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

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Wednesday 31 December 2008


Looks like I was a little premature in posting The Year in Numbers. When I wrote that I had expected to sit on the sofa for the rest of the year. Of course, I did manage to drag myself off the sofa and up a hill. But, in the grand scheme of things, adding 8.75 more miles, 2500 more feet of ascent and 53 more photos don’t really do much to the figures.

I had good plans of setting 2009 off to a flying start (although we’re unlikely to come anywhere near to 2008’s miles or variety). Alas on my way down from Catbells yesterday my knee said ouch. A few steps later it said OUCH and continued to do so the whole way back to Rosthwaite.

A night of rest didn’t cure it. It still hurts, particularly to walk downstairs.

It goes without saying that I’m wholly unchuffed about sudden knee-poorliness (particularly as I didn’t even do anything to warrant it; there was no stumbling or twisting). I’ve plans to walk a small section of the North Downs Way next Wednesday, so that knee needs to make a rapid recovery!

The Lakes For A Day

The bonus of having had a house full of guests for Christmas was that it forced a serious tidy-up. That meant that when, on Monday night, we belatedly decided to pop up to the Lakes for a couple of days, all of the kit was exactly where it should have been. We were packed in record time.

Early yesterday morning the kit was stowed in the car and in we had got too before I noticed that contrary to the crisp, frosty, clear skied morning I expected, based on the forecast that had led to this quick trip away, it was mild and cloudy. But, we were on our way by then so all I could do was hope that the forecast was holding true ‘up North’.

Sure enough, as we approached the Lakes the misty-gloom started to thin and finally blue sky was seen.

Into the half empty NT car park at Rosthwaite we pulled at just gone 10am, where we sat for twenty minutes sharing a cup of tea and watching the occupants of the fast-filling car park faff around their cars before setting out for their own walks.

After much car boot faffing ourselves, out of the car park we headed and for reasons unknown decided to cross the River Derwent on the perilously icy stepping stones rather than via the bridge a short distance further along.

Up Tongue Gill we headed, already feeling like we were in a procession as a group of five followed us over the stile. The cold weather was enough to entice me into a fast walk up the initial part of the hill, so we soon got ahead of them. In fact, for much of the walk up, as long as we didn’t look back, we could have kidded ourselves that we were almost alone.

Great swathes of ice on the path demanded attention, but in between them we were able to look around to the frosty valley and the clear tops around – exactly what we had come for.

Once up on the ridge we could see lots and lots of people were making their way up High Spy, using the path immediately above Eel Crags. That seemed like a good reason for us to use the path slightly to the east, which, somewhat inexplicably was being universally shunned by others.

By the time we got to the top of High Spy people were sitting all around, reaching for their Thermos Flasks. How was it lunchtime already? I’m not accustomed to these late starts. We didn’t pause for sustenance at this point, although we did dig out the Stickpic for its first proper trial.

PC300031a PC300032a

By the time we got to just before Maiden Moor a slight breeze had picked up and the already cold temperature felt even colder. As we stopped in a sheltered spot of sunshine for our soup I was cool even with my down jacket thrown over my Paramo, and with two hats atop my head.


The walk up the last stretch of Maiden Moor soon got the blood pumping again, and it was as we started down the other side that an ‘Oh my goodness’ escaped me – I had just spotted the spectacle of the top of Catbells, and as I observed yesterday I have never seen so many people on one hilltop.

Fortunately, by the time we got there, many of those people had headed off, and we just had a couple of dozen people with whom to share it. It didn’t make for a desire to tarry there.

The views were spectacular and the ridge ahead did look enticing, but by this point I wasn’t inclined to complete it. It was the length of the valley walk back to the car that was putting me off, so, we retraced our steps a short distance and headed down the stone staircase that has been built there in the name of anti-erosion.

We made it back to Rosthwaite before the Flock-In Tearoom closed and it seemed rude to pass by without popping in for a mug of tea, some of their tasty food and a leg of lamb for Sunday.

The plan had been to camp the night, finally testing out the new tent. But that meant making our way to one of the few campsites open at this time of year, pitching a new tent in the dark, contending with frozen ground, and spending a night in the cold, purely so that we could drive home in the morning – all of which was weighed against the option of a nice warm bed at home. The warm bed won and so the new tent remains untested.

The stats were 8.75 miles and 2500 feet of ascent. Six hours driving for five hours of walking – but worthwhile given the spectacularly good conditions.

Here’s the day in pictures:

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Many People, all in one place

I do believe that today I saw more people on one hilltop than I have ever seen before.

That may be because we have a bit of a habit of visiting hilltops in poor visibility and thus even if there were hoards of people surrounding us, we wouldn’t see them. Or maybe the poor weather puts people off.

Today we had fantastic weather. Indeed, it was purely on the basis that the forecast looked too good not to go for a walk that we got up at an early hour and drove for 3 hours to amble along a ridge that has long been on my ‘want to walk it’ list.

Apparently everyone else in Britain who owns a pair of walking shoes had thought the same thing. Great minds think alike.

More to follow…


Hmm, is that a halo around my head?

Monday 29 December 2008

The Year in Numbers


Number of miles walked:


(and that’s not rounded; my log shows 1800.2 miles)

Number of feet ascended:


(that is rounded and is only approximate)

Number of photographs resulting:


(oooh, that looks like a made up number too; it’s not)

Number of summits visited:

a paltry


Number of nights spent in a tent:


13 in Wendy, 70 in Vera, 2 in Midi Tent

Number of words blogged via the tiny Pocketmail keyboard whilst walking LEJOG:


Number of words contained in my book of the year’s walks:


which equates to 219 A4 pages

Number of walks that I just realised I omitted from the compilation:





Wednesday 24 December 2008

The Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Were empties and buts left around by some louse
And the best bottles I’d hid in the chimney with care
Had been swiped by some bum who’d found them down there

My guest had long since been poured in their beds
To wake in the morning with some gosh awful heads
My wife too was cold with her chin in her lap
And me, I was dying for just one more night cap

When out on the lawn there arose such a tizzy
I sprang from my bed, and boy, was I dizzy?
Away to the window I tore like a flash
Fell over the table, broke a chair with a crash

