Blog Archives

Vango Tempest 300 Review

Summary first, explanation later!

I really like this tent, I’d give it 4 out of 5. If I gave ratings.

tent

I have had a long history of avoiding Vango tents. The first backpacking tent I ever bought was an Equinox 200. I took it out for a test run; a pole snapped and I discovered that the TBS straps had been stitched the wrong way around -so they locked in the wrong direction!

I sent it back to the shop who returned it to Vango for repairs. It came back ‘repaired’ I discovered that they had done nothing and it was still as useless as before. I got my money back and bought a Terra Nova Solar 2. This tent was £100 more, 2kg lighter and still in great shape today, 18 years later!

This experience and sleeping in other people’s Vangos over the years kept me away from the brand.

 

Recently I bought equipment for my school’s outdoor education program. I needed the full works from tents to maps to boots.

I was wary of Vango for the reasons outlined above but I had seen a lot of people were giving them good reviews. The Tempest 300 is on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award recommended kit list.

I took the plunge and bought some for the school.

I wanted to try the tent so I could iron out any niggles or pitching problems before handing them over to students so I took one from the store on a camping trip with my two children to Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan in Scotland.

The tent went up easily, I skimmed through the instructions in the bag -they seemed fairly sensible and straightforward: Three poles, colour-coded to pole sleeves on the fly. In common with all tunnels, peg one end, pull taut, peg the other end and the guy.

The tent pitched quickly and all in one. The porch groundsheet clipped in and pegged out. Once the tent was up I tightened the peg adjusters and then the TBS2 Tension Bands which prevent sideways  movement of the poles adding stiffness.

Over the next three days we experienced bursts of heavy rain and prolonged winds with strong gusts. The tent took everything in its stride. I always left the top of the porch door open and rain never got in. A breeze blew through the tent from the open vent at the back and out of the top vent and porch meaning that there was never a drop of condensation on the inside of the fly -this is a pretty rate thing in these conditions in my experience.

The tent is marketed as a 3 person tent. We used it with three people but two of them were under ten years old. The tent definitely would not fit three full-length (180cm) Thermarests inside, they’d overlap. We used two of these and a ‘body shape’ Neoair and they just about fit. The porch was fairly generous. We had waterproofs, wellies and a stove and plenty of room to move, put on or take off the waterproofs (one person at a time) in the closed porch. It would have been considerable more cramped with three large backpacks stowed in there. When it is used by the school the space should be OK. Three teenagers will take up a little less room (except for their kit, which will be strewn everywhere!).

 

Overall I was very impressed with the tent. We had plenty of room, it was definitely strong enough for the wild West-coast Scottish weather and pitched easily. I’m glad I chose that model.

 

Things I liked:

  • Enough headroom and ‘foot room’
  • Colour-coded, alloy poles (I HATE fibreglass poles! Nasty, bendy rubbish)
  • Easy, all-in-one pitching with no faffy adjustments needed
  • The list price is reasonable for the quality of tent. (And different retailers discount heavily)
  • Good ventilation (Which could be reduced if needed by closing the rear vent)
  • Sturdy design put up with wind and heavy rain
  • Little touches like the loop on the porch door zip made it easy to grab
  • Plenty of pockets inside

Things that could be better:

  • Not a ‘Three MAN’ tent (I’m 1.88m tall -three of me wouldn’t fit) Three teenagers would be OK or Two men would have luxury

 

 

 

Advertisements

Ennerdale

(March 2015)

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.

untitled (6 of 31)

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.

untitled (11 of 31)

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.

untitled (10 of 31)

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.

untitled (5 of 31)

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.

untitled (18 of 31)

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.

untitled (21 of 31)

The next morning was just as still and clear as the previous and  I enjoyed the views while I made breakfast.

untitled (25 of 31)

Frosty camp site

After a light breakfast I packed up and continued on towards Pillar and the descent back to the valley and my car.

 

 

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.

DSC04662

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.

DSC04705.JPG

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.

DSC04738

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.

DSC04764.JPG

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.

DSC04687

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!

 

 

 

 

Sub-zero summer in the Cairngorms

Lairig Ghru I spent an unseasonably cold August Bank holiday wandering the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. I’ve been there before, twice. But in winter and from the Northern side where all the skiing is. I’d never really ventured far beyond a few km from the ski station car park. As this part of Scotland is 6 hours away from home by car I need to have a long weekend at least to make a visit feasible. On Thursday morning I loaded the car and set off up the M6 and over the border. By 5pm I was getting out of the car in the Linn of Dee car park and swatting away the infamous midges.

