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]

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?)

Gayle E Bird's Bivvy Bag Adventure

Just back from a night in the bivvy bag on Cannock Chase. Here's the preview, in pictures:

The final kit selection (Aura substituted for the Atmos, a sack liner and a micro-towel added, waterproof trousers removed):

Looks like there could be a bed for the night somewhere over there:

With darkness falling the 'bedroom' is constructed:Full dark, everyone's gone home, the wildlife is out, and it's time for tea:

And let's try that again with a bit of light on the subject:

Walking out this morning, just before the sun came up:

They're lovely to look at, but these animals are one of the good reasons why I won't be camping on Cannock Chase again!

I see that Lost-in-a-Forest also snatched the last minute opportunity to enter the Hip-pack competition and seems to have done it much more convincingly than I ever could (to Mr. In-a-Forest: a) in the nicest possible way - you bar steward for pipping me! b) well done and c) at least I was warm!)
Full details to follow.

Friday 28 September 2007

What Have We Here Then?

Is it a little bit sad that this morning I really quite enjoyed my half an hour of finding out how small a kit I could put together for an early-autumn night out?

This was the result packed:
This was the result unpacked:Or to put that in words:

Osprey Atmos 25
Rab Quantum 400
Thermarest Prolite 3 Women’s
PHD Minimus Down Jacket
Waterproof Overtrousers
Alpkit Hunka Bivvy Bag
Bushbuddy Ultra woodburning stove
Firelighting material (aka tampons)
MSR Kettley Thing
M&S Spoon
Pot Cosy
Dehydrated Chilli
First Aid Kit
Poo Shovel
Toiletries Kit (pre-loaded toothbrush; hand gel; contact lenses; mirror)
Dehydrated Chilli
Head torch
MP3 Player
Compass and Whistle
Mobile Telephone

According to my bathroom scales (weighing me first, then weighing me plus pack, then doing a few sums, making full use of fingers and toes as counting aids) that lot comes in at 4.4kg.

Now for a bit of analysis:

The Atmos 25 may have to be substituted by my Aura 35. I’ve borrowed the Atmos from Husband, and everything fits inside of it, but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to squeeze enough water in too (there will be no water supply where I’m thinking of going, so I’ll have to carry it with me). The Aura will add 120g.

Thermarest Prolite 3. I started out with my cut down closed cell mat. I even contemplated my radiator-backing-material mat (which I use in deep mid winter under the thermarest). But the comfort and the ability of being able to fit it inside of the pack made the Prolite 3 win.

Waterproof Overtrousers. Arguably not necessary as a) I only intend to go if there’s no hint of rain and b) I intend to wear water resistant trousers anyway. I will wear a waterproof jacket.

Pot cosy: not at all necessary given the duration of this trip and the plethora of fuel in the location to which I’m going, but as the Bushbuddy will blacken my pot, the cosy will keep the soot off everything else in my pack. As a bonus, it will also keep my cup of tea warm for longer.

MP3 player: I’m not expecting to sleep on this expedition (particularly thanks to a few people last night putting into my head the images of being savaged by deer or badgers!). The MP3 player could get a whole night of use. I could even achieve listening to all 14 parts of Bob’s TGOC back to back!

Toiletries kit: for a single night close to home I could be a minger and omit the too toothbrush and I could do without the contacts and mirror by wearing my glasses instead.

First Aid Kit: arguably mainly unnecessary in the circumstances and awfully depleted at the moment, but I’ll take it anyway so that I feel like I’m being vaguely responsible (note, the first aid kit contains my pen-knife).

Compass and whistle: both could be omitted. The backpack has a built in whistle, and given that I know the area where I plan to go, it’s unlikely that I’ll need the compass. But, being blonde and female and considering the possibility of nigh-time walking, it is perhaps wise to take it. I’ll shove an A4 print out of a map into my pocket, but I don’t think that that will add any weight that the scales would pick up.

Now fingers crossed for tomorrow’s good weather forecast to be maintained and for all other circumstances that could conspire against me to be on my side.

Don't Close The Competition Yet John!

Earlier this year, John Hee announced a hip-pack competition with the stated aim of finding ‘the most successful outdoor use of the smallest bag & lightest load for successfully completing a single wildcamp over night by the end of September 2007.’

A couple of days ago John announced the competition to be a bit of a failure; with a last minute entry seeming unlikely, it was to be closed without a winner.

Now, despite the fact that it was only a couple of months ago that I declared that I could not possibly contemplate a night out of doors without a tent (Husband always gets worried when I make such definite statements; they’re almost always followed swiftly by a total change of mind), John’s post has caused me to realise that it’s nearly the end of September and I’ve not tried out my Alpkit Hunka yet.

