Archive for April, 2016

April 26, 2016

Backpacking Walden – Yorkshire’s hidden dale

by backpackingbongos

West Burton is one of those picture perfect Dales villages, stone cottages surrounding a large village green. The only thing spoiling it was the long line of cars parked along the narrow road. I added to it, leaving the Doblo overnight as I headed up the Dale for a horseshoe walk around Walden.

I really want to call it Walden Dale because it is a Dale and a fine one at that. However the OS map simply has the words ‘Walden’ in the middle, so Walden I will call it.

Total distance – 26 kilometres with 800 metres ascent

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It was one of those filthy late winter days, cold, grey and murky. The tops of the hills were invisible, much of the views obscured by haze even in the valleys. I set off along wet tarmac before squelching my way up a bridleway and onto Carlton Moor. There is a Carlton about half a mile away from where I live in Nottingham. Sadly there are no drystone walls, moorland grasses whispering in the wind or fresh invigorating air there.

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I caught my breath on the summit of Harland hill, just in time for the murk to part for a while. My weekend route was at my feet, painted like a faint watercolour, soft greens and greys, the sun providing no visual warmth.

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It’s a long moorland trudge following the watershed to the summit of Brown Haw. Instead I dropped down to the north and followed a landrover track as it wound its way through an increasingly snowy landscape.

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I eventually had to leave the comfort and security of the track and the easy progress that it provided. A thin sheep trod took me upwards and onto the summit . The views once again briefly opened up, this time with Walden widening out to the north towards Wensleydale.

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Brown Haw was defended from the north by a brand new and very sturdy fence. That in itself would not normally be a problem as without barbed wire fences are easily hopped over by the long-legged. The problem was the following garish sign that was posted every few metres, a big long danger zone snaking off into the mist.

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This provided me with a bit of a dilemma. Did I want to risk being sterilised as I attempted to step over? There was no stile or crossing point in view in either direction. As I child growing up in Suffolk one of the challenges we undertook was seeing how long we could hold onto an electric fence for. Therefore I took a deep breath and, nothing. There was no shock involved. In the end Brown Haw was a bit of an anticlimax.

With dusk arriving early I soon found a level pitch at the head of the dale, an area of limestone providing good firm grass. It soon got cold, a damp chill in the air and I was glad to get into a nice warm winter sleeping bag.

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A light snow fell in the night and I awoke to a thick mist, the snow emphasising the general gloom. It had been still, cold and humid leaving the inner tent dripping with condensation. I was warm and snug inside my sleeping bag but the warm air from my body had reached the outer which was soaked due to the dew point being reached.

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I love wild camping mornings, the ritual of waking up in the wilds and making a brew whilst snug and warm in bed. It was the first time I had used an alcohol stove for many years. I had decided to get a Flatcat Bobcat Jr to take to Colorado in the summer. On its first use I was impressed at just how fuel-efficient it is, although it is much slower than using gas.

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Once packed and walking the cloud level lifted for a while and I began to get hopeful that it would clear as forecast. Alas this was not the case and much of the rest of the day was spent walking with heavy snow blowing in my face, visibility often falling close to zero.

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Rather than climbing to the summit of Buckden Pike I stuck to the landrover track for a while before finally striking off up rough slopes to the summit of Naughtberry hill. From there to Wasset Fell the going was probably the least fun way of spending part of a weekend. A shooting hut was marked on the map at Wasset Fell but it was clear it had fallen down years ago. Instead I stood on the exposed fell and shivered whilst I wolfed down some food.

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Floutgate scar provides a bit of drama, the end of the high moors before they drop into Bishopsdale. In the distance I  could just make out Castle Bolton in Wensleydale, the castle itself illuminated by a brief shaft of sunlight.

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Spring finally arrived as I crossed the fields in the dale, the sun chasing winter away. The contrast between moor and valley could not have been greater.

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Once back at the van in West Burton the sun and clouds had a brief atmospheric battle before once again the clouds took control.

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April 20, 2016

Shropshire spring snow surprise

by backpackingbongos

Last Friday was a forgettable weather day. We were greeted at the Ratlinghope campsite in the middle of the Shropshire hills by misty, murky weather, a fine drizzle falling. It was the first time that we had taken out the boot awning for the van. Without any prior practice and with heavy rain due any moment it was an experience akin to putting a square peg in a round hole. We eventually wrestled it into place and spent the rest of the afternoon huddled inside whilst the promised heavy rain fell for a few hours.

I had persuaded Mrs Bongo to join Reuben and I for a weekend camping to celebrate my birthday. The lure was a warm pub with good food to while away the evenings. The Bridges Pub which is a fifteen minute walk down narrow country lanes did not disappoint, the food and beer was excellent. Friends later joined us after driving all the way from Nottingham after work. A convivial evening was spent and I have to say that I was uncomfortably full of food and beer by the time I got to bed.

The forecast was for snow during the early hours of the morning, something I was fairly sceptical of due to how mild it felt that night. I poked my head out of the van a couple of times during the night but just got a face full of drizzle. I was therefore like a kid at Christmas when at 7am I was greeted with this.

