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.

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.

Renewed Freedom in Ribblesdale – a two day wild walk.

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Freedom!       Finally we are allowed out overnight, so long as we stay in self contained accommodation. I figured you don’t get a much lower chance of social mixing than in a solo tent onto top of a remote fell, so I took advantage of being on a three day week and headed for Ribblesdale. My objective was to spend a night on the apparently unremarkable fell of Cosh Knott. Whilst it seems to offer little as a fell in itself, its magic is in the views that it affords. It is somewhere I’ve visited once before but I did not manage to capture any photographs due to a fully drained camera battery. Whilst the sunset and rise was not spectacular this time, my recollection of this location will ever be in my memory for seeing the sun setting over Ingleborough and then the magic of a cloud inversion the following morning.

This time my idea was to take a more interesting ‘route in’. Unless many popular YouTuber’s, my wild-camping is facilitates a better, wilder, walk and is the cherry atop the cake; It is not the cake in itself.  Last time I followed the Horse Head Ridge around from Arncliffe, this time I walked up Ribblesdale from Stainforth. My inspiration was a stretch of the Dales Highway and it didn’t disappoint. A middle ground walk, not across the tops, yet not along the river. If you are on a multi-day walk in the Dales I find this works very well and is exactly the approach which Wainwright took with his Pennine Journey. I’ll allow some photo’s of the majestic limestone formations to tell the story…

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After a late lunch next to the Ribble the next section was a mundane, yet necessary, link between areas of virtue. I upped the pace to get to an enjoyable short section of The Pennine Way and then up the rough grassland to Cosh Knott. The ground was rough but not boggy. One of the practical beauties of this spot is the spring at SD 832,778. I filled my bottles and headed up to the trig point.

I got my tent pitched just ahead of a flurry of hail and headed inside for a brew. Sadly the clouds spoilt the sunset, but not the splendour of isolation and the views I was blessed with the following morning. It proved a cold night at -6 C but I was delighted with the performance of my winter rated Thermorest which allowed my sleeping bag to fully live up to it’s specification (-15 C).

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The flip-side of the cold night was clear skies and great views the following morning. Reputed as the best view of the Three Peaks in the Dales, I was delighted to agree.

My route on Day 2 was to take my up Plover Fell and onto Pen-Y-Ghent. Last time I did this in sub-zero conditions I struggled with the verglas on the rock steps at the top of the popular footpath section to Plover Fell. This time I was equipped with my micro-spikes but found that the weather afforded me dry rock with good grip despite the cold night. I didn’t hang around on the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent because it was humming with ‘Three Peakers’ but instead struck back onto the Pennine Way and headed for Fountains Fell. The view of the lesser seen East side of Pen-Y-Ghent was beautiful and the frost on Fountains Fell beautified its normally mundane appearance. This was to be my first time up Fountains Fell on a clear day and from this direction. Lunch on the summit was very satisfying. Again, what it lacks in inherent splendour is made up for by the views it affords.

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Now it was time to head back to the car but unlike the farmland on the second half of day 1, the high pasture between Malham Tarn and Stainforth is really pleasant. Wide, firm, grassy bridleways with lovely crags initially then views of Pen-Y-Ghent and Whernside once I’d passed back over the shoulder of Fountains Fell. What a great two days I’d had and it was almost legal 😉  It is a walk I’d repeat and has wetted my appetite for walking a longer section of the Dales Highway in the years to come. Ahead of that I already have my next long walk planned, I am really looking forward to some coastal walking. The freedom of taking a tent means I have two routes planned, one on the West Coast and one on the East and I’ll make my choice depending on weather in early May….

…so on that cliff hanger, and until next time, thank you for reading.

A final taste of freedom – A two day wild walk via Buckden Pike.

Rumours abounded that Lancashire was going to become yet further restricted and trips outside the county were not just ‘advised against’ but actually illegal. I’ve no moral qualms going for a wild walk against ‘advice’ a little away from home… …because by design I keep within the spirit of the (wise) guidance as I’m well away from other people – the idea is to be not just ‘socially’ but splendidly isolated!  However I’m no law breaker so I wanted to grab the last chance for a micro-adventure before COVID Tier 4 / 5 came into force.

The air was clear, the amount of sunshine exceeded the forecast and there was a good amount of snow above 300 m so I’ll keep my words brief and allow the pictures to tell the story of the glory of the Yorkshire Dales on a clear winters day.

