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

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 31 December 2012

Completely Unnecessary TGO Challenge Analysis (Part 2)

Do you recall how, back in November, upon receiving the news that we had places on the 2013 TGO Challenge, Mick celebrated by concocting a number of graphs based upon the three pieces of information available about each of the participants on the list for next year’s Challenge?

Following on from that, he received the available data for all 33 Challenges to date and in between walks during our long weekend in Llangollen we spent 24 man-hours putting the data into a more useable format.

Well, talk about a dog with a bone! Mick abandoned his household duties and for the next few weeks he took on the full-time project of obsessively doing even more data sorting and cleansing (involving some impressive formula) so that he could come up with those all-important statistic illustrations which have been missing from all of our lives for all of these years.

So, if you’re ready (sitting comfortably, feet up, glass or mug of something in hand), here is a sample of what he’s come up with:

1) We’ll start off with the number of participants who have started the Challenge each year. The years which stand out are 2001 when Foot and Mouth prevented a full Challenge from taking place, and 2004 and 2009 when the number of places were increased in celebration of the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the event.


2) This one shows the gender split for each year. It’s not particularly clear in this (correct) format…


… so he also put it into a format which, whilst not really appropriate for the data (see, David, I paid attention to your previous comments!), does make it visually clearer:


You’ll notice that there are a number of people of unknown gender. They mainly featured in the early years of the event and presumably they did know their gender, but as their name is shown with only their initial and no honorific, it isn’t obvious from the data. This data may not be entirely accurate either, as some names could have been male or female and an [educated] guess has been made.

Anyways, what is clear is that female participation is still the minority, but that it has increased over the years.

3) Keeping on the theme of gender, this one shows the gender split for all Challenges to date:


4) The average age of participant in each year is quite an interesting one too:


I’ve only known of the Challenge for a handful of years, and during that time I have always had the impression that the average participant is over 55. It seems, however, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, the average age of participants has been increasing with the passage of years, although it’s not a year on year increase. The average age in 1980 was just under 36; it’s now just over 56.

5) Now we start getting a little bit more involved, using a form of graph that I didn’t even know existed in Excel! Here we have illustrated not just the average age of male participants, but also the spread of ages for that year. (I’m not quite sure what went awry with the numbers at the bottom in the copying and pasting, but they’re not important really.)


Just look at some of those upper ages!

And here’s the same information for the female participants:


Has anyone noticed yet how Mick has tried to be stereotypical in his colour choices for the gender-related graphs … except for the one where he transposed them, just to see whether I was paying attention.

6) There is, in general, loads of information that we found to be interesting, but it was probably the retirements that caused us the most comments, so let’s just have a couple of illustrations of retirement data over the years, starting with the percentage of retirees each year:


I’m not sure what conclusions we can draw from that, except that 1994 must have seen particularly good backpacking conditions.

7) Finally (for now) here’s the information as to the percentage of retirees, by gender, across all of the Challenges to date…


… from which we have to conclude that you’re most likely to retire from the Challenge if you don’t know which gender you are!

Incidentally, this one doesn’t add up to 100% because it’s showing the percentage of that gender who retired (so, 9% of all female participants have retired, etc). As so many more men than women took part in the early years, and as most of the ‘unknown gender’ are from those early years, it’s likely that most of those unknowns are male. What this does seem to show quite markedly is that you’re more likely to retire during the event if you are male.


So, there you go. If you didn’t feel thoroughly edified after November’s post on the subject, you surely must now?

There will no doubt be more graphs in due course. Mick’s got another project on the go for a while (yes, he has, once again, fallen back into employment), but he has plenty more ideas on this subject that he just has to put into graphical format.


Click to go to other Parts of this series of posts:

Part 1     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6

The Gratuitous Graphs of the Stats of 2012

It’s that time of year when I feel the need to roll out some graphs illustrating my walking activities for the year just gone. Alas, they don’t make for pleasing reading this year, although I have no-one but myself to blame for my laziness during the second half of the year.

In 2011 I walked 1892 miles, the year before 1813; I had no illusions that I would achieve the same this year, but did start the year with 1500 miles in mind. As it went, I just about stumbled over the 1200 mile mark (by which I mean that I’ve just been out for a walk in the dark having looked at the stats and having noticed that I was 3 miles short!).