So, perhaps it’s the competitive element in me, or perhaps it is just that I want to try out the bivvy bag before winter sets in, or perhaps it’s just that I haven’t been camping for - oooh - a good few weeks now. Whatever the reason, serious contemplation is being given to a very lightweight night out this weekend.

Yesterday’s tentative plan of tonight being the night has been somewhat scuppered by a damp start to the day and a forecast for rain tonight (I most definitely will not be following this plan through if there’s a hint of rain). However, tomorrow’s forecast isn’t looking bad.

Of course, dry at this time of year tends to mean cold, but cold I can deal with (albeit at a slightly heavier weight than would have been required for a warm summer night).

I’m now just off to the kit room to put a heap (or a very small pile) of kit together to see what it looks like and how light it would be.

More to follow…

Wednesday 26 September 2007

New Toys!

Yesterday Postie tried to deliver a couple of the items that I ordered last week. Alas, it was either not the usual Postie or he’d forgotten the nice arrangement we had, because he didn’t leave the parcel in the shed nor did he sign for the ‘Signed for…’ item on my behalf.

So, this morning started with a trip to the Sorting Office (which is no longer on my way to work in that I’m no longer employed).

The Tibetan Titanium 900 Pot was the first out of its packaging.

As I suspected it would be (being so much lighter than my MSR Kettley Thing) it is made of very thin titanium and it’s quite easy to flex the walls around the top of it. But, it looked like it would be fine for my purposes – just so long as the Bushbuddy would fit inside of it.

Alas, despite my careful measurements pre-purchase, the Bushbuddy didn’t fit. Measuring the pot it turns out that rather than being the advertised 4 inches tall*, it’s actually only 3.75 inches. Only a quarter of an inch out, but in this case size does most definitely matter. If the Bushbuddy isn’t going to fit inside the pot with the lid on, then there’s no advantage over my existing Kettley Thing. [*If you click on the link now, you'll see it advertised as 3.75 inches - they sent me a very nice email apologising for the error and have now corrected it.]

So, a trip was made into the village to mail it back. I did consider buying the 1100 pot instead (and nearly got sidetracked by a collapsable mug whilst I was browsing), but that’s just too big to use as a mug and I don’t want to have to carry a separate mug, so for the moment I’ll stick with what I’ve got (phew, the retail embargo remains almost intact!).

Next out of the packaging were the waterproof overmitts from Terra Nova, purchased for £12.50 in their sale. I’d nearly popped up to Alfreton on Friday to pick them up in person, as their £4.50 P&P charge was making me gulp. However, the thought of Friday afternoon traffic on the A38 and the time it would take me to get there was enough to make me fork out the charge (maybe they could reduce their costs, and thus the charge, by not sending the goods in one envelope and the receipt separately?)

There’s not an awful lot to say about a pair of GoreTex mitts, other than that I did get the sizing right. It is a pity that they were only available in red – I’ll be clashing nicely again when I’m wearing them in my Orange Velez smock.

I made it back from my postal-related excursions to be in when Postie arrived today with the Alpkit headtorch that I ordered yesterday. This one is not in breach of the retail embargo, rather it’s a present for my mother, who likes to take a headtorch with her when staying anywhere away from home.

Her existing, somewhat antiquated, model eats batteries so when yesterday she went to use it and once again found the batteries flat, I decided that it must be better to have something half the size which will save more than its purchase price in reduced battery consumption.

The Alpkit model isn’t one that I would choose for my own purposes (it’s a little on the cumbersome side when compared to my little Petzl Tikka Plus) but it looks like it will do the job nicely for Ma. And, at only £5 (including P&P) it seems to be rather good value for money.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Random Thoughts

Running on the Chase - As we were to be travelling past Cannock Chase this morning, we thought that we would take the opportunity to take a run there. It certainly beat the usual route around the village streets. The heather and fern (well and truly dying off now), coupled with needing to look where the feet were going (contrasted with the predictability of pavements) kept my mind off what I was doing (i.e. gasping for breath). Such was the distraction that for the first time ever I managed to run the whole way up one particular hill.

We didn’t go far and weren’t there for long (time constraints rather than just pure laziness), but it was a good start to the day.

The fog had even burned off by the time we finished, covering us in glorious sunshine.

As I drive through the Chase a few times a week, it’s something that I really ought to do more often.

Shropshire Hills vs. Work - I have two working days to go before I leave my life of sitting behind a desk. In the five and a half years that I’ve worked for my current employer, I have never yet worked on a weekend.

I’m currently torn between going for a walk in the Shropshire Hills tomorrow (the preferred option) or going to work (the sensible option so that I can leave everything in order).

The sensible side of me also says that in two weeks time we can go and walk in Shropshire in the middle of the week, which is surely preferable to a Sunday?

The decision will be made in the morning.

