Posts tagged ‘backpacking’

April 13, 2014

A nearly Black Hill slackpack

by backpackingbongos

I had not taken into account the Friday afternoon traffic, therefore it was gone 4.00pm when I pulled into the car park at Crowden. As I was getting my kit together I have to say that I was a little perturbed by the pile of broken glass behind my car.  A popular spot next to the busy A628 meant that it was not the most salubrious place to leave a vehicle overnight.

The campsite was filling with weekend visitors as we passed by, a queue developing at the barrier by reception.  We left the organised ranks of caravans and started the climb towards the disused quarry above Brockholes wood.  A guy returning back to the campsite said that he was envious that I was going to spend the night on the moor.  With blue skies and light winds I was glad that I was.

The last people I would see that day were passed as we started along the track that contours above Crowden Little Brook.  This really is a delightful walk into surprisingly wild country, considering the main Sheffield to Manchester road is nearby.  The path stays level for much of the length, providing an easy promenade into the the hidden depths of the valley.

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The path eventually turns into a sheep trod as it approaches Wiggin Clough.  I had originally planned to continue up to the summit of Black Hill.  However I really could not be arsed.  We sat by the stream for a while for a snack (well I had a snack whilst Reuben watched intently).   A change of plan then saw us climb steep slopes above the clough.

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It was a rough slosh across Siddens, the hillside being littered with an aircraft wreck.  It was surprising just how far the debris was scattered. Overhead planes were making their descent to Manchester Airport, spoiling any feeling of remoteness.

I had a spot in mind in which to pitch the tent, so we headed across trackless ground to the head of Crowden Great Brook.

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I located a great flat, tussock free spot to pitch on.  It was about as hidden from prying eyes as its possible to be.  I reckon that you could camp there for a week and not be spotted.  I’m not saying where it is, get out a map and match the photos to the contours.  A good way to boost map reading skills.

I was very keen not to have to drop all the way down into the main valley to fill up my water bottles.  I ended up finding a boggy hollow and skimmed reasonably clear water off the top.  It was well worth carrying a water filter which soon made it palatable.

Once again I had brought my large and heavy Voyager tent, a comfy palace for myself and Reuben.  After darkness I climbed the nearby rocky outcrop and failed to get a good enough mobile signal to call my wife.  However it was good to stand there in the darkness, the outlines of the surrounding hills just about visible.  Back at the tent I only managed to read for half hour before falling asleep.

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I must have felt relaxed as I did not wake until 9.00am and it was 11.30am before I had packed up.  A cold wind hinted at rain later that day. We climbed to the twin rocky outcrops to take in the fantastic view.  I had been tempted to pitch up there but was glad that I had not as the wind would have been too brisk for a comfortable camp.

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We headed up the valley for a short distance before crossing the stream and heading south on the Pennine Way.  Here I met a nice couple and their terrier which had its own tiny panniers.  Its barking and lunging turned out to be a way of attracting Reuben as she soon offered him her rear end.  This offer passed unnoticed by my innocent dog.

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Above Laddow Rocks we headed west to the undefined summit of Black Chew Head, an easy bag to add to my list of Dewey hills. Laddow Rocks however are rather impressive, leading the eye towards the brooding hulk of Bleaklow.

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We simply followed the Pennine Way back to Crowden, passing this sign that almost tempted me to see if the nearby bogs were dangerous.

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I was relieved to find the car where I had left it with all its windows intact.

April 7, 2014

A last minute night on Kinder Scout

by backpackingbongos

The plan had been to head to the Yorkshire Dales with Martin, however a bug laid him low.  I decided that it would be good to save the route for another time.  Maps were dug out and Kinder Scout caught my eye, its been a while since I have walked there.  After an email to Chrissie and a Twitter exchange with Yuri I got mine and Reuben’s bags packed.

I have needed a new pair of waterproof trousers for a while now, so took the opportunity to pop into Outside in Hathersage on the way up.  It was Reuben’s first time in an outdoor shop and he was more exited than I was.  It is difficult having a browse when you have a dog straining at the leash.  The best bit came when I needed to go into the changing rooms to try something on.  I handed Reuben over to one of the shop assistants, coming out to find him on his back with his belly in the air and getting a big fuss from other customers.

Yuri was picked up from Chinley station and we headed to Chrissie’s house in Hayfield just in time for lunch and coffee.  I don’t think that Chrissie really appreciates just how lucky she is being able to walk up Kinder Scout from her back door.  The approach through the village and then along Kinder Road is a bit of a slog but we were soon at the reservoir.  A warm and sunny day but plagued by a haze that really limited the views.

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We headed directly up the quiet Sandy Heys path, which is a bit of a lung buster and thigh wobbler.  It leads unerringly direct to the summit plateau.  With time on our side we were able to take it easy however.

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The plan had been to camp near the Kinder Downfall but despite the sunshine there was a very strong wind blowing from the east. Shelter was needed and we found a nice shelf below the western edge.  There was one problem with our chosen pitch though, there was not so much as a muddy puddle to filter water from.  Yuri assured me that it was a short walk to and from the spring near the downfall.  His definition of short does not relate to mine and it was a forty-five minute round trip to fill our water bottles.

It was a cracking place to spend the night, the lights of Manchester eventually revealing themselves through the haze.  Even in a sheltered spot the wind blew strongly and we all retired to our tents early.

Spot the three tents below.

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The morning brought bluer skies, although it was still very hazy.  The wind still had a chill but it was warm in my tent.  Being a short trip with Reuben I had lugged my original Voyager tent with me.  A proper old school bomb proof shelter which makes camping a joy.  Sadly it is a bit of a heavy beast.

We had a lazy morning, enjoying the sunshine on the first day of British Summertime.

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We finally packed late morning and headed back up to the plateau.  Yuri decided that he would head north to Bleaklow and descend to Glossop to catch a bus home.  Chrissie, Dixie, Reuben and myself took the path towards Kinder Downfall.

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I have to say that it is one of those spots that always surprises me with just how impressive it is.  With Kinder Scout being so close to large urban centres it is easy to dismiss.  Usually the downfall is teeming with folk but for some reason it was nearly deserted. Perhaps people were out doing things for Mothers day.  With the temperatures rising we sat and soaked up the surroundings for a while.

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We took the less frequented Three Knolls path down to the reservoir, although not before another sit in the sun, Reuben ever hopeful for a biscuit.

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An enjoyable night in the hills does not need to be big or epic.

March 15, 2014

Winter’s final bite? – backpacking the Grasmere hills

by backpackingbongos

Looking back at my log book it appears that the last time I went backpacking in the Lake District was July 2011.  I think that is far too long.  The reason why I avoid the whole National Park is probably pretty obvious considering that I am a misanthropic backpacker.  It can also be a bit of a bugger parking for a few days.

I suddenly found myself with a Wainwright bagging itch, an urge to tick off a few arbitrary hills listed by another misanthropic hill walker.  I planned an illogical route lurching up one side of a valley to collect a couple of stragglers, before descending to yomp up another set of hills.  All good exercise for the calf muscles.

I arrived at a large and free lay-by on the outskirts of Grasmere late on a Friday afternoon.  Luckily enough the road system through Ambleside had confused me enough to prevent stopping to explore the numerous outdoor shops.

Total distance 23.5 kilometres with 1,400 metres ascent

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The plan was to camp on the summit of Stone Arthur for the night.  It has been a while since I have dragged a backpacking sack up anything resembling steep.  I was a wheezy and sweaty mess, frequently stopping to take in the view and have a few puffs on my inhaler.  It was a punishing introduction back to the Lakeland Fells.

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Stone Arthur although a Wainwright cannot be considered to be a summit in its own right.  The futility of peak bagging being that you are ticking off against a list of hills that someone else has deemed worthy.  It does give a good focus to a walk though.  Stone Arthur was however a great view-point.

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There was still a bit of daylight left and after the initial physical shock I was keen to gain a bit more height.  I now had the hills to myself, the day trippers having returned to the valleys.  The setting sun bathed the hillside in a warm glow as I plodded upwards before finally picking a spot on the 600 metre contour on which to pitch my tent.

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It was a quiet and wind free evening, dew and then frost quickly covering the fly of the tent inside and out.  Stars soon filled the sky, mirroring the lights down below in Grasmere.