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A good couple of inches of soft powdery snow had fallen, the air still and quiet, the dawn chorus hushed. I ran round unsuitably dressed for a few minutes before diving back into the van and the comfort of a warm duvet.

We were all up and about by 9am, the snow still deep and crisp, the sky blue and the sun warm. It was weird sitting around eating breakfast in just a baselayer, with spring in the air whilst winter nipped at our feet.

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Later that day we spent a few hours exploring Adison Hill and the Long Mynd. The snow soon melted but the northerly airflow left incredibly clear skies. To the west much of Wales was laid out at our feet, we could clearly make out Cadair Idris, the Arrans and the Berwyns.

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All in all a splendid birthday weekend with my wife and good friends.

April 3, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Downgrading from the Bongo to a Doblo sized campervan has taken a little bit of adjustment. During bad weather it’s not quite as simple as shutting the door and being protected from the elements. Everything takes a bit of thinking about, there really is not much room, especially with a wet dog in tow!

It is designed so that the kitchen is outside under the tailgate, fine if it is not hammering it down with hail being thrown at you on thirty mile an hour winds. Therefore with much shifting about of gear I managed to bring the cooker inside which enabled breakfast to be made with a modicum of comfort. To avoid suffocating in the small space a couple of windows have to be left open, the hail and rain finding an easy way in.

After a few days living in it in bad weather, things start to get a bit grubby inside, all sense of order is lost. You really can’t remember what has happened to your last pair of dry socks. You wonder if you will ever get rid of all those dog hairs.

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Each evening just before it got dark I would stand outside Chrissie and Geoff’s van with my nose pressed up against the window. Next to me would be a shivering staffy, his face a picture of unhappiness. More often than not we would get an invite inside and Reuben would prostrate himself on the sofa, a big grin on his face.

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On the Easter Monday Geoff and Chrissie decided that they would start to make their way south, leaving me with a cream egg. The forecast for the day was reasonable so Reuben and I went back into the hills to bag some more Donald’s and tops (hills over 2000ft in this part of the world). The day started off cruelly with a lung busting climb up the steep slopes of Ewe hill.

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It was whilst descending from the summit en-route for Alwhat where I came across a rather sad sight in these lovely quiet hills. A wind monitoring mast had been erected, a sizeable structure when up close. There are plans for the massive Lorg windfarm here with turbines up to five hundred feet high. One thing I had noticed over the past couple of days was just how many of these things had sprouted up in the surrounding area. It looks like the wind rush in these parts is not yet over.

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The grassy slopes of Alwhat was easily gained and a short descent and re-ascent brought us to the summit of Alhang. In the col between Alhang and Windy Standard there was yet another wind monitoring mast.

It was on the ascent of Windy Standard that some of the wind turbines that make up Windy Standard wind farm came into view. By modern-day standards these turbines are tiny at 35 metres high, the blades spinning furiously rather than the slow whoosh you get these days.

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To the north and east the landscape remains relatively untouched, rolling hills filling the horizon all the way to the snow-capped Lowther hill.

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The summit of Windy Standard itself is dominated by turbines which march down the ridges to the north. As far as wind farms go it certainly is not the most offensive that I have come across. With such small turbines they were not really that noticeable from the surrounding hills the previous couple of days. The roads that service them being no wider than landrover tracks. What was very noticeable however was the nearby construction of Windy Standard 2 wind farm. There massive wide highways had been constructed across the hillsides, banks of earth piled at the side. Numerous diggers and trucks were at work clearing areas the size of football pitches to lay the foundations for the massive new turbines. The whole area was a horrible mess. Coming home and looking at the internet there are already plans for Windy Standard 3 😦

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Reuben and I quickly turned our backs on the whole sorry scene and hurried down the slopes to the south. This was also due to the black clouds piling in from the north. With all the recent stormy weather the last place I wanted to be was surrounded by turbines if there was a threat of lightning! This lead to the head of the Holm Burn with its numerous drumlins, a good place for Reuben to pull a pose.

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Down in the glen is an atmospheric ruin, this must have been a truly remote spot before the advent of the motor car. I sat on the low wall that surrounds an old stand of trees, soaking up the rare warm rays of the sun.

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The only difficulty of the day came at the end of the walk whilst trying to get back onto the public road. I ended up inadvertently trespassing through someones garden, luckily no one was at home. I felt guilty as I joined the track, sending up a chorus of barking from the nearby farm.

Back at the van I fancied a change from the hills and decided to drive to the Solway coast to spend the night. Dalbeattie provided some half decent fish and chips en-route for Powillimount. I arrived at the beach during the golden hour, the sun just beginning to descend behind the hills to the west. It is a lovely spot but I decided not to stay the night. There was too much coming and going and sadly the car park was full of blowing litter. Instead I sat on the rocks for a while as the last of the Easter bank holiday disappeared into a warm glow.

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* All photos taken with iPhone 6s Plus.