Christmas in the Cairngorms

First off, I should confess that the title of this blog is a bit of a fib. We didn’t actually spend Christmas Day in the Cairngorms, heading up instead two days later and spending the week over New Year in a cottage near Tomintoul. However, ‘New Year in the Cairngorms’ doesn’t have quite the same alliterative ring to it as ‘Christmas in the Cairngorms’ and so here we are. The Cairngorms had been on our ‘to visit’ list for years but I’d always struggled to find somewhere in a good location which accepts two dogs – therefore, when I finally found somewhere, I booked it almost immediately. Sadly our trip, planned for December 2020, was delayed due to Covid, so it was a year later than planned when we eventually headed north into the mountains.

Glenmore Forest Park

The first few days of our trip were cold. Even though there was no snow, the low temperature meant that everywhere was coated in frost all day, rather than disappearing when the sun came up. The result was a magnificent winter wonderland and lochs which were completely frozen – both of which were on display at Glenmore Forest Park.

The walk we decided to do was the Ryvoan Pass walk from our Pocket Mountains guide. The walk itself is about 6.5 miles starting from the Glenmore Visitor centre – this was full when we arrived so we parked down the road at Allt Ban car park (pay and display). There is a similar route on Walkhighlands.

This was one of my favourite walks of the trip – there’s very little effort required in terms of climbing but maximum views all the way around. The walk starts out on spacious forest trails, reaching Loch an Uaine before leaving the trees to cross heather moorland until you get to the Ryvoan Bothy. The views here are brilliant, and from the bothy you retrace your steps to Loch an Uaine before venturing off the main path to climb a steep set of steps through dense forest. The view across the forest to the distant mountains is more than enough to make it worth your while – and at the end of the climb you reach a wide forest track with an amazing view down to Loch Morlich. While the track to the bothy and to Loch an Uaine was fairly busy, this track was almost deserted, and it felt like we were a million miles from the track below.

We both really enjoyed this walk – it’s an easy stroll which, aside from the relatively short climb up the steps, isn’t remotely taxing. The paths are mostly well surfaced forest tracks (which when we visited were icy and slippery) and the ascent and descent is mostly gentle. We did cut off the section along the shore of Loch Morlich as it was absolutely heaving with people – it’s a popular walk with both locals and visitors alike. If you want to extend this walk, from the Ryvoan Pass you can add a climb up the small hill of Meall a’ Bhuachaille. We were tempted but it looked like a lot of other people had a similar idea, so we just decided to stick to the planned route!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This walk is a great dog walk – we were able to have Coal off lead all the way around, and there are opportunities for dogs to have a splash in the river or in the loch. While the lower down paths were fairly busy with people and dogs, the higher up path was much quieter and we only saw one other walker up here. There were no stiles on the route and just a short section along the road to get back to the car park at the end. Both of ours loved exploring all the trails – the only thing to note is that from April-August, dogs need to be on leads due to the sensitivity of the Capercaillie breeding season. This is the case for lots of woodland areas in the Cairngorms, which is one of the only places in Scotland where the Capercaillie can be found.

Carn Daimh

All three walking books we took with us included at least one route up Carn Daimh. We followed the way marked route from Clash Wood near Tomnavoulin – this route is detailed in the Day Walks in the Cairngorms guide and also on Walkhighlands. Parking at Clash Wood is free and there’s space for a small number of cars.

The way marked trail is one of several routes around the Glenlivet Estate, which is owned by the Crown and has introduced a number of trails to improve public access. The route follows mixed terrain through woodland, field tracks and over moorland, ranging from well surfaced trails to unavoidable mud – luckily the cold stopped it being too sloppy! You also spend some time walking along the Speyside Way which I would love to explore more of on another trip.

For a hill walk, this was surprisingly non-strenuous. From the start, you make your way steadily uphill until you arrive at the summit – more difficult than the uphill element was clambering over, under and around a number of fallen trees in the plantation close to the summit. The Glenlivet Estate’s website says that all tracks have been cleared following Storm Arwen, however, I wonder if they’d checked this stretch! We did eventually manage to get through and the rest of the route was clear.

When you leave the Speyside Way and start your descent, the majority of the walk follows a moorland track. We then crossed a field to get back into Clash Wood – there were quite a few cows in here but they were mostly uninterested in us (we did give them a wide detour though!).

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. This was another walk where we were able to have Coal off lead nearly all the way, excepting a section at the start with sheep and the above cow field. Depending on your dog, they might need to spend more time on the lead as you cross the moorland tracks (like Merry), but three stretches through woodland offer plenty of time for letting your dog stretch it’s legs. The walk is quite exposed and could get hot in summer, with no water, so make sure to take some extra for your dogs. There are a few stiles near the start which we were able to avoid using gates, and another near the end which both of our dogs managed to get over with no problems.

