Friday, 30 March 2012

Fixed Up & Missing Our Fix

So here we are. The event that has been looming on the horizon for some while has come to pass: Missy G has gone into hospital to be fixed up.

We’ve known about this operation for some time: being of the non-urgent variety, the waiting time has been measured in months. We’d been given a date for her to go in, but one that came with the proviso she would be back-ordered if they found themselves unexpectedly busy on the day.

Not wishing to tempt providence, I have refrained from making mention of it until we were sure it was a goer. Although we had a Plan B in place for if she got bumped, it would have been a bit of a faff, what with all the preparations that needed to be made beforehand.

The good news is that everything seems to have gone well and she may well be discharged as early as today. To be honest, I can’t wait! But now the hard work of gradually getting her back to fitness will begin.

Of course this kind of thing can affect anyone, so I’m not seeking any special sympathy for our situation. We know there are many out there who have some massive issues to deal with, health-wise and otherwise, compared to which our predicament is a mere inconvenience that hardly warrants comment. If that is you, we wish you well. But, as any one who has been faced with similar circumstances knows, it does become the focus of one’s life at the time and provides a reminder that good health should not be taken for granted.

The process of rehabilitation now begins, a task that will be measured in weeks and months, rather than days. For walkers such as ourselves, this means a pretty radical change to our normal lives. Although walking is encouraged during recuperation, they mean a gentle walk round the block not a full day hike over a mountain with a large backpack!

Depending on how quickly Missy G recovers this could mean a lay-off of four to five months before she is fully fit again. Naturally, we are somewhat dispirited by this scenario. Walking has played such a major part in our lives for thirty years or more that not being able to go will leave us feeling bereft: we simply won’t know what to do in our free time.

Coupled with that we are just heading into spring, one of the most beautiful seasons for walking in the UK, and the gorgeous weather we have experienced recently but have been unable to take advantage of has seemed an unnecessarily cruel taunt.

However, we will be looking on the bright side (as always) and aiming to get back to normal as quickly as Nature allows. Bit, by bit, by bit, we will see the improvement, and hopefully her fitness levels prior to going in will stand her in good stead. But we’re not going to push it: first, a walk to the end of the road, then another up to the village. In a couple of weeks maybe build up to an hour or two on the flat. Then, in a month or so, perhaps a half day walk somewhere easy – if I carry the rucksack! Perhaps I should be in training myself.

Needless to say, despite a good first quarter, our annual walking target is likely to be curtailed. And, as far as holidays go, there is likely to be no major trek or far-flung destination this year, at least until the autumn. But we will do what we can and enjoy it for what it is – after all, that is the best anyone can say – although we will no doubt miss the bigger outings that have become the staple of our year.

Because, ultimately, being out there is such an integral part of our lives – such an addiction – we will not feel right until we can get a proper fix again.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sunshine & Necessary Calm

It seems to have been a weekend of fine weather across the whole country, the sort that makes you believe spring has actually arrived. With temperatures in danger of soaring to record levels for the time of year, Meteorologists have been reaching for the Mercury, expectant for that all-important fraction of a degree, and it’s easy to imagine long, warm days for the weeks ahead.

For walkers it signals the time to venture Narnia-like into the far reaches of the wardrobe and unearth all that long-forgotten warm weather kit, swapping flasks for water bottles and consigning waterproofs to the rucksack and fleeces to the drawer.

Of course, there may well be a sting in the tail, but it finally feels like the worst of winter may be behind us. Don’t get me wrong, I like winter – love it, in fact – but it’s also nice to feel the excitement of new adventures as a new season is heralded in.

So, it was exactly the sort of weekend for throwing all your kit into the car and heading off to bag that iconic peak you’d promised yourself you’d do next time you got a nice day, right?

Well, not quite …

For reasons that will become apparent in future posts, we had a fairly full weekend lined up, with visiting family and completing a few chores on the list of things to do. We did, however, make time for a stroll out – a couple of hours round the local fields and lanes in gorgeous sunshine, and a first walk of the year in short sleeves.

