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

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 31 December 2007

Our 2007 Walking Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 29 December 2007

The Outrageous Spoiling of Gayle E Bird

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 21 December 2007

Keswick, Ambleside and Great Langdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Frozen Blea Tarn
A frozen Blea Tarn

Little Langdale direction
In the direction of Little Langdale

Wrynose Pass
Cold on Wrynose Pass

More evidence of cold
More evidence that it was quite cold

Fantastic sky!
Fantastic Sky!

Langdale Valley
The Langdale Valley

Cold Grass
Cold Grass

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

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

Wednesday 19 December 2007

My Head Torch Is Missing...

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

Tonight we'll be camping.

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

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

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

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Rhinog Fawr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhinog Fawr

Rhinog Fawr in the sunshine

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

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

Being inelegant!

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

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

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

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

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

Llyn Du from the West

Llyn Du from the West

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

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

Friday 14 December 2007

Holding Post - Two Views

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

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

Monday 10 December 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Pumlumon - Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 3 December 2007

Pumlumon - Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Sunday 2 December 2007

Wendy Gets Wet in Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Around the Coast of Britain

A few weeks ago I read ‘Slow Coast Home’ by Josie Dew, which gives an account of Josie’s attempt (which turned out to be broken and curtailed) to cycle the coast line of Britain. Cycling isn’t my thing, so it’s not the sort of book that I would ordinarily buy, but having been dragged into a book shop (I try to avoid them as a rule: to enter a book shop usually involves accidental purchases) and finding it reduced to £2.99 it seemed like too good an offer to refuse.

According to reviews on Amazon, it’s the worst of all of her books, but I enjoyed it. I’ve not been inspired to straddle a saddle, but it was still a good tale of travel, meeting people, injuries and camping in interesting conditions.

Spurred on by enjoying Josie Dew’s tales of a British coastal journey, I then bought a copy of ‘The Sea on Our Left’ by Shally Hunt, which is the account of a couple’s 4300 mile walk around the coast of Britain in the mid-1990s.

Having already read ‘The Sea Ahead’ by the same person (her account of their walk along the E2 from Cape Wrath to Nice in 2003), I had a feeling that The Sea on Our Left would annoy me a tad. As it went, it annoyed me a lot, and for reasons far beyond those that I had expected.

In my opinion (and it is just my opinion; of course people can walk around the coast against whatsoever rules they chose), if you’re going to walk around the coast that’s exactly what you do. Catching ferries across estuaries is a pretty standard allowance but, in my opinion, catching a bus and a train to the other side of an estuary when a ferry is not running is pushing the definition of walking around the coast. But catching a train past Port Talbot because the industrial area was too dull? Or catching buses because you’re running a bit behind and you have a schedule to keep for accommodation purposes? Now I may be misunderstanding that last point, but it was the impression that I got from what was written.

Even ignoring the fact that they didn’t, as the front cover purports, walk around the entire coast (and perhaps we can forgive someone a few miles out of 4300) most of the book is far from inspiring. It starts off as a very stilted account, which moves between subjects without warning (the bit about looking at protruding ribs in the bath in one sentence and talking about passing a lighthouse in the next confused me until I realised that she’d moved on to another day). And whereas one may expect some amusing accounts of the folk that they met on the way it seemed that, with a couple of exceptions, Shally was determined to find fault with every single person they met on the way and every B&B owner. She comments at one point that she saw herself as a prissy snob, and that’s exactly how she came across. Amusing anecdotes there were not, although I grant that she was pretty enthusiastic about the coast of Scotland and managed a flowing and interesting account of that section.

But, none of that is what really annoyed me about this book. Perhaps I’m picky, but if I’m being asked for fork out £7 or £8 for a professionally published book then I expect it to have been proof read, maybe even edited, and most, if not all, of the spelling errors ironed out of it. On some pages I didn’t spot a single error but more often than not there were several.

I accept that some people have issues with spelling and I don’t claim to be without error myself (but then I’m not charging anyone for my witterings and rants and I wouldn’t dream of putting them in a book shop), but even in the mid 1990s there were spell-checkers and as for place names, all that is required is to write with a road atlas by your side. There is no excuse, as happened far too often, for a place name to be spelt incorrectly in one paragraph, correctly in the next and then incorrectly again two later.

It was with annoyance (and sometime amusement via pure incredulity) that I came across all of these errors (my personal favourite: ‘wear-with-all’).

Anyway, I’ve ranted enough. I must, sometime soon, say something about the books that I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed – I only seem to comment on those that I find fault with. For the moment just let me say that if you want to read an account of a walk around the coast (and bearing in mind that I’ve not read John Merrill’s (oops, just slipped and bought a copy, mind)) then I would say that Two Feet, Four Paws by Spud Talbot-Ponsonby is leagues ahead of Shally Hunt.

Monday 19 November 2007

Gosh I Can Waffle On!

It used to be that every time we went away anywhere, whether on holiday, for a weekend or just for a walk, I would, if possible, send a detailed daily postcard to my gran.

The problem came on those walks or backpacking trips when we didn’t pass a shop or a post-box each day. So that my gran, sitting at home waiting for the tales that she now expected, wasn’t let down I started writing detailed accounts after each of our trips.

Word got around, the circulation of my whitterings grew slightly and the one thing that everyone kept telling me was that I should write a book about our adventures. Bless, eh! It’s like all those people on X Factor whose families tell them that they can sing, without taking the bias angle into account.

However, to keep these people happy, last year I collated all of my accounts for the previous 14 months and had them printed and bound into a hard-back volume, with a copy of each of them. Suddenly everyone was happy.

