Monday, 11 June 2012

The Six Shropshire Summit Walk

On Saturday 9th June I completed the Six Shropshire Summits with a couple of the people I will be doing the 100km South Down's walk in July, Steve MacDonald and his brother in law Paul. Ash Chury (our other 100km walker) couldn't join us unfortunately.

The Six Shropshire Summits is a 37mile, 6000ft of ascent walk, that must be completed within 14 hours and its the third time I have done it. I did it the first time with my Brother in Law, Paul in about 1996 and really found it hard. The second time was in 2002 with Jackie. It was slightly less hard then as we took a change of footwear, making it easier on the feet on the 17 mile roadwalk. Jackie remembered we had done it in about 13 hours then, so we were hoping to beat that time.

Steve is a pretty fit 40 odd year old and Paul is in the RAF and a very fit guy. Here we are at the finish (the smiles hide the pain!):
Brian, Steve and Paul
We started at 7:20am and all went well for the first three summits up to our first stop at the fire station in Church Stretton, although I have to say, the pace was a little quick for me. Corndon Hill, the first summit, went OK, but it was straight up a steep incline straight from the start, so a 'baptism of fire'! Already the quick walkers were taking a lead and, as we went up Stiperstones, the second summit, the quick one's were on their way down. I changed from my walking boots into my running shoes as my feet were starting to hurt and, by this time the leaders were well out of sight. We took a slight wrong turn up onto the Long Mynd, not adding much, but enough to leave us trailing behind, except for another three people who we stayed with for most of the day. We got to Pole Bank, the third summit on the Long Mynd and then had a long down hill walk to Church Stretton where I arrived feeling a bit tired (14 miles in). We had a half hour stop which really refreshed me and we set off for Caer Caradoc with me, at least feeling good. Caer Caradoc is a really steep ascent, but I hardly noticed it as we were all in deep conversation, almost missing the checkpoint on the summit.

A quick downhill was followed by a long 17mile roadwalk up over Roman Bank, where at the checkpoint they told us we had to hurry. By this time Steve was in a bad way, with cramp in his legs. Paul and I were feeling quite concerned about him, so Paul offered to take his quite heavy rucksack to help (Steve had purchased a ridiculous quantity of food, making his rucksack really heavy). As we went on I could feel blisters starting to form on the soles of my feet, probably due to the springiness of my running shoes. Deciding to do nothing about we pressed on, the soreness gradually getting worse.

We arrived at Abdon, at the base of Brown Clee Hill, the fifth summit, at just after 5.00pm and Steve was really in pain. My blisters, by comparison, were nothing, but Paul looked fresh as a daisy! Steve rubbed some 'Deep Heat' into his leg muscles, took on some 'go juice' to help the cramps and rehydrate himself and I gave him some Ibruprofen, I thought about looking at my blisters but decided it would do no good.

We set off from Abdon at 5:30pm, the latest time allowed with our three other friends, who it turned out had no maps or compass (!), so were using us as guides. We got over Brown Clee Hill and its little subsidiary and headed down to the last checkpoint, which we must be at by 7:30pm. With 5 minutes to go we were 0.75mile away so decided to run. This was OK, until we came to a hill. I told Paul I couldn't run uphill and Steve certainly couldn't, so Paul went off alone to alert the checkpoint we were close behind and not to disqualify us.

He got to the checkpoint at 7:30pm, we arrived 5 minutes later. In the van were 3 army guys who had given up due to blisters on their feet (and I thought they were tough!). They just couldn't believe it when they saw Paul running up the hill, particularly as he's in the RAF! They were also impressed when I told them we intended to finish: 'fair play' they said.

Off we went for the final 3 miles and final summit, Titterstone Clee Hill, with a 'golf ball' transmitter on its summit. That golf ball has haunted me on the previous two times, as it gets larger only very slowly and taunts us as we walk. The walk up is relatively steep and continuous and not what you want when you're nearly finished. At this point we had overtaken a couple of very slow walkers and now overtook a couple of young guys (in their early twenties), who were really suffering. With our three other friends that made at least 7 people behind us, which was quite pleasing.

