The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday, 31 December 2007

Our 2007 Walking Year

Time and Motion
As I mentioned a while ago, this year I’ve written 165000 or so words on the subject of our walks (not on here, you’ll be pleased to hear – this blog just gets the scantest of details!). The verbosity gives two possibilities: I’ve been more wordy than usual or we’ve been out more.

Happily, it was the latter. It doesn’t sound like a big number but in 2007 we walked around 530 miles over 37 outings.

That total was assisted by two things: training for the K2B walk and our New Year’s Resolution last year.

I’m not a great one for making such resolutions, but a fun one like ‘we have to go camping once every month’ seemed worthwhile. As is the tradition with such declarations, we didn’t quite achieve it, but we’ve not done too badly either. Two months we missed but were out a day or two before and/or after it. July we missed completely purely by oversight.

I’m sure that we’ll clock up greater distances and more nights under canvas next year!

Being British, where a comment about the weather is acknowledged as being as good an icebreaker as any, I will mention climatic conditions.

I think that your average person, when asked about this year’s weather, would say that it rained a lot.

That was true for the summer months, but overlooks the fact that we had an outstandingly dry spell earlier in the year, which lasted throughout March and April: at the peak of our training walks.

Then it rained for a few months, but by some fortuitous timing (and thanks to limited activity), we managed to avoid most of that rain. In fact the number of times that I wore waterproof trousers between the end of May and the beginning of December can be counted on one finger (and it wasn’t that I just opted to get wet!).

So, contrary to our families’ belief that we only going walking in awful weather, this year we achieved photos featuring blue skies – and lots of them.

Memorable Bits
A word must also be said about the memorable points of the year.

We have seen fantastic views, camped in fantastic locations and walked fantastic walks. However, 2007 must be defined by the memory of having met a naked rambler up on a ridge at the end of May! We will see fine views again; we will camp in good places again; we will (I hope!) have many more fantastic walks; but the chances of us encountering a naked rambler in such circumstances again? Pretty slim I would say.

A special mention should also be made of the particular Memorable Bit that was a night spent scared out of my wits lying on the floor of a forest, all thanks to John Hee and his Hip Pack Competition. I don’t think that my night of making like a meer cat, with my head constantly popping up to look around, will soon be forgotten!

So, not a bad year from a walking point of view. Here’s hoping that 2008 is even better. In the meantime, a Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Outrageous Spoiling of Gayle E Bird

- Paramo Cascade Trews
- Mountain Equipment Microzip T Fleece
- Extremities Powerstretch Gloves
- Extremities Powerstretch beanie
- Girly set of Icebreaker baselayers
- 2 litre Platy Hoser, plus shut-off valve

- Sealskin Socks
- Smartwool socks (medium and heavy cushion)
- Superfeet Green
- Tinder Paper
- Huntley & Palmer Expedition Biscuits
- Emergency whistle
- Whistle with integrated compass, thermometer and magnifier
- White Spider by Heinrich Harrer
- ‘Great Walks of the National Parks’
- Cumbria Way guidebook

Ridiculous as it is, that’s not my current wish list, but rather is the outdoor related booty that was given to me this week by way of Christmas gifts. I’m a very lucky girl – not to mention spoiled and over-indulged to an outrageous degree this year!

Now I just need to get out there to use it.

Hope you all had a good festive time of over-indulgence yourselves.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Keswick, Ambleside and Great Langdale

The trip was mainly about Christmas shopping, but I had a plan. If the shopping could be completed on Wednesday then we could, perhaps, take ourselves for a short stroll on Thursday.

The shopping was duly done. Cotswold in Keswick was extremely disappointing (and the fire in the Old Keswickian Chippie was just being put out as we reached the square; I guess that no-one will be having lunch there for a while) but our aims were achieved.

We arrived at Great Langdale for our overnight accommodation just as the sun set and made an absolute meal of putting up Midi Tent in the rapidly encroaching dark.

By the time we crawled into the frost-encrusted tent at 5pmish my little thermometer told me that it was -4 degrees.

When we woke up yesterday morning, it was still -4 degrees and everything was as pretty and white as it had been the night before.

Over our morning cup of tea a route was quickly chosen. We would go via Blea Tarn and Wrynose Pass up to Pike of Blisco.

I’m guessing that it’s not a particularly obvious circular route as there didn’t seem to be a trodden path up Pike of Blisco from Wrynose Pass (or maybe we were just being particularly unobservant?). A good thing I think – it made the going more interesting (and finally thawed out the feet which had been blocks of ice since we’d decamped).

The ice-rinks on route proved to add even more interest and caused a few diversions but by and by we reached the top of the Pike without having met (or indeed seen) a single other person.

A direct route was taken off the top itself and eventually we reached a path. That path (or, more precisely, stone staircase) took us back to where we needed to be.

