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]

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Car Parking: Is Nowhere Safe?

As I mentioned, we parked our car for our outing just beyond the end of the dead-end road from Mosedale, past Swineside.

We had nearly pulled into one area, but rejected it in favour of one further off the road a few yards further along.

My usual worry about leaving my car in an unknown place overnight is the potential for local youths with nothing better to do, to decide to vandalise it for no reason other than for the supposed ‘fun’ of it. Both Mick and I have had more than one car ‘keyed’ in the past, but there’s always the potential for worse things than a few scratches or gouges.

That concern diminishes the further away from civilisation I get, so parking beyond the end of a dead-end road a significant distance from anywhere in the lakes did not cause me a second thought. It just doesn’t seem like the sort of place where people would take the trouble to go to hang out and randomly damage cars. Nor did it strike me as an obvious place for any other sort of car crime – more organised car parks where it’s more reliable that people will park strike me as more likely subjects.

Even when happy about where we’ve left the car, it’s still always a relief to get back to find it still there and in one piece.

Such was the state in which we found the car yesterday, and having finished our picnic off we set back along the track, passing two other cars which had squeezed themselves into the little parking area that we had rejected.

As we drove by, I noticed that both of them had smashed windows.

Neither car had been there on Thursday afternoon, so no doubt they had both arrived yesterday morning for day walks, had left their cars in what appeared to be such a safe place, and would have returned to have all the good relaxation of their walks undone with immediate anger and inconvenience.

We thanked our lucky starts that our car was again untouched (whilst we were LEJOGging, step-son’s car was broken into on our driveway one night; our car a few feet away was untouched).

Admittedly the beaten-up-ness and the age of our car probably conveys, even at a glance, the fact that it will offer slim pickings to thieves. Then there’s the fact that we always leave it with the boot uncovered and make it quite apparent that there’s nothing inside worth stealing. But, even so, there’s always the potential, if someone’s on a window-smashing spree, that they will also target your car just to check that there’s nothing interesting in it.

Lucky as we were, it’s still disappointing to end a couple of days out with the evidence of recent car crime so close by - and in such a seemingly safe place.

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Lakes: Friday Morning

The first thing that I noticed this morning was that there was a certain brightness. Peering out of the top of the tent, I could see a definite hillside in front of us. That was a big improvement on last night and told me that we would be walking onwards, not back, today.
There's definitely a hillside (just about) visible in front of that tent!

By the time we were ready to leave the forecast was holding true. There were breaks in the cloud we were getting intermittent views of the tops around us, and down into the valley below. Apart from the slight lack of levelness, it turned out to be a pretty good pitch we had chosen: flat, dry and with a good view (we'll overlook the lack of levelness)!
The cloud clears for a while and we have a view as we pack away

Alas, the wind had dropped in the night and the midges were out in force. Pesky things. As the day wore on it turned out that it was a flying ant day. Millions of the things, there were, including a significant number which had committed suicide in the many pools and puddles on our route.

Off up Meall Fell we went, then it was the necessary descent so that we could pop up Great Cockup, which was an out-and-back trip. I was all for leaving my pack at the bottom, but Mick objected. Surprisingly, today his concern didn’t involve potential pack thieves lying in wait on the hills, but the fact that we need the exercise, so up and back our packs went too.
From Great Cockup
After Great Cockup we took the example of its name as we had a navigational lapse (give a bit of visibility and carelessness suddenly creeps in!) and found ourselves ascending the wrong hill.
We're didn't realise we were in the wrong place as we contemplate the geology between Meall Fell and Great Cockup

The sudden addition to the plan had been to head on to Great Calva, via Little Calva, but instead found ourselves half way up Knott again. Ooops. But, at least we noticed before we got there and we soon had ourselves back on the right track.
Mick has control of the camera on Great Calva; I have a snack bar and a map

Sitting at the top of Great Calva a while later, we looked down on Skiddaw House and the Caldew valley, and saw the first people we had seen since we set out yesterday afternoon.
In the reduced size photo you can't really see Skiddaw House or the finer features of the view

A while later, after wading through the heather, which is giving a particularly good display of colour just now, we were exchanging greetings with those people, before making our way along the rather easier (but still remarkably wet and muddy) terrain of the Cumbria Way.

Purely because I’d carried cheese and crackers the whole way, we had a picnic next to the car before we declared our trip over. With the cloud now high, we had a perfect view of Carrock Fell as we lunched and it was tempting, but time had run out for this trip.

It was time to do battle with the Friday-end-of-Bank-Holiday-week traffic (ouch; not a good journey) and wend our way back home.

From unpromising beginnings, it turned out to be a fantastic trip. The stats were that we covered just under 5 miles yesterday and just under 10 today. Anquet would like you to believe that we had a cumulative ascent of 3500 feet.

The Lakes: Thursday Afternoon

By the time we had wended our way up north, concluded our business in George Fisher and stocked up with suitable food at Booths, it was approaching 3pm and time to make a move into the hills.

Up to Mosedale we drove and then took the dead-end road past Swineside. We’d walked along the Caldew valley to that roadhead early last year and I recalled that just beyond the end of the road there are some parking areas. We abandoned the car in one of them and by just gone 3pm we were hot-footing it up Grainsgill Beck.
Mick contemplates how to cross a side stream
Two things were immediately remarkable. Firstly visibility was going to be absolutely appalling. That mountain weather forecast I’d seen, which suggested that although it would be drizzly, the cloud would be high, was only right on one count: it was drizzly. The other notable feature was the mud. It keeps being mentioned on the wireless that this has been the wettest August on record and from the state the ground where we walked I think that Cumbria may have borne the brunt of England’s wetness. Still, I’ve always maintained that a walk is not a walk unless you find mud; on that basis this was shaping up to be a King of Walks!
From the road-head, looking at the prospect of low cloud

Lingy Hut is a very good navigational aid when walking up this particular hillside, but it was useless to us yesterday completely obscured by cloud as it was. Remarkably, however, we managed to pick the right point at which to cross the Gill and over to Coomb Height we went before heading over to Knott.

