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]

Saturday 17 October 2015

A Short Week in Wales - Thursday

Moel y Golfa (SJ291125)

Another fine morning greeted me so off I pootled the few miles to the village of Middletown, where a car park that I adjudged to be a general use one (rather than belonging to the nearby pub), offered a safe haven for Colin whilst I trotted off up my fourth and final Marilyn of the trip.

It looked for a while like my attempt was going to be thwarted, when I came across some very clear and prominent ‘No Footpath’ signs exactly along the line I wanted to investigate. I did ignore the first sign, but when I came to the next I lost my nerve. It felt rather indefensible to be trespassing in the face of such signage. I considered giving up the attempt for another day, when a different approach could be used, and contemplated whether I fancied a very round-about walk using footpaths, but the final decision was to trespass anyway, but following the route I remembered reading about in people’s logs on

The route worked well, but the earlier “Don’t come this way under any circumstances” signage had me nervous enough that I almost trotted up the hill and breathed an enormous sigh of relief when I got to the sign below, indicating that I was all legal again:IMG_9732

I was into woodland by then, where I stayed almost until the top. I knew that I was going to find a memorial on the top (as the description of the highest point was ‘rock on knoll 20m NNE of memorial’) but I hadn’t expected it to be quite so big! Nor had I anticipated the quality of the views, although I’m not sure why, considering the shape of the hill.


Apparently the chap who erected the memorial (who himself died in 1986) was never beaten in fisty cuffs from the age of five to sixty, amongst other things:


I had initially been confused, as I’d misread the above, and thought that it said that the memorial was erected for Uriah in 1986, which didn’t tie in with the visible age of the palings surrounding it. It was only when I wandered over to the next knoll across that I noticed this inscription, dating the memorial back to 1960:


Opting to follow public footpaths down the wooded south side of the hill for my descent, I experienced a phenomenon the opposite of what I used to regularly experience back when I ran regularly. In those days I often returned from a circular run feeling like 90% of it had been uphill. On this hill I descended steeply for so long that I felt like I’d lost twice the height I’d gained on my way up, then I looked at the map and realised that I wasn’t even half way down, and descended steeply some more. 


And that was that. My hills had been bagged, my parents’ memorial visited and the weather had been fine throughout. Thus the trip declared a success and off home I went.

The modest stats for this day were 2.5 miles walked with 1000’ of up.

A Short Week in Wales – Wednesday

Y Golfa (SJ182071)

Vaguely coming to and looking at my watch at 0620 I was pleased to have woken early, as it meant that I could text Mick before he set out for work, so I made an effort to wake up properly and groped for my phone, only then to remember that I had no signal. I made do with sending an email via the BT hotspot, and in so doing came to realise that it was jolly well parky! A quick peek out the window at a very frosty world had me decide not to capitalise on the early hour, but rather to snuggle down under the duvet until the sun had risen enough to hit at least one of Colin’s windows.

Eventually I did make a move, in the direction of Welshpool, just before where I deposited Colin in a layby at Sylfaen station (on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway) to head up Y Golfa.

I had good intentions of following Rights of Way the whole way, but when I got into the first field (and I was on the path at that point, even though the recorded track shown below suggests I was a distance out) I couldn’t see a way out of the field in the direction taken by the footpath, but I could see a gate further to the east. Knowing that the farmer’s eyes were upon me, I strode with purpose and like I knew where I was going, hopped over his gate* (yes, at the hinge end!) and to my relief found a good trodden line through the bracken from there all the way up to the golf course. So, that was a corner nicely cut!


I would have taken a slightly more direct line across the golf course had it been deserted, but the presence of a man on a mower, tending the greens, had me make some pretence of following the lines on the map*.


Look carefully and you’ll see a man on a mower


Oooh, is that my next hill over there?

I did follow the Rights of Way on the way back off the golf course, initially Glyndwr’s Way, then a footpath, at least until the footpath started heading down the middle of a fairway, whereupon I decided that following the perimeter would be acceptable. Then I trespassed back down my ascent route, once again striding across the farmer’s field with purpose as he was still within view, in his yard.

