Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas

I hope everyone who reads this has or has had a Great Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. 

Not another Review of the Osprey Stratos36

Since November 2010 when I posted a review of a rucksack I had recently brought, the Osprey Stratos I have walked over three hundred miles most of it carrying the Stratos. This included four days on the Cumbria Way, when I also carrying much of Mrs G’s kit as well as my own, and five days across Lakeland from Maryport to Ravenglass.  So it’s about time I brought things up to date

As I wrote in 2010 the things that I liked on the sack was the airspeed back that does so much to keep my back cool and dry, the hip belt which, makes carrying the sack so stable and comfortable and the very usable pockets on the hip belt. All of which made this a great rucksack to carry on day, weekend and week walks (providing you don’t need to carry tent, bag, food etc.).

However, there were a number of points I was unsure about some were minor and stayed that way. Others I never really managed to sort out, prime amongst these was, ‘how to pack the sack’ and the way the compression straps got in the way of accessing the main compartment.

To take the compression straps first, these worked really well in compacting the bag and shaping it when lightly loaded, but whenever I needed to get anything out of the bag it was necessary to undo the lid buckles, loosen or undo the compression straps, then have to do both sets up again. The straps also reduced the usability of the zip access to the main compartment.

As far as packing the sack goes I never seemed to pack it the same way twice, despite this it carried everything I needed it to and was always comfortable.

I never did trim off the excess lengths of webbing all over the sack, but I did eventually use the walking pole loops for their designed purpose. As I said in 2010 there seem to be a lot of straps, zips and associated covers and extra bits even the rain cover, which worked well, had a large pocket of its own. As a result the Stratos weighs in at about 1400grammes which is dam near the same as my Atmos 50.

In summary the Stratos is a very good 36 litre rucksack, it is hard wearing, functional and comfortable, you can pack a lot into it and carry it all day with ease. However, I am not convinced it is a backpacking, hiking rucksack, it might be better used as a light travelling sack. I have recently been looking at the Osprey Exos 34 as I feel this is closer to my needs of a lightweight, top loading bag for winter and summer day walks, weekend walks or summer hostel, B and B walks. (it weighs, according to Osprey 990grammes).  I think the Stratos may be soon going on Ebay and in early 2012 there may well be a post here on the Exos.

Not a Review on the Suunto Vector Watch

Earlier this summer (2011) while bouncing around the interweb I landed on the Cotswold’s Outdoors site on an advert for an Axio watch, on seeing words like barometric altimeter and thermometer I became interested. Eventually I went along to their Nottingham store to have a look. For no good reason I was not impressed with the Axio, just felt, it was not for me. However I tried on the Suunto Vector, it was just the thing and a couple of weeks later I bought one.

When walking I want to know far I’d climbed or descended now was my chance to find out with a wizzy watch with a built in barometric altimeter. Just the db’s.
The Suunto, as you can see in the picture, has a black, hard plastic body and a soft plastic strap. It looks and feels tough and should be hard wearing, although the screen does seem a little vulnerable. The face is grey and split into three main areas, top, middle and bottom (officially Fields 1, 2 or 3). The middle area shows the watch functions, abbreviated as TIME ALTI BARO COMP, when selected each of these places data in the top and bottom areas, and enables access to the various associated displays, data and inputs. Around the side of the body are four buttons, top right scrolls across the menu, top left cycles through the displays and inputs for the selected menu item. Bottom right and left are basically plus and minus buttons.

Suunto provide a multi-language instruction book, unfortunately its written in that peculiar version of English normally only found in flat pack leaflets and white goods handbooks, the printing is so small, reading it made my eyes water. Fortunately I found a pdf version on the interweb, with better English and large print.

After carefully reading the instructions for TIME and consulting three watches, two clocks, two computers, three phones, a clock radio and two televisions (only the televisions showed the same time) I eventually managed to set the Suunto to the correct time.

From there it was all downhill, nothing I read about ALTI, BARO or COMP made any sense, the buttons I pressed, apparently had a will of their own. I even checked that I had the correct watch for the handbook, but all I got was a headache.