I set my watch for 1.00am as there was the possibility of a glimpse of the Northern Lights.  There had been a good display the night before as far south as Norfolk.  Sadly when I stuck my head out of the door I was enveloped in cloud, visibility down to a few metres in the beam of my head torch.

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I woke early morning to the sound of rain that somehow was not quite right.  I opened the door to a swirling world of mist and snow, something that had not been forecast.  It was unpleasant wet snow, not the sort to get too excited about.  I punched the snow off the top of the tent and settled down for a couple more hours of sleep.

It was one of those damp and still nights where everything gets covered in condensation.  Luckily I had taken a MLD Spirit quilt to layer over a summer weight down bag.  This meant that the down bag remained totally dry.  The tent when packed was a soaking wet mess, fingers going numb as I wrestled it into its slightly too small bag.

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Suddenly the clouds lifted and my spirits soared with it.

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I had initially planned to head to Rydal via Alcock Tarn but decided it would be a shame to lose height so quickly.  Instead I climbed to 650 metres and contoured below Great Rigg.  Along this pathless section the clouds would come and go giving views of the snowy fells.

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In the end the clouds covered the hills in a thick blanket which was to remain until I had descended all the way down into Rydal.  There was a large amount of foot traffic as I followed the path over Heron Pike.  People were clad in everything from full Himalayan winter gear to jeans and canvas shoes.  It was good to be going against the flow.

Even down below Nab Scar the cloud refused to clear.  I sat for a while on a rock and watched it stream and rise across the nearby hillsides, occasional shafts of sunlight punching through.  All very atmospheric.

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I had planned to jettison some rubbish and an empty gas canister when I got to Rydal.  However I was half way up Loughrigg Fell when I realised I had forgotten to do this.  I also managed to misinterpret my map and took an unmarked path instead of the right of way.  This soon disappeared in a tangle of dead bracken.  Unfortunately a couple pointed my way from the car park and followed me. I hid in shame for a while behind a rocky outcrop until they passed.

Hunger pangs timed themselves perfectly with a hefty snow shower close to the summit of Loughrigg Fell.  This resulted in my hunkering down whilst trying to construct a tortilla wrap.  It was far too much hassle to get the Jetboil on for a cup of coffee.

The summit itself was a superb spot, views being much better than is suggested by its diminutive size.  The skies were turbulent after the heavy snow shower, layers of cloud drifting across the higher fells.

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Height was quickly lost on the descent towards the Youth Hostel, a narrow muddy path being wet and slippery.  I was soon climbing once more, the Langdale Pikes rearing up at the head of the valley.

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The undulating ground after Silver How was a joy to walk, easy-going and deserted.  A cold wind was picking up and the skies to the west were getting heavier.  Wet and windy weather was forecast to sweep in after dusk so I became eager to seek out a sheltered spot for the night.

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The Scarp was pitched in the lee of a grassy knoll, sadly the wind soon changing direction.  A scenic spot but one that I did not enjoy outside for very long.  Spots of rain were carried along on the wind in the gathering gloom.  The final job after collecting water was to deploy the crossing poles as insurance in case it got stormy in the night.

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After dinner I decided to rest my eyes for a moment before escaping into a good book.  I must have been tired as apart from being woken by wind and rain battering the tent I slept solidly for nearly twelve hours.  The book remained unread.

Thankfully the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped when I got up.  The higher hills once again had a dusting of snow, the clouds just above the summits.

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Packing my rucksack mist rolled in, quickly followed by rain.  Visibility was down to a few metres as I trudged up to the summit of Blea Rigg, tricky due to the complex terrain.  I had no qualms about navigating with my Satmap.  Even with GPS technology it took me a while to find the path that led me down to Easedale Tarn.  It was a thoroughly miserable day, even the lower Easedale Tarn was hidden in the clouds.   What surprised me was the sheer number of folk out on such a grim morning.  There was a constant stream climbing up the path next to Sour Milk Gill.