The vague plan had been that we would find a pitch somewhere around Knott – off to the right of the ridge between there and Great Sca Fell looked likely from the map. The plan was being somewhat hampered though by the appalling visibility. There was no standing on the hillside surveying the surroundings and choosing a likely spot before going to check it out. Instead there was just blind stumbling around, hoping to find somewhere flat.

With no pitch jumping out at us we figured that we may just as well collect some water, so as to give us the option of a ridge-top pitch (not a favoured option on this occasion as the wind, which the forecast told us should have dropped by mid-afternoon was still strongly in evidence), so a diversion was made in search of a stream. It wasn’t the best stream I’ve ever encountered. The water looked like this:

We desperately searched the area by the stream for any land that was even approaching flat and level (we'd already written off the chances of finding anywhere dry too).

Within a few minutes we gave the area up and decided that we were more likely to find a spot up on one of the tops, so on we headed.

Great Sca Fell was taken in and then, having considered the map, a big circuit of Yard Steel was made on a pitch-finding mission.

Alas, nowhere was jumping out at us and even on our lowest standards as to what constitutes campable land we were struggling.

More poring over the map and we decided that the only thing for it, given the conditions, was to descend. It wasn’t an overly happy conclusion given that it would mean having to regain the height in the morning, but time was ticking on, plus the temperature was falling. I was now regretting my ‘it’s summer’ selection of my Featherlight Smock and wishing for my Fuera, and out came my jacket, hat and gloves. With the wind-driven mizzle now penetrating my trousers, I was also rather wishing for a pair of waterproof trousers, but given what I had available to me, I opted to suffer the wet legs.

Over towards Meall Fell we headed and then downwards from the ridge.

We were almost upon the ruined sheepfold when we saw it and immediately we saw that it had potential. A quick look around the surrounding area told me that there was nothing better in the immediate vicinity, but did reveal a crystal clear stream a dozen paces away. Compare and contrast water sources: from streams on the opposite side of the same hill (we used the one on the right!)

Up went the tent, and in we climbed. Then we nearly moved because we now realised that desperation may have clouded our perception of the levelness of the pitch, however, another round of the nearby area still showed nowhere better, so we settled down for another night suffering from Wendy’s Slippery Bottom (the seam sealant apparently didn't resolve the problem).

Sitting there, tea in hand, considering where to walk next (particularly considering that we’d already done a good chunk of our intended route), we reluctantly concluded that if the weather didn’t get any better then there was no point continuing.

Wendy Warmlite, and lots of cloud

Whilst there’s a perverse enjoyment to be had from successfully navigating through cloud, and conquering ‘interesting’ underfoot conditions, to have continued our intended route without visibility really would have been an exercise in walking to hilltops purely for the sake of it, and that didn’t greatly appeal.

So, we retired for the night not knowing whether the morning would bring a good walk over some more tops, or a swift return to the car being home by noon.

The Dry Legs Problem

When we finally returned home some weeks after the end of our LEJOG expedition, we needed to clean and tidy the house in a bit of a hurry, in anticipation of a visitor the following day. That involved us throwing all of our kit into the Kit Cupboard.

That was fine, provided that the Kit Cupboard doors remained closed. If a door was opened almost the entire contents tumbled out.

It was time to have a clear out.

Deciding to part with four synthetic sleeping bags (which have found new homes and so haven’t gone to waste) cleared out more than enough space, and other old worn out items got put in the ‘to bin’ pile.

That’s all background and not directly related to the problem that I found on Wednesday night.

Lots of things were going on on Wednesday night: Mick was cooking a chilli to dehydrate (two weeks until our C2C adventure and we’d not started preparing food yet), I was sorting out kit to pack for our couple of days away, and associated with the latter task I finally got around to the long overdue task of washing and proofing all of our wind and waterproofs that we used on LEJOG.

The first batch went in the machine and were duly washed, proofed and hung out to dry. Then I went in search of the next batch and realised that my waterproof trousers were missing.

The house was searched and I’ve still not found them (fingers crossed that they’re in Wolverhampton, which is where we were after I used them last, on Dartmoor in July) and that left me with a bit of a predicament for an overnight trip with a forecast of drizzliness and no suitable garment to protect my lower legs.

I do have others. There are my Paramo Cascadas, but the weather is too warm for those. I’ve also got an old pair of Wynnster ones, but again I would only wear them in cold weather. Then there was the pair that I’d put in the ‘to be binned’ pile during the kit cupboard clear out.

The availability of other options (as unsatisfactory as they were) did not solve my annoyance of having lost something that I needed.

It may be considered fortunate that I’d not quite got around to carrying the ‘to be binned’ pile out to the dustbin, but that would be overly generous towards the pair of waterproofs that lay in that pile. They are severely delaminated and hold very few waterproof qualities.

In desperation I retrieved them from their imminent end, and threw them into my backpack, hoping the whole time that my new Montane Terra Pants would fend off the level of rain that was likely to fall.

I knew when I threw them in that I was carrying weight for no good reason. They weren't going to keep me dry, but somehow I felt better for having something that at least tried to claim the description: 'waterproof'.

The Plan

Looking at a calendar last week we realised that we were running out of time before our next walk to pop up to Keswick. Mick had two pairs of boots to return to George Fisher, which we really should have done a good six weeks ago, and delaying further wasn’t going to help us to get refunds on them.

So, it was a bit of a late decision that we would drive up there on Thursday morning. It would, of course, be rude to drive all of the way up there without taking some level of advantage of the hills, so the plan encompassed spending a night.

The proper way to plan such an excursion is, in my opinion, to spread the approrpriate map(s) across the floor and pore over them.

In the absence of paper maps (because we weren't at home when the plan was hatched) we had to resort to looking at Anquet maps on a computer screens. Not ideal, but it was all that we had available.

