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]

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Chase Skating

As we pulled into an ice rink on Cannock Chase on Sunday morning, something didn’t seem quite right. Usually there’s a gravel-topped car park in that location, yet suddenly there was an entire area of deep ice. I edged forward gently and managed successfully to park without sliding into other cars, the earth bank, or any people.

Trying to resist slipping into a painful splits position, our bags were gathered from the boot as we watched half a dozen runners tackle the ice obstacle. The first chap was wearing spikes and was fine. The other five gave us some entertainment. Then we skated off too and it wasn’t quite so amusing any more.

Ice was the theme for the day. Great sections of track were completely iced over, but never had I considered that a jaunt around our usual circuit on the Chase would prove to be a good testing ground for our new Kahtoola Microspikes, so we hadn’t taken them with us.


The silver lining was, of course, that there was very little mud to be found!

A million people were out enjoying the crisp weather in the usual busy spots, but elsewhere there was relative quiet to be found.

All was not entirely uneventful. An incident with a dog and a horse (which Mick tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to avert) saw the dog come off worst, but it could so easily have been a very injured rider. I’m sure the dog will recover too, and perhaps it will learn that chasing horses at full pelt and snapping at their heels is not as much fun as it appears.

Later, we passed what appeared to be the evidence of farming of witches broom-sticks. An identical stack lay the other side of the track too. There must be a lot of witches around here.


Two and a half hours after setting out we returned to the car and made our way over to my sister’s house for Christmas Pudding – only two days after the dinner that it was intended to follow.

Later still Mick demonstrated that Microspikes can be worn with such a wide range of footwear they’ll even go over slippers:


Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Rab Man



For today’s walk Mick wore:

  • Rab gaiters;
  • Rab trousers;
  • Rab fleece;
  • Rab jacket; and
  • Rab gloves.

A veritable walking advertisement for the brand!


A perfect day for a walk around here today, and we did manage to drag ourselves away from the chocolate and mince pies for long enough to take a shuffle around the block.

I don’t know how many photos I’ve taken over the years of the view down to the church from the main estate track, but I couldn’t resist another one with today’s perfect sky:

IMG_0350a Thankfully the ground was still frozen solid in most places, turning the recent mud-fest that has featured on this route lately into a hard (and somewhat slippery) surface.

As is usually the case at this time of year, it seemed like half of the village had tucked its trousers into its socks to take a stroll. We even saw people on the less obvious field paths where I have never before encountered anyone (and this is a route that I do a lot).

Tomorrow (Sunday) we’re going to venture out onto Cannock Chase – perhaps for the last time this year (although it will only be a few days before we venture over there for the first time next year). If anyone’s around and fancies a 8.5 mile amble then we’ll be leaving the car park on Penkridge Bank by Rifle Range Corner (at SK001168) at 10am.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Snow! Lots of.


The problem with traffic reports on the wireless is that so often are the reports out of date or grossly exaggerated that I now tend to take them with a pinch of salt.

Admittedly, when the news about travel chaos in the south-east was supplemented by news that all of the airports were suspended I did think about aborting my journey down to London ready for work today. I called Vic and asked for an on-the-ground weather report, as a result of which I pushed on.

Two circuits were done of the roundabout where I join the M42 as I contemplated whether continuing was folly. I pushed on.

The first 100 miles went just fine. It was like being in a game of asteroids with increasingly heavy snow flying at the windscreen*, but that snow wasn’t settling on the carriageway.

Mile 101 was slow.

Mile 102 took an hour, and culminated in me reaching a junction.

Snow was now lying and rapidly accumulating to several inches deep. My wheels were spinning every time I inched forward. It was looking perilously like I was going to be spending the entire night in the car with only a down jacket for warmth.

The northbound side was looking to be in a worse state. With barely any cars getting through on that side, there was nothing to keep the lanes clear.

I took a deep breath and braved the exit.

The next ten minutes were up there as the second most scary driving experience of my life (not sure it quite pipped the experience of driving a transit van sideways along a snowy road in Scotland a few years back).

I did finally get back home in the middle of the night. And there’s still not even a flake of snow to be seen around here.

(*I suppose, technically, the snow wasn’t flying at me; I was driving into it)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Are We The Only People Without Snow?


