17th April – Uphall to Falkirk

20190417 The only barge we saw on the Union Canal
The only barge we saw on the Union Canal

This was to be another long day on the Union Canal.

20190417 Niddry Castle near Winchburgh
Niddry Castle near Winchburgh

I left Uphall at 7.45, as I had around 5k to walk before meeting up with Rachel at 9.00 at Winchburgh.  Luckily we arrived within minutes of each other.

The only memorable parts of this section were the huge slag heaps and the Peel tower at Niddry Castle.

After a lot of catching up, Linlithgow eventually appeared, with the skyline dominated by Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.  In all honesty, we were more interested in tea and cakes which were amply provided by the Strawberry Cafe (highly recommended).

20190417 Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow Palace

I am sometimes asked why I do not visit more of the tourist highlights that I pass.  I think it is that I have to view the trip as a job.  Each day the objective is to reach the next stopping place, and I do not want to be diverted from that task.

20190417 Rachel at the Avon aqueduct
Rachel at the Avon Aqueduct

Leaving Linlithgow, we trudged on passing the Avon Aqueduct, which is very similar to the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales.

20190417 Toad

The only other excitement was finding a toad on the path.

Nearing Falkirk things looked up.  The Falkirk Tunnel was a joy, with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and large picturesque calcite deposits on the walls.

The tunnel is 631m long and was constructed because a wealthy industrialist, John Forbes, objected to the canal being visible from his estate!

20190417 Neil at the Falkirk Tunnel
Neil at the Falkirk Tunnel

We left the canal at the Tunnel to walk into Falkirk for more tea.  We arrived around 3.45.  Once we found my hotel, Rachel caught a bus back to Winchburgh.  It was great to have Rachel’s company for a 20-mile day, and our conversation made the walk pass quickly.

After I had a quick shower and dinner, John arrived to take me to see the Kelpies.

20190417 Neil at the Kelpies
Neil at the Kelpies

These are breathtaking and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.  The photos speak for themselves.

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10th April – Ickornshaw to Gargrave

20190410 Lothersdale
Lothersdale

Wyn and I woke feeling refreshed, and after a cooked breakfast left Winterhouse Barn at 8.30.  Tony and Olwyn could not have been better hosts.

The day was easier than the previous days being both shorter (18k) and with less ascent (520m).

We started by walking up to Gill before passing over Cowling Hill and descending into the picturesque village of Lothersdale.  The pub provided seats for a short break, but was being renovated.

Leaving Lothersdale we walked on past Hewitts Farm before the big climb of the day to Pinhaw Beacon.  The paths were not as rough and rocky as previously and we made good progress.  We met some friendly walkers on the summit and were reassured that they were even older than we were.

Pinhaw Beacon marked the end of the South Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales could be seen before us.  We descended from the Beacon towards Thornton-in-Craven, and after a little more gentle ascent arrived at the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Walking on the towpath for a while made a pleasant interlude.

20190410 Church at East Marton
East Marton church

We passed East Marton Church near the site of the curiously named Fish Ponds Hall. Next came the famous double arched bridge which carries the A59 over the canal.

20190410 Double-arch bridge at East Marton
Double-arch canal bridge at East Marton

Finally the much awaited Bridge 162 appeared and the Abbot’s Restaurant and Teashop. As it would have been impolite to deprive them of our custom we felt obliged to stop for cream teas.  I also needed to instruct Wyn in the correct (Cornish) way to apply the jam and cream.

20190410 Afternoon tea at the Abbots Restaurant East Marton
Everything stops for tea…

Much refreshed we left the canal and set off up a road with “garlic-scented ramsons” in the woods.  Leaving the road went across rolling drumlin hills and ascended Scaleber Hill to see Gargrave in the valley below.  We arrived at the Mason’s Arms at 5.10 after a much better day.

One of the pleasures of the past few days has been listening to the curlews and lapwings.  For the ornithologists: we saw a red kite, near Walshaw Dean Reservoir, being bombed by lapwings.  Apparently they are rare up here despite being so common in Oxfordshire.

After a fine dinner and the opportunity to rehydrate, we could look forward to an easier day on Thursday.

