Sun 25th Mar, 2001
Southport Foreshore Walk
Along the airy mountain
Members: Frank and Margaret Williams, Iain McCallum, Linda Crossley, Michelle Harvey, Mark Garrod, Roger Dyke, Chris Thickett, Christine Beeston and possibly others to whom I apologise now.
Guests: Kate Sparks, T E Lawrence, Ibn Sa'id, Marco Poodle et al
This meet was hurriedly arranged as an alternative to the distinctly superior venue of Mallerstang Fell in a bid to at least walk somewhere after being effectively under house arrest for some weeks. The initial spirit was well expressed by Chris T's email whichemail, which basically said, "I can't stand the thought of it but I'll go mad if I don't go somewhere".
Thus the 1st Eleven met at Southport pier on a bluish day of dashing sun. Subsequent Elevens had wisely stayed at home. The tide stayed in for a few teasing minutes to add a dash of interest before in leapt back towards Ireland like a time lapse film. The first major obstacle of the day (apart from crossing the road) was the descent of the sea wall - all of 2m. The downward tilt of the feet required for this manoeuvre stirred some vestigial memory in one or two of the company who recalled adopting a similar position sometime in the remote past when they used be mountaineers. Once having reached the beach however, it was plain sailing because the tide had come back in.
Route-finding could have been a major source of interest in thick mist but since this was not in evidence we had to content ourselves with deciding whether to pass on the left or right side of this piece of flotsam or that. Mind you, given the navigation skills of some members this may have come as a great relief. Apart from the continuous talk - which probably contributed significantly to global warming since the tide positively refused to go for some minutes - interest had to be sought in the minutiae of the littoral environment. Thus in the same way as the Inuit have thirty different words for 'snow' so we came to recognise at least thirty different forms of sand. Shifting one's line to avoid the soft calf-ripping stuff that Olympic athletes are reputed in their perversity to seek out, was a real challenge. Well, sort of.
Pressing south past the kite-powered beach buggy fraternity among whose straining wires it would have been quite easy to be excitingly decapitated, someone whispered, 'Ainsdale Hills' and the spirits lifted briefly at the prospect of some relief from the all-pervading flatness. And this was not entirely dissipated by the hauling into sight of three stalwart members of - they insisted - the Southport Mountaineering Club complete with their de rigour hand-held plastic rucksacks by Tesco. They said that they specialised in beach routes but they looked more like a bunch of well-spoken refugees who'd slipped off a container ship at Seaforth and were looking for work in Blackpool for the season.
After about three - or was thirty? - hours on the southern tack we reached the tree line and realised that the really serious decision of the trip would have to be made: to pitch camp or beat a retreat. But where? Had we actually crossed the Equator or the International Date Line; and where was it anyway? Whipping out a sextant and declaring, "I see no ships!" Mark trained his eye on Formby Point navigation beacon, noted a text message from the local coastguard based in Eskdalemuir, and scrauped - this is the Beduin term - a well-heeled line in the sand. Thus far a no further!
So badly exposed, dehydrated and exhausted were many of the party that the message took some time to sink in: they stood around in dejected knots - not to be confused with redshanks - for two or three minutes before turning their faces into the searing wind and heading back up the seven - or was it seventy - miles to the shelter of Base Camp. Now the real value of the training on the outward leg showed up with the party getting well spread out behind the race leaders. Nor was it the young and agile who always dominated: the old hands like McCallum, drawing on every sand grain of his military experience in Egypt, streaked away, the dunes flashing past on either hand - he didn't know which. Others lost time and complained that they'd spent all day passing water, not without some truth.
An attempt to regroup was only partially successful because the tide - which had left long streaks of itself lying around - decided to come in again in the form of a river across our tracks. Different strategies for crossing this led to further fragmentation and only the tantalising mirage of an ice cream van provided a focus for the more exhausted. Thus it was that the leading group found themselves making sand castles until caught once again at the pier by a weary, drooling and white-lipped bunch of clowns - also looking for work in Blackpool?
All that remained was the ascent of the sea wall - all 2m of it. The upward tilt of the feet required for this manoeuvre stirred some vestigial memory in one or two of the company who recalled adopting a similar position sometime in the remote past when they used be mountaineers. Once having reached the road, however . . . they hobbled with the best of them. What blisters, what torn calves, what cramped and aching thighs - it was never like this on real mountains.
This meet has been re-arranged due to the Foot and Mouth Disease Crisis
One of the few remaining places to walk appears to be the foreshore so as an alternative to the original plan I'm suggesting that we gather in Southport and walk down the beach to Alt Mouth/Formby Point. Its not possible to do it the other way round because access to the beach in the South in prohibited through the dunes.
Meet at 11.00am on the beach at the landward end of the pier. You used to be able to park on the beach there, but in any case there are car parks nearby in town.
This could be a fairly bracing excursion with quite difficult walking on dry sand. However, high tide is about midday - something to go to S'port for in any case - and this will firm things up for a while under foot.
Anyone who would care to spend the evening at Bank Cottage en route home will be fed and 'watered' and some members are bringing slides to make it an even more interesting slot. If you plan to join us, esp. for the evening, would you let me know by March 22nd at the latest please.
The Mallerstang Walk would have been:
This is one of the more substantial and rewarding Pennine routes over good ground once onto the tops and with fine open views in good conditions. Pendragon Castle offers a bleak reminder of times past. Other more congenial accommodation available locally if required: details from the meet leader.
Meet at 09:30 Sunday morning at Aisgill Moor Cottages (GR963777). Modest parking on the side of the main road and possibly along the track to Hell Gill. The route from there will be NW on to the Swarth Fell - Wild Boar Fell ridge; N over Little Fell and down to Pendragon Castle via High Intack Gill. Lunch at the castle. Up Gale Sike to the north end of Mallerstang Edge thence on to High Seat at 801013. From there the national park boundary is followed over Hugh Seat down to Hell Gill and the road. A bad weather alternative swaps one of the ridges for a return along the River Eden. Total distance: ca 15mls. Map: OS Outdoor Leisure 19 Howgill Fells.