Sunday, 31 October 2010

Our Top 10 Camping Extras

In no particular order, our top 10 little extras we love to take camping with us:

1. Sweeteners
To be honest, I'm not sure if they should be on the list as they pretty much fall into the essentials list. Phil is addicted, at least 4 sweeteners going in every drink, so forget to take them and he is not a happy man. So much so that I've bought an extra set that goes in my pack so I always know where they are!

2. Hot Chocolate
Little sachets that don't take up much space but are a really good pick me up at the end of a hard day walking and good for warming your hands on. Our vote goes to mint chocolate or Malteser.

3. Slippers
Great for wearing in the tent and also for those moments when you need to nip outside but don't want to go to the effort of putting your boots back on.

4. Wind up radio
Puts you back in touch with civilisation when you feel all alone and handy for the weather forecast. Though sometimes all you can get is Welsh or French. Good for a listen as you're falling asleep and charges itself up in the sunlight or with a short session of winding the handle.

5. String
Not the most exciting but very useful. Uses so far: tying wet socks to my backpack to dry them off as I walk; as extra guy ropes used with the walking poles to turn the tent door into a porch area.

6. Hotel toothbrush set
If you're lucky enough to get the occasional overnight stay in a hotel for work, take advantage of it to get some camping goodies. My favourite so far was when I forgot my toothbrush and got given a fantastic mini toothbrush and toothpaste set that took up very little space in my pack.

7. Chorizo sausage
Great as a snack or adds yummy flavour to dried meals. Keeps really well even on a longer trip (well, unless you eat it all!)

8. Spork
Knife, fork and spoon all in one, what more do you need to say? Plus Phil is in love with Spork's sexy curves!

9. Wet wipes
Lovely when you're feeling a bit dirty but short of water.

10. Smartphone
My Samsung Galaxy S does everything... sat nav, camera, compass, weather forecast, e-book reader, addictive Angry Birds app and there for that emergency phone call should you need it. Just gotta watch out for that battery life. Is a solar phone charger worth the backpack space, I wonder?

What are your top things to take camping? Let us know on our forum.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Ramshaw Rocks in the Autumn Weather

Just a short blog this week, looking at some of our pics from the weekend.

Pretty much every hiking trip so far has been accompanied by perfect walking weather, so that we almost began to think we were special. Saturday morning saw me lying looking up at the rain on the tent and Phil making a porch out of the tent door and some walking poles, so we could cook breakfast in the dry.

After numerous choccie biccies bought from the local Co-op we ventured out to walk Ramshaw Rocks. Oranges and yellows are beginning to creep into natures colour palette as we move officially this weekend into Autumn and the landscape seemed fresh and different from when we'd seen it a few weeks before. I couldn't help but be reminded of the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by the orange stream in this pic – too many biscuits perhaps?

One of my favourite parts of the trip was sheltering under one of the huge outcroppings of rock overlooking the road. Looking over to the north the clouds were pitch black so deciding there was only so much testing our new jackets needed we found this spot. Sat on a rock, under the umbrella (thanks Orange for a great promotional freebie) we watched the rain hammer down out of the sky and the cars go past on the road below. No rhyme or reason why we enjoyed this so much, it just felt good to be sitting outside nice and dry while everything around us got soaked.

Back at the tent it was time for an early night and it was a cold one. My new thermals which I'd tested out watching tv and wearing as pyjamas at home in bed were fantastic. A Trekmates SnoPro set for £7.99, I can't rave enough about them. As soon as I put them on I can feel the additional warmth and they are soft and warm and wonderful. Sad I know to get so excited about something so unsexy but I love them. By the way did I tell you about my £2 Aldi special hat...! We woke up to our first frost, the ground all white and crisp and the tent coated in icy chunks. Cue a huge great barbecued breakfast to keep us warm.

Overall a different trip (excluding the common denominator of food which is central to all our trips). Perhaps not the best because I struggled with a cold all weekend. But some very enjoyable bits nonetheless and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And my parents are happy cos I've started my Christmas list – new boots please, no more cold wet feet for me!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

WARNING - Walking Route Cuts .....

