Double Pegging

Double pegging / back staking

I am indebted to Shamus McCaffery for reminding me of a technique I used when staking out the summer fete marquee’s when I was a Scout some 30+ years ago.  That is to ‘back stake’ a peg with a second peg.  He nicely demonstrated that it more the doubles the force required to pull a peg out from the ground by a simulated guy line.  A quick shake of the internet suggests that whilst this method is still common with marquee pitching it is not commonly spoken about within the backpacking community.   It’s a cheap, simple and effective solution as you just need a couple of extra generic V pegs.

It works most easily if you have a cord loop on your pegs, if you don’t then most pegs made in the last five years can have cord added.

The one thing I’d add is from recent experience is that this method isn’t just good for guys, it is also ideal for your first two peg placements when you are pitching solo in a strong wind.  Even if you don’t carry spare pegs, at this point you will have plenty.  Then, once you have most of your pegs in place the load will be shared across them and, if necessary, the initial back stakes can be removed and used elsewhere.  I wish I’d thought of this ahead of my Storm Bella test pitch, but both you (dear reader) and I will know for next time.

Soulo

Trusty Soulo at the top of Buckden Pike

Limited daylight, limited distances, unlimited satisfaction – a two day winter wild walk.

As I was reviewing the year in preparation for the writing of our family Christmas letter I realised that I have walked and / or wild-camped in each month from April to October of 2020. I came to this realisation at the end of November realising that this would be the first month to break the pattern. Almost coincident with this I came across an advert for pre-loved Hilleberg Soulo at a very reasonable price, well reasonable for a Hilleberg!

After a test run in the garden, I felt the urge to try it out in conditions to justify its design. I set off for Buttermere on a Friday evening and slept in the van overnight to facilitate a good early start the following morning. Being December the days were set to be short, with under eight hours between dawn and dusk. At 0810 on the Saturday morning, as the sun rose, I strode purposely out of Buttermere village and set off for Red Pike.

Looking back across Crummock Water

My proposed route would take me along the High Stile ridge to Green Gable and then over to Black Sail Pass to camp next to Cloven Stone Tarn as I have great memories of camping here on my first Coast to Coast walk some many years ago. The amount of snow on the ridge was rather greater than it appeared from down in the valley. OK, only 4-6” but enough to make it fun and enough to justify an axe for the final ‘drift filled’ gully to the summit of Red Pike. A number of hills have the epithet ‘Red’ but Red Pike truly is red with the scree composed of iron rich syenite. The views from the ridge were excellent.

By the time I got to the steep decent of High Crag the sun had warmed this West facing end and started to melt the snow. My decent was painfully slow. The shallow snow was now extremely slippery but nothing like deep enough for crampons to be employed. Over lunch I noted my average speed of the morning has been only 1.8 mph. I could probably still make it to Black Sail Pass before dark, but not if the descent of Great Gable turning out to be anything like that from High Crag. As I started down the far side of Haystacks I concluded two things (i) That Weston Junior would love the gentle scrambling at the top of this peak and (ii) The temperature was dropping very quickly. Today had been slow, tomorrow would likely be similar so I opted to stop early which would shorten the following day as well.

Since I had my Sawyer ultra-filter with me this gave me complete confidence to source water from Innominate Tarn and I found a suitable, if bumpy pitch which afforded a great view of Great Gable.

There was little wind, and so no real justification for my five season shelter. However, it’s geodesic design was really helpful in helping me find the best pitch of the bumpy plateau I had chosen as my stopping point (NY 208,123). I found the next morning if I’d walked a little further (209,119) I’d have had a much smoother pitch with as good a view. The temperature was soon below freezing, and whilst in my youth that would have made a gas stove problematic, the pre-heater tube on my Alpkit Koro did what it was designed for and it cooked my dinner without a hitch.

The following morning was overcast with the cloud base around 700 m. That I was at 600 m and did not have to re-traverse Great Gable in the cloud was a blessing. Today’s route would take me to Honister Pass then up onto the ridge on the Northern side of the valley. My descent of Grey Knotts was again slow, justifying my change of plans the day before. My slow descent dampened my spirits so I sought to re-state my manhood by setting a good pace up to the top of Dale Head. Getting there 10 minutes ahead of plan re-ignited my mojo and whilst I was now well and truly in the cloud I set off with gladness along Hindscarth Edge. I can only imagine this section of the walk affords amazing views down into the valleys on either side and is somewhere I plan to return in better weather. In fact I would love to do the whole walk again, but in the absence of snow to get all the way to Black Sail Pass to relive my experience of umpty diddly years ago

Where they were afforded, the views from Littledale Edge where super and I found myself descending back to Buttermere just in time for sunset.

