Archive for September, 2011

September 24, 2011

If Backpackingbongos ran a campsite it would be like this

by backpackingbongos

Regular readers are probably aware that I am not a huge fan of commercial campsites.  Camping for me is all about escaping into the hills and pitching a tent in the wilds, far from the hum drum of city life.  Commercial campsites bring to my mind cramped conditions, uncontrolled children running amok or drunken idiots in huge 24 berth tents.  Not something that I want to experience on holiday.

For our break last week, my partner and I wanted to experience the outdoors together, which is something that we rarely do.  Corrina would not mind me saying that we have differing ideals as to what would make an ideal camping holiday.  For me it’s about escapism, without sounding like a misanthrope, I like to get as far away from other people as possible.  Corrina likes to be comfortable and prefers facilities to be top-notch.  We therefore wanted to find a campsite that would live up to both of our expectations, without either of us having to compromise.

For this trip it was a case of searching out that ideal campsite and then seeing if it was in a location that we wanted to visit.  Trawling the internet we finally came across Ty Parke in Pembrokeshire.  It sounded like a perfect spot, a campsite that would tick all our boxes and in an area we both wanted to visit.

The campsite has ten pitches in total, along with a couple of yurts and a tipi.  The main camping field has five pitches and they also have five ‘wild’ camping pitches dotted around the farm.  We chose the most popular wild camping pitch, the Dingley Dell hideaway pitch when we booked.

We arrived about an hour before dark after a much longer journey than anticipated, Pembrokeshire is a long way from the East Midlands!  We were met by Gary the very pleasant and enthusiastic owner who showed us around.  He gave us directions to our pitch which was a good five minutes walk from the main facilities, completely hidden from view.  He did warn us that as it was the last week of the season the pitch was now a little rough around the edges.  The last incumbents had been pitched there for two weeks and made the best place to place a tent a little muddy.

With a car full of every conceivable camping luxury we bounced down a long grassy track through a couple of fields to the wonderfully secluded pitch.  Unfortunately Gary’s description was correct and although a lovely spot, an extended stay had killed off the grass.  A little disappointed we decided instead to camp at the next spot a couple of hundred metres away.

Our pitch was huge and included a picnic bench and fire pit, a normal campsite would have crowded several tents in there but we had the place to ourselves.  If the site had have been full, the nearest campers would still have been at least a hundred metres away.  With our sleeping tent and Tentipi pitched we set about the most important task of the evening, building a fire.  You can either bring your own wood or take from the woodshed, £2.50 for more than enough to last the night.  It was great to sit there in the darkness with a beer in hand, whilst the stars came out.  It really did feel like we were wild camping, the barn housing the facilities far away in the distance.  In fact so far away that one night I got lost after paying a visit, you can read about the embarrassing experience here.  Those facilities however are top-notch, the shower rooms being better than many b&b’s that I have stayed in.

You may have noticed a few new trees planted in some of the photos above.  Since 2007, Gary has planted 17,000 of them to eventually provide shelter in windswept Pembrokeshire.  The site will look stunning when they have matured.

The only downside to our visit was the weather, it was suitably rubbish for most of the time and we eventually got fed up and came home a day earlier.  Also the price was a little steep at £22.50 a night for two of us and the dog.  However in the height of summer when other campsites are full to bursting, I think that would be a price well worth paying.  However Gary’s model must be working as he says that he is already nearly booked up for the school holidays next year.  He said that he is visited by people who do not like ‘normal’ campsites!  Now, if someone else could come up with a similar model but surrounded by some of my favourite mountains I could well become a regular!

I will do a post about the wild Pembrokeshire coast in the next few days, it really is a lovely rugged area.

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September 22, 2011

Ultralight face warmer from Manfur

by backpackingbongos

It’s getting to that time of year when the cool autumn air nips at your face when you step outside.  I was therefore keen to test a new product that eliminates that problem from an up and coming cottage industry called Manfur.  As you are all probably aware, when ordering from a small niche cottage manufacturer there is often a wait of several weeks whilst they build your gear to order.  This was no different when ordering from Manfur.  Their products take between a week to several months to individually craft your order to exact specifications.  The option that I went for took a good couple of months before I received it.

Natural fibres are all the rage theses days, for example Merino and bamboo.  One manufacturer makes waterproofs that mimics the action of animal fur to help pump moisture away from the wearer.  Manfur have also gone down the natural route whilst perfecting their products.  They describe their material as a ‘natural, fully lofting yarn’.  They have a patent pending so don’t go into too much detail of the exact specifications.

Initially I found my Manfur Ultralight face warmer a little bit itchy.  However like many new garments, it soon softened up after a few washes.  It truly is a warm garment, during a blustery few days in Pembrokeshire I hardly noticed the cool air whipping my face.  There are no seams that rub and although some of the edges are a bit rough it is easy to trim them down.  Breathability is excellent, although I have to admit that I have not had the opportunity to test it out during really hot weather.