Burn O’ Vat and the Muir of Dinnet

The Burn O’ Vat is a pot hole which was formed by a melting ice sheet thousands of years ago, and is a popular tourist attraction in Aberdeenshire. The Vat can be accessed on foot via stepping stones and once inside, there is a tumbling waterfall. Walking across the stepping stones feels very much like going on an adventure, and the attraction is understandably popular with families. We combined our trip to the Vat with a walk around the Cambus O’ May forest and Loch Kinord, joined up via the Deeside Way. This route was the longest of our trip at 9.8 miles and was another from our Day Walks in the Cairngorms guide. Parking at the visitor centre was plentiful and there was a box for donations towards the upkeep of the site – there was even a clean and centrally heated toilet block!

I’ve had a look online but can’t find the exact route we followed – though to be honest I wasn’t a fan of the 3-4km stretch along the Deeside Way, and would instead suggest two separate walks. The Cambus O’ May has a number of way marked trails and is a great place for spotting wildlife – we saw a red squirrel scampering around the car park, and the forest is also home to capercaillie. Loch Kinord was my favourite part of this walk – we got there towards the end of the afternoon as the temperature was falling and mist was rolling in across the water. It was all very moody and atmospheric – I was half expecting the Lady of the Lake to emerge from the mist!

Loch Kinord can be walked as a circular which also visits the Vat, but is well worth a visit in it’s own right. The loch includes an artificial man made island dating from the Iron Age, and you can also find a ninth century Pictish stone along the edge of the shore. If nature is more your thing than history, the walk around the loch also takes you through the Muir of Dinnet nature reserve. The loch is home to a range of wildlife, including otters who fish on the shores. Sadly we didn’t see any otters but if you do want to try and spot them your best chance is at dawn or dusk.

Dog friendly rating – 4.5/5. While the Burn O’ Vat is pretty busy, the Cambus O’ May and Loch Kinord are excellent dog walking locations. While neither were busy, we did see a fair few other dog walkers, but the large amounts of space mean you are rarely crammed in close to others. We were able to let Coal off the lead for the majority of the walk, putting him back on his lead for the road crossings (including crossing the busy A93). If you do follow the Deeside Way, the start and end run close to the A93, but mostly it swings away from the road to follow the river. For such a long walk it was lovely not to come across any stiles – and both dogs slept very well after such a long walk!

The Invercauld Estate

After our very long walk (for us) the day before, we decided to have a slightly easier day and do a shorter walk. After spending hours scrolling through Walkhighlands (there really is too much choice) we settled on one of the way marked trails around the Invercauld Estate. We followed the trail up to Keiloch Crag, the shortest route of the three. The walk starts from the Estate’s walker’s car park (pay & display, toilet) and took us just over an hour – we didn’t hang around though as there was a very cold wind blowing!

We were surprised to find the car park completely full when we got back from our walk – we’d only seen one other group while we were out. The walk itself is not strenuous but offers great views of the surrounding landscape.

As well as the great views, there’s a series of pull-out information posts dotted around the trail telling you about the history of the estate. About half way around we came across the Fog House, a little hut which would’ve originally been thatched with heather, and a great spot to sit and eat some lunch while admiring the view.

The trail is well way marked (we followed it backwards which was less well sign posted) and the tracks are clear and easy to follow. While you do gain height in order to get the magnificent views, at no point was I out of breath, enjoying a steady amble around the trail.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This is a wonderful short dog walk – short enough that you can do it easily in a limited good weather window (which is all too often the case in Scotland!) while being able to let your dog have a good run around off the lead. The Keiloch Crag walk is entirely through woodland (but still offering plenty of views) and doesn’t have any stiles. There is a short stretch along a private road at the start/end depending which direction you walk in, but this was very quiet and we didn’t see any cars down here at all. The perfect New Year’s Day walk to brush away cobwebs and set us up for another year of wonderful dog walks.

Sgor Gaoithe

Sgor Gaoithe, not to be confused with the much larger Sgor Gaoith, is the most westerly of the Cromdale Hills. On our penultimate day, we looked at the snow forecast for the next day and decided to pack up a day early and head home while the roads were still free of snow and ice. As it was such a beautiful sunny day, we wanted to squeeze in one final walk before leaving, but short enough that we wouldn’t be getting home ridiculously late. After another trawl through Walkhighlands we settled on Sgor Gaoithe, with the promise of a reasonably quick and easy ascent with outstanding views of the Cairngorms and over Grantown-on-Spey.

The route on Walkhighlands is an out and back linear walk of just under two and a half miles. Parking is free in a large lay-by close to the start of the walk. The description describes the gradient as gentle – I’m not entirely sure I agree, but it certainly isn’t the steepest hill we’ve ever climbed. Navigation is pretty easy, following a landrover track nearly all the way, and even when this disappears the path can still be picked out without too much trouble. It is very exposed on the hillside – we got battered by the wind which wasn’t forecast as being particularly strong – so make sure you only head out onto the hills in the right conditions for your ability and with the right gear.

Dog friendly rating – 2.5/5. You walk across open moorland all the way on this walk, so you’ll only be able to let your dog off if you trust them not to chase or disturb any birds (Merry always stays firmly attached to me!). There is a stile at the start to get onto the moor, but there is a reasonably large gap under the gate next to it that both of ours were able to wriggle under. We didn’t see any other people or dogs on this walk which is a bonus if you have a reactive dog like Coal – it seems like the Cromdale Hills are less frequented than the bigger, more famous mountains in the Cairngorms.

Where we Stayed

After spending months searching for the perfect base to explore the Cairngorms, I stumbled across Balneden Steading on Instagram. Comprising three holiday cottages sleeping from 2-4 people, the cottages are beautifully decorated and equipped with everything you could possibly need, with both a log burner AND underfloor heating. A don’t get me started on the view from the front of the cottages! Rurally located a short drive from Tomintoul, these cottages are ideal if you want to totally get away from it all.

Visiting in December meant that when we arrived, the long drive connecting the cottages to the main road (up hill) had sheet ice in multiple places, making getting up the hill impossible without winter tyres. The owners very kindly came and collected all of our stuff and drove it up the hill for us, meaning we were able to relax completely right from the very first night.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. Both our dogs loved Balneden and it was so quiet and peaceful – no noises making Merry bark constantly, and even at midnight on New Year’s Eve, while there were a few bangs, it lasted for just seconds. We absolutely loved how spacious the living/kitchen area was – anything less than palatial and Coal’s permanently wagging tail is in danger of sweeping every surface clean! I’ve just knocked off one point due to the lack of enclosed garden but really that’s just nit-picking. If our dogs could talk, I’m pretty sure they would be requesting that we install underfloor heating ASAP!

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Walla Crag

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas last weekend, however you chose to spend the day! We hopped in the car and spent our Christmas morning ticking off another Wainwright, Walla Crag. We were hoping that as it was Christmas day there would be fewer people around – being so close to Keswick and requiring pretty minimal effort for maximum reward I think Walla Crag can tend to get a little busy. However, we arrived nice and early and while we did see a few people out for a Christmas walk, it was much much quieter than I expect it usually is when the weather’s clear.

While Walla Crag is usually bagged alongside Bleaberry Fell, we decided to stick to a shorter walk, following the route in our Pocket Mountains guide as far as the summit. We then free-styled our way back down to the car park to cut off quite a large corner, probably making the descent much steeper for ourselves, but also getting back to the car and on our way home before the Christmas Dinner traffic started. I’m slightly regretting it now that I’ve realised we’ll probably have to climb it again when we eventually go back to do Bleaberry Fell!

The walk starts from the National Trust’s Great Wood car park in Borrowdale. Parking is free for Members – it’s definitely worth investing in a National Trust membership if you’re planning to tick off the Wainwrights!

The walk up to the summit starts off through woodland, climbing steadily to reach the fell side, and before you know it you’re at the top. It took us about an hour to get from the car to the summit – although this may be because I used Merry’s canicross harness for hiking for the first time and the extra ‘Merry Power’ certainly helped me walk up the hill quicker than normal!

At the start I thought this was going to be a pretty average walk. However, as soon as we walked through the gate at the bottom of the fell side we were immediately met with stunning views over Keswick and Derwentwater, which only get better the further you climb. On your other side you get a dramatic view of the rolling Lakeland hillsides, while straight ahead, there is a beautiful panorama looking towards Cat Bells (surely that’s got to be next on our list!).

Navigationally, this walk is pretty straightforward. While a lot of the paths are grassy, they are clearly defined, but there are so many tracks heading in all directions you need to make sure that you’re following the right one! Once you get onto the fell there is a handy fence line which you can follow most of the way to the summit, then crossing a stile just before you get to the top.

We had great weather for this walk – a bit cloudy but clear enough that we got the fantastic views which I’d been desperate to see. All in all we got around in just under two hours and I wouldn’t say this was a particularly strenuous or difficult walk (relatively speaking), perfect for a morning or afternoon leg stretch.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. Our dogs absolutely loved this walk – the start and end in the woods meant that there was plenty of off lead time, and we didn’t come across any livestock where there wasn’t a fence between us (although this could change in the summer months). There were a few stiles to navigate, but these all had handy dog gates, so no dramas trying to lift Coal over! We also crossed a few streams which would be ideal for letting the dogs have a drink in summer. There was one very short section where we walked along a quiet road, but we didn’t see any cars on here. Overall a fab dog walk which I would definitely recommend!

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Knott & Great Calva

Last week it seemed like most of the UK was covered in a blanket of fog – at least North Yorkshire certainly was! Much to our astonishment though, the forecast for the Lake District was beautiful, with blue skies and sunshine all weekend. There wasn’t even any wind! We therefore decided to head to the northern Lakes to finish off the last Wainwrights near Caldbeck that we hadn’t yet completed: Knott and Great Calva.

It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to head to the Lakes, and we ended up looking for routes online, settling for this 7 mile circular hike on WalkLakes. The walk starts from Mosedale, where there is very limited free parking on the roadside by the start of the walk – we didn’t drive over the bridge to park on the track as it’s not particularly car friendly, but we got parked on the grass verge no problem (please park sensibly).

