Posts tagged ‘Bongo’

November 20, 2015

Goodbye Bongo

by backpackingbongos

I went to the garage this morning to say a sad farewell to our beloved Bongo. She has been very poorly the last few days, sitting on a ramp with her innards exposed. Last weekend on the way to the North York Moors she broke down, something she has only done once before in the seven years we have owned her. It turns out that the cam belt had snapped, causing damage to the engine. Once on the ramp and with panels removed it turns out that the rust problem is much more extensive than we had previously thought. It would take a hell of a lot of expensive welding to get through the MOT in February, on top of a big bill to get the engine running again. We have made the difficult decision that she is uneconomical to repair.

We have had some good times together, from one end of the UK to the other. I have lived out of her for weeks at a time on the islands of Scotland. The name of this blog comes from the Bongo (no I don’t take a set of drums into the hills). The name will remain though as I don’t think that Backpackingfordfocus has the same ring about it.







January 26, 2013

Out of the firing range into the bothy

by backpackingbongos

After Mike and Bruno had left I sat in the Bongo for a while and made a coffee.  I waited for a convoy of 4×4’s towing quad bikes to pass along the road, the hunt was clearly over.  I did not want to come face to face with a vehicle on the narrow ribbon of tarmac whilst driving to the head of the valley.

The drive up to the parking place near Chew Green was slow, given the state of the potholed road.  I got a real sense of getting away from it all as I progressed further up the valley.  The final building was Makendon which has been taken over by the military.  Near the old farmhouse was this sign.


As I drove up the hill I noticed that the surface became smoothly tarmaced, the military doing a better job at maintenance than the local authority.  Just before the gate that sometimes bars traffic from the firing range there is a small parking area.  I spent a peaceful night there in the van, totally undisturbed by passing traffic once it had got dark.  It was cosy laying in my sleeping bag listening to the wind and the rain.

It was still dark when I got up.  I made a coffee and wandered around the van whilst Reuben sniffed about.  The weather had cleared in the night and the sky had turned a glorious shade of pink in the pre-dawn air.  A few pockets of frost had formed on bits of the grass that was sheltered from the wind.


After breakfast I quickly packed a bag with my camera and a few snacks and we set off up the military road.  The flags would not be flying for another couple of days which meant that the gate across the road was open.  It was a steep haul up the smooth tarmac, giving views back to where I had spent the night.  As we got higher I could hear the sound of dreaded trail bikes, unseen they sounded like a hornets nest that had been disturbed.  With the noise growing louder I could see a convoy of about a dozen riding the border ridge a couple of miles away.  Riding illegally and churning up the soft ground.  Bastards.


Strictly speaking you are meant to stick to the rights of way when crossing the Redesdale and Otterburn firing ranges, open only when there is no firing taking place.  However there was a hill I wanted to bag.  The sheep on the moor had all their limbs present so I made the assumption all was well, crossing rough ground to the summit of Thirl Moor.  There are what appears to be several tumuli and a few metal posts with star symbols on them.  I assume they mean there is some archeological remains.  The best feature of this hill however is the view.  It sits in the middle of nowhere and the surrounding moors stretch unbroken to all horizons.  There are no modern man-made structures to break up the landscape.  Cloud drifting above the distant Kielder forest just added to the perfectness of it all.



A quad bike track to the north soon petered out and we descended through deep heather before finding a contouring path.  This gave a cracking view down the Upper Coquet, the van a tiny white spec in the distance.


With the building of Makendon directly below us we made a steep descent through the heather which did its best to trip me up.  It was slow going trying to stay upright.  Finally we made it to the river bank, crossing at the far end of the old farm and exiting through numerous sheep pens.  We timed this to perfection as a farmer came up the road at that very moment and we were not on a right of way.  Thankfully he waved as he passed.

A track took us up pastures on the other side of the valley where I came across evidence of trail bike riders.  The bridleway was a wide boggy mess from numerous wheels, mud flung in all directions.  It took a while to carefully pick my way to the summit of Brownhart Law, ducking briefly into Scotland just because I could.


The Cheviot sat large and brooding in the distance, a long march away via the Pennine way.


It was an easy yomp back to the Bongo via the Roman Camp of Chew Green, not particularly noticeable on the ground as you walk though it.  You need to head across the valley and view it from there to really appreciate the scale.  Back at the van I got the stove on and made lunch whilst watching the clouds begin to lower onto the hills.  I sorted out my pre-packed backpacking rucksack and added a few extra bits such as a bow saw.  It’s not very often that I head into the wilds with a bow saw strapped to my pack!  I set back off towards Chew Green with Reuben in tow, stopping almost immediately to put on waterproof trousers as a fine drizzle set in.