Weight is obviously an issue for many ultra lightweight backpackers and I can confirm that it weighs only a few grammes.  The only fault that I can really find is that it is a use once product.  If you wish to take it off, a new one will also take several weeks to be produced.

The makers of Manfur have also been working on a new product called ‘Ladyfur’.  This has yet to take off and probably won’t catch on for a few more years yet.  This is probably a niche market as I have seen very few women wearing ultralight face warmers.

Disclaimer: Obviously the integrity of bloggers whilst doing gear reviews are paramount.  I would like to point out that although I received my Manfur product free of charge I have been under no obligation to put in a favourable review.  I have tested this product extensively and under many different types of conditions, no just popping to the shops to test gear for this blogger.

There are some risks to using Manfur products and they should be used responsibly.  Manfur take no responsibility for small children pointing, the risk of fire hazards whilst smoking or food getting attached to their product.  It is recommended that they are washed regularly to maintain full loft and comfort.

September 22, 2011

Losing my tent in the mist at night

by backpackingbongos

Some things really should not happen.

It was midnight and Corrina had retired to our tent for the night.  I sat in our Tentipi, snug in my down jacket, beer in hand reading the paper whilst radio six played in the background.  The weather outside was horrendous, a howling gale was whistling around the tall shelter, a low moaning sound followed but a sudden shudder of the fabric.  There was a dawning realisation that I was going to have to visit the loo, a quick dash to a hedge being unacceptable this time.  Karma was about to come and give me a good slap in the face.

A couple of hours earlier Corrina has declared her intention of visiting the loo and had asked me to accompany her.  We were in a campsite in Pembrokeshire, but had selected one of their ‘wild’ pitches.  This involved a five minute walk from the farmhouse through a few fields, simple during the light of day.  At the time it was pishing it down and I selfishly declined to accompany her on a nocturnal walk, dejectedly she set off alone into the wet and windy night.  Five minutes later she was back, saying that she could not find her way, asking if there was a metal feed tray en route.  I confirmed that there was and she successfully navigated her way there and back after a second plea for assistance.

Now it was my turn and I exited the Tentipi into the dark night.  The rain had finally stopped and had been replaced by a dense swirling mist.  It was exhilarating walking through the fields, with a combination of absolute darkness, a full on gale and swirling mist.  The weather made me feel like I was walking across exposed moorland, or high in the mountains.   The beam of my torch was cut short by a constantly moving wall of white.  I reached the farm buildings with ease, feeling bemused by my partners lack of direction.

On my return leg, it all went horribly wrong.  Passing our car which was parked just inside the top field, I picked up the grassy track back to our camp.  I started to feel uneasy when I noticed that the track was wider than I remembered it, a trick of the eye?  My unease grew as I passed through a gate and noticed a patch of gravel, that definitely was not there before.  Ok, I realised that I must have gone wrong somehow and backtracked towards our parked car.  Gathering my senses I stood at the car and visualised getting out and walking towards camp.  I set off once again.  Like some sort of weird frustrating dream I once again found myself in the same location.  I started to panic a little bit, it felt like I was part of a massive practical joke, someone coming along and moving the scenery around whilst I was in the loo.  I returned to the car a second time before heading back into the darkness.  Nope, that did not work out either as I was soon back at the patch of gravel.  I started to tell myself that perhaps I simply had not noticed it before?  This time I pressed on to a fork in the track, taking a right turn I became even more alarmed to find the woods that should have been on my left were on my right instead.  A picnic bench loomed out of the mist, I initially thought that I had found my way back, I really panicked to see no tents there.  To cut a long story short, our campsite eventually appeared out of the mist half an hour after setting off from the toilet block.

God help me if I need to go off and dig a hole in the night whilst wild camping!

I think that there is a moral to this story somewhere as well………………….

September 14, 2011

Have you got any top Pembrokeshire tips?

by backpackingbongos

This weekend I am heading off with my partner and Reuben for a few days camping down in Pembrokeshire.  I have to admit that it is an area that I know nothing about.  It’s not going to be a full on hiking holiday, just time to chill, visit some beaches, bimble along the cliffs, and eat fish and chips.  Is there anyone out there who knows the area well and can provide advice on some must see places?  Looking at the map I am looking forward to a bimble around St David’s Head and the Preseli Hills so far.  Your top tips please!

September 12, 2011

Arenig Fawr – death on a mountain

by backpackingbongos

It was two men and two dogs who left the cottage in the lush Tanat valley to head into the wilds of Snowdonia.  Reuben and Dougal, occupying the back seat were now the best of friends.  The original plan had been to climb Moel Siabod as I wanted to show Pete one of the best views in Snowdonia.  However, the drive to Blaenau Ffestiniog the day before had taken a lot longer than anticipated.  The Arenig hills were much closer and occupy a wild and unfrequented corner of the National park.  A good destination for a busy August weekend.

