Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011 - The Year of No Wild Camps

I aim to keep this brief - from a backpacking point of view 2011 was indeed the year of no wild camps.  Not one!

I got out into the hills a bit, and went for a few local walks but wild camps were a-none. Some of the walks have been posted on this blog and you may have already read them.  My youngest son Ashley was born in January, when my eldest daughter Hope was just 20 months old.  To leave my wife with these little ones, and to leave them too, has been difficult and would have been more selfish than my conscience would allow.  Not to mention the fact that the funds required for a weekend of free-of-charge walking are increasing with every percentage point the chancellor slapped on a couple of pints of diesel.

I managed to get a myself involved in a charity walk around the Yorkshire Three Peaks which was a challenge for sure, but not so much so as it might have been a decade ago.  The event itself repulsed me but I had a view to get my two good pals - soon to be first-time parents - into the hills a couple of times before the wee one was to arrive.  It worked, and I hope that it won't be too long before they are all back on the trail, big-wheeled buggy in tow.  No wilderness night under silnylon here.

And I got up to Cumbria to help Den finish off his Wainwright round in September too.  That was a couple of brief dashes on a very wet weekend which although satisfying, and salubrious, and a tad drunken, didn't involve any camping in the hills.

Many a local (for local, read East Anglian) walk was enjoyed, long mornings in the field margins, bridleways and studlands.  Many a prime stealthy overnight spot was surveyed.  None were used.  I arrived home after each, refreshed and wonderfully tired, as every walk I take leaves me, but my still became low, and today I think I reached the valley bottom.  

The period of Christmas soaked through me and dripped out the other side, most of it I enjoyed and the rest I endured.  The lack of outdoors time had me selfishly grumpy.  Itchy.  Tetchy.  Unpalatable.

My wife came to the rescue today.  She gave me the most fantastic gift that the whole of the festive season failed to provide.  4 passes for overnighters leading up to TGO Challenge 2012.

About 18 months ago I began reading about TGO Challenge, and after a time, the gravitational pull of the associated blogosphere and mostly the compulsion created by Bob Cartwright, Andy Howell and Shirley Worral on their podcasts had me posting my application the moment it landed on my doorstep.  I got number 17 on the standby list, and in a week or so I will find out if that number has reduced.

I am assured that this number will reduce sufficiently so as to ensure a place on the Challenge and I am planning as if it were so, as you will have seen if you follow my post both here, on Twitter and occasionally on the Challenge message board.

In her gift, my wife has provided the liberation of days and nights outdoors.  One in Jan, One in Feb, One in March and One in April.  Each will involve at least a single night in the cocoon of my Tarptent and grant me the tiny fix of the wilds that I have discovered I need to remain buoyant in spirit.  Doug Scott could not have put it more eloquently when he was asked why he climbed 'because I get grumpy when I don't'.  What a lucky boy I am!

So, out with the old.  2011 - The Year of No Wild Camps.  And in with the New.  2012 - The Year of the Challenge.  

I'll leave you with a couple of photos which bring back fond memories of 2011 as it seems is customary among similar pages.  I hope you like them, and I look forward to seeing you on the hills this year, and maybe on the Challenge too.  

The Langdale Pikes from Blea Tarn
Enroute to Buttermere - Rannerdale Knotts in the middle-distance
And one of my favourites from 2010 as well - I couldn't resist.  Happy New Year!!!

2010 - My pal Den climbing up Allt Clach nan Taillear in July!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


TGO Challenge Kit List laid out - awaiting judgement.
Following a few comments on my previous post, here is my kitlist for your scrutinous pleasure.  This is for day one with 6 days of grub in it.  In fairness I probably wont need to carry it all on day one, but that's where you lot come in.

Be kind, be humourous, and if you can be helpful at the same time, so much the better!

