The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Itís been a while since we did a trip to this part of the Peak District, but the Dovedale area is always fabulous. As we knew some of our ďregularsĒ were not going to be about, I wasnít at all worried that we could only get eight beds at Alstonefield YH. Alstonefield is only a small place, but with eight beds we effectively took over half of it, with our own kitchen and lounging facilities. This proved to be just as well as in addition to our own weekend guests we had a number of "day" visitors to accommodate.
The hostel itself is a converted stone barn, not unlike the barns you see dotted around the fields nearby, only generally those arenít fitted out with cosy sitting rooms, a fully functioning kitchen and en-suite bedrooms. The main advantage of the hostel, apart from proximity to a pub, was its location: ideally situated between Wolfscote Dale and Dovedale, it was clear from the start what walks we would be doing over the weekend.
Saturday saw us head east of the hostel and descend steeply into Wolfscote Dale before heading north up the dramatic rocky valley to Hartington. Hartington is a very picturesque village, boasting its own youth hostel and a number of fine teashops, which we definitely took advantage of!
Following a generous stuffing with cake we set off south, almost missing our footpath which was artfully concealed behind the gents toilets, and down into Beresford Dale. From here we deviated from the route in the book and headed over to Wetton and a brief† visit to Thors Cave, returning to Alstonefield just as the sun was going down for super-sized portions of sweet and sour chicken.
Sunday had us undertaking a similarly spectacular walk along Dovedale, taking in the spectacular grounds Ilam Hall. The fun part was crossing the stepping stones, some of which were under water. A great weekend was had by all.
It all started with an itch on the top of my head during our February committee meeting. Planning CYHA events would make anyone scratch their head, but this itch just got worse. By the time I got home I had a rash on my forehead, which soon spread to the rest of my body. After looking at some very unpleasant pictures on the internet, and a call to NHS Direct, there was little doubt: it was chickenpox. "Thereís no treatment, youíll be better in one or two weeks, and donít scratch!" was the advice. Of course, there was little sympathy when I phoned in to work, much laughter, and "only 5 year-olds get that!". Somehow I missed out when I was 5, and the older you are, the worse you get it.
My target was to get better for the weekend in the Peak District Ė Iíd been looking forward to visiting Alstonefield, and really didnít want to miss it!
The best treatment I found, after some hours googling, was to bath in vinegar (of which there was an ample surplus in the CYHA food crate). I may not have come out sweet-smelling, but it did relieve the pain.
After a week, I was feeling better and the blisters were crusted over, so it was safe to venture out and experience the horrified expressions of those who noticed my scabby, unshaven appearance.
Luckily, by the weekend, people no longer fled at the sight of me, and I was able to make it to Alstonefield, and had regained just enough energy to enjoy some really good walks. It was great to be out in the fresh air after a week or so confined to the house.
And fortunately, despite unknowingly being highly infectious during the committee meeting, I seem to have got away without wiping out the rest of the group!
Thank you to Helen B for organising a super walk around Hanningfield. Itís tempting to go back when the bluebells will be out. By then I may have recovered from the Royal Tiger All-You-Can-Eat buffet!
Islands at the Edge of the World
During last Mayís trip to Scotland, Dave and I took a few days out from the rest of the group to do a tour of the Outer Hebrides. Planning for the trip was critical, so naturally I left it all up to Dave.
With the group visiting a couple of choice locations we didnít want to miss out, so the idea was that after a couple of days at Glen Coe we scoot off on our own then join up with everyone again at Ratagan.
We set off in sunshine, driving over to Mallaig to take the ferry over to Skye. With the good weather we were particularly pleased to have plenty of time to amble across the island taking in the perfect views. By the time we caught the ferry from Uig, the sky was beginning to glower, giving dramatic shafts of light through the stormy clouds as we approached North Uist. As we were landing pretty late, we were keen to get to the hostel asap as Gatliff Trust hostels, whilst charming, canít be booked in advance and we really didnít want to camp in the face of an oncoming storm.
As it turned out we neednít have worried: Bernaray hostel had plenty of space. We laid out our sleeping bags and still had plenty of time to run around on the beach outside admiring the fabulous rainbow before the storm, that had been threatening all afternoon, finally swept in.
The next morning we woke up in our cosy little Blackhouse and stepped outside. At the front of the white-washed stone cottage is a narrow band of grass, then a short, steep slope leading down to a wide, sandy shore. A little way out in the bay is a line of rocks in a rough curve. According to a pamphlet in the hostel, the rocks are the remains of a Viking harbour Ė not many hostels can boast that!
It was with some regret that we had to leave, but sadly our schedule didnít allow for a longer stay: there was a ferry with our name on it, heading for Harris. Our next hostel was Rhenigidale, the very first of the Gatliff hostels tucked away in a secluded village that didnít even have a road to it until 1985. We spent a lovely evening huddled around the hostel fire trading stories with the other hostellers.
From Rhenigidale we took a drive out to the legendary Callanish stone circle. It was a bit of a rainy day, but the site was still incredible. A ridge fairly bristling with stones in a formation not unlike a celtic cross.
Unfortunately the rain did not let up, so we made an early start for the next hostel: Garenin Ė one of a whole village of Blackhouses, down by the sea on the north coast of Lewis. We were lucky to get beds! The rain had driven in a whole load of campers from down the road. We spent the evening in the local museum listening to tales from when the village was inhabited.
Our last day on Lewis dawned bright & sunny. Our ferry back from Stornoway wasnít until late afternoon, so we filled our morning with a visit to a re-created Blackhouse, realistically filled with smoke from the central fire, before visiting the Butt of Lewis, northernmost point of the island, for a cliff top walk.
And so our visit to the Outer Hebrides was over. All that was left was to pick up a wheelbarrow load of Mr Macleodís finest black pudding on our way to the ferry, back to join the rest of the group.
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