Archive for January, 2012

January 27, 2012

A tropical interlude

by backpackingbongos

There will be radio silence from Bongo land over the next couple of weeks.  Tomorrow I fly with my partner to Sri Lanka for two weeks of beaches and curry.  A totally different experience to spending my holidays shivering in a freezing bothy in the middle of nowhere!

We were last in the country in December 2004 when the Tsunami hit, a really sobering time.  We were one of the lucky ones as we had decided to spend Christmas in the mountains right at the last minute.  Although we did not witness the terrible events it was an upsetting time to be in the country.  Just about every Sri Lankan that we met had lost a loved one that day.

Anyway, it will be great to return to such a magical place and visit some of the beaches we had planned to visit the first time around.  We have avoided going down the package route and staying in one of those hideous resorts full of Europeans.  Instead we have booked several small guesthouses and cabanas and will travel round independently.

Better dust off those flip flops………..

January 26, 2012

Robin Hood’s Stride and Stanton Moor

by backpackingbongos

I woke to a grey and miserable morning, the strong wind blowing the rain against my bedroom window.  Thankfully I had arranged to meet Chrissie and Dixie in the Peak District, otherwise I probably would have gone straight back to bed.  The church in the village of Elton was to be our rendezvous, the place being unfamiliar to both of us.  The wind was stronger as I drove through the village, located at 270 metres the main street was exposed to the elements.  The place was deserted except for a long line of vehicles parked along one side of the road.  There were no signs of life at all.  I found somewhere to park next to the church and was soon joined by Chrissie and Dixie.  Reuben was re-introduced to Dixie as we set off along the lane at the side of the church.

7.7 miles with 420 metres ascent

The footpath down to Cliff Lane was a quagmire and it was difficult to keep upright whilst being pulled along by an enthusiastic dog.  Someone needs to invent a crampon specially designed for muddy slopes.  I quickly remembered why I rarely walk in the White Peaks during the winter.  The fields can often be impossibly muddy, especially if used by livestock.  The mud in this part of the world being particularly slippery and with the ability to stick to everything from the waist down.  Thankfully we both managed to stay upright throughout the whole day.

A short walk along Cliff Lane and we came to a path across access land that is not marked on the map, saving a longer walk along the road.  Cresting a small rise the impressive ramparts of Robin Hood’s Stride suddenly came into view.

Robin Hood’s Stride is so named because according to legend Robin strode between the tower-like stones at either end of the tor.  However we all know that Robin Hood actually hung out in Nottinghamshire.  A fact that is celebrated by the good city of Nottingham by allowing the Tales of Robin Hood to be turned into a Tesco store.  I was keen to have a bit of a scramble up the rocks, leaving Chrissie with the hounds.  The two towers are out of bounds to non crag rats so I was content to simply take in the view of the surrounding countryside instead.

Buffeted by the wind I carefully made my way back down and we set off along a path towards the impressive Cratcliff Tor.  Nestling at the base of the cliffs and hidden by yew trees is the Hermits cave which contains a 12th Century carving of a crucifix.  It’s a lovely atmospheric spot and we decided that as it was sheltered from the wind we should sit and have lunch number one.  I strongly feel that to fully enjoy a walk in the hills that there should be at least two lunch breaks, possibly three if it is a long day.  A walk is best enjoyed when sitting on your bottom.

Sadly there was no trig point for Reuben to pose on so instead he was persuaded that a rock would make a fine substitute.

It is hard to work out if the look on Dixie’s face is pure doggy love or the fact that she had to share one of her meaty sticks…….

One of the major hazards of the White Peak is the large groups of ramblers that prowl the land.  They are a peculiar species and one not to be messed with.  They tend to be found crossing the numerous stiles in this part of the world, a time-consuming process given their sheer numbers.  Thankfully we timed the stiles to perfection as we passed two such groups whilst walking the Limestone Way to the road.  The second group looked on in horror as Reuben the devil dog said hello to their dog.

Crossing the main road a gentle climb through the fields revealed a distant view of Robin Hoods Stride and the surrounding gentle countryside.

The plan had been to visit Rowtor rocks in Birchover, but somehow we passed them by without exploration.  By the time this dawned on me it was too late.  There is always another time.