Retail Embargo – Not Going Well - The enforced retail embargo that accompanies the leaving of my job could be adjudged to have had a bad week – except that I have a good excuse.

Magic money!

That is money that one did not expect to receive and which one is thus permitted to spend frivolously.

Not that I would necessarily call frivolous a titanium pot that will fit the Bushbuddy inside, nor the waterproof overmitts that will further assist the cold hand problem (buffalo mitts are made of magic, but I think that waterproof overmitts will assist further).

National Trust - We have also this week joined the National Trust, by way of an early anniversary present. The plan was that it will mainly be used to save on parking fees, but we may also have a stint of visiting grand houses and browsing their grounds. Apparently our membership card will arrive within 6 weeks. In the meantime, we’ve got a ‘temporary card’ that we were able to print from the website, which will last for 4 weeks. Anyone spot the potential issue with their timescales there?

Thursday 20 September 2007

The Tent - She Is On Her Way...

I was today talking to my boss, who is based in the USA.

With excellent timing, whilst I was talking to him, someone went and put a parcel on his desk. That parcel was from Stephenson's Warmlite.

Yep, just four weeks after ordering, the tent has been delivered.

He's over here the week after next, so not long to wait for it.

I will try to resist making the first detailed inspection of it in the office - particularly as I won't be employed there by then!

Wednesday 19 September 2007

This One's For Mike (You Know Who You Are...)

This Saturday is the day of the Pumlumon Challenge, a 25 mile challenge walk in mid-Wales.

A couple of months or so ago, I accidentally strayed onto the Challenge website and forwarded a link to Husband; he in turn shared it with a few people with whom he works. Along with some others, we thought that it would be a good idea to take part and I fully intended to post our entries that week.

However, our entry forms didn’t get posted that week and then we got overtaken by events and then other plans were made for the weekend in question.

Although we were rather remiss in not entering, Mike (who has taken part in the last 3 Keswick to Barrow Walks too) was not. He’s now doing the walk on his lonesome.

As things have turned out, the plans for this weekend have been cancelled and there is absolutely no reason why we couldn’t have been speeding (?!) though the Pumlumon area this Saturday (I may have even whinged a bit less than I did on the K2B walk!).

So, to Mike I apologise for not joining in the team spirit and taking part – and moreover, I wish you best of luck for the day. I hope the weather’s spot on, the bogs are dry and contrary to the theory of circular walks that there’s less uphill than down!

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Still Summer?

For those of you who hadn't noticed, today was 18 September.

In my version of how the seasons run (which may be marginally warped) that still counts as summer.

At 6.35 this morning, I left the house to go to work ... and found that my windscreen was completely iced up! I'm not talking about a bit of friendly white frost of the sort that the scraper will soon deal with. This was full-on chip-it-off frozen water.

Really, it's 18 September. And this is the Midlands. It's too early for frosts like that!

Monday 17 September 2007

A Walk In the Northern Rhinogau

[I apologise for the attrocious formatting in this post. It was fine before I published it, and I've twice editted it to put it right, yet as soon as I hit 'publish' it reverts this state. Anyone know why it's doing that?]

We were in Barmouth this weekend. Having walked from there quite a lot (the bonus of having accommodation available to us there), all of the options for day walks from the doorstep have long since been exhausted, so we were going to travel a little to find a walk for this weekend. A quick survey of the three local maps (Cadair, Bala and Snowdon) on Friday night had us identify a few peaks on the ridge of the northern Rhinogau as our objectives for Saturday.

Saturday dawned a clear day in Barmouth:

My breakfast-time view

Looking to the South: that's Cadair Idris under the cloud on the left

We finally got ourselves moving in the direction of Trawsfynydd, where we parked on the south side of the llyn. Walking up the right hand fork of the lanes, we had good views over the llyn to the old nuclear powerstation beyond:

We weren't too long on the lane before we headed up a stony path between stone walls, which in time gave way to boggy fields. Much bog, water and mud (for me, boots were definitely the best option for this one!) were yomped through until we reached the protrusion of Moel y Gyrafolen, where we engaged in a tiny scramble to get ourselves up the first shoulder, before we engaged our moto of 'why take the easy route when you can go straight up' and made our way up a somewhat steep slope onto the top itself.

Dropping off the top of Moel y Gyrafolen, we were soon heading up Diffwys, where I realised that the geology of this area is fascinating (or at least, it facinated me; I concede that this isn't necessarily the same thing). There were big slabs of stone, some of which contained protruding lines of quartz:

And the broken-off cubes of stone (oh I'm just so technical with my geological terms...) caught my interest too:

Slightly further on on Diffwys (this is the northern Diffwys btw, not the top by the same name further south in the Rhinogau) we caught a good view of the estuary and sea to the north-west:

Looking further to the east, Snowdon was obscured by cloud.

