Otters, Serendipity, Dartmoor and Appin

We saw an otter yesterday. It was fishing in a Cumbrian river – we saw it from a footbridge on the edge of town.

As usual, serendipity plays a large part in seeing otters. Go and look for them and – unless you’re on a Scottish island, where you’ve a chance – you’ll not catch a glimpse.

Now, this is a walk we do most days, though usually in the other direction. Had we done it that way yesterday we would probably not have seen the otter. But circumstances changed the direction, and we were just in the right place at the right time.

Otters are quite magnificent to watch, hard to think of any creature so adept at working with water.

But, as I’ve said, you have to be lucky. I once spent several months doing an otter survey on the Dartmoor stretch of the River Dart. I found lots of otter tracks and the spraints, but never glimpsed an otter. But twice I’ve seen otters on the Dart, twice on the Teign and once on the Lyd – all when I wasn’t looking.

When I was in my teens I sat where the leat crosses the road in the middle of Buckfast on a busy Saturday afternoon. There were crowds of people there. But as I sat there, a dog otter came along the leat under the road and watched me for several seconds before going on its way.

On a misty day I walked up the Wo Brook from Hexworthy and, close to the slab bridge on the Hensroost Mine Track I watched an otter for a long time.

Actually, yesterday’s otter was the second I’ve seen this year. In June I got a glimpse of an otter feeding at Port Appin, as we waited for the ferry for Lismore.

I hope to see a lot more.

A Day on Haystacks

What better way to start a Monday morning than to climb Haystacks – that iconic Lakeland height so much associated with Alfred Wainwright. And last Monday morning was a particularly fine morning – warm weather, blue skies and very clear views.

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Haystacks (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We went up from Gatesgarth Farm, admiring the views over Buttermere and Crummock Water as we went up.  Easy going too, up to the Scarth Gap, which is, I think, one of the finest mountain passes in the district.

Then the scrambly rough path up to the top of Haystacks – and still very warm on the top.

Wainwright was right, Haystacks makes a wonderful viewpoint, both downwards as you look towards the lakes and across to the greater heights – the long ridge leading from High Crag, then mighty Pillar and Great Gable.

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A view from the Fell (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The top too is a very pleasant mixture of rock and tarn – including Innominate Tarn – the resting place of Wainwright’s ashes. There’s a fair few other fellwalkers remains up there as well.

We walked the length of the ridge, to make our descent by the Warnscale Beck. I think this circuit is well worth doing, for going down this way you get to see the mighty cliffs and crags of Haystacks – and very impressive they are. And on this Monday morning, the light made the rocks stand out with great clarity.

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Innominate Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The Warnscale Beck, with its waterfalls is a grand sight too, the noise of its waters rising up to the very summit of Haystacks.

We halted for a while at the Warnscale Bothy (maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association) – what a lovely place to seek shelter. Well done the MBA and the volunteers who keep it in such excellent condition.

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The Bothy (c) John Bainbridge 2017

So if you haven’t been up Haystacks at all, or not for some time, why not schedule a trip?

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Buttermere and Crummock Water looking down the Warnscale Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Interesting that much of its fame goes with its association with Wainwright. Looking along my bookshelves at old Lakeland books, it’s interesting that most give Haystacks the briefest of mentions. Hard to think why?


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The Crags of Haystacks (c) John Bainbridge 2017


Did you like Villain?

A big thank you to everyone who’s bought Villain, my latest book in The Chronicles of Robin Hood saga.

If you enjoyed it and bought it from Amazon, please do leave a review on the sales page. Every review really helps sales and gets the word out there about my books. You don’t have to put much – even a sentence or a couple of words helps.

And if you haven’t read Villain, it’s still out on Kindle and in paperback. Here’s the link so you can have a free read of the opening and to order a copy.

And do please tell your friends who like historical fiction…

Thank you, John…

Walking to Green Bell

The other week we walked from Ravenstonedale to Green Bell on the northern side of the Howgill Fells.

