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]

Friday, 31 October 2008

A Run, A Hill, Some Maps (in a Random Thoughts sort of way)

A Shuffle In The Village
On Wednesday morning this week, I went for a short jogette. That may not seem like a newsworthy announcement, except that this was my second run of the year, and the first one was some months ago.

Cardiovascularly, it was easy enough and at the time nothing hurt, but it seemed inevitable that I would ache the following day.

A Dash Up A Hill
Skip forward a day to Thursday and our trip down to Malvern. As with our previous trip down to backpackinglight in March, our plan was that we’d pop in for me to make my backpack purchase, which would take about half an hour, then would take a walk over the Malvern Hills (having no hills close to home it seems rude to be so close to some lumpiness and not get a little exercise on them).

What I hadn’t accounted for was Bob & Rose’s fantastic hospitality and the joys of being a child in a sweetshop, investigating all of the new kit.

By the time we dragged ourselves away (with apologies to Bob & Rose for taking up so much of their time again (not to mention eating all of the cake!)), it was a close call as to whether we would make it to the hills at all, the main consideration not being the daylight remaining but the state of the M5/M6 junction by the time we got there.

We just couldn’t leave Malvern without the shortest of dashes up a hill, so we hotfooted it over to the foot of Worcestershire Beacon, quickly necked our lunch and then set out uphill.

I made it a whole ten yards before the slippery ground got the better of me and I landed both of my (freshly laundered) Buffalo Mitts in the mud, but happily the rest of the route up was more firm underfoot.

It was busy on the main track that leads along the ridge, which soon reminded us that it’s half-term holiday this week, but we opted to take a quieter side track, which was also more pleasing underfoot.

The views were superb, particularly when we reached the top of the Beacon, and had the snowy-on-one-side, clear-on-the-other North Hill ahead of us. We vaguely considered quickly dashing over to North Hill, but our enthusiasm was dampened by the sight of rain rapidly approaching.

It turned out not to be rain, but variously sleet, frozen rain and hail.

Back down to the car we headed, getting back within an hour of setting off. It wasn’t long enough to warrant an entry in my walking log, but was long enough to ensure that we got caught up in the hideousness that is the M5/M6 junction at rush-hour.

By the time we got home I was seriously regretting even setting foot on the hills. My thighs had been aching as a result of the previous day’s run even before we set out. A few hours after our hill-dash every single movement was accompanied by an audible whimper.

I’m pleased to say that the muscles have almost forgiven me today, which will mean that I can abuse them again over the weekend and hopefully they won't complain so much next time.On Worcestershire Beacon, with a snowy North Hill beyond

Routes and Maps

I’ve been looking at maps today. Much of the afternoon has been spent contemplating our TGOC route. As a result of that exercise I have two potential start points in mind (one northerly, one southerly) with very vague thoughts as to routes we would take from each. In my mind the southerly route is currently winning, but there’s plenty of time for a change of mind (and what is a mind for, if not for changing?). Mick is yet to express an opinion (admittedly he was out when I was doing the bulk of the map-poring), so I’ll not say more until we have a consensus on the issue.

I’ve also been contemplating next Tuesday when I will find myself with a day free in Halifax. My first thought was (weather permitting) towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale where I could belatedly complete the part of the Pennine Way, over Pen-y-Ghent, that we were forced to omit due to ridiculously strong winds earlier in the year. However, the thought of five hours on buses and trains is a little offputting for a daytrip, which takes me back to the drawing board. Any easy-to-get-to recommendations (from Halifax) will be gratefully received.

The Washed Out OMM

This time I'm referring to the Original Mountain Marathon event - not to be confused with me getting wet OMM backpack that I was talking about yesterday!

Anyone who paid even the scantest attention to the news on the weekend or read a paper on Monday will have heard/seen the news that the OMM event, being held in the Lakes during the weekend just gone, was cancelled due to attrocious weather.

From the press coverage, anyone not previously aware of the event would probably have been led to believe that the event was a conventional marathon rather than an oversized two-day orienteering event and would have thought that thousands of people were in mortal peril.

Plenty of outdoor blogs and websites have already made comment on the events of the weekend and the dreadful mis-reporting, so I'll not add to that. However, I will point out that the first part of an extended Podcast is now available from Podcast Bob who, as one of the competitors in the event (together with Rose), seems to me to be a pretty good person to give a real version of the events.

You can listen to it by clicking on the thingy below:
OMM 2008 - Part 1

Through The Eye Of The Storm!

MP3 File

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Stop Press: First Look at's New Stove

There have been whispers about this new stove for a while, and quite rightly too as the spec seems to be unique – and very versatile. This isn’t just a stove that Backpackinglight has sourced from an existing supplier; this is one that with a great deal of thought and care they have designed themselves and had manufactured.

Primarily a wood-burner, it is a stove which will also work with any meths stove and with any pot – even strangely shaped ones and small mugs.

There was the hope that we might see a prototype and indeed such a viewing was offered. Then we got lucky, because just then along came the postman, and with him he had the package containing the first production-standard model.

We observed, we played, we ooohed, we aahed and we ooohed some more. I put it together. I took it apart. I put it together, I took it apart. I put it together a different way. Then a different way. I likes it…

The first thing that struck me, before it was even out of its package was the packed size of this thing. You say ‘woodburner’ to me in an outdoorsy sort of a context and I think Bushbuddy. Yet this stove was packed in a small padded envelope – and it was flat.

Investigating the contents of that little envelope what we found were six side panels and three shelves (one is a base for when it is being used as a wood burner; one is for certain types of meths stove; and the other is what I called the ‘barbecue grid’ for cooking your bacon or sausages or bread!). The side panels slot together to form a hexagon and the shelves slot in to slits on the sides (with the configuration depending on how you want to use it).

