Posts tagged ‘Wild camping’

July 20, 2016

The Dales south to north – a Monsoon backpack pt2

by backpackingbongos

The Yorkshire Dales had vanished overnight. In its place had been left a ghostly world of damp swirling mist and heavy dew laden grass. It was not the most pleasant of experiences pulling on damp clothes and sodden footwear. My dry tent clothes were carefully wrapped and packed away, I was already looking forward to getting changed later than evening.

The track named Gilbert Lane runs north for several miles across open moorland, almost due north to Wensleydale. It was deathly silent as we made our way through the mist, bar the odd cry of a Curlew.

The miles were quick to the large village of Bainbridge where we made a beeline to the nearest cafe. Unfortunately cafes in tourist places turn out to be tea rooms, which mean smaller portions for high prices. We bagged a table and had lunch number one whilst my feet steamed with socks failing to dry.

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Rain was threatening again as we set off back into the hills. To get to the evenings planned camp we had to cross the moors that separate Wensleydale from Swaledale. A walled track led us steadily upwards before it deposited us in the middle of a field full of cattle.

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The bridleway then became the figment of a cartographers imagination so we left the invisible line and climbed steep slopes up into the cloud.

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It became wet once more so in full waterproofs we trudged through the mist towards the top of Oxnop common, where we found a ruined mine building to shelter in for a while. It was pretty damp and miserable on the summit.

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It was with some relief that we descended below the clouds at exactly the spot where I had planned. That was more down to technology than skill to be honest. Waterproofs came off and were quickly put on again, it was a real chore wearing them whilst so warm and humid.

We squelched through the hamlet of Ivelet and found a well hidden pitch on the moors above. To be honest we could have pitched anywhere and remained invisible in the mist and low cloud. It was another unpleasantly warm and humid night, the tent quickly getting wet with condensation. I was very thankful for those dry clothes.

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With no wind the only noise on the moors the next morning were the birds, including the strange drumming sound of a snipe. We were up and packed early again, heading for the landrover track that contours high above the River Swale. The sun was gradually winning its battle with the clouds, the scenery finally revealing itself.

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The view along upper Swaledale to Keld and beyond is an impressive one. Nine Standards filled the horizon and we knew that we would have to climb over its high shoulder before we could descend to Kirkby Stephen and journeys end.

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Whilst descending Swinner Gill we faced the tide of Coast to Coasters who must have set off from Keld that morning. It was a real international procession.

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As we reached the outskirts of Keld, a familiar figure with two dogs waved at us from the hillside above. It turned out to be Chrissie’s husband Geoff, who I am disappointed to report did not have ice-cold cans of pop or any form of treat to share with us. I just got my face licked by a labrador instead.

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The remote farm of Ravenseat in Whitsun Dale was a hive of activity, with Coast to Coasters streaming in and out. The baggage transfer companies must be making a fortune as most only sported small day sacks. We shared a table with a couple of Americans whilst Chrissie demolished a cream tea with much vigour. The farm has been on the telly box a lot recently with the shepherdess saying the word ‘ewe’ numerous times in an exaggerated Yorkshire accent.

With rumbles of thunder in the distance we made our way along the Coast to Coast path up onto the plateau of Nine Standards. After spotting a funnel cloud we were ready to leg it to lower ground if the storm got any closer. It was a long and very boggy trudge.

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We missed out the summit itself, instead picking up a track over Hartley Fell and down to Ladthwaite. The rain finally put in an appearance and after walking through wet waist-high meadows there was no point in putting on waterproof trousers. The only memorable moment on the navigational challenging field paths to Nateby was a near death experience with a herd of frisky cows. They came charging at us at full pelt whilst we were far away from the safety of a fence. We stood our ground and shouted whilst waving our hiking poles, thankfully they changed course at the last moment.

It was all worth it though when we finally reached the best tea van in Yorkshire for a large slice of much-needed cake.

