Thursday, 21 June 2012

In Search Of Inspiration

It’s now the middle of June, and so far this year summer has been a bit tardy in putting in an appearance. Recent forecasts have been pretty horrible, with many areas battered by strong winds and heavy rain. And that’s on top of the deluge to which many areas have already been subjected.

Seeing as we had nothing in particular planned for the weekend, we took a trundle to our nearest town for a bit of shopping and a paper, and I thought I’d have a browse through the outdoor mags for a bit of inspiration. You know, a bit of window-shopping for new gear, tales of derring-do to whet the appetite, and articles on far-flung, exotic places that you never knew you had to visit – until now!

Well, what a disappointment.

Trail, Country Walking, even TGO: all rather limp and insipid, with so little difference between them you could seemingly swap the covers and hardly anyone would notice. Here we are on the verge of a Northern hemisphere summer, with holiday time approaching for many, and all there is to offer are the same old destinations cropping up again and again.

Don’t get me wrong: Snowdonia, The Lakes and Scotland all have much to commend them, it’s just that, situated as we are on the fringe of Europe with some of the world’s finest outdoor playgrounds on our doorstep, it was disappointing to see such a narrow scope. Oh, except for Tenerife. And no, it wouldn’t be top of my list of overseas destinations, either. At least Trek and Mountain have an article on the GR20 coming in their next issue.

Anyway, feeling the need for a bit of a lift, I dug through some old photos of previous trips away. 2012 has been a tougher year than some, but by September we should be pretty much back up to speed again. So we felt like treating ourselves for our main walking break of the year, and have booked to go here …..

Inspiration required? ‘Nuff said!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Haglöfs Fang Jacket Review – A Scandinavian Saga (Part 2)

In Use

When I first picked up this jacket a couple of months ago I was very excited at the prospect of putting it through its paces. However, as we were in non-walking mode at the time, I thought it might be a while before I’d get that chance so I contented myself with an initial appreciation of the product.

As you can see this is a serious garment, probably the most technical piece I have ever owned. As a “softshell” it definitely falls into the top end bracket (with a top end price tag to match), combining high levels of weather proofing with comfort and loads of nice features – so much more than simply a fleece with a DWR!

I originally bought the Fang with a view to bolstering my winter layers, particularly as a mid layer. And according to Haglöfs it is aimed primarily at winter use. However, thanks to the peculiarly wet and cold spring we seem to have been having, I found myself reaching for it to try it out. Not just once, mind, but again and again.

The first thing I noticed when putting it on was just how comfortable it is to wear. I did have to go up a size to get the right fit meaning the sleeves are a bit long, but these are easily and comfortably adjusted using the Velcro cuff tabs. The fabrics used offer plenty of stretch in all directions, and the cut and body length are just right for me too – it manages to feel quite close fitting yet roomy enough for a baselayer and thin insulating layer (such as a microfleece) to be worn underneath if needed.

At around 702g in size XL it is not the lightest jacket around, and I can hear backpackers groaning from here. But so good are the stretch, comfort, cut and fit that it feels far lighter than that when on. It also feels really durable and well built, too, and I expect it to shrug off the many years of hard work it will undoubtedly have to endure.

In use, I have nothing but praise for this jacket. It has easily resisted 75 minutes of steady rain without a hint of water ingress, kept chilly winds effortlessly at bay, and – when the temperature did bother to rise – demonstrated excellent breathability and a multitude of ventilation options to postpone the leave-it-on / take-it-off conundrum.

The hood is helmet compatible but cinches down well for a close fit with adjustment at 3 points – at the back of the head, at the nape of the neck and beside the face. Obtaining a snug fit is therefore simple enough. The stiffened peak is nice and solid too, not budging in the wind and helping to keep the rain off my glasses. I have pondered before about the inclusion of a hood on a softshell jacket, often simply adding to the weight and being no substitute for a proper hardshell hood anyway. But when a garment is as weatherproof as this I can see it makes a lot of sense – you will often need nothing other than this as your outer layer unless subjected to prolonged, heavy rain.

The two main hand-warmer pockets are raised to accommodate a rucksack hipbelt or a harness. Again, attention to detail is the byword – they feel intuitively in the right place and are plenty big enough to hold an OS map.

