13 Dec 2009

A Lifetime of Mountains - a short review

I have been up to very little on the outdoor front over the last few weeks. It is only 12 weeks until the Grizzly so I had better step things up soon.

I have been reading A Lifetime of Mountains a wonderful collection of pictures of the Lake District from 1951 to 2004 when A. Harry Giffin was the Country Diarist for The Guardian.

The columns cover his experiences climbing and walking, stories of rural life and the natural history of the Lakes. The book is edited by Martin Wainwright who ties together various parts of Harry's life and writing. What I enjoyed was the way the short and precise columns carry you on to the hills. Harry was a founder member of the Coniston Tigers from a time when you could tell who else was out on the hill from the nail pattern left by their boots.

22 Nov 2009

Quick kit check

A couple of peices of kit worked really well on the Wessex ridgeway trip.

I was originally intending to take my OMM Running Light sack but it was just too small. Instead I took the OMM Villain recently bought from Baz. It was a bit too big for the job but still worked really well. I stripped most things off it and swapped the Platformat back for a cut down bit of foam mat. Very comfortable all day even when running. One of the best things are the pockets on the hip belt. Why have I never had a sack with these before? Genius.

The other saviour on the day was my Montrail Streak shoes. Before the day I had only been out in them 3 or 4 times, so it was a bit of a gamble trying to do over 30 miles a day with them. They are a great shoe with good cushioning and enough grip for muddy hills and tracks. They are not as agile as my Inov8 Flyrocs nor have as much grip but I think my feet were grateful for the extra cushioning by the end. The uppers are very free flowing is probably the best phrase, on a windy day you can feel the breeze round your toes. So probably not a shoe for mid winter. For a better review have a look here at backpackbrewers site

Recently cleaned Steaks

As I have recently worn out 2 pairs of old wool/nylon socks the next thing to look out for is socks suitable for light backpacking/walking/running.

14 Nov 2009

Wessex Ridgeway

For both of us the lane out of Shillingstone seemed familiar and yet out of place. Without the crowds of runners and the adrenalin of a race the hills felt steep and we noticed more. We had detoured from the route of the Wessex Ridgeway slightly to take in 2 of the hills of The Stickler again.

We had been dropped in Tollard Royal just before dawn and walked through Ashmore Woods as the sun had come up.

Reaching 11 miles in about 3 hours we were feeling optimistic. Despite the bad weather forecast the sky was clearing and we had great views over north Dorset. As we reached Alton Pancras (25 miles) we were both beginning to tire and the earlier optimism was beginning to drain.

When we reached Sydling St Nicholas cold and sore we made our first mistake, carrying on.

We bashed on down the road in the dark towards Rampisham masts. By now the rain was coming down hard and we were very cold and tired. With very little shelter on the ridge and as tired as I have ever felt we did the sensible thing and phone for a lift home.

The achievement was to complete 42 miles in one day but the mistake was not to stop while we still had clear skies and energy left to sort ourselves out and warm up. The weather forecast was never good and we learned some valuable lessons. I would like to attempt another walk/run bivvy trip, maybe in the spring.

3 Nov 2009

Wessex Ridgeway - Part 1

Last year 3 of us entered the Wessex Ridgeway Relay. Due to an over ambitious plan to run the 100km relay with 2 slow old blokes and one slightly younger, quicker bloke with a bad knee, we did not make the end. (Which one am I? - a clue my knee is fine.) Most teams have 6 members and run the off road route in a time between 8 and 12 hours.

We reached the hill above Beaminster way behind everyone else having got badly lost and down to 2 men so we decided to call it a day.

This was our first DNF (Did Not Finish - printed on race results instead of your time) and meant there was unfinished business out there. Taking inspiration from this and also the 84km Bivvy Challenge Simon and I have decided to give it another go but in a different format.


The idea is to walk/run the route over 2 days. We will start from Tollard Royal early Saturday morning. Overnight will be bivvying under a hospitable hedge with views over the Marshwood Vale and out to the coast, luxury. Towards the end of Sunday we leave the Ridgeway before its official end at Lyme Regis and head for home.

The route means we are never too far from home so if things go badly wrong we should be able to get home fairly easily and the north Dorset wilderness is not exactly remote compare to other peoples plans.

Kit has been planned and currently stands at 4.5 kg without and food or water. It is basically made up of Clothing, Sleeping, Food/Cooking and Others. If you want to see the details click here. We hope to pick up some food and water in a couple of the small towns we pass through.