8.7 miles with 670 metres ascent

Our route involved a short section of road walking, something that I am not very keen on.  It was decided that it would be best to do this at the start, rather than at the end of the day.  A layby on the minor road south of Lynn Celyn was a convenient spot to leave the car.  The mile or so walk along the road was actually rather pleasant with little traffic.  We were soon climbing up the track that leads to Llyn Arenig Fawr.  The grassy track was a pleasure to walk on after the initial climb, giving us glimpses of the reservoir nestling below the brooding bulk of Arenig Fawr.

The track then descended gently towards the tiny little MBA bothy.

The bothy has a great location underneath the wall of the dam with a line of cliffs as a backdrop.  We poked our noses inside and came to the conclusion that it is not a place we would choose to sleep in.  There are two sleeping platforms designed for the vertically challenged and a tiny fireplace.  There really is no room for anything else.

Crossing the stream flowing from the reservoir we joined the path that climbs the east ridge of the mountain.  The August colours were at their best, the purple of the heather contrasting nicely with the green of the bracken.

We soon passed a couple we had been following since leaving the road.  They were Dutch and had a couple of dogs with them which definitely were not under control, we had noticed them some distance from their owners earlier on.  Reuben went over to say hello and was promptly pinned down by the larger of the two.  No harm done we shrugged this off and after a brief chat climbed further up the hill.

Every now and then Reuben and Dougal would fling themselves to the ground for a quick cuddle.

The path that we were following for some reason started to contour the hillside rather than going upwards, we left it and slogged up rough grassy slopes to the main ridge.

The isolated position of Arenig Fawr and its height provided us with an extensive panorama as we approached the summit.  To the north the endless moors of the Migneint were laid out beneath our feet, framing the main Snowdonia peaks.  There was a great feeling of space and distant horizons.

Reuben was happy to oblige with one of his trig point poses, as usual staring wistfully off into the distance.  I often wonder what it is he is thinking about at such moments.

Lunch was a leisurely affair, sitting behind the substantial stone shelter it felt warm in the sun.  The exertion of the previous day on the Moelwyns and the climb up to the summit appeared to take its toll on Reuben, who was soon laying down with his head on a pack for a rest.

Which quickly turned to full on doggie snoring………….

The peaceful moment was soon shattered by young Dougal who spotted a family approach the trig point.  For some reason he decided to have a good old bark at them, totally ignoring Pete’s requests that he remain quiet.  Despite Pete’s apologies the family did not look too pleased and without returning our greetings decided not stop at the summit.

The Dutch couple arrived just as we were about to leave, pleasantries exchanged we set off down the excellent south ridge of the mountain.

This is a place of real character.  The initial steep and well-defined ridge soon gives way to a plateau of many little rocky knolls and lakes.  It is a great spot for wild camping, an area where you see few people.

We followed sheep trods weaving amongst the rocky knolls then a fence towards the saddle between Arenig Fawr and Moel Llyfnant.  Pete spotted a bit of a commotion coming from just below the summit we had left, it appeared the two dogs had run off from the Dutch couple and were chasing a group of sheep.  We though that they would soon give up but instead they managed to separate one and focused their attentions on that.  We watched in horror as the dogs chased it further and further down the hill until they finally brought it down.  By now the owners were a huge distance away and rather than running after their dogs simply stood there calling them.  We used Pete’s binoculars to see what was happening with the sheep which by now was on its back with its legs in the air.  Somehow it managed to drag itself up and start running again, the dogs in hot pursuit.  Several times it managed to get up after being brought down, running a few hundred metres before the dogs were on it again.  The chase finally finished in a sickening manner when the sheep tumbled over a low cliff, bouncing through the rocks below.  We noticed that the owners had not really moved and were still near the top of the mountain.

We both decided that we should report the incident.  We were also aware that we had two dogs with us and were worried that they could be mistaken for the culprits.  Reuben has got a bit of Staffy in him which Daily Mail readers will recognise as a ‘devil dog’, a killer of everything that moves if you believe the guff often written.  I definitely did not want a case of mistaken identity.

We stomped on down to the track leading back to the minor road, passing a couple looking up at the cliffs where the sheep fell.  We could see the dogs above barking at what we initially thought was the dead sheep, it made my stomach turn to see it was still moving.  After a quick chat with the couple about what we had seen we made quick progress to the road and flagged down a likely looking vehicle.  The guy inside knew the local farmer and made a quick u turn to inform him what had happened, armed with a good description of the couple, their dogs and where their car was parked.

We arrived back at the car, an enjoyable day in the hills marred by the ugly incident.  Reuben and Dougal were completely unaware of the drama that had taken place and were soon cuddling up on the back seat.