The Soulo, whilst not in any way challenged, proved to be a fine shelter. The porch is just big enough for my liking (space for rucksack, wet outer gear, boots and space to cook (not that I could ever commend cooking with the door closed dear reader). I look forward to taking it out again when I can test it’s true metal. I would not seek to carry it in the summer, but in bad weather I can fully believe that it lives up to its reputation. And how many other one man geodesic tents are there out there? Now my wild walking can continue all through the winter when and if Mrs W affords me another weekend pass.

GPX route files can be downloaded from here and here.

Four days along the Cleveland Way.

Family Weston had planned a week on the Llyn Peninsula during this autumn half term. Walking some of the coast path, building sandcastles on the beaches, enjoying fish and chips with rolling accommodation provided by our wee camper-van. We were all looking forward to this when the Welsh Assembly decided to ‘circuit break’ and repel all boarders. Additionally Lancashire gained Tier 3 COVID status which encouraged us to stay within the county.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in Lancashire with nothing to do!

We decided to divide and conquer the problem. Mrs W and Junior would do fun day trips from home and I would be allowed to run away with my lightweight backpacking gear to a beautiful yet isolated location. Yes it was to be outside the county, but I was still complying with the spirit of the restrictions, I would be isolated. During the original period of ‘house arrest’ in the Spring I’d spent a several days planning some multi-day walking routes as a way to dream of good times post COVID. I must now have enough routes scoped out to last me 3-4 years. Looking at my options and cross checking them with the weather forecast led me to choose to walk the inland section of the Cleveland Way, which runs along a Scarp Edge from Sutton Bank then tracking North and North East to Guisborough. After a link to the coast it follows the sea South again, but my walk was to terminate at Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

Day 1 – Sutton Bank to Osmotherley : 13.5 miles / negligible height gain.

I drove across to the NE on the morning of day one, knowing that I should not start walking too late if I wanted to finish the day before I ran out of daylight at around 1700. I found what seemed to (and proved to) be a safe parking spot near the top of Sutton Bank which saved me walking up from Cold Kirby (Plan A) so I was able to make a flying start to the day. It was a little hazy and overcast but the views were still good.

I’d love to go back on a sunny day. I think I will take Junior when I do as this section of the Cleveland Way would make an excellent father and son walk in a year or two’s time. The route traced the edge of the bank making for easily walking but with the benefit of elevated views over the Vale of York. The colour of the autumn trees was a delight.

It had been touch and go as to whether I would be able to do this walk because I had badly strained my neck doing some ‘extreme decorating’ a few days earlier. Prayer and a cocktail of strong painkillers kept me going however. I was most grateful for this outcome. Because of the uncertainty of how I would manage backpacking I opted to end day one in a campsite in Osmotherley, rather than my initial planned stop above the village on Beacon Hill (as an aside, there were at least three good wild camping spots near the top of the hill, albeit that you’d have to carry all your water up with you). To complete this pampered experience I’d booked into the Golden Lion for dinner that night. Both the food and the beer was excellent. Hobgoblin Gold is a surprisingly good and interesting ale to come from a subsidiary of the Marston’s mega-scale brewing group. It uses the NZ hop Nelson Sauvin at a level where it’s flavour is unmistakeable. Very nice, as was the food. I commend this hostelry to my readership!

Day 2 – Osmotherley to Bloworth Crossing : 15 miles / approx 600 m height gain.

I got started at 0800, knowing it would be a challenge to get to my end point (high on the moors) before I lost daylight. It was dry until 0900, but at least I’d topped the climb back to the top of the ‘bank’ before I had to deploy my Goretex. The threatened rain didn’t amount to much but did hide me in cloud from late morning to early afternoon. The heaviest rain was due for lunchtime but I had heard of a cafe at Lord’s Stones designed for walkers along the route. I nipped into this and avoided the only downpour of the day. It was very windy by this point and thus it was good to be indoors for my lunch-stop for once.

Mid-afternoon brought me to the Wainstones…

Then it was on to Clay Bank where the CW coincides with AW’s Coast to Coast. I have fond memories of camping on Clay Bank back in, ahem, 1993 and marvelling at the juxtaposition of views. Moorland heather in one direction, and the Middlesborough petrochemical works in the other. Time was marching on and I hoped I would find water at the pass between Clay Bank and Greenhow Moor. As I write this I’ve checked again, and there is a stream shown on the map just below the tourist view point. Had I been able to find this (I could not) there was a beautiful flat patch of grass within the viewpoint car park which would have made a perfect tent pitch with a grand view. However since I could not find the stream, I reviewing the map again and figured my best option was to walk on to my originally planned end point at Bloworth Crossing. There was now just 15 minutes before sunset (1630) and 7 km / 200 m height gain still to be tackled.

