There was a cold breeze so I was eager to pitch quickly.
There was a cold breeze so I was eager to pitch quickly.
It’s fourteen years since I last backpacked with my mate Rich. In 2001 we scampered up the Munro’s of Knoydart without pausing for breath, heavy packs on our backs. Time is cruel to the human body as this time we wheezed up much smaller hills, faces red and contorted, sun reflecting off grey speckled hair, waistlines not as trim as they used to be. However I’m pleased to say that the threads of conversation remained the same, as puerile as ever.
Total distance – 27 kilometres with 1040 metres ascent
The car was left at the village hall in Chop Gate. It has a strange pay and display system which involved dropping a pound in a box and then taking a sticker from a roll which you display in your windscreen. The stickers had run out so we left the car wondering if some officious person with a name badge would come along and slap us with a fine.
It was early afternoon in the middle of September, the sky was blue and the sun hot. It was hard work climbing the slope up Cold Moor, especially for Reuben who was panting heavily in the heat.
The top of Cold Moor presented us with a view that possibly far exceeds that of any other 400 metre hill. The long moorland escarpment drops suddenly to the flat plains below, a patchwork of fields stretching to the far horizon. Despite the heat the air had the clarity which you usually get on a crisp winters day. It was good to sit there for a while, a cooling breeze drying sweaty backs.
We picked up the Cleveland Way, descending and then immediately re-ascending to the Wain Stones. They were busy with climbers and walkers that afternoon. We passed a young German couple backpacking with two dogs wearing panniers. Reuben was also wearing his, containing such luxuries as dog PJ’s, a soft blanket and gravy bones. This naturally meant that we struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were spending a long period of time in the UK. Backpacking with no fixed plan, dropping into farms to see if they could pick up work as they went along. They were thinking of walking up to Hadrian’s Wall but would see what happened along the way. We were just out for the one night which left me with a pang of jealousy.
The Cleveland Way gives a grand promenade as it heads east, a good path with numerous ups and downs to get us panting. We passed a couple, the bloke giving Reuben and I the filthiest look possible. I don’t think I have ever seen a face full of horror, fear and hatred like that before. Sometimes I think that I imagine these things, but Rich who was following behind confirmed that the bloke looked like he was going to attacked by a bearded man and his Staffy.
Approaching Round Hill we had both ran out of water and Reuben’s tongue was dragging along the ground. Maiden Spring is marked on the map, a possible source of water, although we did not hold out much hope considering how dry everything was. Obviously it was pointless both of us trudging over to it so I heroically looked after the packs whilst Rich dutifully walked over with our empty bottles.
Our destination for the night was Farndale, on the other side of a stretch of moorland. I find parts of the moors in the National Park a boring and featureless monoculture. We walked along a track that is good enough to drive a car along whilst an unbroken sea of heather spread to the horizon. The only wildlife was the numerous red grouse challenging us from both sides of the track. It felt like walking across an industrial grouse farm.
The best parts of the National Park are the numerous dales, woodlands and moorland edges. We left the security of the track near Bloworth Crossing and stumbled across deep heather, bog and tussock to the head of Farndale. With the sun going down we found an idyllic spot in which to pitch. Idyllic until the midges found us. They were so bad that I needed my head net to preserve my sanity. Poor Reuben had a reaction to them and his face around his eyes swelled up. He retired to the sanctuary of the tent early whilst we cooked outside. It was only once the sun had set and the temperature had dropped that they finally disappeared.
Later that evening whilst we stood outside chatting we spotted four bright torches heading our way. Naturally I initially assumed that it was four burly farmers who had come up to evict us from our pitch. It turned out that they were Mountain Rescue off for some night navigation on the moors (we found this out after saying that we hoped they did not get lost!).
It was one of those nights where the condensation was copious, everything was dripping by dawn. This however did not deter the midges who were up and waiting for us as we emerged. Poor Reuben’s face swelled up a second time due to the onslaught, Rich and I ate breakfast whilst walking around as quickly as possible.
We packed up sopping wet tents under a rapidly clouding over sky and saddled Reuben with his panniers. Farndale is a lovely secluded valley, a place to return to in the spring when the daffodils for which it is famous are in bloom.
To return to Chop Gate we had to walk across the grain of the land. A series of north to south valleys had to be crossed with moorland separating them. We climbed out of Farndale, legs complaining on the first ascent of the day to immediately descend into Bransdale. One thing that was becoming evident was that away from the honey pot areas the North York Moors are surprisingly quiet. We met the only hikers of the day in Bransdale.
Crossing the valley we had another climb, this time onto Bransdale Moor. For a while we had the pleasure of a narrow path before once again we picked up another vehicle track. This eventually dropped in a series of ugly hairpin bends into hidden Tripsdale. This is a lush valley full of trees, just beginning their first blush of Autumn. It would be worthy of exploration in winter as the rest of the time it is choked with bracken.
We were then faced with yet another climb onto moorland, this time Nab End Moor. The wide open Bilsdale was soon at our feet, the view ahead into Raisdale.
We were quickly back at the car, the skies getting ever darker, the promised weather front had finally reached the east of the country.
Between the towns of Peebles and Moffat sits an area of high rolling hills. A constantly shrinking island of wild land circled by wind farms. The hills frequently raise their heads above the 800 metre contour, a place where you can often sit in solitude with just sheep and moorland birds for company. There is only one road that crosses these soft velvety heights and that is the single track one between Tweedsmuir and St Mary’s Loch. I was keen to explore the land to the north of this road, an opportunity to tick off a batch of Donald hills (hills in lowland Scotland that exceed 2000 feet). With it being the first weekend in August it was also an opportunity to avoid the silly season in the popular National Parks. The trip to Sarek was only a couple of weeks to go, so it was also a good reason to stretch my legs and try out the new Hilleberg tent.
Total distance – 46 kilometres with 2350 metres ascent
(Click for full size map)
As this trip was a couple of months ago I thought that I would do a photo post with some captions instead of a full trip report.
Having previously climbed Dollar law I missed out the summit sticking instead to the Thief’s road. The track is slowly being reclaimed by the moor. The body of water just visible is the Megget Reservoir.
Continue walking in this direction and you will cross some fine wild hills, eventually coming to Hart Fell before descending to Moffat. Peebles to Moffat is a walk I fancy doing one day. It’s a shame they are not linked together by public transport. Instead you would need to go in and out of Edinburgh, or use two cars.
The summit of Birkscairn Hill. There was a brief lull in the wind and rain that had battered me on the climb up. The shower was so violent that I expected flashes of lightning and bangs of thunder. Thankfully there were neither.
Day Six – 27th August
It felt rather novel laying in the Hilleberg Enan listening to the sound of wind and rain. I felt warm and snug and it was an effort to remove myself from a warm down filled cocoon. We had pitched in an exposed spot the night before, the tents shrugging off the stiff breeze. We both emerged into a world transformed from the past five days. The blue skies had been replaced by sodden grey clouds sitting heavily on the surrounding peaks. Although much of the views were now hidden the change in weather gave more drama to the landscape.
Rather than dropping down to the reindeer herders hut to pick up the path we simply climbed over a saddle behind a low rounded peak. On the horizon we could see the line of metal posts that we had followed on the route out. It gave us something to aim for whilst the clouds teased us with their presence, often reducing the view ahead.
I was glad that we had previously done this route in good weather as it would have been tough not knowing the terrain, the highest parts were totally clagged in. We remembered to leave the line of posts at the correct place, just after a large snow bank blocked our descent route. The rain had made it slick and icy and we detoured around a significant portion of it. The way ahead was indistinct, we lost the sketchy path, doing our best to aim for the same spot where we had crossed the river a few days before.
We managed to arrive at the exact spot, getting over the now faster flowing water with no difficulties. The next test was to cross further trackless ground to find the snow bridge over the next much wilder river. I was pleased that we navigated well, finding it on the first attempt. Once again it was slippery, patches of ice hidden amongst the snow. From a distance the snow looked like it was covered with blood but I think that it must have been some sort of algae.
Once past the snow bridge we picked up the good path that took us all the way back to Parek. We passed a solo backpacker who was not too keen on stopping for a chat.
After such an exposed walk it was good to see the Parek bog below us once again, although I was not that enthusiastic about having to walk it again the following day.
We found a great little camping spot at the top of the tree line at around the 800 metre contour. Whilst pitching we were passed by a young German trio heading up into the mountains. With it being late afternoon and the weather closing in I’m not sure that they made a wise choice. Any camping spot up there would be exposed and the weather was forecast to get worse. We attempted to sit and cook outside but spots of rain saw us retiring early to our tents.
It hammered it down all night and the wind blew in big gusts (according to Chrissie) but I managed to sleep through the worst of it.
Day seven – 28th August
It was wet and windy the following morning, not the most ideal conditions in which to break camp. One of the nice things about the Enan tent is that it is easy to separate the inner from the outer and pack it away dry whilst undercover. Chrissie had to come to the rescue when a big gust of wind meant that I got my fly sheet tangled on the local vegetation. It was clear that it was going to be a damp sort of day.
As we descended through the forest the path was running with water, vegetation dripping on us we brushed past. There are numerous small streams unmarked on the map, most of which we had not even noticed a few days before. So much rain has fallen that even these meant wet feet when crossing, one proving tricky. My mind turned to the upcoming large river crossing between two lakes, it turned out that Chrissie was also thinking the same thing, although neither of us initially voiced this.
The first bit of fun came at a marshy section prior to the main river. On the way out this had been crossed by a wooden platform which was now detached and floating on a large flooded area. There was no way that we were able to get across. Luckily a detour around the edge of the marsh and a bash through some trees got us to the river itself.
It was huge! The wide and placid river we had crossed a few days before had burst its banks, the wooden triangles showing the way across now hidden. There was no way of knowing how deep it was without giving it a go. On the positive side it flows between two lakes so there was not much of a current, at the very worst we would have to swim!
Chrissie was very unhappy about the situation and was convinced we would both die. Although I was nervous about the whole thing I pretended that it was nothing to worry about. Hopefully that rubbed off. Anyway it’s not like we had much of an alternative!
A few minutes later we were stripped down to our underpants, wearing boots and waterproof tops and big rucksacks. With the rain pouring down we must have been a bit of a sight. The crossing took what felt like an eternity, the rocks being slippery and the cold water coming up to our waists most of the way across.
You have not lived until you have emerged from a freezing cold river, soaked from the waist down whilst heavy rain falls from a cloudy sky. Here are a couple of photos showing what we managed to cross. Can anyone tell which brand of trousers Chrissie is wearing in the photo below?
Rain fell for the rest of the morning as we crossed long sections of bog, thankfully protected by duckboards. The weather matched the mood of the landscape.
Our goal for the day was the campsite where we spent the first night of the trip. This would then leave us with only a few kilometres the following day, so that we did not have to rush for the early afternoon bus. This time we were the first to arrive and had the pick of the best spots, although that still meant pitching on bare earth, the best way to get a filthy tent. It was another evening where the weather drove us inside early, some of the showers proving to be particularly enthusiastic.
It was around dusk when the ‘fun’ started. Our tents got invaded throughout the night by an army of Arctic Voles. They were brazen little things, waltzing into an open porch in plain view. I actually had to smack one to make it run away! The end result by morning was a pair of stressed backpackers with chewed tents. Luckily they did not feel the need to chew the flysheets, they were more interested in joining us in our inner tents. I ended up with one small hole in my inner whilst Chrissie ended up with two much larger holes. One must have joined her during the night as she found a chewed bag inside the tent at the opposite side to the holes they had made.
Day eight – 29th August
We were both a little battle weary by the time we packed our soaking wet tents into soaking wet packs, put on soaking wet waterproofs and set off down the trail to Kvikkjokk. The few kilometres passed quickly and we were back at the STF hostel with a couple of hours to spare. We picked up the bag of clean clothes we had stored there and paid about £5 each to use the shower. After wearing the same clothes for eight days it was nice to have something clean to wear.
The lunch at the hostel was good, setting us up for the long bus journey to Murjek, followed by the train to Luleå.
I have to say that I am totally smitten with the north, three journeys to Swedish Lapland and I am already planning the fourth. Where to go next is the question? The possibilities are endless.
If the demand is high enough I might do a short gear shakedown post, what worked and what didn’t, that sort of thing. On the other hand I might not.