We passed a hiker out for a day walk from Byrness,  we were the first signs of life he had seen all day on these remote border hills.  After a chat we continued on our separate ways and I stopped after a while to watch him as he moved across the wide open and increasingly murky landscape.  Watching the small speck finally disappear just seemed to enhance the sense of bleakness.


I had left the comfort and security of the van to head for a tiny bothy five kilometres away.  I had stayed there a few years previous on a lovely summers weekend and had always planned to return in the winter.  I was a little nervous hoping that it would be empty, four would be a crowd in the single room.  I was not carrying a tent as pitching options are pretty non-existent outside.  If it was occupied and no room for me and the dog it was going to be a long walk back to the van across the moor in the dark!

The first section of the path was fairly easy-going, following the course of the Pennine way.  This was soon left for a boggy and tussocky squelch towards the bridleway at  The Heart’s Toe.  However I soon got fed up with the rough going and hopped the fence, fighting my way across a section of felled forest to a gravel forestry track.  It was then an easy downhill walk all the way to the bothy.

It’s amazing how often the mind plays tricks on you.  Whenever I approach a bothy I get a whiff of wood smoke, whether there is smoke or not.  Is it the way my brain anticipates the people who may already be in residence?  The tiny building sat below me amongst a scene of devastation.  Pretty much the entire forest that surrounded it has been clear felled.  The last time I had visited it was secretly nestled deep in the forest.

I found a recently felled small pine tree in the forest and dragged it down the steep slopes towards the bothy.  I was keen to have a roaring fire that night.  As I approached it was evident that no one was in residence, the door was bolted from the outside and no smoke was coming from the chimney.  The carved wooden sign welcomes you in.



Less welcoming however is the new ‘Bothy watch’ sign.  The bothies in the Kielder area have unfortunately become notorious for some of the people that they attract.  A few have been shut down recently, including the lovely one at Kielder Head.  A draw for complete f***wits for a spot of mindless vandalism, parties and drug taking.  At least Bothy watch is a positive commitment to keep these shelters open rather than letting the mindless few ruin it for others.  On my walk down I had been wondering ‘who’ I might end up sharing with rather than ‘if’.  On the positive side, strangers do not know that Reuben is a completely soppy hound!


The bothy as it turned out was completely spotless.  There was not even a scrap of rubbish or any of the ubiquitous wine bottle / candlestick holders.  The floor was swept and the stove still had warm embers from the previous occupants.  Even better was the basket of bone dry logs.  My earlier worries quickly faded away.

I spent a pleasurable afternoon drinking coffee and sawing the tree into smaller pieces so that it would fit in the woodshed.  A constant drizzle sent me inside where I lit the fire.  The stove was soon roaring, Reuben claiming his spot for the evening.  I love bothy nights and this was one was very enjoyable.  The wind and rain picked up as the evening progressed, enhancing the general feeling of coziness.



The morning dawned dull and grey, however after a good and long sleep I managed to get up early.  After breakfast I set about replenishing the wood that I had used the night before.  Half an hour with the bow saw and there was a satisfying pile of dry logs stacked in the bothy.  A good sweep and an idiot check to make sure I had not left anything and we set off across the bridge and up to the forestry track.



The walk back to the van was a bit of a trudge in the rain, more chore than pleasure to be honest.  I was pleased to see the Bongo was still where I had left it.  I worry about leaving a vehicle in such a remote spot but figure it is no more risky than somewhere more populated.  I suppose it’s just luck of the draw.

The red flags were still not flying so I took the opportunity to drive home via the military road rather than returning back via Alwinton.  The Cottonhope road is marked as a bridleway on the map but is often open to civilian traffic.  It’s a cracking drive over the moors to near Byrness, the steep sections something you would not want to attempt in snow or ice.  Driving the empty road after being alone on the moors it felt like human life had been wiped from the face of the earth.

December 17, 2011

Bothy then Bongo in the Yorkshire Dales

by backpackingbongos

Driving up through the roadworks on the A1 my eyes kept drifting towards the western horizon.  Was that snow that I could see on the hills in the distance?  Indeed it was and as I approached the Yorkshire Dales the snowy moors rose up around me.

