Archive for the ‘Wild Camping’ Tag
I’ve been making promises to myself to get out and do more back packing and wild camping. I read lots of blogs and trip reports about cracking trips, mostly short to take advantage of quality weekend time but I never seem to get around to it. That’s all going to change. Armed with a new tent and after a rushed packing/eating session we’d eaten tea and were out walking in the Black Mountains by 6pm
It was great to be out after work. Less than two hours after shutting the lid on my work laptop at home I was on my way up the Cats Back ridge
As we raced up the sun went down
The light was spectacular and of course at this time on a Friday we had this most wonderful ridge to ourselves
We hurried on past the trig pillar on Black Hill towards our intended overnight stop
I’d had my eye on a spot a mile so beyond for several years. A small sheltered area of grass just off the path. Its always been dry but after the recent snowfall and heavy rain it was very soggy. We managed to get the tent up and settled inside just as it got dark.
Also had a new tent to play with. Since the demise of my Quasar I don’t have a two-person tent (other than my Lightwave which is really for 3 people and is pretty heavy). Bring on the Nigor Parula 2. I’m pretty impressed as it’s amazingly light for a two-person tent (around 1.8kg) and fits my needs for two porches and an ability to sit up in comfort. I’m still getting used to its pitching subtleties (especially the porches to stop them sagging) but so far so good. It did pass my first major test in that the very light and thin groundsheet was pitched on some seriously wet ground without any water ingress. I should however point out that seriously impressive tents are seriously expensive!
Not the driest or flattest pitch but we slept well through a cold night.
We woke the next morning to a frosty and damp tent and glorious sunshine
I left TJS to snooze while I wandered about to soak up the scene. I can almost see our village from the top but it felt a world away up here.
I smiled as abundantly as the sun shone, and settled down for a hearty and not very healthy breakfast of bacon butties and jaffa cakes. TJS joined me eventually and we savoured the morning and a long leisurely feast
Packed and ready for the off we considered our route. It was only a one night outing as I’d planned some cycling in the Peak District the following day. Originally we were just going out to Hay Bluff before returning to the car via a round of the Olchon Valley. As the weather was so grand we decided to extend the walk by taking in Lord Herefords Knob and heading back to the car via Capel y FFin
The high level path along to Hay Bluff was superb
The views from the summit over the Wye Valley to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain even better
We both seemed untroubled by the heavier packs than we’d use for a day walk and made swift and easy progress to the summit of LHK.
The views were still superb but there was a very keen and very cold wind so we didn’t linger. Rather than walk along the Darren Lwyd ridge, right into the wind we opted for the Nant Bwch valley for some shelter
Its a lovely valley with a series of small waterfalls and grassy patches for a lunch stop. Make a decent camp as well although its only a few minutes from the end of the road
The Vale of Ewyas is one of the finest valleys in the UK in my opinion. A walk along it or above it as always a pleasure especially on a warm sunny day. Spring really did feel in the air down here
The downside of the walk extension was having to climb up, over and down one of the Black Mountains main ridges. Sheltered from the wind it was a steep and sweaty climb. I was beginning to think I should have brought shorts
That changed swiftly as we reached the ridge. We were exposed to the wind and thoughts of shorts turned to thoughts of hats and gloves. It was bitterly cold and we had to move quickly to descend the other side to try and reach shelter from the next ridge
Ample compensation was provided in the views across the pastoral Herefordshire countryside and the ridge we’d walked the night before
One last steep descent and one last final climb back up to the car completed a very fine short overnight adventure.
TJS hasn’t been out much recently and he really seemed to enjoy the trip and the long walk in the sunshine. He’s badly out of shape though and was stiff for the next day or so and struggling to keep up with the old man on the ascents. He does take over on the downhill bits but I have my bad knees excuse for that
First part of adventurous weekend for me. More two-wheeled outdoor action planned for the Sunday
The annual summer backpacking trip for me, TBF and TJS is now a firm fixture in the calendar. We’ve done a couple of trips to the Moelwyns and one to fight with the tussocks in the Elan Valley. I had grand plans this year for a high level tour of the Carneddau but a poor weather forecast for Saturday night put pay to that idea. As Friday evening and Saturday sounded ok it seemed prudent to make good use of that rather than spend hours driving. To that end and with TJF safely in the care of my Mum and Dad we were to be found packing up just before 8pm on the lonely mountain road to the east of the Black Mountain. Our plan was to camp up at Llyn y Fan Fawr a short walk from the car and then take things from there
There were dark stormy clouds scudding across the summits fringed and illuminated by low shafts of sunlight, as we hurried up the boggy slopes to the tarn.
