Another day, another loss

And another development which defies all logic, rubber-stamped for approval. Which in itself is something of a joke, since the groundwork has been progressing for some time; consent has never been in doubt. I can’t add much that isn’t already better covered by the writer of this this piece

Having a favourite Welsh hill (or range of hills) is no easy choice to make. Mine happen to be The Berwyns – lonely, quiet, at times mysterious; and twelve, maybe fifteen, miles away from where these turbines will be installed.

Still, at least there are some reassurances being sought; and given…

(From the BBC website): “Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane has presented a petition in Parliament asking for reassurances that cables connecting the wind farm to the National Grid at St Asaph would be buried underground.” Okay, well, good luck with that, Chris.

And (also from the BBC website): “The company (RWE) has said it has worked closely with ornithologists and ecologists to produce a habitat management plan, to include restoration of habitats and woodland management.” And would this be an enforceable plan, with no wriggle room and stringent penalties for non-compliance? Just asking…

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The Berwyns – Lonely, quiet, mysterious hills

Anyway, picture standing on the summit of Cadair Berwyn – at 2,720 feet, the highest summit in Wales outwith the national parks and a commanding viewpoint – and looking slightly west of north, towards the coast. You would be looking roughly in the direction of Abergele and, with decent visibility, Clocaenog forest would be in the middle distance. From that vantage point there will be a very clear view of this cluster of turbines.

There are other hills in the area which I know less well (although I’ve walked most of them at least once) and I’m trying to visualise how their views will be impacted. Arenig Fawr and Moel Llyfnant lie to the south west and roughly the same distance away as the Berwyn ridge; these two are just inside the Snowdonia NP boundary and Arenig Fawr tops out at 2,800 feet. My recollection is that it has pretty much unobstructed views of Clocaenog, but it’s been a few years now since I was on that particular top.

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Looking northwest from Cadair Berwyn, towards Snowdon, The Glyders, Tryfan, and Carneddau.

 

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Mooching The Mynd (20/09/2014)

Steve Gilbert (Fell Finder) is the real oracle on the Shropshire hills; a local lad who’s moved north but still feels the pull of his home patch every now and again. It was Steve who really opened my eyes to just what a huge tract of walkable land there is if you take in The Stiperstones, Clun Forest, Pontesbury, The Caradoc Hills and The Lawley; plus, of course, the hills of The Long Mynd. And that’s by no means the complete list.

We’re still a long way short of covering all of it but we have made a concerted effort over the last couple of years to get a better feel for the place. This has been partly by means of a few longer outings, where the priority has been mostly covering ground, but also by days where we’ve just ambled around the valleys and tops, getting our bearings and trying to make sense of where we are standing right now in relation to where we were last time and the times before.

It’s a surprisingly complex area: straight lines are few and far between; climb out of a valley and chances are you’ll emerge not quite where you anticipated; head for a point on the skyline  and be prepared for it to take a bit longer to get there than you might have expected; the vegetation obscures paths in summer and gradually reveals them again from autumn. And, as any local – Steve included – will tell you, mist and fog are not exactly rare occurrences. I couldn’t think of a better place for anyone to learn and practice navigation skills.

Carding Mill Valley draws people in the most numbers, particularly the summer weekend and bank holiday crowds, but even on the busiest days it doesn’t take too long to access quieter spots; and there are plenty of them. Our most recent ‘mooch’ actually started from Carding Mill valley, albeit on a quiet, midweek morning; the apparently erratic and unstructured nature of the route is plotted on the map below and is totally in keeping with the approach we’ve been taking…

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If it looks like madness, I can well understand. All I can say is that it feels better in the walking than it looks in print.


Standing on the topmost of the National Trust car parks and looking west across the burn (which I think is called ‘Ash brook’ lower down but appears to be unnamed here), there is an obvious ridge which takes a clearly defined line towards a rocky outcrop (Cow Ridge). There are a few straightforward scrambling opportunities along the route, most of which can be avoided by minor detours. For most of the ascent the rocky bluff looks like the top; it isn’t, but by the time you get there the hard part is done.

Crossing the gently rising ground, heading W/SW will bring you fairly quickly to a tarmac road which climbs out of Church Stretton. Turn right as the road is joined and then look for an opportunity to step off the tarmac and onto a path which runs parallel to it; not that the road is particularly busy. Eventually the road splits and one fork peels away to the left, but the path keeps straight ahead and then slightly right, always climbing gently towards a level horizon. At the crest of the ridge, the Shropshire Way is joined and – if visibility permits – there should be 360º views.

long-mynd-26-0-813_0020The high point of the Long Mynd is Pole Bank and this is reached by turning left and continuing to climb steadily. Fairly soon, a trig point will come into view.

Just beyond the Pole Bank top there is a small copse, which can be a useful lunch spot on a wet day; there is not much in the way of shelter once you’re out on the high ground.

The copse is fenced, but the trees overhang the fence far enough to afford cover. There are beehives inside the enclosure and a non-stop procession of honey bees to and from the heather, when it is in flower. However many there are (and there must be hundreds of thousands), they will fly all around you without once bothering you. The accumulated noise they make is astonishing.