Mar lodge estate forest

Mar lodge estate forest

I quickly applied some insect repellent, steeling myself for the airborne plague I would undoubtedly suffer for the next few days. Its rare I get from parking the car to getting on the trail as quickly as I did that day but I didn’t fancy getting eaten before leaving the car park.

My route began with a few hundred metres down a forestry track to the edge of the woodland. Out here on the open moor there were no flies, I suspect the breeze had grounded them all. Stopping to put on my gaiters I surveyed my intended route. Uphill, through calf-deep heather towards a little hill called Carn an ‘Ic Duibhe. Halfway up the hill was a long and apparently recently erected double fence. The fence had little signs along it at intervals. The signs said ‘Caution! Electric Fence’. Hazard number one. There was a sufficient gap at the bottom of the fence to squeeze through without my pack on. I through my walking poles over lay down on my back and shuffled through taking great care to avoid the wires. Reaching back through I pulled on my backpack. Once on the other side I was free to continue my journey.

Puffing and panting up the heathery hillside I was feeling decidedly unfit. I hadn’t been backpacking for a few months and had put on about half a stone whilst on holiday. Coupled with the heaviest pack I’d had all year and the toughest terrain I wondered about the wisdom of my plans. After a couple of hours walking I reached my intended stop for the night, a sheltered area just below the summit of Sgor Mor (813m). I’d seen an area on the map just lower than the summit and on the Southern side. I’d hoped it would be protected from the Northerly wind which was blowing in. It is amazing just how much difference a couple of metres makes. Down at my tent it was calm and not too cold. Outside the shelter of the hillock it was breezy and cold.IMG_0365

I prepared my kit for the night and sorted out what I’d have for dinner. It made sense to have the heaviest food first so it was stuffed ricotta and spinach tortellini with meatballs in a tomato sauce. Pudding was a Mars bar.

I popped my head out of the tent to look around and saw a group of deer about 20m from me. As soon as they realised I was there they bounded away over the hill and were never seen again.

I’d brought the harmonica I’d been given for my birthday so I could continue my practicing while I was away. Checking there was no one about to be upset the noise of my terrible playing I played through a few short tunes that I’d learned from my ‘harmonica for beginners book’.

Bed time comes early on backpacking trips so I was into my sleeping bag not long after 9pm.

Luibeg Burn During the night it rained and so in the morning I had to put away the tent wet. This isn’t so bad if you’re going home but not great if you need to use it again. I checked the map and set off over the brow of the hill Northwards. Today’s target was Ben Macdui, the highest mountain in the Cairngorms and the second highest in the UK.

The reason I chose to head over the tops towards Ben Macdui was that in the weeks prior to my visit a ‘once in 200 hundred years’ flood had knocked out at least one of the footbridges over the river flowing from Glen Derry. Large parts of the footpath had also been damaged.

The route from my campsite to Ben Macdui took me down into Glen Lui towards a bridge over the river. The latest information I’d found on the net was that this bridge was still extant. I could see the water level was still high in the burn but the bridge was still there. I stopped to fill my water bottle from a stream, no large flocks of sheep or people here. The river flowing quickly and clearly over a stony base. -It ticked all the boxes to be drunk without treatment of any sort. As I proceded up Glen Lui I needed to re-cross the river to get on to the hill Sron Riach. My recently purchased map (OL403, 2011 edition) showed a footbridge at NO012951 but I could not find it anywhere. There was no sign of a bridge washed away or damaged by floods either. (Later I noticed on the older version of the map (2004 edition) the bridge is not marked at this point. I wondered if it was an Ordnance Survey ‘fingerprint’ to identify copying).

Fording the stream with the help of my walking poles I was on my way again, climbing into the mist. There was no footpath from Sron Riach to Ben Macdui either on the ground or the map so I followed the edge over a tricky boulder field to the stream running SW from the mountain. Following this stream to its source I got onto a clear track to the summit.

The summit of Ben Macdui has many stone wind shelters, (perhaps a clue to the prevailing weather up there) a trig point and a view point stone. I could see very little from the summit, certainly none of the peaks listed on the view point stone. After a short while I retraced my steps towards the ruin and the path. I’d taken a bearing from the ruin to the summit on the way up in case I couldn’t see it on the way back. I’m glad I did because with all the wind shelters the summit looks similar in all directions when its misty.

