The Great Outdoors Challenge and other things.

At the behest of Nobody You Would Know (those in the know will know to whom I do not refer…and those not in the know need not know and are probably best off not knowing‚Ķ!) and my own nagging conscience I begin to pen/prod/pound out this long overdue post. The creative urges have been severely lacking of late. Has as my energy. Both likely due to longer hours at work and unnaturally early starts to my working day.

Anyway enough excuses.

Did I mention that I had applied for and have been accepted on The Great Outdoors Challenge? I know my wife is sick of hearing about it. As are those few workmates to whom I offer more than the negligible grunt of passing acknowledgement. So, I will expound upon it some more to you poor souls ūüėČ

The TGO as it will henceforth be referred to here – and as it is known to those in the UK backpacking community – is an an annual backpacking event held in May. Aspiring participants must apply through the The Great Outdoors magazine in order to gain one of 300 places on the Challenge, a number adhered to in order to limit the impact of too many feet on the glorious countryside of Scotland. Once accepted onto the Challenge each person or group (up to 4 people are allowed per group)¬†must plan their own route on foot across Scotland starting from – or at least signing out from – one of 13 start points on the west coast of Scotland. Each Challenger has 2 weeks to make the journey unsupported (barring the welcome shoulder of drinking partners…) to the east coast and sign in at Montrose. It’s not a race or a competition and the only prize is the Challenge itself. Those of you who backpack and/or have hiked in Scotland will have an inkling of what I mean by this.¬†

Originally my application was for myself to walk solo, thinking that Marcus my usual partner in crime and long-term best mate would be unable to get the time off work. However when he heard of my intention he vowed that if he didn’t get the time off for the TGO he would quit his job to join me! He was deadly serious about this.

So in went his application and just a few weeks later we were emailed by Challenge Control (the lovely Sue and Ali) to confirm that although we hadn’t made it onto the initial draw we had been accepted as a group of two in the top twenty on the Standby List so we were guaranteed a position! Apparently every year at least that many people pull out between the date of application and the starting date.

It has taken some time for it to really sink in.

After years of reading the Challenge reports on the backpacking community blogosphere and dreaming of joining those fortunates and stalwarts I am at last going to join them!

The real planning didn’t start until¬†January. Judging by the posts on Social Media a lot of Challengers (particularly former Challengers) had already sent off their Route Sheets to Challenge Control. Some had even had their routes vetted and approved or sent back with advice on reappraisal of the chosen route.

Our own route I sent off to Sue and Ali, to be passed on to our chosen Vetter, on the 25th of January. On the 15th of February I received an email containing the Route Comments from our Vetter Alan Hardy. There were no necessary revisions needed but he did suggest some small alterations that, on looking at the maps closely again, I fully agreed with. Alan as with all the TGO Vetters’ is a very experienced backpacker with far greater knowledge of Scotland than I will ever possess. His¬†comments were informative, kind and approving.

The route I chose starts from the most northerly starting point¬†of the 13 possible signing out points, Torridon. I had initially planned on a more southerly starting point simply for reasons of time and cost but in the end I chose to make the journey up by train in two parts with an overnight stay in Inverness the day before the Challenge start date, taking the train to Strathcarron the following morning where we would get aboard the only bus service running to Torridon. Doing it this way means we will be signing out of Torridon Youth Hostel sometime after 2pm on Friday 12th May. Many Challengers make the journey up on the Caledonian Sleeper train so that they arrive at their starting point the day before the Challenge start. However, my budget conscience was trying to save money where it could. The outgoing travel costs are but a fraction of the overall outlay and as my wife and I have quite a lot planned for this coming year it has been necessary to cut costs where possible. For some the TGO is no doubt an annual holiday but we have¬†2 weeks booked in Tenerife in August, not to mention a 3 day trip to London for our boy’s 12th birthday, a couple of concerts in between and Izzy is going to Ibiza for 4 days a week after the TGO.

Nevertheless there have been certain things I simply had to buy. Honest… Well, the only truly necessary purchases have been a new waterproof jacket in the shape of a Montane Aero eVent smock which the wife bought me for Christmas and a pair of Inov8 Roclite 295 trail runners. The old Marmot Precip has seen better days and has been relegated to use for the commute to work. The LaSportiva Wildcats still have some life in them but it is doubtful they would survive 200 miles across Scotland.

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The Montane Aero Pullover on it’s maiden trip in Grindsbrook Clough. It worked brilliantly.

Between a few long weekends of overtime and a scrounge about in the loft for items to sell on Ebay I have managed to get myself some new Merino gloves, a Merino beanie and a new microfleece to replace my tired Berghaus microfleece. These were all bought from EDZ a Lake District based company. I believe all of their items are made in the UK or at least these bits that I have were. Having used them only once on a chilly local hike around the Lincolnshire wolds with Izzy I am happy with the quality of the materials and workmanship. They were certainly very reasonably priced and I can highly recommend EDZ.

Two things that I have been very lucky to acquire have been a GoPro 4 Black and a Nikon Coolpix l830 bridge camera. These were gifts from a very generous benefactor who shall remain nameless lest they take umbrage and demand the repeal of said Sponsorship! Both of these superb items of tech will be going with me to Scotland to record our Challenge. This has of course required more spending as I could not risk water damage to the camera, nor record more than 90 minutes of a VLOG or a handful of photos. So, a few SD cards and a waterproof camera pouch are also now adding weight to the Kit List (which I shall publish soon). Oh and a tripod for the camera too. How could I record a timelapse or two without one?

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A new tshirt, a pillow (another christmas gift), a new burner for my stove, some waterproof socks for in camp, digital maps for ViewRanger… Yeah I have been budget conscious…

All in all the wife has been very understanding!

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Back to the route. The whole route can be found here on OSMaps online.

Following the advice of one or two experienced Challengers I tried to make this first TGO a more sociable one, taking in some of the more popular meeting points. It is recommended that first timers try not to be too ambitious so I tried not to include too many long days or big hill days. My one regret is that I didn’t try to include some more wild camps. Of the 13 nights we will only be wild camping for 6. The other nights will be spent on campsites, a B&B in Kingussie and on the village green in Tarfside. If there is a next time I am tempted to wild camp the whole way.

That will certainly be an anti-social TGO and maybe¬†more my style ūüôā

More on the TGO may follow in the coming weeks. The promised Kit List will materialise at the very least as it only awaits the inclusion of some more new kit which is in the post! I also have a 3 or 4 day pre-TGO trip in just over a week that I shall write-up and Vlog on YouTube. It will hopefully be a good test of my new kit and my fitness for the Challenge.

Unbelievably it has been a year since I last had the Stratospire out. Her feelings need soothing…

Things other than the TGO

Since my solo trip to Wales back in September I’ve neglected trip reports for two overnighters: a local hammock hang with Marcus back in January and a recent trip to the Dark Peak.

The former was on an unseasonably mild day and night in some favourite local woods. This was the first time I had used the GoPro. It was not to be a a very good test as we arrived late in the day and were soon on our way to becoming inebriated! A cracking night with stars, the moon, a comforting fire, good music, much talk of the TGO, good food and of course plenty of alcohol.

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The sunset soon after making camp.

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One frame of a GoPro timelapse of the moonrise.

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GoPro photo of camp the following morning.

 

My short film of the trip can be found here on YouTube.

My most recent overnighter was a hike from Hope train station over to Kinder.

Marcus and I got off the train from home at a little after lunch time on a sunny Saturday. There was much talk of the TGO as we ambled our way up onto Hope Brink and along to Hope Cross. So much so that much of my GoPro footage was poor and I took hardly any photos with my phone.

Fair winds and sunshine saw us to the foot of Jagger’s Clough – a name some of you may recognise from a previous solo trip – the ascent of which brought to light a difference of opinion between Marcus and myself. I have discovered a penchant for the ascent of hills via river valleys, particularly narrow and winding ones, whereas halfway up Jagger’s Clough Marcus voiced his distaste of such ascents. Perhaps it was the unfortunate submergence of his booted foot in the bubbling brook (he really hates getting his feet wet so that you’d think he was of Southern stock rather than myself ;-)) or the lack of views farther ahead than a hundred yards or the slip-sliding of his overlong hoofed legs on damp, rocky, confined barely discernible paths that meander in and out of the waterway.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have let me plan every last mile of our route across Scotland in May…

We reached the head of the clough with a fair bit of huffing and puffing (mostly from my relieved partner I must add…) and proceeded westward along toward Ringing Roger.

We got a good stride on as we had some distance to cover yet before setting up for the night and the clouds were drawing in, the sun lowering too soon toward the distant bulk of Kinder Scout.

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The sunset was proving to be a gorgeous success.

I suspected we would be benighted before we reached my intended pitch for the night near Kinder Low. Before it got any darker we filled our water bottles from Golden Clough.

Soon after we saw a couple of younger guys wearing big packs going in the opposite direction, appearing in just as much of a hurry as ourselves.

“It isn’t until you see other people doing this'” Marcus remarked as the two receded into the gloaming behind us, “that you realise how mad we are to do what we’re doing.”

Mad? No never. We’d be mad not to do it. It can be a physical and mental challenge at times and the yearning for the comforts of home can cause you to waver on your course but it is always worth it. Just keep on and your rewards will be great.

The headtorches were out and on by the time we reached the head of Grindsbrook Clough. Marcus and I were both feeling a little tired in the legs and of the increasing headwind so we looked for a pitch near to Crowden Tower.

Miracle of miracles Marcus agreed on the first likely spot we came upon. He must have been feeling tired! Less than fifty yards from the nearest trail and on less than spirit-level flat ground and he didn’t even grumble…? I recall questioning him almost uncertainly in disbelief before I could stop myself. Don’t question your good fortune, Elt.

Tents up – Marcus had his new GoLite ShagriLa 2 out for it’s maiden voyage – we each went about our own camp admin, making a brew and dinner. Getting out of my soggy, peat-stained socks and trousers and into dry socks, merino long-johns with my waterproof trews over the top was a long but rewarding process. It must have taken 10mins to get my feet reasonably clean.¬†Three weeks after the trip my feet were still stained around the nails. Yes I do shower and clean my feet almost every day. Peat is a bitch to get rid of.

