Archive for December, 2010

December 31, 2010

2010 – A year on the hills

by backpackingbongos

All in all I have had a pretty good year out and about on the hills.  I often feel that I don’t get out as much as I would like, but going through my log book for this year I added up a total of 52 hill days.  All in all not too bad for a city dweller with hypothyroidism, I just have to sit down a lot or fiddle with my camera to placate my complaining body!  Anyway I thought that I would end 2010 with a brief diary of the years trips.  I have basically taken one photo from each mountain jolly and put them in monthly order.  Not always the best photos but the ones for me that give a flavour of that outing.


The first sunset of the first day of 2010, taken just below the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr in the Black Mountains.  Basically I misjudged the time it would take to complete this walk in the deep snow.  I was only half way round when the sun set and I got back to our remote cottage to find my friends had set off to find a phone to call mountain rescue.  On the positive side the colours were mind blowing and a full moon rose as the sun set.

I was the only camper this weekend at the Pistyll Rhaeader campsite in the Berwyn mountains.  The high valley Afon Disgynfa above the falls has a real wild quality to it and I sat in this sheepfold to take it all in.  I got snowed in two days later and the owner had to tow the bongo out by tractor!


Kinder Scout is probably my most climbed hill, a wild place of rock and deep black groughs that entice the unwary hillwalker into their boggy depths.  Grindslow Knoll is a grand viewpoint.

A three day backpack around the Ettrick Valley on a bothy and wild camping backpack.  High on the hills on the first evening the setting sun put on a fine display.  It was so cold that frost started to form on my rucksack and I beat a hasty retreat to the bothy to get a cosy fire lit.


I woke up in the night and it was minus 5 celsius in my Akto and the inner tent was glistening with ice.  A glorious morning in the winter sun in the heart of the Moelwyns.

I landed a new job and had a week to fill between the end of the old and the start of the new.  My partner could not get the time off so I headed off to a tiny miners cottage in the Scottish town of Wanlockhead.  It snowed and it snowed and it snowed.  Typical Lowther scenery, big bare rounded hills and steep grassy slopes.


A weekend backpacking the Fforest Fawr hills from the waterfall village of Ystradfellte.  Dull weather made the hills appear rather gloomy and they were lost in mist on the second day.  Among the bleakness was a small oasis of limestone.

It is not often that I can persuade Corrina out on the hills but we managed to get out for a bimble on the eastern edges of the Peaks.  Here sitting at the splendid but not well know viewpoint of Tumbling hill.


An all time classic Welsh mountain backpack, the Rhinogs south to north.  Three very tough days traversing some of the roughest terrain available in the UK.  Despite their small stature these are not hills for the novice, possibly the only place you can get horizontally crag bound.  However look closely and there is a feint path to follow through the northern badlands, just don’t lose that path…………………

The Rhinns of Kells sound like they should be in a Tolkien book and they are as magical as their name.  A long high and once on the summits easy ridge walk through glorious Galloway scenery.  A small bit of the highlands that snuck south of Glasgow.


A week, a bongo and the whole of Mull to explore.  Mostly the weather was typical of the west coast of Scotland but a round of the hills above Glen More was done under blue skies, light winds and warm sunshine.  I was knackered at the end but a magical day crossing empty rugged hills.


Some parts of our national parks are neglected by a majority of hillwalkers and the southern Arenigs are one such place.  Wild open spaces with plenty of bogs to cross but a real feeling of solitude bang in the middle of the summer holiday period.  Our camp high on the south ridge of Arenig Fawr was abandoned at dawn due to a nasty storm and even the best technical fabrics failed in the Welsh downpour.


Tents were pitched for a wild camp and we set off to climb Fan Gyhirych, reaching the edge of the plateau minutes before a storm hit us.  We stood and watched in sunshine while a wall of black approached blotting out each hill in turn.

The second and final outing of the year with Corrina through a Peak District landscape at its summers peak.  Lush green hills, heather in bloom and the berries on the trees getting ready for Autumn.


A sad farewell to my mountain retreat which was finally sold at the end of this year.  Fond memories of tramping the Black Mountains and then coming back to a huge open fire in a farmhouse still lit by gas lanterns.  I hope that the new owners retain its unique character.

Saddleworth moor is where the wild west of the Peak District meets Manchester’s urban sprawl.  Deeply incised valleys plunge down to the reservoirs that feed the towns and cities below and if you squint just right you may be able to see Wales on the horizon.  I was surprised by the lack of paths in the deep cloughs.

A weekend on the magical Isle of Eigg with 300 other festival goers, half of which were members of the bands that were playing.  A tiny boat tossed about in the rough seas followed by three days of music, drinking and a spot of hillwalking.  The organisers should get an award for pulling off such a unique event and there was no corporate bullsh*te in sight.  I want to live on Eigg!