July 4, 2016

The Dales south to north – a Monsoon backpack pt1

by backpackingbongos

The last of the light was fading as I parked the van high on the moors near the Tan Hill Inn. I had set off from Nottingham in shorts and t-shirt but I found the breeze soon whipped away any semblance of warmth. To the north, banks of cloud were rising and falling over the high escarpment, a wave of white covering the distant A66, muffling the sound of traffic. I made up the bed in the Doblo and lay there with the side door open watching the cloud lap upon the moorland shore.

I had hoped for an impressive cloud inversion in the morning but it was not to be. Instead it was a world of murk as I packed away the bed and pointed the Doblo in the direction of Kirkby Stephen train station.

You would have thought that no one had ever seen anyone brew coffee and eat a bowl of bran flakes outside a railway station before. It probably is not the done thing. I had plenty of time to relax and sort myself out before catching a train south to Settle. The aim for this long weekend was to meet Chrissie in Settle and then walk back through the Dales to Kirkby Stephen. A good leg stretcher and preparation for the Colorado Trail.

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83 kilometres with 2700 metres ascent over four days.

Chrissie and I started from the very busy Settle station and within minutes had stopped at a cafe to pick up cold drinks and lunch. There was not a cloud in the sky as we toiled up the steep track that would take us onto the limestone plateau. Even early in the day the heat was punishing.

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A path led us to the south of the impressive Warrendale Knotts and Attermire Scar, however it was far too hot to even contemplate exploring this area of limestone cliffs and caves.

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There was a minor bit of excitement where it looked like a cow had got itself tangled in a wire fence. We dumped our rucksacks and bravely approached the hefty bovine beast ready to use our trekking poles for defence if we needed to. As we got close the cow simply walked away. It was all a ploy to make us look silly.

The Yorkshire Dales in early June is a riot of yellow with all the meadows in full bloom. It’s a stunning sight, although not the best when you suffer from hayfever.

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When trekking in limestone country in hot and dry weather you need to bring along someone with a large and effective water filter. Chrissie fitted the bill nicely in this respect and we were soon drinking cool and clear water from Malham Tarn. It meant that I could leave the nasty chemicals in my pack.

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The honeypot area of the tarn was left behind as we climbed past Middle House Farm and onto the old track of Monk’s Road. the idea was to follow it for a while and then pitch at a spot where I had my fingers crossed there would be a trickle of water.

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Sadly the trickle had dried up leaving just the odd puddle. Chrissie’s super filter made short work of this and we found a grassy pitch nearby with great views over Cowside Beck. The grass was fragrant with herbs, the most pleasantly scented pitch I have ever had.

The sky began to darken, haze slowly blotting out the views. It was close and muggy and I kept my fingers crossed that it would not storm.

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A light rain fell during the night and the humidity was ramped up to what felt like one hundred percent. My sleeping bag had remained unzipped throughout the night. Early the next morning wet tents were packed away and we walked back up to the Monk’s Road which was followed down to Arncliffe.

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It was too early for the pub so we sat at a picnic table on the village green and ate snacks whilst a soft rain fell. Even standing still I felt like I was suffocating in my waterproofs. Neither of us was looking forward to the long climb over Old Cote Moor.

As if reading our minds the weather gods looked down at our discomfort and punished us the best way that they could by giving us a heavy downpour. I was soaked inside and outside my hard shell as we crested the moor and dropped down into Wharfedale.

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Chrissie said that there was an excellent cafe in Starbottom but it failed to materialise, I hid my inner tantrum well. Instead we were the first people to visit the rather frosty pub where we dripped all over the floor and squelched to a seat by a window. It stopped raining for the full hour that we were inside. Pints of sugary coke and a big bowl of chips lifted the spirits.

The Monsoon rains hit us on the outskirts of Buckden, just as we has started climbing again. It was heavier than any rain in the UK has the right to be. I consoled myself with the fact that I was not as miserable as Chrissie looked.

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With the power of Google maps I had located an idyllic looking campsite on the moors above Cray. A nice grassy swarth next to a meandering stream. Google maps however failed to show the thistles which covered every inch of the close-cropped turf. We therefore filled up our water bottles and tramped back up hill to a more exposed pitch.

