Wednesday 1 January 2014

Leg 12 - Rawdon - Golden Acre Park - 3rd November

So after all the delays, we managed to complete the Leeds Country Way with a good few weeks to spare (thought I feel that I'm pushing the envelope a little with the the last post written with 2 days left in the year!) 

It was a strange feeling, getting in the car for the last time together, parking up in a strange road and setting off with a piece of paper in one hand (mine) and a smartphone with maps on in the other (Matt). 

I had been looking forward to this part of the walk for ages because it covers a lot of ground near my house, so every now and then we'd pop out and I'd instantly recognise where we were from numerous running routes. However, it was very pleasing to see how much more I didn't know and some really picturesque parts that would be easily accessible for future walks.

The route dives quickly into woodland and one of the steepest hills we came across. I say this only because we did the walk again with some friends and in my head it was much flatter than it actually is. The route comes out onto fields and some of my favourite views out over Leeds into Bradford and the glorious weather and the slight nip in the air seemed to suit the final air of the walk.

A few twists and turns brings you into the Hunger Hills (not sure of the origin of the name) which are easily some of the nicest woods on the walk, if not the hilliest. About halfway up, the path hugs the outer edge of the wood and it stops at a great lookout point with a bench, which is definitely worth the effort to get to. Looking back, there's been a lot of woodland on the trail and it's been fun to see it in all different seasons, as well as making us realise just how green Leeds is for a large metropolitan city.

The Way leaves the woods and takes you around the edge of Leeds Trinity (the 3rd biggest university in Leeds) and a bizarre track alongside buildings and the running track but which runs between 2 head high hedges...interesting to walk with a baby in a backpack, even more interesting to walk when there's another person coming the other way!

After crossing the road and coming through a short piece of woodland, the trail comes out into fields near to the airport where we decided to take a coffee break using the airport wall as a natural windbreak. The field apparently is home to some very inquisitive horses who came over to visit, incredibly closely so to the point where we had to fend them off Jake and one of them made off with an apple! It made us laugh a lot and has been one of the real highlights. The proximity to the airport was also kinda cool as we live under the flight path so seeing planes coming in so close was exciting (and Jake absolutely loved the noise!). There was something a little sad about packing up from our last coffee break, having had 12 great breaks across Leeds. It was at that point that we started talking about the next challenge as we've both enjoyed the walk and the time spent hanging out.

The path then hit Owlet Farm and some of the more boggy land that we've walked through. It was also about this sort of time that Jake fell asleep and it was incredibly hard to keep my footing with his head moving from side to side. It comes out near a timber yard where bizarrely our friends who repeated the walk with later on saw the tree that had been chopped from their garden.

The next section takes you round the Cookridge Cricket Ground and out into the backroads where I spend a lot of time running. It was strange to be there with Jake in the backpack rather than out front in the running stroller, but it also good knowing that we were on the final straight.

After passing a Scout hut and the outer edges of Rushes Farm, we picked up the gate at the back end of Golden Acre Park where I first saw signs for the Leeds Country Way and the start of this whole idea. Coming through the gate felt like a homecoming as we entered the last half mile of the walk which I've done many times with my wife. It felt strange feeling tired coming back through the woods alongside the river as well as a little emotional at the end of the project.

One of the big changes that's happened this year is Jake starting to walk, so I decided to get him out of the backpack to walk the last 20 yards or so. Walking hand in hand with my son is one of my favourite past times so it was a great way to finish a great walk. It's been fascinating going back to the pictures of Jake in January and seeing just how much he's grown and changed whilst staying in the backpack.

Our conversation naturally turned to the next project as we came back to the car park where it all started 11 months previously. Maybe it'll be our grand plan of walking the whole thing in a weekend (wife depending!) or maybe another longer challenge like the Pennine Way. Either way, it'll be need to be as fun, different, unusual and enjoyable as the Leeds Country Way.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Leg 11 - Thornbury - Rawdon - 6th October

Writing this a few days after the walk, it seems strange to be planning the final leg of the walk. On the one hand, having done 3 walks in the last 5 weeks means that we'll definitely have the whole thing done in one year, but on the other hand, I will miss have the challenge and writing this blog. I'm trying my hardest not to look back at the first legs and the attached photos to see just how much Jake has changed and grown since January. I will, however, be able to work out whether,  with the combination of Jake's weight gain and my weight loss since January, our total weight has increased or decreased.