I was glad to be walking solo, so no one could complain that I should have picked up more water at the cafe! Thankfully the path was wide and clear to follow, and for reasons I could not understand it never actually became pitch black. This despite walking in cloud, with no sight of stars or moon.  My research had shown me I’d get a good pitch at Bloworth Crossing and that water was available there. As I walked in the increasing darkness I started to enjoy the pleasure of a night hike and noticed my hearing becoming more acute. I didn’t need my head-torch because the track was pale, heather borders dark and the residual light was still oddly present. I kept hearing the burbling of water, and when I knew I was within 30 min of my proposed end point I investigated each embryonic stream with torchlight. Then I found gold, well more like clear whisky coloured water, right next to the path. It was Bloworth Slack.

For this trip I’d bought myself a Sawyer ultra-filter with the hope of a range of benefits. I’ve covered this in another post, but suffice to say I was really pleased at how it took out the peaty taste which is ubiquitous to such streams. I was soon at the crossing and found my patch of grass (not so common on heather moorland) and started looking for the best spot on which to pitch. Part of my method was to judge the volume of squelch I heard when I stepped on the area in question. I was tired and this was a guessed method but turned out to be inspired. In the morning the ‘slightly squelchy’ areas I had located had morphed into a stream.

The potential for this would have been obvious in daylight, but that was a luxury I didn’t have. In the end my pitch was more level and less muddy than the pukka campsite of night one.

Day 3 – Bloworth Crossing to Highcliffe Nab : 12 miles / approx 400 m height gain

Although I was only at 390 m, I awoke amidst the cloud. My day started, however, with the delight of being able to taste the subtle flavour of bergamot in my tea unalloyed by the taste of the water.

It’s not a single malt, honest!

People who haven’t seen or used 21st century backpacking gear think I’m having a rough hard existence when I go on walks like this. Little could be further from the truth when I can make a brew without leaving my down sleeping bag, comfortable on a self inflating Thermorest, , sheltering within a 1.2 kg highly robust Swedish tent having sated my previous days appetite with excellent food (my favourites thus far being from Mountain Trails or Activeat ) which is light and just needs re-hydrating, creating no washing up.

But back to the story. I was on the trail by 0800 and soon the combination of a subtle drop in altitude and a raising cloud base meant I was again afforded excellent views.

I opted to simply enjoy the view I had of Roseberry Topping and not climb it this time with the aim to having a day guaranteed to end with daylight to spare. My weather app warned me to expect the wind to gust to 50-60 mph by the early hours of the next day. I needed to be sure to find a good sheltered spot. My planned stopping point next to a crag face sounded promising so I yomped on. Highcliffe Nab is both in itself very attractive and affords fabulous views all along the coast from Sunderland to Staithes.

Rather than pitch for the view, I used the hollow at the West end of the crag which would protect me from the forthcoming southerly winds and any variation in their direction +/- 45 degree’s that might occur. It was a great wild camping spot which I’d recommend outside of peak summer when the popularity of the spot with local youth might detract from the experience as they may then yield the wrong kind of wildness!

Day 3 – Highcliffe Nab to Saltburn-by-the-Sea : 12 miles / approx. 100 m heigh gain.

The morning did yield the promised high winds, but I was my sheltered spot was scarcely affected. I had been asleep by 8pm the night before, so rose early and was on the trail again by 0730. The woods above Guisborough were a riot of colour.

The section from the A171 to Skelton was mundane and muddy, and I prayed that the day would end well so as not to make this as the lasting memory of the day. It did! Once out of Skelton the path enters a linear park running the full length of Saltburn and only disgorging you in the town some 200 m from the sea.

It was a delight to see the sea, a fitting end to many a walking or cycling tour and the promise of excellent fish and chips to celebrate. Reviews suggested that the Seaview Restaurant served the best in town, and having now been there I have no reason to disagree. The only rain of the day came as I was having my early lunch with a beautiful view of the sea and the cliffs of the second, coastal, half of the Cleveland Way.  This would be a walk for another day. It had been a superb four days, with only half a day of light rain to contend with. The cloud hid some of the views, but not enough to spoil the walk. It proved an example of a walk at height with very little actual height gain, so I hope to come again for an adventure with the rest of the family when Junior is a little older.  It has a high reward to effort ratio which I know should work well for them.