It’s a stunning lake nestled beneath the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog.
There are plenty of reasonable pitches around the lake but I had my on a particular spot. In an idle few minutes before we left home, I’d done a You Tube search for wild camping spots in the Black Mountain and found a rather charming video of a young family camping on a small elevated grassy terrace just above the lakes NW corner. It was a perfect spot, flat and dry with a stunning view across the Lake. We had time to pitch up and take in the scene with a cuppa before turning in.
Next morning was pretty much unchanged weather-wise, dark clouds with occasional shafts of blue sky and sunshine. I tried to pretend that it was summer and that it was warm enough to breakfast outside the tent. I was alone. I took the sociable and sensible decision to fry up indoors and admire the view from the tent window.
The only downside of the lake is that it lacks a reliable source of running water. Time to try out a new investment, my Sawyer Mini-Works Water Filter. What an outstanding piece of kit. A filter about the size of a box of smarties and a small water pouch. Fill the pouch with water, screw in the filter, squeeze and you have clean clear water. It weighs next to nothing and the screw top fits most plastic drinks bottles and it also has a straw for sucking water out of manky pools. To be honest I had no issue with drinking the water straight from the lake – it’s large, deep and clear but no sense in having toys and not playing with them. I’ve seen several glowing reviews including a couple of wins in a “gear of the year” type of thing when up against more glamorous and expensive bits of kit. Its well deserved at only £20. It lives in my rucksack now so I can always get a drink as long as there is standing water somewhere which in the UK is not hard. Apart from the fact it takes a while to filter water for 3 people I can’t fault it. Well worth a purchase and carrying one around in the mountains if you’re out of water or have worries about your water source
Back to the main order of the day. TBF was keen to stay and certainly it was a fine spot. However both TJS and me wanted a proper backpack so we packed up and pressed on. With a forecast of improving weather later in the day we took the path that skirts under the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog, Fan Foel and Bannau Sir Gaer around to Lyn y Fan Fach.
It’s one of my favourite walks, easy-going grassy paths with expansive views to the east and north, looming grassy crags above and glimpses of these two jewelled tarns at either end. Blue sky became more prevalent and despite having a mammoth breakfast TJS insisted we needed a lunch stop at the lake despite having not climbed anything and only been walking for a little over an hour.
Still plentiful stops on a walk is a good thing and despite the occasional spots of rain the weather seemed set fair. The short steep climb up to the edges seemed a breeze as both me and TJS savoured the light packs – light when compared to the outsize packs we hauled into Lochaber over Easter anyway
The walk along the edges and back to the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer is a delight, Lyn y Fan Fach glistening below. It was windy – as it seems to have been all year – but the sun was warm but the effort to reach the summit seemed minimal.
From there we decided that rather than take in the rest of the edges we’d head south to find a spot to camp. Relaxation in fine surroundings is as important as clocking up miles and summits after all. When I explored this area a couple of years back with TJS we’d passed through the limestone area around Pwll y Cig. Not only did it look fascinating there also seemed to be littered with great wild camping spots albeit with limited water as the stream disappears into the limestone holes beneath. We carved a route across Carnau Gwys and down to the Afon Gledd.
I’d also thought that we might pitch up by the river before it vanished. This seemed unlikely as most of the ground by the water had been claimed by tussocks. Then as if by magic we came to one spot with level lush grass and wild flowers and we’d found our home.
Wraps and tea energised us for making the place home, this time with cold running water.
To work up an appetite for tea we took a stroll downstream to explore Pwll y Cig and the surrounding hills. Right on cue the water slowly runs to a trickle and then disappears into a chaos of stones. The valley beyond twists and turns through a shallow limestone gorge, a perfect dry valley. The grassy patches between the bends are all perfect for wild camping except for the fact that there is just a river of stones instead of a river of water. It’s really quite surreal.
I’d say that water was flowing through here relatively recently (in geological terms anyway). As you reach the end you realise the valley is blind with nowhere for the water to have gone. Except underground that is. You can clearly see the hole where the water would have gone. You tend to forget until you walk these hills that there is a very significant swathe of limestone upland in South Wales, home to very significant cave systems.
We then walked through a land pocked with sink holes on the climb towards Disgwylfa. It looks like the whole area is about to collapse and reveal some huge hidden cavern just below the surface. Luckily not today and we arrived at the summit without further incident.
