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The quieter side of Wasdale   11 comments

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With a mild hangover (spot the pun from the previous post) we spent the usual eternity agreeing where to go for a walk. Not fancying using the car or the crowds no doubt attracted to the honeypots higher up the valley, we hit the heights of Buckbarrow and Seatallan. Hills of contrast, one rocky, one grassy. A nice combination that see’s very few footprints if my experience is anything to go by

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Over the fields and a steep climb alongside the tautological Gill Beck.

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Buckbarrow is splendid summit if you can call it that. In reality, just the rocky end of the grassier Seatallan but littered with small rocky outcrops. I’ve climbed it several times in the past few years and its become one of my favourite places.

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DB Senior who apparently wasn’t all that keen on a walk had a whale of time scrambling up some pretty tough little routes. Always adds to the pleasure for me to see one of the younger members of the gang enjoying the mountains same way I used to. I feel like I’m passing on the baton as I get older (more of this in a couple of posts time!)

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It was an overcast day but a few glints of sunlight kept us bright and the clouds were off the summits making for pretty fine views

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We stopped for a very long lunch after a long stretch where we walked for almost one hour! We compared stoves (my Jetboil won of course), talked nonsense with a little politics thrown in and laughed at great deal

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Time to move on as OGS was getting restless. I compared middle aged ailments and injuries as we strolled to the broad grassy summit of Seatallan. The views from here are unusual in that you see hills and valleys you wouldn’t normally see or know of. Here we have Haycock and Caw Fell above the wonderfully name River Bleng. Looked a fine spot for quiet wild camp some time

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We could see the Isle of Man although its summits seemed to be in cloud

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The main Scafell Pike range looked impressively dark and forbidding

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The descent towards Middle Fell was impressively steep and I declined the offer of an ascent of Middle Fell in return for a very wet, soggy and leg grazing traverse around Greendale Tarn.

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The rest of the day was whiled away with the steep descent along Greendale Gill and the return across the fields to the campsite for a chilly BBQ in the ever increasing wind

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Quite a long walk in the end at 8 miles and a very one enjoyable one as well. Nothing to challenge the brain so the focus is just on enjoying being out with good company both young, old and very old (sorry OGS!)

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Memories are made of this   10 comments

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May Day Weekend. Nether Wasdale. Camping. Cold. Snow. Rain That’s how things have worked the past few years. Most people would get the message and stay home. Me? I took a day off work and drove 6 hours to spend a late evening setting up the camper on my own until darkness fell and it was bed time. This did give a bonus day’s walking by myself. Skies looked gloomy but with some promise. I headed to Wasdale before the weekend crowds with a route to rekindle some old memories

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I took the same route as last year when had a fantastic day on Scafell Pike with the kids. Following the path along Lingmell Beck was as good as last time if not better. As I climbed the sun came out and abundant patches of blue sky appeared

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Its an easy grassy path to Sty Head and a sheer delight to climb with the spectacular view back to Wasdale

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Arriving at Styhead Tarn I drifted back in time to my very first wild camp here in – I think – 1987. It was another May Day weekend and there was snow on the ground. Me and ED pitched up on rather stony ground, with a rather smug looking EWO claiming his pitch was better with the immortal phrase “the pegs go in nice an easy here”. Me and ED wandered over jumped on the ground round his tent and watched it roll like a wave on the sea. He moved. Any campsite we stay on generates a “pegs go in easy” remark to remind him. Happy days

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I pushed on to reach Sprinkling Tarn, one of the finest anywhere in the UK. I’ve never camped here but I really should do. Stunning spot

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Up past the Ruddy Gill ravine to Esk Hause. Another memory of when me and ED (he features heavily in these memories) sheltered here on a foul day and decided that was enough of summits and headed down the Esk valley. It was our first view of this magnificent valley and its deep pools and waterfalls and would become a favourite spot for wild camping and swimming over the years

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I lunched on top of Great End with superb view down Borrowdale to Derwent Water, Skiddaw and Blencathra. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

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Then a few wisps of cloud drifted down that became a blanket within minutes. It was a gloomy procession across Broad Crag and Ill Crag to Scafell Pike summit. To cheer myself up I took my mind back through the dark ages again to a time me and ED snoozed up here on a glorious summer morning back in the late 80’s. We’d been camping in Eskdale and swimming in the river but it was way too hot so decided a summit bivvy was called for. We spent a wonderful if uncomfortable and sleepless night right next to the summit cairn on Bowfell watching the thunderstorms over the Pennines. We had the whole walk along to Scafell Pike to ourselves the next morning and celebrated with a snooze at the top. Still one of the very best weekends in the mountains I’ve ever had. Happy days.

