About westonfront

Hillwalking, tour-cycling and fatherhood highlights from the perpective of a God-fearing, outdoor-loving, technically minded, drum-thumping neo-Lancastrian.

Crossing the Caingorms – a seven day (90 mile) wild walk

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For one week a year I am allowed to take a solo holiday. This opens up the possibility of something more adventurous or demanding than would be appreciated by the whole family. Whilst weighing up options for a long distance walk I stumbled on a walk report on Walk Highlands whose photographs enchanted me. Once I’d turned the route into digital form and poured over the maps it looked a fully practical option. An eight day route crossing the Cairngorms with good wild-camping options for all the nights but one. That one night being roughly in the middle and offering a campsite thus the chance for a shower / beer / place to receive a restocking parcel.

Here is the route I planned:

Planned Route image

During the walk itself I opted to make some changes to the original route. Such is the beauty of a wild walk, not bound by fixed campsites. The gpx files for the original route and also for the actual route can be downloaded from the links.

Preparation

This was to be the longest solo wild walk I’d ever taken on, and in an area more remote / lacking mobile phone coverage more often than I’d covered before. For my safety and the peace of mind of Mrs W I bought a Garmin inReach unit. These allow you to be transmit GPS tracking data and to send / receive text messages via the Iridium satellite network, so from anywhere in the world with sight of the sky. I wrote a review of the inReach here.

My view of backpacking is to strike a good balance between comfort and minimising the weight carried. It should also be born in mind that I was expecting snow above 700 m and nights where the temperature would drop below zero. Ideally I’d have done this walk a month later, but the school holidays dictate my schedule. May would have been a good deal warmer yet still free of the dreaded midge.

When I weighed my kit, inc. food and water, it was 15.8 kg. But I did have an ice axe and micro-spikes with me, both of which I needed to use. I was very pleased with this weight for an unsupported walk. One secret was posting a re-supply parcel to my midpoint campsite in Braemar with food, fresh clothing, maps, batteries etc.

The walk

Day 1 – Blair Atholl to head of Glen Tilt (12 miles / 250 m)

An easy day to start with, alongside the very attractive River Tilt

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I had a super pitch at the end of the day, right next to the river. Had I walked on a further ¼ mile I could have been next to the Falls of Tarf. Might this have been better still? Perhaps, but I’d enjoyed my day and was more than happy.

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Day 2 – Glen Tilt to Gleann Taitneach (9 miles / 650 m)

The only uninspiring day of the walk. It should have ended well as the plan was to Climb Carn Bhinnein and walk across to Carn nan Sac to camp at 3000’. However the wind was very strong and a message from home base told me to expect 40 mph winds at 3000′ and I could already see the cloud base dropping. Surprising for a walk of this length (90 miles) in Scotland, this short high level section was the only part which was due to be pathless. I opted to camp in the valley.

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The highlight of the day was eating lunch next to Loch nan Eun. Whilst the wind was strong I found a sheltered spot totally out of the wind. The quality of the shelter only became fully evident as I set off after lunch to find the outflow waterfall flowing upwards!

Day 3 Gleann Taitneach to Knaps of Fafernie [Jock’s Road] (10 miles / 480 m)

When I woke in the morning the cloud was at 700 m, and as I muted earlier the next section was due to be pathless, and now also clearly viewless too. Thus I opted to divert my route down the glen.

Detour Day 2

No buses serve the A93 to Glen Shee so I hoped to be able to hitch a lift from the Spittle to Cairnwell Pass. I struck lucky with a great pair of Polish guys across for their holidays. My spirits were really raised by not having to walk along the road for two hours. That said the views from the road were still rather fine. As I headed up Glas Maol from the pass I hit my first snow. Occasionally I could now see summits, but by the time I reached 900 m I was in a white out – snow on the ground and cloud all around. Very careful navigation was the order of the day, even with a mapping GPS. It was a great path though, even though I didn’t get any views until I was pitching the tent at the end of the day.

The Knaps of Fafernie did not show the greatest potential for a camping pitch. The ground was either boggy or stony. In the end I trampled a patch of snow so it was firm and level and pitched on that.

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Day 4 Knaps of Fafernie to Callater Lodge (7 miles / 120 m)

The cloud was low again in the morning and according to the MWIS was not due to lift. I decided to read for a couple of hours in the hope that the cloud would lift late morning. The idea was to leave my overnight gear in the tent and just take lunch and water with me on a there-and-back to Lochnagar. 40 mins walk got me to the summit of Fafernie but the cloud remained thick, low and unbroken so I claimed the top (a new Munro for me) and headed back to the tent for my lunch.

Thankfully the day was saved by my decent down Jock’s Road into Glen Callater. Beautiful.

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That said, I can see why ‘Jock’ never got the same recognition from the civil engineering community as McAdam. His ‘road’ was undiscernable until I reached the base of the valley! However the views of the corries below Tolmount and Fafernie were breathtaking. It was wonderful to be greeted by such amazing scenery as soon as I descended below the cloud. (which didn’t lift from the tops until just before sunset).

My pitch was probably the finest wild camping spot I have ever enjoyed.

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Day 5 – Callater Lodge to Braemar (9 miles / 510 m)

In most long distant walks there is a ‘joining one nice section to another’ day. This was mine. It was also a demi-rest day. However I did enjoy the Callater Burn which was flowing well because of the snow melt. To add interest to the day I walked over Morrone on my way to my campsite and demi-rest day.

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I enjoyed the views of the bigger hills I was due to tackle next, then headed to the campsite. As seems to be common on all my long wild walks, any campsite proves a great disappointment compared to your other pitches. However my restocking parcel was waiting for me and I enjoyed a shower before heading into town seeking some decent beer. There was only one cask ale option in town, thankfully it was good. Braemar Brewing Co. had just opened in the town, they had one from them and three others from the Cairngorm Brewery (Aviemore) at the Invercauld Mews Bar. If you want a decent pint, it’s the place to go.

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Three of the beers were traditional, but Cairngorm’s Tradewinds was slightly left field and very nice. Made with Perle hops and elderberries. Perle is a hop I love (paired with Citra gives you tangerine flavours) and the combination worked really well. I just had to have another one because my phone hadn’t yet fully charged 😉

Day 6 – Braemar to Loch Etchachan (16 miles / 800 m)

Once I got the initial road section behind me, this was the one of the best days walking I’ve ever known. Ever. The trees and the mountain-scapes around Glen Lui and Glen Derry are breathtaking.

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I’m glad I walked down the glen, it was such a good day and the final ascent of 300 m at the end of the day didn’t seem at all challenging. It was fun to start the climb in a T-shirt and end up next to a frozen loch surrounded by snow. What a location, which I think it is probably the highest (proper) loch in Scotland at 3041 feet. I’d love to come back in the summer too.

