Archive for May, 2009

May 31, 2009

Mid Wales- far away from the bank holiday crowds

by backpackingbongos

With a bank holiday approaching and the prospect of three days in the hills I was itching to get away.  The only problem being that the rest of the country is probably also itching to get away.  It was therefore time to get out the maps and pinpoint an area to stride across that may be empty.  Well cross out the National parks then as they will probably be full of hiker types.  My eyes and heart settled on the wedge of high ground that lies between Plynlimon (a fine hill) and Machynlleth (a fine town with a hippy vibe).  An area that although is not as spectacular as the higher more rugged peaks, always casts a magic spell on me.

Being a bit of a collector of hills I thought I would tick off a couple of Marilyns along the way.  Also fancying a bit of Bongo luxury, I decided to leave the backpacking tent at home and take the van instead.  Now to search out the most isolated, remote stretch of road to park up undisturbed.

At 11.00am on the Saturday after leaving the house at stupid o’clock and navigating the motorways around Birmingham I finally parked up at the head of a valley which I am not sure of its name.  The river that runs though it is called Afon Cyneiniog.  In fact I had a bit of a panic driving down the narrow country lane when the tarmac got a bit grassy and the road was covered in debris.  Obvious that not many people come down this way.  I was reassured that I was still on a road when I spotted a proper road sign.

At the road head I parked up slung on the rucksack and headed into the hills.

Sat 23rd May 09 – 10.7 miles with 790m ascent

An old tramway led away from the ruined mine buildings giving an easy escape to the head of the valley.



A short steep climb took me out of the valley where there were great views westwards towards the coast.


By now it was hot, the first time this year when I could actually feel the strength of the sun burning the back of my neck.  I realised that my sun cream was in the glove box of the van.  Too late to go back and get it now!  A wide track led down to the minor road that follows the western shore of Nant-y-moch reservoir.  It was deserted even on a sunny bank holiday.  I was soon on a track heading for Drosgol my main objective where I passed the only people I would see all day.  A steep descent to Nant y Baracs was followed by a nasty tussle with tussocks from hell.  The ground looked pretty even but every steep meant sinking into dead grass hiding water filled ditches.  My boots were soon full of water and I was cursing every step, 200 meters of walking seemed to go on forever.  I was soon climbing easy grassy slopes with views back down over the reservoir.

The summit of Drosgol is a great viewpoint with the mid Wales hills seeming to roll on forever.  To the north the peaks of Snowdonia dominated the horizon with Cadair Idris being particularly prominent.  The best views however were to the east where Plynlimon dominates the view, the best being of the wild Hengwm valley as I descended the north east ridge of Drosgol.




The plan was to walk along the track on the other side of the Afon Llechwedd-mawr but the river was too deep and fast flowing to get across without a partial strip.  I therefore followed the river north and was soon stumbling my way through water logged tussocks and trying to find the non existent right of way shown on the map.


A few bad words later and I was soon on terra firma and following a forestry road to some old mine workings.  I was soon passing Llyn Nantcagl and a short climb brought me back to the minor road north of Nant-y-moch.  After a short section of bridleway I made a small navigational error which I blame on having to use two OS maps as I walked from one to another.  Not carelessness at all!  On the correct track there were great views down into Cwm Ceulan and back to where I had descended from.



The view to the south as I descended back to the van was striking despite the low altitude of the hills.


I spent a pleasant evening in the campervan taking in the last of the sunshine whilst listening to music and eating lots and lots of food.  I had picked a great spot and was undisturbed throughout the evening and night.  Not a single car or person had passed by the time I left the following morning.


Map of route (click for full size)


Sun 24th May – 12.4 miles with 640m ascent

I was soon up and driving further than anticipated to the nature reserve of Glaslyn which sits just off of the mountain road between Machynlleth and Dylife.  A track leaves the highest point on the road and bumps its way acoss giant water filled pot holes to a small car park near the lake.  Half of the car park was an nursery for tadpoles in one large puddle.  A poor site to live if the hot sunny weather continues!

After curry for breakfast my peace was rudely shattered by 3 off-road motorbikes tearing up the track and onto the open hillside on foel Fadian.  I had been watching two walkers ascend the summit and stand by the trig point.  I bet they were not too pleased at being joined by 3 noisy motorbikes.

A track leads south from the car park and splits at the ruined cottage of Bugeilyn.  I took the fork that leads to llyn Cwm-byr and had a long sit in the hot sun by its shores.  The track then climbs the shoulder of Clipyn du before dropping towards the Afon Hyddgen.


As it was too hot to make too much effort I continued down the track to a junction and took another track towards the sheep sheering sheds that sit in the middle of the valley.  I noticed a little grassy knoll ahead and decided it would be a good spot for lunch and it may even catch a bit of a breeze.  The views south to Plynlimon were stunning with hardly a cloud in the sky.


I sat there debating whether or not to climb Banc llechwedd-mawr another Marilyn, lethargy was in danger of winning the day.  I decided to go for it and was soon climbing its grassy northern flanks.  The summit was quickly gained where I sat for a while and took in the views whilst watching the skylarks climb and fall whilst singing their hearts out.