Descending towards Loch Etchachan I met a walker coming the other way. We stopped and chatted for a while. He was in shirt sleeves and feeling warm, he expressed surprise and my fastened up coat, hat and gloves. He said he was staying at the bothy below the loch. I had intended to camp near the loch but as I was cold and the weather was not expected to improve I decided to give the bothy a try.

Loch Etchachan

The Hutchinson Memorial Hut (Coire Etchachan Bothy) is a simple stone hut recently refurbished by the Mountain Bothy Association. It has a small entry porch with space to hang a few coats, leave boots and some backpacks and a larger room with a bench along one side and a stove.  Bothies are free for anyone to use and are very popular. This was my first night in a UK bothy but I have stayed in similar huts in the Picos, Pyrenees and Sierra de Gredos in Spain.

At the same time as I arrived at the Bothy a young French couple arrived from the opposite direction. Already inside was a German chap whom I’d expected as the man I’d met on the mountain mentioned he was there. We got chatting and worked out how many people were likely to stay in the small hut and thinking at least some of us will need to camp. I didn’t mind the thought of camping but I was looking forward to be able to sit and cook indoors.

Eventually there were 7 people and 2 dogs at the bothy, this would have made it more than cosy. The man who’d brought the dogs and the German pitched their tents outside leaving 5 of us to sleep in the hut. We all cooked and ate inside and spent the evening chatting about mountains, veganism, Scottish independence and a variety of other topics. The conversation was helped along by a hip flask of Jura I’d brought along, just for this sort of occasion. Bed time came early and with three of us on the floor and two on the bench we said good night.

Huthcinson Bothy

The next morning dawned cloudy and cold but not raining and after breakfast I headed back up to Loch Etchachan. Three of the others took the opposite direction, back towards Braemar.

I climbed up to the Loch feeling heavy and unfit, but happy after my enjoyable evening in the bothy. I crossed the stream as it left the loch and headed Northwest towards Loch A’an.

The wind picked up and the rain started and got heavy. I stopped to don waterproof gear and carried on into the wind, descending to the Western edge of Loch A’an. I’d been told that I might see reindeer near to the loch so I kept my eyes open to see them. I saw no reindeer but I did see a couple of tents pitched on the loch shore near to a sandy beach. A beautiful spot, I made a note of it for future use.

My path on the other side of the loch was a steep track up the side of a cascading stream. I stopped to remove the waterproofs before beginning the climb and set off. I made surprisingly good progress up the 250m or so climb to the flat ground at the top. Looking back over the loch to where I’d come from I remembered why I was there. I love being in wild places, hardly a sign of the modern world. For a while even the weather seemed kind. It didn’t last.

Waterproofs back on I continued along the path towards the summit of Cairngorm itself. The heaviness returned. I felt slow and unfit once more. Eventually I reached the summit which was marked by a large cairn and a radio transmitter. I took shelter on the southern side of the cairn and made myself some lunch. I had to remove my gloves to prepare my food and by the time I had got them back on they were numb and losing mobility.

I wasn’t having the most fun being SO COLD IN AUGUST and thought about my options. I knew the weather wasn’t going to be brilliant but this felt like Winter and I wasn’t quite equipped for that. I had cold weather gear but I was missing my thick down jacket and winter gloves.

I looked up the weather facts when I got home. When I was sat on Cairngorm it was 1.5°C. The wind was blowing at 25mph and above. This calculates to a wind chill factor of below -5°C!!

It seemed like I had three choices;

-Descend towards the ski stations and work my way around to the car at lower level. -Maybe through Glen Feshie. No. That’s too far and I don’t have all the route on my map.

-Stick to the plan and head West across the northern edge of the plateau, descending in to the Lairig Ghru. -This was a high level walk using the edge of the plateau as a ‘handrail’ until I could descend. I was confident in my ability to manage the walk but it didn’t seem like a ‘fun’ trip in the weather.

-Retrace my steps and get back to the bothy where I know I’d be warm again and could dry off -This looked like the most sensible option. I’d be walking with the wind behind me and descending out of it.

Right then. Back to the bothy it was. I packed up, wrapped up and set off. After less than 1km I’d reached the fork in the path; left to the bothy, straight on across the plateau.

At that moment the wind dropped, the rain stopped and the mist lifted. I could see the Northern coires ahead of me and took it as a sign to carry on and not retrace my steps. I pressed on, stopping a while later to remove my waterproof gear once again.

