Church Stretton – Beneath the Stiperstones [Day 1]

The Stiperstone Ridge

The hardest decision to be made each day is usually what to pick from the vast array of food for the packed lunch, closely followed by ‘which walk shall I do today’.

Given that my muscles are not great right now, and can be very painful on exertion, it was a fairly easy decision. Usually I would opt for the longest walk, especially if there is ridge walking involved, but I decided that 8 miles and just over 1000ft of ascent would be sufficient. It is so easy when you are younger to take your health for granted and it is so hard when your health starts to fail and you have to pace yourself and look longingly at ridges and scrambles rather than actually do them.

The day began with a coach journey of 40 minutes to our drop off point in the middle of nowhere, nowhere being just north of Corndon Hill at 344 metres. We followed an easy path over grassy knolls to Michaels Fold Stone circle, which is less impressive in practice than it sounds on paper. Makes you think a farmer so named it for his sheep. It was lovely up here, with wide expanses of moorland.

Michael’s Fold Stone Circle

From here we ventured south on very very muddy tracks to a place called White Grit. We followed a path taking us through Squiver farm up on to the very lovely Milk Hill, veering left of Mucklewick Hill – what wonderfully descriptive names they have in this part of Shropshire, though we may have been in Wales at this point. We continued to the foot of Grit Hill befor traipsing over boggy meadow to a spot called THE BOG. I write it in capitals as that is how it appears on the map.

Here there is a disused mine and a closed visitor centre, but there were benches where we could have our lunch. There was even old machinery showing how they transferred the rock from one end of the hills to another using a rope pulley system.

We had views of the Stiperstones from here, beguilingly in the near distance but just out of reach. We contoured around the lower regions and at a height of 430 metres we started our ascent to the Stiperstones ridge; we walked northwards along the ridge for a few hundred metres. It felt like more as it was very uneven, meaning that each step had to be carefully negotiated. This was our highest point of the day at roughly 490 metres. The views were tremendous in all directions, and we could see the foothills of Snowdonia in one direction, and the Wrekin in another.

The ever present Corndon Hill. We started to the far right of this then skirted left beneath it through fields on very muddy ground until we reached higher elevations. This area has a lot of undulating shale layers (the Mytton flags) creating clay soils, with discontinuous layers of volcanic rock. The hill itself is an intrusion of volcanic dolerite, as opposed to the Stiperstones quartzite, most likely laid down on a beach or in a water environment.

We descended through a narrow valley between Perkins Beach and Green Hill. This had a couple of steep and rocky sections but were easily passable with care. This section had an entirely different feel to anything we had encountered the rest of the day.

On reaching the road, it was just a hop, a skip and a jump to the village of Stiperstones and the village pub, which had a welcoming roaring fire, an old fashioned traditional pub, where you could imagine the locals sitting around sipping their pints and exchanging stories.

Total distance: 7.5 miles, Ascent 1020ft

La Palma, Canaries: Day 5 – Caldera de Taburiente Rim

This was a spectacular day. It started with a long, meandering, climbing, one and a half hour bus journey through the laurel cloud forest, giving wonderful views of Santa Cruz and its defunct volcano; the higher we got, the further north we could see and the laurels gave way to  tall, elegant pine trees. At times, I wondered if it were possible to go any higher. Every now and again we would get glimpses of rocky peaks through the trees and then finally we came out into the desertified landscape where the bus stopped temporarily at a viewpoint into the crater of the Caldera de Taburiente. This volcano erupted over 1 million years ago and again 1/4 of a millenium after that. It has a diameter of 8 kilometres, though landslides and erosion have now blocked off one side of the crater so that it resembles something of an icecream cone now.

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First view of the Caldera

We continued on the twisting lava road turning left beside some observatories, some which look at the stars and others that look at the sun. Then we stopped and could go no further, and indeed this was true for the bus too, it puts its foot down and the clutch or brakes decided they had had enough of carrrying the HF party, so the bus driver spent the next 30 minutes organising another bus to pick us up later. We had arrived at our starting point – El Roques de Los Muchachos, which strangely translates as Rock of the Boys! We were at 2,426m or 7959ft. We were warned we could be a little light-headed but no-one suffered more than usual.

