Here you will find stories and descriptions of many past events put on by the IOG: from concerts and trampolining to trips across Britain and further afield, with a solid foundation of reports of walks undertaken – usually with route maps and pictures.
Ian Robinson led this dual distance walk in his usual fashion. Despite this a good time was had by all.*
While others stayed under their duvets, 14 of the group’s bravest prepared for foul weather and marched for hours through the beautiful countryside. The weather decided to remain dry for the duration which was nice.
At the half-way mark we had a break for food and drink at the Maybush Inn on the waterfront and gained two walkers and a dog.
At the eight-mile mark we lost four walkers and a dog. But we did it on purpose. The rest carried on for three miles through a stinging nettle guard of honour before settling into the Fox at Newbourne just as the rain started, some of us taking advantage of the buy-one-get-one-free Sunday Roast. A smaller group carried on to the Golf Pub in Ipswich until closing time.
In summary…A pub crawl with some countryside thrown in. Cheers.
*In truth this was a well prepared and well led walk with no incidents, accidents or accusations. Thank you, IOG!
30 IOGers had a fun night at David’s infamous annual barbecue in the deeply rural realms of Stonham. True, the weather was awful, but it did not spoil our fun in the slightest. The alcohol and teas and coffees certainly helped to keep us warm, while some of us were dancing away in David’s ancient barn to the tunes of ceilidh music, expertly led by our teacher Glenys.
The next day those of us who had stayed over, and some that just came for the walk, set off on a pleasant amble of around five miles around Stonham countryside and Stonham Barns. We also had a mooch round the Suffolk Surplus site where I spotted an old bike, not sure if it was meant for sale or served as decor. Don’t think of acquiring it to ride it on my forthcoming cycle ride!
For lunch we enjoyed Marie-Louise’s curry soup – it went down extremely well. It was full of amazing ingredients to add to the flavour. We ended the day having coffee in David’s garden. He showed us an interesting item hanging from the ceiling inside one of the many buildings in his garden. To me it looked like a toffee meringue. In fact it was a wasp nest!
A big thank you to David and Glenys as well as our group chef Marie-Louise and to Andy for providing great music. Not to forget all who braved the elements and contributed to make it a special evening.
A brief report on this walk, “led” by the intrepid Ian Robinson.
25 had reported keen to join this 7.5 or 8-mile walk. By 10.30, 12 had made it to the start point, the lovely Bell pub in picturesque Kersey and we set off in the direction of Hadleigh along narrow paths, briar and bramble, a ploughed field, quiet paths and roads. We were blessed with warm sunshine for the first several miles, with the peace only occasionally interrupted by the sound of a light aircraft or a startled bird and more often by laughter and chatter from the group.
Our thoughts were never far from our responsible friends who were missing out due to an IOG first aid course.
The bookies’ odds on 12 returning together were generous and as we gathered for a sit down and bite to eat half way 10 of us were there. That’s 85% so more than a pass mark.
The return leg was a little chillier and there was even talk of rain so the pace quickened, possibly also due to the thought of a drink back at the Bell. Guided by the church landmark the complete dozen actually arrived back together, safe and sound and enjoyed the refreshments on offer at the pub.
A very nice walk with very nice people who politely tolerated me photographing everything and everyone.
Thank you to Ian for organising the day and taking our constant ribbing with good humour.
Lakes Trip Day 1 – Keswick to Black Sail Hut – 15 miles
Report by Rachael, pics Torben.
It was looking a little bit dull and drizzly as we took our first look out of the window. After breakfast it was significantly better, even a couple of patches of blue had appeared. We gathered at 9.30 with full waterproofs ready for our start photo. Surprisingly everyone was ready on time.
We headed out of Keswick along the Cumbria Way. By the time we reached the northern end of Derwent Water we were stripping off the waterproofs one by one. It was easy going, good weather and everyone was enjoying it. As we across the Newlands Valley we got our glimpse of our first peak to climb. Pete was filled with trepidation.
It was a relentlessly steep climb up Rowling End but great views over the Newlands Valley and over to Skiddaw and Derwent Water. And then onto Causey Pike (637m). We stopped for lunch early on the ridge above Scar Crags as some people were getting tired and hungry. As we reached the col before climbing up to Sail (773m) Kearton and Maria decided to take the lower route straight to Buttermere. The rest of us headed on and up to Sail and Crag Hill (839m).
Highest point done, and it was downhill along Whiteless Edge to Whiteless Pike (660m). We enjoyed some lovely views as we headed down towards Buttermere. It was a tough descent, there were a few tumbles. At Buttermere village we met up with Kearton and Maria and took a short break at one of the tea rooms. We couldn’t linger as we still had at least 3 miles to go and it was now 5pm.
The route took us along the southern edge of Buttermere through Burtness Wood. We had a nice flat walk along the edge of Buttermere with great views of the surrounding peaks. At the end of the lake we began our final climb of the day up Scarth Gap Pass. This was a tough ascent mainly due to its being the last of the day. People were tired, but we followed the path and the water up the rocky trail. The climb towards the top is in the process of being improved by the volunteers of the worthy charity Fix the Fells and it was pleasing to think that our group’s charity donation last year was funding the real improvements we could see in front of us.
Once we began to reach the summit of the path, one by one, we all took stock and began the weary descent to our hostel for the night, the legendary and hard to book Black Sail, where we were welcomed in by the delightfully cheery hosts, Chloe and Mike for an eagerly anticipated hot meal.
Top of Crag Hill, high point of the day.
The stress of putting up with each other is starting to show.
Day 2 – Black Sail YHA to Boot Bunkhouse – 14 miles
Report and pics mostly Torben.
The route left Ennnerdale Valley via Black Sail Pass, turning right at the top and continuing along the ridge and up to reach the summit of Pillar (892m). On a good day there are great views down Ennerdale Valley and beyond.
The novelty of starting out from the most remote hostel in England was slightly tempered by the practical implications of the name Black Sail. Sail comes from the Norse word for bog and we were well and truly in it!
Having yet to find their mountain legs, Kearton and Maria took a direct route via Black Sail Pass, Wasdale Head and on to Boot. For the rest, the route took us up and over Pillar, skirting Scoat Fell and on to Red Pike before descending behind Yewbarrow towards the moody, lurking depths of Wast Water where the wind was whipping up white horses.
Our soggy, weary band wound our way to the other side of the lake and across the fells past Burnmoor Tarn before descending into Eskdale to find the retro offerings of Boot Bunkhouse with its communal dorms, cold showers and an abundance of large beetles.
Fortunately the proprietors also own a minibus and the Hardknott Cafe, a mile and a half down the road! A lively evening of good food, local beers and exotic rums ensued, ably assisted by the overworked but ever cheerful Tatiana.
Back there for breakfast in the morning!
Day 3 – Boot Bunkhouse to Coppermines YHA -13.5 miles
Pics Torben & Rachael, text Toby.
We left our bunk house nice and early (ish), and set of in the drizzle for a short walk along a river back to where we ate the night before. Our long-suffering waitress Tatiana sorted out our breakfasts, lunches, teas and coffees, then we were off and up into the fells.
It has been raining on and off for three days now, so there was a lot of water in the streams and underfoot. The ascent involved several dangerous crossings on underwater stepping stones, and at one point we were surrounded by two streams that were running higher than the path! There were a lot of squelchy boots here – definitely a walk where high boots worked better.
Eventually we made it down to the level of Dunnerdale Valley, crossed raging torrents by bridges large and small, and took a brief lunch stop in the pub in Seathwaite.
After lunch we headed towards the byway to Coniston. A long straight climb took us to a crossroads where some went straight on, and some tried for the path to the old man of Coniston. Sadly, as we reached the first peak, the wind got so strong that Rachael was knocked over, and many of us struggled to stay upright. We quickly decided to head back down and follow the others.
We took a diverse set of routes to our YHA destination of Coniston Coppermines: high, low and in my case via the village where I sampled some Kendal Mint liqueur. On arrival the chairman and I decided to test the team’s responses to the fire alarm, and everyone scattered. Much like our standard response to an approaching car.
Tomorrow we are off to Ambleside!
Day 4. Coppermines to Grasmere Thorney How Hostel – 13.5miles
Pics torben etc., text wainright.
First point. Writing this report was forced on me as punishment for taking the only beer in the hostel without offering it to Rachael.
Second point. Rachael cut off the peaks in consideration of hurricane Helene and after intense lobbying from the weakling in the group.
To keep it brief I’ll stick to the main points.
Started at Coppermines hostel near Coniston.
Finished at bunkhouse in Grasmere.
First incident. There are a lot of sheep in these hills. As a natural consequence there’s much sheep shit so if you’re going to tumble you must be take care to organise your landing. Ian got around this by falling in the breck. He may have floundered on his back with his pack like an upside-down tortoise. But he came up as clean as he went down. Sadly no photos of this incident.
Second notable item. Rachael’s carrot to get us moving was promise of cake or similar from a stand outside a house with a trust box. She’d seen such a thing sometime before so assumed it was still around. It wasn’t. Gutted, Heather knocked on a random door and asked if it was a tea shop. “No but I can put the kettle on.” A wonderful hour was spent drinking tea in the warm.
Third item of note. Idyllic spot for lunch. The sun appeared for a relaxing hour. You can see Toby and Torben enjoying Pooh Sticks.
Next item to note. Hurricane Helene hit hard on the way back down to the valley and we had to crouch in a gully to avoid a more rapid descent. We made it to the wood where we accelerated apace when we heard branches and trunks crack. Interesting that those most struggling on the walk were the first through the gate. These two cool (stupid) dudes couldn’t be bothered.
Next. Pub at Langdale. You all know how we would have enjoyed that. There was a power cut but pumps and till on emergency supply. And not enough light for photo so here is something for the record.
Thereafter the walk became difficult. Steep climbs and descents and fast flowing rivers to cross.
Until near the end.
Four days done. Three to go.
Day 5. Grasmere to Windermere Backpackers – 15 miles
Pics various, text contributed by Paul.
Leaving Grasmere, we met Heather’s partner, Damon, who joined us for much of the day. Commencing with a steep climb up Great Rig (766m), we made our way to Fairfield, the day’s highest point at 873m, where we took refuge from the cold wind.
After a brief respite, we found the wind had gathered pace and the temperature had dropped accordingly. Wrapping up, we followed the horseshoe over Hart Crag (822m) and Dove Crag (792m).
The lunch stop afforded us views of Ambleside, and the long descent was rewarded with a welcome visit to Daisy’s Tea Rooms. Cream teas abounded for the ensuing 30 minutes!
The route to Windermere through Skelghyll Wood and along various tracks and paths was wet but simple and a roaring log fire awaited the happy band at Lamplighters restaurant – a great end to a great day.
Day 6. Windermere to Helvellyn YHA – 16.5 miles
Walk 1: The Hard Road
Pics contributed by Rachael; text based on her original route outline.
The route heads out of Windermere up and over the small knoll of Orrest Head which gives great views back across Windermere to the central fells.
View from Orriss Head
Our route ahead to Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, High Street
Rainbow over Red Screes
There’s a gradual .constant climb upwards along Dubbs Road track and then Garburn Road track.
At the top (447m) the route turns northwards towards the summit of Yoke (706m) and on to Ill Bell (757m) then over the summit of Frostwick (720m).
Heather and Pete and III Bell summit
Misty view from Froswick
Lunch stop at High St.
The route continues north along the ridge on the High Street Roman Road to reach the summit High Street (828m). On a good day here you can see Haweswater and Kidsty Pike over to the east.
View towards Patterdale from High St.
Haweswater from High St
Kidsty Pike and Haweswater
On our way down
The route continues on down the ridge, past The Knott and Rest Dodd to Angle Tarn.
Approaching Patterdale and Ullswater
Admiring the view
It is a gradual descent down towards Patterdale with views of Ullswater.
The route then follows the road around to Glenridding before continuing up the Glenridding valley to the Helvellyn hostel.
Walk 2: The Thinking Person’s Way 😉
This is just in case you think that these trips away are ALWAYS gruesome, wet, painful, beyond exhausting (you get which category I fall into). There are mostly alternatives and what follows – titled The Lightweight’s Report by its intrepid, anonymous author – provides an insight and guide. (Ed.)
Text by LW. Pictures by the Film Crew.
SW: We need a newsletter report from you lightweights for Friday and Saturday.
LW: We’re not inspired by the same challenge, that’s all. Perhaps our routes are less severe, otherwise equally demanding.
SW: More bollocks.
LW:You find a route from A to B, crossing as many contours as practical in a day. You’re spoilt for choice. Then all you do is walk it (and survive, which is instinct). One foot in front of the other. I learnt to do that when I was one. We, on the other hand, seek that elusive way that crosses the minimum number of contours. It’s not easy in this landscape. I prefer to describe us as the fleet and elite. Without us as the vanguard preparing the way you’d have eaten at Fred’s Diner and not enjoyed that superb meal at The Lamplighter. So while you lot whinge under your breath slogging from one wet, slippery, boggy, sheep-doings-covered peak to the next with the same view you saw on day one – the backside and backpack of the person in front – we’re enjoying ourselves in the varied and beautiful jewel that the Lake District is.
SW: Still bollocks. How is this demanding?
LW: Sheltering from a downpour.
SW: And this?
LW: Flattest and most sensible route from Windermere to Ambleside without crossing a single contour while you lot were hauling your gear up Badgers Bonk, or wherever, in rain and misery.
SW: Whatever. Just give me the route and I’ll write it up.
LW: OK. Friday – Windermere to Helvellyn. A pleasant stroll past the Windermere villas to the pier at Bowness. We took the steamer Teal for a 30-minute cruise to the Ambleside Waterhead pier (brilliant idea – thanks Rachael).
LW: Re-supplied in Ambleside.
LW: The difficult bit was a long slow climb into Scandale Bottom and a slippery descent to Brothers Water.
LW: We picked up your route at Rooking where you followed about two hours later.
LW: It was a cold and wet walk but at a pleasant pace and a delight with the terrain and scenery changing frequently. We admired the fells to the east where you would have spent your day.
LW: At this point we wondered about re-joining your lot for the final day tomorrow. But after pondering on your colder, wetter, windier, dismal trek today along the higher ridges we decided against it. Nevertheless we admire your fortitude.
Day 7. Helvellyn YHA to Keswick YHA – 16.5miles
Walk 1: The Hard Road
The route leaves the hostel and heads up the Glenridding Valley following the beck up to Red Tarn.
A relaxed morning assembly
Helvellyn looming like a giant crab with Striding Edge its right claw and Swirral Edge its left claw
Looking back down Swirral Edge
From there it follows Swirral Edge up to the summit of Helvellyn (949m) the highest point of the whole walk.
Looking back down Swirral Edge
Helvellyn summit looking east towards Ullswater.
Taking shelter from -3 wind chill.
It then then turns northwards and follows the ridge over Lower Man (925m), Whiteside (863m) and Raise (883m). At Sticks Pass it turns west and heads down towards the northern tip of Thirlmere reservoir. The route then follows along St Johns Beck around the edge of High Rigg and across the valley to Castlerigg.
A relaxed lunch on the way down
Descending into the Thirlmere Valley
Skimming around Great Rigg in the sun
It then contours around the base of Bleaberry Fell above Great Wood with great views down over Derwent Water to the fells beyond. The path joins the road at the famous Ashness Bridge.
Looking south towards Helvellyn
Falcon Crag with Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite in the background
The final stretch of the route drops down to Derwent Water and follows the lakeside path back into Keswick.
Walk 2: The Thinking Person’s Way 😉
Text by LW. Pictures by the Film Crew.
LW: No waterproofs today. Once you lot were off and out the way we trotted back to Ullswater and followed a lakeside path to find a cycle track along the base of Threlkeld Knotts to where we picked up your route between the High and Low Riggs. Some tricky bits though; not getting lost for example. And fast flowing rivers to ford.
SW: Kearton said there was a bridge.
LW: Yes he chose the easy option.
LW: OK we all chose the easy option but we had a plan B.
Did you see this happy pony? Not exactly sure what he was doing against the stone wall but he definitely had a smile.
LW: Joining up with Rachael’s route was a cruel surprise. I hadn’t spotted the concentration of contours. A tough ascent to Lady’s Rake made more difficult because now we’re at tourist level accessible by car. Swarms of them getting in the way. D T-F would have had a field day with his love of such people and armoury of caustic commentary.
Lady’s Rake is an amazing viewpoint for Derwentwater and Keswick.
LW: Then the battle downhill through various named obstacles, Nadgers Buttock and Willy’s Crack or such-like until on the lakeside path where we had a forty-minute wait for you lot – just chilling.
LW: The rest you know. We weren’t expecting the race to the hostel to get showered and dressed in time for dinner (because you were late as usual).
LW: Don’t write this down. I admit it. We took full advantage of all Rachael’s planning and organising, then cheated on the walks. Hers were so tough. The weak and the lame needed a map reader. But I missed the comradeship that arises from shared adversity and more opportunities to be annoying.
Text supplied by organiser Glen, pics by Christina.
The western start of the Angles Way long-distance footpath at Knettishall Heath Nature Reserve was the meeting point for 13 of us for a wander that turned out to be around the 13-miles mark. We headed off eastwards along unspoilt tracks, through rural solitude and pleasing scenery, past Riddlesworth Hall School, through the hamlet of Gasthorpe and skirted by Hopton Fen before passing through Hopton village en route to Thelnetham, going close to the attractive windmill there.
There was no knight on a white charger at the White Horse pub at Thelnetham for the planned drink stop, but more disappointingly there was no publican or bar staff either as the dismayed IOG throng faced the unthinkable of a usually open pub amazingly being closed, at peak Sunday lunchtime too! Other passers-by would have witnessed the spectacle of all the tables outside the pub being occupied by apparently contented customers who were in fact merely IOGers having their packed lunches there in protest! Fortunately, the possibility of a minor group mutiny was averted by a subsequent visit to The Vine at Hopton on the way back.
Two of our throng succumbed to the seemingly hypnotic beckoning of uncollected onions lying on a field (most of those reading this who weren’t on the walk can probably guess correctly who they were!), but almost all of us were more than happy to yield to the lure of a perfectly positioned ice cream van on our return to the car park start point.
A good day enjoyed by all, excellent walking conditions, and the NW Suffolk corner probably gained a few more enthusiasts as a consequence.
It was a dull morning that greeted the nine people who had chosen to join me on my annual visit to Chappel Beer Festival. The weather forecast looked grim to say the least. However the rain held off for the entire day. Walkers (and beer tasters) included Andrew (a friend of mine from Ely) and three prospective members (from Poland, Portugal and Kenya) along with Tony, Michelle & Mike and Anne & Lou.
We set off from Colchester main line train station just after 11am and were soon walking across fields and countryside, alongside rivers and around golf courses on this beautiful eight-mile walk. Arriving at the 32nd Chappel Beer Festival just after 2:30pm (held at the East Anglian Railway Museum) we were soon sampling some of the many beers and ciders on offer. It was a well-deserved end to a great walk. Amongst my drinks I tried the aptly named Thirsty Walker brewed by our very own Dove Street Brewery (photo attached). A familiar face joined us at the beer festival in the form of Robin.
There was entertainment as always too: some official entertainment like the Morris dancing which started just after we arrived but I gave that a miss and likewise the ferret racing which attracted a large audience. Some not so official entertainment included the group of guys we met dressed up as Jesters – when asked why, they weren’t sure.