The WalkLakes route takes you up Great Calva first but we actually followed the route backwards to summit Knott first. We were pretty pleased with this decision walking down Great Calva at the end – it would’ve been a very long, very steep climb up! Pats on the back all round.

Whichever direction you choose to follow this route, you will start with a long stretch along the Cumbria Way. The first hour or so was a bit of a slog, on a gradually ascending and fairly boggy track, and I have to say it wasn’t my favourite part of the walk. At least following the river makes it easy to keep your bearings.

As Lingy Hut comes into view you leave the Cumbria Way to begin your final ascent of Knott. This climb was on grassy tracks and not too bad at all, if a little boggy. We had fantastic weather and could see for miles in all directions, but really, the view of Skiddaw is what dominates the landscape from this summit. The descent from Knott is pretty gentle and not taxing, apart from one short steeper section. As you reach Little Calva and start to climb uphill again, the path disappears totally and it’s a case of navigation skills are definitely required – I wouldn’t have liked to do this on a foggy day.

Aim uphill and slightly right and you eventually come to a fence line, which you can follow all the way to the summit of Great Calva. The trig point was visible from the bottom of the climb and did look slightly imposing! It is fairly steep, but also short enough that it’s over pretty quickly, leaving you to enjoy both the view of Skiddaw as well as views North West towards Scotland. Once you’ve taken in the view, the descent from Great Calva takes you along a narrow path which tracks steeply downhill through heather for what feels like a very long time. All I’m saying is I’m glad I didn’t have to drag myself up that hill…

At the end of the descent you re-join the Cumbria way for the 2 mile walk back to the car. Luckily this is extremely flat in comparison to the rest of the walk as I had a serious case of jelly legs!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. One thing we’ve noticed about the Northern Fells is that there are far fewer sheep around than other parts of the Lakes. They’re still there, but in far fewer numbers, and the more open nature of the landscape makes it easier to spot them in good time. We therefore let Coal off the lead all the way around this walk as a) he’s not interested in sheep, birds, or any other animals and b) we’d be able to see in plenty of time to put his lead back on as a precaution. Merry stayed on the lead as his recall is far too unreliable to take chances in open countryside like this.

Both the start and end of the walk follow the river, which the dogs loved. There was a stile to cross in the fence line heading up Great Calva but there was a gate right next to this which we were able to use instead. There is no road walking and this walk is extremely quiet – we only saw three other groups of walkers in the entire 4 hours we were out.

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Raven Crag

Raven Crag is one of those fells I’ve seen lots of photos of on Instagram. The summit offers a beautiful view over Thirlmere, and the walk up the hillside diverges from the usual open fell side of Lakeland, taking you through a young woodland for a there and back walk which can easily be done in a morning or afternoon. We decided that a saunter up Raven Crag would be the perfect stop off on our way home from our trip to the Western Lakes at the start of November – another Wainwright ticked off but not a huge delay when we just wanted to get home.

Raven Crag is one of the smaller Wainwrights. Don’t let it’s relatively low height deceive you: like Castle Crag and Binsey, Raven Crag has outstanding views of the surrounding fells. We found a linear route on the OS maps app, starting from a small lay-by (free parking for around 4 cars) at the edge of the United Utilities woodland where you set off on the walk.

Passing through a gate into the woodland, you set off on a permissive path pitched relatively steeply uphill all the way to the top. Although, I think we took the more direct route to the top – coming down on a different path it was slightly less steep! The path is pretty well surfaced most of the way but there are a few sections where it is uneven or boggy underfoot.

On the way up we had tantalising glimpses of the infamously beautiful view – Thirlmere stretches out behind you on the climb up and we were treated to a spectacular display of autumn colour from the trees. At the summit there is a viewing platform where you can admire the view as your reward for all your hard work – unless the cloud comes down at the top like it did for us!! We hung around for 5 minutes to see if it would clear up (it didn’t) before setting off back down to the car.

All in all it took us just over an hour to get up and down this little fell – definitely a good one for a sunrise or a sunset view (weather dependent!). Also a good choice to take a flask of hot chocolate (or something stronger) and take your time enjoying the view.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. Walking through the woods is one of those rare Lakeland opportunities to be able to let your dog off the lead without worrying about livestock. Do watch out though for sudden drops near the summit – we put ours back on the lead near the top. There are no stiles to climb over and no road walking. I was also very surprised by how quiet this walk was – given how many Instagram posts I’d seen up Raven Crag recently I was expecting it to be busier, but in fact, we only saw one other couple. I suppose everyone else was waiting for a clear day to get ‘that view’!

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Alnham & the Salter’s Road

Last weekend we journeyed up to Northumberland for the Montane Cheviot Goat Ultra (Sam was running, not me!). Just after we arrived Sam got a text to say the race had been postponed due to a request from the local authority, but as we’d already travelled up and paid for our accommodation, we decided to stay up there and enjoy a weekend away in one of our favourite places. The cottage we’d booked was ideally located in the Cheviot Hills, and seeing lots of recommendations in the guest book, we decided to do a walk from the door of the cottage up the Salter’s Road towards the Shepherd’s Cairn.