My Route

My route, starting / ending at Kettlewell

Day 1 (Kettlewell to Buckden Pike)

Day 2 (Buckden Pike to Kettlewell)

  • Soulo
  • Sunrise
  • Fire & Ice
  • Wharfdale & Old Cote Moor

Lessons Learnt

  • My Grivel Spider micro-spikes were excellent for these conditions – full review here.
  • My water reservoir didn’t freeze but the filter did.  Must prepare enough water for the following morning next time
  • I should upgrade my Thermorest for a thicker model for next time My Prolite 3 is good down to single digit temperatures, but if I’m to get the best from my -15 C bag I need a mat to match it.
  • Grabbing opportunities like this one is well worth the effort.

Grivel Spiders – a review

This is a review* of the Grivel Spider, a flexible, lightweight set of microspikes whose aim is to act rather like ‘junior’ crampons and can fit to almost any shoe or boot.

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If you are winter climbing in Scotland, sometimes you can have the good fortune to be climbing up the frozen crust of a 50 cm depth of snow which is not quite steep enough to require you to cut steps. This is where a pair of crampons is a great aid. However is is far more normal in a British winter that you’ll find yourself alternately walking on 1-2 cm of frozen compacted snow, soft powder then frozen turf. Under these more common conditions, what can you use to prevent you from over use of that noted climbing manoeuvre, the flying buttocks arrest?

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As I get older I find myself becoming increasingly cautious on slippery descents. I guess I now have the wisdom to know that I am not indestructible! I love walking in the snow, but this winter I have often found myself on sections of path which have been well walked, and thus compacted, by others. This can make descents frustratingly slow as I found on my ‘pre-tier-three’ trip to Buttermere a few weeks ago.

DSC_1793Enter the Grivel Spider. I bought a pair of these over a year ago to aid me on the most treacherous terrain I have ever tackled in UK, the pavement between home and work! These simple light weight spikes fit the instep of anything from trainers to full blown winter boots. On a more recent walk I remembered I had the ‘Spiders’ and took them with me just in case. Advantage One : They allow for this as they are small and light. As I got higher on my climb I found myself on a path covered with the aforementioned thin layer of compacted snow so I stopped and pulled on the Spiders. Now I found I could walk onwards with complete confidence. It was indeed just like having a set of junior crampons.

A big plus for me was being able to walk at my normal pace without fear of slipping or falling over. Advantage 2 : They stopped me falling on my arse.  Once I was up on the ridge I found no hindrance in continuing to wear them as I walked through the powder, nothing clumped on them. Then they really came into their own as I descended – again I could walk at a good pace a free of fear of slipping. Now to look at a downside: The flexible plastic plate becomes a lot more rigid in the cold and I found it hard to get the fit truly tight when fitting them in the field. Twice in six miles one of the spiders fell off – so I found I did need to do a visual check every few minutes to prevent a long walk back to find the errant item. What I did find is that they got easier to tighten with time, not because the plastic became permanently more flexible, I think it just warmed up through flexing. Thus the next day I chose to stop and re-tighten the straps after 15 then 30 min of use, after which they were then secure enough not to need checking for the rest of the day.

How do they compare to the competition? In comparison with a range of shoe grips on the market they are more robust that many.  Advantage 3 : You can keep them on ‘til you are fully clear of the ice and snow, knowing that walking over (snow free) rocky ground will not harm them. This sets them apart from those based on elastomer skeletons like those from Petzl or Yaktrax. I cannot give you a side by side comparison to alternative options but I’d love to try either a pair of Grivel Ran’s or Hillsound’s Trail Crampon, should either company like to lend me a pair to review 😉

DSC_1790Finally, Advantage 4 : One size can fit to any shoe or boot, so I can swap the same pair of grips between my boots and my run-commute trainers, so that’s less clobber in my cupboard and more cash left in my wallet. I’d hesitate to make a full blown recommendation of the Spiders until I could compare them against some Grivel Ran’s but I do know they make the tricky, trivial and have facilitated a few really great walks on my my local fells without once needing to employ a flying buttocks arrest.

*This review is not sponsored, I bought the kit and now I’ve shared my views. All I hope to gain from this exercise is to help other hillwalkers.

