Posts tagged filthy weather

Into the WILD! Days 2 & 3 – Hadrian’s Wall and on…

“To Hadrian’s Wall!”

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall

And off we yomped, alongside Haltwhistle burn with its tinkling waterfalls, leafy walkways and steep climbs. We took the pretty way. Oh, ok… we got a bit lost – all those bridges look the same on the map – and were rather bewildered as to how we had managed to get so far back from where we had intended to meet the Wall. Indeed, we spent a good hour by some quarry or other (whose name, mercifully, escapes me now) employing several methods including good old map-turning and rather natty orienteering, only to end up certain that we had, all doubt vanished, gone wrong. Oops. Great start.

But at least we now knew where we were. And Hadrian’s Wall was it. We fought our way through a herd of cattle (and have since read several articles about those who have recently been trampled to death by cross cows – a word to the wise: a bull on his own is far more dangerous than one with cows – he‘s far more interested in the cows; and never get between a cow and her calf – she’s likely to turn very nasty) and onto our rightful path. Contrary to what we had heard, the walk was almost entirely unpopulated. We encountered a mere handful of people and even those were mainly concentrated around the “hotspots”: those sites worthy of note that are accessible by car, requiring only a minimal amount of walking. It was the hilliest,  most breathtaking country; barren and beautiful with wide open views taking your eye further than any vista you can imagine. Those skirmishing Scots didn’t have a hope of the element of surprise.

Scouting for Scots

Scouting for Scots

Shoulders aching from the weight of our backpacks and knees groaning under the strain, we arrived in Greenhead at about teatime. The Greenhead Hotel is well acquainted with walkers – on this particular evening it was full of Ramblers – and has a menu to stick to the ribs of any hungry traveller. We ordered Cumberland sausage with mashed potato and onion gravy (which came with a token smattering of peas) and washed it down with the local Allendale Black Grouse. It was, with the noteable exception of our firm old favourite Theakston’s Old Peculier in whose country we had not yet set foot, the best beer we have ever tasted: smooth, black, almost Guinness-like and named after those very rare fowl to be found, I believe, only in those parts. We were lucky enough to see and hear them nesting in the grasses up on the wild hillsides.

Have you seen American Werewolf in London? Then you’ll get the idea of the kind of foolhardiness that was our next rather rash decision. A couple of beers under our belt and our Ordnance Survey Explorer map in hand, we decided to follow the advice of our little book and head for the nearby Access Land on which we would wild camp for the night. Access Land, for the uninitiated, is land that is generally used only for grazing and upon which wild camping is just about tolerated; as long as you pitch up near nightfall and are well away by first light. Our little book told us of a spot called Glencune Burn which, apparently, was just such a good spot and with a good hundred miles to go, we thought we’d try to get slightly ahead of itinerary. Perhaps we should just write an article on How Not to Do It…? Point 1: Stick to your plans. Or, if you really want to stray from them, make sure the replacement plan is well-researched and thought out!

Bravely, we set off for Blenkinsopp Common.

There is one word to describe the next few hours: bog.

Perhaps there are two, actually: bog and poo.

We fought through waist-high grasses, our feet disappearing ankle-deep in peaty bog, sheep poo and cowpats. The jovial mood produced by the pub’s fare was rapidly disappearing and hurtled headlong down the pan when we realised that part of that bog was Glencune Burn. You wouldn’t have a hope of pitching a tent there: it wasn’t possible to even stand without sinking… Disheartened, but not entirely discouraged, the only thing for it was to press on in the hope of finding somewhere more suitable. Which is when the path disappeared entirely in the midst of a vast field of cows and their calves and the biggest, stockiest, scariest, most evil-looking ginger bull you’ve ever seen in your life. He did not take his eyes off us once. The ground was threatening to swallow us whole, but it was anybody’s guess if it would take us before the bull did, or indeed one of his lady-friends protecting her littl’un. The sun was almost down; we had no visible means of escape; it was utterly impossible to camp here and panic began to set in.

Blenkinsopp Bloody Common

Blenkinsopp Bloody Common

It is hard to convey how dismally grim this part of the walk is. I’ll admit now that I was having grave misgivings about our “holiday” at this point: if it was going to be a week of this kind of soggy, miserable hell, I might well be catching the next bus (or cow, or donkey or whatever) home.

We scrambled through that field, hoiked our backpacks over the stone wall and took a breather while the adrenalin kicked in and abated. It was almost dark, we were off the beaten path and we had nowhere to camp. Our first night going it alone looked pretty doomed.

My beloved companion, sensing my impending mother-of-all-strops, put his best foot forward and launched us off to find a suitable spot to pitch our tent… to not much avail, frankly. However, on finding and following a vehicle-worthy track, what we did manage to do was find a signpost directing us back onto the Pennine Way. At which, of course, all panic dissipated and, safe in the knowledge that we were back on target, we set about pitching our tent on the edge of a field, out of sight of human or animal, in the proper wild camping style. We set it up quickly, got into our thermal jim-jams, inflated our bedrolls and snuggled into our sleeping bags just as the last light disappeared. Still without gas or fuel for our Kelly Kettle, there was no warming cuppa to send us off but we fell asleep almost immediately after our first rather epic adventure.