No such sunshine this day and I headed down. My plan had been to relive one final memory by climbing Lingmell and visiting the spot where I’d camped on the summit with my dog Harry. The fog was so dense and cold that it seemed pointless so I just plodded down, my afternoon further spoiled by finding a pile of human excrement and accompanying toilet paper right on the path. I despair of the people who frequent the hills some times.

I only emerged from the cloud at around 1500 feet but at least the final views across Wast Water were good

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The Gorse was also in full boom and scent

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A decent day of 9 miles and 3,500 feet of ascent

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Back at the camp site (the ever wonderful Church Stile), all thoughts of cloud and damp were dissipated as the sun came out and I sat outside the tent with my shades on. I was joined by some of the gang and retired to the equally wonderful Strands Inn, a place of wonderful beer brewed on site and excellent food. With good company, good food and a pint (or several) of their Mild (still a Midlands boy at heart) I was very much in the holiday spirit and looking forward to the inevitable rain with a much happier frame of mind

 

Cycling with TJF   11 comments

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Having spent most of Easter either away or at work I hadn’t seen much of TJF so with the senior funster away I wanted us to spend some time together. She’s not big into hiking so I suggested a bike ride, expecting a negative response but she seemed quite keen. Having been introduced to the delights of the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal a few weeks ago I settled on that. Armed with a quality picnic we parked up at Llangynidr and set off

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Having described the route as “flat” TJF was a little miffed to find the first mile has several locks requiring you to actually have to pedal a bit! She survived the experience intact 🙂

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As before it was a lovely ride. Not as sunny as the forecast promised but good enough and we enjoyed a gentle ride, ducks under all the bridges and the feathered variety and their young on the water

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There is a tunnel on this section but alas for boats only

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We reached the pretty bridge where I’d paused on the previous trip and enjoyed a lavish picnic.

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TJS is looking pleased having just consumed a large slice of sugary lemon drizzle cake

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We took an amble down to the aquaduct over the River Usk to rest our weary butts (I’ve found cycling in the same position for more than 20 minutes is shall we say uncomfortable!)

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The views and the scene were very fine and I think TJS was enjoying being out in the sunshine

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A day for staying down in the valleys as the Brecons looked a little gloomy

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Time to return back to the car the same way. Just as enjoyable but both our butts were glad to see a comfy car seat

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Great to spend some quality time with TJF and she seemed keen to do more of the same. She is very much an adventure, water and cycling person while TJS is a hiking man. We have some holiday plans that suit both of them for this year, a bit of a departure from the norm for the family. More of that later in the year

Wild camping in Big Country Part 3   8 comments

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Sleep comes so much easier when the wind isn’t roaring and your mind starts to imagine scenarios of tents blowing down and trying to rescue everything in the dark of night. All we had was gentle rain to soothe us. By morning it had stopped and there were tentative glimpses of sunshine. Enough to tempt us outside for breakfast. Life was pretty good in a boil in the bag sausage and then porridge kind of way

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There was no urgency to head home so we took a walk back up towards Corrour. There was plenty of blue sky and sunshine but it was still windy high up and pretty chilly. On a whim I decided to head for the skyline to the south as it looked moderately interesting. A chance to make a summit

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TJS was less convinced by the bog and tussocks to reach it so he returned to the tent while I covered the ground more briskly than I thought

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Having crossed Creagan nan Gabhar, Sgor Mor didn’t look much, just a bare high point surrounded by heather

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I traversed over to the SW ridge and found it pleasantly rocky and a joy to climb very easily to its summit. The view became ever better as I ascended, both north to the main Cairngorm summits and south across Glenshee and Beinn a Ghlo.

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I got my reward for making the effort as my stay on the summit coincided with a lovely sunny spell. I grinned to the sky at my good fortune and sat on a rock to ponder

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I tried another attempt at panorama shots but I still haven’t sussed them. Either I’m moving the camera too slowly or quickly but there is always a break in them at 2/3 across. Not quite sure why. If you click on them you can see a larger version. The second one (looking south) is much better and there is a video 360 in the slideshow at the end

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I particularly enjoyed the views to the south as I hadn’t seen much of those the previous couple of days. It reminded me of a backpack through to Bynack Lodge many years ago, a trip remembered for very heavy showers, a very scary crossing of the Geldie Burn and two days of wearing shorts when I really should have known better

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I also thought of the many bloggers who I read and enjoy who will (about now in fact) be walking through this area on the TGO challenge. If any of them are camped up near White Bridge and get a decent day they could do worse than take a trip up this fine mountain. Sitting between the bigger ranges of hills its a perfect vantage point across some wonderful wild and remote landscape

