Archive for March, 2016

March 30, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part one)

by backpackingbongos

The headlights on the van pierced the darkness as I steered a course along the bumpy track in the depths of the Galloway Forest Park. A small gravel car park overlooks the deserted settlement of Polmaddy, invisible under the inky black sky. I had been driving for seven hours, especially tiring after a day at work. The Easter weekend had given me a five day slot to escape into one of the quietest places I could think of. I was keen to use every moment of it.

Ten minutes of fumbling saw the Doblo being turned from a daily run around into a fully fledged micro camper, complete with a full length and very comfy bed. Reuben could be heard exploring the immediate surroundings, his name tag tinkling on his collar as he sniffed and pee’d his way along.

It’s always very exciting waking up in the morning after arriving somewhere the night before in the dark. I removed the blinds to a sparkling morning, birdsong filling the crisp air. Coffee was brewed and breakfast eaten outside whilst Reuben once again sniffed at and pee’d on his surroundings.

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I was going to meet up with Chrissie and Geoff later that evening, but first I wanted to make the best of the unexpectedly good weather window. The van was pointed in the direction of the Green Well of Scotland where it was deposited on a grassy verge. The plan for the day was the 797 metre summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. This rises head and shoulder above the immediate hills, its grassy dome punctuated by rocks piercing the earth. It’s a simple grassy walk, firstly along a track before breaking off to ascend Dunool and then contouring round to the summit of Beninner.

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Lunch was had sheltering behind a boulder that provided scant shelter, Reuben shivering until I put on his warm jacket. He did not turn down the crusts from my sandwiches. I kept close to the steep fractured western slopes on the way to the deserted summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. The view was across miles of empty hills and on towards the Central Belt. The weather was on the turn, cloud building from the west and the wind gusting to gale force. The zip on my jacket got stuck and I managed to break it whilst battling the wind. This resulted in it being zipped to the neck but gaping in the middle. I like to think that it accentuated the fine curve of my belly.

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A drystone wall provides a steep but direct way back down to the track, on which I followed a short distance behind a couple. As a misanthropic hill walker this made me uneasy as I wanted the whole hill to myself with none of my fellow humans clogging up the view. There were also practical considerations such as do I quickly overtake or stop regularly so as not to get too close. You probably now understand why I rarely visit the Lake District.

The weather forecast for the following day was for wind and rain of Biblical proportions, apt really considering that it was the Easter weekend. A sheltered woodland site was therefore chosen to spend the night and meet up with Chrissie and Geoff and their very energetic hounds. No sooner had the van once again been turned into a camper they turned up. The dogs spent a good hour running after a ball, enough to ensure that they would be sensible during the evening.

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A top tip when wild vanping in a very small van is to invite along people with a very big van. This means that you have the benefits of something easy to drive with great fuel economy but also somewhere warm and comfy to spend the evening. Sadly Chrissie does not drink so Geoff and I had to finish a bottle of red and some beer all to ourselves. Nonsense was probably spoken and I later retired to the cold Doblo with a dog who would have much rather stayed in the big, warm and very comfy van.

The weather forecast duly delivered the next day, trees creaking in the wind, the continuous pounding of rain on the van roof. The planned four mile walk was quickly dismissed. A quick yomp was followed by lots of sitting in the big van, the heating creating a sauna from our wet clothing, steaming hot drinks and snoring dogs adding to the pleasant fug.

We later relocated to a much more remote spot, six miles up a dead-end valley, accessed by a single track road. The amount of water pouring off the hills and into the Water of Ken was an impressive sight. Fields had quickly become lakes and water was crashing down the steep rocky sections of river.

It was a night with the vans being rocked by increasingly strong winds, rain coming in violent squalls, punctuated by moments of calm. These moments of calm would often catch you out if you dared go outside without full waterproofs. Hail would be thrown at you without warning, sending you running and cursing.

The following day had promised improving weather and I was lulled into a false sense of security whilst climbing onto Colt Hill with Reuben. The sky quickly darkened and curtains of hail swept down the valley. The icy crystals were painful on exposed skin and Reuben quickly let his displeasure be known. We huddled together behind a stone wall as ragged clouds covered the hills. The storm departed as quickly as it came but it set up a regular pattern for the rest of the day.

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The reason I had chosen Colt Hill was because I wanted to see one of the Striding Arches, a collection of sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy. You can read about the project here. Large sandstone blocks make up this particular arch, perfect Reuben thought for giving his back a good rub.

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The way back to the vans was through a dark mossy forest, the trees draped in living curtains of green. Ideal for making art work of my own, although I’m not sure Reuben was very impressed.

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A mile or so further up the valley from the vans we passed the lonely cottage of Lorg. From what I can gather on the internet it has been deserted for years. It is a place that really appeals to me, an isolated cottage at the end of a remote glen in a little known part of the country. It even has telephone poles and an electricity supply. However things in this quiet glen could soon be changing, the men with machines are planning to industrialise the immediate surroundings. More of that in the next post.

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March 6, 2016

A solo mid Winter Borders / Kielder bothy trip (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Once the van had defrosted it was a short drive back to Newcastleton, the bakery providing some not very complex carbohydrates to take away for lunch. The destination was Kielder reservoir but I was keen to detour to deepest Liddesdale and the imposing Hermitage castle.

The castle sits in a wild and lonely spot, sombre moorland hills rising up around it. Unfortunately it does not open until April, so I was unable to explore inside. The low gate across the bridge that leads to is easy to hop over though and I spent a while walking around its forbidding exterior. The morning was cold and sunny, the grass still frosty in the shadows, with surrounding hills covered in a light mist. During the long bothy nights I was reading the fourth book in the Game of Thrones series, Hermitage castle conjured up the sights and sounds I had imagined in Kings Landing. More info on the castle can be found here. I look forward to returning in the summer when it is open.

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I returned to Reuben who was waiting patiently inside the van. It was not too far to drive to Kielder and I parked up in a woodland car park to the south of the village. The ground and air were damp and fragrant,the smell of the forest filling my nostrils. Low winter sunshine was filtering through the trees at an angle, casting mysterious beams of light onto the mossy floor.

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I decided that the car park was too secluded to leave the van so I drove into the village of Butteryhaugh and left it at the Village Library / School car park. There was a nearby sign stating that public nudity was an offence, with a request for people not to get changed in the car park! Luckily I was fully dressed when Reuben and I set off south, heading for the path along the north shores of Bakethin and Kielder Reservoirs.

The sky was becoming overcast as we walked along the Lakeside way, the forecast was for heavy snow to arrive later that evening. A mysterious shape in the woods beckoned us onwards, its empty eyes and gaping mouth looking over the large expanse of water. A large wooden sculpture called Silvis Capitalis invites you to explore inside its head but unfortunately the ladder that leads you upwards has been removed, to be replaced in the spring.

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The reservoir was left behind, forest tracks taking us uphill towards Wainhope Bothy.

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The bothy sits in a large clearing, a pleasant space after being hemmed in by trees. I looked for the telltale smoke from the chimney or movement outside but it looked like I was going to have another bothy night with just Reuben for company.

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The bothy is a very attractive building with a lone tree outside and surrounded by a stone enclosure. Inside there are two main rooms, the one on the left being large with a stove and space to sleep lots of people on a wooden platform. I chose the smaller right hand room with its open fireplace. The bothy was tidy with no rubbish about but it looks like it receives a large amount of traffic, confirmed by the comments in the bothy book. I set about giving it a good sweep and then went to fetch water from as far away from the building as possible.

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As I was filling my bottles from a stream Reuben pulled off one of his poses on a handily placed moss-covered log.

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I was glad that I had carried in a bag of coal and kindling as the bothy was devoid of any fuel. It saved me a long trek into the woods with a rusty bow saw. With the fire lit and candles spread around the room, the bothy soon felt warm and cosy.

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When I popped my head out of the door later that evening I saw that snow had started to fall, gradually settling after the earlier drizzle. At one point I noticed bright lights and the sound of machinery to the north as if there was a vehicle on one of the remote forestry tracks. It never passed my way and I assume that it was someone working in the forest.

I awoke to a white wonderland, the first time this winter that I had seen proper snow. I crunched around outside for a while, a big grin on my face as my hands got cold whilst throwing snowballs at Reuben.

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I had planned to bag the remote Dewey of Monkside but a late start and the effort of walking through the snow would have meant I would not be able to get back to the van before dark. Instead I picked a series of high level forest tracks that eventually led down to a bridge over the kielder Burn. It was great walking through the virgin snow, with not a soul to be seen all day. Reuben especially enjoyed yomping along, seeking out all the best smells.

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When I got back to the van it was still plastered in snow which had frozen solid. It took ages to scrape it all off but at least the doors had not frozen shut this time. The set of winter tyres that have been next to useless this winter finally came into their own as I drove towards home on the snowy road along Kielder reservoir.

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