Category Archives: Europe

Birmingham, England – Impressions

Birmingham is known by some as the second city as it’s the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Situated in the West Midlands of England, Birmingham is just over 200km (125 mi) North West of London.

Although there is evidence of human’s in the area up to about 10,000 years ago, Birmingham, or Beormingahām as it was known, was said to have been established in the late 6th century. And with train tickets from London only £5.50 each way, it deserved a long weekend to explore what the city has to offer. St Martin in the Bullring…

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Bullring and Grand Central
Right near Birmingham Moor Street Station, these two separate indoor malls are joined by a series of sky bridges that cut through the nearby TK Maxx building to make one large indoor mall. The Bullring is named after the major commercial area of the city and is in a distinctive building. The connected Grand Central mall is just as large and is a distinct building of its own.

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Bullring Rag Market
Similar to the original markets which spawned the Bullring commercial region, the Rag Market is an area of fruit and vegetable stalls mixed with clothing and other general knickknacks in small booths. When compared to the upmarket style of the markets in York or some areas of London, you will understand where the name Rag Markets come from. While they certainly are not pretty, there are plentiful bargains here.

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Custard Factory
What’s now known as the Custard Factory, is an area of creative and digital businesses in a set of very colourful buildings that was once the Bird’s Custard Factory from the 1840s. It now contains many small shops, offices, galleries, theatres and eateries.

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Victoria Square
Under the statue of Queen Victoria, this public pedestrian square is surrounded by the Birmingham Town Hall, Council House and Chamberlain Square.

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Saint Philips Cathedral
the seat of the bishop of Birmingham, Saint Philips Cathedral, it is the third smallest in the UK. Compared to the Cathedral in York, it’s tiny, but still contains unique stained glass windows yet only a short 300-year history, including being damaged in World War II bombings.

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Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a villa built in the early 1600s that has been converted into a museum. It is situated in Villa Park, which, for those with a knowledge of sports, specifically Football,  is home to Aston Villa football team and their stadium, right next door. Unfortunately, the villa museum is not open on match days which just happened to be the day I stopped by for a visit.

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Gas Street Basin
An attractive section of canals in the network that flows throughout Birmingham, similar to many other UK cities. The surrounding area contains bars, cafes and several attractions such as the National Seal Life Centre and Birmingham’s Legoland.

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IKON Gallery
While waiting for my entrance time of the National Sea Life Centre, I popped into the local IKON gallery to check out a couple of the exhibitions. The IKON gallery is a world acclaimed art gallery spread over three levels just off the Gas Street Basin area. While it is fairly small, the three exhibitions were an interesting change of pace in this fast paced city.

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National Sea Life Centre
The National Sea Life Centre is an aquarium in Central Birmingham showcasing over 2000 different sea animals from various places around the world, from the Antarctic, across many of the continents. The aquarium is entirely set inside in a four-story building that leads you through a series of displays climbing step by step to the top, before catching a lift, or stairs, into the basement where there is a tunnel through a larger pool. Amazing displays show all sorts of creatures, from sharks to sea horses, penguins to jellyfish.

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Cadbury World
Cadbury World is an exhibition built beside the main Cadbury factory in Bournville which is a town originally built for the workers of the Cadbury factory. The Cadbury World exhibition is only one of two in the world, the other being in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 90-minute long attraction goes through the history of the Cadbury empire and documents many parts of the chocolate making process, including chocolate Easter egg manufacture. It is an interesting place to learn the history of chocolate and the region, and not just for the kids.

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Dudley Castle and Zoo
On the outskirts of Greater Birmingham is the township of Dudley, and on a hill above it is the ruins of the Dudley castle. Dudley Castle was built in 1070 by a Norman knight not long after the Norman conquests. I travelled for an hour out to Dudley to investigate the castle only to find that it was part of a zoo with a steeper entrance fee than I had hoped. And, as it was late in the day and I likely wouldn’t have enough time to make the visit worth the entrance fee, I took a bad photo and caught a tram back to the Birmingham city centre.

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Graffiti Art of Digbeth Walk
On my wanders around the city I noted many pieces of graffiti, but not until writing this did I discover there was an actual walk relating to a graffiti art. I would loved to have spent some time following this around the city as the few pieces I saw were amazing.

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Too Much to See
One long weekend was not enough to get to all the things I had hoped to see. Here are a few things I didn’t get to…

Thinktank Museum – Birmingham’s Science Museum.
Cannon Hill Park – The city’s most popular park spanning 250 acres.
Botanical Gardens – Gardens of a Botanical nature
The Coffin Works – A museum in the process of making coffins.

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Overall Impressions
Birmingham is a large thriving city only indeed second in the UK to London. The central city has so much foot traffic most days it could be considered reminiscent of Brixton or Oxford Street. But it is still different to the larger London, in that it is less cosmopolitan. And, only two hours away by train, it is definitely worth a visit.

The World Wanderer

York, England – Impressions

Twenty-two miles north of Leeds, York is a city in Yorkshire founded by the Romans in 71 AD.

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Over the nearly two millennia since it was founded it has been known as Jorvik, Eburakon, Eoforwic, Everwic, Yerk, Yourke, Yarke and eventually simply York. After the Roman founding, it was overtaken by the Angles, captured by the Vikings, overrun by the Normans, ravaged by William the Conqueror, saw a peasant revolt, a Catholic uprising, and was besieged by Parliamentarians during the English civil war. In the last century, it was bombed by the Nazis and has been entirely overrun by rampant armies of tourists, who currently besiege the city, pillaging its wares on a daily basis.

