Tuesday, 5 August 2014

100 - Ben Nevis - Highlands, Scotland and the UK - 29th July 2014

First slopes of Ben Nevis
I have now been doing my Highest points challenge for nearly 2 years and have so far managed to complete an amazing 99 out of 236 on my list of highest points in the UK, it was now time for number 100 and it was going to be a very special one. When I first decided to officially started this challenge back in August 2014 I had just climbed Scafell Pike with Chris and Amy, 2 years before that in 2010 I had climbed Snowdon, this time with Chris and Amy and Nat too and so now 2 years on from Scafell Pike it was Chris and Amy's idea to climb the highest mountain in the whole of the UK and that would mean taking the long drive up through England and half way across Scotland to the town of Fort William and Ben Nevis.


Glen Nevis

My climbing companions
I was being joined by Nat, Chris and Amy for this trip and we had all spent a good few months planning our trip to Scotland, we were camping and my tent was no where near big enough for 2 so on a trip to Go Outdoors Nat purchased a nice new 5 man tent ready for the trip. We also purchased a new gas cooker and a few other bits for the trip. Due to the long drive up to Scotland we decided to break up the drive with a night in a hotel on the way up and on the way back so hotels were booked and routes were planned, then on Sunday 27th July I picked Nat up and headed off to Chris and Amy's for a lovely pre-trip lunch.
We Left after lunch in a convoy of 2 cars and took our time as we were not in any rush to get to our first hotel, we had booked the Travelodge at the Lancaster services on the M6, on arrival we had a quick cup of tea and headed off to Morcambe for a short walk and then dinner, then it was back to the Travelodge for a sleep. The next day we had breakfast and headed north on the M6 towards the mountains of Scotland. Driving through Scotland was amazing, we passed Glasgow and then across the Erskin bridge and then along the length of Loch Lommond for what seemed like hours. 


A short stop for food
Chris having a munch

After Loch Lommond we continued further north and along some amazing roads surrounded by mountains, There came a moment where I got the urge to listen to some of the soundtrack from the James Bond movie Skyfall, it just seemed appropriate as it looked just like some of the locations used in the film, we later found out that this was the exact location they used in the film so it was quite a coincidence. After the Skyfall mountains and valleys we continued further north eventually arriving at Fort William and then the Glen Nevis campsite at the foot of Ben Nevis. After setting up camp Amy cooked us a lovely dinner and then we headed off to bed ready for our climb the next day.



Glen Nevis getting smaller
Amy admiring the view
Red Burn Waterfall

We started the day off with a lovely cooked breakfast which Chris cooked and then we got our bags ready, we left the campsite and walked the short distance to the Ben Nevis visitors centre where the path to the top started. the car park was bustling with climbers getting ready so we didn't hang about too long and crossed the bridge over the river Nevis to the start of the path up the mountain. The first part of the path was along a very short part of the river bank but it soon headed away from the river and up the first of the slopes. The path started to rise gradually and it was not too hard walking, it was quite a long path and it zig zagged a couple of times and then started to bend around to the left very slowly.



Snow!
The Shelter on the summit

The walking was pretty slow going do to the very uneven path, it was a mixture of gravel, stones, rocks and steps with the odd occasional bridge crossing a few streams. After a while the path had slowly curved into a valley called the Red Burn, below us a small river was running with waterfalls dropping into it from the mountain slopes. For some time along this part of the path it was quite difficult climbing, the rocks were very uneven and there were some big steps, it was also along this part that the rain started to fall so we had to get the rain gear out.

Nat and Chris enjoying the cable car


Here I am with Amy

Fort William and Loch Eil
The path zig zagged once more and then flattened out onto a large flat area between the mountain slopes, up here there was a large lake with a few wild campers next to it. We had now reached about 570 meters about sea level so we were well on our way to the halfway point. The path now reached a junction and we forked back on ourselves and the path started to climb again and heading towards the small river again. The path crossed the river at a point where there were waterfalls above and below us, this was right at the top of the Red Burn valley and was the half way point. Carrying on from here we climbed further and further finally reaching the first of many large zig zags, the terrain was now much more rugged. Each of the zigs and zags seemed to take us aged to walk along, there were 7 or 8 zigs and zags in the path and each one took us between 10 and 20 minutes to walk along. My knees up until now had been fine but they now started to give a twinge of pain here and there.