I left it to stew for a few days, slowly resolving that as an engineer, I should try and solve this logically. I clearly needed to determine the relationships between pressing button A and what subsequently appeared in Fields 1, 2 or 3 then noted how this changed depending on how many times I pressed button B or C.

I started a spreadsheet and plodded through the instructions line by line establishing the effect that each button press or hold had on which part of the screen. I carefully tabulated the button presses required to set the time, date and alarms. To ensure I had it down right, using the spread sheet I went through the TIME steps on the watch several times, before proceeding to repeat the process with ALTI, BARO and COMP. I admit to skipping most of the stopwatch bit plus the entire COMP (compass) bit as by this point I felt life was far too short.

Did this help, Yes big time, I now had some simple logical instructions giving the steps for each process.

The next move was to set the Suunto up so that I would be able to record the changes of height on a walk. Nothing in the instructions actually helped with this. As far as I could work out, all it explained was the processes, it did not give the story, the algorithm, to connect the processes together to produce a result.

However, on the Suunto website I found an article that more or less explained how it all works. It took half a dozen walks before I fully sorted it out. The big improvement came by changing the recording interval from the recommended 10 minutes to 1 minute. Getting accuracy apparently depends on setting the Sea Level Barometric pressure, and several times a day re-setting the Relative Height at a point of known height.

With the display in BARO mode the watch also displays the temperature, I found that quite useful. The compass works ok, but my Silva is far more flexible.

In short the Suunto Vector looks and feels good and has a clear display. Using the buttons is easy enough on a warm day. On a cold day it will be more difficult.

I do have several beefs though, the Vector is described by Suunto as a wrist top computer, which is blatant nonsense. As the barometer and thermometer are affected by temperature you cannot wear it in contact with the body as the body temperature affects the workings, I strap mine on to a carbineer on my rucksack shoulder strap.

Secondly, I know my hearing is not first class, but the alarm is so weedy I would not hear it if I wore the Vector as an ear ring, let alone under winter clothing or in a noisy environment.

Finally I have worn the Suunto mainly when out walking and the altimeter results are extremely variable out of 18 walks there are only two where the altimeter data is anything close to the ascent and descent calculated from the GPS track by my mapping software. I know maps are by definition inaccurate but the results are different by a large margin. Although checking against spot heights or even contours or the GPS the results don’t seem to be too far out.
10m height dif.
I feel I should persist with the Altimeter but am getting disheartened. To date the only functions I have found useful and accurate is the time and the temperature. As it appears impossible to know which ascent descent data set is most accurate it seems pointless proceeding with the altimeter.

So the question to be answered is, is it useful or will it become just another piece of expensive gear in the back of the cupboard or on Ebay, time will tell (no pun intended ‘honest’). I think it may well be the latter.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Weekend in Eskdale

Last weekend, 18 November, Mrs G and I trundled up to Eskale for a long weekend with my brother and niece and some of their families, our daughter and some of her family. The weather was very kind, the cottage we all stayed in was first class, the walks were short but with a high injury count. With three good pubs within a mile we drank and dined well.

Against advice, on the way up on Friday we drove over Wrynose and Hardnott Pass, which was great fun in the mist and drizzle. The views were fantastic unfortunately because of the poor light they did not quite translate into wonderful photos.

Saturdays walk from Boot was along the path past Christcliffe towards Eel Tarn, down to the Woolpack then via Doctor Bridge and Low Birker to the Stanley Force waterfalls and back along the road to Boot.

 On Sunday we walked along the road to Beckfoot Bridge, up the zigzag path to Blea Tarn over the side of Blea Tarn Hill and back to Boot.

The journey home on Monday was a tour of Wastwater, Cockermouth, Keswick, Ambleside and Windermere. Of these the highlight was Wastwater with the light and the clouds it was beautiful followed by a lovely drive out to Gosforth passing through the small settlements that lay beneath Seatallon.