Impending Government cuts could put the countryside out of bounds to walkers, according to the Ramblers.
The charity is predicting a return to the 1960s, with footpaths blocked and rights of way not maintained, if expected cuts to local authority budgets are imposed.

The coalition Government’s comprehensive spending review will be announced tomorrow and the Ramblers fear the cutbacks, of up to 40 per cent, will herald a return to the deplorable state of the country’s footpaths 50 years ago.

The organisation issued a top ten of walkers’ favourites that could be under threat, including Cumbria, North Yorkshire, the Peak District and Cornwall.

Ramblers’ chief executive Tom Franklin said: “In 2010 people feel confident that the footpaths they plan to follow will be open and easy to use.  If we return to the forbidden Britain of the 1960s, with its pot-luck footpath network we will see a dramatic reduction in the number of people walking.

“This not only spells bad news for the economy, but a decline in walking will also put an unsustainable burden on the NHS.”

The Ramblers said £7.3bn was spent on visits to the countryside last year. But the charity said cuts to rights of way budgets will make walking in many popular destinations problematic and will adversely affect tourism – the last thing rural economies need in these troubling times.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Wild Camping

What is it and why do it?

Wild camping is really just that – camping in the wild rather than at a commercial campsite. Simply find a suitable spot to pitch your tent and spend the night with just the stars and wildlife to keep you company.
On our previous camping trips we’d found that we always preferred the smaller less commercials sites which allowed us to feel more at one with nature rather than the huge family oriented sites with play areas and hot showers which are really far too close to being at home, back in the real world. Give us a farmer’s field with access to drinking water and we were happy.

So when we came across the idea of wild camping it sounded perfect. Get away from everything and best of all, its free!

Where can I do it?

In England and Wales (with the exception of Dartmoor) wild camping is not permitted unless you get permission from the landowner. However so long as you pitch in remote areas, above the last farmers wall or fence then it is generally accepted and the worst that is likely to happen is that someone might ask you to move on.

In Scotland the Outdoor Access Code legislation of 2005 made it legal though irresponsible wild campers have made some communities turn against the idea and according to The Guardian wild camping may soon be banned again in certain areas.

Rules of Wild Camping

The main rule of wild camping is that when you leave no-one should be able to tell that you have been there. This means that you need to follow some guidelines:

* Never stop more than a night in the same spot as this can kill of the grass, bracken or whatever covers the ground beneath your tent

* Take all your rubbish away with you

* Take a trowel to bury your ‘business’, and if the ground is too hard to dig take that away with you too

* Ensure that your toilet are is 30 metres or more from running water

* Do not use standard soaps to wash or wash up as these will pollute streams and kill fish and other wildlife

* Don’t light fires

The last point is debated by some as they consider this one of the best parts of wild camping. However not only can it be easy to start a fire which spreads and causes damage, the dry dead wood can be an important habitat for small animals. Also don’t forget the whole campsite should look exactly the same when you leave as it did when you arrived.

And finally...

* Don’t forget to make sure your wild campsite is near a source of water. If you’re going for more than one night you would struggle to carry enough water with you for drinking, cooking and washing. Plus it’s half the fun. For more info on drinking water from streams see my Wild Drinking Water blog

* Keep your pack light, but make sure you have everything you need – the eternal camping challenge!

Click here to read about our first wild camping trip in The Rhinogs, Snowdonia

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Wild Drinking Water

When it comes to wild camping, you are going to need to find yourself some wild drinking water.

The first important question is where do you find it?

Before you go it is a good idea to plan your route around streams that are marked on your OS map to make sure that you should be able to find enough to keep you going. One thing to note though is that they may be harder to find than you expect and if it has been very dry recently you may not be able to find them at all, so always have a backup plan. Alternatively you could be lucky like we were on our trip in Snowdonia where there had been so much rain that there were plenty of streams around.

Always make sure that the source of water you choose is running water, as stagnant water is more likely to contain algae, bacteria and dead fish or animals. However after that there are a number of options.

Option 1: Drink straight from the stream

Many walkers particularly of older generations will swear by just drinking the water straight from the stream. They will say it is the best tasting water they have ever had and that they have never been ill in over 40 years of drinking it.

