Category Archives: pictures & trips

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.

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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.

Wiley Gill and Back

At the beginning of June I had to go to Manchester to pick up our daughter’s gear from university, so I combined it with a quick backpacking trip in the Lake District. Originally I was going to do a three day trip around the Northern Fells, but the weather forecast for the third day was for heavy rain, so I decided to walk from Braithwaite to the sheepfold at Wiley Gill and back. The weather was lovely and apart from my encounter with a fun sponge, it was a nice little trip. Here’s some photos.

TGO Challenge 2017: the Challenges of the Challenge

Some Reflections on the 2017 TGO Challenge

Well, that’s my third successful TGO Challenge. Every Challenge presents a different set of challenges, psychologically, physically, topographically and meteorologically. Overall, it was a rewarding experience but not without some low moments.

The Challenge of the Route 

In many ways this was a much more uneven route than the last two Challenges. I had pencilled in four specific days where my route would take me high over Munros. As always, you are at the mercy of the weather. On two of those days (days 4 and 9), low cloud and rain meant that Foul Weather Alternatives were the only sensible option. Day 3, I had intended to go over Carn Eige but the weather forecasts put me off and I did a different route. Only on day 7 did I do my intended high route and took in two Munros. There were compensations, however, particularly walking up Glen Feshie which was a real delight, even in the rain.

I spent a bit longer in the west (5 days) than most people. Consequently, I felt I was always a bit behind the curve and couldn’t afford to let my itinerary slip, which added to the psychological pressure. Daily distance was mainly in the 19-26km range, with three half days (3, 10 and 14). Three days were long days in terms of time or distance or both. Day 1, I walked much longer than anticipated. Day 11 was 29km to Ballater but was pretty easy with not much up and down along tracks and roads. Day 13 was much more challenging with 30km of distance and 1,180 of ascent with some trackless terrain and eroded paths thrown in. That was definitely the toughest day.

One of the biggest disappointments of the first six days was the proliferation of wind farms and hydro schemes. I knew about the wind farms, but the hydro schemes at the Allt Garbh and Corrie Dho came as a shock. The wind farms around Glen Moriston, Loch Ness and the Monadhliath intruded in the vistas. The worst of the lot was the Stronelairg wind farm construction site. There were warnings that it would be horrible, but it was like walking through Mordor. In retrospect, I should’ve taken a different route.

Offsetting those horrors, if I averted my eyes from the views northwards, the ridge walk along the Spey was a delight, as was Glen Feshie. Glen Tanar was as lovely as ever. Gleann Gaorsaic to Glen Afric was wonderful with bleakness turning to beauty. The walk out of Cougie was also an unanticipated pleasure. Perhaps this trip, the landscape highlights were too few, partly because of familiarity, partly because of the depredations of development.

I was blessed with some wonderful places for wild camps. In particular, Loch Affric, Chalybeate Spring, Allt Mor and Glen Feshie spring to mind. I love wild camping and certainly these made up for some of less attractive aspects of my route. It was so wonderful to camp at Chalybeate after the torture of tramping through Stronelairg.

I was also fortunate with the weather in that it was generally quite mild (only two mild overnight frosts) and only one day of persistent rain (day 9). It rained for a large part of day 4, but it was only light and barely merited waterproofs. On day 5, there was about an hour of heavy rain but then it cleared. Other than that, the weather was as good as could be expected. It was also exceptionally dry underfoot and the rivers were low so no wading was required.

When planning the Challenge, resupply points are an important consideration. For the last two Challenges, the only thing I’ve posted ahead is freeze dried meals. I’m keen on buying as much as possible locally. However, with the limited range of food available in the smaller supermarkets, this is a challenge in itself. It was particularly frustrating not to be able to get simple things like plain peanuts or pocket tissues. I was talking to Sue at the Bank House B&B and she said within reason, she would be happy to get basics for walkers to resupply. Perhaps staying at B&Bs and getting the owner to get supplies for you might be a good way around this problem.

The Psychological Challenge

Perhaps I underestimated the impact of the death of my mother. Most of the time life goes on but when you have time on your own, the grief returns. I still miss her a lot. My wife’s poor health has been a constant worry too. When I set off, I knew there was a possibility that I might have to abort the walk at Fort Augustus. By the end of day 3 I was incredibly anxious and had a terrible night’s sleep worrying about virtually everything to do with the walk.

Fortunately, I was able to talk to my wife midday on day 4 and much of the concern subsided. After Fort Augustus, there was little likelihood of having to stop, so my state of mind improved. This state of anxiety coloured my enjoyment of the first few days and it wasn’t until half way through the walk that I truly regained my equilibrium. Compared with 2014 & 2015, psychologically this was a tougher walk.

