I think that it is about two years since I have been backpacking with my mate Rae, who has been out of action due to a foot injury. She is keen to get back into the hills with a pack on her back. Therefore I planned a short and sweet trip to the North Pennines. One of those trips where it is more about the camping than the walking. My kind of trip as the walking sometimes gets in the way of a good slackpack.
With short walking days planned I thought that it would be a good opportunity to take the Kifaru Megatarp and wood burning stove. Nothing beats relaxing in a heated tent.
I escaped work after lunch on the Friday, picked Rae up and headed to the North Pennines, getting stuck in the usual weekend afternoon rush.
The plan for the first night was to park the car and walk a short distance up a remote valley to pitch for the night. It was getting dark as we arrived at the small car park. What had looked like snow on the other side of the reservoir ended up being a huge flock of gulls. An impressive sight.
My pack was heavy with around 5kg of wood along with the stove itself. We set off into the gloaming, eventually using our head torches once we left the security of the track.
Distances and obstacles can be exaggerated when you can’t see where you are going. We sloshed through marshy ground and contoured along steep banks as we followed the river. Finally we found a flat spot which we felt was far enough not to be discovered the following morning.
It was windy as we pitched, stony ground making it especially difficult to get a secure pitch with the large mass of material that makes up the Megatarp. The wind soon brought rain with it so we retired to our respective shelters for the night. With a badly pitched, flapping tarp with insecure peg placement I erred on the side of caution and decided not to set up the stove. I felt that it was an accident waiting to happen.
With copious amounts of condensation (even with a large and very well ventilated shelter you still get it in certain conditions) during the wet and windy night I suffered the curse of not having an inner. The wind would shake the walls leading to a very fine spray falling on me every now and then. Luckily I had brought a lightweight bivy, meaning my bag stayed dry.
I woke at dawn, getting up to answer a call of nature. I was totally surprised at the scene outside.
It turned out that what I had thought was rain had in fact been snow. I wandered around for a while taking photos, before the cold sent me back into my sleeping bag for another couple of hours.
Bright warm sunshine woke me up and it was nice to lay in my bag for a while, enjoying the feeling of warmth whilst outside there was snow. Rae was awake and cooking when I got up. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.
Unfortunately the sunshine was quickly replaced by a wall of thick cloud bringing along a stinging blizzard and strong winds. The world became a swirling chaos of white, big flat snow flakes quickly covering ground that had melted in the sun. That set the tone for the rest of the day. Sunshine and big beefy wintry showers.
Packed up and on the way back to the car we were passed by a farmer on a quad bike towing a trailer full of collies. He stopped at a gate and waited until we had passed through it. He asked if it was our car parked and if we had spent the night on the moor. We confirmed that it was and we had. I expected a telling off but instead he told me about a shooting hut nearby that would have provided good shelter. I had a feeling that he thought that it was a bit daft camping out in the snow.
Back at the car we sorted out our packs with food for that evening and drove off down the valley, heading into the hills above Teesdale. A high level car park providing a springboard onto the moors without too much climbing. It was a simple walk of less than five miles to our chosen spot. My pack was still heavy with the wood I had failed to burn the night before.
Traversing rugged pathless ground Rae spotted an adder curled up sunning itself. It took my eyes a while to pick it out as it was so well camouflaged. I had not brought Reuben along for the weekend as dogs are banned from much of the CROW land in the North Pennines. I was doubly glad he was not with us as he would have spotted it long before us.
A rough path along the boundary of the moor led to seven very unpleasant surprises. A series of snares had been set up, the first almost tripping me over. I’m not sure what they are designed for but a small dog could easily get trapped These along with several pole traps over water courses made it very clear that any creature other than grouse were not welcome on this moor. I’m not sure on the legality of the snares as they were free running (I have used the word were). Legal or not the ethics of such things are another matter. Not exactly a humane way of eradicating predators.
Just to make a point; the only living and breathing things we saw that day or the next whilst on the moors were grouse. Hundreds of the stupid bloody things. No raptors in the sky and none of the usual sounds of spring on the moors that you get at this time of year. A sterile dead monoculture.
Further along the moor of death the views opened out to the east, the North York Moors visible on the horizon.
We descended to one of my favourite wild camping spots in the area. An oasis of green and nature amongst the sterile moors. We forged a difficult route to a very secluded spot hidden deep up a valley. With no wind, a burbling brook and birds singing in the trees it was paradise.
This time I had time to play around and get a perfect pitch.
As darkness fell I set up the wood burning stove and piece by piece set fire to the bag of pre-sawn wood that I had lugged in. The stove heated the tent nicely and we sat in front of it chatting for a while.
Once the stove had gone out the temperature quickly dropped, a cold night following. Thankfully there was little condensation and I did not wake to a morning shower. We had a relaxed morning, enjoying the location and the sunshine. Secure in the knowledge that it would be unlikely that anyone would pass by.
Pitched correctly the Megatarp is a well designed bombproof shelter. Not one to pitch single-handed on a wet and windy moor though.
Our route back to the car led up through pastures full of bird life before we once more entered the sterile monoculture of the moor.
Patches of heather were being burned, smoke rising from all directions as far as the eye could see. A cairn gave us the chance to relax for a while in the sun, before the first in a series of wintry showers barrelled in.
Dramatic skies accompanied us on the final couple of miles back to the car.