My walking always drops during the second half of the year, but not usually this much:


Our mileage spiked in June (when we were on the Pacific Crest Trail), and accordingly so did our ascent:image

Interestingly (to me, even if to no-one else!) June wasn’t the month in which we achieved our highest ‘average ascent per mile’:


I haven’t done a ‘miles per shoe’ graph this year (1000 miles of the total were walked in Inov8 Terrocs though, if you’re interested…), but the weather graph makes pleasing viewing, considering how wet this year has been:


Without any manipulation of the numbers, exactly 75% of my walks have been in dry weather, with 51% being in the sunshine. It did help that in June, when the UK received 200% more than its average rainfall, we were in California where the sun where the sun was obscured by a cloud once in the whole month.

One last one – and it’s a bit of a messy one. This is how 2012 lines up with the previous years, back to 2006:


Onwards to 2013!

Sunday 30 December 2012

Water, Water…

Having completely failed to take any photos or write any words about our trip into the Rhinogs a few weeks back, I thought I’d make a bit more of an effort with the little stroll I took a couple of days ago – albeit more for my own future reference than for any thought that it will prove interesting to anyone else.

It was a walk prompted by having taken our house-guests for a very short stroll around the local ponds on Boxing Day. Last time I walked that way must have been in the spring, at which point the water levels were the lowest I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t imagine, at the time, how long it would take them to recover, particularly as I’ve never found any of them to have an inflow.

I was obviously lacking the imagination to picture the dampness of the weather since spring. On Boxing Day we found that the pond-with-an-island no longer has an island, it just has trees sticking out of the water. At the one end, the path and a bench are underwater.

So, that prompted me to break the laziness that has prevailed for months and to take a turn down to look at the river section of the canal, which was sure to be closed. This is what I found:


Urgh! Mudfest!


Contrary to the appearance given by a strong flow, this isn’t the river-section-proper, but the water is higher than I recall having seen it before, just an inch below the barrier under the bridge.


Swans in a field


Canal on the left of the walk-way, fields on the right. I wonder what it was like a few weeks back, when so many of our local roads were closed due to flooding?


That’s the river section. It doesn’t usually look quite like that. It usually looks more canal-like.


I would usually go through that gate and across that field. I opted not to on this occasion!


Did I mention that it was muddy?

IMG_2688 There should be a traffic light indicator board on the left-side lock wall, which indicates whether the river section is ‘open as normal’, ‘proceed with caution’ or ‘closed’ (not that anyone could get that far, as the lower lock gates get padlocked closed when it’s closed). I assumed that the board was completely submerged, but having looked at an old photo, it turns out that it’s just dropped off. Or maybe it was removed when someone realised that the canal would have over-flowed in many other places before it reached the red marker.

Friday 14 December 2012

TGOC 2013–Route Planning Agonies (with Random TGOC 2012 Photos)

Ordinarily, I would have our route for next year’s TGO Challenge submitted by now, but this year I’ve not even started on writing it up. Why? Because we have been agonising, and agonising some more, over which way to go.


Random TGOC 2012 Photo #1

The first stumbling block was the very beginning. I seem to have spent four weeks pondering the first three days, swinging over and again between a route that covers some ground we’ve trodden before and a route I really fancy, but that would see us arriving at a ferry (which doesn’t run on a Sunday) on a Sunday.

Once a decision had finally been reached on that point (a compromise was made to avoid both the re-treading and the ferry, albeit at the cost of adding in a bit of tarmac), I thought it would be an easy job to finalise the rest.


Random TGOC Photo #2

Then I got to the bit in the middle where my final decision makes me fear that our vetter will either laugh at or berate us. What I’ve plotted there certainly looks like a very arduous route and I’m unsure of its wisdom. However, I’m leaving it as our primary route unless a vetter advises otherwise, but acknowledging that the reality is that we will only go that way if the weather is absolutely superb.

Surely, once we got to Braemar the plotting would become easier? Well, for me it did, because Mick kindly volunteered to plot the bit from there to the coast. There were still difficult decisions to be made, with desires to go very near to where we’ve been before but without much repetition.