The sun came out for the last two summits and on our final assault the sky was completely blue, giving us a very nice finish. By now my legs were really aching, which with my sore feet made it very slow. Paul was still going pretty well and looked like he could do more, but I felt pretty near my limit and Steve was certainly really struggling.

We finished at 8:50pm, much later than expected and gave them great respect for Jackie, who had finished at 8:00pm in 2002. 'I can now see why you married her' said Paul!

Back in the car park we were presented with our certificate of completion, here's mine:
Our three friends, who had used us for navigation gave us some Indian food. I have forgotten the name, but they were like Chapati's but spicy, really nice and very welcome at that time.

By then Steve was at an end and my feet were really sore with blisters. Paul was by far in the best condition and I'm sure will do well on our 100km walk.

This walk was about 60% of the distance we will do on the South Down's, but has almost the same total ascent. How will we get on? I just don't know. I have to sort out my footwear and Steve needs to sort out the weight he carries, while Paul, well, he just needs to be Paul. Our only other unknown is how Ash will get on.

Watch this space!

A few days with Charles and Caroline

Last week we looked after Charles and Caroline, Jackie's niece and nephew, Charles 9 and Caroline 7. They came to stay while mum, Lucy and dad, Jonathan caught up with work. On Wednesday afternoon, after collecting them from near Aylesbury, we took them to the Forge Mill in Redditch, which Jackie slept after finishing her night shift. They were having a Roman exhibition there and Charles and Caroline we able to dress up in costume and really get involved:
Here he is in Toga looking very 'Regal'

Caroline also looking good

Not so sure about Gran Pauline though

Later in the day we took them to Redpoint climbing centre in Birmingham where owner Phil had arranged for them to do some self abseiling (with a safety rope just to be careful!). After a couple of hours climbing various routes up to grade 5, we joined up with Phil and instructors, who took them up to the top and showed them what to do. Here's some photos of Charles's abseils (unfortunately we didn't get any of Caroline, but she did it as well!):
Charles on his way down
View from the top
Thursday was wet and rainy, so we were unable to take them outdoors climbing on real rock so went into Birmingham for the day. We queued for about an hour to get into a very busy Sea Life Centre which, although expensive was very good. Here's a couple of pictures taken by Caroline:

We finished the visit with lunch on a narrowboat on one of Birmingham's canals:
Thursday afternoon and evening was taken up at home and we set up ropes in our hall so they could climb up the outside of the stairs and upstairs landing and be abseiled back down (in complete safety we would add!). This was followed by them ascending a rope from our hallway by doing 'self rescue' (as you might have to if you fell into a crevasse in a glacier). Didn't know we had glaciers in Birmingham!

On Friday, before we took them back we again went to Red Point Climbing Centre again (at their request) and they climbed more routes. Jackie and I led a route which went up and across a bridge, so they could go up on a rope onto a climb that was very exciting. The top part on the bridge was about 10m up and over a void, the abseil back down being into complete open space. We think they enjoyed it!

A great few days!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Climbing and walking in May

We had a couple of other outings in May. On Monday 21st we went to Symonds Yat for the day to do a bit of climbing. It was a beautiful, hot day and, being a Monday, it was virtually deserted, allowing us to do whatever we wanted. We went to the 'Longstone' area as the pinnacle looked very interesting. We abseiled down from the viewing area and Jackie chose an HS 4b climb called 'Breakfast in America' to start, that I found really difficult to second on a top rope - well done Jackie!
Jackie abseiling down
next was my lead and I looked at the pinnacle and a climb called Vertigo, rated Severe. Now I should be able to lead that grade easily, but it looked very intimidating and, for my first climb I couldn't face it! I chose instead another severe on the pinnacle that looked a bit more protected, called Minerva.
Jackie abseiling off the pinnacle, after I had finally led Vertigo. The route goes up exactly where she is abseiling down. I hope you agree, it looks pretty intimidating!
Minerva is round to the left in the above picture and I approached it with some trepidation, but after the first few moves I realised it was, in fact, very easy!

On Jackie's next lead she chose a VS 4c called 'Lurcher' (she's doing so well!) that I also found really difficult to second.