The views from the top were magnificent revealing an expanse of wild, untamed land that must see few footprints. It’s superb and well worth a wander if you like your walks quiet with a sense of space rather than epic grandeur.
Back to the tent for a lazy meal and the general pottering about that I love about a camping spot in the mountains. There is a peace and simplicity to this kind of life that’s hard to beat although secretly, a cold bottle of Becks would make it perfect. We stayed up late to watch the last of the evening light conscious that there was bad weather on the way.
Overnight it arrived, heavy rain and strong winds that battered the tent so we enjoyed a snug and cosy lie in (except for the inevitable comfort breaks in the rain that come with middle age for me and TBF).
We stayed in as long as we could but eventually we had to pack up as we had a couple of hours to walk out and to be honest I was a bit worried about finding the col seeing as we were already in the cloud. As I started throwing stuff out the tent door the rain stopped and within 30 minutes the cloud had lifted and patches of blue were appearing. Perfect timing.
The clearer skies and scudding clouds were a real surprise and after an hour of walking there was abundant sunshine
Rather than just walk out over the col I convinced the other two that a bit of off piste to pick up the far end of the Fan Hir edge would make a much more satisfying finish to the day. TBF is not a big fan of off piste with a pack. Being somewhat vertically challenged she often loses her balance so prefers paths to tusssocks (don’t we all).
Still the long edge is a superb and easy stroll and it did indeed make for a fitting finale to the weekend.
It was especially pleasing to finish with views down over our first night’s stay to Llyn y Fan Fawr, now firmly established as my favourite lake in the UK. Under a clear blue sky it has a magic and perfection that’s beyond enchanting.
I’ve had so many good times in its company and it bade us farewell as we lunched above its shores before heading back to the car. 15 miles of proper backpacking under our hip-belts
A fine weekend in a range of mountains that rewards the dedicated walker and backpacker with majestic edges and austere charm.
We’d had our big day in the sun and after 4 days in the mountains it was time to head home. There are only 3 or 4 trains a day from Corrour so we were up early to make sure we didn’t miss the lunchtime one and have to wait another 6 hours for the evening train. Entertainment is somewhat limited at Corrour. We had some grand ideas about walking out over the Loch Treig hills but we had a long journey home and work the next day – and the packs were still heavy enough even having eaten most of the food. Time to pack up and haul the packs onto tired bodies and off to catch a train
It was an uneventful walk, returning firstly, again back along the riverside path to Loch Treig
From there it’s a bit of long grind along the track by the lake-shore and back to the station. The cloud was down on the summits but the air was still and the reflections of the mountains in the calm waters of Loch Treig enchanting
As we made progress along the track the cloud made progress away from the summits and all became clearer
It was turning into a pretty fine day for our walk out.
The power or water company are doing some kind of work on the Allt a Chamabhreac for the Loch Ossian Estate and there is now a well made road heading up to the station. It climbs much higher and was much steeper than I’d thought and I found it a bit of grind under the heavy pack with my big mountain boots on. TJS now seemed to be more at ease with the pack and was keeping pace with GM, no mean feat, while I dragged my heels at the back.
As we climbed the views improved and as the road cuts under the railway line and heads away into the estate we were able to pick up a more foot friendly path to the station
We stopped for a bite and took a look at Leum Uilleam, our summit from 4 days ago. The transformation was dramatic. I think these two photos taken 4 days apart told the story
The walk to the station was really rather enjoyable. The streams and rivers gave a soundtrack and there were numerous places to camp. With hindsight, I’d have just walked down here from the train and pitched up for a night, claiming Leum Uilleam without the packs or the cross-country bog trotting of the first day. Still, having had a superb 5 days I wasn’t about to pick apart what we’d done and chose to celebrate in my mind a tremendous trip full of great experiences and great walking.
