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Sunday, 7 September 2008

I Made It to the Top of the Hill

I climbed to the top of a fell today.

This is a great achievement for me. A year ago I was so unfit that I had trouble climbing a flight of stairs, so I started rambling and this year have increased it to a couple of 5/6 mile walks a week or one slightly longer one.
Luckily in the North-East of England there are so many groups running rambles that the choice is wonderful. Many of them have a theme (local history, wild flowers, tree identification etc) and a leader provides a commentary and handouts and a map.

BLISS! I love being taught. I'll listen to anything. I follow along like a puppy looking at everything and hanging onto every word. When I get home I have forgotten most of it but I have books and can look it up!

Today was a ramble to Cronkley Fell on the southern side of the River Tees. It is in full flood with all the rainwater and the release of water from Cow Green Reservoir up the dale. On our return the flow had increased and the water was brown with sediment.
I have progressed from my early stumbles to stepping out more confidently in "all weather" gear and proper boots, but today was still a challenge because...

* It had been raining nonstop for two days and hazardous weather warnings were widespread. It continued to rain for about 75% of our time out on the fell (total time out there=6hours)
* The walk was described as "strenuous". This was because we had to climb up and over the Whin Sill to reach Cronkley Fell. Lots of steep bits and the wet weather made everything much more difficult.
* We were to study lichens which flourish on slippery rocks.
* All waterways were in flood and most had doubled their depth and width by the time we returned in the afternoon making dry-foot crossings akin to a circus performance.

But it was all worth it. If you look carefully at this picture, in the bottom half you may be able to identify a green grassy basin with some rocks around the edge. It would be about twenty feet across and is the remains of a bronze-age homestead. Built in a circle with the doorway down wind of the prevailing one and with about nine long poles supporting the roof in a radial pattern. Spreading out from the farmhouse are some more stones which indicate the walled fields which surrounded it. I stood there for ages just soaking it in. There is nothing to stop you from taking your picnic to the middle of a bronze-age home and having lunch where they would have had theirs. Probably a bit different in content. I had some turkey and chutney sandwiches on white bread. I wonder what they would have had.

Going east from the settlement is the drover's road. This winds its way up the slopes of Holwick Fell. It was built for the pack-horses and some wagons which carried materials to and from the mines and across the Pennines generally, from the 14th century onwards. Mines provided minerals such as lead ores, iron ores, coal, limestone and dolerite.

The limestones provide basic conditions and the dolerite of the Whin Sill provides acidic conditions so there is a large variety of flowering plants, lichens and mosses to be found. We were in search of lichens.

We were led by Mike Sutcliffe, a self confessed fanatical lichenologist. And, Yes! dear reader, it is liken not litchen if you are a lichenologist. Litchen gives you away as being a definite non-lover of lichens. In fact you may even prefer mosses!!!

This picture shows about twenty different species of lichen. They all look the same until you get your hand lens out, put your knees on the wet ground, stick your bum in the air and look closely into the lens. Then they look like the terrain on planets from other solar systems. REALLY WEIRD and WONDERFUL. This is a good link for pictures.

We sat on wet boulders in the pouring rain to eat our picnic lunch and took it in turns to disappear around the corner to pee. This is quite an experience when it raining so hard that your bum gets wet as soon as you pull your pants down and even wetter as it hits the heather. This is a "girlie" thing of course. In fact the whole lunch thing only took a few minutes because the weather was so bad that only three nutters like me turned up to take part so there were five altogether. Mike, John, Meg, me and the Natural England Volunteer Leader...Angie. Guess what, though? We all loved it and had a great time and were glad we did it and not something else, even in all that rain. I'm off to trawl the internet for a hand lens so that I can go round looking like a lichen fanatic!

When I got back to Staindrop it stopped raining. Eerie.

Cheers Gillian


carol said...

A really enjoyable post Gillian. I think I too could enjoy rambles - even the longish one - given an end in view and some information. I'm not a walking for walking's sake sort of person but I could certainly do wih the excercise.
And FINALLY someone has told me how to pronounce lichen in a way I might remember it.....
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love rambles, I've always been a walker as opposed to a runner, and it's nice because you can take time to really enjoy things and get fit too! Your interest in lichen is awesome! xx

Amongst The Oaks said...

Thanks Gillian for the enjoyable post. I'm jealous that I couldn't go with you and learn all about lichen. I love to ramble and take frequent walks here in California, but we see nothing as grand as what you saw!
As an admirer of old English cottages, I've observed that lichen is an important and authentic detail. I've finally got some growing on parts of my cottage. I'll post some photos of them sometime.
Cheers, Laura

Heide said...

Tonight I shall dream of wandering the wild moores of northern England. Your pictures and descriptions are so inviting. I used to know some lichen jokes, but alas, I can't remember them now.

joco said...

Oh, I remember it well:-)
The wet sox, trews, tops,sammiches, the lot.

I have become 'southernfied' (without the -r-). Now I insist on a dry car within fleeing distance.

Lovely read.
I love your frontdoor with the beautiful skylight.