Posts tagged ‘Mazda Bongo’

January 19, 2015

New Year in Northumberland

by backpackingbongos

During the New Year I was lucky enough to spend a week in a cottage deep in the wilds of Northumberland with Mrs Bongo. We were based in the tiny village of Greenhaugh, inside the National park itself and not too far from Kielder Water. It was a magically tranquil spot, seemingly miles from the hustle and bustle of modern life. It’s one of my favourite parts of the country. There are no huge rocky peaks or dramatic gorges, just miles of unspoilt moors, hidden valleys and an abundance of conifers! Not a single other hiker was spotted during the week. My kind of place. Here are a few brief words and some photos.

 

Collier Law – 516 metres

Collier Law actually sits over the border in County Durham, but to me the accent sounds the same. We did a small detour on the drive north and parked next to the Parkhead Station cafe on the moors above Stanhope. I don’t think that you could really class Collier Law as an exciting or even attractive hill. It was all tracks, quarries and masts. Reuben however thought it was great and I got a tick on one of my hill lists. The view once at the summit was extensive on the clear and crisp winters day.

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Deadwater Fell – 571 metres & Peel Fell – 602 metres

After leaving a very snowy Nottingham behind it was rather disappointing to find that there was no snow in Northumberland. We had even taken the Bongo just in case 4WD was needed, sadly (really thankfully) it was not. They actually grit the roads up there, unlike the treacherous city streets we had left behind.

Corrina was happy to be left in bed on our first morning whilst I scooted off at the crack of dawn to bag a couple of remote hills just above Kielder village. I started the walk in freezing fog, everything glazed by a thick penetrating frost, the air perfectly still. Gaining height I was soon in the snowy forest, shifting mists giving teasing glimpses of the sun overhead. Suddenly I was above the fog, the sun shining hard but providing no warmth. Much of the day was spent crossing rough trackless ground, a covering of snow making things more difficult and hiding the bogs. The clouds flirted with me all day, often obscuring the hill tops, taking away the view from Peel Fell itself. I arrived back at Kielder shortly after dark, tired and happy and without seeing a person all day.

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Padon hill – 379 Metres

I picked what I hoped would be a scenic but easy walk for Corrina. What could be easier than a stroll down an isolated lane and then a walk over the moors on the Pennine Way? This section of the Pennine Way was bloody awful, especially when it passed through the forest. There was no path as such, just saturated ground that tried to steal your boots. The flagstones of the Peak District would have been very welcome here. The views though were classic Northumberland, moors to the horizon and huge skies. Lunch was eaten whilst perched on a tussock.

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Kielder Water

For such a large expanse of water it was a little bit underwhelming to be honest. Too many signs telling you where to go and what to do. We got off to a bad start when after paying for the car park we found the public loos were locked. Luckily there are plenty of trees to hide behind. We walked to one of the arty things that are dotted around the shore. The information board promised that inside the structure the lake would be reflected on the floor and we would be soothed by the sound of water. We went into a pitch black chamber and had a minor panic when the door jammed shut.

It then rained and even Reuben wanted to go back and sit next to the fire.

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Roughside Moor

I fancied another big leg stretcher whilst in Northumberland, so I left Corrina a cup of tea next to the bed and buggered off again for the day. On the map my circuit just looked like a loop in a giant conifer plantation. In reality it was much more pleasant. My first destination was Roughside bothy, a place I vow never to spend the night. It is a horrid dark, damp place with evidence of the nefarious folk who frequent it at weekends. Most of them having graffitied their name somewhere. Far too close to the road and easily accessible.

The Chirdon Burn is a hidden gem. The river swollen after heavy rain passes through steep contours and plunges over Jerry’s Linn. An oasis amongst the monoculture of the forestry plantations.

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December 13, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 3

by backpackingbongos

I pulled the Bongo off the road not far from Gualin House, pretty much on the highest part of the A838. Although an A road there was hardly any traffic once past 7.00pm and I had an undisturbed night.

