Hiking

North

The Lake District smiles on me. I love North Wales and the mountain ranges of Snowdonia, but almost without exception when I’m there the Goretex will be on my back before I’ve trudged out of the car park.

The lakes are different. I know they’re officially one of the wettest places in the UK but in recent times the sun has always shone on me, so I feel like the place actually doesn’t mind me being there, like it isn’t giving me a great big cumulonimbus-shaped “sod off” every time I haul my pack onto my back.

(more…)

Outside

Last week the mercury dipped below zero and we had our first covering of snow in a couple of years. Nothing on the scale of the ‘Snowzilla’ storm that hit the US this week, but enough for the local kids to at least make a snowman or two.

So what better time to decide on an overnight adventure camping out?

Without a tent?

To begin at the genesis of this particular harebrained plan; a few weeks ago in my rooting about for info on potential hikes for TBW and I in the spring I happened across a short video by guy called Alastair Humphreys. It was just about doing something interesting, something you enjoy, without it having to be a huge undertaking. I was enjoying the film all quite nicely, thank you very much, sitting on my sofa with my arse and cup of coffee and a biscuit. And then he uttered this line:

“This is it, now, this is your life. Tick tock, tick tock”.

Well that struck a chord with the hippy me.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to last Tuesday. With clear skies and the temperature at freezing point I found myself locking my front door behind me at 10pm, shouldering my pack and heading out of town.

I wandered through the sleepy housing estates, windows warmly lit as people watched the 10 o’clock news, my breath forming long vapour plumes behind me in the orange sodium street lights as I walked. Houses, dogwalkers and street lamps gradually dwindling to be replaced by farm buildings, unidentified rustling in fields and the cold clear glow of moonlight. Up a couple of country lanes devoid of traffic and through a last tiny village. Almost there.

I had a place in mind for my overnighter, I’d spotted it a couple of weeks before on a walk around the local paths (that time, more sensibly, in the daylight). It was at the top of a small hill (where I live is, at best, gently rolling countryside) overlooking the town. I’d hoped that in darkness the view would be good – I mean, who doesn’t like an elevated view of a town at night, right?

So I left the thin strip of tarmac behind and headed off along the footpath, grass and remnants of snow crunching under my boots. And then I was there, in my room for the night. Moonlit, cold, beautiful. The hill dropping down into a small wooded valley before rising to another smaller hill beyond. The warmth of the orange glow from the town in the distance. I thought about the people watching TV as I rolled out my bag and mat on a relatively flat piece of ground.

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I crawled into my bag and lay cocooned in warmth, watching the stars until I fell asleep.

I woke just before dawn. It had clouded over a little through the night but I was quite cheerful to be waking up outside. I packed my gear, wandered a little further down towards the valley and found a spot to have a coffee and porridge whilst watching the sun come up.

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I have a plan to find a stove top coffee pot for next time. Life is too short for sachets of nescafe.

And then it was time to head back home. With the benefit of daylight I was able to walk back via footpaths almost to my front door, nowhere near as cold as I’d expected to be and very happy with my lot. The miles passed in what felt like seconds.

Tick tock, tick tock.

September 2015 part 1

And so we arrive at September….

It was a busy old month. The early part of it was lined up for a couple of day’s hike and wild camp along the Southwest Coastal Path (this was the hike with HBX that got postponed from August).

We planned to drive down to Swanage, park the car and then get the bus back up to Poole harbour to pick up the start of the path. We reckoned that over the space of a couple of days we could make it down to Lulworth Cove before getting the coastal bus back to Swanage.

However.

After executing the first part of the plan flawlessly (driving to Swanage, via the glass & chrome monument to money that is Sandbanks, and parking the car) we hit our first stumbling block. Delivered in charming fashion by a cheerful pensioner at the bus stop in Swanage, she told us of 2 issues with our plan:

A) The MoD firing ranges at Lulworth would be closed to the public for live firing exercises. We needed to cross them towards theend of our route, so this translating to a circa 8 mile detour before hitting the Cove.

B) The coastal bus wasn’t running.

Bugger. She smiled the smile of an old lady who still knows a thing or two, we thanked her, got on the bus and rejigged plans. New plan: Walk as far as the ranges, turn round, walk back. Not ideal, but when your coastal path is a coastal path you’re pretty well directionally limited to ‘forwards’ or ‘back’.

The bus ride back up to Poole trundled along without incident and we ambled down to the start point near the chain ferry. The first part of the route runs along the beach so I spent the first few miles hiking barefoot through the ebb and flow of the sea, boots dangling from my pack. The sun shone and it was glorious.

