Monthly Archives: August 2016
Time for another backpacking weekend and another two Quality Mountain Days. I had a long planned trip to Ennerdale in the North-Western Lake District in mind, part of the area I’d not visited before.
On Friday I rushed home from work, threw the ready-to-go backpack into the car and set off for the three hour drive to Cumbria.
Keswick is about 2 hours from home and Ennerdale isn’t that far from Keswick, on a map. In terms of Lakeland roads it’s another hour.
The plan was to spend Friday night in the Youth Hostel before setting off, up onto the ridge along the Northern edge of the valley, along to the head of the valley and Great Gable and back along the Southern side, finding somewhere to spend the Saturday night.
I parked the car at the car park in the forest and walked the mile or so to the youth hostel in darkness. I soon discovered I was not alone…
The road had a large number of frogs hopping about and so it became necessary to use my torch to prevent me standing on them. Although I never saw what it was, there was also company in the forest to my side. I’d hear the crack of branches and movement within the trees. Despite casting my torch I never saw what was in there.
Arriving at the youth hostel I was greeted by the friendly warden. A Dutchman. We chatted briefly and I tried to impress with the six or so words of Dutch I know. I settled into the shared lounge with a couple of beers and my maps.
The next morning I took advantage of a cooked breakfast before heading out into the hills.I only had to follow the low level track a short way before a break in the trees allowed me easy access to the hills above. I paused for a while on the summit of Red Pike (755m) and took photos and checked the map. From here my route followed the ridge to the south east towards Haystacks, the final resting place of Alfred Wainwright.
Haystacks was crowded, the first time I’d seen more than a single person since I left the youth hostel a few hours earlier.I found a comfortable rock and made my lunch. Tuna and cheese wraps, pretty standard backpacking food for me.
My plan for the afternoon was to continue onward to Green and Great Gable before moving towards Kirk fell and a bed for the evening.
The crowds thinned out again as I walked away from Haystacks. The weather was superb, beautiful blue skies and not cold at all.
I’d never been on Great Gable before and had heard several people extol its virtues. I thought it was okay but nothing amazing. I preferred Kirk Fell, or more accurately the views from it.
There was not a breath of wind and so I decided to pitch my tent in an exposed place on Kirk Fell. It was a four season tent so even if the wind picked up I was confident I’d survive. The spot I chose offered me amazing views of the Scafells.
The night sky was beautifully clear and so I spent a long time out of my tent just looking at the stars and at the head torches I could see on Scafell Pike. Eventually it was too cold to stay out to I retreated to the warmth of my tent and sleeping bag.
The next morning was just as still and clear as the previous and I enjoyed the views while I made breakfast.
After a light breakfast I packed up and continued on towards Pillar and the descent back to the valley and my car.
I had a day to myself today and decided that a wander in the Yorkshire Dales was in order. The forecast was warm with light breeze and patches of sun. Definitely no rain. I packed a light bag and then made it heavy by adding my camera and its bag.
I drove out to Malham, an absolute honey-pot for the tourists. Famous for its cove, tarn and for Goredale Scar. All of which would be swarming with walkers later in the day. Leaving the car a short way from the tarn I took a bridleway to the North East towards Arncliffe.
My plan wasn’t to follow marked trails but to strike off from the track and find ‘things’ marked on the map. There were many antiquities marked in the Gothic font in the area and I wanted to try to find some, to practice my navigation and just to visit new places.
Leaving the bridleway I plotted a course to take me to a tip (ruin) which was a couple of kilometres away. To get there I followed natural features (an edge) and walls. The area is all covered by CRoW Access land but I had to climb over several dry stone walls to get to where I wanted to go. In several cases there were gates which would have been useful but they were padlocked shut and often had barbed wire across the top -not very inviting to users of the land.
I found the tip (disused) marked on the map. On the ground there was a large pile of rocks partly covered in grass and a large cairn-like structure. I took a bearing towards the next point of interest, a settlement just under a kilometre away. On the map it was shown as being in a ring contour, from this distance there was nothing to be seen. After a swig of water I set off back the way I came a short way, to climb the wall in the same place and climb the next one too.
I had the map out at this point and began to get puzzled. The walls I could see on the ground didn’t quite match what I’d expected to see from the map. The angles seemed wrong. The contours were a pretty close match between map and ground but doubt crept in. I crossed a small valley, climbed up the other side onto the top of a small hill where I thought the settlement should be. There was nothing that my untrained eye could discern as human activity here. I was definitely on a ring contour though.
