Archive for May 2016
The usual annual trip to the Lake District and our good friends at Church Stile Campsite. I drove up a day early through some pretty nasty weather but I still received something of a shock after I crested the hill on M6 near Lancaster. The Lake District was white. Plastered white. I heard it may be a little chilly with a chance of snow but this was full on winter. In late April.
I had planned a walk on the Friday afternoon but the weather was pretty miserable so I settled for a leisurely set up of base camp and an early pub meal in the mighty fine Strands Inn with UF and OGS, washed down by 3 pints of Porter, my favourite beer. Who needs to tick off summits and meaningless lumps on ridges when you can tick off local craft beers.
Saturday was forecast to be pretty good so plans were made for an ascent of Scafell Pike. TJS has been looking longingly at England’s highest summit for several years so I though it was time to fulfil my promise to climb it. It seems like all the adults felt an easier day was called for so I was accompanied by a gaggle of kids. TBF obviously took pity on – the kids – surprisingly, feeling they were not really equipped and experienced enough to deal with a full day barrage of sarcastic and pedantic remarks from the pack leader, and accompanied us
Despite the good forecast it was a showery morning and indeed to reinforce that message we were battered by a heavy hailstorm as we finished our faffing in the NT car park. The forecast was for a steadily improving day and in fact this was the last of the precipitation.
Scafell Pike would be my last choice of mountain on a Bank Holiday Weekend, its popular and very busy at the best of times. However it does have the advantage of the Corridor Route from Styhead Tarn, one of Britains finest mountaineering walks and one which I hoped the kids would really enjoy.
Its quite a long walk to Styhead, passing through Wasdale Head and its patchwork of fields before the climb to the tarn. All the kids were busy chatting about exams, computer games and the like and leaving me to my own thoughts. There was much laughter so I assumed they were enjoying themselves. The mountains were heavily clouded but there was enough visible to realise there was a good deal of snow up there. The Corridor route is wild and rocky and under winter conditions has real big mountain feel. I hoped the kids were up to the task.
I find the walk up the main path to Styhead Tarn a bit of long drag. On a whim I took the lower path for a change and it was inspired. Its a superb walk along the stream and away from the crowds. it climbs pleasantly and steadily with fine views opening up all around. Its mostly grassy and therefore much easier for older walkers with dodgy knees and feet.
As we crested the rise we were suddenly seeing the first of the snow. Almost before we knew it we were in deep, wet continuous cover. A late start meant lunch was in order and I picked a pretty cold and wet spot to eat. Still the kids were loving the deep snow and were in high spirits.
After sustenance gave us all a burst of energy it also seemed to perk up the weather. The sun started to come out and summits revealed themselves from the clouds.
The corridor route was busy and populated with a mix of serious walkers and some seriously under equipped tourists. One party of Oriental people were dressed in high street clothes and wellies and one of them had a sound system in his backpack blaring out music. The Far East has given us many great things but high quality popular music isn’t one of them. We put on a burst of speed and left them behind
Well, the Corridor Route was simply superb. It twists and trust over rocky slopes and buttresses and above several of the dramatic ravines that slice into the Scafell range. There was even some exposed scrambling that I don’t remember from previous visits but the kids weren’t phased. In fact they loved it, enjoying the sensational winter mountain views and messing about in the deep snow in equal measure. The snow and winter conditions gave it an air of seriousness although in truth it is just a path. I quite enjoyed it as well.
The view across to the coast and the Isle of Man was marvellous. I recounted a very old tale when on a miserable day in the Lakes, the weather suddenly cleared to an expansive blue to reveal the IoM. EWO fervently disagreed and uttered the words he has regretted for 30 years, “That’s not the IoM, if they were mountains they’d 30,000 feet high”. He was wrong of course and ever since as soon as anyone sees a distant mountain on the horizon they immediately state with a grin “If they were mountains……..”. Well it always makes us laugh anyway
Its a long route especially after the long approach walk. As we approached the summit the kids flagged a little, but the weather was improving by the minute and the closeness of the summit and clear blue skies spurred them on.
The summit was crowded as expected but not as bad as I thought. I imagine the deep snow had held many people back. We found a quiet spot for some more food and then headed down.
There really was a quite extraordinary depth of snow, waist deep in places. Scafell summit is rocky and awkward to walk on so we followed the snow. The kids had an absolute ball running and rolling about in it and it gave me enormous pleasure to see them having such fun.
