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Doodlecat's Homepage

Picture of Doodle - a 
black cat

Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

I would love to be able to say that Doodlecat is all my own work, but it isn’t. Much of the outdoors content is courtesy of the splendid people who participate in the annual TGO Challenge (there is a section entirely devoted to this unique event) and many others.

To help in tracking down that elusive morsel on Doodlecat, the search facility under the title bar above is tailored to help you find it, either on this home page (Doodlecat's Blog) all the rest of the site (Main Site) or – if all else fails - the internet!

So have a rummage around the old cat basket and enjoy your time with us!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Lakes

Alan, Phil, David H, Richard and Mick As the late, great, Douglas Adams might have put it - the first ten miles were the worst…the next ten, they were the worst too.

Our pre walk daunder started well enough with a splendid lunch of warm ale, cold beef pies and hot mustard in the Golden Rule – a real traditional boozer in Ambleside that stoically ignores the tourist trade. None of your lasagne and glass of Pinot Grigio here, thank you very much. No menus or blackboards. If you want food, you ask, and are offered pork or beef pies (excellent they are too). And here you can still have a pickled egg in a packet of crisps, a sadly neglected triumph of English cuisine.

Then off to the Great Langdale campsite to get a pitch above the flood level of the beck before an evening at the climbers’ bar of the Old Dungeon Ghyll, where serious training for the social side of the Challenge was undertaken.

The Daunder.

Mick Hopkins and David Albon enjoy a lamb hotpot at WasdaleWhen it’s fine, the views compensate for everything on the walk to Wasdale, but when it’s dire the rocky scar of the path with intermittent stretches of slippery stone repairs is a bit grim. The Wasdale Head Hotel, though, is great – and their lamb hot pot, with the chief ingredient bleating just outside, is wonderful. We felt immensely cheered up and trotted off to the NT campsite happily, resisting Richard’s suggestion to camp in the field by the pub.

It continued raining all night, and we packed up in light rain in the morning. Ah well, good practice, I suppose.

David Albon works on Sundays, so had to return in the morning. We set off for our wildcamp at Scar Lathing. The cloud came down to meet us as we started our climb up Oliver Gill, and we spent the rest of the day with about twenty yards visibility; a great opportunity to hone our skills with map & compass. It was at this point, as I reached for my compass pouch, that I remembered that I had not attached it to my new pack before setting off from home. Fortunately we had five with compasses (often a recipe for lively navigational debate, but Alan was quickly elected as navigator in chief) and Richard produced his new toy – a Gecko gps.

“Our average speed is 177 kph”


“I might have switched it on when I was on the train”.

So we set forth once more, fully confident in being able to verify our exact position at any time. Even so, navigating on bearings in near zero visibility is a bit tricky, and being just fifty yards off track was enough to provide us with an interesting traverse of a loose and slippery boulder field where David Hobbs’ slip allowed me the frisson of hearing unseen rocks heading in my direction.

And as well as being in cloud, it was still raining – did I mention the rain? There was a lot of it, so the crossing of the River Esk was interesting. However we crossed without incident, apart from Alan being kicked in the head by his own boots as he battled with the current.

David Hobbs fords the Esk
David Hobbs fords the Esk

Putting on boots and socks on the far bank, I congratulated myself on being dry and warm, even in these conditions, and trotted off happily to camp.

It was the whisky that did it. Four flasks being passed around rapidly means a large intake over a short time. This, it has to be said, can impair one’s judgement somewhat – and so it was with me.

I decided it was time to eat, and went to the river to fill my Ortlieb bag. The current tugged the screw top out of my hand, and it bobbed and swirled in an eddy by a large tussock out in the stream. I decided that I could easily leap onto the tussock and retrieve it – so I did. The top sank. I lunged for it and plummeted headfirst into the torrent, grabbing the black top as I did so. I surfaced to find that I had grabbed a black rock by mistake.

Great hilarity from all ashore (apart from Al, who had retired to his tent refreshed).