The View from the top station.


The view from the seal sanctuary
The walking seemed to be very slow going along here and there were lots of people walking the same paths and some were even running, in fact we had been passed my many runners on the path. It was along this part of the path that we reached the cloud too and visibility was soon very low, we occasionally got glimpses of the valleys below through the clouds but the higher we got the less we saw. After what seemed like ages the path seemed to flatten out into a more gradual climb and it straightened out, there were now man made piles of stones and I guess these are here to help walkers stay on the path when its been snowing. Talking of snow it was along this part of the route we reached a large field of snow, it was huge and we had to cross it to stay on our path, once we were in the middle of the snow field it was quite weird, with the cloud cover and the snow around everything was white, you could easily see how people get lost on the mountains but we were lucky and easily found our way across the snow.


We were now reaching the final part of the walk to the top and we passed a few sudden drops not too far from the path, they didn't look too scary in the cloud but I can imagine the drops were huge. This part of the path was now on the very top of Ben Nevis and we followed the path to the very highest point and the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest point in the Highlands, the highest point in Scotland and the highest point in the UK at 1344 meters or 4409 feet above sea level, It had taken 5 hours to walk to the top. It was hard to see too much with the cloud cover but there were several features to look at, firstly there was the summit marker with the Ordnance survey marker on top and then there was a memorial to those who fought in WWII and then a small shelter for emergency's, finally there were the ruined walls of an old weather observatory. 


Chris and his 'normal' face


More 'normal' faces
After a few photos we decided it was far to cold and windy to stick around and we headed straight back down the path towards the snow field. walking down was obviously much faster and we were soon back at the snow where we stopped for lots of photos. Pushing onwards we were back to the zig zags working our way down these one at a time across the rough terrain. Slowly my knees started to get more painful and I always find walking downhill much more difficult. on the steep slopes I was a little slow but then on the flatter parts I could speed up a fair bit. Once we were below the cloud again Chris and Amy decided to zoom ahead and Nat stayed with me to work our way down the slopes. We crossed the top of Red Burn again and then forked back down the Red Burn valley, this part of the walk seemed to go on for ages, the rocks were very uneven and it was really tough going on our knees, we had to take a few breaks to give our knees a rest and then we pushed on further down the slopes. We eventually reached a point on the path where a short cut became available to us, it was a bi steeper but was more direct and it was worth it as it cut off a fair bit of walking. We finally reached the river Nevis where we crossed the bridge and walked along the last part of the road to the camp site.



Castle Urquhart
That evening we had a very easy dinner of burgers and some pasta and then we were off to bed before 9pm for a very good sleep, it had taken us 3 hours to walk back down from the summit of Ben Nevis.

The next day we decided to have a bit of a more relaxing day as all of our legs were worn out from the climbing, Breakfast was delicious as we headed to a local cafe and then we headed off up another mountain, we cheated as we took the cable car this time which was much easier, this was the Nevis range mountain resort and it was a lovely trip to the restaurant (and cake) and amazing views at the top. After the cable car we headed to the Scottish sea life sanctuary for the afternoon which was a lovely little place with several seals and some cute otters, it also had a pretty good aquarium to look around.



A couple of monsters on Loch Ness
Glenfinnan Viaduct

On our last full day in Scotland we travelled north to Drumnadrochit and the Lock Ness monster exhibition, this was a really nice little exhibition with a nice little shopping area too, after this we headed to the world famous Urquhart castle where we had a good look for Nessie and her family. in the afternoon Chris drove us to Glenfinnan to see the Glenfinnan viaduct, this wiaduct was the same one that had been used in several of the Harry Potter films so we were all pretty excited to see it. We finished off the day by heading to the Glen Nevis restaurant for a lovely meal with Nat, Chris and Amy (I had Haggis for starters, then Scottish salmon followed by Cranachan for dessert).