We decided to do a bit of footpath wardening on our walk, keeping to local paths and lanes. Crossing the fields towards Old Poor’s Gorse we passed few other walkers, and the sky was full of Skylark song ripped away on the breeze. The footpath condition was good, with clear routes already established through the new crop growth and nothing untoward to report. We spotted a couple of Hares laying low nearby, only half hidden in the short vegetation. They paused a moment, unsure, before racing off into the distance.

The return route was a little busier with dog-walkers and cars to contend with, but still beautiful. It is a surprising area: more than once, on a sunny day, I’ve found the rolling countryside and long field boundaries lined with rows of individual trees reminiscent of Tuscany, something the accompanying photos fail to capture! Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but that’s how it seems – at least in my memory. Maybe we should go, just to find out.

All in all, we were glad to be able to fit a walk in – what with all the other things going on at the moment – and it has proved beneficial in providing a bit of necessary calm at the start of a busy week.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Mayrhofen – Winter Walking Wonderland (29th Jan - 4th Feb 2012)

So, barely five months after leaving Mayrhofen on a sunny Saturday afternoon in September, here we are trundling up the Ziller Valley once more. Our summer trip had been very enjoyable, and we were impressed by the variety of walking on offer and the interconnectedness of the transport system – bus, train and gondola – providing great access to the mountains.

This time, though, it’s the middle of winter, and the ski season is in full swing. When we were considering a winter break, Mayrhofen had sprung to mind not simply because we had been there recently but because we knew it to be a prime winter destination. We’re not here for the skiing, or even the après ski, but to indulge in a week’s worth of winter walking, along with some comfort eating, plenty of reading, a little bit of R&R, and an escape from that four-letter word that’s been driving us crazy – work!

Sunday Jan 29th – A Wiesenhof Wander: “Achtung! Da kommt noch einer!”

7.51 miles / Ascent = 460m / Descent = 460m

We had arrived the previous evening in darkness, our transfer from Innsbruck having been somewhat delayed. As we approached Mayrhofen, the villages in the valley – picked out by pinpoints of light and the occasional floodlit hillside – were gearing up for late-night skiing, so we had no real idea of the weather or snow conditions until the Sunday morning when we woke to low cloud and mizzle.

Undaunted, we set off on a route we had remembered from our last visit – one that we hoped would be passable in winter conditions. And so it proved: after walking through town to pick up a bus timetable and a handy map of winter walking routes, we followed a track up through the woods towards Wiesenhof, a mountain restaurant perched at 1058m on a nearby hillside and clearly visible from town. We had eaten there before and knew it to be good, so it made an ideal objective on our first day.

As we made our way up the hillside, we soon came alongside the ski run that descends from the top of the Ahorn gondola some 1300m above us, quite busy even this early on a gloomy Sunday morning. Shortly before reaching Wiesenhof we had to traverse the slope, crossing one at a time to present a smaller target to any errant downhiller.

Lunch, as anticipated, was excellent. We both opted for Specknödelsuppe – large ham dumplings served in a clear broth – and jolly good it was, too.

After chatting to the owner for a while it was time to move on. To make a circuit out of our walk we took a slightly longer route back. As we were admiring a beautiful log cabin situated prettily amongst the trees we were stirred into swift action by a shout from behind. “Achtung!” came the call, as two lads flew by on sledges, “Da kommt noch einer!” We kept to the side, and sure enough a third came whizzing past.

Back in town, we did a little more fact-finding before returning to the hotel. Needless to say, at this time of year it’s busy with skiers and boarders, and the main street was thronging with people waddling along with that peculiar ski-booted gait.