A steep but easy descent brought me to more dreaded tussocks and the Afon Hyddgen which I had no option but to cross.  Boots and socks off and trousers rolled up and I was sliding my way across slippery rocks.  The water was up over my knees and pretty fast flowing, not a river to cross in the middle of winter.  Today however after the initial shock it was pretty refreshing.  Over the shoulder of Banc Lluestnewydd and I entered the Hengwm valley, which in my eyes is one of the finest in mid Wales.  Wild, rugged and often deserted.



A fine grassy path took me the full length of the valley, with just the odd bog with which I could fill my boots with muddy water.  At one point I saw a collection of cyclists at the top of one of the hills on the other side of the valley.  They spent a while deliberating then decided to cycle straight down the steep hillside.  I last saw them heading down into the extensive bogs on that part of the valley.

I was soon near Bugeilyn again and headed up the track towards Glaslyn in the late afternoon sun.  It was nice to see that in the far distance I was still the only vehicle in the car park.


Back at the van I spent another great evening relaxing and eating.  It was great to have all of the campervan comforts and still be in the middle of nowhere out of site of the nearest road.  I slept well that night.


Map of route (click for full size)


Sun 25th May – a short stroll!

After breakfast I did not have the energy for another full day in the hills and my skin had definitely had enough sun.  I decided to drive home and climb a small hill on the way.  Just past Dylife on the mountain road there was a small car park with this great view of the Dylife gorge with the Afon Twymyn running through it.


A further short drive and I was parked up by the dam of Llyn Clywedog.  I had fancied climbing Bryn y Fan for while now but being small and isolated it has never really fitted into a longer walk.  Typically it was just off of the maps I had with me, so I took a track and hoped for the best.  Luckily this led almost to the summit with its extensive views.



May 22, 2009

Paid to go for a walk…………..

by backpackingbongos

A great day at work today as I had to go to the Peak District to risk assess a walk I will be leading next week.  Although permission had been granted by my manager it still felt like I was skiving off!  We parked up in Cromford and climbed a lovely path through the woods and across pastures to reach High Peak Junction.  A steady climb through fields led us to the trig point on top of Cromford Moor.  On the way up we had one of those heart in the mouths incidents with a herd of cows with calves in tow (they looked at us funny).  It took us a few minutes to find Black Rock as all of a sudden the Peak District is a lush verdant green and my navigation through woodland is rubbish.

Even on a Friday lunch time Black Rock had a fair few visitors inching their way towards the edge.  It is a shame that the view is dominated by one of the biggest noisiest quarries in the Peaks.  A quick dash down the High Peak Trail and we were soon back at the car in Cromford.  Took some photos but nothing special plus I have now packed my camera away for the weekend, can’t be bothered to plug into laptop etc.

Anyway, risk assessing a walk is a rather strange affair and looks a bit dangerous on paper.  Slips, trips, falls, stings, getting run over, getting squashed by cows, hyperthermia, sun burn, bad navigation.  Surely much safer in the office, but not as much fun.

May 20, 2009

Two weeks in Sutherland – a photographic diary

by backpackingbongos

In June 2007 I took myself in our battered old Rover for a solo two week tour of the far north of Scotland.  I mostly stayed in campsites fitting in day walks around fairly wet weather.  I did manage a two day backpack around the Sandwood bay area but that will be the subject of another post in the future.  Rather than bore you with what I did, here is a photographic record of the trip.

Ascending the steep slopes of Ben More Coigach

North Scotland - June 07 026

Ben More Coigach summit ridge

North Scotland - June 07 027

North Scotland - June 07 029

Looking north towards Stac Pollaidh

North Scotland - June 07 036

Approaching Suileag bothy

North Scotland - June 07 043

Achnahaird campsite – end of June and look at all that space!

North Scotland - June 07 049

The beach next to Achnahaird campsite

North Scotland - June 07 021

Suilven from Fionn Loch

North Scotland - June 07 089

View along Suilven summit ridge

North Scotland - June 07 072

It was a long day to get to the summit and back from Inverkirkaig

North Scotland - June 07 083

Looking towards Scourie village

North Scotland - June 07 117

Scourie campsite

North Scotland - June 07 171

Midnight view from my tent

North Scotland - June 07 185

Corrieshalloch gorge

North Scotland - June 07 186

May 16, 2009

Where to go next?

by backpackingbongos

Within a few days of returning from my Evanton to Ullapool coast to coast I was already feeling a bit restless.  It can be a strange feeling returning from a trip that you have been planning for a long time, with nothing else planned.  I was only home a few days and I was getting the urge to pack my rucksack and head into the wilds again.  Time to plan some more trips!

I am really glad that I have got mapping software on my computer (Anquet) as it means I can have a look immediately at an area I am thinking of visiting.  I can spend many a happy hour plotting and planning new routes.  I have decided that next weekend I will be taking the campervan to mid Wales to hopefully escape the bank holiday crowds.  Will look for a quiet place in the hills to park up for a couple of nights and use the van as a base.  It will be nice to have the luxury of a comfy bed, loads of food, music and books!  There are a couple of wild areas I have always wanted to explore a bit more.

