Archive for October, 2010

October 24, 2010

24hrs on Bleaklow

by backpackingbongos

This is one of those backpacks that has been planned and in the diary for several months.  It was last June since I last had an outing in the hills with Rich as that fateful weekend left him with a damaged knee.  Therefore a short gentle backpack not too far from home with an easy bail out was planned (Saturday afternoon we realised that Bleaklow can be far from gentle).

The Upper Derwent valley is a spectacular place within easy reach of many big cities.  This means that the area around the car parks can be rather overrun.  Fortunately many of these visitors are tied to their vehicles by an invisible umbilical cord meaning that the wildest most far-flung areas of the moors are pretty unfrequented.  Our plan was to park the Bongo in the first car park in the valley near Hurst Clough and get the bus to Kings Tree where the road ends.  We would then walk up onto Bleaklow for a wild camp before following my favourite valley in the Peaks, the River Alport back towards the van.

Thankfully the road past Fairholmes is closed to traffic on summer weekends and a frequent park and ride service runs up and down the road.  This makes it much more pleasant for walkers and cyclists and makes the road head feel even more remote as there is not a long line of parked cars.  Usually the bus leaves every 30 minutes but I had read the timetable incorrectly not realising that there is a break for lunch.  We ended up standing at the bus stop like lemons for an hour, although pleasant in the warm autumn sun.  The bus eventually turned up and for a grand sum of 60 pence each it rattled us up the valley.  Unfortunately we were the only passengers on board so I would not be surprised to see that service cut back in the future.

Total Distance 15.2 miles with 780 metres ascent

Off the bus and heading along the track towards the bridge at Slippery Stones the sky suddenly darkened and it tipped it down with rain.  Now that definitely was not in the weather forecast the night before!  As usual the bridge was busy with cyclists as it is the turning point for the ride around the reservoirs (actually a rather nice day out).  Pulling on waterproofs we continued up the valley heading for the wilder reaches of the infant River Derwent.  We would not know until tomorrow but from that moment on we would not see another person for almost exactly 24 hours, pretty unusual for the second busiest National park in the world!

We soon located a spot where we could descend to the River Derwent and crossed the river easily without getting wet feet.  Climbing up the other side the view back across to the Howden Moors was stunning, the autumn colours contrasting with the brightening sky.

Our first destination for the day was Ronksley cabin, well hidden in a clough.  A chance to get out of wet waterproofs and sit down to eat lunch out of the increasingly cold wind.  This secluded little cabin even has its own visitors book and it looks like a few folk spend the night here.  However be warned as it would not be a comfortable night on its damp cobbled floor, I would probably avoid the word bothy when describing this place!

The temperature had suddenly dropped when we left the cabin and climbed up towards Round hill, our breaths steaming in the cold air.  The ground was boggy, very boggy and we probably doubled the distance walked as we skirted and hopped around the quaking morass.  The path up Round hill led easily towards the Barrow stones before giving up the ghost and leaving us with some navigation to be getting on with.  Then sitting on a bank of peat we stumbled across the humble source of the River Derwent, initially thinking it was a memorial of some sort.

Our next destination was to be Bleaklow Stones which loomed on the distant horizon, illuminated through the broody clouds by shafts of sunlight.

On the map the route could not look more simple, just over a mile of open moorland and along a wide ridge.  On the ground the reality of the Dark Peak moors are a very different proposition.  There are two words that best sum up this sometimes forbidding landscape, these are Peat and grough.  For those of you that have never seen a grough let me explain.  Peat is pretty soft stuff when mixed with large quantities of water, this water eroding the peat leaving disorientating deep channels in the moor.  Think of a black muddy labyrinth that could suck you into its boggy depths at any time and you get the general impression of parts of Bleaklow.  If you want the challenge of some hardcore groughs then go into the hinterland of Kinder Scout where they are up to 15 feet deep.

Anyway this is the view of what greeted us on the journey towards Bleaklow Stones, here shortie gaiters really don’t cut the mustard.  Unfortunately I was wearing shortie gaiters, Rich was wearing none.

I don’t know why I said it but I muttered something about it being hard to navigate up there in mist.  Those words acted like some form of curse as ten minutes later a huge bank of the stuff covered the tops like a damp mattress.  We could see blue sky above but not more than 50 metres in front, the early evening light turned it into an eerie sort of place.

That mile took forever as the maze of groughs never head in the right direction.  It is a constant up and down, peat covering everything from the waist down.  Sometimes the maze heads the correct way before sneaking off 90 degrees leading to a fair bit of confusion.  I am sure that the route we actually walked looked a little like this:

Thing is we will never know as we often were pretty unsure exactly where we were for a good hour.  Eventually we got excited because we spotted a rotting wooden stake in the ground and a vague peaty path which lead us almost comfortably to Bleaklow Stones.  These are easily identified by a giant anvil or what my mind tells me is a whale’s tail.  In the mist there are many odd shapes to let your imagination run riot.