Category Item Weight (g)
Baselayer Technicals L/S Baselayer 210
Baselayer Baggie 15
Communication Nokia 1616 Mobile 75
Cooking Trangia 1l Kettle 175
Cooking Lifeventure Titanium Mug 60
Cooking Long Handled Spoon 15
Cooking MSR Pocket Rocket 75
Cooking Matches & Lighter 20
Cooking Gas Cart 500
Cooking Sea to Summit Baggie 25
First Aid First Aid Kit 90
First Aid Painkillers and Anti Diarrhoea 80
Food Be-well Exped Main Meal 180
Food Be-well Exped Main Meal 180
Food Be-well Exped Main Meal 180
Food Be-well Exped Main Meal 180
Food Be-well Exped Main Meal 180
Food Be-well Exped Main Meal 180
Food Be-well Exped Dessert 130
Food Be-well Exped Dessert 130
Food Wayfayrer Dessert 200
Food Wayfayrer Dessert 200
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Be-Well ChocChip Flapjack 115
Food Smash Packet 175
Food Smash in Clip Top Container 175
Food Beef Jerky 100
Gloves Karrimor Gloves 50
Gloves Trekmates Silk Liner Gloves 25
Headgear Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap GTX 75
Headgear 2 x BUFF 75
Hydration 2ltr pop bottle 50
Hydration 2ltr platy 30
Hydration 2l water 2000
Hygiene MSR Pack Towel 30
Hygiene Nivea 4 Men Cool Kick 35ml Antiperspirant 35
Hygiene Small Bottle of Lifeventure All Purpose Soap 35
Hygiene Sunscreen 30SPF 25
Hygiene Smidge 75ml 85
Hygiene Loo roll 30
Hygiene Wet Wipes 45
Hygiene Kitchen Roll (10 Sheets) 15
Hygiene Sea to Summit Baggie 20
Insulation PHD Yukon Jacket 550
Insulation Montane Chuckchi Microfleece 230
Navigation Silva Expedition 4 Compass 45
Navigation Garmin Geko 201 (inc case) 110
Navigation Printed OS sheets in plastic case 320
Navigation Moleskine Notepad (Navigation Notes) 40
Odds & Sods Length of Dyneema 25
Odds & Sods Alpkit Carabiner (for the dyneema) 15
Odds & Sods Baladeo 22g Pocket Knife 22
Odds & Sods Spare Lighter 15
Odds & Sods Front Door Key 25
Odds & Sods Wallet & Cash 100
Outer Shell Mountain Hardwear Paclite Trousers 300
Outer Shell Mountain Equipment Changabang XCR 625
Power & Light 6xAAA Lithium Batteries & 3 x CR2032 65
Power & Light Petzl eLite 25
Power & Light DSL Mini Alu Light 10
Power & Light Spare Mobile Battery 20
Reading Kindle (inc protective case) 340
Rucksack MACPAC Pursuit Classic (Size 3) 1900
Shelter Tarptent Moment (including 4xAlpkit Spike Pegs) 1040
Sleeping Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Thermo 6 575
Sleeping Golite Ultralite 3-season Quilt 700
Trekking Fizan Compact Ultralight Poles 335
Trousers Pair of Running Leggings 225
Trousers Pair of Running Leggings 225
Trousers Baggie 15
Underwear Tilley Underpants 45
Underwear Bridgedale Hiker Socks 110
Underwear bridgedale Hiker Socks 110
Underwear Helly Hansen Baselayer 130
Underwear Baggie 15
Writing Moleskine Notepad (journal) 40
Writing Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.1 15
Writing Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.1 15
Writing Baggie 10

Food 6-days 3340
Water Max Carried 2000

F & W Total

Base Weight

Now awaiting critique..............

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

18.... ....14.3.... ....150

I went on a walk today. 

Last night I packed up my rucksack with everything.  That's it - everything that I planned to take on TGOC 2012 with me.  I weighed it and no matter how many ways I hung it from the luggage scales it was HEAVY - 18kg!

18 is just a number after all so I thought it best to test the number on the trail.  So I got my walking machine pal Den out of his box, dusted him off and we headed into the East Anglian countryside once more.  Day one on the challenge for me will be at worst a 15-miler so I thought I had better do a bit of a comparison.  I roughed out a circular route from Kirtling which was about that - 14.3 miles if you are interested.

At 0730h I picked Den up and we drove to our start point, parking just outside some houses in Kirtling village itself, wanting for a better spot to leave car, but the side of the road it had to be.  It was cold, and the wind didn't make it any better.

