Posts tagged ‘Wild camping’

April 19, 2015

Newtondale – backpacking the North York Moors

by backpackingbongos

Navigating the steep hairpin bends between Lockton and Levisham made my stomach flutter with a bit of excitement. It wasn’t the angle of the road but the fact that I thought that a new series of the League of Gentlemen was being filmed. I’m almost certain that I passed Tubbs and Edward standing by the side of the road decked out in grubby Barbour. Sadly it turned out that they were just supporters of the local hunt, which was being led by a man with the reddest face imaginable.

Levisham turned out to be a delightful village, basically a long village green backed by beautiful stone buildings with a pub at the far end. The only road in and out is the aforementioned country lane which plunges down to Levisham beck before climbing out the other side. I bet it gets cut off a lot in winter.

We took a track to the right of the pub after Reuben was saddled up and the car abandoned on the main street. We were passed by several vehicles heading into the village. Where they came from I have no idea as the track ends on rough open moor. The occupants of every single vehicle pointed at Reuben as they passed, perhaps they have never seen a Staffie wear a pair of overstuffed panniers before?

I had read somewhere that the Hole of Horcum is the Grand Canyon of Yorkshire. I have never visited the Grand Canyon before but I feel that there may have been a bit of exaggerating about the Yorkshire version. It is a very nice spot though and I was glad of the shelter it provided from the strong and cold wind. I would give it a few more extra points if the busy road to Whitby did not run along its eastern edge.

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A steep climb to the north led us up to the lip of Yorkshire’s Grand Canyon. There we were able to turn our backs on the hustle and bustle and head across the moors towards Newtondale.

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It was only my third visit to the North York Moors and I am beginning to work out the parts of it that I enjoy. The moors themselves are dreadfully dull, a flat monoculture of heather criss crossed by land rover tracks. Nothing really to invigorate the senses or lift the soul. The word sterile comes to mind. The contrast with the various dales however could not be starker. These are full of life, trees clinging to steep slopes, lush vegetation and a feeling that they are somehow wilder. Quite the opposite to many other upland areas I find.

I enjoyed the walk down into Newtondale immensely.

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The North York Moors Railway runs its way through the dale, although the trains had not started running this early in the spring. All was quiet with not a soul to be seen in this reasonably isolated valley.

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After following a forestry track north for a while we struck directly up steep slopes once past the plantation. I’m glad that the bracken was still brown and crunchy underfoot. In summer our chosen route would be simply impossible. You would also probably end up covered head to toe in ticks.

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A squelch across the flat moors and an idyllic spot was found next to the infant Blawath Beck. It was flat, dry and covered in springy moss. Although early I did not hesitate in getting the Trailstar up, I’m someone who does not pass by a good pitch. Reuben seemed happy with the chosen spot, as soon as his panniers were removed he was pulling his best breakdancing moves.

It was a pleasant evening chilling out with my kindle, listening to the first snipe of the year drumming somewhere overhead.

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Despite a night camped next to a stream there was zero condensation when I woke up. The sun had finally come out and the air was alive with the sound of bird song. It was tempting to have a lazy morning enjoying camp but I’m sure that wild camping in the North York Moors is probably frowned upon.

The pastures around Wardle Green contrast nicely with the austere moors and regimented conifer plantations. The old farm is surrounded by Scotts Pine and broadleaf trees. An oasis buzzing with life on an early spring morning.

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A bridleway and forestry track led us to high above Newtondale, a fine path leading along the edge of Killing Nab Scar. It’s probably one of the finest paths in the country as it winds its way high above the dale giving splendid views down into the valley. It was a shame that a haze had built up.

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A bench had been handily placed in which to enjoy a rest in the sun and drink in the view. All morning I had heard the buzz of trail bikes somewhere in the forest. All of a sudden half a dozen came tearing down the path I had just walked. I had to hold Reuben tight as they passed in front of the bench, inches from us. In my head I challenged them, waving my fist until they saw the error of their ways. In reality I just sat there glumly and nodded my head as they passed.

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A steep path took us down into the valley and then past Newtondale Halt. Climbing once more up the steep southern slopes there was a section that involved the use of steps built into a rock face.

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Although not marked on the map there is a narrow trod that continues on past Yewtree Scar and all the way to Skelton Tower. Another grand promenade, equaling the path earlier along Killing Nab Scar.

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Skelton Tower occupies a spot close to the steep drop into the valley, feeling much higher than 170 metres. It provided a place to sit out of the wind and rest before the final mile or so back to the car.