Will be going to the lakes for the first time in 6 months at the beginning of June for a backpacking weekend.  If the weather is good the plan is to Bivvy on a mountain top, if the weather is not so good we will camp on a mountain top!  Not sure where to go yet, whenever I go to the Lakes I am shocked just how busy it is.  So may go for one of the quieter corners.  Or I could just join the hordes and go up Striding Edge where I have not been yet.  A good excuse to get the maps out again.

Finally in the first two weeks of July I will be taking the campervan to Ireland with my partner.  Never been before so looking forward to exploring somewhere completely new.  Rough plan is a short visit to County Wicklow before heading west to Connemara for a few days.  We will then be travelling to Achill Island via County Mayo.  Achill Island looks stunning with white sandy beaches and the highest sea cliffs in Ireland where one side of the mountain Croaghaun drops 664m straight into the sea.

So more maps to buy!

May 12, 2009

Backpacking is not always fun – tales of woe

by backpackingbongos

I really enjoy reading other peoples backpacking blogs but have become a little bit concerned recently about the amount of fun everyone seems to be having.

Backpacking is great but for some reason or other I sometimes find myself in a situation where I wonder to myself, “why do I do this for fun?”  Often the answer comes ten minutes later when the rain stops and the mist clears to reveal a majestic mountain landscape.  There are also many times when the rain does not stop, the mist gets thicker and I get to the edge of the map just as the wind picks up.  Why is the mountain I’m climbing always on the edge of the map?

Those uncomfortable days are all part of backpacking in the UK, but sometimes things can get really tricky……………………..

Electrically charged

In June 2005 I did a backpack from Aviemore to Blair Atholl via the Feshie and the Tarf, a great wild route.  On the fourth morning I left the high bleak valley of Tarf Water and climbed to the summit of Carn a Chlamain.  The weather was really close and although the clouds were off of the tops visibility was pretty poor on the summit.  Most of the surrounding hills were lost in the murk and the temperature was uncomfortably warm even at this height.  The plan was to descend west off of the hill and climb Beinn Mheadhonach on the other side of Gleann Mhairc, however upon reaching the valley floor I was totally knackered.  After some deliberation I thought about collecting water and going for a high level camp on the summit and calling it a day.  Walking up the valley a little way I came to a perfect grassy knoll above the river that screamed ‘pitch a tent on me’, being of weak will I gave in and pitched my tent.  A decision that may have saved my life.

I spent the afternoon and early evening lazing around reading and eating, generally enjoying my isolated position.  The camp was spoilt slightly by the large numbers of adult ticks, there was obviously a reason why the grass was so cropped in a large area of rough ground.  Every time I Leant out of the tent to pick up a pan etc one would attach itself to my arm.  A big downside to camping in the highlands in the summer.

As evening turned to night the air became ever more humid and it was a little uncomfortable in the tent.  The hill tops started to mist over and in the far far distance I could hear a small rumble of thunder.  On top of my sleeping bag I soon nodded off to sleep.  It was dark when I woke up to the first bang of thunder.  The storm was some way off as I counted the time between the sky lighting up and the thunder clap.  Each minute it got nearer and nearer, then suddenly the heavens opened.  With the exception of being in India at the tail end of the monsoon I have never experienced rain like it.  It sounded like it would rip the tent apart.  Suddenly the storm was upon me.  There were instantaneous flashes of lightening and claps of thunder and I could feel my teeth tingle.  Poking my head out of my tent I realised that I was in the storm cloud which lit up as another burst of thunder broke.  Panicking I pulled on my clothes, but now what?, what good would running into the darkness do me?  The only thing I could think of doing was throw my walking pole as far away from my tent as I could.  I sat a nervous wreck as the storm raged around me, smoking roll up after roll up trying to fight the impulse to run.  Slowly but surely the storm drifted away to the north.

Relieved I got back undressed and lay back down hoping to catch some sleep before getting an early start.  My stomach tightened as in the distance I heard distant thunder.  Lightening flashes and claps of thunder yet again got closer and closer until they were again directly overhead.  The hillside was cascading with rivulets of water and I was a nervous wreck again!

This scenario was played out all night, one storm would move off only to be replaced by another one less than an hour later.  By early morning the small stream which luckily I was a few metres above was a black raging torrent.  I packed my tent and legged it down to Blair Atholl.  The vilage had lost all of its power due to the storms.  When buying a paper the shop keeper said that it was the worst thunder storm he could remember, he said they were fairly rare up there on that scale.  The local paper was reporting people being rescued by sudden rising flood waters on campsites and general chaos.  I spoke to a bloke in the campsite later on who had been wild camping that night in one of the high coires of Beinn a Ghlo, he really thought that at one point he was going to be fried alive.  He too had been ready to flee his tent but realised that a descent in the dark could be just as dangerous as the storm.

I used to love thunderstorms but now get really nervous when I hear thunder.  When wild camping in the summer I am not as keen as I used to be to camp on the summits unless there is an easy escape route in the dark.  Thankfully I did not camp on the summit of Beinn Mheadhonach!

More tales of woe to come!