Archive for August, 2010

August 30, 2010

Eyam moor and Abney from Hathersage

by backpackingbongos

“How about a walk in the Peak District tomorrow?” Corrina asked.  This was in reply to my mooching around the house regretting not getting things together for my backpacking trip to the Migneint.  I immediately said yes, it’s not very often that my partner will agree to head for the hills for a walk, let alone suggest it.

Driving up the M1 the weather really was not looking promising, in fact it was lashing it down and all my windows were fogging up.  A grey world of spray and cloud.  Should we just have stayed at home and had a nice morning reading the Sunday papers?

8.5 miles with 540 metres ascent

The road from Fox house to Hathersage is a delight when you reach the well named ‘Surprise view’, it is hard to keep your eyes on the road as the ground falls away to the left with the Derwent valley far below you.  It does not help when the passenger says, ‘I can see a great view’.  Luckily since we passed through Chesterfield the sun had made an appearance and the rain had made a good job of washing the sky until it was crystal clear.

I can never really resist a stop in Hathersage with its abundance of outdoor shops, I was even more exited to find out that ‘Outside’ had erected its bank holiday sale marquee.  I really should not have been as all it meant was that they simply filled it with stock that was either extra large or extra small.  I went in the shop and fondled a very nice Arcteryx Atom hoody before suddenly coming to my senses when I realised that £180 is a lot of money for a synthetic insulated jacket.  I fondle the same jacket every time I go in that shop.  One day it will be in the sale in a nice medium size.  If Arcteryx fancy sending me one or there is a rich reader of this blog please get in touch!

We set off from the car park with me cursing the fact that I had brought my Paramo with me, I was immediately sweating under the warm sun.  I had promised Corrina a ‘nice’ six to eight mile walk with not too many ups and downs.  One day I will properly measure the map before setting out, this was going to be a ‘make it up as we go along’ sort of walk!

Just past Leadmill we took a narrow lane uphill to Hazelford hall and then a very steep path that rejoins the road further up, taking a big zag out of the zig zag.  Views behind were really opening up with the air being exceptionally clear for late August.  The reason for this?  A pretty strong northerly wind.

Just before Leam farm there is a field with a large ‘No camping’ sign on the gate.  In the field itself are a large amount of caravans, vans and large tents!  We stayed here a few years ago and it is not your usual campsite, this then was most definitely a party field.  Just don’t turn up here for a cosy weekend!

A path leaves the lane just past the farm and heads across the heather and bracken covered Eyam moor.  The heather was in full bloom and the air buzzed with bumble bees.  The dominant view across the valley was of Millstone edge and Higger tor.

It was already past 2pm and our bellies were rumbling, the incessant wind meant that the exposed moor was not a good place to sit down.  The few pieces of dry stone wall were angled at such a way that it was windy on both sides.  Sir William Hill road was a wind tunnel, the trees fully laden with leaves were groaning under the onslaught and it was difficult to progress upwards.  Strangely as soon as the trees were left behind the wind dropped a little bit.  A climb over a stile and a sit down behind the wall transported us back into summer, the sun hot without the cold wind.  As lunch was eaten four sheep came legging it down the hill, greeting us like long lost friends.  We were not sure if sheep should be given Tuna.

Back over the wall into the full onslaught of the wind.  The view suddenly changed leading our eyes to the north this time, the furthest skyline being dominated by Kinder Scout.  The quickly moving clouds throwing shafts of sunlight down on to the green fields, changing their colour every few seconds.

Further down you begin to see that the fold in the hills here hold a secret world of deep ravines and dense forests.  We were soon on one of my favourite paths in the Peaks, a grassy track that contours the hillside giving views down into the greenery below.

At one point there is even a small rock outcrop, a place to sit and contemplate the scenery around you or a place to get your partner to pose whilst you bark instructions at her (why at that moment of being bossy did a group have to pass us by?).

The track heads on down, wide grassy and easy, perfect for letting your eyes feast on the surroundings without the worry of tripping up (for some reason I have an uncanny knack of suddenly ending up on my backside).

