Hello, my name is Mal Tabb.
Thanks for visiting our web pages. Marion & I operate a small outdoor activity organisation called Canoes, Mountains & Caves. We provide activities for: adults, young people, schools, charities, families & individuals. A key aspect of our work is the provision of a "Community Programme" which is offered free of charge to participants. If you think we might be able to help please don't hesitate to contact us, you can find out more about what we do on our main website www.canoesmountainscaves.com

Thursday, 29 December 2011

That Was The Year That Was - 2011

29th December 2011, almost another year over. Just Kay & I in the Coach House tonight, its the quietest Blaithwaite has been for some time and the quietest its likely to be for some to come as our first "New Year" group arrive tomorrow, followed by another on New Year's Eve - we are looking forward to welcoming folk back to the Centre & looking forward to 2012.

2011 has been an interesting year, in many ways its not turned out as anticipated but overall its been a good time. I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone  out there who takes the time to read this blog - readership has increased significantly since the summer, its a real encouragement and there are plenty of developments planned for the year ahead which I hope will add interest and relevance.

Looking back to where the year started I was busy building mileage & fitness aimed at a series of mountain running challenges, injury while fell running in Snowdonia in May put paid to much of that but following cortisone injections and a fresh look at scheduling of activity what could have been a pessimistic outlook has turned out very well.

There have been some real high points in 2011 

- Blaithwaite has had a great year, the life and mission of the Centre is strong and well on track with our vision here.
- After years of faffing around (I trained in 2005) it was very satisfying to complete the Mountain Leader Assessment process
- For Kay & I a very welcome third grandchild
- Loads of excellent trips in the fells, visits to the North West Highlands and Snowdonia & a determined effort to get back underground towards the end of the year 
- More excellent days out with groups than there is space to record in this end of year piece

I guess the less than nice stuff is dominated by Kay's un-planned visit to hospital in October and the subsequent "hard road" of treatment that she has found herself on, however, she is coping exceptionally well with it all and we will be forever grateful for the prayers of so many people -  they are genuinely sustaining at such a time.


So what of 2012? 

Blaithwaite - the Centre looks busy, we'll be looking forward to welcoming back many regular groups; lots of new groups booked in too. We should complete a major electrical uprgade mid-January which will fundamentally improve the infra-structure of the Centre; further camping developments are planned and a significant re-vamp of the STABLES building is underway. Our programme of retreats has proved very popular & will continue and there will be another Activity Weekend in 2012. Check out dates at www.blaithwaite.co,uk

In2venture - In2venture is a Christian; young peoples'; educational charity based in the North of England (In2venture Community Interest Company is my employer & is responsible for managing Blaithwaite House). The charity has been operating for over 25 years & despite its exceptional work is not well known, I plan to write much more about the work of In2venture in 2012 - watch this space!!

Blogging - there will be at least as much blogging in 2012: trip reports will frequent; I will try to improve the photography! I hope to develop the functionality of the blog and introduce a few new themes. After "dabbling" a little with reviewing gear in 2011 my conclusion is there will be less of this as its already done extensively by others. Again, please keep reading & watch this space.

So here's looking forward to 2012:

"For I know the plans I have for you" says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope" 
Jeremiah 29 v11

Friday, 23 December 2011

Seasons Greetings!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there............

Well thats it now. 

Folk who work at Blaithwaite have gone home for Christmas, those who are visiting are either here or on the way and looking forward to another one of those special times in this special place.

Whether you read this blog from: California or Finland; or Glasgow or Southampton (or anywhere else in between!) ..................................................................................................

Thats it from Blaithwaite House - wishing you all the Peace & Joy that Christmas brings.

Very Best Wishes,


Thursday, 22 December 2011

Skiddaw at Christmas

With: Ian Wallace; Alan & Paul Rainford
Weather: Unseasonally mild (11 degC) in the valleys; very windy on summit ridge; occasional glimpses of sunshine
Where: Lake District Northern Fells - Ullock Pike; Longside Edge; Carl Side & Skiddaw

Approx 8miles & 3.200' ascent

Ian on Ridge up to Ullock Pike 
Skiddaw is often referred to as a boring hill, however, in my view the approach over Ullock Pike & Longside Edge, then via Carl Side & its tarn is one of the top three routes in the North Lakes and is right up there with the best in this region. The summit plateau is anything but boring and has all the atmosphere of the other lakeland 3,000 'ers.
We set off in unseasonally mild weather from the Orthwaite Road and soon worked our way through the pastoral land to begin our steep climb out of Southerndale, followed  by the steady ascent up towards Ullock Pike.
Paul Rainford - a Snow Flecked Southerndale