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The City Walls
As the city was founded as a Roman fortress, a large rectangular wall was built around it covering about 50 acres. Much of these original walls still exist in the city today although over time parts have been destroyed or left to fall into disrepair, only to be repaired at various points in their history.

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The walls are an enjoyable way to walk around the edge of the central city, with walkways around the upper portions. A full circuit of the city centre atop the wall takes about an hour and gives good views of the city.

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Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
During preparation to build the Yorkshire Museum, workmen uncovered the extensive remains of the 13th century St. Mary’s Abbey. Many parts of these ruins were incorporated into the design of the museum and are contained in various exhibits.

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The grounds of the museum are extensive, including gardens and other buildings beside the River Ouse. While the museum itself is small, the three floors showcase exhibits from the age of dinosaurs through history to modern times, with a major focus on the local area.

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York Minister
The York Cathedral is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.

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The cathedral was commissioned in 1220 and completed a short 252 years later in 1472. The entire building is 160m long and about 70m wide at its widest point. Inside the gothic architecture is beautiful with its open plan construction and a multitude of ancient stained glass windows. There are many areas inside the minister that are under restoration.

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The York Minister also has three towers, the central one some 72m tall. There is a challenge using the day to climb the 275 steps up the thin spiral staircases to the roof which has the best panoramic view out across York.

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Harry Potter, Diagon Alley and Shambles Market
While none of the Harry Potter movies was filmed in or around York, the city has still been taken over by Harry Potter Mania. There is a thin alley near the Shambles Market which has been compared to Diagon Alley from the movies.

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While I’m not a fan of the movies and have no idea what Diagon Alley is, the locals have taken advantage of the fever and there and many Harry Potter oriented shops in that particular alley. This one, for example, sells wands.

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York Castle and Clifford Tower
The mound on which the castle is built was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068, and the first wooden castle was built in the same year. But, by the following year, it had been burned to the ground by rebels and Vikings.

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The second wooden castle was completed soon after and lasted 100 years until 150 Jews hiding in it committed mass suicide by burning it down. It was rebuilt in stone in the mid 13th century by Henry III.

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The shell that remains now gives excellent views across York.

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Holgate Windmill
The Holgate Windmill is one of the few working five sailed windmills remaining in the UK. It was built in 1770 and has gone through many repairs over the past 250 years. It was closed in 1933 after storm damage. Restoration began in 2003 anew and was completed in 2012 when for the first time in over 80 years it turned by wind power.

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UK’s Confectionary Capital
York is considered the home of confectionary in the UK with the Rowntree company introducing to the world such offerings as Smarties, Kit-Kat and fruit pastels. Even George Cadbury, I don’t need to tell you which company he started, was trained at Rowntree’s in 1858. Rowntree’s is now owned by Nestle. But it’s not just big chocolate companies in York, there are many boutique chocolate stores in the city and even York’s Chocolate Story, an interactive attraction which delves into, oddly enough, York’s Chocolate Story.

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Guy Fawkes
In 1605 he was discovered about to ignite 36 barrels of gun powder under the Houses of Parliament in Westminster London in an attempt to ignite a Catholic uprising. He was hung 2 months later, then drawn and quartered. I mention this because Guy Fawkes was born and educated in York.

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Overall Impressions
York is a very busy city even in March, which is considered the low season. I’m told that in summer it’s almost impossible to move in some of the inner city streets for the tourists. In my opinion, it has a similar vibe to Prague in the Czech Republic based on the cobbled tight streets, the number of pubs and the sheer amount of tourists. There were many places to see, and I enjoyed learning about the popular destination in Northern England.

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The World Wanderer

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Impressions

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and is one of the most important ports in Europe. It is also considered the sixth safest city in the world, which seems odd considering the legal prostitution and profusion of marijuana in the city centre.

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To celebrate two of my housemate’s birthdays, I took three days out from my work schedule and flew into Amsterdam. Barely an hour’s flight from London, we were there before we knew it. I knew precious little of the city before I arrived, hoping to learn as I went and to follow the desires of my housemates.

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The city itself is clean, and some of the architecture is amazing, as you expect from a European city, although once you leave Old Town, many of the buildings become rather plain and boxlike. The streets themselves are fairly wide, and there are many canals throughout with regular boat tours.

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Bicycles
Amsterdam is a flat city, and while there are plenty of vehicles on the road, the culture has grown around cycling everywhere. Indeed, the most common sight in the city is the old ‘grand-dad’ style bicycles. Most roads have very defined cycleways, either marked or built in. This can make it a little confusing as to where walkers are supposed to walk. There are also many lockup locations for these bikes.

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Bicycles almost half the fun on Amsterdam, and it can be fun trying not to get hit by one of the city’s nearly eight hundred thousand bicycles, which are everywhere in every form. If you hear a bike bell ringing ahead, it is best to step aside of wherever you are walking, because the cyclists generally won’t stop for you. There are also plenty of scooters, as seems to be appearing in most European cities. These follow the same rules as the bicycles, so best to just get out of the way.

