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Archive for the ‘Walks’ Category

 

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Last Christmas (it was only three weeks ago – seems like forever!) was the bi-annual get together with Mr Stoatie’s side of the family and so we set off with the dogs, for a weeks holiday at Romaldkirk in County Durham.

We stayed in a converted barn in a holiday let complex just off one of the three village greens. The village itself is very picturesque, even in the dismal winter weather and must be a honeypot in the summer. For the first few days we had relentless rain and strong wind, then Christmas Day we had a glimpse of blue skies between the squalls, and finally some crisp frosty weather for the remainder of the week.

There used to be a railway line through the village run by the Tees Valley Railway which has since been converted into a public footpath. There’s an interesting site here which tells you all about it.  In a break with tradition it was decided that the Family Walk (along the old railway line) would take place before The Presents and The Dinner.

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With an elderly dog, and having been ill myself, I had an ideal excuse to head back when the freezing hail and strong wind got too uncomfortable. Mr Stoatie and the eldest daughter nobly offered to accompany me! For the entire time we were out this rainbow remained in the sky.

Romaldkirk Kirk

Some parts of the Church date back to Anglo Saxon period, although it’s believed that the Scots laid waste to most of it a few years after the Norman invasion. Unsurprisingly it’s dedicated to St Romald who was born in Northamptonshire in 650AD, I’m not sure how he came to be venerated up here. It’s said that Romald (or Rumwald) was a grandson of King Penda, the great Mercian king whom I’ve a bit of a soft spot for – he was one of the last pagan kings!

Kirk Inn

Romaldkirk Green

Romaldkirk is only ten minutes away from Barnard Castle. When we were courting Mr Stoatie and I had spent a couple of weeks camping nearby and had visited the Bowes Museum there. My abiding memory was watching the swan automaton so we took the eldest daughter with us to relive the experience. The swan is only wound once a day, to help preserve the mechanism, and it’s truly magical. It used to cost a guinea to see the swan a few years after it was manufactured in 1773 and was quite a crowd puller by all accounts. In this age of CGI it’s hard to imagine how awe inspiring this would have been in those days.

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The museum, which was purpose built to house the collection of the Bowes family, is a beautiful building, styled, rather incongruously, as a French chateau and is packed with art, fine furniture and costumes. It’s well worth a visit.

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Bowes Museum

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The barn.

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Mr Stoatie and I managed to get out by ourselves for a couple of hours on Boxing Day and took the dogs for a walk around the nearby Grassholme Reservoir. It was absolutely perishing, with a really stiff wind pelting us with hail every so often. Even the ducks looked fed up.

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The farmland around the holiday lets was used for stabling and there was a constant stream of cars going past each morning and evening. Some of them drove so fast through the yard that I was worried the dogs and I would get run over in the dark. The grey pony above was given hard feed and a hay net, but when it’s owner left, the sheep from the next field used to get in under the wire fence on the other side and help themselves!

The little Shetland pony below was alone in a tiny field, about the same size as our garden. It was fed regularly but I felt sorry for it, the ground was almost completely poached. Does the poor thing get taken out for walks? (Not while we were there anyway) Isn’t this the equine equivalent of keeping a goldfish in a bowl?

pony 2

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On our last full day at the first campsite, we decided to visit Caws Cenarth Cheese, a dairy farm which has been producing award winning cheeses since 1987. This was when the introduction of quotas by the EU meant they had a surplus of milk to dispose of so they decided to upscale their cheese production to make use of it. The farmer’s wife had previously made it for the family’s use on her kitchen table. We had been passing their signs for days and so we set off up and down the tiny welsh lanes to find them.

The blurb in their leaflets promised an opportunity to watch the cheese being manufactured but unfortunately we arrived too late to see anything. They had a small museum exploring the history of cheese making in the area and displays about the process of making the different cheeses. My particular favourite was a video of cheeses being dipped in wax – it was strangely satisfying.

