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

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Wild Places & Betrayal

Ten years ago, about one year into a new chapter of working full time in the outdoors, life involved spending much time paddling canoes and kayaks on the rivers and lakes of the North of England. It was the run in to Christmas and I had recently moved to Blaithwaite House in Cumbria. Early – mid December featured an un-seasonally busy spell of work in kayaks: a day on the River Tees paddling one of the white water sections; the next day at Ellerton Water Park near Catterick coaching flat water skills; another river trip on the Eamont helping on a 3* assessment and finally just before Christmas a day on the Caldew close to “home”.

Christmas approached and a very un-festive headache sent me searching for paracetamol in the middle of the night. The next morning saw no improvement and a general “malaise” had set in featuring the previously mentioned headache now accompanied by general aching joints and lethargy. A couple of days of further demise and a visit to the out of hours Doctor on Christmas Eve resulted in a diagnosis of flu. It certainly didn’t feel like a regular cold virus, so although unwelcome flu felt about right at the time apart from the absence of significant respiratory symptoms. Christmas Day arrived and was duly spent in bed with soaring body temperatures, times spent above 40 degC were particularly uncomfortable. Boxing Day saw further deterioration and this time the out of hours Doctor came to visit. Perplexed, he felt a kidney infection possible due largely to the excruciating back pain that had by now developed. Antibiotics were prescribed but the condition worsened in the next few hours with much time being spent at the previously described body temperature. An ambulance was called but the Paramedics, considering a diagnosis of “flu”, called Cumberland Infirmary and were duly refused permission to transport an infected individual to the hospital as a precaution against introducing the virus to their wards! The next 48 hours saw a further slide into delirium and back pain the like of which I had never known, before a second 999 call produced a crew which opted to turn on the blue lights first and answer questions at the infirmary later. There was a frenzy of activity that night as initial attempts to identify the source of infection produced no leads and efforts to bring down spiralling temperatures continued, I can’t recall all of the details but do remember well being placed on a spinal board and sent for a set of X-rays to rule out a fractured spine such was the back pain. A further 48 hours of i.v. fluids and anti-biotics saw body temperature return to normal and a general return to “wellness”- discharge resulted in being home for New Year with still no indication of the source of infection.

Full recovery took the best part of a further 8-10 weeks and it was only at the very end of this period that the multitude of blood tests finally returned a diagnosis of a rare variation on Weil’s disease, no doubt contracted on one of the above mentioned kayak trips!

I always have, and still do, regard the outdoors as a place where well-being is enhanced. This sobering experience tested my trust in this thinking, the nearest I’ve got to considering the concept of “betrayal” in the outdoors.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Break Time

Its been a busy month of March at Canoes, Mountains & Caves in which we have worked on a truly diverse range of activities and engaged with people from a very broad spectrum of backgrounds. We've had Technical Adviser Meetings which always offer interesting content; ran two "Community Events" both underground with a third unfortunately being postponed due to wet weather; freelancing for other outdoor activity providers has featured highly in keeping us occupied; we've also worked with Church youth groups and school groups. The weather for paddling on the River Derwent; Derwent Water and the Ripon Canal was kind to us; Mountain activities featured Ghyll Scrambling in the South Lakes and the Community underground sessions at Nenthead have been excellent. On top of all this much has been written on these pages in our Lent series to date. Its been great to work with "long time" friends: Paul, Adrian & John and to enjoy an "exploratory" evening underground with Alan Rainford!

Ahead of an April which looks very similar in content to March we are just about to take a short break to visit family and friends (the Lent series will continue). Below are a few photos that summarise the month!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Wild Places & Denial - Part 2

Following on from yesterdays blog:

“Denial becomes an interesting concept, does the denial lie in embarking upon the expedition in the understanding that the comforts of daily life are to be forsaken? Or is it that the denial lies in shunning the truth and intrinsic connection we retain with these instinctive human needs for food, shelter and warmth in a simplistic way?”
Is there anything in our lives that we are refusing to acknowledge or admit?
Do our lives contain contradictions/untrue declarations that cause us or others hurt and pain?
Is it time to make a change?


