1 Dec 2011

Cheese rolls in the mist

Most of my backpacking trips are short weekend trips. These normally comprise a circular route back to the car with a camp in the middle. The aim this time was to go from A to B.

I left my car in Talybont and took the early bus to Brecon. After a quick shop for some more food and a laminated map. This proved a vital purchase. I then caught the bus to Crai.

Grey morning with small patches of blue over to the east, the last I would see all day. I followed a wide bulldozed track towards Fan Gyhirych and then climbed to the top of Fan Nedd. I sheltered from the wind behind the cairn before the summit where I had my lunch.

As I dropped down the hill to the large car park at the rain started to come down hard. The rain dripped off my hood, sleeves and nose but seemed to sit happily on my glasses.

On the other side of the valley I joined the Beacons Way and immediately got misplaced as the cloud became thicker. With quite a bit of wandering about and standing in bogs I climbed the hill to Fan Llia. I followed the ridge north the wind and rain increasing all the time. A couple of times the wind knocked me over. About 3 o'clock I started to look for a sheltered spot to camp. The ground was wet and steep, I could not see the wind and rain stopping. I finally decided that, although I had brought my camping kit, I was going to head for the youth hostel.

The next morning was brighter and cold. Today's route followed the Beacons Way back to Talybont. I slowly plodded up the hill to meet a crashing wind as it came over the ridge. A beautiful bright day ideal for walking along a ridge.

The central section of the National park is the most popular and there were a lot more people out today. I climbed the three main summits (Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big) of the ridge before heading down to Talybont reservoir. This was the brightest part of the day and I enjoyed the quiet tramp through the woods and tracks.

I was a bit disappointed to miss out on a camp but next time. In case you were wondering the are no verbs in the title of this post.

21 Nov 2011

John Muir Trust Big Give Christmas Challenge

Is there anything more exciting than a half packed rucksack nearly ready for the weekend? I think not. I am off to the Brecon Beacons on Saturday.

More importantly if you donate to the JMT between 5th and 9th of December your donation will be doubled. Ideal if you don't know what (else) to get me for Christmas.


Details of how it works and where the money comes from are here.

9 Nov 2011

Tay Descent 2011

Phase 1 Training
Louis and I arrived at Loch Lomond for our training paddle after a very early start from the South coast. We met up with Michael and Graham who provided extra gear and most importantly the boat. Before undertaking an event like the Tay Descent (23 mile course) you should always put together a training plan. Half an hour later training complete and it was down to Corries for 4 full Scottish breakfasts. It was great to meet up with them  again.

Phase 2 Acclimatisation
The next phase on the way up to Perth was a stop at the fine Glengoyne distillery for a tour and tasting. After a bit of head scratching souvenirs of the trip were purchased (we both went for the 12 year old single malt). We met up with Michael again at registration and headed up to Grantully.

Phase 3 Base camp
The SCA campsite in Grantully proved to be a perfect base for us. Simple facilities, sheltered pitches and friendly residents. As is traditional the orange tents made a showing again.

Phase 4 Race preparation
We made our first visit to the Tully Bar for Lamb Stovies in front of the fire and many discussions about ... well I cant really remember, except meeting Richard - Michaels partner in Lilo.

Phase 5 The paddle
After dropping off a vehicle at Perth we returned to Dunkeld for the start of the race. Nervous thoughts calmed by meeting a few friendly faces from the DW.

We dropped into the river above the bridge in Dunkeld. Unfortunately Michael and Richard had been unable to wait for us at the start line, possible because of the strong current or a strong determination to win above all else. The first section if the river was a nice easy start drifting down the river admiring the tress on the bank and the hills behind. Then we hit the rapids at Campsie Linn, well, we decided to take the "Chicken run" around the side. Next was Stanley Weir. This is where the fun starts, you drop down the weir into a mass of mixed up waves. Brilliant.

That is me in the front that is...

Phase 6 Recovery
We returned to the campsite all fairly shattered. It was only 3pm but we decided to shift our time clocks forward by 2 hours. This meant as it was 5 we could go to the pub and go to bed at 9. Graham had joined us again to review our efforts. This seemed to involve mainly shaking his head sadly at us.

A sign of a great trip is the enthusiasm to repeat it. The was no shortage of this as we said goodbye. It was just a question of how and with who. Without question The Tully Bar will be involved.