The walking felt easy, over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairn Lochan each footstep felt good. The views superb. I heard a helicopter below me and looked over the edge of the cliffs to see the search and rescue chopper hovering close to the rock walls before turning and flying away.

The mist returned and a little drizzle but thankfully the wind stayed away. As I approached Lurcher’s crag I looked down into the coire I saw a small herd of reindeer. Too far away to photograph but definitely reindeer.

I turned north and climbed over Lurcher’s crag looking for a path down off the plateau into the Lairig Ghru. The map showed it as indistinct and I saw no trace on the ground. I checked my distances from summits and points on the map, I was definitely in the right place. Scanning the hillside below I saw a path a little way below me but nothing close by. I made up my own route to join up with the path and made it with no trouble.

The descent was long and tedious. The path was rocky in places, boulder in others, long and occasionally steep. I was very pleased to get down to the river. I refilled my water bottle and set off South into the Lairig Ghru. Seven km to the South of me was another bothy, the Corrour bothy. I had no intention of trying to make it there as my feet were tiring and a bothy in the middle of the Lairig Ghru would be absolutely heaving on a bank holiday Saturday evening.

My map showed some potential camping spots a couple of km away, flat spots on the map -but would they be bogs? I needed a place which was flattish, levelish and with a little breeze to keep the midges down. The first potential spots turned out to be bogs but a spot a little further along, too small to see on the map turned out to fit the bill. It wasn’t the most level site (I spent the night sliding down the tent) but it was midge-free and close to water.

Ghru camp

The rain began again and the wind picked up. I spent the evening in a very damp tent. Dinner was Super Noodles (I’ve remembered why I gave up on them as camping food now) and a dehydrated stew which was better than the noodles. A spot of harmonica practice and then bed time again.IMG_0402

The next morning dawned cold and wet and I decided against getting a brew on in favour of a sharp exit. By seven o clock I was on my way to the car. I wanted to get back for about 1pm so I could arrive home before it was too late.

The first two kilometres took me 1 hour as my legs refused to move quickly over the boulders. After the terrain improved my speed picked up and soon I was striding along past Corrour bothy and greeting my first passer-by of the day.

 

I had chosen to follow the River Dee from its source to the car. This was because It looked good on the map and didn’t require me to cross any missing bridges.

The final section of my journey began at the Chests of Dee where the track turned into hard-packed land rover trail back to the car. The final five kilometres flew past but my feet felt worn by the end of them.

Chests of Dee

The journey complete I dived into the car before the midges realised I was there.

 

I’d spent three days wandering the cairngorms in the height of summer and had barely seen the legendary pests. It had been close to freezing though and occasionally below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_0143

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.

 

Wild Boar Fell backpacking

In a couple of hours we’ll be on a train to Kirkby Stephen to begin our exploration of Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell.

The bags are packed and ready. Edward’s is 5kg, mine is about 17kg! -but I hope to eat a good chunk of that.

 

MWIS and the Met Office suggest we’ll do fine with the weather this weekend. I hope to be on the train home before we see rain.

 

Full report with photos after we’ve returned…

Favourite kit

As with, I guess, most of us who’ve been backpacking for several years the kit I use has changed a lot since I started. Some of my kit is pretty new but a number of pieces have been with me almost all the way. I thought I’d write a piece about why, year after year, they keep getting put into my backpack.

Tents.
My first backpacking tent lasted exactly one trip, broke, got returned to the manufacturer who failed to repair it so I got my money back.
After careful research in Trail magazine and TGO and feeling the merchandise in stores I decided to splash £300 on a Terra Nova Solar 2. I can’t honestly remember why I chose the Solar 2 over the Voyager but I imagine cost, weight and porch size were the key factors.
A close second was the Vaude Hogan but I found it too short (I’m 6’2″).

The Solar 2 has been with me on two of my three Picos de Europa trips, The Pyrenees and the Sierra de Gredos as well as many UK trips of up to a week. I’ve been out in hot Spanish summer conditions where I didn’t need the fly and in winter where I’ve needed to clear away the snow. In all these trips I’ve only had one problem with the tent withstanding the weather.
On the first Picos trip we were camped at Naranjo de Bulnes and a storm blew in, washing away the limited soil. The pegs came out and the porch began flapping about. We decided to pull down the tent and head to the refuge for the night.

Things I like about the tent: its 2.5kg full weight. There are lighter tents but the space in the solar two, especially the porch, mean it’s really comfortable to stay in. Pitching is a cinch. My regular camping friend and I have it down so well we can do it after many beers and in the dark! We can easily fit two 70L packs in the porch and still have enough room to cook or get in/out.