That evening, we went to the Welcome Meeting. There was plenty of info available for skiers, with lots of suggestions for money saving ideas and things to do by way of après ski. We just wanted to find out about the buses, though, many of which were for use by skiers only. Having sorted everything out we took our leave, reluctantly resisting the temptation to “throw some shapes on the dance floor” at the Schnaprès Ski event later on.

Dinner consisted of a melon starter, consommé with Pancake Strips, Roast Duck and Strawberry Soup with semolina dumplings, all of which was delicious. Then it was back to our room for a read.

Monday Jan 30th – Finkenberg & Astegg: Strudel And A Stroll

10.30 miles / Ascent = 771m / Descent = 1025m

Today we decided to venture slightly further afield, and took an early-morning bus to the next village, Finkenberg.

Although only about a 15-minute ride away, Finkenberg is situated on the edge of a hanging valley and by the time we had zigzagged our way up from Mayrhofen we’d already reached an altitude of about 850m.

Our chosen route to Astegg and back took the form of an elongated ellipse – out on the lower road and back via a higher-level track. This was our first experience of the area’s prepared winter walking routes, and we began by following a narrow road out of Finkenberg that rose gently as we traversed the hillside.

Pretty soon we were above the level of the rooftops, with a clear view back over Mayrhofen and the Ziller Valley. After a misty start conditions were improving, and before long we were approaching the hamlet of Astegg. We crossed a number of frozen streams on the way, a reminder – if one were needed – that the nights were cold enough to freeze cascading water solid.

Although still quite early, we couldn’t resist the lure of the Gasthof Astegg. Before we knew it coffee had been ordered, and Apple Strudel materialised in front of us. It was delicious and unnecessary – methinks we did protest too little.

Suitably fortified against the cold (!) we carried on, soon doubling back on to the higher-level route. A couple of steep switchbacks had us puffing for breath a bit, then the route levelled out again, and it was an easy walk through pine woodlands on gently graded forestry tracks. We spotted a Greenfinch to add to our earlier sighting of a Jay. It was beautiful and quiet, and the sun was even trying to come out - for a while, we had winter at its picture perfect best.

We chose a different path back into Finkenberg: again cleared, but this time a steep, narrow path descending at the outer fringe of the village. Our Yaktrax – anti-slip devices that fitted over our boots, a little like simple crampons – came in very handy.

We had intended to finish our walk back at Finkenberg, but we had a bit of time to spare and it was such a gorgeous afternoon we decided to walk all the way back to Mayrhofen. A network of narrow paths led between the houses before a final riverside saunter brought us into town.

We felt we had earned our dinner – a Sauerkraut starter, Bean Soup, Stuffed Courgette/Chicken Fricassee and “Rabbit’s Ears” & Ice Cream. Even so, we popped round the block for 5 minutes before retiring to our room for coffee.

Tuesday Jan 31st – Hintertux & Bichlalm: You Can’t Take Chances With Avalanches

7.21 miles / Ascent = 510m / Descent = 462m

Buoyed by yesterday’s success with both bus and map, we set out after breakfast for Hintertux, a hamlet at the head of the Tux valley. Ringed by high peaks, skiing here is possible all year round due to the heavily glaciated nature of the surrounding mountains.

A fine-looking morning had persuaded us to make the longer journey, while bright sunshine and a cloud-free sky reinforced the decision to head for the heights. There is only one circuit of some 30 minutes from the top of the Ahorn gondola, whilst the area at the top of the Penkenbahn shows little in the way of prepared routes at all. From the top of the Hintertux Gletscherbus, however, was a prepared path that contoured round from 2100m to the Bichlalm at 1700m, just right for a decent there-and-back walk with lunch in the middle.

So, armed with two tickets for the gondola at a cost of £18 the pair, we rode to the top, kitted up and made our way round to the start of the path. Even with our rudimentary German, we understood what “Geschlossen” meant – closed!


Still, you can’t take chances with avalanches, so we hung about for a few minutes watching the skiers and making the most of the fine views, then headed back down to put plan B into operation – a walk up to the Bichlalm from the valley.