Blencathra, Skiddaw and the Minor Northern Fells – A Two Day Rishi Ramble

As soon as my management team heard that Lancashire was on the brink of becoming a Tier 3 COVID zone they acted. Most of the team were put onto full time furlough, but two brewers and a dray-man put onto a two day week. Thankfully for my sanity I am one of those working part time*.

I’ve often dreamed of being a professional hill walker, well thanks to Rishi and his furlough scheme, I spent two days this week in the Lakeland Fells on 80% pay.**  My route took me from Mosedale over Blencathra and Skiddaw, and then back via the more minor Northern Fells that sit behind these two 900 m peaks. Minor in size and notoriety, but not in the pleasure of the views they afforded as I was to find out.

Day One took me over Blencathra and onto the col between Jenkin Hill and Little Man, some 700m up the 931 m of Skiddaw.

Day Two started in low cloud which persisted until I was part way down the further side of Skiddaw, but then lifted to afford great views.

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The route worked out well, with 10.5 miles and most of the height gain on Day One, and 13 miles on Day Two. If I did it again I would tweak the route a little. My route and the changes I’d make to the end of each day are shown below:

Click on the links to download the .gpx files for my actual route and improved endings for days one and two.

*Mentally there is a world of difference between a two day week and not working at all. It’s easier to think positively about working shorter hours than not at all. OK, I’m only one week into this new regime, but it feels much more like something I could make the best of than it felt during the full ‘house arrest’ of earlier in the year.

** Joking aside, it’s really important that people who are furloughed keep themselves ‘fit’ for a return to work.  Brewing is a very physical job, so it’s good to remain physically fit.  Mental health is vital for everyone so reconstructing purpose and routine into these novel and prolonged periods away from work is also key.  Backpacking / wild camping in Fell Country fulfils both these goals for me

Rab Neutrino 200 (ultralight sleeping bag) – a review

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Recently I was seeking to reduce the weight of my backpacking / wild-camping gear by a kilogram. I knew it was possible to get a tent 1000 g lighter than my current two man Niak, but the compromises on robustness were too much for my liking. Then the idea came to me that perhaps I could lose 500 g from the tent and 500 g from another / other items. This seemed an excellent solution as it meant I could choose a tent made from fabrics I knew I could trust and yet still lose the weight. To cut a long story short, I sought a new sleeping bag and this review covers that bag.

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Pitched behind The Crown in Shap on the Coast to Coast

The Rab Neutrino 200 not only comes in at only 579g but has proved to me that their reputation of excellence in down bags is well deserved. I have been very pleased with the Mountain Hardware synthetic bag I have been using for the past ca. 10 years, but the Rab bag is just a whole level above, thanks to subtle but superb features of its design. I have now spent six nights out in this three season bag in temperatures between 6-12 C, typical temperatures for it’s expected use. Thus far I am absolutely delighted.

Temperature Rating

It is rated to -1 C “limit of comfort” exactly as the bag it replaced and a “comfort” limit of 4 C. Everyone’s personal rating varies, especially between genders, but my experience at 6 C is that the 4 C limit seems about right for me wearing just boxers and a T-Shirt. That’s perfect for UK three season use.

Packed volume

This bag is so easy to pack and comes supplied with it’s own roll top dry bag, a nice touch. A quick squeeze gets the bag to the same volume as my compressed synthetic bag. I have no need to compress further, so there is (if you seek it) another weight saving, no need for compression ends. It’s worth noting that the weight is the same as similarly rated ‘down quilts’ which seem the trendy ultra-lightweight option at the moment – that with more comfort and less hassle.

Comfort

Here comes the unexpected plus point. The bag feels like sleeping in a cushion of weightless warm air. Another simple but wonderful thing is how the zip is integrated into the bag. Not once has it snagged the lining when I’ve zipped it closed. Also, unusual for a bag of this rating, it has a shoulder baffle. Rab’s design is such that this works without having to velcro tabs together to complete the baffle integrity. I don’t know how they’ve done this, but it’s great and means none of the typical fight-to-get-out-of-the-bag in the morning, or more importantly in the middle of the night when you are dozy but need to get up for a pee.

Practicality

The Pertex Quantum outer appears to be 100% down-proof and the down itself has been treated to be hydrophobic – this for me was the clincher to take the risk with a down bag that might see some rain or condensation fall on it within a wild-camping setting in a very small tent. To reduce weight, the zip on the side only covers the top half of the bag. This has not been a problem, wrt access and egress, and since it is two-way, I could still effectively vent the bag on warmer nights. In fact venting the middle of the bag seems both more effective than at the foot and also more convenient. Finally there is the price, mine cost me £200 from Open Air in Cambridge significantly less than the £300 for the Mountain Hardware or Mountain Equipment equivalents.