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After a pretty short walk we had to stop and wait whilst an air ambulance landed on the beach to pick up some unfortunate soul. As we waited the realisation dawned that we were midway across a nudist beach. The commotion from the helicopter piqued the interest of our fellow beach dwellers and they started appearing in the dunes like naked wrinkly meerkats. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly scientific study, but based on that day’s observations I would put the average age of a south coast naturist at about 60.

If you look closely you can just see the chopper (fnarr).

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We walked on. Eventually the beach ran out and we climbed to the top of the cliffs. At Old Harry’s Rocks we sat for a while and watched dogs and schoolchildren get alarmingly close to cliff edges, before setting off towards Swanage (again). More cliffs and prickly bushes came and went before we descended down to another beach and a short walk into the town to find fish and chips and water.

After eating we pressed on again, past lighthouses and climbed through woods (the woods eliciting such a moan-fest from HBX that I briefly considered pushing him into the sea at the next opportunity). Eventually we cleared the woods and emerged into the last of the day’s sunshine. It was low on the horizon, making the sea glitter hypnotically and generally making everything right with the world.

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As the light started to fade we started looking for a good spot to camp. After a short clamber down a bit of a ridge to a small plateau in the cliff we found our room for the night.That’s HBX rifling through my tent for food.

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We sat on a big rock with whisky & hot chocolate and watched the lights on the shipping moving across the horizon before calling it a day.

After a night punctuated by owls, rabbits and snoring the sun rose to this

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That’s our ship-spotting-whisky-and-hot-chocolate-drinking rock.

We carried on for a few more miles stopping off several miles short of our intended destination at a ruined military emplacement to eat lunch before heading back the way we came.

So, coastal paths. The views are amazing but I love the mountains more. For a start there’s more than oneroute to most destinations. There’s less nudists too.

August 2015

Alternatively – two hikes and a jolly.

Some time ago The Boy Wonder joined the Scouts (he’s a Cub at the minute) and had, earlier in the year, been on his first weekend camp. He enjoyed it hugely (I know this because he told me so during a very stinky journey home when I collected him), so we hatched a plan to go hiking and camping on our own. I thought that August would be a good bet so that we had a chance with the weather.

So, according to the rules, we found ourselves pitching a tent in The Peak District in torrential rain one Saturday evening in August. I can confirm that a wildly enthusiastic 9 year old does not speed up setting camp. On the plus side, the constant tripping over guylines was a never-gets-old source of amusement.

Once everything was sorted we headed off on a short, rainy walk to the nearest pub to get some food before heading back for hot chocolate and sleep.

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The following morning dawned to surprisingly clear skies and I got a breakfast of eggs & bacon going whilst we planned our route – as it was TBW’s first proper hike I thought it best to keep it relatively short with plenty of opt-out routes. A short walk across the Edale valley and up Mam Tor, along the ridge to Hollins Cross, before heading back to the car and home.

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As we started to pack the tent away the heavens opened and before we’d even set foot on a hill we were soaked. I asked if he wanted to carry on or just head home in the car. I was quite surprised, but we headed up the hills into the rain. He had an absolute hoot and so did I. Here’s a pic of him hooting.

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You’ll note in his right hand a mini babybel cheese. This was his last piece of food and we were only an hour or so in at this point, after I’d made the mistake of getting him to carry his own lunch. I think we both learnt a lesson there.

A week or so later I was due to be heading off to tackle part of the coastal path in Devon with the HBX, but he had to call it off at the last minute so I decided to return to Edale, on my own, to tackle the full Edale Skyline Route. By this time the weather had improved, the heather was in full flower(?) and it was glorious.

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I was planning to wild camp up near Brown Knoll but due to equipment issues and general ineptitude on my part I ended up slogging through peat bogs in fading light in order to get back off the hill. Fun it was not and sweary I was. Very sweary. Never has a man been so pleased to see Jacobs ladder.

A few weeks later I was heading north again with Mrs A for a weekend in Harrogate at a very swish hotel called West Park, on a cheeky weekend deal that Mrs A had ferreted out. The hotel itself was a really nice boutique affair (part of a small chain, but very very nice) and the deal was great. We arrived on the Sunday and the deal for Sunday was this: Spend £100 or more on dinner in the restaurant and the room is free. The bill can include drinks.

Challenge accepted.

After starters, a very nice steak for me, a good risotto for Mrs A, a really nice bottle of wine and a couple of desserts the bill came in at just over the magic £100. Which is a good thing as we couldn’t have eaten another thing. The meal was even more entertaining as we had a the most obnoxious bloke sitting on the next table and sharing his views on the world at top volume.