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
Made me think of the coal bill and all I did owe
When what to my wondering eyes did show up
But eight bloated reindeer hitched to a beer truck

With a little old driver who looked like a hick
But I saw it was Santa as tight as a tick
Like General Grant tanks those reindeer they came
And he hiccoughed and belched as he called them by name

‘On Schenley, on Seagram, we ain’t got all night
You too Haig and Haig, and you Black and White
Scram up on the roof, get off this high wall,
Get going you dummies, we’ve got a long haul’

So up on the roof went reindeer and truck
But a tree branch hit Santa before he could duck
And then in a twinkle I heard from above
A heck of a noise that was no cooing dove

Then I pulled in my head and cocked a sharp ear
Down the chimney he came right smack on his rear
He was dressed in furs and had cuffs on his pants
And the way the guy squirmed I guess he had ants

His droll little mouth made him look a bit wacky
And the beard on his chin was stained in tobaccy
He had pints and shorts in the sack on his back
And a breath that would blow a train off its track

He was chubby and plump and he tried to stand right
But he didn’t fool me, he was high as a kite
He spoke not a work but went straight to work
And missed half the stockings, the plastered old jerk

Then putting five fingers to the end of his nose
He gave me the bird and up the chimney he rose
He sprang to his truck and slid on his face
And finally managed to flip flop in place

And I heard him burp ‘ere as he passed out of sight
‘Merry Christmas to you all, and to all a Good Night’

With thanks to the copyright owner, whoever that may be (and in the extraordinarily unlikely event that copyright owner stumbles across this blog and objects to me reproducing it, I'll happily remove it).

Merry Christmas!

Sunday 21 December 2008

Day 2 Addendum: The Stats

Forgot to say, stats for Day 2 were 11 miles with 1500 feet of ascent.

Rhinogau Bogs and Fog: Day 2

I said ‘to be continued’ as if something else interesting was going to happen – which was a bit misleading.

I slept a lot better than I expected (which wasn’t too difficult given that I hadn’t expected to sleep at all), and arose in the morning to find that the rain had stopped, the wind had dropped and I was enclosed in a blanket of cloud.

Darkness and dense cloud don't make for a good photo. 'Fraid that there weren't any more from the day either.

In the poor visibility, it looked like the day was going to be a bit of a navigation exercise, with the first mile or so across rough, pathless terrain.

With compass in hand, off I yomped into the gloom, over crags and through bog and heather and bilberry, the latter two nicely concealing boulders and holes which are just lying in wait to break an ankle. I took as much care as I could, but in the dampness a few slips were unavoidable – and it was wholly predictable that I did at one point temporarily lose a leg in a hole.

It was, I think, as much luck as judgement that I reached the valley bottom exactly where I intended to, next to a boarded-up building from where it was but a hop, skip and a slip to the track which runs along the valley.

Things nearly went awry when I reached a junction of tracks at the edge of the forest. I was so sure that I needed to turn right, yet my compass told me that was 180 degrees away from the bearing I had taken. Ooops - worse than a schoolboy error: when I’d taken the bearing I had been holding the map in the direction of travel – or to put that another way, I had the map upside down! At least I realised that something was awry before I took a step in the wrong direction.

Being now on good tracks, mainly-visible paths and the occasional stretch of road, things got easier; all I had to do was make sure that I spotted the turns and then preferably follow them in the right direction – something which would have been simplicity itself had the descent seen me drop below the cloud such that I could see which way was up. As it went, that low cloud turned out to be more a case of fog: even when I arrived back at sea level a few hours later, visibility was curtailed.

I’m not quite sure when the race for the 12.49 train started. It had been in my mind when I set out that I may make it back for that train but my intention had been to get the later one. Sometime later it occurred to me that the walk back would not take me vastly longer than the time available to make the early departure and that with the next train being 2 hours later, I would be somewhat stuck for something to do. There’s only so long one can spend browsing in Woolworths and drinking a cup of tea in the only café open out of season.

About half way through the morning I decided conclusively that I wouldn’t cover the distance in the time available and slowed down from the punishing pace I'd been setting.

But, then it played on my mind that I would find myself with over an hour to kill in an out-of-season seaside town and that there was no point taking a circuitous route or passing slowly over the terrain when I couldn’t see anything anyway. So, the sprint continued and I modified my route (track and road, rather than paths over a lump) so as to maximise my chances of getting home 2 hours earlier and enjoying some of the journey in daylight.

With the best part of 4 miles to cover and under an hour available I really didn’t think that I would make it, but continued to race along anyway. If nothing else, it was good aerobic exercise.

The outcome was that I reached town with time to dash into a shop for a bottle of water and made it to the (busy) platform with enough time to stow my poles on my pack (the other outcome was that two days later I still ache quite considerably from the effort!). No sooner had I straightened up from my pack when up trundled the train and on I got, attracting the odd glance from the well-dressed ladies who had no doubt been in town for the draw of market day. Perhaps I did look a little bit out of place with my dreadful hat hair (something that I didn’t notice until some hours later) and with mud adorning my trousers up to mid-thigh.

The journey home was uneventful and there I arrived some five and a half hours later in a state of extreme tiredness (a combination of the relentless pace I’d set followed by a long journey, me thinks), but happy with what I had achieved.

And the all-important question: would I go solo again for a night on the hills? Absolutely, I would.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Rhinogau Bogs and Fog: Day 1

I was on the platform at Wolverhampton Station by 6.35 (thanks to my sister getting up at an unaccustomedly early hour to drive me), with a cup of tea clutched in my hand and my backpack at my feet, ready for the first train to Machynlleth.

Six people shared the blissfully quiet carriage with me, and after a change at Mac, it was in the company of stunning scenery along the mouths of the Dyfi and the Mawddach that we trundled along to arrive in Barmouth on time.

View from the train window as we make our way along the mouth of the River Dyfi

My first port of call was the Co-op for some flowers, snacks and lunch and after de-stemming the flowers at a bin outside of the supermarket doors (watched with interest by the person who had just served me), I started huffing and puffing my way up Dinas Oleu.

The flowers were left at my father’s memorial (once I’d put it back together; it had been taken apart by sheep since my last visit), and now that I had two hands free out came my poles: I do so prefer to be a quadruped!