Across the yard from the ‘viewing area’ was a small shop. There was a tiny room with wooden  seats and a TV where we were invited to watch a video of a TV programme about the farm, which included a visit from Prince Charles. It was an actual VHS so not the best quality, and was really just repeating what we’d learned previously. I suspect it is a means to reduce the queues at the counter where we were invited to try a selection of their cheeses. They were all excellent and we came away with a selection, although I had to persuade Mr Stoatie to leave behind a huge piece of Stilton which had been marked down because the veining hadn’t spread evenly. It was a bargain but would have completely filled the van’s fridge!

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As a postscript to this story, we were discussing our selection of cheeses later and I expressed regret that I hadn’t brought a particular variety. Never mind I said, I’ll buy a truckle at a shop, they’re bound to sell it locally, and it doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive as it’s just the one. Imagine my reaction when I find it’s considerably cheaper! You’d think that buying at source would be better for your wallet, I must admit I felt a little cheated.

The lady in the cheese shop had recommended taking the dogs for a walk on Poppit Sands so we headed there next. After having paid quite a bit to park we headed for the beach, I was a little disappointed as it was heaving with folk, and rather flat and dreary, although an area of rocks did save it somewhat. Looking back I’m not sure why I had such a downer on it, maybe it was simply because it wasn’t Uig!

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The next day we packed up the van and set off to a campsite on the outskirts of St David’s. The drive was really pretty, we skirted round the Presili Hills and then drove along the coast. Preseli was on my to do list, but Mr Stoatie’s thigh just wasn’t up to it unfortunately.

The campsite was ideally located a ten minute walk from the town in one direction and the coast in the other. The campsite itself had seen better days and the toilet and washing up facilities were in dire need of refurbishment but the pitches were mown and the place was very tidy. We were kept amused by the antics of the resident robin who was so friendly he ended up perching on Mr Stoatie. We always keep a supply of bird feed in the van btw!

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I woke up in the night and had to get up and go out to star gaze because there above us was the Milky Way, hurrah! Nothing like it to lift the spirits.

Once we were up in the morning I proceeded to haul everything out of the fridge as we’d been experiencing a whiff of rotten eggs on and off during the night and I thought maybe something had gone off. When nothing was discovered decaying in there, I proceeded to remove the entire contents of the van in an effort to track it down. It wasn’t until I got to the cupboard at the back that the source of the smell was discovered. The leisure battery had shorted! Mr Stoatie disconnected it and we left everything out and the cupboards open until the stink dispersed.

In the afternoon we had a wander into St David’s for a mooch around and treated ourselves to fish and chips for dinner. Charlie kept us and a couple on a neighbouring bench amused, by sliding down the grassy slope above the Cathedral on his stomach over and over again. I think he was an otter in a previous life!

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The next night was pretty windy, we were planning on heading out to do some exploring in the morning, but when we came to put the lid down we discovered that one of the bolts had sheared off the hinge and it was impossible to close. Fortunately the bolts are pretty standard and we thought that the tiny old fashioned ironmongers in St David’s had saved the day by providing a replacement. However trying to fit it proved to be impossible, Mr Stoatie couldn’t reach the hinge easily as we had no ladders, and I couldn’t bring the roof down low enough for him to work either. It had to be held down at an angle which was about six inches above the reach of my extended arms. I ended up swinging off the handles like a gymnast on the rings and was in so much discomfort it was clearly not going to happen. It was also still blowing a gale which didn’t help. In the end we managed to get the lid closed by adjusting the direction of the van to streamline the roof with the wind. It still stood a little proud and we ended up gaffer taping it down. Oh the shame!