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Day 7 Loch Etchachan to Aviemore (15 miles / 400 m)

Loch Etchachan sits in a bowl and ascending out of this on frozen snow meant finally using the axe and micro-spikes I’d be carrying all week. Sadly the cloud base was just below 3000’ but the MWIS suggested it would lift by late morning. There were still no views at the top of Ben Macdui so I sat in the shelter of the rocks around the trig point and pondered my options. It was late morning now and there had not been the slightest hint of the cloud cover thinning or lifting. I made a decision to alter my route and descend to the Rothiemurchus Forest by the most attractive direct route. With the benefit of hindsight this was a poor judgement call, because the cloud did lift at 1pm. However when walking solo I feel I should put safety higher up my priority list. On the positive side, my route down was mostly extremely attractive. At 1pm, as I was approaching Cairn Lochan, the cloud lifted but so did the force of the wind. I was now in two minds about my choice, but figured that given the nature of the Cairngorms, the chance of getting a sheltered tent pitch at 4000’ was not likely. My original plan had been to camp at the Wells of Dee, the highest source of a major river in the UK. I would have beaten my PB of highest wild camp from the night before too.

One cannot live ones life regretting our choices, so I sought to see the positive of my situation and opted to bag another Munro on my way down. Cread an Leth-choin, or in English, Lurcher’s Crag. The wind on the top was brutal, but the views spectacular.

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Lurcher’s Crag – the view from between the ears

After lunch sheltering just below the summit the map showed me a path down that looked good. How wrong was that! Should you ever seek to descend from this Munro into Lairig Ghru do not take the ‘path’ to the NW. Instead follow the shoulder down to the more major path running from Lairig Ghru past the foot of Creag a Chalamain. My route took me down the most challenging scramble I’ve ever attempted, the challenge coming from the unstable rock. Every third hand hold simply broke away. It is not a safe route to take. The longer route down the shoulder would not only be safer but much faster. It took me the thick end of an hour to descend 300 m.

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Then to try and continue to seek the gains from my loss of ascending the Devils Point, Cairn Toul, Braeriach et al I route marched the 7 miles down the tourist track, through the forest into Aviemore seeking to catch the last train South.

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After the first two miles the rocky path becomes much more pleasant to walk on and with tired feet I arrived at Aviemore Station at 8pm. My dinner was a cold feast from Tesco which I ate on the platform then took the train back to our van parked at Blair Atholl station. I was very glad to only have another 20 feet to walk from the train to my bed.

Conclusions

I’d say the walk was a mixture of amazing and disappointing – but the disappointment came solely from the periods of low cloud. I’d be very keen to go back and repeat the section from Braemar to Aviemore in more reliable weather. The heart of the high Cairngorms is like nowhere else in Scotland, wild and stunning.

Garmin inReach Mini 2 – a real world review

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The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is a satellite facilitated tracking and text message communication device. It is small and light and designed to be used in combination with a Bluetooth enabled smartphone to act as remote keyboard and larger viewing screen. As the name suggests it is the second incarnation of this device. I bought one of these earlier in the year to give my family peace of mind when I was on an eight day solo wild walk across the Cairngorms.

Executive Summary

I found the unit easy to use and my family found messaging me and following my location using the tracking page straight forwards when I was in the field. The battery life was excellent, it would have lasted 12 days between charges using the configuration I chose. The reassurance of having a ‘Daddy Tracker’ was highly appreciated by the family and I benefited from getting messages and MWIS summaries sent from home. It gets a thumbs up from me.

What does it do / why might you want one?

By linking to both the US GPS, international GNSS and Iridium satellite networks it can pinpoint your location anywhere in the world where you have sight of the sky. Then by using its connection to the Iridium network (which is what powers satellite phones) it can broadcast your position back to your support team / loved ones via a Garmin hosted webpage. It does this at a frequency anywhere from once every two hours to as often every two minutes.

Using the Iridium network it allows the transmission and receipt of 160 character text messages. These can be sent to a mobile phone, received as an SMS message, or sent to an email account. A link within outgoing messages allows recipients (e.g. home base) to reply to the inReach via a web based messaging portal or via SMS to a dedicated pseudo mobile phone account at Garmin.

Finally the unit has an SOS button which will transmit an emergency call and your location to the local emergency services and also your chosen two primary contacts. Thankfully I’ve not tested this, but once in contact with the emergency services you can share text messages to fill them in with your status, nature of your emergency/injury etc.

I got one so that my family could be assured that I was OK and we could keep in touch with each other for the long periods I was without mobile phone network coverage (in my case for 5 ½ of the 8 days of my trip).  I was walking alone.

How easy is it to use?

DSC_2647After a couple of short test walks I was able to consistently and easily use the unit. Whilst it can be used on it’s own, if you want to send bespoke rather than just preset messages this is MUCH easier when you link it (via Bluetooth) to your phone. The unit itself has only four buttons, so typing on it would be a very slow process. However, you can read even long messages on the unit itself with ease.  The screen looks like that on a Kindle. Linking to the dedicated app on your phone is quick and easy. Reviews I read ahead of buying it all suggest that the Mini 2 user interface is much more intuitive than the original Mini 1. I have a 10 year old Garmin GPS Map and know that I can attest that the Mini 2 much easier and more intuitive vs. the older style of Garmin interface.

When I used the manual on / off tracking mode I found I could easily turn off the tracking by mistake. I never did work out what I was doing wrong. My solution was to set it to auto-tracking which meant I never accidentally turned off the tracking. This worked flawlessly.

Sometimes in deep valleys, or where there was tree cover it flagged a ‘poor satellite connection’ and asked if I would like to delay sending my message until it was guaranteed to sent without any errors. I opted for the ‘wait’ option and found that it never needed to wait more than 30 seconds before sending my message – a delay of no relevance as far as I was concerned. In the manual it suggested that messages may take up to 20 min to arrive with the end recipient (or get from them to me). On two occasions I had a back and forth text conversation with no perceivable delay.

Battery life?

There is always a difference between the optimal values quoted by manufacturers and real world performance. In the case of the Mini 2 your battery life will depend primarily on four main factors:

  • The frequency you opt to send your location back to your Garmin web page
  • How many messages you send / receive in the day
  • Whether you leave the Bluetooth link on all the time or actuate it ‘as needed’
  • Terrain / tree cover impacting satellite coverage.

In my case these factors were as follows

  • My location was set to ping once every 30 minutes
  • I sent around 10 messages per day and received 2-4
  • I only turned on the Bluetooth when I wanted to send a bespoke message
  • I was only rarely in deep narrow valleys or under trees
  • I had the unit switched on for around 8 hours per day
Picture showing how I carried the inReach Mini 2

inReach Mini 2 – clipped and strapped to my shoulder strap for good reception and easy of use

With the above settings / conditions I consistently used 8% of the battery life per day over my seven full days of use. Thus I could have got just over 12 days of use from a single charge of the internal Li ion cell. This seems excellent to me and all most people would every need. The unit is charged using a standard USB / phone charger (USB C) and thus can be topped up in the field using a power bank. The internal battery is 1250 mAh, so around 40% of a modern smart phone for comparison.

How the messaging works

The message payment model works as follows:

Preset messages

You can set three ‘preset messages’ via your Garmin Explorer web portal. These are fixed messages each sent to a (potentially different) fixed group of recipients. All and any aspects of these messages can only be altered via the web portal. Once set on the web you sync to your device either via USB or via the app on your phone / Bluetooth. You can send as many of these preset messages as you like at no extra charge. You can choose to include a location link within them.

Bespoke messages

Each message is up to 160 characters. These can be composed on the unit if you really have to and have a lot of patience (it has only four buttons) or are more readily composed on your phone then relayed via Bluetooth to the inReach and then up into the deep dark reaches of space. You can choose to include a location link with your message if you wish.