My second backpacking tent was a Hilleberg Akto. When I began to backpack solo more frequently I wanted a smaller, lighter tent. Initially I borrowed the Akto from Hilleberg to review for a website I co-ran many years ago. After a while testing the Akto Hilleberg asked for it back but I loved the tent so much I bought it from them (better than paying postage back to Sweden!). My feedback to Hilleberg was very positive, with a few areas for improvement: the zip on the door was straight, a curve at the top or a hood would improve ventilation without letting in the weather. Although I can sit up in the Akto, a few more centimetres wouldn’t go amiss.
When they updated the tent I was pleased to see they’d added a canopy to the fly sheet door. They’d also made it a little lighter!

Things I like about the tent: It’s so easy to pitch. Even in poor weather it takes no time at all. The pack size and weight are really good. I generally stuff the poles separately to the fabric parts and it squishes up easily.  Living space is perfectly adequate for me and my kit. Nice big porch and plenty of sleeping room.

Stove.
Since my first trip to the Picos (2001) I’ve favoured a multi fuel stove. The one I use is an MSR Dragonfly. I chose this one because I sometimes like to do more than boil water so a controllable flame was very useful.  Over the years I’ve used unleaded petrol, white gas, kerosene, ‘essence C’ -which turned out to be a dry cleaning fluid and most recently turpentine. It burns them all very well and without much tinkering needed.
I’ve only had a problem with lighting the stove once. In the Pyrenees on a hot day we tried to light it to cook some couscous for lunch. Because it was so warm the fuel evaporated before we could light it to prime the stove. I’ve maintained it at home before long trips and made running repairs whilst away. The one problem I couldn’t fix was when a weld broke in Scotland. The stove was returned to MSR who repaired it free of charge under guarantee -I was very impressed as the stove was over ten years old at the time.

Things I like about the stove: Can run it on more or less any fuel I can find, field maintainable, variable flame -from candle to welding torch!

Penknife.
For years I’ve carried a Victorinox climber knife. Its got all the essential items, even the strange awl tool. It’s not the lightest knife or the most well equipped but for me it’s the best mix of useful tools.

Packs.
I have two packs in regular use, both Lowe Alpine. An Alpamayo 70+20L for big trips and an Alpine Attack 50L for the not so big trips. I always rated Lowe packs because they are superbly comfortable and the build quality excellent. The bigger pack is now about 14 years old and showing very little wear beyond a bit of scuffing. It’s not a lightweight pack by any definition -about 3kg empty. I’ve never needed more room than it offered and it’s a very comfortable carry, even with 25+ kg inside it. The Alpine bag is about ten years old and gets used as my day pack as well as for lighter backpacking trips. It’s big enough for a week long trip in summer conditions. One thing about it that I have never liked is the attachment of the floating lid. It always seems to slip down and not stay in one place (the floating lid on the Alpamayo stays put).

Things I like about the packs: Their volume is what it’s meant to be. They’re both plenty big enough. Very comfortable adjustable back systems on both bags. Really hard wearing fabric.

Four Days in the Carneddau

I’ve visited Snowdonia several times over the years, never backpacking and never in the Carneddau. Always went to the South side of the Ogwen Valley road.
During the ML training we spent two days wandering around the Northern end of the Carneddau. It really whetted my appetite for a further exploration.

Maps were ordered, received and studied, Google Earth was zoomed, panned and tilted and a plan was formed. I realised that I could take the train to the North coast and make a four-day circuit of the area, taking in many of the main peaks.

Easter weekend became the obvious choice of dates, four non-working days where my wife would be able to look after the children without taking any of her precious leave (which she ran out of months before, the perils of a ‘normal job’). The return train ticket from Bradford to Llanfairfechan (a short distance before Bangor) was about £45, not too far off the cost of diesel in the car and without the hassle of finding a suitable parking spot for four days.

View of the North Wales coast

Beautiful weather at the start of the walk

 

From Llanfairfechan I could be into open countryside, climbing into the mountains within 2 miles, it was the ideal starting point. Excitingly I discovered en route that Llanfairfechan was a request stop and I needed to speak to the guard to ensure the driver knew to stop! The departure required me to flag down the train to get on board -I never knew this was ‘a thing’ that one could do in the UK.