Coffee Shops
While marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands, in the Old Town at the centre of Amsterdam, the law tends to ignore it due to it being a major draw for tourism. It is one of the more renown things in the city, and the general expectation of people is that by going to the city much smoking will be done. As such, it is easy to get, and there is paraphernalia in many shop windows.

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This is also where the popularity of ’coffee shops’ grew from. Not to be confused with normal cafes, these ‘coffee shops’ are places where marijuana can be purchased and consumed. Out of curiosity, I visited one of these shops to determine how it worked. At the counter, there was a price list for everything sold including variety, pre-rolled or bagged, mixed with tobacco or straight, and a variety of other options. It is almost too easy to get. They also sell ‘Space Cookies’, as do many other places around the city. But, smoking is not only confined to these locations, but it can also be found everywhere.

Red Light District
As prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, an entire section of Old Town has been set aside for it. Through the back alleys, there are tiny booths lit by red lights, where women wait wearing all manner of next to nothing, offering the goods, so to speak. While it is not my thing, from my understanding, if a guy is willing, he goes into the small room with her, the curtains are closed, and the business is done. There are so many girls in the windows that many are bored and seem more interested in their phones than anything else, letting the ‘goods’ sell themselves. There is a no photos policy around this district, so none were taken.

Cheese Glorious Cheese
The Dutch have a distinct love of cheese, but unlike the French with their soft cheeses, and the British with their hard cheeses, Dutch cheese is semi-soft, with varieties such as Gouda and Edam. In the centre of Amsterdam, there are so many Cheese shops it is almost obscene. And each of the stores has a sample plate for each of the varieties, refilled regularly. On our first day in the city, we must have passed 15 such cheese stores and ate samples from all of them. Most of the stores are from one manufacturer, Henry Wiig, but there were a couple of others too.

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Edam and Volendam
As a side tour one day, the three of us caught a bus north to the small townships of Edam and Volendam, where we hired bikes. We rode around the streets, and near the dykes while looking out to the sea and along the way we found the occasional windmill. It was nice to get away from the bustle of the larger city, but it was still filled with tourists.

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Duck Shops
Both Amsterdam and one of my housemates are Rubber Duck mad. Everywhere we went there were rubber ducks of different varieties, and we even discovered two entire stores dedicated entirely to them, much to the enjoyment of said housemate. There are so many different kinds of duck, from Trump ducks to cat ducks, from horror ducks to birthday ducks, ducks based around most celebrities and of course just plain rubber ducks. These ducks can come in all manner of sizes, from the size of your thumbnail to twice the size of your head.

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Anne Frank House
There are many famous museums in Amsterdam, including the Van Gogh and the Rembrandt House, but the one we decided to invest some time into was Anne Frank House. Anne Frank’s Diary is an account of two years of Anne’s life as a Jew in hiding during WW2. The museum is the actual workplace of Anne’s father, Otto Frank, and the location where three families hid from the Nazi’s before finally being captured near the end of the war.

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The museum is an audio tour through the house, explain different parts of their time in hiding, and an in-depth account into the writing of the diary, along with the thoughts and feelings of those in the house. It is interesting to walk around in the actual location of the hideout, listening to the biographical audio. While it was not an overly sad experience, it was educational, and we all enjoyed our visit.

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Overall,
Amsterdam is a fun place to visit for a few days. While it has its share of quirks, like most cities, the three of us enjoyed our visit, and I would recommend going.

The World Wanderer.

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 4

Day 4 – Buttermere to Boot – 12 miles (19.3km) – 8 hours

It rained overnight, and that left me expecting the worst from the weather today. But thankfully, the sun came out and decided it liked the day, so stayed. There were plentiful clouds, which kept the temperatures down but with little wind. Overall, an awesome day to hike in the Lake District.

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I left the hostel and walked down through the village towards Lake Buttermere. Ahead I could see several groups of people and hoped not to get stuck behind any of them.

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I quickly passed a group of six teenage girls that were taking off their clothes on the side of the trail. If only this were a regular thing on hikes! Alas, they were a group of schoolgirls doing a group exercise? They had overdressed for the day and were removing excess clothing. I continued on along beside the lake.

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At the end of the lake, the trail cut steeply into Buttermere Fell. I took a shortcut, and when I rejoined the main path ran into another group of teenage girls, these were sweaty from having climbed the steep trail. I wished them well and continued climbing.

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Today is the fourth day of this hike, and my body is so used to the effort it just does what I need it to do. While my legs are still a little sore, they just seem to power up the hill without too much effort.  I stopped about a third of the way up for a shot back along the Lake Buttermere.

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Before I knew it, I was through Scarth Gap and crossing the pass towards the other side. For the most part of the hike today the trail had been rocky or covered in slate.

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I came down the other side of the pass and headed down into the next valley River Liza running strong along it amidst Ennerdale Forest. I followed a fence on a path made from large cobblestones, and stopped for a for a break, taking my boots off.

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After a few minutes, I continued down into the valley. I note on my map a hut along the way, and as I got closer, I noticed it was occupied. When I arrived at it, I discovered it was a YHA, the most remote YHA in the UK. I stopped for a coffee and ate my lunch. Ahead, I guessed my trail led me up beside the stream called Sail Beck, in the middle of the photo.

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It was taller than the previous climb, and the trail was less obvious, but after 30 minutes I was at the top and looking down wondering how I’d got there so effortlessly. The path was at times boggy, and sometimes I had to scramble up some rock, but nothing too strenuous. At the top, I looked down at the trail on the other side, which was made mostly of stone steps.