In the absence of instructions, I imagine you could be baffled by the parts, but once it’s explained it’s all simple and easy to put together.

It looks very interesting indeed. I’m sure that once they’re in production and Darren* gets his hands on one we’ll see some good results on how fast water can be boiled using wood and, perhaps more interestingly, meths. The latter is particularly interesting (to me at least!) given that the design is such that you have not just a windshield provided by the body of the stove, but also a configuration of draw and ventilation which should improve the fuel efficiency of the meths stove). (*for those of you who don’t know Darren, suffice to say that he leads the field in stove ownership and testing!)

The market towards which this stove is primarily targeted is not lightweight backpacking and at first feel it may seem a touch on the heavy side – but I’ll wager that it’s no heavier than a 250 gas canister plus stove (sorry, I didn’t whip out any scales to get a precise weight), which to my mind makes it a viable option for the backpacker – particularly given the very small packed size.

So, a very interesting item indeed. Keep your eye out at where it should soon appear.

In anticipation of the launch, “No photos” said Bob, but as you'll see at the top, we managed to sneak just a little glimpse of it in a hastily taken snappette!

A Shiny New Backpack

During our trip to the Lakes at the end of August I had to conclude that my Osprey Aura 35 was not miraculously going to become comfortable. The 35 litre had been my summer short-trip pack and my winter day pack (I know it’s a bit big for the latter purpose, but in the absence of a lottery win, I’ve opted for a size which can reasonably be used for both purposes) but for reasons unknown it proved to be a lot less comfortable in use than the 50 litre model. Soon after that trip, the 35 litre was off my hands and I then sat back and did nothing about replacing it, having no need at the time for a pack of that size.

However, I did have a bit of a gap in my range of packs and with winter setting in I could no longer escape the fact that my 14-litre daypack is too small to carry the gubbins that I like to have with me for a cold-weather day on the hills, and my next size up (45lt) was too big. A new pack was in order.

I’ve considered various makes and models, but another OMM pack seemed like an obvious choice, as I’d got on so well with the fit of the Villain.

And the obvious supplier of such a pack was Not wanting to buy a pack without having a look and feel first, and with a couple of models in mind, a trip down to Malvern to play in Bob’s gear-room was called for, which is exactly where we went this morning.

After being greeted with mugs of tea, delicious still-warm-out-of-the-oven cake (you just don’t get that sort of service at other outdoor shops!) and having had a good chat it was time to fondle kit.

Bob was absolutely right in the advice that he’d given me on the phone and so I came away with the OMM Jirishanca 35RL MSC. It’s almost identical to the Villain MSC 45+10RL (with which I walked LEJOG), except that it’s smaller and has a different backpad (the Jirishanca is supplied with a folded pad which for the very-lightweight enthusiast can be used as a remarkably thin half-length sleep mat, which in turn can be velcroed to a second pad to give a full length mat).

With the backpack choice made, our attention turned to other toys.

The one item that I’ve wanted since I first saw it but couldn’t justify buying on its own was one of the little silk shopping bags. I got fed up on our LEJOG finding myself having to buy a big bag-for-life to transport groceries back to a campsite only to then throw it away. The silk bag is perfect for slipping into a pocket for such shopping trips: it’s minute and weighs nothing.

Mick couldn’t resist a purchase either. He came away with a pair of the Raidlight gaiters, which will hopefully reduce the time spent fishing grit out of his shoes.

Other interesting new items were seen too, including: the incredibly small and light walking poles; the lightweight hip-flask with built-in shot glass; the light plastic glass cases (a difficult item to find in my experience - I finally managed to track one down a few weeks ago)

With purchases made, and before we set out for a quick amble on the Malvern Hills, it was time to see the prototype of BPL’s new stove...

…which is a subject that deserves a post all of its own…

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

WHW: The Postmortem

When we decided, last Thursday, to abort our walk up the WHW, I didn’t really give any reason for so doing.

The post I made at the time referred to the flooding of the tent and possibly made it sound like that had a direct bearing on the abortion.

What actually happened was that we walked for five days in mainly atrocious weather* and then just didn’t feel like carrying on.

On the fifth night, it rained. In and of itself, that was unrelated to our decision. Had we woken on the sixth morning to a flooded porch and moderate rain or drizzle, or a vague hint of visibility, we would have carried on and quite possibly would have covered the remaining twenty or so miles within the day.

However, we awoke to pouring rain and, more importantly, very low cloud. We knew that the weather was not forecast to improve at any time during the day** and when it came down to it we just didn’t fancy walking another 20 miles whilst getting wet and without being able to see anything only then to camp with in horrible wet-and-windiness.

Getting wet and having a bit of a view is one thing. Getting wet and being able to see nothing is a different proposition.

The biggest factor, however, had to be that we just couldn’t quite be bothered with the rest of the walk. Had it been a long walk or one that we really wanted to do, we would have either put up with the discomfort and the lack of views or sat it out until the weather showed signs of improving.

But when it came down to it on the day, although we had by that time solved all of our lack-of-waterproofness problems that had affected the earlier days of our walk, and although we were suffering no blisters, aches or injuries, we didn’t have the enthusiasm to continue in the absence of any tangible benefit in so doing.

And regrets? Mick has a few. It is absolutely true that we could have continued and would have only suffered marginal discomfort had we done so, thus although Mick was all for abandoning at the time, he now wishes that we had pushed on. Personally, I have no regrets. The WHW is not going to go down as one of my favourite walks (quite the contrary, in fact). If I never finish those last 20 miles, I will not feel like something is missing from my life. If I do finish those last few miles, which are probably high among the most spectacular on the Way, then I would like to choose to do so in conditions such that I can at least get a glimpse of the surroundings.

All in all, we had a fantastic time as far as we went. Perhaps the best day was the one we spent popping (nearly) up Ben Lui (so not on the Way at all). This also wins the picture of the trip:

With Ben Lui we do have unfinished business and we will return either in better weather or better equipped (e.g. with a flask of hot soup and some warmer footwear!)