I took off my pack and took out my phone to check the grid reference, just to make sure I hadn’t wandered off track. The GPS confirmed my location was exactly as it should have been which I was very pleased about. I’d not be much good as a mountain leader if I got lost in broad daylight!
It had taken me quite a bit of time to get to this point in my walk. It wasn’t that far I’d traveled but crossing walls and careful navigating had cost me a lot of time. It was getting towards lunchtime so I walked on to a scenic spot where I could sit and test out my new stove.
I had been walking for about three hours now and hadn’t seen a soul. Not one single person, near or far since I parked my car at about 10am.
After lunch I walked northwards towards a small gorge with a stream flowing down off the hills towards Arncliffe. Contouring upstream to find a place to cross which didn’t require the use of a rope. As I got closer to the stream and to the bridleway on the opposite side I heard voices. The first other people in almost four hours. The voices belonged to two ladies enjoying the afternoon sun and two young boys building a dam in the stream. I said hi, photographed the view and walked on.
I was running out of time now so I opted to follow the bridleway back to the car. Within a few minutes my people count was up to seven, then nine, then more. Back into the popular areas. The walk out had taken four hours. The walk back, along a well trod bridleway only one.
I’ve recently added another stove to my little collection. When I began backpacking, about 18 years ago my gear was budget brand and heavy. Through the years I have upgraded and changed. The first stove I had was a solid fuel ‘hexy’ stove which cost about £4 with several fuel tablets. I still have and occasionally use that stove. Soon after I moved to a gas stove, a Coleman I think with extendable pot supports. It worked well and still does but it rarely sees daylight these days.
Moving from gas to liquid fuel
I began to get fed up with gas stoves because when its cold, they don’t work very well. When the gas can is getting empty, they don’t work very well. When its windy, they don’t work very well. I bought an MSR dragonfly for my overseas backpacking trips. Its lot heavier than any gas stove but I liked it because it works superbly in almost all conditions -I once had difficulty priming it on a hot day in the Spanish Pyrenees, but other than that no problems. I also like the fact you can see how much fuel you have left so running out isn’t as much of a worry. This was my main stove for the majority of my backpacking trips.
Going lighter, going back to gas
I began to re-evaluate my pack and its contents and decided I couldn’t justify the weight and space taken up by the dragonfly and its fuel bottle. The smallest, lightest stove I could find without paying silly money was an MSR pocket rocket. The reviews were positive and the stove is tiny.
The Pocket Rocket is a really good stove, its powerful and gets water to a boil in a decent time and it weighs only a few grams. I had moved from using a pan in my cookset to a titanium mug to save weight. A 100g gas can, lighter and several drink sachets fit nicely inside the mug leaving only the stove itself outside making my new and improved (solo) cookset a heck of a lot lighter and smaller than the petrol stove, fuel bottle and pan it replaced.
The stove is a fairly basic style and as such suffers the same problems as most other stoves (wind and gas pressure). This means I have ended up with a collection of part-filled gas cans!
Adding weight, solving problems
After another trip frustrated by wind increasing boil times to annoying levels -and being unable to cook in the tent porch I started to research ‘stove systems’ (MSR Windburner, MSR Reactor, JetBoil etc). They were all faster to boil and much more fuel efficient so the added weight of the heat exchanger was balanced by the better fuel use.
After reading a load of reviews and having a long-term love of the brand I settled on the MSR Windburner. My third MSR stove!
I’ve only been able to test it a couple of times and deliberately sited the stove in the breeze. The first time I used it I was amazed, I poured in enough water to make a coffee and it had boiled within thirty seconds. I’ve used it again to make coffee and with enough water left over for instant noodles. Again, the boil time was superb (I wasn’t geeky enough to time it!).
(Disclaimer: I’m not paid by MSR and I’ve bought all these things myself. That said, if MSR would like to give me free things they should feel free to do so…)
Pros and Cons
Basic gas stove:
Pros: Lightweight. Dead easy to use. Small pack size. Cheap
Cons: Best used out of the wind. Almost useless in really cold weather
Liquid fuel stove:
Pros: Super-powerful. One fuel bottle lasts a very long time (great if you need to cook for a group or boil all your water)
Cons: Heavy. Slow to set up. Takes up a lot of pack space. Expensive
Gas stove system:
Pros: Fast! More gas-efficient than the ‘normal type’. Continues to perform as the can empties.
Cons: Heavier and bigger than the smallest ‘normal’ gas stoves. Expensive
Last week I began the Hadrian’s Wall Path long distance trail with a friend and my two children (aged 6 and 9). The path runs across Northern England following the route of a Roman wall which was built about 2000 years ago to keep the Scots and Picts out of the Roman empire. For several miles sections of the original wall remain, although due to centuries of pilfering stones, not intact.
