Wednesday, 13 January 2016

MI(L)D Winter in the UK

After the heat of South America I was expecting something of a shock to the system but unusually mild weather for December prevented any adverse reaction and after a quick rv with Mum I headed north to the Lake District travelling by chance past the old church in Adel near Leeds where my grandparents had lived and worked and my parents married. It was quite an emotional moment for me especially as we found my grandparents grave - I had quite forgotten that Gran had passed away in 2000 - a year when I was celebrating a decade at the farm and the completion of all the major tasks that had entailed : new roof, kitchen, woodburners, conservatory, bathroom, electrics, bore hole, barn extension, polytunnels, greenhouse and seemingly miles of fencing and gates by the dozen. A very different life to the one I now lead and at the time an absolute privilege to pursue.

The Brimstone Hotel, part of the Langdale complex at Elterwater, provided a sumptuous room with complimentary food, drink and a full breakfast so acted as the base for a few days revisiting old favourites such as Dungeon Ghyll and Stickle Tarn, Cathedral Cave at Tilberthwaite, the hills behind my late grandfather's home and Tarn Hows which looked almost spring like.

A covering of snow on the Saturday added to the beauty and made for an interesting return long after dark with our route through Little Langdale illuminated by head torches. In fact we enjoyed the accommodation so much we stayed an extra night returning to Yorkshire after a very enjoyable break.
I then headed south for a memorable badminton club Christmas meal near Brecon and then made use of Ian's barn at Penylan to replace my front discs and pads on the van thus curing an alarming wobble in the steering under heavy braking. After a day in Halfway and Crychan forests with Jan we were joined by Bill, Pete and Greg for an excellent meal above Lower Chapel after which Bill, Pete and I headed to the Elan Valley for a mild, wild and wet ride up to LCB bothy. The dams were overflowing dramatically and the bothy was in fine order providing shelter for lunch before we hared back over the hills to Rhayader.

The excellent small site at Llangurig provided showers and electric alongside peace and quiet before on the Sunday we drove across to Nant Yr Arian to tackle the Sydyfrin black route that explores the remote hills west of Nant Y Moch reservoir. It was one of our best days out ever with good weather, stunning views and some superb single track to finish with.

After for me a second night at Glangwy I cycled in to Nant Rhys bothy after a morning of heavy rain - the sun came out and again the hut was in fine order sporting an unusual stag's head on the dividing wall.
Back in Shropshire I enjoyed a family Christmas before heading north once more where after a few days walking and cycling in the Peak District including Ladybower reservoir we headed north to Scotland. Despite the dire weather warnings and recent flooding we had an uneventful journey arriving safely in Stirling on the Forth estuary. Here we were warmly welcomed by Mandy's brother and sister in law and met her father Bill who at 83 has recently bought a new Triumph motorcycle and regularly heads off in to the Highlands - quite an inspiration.
Two good bike rides on mostly traffic free routes took us to Culross, an old village with cobbled streets and to see the art installation known as the Kelpies. These are two huge metal horse heads rearing out of the ground which provided an impressive sight and the opportunity for some arty photography.
After a traditional Scottish seeing in of the New Year with whisky and haggis we headed up to the west coast staying at the excellent Lagnaha farm campsite near Duror on Loch Linhe ( Glencoe had looked as dramatic as ever and the site provided clean hard standing pitches, excellent showers and the all important hook up to keep us cosy at this time of year.
Sunday saw a walk in to a nearby bothy which provided a spot for lunch - several large pines blocked the forest tracks and some had been snapped clean off several feet above the ground - we found out that a couple of days earlier a localised storm had passed through and even flipped an 8m motorhome on to its side - apparently a write off.
The owners had bikes available and as the site lies adjacent to the Fort William to Oban Sustrans route we borrowed one and headed up to Ballachulish and Glencoe before stopping on the impressive girder bridge as the wind screamed through the lattice work.

Calmer weather on the Tuesday saw us cycling south to Appin and dramatic Castle Stalker. A very smart hotel welcomed us in for hot soup and sandwiches by the fire and after checking the ferry times to Lismore we returned to the site for another very comfortable evening. A quick foray in to Fort William restocked our fresh food but the town was very quiet at this time of year so we did not linger long.
Wednesday started off damp but we were off by mid morning to Port Appin for the ferry over to Lismore. I had failed to notice that the crew enjoyed a lunch break so we had to wait for the 2pm sailing but this gave us time to spin round the local area which took longer than expected leaving us a dash to catch the small boat for the ten minute crossing.
With limited time available we turned off for Sailean and the small sheltered jetty alongside an old limestone quarry and kilns that had once been a thriving community. Abandoned crofts stood forlornly and even the tied up boat looked as if it rarely set sail, indeed the pungent smell from several rotting barrels of salted herring rather indicated that the local economy had failed.
Across the loch though the lights of a large marble quarry accessible only by sea indicated that there is still industry in the area and the island still boasts a school and shop, craft centre and holiday accommodation.
We caught the 17.15 ferry back and enjoyed a final night of comfort in the van having packed up most things as poor weather was forecast - it was a wild night but the van proved as trusty as ever as we headed through Glencoe and south alongside the overflowing Loch Lomond.
Glasgow's motorways were quiet and the sun emerged as we headed to Carlisle where the sight of a skip each outside many houses in the centre was sobering. We treated ourselves to another night of luxury at Brimstone and had the pool more or less to ourselves in the mid evening and early morning before heading across the Peninnes after an excellent 10 days away.
On the Saturday I caught the train to York to visit an aunt who is recovering well from a heart attack and stroke before on the Sunday we walked on the outskirts of Sheffield.
Monday gave me a chance to catch up with Penny and all her news and I am now in Brecon for the first badminton of the year before heading over to Wiltshire for a weekend of walking and mountain biking.

Photos can be found here
Locations here.