Overview

This bag is fabulous in every possible aspect and seems correctly rated at 4 C / 3 season. If I was giving a star rating out of five, I’d say this is a six star sleeping bag.

Leaden Hills under Azure Skies – a four day wild walk in the Northern Dales

With limited options today , thanks to both COVID house-arrest and inclement weather, it seemed a good time to reminisce about a micro adventure from the some time ago…

A weather window had opened and I had already had a walk in mind to make good use of it. The plan was to walk from Reeth in Swaledale to Ingleton (46 miles) and to take in Great Shunner Fell (GSF) and Ingleborough en route. I have really happy memories of climbing GSF in the snow when I was in the University hill walking group. Mark & I were the first people on the summit that day and virgin slow lay all around. We got out bivvy bags and sledged most of the way back down to the valley. It was amazing, and whilst there would be no snow this time, it was a peak I wanted to climb again.

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My route started walking up onto and along Fremington Edge. It is a magnificent Scarp Edge affording uninterrupted views on the Beck below. I had started a little late to avoid the low cloud which was forecast first thing. This worked well and meant it was lunchtime as I reached the cairn which marks the point where the Edge path heads down to the beck. The bridge across the beck had been badly damaged by the flooding earlier in the year and meant a small detour in and out of Langthwaite, itself a neighbour with the enticingly named Booze.

My route took me though the lead mines and smelting mills on the tops – this land had been badly scarred by the mining activity and not at all photogenic.

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© Copyright Trevor Littlewood and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

My aim was to get to the much more picturesque Gunnerside Gill. This too had been a lead mining area, but being lower down and better irrigated the vegetation has grown back and it is now lush and lovely with the ruined mill buildings adding charm rather than mess to the scene. Shelter, beauty and a good stream – an ideal spot to camp for the night, so I did.

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The following morning was gloriously sunny, a great day to be having breakfast next to a babbling stream. My route then took me over the shoulder of Black Hill and down into Swinnergill and possibly the most beautiful valley in the whole of the Dales which links Muker to Tan Hill. Three LDP’s go up or across this section of valley and it is no surprise.

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In no time I was on the other side of Thwaite and on the gradual ascent of Great Shunner Fell, the inspiration around which this route was planned. GSF is not dramatic in itself, but the views from it are. It proves a great reward for you efforts. As I ate my lunch just before the summit I reflected on how fortunate we are to have access to the modern materials which make backpacking over peaks like this easily manageable. I’m not an ultra-light ‘weight weenie’ walker, but having to only carry 13 kg vs. the 22 kg I used to heft in my teens and twenties brings so much pleasure with, now, a total absence of pain.

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It was extremely windy on the top and I exchange hand gestures with someone coming back down. Now I had just three km to get to where I planned to wild camp. Again time to reflect what a great resource the shared knowledge of the internet can provide. A review of the map did not suggest any suitable wild camping spots in the area, but when I shook the internet a blog of someone’s wild camp aided walk along the Pennine Way suggested a good pitch. I found the wall corner they had used but noted that this side of the fell was well sheltered from the wind today, so looked further and found a lovely flat spot with open views over Wensleydale. I know from experience that my Hilleberg doesn’t need shelter, it handled very strong winds in the Cheviots with aplomb so I took the pitch with a view.

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By the following morning the cloud had descended and I woke to whiteness all around. This section of the my route co-insided with the Pennine Way, making navigation a breeze. I walked down out of the cloud and into Hawes. As I headed out of Hawes and uphill I experienced an odd phenomenon. The cloud was fairly low and I kept thinking to myself, another two minutes and I’ll be in that cloud. Then ten minutes later I would say the same thing to myself, the cloud kept ascending just ahead of me and in fact when I reached the top of the Cam Fell ridge at Ten End the cloud had gone completely. What came next was probably the most beautiful section of the whole walk. Made better still by being unexpected. The view down into Widdale was stunning. It’s a closed valley, the road into which stops early on just leaving fields, walls and trees for the upper two thirds of its extent.

The path is now call the Cam Highway and I felt highly blessed to have this view and to have it to myself. Something else this highlights is the options which become open to you if you are able to walk for more than just a single day. Linear walks allow you to daisy-chain highlight sections without having to find a route back through less inspiring scenery which is almost always necessary if you are only heading out for the day. There are good circular walks out there, but there are places like the Cam Highway which are so enhanced by not having to turn around and head back to the car.

I was then to be treated to the vista of Ribblesdale, now in glorious sunshine.