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When  I got back I was further cheered to find out it was a Corbett. It doesn’t look high enough until you realise that all the valleys are already at 500m in these parts. Didn’t make the last few hundred meters to camp through some of the deepest heather I’ve ever seen any easier but at least I had another tick on the round of Corbetts that I’ll never finish

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All that was left was to have lunch in the sun outside the tent, pack up, and head back to the car. TJS resisting the photo call from dad to fall in for some extra blog novelty value

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The trudge down Glen Lui was just as long, perhaps a little longer with a heavy heart of great trip nearly over

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A last look along the Lui Water and we were back at the surprisingly empty Linn of Dee car park. Best part of 50 miles walked over the 5 days which we were both well chuffed about. As we finished getting ready to leave it started snowing!

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I commented on the previous post how I look back on this trip as an adventure in challenging conditions. By Cairngorm standards it was pretty benign but when I think of the fact it was cold, windy, snowy, that we were in some remote spots, that we saw few people hiking and almost no-one wild camping the feeling of achievement grows still further. This is especially true for TJS as he still has limited mountain experience and for me as I am ultimately responsible for keeping us safe (as opposed to leaning on the experience of friends). It would have been easy to bail out to a B&B or a campsite (and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it at a couple of points) but we stuck with it and got reward with some fine spells of weather, great views and for TJS one the UK’s great summits and another long trip into the mountains under his belt.

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Next years plan is already forming for more adventures. My friends that went to Arran had a good time but didn’t wild camp saying its too early in the year. What do they know! 🙂

I need to backpack while I still can as I don’t know how many I have left in me (private joke!)

Wild Camping in Big Country Part 2   8 comments

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The wind picked up overnight. Quite dramatically so. One of those winds you can hear coming before it batters the tent. My new Nigor Parula 2 tent is not classed as 3 seasons (by the manufacturer anyway) so my remaining concern was how well it would stand up to a Scottish gale. Answer is very well. It does flex quite a bit (as its supposed to) but withstood the battering flawlessly. It was a restless night but we woke to bright skies and decided to stick with our plan to move on, hopefully into the area below the Lairig Ghru. We left behind our home for the past few days and made tracks.

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We agreed to take the alternative path down the west side of the river. Inspired. We were out of the wind, the sun came out and the forest was stunning. This short stretch was one of the highlights of the weekend. Photos don’t really do justice to how gorgeous it was

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We then headed west into the strong wind along the upper reaches Glen Lui. I’ve walked through here a couple of times but hadn’t recalled how stunning it was

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We headed up towards the Luibeg bridge to avoid the ford but as we reached it the skies suddenly darkened and we were hit with an extremely heavy hail and snow shower. The wind roared and I felt the Lairig Ghru would be hugely exposed and I didn’t fancy camping there. I’d spotted a patch of green down by the ford and we headed down primarily to shelter.

It was a wonderful spot, an almost perfect wild camp site. I figured we could tuck the tent in behind some of the trees and gain a small degree of shelter so we pitched here on the spur of the moment. It was right next to the path but this is a remote spot en-route to even more remote areas so only and handful of people passed by while we were there

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The showers were nasty while they emptied but they were few and far between and when the sun was out the views were stunning. We took an afternoon stroll up the path towards the Lairig Ghru and Corrour bothy

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The views back down Glen Lui were sublime and up towards the massive peaks above the Lairig Ghru dramatic

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As we wandered back down the light became even clearer and the now abundant sunshine bathed the forest and heather in glorious colour

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When we reached the tent the wind seemed to have dropped completely and it was warm enough – just – to cook outside in the sunshine

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No better feeling than tucking into a well earned meal in the wilds under an evening sun. One of the joys of backpacking and wild camping

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We’d hoped the weather would be sunny the next day but it dawned rather grey and gloomy although without the winds of the previous day. We were well placed for an attempt at Ben Macdui with good paths around an obvious horseshoe. There was light snow in the air all the way up but the path and then the easy terrain had us most of the way up Sron Riach in great time

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The summit plateau is a wild and lonely place and deep snow cover still lay on the ground. It was an amazing contrast to the wild winds of the day before without so much as a breath of wind on one of the most notoriously windy places in Scotland. There were even wisps of blue sky to encourage us it might clear but it never did

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TJS was well chuffed to reach his second munro and the second highest peak in the UK despite the mixed weather

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After a celebratory cup of soup we headed on towards our second peak of the day. Its a long and tiring descent down the seemingly endless SW slopes of Ben Macdui