Amazing views at the Skyfall valley
On our final day in Scotland we packed up our camp and had a quick breakfast and then headed off to Fort William for an explore, then we headed back south, stopping off at the Skyfall valley for a few photographs. Then it was time for the long drive back home with a night at a Travelodge on the outskirts of Preston to break up our journey.

To mark my 100th high point I have decided to start to score the high points on various aspects, these are 

difficulty to climb (D), 
how much of an adventure the walk was (A), 
the views seen during the walk (V), 
the height achieved during the climb (H) 
and finally 
a Rob rating to say how much I enjoyed the whole experience (R)

Here are my scores for Ben Nevis

D - 7/10
A - 9/10
V - 9/10
H - 10/10
R - 10/10

Total - 45/50










Friday, 25 July 2014

99 - Butser Hill - South Downs National Park - 24th July 2014

Its time for a very quick visit to a very local high point which I have visited on many occasions however I have not yet included in this blog, Its Butser Hill, the highest point of the South Downs National Park.

The Schools broke up on Weds 23rd which meant that Chris and Amy were free to meet up with me, Clint and Carson up at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for a walk in the woods so I decided to take a quick detour to visit Butser Hill. I drove up the A3 and turned off at Clanfield to drive up the country lanes to the car prk near the top of the hill. I parked up and headed off to find the highest point. I love Butser Hill, it has the A3 duel carriage way cutting its way right through the area but when you get up on top of the hill you can't really see or hear it so you really can get away from it all, there were a few people flying kites and when I arrived at the Trig point marking the highest point there was a family having a picnic next to it so I didn't stop.



Butser is home to a big radio mast and although its quite an industrial structure I think its been there so long it would look odd without it, Butser would not be Butser without this landmark and it provides some interesting photo opportunities. I didnt stay at the top of the hill for long and I was soon making my way back to the car to hear off and meet up with Clint, Carson, Chris and Amy.

Here are some photos from past visits to Butser Hill.







Wednesday, 23 July 2014

98 - Aran Fawddwy - Merionethshire - 9th July 2014

Last year I was joined on on of my expeditions by Bournemouth Chris (I call him that because I have another climbing friend called Chris from Portsmouth and this one is from Bournemouth), anyway we had a great time despite the weather and it was now time to take another trip together to climb another high point.

I left Portsmouth on July 8th and picked Chris up from his home in Bournemouth and then we made the long drive up to north west Wales, on the way we stopped off at Marlborough for some lunch and took a fair few winding roads through the English and Welsh countryside. Not too far from our destination my sat nav decided to take us on a small diversion over a toll bridge, we didn't need to go that way but we were interested to see the bridge and drive over it. The bridge is called the Penmaenpool bridge and cost us a whole 70p to cross it. The bridge seemed to be entirely made of wood including the roadway and it was well worth the crossing, we decided to go that same way on the way home too. After the excitement of the little wooden bridge we drove through Barmouth and along our last few roads finally finding our Campsite for the next 3 nights at Shell Island.


Shell Island is Europe's largest campsite, it is situated on the west coast of wales amongst the sand dunes and it has miles of beach to explore, it is quite an amazing place to stay. We drove around for a while exploring and eventually found a location with some shelter and easy access to the toilets and other facilities, it really was an amazing place to stay and we soon had our tent pitched up and we were settled in. After dinner we had a nice walk along the beach, at first I was a bit disappointed as the beach was covered with rather large boulders however just around the bend the huge sprawling golden sands stretched away into the distance and just at sunset it really was rather stunning.

The next day was climbing day and Chris was kind enough to cook a delicious bacon and egg breakfast, after washing up we headed off on the 40 minute drive to the village of Llanuwchylln where we parked the van and got ourselves ready for the climb ahead. On leaving the car park we left the village along route of an old railway line but soon turned off away from this and across the fields up towards the first slopes of the day. Ahead of us we could see a series of hills and mountains, around 4 of them, I spend a short time working out what they were and where we were aiming for, the highest I could see looked very high and I thought that would be our destination however it soon became apparent that the mountain we were heading from was actually way beyond these mountains.