All I can do now is look at the weather forecast and hope it all works.

1 Nov 2009

The Stickler 2009

For some reason every one at the end of the The Stickler said they had really enjoyed the race. If you had seen their faces as they sat around the playground of Shillingstone Primary school at the end you might have thought otherwise. It was a beautiful day, with sunny skies and a strong wind on the top of the hills. The course was mud free and only 2 sections were steep and slippery down hills.

Last time I ran The Stickler I did 2:01 this time I did 1:54 so the lunchtime runs must be doing some good.

The race is very well organised and has the best bacon rolls in the world on offer at the end, if you are tempted.

11 Oct 2009

Asics Gel Enduro 4 - Final look

I have had these shoes since December last year (Asics Gel Enduro 4 - Initial look). I have used them for 5 to 10 mile runs mainly on road with some off road. I may have done about 350 miles in them. For long off road run I normally use my Inov8 flyrocs. The midsole has pretty much had it and the sole is coming unglued. This may be due to the wet conditions but is pretty disappointing for less than a year. The upper is still in very good condition.

Shoes are a very personal choice but from my point of view here are the pros and cons.

- very good value
- ideal for mix of road and off-road
- durable upper

- Sole coming unglued
- Tread pattern not deep enough for steep ground
- not enough cushioning for long road runs

What next? Montrail Streaks maybe.

15 Sep 2009

Dartmoor pictures site

I have been looking though this site which has some beautiful pictures of Dartmoor.


I think Belstone up the valley to Steeperton Tor, might have to be our next trip.

11 Sep 2009

Tent bags

It has become obvious over the years of trying to get tents into bags which are marginally too small that there is a world shortage of tent bag material.

My proposal is that we setup a Tent Bag Cooperative, the name is TBC.

Within this organisation the following rules apply

medium tent owners give their bags to the small tent owners
large tents owners give their bags to medium tent owners
enormous tent owners give their bags to large tent owners

Definition of enormous, large, medium, small to be defined at a later date.
“enormous tent owners” refers to the tent not the owner

Enormous tent owners left with no bag.
Left over small bags.

Solution 1
Sell small bags on eBay and use profit to buy enormous bags.
This will only work if tent distribution is biased towards the small end, which I don’t think it is.

Solution 2
Setup a not for profit organisation to manufacture enormous bags
Everyone who enters the scheme has to pay a minimal fee which is used by the organisation
Use the small tent bags as peg bags for large and enormous tents.

Any thoughts?

28 Aug 2009

Dorset Doddle

Some people may be interested in entering The Dorset Doddle as a run. People do, however for the past couple of years I have mainly walked the 32 miles from Weymouth to Swanage along the coastal path.

On Aug 23rd my friend Simon and I turned up in Weymouth with rucksacks full of water, nuun tablets, jelly babies and cereal bars. I was a bit nervous about completing this year because I have done very little long distance training. Most of my running has been 4 or 5 mile lunch time sessions.

We walked the first 6 miles to Osmington and then ran the flat and down hill bits until Kimmeridge, that is not actually a lot of running because there are quite a few up hills. The terrain does get a bit easier from Kimmeridge with only a few steep flights of stone steps to contend with, but by this stage the only option was a fast walk. The fast walk then turned to a slow walk as the temperature rose and the steps up to St. Aldem's Head rose.

Last year I took 9 hrs 28 mins, this year 9 hrs 27 mins. An improvement of 0.18 percent, steady I think we can call that.

The event is well organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association, who provide 5 checkpoints with water and some food as well as a pasty and cup of tea at the end. There is a lime limit of 12 hours and this year the winner finished in 5 hr 24 mins

The best bit about the finish is flat grass provided outside the church hall which you can lie down on.

As one of our nearest and dearest said at the end

“Could you have not done something more useful with 9 1/2 hours”

Possibly but I doubt it.

19 Aug 2009

Upcoming Doddle

On Sunday I am going to have another go at the Dorset Doddle. Last year I cover the 32 miles in 9 1/2 hours. This year I have done very few long distance runs/walks so the strategy (if you can call "walk 20 miles then see how I feel" a strategy) is less ambitious.

The LDWA do a great job organising the whole event and, if you get to Swanage on time, even provide you with a pasty.

I shall be wearing my Inov-8 Flyrocs for the last time. After 4 good year the uppers have finally started to tear. Just hope the shoe and the wearer make it through the day.

21 Jul 2009

That has messed things up ...