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Wild Places & Denial

Our Lent "mini expeditions of reflection" begin to move toward the events of Holy Week encompassing denial and betrayal:

We slipped the canoes silently into the water under dark, greying skies. The forecast wind hadn't yet materialised but the threat of it was clear. An hour's paddling, followed by an open crossing which approached a mile, was completed and the gusts began to build. There were still over ten miles to journey and a hard day beckoned, the rain began to fall. In short transits, interspersed by periods of tracking the canoes on ropes along beaches, we progressed slowly down the loch in a westerly direction. A long day passed, early evening approached and sunshine began to make the odd fleeting appearance. As the wind abated we landed the boats on a shingle shore with over twelve hard miles completed.

A simple camp was established on the beach. Fire lit and the midges held at bay it was time to cook. The food was good; a dram was enjoyed; the company and the conversation in the smoke filled atmosphere quiet but full of the joy such a situation brings. The evening ended all too soon, the following day it was time to return to civilisation.

Days on expedition like the one described are special times: mobile phones don't work; there is no internet; lives un-cluttered by the white noise created by the so-called essentials of modern life. To quote a famous wilderness practitioner "an opportunity to disassimilate from the cyber-hive". Times like this demand a choice to be made, the choice being to deny oneself of the perceived trappings and comforts afforded by life in twenty first century Britain for the simplified existence of our ancestors. 

Its nearly two years since our last open canoe expedition and I have been a part of numerous conversations around this subject in the meantime. In some there is a delight at the prospect of a temporary lifestyle that is more basic in nature, where the priorities of finding a spot to camp for the night; establishing fire and cleaning water more than compensate for the dis-functionality of their mobile phones. However, for most the notion of no: brick walls; central heating or personal "electronica" is abhorent. Denial becomes an interesting concept, does the denial lie in embarking upon the expedition in the understanding that the comforts of daily life are to be forsaken? Or is it that the denial lies in shunning the truth and intrinsic connection we retain with these instinctive human needs for food, shelter and warmth in a simplistic way?

Sunday, 22 March 2015


No big rapids or exposed open crossings; no wild and remote campsites just a gentle "family-friendly" float in North Yorkshire. We travelled across the Pennines to a cool early Spring day picking up a family on the way and joining a collection of folk at the "get on" point. There were fifteen of us in all. The start was leisurely, even civilised, as there was a sandwich shop at the water's edge - tea and a bacon roll for me! The early part of the day saw us leaving the bustle of the town behind as the setting became increasingly pastoral.
The day was one of those that offers so much satisfaction and inspiration; challenge is all relative. A teenager back in a canoe for the first time after major surgery; a good friend returning to a day on the water after a decade's journey dealing with illness; ten year olds sharing the same experience as folk several generations older - just a few examples of the achievement and endeavour of a seemingly straightforward day in open canoes . Magical really!!


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Wild Places & Temptation - Part 2

Looking again at yesterdays blog:

“At other times these same struggles were undoubtedly mental in origin as mind tried to persuade body that it could no longer continue. This temptation became a familiar running mate …

…As we ascended into low damp cloud with burning thighs and for me a deep sense of fatigue the temptation to quit at this point was overwhelming. I didn't and the rest of the round was the most enjoyable part of the day, a goal achieved and temptation denied.”
Can our desire to do something that is unwise or wrong often seem much greater when we are weak and vulnerable?
Are our thoughts taking us to choices and decisions that are destructive or constructive?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Wild Places & Temptation

I don't have many regrets in the whole area of outdoor activity..... Maybe not having cracked on and pushed some areas further in terms of qualifications rather than becoming a "General Practitioner"; maybe not having done much more sea kayaking, something I enjoy but haven't really done a lot of? However, the one thing that stands out the most is what was, for me at least, a relatively short-lived spell as an aspirant (but not very talented) fell runner - I'd like to have done much more.