The festival gets busier every year and we were so fortunate to enjoy it seated outside. Thanks to everyone who came along to my event. Raising a glass to you all.
Pics contributed by Christina inter alia; text by J. Bradbury.
An assemblage of 14 IOGers completed the punishing trek across the hills and prairies of Suffolk from Framlingham to Ufford in blazing sunshine. The distance was verified by technology as 21 miles which is much closer to the target distance than is usual (or expected) and a total ascent of 222m – impressive for Suffolk. There were two necessary diversions (aka mistakes) which presumably account for the extra mile.
Despite the leisurely pace, extra extended stops had to be introduced so as not to arrive at the pub too early which makes a pleasant (if inexplicable) change.
The triumph was celebrated with a dinner of jaw-dropping pub cuisine and alcohol at the Ufford Crown and, as is now customary (or should be), the posse plied the leader with drinks.
No injuries to report. However, a mutinous undercurrent was apparent when some members attempted to pervert the plans by usurping the leader’s authority and taking a poll on an alternative route from pub to station. This is unacceptable behaviour (alcohol obviously a factor) and was stamped on immediately. Ringleaders noted.
Scotland is far, far away from Ipswich. We were going to Torridon in the north-west Highlands, described by Bob as ’50 miles past the arse-end of nowhere’. Many of us chose to do the long drive over two days. I was part of a group who stayed in Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria on the way up and again on the way back. Sarah, Paula and Bob in one car, and Karen and me in the other. Karen was to be my driver for the week. She was surprisingly patient and didn’t seem to mind whenever I instinctively slammed on my non-existent brake pedal.
Kirkby Stephen Hostel used to be a YHA hostel but is now run independently. It is a former chapel and still retains the old church pews as seating in the lounge and dining area. Like many hostels, it has a selection of board games. Unlike many hostels it also has a massive selection of Duplo building blocks. I found myself on my own in the lounge for a while waiting for the others to get ready. Time to build a castle. When the rest of the group saw me building a castle they found it surprisingly funny. But it was not long before they all joined in. Many of them keen to make their own ‘improvements’. I am not convinced that what we built would conform to current building regs.
Our plan had been to eat out somewhere that night. But Kirkby Stephen was either full or shut. So takeaway curry was our first meal of the holiday, and very tasty it was too. Then it was time to raid the games cupboard. We found Trivial Pursuit, Genus edition from 1984. A fellow guest, a charming American guy with his two daughters, joined the game. We soon discovered that playing individually was no fun at all, so Group Trivial Pursuit was born. Exactly the same game but everybody helps everybody else with the answers. It also had that extra level of complexity because for some of the questions we had to work out what the answer would have been in 1984. Our new American friend kept answering all the questions about America while constantly apologising about Donald Trump.
Saturday – Don’t mention the A9
Time to leave Kirkby Stephen and head to Torridon. Google Maps was our sat-nav for the trip and it announced that there was a hold-up on the A9. While filling up with petrol at Stirling Services, Google Maps suddenly declared the A9 was now clear. But Karen had made up her mind that we would be taking the scenic route. So we ignored Google, waved goodbye to summer and drove north into the drizzle.
We drove along tiny, twisting roads through the villages and countryside. Here we discovered that, in Scotland, once you get off the main roads the terms ‘A-road’ and ‘B-road’ don’t always give you any sort of clue as to the road’s quality or width. A tight corner next to a steep drop caught us slightly by surprise, but Karen managed to very impressively slide the car around it. On the way past I glanced down over the edge and noticed a sign that someone had previously hit. It now stuck out at a jaunty angle and offered the advice ‘Danger of Death’. It was nice to think that any driver who mis-judged that corner would have something to read as they hurtled over the edge.
We carried on through the beautiful, mountainous countryside. Every turn offered yet another stunning view. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were not yet at the ‘good bit’. Could Torridon really be better than this?
We were communicating by text with the other car in our party. Google was mistaken and the A9 was definitely not clear. Our fellow travellers were having the journey from hell and were stuck in a traffic-jam due to what sounded like a particularly nasty car crash. Unaffected by the road snarl-up we continued along our little back-roads and joined the A9 way beyond the point of the hold-up. We commented at the time that there was not much traffic about.
It was late afternoon when we took the turn into the valley that lead to Torridon. The sky was clear, the rain had stopped and the sun was casting long shadows. Everything we saw looked like it should be on the lid of a box of Scottish Shortbread. The only thing missing was the sound of bagpipes, instead our soundtrack consisted of S-Club 7 and the Spice Girls. ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really, really want’. Well at that moment I had all I really wanted; Torridon is truly beautiful.
We arrived at Torridon Youth Hostel. A pack of particularly aggressive midges had been lying in wait and they decided to feast on me. We hastily unloaded the car. The rest of our group arrived throughout the evening, all of them sharing their frustration about the A9 traffic jam. I have already mentioned Scottish A-roads and B-roads. I got the distinct impression that many of our group wanted the A9 re-classified as an ‘F-road’.