The observatories

We were at the highest point of the Caldera and looking across to the left were several observatories, none of which are accessible to the public. They are too busy doing serious stuff. It was at this point that it was discovered that the easier walk could not run as only one person opted for it, the other person having changed his or her mind. This posed a problem as HF cannot lead a walk with 1 person. Fortunately we had a guide with us, who was supposed to tell us about the geology, flora and fauna, and she kindly offered to take the lady on the easier route and leave the two leaders with the harder walk.

It has a nice feeling being on top of the island, if not on top of the world, with sky all around, the cloud forest to the left, blue sea to the right and the other Canary Islands daring to raise their heads above the cloud parapet and make their own claim for our attention. At different times we saw Tenerife, La Gomera, and El Hiero. We were so lucky to have a mostly clear day, certainly along the rim, although inside the crater there was a kind of blue haze. The previous week the walkers had traipsed around the rim in total cloud, with not a view in sight. We obvously picked the right week.

Tenerife
Tenerife in the distance

The cloud forest 2
Above the clouds

View south east to Los Llanos
Los LLanos just visible to the east

View across to Cumbre Vieja
The Cumbre Vieja

But I am leaping ahead of time. Most of the time we were inside the cauldron, with many short and steep ascents and descents to Pico de la Cruz (2,351m), where we had our lunch. Now that’s what I call a lunch stop, though the wind was blowing a hooley and it was quite chilly.

Lunch stop
View to my right

Lunmch stop 2
View to my left

At this point we became aware that we did not have our easier walker and the guide. What’s more, the leader had no signal on her phone, so many a moment was spent trying to make contact to find out where they were. One of the guests finally succeeded and we were able to continue. Ah, maybe this is what our leader Mary has spotted in the distance?

Nowhere to go but down from here

We carried on up and down the rocky rim, which had amazing colours at times and at other times seemed quite dull but never boring. We crossed two other tops, Piedro Llana 2,321 m and our final point on the rim was Pico de la Nieve, which reminded me of yesterday’s story of the talcum powder as Nieve means ‘snow’ and lends its title to the patron saint of that area and everything to the east towards Santa Cruz. Not that it looks very white, or does it?.

End Point Pico de Bejenado
The youngest volcano in the rim, Pico de Bejenado

From here, it was all downhill, though perhaps the rocks underfoot were whiter than the rocks we started on. We had passed ancient pillow lavas created undersea when the volcano erupted, now evident at 500 metres showing how the uplift and shifting plates make mountains out of molehills. The whole of the Canaries is moving towards the African plate, so one day there will a mighty upheaval yet again. Even so, this island is unique in that its volcanos go some 4000 metres under the sea and 2500 metres above sea level, making them some of the highest volcanos in the world.

I end this section with a slideshow of some photographs taken on the rim to show you the variety of colour and interest created by the weathering of the rocks. Tomorrow is the last day of walking, and different yet again. Having been in the oldest volcano, I now enter one of the newest and the terrain is certainly different. Look out for the final instalment in my story of La Palma tomorrow.

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Distance 7.5 miles

Total ascent 1312 ft

Total descent 2907 ft.

Maximum elevation 7951 ft; minimum elevation 6,283 ft.

La Palma, Canaries – January 2020: Walking Day 1 – The Southern Volcanoes

La Palma is a walkers’ and geologists’ paradise. For my first visit to the Canary Islands I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I knew it contained volcanoes and it was billed in the HF brochure as being very green, but in reality this small island – almost the same size of the Isle of Man, is very dramatic, with old and new volcanoes littering and influencing every tiny part of it and hints of all types of natural change occurring over geological time.

Day 1 walks are generally designed to ease walkers into an unknown terrain and to get the feel of what they are capable of achieving. The other walkers all opted for the ‘harder’ route which involved a small amount of ascent contouring around the side of hills with coastal views and a descent into Los Canarios. I opted for the ‘easier’ route, which meant I would have time to explore the small town, but more importantly I would have time to have a good look at the volcano visitor centre and take a walk along the crater rim. From there, both groups would walk through the extensive lava fields and past the latest volcano to erupt down to the sea.

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The view of the volcanic ridge to the north of Los Canarios, adjoining the Cumbre Vieja ridge. Below the small town to Los Canarios viewed from the San Antonio crater.