I drove up and down through the Dales village a couple of times before settling on a spot where I would be happy to leave the Bongo overnight.  I then spent an age having a good faff whilst kitting up both myself and Reuben for the wintry conditions on the hills.  It was during this faff that the skies darkened and a wet and sticky snow storm blew in, covering everything in a slushy layer.  I relaxed in the van and ate my lunch until it had passed.

The minor road that left the main street soon turned into a track as it snaked its way up onto the moors.  My rucksack was heavy, for although I had left my tent behind, it had been replaced by several kilos of coal and wood.  I was heading  towards a bothy, the shelter of four walls being preferable to a long night in a tent.  The snow became firmer the higher I climbed, everything covered in what looked like white icing sugar.  The light was lovely as the sun went in and out of the clouds.  One minute the world would have a bluish tint to it, then the snow would have a pink hue as the low sun reflected off it.  The occasional flake of snow would be pushed along on the frigid northerly wind.

The security of the track was left as we headed cross-country across the moors, following a drystone wall.  Reuben was suddenly in his element, he loves being on the open moor.  He bounded up and down through the snow covered heather, his face often being dusted with the white stuff.  I in the meantime proceeded with caution, stumbling over hidden boulders and tussocks.

A hut was spotted below and I went down to investigate.  On the way an extensive marshy area was crossed, a covering of snow hiding the bogs.  Luckily I sloshed across without incident and reached the hut which thankfully was unlocked.  My timing was spot on as just as I stepped inside the world outside disappeared to a wall of white as a heavy snow shower passed over the moor.  It was a lovely spot, but not one to spend the night in the middle of winter as it was lacking a fireplace.  I shouldered my heavy pack and started a steep ascent next to a lively stream frothing with brown peaty water.  Higher up the stream meandered lazily through a flat expanse of moorland and I picked a route alongside it.

The going was tough higher up as I was on the lee of the hill, spindrift from above being deposited in large drifts.  The source of the stream thankfully was not frozen and I filled my water bottles, the cold water burning my fingers.  Reuben discovered a small cornice above the stream and plunged through it with a look of surprise on his face, whilst a smile filled mine.

Thankfully the hut I planned to spend the night in was unlocked.  If it had been locked it would have been a long walk back to the Bongo by torchlight.  Initially I thought that someone was already there as the door was wide open.  It was empty apart from a rabbit seeking shelter, the storm of the previous day probably blowing it open.  With my pack deposited inside I spent a while happily exploring my snowy surroundings.

It was not even four o’clock and the last of the daylight was being chased towards the west.  It was time to go back inside and light a fire.  The few kilos of wood and coal that I had hauled up with me was dwarfed by the pile of logs and coal already sitting next to the fireplace.  However Bothy karma dictates that you should always bring in fuel if you can.  Bothy karma points are deducted if you don’t do this and one day you end up shivering in a cold bothy with no fire.  A healthy blaze was soon lifting the temperature in the drafty building by almost a quarter of a degree and I added to the warmth by lighting my stove to consume numerous hot drinks and plentiful food.  After a few hours the temperature was raised to a positively balmy three degrees and the ice melted from the windows.  The moon shone through the windows with an eerie glow and I once again found myself outside, mug of coffee in hand to take in the frigid night atmosphere, high on the hills and with civilisation glittering far off in the distance.

The concrete floor was far from inviting to sleep on, even with a down mat.  I pushed two benches together to make a narrow rudimentary sleeping platform, just wide enough to place my mat and sleeping bag.  Reuben kept eyeing it up, his body language requesting that he be invited to snuggle up with me.

It was rather toasty laying near the fire whilst reading my kindle until late into the night.  Every hour or so I would have to get up to throw a little more coal on the fire.  In the end sleep caught up with me and the fire went out, the chill soon rising from the concrete floor and stone of the building.  Darkness itself never really came with the moon reflecting off the snow through the large windows.

I awoke to a change of colour through the window, a promise that dawn was about to break in a spectacular fashion.  Encased in my down jacket I got up and lit my stove to make a coffee before setting about bringing the fire back to life.  The next hour or so was spent watching a rather special sunrise, punctuated by frequent trips to the fire to thaw out.  Reuben was suitably unimpressed by the light show outside, the fire providing him with what he appeared to be craving.  Warmth.

