Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Way We See Things

I’ve seen God.

At least, I think it was Him: with piercing gaze, trademark long hair and big, bushy beard, He looked just like He does in all those Renaissance paintings.  So it must be true, right?

Cleverly, though, in order to pass unnoticed through His people, he had swapped the traditional flowing robes for a faded sweatshirt and jeans, and instead of descending triumphantly to Earth by the traditional conveyance of a cloud, heralded by Cherubim and Seraphim and backlit by celestial light, He opted instead for a Y Reg red Fiesta.

Perception. The way we see and understand things can be affected by so many factors: quality of information, assumption, learning, stereotyping, or – sometimes – just a simple misunderstanding of the facts.

Before last weekend, if anyone had asked me how we were doing on the mileage front compared to late March any other year, I would have said we were well down. Lack of time and poor weather for the first few weeks must have impacted on our total. With evidence like that, it must be true - right?
Climbing out of Carding Mill Valley

But today's walk of 10.75 miles has nudged us over the hundred-mile-cumulative mark, and this puts us pretty much slap bang in the middle of the spread of totals from previous years.

Last Sunday we took on a circuit we have done several times before - from Church Stretton, on to the Long Mynd via Carding Mill Valley, over Pole Bank, down Minton Batch and back on a lower route of field paths and lanes through Little Stretton.

As we began our climb out of Carding Mill Valley, the schizophrenic nature of the day's weather showed itself: one moment we were bathed in spring sunshine, the next we were assaulted by winter sleet and hail.

Looking to Corndon Hill, with snow capped Cadair Idris just visible on the horizon

But by the time we had reached the top, conditions had settled and a gradual improvement to the day commenced. The walk along the top of the Mynd is easy enough, with good, clear paths all the way, and sections of metaled road in places. However, despite the ease of progress, the views remain excellent, and we could see not only the summits of the nearby Stretton Hills but further afield as well: enough to see that some of the other tops were getting a squally shower – and a light dusting of snow capping distant Cadair Idris.

Descending into Minton Batch
By the time we began our descent, spring had returned, and layers required to keep rain and wind at bay were hastily shed. Minton Batch is an attractive clough, and one of the quieter ways off the hill: still subject to the odd strafing by MTB riders, but comparatively peaceful for the most part. The only downside is the farm at the bottom: as we have commented before, the owner must have lost all sense of shame and self-respect, and – if anything – it was a worse mess than last time we passed: this being a matter of fact, not perception.

What a mess: since our last visit, a selection of three clapped out old
tractors has been added to the collection

More mess: black plastic wrapping hanging from skeletal tree
branches like huge dead bats

The final stretch passes along lanes and via fields through Minton and Little Stretton before meeting the road back into Church Stretton. Despite a relative lack of “match fitness” we were pleased to see our moving speed and walking time stats compared quite well to our norm, so perhaps we are not as far behind other years in that respect, either. 

Perception: it just depends on how you look at things. In this case, wrong about our achievements so far this year, but right about that farm!


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Psychological Wharfe Air (2)

Well, at long last! After what seems like an eternity, we’ve finally got out into the countryside for a proper walk. You know the sort of thing I mean: a boots-and-rucksack-on, plodging-over-the-fields-and-climbing-a-hill type of proper walk. And, rather like the proverbial buses, one was very closely followed by the second.  

Weir by Linton Falls - much less water than last time we were here

And it wasn’t just the wet weather that had left us woefully short of outdoor time since Christmas. With each of us in a new job, and each in possession of a hefty workload, we couldn’t lay the blame purely at the soggy start to the New Year. OK, we’d set sail across some sodden fields on a couple of occasions, but to be honest it had been something of a relief to reach the shore. We'd also had the odd trundle round the local lanes to chalk up a few miles, but on the whole 2014 to date had been rather unsatisfactory.

Until now.

One Friday night each March, I make a sortie up north to support a friend in raising money for their local cricket team. It’s an evening of roast beef, beer and blokey ribaldry, which, these days, is usually followed by a hangover of notable proportions. As an antidote to this bout of "fundraising", Missy G and I have taken to making a weekend of it by spending a couple of days walking in the Yorkshire Dales. This year was to be no exception, and a favourable forecast has us champing at the bit to spend some quality time outdoors.

Couldn't have put it better myself: sign on Linton village green
Seeing double? Two little ducks. No, hang on, that's not right ....

Saturday saw us on one of our regular circuits from Grassington, a 9 mile outing starting off along the Dales Way, dropping down to Conistone via the Dib, then skirting through Grass Wood and descending to walk alongside the Wharfe, before looping up to Linton to return by Linton Church. Conditions were slightly overcast, but it wasn't long before my own personal cloud cover had been shifted by the breeze, and we soon fell into a gentle rhythm, enjoying the fact of being out there once again after such a lengthy lay-off. 

Sunday again started somewhat overcast. From Bolton Abbey, we climbed towards Simon’s Seat via the Valley of Desolation (a misnomer if ever there was one: this is a great path, full of interest and with plenty of wildlife for company – Brown Hares, Rabbits, a Mandarin Duck, Chaffinches, and a pair of Goosander) then out on to the moors of Barden Fell where Red Grouse were our frequent companions.

Waterfall, Valley of Desolation
Valley of Desolation - not to be confused with the Slough of Despond,
which is of course in Berkshire 

Looking back across Barden Moor, Ilkley Moor in the far distance (hat optional)

You ain't seen me, right?

After first lunch, a step descent down to Dalehead Farm returned us to the valley, and we soon picked up the Dales Way. By now, sunshine had broken through, and it was a lovely, warm spring afternoon. We took second lunch sitting on the riverbank, soaking up the warmth, before the final stretch through Strid Wood and back to Bolton Abbey. All in all, it was a pretty good 10-miler – and one which we will more than likely do again.

Simon's Seat from the descent: new erosion control measures in the foreground

Dales Way, near Barden Bridge. In summer, this area is covered in parked cars

The Strid

In a nutshell: spring had sprung, and we were lucky enough to be there when it happened.