But, of course, I had then set a precedent. This year I have repeatedly cursed the fact that I ever started these write-ups as I’ve slaved away over the computer after each trip.

Then, about a month or maybe six weeks ago, I started the task of collating, editing and formatting this year’s collection (cursing Bill Gates as I went; why, oh why does deleting one tab in between two photos suddenly change the style of all of my headings?!).

Tonight I have finished and sent it off to the binders.

Having heaved a huge sigh of relief upon finishing, out of interest I looked at my final word count.

Now the more astute amongst you may have noticed that I have the ability to ramble on at some length (no, really!)…

On the subject of this year’s 31 outings I have written 165,000 words, spread over 218 A4 pages. Ouch!

Bearing in mind our plans for next year, I think that I need to go on a crash course in the art of being succinct.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Snow and Stuff

As I drove home tonight, the BBC weather on the wireless was telling me that there was the chance of sleet on high ground.

That forecast seemed a bit incongruous as it was followed by the travel news which featured many mentions of drifting snow. It also didn't tally with the snow that I had witnessed (in Wolverhampton) during the day.

I'm now sitting at home and that 'sleet' is looking distinctly snow-like and it has started to settle.

The lawn is now white.

Husband is just back from his weekend in the Lakes, introducing his 12 year old nephew to the joys of camping and walking.

I think that we can say that the weekend was a thorough success. Nephew was in no way put off by the torrential rain, winds, low temperatures and snow.

He's already asking about the next trip and saying that he wants to go backpacking.

His mother did raise a bit of an eyebrow in Husband's direction when, upon arriving home and enthusing about the weekend, nephew uttered the words 'I think I need some gear'!

Oooops! A gear-freak in the making?

Bit Cloudy Up Here!
It's a bit cloudy up here, says nephew

Oooh - A Break in the Cloud.
A fortuitous break in the cloud

Saturday 17 November 2007

Random Witterings

Progress has been made on my mission to get some of Rights of Way access issues around here resolved, insofar as I now have the contact details of the RoW Officer for the County Council and a copy of the form that I need to complete to report those issues. There will be five forms submitted in my initial correspondence: the five missing stiles/locked/broken gates over which I’m currently having to vault each time I go for a yomp around the local fields. Purely for exercise purposes (my hip’s not liking running just now) I’ve done that walk three times this week. On the frosty days (two out of the three) those gates over which I’m inelegantly launching myself can by awfully slippery. Stiles or working gates are definitely required (although, call me cynical, but I won’t be holding my breath for either).

Once those issues are logged with the council I will start on the issues that I consider more minor. The missing signage where paths meet roads will be up there, and next year I will start attacking the failure of local farmers (not all local farmers, I hasten to add; some are very fastidious) to reinstate paths across crop fields (I feel a little bit uncomfortable about this one – I know what the law says, and I know that it’s jolly inconvenient to me when a field is ploughed right up to the boundary and cropped without any gap left for walking, but I’m sure that the farmers have better things to be doing with their time).

TGO Magazine
The final issue on my current subscription arrived, in an entirely timely manner, on 1 November. Half a month later I find that although I’ve flicked through it a few times, it’s not captured my attention and I’ve struggled to read any of the articles.

Husband commented, on the day it arrived, that the whole magazine was dedicated to Scotland in winter (a slight exaggeration) . I was sympathetic at the time, as it was obviously running a special. However, in that I don’t (yet) do proper winter conditions, it’s not something that interests me.

So, renewal time is not a good time for TGO to have a wholly uninspiring issue (for me, that is). So even the six reminders that I’ve been sent to renew (yes, six! Two first reminders, two second and two third – really, one letter would have been fine, far cheaper and far more environmentally sound) have not caused me yet to renew. I’m sure I will in due course, but I don’t think that it will be for the January issue.

Trail Magazine
Whilst yomping over the local fields by myself this week I’ve been catching up with Podcast Bob’s weekly Podzines.

I’ve listened to them in reverse order, so I started out with the one with a review of the current issue of Trail Magazine. He made it sound so good that I added the purchase of a copy to Husband’s chores list.

Not twenty minutes later, with impeccable timing, I got a call from Trail magazine offering me the ‘3 months for £1 each’ trial. I almost bit their hand off in my enthusiasm to take them up on it. Considering Weird Darren’s experience with the very same offer, I was interested as to exactly what they would tell me as to the trial. As it went, without any questioning from me, they explained exactly what I needed to do if I didn’t want to continue with the subscription after the three months, and made it clear that without any action the subscription would continue at £9.99 a quarter.

I will most definitely be cancelling my direct debit once the payments for the trial have been taken, but in the meantime, I will allow Trail magazine to annoy me (because it almost always does) for three months at a bargain price.

The Lakes
As I sit and type this I am a slight shade of green. It’s not caused by a bad prawn, but by the jealousy of Husband currently being ensconced in a tent in Keswick.

He’s taken his 12 year old nephew for his first camping/walking weekend. Some would argue that the middle of November is not the best time to introduce a twelve year old to the joys of camping and walking up hills. Many others would second that on the basis of the current weather and the forecast for tomorrow (heavy rain, moderate to strong winds and cold). However, nephew seems to be enjoying it so far (it goes without saying that Husband would enjoy being out in a tent in any conditions – I’ve taught him well!).

A bit concerning to receive a report today that my waterproof trousers (nephew has borrowed most of his kit from the weekend from me) are leaking. I’m currently clutching at the ‘condensation’ straws…

Wednesday 14 November 2007

The Wrekin

With both of us remembering our shoes today, our delayed plan came to fruition. We walked up the Wrekin - a hill that stands alone in a sea of flatness, not far from Telford. I’ve driven past hundreds upon hundreds of times but within my memory I have never been up it (according to my Mother I have, but I was very young at the time). So now, not only have we been Right Round the Wrekin (metaphorically, at least), but we’ve also been up it.