We even met one guy who said when he was a child in Snowdonia they got all their water from streams and they’d drink it until one day it would have a funny colour, taste or smell at which point they’d go further upstream and find a dead sheep in it. But they still didn’t get ill.

However, there are many bugs about including relatively new ones such as ecoli which wasn’t present in streams back then. So it is up to you whether you drink the water and take the risk or play it safe and look at other options.

Option 2: Boiling water

Boiling water will eradicate the majority of parasites in water (though not all). The main drawbacks are that the water is needs time to cool down before it can be drunk and potentially before you can store it depending on the type of container. Also you will be using up fuel in the boiling process. However where you need hot water e.g. tea and coffee or cooking, this is a reasonable option.

Option 3: Treat it

This is the option we chose for our wild camping trip. Chlorine tablets can be bought very cheaply from outdoor stores (GoOutdoors 75 tablets for £4.50). Filter the water first with a fabric filter and then add 1 tablet to a litre of drinking water. Leave to work for 30 minutes and your water is safe to drink. Drawbacks are that the water does have a chlorinated taste which will bother some people and others won’t mind at all. Initially I wasn’t keen on the taste but did get used to it very quickly and soon barely noticed it. However you can also buy neutralising tablets to take away the taste and Lifesystems produce a pack that contains both. Also as with boiling it is not a quick method.

Option 4: Use SteriPEN

SteriPEN uses UV light to kill 99.9% of all bacteria. It works best in clear water as sediment blocks the light. The latest model is around the size of an electric toothbrush and you simply stick it in your water, push the button and in seconds it purifies your water. The only downside is that this is probably the most expensive option unless you are a hardened wild camper in which case over time it would pay for itself.

Option 5: Filter it

There are many filtration systems available, we’ve not used one as yet so if anyone has any recommendations let us know. Traditionally these used a pump system with tubes but more recent inventions have been smaller and simpler.

Go Outdoors have the Aquamira Frontier Pro Filter which rather than treating volumes of water attaches to your water bottle and filters water as you drink it. This means it is a small, lightweight and easy to use system.

I’ve seen a number of walkerson forums mention Katadyn products. They have a range from a bottle and filter similar to the Aquamira right up to a £200 pocket filter use by aid organisations which comes with a 20 year warranty!.

Overall there a number of options available to you based on your personal preference, budget and the amount of wild camping you intend to do. The key thing is to keep an eye out for water on your walk and fill up at each opportunity to make sure you don’t run out.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Wild Camping in The Rhinogs, Snowdonia - by Cat

Snowdonia National Park - 4 days, 2 aims – to experience wild camping and to come back still speaking to each other!

Reading an article on wild camping in Trail magazine we knew it was something we needed to try. To experience being all alone with nature, completely free and reliant on ourselves. We settled on the Rhinogs for our location, craggy, as we like it and less visited than other parts of Snowdonia for a truer wild camp experience.

We parked at a car park and campsite next to Cwm Bychan, at the end of a long winding road through the Welsh countryside. We paid our car parking fee and set off back along the road to find the path to get up started on our trip.
I’d agreed to come to the Rhinogs based on there being “no climbing, or like difficult high up stuff” because I’m scared of heights. Fine with rollercoasters and standing looking out from the top of a tall tower but having to rely on my feet and the rest of my body to keep me safe – no thank you. So the beginning of the walk involved a steep scree slope up the side of the hill!

Reaching the top we followed the so called footpath alongside a small stone wall. I was eaten alive by midges, which obviously decided I was on the menu for that day, leaving over 50 bites just on one arm and me itching for the rest of the trip. I’d definitely recommend some insect repellent as I’m not normally one to get bitten.

As we walked along we realised that our intended campsite for the night may be a step too far so revised our plans and decided to leave the marked footpath. We started down the heather covered slope, heading towards Rhinog Fawr, aiming to follow the path of a stream to find a camp and some water for the night. It was a tough descent, not being able to see our feet but we made it unscathed to the bottom and by following the stream (or at least the area that seemed more wet than the rest) we found our way down to a waterfall and camped up overlooking Cwm Bychan.