The route is 84 miles long from Bowness-on-Solway in the West to Wallsend in the East. The route covers urban, rolling pasture and wild uplands along its length.
We began our journey at the Western end hoping to finish off in familiar surroundings of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a train back home to Bradford. The original plan was to cover about 10-11 miles per day and cover the whole trail in the eight days we had available. Two days into the route we revised our plan and aimed to do the first half at a more leisurely pace. We finished with a train to Newcastle from Bardon Mill (A few miles south of the path).
It became apparent within the first two days that our pace wouldn’t allow us to complete the route in the time we had available.
We re-planned with an aim of about 10km (6 miles) per day with plenty of time for resting and enjoying the views.
This trip was Sophie’s (6 year old) first backpacking trip. Edward (9 year old) has been backpacking twice before and Mark has completed the Dales Way with me, but many years ago. All four of us carried a pack. Sophie’s contained her water bottle, sandals, sleeping bag and cuddly toy. Edward had sleeping bag, mat, clothes, sandals and water bottle. Mark and I shared out the rest including a tent each and two large bags of food to last several days.
The first two days of walking weren’t through the most inspiring bits of the country. Some of it was pleasant enough but there were a lot of diversions and footpath closures which meant many miles on roads and tired feet. After Carlisle things improved as more of the route was through fields and countryside.
The kids were enjoying themselves but wondered where the wall was. The western parts were never brick wall, they were earth mounds and ditches with wooden defenses atop them. It wasn’t until we reached Banks on the third day we actually saw ‘wall’ in the form of Hare Hill.
This raised spirits immeasurably and we really felt that the walk was beginning at this point. Soon, our second section of wall was found with a ruined fort just after Banks, towards Bankshead and the camping barn we hoped to stay in – we were keen on showering.
Unfortunately there was no answer at the farm where the camping barn was so after a while spent waiting near the farm we retraced our steps back into Banks and to a campsite.
After Banks the wall seemed to be an almost constant feature with many mile castles and forts to keep us company.
The countryside became more remote-feeling from this point, like we’d taken steps closer to wilderness. The ground was more rugged with craggy hills and rougher grasses rather than cultivated farm land.
The ups and downs began to take their toll on smaller legs and the pace dropped appreciably. We were all glad to reach Greenhead and our bed for the night. The map showed a campsite which had been long abandoned. The youth hostel had thankfully been taken into private ownership by the local hotel and was still open. We were glad of the shower and accommodation that didn’t need building. To complete our evening of relaxation we went to the hotel for a delicious and reasonably priced meal. £10 for a main course – The chicken and haggis was superb. The sticky toffee pudding that followed it excellent too! We retired to our beds full and happy.
The next morning we visited the ruins of Thirlwall castle and then the Roman Army Museum.
Up to this point we had been very fortunate with the weather. Winds had been gentle, rain absent and nights mild. Throughout the next day the rain came down. Not especially heavy rain, but constant rain. We were heading for Once brewed and our final night under canvas. When we arrived the ground was sodden and everything we touched turned to mud. Once again we availed ourselves of the local facilities and ate in the Twice Brewed Inn.
After a night of rain and mud we ate the last of the breakfast food we had brought, packed up one final time and walked out to Bardon Mill via the Vindolanda Roman Fort.
Our timing was, by chance, excellent and within fifteen minutes we were on a train heading for Newcastle.
Notes about the trail
As mentioned above the Western end isn’t the best. I think I were to do this trail again I’d begin at Carlisle. Its a lot easier to get to and the walking is better East of there. Many of the villages you pass through aren’t big enough to support a local shop or pub, this is bad if you’re looking to resupply or eat meals as you go. What we did find though is that a lot of the villages have honesty boxes containing soft drinks and snacks so light refreshment is possible as you go.
Places we stayed, ate and drank
Day 1: The highland laddie inn a brief stop for a drink
We slept at the Roman Wall Lodges this was a small campsite with a couple of camping lodges. We could use the (excellent) facilities in the chalet. This campsite was five minutes walk from the pub, the Drovers Rest in Monkhill. Food was served here and it looked good but we had eaten in camp.
Day 2: Cakes and ale Cafe a brief stop for, umm, cake and ale.
Our stop this night was at Stonewalls farm campsite in Laversdale. This was a basic farm site but it had a handy shed containing a kettle and microwave.
Day 3: Reading room cafe, Walton another short stop for cake and a drink. Lovely little cafe next to the village hall.
