Friday, 20 August 2010

Two Weeks Off

Just got back from my summer holidays. This began with a well overdue trip up to Wasdale for the weekend to see friends, my excuse being to pick up some stuff from the father-in-law we needed while passing through Wigan. I got up to Wasdale late Friday night as usual and as expected it was busy with 3 peakers even after 11pm, a very contentious issue with the locals. The farm was quiet however since they had given up waiting for me and gone to bed!

Most of Saturday was spent chasing sheep around Miterdale. I got to meet Mark's next door neighbour Anthony at Low Farm on the other side of the screes since he was gathering and Mark had agreed to go and help with me just tagging along. With Mark's 2 dogs and Anthony's 7 or so (I couldn't count them all - he has about 40 in total!) we made a bit too much noise on the way up the fell, not good since you don't want the sheep to scatter and make the job even harder. This was mainly down to a young pup Anthony was training getting far too excited with all the activity and yelping away.

I was amused by a story Anthony told us about the sign in his farmyard, one of his ancestors got fed up with people asking the way to Eskdale so got a sign made up and built into the wall, for some reason he decided to word it in broad Cumberland so then the questions just increased: "What does the sign mean?".

There was lots of forestry work going on up the valley and quite a few trees were down in the woods due to recent past storms, the forestry commission are slowly replacing all the pines in the area with more traditional broad leaf trees. We carried on climbing up Great Grain Gill, splitting from Anthony who headed towards Whinn Rigg but the weather turned for the worse and just as we neared the path across the top the mist came down and we lost any chance of gathering the 15 or so sheep we had seen up towards Illgill Head. We headed back to the 2 tarns to meet up with Anthony and see what he had in mind.

The rain started coming down here and I found myself chuckling at the different attitudes of people to the fells. There I was in borrowed boots and hooded fleece, Mark and Anthony with similar clothes with only a club, caramel and Galaxy chocolate bar between us. No water (Mark hasn't drunk from streams since picking up Cryptosporidium up near Red Pike a few years ago) and certainly no map/compass. This is their back yards though and they know virtually every boulder, we were out for about 5 hours and I was gasping when I got back.

I find it fascinating watching them work with their dogs on the fells; those dogs work hard and travelled miles over the fells at speed all the while listening out for and responding to the commands Mark & Anthony were issuing. It takes a loud voice and a very good eye to farm those hills, they were pointing out sheep to me in the far distance that I could hardly make out then sending the dogs off to collect them. Slowly, tiny black & white dots on the distant fell side gathered into groups and made their way to wherever the dogs were shepherding them.
We slowly headed back down to the farm, stopping off to try and find a small group that had managed to break off into some woods. The bracken here was shoulder high in places and it was a nightmare to keep track of the sheep; you had to watch for the bracken moving. This was proper tick country as well, some of the sheep had the telltale signs of infestation on their heads that occurs from rubbing to try to remove the ticks.

Back at the farm the sheep were sorted into those that had already been sheared and those in lamb from those that weren't then it was into the farm for a well earned fry-up which I washed down with about 2 pints of juice.

Sunday morning the weather was a bit grim again so I went for a run up onto the screes first since it looked a bit clearer that way, it wasn't so I headed back down then climbed Scafell and came back down the main path over the crags; I just wanted to get some climb in my legs as training for the Ben in a few weeks time. The views here were stunning below the mist, it's a shame I left my camera in the car! I climbed back up a little though later on before heading off and took some pictures:

Then came the long drive home before an early night due to being up at 3:30am to catch a flight to Menorca for 2 weeks. Got some running done there but not far (it was a family holiday after all!) I will post some pictures from that soon.

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