The cost of bespoke messages and location pings depends on the level of subscription you decide to pay for. Each subscription package includes some complimentary messages / pings and then you pay per message / ping after that. Since these costs will likely change with time best that you look here on the Garmin site for more information. This third party video is good too.

Both outgoing and incoming messages count towards your quota and will cost you once this quota has been exceeded. (Currently £0.50 / message).

Once you message someone, they can message you back.

Weather information

You can pay to have a weather forecast sent to you, it is multi-day forecast and can be standard or premium. I didn’t use these services so cannot comment. I arranged for Mrs W to send me a summary of the MWIS mountain forecast every other day. This service proved excellent!

Web portal configuration

This is very important as the settings on the portal will determine what your audience will see and what functions they will have available to them. You share a URL with them of the form https://share.garmin.com/xxxxxx. You can password protect the page if you wish and choose whether you want it to be possible for friends to message you from here. But note that you pay for incoming messages too.

On the portal you input your emergency contact information (two people). Via the app, you can populate a contacts list with their mobile / email details, these can be easily imported from your phone’s address book.

Costs

Again, look at the Garmin site for up-to-date costs, but their model has three levels of package further split into whether you opt for a monthly or an annual plan, so six options in total. There is an annual subscription fee too which is lower for an annual plan than a monthly plan. One thing that was not clear on their website is that if you buy a month’s usage this appears not to be 30 days, or from the Xth to the Xth of the month, but is instead for the calendar month. Worth noting if you plan to use it in the early part of the month, don’t subscribe until the 1st of the month at the earliest

I would suggest however that you would want to be able to familiarise yourself with the unit and check you can configured the settings on the web portal correctly before you head off into the wild and allow 2-3 days for this before you first use such a device.

Final thoughts

I’ve written this review after my first use of such a device, but it was a very comprehensive eight day trial – it was used ‘in anger’ so to speak. I could not fault it for either ease of use, robustness or battery life. From what I’ve read the Mini 2 has an easier interface and slightly longer battery life than the Mini 1. Mrs W was greatly reassured to be able to track me and get “I’m OK” messages at the start / end of the day and at each rest stop. This was the longest and most remote wild walk I’ve done so far and I was concerned I’d start to feel lonely after 4-5 days, but thanks to knowing I could communicate from absolutely anywhere (and you can send / receive messages from inside a tent without an issue) was probably a major reason behind this not being the case.

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The subscription is relatively expensive at £35 pa plus £35 per month used (middle level plan) but if it facilitates an adventure, as it did for me, it feels well worth the cost. My original plan was to sell the unit straight after my trip (cheaper than rental according to my sums) but rental is an option. However Mrs W has asked me to keep hold of it, so there’s a commendation right there.

Dales Superhighway – a four day wild walk

Whilst out on a family amble I discovered that our route formed part of the Dales Highway. The section we were walking from Stainforth to Faizor was very attractive, so I looked into details for the whole route. It runs for 90 miles from Saltaire to Appleby-in-Westmoorland. The low level section at the Southern end was not of interest to me, but the route it took through the Yorkshire Dales and over the Howgills looked inspired so I planned a four day section from Settle to Appleby which had the practical benefit of a train station at both ends making this a logistically easy linear walk. Having completed this I would suggest that if you are interested in the ‘hill section’ as I was then a better option still would be to terminate your walk at Newbiggin-on-Lune where you can get a regular bus to the train station at Kirby Lonsdale and from there, the train back to Settle. Read on to find out why…

Day 1 – Settle to Simon Fell (12.2 miles, 740 m)

One reason why I prefer the Dales for my winter walks is that the underlying geology means it is mostly free of much mud underfoot irrespective of recent rainfall. The first section along the Ribble was an exception to this. It seems to be a very popular route for local dog walkers. However I was soon at Stainforth Force and I was blessed with sunshine, the prospect of a dry path and excellent views just minutes ahead of me.

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I love the limestone formations of Smearsett and Pot Scar which you see on the path to Faizor.

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I ate my lunch overlooking Austwick Brook Dub, a pool in the brook which used to be used to wash sheep free of parasites in Spring and Autumn. Those farmers wresting sheep in chest deep cold water must have been hardy men indeed!

After lunch I came to another lovely section walking next to limestone pavement with Pen-Y-Ghent as the backdrop.

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I enjoyed the solitude whilst I could as 90 minutes later I was on the eroded motorway which is the ‘Three Peaks’ route up to Ingleborough. Whilst I find this the least attractive approach to this hill, it was a price worth paying for the route thus far, and the prospect of camping on Simon Fell, a satellite peak to Ingleborough itself. The cloud started to close in as I approached the top and whist I enjoyed views on arrival, I was enrobed in cloud by the time I got the tent pitched so have no pictures of the pitch on night one. Had it been the summer I would have headed to Park Fell to be undisturbed.

Day 2 – Simon Fell to Dent (12.9 miles, 500 m)

Whilst I awoke in the cloud, after striking camp I did not have to descend too far to be free of the cloud and to find that it was Ingleborough alone in wearing a flat cap of cumulous. The rest of the area was in bright sunshine. This afforded a wonderful view of Whernside.

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The official route does not take you over the top, but it was too good a day to skip the summit. At the top the remnants of the previous week’s snow where still in evidence.  It was very windy on high ground so I simply kept walking on and skipped lunch. The route through the Whernside Tarns was attractive but then it was  a slog along the stony track that leads down into Dent Dale. However, the walk along the river into the village was very pleasant once again. I arrived unfashionably early so opted for shelter, warmth and a liquid lunch in my favourite of Dent’s two pubs.

The morning had been a mixture of bright sun and total cloud cover, but the late afternoon was wholly warm and glorious when out of the wind. I pitched myself in the campsite (hands up! I didn’t wild camp every night) and enjoyed my book until an hour before dinner when I once again retreated to the Sun Inn. They had Tiffin Gold from Kirkby Stephen brewery which was tasty, moorish and nicely session-able at 3.6% ABV. I was back in the tent and asleep by just after 8pm, such is winter backpacking. Today had really felt like a holiday.

It was too!

Day 3 – Dent to West Fell : Howgills (12.6 miles, 740 m)

This was to be the best day. I started walking at 0830 and was greeted by warm sunshine.

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My route would take me via Sedbergh. You might imagine that the path would follow the same route as The Pennine Journey, which I completed in 2019, but this is not the case. I was soon walking new ground with the Highway living up to it’s name and leaving the river earlier and heading over the ridge between Dentdale and Garsdale at a higher point. I loved leaving tarmac and rocky tracks behind and also the early panorama of the Howgills.

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One major highlight over my overall route was that I would be crossing the whole of the Howgill ‘range’ from South to North and seeing them set out before me whetted my appetite.

DSC_2557I had thought that the climb up to Calders would be hard work, but in my minds eye the peak seemed far closer to Sedbergh that it is in truth. The reality is that it is a steady walk which is not over steep. There was not a cloud in the sky which was wonderful, but don’t be mistaken into thinking it was warm.  The wind was a steady 30-35 mph and finding any shelter for lunch was a challenge. Thankfully, just before the final climb to Calders I was able to sit in the lea of a small hummock to eat my lunch. I rued the lack of drystone walls which are myriad in the Dales. Once fed I needed to press on to keep warm given the windchill. My route took me over the Calf, shortly after which I was able to collect water, but I had to break the ice at the edge of the tarn to access it.