The good thing about cold weather at this time of year is that it is usually accompanied by good blue skied days. Considering our propensity to visit hilltops (particularly hilltops in Cumrbria) in poor weather, this trip was a real treat. Here are some of the photos (and it was one of those days when I really regretted not having a good camera and the ability to use it):

A Frozen Blea Tarn
A frozen Blea Tarn

Little Langdale direction
In the direction of Little Langdale

Wrynose Pass
Cold on Wrynose Pass

More evidence of cold
More evidence that it was quite cold

Fantastic sky!
Fantastic Sky!

Langdale Valley
The Langdale Valley

Cold Grass
Cold Grass

Frozen Path or Mountain Ice Rink?
Frozen Path or Mountain Ice Rink?

And finally, this one wins the award for the most ridiculous photo of the year:
Ummm. Why?

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

My Head Torch Is Missing...

We're just about to leave to go up to the Lakes for a couple of days.

Tonight we'll be camping.

Being two days before the shortest day, I'm anticipating quite a lot of darkness.

And I've just realised (rather belatedly) that my headtorch is missing.

I do hope that it's just slipped somewhere inobvious (but completely findable) rather than sitting somewhere in the Pumlumon hills.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Rhinog Fawr

On 17 December last year I walked up Rhinog Fawr. The rain that started falling as I had left Barmouth in the dark that morning was so contrary to the fair weather forecast that I had clutched at the straw that it was just a passing shower. As it went, I completed the walk in atrocious visibility and distinctly damp conditions.

On Thursday last week Husband and I were in Barmouth and found ourselves with a few hours to spare. As Husband had not been with me on my jaunt up Rhinog Fawr last year, and as it is one of the few tops in the Rhinogau up which he has not walked, we settled on spending our morning making the trip.

This time, as we left Barmouth at first light, the weather was staying true to the forecast – clear skies and cold.

The sun had just burst over the horizon as we arrived at the road-end at Graigddu Isaf (I didn’t recognise it when we arrived – there was a forest there a year ago and now it’s gone!)

17/12/06 - Forest!
17/12/2006 - That's a forest

13/12/07 - The forest's gone!
13/12/2007 - The forest's gone!

and the two main Rhinog peaks were looking stunning bathed in the golden sunshine. It’s just a pity that my little point and click camera couldn’t do justice to the view (nor in fact any of the others of the day; such wonderful conditions and I didn’t get a single good photo).
Rhinog Fach and Fawr
Rhinog Fach and Fawr

Rhinog Fawr

Rhinog Fawr in the sunshine

Leaving the Roman Steps a while later to make our way up to Llyn Du the going became noticeably frosty, but nowhere near as icy as it turned out to be as we started climbing up the north side of Rhinog Fawr above the llyn.

Three RAF Hawks on some sort of an air-combat exercise immediately above us held our attention for a while until we decided that it was time to push on, at times being very inelegant over the boulders in trying not to slip on the icy surfaces.
Being inelegant on icy rocky bits

Being inelegant!

Things went well (well, except for the bit when I cut my finger on a rock during one minor arm-flailing slip, and then, quite impressively, trod on my own hand a while later (but we’ll gloss over that one)) as we continued on up, admiring the views with many a ‘wow’ and a ‘gosh’.

All the scrambly bits were behind us and we were just on the final bit of incline up to the trig point (i.e. a nice easy bit) when I slipped on an icy rock. It wasn’t a serious slip and I’m not generally one to fall over a lot, so I did what comes naturally in such a situation and flailed my arms around with some force. Unfortunately for Husband he was standing a little too close behind me. I clocked him square across the jaw. He reported that his ear was ringing for the next ten minutes! Ooops. Bit of a clumsy day I was having.

Views from the summit were fantastic (a pleasant contrast to the ten feet that I could see last year!) so we spent a while pointing out the various places that we’ve camped in the area and oohed and aahed some more. The only cloud within view was covering the summit of Snowdon.

From Rhinog Fawr Summit
Looking North-westish from the summit.

After leaving the top in a westerly sort of direction and after some tramping over some interesting terrain (last year I took the easy option of heading down on a path until I met a wall, then following that wall back to Llyn Du, even though it wasn’t a very direct route) we picked up a path that took us back to Llyn Du, where we adhered to the principle that variety is the spice of life and so took to the north side of the llyn for our return.

Llyn Du from the West

Llyn Du from the West

Returning to the car a while later, the tally of people seen during the day stood at twelve – ten of whom were a school trip and were just heading up to Llyn Du to go up Rhinog Fawr as we were on our way down. The most notable things about them were the matching rubberised waterproofs that they were wearing (tops and trousers; that must have been slightly less than comfortable in such sunny weather) and the enormously heavy looking canvas-esque day-packs. Despite their uncomfortable looking attire, I was still miffed that we didn’t get to go on such exciting outings when I was at school.