Despite our initial disappointment it was still a beautiful day, with temperatures nudging positive Centigrade values thanks to the sunshine. The going was straightforward and the route clear, and after a fairly easy walk up we reached the Bichlalm just in time for lunch on the sun terrace – Goulash Soup/Specknödelsuppe and a refreshing Radler. In fact our timing was excellent as it busied up soon after our arrival.

Afterwards we pushed on a bit further, hoping to walk a little way towards the top station of the gondola. But the contour path was closed at this end, too, so we turned back and made our way down to the valley. Despite the sunshine, it was still cold enough (even in gloves) for our hands to get quite chilly: once you’ve stopped walking it can take a while to get warmed through again – something that takes a little longer still on gentle downhill slopes.

We were down in the valley in time to catch the early bus back to Mayrhofen. In spite of our earlier disappointment we’d had a good walk, so decided to spend the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing. After dinner we went out for a wander round town, where our down jackets – too warm for hiking during the daytime – proved ideal for an evening stroll in sub-zero temperatures.

Wednesday Feb 1st – Gasthof Mösl & Rastkogelhütte: Missed Objectives

7.18 miles / Ascent = 720m / Descent = 699m

Another reasonable morning dawned, so once again we opted for an escapade slightly further afield; this time starting from the Gasthof Mösl high on the valley-side above Hippach. In theory, this was a two-bus journey – one to Ramsau and a second to the Gasthof Mösl, split by about an hour and a half. In practice, we overshot the first bus stop and had to backtrack by train – slightly embarrassing and additionally expensive, but at least not to the detriment of our original plan. Indeed, we still had time to pop into the local café in Hippach for a coffee where, miraculously, large helpings of Apple Strudel also appeared. Good job walking in the snow is hard going.

Our ultimate objective for the day was the Rastkogelhütte, a mountain restaurant situated at 2124m below the minor summit of the Kreuzjoch. With the Gasthof Mösl behind us, we began to climb the road up into the mountains. In summer, this is the beginning of the Zillertaler Höhenstrasse – a high-level motoring route between Hippach and Reid; in winter, though, it is snow-covered and closed to through traffic.

By now it was a beautiful morning, relatively warm and with plenty of sunshine. Although the gradient was steady, over the next two hours we treated ourselves to a stiff, strudel-powered aerobic workout, and gained altitude swiftly. Ahead we could see some of the higher summits hereabouts, including the Rastkogel itself at 2762m. These would have to wait for a different day; a future summer visit, perhaps?

The only downside with the day’s plan was that there was a limited amount of time between buses in which to walk. We had made good progress through the morning and could see our intended target on the horizon, but, being mindful of the time limitations we were under, we opted to turn back some way short. Not to worry – we’d had a great walk anyway, and still topped out at over 2000m.

By now, the clear conditions of earlier in the day had dwindled, and the views across the valley to the Ahorn had closed in. As we made our descent, the weather gradually worsened and it began to snow lightly, and we felt vindicated in our decision to turn round when we did.

In the end, we were back down in plenty of time; time used wisely to pop into the Roswitha – a warm, cosy restaurant with a traditional interior – for Goulash soup and beer.

Well, it was several hours since we’d had that strudel!

Rosy cheeked from the outer cold and the inner warmth, we spent the remainder of the afternoon in a drowsy slumber. However, we did rouse ourselves in time to catch the late bus back to Hippach. The bus ride itself is worthy of note; zigzagging as it does back and forth across the mountainside in a series of hairpin bends with plunging views into the valley. This time we managed not to overshoot our stop and timed our connection with the train perfectly, making the short journey back to Mayrhofen amongst a multilingual hubbub of skiers and boarders.

That evening, dinner comprised a Tomato and Mozzarella starter, Beef Consommé, and Pork Kebabs. For desert, we chose one Tiramisu and one cheese board, but we were so stuffed that we liberated the cheese for use in tomorrow’s sandwiches.

