Category Archives: children

Hadrian’s Wall -West

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). Hadrian map

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.DSC04769.JPG

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.

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Sophie as group leader finding the acorns.

Clothing

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.

Food

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!

 

 

 

 

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Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell (part 2)

From Wild Boar Fell to Baugh Fell

We awoke quite early, the rising sun shining on the back of the tent warming us up nicely. With a mix of dozing and chatting we passed the time until about 8am when Edward finally persuaded me to get a brew on. Breakfast was a sort of Alpen Porage -I always pre-mix the Alpen with sugar and dried milk so it gets stirred into hot water as a quick, warming fix.
After breakfast, while I was doing the necessary camp chores Ed went off to play on the ‘beach’ next to the tent. Amazing how such a simple thing brings so much pleasure to a small boy.

 

leaving sand tarnA while later we were packed up and ready to leave. Retracing our steps to the summit plateau we headed across to the fence line which we followed West then South before descending to Uldale  Gill. The going was quite easy, not too boggy but still no paths. Definitely an area to test navigational skills in poor weather. We kept to the right hand bank (Northern) of the gill and contoured across the hillside before tracking around Grain Gill. We followed another fence line down Needlehouse Gill to the farmhouse access road where we stopped for a lunch break.

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After a 25 minute rest and a fill of tuna wraps, lumps of cheese and chorizo we were on our way again. We descended to the very young River Rawthey and followed it upstream to Slate gill where we searched for a way up onto Baugh Fell. Near the gill were old quarry workings which made access to the fell quite tricky, unless you fancied climbing crumbly rock faces. I didn’t think Ed’s mum would approve of such a route so we sought out an easier grassy slope. From the  top of Slate Gill we set off on a bearing of (more or less) South which would take us to West Baugh Fell Tarn -our expected home for the night. The walking was heavy going. Tussocky grass and patches of bog all on a reasonably steep hillside. After an hour (which felt like forever) Edward was getting tired and beginning to complain loudly. To distract him from his tired legs I’d ask him a question about Minecraft, a computer game he’s obsessed about. “Can you… …make cakes in Minecraft?” “Oh yes Dad, you can…” and so on for a while before remembering he was tired. “Are there… elephants in Minecraft?” Another period of forgetting the ache.

West Tarn cairn

Eventually, after a couple of false horizons, heads of two other people appeared over the hillside. The first people we’d seen since mid-afternoon the day before. They were a couple with a dog out for an afternoon’s wander on the moor. They hadn’t expected to see anyone else either. We chatted  a while about the emptiness of the fells and they expressed surprise that Ed was only six and carrying his own pack. We set up our tent on the shore of the lake while the couple enjoyed the view before setting off, leaving us the fell to ourselves. This time we’d set up the tent with the lake behind us. This was to allow views of the Howgills and of the sunrise and also to keep the porch sheltered from the breeze.

We spent the afternoon lazing in and around the tent, just chatting and playing top trumps (Transformers). An evening meal of roasted vegetable couscous with chorizo and dried apricots, instant soup and Jamaican ginger cake replenished our energy levels.

From certain angles the tarn looked almost like an infinity pool. The area surrounding it was barely above the water and dropped away steeply. Looking out of the tent made it look like we were on top of the world.

 

Bed time came quite early as I wanted to get a decent early start the next day. We had a train to catch and more importantly, I wanted to get to the pub in time for lunch before the train.

Sunrise

The Sunday morning sunrise shone brightly through the open door of the tent waking me at about 5am. I took a photo, rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. Half sleeping, half shuffling around in my bed I finally gave up at 6.30 and made coffee. After the usual breakfast we packed and were on our way by 8am.

howgills mist

The clear skies had given away to patches of mist and a cloud inversion between us and the Howgills. By the time we set off it was compass work to get us to the trig point at Knoutberry Haw, a handy marker point on the fence line we would follow for the next few hours.

