Posts tagged ‘MLD Trailstar’

April 28, 2014

Four nights alone in the magnificent Monadhliath pt2

by backpackingbongos

Day 3 – 18.5 kilometres with 340 metres ascent

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I don’t think that it is very often that you have to drag yourself out of a shelter in the morning because it is too hot, especially whilst located at 830 metres in April.  After another sub-zero night that is exactly what I had to do.  OK so I had lazed around in my sleeping bag until gone 9.00am and the sun was getting high in the sky.  You have to relax and take things easy when exploring wild areas on your own.  So I dragged out a groundsheet to sit on whilst I drank coffee and ate noodles.  The air was particularly cool and fresh without the Trailstar to keep it at bay. I have to say that I felt rather smug and pleased with myself as I made another coffee and had a lie-down on a blanket of soft springy moss.

It did not take long to pack and I was soon on my way up the Northern flanks of Geal Charn.  This gave a great view of the way I had walked the day before, across big empty hills.

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With a high starting point I was at the summit cairn in no time at all.  Even with a late start I had it all to myself.  On such a clear day the views were superb.  When conditions are like this you realise just how small Scotland is.  I got the impression that I could see a fair chunk of it.  The western hills on the other side of the Great Glen looked large, clear and snowy.  The bulk of Ben Nevis looked close enough to touch, whilst the Cairngorms loomed close by.  However my eye kept on being drawn to the high brown plateau nearest to me.  This was the hidden heart of the Monadhliath, which after a snack I set off to explore.

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A line of fence posts led across easy ground towards Loch na Lairige, snow patches still firm after a frosty night.

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The area around the Loch itself was a maze of peat hags, groughs and hidden gurgling streams under the turf.  It took a while to navigate but still much tamer than my local stomping ground of Kinder Scout and Bleaklow.  I was still cautious not to disappear up to my waist in a bog however as help was a long way away.

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The going got easier once I reached the outflow of the loch and followed it downstream.  One of the secrets of the Monadhliath are its watercourses.  These are usually (but not always) pleasant grassy linear routes through the heather and bog.  A way to make easy progress and find good places to camp.  This one was no different with easy banks to follow.  Large patches of snow were still covering the stream at some points, fragile snow bridges waiting to catch the unwary.

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The feeling of wildness was lost when I reached the Chalybeate Spring, the start of a vehicle track.  It was not visible down by the stream so I sat for a while and had lunch in the warm sunshine.  The track is part of the Hydro scheme, a new addition to the landscape.  I followed it south before taking a branch that contoured high along the hillside visiting several concrete weirs.  To be fair to the developers they have at least made an effort with regards to landscaping, I have seen much worse in the hills. Vegetation is already claiming the surrounding scars.  I would still prefer it not to be there though and there may be much worse to come for this wild and lonely area.  The tall narrow spires of the wind monitoring masts stood like watchful invaders ready to claim their prize.

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The hard surface of the track was not kind on my feet in the heat as I followed it to its terminus at the Allt Cam Ban.  I crossed a well hidden footbridge below the weir and took to boggy ground as I followed the stream upwards.  My intention had been to continue along the north bank but I changed my mind and climbed to the 801 metre summit which is unnamed on the 1:50k map.  Here I sat by the cairn and removed my boots and socks to let my feet steam.  I was totally lost in my thoughts when there was suddenly a smiling figure coming towards me.  It totally startled me to be honest as it was the last place I expected to see anyone.  The thought was mutual as the chap who came and joined me really did not expect to see anyone on a unremarkable hill in such a remote area.  A pleasant half hour was spent chatting with a fellow backpacker and lover of lonely places.  He was spending a few days in the Monadhliath ticking off all the SIMS.  I can’t remember the criteria but there are about 15 million such hills in Scotland.  He had done most of them.