The hills of the Howgills are not dramatic like those of Western Cumbria, nor do they have the limestone features of the Dales but something about them appeals to me, perhaps it is simply because they are different. One thing for sure is that they offer very little by way of shelter from the wind.

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The Calf (676 m)

After passing the Calf I had the fells to myself and I enjoyed romping along and drinking in the views as I headed for the most northerly top, called West Fell, which my research suggested would be a good place to camp. The wind remained strong and steady, the forecast told me it was not expected to rise overnight and it was evidently free of gusts. I know from my first test camp in the Soulo  that it was easily capable of handling this wind speed (Force 7) , but I was glad of the quality of the mountain forecast which I reviewed before choosing which tent to bring. When I got to my planned pitching point the ground was level but once again there was no hint of shelter. Looking further down the path towards Bowderdale suggested the ground was mostly soft and uneven for the next section. Soft ground is no good if you want your pegs to hold. (I found out the next day that my judgement was sound, there were no good camping spots further down on West Fell.)

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All the guys out and double pegged – Hilleberg Soulo

It was a really lovely evening if you discount the wind. Using what I had learned over the past four years of wild camping made what could have been a difficult tent pitch something controlled and reasonable. My top tip is to always double peg / back stake your first two peg placements. I had a great view over the smaller North Eastern Howgills but was not blessed with an ‘Instagram Ready’ sunset on this occasion. I knew I had to be setting off at 0730 the following morning so after dinner and finishing my book it was soon time for sleep. The buffeting of the wind must have been what woke me every two hours, but in between I slept soundly enjoying the juxtaposition of the strength of the wind and the warmth and security of my shelter.

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Day 4 – West Fell to Great Asby (11 miles, 140 m)

Whilst it proved a wet day, the intensity and frequency of the showers were far lighter than the forecast suggested. Sunbiggin Tarn is beautiful in the sunshine, less so in the clag. Day four was a massive anticlimax after days 1-3. Should you be following in my footsteps I would suggest finishing this route at Newbiggin and on a high. There is a regular bus from there to the train at Kirby Stephen.

But I don’t want to end this report on a low point…

Final thoughts.

The route which the Dales Highway takes through the Dales and the Howgills is really attractive and I enjoyed these days immensely. I’ve wanted the opportunity to camp on Simon or Park Fell for a couple of years, and starting from Settle makes either of these an ideal endpoint. Water can be gathered high up on the route to this ridge meaning you don’t have to carry it very far. I didn’t get a prolonged view but it was super whilst it lasted. It was fun to put my five season tent to good use and take advantage of elevated camp spots, especial night three in the Howgills. Having the map open whilst I write this has given me ideas to enhance this route still further for those who are happy to wild camp to take advantage of route options unfettered by having to reach fixed accommodation. I now have in mind an amended route, a ‘Superhighway’ if you like.  Once it’s complete I’ll publish here for comment.

Inversion – a two wild walk via the summit of Fountains Fell

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I was beginning to feel the winter blues drift into my airspace so Mrs W suggested it would be good for me to get out for a wild walking weekend. It has been a while since I was last out.  The first thing to check was the mountain weather forecast; this showed something rather unusual. A cloud inversion was expected in the Yorkshire Dales for the whole weekend. Foggy in the valleys but clear blue skies were to be expected on higher ground. Another impact of this is that the usual reduction in temperature with altitude scenario is reversed, with it warmer on the tops of the peaks than down in the valley. The dichotomy of sitting indoors looking out at the fog vs. walking on fell tops bathed in sunshine was enough to rouse my lacklustre enthusiasm. The route I chose is shown below:

Fountains Fell Route - Dec-21

The elevated moorland between Ribblesdale and Airedale only rises to 400-550 metres, but this was enough. As soon as I reached 360 m, I punched through the cloud into warm sunshine. Whilst it makes meteorological sense, it is still an odd feeling to walk out of the top of a cloud and suddenly feel a whole lot warmer. The precise height of the top of the cloud had not been forecast, it was just said to be ‘well below 700 m’ so there was a chance that I may not have been clear of the cloud until I was on my way up Fountains Fell. Walking up into the sunshine really lifted my spirits. I’d walked this section of path before and remembered the impressive limestone crags to the North of the path and was jubilant to see them again in glorious sunshine.

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My route took me to Malham Tarn and joining the Pennine Way around the Tarn before starting the gentle climb to the top of Fountains Fell.

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You have to divert off of the footpath to get to the actual summit which is about 700m SW of the highpoint of the footpath – unsurprisingly many had made this diversion before me. I knew from a review of Geograph photos that some flat level ground lay just to the West of the summit. Here I would like to plug Geograph to anyone planning a camping enhanced wild walk. Details on a 1:25k OS map are really helpful in shortlisting good spots to camp, but the pictures, they speak louder still.

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To my delight there was a nice level rock free spot right next to the summit cairn which allowed me to orientate my tent to have a view of both Pen-Y-Ghent and the possibility of a sunset over the top of the cloud inversion which was filling Ribblesdale (Yorkshire), the Ribble Valley (Lancashire) and its tributaries.

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After harvesting water from a small rivulet near the summit, it was time to get my legs into my sleeping bag and split my time between reading my book and drinking in the view. Because I’d started at sunrise and managed a fine pace I was fully set up a good 45 minutes before sunset. The sun was setting behind the cloud inversion thus it was not possible to take any pictures until it was kissing the horizon. After that words fail me, so I’ll leave it to a slideshow of how the colours changed over the next hour.

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My bladder woke me at 0230 but I opened my sleepy eyes to an unexpectedly bright light. I wondered if it was a torch but no, it was an extremely bright full moon! At 0630 it was time to make a brew and get packed up for a rather longer second day. I figured I’d rather walk the final stretch to the car (day 2) in the dark than pitch a tent in the dark in an unfamiliar location (day 1) so I started my walk from Langcliffe rather than Stainforth. In the summer I’d start from Stainforth to even the distance to 14 miles each day. I left my summit camp just as the sun bobbed above the Eastern horizon. First stop was Pen-Y-Ghent.

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From there I headed to the Western Side of the Horton Road (B6479). The limestone scars between Horton and Wharf looked inviting on the map. Here I have to confess to a navigational inexactitude. I kept following a well trodden path that stopped being the true footpath. I only noticed this as it faded out one kilometre into my error. The valley into which I should have headed to was filled with cloud / fog and I was already a long way off of my route so I thought I’d continue around the edge of the scar tops, enjoy the fine view and then hope to find a gentle slope down to the Wharf road.

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The map suggested to me that SD790, 700 looked a promising point to lose height, and indeed it was. I would not, however, recommend this to others due to a lack of convenient gates in the drystone walls that I needed to cross. The path free route I took across the tops was not arduous (deep heather often is, but this was not deep nor the ground uneven), was very attractive and legal as open access land. Had time been on my side, it would have been better to continue to Moughton Nab (SD798, 697) and pick up the footpath down to the road.

After this, the rest of the day is what I’d class as a ‘walk out’ – something to be done quickly to finish the day. I’d really enjoyed climbing Pen-Y-Ghent and seeing all the limestone formations. It was time for a swift pint then to drive home. Here I should give a shout out to the landlord of the Craven Heifer at Stainforth who keeps his beers extremely well and who poured me as good an example of Thwaites IPA as I’ve ever had. It’s not a modern style IPA, but still the hop oils shone through very nicely.