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The contours that I saw on the map whilst I planned this walk strongly suggested that Ling Gill would prove a good wild-camping spot. Here I’d like to make a plug for the Geograph project, whose aim is to gather at least one photograph from each OS grid square in the UK. This can be a great way to confirm the terrain and ground conditions for a proposed camping pitch. The sun was beating down on me by the time I got to the stream at Ling Gill and it was too early to pitch the tent, so instead I used it as a pillow and had refreshing nap in the sunshine. Then it was tent up, dinner on and heading to bed even ahead of the sun, so I could be fresh for an early start.

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This was to be my first ascent of Ingleborough from the East. I got great views of the Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside, aided by my early start. It was a treat to climb this ‘peak’ using a path rather than the normal motorway. After a steep initial climb up Park Fell it was then a gentle ascent up a broad ridge to Ingleborough itself.

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It was odd to come to a crowded summit after ascending alone. I had made excellent time and it looked like I would be able to complete my 10 mile day by 2pm and reward myself with a beer to go with a late lunch from the Co-op which was my planned rendezvous point with Mrs W and Junior. Whilst I enjoy my time alone in the hills, I had started to miss them and thus the motivation for my early start and fast pace that morning. I was, however, regretting having left my hat in the car at the start of the walk as the heat from the sun was now actually hurting the top of my head. My solution was far from elegant, but at least it was effective.

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The track down into Ingleton was not as rough as I remembered it and was easier on my feet that I had feared. The range in Co-op shops might be limited but I love their emphasis on both Fairtrade and local goods. I was able to get a bottle of Ilkley Pale, from a brewery who have several excellent offerings in their range.

My Pennine Journey

In the shadow of WW2, in 1938, Wainwright embarked on a long distance walking expedition from Settle Railway Station to Hadrian’s Wall and back, following a circular and fell-laden route. In 2017 Mrs W & I walked the first half / Eastern side from Settle to Hexham. Family commitments prevented us from completing the route in 2018/19, but in August (2019) we agreed that I should be able to complete the route solo, knowing that our chance to walk it together was not likely to present itself before 2024. By then I will be happy and ready to walk it again.

The second half (of the PJ) was the section I was most looking forward to because of the variety of hill terrains it encompasses including an ambition to carry out a linear walk over the Howgill Fells. I did not stick strictly to the Pennine Journey route, diverting onto the Pennine Way when this seemed more attractive.

Day 1 (31 km) Hadrian’s Wall to Rowfoot

The night stops for the whole six days all hinged on stopping as close to the foot of Cross Fell as possible for that section of the walk, and for this reason my journey commenced from Housestead Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, close to Twice Brewed (entertaining given my new profession)

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The start…

An 0815 start meant I had the trail to myself for an hour, but after this I found this section of the Hadrian’s Wall Path to be the most popular LDP for actual long distance walkers I’ve ever walked on. I passed a pair of backpackers at least once every 15 minutes. The undulating terrain of this part of Northumberland was both unusual and attractive.

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The wall was more distinct in some places than others, but I was never without the it by my side for long. I appeared to be walking in a corridor of sunshine, with rain clearly visible over the hills to the south and the plain to the North.

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As soon as I departed from the ‘Wall Path’ onto the Pennine Journey / Way route the number of fellow walkers dropped away to zero and the quality of the ground underfoot went from firm to boggy. I bog-trotted for 3-4 miles before diverting off the path to my pre-arranged night stop in the pub garden of the very helpful and hospitable Wallace Arms. A true local and serving the rather fine Rivet Catcher from the GNEB Company.

I really appreciated this because the inaccuracy of my Garmin Mapping software had meant that I’d covered nineteen miles by the end of the day, not the fifteen miles I’d planned for. That’s a lot of miles with full kit when you are nearer to 50 than 25!

Day 2 (25 km, flat) Rowfoot to Garrigill

Today saw me following the South Tyne river upstream to its source near Garrigill. My starting point in Rowfoot was just 100 m away from the railbed which forms part of the Pennine Cycle way. I was not complaining about having a day on the level after the unexpected length of day one. The South Tyne valley was verdant and the heather on the higher slopes in full flower.

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It was odd to walk a section of path which I had cycled back in 2014 . The flat route meant an excellent pace and I reached Alston by lunchtime. It was then just another four miles to Garrigill.

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Here I camped behind the village hall, an excellent spot were it not for all the midges which descended that evening. Sadly the George & Dragon is currently closed. Not all was lost though as I had invested in a couple of cans of Adnams ‘Late Hopped Lager’ en route. Back when I lived in Cambridgeshire all of Adnams beers I tried were uninspiring. I wonder if they have taken on a new Head Brewer in the last few years because both this and Ghost Ship are far more characterful than their offerings ca. 15 years ago.