Getting to the top of Foel Penolau was interesting, and perhaps ill-advisedly, I entrusted the camera to Husband:

Does my arse look big in this?
Spot the Gayle E Bird in the too-dark shot
Then, of course, once we were at the top (yet more stunning views) we had to find a way back down. That could have been a bit tricky in poor visibility, and easiest route down only became obvious to us when we got to the next top:

Next, we popped up to the top of Moel Ysgyfarnogod - but we didn't stay too long on that one for it was a bit on the breezy side and a little nippy in that breeze.

One more (unnamed) top was taken in before we dropped down to the moody looking Llyn Du (what is it with the Rhiogau and duplicating names? This isn't the same Llyn Du next to which we've camped a couple of times further south):

At that point I decided that my knees had had enough of a battering for one day and we decided to drop back down into the valley and head back towards Trawsfynydd. A boulder field and a particularly steep heather covered incline (just waiting to break an ankle with its hidden stones and dips) stood in our way, but we made our way down it regardless, followed by a hard-going walk through thigh high grass which hid all sorts of obstacles itself.
A couple of stream crossings and more bog saw us reach the old mill and the farm buildings, from where it was just a hop, skip and a jump along a track to the road. At this point, looking back we saw two people walking in our general direction - the only thing remarkable about that being that there were the only two people that we saw all day.
Such stunning terrain and scenery (sorry, none of the other photos did the view justice), and yet it appears to be so seldom trodden.

'Twas a good and varied day, with everything that a good day in the hills demands - fine weather, good views, geological features, interesting terrain: rocky outcrops and terraces, mud, bog, long grass, a boulder field, thick heather and a llyn or two.
It was right up there in my rankings of good walks. I highly recommend it.
The only thing that marginally marred the day was that somebody (in a 'me' sort of way) forgot to pick up lunch, so the day was fuelled by six muesli bars that I happened to have knocking around the car. Still, it wasn't as distressing as the camping trip (at the other Llyn Du) when we had the water boiling before I realised that I'd forgotten the tea bags!

Sunday 16 September 2007

Holding Post - This Weekend

Wow - what an excellent walk we took yesterday, in the Rhinogau.

If we were making 'best walks' awards, this one would certainly score very highly in many different categories.

Now that I've finished whittering on about last weekend, details will follow...

Weekend in Keswick - Sunday

If you’ve never been to the Flock-in tea shop at Yew Tree Farm in Rosthwaite, then I would recommend that you pop in the next time that you’re in the area. Their small and simple menu is very tasty and they also sell Borrowdale Herdwick Lamb, vacuum packed, for you to take home and enjoy at your leisure.

Our original plan for Sunday involved a trip to Rosthwaite with the purpose of buying some of the excellent lamb, and we had thought that whilst we were in that area we would pop up Haystacks.

Having unthinkingly done the Haystacks walk on Friday, we needed to find a different reason to be in Rosthwaite on Sunday. Fancying a low level and short route (so that we could journey on home at a reasonable hour), a quick consideration of the map gave the obvious plan of walking along the Cumbria Way to just-before-Grange, then walking back along the Allerdale Ramble route via Seatoller and back to Rosthwaite. As that route goes straight past Castle Crag it would have been rude not to pop up it whilst we were there.

We set out sufficiently early from Rosthwaite that the paths were empty. The only people we met before Castle Crag were a couple out dog-walking. Oh, and the group of campers who we guessed were not there legally (and the scar of the fire they’d had, plus the beer cans lying around gave us the, perhaps unfair, impression that they wouldn’t make a good job of cleaning up after themselves).

Our jaunt up Castle Crag was most pleasant and the summit surprised me, as it looks from the approach from Grange as if the views will be completely obscured by trees. That is far from the case and for such a little protrusion it certainly boasts some fine views.

Our sojourn on the top was shared by a photography group (who for a while seemed more intent on reporting home via their mobile phones than they did on their sizeable collections of camera equipment), however, I was soon distracted from that when Husband won a few ticks in the good books when he pulled two surprise Tunnocks Caramel Wafer bars from his bag. He’s getting good at producing surprise chocolate treats from his bag when I least expect them.

Making our way back down, we heard before we saw the group of twenty or so ramblers. There must be something about a big group that causes such an exaggeration of volume. Perhaps it’s self perpetuating in that everyone has to talk louder to be heard over everyone else, or perhaps it’s just the element of sharing banter with someone who is fifty yards ahead of you. Either way, they made their approach known and we were glad to have enjoyed our time on the top before they arrived.

The rest of the route into Seatoller was reasonably unremarkable, but alas, the good weather was not to last, and on this section the ominous sky decided to deliver a bit of drizzle onto us and the sky showed no promise of brightening back up again.

