Westbury and Melbury Hill

I’m bored of talking about how wet it has been down here in the South West recently and trying to persuade those who still wish to dig their heads in to the sand about the reality of global warming. We have had a few moments of blue skies though, a couple of weeks ago we had our friends down with their three boys and managed to cram in a cracking weekend with no dark clouds to be seen.

First up was Westbury for a gallop along the white horse. I love that place as it has a flat field for footie / rugby and kite flying but then you get to explore over the horse and the rest of the earthworks that are there. The following day we headed up to Melbury Hill for cracking views over the Blackmore Vale. Heres a quick vid of our two days.

Chee Dale & a New Year

A very happy belated Christmas & New Year to all. So far it’s been a cracker and a couple of days ago was no exception with jaunts To Chee Dale, Millers Dale, Arbor Low and Bakewell.

What’s surprised me however has been editing and putting together the movie you see below on my phone. I shouldn’t be amazed any more about what technology can do but I’ve been genuinely blown away about the possibilities of iMovie on the iPhone.

Anyway I’ll shut up now and you can watch the swollen river through Chee Dale try and wash me away.  Have yourselves a peaceful and joyful New Year that spreads far in to 2014.

Review: Target Dry Kids Mac in a Sac

Ifor & Ellis standing still for once.

Apparently it’s the law that every time you see an Auntie or Great Aunt they have  to mention how much you have grown when your a kid. It used to annoy the hell out of me when I was young, but as a Dad I’m all too aware of how quickly my two little darlings are sprouting up faster than a certain Mr Jack and his beanstalk. I was pretty chuffed as a result to be sent two mac in a sac’s for review by the good folk at Target Dry as Ifor and Ellis are going through jackets every month it seems. So, being an outdoor geek, let’s take a look at what you get.

Specs

  • Waterproof, Breathable & Windproof
  • Fully Taped Seams
  • Concealed, Adjustable Hood
  • Reversed Front Zip
  • Zipped Front Pockets
  • Back Vent
  • Packs into its own sack
  • Elasticated Comfort Cuff
  • Adjustable Drawcord at Hem
  • Reflective Branding
  • 2 Year Guarantee

So far pretty standard for a waterproof jacket, but what really impressed me was the cost of them – just £20 including p&p. For those of us who like getting out and about and don’t want to spend £60+ on a decent jacket every time Damian / Esmerelda shoots up (delete as appropriate for your little poppet), these are to my mind a bargain.

The breathability is also a huge plus for me. Ifor in particular has a couple of jackets that when he runs leave him swamped with sweat inside. Don’t get me wrong, no jacket is going to ever cope with the amount of sweat he produces as a SMEALD (single minded extremely active little dude) but the breathability of 5000gsm does help. Couple that with the large vent at the back and it performs better than his other jackets. Thumbs up.

The other major plus is the fact these things are so damn light and pack in to their own bag. Taking them on and off as a result or sticking them in a rucksack in case the weather comes out to play then becomes so much simpler. As a Dad (aka packhorse) the less weight I have to carry, the more times I can throw them laughing up in the air and down again. Another thumbs up.

As a weather proof jacket I also like the fact they have a decent drawcord so when we have been out on Dartmoor and the mist & rain comes down, they can seal up to protect themselves. The hood is also a good fit in that regard with an elasticated hood and front mouth closure. Sadly you can still hear them talking through this.

As for the down side, the only thing that leaves me a little worried is the thickness of the fabric and it’s durability. As jackets get handed down between sons this does mean that it may be better value for me to get a slightly more durable jacket if these don’t last. I’ll keep you posted however and update this blog post as they get stress tested.

Speaking of which we have tested on beaches, county hills, mountains, bike rides and so far for their weight and sheer practicality they have replaced the other waterproof coats the boys have. I guess that tells you you all you need to know.

Good Stuff

- Lightweight and packable to the max.
- Breathable.
- Extremely good value for money.

Not so good stuff

-Fabric isn’t the toughest we’ve seen but we’ll update you after more adventures.