Thursday Feb 2nd – Brandberg & Gasthaus Steinerkogel: Fog On The Stein.

7.50 miles / Ascent = 240m / Descent = 744m

In contrast to the last couple of days, the weather this morning was claggy once again, with a fine, powdery snow falling and visibility down to just a few metres. After a fairly full day yesterday (both in terms of walking and food) we opted for a lazy start, and spent the first part of the morning reading and shopping for supplies, waiting to see whether the weather would improve.

It didn’t.

However, we didn’t let that deter us. Instead, we caught the 11.10am bus to nearby Brandberg and walked up the road towards the Gasthaus Steinerkogel where we hoped to get lunch.

It was quite an eerie experience walking through such a snowy, winter landscape in such thick fog, and oddly enjoyable as well. All the sound and colour seemed to be leached out of the world, and from time to time trees or buildings loomed spookily out of the clag.

The walk up took us about an hour. Due to the later start, that delivered us to our destination – the Gasthaus Steinerkogel – right about lunchtime. Perched on a rocky promontory at the edge of a 600m precipice, there are normally magnificent views to be had from here. Today, in the gloom, there was barely even a hint of the huge chasm located beyond, just a grey void.

We opted for Specknödelsuppe and Kaiserschmarrn, a meal that didn’t disappoint – although the owner seemed a little nonplussed that anyone at all had bothered to turn up on such a rotten day.

After lunch, we started back down. Despite the glum conditions we were having an enjoyable time, so we decided to walk all the way back into Mayrhofen. Doing this involved a lengthy stretch of walking on the main road, but the road was quiet and it turned out to be reasonably pleasant.

On reaching the mouth of the Brandberg tunnel, we left the main road. To the east, the Zillergrund valley stretched away into the hills, but we turned west and followed a minor road towards town. Here and there the valley closed in, and the steep sides were festooned with icicle formations – quite spectacular, really.

The last half-mile walk into town passed easily enough. Once again we were back in good time, but having clocked up over seven miles we felt we had made good use of an indifferent day.

Friday Feb 3rd – Vorderlanersbach & Geislerhof: Chill On The Hill.

8.85 miles / Ascent = 426m / Descent = 435m

A relatively early start today saw us alighting the bus at Vorderlanersbach at around 9.00am, the plan being to take a leisurely walk up to the Geislerhof restaurant for lunch.

After using the facilities at the bottom station of the Rastkogelbahn, we soon left the hubbub of the village behind. Keen-eyed observers amongst you will recognise the name Rastkogel – indeed, it is the same mountain we were on the flanks of a couple of days ago, but this time approached from the opposite side.

We began by zigzagging steeply beneath the gondola, quickly rising above the village before gaining more gentle gradients. After a misty start, the sun was beginning to burn through, and the landscape – fresh with new accumulations of snow and frost – looked at it’s wintry best.

It was colder, too, we noticed. Temperatures seemed to have been steadily dropping as the week went on, and today were noticeably cooler – the display at the gondola station recording -10°C as we left, and -19°C at the 2100m top station. We found out later that an intense cold snap had been affecting wide swathes of Europe – we must have been just on the fringe.

The cold, sunny conditions made for excellent walking and beautiful views, and it seemed like no time at all before we were closing in on the Geislerhof. As was becoming the norm, lunch was a leisurely affair. It’s funny how every day seemed to trump the one before, and today proved no exception – Missgy had Käsebrot (bread and cheese) and I had an epic Tyroler Gröstl (a fried concoction of meat, onions and potato chunks with a fried egg on top, liberally sprinkled with parsley for the health-conscious amongst us) both of which were superb.

Afterwards, we returned by the same route. On reaching Vorderlanersbach, we stopped for a quick coffee then caught the bus back to Mayrhofen. Being as it was the last full day at our disposal, we needed to do some present shopping, and it was with a tinge of regret that we cut an excellent day a bit short. However, we made up for it later on with a stroll round town to walk off our dinner.

