Archive for ‘Doblo trips’

May 2, 2017

Ben Klibreck and a bothy night

by backpackingbongos

Over the years I have ended up planning to climb Ben Klibreck during the dark end of Autumn. This has never been a very good tactic, as I end up sitting in the van on the road below thinking ‘Perhaps not today’. This is usually due to a big cap of cloud cloaking its summit or a gale rocking the van.

The 27th November 2016 once again saw me sitting in the van on the road below the mountain. However for once the russet moorland grasses were lit by a low sun sitting in a wintry blue sky. After a long journey even Reuben was enthusiastic about leaving his warm comfortable seat and heading into the Highland chill.

The day was short so I decided that the route would be by the standard Munro baggers path. This was boggy and slippery until firm ground was reached on Cnoc Sgriodain. As is usual in the Northern Highlands the higher ground often gives much easier conditions underfoot. The lower slopes are usually a tangle of heather or tussocks, peat sucking at your boots.

A fine path contours the slopes below Creag an Lochan and my eye was soon drawn to the wild and empty land to the west. It’s a huge vista with barely any influence of man visible. It truly is magnificent.

One of the reasons why I have been so eager to climb Ben Klibreck the last few years is because of the imminent Creag Riabhach Wind Farm. This will see twenty two wind turbines up to 125 metres (410 feet) high, on the ground in the middle distance. If it finally gets built it will decimate this stunning part of Scotland, unnecessary industrialisation of a very wild area.

By the time I had averted my gaze and gained the ridge proper the clouds were rolling in, seemingly appearing from nowhere. However I suspect that they had been hiding on the other side of the mountain all along.

It was cold on the summit and the clouds obscured the view, I was enclosed in a damp and windy world, visibility down to a few metres. I had been using the app Routebuddy on my phone as a convenient pocket sized map. Unfortunately the cold immediately killed the iPhone battery as I was taking some photos on it. Luckily I always carry a paper map as back up, but where was my compass? I then saw it in my mind, safely sitting in the pocket of my backpacking sack that I would be using later that evening. I had forgotten to swap it between sacks as the day before I had been backpacking. The perils of doing a trip that mixes both day walks and backpacking routes!

Thankfully the return simply involved retracing my steps, it would have involved a lot of effort to actually get lost. As I picked up the narrow path once again the mist started to thin. Silhouettes of nearby hills started to drift in and out of view, the hidden sun providing a backlight.

Suddenly the mist parted like a curtain and I was treated to a very special sunset.

It was an amazing way to end a day on a mountain, however it is a strange feeling to have night come so early. It was dark around 3.30pm when I finally got back to the van, the sun would not rise until nearly 9am the following morning. It was going to be a long period of darkness.

I drove a few miles north across empty moors, a lack of lighting from houses or buildings a bit disconcerting. The roads were empty, the verges quickly eaten up by the inky darkness. There was absolutely nothing out there.

I initially missed the rough layby and had to double back. With no moon it was absolutely pitch black outside, the sort of darkness where you can’t tell your arse from your elbow. I relied on technology to pinpoint my exact location. My backpack was already packed and ready to go, heavy with coal and kindling. A few steps away from the van and it was gone.

I have to say that I panicked when I got to where I thought the bridge was and saw that it was not there. Thankfully after walking up and down the banks of the river by headtorch I found what I was looking for. The walk along the north shore of Loch Loyal gave me a handrail for navigation. The only sound was the crunch of gravel under my boots, the only thing to see was the red light I had attached to Reuben’s collar.

I finally approached the building with apprehension, would there be smoke in the chimney and candle light in the window? All was dark, cold and silent when I arrived at the door. The metal latch seemed loud, all there was inside was the faint ghost of woodsmoke. The bothy was empty and currently mine alone.

I bagged a small snug room for myself and Reuben, there was still the possibility of other visitors so I did not want to spread out in the main room. Candles were lit and the fuel I had carried in was soon filling the lum with fire and smoke. Dinner was cooked and cans of beer opened, Reuben snoring on his mat. For me a perfect evening.

With no moon and zero light pollution I kept popping out to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance. They did not but the sky was full of a billion stars.

Bed time was early, Reuben and I tucked away in the wood panelled snug, the door shut against anything that may go bump in the night, secured against the bothy ghosts.

Nothing did go bump in the night and many hours later I was outside before dawn having a look at the previously hidden surroundings. The bothy is located in a magical spot.

With no facilities at the bothy I did the ritual walk of shame with the spade far away from both the building and water source. I was soon packed up, ensuring all litter was packed out, the fireplace clean and the floor swept. I was once again crunching along the gravel beach of Loch loyal, the sun finally rising for another short day. Onwards to my next adventure in the far north.

Achnanclach bothy is maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. Full details can be found here, including the bothy code. Basically don’t be a dick, respect the building and other users, carry out your rubbish and any you find,¬†don’t shit near the building or water source, don’t visit in big groups, leave fuel for others. Pretty simple really.

May 6, 2016

Escape to the Elenydd

by backpackingbongos

With the Colorado Trail now less than three months away I thought that I should start some training. The idea was for a 51 mile linear walk south to north across the Yorkshire Dales over the May Bank Holiday. Predictably my annual spring cold arrived just in time to scupper the whole thing, along with a rubbish weather forecast for the Dales.