Once again, it was only a very short outing, slipped into a few available hours – but given our propensity to climb hills in awful weather it was hugely enjoyable in the fine weather.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Holding Post - Two Views

Here are a couple of photos from the last couple of days:

Wednesday afternoon:
Thursday morning:
More to follow...

Monday, 10 December 2007


Last weekend, out in the Pumlumon hills, was a bit of a wet experience.

Despite having bought my Paramo Velez smock at the beginning of March, and having worn it a reasonable number of times, this was the first time that it was any rain beyond a bit of drizzle.

I already knew that it was very comfortable to wear. In its first test in adverse conditions it did exactly as it should. It kept me dry, warm and comfortable.

It’s a pity that I can’t say the same for my waterproof trousers.

Back in September 2005, I bought a pair of cheap Wynnster waterproof trousers from a local independent gear shop. They seemed fine for the first few months (probably because they lived in my pack).

Their first use in awful conditions was in March 2006 when after two days of rain the waterproof membrane started to delaminate from the outer.

I returned them to the shop, which duly replaced them.

The second pair has done better than the first. They’ve probably had six or eight days use.

Alas, last weekend’s wet weather was too much for them. The membrane has quite comprehensively delaminated.

Seems a bit of a design flaw to me: waterproof trousers that fall apart once they get wet.

Tempted as I am to take them back again, I think the time has come (particularly considering next year’s planned activities) to replace them with something of better quality (and thus, unfortunately, greater cost).

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Pumlumon - Day 2

It was a dark and stormy night and the rain came down in torrents … and I’ve already documented the result of those torrents of rain upon our chosen pitch. Fortunately, despite the storminess (and thanks to Wendy’s stability) I got a good night’s sleep.

Sunday started with a choice. We could take a high level ridge route (our original intent), or we could take the FWA valley route.

The low level was settled on, but then we reached the first stream and concluded that with the streams in spate and half a dozen such obstacles to cross on the low route, perhaps the high route was the better option. Uphill we went.

The next change of plan came when we reached the ridge; being lashed by stinging frozen rain, I found that I could barely make progress against the wind. Walking a few miles in those conditions would have been just too difficult.

The map was considered again and a route chosen to take us back down to the valley where we spent a pleasant morning, in conditions that were far better than we had expected (the wind was strong, but the rain stopped and the sky brightened). None of the streams required a large detour and at most we were able to find places to step across; only a couple required a running leap.

Much waterlogged terrain and patches of bog were negotiated and with relief we found, at the bottom end of the valley, that there was indeed a bridge crossing Afon Hengwm (the river running down the centre of the valley), which by this point was wide, deep and fast flowing.

Now only half an hour or so from the car (or so we thought) we stopped in a small copse, adjacent to the river, for a brew (and a packet of Jaffa Cakes that Mike magicked up out of his pack).

What I’d failed to notice on the map was that just a few paces over a rise from the main river was another stream. This one turned out to be the biggest raging torrent yet:
Upstream we detoured, to try to find a place to cross.

A mile later, and with 600 unexpected feet of ascent, we reached the llyn at the top of the stream, only to find that it wasn’t even crossable at the outlet point.

Husband found a place a short way downstream where he was happy that he could jump to the far bank. Mike was also happy that he could manage the distance. I was sure that I couldn’t. However, with little choice but to try (and at least the flow wasn’t too fast at this point, albeit the water was deeper than I would have liked if I’m going to fall in), I agreed to give it my best shot.

The chaps went first and after two false starts when I bottled it, I finally put my brain into neutral (don’t think about it, just do it), swung my arms and gave it my best. I landed about three inches too short, but threw my body forward so only one leg got submerged.

A track gave an easy route back down to the road which led to the car. It was a reasonably uneventful walk, give or take a few more flooded areas. We even met a chap on our way along (the only person we saw on the Sunday). There are some mad people around, willing to go out in such weather, you know…

The stats for Sunday were 7.5 miles with 1250 feet of ascent. Unsurprisingly in the conditions, it felt like a whole lot more.

I can’t speak for everyone but Husband and I had a good time, with a perverse enjoyment of the adverse conditions. Mike also said that he enjoyed it, but then he’s a polite chap so the real proof will be whether he accepts another invitation to join us in the hills, or whether he proclaims a prior engagement with hair washing that weekend! At least he can rest assured that having survived such conditions on his first trip, it’s unlikely that he’s going to encounter anything more trying, short of full winter conditions.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Pumlumon - Day 1

It’s been somewhat remiss of me not to have visited this area before as in the 1990s I lived in Aberystwyth for three years (during which period walking was a heavily neglected past-time). Last week I decided that it was time to put right my complete ignorance of the area.