Random TGOC Photo #3

Finally, this evening, we have a full route that we’re both happy to submit. Somehow I don’t think it will pass through vetting quite as well as our previous routes…

Now all I need to do is to write it up. As I’ve observed before, that’s my very least favourite thing about the whole of the TGO Challenge, but I’m determined to do it this side of Christmas.

(If anyone can explain what’s going on in those photos (particularly with Andy Howell in #3), I’d be most grateful!)

Sunday 9 December 2012

Martin & Sue’s Christmas Walk


Just before 10 o’clock this morning the last couple of cars pulled into a layby on the A515 east of Coldeaton. It was a good job that the layby was a big one, as 28 had arrived for Martin’s annual Christmas walk.

The rain that was falling was not overly conducive to getting out of the car, but it had to be done and I was assured by a number of people that it was going to ease off by 11. I wasn’t feeling overly optimistic that the weather forecast would hold true and it was with hoods up that we set out along the Tissington Trail.

It had eased as we slip-slid our way down the steep muddy bank into Wolfescote Dale:


The muddiness of that descent turned out to be tame compared to some of the muddiness encountered later!

Wolfscote Dale is a lovely place, but today attention was captured by chatting with others more than by the surroundings, although we were paying enough attention to notice that the river was running high and muddy after all of the recent rain.

The distance was flying by with all that chatting so it seemed no time at all before elevenses were called (under brightening skies, with even the odd hint of blue). Some of us were perhaps a tiny bit cheeky, claiming not just a piece of the ginger CCS which was being offered around (Sue’s speciality), but also some of Martin’s Fudge Brownies. Both were equally delicious and fuelled us nicely through to lunch time. 

More chatting, and a tiny bit more mud, sped us along and before we knew it we were approaching Hartington. It was 12.30 already; where had the morning gone?

The Charles Cotton Hotel was the venue for lunch, and they did an excellent job of feeding 28 hungry walkers. They had interesting murals too. This one was in the Ladies’ Powder Room and was entitled something like ‘Why Men Shouldn’t Flyfish Naked’:


I have no idea where the morning had gone, and equally the three hours we spent in the hotel sped by. There wasn’t just eating, but also quizzing, in the form of three pages of photos the locations (or subjects) of which had to be identified. Mick, Graham and I did well, winning the first prize of a box of chocolates eachSmile

It’s always a bit of a wrench to leave a warm, inviting place, particularly when you’ve just eaten twice your body weight in rather nice food. In fact, it was so much of a wrench that the resolve to skip coffee/tea and make it most of the way back in daylight was tested beyond its limit when the waiting staff mentioned that there were mince pies with the coffee … as if we needed more food!

And so it was 3.30pm when we dragged ourselves back out (not really into the cold, as it was quite mild today), giving us just half an hour of daylight for the 4.25 miles back to the start point.

Now, you may have noticed that there’s been a lot of flooding lately, and I’ve already mentioned various muddy areas…


…but, this bit of road wasn’t remotely damp today, so perhaps at this point I should confess that I didn’t take any photos today and that all of those above were taken on the same walk last year!

Darkness was upon us by the time we rejoined the Tissington Trail, but the light-coloured grit surface on this disused railway bed made it easy enough to follow even with a lack of light, meaning that few people resorted to their torches to light the way. The dark did make it difficult to say goodbye to people as we reached the end of our outing – we couldn’t see who was who!

Thanks go to Martin for another excellently organised Christmas walk. We will no doubt be in attendance again next year – it’s a good day out.

(An hour and a half between finishing a walk and posting a blog, which also included the drive home. That’s got to be a record for me!)

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Llangollen Day 3

My nose, sticking out from under the duvet, told me that it had been a cold night. Sure enough, when we peeped through a window it was to a hoary white world. With heavy rain forecast for mid-afternoon onwards, we tried our hardest to make haste and this time with a modicum of success.