While we’d seen recommendations for the walk to the Shepherd’s Cairn in the guest book, the route we followed was this 6 mile circular on the Northumberland National Park website. The Shepherd’s Cairn is a monument erected in memory of two shepherds who died in the winter of 1962 in bad weather, while less than a mile from shelter. It’s a sobering reminder of how wild the weather can get on the hills in winter.

Setting off from our cottage we adapted the route slightly to avoid walking down the road at the start, then set off up the hill. The climb out of Alnham was a bit of a slog, without being horrendously steep, but I certainly stopped feeling the cold! On your way up though you are rewarded with beautiful views of the Northumberland countryside so make sure to take lots of rest breaks to ‘enjoy the view’.

The final stretch of the hill was completed at a power walk as there were plenty of cows hanging around watching our progress. I didn’t hang about to say hello! From here the going was up and down but there weren’t anymore prolonged climbs. I can’t promise that you won’t come across plenty of bogs though…

Early on in the walk you pick up the Salter’s Road. This footpath follows the medieval track used to transport salt from the coast up into Scotland for market: it would also have been used by drovers and cattle thieves transporting livestock across the border. If you keep following it, you will eventually reach Clennell Street, another historic trading road.

By the time you reach the turn off to visit the Shepherd’s Cairn, you are on Access Land, which has a dog restriction in place. Therefore we had to sadly miss the cairn and continue down the Salter’s Road until we reached another public right of way track to join up with the original route. While it seemed a shame to miss the main point of interest on the walk, we did get a lovely view over the Cheviots which we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The blue sky even came out for us!

Shortly after re-joining the route, you leave the well defined track and start a lengthy trudge across a pathless, boggy hillside. I completely lost track of how long it took us to traverse this section but I can only say ‘too long’ – we were both very crabby by the end! I’d definitely say to only try this in clear weather and with good navigational skills – without our OS maps app it would’ve taken us much longer to get across. Look out for the small waterfall by Pigdon’s Leap, the most interesting feature on this part of the walk.

As we reached the last quarter of the walk we started to really see the impact that Storm Arwen has had on the National Park. We passed multiple small plantations of Scots Pine trees and almost every last tree was either uprooted or snapped in half. In places, barriers of tree roots and fences suspended in mid air made footpaths totally impassable. We did two detours to avoid plantations as both were just totally inaccessible and it would’ve been unsafe to even attempt to enter.

We did have a third detour which was required due to a fence being built across the footpath – although this is relatively easily circumvented by heading uphill for a few hundred metres to use the gate.

The effects of Storm Arwen

Dog friendly rating – 2/5. Apart from a short section along an enclosed lane near the start, the dogs needed to be on their leads all the way around due to ground nesting birds, and, as mentioned earlier, a dog restriction means you will need to slightly amend the route. There were no stiles without gates next to them (woohoo) although one of our detours around a plantation did mean we had to climb over a fence and lift the dogs over too. There were a few stretches along streams, but the walk is so exposed that if we’d tackled it in summer I’d definitely have taken extra water for the dogs. There is a short section along a quiet road but this is a very small stretch on the entire walk.

Where we stayed

We booked Havannah Cottage via cottages.com in preparation for the Cheviot Goat as it’s not too far from the start and finish at Ingram. Luckily, the cottage is fantastically situated for getting out in the Cheviots, with the Shepherd’s Cairn walk accessible from our doorstep and other walks like the Breamish Valley and Humbleton Hillfort in easy reach. I was blown away by how spacious the inside of the cottage was (bigger than the photos suggested) and it was beautifully decorated with everything we needed for our stay. You could tell the owners have gone to a lot of effort to make this a real home away from home and we were definitely very grateful! We especially loved the log burner and curling up on the sofa to thaw out after a brisk walk before we arrived. Sadly we had to cut our stay short by one night due to the heavy snow forecast – but I’d love to return one day for a longer stay. Don’t forget you can use Tesco vouchers to get money off with cottages.com.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Havannah Cottage welcomes up to 4(!) dogs free of charge. There is an enormous enclosed garden outside which Coal loved zooming around (although sadly it wasn’t ‘Merry proof’, but most places without a six foot fence aren’t). Inside there is plenty of space for even the clumsiest dogs, and best of all, there is a ‘dog room’/boot room where you can towel your dogs down after a muddy walk. There are even some dog towels provided, along with poo bags and some treats, which was extremely handy because I’d forgotten to pack ours!

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Ellington Firth

Last weekend the conditions were less than ideal for getting out for a walk. Storm Arwen swept across Scotland, the North East and Yorkshire, leaving thousands (including us) without power. The lights went out on Friday night and we were without electricity (and consequently heating and hot water) until just after 6pm on Sunday. So of course we had the first snow of the year! Huddling under a blanket in the living room, a long walk in the snow doesn’t seem like the most alluring option, no matter how pretty it is. Therefore, when the wind finally abated on Sunday, Sam suggested that we stay reasonably local and explore Ellington Firth near Masham, which I had no idea even existed!