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I think I am going to have to make more of an effort to visit the North York Moors. They are a much quieter alternative to the Peak District with not much further to travel.

April 7, 2015

A fond farewell to the magnificent Monadhliath

by backpackingbongos

I stood under blue skies and hot sun, after stopping to strip down to just a baselayer. A welcome relief after three days of freezing temperatures and limited visibility. The high plateau stretched into the far distance, every gully and hag of the brown moor still filled with snow. For a while I was transported back to Arctic Sweden, such was the scale of the scene. It was day four of a solo backpack and I had yet to see another human being.

The Monadhliath have long held a magnetic draw for me, unlike any other place in Scotland. It is predominantly moorland in nature, although in places it does rise above the magic 3000 feet. High plateaus split by long lonely glens, perfect for the backpacker.

My attention for five days over the Easter weekend was a leisurely exploration of the area where the consented Stronelairg wind farm will sit. 67 huge turbines along with miles of new roads, pylons to connect it to the grid and a potential substation near the historic Garva Bridge. The turbines will occupy a site the size of Inverness. This past weekend though it was just me, numerous golden plover singing their hearts out and mountain hare still in their winter coats. It’s heartbreaking to think that it will soon be covered in concrete and steel, the whooshing of blades replacing bird song. There is a possibility that the John Muir Trust will win their appeal, but I don’t hold out much hope.

In a way this was my final farewell to a fabulous area, a place that gives a feeling of freedom and space that is hard to find in this crowded Island. Goodbye dear Moanies, it was good to meet you whilst you still had a beating heart.

I’ll do a proper trip report at some time, in the meantime just a few photos and words.

Looking into the heart of the proposed site, a high plateau all above 600 metres. Taken from the summit of the Corbett Meall na h-Aisre.

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Camped at 670 metres bang in the middle of the extensive moorland plateau. You can just make out one of the wind monitoring masts right of centre.

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The still frozen Allt Creag Chomaich. In summer the joy of the Monadhliath is following the grassy banks of the numerous watercourses. This time the going was treacherous with snow covered bog to snatch the unwary.

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Looking north from the summit of the Corbett Gairbean across the rapidly melting snow fields on the plateau.

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There is currently a worthwhile petition, Save Loch Ness and the Great Glen. Please sign it.

February 14, 2015

Kinder – A night with a mermaid

by backpackingbongos

Mild weather and rain during the week had washed away most of the snow in the Peak District. A disappointment considering the amount that had fallen the previous weekend.

I had received an invite from Geoff and Chrissie to join them on a short backpack from Hayfield to Kinder Scout. They had just received a labrador friendly tent and were keen to test it. By the time I had driven over, eaten their food and drank their coffee it was late in the afternoon when we finally set off. Just three short hours before it got dark.

With it being their local stomping ground I left my map in my pack and followed them to Kinder Reservoir via a circuitous route through Little Hayfield and along White Brow.

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From Hayfield I have always gone up Kinder via William Clough or Sandy Heys, so it was new territory for me as we followed the path around the northern side of the reservoir. It was then pathless as we headed up the Kinder River.

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Geoff set off at a cracking pace along the river to Peter Nook woods, Chrissie following behind. Reuben thought that it would be better for us to have a slow amble up the path along the upper edge of the woods. The tortoise got to the Mermaids pool ten minutes before the hare.

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I arrived at the pool exactly at the same time as another chap with his Labrador, he having the same idea of a nice quiet wild camp. I however was intent on a grassy shelf a couple of hundred metres further on. The area surrounding Mermaids pool is a bit on the soggy side to be honest.

Chrissie and Geoff managed to get their brand new tent up without too much fuss, good going considering that there was a keen wind and they had only pitched it once in the garden. My Wickiup gave me a bit of trouble to start with. Being tall it is difficult to get the flysheet on when fighting against the wind. Reuben chose to shelter behind a tussock rather than offering any help.

Because of the windchill it was not an evening to sit outside socialising so we hung out in our individual tents. The most exciting moment being when Tilly came along to say hello and knocked over my coffee. Reuben is currently being trained to return the favour.

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The wind had died down by morning and there was the beginnings of a blue sky. The mermaid had not come along and drowned me in the pool during the night, as per the legend. My only mermaid reference point is Daryl Hannah in Splash so I’m sure it would not have been an entirely unpleasant experience.

We did not pick the easiest way onto the plateau, taking a direct line up impossibly steep slopes. The remaining slushy snow was best avoided. My asthma inhaler just about managed to keep my airways open as my lungs worked overtime on the near vertical grass.

