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.

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.

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.

  • Rainbow

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

A night on Pendle

I felt like the tonic of solitude and views, so after Sunday dinner I walked up onto the shoulder of Pendle, set up camp and sat back with a good book and some fabulous views.

Sun setting over Longridge Fell
Sun setting over Longridge Fell
Final glow
More subtle but even more beautiful once the sun had dipped
Early morning mist over the Ribble Valley
The beauty of an early start…

And then it was a brisk walk, a short drive and a jog into work. Refreshed and ready to take on the week.

Roughing it…

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Welcome to Rough Hill, the summit-ette at the Western end of Pendle. At 315 metres it stands some 242 metres short of The Big End but it still has much going for it: a trig point; views down into both the Ribble and Calder Valley’s; it’s far enough, yet not too far from the Nick of Pendle; there is a nice flat grassy area to take a tent and finally it’s somewhere I’d never yet been despite over 75 ascents of Pendle.

DSC_2688Mrs W and Junior joined me on the walk out to see what the excitement was all about and to enjoy the trig point.  I wanted to regain my connection to nature, have some peace and quiet with a beer and a book and chance to enjoy my relatively new ultralight tent and sleeping bag combo. Being able to get all my overnight gear easily into a 35 L day-pack was rather fine.

Once again I found that despite a night time low of 9 C and a good douse of rain that I had no condensation issues in the Enan thanks to just a light breeze. I can also report that a can of Siren-Craft Yulu nicely complimented the view. I think I must try their peachy (pentyl-propanoate producing) yeast with an Earl Grey infusion but swap out the lemon zest for grapefruit. A project for the brew shed.

Moon rising over the Calder valley

Moon rising over the Calder valley

Whilst I woke to a white out, patches of sunshine started to appear in the valleys as I was striking camp giving some lovely highlighted views.  It was a great 12 hours and not really roughing it at all.

Rab Neutrino 200 (ultralight sleeping bag) – a review

rab200

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.

Mini Man’s Micro Adventure

It was coming to the end of our weeks holiday and Junior seemed envious of my solo unsupported walk along a four day section of the Coast to Coast path through Cumbria. A sunny evening was forecast so I suggested he might like to go for a wild camp with his Dad. His eyes lit up, so we packed up his rucksack and repacked mine. His with the light voluminous items to make it look good and full and mine with the rest. I’d had a walk planned and plotted for this opportunity and Mrs W dropped us off around 1630 on the far side of our closest fell.

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I had arranged in advance to camp in on the fell-side field of a farming friend of mine which I knew had a glorious view across our valley. The walk in proved just the right length to be fun and adventurous but not a massive undertaking / effort for Junior. This needed to feel like an adventure which was fun, not difficult. We soon had dinner reheated which was followed up by hot chocolate and ‘emergency biscuits’ – I forget what the spoof emergency was this time. How many six year-olds get use of a Thermorest and a Mountain Hardware sleeping bag I wonder? It should certainly have been a more comfortable experience than my first few years of camping. Not that this was his first time, but it was the first walk where he carried most of his own kit. I remain very impressed by his Deuter Fox 30 rucksack, very comfortable, adjustable and well equipped for a child’s sack.

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We were both asleep shortly after 2100 and work just before 0700. The bliss of camping out. The early hours brought heavy rain, but we were all but packed up ready for when this stopped by 0900. We killed time reading a couple of chapters of Roald Dahl, his author of the moment. Then we just had to drop the tent and walk down to the base of the valley to the village shop in our neighbouring community and await a lift home from Mrs W. A really good end to a week of week of outdoor adventures.

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.

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.

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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?