A sense of deja vu came over me this week. Lockdown v2 seemed to be as unexpected as lockdown v1 and once again I had time for one last trip to the Lakes. Driving over there I wondered what would be stopping me from coming this way over the next few weeks, but deep inside I knew that such a journey would not be in keeping with the spirit of lockdown and that I should not venture over Stainmore.
I’m lucky to work in Barnard Castle, home of the now infamous opticians and gateway to Teesdale. 10 minutes drive from work can get me to moors and forests that are deserted midweek in November. For some reason the lure of the mountains always takes me westwards on the A66 to the Lakes or Scotland, but in reality there is enough on my doorstep to keep me busy for a few weeks.
Friday morning was foggy yet the forecast promised better weather later so after a few hours’ work I headed out to Monks Moor above Middleton in Teesdale. Driving up to Snaisgill I came out of the cloud and into glorious blue skies with the sun shining on the moors. I ran down through the trees and along Hudeshope Beck before climbing steeply past the old mine remains at the end of the valley. The air was clear and the autumn colours contrasted against the clear blue sky. After the mine workings I turned south over open access land following a vague track towards the summit of Monks Moor. The cloud was slowly drifting up the Hudeshope valley but I stayed above it and was rewarded with a superb cloud inversion. I sat for a while on the summit in the warm November sunshine enjoying the view over a sea of cloud before heading down into the damp, cold mist and back over the moors to Snaisgill.
Sunday evening saw me heading out for some night navigation practise near Hamsterley Forest. I started doing night nav a year ago in preparation for my Mountain Leader qualification and initially struggled with it. It felt completely unnatural to be on the hills at night and although I was happy to wander alone during the day I was not at night. I jumped at every noise and imagined strangers following me in the dark. But I persevered and after a few sessions I relaxed and realised that I was the only idiot likely to be wandering the hills at night and that the stars and moon were just as beautiful as the daytime view. Bad weather added a new dimension and in the dark, rain and wind I felt the exhilaration of the mountains while only being half an hour from home. Add to that the mental challenge of micro navigation and I was enthralled. Now my ML was over I had no reason to be doing night nav anymore, but who needs a reason.
It was a foggy November day and night came early. It was so foggy that I drove straight past the parking spot on the Eggleston to Stanhope road, only realising when I got to the top and started heading down into Weardale. The fog was perfect for night navigation though as I had to completely rely on map, compass and pacings and not try to look ahead and see what the contours were doing. I was in a world of my own, alone with a headtorch in the thick fog, finding grouse butts, fences, spot heights and streams, all exactly where the map said they would be. Two hours later I arrived back at the car, mentally exhausted but pleased that I had got every point just about spot on.