Although I was not well enough to drag my carcass for miles across the moors with a heavy rucksack I was not too ill to have a leisurely explore in the camper van. With it being a spring Bank Holiday I switched on my misanthropic people avoidance radar and set the van on a course for the Elenydd.

Obviously the readers of this blog are hill connoisseurs and know exactly where the Elenydd is located. It’s a huge upland area of Wales that stretches roughly from Pumlumon in the north to¬†Mynydd Epynt¬†in the south. It includes gems such as the Elan valley, a brilliant place to explore. However for this visit I decided to head for the area surrounding Llyn Brianne, north of the town of Llandovery. The Bank Holiday people avoidance plan worked, on the hills over the weekend I passed a total of two couples, both within a minute of leaving the road. The moors themselves were totally deserted, just sheep and very optimistic skylarks. A few phone pictures and words:

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The problem with getting to Wales from the East Midlands is that Birmingham and the West Midlands are in the way. Words such as M6 and M42 fill me with fear and horror. Somehow I avoided the awkward bit and found myself passing Titterstone Clee Hill. Considering that there is a car park near the summit I felt it would be rude not to pay it a visit. I sat in the comfort of the van for a while watching a hail storm slowly progress across the Shropshire Hills. It was a few minutes of violence when it finally hit.

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It’s less than half an hour round trip to the summit itself. There you can have huge views with very little effort. This is made even better when viewed under blue skies whilst a northerly wind leaves pin sharp visibility.

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The view to the east is obscured by a large mast and a selection of giant golf balls, part of a radar station. Add to that extensive quarry workings and it is not the most beautiful of hills. The views are stunning though.

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The Sugar Loaf Halt on the Heart of Wales line is apparently the least used railway station in the UK, with an average of five passengers a month. I was going to use its car park but it turned out that it does not have one. Instead I parked at the start of a forestry track nearby to ascend the 511 metre Garn Wen. Located at the edge of the Elenydd and overlooking the Mynydd Epynt the views encompass rugged moors, forestry, green valleys and pastures. Reuben did his best above to blend into the scenery. Spot the dog?

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One thing that really struck me about this part of Wales is the lack of windfarms. There was not a single one to be seen in any direction, and the views were massive. Dominant on the horizon to the south was the Brecon Beacons National Park. I could clearly see the Black Mountains, the Pen Y Fan hills and the Black Mountain. Their shapes are unmistakable and the rolling foothills led to the sheer sense of scale.

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The road around the Llyn Brianne gives a rollercoaster of a drive. High above the reservoir it is single track all the way with many steep sections and hairpin bends. I found a cracking spot to park up for the night, traffic being non-existent after about 6pm. I was joined for a few hours by a couple of local lads in their camper before they eventually headed home. The following morning the birds were up early and singing their hearts out, it felt like spring had sprung, although temperatures were still close to freezing.

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I have a feeling that¬†Gopa Uchaf and Garn Gron are not high on many people’s tick lists. They are located on the western edge of the¬†Elenydd, not far from the village of Tregaron. They both give the feeling of standing on the shore of a vast moorland sea, the gentle slopes rising and falling like waves. The moors give the impression of easy walking but they are far from that. If the tussocks don’t twist an ankle, they will wear down¬†your resolve.

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Orange bailing twine reminds me of my childhood in Suffolk where I often found myself lifting bails of straw onto a wobbly wheelbarrow. We always had to earn our pocket-money as kids. Here it was used to tie a slowly rotting gate to a moss and lichen encrusted post. I’m not quite ready to use it as a belt just yet.

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The joy of a campervan is stopping anywhere that takes your fancy and being able to enjoy the hills with some degree of comfort. The road between Tregaron and Abergwesyn is also single track and there are plenty¬†of arrows on the OS map to indicate the steepness. The Devil’s Staircase is impressive with its 1 in 4 gradient and several hairpins. I found a high commanding¬†eyrie for the night and spent the evening with the tailgate open, enjoying the expansive views in the sun. I felt less smug the following morning when the cloud was covering the hills, drizzle being blown on the cold wind.

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The highest point of the Mynydd Epynt is probably the quickest hill bag in the whole of Wales, mostly due to the fact that it is a couple of hundred metres from the road. What makes it tricky though is that it is on an active MOD firing range. After a bit of online research I discovered that there was no firing over the weekend. I made a quick dash for it.

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The Radnor hills made a good stopover on the way back to Nottingham. To the north of the village of New Radnor they rise to over two thousand feet. However the most shapely of these is the lower Whimble, which apparently used to have access issues. The van was parked for the night in a high forestry car park and Reuben and I had a bimble up Whimble. The wind was blowing and the cloud was covering the higher tops but the view was still spectacular. The path to the top is surprisingly steep.

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The car park was a peaceful place to spend the night, with the exception of the usual late evening and early morning dog walkers.

Mid Wales is a superb place to visit when the more popular hills are going to be busy. Yes there are no rocky ridges and spectacular peaks, however there is a great feeling of wildness and getting away from it all. Even the quiet roads are a pleasure to drive, perfect to explore in a camper van.