All that remained was the last mile or so to Corrour, approaching from the north really gives a sense of how remote and bleak a place it is for a train station and the sign reminds you of the altitude
We arrived with an hour to spare and spent a lazy time massaging sore feet and reflecting on our adventures. As the train rolled in, Stob Coire Easain, our Munro from the previous day, finally emerged from the cloud to bid us farewell
It had been an amazing and at times pretty tough adventure but so rewarding especially for TJS. I think we have a new regular for the Easter trip 🙂
A flicker of bright light caught my eye as I stirred, followed by the sound of zips and a “blam!” from GM. I was outside in a flash and this was the scene that welcomed me into the day
Nothing finer than a wild camp and sunny clear morning, especially after a couple of days under grey skies. It was perishingly cold but you just can’t waste a scene like this. I ate my breakfast outside while GM and TJS cowered in the tents. The views were just sensational
A low mist hung over the valley and the low sunlight highlighted the browns of the heather and the streaks of snow
What really attracted the attention was Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag framed perfectly between the valley sides. We’d been here for two days and had no idea they were there. Whilst not exactly a surprise to find them there it was beguiling to suddenly find them filling the view. They continued to be focus of my attention while around the tent
We packed up and were off before 9, the sun warming the day by the second and making the trudge back down to Loch Treig a little lighter.
Such was the increasing warmth that we paused at the bridge over the Abhainn Rath to de-layer – thermals were not needed.
Then the hard work began. After a brief chat with a guy who seemed to be living off-grid for several months, in a tent by the derelict Creaguaineach Lodge we headed around the edge of the loch and began the long climb.
This was to be TJS first real experience of heavy Scottish conditions, no path’s here to tame the heather and grass. We aimed directly up Creagan a Chaise, 450m of steep heather. Whilst the climb taxed the legs, the views pulled us upwards. Close at hand the small peak of Creag Ghuanach was magnificent, further afield the Mamores dominated the view west.
Binnein Beag in particular, with its perfect cone caught the eye, more so than it’s much higher more dominant neighbours.
As we gained height the full spread of the Southern Highlands were revealed, contrasted by the glass smooth Loch Treig. All the while the warm sun and clear skies made it pretty much the perfect day. I kept reminding TJS that he was lucky to be out in the middle of the Scottish mountains on such a stunning day and he should savour this one
We took an early lunch basking on the rocks near the summit, soaking up nourishment, sun, and views in equal measure. I could have sat there all day to be honest but there was a summit to be bagged and we were only halfway up.
We skirted around the summit trying to find the line of least resistance to the Moine na Gaibhre. It’s a really rather nice area of rock slabs and outcrops and grassy terraces, a perfect place for a high level wild camp.
Once across the boggy peat around the small tarn our next objective was to reach the south ridge of Stob Coire Easain, still 150m above us. The ground was steep and the thawing snow deep and wet. We managed to pick a way through, avoiding the worst of the snow but still managing to get bogged down from time to time.
Once up on the ridge the going always seems easier and with the goal in sight we picked up the pace. Coire Easain Mor was just a wall of perfect snow that looked primed and ready to slide off into Loch Treig.
There were massive cornices to be steered away from as we hit the snow slopes that drew us up to the summit. GM and TJS seemed to have summit fever as they left me trailing on the final slopes that seemed to go on forever.
Finally, after a long climb (long mostly as we’d been savouring the day as we should) we reached the top and TJS had his first Munro.
Despite being an Easter weekend and the mountain being relatively accessible we had the place to ourselves. We had a full spread from Southern Highlands through Glencoe to the North West Highland beyond the Great Glen. East was Ben Alder and the Cairngorms.
Schiehallion as always from this direction looked pointy, rather than its real whale-backed shaped, the most false-summitted mountain in the world I seem to remember from when I climbed it
As always on a such a grand day it’s tough to drag yourself away. We returned along the ridge and to vary the route a little we headed down the western slopes towards the Allt na Lairige.
I preferred the long runs of deep wet snow for rapid and cushioned progress, benefitting from having over-boot gaiters to keep my feet dry. This killed about half the descent in a matter of minutes. To celebrate we stopped and had second lunch by a cool and refreshing snow-melt stream. Me and TJS felt the benefit of our load from the first two days as we feasted on wraps filled with salami, cheese and chutney.
GM had oatcakes. He protests (a little too much if you ask me) at how fine they are but to me they are truly the driest and blandest creation. He once convinced me to use them as the basis for my lunch on a backpacking trip. I was hungry most of the time and often wished I’d just eaten the packet. Such was the barrage of sarcasm and gloating that he received as we tucked in he could take it no more and headed back down although I did offer him some pork pie as a peace-offering. It seemed to do the trick as he had a brew ready when we got back
The descent from there was easy and trouble-free and the Allt na Lairige a splendid valley full of wild camping potential.
There was a small sting in the tail as the river plunges into a deep ravine before it enters Loch Treig giving you a surprising and unwelcome 200 feet of ascent that wasn’t needed. We were tired and heavy legged as we returned to base camp after a top drawer day. We have been so lucky that the past three Easter trips have delivered so many awesome days. I’m not sure when I’m going to pay for it
We had a long relaxing lie on the grass and many brews of tea to recuperate and recover and were able to eat or evening meal outside in the watery sunshine.
