I’m on the 2017 TGO Challenge


I applied for this year’s TGO Challenge but was put on the standby list at number 37. Today I was offered a place which I gratefully accepted. Being an efficient chap, accommodation and travel to Scotland has all been booked. I’ve started my training too, although I actually feel reasonably fit. I’ve already sorted out my route which will be Plockton to Stonehaven. It’s a bit more ambitious than my previous Challenges but should be achievable if the weather plays ball. I’ll fill in some details in a while. 

Keswick C&CC Campsite

img_1966On my recent trip to the Lake District, I stayed at the Keswick C&CC campsite. In the past, I’ve stayed at the Scotgate campsite in Braithwaite, but I thought I’d give the Keswick site a go instead. The big advantage of the Keswick site is that it’s only a short walk into Keswick itself and there’s a good Booth’s supermarket close by. It’s also a bit cheaper than Scotgate if you’re solo and a C&CC member (which I am).

img_1970Not surprisingly, it’s really well setup for camper vans, with excellent hard standing pitches and electric hook ups. There’s a good amount of space between pitches too. When I was there, there weren’t many vans, so I could park myself well away from anyone else. The downside was I parked myself well away from the shower block, which was a bit of a mistake!

img_1988The shower block facilities were pretty good, with a good number of shower cubicles, sinks and toilets. A second shower block was closed, but would be needed if the site had more occupants. The facilities were not quite up to the standard of Scotgate, which wouldn’t shame a hotel. Unlike Scotgate, WiFi is not free and you have to pay extra.

img_1973The camp site is in a wonderful position between the River Greta and the shore of Derwent Water, with beautiful views across the lake towards Borrowdale. The drawback with its position, however, is that there is a risk of flooding. For this reason, vehicles and tents are not allowed to be unattended overnight in case there is a need to evacuate.

While I can understand this requirement, for me, it’s a bit of a deal breaker. It would prevent me from doing some backpacking and overnight camping in the fells. This probably means that I’ll be going back to Scotgate if I want to do backpacking trips. Fortunately, for this trip, I’d only intended to do a couple of day walks.

img_1986The site is open to both camper vans and tents and welcomes backpackers too. The warden and staff were very friendly and helpful. Overall, it’s a really nice place to stay, just a shame you can’t leave your van overnight.

More details here: Keswick C&CC Campsite

(Please note there’s a second, smaller C&CC site next door, Derwentwater Campsite)

High Spy and Maiden Moor

At the end of last week I spent a couple of days in the Lake District before collecting our daughter from university. I based myself in Keswick at the C&CC camp site in my camper van. Unfortunately, on the first day, the weather was poor with the tops under clag and high winds, so I mooched around Keswick. 

On the second day, the weather improved a bit and the forecast was a bit more optimistic, so I decided to do a day walk up the Newlands valley to Dalehead Tarn and then back over the High Spy/Maiden Moor ridge.

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From Keswick, there’s an enclosed footpath across fields to a rather impressive suspension footbridge to Portinscale. Spurning the attractions of the hotel and cafe in Portinscale, I followed the road south to Fawe Park, where I cut over the hill, through a wood, flanked by rhododendrons, where a number of pheasants were wandering aimlessly around the woods.

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Then I followed a good path past Lingholm and over Silver Hill, past a field of Llamas, which was a bit of a surprise. Emerging from the woods into a rough field, Cat Bells loomed ahead of me. I toyed with the idea of reversing the walk and going over Cat Bells, but the forecast was for improving weather in the afternoon, and the photographic opportunities were likely to be better heading back to Keswick, so I continued with my plan to walk along Newlands.

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After reaching Skelgill, I followed the bridleway that skirts along the flank of Cat Bells along the Newlands valley. Newlands is one of the prettiest Lake District valleys. Even when the weather is not very good, it still looks beautiful. The clouds were still thick over the fells and provided some moody pictures.

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Just above Little Town, there’s some mine workings. I noted that there’s some decent wild camping spots there, amongst the levels. The wooden bridge across the beck had been washed away, but it was easy to cross on the stones. If it was in spate, you’d have to go down to the road to cross.

