North West Way: Another reflection

On the train back from Carlisle, I sat as I always do, by the window and enjoying the scenery. This time, after walking from south to north and now travelling back south, the view was of the places that I’d walked through over the past 12 days. One of the things that doing the walk taught me is that you can never properly experience, enjoy or understand an area by ‘passing through’ either by car or train but the only way to do so is by foot. Compared to the hours I’d spent walking through these areas, the train journey from Carlisle to Preston (where I started the walk) was just a brief summary of the places I’d walked.

Following on from my last blog post, on day nine I reached the highest point of the entire walk (and the highest point on the Pennine Way) Cross Fell. On this stretch, I started in Dufton on a very windy morning. Even before I reached the hills, the strong winds were almost blowing me over. Whilst doing the first climb, I was having to stop and stabilise myself every time the wind gusted. I’d never experienced such conditions before! Once on higher ground, the mist drew in but the wind calmed slightly. Through the bleak conditions, I could hear curlews calling and occasionally flying out and disappearing back into the mist. Along with the blurring silhouettes of other waders as they flew into the mist, it was incredibly eerie. I was also treated to seeing and hearing more golden plover.

Once over Cross Fell, it was all downhill to that nights’ accommodation. Part of this included walking over another grouse moor. One that was obviously more ‘managed’ then the ones I saw on the previous day. This was evident by the sheer number of grouse, traps set up and work being done on the moor. The next day I found an information board that stated the North Pennines to be ‘England’s last wilderness’. This quote infuriated me. If it really is one of England’s few remaining wild places, then why had I seen diggers on the uplands and vast areas that were completely bare? I was aware of this ‘type’ of management on the moors, and after seeing through the original beauty that I thought National Parks possessed, I realised that below the skin, these areas are plain. Those who visit National Parks for its beauty are being conned.

Realising and having to experience this, partly makes me feel quite depressed about the situation. However, the areas have a lot of potential for what they could provide. As I walked along, surrounded by almost emptiness at times, I imagined and questioned how these areas could look and what they could provide. Although I had seen some great birds and sights on the moors and uplands, in the future, this could be enhanced so much more.

During my last three days, I followed a disused railway as far as Greenhead then joined the Hadrian’s Wall Path to my final destination, Carlisle. Although I was partly pleased to get home and have a good night’s kip, I suddenly found myself disappointed that it was all over. At times, it was incredibly tough and I really had to push myself to continue and finish the walk, but this was all part of the experience and what made the whole thing so satisfying and enjoyable. I’m now really looking forward to my next adventure. Being outside for so long every day for 12 days after the stress of exams over the last few months was thrilling, and I still can’t believe all the different places I went to and spectacles of the British countryside that I experienced.

Then, of course, the swifts! On my Just Giving page I’m on my way to £3000. This is unbelievable. I started off thinking that it would be great to get £500, nevermind £3000! I’m going to keep pushing the page until the end of the week to hopefully reach that £3000 figure. On the walk, I also counted the number of swifts I saw: in total this was 176.

Here is the link to my Just Giving page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Georgia-Locock

A bit bleak on the top of Cross Fell…
Greg’s hut Traps set up on the grouse moor after Cross Fell View from Lambley viaduct over towards Haltwhistle Last full day of walking, following the Hadrain’s Wall Path.

And… 

I did it!

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North West Way: Some thoughts so far

I was really keen to post regular blogs with updates about my walk along the way but, unfortunately, this obviously hasn’t happened. This has mainly been due to quite long days, so feeling too tired to begin writing, and wanting to explore the different places where I’ve been stopping each night. However, after yesterday’s early start, I found myself with some time to spare in the evening to write a blog. It’s been quite frustrated that I haven’t wrote a blog yet as I have so much to share and plenty of photos. 

The first two days of my walk were spent in Lancashire. Starting in Preston, I crossed the border into the Yorkshire Dales on day three and then spent the night in Malham. My first few days were very exciting and I was mainly powered on adrenaline. I was particularly excited to walk in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s an area I’ve been wanting to explore by foot for a long time.

Much of the time that I spent in Lancashire included following the River Ribble and walking over farmland. There was some great scenery as the Yorkshire Dales came into view, along with (in the opposite direction) Pendle Hill. I was also not too far from the Forest of Bowland. In fact, parts of the path I followed took me through the Trough of Bowland, although this was mainly farmland. I have quite a few birding highlights from these few days. Some include watching Spotted Flycatchers with young along the Ribble, a Little Owl acting as they do (with lots of character and quite amusing) and swifts leaving ripples in the Ribble as they swooped for a drink.

Evening, day two, following the Ribble.

The Yorkshire Dales in sight!

Once in the Dales, the landscape changed quite a bit. One of the first paths I followed was the Pennine Bridleway. This took me to Malham, where I stayed a night. My first impression of the Dales by foot was that although it was a lovely landscape, it was pretty bare. However, I enjoyed being accompanied by the typical wheatears, skylarks, meadow pipits and other upland species. 

Attermire Scar

I started day four by claiming Malham Cove and over Malham Tarn. It was an incredible area and I was further treated to views of one of the local peregrine falcons. I also began to spot wader species breeding in these upland areas. For example, snipe, curlew and lapwings. Climbing Pen-y-ghent on Friday was quite an experience too! As was my first ‘pint of tea’ at the Pen-y-ghent cafe.

Malham Cove

Looking over towards Pendle Hill

At the top of Pen-y-ghent

Now to get back down again!

Upto this point, the weather had been ‘OK’ but there was a period of foggy and wet weather on approaching Wensleydale. However, this only lasted a couple of hours as by the time I reached Wensleydale, the sun was shining through to the Dale below. Later onto day six, there was another change in landscape as I approached the Tan Hill Inn (one of my nights stay) as my surroundings turned from views of the Dales to more of moors. In fact, my first experience of the Pennines was slogging over a boggy moor (Bowes Moor), the morning after leaving the Tan Hill Inn. At this point, I was beginning to feel slightly rough as the blisters on my toes were growing and my shoulders became more uncomfortable due to the weight of my rucksack. Nevertheless, the occasional creeky door tones of golden plover kept me going as when I heard one call, I was suddenly alert and had forgotten all my sores! On this stretch, I saw a variety of waders along with red grouse. I’d never spent so much time on a grouse moor before, so the experience was interesting. I also reflected on the management of the area and how the grouse butts I walked past would be in working order in just a few weeks time.

On top of Great Shunner Fell

Wensleydale!

First experience of the Pennines, walking over a boggy moor.

So far, in my opinion, I haven’t enjoyed the Pennines as much as I enjoyed the Yorkshire Dales. However, after following the River Tees upto its source (dipper being the highlight) then over to High Cup Nick yesterday, I was left amazed by the sight of standing at the top of High Cup Nick. An incredible view!

Early morning, following the River Tees.

High Force Waterfall.

High Cup Nick, an amazing view!

Along my way, I’ve been doing as much birding as possible, but at times, this is difficult due to the weight of my rucksack and the rush to reach my accommodation for that night in time. However, I’ve had plenty of highlights so far, and I still have another four days to go. Although, reflecting back, it’s been a fantastic experience, through the day whilst out walking, it can become quite difficult. But I’m adamant to finish and so pleased with how well my fundraising for the BTO has gone. At the moment, I’m very close to £2000 so an extra push is needed! I’ve seen quite a few swifts along the way (counting as I’ve gone along) and they are such a delight to see!

If you haven’t already, you can donate by clicking here.

Signs I like (I know I’m going the right way).

Signs I don’t like so much…

North West Way: Here we go…

Later this morning, after catching the 7.35 train, I should arrive at Preston train station for 9.50, which is where I will start my 191 mile walk from Preston to Carlisle. The route I’ll be following (the North-West Way) will take me along parts of the Ribble Way, through the Forest of Bowland, via the Yorkshire Dales, along the Pennine Way, across the North Pennines, and following parts of Hadrians Wall before arriving in Carisle a week on Saturday. That’s if all goes well, which I’m hoping it will! I’m currently feeling very confident and quite excited about how the walk is going to go.

Over the next 11 days, I plan to write a blog every few days depending on my internet connection and what I have to share. At this point, I haven’t even started the walk but I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce the series of blogs that I’m planning to do and promote the cause that I’m raising money for one last time before I set off.