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Distant Green Bell (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Now, sensible walkers take a circuitous route from the village, via Knoutberry.

Not us!

We went for it direct, through a mile or two of rain-soaked boggy moor grass, wending our way across some very miry moorland.

Who dares… sploshes…

It was a bit like some of those trackless bits of Dartmoor, where you leap from tussock to tussock and fight the worst kind of clinging vegetation.

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A Friendly Native (c) John Bainbridge 2017

When I was younger I used to cross miles of that sort of Dartmoor terrain without even noticing. Sadly, my energy levels and muscle recuperation are not quite what they were. So now I feel the pain on harsher ground.

So I recommend that you don’t take the direct route unless you are trying to burn off excess fat or giving your leg muscles a good workout. Be sensible and do the recommendations in the various guide books.

Mind, if you like moorland birds our route is worth a go, for this is a land of curlews and snipe and enough others to delight the heart of any twitcher.

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On the Summit (c) John Bainbridge 2017

And there are some lovely ponies which you might be lucky enough to see, very much like the illustration Wainwright provided in his book on the Howgill Fells – AW must have seen their ancestors.

A steep slope from Knoutberry (a local name for cloud berries) leads up to the summit of Green Bell. It’s all worth it when you get there, for the views are very fine. Glorious vistas over the Howgills, the Eden Valley, the Pennines and the Lakeland Fells. Grand wild country.

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Looking over the valley of the Lune (C) John Bainbridge 2017

Not far away is the source of the River Lune, which gives Lancaster its name.

We headed back along a better track from the summit, heading north to Stwarth (yes that’s the correct spelling) and High Greenside.

Walking in Eden

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A Passing Squirrel (c) John Bainbridge 2017

After a very heavy night’s rain, I set out from Appleby to walk part of the Hoff Beck and the River Eden – a walk I’ve done several times before. I first did this the other way round a dozen years ago, on a day of pouring rain. I wrote a chapter on that in my book Wayfarer’s Dole.

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Contented cows near Bandley Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017.

But this time I headed for the Hoff Beck first. Interestingly, much of this part of Westmorland was once part of Scotland, for not even William the Conqueror could make his mark in this wild country – one reason why there’s no mention of it in the Domesday Book.

The rain cleared early, though the grass was still wet as I made my way across the fields to Bandley Bridge. The Pennines glowered darkly in the distance, capped by a long bar of cloud. The fields were grazed by herds of contented cows, their numbers parting as I made my way through their midst. The sun broke through as I took the steep descent to the bridge, accompanied by the sad cry of a curlew.

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Bandley Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Peaceful spot, Bandley Bridge, with the waters of the Hoff Beck (two good Viking words) flowing beneath. I saw a kingfisher here once, though not on this day. A footpath leads to a steep bank of the beck called Cuddling Hole. I don’t know for sure why it’s called that, but I can speculate!

I followed the Hoff Beck upstream to the hamlet of Hoff, seeing only a red squirrel on the path as I journeyed on.

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Rutter Force (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Lots more herds of cattle in the fields between Hoff and the waterfall of Rutter Force. A herd walked slowly down from Low Rutter Farm, presumably after milking, just as cattle must have done since the Vikings settled these lonely valleys – though the breeds have changed. Some stayed with me and others wandered across the footbridge to the other bank.

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The Hoff Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Rutter Force is a charming little waterfall, just made for picture postcards. Only sad that the little tea shop, where the proprietor once kept the tea and toast coming for me on that first wet day, has gone.

On then up through the fields to the cottage known as Donkey’s Nest (it has a more prosaic name on the OS map). Then down a long lane to Great Ormside, where I sat on the stone steps which once surrounded a cross rather than the present tree.

I’m convinced that the track leading away from Great Ormside was once a drovers’ route, it is so broad and green. Drovers often came this way, bringing the beasts not only from neighbouring Dales villages, but out of Scotland. I saw no one, but another squirrel cavorting in a tree just a few feet above my head.


