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 December 2010

2010: Illustrated

Late this afternoon (just after I got home and shed my very muddy boots and nearly as muddy trousers), I realised that it is the last day of the year, and my mind immediately turned to reviewing my final stats for the year.

I’m afraid that my obsessive behaviour extends beyond excessive planning and means that I collect all sorts of information and statistics about my walking activities. Unfortunately, it turns out that I’m not always entirely accurate, as I’ve just (crushingly) discovered that thanks to a typo that occurred when I split our K2CW mileages across the three months that the walk spanned, I didn’t exceed my previous highest annual mileage back in October. In fact, with that error corrected, it turns out that I only surpassed 2008’s mileage four miles before the end of this afternoon’s walk.

So, this year I walked 1813 miles. This is how that was split between the months:


No prizes for spotting in which month I reverted from a life of full-time leisuredom to being gainfully employed full-time!

Ascent, as measured on Anquet, came out at 208,000 feet, split out between the months as follows (noting that the highest ascent month was not the highest mileage month):


With Mick egging me on, a new graph was created (yep, so sad am I that the two above are automatically generated by my ‘walking log’ spreadsheet). This one shows the average ascent, in feet, per mile. Not sure that I draw any conclusions from this one at all, other than the months with low values are where I walked near to home a lot (i.e. in the land of flatness).


There’s no excuse for this level of shoe-related information, is there?


But, I’m British, so the weather is always a good topic. I already posted (back in May) the chart below, which refers to how much we needed to wear waterproofs on our K2CW jaunt:


But here’s what the weather was like for the other 105 walks (not including K2CW) that I took this year:


As for Mick, he wasn’t glued to my side for the entire year, and ended the year with 1464 miles on the odometer. Add to that the 503 miles he ran (before Achilles tendonitis hit) and he’s very gleeful that he covered more miles than I did this year. No pretty illustrations for Mick’s activities, though (which isn’t to say that I haven’t got graphs for Mick, just that I think that’s enough demonstration of my obsessiveness for one post).

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Curse Of Being An Obsessive Planner

From when I first started planning next year’s Big Walk (should I confess that I had a rough route plotted within five days of getting home from Cape Wrath this year?), I said that I was going to take a different approach next time: I wasn’t going to come up with a detailed itinerary.

The intention was that I would, instead, plot the route and do my usual research into the campsites along the way, but that I wouldn’t divvy it up into days, thus leaving us the with flexibility to pick and choose on a day-to-day basis how far we are going to walk (admittedly an itinerary didn’t stop us from doing that, it’s it hasn’t been that uncommon for us to deviate from the plan, but having a stated itinerary does set a certain expectation, which I wanted to get away from).

So, having long ago plotted the route, and having refined and tweaked it here and there over the months, a couple of weeks ago I set about researching campsites (having joined the C&CC so as to find out whether there were any Certified Locations on our route that we could use; I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t join up three years ago). Evenings spent poring over UK Campsite and the C&CC website netted a whole host of waypoints marking campsites along our route, together with an entire spreadsheet of information.

A host of waypoints dotted over the map wasn’t enough though. Next came a bit of colour coding of those waypoints, and more information put into the spreadsheet.

Having done all of that, it struck me that the spacing of the available campsites didn’t give an awful lot of flexibility and so, just out of interest, I had a look at how it is that we’re likely to split the route up. With the days numbered I figured that I may as well have a play around with dates, given that we’ve got a deadline for reaching Ardnamurchan, so next I put days and dates onto the spreadsheet.

Damn! How did that happen? Suddenly I seem to have a day-by-day itinerary!

Ankle Shaping

(This is a ‘this is really dull but I’m going to post it anyway for my own benefit’ type of post, so you may as well move straight along to the next one. I can assure you that there’s nothing of interest to see here. )

Walking over soft sand isn’t the only thing that’s ‘ankle shaping’, as I’ve been finding out over the last few days.

After rain on Monday and a marked increase in temperature the snow had turned to slush. In contrast, the cooler overnight temperature had turned all of the compacted, melted-then-refrozen snow into ice. I realised within moments of stepping out on Tuesday morning that I had two choices: slip-sliding on the ice or trudging through wet slush.

Wet slush comes into the ‘ankle shaping’ bracket of activity, and where possible I stuck to the edges of the paths (or walked alongside the paths) to avoid the worst of the ice. Add to that the modified gait that I adopt when I feel like a foot’s going to shoot out from under me at any moment, and I came home feeling a lot more exercised than I should have after a flat, 5-miles walk. Incredibly, in spite of a few hairy arm-waving moments, I kept to my feet the whole way.


