Archive for October, 2012

October 31, 2012

Four days and not a soul in sight

by backpackingbongos

There are not many places left in the UK where you can walk for four days amongst jaw dropping scenery and not see another person.  Once we left the single track road we had the hills, coast and bothies of Jura all to ourselves.  The reason for this became apparent as we made our way down the west coast, the going can only be described as ‘character building’.  The weather threw pretty much everything our way.  I have an overriding memory of walking directly into the teeth of a gale with heavy rain being blown into my face.  There was nothing I could do to prevent that cold trickle of water running down my chest!

I will do a write-up later in the week.  In the meantime the photo below was taken from just outside Ruantallain bothy, possibly now my favourite spot on earth.  Twenty four hours of constant wind and rain was beginning to clear just as the sun was setting behind the northern tip of Islay.

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October 24, 2012

The bothy code of conduct

by backpackingbongos

Last time I spent a night in a remote island bothy with Rich this happened………..

I’m hoping that he has splashed out the cash on some new leggings for this trip.
Photo courtesy of Peter Edwards @ writesofway.com

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October 24, 2012

Calmac to adventure

by backpackingbongos

There is something about catching a Calmac ferry that makes me feel like a small child going on a big adventure.  Previous trips have included Mull, Skye, Raasay, Rum and Islay.  As a backpacker there is something magical about leaving the mainland and crossing the sea to get to the start of a walk.

This is something that I am going to be doing this week with my good friend Rich.  The hugely underrated island of Jura is going to be our destination for a four day backpack along its uninhabited west coast.  When listening to those that love the wild places talk you often hear them mention Knoydart, The Cairngorms, Fisherfield and Assynt to name a few.  What you hardly ever hear is the word Jura.  I was fortunate to visit the island in Autumn 2009 and the place has left an impression ever since.  It is probably the wildest and most spectacular place that I have visited in the UK.  The north of the island was my destination then and will be again at the end of this week.  There are no soaring mountains or hidden corries here, just low hills, bog and the most amazing uninhabited coastline you could imagine.

It’s a place to take your time, watch the wildlife and slowly explore raised beaches, cliffs and sea arches.  A couple of remote bothies and a wild camp on a beach will be our accommodation.  My blog post on my first visit to the island is still available if anyone fancies a read.

Backpacking, bothying and bongoing on Jura

Lets hope that the weather is a bit better on this trip!

Glengarrisdale bothy will be home for a night.

October 22, 2012

Empty hills and the bogs of doom – backpacking the Yorkshire Dales

by backpackingbongos

The aim was to meet Chrissie and Geoff at 3.30pm in Horton in Ribblesdale.  Unfortunately soon after I got on the M1 the traffic came to a standstill, getting misplaced in Bradford later on did not help my punctuality.  I arrived an hour late to be treated to coffee and a home-made cookie in their van just as the skies opened over the Yorkshire Dales.  We were gently reminded by Geoff that it would soon be getting dark and perhaps we should be making a move.  It was gone 5.00pm by the time Chrissie and I shouldered our packs and set off.  The plan was to take a long and indirect route to Ribblehead where Geoff would pick us up a couple of days later.

The empty hills bit in the title?  Apart from a couple of runners just after leaving Horton on the Friday we did not see another soul in the hills until Sunday afternoon.  Even though we were in view of the famous three peaks all weekend.  Maybe the bogs had something to do with that……….

Day 1 – 2.8 miles with 200 metres ascent

It was felt prudent to set off in waterproofs, although the clouds had shifted it looked like rain was not going to be far away.  The Pennine way initially follows a walled track out of the village.  This meant that progress was rapid and height gain was not really noticed.

Gaps in the clouds meant that the setting sun cast a golden glow on the surrounding hills.  The unmistakable shape of Pen-y-ghent was turning a vivid shade of Orange.

