The Aberfan Disaster Remembered 50 Years On

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of one of the worst post-war disasters in Britain when on an ordinary October day, a quiet village in South Wales literally had the world fall in on them.


The village of Aberfan sat beneath the spoil tips of the Merthyr Vale Colliery.   Throughout the 20th century coal had been dumped on the hillsides above the village.  The locals had long protested that they were unsafe but their concerns had been ignored.  What had also been ignored was that the spoil heaps were much taller than the National Coal Boards own safety recommendations.   The facts that the spoil was splace on such a steep slope and blocked natural springs meant that they were fundamentally unstable and sooner or later disaster was bound to strike.

Early on the morning of Friday, 21 October 1966, after several days of heavy rain, a subsidence of approximately 10–20 feet (3–6 m) occurred on the upper flank of colliery spoil heap No. 7. At 9.15 am more than 150,000 cubic metres (5,300,000 cu ft) of water-saturated debris broke away and flowed downhill at high speed. It was sunny on the mountain but foggy in the village, with visibility only about fifty metres (160 ft). The tipping gang working on the mountain saw the landslide start but were unable to raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been stolen. The official inquiry later established that the slip happened so fast that a telephone warning would not have saved any lives.

The front part of the mass became liquefied and moved down the slope at high speed as a series of viscous surges depositing 4,200,000 cubic feet (120,000 cu metres) of debris on the lower slopes of the mountain. A mass of more than 1,400,000 cubic feet (40,000 cu metres) of debris slid into the village in a slurry 40 feet (13 m) deep.

The spoil from Aberfan coal mine swamped the village

The spoil from Aberfan coal mine swamped the village

The slide destroyed a farm and twenty terraced houses along Moy Road and struck the northern side of Pantglas Junior School and part of the separate senior school, demolishing most of the structures and filling the classrooms with thick mud, sludge and rubble up to 30 foot (10 metres) depth. Mud and water from the slide flooded many other houses in the vicinity, forcing many villagers to evacuate their homes. A huge mound of slurry blocked the northern end of Moy Road; lesser amounts reached Aberfan Road.

The pupils of Pantglas Junior School had arrived only minutes earlier for the last day before their October half-term holiday. The teachers had just begun to record the children’s attendance in the registers when a great noise was heard outside. They were in their classrooms when the landslide hit: there were heavy casualties in classrooms on the side hit.

Nobody in the village could see it, but everyone heard the roar of the approaching landslide. Some at the school thought a jet plane was about to crash and one teacher ordered his class to hide under their desks. Gaynor Minett, an eight-year-old at the school, later recalled:

It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can’t remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes.[12]

After the landslide there was total silence. George Williams, who was trapped in the wreckage, remembered:

In that silence you couldn’t hear a bird or a child.


150,000 tonnes of coal and spoil rumbled down the hillside on October 21st 1966 at Aberfan.

150,000 tonnes of coal and spoil rumbled down the hillside on October 21st 1966 at Aberfan.

After the main landslide stopped, frantic parents rushed to the scene and began digging through the rubble, some clawing at the debris with their bare hands, trying to uncover buried children. Police from Merthyr Tydfil arrived soon after and took charge of the search-and-rescue operations. As news spread, hundreds of people drove to Aberfan to try to help, but their efforts were largely in vain. Water and mud was still flowing down the slope, and the growing crowd of untrained volunteers hampered the work of trained rescue teams who were arriving. Hundreds of miners from local collieries rushed to Aberfan, especially from Merthyr Vale Colliery but also neighbouring collierys around the valleys. More men came from pits across the south Wales coalfield, many in open lorries with shovels in their hands, but by the time they reached Aberfan there was little they could do. A further threat was posed by a fresh torrent of water, released by two water mains, supplying the city of Cardiff, which had been fractured by the avalanche breaking through the old railway line embankment. The additional water flooded into the already saturated mounds of slurry. The flow of water was eventually stopped at 11.30 am.

A few children were pulled out alive in the first hour, but no survivors were found after 11 am.

 – Alix Palmer on her first assignment for the Daily Express newspaper wrote to her mother….

By the next day, 2,000 emergency services workers and volunteers were on the scene, some of whom had worked continuously for more than 24 hours. Rescue work was temporarily halted when water began pouring down the slope again. Because of the vast quantity and consistency of the spoil, it was nearly a week before all the bodies were recovered.

The rain held off until teatime then started drizzling. By 7pm it was pelting down. One of the houses shattered by the avalanche was still burning. No-one had yet been found alive or dead from any of the ruined houses.

By this time, the slag had had time to corrode the skin of the children still buried and many brought out burned could only been identified by the clothing or things in their pockets. One little boy, whose father, a teacher at the school who had saved some of his son’s classmates, was identified by a slip of paper with his name on deep inside his wallet…

Men who had started digging at 9.30 the previous morning, were still digging, with shirts off and bodies sweating despite the cold.

I saw such dreadful things, Mummy. They brought out the deputy headmaster, still clutching five children, their bones so hardened that they first had to break his arms to get the children away then their arms to get them apart. And the mothers of two of them watched it happen.

I saw limbs brought out which bore no resemblance to human arm or leg, flesh burned away by this dreadful stuff, small children already beginning to decompose because there had been air-locks beneath the slag.

Just 250 yards from the disaster site, the tiny Bethania Chapel became a temporary mortuary and missing persons bureau from 21 October until 4 November 1966 and its vestry was used by Red Cross volunteers and St John Ambulance stretcher-bearers. The smaller Aberfan Calvinistic Chapel was used as a second mortuary from 22–29 October and was “the final resting-place for the deceased before interment.”

Two doctors examined the bodies and issued death certificates; the causes of death were typically asphyxia, or multiple crush injuries.  Hundreds of embalmers were called to the village to prepare the battered bodies for identification by parents.  To make a bad situation worse, the ramped conditions in the chapel meant that parents could only be admitted one at a time to identify the bodies of their children. One mother recalled being shown the bodies of almost every dead girl recovered from the school before identifying her own daughter.

The death toll was 144; among the dead were five teachers and 116 children between the ages of 7 and 10, equalling almost half the children on the Pantglas Junior School roll. Most victims were interred at Bryntaf Cemetery in Aberfan in a joint funeral on 27 October 1966, attended by more than 2,000 people

The worst hit area of the Aberfan disaster was the Pantglas Primary School.

The worst hit area of the Aberfan disaster was the Pantglas Primary School.

During the rescue operation, the shock and grief of parents and townspeople were exacerbated by insensitive behaviour from the media – one unnamed rescue worker recalled hearing a press photographer tell a child to cry for her dead friends because it would make a good picture.  The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Aberfan on 29 October to pay their respects to those who had died.The Queen received a posy from a three-year-old girl with the inscription: “From the remaining children of Aberfan“. Onlookers said she was close to tears.

Anger at the National Coal Board erupted during the inquest into the deaths of 30 of the children. The Merthyr Express reported that there were shouts of “murderers” as children’s names were read out. When one child’s name was read out and the cause of death was given as asphyxia and multiple injuries, the father said “No, sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board”. The coroner replied: “I know your grief is much that you may not be realising what you are saying” but the father repeated:

I want it recorded – “Buried alive by the National Coal Board.” That is what I want to see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate.