I was soaked by the time I reached the car.  My Rab eVent over-trousers had completely given up, even though they were proofed before setting off.  I could have wrung out my trousers they were so wet.  A naked bearded man then spent ten minutes drying off in the car with the windows steaming up……

February 23, 2014

Sarek National Park – this year’s wilderness adventure

by backpackingbongos

The following is taken from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency Website:

The mountain landscape of Sarek National Park is the most dramatic in Sweden, and the least affected by human activity. There are jagged mountain peaks, immense glaciers, deep valleys and turbulent river rapids. Nowhere else in Europe is there such a vast expanse of monumental, uninterrupted wilderness.

 Sarek is strikingly alpine for Sweden with magnificent mountain ranges and narrow valleys, glaciers and wild rapids. It is a splendid piece of unspoiled wilderness. The park contains over 200 mountains over 1,800 metres. Six of Sweden’s 13 highest mountains are found here, as are about 100 glaciers.

 Sarek is not recommended for beginners. Those wishing to visit the park must have considerable alpine experience and the correct equipment and should be used to spending time outdoors. Sarek is an extremely inaccessible wilderness with no facilities whatsoever for tourists. Here, you are on your own.

Well if that does not excite a backpacker then nothing will!

In August 2012 I hiked the northern most section of the famous Kungsleden Trail.  After a walking for a couple of days I got a bit fed up with the crowds and took a side trail.  The following three days blew me away.  The scenery was spectacular and the feeling of remoteness was tangible.  I wrote about that section here.  Since then I have been keen to return to Arctic Sweden and Sarek looks like an area that will not disappoint.

I have been super efficient and have already booked my flights in and out of the country, keen to get the cheapest deals.  The train tickets for the sleeper train have not yet been released, so that is something that I will have to organise nearer the time.  Between the long journey there and back I will have ten full days in the wilderness.  This will hopefully be enough to explore the National Parks wildest and remotest reaches.  It will take a day or two of hiking through adjacent national parks just to reach the border of Sarek.

The last week of August and the first week of September will hopefully give me Autumn colours and lack the scourge of the mosquito.  I’m also hoping that winter does not come early!

With a map now in my possession it is time to plan a suitable route.  Unfortunately there are no guidebooks written in English to refer to.  Recently after a Twitter request a fellow blogger wrote ‘Hiking Sarek (an Englishman’s guide)‘ which has been of great help.  Mark the author has been great at answering various questions I have fired his way.

I’ll do another post once my route has been planned.  In the meantime I will be exploring the following 1:100,000 map.

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January 28, 2014

The world’s end – winter backpacking around the Elan Valley

by backpackingbongos

By the fourth day the only people who I had seen were a couple on a quad bike.  The mind starts playing games under these circumstances and I began to wonder if the apocalypse had finally arrived.

If your idea of a tough backpack involves the manicured paths of the Lake District with its attendant hoards, I advise that you leave this part of Mid-Wales well alone.  However if you regularly backpack with a snorkel and flippers and have the resolve to be truly alone, pop on down to these lonely moors.  To ensure that they are at their wettest come in winter when the days are also at their shortest.  You can be as miserable as you want and no one will know.

Day 1 – 10 kilometres with 330 metres ascent

The car park below the Claerwen dam size wise would not look out of place outside Sheffield’s Meadowhall.  There was only one other car there when I arrived.  Even on the hottest bank holiday weekend I can’t imagine it ever getting busy enough to fill up.

With myself and Reuben sporting packs with enough food and clothing for four days we set off up the bridleway alongside the Afon Arban.

There is nothing more irritating than within minutes of setting off you find yourself arse down on soggy ground.  A wet boulder and my boots provided zero friction.  Therefore my feet shot off from under me like a cartoon character slipping on a banana.  Reuben paid no attention to my sorry state as he was too busy eating sheep poo.

The bridleway up the Afon Arban soon becomes little more than the fantasy of the map makers.  However by contouring along the hillside a series of sheep trods led easily up the valley, avoiding the worst of the bog and tussocks.  Towards the headwaters a well-defined quad bike track led the way across a reasonably well-drained ridge.  We arrived at the edge of the forest with minimum fuss.  I was feeling rather pleased with myself with how we had so far managed to avoid being swallowed whole by a man eating bog.