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Carn a Mhaim is a fine peak and different in character to most of the Cairngorms. Rather than the extensive plateau its a long ridge with a couple of moderately rocky sections and excellent views into the depths of the Lairig Ghru far below

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We stopped for a second lunch and brew on the summit to celebrate TJS third munro (only 280 or so to go). For a time it looked like the skies might clear and our ascent route and the summit of Ben Macdui was revealed. Alas this was a goodbye rather than a greeting. It began to drizzle on the way down which turned into a steady rain that lasted the rest of the day

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We had to cook inside again due to the rain but it mattered not. We’d earned our feast and slept well without the wind and with the patter of raindrops on the nylon

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It had still been a grand day, 10 miles and 4000 feet of climbing on some true big scale mountains from a wild camp base. Epic!

 

Wild Camping in Big Country Part 1   12 comments

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The annual Easter wild camping trip. We’d made some plans to meet friends and pay a second visit to Arran. However the weather looked more settled in the East and while they stuck to their plan for Arran we headed east for TJS first visit to the Cairngorms, Scotland’s Big Country.

An overnight in Perth, a hearty breakfast in The Bothy in Braemar and round to Linn of Dee ready for a 5 day trip into the heart of this wild and remote corner of the Scottish Hills

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We took the long walk in along Glen Lui, weighed down with 5 days supplies for a 4 night trip. Skies were threatening and spots of rain were in the air but never heavy enough for waterproofs

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It’s a long walk along the glen but there is a real sense of heading into the wilds. TJS has had a trip to Lochaber where long ridges predominate. The Cairngorms promise something different I told him. Long, deep valleys, high sculpted corries and extensive tundra-like plateaus.

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We passed Derry Lodge before turning north for Glen Derry. In my youth you could use the building for shelter, albeit a draughty one with all the windows and doors open to the elements. Its boarded up now with unfulfilled planning permission for something grander. There were a couple of people camping in the woods nearby, the only other wild campers we saw all weekend

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Our plan was to camp in Glen Derry. It’s a fabulous valley, broad, open, surrounded by towering summits and studded with natural scots pine

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I wanted to return to a spot I’d camped in around 20 years ago and managed to find it! It’s an idyllic spot by the river and we found a sheltered spot under a tree

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We spent a couple of hours making it our home and having lunch. It was more tussocky than I remember and the photo below from the first trip proves it was indeed a much flatter grassier spot (although it was late May rather than Easter). That was a memorable trip for many reasons. Good times

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I wonder if it was the time of year or whether the translation from grass to tussock is part of the natural evolution of the landscape.

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We took a stroll in the late afternoon with a view to reaching Loch Etchachan. It was sunny when we set off but we caught a couple of heavy, wet snow showers, the only time we really got wet the whole weekend

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We passed by the Hutchison Hut, clearly now much improved, as are most of the Cairngorm bothies. We got a good way up towards the Loch before the cold and wet sent us back down to the tent to eat tea and get cosy in the tent for our first night in the wilds. A day of 11 miles and just shy of 3000 feet of ascent. Off to a good start

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The next day dawned overcast but bright and cold. We had a vague plan to repeat a walk I done on the previous trip, down to Loch Avon and back via Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui. The walk over the Lairig an Laoigh takes you into some real wild and remote country and its a stunning walk even on a grey day

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We crossed the Fords of Avon without too much difficulty and took a peek in the Refuge. This has been massively improved to say the least. Last time I was here it was in effect, a small, squalid dark cave in a large cairn. Now its a wooden shelter (albeit with no windows) and rather snug and cosy for a couple of people.

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We pressed on to Loch Avon. One of the most dramatic locations in the UK if you ask me (I’m sure someone should). After a brief lunch stop at one end we walked to the other. The weather had dipped a little and it was snowing when we reached the other end

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We stopped for some soup and the sun came out! The beach is rather splendid and the water crystal clear, if a little chilly for a swim. There are plenty of spots for a tent so I must pay the place a longer visit.

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By now we’d decided that the main summits were out-of-bounds with the weather so unpredictable, so a circuit around Beinn Mheadhoin seemed better. Onwards and upwards to Loch Etchachan with snow flurries still in the air but gorgeous views across Loch Avon as we climbed.

