Sunday, May 31, 2009


It's a British expression, usually used by a footballer when asked what it feels like to be on the losing side. I'd never thought much about what it meant, but now I know: it's feeling emptied, as though something integral to your being has been ripped bodily away. In short, we bailed the trip on the second day. It started well...
In fact it started with hilarity. That's the tourist information sign in the middle of Dornoch, on the east coast (click for bigger, you have to read it). The drive up took far less time than we expected, so we did some sightseeing. Dornoch is a nice place, in several senses of the word 'nice': it's
neatly built and extremely tidy, has one of everything including a fine bookshop and a bijou cathedral with... 'nice' doesn't do it justice: fabulous glass. Late 19th and 20th century panels, stunningly beautiful stained glass in rich colours. The sign was a bonus. We stood looking at it, trying not to laugh out loud (that wouldn't have been nice), and wondering what determined the order of the list.

Then we went to Lairg, where we had a good night at Park House and, at 1215 the next morning, Walter the Postbus took us to Lochinver. It had rained on us as we waited in Lairg, short sharp showers borne on a gusting westerly; in Lochinver the westerly was still strong, but the clouds were higher and the sun shone brightly as we set off up the Glen Canisp road at 1355.
That's the view looking back the way we'd come. Lochinver is behind the hills, but you can see the sea. Ahead looked promising too:
The hills are Suilven on the right, Canisp on the left. The yellow flowering bushes are gorse, which smells strongly of coconut in the warm sunlight. When the wind died enough for the scent to gather!

We could only find one reasonable spot to set up camp. I worried a bit that the valley would funnel the wind onto the tent, but after walking nearly halfway down the lake at the foot of Suilven we couldn't find anything more level or drier, and the pegs were solid in the soil here.
That's the tent with the tarp porch, Suilven in the background. We'd planned to walk up before dinner, but the wind was now strong enough that we thought the ridge would be dangerous, and we didn't want to take a chance on wrecking a knee so early in the trip. There were teeny tiny people up on the ridge apparently trying for the summits, but they gave up and we saw them (full-size) limp onto the path for Lochinver at about 2000.

The night was highly unpleasant. From about 2000 the wind rose and gusted more strongly. The tent rattled and shook, battered from side to side by an invisible hand that would occasionally nearly flatten it. It doesn't get fully dark in the summer; we lay in our sleeping bags with enough light to see each other wide awake, watching the tent and listening to the next gust howling up the valley. By about 0100 I'd worked out that the tent was not going to blow away, and managed to get some sleep; he didn't. By 0430 it was fully light and there was no point in sitting in the tent any longer; there'd been intermittent showers in the night, but the tent was dry at that point, so it seemed best to get it down and packed before the next rain hit. We got everything packed and the raincovers on the packs just in time, then stood eating breakfast bars and discussing our options. He declared flatly he didn't want another night like that, which seemed fair enough, but perhaps the next campsite would be more sheltered? At 0500 we set off on the next leg, and the rain grew heavier.
Suilven from the east, just before the rain got serious.

By the time the path by Lochan Fada grew indistinct, it was persistenting down. We set off up the hillside for the shoulder of Canisp at roughly 2070 1670, just west of a stream, headed up that stream, then due west for the Bealach na Suileig. The westerly had dropped a bit, but was still driving the rain into our backs, and the cloud was lower on the hills ahead of us. He looked shattered. We agreed to head for the Inchnadamph road at the bridge north of Loch Awe and consider our next step. We arrived at the parking lot at 0900 (I wish I knew if we'd made good time from Suilven, considering our packs with full bladders were c. 17kg and 21kg). His soaking feet would blister badly on the roadside walk to Inchnadamph, where our route headed west into the hills... somehow, without a lot of discussion, we'd flagged the postbus and were headed back to Lairg. I couldn't quite believe it. We spent the next night at Kylescu Hotel, a sort of consolation prize, where even the locals agreed that had been a rough night, then drove south. Into the sun and warmth that was heading north to Scotland. The weather was supposed to improve, I'd known that. Damn, damn, DAMN... we didn't say much on that drive, or on the first day back.