After the glory of leg 10, we were unsure whether the next leg would reach the same heights and whilst the weather was a little more overcast, the walk itself was another belter. When we talk about doing the walk in 2 days next year, we always talk about where we want to start and finish. Assuming that the final leg will also be a good looker, we've decided that we'll end it with the run of legs in north Leeds to give us some good scenery to cheer us on.

So onto the walk. The first part, round some playing fields in Thonrbury, was massively overgrown and unpassable, a fact that we discovered very quickly, but not quick enough to avoid being stung by lots of nettles. My legs have only stopped stinging a day or so ago! Fortunately, the route quickly dives into woodland again, prompting even more autumn woodland photos from Matt.

We then got a little lost, but with the help of Walk Bot (aka Matt's phone) we safely navigated a golf course and down a metalled road by a disused quarry. This was only a short bit, but did cost leg 11 top place in my favourite walks of the route. However, once past the Lodge, the Way picks up the West Country Park again and makes it way through Ravenscliffe Wood alongside another stream and through further woods and parkland into the top end of Calverley. It was another fun surprise to pop out onto the A657, my wife's main route to work, and realise I knew exactly where I was. It made me think of the time when we found the A64, and it put the size of the walk into perspective.

The path drops down immediately on the other side of the road and into some deep wood next to a babbling brook. The moss was deep and thick (or at least in my head it was!) and as we meandered through, we came across numerous dog walkers making me think that I need to take my wife onto this part of the walk. As the route turned uphill, we found a field with some pretty views to stop for a coffee and a snack.

Very quickly, the route turns into a climb then turns left onto a wide bridleway including my favourite sign so far:

We then came out at Apperley Bridge and after nagivating some sports fields we picked up the river Aire, much narrower but much quicker than when we last saw it in Swillington. Again, seeing it in different locations gave us some more feeling for the scope of the size of Leeds, something that you can't really get by driving or flying over it. The sun came back out at this point, and for a mile or so the route runs close by the river along what felt like a towpath. We also came across what is actually THE house of the route so far. The grounds were so big that we only saw glimpses of the house across the five a side football pitch sized garden, complete with several dozen square feet of solar panels.

The final stage of the walk is a climb through thick woodland, along muddy paths and private land (including bollards controlled by keypads!) and out onto the A65, less than 5 minutes from home and with the very real prospect of only 1 walk left to complete the loop.

Total distance = 5.5 miles
Total time = 2.5 hours
Cumulative distance = 56 miles
Cumulative time = 27 hours 30 mins

Leg 10 - Cockersdale - Thornbury - 28th September

I don't know if it was the beautiful sunshine, the extremely pleasant company or the fact that we spent 90% of this walk in fields next to babbling brooks, but leg 10 was certainly one of my favourite walks so far. Our friend Rich (remember him from leg 2?) was back up in Leeds, so we arranged the walk to include a large picnic so that we could have some extra hanging out time. The weather played its part, and the whole afternoon was a glorious mix of food, countryside and banter.

We set off from the Valley Inn and immediately left the main road behind, heading into farmland and pastures. After a short while of walking through fields, the path starts to run alongside a local beck and after stopping for a photo shoot of the first meander (we're covering rivers at school), we followed the river as it snaked its way along the bottom of fields. A footbridge took us over the beck and through further woodland up to Tong Lane, one of the few times where this leg met metalled roads.

At this point, the LCW joins the West Leeds Country Park, a massive expanse of trails, woods and parkland that covers the swathe of undeveloped land between Pudsey and east Bradford. It's clearly marked and the paths are all kept relatively clear of debris. The route follows the beck for around a mile and a half and we spent all of our time admiring the sun dappled leaves as the river bent back and forth through woodland.

It was at this point that we realised just how much wildlife we had seen on the walk thus far. There had been a busy farm with chickens and ducks as we left the Valley Inn, horses romping around in the fields near the first set of woodland, cows off in the distance and finally a set of pigs snuffling in the river. Jake was enthralled by them and we chose a spot nearby to stop for a lengthy picnic. It felt strange to be sat within the Leeds metropolitan boundary but be surrounded by trees and hills and fields. We must have sat for an hour or so catching up and commenting on the beauty of the walk so far.