It was a great weekend catching up with everyone, enjoying some highly amusing moments, thoughtful reminiscences, exchanging news, making plans for future visits and meets. Walking rightly came second this weekend.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Ambergate to Crich Stand

Date : 30 October 2011

Area : Peaks
Walk : Ambergate, Crich
Start At :Ambergate
End At : Ambergate
OS Sheet : OL 24 & Explorer 269
Distance (M/k) : 7.25 / 11.25
Ascent (ft) : 959
Descent (ft) : 949

These notes are provided to enable the walk to be plotted on a 1:25,000 map.
From Ambergate Station car park (Pay & Display) walk down the approach road, left under the bridge,turn right, North, on the A6. Take the first footpath on the right and up on to the canal towpath, at the next bridge cross over the bridge, follow path across Crich Chase to a road, left to junction, right to path on left, through housing towards Crich Church. Head for the Tramway Museum, turn right and take track on left to Crich Memorial. Proceed along a path north to Wakebridge Farm and out to the road. Straight across, down to another road, across and down to the Canal, follow the towpath back to Ambergate.

Without a doubt Sunday’s weather here in the East Midlands was certainly unseasonal, being warm and sunny with high clouds and blue skies from mid-morning through to late afternoon.

Due to various problems, illnesses, other commitments Andy and I have not been out walking since we got back from our Lakes walk. However we both felt that a shorter gentler walk was the order for today. On Friday I searched around on the internet for walks through or near Crich eventually coming up with three likely ones. I plotted these on to the digital map and morphed them into this walk.

As soon as we got off the road and on to the canal we could feel it was going to be a good walk, the climb up and across Crich Chase was through quite dense woodland still green with some autumn colours here and there. It was very pleasant, quiet and peaceful. Our route into Crich took us through a housing estate bypassing the village centre, next time I’ll cut across the bottom of the village and come over to the top of the road from Bullbridge, walking more through the centre.

Just before we reached the Tramway Museum we stopped in a Tearoom for tea and a slice of excellent Banana cake.

Andy and I have both been in the East Midlands since the late 1970’s and although we have passed by Crich Stand on foot and by car, this would be our first visit to the memorial.

Crich Memorial is dedicated to the fallen of the Sherwood Foresters it is a truly beautiful location, wonderfully well-kept and very moving, The immediate setting of the tower surrounded by the natural humps and hollows of the hilltop now softened by well mown lawns, memorial plaques, the flag flying proud, the surrounding views and the tower itself make this a serene place for visitors and very fitting memorial for the men honoured here.

Indeed, unlike any other war memorial I have ever visited I felt it had a military feel about it, as if it’s actually been made for soldiers, not just for those who come to remember. I am not sure I have expressed what I felt accurately, but for me, an ex-soldier, it felt a something like belonging.

We walked on in a touch solemn mood, which lifted as we reached where the footpath crosses the tramlines from the tramway museum at the point where the lines terminate. We waited around here for a few minutes until a tram came up the line and stopped.The driver got out fiddled about with poles, handles and seats before the tram went back.

Passing Wakebridge Farm we crossed the Crich Holloway road, dropping into an enchanted wooded valley, with sprinkling brooks, rocky bits and side paths into small enclosed quarries with sheer rock faces. The trees here had changed from green to a golden yellow curtain, which was back lit by the sun from the south west creating a wonderful atmosphere. On another day the valley might appear dark and brooding, on Sunday we were lucky.

A steady stroll along the canal, stop for lunch, pause to watch the ducks who by their antics seem to think it was spring already.

Then back to the car and off for a pint or two.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Day 1 Maryport, Cockermouth

Date : Sunday 2 October 2011

Area : West Cumbria
Walk : Maryport to Cockermouth
Start At : Maryport Habour
End At : Market Place, Cockermouth
OS Sheet : OL4
Distance M/k) : 9.5 / 15.3
Ascent (ft) : 900
Descent (ft) : 800

From the Harbour in Maryport head due east through the town to join the A594, just after the railway bridge turn left through the woodland and along the path beside the river. This path is marked on maps as the Allerdale Ramble, follow this route all the way to Cockermouth.