Longside Edge was decorated with the blunt remains of cornices which must have recently tumbled into the valley below & we made good progress through patchy snow to arrive swiftly at Carl Side.
Dropping off Longside & Approaching Carl Side

The climb on to the Skiddaw summit plateau is quite strenuous, we were rewarded with magnificent fleeting glimpses of the ridge we had just traversed but I was never quick enough to grab a photo!
Ian in Ascent
The summit was wild, we headed off to the north & ultimately picked up the line of a fence just east of north which we followed off down Birkett Edge to Dash Falls & a long walk out to Peter House Farm.
Skiddaw Summit

Alan & Paul Descending Through Patchy Snowfields to North of Skiddaw

The Northern Fells

Friday, 16 December 2011


With: Paul Rich; Alan-R & Graham
Weather: lying snow all day (light dusting at low altitude; 15-25cm at 700m - dry powder); initially a clearing picture as forecast; later deteriorating to snow showers and whiteout - worryingly un-forecast
Where: North Western Fells, Lake District

Approx: 4.5 miles & 2,250' ascent

Regular readers will be aware of a certain amount of whining coming from me over the past few weeks regarding the coincidence of inappropriate weather with my planned choice of activity! Well, today was a day that has been in the diary for a long time - with "mountains" written next to it - Paul Richardson traveled across from Darlington to join us & it was great to be out with him again.
We arrived at Lanthwaite Green just after 10:30 and set straight off up Whiteside via Whin Ben. There was a dusting of light snow and the skies were clearing as forecast.

Looking Good on Ascent - Graham, Alan & Paul

Paul Richardson

We pressed on up the spur high above Gasgale Gill, initially in sunshine. Having all chosen not to "be bold and start off cold" layers were shed and as the climbing got steeper ice axes were used in anger for the first time this winter.

At around 500m the snow became distinctly deeper - it was dry and powdery, great. However, from around this point the cloud began to lower and visibility became increasingly compromised. It wasn't long before those recently shed layers were replaced and eyes began to strain into the white-grey environment.

After a steep but enjoyable climb we made the summit of Whiteside ( a new Wainwright for all of us) and stopped briefly to add even more bits and pieces of kit and to take some photographs.

Whiteside Summit

Me on Summit

From the summit we continued along the ridge towards Hopegill Head. However, conditions continued to deteriorate in snow showers to produce full white-out, we agreed it was possibly the worst any of us had been out in for a long time. As such we re-traced our footsteps to the summit cairn and began to plot an alternative and interesting route off the mountain. From the "anchor" of the summit we were able to take a bearing and pace our way to another marked cairn on the map - a generally westerly direction. From which were able to further navigate to the handrail feature of Wyth Gill. The descent in heavy snow wasn't particularly pleasant but as we lost height the visibility slowly improved and we dropped down to a boundary wall in grey murky conditions. By this time we had dropped below the freezing level and the snow around the tops of boots and on gloves began to melt leading to soggy damp kit. 

I don't know if its just me but the low level bits always seem to take ages on the way out.

Back at the car the conclusion was a good day out despite not getting anything like the ridge walk with snow underfoot and bright blue skies we had anticipated!

Hopefully thats not quite it before Christmas - still have an eye on a day next week

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Night Nav & Doctor's Pot (?)

With: Alan Rainford & Fergus Blair
Weather: a gap between a series of intense Atlantic lows gave a clear, cold starry night with flecks of snow covering the moor
Where: Faulds Brow (NE of Caldbeck, Cumbria)
Alan Rainford -  on Faulds Brow

Ferg - Doctor's Pot?
This is a post for the geeks!

You may have gathered that we have been getting a bit frustrated with the weather of late & again tonight was planned as an evening cave trip, however, torrential rain all day discouraged us from traveling down to the Dales. Instead we opted for some night nav in search of the very local Doctor's Pot - its been on our list of somewhere to check out for years.