A couple of potential areas to visit sprang to mind, but mindful of the fact that it is the week of a Bank Holiday and thus was likely to be rather busy up in Lakeland, I dismissed my first thought of parking on Honister Pass and heading up Dale Head and taking in a high-level route around that area.

My next thought was of the northern fells. More cursor work on Anquet Maps saw a vague plan (being generous in the use of the word ‘plan’ here):

- Start at the road-end beyond Mosedale

- Head up towards Lingey Hut

- Head over to Knott

- Then over to Great Sca Fell

- Then over to Meall Fell

- Then to Great Cockup (purely because I've wanted to go up it ever since I saw it's silly name on a map)

- Then somehow back to the car

That’s as far as the planning went. All we needed to do was pack and go.

A Lot Of Words

We're back from our flying Lakes trip and so I sat down to type a short trip report.

Hours of typing later, and I seem to have waffled a lot.

I've split it into a series of posts, but seeing as I'm home with a reliable internet connection tonight, I'm going to post them all.

So, after saying almost nothing for weeks, I'm now going to inundate you with waffle.

If you choose to read all of it, then I apologise in advance for my wordiness!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Random Thoughts (and Rants)

Train Tickets:
Our train tickets for our C2C and WHW trips arrived last weekend.

I’ve ordered a lot of train tickets from thetrainline in the past and that has always resulted in one ticket per journey per person. That single ticket, whilst too big to fit through an automatic ticket machine, has contained all of the necessary information and the only other bits of card in the envelope were the two containing my address and my receipt respectively.

This time each envelope contained a piece of A4 paper plus fourteen (yes, fourteen!) normal sized tickets. Four of the fourteen are the actual travel tickets (the other pieces of card contain seat reservations and card receipt, plus one with my address on, even though the windowed envelope uses the address printed on the A4 paper).

Admittedly the total amount of card used is probably less than the previous oversized tickets, but surely there’s a more efficient way of conveying the necessary information without fourteen separate pieces of cardboard per journey?

(Hmmm, am I just prematurely becoming a grumpy old woman?)


In the post this week I received a CD from Conrad. He was LEJOGer No. 2 who we met on our walk and the CD contained both his photos and his journal – and what a good read it was.

What I did note about his walk was that he was more than unfortunate with the number of things that conspired to disturb his sleep at night. Whereas Mick & I suffered only two and a bit nights that were disturbed by others (flapping-tent-coughing-bird in Horton; the drunken louts in Peebles; the group who started their party in the next tent at Keld with Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’!) Conrad had much worse luck. In fact, had I read his journal before we set off, I would have been somewhat concerned about the chances of getting a good night’s sleep at any point during the walk.

There are a few of his photos that I would like to put on here, but I will ask his permission first. We will pop up to see him when he’s at home in Cumbria, but for the moment though he is up in Scotland trying to achieve a few of his last 38 outstanding Munros. This is a 68 year old chap (and a very nice chap at that) who had a knee operation in December. He walked a similar LEJOG route to ours (he avoided the Pennine Way, the WHW and took the off-road far north-west route) and took not a single day off. An inspiration!

End-to-End and the weather map:

Watching a weather forecast a few nights ago, Mick commented that it’s a jolly long way.

I agreed, but whereas he was looking at the bottom left to top right, I was looking at the opposite two corners.

Then, in the modern way of whizzing the map around the screen to give you maximum opportunity to miss the weather for your area (I didn’t like it when they introduced it and I still don’t (oops, there goes the grumpiness again)) it paused for a long time on the south-west peninsula. As if rehearsed we were in time as we said ‘Even that is a long way’.

It’s hard to believe that we walked even Land’s End to Bristol, never mind the rest!

A Packed Bag:

We’re off to the Lakes in the morning. Only a flying visit, to return two pairs of boots to George Fisher (both Asolo Prism; one pair is going back under the ‘fit guarantee’, the other is going back because they’re faulty). It would be rude to pop up there without making the most of the hills, though, so we’re planning to pop out for a quick overnight. My bag is packed. It’s a minimialist outing. Even my 35-litre pack isn’t full and it looks like it’s going to weigh in (without food and water) at somewhere around the 5kg mark.


[Rant Alert]
I am so not impressed. I like the idea of sterilising water with UV light – it has no moving parts to break, no filter to clog and no clean/dirty-end issues to lead to contamination of the clean water. Plus, due to its alleged unit life and long battery life, the Steripen Adventurer claimed a very low pence-per-litre lifetime cost.

What a load of bollocks!

Because I imported mine, I paid half of the UK price – and even then I feel royally ripped off. For my £60 I have managed to sterilise, I would estimate, 15-20 litres of water.

The first trip during which I tried to use it (in March 2007) it failed, even though I had used it successfully at home. I bought new batteries and it worked, so I just put it down to it being supplied with faulty batteries.

During our LEJOG it died because water got into the light tube (yes, a device designed to be used in water died because it got water inside of it). A couple of weeks later it sprang back into life, albeit the tube was still misted.

Tonight I tried it again, and it failed.

So that’s three times that it has failed on me now. What is the point of a water cleansing device that’s liable to fail to work at a critical time? [Rant Over]

Such a shame, because as I say, I do like the concept.

Because I’m a cautious sort of person when it comes to water, I’m not happy to just drink out of streams (yes, I know that lots of people do it and come to no harm; I think my caution arose due to a nasty malady obtained in Goa a few years ago).

That put me in the market for a new water-solution, so I’ve just ordered one of the Aquagear Survivor Water Filter from Backpackinglight. It’s bulkier than the Steripen; it’s heavier too, but hopefully it will prove to be significantly more reliable.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Stop Press: We Went For A Walk!

After a month of studiously turning my muscles to lard, and with it in the forefront of my mind that it’s just a few weeks until we set off to walk 180 miles across England, I had allocated today as a walking day.