As I write this I am kicking myself. The plan for the following morning was to drive to Blairmore and walk into Sandwood Bay to spend the night in my tent. However waking to another morning of cloud and rain my resolve dissolved. I turned over and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The unpredictability of the weather was beginning to get to me. When I finally surfaced I went through another bout of lassitude where I could not be bothered to pack a backpacking sack for myself and Reuben. Instead I pulled on my waterproofs and headed up the hill directly behind the Bongo.

 

Farrmheall – 521 metres

I wonder how many people have bothered to climb Farrmheall? It is the highest peak in a large area of wild land known as the Parph, stretching for 107 square miles. The hill itself is pretty unremarkable and it took less than an hour to get to the summit and back from the van. What it lacks in height and ruggedness it certainly makes up for in terms of views and wide open spaces.

There were vestiges of a vehicle track long reclaimed by the moors on the ascent, a couple of traffic cones having found their way onto the hillside. With my head down and boots squelching across the wet slopes the summit cairn was soon reached. My eye was continually being drawn towards the large bulk of Foinaven, cloud constantly grazing its summit. The long and lonely Strath Dionard looked inviting, the map suggesting many possible adventures in remote and little explored country. Cape Wrath was to my north across endless rolling moors, one day I will make the journey up there and spend the night in the beachside bothy at Kearvaig.

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Back at the van I pondered my next move, it continued to spit with rain which dampened my enthusiasm for climbing any further hills. It was also far too late to set off for Sandwood Bay. The weather for the following day looked ‘reasonable’ so I decided to head around to the moors north of the remote Crask Inn. From there I would climb Ben Klibreck the following morning.

I took my time driving down the single track A838, stopping frequently to gawp at the views. Ben Stack looked like a volcano as I passed, its cone poking out from a ring of cloud. It appeared much higher than its 720 metres would suggest. There is much to explore on either side of the road, you could easily spend a week doing so. Loch Shin stretches for miles and it is sad to think that the west side could soon be dominated by wind turbines along the whole length. Glencassley and Sallachy power stations will have 48 giant turbines between them if given the go ahead. Right below the magnificent Munro of Ben More Assynt and designated as Wild Land. Lets see if the Scottish Government sticks to its promise to protect those areas designated as wild land.

 

Meall an Fhuarain – 473 metres (The site of the proposed Altnaharra wind farm)

We spent the night in the Bongo close to the summit of the Crask Inn Road. Once again for such a remote spot there was a mini rush hour in the evening where many cars passed, followed by silence for the rest of the night.

I have to say that I was rather disappointed when I poked my head out of the van at dawn. The good weather had not materialised. Looking up to the summit of Ben Klibreck a big cap of cloud was racing across the highest slopes. The speed at which it was tearing across the summit cone did not make climbing it a very attractive proposition. A heavy shower brought along on a gust of wind helped make up my mind.

I decided that I would start the long journey home at midday, enough time to have a couple of hours squelching about on the moors. Across the road from Ben Klibreck is a large area of moorland that culminates in the summit of Meall an Fhuarain. This is the site of the proposed Altnaharra wind farm, in fact the wind monitoring mast was already towering over the landscape. I decided to go and explore and also tick off a remote Marilyn.

It was a bit of a long slog to get to the summit. We initially followed the Allt Bealachan Fhuarain for a bit, its grassy banks giving easy passage. It was then a case of striking up rough and tough moorland. As expected the summit itself was nothing special but revealed a huge vista of mountains, lochs and moorland with barely any evidence of the hand of man. It was breathtaking to be honest, amazing that such vast and open landscapes exist in our crowded island. The proposal for up to 22 enormous turbines here would be catastrophic for the landscape, dominating the views from Ben Klibreck, Ben Hope, Ben Loyal and Ben Hee.

We descended into a face of drizzle, the weather matching my mood. Reuben was trying to hide from the wet wind behind random tussocks.

For how much longer will the far north remain special?