You can buy the Kid’s Mac in a Sac here in a variety of lovely colours for £19.99 direct from the Target Dry website with free postage

Old school train to the beach

Please note that Target Dry provided these jackets for free, however the views expressed as always are my own and given without fear nor favor. The value of your house can go up and down as well apparently and the contents of this blog post may be hot.

 

Social Hiking Podcast

I was incredibly privileged to be asked by Phil from Social Hiking to take part in his second podcast recently and the fruits of our labours have just been uploaded. I’m pretty stoked with the results , if nothing else because it’s a reminder of a fantastic weekend that was had recording it.

Phil

You can download the podcast from iTunes here, or download straight from Social Hiking here. That last link has loads of great show notes as well BTW. Finally Phil has kindly let me embed his player below.

We looked at walking with kids and joys and not so joys that can involve, went walking with the kids in the woods, packed in a microadventure and looked at updates to Social Hiking and our fav maps. I would like to thank Phil for doing a masterful job in putting together the podcast itself and for the fact  he also uploaded some Audioboo’s of our climb up Alfreds Tower, the Tour de Dorset + Bongos that we came across and some outtakes :)

Jurassic Wild Camp

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

Cranborne Chase and the search for spring

Rushmore Estate - Cranborne Chase

You’re still reading this? You need congratulating for some serious patience. Almost as much patience as mother earth has in waiting for that most elusive of seasons, spring, to disrobe her wintry dressing gown and step out with a welcome cup of tea for the landscape. So life’s changed and I won’t bore you with the details, but there’s a smile on my face, even if time spent trawling the Twitter timeline and keeping in contact with you good folk has taken a battering. We’re back to being simple, working hard and spending time en famille, resisting the plaintive call of the smartphone. I also wanted to write again, so here we are – nice to see you, you’re looking well if I may say so.

I had a lovely post lined up with all our outdoor stuff since last year but lets keep it fresh shall we? A cock-up in holidays meant I got to go walking with wifey as the moons aligned in a rare pattern of childcarus synchronous. Sixpenny Handley was our destination with a name suggesting a slightly less cluttered landscape than Britain currently offers. Woods of the ancient variety were also on the menu along with some stunning views that make you immediately realise why Cranborne Chase has had an area of outstanding natural beauty levied upon it. I love mountains, but woods draw me back time after time and this wander delivered them in spades. The smell of leaf mould has a hold on a part of my memory and soul that it won’t let go of right now.

Garston woods at the start is an RSPB wood and they have fenced off certain areas to allow ground nesting birds to have some respite from the deer. Humans are allowed however, so we started our stroll gently through the barren woods, layering up with hats and gloves as the cold made itself known. That was the theme and feeling of the day – cold, both in the landscape around us with the lack of spring growth and the chill that had to be kept at bay by our brisk walking. We meandered through the woods before heading up on to the top of the Chase and were rewarded with views both South and North that you would not think Wiltshire had the right to grace you with. Flakes of snow fluttered around us and the sound of breaking glass underfoot amused as we smashed puddles on the path.

Cranborne Chase walk
A swoop downwards from the chase led us to the rather expensive but worth every penny King John Inn where fire and food welcomed us. This isn’t a food blog but the stand out course had to be the fresh donuts with apple sauce inside, toffee sauce outside and mulled cider to accompany. This wasn’t walking any more, it felt like gluttony and frankly, I didn’t care.

Leaving a pub after beer and food to start walking again feels akin to having to strap on a diving suit with weights, but the second half of the walk was just as delightful. Passing through the Rushmore estate we soon ventured in to woods that felt and looked as if they had been around for a fair while. The results of coppicing over the centuries delivering stools and tree shoots as numerous as the birds that scooted above us. 13 miles turned out to be 14 miles but in the end, we weren’t counting.

Cranborne Chase walk
If you want to wander in my footsteps grab the GPX from Social Hiking here, purloin the route from viewranger here, or check out the map from Social Hiking below

Cycleboating the watery kingdom of Dorset

Right now we are building an ark down here in the South West of England, that much rain has come down over the last few months. Most of my recent posts have been about how much rain we have had and this one is no different. We had a red weather alert from the Met office for this weekend and boy did it deliver. Saturday night was a lesson in just how loud rain can be when it hits a roof. It sounded like the supporting cast of Stomp had decided to play outside our window.