So we had no leisure battery, and a roof which would  have to stay down until repaired, possibly after the holiday, which probably wouldn’t have bothered us under normal circumstances but added to this was the fact that Mr Stoatie’s thigh had been progressively getting worse and worse over the course of the week. He was OK during the day providing there was limited walking with plenty of rest stops, but during the night when he relaxed he was in agony and had to constantly shift position. If you’ve ever shared a bed in a camper you’ll know that if one of you wants to turn over the other one has to too, which means that you never really get an unbroken nights sleep. This was ten times worse, (especially with the added moaning!) and both of us were beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. After a night to think it over we decided to pack up the next day and head for home, at least we’d have a week to recover before work. You’ll get an idea of how bad Mr Stoatie was when I tell you that I had to drive the ScoobyVan all the way back! It was a disappointing end to a long awaited holiday.

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Pentre Ifan 1

This is the second part of our trip to West Wales last September.

Whilst camping in Carmarthenshire we managed a trip to two local cromlechs, this, the larger of the two is Pentre Ifan and is supposedly high enough for a man on horseback to stand under. As it’s just eight foot I think they may have meant a man on a pony.

Pentre Ifan

The monument is on a hillside with an amazing outlook over Fishguard Bay – a tomb with a view! It was constructed around 4000 years ago and is the remains of a long barrow. There would originally have been a mound of earth over 120’ long laid on the top and which would have extended around the entrance to form a courtyard a little like Belas Knap. The huge capstone, which looks delicately balanced on the tips of the surrounding stones has been estimated to weigh 16 tons.

There is a connection with Druids, as according to W.Y. Evans Wentz, writing in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

"The region, the little valley on whose side stands the Pentre Ifan cromlech, the finest in Britain, is believed to have been a favourite place with the ancient Drulds. And in the oak groves (Ty Canol Wood) that still exist there, tradition says there was once a flourishing school for neophytes, and that the cromlech instead of being a place for internments or sacrifices was in those days completely enclosed, forming like other cromlechs a darkened chamber in which novices when initiated were placed for a certain number of days….the interior (of Pentre Ifan) being called the womb or court of Ceridwen. "

Of course it could have been re-used by the Druids for this purpose, it would have been ancient and probably disused even then.

In June 1884 it was named as Wale’s first scheduled Ancient Monument.

Another fascinating thing about it is that it’s a focus for fairy sightings. One of which described them as being as small as little children, dressed in clothes like soldiers’ clothes, and with red caps.

Waldo Williams, one of the greatest Welsh Language poets of the last century was born in Preseli, which is just up the road from Pentre Ifan. He was predominantly a folk poet (Bardd Gwladd) and his verse celebrated the locality and the people who lived there. The following poem was inspired by the monument.

Pentre Ifan 2

Remembering (Cofio)

 

Before the sun has left the sky, one minute

One dear minute, before the journeying night,

To call to mind the things that are forgotten,

Now in the dust of ages lost from sight.

 

Like foam of a wave on a lonely seacoast breaking,

Like the wind’s song where there’s no ear to mind,

I know they’re calling, calling to us vainly –

Old unremembered things of humankind.

 

Exploit and skill of early generations,

From tiny cottages or mighty hall,

Fine tales that centuries ago were scattered,

The gods that nobody knows now at all.

 

Little words of old fugitive languages

That were spritely on the lips of men,

And pretty to the ear in the prattle of children –

But no one’s tongue will call on them again.

 

Oh,  generations on the earth unnumbered.

Their divine dreams, fragile divinity –

Is only silence left to the heart’s affections

That once rejoiced and grieved as much as we?

 

Often when I’m alone and it’s near nightfall,

I yearn to acknowledge you and know each one.

Is there no way fond memory can keep you?

Forgotten ancient things of the family of man?

Translated by Tony Conran

Carreg Coetan 1

The second cromlech was closer to the coast, near the River Nyfer’s (Nevern) mouth, in a small field by a housing estate in Newport. It was tiny in comparison to Pentre Ifan and you had to hunch up to get under the cap stone. It reminded me of a toadstool, I absolutely loved it, there was such an amazing and friendly energy to it.