I had looked at a climb called 'Alpenistes', which in our old book is HVS 5a. I only considered it as it had a peg halfway up that offered good protection, but decided better of it and, instead, put up a top rope for Jackie to have a go at. She did it quite well on the rope - and then found out later it has been upgraded to E1 5b, so very well done to her. I didn't try it as it was too difficult to rearrange the ropes and time was getting on. I do think its something I might be able to lead at sometime though.....

My attention returned to the pinnacle and I finally decided to lead Vertigo. Again I set off with some trepidation, but to my disappointment I found it remarkable easy, although very exposed. We finished the day at that and soloed up a V Diff to get back out, leaving exciting climbs on the pinnacle like 'Whitt', VS 4c, 4c for some other time.
Jackie soloing up a V Diff called 'Red Rock'
As part of my training for the South Down's 100km walk in 30 hours on 14/15th July, I've been training hard during May and have been out on many brisk hill walks and reasonable length road bike routes to try to get as fit as possible. On June 9th (which is next Saturday at the time of writing this), I'm doing the Shropshire Six Peaks walk, which is 37 miles and 6000ft of ascent with Steve MacDonald and his brother in law Paul. Here's a practise walk I did with Steve and the other member of our South Down's team, Ash Chury:
Ash and Brian
All in all, coupled with a visit into Andantex at Phil's request for a bit of 'consultancy', May has been a very busy month - how did I find time to work?

Paradise Wildlife Park

On 16th May we went to Paradise Wildlife Park for Jackie's 'Big Cat' experience - her birthday present from me last year! It involved behind the scenes work, preparing tiger and lion's food, sorting out their cages and hand feeding them. Very exciting and just what Jackie likes.

We went down the night before and stayed in the Stansted Inn in Little Hallingbury. The Inn was a strange place, but really quite OK. The local pub was a treat with really nice home cooked food and good hand pulled ales. The village was quite nice with a few thatched houses and the owl sitting on the fence outside our bedroom window on the following morning was a treat. He flew off when I tried to take a picture of him though.

Straight after breakfast we went to the wildlife park, arriving at 08:30, as they requested, 1.5 hours before public opening. We met Arran, who is the grandson of the guy who bought the park in the 80's and transformed it from the worst zoo to one of the best wildlife parks in the country. They have another park in Kent, not open to the public, that is used for breeding and for working with environmental protection agencies worldwide. The park is not that big, but the areas for the animals were very good and we had a real impression of happy animals.

I was the cameraman and they allowed me behind the scenes as well, the only thing I didn't do was hand feed the animals - fine by me!

Jackie got to work preparing hunks of meat for the lion's tigers, jaguars and snow leopards.
 the off we went to feed, firstly the lions, but as it was a warm sunny day they were too interested in sunning themselves to come over for food, so we went to see the snow leopards, who were very keen to meet us:
The tigers also came over for something to eat and Jackie got a chance to stroke one:
The jaguars were made to work for their food, so she put a big chunk of meat into a box, covered it with blood and Arran hung it from a high branch in its pen, to make her work for her dinner:
She made pretty light work of it though, before retiring to the corner of her cage to consume. The most amusing part was feeding the white tigers. Jackie put a large plastic ball covered with blood into its cage, along with a box of food covered in blood. When the tiger came in he was more interested in playing with the ball and licking the blood than eating the food in the box:
We also had the opportunity and getting close to wolves and after the experience we stayed on to see Red Panda's, Lama's, parrots and many other animals. We put together a Youtube video of our visit that you can view on:

Saturday, 2 June 2012

May 2012

Here we are at the end of May, my first month of ‘retirement’. What have we been up to? Quite a lot really, we’ve learned weekdays are much better than weekends as everywhere is so much quieter!
Where Jackie’s shifts at the BBC allow, we went to Red Point climbing wall in the day time, earlier in the month before it really warmed up and found few people there, meaning we could climb what we wanted, when we wanted. My climbing grade has gradually increased to almost Jackie’s level! We’re now doing 6b (French grade) climbs and have even progressed onto some 6b+. For me this is really breaking new ground and should mean we can climb some pretty good routes outside (hopefully).
On May 21st we rented Gareth and Emma’s cottage in Harpur Hill, near Buxton for three days, just as the weather turned really hot. We had three fantastic days in glorious surroundings.
Our view from the back garden

On Monday afternoon we went straight over to the old quarry, now a huge bolted climbing area. We can walk there in 5 minutes from the cottage, so we spent a good three hours doing about 12 different routes, ranging from 5+, right up to 6b – yes, I led a 6b, incredible!

