23 April 2014

There's a welcome in THESE hills

Thank you Scotland - or more specifically thank you to all the fantastic people who made our West Highland Way walk so special.

It almost goes without saying that the walk itself was wonderful - 95 miles in 7 days through the spectacular West Highlands of Scotland.

After a lowland start from just north of Glasgow to the banks of Loch Lomond, the Way follows the loch for a day and a half before heading over Rannoch Moor into the mountains, ending in Fort William under the watchful eye of Ben Nevis.

It was a great introduction to walking in Scotland and everything I'd hoped for, and more, because in all the years I've been walking I don't think I've ever felt so welcome. No tight lips as we dripped on the carpet, no dirty looks as we lugged rucksacks and walking poles into bedrooms. 

Just a warm welcome, a big fire and a chat about where we'd walked that day. 

The West Highland Way attracts 1,000's of walkers a year from all over the world and for many businesses it's their main source of income so understanding the needs of walkers makes sense but just because something makes sense it doesn't mean it always happens. Over the years I've stayed in B&B's that told me to leave my rucksack outside and in pubs that stopped serving coffee after 8 o'clock even though the dozen or so walkers who'd just finished eating were the only customers in the place. I've stripped off at the door to avoid the wrath of receptionists and dripped guiltily up the stairs after disapproving landladies. 

Walking a long distance trail boils down to the very basics of life - get up, eat, walk, shower, eat, drink, sleep - then do it all again tomorrow so the quality of the accommodation makes a massive difference to the experience. It doesn't matter if that accommodation is a 5 star hotel or a shared room in a bunk barn so long as the welcome is warm, there's somewhere to dry and store mucky wet gear and above all you're not made to feel like a hobo who's wandered in from the hills even though that's exactly how you look. 

So well done West Highland Way - you got it spot on and the welcome in those hills will stay with me for as long as the memories of the walk itself.

11 February 2014

I'll tak the high road ....

WooHoo. It's booked! We're off to walk the West Highland Way

One of the drawbacks of publishing walk guide books for a living is that you spend much of your life walking for work (I know, I know, call that a job!). 

In the last 12 months we've walked the Coast to Coast twice for our latest book, A Dales High Way once to monitor the new waymarking and the Dales Way to check for route changes. Great walks all of them but work all the same. 

We finally decided to tackle a long distance route just for the fun of it and settled on the West Highland Way. Despite being half Scottish and spending great chunks of time with my cousins north of the border I've done very little walking in Scotland and I just can't wait. 

Glen Coe

31 December 2013

Sea to Sea

It's almost 19 years since I first walked Wainwright's Coast to Coast route and discovered a love of long distance walking that has stayed with me ever since. 

Walking from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay in the spring of 1995 spawned not only a new hobby but a new career as well. It was the inspiration for the creation of A Dales High Way and the establishment of Skyware Press.

A Coast to Coast Route Guide is the 6th walk guide book to be published by Skyware and in many ways the most challenging.  We didn't want to replace Wainwright's original guidebook, updated in 2010 by Chris Jesty, but to complement it. To create a book of route maps that were light to carry, easy to follow and above all accurate to make the practical task of route finding as easy as possible. It took over a year of research, returning to each section again and again to walk the trail, to take photographs and make notes and to test the out the maps. 

Finally, when everything was complete we handed over the draft publication to our friends David and Bridget, who set off from St Bees in September 2013. Only when they safely reached Robin Hood's Bay two weeks later did we commit to printing. Our Coast to Coast Route Guide is published on January 1st 2014. Happy New Year to everyone who walks this wonderful trail.

Watch David and Bridget's Coast to Coast adventure here.

24 July 2013

Happiness is ....

A few weeks ago the lovely Susan Briggs @Dales_Tourism asked "What makes you happy?" She's writing The Yorkshire Dales Guide to Health and Happiness and was looking for stories to feature in her book.

And it got me thinking. What makes me happy? Well in no particular order (or there is a particular order but putting the dog first might upset a few people) my family, my friends, the dog, hot baths, cold beers, growing stuff, cooking stuff, eating stuff - and walking.