A social worker later noted that many people in the village were prescribed sedatives but did not take them when it was raining because they were afraid to go to sleep, and that surviving children did not close their bedroom doors for fear of being trapped. A doctor reported trauma emerged amongst the survivors with the local the birth rate went up, alcohol-related problems increased, as did health problems for those with pre-existing illnesses, and many parents suffered breakdowns over the next few years.

Many people suffered from the effects of guilt, such as parents who had sent children to school who did not want to go. Tensions arose between families who had lost children and those who had not. A surviving school child recalled that they did not go out to play for a long time because families who had lost children could not bear to see them, and they felt guilty that they had survived.

Chairman of the National Coal Board, Alfred Lord Robens, was a senior union official in the 1930s and a Labour MP who became Minister of Power in the final days of the Attlee Labour government. His actions immediately after the disaster and in the years that followed have been the subject of considerable criticism. When word of the disaster reached him, Robens did not immediately go to the scene but went ahead with his investiture as Chancellor of the University of Surrey. He did not arrive at the village until Saturday evening. NCB officers covered up for him when contacted by the Secretary of State for Wales, Cledwyn Hughes, falsely claiming that he was personally directing relief work when he was absent.

When he reached Aberfan, Robens told a TV reporter that nothing could have been done to prevent the slide, attributing it to natural unknown springs beneath the tip, a statement the locals challenged. The NCB had been tipping on top of springs that were clearly marked on maps of the neighbourhood, and where villagers had played as children.

Robens’ evidence to the Tribunal of Inquiry was unsatisfactory; so much so that the NCB’s counsel in its closing speech asked for Robens’ evidence to be ignored. Robens took a very narrow view of the NCB’s responsibilities regarding the remaining Aberfan tips. His opposition to doing anything more than was needed to make the tips safe, even after the Prime Minister had promised villagers the tips would have to go, was overcome only by a grant from the government and a bitterly opposed and much resented contribution from the disaster fund of £150,000, nearly 10% of the money raised.

116 children and 28 adults were killed in the disaster, sadly nowhere near the worst death-toll related to the British coal industry though due to the number of children, by far the most poignant.

116 children and 28 adults were killed in the disaster, sadly nowhere near the worst death-toll related to the British coal industry though due to the number of children, by far the most poignant.

The public demonstrated its sympathy by donating money with little idea of how it would be spent. Donations flooded in to an appeal initiated by the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil and within a few months, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totalling £1,606,929 (£27.8 million in 2015, if adjusted for inflation).  In fact money and donations flooded in from around the world and I remember my own mother telling me that she had posted one of her dolls to the village in the hope it would help one of rthe children there.

As a result of concerns raised by the disaster, and in line with the findings of the Davies Report, in 1969 the British government framed new legislation to remedy the absence of laws and regulations governing mine and quarry waste tips and spoil heaps and related laws which meant that disused mines and spoil were not to be left to be injurous to members of the general public.   In fact it went on to inspire the famous Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 which generally states that all employers have a duty “to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

The Aberfan Memorial Garden - photo by Jaggery

The Aberfan Memorial Garden – photo by Jaggery

Merthyr Vale Colliery closed in 1989. In 1997 the incoming Labour government of Tony Blair returned the £150,000 it had been induced to pay by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, towards the cost of tip removal, to the disaster fund. No allowance was made for inflation or the interest that would have been earned over the intervening period.

The disaster was remembered yesterday with a minute silence across Wales and remembrance across the United Kingdom.  Prince Charles led a memorial at Aberfan where he delivered a sombre message of rembrance and soldarity from The Queen.


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Hardknott Pass & Hardknott Fort – Perhaps the most remote Roman outpost in the Empire.

Following my climb up Skiddaw on the first day of my holiday, I fancied something a little bit more sedate, though at times no less hair-raising.

After visiting Castlerig Stonecircle and in keeping with my both laid back approach and fiercely testing idea of approaching my first days off in the year, I decided that I would visit the little-known and no doubt less visited Roman fortress at Hardknott.

Having made a career of visiting to sometimes less than well-trodden path to Britain’s historical monuments, Hardknott certainly is near the top of the most remote sights, despite there being a road that passes by its entrance.   The reason being is that the road to get there is the notorious Hardknott Pass which is preceded by in my opinion the even more incredible Wrynose Pass.

It isn’t the difficulty of the driving that deterred me but rather other drivers who in fact I find, generally don’t know how to drive and can make a difficult situation much more dangerous.  This opinion was actually verified in my mind by an event l came across later on.

To get there, I passed down the wonderful A591 with the towering Helvellyn towering over on one side and the beautiful Thirlmere lake on the other and then onwards to the picturesque village of Grasmere before dodging hundreds of ramblers amongst some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere.

The steep inclines and single track roads were both enjoyable and interesting to drive on, and it was nice that in the whole 4 hours, I only came across 4 other motor vehicles and 2 of those were parked up.  It was also fortunate at the dry-stone walls would make passing a vehicle seriously testing with one website I’ve seen stating that in places one vehicle might be required to reverse for several kilometres to find a passing place.

EXTREME CAUTION! The road less travelled - Wrynose Pass and then on to Hardknott Pass.

EXTREME CAUTION! The road less travelled – Wrynose Pass and then on to Hardknott Pass.

Though it is hard to visually tell when exactly the pass starts, technically, it is marked by a rather foreboding warning sign.   I thought that as I hadn’t seen anyone so far then it couldn’t be too bad but then taking the road of no return, typically, just 20 seconds onwards I met an oncoming van in one of the narrowest and stretches of the road.  With reversing almost impossible, the van driver sportingly drove up on to a sloping rock face and was more or less happy to have his van lean over precariously whilst I folded in my wing mirrors and edged slowly by well aware that his vehicle might at any moment topple over which would be bad for the van driver but likely worse for me as the top of his fan was well over the top of my car.

Heading up Wrynose Pass

Heading up Wrynose Pass

After the initial scare, I made my way onwards.  The scenery was tremendously rugged and increasingly wild and remote.  Beautiful open vistas with large boulders strewn over the treeless mountains, at places the road was bordered by deep drops on one side and either rock faces or a river on the other.  To make things more interesting, there were an increasing number if hair pin bends and as the road inclined at 33%, it was generally impossible to see where you were going or indeed where the road was heading.  So there was lots of 1st gear wheel spins, cautious braking and a whole lot of slightly nervous fun.


Though I have never been to the infinitely higher and more dangerous Himalayas, the whole thing did rather remind me of those narrow mountain roads where one wrong move and that would be it, and I am sure if Jeremy Clarkson ever drove here then he must have loved it.

On the road to nowhere

On the road to nowhere

Periodically I would stop to take photos, videos and just enjoy the splendid isolation.  After passing through the splendidly Norse named Wrynose Pass, the road goes along a long plateau with yet more fantastic scenery.  After a few miles, my satnav decided to tell me that the Roman fortress was absolutely in the middle of nowhere.. physically impossible as it was where the was no land.   I ignored it as I normally do and carried on past one of the most remote and windswept farmhouses imaginable and up to Hardknott Pass itself.

Just me and my thoughts

Just me and my thoughts

There were no cars, people and at last even the hardy mountain sheep vanished.  Going up Hardknott from the east, was quite thrilling and I think in some ways easier as going upwards, the slope of the mountain and the road meant it was just a battle to get up, and the drops on the side didn’t really come to my attention. At the top, I got out of the car and congratulated myself on a job-well-done after seeing where I had driven.  Then I looked ahead and realised I now had to drive down something very similar going down though this time the road very much seemed to be on a sharper drop with even more unsighted hairpin bends.  I double checked that no cars were in sight… there was nothing until the horizon in the valley far below, and so I set off.