If anything, although there are other competing highlights, this was my favourite day. I walked along the San Antonio crater rim following the tourist route, but I was also able to explore the other side of the crater and have it entirely to myself. The light was better on this side and there was a greater sense of isolation and wonder at the achievement of the natural world. This volcano erupted in 1677 and therefore few plants and trees have had a chance to colonise the interior. The circumference of the crater is about 1 km, the depth 100 metres, and it’s height is 663 metres (2175 ft), so about the height of Snaefell.

The island is host to tens of volcanoes old and young, maybe more, and according to the Express in Jan 2019 it is already overdue another major volcanic eruption on a massive scale! It also hosts a myriad of astronomical telescopes on the ridges of many of the volcanoes and there is a miniature one at the visitor centre pointing to the Polaris star, which rather amused me.

Once we were all together again it was an continuous walk steeply downhill for over 2000 ft. In some places, the lava fields were tiny grains of pica, in other areas soft ash or small loose rocks and in others we were stepping over cobbles or bigger stones. We passed the Teneguía volcano which was more rugged than the San Antonio volcano with many more boulders; little natural vegetation has had a chance to grow yet, since this volcano only erupted as recently as 1971, following a previous eruption in 1949.

To the west we were able to see how the locals are making use of the new land created by these magnificent lava flows. Although the soil is very thin its temperate climate lends itself to growing grapes and wine is becoming relatively big business. The vineyards are evident all around the south, which also happens to have the sunniest and warmest weather of the island. There are several places where you can sample their wine, even in Los Canarios.

 

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I sat here, alone with my thoughts, relishing the peace and quiet around me.

The descent from San Antonio was very steep and rocky in places, and always interesting. The next photo shows we have descended a few hundred feet and shows the San Antonio volcano standing imperiously in its environment.

We had stopped to look at some hieroglyphs on the rocks at the suitably named Roque Teneguía. This is an outcrop of rock containing phonolite which is pale and contrasts with the surrounding grey basalt gravel (called lapilli).The meaning of the symbols is unclear, and is thought to be ancient artwork; similar patterns are found on the rocks in other places too, so most likely some form of communication. They are usually positioned near a water source. Some say they resemble Celtic hieroglyphs, other says they resemble water or fertility, but in truth, no-one knows. We do know that they are at least 500 years old, so were there long before the volcanoes in this region.

Ancient Rock Art

From here the terrain changes as we walk along the eastern side of the Teneguía volcano. Large lumps of rock and awkward looking shapes were abundant and the descent here was arduous in places. The paths look deceptively easy, and they have been thoughtfully designed and maintained, but often the rocks are very loose and it was easy to lose one’s footing any day of the week.

 

Compare this with the lunar landscape on the eastern side as we descend further towards at Fuencaliente in the coast, which of course is all  new land.

You can just see the salt pans in the photograph above. It is possible to walk around them, or visit the lighthouse, or have a beer in the cafe. For those who don’t want to walk you can get a bus from Los Canarios and save your knees! Not that I had a problem with knees; my problem was toes, but I will tell you all about that another time.

None of the other walks we did have such a sense of spaciousness. Every walk was beautiful in its own way, but maybe because I am an islander myself and spend a lot of time looking up at the sky and out across the sea, this day will remain in my memory for ever. And of course, we finished at the sea.

Distance – my full day was about 8 miles, much of which was messing about around the volcano; ascent: 600ft; descent 2400ft

To follow: Day 2 was a testing walk in the hills north of Santa Cruz, with a lot of steep ascent and descent with lovely wooded valleys and steep ravines to cross, but well worth the effort. A memorable day.

Greeba Mountain – 2nd October 2019

1a. View across to Greeba Mountain

Greeba Mountain is not technically speaking a mountain as it doesn’t reach the giddy heights of 600 metres. In fact, it falls well short at 422 metres and is the peak you can see above the plantation, looking rather apologetic. This was our second ‘peak’ of the day, our first being the traverse of Slieau Roy at 479 metres. I notice the word Slieau contains the word ‘eau’ which is of course, french for ‘water’, which is very apt considering the boggy nature of the peat hills. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We started out from Crosby village, the visitors arriving on the bus and the locals arriving by car. We took the A23 out of Crosby – sounds as if it’s a proper road doesn’t it, but actually it is just a minor lane with little traffic. The road climbs gently from the start all the way up to and around Cronk my Moghlane. It doesn’t take long before you can see the full extent of the valley between Douglas and Peel, and what strikes you most of all is the distant views, the lack of housing and the large amount of patchwork green fields. We are so used to travelling down that valley with its numerous villages dotted along the way,  that it doesn’t seem at all remote, but once you get up on the hills you have a completely different sense of island and what it’s all about.