From Seatoller a couple of backpackers at the riverside made me jealous as they broke out their stove and kettle for a cup of tea (although after passing them by, I did have to question why backpackers would take a separate kettle with them, in addition to a collection of pans – for this couple did have a proper kettle on the go, plus a couple of pans in evidence; now, even if you’re not a believer in lightweight, why would you take a separate kettle when you already have pans?).

From the number of people on the path between Seatoller and Rosthwaite, and particularly the number of people who were clutching guide books, we had to surmise that I had chosen a route that also features in one of the main guidebooks. Unsurprising really as the route does rather leap off the map as being an obvious 5 or 6 mile, low level, easily accessible walk.

Back in Rosthwaite lunch was enjoyed in the Flock-in (half pints of tea chosen over the pint size mugs – another virtue of this tea room), and we left clutching our bag of lamb to take home.

And then home was the destination. It had been three excellent days of walking in good weather. You can’t ask for more than that, can you?

Friday 14 September 2007

Weekend in Keswick - Saturday

Last year we found some of my father’s old maps which he had marked with routes that we had walked and the dates upon which we had walked them. From one of those maps, I know that I walked up Blencathra on 28 May 1985.

Of all the hills up which we walked on family holidays in the Lakes, there are only two that I remember: Helvellyn and Blencathra. I do recall little snippets of other days out walking, but those are the only hills of which I have any detailed recollection.

Blencathra holds a particular place in my memory as there was one particular shiny slab on Sharp Edge, across which my short legs could not stretch and on which my trainers could find no purchase, which caused my mother to finally relent against the ‘but her feet will grow out of them within a few weeks’ argument and buy me my first pair of walking boots.

By way of a nostalgia trip, I wanted to go back to Blencathra to see if it was as I remembered. It having been a fine day the first time I went up there, I wanted to replicate the conditions too. With the forecast being good and the early morning sky showing promise, Saturday was the chosen day.

The early morning cloud was well into the burning off process as we set out from Scales. By the time we got over the first rise, revealing the view of Sharp Edge and the summit, the cloud was gone completely. It was a blue skied day and glorious.

Sharp Edge viewed from Scales Tarn, and Scales Tarn itself were exactly as I recalled (sad as it is, I can even remember the conversation we had as a family at Scales Tarn 22 years ago!).

We had been playing leapfrog with a group of three people all the way up to this point (we were walking more slowly but they kept stopping), and as we dallied by the tarn to don windproofs (there may have been blue skies, but there was a bit of a stiff breeze) more people trooped on up to the area and it looked like we were going to be in the middle of a whole line of people once we got onto Sharp Edge.

As it went, everyone else hung back, as if waiting for someone else to go first, and we were more than willing to be at the front of the queue.

Positively scampering up, I did nearly scare myself when I looked down from one of the more exposed areas, but a quick mental talking-to calmed the jitters and I was soon distracted when we reached the shiny slab that caused the purchase of my first pair of boots. I recognised it immediately and quickly grabbed a photo of it (a photo that would make sense to no-one but me).

Climbing up the final, steeper part, of the ridge, I just managed to get a good photo looking back before the cloud blew back in, completely obscuring the summit.

The summit ridge was somewhat breezy (in a staggering around sort of way) and in the newly collected cloud pretty parky too, so no-one was staying for too long on the summit (particularly the fell runner who ran up, touched the cairn and ran off again).

The entire ridge was walked, with not a single view to be seen. We finally dropped below the cloud half way back down to Threlkeld (and what a lovely day it still was in the valley), then just as we were about to branch off the path that led down to Threlkeld, to cut back across towards Scales, a man whose sandwiches were under threat from the local sheep population pointed out that the top was again clear. Not a cloud was seen obscuring the summit for the rest of the walk. Sod’s law eh? Glorious on the way up, glorious again once down, but not a thing to be seen whilst up there.

Hey ho. Maybe we’ll pop back up there again one day, and get to see the views. In the meantime, I'm happy enough that I saw, in good conditions, all of the bits of the hill that I remembered ... and not only did my boots find purchase on the 'bad slab' but my legs are now long enough to step over it too!

[Photos to follow next week when I have time to upload them.]

Thursday 13 September 2007

Too Little Time!

I've not yet finished talking about the hills of last weekend, and tomorrow I'm off in the direction of more mountains, this time in Wales.

I'm sure I'll catch up with myself sometime next week.

In the meantime, a few photos have been added to the post below (belated recollection that I can do photos now!).

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Weekend In Keswick - Friday

The first task of the day was to part with wads of cash in exchange for walking boots.

Husband was under strong advice from the podiatrist to get some supportive footwear to assist with his strange-feet problem and although I’m still persisting with my lightweight shoe experiments, my cold-footed problem means that I definitely need a nice warm and dry boot for some applications. With my last pair unsuitable for winter, a new pair was in order.

