Sunday, 24 May 2015

Waiting with the terns for the tide

Summer it seems, is here, blown in on the back of cold north-westerlies, the weather more in keeping with early spring. But for long distance migrants whose journey will continue soon enough to Antarctica, there is little time to waste...
...and the skies above The Skerries lying off the north coast of Anglesey are alive again with the frenetic flight of the arctic terns.
Beginning the crossing from Harry Furlough's Rocks, the start of a 6km ferry glide on a bearing that seems improbable, until the island of West Mouse passes behind remarkably quickly. In fact the cardinal buoys and many other navigational aids make the crossing relatively straight forward, at least in good visibility and calm seas though even on neaps it is a fast passage.
Deep blue skies and a strong sun, though the water remains cold.
Approaching The Skerries, the noise of the terns grew in volume though it was the puffins we saw first.
Arriving precisely at the north end of the islands we were flushed through the narrow channels into the lagoon between the main island and Ynys Arw to look back on the lighthouse...
...before waiting with the terns for the tide.
Perhaps it is simply a little early in the breeding season, but certainly the terns seemed less aggressive than is often the case...
...and I spent a while in the vicinity of the lighthouse, one eye on the birds, the other on the waters between us and Carmel Head.
Looking south towards The Stacks - on our last visit we had used the flood tide to come around the far headland and cross Holyhead Bay directly to The Skerries. It was a good crossing with wind and tide in our favour and an excellent alternative to the norm.
In the last hour of the ebb we crossed directly to Carmel Head, thickening cloud and a chill breeze indicating a change in the weather to come.
Last light, looking back on the crossing from one of the better camps hereabouts, accessed by a boulder strewn channel that seems sufficient to deter most.
As darkness fell I watched the sweep of The Skerries light for a short while before the wind rapidly picked up, strong gusts rattling the tents between heavy showers - summer it seems, is here.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Gripes and grikes

Having griped so recently about the way in which some paths in upland areas are being paved* - I did at least manage a rueful smile after a near mishap on a rather different sort of pavement while running over Ingleborough the other day. Limestone pavement that is - the deep irregular grikes requiring real concentration to pass across at any kind of pace.
Looking across to Pen-y-ghent from the steep climb above Gaping Gill. On reaching the summit I was rewarded with a few moments of warm sunshine...
...and sat for a short while looking out over the Howgills to the north, before dropping steeply at first and then along the more gently angled descent towards Horton in Ribblesdale. It is a good path to run, retaining technical interest while still allowing for a fast pace. No doubt this too will disappear beneath the regular monotony of square slabs before long.
And crossing the limestone pavement - a feature for which The Dales is rightly famous there being less than 3,000 ha remaining in the UK and much of it here. In fact, less than 3% of the UK's limestone pavements have escaped damage according to the Wildlife Trusts, the greater percentage of damage being caused by quarrying to supply featured stone for garden rockeries. How ironic that we have removed so much natural limestone pavement in recent years, destroying a unique habitat, and are now intent on flying in huge quantities of stone flags, quite literally to cover our tracks.

*I would qualify this by saying that on the whole, I support the various initiatives that exist to repair paths, prevent erosion and protect the fragile landscapes of our upland regions. Yet I cannot help but wonder at the size and nature of certain 'repair' work - large flags (300kg each) of approx 1m in width, laid two abreast for instance - a tarmac pavement would hardly be more intrusive but would generate all kinds of protest and rightly so... Then there is the tendency to lay these slabs following the contour on less steeply sloping ground, which when wet or icy simply forces people onto the more secure heather and peat to either side... I have seen examples of both on recently constructed paths in The Dales. Equally the nature of certain repair work in The Lakes is lamentable - paths so wide they are visible from remarkable heights and which are completely out of keeping with their surroundings. There are good examples too - the steep track which leads up the southern flank of Liathach in the Highlands springs to mind. Barely visible until you are actually upon it, it blends superbly into the fell side, does an excellent job of protecting against erosion on a popular route and remains as just as tiring to ascend as ever. Which is exactly how it should be.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

River running by Hebden

Hebden Water, a tributary of the Calder fed by Widdop, Walshaw Dean and the Gorple reservoirs, is a small river I had considered paddling some time ago. Winding its way along the bottom of the steep sided and densely wooded valley south of Shackleton Moor it is easily overlooked.
Yet accounts of continuous grade 3 rapids with little requirement for prior inspection had whetted the appetite, though on every subsequent visit over the winter, the levels were far too low. Today, despite the rain, the river was up no more than a few inches. But then I hadn't expected to see anything more dramatic, this being more of an exploratory run, the purpose being to gauge whether it would be worth returning with the boat or sticking to the bank, there being good riding and running in the immediate vicinity. 
Today was a day for running. As a rule I prefer the open moor or fells, but running these wooded trails is a joy on days like this, sheltered from the winds and occasional heavy showers, intermittent sunshine lighting the first leaves of summer.
Looking east along the valley from close to Widdop Gate before I turned and dropped back into the valley... 
...to pick up one of several trails that lead back towards Hardcastle Crags. Looking down on the river through open woodland I disturbed a heron...
...only to come across the same bird again a little downstream.
Climbing out of the valley for the last time, heading back for Pecket Well.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Bank Holiday swell at Burnmouth

The easterly swell had been running at a little over three meters off the Scottish coast south of the Firth of Forth, but along with the winds, was due to drop to a more manageable meter and a half or so, which is essentially what happened opening a window for a trip along the dramatic cliffs north of Burnmouth, to St Abb's Head.
The winds were also due to build again and this happened too, unfortunately a little earlier than forecast it seemed, prompting a return to Burnmouth sooner than planned.
There was little indication of either swell or wind launching to the north of Burnmouth harbour...
...though beyond its walls the surf was immediately apparent.
Threading through a series of breaks before running downwind some distance off shore. By the time we had passed Eyemouth conditions were deteriorating - cirrus streamed in front of high level cloud, replacing blue skies and broken cumulus of the morning and already the wind was gusting around F5, white capped wind waves running across the swell. Turning in to follow the coastline towards Coldingham Bay we paddled on passing Callercove Point by which time it was clear that the return trip would be a slog into offshore headwinds at best. It wasn't such a difficult decision - the cliffs of St Abb's Head would wait for a better day.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Tour de Yorkshire

If I'm a long way from being a roadie, I'm even further from being spectator and so it was a rather odd - if enjoyable despite its brevity - experience to find myself watching the race this afternoon as it passed close to home. I blame the weather. Or rather the weather forecast which called for heavy rain and wind. I had an image in my mind's eye - a gritty shot, black and white, riders grimacing and the rain falling in sheets...and so after hiding from the worst of the morning's downpours and a short run in the Wharfe valley, we arrived as the skies cleared and the temperature soared. A few images then, from an unexpectedly enjoyable, warm and sunny afternoon watching the last leg of the last stage of the Tour de Yorkshire.
The peloton passing through Addingham...
...Voeckler, charismatic as ever...
...and a brand very nearly not present in this race, the initial selection strangely omitting two prominent British teams though both later received belated invites meaning all Britain's UCI ranked squads could compete. Complexities which I am happy let go over my head as I contemplate another carry for the next rocky descent...