We were soon all together, the last to arrive being Colin and Louise at 10.20pm. I wanted to share my first impressions of the drive through the valley into Torridon, but many of us had arrived in darkness and had no idea what I was talking about.
Day #1 – from Torridon YHA to Inveralligin and Alligan Shuas
Text and contributed by Pete; pics by Pete and Simon.
On Saturday 25 Aug, a bunch of intrepid adventurers finished their challenging two-day trek across Britain and began to arrive in dribs and drabs at Torridon. Many tales could be told of their various epic battles, uphill and down dale – Simon had a particularly thorny engagement with a pile of Duplo bricks in Kirkby Stephen – but the final congregation in Torridon Youth Hostel was the start of what is hoped to be a phenomenal Scotland trip, courtesy of Sarah Sheppard.
Many of us woke up, still nursing the scars and memories of bitter feuds caused by being stuck in a metal box for two days straight with our closest friends. After a cautious start to the day, we all came to the conclusion that with the weather looking a little dicey and everyone still feeling somewhat exhausted, that day #1 should probably not involve going too far into the wilderness.
Sarah and Alan led us down the main road, before eventually joining a footpath along the shores of Upper Loch Torridon, which shares the name of the local village and our youth hostel for the first part of the week. After passing a few jetties and watching a speed boat motor up and down the loch, we were starting to wind down from the epic car journey.
Our initial goal was to head over to Inveralligin, a small village further along the loch. It wasn’t long before we were quickly overwhelmed by what we suspect will become a regular feature of our week away – the infamous Scottish midges. Our discussions of various strategies began in earnest, from Avon creams used by the army (allegedly) to the Smidge sprays available in the hostel, all the way up to the full netting headgear. Simon demonstrated this, and ended up looking either like a bank robber or a ninja, depending on how you squint your eyes.
We pushed on towards Alligan Shuas, a small rise, before doubling back on ourselves and climbing back up to the road and heading back to Torridon. We quickly came to the conclusion that looking out for speeding cars was far preferable to swiping constantly to disrupt the swarms of midges. We eventually trudged back to the hostel, bringing the total distance over 12 miles. Considering we were mostly on the flat, this may not sound a huge goal, but lots were learned. By day #2, we were ready to tackle the local wildlife – whatever it threw at us!
Text contributed by Ruth [with inserts by Simon]; pics by Pete, Ruth, Paula and Simon.
Day two and some were ready to walk up a proper ‘lump’ as Alan refers to them. The starter walk along Loch Torridon yesterday had been a taster, but we wanted to get higher.
[The plan was to climb Beinn Damh, apparently pronounced something like ‘Ben Dare’. It is classed as a ‘Corbett’, reaching a height of 903 metres (2,962 feet). The weather forecast claimed that the cloud would lift around the time we aimed to get to the top. – Simon]
Eight of us started at the car park of the luxury Torridon Hotel (resisting the urge to stay put and enjoy a cream tea, we headed up through Ben Damph Forest). The weather was foul to start with and once we left the cover of the trees all our waterproofs were required. It was at this point I suspect some of us were having to remind ourselves we were on holiday!
The route became steeper and underfoot less stable. Soon we were using poles and hands to scramble our way further upwards. Lunch was supposed to have provided a vista across two valleys, but was currently shrouded in mist. Then as we broke out the tupperware, the cloud also began to break. As we continued munching, the views towards the youth hostel and Torridon and over to Skye revealed themselves to be pretty spectacular. Revived by this turn in the weather and some food we continued up the ‘lump’.
The poles and scrambling continued as the path began to disappear and we were grateful for Alan’s expert navigation to steer us forward. After about an hour the author decided to ‘rest’ on a rock and enjoy the scenery leaving the others to make it along the final ridge and up to the peak of Beinn Damh.
[Beinn Damh translates as ‘Hill of the Stag’. We didn’t see a stag but we did find a rather beautiful frog on the way up.
The view from the peak was amazing. Totally clear and we could see for miles. Yet again I was struck by the sheer beauty of Torridon. We basked in the sunshine and optimistically removed waterproof trousers. Reluctantly we re-traced our steps and went back down the way we had come up. The better weather had brought the midges out and as we got further down the hill towards the trees it was time to wear the midge net. – Simon]
After they reached the summit, the IOG Chair then took it upon himself to come looking for the author (i.e. his big sis) and encourage her to at least make it to the next peak to see the views and more importantly not dishonour the Edwards family reputation by quitting too soon 🙂
It was amazing and am thankful he did. Yes, we were tired on the return leg, and probably should have started earlier given half the kitchen crew were in the group, but what an amazing day and a fabulous bunch of people to spend it with. Another successful IOG walk (8 up and 8 down).
[Back at the hostel it was time for the second of our communal meals. Karen and her team served up some tasty fajitas. – Simon]
Day #3 – Tuesday: ‘We almost died!’