It was a bit short-sighted given that in these parts it is a Bank Holiday weekend. Worse still (in terms of the numbers of people) it was a sunny day. The horrors of sunny-weekend quantities of people put me off a jaunt into the Peaks or the Lakes but being determined to get a bit of fresh air and exercise, we were going to go walking today even if it was a jaunt over the local fields.

In the end, and unsurprisingly, the Chase won as the location and laziness (mental rather than physical) led me not to look at a map but to decide instead that we would just walk one of our ‘training circuits’.

Arriving there the fact that we were one of only three cars in the car park immediately struck us. This was the middle of a sunny Saturday, for goodness sake!

The popularity of the pay-to-park areas has always astounded me, considering the close availability of free parking areas but, even so, I would have expected a good handful of cars there on such a sunny weekend.

The other thing that struck us was the ‘Emergency Path Closure’ sign that told us that a handful of the paths that we had intended to use were the subject of an emergency closure due to the need to spray herbicide to control the bracken.

An emergency need to spray bracken?!

Bracken has a long time been a problem on The Chase. It grows in spring each year and each year spraying attempts to control it. Being such a regular problem, quite how it suddenly became a surprise this year and warranted an emergency closure, I do not know.

Thoughts turned to having to dig out the map and plan a different route, but then I thought to look at the date on the notice and realised that being dated 1 August and with a duration of 21 days, we were okay to proceed.

(I was going to rant about the herbicide spraying activity we found later and one single notice out of many that was dated 22 August, and the possible danger to members of the public due to failure to post proper notices, but it would have been quite a rant, so I'll stick to the subject instead.)

The skies were blue as we set out, the ground was muddy (it’s been a bit wet of late, hasn’t it?)

and surprisingly even the paths within half a mile of each of the parking areas we passed were quiet. Even Stepping Stones, where we stopped for a snackette after positively route marching our way there, was almost devoid of people.
Quiet and pretty - and in the Midlands!

Finally reaching the Visitor Centre, where I was banking on getting a bit of lunch, we found out where the masses were. They weren’t at the seaside as we suspected, but rather flocking to a single half of a square mile area in the vicinity of the building that houses a cafĂ© and an information room (both of which were pretty empty today, so they didn’t account for all of the people who had opted to pay to park here).

Tea and food revived my flagging energy, but no sooner had I finished chewing my last mouthful than Mick was hustling me out of the door.
Unexpected and unwelcome visitors in the Ladies (note: when deciding to take a photo when enclosed in a toilet cubicle of busy toilet facilities, turning the flash off will reduce enquiring looks from others when you emerge)

Within thirty paces from the Visitor Centre we passed through a fence, and suddenly we were back by ourselves. It was spooky how it was like Newquay beach in summer on one side, and yet no-one had strayed to the other side.

Onwards we went, under now very cloudy skies, until a short time later we took a left.

Five minutes later I decided that it wasn’t the left that I’d intended to take, but another couple of turns rectified that and before we knew it we were paddling through another ford (opting not to wait for the stepping stones to be vacated by a family who seemed to be having lots of fun using them). Minutes later we were passing the fishing pools, which weren’t being shown to their best advantage today.

A picture taken on a different day (in a different year) showed one of these pools at its best

Mick then decided to put on an even faster sprint than he’d been keeping up thus far. My legs refused to follow suit, although a certain stubbornness did see me keep up as we made our way up the final hill of the walk.

A near killer dog incident (i.e. we passed a dog that looked like it should have been a killer but turned out to be innocuous) saw us into the home straight and just over four hours after we set out, we were back at the car.

We had covered 11.5 miles and stopped for more food than was reasonable for the distance, but most importantly we had had a good walk on a lovely day.

Monday, 18 August 2008


Back in January, Alan Sloman, trawling through his LEJOG photos, noticed that one of his bore a remarkable similarity to pictures he’d seen on the LEJOG websites of both Mark Moxon* and Dave Greenwood**.

You’ll find the three photos here, and if you were to read the comments you’ll even see that Alan gave a big clue as to the whereabouts of this house when he gave a grid reference.

I didn’t read the comments at the time and thus when we set out from Land’s End I just had the vague thought that I hoped that our route would take us past this house and that if it did I would recognise it, like it and thus take my own photo.

It was on Day 12 (by which time I was thinking that we weren’t going to pass it), just after we had enjoyed our shoe-off break on the lovely green in the lovely village of Thorverton, that we passed over the brow of a hill and I made the exclamation of ‘It’s that house; even the car is beside it!’.

And so here is my photo to join the collection that Alan put together:

THAT House!
It really is a very pleasing view, isn’t it?

Whether I would have thought to have captured the scene in the absence of Alan’s blog post, I do not know. I’d like to think that I would have, as the views from that section of the Exe Valley Way are stunning in the sunshine so the camera was in great use that day.

(*Mark's ebook, 'When I Walk I Bounce' is well worth a read, if LEJOG walking interests you.
**I followed 'Imsodave' as he walked it and sat in awe at the mileages he was going - particularly given the time of year - I really must read his account again)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

LEJOG: The Songs

I’m sure that it’s quite normal when out walking, pack on your back, to have a song going in your head.

Whilst having a such a song is pleasantly diverting when you’re walking along (particularly the dull flat sections), the nightmare scenario is getting a song trapped in your head that just won’t go away. It’s there first thing in the morning, it’s there as you’re doing the camp chores, it’s there when you’re packing away, it’s there when you’re walking; worse, it may even be there when you’re asleep, ready to jump at you if you wake up for a micro-second in the night.

And to make matters even worse, some of the songs we had cerebrally stuck were dreadful (although perhaps not as bad as my all-time worst experience of walking for three days in the Lakes with the Sheila’s Wheels ad in my head)!

Mick was mainly to blame for the song choice. Once he was fed up with a tune, he’d sing it to me until finally I became infected with it ( I did get him back with the Kellerman’s End of Season song, which was one of the most annoying of the trip).

Just for a giggle, here’s a selection of the songs that we sang. Make of it what you will, but don’t ponder too much on what it may say about us!