Before coming we’d debated the many options for water, reading various blogs and forums for advice and trying to decide what to do. We’d decided on treating our water with chlorine tablets so having camped for the night we headed over to the waterfall for our first water collection and treatment. All very nice and easy, the only difficult bit was not falling in! I can’t say I was too keen the first time I tried drinking it, but as the trip went on I couldn’t wait to get some more down my throat.

The next morning, we rose and prepared breakfast on a huge flat stone near our camp and we sat in the early morning sunshine eating our first meal of the day, checking out the Welsh and Irish radio stations and looking at the magnificent view.

We knew the plan for the day was to continue to follow the stream as far as we could then head up out of the valley through what looked on the map like a bit of a pass. We wanted to reach Llyn Du by nightfall and set off in high spirits.

Soon though the terrain was getting to us. Every step we took was hard work. The ground was soaking from the rain the previous week, my waterproof boots didn’t seem so waterproof, Phil had lost his best sunglasses and it was all seeming much harder than we’d expected. Each time we thought that we just needed to climb the next mound, we’d get to the top and find another one. And then the straight line on the map would turn out to have a ravine in the middle so that we needed to find a way around.

That said I was in surprisingly good spirits and kept us both going, despite occasional concerns that we might need to get rescued if we couldn’t make our way out. That would look pretty stupid and we might be on the TV on one of those rescue programmes which would be very embarrassing. Phil was struggling and when he fell down a hole, up to his thigh in muddy water I wasn’t sure he was going to get up again. Thankfully his trusty, and now rather bent, walking pole had saved him from injury and off we went again.

Eventually we came up against the rocks; the path out of the valley no longer looking as clear as it had on the map. So we decided there was only one thing for it... we needed to climb! Off came the packs and up I went first, pulling the kit up behind me with Phil pushing them up from below. Amazingly I actually enjoyed this scramble. I think the thought of finding out what was outside the valley temporarily held back my fear.

What was on the other side was down. A walkable slope (if barely) with bracken again making it hard to see where to put your feet. Surprisingly someone had actually built a wall down here, though I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they would have wanted to. Upon reaching the bottom we were excited at the prospect of a grassy field leading down to the forest. But of course it couldn’t be so easy and the wet clumps of grass sunk under foot. A rain storm looming we decided to camp for the night in the shelter of some rocks.

Sunday came and yesterday’s wet socks tied to my backpack we set off. We’d not seen anyone since we’d left the car park and I have to admit to feeling slightly relieved when we hit the main path out of the woods where there were a number of walkers out for the day. Nice as it had been to be alone, I felt reassured knowing we were trying to walk a path that had been walked before and that there was a good chance we’d make it home.

That said the adventure wasn’t over yet. We followed the main path until such a point as we were between two hills, then climbed over a wall to our left and started on a smaller windy footpath round the side of the hill. It’s quite rocky and steep in places but a good path nonetheless. Climbing up we saw others coming down, who all reassured us it was 15 minutes to Llyn Du. As we walked my biggest fear was that we’d get to the lake to find it surrounded by tents, a huge anti-climax to our first planned wild campsite. 40 minutes later we came across it surrounded by rocks and had our first up close view of Rhinog Fawr.

It’s impressively rugged and first impressions were that it looked more of a place for proper climbers than hill walkers. And you can’t even see the summit. The only path up appeared to be scree and it looked an incredibly difficult ascent. We ummed and aahed and decided to pitch our tent whilst we thought about it as it clearly wasn’t a place to climb with our 65 litre packs on. Phil edged toward not needing to climb it and not wanting to, whilst I felt I’d be forever disappointed to have come and not reached the top. We saw people starting on their way up and over lunch I timed them on their ascent, which they made surprisingly good progress on. Families with small children passed us, having come down the Rhinog which made me think it couldn’t be that hard. That said, I was edging towards not climbing it when Phil said, “come on we’re going up and back tonight!”

I have to say it was the scariest thing that I’ve done in years and at times I felt like I couldn’t go up and I couldn’t go down. I’m ashamed to say there were tears before I made it to the top. Being us, we managed to lose the path, which didn’t help, and to reach the top we had to pick our way over and around small boulders. But the view from the top was magnificent, looking out over where we’d come from; the forest, the lake, the surrounding hills, and out across the Irish Sea. After recovering it was time to pick a path back down and once it was decided I didn’t feel too bad about the descent. But when we ended up halfway round the lake looking across at our tent that was a real low point. All I wanted was some food and my sleeping bag.