Day 3 (25 km, 970m) Garagill to Dufton

This was the big day which everything had been building to. I was striding out of the village by 0815 and heading up and up on the Pennine Way, which at this point is a grouse shooters track. The day was dry and clear, if rather windy. The views were fabulous.

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As it approached 1130 it felt like it was going to rain and the wind had become very strong, in part due to my higher altitude. A review of the map showed that it I pushed on hard I should get to the Bothy called ‘Greg’s Hut’ within 10 minutes, so I upped the pace.

The rain never came, but my hunger came on with a vengeance, so since I had shelter I pulled out my stove and emergency rice sachet and got cooking. This is a good time for an aside to sing the praises of my stove. For the last 18 years I’ve used an MSR petrol stove, but for this trip I just wanted something to make a brew in the mornings. After a really helpful chat with a friend I surfed the Alpkit webshop for a gas stove. Light and simple was the plan. I opted for Koro stove (125 g) and a 650 ml titanium cooking cup (98 g). It’s a fabulous combination, if you want to know more see my review.

The wind had reached Force 7-8 by the time I got to the top of Cross Fell which was exhilarating. I continued on the Pennine Way route rather than drop straight to the Eden Valley, one of the big benefits of being able to pack light is that it is easier to take in more summits. Eventually I dropped into Dufton and with tent pitched, I headed to The Stag to hunt down some dinner. I cannot recommend this village pub more highly, it’s clearly run by someone with imagination and inspired taste. Oakham’s (who claim to be the first UK brewery to have made a single hopped Citra beer) Scarlet Macaw was on the bar and the food menu looked (and was) very good. I felt a deep need to boost my vegetable intake so I opted to start with their roast garlic, sweet potato and red pepper soup. Truly this was the finest soup I’ve ever tasted, up there with Bouillabaisse. To finish the elderflower ice cream was also to die for too. Thanks Chef.

Day 4 (21 km, 570 m) Dufton to Teesdale (Langdon Beck)

I had chance to study the map in detail the night before and saw that my hastily planned route for the day (continuing along the PJ to Brough) was not very inspiring. I was due to rendezvous with Mrs W at the end of Day 4 so I had some flexibility to be impulsive. So I figured that going up High Cup Nick and across to Teesdale would be more fun than a valley walk. This is the big beauty of walking with all your kit and having nothing booked, you are free to be spontaneous. It was raining as I woke and a check of the forecast suggested the heaviest of rain should pass by 0900 so it would make sense to get some more sleep and start a little later. With no schedule to meet and a committee of one to convince, why not. The cloud was covering the tops, but I got up to around 500 m before being enveloped.

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Sadly I did not get to see High Cup Nick, but I did not have to descend too far down the other side before I got views again. The Upper Tees Valley is very bleak but there was majesty in the river which was running in spate.

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The size of the dam at the foot of Cow Green reservoir took me by surprise.

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A nice open fire greeted me at the Langdon Beck Hotel where I waited for Mrs W & Junior who bought me some truly excellent Fish and Chips in Middleton then ferried us back over the Pennines to Garsdale ready for me to start day five. We wild camped in the van in the station overflow car park, the only station I’ve ever known to have resident donkeys.

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Day 5 (19 km / 1010 m) Garsdale to Calders Summit (Howgill Fells)

The morning was uninspiring and provided challenging navigation. It tracked over almost featureless open hillside which was being used for grazing. I commiserated with the sheep for their poor quality grazing and very wet feet. I like to think I’m a good map-reader but it was invaluable to have a GPS for this section. It took until lunchtime to get to drier ground and I found a welcome barn to shelter in for lunch and treated myself to a brew. Brewing up is so easy with the new stove and it is easy to dig out from a lightly packed bag. Benefits begetting benefits. At this point I should confessed for a prayed for the clouds to lift, because an anticipated highlight of this walk was to walk over the tops of the Howgill’s without having to turn around. As I rounded the hillside and was within sight of Cautley Spout, and my decision point between the high and low routes into Sedbergh, the sun burned through, the temperature rose and the clouds lifted. It was now five pm. With a smile in my face and thankfulness in my heart I motored up the side of Cautley Spout heading for The Calf.

