Yorkshire, in northern England, is famous for its beautiful countryside where hikers pass through remote moors and climb rugged hills. They can also explore an enduring mystery of Europe’s past.
Yorkshire has some of England’s largest concentrations of prehistoric rock art. Drawings of recognizable animals or objects are rare. Instead, most are abstract images like these “cup and ring marks,” seen here in this photo by T.J. Blackwell taken in Hangingstones Quarry above Ilkley Moor. They are shallow divots ground into the rock, surrounded by incised lines that often connect to the lines around other cup marks.
More examples can be seen on the so-called “Badger Stone,” also at Ilkley Moor, and shown below in this photograph by John Illingworth.
Archaeologists estimate them to be about 4,000 years old, dating to the transition from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age. They’re found in various regions of Europe and hundreds of them can be seen on Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire.
Nobody knows why prehistoric people went through so much trouble to make them. Some researchers have suggested they were territorial markers, or had a ritual purpose. Others think they were some sort of primitive writing. Now hikers can come to their own conclusions by downloading a GPS trail through Ilkley Moor that takes them to some of the best sites. The hike starts and ends at a parking lot and takes about two hours. The Friends of Ilkley Moor created this easy-to-follow hike and have created other hikes as well.
It’s good to note that all examples of rock art are Scheduled Ancient Monuments and it is a crime to damage them.
Photo courtesy John Illingworth.
A new survey by the Scottish Wildcat Association of the endangered Scottish wildcat has revealed only about 35 purebred individuals, prompting the group to announce the cat may go extinct within months, the BBC reports.
It was previously thought that their population numbered about 400. Another survey, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and published last month, estimated about 150 breeding pairs. The Scottish Wildcat Association believes this figure is unrealistically optimistic and calls the cat “Britain’s most endangered mammal.”
Whatever the real figure, it’s obvious the Scottish wildcat is on its way out. Inbreeding, disease, and breeding with feral domestic cats threatens to eliminate the purebred species.
The Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) is found only in the Scottish highlands but once roved all over Britain. A few can be found in captivity, such as these two in the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, photographed by Peter Trimming.
Scotland is one of Europe’s wildest and most beautiful hiking destinations. If these figures prove correct, it looks like it will soon be a little less beautiful and a little less wild.
At first glance this looks like a muddy field with an Australian contract lawyer walking away into the middle distance. Look again, though, and you’ll notice something strange. Why is there no substantial vegetation in a big straight swath through this field?
The answer is that it’s a Roman road. Only a few inches below the soil are the original stones laid down 2,000 years ago when this was the Roman province of Britannia. This is one of many Roman roads crisscrossing the land from its southern shore all the way up to Hadrian’s Wall on the border with Scotland.
This photo shows a portion of the Roman Way, a 174-mile walk along three Roman roads in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Berkshire. We walked the 22.5-mile (36-kilometer) stretch between Dorchester and Alchester.
I had visited Dorchester and its medieval abbey three years ago while hiking along the Thames Path and was happy to revisit the rare medieval wall paintings and the historic High Street lined with 17th century coaching inns. This main road running through town is actually part of the Roman road.
We followed it north and were soon out into the countryside, passing through fields and between hedgerows that were bringing forth delicious blackberries. In many spots the Roman road is clearly visible as a bank raised slightly above the surrounding land. Like in Dorchester, at times it’s still used as a road and we had to detour to keep on trails.
%Gallery-164134%The landscape is dotted with little villages. One of the first we came to as we headed north towards Oxford was Toot Baldon, where a Norman church and its overgrown graveyard of mouldering stones provides a splendid view of the surrounding countryside. Shadows of clouds made dark blots on patchwork fields while a murder of crows circled above a distant hedgerow.
We came upon another church, built in the 12th century, a couple of villages further on at Horspath. The sun shone through the brilliant stained glass to illuminate the interior with a kaleidoscope of colors. Not far beyond, we walked up onto a wooded ridge called Shotover. This was a forest in Saxon times and later became a royal hunting ground.