We had planned to head out for a cycle ride with some of our friends Sunday afternoon and as luck would have it, we were graced with blue skies and sunshine. After what has felt like a decade of grey clouds and rain, there was no way we were staying inside despite the flood warnings, so we headed off to the Dorset Trailway. The trailway is an old train line brilliant for cycling and especially great for kids as there is no traffic. We were due to park near to Shillingstone and travel from there, but flooding had blocked the road to our usual parking spot. We turned around to take the road in to Sturminster and as we came in to town, we thought we could see the sea to our left. As we looked closer though, we realised that it was the flood plain for the river Stour!

Parking at Sturminster 4 adults and 4 kids duly set out and it wasn’t long before we saw the results of two weeks solid rain. This is the view from the bridge over the Stour. My pro Photoshop skillz have rendered squiggly lines where the edge of the river usually is. Flood plain is to the left on the first photo and to the right on the second.

The river Stour past Sturminster Newton

Looking south on the Stour.

After a bit of watching the whirlpools and wondering at the scope of the flooding we paddled on. We crossed through some fairly meaty puddles and a stream where water came over our feet as we cycled through. It was as we got towards Shillingstone though that our jaws dropped. I’ve never seen the river Stour as bad as this and our road looked impassable with very deep water.

Approaching Shillingstone

Cath duly rolled her trousers up and waded out to see how deep it was. Coming half way up our thighs we reckoned we could make it , so we left the boys bikes and started to wade through.

wading through

wheres me boat?

Needless to say the kids had an amazing time wading through water up to their waists and enjoying the rare summer sun. They did a great job of getting everyone soaked and when we ferried their bikes across, they all rode them in to the water at full pelt to fall off.

After the cycleboating we carried on to our destination, stopping at Shillingstone station via the 1950′s for an ice cream, the flood plain making the platform appear to float on the river.

a floating Shillingstone station

We then returned back down the trail repeating the wading, swimming and falling in to the water. That stopped fairly sharpish as the local farmer pointed out his sceptic tank and goat pens had been flooded by the river. Nice.

Ah well, a quick hose down later and all that’s left is the memory of a beautiful day where cycleboating has officially been invented as a means of transport. Has anyone else been affected by the floods?

Review of Making Tracks – children led walk route packs

We recently ran a competition over at Webtogs with walking-books.com to give away some of their walking packs. Whilst we were running the competition, I got chatting to Mike who runs the business about his Making Tracks series. The series are walking packs designed for children to take the lead with straightforward instructions and child-friendly maps. When he found out that I had 2 kids he promised me he would send me one of the packs to take with us next time we were up in the Peak District. They duly arrived at the beginning of the year, but we forgot to take them with us until we went back up the other week.

Each of the packs has 10 walks which have been designed for kids to read and lead. They are small and nicely illustrated, pointing out all the kinds of natural, historical and grim facts about places as you head along. We had Ifor (4 1/2 for those of you who need to know) leading and reading for the walk. Ifor picked a short walk starting from Winster which we had never walked from before, so we set off to the village with his brother Ellis (2 years old), Ma, Pa, Grandma and Grandad.

Ifor prepares Pack contents Ifor with his pack

Ifor only started reading this year, but the walks were simple and he found it easy to follow the instructions. Each point on the walk was clearly described and songs were soon being sung of the “two arches with the postbox nearby”. Ducking in between houses we soon left Winster behind, heading across fields. The maps are not to scale, but they stayed true to the navigation principle of checking off features as you walk. Stiles, walls, overhead cables, rocky outcrops were all spotted and ticked off by Ifor as he led us on.

Each of the packs comes with a booklet giving an overview on the walks, what sort of gear you might need to take and the countryside code. Perhaps it’s because I have walked for so long and the rules are part of my life, but I had totally forgotten about the code and how important it is to pass it on. Ifor was duly briefed and he made sure we shut every single gate behind us.