Lunch consumed, we retraced our steps along the Shropshire Way and, ignoring the path down into Carding Mill Valley (which we were saving for later), crossed the moorland on a springy, green track, which meets a fence just as the ground begins to fall away. Turning left and following the line of the fence, eventually brought us back to the Shropshire way, near to the site of a pair of bronze age barrows marked on the OS map as ‘Robin Hood’s butts’. In all honesty, they are pretty unprepossessing and without prior knowledge, and closer inspection, you would see them as just a couple of natural undulations in the terrain.

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Female wheatear, Long Mynd

Rejoining the Shropshire Way, we walked until we met the junction with the path down to Carding Mill Valley and Church Stretton. This path is usually saved for the final walk back down, as it gives some of the best views and is often busy with birds, taking advantage of the relatively small number of trees, which mostly cluster on the lower slopes around the bed of the stream. A stream which can frequently be heard long before it is seen. We have seen stonechats, chiffchaffs and wheatears, among others; a pair of kestrels – understandably enough – seem to have this part of the hills as a regular beat.

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Grey wagtail (pictured near to Light Spout waterfall)

Speaking of raptors, we have – on different days and at different times of the year – spotted buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk, red kite and the occasional peregrine. There are, by reliable accounts, both merlin and hen harrier in the vicinity, but we’ve never been fortunate enough to come across either; the terrain and habitat would certainly support both. Ravens, in decent numbers, are pretty much guaranteed year round.

The Long Mynd, and the neighbouring hills, have a distinctly different character to most others which are easily accessible from the west midlands (we can reach them in under an hour). Much closer, in texture, to some of the Welsh ranges and we often comment that they have a feel of The Berwyns.

Perhaps it’s the climbing in the company of water that does it. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty high praise.

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A High and Lonely Place

A High and Lonely Place

It’s the title of a book: a good one, by a good writer (Jim Crumley); first published in 1990 and it’s as relevant now as the day it was written, possibly more so. I re-read it a few weeks back, just before a visit to the highlands (although those two things had no deliberate connection) and much of it reads like a present day commentary; you have to remind yourself that it was written a quarter of a century ago, raising concerns which went largely unheeded, much as they still do today.

The high and lonely place of the book’s title is the Cairngorms – the mountains of course, but also the forests and valleys, rivers and marshes, which feed, drain, shelter and, in innumerable other ways, enhance each other and the whole. Some will say, and with valid arguments, that we have better hills and more evocative landscapes. In the end it’s all about opinions: there’s no definitive best mountain, or most magnificent glen, particularly when none of them are the same from one day to the next.

As early in the book as page 22, I came across this passage, where Jim is expressing his anxieties over the future of the remaining forests of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy: “Stand in them, and know that when you do, these same trees were brushed by wolf and Jacobite. Stand in them, feel the past and fear for the future. [Man] has long since passed the day when he could say with any honesty that he never knew”.

All of this was written before the the funicular; before the re-branding of the mountain; before the proliferation of onshore wind; before the ‘need’ never to be without a mobile phone signal.

On one of our outings we crossed the summit plateau of Cairngorm; partly to take in the outlook to the south and also with a view to some reconnaissance for future outings. Scanning around and taking in the views of Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Braeriach (and that’s just a few to be going on with), we were immediately struck by the difference between looking into the heart of the mountains and what you see when you stand near the summit cairns and look outwards. The difference bestowed by national park protection; let’s hope that holds firm when it (inevitably) comes under pressure from speculators and developers.

Low cloud moving across Cairngorm summit. In the distance and just visible, some clearer weather down in Glenmore.

It’s true that Cairngorm itself is an untidy clutter on its northern side: mostly the consequences of ski development. I know there are arguments in favour of skiing as a leisure pursuit; not least the economic benefits in the winter months and, equally importantly, the fact that, for some, it’s an enjoyable activity. There’s no denying though that skiing is greedy for land and creates an awful mess on the hillside when there’s no camouflaging blanket of snow. Of course there are equally instances of spots (Snowdon summit, Ben Nevis as examples) where the accumulated effects of tens of thousands of walkers can leave the place looking far from attractive. The difference on Cairngorm is how quickly, if you choose your path well, you can leave behind the crowds and their debris.

The landscape sometimes pays a heavy price for our recreational activities

On the other hand, it doesn’t take long to escape any evidence of the crowds: a couple of twists in the path, a couple of folds in the landscape, is usually sufficient.

What all this means for us in the longer term is open to conjecture. One definite is that plans for future trips will probably involve walking deeper into the hills, rather than on or around them. More forays into quiet glens – places like Glen Einich – to avoid seeing the things we’d rather not see. In a way, it almost seems like an admission of defeat; albeit one with compensations.
 This was the view from Cairngorm towards Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan
 
The Spey, assisted by some input from its tributaries, had flooded the Insh marshes and created a wetter than usual wetland habitat. Apparently this is not a typical August scene and certainly one we’d not seen before
 Ruthven Barracks, for a few days at least, gained a moat…
 
A different view of the extensive flooding on both sides of the A9. This was taken from Creag Bheag, a small hill which lies behind Kingussie…
 A roe deer in that peculiar ‘walk forwards, look backwards’ pose, which seems to be a speciality of theirs