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As I reached the final ascent to The Calf then cloud came, went and then returned. At this point I decided to take advantage of the freedom of having all my kit with me, no firm plans to have to comply with and having the casting vote in my committee of one when it came to route. I found a spring on the col between The Calf and Calders, filled my water bottles and pitched my tent on the summit of Calders. From here I sat and enjoyed the view between brief spells of cloud cover and the freedom of being away from ‘civilisation’ in such a quiet and glorious location

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Day 6 (32 km, 800m) Calders Summit to Chapel le Dale

It was fabulous to wake to a summit free of people, noise and cloud. I was woken by the sunrise

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But then grabbed another hours sleep before getting up. Because of my impromptu stop I had already eaten my breakfast and lunch for that day as a substitute for the previous days dinner. This seemed an excellent reason to decamp to a cafe in Sedbergh for breakfast. I can certainly recommend the breakfast rolls in Smatt’s Duo Cafe. It proved big enough to supply all the fuel I needed for both breakfast and lunch. By 1000 I was heading out of Sedbergh to Dent, the route mostly following the river Dee. I arrived in Dent to find it buzzing with tourists and the temperature in the high 20’s. It had been good to be in dappled shade for the morning. I pondered lunch over a pint of Wantsum 1381 and decided a further half of the same would work well for weary feet. In 1381 the peasants may have been revolting, but the beer itself was very good! Then it was time to brave the heat, I’m not complaining really, and I climbed out of Deepdale and up onto the end of Whernside. I was retracing my route from January 2018, but without the snow this time. The Pennine Journey route goes straight up the Northern ridge rather than around it to the tourist path. I’d not noticed before that there are tarns on this side of the fell. With the Dales being based on Limestone, tarns are unusual. I enjoyed a break next to one before heading for the summit.

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The views from Whernside were great with it being so warm and clear. By this point I was tired though. It came back to me that the last time I walked multi-day with full kit I’d had a rest day every five days. I can now see why.

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The path down has been ‘improved’ by the National Park authority and is now truly dreadful. Totally out of character with the local geography and very hard on the feet. It led me to have one of my regular chunters about the ‘Three Peak’s Brigade’ and the groove and litter they leave behind them.

It had been a great six days, wonderful to think that my new job gave me all the fitness I needed to walk good distances with kit that I would have struggled with even 20 years ago. I was really pleased with the kit I’ve gathered on the past 5-6 years and how I’d managed to knock 7 kg off my pack weight. The irony that modern materials had facilitating the escape from the complexity and intensity of the modern world did not escape me. I was also left inspired with the idea of planning a similar trip North from Hadrian’s Wall and into the Cheviots for 2020.

Lightweight stove review – Alpkit Koro & MyTiMug

Ahead of a recent six day backpacking trip (my first > 2 day backpacking exped. in, ahem, 12 years) I sought to find ways to reduce the weight of my kit. I’d already got a lightweight tent, so I looked next at my stove. I was amazed to discover that my MSR Dragonfly, cookset and a half full petrol fuel bottle totalled up to 1800 g. After seeking advice from a friend, a former outdoor education instructor, I looked through the offerings from Alpkit. I then compared these to gas stoves from MSR, Optimus, Primus and Jetboil. For my money Alpkit’s Koro came out on top in terms of stability and weight and also came in at the most reasonable price.

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The stove packs down to fit inside a 650ml mug and the 100 g gas canister fits into my breakfast bowl. When I’ve carried the MSR until now I’ve never bothered taking out bits I don’t need, I just carry it all. Making the change from MSR and S/S cookset to the Koro and a titanium cooking mug saved me an amazing 1.4 kg in pack weight, that’s almost a tent.  Right now the Jetboil is a very trendy option. It is true that it boils more water more quickly and I’d estimate you’d save ca. 20-30% in fuel burnt but it’s bigger, more complex, has plastic parts and is 340 g vs. 200 g for my set up.  Also because the Koro stands separate to the gas canister is it far more stable.  For a three season stove I am delighted and will probably invest in a larger pan for proper cooking for my next totally unsupported trip.

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After many years with a petrol stove (which are very quick to boil water due to the high calorific value of liquid hydrocarbons) I was really impressed with the simplicity of going back to a gas stove. Also with the safety, meaning I was happy to cook in the porch of the tent (not that I could or should commend doing this to others). Unlike a petrol stove, errors cannot lead to a six foot flamethrower!

I wasn’t sure how I’d get on with a single skin titanium mug either, but the moderate thermal conductivity of Ti (25 W/m.K) vs. Al (237 W/m.K ) or Cu (400 W/m.K) works well if you want to drink your tea straight from the  mug you have boiled the water in. Ahead of going I wondered if I might have been better with a double skinned mug, but my experience says no – single skin works well enough and is obviously lighter in weight.

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Cheers!