Two Little Boys (sung in full at least once per day; we also had a bit of a Rolf day involving Jake the Peg, Tie Me Kangaroo and Court of King Caractacus)

Monday I Touched Her on the Ankle

Diddly diddly diddly diddly dah di dah di dah

Monty Python Theme

My Packs Too Heavy, My Boots Too Tight, My tits are swinging…

Lloyd George Knew My Father (entirely the fault of a chap we met just north of Hadrian's Wall; as we walked away he suggested that it was a good walking tune and we were immediately plagued by it for days)

Robbie/Elvis Confusion (Monday morning when I wake up I look like kiss but without the make up … in the ghetto, in the ghetto (that one was entirely me and I don't know how it came about))

Little White Bull

My Grandfather’s Clock (right up there in the top three annoying songs)

German Marching Band Tune

Make It Through The Night (often in Elvis Style-ee)

Any Dream (if only we knew more than two lines…)

Truly Scrumptious (likewise)

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria (likewise; must brush up on songs from the musicals before the next big walk)

All I Want Is A Room Somewhere

I Don’t Want to Join the Army

Leaving Kytak and Aint Coming Back

Oh Sir Jasper!

Show Me The Way To Go Home (Indicate the Way to my Abode!)

Kellerman’s End of Season Song from Dirty Dancing (the one they all sing on stage at the end of the film, not ‘I’ve Had The Time of My Life’, which would have been far less annoying)


And my all time favourite song-related moment, which really did make me laugh, was when we ended a day and Mick moaned that he’d had a particular song plaguing him all day. When Santa Got Stuck Up The Chimney was the entirely seasonally-inappropriate culprit. Try as he might, he didn’t manage to pass that one on to me.

Plans and Tickets

So far this year I have walked just shy of 1500 miles, which has been spread out over the months as shown in the graph above.

There’s something quite obviously missing: there are no miles in August.

With my time being spent plumbing, plastering, painting and cursing, I’ve not managed to get myself out for any fresh air and exercise. My shoulders have forgotten what it is to wear a backpack and those finely honed muscles that I build up during April through July have turned back to lard.

If I can’t get out for a walk, then I thought that I should at least make myself feel better by making arrangements for the next couple of walks.

Making myself feel better involved the hugely stressful activity of trying to find cheap tickets on thetrainline (why, oh why can they not make it easier?). With many hours lost in the activity (and a few glitches like when thetrainline decided that I really wanted tickets on the 11.21 train, not the 9.21 – I kept going back and reselecting the earlier train, but it was quite adamant that I wanted the later one; grrr – good job I was paying attention because I’m sure they would have insisted it was my error had I not noticed until later) I finally have tickets.

Mid-September will see us travelling up to St. Bees (£13.50 each) and the following day we will start ambling across the country. Our itinerary involves 12 days of walking, but with there being no cheap train tickets available on the 13th day, we’ve decided that we’ll fritter away a day somewhere, returning home two weeks after we left (£14.50 each).

We’ll then relax, eat bad food and once again lose some of that hard-won muscle until the middle of October, when we’ll head up to Milngavie (£19 each) to start the West Highland Way. All being well we’ll arrive in Fort William a week later, but we’ve allowed ourselves another three days up there before making the (extraordinarily long and winding) journey home (the £24 each price tag seeming pretty good value for such a long journey).

Being on such a roll with sorting out tickets, I then bought plane tickets to get us to Tenerife in November. That doesn’t really warrant a mention on here though. An ascent of Teide won’t feature. That will be the holiday during which I sit in a chair with a book in my hand.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Over A Month Too Late

For most of the three-month duration of our walk, lunch usually involved either cheese or fish. Edam, in particular, proved to be well suited to backpacking – keeping well without getting sweaty or making my pack smell like old socks.

It didn’t take many days of cheese/bread or cheese/crackers for me to observe that every shop that sells cheese should also be obligated to sell individual servings of pickle. Every now and then we managed to purloin a blister pack of marmite to spice things up and many times we obtained sachets of brown sauce which, although not ideal, did the job acceptably. But it was pickle after which we really hankered, yet it only seemed to be available in family sized quantities in glass jars – far too heavy for our purposes.

I’m almost ashamed to say that in one moment of desperation for something other than plain cheese, I was so wasteful as to buy an entire jar (in the general store in Cannich, I seem to recall) just to make one set of sandwiches and throw the rest away.

In all my rants about how cheese vendors should sell blister packs of Branston (and most people to whom I directed this rant agreed with me, but maybe they were just a bit scared by some mad woman ranting about pickle), I didn’t really think that such a thing existed.

It’s now over a month after the event, but there I was browsing a supermarket today (and buying lots of interesting cheeses from the cheese counter – the time lapse has meant that I can face cheese at lunchtime again now) when what should I find but mini-jars of pickle.

Not entirely ideal, being in glass jars (in the manner of jams on hotel breakfast tables), but wouldn’t it be nice (grasping at straws in a blindly hopeful sort of way) if all of the little shops caught on to the idea?

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The LEJOG Awards

In the last few days of our LEJOG jaunt* we amused ourselves for a couple of evenings playing ‘best XXX’ and ‘worst XXX’.

The result was the LEJOG Awards. Our votes were as follows:

Best campsite

(taking into account value for money, location and facilities):
Me: Cheddar Bridge (£7 for two per night, excellent facilities, well kept and with a river right by the pitch)
Mick: Hadrian’s Wall C&CC (close to best facilities of any campsite, good location, cheap breakfast, good layout; lost out for me due to the poor state of the grass (or lack thereof))

Best value campsite

Central Caravans, Watten (£5 for two, including use of the washing machine and kettle)

Worst Campsite

(value for money doesn’t come into this category; this is purely those that we disliked):
Tanpits Cider Farm just outside Taunton (cheapest campsite we stayed on, but horribly unclean facilities amongst other complaints);

tied with:
Tyne Willows Caravan Park in Alston (expensive, dreadful facilities and entered via a scrapyard, to name a few complaints).