This hill turned out not to be entirely what I believed it to be. When I was in Junior School, whilst doing a project on volcanoes, I recall being told that the Wrekin was an extinct volcano. It’s not something that I’ve thought about greatly since, but I did believe it to be true.

Today, we’d not even left the car park when I came across an information board that started with the words ‘One of the most enduring myths about the Wrekin is that it is an extinct volcano’.

I didn’t get to read any more at that point as Husband was already striding away across the road, so I was soon trotting behind him to catch up.

A minute later things took a bit of a surreal turn when we encountered two fairies on horseback, with the horses themselves wearing pink boas and silver tinsel.
Fairies on Horseback

Fairies on Horseback

It transpired that their attire was all in aid of Children in Need. Quite how they came up with the idea of riding up to the top of the Wrekin dressed as fairies as a charitable stunt is a question that I should have asked.

We took the broad, easy and uninspiring track up to the top, meeting lots and lots of people on our way.

Despite the day not being tremendously clear, the views from the top were excellent.

A Fine View

The formation of the clouds coming out of the nearby cloud factory confirmed to us that it was a reasonably still day:
Cloud Factories

And a multi-coloured woodland caught my eye, although the Shropshire hills beyond aren’t too clear in the photo.
Good Views with Colourful Woodland

After the obligatory summit photo (which I’ve not reproduced here by virtue of it being an awful photo of me), we continued off the summit to drop down the south west side.

‘Twas a bit steep, but the pretty woodland and it being a path rather than a vehicle track made it a much nicer route than the track we had taken up. Despite it being by far the more pleasing side of the hill, we were suddenly all alone. Having seen so many people on the main track, during the whole of our return route (down the south west flank, then skirting around the north side) we saw only one man and his dog.

The woodland of our return yielded a good display of toadstools. Husband humoured my fixation with such things and patiently waited whilst I got the camera out.


The whole outing was less than 2 hours, but it turned out to be a lovely day for it – nice and sunny albeit a bit nippy when not exerting too much energy - and a pleasant little walk.

Full set of photos (except for the very dodgy summit one) is here.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

The Walk That Wasn't

On Sunday we went for a walk! (Yes that did deserve an exclamation mark considering recent performance.)

It wasn’t really worthy of any note at the time as we only had a few short hours to spare, so it was just a very quick jaunt over local fields and the local estate. The only novel feature was that a Nimrod flew over. Being a bit of a strange location to see a low-flying Nimrod, we assumed that it was performing a fly-by at a local Remembrance Day Service (at the Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, perhaps?). Either that or they were just out flying around in unusual areas whilst checking for fuel leaks in the bomb bay…

Once we got home
I finally got around to emailing the local council to try to elicit a name and address for the person to whom I should write about missing stiles, locked gates and the like. I got three emails in return, all giving me different answers, but this is something about which I’m belatedly going to get on my high horse. I’m fed up of having to climb over obstacles on our local Public Rights of Way.

Anyway, that was Sunday. Today, we very nearly went for a slightly more proper walk (only slightly, mind). With four hours of the day free, a plan was formed, a map was printed and out we set early this morning. Alas, the plan didn’t come to fruition.

We were ten minutes away from home (but on a strict deadline for an appointment) when one of us realised that their necessary footwear was still at home. We didn’t have the time to return for it.

I won’t mention any names as to who it was without suitable footwear, but it wasn’t me! (and anyway, being the fashion icon that I am, I’ve almost always got an old-but-serviceable pair of walking shoes on my feet.)

So, the walk didn’t happen.

It wasn’t the end of the world. We had other, far more useful, things with which we were able to fill the day (hanging doors, that sort of thing).

The new plan is to pop out tomorrow instead. Shoes will, of course, be top of the checklist.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

The Mind Boggles

I've still got nothing relevant to talk about (see post below), but I was just having a quick look at my blog stats, to see how many people have been popping by and how they got here.

As I've mentioned before, every now and then a bizarre Google search leads someone here - but usually it's just an occasional occurence in between more obvious searches such as 'Alpkit Hunka' and 'Terrocs'.

Yesterday three people found this blog via Google. And the search terms that led them here? A strange trio:

'compare contrast into thin air book movie' (okay, that one I can understand);
'wet heigh [sic] heeled shoes' (eh?); and
'what is the orange walk'.

Unsurprisingly, none of those searchers stayed for very long!

Saturday 27 October 2007

And It's All Gone Quiet Over There...

Sorry for the lack of anything to say this week.

A couple of the poorly people in the family need a lot of looking after at the moment. Add in a couple of plumbing emergencies and there aren't enough hours in the day or days in the week to do much else.

So, it's all going to be a bit quiet around here for a wee while.

But in the words of Arnie - I will be back.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Experiment - This will be deleted

If this works then a big virtual hug goes to Bearded Git who may have solved my inability with photos!

Juan approaching the finish

Weston Park 10k - Continued

For reasons unknown, Blogger wouldn't post this last photo in my original post below, so here it is:

After, showing off their medals:

Weston Park 10k

In both 2005 and 2006 I ran the Weston Park 10k for Cancer Research. This year I was determined to do it in a much faster time, so entered it again. Husband and friends V&J also signed up.