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Beyond Little Town, the valley, narrows, enclosed by the slopes of  Maiden Moor on one side and Scope End on the other.

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After the end of the fields, there’s another mine spoil heap, Castlenook Mine. Thus far the weather had been OK with only the odd spot of moisture in the air. Amongst the spoil, it was relatively sheltered, so I decide to sit down and have some lunch. While it was tempting to dawdle a bit, the prospect of losing daylight by four o’clock meant I had to push on as it was already well past midday.

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Just beyond the mine, the path begins to contour up the fellside. Ironically, looking back there were some patches of blue sky, but over Dale Head the cloud was the cloud was thickening.

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Tantalisingly, as I reached the waterfalls, it looked like the cloud might lift. Frustratingly, just as I reached the beck before Dale Head Tarn, the clag came down.

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I wanted to take a quick look at the sheepfolds by the tarn to check whether they might be good for camping (they are), but I was dismayed to find excrement and tissue paper left by one of the walls.

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By now, it was nearly two o’clock and I knew I had to get a move on to make it along the ridge and down to the valley by dark. As I ascended the slope towards High Spy, the wind picked up and it started to rain, scuppering my chances of good views of Derwent Water and Keswick.

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Even with poor visibilty, it was easy to follow the path and eventually, the summit cairn of High Spy came into view. Behind the cairn, I sheltered from the wind, putting on my overtrousers.

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Every so often the mist would lift briefly, to reveal the path ahead. I bypassed the summit of Maiden Moor, as I’d been there before and carried on to the col before Cat Bells.

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Very briefly, Cat Bells emerged out of the clag for a photo opportunity, before disappearing again. I decided not to bother to go over Cat Bells as I only had an hour more of daylight at most and took the track down to Skelgill.

By the time I got to Skelgill, dusk was falling. I reversed my route of the morning, although I bypassed Fawe Park, using a track. By the time I was at Portinscale it was fully dark and I had to find my way back to Keswick by head torch, eventually getting back just after five o’clock.

Total distance for the day was about 15 miles with 828m of ascent, taking just under seven hours.

A-Glamping We Will Go


Tomorrow I’ll be off on my second camper van trip. I’ll be doing a couple of days in the Lake District before returning via Manchester to pick up our daughter from uni for the Christmas holidays. The weather doesn’t look great, so I think it will be a couple of day walks rather than backpacking. I might even take some photos. 

Camper Van Paraphernalia

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As a camper van neophyte, it was obvious after my first trip that I needed some bits and pieces to fully kit out my camper. So here’s what I’ve bought so far (with some hyperlinks to products where appropriate).

Bedding etc.

My camper has leather seats, which are rather sumptuous, but quite cold to sleep on. To give a bit of insulation, I bought some thin CCF tent underlay from Needle Sports and cut to size. To make it even more comfortable I’ve added a fleece throw from John Lewis and some cushions for when I’m lazing around. I pondered whether to have a normal pillow, but decided that a blow up pillow would be more practical, so I got a Sea to Summit Aeros Premium pillow. It also gives me some flexibility to use it if I want some extra comfort when backpacking.

Kitchen stuff

I don’t need pans as I’ve got some Kovea titanium ones that I used to use for backpacking. For when I’ve got electrical hookup, I’ve got a compact 3-cup electric kettle. For when I’m not on hookup, I’ve bought an Optimus camping kettle. I decided that it was better to get disposable picnic  plates, bowls, cutlery and plastic glasses from my local supermarket rather than a melamine picnic set. However, for mugs, I decided some decent Thermos insulated ones were worth getting. Finally, I wanted a washing up bowl, but thought a rigid plastic one was overkill, so I bought a collapsible Sea to Summit one. To complete the kitchen stuff, I’ve got a collection of dish cloths and scourers.