I forgot to take any pics on the first section of this walk, but I managed to drag the camera out of its pouch as we entered some paddocks.  Here is an uninteresting shot, but it is a shot of where we walked nonetheless.

Some paddocks not far from Kirtling
My pack felt very heavy on my shoulders, and my back was protesting.  Not a good sign, but I persevered.

The paddocks finally allowed us to squeeze from their grip and we popped out into the open.  Den was sporting a very nice bobble hat which he assured me was keeping him very warm.  It's one of those hats that is so wrong, it was swinging back to being right again.  A real hum-dinger.

Bobbles, and a Spyder
My pack was still feeling heavy, and not all that comfortable.  I made some adjustments, and it instantly felt better.  I forgot about it for a while, which was a better sign.  
Some shenanigans with OFFICIAL PATH EXTINGUISHMENTS got our goats up a wee bit - as is increasingly typical with the footpaths round our way.  The signs only seem to be obvious on the side from which we are NOT approaching!  Nevertheless a quick alteration to our route allowed the new footpath to spit us out onto the road about half a mile back from our intended point.  Cussing the now extended road section, and moaning about the failed promise of wild animals (see photo below) we marched on regardless through the lanes until the little green sign showed us back to the field margins, and on to Back Street where we stopped for an early bite to eat, and a brew.

Wild Animal?
Me having tea.
If I have a favourite place to walk in East Anglia, it has to be the narrow hedgerow-lined avenues.  Wooded either side, and leafy underfoot at this time of year - lovely.
Shortly after we set off, we agreed to make a note of the wild camping opportunities that we came across during the day.  These little avenues offered the greatest opportunity, and we knew that in summer we would be able to nip into the spinneys and copses to camp unnoticed by passers by.  In total, we counted six great spots in fourteen miles, plus a couple of questionable pitches, which would go at a push.  Not a bad result and worth noting for those of you who live near the National Parks but want to try a long-distance walk somewhere completely different.  I recommend it thoroughly having done several myself.  So long as you are canny, considerate, covert and stealthy and are willing to hang around until dusk before you pitch, and can be away at dawn, all will be well.

One of those wood-lined paths, wildcamping opportunities aplenty.
We managed few wildlife encounters, with raptors leading the count, seconded by winter thrushes and then finches.  Several Buzzards, a couple of Kestrels, and a Sparrowhawk followed by countless Fieldfares and Redwings in the treetops.  The finches were mainly Goldfinches and they decorated the bare twigs like Christmas trinkets.  One such tree had its own female Bullfinch bauble.  Lovely.
A muntjac was the only mammalian offering of the day (other than the Grey Squirrel but I don't count those - I am a mammal snob, you see).

The pack became awkward again, and this time no amounts of adjustment would alleviate the discomfort.  Luckily we had reached the latter stages of our route and we had by now swapped the tacky dough of clay for grassy verge and back-road.  Much easier from a navigational point of view, it offered a glimpse at some of the more opulent properties that speckle the rural lanes of our county.
Another shot of our only real pause for relaxation.
I can summarise that my legs and feet were tickety-boo with forty pound on my back.  My shoulders weren't really as tender as I had expected, but my back felt compressed.  I put this down to the fact that I couldn't get the belt tight enough on the pack to stop it sliding down my hips.  The result was to transfer all of the weight onto my shoulders.  The straps are really good on the pack, so the shoulders were unharmed, but my back really felt it.  I'm not relishing the thought of a few days with so much weight bearing down on me.  My plan now is to get the pack weight down once more.  If any of you have any ideas I'd be grateful to hear your views on how you go about packing.

Me and my burden, er bergen?
Maybe I should post the gear list as I had it on this day?

At least I have 150 days left in which to get this right!

Saturday, 19 November 2011


That's my position on the standby list.  John Manning just wrote to me, he was glad I had been in touch.

Judging by general Challenger opinion (Thanks Dave, Alan etc...), I stand a very, very good chance of moving onto the participant list.

The delightful and fabulous Mrs M has given me the nod and I am going to continue planning, and hopefully, by 2012 I will know for sure.  This is one occasion where I am actually hoping not to be able to knock off three-score Wainwrights! 

The shoes are back on tomorrow for another walk in the East Anglian countryside, this time with my good pal Den.