Both my current backpacks are ancient POD Sacs, both about 20 years old. The Cragsac pictured is showing some signs of wear. It soaks up a bit of water now and the fabric on the lid is starting to come apart.

The xPod is a 70+ litre sac, which is great load carrier but my ancient version is about 2.6kg. This leads to the obvious question what next. I prefer simple, slim packs that don't mind if I kick them about a bit. In the short-list are:

OMM Villain
Crux AK57

And now this appears

New POD Sacs for 2010

There is not much detail, no weights or volumes ... should I wait?

13 Jul 2009

Peter's Cycle Africa expedition

I met Peter on the train to work a few months ago. He has now stopped work as he is preparing for his next big trip. As part of his trip to South Africa he is raising money for the Against Malaria Foundation.

On his fascinating website there are some great photos and inspiring stories.


9 Jul 2009

Black Tor

How adventurous should your first backpacking trip be? Take it too easy and you will not feel the sense of being out in the wild, away from civilisation on your own. The other extreme and, apart form the obvious risks to life and limb, you might come away thinking this is not for me.

The plan for Will’s first trip was to have a relatively short walk over some rough ground and then camp out using tarps and bivvy bags with an easy route back to the car. Our route went from Meldon reservoir up Yes Tor, over some open ground to Black Tor where we would camp and back down West Okemeet river to Meldon reservoir.

After following a good track from the reservoir we headed over some rocky ground straight to the top of Yes Tor. The wind was very strong on the top and there was a strange feeling to it, with lots of signs of man, including litter, pipes and mess. After a bit of discussion we agreed that this was not a good place to camp so headed west to over Longstone Hill.

We put the tarp up on Black Tor and had sausages and beans watching bands of grey clouds fighting for space in the sky with sunshine.

The weather was unsettled and I was not confident we would have enough shelter, so we headed down and pitched the tarp near the river. Despite a few heavy showers in the night we stayed dry enough.

After a quick hot chocolate breakfast we headed down the river through some boggy ground.

I can see how the tarp and bivvy is a great way to camp. For 2 people we could have done with a bigger tarp but for one it is perfect. The clue is in the name really – Solo Tarp. The only problem we had was that although we were sheltered near the river it meant that there were a few more midges (and I forgot the repellent).

As Will said at the end “I don’t want to see concrete and roads, I want to see more bracken, rocks and grass”. I can’t argue with that.

3 Jul 2009

Tarp practise

Very soon we are going to make a trip to Dartmoor to sleep under one of the Tors. The tarp I bought from backpackinglight many months ago has sat in the cupboard for too long. It is time it came out into the light. There is lots of information setting up and using tarps available

Tarp DVD
Andy Howell's Going lighter guide
Colin Ibbotson on tarps

so having looked at a few of them, I decided to have a go at setting it up in the garden.

The Solo tarp is designed for one person; I don't think I am being wrong if I say one and a half of us are going. It will be my son's (age 9) first backpacking trip and we will be taking bivvy bags and the tarp and making sure that the forecast for Saturday night is clear. To see if I put him off for life you will have to wait for the next post.

A Frame

Lean to (or it only rains from one direction round 'ere

Low A frame

12 May 2009

Loch Lomond

Fri 8 May
Dad and I arrived in Glasgow early Friday morning and set off towards Loch Lomond. The weather forecast had been very bad and as we reached Adlui the sun was breaking out but patches of rain were also sweeping across the hills.

We drove up and down the road and eventually found the right lay-by in Ardlui. Starting the climb towards Stob an Fhithich, we reached the trees and could see a small waterfall at the ridge and great views over Loch Lomond.

The wind was very strong on the ridge and we stopped to put on extra clothes, before carrying on to Stob nan Coinnich Bhacain and down Corrie Creagach.

We went to Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum for some great pie and chips, and then to an expensive unfriendly B&B, but that is another story.

Sat 9 May
The sky was a bit greyer and the clouds seemed here to stay. We decided to start up An Caisteal and see what happened to the weather. The climb up to the ridge was hard work and the rain was turning to snow as we reached the ridge and Sron Gharbh.

Further along the ridge the snow got heavier and thicker underfoot so reluctantly we decieded to turn back. Despite the look on my face it was a great trip and a memorable experience.