Onwards and upwards on the Hardknott Pass


I decided to always stick to the inside half of the single track rather than risk the drop.  It wasn’t really difficult at more, just interesting though I did see the remains of several car parts left from various crashes and impacts.  I shouldn’t joke too much as someone died on the road just a week before my trip.

Finally, I had reached Hardknott Fort.  I can’t say it was obvious where it was.  I had a suspicion where it might be from the view from the top but several close-shaves with death later and I had slightly lost my bearings.  Then I saw something incredible, a person, real and alive and on two feet.

I stopped the car on the edge of the road which was technically the middle of the road too as it being incredibly narrow.  “I don’t suppose you know where Hardknott Fort is?”, I asked the young walker.  “You mean this?” he replied as he stepped away from a small information sign.



The end is in sight…. Eskdale


No part of Hardknott Fort is taller than a person but is quite a vast site and rather complex too with the remains of many rooms, buildings, and walls.  The fort is incredibly rugged and picturesque and is both overshadowed but somehow at home amongst the surrounding peaks.

On one side you can look down into the green and fertile valley, a reminder of why the Romans came here at all, to secure the only semi-direct pass from Ravenglass fort and baths on the coast their forts at Kendal.

The ground was both incredibly rocky and boggy at the same time and what was once an outpost of the Roman Empire is now being used by sheep, desperately trying to find nutrition on the thin grass and hiding from the wind, rain and snow behind the various walls.


A small part of Hardknott Fort

I couldn’t help feel sorry for any Roman posted here, especially as Roman soldiers to the north of England tended to come from hot climates such as Iraq.  They must have wondered what on earth they were doing here.

Despite everything, the Romans did have a bath house, though I suspect nothing like the famous Roman baths in Bath.  There were stores, sleeping quarters, central squares, gateways through the outer wall, everything you expect from a Roman site but this one just happened to be here.

I noticed an elderly man had entered the ruins; he was having difficulty in finding a way in without getting wet, so I came over and gave him a hand.  He told me how exciting his drive was here, a little too exciting for his wife who apparently did not want to leave the car under any circumstances and was recuperating with a cup of tea.



In the end all Empires end up being home for sheep.


I could have stayed for much longer even though I had stayed there for quite a stretch of the afternoon.  Just by chance I looked up the pass at the windy road and saw a car coming down it rather slowly.  Despite the lack of speed, I heard a lengthy screech of brakes and a few seconds later a loud crash.  The car hadn’t come off the edge but had either hit a large boulder on a bend or gone into the inside face.  This rather made my mind up that I would go home the long way round.

The road down to the valley remained narrow and at first a little testing but soon I was back in the green, and I soon came across a lovely old pub where I decided I need a little reward before I drove home.

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The Battle of Hastings and 1066

Today is the 950th anniversary of one of the most pivotal battles in history.  Perhaps only the Battle of Manzikert in 1071AD which saw the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the gradual Turkification of Anatolia can rival it for at least a century before or after.

The lead up to the Battle of Hastings is as long and complex as the impact of the battle was far-reaching.  Previously England was ruled by Edward The Confessor who being an extremely pious and religious man, also became known as Saint Edward The Confessor and he was the last of the Wessex Kings, ruling from 1042 to 1066.

Edward had no children, following his pious pledge that he made before marriage and so the question of succession was and is a complicated one.   Edward had quite a complex familial relationship and though he was King of England, there were many other powerful figures vying for power.  It is certainly possible that the Norman claim that William of Normandy met with Edward at some point and that possibly, Williams was promised the throne but it does seem more likely on balance that the nobleman Harold Godwinson had been promised the throne.

Things get more complicated because in 1064, Harold found himself shipwrecked in Normandy, for reasons that aren’t fully known.  It is likely that he was blown off course and captured on the coast.  It is said by the Normans that during Harolds stay in Normandy, that he promised William the throne of England, possibly in return for his release and safe return to England.  In either event, William must have been mistaken as the Anglosaxon kings were not chosen by succession or by the then ruling monarch, instead the Witenagemot, the assembly of the kingdom’s leading notables, would convene after a king’s death to select a successor.

England was already in turmoil as Harolds brother, Tostig, ruled the powerful area of Northumbria and had been doing a terrible job, causing the people to rebel against him to the extent that Harold sided with the rebels and took power away from his own brother.  It is likely that this sealed the deal and Edward saw Harold as the best successor with a sense of political sophistication and intelligence that supplemented his strong physical presence and well known bravery on the field of battle.

After Edward died, Harold became King of England on 6th January 1066 as the Witenagemot had been guided by some of Edwards last words when he emerged from a coma before mentioning Harold.

William of Normandy (sometimes known as William The Bastard due to his family situation) immediately set about creating a vast invasion fleet of 700 ships though it took some time to get any support and it is likely he lied when he stated that Harold had sworn on holy relics that William himself should become king; nevertheless it was effective in getting important church support.

Kind Harold wasn’t stupid and he had assembled an army on the Isle of Wight, just off the southern coast of England.  However due to Williams problems at assembling an army and also to a long period of unfavourable winds, no invasion came.  On 7th September 1066, Harold disbanded his non-professional army, he returned to London and his men went back to their homes to do the most important job in the kingdom, to harvest the crops and prevent starvation.

On that very same day, King Harald Hardrada (or hard ruler) of Norway landed at Tynemouth near the city of Newcastle in Northumbria.  He had formed an alliance with Harolds disaffected brother Tostig and claimed the English crown as his own.

The invading forces of Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls, Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria, at the Battle of Fulford near York on 20 September 1066.  Harold having led his army north on a forced march from London in four days and having caught them by surprise. According to Snorri Sturluson, before the battle a man bravely rode up to Harald Hardrada and Tostig and offered Tostig his earldom if he would but turn on Harald Hardrada. When Tostig asked what his brother Harold would be willing to give Harald Hardrada for his trouble, the rider replied that he would be given seven feet of ground as he was taller than other men. Harald Hardrada was impressed with the rider and asked Tostig his name. Tostig replied that the rider was none other than Harold Godwinson.


On 25th September, King Harold won the epic Battle of Stamford Bridge.  15,000 English defeated 9,000 invaders and the battle is renowned for its savagery with 5,000 English dead and 6,000 Scandinavians.    It had been one of the most fantasic English victories of all time with a feared ‘Viking’ army being all but wiped out, indeed of the 300 Longships that came to England, only 24 were needed to carry off the survivors.

In any other time, this would have been one of the most noted dates in history and King Harold would have been lauded like few others but then just 3 days later and at the most inconvenient and unlucky time imaginable, William of Normandy and his forced landed on the south coast at Pevensey on 28th September.  England was facing a second invasion at the other end of the country.



The Battle of Stamford Bridge

After defeating his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada in the north, Harold left much of his forces in the north, including Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion. It is unclear when Harold learned of William’s landing, but it was probably while he was travelling south. Harold stopped in London, and was there for about a week before Hastings, so it is likely that he spent about a week on his march south, averaging about 27 miles (43 kilometres) per day,for the approximately 200 miles (320 kilometres). Harold camped at Caldbec Hill on the night of 13 October, near what was described as a “hoar-apple tree”. This location was about 8 miles (13 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings. Some of the early contemporary French accounts mention an emissary or emissaries sent by Harold to William, which is likely. Nothing came of these efforts.