The Pennine way branched off to the right to climb towards the summit of Pen-y-ghent.  We continued along the valley bottom, a great natural spectacle hidden until the very last minute.  Hull pot is a pretty big hole, a waterfall falling over sheer cliffs into its shadowy depths.  Something that you really don’t want to fall down.  Some of the local sheep though were really pushing their luck, one grazing in a very precipitous position.

We followed Hull Pot beck upstream until it forked, taking the left tributary.  Amongst all the rough tussocky ground there was a an area near the stream that gave us a reasonable pitch.  It was pretty much dark by the time we got our tents up and the first stars were just beginning to become visible.  Chrissie sat just outside my tent whilst we ate dinner but was soon driven back to her tent by the rapidly chilling air.

Day 2 – 8.1 miles with 470 metres ascent

I woke briefly at about 5.00am and stuck my head out of my tent.  The showers from earlier in the night had passed and the sky was jet black, encrusted with what looked like thousands of very bright stars.  It would have been perfect for a bit of night photography but instead I did the sensible thing and went back to sleep.

The sun had still to rise over Plover hill when I eventually got up.  The cold and still conditions meant that my inner tent was covered in beads of condensation and I had to be careful not to dampen my down jacket.  Outside there was a light frost and the rain that had fallen on our tents had frozen into mini pools.  We spent a leisurely couple of hours around camp, enjoying the warmth of the sun when it finally reached our pitch.

It was 10.30am by the time we finally got moving, picking our way across rough trackless ground.  A wall topped by barbed wire intersected our route so we followed it for a while hoping to find a decent crossing.  Thankfully there was a gate after a slight detour.  A quad bike track then took us up a wide ridge towards the large cairn on the unnamed hill above Cosh Outside.

The views from the large cairn were pretty impressive, the Ribblehead viaduct being visible in the distance under the bulk of Whernside.  After a totally cloudless morning, low cloud had started to form on the surrounding high hills.  This was now breaking up, adding to the atmosphere and drama of this lofty viewpoint.

Initially the going along the ridge was easy, the underlying limestone meaning that there was soft and springy turf under our feet.

This part of the Dales gives the feeling of large open spaces and in all directions there was high moorland rolling to the horizon.

The ground soon reverted to the usual bog and tussocks along the wide ridge, which we followed to the trig point on Horse Head Moor.  The main issue along this obviously little trodden stretch is the intersecting walls and fences, some of which are not marked on the ground.  Crossing points were not provided, even on a brand new stretch of fencing.  This was rather annoying considering that we were on access land and following the ridge line, a natural linear route.  On a couple of occasions we had to climb high drystone walls topped with wire, gingerly trying to ensure the whole lot did not come tumbling down.  The going was slow but the wide open spaces and the autumn colours on the hills more than made up for it.

At the trig point it was clear that we were not going to make our intended destination for the night, not during daylight hours anyway.  We were still a while away from reaching our chosen lunch spot and it was well past lunch time.

The bridleway down towards Yokenthwaite gave a reasonably solid surface for the descent, a relief after sloshing across wet moorland.  The views into Langstrothdale were excellent, showing just how varied the Dales landscape is.  We were leaving the high open moors and descending into a limestone dale.

It was 3.30pm by the time we reached our lunch spot, chosen as it was next to a stream to enable us to make a brew.  I have recently started to ensure that I make a coffee and cook lunch when backpacking.  Couscous being my food of choice as it is quick and easy to make.

After we had packed up we realised that there was less than two hours left before it would get dark, autumn can really catch you out as the days get shorter.  My map showed that there could be a suitable ledge for wild camping high above Yokenthwaite, a stream nearby.  From our vantage point on the other side of the valley it looked like it may be ideal.  We descended down to the road through Langstrothdale, actually rather busy considering its remote location.  The dale itself was idyllic, the low sun casting shadows on one half of the valley.

We took a steep track behind the cottages at Yokenthwaite, quickly overheating once we were out of the wind and back in the sun.  It had been one of those days that was either too hot or too cold, the sun still providing warmth but the temperature plummeting when in wind or shadow.  The track was a stern fitness test at the end of the day.

We left the right of way and started climbing across open pasture, hoping that the ledge identified above would be both flat and out of sight of the surrounding farms and cottages.

It turned out that our chosen spot was pretty much perfect.  The ground was flat with short-cropped grass which was thistle free (thistles often seem to dominate what would otherwise be an ideal campsite) and we were totally out of sight.  My tent was totally soaking wet from the previous night, the floor and inner a dripping mess.  I pitched it and left the door open whilst sorting my kit and walking the five minutes to a stream.  Thankfully with a good breeze it was nearly dry by the time the sun disappeared behind the hills.  Our wide grassy ledge was fringed by a long escarpment that dropped steeply to the valley below.  I soon had a cup of coffee in my hands and wandered along the edge taking in the last of the days light.  It’s moments like this that sum up the reason why I go backpacking and wild camping.

We had positioned our tents so that we could chat without either of us getting cold sitting outside.  Chrissie was soon asleep and I snuggled into my bag to read my kindle.  In the morning Chrissie said that there was snoring coming from my tent.  All I can say is that people in glass houses……………

Day 3 – 9.7 miles with 320 metres ascent

Another cold and still night led to an in tent shower when I sat up, my down bag was pretty saturated on the outside due to condensation.  I was glad that I was not spending another night in it.  We were up and away a bit earlier due to being behind schedule on our route.  Some texts with Geoff the night before confirmed that he would pick us up at Newby head rather than Ribblehead, cutting a few miles from the end of the day.  He had spent a couple of nights in the van parked on the high road between Hawes and Langstrothdale, we told him to expect us late morning for a tea break!

The ledge on which we had spent the night provided us with a level promenade on which to walk, easy to follow for a mile or so high above the valley.  The network of drystone walls and field barns below us was classic Dales scenery.

We followed a series of old National Trust waymarkers which led us up and into Deepdale Gill.  At its head it split into two deeply incised streams resulting in a steep grassy contour to avoid loosing any height.  We continued climbing higher into this hidden gem, pathless and off the beaten track.

The moor above was well equipped with gates and stiles to get us across the various walls and fences.  There was once again a feeling of being in the middle of a large area of uplands and apart from the drystone walls there was no sign of the hand of man in any direction.  A collection of boulders gave us the perfect opportunity for a sit down and a snack break.

The going had been easy across what was a predominately grassy moor.  The map showed a large flat area around Oughtershaw moor, the view as we approached it confirmed my suspicion that it may be on the damp side.

My expectations were realised and we spent a rather long time not moving very far as the ground became increasingly boggy, deep water filled groughs providing barrier after barrier.  It was slow and tiring and we probably covered three times the distance as shown on the map.  One false step there could have led to trouble……….

Once again the surface underfoot changed abruptly with firm cropped grass tended by the many sheep.

Woldside was a limestone island amongst a sea of bog, a relief before we plunged once more into peat, groughs and tussocks.  We were now above Oughtershaw beck, a wild moorland valley with the isolated farmstead of Cam houses at its head.

In the distance I spotted a figure and two dogs walking towards us, it was Geoff coming to intercept us as once again we were behind schedule.  Chrissie did not believe me until she saw Tilly the chocolate Lab bounding towards her.  Geoff had parked the van just below the highest part of the road and it was with relief that we got our boots off and sat on some comfy seats.  It has to be said that this is the best tea van in Yorkshire and I was treated once again to coffee and homemade chocolate cookies.  It was hard to drag ourselves away from the warmth back out onto the chilly moors.  We agreed to meet Geoff a couple of hours later where the Ribble way crossed the road at Newby Head.

Walking past the drivers cab I noticed that both the driver and passenger looked a bit canine in nature.  Perhaps it was just the relection playing tricks with me?

After a couple of days lurching across rough and boggy moorland, Cam road was a treat for the feet.  We made swift progress, enjoying the views without having to worry about plunging into a bog.  It had started to cloud up but the air was still very clear and we could see the sea in the distance.  What was not so welcome was the view of some turbines behind the bulk of Ingleborough, with the angle of the light they appeared to be very prominent on a distant hillside.  The Ribble way was well surfaced and it was all down hill to the road where Geoff was waiting for us.  A short drive and I was dropped off back in Horton in Ribblesdale where my car was thankfully still there.  An excellent and surprisingly wild backpack in what I often think of as a busy national park.

You can read Chrissie’s version of the weekend here.

October 19, 2012

Rosedale and Farndale – backpacking a double horseshoe

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that I have only previously visited the North York Moors twice.  A bit of an oversight considering that they are only two and a half hours drive away.  That makes them my second closest upland area after the Peak District.  With a reasonable weather forecast over a Friday and Saturday I decided at the last minute to head there for an overnight wild camp.  I noticed on the map the long line of a disused railway track contouring high above two valleys.  This was used as the main skeleton around which the rest of the walk was planned.

Day 1 – 10.7 miles with 610 metres ascent

It was gone midday when I parked up in the lovely village of Rosedale Abbey, using one of the free car parks.  Reuben was along for the ride so I saddled him up with his Ruffwear panniers full of his food and warm camping clothes.  The village was pretty much deserted as we passed the campsite and climbed a stile into a very boggy field.  This field was the toughest section of the whole trip and my trail shoes were soon filled with muddy water, my trousers filthy from the knees down.  Three cows watched lazily from a corner, thankfully unfazed by Reubens presence.

I don’t know much about golf but something tells me that the golf course in Rosedale Abbey is not up to international standards.  The whole site is on a steep hill, much of it at around a 45 degree angle.  Surely any ball that is hit would simply roll down and get lost in the hedge at the bottom?

A steep path zigged zagged its way up the hillside, finally coming out at the wonderfully situated cottages at Bank Top.  High on the edge of the moors they have got a stunningly extensive view.  Rosedale Abbey lay below in a pastoral scene of green fields, the flat and extensive moors filling the horizon.

The dismantled railway track gave easy level walking, little effort for the big views.  A large bench with the words ‘Work shift over, in the sun, on the hill, having fun‘ caught my eye as a good place to sit for a while and satisfy my rumbling belly.  I’m not sure it was as appreciated by my canine companion though.

After a rather late lunch stop it was an easy mile or so along the railway track before heading across the open moor.  Approaching the road along Blakey ridge I was surprised just how fast and busy it was.  On the map it is shown as a minor moorland road, when in reality it is more like a main thoroughfare.  We quickly crossed leaving the noise and fumes behind and descended through the heather towards Farndale.  The view that opened out was rather lovely, another valley with a patchwork of green fields backed by heather moorland.

It looked like the heather had only turned recently and it still had a purple tinge to it.  I would imagine that it would be an impressive sight when in full bloom, the North York Moors being the largest area of continuous moorland in England.  The ealy autumn colours were rather vivid as we descended along a narrow path into the dale.  The green grass of summer replaced by shimmering browns, the bracken dying down and the leaves on the trees just changing colour.

We walked through the small village of Low Mill, the area being famous in spring for its daffodil display.  Here I passed the only hiker I would see all day, a rare occurrence in a National park.  A narrow lane followed by a bridleway took us into the secretive West gill, a subsidiary of Farndale.  I sat for a while on the bridge over the stream for a snack, dismayed when I realised that what I was sitting on was sticky with creosote.  A smell that reminds me of growing up in rural Suffolk, but not welcome when it makes the seat of my trousers sticky!  The bridleway climbed though pastures before turning into a narrow trod across the moors, a lone tree emphasising the bleakness.

We picked up a track heading north along Rudland Rigg and started a long and dull route march.  The track is open to vehicles and its width and the numerous signs negated any feeling of wildness.  I was glad it was a Friday as I am sure it would be busy the following day, sure enough the next morning I heard the unmistakable sound of scrambler bikes.

