Archive for ‘Bothy trips’

October 10, 2017

The Arctic Trail – Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi pt2 (gorges and waterfalls)

by backpackingbongos

The Arctic trail starts at Kautokeino in the far north of Norway and heads south for approximately 800 kilometres. It crosses into Finland and Sweden, finishing either in Kvikkjokk (Sweden) or Sulitjelma (Norway). To confuse things the trail has a different name in each of the countries through which it passes. In Norway it is called the Nordkalottruta, in Finland the Kalottireitti, and in Sweden the Nordkalottleden. In English it is simply called the Arctic Trail as the entire 800 kilometres are above of the Arctic Circle. Not to be confused with the Arctic Circle Trail, which is in Greenland!

Part one can be read here.

It took ages for the sun to reach the frozen tent, birch trees casting shadows over my pitch. It had been cold enough over night to turn water bottles and boots to ice. I dragged everything into the sun to allow the condensation to dry whilst I ate breakfast. The frost had finished off the insects of the previous evening, so it was nice to sit outside unmolested.

The trail that day was much easier to follow, first through birch trees and then climbing across low fells. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, cool and breezy and the bluest of blue skies.

The surrounding hills rose to around 600 metres and the landscape for a while reminded me of parts of the Grampians in Scotland. Once above the trees the path became firmer and for the first time it was actually possible to see it snaking off into the distance.

Sitting against a boulder, boots off and enjoying the sun I spotted a lone figure far down the trail. Initially I thought that it was a reindeer until I realised it was a biped with a long wooden pole. It looked strange at first as I had not seen another person hiking in the five days since leaving civilisation. As a self-confessed misanthropic hill walker I was surprised to find myself looking forward to having a brief conversation. It turned out to be a German guy who had walked the entire Nordkalottleden trail from Sulitjelma. With a tiny canvas backpack, checked shirt, Lundhags boots and wooden staff he looked like he had stepped straight out of the eighteenth century. He had walked the Nordkalottleden before and I was glad when he confirmed that the worst bit of the trail was behind me.

I asked if the DNT hut at Nedrefosshytta was locked and he confirmed that it was, a shame as I didn’t have the DNT key. He said that another German guy was a couple of kilometres ahead of me and was heading to the hut. He recommended staying the night as it was very comfortable and even had a sauna! He also let me know that there was a free hut before the DNT one that was meant to be good.

The trail began to descend back into the birch forest, with tantalising glimpses of the Reisadalen gorge and the mountains on its western side.

The map indicated the small hut just off the trail and close to the Luvddijdjohka river. I walked to the spot where it should have been and found nothing, even using my GPS to confirm my position. I walked in ever-widening circles and was just about to give up when I spotted a small structure at the bottom of a steep loose bank. I left my pack and went down to investigate. My nose confirmed what I thought it would be, I had found the privy, now just to find the hut.

Close to the river the vegetation was thick and jungle like. I walked towards the river and spotted a chimney poking out of what looked like a dense patch of trees, shrubs and grass.

I was expecting it to perhaps be a disused and overgrown Sami hut but when I walked round to the front I had a very pleasant surprise. It was like I had died and gone to hut heaven!

A stack of seasoned wood was in the open porch along with a new and sharp axe. The door was unlocked and the interior was both rustic and pristine. I was worried that I had entered someones private cabin, but a log book confirmed that it was available to anyone that can find it.

I set about unpacking and then lighting the stove which had been set by the previous occupants. It was a great opportunity to wash in hot water and wash and dry my trail stained and stinking clothes. The tiny hut was soon an explosion of kit, a mini sauna of dripping laundry.

Later as the sun was setting I climbed back up the steep bank to watch its descent behind the mountains. I stood for a while marvelling at the beauty and silence, my breath rising in the quickly cooling air.