There had been a bank of heavy cirrus cloud that drifted over us when we returned to camp but as the sun set the skies cleared again and treated us to a magnificent sunset. The colours deepened and intensified as the sun went down.
Then the remaining wisps of cloud went pink and red before the skies darkened on a magnificent day.
There was just time for the ritual burning of the rubbish into a less messy and more manageable quantity.
No wood unfortunately to get a proper fire going but meths made an acceptable substitute.
Second day of our Easter adventures was a total contrast. Blue skies and clear bold sunshine was replaced with leaden grey skies and a persistent rain. It had rained all night and a continuation led to an indoor breakfast. We finally emerged late morning as the rain stopped into a landscape drained of colour.
We pithered and pottered about the vicinity unsure what to do. We were still a little tired after the previous days exploits and as even the lower summits were smothered there seemed little point in any kind of hill climb.
After a leisurely lunch we perused options and decided to move on. Whilst a pleasant enough spot the campsite wasn’t what we had in mind and wasn’t well placed for what we’d planned. I still really wanted to see the valley around Staoineag bothy so we hoisted the still rather too heavy packs and pushed on
It’s only a short walk with no climbing but it was still hard work, not helped by the intermittent drizzle that kept falling. We decided on the path along the south side of the Abhainn Rath, a fairly mighty river. A somewhat sketchy and infuriating path but even on a grey day a fine stretch of Scottish valley.
We passed by the deserted bothy, quite a fine one, but no-one was around and no-one had made an entry in the book for a couple of weeks. Despite its remoteness I was sure it was a well-known and popular bothy and was surprised that even on an Easter weekend we saw no-one this day or any other indulging in its charms. TJS was curious to see his first bothy up close and seemed to agree with me that they can appear rather gloomy and depressing. We had planned on walking a couple of km up-river from the bothy but a few hundred yards beyond seemed far enough and we found a rather splendid spot by the river. There are any number of cracking riverside spots along this stretch on both sides of the river but the one that allowed us to drop the packs at the earliest opportunity seemed the best one.
We were soon pitched up, again in more drizzle, with the sight and sound of a roaring waterfall on the river our companion for the next 3 nights. More rain forced us to cook inside and, well, that was that for the second day. We hoped for better the next day
It was, but only marginally. The cloud had lifted a bit and the rain had stopped but it was still generally grey. Having achieved GM’s objective (Leum Uilleim) now it was my turn and we headed off up the valley towards Sgurr Eilde Mor, the only one of the mighty Mamores ridge I’ve not done. I have a fondness for these majestic range of mountains and not just because their name means mammaries! 🙂 One of the best ridges on the mainland with an array of massive peaks and narrow twisting ridges
We’d only gone a few hundred meters when we hit our first problem. The Allt Gleann na Giubhsachan doesn’t look like much on the map but it was wide and deep enough to need a substantial wade which none of us fancied. One look up at the hills that were white 2 days ago and now merely streaked white highlighted the blindingly obvious point that there was a thaw in progress and the rivers were full of snowmelt. We wandered up the eastern bank looking for somewhere to cross but it became obvious we weren’t going to cross it.
Where the river was wide and slow it was still enough to be a least a knee-deep wade. Where it was narrow enough to consider a salmon-leap the penalties for a mistake were serious. It was clear any progress further west was out of the question and my Munro bagging had gone for the weekend. Had we realised we could have easily chosen to walk up and camp on the northern side of the Abhainn Rath and stood a chance of progress west. Too late now though so a new plan was needed. (There are stepping stones at Staoineag, but they were deep underwater and must only be exposed in the driest of conditions – a contradiction in terms in the Highlands!)
Luckily there was a Corbett within reach, the remote and lofty Glas Bheinn. Even so we still had travel pretty much to the source of the river near the watershed before we could cross it, GM daringly, me and TJS a little more cautiously.
The higher corries appeared momentarily from the gloom giving a glimmer of hope for better weather and the river valley was wild, remote and rather splendid. Sometimes you can extract enjoyment just exploring a valley the probably sees almost no human traffic.
After a brief lunch we made a direct line up the slopes to the summit ridge and then pressed on to the top. It was cold, damp and cloudy up there and the snow was deep, wet and tiresome.