Story and pics contributed by Simon
Again the weather forecast was not great. A bit of drizzle, a bit windy and low cloud, or as Alan put it ‘normal for Scotland’. Many of the group decided this would be a good day to do a car safari in search of interesting shops and cafes. The rest chose to do an ‘easy walk’ featured in a leaflet Mike had found – the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail from the car-park at Loch Maree.
The path headed up steeply through woodland and gained height very quickly. In theory, all we then had to do was walk from cairn to cairn to the top, but it was very rocky and it was easy to miss a cairn in the rain. At one point we all thought we were probably not on the path, and it was only when we had passed the cairn that I noticed it. But we were having fun making our own route at this point, so we carried on scrambling up the rocks instead of heading over to the proper path. I am pleased we went the way we did because it made Mike utter a phrase that became a standing joke for the rest of the trip.
Our route narrowed. We got to a short section with steep rock on one side and a shallow drop on the other down to the water below. We all made it okay and no one was in any real danger, but Mike did keep reminding us that this was nothing like walking in Suffolk and that ‘we almost died!’
We rejoined the path and headed up to Conservation Cairn at 560 metres (1837 feet). This is marked on the map as a viewpoint and on a clear day you can see 31 Munros. It wasn’t a clear day, so we didn’t. We might not have been very high but it had been a great scramble in places.
The rain was now heavier and it was getting very windy. We yomped along the top to where the path turned back down towards the tree-line. We had our lunch at the most sheltered spot we could find. We ate our sandwiches and snacks and the midges ate us. I donned my midge net again, which made eating a bit tricky. We were soon back down at our cars, soaked-through, wind-blown and grateful that Torridon Hostel had a wonderful drying-room.
That evening we told people about our day over a few beers. With each telling the cliff grew steadily larger, the ledge grew narrower and the drop more life-threatening. The only constant in the story was the phrase ‘we almost died!’ Mike spent five minutes having a conversation with a Scottish guest in the hostel lounge, only to return to us and declare that he couldn’t understand a single word that the guy had said.
We all had a meal at the Torridon Hotel that evening.
Day #4 – Wednesday: Over the sea to Skye
Story and pics contributed by Simon
It was time to leave Torridon and head down to the hostel at Ben Nevis. Many of our party took the opportunity to drive over to the Isle of Skye. Our only Scotsman, Ian, suggested Sligachan as a place to meet-up for lunch. Legend has it that if you dip your face for seven seconds in the river water by the Sligachan Bridge, you will be granted eternal beauty. Karen was the only one of our party to do it. My comment of ‘Don’t worry, maybe it takes a while to work’ didn’t go down very well.
Our journey down to our next hostel was again beautiful. We drove past mountains, lochs and waterfalls. We stopped to take pictures of Eilean Donan castle. Later that afternoon we arrived at the hostel at Fort William. It had only recently been renovated and everything was shiny and new. There was talk that evening about the weather forecast. We seemed to do a lot of that on this trip. The next day looked okay but if the Met Office was to be believed, Friday would be wonderful. We decided to tackle Ben Nevis on Friday.
That evening it was time for another game of Trivial Pursuit (again from 1984). As we had found earlier the game is much better when everyone tries to help everyone else. When we were stumped for an answer a quick dash around the seating area would get our fellow hostel guests involved. Some of them were a bit surprised to be asked seemingly random questions about World War 2 poetry.
Day 5# – Glen Nevis
Story contributed by Simon; pics contributed by Paula and Simon
The group split up a bit. Some wanted to do a short walk to conserve energy for Ben Nevis, others wanted to visit distilleries or take cable-car rides. I joined a small group for a walk led by Alan. We headed away from Ben Nevis and looped around a hill called Bidean Bad na h-lolaire before joining the West Highland Way back to the hostel. The forecast had said cloud would drop a bit in the early afternoon, which would mean the summit of Ben Nevis would not be clear. I kept looking over at the mountain during the day to see if that was correct. It was. We walked in great conditions, but our ascent of Ben Nevis the following day promised to be even better.
Alan had warned us that The West Highland Way would be busy. And of course he was right. We stopped to have lunch overlooking a small loch (Lochan Lunn Da Bhra) and watched as a steady stream of Highland Way walkers plodded past. It looked there was a group every 200 metres. After lunch we joined the path, like traffic filtering onto a busy road. The map showed that we should be walking through forest initially, but much of it had been felled. We walked through a landscape of tree stumps and broken branches before heading into the remaining forest.
Back at the hostel I decided to make a meal using only free food that other hostellers had abandoned. ‘Pasta Surprise’ seemed to be a success.
Day #6 – Big Ben Nevis
Text contributed by Simon; pics contributed by Paula, Simon and Colin.
We started the day with a hearty breakfast cooked by Bob and his team of helpers. At nine o’clock we were all ready to go. Ben Nevis stands at 1,345 metres (4,411 feet). It could not be described as a pretty mountain, more like a colossal, ominous slab of rock.