Not long after we left the fields we found ourselves amongst the sheep which regular readers will know is a common thing on my walks, sheep are fine but as you may remember from my climb up Moel Famau cows and bulls are more of a challenge and sure enough we found our path crossed straight through a field of bulls, Chris was more confident than me (he didn't have to deal with the bull stampede last time) and we crossed the field with much ease making our way over the style and out into open countryside.

We first made our was past the first small hill and then up and around the next small hill, every so often we would have to cross a style or go through a gate, there was one small descent to make then a flat piece of land and then it was back to climbing upwards again along the western sides of the hills. there were some muddy patches to cross but in general is was pretty dry, slowly we climbed up and up hardly meeting anyone on the way up, just a few glimpses of people ahead of us or behind us. Further we climbed and higher we got, the views behind us were stunning, you could see along the whole valley, in the distance was Bala lake and the village, then beyond that was the rest of the Snowdonia mountains stretching off into the distance. Ahead of us all we could see was the mountains ahead of us and not too far away was the bit of a steep climb.


We approached the steep climb and  before we tackled it we sat down for a rest and a quick drink and snack to boost our energy and then we headed onward and upwards, the path was zig zagging all the way up and eventually we reached the top of this steep climb and for the first time we could see our destination ahead, Aran Fawddwy could be seen just over a mile to the south and to get there we had to walk along the top of the ridge of mountains. It was along this part of the walk that 2 RAF jet planes started to chase each other around the mountains, they were flying very fast above and below us and we could see them for miles around. We carried on towards Aran Fawddwy, the path dipped and rose up to smaller peaks a few times, we passed a small lake (which I always think is odd to see on top of a mountain) and crossed over a few more styles and passed a couple of people, then we reached our last climb up to the top of Aran Fawddwy. The final climb was the steepest one yet, it was not far but quite steep and we were using our hands quite a lot to scramble up, the path was hard to find but it was more of a case of just finding the best route possible.

After 4 and a half hours worth of climbing we finally reached the top at 905 metres sea level, it had taken longer than expected but we had made it, on top of the mountain was a trig point and there were amazing views, the mountain slopes dropped off almost vertically below us which meant we could see right down to the valley floor below us and for miles and miles to the east and south. We stopped here for sometime having our flasks of tea and our lunches, it was quite windy but we managed to find a fairly sheltered spot behind the trig point where we could watch the world going past and the occasional fighter jet too. We must have been at the top for 30-45 minutes and after food we took lots of photos and then collected up our gear to make our way back down to the car.



The walk back down was a bit quicker than the walk up taking us 2.5 hours and we passed the same people who had set up a tent next to the lake on top of the mountains, it was quite tricky at times walking back, because it was a much easier walk back down we were walking much faster and we kept losing our footing and I even fell over at one point due to a hole in the ground but we made it back to the civilization and through the field of bulls and then a different road back to the car. It had been an amazing climb and well worth the effort as the views from the tops were awesome. That evening we headed back to the campsite where Chris cooked up a lovely meal and we relaxed for the rest of the evening tired but happy.


The next day we awoke to a heatwave, our tent was like a furnace where the sun had heated it up, Chris cooked another lovely breakfast and then we headed off for a drive, we drove through Harlech and took a quick visit to Port Merrion and then we headed to Porthmadog for an ice cream and walk around the harbour and town, We looked in some shops and got some chips and then we headed back to the campsite for our dinner and another walk along the beach. On our last morning we woke up to a heatwave again and packed up the tent and all our equipment, then we went into the little cafe to get a cooked breakfast ready for our long drive home, It had been a lovely few days and shell island was a wonderful place to stay. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

94-97 - Denbighshire, Wrexham, Telford and the Wrekin - 26th June 2014

Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall
It was day 3 of a camping and hill walking trip, so far I had visited Raw Head in Cheshire and on the previous day climbed Moel Famau, it was now time to pack up camp and head for home but not before getting in a few high points on my way home. I left the campsite and headed south through the towns of Ruthin, Corwen and eventually through some small villages and along some long small roads to a tiny place called Tan-Y-Pistyll.