We continued gently uphill following a grassy track full of humps and hollows made by the bikes in former years, now forbidden on this path, and contoured around the  eastern side of Slieau Ruy, which gave excellent views of the neighbouring hill called Colden (487 metres) and its shoulder The Creg – ‘creg’  meaning ‘rock’. I don’t know what Colden means…  now I do. It comes from the Scandinavian word Kollrinn, meaning the ‘top’ or ‘summit’. Just to complete the Manx lesson Slieau Roy means ”Red Mountain’, supposedly taking its name from the heather. In former times, many flowers were called red even though they were pink or purple; and Greeba is also of Scandinavian origin from the word ‘Gripa’ meaning ‘peak’.

 

11. View of x from my point

It was a little blustery but we so relieved to see the sun after yesterday’s torrential rain that had completed wiped out Laxey and caused landslides on Snaefell. As we reached the col, we turned back along the ridge to the top of Slieau Roy.  It might have been time for lunch, but the weather was not conducive to sitting on boggy ground with the wind whistling past our faces, so we continued undaunted if a little hungry on to the lesser Greeba Mountain. The views in all directions were wonderful and we could spy the wind turbines at Morecambe, Black Combe and the other mountains of the western Lake District and in the other direction we could see the Mountains of Mourne in Ireland. Who cares whether or not Greeba mountain is a real mountain. It is lovely place to stop and stare.

After this we descended off the moorland into one of many plantations in this area, this one with the unimaginative name of Greeba Forest, also known as King’s Forest. Believe it or not, there was an unusual battle here as late as 1937 between police with firearms and feral sheep, who were slaughtered to prevent the spread of sheep scab. I wish I had known that little trifle of knowledge as I was walking down the hill.  As it was, I was very happily engaged in very pleasant conversations with visitors who were part of our walking festival. You can see them below – how many different ways of smiling (or grimacing) can you spot?

18. The top

As we had made good time, we finished our walk by crossing over the ever so busy St John’s road and made our way to the heritage trail, which was formerly a railway line between Douglas and Peel. It has recently been upgraded and totally spoiled (in my opinion) in order to accommodate cyclists and possibly wheelchairs. It is now a wide uninteresting shingly type of path that won’t make anyone want to go for a walk. It has lost all its character and there is no longer any sense of its history. But times move on, and so must I.

I leave this blog on a high note. I had a wonderful day, and met some really interesting people. It is so wonderful to share our love of this island with visitors and to hear their stories of their travels. Thank you so much to the Walking Festival, and to our leader, Ken and assistants Belinda and Gayle, who have given up their time to take us out for the day. I can’t join them for their other events this week, but I hope the weather holds up for all the walkers.

Distance: 9 miles; Ascent 1408 ft; Descent 1424 ft. I will attach a short slide show of other photos from today after the map.

Map1a

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Cregneash, Chasms, Sound, Port Erin – 12th September 2019

This was my first ‘step out’ for some time, at least a couple of weeks, as I have been ascertaining the effect of hill walking on my metabolism. Having decided it was having no direct ill effect on my health, I am happy to report you will find me wandering out and about the local hills as usual, and further afield over the next six months.

This afternoon I stretched my legs and walked from home, up the Golden Road, which is not at all golden at the moment, but does have heaps of blackberries and Speckled Wood butterflies. I am pretty sure I also saw a Comma or a Fritillary, but you know butterflies they are gone before you have a chance to see them!

I started out in reasonable weather, but it wasn’t long before the rains came, but I was suitably attired and enjoyed my walk up Meayll Hill. The heather has mostly turned now but the gorge looked very sunny in the rain. On the top Meayll Hill I passed by the stone circle in the featured image at the top and veered slightly out of my way and found an old ‘bunker’ from the days of the WW11 radar station. Not sure what would have been contained here. Maybe it goes underground… there’s the start of a thriller.