The seven or eight years spent living at Blaithwaite House provided a great platform for this activity, the first two or three of these years were beset by the self manufactured issue of living in the Lake District and experiencing all of its problems but few of its benefits. The "busyness" of Centre Life swamping leisure time. However, after a re-think on how best to enjoy some of these benefits whilst still giving the Centre the time, effort and attention it merited one outcome was to enjoy the local fells as a runner!

With hindsight this was possibly an ill conceived plan from the outset as knees already beginning to show early signs of the wear and tear of an active life were always unlikely to survive the demands of fell running. However, a combination of evening runs in our local Northern Fells and getting up early on a Sunday morning so that I could travel farther afield; tick off three or four summits and be back before guests were getting ready to leave was a combination which practically fitted very well into life and gave a real sense of the benefit of living in this beautiful part of the world.

As such, long runs over The Dodds; Eel Crags with Sail & Oughterside; Base Brown and the Gables alongside those Spring evenings on Longlands, Lowthwaite, Great Sca Fell and Brae Fell all fed a growing interest in covering long distances, fast & light, in the area in which I lived. Although the Lake District can hardly be argued to be a wilderness its sense of "wildness" was greatly enhanced in these times when there were few others about. Moving quickly; often alone; across wind swept ridges offered a sense of freedom previously unknown to me in the outdoor world. It was mostly a solitary pastime and never competitive, other than with myself. As the distances grew, with fell based half marathons being almost commonplace so the internal struggles increased, sometimes no doubt physical as issues with fluids and nutrition were resolved. At other times these same struggles were undoubtedly mental in origin as mind tried to persuade body that it could no longer continue. This temptation became a familiar running mate.

Amongst many instances I can recall running a 20 mile Old Crown Round (about 8,000' of ascent) with my son-in-law, it was the day of my fiftieth birthday! We'd set off from Mosedale and ran over Mungrisdale Common and Blencathra before dropping down into the valley of the Glenderaterra for the ascent of Sale How. I found the next section, over Sale How and on to the summit of Skiddaw to be brutal. As we ascended into low damp cloud with burning thighs and for me a deep sense of fatigue the temptation to quit at this point was overwhelming. I didn't and the rest of the round was the most enjoyable part of the day, a goal achieved and temptation denied.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Brownley Hills Mine - Going Further

Its been a little while since we've done any personal mine exploration and whilst most of our group work of late has been in Smallcleugh the mine at Nenthead which has been of most non-group interest over the last year has been Brownley Hills.

After an extended day in Brownley last year with Dave Baines, Graham Derbyshire & Paul Richardson in which we discovered what for us was a new circular route from the entrance and back via the Blue Pool and an evening in there in December with Mykie Jenkinson and Andy Hoe where we confirmed a few key reference points it was time to return. On Thursday night Andy & myself set off via the Bloomsberry Adit in search of Tatlers String and the further reaches of the mine in the Brownley Hills North Vein / Brownley Hills Moss Cross Veins.

We made swift progress along the horse level and took a left onto Welgill and headed straight for the junction to the Blue Pool. At this point we briefly left our bags and continued along Welgill in search of two parallel passages on the right hand side which the survey indicates to go deep into the far reaches of the mine. Across a makeshift bridge and then over a sump using a pre-rigged traverse the two passages duly appeared. We didn't push them on this occasion - that's for next time (amongst other things). Instead we returned to the Blue Pool passage and followed it, stopping briefly to gaze at the false floors high above us, to the first junction. The later part of this passage instantly reminded me of earlier trips to this area, the mine is in very poor condition in places with many roof collapses and areas of wall from which shale is de-laminating. At the junction we were immediately confronted with what others have reported - its very difficult to match the survey with what can be seen on the ground.