(* I wouldn't say that we're fair-weather walkers. We’ve walked over 1700 miles this year in everything Britain wanted to throw at us, including three and a half weeks of rain in Scotland in June/July. At no time did we encounter anything even remotely as bad, and as sustained, as we saw last week.
** The forecast was correct in that the rain continued to fall. The following day I saw the weather stats in a newspaper and noted that Fort William had received two inches of rain on the previous day, a quantity only beaten by the Isle of Skye and Borrowdale. The forecast was, however, optimistic as to wind speeds. In Fort William we experienced far more than the predicted 30mph.)

Sunday, 26 October 2008

TGO Challenge - We're In!

We have tonight attended the TGOC Reunion Dinner in Fort William (I'll gloss over the fact that it's a reunion and that we've not yet taken part in the Challenge; we were made welcome all the same!).

In between the food and the dancing came the draw for the Challenge, to whittle the 509 entrants down to the lucky 380.

The first-timers draw came first and it was a nervous five minutes for me & Mick (moreover as we were the only first-timers in the room) as the names of forty unlucky people were drawn and called out.

With forty names called we heaved a sigh of relief. Our names weren't mentioned, so it's time to start thinking about a route.

It was then a relaxed time for us as the vast majority of other people in the room (i.e. those without automatic places) got to hear their fate.

There was much groaning and ooohing as names of people who were present and other well-known names were called.

Although we don't know an awful lot of the people who were unlucky, a few of those names were other Bloggers who we do know, so with those we commiserate and wish you the luck of the standby list.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A Bit Wild

I'm glad I'm not out walking in this.

We're pitched at Glen Nevis on the least water-logged ground that we could find.

Poking a head out of the tent and looking over to Ben Nevis we see the waterfalls being blown quite spectacularly back up the mountain.

In the valley the trees are dancing merrily.

Our tent is imploding on us at regular intervals.

And still the rain falls.

Day 6 - The End

23 October
Distance: 0 (on foot); 21 (by coach)

When we pitched the tent last night we did it with due regard to the levels of the rivers around us. They would have to rise a couple of feet to put us in any peril, so we weren't overly concerned (I bet you can already see where this is going, can't you?).

By the time we retired to bed, at the late hour of 19.30 (party animals us), we had a couple of inches of water standing in the porch, but the area around the rest of the tent was draining well, so we decided not to move (not that there were many alternative options in the dark and pissing rain).

There must have been a lull in the rain as at 10.30 the porch had drained. That was the last time I looked outside until 7am.

At 7am we were lying on a waterbed. Then I poked my head through the vent and retreated back inside with the words "we need to move from here and fast".

The water levels in the river had risen about a foot and eleven inches in the night. The swell was lapping against the top of the river bank.

We moved fast.

I now type this from the Kingshouse Hotel, where (contrary to their reputation as to treatment of campers) they have let us in to sit in front of their fire with a cup of tea to wait for the coach to Fort William.

So, on our fourth attempt at the WHW (this being the only time we've even managed to set foot on it) we have been defeated.

I don't think that this is a walk we are destined to complete.

An hour or so later and I'm now sitting in Morrison's coffee shop in Fort William waiting for a cooked breakfast (we couldn't have porridge this morning due to a bit of a flooded-stove situaton).

The bus duly arrived at the allotted hour and out popped the driver in the pouring rain to open the storage area for us. Mick's bag was put on top of an identical Osprey Atmos with matching Pacerpoles attached to it.

"Duncan's on this bus" I said. And so he was.

So now we're all in the warm, wondering how long we can reasonably sit here before we have to go and pitch a sodden tent.
Hmmm. Not so dry in Morrison's coffee shop. Perhaps it's a reflection on how bad the weather is that they've just closed half of it due to rain coming through the roof. I'm getting splashed by a leak next to our table. And outside is standing a foot of water.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Day 5 - Tyndrum to Kingshouse

22 October
Distance: 19 miles
Weather: morning: sunshine, showers and rainbows; afternoon: rain

With the rain hammering on the windows of the hostel at 7.30 this morning, I prepared myself for a wet walk. Fully waterproofed up, we stepped out of the door fifteen minutes later and found a clear blue sky. Now that was a pleasant surprise. Even so, it took a while and a couple of light showers before I decided that it was safe to remove the overtrousers.

The white topped hills looked particularly pretty against the startling blue sky and with the novelty of such good weather we drank in the scenery, which was particularly good today (or was it just that we could see it today?).

A couple of other walkers were passed between Bridge of Orchy and Inveroran, where we joined a road until it ended, whereupon we joined Telford's old road, which until 1933 was maintained as the main road across Rannoch Moor to Glencoe (that being the information imparted by an info board at the start of the track).

It may have been a good quality of road by the standards prevailing at the time it was constructed, but it's a dreadful surface to walk on these days, being very slippery, uneven cobbles.

Even with the less-than-pleasant surface, we made incredible time. At just gone 1pm we were 15 miles through the day, at Ba Cottage which was our intended pitch for the night.

Even though by this point the sky had long since clouded over and a persistent rain was falling, we decided to make the most of the spring we had in our steps and press on for Kingshouse.

With two snack stops and a quick lunch stop (made quick by the fact that it was still raining and shelter is not a feature of Rannoch Moor) we made the 19 miles (or 20 if you believe the Trailblazer guide) to Kingshouse in just over 7 hours, arriving before 3pm. It's seldom we walk that fast!

We had been tempted to continue on another couple or three miles, which would have put it within our grasp to finish the walk tomorrow. However, the greyness and wetness made it sensible to be happy with 19 miles covered.