Chatting away with Chrissie we were soon on Stanton Moor and being buffeted by the wind.  For Christmas my partner brought me a Kestrel 3000, a nifty device which measures information such as wind speed, wind chill, dew point etc.  A fantastically geeky product for the hiker and backpacker.  At every opportunity I could not resist whipping it out for a game of guess how windy it is.  We would both guess the wind speed and then find that we had totally over estimated it.  It was a fairly windy day and we frequently found ourselves being buffeted.  However the highest gust was only 27 mph.  I recon that much over 50 mph and you would risk being blow over.  It will be interesting to take it out into the hills over the next few months.

We passed the Cork Stone which looked much higher than last time I visited, sitting on the top with a mate drinking beer.  Chrissie tried to persuade me to climb to the top for a photo opportunity, but I resisted.

The early Bronze Age Nine Ladies stone circle is traditionally believed to depict nine ladies turned to stone as a penalty for dancing on Sunday.  Even on a cold windswept January day it was fairly busy.  It is a place to avoid during the weekend in summer as the area is popular with those seeking a party.  There are far better stone circles to visit in the Peaks that are unknown and hidden away.

Lunch number two was calling and we made our way to the Earl Grey tower on the edge of the moor.  There was one of those nifty dog stiles where you lift a post to allow the dog through.  I unleashed Reuben to allow passage and he bounded round to the other side of the tower.  I heard a shriek and ran after him to find him introducing himself to a man and a young girl eating their sandwiches.  With our chosen spot already taken we continued on for a while, finding a rocky outcrop with big views into the Derwent valley below.  Unfortunately much of the view was of Darley Dale which is pretty damn ugly, from above it looks like a large housing estate has been dumped there.  A massive industrial / quarry area on the outskirts adds to the overall grimness.  The immediate and distant surroundings however are lovely and my brain did its best to process out what it did not want to see.

Reuben and Dixie however were more interested in another meaty stick.

Walking along the edge of the moor there are plenty of rocky outcrops were you can stand and pose.

Descending from the moor we passed the campsite at Birchover.  A few years ago I was part of a stag party who rented out the camping barn there during a bank holiday weekend.  After a rather raucous night we hid whilst the groom received a good telling off following numerous complaints.

The place was deserted as we passed though to begin an assault course through several muddy fields to reach a  pleasant path through some woods.

I have to admit that things then got a little bit tricky on the navigation front.  On the map there was a sudden mass of green dotted lines, tiny field boundaries and squiggly contours.  Far too much going on in roughly a square centimetre.  In open country I feel that I am a master of a map, but often in the White Peak I am navigationally challenged.  Chrissie is an ex-mountain rescue deputy team leader , which I assume makes her a Jedi with regards to navigation.  I was therefore keen not to cock-up.  There was a bit of faffing about but the correct path was eventually located and my honour remained intact.

We were soon back in Elton and I was keen to get back to my car to see if all the windows were still intact.  This is no reflection on Elton itself but due to the fact I realised I had left my iPhone on the front seat.  Thankfully all was in order upon my return.

When we got home Reuben spent the rest of the weekend sulking in his bed, perhaps he was missing his new ‘older’ girlfriend?

January 22, 2012

Moorland days and a bothy night in the North Pennines

by backpackingbongos

In my mind the North Pennines AONB offers some of the most remote countryside in England, a place where it is easy to get away from it all.  I found myself with a Monday off work and the urge to visit a bothy for an overnight trip.  I have to admit that I avoid many bothies on a Saturday night as that is when you are more likely to share it with people seeking a party rather than solitude.  I figured that a visit to a remote Pennine bothy on a Sunday night at the beginning of January should be a safe bet.

I planned a 5 mile walk in with a rucksack laden with 4.5 kilos of coal and kindling, the most essential bit of kit for a winter bothy trip.  On the drive to the start of the backpack I stopped for a short walk to investigate a hut I have been thinking about as potential for an overnighter.  An hours walk through drizzle left me feeling rather disappointed.  Although unlocked the hut was a less than inviting place to spend more than a few minutes.  Finding new bothies is a bit of sport for me, I love the idea of stumbling upon a hidden gem.  That was how I came across my planned destination for later that afternoon.  Five years ago during a summers walk along a deserted valley I spotted a chimney in the distance.  Curiosity got the better of me and I went to investigate.  I’m glad that I did as I found a cracking little place.  My planned backpack was forgotten as I pitched my tent outside for a lazy day in the sun.  I was thankful for the shelter later that evening when the midges came out in their millions.

