Wrecks walk

On Thursday last week I got a phone call from John Owen, one of the other rangers, asking me if I'd like to help out on a guided walk. I'd agreed before he told me that I'd just let myself in for, a 24km trog round seven of the aircraft wrecks that litter the Peak District. I got in contact with my friend Bob to get GPS coordinates for one of the wrecks I hadn't visited and he mentioned that he'd been having problems getting GPS data into Google Earth, so I decided I'd record the track of the walk with my GPS and see if I could get it into Google Earth. The GPS management I use (OziExplorer) can export data to Google Earth, so I've provided a 'fly through' KMZ file, if you have Google Earth installed you should be able to load the file and then press F10 twice to start the tour. Fortunately Google have just added high resolution photos of the Bleaklow area so you can actually get a fair idea of the terrain. The KML file also includes the boundary of the Peak District National Park as well as the route of the Pennine Way within the park.

Aircraft wrecks walk

Because of the distance involved we started bright and early at 9:00am. For me that just required a leisurely stroll the 150m from my front door to where the walk started. We had 14 people turn up at the starting point in Old Glossop, some who had come from as far as Norfolk for the walking festival. The forecast was for poor visibility , and it was spot on - there was a heavy overcast sky as we started down Mossy Lea, but thankfully it didn't look like it was going to rain.

Aircraft wrecks walk

We headed up Mossy Lea, passing Shire Hill on the right and Lightside on the left before heading up Doctor's Gate and and up Crooked Clough, climbing up past the footbridge and then stopping for a quick rest before heading up Ashton Clough. This view is west back down the valley, towards Glossop. The high ground to the left is Coldharbour Moor.

Aircraft wrecks walk

This is the bottom of Ashton Clough, a steep gorge that climbs 240m in about 750m, and the sides are even steeper. A Douglas C-47 (Dakota) crashed up on the edge of James's Thorn to the west (left) of this picture. Over the years bits of the wreckage has slid down into the bottom of Ashton Clough - here you can see the cylinder block of one of the radial engines.

Aircraft wrecks walk

This is the location where Douglas C-47 2108982 (Dakota) of 314th Troop Carrier Group USAAF crashed on 24th July 1945, just below James's Thorn. Unfortunately all the crew were killed. If you look at the GPS track just below this point you can see how we zigzagged up the hill, due to the steepness of the slope, some of the folks scrambled up the rocky bottom of Ashton Clough, those with a more nervous disposition took the (only slightly) easier route up the left hand side of the clough. The fence in the immediate foreground is part of the fence that was put around the entire Bleaklow plateau as part of the Moors for the Future project, and the rocky area in the background is Higher Shelf Stones.

Aircraft wrecks walk

Just above the wreck of the Dakota is all that remains of Lancaster KB993 of 408 Squadron R.C.A.F., which crashed 18th May 1945. The crew of six were all killed. This view is looking west back towards Glossop, and beyond that, Manchester. By the time we got here the low mist and cloud had burned off and it was really quite warm - spring is finally on the way!

Aircraft wrecks walk

We then headed over to the wreck just north of the trig point at Higher Shelf Stones. This is Superfortress B-29 44-61999 "Over Exposed" of the 16th Photographic Reconnaisance Squadron U.S.A.F. It crashed on 3rd November 1948 whilst descending through cloud, just days before the crew were due to return home to the USA. This is the biggest wreck site in the Dark Peak, a significant amount of wreckage remains. A couple of years ago a wedding ring belonging to one of the crew was found at the site, and was eventually returned to the granddaughter of the crew member. There is a memorial service here every Remembrance Sunday (the Sunday nearest to 11 November) for the crews of the 50+ wrecks in the Dark Peak area. The smoky mist near the ground is water vapour coming off the peat - as the mist burns off the surface of the peat heats very rapidly as it is so dark, and water starts to evaporate from it, re-condensing as it hits the still-cool air.

