Posts tagged ‘MLD Trailstar’

August 26, 2013

Summer slackpacking in the Moelwyns

by backpackingbongos

As I sat in the car it was rocked by the wind that was rushing unimpeded through the valley.  Soggy curtains of rain drifted down from the mountains which were hidden under a steely grey blanket of cloud.  I could see cascades on the hillside appearing from the cloud base.  It was not the sort of weather that I wanted from an August weekend.

I had parked at the end of the single track road at Blaenau Dolwyddelan, room for a couple of cars on the verge.  The surrounding fields were flooded and I sat there considering the wisdom of putting my waterproofs in the boot.  Reuben had woken from his slumber on the back seat and was keen to get moving.  The weather forecast predicted that the rain would stop at 6.00pm and for once they were spot on.  After half an hour of staring through the windscreen the rain subsided to a fine drizzle.  I grabbed the opportunity to pull on waterproofs, saddle the dog and head out into the murk.

Total distance 18.5 kilometres with 870 metres ascent


Day one

We set off the dogs barking as we passed the farm buildings at Coed Mawr, taking the track that leads into Cwm Edno.  Climbing across the hillside we soon entered the low cloud base and although not raining the air was damp.  Thankfully we were sheltered from the wind as the clearly defined track led us into the hills and towards the Afon Cwm Edno.  The river was a turbulent mass of brown foamy angry water and I was thankful for the bridge.  It would have been impossible to cross without it.

The ground surrounding the river was waterlogged rough moorland, there was nowhere that would provide a half decent pitch for the Trailstar.  I had noticed on Geograph a small plantation a few hundred metres up the hill that appeared to have flat cropped grass nearby.  As I approached I got a bit excited when I spotted an area of short grass that was indeed nice and flat.  I was disappointed to find most of it an inch under water, despair settled in as I realised that there was not much daylight left.

I ditched the pack and wandered around the vicinity for a while looking for somewhere that was at least dry.  I settled on a patch where I could just about fit my shelter, even if there was a foot high bank to one side.  The joy of the Trailstar is how it adapts to lumpy sloping ground and luckily there was a flat bit inside on which I could sleep.  The evening was spent cooking and reading whilst low cloud brushed the top of Silnylon.

Day two

I was relieved to be woken in the morning by sunshine rather than the pitter patter of rain on the Trailstar.  Reuben was standing over me when I opened my eyes, eager to start the day (or needing the loo).  When in an open shelter I always tie him to something as I worry that I will wake to find he has gone off exploring.  On this occasion his anchor was my rucksack.

Cwm Edno was totally transformed in the sunshine, Carnedd Moel-siabod towering in front with Yr’ Arddu wrapping round the rugged upper reaches of the Cwm.  I lazed inside the Trailstar for a while but the warmth of the sun soon drove me on to pack up.  I had a long day planned that would take me all the way to the Manod hills on the other side of Blaenau Ffestiniog.


The bridleway to Bwlch y Rhediad is marked by frequent posts, a little unnecessary as the path was clear and easy to follow.  The views to the west opened out, the Glyders and Snowdon hidden under cloud.



It’s many years since I walked this section of what I think of as the northern Moelwyns.  It’s wild country, unfrequented and very very boggy!  Some of the ground on the way to Moel Meirch would swallow you up whole if you were not careful.  On a couple of sections the way forward is impossible, ladder stiles taking you across the fence to drier ground.  Ladder stiles are never easy with a reluctant hound.  The boggy stretches are more than made up for with a path that winds its way round rocky outcrops and heather in full bloom.


The summit of Moel Meirch packs a punch well above its height, which is just below the magic two thousand foot.  It’s rough and rugged, the top being crowned with crags and boulders.  Here I met the only other hikers of the day, both quick to comment on how boggy the ground was.  The views are spectacular and filled with the famous giants of Snowdonia.






The wind was cold so we descended a little way to the east, sheltering behind a wall of rock.  I had my lunch whilst Reuben looked at me with sad eyes, insistent that he would at least get a cheesy biscuit.  He did.


I located a narrow trod that twisted its way through the heather and descended towards Llyn Edno.


On the map Llyn Edno looks like an idyllic place to camp. The reality on the ground is bog and heather around the shoreline.  It and its environs however are rather splendid, a tamed down version of the Rhinogs.




Ysgafell Wen is a long knobbly ridge of a hill, with a trio of lakes called Llynnau’r Cwn, a place I have always fancied camping.  The wind was far too strong so instead I continued on before having another rest with Reuben in the heather.


I got a good view towards my final destination for the day, the distant hill of Moel Penamnen which sits on the other side of the Crimea pass.  I started having doubts that I would get there.


These doubts were soon reinforced by the decoration on one of the fence posts!  Like a warning in a cheap slasher movie.


From the summit cairn I could make out the backside of Cnicht.  Llyn yr Adar in the foreground is apparently a popular place to wild camp.  This in itself is a good reason to avoid, although it is situated in a very scenic spot.


The route towards Moel Druman is easy to follow with a fence to lead the way through the small outcrops and numerous pools of water.


I soon became aware that the weather was beginning to change.  A sheet of cloud was racing in from the west and the wind was picking up once again.  Suddenly I felt tired and my resolve to continue across the Crimea pass and onto another range of hills started to diminish.  I decided that if I found a good sheltered spot to camp I would stop and have a lazy afternoon.


Things were not promising as I followed the right of way south of the summit of Moel Druman and started the descent towards Llyn Conglog.  The wind was strengthening and the cloud just beginning to obscure the surrounding peaks.  I fancied pitching next to the extensive sheet of water but that would mean an extended battering for the Trailstar.


My luck was in however after descending along the path for a bit, the hill itself proving ample shelter from the wind.  A flat shelf of tussock free ground provided a perfect opportunity that I was not going to pass by.

Barely before I had removed my rucksack Reuben had curled up in the grass and started snoring, I think he was happy with the chosen spot.


After pitching the Trailstar I wandered over to Llyn Conglog to fill my water bottles.  A low fence was in the way which I held down so that Reuben could hop over.  It turned out that the damn thing was electric!

Now that I carry a water filter with me when backpacking I can fill from pretty much any source, including lakes and tarns.  This gives much more flexibility in choosing a pitch as a stream does not need to be located nearby.

