Thursday, 21 July 2016

It's not big, but it is clever.

Having been confined to low level hikes for a while now I've had time to "compare and contrast" them to high level hikes and there are a number of interesting differences between the two - some things are better and some are decidedly more annoying...

1.  Gates

There are a lot more gates on low level hikes and, in my experience, pretty much every single large farmers gate is an absolute nightmare.  I'm not blaming the farmers, nope, I want to understand how we can put a man on the moon but farm gate manufacturers can't create a farm gate that works properly.

The most common fault is dropping down 3 - 6 inches as soon as you unbolt them, meaning you have to hoik them back up by the same amount whilst simultaneously trying to thread the bolt back through the alarmingly tiny bolt hole.  Then there are the wooden ones where the bottom drops off as soon as you open it.  Or the ones who've given up on bolts and have an intricately knotted rope instead, or a big loop of rope that fits over the gatepost but which can only be returned back over said gatepost with the combined strength of 6 men and a large tub of KY Jelly.  

2.  Mud

Where there's gates there's mud.  Lots of mud.  Cows in particular congregate around gates plotting their escape. You could attempt jumping across, but that never really works.  Or there's the ballet/ ninja approach where you try desperately to creep along the 3 millimetres of solid ground around the edge.  Then there's the "I'll just wade straight through, how deep can it be?" approach...

3.  Navigation

All things being equal, there's a lot more navigation required for a low level walk.  High level navigation goes something like this:  "See that big hill over there with the sodding great path up the side?  Go up it."

Low level navigation on the other hand requires instructions such as "Bear right after the second kissing gate to follow the route half left across the next field." or "Keep left at the fork then turn right at the third oak tree after the second yew." or "Run quickly over the bridge or the trolls will get you."  (I may have made the last one up).

4.  Bracken

Of course there's bracken on high level hikes, but there's a sort of a "bracken line" and you soon push through it, not so on low level hikes, where you can be wandering around in bracken for hours at a time.  If you're tall and gazelle like, like Steve for instance, you can peer regally over the top of it.  If, on the other hand, you're more earth like in your dimensions, you begin to understand what life must have been like for the Borrowers as you crash around getting slapped in the face by large fern like fronds.  Particular fun after heavy rain.

5.  Hills


Just because it's low level doesn't mean it's flat.  There are still hills and 3 "small" 150m hills = half a Scafell Pike.  It's like eating Haribo - the first couple of handfuls are fine but once you've eaten the entire bag you need a bit of a lie down.


Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott

Choose your low level hike wisely and you will be rewarded with amazing views.

View from Warton Crag
7.  Animals

I've said "animals" but basically I mean cows.  You get sheep on the high fells, but they generally take flight as soon as they see you, not so a herd of cows.  The phrase "nosy cow" was coined for a reason because they *always*want to know what you're up to.

Most of the time you can shoo them away but, joking apart, they can be dangerous and I do my best to avoid a field of cows if they have their young with them.  If you need to cross a field of cows: make sure you know your route and exit point, check for other escape routes along the way, if they approach walk confidently and if they're in your path, walk around if it's safe to do so - and always be sure never to get between a heifer and her calf..  

There are often horses too, but they're usually a lot less trouble.

8.  Overgrown paths

The high fells in the Lake District are so well walked that overgrowth isn't an issue, in fact they usually have the opposite problem with too many feet eroding the hillsides.  If you want to escape the crowds find yourself a nice low level walk, and pack a machete.  We encountered the above stile on a walk earlier this week - it had been fine when we crossed in back in April but clearly no-one else had been near it since.  It's definitely more of a challenge, but it's also more of an adventure and I really love finding paths that no-one else seems to walk - just so long as I can send Steve on a ahead to clear me a route.

9.  Flowers & Forests

Bee Orchid

Buttercups, daisies and rare orchids - the lowland meadows are filled with them - and each time you visit there's something different to see, just don't pick them!  We found a spot where there were rare Lady Slipper Orchids growing and the second time we went back to take a look someone had picked a bunch of them.  Really?  REALLY?  You care enough to go and find them, then yank them out of the ground?  Don't start me.

And what about forests and woodlands?  You can't beat a woodland full of bluebells and garlic in the spring and in the summer you can keep cool and you wander along their shady paths (or, more accurately, shelter in them when it pees down.)

10.  Pubs and cafes

One of the very best things about low level hikes is that you can pause along the way for a bit of this...


 ...and one of these

Don't get me wrong, I do miss the high fells and can't wait to get back up there, but there are no pubs and cafe's on top of Skiddaw as these two TripAdvisor reviewers found out to their dismay.

Not that we haven't tried recreating the experience - I just don't think beer and high fells are a great combination.  Mind you, it's not advisable to try walking anywhere after more than a pint of Old Peculiar...

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