Although Harold attempted to surprise the Normans, William’s scouts reported the English arrival to the duke. The exact events preceding the battle are obscure, with contradictory accounts in the sources, but all agree that William led his army from his castle and advanced towards the enemy.Harold had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill(present-day Battle, East Sussex), about 6 miles (9.7 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings

Though Norman figures put the English army as numbering up to 1.2million, it seems pure propaganda and it is likely that around 7-8,000 Englishmen came up against around 14-15,000 Normans.  That the English made it at all is quite remarkable given the months spent on the Isle of Wight and then the 300 mile march up to fight Hardrada with a savage all day battle followed by an exhausting march back past London to the south coast.


Because many of the primary accounts contradict each other at times, it is impossible to provide a description of the battle that is beyond dispute.The only undisputed facts are that the fighting began at 9 am on Saturday 14 October 1066 and that the battle lasted until dusk. Sunset on the day of the battle was at 4:54 pm, with the battlefield mostly dark by 5:54 pm and in full darkness by 6:24 pm. Moonrise that night was not until 11:12 pm, so once the sun set, there was little light on the battlefield. William of Jumieges reports that Duke William kept his army armed and ready against a surprise night attack for the entire night before.The battle took place 7 miles (11 km) north of Hastings at the present-day town of Battle, between two hills – Caldbec Hill to the north and Telham Hill to the south. The area was heavily wooded, with a marsh nearby.The name traditionally given to the battle is unusual – there were several settlements much closer to the battlefield than Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called it the battle “at the hoary apple tree”. Within 40 years, the battle was described by the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis as “Senlac”, a Norman-French adaptation of the Old English word “Sandlacu”, which means “sandy water”.This may have been the name of the stream that crosses the battlefield. The battle was already being referred to as “bellum Hasestingas” or “Battle of Hastings” by 1087, in the Domesday Book.

Sunrise was at 6:48 am that morning, and reports of the day record that it was unusually bright.The weather conditions are not recorded.The route that the English army took to the battlefield is not known precisely. Several roads are possible: one, an old Roman road that ran from Rochester to Hastings has long been favoured because of a large coin hoard found nearby in 1876. Another possibility is a Roman road between London and Lewes and then over local tracks to the battlefield.Some accounts of the battle indicate that the Normans advanced from Hastings to the battlefield, but the contemporary account of William of Jumieges places the Normans at the site of the battle the night before.


Harold’s forces deployed in a small, dense formation at the top of steep slope,[ with their flanks protected by woods and marshy ground in front of them.The line may have extended far enough to be anchored on a nearby stream. The English formed a shield wall, with the front ranks holding their shields close together or even overlapping to provide protection from attack. Sources differ on the exact site that the English fought on: some sources state the site of the abbey but some newer sources suggest it was Caldbec Hill.

More is known about the Norman deployment. Duke William appears to have arranged his forces in three groups, or “battles”, which roughly corresponded to their origins. The left units were the Bretons, along with those from Anjou, Poitou and Maine. This division was led by Alan the Red, a relative of the Breton count.The centre was held by the Normans, under the direct command of the duke and with many of his relatives and kinsmen grouped around the ducal party.The final division on the right consisted of the Frenchmen,along with some men from Picardy, Boulogne, and Flanders. The right was commanded by William fitzOsbern and Count Eustace II of Boulogne. The front lines were archers with a line of foot soldiers armed with spears behind. There were probably a few crossbowmen and slingers in with the archers.The cavalry was held in reserve and a small group of clergymen and servants situated at the base of Telham Hill was not expected to take part in the fighting.

William’s disposition of his forces implies that he planned to open the battle with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry who would engage in close combat. The infantry would create openings in the English lines that could be exploited by a cavalry charge to break through the English forces and pursue the fleeing soldiers.

Part of the Battle of Locations site

Part of the Battle of Locations site

The battle opened with the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. The uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill. The lack of English archers hampered the Norman archers, as there were few English arrows to be gathered up and reused.After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones.The infantry was unable to force openings in the shield wall, and the cavalry advanced in support.The cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began, blamed on the Breton division on William’s left. A rumour started that the duke had been killed, which added to the confusion. The English forces began to pursue the fleeing invaders, but William rode through his forces, showing his face and yelling that he was still alive.The duke then led a counter-attack against the pursuing English forces; some of the English rallied on a hillock before being overwhelmed.

It is not known whether the English pursuit was ordered by Harold or if it was spontaneous. Wace relates that Harold ordered his men to stay in their formations but no other account gives this detail. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the death of Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine occurring just before the fight around the hillock. This may mean that the two brothers led the pursuit. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio relates a different story for the death of Gyrth, stating that the duke slew Harold’s brother in combat, perhaps thinking that Gyrth was Harold. William of Poitiers states that the bodies of Gyrth and Leofwine were found near Harold’s, implying that they died late in the battle. It is possible that if the two brothers died early in the fighting their bodies were taken to Harold, thus accounting for their being found near his body after the battle. The military historian Peter Marren speculates that if Gyrth and Leofwine died early in the battle, that may have influenced Harold to stand and fight to the end.

The positions of the AnglosSaxon forces

The positions of the AnglosSaxon forces

A lull probably occurred early in the afternoon, and a break for rest and food would probably have been needed.William may have also needed time to implement a new strategy, which may have been inspired by the English pursuit and subsequent rout by the Normans. If the Normans could send their cavalry against the shield wall and then draw the English into more pursuits, breaks in the English line might form.William of Poitiers says the tactic was used twice. Although arguments have been made that the chroniclers’ accounts of this tactic were meant to excuse the flight of the Norman troops from battle, this is unlikely as the earlier flight was not glossed over. It was a tactic used by other Norman armies during the period. Some historians have argued that the story of the use of feigned flight as a deliberate tactic was invented after the battle; most historians agree that it was used by the Normans at Hastings.

Although the feigned flights did not break the lines, they probably thinned out the housecarls in the English shield wall. The housecarls were replaced with members of the fyrd, and the shield wall held. Archers appear to have been used again before and during an assault by the cavalry and infantry led by the duke. Although 12th-century sources state that the archers were ordered to shoot at a high angle to shoot over the front of the shield wall, there is no trace of such an action in the more contemporary accounts. It is not known how many assaults were launched against the English lines, but some sources record various actions by both Normans and Englishmen that took place during the afternoon’s fighting. The Carmen claims that Duke William had two horses killed under him during the fighting, but William of Poitiers’s account states that it was three.

Harold appears to have died late in the battle, although accounts in the various sources are contradictory. William of Poitiers only mentions his death, without giving any details on how it occurred. The Bayeux Tapestry is not helpful, as it shows a figure holding an arrow sticking out of his eye next to a falling fighter being hit with a sword. Over both figures is a statement “Here King Harold has been killed”.It is not clear which figure is meant to be Harold, or if both are meant.The earliest written mention of the traditional account of Harold dying from an arrow to the eye dates to the 1080s from a history of the Normans written by an Italian monk, Amatus of Montecassino.William of Malmesbury stated that Harold died from an arrow to the eye that went into the brain, and that a knight wounded Harold at the same time. Wace repeats the arrow-to-the-eye account. The Carmen states that Duke William killed Harold, but this is unlikely, as such a feat would have been recorded elsewhere. Harold’s death left the English forces leaderless, and they began to collapse.Many of them fled, but the soldiers of the royal household gathered around Harold’s body and fought to the end. The Normans began to pursue the fleeing troops, and except for a rearguard action at a site known as the “Malfosse”, the battle was over.Exactly what happened at the Malfosse, or “Evil Ditch”, and where it took place, is unclear. It occurred at a small fortification or set of trenches where some Englishmen rallied and seriously wounded Eustace of Boulogne before being destroyed by Duke William.


