Tag Archives: walking

Worrying about ecology on the fells

Let me take you fell-walking.  Don’t worrying if you have never been fell-walking.  I am familiar with the fells where we are going so we won’t get lost, I move quite slowly these days so you will be able to keep up, and I was taught mountain leadership by the Royal Marines so you are in safe hands.  It is a bright morning though still chilly as we set off through the village.  The village car park, at the foot of the path onto the fell, is packed with vehicles belonging to a film crew who are setting up for a scene in a remake of a James Herriot TV series.  The little car he drives from his veterinary practice over the fells to visit farms is sat waiting for the actor. Perhaps by now the music from the original TV series is echoing in your head and you have a mental image of the Yorkshire Dales where we are walking.  We leave the film crew behind as we climb up the steep path out of the valley towards the upper slopes.  Initially, the path is rock and gravel so it is reasonably solid underfoot but, as we breakout onto the first of a series of high broad terraces, the ground becomes waterlogged and we tread carefully trying to avoid sinking into the squelchy turf.  A herd of Galloway cattle, small black cows with white waistbands, are grazing across the path and barely give us a glance as we walk around them.  Their calmness is infectious.  There is no one else in sight and there are long views across the valley to the fells beyond.  There are white fluffy clouds scattered across the blue sky and a smudge of off-white on the horizon, perhaps a shower of rain or a pall of smoke – it is difficult to tell.  We walk diagonally and slightly upwards across the broad terrace, through a gate, and then the path heads up another steep incline before breaking out onto a higher terrace.  Here, the path snakes across the terrace around sink holes before heading steeply upwards again.  This pattern repeats itself with the view getting bigger, the wind stronger and the temperature colder with each repetition until, after about an hour’s climbing, we suddenly arrive at the summit which is hidden from view until the last moment by the convex curvature of the fell.  Actually, its not really a summit because it is a vast flat-topped fell with a trig point creating rather than marking the highest point.  Nevertheless, the view is spectacular with a blue sky and occasional high clouds.  After a summit photo we set off northwards on a paved path alongside a drystone wall marking the boundary between two parishes.  It is amazing that someone has gone to the trouble of transporting huge slabs of stone, typically 1 sq.m., 700 m up a mountain to lay a footpath for walkers.  Actually, the drystone wall is pretty amazing too, because its about 1.5 m high, in good condition, and part of more than 5000 miles of wall in the Yorkshire Dales that were built without any of today’s civil engineering equipment, some of them 600 years ago.  Eventually, after walking about a kilometre, the summit ends and we start to walk down hill, cross the wall on a ladder stile and then cross back through a gate and turn west.  We stop for lunch sheltering behind the wall from the wind with the sun in our faces and a magnificent view down a valley formed by a beck heading towards the dale from which we started this morning.  All food tastes infinitely better sitting on a hill that you have just climbed and the singing of skylarks and curlews adds to our feeling of well-being.  Our picnic spot is still quite high and we can see line upon line of fells disappearing into the distance.  Some have smudges of off-white above them and we realise, when one drifts towards us from the fell directly across the valley from us, that it is smoke from heather being burned to encourage new growth and improve conditions for gamebirds.  Recent research has shown that unmanaged heather lands absorb more carbon than those managed by burning or mowing; while research published in 2014 showed that burning of moorland has significant negative impacts on peat hydrology, chemistry and physical properties, as well as river water chemistry and river ecology.  So it is disappointing to find that a negative contribution to achieving net zero by 2050 is being made so that a tiny proportion of the population can enjoy shooting birds for sport.  These thoughts and the smoke drifting towards us rather spoil our otherwise idyllic lunch and we head off down the hill in the sunshine planning this post.  But this blemish on an otherwise perfect day on the fells is almost forgotten by the time we have descended into the dale and followed the river upstream to our starting point next to the village pub where we enjoy a couple of pints of real ale.

If you want to follow this walk for real then the details are here: https://www.yorkshire.com/walkshire/buckden-pike-circular/

Mind-wandering on the hills

It is the Easter vacation for our undergraduate students and I am taking a week’s leave to wander the hills, digitally detox and return with my consciousness revived by sensory experiences.  So just two sentences and a picture this week though if you want to read more then follow these links: ‘Walking the hills‘ on April 13th, 2022; ‘Digital detox with a deep vacation‘ on August 10th, 2016; and ‘Feed your consciousness with sensory experiences‘ on May 22nd, 2019.The author stood next to a trig point on top of hill

Limited bandwidth

Photograph of hills with walking boots in foregroundMany people take a week’s holiday at this time in the UK because Monday was the Spring Bank Holiday. We went walking in the Clwydian hills which we can see from our house to the south-west across the rivers Mersey and Dee. However, despite the walking on the wild side [see ‘Take a walk on the wild side‘ on August 26th, 2015], I did not feel particularly creative when I sat down to write this week’s blog post. Together with most of my academic colleagues, I am in the midst of reviewing student dissertations and marking end of year assessments. I have written in the past about the process of marking examinations and the tens of thousands of decisions involved in marking a large pile of scripts [see ‘Depressed by exams‘ on January 31st, 2018]. However, the constraints imposed by the pandemic have changed this process for students and examiners because the whole exercise is conducted on-line. I have set an open-book examination in thermodynamics which the students completed online in a specified time period and submitted electronically. Their scripts were checked automatically for plagiarism during the submission process and now I have to mark about 250 scripts online. At the moment, marking online is a slower process than for hardcopy scripts but perhaps that’s a lack of skill and experience on my part. However, it seems to have same impact on my creativity by using up my mental bandwidth and impeding my ability to write an interesting blog post [see ‘Depressed by exams‘ on January 31st, 2018]!

Switching off and walking in circles

Traditionally in Easter week, I go to the Lake District for a week of hill-walking with my family and a digital detox [see ‘Eternal non-existence‘ on April 24th, 2019 and ‘Gone walking‘ on April 19th, 2017]. For the second year in succession, we have had to cancel our trip due to the national restrictions on movement during the pandemic [see ‘Walking and reading during a staycation‘ on April 15th, 2020]. I am still attempting a digital detox but the walking is restricted to a daily circuit of our local park. While Sefton Park is not on the scale of Central Park in New York or Regent’s Park in London, it is sufficiently large that a walk to it, round its perimeter and home again takes us about two hours. It might not be as strenuous as climbing Stickle Pike but it is better than repeatedly climbing the stairs which was the limit of our exercise last year [see ‘Virtual ascent of Moel Famau‘ on April 8th, 2020].  We might not be allowed to leave our locality but we can switch off all of our devices, do some off-line reading (see ‘Reading offline‘ on March 19th, 2014), slow down, breathe our own air (see ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd, 2015) and enjoy the daffodils.