We took the only option available to us, a passage running in a NNW direction, it was in places in appalling condition (this is not a mine for those of nervous disposition!). A flat out crawl through a collapse led to an impressive stone arched junction (see below)

There were two clear ways on (each of the above arches) and possibly a third to our right, which potentially gave us a fix with where we were on the survey. We first took the left branch of the stone arching which led us quickly to a fine "stoned out" rise with an old ladder at its foot (below). The rise was rigged with SRT ropes and has a passage off to the left before rising further to access Tatlers String. We climbed to the first passage which doesn't go very far. We'll return for a proper look in Tatlers String on a future trip (shortly)

We returned to the stone arched junction and this time took the other obvious passage quickly entering deep water (see photo at the top of this post) and began to push this route which clearly goes for some distance, after about ten minutes of very mixed going we called a halt to the evenings exploration (our call in time was beckoning). Our own analysis of surveys and post trip discussion with Alistair Myers led us to conclude that we were en route to Brownley Hills Moss Cross Vein. This was a great nights work and we'll be back next week to try to tie up some of the loose ends before what will undoubtedly be another couple of big pushes into the more remote regions of the mine.

Returning to the surface we were greeted by one of those completely awe inspiring North Pennine clear nights. We briefly turned our lamps off and the more we gazed upward the more stars we could see. The big constellations were clear, it felt as though Orion and the Plough were touchable - incredible and equally worthwhile as anything we'd seen underground,

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Wild Places & Sacrifice - Part 2

Some pondering thoughts from yesterdays blog:

“…Self analysis; the prayers of myself and others; and much soul searching continued, often with great anguish and anxiety over just where true values lay, were they in the comfortable, some might say affluent lifestyle of the mainstream? Or should these values be sacrificed for the more spiritual realm of trying to inspire young people (and adults) of the benefits of interacting with our created environment, indeed exploring faith …”

What in our lives have we set importance and value on?

Can our lives become crowded with things of false worth?

Is it time to sacrificially ‘give up’ some things, bringing opportunity to consider new ways for the greater good of ourselves and others?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Wild Places & Sacrifice

A Personal Journey

A lifestyle that involves both working and spending as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors has not always been the case.

I have vivid early memories of long walks in the Cheshire countryside and tramping up and down hills in North Wales with my Mum, Dad & (middle) brother, these were good times which undoubtedly laid a foundation for what was to come. However, predictably, life followed a pathway that will sound all to familiar to most: school, college, work and like many, in the area of the country from which I originated, this led into the local chemical industry. It must be said that these were enjoyable days with few regrets. Science, particularly chemistry held a fascination whether it involved building molecules of interest or working out how to extract in a pure form the material which was deemed to be of use or interest, I had some great mentors & teachers! Long quests in the laboratory to pursue lofty goals provided challenge for the mind and demanded a degree of dexterity. The atmosphere in the early days had a distinctly academic slant which over the years, sadly, evolved quite rapidly into something with a much sharper commercial focus. A developing "career" and changes in business structure ultimately led to a life changing move from what had always been "home" on the banks of the Mersey to what I now regard as the "Beautiful North East of England" and work in the chemical industry had become both lucrative and comfortable.

I fell in love with the North East and despite ten years in Cumbria still enjoy every opportunity to re-visit good friends and familiar places. It was after just a year or so in this new home that I became both impressed and quite motivated by the work of Messrs (Reverend) Rob Bianchi and Captain Alan Rainford (Church Army) in the then recently created West Pelton Activity Centre. This was essentially a Church based youth outreach project which rather than rely on the usual combination of table tennis, pool and darts at the youth club to engage young people employed the media of kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing and caving. To me this was a fresh and innovative approach, the work struck a chord and with their support elements of what they were doing with young people began to be practiced in the Church youth work (Boys' Brigade) I was involved in myself. The benefits were tangible and the sense of adventure that it engendered different to everything I had experienced in this area previously.

Life took on a strange sense of imbalance. Work became increasingly less science and more commercially biased with travel commitments that led to a good twenty countries being visited, many on a regular basis over a 6-7 year period. The material rewards associated with this increased substantially. Weekends, however, revolved around training to master the vagaries of open canoes and kayaks as interest in this area grew. There was much good coaching along with equal measure of trial and error, I was hooked! All this was underpinned by a growing conviction that there must be "more to life" than working to make money for a large chemical producer (I was well aware of the rewards this returned to me). Self analysis; the prayers of myself and others; and much soul searching continued, often with great anguish and anxiety over just where true values lay, were they in the comfortable, some might say affluent lifestyle of the mainstream? Or should these values be sacrificed for the more spiritual realm of trying to inspire young people (and adults) of the benefits of interacting with our created environment, indeed exploring faith, through what was essentially a tiny Christian Charity operating on a shoestring budget from a small corner of North East England?