We lingered no more than a minute on the summit before heading straight back down, pleased to have made a decent summit on such a day.
As we returned to our point of ascent the cloud started to break and we got some tantalising glimpses of mountains and the wild remote moors and lakes of Rannoch Moor and Blackwater Reservoir. There was even some sunshine and the air seemed to dry out while we watched. The snow was even worse on the descent and snow melt was filling every gully with water. TJS was getting his first experience of truly wet feet, anything he’d experienced before but a mere damp rag compared to the proper slosh of a boot exposed to Scottish bog and melting snow.
GM left us behind, hopefully to get the brew on (which he did, bless him) and me and TJS ambled down at our own pace. In fact TJS put on a bit of burst near the end and left me trailing in his wake. All the time the weather was improving and there were even some patches of blue. He’d gone a little quiet and I think he was disappointed that his first Munro seemed unlikely now that the melting snow had cut off our planned objectives in the Mamore or the Grey Corries
It had been a pretty good day.
We had the first chance to enjoy our chosen site. It was a rather grand spot and we were pleased with our choice and relaxed into wild campsite slumming about
It was chilly enough to want to eat inside the tent though. When we emerged again, the light dimmed and the sun weakly appeared. We were treated to a show of cloud billowing over Glas Bheinn and fleeting glimpses of the surrounding and smaller hills. A fitting finale
Our mood and enthusiasm brightened considerably. Nothing like a calm evening out in the wilds with a cuppa and a fruit pie. TJS mood was even more brightened when GM gave us a plan for the next day. The Easains above Loch Treig were in reach for some Munro bagging providing we didn’t mind the out and back down to Loch Treig again the way we’d walked in. A hefty old day as they top out over 1100m but well within reach. I’d forgotten they were there to be honest such was my desire to bag the ridges further west. Now we had a plan for the next day and the hope of a further improvement in the weather to send us away to bed
Now here’s a first. Writing up a trip within a few days of completing it!
Our backpacking trip to Scotland over the Easter weekend has become a regular and much planned outing since 2009. Thanks to GM and his photos you also have the pleasure of seeing me in action over the next few posts!
This year we had a new member of the team
TJS is pretty experienced now in terms of his walks in Wales. However he has never been to Scotland and I’ve been promising to take him. This year seemed like a good time to move him on to the next level. He was just back from a long weekend on the Brecon Beacons Way with TBF in some wild, wet and stormy weather. They did some long days and clocked up some decent miles. However walking on marked paths and staying in hotels, B&Bs and Bunkhouses is a world away from the Scottish Highlands in a tent. The challenge was added to by the fact that Scotland was still in the grip of winter so conditions would be even more challenging. Added to that, we were out for 5 days and needing to carry extra food, extra clothes and ice axe and crampons. This made for a very heavy pack probably in excess of 50lbs for me and GM. With this in mind, where did we plan to take TJS for his first Scottish adventure? The most dense collection of high mountains in the UK in Lochaber!
The trip had the added bonus of kicking off with a train ride.
Our route was based on a start and finish at Corrour Station giving us a nice hour to chill out and enjoy the ride from Crianlarich. The weather in preceding few days had been appalling but today it was glorious. Blue skies and snow-capped peaks. The train ride was spectacular with the Southern Highlands looking majestic and a little daunting for TJS.
We arrived at Corrour and found snow lying right down at the station and on the platform. I’d expected snow but not this low down. Daunting indeed. Corrour is an amazing place to exit a train. Right in the middle of the mountains with not a metalled road for miles. As the train disappears into the distance you feel abandoned and committed. I felt daunted too!
We hoisted packs and set off into the mountains. Our plan was to backpack over the very isolated and fine Corbett of Leum Uilleim. Immediately we were in deep unconsolidated and untrodden snow.
The views were magnificent but the going tough. By the time we’d plodded up to the NE ridge at An Diollaid we were already feeling the strain.
I hadn’t expected either this much sunshine or snow and had neglected to bring either sunglasses or suncream. Schoolboy error. For this reason we were sunburnt and squinting for most of the day. We abandoned the sacks and walked out and back to the summit. It’s a mighty fine ridge but a very long way around Coir’ a’ Bhric Beag (and back again!) but the conditions were superb. Nothing finer than walking on snow in the Scottish Highlands under a blue sky. We told TJS just how lucky he was to have this on his first day. He seemed much happier without the burden of a heavy pack. He seemed especially pleased to catch his first view of Ben Nevis, looking mighty and magnificent in its winter garb next to Aonach Beag
As we climbed the views become better and better, especially fine back east toward Loch Ossian and Ben Alder
The snow cover was immense, huge fields of deep snow, hard going in places as you plopped through the crust from time to time. Both me and GM kept thinking how perfect the conditions were for ski touring!