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The going was much more pleasant on the path that winds its way along the edge of the plateau. Chrissie and Geoff put on their microspikes but I found picking a route from boulder to boulder much easier. Reuben and Tilly with their built-in spikes and Four Paw Drive had no problems at all.

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Kinder Downfall had the appearance of a set of giant organ pipes, great icicles hanging from the rocks. It was undergoing a transition from being frozen to its more usual liquid state. We took the three Knolls path back down to the valley just as cloud and mist swept in from the west. The plateau was soon hidden and a Peter Kay rain fell. Luckily we were dressed in Paramo so we were all snug, warm and dry and in the Paramo comfort zone.

Cheese on toast back at chez Crowther set me up nicely for the drive back home.

January 31, 2015

Thundersnow and a freezing night on the Derwent Moors

by backpackingbongos

It had meant to be a sociable weekend camping on the high moors in the Peak District. However a threat of snow had folk dropping out at the last minute. My rucksack was already packed so I headed off anyway. I erred on the side of caution and took the Bongo with its 4WD, also somewhere to sleep if turned out to be snowmageddon.

The ground was decidedly snow free when I pulled the Bongo into the car park at Langsett. I was lucky to get a space as this popular spot was almost full, even on a raw winters day. The path along the north shore of the reservoir was busy and I ended up walking its length chatting to a local guy who regularly does the circuit. Although he has a health condition it has not diminished his love for his local hills and he tries to get out for a couple of hours as much as possible. We soon parted company and I continued to the west, parallel with the busy A616 and its constant growl of traffic.

A track led me south onto the moors, brown and foreboding with patches of snow remaining. The sky was grey and overcast adding to the bleakness. I passed the cabin at Upper Hordron and descended into Hordron Clough, a sheepfold providing a sheltered spot for a late lunch.

The plan had been to cross the moors to the south and head for a wild camp up on Bleaklow. Suddenly there was a rumbling noise which at first I though was a low flying aircraft, this was soon repeated much louder and I realised it was thunder. This is my biggest fear in the hills, having been caught out in exposed places in the past during some violent thunder storms. I beat a hasty retreat back down to the valley just as I was engulfed in a furious snow shower. Within minutes everything was white and the black clouds above continued to grumble their displeasure. The shower disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and I started climbing again, only to see black clouds once again gathering to the west. Sod it I thought, there was no way I was going onto the moors if there was a further risk of a thunderstorm.

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In the end I decided to pitch on a nice flat grassy patch next to the stream. It was early but I was well placed to get onto the hills the following morning, where hopefully the promised sunshine would make an appearance.

Th next heavy shower arrived as I was pitching, the wind picking up and making the task more difficult than it should have been. It was with relief that I could brush myself free of snow and climb into the Wickiup and put on a brew. It was barely past 3.00pm but I was happy to have a lazy afternoon and it was unlikely that anyone would pass me just an hour or so before sunset.

The snow continued to fall for most of the night and I had to frequently bash the sides of my shelter to encourage it to slide off. At one point I even had to go out and remove some of the snow that had accumulated around the bottom of the Wickiup. With the inner taking up the whole of the shelter and with no porch I managed to bring in snow with me. Despite the cold I was snug inside and with good mobile reception I could watch the traffic reports, the busy road not that far away closing due to the conditions.

After a long sleep I was keen to get up before dawn, the world clear, windless and frozen solid. Stars still shone in the sky and the eastern horizon had a smudge of yellow. I enjoyed the crunch of virgin snow under my boots as I wandered round with a cup of coffee in hand. It was gone 9.00am by the time the sun reached camp, only warming me psychologically, the air remaining far below freezing. It was tough going taking down the Wickiup, the snow and frost nipping at my bare fingers as I wrestled with a frozen flysheet.

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The stream was a black streak in the white snow but easily forded. I followed a faint track past some grouse butts before striking up across heather covered snow. The heather was knee-deep with a few inches of snow on top, not the easiest of walking.

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Once on the plateau the ground was wind blasted, miles of white hills ran to the horizon towards the west. If I ignored the steady drone of traffic on the Woodhead pass I could have been on a remote hilltop in the Highlands. There were even a string of wind turbines nearby to give it that Scottish authenticity.

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I wanted to pay the Crow Stones a visit, they were not very far away but I underestimated the toughness of the ground around Stainery Clough. I’m sure that the snow did not help as I attempted to cross various deep peat groughs.