Leaving Winster

I expected Ifor to love the pictures and the horrible history aspects of the packs which he did. I also expected some good reading practice, but what I was surprised by was how much he grew in stature during the walk. Taking responsibility for our party and it’s direction gave him a new confidence. For me it was by far and away the biggest plus of the afternoon. It also had the bonus of driving him on. Usually walks are a heady mix of cajoling and bribery using food and drink, on this day though we fair galloped around!
All the gang Ellis has a go at leading

The walks are all short (up to 4 miles) and so after a couple of hours we came to the end of a very pleasurable walk. If there was anything I would like to improve it would be to include a backup OS map for the adults. We failed to find the start, parking at the wrong car park before realising which one we had to go to! I had also brought one of the plastic walk holders from another of the walking packs, these are missing from the Making Tracks series and I think it would be nice to include one.

Overall though these were a fantastic addition to our walking experience with Ifor much more involved, learning skills and chomping at the bit.

PLUS STUFF

  • Maps are great fun and beautifully drawn, instructions are clear and simple.
  • Pacing and length are right.
  • Reading & Navigation skills get practiced.
  • The kids want to walk and leading is a great confidence booster.
  • The history bits are ace.

MINUSES

  • Be good to have an OS map section to cross reference with.
  • Add the card holders from the other packs, would help make the kids feel like real live leaders :-)

DISCLOSURE – Mike from walking books.com ran a competition with us over at Webtogs & sent me the pack for free to review. The review is my own thoughts on the Making Tracks series.

Three for the price of one.

I’m back after a week in Bakewell in the Peak District having had a rather lovely break. There were several stand out trips from the week and rather than blog about them all, you get three for the price of one today AND they’re not even past their best before date…..

First up was a small walk from around Winster early in the week with the whole family, three generations together. Our eldest son Ifor (4 years old) led the walk using the Making tracks series of walking packs. I expected it to be great practice for reading, but the stand out aspect of the walk was seeing his confidence increase and his skills develop from leading. There was some strong emotion on seeing him check off navigation features and get a bee in his bonnet about striding on at the front. It was a joyous thing to see his outdoor life and independence start – I’ll be posting a review of the Making tracks series shortly.

Hawthorn above Winster

All the gang

Ellis has a go at leading

One of the other family trips was just a short stroll up to Robin hood’s stride to have a bit of scrambling fun. It’s a set of rocks in the white peak near where Cath’s folks live. Ellis bounced about like a leprauchaun and I’m not sure he has actually developed his fear reflexes yet on the strength of his behaviour that day. Ifor was much more cautious, but again it was awesome to see their decision making skills coming on in leaps & bounds. If you have a spare couple of hours and fancy some easy non-scary fun scrambling, it’s well worth a look.

Robin Hoods Stride

Rock hero pose

love the rock

It's so much fun my hair stands on end

The final trip was a swift wild camp with Andy (AKA @mixedupmessedup). We took a Backpacking Bongos trip from a week or two earlier as inspiration and changed it around to make it slightly longer. The initial evening walk to our camp was uneventful as we headed up from Howden resevoir, but the weather looks more beautiful than I remember according to these photos. I’ll let them do the talking.

Leaving Howden resevoir

Up towards Bleaklow

Towards Grinah Stones

Journeys end

Time for a brew

The second day was dreich as they say North of the border. I awoke to the sound of rain on the tent and it didn’t stop until the following day. We had planned to meet Martin Banfield of Postcard from Timperley fame on the second day to stroll with us. After packing away the tents, we strolled up from Grinnah stones towards Bleaklow stones where we were due to meet Martin. He had already spied our camp spot via the power of Social Hiking so we got a text to let us know he was at Bleaklow Head. Mobile signal was intermittent to say the least and whilst we were at Bleaklow Stones we began to worry as on the OS explorer maps, it is shown away from the most recongnisable rocks such as the anvil stone. To cut a long story short, we then had a joyous 3/4 hour of intermittent texts, with hill fog reducing visibility to 50 metres and the rain stepping up a couple of notches whilst we tried to find each other in amongst the Pinnacles of Peat. Eventually we found each other and it was a timely reminder of just how difficult navigation can be in crappy weather, especially in the Dark Peak.