Along the river we wandered, to find ourselves a pitch, the problem being the amount of standing water on what must ordinarily be pretty good pitches. It was looking hopeless for a moment, but then we realised that there was one more small, level patch slightly further upstream and to our relief it held no puddles.

Deciding that if we waited for the rain to stop before pitching we could be standing around for a jolly long time, we went for the world-speed-tent-erection title and were soon bundling our stuff and ourselves inside.

Since arriving the rain has come down yet more. Our reasonably dry pitch is reasonably dry no more. We have substantial puddles in the porch. Thank goodness for the extra groundsheet inside!

We feel quite at home where we are. It feels like our proper place. Like so many of our pitches in Scotland earlier in the year, we have rushing water right next to us and rain pattering above.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Side Trip - Ben Lui (nearly)

I was trying to write a proper account of today's rather interesting outing, but I can't do chatting and coherent writing at the same time (and chatting is prevailing tonight), so here's the outline of our day:

With a day at our disposal we thought that we'd pop up Ben Lui, so off we set in fine weather (bar the odd passing hail storm).

The tops were clear, and rather snow capped. Had that appeared overnight or was it just that we couldn't see any tops yesterday afternoon?

We made it to 500 feet below the summit, having good fun in the snow, and all was going well. Then, in the blink of an eye the sky went from fine to remarkably grey and within minutes we were in a blizzard.

We pressed on for a few minutes, hoping that it would blow through. It didn't. Visibility was awful and snow was settling fast.

We reassured ourselves that discretion is the better part of valour, and that the hills will still be there another day, and all those platitudes that one uses to make oneself feel better when not achieving one's goal for the day.

We turned back and when the snow was still falling violently twenty minutes later we could have no doubt that we had made the right decision.

Ariving back at the hostel it was filling up with walkers and after a trip into the village we got back to see someone waving to us from reception.

Duncan had arrived in our absence.

And so this evening has seen much chatting.

Anyone who has been following Duncan's progress (over at may have noticed that it's gone a bit quiet today. He's having a few technical issues with his phone (battery dead and refusing to recharge from his charging gadget).

We won't be walking with Duncan tomorrow. He's opting to stay in Tyndrum an extra day. Then he's going to journey on up to Fort William, but not on foot. Who can blame him? The weather really is dreadful and he's got nothing to prove. He's done this walk 1.5 times and this is not a good time to make it 2.

Others in the hostel tonight are following his lead.

As for us, we'll continue tomorrow, but with jump-off points over the next couple of days noted.

Day 4 - Inverarnan to Tyndrum

20 October
Distance: 11.5 wet miles
Weather: showers, some hail, then more persistent rain.
Song in the head today: High on a hill lives a lonely goatherd... (how annoying?!)

The deluge forecast for the early hours of this morning did not appear, from our vantage point inside of the tent, to be as bad as expected. Yes, it rained, at times quite heavily, but not to the extent forecast.

Then at 4.45am, we were both awoken. It seemed as if there was one group of people throwing pails of water at the tent and another group violently shaking it. Once awake, it didn't take either of us long to realise that a fine spray was hitting our faces.

It was no big deal. It wasn't another failure of the tent. It was merely rain finding its way through the vents thanks to the squall outside. A bit of zipping up and the problem was solved.

Within minutes it had passed through and all was calm again, with just the roaring of the nearby burn/river to lull us back to sleep - except that by then I was wide awake, so it was a bit of an early morning for me.

Arising in the dark at 6.30 there was minor carnage around the site, caused by the squall, but all was quiet with barely even drizzle falling as we made full use of the campers' shelter to pack away (where I acquired a low-tech black bin bag to solve my sil-nylon leakage problem).

Our timing was incredible. The very moment we left the shelter to set off for the day, the heavens opened again. We lasted a whole hundred yards before we dived into our packs for our overtrousers, which then stayed on for the rest of the day. The rain did frequently stop, and the sun even burst through for a few seconds, but the intervals between showers were short indeed.

(This is sounding more like a blow by blow weather report than a walk report, isn't it? But, aside from the fact that I'm British and thus have it ingrained into me that the weather is a good topic, the inclemency really has been the overriding feature of this walk so far.)

Today's 'silver lining' in having so much rain was that rather than the walk being dominated by the busy road and the railway, as this section is reputed to be, both intrusions were drowned out by the howling of the wind and the roaring of the rivers and burns.

The surroundings were pleasing too, spectacular at times (and in between showers the cloud often cleared enough to see some of the near hills). Even better, the paths were unobjectionable, even if they were a touch damp underfoot (and talking of feet I was premature in praising my Salomon's yesterday, as today the right one sprang a little leak).

Shunning the cafe at Strathfillan (I'm not sure why, now I look back; maybe at the time it just seemed like too much faff to have to strip off our dripping gear to go in) we hurried on through the now heavy and persistent rain for the last hour to Tyndrum.

In contrast to yesterday's complete lack of welcome at Beinglas, today the owner of the By The Way Hostel & Campsite went out of his way to help us. At 1pm we were an hour and a half early for (the perfectly reasonable) opening time and I was quite happy to go into the village for lunch to kill the time. The owner spotted us walking off though and called us back, giving us a very warm welcome as he showed us into the hostel.

Yes, today we have gone soft in the face of a flooded camping area. We've not even gone for a wooden shed. We've gone the whole hog and have a twin room in the hostel, and what an excellent hostel it is too.

As we stripped off our outer layers in the drying room before coming indoors the extent of the failure of the water repellency of my Paramo jacket became apparent. I looked like a contestant in a wet t-shirt competition. Mick's jacket on the other hand had been revived no end by its tumble drying last night so it was just his legs that were sodden.

The leaking shells being a potential killer of this walk, action was needed. Off into Tyndrum we went and at the outdoor shop invested in a bottle of Nikwax and a pair of Cascadas for Mick. Admittedly he already has a pair at home, but the shop didn't have a good choice of overtrousers and at least this pair fits him (hmm, just realised that his new pair are the same colour as mine; we will be Howard and Hilda).

