Little bro is a musician, and a rather good one too, just don’t tell him I said so please. He’s been with some chums called the Murder Barn recently making music that I think is the best thing he’s been involved in for a while. Have a listen below, the single is out in June but they have a free download from Feb which is a cracker too if you want something for home….. America is the one that’s got me hooked.
Rain, more rain and a side order of rain with extra rain has been the overwhelming memory of this April. With rivers in Gillingham getting friendly with the tops of bridges and fields resembling swamps, it’s not been a great month for getting out and about. Come the weekend though, it seemed to get worse. After some of our guttering blew down all hell appeared to be released outside, rain liberally sprinkling the windows so hard it sounded like stones. So what did Ifor want to do? Go for a walk.
Ellis wisely had hit the sack and Cath decided to stay in to finish a bit of crafty chinwagging so we got suited, booted and pootled on up to Mackintosh Davidson woods. Woods are strange things. Sunny outside, it will look a lot darker under the tree canopy. Today was the reverse however, a grey and cloudy day was replaced by a green luminescence as we moved in to the woods, Ifor acquainting himself with every puddle that crossed our path of which there were many. I’ve written about Mackintosh Davidson woods before, they are my favourite escape close to the house and Sunday was no exception. The bluebells were in full effect, sheltered from the wind and the rain, the moisture giving the woods a sheen that reflected what little light came in beautifully. Ifor was in his element, dancing in and out of puddles and giving excited hiccups at the streams gushing through the bottom of the woods where trickles had been weeks before.
We kicked mud from bridges in to the rivers below and played extreme poo sticks (that’s with a river in full spate for those of you who don’t know). We threw mud at each other and let the rain wash it off our jackets, we wondered at the banks of branches broken off the trees. Several times I stopped and savoured the feeling of being with my son, enjoying the moment. His total joy at being outside and my joy at seeing him explore and enjoy the woods left me with a feeling of a perfect time and a perfect moment.
When it comes to backpacking trips they always entail some serious imagination. Dreaming and planning a trip for me whets the appetite, and raises the sense of anticipation of the solitude, peace and hard work to come. Approaching the beginning of February however I suddenly realised I had holiday left to take which hadn’t been taken. Sadly the family needed to stay at home for School and social stuff, but on the plus side I had a green light for some hill time. A lack of time to plan for my trip then ensued with life at Webtogs being rather busy, so I ended up thinking aloud on the Twitterverse as to where to go, flitting between the moors of Dartmoor or the hills in Brecon. In the end I decided to head to the Brecons after being tweeted a photo of a potential campsite from @Nigep that looked like a little spot of paradise.
My plan was to head up to Llanthony and park up by the priory there. The first day would be up and over Offas Dyke, before heading back down in to the Vale of Ewyas to camp. The Second day would be to head back over the Black Mountains grabbing a few peaks on the way. I was tentatively keeping my eyes on the weather, come Monday evening I packed swiftly as Tuesday & Wednesday looked the best bet with the chance of rain, clouds and sunshine in equal measure. Those of us who wander in the hills want to escape the hurly burly of ordinary life and the Brecons do seem to get passed over more often than not, whether that is because people feel they are too busy or too easy I’m not sure. I’ve done the Brecons many a time but surprisingly hadn’t been to the Black Mountains previously and after the disappointment that was my Christmas walking. I was fairly stoked about heading out in to the hills.
I left after 9 to avoid the worst of the Traffic and a fairly damp miserable drive commenced. Heading across the Severn bridge is a journey I have done so many times since a child that it always gives me a lift. It was even more poignant this time with the knowledge that my Aunt is moving down to Bexhill to be closer to my cousin, leaving one family member left in Wales. I resisted the familial urge to carry down the M4 however and turned right after the Magor services, heading up to Abergavenny and Llanthony.
The road in to Llanthony is a single track road and the mountains soon grew steeply on either side. The weather also started to brighten up, and the green luminescence on either side grew stronger. I parked at Llanthony priory and experienced that rarity in the outdoors world these days – free parking. Doing a small yet subtle dance of joy in the car park, I still managed to draw stares from the other people there. It’s the small victories that make life pleasant however, so I refused to blush.
Llanthony Priory was a beautiful sight but I had one mission on my mind – hills. I set off at a brisk pace around the outside and made tracks for the Beacon Way, climbing steeply through fields, woods and then more fields before hitting moorland. I find the start of a trip before you settle in to a rhythm curiously unsatisfying, but as the cloud drifted and dispersed across the hill, the sunlight soon became more of a welcome companion and the pleasant stress of my body working hard to ascend soon settled me down.
Click on me to make me bigger.
Reaching the top of Offas Dyke I found myself in shirt sleeves and wondered whether I really was walking in February. Wandering the top, I came across pools stacked with frog spawn, mum or dad lazily glooping down to the bottom of the pools before returning to look at me with distrust. I allowed myself the luxury of a day dream as I followed the clear path onwards and felt my shoulders dropping slowly as I relaxed more and more.