From there, the route continues to follow the river until a large bridlepath joins from the right at which point we came upon one of the few big climbs that we've covered on the Way so far. After walking for miles upon miles of walking on the flat, it felt like a lot of hard effort to slog uphill. Mercifully, it wasn't more than a few hundred yards to the top and it was followed by some steep downhill through a quiet and pretty residential area.

The route comes out by Buffy Lump Cottage (one of my favourite named places so far) and goes between high hedge rows and a disused sewage works out into further farmland on a large hill. It was here that we found the next "must have" house, a big square pile with a large garden and panoramic views over the countryside. Way out of our price range, but it's all part of the fun of the walk.

One railway crossing later, we finished with a gentle climb up Daleside Road and stumbled into the Farmer's pub on the Leeds ring road, just over 10 miles from our starting point in Golden Acre Park.

Total distance = 5.5 miles
Total time (not including picnic!) = 2.5 hours
Cumulative distance = 50.5 miles
Cumulative time = 25 hours

Saturday 21 September 2013

Leg 9 - Needless Inn, Morley - Cockersdale - 1st September

This leg is the shortest of all 12, coming in at just 4 miles, so it seemed right that we tackled it on a grey day at the start of the academic year before the pupils came back as a way to get back on track and clear the cobwebs for the new term. The walk runs through my new stomping grounds of Gildersome, and indeed past the front of the school where I completed my teacher training year. Given that I still work in the village, there was always going to be the risk that some of my students would see me, but given that we had aimed for another early start, most people were still abed when we came through.

The walk is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts off well, through well made tracks into Birkby Bow Wood, which would be a fantastic place to come back to in bluebell season according to people to live nearby. However, the woods are still enchanting with clear paths and plenty of dog walkers around even at that time of morning. The scenery entertained Jake, who insisted on throwing his head back (almost tipping me over at times) and giggling maniacally to himself. My walking partner made the observation that when he did this, you couldn't see him if you were walking towards us which made it look like I was making the sounds.

A combination of poor directions, unclear paths and uncertainty in the woods from Matt's phone app meant that it took us a couple of tries to get out of the woods, eventually scrambling up a near vertical slope (harder than it looks with a 30 pound baby on your back!) and out into farmland following tracks between the fields. It was only after a bit of detective work and an good deal of battery use on the phone that we met the right track again leading into the populated part of the walk. We stopped for coffee, biscuits and tomatoes, and some wonderful pictures of Jake in action.

The next part of the walk is bereft of highlights. There's a good mile or so of road walking to get you out of upper Morley, across the M62/M621 junction and through Gildersome village. It was interesting to walk the route on foot as I'd only ever been there in a car, but even so it felt like a necessary evil to get back to the path.

After finally leaving the houses behind, we came to possibly the narrowest path we've been on. It may have been horrendously overgrown, but the combination of fence and nettles meant that we had to pick a careful path along the edge of fields and down a big slope to a river. It was at this point that we got overtaken by the first set of runners doing the Leeds Country Way relay race and we started to wonder how long it would take a team of runners to run the 63 mile course. Even at a quick speed of 8 mph, you'd be looking at 8 hours between them, and that's not counting for getting lost, stumbling over uneven ground and climbing over styles. A bit research shows that this year's winners completed it in just over 7 hours, with the final team coming in at over 13 hours. A long day's running, especially if you're the last person waiting for the baton.

We were overtaken by a few other runners as we completed the walk across a few fields, coming out onto the A58 and the Valley Inn where a few marshals were cheering on the runners and admiring Jake in his backpack. We're now 3/4 of the way round, which seems to have come round very quickly and with only 3 more walks to go, Golden Acre Park seems incredibly close.

Total distance = 4 miles
Total time = 2 hours
Cumulative distance = 45 miles
Cumulative time = 22 hours, 30 minutes

Sunday 4 August 2013

Leg 8 - East Ardsely to Needless Inn, Morley - 27th July

The difference between the seventh and eighth legs of the walk couldn't have stood in brighter contrast if they tried. If the word for leg 7 was uninspiring, then the word to describe leg 8 was dramatic. Part of this I think was due to the impending rain storm that hovered above us for large chunks of the walk but part of it was finally getting back into some open countryside and the views out over South Leeds in the last mile or so of the walk were some of the best that we've seen so far.

The paths leaves the pretty town of East Ardsley fairly quickly and runs between two fences for half a mile or so down between various fields. Tall trees grow close to the fence offering some well needed shade and after the confusion of the last leg it was a relief to have the route so clearly laid out in front of us. The steepness of the hill also meant that views out over the rest of Leeds were becoming more frequent. A slight moment of panic ensued when the instructions told us to turn right into a field which was full of cows, but after adopting the correct position for trying to catch wild animals (we failed, sadly) we passed by them with no incidents

You come out onto Blind Lane which takes you past a whole line of farms and agricultural factories, inlcuding Leafield, which even after having read the sign a few times, I'm still not quite sure what goes in and what comes out of the factory...and I'm not sure that I want to know! After the farms came some of my favourite scenery so far, rolling hills and hedgerows as far as the eye could see, something that I will miss when I leave England behind.

Passing over Hey Beck in amongst some quiet woods and tall hedgerows, we found one of those secret places that childhoods are made of and that make all of the unpleasant parts of the LCW all worthwhile. The sun dappled rocks and gentle sussurations of the water over roots made me want to bring Jake back here with a picnic as the walk there is worth repeating.

Emerging from the countryside, the route picks up a road for a short while, and after crossing over into farmland, an important land mark was reached. We'd not thought about the walk as a circle before, but I realised that as the way turns right alongside a wooded beck, we'd reached the most southerly point of the route and we stopped for a minute to celebrate, before turning east and north again under ever darkening clouds.

When the route brings you out into the far end of West Ardsley, it takes a while to work out the precise instructions after crossing the A653, but again with the smart phone and Leeds OS map to hand, we were able to navigate a long thin path through tall brambles alongside a disused railway line.

The last mile or so of the route is probably my favourite so far. You climb a gentle hill and rewarded with gorgeous views, a hill that drops steeply away and the ruins of Howley Hall. The paths are clearly marked and are well used by other walkers, but the openness and colours felt like a just reward for the long walk. After stopping to drink it all in, we descended the hill and onto to Scotchman Lane, ready for the next leg in a month's time.

Total distance = 5.5 miles
Total time = 2 hours 15 minutes
Cumulative distance = 41 miles
Cumulative time = 20 hours 30 minutes

Leg 7 - Swithen's Farm to East Ardsley - 27th July

A combination of another month or so of misaligned weekends and holidays and my wife going back home with Jake for 10 days meant that Matt and I decided to make a real push today on the walk, managing to walk 10 miles and completing two legs in one day. Whilst we might not walk again till September, we're now back on track at one walk a month (on average!).

Leg 7 was distinctly uninspiring. There comes a point after the third walk through farms near the motorway that the rolling hills and scenery of the first few legs seems like a different country. We started off at Swithen's Farm bright and early with the intention of making a pub for lunch as a reward for 10 miles worth of walking. We instantly ran into problems as we had moved onto the third sheet of the walk, but had finished just before the end of the second. Taking a guess as to which footpath to follow, we ended up in the wrong end of Carlton, and were only saved by Matt's phone and some logical reasoning about where leg 7 was meant to start.

The route quickly leaves the village, but the author of this leg tended to use 10 words when one would suffice and those 10 words weren't always the most accurate. Admittedly, the route is sometimes indistinct, cutting across agricultural fields and will and sometimes just being little more than a game trail alongside a hedge.

Fortunately, the weather was warm, we were in no particular rush and there's a certain amount of pride at having decoding some poor directions and realising that you're on the right track again. We came out the farm land near Robin Hood and crossed under the M1 and into more farmland. The route is here is not clear, possibly due to the growth in the fields but also the instructions give little or no help. Fortunately, the smart phone with the Leeds OS map came to our rescue and after a few false starts, we were back on track. After crossing the M62 (via a disgusting tunnel), the instructions showed their age when where there should have been a pleasant stroll along Dolphin Beck, there was a now a new shiny housing estate. I guess it must be nice to have views out over the hills, but the lack of trees and the cookie cutter nature of the houses made me feel a little creeped out and we were pleased to get back on the Way by the Nook Pub. 

The route then curves away into fields and we stopped for coffee in one of the few places with a decent view. The last part of the leg takes you through what felt like the corn fields from Gladiator (cue a small photo shoot) before spitting you out into East Ardsley. We took a photo here to demarcate the end of one leg and the start of another, and realised that this would have been a great series to have done after each leg. Next time round perhaps. 

Total distance = 5 miles
Total time = 2.5 hours
Cumulative distance = 35.5 miles
Cumulative time = 18 hours 15 minutes

Sunday 7 July 2013

Leg 6 - Methely to Swithen's Farm - 7th July

Up until this point, we were roughly on track for one walk a month. I had jokingly said at the start that we'd give ourselves a year to do all 12 legs, and having done three by mid-February, I thought we'd be done by the summer holidays. Today, however, saw us get to the halfway point with less than half the year to go. We should fit it all in, but with a run of weekends away and holidays coming up, there may be more autumn and winter walks than we had anticipated.

Today was easily the hottest day of the year so far, and given that both of us melt horribly in the heat, we decided to make an early (8am on a Sunday!) start to get the most of the cool temperatures. I'm pleased that we did, as when we stopped at the end, I think I would have collapsed if someone had told me to go and walk another 5 miles. Fortunately, we'd both brought plenty of liquid and after a thick layer of factor 50 sunscreen all round, we set off in the beautiful sunshine.

The main image in my head from today is big fields of plants and flowers. After leaving Methley, which is suprisingly pretty in places, we picked up a track between massive fields of (something...need to research here!) which was interspersed with sharp red poppies. Matt is red-green colour blind and so needed some prompting to take pictures as they didn't appear to "pop" to him as they did to me. Hopefully the pictures will come out looking great! We walked slowly here, enjoying the views.

The route then twists and turns along some roads and some pretty cottages before bringing you out on the edge of Moss Carr Wood. Again, on the left were massive fields with lovely open views and on the right were the woods, a tangled mass of trees, brambles and flowers. Sadly, you can't get in there as we were ready for a drink.

We at this point got into a long discussion about sex education in schools, completely forgetting that we had no idea where we were and the next instruction to follow. It was only when we came across a farm, with a view down to the path of a bridge over the M62 that we figured we'd missed something as the instructions usually tell you about buildings you pass. We really realised this when we walked past the llama enclosure and the animals came out to see what we were doing. I love llamas, from their gawky legs to their comedy toupees and Jake sat and giggled at them during a photoshoot.

We sat for drinks and snacks (Jake inhaled a banana and then proceeded to smear the excess all over my shirt...maybe I need spares for me as well as Jake!) in the shade of a tree outside the farm house and with the sun gently warming the air, life was pretty perfect. We backtracked and eventually worked out that a "path junction" actually meant a right turn between rocks along the side of a field, a time when the instructions could do with being a little clearer! Eventually, we worked out where we needed to be (a bit of compass work and "this looks like a narrow field to me, how about you?" guess work!) and crossed a field and down a path with nettles on one side and thorn bushes on the other. After trying to manouevre slowly and carefully and failing miserably, I figured my best shot was to go quickly, avoid the nettles and give Jake his pacifier when he started to cry. He only came out with a small scratch on his face so we feel it was worth it.

The rest of the walk was along metalled roads, past Royds School (the first place that I've recognised from my days working across South Leeds!) and on to Swithern's Farm, which has the longest approach road known to man. However, when we got there, we found a farm shop with a play park and a horse show, and given that we were less than half a mile from the intended end point, and the sun starting to really beat down, we decided to call it a day there so we could have ice cream and coffee and buy some fantastic sausages for a barbecue (pork and black pudding in some, caramelised onion and cracked black peppers in other). This also means we can eat pie there before starting the second half of the walk

Total distance = 4.5 miles (not including getting lost!)
Total time = 2 hours 30 mins
Cumulative distance = 30.5 miles
Cumulative time = 15 hours 45 mins