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Sorry  people of a nervous disposition.

Venturing¬†out into the chilly gusts and mizzle I made my way quickly to Marcus’ palace. We sat and wiled away an hour or two with some low music and chat. Some fine spirits may have been consumed as well as raised.

Remember what I said about it all being worth the challenge? I don’t mean the consumption and comfort of alcohol either though that is not all bad of course. Getting your shelter up, getting warm and dry, setting out your bed for the night, filling your belly with hot food and a hot drink. The knowledge of having everything you need here on a hillside in the beautiful countryside on a dark and blustery night. So you may not be able to actually see that countryside at that moment or even the following morning. It’s the knowing that counts.

These things make it all worthwhile.

Waking up in the early hours with a slightly collapsed shelter due to a malfunction of a temporarily rigged pole; with the cold and damp walls of the shelter pressed up against your back; the wind gusting and shaking your shelter like an angered spirit being all that you can hear; getting out of your mostly warm pit to don some protective clothing; pulling the door zip closed behind you only to shoot a look of startlement over your shoulder at that ghostly shape tugging at your waist only to realise you had inadvertently closed the velcro waist tabs of your waterproof trews around the cord of the hood cinch on your sleeping bag which was now flapping around behind you like a wild and all too fragile spectre in the wet and the dark!

Doh!

Lucky for me the bag was fine and only slightly damp. Once all the pegs and guys were tightened to my satisfaction I got back in out of the mizzle only to realise soon after what had happened with my jury-rigged pole. It had slipped off it’s footing and sunk into the soft peaty ground causing the whole shelter to sink by more than a hands-length.

Ah well. Back to sleep.

Come the morning the conditions were no better so there were no photos, only some video of me looking a little rough before breakfast and beating a swift retreat on the shortest route to the pub.

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Marcus in Grindsbrook Clough.

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GoPro photos.

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Grindsbrook Clough.

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I took some more footage on the GoPro on the way down Grindsbrook which can be seen on my YouTube channel if you fancy a look. ¬†The video of this trip was not my finest but the conditions weren’t conducive to great filming or photography. Particularly once again due to inebriation and it’s after-effects. I’m not an alcoholic honest. These trips are like a mini-break for Marc and I.

Anyway we made our way to the pub… ūüėČ

The Ramblers Inn in Edale to be precise where we drank of ale and ate of hearty food whilst we awaited the next train.

It had been a good trip.

Thanks for reading. If you made it this far…

Well done!

Until next time.

An Overnighter in the Arenigs

Monday 26th September 2016

It has been an interesting few weeks.

Firstly, a major contract loss at work led to a Redundancy process through which I came successfully albeit with a change of hours and a loss of earnings. More than can be said for the poor souls who were less fortunate. Or are they? A fresh start may be a good thing. Certainly the situation at work is very unsure at the moment. Only time will tell.

Secondly, the TGO magazine landed on my mat with next year’s TGO Challenge application information within it’s pages. Now, I have been interested in participating in this event for a good few years but have never been in a position to apply. So, with my current employment situation you would be justified in thinking that I am not in a position to apply for yet another year’s Challenge. Well, I put the question to my wife Izzy and she concurred much to my surprise. I deliberated for a few days before putting in my application, bemused by my predicament and weighing up the costs and my current kit for suitability. Tapping on that Submit button (it’s an Online application form) brought a great satisfaction and a big smile to my face. Now it’s a waiting game to see if I will be accepted.

Thirdly, my wife Izzy gave the go ahead for a solo backpacking trip in the car. My usual stomping ground of the Peaks did not appeal. Daniel Clout, a fine Facebook acquaintance, had loaned me the use of a Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid which he had only just purchased secondhand and not yet used himself. So I had this shelter to test and the TGO Challenge preoccupying my mind with thoughts of proper mountain terrain, long miles and kit testing. Not to mention a great lack of fitness and the need to lose some weight. May 12th was a long way off should I be accepted but the sooner I started preparing for the crossing of Scotland the better.

In the few days preceding this trip I was monitoring the forecast in the viable areas twice daily. By viable I mean within a 5 hour drive of home. That is plenty far enough for an overnight backpacking trip in my opinion.

So, North Wales, the Lakes, Northumberland and even Galloway were on my watch list with my preference being for Wales. As the week progressed and the forecast became more distinct the list narrowed down to the Eastern Fells of the Lakes and eastern Snowdonia in Wales. It was wet and windy everywhere but I finally settled on the Arenigs, namely Arenig Fawr in north east Wales. The forecast was for brisk 40-50km/h winds, overnight rain and morning showers.

I wasn’t going to postpone however. All good preparation for the TGO Challenge!

 

Day One – Saturday 24th September

I parked up in a lay-by along the narrow road south of Llyn Celyn, donned my hiking gear and set off up the track onto the lower western flanks of Arenig Fawr. It was a little after dinner. I’d eaten a late breakfast so snacks would keep me going until evening.

The fine setting, a fresh breeze, sunny spells and the prospect of some quality solo hill time had me in high spirits.

The track up to Llyn Arenig Fawr provided easy going access to the foot of the mountain proper. Visibility was very good and the views opening up around me were the finest I’d seen in many months. There was not a soul about, though I did hear dogs barking from somewhere seemingly nearby, though with the vagaries of sound in the hills they could have been miles away.

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The Llyn is a reservoir with warning signs boldly displayed giving warning of the hidden depths, submerged obstacles, thin ice in winter and, more pertinently to my intentions, the health hazard posed by the presence of blue and green algae. I had 500ml of water in my rucksack but would need to source at least another litre and a half for overnight. No doubt there would be plentiful water about with the recent rainfall.

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I crossed the dam at the outflow and ascended the grassy slopes directly over the broken face (Y Castell) at the far end of the Llyn. It wasn’t particularly steep or arduous but I stopped several times to catch my breath and admire the expanding views behind me. The ridge was quickly underfoot and the summit proper came into view still the better part of a kilometre distant and a 100m above me. The path I stumbled upon at the ridge soon disappeared without trace on the boggy ground amidst the reeds. Somewhere here I took my first sodden footsteps of the trip. My Wild Cats filled with chilly water that cooled my warm feet and squelched for a few paces before draining. This is a feeling that no longer bothers me in the slightest. My feet were soon warm again. My socks fit well so blisters or discomfort are never a problem when they are wet.

I picked my way upwards amidst the litter of stones on the southern flank of the main ridge.

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Arenig Fawr’s summit ahead.

On attaining the ridge before the final 100ft to the summit I was suddenly hit by the full force of the wind that had so far been nothing more than an occasional nuisance, causing the loose straps of my rucksack to clip my ear or tap my nose. This onslaught caused me to lose my balance and stagger forward like a drunk for a few paces before I stopped, leaning forward at a fairly steep angle into the unseen force tugging at my fragile body. Any onlooker would have been concerned by my maniacal laughing in the teeth of Nature’s force trying to push me away.

A few paces further on and into a shallow saddle before the final rise to the summit the wind died to almost nothing.

There was a fine area suitable for pitching up here. Only a little bit exposed but flat and currently shielded from the strong winds. For a minute I wrestled with the urge to pitch up there and then. It was a little early however and I wanted to get a bit more walking under my belt.

On the summit there is a Trig Point and a summit shelter (no more than a hip-high rough stone wall enclosure large enough to offer seating for a half dozen hikers) and a worn, touching memorial to the 8 crew of a B17 Flying Fortress that crashed on the mountain in 1943. There are apparently pieces of the plane wreckage scattered nearby on the hillside.

The panorama from the summit is said to be one of the best in Wales on a good day. There was far too much weather on the western horizon today. The Snowdon range was largely smothered in haze and cloud, the vague outlines of those large peaks glimpsed only for moments at a time.

Still, the view was impressive enough for the effort.

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Looking toward the Snowdon range.

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Arenig Fawr’s broad southern ridge.

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Looking back on the summit of Arenig Fawr.

A quick bite and another few mouthfuls of water and I set off against the wind again, down the southern slopes of the peak, picking my way steadily amidst the jumble of rocks toward the southern top of Arenig Fawr. The view from there further along the broad southern ridge of the mountain was an attractive collection of tarns set amongst what appeared to be lovely grassy areas. Up close this turned out to be much what I expected: sapping bog, sphagnum moss cloaked and less than conducive to a great camp. Nor did I collect water from the tarns. The warning signs at the Llyn earlier were fresh in my mind. Besides, I prefer to draw water from a flowing source rather than a standing one.

With that in mind I looked at the map. There was a stream running off the far southern flank of the mountain. I dropped down 50m or so but things didn’t look promising. There were a lot of sheep about and the ground was pretty rough and overgrown. I decided to traverse around to the west and drop down into the valley. Maybe I would come across some running water on that flank or off Moel Llyfnant as I’d more or less set my mind on a camp on that mountain. I was fairly sure of a spot up there as I recalled seeing a photo of someone wild camping up there a few years back.

The weather was drawing in a bit. The clouds were lowering ever thicker over the valley and the light was growing dimmer. From the vantage of height I couldn’t make out any clear paths below. There were two footpaths marked on the map that supposedly converged at a point near the line between myself and the summit of Moel Llyfnant.

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Moel Llyfnant from Arenig Fawr.

It may have turned cooler but the descent and progress across the valley floor kept my blood up. It was by turns slippery and boggy, interspersed with monster hummocks and thick clumps of reeds, so I was teetering one moment and sinking up to mid-shin the next. It made for warm and… interesting progress. I didn’t hold out much hope of finding a path on that ground whether it was marked on an OS map or not.

I did eventually find a path. For thirty paces or so either side of a dilapidated stile over a fence after which it was swallowed by the boggy ground.