Our ascent began in bright sunshine and under clear blue skies. Conditions were perfect. We could clearly see the lines of walkers already on the path, looking like ants against the massive mountain. Walkers of all shapes and sizes were on the crowded path, including a few dogs. We even saw a Chihuahua being carried to the top in a rucksack.
Navigation was easy; the route is glaringly obvious. The path keeps a fairly constant gradient all the way, with no scrambling at any point. The views were amazing. There is a loch halfway up (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe), and the water was azure blue and sparkled in the sunshine. The top is not a peak, more a large rock-strewn plateau. There were a lot of people up there, many of them queuing for the obligatory photo round the trig point.
Chairman Peter had carried a bottle of wine and plastic glasses to the top so we could have a celebratory drink at the summit. He also presented Sarah, our trip organiser, with an ‘I climbed Ben Nevis’ medal and t-shirt. It was windy and cold , however, and after a brief lunch stop it was time to start heading back down. The group soon became stretched out. Some wanted to get down quickly, others chose to take their time. But we all enjoyed the amazing weather; it is hard to imagine better conditions. We were so lucky. Everyone was glad that we were doing Ben Nevis at this end of the holiday. If we had the weather that had greeted us in Torridon, the day would not have gone so well. Everyone who attempted the walk to the top finished it.
After a few celebratory drinks and dinner back down at the hostel it was time for our final game of (Group) Trivial Pursuit.
Day #7 – Saturday: By bye Scotland
Story contributed by Simon
The sky was grey. There was drizzle, again. It was time to leave Scotland and go back to Kirkby Stephen. We had been so lucky with the weather the previous day. When we crossed the border back into England it was like someone had turned off the tap and flicked on a light switch. The rain stopped and we were suddenly in bright sunshine. The terrain gradually changed as we headed south, becoming softer and more forgiving the further we got from Scotland. Karen and I had time to visit Brough Castle near Kirkby Stephen before meeting up with the rest of our group back at the hostel.
The lady who runs the hostel enthusiastically greeted us and we shared tales of our trip. Then it was time for a very good meal at the Black Bull Hotel. We got back to the hostel at 11pm but we didn’t want the holiday to end so it was time for another game. Not Trivial Pursuit this time, we chose Junior Monopoly. The following day we would head back home. It had been a great trip, with some great people.
The idea originated three years ago. After an evening stroll in the Claydon area we settled inside the Crown in Claydon for a social drink. Here, Marie, then a new member, spoke very enthusiastically about her work at Aspall Cider and found an interested audience. A possible guided tour on the grounds of the company was discussed. It was clear that this was going to be popular in the IOG community.
On the day Marie’s debut event as an organiser finally arrived, 19 of us met her and Stela at reception at Aspall Cider’s HQ north of Debenham to sign in and receive high vis vests and hard hats. Thus adequately equipped we embarked on a fascinating tour round the whole production site, expertly led by Operations Manager Marie. Stela made sure nobody stayed behind, and she and Marie safely navigated the group around cables and pipes and up and down stairs. The whole site including the machinery and flooring looked remarkably clean.
Marie knew her stuff. Amongst much technical detail we learnt that the proportion of culinary apples and bittersweet apples in the product determined its level of sweetness and finish to the palate. We also heard about the perils of contamination as well as stones and other debris blocking pipes, and the importance of sugar in the fermentation process to produce the desired alcohol percentage. Our tour led us to the Cider House, a listed building, which contains the original stone press as well as a selection of modern cider and vinegar bottles currently on the market. I noticed some pretty ceramic containers dating from the early 20th century in which the ciders had been transported to the London markets.
One of the many highlights of this tour was the sample tasting hosted by Chief Cyder Maker Colin. He queried who amongst the group liked wine and expressed his satisfaction on learning that there was a fair number who did. Because, he said, cider was in reality apple wine, going through the same pressing and fermentation process. Colin gave expert advice on the quality and taste of each product and how these qualities were achieved. We learnt that the company produces juices as well, counting Marks and Spencer amongst its customers. However, to ensure the quality of Aspall products, the highest standards had to be applied, and there were times when contamination with rotten apples and dirt meant the apples could only be used for cider production.
Much to the surprise of the American buyers who acquired the company a year ago, Aspall prides itself on its vinegars as a side-line. I have only recently discovered their apple balsamic vinegar, which is excellent for marinating and dipping.
Clement Chevallier founded the Company in 1728 on the grounds of the family estate which since then has contained an extensive orchard. We were to discover this for ourselves when we enjoyed a picnic there after the tasting session. Henry Chevallier and his family still live in the mansion on the grounds. Henry remains involved in the design of new products, and he and Colin share an office in an old cottage.
Marie and Stela deserve a big ‘thank you’ for organising this very successful event and spending much of their Sunday at their normal workplace. Many thanks to Colin also for giving up some of his weekend time. I believe all our members present went home highly impressed by the expertise of Aspall staff and quality of the company’s products.