6 May 2009

Decision Time

It has been arranged for months, Friday booked off work, flight arranged, babysitter for 3 days lined up (Thanks Mum), one person has even broken in new boots for the trip and now MWIS tell us conditions are going to be difficult with Heavy showers, of snow above 700m;. Do we go anyway and walk a bit of the West Highland Way in the rain (1992 all over again)? Do we go and walk some other lower level hills? Whatever we do I need to go to Scotland soon, you can only stay away so long. I wish there was a webcam on Ben Vorlich, they really must sort that out.

9 Apr 2009

Trip diary

I have been writing up my walking trips in a diary since the late 70s when I was started walking with my Dad. This has spanned about 4 notebooks now (one of which is lost somewhere).

Each trip entry normally starts with a kit list and some practical information required en route. This could include phone numbers, bus and train times, or village early closing days. This is followed by a record of each days walk. Looking back through the pages food and weather seem to take top priority followed closely by under foot conditions. The great thing about them is looking back years later to read the details of a trip. What we had to eat in the café at the end of the trip, the names of the 2 small boys we meet at Lake Stream Hut in New Zealand, the man in the purple Vauxhall Nova who gave us a life back to The Bridge of Orchy.

There are some rules about what warrants an entry.

* No days walks
* No static camping weekends
* No Holidays in the mountains (eg Arabba 2001)

This leaves backpacking trips where at least one night is spend in a tent. bothy, hostel or B&B.

This brings me to the reason why I have been thinking about this issue. In May we are going to Crianlairch for a few days walking, returning to the same B&B each night. Does this warrant an entry? The ruthless could say “It is just a couple of day walks, one after another”.

As we hope to climb a few Munros, these need to be recorded but there are plenty of other places to record the bare facts of the achievement www.hill-bagging.co.uk. Some justification for breaking the rules include “Well I need some where to write a kit list”, “It is nice to look back and remember the small details of trips”.

I am going to use it. It is a self-imposed law so I can approve an amendment without worrying about opposition objections. Or may be I could start a blog ...

25 Mar 2009

Grizzly 09 race report

For those who have not heard of it The Grizzly is a multi-terrain race of about 20 miles (the route and distance vary a bit each year), it runs between Seaton, Beer and Branscombe in East Devon. When they say multi-terrain it means stretches of road and muddy country lane, woods, pebble beach, rivers, cliff path and the infamous bog.

I set off towards the back of a field of about 1500 runners. The first mile was along the sea front at Seaton, which is a nice ankle turning slope of pebbles, about half way along I started to walk, not a good sign. My aim was to get round between 4 ½ and 5 hours, so I set my self a schedule of 12 minutes per mile for the first half and 15 minutes for the second half.

The first section after the beach loop heads up the hill out of Seaton and then down into Beer. We now reached the first bit of off road as the route follows the coastal path onto the cliff path. Down a steep track (ahh my knees) to Branscombe. We now reach the first interesting section as the route follows the course of the river, (yes in the river) across the beach to the Mason Arms. Lots of support outside the pub, no you cannot stop for a pint.

After about 10 miles I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule, but by then I had only walked up a couple of steep hills and more was to come.

At about 12 miles we reached the bog, if you did not know it was coming you can tell by the screams of disgust and delight from the runners who were already in it. People general took 2 approaches; negotiate your way around the edge trying to keep out of the deepest bits or go straight through. The second option, which I went for, guarantees mud up to thigh level and the chance of getting stuck, but people are very friendly and stop to help pull each other out. Photo on the right is courtesy of James Pyne Event Photography.

After the bog you make your way out to the coast path again and down to Brancsombe. What followed was the worst bit for me, along the beach and then up what seemed like an endless series of steps. At the top one of the many motivational signs informs you that you have just been up the “Stairway to Heaven”. I did pass a couple of people sitting on the steps looking out to sea wondering why they even stated this game.

All the way along the route there is great support from very vocal spectators, 2 pipers (both in kilts), steel band, jazz band, and folk music.

In the end I finished in 4 hours 36 minutes, happy, muddy and tired.

Would I do it again? Well I definitely would but my calves need convincing … give them time.

Thanks to Axe Valley Runners for organising a great race.

17 Mar 2009

Black Mountains

We left Dorset early Saturday morning and arrived in Abergavenny at 8:30. I was delighted to see the Grecos Italian cafe was still there, the last time I visited was about 17 years ago. However Grecos was closed so we went on to the market and had a great breakfast roll and tea to set us up for the day.

We drove on to Cwmyoy, and after a bit of tour of this steep hillside village found a spot to park. Setting off up the Cwm Iau we soon reached the slopes of Hatterrall Hill and the chatting stopped. Once on the top we joined the wide path north along the ridge. This part of our walk followed Offa's Dyke path for a long way so the track was well worn and even in February we saw a few people out.