Day 1: Llanfairfechan to Dulyn Bothy

My only previous experience of the Carneddau was in the Llyn Anafon area – an attractive spot a few miles inland from Aber Falls. My first day’s walking took me over some familiar ground  into the mountains. From Llanfairfechan I followed a good trail to the west of the Anafon valley over Foel Ganol up to Drum. The sun was shining and the air was warm -quite unlike my last experience of North Wales which was positively Wintery. I stripped to baselayers and fixed the solar panel for my PowerMonkey charger onto the top of my backpack. A few Km into the walk I came across a group of three Americans, exploring the area before heading off elsewhere on a European tour. They were holding up a guidebook and trying to fit its sketch maps to the view in front of them. “Hi” one of them said to me, “Is this Drum?” he continued, pointing at a hill to the East. “No” I replied. “Drum is a few Km further on, you can’t see it from here”. I took my OS map from my belt pack and showed them. “Wow, you have a topo!” he said, sounding genuinely impressed. I showed them Drum and we all carried on together along the track chatting. After a few hundred metres more we’d separated, they stopped for photos and I carried on ahead.

Clear mountain track

As I wandered alone I began to daydream. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to bump into Chris Townsend (Backpacking legend) when out in the mountains’. I looked up from my thoughts and heading towards me was a familiar face. Not Chris Townsend, but Dan English. A friend I’d met on the ML training months before and had since been backpacking around Helvellyn with. “Hello!” I said, with a broad smile and most likely a surprised look. “Hi, fancy seeing you here” he replied. We walked together to the summit of Drum, from where Dan had recently left. We sat and chatted a while, discussing our plans and discovered that we planned to wild camp in the same place the next night. After a short break we said good bye and went our separate ways.

From Drum I left the clearly marked trail and set off on a bearing across the hillside towards Dulyn Reservoir. The ground was generally fine for walking, tussocky grass with only the occasional boggy part. After a while the reservoir came into view, bounded at its Western edge by the cliffs of Craig y Dulyn

 

Reservoir and cliffs

Wild camp destination

 

As I approached the reservoir I kept my eyes open for a suitable place to pitch my tent for the night. There were a few spots here and there above the lake I made a mental note of one or two as I passed. Before pitching I went to check out the bothy, an old mine building a few hundred metres from the lake.

As I took the trail for the bothy I saw the perfect wild(ish) camp site. An area of perfectly flat ground -obviously man-made not far from the lake shore. That was the place for me!

The bothy is a small hut, containing two rooms, one sleeping and one communal cooking area. There was a small dome tent pitched on the front porch area. I opened the door and received a friendly  greeting from the occupants. About 5 people were there, all set up for the night. They asked if I was going to join them, I told them no, I would camp near the lake.

I left the bothy and returned to my perfect camp spot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I put down my pack and got out my Hilleberg Akto. Within a few minutes it was up and I was moving in. The weather was perfect for wild camping, clear skies, not too cold. The ground under the tent was a little hard but the pegs went in deep enough for me to be happy -perhaps not too happy in a storm!

Small tent and rucksack

After I’d got myself set up and a brew on a group of five more people arrived, looking to camp. They told me there were now about ten people in the bothy. That would make for a warm night in there!

Dinner was ‘look what we found’ meatballs and a pasta mugshot (tikka). It tasted fine and was the heaviest meal in the bag so I was glad to eat it first.

 

As the evening went on I wandered on the hill above the reservoir took some photos and watched some of the wild ponies graze. As usual, I was in bed before 10pm.

A nocturnal need had me getting out of them tent at about 2am. I saw the most amazing night sky. So many stars! I’m always happy to have woken up when that is my reward.

 

Day 2: Dulyn to Ffynnon LLugwy (Easier typed than said!)

two small lakes

Mountain lakes

The second day dawned cool and clear, another cloudless sky.

After a quick breakfast of Alpen I packed my kit away and set off uphill towards Melynllyn, a smaller lake slightly higher than Dulyn. A clear track, presumably used by the miners led the way to the second lake. The bothy was clear to see back down the valley and the calls of birds could be heard.

cliff view

At Melynllyn I took out the map to decide where I was going next.

I had an idea of where I wanted to go, just not exactly how I was going to get there. Looking across the lake I saw  the mountain walls that I needed to be on top of. The most sensible approach was to climb up the shorter hill to the left and then circle around the lake from above.