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It was good to change out of sopping wet clothing into my tent outfit, it’s good for morale to know that dry clothes await in the bottom of my pack. Another very warm and humid night followed, with barely a breath of wind to keep the condensation at bay. I wasn’t looking forward to putting wet clothes back on the following day.

Part 2 will follow shortly (ish).

You can read Chrissie’s version of events here.

July 1, 2016

A foot in two countries – backpacking the English / Welsh border

by backpackingbongos

Planning a route for a hot and sunny late May Bank holiday can reduce a misanthropic backpacker to a mild state of panic. The roads would be at a standstill and the hills an awful tangle of humanity. I managed to hatch a cunning plan which involved leaving really early on a Sunday morning and doing a round of what I hoped would be a group of forgotten hills. It worked and by the time I got back to the car all hot and bothered the following day it was late enough to avoid the Monday homebound rush.

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49 kilometres with 1520 metres of ascent over two days.

The River Teme runs through Lloyney, but before this trip I would have been hard pushed to point out either on a map. Lloyney is a one horse village and the pub was not going to open until the following day. What it lacks in facilities it makes up for in easy access to a long undulating ridge of moor and pasture leading to the Beacon Hills. After a steep climb in bright sunshine I was able to enjoy a high level yomp along gorse covered grassland. The heat of the day was building and distant views were shrouded by haze, but on the hills a breeze kept me cool.

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The area surrounding Beacon hill is a lump of high undulating moorland. It gives extensive views and is unmolested by anything but sheep and buzzards. The grassy tracks enable you to almost float along.

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The major disappointment of the day came when a footpath through the heather failed to materialise. For half an hour I cursed the Ordnance Survey as I lurched through the deep and tough vegetation, my shoes snagging and socks being covered in prickly heather.

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A lane led me down to the village of Beguildy where I was looking forward to getting refreshments in the pub. Although a Bank holiday they had decided that they would close at 2pm and not reopen until 6pm. That was not much help to a thirsty backpacker with a rapidly emptying water bottle.

I was aiming for the Kerry Ridgeway for the night. The problem with devising your own backpacking route is that it is not always possible to join up all those green dots, especially away from the mountains. It was a long road bash to get to the River Clun. Thankfully the tangle of minor roads in this area means that there is very little traffic.

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I was getting tired so instead of climbing up onto the nature reserve at Rhos Fiddle I followed another lane towards the Ridgeway. As I left it and entered a forest I noticed all the bird feeders hanging from the trees. I was just about to pass a ramshackle caravan when I heard a shout in Welsh. The owner of the caravan came over to say hello and we spent a good half hour chatting. He was what you could call a ‘proper character’, living alone in his seventies, totally off grid and away from the world. I had to force myself away in the end or I would have been there for the whole weekend, the encounter left me with a smile on my face.

To the south of the Ridgeway is a large area of high unenclosed grassland, perfect for sheep but perhaps not ideal for a stealthy wild camp.

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In the end I found a lovely pitch hidden in a steep grassy side valley, a tiny clear stream bubbling alongside. It was a bit of a treat pitching on soft grass rather than rough moorland. I spent a peaceful undisturbed night, the only negative being the sheer amount of slugs that covered all my gear when I woke.

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In the morning it was a short walk to the Kerry Ridgeway where the wide track gave easy level walking and the hilltop position gave extensive views.

One of the highlights of the weekend came for me as I reached the edge of an unnamed valley. With the scenery exploding with green under blue skies and a warm sun it was a perfect place to stop and relax.

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I soon picked up the Offa’s Dyke long distance path that took me back to the car in an arrow straight line. The problem with this is that on this part of the trail it does not respect the contours. It is an endless procession of ups and downs, some as steep as any mountain path. In the heat it became rather tiresome, especially after I had to start rationing my water.