Frosty fields, with mist hanging in the dips, and a hint of sun trying to break through (it never did make it)

I’d been a bit tardy in coming up with any sort of a plan for the day, but whatever we did we knew that we needed to pop into Llangollen for some essential supplies (mainly pies from the butcher!). I also quite fancied having a poke around the nearby Abbey, having previously seen it from a distance, so working those requirements together I came up with a route that would see us first heading north, going via the Abbey to pick up Offa’s Dyke Path, at which point we would start heading south to fulfil the ‘pies from the butcher’ bit of the plan.

It wasn’t far to the Abbey, and we got there to find that it isn’t open at this time of year. Or, to be more precise, the ticket office isn’t open, but the gate was. So, we helped ourselves:


Our verdict was that it would have been well worth the £2.80 entrance fee, if the ticket office had been open. It’s far more impressive than it looks from a distance.

By the time we’d made our way up to Offa’s Dyke Path, which at this point is running along an escarpment which is a bit of a geological feature, the day was warming up quite noticeably. That would be the warm, wet front coming in, but we refused to be rushed and happily made time to stop for tea.


A while later and Dinas Bran was the only obstacle between us and Llangollen. “Around or over?” I asked. Mick posed the same question back to me. My vote was to go over, even though my aching limbs raised an eyebrow at the decision. Those aching limbs were soon to question my sanity further when Mick challenged me to run up the one section and I obliged.


Admittedly, the views from the top weren’t stunning on this day. We definitely got better weather for it back in January.


Even after all these years, I’m still wearing the clashing orange jacket/purple mitts combo. At least I didn’t go for a red hat today.

Then all we had to do was pop into town where we quickly came to the conclusion that either the townsfolk are a bit odd (there were some outfits to be seen that aren’t common in most towns on a Saturday afternoon), or that there was something going on. It turned out to be the latter (or maybe a bit of both, but who am I to judge?).

With pies in our pockets and chips in our bellies, I was paying so little attention to our surroundings that, until Mick pointed it out, I’d not noticed that people were lining the whole length of the street.


Yep, definitely something going on!

Even though the light had gone to that dull level that suggests that rain is imminent, we decided to hang around a while and see what everyone was waiting for, and we didn’t have to wait too long. I videoed the whole thing (all 3 minutes of it), but I’m too impatient to wait for it to upload to You Tube, so here are some stills to illustrate the parade that came by:


First the town crier and a marching band


Then a chap who I assumed was the mayor, but shouldn’t he have more chains than that?


A group of army cadets…


… followed by a lion – obviously! Then there were the morris dancers


A hoola-hopping red-head preceded the dancing Christmas tree and somehow Mick didn’t get a snap of Santa in his finest green robes which came after that


This one made me laugh! I thought it was a camel at first.


Finally, bringing up the rear, was this jolly salsa band who danced their way past

Somehow, it seems even more surreal, now that I’ve typed all that, than it did at the time.

Anyway, waylaid by only ten minutes or so, off we went (past a miniature pony dressed as Father Christmas), to wander along the canal back to our starting point.

We’d been back indoors for all of ten minutes when the rain started and once started it took it quite a considerable number of hours to stop again. With our legs having been suitably stretched we were happy to spend a third consecutive afternoon working through the historic TGOC data. Alan will be pleased to hear that we finished the first cut of re-formatting it during that session. Indeed, as I type the first graphs have already been produced. But I digress …

… the stats for the day were 8.25 miles walked with somewhere approaching 1800 feet of up. Where as the previous (sunny) day had passed by without us seeing a single person out and about, on this dull Saturday it had seemed that most of the world out on the same paths as us.

Monday 26 November 2012

Llangollen Days 1 and 2


With our original plans for the weekend having had a spanner thrown in the works, and determined to go somewhere, we found ourselves pulling into a campsite just out of Llangollen at noon on Thursday. We might have gone for a short stroll after lunch, but the rain that had been hammering down as we arrived turned out not to be the short shower, as I had hoped. With all thoughts of strolling dismissed, a productive afternoon was had, as eight man-hours saw great inroads made into transforming 34 years worth of TGO Challenge data into a format useful for graphical purposes.