Saturday Feb 4th – Wiesenhof Revisited: Mercury Falling.

7.51 miles / Ascent = 460m / Descent = 460m

One of the advantages of the arrangements we had made was that of a late flight back home. As it turned out, we were not due to be picked up until mid afternoon, leaving us with a good portion of the day in which to do something, and a repeat of last Sunday’s trip fitted the bill perfectly.

So, for the second time in a week, we made our way through town and up through the woods to Wiesenhof for lunch. It was colder again this morning, -14°C if the thermometer was to be believed, and with the ice coagulating in my beard who was I to contradict it!

For once, I can’t remember what we had to eat, but whatever it was we enjoyed it very much, and we had a good chat to the owner who remembered us from a few days earlier. It was a lovely way to round off the fun part of the week.

Back at the hotel, we changed and finished packing, then got on the bus for our transfer to the airport. In the end, there were issues at check-in and we were a bit late taking off. Then we were re-directed en route to Cardiff: we had been aware of the threat of snow in the UK, and it seems we only just managed to leave Innsbruck in time – many airports in the Midlands and the South East were closed and we were lucky to get through. Fortunately, coaches were laid on the return us to Birmingham, but we were hours late, had an awkward journey along the M6 and got the car stuck in snow half a mile from home – by the time we got to bed it was past 4.00am.

Still, for our week – and a bit – in the snow, it was all worth it.

Totals for the week:

56.06 miles / Ascent = 3587m / Descent = 4285m

Monday, 12 March 2012

Spring Has Sprung (2012)

This weekend, spring has definitely sprung. Well, in the Monmouthshire town of Usk, it certainly has.

We’ve just spent the weekend down there visiting relatives, and can report without fear of contradiction that the grass is most definitely ris, and the birdies is all on the wing. With the trees and bushes coming into bud and the hedgerows full of Daffodils and Primroses, the sub-winter conditions of last week’s visit to Ilkley seem like a long-forgotten memory.

The birds, too, were in frisky mood, brightly coloured in their breeding plumage and singing their little heads off. Besides the usual suspects we spotted Buzzard and Grey Wagtail, heard Owls hooting to one another across the valley, and saw a Kingfisher flash past in a streak of orange and electric blue.

Not expecting to do much walking, we hadn’t brought much in the way of gear. I didn’t take my camera either: of course, it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful couple of days, and sadly we have no pictorial record, but we were at least given the opportunity to get out and about a bit.

For those who don’t know, Usk is a picturesque town, situated on the banks of one of South Wales’ greatest rivers and laying roughly half way between the Brecon Beacons and the Wye Valley/Forest of Dean. The Offa’s Dyke Path passes quite close by, too, so although not in any recognised National Park or AONB, the area keeps good company and shares many of the delights of it’s more famous neighbours, and there is good walking to be had in every direction.

On Saturday we walked the local fields while R’s dog was left to run until exhausted. In the afternoon, Missyg and I spent an hour or so walking a short section of the Usk Valley Way from town to Prioress Mill in Llanbadoc and back in glorious sunshine and not a little warmth!

Sunday morning we were excused for a couple of hours more, and opted for a circuit of the lanes connecting Usk with Trostry and Gwehelog. Once again it was beautiful weather, and before long we were down to shirtsleeves. Although the route is nearly all on lanes and pavements, when conditions are this good it really doesn’t matter, for the views are just as good whether standing on tarmac or grass. It’s just a pity that there are no pictures to back up this report, but c’est la vie – we will have to remember next time.

All told, we totalled 14 miles – not bad for a non-walking weekend!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Reminiscence And A Recce

Map: OS 297 - Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley

Total: 15.50 miles (over two days).