For the first time that night I had some condensation in the Akto. Unsurprising really as despite stuffing my sodden top, socks etc into a drybag, the soaking Paramo and trousers lay in the corner of the tent, and I cooked with the porch just open a crack as it was raining. To be fair my companions did offer dry clothing and occasionally shout to see if I was alive. Our riverside camp site

Actually I was OK. Once towelled off and in the bag, I cooked and slept like a babe, only waking for a pee and checking that the water outside was not going to rise over the edge of the groundsheet. Yes, it was raining – hard.

The next morning, the rain stopped for a while. We could see things, and all agreed that yesterday’s walk would have been wonderful if we could have seen anything. It was a bit like the game shows of old where the host would say to the losers, “…and this is what you could have won”.

With dry underclothes and socks, I donned my wet trousers and Paramo top. What miraculous stuff Paramo is. Within ten minutes it felt dry inside, and I was warm. Very impressive. I was unsure about using the Velez top on the Challenge; now I have no doubts. A superb bit of kit.

Alan fords Lingcove BeckVisibility soon deteriorated as we made our way to ford Lingcove Beck and pick up the path to Three Tarns. This is a lovely path, little trodden and a bit intermittent in parts, but what the Lakeland paths were probably like before they were reduced to rubble. The mist lifted and I loved it. Delightful. Then just over the hill we descended The Band – another once wonderful path destroyed by the thousands plodding up to Bowfell. Not complaining, really. Whilst the hordes stick to these trails, it keeps the rest of the place nice and empty for the rest of us!

All in all, a great week end with great company, thanks to Alan Sloman, Mick Hopkins, David Hobbs, David Albon & Richard White. And are we fit for the chally? Well, only me Mick & Al are actually on it this year, and I reckon that now we’re all as fit as we’re likely to be.

Oh dear…

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Wildcamp Petition

Just a wee reminder to all you folk who have signed up to the Wildcamp Petition (and if you haven't, now is a good time) that we are approaching the deadline - 24th May.

Already the number of signatories is heading for 1400, and an 'official' response will therefore be forthcoming....but....chances are that the 'response' will be drafted by Sir Humphrey Appleby (of 'Yes Minister' fame) so a little pressure is required.

Now is the time to write to your MP, drawing his/her attention to the petition, and restating the argument. Not good at letters? Neither am I, so for full details of how to contact your MP - and a draft letter go here.

We've got some momentum - now go for it guys!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Bootiful Day

Lord Elpus has new boots.

Alan Sloman has detailed the anguish that this biennial purchase causes him, on account of his peculiarly extensible feet. From one at size 8 1/2 and one size 9, standing up they measure an astonishing size 10 and 10 1/2 . Longer, but not wider (think Coco the clown and you’ll get the picture) so the current trend toward wider fitting boots does not suit Lord E at all.

Steve at Lockwoods diagnosed “hyper-mobile” feet (odd that, I’ve never found any part of him especially mobile) and finally found Lord E a pair of long narrow boots to fit his long narrow feet. Job done? Not with Lord E!

The boots have remained housebound for over a week. Upstairs, downstairs, on improvised ramps, up and down they go (Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Infantry Columns’ comes to mind). Finally, today, I’d had enough.

“I’ve just about reached breaking point” I snapped.


“Outside – you’ve got to try them outside, on a proper walk - outside”

“I just want to be sure…certain”

“One things for sure – if you don’t get them on your feet and go for a walk, I will – a long one!”

And off we toddled. First on a pleasant country road – Lord E began to relax. Then a dry, well surfaced bridleway – Lord E began to smile and chat. Grassy paths to a country church, a pleasant lunch. The boots were fine (if a little garish with their bright yellow stripes), and off we went down another lane to a path…a muddy path.