No walking for us this weekend. Thanks to some Nasty-Bastard-Inconsiderate-Burgularising-Thief, half of Friday and a good chunk of Saturday was spent fixing the damage caused (not to our house, thankfully), which meant that the intended activities for Friday and Saturday got shifted to the right.

Very annoying indeed, because whereas reports on t’internet would suggest that places to the north, south, east and west of us have had noticeable falls of snow, we have been bathed in winter sunshine (with attendant frostiness), with clear skies and far-reaching views (or as far-reaching as you can get in a flat place). Perfect walking weather.

Today we would have had a few hours free – enough for a shuffle around the block - except that after the first trip to the tip I realised that we’d forgotten to unplumb and take with us the dishwasher (which had been the original intention for the trip to the tip, so pretty careless to forget it) and in the process of rectifying that omission I found a leaking pipe under the sink, and whilst I was fixing that I figured that I may as well fit the new kitchen taps. Then I fixed a couple more leaks that were found, and then we needed to be elsewhere.

Unrelated to all of that, after finding the elusive camera, I have belatedly downloaded the photos from last Sunday’s walk. There weren’t many, thanks to much chatting, and I’ve pruned them even further in deciding which were worthy of upload. You’ll find a slideshow (which will take in the region of 30 seconds to peruse (click ‘slideshow’ in the upper left corner)) here, and you may observe that a prominent feature of the walk was the number of people around. You’ll find two  tales of the day’s activities here and here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Small World!

As we walked into Lothersdale on 25 May last year, we met two men standing at a gate, staring out over the field we had just crossed. As we approached they asked if we had seen the chap for whom they were waiting. They then explained that he was in the process of walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats. “That’s a coincidence” we said…

Having given us the tip-off that they would be in the Fox & Hounds in about an hour’s time, we installed the tent in someone’s back garden, had the cup of tea offered by the house owner, and then hot-footed it to the pub to meet this chap.

And that was how we came to know Doug, the fourth end-to-ender we encountered during our journey. We continued to meet him on a daily basis until just after Haltwhistle, where Doug carried on northwards, and we stopped for a day.

Fast forward a year and a bit, and a few weeks ago I learnt that Doug had moved to Barmouth, but what I didn’t do was find out to where exactly.

On Saturday just gone, we found ourselves in Barmouth and having visited my father’s tree we were making our way back down into the town. There are any number of routes down The Rock, but we were gasping for a cup of tea, so we took the ‘top road’ – the most direct route to the Milk Bar.

As we approached habitation, near the bottom of the ‘top road’ I again wondered out loud where it might be that Doug lives and kicked myself for not having dropped him an email to let him know of our planned trip there. Mick asked whether I had his phone number, but I didn’t, and onwards down the hill we went.

(you can see where this is going, can’t you?)

Not three paces later I looked to my left and there, literally within spitting distance (not that I tested that out), was Doug, with just his head poking over his garden gate, which he was just in the process of repairing. It took him a few moments to place me (understandable as I had a beanie and wrap-around sunnies on at the time), and it took Mick a few moments to realise that I had stopped and to return to where I was standing.

A very pleasant couple of hours were spent chatting with Doug and his wife, and drinking in the fantastic views that they have from their most-lovely house.

It really was one of those spooky coincidences (we could have taken a different route down the hill, Doug could have chosen that moment to bend down to pick up his hammer), but it was great to get the opportunity to catch up with him and to meet his wife.

(At this point I would post a photo of Doug, taken on our walk last year, except that in our complete failure to take a sensible number of photos during that walk we didn’t take any photos of all of those people we met, who made the walk so memorable – hopefully it will be a lesson learnt for next year.)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

From Llyn Eiddew-mawr

What a stunning day!

We managed to crawl out of our sleeping bags and into the nippy air just as the sky was starting to get light and by 8.15 we were off for a 1.5 mile cross-country yomp* through heather, rock and bog.

There had been a bit of a temptation to be lazy and simply retrace our steps along the trodden paths we had taken yesterday (with the vague excuse that I did want to revisit a stone-circley-thing that we didn’t have time to explore yesterday), but that would have been defeatist, so we steeled our legs for some tough terrain.

It turned out to be pretty easy going (as Rhinog cross-country goes), and within the hour we had reached the path (at times a very good and obvious one) that would lead us (through some of the most waterlogged bogginess we have experienced in the area) back to Traws.

Mick did lose a leg up to above his knee at one point (sorry Conrad, I didn’t have the camera to hand at the time!), and uncountable times we went in to ankle-deep. But, it was all good fun, and under such stunning skies we couldn’t help but feel that we were in the right place.

Here are just a couple of photos of the splendidness of the day:


*Edited to add: Mick says that I've made it sound like we only walked 1.5 miles today. What I meant was that we yomped 1.5 miles pathlessly before reaching a path that we followed for some miles before joining a road to rejoin our outward route.

Total stats for the two half-days were a modest 12.5 miles walked with an equally modest 2000 feet of ascent.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Llyn Eiddew-mawr

What a fantastic afternoon's walk! The weather was as good as promised and the route chosen was sympathetic to legs which are unaccustomed to exercise.

A lovely route it was too, bringing us to a llyn that we've not before visited. I can't say that I would recommend it as a night stop. In common with most of the Rhinnogau the terrain is predominantly bog and tussock.

We did find ourselves a reasonable pitch a few moments before the sun set (giving us a lovely colourful display). There's even a sea view from the door of the tent - or at least there was when there was any light to see it.

Now there's a sky filled with a trillion stars and the promise of a cool night.
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Not too shoddy a view for lunch.
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Decisions, Decisions

I already got over the stumbling blocks of deciding where we are going to walk. I decided which pack to take and (in the interests of giving it a fair trial) I opted for my NeoAir over my preferred Prolite. For my sleeping bag the Rab Quantum 400 seemed like the right choice.

Now I’ve looked outside this morning and I’m wavering on my sleeping bag choice. I’ve seen the thick frost out there and no matter what the weather forecasts are telling me I fear that it’s going to be a tad nippy tonight. So, the question is do I go for the last minute switch (which will of course involve emptying my entire bag) to the (new and unused) snuggly-warm PHD Minim 500?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Big Grin

The bags are nearly packed and there’s only a minimal amount of stuff still to be done in the morning before we set out for a quick overnight on the hills.

Not that the weather would have had a bearing on our plans, but I felt compelled to check the forecast anyway.

‘No rain’ says MWIS.

‘Greater than 90% chance of cloud free summits’ says MWIS.

‘Sunshine with very clear air indeed’ says MWIS.

Big grin, indeed.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Long Mynd Return (Thursday 19 November 2009)

(I wrote this during our holiday in Ludlow, on 19 November, immediately after the walk in question. I then had a few technical issues and couldn’t post it. In the absence of anything more recent to report, I thought that I would post it now. Rumour has it that there will be some more walking done this weekend. Watch this space!)

We liked the Long Mynd so much during our walk there on Monday that we decided to return today, but this time ascending via Ashes Hollow from Little Stretton and returning via somewhere further south.

Ashes Hollow was lovely, but even at the top the wind strength wasn’t anywhere nearly as strong as forecast (35 gusting 50). There were a couple of times that we got blown off the path on the way up but seldom did we have to battle with the wind.

Once at the top we had a decision: south and no guarantee of a tea room, or north to Cardingmill Valley where we knew there to be not only a tea room but one serving excellent cake.

It’s always the way when you spend a good period fantasising about what you will order in the tea room: the tea room will be closed. And so it turned out to be.

So, instead we walked into Church Stretton where only one establishment had any customers and having opted to join them all we couldn’t work out why it was so well frequented.

Some truly lovely woodland was sampled on the way back to Little Stretton (and for some reason Mick believed me when I said ‘it’s flat the whole way back’; he ought to know by now that when I say such things what I mean is ‘I’ve not looked at the contours’).

The highlight of the walk for Mick was when he heard a small yelp behind him and turned to find me sprawled in a mud-bath. A leg had shot out from under me and a considerable amount of mud had migrated from the ground onto my trousers. We were before Cardingmill Valley at the time and a cafe was in the forefront of my mind. Trousers an inch thick with mud on the seat don’t really go well with being seen in public eateries, and the only solution seemed to be to go and sit in a stream, so that’s what I did.

I can’t say that it was the most pleasant experience of my life, but the Paramo trousers did their job with drying out quickly, and before we made it to a tea-serving establishment I took a detour via an outdoor shop to buy some Tech-Wash so that I can be restored to completely clean trousers for the morrow.

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