We stopped briefly at the summit for a snack and pressed on back to collect the snacks. TJS was pleased to reach his first Scottish summit but still despite all his walking exploits he was still yet to reach a 3000 foot summit anywhere in the UK
The cloud was beginning to thicken but the weather was still grand and the return down the ridge was equally fine.
We reached the packs, scoffed some more food and headed off. We had a plan to camp near Staoineag bothy and headed off to cut the corner off cross-country.
The snow was thawing and crossing slushy snow-covered Scottish bog with a heavy pack was no fun. TJS was in particular finding it tough. He’s only ever backpacked in summer before, a single night with a couple of days food, lightweight sleeping bag and minimal clothing. Even though me and GM were carrying the bulk of the weight his pack was still an order of magnitude heavier than he’s ever carried before and he was clearly suffering. To be honest so were me and GM. I had a new pack (A Granite Gear Nimbus Trace if you’re interested) and even though it’s substantially lighter than my old one it doesn’t help when you fill it with heavy stuff. Still, the snow-capped mountain views kept our spirits up.
By the time we’d dropped down into Gleann Iolairean we were spent. It’s a soggy valley, albeit a nice one with a grand view down Loch Treig, but GM found an elevated patch of bracken that was reasonably dry. It was good enough and after re-enacting our own version of the Highland Clearances we were pitched. I’ve never enjoyed a brew as much as I did at that point!
The relief at dropping the sack was palpable. Despite the glorious weather the tough conditions and created a little tension that was all let go as we settled in. It had been a long day. Only 8 miles but with heavy packs, deep snow and no paths, that’s tough in my book
The weather was clearly on the turn but the views and the situation were still superb. Nothing finer than a good pitch out in the wilds with what feels like the whole of the mountains to yourself. We set about the important task of reducing the pack weights by eating the food. I’m not into the whole ultra-lightweight backpacking obsession although this trip was testing that reluctance severely. It’s only when you take the pack off, open it up, and realise that your reward for that pain and effort is food, nice food and lots of it that it makes it seen worthwhile. We ate like wild camping kings with fresh chicken and noodle stir fry followed by Jaffa Cakes and Tebay Fruit Pies (well worth a detour off the motorway for) washed down with plenty more tea and hot chocolate
Bellies full and with tired bodies we turned in. We weren’t hopeful on the weather and indeed it was raining before we fell asleep. On these trips though you take every day in turn and this had been a great one. We’d had a ride on the train, basked in the sunshine, climbed a summit, walked in the snow, had majestic views, found a decent campsite and were set up warm, cosy and dry in the tent. Whatever the next few days were to bring we had at least one glorious day. Scotland has a habit of kicking you up the ar5e when you think everything is going your way and the steady rain that lulled us to sleep was a reminder of that
Amongst a growing list of regular calendar trips is our July Backpacking trip. Last year in the Moelwyns was a classic but this year we wanted somewhere different. The weather was mixed so we decided on somewhere closer to home. I have a real fondness for the hills to the south of the Elan Valley so the plan was made. TJF was dumped with the grandparents to go birthday shopping. It was just me and Funster/Sherpa trio
After a late and leisurely bit of packing we headed past the reservoirs, parked up and were on our way
The weather was mixed, sunshine with some dark clouds that seemed to be saying rain was coming. Despite some dark clouds from time to time we stayed dry all weekend.
The Rhiwnant Valley has become a firm favourite of mine and even with the heavy packs it was a delightful amble into it’s deserted inner reaches.
The pool at the bottom of the falls of Nany y Carew is an obvious and stunning spot for a lengthy lunch break although the pool was a little murkier than the previous visits. It was too blustery and cool for a swim anyway
We pressed on and I had in mind to camp by the upper reaches of the stream. When I’d walked this way with TJS in the winter I recalled several spots to camp. In the height of the summer however, bracken is king and everything that was once grass was now ferns. Time for plan B and I reckoned we could probably find a flattish spot up on Carreg Yr Ast or Dygarn Fawr although we’d have to walk to get water.
The summit of Carreg Yr Ast is a very fine one and seemed to fit my personal requirement for lofty and extensive views from a summer wild camp. After a bit of wandering I found the perfect spot just to the east of the summit, dry spongy grass with ample rocks for sitting. TBF went off to get water while me and TJS – well me mainly – put the tent up.