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I climbed down into the valley, passing several hikers, and stopped to chat to the leader of the two groups of girls who were waiting for them. The sun came out again, and I looked down along Mosedale to Yewbarrow in all of its rocky glory.

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At the end of the valley, the village of Wasdale Head and a low pass over Sca Fell, where I would be climbing out of the valley. I stopped at the Inn for a cider and took my boots off again. Pro tip: regularly dry off the feet, socks and boots by taking them off. This helps to prevent blisters, especially on hot days.

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After my drink, I packed up and headed off again for about two kilometres before heading up the Sca Fell. While I was crossing the fell known as Sca Fell, I did not climb the main peak, which is the tallest mountain in England. After a while, I looked down on Wast Water, the deepest lake in the Lake District at 79 metres.

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When I reached my highest point of the fell, the ground was a lot boggier, and I had to dig my boots out of the bog several times, but after a mile or so I came to Burnmoor Tarn. At the tarn, I realised that my hostel for the night was more than a mile from Boot, my planned destination. So, I chose another trail that would take me closer.

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This, however, led me across a lot more boggy ground and a footbridge…

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…towards Eel Tarn and a lot more boggy ground.

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Eventually, I got close to the tarn and ran into a man who looked rather lost. I showed him the map and sent him on his way, then skirted the tarn and headed onto a more rocky trail. This led me down to eventually come out at the Woodpack Inn, just down the road from my hostel.

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A long day climbing may hills, but with my body in a good state, I’m looking forward to the next three days.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 2

Day 2 – Rosthwaite to Braithwaite – 12 miles (19.3km) – 7 hours

After the full day of rain yesterday, the weather was supposed to clear up for the rest of the week; ‘was supposed to’, being the operative statement here. When I awoke at the hostel, it was raining and would continue to do so for most of the first part of the day. What’s a hiking man to do but strap on his pack and get out there.

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I walked out from the hostel during a pause in the rain hoping it had stopped for the day, but alas, ten minutes down the road, the rain began again. While it wasn’t heavy, only a gusty drizzle, it was annoying. I followed the River Derwent for a while before it headed up Tongue Gill. I was somewhat thankful for the cool weather as makes it easy to climb. Not far up the valley I stopped and looked back on Rosthwaite and in the distance, the valley I had come out of the day before.

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The gill ahead looked arduous, a steady climb all the way, including the wall at the end. What made it more difficult was that for every 10 minutes I walked, I spent 5 minutes hovering either behind an old slate wall, in the opening of a mine or a cave, waiting for the gusts and drizzle to subside. Along the way, to help out the climb, there are many slate steps. Towards the top, there are more broken down buildings and mine shafts. I ignored them as it is never a good idea to explore old mines.

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Once at the top of the steep, wet, slate steps, I pulled out the hiking poles, this time to stabilise myself at the top in the somewhat extreme gusts of wind. The plateau at the top is boggy, and I sloshed across it, my boots filled by water already, only an hour into the day. I climbed over Miners Crag and Red Crag on my way up High Spy, the wind and rain continuing to pelt at me. Eventually, I arrived at a large cairn marking the top point of my climb.

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From here there was a long walk across the top of High Spy and Maiden Moor in the relative peace and solitude. It is difficult to take photos with the persistent rain, but I was able to see down into the next valley during clear moments.

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Towards the end of Moor I began to see people coming out of the mist, then when I came over Bull Crag, I looked down towards Derwent Water. Ahead more people climbed towards me and many more standing on Cat Bells, the small peak at the end of the chain. I would not be going that far along as my trail headed down to the left before it.

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After a series of muddy descents, I followed a trail down and away from the mass of day climbers. Ahead you can just make out people on the top of Cat Bels.

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My descent took me down into the valley I had seen from High Spy.

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I eventually came down to a path and the sun fought its way out of the clouds to welcome me. I followed the trail to Little Town, which is only a village, where I stopped for a coffee break in some tea rooms.

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After my break, I set out again around the valley, following the base of the Cats Bells. Instead of climbing and being beaten by the wind and rain, I got a pleasant walk across some paddocks, avoiding sheep and cow dung, before heading out along some country lanes.

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But as I crossed the valley, my next climb loomed, climbing the valley alongside Stonycroft Gill between the Barrow on the right and Causey Pike on the left.

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With sore legs after the past two days, the long slow climb was quite a slog.

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I turned the bend and headed up the valley, slowly. The sun decided to show its face finally, and things began to warm up. On sore legs, I pushed on.

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Darks clouds amazed behind me as I looked back along the trail to the valley.

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I pushed on along the rocky path, always climbing. I passed a steep climb to the top of the pass and chose to continue on towards where the trail doubled back to a flatter trail. I finally arrived at the Barrow Door, between The Barrow and Stile End, where I looked down upon Braithwaite below me.

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For the last 20 or so minutes I quick marched down into Braithwaite. On arrival at my hotel, I checked in, got an upgrade to a double room and got set up for the evening, including a well deserved hot bath to ease my aching legs. Tomorrow is the shortest day of this hike with only one major climb.

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 6

Day 7 – Coniston to Ambleside – 15 miles (24km) – 8 hours

Today is to be the longest day and has the highest climb of the hike, while it is 200m short of Snowdon, I have two further climbs today, plus a lot of road walking. But it is the final day of the hike, and I will be pushing it at the end.