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For mile after mile it was up and down, up and down, before finally the River Teme was at my feet. I was glad to get back to the red-hot and stuffy car and a change of clothes. I apologise to the person whose house I got changed outside. I was grateful for the warm bottle of water that was waiting for me in the boot.

June 20, 2016

When the Helm Wind blows – a North Pennine backpack

by backpackingbongos

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52 Kilometres with 1370 metres of ascent over three days.

Dufton is one of my favourite English villages, well it is on a quiet Friday when the place appeared to be deserted. Two days later on a Sunday afternoon it had been transformed into a large leafy car park, albeit more salubrious than Nottingham’s park and ride.

It had been a pleasant late spring morning whilst crossing the A66, however it was very windy in Dufton considering its sheltered position. The trees all in full leaf were making quite a racket as I shouldered my pack and walked along the road to the signpost for the Pennine Way. A local asked where I was heading and I said Cross Fell. He replied saying that the Helm Wind was blowing with the summit of Cross Fell being covered in a large cap of cloud. The helm wind is the only named wind in the UK, which happens when a strong north-easterly blows down the south-west slope of the Cross Fell Escarpment. He said that it was likely to continue for the rest of the day.

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I soon turned off the Pennine Way to pick up a track that contoured round the shoulder of Dufton Pike, a conical mini mountain. There I left the security of the track to descend to Great Rundale Beck before the long and steep climb to the summit of Brownber Hill. Next to the beck I found a small wire cage / trap containing a dead crow. It was like a very small Larson trap but I could not figure how it was meant to work. I left it alone and wheezed my way up the hill. When I was half way up a quad bike approached the trap, removed the crow then placed the trap on the back of the quad bike before driving off. I have to admit that I am a suspicious kind of guy when it comes to this sort of activity.

I squelched across the summit of Brownber Hill before taking a diagonal ascent across pathless moor to intersect the Pennine Way near Knock Hush.

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Despite it being mid May I was absolutely freezing by the time I reached the large cairn of Knock Old Man. I was glad to shelter behind its solid walls for a while. The wind was so cold that my face was frozen into a grimace. I even had to don gloves for the first time in months (I very rarely feel the need to wear gloves).

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The walk across the close cropped grass summits of Knock Fell, Great Dun Fell and then Little Dun Fell was less than pleasant in the very cold and blustery conditions. The cloud would temporarily lift from the summits giving views across the high and wild expanse of moors to the east.

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I found shelter on Little Dun Fell and hunkered down for another snack, working out whether I could be bothered to climb Cross Fell. The cloud had finally lifted but I was shivering, the coldest that I have been whilst on the hills for a long time. Therefore I descended to Crowdundle Head and took the bridleway that contoured high above the infant River Tees.

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From the map I thought that the bridleway would be easy to follow, however it quickly disappeared and I found myself contouring too far and too high. By then I was feeling really cold and was keen to dress in down clothing and get into my sleeping bag. I descended a bit and found a flat spot close to water on which to pitch the Hilleberg Enan. The sun was beginning to set as I crawled shivering inside. Once in my sleeping bag and after a cup of coffee and some soup I felt much better. It turned out to be a very enjoyable camp in just about the remotest spot in the Pennines.

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There was a big freeze during the night, my water bladders turning to lumps of ice. I was glad to wake up to blue skies, the rays of the sun soon warming my tent and melting the ice.

The walk down the upper River Tees was a delight, reminiscent of the Monadhliath in Scotland. This Part of the North Pennines is big open country, high moors intersected by a long, lonely and empty valleys. It felt like I followed the river for miles before I finally came upon the track that leads to the South River Tyne.

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With the Colorado Trail trip coming up later in the summer I was back in trail shoes after a year wearing leather boots. It can take a while getting used to the freedom you get, along with the need to be more careful with foot placement. The new pair of Inov-8 Race Ultra’s right out of the box proved to be very comfortable, it was like walking in slippers.