At the crest of the ridge we followed a clearly visible road, but it wasn’t the Roman one. Instead it was the London-Oxford coaching road and was considered a dangerous stretch. The thickets on either side of the road were infested with highwaymen who would relieve travelers of their hard-earned shillings and guineas. The highwaymen were a polite bunch and generally bid their victims a pleasant good night before riding off with their money.
From Shotover we got another fine view, this time to the north and west, where we saw the fringes of southern Oxford and a pair of hills called Mother Dunch’s Buttocks, named after a lady of the local manor from the 17th century. Heading down the slope at the far end of Shotover, we entered the C.S. Lewis Nature reserve, a bit of wild land with a pond that are said to have inspired the famous author to invent Narnia. His house is nearby.
Within a few minutes we were at Oxford Park and Ride, mainly used for commuters but also a good starting-off point for both legs of this hike. Heading north from there ran the second part of our trail. For a time it skirted the eastern edge of town but soon we were walking through fields and past centuries-old thatched farmhouses. After a long stretch we came to Beckley, where we took shelter from a sudden downpour in the Abingdon Arms, a local pub. A pint later, we ventured out to visit the local church, yet another Norman structure. This one rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries and decorated inside with paintings of Biblical scenes.
Beyond Beckley lies Otmoor, a large fenland and nature reserve. A nearby Ministry of Defense shooting range keeps anyone from thinking of building on it! There was no shooting the day we went and ll wee heard was birdsong back by deep silence. There are several blinds scattered about for people interested in birdwatching. The rain made this part of the hike very squishy. Anyone hiking in the UK should definitely wear good water-resistant boots.
Not far from here some locals discovered the wooden pilings of a Roman bridge, and we saw more Roman remains stuck in the wall of the church at Merton, where the builders mixed local stone with Roman tiles scavenged from the nearby Roman fort of Alchester. The church is dedicated to St. Swithun, whose remains were moved here from the cathedral at Winchester in 971. His spirit disapproved of the move and caused it to rain for 40 days.
Some more plodding through mud and rain (thankfully not of the 40-day kind) brought us to Bicester, once a Roman town and now engulfed in a shopping center. This jarring intrusion of the modern world into a historical hike killed the atmosphere and we quickly caught a bus back to Oxford where we could enjoy a celebratory whiskey.
For a guidebook we used “The Roman Way” by Elaine Steane. The directions are clear and are aided by strips of Ordnance Survey maps for the areas the path passes through. There are also some notes on the history and nature of the region, although you’ll probably want to do some more background reading before heading out. To include everything of interest would have required a book that would be too heavy to carry!
A couple of years ago, I spent six enjoyable days hiking the East Highland Way and wrote a series about it for all you fine folks. Back then this trail through Scotland had only just been established by devoted hiker Kevin Langan.
I felt like a real pioneer when I did this route. The 82-mile journey from Ft. William to Aviemore was unmarked and there was no guidebook yet. Kevin was kind enough to email me PDFs of the page proofs. I never saw anyone else doing the trail and only heard of one other hiker, a German who was a day ahead of me.
Now the East Highland Way is fully established. The guidebook is not only in print now, it’s on its third edition. Kevin’s website is getting tons of hits, and his publisher has added some stuff for the techies in the form of a free Android mobile phone app for the route, which is now available on the Google Play store. GPS (.GPX) and Google Earth (.KMZ) route files are available to download from the website free of charge, as is a new amenities brochure, which includes maps of each location and places of interest.
The trail has also received markers. When I did it I had to rely on generally trustworthy Ordnance Survey maps. It’s nice to have confirmation with trail makers, though.
I caught up with Kevin and asked him how he went about building this new trail and what’s new after two years.
%Gallery-163506%What made you decide to establish a new route in the highlands and what made you pick the Ft. William-Aviemore line?