One point to note: the zips are excellent, too. All run freely, including the water-resistant main zip and the generally difficult to reach pit zips. This is something that often lets other types of waterproof zip down – how awkward they are to use even in the unthreatening environment of the shop, let alone on a cold, wet and windy hillside.


This jacket is beautifully made with a great attention to detail and plenty of well-thought-out but unobtrusive features. It is very comfortable to wear, with good ventilation and breathability, yet weatherproof enough to keep out the wind and repel rain in all but the worst conditions when a waterproof hardshell will be needed.

In the end, though, it comes down to this. The Fang is a very comfortable, very versatile jacket that I want to reach for again and again, and whose many features and attention to detail are unobtrusive until needed. I would have no qualms about recommending it, or buying something similar again, or looking at any of Haglöfs’ other products in future.

In short: it is hard to find fault. Top drawer.

Comfort: 10/10
Performance: 10/10
Value: 10/10

Overall: 30/30

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Long, Reigny Weekend: Day 3

Day 3: Arten Gill & The Source Of The Ribble

A slightly better forecast was offered up for today. With the Jubilee street party in Sedbergh scheduled for later on, and the prospect of an afternoon of closed roads and traffic chaos to come, we opted to head the other way out of Dentdale.

After parking in the shadow of the Dent Head viaduct, we followed the road uphill for a short way before striking off northwards along the flanks of Wold Fell. Although a pre-existing path this has now been incorporated into the route of the Pennine Bridleway (PBW). New gates and signage have been installed, and work on the path itself is still ongoing in one or two places.

The path rises from the road and soon big views begin to open up across to 3 Peaks country to the south, whilst sunshine, blue skies and white clouds added to the drama of the scene.

One by one, Pen-Y-Ghent …

… Ingleborough …

… and Whernside …

came into view. On a Bank Holiday weekend and in such glorious conditions, the summits and flanks of these mountains would be crawling with visitors. Here, as was the case nearly all weekend, virtually no one else was encountered, yet the views and the experience were the equal of anything the “big three” might offer.

In fact, for relatively little effort, the views from this area are quite stupendous, with many of the highest tops of the Yorkshire Dales clearly visible, and the not-too-distant Lakeland summits on the western skyline. On a day like today, they are hard to beat.

From the junction of paths near Dent Fell, we left the PBW and headed west down Arten Gill towards Stonehouse. Here we did pass a few other walkers, but soon we were alone with our own thoughts again.

Traffic periodically interrupted the short walk back along the road, but in-between-times we strolled slowly alongside the River Dee as it tumbled from pool to pool, soaking up the warm sunshine as we went.

After lunch we decided to do another recce of part of the PBW – this time the stretch between Newby Head and the Pennine Way at Cold Keld Gate. Again, this was with future plans in mind, but it proved an interesting little walk in itself. As well as the big views of 3 Peaks country and Lakelend on the horizon, we passed close to the source of the River Ribble.

In fact the Ribble Way starts somewhere along here, where the peaty waters of this great upland sponge first form into the rivulets that will eventually reach the Irish Sea as a powerful river. Just over the hill this same boggy watershed feeds other river systems that head east towards the North Sea.

On the way back the bulk of Ingleborough loomed darkly below thickening grey cloud, as though presaging the bad weather to come.

Next morning we squeezed in a short stroll around Barbon before setting off on the long journey home with another 33 miles tucked under our belts. All in all, a very satisfactory long weekend.

A Long, Reigny Weekend: Day 2

Day 2: Cautley & Garsdale

On a morning of dubious meteorological promise, we drove out of Sedbergh on the A683 towards Kirkby Stephen, parking by the Cross Keys Temperance Inn. Just in case you hadn’t grasped the full import of that statement, that’s a pub that doesn’t serve alcohol.

For the record, I have been in a pub without beer once before, when the previous (and soon to be redundant) landlord of our local forgot to order any. Several disgruntled customers made it known exactly what they thought of that. But that’s another story: this particular establishment owes its peculiar circumstance to a close association with the Quaker movement and a bequest to the National Trust to whom it was left in 1949.

