Sunday, 29 April 2007

Climbing in Borrowdale

We found Sergeant's Slab near Stonethwaite today, as it was out of the wind. Almost as soon as we set foot in the valley, we knew it was going to be a good day. The place was beautiful, with a wide, clear river in the base of the valley. The rock up at Sergeant's Slabs was fantastic, with a few wet spots, but we did a pair of fantastic routes up there before stomping down to the idyllic pub at Stonethwaite. Magic.
Kayaking on Derwentwater turned out to be more of an adventure than we anticipated. We were test driving a pair of P&H Capellas, thinking we weren't going to be putting them through particuarly testing conditions, but instead we certainly had enough wind to get a feel for how they would behave on open water. In the 160 I had a problem with weathercocking in the mild easterly, which would have probably been corrected by engaging the skeg fully, but it was a bit of a surprise. And manouevering felt like turning the proverbial bus. So even though the bus was a lovely shade of blue, it wasn't for us. The ducks were fantastic though.

Monday, 23 April 2007

The Anniversary Waltz

It was a hard decision, but I'm glad it was made: to take part in one of Lakeland's fell racing classics, the Anniversary Waltz. My partners in crime in the running club had egged me on to do it, but being double the length (and more importantly, height gain), of any previous race I had done, I naturally shied away from this heavyweight icon of all that is mad in the fell racing world.
Pen and I took an amble round the 11 mile course a week ago, and it brought out quite a repertoire of swearing over the three and a bit hours it took to complete. The day itself dawned with just enough cloud-base excitement for us to wonder whether there would be visibility or not, but all was clear, thankfully. What a race. Fantastic views, blustering winds, and horrified onlookers. In between squashing down jelly babies (which is strangely problematic in high winds, with a mouth like a glue pot), I had time for a laugh with the other fell runners, who to a man (or woman) seemed to come out with cracking one liners. A fantastic experience. And all over in 2 hours and 43 minutes.

A brief glimpse of summer

Jumping at the chance to go climbing again, we tromped to Black Crag in a spell of dizzyingly hot weather. Incredibly embossed volcanic rock, sticky as it could be, but somewhat marred by the steepness and, in some cases, poor protection of the routes. We still had a great day though.
The following day we took a couple of kayaks out on Windermere. It was a steamy, hot and sultry day, and being on the water was perfect. In the midst of all that is Beatrix Pottery, there's something quite incredible and eery there: an island taken over by birds. Rocks and trees made white by bird guano, the island's a very spooky place. It's a sort of stag party venue for birds- oily cormorants and seagulls hanging out in trees, making quite a mess. Must go back with a camera one day.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

To the Gulf of Corryvreckan: Part IV: The Holy Grail

Today's challenge was to cycle up to the very far north of the isle by 4 pm when the whirlpool was at it's height. After a slow start (something to do with the music stopping at 5 am; but where else could you hear the sounds of people calmly getting into their cars and driving off after an all-night party?), the show was on the road. For its size, Jura is the least inhabited, wildest and least visited of the isles, and it showed, the further north we moved. After 20 miles the tarmac peters out, but with 5 miles still to go till Jura runs out, there was nothing for it but a bone-shattering, maddening wobble on a rocky track. This is me on a good bit, and as you can see, the on-board luggage only added to the general liveliness and instability.
And so, driven to exhaustion and characters thoroughly built, we staggered past George Orwell's house (I could see why he ended up writing "1984" there). Ditching the bikes, we continued on foot to the Gulf. At that point, it started to rain, and visibility came down. We staggered on, determined after all this that we would see the "effing whirlpool", as it had become known for the last 15 miles. By the time we got there the whirlpool was in relatively quiescent mode, but it still seemed to capture the imagination nonetheless. The vast region of white circular traces were just visible through the mist, and so it was worth the trek. Somehow, though, the trip wasn't all about the destination. It was what we saw along the way.
In a masterstroke of organisation, Stu had found a nice man with a boat called Hamish (the man, not the boat), who could take us back to the mainland. The juxtaposition of landscapes couldn't have been more marked: from the island that time forgot to the manicured predictability of the Crinan canalside cycle track.

To the Gulf of Corryvreckan: Part III: The Paps of Jura

Perhaps its fair to say that the Isle of Jura Fell Race is one of the toughest of its kind. It was therefore with more than a keen walker's interest that I set off to replicate a mere fraction of the route, at a less testing pace. In much the same way as we were led on to our geographical holy grail, the Gulf of Corryvreckan, the Paps of Jura have a mythical grandeur about them. Perhaps because of the fell race, but also maybe because you can see them from miles around. We cycled the 3 miles to the start of the footpath, walked up the largest of them (Beinn an Oir) and then I ran over Beinn Shiantaidh (pictured). A fantastic run, but so incredibly difficult underfoot. Being a Sassenach I was clearly not used to running over such hellish scree and tufted deathtraps. Apparently it's not unheard of to find yourself experiencing total body immersion in a bog, quite out of the blue. I counted my blessings on only immersing the one leg. We cycled back to Craighouse, a little pooped, it has to be said. We declined the offer of joining in the Ceilidh in the village hall later that night, but got the full "benefits", camping just down from it.