Cregneash

Over to Cregneash, up and over the top and down to the glorious Chasms – and the sun came out. The sheep made their own stone circle shape and stood out very effectively against the scenery. This next section has always been one of my favourite parts of our wonderful island, round Black Head and Spanish Head. One of the Loaghtan sheep was poised like King Orry observing pirates out at sea simultaneously guarding his flock.

A little further on and I was down at the Sound in the early evening sunlight. There were few people here now but I stopped at the cafe to replenish my stocks then continued on past Rocky Valley over the hills to Port Erin. The low sunlight was casting wonderful shadows and shapes that gave distinctive images of the rocks with the play of light and dark, but goodness was it windy!!

More sheep – usually, as you know, with me it cows – but sheep it was today. The brown Loaghtan sheep looked wild and scruffy whereas the cream coloured sheep looked as if they had just been in the washer in time for their photo shoot.

Sheep and the Tower

I can never resist taking a photo of one of my favourite gates on the Isle of Man. As I walked around the bay I observed the light was reflecting on the sand and on the beach the lugworms had taken over from the children building sandcastles.

If you are a new visitor to the Isle of Man, this is a walk not to miss. You can start from Port St Mary and follow the coast, getting the steam train or bus back to Port Erin, or if you just want to best bits, take a car to the quarry car park at Cregneash and follow my walk to Port Erin. In summer there is a bus that will take you back to Cregneash.

Total distance 7.5 miles (home to home); 1339 ft of ascent, similar descent, probably a little more. Moderate walking. Highest point to Sound 501ft (no details of height of highest hill from Sound to PE).

Maps:

Other points of interest from the wildlife: Do let me know if you can identify the caterpillar.

 

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Ballasalla to Crosby (almost): 9.3 miles, 597 ft ascent

What to do during TT (other than watch the racing)? Walk some of the Millenium Way of course.  At a risk of putting some of you off attempting it, the southern section is a mix of some lovely scenery, as in Silverdale Glen and some super views to the south, but a lot of road walking and, as it has been raining a lot in the last 10 days, muddy footpaths.

I met up with a friend who I had met when I hosted the Facebook U3A walking page for the Isle of Man, and we boarded the number 12a bus at Port Erin railway station which took us to Ballasalla for the start of our walk. From here, we walked down to the Ford, where a biker walked into the water, stood in the middle for a second or two, then retraced his steps to the other side! Strange…

DSC00574We followed the lovely Silverdale river past the Monk’s Bridge (above) up to the boating lake where we had a short break, then continued past the old waterworks – or more correctly, the now defunct spring water factory to the main Ballamodha Road.

This is the first stretch of road walking,  which in itself is not unattractive – it affords great views of South Barrule – but the road was relatively busy by Isle of Man standards.

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We were quite relieved when after a mile or so, we turned off the road onto the footpath, that would eventually take us to St. Marks. At one point, we went through a farm yard where a friendly dog kept yapping at us to the consternation of its owner. At the far end of the farm was a sign pinned to a barn, saying in no uncertain terms that persons should “shut and fasten the gate, or be liable to a fine of forty shillings”. We duly shut the gate, not having forty shillings on us, and continued on the path, which appeared to peter out shortly afterwards. We continued northwards across a field, before I thought this was wrong route and we retraced our steps to find a very clear sign pointing across a different field, which we had missed completely because of the angle of the sign on approaching it. Here started the mud, and many gates that were only fit for very skinny people and not people with rucksacks. The grass was long and wet which helpfully cleaned our boots intermittently. As we went over a shrubby stream, Ros saw a frog. At various points on our walk we saw a small copper butterfly, a female common blue butterfly and a number of dead birds! As we approached Crosby we did see a bird of prey but could not identify it.

On, over the grassy meadows and reedbeds, we finally reached St. Marks where we had lunch and visited the absolutely delightful church; simple and unassuming, warm and welcoming. You can even help yourself to tea and coffee, but as we had brought ample supplies for ourselves, we did not partake.

From here it was more road walking, but this time on quieter roads that barely see traffic, but do bring with them views to the north and the valley in between.  This walk makes one aware of what a watery place the Isle of Man is, with streams at the end of every few fields. There is no doubt that even walking along roads makes you aware of the local scenery in a way you wouldn’t otherwise see it.