I parked the car high on a moorland road, the world around me reduced by the thick swirling mist, heavy rain and a quickly fogging windscreen.  To be honest I started to regret not staying in the comfort of my own home, it really was not very inviting outside.  Reuben however was as keen as ever so we set off along the verge of the busy road.  The track was easy to locate and the first part of the walk was spent descending over 100 metres.  In my mind there is something wrong about descending at the start of a walk, especially when you know you will soon have to reclaim what has been lost.  With the wind blowing the rain directly into my face I crossed dry-shod what can often be a tricky river.

There then followed a long uphill trudge, the swirling mist soon becoming a thick wall of grey as I gained height.  The track made a sudden swing to the left and I continued uphill on a direct line to a substantial bothy hidden somewhere on the hillside.  Walking across the featureless moor in such thick mist was unnerving and I started to wish I had got out my compass.  However the building soon loomed into view, complete with a huge caterpillar tracked earth mover parked outside.  I opened the door and found the bothy silent and empty, with just the echo of my boots and the resident ghosts scurrying into the dark corners.

Whilst walking up the track I had started to debate whether or not to spend the night in the first bothy, the thought of trudging further in the clag did not appeal.  However on further inspection I decided that it would not be a particularly cosy place to spend the night.  It was damp, cold and just a little bit spooky.  I could not bring myself to bed down on the concrete floor downstairs, whilst the upstairs rooms were covered in plaster dust.  Also having a huge machine parked outside shattered any sense of being in a remote spot.

I shouldered my pack and once more set off into the gloom.  To be honest it was a bit of a trudge and it soon got dark.  Reuben was fitted out with a red beacon on his rucksack as his camouflage means he vanishes against the heather.  I turned on my head torch and the world shrunk around me, my vision being confined to its misty beam.

The sound of a river singing and crashing below me indicated that the bothy was close.  The track ended near to the unseen waters and I turned right to follow its banks.  As the tiny building came into view I thought that I caught the whiff of wood smoke but this turned out to be my imagination as the bothy was dark and bolted from the outside.  I was soon in its welcoming interior, lighting candles and having a look around.  I was pleased to see that not much had changed in the five years since I had last been here.  Although well used it is very well cared for with no evidence of litter or damage.  With my stove slowly boiling water for coffee I set about lighting a fire with the coal I had carried across the moor.  The bothy was already well stocked with coal, kindling and logs, which apart from a couple of logs I left alone.  In such a high remote spot, leaving plentiful fuel could be a lifesaver for the shepherds for whom the bothy is designed.

I spent a happy and peaceful night in front of the fire reading and eating before bedding down for the night.  I took one of the mattresses hung from the ceiling and used it in conjunction with my thermarest to make a very comfy bed near the fire.  With Reuben curled up next to me I listened to the wind blowing outside as I drifted off to sleep.

I managed to sleep until late, the gloomy conditions outside and the bubble wrap curtains meant that not much light permeated inside.  With a cup of coffee in my hands I went outside to explore and was met by low cloud sitting on the surrounding hills, along with a fine drizzle.  I returned to the bothy and was lazy for a while, drinking several cups of coffee and eating noodles.  Sunlight suddenly filtered though the window lighting up the interior.  This was my prompt to pack my gear and sweep up, leaving the place welcoming for the next visitors.  The ash from the fire needed to be emptied and I took the ash can outside to do so.  Immediately a strong gust of wind blew down the valley leaving me covered from head to toe in a fine layer of ash.  I spent much of the day picking it out of my nose and ears!

With the sun now shining and the hills clear I headed outside and put on Reubens pack, he then pulled a rather striking pose.

The bothy itself commands a lovely spot, surrounded by the extensive North Pennine moors.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that you are in such a small and crowded country.

The nearby sheepfold doubles up as the designated bothy toilet, the set up making me smile.  I think that the following photo says more than words can!

I was reluctant to leave the bothy and its surroundings but with the weather improving it would have been a shame not to get onto the hills.  We walked a short way up the valley before climbing steadily towards a distant sheepfold.  The views back towards the now unseen bothy were fantastically empty and desolate.

The sheepfold was a good landmark to head for as the surroundings were totally featureless.  Its walls provided shelter from the cold wind whilst I started to demolish a packet of chocolate biscuits.  Reuben was soon shivering from the cold so we set off once again, climbing higher and higher onto the hills.