Friday, 18 November 2011

1 in 420+

That's what I was.  

I found my fate today by both letter and a leak on the challenge forum.  Ok so not exactly a leak as it was a post from John Manning himself.  

I was one of the 420+ people to find out that I am on the standby list.

I had prepared myself for disappointment, expecting not to get on but I have to say I was strangely close to tears.  It was odd, I guess despite openly and outwardly readying myself for the possibility of a 'No' I already had book my place.  In truth, I fully EXPECTED to get on and not getting on was a complete surprise.  

I have lit the tinder of a few new friendships which I hoped to fuel in the coming months, which I can and will still do.  BUT I WANTED TO GET A 'YES'.

I had promised my wife, who really wasn't cherishing 2 weeks without me (although I would have thought she would have had the opposite reaction), that I would withdraw from the standby list.  But I just couldn't resist asking John 'Outdoors' Manning where I stand on that list, so that is what I have just done.  

I don't know what I will do with the number, I suppose it depends what number it turns out to be.

I do have a plan to finish off my round of Wainwrights - I should be able to do 62 in a year if I make a few concerted forays so that is what I plan to do with 2012.

But what if I am number 1, 2, 3......10, 11, 12 on the list?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


...days to go until TGO Challenge 2012.  

I am still waiting for the nod from John Manning who has recently posted on the challenge forum that the letters are out this week.  Less than 6 months to go now.

Spent this evening testing backpacking stoves and keep coming back to the old favourite of a little gas stove and my trangia 1l kettle.  

I am waiting on a delivery from Minibulldesign for one last go at an alcohol stove and I think that will decide it, finally, for me.

Still waiting for the letter of ACCEPTANCE to go thud.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


...days to go until TGO 2012.

The suspense is becoming difficult to bear.  It's great to read some of the accounts of 2011 which are popping up on Twitter and throughout the blogosphere, and if you haven't checked out then I suggest you do right away.  What a smashing little TGOC portal it is.  It is currently serving as a great way to fill the time spent waiting for the nod from Mr J Manning at Challenge HQ.

I was trying to get a message to Mick/Gayle of Gayleybird Lejog & K2CW fame as it seems as though they walked almost exactly the same route as I have worked out for TGOC next year and I wondered about some of the do's and don'ts on the way.  If anyone can get a message to them, I would love for one of them to get in touch so I could pick their brains a wee bit.  Perhaps they have a twitter name or something?

Alan Sloman has been helpful on the first night's intended camp for me, citing Meallan Bhuidhe as a spot with good views, and a lot of deer!  He also suggested that the area near Pait Lodge might be a good and common spot to pitch, with the usual courtesy to be afforded to the occupants.

It's stuff like that that I obsess about when planning these sorts of trips.  Yet when I listen to, or read the things that the likes of Chris Townsend write / say about long journeys on foot, and the very flexible plans they make, letting the walk make the decisions etc, I am very envious.  I guess that I should obsess less about the detail, and just make sure that I cover a minimum distance each day to ensure that I don't take too long getting to the East coast.  I've got to get into that really long distance vibe.

I still can't stop thinking about it - it's a big thing for me, the longest walk - although probably not the most demanding - that I will have attempted by a factor of 2, and I am anxious and excited in equal measure.

When do we find out if we are in again???

Be great to hear if any of you have any anxieties about the challenge, its planning, anticipation etc.

Bye for now.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Roman Around - A trip along Worsted Street

This is actually from a yomp I took with a few friends back in Spring 2011, I just discovered it in my drafts and thought you might like to see it.  Not strictly a TGO 2012 post, but probably of interest to some of you.

The skies were overcast as we sat there.  We were waiting at Addenbrooke's Bus Stop for a colleague to join us.  He never showed up.

The four of us stood up, adjusted our laces, straps and clothing before turning to the SouthEast and got going.  Out through the 'causeway of oversized homes and into the countryside.  A discreet gap in the hedgerow drew us through, away from the 'macadam and onto a grassy track flanked with myriad wild flowers and the associated invertebrates to boot.

We briefly entered Wandlebury's Northern tip before the new road embraced us again, if only for a short while.