As we parted ways he headed towards Burrach Mor at a cracking pace whilst I descended into a high level bowl where the Allt Cam Ban meets the Allt Cam nan Croc.  My earlier companion had already pitched for the night next to the river, I could just about make out his tent below.  A splendidly wild and remote spot.

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I dropped down close to where he was pitched and followed the stream for a bit.  A green strip led easily though rough ground over the shoulder of Burrach Mor into the rocky headwaters of Coire an t-Sreatha.  The going then became tough and unpleasant for a while, the late hour and a spot of fatigue not helping matters.

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I was relieved to see the roof of the Eskin bothy below me, hopeful that the place would be fit for habitation.  Upon closer inspection is was a ruin, fit only for the desperate to spend a night inside.  At best it is a handy brew spot for when the weather is bad.  The bothy sat at the top of one of the largest cornices that I have ever seen, a huge crevasse showing that gravity would soon release it.  I took a circuitous route down to the valley floor, marvelling at a twenty-foot high snow bank dripping away like a dying glacier.

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From up above the ground looked like it would be perfect for pitching.  However on closer inspection the close-cropped grass was wet and spongy, the snow only recently melted.  It took a while to find a relatively dry spot.  I quickly got the Trailstar up as I was extremely hungry and felt the need for a long lie-down.  Although I was pitched on a valley bottom I was still located at 650 metres, my lowest altitude for many miles.

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April 25, 2014

Four nights alone in the magnificent Monadhliath pt1

by backpackingbongos

The Monadhliath Mountains occupy a huge tract of the Scottish Highlands.  This is not an area of soaring ridges and fearsome pinnacles.  It is a much more understated landscape, one of vast open moorland and hidden river valleys.  A place where you can walk for days and not see a soul, where eagles sour in big sky country.  Apart from the Munros close to Newtonmore it does not hold much appeal to the casual day walker. Instead it is a place which needs to be explored over several consecutive days, nights spent sleeping out far from civilisation.  A chance to move slowly through a landscape that makes you feel small and insignificant.  A place where the journey is more important that any particular destination.

The large area and the fact that there is no one single location that demands a visit made planning a backpack rather difficult.  Places on the map do no instantly leap out at you.  I left home with three rough routes in mind, I would make a last-minute decision as I left the car.  As it turned out I did none of them.  With fantastic weather I ended up making up a route as I went along, exploring places on a whim. My slackpacking tendencies were forgotten.  I had no idea how far I had walked each day or what I would be doing the next.  Arriving home it turned out that I walked eighty glorious kilometres that Easter weekend.  I had a smile on my face for every single one of them.

Day 1 – 10 kilometres with 350 metres ascent

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I was knackered before I even put on my rucksack, the long drive being rather tiring.  During planning I had the inspired idea of parking at Kingussie and getting a taxi to Laggan (there is no public transport between the two).  However when I got to Kingussie there was no answer from the taxi company, I suppose I should have booked in advance.  Instead I shouldered my pack and headed towards Loch Gynack under threatening skies.

The walk along the tarmac parallel to the golf course was a bit of a plod.  A climb through woods and I was on the southern shores of Loch Gynack. This is on the route of the well signed East Highland Way meaning that I could disengage my brain for a while and enjoy the surroundings.

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At the edge of a forest plantation the long distance path was left as it took a dogleg to Newtonmore.  I continued on a cross-country yomp to connect to the track leading up Allt na Beinne.  Here I was hit by a series of vicious squalls; hail, rain and snow blown down the glen in great sheets.  When they came through I had to turn my back and wait a few minutes until they had passed.  A face full of weather is never much fun.

The security of a track was once again left to follow a side stream across rough ground until the Allt a’ Chaorainn was reached.  Here the full force of the wind buffeted me as I set a course above the lively river.

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I dropped down to a grassy patch next to the river hoping that I would get shelter from the wind.  It was not much better to be honest but it was forecast to drop during the night to give a calm and frosty dawn.  I find the Trailstar a bit of a faff to erect in the wind but I had soon wrestled it into shape.