No sooner did I step onto the lower slopes of Moel Llyfnant and firm ground than it began to rain. A steady drizzle that looked like it could be in for a while. Waterproofs were donned before I began the steady climb aiming for a saddle at the northern end of the hill that might prove a suitable spot for tonight’s pitch should the summit pitch prove unsuitable.

Visibility was down to 20 metres at best by the time I reached level ground. Level but not firm. More boggy ground. This more reminiscent of the Peak District peat bog I was accustomed to. Thankfully not on a similar scale.

In short order I was at the summit, over the sad remains of a rotten, practically non-existent stile.

There was nothing to see. The rocky summit appearing ghost-like out of the blowing mizzle. A lovely flat area of hard, grassy ground big enough for a tent or two. That was enough for now. I was tired and hungry.

The ground didn’t take pegs well. I had to double peg the two corner tie-outs on the windward side and knock all the pegs in with a rock. The wind was fairly stiff with some pretty fierce gusts. The rain was coming down in earnest now.

The fly erected I dived inside with my pack and set about making it into home for the night. Camp admin done I stripped out of my wet socks and trousers. Getting wet feet might not bother me much but there are few greater pleasures in camp than stripping out of damp socks and putting on a clean, dry pair.

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With every fierce gust during the first hour I shone my headtorch out to the windward tie-outs visible from inside. No movement. Good. I’m not usually paranoid. Yet this was my first use of this shelter, it wasn’t mine and though it appeared sound it was a few years old now with a couple of repairs in place. As my poles weren’t long enough to erect the Duomid, even with the included pole-jacks, I’d joined both pole-jacks with a connecting piece of bamboo and some duct tape to extend the pole sufficiently. My confidence in this setup was not 100%.

With warm food in my belly and a hot drink to wash down the bar of chocolate I had for afters, I began to relax. Whilst preparing my meal I had phoned the wife to let her know all was well. So, contented I looked through my photos, tried to read a bit but quickly found my eyes too heavy so settled down to sleep.

It was 930pm. Rock and roll lifestyle or what?

 

Day Two – Sunday 25th September

The wind and rain railed at the wondrous Cuben Fibre (now renamed Dyneema Composite) shelter through most of the night. By dawn the wind had eased and the rain all but stopped.

Arenig Fawr was visible across the valley. I made a quick coffee, pocketed the Irish whiskey fruit cake I’d saved for a brew on returning to the car, and went out to enjoy the view in the cool morning air. Porridge was originally on the breakfast menu but cake and coffee were far more appealing.

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Arenig Fawr from Moel Llyfnant

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The view was good while it lasted. A quarter of an hour later the mist and rain rolled back in so I rang Izzy from inside the Duomid and set about packing up.

There didn’t appear to be a break in the weather so I layered up and packed up in the rain. I had a 4 hour drive home as well as a couple of hours walk back to the car from here.

I set off on a line that would have taken me on the easiest descent and direct route to intersect the path I had failed to find in the valley the previous afternoon in the hopes it may prove easier to make out in the daylight. The mizzle showed signs of clearing not long after setting out. The conditions made for an interesting play of light. Away in the distance the sun bathed the valley through a small window in the veils of falling rain.

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On the ground a well-defined though narrow trail paralleled my course. Too high yet to be the mapped path. A few hundred metres later it disappeared amidst the boggy, stony grasses. 5 minutes later I stumbled upon another that offered easy going for a further 10 minutes before fading out. Such paths are common off the beaten path in little frequented areas. More often than not they are sheep or game trails.

The only thing resembling a fixed line on the ‚Äėfootpath that wasn‚Äôt‚Äô was the foundation of an old stone wall. The steep incline, wet grass and the nature of the rocks underfoot and strewn about this wall made me very reluctant to follow it too closely. The rocks were loose, slippery and offered many painful options of injury judging by their jagged nature. I was soon tired of this terrain and looked forward to the boggy uncertainty of the valley floor.

The rain stopped and the sun made an appearance turning a gloomy morning into a lovely one. To make matters even cheerier a very definite Quad Bike trail could be seen not far from where I would reach ‚Äėlevel’ ground. It wound its way almost certainly from the direction of the building I could see in the distance. On the map there were several small structures at the end of a track which was my way out of the valley and back to the road.

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Once on the Quad Bike trail – no more than the recent passage of a sole quad, not a well established track yet – the going got a lot easier and in no time I had passed by the ruined shell of an old farm and over the ladder stile at the corner of the plantation not far from the buildings on the map. I then realised that somewhere between here and the ruined building my map case had come free of the straps on my shoulder harness. Doh! Thankfully it was only a few hundred metres back.

The walk back to the car from here was smooth track, a good path along the course of a dismantled railway line to the road and then 2km of tarmac trouncing. The weather held good and I made swift progress.

It wasn’t until I saw the first car driving along the nearby A4212 that I realised I hadn’t seen a single person all weekend.

Snowy Peaks in April

Saturday 16th April 2016

A¬†week to the day since my last outing and I thought I’d best do the trip report whilst it is still fairly fresh in my mind. The trip had initially been penciled in as a solo trip but Marcus being Marcus had gotten his weekends mixed up. I’ll be lying if I said I was not a little disappointed. I crave the solitude of a solo trip nowadays but i was happy to accommodate my good friend considering he had had a pretty poor time that week. Not to mention the fact that he was bringing the whisky!

Saturday 9th April 2016

The morning was damp and cool as I set off from home for the bus. The forecast for the Peaks was looking slightly more promising with a possibility of light rain or snow showers later on in the day.

I ambled up to the bus stop my pack feeling nice and light on my back despite the tent and relatively heavy winter bag on board; looked up at the digital display to see when the next bus was due.

Those of you who have read of my experiences with the buses from our village will know how inaccurate the service can be. And how unlucky/ill-prepared I am with this initial stage of my trip where buses are concerned…

So I was pleasantly surprised and not a little dubious to see that the next bus was only 5 mins away. I’d left with an hour and a¬†half¬†to spare before our train was due to give myself ample time based upon previous experiences. I need not have bothered on this occasion it turned out. However, it would not have surprised me that if I had not set off early something would have gone wrong.

The bus arrived in town at 8:35am so I had just short of an hour to kill before the train. I ambled about the almost deserted shopping center window shopping, popped in the Pound Shop to see if I could spot something worth supplementing my meals for the next day and a half, came out empty handed, gave my last 70 pence in change to a homeless guy and went and bought myself a pastry to eat on the train later.

The rain had slowed to an intermittent drizzle as I walked into the train station.

Sitting on the platform I rang Marcus to see how he was progressing.

‘I’m on my way’, he told me reassuringly.

It was 25 minutes until the train was due. Remarkably it looked as though things were actually going smoothly for a change.

And they did!

We stepped off the train in Edale just after midday. It was cool, with a little wind, cloudy but not a sign of rain.

Time for a pint in the Rambler inn.

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Suitably refreshed and hydrated we set off along the Pennine Way toward the foot of Jacob’s Ladder.

There were a few people about but not so many as I thought there might have been. Probably just as well as there had been rain in the previous couple of days and the path was muddy enough in places where it was not paved. Negotiating some of the sections was a slippery business without the need to skirt around hordes of people, each one of us trying not to relinquish what little firm ground was available.

At Upper Booth we took a path up in to Crowden Clough. The way showed more footfall than I was hoping for on an ascent by a clough. Fortunately it was not too worn and muddy and we saw only a handful of people all the way up. It was certainly preferable to the ascent by Jacob’s Ladder.

We were passed by a young guy in tracksuit bottoms and casual trainers without even a small rucksack. He made his way up alongside the brook as we followed the path on a more direct route beneath Crowden Tower rocks. A pair of young lasses and a lad all in their late teens and a bit on the tubby side were making their slow ungainly way down the path toward us. They were in good spirits despite their apparent lack of sure-footedness and they were each wearing walking boots and appropriate clothing I was glad to see.

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Yours truly making my way along the path beside Crowden Brook.

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Marcus contemplates the steepening section ahead.

From the head of the clough we made for Kinder Downfall. The sky was still pleasant above us but there were dark clouds on the horizon threatening some weather to come in the next hour or so.

It was good walking for Kinder. Most of our previous trips across the moor were a lot boggier under foot. This time even the wetter groughs were only slightly troublesome rather than threatening imminent boot loss in the sucking depths of peat. Though Marcus the Ungainly Hoof Monster managed to fall on his arse.

Par for the course.

We remained in shirt sleeves until the first fall of sleet.

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Stop to put on the outer layers as the sleet comes down.

Ten minutes later the sleet turned to snow.

The flakes got fatter and the fall heavier so that by the time we reached Kinder Downfall there was over an inch on the ground and visibility was down to 100m at best. We had a short conversation concerning the young guy in the tracksuit bottoms who had passed us earlier on. The sudden change of weather was a pointed reminder of how quickly the conditions can change for the worse in the hills. Hopefully he had made it down before getting caught out.

I took 2 litres of water from the flow over the Downfall. The water was warmer than the air felt but once done I hurriedly stuffed my hands back in my gloves.

Before the trip I had had no set spot in mind to pitch, deciding to leave it to chance.

With the conditions getting no better we decided to start looking for a decent pitch nearby.

Choosing a spot among the peat hags and groughs on Kinder is usually a case of settling for the flattest least lumpy bit available unless you have a specific spot in mind. I know a few up there but none were too close by. Marcus being a super fussy sod about where he pitches is usually very hard to accommodate. On this occasion we were lucky enough to find an ideal spot not more than 250m north of the Downfall. A couple of inches of snow on the ground will make even the least likely patch of ground look flat and inviting even to Marcus.

With the Stratospire pitched I quickly and carefully got out of my damp outer layers and dived into the still haven of the inner. I set about camp admin whilst outside I could hear Marcus going about his in a less than smooth way from the sounds of things. I had my long-johns and dry socks on, my chilly feet inside my bag and the first pot of water on to boil before he had even gotten into his shelter I think.

The snow continued to fall. I had to knock the build-up off the outer walls of the fly several times in the time it took my water to reach a boil.