The terrain here was some of the most challenging yet and progress was slow. There were loads of large patches of bog, some of which were alarmingly deep -my walking poles went in an awfully long way! After about three miles of hard work and descent from the fell (and distracting Minecraft conversations) we came to the road. I’d promised Edward that at this point I’d lighten his backpack and he could eat the last remaining cereal bar. Promises kept, we set off towards the pub.

After  2 days of isolation we were all of a sudden back into the busy world. Packs of motorbikes whizzed past. Lycra-clad cyclists slightly-less-than-whizzed past -some looked downright knackered. I checked my watch, we had plenty of time for the extra mile to the Moorcock Inn. Edward was keen to get to the pub as he insisted he would have an adult portion. My wallet longed for the days where he’d be satisfied with a child’s portion. We arrived at the pub at 11:40 -twenty minutes before opening time. We took off our packs and sat at an outdoor table enjoying the sun and the views and wondering what we’d be eating.

At the end

The pub opened at 12pm on the dot and we were first inside. Half a coke, a pint of the local ale and a menu were ordered. We pored greedily over the delicious sounding choices, settling eventually for a pork and apple burger (Ed) and Lamb Koftas with feta cheese salad (me). We sank into some chairs by the window and relaxed, Edward happy to be finished walking.
The food arrived and was consumed rapidly. I enjoyed mine but was quite jealous of  the plump burger with large slab of local cheese which topped it.

Another round of drinks, the bill paid and we shouldered our packs for the final time.

We took the Pennine Bridleway back to the train station as it was slightly shorter and not along the road. I was surprised to find it as it was not marked on my recently purchased OS map of the area. We got to Garsdale station with about 20 minutes to spare, just a little while longer to enjoy the views.

 

This was my first visit to this area but it has whetted my appetite for more. I’ve not felt isolation like it anywhere in England. No people, no paths. Definitely my cup of tea.

 

Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell (part 1)

If Wordsworth wanted to ‘wander lonely as a cloud’ he’d be hard-pressed to manage it in the Lake District these days. A much better option would be to head to the far Eastern edge of Cumbria, in a place which is partly in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The valley of Mallerstang is North East of Sedbergh, East of the Howgill fells and South of Kirkby Stephen. It is bordered by rugged fells and contains at least two ruined castles. There are suprisingly few visitors, despite it being clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps and not requiring teleportation to reach it. It has a train line and everything.

 

Ed fieldsEdward and I took took the train from Shipley at around 11am on Friday morning. By 12.30 we were in Kirkby Stephen at the Northern end of Mallerstang. We shouldered our packs, checked the maps and set off. Within 5 minutes Edward had stumbled, unused to carrying a pack. I removed some of the gear from his pack into mine and we were off again. We headed East towards the River Eden which flows through the valley, aiming to follow it towards Pendragon Castle.

The going was very easy, footpaths marked on the map were either farm tracks or trails of discoloured grass across fields.

 

Lammerside castleAfter a short while we came across the ruins of a castle that I’d not noticed on the map, Lammerside Castle. We had a poke about inside it -as had several sheep from the look of it. A few photos later we continued south towards Pendragon Castle which was doing a good job of not being seen. We arrived at the castle to see several signs declaring it closed for repairs and there was no access to it. Oh well, best get onto the fells then.

 

We retraced our steps a little way and began to climb up the valley side towards Wild Boar Fell. A farmer fixing his dry stone wall would be the last person we’d see until late the next afternoon.

 

The views around the valley were very good, nothing to dramatic or awe-inspiring, just good hill and moorland country, unspoiled by heavily worn paths or herds of walkers. The ground showed very little sign of walkers ever being there in the first place. As we ascended towards Little Fell (559m) and High Dolphinsty Edward began to tire. He’d not uttered a word of complaint so far despite walking for several hours and carrying a load of about 3kg. “Almost there” I said. Countless times. “Just a bit farther…”. The ground began to steepen as we climbed towards a rocky promontory called The Nab. It was a sharp rocky edge with steep cliffs below it -quite a different character to the rolling grassland we’d travelled across so far.