If you search for walks from the Ellington Firth car park on the OS Maps app, there are a few circular routes which pop up, ranging from 3 miles to over 10 miles. However, with the snow coming down we decided to ditch the route we had planned to stay in the relative shelter offered by the trees, and spent an hour exploring the footpaths criss-crossing the woods.

Ellington Firth is owned by the Swinton Estate, who also own Nutwith Common and the Druid’s Temple which I’ve previously featured on my blog. There is one public footpath running through the wood but this is supplemented by a network of permissive footpaths which the public are allowed to use during daylight hours. We walked from one end of the wood to the other and back again which took us just under an hour.

It was very quiet while we were wandering around – possibly due to the snow – but I can’t imagine this place is ever hugely busy. For starters, if you search for Ellington on Instagram there are a grand total of five posts! While there aren’t draw dropping views like you get on longer, tougher walks, there was a sense of total serenity which I think you can only find in woodland. We were surrounded by the beauty of nature at every turn – leaves edged in spiky frost like a sparkly mascara, ferns still vibrantly green bowed under an inch of snow and trees dusted with white in every direction. I said to Sam multiple times that I felt like I was walking through a scene from a Christmas card – I wasn’t feeling festive before but I certainly am now!

One of my favourite things about woodland walks is the amount of life you can spot if you look closely at your surroundings. And even in the snow, I certainly wasn’t disappointed: there were hares dashing through the snow, pheasant tracks stamped in sharp relief across the path, and tiny birds making a last minute dash for winter rations before the snow really started to come down.

This walk a lovely gentle walk for a Sunday afternoon. There were no strenuous ups and downs and the path, excepting one short section, was wide and level throughout. The snow hid the surface underneath but I have a sneaking suspicion we managed to bypass an extremely boggy patch which the cold weather had frozen – the main upside to walking in wintery conditions!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. I think this walk is a popular local dog walking spot – the only other people we saw all had dogs and all seemed like this was a regular spot for them. There are signs up asking that dogs are kept on a lead so we didn’t let ours off, which I was very glad about when we found a series of pheasant feeders just off the path! There are no stiles on this walk though and no livestock, as well as being completely free of road walking. There is a series of cross country jumps for horses scattered along the paths so keep your eyes peeled for horses moving at speed – we didn’t see any, although the dogs enjoyed turning their paws to jumping!

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Loughrigg Fell

The weather forecast last weekend looked great – a completely clear day with an almost non-existent chance of rain. Therefore we put our Wainwright bagging plans into action and mapped out a full day expedition to tackle the Fairfield Horseshoe, which would net us 8 Wainwrights in a walk of around 5 hours. However, as the week progressed, the wind forecast went from 10 kilometres per hour to 30 kilometres per hour, so we decided to revise our plans and tackle a slightly lower fell and save Fairfield for another day. We settled on Loughrigg Fell, another walk starting from the Rydal Road car park in Ambleside, but much lower and therefore slightly less windy!

There’s a large car park on Rydal Road in Ambleside, which was about half full by the time we arrived at quarter past nine on a Sunday morning in November, it does fill up even earlier in summer so set those alarms! We set off from the car park and about half a mile down the road I checked with Sam (chief navigator for the day) that we were going the right way, as I’d thought we’d return down the road we were walking down. We checked the route in the book and sure enough we were doing it backwards – sigh.

The route we followed (backwards) was a 6.5 mile circular from our Day Walks in the Lake District book – there’s a similar route available on WalkLakes. We did the longer, flatter stretch of the walk past Rydal Hall and Falls at the start of the walk, which meant that once we’d reached the trig, it was a relatively quick walk back down to the car.

A few miles from Ambleside we picked up a path which took us along the edge of Rydal Water, and then climbed gently uphill to get good views over both Rydal Water and Grasmere. From above Grasmere, the route veers away from the gently undulating track and takes you up a steeper path which alternates between steps and flatter grassy sections.

This section means you’re nearly at the top of the fell, and you’ll get great views of the neighbouring fells to enjoy on your way up to the top. When we got to the top there were several groups of people already there with a miniature queue forming for the trig point, so we didn’t hang around for long before starting our descent – we have never and will never queue for a summit photo!

This is a great walk if you’re looking for an easier option, but still want to feel like you’ve had a good day out in the Lakes. It took us just over three hours to get from start to finish – we didn’t hang about at any point though as there was an extremely cold wind blowing – we were glad we’d decided to save the Fairfield Horseshoe for a slightly less chilly day! We did walk past it on our way back to the car and it looked very tempting, so it’s definitely one we want to get out to do soon.