My evening meal was a simple affair of packet Macaroni Cheese, a sachet of garlic seasoned green olives and a packet of roast chicken Fridge Raiders washed down with a cup of coffee. Simple fayre but I enjoy such in camp when I’m hungry. A lot of the people who I follow on Twitter and Facebook who are in to wild camping buy the dehydrated meals or one packet ready meals. I begrudge spending the cash on such meals. Many such also offer less kcals per 100g than is suitable or at least acceptable to me. A little bit of extra faff doesn’t bother me. If I was doing a long distance trail then I’d probably buy some of the higher calorie meals.

At some point Marcus began cursing profusely in pain as he was hit with a bad bout of cramp. It was bad enough to force himself out of his shelter into the cold damp. Whilst he was out there it stopped snowing and I heard him exclaim at the strange light in the sky.

The sun was setting and was appearing by increments through the clearing cloud.

It was a fine spectacle and well worth the cold. We stood admiring the views and Marcus shared out the whisky. We stayed out chatting until the whisky was gone and it was almost dark when by mutual accord we turned into our respective beds.

Ensconced once again in my warm and cosy abode for the night I had a hot chocolate, a bar of dark chocolate and read a book on my Kindle App until my eyes grew heavy.

Sunday 10th April 2016

Morning dawned bright and frosty. The sky outside was clear and the sun was already peaking over the horizon. Neither Marcus nor I tend to be early risers.

I got the stove burning and boiled enough water for my granola, a cup of coffee and to fill my water bottle for the walk out. This involved adding some hot water to my stock of water which had partially frozen over night despite insulating it from the cold ground. My waterproofs had also frozen in the porch and my rucksack was stuck to the ground. However my boots weren’t too bad for a change and I was able to get them on with only a few grunts of effort and curses, causing a fall of frost from the inside of the flysheet with every movement until I staggered out into the beautiful morning light.

We didn’t tarry too long. We were packed and off by 9am which is a bit of a record for trips out with Marcus. When I’m solo I am often off earlier. Not that I’m blaming Marcus. We just tend to slow each other down in the morning. Also I tend to be feeling slightly more fragile… A half bottle of good single malt between the two of us wasn’t enough to slow us down this fine crisp morning though.

Traversing across semi-frozen, snowy peat hags and groughs is an interesting experience. In some ways easier and more enjoyable than crossing the same ground in its usual damp climate. We made better time than I thought and reached the Downfall in no time.

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Visibility was excellent looking out toward Manchester over Glossop. It was very apparent that there had been no slow much below 500m so from there it appeared as if Kinder was the only place to have received any snow at all. Even here along the edge the snow was less than around the slightly higher ground where we had camped.

We enjoyed fine walking and saw only a handful of people before reaching Kinder Low: a lone lady in pink running north along the path and a trio of young guys who stopped for a chat. They showed a keen interest in the fact that we’d spent the night up there. They were sporting some decent kit though their day packs were only a mite smaller than my pack. I’m such a geek that I often have to stop the urge to start giving people such as these a bit of kit advice! These guys were far better prepared than the young guy the day before and didn’t need my pretentious preaching. I must be getting old.

The morning stayed glorious and there were a fair few people coming up Jacob’s Ladder as we approached it.

The descent was easy and we were soon down into the valley again where there was not a sign of snow. It had obviously rained some more in the night but it was like a warm spring day down here now.

Back in Edale we made our way to the Rambler Inn again and ate a fine meal with a pint while we waited for the train to arrive.

It had been another fine overnighter in the Peaks with some varied conditions to add a little spice to the usual experience offered by a visit to those familiar surroundings.

3 Day Solo in the Peak District: Part 3/Finale

Day Three – Friday May 28th 2015

Wind and a little rain blustered outside my shelter for most of the night. The showers were sporadic and short-lived and gone by dawn. The gusts were a fair test of the Stratospire and I am glad to say it passed with flying colours. These gusts were in the region of 30-40mph according to the forecast I read. An anemometer is on my list of Wanted Kit… Knowing the speed of wind and current air pressure can be very helpful when choosing a spot for a camp and to help predict conditions. Particularly useful on a multi-day trip when reception is poor or the forecast unreliable.

Despite the wind I’d had a good nights kip safe in the knowledge that my shelter was going nowhere and would keep me dry short of a drastic change of conditions. I woke shortly after sunup and set about packing up. I wanted to be moving asap to get the earliest possible train home from Bamford.

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I took a few moments to video the effect of the wind on the Stratospire before packing it up.¬†A nearby rock offered the perfect table and spot to sit and enjoy my Jordan’s Superberry Granola whilst looking at the great views.

The day looked to be starting where the previous afternoon left off: lots of blue sky and sun, a strong cool breeze blowing clouds in a steady stream to the eastern horizon.

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As always on the 3rd day of any trip out in the hills I felt like I was just getting into my stride. The first day of any trip is always the most taxing and the second starts off slightly stiff, getting rapidly easier as the morning progresses. On the morning of the 3rd day you feel like you can keep going for days. This is helped by a lighter pack weight but that is not the sole reason. For those who are more or less active than me this may not hold true.

By 9am I was striding loose and easy along the well trodden path along Derwent Edge. I’d already espied a few runners when I had been enjoying my breakfast. Not long after setting out along the path southward I passed the first of a number of day hikers I was to see today. This is a popular part of the High Peak.

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Whether it was the number of people about putting me off, the sense of flowing rhythm in my stride or the vague need to get to Bamford¬†for the 1243pm train to Sheffield – I didn’t take any photos¬†between the Wheel Stones and the far side of Cutthroat Bridge.

It was a cool day and most of the folk I’d seen were wearing jackets and hats if not gloves too. At Cutthroat Bridge i was greeted my a middle-aged lady who remarked: ‘Oh your brave! Its very cold!’ Having been out since 2 days previously I had become acclimatised to conditions. I responded briefly with something along those lines as I carried on my way. She, her husband and their two friends had no doubt just gotten out of their warm cars. They were wrapped up in ¬†hats, gloves and heavy Goretex jackets. I wore only my summer-weight Merino top and cap and had been striding energetically for close to 2 hours by this point.

The views across Ladybower to Winhill were inspiring: its good to see where you were on the landscape a day or two before. When walking the South West Coast Path from Bude to Newquay 15yrs ago I remember being able to see a stretch of coast I had walked along 4-5days previously.

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Jarvis Clough proved to be an ideal spot to stop for a quick lunch break. Down there the wind was minimal and the suns rays stronger.

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The stiff short clamber up onto Bamford Moor and Bamford Edge was soon over. Views of the whole southern section of Ladybower Reservoir, Win Hill and  a large portion of the Hope Valley opened up before me. The conditions were near perfect for a walk.

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A well-spoken fellow in well-worn hiking gear of indeterminate age but definite quality (the clothing that is, not the fellow himself) stopped to speak for a minute or two. I was conscious of the time but civil. He gave me a fairly pertinent piece of information Рapparently the main footpath down into Bamford along Bamford Clough was closed due to a fallen power line or some such and had been for some time apparently. Looking at the map as I went on my way I reckoned it was likely the same path I wanted.

Damn. It could mean between making the 1243 service to Sheffield or having to wait an hour for the next one. Looking at it philosophically if I missed the first at least I could get a pint or two in the local whilst awaiting the next one. Still, I was on the home straight now and ready for home so I kept the bit between my teeth. I put away my camera and marched on.

From the road it was plain that the path the friendly fellow had spoken of was definitely the one I wanted – the most direct route into Bamford. The workaround route was an extra kilometre. Still do-able but it would be very close.

Into Bamford and regretably passed the pubs there – though I might yet be back for a visit very soon…

It was not to be however.

I made it to the Station with 5 minutess to spare, slightly footsore but light of spirit after a few good days in the hills.

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Thanks for reading.

If you fancy watching the Video log of this trip click here and please Subscribe and Like it – if you do like it that is of course! If not then please Comment as to why. After all how will I learn where I might be going wrong… ūüėČ

3 Day Solo in the Peak District: Part 2

19th December 2015

A continuation of my Trip Report, spurred on by some nice comments here and via PM on Facebook and Twitter. You know who you are! In fact as I am writing I have just received another comment from Peter Dixon who has apparently just read through my posts. Thanks Peter. Here is a man I admire for his generous spirit and his dedication to pursuing what he and I share in common: a love for the hills and wild camping.

Anyway back to day two of this trip report.

Thursday May 28th 2015

I have an admirable ability to fall asleep easily and stay asleep through most things. Whenever and wherever I sleep outdoors I sleep very well indeed. Not that I can sleep through a storm you understand but if I hear one i will be able to wake up and ensure my shelter is stable before getting back in my bag and falling back to sleep again in moments.

Luckily the night before had merely been a bit blustery and there were intermittent rain showers until a couple of hours before dawn when I awoke to the sound of the constant pitter-patter of a steady rain on the silnylon fly.

It was still raining when grey first light had me fumbling for my phone in the darkness of my tent in an effort to mute the alarm I had set to wake me for sunrise. A vain hope of getting some decent photos this morning. I set my phone to searching for a connection to MWIS to check the weather forecast but I was asleep again before a connection was made. When I resurfaced a short time later the rain was still engaged in a relentless assault upon the fly and the connection to MWIS had timed out.

Over a breakfast of granola – Jordans Super berry if I recall correctly. If not then it should have been as it is by far my favourite breakfast the morning after a night outdoors – short of a bacon butty that is. Not only is the Jordan’s high in calories and carbs but it is very tasty – and a cup of tea i managed to get the forecast up. Rain was forecast until atleast 10am. A phone call to Izzy confirmed it.

Decisions, decisions.

Did I break camp and follow my original plan along the Edge and onto the Pennine Way over to Bleaklow with a view to camping up there? Or did i succumb to the desire to slob in the tent until the rain abated and choose a different route? My plan was to finish where I had started in Bamford, catching a mid-afternoon train back home on the Saturday.

Stuff it, I was out there to enjoy myself and as much as I do enjoy a good walk in the rain it was going to be in for a few hours yet. I had a warm dry tent and a good book on the Kindle App of my Z3 so I settled back down into my bag to read.