Worst Value Campsite

Border Forest Caravan Park, Byrness (£14 and not even any soap or hand drying facilities – and it was the midgiest experience of the whole trip!);
tied with
Tyne Willows, Alston (£10, with hideously bad facilities)

Best Wildcamp
The other side of the river from Culra Lodge. Magical place to wake up. See the second photo here.

Worst Wildcamp
None was bad, but on a comparative basis, the one by Broomy Law had nothing to recommend it and the one after Cauldstane Slap was blighted by midges.

Best Bothy Night
Loch Choire (okay, it really was an unfair category as we only had one Bothy Night, but it was good enough to warrant an award)

Best View
Coming upon Loch Ericht. See first photo here.

Best non-camping accommodation
Warren’s Farm, Yeoford

(A handful of others deserved commendations too - like Weavers at Trevescan, Hafren House in Welshpool, Kinrara at Whaley Bridge and Allanfauld Farm at Kilsyth)

Best Value non-camping accommodation:
Warren’s Farm, Yeoford
(Highly commended: Allanfauld Farm, Kilsyth)

Worst non-camping accommodation

The White Lion at Weston
(a very shoddy, very dated room, at an above-budget price, took an age to track down a member of staff to check us in and it was the only place that agreed to an early breakfast and then served us only cereal and toast).

Worst value non-camping accommodation

Oykel Bridge Hotel (in close contest with Langdon Beck YHA)

Best Meal
Cross Keys, Kippen. Really, if you’re in the area, go and try it (highly commended: Kinlochewe Hotel and G&A, Melrose)

Worst Meal
The extreme error of smooth oatcakes and peanut butter for three lunches during a string of wild-camps. It makes me shudder just to think of it.

Best Day
Can’t choose. Almost all were good and with all of the different ingredients that made up a good day we couldn’t say that any one good day was better than another.

Worst Day

(a few days had a bad point or two, but this is the one that really stood out in our minds – plus it was the day on which I lost my compass, which of the few things I lost on the way was the most expensive to replace)

Maelor Way.

(*Can you believe it was over a month ago already? Where does the time go?)

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Our LEJOG Blog - A More Readable Version

Although the Blog was a great way to share a journal of our LEJOG trip as we went along, it’s not really very friendly for anyone wanting to read about our adventure retrospectively (being in reverse order and hidden amongst my other witterings).

My longer-term intention is to migrate all of the LEJOG stuff to a separate website (but a bit of a learning curve will have to happen first and it’s not top of my list of things to do, so it could take a while).

In the meantime, I thought I’d do something a bit simpler but still more reader-friendly.

So, I’m re-ordering the LEJOG posts into chronological order and putting them into a series of Word documents, which in turn I will put on Google Documents.

I’m not changing any of the content for this version – it’s exactly as I blogged it at the time (although I may throw some photos in, in due course).

Here’s the first two chunks:

I’ll put up links to May, June and July when I’ve re-jigged the order, formatted and uploaded them.

The Pocketmail as a Mobile Blogging Device

Peewiglet posted a comment on my original posting about my mobile blogging device, asking whether the Pocketmail worked well for me on our LEJOG trip.

Once again, I found myself writing an essay in response, so I thought that I may as well just expand it and write a little bit of a review:

The bottom line is that for me on this trip, the Pocketmail worked fantastically well. It really did turn out to be my ideal device.

Once I got used to the keyboard (as there are fewer keys than on a standard keyboard many symbols require the use of a ‘2nd’ key) I could type pretty fast on it – even when sitting hunched over in the tent (Mick’s back did come in handy for use as a table when I wanted to use one!).

To send the messages, you pull out a little microphone on the back of the device, hold the whole thing up to a telephone (pretty much any telephone will do), dial the Pocketmail access number (it’s an 0870 number) and press the transmit button. The device then ‘chatters’ away for a minute or two (it feels more like two when you’re sitting there waiting for it to finish, but I’m sure that it wasn’t really quite that long).

What I did find was that I needed at least a constant ‘2 bar’ signal on my mobile for the transmission to work, but if neither Mick nor I had a good enough signal, then a payphone would work (albeit it was more expensive, but don’t get me started on the cost of payphones these days).

Sending the messages didn’t turn out to be as expensive as I thought it may have been. When I took the trouble to find out the cost of the occasional post, it was about 30-40p per post from my mobile (that’s not actually a useful fact is it, as it depends on your tariff and how much you write in your emails; I did waffle a bit).

Even better, the first set of batteries (two AAs) lasted seven weeks (the second set remain unexhausted). The battery life, and the fact that it ran off standard batteries, was one of the most important points for me (along with being touch-typeable), and seven weeks was well beyond my expectations, particularly considering the amount I was using it.

Now the downsides:
I can see that the Pocketmail isn’t a device that would appeal to everyone.

The big limitation, when compared with modern phones, is that it only sends/receives text-only emails (so it’s only good as a blogging device if your blog accepts posts via email). There's no web access, no ability to send photos, no ability to format text and no bells and whistles (of course, if it did have those features then you’d lose on the battery life).

The other problem (for me, with my shallow pockets and tight nature) is that it has a £10-ish/month service charge. For a three month trip, I was more than happy to pay that because I could use it with my existing Pay-As-You-Go mobile and it didn’t require me to change my mobile to a battery-eating one, nor to fork out for a contract phone that I would be stuck with for 12 months or more. However, I won’t be paying out the service charge indefinitely, because I just don’t mobile-blog enough to warrant it.

I will keep the service going for our next couple of trips (C2C in September and WHW in October), then I will terminate it.