Fine, if a little hazy as I look up the Mawddach

All was quiet at the climbing slab as I passed on by, glowing with the effort and enjoying the sunshine. It was obvious, looking at the dark clouds ahead, that the good weather wasn’t going to last and I could see that much of the ridge was in cloud.

Cloud covering the ridge ahead

Despite having made the same direct, pathless ascent up onto the ridge twice before, my memory had made it shorter than reality. My memory had also made the ridge much flatter than it is. Some of the undulations up there are really quite violent, as I was soon reminded.

Approaching the most violent descent-to-reascend on the ridge

Although the views were curtailed, it was a bonus that I didn’t get up into the cloud until the latter parts of my walk. By the time I approached Diffwys, however, not only was visibility severely limited, but the wind had picked up (as forecast) and I was passing patches of snow.

The occasional gap in the cloud allows me a fleeting glimpse of the ground below me

A while later I lost all shelter and caught the full force of the wind. Unfortunately, that was just as I came to the place at which I planned to camp. Looking over the wall it was to the sight of the tiny llyn boasting quite a sea-state, with spray being blown off the tops of the waves.

I didn't think to take a photo on this occasion, but here's how benign the llyn looks on a calm summer's day

Once over the wall (via a stile further along the ridge, I should add) my pack was plonked down just as my phone went beep. It was a text message from Mick telling me that it was 3pm, night would soon fall and that I needed to be inside a tent with a cup of tea, not still walking.

I didn’t respond. Instead it seemed like the best order of events was to descend the killer-hillside a short way to a trickle of a stream to gather some water whilst I still had good light, then pitch the tent and get myself settled, before reassuring Mick that I was not floundering around in the dark.

It all started to go awry when I put the tent up and found that even with the shelter of a wall, it was too windy for comfort. The tent was moving around like a blancmange on a wobble board and although I had every faith that it could withstand the wind once I had it properly pitched, it didn’t seem conducive to a good night’s sleep.

It was 3.30 by this time, and a quick calculation told me that I had no more than one hour of daylight remaining. What to do? There clearly wasn’t enough time to get down to Llyn Hywel, where I could have had a good pitch with good shelter. I ruled out a quick descent down the west side of the ridge on account of the wind direction and there was nowhere within an hour’s walk back the way I had come that sprang to mind as a suitable and sheltered pitch.

That left just two choices: to stay where I was and try to find the best position for the tent, or descend quickly down the east side of the hill and take my chances that there would be a tiny patch of bog- and tussock-free terrain down there. Without the luxury of time available to me for dithering, by 3.35 I had the tent packed back away and, trying not to get blown off the edge, I made a swift descent.

It was a bit of an inadvisable route, really, considering the steepness. I lost 400 feet in 200 yards and then found that when the ground did level out it was, as suspected, all bog and tussocks or heather and boulders.

There’s nowt like a bit of adversity in failing daylight to make a trip more interesting, is there?

On I ploughed, covering the ground as fast as my little legs could carry me, searching the whole time for just the smallest bit of ground exhibiting a modicum of dryness and levelness.

Finally, at 4.30 the progression of dusk was making it difficult to see and it was clear that I wasn’t going to find the elusive dry and level patch. However, with the onset of desperation, it’s amazing how I was able to convince myself that a small slither of flatness between tussocks was big enough to accommodate my small frame and thus I threw the tent up on the most ridiculously tussocked ground on which I have ever camped.

The only virtue of the pitch was that it was reasonably dry, but it was far and away the worst pitch ever.

Make no mistake: the ground under the tent is no less lumpy than that around it!

No point crying over spilt milk. I was where I was, needs must, and all those other good clichés. Into the tent I crawled – having a good giggle at the immense lumps in the floor.

A bit of wriggling around did reveal the Gayle-sized flat ground that had attracted me to the spot and I was content that I wouldn’t be having a wildly uncomfortable night.

With dark now fully upon me, I set out my kit, crawled into my sleeping bag and within five minutes of having pitched, it started to rain. What fortuitous timing!

With tea eaten I settled down for the night, realising that the expected terror had not materialised; I was not in the slightest bit concerned about monsters and bogeymen patrolling outside of the tent. I was a good mile away from the nearest path reassuring me that no-one was going to stumble across me and there weren’t even any animals around to make scary noises. The only sounds I could hear were the gurgling of the nearby stream and the wind hitting the tent.

And to those sounds, a couple of podcasts and an audio book, I drifted off to sleep.

The stats for the day were 9.25 miles with 3,500 feet of ascent.

To be continued…

Friday 19 December 2008

Rhinogau Bogs and Fog: The Background

Back when I was introducing Mick to the joys of walking, he announced during one Sunday afternoon jaunt that he quite fancied trying backpacking. He liked the idea of multi-day linear walks and self-sufficiency.

I scoffed and declared that “For the avoidance of doubt, I will never go backpacking”. Then I reminded Mick that I whinged enough when carrying a daypack containing just a couple of cagoules, a couple of sandwiches and a couple of bottles of water for a couple of hours and that there was no way that I could ever carry that plus a sleeping bag, stove and such gubbins.

A while later, on our first backpacking trip, Mick suggested that we should try a spot of wild-camping.

I scoffed and declared that “For the avoidance of doubt, I will not be camping anywhere that doesn’t have facilities”.

(Incidentally, since then Mick has become nervous whenever I have used the phrase “For the avoidance of doubt I will not” followed by some ridiculous activity.)

My mind was changed a couple of nights later when a group of ignorami kept us awake into the early hours of the morning on a campsite.

Amongst these bold declarations, I did not say that I would never go backpacking and wild-camping by myself. It was one of those statements that did not need to be made. I’m a complete wuss and a scaredy cat when it comes to being by myself in the dark and even earlier this year I commented that I couldn’t even contemplate spending a night in a tent by myself. Read about my night on Cannock Chase if proof is needed – and Mick was easily within shouting distance on that occasion.

So, it was a little unexpected (perhaps even to me) when recently I declared that I was going to spend a night on a hillside by myself.