It was the most comfortable night of our holiday (with an obvious exception yet to come) and in the morning we discovered why.

All night it rained. It lashed down on us, we only vaguely aware of it in our snug and cozy tent. And it truly was: snug and warm and cozy. And so comfortable.

As we dressed, now a little nervous that, far from stopping the rain seemed to be strengthening in its determination, and stepped outside the tent we discovered that the “field” we had slept in was, in fact, a bog. The explanation for our night of extreme comfort was that we were, in essence, sleeping on a waterbed. We were drenched. I mean, soaked through. Our waterproofs went on over the top of saturated clothing; Jem was carrying a tent double its usual weight thanks to the water it was laden with. We were gone, dripping wet, and back on the Pennine Way before 6 o’clock in the morning.

A bit grumpy, frankly. And wondering if this was what the entire week had in store.

The next point in our How Not To Do It is about being prepared. If you are 1) in the middle of nowhere with 2) no realistic idea of where you are going to end up, it is as well to have about your person the wherewithal to nourish yourself. We had been clever enough to buy a pint of milk in the Haltwhistle Sainsburys the day before, but of course had no gas for our stove. We had been clever enough to bring along a Kelly Kettle (a fabulous invention in the right circs) but had no fuel for it. And, as you will no doubt have surmised, everything within walking distance was drenched. We had no food (“It’s all about weight – we’ll buy it as and when we need it”), no fuel and were cold, wet and hungry. Water we had in plentiful supply, thanks to our Aquapure (something I would heartily recommend to anyone undertaking a similar expedition), teabags and milk, but no means of heating the water. And we were gasping for a cuppatea. About an hour or so into our day’s walking, we decided to stop and attempt the Kelly Kettle. I am not kidding when I say it took an hour of fire-lighting, half the fuel from a lighter, several storm matches and, in eventual desperation, a night-light candle to get it going and hot enough for what turned out to be the hardest won cup of tea I have ever drunk. But boy! Was it worth it.

What we also had, I forgot to mention, was a bag of “muesli” (but not as we know it). Thanks to Jem’s rather delicate tum, it was wheat-free which, I guess, means that it uses rice flakes instead of wheat. The result is something that is utterly inedible unless you give it a good old soak first, but when you find yourself in the position in which we had landed up, it was manna. We had muesli, a cup of tea and on we went.

What followed was basically more bog, with intermittent rain showers and a few mouthfuls of beef jerky, until we reached a place called Slaggyford (great name, right?) There, both our map and our little book informed us of an old railway track, now called the South Tyne Trail, which would take us all the way to our next destination: Alston. The temptation was too great. “What?! You mean… avoid all this bog? Walk the last 5 miles along a path??” No blooming competition. Soggy and weary, as soon as we set foot on the South Tyne Trail out came the sun. Waterproofs were daringly removed, dry kindling gathered for the kettle and yet another abortive mission to light it. We had a second bowl of rabbit food doused in milk and found ourselves walking alongside a single-track steam railway. I blush to confess that this was the first time I used my Shewee. I shall not go into the sordid details here, but suffice to say I agree with all the positive feedback it has received. It is yet another modern miracle and I salute the person with balls (ahem – figuratively of course) enough to run with the idea.

On our last legs, having walked an entire day on two small bowls of muesli and some beef jerky, we shuffled into Alston and straight onto a set for Mad Max, aka our campsite. A site full of static caravans (basically a trailer park) on the edge of a parking place for skips full of debris and burning plastic it had roughly three pitches for tents amid the madness. But it was very friendly and felt far safer and more like home than the previous night… First mission: dry the tent. Dutifully we hung up the inner and pitched the outer. Second mission: blister plasters on. Third mission: hobble on blistered foot and hurty knee up the hill into town for supplies (See? We learn from our mistakes – Tracker bars, chocolate Digestives, more milk, nuts and fruit, Snickers, Twix and Choc ‘N’ Nut, Soreen Malt Loaf – prepared!) and find somewhere suitable for a drink and a hot meal. The Cumberland Inn served us with Black Grouse‘s cousin Allendale Wolf beer and the Angel Inn gave us Black Sheep and home-cooked lasagne, not to mention the company of two delightful elderly ladies visiting the area for an art course. It was deservedly very busy, that pub. The evening flew by and the night passed uneventfully. Thank God.

Tomorrow… How the hell do we get out of Alston??

🙂

Comments (3) »

Training Days and Kit Reviews

Filthy weather...

Filthy weather...

An opportunity then, to say hello and review a couple of pieces of kit. As an astrologer (with Saturn in Aries for those in the know) there’s nothing I like better than to tramp off into the wild and walk a few hundred miles (with frequent beer stops). As a Libran, I like to drag Al along too, and not just so I can delegate all the decision making.

The photograph shows me wearing my new coat, new boots and new rucksack, all of which are replacements for older or unsuitable items, or replacements for those things which my ex-wife decided to keep after we split (which means pretty much everything I owned).