For my own mobile-blogging requirements, I would happily re-activate and use the device for future big trips, although I fear that the Pocketmail will be obsolete by the time we next come to do an epic walk, which means that I’ll be seeking a different mobile blogging device. I’m sure that that will be a compromise: I can’t believe that there’s anything else there that is as lightweight, has such good battery power, is touch-typeable and doesn’t require a long contract tie-in.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

LEJOG Reflections: Route and Bouncy Shoes

If I was to do it again, what would I do differently? It’s a question that quite a few people have asked.

On the subject of the route, I’m quite definite as to what I would do differently, based on experience.

We used Land’s End as our starting point and John O’Groats as our end point because that’s what people do. It’s the established points that everyone recognises as being a journey through the length of Britain.

Because I also wanted to visit Lizard (and Dunnet) it meant that we headed south from Land’s End and then cut up through the middle of Cornwall and Devon.

The reality of that route was that there was too much walking on tarmac, along little lanes (lovely lanes, admittedly, but they are roads no matter how lovely they are). For a week or so we spent more time than not on tarmac. There just weren’t enough footpaths running north-south in the right areas of those counties.

So, if I was to be planning this walk afresh, I would ignore the conventional LEJOG start and end points – although I would still visit all of the same extreme points. The walk would be from Lizard to John O’Groats via Land’s End and Dunnet. That route would have allowed us to have taken the coast path north and avoided many miles of tarmac. It’s a subtle difference, but it would have made for a happier underfoot experience in Week 2 (although my leg muscles and lungs may not have thanked me for the ascent and descent on that coast path!).

Linked to route, is the subject of shoes. I set out with two different pairs of trail-runners (only because I didn’t have sufficient faith in either pair individually). Until the week before we went I had intended to take one pair of trail-runners and one pair of road-runners. I can’t remember why I changed my mind, but it was a mistake.

If I was to walk the same route again, with all of that tarmac in Cornwall and Devon, then I would most definitely take a pair of road-runners and a pair of trail-runners. The benefit of bounciness underfoot would have made up for the extra weight in the pack for the week or so of roads.

I’m happy to say that beyond the first couple of weeks I was more than happy with the route* (bar that 2km track in Rannoch Forest – but that could be easily have been avoided had we known what we were to be faced with). I was also happy with my boot selection, but that’s a subject for another day and another post.

(*Just to clarify: I wasn’t unhappy with the route in those first couple of weeks; it had an awful lot to recommend it and I’m not sorry that we took that line, even though hindsight tells me that a different way would have been preferable. Another person who doesn’t have such an aversion to tarmac would find it a delight.)

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Next Big Walk?

It’s an easy leap to make.

You’re listening to the Cape Wrath Podcasts and thinking that you’d like to go and walk that walk.

You’re looking at the weather map and focussing on the bottom right and top left hand corners.

Then you make the leap.

Last weekend I got the road atlas out and just to amuse myself for an hour or so I started looking at route possibilities.

At first glance it's looking like this:

- St Margaret’s
- North Downs Way from Dover to Canterbury
- Somehow up to London
- Grand Union Canal-ish route to Brum
- Over to Penkridge on canals
- Staffs Way to Uxbridge
- Somehow over to Peak District
- Combination of Pennine Bridleway and Pennine Way to Horton
- Over to Cumbria
- North through Cumbria to Carlisle
- Somehow up through the Borders and onwards to East of Glasgow
- A route east of the WHW to Fort William
- The Cape Wrath Trail

Don't get excited (or concerned, in the case of my sister). It's not something that we'll be dashing off to do any time soon.

But, maybe one day…

Poorliness and Presents

Summer colds are horrible. It’s just not the right time of year for such poorliness. The cold didn’t know that it was the wrong season, and my goodness, did I feel grotty for the eight days (yes, eight whole days) that it afflicted me.

I’m happy to say that it finally bid a retreat just in time for my birthday. Yes, another year has passed; my age has crept up another notch.

There’s usually a very strong outdoors theme in my birthday wish-list, and this year was no exception. However, whereas usually I use such occasions as an opportunity to get frivolous gear (i.e. stuff that I want but, strictly, don’t need and therefore struggle to justify buying for myself) the only items on my wish-list were books.

So, with my outdoorsy-books obsession fed for a while longer, I now have:

- Two Josie Dew books.

I discovered her by accident last year when Ma-in-Law dragged me into a cheap book shop and even though cycling has never appealed to me as a past time, I’m hooked on her adventures, so I’m now on a mission to read everything she’s written.
- GR5 Guidebook from Cicerone.
I’m trying to work out if I can fit both that and the TGOC into next year whilst also back working full time!.
- North to the Cape Guidebook from Cicerone.

Another one on the to-do list.
- Down Under by Bill Bryson.

The excellent B&B in which we stayed in Welshpool had a copy of this on its bookshelf and I read the first couple of chapters. Reluctantly, I put it back on the shelf before we left; now I can finish it.
- National Trails Book from Cicerone. I bought a copy for a friend last year and had book envy, so put it on my wish-list. Due to a bit of a lack of co-ordination (entirely my fault) I ended up with two copies – one has been returned to Amazon and replaced with:
- Two Chris Townsend Books – The Rockies one and the Alaska one.

I also have a little bit of present-money to fritter away, and can you believe that I can’t think of any outdoor gear that I want to buy with it? So I may just be a bit girly and buy some new earrings instead (after all, since Cannich on our walk I’ve been sharing two earrings between four holes, so it’s about time I replaced those I lost on the way).

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Efficiencies of the Bushbuddy

On my posting below on the subject of LEJOG Cost, Martin asked what appeared to be a simple question about the Bushbuddy.

I found myself writing something of an essay in response, so rather than hiding it in the comments, I thought I'd give it a post of its own:

Q.On fuel you must have saved a bit of money with the bush buddy stove,from burning twigs etc and if so is it worth having on a long trip?

Our theory on using the Bushbuddy, as well as saving on fuel, took into consideration that it would save us from having to carry so much gas (thus saving weight) and from the trouble of resupplying gas so frequently.