Perhaps another factor making the first half of the walk more challenging psychologically was that out of the first eight days, I walked six either wholly or mainly on my own. I’m used to solo walking and very happy to do so, but when there are things dwelling on your mind, too much time to think can be unhealthy. The flip side was that from day 9 onwards I had company every day. I’d like to thank Ali O, Dave W and Dave H for their excellent company (as well as Dickie, Rosie and Rich at the start!). It really makes the miles go by when you’ve got someone to talk to.

The Physical Challenge

In the months before the Challenge, I had suffered from a number of minor foot complaints, mainly to do with inflammation between the third and fourth metatarsals in my left foot. As the Challenge approached, although there was an improvement, I was unsure how my feet would stand fourteen days hard pounding.

In the event, I had no real problems with my feet other than a tiny blister on day two caused by a loose thread in one sock. I used Salomon X-Ultra Mids and Sidas Conformable footbeds which worked perfectly in conjunction with Bridgedale Trekker socks.

My general level of fitness was pretty good. I put this down to doing a number of trips in the months before the Challenge and doing 10,000 to 20,000 steps daily (monitored by a Fitbit). For someone living on the outskirts of London, the most difficult thing to achieve is true hill fitness. For me, I can either do long distance or a lot of ascent, but doing both is tough with a full rucksack. That said, apart from a couple of days, I never felt really tired at the end of a day.

I only had one “injury”. On day 13, the descent from Cairn Kerloch was on an atrociously eroded path with lots of loose rock. On the next day, after about half an hour, I felt a pain behind my left knee cap. A long time ago, I had problems with my knees from playing football. For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve not had any issues. However, I’ve always carried a Bioskin knee support just in case (which I used to use for skiing). I felt my knee cap was a bit unstable, perhaps because of the tough descent of the previous day straining my knee. Once on, the issue was resolved. It just shows that you shouldn’t always chuck out stuff that you don’t use regularly.

It’s taken me about three weeks to recover from the physical exertions of the Challenge. Initially I was a bit worried that a couple of insect bites that I had early in the Challenge might have been ticks. Your mind then turns as to whether you’ve got Lyme’s Disease. However, I don’t have the external symptoms and the tiredness has largely gone, so I think I’m ok. I did a short trip to the Lakes a week after the Challenge and my fitness was good, so I don’t think there’s a problem.

 

I’ll do another post on how my gear performed and some thoughts.

TGO Challenge 2017 Summary Page

  1. Plockton
  2. Day 1: Plockton to Faddoch
  3. Day 2: Faddoch to Gleann Gniomhaidh
  4. Day3: Gleann Gniomhaidh to Loch Affric
  5. Day 4: Loch Affric to Corrie Dho
  6. Day 5: Corrie Dho to Fort Augustus
  7. Day 6: Fort Augustus to Chalybeate Spring
  8. Day 7: Chalybeate Spring to Allt Mor
  9. Day 8: Allt Mor to Glen Feshie
  10. Day 9: Glen Feshie to Linn of Dee
  11. Day 10: Linn of Dee to Braemar
  12. Day 11: Braemar to Ballater
  13. Day 12: Ballater to Ballochan
  14. Day 13: Ballochan to Hill of Roughbank
  15. Day 14: Hill of Roughbank to Stonehaven

The Challenges of the Challenge: Some Reflections

Gear review part 1

Gear review part 2 and gear list

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 14

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Distance: 19km, ascent: 206m

I woke to a cloudless sky.  By the time Dave and I had sorted ourselves out, the other two were long gone. Our aim was to try to get to Stonehaven for lunch.

The first part of the forest track was partly covered with some fallen trees, so we had to divert into the forest a couple of times.

After a couple of kilometers, I felt a slight pain in my knee. This is the first time I’ve had any problems in a knee for probably over ten years. All that time, I’ve carried a Bioskin knee support just in case. Now I had a chance to use it! I put it on and instantly the issue was resolved.

We happily trundled along a number of tracks, noting that there weren’t a huge number of places to camp, but there were a couple of spots where it was feasible

Eventually we made it to Mergie and out of the forest. I know there are some fans of the Feterresso, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them. I don’t think I’ll be back, especially with the wind farm right in the middle.

Our route now took us along a minor road to Cheyne Hill.

Eventually we had some views of Stonehaven and the sea.

It seemed a long walk through Stonehaven to the beach. On the way we stopped to get a drink from a convenient petrol station shop as it was getting hot under a cloudless sky.

Just before 1:30 we reached the beach and our journey’s end.

After some congratulations we found a cafe and had some lunch. Instead of walking back up the hill to the station, we splashed out on a taxi. It was only a short train ride to Montrose and on to the Park Hotel to sign in at Challenge Control.

That’s three successful TGO Challenges now. Will I do more? I’m sure I will, although probably not every year. A big thanks to Ali and Sue for organising, also to all those at Challenge Control and the vetters for making it happen. Thanks also to all those I had the pleasure of walking with. Despite a shaky start, in the end, I enjoyed it.