HydraPak Stow – One litre soft bottle / bladder – A review.

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I’ve never liked the idea of all the extra hassle which goes with the use of a water bladder. However when I moved to the use of a water filter rather than iodate tablets I needed a ‘dirty water’ supply container which would collapse as the liquid was removed so that I could use my filter. You’ll find many posts on the use of single use water bottles as the feed reservoir. If you want a source bottle you can squeeze this seems to work for many people. But I figured that if I was going to have a bladder type bottle then I might as well go the whole hog and get one that I could use with a drinking tube. When I walk as a part of a pair, we pass water bottles between each other, but on my solo walks having a drinking tube means I can rehydrate without having to stop / take my pack off.

I started with a CNOC water bag / bladder. This was really easy to fill because you can open the whole base to fill it, then roll and clip to reseal.

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But for my solo walks it was simply too large at two litres. Although it fitted reasonably well to the side of my pack, the water inside this large volume container sloshed around leading to both undesirable noise and an instability to my pack. Thus I shook the internet to see if I could find a one litre option which was well reviewed. The bladder I tried next is the subject of this review, the HydraPak Stow.

The Stow soft-bottle has gone through several iterations. It is important to avoid the first DSC_2229version for two reasons (1) The one I tried leaked badly around the cap seal (2) The neck thread is not the 28mm size which you need to fit directly to Sawyer and similar water filters. Version one is easily identified as the lid is a matching colour to the bottle. Later versions have a grey cap irrespective of the bottle colour. For these reasons it is a version 2 (or later) that you should go for.

I’ve used mine for five multi-day trips so far and I’m very pleased. I don’t have a bladder pocket on my rucksack so I strapped mine to the top of the lid of the pack. I started using a mesh of elastic cords, but I found that once the bottle reduced in volume it became loose and fell off. The sharp whack on the legs took me my surprise a few times. My next (and current) method is putting the bottle into ‘hip belt pocket’ which I strap to the same attachment points on the lid of my pack. Whilst this isn’t perfect it works pretty well. I really recommend the pack makers who made my pocket, Aiguille. They will do bespoke modifications too, so I’m considering sending them a picture of my lid attachments points and getting them to make something with clips in the right places. I have a 10 litre bum bag from the same people and it is excellent.

But back to the bladder / soft bottle. I carry two, and it’s handy that I can roll up the second one until I need to fill it at the end of the day. At this point I make use of its haul loop so I can secure it to the side of my pack with a karabiner. As for the hassle of cleaning, I found that I had a trick up my sleeve in the form of the no-rinse sanitizer that I used when brewing. Once I’ve flushed it out at the end of a trip I put 20-30 ml of this into the bottle, shake and them empty and seal it and this keeps it free of new life forms with reasonable ease. As a commercial brewer I use 100 ppm peracetic acid solution, but the more easily obtained StarSan would be another good option. As a final tip, if you carry two like me, get two different colours so you have a clear distinction between your dirty and clean water container. If you draw some water from a clean source (i.e. a tap) or want to filter some water in advance then this makes for an easily tell which is which. For example, I’ve found that pre-filtering is necessary if you plan to use such a system below ca. -2 C when the filter is prone to freezing. Once filtered you can sleep with the clean water in / close to your sleeping bag so it’s liquid and ready for a brew up in the morning.

Final comments

Whilst the CNOC bottle is easier to fill, I’ve never yet found a water source that I could not harvest with almost the same easy with the HydraPak Stow. The one litre size is really convenient and having two smaller bottles rather than one larger one is working very well for me. I’d happily recommend them as a water reservoir solution to use with a filter like the Sawyer or Katadyne.

*This post is not sponsored.  It was simply written to give back my experiences to the walking / wild walking community.

Kinder – Bueno! (A two day circumnavigation of Kinder Scout and the Edale Valley)

Once a year, global pandemics allowing (:-o), a university friend and I get together for a walking weekend. Ahead of us getting to meet up this autumn he commented on my wild walking posts and how this year he’s like to join me on one of these rather than our normal pair of day hikes. I’ve had an augmented version of the circumnavigation of Kinder Scout on my to-do list for some time. The forecast for the Saturday looked ideal, the Sunday less so, but we packed our waterproofs and headed to Derbyshire to see what we would find.

Kinder Circuit Map

Finding an overnight parking spot in Edale is a challenge, but my research suggested that Barber Booth should work out. We could and should have arrived earlier than we did, but were lucky and found a space under the railway bridge. From here we set off towards Edale with the intention of heading up to Grindslow Knoll as our ascent onto the Kinder Plateau. We were talking too much and were in Edale before we knew it, so instead we followed the overly popular path alongside Grinds Brook to the top. Wow was this busy – a far from wild beginning to this wild walk.

Spoiler alert – I loved this walk and plan to do it again out-of-season so need to be more alert next time and even consider following the path up Crowden Brook instead to avoid the crowds and to enjoy more ‘edge’ and less valley. The first of the iconic rock formations soon greeted us

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We continued around the edge of the plateau in an anticlockwise direction as this aim was to get the distance just right to finish the day on “The Edge” above Black Ashop Moor – SK08,89. We had glorious sunshine affording beautiful views of the various edges and down into the respective valleys which envelop Kinder. As I had hoped, and researched, the Edge-Path remained dry and firm underfoot for the whole day, a great contrast to the boggy peat interior of Kinder.

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We harvested our water for the evening at Fair Brook but didn’t hang around because of the midges. A significant plus point with the Sawyer Squeeze filter is that as well as removing harmful bacteria etc it also strips the peat taste from water such as that which runs off of Kinder. The original idea was to camp on “The Edge” but I reaped the benefit of my walking partner being a geologist who reviewed the map and said that the ground would be expected to be soft and wet there (and what do you know, when we got there the following morning he was absolutely right!) so we looked for a spot on Fairbrook Naze instead and found a great pitch. After dinner we were also blessed with a huge Harvest Moon. My photo doesn’t do it justice.

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After a mild night we woke to low cloud, however this had lifted above the plateau by the time we set off at 0800. The weather forecast suggested a high likelihood of moderate rain. In practice we got around 40 min of light rain, after which the sun broke through and gave us a day considerably ahead of expectations. The sunshine gave us great views around the horseshoe and down into the Edale valley itself.

Whilst having out lunch on the far side of Lords Seat, Mam Tor looked less like the piece of anatomy after which it is named and more like a hedgehog with people making up the spines. So whilst the original plan was to finish on Back Tor we chose not to queue again and headed back to the car. By the time we got there was have covered a very respectable 12.6 miles and enjoyed a most excellent weekend of walking, talking and splendid views. This is a walk I would certainly hope to repeat this coming winter, hopefully when there is snow on the ground.

Kinder Circuit Map

Three Days along the Northumberland Coast Path

When it came to the most recent half term holiday both Mrs W and I were ready for a total rest, thus we split the childcare duties between us so each could have some solo time. I took Junior on a canoeing adventure for three days, pictures of which will soon be available here. After this was my solo time and I had two walks planned and used my proven approach of making the choice based on the weather forecast the day before setting off. This time the choice was between a stretch of the Dales Highway or a section of the Northumbria Coast Path.