3rd April – Thorpe to Youlgreave

20190403 Sunrise at Thorpe
Sunrise at Thorpe

I left the Izaak Walton Hotel at 8.20 in bright sunshine, for a day walking in many of the limestone dales.

20190403 Stepping-stones Dovedale
Stepping-stones, Dovedale

The route started by going up Dovedale.  The scenery was stunning and it seemed churlish to hurry in such a place.  Tissington Spires, Ilam Rock, Raven’s Tor and Dove Holes were passed and admired.

20190403 Ilam Rock Dovedale
Ilam Rock, Dovedale

I entered the pretty village of Milldale over an old packhorse bridge.

20190403 Packhorse bridge
Packhorse bridge, Milldale

I had not seen a soul to this point which must be highly unusual in such a tourist hot-spot.  Unfortunately the small shop was closed, which was a problem as I had very little food with me.

20190403 Upper Dovedale
Upper Dovedale

I continued up Dovedale, before turning into Biggin Dale, admiring the dippers which were busy fishing in the river.

20190403 Biggindale
Biggin Dale

Reaching the Waterloo Inn at Biggin at 11.45, I decided to wait for the pub to open and have an early lunch.  Walkers are made very welcome there, and I had an excellent beef sandwich with a pot of tea.

20190403 Waterloo Inn at Biggin
Waterloo Inn, Biggin

An hour later I walked on towards Gratton Dale, another deep limestone valley.  The curlews were calling which I always find raises the spirits.

20190403 Grattondale
Gratton Dale

At this point I had to change maps, so when I discovered a kilometre later that I had lost my hat, I was confident that I knew where I had dropped it.  Half an hour later I was back, but without the hat.

I soon entered Bradford Dale which was a disappointment after the previous dales.  It was very damp and gloomy, and the river has been much changed by man.

20190403 Bradford dale
Bradford dale

By this time it was trying to rain and hail, but luckily Youlgreave and the George Hotel were very near.  I arrived at 4.45 after an excellent walk, which made up for the miseries of the previous day.

And finally…  two more shots of lovely Dovedale: Raven’s Tor, and the mysterious Dove Holes.

30th March – Much Wenlock to Shifnal

20190330 Talbot Inn Much Wenlock
The Talbot Inn, Much Wenlock

The Talbot Inn was very comfortable, and after a cooked breakfast I left at 8.45.

20190329 Guildhall Much Wenlock
The Guildhall

My route took me past the Guildhall, the scene of a minor epic many years ago.  In 1976 Linda and I had a camping holiday in the area and stopped in the town to find a campsite and to get some provisions.  Like most newly married couples we did not have much money, I seem to remember that we subsisted mainly on liver and onions with mashed potato and carrots.  While Lin did the food shopping I went to the Tourist Information which was in the Guildhall. When I was ready to leave I discovered that the door was locked and as the windows were barred I could not get out.

20190330 Barred window at the Guildhall
No escape by this route…

I went up into the council chamber and luckily managed to call down to Lin and explain what had happened.  She eventually tracked down the person responsible who was not very happy about having his lunch disturbed!

The walk over to Ironbridge was in thick mist and I managed to make a small navigation error leading me to walk 360 degrees around a field before finally finding the exit.  Bentall Woods above Ironbridge has many footpaths and can be confusing: I would have done better to just follow the Shropshire Way signs rather than the book.

20190330 Canal at Coalport
The Coalport Canal

Ironbridge finally came into view and crossing the famous bridge I stopped for coffee at the YHA hostel in Coalport.

20190330 Steps beside the Hay incline
Steps beside the Hay Incline

After climbing up beside the Hay Incline and crossing a golf course I entered Brockton, a very pretty village. I met a delightful young lady riding a horse and we chatted away for a while before she turned into Brockton Grange, an enormous Georgian house.  She stopped at the large decorative gates and used her mobile phone to dial in the code to get them to open!!

I carried on to Shifnal arriving at the station 3.01 pm. Unfortunately Karen was at the station car park and it took a few minutes to sort things out. We finally met up and went for tea and cakes at a garden centre where Karen had the most enormous piece of Victoria sponge that we had ever seen.