17 Oct 2011

Not much activity but some plans

Not been up to much lately but that is all about to change. Loius and I are leaving "Equatorial Dorset" and heading to the far flung north. Last year we meet Michael during the Devizes to Westminster kayak race. Michael has recently put some very poor photos on his blog, which I urge you to ignore. We are heading up to Perth on Friday to take part in the Tay Descent with him and some of his associates.
As basically a non-paddler, I am a little nervous about spending 3 days with the wet ones. A full weekend is planned with a trip to Loch Lomond,  Glengoyne, Perth and then back home via Ben Vorlich.

Next month I am off to the Brecon Beacons for a trip following the middle section of the Breacons Way. Solid ground (with a bit of bog) on which to plant my feet.

11 Aug 2011

The hills around Taw Marsh

Another great trip around the Taw valley.  We started from Sticklepath and after a quick stop for extra Quavers in the village shop we headed up through the woods.

When we left the woods the long pull up Colsden hill started. If you are thinking about doing this route I would probably do it in the opposite direction but we wanted to explore the hills on the eastern side.

We sat in a ring of stones near the summit of Colsden Hill to have our lunch before dropping down to Little Hound Tor and Hound Tor. Little Hound Tor is just a small rise in the ground with a couple of flat rocks breaking through.

As one of the things Will wanted to do was climb a few Tors we discussed whether Little Hound counts as a Tor. We decided as it had "Tor" in the name it must do. I might contact Lucy to check. By the end of the weekend we had climbed 7 Tors.

We continued south to Wild Tor for a scramble around the rocks before sitting out of the wind and finishing the remains of our lunch.

We crossed the stream to Steeperton Tor and then found a flat spot to camp near the head of the valley.  From the top of Steeperton Tor you can see to the villages and roads on the northern edge of Dartmoor and south to bleak centre.

After a good night we set off with hot chocolate in hand towards Oke Tor and Winter Tor. We arrived in Belstone in perfect time for Sunday Roast at the Tors Inn. Slightly reluctantly we set off down Belstone Cleave following the river to Sticklepath.

22 Jun 2011

Lyme Regis - Runners vs. Paddlers

We were planning a trip to North Wales, but unfortunately I had to cancel it. To replace it we came up with another epic adventure for middle age men who should know better. Just think Top Gear but without the budget, cars or sofa based racism.

The plan was to start  at Lyme Regis and make our way back home. Grumpy Old surfskier and his mate paddle while Simon and I run/walk along the Coastal Path. The weather beforehand had been pretty rough but we arrived in Lyme early on Sunday morning full of hope.

The least enjoyable bit of the path is the first sectoin to Charmouth due to the diversions, landslips and sections of road. From Charmouth we followed the Charmouth Challenge route over Stonebarrow to Golden Cap

The day had started fairly calm with some sun but as we moved east the wind picked up and it got cooler. Occasionally looking out to sea we could see no sign of the paddlers. They had planned to head out to sea and then follow a long downwind leg to the end. However because of the rough conditions they had to keep closer to the coast and follow a more zig-zag route.

Seatown, this is where I began to struggle, the hills really starting to hurt. Through Eype, nearly home now.
We clattered down the hill to West Bay wondering when we would see the paddlers.
Taking the sensible option, they had decided to come in at West Bay harbour rather than crash on the beach at Burton. We arrived almost an hour after them so they were pretty cold when we found them sunning themselves behind a wall in the harbour. To pick up the car, we carried on running to Burton Bradstock before returning to West Bay.

Over breakfast with our families the tricky question of the win was discussed. Stopping part way through because you realise the win will be at the expense of a smashed boat does not feel like success. Getting to the end so you can rescue the opposition, that has the smell of victory. But maybe that is just me. There are rumours of a rematch Fathers day 2012.

8 May 2011

Offa's Dyke - Monmouth to Hay on Way

29 April
With the rest of my family stretched from the Isles of Scilly to Brighton, Will and I met up with my Dad for this years Offa's Dyke trip. The long drive to Hay on Wye started with the weather still looking hopeful. We got going a bit later than planned after time spent dropping off the car and eating breakfast in Crickhowell.

We left Monmouth through Kings Woods heading for Llangattock-lingoed just east of Abergavenny. Today's section of the Offa's Dyke path is mainly though fields and small sections of wood. One book describes it as "pleasant though unexciting farmland".  I think this is a bit unfair the countryside is very gentle but it is a fine walk and certainly better than watching someone get married.