With low cloud due in the Dales throughout the allotted time slot I had an early start to get me the three hours to Alnmouth (pronounced Alan-Mouth) for the start of my coastal walk.

Day 1 – Alnmouth to Low Newton-by-the-sea : 12 miles (*no sig. height gain)

This proved the least inspiring section of the walk, but it was good to be out and in fine weather.

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The afternoon proved better than the morning with Dunstanburgh Castle a highlight.

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The coast became more pleasant after this, albeit far from spectacular. What it did do was to lead to The Ship Inn at Low Newton. Here they have a micro-brewery in house and brew all their own ale. Their Red Ale was true to style and pleasant enough. Their Pale Ale “Sandcastles at Dawn” had interesting hop flavours but was oddly sweet. Sadly their approach to managing COVID control was to not allow anyone inside the building. Thus there was no opportunity to ask for a tour of their brew kit and ask for any advice on starting as a brew pub.

The best part of the day was the pitch I found my tent that evening.

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Gorgeous.

Day 2 – Low Newton to Belford / Beal – 18 miles*

The day started well with a pleasant route from my camping spot on the Snook Headland to Seahouses. When I’d planned my route I’d noted the possibility of an early lunch in Seahouses to take advantage of a fine Fish and Chip shop which I’d visited before when cycling the Coast and Castles Sustrans route. My extra early start however meant I arrived far too early for such a repast so I settled for a bacon roll and a rest. The next section of the path taught be two useful lessons. (1) Whilst the coastal path was pleasant, any diversion inland (in this case from Seahouses to Bamburgh) yielded landscape, and thus walking, of little or no interest. (2) If it looks like the alternative to an inland route is a busy road, consider also whether the state of the tide would allow a diversion onto the beach. This is exactly what I should have done, and would recommend, between Seahouses and Bamburgh.

Lunch at the North end of beach at Bamburgh went a long way towards making up for the mundane nature of the second half the morning.

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It also inspired me to look a little deeper at the inland section which the official route was due to take me on the following day. This didn’t look like much fun, so I shook the internet to find some bus timetables and was pleased by what fell out. If I was able to stretch my day to take me as far as Belford I could get a bus which would by-pass the rest of the route planned for day three and to within a mile of the campsite planned for the end of that day at Beal.

After I passed the end of the headland at Budle Point I took advantage of the low tide and headed down onto the beach. The map suggested it might be muddy / silt but a wide band of sand hugged the coastline. It proved a great perspective on the coast and gentle on the feet.

As I passed what should have been my campsite for that evening I saw both how large and packed it was and I was very glad to be walking on rather than stopping. Just before Waren Mill I could hop up onto the road and within 1 km I was back on the official route. Here the gentle rolling hills made for nice views and I enjoyed walking through a large grain storage co-op. Next I came to the East Coast Mainline and a first – the requirement to ring the signalman before crossing the line. I was soon in Belford. The pubs didn’t look the best, fortunately the beer selection in the Co-op was rather good and I set up my own beer garden in the afternoon sunshine whilst I waited for the next bus.

The campsite at ‘The Barn at Beal’ was a much smaller affair and had a fine view of Lindisfarne. I was rather tired after an 18 mile day but very pleased with the modification I’d made to my route.

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Day 3 Beal to Berwick-upon-Tweed – 11 miles*

This was to be the best day of my walk. Where I to walk this stretch of coast again I might well start at Beal and then get the chance to explore the taller cliffs and more dramatic coastline which I now know exists North of Berwick and into Scotland. I had a maximum of four days available to me and would have needed a further three days to get from Berwick to the next transport hub at Dunbar. From photo’s I’ve seen since, this would be a very tempting option for another time. Since I’ve come back I’ve talked with friends who have visited this section of coast who describe it as ‘Like dramatic Cornwall but without the people.’

But back to my walk rather than my day-dreaming. The first section of today’s route was both different and interesting as it was salt marsh. There were dykes and sheep a plenty for the first hour.

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After that the route followed a stony vehicle track for a while so once again I headed to the beach.

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On my route I fell upon a fascinating chap who was kayaking up the coast aiming for Berwick. He was camped on the beach having a rest day and hoping not to be moved on by pedantic twitchers. I enjoyed a chat and encouraged him that he was doing no harm.

I came within site of Berwick at around lunchtime but I decided to press on to get to the railway station to maximise my chance of a train back to Alnmouth.

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Here my relaxed attitude to rail travel let me down. When I’m using the train on such a walk as this I don’t check the timetable as I’ve found that a late running earlier train can often get me to where I want ahead of the one I might have planned to catch. Next time I’ll be more methodical as I found that Alnmouth is considered a very minor station and it would be three hours before the next stopping train was due. Fortunately I’d noted that the bus I’d used on my detour was going from Berwick to Newcastle and I knew it went via Alnwick. After lunch with a lovely view over the River Tweed I got a bus back to Alnmouth via Alnwick.

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It got be there before the train would even have set off, at a fraction of the cost and with a much shorter walk to my car at the far end.

Conclusions

It was good to have a few days away, but I cannot say that I’d recommend this section of coastal path. It lacks the drama an interest of Pembrokeshire or the South West Peninsula. Back in 2012 we cycled up this stretch of coast and this, I would suggest, is the ideal pace at which to see Northumbria. If you cover 50 miles in a day then the thinly distributed nature of points of interest is no longer a problem. Where you wishing to take advantage of the drier weather of the East Coast and wanting to walk, you would be well advised to look into walking the section from Beal (or Berwick) north to Dunbar.

Panhandle Perambulation – A two day Wild Walk in the NW Dales

Our family day walks in the Yorkshire Dales are unusually restricted to the Southern areas as the journey time to somewhere such as Dentdale is deemed too far.  So with Mrs W heading away with Junior to see her brother for the weekend, I poured over a map and came up with a two day route with a fell top overnight stop.

Barbon Fell Route Map

The Opensource map suggested there was a path, unmarked on the OS Map, from a parking spot just outside of Leck up to the shoulder of Gragareth and indeed it was there complete with gates and stiles.  I didn’t get to see the notable ‘Three Men’ until my return on day two however.

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The (former) highest point in Lancashire – Gragareth

Once up onto the ridge the path was much smoother and well walked and afforded great views over Kingsdale towards Ingleborough and Whernside.  Ironically my route all but coincided with my winter weekend walk of 2018 which also took me to Great Coum.  I was simply the other side of the wall, which marks the former boundary between Lancashire and Westmorland.

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I had lunch in the shelter of a peat hag with a fine view of Morecambe Bay.  After ascending Great Coum the descent to Bullpot Farm was gentle.  Bull Pot is one of the entrances to the UK’s largest cave system which stretches some 70 km in total, dendron like, length.  Ultimately I dropped down to Barbon Beck and the foot of my second ridge of the weekend.

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When I plan a route like this I look at the overall structure of the ridges and places I will be able to source water but don’t often focus on all the other details.  Thus the ascent up to Castle Knott was a good deal steeper than in my minds eye.  Just the time to add two litres of water to my pack weight!  I reviewed the water options on the fell top and the two tarns looked very small, and the past few weeks had been very dry so I carried my beck water up with me. (I found the tarns to be stagnant and alive with fly lava, so a sound decision despite my water filter.)