With the outing having only come in at 1.8 miles, with 600’ of up, there was plenty of time left in the day to go and tackle my final hill of the trip. However, I still had a day and a half at my disposal, so instead the afternoon was spent beside the Montgomery Canal, mainly reading a book, but with a couple of hours spent ambling along the canal, where autumn was fully in evidence with fallen leaves littering the water and the towpath:



My chosen parking place for Wednesday night turned out not to be as ideal as I’d hoped, albeit (as is usually the case) mainly due to an overactive imagination. There was a surprising amount of coming and going to the nearby houses, with the visitors using ‘my’ car park as a turning circle (as I left on Thursday morning I realised that I would have been less surprised by the amount of coming and going if I’d appreciated earlier that what I thought was a pair of semis was actually a terrace of four). Couldn’t complain about the amenities, though; I had a phone signal and a BT wifi hotspot all from the comfort of my sofa/bed.

(*Post Blog Note: If I’d had a 1:25k map to hand at the time, I would have known that once I was out of that first field, I was on Access Land, and thus I could have wandered across the golf course to my heart’s content.)

A Short Week in Wales – Tuesday

Glasgwm (SH836395)

Having contemplated the map, I decided not to go back to the layby I’d overshot on Monday, but instead would take a look at the possibility of attacking Glasgwm from the top of the pass (Ochr y Bwlch). I was reasonably sure there was a stile onto the access land and, as the top could be reached simply by following fences from there, it seemed likely there would be some sort of a trodden line too.

What I hadn’t expected was for the car park at the top of the pass to be heaving before 8am such that, as I approached, I feared that there would be no room for me. Thanks to the group already gathered having double-parked, there did prove to be space for Colin, and after a good session of pre-hydrating, off I set in one direction whilst the other group headed off in the other, taking out of earshot the overly-loud man who believed that a certain word (starting with ‘f’ and ending in ‘ucking’) had a home in every single sentence he uttered.

A steep initial ascent (some of which I did twice, having realised a few minutes in that I’d left my water bottle in Colin) took me up onto the ridge and it turned out to be a lovely walk. A good route choice too, I thought, in that there was a stile everywhere I needed a stile to be (and every stile even had a little disk giving its grid reference, which could prove quite handy on a day with poor visibility). As it went, I had gorgeous conditions. In fact, until it got a bit cool up on the ridge once I got up to about 700m, it was difficult to believe that it was mid-October.

There’s a llyn right by the summit, but the sun was in the wrong place for me to get a passable snap of both the water and the summit cairn, so instead here’s a shot of part of the llyn, with a taster of the lovely views I enjoyed:


And looking in a different direction:


Returning largely by retracing my outward route, I couldn’t resist trying a little bit of a shortcut through the forest where my 1:25k map said there was a track lopping off a corner. I’m sure I found its line, as I found one of these over every drainage ditch:


but I don’t think that track has seen much traffic in recent years! Oh, and I managed to find a knee-deep, water-filled hole with my right leg on my way through too…

By the time I got back to Colin, he was the only vehicle which was neither blocked-in or blocking-in, and the verge opposite was also being used. I’ve never seen that parking area so busy! Someone did come and briefly park in front of me whilst I was lunching, perhaps momentarily thinking it was an acceptable thing to do based on the surrounding evidence. Fortunately, he did think better of it before I had to go and point out that it would be a little bit of an ignorant place to park.

The outing came in at 6.5 miles with 1900’ of up. This is the route I took:


I’d recommend neither my ascent nor my descent route in their entirety. My experience suggested that the best option would be to follow my descent route up to the edge of the forest, then follow the edge of the forest round to pick up my ascent route from point 656.

Esgair Ddu (SH873106)

Still feeling under-energised after a recent bout of the lurgi, I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle another hill on Tuesday, but equally, I couldn’t think of anything better to do with my afternoon, so I settled on the plan of parking up in Cwm Llinau* and just taking a bit of a wander to check out the approach route…

… which, of course, translated into me tackling the whole thing and visiting the summit. I got a phone signal up there and, bizarrely, took more phone calls in the next five minutes than I usually receive in the space of a month. It probably goes without saying that I didn’t see anyone during the entire outing, so my temporary use of the summit as an office didn’t cause a disturbance to anyone else.