After a short climb I followed a stream onto the top of the hill. The views were excellent, back to the North from where I’d come and down to the South West towards Carnedd Llewelyn and South to Cwm Eigiau. Studying the map I decided to head towards Llewelyn and from there take a ridge to the South East towards Pen yr Helgi Du.

It was easy enough to get to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn as the weather was good but the ground was fairly featureless from this side, it could be a different proposition in mist or darkness.

The views South West from the Llewelyn summit are amazing. The black ladders (Ysgolion Duon) of Carnedd Dafydd look imposing from across the valley.

Imposing cliffs

Cliffs of Carnedd Dafydd from Carned Llewelyn

The ridge SE from Llewelyn looked fantastic walking. Undulating a little, with sheer cliffs on the Northern edge, terminating with a scramble up the edge of Pen yr Helgi Du.

The walking was great, comfortable terrain, great views, great weather. I looked ahead at the scramble up Pen yr Helgi Du, hoping that it was ‘just’ a scramble and I wasn’t going to get stuck halfway up and need Ogwen valley MRT to come and unstick me.

 

Cliffs

Craig Yr Ysfa

 

The ridge walk was fairly quiet, in fact, I’d not really seen anyone since I left camp in the morning. The Carneddau really are the quiet side of the Ogwen Valley -unjustifiably so, there is great walking to be had here.

 

After a while I came to a steep downward section of ridge and I needed to put away my poles and get my hands on the rock. I love scrambling but it really is a lot better when you’re not carrying a heavy backpack.

 

I was getting closer to Pen yr Helgi Du and I was confident that I could make the summit without issue. There was a path off to the side if I needed a last minute change of route.

 

Keeping my poles strapped to my pack I began the climb up the edge of Pen yr Helgi Du. The rock was firm and dry, the sun shining. It felt great to be scrambling alone, hardly a soul in sight as I ducked and weaved between overhanging rocks to the summit.

Mountain ridge

Lovely walking

 

I gained the summit and found I had the whole plateau to myself. Taking advantage of the solitude I dropped my pack, took off my boots and socks and lay down in the sunshine.

 

After re-fitting by boots I carried on, following a compass bearing towards Pen Llithrig y Wrach and a col between the mountains.

 

I stopped for a lunch of Primula cheese, Chorizo, Tuna and Pitta breads on the rocks of Bwlch Tri Marchog. Looking at Pen Llithrig I thought it looked uninspiring and debated whether or not to bother with it.

I decided to climb it, for completeness sake, but without my pack.

I stashed my backpack behind some rocks and set off unencumbered to the summit. There and back was less than an hour and I was right, it was uninspiring. Decent enough views down the far side though!

 

 

 

 

Returning to my pack I now set off contouring around the hillside towards Glan Llugwy and the track to the lake. I followed faint animal tracks through the heather and then climbed onto the Southern spur of Pen yr Helgi Du.

Ffynnon Llugwy came into view far below and I needed to pick a route to get down. Directly beneath me were steep rocky drops so I walked South a little way to a boundary fence and descended to the access track to the lake.

As I was hoping to meet up with Dan this evening I thought I’d best chose a pitch which would be visible to him on his approach. I checked the map and decided where I thought his most likely approach would be. I pitched the tent on a finger of land which lead into the lake. It was decently flat and not too exposed as the forecast was more increasing wind and some rain.

Sunlit mountain

Tryfan glowing in the sun

 

 

I got the tent up, made a brew, boiled some water for the evening and went for a lie down in the tent. A short while later a familiar voice outside asked if anyone was home.

 

Dan pitched his tent near to mine and we set about making our dinner. I went for the gourmet option of  a packet  of Mediterranean vegetable cous-cous to which I added some chunks of chorizo and chopped up dried apricots. It tasted fantastic! We joked about our last trip where I’d experimented with a packet of  mixed grains with Quinoa. I somehow managed to burn this and leave it cold! It was horrid. I’ll be sticking to cous cous or pasta in future.

 

The evening grew chilly so we both took to our tents, continuing the chat through sheets of nylon. There were three other tents pitched about the lake that evening. Unsurprising really as it was a short walk up from the road.

 

 

 

 

Day 3: Ffynnon Llugwy to Afon Anafon

The next morning brought light showers and a breeze. We packed quickly and set off our separate ways. Dan had originally thought of joining me on the first few Km of my walk towards Pen yr Ole Wen but changed his mind when he realised he could instead head for the Moel Siabod cafe for a fry up! We parted company at the road head and I began to climb up and over Craig Llugwy towards Ffynnon Lloer and Pen Yr Ole Wen.