Much of the planning for this year’s walk was done by Andy, I merely gave carefully considered advice such as “if you think I going up there after a 14 mile walk your … “ and “that’s to blood far”. I think my only constructive comment was probably “how about starting from Maryport”

This year’s walk includes a day that allows us a second look at a day we found testing on last years walk, as well as a second attempt at the day we had to cancel last year due to bad weather. Check out Lakes to the right

The weather during our journey from Derby to Carlisle on Saturday’s had been stunning, wall to wall blue sky and warm sunshine. On the train from Leeds to Lancaster the solar gain was so hot that most passengers sat on north side of the carriage to avoid the heat.

Our friends Ian and Gill picked us up from Carlisle driving us west down the coast of the Solway Firth, stopping at the Highland Laddie , where we spent a few pints getting up to date and talking over old times and about our planned walk walk.

Sunday dawned damp and misty with visibility down to around 50m. As Ian and Gill drove us to Maryport via Wigton, Aspatria we were taken with the wildly beautiful and windswept West Cumbrian countryside.

On reaching Maryport we parked by the harbour, the start point for our the five day walk to Ravenglass, further down the coast. The tide was out and at 9:30 on a Sunday morning the town was quiet.

We pulled on waterproof tops, leaving over trousers off in the vain hope that “it would brighten up in a bit”. It didn’t and about a mile down the way we gave in and accepted that the combination of rain, grass and mud meant that we needed to get our over trousers on.

Following the Allerdale Ramble out of Maryport we walked along the bank of the River Ellen where we slipped and slithered up and down a muddy path as it wound its way above the river among the steadily dripping trees. However, we were very fortunate and excited to see a red squirrel. Several photos were taken, unfortunately, the one below was the best. Andy was very impressed as it was the first red squirrel he had seen.

At Dearham we bid Ian and Gill farewell as they left us to return home to watch the rugby. Thanks a million for your hospitality and friendship guys.

We pushed on through Dearham and Row Brow along tracks and across sodden fields to Tallentire, where due to having our heads down in the driving rain we missed a stile, as a result we walked to the top of the hill and then back down and having crossed the stile back up again.

At the top of the field we entered a huge field, with dozens of cows, bullocks and or heifers in it as well as young calves and one enormous Brown Bull. Most of the cows and their offspring headed away to our left as we walked downhill across the slope to our right in the direction of the gate. The Bull was uphill of us, on our right and I have to admit to being a bit concerned, I loosened the straps on my rucksack, with its red rain cover, ready to ditch it and run, all the while keeping my eye on the Bull. In the time it took us to cross the field the Bull moved exactly five paces.

From here it was along the road to Bridekirk across the A595 and through parkland to emerge in Cockermouth.

Although it will take some time for all the damage caused by the 2009 floods to be completely restored there is little obvious evidence of it now and the town looked bright and attractive, with plenty going on. At our B&B we were told that some of their repairs had only recently been done, others will have to wait for the walls to dry more..

Riverside B&B was clean, friendly, good value and well located for amenities.

We had a superb meal and had a great evening in the Castle Bar

Day 2 Cockermouth, Keswick

Date : Monday 3 October 2011

Area : Cumbria
Walk : Cockermouth to Keswick
Start At : Market Place
End At : Eskin Street
OS Sheet : OL4
Distance M/k) : 14.7 / 23.7
Ascent (ft) : 1970
Descent (ft) : 1859

The Allerdale Ramble heads East out of Cockermouth before swinging south east down the side of Bassenthwaite Lake and via a selection of routes into Keswick. We took the higher route through Millbeck and Applethwaite, mainly to avoid what we assumed would be a wet walk along the River Derwent.

I have to say my memory of this days walking is patchy, probably because it was a long walk with few high points. We left Riverside B&B having had a full breakfast sitting around the kitchen table chatting with our hosts, a nice way to start to the day.

The walk out of Cockermouth was a long drag through the outskirts of the town, then up the ridge leading to Watch Hill, before heading down along a forestry track and along the road to Isel Bridge where we had a chat with a chap about to start fishing on the River Derwent.