Sawyer Squeeze – an early review

The Sawyer Squeeze is an ultra filter designed to filter sediment and pathogens from ‘wild’ water making it both safe and pleasant to drink. Bacteria and parasites generally fall into the size range of 0.3-10 microns and this filter has a 0.1 micron absolute filtration capability.  With filters the word absolute is key, as when used in the context of a filter it means that absolutely all particles above the limit will be held back. And when it comes to removing pathogens you really do want to remove all of them rather than just most.  This filter than can achieve this with just the differential pressure you can produce by sucking, which ranges from 2-6 psi depending on the person.  Given that in my days as a Tech Support chemist (2001-14), we used to need to use a 60 psi pump to filter through a 1 micron absolute filter, this makes this an impressive filter medium.

The use of a filter sees me seeking to move away from the use of iodate tablets as a way of making ‘wild’ water safe. The aims of making this change were as follows:

  • Better tasting water
  • Carrying just one litre of water (rather than two) and topping up from en route ‘wild’ sources thus saving 1100g in initial pack weight.
  • Instant access to clean water rather than having to wait for the 35 min it takes of iodate to act and then the excess be destroyed with sodium metabisulphate.
  • Ability to use water from less ideal sources.

So now that I’ve taken it away on it’s first outing, a four day walk along the Cleveland Way, how did it perform vs. my list of requirements?

I was really impressed how it was able to take the ‘peaty’ taste away from moorland water.  As you can see my water source started looking like a single malt.  The filtered water was still ‘straw yellow’ but was totally free of any unpleasant taste.  A big test was using it to make a cup of Lady Grey tea – I found that it allowed me to enjoy all the subtle flavours within my tea, so that’s a big tick against criterion one.  I didn’t draw water from any sources which I would not normally use, other than that I can say it met all my desired requirements.  But I also benefits from an unplanned bonus.  This being that I was able to use the filter in-line between my dirty water pouch and a drink tube clipped to my shoulder strap.  I’ve never felt the desire to use a ‘hydration bladder’ before.  When I walk with someone else we are able to pass each other water without need to remove our packs.  This is not possible when you are walking solo, something I’ve done a lot of in 2020 and expect to continue with a few times a year.  On this first outing I was struggling with a neck muscle strain so hefting my ‘sack on and off less was much appreciated facet.

Two outlet connections, a straight 6mm / 1/4″ and a 28 mm screw thread (fits most common soft drinks bottles.)
Platypus drinking tube with stop and bite valves

Ahead of my walk I shook the internet looking for reviewing on drinking tubes and the best liked was that from Platypus (right).  I found it good too, but four days of use is far from a true test.  One thing I would saw is not to rely on connecting the hose to the 1/4″ connection built into the Sawyer filter outlet.  This is really only there to allow back-flushing and with it not being barbed I found my hose coming off a few times.  Since then I’ve paid the outrageous price for the in-line adapter kit which is a much better option. (If you are buying a filter I’d recommend getting the SP131 kit which comes with the adapters included)

900 ml Sawyer Bag (Left), 2000 ml CNOC Vecto Bag (Right) – the filter can screw directly to the CNOC bag.

On the negative side, most of the accessories supplied with the filter seem of very poor quality.  The squeeze bags have bad reviews a plenty, so since I would be totally relying on my feed / dirty water bag I sourced a well regarded one from CNOC.  The only place I could find with stock in the UK was Peak and Valley.  At £20 it’s a very expensive plastic extrusion, but is of considerably higher quality that the Sawyer bags.  I plan to use my Sawyer bag as a clean water reservoir as this will not have pressure applied to it in use.  As I suspected, having a clean water bag or bottle was useful on my trip.  I could use this when I was taking water from a potable source or as ready prepared water during the cooking of dinner.

What about the weight? The ‘dirty water’ bag and tube all add to the mass and totalled 215 g vs. 300 g for two 1 litre Sigg bottles which I would normally carry.  So you get all the above benefits with no weight penalty. 

Final thoughts

For me the primary aim was better tasting water, available more quickly.  This the Sawyer certainly achieved with ease on its first outing.  I am happy that on many occasions I’ll be able to ‘safely’ carry 1 kg less water, but with my CNOC bag I can carry two litres should I wish.  How it performs over time and how it copes with high levels of suspended solids in the water will take time to assess.  Other peoples reviews suggest I should be optimistic (which is why I bought the Sawyer Squeeze rather than an alternative or a Mini).  My plan would be to post a ‘long term use’ review after another year, so watch this space.