The Crow stones however were worth the effort. They are located in a remote spot close to the head of the river Derwent, the huge bulk of Bleaklow beyond, Kinder Scout on the horizon. A welcome spot in which to get out of the wind and boil some water for a brew on my stove. One of the benefits of backpacking is having the kit to make a hot drink.

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Weather was building again in the west as I packed up and headed towards the trig point on Outer Edge. It overtook me as I picked a way through the rocks, snow and mist blotting out the sun.

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Visibility was seriously reduced on Outer Edge and it was a bleak crossing to get to the security of the Cut Gate path. I passed a couple of groups of runners, rather them than me with so little kit on such a day. A quick chat with a National Park Ranger on the summit of the pass before putting my head down and yomping back to the Bongo.

Luckily once down at valley level the snow had melted, no issues in getting home. A short and sweet route but it’s amazing how a few inches of snow transform the familiar into something much bigger and wilder.

December 21, 2014

Below, in and above the clouds on Kinder Scout

by backpackingbongos

The drive from Nottingham to the Peak District was through varying levels of fog, at times visibility was down to a couple of hundred metres. That did not stop the maniacs hurtling down the motorway with their lights off. Coming over the highest point of the road between Chinley and Hayfield the world suddenly materialised in front of me. My rear view mirror showed a wall of cloud, surprisingly solid it draped over the hills and filled the valleys.

I left the car at chez Crowther and set off towards Kinder with Chrissie and Reuben. Rather than the usual approach via Kinder Road we climbed up the Snake Path and went past the shooting cabin before dropping down into William Clough. The path as it contours White Brow is particularly enjoyable, it gives great views without much effort. Cloud was clinging to Kinder south of the Downfall but the plateau to the north was clear. We had originally planned to head for the Downfall but at the last minute decided to head for the northern edge with the hope of a scenic mist free wild camp.

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Although living just below Kinder, Chrissie usually avoids William Clough due to the numbers of people who use the route onto the plateau. Thankfully we had it all to ourselves, it’s a pleasant and easy way to gain height. Sadly our hopes of a murk free walk were dashed when the bank of cloud engulfed us. This was atmospheric though as it would often thin out allowing shafts of sunlight to penetrate. The surrounding hills would appear before disappearing again, distance being distorted.

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It was totally clagged in as we reached the moors below Mill Hill and started the final climb onto the northern edge of Kinder. Suddenly there was a hint of blue above, the cloud thinning and breaking before closing in again. We were teased a few times before the clouds suddenly parted and dropped below us. The setting sun lit them from below turning them into a bubbling fiery cauldron, the moorland cast a golden glow.

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We contoured high above the northern edge looking for somewhere sensible to pitch. It needed to be flat and comfortable for the nights are very long in winter. This was easier than we thought it would be as the bare peatlands have now been transformed into grassy prairies. The tents were set up in thick mist, the brief display of light and cloud had only lasted for ten minutes. It was that thick that I set a waypoint on my GPS when we went off in search of water. Less than one hundred metres away and our tents vanished in the gloom. Chrissie’s filter made short work of Kinder water, turning it from resembling a black stout to strong black tea.

It was one of the dampest nights I have spent outdoors, the outer of my Wickiup was saturated even before Reuben and I got inside. I sat and cooked and kept the door wide open for an hour or so, wet mist swirling inside the shelter. The mesh vents at the top soon got overwhelmed and started dripping onto the Oookworks inner. I’m glad I had that inner as it would have been a very wet night indeed. It protected me from the damp above and the veritable bog fest below.

It rained heavily for much of the night, adding to the already saturated conditions. One of those times that you can’t do anything to mitigate the condensation. The bottom of my sleeping bag was pretty damp so luckily we were only out for one night. Reuben also appeared to be less than impressed with the whole thing.

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The plan for the morning had been to continue along the northern edge to Fairbrook Naze and then cross the plateau to Kinder Gates and then the Downfall. Chrissie had woken up with the beginnings of a nasty cold and the weather was not conducive to a crossing of the plateau. We decided that instead we would return straight back down to Hayfield via Sandy Heys.

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It’s when on the winter moors that I think that I should invest in a fluorescent tabard for Reuben. He really is very well camouflaged, even with a bright green set of panniers on. With thick mist he is almost invisible, there were a couple of occasions when I would be calling for him to return, only to find he was sitting at my feet.

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The path down Sandy Heys is short and sweet, quickly getting us below the clouds and out of the cold damp wind.

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With this being Chrissie’s local stomping group she led us back to Hayfield via a different route without consulting the map. I liked the name of one of the roads that we passed.

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Once again a night on Kinder Scout did not disappoint.

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