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.

Backpacking the Black Mountains.

Backpacking the Black Mountains.

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.

Offas Dyke looking to the Black Mountains

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.

On top of Offas Dyke

Frog spawn

Clouds streaming off the Black Mountains

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.

Nant Bwch wildcamp

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.

Claggy start to the day

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.

View from Gadair Fawr

Mynedd Du

View back to Llanthony

If you’re keen for more of this, check out the full set of Flickr photos here and of course there are more of my tracks on Social Hiking as well.
Just when you had planned to get outside…..

Just when you had planned to get outside…..

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.

above Burbage


Stanage Edge

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.

Air Ambulance coming in to land