30 April 2012

So - Will we do it again? Part 1.

Ride2stride, the walking festival I've been eating, sleeping and dreaming about for the last six months, starts tomorrow and it can't come soon enough.

It's a funny old mix of emotions. I'm worried that no-one will come or too many will turn up. I'm anxious that the memories people go home with won't only be of yomping through mud with a gale blowing down their necks, I'm desperate that this damned rain will stop and of course all I really want is that people will leave loving the Western Dales as much as I do. 

People have already started to ask if there'll be a ride2stride again next year so I thought I'd get some thoughts down now BEFORE it all kicks off.

The HIGHS - well the Festival started off as a twinkle seen through the bottom of a glass and the fact the idea survived until the next morning is a miracle.
We sent out a call for support and that first little group who turned up at the Rendevous in Skipton made it all seem real.
Our criteria for going ahead was that we'd have 12 walks, 2 talks and 2 music events over the course of a week. We've ended up with a staggering 25 walks, 3 talks and music every single day in a pub close to the line.
We didn't want to create a new organisation to run the Festival, instead we've got a model that means 14 different groups are involved. Some, like Friends of Settle Carlisle Line, Yorkshire Dales Society and Friends of Dales Rail are contributing loads, other are leading a single walk and the wonderful 3 Peaks Folk Club is putting on all the music.
We've done it all on a shoestring - Northern Rail and FoSCL paid for the printing of the programme and our business Skyware Press designed the programme and set up the website.
We've kept it simple - no booking, fees only where there's room hire to pay for.
We've only had 3 meetings.

The LOWS - We've only had 3 meetings. Much as I hate meetings there have been times when I've felt a bit isolated.
Fourteen different organisations brought with them 14 different points of view and whilst some of us were happy that the programme reflected that there were others who wanted t'committee to have more control.
Changes to a crucial bus timetable means that the walk I was leading from Malham to Settle along the route of A Dales High Way has had to be changed so it's a circular from Settle. Note to self - don't factor in a train AND a bus in future.
The "no booking" means we don't have ANY idea what to expect so when we stand on Settle station tomorrow morning we don't know if there will be 5 people or 500.

More HIGHS than LOWS then so - will we do it again?

Watch this space.

23 April 2012

It's this way...

That's the first 3 miles of A Dales High Way waymarked - only another 87 to go!

That's not quite as daunting as it sounds. We're not planning to pepper the route with little blue and yellow arrows, far from it. In fact there are whole tracts of the walk where there won't be any markers at all. Across the Howgills for example, there's a six-mile ridge walk which relies entirely on the walker's navigation skills without even a drystone wall to follow. 

A Dales High Way crosses the Howgill Fells

And that's what we hope people will like about the route. A Dales High Way is not a wilderness walk but it does take walkers high into the fells from the market towns and villages where they've spent the night - hopefully enjoying some northern hospitality. Fells that none of us want to see covered in hardware whether it's waymarks or wind farms.

The route is not an easy one, there are steep climbs every day and if you take in the summit of Whernside the total ascent equals climbing Mont Blanc. As well as not wanting to add to plethora of waymarks in the Dales already we're worried that too much signage can send out the message that this is a stroll. I once walked a well known National Trail that was waymarked at every bend and turn. By day four my guide book was still in pristine condition in my backpack and my navigation reduced to symbol-spotting. Disaster struck! A multitude of paths and no signpost. Which one to choose? Just four days and all my hillcraft had left me, so soon and yet so deskilled. Don't tell the Duke of Edinburgh anyone!

No, all we want to do is to put up enough waymarks to occasionally reassure walkers that they're on the right track. Oh, and to make the embarrassing slightly-hungover-after-a-night-on-the-Black-Sheep search for the way out of the village in the morning, a thing of the past

9 April 2012

And to cheer us all up...

...on this wet Bank Holiday Monday here's a few pictures from a walk we did in sunny Tenerife. We've been back a month now and life is hurtling towards the ride2stride festival. Those few days respite are fading as quickly as the tan so before I forget about it completely - here goes.

We caught the bus to Santiago del Teide, a pretty little town perched high above the coast on the west of the island. Most of our fellow passengers were walkers, changing buses in Santiago to make the vertiginous journey down to Masca to walk the famous Barranco de Masca trail. We decided to leave that for another day and explore the hills around Santiago itself. Our original plan was to return to the town to catch a teatime bus back to the coast but we spotted an information board that soon changed our mind.

An ancient Camino Real track connects Santiago del Teide with Puerto de Santiago on the coast, just a short hop from where we were staying. We could have our day in the hills and walk home. The track was used as a trading route, connecting the fishing families from the coast with the farmers in the hills and produce would be carried the 6 km between the two on a regular basis. Now it's used by local people to take feed to their goats and by walkers like ourselves to see something of Tenerife that's a little off the tourist trap.

We left the town up a short steep path to visit a shrine to the Virgin Mary - the Fuente de la Virgen. The route is marked by 14 crosses, each with a plaque marking a stage of the Calvario or Stations of the Cross. The shrine itself is a flower filled bower, clearly well tended, with glorious views across the valley to Mount Teide itself.

The story goes that when the townspeople of Santiago del Teide saw lava heading down the mountain towards them they rushed to the church to pray to the virgin for salvation. At the last minute the lava took a turn to the left and Santiago was saved. Mary got her shrine but the people from the next village still aren't speaking.

After this little detour we headed out on a rocky track which eventually led to a goat farm. No one lives there but apparently an elderly couple still walk up daily to feed their flock.

Ahead of us was Roque Blanco, a near vertical wall of scree which we decided was not for us. Later I glanced back and watched with admiration as a lone walker scrambled to the top. The marked route back to the valley retraced our steps - never my first choice - so when we came across a little goat track that looked as if it followed a ridge south and might just join the main track in the valley bottom we decided to go for it.

It wasn't marked on the map but it did look passable with care and I convinced myself that if it had been in the Lake District I would have clambered down like a shot. It was fantastic, rocky and narrow with occassional drops that meant jumping the last couple of feet and after an hour or so we were back on the Camino Real and an easy walk down through banana plantations back to the coast and a welcome cold beer.

1 April 2012

Frost Watch

One flake of snow and I'm off to wrap this beauty in bankets with a hot water bottle at its roots and a cup of cocoa in its twig if needs be. A couple of years ago a late frost took all the blossom and all I was left with were two measley plums. Lesson learned!