It was the evening of my birthday and I was billy no mates.  For some reason my wife did not find the thought of spending the Easter Weekend exploring remote moorland very appealing.  With five days off work I felt the need to put them to good use.  The glorious weather that followed meant that I was glad that I had.

Although a short day mileage wise I was knackered.  I did not even need to switch on my torch as I was asleep by 9.00pm.

Day 2 – 18 kilometres with 660 metres ascent

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(You can click on the map to make it bigger)

The wind did indeed drop during the night and so did the temperature.  I woke sometime before dawn and glanced at my watch by my head, it registered -2 C in the inner tent.  My platypus was fill of ice when I took a sip from it.  I shivered and burrowed further into my sleeping bag.  Although fully awake I decided that I would not move until the warmth of the sun had hit the Trailstar.  Being next to a high bank that did not happen until 9.00am by which time I was fast asleep again.  One of the pleasures of backpacking alone is that you can set your own schedule.  With the days getting longer I felt no urge to get up and begin walking at the crack of dawn.

I enjoyed bumbling around camp, both the location and weather were spectacular.  I did not think that it was possible for the sky to be so blue.  It was tempting to stay there for hours and laze about but I was determined to make the most of the weather.  It was gone 11am by the time I had packed and found a point to cross the river.

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As I ascended the Munro of A’ Chailleach I could make out tiny figures on the main path above.  I took a pathless route alongside a small side stream, the heather becoming shorter and crisper with height.  I stopped often to take in the views.  As well as the skies being free from clouds the visibility was near perfect, the horizon being filled with snowy peaks.  There were so many that it was hard to get my bearings and identify them.

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The main path was picked up on the final rise to the summit, which was marked with a large cairn.  The Cairngorms across the Spey Valley looked spectacular, however my attention was drawn to the north and west.  The wilds of the Monadhliath was what I had come for, endless waves of high hills rolling towards the horizon.

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I could make out several groups of people either on or heading towards the summit of Carn Sgulain across the deep trench of Allt Cuil na Caillich.  I had visited the summit many years ago and did not feel a need to do so again.  Therefore a feint path was followed to the north-west, a circuitous route being taken to avoid steep snow banks on either side of the stream.  Instead of making a beeline direct to the summit ridge ahead I contoured around a shallow coire, reaching the line of fence posts just west of Meall a’ Bhothain.

I regretted leaving my sunglasses in the car, especially when crossing the extensive snow patches.  Even with a cap that sheltered my face, the snow was dazzling under the strong sun.  Leaving a snow patch my vision would be like what you get when you walk into a dark room on a bright summers day.

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Carn Dearg had some fine cornices along its eastern facing cliffs.  However it is another Monadhliath Munro that I had previously climbed so decided not to bother with the detour.

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I was tempted to contour around the northern slopes of Carn Ban but that area was still covered in extensive snow, including the fringes of Lochan Uisage.  Without sunglasses my eyes would be fried walking that way and the snow was becoming soft and arduous in the warm afternoon sun.

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It is not often that you get to stride out at such a height in the British hills and I relished every moment of the day.  Often the going was easy across a mossy and stone covered tundra.  This would be interspersed by bare areas of peat and networks of peat hags.  I decided not to climb Carn Odhar na Criche, instead dropping into the headwaters of Allt Odhar.  Here the peat was still wet and the snow deep, often giving way, hard work on tiring legs.

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There was not much shelter on the plateau but the weather forecast for the night was good.  I picked a spot that was covered in a luxurious carpet of moss on which to pitch.  At 830 metres the temperatures quickly started to drop as the sun slipped towards the horizon. Unfortunately I had pitched in a such a spot that the setting sun was not visible.  Feeling cold and tired I crawled straight into the Trailstar to get a hot drink and make dinner.  It was below freezing long before I fell asleep.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.