Category Archives: pictures & trips

2014 Trip Review

2014 has been a bit of an odd year. I’ve not been able to get out as much as I would have liked, with only four trips. However, with the TGO Challenge, I have managed a total twenty one days backpacking, so not too bad overall.

The first trip of the year was in April to the Monadhliath with Alan and Andy. It was a lovely introduction to the area, with a gentle walk along the River Dulnain. Despite not particularly brilliant weather, it was very enjoyable. Hopefully, I will be revisiting a short section on next year’s TGO Challenge.

DSC01196Carn Fhreiceadeain, Monadhliath

If you haven’t yet been to the Monadhliath, I suggest you try to visit next year as the area is under very serious threat from planned wind farms. The Loch Ness side is already being despoiled. Unless there is a change of mind, Stronelairg and Allt Duine are next in line. If they go ahead, it will largely destroy the Monadhliath as a wilderness area.

My second trip was a two day pre-Challenge shake down on Dartmoor. I’ve really grown to love Dartmoor over the past few years. In terms of backpacking and wild camping, it’s possibly the finest area in England. Although it lacks spectacular hills, I love the openness and the ability to wander wherever you want (assuming there’s no firing on the ranges).

DSC01260Incoming rain on Hangingstone Hill, Dartmoor

Strong winds and heavy rain proved to be a good test for my Challenge gear. It persuaded me to take my Scarp rather than the Trailstar. It didn’t rain all the time and there was some enjoyable walking. For me, the great joy of Dartmoor is the wild camping. If you know where to look, there’s some brilliant places.

Obviously, the highlight of the year was the TGO Challenge. Although the weather for the first three days was not great, for most of the rest of the time it was good. While it was quite windy, it was generally mild, especially compared with the previous year.

IMG_0939Camp at Loch Monar, TGO Challenge

Once I got into the swing of the Challenge (about day 4), I relaxed and really enjoyed myself. I was very pleased with the route I chose, which had a decent amount of wilderness walking and camping, but wasn’t too arduous. All in all, everything went exceptionally well.

If I had to pick some highlights, the first two days from Strathcarron and along Loch Monar were terrific, despite the weather. Crossing the Monadhliath via Glen Mazeran was excellent. I enjoyed the traverse through the Cairngorms both for the scenery and the company. I thought nearing the end might be disappointing, but Mount Keen was a highlight and I loved the camaraderie at Tarfside.

DSC01420 Challenge camaraderie

What makes the TGO Challenge special is the people you meet along the way. As a solo walker, I had the best of both worlds. I had times of solitude and times of enjoyable company. It’s good to meet with like minded people from all different backgrounds. I had so many interesting conversations on a whole variety of topics.

I had intended to do some trips in the summer. In particular, I wanted to do a week on Dartmoor in August, when there’s no firing on the ranges. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, it didn’t work out.

My final trip of the year was to the Lake District in September. This had a dual purpose of getting our daughter to university at Manchester and giving me a well earned break on the Far Eastern Fells. Despite taking the wrong inner for my Trailstar, I improvised and had a great trip.

DSC02085Deepdale, Lake District

I achieved a long held ambition of camping in Deepdale, which must be one of the finest wild camping locations in the Lake District (perhaps not quite as good as below Scafell, though). Although I only had two full days of walking and not very arduous ones at that, it was a good trip. I was blessed with good weather and some fine walking.

I made some preparations to visit Dartmoor in October/November, but, again, for various reasons those plans had to be abandoned. The only thing fixed for next year is the TGO Challenge in May. I’m hoping to start my walking year with a February visit to the Lake District and get a couple more trips before the Challenge. With a more ambitious route, I’m going to need to improve my fitness levels.

Wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Maeneira, O how I miss thee

DSC00688This will be the first year since 2009 that I’ve not visited the Carneddau and Maeneira. For those that don’t know, Maeneira is an abandoned farmstead (built c. 1800), above Tal-y-Bont on the Afon Dulyn.

P1020581High above the Conwy valley and sheltered on the west by one of the ridges that extends from Carnedd Llewelyn, it’s an idyllic spot, especially when the sun is shining. Its rough pasture provides superb camping on either side of the Afon Dulyn.

DSC00702I first camped there in 2004, although I’m fairly sure that I’ve walked past it well before that, noting its potential as a place to camp. In 2004, the weather was quite gloomy, but even so it had a magic about it.

