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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….