Comedy feet. Not my foot, and not from today’s walk as I didn’t take the camera, but I thought that the post deserved at least one random photo.

This morning, after three days of positive temperatures and some rain to add to the snow melt, the main obstacle was clearly going to be mud. I ran through mental catalogue of local walks and none stood out as being The Route of Least Muddiness.

The one I opted for wasn’t helped by one of the fields (one that’s usually waterlogged) having been cropped. It was comedy-feet time as my boots accumulated the clay-like mud.

Once again, the soft underfoot conditions made the distance feel much further (and like far greater exercise) than the measurement on the map. It was another 5-miler, but this time with thrice the ascent (a whole 300 feet!).



Monday, 27 December 2010

I’m Dreaming Of A…

Christmas Day

Christmas Day was the most perfect crisp, blue-skied day you could possibly ask for, made all the prettier by the snow still lying crisp and even. On any other day I would have been off out to do my ‘shuffle around the block’ route with a camera. But, abandoning Mick to do all of the cooking and abandoning the guests to amuse themselves would have been rude, so the furthest I ventured all day was to the dustbin (a fruitless journey as the lid was found to be frozen solid to the body).

A bit of kit-fondling did feature in the day, as Santa had been extra-ordinarily generous:


Sampling my Exped Synmat, whilst wearing my (enormous) PHD down trousers, and reading ‘Tramping in New Zealand’. The former two items will hopefully fill all gaps in my ‘warm in winter’ backpacking kit.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day saw us venture slightly further afield. Having sorted through my extensive collection of footwear to find a pair that fitted Ma-in-Law, a very short stroll was had on Cannock Chase, before we repaired to Spingslade Lodge tearoom to warm up in front of the roaring wood-burner.

Very pretty it all was too:


and the clarity of the day meant that you could see almost forever. Unfortunately, that foreverness wasn’t quite so obvious on the snaps that I took, so these piccies of Ma-in-Law and Mick will have to suffice.

Ma-in-Law did well, considering that she’s never worn a pair of walking boots before in the entire 85 years of her life!


For weeks the weather has been sub-zero and often glorious. Finally today I had the chance to go out for a stroll, and woke up to rain. Harrumph!

I postponed and postponed* until I could postpone no more if I was going to get out and back in daylight.

Down to the canal was my plan, to see what state of snowy frozen-ness remained, before meeting up with Mick & Ma-in-Law at the marina, before walking back home. Not the most exciting outing that can be had in the immediate area, but a good stretch of the legs all the same.

As it turned out there was a bit of excitement. I’d just snapped this photo of one of the ponds:

IMG_1993 when I glanced back the way I’d just come just to see a woman fall through the ice into the pond. A few seconds later two of her companions (she was in a group of six who I’d seen a few minutes before) ran onto the ice straight to where she’d fallen through as I waited for what seemed likely: all three of them to end up in the icy water. By good fortune, their hasty lack of thought didn’t end in disaster as the ice held and within seconds they were sprawled appropriately. Within a minute they had the woman out. I considered whether there was any assistance that I could lend, but concluded that between the six of them there was little that I could add, so on I continued, past the ponds and down to the canal:

IMG_1997Frozen rain was stinging my face as I arrived at the (absolutely heaving) pub to meet Mick & Ma-in-Law, and rather wetter rain was falling as I left an hour later. A different route was taken to get home, passing a couple more snowy ponds, before getting back into the village where a polar bear had taken up residence on one of the lawns (pity I didn’t take a close-up photo, as it was rather a good snow-bear):


(*indulging in a little on-line shopping, choosing and buying ice axes and crampons, filled a few hours nicely)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Next Big Walk

Originally we had three contenders for the walking agenda for the first half of next year:

Plan A was to apply if we didn’t get a place on the TGOC, and would see us continuing our ‘British Extremeties series’, with us walking from Lowestoft to the Point of Ardnamurchan (known in my mapping database as EtoW, being the most easterly point of the British mainland to most westerly point*).

Plan B was to apply if we did get a place on the TGOC, and would see us continuing our ‘lengths and breadths series’, with us walking the length of Wales in April before going across Scotland in May, before popping over to Europe in June, with the EtoW jaunt being postponed until 2012.

There had been talk of a slightly madder plan, which involved timing the EtoW walk such that we would arrive at Ardnamurchan around abouts the 11 May, so that we could then tag the TGOC onto the end of the outing. That plan (which we’ll call Plan C) had, however, been discounted, leaving us just with Plans A and B.

The result of the draw for the Challenge was supposed to be the deciding factor which would cause either Plan A or Plan B to be selected, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. When we got the letter telling us that we hadn’t got a place on the Challenge, but giving us a position on the stand-by list that was sufficiently low that we are almost certain to gain a place, Mick decided that he quite fancied Plan C after all.

I remained unconvinced and resisted and resisted making a decision. Finally I had to concede defeat. So many people had been told of the tentative plan that it became a reality. A start date has been selected, and thus three months today we’ll be setting out from Lowestoft to walk to the east coast of Scotland via the Point of Ardnamurchan (albeit with a bit of transport between Ardnamurchan and our TGO Challenge start point).

I’d best update the lines marked on that outline map of Britain over there on the right of the blog, hadn’t I?

(*Ardnamurchan seems to be the place that’s generally accepted as being the most westerly point, but looking at the OS map it looks to me suspiciously like Corrachadh Mor (about a km south of the Point of Ardnamurchan) just pips it)


A photo that’s only tenuously linked to the rest of the post!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Imelda Marcos of Walking Shoes

I just heard Mick refer to me, during a phone conversation, as being “The Mrs. Marcos of Walking Shoes”. A justifiable accusation? I had a quick off-the-top-of-my-head tot-up. The current collection comprises:

  • Inov8 Roclite (on last legs, but still used every now and then)
  • Inov8 Terrocs (original pair, resurrected. Holes in heels, but still useable)
  • Inov8 Terrocs (holed in heels, but good for a few miles yet)
  • Salomon XA Pro 3D XCR (on last legs)
  • Salomon XA Pro 3D (holed heel, but still plenty of tread)
  • Salomon XA Pro 3D (still have their tags attached, but Achilles tendonitis scuppered my plan to use them on the K2CW walk)
  • Salomon Exit Low
  • Salomon Elios Mid XCR (no longer waterproof, but still okay good for local walking)
  • Salomon Elios Mid XCR (barely used)
  • Meindl Magic lows
  • Scarpa ZG10
  • Scarpa ZG65 (the pair I used for LEJOG, now on last legs but I just can’t quite bring myself to bin them)
  • Scarpa ZG65 (would be used more if the left one was as comfy as the original pair)
  • Brasher Supalites (the slippers of the walking boot world!)
  • Gelert something or others (never used as walking boots, but really warm for general wear in winter)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Short Leg-Stretch

Layered up as if an arctic expedition was on the agenda, we left the house this morning and tootled over to the Chase.

I had doubted that long-johns would be needed under my Cascada trousers, but Mick was absolutely right – it was jolly nippy out. In fact, within five minutes of leaving the car (unusually for us, heading across the road into a bit of forest)


I was wishing I had a buff for my neck and was thinking that my down jacket might have been more appropriate. Indeed, even my incredibly warm mountain cap wasn’t winning the battle against the cold, so up went my hood over the top, leaving just my nose and eyes on display; I stayed that way for the first four miles, when a bit of an incline finally got me warmed up.

IMG_1958Despite the unusually large number of cars in ‘our’ car park, it was quiet out and about, unless you count all of the people we encountered seemingly being pulled along by dogs. We had, for the first time, encountered a CaniX (or Cani-cross). It’s a sport that I’ve read about, but never encountered in the flesh. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and although Huskies and German Shepherds seemed to outnumber other breeds (at least of those competitors we saw) there was a wide variety of breeds:

 IMG_1969 IMG_1960 IMG_1962 IMG_1963 IMG_1965 IMG_1966

Diverging from the CaniX route, alongside the ponds we continued


Then over the oversized stepping stones:


Past the evidence of recent tree harvesting (where some of the ruts housed frozen-over puddles, hidden by snow; I was surprised quite a few times when I thought I was on solid ground, only to have ice give way beneath me):


Then, finally, the opportunity came to warm up, as we headed off uphill:


(hmm, looking at that photo, I’m pretty sure that we didn’t go that way!)

With so few people around (other than the runners and dogs), there was lots of virgin snow, and for a long time I resisted. Finally I could resist no more and a snow angel was born:


There may have been few people out and about, but when we got there, the visitor centre cafe was heaving. With all of the tables taken, people were standing around drinking their tea and whilst I desperately wanted a cup of tea, standing in a crowded room drinking it wasn’t quite what I had in mind, so onwards we went.

A couple of snowballs were thrown as we crossed the open ground nearby (but a full-blown snowball fight avoided) before we re-entered the forest to return to the car.  Feeling rather robbed of my anticipated cup of tea, we didn’t turn towards home as we left the car park, but rather headed to Slade Lodge tea room (which is a whole order of magnitude nicer than the visitor centre too) where pots of tea and various edibles were consumed with relish before we tootled back home to tackle the chores.

Our short-but-enjoyable route looked something like this:


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Martin’s Christmas Walk – Sunday 12 December

Thanks to an unexpected and winding 10-miles diversion due to a level crossing being closed, and some very icy (not to mention steep) roads which made me squeal and shut my eyes (fortunately I wasn’t driving), we cut it rather fine for the ‘10.15 prompt’ start time for Martin’s Christmas Walk,. It was with just two minutes to spare that we pulled into the penultimate parking space at Wettonmill.

With no time to stand around getting cold, we were off – all 24 of us – to pick up the path alongside the River Manifold.

Barely had we got into our stride when Sue pointed out what looked like a man-made tunnel ahead and above us:

IMG_1926 it turned out to be Thor’s Cave which an information sign told us had ‘been formed over thousands of years by the effects of water and wind’. Apparently ‘the name may be a corruption of ‘Tors’ … and some people think it comes from Thor, the Norse god of thunder’. Personally, I’ll go with the ‘tor’ explanation as it does look toresque.

It would have been rude not to pop up to have a look around the cave (not to mention to enjoy some CCS and some Fudge Brownies, whilst enjoying the views from its elevated position) and it was a worthwhile diversion:

IMG_1932 IMG_1929 IMG_1930 IMG_1931Back down to the valley floor we went, from where much chatting and some good views took us up lumpy bits, along lanes and across fields


until we landed, just before 1pm, in Hopedale, the home of the Watts-Russell Arms. We filled the pub, which did an excellent job in serving us some very tasty lunches and some equally tasty beer.

As I often find with a big pub lunch accompanied by beer, I could quite happily have sat in the warm all afternoon, but Martin is a hard taskmaster and after a good break he had us all removing the blue ‘shower caps’ from our shoes and venturing back outside to continue on our way.


I’ve looked at a map since the walk and find that I paid so much attention at the time that I have no idea what route the afternoon took, but I do know that after another CCS and brownie break we popped over the top of Ecton Hill. It was one of those excellent little hills that give incredible views, and there was just enough light left to appreciate those views, although not quite enough light to take passable photos (or at least not on my camera, although that could have been the operator as much as the equipment).

Sue couldn’t resist dancing a jig on some of the snow remaining by the summit:

IMG_1949 (actually, she was throwing snow balls at the rest of us)

and a bit more snow was remaining on our route down:


By the time we came out at a very interesting looking house:

IMG_1951the light was so poor as to make photo-taking nugatory, so the camera didn’t come out again as we ambled along the Manifold Valley in the dark, to return to Wettonmill.

It was an excellent walk in good company, with a commendable amount of well-rewarded upness (all a bit of a shock for my legs which until three days previously had forgotten what a hill was). In fact, I was so taken with the route that I think that we’ll return on a day with a bit more daylight to see all of the sights again – although I will have to consult Martin first to find out what route we actually took!

Apparently the distance stat was 10 miles. No idea to what height the upness amounted. (Edit: It turns out that the distance was 11 miles and that the upness was around 2500 feet.)

Martin's report of the outing (plus a slideshow of pictures which show much better what the surroundings were like) is here.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Three Walks, Two (Half) Days, One Camp

Walk 1

The entire purpose of the trip was to visit my father’s tree, so a quick jaunt up Dinas Oleu was our starting point.

Dad's Tree

Everything was in good order, so we left the birds enjoying the plethora of berries and returned to the town (Barmouth, that is).

Ordinarily, having walked up to the tree, we would continue onwards into the Rhinogau to spend the night, but aside from my (lack of) fitness issues, we’ve walked all of the obvious routes before, so for this trip we opted to tootle up the road a few miles to Tal-y-bont – first, however, there was a massive All Day Breakfast to be eaten in the Milk Bar.

Walk 2

The free car park in Tal-y-bont saved us from having to root around for a suitable overnight parking spot and soon we were walking up through the woods, alongside the Afon Ysgethin – a route that I’ve not walked for at least 20 years. I seem to recall that back then that path would be absolutely heaving on a summer’s day.

IMG_1899 Up we went, to pick up a track onto open land, which afforded us views of the smattering of snow around us. Soon, however, the cloud started to descend, swiftly followed by rain arriving.

IMG_1903We were positively sweltering, what with the positive temperature (a whole +2 degrees, according to the thermometer on my backpack) and the unaccustomed effort of carrying a pack up a slight incline, but the ice on the path, and the frozen falls on the crags alongside Llyn Bodlyn told us that, in common with the rest of the UK, it had been chilly of late.

IMG_1905With the terrain being typical Rhinogau bogs (albeit frozen bogs), tussocks and rocks, we doubted that we would find a good pitch around Llyn Bodlyn, even though the lack of visibility higher up had caused us to decide we would cut short there.

Happily, at the end of the track, just below the dam, there was a perfectly flat grassy area and we wasted no time in throwing the tent up between showers.

IMG_1914 Next to us the outflow from the llyn was solid, but slightly further down it was running, so gathering water wasn’t a problem.

IMG_1907 The llyn was still lightly frozen over too (and I took some incredibly poor photos to try to capture it):

IMG_1910 By just after 3pm we were tucked up in the tent, which was now enveloped by cloud, as the wind picked up outside and as the rain set in for the night.

Fast forwarding by 15 hours, we awoke this morning to find that the rain had washed most of the immediate snow away and that the cloud was still all around.

“It’s only a kilometre. How bad can it be?” I said to Mick on the subject of my proposed yomp down stream to pick up a path that would lead us back to our starting point. Mick gave me The Look. He’s walked across this valley before, and knew exactly how it could be.

Happily, the positive temperature hadn’t been around for long enough to fully defrost the bogs, so the going was easy and our return was entirely uneventful. We even popped out from below the cloud for the latter stages of the walk.

Route Map

With our tiny valley stroll amounting to a whole 9 miles over the 2 half days, we were back at the car by mid-morning, and there was no disagreement that another All Day Breakfast would go down a treat ahead of Walk 3.

Walk 3

Even after a monster fry up had been consumed, there was still a big chunk of day remaining, so a walk in the woods was called for, to go and have a shufti at the bothy we could have stayed in last night.

Past ‘group abuse’ issues have caused a locked gate to have been placed to stop vehicular access to the bothy, but we discovered on our wanderings that it’s still possible to get within an easy beer-and-coal hauling distance of the place.

Approaching, the building looks impressive as bothies go:


and inside we found five rooms (not to mention a quantity of rubbish left by those who are perfectly happy to haul full drinks bottles and cans of food in, but aren’t capable of carrying the much-lighter empties out. We did our good deed by collecting most of it up and taking it with us). There’s even a privvy provided (picture taken from the same location as the one above)

IMG_1924 but apparently the twenty-five paces from bothy to outhouse is too much for some people, based on the brown-stained toilet paper littering the area in between.

It’s a bit of a strange location for a bothy (being in such a low-land and easily accessed area), but armed with the firelighters and candles that we’d taken with us, it would no doubt have served us well had we chosen to stay there last night.

And so

By late afternoon we were home again, having not seen a single other person out walking across all three of our strolls.

It was far from our shortest backpacking trip in the area in terms of hours (we once squeezed in a quick overnight in the Rhinogau during which we were away from home for just 24 hours – but, being in the height of summer, managed to walk much further then than on this trip), but it’s got to win the award for our shortest mileage backpacking trip ever. Still good fun though, even in the adverse weather.

National Move Your Caravan Day?

This is the fourth different static-caravan-on-the-move that we've found ourselves behind in the last thirty miles.

That's not to mention the cattle trailer, the JCB and the two big lorries. If we get past this wide load then we're taking bets as to whether it will be a tractor or a milk float that we encounter next.
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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tent, not Bothy

As is often the case, the final decision was made over an All Day Breakfast (in a cafe with serious apostrophe issues), when afternoon was almost upon us and time had run out for pontification.

Either plan could have been executed in the four hours or so of daylight remaining, but it was 'tent on a hill' that won over 'bothy in the woods' for tonight. So, up a pretty stream and along a valley we took ourselves.

With the weather being less than ideal (rain was not on the forecasts I saw) and with the cloud base getting lower and lower, there seemed little value in climbing up to a higher llyn, or onto the ridge.

We may as well stay below the cloud base, we thought and so at the first flat spot alongside a llyn (that I would name but for the map being inaccessible as I type this), up went the tent, even though it was a little early.

The rain let up whilst we pitched, which was a blessing, but within half an hour the cloud was down below us and rain is now falling again. Let's hope tomorrow brings drier weather.

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