I quickly packed up after several cups of coffee and a steaming bowl of supernoodles, the breakfast choice of kings.  I have to admit that I then rather disgraced myself.  The toilet round the back was much more inviting than walking across the moor and digging a hole.  It even had running water, soap and a nice fluffy towel.  I should have realised flushing would be an issue with the cistern being outside and it being rather on the cold side.  I left feeling rather ashamed after writing my apologies in the visitors book!

The walk back to the Bongo was entirely downhill and I was back in just over an hour, a great snow-covered, blue sky start to the day.

I rather fancied a day walk, a visit to a summit without being weighed down by a backpacking sack.  I was a little unsure as to the condition of the roads leading up across the moors towards some of the higher hills.  I therefore decided that it would be prudent to stick to the main roads through the valleys.  In the end I drove to the lovely little Dales village of West Burton where I left the Bongo next to the village green.  I have to admit that I risked the life of the Bongo on the way by following a land rover through a large section of flooded road a couple of feet deep.  My heart was in my mouth during the crossing, leaving a series of waves in my wake, the cars behind being sensible and turning around.

Following the lane of Morpeth Gate out of the village I was in a much greener world than I had woken up in.  A rise in temperatures meant that any low level snow had quickly melted leaving the ground waterlogged.  After spending nearly twenty four hours surrounded by white hills, the green fields suddenly felt rather drab.

As the track climbed up to a shelf above the valley the snow was met once more, puddles frozen over.  There was a moment of panic in Reubens eyes as he attempted to cross a flooded section of track which was frozen.  Half way across the ice started giving way and he found himself up to his elbows in freezing muddy water.  He soon learnt to avoid frozen puddles.  The peace was then shattered by four huge green rumbling Chelsea tractor things thudding past complete with chinless occupants in their ‘country’ clothing.  Soon afterwards there was the sound of shotguns from behind as feathered / fluffy wildlife was blasted off the hillside.

I had thought about spending the evening in the bongo at the summit of the moorland road between West Witton and Melmerby.  However the steep bends were covered in a layer of snow and ice as I walked past, not a place to take a two tonne campervan.  A right of way leads from the road to Penhill Beacon which a man with his two dogs had just started ascending.  I watched as his dogs scattered sheep across the hillside whilst he bellowed ineffectively at them.  He had passed me on the narrow lane earlier at some speed, wheels spinning as I held Reuben into the verge.  As he was clearly a bit of a dick I decided to avoid him and took a longer route to the Beacon, Reuben on the look out for rabbits, whilst the mans obscenities drifted across the hillside.

Thankfully he had disappeared by the time I reached the substantial cairn and I stopped to have a chat with a guy and his two sons who were out snowboarding.  I followed the defined edge above Penhill Scar towards the trig point, excellent views across the snow fringed Wensleydale.

I realised that the blog has been lacking ‘Reuben on a trig point’ photographs recently so I tried to encourage him to pose for one.  He declined and instead crouched on it looking mournful at the indignity of it all.

Not long after Black Scar the set of footprints that I had been following through the snow suddenly disappeared and the terrain became rougher as I approached Height of Hazely.  I decided to break away from the edge of the plateau and walk directly to the unmarked summit.  This was a big mistake as I bashed through deep snow covered heather, occasionally plunging into boggy pools of water.  With both boots full of freezing water I began to curse at my lack of progress, realising that it would soon be dark.  Even Reuben appeared to have had enough and I heard him whine a couple of times when I stopped.  Visually though it was lovely on the snowy moors with the sun disappearing and clouds building.

With the featureless summit attained there was more frustratingly rough moorland to cross before I intersected the bridleway down into the valley of Walden Beck.  Half way down the gathering clouds expelled a shower of rain and I stopped to pull on my waterproof trousers.  Reuben also stopped, looked at me in a dejected way, turned around three times and curled up with a sigh.  It was clear that his initial excitement at being in the hills had diminished.

Back at the van he was happy to curl up on the backseat and be covered with a blanket.  I now had to seek out a quiet spot to park up for the night, somewhere I would not be disturbed.  Usually I would head for the moors, but did not want to risk ice or snow covered roads.  In the end I parked up in the car park of a local nature reserve near Askrigg.  A comfy night followed as I lay in my sleeping bag watching ‘Breaking bad‘ on my iPad, Reuben curled up on the seat having doggy dreams.