The hills weren’t going anywhere.

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About 1030 the rain stopped. I’d already packed up most of my kit and was ready to get out of Dodge. A half-hour over the map had a route laid out in mind – Bleaklow was certainly do-able but would leave me with a big walk out the following morning, which I’d known before of course but my lazy start this morning had convinced me to take a more leisurely approach. So, down to Alport Bridge, up over Alport Castles, down to Fairholmes and Derwent Dam and from there up onto Derwent Edge with a pitch somewhere along the top there that would leave me with an easy wander to Bamford on the morrow.

The paths had become channels of water and running rivulets, the saturated spongy ground refusing to soak up any more of the downpour of the previous few hours. My socks were sodden in moments and would remain so for the majority of the morning but hey ho that is what you expect from non-lined trail runners. I’d rubbed some Gehwol Balm into my wrinkly feet before bed last night and some Gehwol Extra Care into them before donning my socks this morning so my feet were prepped for the damp conditions. Anyway its not so bad as many of you might think. Try it. Keep an open mind and don’t be negative ūüėČ To my mind its preferable to have slightly damp feet at the end of a long hike in the hills than dry, tired and aching feet from having worn heavy lined boots.

Anyway that’s a discussion for another day on another platform.

The wind was blowing steadily and carrying occasional, brief squalls. the grey clouds were scudding steadily eastward. The sky to the west carried a distinct threat of further rain throughout the morning as I descended below Crookstone Knoll along an intermittent track that faded out long before I reached the poor track up from Alport Bridge.

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Reaching the track I removed my waterproofs. I was at risk of getting damp more from perspiration than the little rain that was falling with the current temperature and energy I was expending on the descent. Two mud-spattered MTB’ers passed me by as I paused to have a quick drink, slowly threading their way down the slippery ,muddy track. They were the first people I had seen all morning.

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The heavens opened again within a half-hour prompting me to once again don my waterproof¬†jacket. That is the way of it in the hills of the UK sometimes, a lot of time actually. The conditions can be such that it is too warm or too energy intensive to wear a shell despite the rain but so long as it isn’t too heavy you can get away without the shell but then it will get heavier. Warm and damp with sweat or cool and damp with rain?

At Alport Bridge I stopped for a cold lunch and a drink beside the river. Those high concentrate Robinsons squeezy bottles are great as a change from good old boring water. Sure they are likely filled with E numbers and sugar galore but they taste good.

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The sun came out for a brief but pleasurable few minutes.

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There were more breaks in the monotone cloud showing blue sky, allowing more brief spells of sunshine through but there was little doubt that the unsettled weather was in for a time yet. The wind was blowing fairly strong and cool with occasional showers as I made my way along Alport Valley to Alport Castles Farm.

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The climb up to Alport Castles was a steep one but i was enjoying it. For me the conditions were perfect. i was thriving on the unsettled conditions. It always seems somehow more satisfying being out in less than clement weather. It may have something to do with there being less people about, particularly in the ever popular Peak District. It also has something to do with feeling prepared and self-sufficient I think. Few of the mod-cons, the four-walled security and comfort around you.

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The landslide that is Alport Castles is always impressive. It is thought to be the largest landslip in the UK at about half a mile long. It is impressive in its setting from most angles I find.

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The wind was much stronger on the top. The sun came out to play for a longer stretch but that was followed by the fiercest sleet downpour so far.

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It came up behind me with little warning, pushing me along with jaunty steps for a few dozens of yards. I stopped for a moment to watch another sleety squall envelop Woodlands Valley to the west, sweeping along and passed me to the south. The fringes of this spat on me in passing.

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I was glad that I had re-proofed my jacket before this trip.

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From this point onward the weather was more settled. Still blowy but fresh and clear with a largely blue sky and no further rain. I stopped briefly to chat with a guy from Rotherham about the weather forecast as he was obviously out for a day hike and would likely have a good idea of what was in store. Loaded down with camera gear he was walking out to the Trig Point on Westend Moor to get some photographs of Bleaklow from there.

I got a good stride on from then on. Down beneath Lockerbrook Heights, passed Lockerbrook Farm and into Nabs Wood. The woods are a fine place to be on any day but particularly on a windy unsettled day such as today and a welcome contrast from the open moorlands. Everything seemed vibrant and alive.

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The descent to Fairholmes Visitor Centre was soon over. i unloaded 2 days of rubbish from my pack and indulged in that most welcome fixture of civilisation that I greatly miss when out on the hill: the toilet.

There were a few people about but not feeling sociable or willing to part with the best part of a fiver for a hot drink and a cake I moved quickly on toward Derwent Dam and the eastern bank of Ladybower. It was a pleasingly easy and peaceful walk a mile or so south along the access road to Wellhead where the track I sought took me up in to Dovestone Clough.

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It was a fairly steep ascent to start with but the views were well worth the effort.

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After gaining some height the track leveled out and Dovestone Clough came into view. Despite a good tally of ups and downs today the Clough beckoned enticingly. I relished the thought of ascending to Derwent Edge from a totally different direction to the usual.

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Far Deep Clough looked like a worthy route for another trip.

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I crossed Mill Brook and followed the steep path up into Dovestone Clough. The way was fairly distinct at first but soon grew less apparent and narrow, more like a sheep track than a footpath. It led ever onward and upward however. About two thirds of the way up I stopped to fill my water bladders for the evening and following morning.

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The Clough leveled out near the 370m mark and it was here that I met my first real obstacle: a barbed wire fence across the head of the clough. It didn’t present too much difficulty once I’d managed to actually get level with it.

It was late in the afternoon now with several hours daylight remaining. I was slightly tired but still thoroughly enjoying the trip. The good weather held and the views above me and into the valley below me and away into the distance certainly helped me upward and onward.

Derwent Edge and Dovestone Tor loomed above me.

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The last stretch to the top was pathless. A tussocky heather slope littered with boulders. Not the easiest ground on the ankles and legs particularly when carrying an extra 3 kilograms of water.

I startled a mountain hare who made traversing the rough ground look as easy as the walk along the Access Road had been for me earlier.

Yet again I came across a foil balloon stranded in the heather, just as I had on my January trip not far to the north. A blight in the landscape. At least it wasn’t a McDonalds wrapper or carton. But these are a danger to wildlife not simply an unsightly annoyance.

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It was with some relief that I reached Derwent Edge. I decided that Cakes of Bread was too tempting and so made my camp there for the night. There was an hour or so of daylight remaining and there was not a soul about. I’d pitched here before and now as then the wind was blowing steadily and gusting quite strongly at times.

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The Stones offered a measure of protection in their lee for which I was grateful. In no time I was setup and had water brewing for my evening meal of macaroni pasta, olives, roasted peppers and kabanos sausage.

I ventured out into the windy evening as the stove did its work.

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My tired body felt the chill bite of the wind more acutely since stopping and getting inside the Stratospire. Admittedly the temperature had dropped a few degrees as the sun lowered in the sky.

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I watched the sunset for as long as I could bear the chill before getting inside for the evening. It wasn’t the finest sunset but I felt fortunate to be able to see it in this setting and after the weather of the previous evening and that morning.

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It had been a fine couple of days so far, with just a few miles to walk out tomorrow. First though I had another good meal and night under canvas to look forward to.

To be continued…

A chilly Peak District Overnighter

Saturday 3rd January 2015

The forecast for this weekend was, to be fair to the MWIS forecasters, not too far off the mark: Saturday would be dreary to start with before brightening up by early afternoon and Sunday would be a lovely sunny day. However, I’d been looking forward to the forecast of strong winds – that failed to blow – in order to test the stability of my new tent. The expected freezing point temperatures were going to test the warmth of my sleeping bag, which had yet to see a temperature to test its lower limit (Comfort Limit of the average Male down to 0 degrees C).

So, no wind and it was a very bloody cold night. A guy who also camped up in that part of the Peak District said it got down as low as -5 Рwithout any wind. I imagine it would have been a VERY cold night had the 35mph winds materialised.

Saturday morning didn’t get off to the best of starts. I missed the first bus to town and the train station by mere seconds. The next bus was along ten minutes later which meant I was cutting it very fine to make the connecting bus from Sheffield to Fairholmes. As I write this i am realizing that this is almost a repeat of what happened on the last occasion I was heading out for a solo trip to the Peaks… I’d say I’m pretty unlucky. The wife however would say I’m just a dumb-ass! Okay maybe she wouldn’t be quite so harsh but her meaning would equate to the same sentiment ūüôā

To be honest I think that sometimes my laid back nature can be more hindrance than help.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful once I’d made it on to the train from town with 30 seconds to spare.

It was drizzling steadily when I got off the bus at Fairholmes and unlike on my previous visit I wasn’t surrounded¬†by a mob of giggling, babbling Chinese schoolkids dressed in inappropriate and multicolored¬†clothing. Just my fashionably attired self watched curiously by an old couple, who remained aboard for the onward journey, as i donned my waterproof jacket and trousers, dug out my Aldi’s special waterproof mitts and wandered off toward the Visitor Centre.

I can navigate by map pretty well with and without a compass on fairly tractless and featureless terrain but I just hate the starting points of a journey or points where you enter a built-up area or complex of buildings and roads. More often than not it takes me several minutes to find my way out of or away from such places and onto my desired route. On the map the path from Fairholmes Visitor Centre to Derwent Dam looks fairly straightforward but if you add in the confusion of car parks, little roadways, signposts and paths it took me those several minutes to locate the correct path and lo and behold it was actually signposted! Doh!

Not the best photo ever taken of the Dam. Atleast it portrays how dreary the morning actually was.

Not the best photo ever taken of the Dam. Atleast it portrays how dreary the morning actually was. Please click on the image to view in full-size.  

For a Saturday afternoon there were very few people about. Maybe the weather had put most people off but for whatever reason I was grateful for the peace and uninterrupted experience of simply absorbing the atmosphere of my surroundings. There were a few guys on bikes and two or three couples.  Yet I must have seen no more than a twety people all day Saturday.