And some food and sleep did me wonders. Waking up the next day, by the side of the lake with just a couple of sheep and three mountain goats for company, I’ve never experienced anything like it. A dip in the lake didn’t seem quite as appealing as it had from my sofa at home but we did have a refreshing wash in the ice cold stream.

The final part of our trip was down the Roman Steps which were running with rain water so that it was more like walking down a stream at times. It was a lovely, easy walk and as we headed back to the car we had time to reflect on the whole trip. We’d definitely achieved all we set out to despite not covering the distance we’d expected. But what an achievement. And we’d learned that walking is more about the experiences you have rather than the distance you cover or the places you tick off. It was such a challenge, at times everything seemed to go wrong and climbing Rhinog Fawr was terrifying. And yet if we were to do it again I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Ramblers urge walkers to push Defra on outdoor access.

Britain’s biggest walking charity is urging walkers to step up the pressure on the Government to recognise the benefit of taking to the great outdoors.
The Ramblers say the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is overlooking the access needs of walkers in the English countryside. 
A white paper from Defra on the natural environment does not include access issues and the Ramblers are urging all walkers and outdoor enthusiasts to make their voices heard in a consultation that is running at the moment.
Adrian Morris, Ramblers head of walking environment, said: “This is a great opportunity for walkers everywhere to have their say on the future of England’s natural environment. Currently the paper fails to take into consideration the importance of people’s ability to access the countryside.
“We’re urging walkers to air their views on how access and recreation can be better integrated into the other themes of the paper, and highlight that footpaths and access must be priorities in the Government’s natural environment policies.”
The full Defra consultation document, which contains details of how to submit a response, is on the Defra website.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Roaches up for SALE .......

Nine expressions of interest have been made over the future of a Staffordshire beauty spot. The Peak District National Park Authority has put the Roaches, stretching over 975 acres, up for sale.

The authority said those expressing an interest had not outlined figures, but had broadly given their vision.
It has set out criteria that a buyer has to adhere to and the one that it thinks fits the bill will be sold the area, rather than the highest bidder. 

Head of property at the authority Matthew Croney said: "I guess it is an unusual thing to do. "But the Roaches means so much to so many people for so many different reasons that as a responsible local government, we have to make sure that it goes to the right hands."

Asked what the criteria was that buyers would have to adhere to, he said: "It's really to carry on achieving the National Park statutory purposes that we've managed it for. "So for conservation, recreation and contribution to the local economy and community. So they're the basic premise on which we were looking for a partner or new owner."

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

High points in southern England - walk.

Those who fancy donning their hiking boots and heading to the highest places in the south of England can do so in a walk run by rangers from the Dartmoor National Park Authority later this month.

On October 27th a four-hour walk will take place in the Okehampton area, taking in High Willhays and Yes Tor, on the ridge above the area's military camp.

Starting at 10:30 BST, this will climb to the cairn at High Willhays, which is far from being the highest point in England but does represent the only area of land in the south above 2,000 ft.

High Willhays is the loftiest point at 2,039 ft, while Yes Tor is 2,032 ft, a few hundred yards away along the ridge.

While this is Devon's highest point, walkers can also enjoy neighbouring county tops including 1,378 ft Brown Willy in Cornwall and 1,703 ft Dunkery Beacon in Somerset.

Walk the hills for Cancer Research

ENTRIES are still being welcomed for an annual charity walk over the Malvern Hills in aid of Cancer Research UK.
The walk will start at Castlemorton Common, just outside Welland,  (Saturday, October 16) and offer three, five or nine-mile routes for ramblers of all ages and abilities.
Since 1999 the walk has raised more than £72,000 toward’s the charity’s fight against cancer.
Anyone wishing to take part can simply turn up on the day between 9am and 9.30am. For more information call organiser Ray Worth on 01684 892772
Malvern Gazette