I spent a while splitting wood after dinner, making sure that I replaced what I had used. I had to let the stove go out after going to bed as it was too efficient for the small cabin. I’m sure that it would be hugely appreciated when the temperatures drop to minus thirty in winter.

The lively river outside provided a noisy symphony to fall asleep to and I felt a bit restless wondering if someone would join me for the night. I woke and went outside after midnight for the loo and was treated to a small display of the northern lights.

It was great to put on clean clothes and pack dry kit the following morning. I made sure that the cabin was as I found it and walked back to the trail.

As I descended towards the Reisadalen the scenery became more dramatic, the trail beginning its long descent to the floor of the gorge. In the space of a few kilometres I went from sparse open forest and heath to being hemmed in by rock walls and thick vegetation. All the time I could hear the main river getting louder and louder.

There was a section where the trail is forced up above the river to traverse a loose and crumbling cliff face. Thankfully there were sections of wire bolted into the cliffs to give a handrail of sorts. With a large pack I found the going a bit hairy in places and didn’t dare let go and risk a photo. The trail then traversed some large scree slopes with big drops to the river below. None of this was particularly difficult but I did realise that I was on my own and a very long way from civilisation.

I was glad to see the wooden suspension bridge that would allow me to cross from the east to west side of the valley.

It was surprisingly bouncy and felt a long way above a particularly deep and dark section of river. I kept my eyes straight ahead and did not look down!

The DNT hut of Nedrefosshytta was firmly locked so I sat in the porch and had a snack after peering through all of the windows. It did look particularly plush inside and at around £15 a night looked to be very good value. When I return to Norway I’ll make sure that I join the DNT and obtain a key.

Just as I was leaving I met a French guy walking in the opposite direction. He was completing the trail in one go and gave me a few tips for the route ahead. He was travelling with a small pack and trailshoes and was quick to point out the trouble he had with snow earlier on in his hike. He said that his trailshoes had made crossing deep and steep snow difficult.

The highlight of a visit to Reisadalen is the Mollisfossen waterfall. This has a total drop of  269 metres (883 feet) and plunges over the cliffs of the canyon. I heard it long before I could see it as initially it is hidden by cliffs.

Sadly it is located on the other side of the river which is far too deep and strong to even attempt to cross. I had to be content to view it from a distance. Even so it was pretty impressive.

I had read of the difficulty of walking through Reisadalen due to the vegetation and possibility of the river flooding the path. I can imagine that this vegetation obscures the path early in the summer and it would be a tough bush whack to get through. However by September lots of feet had bashed a path through the tall ferns and it was mostly easy to follow. Thankfully it was dry as you would otherwise get absolutely soaked!

Easy walking was punctuated with sections of boulders that require careful footwork. These were slow and tiring and as the day progressed I was always on the look out for somewhere to sit.

Being a Friday there were a few boats going up and down the river, shuttling hikers (and dogs) up to Nedrefosshytta. An excellent way to travel deep into the National Park. With the river being low it looked like the boatmen were having difficulty in picking a route. They were travelling in long motorised canoes with plastic garden chairs for the passengers.

I had planned to stop and pitch at Sieimma with its locked hut, fireplaces and picnic area. However the area was a mess and full of rubbish so I decided to push on. Being Friday evening there was also the risk of folks coming later by boat.

I did wonder if I would regret carrying on as the path turned rocky again. After spotting a tent sized patch of flattened vegetation I did not hesitate to pitch. It was a beautiful spot underneath a big old pine tree, cliffs to the rear and the river in front.

A couple of boats passed after dark and later on there were a couple of what sounded like gun shots echoing down the valley. Apart from that it was a comfortable night, insect free and with the door of the tent left open.

Being close to a river and surrounded by vegetation I was expecting everything to be soaked by condensation in the morning. Strangely it was the driest morning of the whole trip, even the flysheet was bone dry. I got up knowing that the weather was forecast to break later that evening. The plan was to get as far as possible to shorten a high and exposed section the following day. I cooked and ate breakfast outside, not knowing that it would be the last time I would be able to do so on this trip. The weather was soon going to be a major factor, both in terms of safety and enjoyment.