Once back at the Trailstar the cloud lowered even further and a fine drizzle started to fall.  I decided that I had made a good decision to stop, even though it was only 4.30pm.  Later in the evening the peace was shattered by a trio on trailbikes who filled the air with the sound of revving engines and the smell of exhaust.  It was quite alarming as they roared past only a few feet from my shelter.  That explained the numerous ruts along these usually quiet hills.

The only other excitement that evening was when an internal baffle in my Exped Synmat UL popped, leaving a curious lump for me to sleep on.

Day 3

I was woken by warm sun but continued to doze after deciding to have a short lazy day.  The Manod hills on the other side of the Crimea pass could wait for another trip.  The heat soon drove me out of my sleeping bag and I spent a while wandering round camp with Reuben.  The place was transformed in the sunshine.


I have to admit that it was probably my laziest wild camping morning yet, with it being gone midday by the time I had packed up.


Rather than climb Allt-fawr I decided that I would contour its northern slopes and pick up the ridge that leads to Moel Dyrnogydd.  This gave a mile or so of maximum views with minimum effort, not a bad way to start a Monday morning.





The landscape around Blaenau Ffestiniog has taken a battering over the years by slate quarrying.  It’s actually rather impressive in its scale and general grimness.  I perched with Reuben for a while and looked over the town, listening to the various beeps and one big bang that came from a working quarry.


Reuben however was more concerned in keeping an eye out for those four-legged wooly creatures that roam these parts.


We picked up a track to the east of Moel Dyrnogydd, one final stile being a test for Reuben’s agility.  He will never be famous for his climbing prowess.


The track unfortunately leaves the right of way which disappears into a mass of bog and tussocky grass.  We continued down the track to the edge of access land and I spent a while with map in hand trying to decide what to do.  In the end I followed the track through fields and then into a farm-yard with no right of way.  Of course the farm dogs started barking their heads off but no one came out of the open front door.  Aware that I was trespassing I strided purposefully along the driveway which quickly deposited me to the road end and my car.

October 19, 2012

Rosedale and Farndale – backpacking a double horseshoe

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that I have only previously visited the North York Moors twice.  A bit of an oversight considering that they are only two and a half hours drive away.  That makes them my second closest upland area after the Peak District.  With a reasonable weather forecast over a Friday and Saturday I decided at the last minute to head there for an overnight wild camp.  I noticed on the map the long line of a disused railway track contouring high above two valleys.  This was used as the main skeleton around which the rest of the walk was planned.

Day 1 – 10.7 miles with 610 metres ascent

It was gone midday when I parked up in the lovely village of Rosedale Abbey, using one of the free car parks.  Reuben was along for the ride so I saddled him up with his Ruffwear panniers full of his food and warm camping clothes.  The village was pretty much deserted as we passed the campsite and climbed a stile into a very boggy field.  This field was the toughest section of the whole trip and my trail shoes were soon filled with muddy water, my trousers filthy from the knees down.  Three cows watched lazily from a corner, thankfully unfazed by Reubens presence.

I don’t know much about golf but something tells me that the golf course in Rosedale Abbey is not up to international standards.  The whole site is on a steep hill, much of it at around a 45 degree angle.  Surely any ball that is hit would simply roll down and get lost in the hedge at the bottom?

A steep path zigged zagged its way up the hillside, finally coming out at the wonderfully situated cottages at Bank Top.  High on the edge of the moors they have got a stunningly extensive view.  Rosedale Abbey lay below in a pastoral scene of green fields, the flat and extensive moors filling the horizon.

The dismantled railway track gave easy level walking, little effort for the big views.  A large bench with the words ‘Work shift over, in the sun, on the hill, having fun‘ caught my eye as a good place to sit for a while and satisfy my rumbling belly.  I’m not sure it was as appreciated by my canine companion though.

After a rather late lunch stop it was an easy mile or so along the railway track before heading across the open moor.  Approaching the road along Blakey ridge I was surprised just how fast and busy it was.  On the map it is shown as a minor moorland road, when in reality it is more like a main thoroughfare.  We quickly crossed leaving the noise and fumes behind and descended through the heather towards Farndale.  The view that opened out was rather lovely, another valley with a patchwork of green fields backed by heather moorland.

It looked like the heather had only turned recently and it still had a purple tinge to it.  I would imagine that it would be an impressive sight when in full bloom, the North York Moors being the largest area of continuous moorland in England.  The ealy autumn colours were rather vivid as we descended along a narrow path into the dale.  The green grass of summer replaced by shimmering browns, the bracken dying down and the leaves on the trees just changing colour.

We walked through the small village of Low Mill, the area being famous in spring for its daffodil display.  Here I passed the only hiker I would see all day, a rare occurrence in a National park.  A narrow lane followed by a bridleway took us into the secretive West gill, a subsidiary of Farndale.  I sat for a while on the bridge over the stream for a snack, dismayed when I realised that what I was sitting on was sticky with creosote.  A smell that reminds me of growing up in rural Suffolk, but not welcome when it makes the seat of my trousers sticky!  The bridleway climbed though pastures before turning into a narrow trod across the moors, a lone tree emphasising the bleakness.

We picked up a track heading north along Rudland Rigg and started a long and dull route march.  The track is open to vehicles and its width and the numerous signs negated any feeling of wildness.  I was glad it was a Friday as I am sure it would be busy the following day, sure enough the next morning I heard the unmistakable sound of scrambler bikes.

With the sky becoming grey and a cold wind blowing I was just keen to get this section over as soon as possible.  The views from the top were not that special to be honest, just flat and very manicured moorland stretching into the horizon.  The only points of interest were the odd marker stone and a couple of boulders.

Even Reuben was underwhelmed.

A waymarker pointing across an area of dense rushes signaled the end of the trudge and we left the track for a bit of heather bashing.  The right of way did not exist on the ground and it was hard going through deep heather and hidden drainage ditches.  Finally the moorland gave way to sheep cropped grass and the possibility of a decent wild camp started to look promising.

We ended up descending further than originally planned to find a good flat pitch.  I was aware that we were coming close to the network of fields rather than remaining on the moor.  In the end the extra descent was worth it when I found a perfect area of flat short-cropped grass next to a band of trees above the stream.  It was beginning to get dark so I pitched the Trailstar and went to fill my water bags.  It was a beautiful location, sheltered and with a feeling of seclusion, the nearest dwelling still a distance away.  I spent an enjoyable evening in my sleeping bag reading my kindle, looking out into the darkness every now and then.  Reuben as ever was keen to try to get onto my thermarest, which I am sure is not built to withstand his claws of steel.