Part of our theory worked well. We must have saved fuel. We used 8 x 250 gas canisters in total (actually, we used 9 canisters, but as we threw two of those away when still half full (because we'd received new ones and didn't want the extra weight) for the purposes of fuel efficiency we used 8). We know from past experience that cooking two cups of tea and one evening meal per day each, a 250 canister will last for 5 days. So, theoretically we should have got through 12 cans on this trip (60 camping nights).

However, we also had porridge for breakfast on probably between a third and a half of our camping days - and I'll not bore you with my sums here - but that amounts to an extra canister, and some days we frivilously drank more cups of tea (because with the Bushbuddy we didn't need to conserve fuel), so let's call that 2 canisters.

So, I reckon that we saved 6 cans of gas by using the Bushbuddy. I buy my gas at £2 per 250 can, so that was only a saving of £12 - however, had we bought them as we went along then (aside from the extra effort and miles that would have involved) I expect it would have been around £22.

The bit of the theory that didn't work so well, at least on the second half of the trip, was the weight saving from not carrying so much gas. With the vagaries of the weather (I draw the line at using the BB in wet weather), the knowledge that we would struggle to buy gas as we went and the intervals between resupply, we found ourselves with two canisters most of the time - one full, one in use - which was purely on a 'just in case' basis. With a bit more careful thought on the subject of resupply, we needn't have carried so much gas so much of the time and could have better realised the weight saving.

Because of the weather over the last three weeks, the BB had almost no use towards the end, so I did find myself carrying the extra weight for no good reason, and it's not the sort of item that you can just throw into a jiffy bag to send home. I just had to remind myself, when I heaved my heavy pack with five days food in it onto my back, that we'd had good use from the device earlier in the trip!

At £55 (which I think is what mine cost) you'd struggle to justify it on cost alone unless you were doing lots of long trips, but with the other considerations (plus the fun of having a real fire (not to mention the 'fun' of getting your hands and trousers covered in soot*, if you're as careless as am I), I definitely consider it worthwhile for the meagre 150g weight.

(*Actually, to us the mess generated by the Bushbuddy is the big downside of it. I often got myself filthy using it (my carelessness, rather than it being an inherently messy device) and Mick had the job of trying to scrub the outside of the pots clean, which in turn covered his hands in soot; that soot only comes off the hands using soap and water, which is a bit of a faff when you're out in the wilds.)

Friday, 1 August 2008


How much does it cost to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats?

Well that very much depends upon how you go about it and how long you take over it. But, I can now say how much it cost us.

Before we set off I came up with a ‘budget*’ that suggested that it would cost us about £4,250. That allowed us two B&Bs per week, two meals out per week; at all other times the budget assumed that we were on campsites and buying groceries.

The reality was that we stayed in fewer B&Bs than budgeted, but ate out a lot more and drank much more beer than planned (the budget was obviously flawed in the latter respect – this was a holiday after all!). Fortunately the eating and drinking out was outweighed by the generous amount I had allowed on a daily basis for food, even though I had not appreciated before we set off how much we would find ourselves eating, nor how expensive it is to shop on a daily basis in little village stores.

Having gathered up my notebooks and completed another spreadsheet, I can now say that the trip cost £3,450.

Not bad for a three month trip for two people, I’d say!

If you take off the estimated amount that we saved by not being at home (i.e. savings on utilities, running a car, weekly food shopping etc.), then the real cost of the trip reduces to £2,225. A positive bargain for three months of good fun!

A few notes about the calculated cost:
1) It doesn’t take into account the cost of the 100 dehydrated meals that we pre-prepared, because the ingredients either came out of the store cupboard or were bought as part of the weekly groceries and so the cost was not separately identifiable. Looking at some example meals, I reckon the average cost per meal (including the dehydrating process) was between £1 and £1.25 (note that all of my meals were veggie, and dried pulses are very cheap indeed, which is how we achieved a low average cost). Of course, if we hadn’t dehydrated the meals before we went then the cost of food would have been a few hundred pounds higher.

2) It doesn’t take into account the cost of any gear, either bought on the way or beforehand, as I didn’t consider kit to be a cost of this trip specifically. Most kit was pre-existing; the kit we bought for this trip will mainly be good for other trips too.

3) It doesn’t include the cost of posting used maps home (don’t know why I didn’t write that down, but I consistently omitted it)

4) We did get a few beds for free, mainly thanks to friends and family (and thanks to Adrian & Deborah who put us up even though they’d never met us before). Obviously in the absence of such kindness the costs would have been higher.

5) It does include the postage of the re-supply parcels.

6) It does include the cost of gas canisters.

Because I’m quite sad (no, really!), all of the costs were categorised, so I can come up with some facts and figures as to how much was spent on what (although I’ll resist sharing the graphs with you!):

- I budgeted £60 per B&B night; we averaged £59.

- I budgeted £9 per camping night; we averaged £6.50 (helped by 16 nights wild camping, which brought the average down somewhat; take the free nights out of the equation and the average campsite cost was £9.15). The most expensive campsite was £15; the cheapest was £4 (both of which were good examples of the axiom ‘you get what you pay for’).

- Food and drink (which category includes eating out, beer, tea and cakes, and groceries) averaged just over £19 per day.

- The cheapest pint of Lime and Soda that we bought cost just 25p (at a rather well-to-do sort of a pub and on a very hot day when Mick had run out of water; it was the best pint of pop of the whole trip!); the most expensive pint of Lime and Soda was £2. The most common price was £1.20.

- It cost £200 more to get back from John O’Groats than it cost us to get to Land’s End. That would have been a lot less had we been able to book our return travel a couple of months in advance. Thanks go out to CPM Group Limited of Frome, who kindly paid for our train tickets home.

Finally, note that all of the above figures are for two people. It doesn’t follow that it would cost half the amount for one person (so save money and go with a friend).

(* I use the word budget in a loose sense here; our choice of accommodation and eating out was guided by the budget, but we weren’t going to sacrifice the enjoyment of the trip for a few pounds here or there.)