Thursday, June 03, 2021

putting down some routes

As well as traumatising and maiming small children by throwing balls at them and menacing them with bits of wood, the easing of lockdown rules provides some opportunities to get out and do some walking. My capacity to go up proper mountains or walk phenomenal distances is a bit limited at the moment as I've injured my ankle (almost certainly while out running with Nia, though I don't remember any specific incident) but I have nonetheless gone out and done a few things recently which I thought I might share with you here. 


We did this a week or so after my birthday in February, and therefore may have stretched somewhat the terms of the "daily exercise" clause in the lockdown regulations that were in force at the time. Let's just say I wanted to test my recently-injured ankle and a walk up a hill seemed like the best way to do it, just like driving to Barnard Castle is the best way to test out your eyesight.

Anyway, I'd been up the Blorenge once before, back in late 2009. That time we'd parked in the car park on the old railway line at Llanfoist Crossing; this time we walked from my parents' house in Abergavenny. Other than that it was a pretty similar route, we also had pretty similar weather in that it was OK at the lower levels coming across the canal and up the steep hill to the Devil's Punchbowl, but then foggy and drizzly on the higher bits, including the summit. Route map and altitude profile are below - we did the loop clockwise, i.e. the gradual ascent via the Devil's Punchbowl first and the descent by the more direct route. Total walk length is a little under nine miles.

The Blorenge is one of those mountains which is only really a proper mountain from one side (the Langdale Pikes would be another example), as it's really just the abrupt end of an extensive plateau that extends all the way over to Blaenavon. You could very easily cheat, park at the Foxhunter or Keeper's Pond car park and bag the summit at the cost of only a couple of hundred feet of ascent and probably no more than three-quarters of an hour for the round trip, something you couldn't do at, say, the Sugar Loaf

It's a perfectly nice walk; to be honest my recollections of it are negatively coloured by a couple of foot-related issues: firstly it became squelchily apparent that my Salomon walking boots weren't very waterproof any more (something I'd discovered about their predecessors in similar circumstances on Dartmoor in 2007), and secondly it became painfully apparent that my ankle injury wasn't the sort that could just be walked off and/or ignored.

Bath Skyline Walk

To celebrate outdoor meeting up being legal again, some friends and I decided to go for a walk, and since most of this particular group live around Bristol and Bath we decided to do a walk in that area. Excitingly, this meant my first trip to England for about six months. It was a new one on me, but apparently the Bath Skyline walk is a pretty well-known thing, sufficiently so to have its own National Trust webpage. It's so called because it's basically a circuit of the high plateau immediately to the east of the city, much of which is occupied by bits of the university campus.

We did the main loop clockwise, which is how the National Trust walk guide would have you do it, but if you want to do it the other way, go nuts. As the name suggests there are some good views of the city, as well as other local landmarks like Prior Park. The basic circuit is about six miles, but I got the train from Newport so the extra faffing about through Bath to get to the start point and back extended the total distance to about eight and a half miles.

The views are nice, it was a lovely day and the company was excellent, and I did have my first actual pint in an actual pub for over a year (a very nice pint of London Pride in the Boater). For all that, I wouldn't say its the most thrilling walk in the world, but it's clearly not really intended to be, just a nice half-day out in the fresh air.

Tidenham Tunnel

It was Hazel's birthday at the end of May, and as the weather forecast was pretty good we decided we'd offload the kids, pack a picnic and go for a walk. As you know I keep my ear to the ground on Rail Infrastructure Twitter and recalled having recently read something about the opening of the Wye Valley Greenway, a walking and cycling route up a section of old railway line just north of Chepstow. Most excitingly of all this incorporated the kilometre-long Tidenham Tunnel, closed since the late 1950s. So I decided to devise a walk incorporating the tunnel, and came up with the one below, starting at the car park at Tidenham Chase and then proceeding clockwiselywise down to the southern portal of the tunnel, back up through it, along the bank of the Wye for a bit (including a stop for lunch) and then back to the car park - just over six and a half miles in total. 

The altitude profile looks a bit unusual as it's inverted compared to the usual mountain profile with the high point in the middle; here the car park is the high point and the first two-thirds or so of the walk is a gradual descent down to the banks of the Wye at about 30 metres above sea level. You can see that the tunnel (the straight line where my phone app lost the GPS signal for a while) has a slight uphill gradient from south to north.

Anyway, the tunnel is interesting: lit only by some downward-pointing lights at about knee level, which illuminate the ground so you can see where you're going but don't provide much light above knee level. This is by design as there is apparently a resident bat population who they don't want to disturb by lighting the whole thing up like a Christmas tree. The newly-opened path is great, but there's still a bit of work to do integrating it with existing paths like the Gloucestershire Way; we spent a while trying to find an access point from one to the other and eventually resorted to climbing over a fence. 

[EDIT: photo links - Blorenge here, Bath Skyline here, Tidenham here.]

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