Day 2 – 11.5 miles with 390 metres ascent

The night was cold and still, producing copious condensation within the Trailstar.  I had pitched it as high as possible giving maximum headroom and extra ventilation.  Even so I woke to being dripped on, showing that no shelter is immune to condensation in the right conditions.  It was a perfect early autumn morning, the rising sun slanting through the trees.  The sunlight slowly made its way down the hillside, finally warming and drying out my shelter.

The surrounding hillside had some impressive fungi.

Packed up we set back off the way we had come the evening before.  The contrast could not have been greater, there was not a cloud in the sky.  The sun had chased away the chill from the air and it looked like it was going to be a warm day.

We battled through deep heather once again until we came to the line of the disused railway track.  This gave exceptionally easy walking as it contoured around the head of the valley.  Our pace quickened accordingly, just stopping every now and then to take in the view.  Being early in the morning we had the track pretty much to ourselves.

The track soon became busier, indicating that we were approaching civilisation.  We turned a bend and spotted The Lion Inn sitting high on the Blakey ridge.  As usual, Reuben managed to garner a few comments about his panniers from those that we passed.

We took a short cut and climbed directly up a path across the moor to the pub, the car park already busy with visitors.  I felt that it was too early for a visit so crossed the road with its speeding traffic.  A waymarked path led down towards the disused railway track that contours around the head of Rosedale.  Here nature has claimed it back a bit more than the one around Farndale.  At times it is little more than a single groove through the heather, widening to a soft grassy track.  It was much more of a pleasure to walk than the wide hard surface of earlier.  The views were pretty good in the quickly changing light, the odd dark cloud providing contrast against the sunshine.

I soon found that the easy and level surface made my legs ache after a while.  I am used to walking slowly across rough ground, so perhaps the change in pace and the repetitive manner of my stride was affecting my leg muscles.  I found a grassy nook out of the wind and got the Jetboil on for a cup of coffee and a packet of couscous.

After lunch the landscape changed and became much greener, with evidence of the past mining activity.  A fascinating area to walk and the sunny weather had attracted the crowds.  I highly recommend that you park up in the Village of Rosedale Abbey one Sunday and catch the Moorsbus to The Lion Inn.  You would then have an exceptionally easy walk along the railway track back to the start.  Great views with almost no effort, my sort of hiking!

At hill cottages we took to a network of field paths that led us back to the car at Rosedale Abbey.  There was one moment of brief excitement as a cow decided to run up a hill towards myself and Reuben.  A bit of jumping up and down whilst waving my arms persuaded it to stop before any damage was done.  I am beginning to realise that the main hazard of walking with a dog is cows.

I was pleased to find the village shop still open, where a homemade sandwich and a drink filled a hunger gap before the drive home.

July 8, 2012

A squelchy backpack across north Dartmoor

by backpackingbongos

This was a hastily put together backpack with only a couple of days notice.  I had planned to be in the Highlands but a lousy weather forecast ended that plan.  The south-west appeared to the best bet for respite from the rain with the promise of a dry forecast.  In the end I did experience a bit of sun but overall the weekend was much damper than anticipated.  I discovered that Dartmoor can be a bleak and foreboding place when the mist blankets the moors, which it often did with considerable speed.

Day 1 – 9 miles with 540 metres ascent

Deweys:  Cosdon hill 550 metres,  Steeperton hill 532 metres,  Hangingstone hill 603 metres

Belstone is one of those rare places which has a large free car park with no overnight restrictions.  One of the difficulties of backpacking in the hills is finding somewhere suitable to leave the car overnight.  Therefore Belstone should be congratulated on being backpacker friendly.

I have to admit that I was pretty tired after a 5 hour drive down the motorway and my desire to carry a pack over the moors had diminished somewhat.  Reuben on the other hand had enjoyed a long snooze on the backseat, so was eager to get moving.  He has now come to realise that wearing his panniers mean good times ahead, so now lets me put them on without trying to back away.  We were soon walking through the village which was pleasantly traffic free, another bonus from providing visitors with somewhere free to park.  Reuben provided entertainment for the few people out and about in the village, a dog carrying his own kit still obviously a rare sight.

A path led steeply down hill to a bridge over the River Taw, followed by an ascent up the other side of the valley.  Our first objective was the summit of Cosdon hill, which on the map does not have a direct path marked to its summit.  I ended up taking a bit of a convoluted route initially along a path that contoured above the Taw valley until it eventually disappeared.  Walking off path on the lower slopes was tough going with low prickly gorse hidden among the lush summer grass.  I was glad to find an outcrop of boulders to sit awhile and dig out my waterproofs to fend off a shower approaching from the west.

It was a bit of a dull trudge to the huge cairn on the summit of Cosdon hill.  This provided a bit of shelter from a heavy shower whilst the bottom of a cloud briefly enveloped us.  To the west, the higher summit of Yes Tor was firmly stuck in the clouds where it would remain for the rest of the day.

We followed a well-defined path down the southern slopes of the hill, the huge open expanses of the north moor rolling towards a cloud covered horizon.

Progress was rapid and we passed a stone circle I had not noticed on the map, a point of reference on such a large open landscape.

One of the overriding impressions of the weekend was the sound of the wind blowing through the long green grass.  I have only ever visited Dartmoor in autumn or winter when the moor is covered in every shade of brown.  In summer it is surprisingly green and lush, swirling eddies causing patterns to ripple across its surface.

I felt it only apt to taken Reuben to Hound Tor but on closer inspection it was clearly off-limits.  A gang of cows had taken up residence, like teenagers in a village bus shelter.  With a dog in tow I felt it best to give them a wide berth.

We left the main path and descended to Steeperton brook, an oasis of calm sheltered from the wind.  It was an easy climb to the summit of Steeperton Tor which was occupied by a herd of ponies and a tiny foal sheltering next to the army observation post.  The view to the south had become even bleaker, Hangingstone hill our next destination hidden in the murk.

Luckily a firm track took me almost to the summit as I was soon walking through heavy wind-driven rain, thick mist reducing visibility to a few metres.  In the rubbish conditions the summit which is adorned by an army hut was a bleak and uninviting spot and I did not linger.  I mistakenly could not be bothered to take a compass bearing and soon found myself floundering through a marshy area south of the summit.  I turned due east and picked up a path through the worst of the terrain before finding the remains of a Peat pass.  I soon had to leave this and head into the mist across rough, boggy and tussocky terrain.  I was relieved to come to the wall marked on the map where I could just make out the tops of the trees surrounding the ruins of Teignhead farm.