The jackets have now had a double treatment of Nikwax, one by hand, one by machine (well, we had a whole bottle so I thought we may as well make double sure that they were well treated). In the absence the rubber gloves the instructions told me were necessary, I used bare hands for the hand washing bit. My hands have now taken on an interesting water-repellency!

Despite all of this (hopefully) waterproof gear and a more promising forecast for tomorrow, we will not be moving forward. Duncan ( is a day behind us, having left Milngavie on Saturday and Tyndrum seems like a good place to spend a day, allowing him to catch us up.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Day 3 - Update: To Tank a Tent

Shortly before our Thermarests started bobbing up and down on the water being sucked through the floor of our Terra Nova Voyager (just to make it clear that for once it's not Wendy Warmlite letting us down), I popped over to the campsite shop to see what waterproof materials they sold.

It's a tricky manoeuvre, as darkness is falling, to try to spread out an oversized groundsheet inside of a small tent, underneath all of the gear that's strewn about it. Fortunately, it's a manoeuvre that we pulled off. One of us now has an extra 600g to carry, but at least we have the comfort that we shouldn't get wet inside of the tent.

Before this sudden, heavyweight purchase, my sister sent me the weather forecast for the next couple of days. Based on the forecast for overnight tonight, we could do with that chap Noah popping by about 4am.

Day 3 - Rowchoish to Inverarnan

19 October
Distance: 9.75 miles
Weather: Decidedly wet
Number of items of kit which are leaking: lots

With a short day ahead of us, we didn't need an early start this morning, but upon realising over breakfast that the rain had abated, we decided that we ought to make the most of it and make haste.

It was still rather late by the time we got going (9am), and the let up in the rain turned out only to be temporary. Before we reached Inversnaid it started coming down with a vengeance and it hasn't stopped since.

The one silver lining to all the rain is that the burns and falls are quite spectacular.

The downside is that Mick's trousers haven't magically regained any waterproof qualities and added to that it seems that I may be a bit overdue in re-proofing the Paramo jackets. We finished the day quite wet indeed (except for my legs and feet; top marks today for my Berghaus Overtrousers and my Salomon shoes). My sleeping bag also ended the day a touch damp around the edges with my sil-nylon sack liner apparently also deciding not to live up to its specification.

And this was only a short day. It doesn't bode well if this weather continues.

Oh, and the tent groundsheet seems to have become pourous too. We've tried to convince ourselves for a while that the wetness under the thermarests is condensation, but it's not really a theory which holds much water...

Oh, and one of the seams on the flysheet seems to have sprung a small leak too.

At least it's not just our kit (and the sky) that's leaking. Bothies are doing it too.

We likely would have cut our already-short day even shorter and spent the night at Doune Bothy, had it been an inviting place. Alas, it was not. The water running under the door and flooding the floor gave it a rather dank feel and the amount of graffiti would have made me feel like I was sleeping in a bus shelter! Such a shame.

As for the walk, I'm pleased to say that the paths were an improvement today. They were far more interesting than the preceding smooth and surfaced ones, demanding attention rather than allowing us to just bimble along mindlessly.

The views, of course, were rather curtailed in the weather, but we did have plenty of white water to 'ooh' at instead. The stream/river next to the campsite is particulary impressive.

After the wet walk, we hoped that a warm, dry welcome would await us at Beinglas campsite and even had it in mind to treat ourselves to one of the A-frame garden sheds that they call wigwams.

All looked promising as we approached, with plenty of "Shop and bar open all day" signs, but those signs were lies. So was the sign on the shop door which said that it was open from noon to 8pm. The same sign advised us to book in at the bar if the shop was shut. The bar was locked up too.

We did locate a member of staff, who told us that the shop would open at 4pm. However, despite the weather they weren't moved to let us book in before that and I wasn't willing to sit around for a couple of hours waiting to be parted with £30 for a mattress in a shed. We therefore scrapped our plan for a night in a shed and in contravention of the "thou shall not pitch without booking in first" signs, we pitched the tent on their quagmire.

I'm now looking forward to some luxury in a shed tomorrow night instead, assuming of course that we don't float away (or, worse, sink!) in the night.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Day 2 - Conic Hill to Rowchoish

18 October
Distance: 14.5 miles
Weather: sunshine and frequent showers

It rained most of the night. Not heavily, but apparently quite persistently (i.e. it was raining each time I woke up). Morning came and with the drumming on nylon there was a definite reluctance to make the necessary move to get up.

Perhaps we should make today a shorter day and tomorrow longer, I thought as the rain got heavier and the sky failed to get any lighter. Then I turned my phone on and received the weather forecast from my sister. Suddenly, walking in today's showers seemed greatly preferable to tomorrow's forecast heavy rain.

Up we got and as if by magic the rain stopped. Even better, it stayed stopped until we were a good way along the path up Conic Hill.

The view down on Loch Lomond would have been quite an 'oooh' had it not been for an ill-timed shower, which accompanied us as we slipped and slid our way down to Balmaha.

Balmaha is a handy place by virtue of having not just toilets (with soap!) but also a drinking water tap, so I replaced my peaty water with tap. Just then a car stopped and asked us where to find the path up Ben Lomond. Given that the answer was 'five miles up the road', and given that he apparently didn't even know where the mountain was, it didn't bode well for his ascent of it.

An orange apiece completed our rest stop (I'd carried those two oranges from home, intending to eat them on the train, and I was quite clear that I wasn't going to carry them any further!).

The rest of the day was alongside Loch Lomond, mainly through varied woodland. Very pleasing woodland it is in the main too. The paths are less pleasing. In two days there's barely been half an hour spent on any type of surface other than a hard one - tracks and well surfaced paths feature most.

