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Never trust a guidebook…

Remote Bowland, heading down to Langden Castle – no place to be caught in the dark… if only authors were aware! Photo: John Manning

Tony Howard has written guidebooks to climbing and trekking in England, Norway and the Middle East for more than 40 years. In his second

article on the subject for Outdoor Focus, Tony again reminds us that not all guidebooks are infallible…

It was February and freezing outside, but the sun was shining and the sky was blue.

“Do you fancy going somewhere for a couple of days walking?” Di asked. I did, but if we were going to get something in that day it would have to be fairly near. The Forest of Bowland sounded good; we had climbed there a couple of times but never done any walking. A quick flick through the guidebook revealed a walk over Fair Snape Fell, five-and-a-half miles and three-and-a-half hours: if we got there for 2pm we could probably be back down for 5pm, just before dark. Not having a map, we stopped briefly in Clitheroe to buy one

and I stuffed it in my sack in case we needed it on the moor. We found the car park easily and left soon after 2pm. The start described in the book was obvious: up Langden Valley, then left beyond Langden Castle and up the shoulder of the next precipitous side valley. From there a fence could be followed across the moor to the summit cairn at the half-way point. It sounded straightforward and it was. It was also enjoyable and we didn’t dawdle since we were pushed for time, but when we looked at the watch it was almost 4pm, not just after 3pm as we had expected. What was going on? We looked at the map to check how far we had to go in the remaining hour or so of daylight: it was more than five miles! How could that be? The whole route was, according to “the good book”, only five-and-a-half miles! How far had we come? I counted back across the map – sure enough, a similar distance.


We were half-way alright, but it was 11 miles in total, not five- and-a-half.

Of course, we should have checked the map first and we should have looked at the sketch map in the book more carefully, but we hadn’t done either, just glanced at the route description and details: five-and-a-half miles, three-and-a-half hours and then taken everything else for granted. “Him bugger-up!” I said, having caught this very useful expression from a friend who, having returned from caving in New Guinea, was fond of using it when disaster loomed. The sun was already hanging low over Morecombe Bay, the sea refulgent in the late afternoon light. It was time to get a move on as we had no wish to be up on the moor after dark. It was one of those days when the peat groughs freeze over, enabling you to scurry fleet-of-foot over the crispy surface – until they don’t, then you break through, ankle deep or more, into the black morass. “‘Him bugger-up indeed!” I muttered, as we stumbled on, half-running, half-walking, with the light going fast as the sun sank into the clouds. We reached the moor edge at dusk, the moon already high as we plunged down the steep hillside and through an unseen bog in the lower meadows to emerge at a farmhouse, its windows shining warmly in the gathering gloom. A quick dash up the river valley took us back to the van. Fifteen minutes later, we were in the pub, sitting by a fire, drinks in hand. “Just wait till I see the author!” I said.

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