20190330 Karen about to enjoy her slice of cake
Karen poised to enjoy her cake!

Arriving at Karen’s house she very kindly cooked us a delicious dinner, which we enjoyed with a bottle of Malbec.  Despite this we remembered to change the clocks.

23rd August – Day off in Jedburgh

20180823 Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey

After a late breakfast and a little resupply shopping I met up with Alan. He had brought all the maps and guides that I will need for the rest of the trip. More weight to carry. I also swapped my t-shirts for long-sleeved thermals and picked up some gloves.

We enjoyed a pub lunch and in the afternoon I was able to book some accommodation and deal with some admin.

20180823 Queen Mary's House Jedburgh
Queen Mary’s House, Jedburgh

The Royal Hotel was very accommodating, and a real example of not judging a book from the cover, as the exterior belies what is inside.

20180823 Jedburgh market place
Jedburgh market place

10th July – Barnstaple to Challacombe

023 First sight of Exmoor
First sight of Exmoor

Tuesday 10th July

I had a slight timing issue today as I had arranged to meet my landlady for the evening at 4.00, at the pub in Challacombe.  Not wanting to be late, I left Barnstaple at 6.15 using my End to End Trail guide.  All was going well until I had to go down a footpath in the town between houses 74 & 73.  73 exists but 74 is a housing estate of flats and the alley is no longer there.  More delay as I found another way.
The first part of the route, once the town is left behind, was delightful going along a green lane above the River Yeo.
Emerging above Collard Bridge I was not inspired with confidence when the guide stated “It should be possible to follow the right of way once the trees have grown.”  As it was easy to nip down a country lane this is what I did. The author of the guide is obsessed with avoiding any roads and often proposes long and unnecessary detours.
Climbing out of the valley I was soon at Bratton Fleming and treated myself to a late breakfast.
024 The ford at Challacombe
The ford at Challacombe
Dropping down into the valley of the River Bray at Leeham Bridge I rose again to cross the watershed of the River Barle and arrived in Challacombe.
Small technical hitch. It was 11.45 and the pub had not yet opened!
025 Black Venus Inn
The Black Venus Inn – a great place for a 3-hour lunch break
It seemed churlish not to stay for a long and relaxed lunch and to rehydrate.  I eventually rang the B&B and got picked up.
Warren Farm is beautifully situated at around 400m on the edge of Exmoor. The farmer’s wife says that it was very different in the winter when there were 15 foot snowdrifts as they were lambing.
026 Warren Farm
Warren Farm

 

Tomorrow will be another short day as I only have to walk from Challacombe to the farm.  I could have easily reached here today but I have accommodation booked until Sunday which I cannot change.  A Catch 22 situation.

3rd July – Treyarnon to Wadebridge

20180703 Padstow Harbour
Padstow Harbour

Tuesday

As today was going to be another fairly short day I treated myself to a cooked breakfast at the hostel and did not leave until 8.00.

The day got off to a bad start, as a suggested shortcut led across dunes with lots of brambles, prickly rose-like plants and thorny bushes. My legs got badly scratched before I binned that route and took an alternative.  The rest of the day passed pleasantly crossing farmland with good paths to Padstow and then taking the Camel Trail along the estuary to Wadebridge.

The Travelodge is on the top of a hill on the outskirts but once there has all the amenities one could wish for; a large Tesco’s, a Lidl and a Bargain Store all within 200m, not to mention the pub next door which provided a fine steak.  I hope however that England can win the football as this evening will cost about the same as the previous five.

Having looked at the weather forecast and tried unsuccessfully to book accommodation after tomorrow night, I have decided not to worry and if I cannot get into a campsite I will just stop on the cliffs.  I am also planning to bin the rest days and keep going, to take full advantage of the fine weather.  The next few days are some of the hardest before Scotland, and having the flexibility to go slower in the heat will be an advantage.  Tomorrow is a big day to reach Boscastle, where I am staying in the Youth Hostel, so I plan to leave at 6.00 to take full advantage of the cooler mornings.