Mick was concerned about my plan, probably as much about the terrified state in which he knew I would spend the night as for the potential of me being eaten by monsters or falling down a hole on my way there or back.

I hesitated to disclose my plan to my sister and to Much (my gran). Much, in particular, is always horrified if I tell her my intention to walk 5 miles along a canal tow-path by myself, and is doubly horrified when I tell her that I walked up a hill unescorted. She seems to be of the belief that mad axe-murderers and rapists hang around in these places just in case a lone woman happens by, whereas I take the view that I’m far more likely to come to harm at the hands of a third party by walking into town than I am on a ridge in the Rhinogau.

As it went, neither my sister nor Much batted an eyelid at my plans. They told me to be careful (“Oh, do I have to be? I was planning on being really reckless”) and told me to have a good time.

Now, some people may say that half a week before the longest night of the year is not the best time for someone who is terrified of being alone in the dark to venture out to spend a night on a hill. They’d have a jolly good point. Fifteen and a half hours is a lot of darkness, and perhaps the middle of June in the North of Scotland would be a more appropriate experiment.

However, I had a need to pop to Barmouth this week and with a five hour journey each way, it seemed sensible to spend a night, so it looked like a good time to test out my ability to spend a night out with just my own company – and potentially lots of scary noises outside of the tent.

To be continued...

Thursday 18 December 2008

After the Rhinogau Bogs and Fog

This morning I walked 3.75 miles in 50 minutes. Not headline news, you may think, but worthy of a mention as it was preceded by waking up in a tussocky bog and walking the initial 7 miles in poor visibility, some on rather tricky terrain, without a break. Added to that, I was carrying 9kg on my back. So, I was pretty impressed that I managed to maintain the pace required to make it to the train station on time.

I arrived at the station just a couple of minutes before my train trundled up and after five and a half hours of travelling, a bus dropped me right outside of the house.

Utterly exhausted, I shuffled along the path, muscles protesting after the unaccustomed exercise followed so swiftly by complete inactivity in uncomfortable seats.

I then resurrected a post-walk ritual that has not been exercised for a long time: I ran a hot bath and sank into it with a glass of red in my hand.

The phone rang and I ignored it.

Then I felt guilty: after all, it could have been Mick telling me that my aged car had broken down and that he needed to know with whom we had breakdown cover.

Out of the bath I got, dripping over the floor. It was a delivery driver who couldn’t find the house.

I directed him and signed for my parcel.

Back into the bath I sank, thinking that the relaxation had been rather marred.

Then the phone rang again. This time I really did ignore it, but the relaxation had truly been lost.

However, I digress. This was the end of a 2 day (1.5 day, really) trip, about which I will write more in the next couple of days. Before then, however, I need to sleep - and hopefully tomorrow I won't ache as much as I do now. Where did all that fitness go?

Sunday 14 December 2008

Fresh Air & Exercise

“What are you doing?” asked Mick as I pored over a rather holey map of Cannock Chase just before leaving the house.

“Deciding where I’m going to walk.” was my quite obvious response.

“But you’ll just do one of our usual routes.” he said - and he was very nearly right.

Work commitments prevented Mick from joining me on this short outing (which commitments also led to the cancellation of the (already postponed) trip to trial the new tent), so I was on my lonesome as I stood in the car park pondering which direction to take.

The first deviation from the norm was starting the usual circuit in reverse.

Fifteen, maybe 20, minutes later (I couldn’t look at my watch, it was under my gloves, under my jacket), I was approaching the familiar sight of two fishing ponds. The grey skies didn’t set them off as well as blue skies do, but the surfaces were prettily reflective in the still air.

Looking east, over the bigger of the two ponds

And looking west over the smaller one

And playing with the self-timer, feeling a little bit silly with so many people around, and failing to adopt an appropriately nonchalant pose.

After the ponds, tradition would see me turn south to head toward’s Marquis’s Drive, so today I turned north and headed towards the Birches Valley Visitor Centre.

With the benefit of hindsight it was a bad move. It had already crossed my mind that a Sunday is perhaps not the best day to be heading towards a place that I know to be always busy, but what I hadn’t factored in was the proximity of the path to the road and the popularity of the Christmas Tree Sales Centre next to the Visitor Centre.

If the quantity of bikes hadn’t been sufficiently off-putting (was it National Get On Your Bike Day today? There really were abnormally large numbers of bikes about), the number of cars and people around the Visitor Centre was horrendous. Admittedly, had I carried on through the Centre it may have been quieter half a mile the other side, but I didn’t feel inclined to find out.

Instead I turned around, walked back fifty yards and took a signed Bridleway – and finally I was by myself for a while. Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure where I was heading, but for a stretch I didn’t even see any bikes.

A while later some houses came into view and, recognising them, I realised that I’d looped around to a point I’d already passed earlier, on my way to the ponds.

Past I went again (encountering a potential killer dog as I went; by good fortune a chap was approaching from the other direction at the same time and by some judicious slowing on my part the dog’s attention turned from me to him) and, surrounded once more by bikes, I made my way back down to the ponds.

This time I turned to the south after the ponds and took the usual route. Huge amounts of forestry work have been going on in the vicinity of the Chase Visitor Centre – most ugly – but it didn’t take me long to pass it by and through the seething masses of people and dogs, out enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll.

It was then just a hop, skip and a jump to follow a few tracks back to the car.

The Stats: 2 hours; 6.25 miles; a whopping 600ft of ascent; and 954* bicycles encountered.

(*perhaps a slight exaggeration)

Saturday 6 December 2008

Sunshine on Stanage Edge

It was with the impediment of the rapidly sinking sun in our eyes that we struck out, off the trodden path, across the tussocky, boggy flatland between Rud Hill and Stanage Edge.

Had the sun not been so low in the sky and shining directly into our eyes, we would have been able to see where we were going, and perhaps would have avoided quite so many above-ankle dunkings in the thawed bog, and perhaps I wouldn’t have taken the comedy nose-dive into the heather.

But, had the sun not been so low in the sky, and the hour of sun-set so rapidly approaching, we would have taken a longer route and thus would not tackled the rough-going direct route.