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At the point where the bridleway meets the forest on the map there is simply a fence topped by barbed wire.  Thankfully I had done a bit of research before setting off on Geograph and discovered that there was a gate a few hundred metres to the north.  This led to a boggy ride through the forest, no sign of a bridleway at all on the ground.  I was glad when we finally reached the security of a forest track which we followed south for a couple of kilometres.

The marked bridleway to the bothy also did not exist on the ground.  I had been here before and found the hidden path that descends to the river though the trees.  It was eerie in their confines with mist drifting though the branches, the air becoming colder as we descended.

I had the usual sense of trepidation as we approached the bothy.  Who would be there and what would they be like?  However as we got closer to the building it became evident that no one was in residence.

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This is probably the remotest and certainly the most difficult of all the Welsh bothies to reach on foot.  A quick read through the bothy book confirmed that although well used it is not visited by the bothy vandals or party goers.  There had been no entries in the book so far this year, almost three weeks.

I sorted my gear, fetched water and then spent a couple of hours sawing rather wet wood.  Thankfully I had brought in some kindling and fire lighters with me.  Therefore with darkness falling a fire was soon blazing within the stove.  With boots already saturated I was very glad I had brought along a pair of down slippers.  Bothy luxury.  At one point the fire was so hot that the temperature in the room raised from 5C to 7C, so tropical that I could barely see my breath anymore!

I had a moment of alarm at around 9.00pm when whilst popping out for the loo I spotted headlights coming up the valley.  There is a knackered Byeway open to all traffic that runs quite close to the bothy.  Along it I could see three 4X4′s slowly moving.  I therefore feared that I was just about to be invaded by a large group.  Thankfully they soon disappeared and I spent a long but uneventful night with just the dog for company.

Day 2 – 13 kilometres with 400 metres ascent

Rain had come by the early hours as promised and it looked totally miserable outside.  I knew the weather was going to be less than favourable so had planned the first full day of the backpack to be short.  Therefore I lounged in my sleeping bag until about 9.00am, none to eager to get up in the cold damp bothy.

A couple of hours was spent drinking loads of coffee and sawing some wood for the next visitors.  At around 11.00am I decided that if I put off the inevitable any longer I could end up finishing the day in the dark.

It was a steep climb behind the bothy to the forestry track above.  This I followed before picking up the Byeway open to all traffic. This is a bit of a waterlogged mud fest.  The main problem was the several fords that have to be crossed.  Although only knee-deep it meant that my boots were soon full of cold water, there was no way I was going to take them off every five minutes.  Reuben had to be carried across the larger ones.

It was on this track that I saw the only people before close to the end of the fourth day.  Two quad bikers working their way across one of the fords.  The track got a bit too much hard work for me in the end, a parallel forestry track a more attractive option.

I had planned to take a bridleway through the forest and across the moors.  However at that spot on the map I was greeted with a dense barrier of newly planted spruce.  I backtracked a few hundred metres to a gate I had spotted, before an easy climb to the summit cairn of Pen-y-bwlch.  It was a grey and wild panorama that greeted us along with a face full of wind.

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We arrived at the abandoned farm and shearing sheds of Garreglwyd just as a violent squall swept down from the moors.  Shelter was taken in a barn whilst rain battered the rusty tin roof.

The traverse of Dibyn Du was less than pleasant in the rain and I was glad to finally reach the security of the track along Llyn Egnant. The bothy was reached during the last of the grey light.  Once again it was dark and deserted inside, surprising in such an accessible bothy on a Saturday.  There are no trees in the vicinity and the woodshed was empty, a great disappointment as I dripped into the main room.  My rucksack when taken off soon sat within a widening pool of water.  Paramo is often given a bad press with regards to its waterproofness but I am glad to say I was totally dry under my Cascada.  On the other hand my eVent clad legs were soaked.

The downstairs was cold and uninviting without a fire, so we quickly retired to one of the wood panelled bedrooms upstairs.  With candles burning and dinner on it felt reasonable cosy (although it was only 4C up there).  However I do wish that I had not read someones ghostly experiences in the bothy book.  Thankfully the ‘Beware of the ghost’ graffiti on the stairs had been removed since my last visit!

I can report that nothing went bump in the night.