Our arrival at the Rowardenan Hotel was nicely timed to be our lunch stop then it was back into woodland, passing a dozen or so groups of walkers on their way back to their cars at the road's end in Rowardenan.

Onwards we went in search of Rowchoish Bothy, which we found without difficulty (that it was daylight probably helped; I imagine it could be tricky to find in the dark). We found it impressively clean and tidy and with a good supply of wood, so it wasn't long before we had a fire roaring in the grate and a cup of tea on the stove.

Within half an hour we'd managed to spread ourselves out to the extent that it looked like there were a dozen people staying, but at least we got everything dry.

We're now settled for the night, sitting by the fire by candle and torch light and very unsociably hoping that no-one else crashes in on us during the night.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Day 1 - Milngavie to Conic Hill

17 October
Distance: 17 miles
Weather: Showers
Number of people who mistook me for a boy: 1

After our marginally disturbed night under an approach flight path, we set off this morning, but not in the direction of the start of the WHW.

Being as purist about the route as is our custom (i.e. not very) we instead walked past Craigmaddie Reservoir and through Mugdock Country Park to pick up the WHW at a point more convenient to our starting location.

Once we reached the way, I'm afraid that I found the first stretches of it rather uninspiring, but it wasn't too long until we started seeing glimpses of hills, which is always a cheering sight - particularly when you're heading towards them.

Along the disused rly line we spied a distillery ahead, just a short stroll from our route, but rudely we passed by without popping in for a tour and a wee dram. Well, we were only 7 miles through our 17-mile day.

Gartness was reached just about lunchtime and handily it is the home for a rather good cafe - and surprisingly it was even open!

It is a smart establishment that serves excellent food (or at least my soup and sandwich was superb and Mick didn't complain about his baked potato with haggis and whisky cream either). It only took a glance around to see that it is well frequented by Ladies What Lunch. Well turned out Ladies What Lunch at that. We felt a little underdressed.

I can only blame my attire and dreadful case of hat hair for the man who intervened to tell me that I was using the wrong toilet door as I tried to enter the ladies. That's the seventh time this month that I've been mistaken for a boy (not that I'm counting). I really must buy some low cut tops, maybe in pink, and start wearing lippy more regularly. Or grow my hair.

Lunch over I was about ready to pitch the tent and have a kip, but with great resolve I walked by the campsite adjacent to the cafe, and the next one, just a mile or so further on.

Instead we stuck to the plan and pounded the road to Drymen, where a detour to the village was needed due to a lack of prior planning on the grocery front.

It was during the last three miles of the day, through some forestry and out onto more satisfyingly lumpy open land, that the showers became more frequent. Cruelly, it was also quite warm, so I was in and out of my overtrousers, wishing that I had selected my Cascadas after all.

Just after 4pm, just in the middle of a particularly heavy shower, we found ourselves a good pitch. It was also the only time during the day that we had people walking along a short way behind us (we did see three heavily backpacked people heading the other way this morning but otherwise a few dogwalkers have been the only people out and about). I wonder if they were perplexed at my behaviour as they passed, as I was just lying down trying out various positions on the ground for flatness.

Waiting a few minutes before pitching meant that we did it in the dry, but getting inside the tent a while later we did come to realise that we have a potential problem. Mick's overtrousers, which proved to be lacking the essential quality of waterproofness apparently weren't improved by Nikwaxing them. He ended today with rather wet legs - and the forecast is only getting worse over the next few days.

With clouds now around us and the temperature falling rapidly, we're looking forward to a hot meal and our sleeping bags. I may even listen to a whole chapter of Harry Potter tonight before falling alseep.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

WHW Day 0 - Home to Milngavie

16 October

It was a smooth journey up to Milngavie and as an added bonus both of our trains were quiet (which raised the question as to why our allocated seats weren't together in that they were booked as a single transaction, but quiet as it was there was no problem with sitting together).

We arrived in Glasgow earlier than scheduled, which gave me an extra ten minutes to go and find the branch of Tiso so that I could get a pair of Sorbothane footbeds.

It's a big old store they've got there, with five retail floors. I was misdirected the first time finding myself in the basement when I needed to be on the second floor, but I'm sure that all the stairs were beneficial training. Alas, when I got to the right department I found that I could have any size of footbed, as long as it was a seven. Ne'er mind, it was only out of curiosity that I wanted to try a pair.

Empty handed, I hot-footed it back to Mick at the station, only to then have a bit of a panic that we were at the wrong station. Our train was not displayed on the boards, but a nice man in the ticket office enlightened us that Glasgow Central has a low level station and a high level station and pointed us in the right direction (too many stations and platforms in Glasgow!).

Before 2.30 we were in Milngavie and had before us a choice. With a few hours of daylight remaining we could start walking along the WHW in the direction of Gartness, or we could go and camp at Bankell Farm just outside of Milngavie.

The purchase of some cakes aided the decision making process (actually, the decision had already been made, but it seemed rude to pass by a baker without sampling the wares) and after rustling through fallen leaves up the hill to Bankell Farm, we're pitched for the night.

The day is a glorious one up here. Blue skies and warm in the sun (pity that the picnic bench at which I'm typing this is in the shade). Contrary to the indications of the weather forecast, I say "long may it continue".

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

WHW: Ready!

The Bag
In my mind, in backpacking terms, it is winter. That means that my PHD Minim 300 sleeping bag which has seen me through so many comfortable nights this year has been retired until next year. My powerstretch gloves have been supplemented with my Buffalo mitts. My powerstretch beanie has been supplemented with my Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap.

My ‘summer’ kit fitted nicely in my OMM Villain, but with a full bag of food, space could get tight in there. I couldn’t see the winter set-up squeezing in, so I didn’t even try it. Out came my Osprey Aura 50, which has sat unused since February.