The going continued to be tough until just above the farm and I was looking forward to seeking shelter there and pitching my tent.  Robin had found a great spot there on his backpack across Dartmoor and it was somewhere I was keen to wild camp.  I was therefore extremely dismayed to discover that a large herd of cows with calves in tow had occupied the area, the air full of their bellowing.  There were also a couple of tents bravely pitched in the exact spot I was after. There was no way that I was going to risk camping near cows, especially with a dog.  Feeling wet and bedraggled I filled up with water from Manga brook and headed up Manga hill in the hope of finding somewhere to pitch the Trailstar.  After half an hour of trudging about I settled on a spot that was passable, although rather exposed and windy.

Reuben was told to wait whilst I pitched and he looked on like I was the worst owner a dog could possibly have.  With shelter finally provided he took to his mat with a big sigh and did his best to ensure that I knew he was not very happy with the whole camping in the wind and rain thing.

It was a noisy night with the rain hammering on the nylon a few inches from my head.  I was glad that I had re-sealed some of the upper seams which had stretched with use.  I was pleased that the Trailstar provided such a stable shelter in an exposed position in some pretty nasty conditions.

Day 2 – 9.7 miles with 410 metres ascent

Deweys:  Cut hill 604 metres

I received a text from Corrina informing me that it would be a dry and sunny morning before showers developed later that afternoon.  I read the text in the morning whilst the rain continued to hammer down!  I festered for a while until the sun made a brief but welcome appearance and I exited to take in my surroundings and get a few photos.  Reuben took the opportunity to do what dogs do.

Rain soon had us diving for cover and I cooked and packed whilst waiting for the next sunny interlude.  The day ended up being one of fleeting sunshine in-between some very hefty showers, mist quickly enveloping the hills.  It felt like the conditions changed every few minutes, a day when by the time you managed to get your waterproofs off it would start raining again.  I ended up keeping them on all day.

Packed up I looked down upon Teignhead farm and noticed that the cows had dispersed across the lush pastures making me glad that I had not camped in the vicinity.

Crossing the North Teign river I followed a bridleway with excellent views back towards the ruin.  It must have been a very isolated place to live.

The Grey Wethers stone circle is rather impressive and I reached it just as the sun came out.  This lead me to re-naming it the ‘Bill Withers’ stone circle due to the fact that I found myself humming along to the tune ‘lovely day’……………..

I had originally planned on bagging White Ridge which is a Dewey but from a distance could see that it was already occupied by cows and their calves.  Therefore we headed directly to the top of Sittaford Tor with its extensive views.

Although not marked on the map a path leads directly to the ruin of Statts House on Winney’s Down.  This path crosses an area where a stream runs through an extensive boggy area.  There was a disconcerting moment where I was walking on quaking ground, a raft of vegetation floating on water.  If you stood still for long enough you would slowly sink and possibly never be seen again!  On the other side of the bog we suddenly found ourselves standing between a young foal and its mother.  I quickly leashed Reuben as the foal made a whinny sound and trotted a huge circle around us to get to its mother.  She continued grazing as if we were not there.

Thankfully the path up to Statts house was firm and dry, Reuben immediately seeking shelter behind one of the ruined walls.  It was a good spot to pause out of the wind for a while and watch the clouds racing across the sky.

Our next destination was the summit of Cut Hill which looked brooding in the distance.  We sloshed across the moor and descended to the marshy banks of the East Dart river.  With already saturated trail shoes it was easy enough to simply wade across, no worries about trying to keep my feet dry.  We followed Cut Hill water upstream for a few metres and found a boulder that provided shelter from the wind.  An ideal spot to sit for a while and get the Jetboil out to make coffee and cook lunch.

We followed the stream for a while before striking up across rough ground towards the unseen North West Passage.  During the climb we intersected two backpackers who were making their way between Okehampton and Princetown.  It was quite strange passing others in such a remote spot, like two tiny boats passing on a huge ocean.  They commented that I was heading into bad weather, the sky ahead quickly darkening and looking bruised and angry.  A beer at the Plume of feathers where they were planning to camp seemed to be spurring them along!

I continued plodding up Cut Hill and probably more through luck than skill managed to locate the old Peat pass, marked by a plaque on a stone.  At that moment the weather came in, visibility dropping rapidly and heavy rain blown along on a strong wind.  It was an unpleasant trudge to the top of the desolate hill.  On the summit the rain continued with particular vigour, hard enough to be felt through my waterproofs.  Poor old Reuben did not know what to do with himself.  An unhappy little dance, a whimper then he attempted to make himself as small as possible against the soggy onslaught.

On the way to Fur Tor the rain stopped and the mist lifted.  Being a dog, Reubens misery was soon forgotten and he was once again trotting along happily with his tail wagging.  The ground between Cut Hill and Fur Tor was particularly rough and boggy and it took what felt like an age to reach the collection of rocky tors.

The effort was worth it however, what a spot!  Fur Tor has got to be once of the wildest places on Dartmoor, a real feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.  An isolated hard to reach place.  A couple of backpackers were sheltering behind the main tor when I arrived and I chatted with them for a while.  Unfortunately their small terrier took a disliking to Reuben so I had to relocate to another tor to seek shelter.  I spent a while wandering around and taking photos.  I will have to return one day for a wild camp as it’s a truly magical place.

The northern slopes were pretty rocky by Dartmoor standards, although progress was quick down the short-cropped grass.  Cut Combe water was a pleasant grassy bowl with plenty of wild camping spots available.  I pushed on however as I planned to spend the night at Lints Tor.

After Little Kneeset the going became rough and boggy once more.  The grassy moor was saturated and it was like walking on a huge soggy mattress.  With dark clouds racing past it was pretty glorious in its grimness!

We descended towards Brim Brook at the point where it turns north.  I had not given its crossing much thought to be honest as it is a small stream on the map.  However all the rain over the past couple of days had turned it into a raging torrent.  Using my poles it was evident that it was waist deep in places, the sheer force of the water making any attempt at crossing potentially lethal.  The source of the stream was only a mile or so away so we headed along its bank on the look out of any potential crossing points.  A few hundred metres upstream it split and we got across the first crossing, although still with some difficulty.  The main channel was then tricky to approach across saturated bogs and I lurched about through the reeds and tussocks.  Finally we got across and it was a short splash across the moor to Lints Tor.