Sometimes, you can’t be allowed to look a gift horse in the mouth. At the end of last week Missyg and I found ourselves heading north on business, presenting us with an opportunity that seemed too good to miss. We decided to make a weekend of it and, after a few phone calls, had ourselves booked into a B&B in Ilkley.

We had last passed through this genteel market town almost five years ago, at the beginning of our Dales Way trip. Although at the time we had little opportunity to linger, we thought it an attractive place worthy of future exploration – in fact we decided we would far rather have ended our week’s walking there instead of amongst the heaving mass of humanity we actually encountered on a warm Bank Holiday weekend in Bowness.

By the time we had indulged in a leisurely breakfast the skies were clearing and the early rain backing off. With waterproofs on and toting little more than a light rucksack and a persistent hangover (don’t ask!) we picked up the Dales Way, first passing the backs of the houses before crossing the fields towards Addingham.

Before long, the sun came out and we shed our jackets as the temperature rose and spring-like conditions ensued. The green in front of Addingham church looked picture perfect in the sunshine, with the remnants of this year’s Snowdrops mingling with the yellow buds of impending Daffodils.

We pushed on a little further before deciding to turn back. There was even time to make use of a handily placed bench to stop and soak up the spring sunshine. The rain did return to deliver a brief soaking just as we re-entered Ilkley, but it didn’t manage to dampen our spirits.

Walking this stretch of Dales Way again proved easy enough, but it brought back happy memories of an April Saturday five years ago and the excitement we felt for the forthcoming week.

Next morning, even the second lengthy breakfast of the weekend couldn’t disguise the fact it was tipping it down. However, there was an upside; thanks to washing down last night’s delicious pizza with nothing more alcoholic than Diet Coke, I was hangover free – and all the happier for it!

In an effort to continue our reminiscences we opted for another stretch of the Dales Way, this time a there-and-back walk between Bolton Abbey and Bardon Bridge using paths on either side of the River Wharfe. With clear paths all the way and nil navigation required, walks don’t come much easier than this. At least the map could stay safely tucked away in the dry.

The ruins of the Priory at Bolton Abbey dominate the estate, this morning standing dark and brooding under slate grey skies. Despite the foul weather, we shared the grounds with a mixed battalion of dog-walkers, joggers and damp sightseers. After crossing the river by the bridge, we climbed the bank beyond to a high vantage point with commanding views across the valley.

Past the Cavendish Pavillion we entered Strid Wood, ancient woodland that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest renowned for it’s fauna and flora, and nature trails abound. This morning’s rain might have been keeping wildlife activity to a minimum, but we did spot a shy Treecreeper scuttling up a tree trunk, several Goosander on the river, and a pair of Curlew that flew overhead.

Besides being a haven for wildlife, Strid Wood is known for The Strid, a roiling channel where the broad waters of the Wharfe are funnelled through a narrow fissure only a few feet across.

Beyond the wood the path hugs the west bank of the river, passing a disused aqueduct (which can now carries the Dales Way path) and the ruins of Barden Tower high on the hillside above.

Barden Bridge was our turning point and we picked up another clear path on the east bank. A couple of interesting-looking permissive paths struck off up the hillside, something to note for future visits. Today, though, we kept things simple and stuck to our riverside route, which this time offered a high-level view over The Strid.

We retraced our steps for the final mile, heading back to the car. Though the rain had subsided slightly from time to time, it had never really relented - worse than yesterday, and definitely a far cry from the glorious weather experienced five years ago on a sixteen-mile day between Ilkley and Grassington. However, our waterproofs had been up to the task and we remained pretty dry underneath.

This short break offered plenty of opportunity to reminisce on our Dales Way trip, one of the highlights of our walking career. But as well as looking back on a great week, we were also planning ahead. A recent change in work circumstances has resulted in the opportunity to head north a bit more frequently. And, if we are lucky, it might be possible to plan things to our advantage, too: with prudence, this may be something we could do more often.

Another gift horse whose dentistry we would be well advised to overlook.