Saturday, 31 December 2011

LEJOG 2004 - My Notes of a trip of a lifetime - Part 4

Getting bored yet?


26 April 2004 To Edale (day 33 - day 30 walking): Left campsite at 0900. It was dry but the sky was a bit threatening. Sure enough, at around 1200 it started raining - then a massive thunder storm rolled thru - right overhead! Not much lightening - thankfully.
Got to Edale at 1330. Nags head was closed and Ramblers should have been open but was closed - no electrics. Had lunch in cafe - sausage, egg, chips and beans. Pitched tent between pulses of heavy rain. Site agreed to waive fee (£3.50) and Ramblers re-opened. Barbara read me a letter to local businesses to raise money for St. Giles. I too had been thinking of the same thing - we do think alike!
Late afternoon was dry - now 1800. Hope it stays dry. Dave Smith and wife gave £5. Brill. Nb: send card. Stayed dry getting back to tent. rained overnight, but it was dry in morning.

27 April 2004 To Crowden (day 34 - 31 walking): Very misty over Kinder. Rain intermittantly in morning becoming continuous. Stayed misty and rained until late afternoon. Took wrong path off Bleaklow which added 2/3 miles to trip. Got to Crowden campsite. Phil paid my camping fee - £2.50 - a reduction. Phil's tent was a big plastic bag!
Walked to Tintwhistle - the Bulls head - but they didn't do food. Landlord gave me a lift to Hollingworth. The Gun pub did good meal and beer. Got taxi back - £11 but worth it. Stayed dry overnight.

28 April 2004 To Globe farm (day 35 - 32 walking): Spitting rain in the morning - very windy, misty and cold. Rain started around 1100. Took wrong path on ladlow and had to retreat. Not too far! Rain continued until around 1430. Full winter gear on - very cold wind with rain and mist!
Got to Globe farm - shock/horror! No more camping! Met guy earlier who told me this. Decided to B and B - £25 - got last room. Ann (my host) explained not worth it with camping. had shower and washed T shirts, pants and socks and cleaned off trousers.
Good fillet steak in the Great Western - a fair walk down the road. Rained on way back, but a good sleep.

29 April 2004 To High Gate (day 36 - 33 walking): V windy day with heavy intermittant showers - cold. Nb Ann does voluntary work for a hospice and her mum gave me £3.
Walked to High gate shop. Alladins cave! Tiny campspot - free. Dry putting tent up and dry walking down to New Delight Inn. Good meal - dry all night, but, colder. Slept well.

30 April 2004 To Ickornshaw (day 37 - 34 walking): Dry morning + dry day but cold wind. Walked to Ickornshaw and am staying at same B and B as two years ago (on Pennine Way - a short walk!). This plus Twice Brewed will be my last B & Bs in England. Black Bull is just up the road.
Left High Gate at 0845 and got to B & B at 1430 - had to wait a while to get in - they had gone out. Tony and Olwyn ran B & B.
Had good pub mal - choirizo sausages and beer - Golden Dragon. Good chat with brian, the landlord. Rosie, the dog barked non-stop and there were two noisy African grey parrots.

01 May 2004 To Malham (day 38 - 35 walking): Great breakfast. Dry and warmer day but with cool wind. Had superb sandwich + pint in Cross Keys at Long Marton. Bill came up and after a brief chat gave me £1 (total cash - £59.35). Afternoon got sunnier and warmer. Got to malham campsite which was very busy. Got a 50p reduction to £3. Generous!
Lister Arms was very busy but i got quite seat next to a Leeds professor and his wife. Had good chat. Food was brill' - Mexican enchilada. Slept well.

02 May 2004 To Horton (day 39 - 36 walking): Wall to wall sunshine with enough of a breeze to keep cool. Got to Horton around 1500. Camp fees waived. Had sausage sandwich in cafe.
There is a guy a day ahead of me on LEJOG too!
Had great 12oz fillet steak in pub and chat with group from Derbyshire. Dry getting back to tent but rained overnight. Dry in morning.

03 May 2004 To Hawes (day 40 - 37 walking): V windy, cold but dry day until short heavy sleet/rain shower in afternoon. Fairly easy going to hawes. Washed all clothes + had shower - feels good. Mick Long - £5 - in pub and Ibrahim in Curry House - £5. He was 26, married with one kid and one on the way V nice guy - superb meal -£10 Heavy rain all night and in the morning. (Note: my notes were a bit squiffy for this entry - good beer!)

04 May 2004 To Tan Hill (day 41 - 38 walking): (Note: The beer was very good - I missed a page a got muddled notes!) Rain stopped an hour after starting out. Cold wind, but remained dry all the way to Tan Hill. Camped behind the pub for £1. Got ducks for company. few drops of sleet/rain as I write - 1750.
Had long chat with Vicky and Richard - he took my e-mail address. Stayed dry and calm all night, with sun out in the morning.

05 May 2004 To Middleton-in-Teeside (day 42 - 39 walking): Still, dry start. Sky got darker and around 1400 heavy rain - until 1530. Met Pauline and Pam near Blackburn YHA. Pauline gave me £5. Pitched tent in dry - fees waived. Had a shower and came out to heavy rain - time now 1645. Rain continued on and off until 2030. Then it was very damp. Meal in Bridge pub as good. Slept well!

06 May 2004 To Dufton (day 43 - 40 walking): Tent was very wet in morning. Day was mainly dry - just one brief shower in morning. great walk over to High Cup Nick. Sun out in Dufton. Charged £2 instead of £3.50 "to cover cost of shower" - I didn't have one! Looking forward to meal at the Stag. had duck breast. Cold night with a bit of frost. Bright sunny morning.

07 May 2004 To Alston (day 44 - 41 walking): Although it was sunny, tent was still wet. Hard slog up Cross Fell. At least visability was good. There is an easy way off Cross fell, but i didn't see it until I was way down. The track to Garrigill is horrid. Got to Alston. Camp fees waived. Stayed dry all day. Cold winds on tops but ok below. Had shower and got to pub at 1850. Goo meal - steak in ale pie. Started raining as I was going back to tent at 2130. heavy rain all night.

08 May 2004 To Twice Brewed (day 45 - 42 walking): V damp stat but stopped raining. Took old railway to just past Slaggyford, then over the moors - managed to put one foot in up to my knee! Took old Roman road to Twice Brewed Inn. Lost map case and compass - no big deal - at least I have the other maps etc., Inn was near fully booked, but got room for £22.
Beside a bit of drizzle to start, it was a dry day. Had prawns to start and sirloin steak to follow - excellent! Beer was good and bed was soft.

LeJOG 2004 - My Notes on a trip of a lifetime - Part 3

A few more typos and miss-placed fingers but ... onwards.

14 April 2004 To Chipping Campden (day 21): Left pub at 0740 - no breakfast. great day for walking but with a cooling breeze. great views from the tops of the hills. Not too difficult walking. Got to Chipping Campden at 1745 and met Barbara great!
Took an hour to drive back. great to be home (Kingsbury).

15 April 2004 Thursday (Day 22 -21 walking): Rest day. great!

16 April 2004 To Alcester (Day 23 - 22 walking): Walked from Chipping Campden to Aklcester. Showers but not too heavy. Great to be walking with a lighter (day) pack. Barbara met me at Alcester.

17 April 2004 To Chadwick End (day 24 - 23 walking): back to Alcester. Left there at 1030 - same time as yesterday's start. A dry day, bright and fairly sunny, but not too warm. Finished at Chadwick End where Barbara picked me up.

18 April Sunday (day 25 - 23 walking): A rest day. Sunday lunch!

19 April To Whittacre Heath (day 26 - 24 walking): Walked from Chadwick End to Whiteacre Heath - the Railway pub. Dry and mainly sunny day. Took Barbara 50 mins to reach me (a couple of miles!).

20 April To Kingsbury (day 27 - 25 walking): A very short day from Whiteacre Heath to Kingsbury. Home.

21 April 2004 To Cannock Chase (day 28 - 26 walking): Poured down in the afternoon. Barbara picked me up and we went to see hers cousins. Had jalfezi in afternoon.

22 April 2004 (day 29 - 26 walking): A rest day.

23 April 2004 To Abbots Bromley (day 30 - 27 walking): Barbara dropped me off at Cannock Chase campsite and I started off at 0930. A warm, sunny day - fairly easy going to Abbots Bromley. Got Mr Hill's permission to camp in his field - just 10 mins walk from high street. Arrived about 1630.
It was hard leaving Barbara and I was tempted to be asked to be picked up again - but it wouldn't be fair. Rang just before 1800. Dinner in the Goats Head - fully booked for meals but got an early slot. Roast beef + veg - very good.
Got back to tent after 2100. Someone had pulled out all the flysheet pegs but left them in situ. (Terra Nova Solar 2 - self standing). No harm done and nothing touched - lucky!
Good nights sleep.

24 April 2004 To Thorpe (day 31 - 28 walking): Very misty first thing - but sun soon burnt it off. It was a very hot day. Route finding on Staffordshire Way did require close attention to maps as well as signs - but it was ok. Had pub lunch in Rochester. On Limestone Way route finding was very interesting! But, got to Thorpe ok.
Knocked on door of house to enquire about campsites. ( It was a Bank Holiday - as I remember and I didn't really want to camp on a proper site). Sue Smith answered the door. I explained my reason for knocking. She sent me up through some fields to meet William, her husband. He was attending a cow which was about to give birth and he was very stressed, but really helpful. I helped him get the Cow and newborn into a shed. He then found me a spot to camp in his field - putting electric wire round to stop the other cows getting to me!
I was the first end-to-ender he had ever met and he gave me £10 towards St. Giles (that makes £30 cheque + £20.35 cash since start). really nice guy - has lived all his life in Thorpe. Pub was only 5 mins walk.
Jodie and Fabian (grandchildren) listened to cows mooing very loudly! on mobile. Told them about the calf being born.

25 April 2004 To Blackwell (day 32 - 29 walking): Left at 0810 and decided on Tissington trail. Another very hot sunny day. Covered over 20 miles, but, only reached Blackwell where there is a campsite. Fees were waived - thank you. Pub is about 1 mile away but it should be a good dry evening. Millers dale is 1 mile from here and Edale a further 9 miles, but too much to do in the heat.
Had a shower and washed clothes. decided on a lazy day tomorrow - just the 10 miles to Edale - and why not!
Pub meal was good - steak pie and chips + veg. Stayed dry all night.

LEJOG 2004 - My Notes on a trip of a lifetime - part 2

If you've got this far you will have spotted a few typo's. Say La V!


03 April 2004 To Croyde Bay: Left in dry - took roads to shorten route and with going along old railway - boring! Got showery in afternoon and then pissed down as I got to Croyde Bay. Campsite waived fee. Pitched in pissing rain. Got to this pub (Billy Budds) with boots on - no point in changing. Good thing put wet clothes - from a few days - in dryer - dry clothes!
Poured down as I went back, but I slept well and the morning was sunny.

04 April 2004 To Coombe Martin: An easier day on to Coombe Martin. Got to Holiday Camp - said sorry - full. Then I said only small tent - charity etc., Reply £10! What? talk again - Agreed no charge.
Found the Focsal pub - seems ok. Food on way. It was good.
Showery afternoon, but nothing much. Put tent up in a shower, but ok. Site is crap. Had a shower too - life ain't too bad.

05 April 2004 To Lynbridge: Left campsite at 0800. Good thing is that tent was dry. Stayed dry all way to Lynton. Got here at 1430. Found campsite at Lynbridge - Sunny Lees. Charged me £4 to camp. But, able to wash clothes and have shower. Nice site and nice people.
Very windy coming over the sea cliffs. No point in pushing on to Porlock - good to have a bit of a break.

06 April 2004 To Minehead: Lynbridge to Porlock - had a nice pint and then on to Minehead. 1st campsite was closed. Met a walker who lived locally and he directed me to a Caravan Site - NO tents! Warden said there was a campsite .75 mile up the road. More like 2 miles!
Got there at 1830. Pitched tent and walked in to Minehead. Only to find that I had walked round one massive square! It still took 25 mins to walk in but i ended up near where I entered Minehead!
Day was very windy and bitter cold. Didn't pay and camp fee! Will they write to me? - I left my address???

07 April 2004 To Kingston St Mary: Left campsite at 0700. Walked in to town and along coast path to Blue Anchor. Not much of a path and there was one nasty ditch to get over - just. Walked from Blue Anchor along road to watchet. Rang Barbara Darling I love you! Then had coffee and toasted bun - nice place. Guy gave me short cut to Staple. Had a beef bagette in the Windmill pub in Staple - superb!
Over the Quantocks in just a few showers. Drpped off route to Kingston St. Mary. camped at corner of a building site - with permission! Lovely pub - The Swan. Now for a meal - beef casserole. Superb.
V cold night, but, slept reasonably well.

08 April 2004 To Walton (day 15): Up and off before 0800. Joined my route after a couple of miles road walking. Route got a bit difficult to follow, but, got sorted out. Crossed M5 at 1130. My planned route involved a bridge across a drainage ditch - only thing was there wasn't one!
Lots more road walking until I picked up McCloy's route (He wrote a book on LEJOG) at Kingsedgemoor Drain. Cut in to Walton - campsite with pub - Pike and Musket - nearby.
Hardly any wind in morning. Colder in afternoon. Had a shower at campsite - they charged me £5. Feet are very tired with all the road walking. Rang Barbara - miss you Darling. Later, rang Phil at around 1930. Terry and Chris on way (brother in law and sister in law). Also rang Christine on mobile.
Had fillet steak. Good. Looks like rain will hold off. Feet gradually got better. 4 pints and bed at 2100. Slept well. Slept with clothes on!

09 April 2004 To Old Down (day 16): Woke up to a white tent, but had a good sunny day. Could see Glastonbury Tor from tent.
Made my way around 0820 to Glastonbury - full of old hippies - and on to superb campsite at Old Down - near Chilcompton. Les runs the place and has end-to-enders thru. Takes their photos and gets them to send back card from JOG. What a great idea. Les waived the £5 camp fee - bless. Washed all clothes and had shower (clothes only cost £1 - powder free).
Pub - the Old Down - just opposite - and beer is straight from the barrel - Smiles and Bass. Forgot to note - yesterday and day before - saw wild deer and a stoat (or, weasel?)
And, the day's weather was fantastic. Sunny, but not too hot and very little wind - life is good and unlike last night, my feet feel ok. And Barbara tells me Basil is going to fix our door - I must get away more often!
Beer from the barrel - well 2 Smiles + ok - 3 Bass - but, it is great!
A good nights sleep.

10 April 2004 To Cold Ashton (day 17): Les took my photo and me of him. He gave me a card to post from JOG. V good guy.
No real breakfast, just tuna thing - pretty crap. Started off at 0900. Showery day. Drier in evening. Really pushed it. Route finding was not easy and Limestone Link is in need of an overhaul! Not much for lunch either. Not good idea.
Got to Batheaston at around 1730. made push for Cold Ashton and got to Cheastnuts (in Backpackers Club as camp place, but really just a house with big garden) - for camping at 2000. Exhausted!

Pitched tent in dusk and made way to pub - about 5 mins walk. 4 pints and a meal -needed!
A good nights sleep. No charge for camping.

11 April 2004 To Wooten-under-Edge (day 18 - Sunday)): Dry day - warm to start. The Cotswold Way is so well marked. Left Cold Ashton at 0830. had pub lunch in Old Sodbury - steak sandwich.
Continued to Wooten-under-Edge. No real chance of camping so stayed in the Royal Oak! Superb food and good beer. Had a bath! Basic cost £25 B and B. My left little to was very sore today - bath helped. Luxury!

12 April 2004 To Whiteshill near Stroud (day 19): Left pub at 0900 after fantastic breakfast. Last night's meal was v good. Feet felt so much better.
Little toe was ok today - strange things: feet! Got very sunny and warm in morning but turned cloudier in afternoon. The views over Cotswold ridges are fantastic: over the Severn; Tintern etc., Waved to Terry and Christine on M5 which I could see in the distance (they were driving north that day).
Walked on past Stroud to little NT campsite. No facilities but ok place. Walked down past mast and eventually came down thru someone's private garden. I apologised to owners who explained proper path back!
Woodcutters Arms - lovely couple - did me a superb chicken kiev and I'm currently drinking IPA - good. Lovely woman, knowing what I'm doing gave me £3.25 towards Hospice - or me. (it's worth explaining that I noted down if anyone gave me cash: then I spent it! - but, I paid a cheque to St Giles at the end!)
Decided best to walk back up road to campsite. Pub is in Whiteshill north of Stroud.
Rain late in afternoon - then heavier but brief shower while I was in the pub. Hopefully it will stay dry on way back. It was dry and I had a good nights sleep.

13 April 2004 To Waterside Inn - near Dowdswell (day 20): Left camp soon after 0800. Day remained dry and mostly sunny, but, not too hot - ideal for walking. had a Guiness at Crickly Hill. Before, met some golfers - one of whom called me back and gave me £5. Then had coffee and egg sandwich at Rose's near Brockworth. sandwich was goose and hen eggs. Bless. Her mother did teas etc., and so she did. She was 78 and had been there all her life. She gave me £2.
Continued to Waterside Inn - near Dowdswell. Decided on a room (only) at £20. Good place - good food. had nachos, then steak in ale pie. really look forward to seeing Barbara tomorrow.

LEJOG 2004 - My Notes on a trip of a lifetime


This is a long overdue account of my 2004 LEJOG walk.

My original notes are not too extensive, so if you have a bit of time to pass, you are welcome to browse through them. I will basically reproduce my notes rather than try to embelish them to make a long and (more) boring story.

In these days of "how low can you go" folk will be amazed at some of the gear I had for this trip.

I will do a brief write up of the gear used as an appendix.

The other outstanding memory of this trip was the weather. The worst weather I had was at Croyde Bay and the best weather I had was in Scotland. Here it rained enough to put waterproofs on only on the last day!

The people I met on the way were fantastic. I hope to convey some of the experiences with those I met. It was not my original intention to do so, but I did aim to raise money for St Giles (a local) Hospice. People were amazing in response. I didn't rattle cans or berate people - it just came up in conversation - and people were very generous.

So here goes: ......

I'll write up and post as I go along - so it will be some time! But, it will give me the incentive to continue ..... and I fear I may accidentally wipe everything out when I'm almost finished.

This could take some time!

24 March 2004 : Good train journey down from Tamworth to Penzance. I was met by Phil and Jean - friends of my brother and sister in law. They gave me a lift to Lands End Hotel.
They stopped for a drink and left at 1820. I then had a good meal and retired to bed. The room had a sea view. I slept well.

25 March 2004 To Zennor: After a full English breakfast I left the hotel at 0845. It was a very windy and showery day.I got to Zennor at 1745. A local farmer gave me permission to camp in one of his fields. No mobile phone signal - hope the pub has a phone. Think I may have lost my gloves (I did - Buffalo mitts). Pub opens at 1900. Time now 1845.
It started raining as I was pitching tent. Continued, heavily until 1905.
Tinners Arms was great. Rang Barbara on landlord's phone - she called me back. Had long chat - good I needed that.
Beer was good. had sheppards pie. Bed by 2100. A cold stary night.

26 March 2004 To Gwithan Farm campsite: Wind had died down and there was a frost on the tent, but, I had a good night's sleep. Pleased I have a synthetic bag as it is damp with condensation. Hard going to St. Ives, but then it got better. Sunny day. Camped at Gwithan Farm campsite. Site was officially closed, but owner let me camp for free. Pub doesn't open until 1900! Good pub with good food and beer.
Had a really good sleep - much warmer - thankfully.

27 March 2004 To Perrenporth: Turned out I was the first person to camp at Gwithan Farm since the owners moved in in December. Drizzle in morning - dry in afternoon. Got to Perrenporth by 1700ish - had fish and chips and carried some cans of beer to camp spot in the dunes. Lovely levelish sheltered spot - just off the path. Clocks change tonight.

28 March 2004 To Porthcothal: Dry warm weather, but overcast and managed to stay ahead of threatening skys. Had a Burger King in Newquay. No - to request for water! And, when I went to loo - took my pack and coke! Not a nice place!
What a find! Campsite just up hill - not open, but got permission to stay and had a shower and washed gear. Pub just down road - free sandwiches (25th wedding aniversary) and good beer + Sky Sports. It was the Tredrea Inn in Treyarnon - very good reception.

29 March 2004 To Polzeath: Took road to cut off big headland. Camp site by beach said £12! I got Barbara to phone St. Giles (Hospice) to phone the campsite. Camped for free. I was the only one here. If only I had brought proof (that I was also raising money for the Hospice). Had a restful afternoon. really sunny day. Got to Oyster catcher pub and met Celia and Mike. She's doing the London Marathon and she ran past me earlier - it transpires. Had a very interesting chat. They left, but a few minutes later came back with a cheque for £30 for St Giles - bless!
Good nights sleep - still a bit chilly though.

30 March 2004 To Boscastle: Good dry sunny day, but windy. Shorts and T shirt weather. Pushed good and hard to Boscastle. Camped in NT field before Warden arrived. He let me stay - just for one night - bless. Cobwed pub for food and drink. Got Barbara on Mobile - very clear. Life's good. Hope my heel heals up ok - not too bad today. Another free camp - a good night.

31 March 2004 To Bude: On way by 0830, but, had breakfast in Boscastle - milk and shortbread. On towards Crackington Haven. Met hayden and Wendy. He was practicing for the Cape Wrath Way. V nice gut - in late 50s. had coffee with them and continued walking with him to Widemouth Bay. he did LEJOG in 2000.
Got to Bude and camped on tiny patch of grass by Scout Hut - them asked permission from Scoutmaster. (Campsite was closed and there was no compromise). V hot day, with so far a threat of rain. Hope I can get back to tent dry. I did.

01 April 2004 To Hartland Quay: Got to Hartland Quay and camped about a mile up the road in farm - had shower which was luke warm. But no charge. Primitive site. Stayed dry until evening - showers. Back down hill to Hotel - good food, including Seagull Pie!
Got back dry. It was a had day and I slept well.

02 April Friday To Westward Ho: 21.75 mile day. Windy but dry and mostly sunny. Much easier walking to Westward Ho. Camped at Broddicks Campsite - closed, but as soon as I walked in owner said - camp anywhere - no charge. Good.
Westward Ho seems a bit desolate - out of season. Found a pub for food - starving!
An easier terrain, but still a hard day's walk.

Friday, 16 December 2011

CUBEN Trailstar!!

It had to come - a Cuben Trailstar!

I've just had a look on the forum and there is a thread where Ron Bell has a few comments in response to a few questions on this new incarnation of the Trailstar.

It's strange how this shelter, in the silnylon version, has been hovering around under the radar, so to speak. I know I hesitated ages before deciding to buy a silnylon version. I nearly bought a Duo-mid, which has also had high praise, but I am so pleased I got a Trailstar.

Now, I'm seriously thinking - Cuben!

Even at $335 (£215.81) + shipping this looks very good value for what you get! (There was an introductory offer of $295, but this has gone).

To appreciate what you get - and to appreciate the route I took - have a look at Colin Ibbotson's excellent review on Andy Howell's blog.

Then have a look at Steven Horner's equally excellent review and pitching guide.

They describe silnylon versions, but the Cuben version is the same dimensions and very strong.

A number of folk have picked up this fantastic shelter and Martin Rye regularly uses a Trailstar (See Summit and Valley). For an one-time anti-tarp man, Martin remained true to his stance - the Trailstar is a shelter!
(Even though I did call it a tarp for dramatic purposes when I wrote my bit for the TGO mag!)

I used my Trailstar on the last TGO and can vouch for it's storm-worthy-ness! The Trailstar can take a full blown Scottish storm! It does need some good stakes to keep it on terra-firma!!

So, I'll be using a Trailstar on next years TGO. The only question is silnylon or cuben?

The silnylon Trailstar is $170 (£109.60) + shipping, but for what you get - it's excellent value.

Even allowing for a groundcover - Wickes secondary glazing film - and a bivy bag (which I personally prefer as it keeps off drafts and adds a few degrees to my sleeping bag) the weight is still well less that 1000 grms.

When you compare the space inside to the space inside an Akto or a Lazer there is no competition. You sit in a palace with plenty of headroom and space to play in.

I came to the Trailstar having played with a number of tarps over many years.

To go from eg an Akto (I have one) to a Trailstar in one go requires a leap of faith.

All I can say is, I'll find it very hard to go back to my Akto.

The Trailstar is that good!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

TGO Challenge 2012 - Vetted.

Like many folk who are waiting for their route to be vetted, I kept an anxious eye on my e-mail inbox.

This morning John's e-mail arrived!

I was just a little bit envious of Louise - having her route vetted without the need to change anything.

And, of course, my previous TGO route plans were well vetted!

Especially, last year when I was aiming for 19 Munros.
The weather intefered .................and I did 2!
Even my FWAs had FWAs in places!

So, I put in a more sedate aim - 17 Munros: none of which I've done before.

Can you imagine the smugnessossity that comes with a "very interesting" route that is OKed without change?

All I need to do now is do it!

The weather can't be as bad as it was last year - can it?
(oh, yes it can!)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sgor Gaoith to Beinn Bhrotain

With my wife and her sister away in Tenerife with our Grandchildren I took the opportunity to go to Glenmore Lodge.

I left my car here and set off to walk the Feshie Hills and onwards.

A short way up the track in to Gleann Einich I set off to Cadha Mor. This is the start of a near 7k rollercoaster to Sgor Gaoith. It rained for most of the morning and visabilty was mixed, but mainly poor.

About 1k from Sgor Gaoith the weather started to clear.

From here to Mullach Clach a' Bhlair it was clear. There is no problem navigating up here; just follow the track to the slight rise that is Mullach Clach a' Bhlair.

I have always wanted to camp near Loch nan Cnapan. As the evening was still, I pitched on the rise above Allt Sgairnich, from where I got my light brown water. (My camera is still suffering from the TGO Challenge - so blurred vision).

My meal was with company. Midges. I sat away from my tent with midge net and gloves on and heated water for tomato soup and midges before my main course of a Mountain House Salmon thingy with midges. Tastey! I walked around to keep moving from my un-welcome company.

Then, after eating, the breeeze started and my company disappeared. My night in my Akto was comfortable and midge free. I took my Akto in preference to the Trailstar and bug bivy to give me more room inside the inner - away from the vampires. More later.

Next morning the breeze continued and I was able to pack up in comfort before setting off for Monadh Mor. The weather was good and visability excellent. The Devil's Point to Braeiach skyline was superb. Ben Macdui was clear and the day continued to be a Munro spotter's dream. Ben Avon was clear in the distance and even Lochnagar was clearly visable.

On to Beinn Bhrotain before a rough bash down to Glen Dee and on to Corrour bothy. Here, I pitched outside in preference to being in the bothy. It was still. Midges like I have never seen before materialised. I had soup and my  excellent MX3 meal inside the bothy. Then I decided to get inside my tent and listen to my Ipod - and have a little whisky. I was joined inside by a few vampires after having walked through the curtain of them. I spent time killing as many as I could. Then I realised that they were everwhere on the inner tent - outside. I relaxed. I had killed all those I could see were clearly inside. I lay for hours, on top of my sleeping bag, listening to music and sipping whisky.

To say that I have never seen so many midges - ever - is a measure of how many there were: inside the outer tent, outside the outer tent, over the gear in the vestibule, everwhere. And, I didn't realise that in vast numbers you can hear them!!

Problem. How do I have a pee? I waited until it was late - and getting dark. I unzipped the bottom of the inner tent and ........... well lets say I remained inside the inner tent while managing to have a pee outside of it. Too much detail!

I slept fairly comfortably, thinking I had got away with keeping the vampires outside the inner tent. My lower legs, unknown to me were a picnic table.

Next morning I woke up and needed a pee. There were, by now black patches all over the inner and outer tent. There was no choice but to get dressed - with windshirt, headnet and gloves etc. Out through a moving curtain of black and a dash away from the tent........

The poor guy who was sleeping in the bothy was woken up at 0730. I had to get inside to heat my water for coffee. Breakfast bars were consumed in reasonable comfort.

Then I had to pack up.

The combination of headnet, windshirt, gloves and trousers etc work fairly well. Trouble is windshirts ride up as you bend over and the sleeves too ride up away from gloves. You can tell this by the little red dots in these areas - many.

The hills were covered in low cloud. My trip across the Moine Bhealaidh between Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a' Chaorainn would have to wait for a clearer day.

Rain set in as I went up the Lairig Ghru but stopped as I went across the Chalamain Gap and back to Glenmore Lodge. The tops were covered with dirty dark clouds.

There are clumps of black inside and outside my tent as it sits outside in the garden.

This is the last time I ever go into Scotland in August, even though the trip I did was in itself fantastic.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Lightweight Backpacking is unsafe!.......... ????

Have we got away from the idea that lightweight backpacking is unsafe?

Back in 2009, when I did my first TGO Challenge I used an Akto.

This year I used a Trailstar.

In the final report for the 2009 TGO Challenge there was the comment:

 " This was not a Challenge for the ultra-lightweight brigade; May in Scotland is now very unpredictable and you do need really good gear to help you through as well as a strong mental attitude."

There are some ultra-lightweight tents around, but, I believe that this was a comment on the use of tarps or other lightweight single skin shelters rather than the use of tents per se. The comments that I make are about the use of lightweight tarps and other single skin shelters, and, whether or not they are a wise choice for backpacking in Scotland.

In the final report for the 2011 TGO Challenge there was the comment:

"It's 2019 and a hardened Challenge veteran is sitting in a bothy with two first timers, who are commenting on a heavy shower passing by outside. ' This is nothing ' says the old hand, ' you should have been on the 2011 Challenge - that was real weather! ' "

The 2009 report prompted considerable debate and among many blogs an excellent piece by Andy Howell "The State of Lightweight Backpacking in the UK."

"Challenges pass into folklore for various reasons. This year it will undoubtedly be because of the severe conditions that many of you were faced with.     .......... We are interested to find out how your equipment coped........" 2011 Final Report.

I hope enough people do complete and return the gear survey.

I want to be warm, dry and comfortable when I camp for the night

In 2009 my pack weighed in at around 10k with 3 days food.

This year it weighed in at around 8.5k with 3 days food.

This year, everthing I carried I used - except some of the first aid kit.

At the last minute I choose to take a heavier pack - an Osprey Talon 44 at 1.1k. This was mainly to allow me to roll my cut-down Ridgerest inside and to bring a pair of Crocs. Otherwise I would have used my OMM Classic 32 pack, but with bits hanging off of it - not very tidy! But, less weight.

So, this year I carried 1.5k less weight in all.

I havn't totally embraced trail shoes as my Terrocs are just not that comfortable. I have'nt totally embraced the ultra-light waterproof ethos. My PHD Alpamayo  smock weighs in at 435 grms, but, it is a full 4 season waterproof. My trousers are a pair of TNF Apex lites which are so comfortable that they are being worn out very quickly - over 6 years!.

I could probably go lighter with some of my other gear.

But, my main aim was to use what was comfortable and safe.

I can honestly say that with the exception of my second night of this year's Challenge I felt totally comforable and safe. That night my discomfort was through lack of any sleep. I was pitched on waterlogged ground high above Glen Etive in the middle of a storm! There was no discomfort from my gear being wet inside the Trailstar. Everything was dry and I was warm and comfortable. My discomfort was soley because I was fearful of the stakes coming out - even though I had triple stakes on three of the main anchor points! The stakes were too short and too thin. (I have now got MSR Groundhogs  - for the five main anchor points - which are longer and stronger).

There were a number of further nights of pitching in rain and strong winds and on waterlogged ground, but nothing to match that second night. Every one of those nights I was dry, warm and comfortable.

What about safety?

Even at the bealach below Stob Coir' an Albannaich I never felt unsafe.

I had, however, experienced waking up to find I had no cover from my Trailstar! One of the stakes had come out ....... at the low level campsite in Edale (Poor soil + Ti-nails and pins + high winds - no where near like at the bealach!). I thought I had covered this problem by getting some 6" "X" section stakes in addition to the Ti nails and pins.

The stakes held at the bealach. As well as me, the Trailstar stayed up.
I also thought ..... what would have happened had one stake come out?

The worst case scenario was of having no shelter - if one stake coming out led to all 9 of the  remaining anchor points coming out.

Then I thought well, no, highly unlikely. Last time (in Edale!) - only one stake came out, so, that the Trailstar was flattened to produce less wind drag on the other stakes.

The most realistic possibility, if a stake came out, was that the Trailstar would be flattened but would be held by the remaining staking points. My gear would then be exposed to the rain and wind. I prepared for this by making sure nothing light was going to be blown away. Most gear was stuffed inside the pack. My bivvy bag covered my down sleeping bag and would have kept most of the rain off until I got my gear protected. I even decided, at around 0330, to put my sleeping bag away and lie in my bivvy bag with my (dry) waterproofs on! This way I could quickly get out to deal with the ................ whatever happened. And if I couldn't anchor down the Trailstar normally, with the pole in the centre, I could use it without the pole to provide shelter until it became light enough to make a safe descent from the bealach. I can't remember, but it did get light very early.

Of course, had I decided to pitch in a less exposed place - it was, after all very stormy that night - I would have had no worries about the Trailstar coping with the storm.

Is Lightweight Backpacking unsafe?

There were a number of fellow Challengers who commented on the Trailstar and I know I was not the only one to be using a  Trailstar or other tarp.

Most of the comments were along the lines:

+ that tarps were inherently unsafe in Scotland.
+ tarps were uncomfortable.
+ they were draughty,
+ they had no groundsheet and therefore gear would be soaked on the ground.
+ you would get eaten alive by midges (there were none - but I have a midge net on my bivvy bag)
+ you would be attacked by ticks (still my worst fear.... but, I've yet to meet one!)
+ you are best off in a tent - full stop.

After the exceptional weather that marked the 2011 Challenge, there was not the assumption that lightweight gear was automatically a bad choice for the conditions - as in 2009 .

I hope that the gear survey - please do complete it if you were on this years Challenge - will show a complete variety of shelters and gear were used.

I know that I used lighter gear than a lot of people.
I arrived at using lighter gear by using heavier gear.
It was an evolutionary process.

This year instead of using my Akto, I decided to use the Trailstar: because it was light, easy to put up, spacious, able to cope with any conditions that prevailed on the Challenge (or so I believed from a number of excellent reviews) . It also had to ensure that I slept warm, dry, and comfortable - it did....... (my fault choosing thin stakes on that first Saturday -  but I was still reasonably comfortable,warm and dry).

So, Lightweight backpacking can not only be safe but, can be comfortable. My choice of gear is determined by these requirements. I enjoy backpacking with a tarp in comfort and safety. Others who also want comfort and safety use tents and equally enjoy their gear. Whatever, people use comfort and safety should be paramount. What suits one person may not suit another. I was perfectly happy carrying a synthetic sleeping bag, a 2.2k tent and necessary gear in a heavy pack when doing LEJOG in 2004. If I did LEJOG now..........

I hope the days of automatically labeling lightweight backpacking unsafe are past.

Equally, I hope that lightweight gear users don't make questioning comments about other tarp or tent users - there are some very lightweight tents on the market and there are tarps which weigh more than tents!

The gear is only a means to an end - enjoying backpacking.

BTW on 23 May this year I spent my second night in Glen Clova Hotel. There was no way you would have got me out that day!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

My 2011 TGO Challenge - from Oban to St Cyrus

Thursday 12 May 2011 - Getting to the start.

There is something about anticipation. It makes me just a little bit nervous.

Will I get my train connections?
Will I get my ferry connections?
Will I manage to get from the West coast to the East Coast?
Well, I got my train connections and made it to Glasgow in time for the 1222 to Oban.
I'd already met Andy and Kate at Crewe.... and Sue and others on the Glasgow train.
In Glasgow I met more Challenge folk.

At Queen Street, I met Roger Smith. I'd not been to Queen Street last time, in 2009.
Apparently Roger is at Queen Street every year to see the Challenge folk all board the 1222 to Mallaig and Oban (it splits at Crianlarich).

Nigel and Lynn were on the platform, loads of folk were in the train and the journey to Oban was just fantastic. I spoke to so many - some new to the Challenge, but most well seasoned veterans! Des, Martin, Barbara, Susan, Mick, Peter, Sue, Ali, Lou and Phylis and more - wow!

The day was well finished with a curry at the Light of India - about 10 of us got there. Then to the Corran House Hostel for my last night of luxury for a while.

Oban - with me heading West!

Friday 13 May - and it will rain for ever.....

Well, it rained!
Just getting to the cafe for a panini - it rained!
My windshirt and trousers were soaked.
Still, I had a good breakfast and made my way to the ferry.
Last night I checked the departure point and met Caburn, who was off to start - I forget where.
On the ferry to Lismore were Gus, Simon, David, Bernie, Keith and Charles. This almost seems like train spotting - Challenge style!

Lismore was a great start - a few showers - and a pretty straightforward walk to Point to catch the ferry to Port Appin. The Pierhouse did some fantastic food - and a couple of pints helped us all on our way.

Simon and David eventually went one way and Bernie, Keith and Charles camped by the river. I went on by myself to find a camp spot at the start of the way up to Beinn Fhionnlaidh.

I found a well sheltered rise by the trees and made myself comfortable for the night. It rained! And, it rained heavily! But, after my meal and a time taking in the solitude and views I got a good warm, dry nights sleep.

My first night below Beinn Fhoinnlaidh

Saturday 14 May - On course - for the last day!

All went to plan. I took the vague path up to Beinn Fhoinnlaidh and down to Glen Etive. Here I had lunch and, after starting off again, turned to notice Bernie, Keith and Charles coming towards me. They left to find a low camp. I took the path by the Allt Mheuran to the bealach to the SW of Stob Coir'an Albannaich - then up to it and down to the bealach just below - en route for Meall nan Eun the next day - or, so I thought.

The pitch I chose was flattish, but waterlogged! The Trailstar was staked with triple stakes on the 3 staking points to the wind. (Thats 6 inch "X" section stakes, titanium nails and titanium pins). They were in wet, loose ground!

That night it was stromy - very stormy. The Trailstar stayed up - but, so did I!

The rain was heavy and the wind was swirling round. I had the Trailstar pitched low. It kept being blown in from all directions and my fear was that the stakes would come out - and bye Trailstar! But despite all this and no sleep, the shelter stayed up and I remained in good spirits.

Sunday 15 May - FWA (first of many!)

I had to pack up in the storm! Visibility was not good and there was no way I was going to get to take the ridge walking to Kingshouse. There was wet snow lying around the Trailstar. It was not pleasant!

So, FWA. Down to Loch Dochart and then on to Victoria bridge before the multi-national walk to Kingshouse. I thought that I'd check out the chances of a room at the Kingshouse - it was Sunday. No chance. The weather was foul and there were loads of folk doing the West Highland Way.

Here, I pitched on a sodden bit of ground near the river and triple staked as the wind was pretty strong - and remained so all night. I met some folk walking their horses North. Not sure where from or where to, but they were good to chat to. Then Ron came in. Ron had done 23 crossings! And, he ran marathons.... and, he was older than me... hope.

I heard that Lou and Phylis were due at Kingshouse. But, I didn't see them. Got to bed at 2100. It was a very wet and windy night, but, I slept well - dry and warm and comfortable.

My sodden camp by the river at Kingshouse

Monday 16 May - FWR to Glen Nevis

I woke up to ..... rain and wind. I packed up and continued on to Kinlochleven.

To my (misguided) amazement I met other TGO Challengers going the other way out of Kinlochleven!

It was Bernard Fowkes and family - the second three generation crossing. After a brief chat and good luck I continued. George and Doreen Stewart also had a brief chat before I continued on to the MacDonald Hotel for lunch.

It did not stop being wet and windy! After a liquid and solid lunch I took the ultra- FWR to get me to Meanach bothy. All this entailed was a wet, wet trudge up to Glen Nevis, a 2k walk upstream to find a crossing point, a knee deep crossing ( my feet were so wet, I couldn't be bothered to take off my boots!) and then a 2k walk back down to the bothy.

I saw some walking poles outside. Inside were Dave Skipp and Caburn. They were well equiped with music and speakers. What could have been a cold lonely evening turned out to be a great night with music and chat. I ate well and we all had our individual supplies of whisky. Early to bed and a really good night's sleep. 

Coming up to Meanach bothy - the dot about 2.5 cms from the trees!

Tuesday 17 May - the weather remained .... as before.

Dave set off like a hare. Caburn and I took the winding river route. We all got to a point near Loch Trieg where we took a break. We passed 2 people getting water and said hello, but did not chat to them (they were Challenge folk!). We went under the railway bridge and then went naughty! Up to the railway line and down to Corrour Station. An Oasis! Great food, bottled beer -very good and respite.

Dave and Caburn went off to do the easy Munro while I continued past Loch Ossian. The rain started around 1700. I passed Scott and Lawrie camped up towards the bealach (Scott was walking with a busted ankle! - and had to eventually pull out). The walk down to the bothy seemed never ending. I got there at 2020. There were 5 Challenge folk in the main room - names?...... I forget. I went to the back room where Jeff was. Jeff wasn't on the Challenge. He proved good company and stayed up past 2200.

After eating and getting ready for bed, I went round to the main room to be sociable. It was 2200 and they were all in bed. This is what the Challenge does to you!

The night remained wet and windy.

Wednesday 18 May - on to Dalwhinnie - the very easy way

Corrour bothy and Ben Alder

It was windy and wet in the morning. I took the easy way to Dalwhinnie. All attempts at my route plan were being thwarted. I was more concerned about staying in one piece and happy (I was!).
The Dalwhinnie Hotel is a great place - correction: was. It was closed. I camped behind in a sheltered spot as the wind was still bad. Then I went across to the garage. Two parcels were due to arrive there. One, my food and whisky. The other, my boots.
I had a sore right little toe. And... a bruised second toe on my left foot. For me, these were major casualties! No blisters.... just sore toes. I knew the boots would be ok - I used them in 2009. But!!.... would they be there?

When two parcels came out I was delighted ( I got a day ahead and the boots were a maybe... as they were posted late).

I was soon joined by others. Caburn, Dave, Ian, Jane and Terry and Dave Wood.
It rained - heavily. Then the security guys came round. They asked what was happening. They were ok. All they did say was watch out for rats!!
I can't remember who had the idea, but, minicab to Newtonmore - £8 return: transformed a night next to the hotel into a great night with loads of other Challenge folk. Too many to train spot.
There were no rats and sleep came easily!

Dalwhinnie Hotel - campsite

Thursday 19 May - On to Gaick Forest and more rain (and snow).

The day started ok. A coffee and some breakfast bars in the garage. Then along the aqueduct to Loch Cuaich. Last night loads of folk had chosen to camp here. There were none to be seen now.

The route over to Gaick Lodge was clear and this made it more enjoyable. Visablity was clear - tracks were not. Once up to the top of Coire Chuaich I decided to keep high to the left-ish and ended up going a long way round over pathless heather and peat bog. I eventually got to Sgor Dearg and the steep path down to Gaick Lodge. Others who were behind me caught me up (because of my longer route, and, my overshooting the turn-off to Sgor Dearg).

The crossing of the river was easy. Crocs on, Crocs off. Terry and Jane headed off up the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. I chose to camp near the small clump of trees just a way up from Gaick Lodge. Mistake!

The soil was poor. The winds were swirling round, so that the trees provided no real shelter and the stakes kept pulling out - because the winds were stronger that they were. After moving around and trying and re-trying to pitch, I gave up and decided to also head further up the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. About a kilometre up the way I saw a reasonably sheltered (or, so I thought) spot not far from where Terry and Jane had their tents.

Rain soon got it's act together and I settled down to my evening meal. The heavy rain and gusting wind kept changing direction. I ended up putting my waterproof over the end of my bivvy bag to combat the rain that was otherwise going to wet up to 1.5m of my bivvy bag! (I was sharing the inner with a huge lump of grassy stuff and had to lay with my feet to the entrance as there was no other way to fit in).

During a lull in the rain I popped my head out to see a couple of figures coming towards the area from Gaick. I went back inside to look after the stove. Next was a hello from my one of my new neighbours: Bob. We had a brief chat before he headed back to join Rose. I didn't meet Rose: it was getting late and the weather  was getting aweful.

That night it rained, it snowed and the waterproof performed it's unusual task very well. I was warm, comfortable and dry.

Camp near Allt Gharbh Ghaig
Friday 20 May - Snow and heather bashing

While Terry, Jane and Bob and Rose were still in their tents I got up and packed up in heavy wet snow. It was 0700. The wet snow continued off and on for some time. It was easy to follow the Allt Gharbh Ghaig - albeit on a higher path. And, there were two Croc crossings in quick succesion. Then it got to be fun time. Getting to the Allt a' Chuil and on to the start of Tarf Water involved: numerous compass checks, a few GPS checks and miles and miles of heather and peat and potholes and ....... tired feet.

After what seemed like ages I got to the Tarf Water and followed the river downstream. This in itself was not easy: and, of course I had wet feet too. I did not like this day. The only consolation was that the rain did stop in the afternoon.

Then I saw what looked like a mirage! Tarf Hotel! But, it disappeared from sight for quite a few minutes. Was I going bonkers? No - thank goodness. It was 1745.... I was knackered!

There was someone trying to put up a Laser Comp. Only he was having difficulty in the wind. Oh no - why was he putting a tent up? Was the bothy closed? Thankfully not - he was trying to dry it out. I said hello to Stevie who had a room to himself. he was also a Challenger. He was meeting a friend at the bothy later. Meantime, I went round to the main "Hotel" entrance and found myself a room. I was tired and after making a meal and having  a brief chat with Stevie and Co, I retired to my sleeping bag and sat up sipping whisky and reflecting on the trip over from Gaick. It was good to have done it, but great not to have to do it again!

Tarf Hotel

Saturday 21 May - Up to the bealach of doom and the Loch of despair

It was not raining as I started out from Tarf Hotel. I didn't see Stevie at first but he soon caught me up just after I had waded across the Tarf and was putting my boots on.

I must admit, bruised toes and tired feet do slow you down. Within no time Stevie was almost out of sight. Getting to the Tilt was fairly easy - more pathless stuff but not too bad. Then a well defined track up to Fealar Lodge. About 1k from the farm I noticed a lamb on the wrong side of the fence from it's mum. Poor thing was going bonkers. I carried on to the farmhouse, where I knocked on the door. I explained about the lamb to the shepherd's mum - who was house sitting. She said she would ring her son for advice. Of course the lamb could have got back? But, as I walked past on the other side of the ravine I could see it hadn't.

I trudged along the track eating some beef jerky and listening to my feet complain. Then I thought....... umm..... track? No! Out came the GPS. I was 2k away from the track!

Compass bearing across.... more bloody heather. Then as I rejoined the faintest of paths it rained. Then it rained harder and harder. Visability decreased. Eventually I saw the path going up to Carn an Righ: not today. It was aweful weather in desolate landscape (what could be seen).

The path-ish up to Loch nan Eun seemed to go on forever. The Loch eventually showed itself to be grey and desolate, with swirling cloud, heavy rain and wet footfalls. I sat down, took off my boots and socks - twisted the water out of my socks and put them on again.

The path from the Loch down by the Allt Ghlinn Thaitneich was long and full of potential trips and falls. I was tired and didn't like the fact that it went on and on. Then I saw a big house, but realised there was a long way still to go to the hotel. Maybe I could get a room?

So, there goes a complete looney tunes singing 10 green bottles. I was actually in very good spirits! Luckily no one was there to see or hear! The rain did not let up - if anything it got harder.

Then the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel: venue for the finish of the Cateran Trail 56m run - and fully booked. It was 2015 and I was directed to the grass at the back of the car park. It was sheltered and the soil was good and the grass was soft and level - and camping was free.

After putting up my Trailstar, I put my Crocs on and made my way to the packed hotel to eat and be moved by the spectacle of folk still arriving well after 2030 having started at 0700. They were wet. I still had my waterproofs on. After a good meal and a few pints I put gear around the chairs to dry off a little. The place was heaving; but no Challengers....

Then I saw "the fleece" - TGO!  David Albon had a chat and offered to take my boots back to his room to dry them off. David also had experienced the Loch's gloomy atmosphere.

Next morning - after a comfortable night's sleep - I went in for breakfast: £7.50. Here I met David and Kathy. We tackled the buffet, but found it somewhat lacking in essentials - like food. However enough was consumed and I left the Hotel at 0930 to continue on to Glen Clova.

My morning view near Gaick

Sunday 21 May - Glen Clova Hotel - after more hard heather bashing

I left at 0930 and took the Cateran trail heading for Loch Beanie. Much to my surprise I caught up with Julie and David. Julie was from Hove, via the USA and David was from the USA and on his first TGO Challenge. We walked together for a while; until I decided to go one way and Julie and David another: we were all heading for Loch Beanie, I thought my way was better - wrong!

I had to confirm my route with a local farmer and then follow a fence until I hit .... more heather to cross. Then I saw Julie and David way in the distance, in front of me. And I saw the farmer again. he and loads of others were also congregating near Loch Beanie: I don't know why.

Julie and David were to prove good company as we made our way via Fergus towards the start of the Kilbo Path. There was a good track up from Fergus before we decided to go overland to Glack of Balquhader. Over more pathless heather: my poor feet were getting a right kicking!

Down and over to the Kilbo Path, then up, and up and up to the top of the path. Very, very windy place to have a quick break. We talked about going to Driesh and along to eventually drop down to the Glen Clova Hotel, but, the wind was fearsome and so a quick-ish steep drop down off Shank of Drumfollow; in stronger winds! But, we made it down to the forest where I left Julie and David behind  - to continue on to the Hotel.

The road walk from Glen Doll to the Hotel ensured that I rolled in totally wacked at 2015! The bunkhouse place, that I had already booked, was swapped for a room in the Hotel. I wanted a bath and comfort. I asked at what time food was being served to? It was Sunday and they had stopped serving food! But, I could have fish and chips! Well, a quick dumping of my gear and down for food!

I was near exhaustion and I looked it too - to those Challengers who were already there. Chris, Alan, Bill. Koos, Nicole, Caburn and others were there. Julie and David joined the numbers.

It was a good night and I slept well after a bath and comfort.

Did someone mention the weather forecast?

Monday 23 May - No distance covered at all - The Storm

I'd heard, on Saturday, that Monday was going to be bad - 120mph winds!!

We got a taste of that yesterday and I still remember being lifted off my hands and knees on Ben More Assynt!

Challenge Control were advising - stay put!

And, yes, that morning I opened the blind to see cloud and rain and high winds catching the trees. Breakfast was very good. I also booked a second night in the Hotel.

I rang Challenge Control to explain that a number of us had decided to stay put for the day (I gave their numbers). Sensible, I was told. Caburn, Julie and David did decide to go over the top! Caburn had camped outside overnight and had a reputation for being pretty hard - swimming in burns etc., The view was that the morning would not be quite so bad.

They got over ok. Also, two bedraggled Challengers eventually came over from Jocks Road. It was a bit windy they said... and they were being blown around quite a lot!

The day went very well. Lots of chat in the morning, a snooze in the afternoon and a fine evening of food beer and conversation.

Tuesday 24 May - After the storm

The morning news was of storms and train and plain disruption and 2 deaths - because of the storm (and that was in the lower parts of the country). That morning there was heavy rain for about an hour. Then although it was still very windy, the visability was good and the walk over to Loch Lee, via Loch brandy was good.

Tarfside was eventually host to around 40 tents. The Refuge food run took forever, but gave me a chance to chat with Jim and others in the waiting area.

There was a story about a petrol stove at Gelder Sheil - which I heard from 3 different folk. There was lots of hellos and chat and then into the Masons. Here was a motly crew of folk and I chatted to Tim and Jerry for a while before joining Chris, Alan and Tom (father - Alan -  and sons).

I retired early. The reputation of the Masons..... ultra late nights .... not a good idea for surviving the next day.

Wednesday 25 May - Head East young man

I think a lot of folk had the same idea about finishing. Get to the coast. My route was to have been to Stonehaven. But, the experience of the crossing to date dictated a more straightforward, pragmatic route. I set off with Koos and Bill (Bill had the maps) to North Water Bridge, via Edzell.

The Tuck Inn was a great place, as usual, and talk was of how to get over the footbridge. Some had already been turned back and made to walk the long road way round. Council workfolk were doing some work on the bridge and it was closed. What to do? Rush it? Plead?

Bill set off and Koos and I followed. Then Bill came back and explained that the workfolk had just left. The bridge was secure for crossing. Koos and Bill then tried to avoid the road, while I just took the shortest route.

There was a large gathering at NWB. In between the rain we celebrated Stephan's birthday and downed some wine and whisky. Jim was marking folk out of 10 for limping skills. I got a 6.... but, I'd like to think this may have risen to 8 as the night went on. There was very heavy rain that night, but, I slept well.

Thursday 26 May - Montrose ......and a fantastic surprise at St Cyrus!

It was still raining very heavily as I packed up in he morning. This soon stopped to allow at least a dry finish.

There is nothing special about the route from NWB to St Cyrus. It gets you there.

I forgot how high the cliff was. I even said to Jim, at the bus stop, that I'd catch the 1130 bus ok. Wrong. It's a long way down, just to put your feet in the sea. But that's the end, so that's what has to be done.

Then the walk back up. Peter (Morpeth) was just behind me as I reached the top. Here I was surprised to be offered a cup of tea or coffee from a man in a small white van. My response was - yes please: oh, but I need to rush to catch a bus to Montrose. Don't worry, I'll give you a lift - came the response. So, Peter and I finished our Coffees and I discovered that the man's name was Hamish. He explained that he had done a few Challenges and knew what it was like. I was bundled into the back of the van and Peter sat in the front.

Sure enough we were dropped right inside the Park Hotel car park. Hamish also went into the Hotel.

There were loads of folk to chat too. And the evening went very well. Later Peter came up to me and asked if I knew who the man was - who gave us a lift? No.

It was Hamish Brown.

I was almost moved to tears!

I met and chatted to loads of folk that night. Jon Hancock made a point of saying hello. We met in 2009. And Frank came over to remember the night we were the only ones to go to the real ale pub in Montrose in 2009. Others, too many to mention, made it a great evening.

Then the dinner ..... and praise and tributes to Roger Smith. A fantastic man who was seeing his last Challenge folk in on his last Challenge as the main man.

Friday 27 May - Home

Breakfast in the Park after the dinner is weird. I don't like goodbyes - I'm just not good at it.

So I sat with John and Peter (Lilo) and watched loads of folk I would like to have said goodbye to come in to the breakfast room.

I didn't come over and say goodbye. So, if you were in the breakfast room that morning.


The 1032 to York, the train to Derby and the train to Tamworth got me home at 1733.

Another great experience and definately one to be repeated - only, pehaps in better weather.


My aim was 19 Munros - I did 2.
My finishing point was Stonehaven - I did St Cyrus.
My aim was to enjoy this Challenge - I DID!!

All the moans about sore toes, all the knackered arrivals, all the endless lumps of heather etc., could not dampen (nor could the rain) my enthusiasium for and pleasure in doing such a great event. The people I met made it special.

Thanks especially to Barbara, my wife, who puts up with me going off to Scotland and whose voice on not so good days was especially good to hear.

Will I be back next year?

Definately......If John Manning will accept a small bribe to ensure I get pulled out of the draw.

After the storm heading up from Clova

Friday, 15 April 2011

Where is the rain when you want it?

So, the plan was to go to the Peak District and get some wind and rain on my nice new waterproof.

It hardly rained all week!

With less than 4 weeks to the start of the TGOG .... and with so many public holidays (which I try to avoid!) it doesn't look like the PHD Alpamayo will get a proper test until I start the TGO. I'll probably head for Cannock Chase is the weather gets it's act together ...... and rains!

The highlight of my trip was doing the walk from Back Tor to Bleaklow Head and on down to Snake Pass Inn. All on 500 mls of water and on a boiling hot day!

Imagine my surprise and OMG moment when I discovered that the Snake Pass Inn was closed!
I hope this was not something serious - the sign said  due to "unforseen circumstances".

Luckily, I got my 2L platypus and pop bottle filled at the house nearby. I've camped by the river here a few times, but decided to cut over to Edale. Much of the water was gone by the time I reached Blackden Rigg.

I've used the Peak District as a sort of training ground for big walks, but had never walked the section between Bleaklow and Back Tor. Considering it was so dry, I only went in up to my knees twice. This is not a walk I would want to do in the wet.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Phd Alpamayo smock - first impressions

My PHD Alpamayo waterproof smock arrived on Friday. Made in the UK.

This weighs in at 435 grms (L).  I tested the weight on my scales and it was the same as on the website.

What attracted me to the Alpamayo smock was the weight and the weatherproofness.

The jacket weighs in at 590 grms.

Do away with the pockets and you get down to a respectable 435 grm. I don't use handwarmer pockets, especially with a pack, and the Napoleon pocket on the smock is, really, all I want.

What do you get?

My last "proper waterproof", years ago, was a ME jacket that weighed in at - not sure, but it was heavy compared to nowadays. Then I got a Paclite jacket from Berghaus. OK, but Paclite. Then I got a Marmot Precip. Nice, but................. could I trust it in really bad weather? Mixed reports were enough to put me off trying it out for real.

So, I looked around for a lightweight waterproof.

In context, I had discovered Cioch waterproofs: Glamaig, Fionn... and Harta. They use the Paramo lining and are completely waterproof. The Glamaig is a reasonable weight and could almost be an all-year-round smock; just a little bit too heavy for carrying - at 700 grms. And, on the 2009 TGOC I ended up carrying it quite a few times. I could live with the weight, but there was less ability to vary the options: I guess this is why the classic - fleece, windproof, waterproof set up is so popular.

So, I looked at the options: OMM Cypher, Berghaus Asgard, Rab Demand, Haglofs Oz, etc.,

Some, if not all, were lower in weight than the Alpamayo.

Then, I re-read the reviews on waterproofs in Trail and TGO magazines. The waterproofs were good, or, otherwise, as rated, but, what was the lasting thought - they were too short. Same with the others - one or two I tried on.

I'm not a great fan of waterproofs that don't perform. My memories of a Blacks smock, years ago, were that I was as wet inside as I was outside. Until I got my Cioch Glamaig I did not think that waterproofs were much good.

Why the Alpamayo?

Simple, really. I have become a PHD-a-holick. The down tops I've got are top class; the sleeping bags are top class. But, I saw a comment recently that the idea of a Phd waterproof was ............ well, they are not known for waterproofs.

This was it! A great, respected UK company with a world-wide reputation for quality down equipment bringing out a couple of waterproofs. What's this about?

Phd have brought out waterproofs in the past: the Alpamayo in Tempest, or, with a Gore Tex option. Did nothing for me.

Technology has advanced so much: if Phd were prepared to put out a jacket and smock with their latest tried and tested 3 layer waterproof material, then they were worth a look. Phd would not bring out a waterproof that was not first class - and more!

So, first impressions - at last - fantastic.

It's a proper top: full hood, full length, soft feel, proper zips (Riri), storm flap, etc., etc., (There is a full description on the PHD website).

It is a proper top!! - to repeat. No scimpy zips, no dodgy fabrics, no compromise on function. 435 grms for a Large - and it is not a cut-all-corners-type-large; my Phd down gear can easily be worn underneath.

I'm off for a week, next weekend, to give it a first proper test - if it rains - so I'll be able to give it a real test. But, first impressions.....


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

TGOC 2011 - A gear testing trip around Kinder.

Loads of folk are looking forward to May and the TGO Challenge. Me too.

I'm terrible at running a blog: hat's off to those who do.

But, a break in blogging silence to post a list of kit that almost ** fully worked last week, in a try-out trip around Kinder. No camera taken.

** Take six  6" Alpkit V titanium stakes + five 6" Alpkit titanium nails in future

Saturday night was the TGO dinner at the Snake Pass Inn. Superb.

It was very windy, with showers on thursday and friday, not so bad on saturday and really sunny on sunday. Sunday night was about minus 5c and monday was sunny and bright for my trip home.

Gear taken/worn was:

Pack and sleeping gear

OMM 32 L Classic backpack - brilliant!
OMM Trio chest pouch - great
MLD Trailstar - Ron's best!
5 titanium stakes + 5 even thinner titanium stakes - strong winds need better V shaped stakes (Trailstar blew down on Thursday in strong winds)
Spinnaker ground sheet - great
Titanium Goat bivvy - top class
PHD Minim 300 - brill!
Thermarest Ridgerest (cut down short) - forget Neo-air: I'm back to this + the OMM mat from inside the OMM pack
Various U/L dry bags for keeping gear dry
PHD down socks - toasty
Berghaus synthetic longjohns - a favourite


TNF Apex light trousers - a favourite for years
Integral Designs U/L short gaiters - perfect
TNF Hedgehog mids - another favourite
Smartwool socks - thin, - great
Rohan briefs - favourites
Embers Merino L/s top - excellent
Rab microfleece - top class
Montane Litespeed - excellent
Extremities fleece gloves - favourites
Extremities Tuff Bags - superb
Black Rock down hat - weighs nothing and V warm day and night - from USA

(and sometimes worn too)

Marmot Precip - good lightish raingear, but would not trust in V wet conditions***
Berghaus Paclite waterproof over-trousers - top class
Buff - say no more
Buff sweatband - I like the skulls on it, and it just keeps my neck free from drafts
PHD Ultra Down Pullover - fantastic: day and night
Spare Smartwool socks
Spare Rohan briefs
Icebreaker S/s merino top
Silva Type 4 compass - had for years
Garmin Etrex GPS - a new toy that works brill
BMC Peak District Map - waterproof
MSR peg trowel - Colin Ibbotson design and brill
Toilet paper - not loo roll which mushes easily, but, kitchen roll which works much better
Tissues - enough for 4 days
Petzl Tikka + spare batteries - had for years
Debit/Credit cards - just 2
Reading glasses
Mobile phone - Blackberry
First aid kit - home made and including mirror and tick twisters and toolcard
Dr. Bronners soap in 50ml bottle - superb
V Small towel - had for years
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Poles

*** PHD Alpamayo smock on order


Alpkit Mytimug - a favourite
Evernew DX stove and stand - first class
Meths - in two bottles, 300 mls in all
Long plastic spoon - from Outdoorsgrub
Kitchen towel - enough to dry out pot, a few sheets
Matches and lighter - I've tried steel and flint but it doesn't do it for me
Food pouch - from Outdoorsgrub
Source 2L - for water
Sprite 500 bottle - for water: Sprite is just right

Food carried

4 Mountain House meals - classic
8 Cuppa soups
12 Alpen breakfast bars - 3 a day
8 small Twix
8 Tunnock biscuits
4 Mars bars
Coffee - for 4 mornings
Milk powder - for 4 mornings

The conclusions

Everything packed in to the OMM Classic 32 + OMM chest pouch: with room to spare.

Everything worked, except for the stakes, which were too light for the windy conditions.

The highlight

Going to bed on sunday night with the frost hard on the Trailstar.
Sleeping well and feeling warm enough inside the Minim 300, with the down hat and Ultra down pullover and down socks (and longjohns and Smartwool socks)
Waking up to frost inside and outside the Trailstar.
Chipping the ice from the mesh on the Ti-goat bivvy bag.
Feeling the wet from breath on the sleeping bag.
Pouring ice and water for making coffee in the morning.

Drying out sleeping bag and the other bits and pieces on a beautiful, sunny Monday morning.

Top pitching tip

Pick a spot that will get the sun early in the morning if it's a cold frost night.