Any sort of walking.  It doesn't matter if it's an early morning dog walk, an afternoon stroll or a full day's hike.  I love 'em all. But the walks that make me feel happiest in a deep, lasting and profound way are long distance walks. Walks that take weeks of planning and thinking about. Walks where I leave home with my pack on my back knowing I won't be back for a week or more.  I have done lots of these walks and the magic works every time. I set off with my head crammed full of everyday worries and concerns and my body tense with anxiety.

Within a day or so that's all gone. My mind empties and my life slows down to the pace of the walk.  The purpose of each day is just that - to walk. There is no other task. No other jobs to tick off or goals to achieve. I eat, I walk, I sleep and tomorrow I do it all again. I begin to experience the true beauty of the landscape I am walking through, to notice the tiniest speedwell, the highest skylark. Every day brings a new adventure. My days are spent in splendid isolation on the fells, walking to a soundtrack of bleating sheep and the call of the curlew. At night I head for civilisation, to pubs and B&Bs, to warm baths and good food and real ale, and I return home at the end of my walk happy and at peace with myself and the world.

We are lucky here in the Yorkshire Dales to have some of the finest long distance footpaths in the British Isles. There’s the gentle riverside Dales Way and the exhilarating, challenging Dales High Way, the world famous Coast to Coast Path and the fascinating Lady Anne’s Way. There’s the granddaddy of them all - the Pennine Way and many many more. Go on – try it yourself.

19 June 2013

A question for us all

A few days ago I went for an afternoon walk around Grassington. I climbed up over the moor above Yarnbury before dropping down to the pretty little village of Hebden and returning along the riverbank. Perfect.

Hebden by Frank Gordon from Lady Anne's Way by Sheila Gordon

I reached Hebden just as a large group of walkers arrived in the village. They'd clearly had a long day and straggled a bit as they headed towards the line of cars parked by the stream. I watched as they shrugged off their rucksacks, changed their boots and squeezed the last drops from their flasks. Then they all climbed into their cars and with a cheery "See you next week" they drove away.

And it got me thinking.

Hebden Post Office cum village shop
Hebden's a small place with just 133 houses. There's a pub, a tearoom, a village hall and a Post Office cum village shop. Not one of the walkers called in at the shop before they went home. No-one had a cuppa or a scone at the tearoom although two of the women popped in and asked to use the loo. Nobody had a pint in the pub. This big group of people drove into Wharfedale with their packed lunches and their flasks of tea. They took advantage of free roadside parking clogging the village street with their Discoveries and Zafiras, they enjoyed their day in the countryside then they went home again.

What should they have done? Do we as walkers have a responsiblity to put something back? To try to use the facilities in the Dales villages we so admire and by doing so support local people in keeping their pub open or their bus running. Or is it ok to be completely self contained like the party I saw?

What do you think?

9 June 2013

My pal Jess

It's 2 years since I first wrote this and 9 since we went to the RSPCA and came away with a little scruff-ball we called Jess. She wasn’t our first choice. Oh no, we’d got our eyes firmly set on another – a sweet little puppy with take-me-home eyes – but when I knelt down to say hello, Jess jumped onto my knee and she’s never got off.

Jess 10 weeks old
She was the oddest looking pup – huge head, short legs, bent nose and when she walks her back legs wander along a good six inches to the right of her front ones. She looks like a bendy bus or Slinky from Toy Story. She’s also the happiest little dog I’ve ever known. Every day’s an adventure, everybody she meets is her friend. She's walked all of A Dales High Way, the Dales Way, the Cleveland Way and many many more. She's shared tents, slept in the van, kipped under the bed when B&B's would let her and in sheds when they wouldn't - in short she's been everywhere that we have. Until this week.

This week, for the first time, I went walking and left her at home. It was a very sunny day, we were going high onto the fells with no access to water, she's getting on a bit now and she's a hairy dog who hates the heat - need I go on?

I know it was the right decision but boy did it hurt. 

13 March 2013

More of the same

At the risk of repeating what I said in my last post I couldn't resist sharing these. They were taken yesterday on a section of A Dales High Way between Malham and Settle.

Through the Dry Valley ...

...and on to Kirkby Fell
I rest my case.