It’s been a trial to fit everything into it. Theoretically, it should all slot in just fine. Indeed, I’ve used it with bulkier items. I think that the problem has been that I’ve become so used to packing the Villain that the Aura has forgotten where everything goes. I’m sure that it will get used to its contents over the next few days and that by the weekend everything will fit fine (plus, of course, I’ll have eaten some of the dehydrated meals by then, which always helps free up some space).

The Weather
The good news is that the weather forecast for the rest of this week is looking significantly better than when I first looked at it at the end of last week. The bad news is that it still looks inevitable that we will be encountering heavy rain and strong winds.

It must be down to the law of averages: having completed the coast-to-coast without a drop of rain, we’re now due a week of wet and windy walking (just to add to the three and a half weeks of rain we had when we walked through Scotland earlier this year).

Time Management and Hair
It’s all been a bit hectic. How in the world I ever made in away on holiday in time when I used to work for a living I do not know. However, we did get through the job list in the end, which is how we are now sitting here all packed and ready to go.

The only thing that I did want to do, yet didn’t manage to squeeze into the day, was a trip to the barber. My hair was getting a bit long (probably approaching three-quarters of an inch!) and I did want a trim (to minimise the incidents of hideous-hat-hair and to reduce drying time, you understand).

There was only one thing for it: I appointed Mick as hairdresser for the evening and handed him the clippers as soon as we got home. I’m impressed by the result. And there wasn’t even an utterance of ‘oops’ followed by ‘I’m sure no-one will notice’, which is an improvement on when he last made the mistake of letting me loose on his hair!

The Plan
I have put together my usual itinerary for this trip, which makes assumptions as to how we will split the walk. Past performance would suggest that we will deviate from the plan, but here it is all the same:

Day 1 – Milngavie to before Conic Hill
Day 2 – before Conic Hill to Rowchoish
Day 3 – Rowchoish to Inverarnan
Day 4 – Inverarnan to Tyndrum
Day 5 – Tyndrum to before Kingshouse
Day 6 – before Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Day 7 – Kinlochleven to Glen Nevis

It’s a leisurely itinerary (a day longer than the first time I planned it, way back when), but we’ve got a few days spare and there’s no benefit in us getting to Fort William a day earlier, so we may just as well take our time over getting there.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Illusive Bargains of Ebay

Other people seem to sell things on Ebay for more than they are worth and buy things for less than they’re worth. It doesn’t work out that way for me.

I have occasionally seen bargains, but generally I forget about them and miss them. A few weeks ago a TN Laser Photon went for £102; I kicked myself.

A few days ago I found an OMM Jirashanca for sale. Being in the market for a new 35 litre pack and having had such success with my Villain, I was interested. I was so interested that I was determined not to forget. Not only did I set a reminder in my phone, but I set one in Mick’s too, just to be on the safe side.

The alarm went off today and I stopped what I was doing (rediscovering a long lost patio beneath years of decomposed leaves, as it happens; I have such an exciting life!) and plugged in the computer. It couldn’t display the web page.

I went around to my gran’s house to try her neighbour’s connection. It couldn’t display the web page.

I remembered that younger-stepson had changed some settings on the computer at the weekend (for my benefit at the time, I should say, not capriciously). There were four minutes to go on the auction and younger-stepson could not be contacted.

Half an hour later stepson was reached and the internet connection was reinstated.

The pack had sold for a handful of pounds less than I would have been willing to pay.

I kicked myself again.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Mysterious Migration of Kit

“It shouldn’t take too long” I said to Mick “I haven’t put anything away since the last trip”.

Time is pressing on all sides and in amongst the immovable engagements and deadlines we have inflexible train tickets to head up to Milngavie later this week.

With food in the dehydrator, belatedly-washed clothes drying on the rack and a big list of other things to get done, it was time to pack. Once again I was being ridiculously optimistic that, having put nothing back in the kit cupboard, it would all be in one place and easy to locate. Unsurprisingly, the usual state of affairs prevailed: kit had mysteriously migrated into every which corner.

After many repetitions of “Have you seen my XXX”, I’ve given up for tonight.

I’m now printing maps instead.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The All-Seeing Eyes - Another Update

You may recall (see here and here) that just over a month ago I visited Specsavers and had myself fitted with some ‘continuous wear’ contact lenses. I then wore them for three weeks (including our two-week Coast-to-Coast jaunt), during which time I took them out overnight three times, as recommended.

The result of the three week trial was positive. They got dry sometimes, mainly overnight, but no more dry than my daily disposables would get after a few hours of use and an eye-drop in each eye soon resolved the problem.

The fly in the ointment was the realisation that Specsavers does more than one brand of continuous wear contact lens. My budget would only stretch to the cheapest and Specsavers had given me the expensive ones to try. All was not lost, however, as they were willing to give me the cheaper option for a further trial, but with the warning that they were unlikely to be as comfortable.

I beg to differ. They don’t seem to be any less comfortable, and if anything I would say that the dryness has been less.

Over the trial period of four weeks, my glasses have been used for less than half an hour, and I’ve rather enjoyed the novelty of 24 hour vision. The best moment was, I think, popping out of the tent in the middle of the night when we were pitched above Ennerdale Water and rather than everything being a blur in the moonlight, I could see clearly; it was such a fine view it would have been a shame to have missed it.

My original plan in trying these was to have less faff when backpacking, with the thought that I would continue with glasses and daily disposables for wearing at home, and get a few pairs of continuous wear ones for when I’m away. The reality is that I’ve been suckered into the convenience even when at home.

It’s not made my pack weight any lighter, as I will still carry my glasses on a just-in-case basis, and I wouldn’t go without a contact lens case and solution in case anything went awry (the experience of a daily lens splitting in two in my eye whilst out walking has made me cautious). But, that’s immaterial when weighed against the joy of being able to see, even late in the evening when Mick suddenly exclaims from outside the tent “Quick, look at that over there”.