Both these cromlechs are aligned with the nearby hill of Carn Ingli (‘Hill of Angels’) which is part of the sacred landscape, although  it is difficult to envisage Carreg Coetan’s position in respect of the others, enclosed as it is with hedges and houses. Carn Ingli would have been a great place to visit as it has a large number of interesting monuments -  neolithic tombs, standing stones and an Iron Age Hillfort.  It apparently takes it’s modern name from the antics of a local Christian saint, St. Brynach, a great friend of St. David,  who used to climb the hill to converse with angels.

Carreg Coetan 2

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Happy New Year!

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No, I haven’t gone all philosophical on you! It’s just that today is the start of Country Walking Magazine’s walk 1000 miles in 2017 challenge, which I’ve pledged to complete. It actually works out at 2.74 miles a day (about 4750 steps) Some people are only counting ‘proper’ walks (those that require boots and OS maps) but quite a lot of us folks with illnesses of one sort or another, or who are starting off as complete couch potatoes, are going to be counting every bit of movement possible! I’m actually hoping to get closer to the recommended activity goal of 5 miles a day (10,000 steps) but it will mean a big increase as I’ve only been averaging 5764.

I was considering splashing out and buying a fitbit but in the end decided to stick with the pedometer to record my mileage, it works fine – provided I remember to clip it on! The model I use has a cover, which I can recommend, as there’s nothing more annoying than losing data when the clear button is accidently pressed.

I’m hoping that by taking part in the challenge I’ll be inspired to take more walks, and in particular to make more of an effort to travel out into the countryside. What I could do with now is finding a pagan walking group!

As it’s the first day of 2017, I’d like to wish all my long suffering readers a very happy and kind New Year. I dropped off the blogging radar for a few months at the end of last year following a bout of illness, which resulted in a hospital stay and a pretty intense period of investigations and appointments. I’m now on medication, and will be working part time, so I’m hoping that this year things will be a lot better – for me and for the blog!

Stoatie xx

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Calanais 3 - 1

Back to the Western Isles! This is the first of three posts about our day in the sacred landscape around Calanais (otherwise known as Callanish)

We started off by pulling into a layby at the side of the main road and walking across a field to the small stone circle of Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheagknown (also known as Calanais 3). There had been cattle in the field – although none were around when we visited thank goodness! – and the peaty ground was very badly poached and covered in cow pats. This meant that it was really difficult to get close to the stones and there was nowhere to sit!

The setting is pretty spectacular, they’re on a ridge of land overlooking the surrounding landscape with views looking north west across Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàrraidh (Calanais 2) to the great circle of Calanais itself.

Calanais from Calanais 3

Calanais 3 is actually an ellipse  of thirteen stones (eight standing) surrounding an inner ellipse of four stones. The tallest is about 6 foot high.

Calanais 3 -3

Below is the view looking back to Calanais 3 from the stones of Calanais 2. You can see that they’re sat in quite an elevated position. The walk across to the second circle was a pretty boggy one!

Calanais 3 from Calanais 2

Fortunately the ground was better at Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàrraidh. The stones here are really beautiful and very striking in appearance, and much bigger than Calanais 3. The tallest is around ten foot high.

Calanais 2 - 1

There are five standing stones, and two fallen. These form an ellipse which surrounds the remains of a cairn. In 1858 a metre of peat was removed to expose the stones and four post holes were discovered, which is thought to be evidence that the circle here had a wooden predecessor.

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This circle had a lovely atmosphere.

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Set by the shore of Loch Roag,  Calanais 2 is much lower than both Calanais 3 and Calanais itself, which was visible on the ridge of land on the other side of the Loch. Here’s a view of Calanais taken with a zoom.

Calanais form Calanais 3 -2

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Bread & Cheese

As you know it’s traditional for us to announce the arrival of Spring here in the North West by sharing news of our spotting the first Bread and Cheese in the hedgerows – that’s new hawthorn leaves to the uninitiated. So here’s a blurry photo of Bread and Cheese taken during this afternoon’s dog walk. There were also hazel catkins, sticky buds and both daffodils and lungwort in full flower!