The nab

Our destination was a wild camp at Sand Tarn a little way to the West and below the summit of the Nab. We turned towards the trig point of Wild Boar Fell, every step Edward was getting more tired and a little grumpy. Immediately after passing the trig point the ground falls away and the tarn is clear to see. This had an amazing effect on Edward who was all of a sudden recharged and ready to go. We got down to the lake in no time and he’d already chosen a spot for our tent. Throughout the day we’d discussed what makes a good place for your tent (not a swamp, flat, not in the strong wind, good views). The tent was pitched a couple of metres from the lake shore close to the sandy beach at the end. As soon as the tent was up Ed was off circumnavigating the lake, all tiredness forgotten.

Sand tarnSand tarn campSand tarn beach

Backpacking with a (almost) seven year old (planning)

A little over a year ago I took Edward out on his first overnight expedition. It was a lot of fun and quite easy because we used a youth hostel. Now he’s a bit bigger we’re off again. This time for two nights and we’ll be camping.

I’ve planned a route through the far edge of the Yorkshire Dales, next to the Howgills. We’ll take a train to Kirby Stephen and walk over Wildboar Fell, Baugh fell and back to Garsdale station for a train home.

 

The route I have in mind breaks down like this…

Day 1
Kirby Stephen station to sand tarn
10km, 400m ascent

Day 2
Sand tarn to west baugh fell tarn
8km, 270m descent then 300m ascent

Day 3
West baugh fell tarn to garsdale station
13km including trip to Moorcock inn
10km without
300m descent

 

We’ll only go if the weather isn’t awful because I don’t want to put him off!

Backpacking with a five year old.

I decided that my son, Edward, was old enough to go on an overnight backpacking trip. He has been on many countryside walks and loves camping. When I suggested to him we went on an adventure where we walked a long way, stayed out overnight then walked again the next day he was very keen.
I wanted to make this intro to backpacking as easy as possible (for both of us) so a route with a youth hostel and short days was planned.

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We set off early on Saturday afternoon from Gargrave train station and followed the Pennine way to Malham. A journey of about 6 or 7 miles. The forecast had said heavy rain so we dressed accordingly but we never got a drop. Fantastic! The going was easy, a bit squelchy underfoot but no worries. After all, what is more fun than squelching in mud when you’re five years old and have waterproof boots on?

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After about six miles Edward was getting tired and wanting to be there already. A short, steep road section didn’t improve his mood but the sight of Malham below us, a little way ahead did. The last mile flew past and soon we were checking into the hostel.

When packing for the journey I’d let Edward chose the meals. Saturday night’s dinner was hotdogs. Many of them. After dinner we had a short relax in our room, a four-man dorm, also inhabited by a couple of cyclists up in the Dales for a long road race. After a lie down we went to the lounge and spent the evening reading and watching TV (You’ve been framed and the Eurovision song contest). Also in the line were five or so other hostellers, three generations of one family. The grandmother in the family spent the time sketching various views through the window. Ed and I sat reading on the sofa. Edward kept looking up at the sketching lady and grinning. He leaned in close to me and whispered loudly, “I think that lady is drawing me!” She smiled, tore out a page from her sketch book and handed it to Edward. It was a pen sketch of him sat reading. He was thrilled! They then sat and chatted about books and drawing. She even let Edward draw something in her sketch book.
By ten o clock we were ready for bed, a very late night for Edward, about right for me.

Sunday morning came and brought a cooked breakfast (Edward’s choice). We ate, washed up, packed and were on the way around nine am. Sunday’s route was over the tops to Settle. A slightly shorter day of around five miles but with more ascent. We followed a walled track through the fields before a short road section then up and over the hills. A few grumbles about not being allowed to eat his Mars bar (not that close to breakfast) accompanied the early climb. Chocolate soon forgotten when he found a sheep bone and insisted I photographed it.

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The miles flew past, Edward finding things of interest all over the place, red moss, caves, sticks, rocks and cows kept boredom at bay. Soon enough we were passing Attermire scar and dozens of fell runners racing out of Settle.

Descending into Settle we made the essential purchases of an ice cream and a drink. Rewards well earned by our efforts.

A few hours later and we were on the train back home our first overnight trip a success.