We made use of an ‘honesty box’ for a coke which was conveniently half way up the hill on the way to Banks.
The night’s accommodation was a campsite in Banks (can’t find a link. Its signposted at a house on the side of the road near the village green) We had hoped to stay in the camping barn but couldn’t make contact when we arrived.
Day 4: Birdoswald fort for a drink and a cake. House of Meg tearoom lunch stop. We opted for the ‘all-day’ breakfast. (Served until 1pm). All very tasty except the sausages which were disappointing and cheap. The pub nearest the cafe was shut at lunchtimes but about half a mile away the Samson Inn was open and on the route.
Our overnight accommodation was at Greenhead Youth Hostel (Independently owned). This gave us our first shower of the trip. We ate dinner in the hotel too. Good ale and food with reasonable prices. £10 for chicken breast with haggis -delicious.
We’d expected to stay in the campsite marked on the map but it no longer exists.
Day 5: We had an early lunch in the Roman Army museum cafe at Walltown before continuing on our way to camp at once brewed at Winshields farm. The farm had a tearoom, served breakfast and had a camping barn. We didn’t have opportunity to test these.
Not really looking forward to a pasta n sauce dinner sat in a soaking wet tent we went to the twice brewed inn. The inn offered a range of ales and good food. It also had accommodation.
Day 6: Vindolanda this was our final visit on the way to the train. Nice little cafe in the museum.
Backpacking with young children
I thought it might be useful to anyone else considering this sort of undertaking to offer information and suggestions about taking little’uns on multi-day walks.
- Mileage: We found that a plan for 2kmh was about right – this includes rests and meal breaks
- Pack weight: As light as you can! – throughout the trip as my pack got lighter due to food consumption I moved things from theirs to mine to make it easier on them.
- Bed: All of us had a Thermarest type mattress -yes, Karrimats are lighter and probably character building but I wanted peaceful sleep all round!
- Sleeping bags: We used lightweight summer bags and both kids also slept in onesies – these were only used in the tent to keep them clean.
- Footwear: The kids wore walking boots with proper walking socks. We all had sandals for in-camp use.
- Warm wear: Both kids had a fleece jumper and would wear waterproofs as a walking warm layer (Remember: they cool down much easier/faster than adults so wore more clothes as a general rule).
- Water: Make sure they drink it! -We took one of those super concentrated squash bottles where a tiny squirt makes a glass of squash.
They liked to have their own packs because they felt like part of the team, they could also keep their own snacks and water bottles. Edward used an old pack of mine and Sophie used her school bag. As a walking backpack it wasn’t ideal as the straps were too close together at the shoulders which meant she needed a hood or similar to stop the straps rubbing her neck. I used this pack because it’s pink and she likes it! Sometimes giving in to their irrationalities is worthwhile to keep them happy. Both children took a small soft toy for bed time and a book each.
During the day they took turns (sometimes argued about) at being the leader and going first. The trail is superbly well way-marked with the national trail acorn emblem so route finding was never an issue.
Sophie as group leader finding the acorns.
In order to keep pack weights down we had to be flexible with clothing choices and not to squeamish about repeat-wearing pants!
The waterproof trousers and jackets doubled as a warm layer for the kids along with their jumpers. Edward wore his precious football shirts as his wicking baselayer, Sophie had to make do with standard T shirts. Shorts paired with waterproof trousers make a comfortable and practical set of legwear keeping the wind out but not too sweaty.
On an evening, as soon as the tents were up the boots came off to dry/air and the sandals went on to let hot feet breathe.
Meals: Obviously you know your kids and what they like. Food is fuel on the trail so its important they eat plenty
Breakfast: We had ‘red’ Alpen (the one with sugar in) mixed with full fat milk powder. Just adding hot or cold water made a delicious, creamy breakfast
Lunches: Tortillas (decent shelf life) with Primula squirty cheese or John West Tuna sachets in a variety of flavours
Dinners: A variety of things including: Uncle Ben’s microwave rice packets (add a little water to prevent burning) mixed with a ‘Look What We Found’ Chili con Carne’ (Three rice and one chili to get plenty of carbs) Good old pasta n sauce, Cheap Ramen noodles (BBQ beef flavour) and the best meal… Ainsley Harriot flavoured cous cous, chorizo (chorizo almost always makes it into my pack because its delicious, keeps well without a fridge and its delicious!) and dried apricots.
Snacks and trail food: A bag of dried fruit and nuts, bags of ‘Percy pigs’ gummy sweets, marshmallows (also added to hot chocolate), jelly cubes.
When we could we’d pop into cafes and have a drink and some cake to keep morale up and support the local economy!