As we approached Armathwaite Hall we passed through a large area, possibly Howgill Wood where most of the woodland had been removed, it looked a very sad place.

A short while later in some sparse woodland we saw several large, quite high wire pens, then the even weirder sight of a black shape swinging elegantly through the trees, followed by a grey/white shape. It was surreal, apes doing a Tarzan impersonation in an English woodland in Cumbria!!!. We realised they were some sort of ape, possibly not but not chimps and then we saw a bird that looked like a small Emu and something we reckoned might have been a Tapir. Not that we’re experts.

A 100m later all was explained by a sign proclaiming “Trotters World of Animals” with a collection of several hundred animals. Wow

Excitement over we continued along the Allerdale Ramble down to the side of Bassenthwaite Lake passing through a series of fields and stiles, general without much of a view of the Lake.

Stopping near to St Bega’s Church we stuffed our jackets away and sat in the sun for a few minutes before thoughts drifted to Tearooms and refreshments. Which seemed to be a pretty remote prospect.

From the Church the path heads up to the Mirehouse, a historic house and gardens open to the public, then over the A591 to the car park and our wish came true as a Tearoom appeared. Here, as well as decent pot of tea and tasty cakes we were given some good advice as to the easiest route to Millbeck. We’d decided the climb around Dodd and through Thornthwaite Forest would be best avoided and the lovely tearoom lady directed us to the concessionary path that runs above the quarry to the Osprey Viewpoint (where we only managed to see a few LBJ's,) along a path well above the A591 nearly as far as Dancing Gate where we got back onto the Allerdale Ramble through Millbeck and Applethwaite into Keswick

Our B&B in Keswick was at Hawclffe House with Diane and Ian where as usual we had a warm welcome, a lovely room and a great breakfast.


Day 3 Keswick, Braithwaite, Buttermere

Date : Tuesday 4 October 2011
Area : Cumbria
Walk : Keswick to Buttermere
Start At : Eskin Street
End At : Buttermere YHA
OS Sheet : OL4
Distance M/k) : 8.9 / 14.3
Ascent (ft) : 2245
Descent (ft) : 2010

From Keswick head west to across to Portinscale, and on to Braithwaite. From here the path runs south west up to Barrow Door, to the south of Outerside and up the East side of Long the pass and down in to the valley below Sail past Blea Rigg and Whiteless Breast and in to Buttermere.


Another misty, chilly morning. As we walked to Portinscale and on to Braitwaite we recalled last year’s walk when we were caught in an epic rain storm close to the mines at the head of Coledale. The streams were flooded and impossible to cross so we ended up scrambling up the side of a rock face to enable us to get to the path up to Coledale Hause

This year our route took us up the gently ascending path from Braithwaite past High Coledale, between Stile End and Barrow and up to Barrow Door. Looking back Skiddaw and Blencathra were almost invisible in the mist.

Finally as we approached Barrow Door we both felt “the feeling”, this was it, this was what we came for, what keeps us coming back not the tops or the high fells but walking from place to place along ancient paths through the hills and over the passes.

As we passed below Causey Pike we could see the path ahead winding around the humps and hollows towards Outerside and High Moss. We stopped for lunch and a brew in the lee of an old sheepfold. While there we met our first walkers of the walk.

A short walk brought us to a point where we could look down on the Coledale mines, and see the tin hut where we had sheltered in last year and the route of the scramble up towards Coledale Hause.

As our path swung from west to south we could see how it climbed the side of Long Comb, clinging to the slope taking us up to the gap between Causey Pike and Sail our highest point of the day. The view here was fabulous the Derwent Fells and more behind them with the clouds sitting just above their heads.

From here it was a long, long descent along a sometimes indistinct path high above Sail Beck as we worked our way down into Buttermere.

We stayed at the Buttermere YHA for 2 nights, where the over sixties hostellers outnumbered the under thirties ones.

Day 4 Wednesday was always planned as a short day with the idea of having a rest but doing a local low level walk or maybe Haystacks from Honister. However the weather was poor so we took the bus to Keswick, had a look visiting various Cafes, shops and pubs.