The timing had been the result of a number of factors, primarily a complete failure to get out of bed at anything approaching the intended early hour, followed by a mission to buy Mick some new boots. As it went, we set out onto Stanage Edge with only a couple of hours until sundown, and with little intention other than the objective of a ‘short stroll’.

Stroll we did, for a while, along the Edge and then along a track that led us to Redmires Reservoirs. Then we left the masses (and there were a lot of people out on this day of perfect walking weather, with stunning blue skies and views to match) and took a permissive path.

We knew that we didn’t have time to complete the originally intended route before dark, hence the spur of the moment decision to do the tussock route.

Jolly good fun it was too. Even the nose-dive bit. Perhaps the soft landing in deep heather helped.

It seemed for a while, as the legs started to tire of the constant exaggerated steps required by the terrain, that we were getting no closer to the road that we could see before us, but by and by we did get there, albeit not before having a bit of a snow-fight with the remaining patches of the white stuff.

Back onto the Edge we went, so as to avoid a bit of road walking, and our timing was impeccable. As we reached the Edge the bottom of the sun was just touching the horizon. As we came to our exit point, the sun was just sinking below the horizon; we paused to watch.

We dropped back down to the car park, surprised to find it still almost full. Then we looked back up and saw snakes of people making their way back down; people no doubt as determined as we were to get the most out of the fantastic day.

The great shame on such a perfect-weather day was that I had forgotten to pick up a camera. All was not lost, Mick has one of those new-fangled phones that comes complete with a camera. It’s not good spec, but it took a few snaps of the delights of the day

Friday 28 November 2008

How Many Tents?

Until yesterday our tent collection comprised:
- Wendy Warmlite* the Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R (1.3kg)
- Vera Voyager*, the Terra Nova Voyager (2.2kg)
- Midi Tent* – A Blacks 3-man dome (7.5kg)
- Big Tent* – An Aztec Sala 3 (9.? Kg)

The first two are our backpacking tents. The latter two are our car camping tents.

Midi Tent in particular gets a lot of use and despite being a £99 job has weathered a lot of storms that have destroyed other tents of the same and of a better calibre. Lying awake as gusts hit silly speeds the Christmas before last, with the rear poles bending onto my legs and with the sound of other tents ripping and flapping all around, I started thinking that maybe, given our propensity to go camping in winter, we should get a slightly more sturdy model. It wasn’t a thought upon which I acted and there have continued to be some nervous moments in stormy weather.

A few weeks ago I found myself in an outdoor shop and what should they have on display but a tent which seemed to meet our sturdy-car-camping-tent requirements? Geodesic, alloy poles, two porches, big enough to swing the arms, small enough to be warm enough in winter and at a very reasonable price. I left the shop empty handed (actually, I bought a map, but tentwise, I left empty handed).

Last night Mick arrived home from work and, unexpectedly, he was carrying said tent.

This afternoon we unpacked it in the living room and opened the back door to go and pitch it in the garden (just to check that it’s all present and correct). Then we realised that with the grass being so wet we would end up with a tent to dry. So, no photos yet.

But, just as soon as we had a suitable day it will be pitched and photographed and I’ll say more about it.

(* Lots of people give their cars names. The only car I’ve had which had a name was my first one, which was generally known as ‘The Heap’. But, despite not being a car-naming sort of a person, I do find it handy to name some of our kit. For some reason I feel the need to apologise for my kit-naming tendencies, and perhaps it isn’t something to which I should confess, but it really does make it easier to convey which item I’m talking about (particularly in the case of Sheila…).)

Monday 24 November 2008

Walking Across Scotland – on paper – in a warm room

Yesterday, with Scottish Hill Tracks sitting on one side of me and a Munro guide on the other, I cursored back and forth up and down trying to forge a route across Scotland using Anquet mapping.

As wonderful as digital mapping is (except when it has one of its spurious waypoint moments), I do find it a bit limiting to try to plan a route when viewing a small section of map on a computer screen. Many times on our LEJOG jaunt, I looked at the printed map the day before we walked it and found that the route I had plotted wasn’t the most sensible. On that walk it was no issue; we simply walked a route other than the one I’d plotted, but then no-one was vetting that route so I didn’t have to share my silly oversights.

What I wanted to do on this route planning mission was to surround myself with proper full size OS maps and pore over them at length.

My map library being somewhat limited, a trip to a library was called for and so this morning (after a two and a half hours of a public transport extravaganza) I found myself in the blissfully warm reference section at Wolverhampton Central Library.

I started by being restrained with just one map half open in front of me, trying to stick to my quarter of the table-for-four.

An hour later the woman who had been in-situ when I sat down decamped to a different table and I found myself with three OS maps open, plus the Scottish Hill Tracks map, plus two reference books, plus my draft print-outs.

I’m sure that there was bemusement amongst the newspaper readers, cross-worders and staff (I caught a few of them staring) as I examined for prolonged periods individual sections of map, scratching my head and wrinkling my nose in concentration.

By the time I dragged myself away and ventured back out into the cold (ready for a two mile march across town; it would have been a stroll had I managed to drag myself away sooner), I had a plan for three-quarters of the route.

I’m not entirely happy with all parts of the plan, but much poring did not lead to any more appealing alternatives to leap off the page at me, so provided that Mick’s agreeable it is the plan with which I will stick.

A pretty good way to spend a few hours of the day, I’d say.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Sunny and Warm

That's El Teide, the centre point of Tenerife, standing at just over 3700m.

We didn't climb it during our sojourn in Tenerife last week. The photo is one I took four years ago (when we also didn't climb it). Somehow, I completely failed to take any photos of this holiday.

With a deliberate avoidance of walking, what we did do is lounge and eat and drink and lounge some more, complaining that we were too fat to move and occasionally complaining that we were a tiny bit more than tipsy (except for Mick who, with an ill-timed absess under his tooth and industrial amounts of antibiotics to consume, looked like a hamster and had to abstain).

So, last week's silence is explained by the fact that we capped our year of walking holidays with a surfeit of laziness in a land of winter sun. It was bliss!

But now we're back to cold and miserable weather, and I've got maps spread across the floor once more to stave off the itchy feet which are starting to plague me.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

A Nervous Few Hours

It was a nervous few hours.

There was no good reason for the nerves.