This photo below of TJS seemed to provide enormous amusement to everyone
This one I call “LAC Scissor-Hands”
It would have put a spring in my step to watch the kids in full flight but my springs have long since sprung and rusted up like one of those old bed frames you see in some bothies. Still I metaphorically sprang.
We paused at Mickledore to look at Scafell and Broad Stand, well out of my league in summer conditions and definitely for another day in winter garb
The start of the descent from there is down a steep and slippery gully that paused the smiles for a few minutes. It was soon over and we continued to walk, run and roll our way down the snow
As we descended the views over Wast Water to the coast were breathtaking and near the bottom the yellow of the gorse gave a final flourish to what had been a sensational day. To capture England’s highest point via a classic mountain route, in winter conditions under a sunny blue sky is rare treat and one I think and hope will live with kids for a very long time
We finished the day off in fine style with a BBQ in front of an open fire. Chilly but convivial and we chatted until the lateness of the hour and the cold air forced us to bed. A classic day
And the rest of the weekend and the three seasons I mentioned in the title? We’d had winter. The less said about the Sunday the better. It was wet Spring. It rained for 28 hours straight although we enlivened proceedings with what seems to have become our annual Sunday trip to Mawsons Ice Cream Parlour in Seascale. It always rains on the Sunday but the welcome and the food always lifts the spirits. I came out stuffed and didn’t eat for the rest of the day. Monday? After it finally stopped raining we were treated to warm sunny Spring. The shorts were on and we took a stroll around the fields in the sunshine. Hard to believe I’d been wading in deep snow 48 hours earlier. Only in the UK.
The weekend was finished off with the usual epic football match played with a mixture of skill, determination, family scores settled and for my part some inspirational goal-keeping.
A long time to wait to do it all again next year
The Hard Man had been driving for a backpack with his two kids for a while. They are much younger than TJS and still in those formative years where the delights of TV and tech are a serious impediment to convincing them them the real world outdoors (i.e. sleeping in tents, in the rain/cold, miles from anywhere, eating dried food and with no phones/iPads etc) is much better. In fact after setting a date for this trip I nearly bailed out having had a long and tiring week at work. THM convinced me otherwise and I am so glad he did
After much discussion we settled on a trip into the wild mountains of mid-Wales around Plynlimon. We met in Llanidloes and then drove into the hills parking up near the high tarn of Glaslyn, after a bumpy drive down the rough track.
Only one of THMs’ kids had made it, a netball event prevented a full turnout. We packed and headed into the hills. The forecast was reasonable without being spectacular with no rain forecast until Sunday afternoon
We’d a vague idea to camp in the Hengwm valley. I was sceptical as even though its a place of rare beauty its also a place of extreme sogginess. Still THM was convinced so I went with the flow, hoping the flow wasn’t through the porch of my tent
We passed by the splendid tarn and ruined farm buildings at Bugeilyn where the track ended and we were into the wild upper reaches of the Hengwm valley
I’d been equally sceptical about the route through this valley. Its only marked as a right of way and not a path and I had visions of battles with bogs and tussocks, no fun with a full pack. In fact the path was excellent all the way, just the occasional bit of squelch to get through
As we reached the lower section I suggested we headed for the spot where the Hengwm valley meets the Gwerin valley. I’ve walked through here a few times and its lovely spot complete with waterfalls and a ruined farmhouse. I was still uncertain we’d fine a patch of dry ground big enough but it was worth a go. We headed through a brief zone of tussocks and an uncertain stream crossing and took a look
My scepticism was unfounded. Just above the falls we found a perfect spot. A patch of bone dry spongy grass with enough space for all of us and a depression behind, sheltered from the wind for cooking. TJS wanted to camp on his own so he used TBFs old Macpac single hoop and I used my Voyager. THM carried in a substantial tent for extra space. He was also carrying most of the heavy stuff so his sack was outrageously massive. However he is supremely (in fact rather annoyingly) fit so it didn’t seem to bother him. He goes out running and cycling of an evening where I prefer to remain stationary in front of the TV. It was a splendid site with expansive views down the Hengwm valley and to the crags of the hills behind
After the obligatory brew that follows a period of tent faffing we set out for a wander. This is my favourite pastime on a wild camp. Exploring at some leisure the local vicinity. There is a tendency to always be heading from A to B when hiking so you often have blinkers on, destination paramount. An aimless wander allows you to come across little gems you’d otherwise miss
In this case we explored an evocative holly tree growing out of major hole between some rocks. We then scrambled through a line of crags and then along the edge below which on its crest was reminiscent of a alpine arete. It was all extremely fine.
