Archive for December, 2013

December 8, 2013

Kifaru – Peak District wild camping with a hot tent

by backpackingbongos

The cafe at Outside in Hathersage saw to my need for fried food.  The only difficulty was trying not to succumb to the array of technical products in the shop below.  Sadly I failed on this occasion.

The road alongside the reservoirs twists and turns amongst scenery that reminds me of parts of Wales.  It’s a fantastic area that can get busy, a breathing space amongst the surrounding cities.  However on a rather gloomy Friday afternoon in December I pretty much had the entire Upper Derwent to myself.

My pack was heavy and filled to the brim.  I had packed the Kifaru small stove and about three kilo’s of dried and chopped wood. The plan was to walk to the head of a remote valley and try out my Tarp / Stove combo for the first time.  Sadly I had made the decision to leave Reuben at home.  Flammable material, flames and a dog would not be a good combination on my first play.  His company was missed.

The car was left at the head of one of the long looping arms of the reservoir.  Through a gate and a good track took me deeper and deeper into a plantation.  A busy week at work was left behind, a night amongst the moors is a good tonic for the soul.  Leaving the plantation behind the track snakes its way onto the vast moorland plateau.  I left it and followed a faint trod through bog, tussocks and heather.  Climbing alongside the peat stained waters as they cut a deep course through the hills.

Minute by minute there was a subtle change in the weather since leaving the car.  Cold weather was gradually being pushed out by a warm front.  Warm air hitting cold ground meant that mist was beginning to envelope the snow speckled slopes above.  Damp air changed to drizzle, then curtains of fine wind-driven rain.

Darkness was approaching as I spotted a large open grassy area.  Although flat it was a little lumpy, but I did not have the luxury of time to choose a better spot.  Darkness comes very early at this time of year.

The Kifaru MegaTarp is a large and unwieldy beast when released from its tiny stuffsack.  There is a strict procedure that needs to be followed to get a taut pitch.  Pegging points have to be measured and poles set to an exact height.  One of my Pacerpoles decided to stick and no amount of twisting would unstick it.  It was a couple of inches short so I resorted to rummaging around in the river for a stone to place underneath.

It was good to finally get inside and change out of wet kit.  Humidity levels were high and even such a large unenclosed shelter was soon wet with condensation.  Inside was steamy and misty, my breath hanging in the cold damp air.

With coffee warming my hands and belly I set about putting together the stove.  I have practised several times so got it together in a few minutes, careful to keep track of the various bolts and wingnuts.  The stove-pipe had been pre heated in a previous burn so easily rolled into shape.  Pushed through the stove boot it felt fairly secure with no wobbling.  However ‘fairly secure’ is not good enough for a hot chimney so I tied it to a guy rope, pulling it away from the main body of the tarp.

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The stove itself lit really easily with the bone dry wood that I had carried in with me.  It was soon roaring, the alarming sound of the stove body creaking as it quickly heated.  Bigger bits of wood were added, quickly kicking out some nice heat.  My wet socks were soon steaming away, drying on my feet.  Outside I could hear the hiss as rain hit the hot stove-pipe.

It quickly became evident that a Jetboil pan is next to useless for boiling water on a wood burning stove.  Next time I will ensure that I have a flat bottomed pan.  Thankfully I had plenty of gas for food and brews.

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Sadly I had only brought enough wood for a couple of hours so retreated to my sleeping bag as the stove cooled down.  Before going to bed I detached the chimney and brought it inside, just in case it got really windy in the night.

I woke several times with the sensation of fine sprays of water on my face.  Outside heavy rain and wind meant that condensation was falling on me.  Thankfully I had a synthetic quilt over my down bag, so remained warm and dry.

The weather was not very appealing when I got up.  The rain finally stopped and I had the opportunity to get a photo of the MegaTarp without moisture covering the lens.  I was about as remote as it is possible to get in the Peak District.  A wonderful spot.

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The downside to having a wood burning stove when wild camping is taking it apart again.  This is a bit of a dirty job and once again you have to be careful you don’t lose anything.  In the photos below you can see how ingenious the chimney is, quickly rolling down into a 12 inch long tube.

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Gloves are necessary when handling the chimney as the edges are razor sharp.  The stove body packs down flat, everything fitting neatly into the heavy-duty stove bag.  This is well thought out and essential to keep sharp edges away from the contents of your pack.  It also stops everything getting filthy.  A trip to the stream was needed to wash my mucky hands.

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I had thought about a brief wander up onto the moors.  However low cloud and morning lassitude meant that after packing I headed back the way I had come.  This time I did not have wind and rain in my face.  Time to enjoy this wild hidden valley close to the Peak District honey pots.