Over an hour of the fitters time was taken up, at the end of which we both walked away happy, although the bit of my spec that referred to lightweight seemed to go entirely out of the window when I found that the comfiest pair in the shop (and really, I tried on most of them) were far from the lightest. Some people reading this would be horrified at how much they weigh (in fact, if I think about it too much, I’m horrified – but comfort rules!)

The plan, with boots bought, was to take them for a short valley walk in the afternoon. However, we found ourselves with the best part of the day to play with so it seemed rude not to take in a hill or two.

With a need to pop over to Rosthwaite on Sunday, we’d vaguely thought that we might go and have a look at what all the fuss about Haystacks was about whilst we were in that direction. However, forgetting that that was Sunday’s plan, we found ourselves there on Friday afternoon instead.

Out we set from a lay-by just below the YHA on Honister Pass, and up the main track from the mines. The initial quietness of the path soon gave way to a veritable convoy of people further on. I don’t mind busy areas – provided that I’m in them at quiet times of day!
Innominate Tarn looking a bit blurry (equipment operator error!)
The top of Haystacks would have been better for having a dozen less people and million less flying beasties on it, but still we lingered a while having lunch and enjoying the views of the valleys, even if the tops were obscured and the forecast wall to wall sunshine seemed far from showing itself.

Glancing at the map, a route via Brandreth and Grey Knotts looked like the obvious route back to the car and thus we soon left the busy path – being followed by the two people behind us until they realised their error and returned to it at the first opportunity. We found ourselves blissfully by ourselves for the next half an hour or so, and saw very few people for the rest of the day.
How did that boulder get there?
Brandreth turned out to be horribly uninspiring. If we ever find ourselves with 213 Wainwrights under our belts, we will have to go back to go to the summit proper, as we couldn’t quite find the enthusiasm in the bleak greyness of that top to detour over to the summit.

However, this did mark the point where the sun finally won against the cloud. Wow! What a fantastic afternoon to be out!

From Grey Knotts, a rather precipitous route was taken directly back down to the mines. Certainly a good test of Husband’s knee, and one that it coped with admirably.

Not a long day in terms of mileage, but we took our time over it and had a splendid time was had in what turned out to be a glorious afternoon.

And the boots? Very comfy indeed.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Weekend in Keswick - The Prelude

This was a rearranged camping/walking weekend with a number of colleagues and ex colleagues.

I was the one that pulled out of the original trip back in June, so everyone kindly agreed to rearrange for the weekend just gone.

Alas, when I sent out the final details, it turned out that circumstances had conspired against too many people (really, there were some quite impressive reasons why people couldn’t make it; perhaps they just went to extreme lengths to avoid a weekend with us?).

That planned weekend is now being rearranged again for October.

Not to be deterred, for this weekend, Husband and I went on our lonesome.

We’d already planned to stay at Castlerigg Farm, and as it didn’t strike me that we could modify the weekend to a wild camping one until after we had already packed, we went ahead with that plan – hence it was a car camping weekend (and isn’t it amazing that we can spend an entire week backpacking with a total of 15kg between us, and yet for a weekend of car camping we can fill the entire boot of my estate car? Admittedly, Husband did accuse me of being a bit excessive with five pairs of footwear, although in mitigation, one of those was bought whilst there).

Due to a last minute decision to book an extra half day’s holiday from work (combined thought of pitching Big Tent in the dark and a need to balance my time sheet), we managed to squeeze an extra day into the weekend by setting out early on Thursday afternoon.

It felt like we were going on a real holiday, even though it was only to be three and a half days long!

Still, that’s not the interesting stuff. We hadn’t set foot in an outdoor emporium nor on a mountain by that point.

More to follow…

Sunday 9 September 2007

And They're Back - Some Brief Random Thoughts

Top Level Summary of the Weekend – The destination for this long-weekend was Keswick. Three full days spent camping and walking (campsite camping; there was a reason for that). The details in brief: two new pairs of boots (one each); a walk up Haystacks/Brandreth/Grey Knotts; a walk up Blencathra; a walk around Borrowdale; good weather. A top time was had. It felt like a proper holiday even though it was only a few days long.

More detail to follow.


TGO Magazine – The latest issue arrived last Thursday, just in time to take with us. A few very good articles in there this month, I thought. I was almost getting disheartened after the apparent lack of content over the last couple of months. Faith has been restored.

Google Analytics – [for the benefit of people who aren’t familiar with Google Analytics: This is the clever thing that tells me how many people have looked at this blog (except that it misses a few visits out for no apparent reason), where they are from (or some made up place that is nowhere near where they’re from – it doesn’t seem to be very accurate on that score), and how they got here. In the ‘how they got here’ category, I can also see the details of the searches on Google that have led people here.]

Every now and then a Google Search shows up that has my mind boggling as to what I’ve said that could possible have caused a match.