But on the second day, sitting in the garden, we talked about how we felt. 'Gutted' about covered it for both of us. So why had we bailed? Turns out we each thought the other had had enough, but didn't want to ask for fear of embarrassment. Can you believe it? Neither of us wanted to stop. It's almost funny, but I can't laugh. Instead we're planning another go in a month or so, and this time we've agreed to discuss any decision without fear of hurting anyone's feelings. Because being gutted hurts just as much.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Good Day

Saturday was a good day. We try to alternate hard and easy weekend walks and, as our date with the Sutherland Trail approaches, we're reluctant to push really hard: if we overstrain our knees now, we'll regret it. Reason for a London walk :-) The unforgiving pavement makes even an 8 mile/13km walk seem hard, but the low mileage leaves our knees happy – and we get to eat good food and see strange sights. This time we started with an early lunch in Borough Market (roast pork sandwich for him, bratwurst and sauerkraut for me, a lamington stuffed in my bag for emergencies, then headed east on the Thames Path running on the south bank.
Another reason to walk: to test my new lightweight Panasonic camera - it won't do RAW files, but it's half the weight of the Canon and it does panoramic views. The City lines the north bank; can you spot the spire of St Dunstan-in-the-East? The fretwork delicacy of Wren's steeple is a reminder of how badly east London suffered during WWII as the Germans sought to destroy the Pool of London. Further east we walked past street after street after street of postwar housing, built to replace the streets demolished during 'The Blitz'. I'm kicking myself for not taking a photo of one of the rare pre-war buildings standing in a sea of 1960s council houses, but I was too busy wondering how we'd cope today with the stresses of such a war.

As we reach Hays Galleria, once a major tea and cheese wharf, I take the opportunity to photograph 'The Navigators', a sculpture that intrigues me. Apparently the paddles move, the prow appears to slice through the water, but I've never seen it working.

It's a witty and humorous piece that, for me at least, doesn't touch the wistfulness that colours this walk. In the 21st century the south bank of the Thames is lined with bars and cafés and smart offices and trendy living space.
Only the names on the streets and the warehouses converted to smart flats with views of the river commemorate the history of this area. I brush my hand against the brickwork as we walk and wonder if, under the bright modern paint, the buildings smelt of spices and coffee and tea and cheese and hides, if I sat quietly in a corner late, late at night I'd hear echoes of the voices of the dockers swearing and sweating as they shifted the goods that made Britain 'Great'. It's a strange place, this. To me the historic past is far more concrete, more real, than the present built on imagined financial wealth. But we can't turn the clock back, and it will be some time before the world turns far enough that any nation will be able to build an empire once more.

Look back upriver and see a classic view: the dome of St Pauls, Tower Bridge and the City of London. And don't neglect to consider the Thames itself, without which none of this would be. Try to imagine the scene as the Romans saw it, a muddy river flowing through marsh and low islands. This is one of the myriad things I love about London: it's a time machine. The city has existed in the landscape and in the minds of its inhabitants and the larger world for over 2000 years. Walk through London and you are walking through time made concrete, stone and timber. And water. Because without the Thames, there'd be no reason for London.
We continued east to Surrey Docks. Compare the tiny map at top right on that page (all the docks! Think of the ships unloading goods from Canada, Russia, Norway. Furs, timber, amber, explorers!) with the area on Google Maps today:

View Larger Map

We were planning to be in Leicester Square by about 1630, so it was time to either turn back or (if there was pedestrian access) walk under the river in the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Wikipedia assured us we could do it even if the riverside shafts and their spiral stairs were closed (which they were). So we walked back to the road and entered Purgatory, a constant roar of traffic and haze of car exhaust. I tried not to think about "A 2003 survey rated the Rotherhithe Tunnel the tenth most dangerous tunnel in the whole of Europe due to its poor safety features. Its proximity to the river also made it vulnerable to flooding, as happened in the 1928 Thames flood..." The emergency signs for pedestrians were notable for their uselessness: small green and yellow images of a running figure with an arrow pointing ahead labelled 'north exit' and another pointing back, labelled 'south exit'.
That photo was taken below the bed of the Thames. I didn't stop walking to take it, either! At the north end we turned west and followed the Thames back to the City. Through Wapping to St Katherines Docks, past the Tower to Waterloo, where we headed north to Covent Garden and Leicester Square, arriving with time to enjoy an ice cream (I had to repeat 'raspberry' twice for a tourist enamoured of my accent) before sitting down (ah, bliss!) to watch Coraline. An amazing film. Wonderful, amazing, incredibly detailed, deeply unsettling and it all ends as well as things can in Neil Gaiman's worlds. It's a fairytale. A proper one, with lessons learned. Go and see it. And pay particular attention to Althea Crome's knitting! Apparently you can knit your own Coraline sweater from the pattern here (I'm not competent to judge whether or not that's a good pattern). And after that we had dinner, and then we went home. The End.

Speaking of knitting. Our credit card bill arrived on Friday. I opened it, my eyes ran lightly down the transactions list (as one does) and stopped in their tracks at a purchase from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. Last month. I didn't buy anything from BMFA last month. I checked the date. It was the day I tried to remove the beads from my Aeolian, the day I broke it, the day I'd told him the sad story in the same way that, as a child, I told my parents of the lessons I'd learned when I'd done something stupid. When he arrived home on Friday evening I explained that A Friend had a Dilemma. She'd checked a credit card bill and found a transaction that her partner probably didn't intend her to see. Should she not say anything and leave him thinking she didn't check the bills, or should she.... at this point he said "I hoped it would arrive before the bill did". Reader, I don't deserve him. Really. I must have been ever so good in a previous life.

Here's some more knitting; in some strange way, 5 repeats of this unutterably boring knit was penance for my Aeolian stupidity. I am now on the 12th, theoretically-final repeat of the Maikell centre panel but, given I'm using thinner yarn and smaller needles, it's far too small. So I'm going for 18. And then I will pick up stitches around the edge and knit a border outward. If the Estonian knitters had had circs, they'd have used them :-)

Also, another hat. This one is mine. Scotland here I come!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

testing, testing. one.

Two. Three...
It occurred to me that if I had a blog app for the iPhone and if I had a signal and if I had dry weather I might be able (if not asleep) to post during our walk. 'signal' is extraordinarily unlikely, but I'm testing Blogpress just in case.

It seems to do words. There's a button for photos, I feel compelled to press it...

The world did not end (well, it wasn't a RED button) and it seems to have inserted a tiny fragment of the soul of my garden. I'm going to have to make my fingers thinner, though. Now will it post this?

Yes. We have a winner. Now, will we have a signal?

-- posted on the move

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More foolishness

Silly things to do on a walk: No. 1

Imagine walking across this vast field on a lovely sunny afternoon. Be invisible (it's your imagination, you can do it) so as not to disturb two people having an intense discussion, one waving something in its hand in the air. Drift closer and discover it's us, me and him, trying to work out what/where that distinctive 'lump' on the horizon might be. Could it be the
theoretically visible Sharpenhoe Clappers? We need a compass, but haven't got one. So I pull out my iPhone, download and install GPS software from iTunes (the waving about was trying to get the best signal), then we waste 10 minutes trying to walk fast enough to get the GPS compass to pay attention to us. FAIL. Double FAIL, once for being sad enough to download and install software to use on my phone when we're meant to be walking in the countryside, and again for enjoying the experience and thinking it perfectly justifiable.