In the morning I opened the door to a completely different world, almost all of the snow had been stripped from the hills by a night of heavy rain.  With the snow gone and the hills covered in a grey blanket my enthusiasm for heading for the heights had diminished.  I decided that it was time to head for home.  With flooded fields and the hillsides flowing with water I thought that first it would be good to have a quick daunder along the River Ure and visit Aysgarth falls.  This turned out to be an excellent decision as the river was in full spate, turning the waterfalls into raging torrents.  The power of the water roaring down the small falls was rather impressive.

The weekend had been a hastily thrown together ‘Plan B’ after storms had made visiting the Highlands rather dangerous.  The night in the bothy however turned out to be one of those memorable moments in the hills.

Here is a video I put together of my night in the bothy on the moors, unfortunately the wind played havoc with the sound in places.

February 8, 2009

Backpacking, bothying and bongoing on Raasay

by backpackingbongos

One more week and I get to sleep in a tent for the first time this year – planning a weekend backpack in the North Pennines.  Cant wait, will be interesting to see how hardy (or not) I am!  Have not wild camped since last October.

In the meantime I thought I would write up a backpacking trip I did last summer with Corrina.

I have always wanted to visit Raasay, a long narrow Island located between Skye and Applecross on the mainland.  A two week holiday in the highlands with Corrina gave me the perfect opportunity.  We had agreed that if we stay in nice campsites with showers and stuff for most of the trip, then she would come on a two day backpack with me.  We set off from Applecross over the Bealach na ba, probably the best road I have ever driven.  The weather was amazing with views over to Skye from the summit of the road at 626m.  I managed a quick bag of the Corbett Sgurr a Chaorachain, which is well worth doing as the views are to die for.  We drove down and spent the night in Plockton which we wanted to visit as it is was the setting for Hamish Macbeth.  Really did not like the place, all full of art galleries and expensive cars.

Left the next morning in appalling weather to drive over the Skye bridge.  Skye looked pretty bleak and uninviting in the low cloud and rain from the A87, no mountains on view today!  We got to sconser only to discover we had a 4 hour wait as it was a Sunday – off to the Sligachan hotel bar then!  It appeared that the whole campsite across the way was sitting dripping in the bar, reading and looking glum.

Late afternoon and we were boarding the ferry with 2 other vehicles for the short crossing to Suisnish.  It felt like we were heading off into the unknown as we drove off the ferry.  Through the village of Inverarish then climbing up on the single track road past the youth hostel.  The road surface soon turned pretty rough as it climbed over the 200m mark, with the wind battering us from the west.  The views across to skye was awesome with the whole of the east coast in view.

Map of Raasay (click to enlarge)


We searched for ages for somewhere to park up for the night, but places were lacking that were not directly in the full force of the wind.  We eventually found a spot that was relatively sheltered but decided not to put the roof up as some gusts were pretty ferocious.  Did not want to loose the roof out here!

Bongo wild camp


Not that keen on parking up next to a road but we only had one vehicle pass us in the 12 hours we were there!  The morning dawned bright, warm and sunny so we continued heading to the north of the Island.  The last two miles of road are known as Callums Road after the local man who built it by hand.  What a road it is!  It is only just the width of the van and it twists and turns above cliffs with unprotected drops down into the sea.

Interesting road sign on Raasay


We did safely reach the end of the road at Arnish so shouldered our rucksacks and headed into the wild.  The next few miles were probably one of the best low level walks I have done.  The path was constantly twisting in and around rocky outcrops with stunning views at every step.

View to the north of Raasay with the Island of Rona in the distance


View across the Sound of Raasay to the east coast of Skye


After a few hours of gentle walking and lots of sitting down and taking in the views, we finally arrived at Taig Thormoid Dhuibh bothy which is maintained by the MBA (Mountain bothies association).  The location of which was even better than we had imagined with 180 degree views to the sea.  It has one open plan room with a fireplace at one end and a sleeping platform at the other.  The major drawback is the lack of any firewood in the area.  Determined to have at least a small fire in the evening, I left Corrina at the bothy for a couple of hours as I set off on a scavenge along the rocky shore.  There was only the odd bit of driftwood to be found so if you are planning to come here in the colder months make sure you carry in some fuel.  We spent the evening sitting outside the bothy watching the sun set over Skye.  Even at midnight the sky was still tinged with pink and night was a bright twighlight.

Sitting outside Taig Thormoid Dhuibh bothy


Cooking in the bothy


Taig Thormoid Dhuibh looking towards the Isle of Skye


The next morning was spent lazing around the bothy before heading back the way we had come to the van.  The weather broke just as we got back to the road head.  Wind and rain with a curtain of mist hiding Skye.