A feathered friend stayed by us for a time, making occasional requests for just a little bit of bread that's all, no cheese. And the last bitter taste of civilisation came and went in the form of light industry, down a littered, potholed lane.  We reached the end of the lane and, there it was flanked by hedgerow - The Roman Road of Worsted Street.

I imagined myself thrown back centuries to a time when the Romans were laying the foundations of the track that would be under our feet for the rest of the day.  I pondered how many feet had marched where we were about to tread.  I could count myself among them, for I had walked this way many times before.
The 'road' which calls itself "Worsted Street" is thought to be a trackway which has been in existence and in continued use since pre-history.  It runs parallel to a 3 mile Anglo-Saxon earthwork known as Fleam Dyke which stretches from Fulbourn to Balsham (or vice versa).  We were in a place steeped in ancient heritage.

There are no challenges in the navigation of Worsted Street, for it is, by nature, utterly straight.  There are a couple of deviations, one such being the crossing of the A11 Dual Carriageway, and the other is the short section between the metalled Wort's Causeway and the brief encounter at Wandlebury.

I found myself tuning in and out of my surroundings on several occasions as I drifted into a bit of a daze, only to discover that I had gained a few score yards of distance between my pals who were being vastly more sociable than myself.  I wished I was alone for a brief moment.

To find ourselves seated by a man's final resting place having our lunch was more than a tad odd, but in reality there is no sign, or evidence, that I can unearth surrounding the actual origins of the place name of Mark's Grave.  Perhaps someone who read's this blog might offer some assistance on this.

As I sat chewing on my food, I learned that others had chosen to lunch at exactly the same spot as I.  An army of Black Ants were taking nips out of me.  I relocated.  Pals were smiling.
Despite the anchoring effect the lovely warm sunbeams were having on us, it was possible for us to get back to our feet and back on the trail.

I probably didn't mention that one of our gathering was with child, and into her second trimester - it occurred to me, not for the first time, that so many pregnant women take a languid approach to their gestation.  Avoidance of any effort, strenuous or otherwise, seems to befall many an expectant mother.  This often results in the "can you get my files out for me" or "I'm not allowed to lift that" utterings that I realise have begun to irritate me.  Pregnancy - the next reason to be provided with a blue parking badge?  To clarify, I have two young children of my own, so I am not being anti-child or anti-parent, just anti-lazy git.
Thankfully, my mum-to-be friend was of the non-lazy git type and didn't utter any of these complaints.

We were grasped briefly by a pang to bag a geocache, a pang so brief, we merely peered into the undergrowth before giving up.  The street of silver was now under our feet, having left the road of roman antiquity and a floating Buzzard keened above Howe Wood as if to draw us toward the closing of what had been a really terrific leg-stretch in the Cambs/Suffolk borders.

Have a look at if you would like more information about this lovely, simple stroll in my backyard. Oh, and if you find out about Mark's Grave - let me know!


214 is a number with two significances for me:

1) 214 is the number of fells that Wainwright covered in his 7 pictorial guides.  A collection of fells I am doing my worst to ascend.

2) 214 is the number of days until TGO Challenge 2012

So that's it - I just thought I would share that with you.

Oh, and here is a picture of the splendid English Lake District looking, well, splendid.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

153 down, 62 to go?

Ok, so once again, not quite a TGO Challenge post, but it all counts towards the physical preparations.

The huge magnetic pull of Lakeland had me rolling up the A1 on Friday 16th September 2011 on what was to be a couple of brief forays onto the mountains culminating in the crowning of my best pal as a completer of the Wainwright summits.

Pulling in to the car park of the Co-Op in Keswick, a slightly built chap, going by the name of Dennis Taylor was sitting by his backpack having arrived on foot from Ulverston. His original plan to hike the Cumbria Way before meeting up with me had required a little alteration. Nature wasn't on its best behaviour; Hurricane Katia had a modicum of maelstrom left in her when she touched the UK and this resulted in a small catalogue of digital images of other people's tents bent double against the force of the winds.