After following a few sheep tracks high above Cwm Gwerin we dropped down to a small un-named stream that had some very fine small falls
The bright sunshine backed by dark stormy looking clouds were dramatic as we wandered through the tussocks and bogs spotting other potential wild campsites as we went. Its a complete fascination for me when out in the hills, always looking for a possible site to throw a tent up
Back at base camp it was time to eat. For me and TJS a bowl of freshly cooked anchovy & bacon carbonara. For THM and his compatriot one of those freeze dried instant meals that looked suspiciously like cat food (in fact it it tasted ok). THM needed to find some way of keeping the weight down but I have to say these freeze dried “just add water meals” don’t really appeal to me. I prefer the weight of real food and the fuel needed to cook them although I can see their attraction on a long trip with several days worth to be carried
This is the youngest member of the party who I’ve known since she was a babe in arms. We spent a while discussing the fact that she needed a moniker on my blog. We settled on “Loud and Cheeky” seeing as she is (in the nicest way) so she became LAC. I had thought that perhaps she would be an unwilling accomplice under duress to “get outdoors” from her old-man. However she seems to love the whole outdoor and wild camping experience as much as TJS does. She appeared to have a great time and was great company the whole weekend. I just wish I get my youngest to appreciate these same delights
As we cleared up from evening meal, the skies cleared and we were treated to a super sunset, all shafts of light, glowing hillsides and pink clouds
We spent ages wandering about, snapping photos and celebrating our good fortune at finding such a perfect campsite in such fine conditions
Being April, once the sun went down it got cold pretty cold and we all retired for an early and rather chilly night
I’m sure I heard it rain in the night so I wasn’t hopeful when THM woke me at 7:45. It seemed unreasonably early until I stuck my head out the door and realised why he was up and about. It was a glorious morning. My main DSLR camera is out of action so I was using my new point and shoot. Alas its rather too easy to change the settings accidentally so the first few look a bit strange (they were on some sort of arty setting) but they do give the right overall impression
We breakfasted in the warming sun (well LAC decided a lie in was in order)
Normal camera service was resumed
We hadn’t expected such a fine day so we headed our for a climb up Plynlimon. I’ve done it loads of times in the past few years having discovered its charms but it was missing from the THM’s check list
The terrain in these parts is either paths (where they exist) or one of (or all of in some places), tussocks, spongy moss, bog and heather. The first few hundred meters off piste above the campsite were hard going, including one very steep grassy gully
Once up on the ridge of Pen Cerrig Tewion the going was much easier, a successions of sheep tracks leading us upwards
The views were expansive and clear but there was a chilly wind blowing
LAC was finding it tough going having missed breakfast and needed a few stops and regular chocolate to keep going. In conditions like this though, regular stops to admire the scenery is hardly a chore. To be fair she is still a novice in hiking terms and mid-Wales is a real test of stamina and will when the underfoot conditions are pathless (something I can vouch for). In the circumstances the steady progress was more than acceptable
We made it to the summit and took on more fuel/chocolate/cereal bars/out of date pork pies.
The views out to the coast over Nant y Moch reservoir were especially grand
The weather didn’t look like deteriorating as forecast but we had a long way to go back to the tent, pack up and back to the car so we headed down
The photo below gives a great aerial view of of wild site surroundings. You can just make out the tents in the middle of the shot
The route down took us through some of the most bizarre underfoot vegetation I’ve ever walked on. It was a deep spongy moss that completely enveloped your boots when you trod on it. Like walking on marshmallows (if such a thing were possible). It was very steep but we sort of bounced down. It was quite surreal
After a great hike and then lunch we broke camp and took the long wander back to the car. The forecast rains never arrived and it stayed bright and sunny all the way back to Glaslyn and the cars.
We were back much later than planned but it had been a absolute stonker of a weekend. The walking had been easy and dry, the wild site pretty much perfect and the climb to Plynlimon a sheer delight.