Today was the day of the event - however, I conceded towards the end of the week that I was not going to run. I've had a persistent and niggling sore throat for weeks now, which has not assisted my belated training push, and (call me a defeatist, but) I couldn't see any point in doing a 10k if I was going to end up walking half of it and hating most of it. Fortunately, I didn't have the pressure of sponsors to cause me to run; having already tapped everyone up for sponsorship for Cancer Research for three other events over the last couple of years, I decided that I would be my only sponsor for this one (and I'm quite happy to sponsor myself notwithstanding a lack of participation!).

By not taking part, that put me in an excellent position to take responsibility for pullovers and to take photos. So, below is some of the photographic evidence that some of V&J's sponsors have requested to prove that they did in fact run 10k. The full set of photos can be found here.

A well done goes to all three for finishing in times better than their stated aims. A big well done goes to V&J for having raised over £500 for their efforts. Another well done goes to V for having achieved two of her running goals for this year in one go.

Posing before the race:

Husband at the half way point:

J comes up to the finish:

V comes up to the finish:

Friday 19 October 2007

A Stroll in North Yorkshire

As is unsurprising after the cold, clear night that we had, Thursday presented itself as a perfect walking day.

Admittedly it was rather on the parky side first thing, making me wish for my Rab Vapour Rise trousers in lieu of the summer-weight Paramo Azuma that I was wearing. However, I acknowledged that the temperature would rise during the morning and that was indeed the case.

Parking just south of Malham Tarn, we set off along the Pennine Way, walking in the direction that some would claim is ‘the wrong way’.

Except for half a dozen youths who were just making their way north along the PW as we were faffing in the car park, meeting up with their leader before carrying on, we were had solitude to admire the surroundings for the first half an hour of our walk. Passing the first walker a while later I had to conclude that they breed them hardy up north; whilst I was sporting jacket, hat and gloves, the first person we passed was wearing a skirt and shirt sleeves!

As I’ve commented before, North Yorkshire is not an area with which I am familiar – and this walk was truly surprising me. Not only for the landscape in general (you can't see the terraced fields in this small version, but they were there): and the carved out limestone pavements (look at those grykes!):

but Malham Cove really is a sight to behold which diverted our attention for quite a length of time. Looking down from the top of Malham Cove. It's quite a way down, but someone's installed a staircase that goes the whole way down...

As a result of all of the landscape features that held our attention we were surprised, an hour and a half into the walk, to see a signpost back along the PW which indicated that we had only walked 1.5 miles!

My surprise at the surroundings continued (including a bit of analysis in my mind as to why I’ve failed to visit this area before) as we made our way through Malham and out the other side.

We missed the path that we intended to take (not that we looked particularly hard for it), and came out in Hanlith a few hundred yards (and a few hundred feet closer to sea level) from where we had intended.

At Hanlith we left the course of the Pennine Way as we followed uphill first a track, then a path up to a trig point on Weets Top, which proved to be an excellent venue for lunch (proved by the fact that a group of about 10 walkers were just leaving as we arrived).

Our route from lunch back to Malham Tarn led us along a lane and through a remarkably large field filled with at least three distinct herds of cows. Worryingly some of those cows appeared to be bulls, albeit reasonably young ones. Many worried glances over my shoulder ensued until we escaped the field.

I had particularly planned the route to pass through the Roman Camp marked on the map (a marching camp according to the sign in the area), but was disappointed that to my highly untrained eye the only thing that I could see was an area of flat ground. There were no tell-tale indentations, so if it hadn’t been for the information sign and the marking on the map, I would have been oblivious as to what had been there 2000 years ago.

Meeting back up with a road, we could have taken a short route back to the car, but we were in no particular rush and it seemed a shame not to take the detour to see Malham Tarn, so we headed off to walk adjacent to Great Close Scar and thence along the side of the Tarn.
People were aplenty in this area, and we soon found that we were now far from the only car in the car park.

The stats for this fine walk (which ended in significantly warmer conditions than those in which it had begum) were just under 10.5 miles completed in an extraordinarily leisurely 5 hours.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Wendy Gets Wet in Settle

The sun was just setting last night as we paced up and down looking for the flattest piece of ground on which to give Wendy (she’s our new Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R for those who aren’t in the know) her first night out.

We had cause to be up in North Yorkshire yesterday afternoon, so it had seemed rude not to take the opportunity to spend a night out and to spend today walking somewhere locally.

However, it was neither a good nor an arduous test of Wendy’s abilities. To start with, we were not on a hillside where she so clearly wants to be pitched, but rather we were car-camping on a regimented caravanning sort of a campsite just outside of Settle.

Then there were the weather conditions. Some would say that a forecast of -1 degrees does not create ideal conditions to test out a part-single skin tent. However, it was not just the temperature that went against this first use. The complete lack of any breeze at all (this morning we sat in the Ye Olde Naked Man CafĂ© looking at the flag at the top of an escarpment across the road and didn’t see it even try to flutter once) compounded the temperature issue. I think that most, if not all, tents with two people inside would struggle to remain dry in such conditions.

Getting up this morning, I firstly checked out the amount of condensation that had accumulated. Given the lack of wind and the cold temperature, I was expecting a lot – but perhaps not quite that much on the two-skin section of the tent.

It was when I started moving around that I found out that it is impossible to move around inside, when there is another person in there, without brushing up against the (wet) sides constantly. The only place where the tent is big enough to sit up fully is under the front pole – which is fine when there’s only one of you in the tent, but gets a bit tricky with two (particularly when you’re also trying to make a cup of tea (well, why not add a bit more water vapour?)).