We stopped for a late lunch by the River Trothy. When we reached White Castle we left Offa's Dyke path briefly and joined the Three Castles Way.which follows a more direct route down the hill to Caggle Street.

We stayed at a wonderful B&B in Llangattock. After I had booked it my Dad pointed out it was the same B&B we had stayed in 30 years ago when he and I walked the path.

30 April
The next day after a few more fields (including Kenny Dalglish field, keep reading to see why) we crossed the main road at Pandy and started the climb up Hatterrall Hill. When we reached the trig point the wind was blowing hard across the border. This wonderful section of the path with its great views enlivened us all. Someone really started to enjoy their surroundings, previous comments about "not another sheep field" were left in the past.

We joined the Beacons way to drop down to Llanthony. After a quick tour of the Priory and 2 small campsites we headed to the pub where we were to stay.

1 May
We climbed the steep hill back up to the ridge  Will really enjoyed this and probably went faster up the hill than on some of the flat bits.  It is a balance doing long walks with kids. Finding something that is the right distance, challenging enough but not too dangerous. Planning your escape routes if the weather, enthusiasm or kit fails you.

To a great extent it will depend on the child and their experience and motivation. One thing we did do was play a lot of word games. We played about 50 games of "guess who"; someone thinks of a person and the other have to guess who by asking questions that can only have a yes or no answer.

We continued along the ridge over Black Mountain. The weather was colder but still clear as we walked along the top before finally reaching Hay Bluff where we dropped down to pick up the car.

28 Apr 2011

The next bit to Hay on Wye

Following on from last year’s trip we are about to set off to walk the next section of Offa’s Dyke.

The plan was to walk from Monmouth to Hay on Wye, starting in Hereford. Let me explain.  It involved leaving a car at Hereford and getting a bus to Monmouth, walking to Hay on Wye then returned to Hereford by bus.

“The wedding” which has made this 3 day trip possible has also messed up the plan. The bus is not running on Friday as it is a Bank Holiday Monday.. Change of plan required and larger carbon footprint to offset. Excitement is building.

15 Mar 2011

Backpacking in the Arans

I have not been to North Wales for over 15 years and choose the Arans for my first trip back. It is a quiet area to the west of Bala in southern Snowdonia. The route came from v-g backpacking in Britain, an excellent site, if I only have 10 or 15 minutes to spare and want to go backpacking this is where I normally head.

We started the long drive from Dorset early on Saturday morning and eventually arrived at the southern end of Lake Bala. We left the car in Llanuwchllyn and slowly climbed the track up into the mist.  The ridge to Aran Fawddwy is a series of smaller summit gradually increasing in height. As we reached each top the mist cleared enough to see the next top. Would we have started this if we had seen the full route to the top at the start? Probably not.

We passed the only other walkers we would see all weekend before we reach the summit of Aran Benllyn. Surrounded by cloud we moved along the ridge with glimpse of the valley on either side. As we came off the main ridge and down towards Drysgol we could finally see Creignlyn Dyfi, a small tarn sat high above the valley.

Camped on some relatively flat ground near the bottom of the valley, we were opposite the outflow from the lake digging a groove in the steep side of the valley.

After we had eaten the rain started and we were then subjected to 5 hours of rain followed by 5 hours of buffeting winds. In the early hours the wind would die down, then you could hear it rush over the ridge above us then five seconds later hit the side of the tents.

When we clambered out of the tents to see snow of the eastern slopes of Aran Fawddwy. As the clouds were still low and I didn't want to hang around so we started straight up the slope to Foel Hafod-fynydd.  I struggled up the steep climb to the ridge and as we made our way along the fence line to east the sun began to push through the clouds.

We dropped down to Cwm Du contoured along the steep valley sides and past the old farm at Cwm-ffynnon. The views back to the main ridge were amazing even though the tops were still in mist.

Before we started the back down the valley to the car we stopped for breakfast. Sitting in the green valley looking back at our route.  The sun was on us but there was still a cold wind. After a bit of a trudge along the road we returned to the car. 15 years away from North Wales and it welcomed me back with rain, howling winds, snow and a beautiful ridge walk ... fantastic.

6 Mar 2011

Around Shipton Hill

With one away on a geography field trip and the other taking part in a mammoth game of football at the park, I escape for a run upto Shipton Hill. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Forget birdsong and daffodils, the first sign of spring is when you get too hot in your Helly.

2 Mar 2011

What next

For the last few years I have run the Grizzly, this year I have decided against it. I was lucky to get a place as they are taken very quickly once the entries open. I have managed to pass on my place to a friend who has the joy of the valley of bogs ahead of him.