Down, down, down it goes, getting steeper towards the bottom where you plunge deep into the greenery.  Once again out of the wind it was warm with the sun heating up the bracken to give a heady aroma.

Stoke Ford lays at the bottom of the deep valley with paths radiating off in all directions.  The best way if you come here is to head off along Bretton Clough, full of strange drumlins.  That however was in the wrong direction for us so we walked up Abney Clough, another gem hidden away in the folds of these hills.  Every step was a pleasure and as a rarity for me in the Peaks, a path that I have not yet trod.  At Abney there was a bit of confusion where one map ends and another begins.  For some reason the OS decided not to overlap the maps, so we stood on the lane for a while trying to join up two large unwieldy laminated maps in the wind.  Eventually the correct path was located and as we climbed toward Offerton Moor we had one final view of the way we had just come.

Descending back down to Hatherage we came to Callow farm and an honesty test.  Someone had left a brand new walking book next to the stile.  Would they be coming back for it?  Which way did they go?  If I leave it will someone else just come along and half inch it?  In the end we left it where it was, just incase someone was on their way back for it.  Fifteen minutes down hill we met a family who asked if we had seen a green book next to a stile at the farm!  If only I had picked it up, it would have saved dad from running back up to retrieve it!

So far this year I have overlooked the Peak District as a walking destination.  It’s just an hours drive away yet this is only the third visit this year.  What always surprises me is how much I enjoy visiting the place, yet for some reason I happily sit in the van for 3 hours on the way to somewhere else.  Mind you a nice sunny day helped with the enjoyment and for some reason the hills were almost deserted this bank holiday Sunday.

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August 28, 2010

Solitude or sloth?

by backpackingbongos

So much for heading into the Migneint wilderness for a spot of solitude!  I suddenly found that Sloth took over late on Friday and I could not be bothered to get my stuff together.  It also did not help that a nice sunny weather forecast turned into a windy and fairly wet one for Snowdonia.  Obviously I regret that I am not currently stomping the hills, but hey sometimes you need to just do nothing.  As a bonus my partner even suggested a day out in the Peak District tomorrow, that will be nice as Its been a few months since I visited the Peaks.  I do think that solitude may be lacking there though!  Still, late on Thursday night and I should be in the Black Mountains for a long weekend.

August 26, 2010

Solitude in the Migneint?

by backpackingbongos

I am reading a great book at the moment.  It is written by Robert Krull and is called, ‘Solitude – seeking wisdom in extremes’.  It is the diary of a guy who travelled to a remote Island in Patagonia’s coastal wilderness to live alone for a year.  He wanted to study the effects of solitude as part of his university course and the diary is broken up by essays on the subject.  I am only part way through it and I may even be inspired to do a review when I have finished it.  So far well worth seeking out, you can find out more through his website here.

His book has started me thinking about my relationship with solitude.  I have to admit that I really enjoy backpacking the hills when I am alone and recently I have started hankering for ever more remote places.  You may have noticed from my trip reports that I tend to seek out the quiet and undisturbed rather than the spectacular but busy.  My mind keeps on drifting back to the very wild and uninhabited west coast of Jura, just about as remote as you can get in the UK.  I am starting to get the urge to pay it a visit in the depths of mid winter, now that would almost definitely entail deep solitude!  The flow country of Caithness has also been on the backburner the last couple of years, I have planned a very wild coast to coast up there ,I just need to be brave enough to walk it.  I am not sure if it is the bogs or the sheer empty size of the wilderness out there that has been putting me off.  I think that I will find heaps of solitude up there.

I often find myself getting out a map of somewhere like the Lake District and putting it back on the shelf as I can’t find a satisfactory route.  It’s not that the scenery and backpacking is poor, far from it, it’s a stunning place.  It’s just the thought of passing large amounts of people that puts me off, there is also the high probability that the tarn selected for a wild camp will already be occupied.  The Lakes for me is a place to be visited in the winter months.

I fear that I must be turning into a misanthrope, maybe that is represented in how I decide to tramp the hills.  I do really enjoy being in the hills with friends and for some reason my ‘people on the hill’ tolerance is much higher if I have company with me.  But when I am alone I want those hills to myself!