The next ‘issue’ reared its head once I’d packed all my things away, at which point I intended to vacate the tent to allow Husband the room to do likewise. At this point I found that the water vapour on the door had, as it is designed to, run down to the lower zip and the mesh section below it. Alas, when it got to the zip, rather than seeping out of the tent, it had frozen solid. As a result, the zip was frozen shut; it wouldn’t even yield to gentle persuasion. Being the skinny thing that I am, at least I was able to squeeze out of the gap allowed by the vertical zip!

Now at this moment, I’m struggling to see how we could possibly use this tent for a 3-month walk. It will undoubtedly be great in certain conditions (like when there’s any sort of a breeze). The floor size is fantastic. It is ridiculously simple to pitch. It should be exceptionally sturdy. However, the height really is looking to be an issue. I’m also struggling to see how we could keep the inside dry when we’ve got wet gear or when it’s raining – that’s something that we definitely need to explore on a trip of a night or two.

As I said though, it was hardly a fair test. It will certainly get lots more use in different circumstances (and let’s face it, it only became the tent of choice last night for the fact that it was brand new) – and when we’ve used it in a more sensible location and in more sensible conditions, I shall report back again.

Wendy in an inappropriate setting. Of all the caravans present, the majority seemed to be in storage - only two were in use, and we were the only tent. I wonder why that would be, on such a nice crisp Wednesday night in mid-October...?

Sunday 14 October 2007

Drizzle in Hartington

The weather forecast for today wasn’t bad. A cloudy start leading on to sunny intervals later with no indication of any rain. The forecast for yesterday had been the same. For neither day was it correct.

At 10am this morning we were to be found loitering outside the Devonshire Arms in Hartington (in the drizzle), where a few minutes later appeared the couple for whom we were waiting (for ease of reference we will refer to them as S&A). Overly optimistically (and contrary to all indications) we all expressed hope that the mist and drizzle would quickly burn off.

S had taken responsibility for deciding where we were to walk and the answer was that we went south out of Hartington, over (remarkably muddy) farmland to meet the River Dove in Beresford Dale, along which we wandered for a while until the river flowed into Wolfscote Dale, through which we also followed it.

The river, the woodland and the impressively steep sided valley of Wolfscote Dale were fine sights – only marred by the continuing drizzle and general greyness of the day (which meant that the few photos that I took are not worth sharing). Still, a fine day would have increased remarkably the number of people out and about, so even the drizzle had a silver lining.

After a few miles of riverside path, it was time for an upward incline: the only one of the entire walk. It wasn’t long, but it was a tad steep. Needless to say, with my slowness up hills, Husband and A got to admire the (rather cloud-limited) views from the top whilst I dawdled my way up with S.

Quagmires more mud were found as we passed across farmland and onto a track heavily clad in nettles (shouldn’t they have died back by now?) which demonstrated once again (and quite extensively) that my trousers are far from being nettle-proof.

Proving that the person at the back (i.e. me) is not the best person to be navigating (“You’ve gone too far” I hollered to Husband and A), we left the tracks in favour of more fields, which afforded some fine views of the surrounding countryside. Quite why we’re not more familiar with this countryside I do not know. We were only something like 35 miles from home and yet in the five and a half years that we’ve lived in this neck of the woods we’ve only ventured into the Peak District a small handful of times. There’s something else that we must rectify.

Countryside paths, which clearly see much traffic, took us back to the same riverside path as our outward journey, which in turn led us back to Hartington, where a toss-up between two pubs led us to the Devonshire Arms for lunch. It proved to be an eminently suitable place to enjoy Sunday lunch and to sample some fine ale.

Leaving the pub to go our separate ways we concluded that S won the award for ‘Most Mud Adorning Trousers’ (really, she was covered to mid-thigh and below the knee looked like she’d been dipped in a mud bath). Husband was placed a close second. In last place we A, who seemed to have avoided all of the mud in which we had caked ourselves – surely that can’t have been the work of gaiters alone?

Now, I must go and clean some footwear…

Thursday 11 October 2007

Wightwick Manor (and a bit of Cannock Chase)

With our planned National Trust property of the day not opening until this afternoon, we thought that we would fill our morning with a walk. A good theory except that we forgot to factor in our prodigious ability to faff in the process of getting out of the house.

By the time we were ready to go, we had less than an hour and a half to spare but so as not to be entirely defeated, we thought that we would still take a short stroll.

It may seem that Cannock Chase plays a disproportionately large part in our walking lives, but that’s because we cross it most days and thus we can walk there without going out of our way. Thus, it was the Chase upon which we walked again today.

Striking off from the tracks, we made our way through (often deep) bracken and into woodland, following deer tracks. In our wanderings we did find a particularly suitable, well sheltered place for camping – but of course that is irrelevant because I have already stated most decidedly that I will never camp on the Chase again. And, of course, I never go back on such definite statements!

As is inevitable, we were soon back on paths with which we are familiar and headed back to the car, arriving precisely on time. A splendid stroll, even if a short one and it was a lovely day for it: clear blue skies and no wind.

This afternoon Wightwick (pronounced Wittick) Manor was on the agenda. This is a property from which I lived half a mile up the road (quite literally, on the same road) for quite a number of years and yet in those years I never did visit it. Having passed by its entrance hundreds upon hundreds of times, I had it in my mind that it was a small place. Today I discovered quite how wrong I was. Not only is the house rather substantial, but the grounds are big enough to make for a good hour’s exploration too.

It was our third visit to a NT property this week, and it was again a completely different proposition from the others. The most unexpected fact about the place is that it was only built in 1888 (the extension in 1894). The oldest looking part of the building is actually the extension. It was donated to the National Trust (in the lifetime of the donor) in 1937 - when it was less than 50 years old.