Low pressure reigned supreme over the Westernmost coast of England, Scotland and Wales and it seemed that it was hell-bent on curtailing Den's first attempt on the relatively sedate Cumbrian long-distance path. The end of day two saw Den in Langdale, waiting for a day of better weather after having a rather moist and squelchy couple of outings. The day of better weather wouldn't manifest until four days later! He chose to sit it out in Langdale, rather than going over Stake Pass and on to Keswick via Langstrath.

This turned out to be a sound decision, as Den watched his peers' inferior shelters being ripped from the ground, tattered and torn, in spite of the gallant attempts of the staff at the ODG Camp-site, he wondered what might have been had he gone over the tops that day. His Vaude Ultralight 2 stood firm (well, it flexed a little) and kept the outside where it should be – outside.
I was completely without contact with him, there being no signal in Langdale, often a blessing, but on this occasion I did worry after not hearing from him for a couple of days. And then I got a text message:-
“Still stuck in Langdale. Took bus to Ambleside for food. 70mph over tops. Haven't slept for two nights. Have abandoned c.way this time. Walk or bus to Keswick for Fri.”

Sure enough, there he was, looking surprisingly fresh despite the battering. I packed his Berghaus C7 Bioflex into the boot, slammed the tailgate and pointed the car towards Borrowdale. We were bound for Den's penultimate Wainwright top – Rosthwaite Fell. He'd been up it before but an administrative anomaly (ahem), had him erroneously ticked off the peak before returning home and discovering that he'd missed the actual Wainwright summit at 612m. When he realised, he immediately resolved to go back and climb it again, making sure that he climbed to Wainwright's prescribed peak.
After parking down a tiny lane just out of Rosthwaite, we headed up the hill across open fell in the general direction of Tarn at Leaves, where we would turn right to our targetted top. This we did and after a bit of casting about in the mist we scrambled over the rocks to the highest point – Rosthwaite Fell. I then mentally ticked off my 152nd Wainwright and shook Den's hand as he hurried off the hill, to regain some visibility. We returned to my car inside of two hours, ready for the drive round to Eskdale.

We went on past our campsite at Boot, which had assumed a rather sodden appearance from the days of rain. A vehicular struggle up the hairpins of the Hardknott Pass, with as little wheel spin as possible, delivered us to the uppermost car parking spot for our 'dash' up the final summit of Den's journey through the Pictorial Guides.
When I write “dash” I actually mean to write “languid wander” for we took a slow walk over the waterlogged, yet still discernible path past the first, lower summit and over the brow until our goal came into view.

Hard Knott was chosen as Den's last when we were on Whin Rigg on an earlier outing. Appearing pyramidal, dark and forboding, Hard Knott struck a chord that would ring in his mind for the next, however many months and however many fells until, well, now.
The winds – which had been light until this moment – began to build, strengthen, in some kind of symbolic resistance. They ensured that we pay greater attention to our final steps toward the summit cairn. By the time we were within striking distance of my 153rd top the wind had become more than a light gale. Den was unperturbed and turned about – the gusts had caused his eyes to moisten, possibly – and gave me an hombre's embrace. I shed a tear, and reciprocated the hug before Den reeled and kissed Hard Knott's summit cairn.

His ten-year assault was completed.


Those of you who are more astute than myself, which amounts to probably all of you, may have noticed that there is an error in my assessment of the number of fells I had summited. For the height of Wainwright's Rosthwaite Fell (Bessyboot) is in fact 550 or possibly 551m above sea level. The highest point on the broader fell is at 612m and is not the summit to which Mr W refers. In my haste to agree with my good pal, I failed to spot that he had in fact climbed his 213th wainwright months earlier, and had no need to return to correct the 'error'. More irritatingly for me perhaps, I had just climbed to the wrong summit, meaning that I must return to climb it another day!

Let's make that 152 for me then, shall we?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sunday Suffolk Woodland Stroll

I finally managed to squeeze in an afternoon in the countryside today.  It's more about not letting the family down these days.  I can't go off gallivanting when there's work to do leaving the good lady to look after the two little rotters, can I?     

Well today I had a pass, to stretch my legs a wee bit in readiness for a jaunt in the fells in the next week or so.  I was convinced to go with my brother-in-law to do a little walk that I love around Moulton, near Newmarket in Suffolk.