I am therefore thinking about setting up the Misanthropic Backpackers Association, i.e the real MBA.  We could unite in our misanthropy with regular meets where we head to far flung parts of the UK.  Alone.  Anyone is free to join, just keep the fact to yourself.

Bugger, I have really strayed off course with this post.  It was meant to be a pondering on what to do this Bank Holiday, a weekend when the hills will be heaving.  I need to use my imagination and head for somewhere remote but without a big drive that involves getting tangled up in a traffic jam.  Head where there are no paths, with giant tussocks and deep heather to slow you down.  If the vegetation does not get you the bogs will.  I visited one such place a few years back and it was empty.  Tough, but empty.

If you want solitude just remember the word Migneint.  And don’t bloody well go there this weekend.

August 25, 2010

Tarptent – new invisible seam sealing technique?

by backpackingbongos

Good news yesterday when I got home from work, a card from Parcel force saying that there was something waiting for me at my local post office.  A quick visit this morning confirmed that my replacement Scarp1 flysheet had arrived.  I had escaped the customs and Parcel force handling charge this time round.

A cursory glance before setting off for work and the stitching appears to be ok on this one, although a pitch in the garden or on a hill is the only real way to confirm this.  But of course there had to be something that made me unhappy.  When emailing Henry from Tarptent I had requested that he seal the seams for me, I thought that this was only fair considering the hassle of receiving a faulty fly.  To this I received this reply: I shipped you a new (correct) one yesterday. I seam-sealed it for you so it’s ready for use. Now, either my eyes are completely failing me or Tarptent use some sort of new invisible sealant that is also unidentifiable by touch.  From what I can see not one single seam has been sealed, not even a tinsy winsy little bit.  Obviously not that happy about that, I will email Henry to see what has been done.

Anyway another little Tarptent rant over, it’s a real shame as there were other products of theirs that had been interesting me.  Fingers crossed all will be all ok when I pitch it in the garden later this week.  I suppose I will need to get an order in for some sealant and hope for a sunny day.

Update:

I received an email from Henry at Tarptent today saying that he did seal the seams for me and said that it is very very feint, just enough to seal the threads.  I still can’t see it but will take his word for it, a spot of rain will be the best way of checking that out!  Fingers crossed I will have it pitched on a mountain this weekend.

An update of this update:

I have pitched the Scarp in the garden this afternoon to check that all is ok.  When the light is just right I can see very light brush strokes across the seams and along the pole arch.  So the answer is yes, Tarptent do use invisible seam sealing techniques!  I did notice however that there are tiny little holes at the corners of the ventilation loops on the roof, just where the stitching ends.  I dabbed a bit of neat Silnet inside and outside the tent on those spots.  Hopefully that will do the trick.

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August 22, 2010

Backpacking the Black Mountain and Fan Gyhirych

by backpackingbongos

I have been looking at the area to the south of the Black Mountain escarpment for a while now as it is an area which has held a fascination for me.  Miles and miles of nothing with large areas of limestone breaking through the earths surface.  I have tramped the high hills of Fan Brycheiniog and Bannau Sir Gaer in the past, but the sheer bleakness of the land that rises up to their lofty heights has been untrodden by my or many others footsteps.  Add into the mix the mountain Fan Gyhirych which eluded me on my last trip to the area due to bad weather and a cracking backpacking route evolved from the comfort of my armchair.

For once we were blessed with a good weather forecast, we seemed to be heading for the sunniest spot in the whole of the UK that weekend.  In reality that turned out to be another tall tale spun by the Met Office.