 Storage, cleaning, heating and safety

For storage, Whambox 9L crates are about the right size to fit under the seats. They are large enough to get a decent amount of stuff in, but small enough to be flexible. For cleaning, besides a dustpan and brush, I bought a compact cordless vacuum cleaner. This is brilliant, not just in the van, but around the house. For rubbish, I got a compact 10L fliptop bin, which fits nicely between the front seats and is small to store away. For the main seating area, I wanted a rug, but couldn’t find any the right size. Then I came across a site selling hallway runners, which was perfect for my purposes. While the van has a heater which runs off the fuel tank, I thought it would be a good idea to have an electric fan heater for when I’m hooked up to electric. It can also be used as a fan without heating. Lastly, for safety, I purchased a small carbon monoxide detector for when I’m using the gas hob.

 Van accessories

I found the steering wheel on the Alphard a bit sticky as it’s plastic, so I bought a cheap leather steering wheel cover. It’s a bit of a pig to get on, but feels much nicer. For my phone, I got a CD slot phone holder. I’ve used one on my other car, and it’s great to have the phone to hand and to be able to patch it into the stereo via a USB lead. Although I’ve got internal insulated screens for the windscreen and side front windows, you get a lot of condensation in cold weather, so I’ve ordered a windscreen insulated snow cover. This should help both with insulation and with not having to de-ice the windscreen. Lastly, I bought some foot well mats to save the carpet getting dirty. I bought some cheapo carpet ones from Halford’s, but they slide about too much, so I may replace them with heavier rubber ones.

I’m sure there’s some other bits and pieces I’m going to need. I’m looking forward to my next trip in mid-December where I’m combining a couple of days in the Lake District with picking up our daughter from university.

Disclaimer: I bought all of the above items with my own money and have no relationship with the companies other than as a customer.

Moving on

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This has been a tough year. Mum’s illness and death has really taken its toll, but we have to move on. Just after mum died, I took delivery of a camper van. This is a totally new experience for me as I’ve never owned one before. Mark of Mark’s walking blog owns a Wellhouse Leisure Toyota Alphard and recommended it.

After doing a bit of research, the Alphard looked extremely good value. It’s about half the price of similarly specced vehicles like VW T5/6’s. Although it’s a very high quality conversion, the reason it’s such good value is that Wellhouse use imported second-hand Toyota Alphard’s from Japan that are over ten years old.

Despite the age, they are in very good condition and have a high spec, although without many of the many modern fripperies like a trip computer. The actual basis of the vehicle is similar to a Lexus RX300. They are either 2WD or 4WD and have either a 2.4L or a 3.0L V6 engine. I was really lucky to pick up a 4WD 3.0L V6 with low mileage (57,000, 2002 registration).

image1Wellhouse Leisure were great to deal with, especially for a neophyte like me. Once I’d selected my base model, I added some extras: leather seats, Cat1 alarm & immobilser, double din stereo, lagged/heated water tanks, bike rack, cruise control and solar panel. Total cost was £24,050.

I’ve never driven a vehicle larger than a car, so driving back from Wellhouse’s premises near Huddersfield was a little nerve-wracking. However, I soon got used to the high driving position and different controls. The V6 engine is a real boon as it has plenty of power and decent acceleration for a large vehicle.

My only criticism is that it only has a four-speed automatic gearbox (Toyota didn’t fit five-speed until 2005). For motorway cruising, it revs higher than I’m used to. However, it’s nice and relaxing to drive , even at higher speeds.

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So far I’ve taken it on one trip. My mum’s funeral coincided with our daughter’s reading week break from university. Instead of taking the train back to Manchester, I drove her up and then spent a couple of days in the Lake District, staying at Braithwaite camp site.

Compared with staying in a tent, it’s luxurious, especially in cold weather (it’s got a heater than runs off the petrol tank). On the middle night I camped out on the fells, but the next morning the weather turned unsettled with sleety showers so I went back to the van and spent a lazy day. The next day, I decided to go home. It was wonderful not to have a wet tent to pack.

I’m still on a learning curve and have needed to buy a few bits and pieces. For the colder months, it’s fabulous. It opens up new opportunities. I’ll be off again mid-December for a couple of days before collecting our daughter again from university. I’ll probably just do a couple of day walks this time.

Some more pictures of the Alphard from the Wellhouse website

Mark is selling his Alphard because he wants a larger vehicle. If you’re interested he’s advertised it on preloved here

Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Wellhouse Leisure and paid for my Alphard with my own money.

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