From the lay-by we crossed the footbridge over the River Rawthay and turned north heading for Narthwaite. Recent rain had left things damp underfoot: damper still when fording Backside Beck where the greasy stones provided little traction.

Beyond Narthwaite we first followed a clear track before cutting across fields to a wood and a second river crossing. A bridle path then led through the wood, out onto the fellside aiming for the farm at Murthwaite.

We picked up a tricky-to-find-at-first path towards the main road near Bridge Cottages, through fields liberally sprinkled with Buttercups.

Our return route began from Rawthay Bridge. Next weekend is the Appleby Horse Fair, and many of the roads hereabouts are busy with Travellers slowly wending their way northwards in horse-drawn caravans or ancient lorries. We skirted a camp at a polite distance and climbed a clear, peaty track on to the lower slopes of West Baugh Fell. From here Cautley Spout and its amphitheatre bounded by Cautley Crag made for impressive views.

Soon the track started to descend past Bluecaster Side towards the A683 again at Wardses.

On reaching the road we took the track opposite. As we passed Cautley Thwaite, dozens of Swallows and House Martins treated us to an aerial display, whirling round our heads and filling the air with shrill cries.

Finally, we crossed the bridge over Cautley Holme Beck and made our way back to the car.

Later, in the afternoon, we parked near Garsdale Station and followed a short stretch of the recently opened Pennine Bridleway (PBW) – a new National Trail for cyclists and horse riders as well as walkers that parallels the Pennine Way over generally easier, lower ground. We were doing a bit of a recce for a future trip we are planning, as this section – of newly created path not previously marked on the maps – might prove a useful link.

A Long, Reigny Weekend: Day 1

Day 1: Firbank & Sedbergh

Another Bank Holiday: another trip up north. Whatever you happen to think about the relevance of the monarchy in 21st Century Britain, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations presented great opportunity to get away for a few days. And for walkers, that meant lacing up the boots, slinging a rucksack on and heading off over the hills.

When we originally booked our accommodation we weren’t sure how much walking Missyg would be able to do. But recuperation has gone very well, and we had a few ideas for walks that might suit. Besides, having worked almost every day in May and racked up a stupid amount of hours, I was jolly well having a few days for myself!

After a night in Lancaster reminiscing about our student days, we arrived good and early on Saturday morning. Our first walk was a truncated version of a regular favourite combining Lowgill and Firbank with a section of the Dales Way alongside the River Lune.

The weekend had attracted an unpredictable forecast, and the views across to the Howgills were somewhat hazy, but the sun was trying to break through the clouds as we walked along the lane past Fox’s Pulpit. Despite the early hour and relative remoteness, progress was impeded by a traffic jam.

This one appears to have the same problem with the conditions as the walkers do: fleece on, or fleece off?

From the farm at New Field we picked up a path past Whinny Haw, firstly on field paths then along a track that contoured the hillside, gradually dropping towards the lane near Goodies and involving the negotiation of an unusual gate/stile.

We dropped steeply through fields, crossing a dismantled railway line to a footbridge over the Lune, then joined the Dales Way route near Hole House, heading northwards. A rocky beach has formed at the junction of the Lune with Chapel Beck, and we sat a while enjoying a drink – along with some of the locals.

After tracking the riverside for a mile or so, we reached the lane near Crook of Lune Bridge, crossed the river and followed the lane as it rose towards Lowgill Viaduct, an impressive eleven-arched Victorian structure that in pre-Beeching days used to carry the old Lancaster and Carlisle Railway.

Nowadays, the Dales Way passes underneath as it nears the tiny hamlet of Lowgill. Our route then led southwards, skirting the farm at High House as we climbed back towards Firbank. Beyond the viaduct, clouds were massing over the Howgills. The higher tops might have been shrouded in mist, but from our modest perch we had the benefit of the views – which is one of the strengths of this walk.

At the moment our walking is limited to about 6-7 miles in one go before a rest is needed. But after a break we are OK to do a bit more, so we opted for a gentle stroll alongside the River Rawthay and back. It was sports day at Sedbergh School, and a gaggle of proud parents could be heard exhorting their kids to greater things. We slipped unnoticed amongst them, quietly congratulating ourselves on our day’s modest achievements.