Finally strolling on, the conversation flowed as easily as the rain did. The weather was totally crud but there are few areas in the Peak District that lend themselves as well as Bleaklow do to getting away from it all. We followed a straightforward route back to the Penine way, cutting down to Grains in the Water then up on to Allport moor for the obligatory trig photo. We then strolled towards Alport Castles before heading left down the hill back to the car. Dollops of wilderness and a sense of scale and height you don’t get elsewhere in the Peaks made for a wonderful day despite the dampness. Add in some decent company in the form of Andy and Martin and the day was over far too quickly for my liking.

Misty start to the day

Andy H

Bleaklow Stones

Up to Alport

Andy had been feeling pretty duff after a stinking cold so we finished up early, just in time for a swift drink in the Ladybower Inn. Whilst there, we overheard a group of farmers have a local land management presentation. It focussed on what they were doing to look after the moorland, particularly when they should burn heather. It was the most interesting 10 minutes I have ever heard on moors, of which the stand out facts for me were that Midges pollinate heather and heather only stands a 5% chance of germinating if it hasn’t been near smoke. All of a sudden the midges didn’t seem so much of an irritation. It never ceases to amaze me the balance and purpose there is in everything in Nature.

If you want to look at more pretty picture they’re here. Martin’s elegant report is here, James’ blog that delivers inspiration by the bucketful is here and our tracks in the rain can be followed below.

Purbeck perfection with a backpack

A couple of weekends ago whilst nattering on the phone, my mate Chris and I suddenly realised we had a free weekend – at the same time. After the initial shock, we quickly hatched a plan for a swift weekends hike from Corfe Castle. It would have been nicer to go wilder, but as Chris was driving down to me he didn’t want to drive too far on the Saturday and rightly had the call as to where we went. Taking in the Purbeck hills before hitting the South West Coastal path through Swanage, we planned to come out the other side and follow it round the headland towards Dancing Ledge. We contemplated wild camping, but as we were unsure where we could get some water from (our last SW Coastal path stroll had been pretty dry), we decided we would check out the general loveliness reported at Tom’s Field. We then planned a sumptuous second day along the coast to Kimmerdige Bay before  heading up to the downs and a stroll back to the castle.

Chris duly turned up fresh from worlds biggest Tractor racing track, otherwise known as the A303. We then spent far too much time gassing and drinking beer before realising we needed to get packed. End result was a bit of a late bedtime, not a good start from the hiking point of view but 10 out of 10 for fun. The Saturday dawned with a perfect mix of cloud and sunshine and we drove down in what was the beginning of  the recent heatwave. Corfe Castle has to win the prize for most impressive silhouette. Nestled in a gap in the Purbeck Hills, it’s delightfully broken outline really takes your breath away when first sighted. We managed to find some free parking on East Hill  which prompted my now customary “get-one-over-the-council” dance and off we trotted.

Corfe Castle

We started by following the path upwards towards Nine Barrow Down from East Hill. The gorse was in full effect, the intermittent sunshine bringing out the yellow beautifully. We soon had fabulous views over Studland towards Poole and Brownsea Island through the late spring haze. Mountains are still my favourite walking by far, but the sights, smell and vista that walking by the sea offers still uplifts me every time. A short sharp climb to the Obelisk on Ballard Down felt easy and I began to appreciate choosing trail running shoes rather than lightweight boots for the weekend.

towards Ballard Down

The path flattened out pn top of the downs as we headed towards Old Harrys rocks before dropping down on to the SW Coastal Path and in to Swanage. We followed the beach in to town, along the front with intentions of marching straight through, when the smell of frying fish wafted under our nose. It’s not often hiking you get to stroll through a town at around lunchtime, so despite the guilty cry of the Peanut butter bagels from our sacks, it was time for some fish and chips, with sides of bread & tea. Champion.

