This week our group did something a little different. Rather than do a self guided walk, we joined a walking group that myself and 'All the Gear and No Idea' have walked with before. In total, with the 8 from our little group, and the people from the walking group, there were 18 of us.
I keep an eye on the website for this group, as they have a mixture of day walks, walking weekends, and walks of all levels. They are a professional organisation, and well worth a look. http://www.largeoutdoors.com/
We left for the walk earlier than I would leave for work, and headed for the meet point in Fenny Bentley. We were scheduled to do a 10 mile walk, starting at 10 am. On the way up to the start point we passed over the top at The Cat & Fiddle, where the weather was awful. It was snowing and the wind was strong. Just as we were getting to the meet point, Gareth, our group leader moved it to a car park near a pub called The Dog and Partridge. This had the effect of cutting the walk by about a mile. This was due to a combination of the bad weather, and some of the group running late!
Gareth had offered some navigation lessons, I took him up on it, so hopefully I can build myself up from 'idiot guide walks' to walks with proper maps. He explained the features of the OS map, and outlined the start of the route for me. He pointed out what things I should watch out for, and the 'flash points' that would indicate I had led the group too far. With this, he handed the map to me and put the group in my 'capable hands'.
The walk started along a couple of roads, went behind the pub, and joined a track across open land. I successfully navigated this part of the route, and then Gareth went through the next part with me. Feeling confident that I understood the map, I told him that the path would be to the left of the sheep, and that hopefully we would follow it around the base of Thorpe Cloud, and up to the top. At this point, Gareth told me that it wasn't a sheep on the map, but some rocks! Anyway, as it turned out, there was a clear route across the field to the bottom of Thorpe Cloud, so we went that way, and straight up the hill. This was a fairly demanding, and steep hill, that due to the bad weather was also very slippy. Right near the top it becomes very steep, and is more like a rock climb to get to the peak. My nerves failed me, but the lovely Gareth led me slightly further around the hill, and I reached the top with no further problems. Despite the poor weather, the views were lovely. At this point I met my next challenge... What goes up must come down! Being scared of heights is not good when it comes to walks like this, but it does help me to keep challenging myself. One of the guys who were on the walk lent me one of his walking poles to steady myself on the steep descent. I made my way slowly down the hill. I was not happy to say the least! While I was dithering at the top, I saw one of the women sit down, and slide down the hill in her waterproofs trousers. It looked like a good idea to me, and saved the hassle of worrying about falling! I made it to the bottom of the hill quickly and without injury. I think I have discovered a new extreme sport!
When we reached the bottom of the hill, we scrambled down some rocks and to the Dovestones stepping stones. This was a really pretty valley with a gurgling river, and stepping stones to cross it. We crossed the river, and followed the path for some time. Eventually we left the path, and headed up the side of another hill. We skirted the edge of some fields with sheep in. They were extremely muddy, and it was really difficult to remain upright. I tried to head up the hill to easier terrain, but slipped and ended up with hands full of mud! Eventually we reached the base of another hill, which actually looked steeper than Thorpe Cloud! The challenge we faced was that it was extremely slippy. I pretty much crawled up the hill, reaching the summit with mud under all my nails, and very little dignity! Thankfully one of our group had baby wipes with her, so I could clean off somewhat to eat my packed lunch! I was glad of my Regatta base layers as it became cold when sat still!
After a brief lunch break, we headed down the other side of the hill, thinking the worst was over. This was not the case, as to get to where we needed to be, we had to crest the top of another hill. We then headed down into some woodland that was at the top edge of one side of the Dovedale Valley. We negotiated some difficult pathways until we reached some steps that took us into the bottom of the valley. We crossed a bridge, and then headed in the direction of a tea shop in Milldale. The walk here was gentle and flat, with good paths. Along the way, the rock faces at the side of the valley were dotted with caves. It was a very beautiful place to walk and enjoy the countryside. When we reached the tea shop, we treated ourselves to hot drinks and cakes.
From here, we headed back the way we came, following the path of the valley all the way back to the Dovestones. We skirted the base of Thorpe Cloud rather than go back up the side of the hill that I slid down! We crossed the fields, and headed back down the roads to the car park.
In all, we walked about 9 miles, and were out for about 6 hours. It was a challenging walk, but very enjoyable, made all the more so by the hill sliding and the group! It was good to start to learn about map navigation, and I intend to continue to learn until I am proficient. It was nice to have somebody else to lead the group, and to do a more challenging walk. When I had finished with my navigation lesson, it was good to have the opportunity to just enjoy the countryside, and let somebody else lead. I will be keeping an eye on the upcoming walks.
We rounded off the day with a meal in a local pub, and headed home tired, aching and happy.