Mist, drizzle, bogs, tussocks and angry farmer boys.  What more can you want from a three day backpack in the badlands of Mid-Wales?

The Great ridge between Castleton and Edale is not that great but makes a rather pleasant stroll though iconic Peak District landscapes.  I got off the train at Hope and walked through the hills to Chinley.  It was good not to have to walk in a circle that day.

A wild camping trip to my favourite spot in the whole of the Peak District.  Blue skies in the morning more than made up for the mist and drizzle of the evening before where we tried to locate this dry patch amongst the bogs by torchlight.


A weekend of Bongo ‘wild camping’ where I got the opportunity to climb Skiddaw under clear skies and actually got a view from its summit.  It was also strangely devoid of other hillwalkers that Friday afternoon.


Top billing for my worst outing of 2010, a grey day of mist and drizzle when previously the world had been white and gleaming.  Hillwalking is not always fun even if you do get the Peak District to yourself.

Exactly a week later the Peak District was white and shiny again.  A great day on the Eastern edges was finished off with a heavenly light show.

Have a great 2011 everyone!

December 29, 2010

Along the Arctic Eastern Edges

by backpackingbongos

My walk in the Peaks the previous week had been a bit of a damp squib and I was eager to see the hills covered in the white stuff and under blue skies.  A brief dusting the night before and a definite promise of clear skies got me out of bed sharpish and I pointed the Bongo in a westerly direction.  The car park next to the Robin Hood Inn, just off the Baslow road was nearly empty and is free which makes a pleasant change these days in the Peaks.  Already dressed and booted for the hill I simply grabbed my sack and headed straight out of the car park.

10.6 miles with 570 metres ascent

The path through the woods was quickly left when I spotted a narrow path through the heather directly onto the ridge above, I was keen to drink in some snowy views.  About an inch of snow had fallen the night before and the very cold temperatures meant that it was like icing sugar.  It was a joy to walk through, not at all slippery and the mud and peat underneath was as hard as iron.  Pausing on the southern part of Birchen the views to the west were extensive due to the crystal clear air.

The steep heather banks to my left soon gave way to a defined edge and the cliffs of Birchen.  I spent a great day here a couple of years ago with some service users of a local homeless charity being introduced to rock climbing.  It was a day filled with fun and laughter and I felt a twinge of sadness today knowing that it is unlikely that I will be able to do such work in the forseeable future.  I spotted Nelson’s Monument and followed a solitary set of footsteps towards it in the snow.

I could not get over just how clear the air was, the views only appeared impeded by the curvature of the earth itself.  The reason for this soon became apparent when a gust of wind directly from the north blew straight threw me.  The uncovered skin on my face soon began to ache and I quickly started to descend northwards into the shelter of the trees to pick up the path that heads to the A621.  This path is usually an ordeal of waterlogged bog but today it was frozen solid.  Careful not to slip on the clear water ice I made it to the main road dry-shod.  I reached it just in time to watch an idiot in a pick up overtake 4 vehicles in a row who were gingerly driving the icy road.  Just to show how manly he was he beeped his horn at them for having the audacity of getting in his way.  I quickly left the ‘real’ world behind, taking the hidden moorland path up to the summit of White Edge which was living up to its name.  The trig point is one of the few points on the Eastern edges where you can get a view to the east as well as west.  The tower blocks of Sheffield looked pretty close in the clear air.

The edge itself is the least defined of the edges and as I headed north my eyes were drawn to the northern horizon where both Kinder Scout and Bleaklow dominated.  Although enjoying myself on these lower hills it would have been a perfect day crossing their heights over frozen groughs.

Meeting a wall my map indicated a path leading down to the Grouse Inn but I could find no evidence of it on the ground.  I began to doubt my map reading skills and studied it even harder.  I decided that it was hidden under the snow and got confirmation further on that I can map read when it appeared.  By now it was not much after 2.00pm and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky, giving the hills an orange glow.

Behind the pub a path led me to the start of Froggat edge and a walk through the birch trees.  You do not get much of a feeling of walking along a cliff top until Curbar edge is reached.  I spent a while here off the main path exploring the rocks and peering down into the valley below.  An area which is usually busy with climbers was almost absent of people this Friday afternoon.  The sun was setting now and I realised that I would probably be finishing in the dark.

Just before the car park at Curbar gap there was a few moments when the sun peered through the gathering clouds and put on a magical display, contrasting with the monochrome landscape.

The main path was once again left on Baslow edge and I sat for a while and watched a couple of brave souls drive up the steep and very icy Curbar gap road.