After all, ducks and geese live in water, so there was no logical reason for me to fear the ruination of my down jacket simply by washing it.

I think that the fear came from the ‘thou must not get down wet’ warnings in wide circulation in relation to the use of down items, and my mind had mixed getting-wet-in-use with getting-wet-when-washing.

But it could be ignored no more. My down jacket had become a bit flat in places and more than a bit grubby in others. It needed a wash and I wasn’t prepared to part with the amount of cash required to send it to a professional cleaner when all information I could find indicated that I could achieve the same end result at home.

The instructions sewn into the jacket (a PHD Minimus) told me that it had to be handwashed. The instructions on the PHD website told me to machine wash it. I went with the website.

I could have just used soap flakes for the washing process, but my attention had been drawn by the little packs of Nikwax Down Wash and Down Proof. It was the Down Proof that particularly caught my attention. During this year’s walking my jacket has got wet more than once (sometimes carelessness, sometimes the belief that the jacket I had over the top could fend off the rain). On reflection, I should have bought the Minimus with a water resistant shell. I have now come to the conclusion that I will never again buy a down item without a water resistant shell, but hindsight is a wonderful thing (and I'm now digressing). So, adding a bit of water resistance sounded like a good thing to me.

Admittedly, I could have just bought the Down Proof, but I didn’t need a big bottle of the stuff (I don’t intend to undertake similar experiments with any of the sleeping bags), so I went for the little bottles.
So, into the machine went the jacket and the Down Wash. I dithered a while as to which programme to use. Half an hour later, the wash was finished and I started the cycle again with the Proof. Half an hour later it was finished and I put it on for an extra spin.

Grimacing at the inefficient use of the tumble dryer, I then put the single item together with a couple of those tumble dryer balls (which claim to make your dryer more efficient, but I bought solely with my down jacket in mind (£1 for 2 in a pound shop in Leeds past which I happened to walk whilst killing time between trains yesterday)).

An hour and three-quarters later (having nervously checked it progress at regular intervals) and out of the dryer I pulled a jacket more fluffy than it has been since new. Big sigh of relief. Not ruined after all.

It turns out that some of the marks haven’t come off the shell, but for the moment at least, I have a nicely lofted jacket again. Hopefully it will be able to fend off a bit of moisture too, for those times when I accidentally dip my arm in a bucket of water or get caught in a shower whilst dashing across a field.

English Coast to Coast - The Photos

As promised, here's the slide-show thingy that I've put together of the photos from our Coast to Coast walk in September this year:

Tuesday 11 November 2008

LEJOG Kit Review Part 2

I said that I was going to split the LEJOG Kit Review into three parts. I changed my mind. Here's the second and rather long final part:

Thermarest Prolite 3 (girls’ model) – It did its job. It’s now very grubby with black dots which I assume are mould on the inside (because it got blown up by mouth, used, then rolled up and sealed each day, so never had time for the inside to air and dry out). But, it still works just fine.

PHD Minimus 300 (with Drishell outer) – Another pleasant surprise. It’s a very lightweight bag, to achieve which it doesn’t have a zip or neck baffle. There were only a couple of nights on which I missed having a zip; I didn’t miss the neck baffle (doing the hood up tight around my face did the job nicely). It fitted me perfectly (so I didn’t have to carry around a length of sleeping bag that I wasn’t using) and it kept me warm on all but the night when we had a heavy frost (when I donned extra clothes). The Drishell did exactly what it should and there’s not much more I can say, except that it now absolutely stinks and definitely needs a clean!

Silk sleeping bag liner – Glad that I took it, just for the snuggly comfort factor.

Cooking and Eating and Drinking
Coleman F1 Lite stove – I wouldn’t claim this stove to be any better that any other of a similar weight. I bought it based on price and I’ve been perfectly happy with it. It does what it should and if it met with a hideous accident, I would likely buy another the same.

Bushbuddy – Good for saving fuel, keeping midges away and giving a bit of warmth and atmosphere. Not so good when you accidentally smear the huge quantities of soot, in which it covers your pot, all over yourself.

Tinder paper – A fantastic substance for lighting the Bushbuddy. No more fannying about with tinder and tampons. A good fire first time, every time. The first time I saw a packet of this, I was put off by how heavy it was. I now know that you can light a fire with a remarkably small square of it, so for the quantity you need to carry it really doesn’t weight anything at all.

2 M&S tough plastic spoons – free and after a couple of years’ use they’re still going strong (although it was a close run thing on losing one of them en-route)

MSR Titan Kettley Thing – It’s light, it’s strong and it does exactly what you want in a pan.

Plastic Mug – Bought in the first week when I realised that I did need a mug after all. It’s light, it’s cheap, it did its job and there’s absolutely no good reason why I’m still hankering after a titanium one!

Pot cosy – Another fantastic bit of kit that I would not be without. They undoubtedly save lots of gas when rehydrating meals (and we never pre-soaked a meal) plus when you pop your soot-covered pot into it, it stops you covering yourself and other things with the soot! We did find that where we folded the tops over they started wearing and dropping bits of foil into our meals.

Steripen – What a disappointment! The first time I came to use this in the field, in March 2007, I found that the batteries with which it was supplied were faulty (it had worked fine at home, but failed on a week-long trip and didn’t work again until I replaced the batteries). It then worked faultlessly with the new batteries, albeit it didn’t have a great deal of use. I opted to carry it the whole way on this trip, even though it was unlikely that it was going to be used for the first half. For me, the comfort of knowing that I could get drinkable water if I needed it outweighed the extra 100g I was carrying. It was only about the third or fourth time that we came to use it that it failed. Water had got into the UV-light tube (which seems to me to be a huge failing in a product that is designed to be used in water and appears to be well sealed). It did eventually dry out enough to work again, but it will take me a while to regain faith in it. This was supposed to be a simple device with no moving parts to go wrong and with a very long life. In reality I’ve probably only managed to sterilise 15-20 litres of water with it in its life and in the process it’s failed twice.
(Post Script: That was my review written back in July; since then I sent the SteriPen back under the lifetime guarantee and it was replaced, however, now that I’ve got the Aquagear waterfilter, I can’t see the SteriPen getting a lot of use).