It was a great site, one of the best I’ve found. The weather had been steadily improving and the views were sensational. A few midges were about but in nothing too troublesome. We brewed up and soaked it all in, pleased that the lack of sites down by the river had forced our hand into a far better spot.
Either before or after dinner (I really don’t remember which) we went off for a stroll to Drygarn Fawr and it’s beehive stone cairns. You can see the tent in the centre of the photos below
The clouds on the horizon still looked threatening but I was sure they would pass us by as they did.
After returning to the tent and having a brew and cake (and possibly our evening meal – who knows) we chilled in the summer mountain air
I took off down the hill to get some more water figuring the Nant Yr Ych was closer than the Nant Yr Ast. It was, but it had been very cleverly protected with massed ranks of waist high tussocks. I found the stream when I fell into it after a battle with a particularly large and menacing tussock
We settled down to watch the sunset which was magnificent. A grandstand finale to the day and a fitting send off for a long nights sleep.
We woke the next morning to a stunner of day. Pretty much cloudless but with enough wind to keep things cools and the midges at bay.
Bacon sandwiches were made and consumed with relish (well ketchup actually – see what I did there) and we broke camp – very slowly for it was a fine day – ready for some real wilderness walking.
I’d had idea we could walk all around the watershed, dropping into the Afon Arban and on to the Claerwen Dam to make a really good circuit. I had no idea how rough the terrain would be but I hoped that the faint path that follows the boundary marker stones would persist all the way leaving us with a short walk across to the river valley. An excellent plan that very nearly paid off.
We retraced our steps to Drygarn Fawr in sunshine and a keen wind. It was clear from the summit that the faint path was there and we followed it through the grass, tussocks and dried peat hags with ease.
We praised our good fortune for the dry summer. As we turned north along Drum Yr Eira the going became a little more tricky with constant weaving about to keep to the best line. When in doubt and just when an easy route seemed out, the marker stones would appear along with another faint path and we linked these together to make a splendid, long traverse across this stunning wilderness to Cerrig Llwyd Yr Rhestr were took a break for some sustenance.
I checked the map and all we had top do was to cross to Drum Dagwylltion and then descend a few hundred metres to the valley of the Nant Yr Lau where the river would deliver us an easy descent. The Wilderness fought back. The marker stones disappeared as did any traces of path and the grass and tussocks got deeper. We tried to traverse around the head of the valley but the tussocks were immense – or so we thought. We decided to head directly down to the stream figuring that would be the easiest route. It was torture. It was a few hundred meters but these were man sized tussocks – I’m not kidding. They were at least 5 feet high and several times I completely lost sight of my feet and pitched forward onto my face. As you can tell, photos were not a priority!
We reached the stream with a sigh of relief, took a drink of clear cold water and pressed on, relieved that the worst was over. It was a cruel deception
The valley was stunning with the stream twisting and turning amongst the rocks. Trouble was the bed was narrow and filled with passages of loose scree, bracken and worst of all, huge waterfalls of more boggy tussocks cascading down to the stream with no way around them. It was more torture and I could see that my feigned and forced enthusiasm for how grand the valley was to look at, if not walk through, was not rubbing off on the others. They were grim faced and had clearly had enough. In a stroke of inspiration I crossed the stream, bashed up through a bit of dense and steep bracken and found a path. It took us easily and swiftly down to the Afon Arban (past some rather good looking wild campsites for future reference)
We stopped by a stunning piece of river estate and took a long rest, bathed our tired feet in the cool water and scoffed most of the food we had left. We’d really earned that!
From there it was glorious stroll down this rather stunning valley on a path! We passed several spots in the small gorge at the bottom that would be ideal for a summer picnic and swim.
The Clarewen Dam looked stunning in the afternoon sun
The walk along the old road above the Afon Claerwen was excellent although much longer than I thought. After a hard day on tough terrain we are all feeling the strain and we reached the car with something of a sigh of relief.
It had been a superb outing. These hills lack drama, crags and pinnacled summits but they are lonely, austere, full of small hidden charms and delights, some truly wild and expansive scenery and really tough and challenging walking terrain. I love them and hope that the tale and the photos inspire you make the effort to go out and explore them. You won’t be disappointed and you will most likely have them largely to yourselves. I’ve been up here four times now and other than the car parks and the environs rarely seen a soul.