So, if you're a contact lens wearer and you fancy 24 hour vision and less faffing with fingers in the eyes then, from my experience so far, I would say that it's worthwhile at least having a trial with the extended wear lenses.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Stop Press: UPS Makes Successful Delivery!

Even when a company gives a delivery window that extends to 5pm, there is a time during the afternoon when I lose any confidence of my delivery being made.

Today it was at 3.30pm that I reached this point. Beyond that time my annoyance was only going to grow by the minute (quite unreasonably really, given that there was still a whole hour and a half available to UPS to make a successful delivery on the sixth attempt).

At 3.40 there was a knock on the door.

“Finally, we’ve caught you in” said the driver.

Mick (who I had despatched home to receive the parcel), was very restrained. He didn’t point out that they may have a better rate of successful deliveries if they tried to make the delivery on the agreed date (and I’m sure it wasn’t the driver’s fault; I’m sure that it’s some person in the office at the depot, who doesn’t have to deal with customers, who kept initiating erroneous delivery instructions).

So, finally I have my parcel.

And what was in it? Well, there was a Steripen. But there was no covering letter or note. Nothing to indicate whether it has been repaired or replaced. It looks like it may be a new one. It’s certainly got a new light tube and it doesn’t have a serial number sticker inside, which my old one did. It’s also been supplied with one of their fabric cases and I note that it is of a lighter design than the original one I had.

I’ve not been able to test it yet. I didn’t think to ask Mick to bring some batteries with him, and it wasn’t supplied with any.

So, I’m pleased that the parcel has finally been received. I’m pleased to have a repaired/replaced Steripen that should work. The only issue during my disgruntled-with-Steripen period I bought one of the Aquagear filter bottles, which looks to be a much more reliable option to me, so it’s questionable as to whether the Steripen will now get any use.

Monday, 6 October 2008

UPS - A Second Rant(ette)

After last week's UPS debacle, I arranged for my parcel to be delivered on Tuesday this week.

Today is Monday. I've double checked and it is most definitely Monday.

Before I spend another gallon of fuel going home to wait in for a parcel, I thought that I would just check the online tracking today to make sure that there are no more spurious messages saying that I would go and collect it.

No one had attributed any such false instructions to me this time, but I was somewhat taken aback to see that the parcel is 'out for delivery' today.

I telephoned UPS in the hope that maybe 'out for delivery' meant something other than that they were going to try to deliver today.

Alas, no. Apparently when I said on Friday afternoon 'The next day I can be in for delivery is Tuesday' and they said 'It's been rearranged for Tuesday' the computer then somehow interpreted that as being Monday.

More arrangements have been made. The sixth attempt to deliver will be tomorrow. Allegedly.

Friday, 3 October 2008

UPS - A Rant

I am not happy.

In fact, I’m really quite annoyed.

With all of these walking trips that we’re taking we’re really putting ourselves up against the stops to get work on my late mother’s house finished. We really need to have it finished before we go off to Scotland in a couple of weeks’ time, and if we stand any chance of achieving that we need to be working on it every day, and not sitting around at home.

Anyone who pays an unusual amount of attention to this Blog and who has an uncommonly good memory may recall that I’ve had something of an issue with my Steripen letting me down at critical times (there is a link between those two paragraphs, bear with me here – I’m ranting and rants don’t always follow a logical order).

Thanks to a comment that someone left in response to one of my whinges about the device, I got in touch with the Steripen people in the USA a few weeks ago and they told me to send the device back to them, reassuring me that their warranty is for life, not just for the first 12 months as I had expected (most of my disgruntledness was because the water-getting-in fault had developed when it was over a year old and thus although it hadn’t been much used, I didn’t think that it was within warranty).

I duly sent it back and then I sat back to wait. Actually, I didn’t sit back, but rather I went away walking for a couple of weeks.

I got back on Tuesday night to find that I had missed three attempted deliveries from UPS. The sender was Hydrophoton thus it was either my old Steripen back with a ‘not a warranty defect’ sort of a note (now that really would have me ranting!) or a new Steripen (the email exchange had indicated that it wouldn’t be repairable, so it would be replaced).

The problem was that having tried to deliver three times within the space of three days, the final note told me that I had five days to go and collect the parcel from the UPS depot 30 miles up the road. It seemed that UPS’s systems don’t allow for people to go away for a few days.

I got on the phone smartish to make sure that the parcel wasn’t returned to the States, and to my surprise there was no debate required to get a further delivery date arranged. It was due to be delivered today between noon and 5pm.

I duly abandoned work on the house in Wolverhampton and came home for the day.

Alas, there was no knock on the door today within the allocated time slot, so I called UPS again. They did indeed have the record of my phone call arranging to have the parcel redelivered today. What they couldn’t explain was why there was a further note on their tracking system (nor could they say who had made the note), timed at 5am on Wednesday morning, saying that delivery had failed and that I would go and collect it.

Now, as it happens, I was at home at 5am on Wednesday morning and I can say with some certainty that no-one tried to deliver anything. I’m also pretty sure that I didn’t phone them at 5am to tell them not to deliver today after all, but that I would collect the parcel myself.

So, rather than spending today doing something valuable and useful, I have completely wasted my time* waiting for a knock on the door from UPS that it turns out was never going to come.

Even worse, Mick took the opportunity to pop up to his Mum’s – and in the process of doing that passed pretty close to the UPS depot. If they had thought to inform me that they had randomly decided that I would collect the parcel, he easily could have done that today.


(*Actually the day wasn’t completely wasted; I did take the opportunity of having an internet connection to catch up on lots of other Blogs, to write up some notes on our C2C walk and to order some new kit to replace stuff that has worn out or been lost (alas none of the latter is exciting new kit because all of it is same-make-and-model replacement)).