“We could just follow the road round”, said Lord E

“Why? – it’s miles”

“Well…er..it is a bit muddy”


“What about my new boots – they’ll get dirty”

We followed the path - with Lord E tip toeing over the damp bits, not smiling now. Eventually the path got a bit wetter, muddier and eventually becoming a stream. I went on ahead, so as not to hear his sobs as the bright yellow boots turned to a shade of cow pat brown.

We didn’t talk much in the car on the way back, but his day was finally redeemed by our neighbour, who turned up with a bottle of Talisker and a 16 year old Lagavulin (to say ‘thanks’ for photographing her husbands 60th birthday).


Three Taliskers later he has just beamed, “Glad I decided to get the boots broken in today”.

“Yes, dear”

Peace at last.


Monday, April 14, 2008

New TGO Account

Mike Knipe's 2004 Challenge account is now available in the TGO Challenge section. In Mike's own words, "There's no pictures, or at least I cant find any. They'll be lying undeveloped in the glove compartment of a long-scrapped banger".

Doesn't need any photos, Mike - a cracking read that captures some of the key elements of the event (sock washing, eating, drinking, sleeping) all interspersed with heroic bouts of 'Eastwardly' walking.



New Charity Challenger

Doodling around on the world wide wotsit, I came across a website set up by a newcomer to the TGO Challenge, Jules Eaton.

Jules is raising money for two worthwhile charities, The RAF Benevolent Fund, whose work is well known, and a new charity Help for Heroes. Help for Heroes is currently raising money for a much needed swimming pool and Gymnasium at Headley Court - target, £6million.

To quote from the Help for Heroes website:

"We are non political and do not wish to comment on the rights and wrongs of a particular conflict; we simply want to do something to help those very special people who are brave enough to volunteer to serve their country and are wounded while doing so."

Many people walk for charity each year, and we all support as many as we can. I have dipped my hand into my pocket again for Jules' charities (RAFBFin my case) - I hope you can find a few quid as well.

His 'Justgiving' page for the RAF Benevolent Fund is here, and Help for Heroes is here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


The weather forecast was bad, so bad in fact there was warnings of high winds, ferry cancellations, flooding, even snow and general mayhem through out the land for several days to come. Not good news for those in the group who had to catch a ferry home from Dublin in a couple of days time.

Fiona & Michael on the summit of Binn Mhor

But, according to the forecast, the rain and high winds were not due to arrive till late Thursday afternoon, and then would last for several days. A quick discussion ensured that there would be an early start to the day in an attempt to get up and down off the hills before the storm arrived in Connemara. So in the morning the group split, with one group going to Cong for the day and the other, our group, heading for The Maumturks.

Dave with the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks ridge in the background

We parked up in a layby on the R336 and squelched across the bog to an old fence which we followed up hill, turning a few outcrops on the way, to the summit of Corcogemore. Corcogemore use to be on the list of Irish 2,000 foot mountains till the publishing of Harvey's 1:30000 Connemara Map. Now it is a Marilyn, that is a relative hill, one which has a drop of 150 metres all round it. For us it was a great view point, with encompassing views out to the coast and surrounding hills, with the added bonus of a sighting of an Irish Mountain Hare, just before the summit, which loped off when it spotted Dave.

The Twelve Bens from The Maumturks

We descended to a low col, where a faint path beside a line of old fence posts marked the steep ascent to Mullach Glas, the second mountain of our day. The wind was now beginning to pick up, and it also had a bite to it now. With Hats, gloves and another layer on, Dave, Fiona & I made our way to the next col crossing a fence on the way. The short ascent to the first top did not take long, with the ground becoming more rocky as we traversed the second top and past some small lochans to Binn Mhor's summit & trig point.

Fiona on the Maumturks Ridge

The views out from Binn Mhor's summit were extensive, taking in The Twelve Bens, Lough Mask, Roundstone bog, Errisbeg, Cashel Hill, the coast and Islands. Normally a place to linger, if it wasn't for the build up of dark clouds to the west. So after a few photos we started our descent to Maumeen. There was a few crags to turn on our steep descent, not one to be doing in poor visibility and bad weather, before crossing the col to the Holy Well, for a late lunch.