Many times I’ve seen Pen Yr Ole Wen from the campsite in the valley (Gwern Gof Isaf) and fancied walking up it, especially something scrambly but I’d never got around to it.

Approaching ‘Ole Wen’ from the East I could see the rocky spur where I’d find a route to the summit. Arriving at the lakeside I found what looked like a path heading up into the rocks. It looked like a sensible scrambling route so I put away the poles, adjusted the pack and set off upwards.

 

The scrambling was great fun. Good holds, good foot placements and brilliant views. One part was a large, smooth slab with nobbles of quartz poking out. On a wet day a slip here could have been very serious I thought as I scrambled up.

Crags and grass

Approaching Ffynnon Lloer

 

After a while I reached the summit and enjoyed the views back over the Ogwen Valley. Familiar peaks of Tryfan and the Glyders. I made a note to climb Y Garn next time I’m here it is a very attractive mountain.

 

The weather forecast today predicted poor visibility and strong gusts on ‘exposed ridges’ -much like the Carneddau ridge that I would be on in an hour or so.

 

Ironically, the poor visibility was easy to see, a wall of mist creeping down from the North East and I was walking straight towards it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I set off towards Carnedd Dafydd and before I was halfway there I was in thick mist. The wind, as predicted picked up and I was suddenly very cold. I made a quick stop at a cairn shelter to add layers, check and set compass bearings and was on my way again. I got to Carnedd Daffydd in a short time and reset the compass. There was a family of about six people taking shelter and deciding what to do. I set off into the mist, all too aware of the sharp drop from the black ladders to my left. Typically, that was the direction the wind wanted to push me so I kept a fair distance from the edge, but close enough that I could see it and use it as a ‘handrail’.

After what felt like hours I got to the ascent up to Carnedd Llewelyn. This felt like hard work. I was hot in my layers, but would have been cold without them. I got to the summit about midday but didn’t want to hang around to eat my lunch. I rechecked the map, reset a compass bearing and strode off towards Foel Grach. A voice behind me caught my attention. A man from a group of three friends and a dog asked if they could walk with me as they were unsure of the way. I said they could but made no promises as to competence!

 

Finding the path was tricky, the limit of visibility was perhaps 10-15m and the best I had to go on was a bearing from the day before, when it was clear.

We walked a little way, found a faint track which was close enough to my expected bearing so we followed it, chatting as we went. After a few hundred metres I began to doubt we were on the right track. I stopped, checked bearings, contours and all the other bits on the map. We had drifted slightly to the East and downhill.
I set a new bearing and we started off, regaining some of the height we’d lost. The going was OK, terrain fairly firm and grassy. After fifteen minutes or so we arrived at what we believed to be the rocky summit of Foel Grach but there was no sign of the shelter I’d been expecting to find there. We searched a small area but to no avail.
I was certain we were at the summit, but where was the shelter?! I took out my smartphone and used an app to get a grid reference. A minute or so later our location was confirmed. We were at the summit, only about 20m from the shelter. We walked towards where the map said the shelter was and almost missed it. The mist thinning just enough to make it out.

We piled into the shelter glad to be out of the wind. It was small and dark, really not a place to spend a night except in an emergency. I ate a quick lunch and we put on the packs, locked the shelter behind us and walked off towards Foel Fras.

After Foel Fras the wind abated and the mist lifted (or perhaps we descended below it!) We could now see the hills in front of us and some of where we’d come from.

Hill track

Into the mist

Drum was the next hill and we passed with only a brief stop at the summit. We continued down the track where I’d begun my journey. My fellow travellers were heading for Rowen and a well-earned pint.

I said good bye and set off to Pen Bryn Du and a descent into Afon Anafon. I was aiming for an old sheep fold where we’d stayed on the ML course. It was flattish ground and the walls made a good wind break. Following a stream down into the valley floor my home for the night came into view.

 

sheepfold

The night was peaceful. I spent a lot of time just soaking up the views and drinking coffee and hot chocolate.

mountain trail

Day 4: Afon Anafon to Llanfairfechan

The next morning was calm and clear. I felt no urgency to hurry so I made a brew, ate my breakfast and enjoyed the morning before packing away.

 

The track out was easy walking and each step gave better views to the North and the coast.

 

After a few hours I was on the coast. The last few miles on the North Wales Coastal path back to Llanfairfechan and the train home.

 

 

a tree on the coast

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.

image

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?

image

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.

image

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.