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After a heavy snow shower we had one of the best spells of the day at the Loch. It’s a magnificent spot, a dark corrie and lake, one of the highest in the UK. I camped up here with TBF and my dog Harry many years ago and this visit rekindled some fine memories. I took a bonus circuit of the smaller lake to take it all in

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We had a spell of abundant sunshine and blue sky on the way down to Glen Derry and all was right with the world. I can handle a few brief soakings if the spells between are as good as this

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TJS seemed to be enjoying it despite the cold weather. The Cairngorms has miles of high quality paths and he hates off-piste walking. He soared ahead of me most of the weekend waiting for me to catch up and show him how to cross awkward rivers and the like!

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A view down Glen Derry. Our pitch is by the two dark trees in the right centre of the shot

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TJS feasting on his preferred snack of choice, Jaffa Cakes

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The day ended in fine fashion.  A few isolated showers and chill wind forced us to retire inside to cook.

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When we emerged for the usual post meal chores and ablutions we were treated a decent late evening light show for as long as our cold hands and other extremities could stand it before retiring

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A highly satisfying and enjoyable day out in wild, big country and another 12 miles and 2800 feet of climbing under our belts. Not bad for ageing and novice sherpas

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Brecons Gap Route   8 comments

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Since I decided to give cycling another go I’ve had my eye on what looked like a rather fine round called the Brecons Gap Route. So named as it traverses the gap between Fan y Big and Cribyn in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. It’s a good deal tougher in the mountain section than anything I’ve attempted before but the weather was stunning so I figured I could at least give it a go. I set off from Talybont-on-Usk on a gloriously warm sunny day and headed off on the Taff Trail

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The first section was very rough and bouncy. The Taff trail follows the line of an old railway along the valley – at least that’s what I thought. Turns out the first couple of km follow an old bridleway and it was rough going but not too steep and I coped fine

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As it climbed the views began to open out across the Talybont reservoir

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I wandered onto the dam to take a couple of shots. Stunning I thought

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From there its a very long climb up to the pass above the reservoir. Never steep and by now on the old railway line the going was much smoother. They are clearing away the old plantation so the views were superb. Gave me an excuse to stop many times and admire.

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I passed a few people walking but no-one else on a bike. The Beacons Way follows this stretch and it reminds me why I don’t like following pre-ordained long distance routes. There is a superb high level route that would avoid this long endless trudge on foot, a few hundred foot up above on open ground. In fact the Beacons Way actually descends from where that path starts to pick up the Taff Trail and then climbs back up again to meet it a few km later. Why the route chooses to ignore an obvious high level path in favour of a forest trail is beyond me. This trail is ideal for cycling but not for walking. Each to their own I suppose but the D of E groups I saw seemed not to be enjoying the trudge even on this glorious day

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Seeing as this is the age of the selfie, here’s a very rare picture of yours truly enjoying another photo-rest excuse to stop

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From the high point of the road there is a speedy short descent before the trail curves around towards the main part of the Beacons. From here things get a little tougher

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The trail becomes extremely stony and rutted and while not steep was pretty hard work. I’m pleased to say that other than one short section that drops steeply in and out of a stream, I made it all the way to the “gap” (seen in the centre of the photo below) without needing to push or more importantly, falling off

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I have to admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d done 15km and close to 500m of ascent and survived to tell the tale. More than that I really enjoyed it – never thought I’d hear myself say that about mountain biking

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I celebrated with a very lengthy stop to have lunch and a brew, chatting to other cyclists as they passed through (this a popular and well-known mountain bike route)

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The descent from the gap gave me my only problem. The first 500m or so is steep and very rough, more like scree than a path. After a couple of nervous attempts I decided discretion was best and pushed for a few minutes. This section really needs a full on, front and rear suspension bike (mine is just a hard-tail). I managed to negotiate my way down carefully. It was wild and bouncy and my bike was making all kinds of rattling noises but again I was very pleased to make it all the way to the road-head without falling off, albeit very much slower than the madcap people taking the descent at full throttle. It must be a hell of an adrenaline rush but if you came off you’d do yourself a really nasty one

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Once on the road its a very fast and steep descent all the way to valley bottom along peaceful wild-flower be-decked country lanes. A real blast. My route back to the car was along the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal. It was superb (and flat!) and gave an excellent last hours wind-down in more peaceful surroundings after the drama of the gap

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The canal has a small aqueduct over the river Usk

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This little bridge just after was picture perfect and I stopped for breather. Nice spot for a picnic I thought. More to follow in a later post

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From there it was an easy cruise along the tow-path. Wild flowers were abundant and the route busy with other cyclists and families enjoying a perfect spring day

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I think TBF would enjoy this part of the ride although definitely not the mountain section! I must fashion a route along the canal and back along the lanes of this quiet corner of the national park

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35km ride in total and a real classic – me, enjoying mountain biking, who’d have thought 🙂

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