Hot tenting on the moor of death

by backpackingbongos

I think that it is about two years since I have been backpacking with my mate Rae, who has been out of action due to a foot injury. She is keen to get back into the hills with a pack on her back.  Therefore I planned a short and sweet trip to the North Pennines. One of those trips where it is more about the camping than the walking.  My kind of trip as the walking sometimes gets in the way of a good slackpack.

With short walking days planned I thought that it would be a good opportunity to take the Kifaru Megatarp and wood burning stove. Nothing beats relaxing in a heated tent.

I escaped work after lunch on the Friday, picked Rae up and headed to the North Pennines, getting stuck in the usual weekend afternoon rush.

The plan for the first night was to park the car and walk a short distance up a remote valley to pitch for the night.  It was getting dark as we arrived at the small car park.  What had looked like snow on the other side of the reservoir ended up being a huge flock of gulls.  An impressive sight.

My pack was heavy with around 5kg of wood along with the stove itself.  We set off into the gloaming, eventually using our head torches once we left the security of the track.

Distances and obstacles can be exaggerated when you can’t see where you are going.  We sloshed through marshy ground and contoured along steep banks as we followed the river.  Finally we found a flat spot which we felt was far enough not to be discovered the following morning.

It was windy as we pitched, stony ground making it especially difficult to get a secure pitch with the large mass of material that makes up the Megatarp.  The wind soon brought rain with it so we retired to our respective shelters for the night.  With a badly pitched, flapping tarp with insecure peg placement I erred on the side of caution and decided not to set up the stove.  I felt that it was an accident waiting to happen.

With copious amounts of condensation (even with a large and very well ventilated shelter you still get it in certain conditions) during the wet and windy night I suffered the curse of not having an inner.  The wind would shake the walls leading to a very fine spray falling on me every now and then.  Luckily I had brought a lightweight bivy, meaning my bag stayed dry.

I woke at dawn, getting up to answer a call of nature.  I was totally surprised at the scene outside.

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It turned out that what I had thought was rain had in fact been snow.  I wandered around for a while taking photos, before the cold sent me back into my sleeping bag for another couple of hours.

Bright warm sunshine woke me up and it was nice to lay in my bag for a while, enjoying the feeling of warmth whilst outside there was snow. Rae was awake and cooking when I got up.  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.

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Unfortunately the sunshine was quickly replaced by a wall of thick cloud bringing along a stinging blizzard and strong winds.  The world became a swirling chaos of white, big flat snow flakes quickly covering ground that had melted in the sun.  That set the tone for the rest of the day.  Sunshine and big beefy wintry showers.

Packed up and on the way back to the car we were passed by a farmer on a quad bike towing a trailer full of collies.  He stopped at a gate and waited until we had passed through it.  He asked if it was our car parked and if we had spent the night on the moor.  We confirmed that it was and we had.  I expected a telling off but instead he told me about a shooting hut nearby that would have provided good shelter.  I had a feeling that he thought that it was a bit daft camping out in the snow.

Back at the car we sorted out our packs with food for that evening and drove off down the valley, heading into the hills above Teesdale.  A high level car park providing a springboard onto the moors without too much climbing.  It was a simple walk of less than five miles to our chosen spot.  My pack was still heavy with the wood I had failed to burn the night before.

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Traversing rugged pathless ground Rae spotted an adder curled up sunning itself.  It took my eyes a while to pick it out as it was so well camouflaged.  I had not brought Reuben along for the weekend as dogs are banned from much of the CROW land in the North Pennines.  I was doubly glad he was not with us as he would have spotted it long before us.

A rough path along the boundary of the moor led to seven very unpleasant surprises.  A series of snares had been set up, the first almost tripping me over.  I’m not sure what they are designed for but a small dog could easily get trapped  These along with several pole traps over water courses made it very clear that any creature other than grouse were not welcome on this moor.  I’m not sure on the legality of the snares as they were free running (I have used the word were).  Legal or not the ethics of such things are another matter.  Not exactly a humane way of eradicating predators.

Just to make a point; the only living and breathing things we saw that day or the next whilst on the moors were grouse.  Hundreds of the stupid bloody things.  No raptors in the sky and none of the usual sounds of spring on the moors that you get at this time of year.  A sterile dead monoculture.

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Further along the moor of death the views opened out to the east, the North York Moors visible on the horizon.

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We descended to one of my favourite wild camping spots in the area.  An oasis of green and nature amongst the sterile moors.  We forged a difficult route to a very secluded spot hidden deep up a valley.  With no wind, a burbling brook and birds singing in the trees it was paradise.

This time I had time to play around and get a perfect pitch.

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As darkness fell I set up the wood burning stove and piece by piece set fire to the bag of pre-sawn wood that I had lugged in.  The stove heated the tent nicely and we sat in front of it chatting for a while.

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Once the stove had gone out the temperature quickly dropped, a cold night following.  Thankfully there was little condensation and I did not wake to a morning shower.  We had a relaxed morning, enjoying the location and the sunshine.  Secure in the knowledge that it would be unlikely that anyone would pass by.

Pitched correctly the Megatarp is a well designed bombproof shelter.  Not one to pitch single-handed on a wet and windy moor though.

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Our route back to the car led up through pastures full of bird life before we once more entered the sterile monoculture of the moor.

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Patches of heather were being burned, smoke rising from all directions as far as the eye could see.  A cairn gave us the chance to relax for a while in the sun, before the first in a series of wintry showers barrelled in.

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Dramatic skies accompanied us on the final couple of miles back to the car.

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23 Comments to “Hot tenting on the moor of death”

  1. We love the area around there and know it well, but I have to say we’ve not come across those nasty looking snares before. Doesn’t bear thinking about what could happen to one of our precious doggies.

    Lovely looking camping spot though. We’ve stopped for lunch breaks near there.

    But adders! A timely reminder that I need to get my snake kit back in my rucsac for the summer……….

    • What do you use for a ‘snake kit’, Chrissie? We don’t usually take Dougal to areas where there are adders during the season, but will be this year. Having looked into it a bit it seems that certain anti-histamines help reduce the spread of poison, but what’s your advice?

      • I second your request Pete. As with regards to avoiding areas with adders, does that not mean most of the Highlands and Islands?

      • That’s right, we tend not to do any late-spring and summertime trips in the Highlands and Islands with Dougal. On the odd occasion when we have I’ve always been worried about adder bites. However, uncharacteristically we’ll be off to Jura in late June with the dug so we’ll really have to be prepared.

      • Jura in late June? You got one of them tick and midge onsies?

    • It’s the first time I have seen snares Chrissie. The camping spot was sublime, one to return to and spend a long summer evening sitting by the river. Snake kit?

      • We don’t really have anything magic, I’m afraid. I’ve also heard that antihistamines might help, so we always carry Piriton (chlorphenamine). Piriton can safely be given to dogs – one, twice a day our vet said. Dixie needs it if she gets stung by wasps anyway, as she’s severely allergic to their sting, and it certainly works for her. I would definitely get a Piriton immediately down either of them if they’d been bitten.
        We do also have a little suction thing though, too. We initially bought it for us for backpacking in the States (rattlesnakes etc). It’s just a largish syringe with a variety of liitle ‘cups’ of different sizes that you put on the syringe, then press it tight against the skin around the bite, and in theory you can then suck a fair bit of poison out – as long as you do it straight away of course. How or if this would work against dog fur I don’t know. But I do know I’d certainly give it a try if one of them had been bitten! We got the suction kit from Boots, but other chemists are available……

    • Thanks, Chrissie, I’ll pop by the chemist and pick one of them syringes up. No use thinking ‘if only’ after the event.

  2. Interesting trip James, I wish I had known you were around here, I might have dropped by. Mind you I am surprised at your comments about this part of my home patch being a sterile dead monoculture. I spent several days on these moors at exactly the same time as you and saw and heard loads of wildlife. Adder frogs, golden plover, curlew, skylark, oystercatcher, mistle thrush, snipe and even dipper along Sharnberry Gill, on the forest edge I saw great spotted woodpecker, buzzard, jay, and magpie among others. I could go on and tell you about the cuckoo I often see in the spring, ring ouzel, or the sightings of, short eared owl and even great grey shrike and Nightjar. Add to the fact there are Golden Ringed Dragonfly, Large Red Damselfly, Black Darter, along with Green Tiger Beetle and various butterfly including Green Hairstreak.

    I regularly find sign of badger and fox too (incidentally the snares which I hate with a passion are for fox and should not be free running without a working stop). We all know what to do as per our conscience.

    I am no supporter of folk killing any animals for fun but equally I do not want to see the area covered in wind turbines, Fracked to death, yet more blanket commercial forest, or even more fleeced locusts. Nor would I wish to see the Disneyland experience of manmade footpaths, visitor centres, toilets, paying car parks, all of which pass for modern conservation and tourism nowadays.

    I am not having a go at you as such or for that matter sticking up for some practices that Grouse shooting involves, but I do want to challenge the urban myth that these moors are sterile. If you want to see some environmental destruction, look no further than parts of the Lake District, or the streets where we live.

    This probably reads a bit forthright but my comments are not meant to be in that tone, I am just sticking up for my area a bit 🙂 If you are in the area and fancy a natter sometime why not let me know. I might even bring a tot or two of whisky to fight of the chill of a wildcamp.

    • Hi David, thanks for you comment. With regards to a sterile monoculture I was simply pointing out what I experienced on the moors that weekend. I would at the very least at this time of year expected to have heard golden plover, curlew, skylark and spotted a buzzard but there was nothing but the cackling of grouse on the moors. Yep there was plenty going on down where we camped but the moor itself (with its numerous vehicle tracks) felt about as natural as the terraced street on which I live.

      I don’t think that there will ever be the risk of a Disneyland experience of tourism as it just ain’t pretty enough. Also Wainwright did not write loads of books on the area, with Julia Bradbury paying a visit…….

      This was just a small moor in the North Pennines, on the fringes. The rest of the areas I have visited have been fantastic.

      Yes I will give you a shout when next up your way, I’ll keep you to that whisky!

  3. It IS a bit daft camping out in the snow! To each their own!

  4. Hi,
    As regards the lack of wildlife, I also noticed this last year when i did a section of the Pennine Way.There was a section that was fenced off from sheep and protected as a sanctuary. This was on the south of Great Shunner Fell. Lots of crows, buzzards and rabbits were seen.
    I then crossed the vast Bowes moor, this was criss crossed by vehicle tracks and grouse feeding stations. I was watched from a distant landrover as I crossed. No sign of a crow, rabbit or buzzard. It just seemed dead. There were traps beside walls to catch anything running alongside them.
    Mc Eff at ” Because they are There” blog found a fenced area in the middle of the moor with doves in it. Could this be a possible trap for raptors?

    • Hi Greg. That ‘dead feeling’ is rather odd isn’t it? I have walked that section before and it does feel a bit sterile. Must have been weird being watched from the distance landrover!

  5. Don’t know if Sarek’s too far north for adders, but Sweden was the place where Tilly actually had an adder strike at her. Rather scary to watch, but luckily it missed.

  6. Never seen an adder in the wild and had no idea they were commonly seen in the hills especially at this time of year. We have a local “snake man” who does talks etc for the kids. He said he once let and adder bite him just to see what happened!

    Oh and good post as always

    • I think that they are more common than you think Andy. I have nearly stepped on a few as they are very well camouflaged. Not sure that I would voluntarily let one bite me though!

  7. Hi, what is the make and model of that stove? Looks awesome

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