Doctors Pot is listed in" Northern Caves 3" on  p.250; its discovery is credited to the Friends School of Wigton Outdoor Activities Group (FSWOAG) through a dig in 1970. A Google search for: Doctor's Pot; Friends School of Wigton Outdoor Activities Group or  FSWOAG fails to turn up anything relevant in the first two pages.
I know that Google searches for caves / pot holes often list content of this blog so if you arrive here and know anything about this obscure pot hole or FSWOAG then please do leave a comment & let me know any further information.
Northern Caves 3 lists the location of the Pot Hole at NY291407.
We drove along the Westward-Faulds road & parked at the track leading to the quarry in order to give us an unequivocal point from which to start our night nav. We took a bearing to the above grid reference and paced the distance to it, this led us to a series of small shakeholes & we verified our position by GPS as exactly 291407, however, extensive searching in the immediate vicinity yielded no pot hole. Widening of the search led us to discover at NY 290405 (i.e. some 200m south and slightly west of the quoted grid reference) to a feature that closely resembled the cave entrance: "at base of a small cliff in NE corner of largest of a complex of depressions". A very marshy area was draining into the entrance - also consistent with the Northern Caves 3 description. Across the entrance was a large wooden beam which looked exactly like a belay point for any underlying shaft. We weren't able to investigate very far into the apparent cave entrance due to the large amount of water (it has been exceptionally wet); the slightly unstable look to the surrounding rock and our lack of relevant equipment on the nght - we will have to return. 
So did we find Doctor's Pot? If we did it is a couple of hundred metres away from the quoted guidebook entrance or we found something else .
If you know more - please let me know!
We got back to Blaithwaite to witness a spectacular display from the Geminids, shooting stars everywhere - an interesting evening
Entrance to Doctor's Pot ?

Thursday, 8 December 2011


View From Kev's Car - Just Outside of Nenthead

Today was another planned caving day. However, 27mm of overnight rain in the Yorkshire Dales National Park put paid to our thinking so we headed to the Nenthead area with the intention of doing some of the vertical sections of Smallcleugh Mine.
Travel from Brampton was via Kev's Nissan Pathfinder, all good until we arrived at Nenthead itself where there were several inches of lying snow & weather warnings coming in thick and fast. In the interests of getting home in one piece rather than any hazards associated with the proposed mining trip we decided to cancel & head back - it was an eventful journey which required some pushing and shoving to keep the Pathfinder moving and a delay to tow another 4 x 4 out of a ditch on the Middleton- Alston road after it had skidded from the road.
So the day didn't lack excitement - we're just struggling a bit to get underground at the moment!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Advent Thinking - Alan Rainford

Its great to have Alan writing on the blog, grab a cup of coffee & a mince pie - have a read!

"I was out walking with Mal and Graham a few weeks ago. As we walked the
sun was on my right hand side and cloud on my left as I looked I saw my
shadow on the cloud. There was a halo around it and for a second I thought
it was my aura or how saintly I was. This was quickly dashed when Mal
informed me that it was a Brocken spectre. (You can see these photos on Mal's blog)  In all the years of being out in creation none of us had seen
this before. It was an amazing experience.

When I got home I explained it to my wife and showed her the photos and
shared this with other people present at the time. I was disappointed that
they just did not get it. They could not enter into the experience we had
because they were not there and photos didn't capture the moment. But
hopefully they knew from my excitement enthusiasm that something good had

I wonder if at that first Christmas the shepherds families just did not
share the same enthusiasm as they were not there. They didn't experience
the angels or the baby Jesus in the cave. Or Mary and Joseph trying to
tell their family and friends later on in their lives what happened that
day. But maybe again they would have seen in the faces of those sharing
that something good had happened

We often get back from an activity and try to share what happened. If you
could see the look on some of the peoples' faces at the end of the Alston to
Slaggyford South Tyne canoe trip the other day, it said so much about how
they enjoyed it. But if you were not there then we cannot fully share the
moment with you. But hopefully you can imagine some of our excitement.

Same as we share our faith with those who don't get it. Maybe they cannot
enter into our experience at this stage but maybe our enthusiasm for
sharing the good news of Jesus will help people see something good about
our faith and ask more about it.

Maybe this Christmas we need to be challenged to be enthusiastic about the
Christmas story and our faith as Christians. And if we are not
enthusiastic at present - to use this time to renew our faith. Or maybe its
a time for us to be open to experience something for the first time in our

Blaithwaite - First Snow

We got our first snow of the winter yesterday:

Looking across the Solway, snow on Criffel this morning:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Duty Manager - Indoors Today

Its one of those cold, grey, damp days - winter seems to have arrived all of a sudden and after such a mild autumn its still a bit of a shock to the system.
Alan, Ferg, Clare & Graham have met up with some of the COAC folk  to paddle the upper South Tyne from Alston to Slaggyford, its one of the few classic North East  river trips that I've not done (& would like to) but today a day indoors as Duty Manager at Blaithwaite seems like a good option! Its Main House only this weekend & our last group before a planned three week shut down - we reopen for New Year. Our guests are regular visitors at this time of year & its good to be able to welcome them back. 

Kay is away this weekend (and feeling better at the mid point of this phase of treatment). 

Its advent which is a good time of year here & we have already got the tree up in the Coach House!

One of our un-planned winter projects has been to repair and upgrade the Ellrigg heating system (its a huge improvement) and to remove much of the glass from the foyer providing a safer and better insulated environment. It looks good:

Otherwise I think the images below give a good impression of the look of this corner of Cumbria on the first weekend in December: