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 –

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.


I did it!


Trek for Swift tracking

Those of you who have been following my blog since it first began will be aware of how it’s changed. Not the fact that blogs are becoming less frequent (sorry about that, I promise to do more soon!) but they’re now about a wider range of topics. Some of my very early blogs were mainly focused on the wildlife I saw and recorded, along with my outings. On multiple occasions I blogged about my experiences from the walks I’d been on. I still love going on long distance walks, whether that’s locally or further afield. It’s a fantastic way of delving deep into the countryside.

Below are a few examples of some of my first blogs about my walking adventures. You can view them by clicking on the titles:

Some of you may also be interested in the piece I recently wrote for A Focus on Nature’s (AFON) Christmas advent series. In the blog I explore where my enthusiasm for long distance walking began –

Later this year I plan to put all of this into action by taking on a long distance route. The North West Way. A 191 mile trek across the North of England. Starting in Preston: it follows parts of the Ribble Way, the Penine Way, through the rugged dales of Yorkshire via the thundering waterfalls of Teesdale and High Cup Nick and follows a section of Hadrain’s Wall before finishing in Carlisle.

It will be 11 days of back to back walking and although this may sound slightly mad, I’m really looking forward to it! Even better, in doing so, I have decided to raise funds for the BTO to help support their Swift tracking project.

Swifts are remarkable birds. Watching them dazzling in the sky above me on a summer’s day never fails to put a smile on my face. They are very iconic and for some, a sign of summer. The sight of their dark, sooty brown streamline, forked tail silhouette and shrieking overhead is a memorising sight and a real spectacle!

Unfortunately, their breeding numbers have declined by 47% between 1995-2014 here in the UK. This is an alarming decline and making matters worse is the fact that no one is quite sure why. Although the loss of nest sites through modernisation of buildings is implicated, it is very likely that this is only part of the story.

During the breeding season, Swifts depend on large bursts of insects to collect enough food for themselves and their young. It’s likely that the decline in the abundance of invertebrates that has occurred in Britain due to climate change has reduced the amount of food available for breeding Swifts. However, little is known about their foraging behaviour during breeding due to the difficulty of following them over relatively large distances that they are thought to travel to feed.

Swifts are only present in the UK for 3 months a year, therefore it is possible that they are being affected by processes occurring elsewhere in the world, in the areas that they use outside of the breeding season. To find out more about this, the BTO plans to track Swifts on their migration.

By deploying miniature GPS tags on swifts at breeding colonies in England, the BTO will be able to track swifts both on their foraging flights during the breeding season and over their annual migrations. As each tag will be able to record around 300 locations per deployment, this will allow the BTO to quantify the amount of time spent over different habitats and the distances travelled from the colony through short-term deployments during the breeding season. Through longer-term deployments with different tag programmes, it will allow scientists to look in much finer detail at the use of the stopover points in West Africa on spring migration.

The money that I raise will go towards supporting the BTO to ensure that these tags are safe enough to be deployed on Swifts during the summer and winter so that scientists at the BTO can gather and store data on long term deployments to help them learn more about the challenges they face on migration. This is key, as if scientists can understand what’s going wrong, we know what we can do to reverse this.

To donate please click here.  All donations are greatly appreciated!