Here's another kind of fail... I am rapidly concluding I don't like spinning angora. The end result is soft (the Fetchings I knitted from a handspun Wooly Rabbit angora blend are lovely to wear), but the stuff sticks together even when it's not felted. I find it very difficult to draft; even semi-longdraw is proving problematic. Which is a nuisance, as I'd planned to spin it from the fold. I need to practice that.
But isn't it pretty? The brown is slightly pinker than I like, but it still reminds me of the sea washing over pebbles and sand. I just have to finish spinning it at home because two people at the spinning group are allergic to angora. It's part of one of Spindlefrog's Spinner's Sets, roughly 6 oz of luxury fibres dyed in the same colourway. Mine is angora, cashmere, silk, baby camel, baby alpaca, kid mohair. Here's the rest of the fibres, all their potential as yet untapped.

More foolishness. I'm beginning to realise my handspun falls into two quite clearly defined categories. One is
WOW!! I can't believe I made that. It's far to beautiful to knit. No pattern does it justice. The second is
Ho Hum. Look at this, and that... nope. I can't knit that, it's not good enough for any pattern.

Which is really silly. I know it's silly. I'm too new at this to expect perfection and yet, I hurt a bit when I don't achieve it every time. Look at this:
That's about 490m of singles spun from two 'Spanish Moss' Abby batts, part of a swap with Fernmonkey on Ravelry. It's a lovely silvery grey-green, the singles are reasonably soft, not over-twisted. I think it will make a reasonable, perhaps even a nice shawl (I'm casting on for one from the Icelandic shawl book Thrihyrnur og langsjol: Three-cornered and long shawls). But I feel dissatisfied with every inch of yarn passing through my fingers; it's too thin or too thick, there's a slub of silk... I really do have to get over this. It's MY OWN YARN, for pity's sake. I made it. It's a miraculous thing, the product of my own hands. I should love every inch of it.

Grrr. Perhaps I need chocolate?

No. I just need to remind myself that, barring accidents and other unpleasantnesses, I AM GOING TO SOAR!!

Sunday, May 03, 2009


RIP, Aeolian Shawl
Physical and mental. Let's get the mental over first. In short, my cunning plan proved to be a turnip: yes, a hammer trumps a bead every time (ok, might take two or three careful blows) but, where my trial beads turned into glittering dust, those on the shawl shattered into shards. Sharp ones. After cheerfully demolishing about 20 beads I realised the fragments had cut the yarn in two places. I repaired them, but BMFA Silk Thread II is, well, silk: it doesn't stick to itself, it's thin and shiny and the repairs are visible). However, I was committed, so I continued much, much more carefully - the next c. 100 beads required only two more repairs. I sat in the sun with my heart sliding into my socks as I realised that, at this speed, I'd still be breaking beads in two weeks' time, and the shawl would be a higgledy-piggledy mess of repairs. I looked at that beautiful silk gleaming in the light and realised that my selfishness had ruined that shawl and wasted weeks of my precious spare time. After all, if I didn't like the glitter, I could have given it to someone who did. But no, I wanted that lovely yarn, that shawl sans beads for me. Therein lies the anguish: I was Stupid. And now I think no one will have it, even though after I announced that I'd binned it the Tsocksarina decided to attempt to salvage something from the wreck. As soon as its chaperones arrive (no knitting can travel unaccompanied) the mess will be on its way.

I distracted myself from the mess by casting on for a hat in my handspun. It's still a novelty, knitting yarn I made myself. I used the 'Come in Spinner' Polwarth from the first installment of the Socktopus Fibre Academy, which I'd spun as a thick 3-ply. I'd known it was more worsted than I'd wanted, but only when I started to knit with it did I realise just how 'solid' it was. It's made a very... sturdy... hat. Weighs about twice as much as any of our technical gear, so it will not come on long treks, but it's pretty. And, alas, too big for me. Suits him, though:
Then there's the physical anguish. We did it to ourselves, too. The weather forecast was good, dry but cool, so on Friday evening we pulled the Big Packs out of the cupboard and packed them with almost all the stuff we'd be carrying in Scotland (mine weighed 15.5kg, about 35lb), and at 0630 yesterday morning we threw them (figuratively speaking; they're far too heavy to throw!) with the rest of our walking gear in the back of the car and hammered up the M1 to our nearest hills in Derbyshire. Again. After discovering that the concentration needed to do Emily Ocker's circular cast-on with two circular knitting needles instead of a crochet hook in a car travelling on a winding road left me feeling distinctly poorly, I didn't get a lot of knitting done! But by the time we reached Chesterfield I had the map open and was formulating a plan. It went something like this: arrive Edale, park, start walking. Good one, eh? It expanded to: arrive Edale, walk up to path along Rushup Edge,
Above, the view east along Rushup Edge. Mam Tor on left above my pack, Castleton at right.
Below, the view north to Edale village and the Kinder plateau.