After walking the world-famous West Highland Way, I noticed that hikers can engage with a whole other network of interconnected trails such as the Great Glen Way, the Rob Roy Way, the Kintyre Way, and the Cowal Way. It was by exploring these routes that I then became aware of a satellite group further east. The Speyside Way, Dava Way and the Moray Coastal Trail seemed to be cut-off and isolated by a series of lesser-walked glens. It occurred to me that strategically, a new connection at this point could theoretically fuse together the various national trails and create a much larger path network to explore. The missing link in question ran between Fort William and Aviemore, two towns already drenched in outdoor culture and heritage. This was entirely theoretical at first and was never anticipated to become a mainstream long distance trail.
How did you go about researching and establishing the route?
In the years to follow I explored the area many times both physically and virtually, trial-blazed various routes and took more notes than I knew how to compile. It was through detailed analysis of the terrain and distances that I finally settled on the East Highland Way route as it stands today. Three websites and three guidebooks later, the route is becoming more popular with each day.
How did you get markers for the route? Were those put up by the government?
The waymarking has been done by building up relationships with various landowners. There are also various existing sections that use locally waymarked trails already, which is great – mainly the Badenoch way and the newly waymarked Loch Gynack trail. The EHW waymarking so far has been done very organically from the ground up. The new orange East Highland Way markers have been distributed to land owners and strategically placed at their discretion. These will include the forests of Inverlair and Corrour and also the full length of Loch Laggan past Ardverikie.
How has the route changed since I walked it (when the first edition was still in production)?
Since you walked it the route has changed immensely. Almost 10 miles of reduced road walking:
1: The route now leaves Fort William via the old Ben Nevis access path past the Alcan smelter, rather than the tarred cycle path to Torlundy.
2: The route uses a new Forest trail approaching Spean Bridge, which bypasses the road section.
3: A new forest route through the Ardverikie estate, which reduces the road walking along the Ardverikie driveway by a few miles.
3: The road walking through Laggan village has been chopped in half with a shortcut over the moor to Glen Banchor.
4: A new high-level route has been introduced between Newtonmore and Kingussie, which replaces the old tarred cycle path.
5: A new route waymarked through Invereshie House estate towards the Frank Burce sculpture park.
What’s next for the EHW?
I think the East Highland Way is growing steadily and I would be happy for people just to continue walking and enjoying the route and that over the years further waymarking is introduced and further road walking eliminated. It’s quite a simple project with a simple agenda. The most important thing for me is the quality of the product. I need to stay focused on finding the best quality paths and attractions along the route and everything else will sort itself out.
Are you planning to establish more routes?
I’ve got various projects, which are ongoing and take up lots of my time. There will hopefully be other long distance routes in the future although this isn’t something I’m actively pursuing at the moment. They are extraordinarily time consuming and need a lot of effort and hard work not to mention free time to be produced properly and with a high quality output in mind.
[Full disclosure: I contributed several photos to the original edition. I didn't ask for payment, and I don't receive any royalties. I gave Kevin free photos because I believe in promoting this trail. I don't know if they're in the third edition.]
Grampian Police have had to lead four separate groups to safety in the past week. The latest rescue included the use of mountain rescue teams and a Royal Navy helicopter to retrieve 14 hikers. The hikers were in the Cairngorms, a rugged mountain range with some of the UK’s tallest peaks.
Police said that the growing use of smartphone apps for navigation can lead to trouble. People are relying too much on technology without actually understanding the world around them. Police then have to rescue them at taxpayer expense.
Hiking with an app sounds to me like the antithesis of hiking. Basic orienteering with a map and compass is not difficult to learn. I’ve been teaching my 6-year-old and his brain hasn’t melted. Not only do a map and compass not have to rely on getting a signal, but they help you understand the land better and give you a feel for your natural surroundings.
So please folks, if you’re going out into nature, actually interact with it!