I walked the final 10 kilometres to the dirt road at Saraelv, which my map marked as a settlement. My hope would be that there was a small cafe or somewhere to buy a coffee and some snacks. There was nothing! I had enough food but my appetite had increased and I wanted a little extra to satisfy the permanent hunger. It’s not easy carrying 12 days food and ensuring a full belly.

The trail follows the dirt road for a short distance before a sign points the way back into the mountains. Having dropped down to only 100 metres above sea level I knew that it would be an upwards slog. I stopped for a while at a very impressive waterfall and nervously crept to the edge of a terrifying drop to the river far below.

As I climbed higher pine made way for birch once more, yellow in their autumn glory. The landscape that I was in reminded me of the Scottish Highlands, but with the addition of trees on the lower slopes. With both countries having a similar climate (with Norway being even harsher) there is definite scope for re-wilding in Scotland. Instead we seem hell bent on destroying that landscape, the feeling of wildness disappearing at an alarming rate.

Above 500 metres the last of the trees were left behind and I plodded upwards under an increasingly leaden sky. Finding a place to pitch became increasingly difficult, the vegetation short but spiky.  A patch of relatively flat bilberry between two streams was adequate in the end, rocks being used to secure guy lines in the strengthening wind. I got my gear in the tent and went to fetch water just as the first spots of rain began to fall. The good weather on this trip was now behind me.

The paper maps that I used on this segment are the red covered Norge-serien 10165 Guovdageaidnu and 10154 Reisadalen.

Whilst hiking I shared my route live on Social Hiking. That route can be found here and viewable on Google maps.

If you’re interested in following this route on an electronic topo map they are in order below. You can click to view them full size.

 

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December 4, 2016

17 hours 15 minutes of night

by backpackingbongos

Last week in the far north of Scotland the sun rose at 8.46am and set at 3.31pm. The extended periods of darkness almost became meditative as the moonless nights swallowed the land. Bothies were my refuge; a fire, candles and the beam of my head torch pushing the darkness away. When dawn finally came the light was soft, the sun when visible low on the horizon.

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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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February 5, 2016

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

by backpackingbongos

The River Esk was in full spate as I drove over the bridge in Langholm, the brown turbulent water an impressive sight. Once past Bentpath and heading up the Meggat Water the road was a mess of stones and gravel washed down from the recent heavy rains. One long flooded section gave me cause for concern, but luckily the water was only a few inches deep.

I left the Doblo at the end of the road next to an information board at the deserted Jamestown. I was a bit nervous leaving our new van on its own and full of kit in such a remote spot. Reuben was saddled up with his panniers and I hoisted a full and heavy 80 litre pack onto my back. Much of the weight was a bag of coal, kindling and firelighters, you can’t head into a bothy in January without the means to have a warming fire.

It took less than an hour to walk to Greensykes bothy, first along a firm track and then a boggy slosh through the forest. Under a steely grey sky with a hint of drizzle in the air the scenery was hardly inspiring, but it was good to fill my lungs with fresh air and stretch my legs.

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The bothy was hidden until the very last minute, the first glimpse being through a break in the conifers. I looked for signs of life and smoke from the chimney but all was quiet. I really wanted the place to myself, space to clear my head and relax.

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The place was indeed empty, clean, well-kept and with a good supply of coal and dry logs. With dark falling I set about lighting the candles that I had carried in and got the fire going. The chimney drew very well, the fire filling the room with warmth and a friendly glow. I made a cosy nest on the sleeping platform, putting Reuben’s bed next to mine. It was one of the most pleasant bothy evenings that I have had. I sat reading in front of the fire whilst drinking the half a bottle of red wine I had brought along.