Day 1 – 8.3 miles with 710 metres ascent

I did not really know where to leave the van to start this walk, in the end I parked up at the campsite next to the Dan-yr-Ogof caves.  £3 per day gave me piece of mind, it also gave us the spectacle of Dan-yr-Ogof in Augsut.  The place was absolutely heaving, I mean really heaving.  Surely it must be good to attract such crowds, many of whom were clutching toy dinosaurs.  We felt out of place in our hiking gear and backpacks as we made a hasty exit.  Now the plan was to access the Beacons way via Craig-y-nos Country park, instead we got on the wrong path which was not marked on my map.  I then tried in vain to make what I was seeing match the map, until it was glaringly obvious that things were not working out.  Some crashing through trees and a hop over a barbed wired fence got us back on track.  A pleasant overgrown path soon had us climbing, it was nice to gain height surrounded by trees to then get a sudden view.

A large quarry was passed and we started ascending the pleasant grassy track across Ogaf-Ffynon-Ddu Pant Mawr National nature reserve (I think that they need to work on the title of that).  A large area of limestone pavements with apparently one of the deepest cave networks in the UK underneath.  The detour to the summit of Cerreg Cadno was hard work through the jumble of limestone blocks but the views were well worth the effort.  For me wild limestone uplands are atmospheric places and make a change from the usual peat and rough grassland we normally get when up high.

The plan had been to camp somewhere between here and the summit of Fan Gyhirych, the wind and what looked like gathering clouds meant we dismissed a summit camp.  There was a good area of nice looking green grass to the north of us but that was occupied by a herd of cows, never the best camping buddies.  A quick visit to a nice looking cairn and we descended to the track that skirts the bottom of the high valley.

The valley bottom is a sea of bog with a lazy stream running through it, it disappears underground into Pwll Byfre which looks like it is probably an old quarry.  We soon found a large area of short cropped grass near a sheepfold and got the tents up, I was excited because it was the first time I had put my brand new Scarp1 up.  Things were not all well with my new tent, if you wish to read about it click here.  As it was only 6.00pm we decided to head to the summits of Fan Gyhirych and Fan Fraith before settling down for the night.  There was more of a spring to our steps as we headed off up the track without the weight of our packs.  Approaching the top of Fan Gyhirych we noticed that the sky to the north had turned a rather ominous shade of black.

Although to the south it looked like the perfect summers day.

Suddenly the world was at our feet and we found ourselves sandwiched between the sun behind and the approaching storm.  As we watched we saw the distant Pen y Fan disappear into the clouds.  We had initially hoped that the clouds were drifting to the east, although it became apparent that they were heading straight for us.

A yomp up to the trig point and then back to the track was followed by a short pull to the summit of Fan Fraith, here the rain finally caught up with us.  We dropped down to the Byfre Fechan before the track took us quickly back to the tents.  Encased in our own nylon worlds we cooked our dinners and swatted at the odd rogue midge that came out to play.

It was during the night that it became apparent that we were on a fair old slope, I spent half of the night retrieving myself from the bottom of the tent.  As I constantly shuffled my way back up again I could hear the heavy persistent rain drumming on the flysheet.

Day 2 – 10.6 miles with 855 metres ascent

It rained pretty much all night with a heavy persistence that makes you wonder if it is ever going to stop.  There was still light rain falling when I started cooking breakfast.  It was a grey dull start to the day.

Wet tents were packed away and we started easily enough by following the track west into the forest.  Here I discovered that having your map in your rucksack does not help on the navigation front and we missed our turn.  I discovered the error when I realised that we were heading too far downhill, a consult of the map showed that we could head for the disused railway track instead of heading back uphill.  Out of the forest we would see the long escarpment of the Black Mountain ahead, the way being blocked by the low bulk of Waun Leuci.

The railway track turned out to be a good route north to the head of the valley, allowing us to cover some distance without much effort.  We stood for a while watching a pair of Goldfinches in the thistles whilst a cow watched us.

At the head of the valley we reached an old stone tower and started the ascent of Waun Leuci, keen to get it out of the way so we could explore the Black Mountain.  A retrospective view back showed just how steep the upper slopes of Fan Gyhirych are, we would have come down that way today if we had not climbed the hill the night before.

As we descended towards the River Tawe a heavy passing shower got us reaching for our waterproofs, no sooner than we were all kitted out than the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Luckily the river was easy to cross without getting feet wet and we climbed up to the standing stone of Maen Mawr and a tiny little stone circle.