Walking past the Fairfield Horseshoe on the way back to the car

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. For a Lakeland fell walk, this walk is surprisingly dog friendly. We spent a fair amount of time on an enclosed lane where we saw plenty of off lead dogs, and the section alongside Rydal Water is a perfect opportunity for dogs who like a swim. This does seem to be a popular spot for dog walking, but luckily it’s very easy to get off the path and out of the way if your dog doesn’t like other dogs. There are no stiles to worry about on this walk and just a few short stretches along a road at the start and end – both with pavements. All in all a lovely dog walk which both of ours enjoyed thoroughly.

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Greenhow Lead Mines from the Coldstones Cut

We drive past the Coldstones Cut all the time on our way to walk in the Dales. A huge sculpture of a ram’s horns which can be explored on foot, I’d never stopped here, so when Sam suggested that we start a walk from here I was excited to look around. The walk we did also took us past some of the remains of Nidderdale’s industrial heritage, with the ruins of lead mines and lime kilns scattered across the landscape. We quite often explore Swaledale’s lead mining past so it was great to venture a little further afield to see remains of the industry further south in the Dales.

Sam found this route on the OS maps app. It’s a 3.8 mile circular starting from the free car park at the Coldstones Cut, following grassy paths to pick up the Nidderdale Way for a short while, before returning via the remains of Greenhow lead mines and Toft Gate Lime Kiln.

When we started this walk mist obscured everything further than 10 metres away and there was a fine drizzle coming down. I have to say I was less than enthusiastic and Sam had to borderline drag me out of the car! However, within a few minutes of setting off the drizzle evaporated, and half an hour later the mist had lifted and there were pockets of blue sky peeking out through the clouds.

This was a perfect stroll for a Sunday afternoon. Not too taxing and with panaromic views across Nidderdale on the second half of the walk – luckily the sun had come out by this point so we got to enjoy them!

The paths are a mix of grassy and surfaced tracks which cut through fields, enclosed tracks and quiet roads. Towards the end of the walk you pass the solemn remains of the lead mining industry in Nidderdale: it was fairly strange walking through here and imagining what it must have been like with all the miners at work.

While the remains of the mines are undeniably the star attraction, there’s plenty more to look out for on this walk. When we were here the hills and valleys were a riot of oranges and browns and we passed charmingly crumbling dry stone walls and a small waterfall. Not bad for a short Sunday stroll.

Overall, this the terrain on this walk is gently undulating, and should be manageable for most people. Generally you are walking vaguely down hill or along the flat – this does mean that by the time you get to the end you have to climb all the way back up to the car park! It’s not a horrible long climb though and there are plenty of panoramic views to enjoy while you stop and catch your breath.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. I ummed and ahhed about this rating and hovered over the 3.5 rating for a while, but really, I think this walk deserves a 4. While there are sheep in many of the fields, there are also a few enclosed tracks where your dog can have a run off the lead, and the road sections are extremely quiet (we didn’t see any cars). There is one small stile at the start which our dogs easily managed to get over on their own. The highlight for our dogs though was when we crossed the bridge around the half way mark – there was an opportunity here for them to have a splash in the river and a drink. There’s a second opportunity later on where you ford a small stream – which was slightly deeper than normal after all the rain we’ve had recently!

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Stanley Ghyll

We are just home from a lovely long weekend in the Lake District. The original plan was to tick off a few more Wainwrights (my aim of completing them before I’m thirty is looking more wobbly by the week), but the weather had other ideas! Rather than the full day Wainwright bagging expeditions we’d had scheduled in, we ended up doing a few shorter walks, dodging showers and seeking a bit of shelter from the gale force winds. One of these walks was a short stroll down to the waterfall of Stanley Ghyll, a tumbling cascade in the beautiful valley of Eskdale, which I’d never heard of before but which is more than worth a visit.

Plan A for the day was to head to Wasdale and tackle Illgill Head and Whin Rigg. However, 40mph winds and fog made this half day walk significantly less appealing, so we came up with a Plan B for two separate hour long walks. In the morning, we nipped up Hard Knott to bag a Wainwright summit, and in the afternoon we opted for a nice easy low level walk to Stanley Ghyll.

We found this walk in our Pocket Mountains guide for the Lake District. These little guides are so handy and have a mix of low level walks as well as longer, more challenging hikes. The walk to Stanley Ghyll is a beautiful easy stroll of around 2km and took us just over an hour, including plenty of photo stops! A similar, slightly longer walk is available on the National Park website.