The next day we went out for a wander around Harrogate, which we loved. The sun shone and we walked for miles, it was ace. As lunchtime rolled around I was thinking ‘pub’. Mrs A was thinking ‘Betty’s’ and after a half hour queuing and sitting watching crumblies eat cake, we were served with two legendary Fat Rascals.

The Fat Rascal has been served at Betty’s since the year dot and is something of an icon. It is also, unless we were unlucky enough to pick the afternoon when they let the work experience boy have a go with the oven, crap.

Having been suitably mugged we wandered through some more parks which cheered me up mightily before returning to the hotel to take advantage of Monday night’s deal. Free cocktails.

This was ace. None of your “here’s-the-cocktail-menu-you-can-only-have-one-of-the-crap-ones” restrictions with these boys and girls, oh no. Any cocktail from the extensive menu was fair game.

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That’s Mrs A with a Pornstar Martini. Mine was a Smokey Old Fashioned which I thoroughly recommend if you ever get the chance.

After the drinks we headed of into the town to find some dinner (considerably cheaper than the previous night’s food) and stopped off on the way back to the hotel at a boozer that had been renamed as Nobb’s Retreat. It had, apparently, been the local of David Nobbs who was the writer of (amongst other things) Reggie Perrin.

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Apparently he’d died a couple of weeks earlier and the whole pub had been decked out in memory.

The following day we headed home via York, which was not as nice as I remembered it being. Perhaps it was just that Harrogate had been so good.

July 2015

July was a good month.

We arrived back to sunshine and a lack of the 6am alarm. Early doors in the month was sports day for TBW, I arrived in plenty of time and mooched around waiting for the athletes to appear. I’d learnt my lesson from last year’s experience and had been deliberately cagey about the parents race. Imagine my joy when I spotted my name on the whiteboard (clearly TBW had a plan, mine was first on the list). As the afternoon wore on someone had added Usain Bolt (didn’t see him myself but I suppose he moves pretty fast). Later, odds were added. I’d been listed at 5/1 so I took that as a compliment.

There was a tree in the garden that needed removing in order to make room for a shed and as our eldest daughter was home for a couple of weeks she offered to help. Here she is. Helping.

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There was no need to climb the tree, I just wanted to see if she could. There’s an access to the neighbour’s house that runs just behind the fence. Next door’s youngest (who is TBW’s bestest mate in the whole wide world) was wandering past and stopped to say hello. This is how the conversation went:

TBW’s mate – “Hello”
L –  – “Hello”
“Why are you in a tree?”
“Mr A bet me a biscuit that I couldn’t”
“Oh. Ok.”

I’m not really sure what to make of just how easily he accepted the frankly ridiculous explanation of how a 24 year old primary school teacher came to be talking to him from halfway up a tree.

I also got bitten pretty hard by the mountain bug again. My self and my Hiking Buddy eXtraordinaire had been plotting a trip for a very long time and finally the planets aligned and we found ourselves in the shadow of Scafell Pike on a gloriously sunny day. It was as close to a perfect day in the mountains as I’ve had, sunshine and crags and views all coming together on God’s big checklist.

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After we’d got back down in one piece (something I usually insist upon), we headed off to the campsite for my first night under canvas in *ahem* years. I wasn’t sure how that’d go, given the several additional years of wear and tear on me since the last time I’d spent a night with only a thin layer of foam and down between my arse and the grass. I was expecting the worst but wanted to see how things went as a precursor to persuading HBX to go for a full-on wild camp hike in the future.

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We set up the tents while the beers cooled in a small river just behind us, sat down and planned the next day’s route (Haystacks, one of Wainwright’s favourites) before heading off to a nearby pub for another beer and a burger. The burger was rare, just as I like them. Cue ominous music soundtrack.

The next day, after a surprisingly good night’s sleep, I woke early and got breakfast on the go. HBX appeared, we ate and packed. I started to feel rough and then started with the vomiting.I continued with the vomiting on the drive to Haystacks and eventually, in the carpark at the foot of the mountain, dehydrated and shaky, I had to admit defeat. HBX offered to call off the hike and head home but I told him I’d just wait in the car.

He disappeared into the wilds and I threw up again before falling asleep in the car, waking several hours later to find the car surrounded by sheep. I have no photographic evidence of this so it may have been a hallucination. We drove home. I ate a pie.

Mrs A and I also went to see Kevin Bridges at a local(ish) venue. We’d been to see him before in Nottingham, just as he was starting to hit the big time and he was hilarious. We had high hopes.

The gig started really well and there was a bit of good natured and quite funny heckling from the audience, but this seemed to really throw him off his stride. Self doubt crept in and the gig went downhill rapidly. It was a real shame.

Also, I bought an old apothecary jar that I was intending to use as a whisky decanter. Through a combination of stupidity and physics, I managed to convert it to this whilst cleaning it, by means of explosion:

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The flying glass took chunks out of the plaster, dented the spaghetti tin on the other side of the kitchen, sliced a nice neat hole in my T-shirt and put a dent in Mrs A’s beloved Smeg fridge. I was not popular but miraculously uninjured.

Going Down.

Have you ever truly thought that you might not see the end of the day? Found yourself in a situation, however briefly, that you thought you might be about to become nothing more than a fading memory in the minds of your family and a few friends?

Here’s one of mine.
It was several years ago (I think around January 2001) and I was out in the hills around Snowdonia with a good friend of mine. We’d started off in clear but cold conditions at sunrise with the intent of climbing three peaks on a circular route, with a couple of exposed ridges along the way for entertainment. We made good time and were sitting on our second summit by lunchtime. Teeth chattering from the cold, muscles burning from the strain of the climb I sat on a rock eating my customary squished cheese & tomato sandwich and Marsbar, looking out across the jagged country below us and watching the high altitude clouds cut across the clear blue of the sharp midwinter skies. All was good. We finished our lunch and dug out the map, plotted our course for the final ridge and peak. My buddy pointed out a useful emergency route off the mountain, should we need it, and I laughed at him for being such an old fart. We shouldered our packs and headed off.

We got to the tail end of the ridge (it’s the one in the picture) about an hour later as the weather turned really bad. High winds and snow had come in quickly and the cloudbase had dropped below our altitude, making navigation very difficult. Once this had happened I came to realise that the distinction between ‘old fart’ and ‘experienced’ is a fine, but important, line and after a couple of minute’s huddled conversation behind a rock we made the decision to use the emergency route.

Unfortunately the wind, snow, low temperatures and poor visibility, combined with our tiredness, lack of GPS and map-reading ineptitude led us to miscalculate our position. We thought that we were at the head of our emergency route down and not, as was about to become frighteningly obvious, the head of a steep gulley.

I was leading down, I remember the snow underfoot being extremely slippery and thinking that the ground was a lot steeper than I was expecting it to be. I had my doubts that we were in the right place and I turned to tell my mate that I thought we’d got it wrong and should go back up to flatter ground to recheck. As I turned my feet went from under me and faster than I could blink I was sliding down the gulley, speed increasing rapidly as gravity did its thing. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as thoughts flashed through my mind. I thought of the shiney new ice axe that was sitting in my garage at home and how useful it would would have been at that point. I thought about buying crampons. I thought about how GPS units didn’t seem so expensive now.

Then, with the thought of the airy ridge we’d just crossed fresh in my mind, I thought about how it might feel to suddenly find myself being spat from the edge of a rockface and to be in freefall. It’s fair to say this concentrated my mind fairly well on the problem in hand*.

I started jamming heels and elbows hard into the snow in an effort to slow down. I hit a rock and that slowed me enough that I could stop myself. Breathing and harsh ragged gasps I shuffled myself slowly and carefully towards a clump of grass sticking out of the snow, grabbed it like my life depended upon it and started to gather my thoughts, get myself together.

After a few seconds I heard my buddy calling me from further up the gulley. He’d watched me disappear down the slope at alarming speed and out of sight into the cloud. He’d been calling me for a couple of minutes without response and was turning his thoughts to how he should break it to my girlfriend of the time that I was now no more than a large stain at the bottom of a cliff when I finally responded. To my undying gratitude he climbed down after me, called me a twat, and we then set about climbing down via numerous waterfalls and scrambles to safer ground.

After we’d walked around a mile and a half back to the car, he broke the news about my leg. The rock that I’d hit had taken quite a chunk out of my waterproofs, trousers and leg. There was an impressive amount of blood and, now I was aware of it, an equally impressive amount of pain. My mate told me that if I made a mess of the upholstery in his car he’d give me some more injuries to worry about.

And then we were at the car. Once we were there I started laughing hysterically – I’d been in a few oh-my-god-this-is-it moments before, but this one was different because even after the initial drama was over we were still quite comprehensively in the shit and not really sure how the situation was going to pan out. Keeping it together for the couple of hours getting back to the car seemed to intensify the sense of relief and joy.

Since then I’ve become an older and wiser dog. I always take not just a map and compass, but also a GPS and spare batteries with me. The axe is no longer shiney (even though it hasn’t been used in a few years now) and I have a much better pair of boots.

I still like a squished cheese sandwich and a marsbar though and my walking buddy is still equally cantankerous.

Happy days.

NDC

* – Even now, when I think of that moment, my palms get a bit clammy…..