We sat down for lunch looking over into Wales and the other ridges of the Black Mountains. The day was slightly overcast and misty but we could see across to Rhos Dirion. We continued along the ridge with great views into Mercia (if we are talking in Offa terms) over Black Hill.

At Hay Bluff, the end of the ridge, we turned east and dropped to Gospel Pass. After the climb to Twmpa we started to make our way down through some rough boggy ground to Grwyne Fawr. We reached the bothy as it was getting dark and quickly made ourselves comfortable. Well as comfortable as 3 men can be in a large shed, very.

The next morning, starting in the mist, we headed down the valley. As we got past the dam patches of sunlight hit the hills around us. After the car park in the Mynydd Du Forest we climbed back over the ridge into a beautiful sky. The path down to road zigzagged through the woods and took a wrong turn ending up fighting down a disused path to get to the road below Cwmyoy.

In terms of kit I used both of my stoves; the Pocket Rocket and my new White Box stove. It was great to have two stoves in the bothy as there were 3 of us it meant we could make drinks and food at the same time However I think I need to be a bit more careful with the White box as it did not appreciate having a pan with a wet base plonked on top of it. Definitely a success but some practise needed.

10 Feb 2009

Estimating finish time for the Grizzly

Method 1 - minutes per mile

On a long run (more than 10 miles) I try to achieve 12 minutes per mile so that gives me a time of 240 minutes or 4 hours

Method 2 - Double last years winning time

Last year the winning time was 2:24 so that is a time of 4:48 for me. This is probably more realistic but unfortunately gives some indication of the terrain to be expected.

Method 3 - 90th percentile

This feels like the most depressing method, by what time have 90 percent of the competitors already finished. Look at the results from last year again this gives me 4:51.

So from all this I think my target should be 5 hours.

9 Feb 2009

That 3 weeks before an event feeling

As usual with only a few weeks to go till the Grizzly I look back at my training and realise I have not done enough. After a long run by myself on Sunday I went out today with the runners from work in the pouring rain.

Well you can only do what you can, last week was a bit of a wash out because of the snow (should that be snow out).

A post on PTC* Blog has convinced me that my next sac is going to be a Villain. I think it would be perfect for our trip to the Black Mountains in a couple of weeks.

22 Jan 2009

First off-road route discovered

I have found a nice off-road today, through Branksome Park. Ran down to the beach and back through the park, pretty mud and rough under foot in some places. Just need to find a good way down now.

Only 6 weeks to the Grizzly now so long run at the weekend planned from Lyme Regis to West Bay. I am starting to increase the weekly mileage, might start work on core strength but might not.

13 Jan 2009

Westbourne RC

Westbourne RC met at my new place of work. So this week I turned up and tried to keep up. Very friendly and knowledgeable (about routes in the area) bunch. Monday run was OK but today I struggled a bit more as the pace was a bit quicker.

11 Jan 2009

Superfly and White Box Stove

New Jacket and stove arrived from backpackinglight this week. Very kind friends from my old job got me a few leaving presents include a virtual voucher (cash) for an outdoor shop. I have decided to use it to replace my very old Lowe Apline jacket with a lightweight Montane SuperFly jacket. The jacket is going to take some getting used to after using a heavier waterproof for so long.

As for the White Box stove, after years of using gas stoves this is a bit of revelation. First impression are that it is amazingly simple and robust design, however the flaring up can be a bit disconcerting.

For my forthcoming trip to the Black Mountains at the end of February I think I am going to take both the Pocket Rocket gas stove and the White Box. This is partly because there are 3 of us staying in a bothy, so it will be nice to be able to brew up and cook; but also because I am a bit unsure at the moment about relying on the White Box.

7 Jan 2009

Finding a new route

I started my new job in Bournemouth on Monday and today have been out for my first run. Down to the beach and back through Branksome Chime, mainly on the road but it is a start. Apparently Chime means a narrow ravine peculiar to the Dorset coast. Sure I will find some good 3 or 4 mile routes.

3 Jan 2009

Cold and dark

I have started the new year, happy new year by the way, with 2 good dark runs.

Tonight I ran into Bridport over North hill, as I got to the top I turned the head torch off and gazed at the clear sky and the moon shining on the sea. It was very cold on the nose and face (-2C) so even though I felt comfortable with the distance was glad to get home.