The area is steeped in mining history and littered with its relics.  Although not marked on the map I found a well-worn old track that happened to be going in my direction, marked by ancient cairns.  Drifts of snow hidden in gullies had managed to survive a lengthy mild spell.

On the high moorland crest I came across possibly one of the largest sheepfolds I have seen.  The walls towered above my head when I entered and I began to wonder what its purpose was.  It was big enough to shelter a few elephants, surely too elaborate to be used simply for sheep?

The high rocky moorland plateau was liberally dotted with large cairns and curricks amongst the many boggy pools.  A lonely place, silent except the constant tugging of the wind against my hood which was pulled tight against the cold.  I wandered around aimlessly for a while just taking in the atmosphere of the place.  It was like some Andy Goldsworthy art installation, although I am sure that many of the curricks were there long before he was born.

I walked further to the west to look at the panorama of Lakeland peaks.  Unfortunately they were lost amongst the haze and had just become a shadowy outline on the horizon.  Disappointed I walked back east to pick up a bridleway that would lead me back to the car.  Here I have to admit I made a navigational error even though the conditions were clear.  I thought that I had located the path and I started to follow what I thought were a line of marker cairns.  It was a while before I noticed my mistake and I cursed as I climbed back up hill and then across rough ground to the obvious path.  It was my fault for being too lazy to get the map out and check rather than ploughing on regardless.

The path followed the line of an old Roman road which takes a direct line across the high moors.  The going was now easy and I was able to move quickly downhill, keen to get out of the cold wind.  The sun began to break through the clouds giving a lovely quality to the afternoon light.

My stomach was rumbling so I decided to make the short detour to the first bothy I had come across the day before.  The earth mover was working a few hundred metres away, its rumblings disturbing the peace.  I wondered what it was doing digging away on the moors, hoping that another track was not in the process of being built.

The bothy came into view, a much more welcoming sight than the day before.  There is a real sense of space on these hills and this bothy takes advantage of that.  It’s outlook is breathtaking on such a clear day.

I entered its cold and damp interior and set about making coffee and cooking some cous cous.  Reuben took the opportunity for a snooze on a manky looking rug.  I could hear the earth mover getting closer until it was right outside the bothy where it was parked.  The driver popped in for a chat, his job involving many lonely hours on the hills.  It turned out that he was a local contractor for Natural England and he was clearing out some drainage ditches.  He said he loved working on the hills when the weather was like this, although the weather can often make his job difficult.  He soon left me to my food, driving his tractor down the long track towards home.

I packed up and left the bothy for a second time, maybe I will return with 10kg of coal and get the stove roaring.  The place needs someone to fill it with warmth and banish its ghosts and damp.  The view from the door made me smile, imagine leaving your house to a view like this each morning.

The long track back to the car was much more fun in the setting sun than on the way up in the mist.  All of the clouds eventually disappeared and a huge moon started to rise above the moors to the east.  The temperature dropped rapidly as I made the final climb up to the road by head torch, my breath swirling in front of the beam.  The car was covered in a thick layer of ice by the time I reached it, the moon reflecting off the bonnet.

If you missed it the first time round here is the video of this trip.

Once again you may have noticed that this trip report is a little cryptic as I deliberately don’t give away my exact location.  The reason for this being to protect the wonderful bothy that I visited.  Publicity usually leads to their decline and there is very little mention of this one on the internet.  Do you fancy visiting a bothy?  If you do I suggest that you join the MBA.  This is not essential but it is good to contribute if you use them, you also get a booklet with a list of every single bothy that they maintain.  But there are plenty more out there that aren’t maintained by them and these are usually hidden gems.  My tip is to explore the hills (the more remote the better) and look out for building symbols marked on the map.  You never know what you may stumble upon.

January 20, 2012


by backpackingbongos

Backpackingbongos turns three………………

January 15, 2012

Bongo TV: Moorland days and a bothy night

by backpackingbongos

Last weekend I had a fantastic trip to a remote bothy hidden deep in the North Pennines.  A write-up will be forthcoming some time this week.

In the meantime here is a little bit of Bongo tv.  If you have ever had the urge to watch me mumble into the camera incoherently, then you are going to be spoilt for choice here.  I have also realised that I say ‘err’ a lot which is rather embarrassing.  However I am rather pleased at how the river crossing shot starting at 11 min 45 sec came out.  What you can’t see though is the panic on my face as Reuben nearly knocked my camera into the water……….