Very shortly we will be setting off on our next great adventure. It ought to – in theory – encompass the following itinerary:

  • A half hour walk to the train station in our village.
  • A train journey to London.
  • Across London on the tube to Victoria.
  • A coach journey to the Toon (Newcastle).
  • A train journey to Haydon Bridge
  • A night’s camping on the bank of the South Tyne River
  • A day’s walking along Hadrian’s Wall
  • A week’s walking South down the Pennine Way for a hundred miles
  • A night spent at the White Bear, home of the Theakston Brewery where they sell Old Peculier (in pints! On tap!)
  • And all the way home again…

As a result we need gear that is lightweight and affordable, so we have spent a few weeks planning and organising on this basis. I aim to review all of the clothing and equipment we buy over the next few days and weeks and obviously, I’ll wait until I’ve used the new kit before writing it up.

With a view to getting fit for the gruelling trial ahead we spent last weekend walking. On Saturday, rather than taking the car to the supermarket we walked a circuitous route to that Cathedral of Despair, Tesco and we carried the groceries home in rucksacks encompassing maybe ten-miles all told in some extremely variable weather. My Green Party tee-shirt didn’t fare so well being made of rather heavy cotton (and you should never wear cotton while hiking because it doesn’t breathe well), so I was uncomfortable toiling up some of the hills in the sunshine. The way home was characterised by some fairly torrential rain, which actually I didn’t mind, especially with my new boots and coat.

Karrimor mens Mount Mid weathertite Hiking ShoeThe boots I bought because my old Caterpillar walking boots were fairly worn out and too big for me in any case after I lost a fair amount of weight a couple of years back. I wasn’t sure about needing new boots but, boy, am I glad I decided to go for some new Karrimor Mount Mid Weathertite Hiking Shoes. We followed this trek up with a 14 mile, village pub crawl on Sunday and I was impressed with the boots to say the least. They are extremely comfortable and at only £30 (down from £75) you can’t really go wrong with these. The only very minor problem I’ve had with them is that they rub a little on the toes of my right foot but I think I can fix that with judicious use of a broom handle. I bought a good pair of walking socks (at the aformentioned Cathedral of Despair) and they were very much improved as a result.

The boots have radically improved my sure-footedness on difficult and uneven terrain and they are totally waterproof. When it rained very heavily the water would run down my legs into the tops of the boots however, but this would be fixed with wearing trousers rather than shorts of course. A pair of gaiters would do the same job too. All said, I cannot recommend these boots enough, extremely well-made, comfortable and durable, and for the price, what’s to think about?

Let me take this opportunity to agree with Jem. These boots are a blooming marvel. I have heard, on many an occasion, the words of wisdom: “Make sure you wear new boots in” but these just don’t need it. Straight on and off for a trek with no sign of a blister or rubbed ankle. Nothing. (Sadly, I don’t think we can say the same for the aforementioned socks – false economy frankly – but I’m sure Jem will fill you in). I have to say, I am glad we did get them a bit mucky first, though, if only to avoid the rather un-cool “virgin boots in the Pennines” factor 🙂 Oh, also available in two colours, so not too “his ‘n’ hers” either.

Trespass Packa Unisex Tech Pack Away JacketThe coat too is a marvel. It’s one of those pack-away, compact, lightweight marvels made by Trespass and it cost me a rather precise £16.63. It weighs in at a mere 330g and is about the size of the body of a wine bottle when packed away. As for the features, it’s waterproof with taped seams, breathable and windproof, and so at that weight and price it’s ideal for the journey ahead and I found it to be very comfortable. Of course, bearing in mind the price it’s not premium quality, as with all pack-away jackets the hood leaves a lot to be desired, but I’ll be wearing a hat in any case, and it would keep the rain out if I had to use it. Sizing is not so easy since it’s a unisex jacket; Al, who is slim and gorgeous but rather tall at nearly 5’10” and a size 10-12 got the small and it fit perfectly: if you’re shorter or more petite then an x-small size would be the way to go. As for me, at 6 foot and – despite a liking for beer and chips – with no noticeable excess around the middle, the medium fits just right. I’m not entirely sure what kind of gargantuan freak you’d need to be to merit the xx-large.

Once again, totally in agreement. Snug enough to provide a layer of warmth as well as weather-proofing, it is also roomy enough for an extra layer underneath in chillier climes. Perfect cover from ear lobe to upper thigh. However, as already mentioned, the hood, like most, is not brilliant. It has elasticated adjusting strings, meaning you can create a hole the size of an orange to breathe through (but not see much), or it’s too loose and flies off. Needless to say, though, it wasn’t until we got home and were packing them away again that we noticed the velcro adjustment. Doh! Would probably have helped a great deal. Our plan, though, is simply to wear a hat / cap underneath and leave it relatively loose for some extra, albeit none too reliable, cover. Oh, and one last word: packed away in its snugpack, it’d probably make a pretty passable lightweight pillow, too…

I’ll add any supplementary news about the gear as it gets tested, along with reviews of our further travels and other good stuff as and when it occurs. Tomorrow we’re planning an 18-miler to the beautiful coastal harbour at Rye.

Comments (3) »