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.

A Pennine Perambulation – Walking & Wild Camping in the Cheviots

Part of the pleasure of a walking tour is the planning stage. Staring at maps and day dreaming, looking for wild/camping spots.  This October my idea was to walk the Western section of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. The section I loved most when I walked the whole route back in, ahem, 1993.  My planning had yielded a route which would take me close to a pub each night so I didn’t need to carry cooking gear and could enjoy the interplay of the physical and zymological landscape of Cumbria. Akin to my walk in early September. I enjoyed the planning so much that was reminded of another idea I’d had which was to walk the very Northern section of the Pennine Way which traces the Border Ridge between the Cheviots and Scotland’s Roxburghshire. As the time for my walk approached I thought it would be wise to keep an open mind which route I did and base it on the better weather. Perhaps unsurprisingly the East won and my planned walk across Cumbria actually started at Byrness in Northumberland.

Cheviot Route Map

It was a three hour drive to the start, so I planned a ¾ day of just ten miles to get me started. It was very much a ‘walk in’ but whilst the scenery was only secondary to getting to my ‘real start point’ the cloudscape proved a highlight of the day, along with the pleasure of being out in the wild again and away from ‘civilisation’.

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The wind built as the day went on, so camping on top of Windy Gyle seemed unwise. As an aside, a Gyle is the traditional name for a ‘batch’ in the brewing industry. The source of this word seems uncertain. Some link it back the French for ‘to ferment’ whilst others link it to the Gallic for bog!  Having now visited Windy Gyle the both the idea of a ‘Windy Bog’ or a ‘Fermenting Wind’ seem appropriate, you make your choice… As a brewer I’d say the wind was as vigorous as the fermentation of a Saison, so I opted for the best, yet modest, shelter I could find on the col between Mozie’s Law and Windy Gyle before it got dark. The sun set as I pitched my tent, but 11 miles and 420 m was not a bad achievement in an autumn afternoon with full kit.

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I work up in cloud and the gratitude of being in a Hilleberg when I recalled the tent being pushed flat onto my face in the night because of the strength of the wind. After striking camp, Peak One was the aforementioned Windy Gyle.

Honestly that is what is behind the cloud in shown in the photo. I continued along the ridge in the cloud, but was delighted when it lifted just before 1100. The views were their own reward, I’ll let the pictures tell their own story.  It was then decision time, my plan was to spend one of my four nights in a lowland campsite. Would that be Yetholm (the end of the Pennine Way) or Wooler?

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A combination of the weather and practicality led to me choosing Wooler, so one hour into my transition to the St Cuthbert’s Way I started to look for a wild camping spot. I had already salvaged some water from a sheep trough supply and I found a flat grassy spot in the lea of am old dry stone sheep ‘stell’ or shelter. Dinner with a view. (Day 2 – 16 miles)

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As an aside on the subject of dinner, because I was carrying all my food for four days I wanted something light, flavoursome and suitably calorific. All my memories of dehydrated meals were all poor ones, both the taste and the after effects! I figured this opinion might well now be well over 20 years out of date so I shook the internet to see what fell out. A number of reviews spoke well of ‘Food on the Move’ dehydrated food pouches. I opted for the larger expedition size. I cannot eat regular pasta or cous-cous (due to the Fructans within them) so I opted for three rice based options. The two curry’s where excellent. The risotto was rather herb heavy for my taste, but it filled me up; I’d certainly use their curry options again.  For those travelling light it’s also great to be able to east straight from the packet – no washing up, and thus a few less things to carry.

The forecast for day three was rain from 1300. I could easily get to Wooler in this time (8 miles, 240 m) and hoped to find a pub with an open fire and read my book for the afternoon. St Cuthbert’s Way was really pleasant, and a contrast from the high fells. It was mostly double track which let me to wonder, did ‘Berty ride a quad bike?  Sadly Wooler proved a disappointment. It has three pubs, The Angel is only for generic lager drinkers, The Black Bull with it’s sign saying “Open all day” was closed and as I approached the Anchor I was met by someone being physically thrown from the establishment. I took that as a poor sign.  Luckily the local Co-op was well stocked with craft cans, so I filled my pockets and headed back to the tent to sit out the rain in comfort. No open fire, but at least I had good beer (Vocation, Adnams [Dry-hopped Lager], Brewdog) and a good book.