Seas edge

Fish and Chips of justice

After the lunch of justice we waddled towards Durlston Country Park and immediately things began to get quieter and brighter. Every time I have followed the SWC path the sun comes out and today was no different. Wandering past Durlston Head Castle, we passed the entrance to Tilly Whim Caves, sealed up since the 1970′s. I’m not sure what it is about long abandoned places, but they really give me an itch to explore. I resisted the urge to climb barbed wire however and followed around to Anvil Point Lighthouse. The final part of the days path was the most beautiful and remote, passing just one person on the trail. Chris was beginning to find it hard work as we approached the 15 mile point so we stopped short of Dancing ledge to recoup energy, whilst I tried in vain to find water that we could hear trickling underneath our feet.

Durlston cliffs

perfect sea

Anvil point lighthouse

trekking on

r n r

I find it sometimes just nice to “be” when on a walk and the combination of sun, company that needed no conversation, a springy bit of turf and views out to sea gave me that in spades. After a break, we wandered on past Dancing Ledge. Chris had warned me before he came down that he had a stinker of a cold and it began to make itself felt as we headed uphill. It was a good time to be getting to the end of the first day but I was also glad as the lighthouse had competition for brightest light source on the SW Coastal Path – my face. Although I had hatted up earlier in the day and slapped suncream on, it was of the three year old factor 30 variety. Altogether it had proved about as much use as a surfboard with handlebars. My face was burning up and I swear I could feel the heat when I raised my hands to my brow.

We stumbled in to Tom’s field and the first thing that greeted us was bunnies – a whole field of them in fact. It was a good omen for a special campsite and we weren’t disappointed. A friendly welcome to a delightfully quirky shop complete with moisturiser for my battered face soon had me sighing in relief. As we strolled up the well kept site, we got nattering to one of the staff. He must have taken pity on my face as he lifted up a barrier stating “no entrance” to lead us up a slope to a totally sheltered & secluded space. It was our very own wild camp spot in a campsite where we couldn’t see a soul – bliss! Chris brewed, I pitched and it was soon time to go hunting for local pubs.

bunnies innit

Toms field

Chris was still worried about his fitness and how he was feeling, so I assured him we could cut the route short the following day if he wasn’t feeling right. I had already planned an alternate shortened route and I sketched an even shorter one straight back to the car over a pint of Badger. During the night, Chris’s coughing had me contemplating whether I should bring a pack in between us to save me being infected and turned in to a zombie. Being enclosed in a small tent with a bloke sounding like the starter motor of an Austin Allegro was no fun, but I guess it was even less fun for him.

The following day dawned cloudy and my ever so red skin celebrated in total joy. Chris still wasn’t well so we decided to head across country back to Corfe Castle. I’ve been in that situation myself so I know how it feels to have to bail, but it was the right call. Chris’ fitness and health meant 15 miles of up and down on the coast would not have been a great deal of fun. As it was, we had a gentle couple of hours or so across country watching the Steam train head back and forth to Swanage. I also got a half afternoon with the boys too which was a pleasant surprise for Cath, them and me.

Corfe Castle in the distance

trekking home

Puffing up the landscape

All in all it was a legendary weekend. There were a couple of things I tried differently. Firstly, when it comes to trail shoes I’m now a convert. The feeling of water running in to your feet on a hot day is bliss compared to Goretex sweaty hotness. Provided I have poles, I think I’ll switch to them during spring and summer months. My only caveat is that when the mercury heads south, I will still stay with boots or waterproof shoes as my feet feel the cold. I have mild concerns about longevity as they do not last as long as boots do, so there is a financial consideration in switching. In terms of comfort & weight off your feet though, they are now my first choice. Secondly, replace your sunscreen each year folks! Well don’t leave it three years anyway, that’s a fact….

slightly red.......

If you want to download the GPX files for the weekend, there’s the first day, the 15 mile 2nd day version, 12 mile 2nd day version and 5 mile shortened  2nd day (right click and choose “save link as”. I don’t know what you do for Macs :). I’ve also popped the Share your adventure map up below with planned route and the actual route we took. Oh, just in case the photos above weren’t enough, here’s the link to the Flickr set.

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