normal practice is to dig down through the snow until you either get to a firm layer of snow in which you can anchor your snow pegs (they just pull through soft powder), or alternatively all the way down to the ground, when you can use standard pegs. You’re also looking for level enough ground to sleep on, and if it’s not firm enough, your body heat melts a coffin-shaped indent by morning. So, armed with a snow shovel, I started to dig. Within about an inch, there was a layer of SOLID ice. We’d had a mild week, and the site had been wet and muddy. With the recent cold snap, that was now a  reasonably deep layer of ice, and the recent sprinkle of snow was barely covering it. This was actually a good thing! Water is excellent at finding a level, which means that when it then freezes, it’s a good and level place to sleep (assuming it stays that way!). The thin layer of snow meant there was next to no digging to do, and the rock-hard ice meant I could use standard steel pegs (I use 10″ nails with an orange hook at the top… they go through ANYTHING without bending!) and nylon pegs, without them pulling through the ice.

I have a “classic” Vango Force 10 cotton ridge tent, and it requires tension to remain upright, unlike the more modern self-supporting dome tents. This makes me dependent on proper pegging-out in order to stay comfy at night. Once up though… I have the benefit of the breathable cotton to avoid the problem of freezing condensation that plagues the nylon tents. I’m also immune from the “squashed tent syndrome”, where the weight of snow can bend fibreglass poles into a twisted mess, and leave the occupants with a face full of nylon.

So, though it was dark, the tent was up in quick sticks, and my home for the weekend was looking  n-i-i-i-c-e!

Vango Force 10: Mk 4

Vango Force 10: Mk 4

You can just see the min/max thermometer hanging by the entrance. I always take this with me on winter camps, as it can drop significantly colder over night, and it’s nice to know how far it went, when you get up in the morning. That’s how I know it only dropped to -8C all weekend. Now this tent has served me faithfully since about 1986. It’s not one I’d want to backpack with, but it’s unbeatable for snow camps. It should be good in foul weather… it’s not called “Force 10” for nothing! Allegedly used by Chris Bonington on his Everest conquest. So anyway, it’d been a stressful day one way and another (Friday the 13th by coincidence), and I turned in early to contemplate my sins and snuggle into my -20C rated Chinook Everest Peak sleeping bag.

Chinook Everest Peak

Chinook Everest Peak

Experience has taught me to be generous in my under-bag insulation for this type of camping, and I typically use a three-layer system.

First I use hot-water tank lagging. This is essentially bubble-wrap, but with a silvered coating. Silver-side up, it reflects any heat that makes it through the other two layers, and the bubble wrap (if you can resist popping it!) gives a bit more padding. Mine was from Rona, but I’m sure you can get it in most DIY stores. It was conveniently already in 6′ lengths, and one pack provided enough for father and son.

On top of that, I use another bit of vintage kit that has served me since youth: a Karrimat.

I’m not sure these are even still available, but Karrimor were the first to introduce these closed cell foam sleeping pads in 1966. Being closed cell, they don’t soak up water like a regular foam, so give protection from damp as well as providing a measure of comfort and heat insulation. Cheaper, less capable products are still easily available, but I won’t give up my Karrimat for anything. Well, except perhaps sexual favours.

Finally, I top the whole stack off with my basic MEC self-inflating sleeping mat. Unless there’s a pea accidentally introduced into the pile, I usually have a very comfy, warm night. On this particular occasion, I was awoken by what I thought was an alarm clock at about 4am. It later turned out (once a few more neurons were firing and I could build a mental model of what was going on) it was actually the snow plough on the near-by road and car-park, and the beeping was its backing-up warning.

Being there as a parent rather than leader for once, I took the option of a lie-in, and waited for room service to deliver my tea and kedgeree. Around 8am, reality kicked in, and I got up to join the happy voices playing in the snow. First thing I noticed was it seemed a little dark in the tent for the late hour. I then dressed for the conditions: several layers of clothing, each of which can be zipped/unzipped as well as added/removed to avoid the bane of the winter camper… sweat. (Sweat = water, which when mixed with cold = ice, which when mixed with a human body = hypothermia… or at the very least, grumpiness).  My first hint, as I put on my boots, was that there seemed to be a lot more snow on the ice-bed than when I put the tent up…

6" of new powder!

6" of new powder!

Reversing out of the tent revealed the full extent of the night’s snowfall… a good 6″ of fresh powder. No breeze, not too cold… excellent hiking conditions!

The morning After

The Morning After

We had a great day’s hiking around the trails with the Scouts, and were back for a late lunch, which the lads cooked very well considering their tender years. (The young lady in Troop this year couldn’t make the trip).

Snow Hike

Snow Hike

We had some inquisitive, if slightly annoying visitors to camp. I’m told they are formally called Gray Jays, but locally they’re known as Whiskeyjacks. “Bloody nuisance” would be another term…

Basically if it was edible (or just looked that way – soap went missing too!), these flying thieves would be off with it. They were tame enough to eat from your hand, but I’m still awaiting confirmation of whether they’re good eating.

Whiskeyjacks

Whiskeyjacks

This morning, Sunday, the whole thing was done in reverse, and the skies were threatening snow as we struck camp. One advantage of not backpacking, is that when your tent has been a bit drippy and is still a bit stiff, you don’t have to struggle getting it back in the bag! You can just lob it in the back of the car, and hang it up to thaw/dry in the garage when you get home.

Packed for home

Packed for home

An excellent time had by all… and looking forward to doing it all over again with the Venturers in February, and the more challenging -30C over-night range.