Aircraft wrecks walk

Due to time constraints we missed out the Botha and Wellington wrecks to the north and instead cut across to the Blenheim on Sykes Moor. This was Blenhein Mk.I L1476 of RAF 164 Squadron, which crashed on 30th January 1939 while on a training flight from RAF Church Fenton. This is hidden in the bottom of a grough and is quite difficult to find, but the GPS coordinates I was given by John Fielding were spot on. Finally we headed over towards John Track Well before crossing over the newly-replanked shooting path to Glossop Low and thence back down the quarry track to Old Glossop. All in all a splendid walk - any day when it doesn't rain and doesn't require thermals is a good one :-)

OziGeocacheUK

I've been tinkering around for a while wrapping the API to OziExplorer in Java. I've finally knocked together an application that uses it. integrates information from GeocacheUK.com and Geocaching.com into OziExplorer. OziExplorer is a GPS mapping application and GeocacheUK is a database of geocaches in the UK. Hopefully this post will help google steer anyone who is looking for such a thing towards it ;-)

Categories : Java, Tech

New Peak District website

A new website, Peak District News has appeared. As the "About" section as the site says:

Peak District News aims to report on current happenings in the Peak District, and neighbouring area. Please bookmark us and keep coming back.
er .. that's it.

It's off to a good start - the first story was based on my recent moorland restoration< post ;-) I'll be watching it with interest.

Categories : Peak District

A sort of perl golf challenge

I've been reviewing some perl code code that is due to go back into Solaris shortly, and one of the routines takes a sorted array of integers and returns a string with contiguous ranges of numbers collapsed and other numbers comma-separated. For example, given an array containing 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12 the routine would return the string "1, 3-5, 8-10, 12". The routine iterates over the array looking for and collapsing sequences of numbers. It's 30 lines long, but always being one for taking up a pointless challenge I wondered if I could make it any shorter. Here's what I came up with:

sub collapse
{
        my $str = join(', ', @_);
        while ($str =~ s{\b(\d+), ((??{ $1 + 1 }))\b}{$1-$2}g) {}
        $str =~ s{-(?:\d+-)+}{-}g;
        return ($str);
} 

Now I know that under the proper perl golf rules I could shorten that down by removing whitespace, using implicit assignment and matches against $_ and so forth but I'm more interested in seeing if anyone can come up with a conceptually shorter solution (i.e. one that I can still read ;-). It occured to me that you might be able to do something smart with a recursive regexp, but the requirement to use $1 + 1 to spot a sequence kept stymieing me. However I'm sure some other perl saddo out there will come up with something even shorter and far smarter. Anyone? ;-)

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Categories : Tech, Perl

Airborne muckspreader

A couple of weeks ago the Moors For the Future folks started up the heather brash spreading operations that I've helped out with before. The aim is to spread a thin layer of chopped up heather (brash) over the bare peat as part of the process of getting it to regenerate. In the past the heather has been airlifted by helicopter onto the moors and then spread by hand. This is a very time and labour intensive process, and it is quite difficult to get an even layer. This year they are using a different technique (and a different helicopter company). Instead of the heather being lifted on site and then spread it is loaded into what I can only descrive as an aerial muckspreader which is then flown under the helicopter.

Black Hill helicopter

Here you can see it on the back of the truck - there are a pair of the spreaders, whilst one is being filled the other is being flown over to the spreading area. The bottom of the spreader is a conveyor belt that moves the heather towards the back of the contraption. The two vertical shafts with the disks and tines on them rotate towards the gap in the centre and fling the heather out of the back. The whole thing is powered by a small petrol motor underneath the hopper.

Black Hill helicopter

The lift site was right at the summit of Holme Moss, next to the transmitter tower. Being a peat bog means that even though the ground looked frozen it was actually very soft underneath - as they found out when they tried to drive the truck over to the stockpile of brash bags!

Black Hill helicopter

Needless to say a cooperative farmer and a large tractor were required to hoik the truck out of the hole it had dug for itself and move it over to the bags.

Black Hill helicopter

The helicopter they were using was a Squirrel. They'd taken all the seats out to keep the weight down - each spreader weighs about 1/4 tonne and holds up to 6 cubic metres of brash, so they needed all the umph they could get.

Black Hill helicopter

Unfortunately this meant we had to walk the 2.5km onto the moor, and boy was it cold. The spreading area was directly around the trig point on Black Hill - anyone who knows the area will understand just how bleak it is, and it was pretty windy too, which made it feel all the colder. The mast you can see in the background is the Holme Moss transmitter - at one point this mast provided TV coverage for most of the North West of the UK.