With the sky becoming grey and a cold wind blowing I was just keen to get this section over as soon as possible.  The views from the top were not that special to be honest, just flat and very manicured moorland stretching into the horizon.  The only points of interest were the odd marker stone and a couple of boulders.

Even Reuben was underwhelmed.

A waymarker pointing across an area of dense rushes signaled the end of the trudge and we left the track for a bit of heather bashing.  The right of way did not exist on the ground and it was hard going through deep heather and hidden drainage ditches.  Finally the moorland gave way to sheep cropped grass and the possibility of a decent wild camp started to look promising.

We ended up descending further than originally planned to find a good flat pitch.  I was aware that we were coming close to the network of fields rather than remaining on the moor.  In the end the extra descent was worth it when I found a perfect area of flat short-cropped grass next to a band of trees above the stream.  It was beginning to get dark so I pitched the Trailstar and went to fill my water bags.  It was a beautiful location, sheltered and with a feeling of seclusion, the nearest dwelling still a distance away.  I spent an enjoyable evening in my sleeping bag reading my kindle, looking out into the darkness every now and then.  Reuben as ever was keen to try to get onto my thermarest, which I am sure is not built to withstand his claws of steel.

Day 2 – 11.5 miles with 390 metres ascent

The night was cold and still, producing copious condensation within the Trailstar.  I had pitched it as high as possible giving maximum headroom and extra ventilation.  Even so I woke to being dripped on, showing that no shelter is immune to condensation in the right conditions.  It was a perfect early autumn morning, the rising sun slanting through the trees.  The sunlight slowly made its way down the hillside, finally warming and drying out my shelter.

The surrounding hillside had some impressive fungi.

Packed up we set back off the way we had come the evening before.  The contrast could not have been greater, there was not a cloud in the sky.  The sun had chased away the chill from the air and it looked like it was going to be a warm day.

We battled through deep heather once again until we came to the line of the disused railway track.  This gave exceptionally easy walking as it contoured around the head of the valley.  Our pace quickened accordingly, just stopping every now and then to take in the view.  Being early in the morning we had the track pretty much to ourselves.

The track soon became busier, indicating that we were approaching civilisation.  We turned a bend and spotted The Lion Inn sitting high on the Blakey ridge.  As usual, Reuben managed to garner a few comments about his panniers from those that we passed.

We took a short cut and climbed directly up a path across the moor to the pub, the car park already busy with visitors.  I felt that it was too early for a visit so crossed the road with its speeding traffic.  A waymarked path led down towards the disused railway track that contours around the head of Rosedale.  Here nature has claimed it back a bit more than the one around Farndale.  At times it is little more than a single groove through the heather, widening to a soft grassy track.  It was much more of a pleasure to walk than the wide hard surface of earlier.  The views were pretty good in the quickly changing light, the odd dark cloud providing contrast against the sunshine.

I soon found that the easy and level surface made my legs ache after a while.  I am used to walking slowly across rough ground, so perhaps the change in pace and the repetitive manner of my stride was affecting my leg muscles.  I found a grassy nook out of the wind and got the Jetboil on for a cup of coffee and a packet of couscous.

After lunch the landscape changed and became much greener, with evidence of the past mining activity.  A fascinating area to walk and the sunny weather had attracted the crowds.  I highly recommend that you park up in the Village of Rosedale Abbey one Sunday and catch the Moorsbus to The Lion Inn.  You would then have an exceptionally easy walk along the railway track back to the start.  Great views with almost no effort, my sort of hiking!

At hill cottages we took to a network of field paths that led us back to the car at Rosedale Abbey.  There was one moment of brief excitement as a cow decided to run up a hill towards myself and Reuben.  A bit of jumping up and down whilst waving my arms persuaded it to stop before any damage was done.  I am beginning to realise that the main hazard of walking with a dog is cows.

I was pleased to find the village shop still open, where a homemade sandwich and a drink filled a hunger gap before the drive home.