I was very hot by the time I got to the my new ridge-line, but from here it was just less than a kilometre to the top of Castle Knott.  My original plan was to camp on the col just beyond this top but the wind was light and the views from the top inspiring.  Walking NW along the shoulder that extends away from the main ridge yielded a flat spot large enough for a solo tent with views over Morecambe Bay, the Kent Estuary and the Southern Fells of Cumbria – perfect!

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On the menu in the evening was a freeze dried meal from a company I’d not tried before, Lyo of Poland.  I was attracted by their use of all natural (and low FODMAP) ingredients and enjoyed my Five Spice Chicken very much.  In the UK they can be bought from Basecamp Foods – I suspect that I will be going back for more.

Overnight the cloud dropped and when the sun woke me at 0400 I was surrounded by cloud.  I had hoped that the breeze would keep my tent dry, but thankfully the pan-handle shape of this week yielded an extra bonus… …after getting a few more hours shut-eye.  I had brought a bum bag with me for essentials and although I packed up all the rest of my gear, I left it in the tent with the hope that tent would be dry for my return there-and-back walk to the end of the ridge.  Despite a lazy start, I was walking away by 0830 and by this point the cloud had lifted above 3000′ yielding panoramic views.  The ridge from Castle Knott to Great Maws was really like the Howgill’s in its shape and nature.  An hour later I was sat at the end of the ridge enjoying a fabulous view the Howgill’s themselves and also down into Dentdale.  I love this part of the world, and whilst the cloud cover meant it wasn’t a great day for photographs, I’ll let them tell the rest of the story.

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The return walk yielded fresh views and lost nothing for having been walked before.  The tent was dry upon my return so I struck camp and dropped back down to Barbon Beck for lunch.  I suspected that the rest of the walk would simply by a necessary ‘walk out’ but was delighted by the beauty, and ultimately the narrowness of Ease Gill. It is dry rivers such as this which point to the possibility of cave systems underneath – the water needs to be flowing somewhere…

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Another path which was only to be found on the Opensource map led me straight back to the car.  It had been a very enjoyable and empowering weekend and an other example of how it can be good to walk lesser know fells between the bigger peaks.  You get to see the spender of the larger peaks but without both the the full height gain and the heavy traffic they attract. The day had been getting warmer by the hour, and now I was down at valley level I experienced the full power of the sun.  Fortunately I was able to drop the roof on the car and drive home topless!

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A Little of what You Fancy – Walking and Wild Camping around the Llyn Peninsula

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I owe a big debt of gratitude to the Scouting movement. Back in the 1980’s I joined a Scout Troop and this not only gave me a life long love for the outdoors, but the mindset and skillset to be able to enjoy it to the full. I’ll admit that back in my teens I did a few backpacking trips which I only actually enjoyed in retrospect, mostly down to being very unfit and because of the pain of carrying an external frame rucksack. The first multi-day walk I enjoyed rather than endured was a section of the Dorset / SW Peninsula Coast Path. By this point I was fitter and had a better rucksack. From this has stemmed a love which has lasted the thick end of 40 years, coastal walking.

I think long distance walking is a little like music or beer. There are a whole range of styles of both which have merit, not everyone likes every style, but most people enjoy a range even if there are one or two they would rather avoid. Sour Beers, Dance Music and the Pennine Way in my case! Whilst today I mostly walk in hill country, there will always be a special place in my heart for coastal walking.

One secret to thriving through this pandemic has been to be flexible and to grab opportunities when they arise. The 5-9th May was my chance as whilst it was sad that a planned event for Mrs W and I had fallen through, it gave me the chance to disappear for a full five days, my first proper holiday in twelve months. One of the massive benefits of solo backpacking is that there is usually no need to book anything in advance. This leads to my next secret to success; planning two walks in different parts of the country. I then choose which to do based on a last minute look at the weather forecast. As I said, whilst I love the hills, I had a deep desire for some coastal walking and had two options set before me, the Northumbria Coast Path or a section of the Wales Coast Path around the Llyn Peninsula. As you’ll now know, this time it was the West which one.

My Route

I’m not a ‘complete the set’ / ‘tick all the boxes’ person, but instead I often like to cherry pick sections of great walks. This time I reckoned that the approx. 50 miles from Nefyn to Abersoch represented the most attractive part of the Llyn Peninsula. If you go further East from Nefyn there are big stretches next to A-roads and if you continue beyond Llanbedrog / Abersoch the geography becomes rather flat, low and – to my taste – uninspiring.

Llyn Coast Path Route Picture

I’ll say now that I loved this walk, but were I to do it again, I’d walk it in reverse as the best part of the section out of Nefyn was the view of Snowdonia which which always over my shoulder. The walk and scenery was extremely good, but this would have been better still. Also at this point it is worth noting that this walk would be a great introduction to coastal walking because the amount of height gain (i.e. cumulative height of hills climbed) is very modest in comparison to either Pembrokeshire or the SW Peninsula Coast Path. This is likely to be the route I use to introduce my son to backpacking in a couple of years time – it offers a really good pleasure / effort ratio.

Day 1 – Nefyn to Nr Porth Colmon – Highlights

14 miles / < 100 m Height Gain

I’ll allow a slide-show of pictures to tell most of the story.

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At the time I did this walk, it was legal to use campsites but not any of their ‘facilities’. Paying £10 to have access to a water tap made the cost of water higher than a Craft Keg Ale so I’d decided to wild camp where possible. On Day One I had hoped to stop just before Penllech Beach on the cliff top, but the ground was either too sloped for a tent, or where it was flat enough it was all used for grazing livestock and was always within view of farmhouses. A challenge of the narrowness of the peninsula. Therefore I walked on and found a good spot just beyond Porth Colmon, looking down on Porth Wen Bach.

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Day 2 – Porth Wen Bach to Pen-y-Cil – Highlights

12 miles / 350 m Height Gain

Another day of gorgeous sunshine, and whilst Day One was very pleasant, today the scenery became more dramatic, the headlands forming the tip of the peninsula being a major highlight.

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Nearing the end of the day I came across a spring on one of the steep slopes between Mynydd Mawr and Pen-y-Cil. Not St Mary’s Well, not marked on my 1:50k map but very welcome. Here I gathered some water, but needed much patience to get a whole litre. I thus opted to seek out an easier source for the final 500 ml which I needed. I didn’t find another source and was about to give up and walk to a farm when a great and friendly couple, whom I’d met earlier in the day, caught up with me again and gave me their left over water as they were just about to finish their day walk and head home. I found a fabulous pitch that night, right next to the cliff with views of islands in both directions.

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Day 3 Pen-y-Cil to Hells Mouth Beach (NE end)

14 miles / 180 m Height Gain

This was by far the warmest and sunniest day, with the sun beaming down even as I had my breakfast (in bed naturally!) After freshening up in Aberdaron and restocking with fruit I was set for the day ahead. Again I’ll allow the pictures to tell the story.

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I was planning on camping with the Dunes at far end of Hells Mouth Beach. The official path heads inland some distance from the beach, but looking at the tide timetable told me that I could walk along the beach if I wished. It being just 12 days to my 50th Birthday I thought I’d set myself the challenge of yomping across the beach as fast as I could and use my GPS to see if I could achieve anything like the speed I was capable over a measured mile when I was 18. Given that I had an 11 kg pack on my back I was delighted to be just 0.1 mph slower than 32 years prior. I thus arrived at my proposed camping spot rather too early to pitch! So I walked the 1 km inland to the Sun Inn at Llanengan. A couple of pints of Dizzy Blonde and a few chapters of my book proved an excellent entrée to my evening meal.