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The warm room meant that the winter sleeping bag that I had brought along was not really needed, I didn’t zip it up until the early hours. For some reason Reuben did not settle down that night, he kept shifting around, sitting up and staring at something. I didn’t feel any ghostly presences, but perhaps he sensed something I could not.

In winter, bothy mornings are much more preferable to waking up in a tent. There is space to stretch out and make breakfast in comfort. There is always a good quality spade to make the morning walk of shame much easier. Before leaving I swept the bothy and left it as neat and tidy as I had found it. The bag of coal I had carried in was left with the existing pile of fuel.

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The walk back to the van was much quicker, my rucksack a bag of coal lighter. Much of the snow that had been on the ground had now melted, leaving the track even wetter. A solitary shepherd with his collie passed on a quad bike as I neared the road head.

Before driving off I restocked my rucksack with another bag of coal and food for Reuben and I.  The aim this time was Kershopehead bothy, just to the east of Newcastleton, deep in the forest to the south of Kielder. It was a very scenic drive over the moors between Langholm and Newcastleton, an area very worthy of returning to for a backpack. Newcastleton is a pleasant place and the village shop and bakery provided a boost to my supplies.

The van was once again left in a remote spot, this time at Kershopehead Bridge. The walk into the bothy this time was longer, taking a good couple of hours. The problem with forestry tracks marked on the map is that you don’t know if they are going to be wide roads or narrow grassy trods. I managed to pick one that started off promising but soon left me stuck in the middle of a bog. I had to re-trace my steps and start again.

Kershopehead is another well looked after bothy, although I was glad that I had carried in a big bag of coal as it was lacking in the dry fuel department (although it is in the middle of a huge forest!). The stove was soon roaring and another cosy night was spent staring into the flickering flames and reading Game of Thrones. I had carried in with me a huge brick of a book, weight not really being an issue when you are only walking a few miles a day.

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The following morning we set off into low cloud and light drizzle to find a way to climb Glendhu Hill. This isolated moorland lump is defended almost to its summit on all sides by forestry. Height was quickly and easily gained on a series of forestry tracks until we got to Coal Grains and a convenient place to leave the track. Here the forestry had been felled and replanted. That meant that the conifers were only a couple of metres high and there were gaps between them. I hid my pack before climbing to the summit, relieved to get the weight off my shoulders. The going however was still very tough due to the rotting brush underfoot from when it had been felled a few years ago. There were many traps for the unwary hidden in the long grass and heather.

The summit itself was a desolate place in the wind, rain and mist and we did not hang around. We retraced our steps back to the ruckack for a quick snack break. Reuben was not enjoying the weather and did his best to build a nest in the heather by much kicking and turning round and round in circles. No sooner than he had got comfortable we were off again.

The trudge back to the car seemed to take ages, tracks through forestry plantations never being very exciting the second time round. I was glad when we rounded the last corner to see the van still where I had left it.

With it being late in the afternoon there was not enough daylight to walk to the next bothy on my list. Instead I drove to the end of a single track road and a gravel forest car park. A quiet night was spent in the van, owls hooting in the dark woods. The morning brought mild panic when I could not open either of the rear sliding doors. Climbing undignified over the front seat and exiting head first it was evident that they had frozen shut, a bit of a design flaw. The stove in the Doblo is designed to be used alfresco so I stood at the rear of the vehicle brewing up and cooking breakfast, my breath steaming in the sub-zero air. The forecast promised a bright and sunny morning with cloud building in the afternoon, followed by heavy snow during the evening and night. Once again I repacked my 80 litre pack with plenty of coal and kindling.

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December 16, 2015

Battered days and bothy nights in the Ettrick Hills – pt2

by backpackingbongos

One of the things that I had been pondering during the night was whether the track marked on the 1:50,000 map existed on the ground. A quick scout around the area the night before showed a worrying lack of anything track like, this being confirmed by the 1:25,000 map. Two maps by Ordnance Survey failing to confer was a bit worrying as my onward route was through a dense forestry plantation.