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December 6, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 2

by backpackingbongos

I got up a couple of times in the night to add coal to the fire. It was snug in my sleeping bag, Reuben snoozing close by and the sound of wind and rain outside. The candles burned for hours giving the room a cozy flickering glow, driving the bothy ghosts into another room.

The room was dark and gloomy when I woke in the morning, grey leaden skies preventing much light getting through the bothy window. I got up and shuffled to my stove, my breath hanging on the cold air. The stove roared into life and within a couple of minutes I had a cup of hot coffee in my hands. I was dismayed to see that the rain was still falling, I once again began to worry about crossing the river and getting back to the van. Apart from my usual breakfast bacon noodles my food bag was empty. I think I would have to be trapped for a few days however before I considered eating the dog.

The buckets of water for the loo needed filling so I took a walk down to the river, my boots still soaking wet from the crossing the day before. Thankfully the river had reduced to half the size so I immediately felt much more relaxed. An enjoyable couple of hours was then spent in the bothy, eating noodles and drinking coffee before finally packing and heading off into improving weather.

The walk back to the Bongo was much easier that the day before, streams were once again confined to their banks and the surrounding mountains were revealing themselves.

 

Durness and beaches

Traigh allt Chailgeag was a worthy stopping point on the road to Durness. After a few days in the bleak Sutherland hinterland it felt like I was in different country. The wind had dropped, the sun shone and waves lapped gently at the shore.

I was going to pay Smoo cave a visit but as I passed I was put off by the general hustle and bustle. Ok it was hardly Keswick on a bank holiday Monday but after days without seeing a soul it all seemed too much. I did not feel ready to join the great washed. I still had bits of Sutherland dirtying my clothes and I was long overdue a shower.

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The shop in Durness was an Aladdins cave of treasure. They even had Arran Blonde which is one of my favourite beers. I hauled my bounty back to the Bongo and drove the short distance to Balnakeil bay.

A hefty shower meant that lunch was eaten in the van. An almighty bang suddenly rattled the windows and Reuben cowered in the passenger seat. I initially thought that it was thunder but noticed a group of people staring out to sea. I got out of the van just in time to see a low flying jet, then a plume of smoke on an island to the north of the Cape Wrath peninsular. Seconds later there was another mighty boom. The military were playing with their weapons.

It was too late in the day for a big walk so I spent a pleasant hour with Reuben walking the coast path leading to Keodale. The weather was ever-changing. Bright sunshine, white clouds, black skies, sun, hail and rainbows. The grass in the dunes rippled in the wind sending patterns into the distance. Reuben got the wind in his sails and sped across the dunes with a grin on his face.

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I later checked into the Sango Sands campsite in Durness, time for a shower and to top up the Bongo’s water supply. By then there was barely a cloud in the sky and I picked a grassy spot right on the cliff top. I double checked that the handbrake was on, otherwise it would be a very quick trip to the beach below. There was only a handful of other vans on the site, braving the weather in the far north during the school holidays.

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In the last of the afternoon light I had the beach pretty much to myself bar a couple of surfers. Reuben loves being on sand and raced around in huge circles, ripping up any seaweed that he could find.

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Later that evening after reviving myself under a hot shower I paid a visit to the ‘pub’ next door. I was looking forward to a pint and a good bar meal. I was bitterly disappointed, for some reason the Highlands don’t really do cosy country pubs. The best I could find in the land of Tennents pish was a pint of Guinness. My meal consisted of frozen chips, frozen scampi, tinned peas and some strangely artificial looking carrots. It was also not very cheap. I could not bring myself to stay for a second pint.

 

Beinn Spionnaidh 773 metres and Cranstackie 801 metres

With the best weather of the week forecast I was up and away early. With sunshine promised along with much lighter winds I was determined to get up a mountain. Beinn Spionnaidh is the most northern bit of significant high ground on the mainland and from looking at the map I thought it should give good views of the north coast. Adding its higher neighbour Cranstackie would give a short outing in terms of mileage but plenty of ascent and descent.