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I set out from the hostel climbing a fairly steady road until it merged with a dirt one. This rose steadily into the mountains, past an old copper mine to where the YHA Coniston Coppermines. A remote hostel for those wanting to be out in nature. Beyond it, the next stage of my climb.

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I cut up the hill on a vague trail which didn’t seem to match my OS map and GPS locator. But it eventually caught up, and I climbed steeply up the hill until I came to a prominent trail. It was about here that it decided to try to rain. I stopped and put on my pack cover, but the rain didn’t make it past a light drizzle and eventually stopped.

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I made it to the Levers Water reservoir to find a group of female hikers studying a map. I joined in a discussion on the various crags around the basin. They were doing a circuit of the basin, while I was climbing to the top.

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I pushed on past the reservoir and into boggy ground. The top of the valley was ahead of me, and I presumed it would be the top of my climb, boy was I wrong.

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At the top of the valley, there is a large cairn. But this is not the top, the trail cuts steeply up the rocky face of Swirl How. To add to the fun, the mist had rolled in, and the drizzle continued. Thankful I had worn my long sleeve hiking shirt today, I turned down the sleeves and began the long climb up the mountain.
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Each time I thought I had arrived at the top, the mountain continued higher, until I eventually could see the cairn at the top in the mist. I climbed on, but as it was cold and I couldn’t see much at the top, I didn’t hang around.

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The trail cut around to the north, dipping and climbing past the Great Carrs, Little Carrs, Hell Gill Pike and several crags as it slowly made its way down over the course of three kilometres.

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Once I could see the bottom point of the mountain – where the cars are – I realised that my next climb was right across the road. It was a little chilly, and the wind had a slight bite to it. But I found a sheltered rock and sat to eat my lunch.

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The climb up to Red Tarn was easy, although I am not sure where the name came from. Perhaps the mist and rain hid some redness?

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While the climb up to Red Tarn was easy, the climb down the other side was not so fun. For a start, it was wet and rocky, but it seemed to go on forever. Descending is hard on the knees, and by the time I got to the bottom, I was hurting quite a lot.

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By the time I reached the valley, the mist had moved enough to take a good photo. For the next 3 kilometres, I walked along a flat valley on a stone road. The road continued for some time through the middle of the valley until eventually coming to a farmstead where it met a real road.

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I followed the trail to the left and over a bridge. It led into a paddock along the river where I walked for a kilometre to a pub where I took the opportunity to stop for a cider. The trail then merged with the Cumbria Way and made its way up the hill a little. I paused and looked back down to the Inn in a valley with the mountains behind it.

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I then followed a quiet road behind many of the farms and quarries for several miles through the forest. This area was quiet, and I only passed one couple as I walked.

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Eventually, I made it to a major road and then on through the town of Elterwater and up to another major highway on the other side. I then crossed several fields and walkways until I came around the back of Loughrigg Tarn to a caravan site and beyond.

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Finally, I climbed beneath Ivy Crag, my last climb of the hike and the final Fell. The trail led only 500 metres across until it came down onto farm roads.

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From there, I got a good view down into Ambleside.

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For the next 2 kilometres, I walked down farm roads onto more distinct roads and finally into the town itself. Then it was the last kilometre from Ambleside to the YHA I had left 7 days earlier.

Overall, the 7-day, 90-mile loop that is the Innway of the English Lake District has been by one of the better hikes I have walked in the UK. Finally, I found the right balance of nature and civilisation. There is much beauty in the region, days where I just looked back, and all I could see was nature.

Next time I push further north and into Scotland to find some true wild country in these Isles, but that won’t be until the next hiking season, next year.

Until then,

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 5

Day 5 – Boot to Broughton-in-Furness – 14 miles (22.5km) – 6.25 Hours

After the hard climbs of yesterday, today is longer but with less climbing. With the sun out, today should be an easy and glorious day.

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From the hostel, a mile out of Boot, the trail quickly crossed to the other side of the river cutting more than a mile off the trail should I have stayed in Boot. From across the river, I could see the rocky ridge I had come down the day before. The little building in the middle is the hostel.

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I crossed farmland for a short distance before the trail cut up onto Harter Fell. There was plenty of sheep, so I spent much time avoiding their droppings as I walked through the paddocks. As I climbed higher, I got a better look along the valley I had stayed in overnight.
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At only 350m above sea level, the climb quickly came to an end, and I got my first look beyond and into Ulpha Fell, a crag dotted area. It was here that the bogginess began again and I spent much time stepping around the flows of water hoping not to sink ankle-deep in the slush. I failed several times, thankfully my boots are mostly waterproof, so I did not suffer the wet feet of earlier days. Ahead I could see the beginning of Dunner Forest, one of the few real wooded areas on this hike.

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Unfortunately, the trail through the forest was also boggy in many places.

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But, it still gave good views across the Dunnerdale-with-Seathwaite range. You have to love these English place names.

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As I came out of the forest, I came out at a farmstead where I found a nice place to sit and have lunch. A family with two young boys came past laden with full camping gear. They stopped for a brief chat, and I discovered the wife had grown up in the town I would be staying at overnight – Broughton-in-Furness. After my early lunch, I followed them along a grassy road, through several sets of gates before I got my first look down on the valley of High Wallowbarrow.