Incredibly, considering Thursday’s weather and the forecast, Friday dawned a clear skied day. It was definitely a day to be out and about early. Alas, we struggle with early unless we’re backpacking and by the time we dragged ourselves out of the door at just gone 10am, there were clouds appearing.

Luck was on our side and in spite of rain visible in various directions around us, those clear blue skies stayed above us as we made our way towards and up the Llantysilio Mountain.


Our first objective, and it was so warm that we were in our shirt-sleeves

It couldn’t last forever, and it didn’t last forever. We were nearly atop Moel Morfydd when the first shower hit us, which combined with two very sore heels (me, persevering with a pair of boots which don’t like my heels) caused me to declare that we were going to call it a day as soon as we reached the trig point.


A bit grey and damp all of a sudden.

The views from the trig looked like they would be as good as advertised, if you found yourself up there on a clear day. They were still pretty impressive on Friday, even if a little curtailed.

Perhaps it was the views, or perhaps it was the thin air (we were up at 550m, you know!), but in a rush of blood to the head I decided that notwithstanding the heels and the weather, we would complete the walk we had set out to do.

Back we went the way we had come, and up the steep pull to the top of Moel y Gamelin. We chased a rainbow the whole way there, but didn’t catch it.


That’s not the end of the rainbow which we chased. It was the other end.


Such a well worn path (and steeper than it looks here!), yet we didn’t see a single person out all day

Some of the down was just as steep as the up had been. Some was steeper. Some was very prickly when we took an ‘interesting route’ through a gorse covered hillside.

It wasn’t until we were well on our way back to our starting point that any real rain hit us. It lasted a bit longer than the earlier shower, but not enough to make us grumble.

After a tea break under the shelter of the gateway to the churchyard at Llantysilio, it was but a hop and a skip back along the canal.


I’ll pop in a photo of the church just because I didn’t take a photo of the gateway.

Nine and a half miles were walked with approaching 3000 feet of ascent, and my legs were starting to feel it. What I needed, just to complete the achingness, was another walk on Saturday…

Sunday 18 November 2012

Completely Unnecessary TGOC Age, Crossings and Location Analysis

What does Mick (house-husband extraordinaire) do at home all day whilst I’m at work? This week he was multi-tasking; not only was he supervising the installation of a new heating system, but he was also playing with the limited data about TGO Challenge participants that is available from the initial set of Event Details.

Proudly, at the end of each day he showed me the fruits of his spreadsheeting labours. For those who thought that no-one is more obsessed than me with spreadsheets and graphs, let me disabuse you of that notion by sharing with you what he produced.

This first one shows that sixty-two is the most popular age at which to take part in the Challenge and that not so many 22-year-olds have the time or inclination to join in. And, yes, there is one 90-year-old on the list.


Age is across the bottom, number of participants up the side.

Reducing that down to show the same age data but by decade, we can see that there’s a representation for every decade from teens through to nineties, but that more participants are in their sixties than in any other decade of their lives.

TGOC Agegroups

Decades across the bottom, number of participants up the side

Next off he looked at how many previous crossings people had completed. Almost a third of the population are first-timers, forty have two crossings under their belts, and one has 30 crossings to his name:

TGOC Crossings Experience

Number of crossings across the bottom, number of people up the side

You’d like to think that he stopped there, but no. There’s more…

Here’s the total number of crossings for each age (why? Probably best not to ask), showing that either one 58-year-old has completed 85 crossings, that 85 fifty-eight-year-olds have completed one crossing, or something…

TGOC Crossings by age

Age across the bottom, total number of crossings up the side

What about where people are coming from? It’s the obvious next question, isn’t it?

TGOC Locations

Countries along the bottom, number of participants up the side

Enough of bar charts? Let’s have the one above represented by way of a pie chart then!

TGOC Location Pie

Are you starting to get the idea that Mick may have been a little bit lacking in interesting things to do whilst stuck in the house all day?

Last one – because there’s only so many charts and graphs you can come up with based on three pieces of information. This one is the average age by country (which is right up there with ‘Crossings vs Age’ for being statistically meaningless):

TGOC Average Age by Country

So, there you go. I’m sure that everyone who got to the bottom of this post feels thoroughly edified now.


Click to go to other Parts of this series of posts:

Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6