 

DSC00611As we came closer to Crosby we could hear the buzz of the motor bikes and saw what we thought was a TV helicopter following the racing. On this stretch of road, Ros found an abandoned egg shell. It was almost the size of a hen’s egg, was buff coloured and very slightly speckled, as you can see in the photograph. If anyone can identify this, please add a comment to this blog.

Unfortunately, I have had a problem with my Achilles tendon for the last month – I know, nothing stops me walking until I am forced to face the problem – and as we reached Marown old church, where we were due to turn right to go to Glen Vine, I was forced to take a break. At the same time, who should come out of the church but a friend from choir who happens to live just down the road from me! What a happy coincidence. Ros and I had a half second discussion and decided we should ask if he was going back to Port Erin. And, of course, he was. My poor ankle was so very grateful. We had been intending to walk another 4-5 miles along the railway track back to Douglas, but my foot clearly thought otherwise. Someone up there was obviously watching over me today, as I can be my own worst enemy.

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This opportune event allowed said friend and I to catch up and Ros and I passed a very pleasant 20 minutes sitting comfortably in his car listening to stories and finding out what is happening elsewhere. He dropped us off at our respective houses and continued on his way to Shoprite. And I, for once, did as I was told and bathed by ankle in ice cold water. So, probably no more walks for a bit – sad face – and a holiday in Crete – happy face – but I do have a short but interesting walk to write up from walking around and inside the cliffs of Port Erin this last week, so another blog to follow shortly.

Port Erin to Sound, Cregneash circular – 25th September 2018, 7 miles

It was  a cool morning, necessitating the wearing of leg warmers underneath my lightweight walking trousers. After several hours of psychology calls and a few more hours of psychology planned for the evening, I had an interlude over lunchtime, meaning I could escape the drudgery of work for a couple of hours.

I usually do this walk the other way round, but I fancied a change. I walked from home, down the short but very pretty Athol Glen, over the top and down to the Bay Hotel, joining the coast path at the old marine building. The coast path starts with a most unprepossessing view, as the signpost points behind a generator that you have to scramble behind to get to the path. But this disappointment is short lived as you are soon up on the cliff path with stunning views both out to sea and back towards Port Erin Bay.

Photo: the lovely Athol Glen. Compare with the start of the coast path below, but it doesn’t last and soon you are away from it all!

It is a bit of a pull up this hill initially, and my goodness, the wind was howling around the corner and it was a job to stand upright. Good job I had taken my trusty stick and the wind was blowing off the sea rather than out to sea! On I went, with the wind blowing in my face the full three miles to the Sound. There are fantastic views in all directions, though it was hard to take any photos without significant camera-shake.

 

Photo: The wind has given me a very neat hairstyle, showing off all my grey 🙂

My favourite part of this walk is our very own ‘Valley of the Rocks”, and walking from this direction I noticed a large sculptured rock looking to me just like a thigh bone. The path goes immediately below this, then there is a very slight scrambly section before reaching the soft grasses of the hills immediately beside the Sound cafe. The waters were fast and furious today, with the currents ripping through between the mainland and Kitterland like I have never seen before.  One or two seals were curiously eyeing me as they accomplished their synchronised swimming, just keeping their heads above water, flippers madly flapping below the water.

A stop for lunch. No other mad fools sitting eating their sandwiches here in the wind 🙂 Though many were safely tucked up inside the cafe eating their Manx Broth and cakes. On I pressed, wondering how easy it might be in these winds to get up the steep stepped hill on to Spanish Head. I was pushed about it quite a bit, but I got there and on to Black Head, the Chasms and Cregneash. I had thought of stopping at the tearooms here but decided to carry on over Mull Hill back to Port Erin over the moors.

What a treat was in store for me. Having been blown and buffeted by the hefty winds all the way around the south and west of the headland, as I dropped onto the moors I was cosseted by a warm and welcoming soft wind, and a wonderful light that bares no description. The colours of the heather and gorse were magnificent. Our Manx gorse is low and sparsely yellow, but beyond and intermingled with it was a chocolate coloured mass of heather. No photo would do that justice, but it is a memory that will linger long.

And so, I pottered downhill along the grassy tracks for a final mile to my start and resting point. I was only out a few hours but felt alive and ready to tackle the rest of the day and my demanding students!

Total distance 7.14 miles; Elevation Gain: 1377 ft; Elevation Loss: 1371 ft

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