There was not much shelter to be had but I managed to find a pitch on a flattish bit of ground wedged between two of the largest cow pats I have ever seen.  A further weather update text from Corrina promised a sunny evening.  However Dartmoor had different plans and the rain continued to fall in heavy showery bursts throughout the night.  Reuben however did get a treat and was allowed to curl up with me inside the Oooknest, rather than being relegated to his mat in the porch.

Day 3 – 6.5 miles with 230 metres ascent

A brief sunny interlude in the morning gave me a few minutes to pop out of the Trailstar and take some photos.  I had spotted Lints Tor during my week on Dartmoor the previous year and I had earmarked it as a wild camp spot.  It was an excellent location, unfortunately let down by the less than clement weather.

Once again within seconds the weather deteriorated and I dived back into my shelter.  The surrounding hills were quickly enveloped in a thick mist and the rain beat on the nylon above my head with renewed intensity.

As I was packing up inside the shelter I noticed four people on the opposite side of the valley walking aimlessly around Dinger Tor.  They were still there twenty minutes later when I had finished packing, the clouds chased away by strong sunshine.

Half an hour later as I reached Dinger Tor they were still on the hillside, all crouched in a circle looking intently at something on the ground.  I resisted the temptation to walk over and ask them what they were doing.  Dinger Tor marks the end of a track and I was soon making swift progress in an easterly direction, cutting across the grain of the land.

I left the track to start climbing Oke Tor and passed two ponies with their foals in a grassy sheltered hollow.

Oke Tor was a pleasant spot to sit for a while, its summit tor providing shelter from the wind.  Considering that it was a summer Sunday in a national park I was surprised at just how quiet the hills were.  If I had been in the Peak District the hills would have been busy come rain or shine.

A good firm path led directly to Belstone Tor and I could not resist stopping and looking back towards the large open bowl that holds Taw marsh.  From the lofty vantage point I could make out several spots along the river Taw that looked like they would make excellent wild camping pitches.

North from Belstone Tor the ground drops away steeply and it feels like most of Devon is at your feet.

Easy paths led quickly down to Belstone itself, still quiet even though it was Sunday lunchtime.  I was glad to get to the car and change out of my sodden footwear and filthy trousers.  Feeling tired after a weekend in the hills the long drive back up the M5 was less than appealing.

June 19, 2012

The Mamlorn hills – backpacking the Glen Lochay horseshoe

by backpackingbongos

Half way up the A1 it occurred to me that it was rather odd not seeing Reuben on the back seat every time I looked in the rear view mirror.  I was heading to the Highlands for five days and I had decided to leave him at home.  I had visions of the hills being a tick and midge ridden nightmare for him, plus all his food for that amount of time would be on the heavy side.  I have to admit that I ended up really regretting that decision as I missed his easy-going, non complaining enthusiasm!

My destination was the Mamlorn hills which are sandwiched between Killin in the east and Tyndrum in the west.  An area of the Highlands which I have never visited.  The plan was to use the extended Jubilee bank holiday to backpack around Glen Lochay, taking in as many hills as possible.  In the end I managed a respectable five Munros and two Corbetts.  Although my daily mileages were low it was one of the toughest backpacks that I have done for a while.  This was due to all those closely packed contours, I was constantly ascending and descending with almost no level walking!

The road through Glen Lochay was the usual single track affair with not many options for parking a car.  I eventually found a large parking area a few hundred metres from my access point into the hills.  Unfortunately nailed to a tree was a hand painted ‘no overnight parking sign’.  After a bit of hesitation I decided that it would be much better to park there than in one of the passing places.  After the usual faff I set off down the road, the glen around me buzzing with spring life in the sun.

Day 1 – 3.7 miles with 605 metres ascent

A sign on the gate on the bridge over the River Lochay was rather ambiguous as it implied that stalking would be taking place at some undefined time. Being early June I thought that I could safely ignore it and crossed before ascending the track on the other side.  The weight of my pack with 5 days food, along with the warmth and humidity meant that I was soon sweating buckets.  Whenever I stopped the midges descended, so it was a constant slow plod upwards.

At the 400 metre contour the track dog legged to the west and I climbed into the pathless Coire Dubhchlair, which I soon named ‘valley of the tiny bastard ticks’.  I was constantly brushing off little nymph ticks which gathered around the bottom of my trousers.  The view north across the glen however made up for the annoyance with the Tarmachan ridge looking rather inviting in the evening light.

I decided to aim high to avoid both the ticks and the midges which landed whenever I stopped for more than a minute.  At the head of the glen were a couple of rocky knolls which I set my sights on for a wild camp.

Two huge herds of deer were spooked by my presence and legged it across the hillside converging into one herd.  A very impressive sight and most certainly to blame for the eight legged creatures seeking my blood.  As height was gained the vegetation became shorter and I was soon climbing the final grassy slopes at the head of the glen.

Above a tiny lochan was a complex landscape of grassy knolls and I sought out the highest and most exposed one.  In summer all normal camping rules go out of the window with regards to site selection.  A good stiff breeze is essential!

The Trailstar was soon erected on a flat patch of cropped grass and springy moss.  I had brought with me my brand new Oookstar which I had received the day before.  Sean had kindly supplied me with a diagram showing how it should be attached, which I failed to take much notice of.  With a brain tired due to the long drive and subsequent climb I spent a flummoxed half an hour shuffling around on my knees.  Suddenly the eureka moment came and I had a lovely spacious inner for the Trailstar.  Once water was collected I spent a while admiring the stunning scenery before diving for shelter from the icy cold breeze that had developed.  Prior to climbing into my sleeping bag I spent a while evicting several tiny ticks that had latched onto my legs.  The joys of backpacking in the Highlands in summer!

This would be the lowest of the four wild camps at 770 metres.

Day 2 – 6.3 miles with 805 metres ascent

Munros:  Sgiath Chuil 921 metres,  Meall Glas 959 metres

I awoke to light streaming into the Trailstar, surprised at how cold it was.  I checked my watch and it was not even 5am, dawn coming early to the Highlands in June.  The temperature had fallen to zero celsius and I snuggled back into my down cocoon.  The next thing I knew it was 10.00am, a sign that I must have been tired from the day before.  A leisurely breakfast with plenty of coffee and it was nearly noon before I was setting off up the grassy slopes of Meall na Samhna.  Slackpacking at its best!  It was much cloudier than the day before but views still extended the length of Loch Tay with Ben Lawers towering above it.