Along the way, I plan to have my binoculars strung around my neck most of the time and I will no doubt be treated to some superb scenery. I’ll also, hopefully, see some swifts which is what the money I raise from doing the walk will go towards. The BTO’s swift project includes tagging and studying swift movement to gain more of an understanding about them and to ensure that they can be preserved in the future following their 47% decline in recent years. By the time I return home, in almost two weeks’ time, it is likely that the birds I see daily will be getting ready, if not have already left, for their migration back to their autumn and winter grounds.

This BTO’s project really is incredible and very interesting. Previous tagging of swifts has already uncovered valuable information about their migration and foraging whilst breeding but more is needed to help work in halting their decline.

A link to my Just Giving page can be found here – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Georgia-Locock

Fair Isle trip: Midnight storm

During my two weeks on Fair Isle, I was volunteering at the Bird Observatory bar. This meant that I could cover my accommodation costs by working in the evenings and go birding during the day. It was very enjoyable and worked out well. I was able to chat to those stopping at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory (FIBO) and Islanders, meaning I learnt even more about the island community and how the island functions.

Not only this, but it meant that I didn’t miss any birding during the day, or at night. On three different occasions, after my shift had finished, at 12 midnight I made my way down to South Harbour and the boat house to watch and experience storm petrels being rung.

This was a superb experience for myself, mainly because I’d never seen a storm petrel before. However, I had seen many photographs and heard plenty of stories about how much of a fantastic bird they are. Standing outside at 1am in the morning, especially in such a remote location, you would expect it to be pitch black. In fact, it was almost light and felt more like sunrise. With a pink sky in the distance and the faint, washed out silhouette of Shetland.

The process of catching and ringing storm petrels included setting up mist nets in the shape of an ‘L’ then placing a speaker in the centre, which played the call of a storm petrel. Only one or two ringers sat close to the net whilst others (non-ringers and ringers) stood further back to avoid any overcrowding and so that the birds weren’t discouraged from the area. Once a bird flew into the net, it was quickly extracted and taken to ringers in the boat house who recorded measurements and rung the bird before it was released again.

The storm petrels that were caught were European Storm Petrels, which are the most common petrel species to the UK. However, at Fair Isle, they have recorded rarer species including Leach’s Storm Petrels and in the last few years, Swinhoe’s Petrel, which have only been recorded a hand full of times in the UK.

On my first evening, I stood well back from the nets with a group of others who were also keen to see a stormie. We attempted to focus our eyes on the nets to distinguish when a bird flew in, despite it not being pitch black, the nets (known as mist nets) can be difficult to see. However, it was obvious when a bird had entered the net as one of the ringers, those sat by the net, would suddenly run over to the bird. It was almost like watching a tennis match, but instead of the ball boys/girls retrieving tennis balls, they were retrieving storm petrels!

When the first bird was brought into the boat house to be rung, I almost couldn’t contain myself! The ringer held the petrel in a cloth bag, which I could see slightly moving as the bird inside wriggled about. In the bag, was my first storm petrel! As they brought the bird out of the bag, I had to bite down on my hand to prevent myself from making a noise so that I didn’t frighten the bird, but I was so excited! It was a bit smaller then I imagined, but the first thing I noticed was the smell. An incredibly distinctive smell which I wish I could capture and describe in some way. It was an almost pleasant scent though. By the end of the night, after letting a few birds go from the palms of my hands, my hands stunk of them! I really didn’t want to wash my hands. It just reminded me of how exciting the evening was and how much of a superb bird they are!

Stormies are hardy little things that spend most of their life out at sea in all kinds of conditions. Which is hard to believe when you see how delicate they look. Two of the birds I saw in the hand were in fact missing feet. This is due to them skimming their feet along the surface of the sea to collect one of their staple foods, plankton. However, this can prove dangerous, as sometimes a predatory fish may just take a nibble. Nonetheless, such deformities don’t seem to affect the bird’s chances. Spending most of their lives at sea, you can’t help but look at them in awe and wonder what they’ve seen and experienced. Thus, they have a great deal of character. The smell was definitely the best, along with the little bit of chattering they did whilst being handled. It is possible that Stormies can locate each other by smell whilst at sea. There have, in fact, been some dubious, controlled indoor experiments done of Leach’s to test whether, in make-shift mazes, they head towards the smell of their mate more than towards either no smell at all or other smells. It turns out, they head towards the smell of their mate. As they return to their nests during the night when it is likely pitch black, their use of smell is obviously important. They are incredible birds, and I really enjoyed learning about them from those at the observatory.