Boots Water Purification Tablets – I know that lots of people just drink water out of streams and have no problems, but personally I’m not up for taking the risk of someone with bad toilet habits having been in the vicinity (perhaps it was that hideous illness I picked up in Goa a few years back that made me so cautious!). So, when the Steripen died I had my sister ‘overnight’ to us some water purification tablets. The first time we used them I was not looking forward to the nasty chlorine taste and knew that I would have to force myself to drink, as my natural tendency with nasty tasting water is not to drink it and thus dehydrate. It was quite a surprise to find that these tablets didn’t have that nasty taste that I remember from the past (is it the silver in them that neutralises it?). I wouldn’t want to use them on anything approaching a regular basis, but they did the job for us in the absence of the Steripen. I kicked myself that I didn’t throw a handful of tablets into my pack at the outset.

Pacerpoles (carbon) – Another item that I wouldn’t be without, and I certainly would never go back to ‘normal’ poles. The carbon ones are noticeably lighter than the standard version (I know that because I most definitely noticed when Mick handed me his by accident!). Love them!

Ortlieb Map Case – I’ve had other map cases. This is the only one that has been completely watertight and flexible enough to roll, fold, screw up and generally abuse without any sign of wear. Definitely worth the money in my opinion.

Closed-cell concertina sit-mat – This got voted our best value piece of kit. They were used daily ensuring that we always had something warm and comfy to sit on, they weight nothing and cost £1.99.

Saturday 8 November 2008

LEJOG Kit Review

It's now four months (and a day) since we reached John O'Groats. It must be at least three months since I wrote a brief review of each of the bits of kit that I used on the walk. Somehow I didn't get around to posting the review, so rather belatedly I'm going to do that now.

Although the review of each item is brief, it's a lengthy piece purely because of the number of different items that I carried, so I'm splitting it into three sections. Below are my thoughts on the clothes and shoes that I used:

Berghaus Paclite Extrem Jacket – Worked and worked well. I’d prefer a hood that was a bit more protective, but I’ll settle for the compromise of a lesser hood for a lower weight.

Berghaus Paclite Extrem Overtrousers – Worked and worked well.

Paramo Azuma Vent Trousers – On the plus side, I really like the feel of the material of these trousers, and they dry ridiculously quickly if they get wet. But, durability was questionable. They developed holes on both inner ankles, which were about 50p size by the time we finished. The stitching on the seat looks a bit worn now too. Disappointing when you consider that Mick’s Montane Terra Pants looked unworn at JOG.

Paramo Fuera Smock – I love my Fuera Smock! I had intended to switch to my Montane Featherlite in May, once the weather was warmer, but had decided by then that the pocket and hood on the Fuera were indispensable, so the Featherlite went back home and I stuck with the Fuera.

Smelly Helly s/s crew – It’s very light and it dries quickly, but on a long trip with limited chance to get it washed and dried, those virtues don’t outweigh the big negative of the smell.
I smelt so bad on the hot days on the Offa’s Dyke Path that the aroma actually made me feel sick as I was walking along. In early May I had Vic order an Icebreaker Bodyfit 150 for me, which (thanks to the inefficiencies of Royal Mail) then chased me around the country.

Icebreaker Bodyfit 150 s/s – When I finally got it I liked it a lot. I could have done with a size smaller, but it was very comfy all the same and as you would expect it was smell resistant. The material is so fine on the 150 that it doesn’t feel like wool at all, yet has all of the benefits of the material.

Icebreaker 200 l/s crew – I wore this for days and days at a time (over a week, at times) and it performed brilliantly. It does stretch out of shape after a couple of days, but as soon as it’s washed it goes back to its original shape and size. It’s now a bit thinner than it used to be (although I think that there’s plenty of life left in it), but I have had it for a couple of years now and it has had a lot of use.

Decathlon’s Kalenji Underpants – I cannot speak highly enough of these pants. At only £3.95 per pair (compared with £12-16 for all other outdoors brands I’ve seen) I wasn’t sure how durable they would be, so had plenty of spares in the resupply box. They weren’t needed. The original two pairs ended the three months looking as new as when they’d started. I have no complaints about them.

Bridgedale Socks – I started with two pairs of Endurance Trekkers, but decided that with the toe-eating shoe issue at the start I would prefer a thinner pair, so got a pair of Endurance Comfort. Both pairs made it the whole distance – and are still being worn now. The Comfort are right at the end of their useful life, but after a wash and a tumble dry the Trekkers look almost as good as new.

Bra – I have searched and searched for a bra that is comfortable under a backpack. There are many out there from known outdoor brands, but I’ve not yet found one that comes in my size and is comfortable – and they don’t come cheap. What I did find that met both the size and comfort requirements was a Medium Impact Sports Bra from Marks & Spencer – at the bargain price of £8. 1240 miles later and it was still comfortable. Bet they’ve discontinued that particular model now, but if they haven’t then I’ll be replacing it with another of the same.

Sun Hat – The Tilley Hat was a last minute acquisition and I was so pleased to have it. It lived on my head on every sunny day, and some rainy ones too (it’s great in light rain – it keeps the rain off without the constraints of a hood). I wouldn’t be without it. It’s not showing any signs of wear, but the outside has faded to a noticeably different colour to the underside now.

Extremities powerstretch beanie – Excellent gripiness, warm and very light. Pity that we’re ‘His & Hers Matching’, but there was definite gear-envy before I got mine.

Extremities powerstretch gloves – Not so good. Two different seams came adrift on the right gloves in their first four months of wear. I’ve sewn both back up, but it’s been enough to put me off them, even though in reality it was probably just a fault on the stitching on that one glove.

Extremities GoreTex Overmitts – Did the job and did it well. How did I ever manage before I got a pair of overmitts?

PHD Minimus down jacket – No complaints. It’s warm and light and has pockets which some would claim are handy to warm hands, but I’d say are handy as places to keep the ‘cooking hanky’.

Salomon XA Pro – If the left one hadn’t suddenly become too small for my left foot (after a not inconsiderable amount of prior use without any size issue) they probably would have been quite good. I would buy again – but half a size bigger.