The sandstone here is a most vivid red and was quite slippery after the rain as I made my way to the banks of the River Eden. The footpath winds high above the river for a while, before descending to the water – a real poacher’s path if ever there was one. Only the noise of the birds and the river, echoing across the valley.

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Drovers’ Route? (c) John Bainbridge 2017

In the fields beyond the woods are remnants of what must have been the park for Appleby Castle, once the home of the diarist Lady Anne Clifford, whose recordings should be read by anyone interested in the England of the Seventeenth Century and the English Civil War.

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River Eden (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Early Ferry to Lismore

We caught the early foot-ferry to Lismore, in beautiful weather on the last day of May. If you want a peaceful day off from the world I commend this lovely Scottish island to you, unspoiled and with some of the best views in Scotland.

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The Lismore Ferry (c) John Bainbridge 2017

After very heavy rain the day before, we were apprehensive that the weather would be rough, and we had come to Appin particularly to visit the nearby island of Lismore. But like a miracle, it cleared into one of those quite perfect Scottish walking days, with absolutely clear views for miles.

Even before we left on the ferry from Port Appin, I’d spotted an otter through a pair of binoculars borrowed off a waiting bird watcher.

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Lismore’s Past (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The ferry takes just a few minutes to take you across the Lynn of Morn to The Point on Lismore. The sea was as calm as glass.

The views from Lismore were quite superb. We’d often seen the island from our many trips across the CalMac ferry to Mull. I’d imagined it a flat and barren. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Lismore has quite a variety of landscapes, and is much more wooded than I’d thought.

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Medieval Grave Slabs (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We followed the very quiet lane to Clachan, where stands the island’s lovely church. There was once a cathedral here in the early days of Scottish Christianity. The present church is calm and peaceful, with some excellent stained glass – outside there is a display of fascinating medieval grave slabs, and a sanctuary stone opposite, marking the boundary of the distance you might wander if you’d claimed the protection of the church.

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On the coast of Lismore (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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The Broch and the mainland mountains (c) John Bainbridge 2017

On the way down the lane we watched a farmer pull in at a gate. He had several bottles of warm milk with him. He stood by the gate and began to call out, doing an incredibly good impression of a ewe. Surely, after a few moments two lambs, either abandoned or orphaned, trotted up to him.

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A Medieval Sword (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We ambled on up the lane to the heritage centre and cafe run by the local community – and excellent it was. I recommend the locally-made ice cream. There’s a splendid little museum too, illustrating the life of the island. Well worth a visit.

The friendly lady there told us that it seldom snows on Lismore, though they get a lot of rain and high winds. She added that the mountains on Mull and the surrounding mainland look magnificent from this island viewpoint.

The island is thriving, she said. Young people who had left were now returning. There were currently three new babies on the island.

We followed a lane down to the long island loch called Baile a’ Ghobhain – a rather beautiful stretch of water, reedy at this end. Just before the farm of Balnagown, we took of across country, scrambling across walls and through fences, to Trefour Castle. Not a castle as such but a broch.

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Baile a Gobhain (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The fallen walls of the broch are about fourteen feet high and it must have been an intimidating structure during its Pictish heyday. It seems to have been used for several centuries, possibly even by the Vikings whose long ships were once a familiar sight in these waters.

We followed another lane back up to the island’s main road – oh, that all main roads were so quiet and peaceful, heading off to see Port Ramsey, a long row of cottages by the sea, built originally for workers in the limestone quarries. Apparently, some of the islanders still commute by boat to work at the quarry on nearby Morven.

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The Broch (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Back then along the lane to The Point and our homeward ferry, admiring once more the many flowers common on Lismore – primroses, rhododendrons, flag irises, and so many more. During the day we also saw a shrew and a hare – the latter were reintroduced to the island some thirty years ago.

Lismore is a very peaceful and spiritual island – it nearly became the religious centre of the area instead of Iona. A wonderful place to relax and potter around.

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Port Ramsey (c) John Bainbridge 2017