Day four (14 miles, 1200 m) was to be my big day in terms of assent as it involved climbing over The Cheviot back to the Border Ridge / Pennine Way. It was a great walk-in through deserted grouse moor. I passed the spot where I might have wild camped

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Should you ever want a spot to camp in this area, give Wooler a body swerve and go to NT 958 257. It has everything, shelter, flat grass, solitude and a fast flowing stream.

From here it was an upward plod until reaching the summit of The Cheviot, where I found a dusting of snow.

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There’s something very satisfying about backpacking to the snow line, even if I wasn’t really equipped to sleep in comfort at this temperature / altitude. Another 1.5 miles and I rejoined my outbound route but now in glorious sunshine. This time I could fully appreciate the viewed I’d hope to see on my way out. They were just as I’d hoped.

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Up here in the fells with my kit on my back I felt like I was in my 20’s again. My new career keeps me as fit as I’ve ever been. The differences are much better hill-wisdom, allowing for safe, comfortable and stunning wild camping at altitude and the benefits of the kit that I’ve been able to afford to buy over the years. I’m part way through a book by Johann Hari on managing depression without medication. One thing he points to is seek intrinsic rather than extrinsic goals. That is, goals which are the end in themselves, not a route to an end. Doing something you simply love, rather than aspiring to money, status other other paths which you use these to get something you think you’ll love. The former, he proposes, sustainably satisfies. The latter are quests which never really end. The sheer love of being in the splendid isolation of beautiful fell country is certainly a great intrinsic goal for me, and that made possible by a job I love in itself not for what it pays (not a great deal) or the status it affords (I’m no rock star). These are truths I never learnt as a child, I guess they are not what the consumerist world wants you to know, but ones I plan to pass onto Junior.

The rough plan was to walk back to Mozie’s Law and camp where I had on the first night. This time however I arrived with more time to pick a pitch. Again it was rather windy but with more time to review my options I found a narrow pitch just 100 metres from the original which was nicely sheltered as well as affording great views to enjoy whilst I boiled water for a brew. This had proved the finest day of this mini-tour and it was wonderful to see the sun go down from 550 metres in splendid isolation, albeit a herald of a very cold night. Whilst it’s true that I slept in all my clothes, hat and all, I was very impressed with the capability of my +5 C rated summer sleeping bag, a Lamina 35.

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With just 11 miles to do on my final day I allowed the sun to wake me.

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And whilst it’s true that this was now just a ‘walk out’ rather than any kind of highlight, everything tends to look better in the sunshine.

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Well most things anyway…

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Next time I’ll have the courage to head out for five days totally in the wild, with decent dehydrated food and iodate tablets to make the river water safe, what’s not to like?

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.

Garsdale Station Donkeys

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.

A Two Day Ridge micro-adventure

Wild Camp Route - Jul 19A weather window opened up so on Friday evening I headed to Threlkeld in the van to sleep at the start of my planned Lake District walk and wild-camp.  The route (see right) would take me from Thelkeld Mining Museum to Ambleside.  I chose the route because of the long ridge, the possibility of camping at height and the ability to get a bus back to start at the end of the weekend.

As I started off the tops of the fells were being kissed by cloud.

DSC_0457But this rose as the day went on and by the time I reached 800 m the cloud was above me.  The air was much clearer on the Sunday, but here are some highlights from day one.

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My chosen night spot was Nethermost Pike (890 m).  The classic place to camp would be next to Grisedale Tarn (2 km further on), but I wanted a wilderness experience (as far as this can be possible in somewhere as popular as the Lake District).  Nethermost Pike is pretty much flat topped, but there is a slightly (6-8′) lower plateau on the Eastern Edge and with the wind coming from the West it was slightly sheltered.  Also it offered a better view from ground (my kitchen / bed!) level.

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Good view from the kitchen

It was really glorious on the Sunday morning with only the Herdwick for company, the air was clearer and I didn’t see a soul until I descended to Grisdale Tarn to collect some water.

DSC_0475After a longer than expected detour to take in the top of St Sunday’s Crag I had my lunch on top of Fairfield and then started the descent via Hart Crag, Dove Crag then High and Low Pike into Ambleside.  There I was able to celebrate with a pint of Windermere Pale from the Hawkshead Brewery.  A great example of a modern British pale ale

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The whole route totalled 23 miles with only 6000′ of height gain.  Next time I’d like to tackle it in the winter.