The afternoon had turned to evening and we did not have much time left until it got dark, time to get a move on as darkness would just confound the navigational difficulties.  It is here that I admit to cheating a little bit, using the Roadtour East Midlands app on the iPhone a couple of times to check our exact location.  There was an amazing spectacle when the setting sun hit the mist surrounding us turning everything a pinkish orange, totally confounding my camera so no picture.  The mist would suddenly clear giving wild dramatic views before engulfing us again this time in an unexpected rain shower, typical!  There was so much drama going on in the sky that approaching darkness went unnoticed until it was suddenly upon us and head torches had to be switched on to cross rough and very boggy moorland.

On our the final approach to our chosen camp spot the ground suddenly became dangerously boggy, the ground quaking in a threatening manner.  Headtorches unable to pick out a direct route we thrashed through high reeds and stinking bog to reach safer ground.  It was with relief that we located our grassy oasis in the middle of the moor.  Tents were pitched by head torch with a rising moon as a backdrop.  There was not a breath of wind and the temperature started to drop, we soon retired into individual tents to make hot drinks and get dinner on.

Whilst cooking we noticed two headtorches on the ridge above heading in our direction, we watched for a few minutes before they suddenly vanished.  Night walkers or the ghosts of airmen lost on the high moors after their plane crashed?  There are many ghostly stories about Bleaklow.

It was a very cold night with the tent being encrusted in frost and an inch of ice in the pan when I got up to pee at 4am.  I soon snuggled back into my sleeping bag cursing the fact that it is difficult to judge flatness when pitching a tent in the dark.

Dawn soon came and I awoke to an inner tent totally dripping with condensation, any slight movement meaning I would get a cold shower.  I reached for my trousers left in the porch and noticed that they were frozen solid from the knee down.  This coupled with frozen boots meant a less than pleasant start to the day.  Moving around to get warm I waited for the sun to hit our camp spot.

It was sheer bliss when it did and we sat outside and drunk coffee whilst cooking breakfast, enjoying our peaceful remote spot.

We lounged around in the sun until about 10am before packing and heading down towards the start of the river Alport, the most glorious few miles in the whole of the Peak District.  A feint path hugs the edge of the valley which snakes dramatically towards Alport Castles.  Every inch is a delight although you have to be careful not too get tempted by the path that constantly wants to make you head towards the river at the bottom.  If you do then you end up with a monster climb back up again.  Stick to the edge where grass suddenly turns into rough moor and the going is easy.

Suddenly Alport Castles was at our feet, one of the wonders of the Peak District in my eyes and a place I never tire of visiting.  Our visit coincided with the first people we had seen for almost exactly 24 hrs and it suddenly all seemed a little too crowded!

The path across Rowlee pasture is over easy flagstones meaning that I was free to take in the views around me in the very clear air.

Suddenly the Woodland valley was at our feet with the whole northern side of Kinder Scout looking inviting on the other side.

The final part of the ridge is easy and grassy and just before Bridge-end pasture we took the bridleway down through the woods to the road along the reservoir.  Here we entered another much busier world, full of overflowing car parks and picnicking families.  It felt as warm as mid summer, it was only the colour of the trees etched against a brilliant blue sky that told the full truth.

Winter is on its way.

Disclaimer: You are not allowed to camp on access land in the Peak District, please don’t do it because it’s naughty.  If you do choose to do so then don’t light a fire, take your rubbish home and bury your poo.  I’m watching you…………….

October 17, 2010

Experiencing summer and winter in 24hrs

by backpackingbongos

Last night we were walking across rugged moorland in quickly fading light, breath rising in the cold air.  Banks of cloud rolling across the high hills enveloping us every now in damp misty drizzle.  Head torches on trying to find a way through the bogs to where we would pitch for the night.  Tents pitched in darkness, desperate for warm food.  Waking up at 4.00am needing to pee and finding that my tent is frozen solid and ice is floating in my water bottle.  Morning comes and you sit up to receive a condensation shower.  A few hours later removing layers in the intense sunshine, returning back to the car park full of picnicking day trippers enjoying the autumn warmth.

Was it winter or summer this weekend?

Our high moorland camp at dawn this morning, a write-up in the week.

October 15, 2010

A Elenydd backpack from Rhandirmwyn

by backpackingbongos

It looked like we were going to be weather blessed, the forecast the night before showing temperatures reaching up to 21 C with clear sunny skies.  Not bad for the second weekend in October!

Friday morning we set off for an area which when mentioned makes my heart skip a little bit, that area is called the Elenydd, the green desert of Wales.  The Elenydd covers a vast area, to the north is Pumlumon, whilst to the south is the town of Llandovery.  A huge sprawling mass of upland hills, not the most spectacular you can find in Wales but most definitely the loneliest.  One of those rare places where you can walk all day with the only company being the numerous red kites soaring in the sky above.  Being a misanthropic sort of backpacker this area is right up my street.  This also is not an area for the novice as many of the upland paths exist only in the minds of the map maker and there is rarely anyone around to seek advice.  Plus some of those boggy tussocks can swallow a person whole before spitting them out in a soggy mess!

Day 1 – 4.1 miles with 430 metres ascent

A later start than originally planned and some crappy traffic trying to get around Birmingham on the M42 meant that it was pretty much 3.00pm by the time the Bongo was parked up in Rhandirmwyn.  We left it snuggled up to the bus shelter, shouldered our packs and drooled outside the tea room with plans being made for our return on Sunday.  I paid particular attention to the part of the menu that mentioned ‘chips’.  With lunch already in our bellies courtesy of M&S on the motorway down we set off to find the first footpath that would lead us up into the hills.  Mixed messages were immediately given out with a footpath sign pointing through a gate with a ‘beware of the dog sign’ stuck to it.  The next fence was amply signed by yellow arrow things and we began to think that maybe things are changing in Wales and all paths would be easy to follow.  No such luck as we were then confronted by a solid wall of conifers with a neglected stile being the only evidence that a path once existed.  There was then a very sweaty half hour as we followed a non existent path through deep, steep conifers using a rotting fence as a handrail.  We were eventually spat out into a clearing where bracken had taken over what may once upon a time been a track.  Deeper and higher into the forest we went, slow going and a test of micro navigation until the open ridge line was reached and the navigator (me) sighed with relief.

At this point I feel that I should point out that the cheerful weatherman the night before had been spinning another tale of pure fiction.  The wind was getting up enough courage to call itself a gale and heavy mist and haze covered all views.  All in all under the conditions a rather uninspiring spot.  Inspiration was further relegated as a long trudge followed along a forestry track, enlivened only by myself trying to walk with pacerpoles for the first time.  Not an easy thing to get right for the first few minutes (or hour!).

A trig point was reached at the edge of the forest meaning it was time to off-road and see if we could locate the bridleway which is confidently marked by green dashes on the map.  Don’t look for it as it is not there and be carefull and suspicious of areas on these moors that give way from tussocks to reeds at the heads of valleys.  Realisation that you are in the middle of a bog always comes too late and you just have to put up with muddy water filling your boots.  Extricated to firmer ground we headed for the spot I had identified for a high wild camp, which indeed was flat, sheltered and gave the promise of good views if the mist cleared a bit.  Unfortunately it was a thistle fest, tall, small and those ones that hug the ground.  Not a place to pitch a tent.  We found a flat bit of ground higher up, exposed to the full force of the wind.  Not an ideal spot but darkness was not far away.  It took two people to wrestle one man tents into tent like forms as they tried to launch themselves into the air.

No photos today as to put it simply, the weather was crap.

Day 2 – 11.2 miles with 790 metres ascent

It was a windy night, full of those unpredictable gusts followed by silence before another onslaught crashed into the tent.  You could hear the wind roaring across the moors and you could never be certain whether they would be heading for you.  Dawn brought a heavy persistent mizzle and lower clouds, just skimming the tops of the tents.  With the wind and damp air it took us a while to stir from the comfort of sleeping bags and tents.  Once again it was a two man wrestling match to get each tent back into its bag, any careless mistake and it would become a very expensive kite.  Packed up it was back down to where I originally planned to camp.  Here we left the non existent bridleway and contoured through pastures to come out at a minor road which we followed towards the dam at Llyn Brianne.  The view down to the River Towey was pretty impressive even through the murk.

The public loo’s at the car park are just about hanging on, although in a bit of a state.  The people who use the gents seemingly preoccupied with putting body parts into mouths according to the extensive graffiti.  Signs surrounding the reservoir were also preoccupied, this time with stopping people enjoying themselves on the water in canoes.  CCTV cameras pointing in all directions, it all felt a bit odd and bleak so we crossed the dam which was impressive by its size.

Civilisation was soon left far behind as we followed the reservoir track before a pleasant descent into a valley un-named on the map.  Reaching Troed-rhiw-ruddwen we had to make a decision, follow the planned route up the spectacular Doethie or shorten the day by heading towards the Pysgotwr.  After a very late start we were pretty behind where I had planned us to be by now, so we decided to have a more leisurely day and go for a short cut.

I knew that I was entering an area where the farmer has a reputation for being pretty aggressive towards Hikers, but I was not sure exactly where about we could be made to feel unwelcome.  I have read stories of people being attacked trying to use rights of way, with even the farmers children being set on the unsuspecting public.  I will try to dig it out but I am sure that Jim Perrin has written an article on his experience at the hand of the landowner in this area.