All too soon I left the cliffs and headed towards the Eagle stone, making my descent underneath Wellington’s monument and down to the Sheffield road.  Through the woods there is an extraordinary house and gardens on the other side of a viaduct which carries its access drive.  I have passed this way a few times before and envy its location in a rocky gorge.  It was then a stiff climb at the end of the day to contour below Gardom’s edge.  It was pretty much dark and I stood and watched the lights of the traffic below me on the Baslow roundabout, the noise drifting up to what otherwise would have been a peaceful spot.  Eyes adjusting to the dark the low moors back to the van were passed without resorting to my headtorch.  A gentle day walking wise but exhilarating views in such cold and clear weather.  My watch thermometer said that the temperature never rose above minus three celsius all day!

December 24, 2010

Some festive cheer from Modern Toss

by backpackingbongos

Have a good Christmas everyone.

December 22, 2010

A wilderness Christmas?

by backpackingbongos

Once again I am playing the, “Whats the weather going to do next week?” game.  I have a major plan in place for the period between Christmas and New Year.  Late last autumn I fell in love with the wild west Coast of Jura and I have spent a lot of time since then dreaming of returning.  Much of this has been down to Pete’s numerous posts about the Island on his blog ‘Writes of way‘.

I am planning on doing the hefty drive up to kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula where I will get an early morning ferry to Islay.  A drive across the island to Port Askaig where a tiny ferry will take me across the Sound of Islay to Jura.  I will then take the single track rollercoaster road to the north part of the Island where I hopefully should be able to park up almost exactly 24 hours after leaving home.

The main A846 across the island!

My rucksack will then be hoisted onto my back for a 5 to 7 hour walk across some of the roughest, boggiest terrain imaginable to a rather splendid coastal bothy.  Three days to watch the wildlife, walk to isolated sandy beaches, explore caves and rock arches.  Then long old nights to listen to the waves breaking on the shore whilst attempting to burn driftwood and reading trashy novels.

My idea of heaven!

However will the weather let this happen?  Firstly a snow free journey up north is pretty much essential, so no snow between Nottingham and the Clyde please in the next few days.  Then I would prefer the weather to be kind (ish) whilst on Jura as I don’t think I could cope with the very short days whilst being lashed by an Atlantic storm.

Decision time on Friday I think, I will then book the ferry.  Fingers crossed that this time next week I will be amongst this scenery.

Heavy snow is forecast for Nottingham tonight…………………………..

December 19, 2010

Under Armour – Coldgear Long Sleeve Mock

by backpackingbongos

Under Armour is a brand that I have not heard of before, I therefore was keen to test one of their base layers for Webtogs.  The Long Sleeve Mock comes from their Coldgear range and is specifically designed for temperatures below 13 degrees celsius.  The last few weeks have provided an ideal testing ground for this cold weather base layer.  Usually in winter I wear a lightweight merino wool base layer underneath an ancient mircofleece top with my Paramo as a shell.  Would the Long Sleeve Mock mean that I could ditch one of the layers?

I was sent a medium size and when I initially took it out of its packaging I thought that there had been a mistake with the sizing.  It appeared to be tiny!  However it is a compression base layer and is designed to stretch, and stretch it does.  It is made of a double sided brushed fabric with the outer having a slightly shiny look to it whilst the inner has a nice texture against the skin.  The collar is high and double thickness with the logo offset slightly to the side.

From a distance I thought that the logo looked familiar and it took me a while to realise that it is a bit like that used by Haglofs.  Putting it on the initially tiny size easily stretched to accommodate my belly and gave a good snug fit.  Wearing it for the first time feels a bit weird, I have never worn a wetsuit but this is how I would imagine putting one on would feel.  The brushed inner really grips your skin and when on the fabric moves with you.  This is particularly good in the arms as there is no creep at all when you lift your arms.  The same can be said of the torso, when you bend down or reach up the fabric stays firmly in place.

Mine came in a rather fetching shade of bright blue, which with its very tight fit and slight shine to the outer makes you feel that you should be part of a bobsled team.  A bright red pair of lycra shorts and you could even pass as a superhero in some oddly weird parallel universe!

So how did it perform on the hill?  It was worn under my Paramo on a cold, breezy and damp day in the Peak District.  It kept me very warm whilst walking, although I did not work up too much of a sweat on the gentle terrain.  The high neck did its job at keeping the heat in but there were times that I would have liked a zip to adjust the temperature.  I have to admit to not being that fond of tight material around my neck and have a strong aversion to wearing a shirt and tie.  I therefore found the high neck on this base layer rather uncomfortable.  During my lunch break I did get a bit chilly in the wind and I feel I would have benefitted from a mid layer.

On my scales it weighs in at 214 grammes which is pretty light for the amount of warmth that it gives.  It’s probably not a garment that you would choose to wear down the pub, but its tight-fitting nature does mean that it’s easy to slip other layers over the top of it.

It’s something that I would wear in cold weather only and I think that its 13 degree and under rating is too high.  However for sub-zero temperatures it is an ideal base layer if you are happy wearing a compression top and don’t mind a high tight collar.

It can be purchased via the link below.