Both evenings were spent in the  Fish Inn at Buttermere where we enjoyed good food and beer, great company and some lovely people to talk with, including a lady who was celebrating climbing her 214 Wainwright that very day.

Hi, to Norman and Diane from Crich, who didn’t complete a Wainwright.

Day 5 Buttermere, Ennerdale, Wasdale, Eskdale

Date : Thursday 6 October 2011
Area : Cumbria
Walk : Buttermere to Eskdale
Start At : Buttermere YHA
End At : Eskdale YHA
OS Sheet : OL4 & 6
Distance M/k) : 12.5 / 20.1
Ascent (ft) : 3150
Descent (ft) : 3372

From Buttermere go south around the end of the lake, turn left following the shore line, at Peggys Bridge take the path up to Scarth Gap and down into Ennerdale, take the path up to Black Sail Pass and down into Mosedale and Wasdale Head. Head down to the car park on Wast Water, through Bracken Close and upwards to Burnmoor Tarn follow path to Eel Tarn and down to the Woolpack and on to the YHA


Unfortunately due to high winds and heavy rain we had to abandon this walk last year, eventually making the journey by bus, train and La'al Ratty to Eskdale.

This year, Wednesday’s weather looked as if we might hbe in for a repeat of last years weather, even the forecast was pretty dismal. However, Thursday dawned bright and dry if a little breezy so off we trotted, past the Fish Inn and along the side of Buttermere heading for the path to Scarth Gap.

As we approached the start of the path we could see a small tracked excavator wobbling up the path. We caught it up where the path was diverted around a section of hillside that had been washed out by a beck flooding and where works were underway to rebuild the beck and the path. As we slowly climb we were overtaken by the second walker this year. As we climbed the views were fantastic Fleetwith Pike. Dale Head, Haystacks, High Stile.

Approaching Scarth Gap the mist/cloud dropped and the wind increased to the point where I started to wonder if we could get through. Then as we descended the wind dropped and the wild beauty of Ennerdale was laid out in front of us with the River Liza shining, silver bright against the green and brown. Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Pillar were lined up opposite us while Haystacks loomed over us.

The walk down to Black Sail Hut seemed to take no time at all and suddenly we were there, inside having a cup of tea and a hut made flapjack.

Slogging up to Black Sail Pass we felt several small quick showers of rain. The fight to force our way against the wind was just as bad here as at Scarth Gap and just as quickly over. The walk down was pleasant, the views in the slight sunshine were inspiring. Then, when about a K from Wasdale Head just as we were looking forward to the food and drink we would have there out of the blue we were hit by a horrendous hail storm, it battered us, it blew and it stung. We weren’t wearing over trousers so while we stayed dry on top our trousers were soaked, in the end we just stood hoods up, rucksacks turned to the wind driven hail.

As quick as it started it stopped and the sun was shining.

After over an hour sitting in the Wasdale Head Inn we had fed were warmed up and about dryed out so we headed off for what we expected would be the easiest part of the days walk, a stroll over to Burnmoor Tarn and on to the Woolpack. How wrong we were.

Although we both walk in approach shoes so far today our feet had stayed pretty dry, which considering the walk so far was dam good. We decided not to walk down the road to get to Bracken Close, the start of the route to Burnmoor,  but to followed the bridleway instead, only to find that we had to cross three separate stretches of calf deep water. They were wide and cold. A bad start.

We found it a long drag up past Maiden Castle to Burnmoor Tarn, it was also muddy and wet. As we paddled our way past Burnmoor Tarn where its waters stretched way beyond its banks towards Eel Tarn we were blessed with three or four more hail storms, thankfully all of short duration.

While we both had multiple rants about the mud, the water or the hail we had some really good (albeit manic) laughs particularly when we took a joint running jump over a water swollen beck (you had to be there).

Descending from Eel Tarn, almost tasting refreshments at the Woolpack, basking in the pale red sunshine pouring in from the coast through a clear sky we were suddenly hit by another bout of hail. Queue another rant.

The Hostel was good, its one of my favourite, as was the food and drink at the Woolpack Inn