Around 16 miles walking in total. Apart from a few bikers at the car park and a solitary runner on top of Plynlimon we’d seen no-one on such a fine weather weekend. We congratulated ourselves, made plans to do this more often and then went our separate ways. And to think I nearly decided not to go
Had to check the dates on my photo files to recall when I did this walk such was the time that passed (17th April if you’re interested). A good forecast and time for a change of scene. Last few good days in the locality I’ve spent in the crowded Brecons or the slightly less crowded Black Mountains. This time I wanted solitude so it was the Radnor Hills, little known clutch of hills tucked between nowhere in particular and the back of beyond. The sort of hills you are surprised to actually find there, like you were expecting an expanse of flat arable farmland or a suburban sprawl. Anyway they are very fine indeed as you can see.
The start of the walk is a little brutal, a mile up a very steep road before the open hillside. Under blue skies and the air filled with the sound of birdsong it was barely a chore
What was a chore was trying to use the panorama function on my camera. It didn’t seem to like the contrasting colours in this wonderful scene and after around twenty attempts and a fair number of expletives I gave up. The normal photos came out rather well though
Onwards and upwards into these grassy hills. Whimble is the crowning glory seen here peeking through the trees.
Its not actually on access land or a right of way and last time I came up here there were no stiles or gates. looks like the landowner has relented a little and stile was now in place. Arriving breathless on the summit (for it is a very steep climb) I took in the fabulous sunny views across pastoral farmland to the distant hills of Cambria, the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains
I even managed to get the panoramas working although still struggling to get the light balance right as you can see
There isn’t an obvious accessible onward route from Whimble so I just retraced my steps and headed up the gorgeous grassy path up the valley towards the highest point of Black Mixen
On the top I met the only people I saw that day. A very nice couple with their bouncy dogs and we had a pleasant chat about their proposed route and mine and the ever increasing plague of ticks in the hills, Lymes Disease, that sort of thing
The blue skies were replaced with more grey as I pressed on around to Great Rhos and then downwards, stopping for lunch a few hundred yards from the very centre of the back of beyond.
I’d had a plan for a very long walk taking in the beautifully named Water-Breaks-Its-Neck waterfall and the hills to the south of the main road. However as is my style I couldn’t be ar5ed and just walked down the edge of Harley Dingle
As on my previous walk I felt sad that this beautiful valley, full of treasures, small streams and picnic sites is completely despoiled by its use as weapons firing range for a private contractor – its obviously a complete no-go area unless you like to shoot things in a lavish manner
All that was left was a very pleasant stroll back through the fields to New Radnor where I’d parked the car
A day of quiet austere hills, fabulous views, strange and evocative names and landscapes that are out of bounds.
Back to mid-April and an opportunity for a short walk with TBF along The Cats Back
Another chance to play with the Panorama function on the camera. Still rather difficult to get right but its coming along
There was some bright sunshine but also dark stormy clouds
We got caught by one rather nasty hail storm as it bounced its way on us and through, but it stayed dry after that
The return along the Olchon Valley is a fine one. Alas the local hill plague that are trail bikes have found it. The path was one long line of rutted wheel tracks where once there was a grassy path. Every step I took just mad me angrier and sadder. These monstrosities are slowly destroying most of the paths in the Black Mountains. The damage in some places is heartbreaking and likely irrepairable. Its rare to walk in these fine austere hills without hearing their annoying waspish buzz and smell of petrol at some point. Something should be done about this but I can’t see what
Makes me very depressed now as I think about that walk down the path
Back in time we go. As as always I’m behind with posts. I have excuses but I’m sure you’re not interested.
We had a quiet time just me and the Funsters down in mid-Wales while the Junior sherpa took a trip to Spain with the new love of his life – bless him! 🙂
The weather was pretty wet and miserable but we had some moments. We took a trip to Borth for a stroll on the beach. I was playing with the Panorama setting on my camera. As you can see it’s more difficult than it looks and needs a little more practice 🙂
We took a walk along the sea-front in Aberystwyth
And a walk from Yestumtuen down to the Rheidol Gorge and Parsons Bridge
Ignoring the “danger of falling in deep holes” warning signs we lunched in the ruins of the old mine workings.
And walked back over the hills above the gorge to the car
Not before the rains returned for the rest of the day. Uneventful but pleasant nonetheless