Friday, 8 October 2010

Light up their buckets

Those who are enjoying the delights of this year’s Matlock Bath Illuminations should look out for volunteers with bright green buckets at the Mon Saturday, October 16.
Friends of the Peak District will be doing their bit to raise funds for their work protecting and enhancing the Peak District.
“We’re going to be out in force, talking to people about how they can help us,” says Danny Anderson, fundraiser with Friends of the Peak District. 
“Now, more than ever, the beautiful Peak District landscapes need protecting, so every penny counts.”
Friends of the Peak District will be by the Pavilion and around the river from about 6pm and during the illuminations.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Hen Cloud and The Roaches - Late Sept 2010 by Cat

Driving up the road towards the campsite we got our first view; Hen Cloud and The Roaches all in a line, craggy and looking rather prehistoric. What a fantastic welcome to this area we were now so keen to explore. We weren’t too sure where the campsite was but as you drive up the road you come across the farm which has a sign on the gate telling campers that the field is just up the road. We didn’t know what to expect of this site, but pulled up finding a large field with a few tents already pitched.

That evening, after dinner, sitting there chatting to fellow camper and climber Jamie it was a stunning night. The air was cold and crisp and the moon was full in the sky. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather for the time of year and we were lucky enough that this lasted the entire weekend. Despite having a 3-season bag I did have to test out my fleecy inner liner for the first time on this trip, but then I’m definitely a cold-blooded animal! Will be interesting to see how it goes as we move into December and January.

Saturday morning the sun rose in the sky and shone over the now much busier campsite which during the night had become full of climbing enthusiasts. As we weren’t planning to take our packs with us so didn’t need to be careful about weight, we could afford a bit of a luxury weekend so tucked into our full English breakfast while Jamie went off down the road to buy his.

Water and other facilities are just down the road at the farm but I will admit we went down in the car! Made me think when I got home and saw one of those charity ads about a small child who walks miles every day to fetch the water for their family. That said we were just being a bit lazy and even without the car this would still have been one of our favourite campsites.

If you want to avoid the road, you can get up to Hen Cloud the way we did. In the back right corner of the field is a hump of earth where you can get into the next field. Cross that one and you get out the other side onto the lane, where at the cattle grid you can follow a path up through some wooded ground and out onto Roaches House Lane. Alternatively head up the road to the tea rooms.

The Roaches on a nice weekend probably isn’t the place to go if you like to be alone with nature as this was definitely (by a considerable way) the busiest walk we have done. But definitely don’t be put off by this as there is a good reason why it is so busy and why people from all over the world come to The Roaches.

Walking up along the main ridge path, you’re suddenly surrounded by huge formations of grit stone rocks and rock-faces with climbers hanging off. As you walk further you pass another route to the top which comes past Rockhall Cottage and up some steep steps and out to the west views of Tittesworth Reservoir. Next up, right on the main trail was Doxey Pool bright blue and shimmering in the sunlight. On closer inspection though it was slightly murky and I’m not sure I could be lured in by the legendary mermaid (or even a merman!) that is rumoured to live there.

Follow the path and you reach the trig point, where we had panoramic views of the surrounding area, being able to see the Shutingsloe (aka the Cheshire Matterhorn for its definingly recognisable shape) and over to the mountains of Wales. Then a trek down into the woods, past an ice-cream van and onwards towards Lud’s Church.

Now, given our usual challenges with paths and maps and the fact that Lud’s Church was on Secret Places of Britain I was fairly sure we would spend hours wandering round and round and possibly end up disappointed. Happily I was wrong; Lud’s Church is actually very well signposted and after avoiding the mud we came to Robin Hood’s secret hideout.

For those of you not in on the secret, Lud’s Church is a deep chasm, formed by a massive landslide and historically a place of worship for the Pagans and the Lollards as well as being used as by many legendary characters to avoid the authorities. The original entrances are now closed off to protect them from erosion so wait for the path down the steps into the chasm below. As the light only penetrates the bottom on the sunniest of days the walls are covered in moss, and when the light does shine through it has in places a mystical quality. Perhaps not so secret and hard to find but well worth a visit.

We returned to the campsite, following an alternative and more challenging route back along the Roaches and tucked into some hearty game soup for dinner. After an awe inspiring walk, we’re definitely planning a trip back soon to climb Hen Cloud and to walk the nearby Ramshaw Rocks.