This weekend it seems that someone found me by Googling ‘Shooting in Whittle in September 2007’. Hmmm, not a subject that I recall talking about at any length…

Obviously, I had to Google it myself just out of curiosity. I came up as the forth match – thanks to having ‘whittled down’ my list of possible LEJOG routes and having posted in September 2007. I think that I may also have mentioned the shooting activity adjacent to Cannock Chase.

Osprey Talon 22 - We already own 4 Osprey rucksacks between us. I’ve got the Aura 35 and the Aura 50; Husband has the Atmos 25 and the Atmos 50.

Being inconvenienced once again this weekend by my little daysack (CamelBak Daystar – a lovely little sack in the right application) not having anywhere to stow my walking poles and loitering in George Fisher after the boot purchasing activity, I was sorely tempted by the Talon 22.

Fortunately sense prevailed over desire on this occasion and I settled for trying a couple on, just to see which size I would need and drooling a little bit.

Impressive restraint I thought.

V&J’s First Walking Extravaganza - After enthusing about the joys of walking and backpacking to V&J a few weeks ago (see the last three paragraphs here), they have spent the last few weeks amassing gear (and some mighty fine choices have been made, including the heretofore mentioned Talon 22). This week they’ve journeyed off in the direction of the Shropshire hills with that gear to test it out on some day-walks.

I await positive (I hope!) reports back.

Dehydrated Fruit - Pear and banana work very well. This week I tried dehydrating some nectarine (usual scenario of having surplus fruit that was threatening to go off). I’m entirely unconvinced as to the result. It turned out to be rather hard and chewy and tart. I’ll give it another go before I put it into the category of veggie biriyani (sp?) (a previous experiment that we ate out of necessity, but it was the worst dehydrated meal I’ve made so far).

Wiggle Copying Backpackinglight? - I got home today to find that a parcel had arrived from Wiggle. It was my third delivery from them in the last month (I'm not being that extravagant - I returned one item for being the wrong size; this was the replacement). The difference between all previous parcels and this one was that this one included a little packet of gumi-bears. Surely they're just copying Bob & Rose, who have been sending out little packs of sweets for ages?

Thursday 6 September 2007

And They're Off...

...normal service will resume next week.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

The Sudden Inclusion of Photos

No, I’ve not got a new camera. Rather my Mother has finally entered the modern age and got herself a broadband internet connection. In the belief (perhaps even a mistaken one) that inclusion of lots of photos would impede her from reading my ramblings (even loading just text was too much for her dial-up some days), I’d avoided all but the occasional use of very small picture files to date.

So, provided that I find a faster way to do the photo-blogging thing, they may become a more regular feature.

Don’t expect the standards that you see on other blogs (such as here or here), mind. I have not an artistic bone in my body. I don’t do arty shots (or if I do it’s entirely an accident) and I don’t have any impressive equipment. The main feature that led me to choose our current camera was that it weighs only 104g.

I make no apology, however, that I am firmly one of the point and click brigade; in the realms of snap-shots just to illustrate where we've been, I'm happy that these pictures do the job.

Monday 3 September 2007

Sunday On The Chase

Continuing our recent run of good luck with walking weather, Sunday dawned with a clear blue sky.

We soon ruined the weather by the application of high factor of sun cream, but despite the gathering clouds the sky still held promise of staying dry and it was warm out.

We perhaps should have gone out to explore somewhere new, maybe even being so radical as to pop up the road to the Peak District, but in the end laziness won over and we opted to just pop over to Cannock Chase.

For a bit of variety, we journeyed over to the north side of the Chase, to a place called Punch Bowl. Whilst we’ve not set out from there before, we’re reasonably familiar with the area, having walked through many times after we’ve already completed the 20 mile walk from home.

Off we set without a plan (having walked the area so extensively, there’s not a single marked right of way that we haven’t already explored), adopting instead an approach of wandering aimlessly. At the second junction of paths we shunned the four main-path options and took a little trail uphill. From there, every time we got to a junction we just chose at random.

(Our journey along these seldom trodden minor paths was peppered with ‘potential campsite there’ comments. It’s all the fault of that John Hee, you know. Even though I professed earlier in the year that I wouldn’t even entertain an entry into his hip-pack competition, the thought has made its way into the back of my mind. The Chase would be a convenient location to try out the bivvy bag and thus every suitable bit of ground was being considered. And there’s just so much fuel around for the Bushbuddy…)

Inevitably, such a lax wandering approach, without any attention paid to map and compass, led after an hour to us finding that we had just walked in a loop. Even so, we saw some views that we hadn’t seen before,

Fine Views!
we had fun walking down some trails that were so overgrown with fern (above head height) that I kept losing sight of Husband, and some of the inclines we found were certainly getting the blood pumping.