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I passed the family as they ambled, and headed steeply down a curving rocky trail that just seemed to go on forever.

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The curved trail ended at a farm where I turned left and headed into a wood where I crossed a river on stepping-stones before eventually coming to the Newfield Inn, where I stopped for a well-deserved cider.

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After my break at the Inn, I walked on quickly and headed back up into the fells. With a mountain called Caw on my left, I worked my way up to 355m above sea-level.

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As I followed the Park Head Road path I quickly came to the top and a view out over the Irish Sea in the distance.

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From here the trail led me downhill towards the Broughton West Flats, and again a view of the Irish Sea.

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The trail came down to a road for a couple of hundred metres before coming to a farmstead called Hoses. The path then cut back up the hill sharply and steeply, along the fence line. It cut through fields of ferns scratching at my legs as I walked, with the occasional nettle hidden beneath it.

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Eventually, I came down into the flat farmland where I crossed paddocks for several kilometres until I was forced to walk through a thin trail covered in bramble and nettle. As much as I tried, there was no avoiding it. Hours later, and my legs are still tingling from the nettle stings.

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I finally came out onto a major road and was forced to climb a steep hill on a footpath. But on the other side was Broughton-in-Furness, the first place I could get a signal for my phone in days. I located my BnB, my first of this trip, where the owner was away, and I would have the place to myself.

Day 6 – Broughton-in-Furness to Coniston – 13 miles (21km) – 6 hours

When I woke this morning, there was brilliant sunlight coming in through the B&B’s sky-light. When I went downstairs to confirm, I found a perfect blue sky. According to the maps, today is to be a fairly average length day with few climbs, an easy one in the sun.

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As Broughton-in-Furness is just outside the mountainous region of the Lake District, there is plenty of farmland around. For the first two miles or so I crossed paddocks, some that were once public walkways, but have been blocked off. This did not stop me crossing, I just had to be quick.

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I crossed a small Moss called Middlescough which was still not much of a climb, but had a fair amount of ferns covering it, both living and dried out.

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I then pushed up into Thornthwaite Latter Rigg, a small rolling hillock that was an easy climb which barely got the heart pumping. The only annoyance was the number of brambles hidden within the ferns, so climbing up the thin trail caused me to come away with many scratches up both arms. Battle scars of hiking.

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I followed the trail up Woodland Fell. I’m not sure where this name came from as there is no woodlands, trees or similar, just boggy tall grass. This led me to my first proper climb of the day, but only to 150m.

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The path then joined the Greater Cumbria Way Trail and headed north towards the Beacon Tarn, but before I reached it, I found a spot to rest and eat the lunch I had prepared.

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My next stage would be to walk around the Tarn, but when I got to it, it was very boggy, so I took the option to climb Beacon – the hill beside the tarn. At 255m it was not particularly strenuous but the view of the surrounding land and nearby reservoir was well worth the minimal effort.

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And off to the right from the top of Beacon, the five-mile long Coniston Water. When I eventually arrived at the hostel, it was filling with people who would be swimming the length of the lake for a charity event.

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I walked quickly down the hill along the trail and quickly came to the tarn that simply had the name ‘reservoir’. Before I crossed the farmland for about a kilometre to arrive at Torver, a small township which looked to have had mass-produced housing, all in grey.

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From Torver, I began climbing a stony road as I ascended slowly towards the mountain known as the Old Man of Coniston.

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As I followed the trail steadily towards the base of The Old Man, I came to a hidden pool sunken into the rock fed by a waterfall.

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At the base of the mountain, the trail turned to a road and lead towards the town of Coniston.

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Behind The Old Man is a horseshoe valley called the Coniston Fells. This would be a great place to come back and hike around.

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I took the advice of a guy I met at the Buttermere YHA and modified my route to climb around to Miners Bridge which gave me a good view across the valley to Coniston town and lake.

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While it was an easy day, my last day looks to be the hardest and longest yet. I will start the day with the highest climb of the circuit and with the hike coming to an end late tomorrow.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 3

Day 3 – Braithwaite to Buttermere – 11 miles (17.7km) – 5 hours

The good news today is that it didn’t rain. It did think about it a couple of times, but the waterworks never eventuated. I was thankful, as my boots had struggled to fully dry during both of the previous nights, even in the hostel’s dry rooms. And, on another positive note, today will be the shortest and easiest day of this hike.

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My overnight hotel had a late check-out, but I still managed to get away at 10. I walked though the village and found a place to buy a sandwich for lunch. Then, 100m out of the town I found the trail and headed out along it. At a suitable point, not far along the path, I stopped and looked back to Braithwaite.

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The trail was thin with brambles and thorn bushes on either side, but I came away unscratched. After some time the thin path met a road that followed the valley around to the right following Coledale Beck.

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One part of hiking I enjoy is the mystery of what I find along the way and as I followed the road around I was met with Force Crag at the end of the valley. The thought that crossed my mind was, ‘I have to climb that?’

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Things at a distance always look worse than they really are and as I got closer to the valley’s end, I could see the trail leading up the hill beside it. It still looked rather thin and precarious, but again, things appear worse from a distance.

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To follow the trail, I had to cross the river on stepping-stones, before climbing the hill, which I found easier than I had expected. While it had looked thin from a distance, you could have driven a 4×4 vehicle up the rocky trail. At the top, I looked back along the valley.