I think that we’re maxed-out on looking around houses, manors and halls for one week. The next outing will (fingers crossed) be a stroll in the Peaks with friends on Sunday, the organisation of which is in someone's elses hands, so I await with interest to find out where it is that we'll be walking.

Husband and Ma pass the time of day whilst I snap away:

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Moseley Old Hall

With an unexpected window of a couple of days in which my mother is well enough to go places, with her expressed interest in going to visit a few local National Trust properties, and with my new found enthusiasm for visiting such places, today we paid a visit to Moseley Old Hall. Or, as it is known, quite undeservedly, in my family, Mouldy Old Hall.

This is a large family house, in modest grounds, rather than a Hall of the large and grand stately home type.

We were permitted to join the back of a tour that had started just a minute before our arrival - and what an interesting tour it was. Lots of interesting facts about King Charles II (who took refuge there after his sojourn in an oak tree at Boscobel House) and a smattering of trivia about the origins of common sayings into the bargain.

We didn’t spend any time looking around the house after the tour (a second ascent of the stairs being a step to far for Ma), but Sister also wants to pay it a visit at some point so we will have another easy opportunity to have a good sniff around then.

The grounds are not extensive, but we wandered around them any way (marvelling at the mutantly large apples and pears in the orchard as we went).

Just as we were about to leave, we got accosted by a man in ‘interesting’ attire who was wielding a rather large rifle (kicking myself for the second time this week for not having a camera on me). Yet more interesting information was imparted as he told us about the gun, the civil war and events surrounding King Charles II*.

I can report that the rifle that he was wielding (and accidentally pointed straight at some surprised chap who was walking out of the gift-shop) was extraordinarily heavy. Those fighting types of the day must have been awfully strong – particularly the women who apparently, despite being forbidden, were occasionally wont to dress up as men and join in the fighting.

Tomorrow, all being well, another NT property is on the agenda.

[*You may note that I’m being just a little bit vague there; I really must rectify my complete ignorance of all things history. I blame it on Mr. Clarke, who was a piece of history himself and my teacher of that subject when I was 13. As a result of his antiquity and his ineptitude as a teacher I gave up the study of history at the earliest possible opportunity, after just one year. I recall that during that period we studied the Second World War (in which Mr. Clarke almost certainly played a part) but of the details that he tried to instil into us, I recall nothing.]

Sunday 7 October 2007

The Bivvy and the Tent

The Bivvy:
Those of you who were reading last weekend will have seen that I spent a night lying inside a waterproof bag on the floor of a copse on Cannock Chase. The purpose was dual: to ensure that my Alpkit Hunka bivvy saw its maiden voyage before winter set in and to enter John Hee’s Hip-Pack competition just a hair’s breadth before it closed on Sunday.

I got home on Sunday morning to find that Lost in a Forest (aka Mark) had also made a last minute entry into the competition and had beaten me good and proper in the quest for the lightest weight (1.454kg to my 4.4kg).

I couldn’t possibly have been miffed, and indeed I took my hat off to Mark, when I read that he had gone to the lengths of fashioning his own backpack out of a bag and parcel tape and had spent a chilly autumn night out with a 1 season sleeping bag and an emergency blanket in lieu of a bivvy. He was a very deserved winner.

When on Friday Mr. Hee published the ‘official results’ (complete with commentary) I was perhaps a little disproportionately pleased to see that I had been awarded a prize for my efforts.

With the rose-tinted glasses that are wont to afflict me after such challenges (a bit like walking the K2B and swearing that I would never walk 40 miles in a day again; a day later I said that I would do it again, but in a bit more of a leisurely fashion; by three days later I was plotting a sub-10 hour time for next time!), my memory is already trying to kid me that the night on the Chase was good fun. So, I’m now plotting ways as to how to go significantly lighter if the competition was to occur again. Perhaps my prize of The Book of the Bivvy will give some hints and tips.

Husband must be worried. Last time I read a book by Ronald Turnbull (Three Peaks, Ten Tors), I started mentioning such things as walking across Wales (although I have a more leisurely two day timeframe in mind, rather than the single day).

The Tent (Again)
Wendy had another outing in the garden again today – just to demonstrate her to Ma-in-Law (who dutifully oohed and aarrhhed).

Fortunately we don’t get too many passers-by here, or they may have thought us a little strange when all three of us crawled inside, zipped shut the door and stayed there chatting for slightly longer than was reasonable. The outcome was to decide that you could easily sleep three inside of her. We also established that she’s nice and warm inside with three people zipped in.

With her packed back away* in her bag I placed her on the kitchen balance scales. Due to only having metric weights up to a total of just over a kilo, I had to mix my metric and imperial units. The result was that Wendy weighs, in her bag, just 1kg and 10oz. Or converting that into metric she weighs a smidge less than 1.3kg. That's almost a kilo less than the TN Voyager that was our existing tent of choice.

[*as an aside and somewhat contrary to my existing theory as to the best way to pack gear, the instructions are quite definite on this matter: “try to always fold and roll it exactly the same way, so it folds where it wants to and you minimize additional creases. Never ‘stuff’ it …: that’s a way promoted to destroy gear fast”.]

Saturday 6 October 2007

Cannock Chase and Shugborough Hall

What a top day out! Not outdoorsy in my usual sense, but I shall talk about it anyway.

The day started with a short jaunt on Cannock Chase. Ma-in-Law is staying with us this weekend and having read many an account of our walks on the Chase we thought that we’d show her one of the most popular areas – Stepping Stones (a rather more conventional choice than taking her to see where I slept out last Saturday night!).

She’s pretty fit for an eighty-something, but with failing eyesight we stuck to the main thoroughfares and kept the excursion to a short couple of miles, but it still gave a good taste of the varied woodland and of the sort of terrain available.

With that jaunt complete, and with our new National Trust membership cards in our pockets, we then thought that we would just pop up the road to Shugborough Hall.

My aim in joining the National Trust was to park in their car parks. Husband convinced me to opt for the joint membership so that we could go and look around some of their properties too. I was dubious as to whether we would make any such visits. However, after spending an afternoon inspecting the house in some detail and marvelling over the gardens, I’m already plotting which other properties to fit in to the next twelve months (and ruing the fact with my suddenly found enthusiasm for visiting stately homes, most are closing at the end of the month for the winter).

On this trip we only scratched the surface by visiting the main house and walking through a small section of the grounds – but that still kept us all happily amused for the best part of three hours.

As an added bonus, as we walked back to the exit, the ‘Tower of the Winds’ was open, allowing us to see inside.

The Tower of the Winds is an octagonal building, with two grand entrances (on opposite sides of the structure), a plethora of windows, and a circular addition on one side, which houses the spiral staircase. We’ve walked past it many a time as we’ve cut through the estate, and I’ve always commented on its fine quirkiness. So, it was a real treat today to be able to see the interior (the downstairs was nothing special, but upstairs is unexpectedly decorative with a stunning ceiling).

A return trip to this estate is most certainly called for, with a whole day to spare, to explore more fully.

[And as a complete digression: it seems that we’ve had rather a turn of luck today. We’d not reached the end of the road today before I realised that I’d forgotten to double lock the front door. Being security conscious, I was all set to return home to rectify the security, but Husband convinced me he had actually closed the door and that we didn’t need to go back. Returning home this afternoon we had a visit from Mr. Policeman who told us that three of our neighbours were broken into today. They used next door’s drive to secrete their car whilst they carried out this spree. I have no idea why they didn’t opt to do our house too (perhaps they looked through the windows and accurately assessed that there was nothing worth taking? Perhaps they’ll be back for ours tomorrow?), but had they so opted, they would have found that we’d left them a very easy means of entry and exit. I shall be more careful in future!]

Thursday 4 October 2007

Wendy: Seam Sealing Complete

A fine day in the Midlands today gave the perfect opportunity to seal Wendy Warmlite's seams.

Unfortunately the fine weather also brought the little flies out in force. They found the green of the tent rather attractive. Then they found the tacky seam sealant rather inescapable.

We may forever have flies attached to seams.

But the job is a good one and Wendy is ready for her first outing.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Wendy's First Erection

Today the Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R (Wendy Warmlite, as we have named her), which I ordered just six weeks ago and was delivered within the USA a fortnight ago, was passed into my hands (huge thanks go out to my ex-boss who apparently had a little trouble carrying the seam sealant through the airport!).

After reading the instructions, which are hard to follow and seem to contain more warnings about how not to do things and how damage may be caused than they contain positive information about how to do it, we set out into the garden for the first pitching experiment (with me being very nervous about breaking it having read all of the said warnings).

No sooner had we got it pegged down, than it started to rain, so the photos were taken before we’d adjusted the pitch (it shouldn’t be as slack as the photos show).

We did then have a bit of a play with the adjustments and managed to get a much better pitch. I’m sure that a little bit of practice will soon make perfect.

First impressions:
- The fabric is so incredibly thin. I reckon that you could easily read through the light green of the end sections.
- The size inside is huge – but then you have to remember that all of our gear will be inside with us, so I’m sure that it will seem smaller in practice.
- The colours are not at all like they looked on the website. It’s a whole lot brighter than I expected. The light green in particular looks the colour of a highlighter pen. Still, at least it will stand out if we use it on a campsite!
- I’m concerned about the water-resistance of the floor (again due to warnings contained in the instructions). It’s not unheard of us to pitch on very wet ground (Keswick C&CC site springs to mind!); I don’t want water coming up through the floor of the tent!

We will indulge in seam sealing soon, then hopefully we’ll manage to slip away for a quick night on a hill somewhere, whereupon I will report back.

Husband tries it for size:

Showing off the poor pitching nicely:

Where did that head suddenly spring from as I pressed the camera button?:

Sunday 30 September 2007

Bivvy Bag Adventure: A Scaredy-Cat's Tale

Firstly let me just say that this was not strictly a solo adventure. I was completely self sufficient (for the first time ever), however, being the complete girly lightweight scaredy cat that I am, and in that Husband would have sulked had he not been permitted to come along, I did have company.

Husband, who I forbade from using any of the kit that I was carrying and thus also had to be self sufficient, was far from lightweight with a tent. He pitched a small distance from where I was, and he was my contingency plan for if I found lying on a forest floor by myself to be just too scary a proposition.

This is roughly how it went:

5pm: Found somewhere to leave the car at Brocton and set out onto the Chase, via a plethora of deer tracks, though brambles that tore at the clothes, punctured the skin and put a pull in my Paramo Velez (yep, like Andy Howell, I decided that it was time to break out the Paramo – I was expecting Sunday morning to be cold).

5.30pm: Walked past the spot that I had in mind to camp and decided that it would do but wasn’t ideal. Husband had somewhere better in mind, but he couldn’t quite remember where it was. Wandered around for a while looking for a suitable place to secrete ourselves.

6.15pm: A small copse of young trees, in amongst the mature woodland, offered large spaces between trees and a smooth floor (provided that enough twigs were cleared). Accommodation was found.

6.30pm: Exploration found that we were in the middle of four paths. Cannock Chase has paths every fifty yards. Some are seldom used, some are well used, but you just cannot get very far away from a path.

6.55pm: A huge deer with huge antlers comes crashing through the mature woodland about 15 yards away. It stands and watches us for a while before stomping away. I start to get a bit worried about the effect of one of those hoofs inadvertently landing on my chest in the night…

7pm: Dusk is falling and there’s suddenly a hundred people around (well, maybe ten were seen over a 20 minute period), using all of the paths that surrounded us. We both tried to be inconspicuous, although one dog sniffed us out. Another man walked within yards of us, yet seemed not to notice us.

7.15pm: I was just brought up to be too honest. I don’t like to blatantly flout the law. Cannock Chase is not a place where one goes to camp, and I’m horrified at the thought of one of the passing people seeing us. Surely people will stop walking around once full darkness falls in ten minutes time?

7.30pm: even if there are people around, it’s now dark enough that they won’t see us. My bed is set out within seconds.

8pm: It’s really dark now, particularly under our canopy of trees, so I deem it safe to light the bushbuddy. Wood is easy enough to find – it litters the whole floor, but why did I not think it sensible to find tinder before it got dark?

8.20pm: Three tampons used and I’m not having much success in lighting the fire. Simultaneously I promise to practice my bushbuddy firelighting skills and rue not taking a sliver of firelighter with me!

8.30pm: The fire is alight. A cup of tea is in hand and all I have to do is concentrate on keeping the fire alive whilst I drink my tea so that I can reuse the Kettly Thing to make my food. Husband wanders over to point out that with the gas stove he’s already had a cup of tea and is now heating his food (yes, but he didn’t have a lovely warming fire and hands as black as night did he?).

9pm: In my bed absolutely scared out of my wits by the cracking twigs as deer move around. Then the owls start screeching. Then the deer start making that noise that deer make. Then another sound (foxes?) joins in. Oh My Goodness: am I going to wake in the night to find a fox staring into my face? Will tomorrow’s headline say ‘Local Woman Trampled to Death by Deer’?

9.05pm: How long do I have to stay in this bivvy bag before I declare that I gave it a reasonable chance and go and join Husband in the tent?

9.15pm: The voices of Bob and Andy on their TGO crossing calm me down remarkably.

9.30pm: It’s strange how in the dark the lower branches look as if they’re only just above me, and yet the trees seem endlessly tall. Neither was the case in reality.

10pm: Ooh, the sky must have cleared. I can see the moon beyond the canopy of trees.

12 midnight: Okay, enough podcasts. Earphone out of the ear and suddenly I can hear the noises again. I’m looking around every few minutes as if I’m going to suddenly see a whole gang of menacing deer coming to eat me.

1am: I dropped off for a short while! Periods of dozing are interspersed with listening to the increasingly quiet forest.

2am: I wake absolutely drenched with sweat! The sky is clear and the temperature is dropping, so I’m surprised to be so warm. I soon adjust things to get comfortable again.

2.30am: I awake with a start with something big very nearby. For the only time in the night I grope for the head-torch to let it know that I’m here. Eeek. Where’s the torch? I search for a good five minutes (really, where can it have gone?). Eventually find it wrapped up in my down jacket. The following day Husband commented at one point in the night he had heard me tossing and turning. I think what he heard was my frantic searching for my only source of light!

3am: Lying looking at the moon and the tree canopy when an owl flies very close over my head. I sit up as it flies over, but quickly lose sight of it. No longer scared of every sound, I drop off again.

4am: Again absolutely terrified at every noise and spend increasing lengths of time analysing what I think could possibly happen to me (trampled by deer, stared at by foxes is still the best answer I can come up with). Calm down and drop back off again. But, it’s 4am! That’s enough hours in the forest that even if I gave up at this point I would be happy that I could claim to have spent an entire night out in a bivvy bag. That’s an achievement.

5.12am: Oooh, that was a whole hour of uninterrupted sleep, and I’ve made it thought eight hours! People will be arriving in just over an hour to walk their dogs, so I figure that it is time to make a move. My thermometer tells me that it’s 7 degrees. That’s warmer than I expected.

5.30am: I text Husband (okay, I could have walked over to him, but I was reluctant to leave my warm bed) to ask if he’s ready to get up and practice some night-navigation skills. He responds in the affirmative.

6am: We’re packed away and trying to work out where we are. Perhaps it would have been wise to think about this in daylight yesterday?

6.10am: Navigating through this part of the Chase, in woodland, with hundreds of different paths, is not the easiest thing to do in the dark, but we do an admirable job of it.

6.30am: It’s light enough to see and we pass our first dog-walker as they drive into one of the car parks.

6.40am: Nearly back at the car, we stand a while watching a deer with two young (that’s the photo in the post below). She very kindly poses for us until we manage to get a passable photo.

7am: On the way home. As we pass over another part of the Chase there’s a stunning view of the sun not quite up in the glowing sky, with just a foot of mist hanging above the moorland in the foreground. With a decent camera, it would have made a fine photo.


Would I do it again? Most emphatically, I would not camp on Cannock Chase again. There are just too many paths, too many accessible car parks and thus too many people. Plus, there’s just too much life moving around for a person of a nervous disposition.

However, my night time analysis (I had plenty of time for thinking in amongst the brief periods of sleep and the more prolonged periods of being terrified) told me that I would have been happier in my bivvy bag on a hill side. The animal life may be just as abundant, but at least on a grassy hillside there wouldn’t be the snapping twig sound to alert me of their presence.

I’m never going to become a seriously ultra-light sort of a person, but I could be convinced to use the bivvy again, in a different location.

(phew - that was a bit long-winded. Did anyone get to the end?)