Summer walks

Back to walking after a couple of weeks enforced absence due to Covid-19 hitting our household. Fortunately, only Martha was affected and her symptoms were not too serious. But it did result in all of us having to self isolate. So it was great to get out walking again, before heading off on holiday to Scotland and Ireland.

2 July – Chittering – Great Ouse – Stretham

6.8 miles. From the Lazy Otter at Chittering, follow the river towards Ely until it meets the railway. Then across country by public footpaths to Stretham. Return to the river by Green End and then back to the Lazy Otter.

We set out along the Great Ouse in the direction of Ely, starting on the far bank from the Lazy Otter pub in Chittering. Here the river runs through open fen countryside, offering no shade on an unexpectedly sunny and humid afternoon. But it was a nice riverside walk, quickly leaving behind the noise of the A10. After about a mile we came to the moorings for what looks like an active community of houseboats, and then to the Stretham Old Engine – an impressive piece of industrial heritage. Built in 1831, it is the last survivor in this part of the Fens of over 100 steam-powered pumping stations. We must come back for one of its open days.

We continued along the river, crossing to the other bank by the bridge that carries the Stretham-to-Wicken road. Where the river meets the railway, just short of the confluence of the Great Ouse and the Cam, we followed paths away across fields to Stretham (the Stretham map available on the Cambridgshire section of the FootPathMap resource was useful for planning this). It was hard to get a great sense of the village on a quiet Friday afternoon when both the Red Lion pub and the church were locked up, so we picked up supplies of water in the local shop and left along the quiet Green End lane, which took us back to the Old Engine. From there we returned to the Lazy Otter along the opposite bank to our outward journey.

This is makes a good, peaceful circular walk, much of it along the river, also quite convenient to us in Cottenham – so we’ll be back to do this again.

30 July – Glenmore Forest Park, Cairngorms

7.5 miles. Loch Morlich and Ryvoan trails. See the trail guide map.

We didn’t make much more progress with our weekly walks in July, disrupted by a series of weekends when we were away or had other things on (quite a novelty after so many months of lockdown in the last year!). Then we were off on holiday, taking the campervan to Scotland for the second year in a row. Despite being in great country for it, we didn’t do too much walking – we did a lot of driving, visiting castles, and watching the Olympics on TV. We did, though, have one walking day in the Cairngorms.

We definitely can’t count this one towards our local Cambridgeshire walks project, but I’m recording it here just to prove that we can walk where the landscape isn’t flat. Actually, the first part of this walk, setting out from our campsite, is pretty level, despite the spectacular mountain setting. It circles Loch Morlich – a distance of around 3.5 miles on easy paths through the forest. Although this is a busy spot in the summer, it gets quiet quite quickly once you get away from the lochside beach, and made for an attractive stroll for the whole family.

The girls on the Loch Morlich loop
Martha at the Green Loch

After a well-earned ice cream, Martha and I left Joy and Ella to put their feet up and struck out from the Glenmore Park visitor centre on a second loop – the Ryvoan trail. This is initially a steady, fairly easy climb up a wide path to An Lochan Uaine, the Green Loch, a beautiful lake set in a ‘bowl’ in the mountains, where the water does indeed appear green. The return path is somewhat more difficult – a steep scramble up a narrow track, which in places has you clambering over rocks and tree roots, takes you higher up the mountain and we were fairly puffed out at the top, before descending back onto wider, easier paths back down to the visitor centre. You’re in the forest most of the way – it occasionally opens up to offer glimpses of mountain scenery, but there aren’t any broad vistas on this walk. By the time we got back to the van, we’d done just over 4 miles on the 2nd loop.

A beautiful part of the world, with lots to do, and plenty of walking and climbing action – watch out for the midges in the evening, though!

29 August – Divis Mountain

4.2 miles. Divis Mountain ridge trail – details here (although we walked it the reverse direction).

Three weeks in Scotland and the north of England were followed by a full week of work before we were heading off again in the van for our annual August trip to Northern Ireland. So still no time to restart our local walks project. But Joy and I, with Joy’s dad, Robert, did do one of my favourite walks while we were away.

This is a beautiful and intriguing walk along the ridge above West Belfast. It is now managed by the National Trust and has been opened up for walkers only over the last 15 years or so, having been a military area regarded as a useful observation point over the city during the troubles. The walk starts from the cafe on the far side of the ridge from the city, and a big part of its charm is that up here feels like remote moorland, hundreds of miles from civilisation. Then, as you climb up onto the top of the ridge, the whole city is laid out before you.

It’s a spectacular view – looking left down Belfast lough over the harbour and the shipyard where the Titanic was built, with its iconic yellow cranes. Below and to the right, the city stretches to the south west down the Lagan valley. Straight ahead, Scrabo Tower above Newtownards is tiny pimple on the horizon. On a clear day you can see the Mountains of Mourne – but not today. We walked along the ridge admiring the view and picking out landmarks – personal and otherwise. Finaghy, where dad grew up. My mother’s old school. Right below us, the newly-refurbished Windsor Park stadium. The slightly odd piece of public art which we know as the Falls Balls.

As we progressed, a collection of hooded crows sat with their backs to us in a row on the wire fencing that runs beside the path, languidly flapping further along each time we approached them. There was something slightly sinister about the way they seemed to be watching over the city, plotting. The collective noun for crows, a murder, felt apt.

Brighter thoughts and a coffee were in order as we reached the trig point at the end of the ridge and took in the view towards the open sea for the final time, before heading back down the board-walked path to the starting point. There’s a number of different trail options from here, and definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.