Black Hill helicopter

Once on site two people stood either end of the swathe they wanted the helicopter to cover and the pilot flew over them, turning the spreader on at the appropriate moment. It took about 30 seconds to dispense the 6 cubic meters of heather. The area on the right of the photo has already been covered, and the area on the left is not yet treated. Depending on the height, each run covered a swathe about 5 - 8m wide and perhaps 100-150m long. This was at the start of the day and the pilot was coming in relatively high, by the end of the day he was coming over us at about 2 - 3m above head height.

Black Hill helicopter

Here's a view of the contraption in action - you can see the stream of heather being flung out by the counter-rotating spreader shafts at the back of the hopper. The aerofoils above and to the side of the spreader shafts are to keep the whole thing stable as it's being flown under the helicopter.

Black Hill helicopter

And here's the net effect when you are stood underneath acting as a human marker flag. And yes it does itch when you get a load of heather down your neck, although the helmet and the goggles keep most of it off of your face :-) I was initially a little skeptical about the likely efficacy of this technique, but it was really very impressive. It gave a much more even coverage than hand spreading and is obviously far faster. The only problem was that the heather bags had been standing for some time, and the combination of them being stacked on top of each other, compressed, soaked in rain and then frozen meant that a lot of the brash was in solid lumps that jammed the spreader. However on subsequent days they got a machine up to re-shred the heather to get the lumps out and solved that problem.

As with the spreading done last year this is still very much an experimental technique, it will be interesting to see how effective it has been over the next couple of years.

April Fool's busk

Meninos Oldham

On Saturday we invaded Manchester for our first ever busking session - and all for a good cause. Eraldo (the guy in the red jacket in the photo above) comes from Sao Paulo in Brazil where we was a member of Meninos do Morumbi, a fantastic youth-focussed Samba school in Brazil. One of the things he did when in Brazil was to raise funding to rebuild the house of one of the kids who attended Meninos - many of the kids come from the favelas, and live in pretty grim conditions. He and the other tutors of Meninos do Morumbi in Oldham teach us all for free, and in return they asked that we give up one Saturday a month to either busk or play at a performance, with all the money going to a charity that they are setting up to help improve more people's housing in Sao Paulo. I think it's a superb idea - many of the bands who busk in Manchester do so for themselves, but to be honest when the money is split between all the players it probably doesn't provide more than a couple of pints each. And as Eraldo, Ian (white jacket, above), Holly (between Eraldo and Ian), Leon and Emily all give their time for free I think it's only right that we reciprocate and give something back in return. The fact that the money is going to Brazil is even more of a bonus - after all it's their music we are playing.

We started at about 11:30am and played through to nearly 3:30pm - certainly the longest I've ever played. The weather was typically April - a series of heavy showers with sunny spells in between, so we got wet a couple of times. We were on the corner outside M&S, and the weekly protests were going on - first the Palestinian faction turned up, shortly followed by the anti-Iraq war protesters, finally topped off by a group carrying Israeli flags. It's a regular occasion - about half a dozen police turned up out of nowhere and tried to politely keep the two sides out of arm's reach of each other. The sight of two men standing 5 feet apart bellowing at each other through loudhailers seemed to neatly sum up the entire Middle East situation. However I did think the air horn that one of the Israeli supporters kept letting off whenever one of the other side tried to talk was an arms escalation too far. At one point one of the policemen sidled over to us and asked if we could play really loudly and we were only too glad to oblige. It had the required effect - whilst we were playing they all shut up - well, they didn't have a hope in hell of being heard over us. I felt quite the child of the 60s ;-)

The plan is for us to busk every month, so we've got quite a few dates lined up:

  • Sunday 30th April, outside M&S in Manchester, 12:00am - 4:00pm
  • Saturday 20th May, outside M&S in Manchester, 11:00am - 3:00pm
  • Sunday 20th May, Oldham Carnival (May Parade)
  • Saturday 24th June, busking, location TBD
  • Saturday 29th July, busking, location TBD
  • Saturday 26th August, busking, location TBD
So come along. And bring money :-)

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Categories : Drumming