The beautiful south

A few weeks ago we went south, first to Wasdale for 2 nights, and then across Hardknott Pass to Glenridding. It's a little too easy to get complacent about the charms of the fells if you live in Scotland, and each time I go back now it's a treat to discover new corners that I'd missed in the past. Here's a few of my favourite photos from a really superb week in a beautiful place.

This will be a view familiar to many who have walked up England's highest mountain. The hill was busy with folk on the three peaks challenge this weekend.

I'd actually never used this path, always having walked onto the Scafells by other routes. Midsummer alpenglow on the 2 pointy bits, and a chill in the air, I took off right up a gully.

I'm not sure which one - it's possible it was Lord's Rake or less likely Deep Ghyll - either way the choss and moss required a bit more focus than the usual way up onto Green How. A great evening to be out late.

I went back up to the summit of Scafell itself the next day. I'm researching for something very long term and needed to be sure of a number of descent routes off the hill. I've always found Green How to be a bit nondescript navigation wise, so it was good to spend a chunk of time to clear up my confusion.

The weather was a mixed bag all week, which was great for the light, but required being quick on the draw! Occasionally, I was fast enough.

Symmetry like this can't be accidental, can it? I always wonder if some of these erractics are not so erratic in their placement. Those who know the valley better than I will know where this is - a moody and humid Wasdale just before the rain began in earnest.

We switched tack and went east, to stay with my folks in a place they'd hired for a week. The light continued to do it's best to woo us in Patterdale on a brief stroll with the family.

On the last morning, whilst the cottage still slept, I crept out early and was on Heron Pike by 7am. A tiny trail from the back door, tucked away off the tourist routes, winding through crags, blaeberry, ferns and foxgloves, a hill before breakfast is the best tonic. The decent through the Juniper woodland near the defunct Greenside mines was an added bonus prize. If this priority BAP species can flourish here, in the aftermath of industrial and agricultural destruction, there's surely hope for a wilder, greener land.

Some things that happened recently

Lying in a sterile Premier Inn hotel room last Friday night feeling neither here no there after my first working day at Kendal Mountain Festival, I found out I'd come joint first in category, in a photo competition run by the IUCN. The IUCN is probably best known for it's 'red list' of endangered species, but in general it's a scientific body that monitors and reports on biodiversity and wild nature. As for the eye candy - no prizes, no award ceremony, no entry fee, a facebook vote that was more about engagement I think since they had a judges panel, and categories but thankfully only 2 ('wild nature' and 'the changing world'). The (joint) winning shot sits in the 'changing world' category and is below, and there's a bit more on how I approached the shot here. Recently, I've also submitted 7 photos to the new Scottish Landscape Photographer of the year... which costs money to enter and I imagine has different priorities. I'd written something about how crazy competition categories and entry mechanisms are about two weeks ago, then deleted it. After all, I still entered...

I went to the The Great Outdoors Magazine Awards as a contributor rather than rep'ing work this year, but was overjoyed that John Muir Trust won campaigner of the year. I rushed out to text my old manager, realised I didn't have any credit, found a BT hotspot in the street and emailed instead. I read a few comments online begrudging them the vote on the basis of the last 12 months. Frankly, having worked in the sector, that isn't how campaigning works... or at least, it's not how the recognition for it works. You aim for critical mass, an organic trickle of awareness that grows into natural support. It takes time, it's not a press release about a castle in the sand. In my view, the Trust didn't win because they were a better campaigner this year than last. They won because they were good for the last X years and slowly more people have become aware of their work. Their work isn't just about lobbying and wild land either - it's alot broader, including environmental awareness and education. In short, this isn't a sports event... and if it were, it'd be a marathon not a sprint. Glad to see that NTS have joined the Trust in opposing Stronelairg - the significance of that is huge.

I escaped to the hills for a day or 3 before that. I haven't written it up here yet... but it was a good trip, and I got some OK shots. The Cruachan ridge is really beautiful, and pretty rugged considering how far south it is, there's loads of character once on the main stretch. It was kind of a research trip for another bit of writing elsewhere, and to scope it for a winter round. Under snow it will be a worthy challenge, especially at the western end - somebody really should have a tidy up, there's no path or anything. There's another photo from the ridge on the front page at the moment - I tend to change the image there every so often.  On the way out to the car, I got stuck in a mudslide, which was less fun, alot less pretty, pretty scary for a minute or two.

The awards are a hot topic right now but were fun at the time - I talked Keith's ear off, Terry talked mine off, the drinks flowed and people enjoyed themselves - it was nice to see people who are becoming, well, friends. The day after the Award thing I met up with Chris and Tony who were out for a camp. I had to be back late that evening, so they kindly changed their plans a little and we talked and walked the Fairfield Horseshoe, setting off late in the day.

It's hard not to sound like a sycophant - everyone loves Chris, and what's not to love - he's so generous and enthusiastic, on the hill it's as if he's slightly animated by the weather - waving his arms around, pointing, spinning yarns, explaining past decisions and present thinking, namedropping some of the old guard (I'm a bit of a sucker for this, I always ask as I love the history)... but despite the fact that with 3 bloggers on the hill there's often a queue to get a word in edgeways, there's also genuine quietness and support here. And despite a sense of assurance that's learnt on big solo journeys, there's not a trace of hardness. No edge. Just humility, and a twinkle in the eye. Can you say that about yourself? Can I?

Just as Tony was asking about how good our navigation was, we all overshot the summit a little but pulled up short of Cofa and doubled back. It was all looking fairly Scottish in the cloud. I've always really liked the section down to Dove Crag, especially where it joins the wall, and today was every bit as good. Like a little piece of North Wales that's been lent to the Lakes. I left them here or hereabouts, and followed the wall back down to Ambleside, on the way seeking out a few, fun scrambly slabs under torchlight I had avoided before, to eat crisps and wait for the bus.

Kendal was interesting. Climbers are for the most part a self possessed bunch - precocious, brave and driven, free of so much everyday bullshit yet by their own admission often riven with ego. Mostly white, often male and middle class. This is not news, and what do I know? I can barely solo a winter mountaineering route without turning it into an epic. But UK climbing wears it's struggle and angst on it's sleeve, and I like it for that. And much like UK hillwalking, it's resistant to hyperbole - it does 'committed' and 'desperate', not 'psyched' and 'stoked'. There's also an ancient schism between amateur and professional that will be familiar to fell runners and hill walkers alike, whether we are fully conscious of it or not. It's part of our shared cultural outdoor heritage, for both good and ill. All of this means there's a lot going for this festival whether you're a climber or not, partly because of the shared outlook, but also because the content majors on character and minors on technique. It's niche, but put that aside and there's some incredible stories of people and places here.

As for me, I saw bits of a few films (not enough!), missed the girls, did some work, drunk a bit too much, met some new people and caught up with some old ones, said a brief hi to one of my photographic heroes, Jon Griffith, who was funny and totally relaxed (instead of funny and trying-too-hard), and interviewed Ueli Steck for one of the mags. It's difficult to know how these things are going to be - whether it was going to be managed, how tired he would be of covering familiar ground... about Everest, about Annapurna... but we were lucky and found a room to be in - and the Sidetracked guys who were working there were total gents and quiet as mice during the recording, so it felt kind of intimate for a while. He's reflecting alot on last year and didn't seem to mind sharing that, and whilst I know I didn't follow up or explain 1 or 2 of my questions fully, hopefully we caught a bit of that atmosphere for the interview. I left on the train at 3pm feeling pretty lucky to have been around so many slightly crazy, passionate people.

Catching a cold on the Bob Graham Round

So, it started simply enough, even if I didn't get to camp until midnight. 

I had a good night on Jenkin Hill and woke up under Skiddaw, which I'd not been on before.  It's pretty straight forward, and I was off and onto Graham's birthday hill by 10am.

The pyjama wearing hotelier was 41 when he first tried to run his round, but he didn't make it. He tried again the following year, and added a hill to match his age. Since 1932, the only other addition has been alot of tradition. Maybe because of this, its easy to miss that even the number of hills included is a total accident. Still, it's not a competition, right. The BGR really isn't one. Good to remember when your wading through the soup of other views, telling you you're doing the being outdoors thing too fast, slow, heavy, light or low.  Nope. The only one on your back on the Bob is you.

Graham wryly said of his 24hour challenge 'anyone can do the round, provided they are fit enough'. I took the option to walk it, because I am definitely not. There's no route either, so don't try to follow. There's just a list of hills. Relax, it's still a tall order.

I'd not been in the Lakes for more than a day trip for over 3 years, and it was interesting to be back. It prompted some thinking on what unifies Britain's mountain ranges, and what is unique. The feelings we have for them, the values projected onto them, the different challenges to keep them 'special' (that seems to be a word that's used alot - can we be clearer please?) and what can be done to enhance their 'special qualities' (mmm, still with me? meh...) I was thinking I don't feel as emotionally attached to the Cumbrian Fells as I do to the high places of Scotland and Wales, and I was wondering why. I was thinking I really don't need to walk that bloody motorway from Great Dodd to Fairfield. ever. again. Then I got to Dunmail Raise and stopped thinking about anything but breathing. That is where it got interesting. Of course it did.

On reflection, starting a 66 mile walk with nearly an Everest of ascent with nothing in the tank was probably a bad idea. At the foot of Hall's Fell, I made a brew and had to have a nice lay down near a cow pat. I was definitely starting to feel a bit 'special'. Maybe I'd been overly confident, after all those proper mountains north of the border? I knew I'd started at a physically and mentally low ebb. Whatever it was, as the sun went down on the first day, I also knew the Bob Graham Round was going to enjoy kicking my sorry ass into the long grass with nary a second glance.

Despite my extra baggage, with legs of lead, a sandpaper throat and Rudolf's nose, Bob's Round ushered me round anyway. Some old favourites, and some new.  Revelations came in tiny packages, the surprises were quiet, but it'd be fibs not to admit to them. A first, snotty wobble to the top of Seat Sandal, feeling stronger again on the barely there, north facing trod of Bowfell 'direct' in the early sun, a return to that beautiful little trail up to Cofa Pike taken at pace after dumping the bag...

...and every smashed, broken metre between Esk Pike and Great Gable, where I found my stride, that beautiful sense of rhythm and forgetfulness that comes from negotiating fierce ups and downs with a goal in mind. Time out of mind.

Climbing out of Wasdale straight up the side of Yewbarrow was horrible, though.

I made it round, but it took 2 days longer than expected, a sprained hip muscle on the Langdales and a unplanned resupply in Wasdale.

The sorry tale of my shoddy performance should materialise in BMC Summit magazine at some point. Until then, I'll leave you with a few randomly grabbed moving pictures. Here's to the Bob' and all its sweat, spit, tears and glory.