The walk is mostly easy going and requiring absolutely no effort until a steeper section when you climb to the top of the gorge. Up until this point in the walk, you walk along enclosed lanes and woodland paths alongside the river, with greenery bursting from everywhere you look, until you reach the falls. When we visited, the lower viewing platform was closed due to a landslip, but climb up through the trees to the top of the gorge and the upper viewing platform gives a fantastic view down over the falls and back along the gorge. The platform itself isn’t for the faint hearted: suspended over a 150m drop, with a grill base which lets you look directly below your feet into the abyss below! Adrenaline seekers will love it, people like me, less so…

We hadn’t really thought about the rest of the walk aside from the waterfall. We were therefore pleasantly surprised when we left the upper viewing platform and were faced with a fantastic landscape of rugged fells, which stays in view for almost the entire walk back to where you park your car. Parking for this walk is free in the National Park car park at Trough House Bridge car park which is a little tricky to find: signs at the end of the lane make it look like a private road entering Dalegarth Campsite, but a short way further along you’ll find the car park.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. This is one of those rare Lakeland walks where there’s a decent opportunity to let your dog have a good run around off the lead. The first half of the walk is along an enclosed lane and then through woodland beside a gentle river – an ideal dog walking location if ever there was one. Perfect for zooming and paddling! At the top of the gorge, leads are required due to the steep drops, and we then kept ours on the lead coming back across the open hillside. Other points in favour of this walk are that there are no stiles and no road walking – so maybe this rating should even be a 4.5 star rating!

Where we stayed

Normally when we visit the Lake District we just head over for the day and then drive home at the end of the walk, or at a push, we’ll stay overnight in a pub or B&B. This time though we decided to treat ourselves and booked a stay at Bitt Cottage, a converted chapel in the valley of Eskdale, just on the outskirts of Santon Bridge.

The cottage sleeps four people and is a great base for exploring the Western Lakes. It’s probably one of the roomiest cottages we’ve stayed in, which is always lovely when you have a labrador who doubles as a wrecking ball! Bitt Cottage had everything we needed for a relaxing weekend away, including an open fire and well equipped kitchen. The garden is enormous and enclosed (Coal proof but not Merry proof, so if you have an escape artist, you may want to inspect the walls on arrival to see if you think your dog could jump over).

Dog friendly rating – 4.5/5. I’ve just taken half a point off as we couldn’t let Merry off in the garden, although I think we’d need to stay somewhere with deer proof fencing to be able to do that! The cottage is spacious enough to easily accommodate two larger dogs without it becoming a squeeze, and the laminate flooring in the living room removes the worry of muddy paws. The hall area is carpeted completely with a door mat type material which is ideal for after a muddy walk. There are plenty of little touches around the cottage which make it clear that dogs are very welcome which I loved!

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Goathland to Beck Hole

Back in the deep dark days of lockdown, when we weren’t allowed to drive anywhere to go for walks, I made a list of all the places in Yorkshire I wanted to visit when we were finally allowed out again. One of the places near the top of my list was the waterfall Mallyan Spout near the village of Goathland. We spent all summer delaying a trip here because we knew the waterfall was a popular spot for tourists and locals alike and didn’t want to visit when it was absolutely heaving, therefore, a rainy weekend at the end of October seemed to us the perfect time to visit. What we didn’t take into consideration was the sheer amount of rain which had fallen: when we got to the path leading to the waterfall, the river had swallowed the path completely, leaving nothing but a raging torrent of water which neither of us fancied wading through with two water loving dogs. So sadly, we didn’t actually get to see the waterfall, but we still had an enjoyable walk from one the North York Moors’ most famous villages.

We’d originally planned to follow this 3 mile circular route from the North York Moors National Park website, starting from the honeypot village of Goathland, before making our way to Mallyan Spout and back via the hamlet of Beck Hole.

Goathland has been inhabited since the Middle Ages, but became famous in the Victorian period, when visitors flocked to the pretty village to see the waterfall which is easily accessed via a short walk. The return section of the walk takes you along the old railway line which would have brought visitors in from Pickering.

The start of the walk takes you along pavement to reach the Mallyan Spout Hotel, and it is here that you pick up the footpath which leads to the waterfall. The path is uneven underfoot and can be slippery when wet – we can certainly vouch for this!

Once you’ve seen the waterfall (lucky you) you double back on yourself to head towards Beck Hole. The path climbs fairly steeply in places to gain height, following the top of the gorge along enclosed tracks by the edges of fields and woodland. For such a short walk, we were both surprised by how much effort was required!

When you reach Beck Hole, you pick up the path of the old railway line and follow this all the way back to Goathland. After a very soggy walk for the most part, we were both glad to pick up a dry well surfaced track! This section of the walk takes you through mixed woodland and it was lovely to see all the autumn colours, and helped cheer me up about not being able to see the waterfall.

The path brings you out neatly at the back of the North York Moors car park – it’s always a great feeling to turn a corner on a wet and windy walk and all of a sudden see your car waiting for you! This is a large car park with plenty of spaces but I expect it gets very busy in summer. It’s a flat rate of £3.50 to park all day, payment by card or app (Pay By Phone) only. A big plus for the car park is that it also has toilets you can use!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. Once you leave the pavement, the entirety of this walk is through woodland or on enclosed tracks – ideal for dog owners who want to avoid livestock. There were plenty of places where you could let your dog off the lead – we chose to keep ours on leads as the river was flowing so fast, and then we didn’t want to get ambushed by any pheasants on the woodland sections. We did both comment on what a lovely local dog walk this must be – not too long, no stiles and no livestock. What more could you ask for?!

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