Here are a few summit snaps:



Walking back across the top for my descent was incredibly boggy, which wasn’t a surprise, given how squelchy my nearby ascent route had been. The map suggested it would be so:


As you can see, a slightly different line was taken on the descent. There wasn’t much in it though; both lines required the same number of fences to be crossed and, unlike my morning outing, I didn’t see a single stile on this hill.

With shins so sore that I walked the final descent down the road backwards, I arrived back at Colin just as the sun was dipping behind the hills, with 5.3 miles walked and 1400’ of ascent.

Later in the evening I did something I’ve not done for years: I used a phone box! My chosen parking place for the night was flat and quiet, and even had a BT wifi hotspot, but there was no mobile signal nearby, so I was pleased as I drove through the  village to spy that it had the rare amenity of a coin-accepting phone box. I may have had to clear cobwebs to get to the phone, but at least it worked (and not bad value at 60p for 30 minutes).

(*This hill can be tackled from quite a number of directions, but my journeys around the local roads on StreetView suggested to me that of the two possible places I could find to park a Colin-sized vehicle, Cwm Llinau was the better option.)

A Short Week in Wales – Monday

Last Sunday it occurred to me that there was no reason that I needed* to be at home this week and thus, with Mick away working**, I may as well take a trip somewhere. I soon came up with a vague notion of a plan, filled Colin’s water tank and threw the necessary stuff into a crate, before I even looked at the weather forecast. By good fortune, the forecast turned out to be excellent, with high pressure sitting over the UK.

Up bright and early on Monday morning, off I set Walesward with good intentions of visiting the top of Glasgwm on my way to the seaside. Those good intentions came to nothing, when I overshot my intended layby (strictly speaking, I could have made the turn, but I didn’t think the van on my tail would appreciate the manoeuvre!) and was unable to turn around in a sensible distance. Having completely forgotten the research I’d done months and months ago, which suggested an alternative start point at the top of Ochr y Bwlch, I continued onwards to Barmouth and spent a nice sunny afternoon alternately ambling around (including a seaside walk and a trip up Dinas Oleu) and reading about the Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst***.

My night-stop for Monday night was perfectly legal, if a little cheeky (to my mind, anyway), but it gave me a quiet night, so that I would be raring to go again bright and early Tuesday morning.


(*There are lots of jobs that need doing at home. The downside of being away so much is that they don’t get done. The upside of being away so much is that we’re not at home being bothered by the deficiencies of the house!

**Maybe one day Mick will truly get to grips with the concept of retirement!

***Thank you Conrad! It had me gripped and I rattled through it in a couple of days.)

Friday 2 October 2015

Brooks Cascadia Trail Shoes

During our GR10 walk in July this year, Mick’s shoes fell apart. That led to something highly unusual: he put fingers to key board and wrote a blog post; a gear blog post, no less. He wrote it as soon as we got home at the beginning of August, the same day as he put the failed shoes back in the post to I decided to hold off posting until I could provide an update as to what happened next. It didn’t anticipate that the resolution would take the best part of two months! So, here (belatedly) is Mick’s view of Brooks Cascadias:

I’m not often the one to put pen to paper and produce some words on the blog; however, I feel that I must place something on record if for no other reason but to get something off my chest.

In 2012, Gayle and I were preparing to fly over to the USA to hike a 500-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and I was having issues with which footwear to use. The hike would be, initially, through part of the Mojave Desert and then on into the high Sierra Nevada. The PCT is not a technically difficult hike as the trail is well-maintained and way-marked; however, underfoot conditions are harsh mainly due to the high temperatures and, on our section, the sandy ground.

While I was in a local running shop, the owner recommended to me a pair of Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. I tried them on and instantly loved them: comfortable; supportive; well-cushioned; lightweight; good grip (apparently); not to mention quite a snazzy design (is the word ‘snazzy’ allowed these days?). I bought a pair (lime green they were) and used them on our warm-up walks (the Cambrian Way and other local walks) and they did indeed prove very suitable.