My map had indicated that the route for the next mile or so would be complicated and convoluted.  It did not disappoint as I was confronted with a wide ill-defined ridge covered in a series of hummocks.  In mist it would have been a complete nightmare, but in the clear conditions I enjoyed weaving up and around the crowded contours.

The summit of the Munro Sgiath Chuil was soon reached and after quickly touching the cairn I retreated to sit behind a boulder out of the cold wind.  Having never visited this part of the Highlands before I was surrounded by a crowd of peaks I could not identify.  A complete contrast to the more open landscape I am used to further north.  One I could identify was Ben More which towered above Glen Dochart in a huge pyramid.  An impressive peak from this vantage point.

The next summit Meall Glas was now visible across a low boggy bealach and it was evident that I could not climb it if I sat on my bum all afternoon.

The descent was horribly steep on close-cropped grass.  Thankfully it was dry as a slip on wet grass would probably involve a long slide to the bottom.  Two thirds of the way down my attention was caught by the sound of running water and I located a fantastic spring.  Water was gushing cold and clear from a blister of moss and it tasted fantastic.  A nearby flat boulder the size of a table provided the perfect spot to get comfy for half hour whilst I got the stove out and made a coffee and some couscous.

I have to admit that with the sun shining and the hill providing shelter from the wind, it was difficult to get  moving again.  The bealach was boggy but easily crossed and I started the long slow process of climbing the second munro of the day.  I passed a day walker who was descending and passed a few minutes chatting.  I did not envy him having to climb what I had just descended, it would be a bit of a dull slog.

I was determined to get to the summit without crossing any unnecessary contours, which meant missing out Beinn Cheathaich.  I ended up doing a lengthy detour round the back where I managed to pick up a nice level contouring path.  My legs however were still pretty wobbly by the time I got to the summit cairn of Meall Glas.

Across the extensive summit plateau my eyes were drawn to Creag Mhor which I was hoping to summit on day four.

With a late start and faltering energy I was keen to find a place to camp.  I decided to aim for the head of a stream marked on my map, passing a rocky outcrop with impressive views towards Ben More and the Crianlarich hills.

I found a large grassy area which was perfect for pitching a tent.  However it was not perfect for pitching a Trailstar due to its huge footprint.  Being a fussy bugger it took ages to select a flat area which would accommodate the whole shelter.  After the practice of the night before I pitched the Oookstar in a few minutes.  Although my campsite was midge and tick free I was glad of the Oookstar to shelter me from the cold wind.  I had chosen to have the bottom 50cm of the walls made out of ripstop for this very purpose.

It was a another perfect high level wild camp, something that I could very easily get used to!  There is something special about pitching on the side of a mountain at 840 metres with peak after peak laid out in front of you.

Day 3 – 7.4 miles with 1,140 metres ascent

Munros:  Beinn Challum 1025 metres

Corbetts:  Beinn nan Imirean 849 metres

The temperature in the night fell close to freezing once again and I was glad that I had bought along my winter bag.  The morning sun lit up Beinn Challum, a peak that I would be climbing later that afternoon.

It was good to start the day with a descent rather than a lung busting ascent and I soon crossed another boggy bealach en-route to Beinn nan Imirean.

The by now familiar steep grassy slopes were broken up by some large truck sized quartzite boulders.  They stand out for miles amongst the greens and browns of the surrounding mountains.

The summit of Beinn nan Imirean itself is pretty undistinguished, but the views are anything other than undistinguished.  Surprisingly despite being close to major roads and several villages I had yet to receive any mobile signal.  I thought that I would get some on this hill seeing that Crianlarich was not far away.  I continued on my way disappointed but glad that I had brought my Spot device to let my partner know all was ok.

The gentle south-west ridge gave speedy progress down to the lowest bealach of the entire route.  It was a shame to lose so much height as with every step Beinn Challum my next hill grew ever more imposing.  The bealach just above Lochan Chailein is a wide and boggy affair and I surveyed the best route across.

Once across the bogs I had a decision as to how to tackle the 600 metre ascent of Beinn Challum.  A stream just to the north of Creag Loisgte looked like a good feature to follow up the rough slopes.  I noticed far above me figures crossing the southern peak, the first people I had seen all day.  Suddenly the thought of sharing the hills with other human beings really did not appeal after nearly 24 hours of solitude.

My stove was once again called into action just before the stream gave up the ghost, a chance to rest my complaining body and consume calories.  I started to miss not have Reuben along for the weekend, apart from the initial midge and tick fest I had not been bothered by them.  The cool weather and soft terrain underfoot would have been ideal for him.

With a belly full of soup the wide ridge above was soon reached, the views becoming ever more expansive.

I decided that I would try to meet the main path higher up to avoid people and continue the illusion of being alone in the wilds.  It was then that my trailshoe had an argument with a boulder hidden in the grass.  A tearing sound as fabric was ripped had me cursing, although there was nothing I could do about it.  I continued to climb rather annoyed with myself.

I met the last people descending just before the steep climb onto the south peak.  They cheerily informed me that it was still a long way from the summit.  Thanks for that!  I consoled myself with fine views of Ben Lui, another huge pyramid of a peak.

A pleasantly narrow ridge joins the south peak to Beinn Challum itself, unusual in the rolling grassy Mamlorn hills.  It was good to have a sense of space beneath my feet with steep slopes plunging into the glens either side.

As I reached the summit bands of rain showers started to envelope the surrounding hills, softening them as if behind a veil.  Luckily they all passed me by and I did not have to resort to waterproofs.  I could have sat there for hours staring at the views, I don’t think I have seen so many mountains from one summit before.  However it was cold and I was keen to find a decent pitch for the night.

For some reason I expected the north west ridge to have a good path, a logical route to give day walkers a circuit on the mountain.  I found no traces down the steep ridge which was broken up by tricky rock steps and boiler plate slabs.  Once again I was thankful it was not misty and was relieved to get to the bottom.

The bealach was too boggy and unappealing for a pitch, plus I wanted to make sure the following day did not start with a major ascent.  With complaining legs I did a climbing traverse of the southern slopes of Cam Chreag, aiming for the top of a stream on my map.  Here I collected water and climbed a little further, finally deciding on a pitch close to the summit.

It was another cold evening and I was soon in my sleeping bag after cooking dinner.  It was whilst I was cosy reading my kindle that I noticed a golden yellow glow on the walls of the shelter.  Still dressed in my sleeping clothes I exited into a transformed mountain world.  The dull flat views had been replaced with a visual warmth, although the air soon had me shivering.  I grabbed my camera and ran around trying to capture the perfect moment.  Luckily the sun had burst through the clouds just before it vanished behind the mountains, providing a burst of colour on cloud and land.  The spectacle was soon over and I returned to my warm cocoon of down.

Day 4 – 5.9 miles with 845 metres ascent

Munros:  Creag Mhor 1047 metres,  Beinn Heasgarnich 1078 metres

Corbetts:  Cam Chreag 885 metres

From packing to summit in ten minutes has to be a record for me, one of the benefits of camping high in the hills.  It’s good to reach a summit cairn without breaking a sweat.  I had my first glimpse of Loch Lyon, far down in the depths of the Glen.  Being on a smaller hill surrounded by giants gives a much greater sense of scale.

The trick of getting off Cam Chreag was identifying a break in the long line of cliffs that fringe its north eastern slopes.  The break was found, exactly where it was meant to be but the grass slope looked terrifyingly steep.  Close cropped grass at an impossibly steep angle never fills me with confidence but luckily it was dry.  I gingerly made my way down, knees and thighs screaming.

Thankfully for once the bealach was reasonably high at 725 metres.  Glancing back at Cam Chreag is was evident that lines of descent to this point are few and far between.  Navigation could be tricky in mist to find a safe way down.

Once again I girded my loins and put my head down for a long ascent to the summit of Creag Mhor.

The summit was an excellent viewpoint for the hills surrounding Loch Lyon and across to Rannoch Moor.  As I sat by the cairn to shelter from the wind a couple came up via the path from Glen Lochay and did their very best to pretend I was not there.  They did the same to another couple who summited shortly afterwards and were thankfully a bit more chatty.  I tend to get verbal diarrhea if I have not spoken to anyone for a while!

Beinn Heasgarnich appeared as a huge bulk of a mountain in front of me and I knew that the climb to its summit would be long and tiring.  There is no direct line between the two hills so I set off first west and then north to avoid a band of cliffs.  Then on easy grassy slopes I contoured round until above the bealach.

Sron Tairbh soon began to tower above me as I made my way down.  It looked impossibly steep with no real evidence of a discernible path.

When faced with a long and steep climb I did the sensible thing.  I found a boulder to sit on, turned my back and cooked some lunch.

After crossing the boggy bealach I plugged in my mp3 player to help me up the initial steep grassy slopes.  Having something to sing along to seemed to reduce the effort and I quickly gained height and found a narrow path that zig zagged up.  A couple of day walkers were quickly catching up and I suddenly felt the urge to stay in front.  In the end I could not sustain my pace and stopped by a boulder in a sweaty panting mess.  With my pack off I put my camera on the boulder………………………….

I thought the boulder was flat but it was not and gravity very quickly took hold.  With frightening speed my camera narrowly missed the two women coming up and continued on its merry way until about 100 metres below me.  I dashed off after it, worried about how many pieces it would be in.  Thankfully there was only a small dint in the plastic on the lens.  I was relieved and pleased that I had splashed out on a decent camera case.

Reunited with my rucksack I was glad that I did not have to descend right to the bottom of the mountain to retrieve my camera!

By the time I got to the top of Sron Tairbh I was totally knackered and I felt close to collapsing.  Beinn Heasgarnich is large and bulky with a long and broad summit ridge.  I still had roughly a mile and a hundred metre climb to get to the top.

I don’t think I have ever felt so tired on reaching the summit of a mountain before.  It felt like a real effort getting myself to the top.  I stood for a while taking photos of the extensive views before finding shelter on lovely soft grass for a well earned rest.

I was joined by a couple of friendly chaps from Newcastle who turned out to be fellow Mazda Bongo owners.  Theirs was sadly spewing its innards up in the car park in Glen Lochay due to a leaking hose.  One of the hazards of owning a Bongo unfortunately.

Coire Ban Mor on the eastern side of Beinn Heasgarnich is absolutely massive, a big wide and impressive bit of mountain country.  I made my way down easy grassy slopes, soon being overtaken by the guys I had been chatting to earlier.  I envied their small day packs but they would not have the pleasure of a night spent high on the mountain.

Coire Ban Mor is a complex place full of grassy knolls and rocky outcrops.  I wanted to camp high but I could not find a spot big enough to accommodate the Trailstar.  I followed the meandering infant stream and was relieved to find an excellent grassy spot exactly on the 800 metre contour.

It was my earliest pitch of the trip at around 5.00pm.  The days mileage had been short but I was totally knackered.  I took my shoes off and decided on a quick lay down before unpacking.  With the sun shining it was nice and cosy and within seconds I had slipped into a deep sleep.  An hour later a gust of wind woke me and I felt disoriented.  I was soon unpacked and with a belly full of food I retired to my sleeping bag for one of my best nights sleep.

Day 5 – 7.2 miles with 110 metres ascent

I awoke briefly sometime around 4.00am to what looked like an absolute stunning sunrise.  However I was enjoying my sleep far too much so was soon cosy and unconscious once more.  I was up three hours later and it was evident that I had missed the best of the day.  Dark clouds were gathering and the odd spot of rain pinged off my shelter.

I started the day wearing waterproofs, the first time on the trip.  As I set off I had the feeling of being watched.  There in front of me sheep were gathering on a knoll like a Scottish version of the film Zulu.

The descent through Coire Ban Mor was a delight, the stream falling in a series of cascades and small waterfalls.  Looking back towards the summit I got a sense of what a big complex hill it is.

Lower down the Allt Tarsuinn crosses a flat area of peat bog.  Rather than follow the stream I headed east across rough and damp ground and down steep slopes above Lochan Learg nan Lunn.  I was relieved to reach the security of the tarmaced hydro road which took me with ease down into Glen Lochay.

On the way down I passed a large group of DofE, striding purposefully under some enormous rucksacks.  They looked like they had just recently been dropped off.  I passed saying a cheery morning and received a giggle in response.  I later saw in the mirror a sunburned beardy guy, caked in mud and smeared in suncream.  At the time I was clacking along with my pacerpoles supporting my comedy belly and flapping along in bright yellow shoes.  I had not washed for five days.

From Kenknock farm the road back to the car seemed endless.  After a foot pounding march I was glad to see the car still sitting there under the ‘no overnight parking sign’.

May 28, 2012

Slackpacking hidden Bleaklow

by backpackingbongos

The weekend started at exactly 5.00pm on Thursday afternoon as I loaded the car with Reuben and my backpacking sack.  The plan was to head to the Peak District for a wild camp as summer had finally arrived with a bang.  I had no real plans, just a rough destination for a pitch in the Bleaklow area.  It was slow going fighting through the rush hour traffic but by 7.00pm I had parked up alongside the Derwent Reservoir.  The hustle and bustle of the week already felt far away.

Total distance -  7.7 miles with 500 metres ascent

With both Reuben and myself sporting our backpacking sacks we headed along the track alongside the river Westend.  The forestry plantation that we passed through is well managed and was full of bird song and dappled evening light.  It was a perfect start to a walk.

Crossing a footbridge the track started to climb through another plantation before finally breaking free of the trees.  Due to a slow dawdle and a snack stop next to the river it was past 8.00pm.  However the heat and humidity appeared to be rising now that we were out of the woods.  I checked the temperature which was 23.7 C, the reason I was soaked in sweat and feeling like I was slowly suffocating.

The surrounding hills had burst into myriad shades of green, the vividness that you only get in spring.  This contrasted well with the dead bracken, its fronds yet to break the brown earth.

We left the security of the track and continued upstream along a feint boggy path.  The trip nearly ended prematurely whilst trying to cross an unstable earth bank.  It gave way and I had the feeling I was about to land in the stream head first.  An ungraceful twist of the body and I landed bum first in a bog.  Combined with the cloying sweat, a soaking wet arse added to the discomfort.

The path then started to climb as the river snaked deeper into the hidden depths of eastern Bleaklow.

A potential pitch was spotted below the path close to the river.  I had planned to continue further but after a day at work I was already tired.  It would also soon be dark.  The Trailstar has a huge footprint and I spent a while selecting the best position to pitch it.  Finally satisfied it was duly pegged out and I then set about setting up the pole that would create the entrance.  Unfortunately the exact spot where I needed to place the final peg was already occupied by a boulder hidden in the grass.  No amount of readjustment would allow the placement of that peg.  Tired, dripping with sweat and gently cursing I took down the Trailstar and re pitched a few feet away, this time untroubled by the boulder.  During round two I head a loud ‘pop’ whilst squatting.  Looking down I was dismayed to see that the seam around the crotch of my trousers had exploded, creating a second fly.  I was glad that I had chosen to wear underpants.

I finally settled down to cook dinner at around 10.00pm just as a tiny slither of moon became visible in the sky.  The air hung heavy, banks of low cloud starting to form on the hills above.  As I unpacked my sleeping bag I questioned the wisdom of bringing winter kit, habit I suppose after such a long cold spring.  As I lay down slowly cooking, a couple of geese landed nearby and started honking away, natures equivalent of a car alarm going off.  I shouted at them, which did not work.  Finally I got up and shone my torch whilst shouting at them, they finally got the message, flying low over my head.

I woke up to daylight, the feeling that I had overslept.  I looked at my watch to find it was only 5.15 am, Reuben still snoring away.  The next time I woke was 7.00am, slowly being steamed in my sleeping bag.  Laying on top of it I enjoyed the novelty of a warm morning whilst camping and managed to doze for a couple more hours.  Finally the heat drove me to exit the Trailstar, blinking into the brightness of a perfect spring morning.

I was in no hurry to get moving and spent a couple of hours padding around camp barefoot.  By my third cup of coffee it was time to pack up and continue following the river to its source.  Initially the going was tough through a narrow gorge like section.  This involved scrambling over a jumble of boulders, my eye on a further collection high above which looked ready to tumble down at any minute.  We soon escaped the confines, climbing a narrow path which contoured effortlessly along the hillside.

The head of the valley was reached, giving a choice of three subsidiaries.  I decided on Deep Grain, following the diminishing river along its grassy banks.

Finally the clough became shallower and we branched off to the right, following grassy sections through rough heathery moorland.  The views suddenly opened out, the confines of the valley replaced by a sense of spaciousness.

A dried up peat grough gave easy passage onto the ridge above and we were soon at the Grinah Stones.  Here there was relief from the sultry heat of the valley, a strong wind drying the sweat from my skin.  I sat with Reuben for a while enjoying the airy perch, rolling moors disappearing into the haze.

We followed a familiar route down past the Barrow Stones and then Round hill.  The usually boggy ground across Ridgewalk moor was dry and crusty, not the usual squelch as oozing peat tries to remove the shoes from your feet.

It was not difficult to locate the track that links the shooting cabins on Ronksley moor with the River Westend.  It always amazes me that such monstrosities can be build on fragile ground in the middle of a National Park.  This particular track follows a perfectly straight and deep channel through the peat.

I turned my back and followed the track back down into the River Westend, passing several new looking shooting butts.  The track into the valley sits much better in the landscape, a series of zig zags as it loses height.  The evening before I had spotted something high on the hillside glinting in the sun, giving me a feeling of being watched.  It turned out to be one of the National Trust signs.

The views up and down the valley were stunning and I sat taking them in whilst eating lunch.  I did not have time to linger though as I was meeting fellow doggy blogger Chrissie down by the reservoir and I was already running late.

As we got lower the heat once again started to take hold, the valley providing shelter from the welcome wind.  On hot days you have to be careful hiking with a dog as they can easily overheat.  You also need to make sure that they have frequent access to water, I find that Reuben can drink almost as much as I do in the summer.  We had numerous water stops and I enjoyed the cold sensation after dipping my cap into a stream, the water evaporating on my head.

The plantation once again provided welcome shelter from the sun, the flat track providing an easy walk back to the car.

A text induced misunderstanding meant that Chrissie was waiting for me a couple of miles up the valley.  After an hour of waiting I decided to head for home via the cafe at the visitor centre.  Later I was to hear that an ice-cold coke and a cookie were waiting for me in Chrissie’s campervan.  They would have been very welcome indeed.

In the end the mileage was short, but the experience had been much greater than if I had done the same walk within a day.


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