I have to say that I do love the hills, and mountains, and valleys, and gorges etc etc, but I can't ignore the treats in my back yard.  Suffolk has some of the biggest skies around, with genuinely pleasing, smoothly rolling swells of fields and ancient woodland.  My walk around Moulton, Dalham and Gazeley fitted this description perfectly.
The walk is only about 6 or 7 miles, so perfect for a afternoon outing.  The setting at Moulton is quite endearing, with a 14th century packhorse bridge in pristine condition taking pride of place at the middle of this little village.

We had a few wildlife encounters, as we always seem to do on these country walks.  A small, young hedgehog crossed the road - we didn't ask him why - but we carefully lifted, and placed the prickly parcel on the other side of the lane to save any squashing by vehicles.

I stopped to take a look at some vines hanging from the bough of an Ash tree which completely covered the bough, and a Tawny Owl burst out from the centre of the foliage straight towards me, over my head, circled beneath the canopy and then flew off through the woodland. My first daytime Tawny encounter - and a good one too.

The last wild rendezvous was a simple one, a common toad crossed our path.  That's it.  She was a lovely one, young and bright - like she had just been unwrapped.  I couldn't resist picking her up for a closer look.  I began to get all philosophical about her, so I brought myself round and let her hop off into the undergrowth.  

I noticed on the walk through the Dalham Estate that every single large tree on the path was marked with a red plastic tag which had been hammered into the trunk at about eye level.  The tag had a five-digit number with the letters PRN printed beneath in white.  
None of the trees away from the path had any numbers or tags, and I pondered what they might signify.  I wondered if they were navigation marks for the Estate's woodland managers allowing them to pinpoint other trees by using these as reference points.  I'd be glad to hear from anyone who can add any suggestions.

The winds were getting up and rain was threatening to dampen our thus far dry afternoon out.  Hurricane Katia was making noises that she might start battering Britain's Western coasts and counties.  On went the Montane Featherlight jacket to shrug off the looming rainfall.  The changes in the weather seemed to add to the atmosphere of the walk.  After just a spattering of fat droplets, the rain had passed us by and the sun began again to shine.  The last mile of road walking was a bit of a shame, particularly given the cracking woodland surroundings we had just been moving through.  There was a silver lining to the macadamed cloud - The King's Head.

One pint of IPA down the hatch, and back to the village hall where our car was parked, via a huge box of Bramley's that was left outside a house beckoning "please help yourself".  We'd clocked the apples on the way out and made a note to collect some on our return.

They were all gone.
___ - a bit about Moulton - try the Kings Head! - a bit about Dalham - a bit about Gazeley - a fantastic challenge through the Suffolk countryside (including Gazeley) 

Friday, 26 August 2011

2012 - The Countdown Begins

Well it really has been a long while since my last post.  I've been up and over the Yorkshire Three Peaks, round the back o' Pillar and Scoat Fell etc in the Western Fells and made a few significant decisions concerning my future (more on that to follow). 

So here it is, I am now officially an applicant for TGO Challenge 2012 and my hours/days/weeks spent in front of the OS sheets are now being put down in ink for the first formal draft.  I'm doing it for real this time!  I just hope and pray that I am one of those first timers that gets on the challenge.

Great to see Bob and Rose's videos on Youtube - they are always really detailed and helpful.  Great for ideas for kit to take and kit to leave out.

I have to say though, that I threw in the towel with the Golite Jam - it was just too floppy and I couldn't be bothered with packing it so carefully.  I put it on eBay so someone else could take the time to get the most out of it.  I've apologised to the MACPAC now, and I think I am forgiven.  I'll never desert it again.

So now it is time to wait.  A wait in anticipation of the response from the TGO team with a confirmation that I am in.  And then I suppose I should get my skates on, get rid of the spare tyre(s) that have formed, and reduce my resting pulse rate a tad.

I'm off up to Lakeland in a few weeks to help a mate of mine finish of his last two Wainwright's - Rosthwaite Fell and Hard Knott.  We'll probably do a bit of a wildcamp so I can test my gear again and I suspect we'll stay at Fisher Ground on at least one night for a bit of campfire cooking.