Bliss! Call me anti-social but know that I’m nowhere near as bad as I was when I was younger. Crikey I even love a good party now! When I was in my teens and early to mid twenties you could barely drag me out of the house unless it was to go to work or on a camping trip.

A dark picture i know but it captures the still and brooding day. i love the way the low cloud and mist is curling down off the hills.

A dark picture I know but it captures the still and brooding day. I love the way the low cloud and mist is creeping down off the hills. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

I’ll apologise now for the effects on some of my photos. There may be some purists among you who like a photo to be a true photo¬†representative of what you’re actually supposed to be seeing. ¬†I have a new App for my phone¬†and my two favorite settings are good old Black and White and the Lomo setting which gives an image a fairly unique look. I wont pretend to know a lot about cameras but I understand that Lomo’s are an old Analog camera whose users often employed rainbow flashes and used high contrast and odd saturation and color accentuation. Whatever, I like the effect but I’m still getting to grips with it.

This part of the walk was always going to be fairly monotonous. Its a long, fairly uninteresting road along the eastern bank of the reservoirs. Its well surfaced for the most part and inaccessible to cars for its entire length, except to a minibus service that sometimes operates I believe. The point where I had gotten off the bus at Fairholmes is the farthest up the Upper Derwent Valley that a motorised vehicle may come. Hence its a popular route especially for cyclists.

The scenes are lovely but I soon get tired of road walking even here. My most enduring (not endearing) memories of this route Рalbeit heading southward down the western side of the reservoirs Рhails from the last leg of past long walks when a lengthy road walk is less than welcome. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that the combined effects of the still, brooding atmosphere and my own sense of relief to be out and about at last made the usually boring walk a pleasure.

I’ll let some photos tell the rest of the tale of this leg of the walk.

Derwent Reservoir

A 180 degree panoramic of Derwent Reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Looking back along Derwent Reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Looking back along Derwent Reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Howden Dam. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Howden Dam. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Lomo shot of Nether Wood on Howden Reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Lomo shot of Nether Wood on Howden Reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Howden Dam. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Howden Dam. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Looking back along Howden from the northern end of the reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Looking back along Howden from the northern end of the reservoir. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

By the time I’d reached the head of Howden Reservoir the rain had slowed to an intermittent drizzle. The tops were still clothed in a wispy cloud but the sky had begun to brighten at my back and there were definite indications that the forecast was going to be spot on. The time was shortly before 1pm and the forecast had said the cloud would burn off most of the cloud and make an appearance between 1 and 2pm.

I’d not set my mind on a definite path up to the eastern edges above the Upper Derwent, preferring to see how the weather would be on the ground and how I was feeling at the time. I’d already bypassed several routes up onto the edges above me where I planned to spend the night. The new pack was feeling wonderfully comfortable and my boots, which I’d not worn for a backpacking trip in over 9 months (since buying my comfy-as-slippers Wildcats) were feeling good too. With about 4 hours light remaining I had plenty of time to get up high and find a pitch. The time had flown by and I was feeling great so I decided to continue further north and follow the River Derwent up onto Howden Edge rather than taking the direct route eastward via a bridleway up to Margery Hill.

A short way up the path I stopped for a drink and a snack at a crossroads with a concessionary footpath not marked on the map. Hmm, no sooner had i made my mind up to take the route alongside the Derwent than this unmarked path appears to entice me. As I’m stood there taking photos, wrangling internally over which route to take, the cloud suddenly lifts off the tops all around, the rain stops altogether and the sun begins to make tentative efforts to show itself. Wonderful timing!

Gossamer Gear Gorilla

Please click on the image to view in full-size.

The new Robic material appears to be fairly water resistant. You can see through it too!

The new Robic material appears to be fairly water resistant. You can see through it too! Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Mosley bank and Cranberry Bed panorama.

Mosley bank and Cranberry Bed panorama. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Starting off up the track alongside the Derwent I suddenly remembered that I had a new toy with me: the StickPic. This little gizmo screws into the bottom of your camera and slides onto the end of a walking pole – it comes in various sizes to fit different poles – and it enables you to photograph or film yourself. My plan was to have a go at filming myself, although with only a 2GB SD card in the camera I would only be able to get 10mins of filming in HD quality. Now the rain had stopped I could have a go.

So I did.

Not many people are fans of watching or listening to themselves but having watched numerous excellent videos of guys doing the same on Youtube I just had to have a go. Its a great way of documenting a trip and I love watching the footage of others doing what I love doing when I myself am unable to do so.

Now I’ve done it I want to do it more! If only I could afford a GoPro I’d be doing the wife’s head in wandering about filming stuff just to get the hang of it. It looks easy but right from the off I made the schoolboy error of filming myself with the sun beaming straight into the lense from over my shoulder. Not good for the light sensor that I’ve heard. In fact I’m fairly sure thats what killed our previous camera…

Oh well we live and learn eh? Eventually…

Upper River Derwent. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Upper River Derwent. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

I soon put the camera away, resolving to have another go later on. From here the path got a wee bit steeper, climbing and winding steadily toward Howden Edge. It was by no means particularly hard work and it was a wonderful setting, especially now that the sun was out.

Stainery Clough where it flows into the Derwent. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Stainery Clough where it flows into the Derwent. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

For some unknown reason on spotting a narrow path leading away from the nice easy track I decided to take this more direct route toward Howden Edge. I guess I’d had enough of the easy going trail and wanted a taste of something more difficult. Something less certain.

Within a hundred yards the grouse shooter track ended at a grouse butt – not a Grouses arse, for the uninitiated! – but a stone hide where grouse hunters can wait and shoot grouse from. Instead of turning back to the smooth, rolling track which would undoubtedly take me directly upto the edge where it would meet the bridleway, which in turn would take me around to Margery Hill and onward, I headed off across the heather moorland.

Now I should know better from experience but there is something now in my nature that needs to go off the beaten track in spite of the plaintive voice of reason urging otherwise in my head. Its also frowned upon to go off the marked or concessionary footpaths in the Peak District but it doesn’t stop grouse hunters who trample in their dozens across the moors so I don’t see that my size 8’s are going to make much bloody difference. In fact I dare say I have more care and appreciation of the landscape but that is not an argument even worth following.

With less than half a 500ml bottle of water on me I needed to source some water and luckily a hundred yards further up the hill I came upon a swiftly running brook. it was typically peaty brown in color but once I’d filled my 2 litre water bladder I could see that it was free of muck. Of course you can’t see the bacteria, cysts, chemicals or protozoa which are the real risk in sourcing water in the outdoors but that’s why I had my water filter with me. I also like to boil my water before drinking it if I can (or if i can be arsed).

Upper Derwent Valley from near Horse Stone.

Upper Derwent Valley from near Horse Stone. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

The Horse Stone. I know...it bears little resemblance to a Horse. not from this angle atleast.

The Horse Stone. I know…it bears little resemblance to a Horse. not from this angle atleast. Whether it does so from any other angle I don’t know. I was a bit poofed at this point. ¬†Please click on the image to view in full-size.

It was a fair old slog up to Horse Stone. It was just before 3pm with a little under 90 minutes before sunset so I had to get a move on. I didn’t hold out much hope of finding a spot nearby and setting up for an early evening. Besides I didn’t want to set up camp here. Not in such an exposed position; if the wind actually materialised and turned out to be a damned sight stronger than forecast I’d want options for shelter close at hand. Sheltered spots are few and far between in the Peak District upland moors¬†unless you get down off the edge or in the lee of one of the rock formations.

There was nothing for it but to get to the bridleway and follow it around, keeping my eyes peeled for likely spots. There were few such indications on the map or on the ground. After the recent snow fall, subsequent thaw and even more recent rain the ground was sodden. In the Peaks this means you have to be cautious where you put your foot or risk ending up knee or thigh deep in boggy, peaty muck.

Getting to the bridleway from Horse Stone proved no mean feat either. Stainery Clough Head cuts great gouges (groughs) in the peat moorland and finding sure footing over these meant my course was half again as long as the crow flies to the bridleway. The Bridleway itself is typical of all the unpaved upland bridleways – a boggy scar which you can only actually walk on in the height of a dry summer. In places further along Howden Edge and onto Derwent Edge there are paved/slabbed sections. I used to hate those sections (unless I’d been slogging through the bogs and tussocks of course) but they are definitely a worthwhile idea to stop these unsightly and damaging scars across the landscape. Most people – day hikers/tourists – tend to stick to these paths and not go wandering of across the moorland. As the paths get muddy and boggy people walk around these parts and the damage is spread and gets gradually worse until a path that should be no more than 2-3 feet wide is up to 6 times wider than that in places.

The bridleway.

The bridleway. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Three and a half kilometers doesn’t sound far when you’re following a good path does it. Unfortunately the bridleway was one of the least decent paths I’ve ever had the misfortune to follow. Three steps and two steps back? More like 3 steps forward and six steps sideways from one side of the ‘path’ to the other. However, I was still in good spirits and felt positive that I’d find a good spot up at Margery hill even if it meant I’d get there after dark. There was a vague recollection of an image of some guys camped up at the Margery Stones in my head from a blog I’d read some time in the past year or so.

The temperature began to fall rapidly as the sun set. I stopped once to have a drink, eat a cereal bar and put my head torch on my head ready to use. There remained enough light to see by – at least in the reflection of the deeper pools of water – to navigate my way carefully alongside the strip of boggy trail, so I didn’t ruin my vision until it was simply too dark to make out the best route forward.

Once dark fell the Viewranger app on my phone came into its own when combined with my compass. It kept me on the right track when the way became too indistinct to make out.

It was well after 5pm by the time I got to the Margery Stones. There was a great spot to pitch my shelter and I wasted no time. The evening was getting rapidly colder  and my belly was sending me urgent messages demanding food.