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Day 3 – 16 kilometres with 320 metres ascent

The world was transformed the following morning, sunny skies and a slight touch of frost.  It is much easier to get up, packed and going when the weather is fine.  I enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee in the sun outside the bothy before setting off.  It really is a lovely little building in a fine setting.

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I’m glad that the weather had turned for the best as the plan for the day was a long high level tramp across the moors.  The minor road gradually transforms itself into a track that deteriorates the further you go.  I wanted to walk the full length of the Monk’s Trod which on my map starts in the middle of nowhere on the banks of the River Claerwen.  A marked track on the map cuts a corner between the Claerddu and the Claerwen rivers before unceremoniously dumping you right in the middle of a bog.  A word of warning about the Elan bogs.  They are among the few that I actually consider to be dangerous.  Take your time, carry walking poles and check the ground in front of you if it looks dodgy.  Either that or take a dog and let him go first.

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Bog safely crossed and the next major obstacle was the Afon Claerwen itself.  This is a pretty big river and it has been raining for what feels like months.  Due to the crossing of the bog my boots were already full of water so there was no point in removing them to keep my feet dry.  I just picked a spot and waded, using poles for balance.  The water was cold, especially as it splashed over my knees, soaking my trousers from just below the line of my undies.  I was pleased that I got to the other side without mishap.

Reuben decided that he did not want to follow.  Instead he made unhappy dog noises and ran up and down the river bank.  In the end I had to cross back and then make a third crossing with 23kg of unhappy Staffy in my arms.  A very wet backpacker then found a rock to sit on for half an hour to steam in the sun.

I crossed this very spot one April, sitting down to put my boots back on.  I looked up to see three red kites circling overhead.  As I looked down a large otter popped out of the water a couple of feet away and ran into the nearby rushes. Possibly the best wildlife encounter of my life (with the exception of seeing a rhino whilst going out for a bike ride in Nepal).

Crossing the Monk’s Trod was much more pleasant than it was all those years ago.  Vehicles have since been banned and it appears that people have been respecting that ban.  I remember a horrid boggy struggle for a few miles.  There were still a few unpleasant stretches but in the whole the going was easy, giving the opportunity to enjoy the views along the way.

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As the track dropped from the moors and crossed pastures the low winter sun lit up the surrounding hills.  A fantastic moment and well worth the unpleasant rainy slog the day before.

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I could make out my bothy accommodation on the other side of the reservoir, close in distance but still a long distance on foot.

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An hour later and it was nearly dark when I arrived at the door.  For the third night in a row I entered an empty bothy.  This one had been recently re-built which meant that there was plenty of off-cuts of wood to fire up the large stove.  A really enjoyable evening was spent with Reuben on a newly built bench, the fire warming our bodies.  Reuben was much happier than he appears in this photo, honest!

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Day 4 – 14 kilometres with 450 metres ascent

There was a weird moment in the middle of the night when I woke with a start thinking that someone was banging loudly on the door. No one was and I think (or hope) that it was the remnants of a dream.

Reuben was very happy that morning as I discovered the ball I had carried for him in the bottom of my pack, perfect for a game of bothy fetch.

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There was not a breath of wind that morning, the reservoir without a single ripple to disturb its surface.  Rare calm after a tempestuous few weeks.  A superb location for a bothy.

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Our route along the reservoir was trackless, thankfully on a steep slope of cropped grass rather than through bog and tussocks.   I stopped many times to watch the reflections of the sky on the surface of the water.

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All of the dams in the valley were overflowing, huge man-made waterfalls with a powerful roar.  A magnificent sight.

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I had planned to cross the moors on a direct route back to the car.  However I was feeling a bit lazy that morning.  Instead I went for a slightly longer but much easier day.  The disused railway bed provided swift and pleasant walking down the valley.

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Whilst stopping for a snack break the clouds that had been increasing all morning finally deposited a steady rain.  Reuben hid under the bench and gave me a look that suggested that it was all my fault.

A final climb up through the forest and past a collection of telecoms related paraphernalia brought me back to the car.  The sun even came back to pay a visit before I drove home.

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The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) is a fine organisation.  I have purposely not mentioned the names of where I stayed, or where they are located.  My usual route maps are also missing.  Planning a bothy adventure?  Consider joining the MBA and check out their website here.

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