then northwest and north over the top of Colborne and Brown Knoll
This Boundary Stone inscribed '1748' lies on what fell-runners say is the driest line along the top of the moor. They're probably right, but it was wet nonetheless. And I finally tested the depth of a bog hole: only 18" or so in diameter, it was nearly 4' deep!

stop for lunch in the shelter of a quarry and stone wall (the wind was cold!), strike west along the flank of Kinder, then north until we had to decide: take the 'easy, short' path that slides up the western slope to the top of Kinder, or carry on around Kinder Reservoir and up William Clough to the far northwest corner of the plateau. For several minutes we fidgeted, thoughtfully shifting the packs on our shoulders, trying to balance time, pack weight, energy level, distance and knee condition, before basically saying 'Sod it, we can eat at McDonald's if the pub is full - let's go!' and committing to the lunacy of the longer route. Besides which, we were carrying tent, sleeping gear, water filter, stove, fuel, and food for 6 days. We could take our time.
click for bigger...
So we took the path in the left of that panorama over the lovely soft green dotted with sheep and lambs, down the hill to the reservoir, along the baking hot path on the other side to the start of William Clough, where we realised there was Another Choice: an unofficial path heading straight up the side of Kinder. It would be shorter, no question of it, but it was much steeper. Time was pressing... I'm really bad at uphill; given my pauses for breath (remember I'm carrying a 15kg pack!), would it be faster than the Clough? Nothing ventured, nothing gained: we headed up the hill. Unfortunately, while pausing allows me to catch my breath, it does little to persuade my duff knee to pull itself together and by the time we reached the top, I was hurting. But the view was... ok, no, it wasn't worth the pain. Not by itself. Add the sense of achievement and the two together were worth it :-)
The view west from the top. Good but not quite good enough :-) The panorama was taken from the top of that long green hill above the dark trees on the left of the picture.
The familiar Pennine Way stretched ahead of us and we did our best to set a good pace past Kinder Downfall to Kinderlow, (but were scarcely able to stay ahead of the school groups. Oh, to be 16 again!) then left on a minor path to the main path running along the southern edge of the Plateau, high above Edale. The late afternoon sun revealed a wealth of detail on the hillside south and west of us;
The ridge in shadow to the left in the distance is Rushup Edge; in the middle distance is Brown Knoll. The blanket of peat on the flattish top of the hill is clearly visible, broken up at the edges by erosion and by old peat cuttings. You can also clearly see some of the post-glacial landslips for which Edale is famous.
As we strode, kneesore but determined, we discussed the best route down. The plateau stands about 300m above the floor of the valley; given the weight on our backs and the condition of our knees, were we better trying to lose height as quickly as possible (the c. 75° drop down the rockfall of Grindsbrook Clough), or more slowly (the unfamiliar path down Grindslow). We opted to get it over with and paused for an SIS isogel (those things work wonders when you need a quick boost of energy for a specific task) before carefully making our way down the rockfall. The energy ran out about halfway down the path to Edale, but it didn't matter, we were down. End result: over 15 miles/24k, roughly estimated, including more ascent/descent than we're likely to encounter on any day on the Sutherland Trail. Conclusion: we did it; we can do it again. Barring accidents, we're up to the task, in every sense.

And this morning? We're fine. If we had a hill, we'd be up it :-) In the interim, I will do some lace knitting!