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After a short period of dry weather I was surprised at just how low some of the stream and rivers were. It’s something that I remember from previous summer trips to the North Pennines. It’s worth remembering if you are wild camping and relying on a particular water source. Many of the side streams had simply dried up.

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The track above the north-eastern side of Cow Green reservoir gave swift walking after the long meandering amble alongside the River Tees. After only seeing a couple of people in twenty-four hours the car park at Cow Green came as a bit of a shock. It was pretty busy with people setting off along the tarmac track towards the Cow Green Dam. This is the Widdybank Fell Nature Reserve. The patches of grass amongst the heather was covered in vivid blue flowers which after some Googling happen to be Spring Gentians. The native population of this tiny little flower is confined to the Teesdale area. There were numerous people on their hands and knees taking photos.

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Once past the dam I left everyone behind and started the climb up the track to the remote farm at Birkdale. The Pennine Countryside does not get much better than this area. Falcon Clints provided a great backdrop under a blue sky with fluffy clouds lining up to the horizon.

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Unfortunately the beauty is spoilt after the farm where a new vehicle track has been built. This obliterates the old Pennine Way trail, the walking now reduced to a trudge along sharp stones that are uncomfortable underfoot. Built in the name of the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting.

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It was a relief to leave the track behind when the Pennine Way finally descended west to the banks of Maize Beck. It was good to be back on a ‘soft’ path which took me to the bridge across the greatly diminished river. A little further on I found a flat grassy spot, prefect for a night of solitude.

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I awoke to another frosty dawn and I packed up again under blue skies. If you arrived without a map and compass and had not been to this area before you would be totally unaware of the spectacle that was about to come. Crossing almost flat and featureless moorland there is just a slight dip on the horizon to the west.

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Then all of a sudden the spectacle of High Cup Nick is upon you.

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It really is one of the most jaw dropping places in the Pennines, out of character with the surrounding landscape. I sat for a while at the head of the great chasm listening to a trickle of water making its way to the valley below.

Not many people appear to walk the south-eastern rim, instead using the Pennine way on the far side. I followed a narrow path, stopping frequently to glance back at the way I had come.

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I left the path after a while and contoured on a band of grassy limestone before dropping steeply down to Trundale Gill and a welcome spring of cold and clear water. A steep climb out of the Gill led me on a course to the shapely summit of Murton Pike.

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With a cold northerly breeze the views were exceptionally clear, the Lakeland fells standing proud above the patchwork of greens in the Eden Valley.

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A good track leads steeply down to Murton village from where I took a series of footpaths across fields back to Dufton. It was much longer than walking along the road but worth it for the views back to the high fells and a profusion of fragrant spring flowers.

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June 5, 2016

Slackpacking Nidderdale

by backpackingbongos

For some reason Nidderdale was not included in the Yorkshire Dales National park. It is a fine Dale and I have no idea why it was left out. I could do some research and use this blog as a vehicle to inform and educate but I can’t really be bothered to do that. Go and look it up on the internet yourself dear readers, if you find out please let me know.

The cynic in me tells me it is because the surrounding moors are prime grouse shooting territory, the landowners probably did not want oiks crashing across their land. Unfortunately due to these grouse moors dogs are banned from the CROW land so Reuben had to be left at home. That was a shame really because the route was short (25 kilometres split over 3 days) and there was no wind, rain, heat or severe cold, all of which he is not a fan these days.

The car was left in the small car park at Lofthouse where after a bit of a picnic I set off into the hills with my friend Rae. It is probably a year since we had backpacked together so it was good to catch up.

The tarmac lane led up past How Stean Gorge where the owners charge you to look at the scenery, we gave it a miss and carried on. We were soon following a beautiful river path along How Stean Beck. The wild garlic was just beginning to come out. A month later and the whole place would have been a riot of green.

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We were soon climbing and once past the abandoned High Riggs farm we took a landrover track onto the moor.

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Landrover tracks are an eyesore but this one was a few years old and had blended well into the scenery. It ended at a shooting hut, one side of which was unlocked and would provide good shelter if the weather was bad. The nice section was locked so we pushed our noses against the glass to have a peer inside and imagine the lunch time feasts that take place during shooting season.