The outflow from Llyn y Fan Fawr cuts a deep course through the hillside, something that is not that obvious by looking at the map.  This gives an easy and pleasant ascent on short grass beside a series of waterfalls.  If it had have been hot there were several tempting looking pools for a spot of skinny dipping beneath some of the falls.

The ground soon levelled off as we approached the lake under the cliffs, once again in the distance the clouds were beginning to brew up.  It became a race against time to get to the top before the mists rolled in.  Half way up the rocky staircase  the rain won, sweeping quickly in before passing and leaving us with a great view from the summit.

From here is one of the most spectacular escarpment walks in Wales, to the right broken cliffs swoop down to deep lakes whilst to the left bleak moorland gently descends into a wilderness of deep valleys and limestone peaks.  We were looking forward to the walk over Bannau Sir Gaer for the views down to Lynn y Fan Fach.

The weather had other ideas for us as once again the sky went black to the north.  But this time the rain came in like a solid wall, enveloping us immediately in a dark grey swirling world.  It was like a light switch had been turned off.  Mist dramatically shot over the summit lowering with dramatic speed, the rain hit us hard like little bullets.  I only had a t-shirt under my thin summer waterproofs and I could feel every single drop pummel my skin.  For a good hour it absolutely chucked it down taking away the pleasure of the views we had been looking forward to.  It took a little pacing to work out the exact summit on Waun Lefrith before taking a compass bearing into the mist.  We were now heading off into the wilds and I could only see one hundred metres ahead, I had been hoping for sun and clear visibility for this bit!  Half way down the mist cleared and the sun put in an appearance once again.  We branched off and followed the rough line of a bridleway towards the upper Afon Twrch where we found a good sheltered flat pitch near to the ford.  We got our tents up just in time before another heavy shower passed over head.

Day 3 – 4.7 miles with 235 metres ascent

I slept well that night and was thankful not to be sliding to the bottom of the tent every five minutes.  It remained dry but the wind managed to really pick up in the middle of the night, my tent shedding it well with hardly a flap.  Warm sun woke me up in the morning and combination of that and high mist made our campsite appear rather atmospheric.

It was one of those relaxing wild camping mornings that I wish could go on forever, some days you just fancy staying in the same spot and lapping up the scenery.  A good dose of warm sun and a cooling breeze certainly helped the relaxed feel.

However I had nearly finished packing up when it went a little wrong.  I suddenly found my breakfast noodles back up on the grass in all their undigested glory.  I felt flushed and giddy with a needle filled belly, just what I did not want when backpacking.  This was one of the first trips for years where I had been really good at filtering all my water so it shouldn’t be that.  The sickness did pass but I had lost the initial joy of spring feeling that had woken me up.

Fording the river we took the narrow bridleway up into the hills where we met our first group, it was not even 10am so they must have been up and away early to walk the few miles in from the road.  The path descended to the Pwll y Cig, a stream with steep banks and lots of very inviting looking wild camping spots.  One of which looked so inviting that I may have to go back in winter just so that I can use it!

We noticed that the river flows into a swallow hole so decided to follow it, high up on the steep bank.  Being limestone the river disappeared before reaching it but the remote area was well worth exploring.  There is a beautiful wild remote feeling to this area, something that I could not put a finger on.  All that I can say is that it held a weird magical spell over me.  I want to go back and explore slowly taking in the atmosphere.

A short ascent brought the rocky summit of Disgwylfa with its views of the bleak hinterland.

And towards the next minor peak on the ridge, Carreg Goch with its outcrops of limestone.

An easy descent east towards the track back down into the valley took us past massive shake holes that were perfectly circular, looking all the world like giant bomb craters.  The track was a perfect grassy delight as it led downhill through an increasingly green landscape, limestone outcrops reminding me of the Yorkshire Dales.

We braced ourselves for the chaos of the showcaves car park but strangely it was almost deserted and calm prevailed.  Even the campsite looked rather attractive now that it was not surrounded by a sea of vehicles.  A hot and sunny finish to a great weekend among some pretty special hills.