I've pre-ordered my mate a copy of The UK County Tops (new release by Cicerone) so he isn't short of a list of things to tick off as he'll have finished the WWs.  I'm fearing he might not thank me for that, and if he doesn't, I'll ask for it back!

Oh, and after this trip, I've a week near Mosser in a wee cottage so I'll get out and about a bit that week with the family I should think - carrying the bairns up and down hills ought to help the pins get back into tip-top (ahem!) mountain shape again.

I'll do another post if anything interesting occurs between now and then.

Much love to my handful of followers - look forward to hearing about your plans for the outdoors.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Lowland leg crunches, Lakeland windblasts & more gear...

It's been a while since my last post (I wonder how many blogs begin with just those words?).  Anyway I have been out stretching my legs in the wilds of Suffolk with a day walk from Bury St Edmunds to Clare, and on to my hometown - Haverhill.  In all I'd guess its 26 or 27 miles (plus a bit for diversions - I took a couple of wrong turns).

This was largely a bit of preparation for The Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge later in June as a means to getting my head on really. 

The stretch from Bury to Clare (around 18 miles) felt pretty good but it all got measurably harder from Clare to Haverhill - the last 8 or so miles.  Having said this, the Inov8s performed really well (I threw away some memory foam inserts I was trying as they kept creeping around  my shoes) and my feet felt tired but ok by the end of the day.  The road walking had given them a battering but this was to be expected, and I don't expect that any of my days will even approach 27 miles on TGOC.

I've also been up into Lakeland (the scenic region, not the kitchenware shop!) again getting a bit more hillwalking under my belt.  A friday afternoon jaunt from Castlerigg to High Rigg of around 4 miles to get the juices flowing, followed by the three Dodds and Clough Head to the north of the Helvellyn ridge.  To say that the wind was strong was understatement of the century - I won't estimate the windspeed but thank Montane for their windproof gear - the Featherlight jacket and trousers nailed the windchill.  Just my hands suffered at one point when I picked up my poles (which I actually used to great effect this time) and jogged over to catch up with my brother in law who had gone off ahead.  I swear frostbite was moments away - brrr!

I took the opportunity to test out walking in running pants (I'd recently bought a couple of pairs for £16 from Aldi) and have to say they performed brilliantly, keeping off all but the keenest wind and when combined with the Montane Featherlight Pants made for an excellent alternative to regular mountain pants.  One slight downside is the lack of pockets.  Just a single money pocket at the back, but this really is a pedantic complaint and they are a definite contender to be in my pack for TGOC.  I'll just have to get over the psychological issues of walking in tights!

Helly Hansen's baselayer Tee is a new garment for me and I hardly noticed I was wearing it which has to be a good thing.  Two for £32 in Blacks Keswick was reasonable I thought.

I can't remember if I mentioned that I have sold a ton of kit on eBay but that's exactly what I have been doing.  Here's what I sold:

- Mtn Eqpt AR Ultralite 1 Tent
- Trangia 27 UL Cookset
- Primus Stove
- Thermarest Prolite 4 Reg
- Rab Summit Extreme Jacket
- Some climbing crabs and quickdraws
- My MLT confidence rope (spare)
- A few other sundries

and here's what I've bought with the money:

- Tarptent Moment (so excited about that)
- Montane AntiFreeze jacket
- Golite Jam
- Montane Featherlight Pants
- Vargo Triad Titanium Meths Stove
- Lifeventure Titanium Mug
- Helly Hansen base layer Tees x 2
- Fizan Compact Lite poles (pair)

I have had to put very little towards the new kit so my mantra of "BUY CHEAP BUY TWICE" has truly paid off here.  I look after my gear so its all in good nick.  If I had bought cheap gear it'd probably have packed up by now so I would be replacing it anyway, but by buying top gun gear, and looking after it I have been able to 'recycle' it into new gear for little if any extra outlay. 

The resale value of top gun kit on eBay is excellent.  Folk realise that well looked after kit on eBay can save them money and can be resold meaning that kit can be kept up to date without shelling out for more and more gear whilst the old stuff festers in the loft space.

That'll do for now, I'm at work and due back from lunch in five minutes.  I'd be interested to hear from anyone who reads the blog about connected issues so feel free to comment. 

Might try an audioblog next time.

Bye for now.