I had expected the walk across the moor and down to the Angram reservoir to be a bit of a rough and boggy slog. We were pleasantly surprised when we found a good path linking together the shooting butts. It made the walking a pleasure as it wound its way around the bogs.

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We soon arrived at a flat grassy area sandwiched between the soggy moorland and where the hill drops steeply into the valley below. It was breezy and exposed and there was rain forecast later that night. However it was a lovely spot, close to water and we were not sure that we would find anything decent lower down. The ground below us looked rather tussocky from a distance.

Tents were soon pitched and water the colour of tea was collected.

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I have recently swapped over from using gas to a lightweight alcohol stove for cooking. I have to admit that I am enjoying using it even though it is not as convenient as the Jetboil. If it was lashing it down with rain and the wind was strong I would want the Jetboil for speed, however for a relaxed camp you can’t beat cooking with alcohol.

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I am also trying not to rely on freeze-dried meals so much as I feel they are overpriced, especially if you are out backpacking every other weekend. My current cheap meal of choice is an ugly mixture of instant Smash, some Babybel cheese and a couple of veggie wieners. Very satisfying when eaten on a hillside.

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The breeze died down during the evening and when the rain arrived it was not too bad. The weather system totally cleaned the sky and we woke to warming rays of sunshine.

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Upon descending to Angram Reservoir it turned out there were plenty of decent spots to pitch a tent but I was glad we had chosen our lofty perch.

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The soggy path around the reservoir was reached and we squelched our way through the tussocks towards the footbridge that took us to the north shore.

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It’s a pleasant stroll along the path that would eventually lead to the car park below Scar House Reservoir. Once past the Angram dam we took the track that heads north over the moors and into Coverdale. There we got mobbed by a flock of sheep who thought we were providing them with dinner. The noise as they all ran over was deafening and it is a little unnerving to be followed by so many beasts.

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Sadly the track is a right old mess on the steeper sections, heavy use by vehicles has removed the top soil and the weather has done the rest, tearing deep channels which are difficult to cross. It was all left behind though on a trudge across pathless moorland to reach the unmarked and insignificant summit of Dead man’s Hill. The only reward you get for climbing it is a tick in a book and a boot full of heather.

Descending towards the reservoir we spotted a large flat area above some extensive quarry workings and pitched the tents. Water was provided from the tiniest of trickles off of the moor, it took an age to fill each bottle but there was no alternative.

It was an evening of threatening clouds building up from the west and we could see rain tracking across the hills on the horizon. It avoided us for a while but eventually the rain closed in and we retired to our tents.

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Soon after dark the sound of the rain changed. The usual sound of rain pinging of a taught fly sheet became muffled. I popped my head out into a white world, snow being driven in as soon as I unzipped the tent. As I went to sleep I hoped that we would wake to a white winter wonderland.

In the morning it was not the snow that was impressive (just a mere dusting) but the colour of the sky. It was of the deepest purest shade of blue. The sun however gave no warmth and the cold nipped my fingers when taking down the tent. The higher Great Whernside however had attracted much more snow and I imagine it would have been a splendid place to be that morning.

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The track down through the quarry took an indirect route, good for warming up the legs rather than plunging straight down steep slopes. The view up both reservoirs is pretty good as well.

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Whilst descending we were watching a group of walkers on the other side of the valley. We could not figure what was going on as they were really taking their time. An hour later we finally caught them up to discover they were a group of men engaging in what could only be described as a ‘niche’ hobby. They were each controlling a remote control car, slowly making their way up the track. They looked to be taking proceedings very seriously.

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The track took us across the moor to the village of Middlesmoor which is perched on a hill above Nidderdale. It’s a picture perfect place and we sat on a bench near the church to eat our lunch whilst enjoying the view in the sun. That just then left a short walk back to Lofthouse down through the fields and past a one eyed and very sad-looking dog tied to a gate.

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