We flew out to California in June 2012 and I bought a pair of the same Cascadia trail shoes (orange these were) in Las Vegas for use on the PCT. How surprised was I to find that the great majority of PCT hikers we met on the trail were also wearing the same footwear – I had obviously made a good choice. They proved to be an excellent trail shoe. Together with other walking, these have covered some 800 miles – I still have them, too (see below).


In the glorious summer of 2013, I was expelled from the house by Gayle (who was working at the time) and sent back-packing: I opted to walk the Pennine Way (which Gayle also walked with me, mostly vicariously). Once again I used my lime-green Cascadias and loved them. Then in 2014, I used the same pair for the TGO Challenge (TGOC) where, by the end, they had finally holed on the uppers and I had to dispose of them. They had covered some 700+ miles.

Also in 2014 I bought a new pair (a rather more subdued grey/orange colour) which I used to walk most of the Home to Edinburgh (a warm-up to the TGOC). These I now use as my ‘going-out-for-a-stroll’ pair. These are going strong and are still in almost daily use with at least 600 miles on them.


This year, we decided to spread our wings (or should that be feet?) into Europe and walk the GR10, for which I went to my ‘go-to’ trail shoes and bought the latest iteration of the Cascadia. They now look more like running shoes (on the upper) than the original trail shoes, but the comfort is similar to the original design and the grippy sole design is the same. After around 180 miles of the GR10 I noticed that the upper mesh material was wearing through (so much so that I could see through it) on the both sides of each shoe. After another 65 miles of walking, the upper is completely separated on both sides at the crease point above the toes. The picture below shows the holes (I have put my fingers up through the holes to show the extent of the separation).



Upon our return, I have compared the designs of the 3 pairs that I still have (the PCT pair, the day-to-day pair and the GR10 pair) with the following conclusions:

Sole: The sole is similar cross each of the three models of the Cascadia with lugs under the ball and heel of the shoe with distinctive ‘ribs’ under the arch of the foot.

Upper: the initial (PCT) pair has an offset lacing system with a soft mesh material upper (which sometimes let in sand during the PCT); the day-to-day pair has a more robust material in the upper (which keeps out debris) but has retained the off-set lacing; the GR10 pair has a more standard, in-line lacing and a very soft material. Critically, the upper support design has changed in the GR10 pair and the reinforcing material now runs across the shoe instead of along the shoe on the top of the toe-box. In my opinion, this places a stress line across the crease line above the toes, which, together with the less robust material results in the material failure.

I have recommended Brooks Cascadias to many people over the last couple of years; however, this was based on my experiences with my first three pairs of shoes. The changes to the design and to the material of the latest iteration have completely changed my view on this: STAY CLEAR OF THEM until Brooks return to a more sensible, robust design of this well-liked and respected trail shoe.


(What happened next: As soon as we got back home the offending shoes were cleaned and posted back to Four days later they offered a replacement and I wasn’t really moved to argue for a refund as there was no question that we could make use of another pair of shoes, albeit not Cascadias. By the time the replacement was offered, we were travelling and not in a position to be browsing the Sportsshoes website choosing new shoes, so that task waited until we got home. On 1 September, I sent off an email specifying what we wanted in exchange; it took 8 days for Sportsshoes to respond requesting clarification. I replied immediately asking what information more did they need, beyond the URL to the product page on their website, and the screenshot of the product, that I had provided in my original email. I didn’t receive a response, but 12 days later (i.e. 21 days after I very clearly specified which shoes were wanted) I did get a note to say that the order was being processed. ‘Gaaaarrrrggghhh!’ I thought, as we were away at the time, and I had visions of the parcel being returned and having to start over with the painful replacement process. Happily, the delivery driver chucked the parcel over the back gate and there it waited patiently for us. The end result: I now have new shoes in place of Mick’s broken ones; Mick’s new shoes will wait until he’s seen the next version of the Cascadia. I’m not very impressed with the service given by, and can’t help but think that everything would have been much more efficient if they’d just refunded and I’d placed a new order … but we got there in the end.)