We’ve had months of mild, dull and wet weather here, the ground is waterlogged and everywhere is muddy, although today there was glorious sunshine and a slight chill in the air. I’m actually looking forward to a good cold snap, although it’s going to be a bit hard on all the plants that have decided that it’s time to sprout!

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Beach

Gosh! Has it really been over a month since my last post? I’ve got a lot to catch up on over the next few weeks, but first, the next instalment of our campervan trip to the Outer Hebrides.

These pictures were all taken on North Uist which I think was my favourite of all the Islands as it had a little bit of everything, mountains, long white beaches, wildlife, ancient monuments, lochs. Absolutely stunning and so quiet. We moved campsites to Moorcroft which is a working croft on the seashore. This was one of the best campsites we’ve been to, and like most on the islands had wonderful facilities. As well as a bunkhouse and toilets/showers there was the usual kitchen and eating area which must have been a boon for campers.

The first few photos are of the beach to the east of Vallay Strand, walking North and then East towards Veilish Point. Those pink flowers had a wonderful sweet scent, I think they’re sea rocket.

Beach flowers

Miles of white sand and only us and the dogs to enjoy it. There was quite a strong breeze.

Beach 2

Beach 3

dogs

There was a lot to see on the strand line. I scavenged a couple of seal bones and a lot of bird bones and feathers. There were clumps of goose barnacles on various bottles, a selection of foreign jars and plastic containers, and a large orange buoy (too heavy to carry unfortunately!)

Florida Harbour Light

The most interesting find was this red buoy. The sticker at the top told us it was the property of the US Coastguard and was marked as being from the harbour at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, so it had made a long journey across the Atlantic. Originally it would have held a light fitting at the top (where the metal pins are) and would have probably lit up one of the safe sea channels.

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This was the most amusing find, and no I wasn’t allowed to take it back to the van!

Pobull Fhinn 1

We broke up the beach walks with a visit to a couple of ancient monuments on one of the highest parts of the Island, Ben Langass. These stones are part of an oval stone circle called Pobull Fhinn (Finn’s people) which is on one side of the hill. The Finn it refers to is the legendary Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhuaill. As there was quite a slope the builders had to dig into the hillside on one side and add material on the other to form a flat platform before they could erect the stones. There are a total of 48 stones in the circle, not all of which are standing and they’re spaced irregularly round the circumference – there is a patch which seem to have none at all. Amazingly the circle has never been investigated by archaeologists and no study has been made to check astronomical alignments.

Pobull Fhinn 2

Pobull Fhinn 3

Pobull Fhinn 4

Pobull Fhinn 5

plan Pobull Fhinn

On the other side of Ben Lengass is a stone cairn called Barpa Langais. This is a passage grave and reminded us very much of the cairns at Kilmartin. It has been dated between 4000 to 2000BC. Unfortunately you’re unable to go inside now because of a roof fall. The cairn is positioned, like the circle on the side of the hill, in a prominent position where they have extensive views across the island.

Barpa Langais

The image below shows what it may have looked like at it’s height. It’s thought that the warmer climate would have meant the landscape would have been grass or scrub rather than the heather and moss it is today.

Barpa Langais 2

This was an interesting boulder we found on the way back to the van. Basalt on gneiss, you know I love my rocks!

Basalt

This is the view across to the Island of Benbecula from the campsite.

Campsite North Uist

Looking up to our pitch.

Campsite North Uist 2

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One of our neighbours.

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And another!

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Another day another beach! This is Traigh Ear, on the opposite side of a spit of land from the previous beach. It lines a wide bay, and at the top you can walk over a narrow stretch of sand dunes and arrive on the Atlantic coast.

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There is a causeway onto the island of Berneray from North Uist which is where the ferry takes you to Harris, our next destination.

Leaving North Uist

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