Inov8 Roclite – I couldn’t understand all the hype on these. I’d had a pair of Terrocs which had holed inside of the heel within 100 miles. Now I had the Roclites and I just couldn’t see why everyone thought it was so great. Three hundred miles later, I loved them for their comfort. The downside was that they started to wear a hole on the inside of the heel within 150 miles. They did make it through 300 miles and contrary to my intentions, I didn’t bin them at the end of it – instead I thought I would see how many more miles I can squeeze out of them. I’ve read of other people having this same problem and assume that my feet aren’t quite Inov8 shaped (even though I can feel no heel movement in use). That’s a shame, because if it wasn’t for this durability problem I would now be amongst the people who rave about these shoes.

Sealskin Socks – These surprised me, because for a sock that just didn’t look like it fitted my foot (these socks don’t have the stretchiness to grip and mould to the foot) they were absolutely fine in use. They kept my feet dry most of the time and at worst they got damp (presumably from sweat, rather than leakage). Mick didn’t have such a good Sealskinz experience. One of his started leaking on its second wear, which wasn’t a happy marriage with his boots, considering that they leaked almost from the outset.

Scarpa ZG65 – Absolutely fantastic! Here’s how comfy they were:
At night, my boots tended to live under the back of the tent, so as to free up a bit more room in the porch. One evening I was sitting in front of the tent, surveying all of our kit scattered around us, my boots were missing. I hadn’t put them under the back of the tent, so asked Mick whether he had. He said he’d not touched them. “Well where are they then” I asked and we both looked around. They were finally located on my feet.

Without the rose-tinted glasses of how comfortable they were, the leather did crack on the toe crease. I blame that on myself for a woeful lack of attention to cleaning and proofing them. They also started to leak after about 800, maybe 850 miles of use. And a tiny bit of the rand came adrift from the boot after about the same amount of miles. However, for the £84 that these boots cost, I think they did pretty well. They will definitely be replaced with more of the same – although I’ve not ruled out squeezing a few more miles out of this pair first.

Friday 7 November 2008

West Highland Way - The Photos

Here's a little photo-slideshow-video-clip thing with our photos from the West Highland Way trip, together with a couple of little movie clips of the wetter moments.

Now how I know how to do these video-slideshow-things (all thanks to instruction from Duncan), I'll put some together for the C2C and the LEJOG trips.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

From Holmfield Halifax to Hebden Bridge

Number of killer dogs: 3 (fortunately all restrained, but they definitely wanted to sink their teeth in)


I had two options as to how to fill my day today. I could get on with the increasingly pressing task of compiling my write-ups of all of this year’s walks, so that I have a fighting chance of getting it printed and bound by Christmas, or I could go for a walk.


A glance out of the window told me that it was not pleasant walking weather. Drizzly, grey and with the cloud base at about 500 feet. Added to that, I’d forgotten to pick up my walking shoes when I left home yesterday, so I only had my ‘knocking around’ shoes available to me.


A walk it was then.


Being without a car, I went for the easy option and walked from Ma-in-Law’s front door. Within ten minutes (including a quick detour via the shop for Eccles Cakes) I was out of suburbia and onto a lane which in turn led me to farmland – and rapidly into the low cloud.


Much map work and a significant lack of way-marks took me through the farmland and onto a golf course. Golf courses are not a good place for me to be on my own. Try as I might to work out which way people were playing, I was clueless (where’s Mick when I need him, eh?). I got a pretty big hint when three chaps asked if I could wait for them to play the next tee; they explained that in the poor visibility they didn’t want to hit me with a stray ball. I said that I didn’t much fancy being hit with a ball in any weather, and duly stood aside. Watching the first chap bat off (see, I'm well up on my golfing terms, me), I then asked how they see where their balls have gone in such weather. “We don’t” they chuckled. All adds to the fun, I suppose.


Escaping the golf course without mishap it was then onto open moorland. Bleak, featureless, fogbound and waterlogged moorland in the rain. Not the most pleasant of places to be in the conditions, and as I danced my way across the firmer parts of the bogginess it didn’t take me long to find that my shoes were not waterproof (They’re a pair of Meindls, which profess to be GoreTex lined; they turned out not to be waterproof, nor overly comfortable).


Having paid no attention to the contours lines, it was a bit of a surprise on leaving the open moor to see the steepness of the valley into which I had to descend and out the other side of which I had to climb, but I looked on it as good training and attacked it with as much vigour as the slippery surfaces would allow.


The next chunk of open moor was as wet, bleak, featureless and cloudy as the last, although by how well the paths were trodden I had to surmise that there must be something to recommend the route in better weather.


A wall surprised me as it loomed out of the murk. It heralded the end of my moorland yomping, but I still had to make decisions as to which of the many local lanes and paths I would take to get me down to Hebden Bridge.


I arrived in the town exactly four hours after setting out, which just happened to be the very time that Mick was on his way back to Halifax, giving me the convenience of a lift and saving me the bus-fare.


Mick’s news was good. He is no longer one of the great unwashed. Unfortunately, that does mean that I’m now without either a car or a walking partner for the next six months. Best start looking for a job myself, hadn’t I?



Saturday 1 November 2008

"Paramo is coming to your area!"

That was the claim made by the flyer that dropped through our letterbox this morning.

Upon further reading, it seems that it is true. Just a few miles up the road from us, in a village hall, will be a Paramo event where there will be limited edition ranges and (allegedly) 'huge savings on discontinued lines of Directional Waterproofs, Fleeces and Reversible Shirts, Travel Shirts and Trousers'.

What a good opportunity to see a good selection of the Paramo range, I thought. Upon what date is this event, I thought. The answer is that it is being held one day after we leave the country for a bit of winter sun. Harrumph.

I'm sure it must be coincidence, rather than maliciously directed at our absence from the area. Double coincidence (or malicious timing) is that we are also missing the first half of the Terra Nova factory sale which they have this year so kindly moved quite a few miles closer to us (double harrumph).

Friday 31 October 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Routes and Maps

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

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

The Washed Out OMM

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

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

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

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

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

Through The Eye Of The Storm!

MP3 File

Thursday 30 October 2008

Stop Press: First Look at's New Stove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shiny New Backpack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 28 October 2008

WHW: The Postmortem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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