The damp weather followed by a cold still night meant that the Enan was a bit drippy with condensation when I got up. I was soon packed and making my way across wet tussocky ground, the grasses having a fine autumnal tint.

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Of course the track did not exist, instead I followed the stream to the forest edge and was pleased to see that there was a small strip of unplanted ground on either side of it. Mist was rising through the trees and there was not a breath of wind. The silence was deafening as I slowly made my way into this long forgotten corner.

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The going was tough, the ground uneven and the grass long and wet. Encroaching trees had me crossing the stream several times, wire from a long rotten fence attempting to trip me. One area was a large quaking bog, the grassy surface wobbling like jelly. I had to close my eyes as I pushed through the dense conifers to avoid it, wary of an errant branch poking me in the eye.

It was with relief when I finally reached the security of a forestry track, a rotten observation post giving me something to lean against and have a well-earned snack. The track then led down to the glen of the Ettrick Water.

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I had planned on climbing some of the hills on the other side of the glen but the cloud hung low and I lacked the enthusiasm to do so. Instead I followed the forestry track on the south side, this being rudely interrupted by a steep, rocky and highly vegetated ravine. I had wondered why the map showed a break in the track for a couple hundred metres, now I knew why. I gingerly climbed down to the stream and then hauled myself up the far side, using vegetation as hand holds, feet scrabbling for purchase on wet rock. The track on the other side had long since grassed over, providing a pleasant if rather slippery alternative to the usual gravel.

As the trees thinned the view down to the head of the Ettrick Water and towards Over Phawhope bothy was one of utter devastation. Extensive felling was taking place and huge new tracks and bridges had been installed since the last time I had visited. The area was a right old mess, although the bothy itself looked as good as ever.

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I had toyed with staying and having a lazy afternoon in front of the fire. However it no longer occupied what previously had felt like a wild out of the way spot. The logging trucks trundling up the other side of the glen did not add to the ambience!

Instead I took to one of the new tracks, leaving it to climb directly up the hillside where there was a break in the forest. This was initially tough going due to the tussocky ground but it got easier with height.

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A detour to bag White Shank and then a wonderful rolling route to the summit of Capel Fell. The views across Moffat Dale to the higher cloud covered hills was spectacular.

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The weather continued to be changeable, a dry-stone wall providing scant shelter from the wind.

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It would have been possible to march back down to the car and get home that night. However despite the weather I was keen to spend another night wild camping. A descent due east led to Ettrick head and a welcoming sign amongst old lichen encrusted fence posts.

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A short descent along the Southern Upland Way and there was a hint of drama with the steep sloped hills.

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I had planned on an exposed pitch with a view but the gusty wind made me settle on a sheltered spot close to the footbridge over the Selcoth Burn. Sadly this meant that the view from my tent was reduced to the grassy bank in front. However as the wind continued to blow and the rain started to fall I was glad to be tucked away for the night.

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There is an alternative high level alternative on the Southern Upland way that zig zags its way up Cat Shoulder and onto Croft Head. This avoids the monotony of the forestry plantations below. I came this way many years ago when the zig zags had just been put in, they were a great eyesore then. They are still not very pretty but I certainly appreciated the assistance they provided in getting me up the steep slopes. With the ravine of the Selcoth Burn as a backdrop I did not need many excuses to stop and get my breath back.

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The wind was fierce along the top of Crookedside Sclenders, ragged banks of cloud being blown up from the damp forest below. The route was marked by wooden posts, although these disappeared at just the wrong moment when descending from Gateshaw Rig, it’s a shame that the route is not marked on the OS maps.

Before joining the main forestry track the path went through an area of golden grasses, lit up by the autumn sun. The path twisted and turned, there was fun to be had in trying to work out where it went next. It is obvious that not many people come this way. I had been out for four days and not seen another hiker in the hills during that time.

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