It was therefore with a degree of trepidation that we followed a track that is not a right of way towards the bridge over the river Doethie (the bridleway fords from the other side and the river is pretty substantial).  The scenery began to get ever more spectacular, which was hard to capture in the poor light.

Safely across the bridge and back onto the right of way I started to fret about approaching the buildings at Troed-rhiw-cymmer, which I am sure I had read about hostility.  We managed to bypass on a track round the back and started ascending steeply with splendid views north right up the wild Doethie valley.

The track soon levels out and crossed rugged moorland, full of bogs and deep tussocks, the bridleway being non existent on the ground we stuck to the hard surface.  A standing stone was the only thing to break up the endless flow of wind blown grass.

Descending towards Bryn-ambor we saw a magnificent sight.  Five horses were running up the track a mile or so away, speedily getting closer towards us.  Right at the last minute they exited the track, a foal excitedly leading the way across the moors.  It was pretty much at that moment that shafts of sunlight broke through the gloom, lighting up the autumnal valley of Afon Pysgotwr Fawr.

Approaching the road head we saw what from a distance looked like two elderly women in headscarves, next to a quad bike that soon sped off.  As we approached it became apparent that it was two young teenagers attired in a strange combination of urban hoodie and welly boots.  They were waiting for us and greeted us with a barrage of questions, “where have you been?”, “Where are you going?”.  That sort of thing.  They then went into detail that their dad owned all of this land which appeared to stretch for miles in either direction.  It was an odd sort of encounter, they were not particularly intimidating but I started to feel that it could go either way.  It became apparent that these were those kids I had read about, whose dad had used in the past to scare off unwanted hikers.  If you visit this area make sure that you stick to rights of way or access land and be prepared to be challenged.  We remained polite and made our excuses, crossing the bridge towards Bryn-glas and off their land.

Bryn-glas was tricky as the path went between the farm buildings where we spotted two large sleeping dogs.  Keen to avoid surprising them and the risk of being bitten, we did a bit of climbing over barbed wire fences and fell in a bog in a bid to reach the security of the track on the other side of the farm.  It worked and we were soon descending into another much wilder valley, Afon Pysgotwr Fach, which I have named valley of the tussocks.  These were man eating beasts, almost impossible to walk through without lurching, tripping and falling.  The stream through the valley would be easy to cross if you could find solid ground on either side!

The difficult ground soon gave way to easier grass as we headed for the summit of Carn Nant-yr-ast and its trig point.

After more rough tussocky ground we soon made it to the deserted farm of Blaen-Cothie where after a bit of hunting we found a great flat bit of ground with short cropped grass.  Even the wind which had been howling all day dropped enough to give us a peaceful night.

Day 3 – 11.7 miles with 570 metres ascent

Sunday was meant to be bright and sunny but once again we woke to dull overcast skies, at least packing this time was not an ordeal in tempestuous winds.

The ruins of Blaen-Cothie was a bit of a haunting sight on this bleak October morning, it really is located in the middle of nowhere.  The only concession to modernity being the encroaching plantation and a large corrugated barn across the river.  It must have been a hard life here.

Miles of easy track and a minor lane brought us to the peaceful little hamlet of Cwrt-y-cadno where an old drovers road leads you through high pastures onto the extensive moorland plateau of the Mynydd Mallaen.  For some reason I have always fancied a walk up here, in the end it was nice but not really that exciting!  A boggy track and some off road tussock bashing soon brought us to the huge cairn and summit trig point.  The sky by now was very blue but the haze still hung over the distant hills, taking away any extensive views.  Our eyes were drawn to the badlands to the north and farmers lying in wait for unsuspecting hikers!

It was a pleasant romp across the moors back to Rhandirmwyn and the trusty Bongo.  Once again the vastness of the open grassland being broken up by a solitary standing stone, the only landmark for miles.  As the afternoon progressed it got hotter and hotter until when we hit the valley bottom it felt like mid summer once again.

Possibly the last time we feel the heat of the sun on our faces whilst backpacking for several months now?

October 14, 2010

Now that is what I call windy!

by backpackingbongos

If you live in Buxton you may want to batten down the hatches on Wednesday as Metcheck says it is going to be wild, very wild…………….

October 14, 2010

A big fat mystery bruise

by backpackingbongos

A bit of an odd one this.  I got back from a weekend backpackpacking on Sunday night and whilst wandering round the house in my pants (as you do) my partner asked what I had done to my leg.  Nothing as far as I am aware apart from giving them a good work out.  The weird thing is that the bruise on my leg is getting a bit more colourful and 4 days later is still there.  I very rarely bruise and I can’t remember bashing it and it does not hurt.  A trip to the docs tomorrow me thinks.