I am not exactly sure why I am not keen to run it this year. It is always difficult to articulate to other people why you do these things but surprisingly easy to justify to yourself. This time I could not really talk myself round. The other thing is this year I want to do more backpacking trips. So on the weekend of the Grizzly (12/13 March) I am going to walk along the Aran ridge.  So I will be enjoying the clear blue skies of North Wales instead of running over beach and bog in South Devon.

2 Feb 2011

Northern Dartmoor

Saturday morning the small carpark in Belstone seemed busy but the village was quiet as usual. I left the village past the church and joined the Tarka Trail for a short way.

I dropped down to Cullever steps and then followed the tracks towards Yes Tor. It turned into a bit of a foggy flat day, the kind when it is difficult to tell what time of day it is. I always seem to be a bit apprehensive at the beggining of a trip, unsure what is ahead and if this is a good idea.  As I got higher the wind and interest increased The grass was covered in a thick frost.
High Willhays in an easterly wind
The ground was frozen hard so when I reached Sandy Ford it was the first time I got my feet wet.  From the ford I climbed the steep hill to Kitty Tor and across to Great Links Tor.

After Ger Tor I followed the sheep tracks down to Tavey Cleave.  Be careful where you come down to the leat. As I found it is a bit of a scramble along the rocks before I get to a crossing point.

Tavey Cleave is a beautiful gorge with steep sides, towering rock piles and a crashing stream. I followed Amicombe Brook up stream until I found a suitable spot for the night.

A very cold night, my small thermometer read -5 deg C at some point.  My old 3 season sleeping bag did not really cope despite wearing most of my clothes, so I was glad when it started to get light.  After warming up the gas cannister in my jacket pocket I used the stove to defrost my boots and make porridge.

I think I agree with Phil about the unsuitability of Sealskinz socks for backpacking. Once they do get wet they take ages to dry and in winter freeze over night if you are not careful (see foreground of picture below). I am going to stick to merino wool which dries quickly and keeps you warmer.

Sunday was a much brighter day with perfect views across the moor. I reached Fur Tor and had a second breakfast sitting in the sun, out of the wind.

Fur Tor
The next top was Cut Hill, here I met Joe and Einstein.  They have started (and made a great start at ) the great challenge of climbing 300 tors in 12 months for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.

I headed north to Hangingstone Hill, Wild Tor and then up to Steeperton Tor.  This is the best approach to Steeperton Tor, you get the views across Taw marsh and the surrounding tors but the climb is much more gradual.

I took the direct route down Steeperton Gorge and, after checking out the bottom of the gorge for possible camping spots headed down towards Belstone.  Finishing off a great trip with egg and chips at the Whitehouse cafe.

27 Jan 2011

Corfe Castle run

Many were called but few are chosen, well few didn't think up excuses fast enough. I invited 6 people to come for a Tuesday night run in the Purbeck hills, but in the end it was just me and Simon.

Having parked in the dark shadow of the castle we started the run up towards Nine Barrows Down.  We followed the excellent track on the way up with the guns of Lulworth range booming behind us. As we approached the top our enthusiasm to reach one of Dorset Marilyns meant we left the track and on the way down struggled to rejoin it.

Crossing the road to Ballard Down we ran along the side of the hill before turning for the steep climb to the Obelisk. Luckily there was a plaque we could pretend to read as we caught our breath.

Once through Studland we ran through sandy heathland and woods back to Corfe Castle.  This was a mix of small road and forest tracks, at that time of night only over looked by deer and rabbits.

We both agreed that we should come back in the daylight because it was a great route and the views over Poole Harbour and Swanage must be amazing.  I have only included this photo of Swanage to prove it came out... sort of.

18 Jan 2011

The search for hills continues

Having started the new year with a new job I am struggling to get some miles in. The Grizzly is fast approaching.

The new job is going well, thanks for asking, but there is a distinct lack of hills around Bournemouth Airport in the Stour Valley. Lunchtime runs are short and flat, not great training for a long hilly run.

Plans for 2011 are still a bit vague. On the horizon are a couple of days backpacking on Dartmoor, a Scotland trip, the next section of Offas Dyke, the Grizzly and a possible support run on the Oner. Actually when I think about it looks like a good year on the way.

If anyone knows how I can get from Hay on Wye to Monmouth by public transport, I would be grateful to hear.