The forecast expected the weather to change dramatically overnight with heavy rain and winds gusting to 41 mph predicted. It’s odd to rig a tent for a storm on a warm sunny evening. It was my first chance to use my (mini) delta ground anchors in anger. My impression of them in the garden at home was that they were no more difficult to pull from the ground than a regular Y peg, but they did hold a lot better in sand than regular pegs. I double pegged (or pegged and anchored) all the main guys and headed to bed.

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Day 4 Hells Mouth Beach to Abersoch

9 miles / 180 m Height Gain (in an afternoon)

The weather arrived at 0300 as per the forecast and I was very happy to be in a Hilleberg. The forecast suggested that the rain would change from very heavy (2-3mm/hr) to light (0.6 mm/hr) at 1100 so I enjoyed a morning of reading my novel and then packed by bag and was ready to emerge and strike camp at 1100 on the dot. In reality, at 1050 the rain stopped and didn’t come back for the rest of the day. I felt very blessed. Further, in the time it took me to dig and backfill my latrine hole (!) the strong wind had blown the tent all but dry.

I walked up into the cloud and there I remained for around 90 min, when it miraculously started to lift and the sun burnt through. Thus I did have views of the cliffs for the second half of my walk to Abersoch.

Originally I had the option of continuing on to Llanbedrog but this would not have allowed me to catch the last bus, so Abersoch was my final destination. I had the bus back to Nefyn to myself so the driver kindly asked me where in town I wanted to be dropped. I explained where the car was and he dropped me at the end of the road. Now that’s service!

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So an excellent four days, a super holiday, and probably the ideal introduction to backpacking for Junior in a couple of years time.

Gear Appraisal – what did I learn about my kit?

Sleeping Pad – Thermorest Prolite Apex

Looking at the weather forecast before I set off suggested one night that would drop to 1 Celcius and other nights between 4-7 C. My sleeping bag is ‘comfort rated’ to 4C but I know that with the aid of a jacket over my feet I’ve taken a similarly rated bag down to -1C. The solution I opted for this time was to take my winter sleeping pad, a Thermarest ProLite Apex and my two season sleeping bag. This worked really well as is an approach I’ll note for the future. ProLite Apex + 2 Season Bag = 1200 g. ProLite 3 + 4 Season Bag = 1600 g.

With the Apex only weighing 110g more than the ProLite 3 I’m tempted to use it year round because it is just so luxuriously comfortable.

Tent – Hilleberg Enan

I remain really impressed with this tent. As long as you have a light breeze it remains condensation free. Even when the wind is whistling between the inner and the fly, the all-mesh door seems to keep out the breeze from the inner. The space in this tent is optimal for someone who is 5’11”: Generous in length; sufficient in headroom; good sized porch for wet gear, rucksack and cooking gear*; good in wind speeds of up to 45 mph and thoroughly capable of handling a torrential downpour as long as you close the vent at the windward end.

*I am not recommending cooking in the vestibule with the door closed (although there would be enough room should you choose to take this risk).

Titan Ground Anchors

I remain highly sceptical about these being able to live up to their claims for holding power. I’ve not done pull tests with a spring balance, but ‘by feel’ they held no better in our back lawn than a regular Hilleberg Y peg (akin to MSR Mini Groundhogs). However, they do work a lot better in sand and probably offer a good compromise between regular and sand stakes given that they are only 1/3 the size and half the weight of a sand stake. I should get myself a spring balance because my feeling is that (in regular soil) double pegging with standard Y or V pegs offers a much stronger solution at lower weight.

Being pro-active about your mental health – jogging for the soul.

We are all recognise the concept of the value of routine exercise for physical fitness. Some people run, others swim, still others go to the gym and workout. Even if you are closer to your couch than you are to 5K today we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

…we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

As we entered this pandemic in the Spring of 2020 a thought came to me. I would need to be proactive about my mental health. Here in the UK we are within months of the other side of the pandemic, and am reviewing how well my approach has worked for me. Whilst considering this it came to me that whilst there are many messages about being proactive about keeping physically fit, I’ve heard little said within the mainstream media or from the NHS about being pro-active with our mental health.

I’ve heard little said…about being pro-active with our mental health.

Chances are that ignoring your physical health will shorten your life more than ignoring your mental health, but in terms of quality life years I’d suggest that the latter is at least as important. So what did I do to keep myself mentally stable during this crazy time?

  1. I acknowledged my needs and weaknesses and worked out how I could address them.

It’s hard to admit things about yourself of which you are not proud. In my case I needed to be honest about the value I get from routine. I might like to present a different face to the world but I needed to admit to myself that the requirement to be ‘at work’ at a specific time each day, and the sometimes routines tasks of work life were something that where important to me.

Also I needed to admit that I am mentally fragile, I’m not the resilient super hero that, as a man, I would like to be or paint myself as. I needed to acknowledge the need to act to preserve my mental and emotional stability.

2. I was purposeful about building the ‘connections’ which are most important to me.

I wrote in an earlier post about the excellent book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. In this he lists key facets of our life such as our connection to nature, connection to friends and four other key connections within our life. I know that for me that my connections to nature, God and friends are all particularly life giving.

The beauty of being purposeful in maintaining these connections is that it’s not like training for a race. It’s not painful or dull exercise which we are motivated to do simply because of the end goal. Maintaining connections is about doing things which we enjoy which have the co-benefit of a positive effect on our mental well-being. In my case I made time to phone my friends to make up for the loss in face to face contact. I made sure that I got out into the countryside regularly, even if that was just an evening stroll in the local park. Finally, I focussed more on the disciplines of my faith. The connections which are most important to you may well be different to those most critical to me.

3. I learned how to recognise and express my emotions in a healthy way.

You may or may not relate to the Christian centred teaching of Chip Dodd. Like many American Evangelicals he says in a chapter what could easily have been covered in a paragraph, but there is gold in them there hills of words! To summarise what he says: (1) Our emotions can be distilled down to a small number of underlying feelings; (2) We can express these feelings in positive or negative ways. Let’s start with the negative/s – we can internalise those feelings leading to a negative expression, or we can transfer those feelings to others which is neither good for us or nice for them. The positive approach is to express them in a helpful way. Let’s look at just one example, which Dodd calls anger (and I prefer to call passion).

Let’s say you come home to a messy kitchen. You could shout at your spouse, but we all know that this would not end well for either of you. You could calmly express that it makes you sad to see the kitchen in a mess after you’d cleaned the house at the weekend, or you could discuss how a kitchen cleaning rota might be arranged. You have a choice of how you express and resolve how you feel. You don’t have to try to make your problem someone else’s problem, instead you could be an agent for change.

A good summary is this – bottled up emotions tend to come to the surface eventually and when they do its rarely in a good way. Transferring your emotions (like anger) to someone else does not resolve the emotion, it simply moves it to someone else with some added bad feeling with it. Recognising and expressing your emotion well leads to good and healthy outcomes.

Perhaps not all the above approaches are ones you can relate to, but for a better and sustained quality of life think about what you can do to actively promote your mental health and start working on it. In my experience it leads to a whole lot of benefit at very low cost.