The ground was less than perfectly level but I got the Stratospire pitched as best I could. Getting this shelter pitched is a little awkward and will take a bit of practice to get right. Actually erecting it is straightforward; its getting the inner positioned in the right spot that’s the problem. I managed it fairly well first time but one side of the tent was a little higher than the rest and this made that edge close to the ground which wasn’t the best for ventilation. I¬†was pretty much expecting condensation anyway as the wind had yet to show up¬†and underneath my waterproofs¬†I was pretty sweaty and damp; I’d decided to keep them on after the rain had stopped to keep warm, as it was fairly cold and I was a bit clammy.

Once inside I quickly went about unpacking and getting out of my damp clothes and into dry socks, warm jacket,wooly hat and my sleeping bag.

When packing for the trip my only real debate was concerning my sleeping mat. Would the Exped be warm enough on its own? Should I bring the extra insulation and security of the Ridgerest roll mat for underneath the Exped? If I’d had a slightly warmer bag or had already ascertained that the bag and the mat were definitely up to the temperatures I could expect then I might have been more sure of the answer to this debate. As it was I’d opted for a compromise.

I simply didn’t want to carry the Ridgerest on the outside of my pack. That might sound daft but it’s something that had come to bug me and was one of my main reasons for purchasing an inflating mat. So my compromise was this: a car windscreen sunshade that had sat in the boot of our car unused for months if not years. Light, flexible and insulating. A little short but my new sit mat and the removable foam backing of my new backpack would cover the rest of the Exped’s length. Used in conjunction with the sit mat and sunshade this made a nice extra layer of insulation beneath the Exped.

I must confess that I failed big time and forgot to put the foam from my pack beneath the foot end of the Exped and it wasn’t long before my feet were cold. I soon remembered. It took a while to get my feet warm and to aid this I wrapped my polycro groundsheet around the base of my sleeping bag. This worked well and in next to no time my feet were toasty. However I should have removed the polycro at this point as when I next looked at the bottom of my sleeping bag there was a decent amount of condensation already forming between the polycro¬†sheet and my sleeping bag! Doh! I should’ve realised. As the damage was done and the down in the bag was supposedly water resistant i decided to leave the polycro in position and see what happened.

I lit the fat little candle brought along to add a bit of homely light and warmth, filtered a pan full of water and made a brew. Dried noodles, grilled antipasti peppers, olives with chillies and tuna went in to the remaining water. Yum! Food well-earned and eaten outdoors is always the best and can make even a bland meal taste better (not that this was bland – it was bloody marvellous!).

I rang the wife after eating and then settled down to watch a film: 300 – Rise of an Empire.

At first I put the earphones in but I don’t like being cut off from hearing outside aswell as not being able to see outside so i settled for listening without them which I ordinarily wouldn’t enjoy but turned out to be another one of those things that is more easily borne when camping. Halfway through the film i cracked out the Courvoisier. At the end of the film – really enjoyed it, not as much as the first one but it was about what I expected – I made a hot chocolate and munched a big bar of chocolate coated hazelnut and praline marzipan I’d brought as a treat and a fat booster to keep me warm in my bag overnight. Delicious! by this time it was after 7 and I toyed with the idea of sleep as i felt pretty tired but I thought better of it. After all it was about 13 hours until sunrise and even though I like my sleep i didn’t want to be awake more than an hour before dawn. So i finished off the cognac whilst avidly watching Godzilla. An excellent film.

At a little after 11 i settled down and was asleep in no time. Even the grouse appeared to have settled down for the night.

Sunday 4th January 2015

My alarm woke me at 0730 so i could get some photos of the sunrise.

This was it.

Sunrise from Margery Stones.

Sunrise from Margery Stones. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

My alarm went off I snoozed it once then leaned out of the tent, snapped this shot and that was it. When I next got out of the tent the sun was balanced on the horizon and I was attempting a run to the loo.

Unsuccessfully …

A comedy of errors/misfortunes led up to this even greater misfortune.

Firstly: too many chillies, cognac and a large bar of marzipan. Secondly: schoolboy error of the first magnitude (for a wild camper of 20yrs experience that is), I did not put my wet, frost coated boots in any form of bag or on top of any kind of insulation. Thirdly: the gas cartridge for my stove was bloody cold, so the stove was only flaming fitfully even when the cartridge was inverted. Lastly: I underestimated the length of time I could hold onto my bodily functions after chillies, cognac, etc. Result: needed a number two with rapidly growing desperation; boots were frozen solid, laces stiff as wire, so badly that getting them on was extremely difficult; the water wouldn’t boil and I spent too much time faffing with the malfunctioning stove to fill the bottle with hot water¬†in order to place it in my boots to thaw them out; i stumbled out of my tent clutching my toilet kit, tried to ram my feet (still wearing very thick bed socks) into boots that refused to give a millimeter and hobbled across the extremely frosty ground as far as i could before desperately clawing at my belt and button.

Too late.

Its a first and hopefully a last!

The one saving grace was that there was not a soul around to see me naked from the waste down to the tops of my socks as i tried to put things right.

I also now know that Montane Terra Pants are just as comfy when going Commando as they are when wearing Merino boxers ūüôā

Pitch at Margery Stones. Note the frozen stiff, slightly disformed side panel from the uneven ground.

Pitch at Margery Stones. Note the frozen stiff, slightly disformed side panel from the uneven ground. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Panorama of my camp at Margery Stones.

Panorama of my camp at Margery Stones. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

The morning was chilly but absolutely perfect: no wind, very few clouds and great visibility. It could only have been more perfect if there had been a blanket of snow but the widespread dusting of frost and ice was very fetching.Pools of water the night before were sporting a half-inch of ice this morning.

This trip was also the first test of my new jacket the Rab Generator and I can happily say that it performed brilliantly. Underneath it I wore a very thin Rohan Silver tee and a Rab MeCo longsleeve top. this combination kept me warm all day when combined with my Merino Buff and cap. Later on i would remove the Buff as the day warmed up slightly but other than that I maintained an even temperature, neither overheating too much or feeling at all chilly.

I broke camp with little haste, hoping that the warmth of the sun would thaw out the frost on my tent a little so that it wouldn’t be quite so wet when I packed it. A vain hope as it turned out.
the pan of water which had so spectacularly failed to boil was still warm enough to make a brew and I divided the rest between my water bottle and re-hydrating the powdered milk in my granola breakfast. I then dragged all my kit out, laying it out on the nearby rocks to dry and thaw a little; the shelter had to go in first so I couldn’t pack anything until that was ready to go in. So I rang the wife and we had a laugh about my accident.
The frosty tent showed no signs of thawing out. There was little evident warmth from the sun despite the lack of wind or cloud. So I got my thick rubber gloves on and scraped the frost off by hand. packing the damp, cold shelter proved to be less than easy and I was forced to reroll it in order to get it to fit.
With my kit all packed I sat down on a rock (on my wonderfully comfy new sitmat ;-)) to eat my breakfast, which by this time was just a mushy paste with bits of fruit in it but the taste was still good and most importantly would provide vital fuel for the hike ahead.
I was soon on my way, with my camera mounted on the walking pole for a short session of filming as I set off.

This puddle was right beside my pitch and it had frozen overnight.

This puddle was right beside my pitch and it had frozen overnight. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Frozen moorland.

Frozen moorland. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

One of the Margery Stones. A komodo dragon that had watched over me whilst I slept. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

The bridleway was greatly improved by the overnight freeze and I made swifter progress this morning than I had the previous afternoon despite the slippery ground. Most of the boggy stretches were frozen solid enough to bear my weight though I was fairly cautious even so; beneath the thin ice the bog was still as deep and unpleasant. Instead of sinking I now had to be more cautious of slipping on my arse or worse. The path became rockier the further I went along it and veered close to the edges which, although not very steep, would still have caused some severe injuries should I slip over and tumble down them.
Ironically it wasn’t until I saw the first human beings since early the previous afternoon that I landed on my backside.
Three fell-runners approached and were just passing me by when i stood on what appeared to be soft peat but turned out to be rock hard, frozen peat and I was down like a sack of proverbial potatoes. My pride hurt more than my rear end but none of the three laughed, the woman even turned to make sure I was alright before running on.

Looking back to the Margery Stone and Margery Hill.

Looking back to the Margery Stone and Margery Hill. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

The same image but with Lomo setting.

The same image but with Lomo setting. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Peat snot icicles.

Heath snot icicles. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Howden Dam from Howden Edge.

Howden Dam from Howden Edge. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Frosty upland grasses. looking back along the path.

Frosty upland grasses. looking back along the path. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

The morning remained still and crisp. the air was fresh and perfectly clear and walking seem pretty effortless. I had to exercise a fair amount of caution for the entire length of the morning walk due to the treacherous ground but it was no strain. If it became too icy I had the YakTrax ice grips for the bottoms of my boots.

At Featherbed Moss I turned east across the pathless moorland, my objective being the footpath running over Cartledge Stones Ridge. It was either that or go down into the clough directly in my path to cross over Abbey Brook before climbing back up to the path on the far side, or go down to the reservoir over Nether Hay and then climb back up to Howden or Derwent Edge further along. there may have been a path further along but it was neither evident to me on the ground or on the map so I opted to cross country at Featherbed Moss. Of course I could have gone down to the reservoir and followed the road all the way back to Ladybower Inn, my intended destination, but that would be a total shame on such a beautiful day. the walk in along the reservoirs the previous day had been enough for one trip.

The initial kilometer proved to be very pleasant walking. Short heath and solid ground for the most part with some stretches of denser, springy tussocks that were a revelation in frozen conditions. Normally its not the easiest terrain to cross. Grouse hunter paths and signs of quadbike tracks crisscrossed the area but I kept to my own course, on a bearing that would take me around the worst of the groughs feeding into Cartledge Brook. Cartledge Brook itself would have to be crossed but I would deal with that as and when. One big grough is less frustrating and challenging than numerous groughs. I didn’t manage to avoid them entirely however as the boggy ground and deep heather forced me to cross one or two.

Yes, after the initial kilometer the ground got boggy. There were several stretches of very boggy ground with big crisply frozen tussocks of coarse grasses and a particular type of coarse sedge that I recognised as belonging only in very boggy areas that are to be avoided. My progress slowed considerably. In the distance i saw several small groups of people moving along the footpath i was trying to reach. I imagined they saw me and wondered what lunatic would choose to go off track on such terrain.

I saw my first mountain hares of the trip, about a half-dozen of them bounding and hopping in and out of sight, standing out like sore thumbs in there pure white winter coats. I managed to get a distant shot of one but its poor.

Mountain Hare.

Mountain Hare. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Snow in a grough of Cartledge Brook.

Snow in a grough of Cartledge Brook. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Brightly coloured mosses accentuated by the Lomo setting.

Brightly coloured mosses accentuated by the Lomo setting. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Eventually I reached Cartledge Brook itself and crossing was a doddle for someone who’d just spent almost an hour bog trotting, grough jumping and tussock skipping over a kilometer of upland moor.

I came out onto the path a mere 20 feet from the beginning of a long stretch of stone slabs which actually brought a grin to my face. A proper path!

This of course brought its own measure of minor problems. Namely slippery frost patches and icy puddles which were a different ball game on big slabs as opposed to in peaty soil. It was all one to me though as I strode on at a steady mile-eating pace.

There were a few people about but the sun was shining still and i was in high spirits. Shortly before Back Tor I filled the last few minutes of my SD Card with footage of me walking along the slabbed footpath. I didn’t feel even slightly foolish walking along with my walking pole stuck out beside me. I may have done had I ben talking but I hate the sound of my own voice and think silence and the landscape around me says enough without me spoiling it.

The rest of the day went pretty much smoothly as it was along mostly slabbed sections with little of excitement other than the various stone formations. there were loads of people about however so i didn’t hang about for long. I stopped once for twenty minutes or so to eat dinner (and to ring the wife to tell her when I expected to be back), at the Cakes of Bread where Marcus and myself pitched up one night on a trip a while back. The weather remained perfect and I got tons of photos so I’ll let a few of those fill in for this section.

The back door of Back Tor.

The back door of Back Tor. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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A grouse on top of Back Tor. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Cakes of Bread. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

Some of the sections along the edges here were currently under reconstruction and these were less than pretty and muddy as hell in places but I thinks it a good idea. If today was anything to go by then they get hordes of people up there in the summer I’d imagine. At least proper paths should restrict further damage to the moorlands.

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Looking back at Dovestone Tor. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Dovestone Tor and one of the long sections of path that are under construction/renovation. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Looking over Ladybower toward the High Peak. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Please click on the image to view in full-size.

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Ladybower Resevoir and Bamford Edge from Ashopton.

Ladybower Reservoir and Bamford Edge from Ashopton. Please click on the image to view in full-size.

I got into Ashopton at half past two and to the Ladybower Inn with an hour to kill but only enough cash on me for one pint which is probably just as well. A second pint wouldn’t have gone amiss and may not have been a bad idea. Yet i often feel drowsy enough on a journey home from a wild camp. After a couple of days of uninterrupted fresh air to suddenly be inside a warm, dry environment knocks me out more often than not.

The pub was packed as usual with no room for a dirty, smell lone backpacker anyway so i put my Z Seat down on a wet bench outside and supped my pint in the last of the sunshine setting over Win Hill. I then made the obligatory visit to the facilities that seems to occur within the first hour of a return to ‘civilization’.

The return journey home went smoothly thankfully, aided by the accompaniment of some great music on my phone. I even managed to find two empty unreserved seats on the train for me and my pack.

My kind of co-passenger, the strong silent type!

My kind of co-passenger, the strong silent type!

It had been a mighty fine weekend. It was still nice to get home to the family however.

Roll on the next trip!

2014

A personal review of 2014

 

Its been a big year for me this year.

In March I turned 40 and yet I feel younger now than I did 15yrs ago…

In May we finally moved house and though this was fantastic, exciting and stressful all at once the move also scuppered my plans to go to the Cairngorms for my first camping trip to Scotland in well over a decade. The wife was very understanding and so I pre-booked train tickets (again) to Kingussie in the Cairngorms for September, 2wks after our annual family summer holiday. 2014 was also the 10th anniversary of my meeting my wife, though we have only been married for 5 of those years.

Also in May I received a bonus of £500 from my employer for 20 years service. To the average guy on an average wage this is quite a sum so I perused long and hard over the main online gear emporiums (namely Ultralight Outdoor Gear and Backpackinglight) to get the most bang for my buck as the sum was to be gifted in vouchers only.

So in summary, although I didn’t get out in the hills and woods anywhere near as often as I’d hoped when I made my New Year‚Äôs Resolution last New Year to get out more in 2014 in order to get some preparation in for the TGO Challenge in 2015, it has been a good year.

The Cairngorms trip was fantastic and the first part of the Trip Report can be read here if you haven’t already read it. This trip was the longest I had been apart from my wife since before our lad was born in 2005. Unfortunately it has put a hold on my plans to do the TGO Challenge next year because both my wife and son simply missed me too much to bear the thought of being apart from me for 2 whole weeks. Of course I missed them badly too but as I’m sure many of you can relate to there is a kind of hunger ‘to get out there’ for as long as possible and as soon as possible that is very difficult to ignore. I will always miss them whether it is an overnighter or two weeks. However, this urge to get out and do more for longer appears to have come on in full force in this past year, ever since I did my first solo trip for some years back in November 2013 (you can read that TR here).

Of course the ideal solution would be to take my family along with me. The wife likes to walk and camp but two or more weeks wild camping on the trail would be too much for her. The lad on the other hand is still young enough to be molded ūüôā Its my plan to introduce him to wild camping and backpacking next spring/summer with a short overnighter in local woods or in one of several spots in the Peaks if the weather is right. The woods are handy, particularly if he really doesn’t enjoy it and we need to return to civilization (or the car). However, the woods can be an eerie place for a young boy with an overactive imagination – or even a grown man with an overactive imagination! Personally I love the woods at night, during the day, alone or in a group. I‚Äôm not overly concerned about the possibility of his not liking the experience as he is no stranger to camping, albeit in a large family tent on an official campsite. So long as we make the experience an adventure and engage his interest in the environment (and take his ipod/mobile phone for last ditch backup!) I‚Äôm positive he will want to come along with me more often.¬†

My Resolution this New Year will be the same as the last one, appended with the hope to include my family in the pursuit of ‚ÄėGetting out there‚Äô more often and also lose some weight in the process!

The biggest obstacle as ever to my plans is the fact that both my wife and myself work shift patterns that do not allow us very much time together during the working week, so our weekends are our main time together as a family unit. We chose these shift patterns initially so that there would always be one of us at home to care for our son. That way we only infrequently need to find alternative childcare and he has been fortunate enough to have one of us around at all times.

The unfortunate side effect is that we see less of each other than we’d like and our weekends are that much more important to us. So, planning is key and this year (next year) I’m penciling in a trip on our family calendar for every 8 weeks and whether those will be family trips, trips with my best mate or solo will depend on commitments elsewhere. This is the only way I will get more trips in.

I do not think a trip every 8 weeks is too much to expect yet things have a habit of cropping up! There may be the odd chance of an impromptu jaunt but i never hold my breath, as more often than not something else crops up. My heart might be yearning for a pack on my back, a trail beneath my feet and a night spent under canvas somewhere in the wilderness but the reality is as yet somewhat different. My dearest hope is that I am at least able do one Long Distance trail before I am too old or knackered to do so. Ideally my wife and son will be at my side and if not they will be with me in spirit.

The TGO Challenge in 2016 is my goal for now and so far the wife is amenable to the idea, though it is clearly a long way off and she may be thinking I’ll change my mind. A couple of longer trips out in the coming year may help with that but I very much doubt it will successfully scratch this itch that is afflicting me.

 

Going Lightweight – the ever evolving quest!

 

The £500 I spent at Ultralight Outdoor Gear was the third big step to reduce my base weight since I had consciously made the decision to move away from the traditional backpacking mentality. You can read more about the first two big steps here. My parcel in May included a down sleeping bag, a super comfy inflatable sleeping mat, a Primaloft insulation layer and several smaller items. This reduced my base weight by a further 400g.

However‚Ķ I’ve since realized that all three of those steps have been made in error. I could say they were mistakes but if I hadn’t made them then I wouldn’t now realize that they were made in error!

Like many people coming from a traditional backpacking background I have erred on the side of caution when choosing lighter kit to buy, weighing up weight versus durability and comfort. I had replaced all of my Big Three with these recent gear changes Рshelter, sleeping system and pack. These were steps in the right direction, they just weren’t  far enough in the right direction. #

My pack and shelter have been replaced again but both of the newer options remain to be tested. I am fairly certain that the pack at least will work for me. My untried new shelter, the Stratospire 1 is already looking like it will be replaced in the near future by a lighter shelter (one that was on my shortlist before purchasing the Stratospire). Though the Stratospire will no doubt prove to be a fantastic shelter its just 500g too heavy for solo use. I may yet convince myself that its worth the extra weight. A few trips out in it will answer that question.

My Mountain Hardwear Ratio 32 is a great bag but it will be up for replacement by a lighter bag (or more likely a quilt) next Xmas, unless I get a lot of overtime in before then. This will save a further 300g or so. The second part of my current sleep system the Exped Synmat UL 7 is another great piece of kit. Yet again its a bit heavier than I would like and I am now looking at going a step further by going for a Short length mat. The Nemo Zor Short is currently top of that list and will save me a further 200g+.

Its my birthday in March and I already know what I want‚Ķ the new cook system will save me well over 300g on my current setup ūüôā

¬†¬†I don’t want to be Ultralight – in fact I cannot yet see how I could possibly get that light and be happy with my kit. I just want to be comfortable with a full pack containing 4-5days food and fuel. I‚Äôm almost there, as the current weight of my pack with that much of a load is a damn sight lighter than it was, and with the changes I have in mind it will be considerably closer to being ideal.

Now all I need to do is lose some pounds off my waistline…

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015 to all of you.