Eventually, the "call" to a different way of life won, it was time to move on to canoes, mountains and caves. So it was, the chemical industry received my resignation, with no firm plan as to how to transition into this new world - to some what would seem to be the most reckless thing I'd ever done in my life! The rest, as they say, is by and large the history that is summarised in these pages.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The First Week Of March.....

The first week of March has seen the pace of the year pick up markedly, a trend that looks set to continue through into the early Autumn - I like this, there is a very purposeful feel to life at the moment.

Below is a short photo-blog which summarises a week which has featured: more late snow in Cumbria; much travel; Technical Advisor meetings; training; ghyll scrambling with groups in the South Lakes and a visit to Nenthead mines with a group on Sunday.........



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Wild Places & Solitude - Part 2

Yesterday’s blog spoke of solitude and remoteness:
“Whenever possible I attempted to grab a day or even a few hours to escape into the fells, invariably on my own and with an un-written agenda of finding solitude.  The sense of remoteness and maybe even more an absence of human activity has always held a lure; an opportunity for reflection, planning and to seek new perspective.”

Is our experience one of a chosen solitude, or have we at times found ourselves in enforced places of isolation?

Is our solitude about being in that place of human absence and physical remoteness or have we known busy days with people around us yet still feel very alone with no-one to turn to?

Is it time now, whatever our circumstances, to spend a while ‘apart’ but without being ‘alone’?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Wild Places & Solitude

Spring and Summer of 2012 were a challenging time of life. The "busyness" of the Centre and the pressure of domestic circumstances presented relatively few opportunities for leisure. Whenever possible I attempted to grab a day or even a few hours to escape into the fells, invariably on my own and with an un-written agenda of finding solitude. The sense of remoteness and maybe even more an absence of human activity has always held a lure; an opportunity for reflection, planning and to seek new perspective. Time and circumstance moved on leading to Lent and Easter 2013 which became a seminal point in life. The Easter journey was both deep and meaningful culminating in a solo micro-expedition in the Lake District Fells in what were still full winter conditions. The sense of solitude and retreat experienced in those few hours was unique. 

John Muir said: "Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

Regular readers may recall the original account of this trip ....
"A night out in the fells had been on the radar for a few days...... After getting back from Church on Easter morning I faffed around for ages and then at about 3 o'clock decided this was the night to go for. In a way, I was quite pleased that last minute supplies were difficult to come by - all the shops were closed because it was Easter Sunday. 
After a major change of plan (I was thinking of going to Warnscale Head) I set off for Mosedale with a loose plan of staying over in Lingy Hut, it was nearly 5 o'clock before I arrived at the head of the valley & started walking. Along the Cumbria Way and up through the old Carrock Mine site was interesting, will need to make a discrete visit back here again one evening (with SRT kit!). After a short distance along the beck there is a pleasant alternative path which cuts the corner off the Cumbria Way ascending across Arm o' Grain directly to Lingy Hut. I called in the hut to check whether anyone else was around & looking like staying over, satisfied that I was likely to get the place to myself I set off north through the snow for High Pike. The summit of High Pike speaks for itself in the photos below, in this winter of superlatives the views were breath taking.

High Pike

The Northern Fells or the Scottish Highlands?

Re-tracing my steps it was back to the hut for something to eat and at least some respite from the numbingly cold wind.

Unfortunately there were no clear skies to be enjoyed and the wind picked up in the early evening curtailing any further plans, so it was early to bed as the temperatures plummeted (minus 5 to minus 6 degC has been mentioned but I have no way of verifying this). It was certainly a cold and draughty night in the hut.

In line with the continuing loose plan I got up at half four and left the hut at five a.m. heading for Carrock Fell summit and a planned rendevous with sunrise. The visibility was no more than average (due to darkness and high level cloud obscuring the moon) so I set off by the light of head torch on a bearing with a calculated time for the leg in my head. The snow had a crisp crunch to it with every footfall, the next hour or so was quite possibly the highlight of the trip - complete solitude in a dark frozen wilderness. The allotted time passed; check the map; new bearing; new distance calculated & on again in the darkness. This leg was aiming almost due east for Mitton Hill, slowly a faint red glow began to appear in the sky ahead. No need for the compass now the rising sun marked the way on. Previous memories of Carrock Fell summit led me to think that there might be a scramble over some boulders to realise the summit cairn, either these memories were inaccurate or the snow was simply that deep and hard frozen that the boulders were buried. The view at the summit is captured below:

I hung around at the cairn for quite a while trying to take in the vastness of the landscape around me & reflecting on the journey through lent and the year to date. It was cold but I could have stayed there for ages.

After a while I re-traced my steps heading west into a brightening day with  breaking cloud and massive views beginning to develop before my eyes.

At the flat ground between the first ring contour and Mitton Hill I broke off the summit plateau to the south west back towards Brandy Gill & the Carrock Mine sett. The snow in this area was especially deep and progress was slow as I repeatedly sunk past knee deep.

A steep descent saw me back at the mine where I ratched about for a short time before re-joining the Cumbrian Way heading back towards the car on the Mosedale valley road.

It was only eight a.m. when I reached the car, the temperature was minus one deg C on the car's thermometer.

This was a really enjoyable micro-trip lasting not much more than twelve hours but containing two summits; an overnight stay in a mountain hut and yet more superb winter conditions."

I read recently words to the effect that many might say walking in the hills, alone, produces a sense of "getting away from it all"  whereas for a minority the same activity gives a sense of "getting closer to it all" - I can say without hesitation that it is the latter which applies to me. I've always felt at home in the mountains and strangely this feeling of being at home is heightened when alone; my best mountain experiences have undoubtedly been when by myself. I'm reminded of Thoreau's words:

"I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls"

There is a sense of perspective that is uniquely gained from journeying, on foot, in high wild places: the physical exertion in reaching a height; the effect of the prevailing weather be it windy, wet, hot or still and cold; the "timelessness" of a mountain that existed before man and will exist long after man are the conditions that crystallise a clarity of vision which for me is elusive at most other times.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Changes: A Day Out On The River

Yesterday we spent a day on the river; it was an open canoe trip; with good friends both new and old; on the River Swale in North Yorkshire. The day was grey and cool with the river level a little on the low side but the Pennine scenery of the Dales spoke for itself - as always it was stunning!

We got on the river at Gunnerside, very much a favourite location, and paddled down to Grinton a seven or eight mile stretch that I've not done for well over ten years. This part of the River Swale has two or three straightforward grade 2 sections, however, the main technical issues come from the plethora of trees that lie next to or in the water!

There were two very striking aspects to the trip. Firstly, that when travelling and viewing the landscape from the perspective offered by the river just how few fellow human beings you see. This was remarked upon following our outing. Secondly, just what a dynamic and changing environment this river-scape is. There are numerous examples of bank erosion and corresponding deposition which have produced dramatic changes in the river's characteristics. It would appear that the many attempts which are being made to stabilise the situation are destined to be futile. In monitoring the levels of the river prior to the trip we observed a drop from almost 2m above "base" level to just 0.2m above "base" level in less than forty eight hours; big changes which happen quickly!

Symbolically, when thinking on change, this trip marks a watershed in Canoes, Mountains & Caves' year calendar. Although there is still much "behind the scenes" winter work to complete, the last day of February signals the end of the quieter winter season and the start of  a very busy Spring, Summer and early Autumn. Our community programme will continue as the cornerstone of our work through this period but will be added to by: significantly more work with groups of young people; an open canoe expedition in NW Scotland; another Snowdonia Activity Holiday; BCU Training Courses; some "experimental" new outdoor activity initiatives; many freelancing engagements and much activity development work. Its an exciting time!