The High Altar in the old Abbey is thought to mark the spot where King Harold died, his body and many others remaining missing.

William hoped the English would surrender there and then but they did not and he was forced to campaign across what is now the county of Kent before heading up towards London.  The Anglo Saxons harried him under the leadership of Edgar the Ætheling who was likely chosen to be the next king.

William was unable cross the Thames as he moved up country during the coming weeks and instead went in a very roundabout way to the small town of Berkhamsted where he officially accepted the surrender of the Anglo Saxon nobility including Edgar.  Berkhamsted however was not high profile enough for William to be coronated and he entered the city of London and in a coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey the magnificent church of Edward The Confessor, he was proclaimed King on Christmas Day 1066.


Tracking the route of WIlliam The Conqueror

Historians have made much of the Normans’ supposed military advantages – notably their use of sophisticated cavalry tactics – but Harold was an experienced general commanding battle-hardened soldiers. And unlike William, he could have expected reinforcements had he only managed to make it through to evening, as further Saxon troops arrived from Yorkshire.

The Norman duke, on the other hand, was at the end of a very long and uncertain supply chain, isolated in hostile territory. Anything less than a knockout blow at Hastings could have been fatal to his plans, and perhaps to him, too.

Had Harold survived and won, He would have defeated mighty enemies in pitched battles at opposite ends of the country within weeks of each other: quite a feat.  Indeed, we might well be talking of King Harold the Great, and perhaps of the great dynasty of the Godwinsons. It is likely that he would probably be celebrated today as one of England’s greatest warrior kings, on a par with Alfred The Great, Richard Lionheart and Edward I, and indeed the almost forgotten Æthelstan – we would probably pay much more attention to the earlier English kings without the artificial break provided by the Conquest.

Rather than be celebrated, the Battle of Hastings should really be remembered as the disaster it was.  For it brought to an end the long and enlightened run of Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the kingdoms that eventually unified to become England.    Almost there entire generation of leading English soldiers, lords and leaders were slaughtered on the battlefield.   After much of the north of England refused to cower to Norman rule, the area was savagely and systematically ruined, depopulated and destroyed in what came to be known as The Harrying Of The North.

England and soon the rest of the British Isles were soon dominated by fantastic castles and military fortications but they were not defences against foreign invaders but rather as instruments of internal repression to allow a very tiny minority to savagely control a beaten people who had lost both their leaders and their men.

William The Conquerer adopted an absolutist approach to monarchy, one entirely different to which England had been used to.  He catalogued every asset, person, animal and parcel of land in his infamous Domesday Book.  Almost the entire country, well around 92%, was taken away from its rightful owners and re-distributed to Williams most loyal supporters. In fact though over 200 landowners who held their estates thanks to to the Norman king, only 2 were Anglo Saxons.

The long and very entrenched English traditions and movements towards freedom and democracy were put on hold for a number of centuries.  People were no long equal before the law.  Society was re-classified with men being compelled to work on their lord’s estates and unable to even leave home without his permission.  Personal liberty and free-trade were put on hold.  In short it the Normans brought everything that wasn’t English.

The language of England began to change, taking on many French terms and losing its splendid Germanic and Scandinavian language which only held on in parts of Scotland and northern Englan and even then in a much-reduced form.

The Normans themselves had been of Scandinavian stock and they have subjucated Normandy and much of France as effectively as they had England.  They had only lived in France for a generation or so but they embraced the French language and traditions as their own, likely as part of a massive civilising effect having given up on their Norse practices.   French was made the official language of the ruling elite and whereas Anglo-Saxons would use words like cow, pig and sheep, the Normans put us English in our place by using words such as beef, pork and mutton to describe the cooked food itself.

Orderic Vitalis who was a 12th century chronicler wrote “The English groaned aloud for their lost liberty and plotted ceaselessly to find some way of shaking off a yoke that was so intolerable and unaccustomed”.

The idea of us remaining under Norman influence continued for centuries with the Parliamentarians in the Civil War explaining how the landed gentry were “William’s lieutenants” who only had their position due to stealing the land from the rightful owners.  Indeed even today, a vast percentage of land and wealth and positions of high status are held by descendants of the tiny minority who seized control of England in October 13th 1066 and in some ways, still control it today.

The Battle of Hastings is important in countless ways not just to those of us in the U.K and it being last time a foreign foe conquered our country but also for the way it shaped our relationship with Europe and the way that the new Norman elite played such an important role in creating a nation that would go to shape the entire world.

Posted in history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A close encounter with a Brocken Spectre

Fear not, this isn’t an early Halloween posting though the word ‘Spectre’ is accurate in the spooky image that it relates to.

In my last post on climbing Skiddaw, I neglected to mention that I was lucky enough to see a Brocken Spectre.  These are rather rare natural occurrences though I am fortunate to have seen another, one many years ago, I must add.

Though it is not a ghostly apparition, it is easy to see why some in times past might have thought a Brocken Spectre to be a close encounter with a visit from the spirit world.

The Brocken Spectre is a rare thing because it is in some ways rather like a rainbow and so it’s appearance is only fleeting.   Most of us see Rainbows from time to time as an arch that rises from the horizon and peaks in the sky before dropping away again in the opposite direction.

A creepy looking Brocken Spectre (Photo credit to Brocken Inaglory)

A creepy looking Brocken Spectre (Photo credit to Brocken Inaglory)

If you travel in mountains or even aeroplanes, if you are very lucky then you will see what is known as a Glory.  It looks like a circular rainbow, rather like a target on an archery or shooting range. It has a much smaller appearance than a rainbow and to the viewer seems to be only a few feet or metres across when it becomes visible on a mountainside.

The rarest of all is a Brockenspectre which is what I was lucky enough to observe for about 30 seconds last Sunday.  In addition to the unusual conditions needed for a glory or a rainbow, a Brockenspectre is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The head of the figure is often surrounded by the glowing halo-like rings of a glory—rings of coloured light that appear directly opposite the sun when sunlight meets a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets.

The “spectre” appears when the sun shines from behind the observer, who is looking down from a ridge or peak into mist or fog. The light projects their shadow through the mist, often in a triangular shape due to perspective. The apparent magnification of size of the shadow is an optical illusion that occurs when the observer judges his or her shadow on relatively nearby clouds to be at the same distance as faraway land objects seen through gaps in the clouds, or when there are no reference points by which to judge its size. The shadow also falls on water droplets of varying distances from the eye, confusing depth perception. The ghost can appear to move (sometimes suddenly) because of the movement of the cloud layer and variations in density within the cloud.


A Brockensprectre in New Zealand taken from the Tramper NZ website.  My encounter with a Brockenspectre was very similar to this one in dimensions and how close it was to me.

In my case, I saw it because the sun was behind me and at the same level or below the mountain ridge I was on top off.  Between myself and the sun was a bank of fog or cloud which was quite thick behind me but in front of me quickly wafted away.  Due to a long run of coincidences, my shadow was stretched out by the sun and fog with the shadow of my head, centred in the Glory to give the appearance of a scary monster or Brockenspectre.

Even when I saw the Brockenspectre, it was fading so rather than fumble for a photo, I stood and watched this very rare phenomenon.  In fact, I was standing near an elderly climber who has climbed thousands of peaks, and this was only the 4th spectre which he had seen so I was very lucky indeed.

This Brockenspectre was actually captured on a neighbouring mountain to Skiddaw. (Credit to Simnel)

This Brockenspectre was actually captured on a neighbouring mountain to Skiddaw. (Credit to Simnel)


The term Brocken Spectre originated in 1780 when it was observed and described by Johann Silberschlag in 1780 in the Harz Mountains of Germany.   An 18th-century writer who spent much of his time in the Lake District, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, penned a verse after his encounter with one not too far away from mine.

Constancy to an Ideal Object

And art thou nothing? Such thou art, as when
The woodman winding westward up the glen
At wintry dawn, where o’er the sheep-track’s maze
The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist’ning haze,
Sees full before him, gliding without tread,
An image with a glory round its head;
The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,
Nor knows he makes the shadow he pursues!


Posted in Cumbria & The Lake District, Life, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I climbed Skiddaw – Englands 6th tallest peak

For the week of October 1st -8th, I actually had my first days off from giving tours since February.  I was exhausted and quite ill, and a week on, I still am though slightly less on both counts.

Longer time readers will remember that I like to escape London to go to the quietest and most isolated spots in England at this time of year before going some place a little warmer in mid-winter.

It’s been quite a nice long summer in London this year, and it didn’t really rain at all for several months as well as temperatures hovering in the 30’s C / 90’s F for much of the time.  For many years I have taken my summer holiday either in the last week of September or early October, and now I do my tours the tradition continues.  However, there is no getting around the fact that the weather can be variable at best in London and yet in the Lake District, the wettest though perhaps most beautiful spot in Europe, the chances of rain are taken to another level.

Skiddaw - 3,054 feet or 931 metres tall.  My route would be to climb up through the wood in the centre and reach the ridge and then follow it round up and right to the peak opposite.

Skiddaw – 3,054 feet or 931 metres tall. My route would be to climb up through the wood in the centre and reach the ridge and then follow it round up and right to the peak opposite.

Like last year, however, I can happily report that I spent a whole week there and had wall to wall sunshine and warm temperatures every day, even when London suffered from the first cooler days of Autumn.

I hadn’t set myself any firm plans for my week trip, but one of the things I wanted to do was to climb a substantial mountain.   The Lake District is home to the top 10 tallest mountains in England and while they may not be overly significant on the global scale, when it is remembered how small our land mass is and that they pretty much emerge from the sea then it makes them a little more impressive.

In fact, along with the mountains of Scotland, the Cumbrian mountains are about the oldest in the world and countless ages ago, were the tallest in the world, more so even than the Himalayas today.  Billions or at least hundreds of millions of years of erosion and more than a few ice-ages have worn them down to the current sizes of up to 978m or 3,209 feet tall.

It’s not so much the height but the beauty that draws visitors from across the world here.  I was just reading how American President Woodrow Wilson couldn’t wait to return to a particular valley in the Lake District when I heard some American voices behind me remarking that it is the most beautiful place they had ever seen.

So after driving all the way up from London the previous day and making myself at home in a rented cottage on a farm, I awoke with at my customary early time to watch the sun rise above the mountains.  I often get chest infections due to my asthma and inability to rest for more than a little while and last Sunday though I rose at 5.30am and hoped to climb a mountain that very day, I found myself out of breath just walking to the bathroom.

Such is life, it happens often but I never, ever let it get the better of me.  I’ve gone in to work before when the doctors have told me I should be in Intensive Care on a life-support/breathing machine.  Still, it wasn’t exactly the most encouraging start to a mountain climb anyone has ever had.

I had breakfast and watched the mist rise up from the valley floor.  The weather was forecast to be good all day and in these parts, it can change quickly even in mid-summer and even more so on the mountain tops.

The climb begins from the start with a steep ascent through the western fringe of Dodds Woods

The climb begins from the start with a steep ascent through the western fringe of Dodds Woods

I decided I was going to climb Skiddaw, an old extinct Volcano and a really massive piece of earth, several miles long and at 3,054 feet / 931 metres, almost a kilometre high.  I checked the temperature as it never gets very warm on the summit of Skiddaw even like today when it is perfect in the valley.  Top temperatures of 19 degrees C / 68F in the valley but only 4 C / 38F on the summit.  I made a packed lunch, took a bottle of water and packed a thick sweatshirt in case my t-shirt and light summer hoodie proved to be insufficient for the task.

The early morning mists obscure Lake Bassenthwaite

The early morning mists obscure Lake Bassenthwaite

Leaving the cottage at 8 am, I could see Skiddaw from the front door, dominating the sky line even 7 or 8 miles away.   By 8.30am I had parked my car in a layby at the foot of the mountain and with a little trepidation.  My only navigation aid was a number of screenshots I had taken on my Ipad from Google maps.  There were a number of routes up the mountain but many of them had very long approaches.  I had picked a shorter route that was only about 8 or 9 miles.  The cost this came at was the fact that it was a hugely steep climb from the beginning.

Up through woodland in a nominal footpath, several times having to drab hold of trees to stop myself falling over. I had read that going by this route; you will have to stop for breath frequently and regularly.  They weren’t kidding and with my sore chest, I was very out breath almost all the time causing me to immediately think this was a stupid idea.

Just myself and the odd hardy sheep in the hour after dawn.

Just myself and the odd hardy sheep in the hour after dawn up the path out of the woods.

After ten minutes I made it out through the woods and found a footpath which I hope was the one I wanted, it edged up steeply through bracken and heather from the woods in the valley bottom up towards a ridge which from there I hoped would be an easy enough climb.

This part of the mountain was only marginally less steep than the initial woods but one of the problems with asthma is that it can take a long, long time to get your breath back, which I never really did.  Fortunately the higher I got, the more incredible the views became which meant I could pretend I was stopping only for my photos.

This is me, your friendly blogger, writer and tour guide. I took numerous photos so the police could trace my steps when they found perished body months after the inevitable accident.

This is me, your friendly blogger, writer and tour guide. I took numerous photos so the police could trace my steps when they found perished body months after the inevitable accident.

I came across a Fell Runner, a man who regularly runs up all the mountains around here.  He advised me that I was on the right path and that I would be doing very well if I reached the peak in 3 hours.  He advised me that the peak that I  thought I was climbing was in fact just a taster and one of three that had to be conquered before reaching Skiddaw itself.

‘Great’ I thought to myself, I may as well overdose on Salbutamol inhalers right now and wait for my sheep nibbled body to be found in the spring.   Deciding, I would go on for an hour or so more, I bade the runner farewell and carried on up the path.


After a few minutes I reached the bottom of the ridge which was great as I also emerged into the sunshine and had an even better view of the lake in the valley.  I was also exposed to a howling cold wind and the immensity of the mountain opposite which was omininously covered in cloud and looked rather impossible to someone who was out of breath just getting out of bed 2 hours earlier.

Nevertheless, I followed the increasingly rocky and uneven path along the ridge towards Ullock Pike.  Pike is an old Viking/English word for a mountain with a very pointy peak with Ullock in this case being a place where Wolves used to roam.   I seemed to spend as much time stopping for breath and taking photos as I did walking.  It was wonderfully silent, just the wind and the sound of falling water from streams beneath and opposite me.

It was about 10.30 and I was still climbing up towards Ullock Pike.  It was getting more of a climb than a walk and several times I was reduced to scrambling up on all fours, holding on to rocks to stop myself falling backwards and no doubt to a serious injury at the very least.  After 15 minutes further and with no real idea how much more this climb would take, I met a Scottish lady.  She told me that I had ‘broken the back’ of this mountain and that I must continue even at a slow pace to the top of the Pike if nothing else and that it was two more hours to the top of Skiddaw.

I was advised it wasn’t quite uphill all the way though there would be some very steep bits, there would also be a plateau.

It was fortunate that I met this lady as I might have turned around very soon afterwards but instead, I continued, momentarily not being able to see where I was going as a bank of cloud wafted up the shaded side of the mountain before evaporating seconds after hitting the sunshine.  It was a very narrow ridge and with a most precipitous drop but it was also very beautiful.

A view over Derwent Water with Catbells on the right, Borrowdale in the distance and ScaFell Pike on the horizon. The Millenium Falcon flew over this lake in the new Star Wars film.

A view over Derwent Water with Catbells on the right, Borrowdale in the distance and ScaFell Pike on the horizon. The Millenium Falcon flew over this lake in the new Star Wars film.

Onwards I trodded, and at long last, I reached the summit of Ullock Pike, or rather the false summit, the actual summit had been hidden from view and was a few minutes further along the path.  The view was fantastic, I could see numerous lakes and was already around 700 metres or I guess 2,000 feet up.   I’m not a mountaineer in any way, shape or form though I did once climb Mount Sinai which at 2200 metres or 6,000+ feet was over twice as tall as Skiddaw.  However there are paths and steps up Sinai, this was just a physical slog.

For the first time, fleetingly I could see the summit of Skiddaw emerge from the cloud before being swiftly hidden again.  I hoped that the cloud would burn off by the time I got there… oh yes, did I mention I decided I was going to go for it.

In the words of the great comedy film Airplane.... looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue.... time for a mint was my exact thoughts here.

In the words of the great comedy film Airplane…. looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue…. time for a mint was my exact thoughts here.

I had barely come across anyone all morning but as various paths began to converge, there was a smattering of people.  Some of whom I talked to and all were very impressed that I had picked this to be my first real mountain.  I met a colonel, an Olympic medal winner and various other notable folk and quite a few dogs.

With Longside Edge on the left, I headed onwards to Carlside, a small lull in the storm before the final assault on Skiddaw.  Suddenly the temperature dropped.  The less hardy but possibly more experienced folk but on their woolly hats and winter climbing weather, I zipped up my jacket and after a few minutes put my hood up.

Despite all the breathless agony of the ascent so far, with physical effort momentarily gone, I could enjoy the stunning views of the mountains and I found myself almost jogging along the plateau with a spring in my step until I got to my path up Skiddaw proper.

It was nice to know I wasn't totally on my own at this highly asthmatic moment.

It was nice to know I wasn’t totally on my own at this highly asthmatic moment.

It was incredibly steep, no wonder most people took the longer but perhaps physically less strenous route from Latrigg/Keswick.  The mountain was covered in millions of pieces of Skree, loose rock the lay everywhere and with one wrong step would have you inadvertently surfing out of control hundreds of feet down to a date with a broken neck.

The route as at least 45 degrees, if not at times 60 or 75 degrees and what’s more it the path itself sloped outwards.  Jump out from the path and you could travel a long way down indeed.  It was re-assuring to see every one of the few hardy people up this route stopping frequently.  It was just so steep.  Once or twice I would stop for a few minutes and take a well-earned sweet and then continue, stagger about 6 or 10 steps forwards and come to a grinding halt.

Welcome to my world

Welcome to my world

This must be the stage that the two people I spoke to said would make you wonder why on earth anyone would ever want to come up here, 1 step forward and 2 back.  It was all very bleak and Mordor looking though thankfully the clouds had now burned off the summit.  I could see the cairn on the top and a few people around it, I could even hear their voices at times, but it was just so steep that I thought it would take forever.

Before I ascend Skiddaw proper, a look back to the woods by the lake where I had started and then up the back of the ridge opposite before climbing the ridge to Ullock Pike opposite and following it around to the left.

Before I ascend Skiddaw proper, a look back to the woods by the lake where I had started and then up the back of the ridge opposite before climbing the ridge to Ullock Pike opposite and following it around to the left.

I did, however, make it and without once being overtaken by regular climbers, locals or non-asthmatics.  The summit of the mountain was vast and broad and covered in stones and scree. It was blowing a gale and absolutely freezing, in fact, one of my fingers turned as white as snow.   The view was amazing, and I could see across the sea to Scotland and many other more local places and mountains.  I got someone to take my photo and then found a a few rocks to shelter behind.  It would make the most fantastic spot for lunch out of the wind though still intensely cold.  I was so high; I had long since gotten used to being above the circling Eagles below me and seeing just how far I had come.  Al the points I was going to give up and the relatively low but still high spots where I thought I had done well but which were now far below where I now sat.

Dammit, can't I die from an asthma attack in piece without hacing to take photos in the process. If I should die here, I leave all my worldly belongings to my trusty readers.

Dammit, can’t I die from an asthma attack in piece without hacing to take photos in the process. If I should die here, I leave all my worldly belongings to my trusty readers.

My lunch was small but nice and well-deserved.  A man with his rather battered looking dog said hello and while the man walked on, the dog saw my food so I generously gave him a piece of my sausage roll.  He was ever so grateful and wanted more so I gave him a second piece which he gently took from my fingers.

A young couple staggered past, a 2-year-old child sat in some sort of carrier on the back of the man, bawling his eyes out.  His parents laughed when is said that I know just how the baby was feeling.   If it was like this on a perfect warm day, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of what the summit of Skiddaw was like in the real autumn, spring or dead of winter.

Almost there!

Almost there!

I had made it within the 3 hours that the man and indeed other places on the internet had said would be a respectable time and to my surprise I met the man on the summit so we had a chat.  I actually met him five times at different locations on the mountain that day which was weird.

Most people headed back down the well worn, stable though long path back to Keswick but my car was parked miles away and really, I had to go back the way I came.  I was only worried about parts of Ullock Pike and hadn’t at all considered that coming down Skiddaw itself would be difficult.  In its own way, admittedly not in a “I want to die” sort of way, this was even harder than coming up.  Coming up you could stagger about, almost topple backwards and then “fall” forwards.  Coming down, you could either come down impractically slowly down on your bum or as I did, very slowly walking forwards and often sideways (the slope being so steep the whole weight of my body was often on my toes and pressed against the front of the shoes).  Once or twice I did a spot of Skree surfing but the fact that I am still alive, proves that I slid for only a foot or so.

Part of the massive sub-artic summit of Skiddaw.

Part of the massive sub-artic summit of Skiddaw.

As I neared the bottom of the Skree, I could hear the screams of two people hundreds of feet above me as the horror of the steep and painful descent dawned on them as quickly as vertigo.   I was glad to reach the plateau and for the second time climbed Ullock Pike before slowly descending the very craggy and slightly dangerous ridge down.   In fact, I fell three of four times but each time, thankfully on my behind rather than forward and to a certain doom.  Partly it was from tiredness and partly just because it was that steep and rocky.   I had read that parts of your body would ache that you didn’t know existed but I must say I didn’t ache one bit, I put it down to a very active lifestyle and perhaps running up the escalators on London Underground several times a week.

I met a few more interesting people on the way down including a man who was from the village I used to live in.  He had spent all his holidays for the last 10 years, camping on the summits of all the mountains here, he had worked out he had about another 15 years to go before he had bagged all of the big ones.  He liked the isolation and solitude which I very much understood.  He also mentioned how icy his night had been.

Me on top of Skiddaw... right photo taken, lets find someplace to eat!

Me on top of Skiddaw… right photo taken, lets find someplace to eat!

I wasn’t sure if I was even taking the right path down to the woods, but it seemed I had.  It was just as impossibly steep as it had been 6 hours earlier and I had my most painful fall just a few minutes from the end.  I had however made it!  On the morning when I was so out of breath I could barely walk to the kitchen, I had climbed the 6th tallest mountain in England and by the most testing route and as my first real climb.

Way to go me🙂  and my first day off for 7 or 8 months.  Makes you wonder what I might do when I have a bit of energy and a good chest.

You can see the little video diary I had made of my time on Skiddaw, minus the frequent pauses, moments of living hell, small tumbles and moments of teetering on the edge of nothingness.

Posted in Cumbria & The Lake District, Life, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Helping people with loans and not donations

I don’t know about you but I like to help as many people as I can.  If possible then I do practical things to help like carry suitcases up the stairs on the London Underground or assisting the elderly or people with disabilities on and off buses.   I do that as many people don’t actually want to get their hands dirty, they maybe prefer to donate to charity or go to church/temple/synagogue/mosque and then forget to actually put their good teachings to use.

Also I have issues with corporate charity.  I’m aware that big charities help a lot of people that wouldn’t otherwise get assisted  but I’m fundamentally against high proportions of my donations going to fund advertising, office staff or even bribe officials in some poorer countries.  My money is too valuable to me to give to some local politician in Africa who may be in a poorer country than I but is individually richer than myself at the same time.

Also I don’t like the people who collect money on the streets.  I used to like them, when they were real volunteers.  These days they are high pressured salespeople and they get paid.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s just a British thin but I don’t like that.  If they aren’t genuinely concerned about there causes, why should I care so much as to pay them.   I do donate to charities but I find ones that don’t advertise.  Anyone who sells adverts on TV, newspapers or has a team of people on the street, doesn’t need my help.

I do hate having to march past chuggers or charity huggers every time I walk down my local shopping street or in parts of London.  You can easily come across 6 or 7 people within a minutes walk, all highly intent on obsructing people and gaining donations.   I just want to walk along the street in peace and actually help real people physically right this minute or monetarily if I see someone who actually needs money.

Last year a friend of mine reminded me about Kiva Loans. This organisation lends money to people in areas of the world where people have no access to banks or are too poor to obtain normal loans.


You can select who receives your loan and read up on their projects and over the months, you see them pay your loan back… then you can loan it out again if you like.

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You can select loans by people, countries, industries but the one thing they all have in common is that you help people who are guaranteed to actually trying to help themselves. 

My first loan went to a lady in Tajikistan, she needed $500 to start her business. I picked someone in a country and culture I knew and yet also a place where I knew it would be very hard for a woman to create her own business and that wasn’t in some high-profile location.  I donated just $25 but she is now up and running and I have got my money back. Or at least I did for about 3 minutes until I found a small shop owner in The Philippines who needs new equipment and more stock.

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If you want to help someone and have misgivings due to corruption in parts of the world or are against the increased corporate mentality of charities then lend straight to the people in need themselves with Kiva.  None of the donations are used in overheads or administration, Kiva actually requests for a bonus payment to cover these but you’re free to ignore this and just make your loan and be sure that it will get to someone who needs it and who you feel a connection with.

Also I like Kiva as it isn’t a donation, I will likely get the money back and I know there is a pretty good chance that the person who receives the money, has a plan and ambition and ability to help themselves which in turn will help their family and friends and wider community.  Sometimes I get the feeling that giving money to some causes is just like pouring money down the drain.  My heart might be more than happy to help out people physically but my wallet isn’t deep enough not to be careful with money when I’m using it to specifically help others.


Posted in Life, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Talking on the Tube… has the whole world gone mad?

For a huge city, London is quite a friendly place.  We didn’t even make the list of the most unfriendly cities of 2016 and Londoners are many things but they don’t have a reputation as being eternally grumpy like Paris or Moscow or entirely lacking in concepts of personal space and good manners like others.   If you genuinely need help or assistance then almost everyone in London will go out of their way to help no matter how busy they are.

However, there is a red line in the sand that can’t be crossed.  Not a Barack Obama line that people don’t take seriously but the very defining issue of voluntarily talking on the morning commute.

A most likely very well meaning American by the name of Jonathan Dunne has decided it would be a great idea to hand out badges to Tube travellers that indicate that they would like to talk to their fellow travellers.


That’s just not Cricket.  I mean, we’re British aren’t we?  Is our civilisation literally going down the tubes?  Isn’t this the antipathy of everything about living in London is all about.  If Londoners wanted to talk on the way to work, they would move out to… I don’t know, almost any other place in the world.  It is only a few weeks ago I blogged about these sort of issues which have plagued British travellers for centuries and now this… what a kick in the face!

Even this morning I was reading about a lady who dared to speak to a fellow traveller who was reading a novel which the loose-tongued lady had already read.  So perturbed by this, the traveller exited the carriage at the next stop and got on the adjoining one to carry on her commute in peace.  Squashed, humid, sticky, stinky perhaps but silently and in peace.

I’ve spent over 25 years commuting into London on and off.  I must say I really do value the silence and solitude.  It gives time to prepare yourself for the rest of the day.  To catch a breath or peace and quiet, if only to psych oneself up for the chaos when you get off the train.

Often when I leave the house at 6am or 6.30am, everyone sits in total silence and it is just nice and perfect.  Sometimes I get a later bus maybe around 7am and even the children generally sit in silence.  Of course, there is always the same one who wants to talk and doesn’t seem to get the hint that it’s not appropriate and it riles the 5-year-olds as much as the 70-year-olds.

It’s an integral part of our culture, stripped of privacy by having to mix with millions of people, the least we deserve is to have a bit of peace and quiet.  Maybe it has been the way ever since it was the social etiquette to require an introduction before one could speak?

People don’t sit in total silence all the time, the odd tut covers most problems in London without the actual need to speak.  What annoys me and I think most fellow passengers the most are people who talk on the phone for no reason, oblivious or actually fully aware but not caring that not one single other person wants to listen to one-half of a banal conversation.

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I don’t actually mind people who are friends talking to themselves on a carriage before I arrive and then continuing after I’ve got on the bus or train.  I don’t even mind office associates and friends who talk quietly, it’s fun to eavesdrop on people and learn a bit about others lives.  It’s the people early on a Sunday morning who have the whole long train to sit on and then sit one seat away from you only to talk loudly either in person or on their phone that annoys me, playing music that can be overheard from their tinny headphones too.  Can’t they see that I appreciate my peace and quiet, go and blither away someplace else?

If I want to talk to someone on the tube I will do, I distinctly remember talking to a stranger for almost 6 seconds in 2014. I don’t need someone forcing me to talk to people.   Next up, people will be wishing me to have a nice day when I go shopping and that just wouldn’t do.  Go and be happy and extroverted somewhere else!


Posted in Funny & Humour, London | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments