All posts by Robin

Brecon Beacons

Last week I spent a couple of days in the Brecon Beacons. It’s the first time I’ve been there. I took my camper van and based myself at Pencelli, which has an excellent campsite. The facilities were first class and I had a pleasant hard standing pitch with electric hookup.

I had intended to do a two-day backpacking trip with an overnight stop at Llyn Cwm Llwch but the weather on the first day was dire, with high winds and heavy rain, so I spent a lazy day in the camper van.

The next day, the weather was much improved, so I did a day walk, shortening my intended two-day plan slightly, shown below.

Distance: 27.9km, ascent: 1,255m

click to enlarge

From the campsite, I took the minor road to Llanfrynach.

On the outskirts of Llanfrynach, I took a footpath along the Nant Menasgin. This was unexpectedly beautiful, as hopefully the pictures below show.

For future reference, there were a number of decent spots for wild camping, well away from view. The next section was across some fields, with well signposted paths but inaccurately marked on the OS map. Then it was along some back roads.

The only incident of note was that the road passed through one farm-yard where there were four muzzled dogs (three collies and a small Doberman) which circled around me barking furiously and tried to “bounce” me. Fortunately, I’m used to dogs so I just walked on quickly ignoring them and they lost interest as I got beyond the farm buildings. Considering the road is part of the Three Rivers Ride bridleway used by horses and cyclists, I was surprised that the farmer had allowed loose dogs on the road.

Just after the road turned north, I left it to follow a footpath over fields to Plas-y-gaer. I then turned south-west following a sunken lane to below Allt Ddu, where I decided to stop for an early lunch, sheltered by some convenient gorse bushes.  After lunch I climbed on a good path on the western side of Allt Ddu and then on to Cefyn Cwm Llwch, the ridge that leads up to Pen-y-Fan.

Once on the ridge, I was exposed to a strong wind, so I swapped my windproof for my Paramo Velez smock. The clouds were clipping the top of Pen-y-Fan, making it look brooding and forbidding. However, the track up is very straightforward and presented no difficulties.

Unfortunately the low cloud base meant no views from the summit of Pen-y-Fan.  However, on the descent, I was below the clouds and was able to take some decent photos of Cribyn and surrounds.

From Cribyn, I could look back to Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du, which were now clear of clouds.

After Cribyn, I walked along Craig Cwm Cynwyn to the col before Fan y Big.  There were horses grazing on the path up to Fan y Big, so I decided that I didn’t want to disturb them and I took a short cut around to Craig Cwareli.

The views back to Pen-y-Fan were excellent with the sun and shadows, but difficult to capture in photos because of the strong wind. I wished I’d taken a tripod!

Once I’d descended to Gist Wen, I was a bit more sheltered. On the way down I encountered another group of ponies, some with foals. I gave them a wide berth to avoid disturbing them.

After crossing some fields, I was back on to a lane and then down to Pencelli. All in all, it was a very good introduction to the Brecon Beacons.


A strange weekend on Dartmoor

Last weekend I was on Dartmoor.It was my first opportunity to do a bit of walking and wild camping since early June.

I parked at Belstone and was soon on the moor. Although there had been some rain, it was starting to clear as I walked towards Taw Marsh. The ford over the River Taw was a bit higher than normal so I used my waders to cross. The great thing about Taw Marsh is there are plenty of places to camp.

I selected a nice spot just off the track to pitch my tent. The only drawback was that there were a lot of cows with calves grazing. I don’t mind cows but calves tend to be a bit inquisitive. Fortunately, the ones near me moved off around dusk.

The next day I was packed in good time. I followed the path up to Small Brook, skirting around more cows and their offspring. From Small Brook I cut up to a path and then cross-country up to the ridge leading to Hound Tor.

Instead of going up Wild Tor, I used a path skirting its slopes keeping clear of Gallaven Mire before crossing Walla Brook and climbing up Wattern Tor. As I crossed the brook, it  started to rain, so it was on with the waterproofs.

From Wattern Tor, I tramped along the wet path to the large cairn marked on the OS map. By this time, the rain had virtually stopped but there were heavy showers circling around.

From the cairn, I made my way down to a dry stone wall and stile and then along the path which leads to Teignhead Farm. I’m not sure why this path isn’t marked on the map as it’s very clear. It was very wet underfoot, and boggy in places.

It was nearing lunchtime by the time I reached the ruins of the farm. I crossed the clapper bridge and climbed to the edge of Fernworthy Forest. To the North, it looked like another heavy shower was approaching, so I sheltered in the trees to take lunch.

In the end, it didn’t rain much. The path to South Teign Head was extremely boggy and wet.

However, my destination wasn’t very far and soon I had arrived at my intended camping spot. This is a lovely secluded place, well sheltered from winds, but with a nice flat, if slightly sloping, spot to camp.

After putting up the tent, I collected some water. Just as I got inside, it started to rain. Perfect timing! It must have rained for about an hour or so. I spent a lazy afternoon and evening in the tent, luxuriating in my peaceful surroundings.

This is where it all went horribly wrong! About 11:30, I woke up to some distant voices. Then there was the sound of a generator. Bang on midnight, all hell let loose. There was the deafening sound of some electro dub rave music. When I say deafening, it was unbelievably loud. I remember reading on a forum about Fernworthy Reservoir being used as a site for illegal rave parties.

If I had taken a powerful head torch I would have packed up and gone somewhere else but I only had a Petzl E+Lite. The rest of the night was spent with one ear jammed against my pillow and a finger jammed in the other ear to try to block out the noise. As you can imagine, it was a pretty horrible night.

They were still going full blast when I got up for breakfast. It was quite surreal to be eating accompanied by deafening music. I packed as soon as I could and headed up towards the Grey Wethers to get away from the “music” as quickly as possible.

Evan at the stone circle, the music was loud! As I dropped down into the valley the noise abated. However, as I climbed Manga Hill on the other side, I could still hear it. It only finally disappeared when I was above Hew Down. What a night!

As I climbed up to Wattern Tor, the weather started to improve. However, I was half inclined to go home, as my trip had been thoroughly spoilt by the noise.

From Wattern Tor, I decided to go back to Taw Marsh via Metheral Hill. By this time, the weather was beginning to brighten.

It was bright sunshine by the time I was down at Taw Marsh and my mood was beginning to improve. After a quick bite to eat, I was back at the car in Belstone. After a chat with my wife, I decided to go back to the ford at Taw Marsh to camp and have a quiet afternoon to relax.

The only disadvantage of an early camp at the ford was that several families were out for a Sunday walk, but after the trauma of the previous night, it was nice to chill out for a while. Mercifully, I had a restful night. The next morning, I had a leisurely breakfast. I was visited by some cows and their calves, but they kept their distance. It was only a short distance back to the car and home.

Tread Lite Gear Packing Cell

I’ve just got back from a short trip to Dartmoor (there’s a bit of a story to tell there) and one of the new bits of gear was a Tread Lite Gear Packing Cell. Mine was one of a limited batch in cuben but Paul is now making them available in silnylon. The silnylon ones are actually slightly lighter 26g vs 30g, but the same size 32x16x16cm.

I fitted three days of food into it easily. I reckon I could get five days worth, maybe at a pinch six. It’s a great way of organising you food. Previously I had been using a couple of stuffsacks.

It fits nicely into my Lightwave Ultrahike and I’m sure it would fit into my other packs. I think it’s a neat idea. If you’d like to see more, pop over to Paul’s eBay store.

Disclaimer: this product was purchased with my own money and I have no financial relationship with Tread Lite Gear.

MYOG Velcro strap keepers

Fed up with straps dangling all over the place? Here’s a simple solution copied from my Exped Thunder pack. Most of the straps on the Thunder have Velcro keepers.

Any excess strap is rolled up and secured by a Velcro keeper sewn on the end of each strap.

The sleeping pad straps on the base of my Osprey Talon 44 are particularly annoying and dangle down. The solution was to mimic the Exped Thunder keepers.It’s really simple to do. I hand sewed them. It’s worth using a thimble as it’s tough to push the needle through the Velcro. It only needs a few stitches to keep in place as there’s no strain on it. Simple, but effective.

Jump start battery

Not much going on at the moment, but I thought I’d blog this idea. I hadn’t taken my camper van out for a while. A couple of weekends ago we’d been away at a wedding and when we got back, a neighbour said the van had been making an odd noise. When I checked it, the battery was flat and I’m guessing that something in the electrical system had been making the noise in the process of the battery going flat.

The next day, I called out the AA. To be on the safe side, I got them to replace the battery in case running it down had compromised it. I wonder whether having a third party immobiliser puts an extra strain on the battery. In future, I will take it out for a short run every week to make sure the battery is charged.

It got me thinking as to how I might cope if I had a flat battery in the middle of nowhere and there was no phone signal. So, I investigated a battery jump start kit. After a bit of internet searching, I found the Car Rover jump start battery. It’s got a decent combination of battery storage (26,000 mah) and peak current (450A). It comes with a jumper kit plus a load of gadget charger plugs which you can use for phones etc. It can be charged from a normal 240v wall socket or a 12v car socket. There’s a charge meter as well in figures rather than LED lights. It comes in a handy case for storage too.

I’ve not had a chance to test it. I rather hope I never need to! However, it seems a worthwhile bit of insurance and I’ll take it in my car for long journeys too.

Disclaimer: purchased with my own funds. I have no relationship with Car Rover or Amazon other than being a customer.

Snow Peak Ultralight Umbrella

(Photo courtesy of Ali Ogden)

As most of you will know, I’m a big fan of umbrellas for backpacking. For the past few years I’ve been using a cheap M&S collapsible umbrella either hand held or strapped to my rucksack. If the weather isn’t too windy, it’s a great way to stay dry and comfortable. It’s also excellent for showers or intermittent rain rather than using waterproofs. Unfortunately, my brolly is starting to show its age and I’ve been looking for a replacement. M&S have changed the design, making the mechanism less robust. I have a Golite Chrome Dome, which is good but not collapsible. Enter the Snow Peak Ultralight Umbrella:

I bought it through Amazon. It is absurdly expensive (dispatched from Japan) but at 147g (on my scales including cover, 133g advertised), it is usefully lighter than my M&S brolly (214g). For such a light umbrella, it seems quite robust, much better than a Euroschirm one that I bought years ago that fell apart when I opened it. The spars are hinged so they fold back on themselves making the pack length shorter and less vulnerable to damage if the canopy blows inside out. The size of the brolly is virtually identical to the M&S one. The handle is the same length although plastic stop is smaller. I’ve added a cord lock so I can use my attachment system to my rucksack. First impressions are good. 

More pictures from Massdrop. More details from John’s Hikelighter blog. 

TGO Challenge Planning: Narrowing Options

I’ve not been very well the past week or so with a summer cold. To relieve the boredom, I’ve started to think about the 2018 TGO Challenge. I’m not 100% certain that I will apply, but I thought I’d start thinking about a route.

My last three Challenges have all started in roughly the same area: Strathcarron, Dornie and Plockton. My first attempt at a Challenge started in Oban. The two start points that appeal to me  are Mallaig and Lochailort. Now, none of this is set in stone and I may change my mind, but I’ve plotted a route from Lochailort to Lunan Bay, perhaps saving Mallaig for another time.

In the process of thinking about a Challenge route and the various options, it struck me how route options are being diminished by the industrialisation of the Highlands. One of the challenges of the Challenge for northerly routes is crossing or getting around Loch Ness. Essentially there are three options: Inverness, Drumnadrochit (using Gordon Menzies excellent boat service) or Fort Augustus.

The Inverness option is not hugely attractive as it is a large conurbation and takes any route quite far north. Getting down to the Cairngorms is a bit of a trek.  An increasing number of Challengers are doing the coastal route, but that doesn’t appeal to me.

At the southern end of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a pretty place to stay with excellent accommodation options and has a good campsite. However, the exit routes from Fort Augustus have become decidedly unattractive. I’ve not done the Corrieyairack, but a number of people have said it’s not very good with large power lines intruding most of the way.

The other option from Fort Augustus has been the Glen Doe reservoir road. As I experienced this year, this has become a total wreck with the building of the Stronelairg wind “farm”. Even when the construction has finished, it will be a monstrous intrusion into a wonderful area of wild land. I can’t think many will take that route in future.

Stronelairg sub-station construction

You could go up the Tarff and follow the ridge north of the Corrieyairack, but the wind farm will still be in evidence. You could follow the B862 to just before Whitebridge and take the road and track to Stronelairg Lodge, but it’s a lot of road walking. All in all, Fort Augustus as a crossing point for the Great Glen has become a lot less attractive.

This leaves you with the boat from Drumnadrochit to Inverfarigaig. I took this in 2014 and loved it. Unfortunately, when you look at the options of getting across the Loch Ness flank of the Monadhliath, nearly every route is spoilt by wind farms.

Working north from Stronelairg, the River E is blighted by the Corriegarth wind farm. Further north, you get Dunmaglass/Aberader. You can use a good track up the Allt Mor and over to Glen Mazeran. Even there, you are squeezed between Dunmaglass and the Farr/Kyllachy wind farms. Basically, nearly the whole of the north-western flank of the Monadhliath is off-limits if you want to avoid the intrusion of wind farms into your Challenge experience.

Monadhliath wind farms (courtesy of Alan Sloman)

What this means is that if you want to avoid being plagued by wind farms, Loch Ness and the Monadhliath ceases to be a route option. It’s such a crying shame that a wonderful backpacking area has been sacrificed on the altar of “renewable” energy and political expediency. There’s no doubt that wind farms are a major intrusion into the wilderness experience of backpacking in Scotland and it is becoming increasingly difficult to plot routes that minimise or avoid encountering them.

However, it’s not just wind farms, small hydro schemes and hill tracks for “sports” have proliferated in recent years. I was shocked at the mess caused by the Glen Affric and Glen Doe schemes. I’ve seen pictures of the wreck around Bendronaig Lodge. There are also schemes along Mullardoch and Loch Quoich, amongst others. Of themselves, they are smaller than wind farms and hopefully there will be remedial work after the construction is finished, but they do give the impression that the Highlands is being industrialised.

Glen Affric

The proliferation of hill tracks is another blot on the landscape especially for shooting. Quite frankly, this is not sport. Driving up a massive track in a 4×4, blasting a few hundred birds out of the sky and quaffing a few bottles of champagne is not sport in my book. I’ve more sympathy with deer stalking, but grouse shooting, it seems to me, is one of the worst field “sports”.

Anyway, back to Challenge planning, all of the above leads to thinking about routes which are a bit more southerly and cross the Great Glen south of Fort Augustus. There do seem to be less issues with wind farms with routes that go through the middle of the Challenge area (routes starting further south are not great either). It is surprisingly difficult to get decent up to date information on wind farms but here’s a post by Alan Sloman from last year.

In many ways, Scotland ought to be a backpacker’s paradise. The Highlands is not a spine of mountains but an area. It’s large enough for good multi-day trips, yet small enough that lines of communication and habitation are never too far away. There is a genuine feeling of remoteness in many places yet they are not too isolated. The mountains are high enough to be challenging and give good views but low enough to be tackled by most people. Very few require true mountaineering skills to climb. Access legislation gives a wonderful freedom for walkers and campers (sadly abused in some places by a moronic minority).

It’s difficult to think of a better area to backpack, certainly in Europe and possibly the world. However, this is in danger of being destroyed by mindless development. What is especially ironic is that this is being pushed through by the SNP which is supposed to look after the interests of Scotland, yet time and again it overrides local wishes and railroads through these developments.

It’s very disappointing that some outdoors journalists (with honourable exceptions) who are close to the SNP have been virtually mute on this subject while at the same pontificating on other issues where they have no apparent competence. It’s shameful that they haven’t used their public profile to oppose these abominations to greater effect. The same could be said for some charities and NGO’s.

The upshot of all this musing is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to plan pleasing and rewarding TGO Challenge routes. While I will still do some more Challenges, I’m increasingly drawn to considering doing trips to areas where I’m less likely to encounter industrial development. That might mean confining myself to just an area of Scotland or somewhere else in the UK or maybe even abroad. On the other hand, there is an urgency to see the unspoilt areas before they are wrecked. What a world we are bequeathing to the next generation!

I’m happy to accept comments as long as they are polite and constructive. Any abusive or inappropriate comments will be deleted.