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I returned five years later with Alan Sloman. We had a glorious walk over Carnedd Llewelyn ending at Maeneira. It was a crisp March day with deep azure sky. A camp at Maeneira was a perfect end to a perfect day.

DSC00689One remarkable feature of Maeneira is the trees that grow on top of some of the boulders and rock outcrops. I don’t know whether they are natural or have been deliberately planted there, but they add to the magic of the place.

DSC00686I’ve spent about thirteen nights camping there all told. It always surprises me how it changes. Sometimes there’s deep, lush, green bracken on the hillside, sometimes it’s bare. One magical trip, the hillside was covered in purple foxgloves. Other times, it’s surrounded by brown, dead bracken.

P1000378Mostly I’ve camped in the shelter of the walled fields on the western side of the Afon Dulyn, often beneath a rocky outcrop with a tree growing out of it. It’s a lovely sheltered spot. Last year, I decided to camp on the eastern side, where there is a tussocky unenclosed pasture.

DSC00698

While it is a beautifully peaceful spot, it must have been a hard life living there and scratching a living in the hills. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful place. There must have been some sadness when the farmhouse was abandoned.

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For one reason or another,  I’ve not managed a trip to the Carneddau this year. Hopefully, next year, I will be able visit my beloved Maeneira again.

Compare and contrast

A long, long time ago, when I was doing my A-levels, I seem to remember many essay questions asked us to “compare and contrast” various phenomena. Two recent posts by other bloggers have prompted me to do a bit of compare and contrast. James Boulter’s recent trek across the wilderness of Sarek in Sweden has an interesting counterpoint with Alan Sloman’s efforts to plan a wind farm free crossing for his 20th TGO Challenge.

 If you haven’t read James’ blog already, I recommend you make a cup of tea (or coffee), sit down and glory in the wonderful landscapes of northern Sweden.  You can find part one here and part two here. Here’s one of James’ photos to give you a taste:

Courtesy of James Boulter

Sarek National Park has been described as the last wilderness in Europe. Apart from a few paths, it is virtually untouched by man, even to the extent that there is no hunting.

Now, Sweden is a big country. It’s 449,964 sq. km with a population of 9,658,301, giving a population density of 21.5 people per sq km. Scotland is quite a lot smaller at 78,387 sq.km, with a population of 5,327,700 and a popualtion density of 67.5 persons per sq. km. Although the Scottish population density is over three times that of Sweden, it is still relatively sparsely populated in a global context (140th in the world compared with 194th for Sweden).

Perhaps it is slightly unfair to compare Scotland with Sweden, but the landscapes do have a similar feel to them. Obviously, few, if any areas of Scotland are true wilderness like Sarek. Nonetheless, it feels right to look after whatever we have.

Now have a look at this map. It’s the Map of the Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV) of just the existing wind farms in Scotland taken from Alan’s blog. If you are standing in any of the blue areas, you will, theoretically, be able to see wind turbines.  The red area is the visual impact of the proposed Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm.

visual impactCourtesy of Alan Sloman

Dispiriting isn’t it? It’s not surprising that Alan is having trouble plotting a wind farm free course across Scotland for the TGO Challenge. Is it any wonder that serious backpackers are beginning to consider whether Scotland is such an attractive destination after all? Backpackers like Alan and James are looking further afield to places like Sweden and the Pyrenees, places which are largely free of the curse of wind farms (although there is a massive wind farm planned in Sweden, not Sarek!).

Many businesses in the Highlands of Scotland lead a hand to mouth existence and are highly sensitive to small changes in revenue. Many tourists, not just backpackers, go to the Highlands for the views and feeling of wilderness. Will they continue to go if the land is being despoiled to this extent by wind farms?

I suspect that backpackers will still go, but less often and do shorter trips in the diminishing, unaffected areas. Longer treks like the Challenge are more beneficial to the Highland economy as more money is spent on accomodation and re-supply at shops. Shorter treks, may mean less revenue for small businesses.

 Returning to the map, the red area shows why the Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm is such an important test for the remaining area of wild land. If it goes ahead, then it’s a dagger in the heart of an already ailing Highlands.

 I only started to visit the Highlands in 2007 and I’ve barely scratched the surface with my visits. I feel cheated. I will never be able to see the true, unspoilt Scotland in many areas. Sure there are still wonderful places to see, but instead of the feeling of freedom, there will be the constrained feeling of a theme park. Go beyond the boundaries and the senses will be assailed by the industrialisation of the landscape. For the real feeling of wilderness and freedom, increasingly, backpackers will have to go abroad.