Tuesday saw us taking a 4 or 5 mile walk from the cottage, through Harpur Hill and over to Solomons Temple and the park beyond. Here’s a few pictures:

In the afternoon we drove 15 minutes to The Roaches, a very popular gritstone climbing area, with a climb I’ve always wanted to do. Valkyrie is a 2 pitch VS 4b,4c classic climb that is one of those climbs I’ve promised myself I’ll do one day.  As I’d done a 6b bolted climb the day before, I felt ready to go for it.
Jackie led the first pitch, which at 4b was really difficult, with a very awkward bulge to get over. She did very well and belayed in the recess before my pitch, leaving me to struggle over the bulge with the comfort of a top rope!
Here we are at the start of Valkyrie. It goes up the corner behind Jackie and left to just before the nose that sticks out to the left.
My pitch then went out to the left, requiring a big sling to be placed over the big flake, before stepping precariously out left onto the nose. Unfortunately I chose a sling that was too long and slipped right down. Being in a difficult position I couldn’t retrieve it, so placed a second, shorter sling over the first, leaving Jackie to retrieve both when she came up. This wasn’t the best idea as the two slings got tangled causing lots of rope drag and a nightmare for Jackie to sort out, when she would be in a difficult position. The rest of the pitch went well, after a thin move up after moving round onto the front face, again causing Jackie a problem when the rope got stuck round the corner! Oh dear, it was a great climb for me, but I gave Jackie a bit of a nightmare!
On Wednesday we again returned to the Harpur Hill quarry and did more climbing before returning home for an evening BBQ.

 Earlier in the month we went to Fiona and John’s party to celebrate Fiona’s 50th. Iain and Bev were there, the weather was good and we topped the day with our naff presents for sophisticated Fiona:

On the early May bank holiday we went to Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. 7 of us went, me and Jackie, Iain and Bev, John and Fiona and Sue. We rented Millcombe House, a very grand white building just up from the harbour and close to the only pub on the island.


The whole atmosphere on Lundy is unique, power is from a generator that is switched off between midnight and 6:00am, so make sure you’re in bed by then, or take your headtorch! There is one boat per day (but not Sunday), arriving around midday and leaving at 4:00pm, so after its departure we really felt the island was ours with no ‘day-trippers’. There are no foxes dogs, cats or rats on the island so the birds, sheep and chickens wander around without a care. John is a keen bird watcher and we had the rare opportunity to see two Golden Oriole’s in the trees right outside our window. Twitchers were a plenty all round our house and to see two, in the same tree is very rare indeed. I didn’t get any photo’s of them but John managed to get this slightly grainy picture of one:
Cute little things aren't they!

 One day Jackie and I went to do a classic climb on the island (one that appears in the book ‘Classic Rock’). It’s called The Devil’s Slide and is a 300ft 4 pitch climb straight from sea level. It’s HS (Hard Severe) 4b and is magnificent. We had to abseil down to rocks that only appear at low tide, then climb out. Whilst belaying, we were able to watch people diving in the crystal clear sea, that makes it renowned for diving, plus we saw the ‘round the island’ kayak canoeists, on their route round, and seals swimming around the rocks.
View from the top
Jackie on the first pitch
and finally at the top!
  On our last day we went ‘letterboxing’, which is like a treasure hunt on the island. Various letterboxes have to be found that contain a stamp and inkpad, to prove you’ve been there. They are found from a set of clues that can be purchased on the island. There are 27 to find (one of them on the boat) that take you all over the island. We did 11 of them, so a further visit is required!

Second letterbox in the church
One in a tunnel under the castle