Dave and Michael having lunch beside the Holy Well, with St Patrick in the background.

After using the Holy Well for shelter from the wind while we ate our lunch, we set off down The Western Way to walk the 11km back to our car. The Western Way starts off as muddy track through the bog becoming better as you descend & after a few km you reach a minor road, which you follow back (via one junction) to the R336. All you have to do is avoid the temptation to turn left to Keane's Bar, rather than right for your car at the R336. This way back also takes you past the Quiet Man Bridge. Dave, who is a big Fan of the film, insisted on stopping here so we could take a picture of him on the bridge. Takes all sorts I suppose.

An alternative way back from Maumeen, would have been to contour the hillside round to the R336, which would have been a shorter distance than the Western Way and the road. However, it did not look at all inviting from above, perhaps a route back to try when there has been a frost.

Our timing was spot on, making it back to our car just when the first spots of rain began to fall. And rain it did, all night, so to celebrate a good day on the hills and the fact the weather forecast was spot on, for a change! We stopped off at O'Tooles in Toormakeady for a few good pints of Guinness

Waggy jamming with the locals in Toormakeady

A full report by Bernie Marshall of the OTHC meet at Lough Mask will appear in the club magazine, The Link, and on the OTHC website at a future date.

All Photos by Fiona


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It's a Family Affair

Three generations of Emsleys at St. Cyrus

This photo shows three challengers finishing their TGO Challenge crossing at St Cyrus in 1999 (my finish point that year as it happens, and my very first Challenge). The photo is a typical end of walk snap, but it holds a couple of secrets...

A further study of the photo may reveal a family resemblance, and so it should, for on the left is Derek Emsley, and the chaps to Derek's right are his son, Richard and grandson, Nigel. To date, this is the only three generation family crossing.
Richard Emsley in action
And walking certainly seems to be in the blood for the Emsleys. Derek used to be a race walker, Richard, who is now 56, was placed 3rd in the 20K National Race Walking Championship on Saturday, and his team won gold in the team championship. Kevin, another son who walked with Derek in '98, is a Centurion (awarded for walking 100 miles in under 24 hours). In 1996 Derek's wife, Marian, took up the Challenge.

But it's not just immediate family members. Over the years Derek has introduced many others to the TGO Challenge, sometimes intentionally, but on one occasion, totally by accident.

He completed his tenth crossing in 1992, so in '93 he had to have a year off, and, being the sort of chap he is, set off in his camper van to provide tea and butties to weary challengers at various points across Scotland. Parked on the West Highland Way Derek had a brew on, when a lone walker came into sight. Derek hailed him and welcomed him into the van.

"Are you on the walk?"

"I am indeed"

"Where are you headed?"

"Fort William ... er...where else?"

The walker, of course, was not a challenger at all, merely a vagabond walking the West Highland Way, but, by the time Derek found out, the scoundrel had gorged himself on tea and biccies, and continued to do so whilst Derek told him all about the Challenge. Yes folks, that lone walker was none other than Alan Sloman, bon viveur, raconteur and blagger of biccies. Derek Emsley is the man responsible for introducing him to the challenge, a burden that he carries with dignity.

Although Derek no longer undertakes the walk, his influence continues, for it was Alan that introduced me to the event in '99, when we walked as group of four, with our wives, Tini (Miss W) and Lynnie. Through me, my brother in law, David Hobbs came to the event in 2004. Alan has also introduced 'Fen Boy' Coady and Sandra, Richard White, Bob Butler, and his own son, Ollie. All of us making our way across Scotland as a result of that chance meeting with Derek on the West Highland Way.

None of us would have missed it for the world - and some of us just keep coming back for more. Derek's photo got me thinking that the Challenge is much more than a backpacking event. Difficulties overcome, good times enjoyed, enduring friendships forged....

It's a family affair.