Losing Husband in the overgrown ferns

Oh, and we stumbled across the Millenium Sundial (our experiment with which involved a little bit of guesswork, given that the sun was completely obscured behind a skyful of clouds).

Millennium Sundial (The stones around the edge have roman numerals on them which denote the time; stand on the appropriate month on the slab, see where your shadow lands, add an hour for BST).

Our arrival at another junction for the second time saw us get the compass out and apply a bit more precision to our walk and not long after we arrived at somewhere that we recognised.

Although we recognised it, it looked so different to usual. I then realised that we only generally walk around Cannock Chase between January and May. The swathes of purple heather and huge quantities of fern of late summer is not something I’ve witnessed in recent years (and already the tips of the fern is beginning to die off and some of the trees are changing colour).

The high ferns also turned out to be the answer to the question of where the deer hide in daylight hours. Bashing my way through the greenery, I’m not sure which of us jumped the most when I startled a deer hiding there!

Stepping Stones (library from 4 Feb - I didn't take one this week.)

Lunch at the popular spot of Stepping Stones (so few people out and about on this walk, but there’s still always a few families to be found at Stepping Stones) was marred slightly by the ignoramuses (ignorami?) who had had a party there at some point recently and thought it acceptable to leave the party size disposable barbeques, broken glasses and general detritus underneath one of the tables. Lunch was also marred by the fact that the people on the next table had a full-on picnic whereas we had oatcakes with a tube of vegetable pate. I groaked hard, but the neighbours just weren’t paying heed!

After lunch another reasonably sized loop was executed further to the south. The surroundings were all enjoyable (except for the bit where it sounded like a war had broken out, as we passed by the neighbouring shooting club) but it was with disappointment that I found that the ice cream van wasn’t present at Seven Springs as we passed by. I’d been fantasising about an ice cream for the previous hour!

Except for a few short drizzly spells, the rain held off until we were within half a mile of the car. Excellent timing.

As we have no clue where precisely we walked for the first chunk of the day, I’ve not been able to measure the distance that we covered. Our guess (based on time and pace) was that it was around 9 or 10 miles. Again, not particularly far, but thanks to the short jogette around the village before we went out for the walk, my legs were feeling reasonably exercised by the end of the day.

All being well, next weekend will involve hills. Maybe even reasonably big hills…

[Note: This was my first experiment with putting photos amongst the text. As you'll see, it's not gone incredibly well. I will sort out the formatting, but I've already spent an hour getting increasingly annoyed with it, so that's a job for another day)

Saturday 1 September 2007

LEJOG Plannng - From Falkirk North

I’ve spent a good chunk of today sitting on the floor, surrounded by books and maps, and scratching my head at some length.

Our lack of experience of walking in Scotland (we’re actually supposed to be there right now, coming into the final week of a two and a half week jaunt that was aimed at gaining a bit of experience in the general areas where we are to walk next year) is proving to be something of an impediment to all of this planning. I’m also finding that it’s just not feasible to fit in all of the places in Scotland that I’d like to visit (some of those will have to be reserved for our first TGO Challenge).

The one place that I really want to visit on the walk is the Falkirk Wheel, so thus far I’ve planned a route from the border up to Falkirk.

From Falkirk, the result of all of the head scratching has been a list of five possible routes (albeit some are just minor variations on a theme):

1. Falkirk – Drymen – WHW – Fort William – Glen Affric – Inverlael – Oykel Bridge - Lairg – Kinbrace – Dunnet Head – JOG

2. Falkirk – Drymen – a route east of the WHW via Brig o’Turk, Killin, Bridge of Gaur and Laggan to Fort Augustus – Glen Affric, then as Route 1.

3. Falkirk – Drymen – WHW to Tyndrum – then a route to the east of the WHW to Bridge of Gaur the as Route 2.

4. Falkirk – Kilsyth – Kippen – Callander – Crieff – Aberfeldy – Pitlochry – Blair Atholl – Larig Ghru – Aviemore – Inverness – Dingwall – Oykel Bridge – then per Route 1.

5. Falkirk – Kilsyth – Kippen – Brig o’Turk then as Route 2.

To whittle this list down, it has been a process of elimination.

My starting point was that I didn’t want to include the WHW into our route, so that rules out Route 1.

I really would like to include the Larig Ghru; however, Husband used to live in north east Scotland and has driven up and down the A9 more times than he would care to think about. For that reason, he doesn’t fancy a route that runs up by the A9. So, that rules Route 4 out.

That leaves us with three possibilities, two of which at least touch the West Highland Way (and it just seems a bit counter-intuitive to me to go all the way west to go north when you could just head north west). So, I think that I’ll start by plotting Route 5 and see how it looks. If we don’t like the look of it, then it will be back to the drawing (or plotting) board.