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And once at the top, the trail continues up the hill beyond, zigzagging to the top of the pass between Sand Hill and Crag Hill.

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A series of people came over the top as I climbed, and one guy told me it was very windy at the top. I took heed and near the top put my jacket on. I wear my coat backwards unless it’s raining heavily. This is to mainly protect against the wind and keep me warm, while not adding to the sweat running down my back. And, should I get too warm, I can pull my arms out without losing the wind protection at the front.

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When I got to the top, it was indeed very windy. I looked down the other side and could see Liza Beck as it made its way along Gasgale Gill. I followed the trail down, fighting against the wind as I went.

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The trail was not an easy walk, at many places was covered in slate, and with parts that had slipped away. While I was not very high above the stream, at many places I was still forced to hang on to whatever I could just to get past.

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Two-thirds of the way down Loweswater and the peak beyond came into view. Finally, I exited the valley and came out on green paddocks. I crossed a major road and followed a trail through a small wood. I came out at a carpark at the other end and followed the road for a short distance to Loweswater village, where there’s an inn.

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The sky decided it might be a good time to rain, so I stopped for a break and a cider. By the time I’d finished, the sun was out again, so I wasted little time heading off again. Across the valley, I could see the Gill I had come from beginning to look menaced by clouds.

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Ahead of me, Crummock Water came into view as I came over a small hill. The trail cut along the base of a ridge line, although the path itself was straightforward to follow and not particularly difficult.

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Towards the end, I passed the Low Long Crag that jutted out into the lake, a mini peninsula with a beach on each side.

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Not long after I arrived at Buttermere village and spent some time wandering around trying to find the YHA. When I got there, I found I could not check in until 5, so I headed back down into the village for a cider.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 1

Day 1 – Ambleside to Rosthwaite – 13 miles (21km) – 8 hours

There is only one word that can describe today, drizzle. This was the forecast for the day, and that’s it turned out. While I’ve had spells of rain on other hikes, such as when I climbed Snowdon, today it rained all day. This constant wetness put some of my gear to the test, but I’m glad I invested in dry bags, as my pack cover did a fairly average job at keeping things in my pack dry.

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I left my accommodation late this morning, my packing taking longer than I had hoped. When I did get away, there was already a slight drizzle. The YHA Ambleside is a kilometre from central Ambleside, and this added extra distance to the day. When I got into town, I found more adventure stores than I could count. I stopped at the local Tesco to pick up some zip lock bags to protect my phone, then I headed north following a major road. After a while, I was led across Rydal Park and with some of the fells just beginning to be covered in clouds.

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At the far end of the park is Rydal, a quaint little village that I swept quickly through. I followed a stony trail, gently gaining altitude as I climbed around a hill called Nab Scar. To my left, I began to see Rydal Water coming more into view, with Heron Island in the centre.

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The trail continued to ascend slowly, passing the occasional cottage. The path then cut north and began to climb towards Alcock Tarn, a small mountain lake. As I got higher, I looked down onto Grasmere Lake.

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Alongside the lake near the village of Town End there was a gathering of some kind, a race day perhaps, based on the voices coming off the PA system.

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In the weather, my GPS tracker seemed on the fritz, so I followed the map as best as I could in the weather. At one point, as I climbed, I could hear the baying of dogs from above. I stopped, and more than a dozen dogs, all of the same breed, came screaming down the hill, leaping the trail as it went. I am not sure where they were going, but they were going there in a hurry. After some time and much climbing, I eventually make it to Alcock Tarn.

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While the climb was fairly steep, the descent was worse as the stones were slippery. This forced me to take my time as I made my way down. After a time I eventually came down into the township of Grassmere. Like Ambleside, it was bloated with tourists, with many cafes and other places tourists like to go. It is, after all, school holidays and a bank holiday weekend.

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As I passed through Grassmere, I came across a paddock filled with black sheep. I had seen the occasional black sheep during my many walks in England, but this one paddock looked like something had gone wrong. A sheep death march or something.

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At the other side of the village, I crossed a footbridge over Basedale Beck and out onto a path made from large cobbles. In the distance, I got my first sight of where another Beck came down out of the hills.

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I cross some paddocks, and then followed a trail along a stonewall under Jackdaw Crag, again the Beck coming down out of the hills was visible in the distance.

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The climb was long and somewhat arduous, but in the ever-present rain, I slogged on, my little umbrella doing wonders. I climbed higher up Far Easedale Gill, the rain coming harder and the hills around me disappearing into the mist. I pushed on unable to see how much further I had to go. When I got to the top, it was a brief flat area before I began climbing Greenup Edge. In the rain, it was not difficult, only long. Eventually, I did get to the top to a long plateau of boggy ground.

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It was here I got a little lost, my GPS was working, but in the mist, I could not find the correct trail. I followed the path ahead of me, but the squelching of my boots that were by now completely filled with water was not fun.

I did eventually find the trail and found that there was a series of cairns set up by previous walkers. As I walked, I heard a shout and looked up to see five people rushing towards me, so I stopped. When they arrived, they were very pleased to see me. It seems, they had been lost for a couple of hours in the mist, and I was the first person they had seen. Thankfully, I was on the correct trail and gave them some advice on how to get to Grassmere.