To the Gulf of Corryvreckan: Part II: The Isle of Jura

It was as if there was a sigh of relief as soon as we landed on Jura. Hardly any cars or people, just glorious, golden sunshine and a perfect road winding round the coast. It had been hard cycling, so we were very pleased to cycle downhill into the tiny village of Craighouse, the island's hub. I took it as a very good sign that wafts of whisky and beer hit us as we cycled in: the Isle of Jura Distillery and Hotel respectively.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

To the Gulf of Corryvreckan: Part I

Easter came up on us rather unawares, to be honest. Somehow, though, we managed to hatch a plan so cunning know the rest...

The idea was to drive to Ardrossan, catch the ferry to Arran, cycle north to meet the ferry to Islay and cycle north again to meet the Jura ferry. We'd camp there, have a day climbing the legendary Paps of Jura, and again, you guessed it, cycle north to where the land runs out and the sea very much takes over, at the Gulf of Corryvreckan. The lure was a sometimes spectacular maelstrom of water where two tides meet over some very pointy rocks, creating 15 foot high waves and some very difficult sailing conditions...

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, things started to unravel quite early. In hindsight, though, this was a very good thing. Having ensconced ourselves in a B&B at Ardrossan, we set the alarm for an early start to meet the Arran ferry. We were abruptly woken from our coma to a knocking at the door. There was a Keystone Cops moment as it began to dawn on us what exactly had happened: we’d slept through the alarm, and had 15 minutes to catch the boat. As we watched the ramp being raised on the ferry through the breakfast room window, the landlord said, in a spectacular display of Scottish understatement, “Are ye no’ cuttin’ it a wee bit fine?” …

Plan B was to drive round the headlands, skimming over the water in between on the Gourock and Portavadie crossings to make the ferry to Islay by the afternoon. We knew our luck had turned when we went in search of refreshments after the first ferry crossing. Black of Dunoon, purveyor of fine baked goods, appeared not a moment too soon, and quite honestly, the counter displays were a sea of plumptiousness in what is normally the Spartan domain of things coated in bright yellow icing. With our faith restored in local Scottish baking, we got over to Islay and by the end of the day, on to Jura without a hitch. It had all turned out very well, as if we had made it to the Arran ferry, the extra cycling would have creamed us.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Loughrigg Fell Race

One of the first evening fell races of the season, at Loughrigg, took place last night. The most perfect day graded into a lovely, still, warm night, so conditions couldn't have been better. More of my fellow club members were there this time, which gave it a different flavour. In spectacularly stupid fashion, I managed to fall over on the uphill, after about half a mile of running. This didn't bother me until after the race when one grazed knee swelled up like an orange. Still, an excellent race, with 1000 foot of climbing (which makes it a baby in the fell racing world) and a really great, rolling descent where you can pick up speed without too much effort...

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

A day on Blencathra

Brother Alun and nephew Richie headed up north for a quick visit last week. On Sunday we managed to wear them out by suggesting a huge walk over the Helvellyn range while Stu paddled about on Windermere, and while I realised I'd got the date of the fell race wrong (guh). I opted to run up Coniston Old Man instead which was a fair second to the Grizedale trail race. Lovely sunny day. Monday saw Rich, Alun and I on Sharp Edge (fetchingly modelled by Rich). There were a startling number of people freaked out by the ridge, wobbling around, on hands and knees. It was a lovely day, clear, with some high cloud. But the weather was no excuse for Alun lobbing into Scales Tarn on the way down. Cold just didn't seem to be expressive enough. Painful would have been better. As I was taking photos, with the sounds of someone shouting in the background, I wondered about the sanity of this act...Anyhow, Alun emerged from the water, seemingly unscathed. A good day out. Earlier in the weekend, Stu and I made a daring bid to start our outdoor climbing season in the Lakes. On Friday night we squeaked out an easy route on Brown slabs at Shepherds after spitting the dummy at Quayfoot Buttress, which wasn't quite ready for us...a bit dank and slimy. We camped high up at the Three Shires Stone at the Wrynose Pass in an attempt to get onto some rock early in the morning, but this backfired on two counts: (a) complete inability on my part to get out of a tent quickly, and (b) high winds built up overnight and by morning it was really too cold to climb. We sped back to Castle Rock and Stu had the heady delight of leading a particularly fine VS on smashing, grey, dry rock.