Off set me, Husband and a chap called Mike from the car park at Nant-y-Moch reservoir on Saturday morning. Within the hour we’d met gun wielding farmers, had to detour to get across a raging stream and had been assaulted at some length by a prolonged hail storm: it was looking like it was going to be an interesting trip – particularly as the forecast for the weekend was for heavy rain and gale force winds.

For Mike it was a bit of a baptism of fire, as this was his first backpacking and wild camping trip since he did his silver D of E at school. I don’t know precisely how long ago that was, but I do believe that he said that he’s been in his current job for 30 years, so I’m guessing that it was at least 30 years ago. Still, he had a Hilleberg Nallo to test out and had borrowed a few essentials items from us, so he was sufficiently well kitted out to survive a weekend of poor weather.

Our first objective of the day was Pumlumon Fawr, the pull up which took us a while (but what fantastic views behind us when the sky cleared – good excuses for a few pauses), not helped on the upper reaches by the strong wind that impeded progress and kept trying to force me off course.

After a quick lunch in the summit shelter, the ridge line was followed for three miles or so through increasingly severe hail storms (my goodness, pea sized hail smarts when it hits you with a strong wind behind it, doesn’t it?).

With the day marching on, we omitted a bit of our intended route and after crossing over the Severn Way decided to drop down into the valley with the intention of finding somewhere sheltered to pitch on the other side.

The going was rough and boggy down in the valley, but our attention was soon diverted from that fact by the river that runs down the middle of the valley. It was deep and fast flowing and we needed to cross it. I found a place that looked to be leapable, much to the interest of a couple who were out walking along the other side of the valley (who brought the tally of people seen to six; the first four were all on the summit of Pumlumon Fawr) who unashamedly stood watching us (waiting for one of us to fall in?).

With relief I found that I had gauged correctly that I could clear the width of the river and with a running jump I was soon on the other side, swiftly followed by three backpacks and two (much longer legged) men.

Climbing up the other side of the valley sufficiently far to be out of the marshy land, we found a couple of patches of flat ground and even got as far as putting the tent up. Then I expressed concern that being as exposed as the pitch was, and with the wind expected to increase, we were in danger of having a sleepless night listening to flapping nylon. As a result we moved down to a lower pitch, which (as you’ll see if you read the post below) turned out to be somewhat less than ideal.

As it went, the tent was so incredibly stable that I think that we would have been fine on the exposed pitch, and no doubt the Nallo could have taken the on-slaught there too.

The stats for the day were 10 miles with 2300 feet of ascent. With the rough ground, substantial patches of bog to negotiate and the batterings of hail storms, it felt longer. As enjoyable as it was, I was certainly pleased to crawl into my sleeping bag at the end of it, albeit I didn’t expect to get much sleep in the stormy weather that was predicted.

To be continued…

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Wendy Gets Wet in Wales

With a weather forecast of heavy rain and strong winds, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to give Wendy (our Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R) her second outing. The first outing was a little unfair as on a cold night, on a campsite with no breeze at all, it was inevitable that she would become very wet with condensation.

The location this time was the Pumlumon area and I had high hopes for her performance.

It started off well. Despite the high winds, she barely moved at all and the dreaded flapping that I had expected to keep me awake did not materialise. Given such strong winds, I was unsurprised to find that the double-skinned middle-section stayed dry. The fact that the single-skin end sections were wet with condensation was not of any great concern, as that would just drain out per the design.

Things started to go downhill when I came to get up this morning and found water under my sleep mat. Rescuing the down items before they became too sodden, I then found that the bit of water I thought was there was actually quite a lot of water (in which was sitting my waterproof trousers and both of our jackets).

The real sense of humour failure came about when I moved my Therm-a-Rest to find a puddle a good two inches deep underneath it (my bed having been on the downhill side of the pitch). Eeek!

I wasn’t annoyed about the water per se – we just had to deal it as best we could. The annoyance was that having paid the best part of £300 for a tent, it had proved over the course of two outings to be completely useless to us. A tent with a 100% record of getting us wet is no good, particularly in combination with our down sleeping bags and jackets.

My assumption at this point was that my Therm-a-Rest, touching the single-skin part of the tent had channelled the condensation onto the floor rather than allowing it to drain out as it should (although that was a clutching-at-straws explanation as we had already mopped 2 litres of water from under my bed).

When I left the tent I found the real reason for our sodden state. (blush!) Despite having picked a pitch with due regard to the wet weather forecast, and which looked like it would drain well, the back half of the tent was now sitting in about six inches of water.

I’m pleased to say that my sense of humour instantly returned (well who couldn’t see the funny side of finding yourself pitched in a lake?). I no longer blame Wendy for the incident; it was clearly operator error and thus she will see the light of day again.

Lessons learnt? 1) Don’t necessarily shun the high and windy pitch in favour of a low and more sheltered one; and (more importantly) 2) Don’t ever trust my judgment as to whether an area is likely to flood in torrential rain!