There is parking for a few cars a couple of hundred metres from the cottage at Carbreck. We took to the track that leads to the isolated farm at Rhigolter, almost reaching it before I realised that I had left my water bottle back at the van. I decided against the nearly two mile round trip to go back and collect it, I reasoned that water should be easy to find on the hill. We picked up the track round the back of the farm, setting off the dogs barking.

The track has been extended further than the map suggests, an ugly scar on the hillside I would imagine is too steep for most vehicles. We soon left it and climbed very steep grass slopes to Cioch Mhor and finally onto the plateau of Beinn Spionnaidh itself.

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The summit plateau is one of the rockiest that I have visited, acres of flat boulders which needed care to cross. It would be a real ankle breaker under a covering of snow. Even Reuben took his time, worried as they wobbled under his paws.

The view from the summit was even better than expected. The whole of the north coast was spread out beneath my feet, the mountains of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope rising from the flat moors. The wilderness of the Parph, a huge area of low hills south of Cape Wrath looked especially inviting under the low Autumn sun. I sat for a long time enjoying the views and solitude whilst I ate my lunch, cursing the fact that I had nothing to drink.

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With both hills being Corbetts there was a long descent and ascent to reach the summit of Cranstackie. The views from that cairn were more about the mountainous Sutherland hinterland than the coast. Foinaven dominated the view to the south, the hills to the south-east being comprised more of rock and boulder than vegetation.

We descended back to the bealach between the two hills and picked a way down very steep grass into Calbhach Coire, herds of deer scattering as we approached. It took a while to pick a way through the boggy coire and down to the farm at Rhigolter. With wood smoke coming from the chimney and lights from the living room it looked very cosy. By the time we had walked back along the track and back to the van it was pitch black. Time to find a good spot in which to spend another long dark night.

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November 23, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 1

by backpackingbongos

It was dark and raining when I arrived in Aviemore. After nearly nine hours in the Bongo I was tired and hungry and needed a good long break from driving. Reuben did not look very impressed when I left him and sat in the fish and chip shop for half an hour. Thankfully all the outdoor shops had closed which meant that no unnecessary damage was done to my wallet. Reuben had the glamour of his dinner in a lay-by and a wee on the side of the A9.

The lights on the Bongo are pretty poor which makes driving in the dark a bit of a chore. I was constantly being dazzled by high-powered halogen bulbs or people who left it late to dip their lights as we made our way north. Not much fun with tired eyes. Twelve hours after leaving home I finally pulled off the road near the summit of the single track road through Glen Loth. I would love to say that when I got out of the van I was mesmerised by the star filled sky. Instead I was greeted by drizzle and even Reuben was not that keen on a quick leg stretcher along the empty road.

 

Ben Griam Mor – 590 metres

Nothing beats opening the blinds of the Bongo in the morning when you have arrived in the dark the night before. The rain during the night had passed and the air felt fresh and clean, a weak sun shining through the remaining clouds. As I sat and ate breakfast in the van there was a mini rush hour on the single track mountain road. It’s an obvious short cut between Strath Kildonan and the busy A9.

It was a scenic drive north to the small village of Kinbrace, which boasts a railway station on the Inverness to Wick line. The place has a real frontier feel about it, surrounded in every direction by bleak open moorland. I continued west along the single track B871, parking just south of the Garvault Hotel, often touted as the remotest on the mainland. It truly is in a wild and woolly spot, miles from anywhere, only a narrow strip of tarmac linking it to the outside world. It took me a while to work out what was missing, there were no power lines or telegraph poles along the road. The only man-made intrusion being a block of commercial forestry.

A rough track led us uphill, Reuben relishing being off lead after spending the day before cooped up in the van. The weather forecast indicated that this would be the best day of the week, the usual sorry tale of wind and rain for the days after. However it was not quite good enough for the big hills due to the wind. The Griam’s were a worthy alternative. They are perfect pyramids rising from the otherwise flat moors, not reaching the magic 2000ft but dominating the area for miles. I thought that they would be great viewpoints over the Flow Country.