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At the top of a crag, I looked down the Greenup Gill. As I began my descent into the valley, I noticed someone climbing towards me. When he arrived, I stopped for a chat. It was a South African guy who had lived in New Zealand for several years. I gave him the same ‘follow the cairns’ advice I had given the previous group, and he set off again. The wind had picked up, so I put down my umbrella and for the first time in the day, took out my walking poles. Slippery stones are dangerous, and I did not wish to hurt myself on my first day of seven.

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The Stonethwaite Beck was running fast due to recent rain. I crossed on a footbridge where another river joined it, crossed that second river and followed a stony road around past a cottage.

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After another kilometre, and passing through Stonethwaite, I finally arrived at my accommodation for the night. A long hard walk in the rain, but that’s what you sometimes get, at least it was not as bad as it could have been.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Snowdon and the Ranger Trail – Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Snowdon is the tallest mountain in Wales and of all the British Isles south of Scotland. At 1085m above sea level, it’s not really that tall, but with the sharp ridges leading to it having claimed many deaths over the years, its height is nothing to be scoffed at. However, while there are dangerous routes up it, there is also a tourist route directly from Llanberis, which is why it is a popular climb. So, today I will be climbing it with 35+ people from my Meetup.com group, plus, no doubt many others thinking of doing the same.

When I woke this morning it was raining, Murphy’s Law considering the UK has had pristine weather for the past two months.

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After breakfast, we all congregated outside in the cold preparing mentally for the climb ahead. And once we were ready, we began up the road I had come down the day before. This allowed me to get a morning shot of Moel Eilio, the main peak from yesterday’s hike.

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With a group this size, hiking becomes more of a social event, but I knew that would be the case before I signed up. With the wind buffeting us already, we continued to a gate on the side of the road and headed out across the slightly soggy grassy fields heading towards where the Snowdon train line meets its first stop. Ahead of us, Snowdon was ominously obscured by clouds.

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Once across the tracks, we climbed up the Llanberis Trail, the tourist route mentioned earlier. This trail is wide and is mainly laid with large flat stones or shale rock. And, it is what I call ‘Disneyland’ when looking up (or down) the trail lines of people can be seen climbing as if they were waiting in line for a ride. Here, looking back along the trail after a brief rain, with the Czech girl who would become my hiking partner for the day.

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The climb was not difficult, with a steady climb from the beginning which can be progressed with a plodding walk. We fought the elements the entire time, with the wind gusting into our faces. We plugged away in our little groups along the trail, passing people both climbing and returning, including three walkers ‘driving’ RC 4x4s along the trail. We stopped briefly at Halfway House, a cafe at the midpoint of the walk, but it quickly grew cold, so we pushed on.

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The next stage of the climb was more difficult, it began to rain briefly but thankfully not for long. The wind, however, seemed to pick up, tearing at our clothing, but we plodded on. People came and went from my small group, but my Czech walking partner and I kept pace. The climb grew steeper and colder as we went, but we pushed on at speed, the cold and howling wind winning over our slowly tiring legs. We pushed up past Clogwyn Station, the last train station before Summit Station, and looked out along a flat area with the small lake of Llyn Du r Arddu just hidden from our view.

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The wind picked up again as did the steepness, and at one point, the Czech girl, another girl and I formed a human chain so as not to be torn from the mountain. We pushed on and finally gained the top of the steep section, and under a thin train bridge. On the other side, there was some respite from the wind and good views along a valley called Cwm Glas Bach before the cold pushed us to continue. 1800m to go.

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The grade became the steepest it had been, clouds began flowing over us giving everything a foggy look. We pushed on, with great gusts of wind flowing over us and we were forced to stop each time we felt the large blast coming. The steepness gave up a little, and the trail flattened out, but the wind seemed to grow stronger. We trudged on as we reached 1000m above sea level and the trail continued between a set of ragged rocks and the train tracks. The wind was at torturous levels, and deep in the cloud, with no idea how much further the trail went, it felt like we were walking forever. We struggled on for the last few hundred metres and finally arrived at the summit. The last couple of metres of a climb to the very top, we virtually crawled these last couple of steps, I hung onto my Czech companion to ensure she did not fly away.

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Near the top is the Summit Station with a cafe and gift store. When we entered, we found nearly a hundred people crammed inside the large area with an enormous window looking out to one side of the summit. We found a place to stand and ate the lunch the hostel had provided us. But as it was freezing even in the crowded room, we did not stay long and decided to head down again.

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There are several ways down the mountain, and my walking partner and I decided to split from the group and follow the Ranger’s Trail. This cut beneath a range called the Clogwyn Coch and above the Lyyn Fyynnon-y-gwas reservoir. The trail led us down a rocky trail with the wind dragging us sideways, zig-zagging down towards this reservoir. There were fewer people on the path, so it felt more like being in the wilderness, and as we got to the bottom of the valley, the wind subsided, and we stopped for a rest.

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For the next 2km, we walked along a flat trail in this beautiful setting, with few people, until we came to the trail I had walked along at the end of my hike yesterday. Then for the final 4km back to the hostel, we saw no-one. This allowed us to have a long chat about things while enjoying the remainder of the walk, and to top it off, the sun finally emerged from the clouds.

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Overall, while it felt like a ‘Disneyland’ of a walk, it was still a hard slog all the way to the top, battling against the wind and occasional icy rain. Descending was easier and with good company, friendly conversation and amazing scenery, we arrived back at the hostel ready for showers and a relax.

Tomorrow, it’s back to London on the train.