All too soon however the path down in to the valley appeared and as I moved lower, the cloud re-appeared and descended with me, cloaking the valley in mist and clag. The sharpness of the red mud from the hillside laid out the path below me clearly and I rejoined the agricultural lands below. By now I was impatient for a brew and pushed on quickly to days end, a camp on the banks of Nant Bwch which turned out to be as perfect a spot as I had dared to hope for. Water, shelter, peace and quiet were in abundance and I settled down to watch the fuzzy colour changes of the evening from the seat shaped stone outside my front porch.
Rivers do have their blessings for the wild camper, but they also encourage a fair amount of ablutions in the night. As I found myself asleep early though, I forgave the occasional interruption and celebrated the ability to get a decent nights kip without getting woken up by two blond haired bundles of energy in the morning. Sleeping soundly I awoke to the light slowly creeping in to the tent as a misty, claggy day gathered pace outside. I found myself slow to get going and enjoyed a lazy get up of porridge and bananas, letting the sounds of the river mark the start of the day with it’s light chuckle.
Packing in no real hurry, I soon make my way towards Lord Herefords Knob. This slowly drew a steady chirp of tweets from those following me on Social Hiking – keen to point out a multitude of things to with that point on the map! Visibility was pretty dire and although practicing my navigation was useful, after finding myself slightly off course I turned my GPS on to increase my speed and pleasure from the day. Slowly the mist lifted, revealing the terrain around me as I bog hopped across Waun Fach and on to Gadair Fawr, making me very grateful I had gone for my Meindl Burmas rather than lighterweight alternatives. Reaching Gadiar Fawr, a haze was all that was left as the hills around me rested easily in the sun. All too soon the time came to drop down off the hills. A little bit of interesting navigation ensued through the Mynydd Du Forest before I dropped back in to the valley below with the Priory beckoning, tired, but full of memories.
I was so looking forward to a Christmas wander but after I found myself on my bum, I figured it was time to head home. It’s always seems to be the way, you have a rare glimpse of the outside world planned and the weather does it’s best to derail you. I had been looking forward to a wander when we were due to be up with Cath’s folks in the Peak District after boxing day. I had planned a wild camp up near Back Tor but come the day, the MWIS gave a delightfully red forecast with gusts of 65mph to 85mph. My route was along the edges, Burbage, Stanage and then Derwent.
End result was a day spent battling winds just to make headway, watching an old duffer fall over in front of me several times before catching up and suggesting he dropped down to a lower level path – oh and seeing the air ambulance come in for a lass who had broken her leg after getting blown over on Stanage. Then I actually got blown on to my backside at which point I decided to take a time out. Although I was bloody irrirtated at having to duck out, I’ve also had a spot of time to reflect on what happened and although I would have survived I’m sure, I’m also sure I wouldn’t have had the most comfortable of nights either. A good call considering the damage the wind did that day.
Last weekend I was asked if I would like to go along to the very first Active Photographer Jolly, run by Giles (The Active Photographer) and Will (Whole Life Photography). It was designed for people passionate about the outdoors, who wanted to take better photos, or photographers with a keen interest in the outdoors. As this was the first one, Giles and Will were keen to simply see how things went and get feedback for possible future sessions.
Young Giles himself.
I want to write about my experiences of last weekend, not as a review of what happened, but instead how I felt after the weekend as my mind has been buzzing for the last couple of days. I’ve promised Giles I will do a full review over on the Togblog which I will hopefully get done this weekend, but I hope you will forgive this interlude away from the usual outdoor related matters.
I came away after the weekend on a bit of a high, and I have been reflecting back this week on what was said over the weekend and how I felt. The key thing that made it special for me was the chance and time to learn something. This might sound blindly obvious to you but is it? Too often learning becomes a dirty word, reflecting back on my own experiences at school and being forced to learn certain subjects. It’s also something as we get older we perhaps lose the time to pursue.
For me, not enough focus is made on learning things for your own enjoyment. Having worked in a challenging educational environment in the past, my strength was always to find studies that people wanted to do. Straight away you have people who are committed, enjoying themselves, and engaged in what they are taking in.
Last weekend reminded me of this at a basic level, but it also ties in with what I have been reading about happiness – we need to continue learning to develop a sense of self worth and peace. It also leads on to the second major thing that gave me so much pleasure from the weekend, and that was the people that were involved.
I have not had the chance to learn a new skill from a teacher in a while. Along with the rest of society, I have been using the internet more and more to research and learn. It’s a total treasure trove on any subject that humankind has any knowledge on, and although we now have much more of a social experience on the internet with Facebook, Twitter, Forums, Comments and the like, I was reminded that the power of having a learning experience face to face is not to be underestimated.