The track was soon left for a direct assault across boggy tussocky ground and then the final steep slopes. The view from the summit was as good as I had anticipated, one of the wildest areas of Scotland lay at my feet. It was the Flow Country that really caught my eye, its vast flatness is truly impressive.

A couple of showers rattled through on the strong wind, the sky alternating light and dark with rainbows providing colour. I had planned to climb Ben Griam Beg as well but I decided against it, giving an excuse to return to this magical place (actually more down to laziness). Instead I descended to the north down very steep grassy slopes to Loch Coire nan Mang, the rough track then gave easy walking back to the Bongo.

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A car park is marked on the OS map south of Dalvina Lodge in Strath Naver, along a track roughly a mile from the road. There was no actual sign indicating this when I turned the Bongo off the road later that afternoon and I was a little nervous as I drove down the track. The well hidden car park did actually exist, the starting point for a walk to the clearance village of Rosal. Unfortunately darkness was quickly approaching and I did not get time to explore. However it was a perfect spot to spend a peaceful night in the Bongo.

 

Loch Strathy Bothy

I last came to Sutherland in 2011 and walked into Loch Strathy bothy with Pete from Writes of Way. This wonderful bothy is located right at the edge of the Flows Nature Reserve, slap bang in the middle of one of the UK’s most unique landscapes. I wanted to visit once more before this area is industrialised, buried under miles of tracks and the concrete foundations of numerous giant wind turbines. Since I last visited the Strathy north power station has been consented and is under construction, although the turbines themselves have not gone up yet. The more damaging Strathy south is currently with the Scottish Government awaiting their decision. One more visit for me before the area is bristling with giant spinning machines.

I parked close to the access road to Rhifail, a track taking us past the numerous buildings and directly onto the moor behind. It was a bright and sunny morning but the wind was very strong, making walking difficult. A very wet argocat track went in our direction for a while before deserting us in the middle of some impossible bogs. Alone I was cautious as I slowly walked east towards the block of forestry in which the bothy sits. The final obstacle was a high ladder stile over a deer fence. This proved to be very tricky to get Reuben over on my own, luckily he just froze and let me do what needed to be done.

Being a Saturday I was pleased to get the bothy to myself, although I could not imagine what sort of person would want to trudge out there at the end of October! It was evident from the bothy book that some of the contractors from the wind farm had been living there over the summer months. Not really the intended use of bothies and it was clear that the Maintenance Organiser was not very happy about the fact. The MO is none other than Ralph MacGregor, he has a cracking column in the Caithness Courier and some lovely books on the area. A big pile of those books kept me occupied during the long night in front of a roaring fire. Bothy bliss.

It was interesting to note in the bothy book that it was three years to the day when I had visited with Pete. Further reading made me nervous about going out to the loo in the dark. There had been several recent sightings of a large black cat in the forest. Scare stories or not, the vast remote plantations could easily hide such a creature.

I had carried 5kg of coal over the moors with me, typically there was enough fuel already at the bothy for several nights. I left my contribution to the fire when I set off back to the Bongo the following morning. I wondered to myself if I would ever return, Ralph had made comments to the effect that the bothy would be abandoned if Strathy South gets the go ahead.

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My unlined leather boots had due to some miracle got me to the bothy with dry feet. They totally gave up on the way back to the van. I was totally saturated from the knees down. Reuben also did not look too impressed with his walk across the flow country. With night coming early in the far north there was not much time for any more outdoor activities that day. I drove the Bongo into the Borgie forest following a signpost for the ‘Unknown’ and a night of wind and rain.

 

Strabeg bothy

The plan for the following day had been to walk to and spend a couple of nights in a very remote non MBA bothy on the north coast. I pointed the Bongo in the direction of the village of Tongue where I purchased what is possibly the worlds most expensive diesel. The fuel gauge on the Bongo gave up working a couple of years ago which means that I am over-cautious in an attempt not to run out in remote places.

Half an hour later I parked on a high pass, the starting point for the walk to a bothy that has long been on my ‘must visit’ list. The van was rocking alarmingly, rain sheeting down with even the lowest hills being hidden in a world of murk. My map showed a few rivers that needed to be forded along with a cliff top walk. Reuben gave me a nervous glance from the passenger seat. I drove off in search of alternative adventures.

The MBA Strabeg bothy is located a couple of miles south of Loch Eriboll, looking like a perfect alternative to my original plan. Opening the van door it was torn from my hands and nearly ripped from its hinges. I had to exit from the other side, the wind being so strong. I got my pack together and added a bag of coal and kindling. Nights are long and I did not want to spend one without a fire. Reuben was coaxed out from his warm and comfortable spot during a brief break in the weather. He had earlier refused to even go out for the toilet.

What I thought would be an easy straightforward walk turned into a nightmare. The good track soon turned into a boggy ride across very wet ground. The first stream on the map was totally flooded, I could not even get within twenty metres of the crossing point. I sloshed upstream and found a knee-deep calm section which I crossed carrying Reuben. I really should have turned back at the stream just before the bothy itself. It was a foaming torrent of white water. I found the widest point, dumped my pack and set off with Reuben in my arms. The water was just below my knee at its deepest but a combination of the force and an uneven stream bed made the going very difficult. I deposited Reuben and returned to collect my pack, then made a third crossing. My boots made squelching noises as I climbed the last few metres to our home for the night.

I quickly made myself comfortable, changing out of wet clothes and lighting the fire and some candles. I was very impressed to find that the bothy has a proper flushing loo. A warm and relaxed night was had, wind and rain battering and shaking the bothy. As the rain continued to fall all night I would be lying if I said that I was not worried about getting back to the van the following day.

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November 16, 2014

Certified in the Peak District

by backpackingbongos

I found myself wandering to the shops on Friday wearing a pair of Crocs. The main issue is that I felt no shame in doing so. This clearly demonstrates that at least half of my life is now behind me. The first sign of this was late last year when I purchased a membership to the Camping and Caravan Club. This is the preserve of pensioners and people who put lamps and bunches of flowers on the table at the back of their caravans. Those not in caravans tow small cars behind large mobile homes (this is really just backwards caravan behaviour). I now walk amongst them, although quietly as the sites can resemble something from the Stepford Wives and I might get told off. The loos are nice and clean though.

Obviously manicured lawns, measured pitches and having Julia Bradbury as club president are all very well. The most alluring thing about membership is the Certified Sites. There are literally hundreds dotted around the country, tucked away in fields and farms. A maximum of five campervans or caravans and members only mean that they are nice and quiet. It’s proper old fashioned camping with the toilet in a barn and a big spider on the wall. You are also unlikely to have a kid called Tyson kicking their football at your tent.

There is a superb one just below Chrome Hill in the Peak District, which I visited with Reuben and Bona-fide pensioners Geoff and Chrissie a few weeks ago. Three dogs was no problem for the farmer and she put us in a field away from the cows. Free to roam Reuben still thought it best practise to avoid the labraloony and grumpy boxer (they are actual real dogs and not my nickname for Chrissie and Geoff).

A day walk was sandwiched between a couple of nights being fed by Geoff and drinking whisky in their van which has mod cons like heating. I had to drag myself away each night to the small and rather cold Bongo which felt like slumming it after being in their palace on wheels.

The walk was planned and led by Chrissie, selected from a guidebook called ‘The most neglected and overgrown paths in the Peak District’. The initial climb up Chrome Hill as always was a cracker. There then followed a succession of ‘paths’ that have not been walked this century and perhaps the last. We emerged back at the vans stung and bleeding but somehow still talking to each other.

To round off the day nicely Reuben found a large and very wet pile of fox poo to roll in. He was actually dripping in the stuff. I got the last laugh though with a bucket of cold water and loads of washing up liquid.

It then rained. The end.

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