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I did not see a soul until back on the road and at my car.  A short drive to the visitor centre for coffee and a veggie sausage cob. Home early afternoon for a steaming hot bath.

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December 3, 2013

Homelessness in 2013 – Photo Voices

by backpackingbongos

When I am not busy tramping the mountains and moors I spend four days a week working as an Advocate.  A part of this role is providing opportunities for the most marginalised people in the East Midlands to get their voices heard.  I work primarily in the homeless sector.

These are scary times to find yourself homeless and with no one to turn to.  Homeless charities often pick up the pieces.  What many people are probably not aware of is the fact that these charities are often funded by Local Authorities.  Charitable donations alone do not build and run homeless hostels or provide the essential support.  Framework is the largest provider in the East Midlands.

As Local Authority budgets get squeezed they have to choose where they spend their money.  Apart from statutory services, funding is no longer ring fenced.

Nottinghamshire County Council have just released their latest Budget Proposals for consultation.  Hidden deep within a hefty document is their proposal for housing related support services.  This they want to cut by £4.2m and end the Nottinghamshire Welfare Assistance Scheme.  So what does this mean?

– Close all direct access homeless services in the County.  That means that four hostels will close and there will be no quick access homelessness services in Nottinghamshire.  None.  Zero.  No where to go.

– Close all drug and alcohol accommodation services.

– Close all offender accommodation services.

– Stop all homeless prevention floating support.  It is these services that can help prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.

– Reduce funding for Mental Health services.

– Stop the Nottinghamshire Welfare Assistance Scheme for people who find themselves in crisis.

Those affected by these proposals can easily find that they are excluded from consultations.  Especially so in the digital age.  Therefore as an organisation we are out and about running letter writing workshops so that they get the opportunity to write to their councillors.  We also photograph individuals with their personal messages to the decision makers.  These are the voices of those we met yesterday in Worksop.

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This time next year there is a very real possibility of large numbers of the most vulnerable ending up on the streets.  As well as the devastating social implications there will be cost implications as the NHS and criminal justice system pick up the pieces.

If anyone would like to post a comment below I will collate them and post to the Labour controlled Nottinghamshire County Council.

The organisation that I work for is called SEA (Services for Empowerment and Advocacy).  Our groovy website is here.

Also some good reading on this very subject on Patrick Butler’s blog here.

December 1, 2013

A weekend in Eskdale with a dirty high

by backpackingbongos

The Bongo in winter is like sleeping in an upholstered freezer, a lack of heating requiring piles of down clothing to keep warm.  A purchase of an electric hook-up and a small radiator gave the promise of warmth and comfort.  A campsite in Eskdale was booked and I headed north with Reuben early on a Friday morning.  It had been a whole year since my last visit to the Lake District.

High pressure had settled over the UK, the centre sitting slap bang over the Lake District.  Blue skies and light winds I hear you shout.  Indeed this was the case on the first afternoon and the final morning.  The rest of the time it was benign cloud and murk.  A dirty high.

Black Combe – 13.5 kilometres with 430 metres ascent

Black Combe

The single track road between Duddon Bridge and Waberthwaite was surprisingly busy, a convenient short cut from the coast road. There is parking for about four cars at its summit, most of the space taken over by one solitary car who had parked as stupidly as possible.

Starting at 380 metres made the ascent of Stoneside hill a breeze.  A woman with her lively Jack Russell warned me of the bogs ahead if I was heading for Black Combe.  I inwardly smiled to myself thinking that this Pennine bog trotter can handle a little bit of bogginess.  Ten minutes later I heard a splash as Reuben disappeared into a pool of slime, struggling to drag himself out.  The large area of rushes we had walked into was booby-trapped, the ground oozing and quaking.  My Pacerpoles are handy for crossing boggy ground but they were sitting nice and comfortably in the Bongo.

A quick bag of the cairn on Stoupdale Crags and what felt like a long detour to White Combe.  This Wainwright outlying fell has a large cairn with an even larger view.  A late lunch was enjoyed but I did lament the lack of fluids, my water bottle was also sitting nice and comfortably in the Bongo with the Pacerpoles.

The final climb to the summit of Black Combe was done in shadow, the sun heading towards the horizon.  Already the grass was crunchy underfoot, ice glazing over areas of bog.  Arriving at the summit it was hard to see, the sun reflecting off the sea was the deepest orange.  The quality of the light was fantastic, it made even the array of wind turbines and the nearby nuclear power station look beautiful.  It was tempting to stay and watch the sun set.  However it was a long way back to the van so we reluctantly headed the way we had come.  The last half hour done by head torch, the battery very close to empty.

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I probably should not mention one of my outdoor secrets.  The week before heading north I joined the Camping and Caravan club. Shhhh keep that one to your self.  This was done so that I can access their numerous certified sites, designed for five ‘units’. Somewhere to escape the crowds but with electric hook-up if needed in the colder months.  The campsite close to Boot in Eskdale is not a certified site but it may as well have been this weekend.  It was pretty much empty and I got nearly a whole field to myself. With light and heating, time progressed really quickly until Chrissie and Geoff turned up in their van.  Time for a convivial couple of beers before turning in for the night.

Sca Fell – 16 kilometres with 1,080 metres ascent

Sca Fell

I woke totally sold to the whole heated campervan in winter idea.  Outside was a world of white frost, inside was snug and warm. Even Reuben who I am beginning to realise dislikes camping appeared to be happy.

Three humans and three dogs met outside the vans and set off in pursuit of Sca Fell, a reasonably long day with short daylight hours. Chrissie and Dixie walked with us until we got close to Stony Tarn before turning back.  Dixie is a twelve year old Boxer and the climb to the summit of Sca Fell would have been too much for her.  Geoff and I continued on upwards, Reuben impatiently leading the way, Tilly looking for objects that she should could carry (this often would include large stones).

The first destination was the cracking little summit of Great How.  Detached from the higher hills it gives great views in all directions. We sat and had lunch number one, watching the play of mist and light on the surrounding fells.

A boggy walk across Quagrigg moss was followed by a steep pull up to the summit of Slight Side.  There we met a couple who were celebrating completing their round of the Wainwrights.  No offer was made to share their whisky!

It became increasingly wintry as we approached the summit cairn of Sca Fell which was sadly shrouded in mist.  As we had lunch in the shelter Reuben let me know that he was feeling the cold, enthusiastic when I put his warm coat on.  I had managed to leave my microspikes in the Bongo (a bit of a recurring theme during the weekend) but had managed to borrow Chrissie’s when she turned back earlier in the day.  They came in very handy for the steep descent down the western slopes towards Burnmoor Tarn.

Daylight deserted us during the final half hour, and I realised that I still had not changed the battery of my headtorch (don’t worry I always carry spares, it’s just that I could not be bothered to stop and change it).

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The evening was spent at Chez Crowther where Geoff filled our bellies with Chilli and apple pudding.  It became full on glamping when we sat and watched Dr Who afterwards!

Green Crag – 16 kilometres with 710 metres ascent

Green Crag

I had booked the Monday off work so was able to go for a full days walk on the Sunday.  Geoff and Chrissie were heading back south after lunch so we said our goodbyes in the morning.

The stepping stones over the River Esk were easy to cross with the water levels being low.  A sheltered climb brought us to Stanley Force, a great waterfall hidden deep in a gorge.  The climb up a path soon led us to a rocky viewing platform 150 feet above the falls. It was a giddy vertigo inducing spot, Reuben kept well away from the edge.

The hills around Green Crag are small in altitude but make up for it in terms of ruggedness.  A circuit taking in Great Worm Crag, White How, Green Crag and Crook Crag involved numerous ups and downs.  The summit of Crook Crag even involved a spot of easy scrambling to get to the top.  The best thing however was that there was not a soul to be seen all day, pretty rare for the Lake District.  A spot that I would like to return to in the summer for some wild camping.

A well-defined track that is barely marked on my map led us easily back down into the valley to Low Birker Farm.  The marked right of way would have been impossible down the loose steep slopes.

A path along the River Esk was taken in favour of the road for the walk back to the campsite.  Darkness had once again fallen at this point but thankfully my head torch was shining nice and bright.  This however did not prevent me from getting us temporarily misplaced.

Back at the campsite I had pretty much the entire place to myself.

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Rough Crag – 3.5 kilometres with 150 metres ascent

Rough Crag

Ambitious plans were hatched which involved getting up before dawn and marching over a long list of hills before heading home. The reality involved waking up at 10am after a very deep sleep before relaxing at the campsite for a couple of hours.  Even at midday the insulating screens on the van had frozen solid to the glass and took a bit of persuading to be removed.

I parked the Bongo near the summit of the Birker Fell Road, determined to stretch both of our legs before the long drive home.  It was a very pleasant there and back walk across the summits of Rough Crag and Water Crag.  Two small hills that give excellent views for their height.

I will have to make sure that I don’t leave it so long before my next visit to the Lakes.

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