One of the most popular subjects of the weekend!
You cannot see a perplexed face on the internet and check someone has learnt something, you cannot see someone at home doing what they have learnt and correct them when they go wrong, and you definitely cannot interact with fellow students as well as I have done this weekend. I make no bones that it was technology that was good enough to introduce me to the likes of Giles, Will and the rest of the gang. The actual workshop though was made so much more amazing as a result of being face to face. I could have learnt how to take photos from the internet, but every time I go out now to take a photo, I will remember the experiences and emotions of this weekend and I will be inspired.
There we go, some obvious stuff there mebe, but it still needed to be said. It probably helped as I mentioned that the people there this weekend were pretty special. Will & Giles, thanks for giving of yourselves so completely, you have a gift and warmth that mark you both out as two of life’s good guys. To Eleanor, Aaron, Nat & Alvin, thank you for sharing and being such great company, I was truly blessed to have had such a great weekend.
OK, I’m feeling a bit of a fraud after last nights post, but in my defence, stuff got cancelled tonight, so I have had a rare opportunity to sit down and blog. It’s been a funny old summer though, I’ve not had the chance to get out and about to do as much walking as I would ideally like to, but a couple of weeks ago, my friend Chris and I finally managed to head out for a stroll. We’ve got plans to do the Gritstone trail later in October, and Chris was worried about his fitness, so we decided to get a solid days walking on along the SW Coast path. Not only was it a good test of fitness, but Chris had not even heard of Durdle Dor, so I was quietly looking forward to seeing his reaction when we came to it.
Chris wanted a heavy rucksack to test the fitness thing, so I kindly offered to help out packing his rucksack. As a result, he ended up carrying a sack of potatoes, and several gas cartridges I had lying around the utility room. He didn’t realise that until the end, at which point he thanked me with a long, cold hard stare. “It’s OK” I told him, “It’s what friends are for.” He didn’t even thank me, I mean that’s just rude you know?
The day started out with a little drizzle and it was heads down to get up over the first hill, strolling on in silence. The rain seemed to keep some of the tourists at bay and it wasn’t long before Durdle Dor was in front of us, and Chris had a huge grin on his face. It’s a classic sight, and I will never tire of seeing it.
click to make any of the photos bigger m'kay?
Leaving the crowds behind, we carried on along the path, and soon had the track to ourselves. It has a fair amount of up and down, so we stopped on Bats Head for a spot of lunch and a breather. There were few people on the path and we felt privileged to have such a beautiful environment to ourselves.
The weather forecast had been for a cloudy, rainy day, and although we could see the clouds inland, the day gradually brightened to reveal a child’s picture of what the coast should look like with cloudless skies, a rich blue sea and white sailing ships dotting the waves. There wasn’t much talking, but the grins came readily and easily to our faces. Reaching White Nothe Cottages, we spied the smugglers path down to the sea and set off down a seriously steep path to the beach. It’s not for the faint hearted, but if you do trek down there you will be rewarded by an abundance of wildlife, and at the bottom, a stunning beach that we had to ourselves.
Taking a rare opportunity for this summer with the heat, we stripped off for a skinny dip and then basked in the sun to dry off. Kayaks came and went off shore, and we sat and watched the sailing ships heading back to Weymouth before struggling up the long hard slog to the top. The stroll back to the car was across the top of the fields affording us a larger vista of the coast, and a flatter journey for our tired legs. I hate travelling back on the same route you have headed out on, and it was great to see the coast laid out as a whole.
Most of my walking encompasses hills and mountains and I need to make more of an effort to visit our coast. I always complain about Dorset being too tame and agricultural, but the Jurassic coast has that feeling of rawness I want in my outdoors. The feeling of space, along with the challenge of the inclines along the SWC Path made it a day to remember. For more photos, check out my Flickr set from the whole day here, and of course, the Social Hiking map of the route is listed below as well.
Forgive the lack of blogging again folks, but the reasons this time have been good ones, namely I have been out walking so much that I haven’t had the chance to write anything up about my latest jaunts. Two weekends saw me out along the South West coastal path with my good friend Chris, the weekend after saw me up at Monsal Head in the Peak District for a bloggers meet with Terry BND. I even managed to sneak in a wild camp with Phil Sorrell of Social Hiking. I was at it again this weekend camping with the family, and next weekend I am under canvas again with Giles Babbidge of the active photographer. It’s been an amazing summer and I promise I’ll start writing about it. Just as soon as I have stopped having fun.
We’re away in the Peak District for a week, and I am majorly looking forward to this. Camping with the family, friends to meet, the bonus of Grandparents to babysit, a nights wild camping and lots of walks are on the cards.
Shoulder height has dropped noticeably and it’s been a lovely morning so far catching up on outdoor blogs. Bliss.