This little village (if you can call it that) consisted of a restaurant, a B&B, a campsite and a few other buildings but it was where I parked my car ready for the days first highpoints, I got my backpack ready and first headed off to see a something pretty spectacular, the Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall. I have seen a few waterfalls in Wales recently but this one was huge, it was really tall at 240 ft and looked amazingly spectacular. 



The View over the valley
I soon moved on to start climbing up the first of 2 mountains I would visit today, it took me a while to find the right path but eventually I was on the right route and climbing up the zigzag path onto the open moorland. Soon I was out onto open land and as always amongst the sheep with a splattering of ferns here and there. At this point I passed the top of the waterfall but as I couldn't really see anything It was much lest impressive as the view from the bottom. 


The Highpoints ahead
The Pathway straightened out now and steadily climbed passing through a fence and up over a small hill, from here I got my first glimpse of the mountain I was aiming for, Slowly I made my way up the final climb to the top of Moel Sych, the highest point of the historic county of Denbighshire. I stayed here for a while but the wind was so strong, I tried to shelter behind a pile of stones while I had a cup of tea but soon decided to move on to the next highpoint just a short walk away.


Moel Sych
I was lucky with these 3 highpoints because they were all fairly close to each other and they were all situated along the top of a ridge of mountains so the walk to high point number 2 was a simple case of walking down and then back up again to the top of Cadair Berwyn the current highpoint of the modern county of Denbighshire. Cadair Berwyn has actually always been the highest point of Denbighshire however it was only recently found to be 3 metres higher than Moel Sych. I had another very quick cup of tea from my flask and headed off to find my next highpoint, I passed a ruined circular structure which I had to have a look around and then I carried on to Craig Berwyn, at 790 meters is the highest point of Wrexham. Craig Berwyn was a bit of a difficult one as the actual high point does not lie on a visible high point, it actually sits a short distance down the slope of the mountain, this is because the border runs right across the mountain.



Cadair Berwyn
From Craig Berwyn I could see to the north another peak, I took a quick look at my watch and was mildly impressed with how quickly I was reaching these summits, it was just after 1pm and I didn't arrive at the carpark until after 11 so it had only been 2 hours, I thought it would be a shame to come this far and not climb it to the top of this next peak. I carried on once more and after following some cool little wooden pathways I was standing on Cadair Bronwen which was 785 meters above sea level. I stopped here for another quick cup of tea and took another look at my watch, it was just after 1pm . . . . . . . still, yes it suddenly dawned on my, my watch had stopped, it was not 1pm at all but more like 4pm and I had a long way to walk and drive home.



I decided to head off as fast as I could and passed the summits of Craig Berwyn, Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych, it was now down hill all the way. my pace was fast and I was soon in sight of the top of the waterfall, passing that I took the zigzag path all the way down to the car park and back to my car where I finished up my cup of tea and headed off home. My drive home took me along a few country roads and then eventually I passed the town of Shrewsbury where I started seeing signs for Telford. I remembered that there was a highpoint not too far from Telford so I stopped off and did a little research to find that I would be passing the high point very closely, I decided to stop off and visit it.


The top of The Wrekin
Highest point of Telford and The Wrekin
I arrived at a car park at the base of the Wrekkin and found it to be packed with cars and people, I found a space and headed up the hill through the forests. It was not a long walk but due to the fact tha tI had already climbed several mountains today I wanted to take it slowly so I reached the top in about 30-40 mins. I passed so many people on the way to the top, I think this was my busiest high point yet, there were runners, bikers, walkers, dogs, families and couples everywhere. The views from the top were awesome, to the east I could see a power station and the flat countryside spread out below me, to the west I could see the mountains in the distance, to the south were more hills and to the north was the town of Telford. I stayed here for quite a long time, probably about half an hour and soon it was time to head back down to the car.


I reached the car and made my way home, it had been a wonderful few days of hill walking and I was tired but very happy.