or Why we get up at 5am to drive 3 hours to the Peak District 🙂
There’s a New Toy at the end, so persevere!
We are in training for the spring backpacking trip. Seventy miles across Sutherland (northern Scotland was Sutherland (southern land) to the Vikings) from Lochinver to Tongue. The plan is to allow 5 days for walking plus a day for playing on Foinaven, finishing with a couple of luxurious nights at the Tongue Hotel on the grounds that we’ll have earned it. Which we will, especially if the weather is bad! We have to prepare for this – the treadmill at the gym is not sufficient – so we try to get out for 10 miles or more every weekend. Only Sunday was free last weekend, so we didn’t hammer north up the motorway, as we’ve got to be up early on Monday mornings for the gym and work. This is a very arable landscape, almost flat, and the footpaths and bridleways run across fields or along field margins. It’s not nice walking in wet weather; the mud clings to boots and shoes, adding several pounds to the load (and weight on your feet is particularly bad news for your knees, too).
The ground was reasonably dry, though. Here the path heads across fertile floodplain loam to secondary woodland (trees that have grown up after humans felled the wildwood) growing on the site of a moated manor house. A manor was known here before the Norman Conquest (1066), so perhaps the earlier manor house stood where these trees now grow. A more recent 19thC farmhouse built inside a second moat stands near the wood.
This is not a landscape offering grand views. Instead I look for interest closer to the path. Observe…
Can you see that distinct browse line, the lack of small branches and twigs for about 2′ from the ground? Rabbit damage. Rabbits are not native to the UK; they were brought here from the Mediterranean by the Normans, who valued their meat and fur. The first rabbits found life hard in the UK: accustomed to a warmer, drier climate, they didn’t excavate their own warrens; the Norman warrens included pillow-mounds, earth-covered stone-lined tunnels built to shelter the rabbits. As time passed rabbits escaped and grew hardier. It’s no longer fashionable to eat rabbit here, which is a shame as they do so much damage to crops.
I always keep an eye on the path for interesting tracks and trails. Damp soil or sand of the right consistency records many passing individuals. Avoid the bits where shoe- and boot-prints and dogfeet and horses had churned the path badly. I’ve circled some of those I spotted, but unfortunately forgot to include something for scale: the adult muntjac cleaves are about 1.5″ long. Muntjac deer are another introduction to the UK, brought to Woburn Park in the 19thC and released into neighbouring woodland. Here’s the Mammal Society badger page; I’ve chosen that to avoid some of the more emotive pages produced by groups that dearly love badgers.
This bridlepath was once a more important route, but traffic shifted to other roads and trees now cover most of it. Much of southern England will revert to woodland if left unmanaged; much conservation management consists of finding ways to prevent trees and scrub converting grasslands and wetlands into secondary woodland. The ‘leg-warmers’ on some tree-trunks are ivy. Contrary to rumour, ivy does not kill trees by strangling them, although a dense growth will make them more vulnerable to wind damage in the winter.
We continue marching across the fields toward one of the few available hills (that pathetic low rise in the distance). The crop here is winter wheat, sown in autumn to become established over the winter. It’s just starting to grow vigorously, and the tiny white granules of nitrate fertiliser were visible on the soil of many fields we crossed. Here farmers often mark the line of the path by driving a tractor across the field, or by placing stakes – the far side is often far enough that otherwise walkers might stray off the line and have to search for the gap in the hedge or fence.
That’s the view from the top of the hill looking back (roughly) the way we came. We had some wet weather late last year, which meant many people missed their chance to sow winter wheat. As a result there’s even more bare brown ploughland than usual. Walking across that would be purgatory; I’m glad we’re on a field-edge bridleway!
More small wonders were spotted on the south-facing slope of the hill. Bright yellow coltsfoot flowers shone like tiny suns in the dry grasses and, on the edge of the ditch: patches of sweet violets scented the air.
Fortified by a quick lunch we march on down the hill, discussing the pace (he’d brought his touring cycle GPS unit, which kept stopping because it regarded our walking pace as equivalent to stationary).
Suddenly, in the distance… was it an alien ship? There, in the sky – was that strange glittering object the mothership? Do we prepare to sell our lives dearly? No (just as well, really), the alien ship is a barrel converted to a feeding station for game birds such as pheasants, and the mothership was probably a mylar balloon tethered to scare pigeons from a nearby crop. Probably. It might have been a very small mothership cunningly camouflaged as a balloon. Take that as a measure of our desperate search for interest as we walk 🙂
Finally, in the distance we see the road and steeple of a village near the start. Ten miles or so, that was. The Peak District would have been much harder work – but much more fun, too!
Last, but far from least, one of the reasons that Saturday was busy: