Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Minehead to Combe Martin

This weekend walk was based on an article by Paddy Dillon in TGO magazine some years ago and takes in some of the best that Exmoor has to offer. Taking the Macmillan Way West out of Minehead, I ascended through woodland to the east-west ridge and headed west. It was a Thursday evening so it was a case of stopping for something to eat and then scouting out a pitch for the night. There were only a few joggers about so as light faded I had the place to myself.

I had two new pieces of kit to try out. First was an Integral Designs Sil-Tarp 1, bought in the New Year sale at Backpackinglight for the princely sum of £25. It comes without guys and pegs so I bought 100 feet of 550 para-cord, cut it into various lengths and sealed off the ends. I used my usual tarp pegs but I'd spent some time learning some new knots, bowline, taut line hitch and prusik loop. I'd also played around with the tarp in the garden at home.

The other new item was the amazing Sawyer Mini water filter.

I found a secluded pitch in the woodland known as Wootton Common, very close to the trig at 949442. It was rather a tight fit but sufficed. I attached a ridge line between two trees and very soon had the tarp set up quite nicely as it got dark.

It was very peaceful but around 10pm ten or so cyclists went by on the track just a few feet away but I well out of sight. I slept very well.

Next morning early, I dropped down through the woodland to the village of Wootton Courtenay. It was as well that there was a little shop as I realised that I'd only brought food for two nights out and there were going to be three. Rain came on as forecast but it was light. I stopped for second breakfast just before the climb on to the moorland path to Dunkery Beacon. It was sheltered in the woodland and I knew it would be quite blustery out in the open. I didn't stop long at the Beacon. The wind was strong and it was very misty so not much to see. I came across two hunt dogs and some time later was asked by hunt people if I'd seen four hounds that appeared to have gone missing. I gave them the location of the two.

At Exe Head I joined the Tarka Trail. I had thought, by looking at the map, that a reasonable pitch might be by Pinkery Pond at 724423 but it wasn't at all suitable so I pushed on. It was still quite windy and tried to pitch the tarp just before reaching the B3358 road but it wasn't looking good. I crossed the road and immediately found a quiet field corner which, although adjacent to the road behind a wall, was very still and there was very little traffic passing by.

Next morning, I climbed the path to 717405 and headed west to the village of Challacombe and then back up to the B3358 where, after a while, there was a farm track north over Challacombe Common, eventually leading to Parracombe where the pub was, unfortunately, shut.

Over Trentishoe Down and then Holdstone Down, I found a perfect stop for the night overlooking the sea with Wales visible in the distance. I'd seen it from higher up on the path but it was a crawl through gorse to get to it. Well worth the effort. It wasn't going to rain so I pitched the tarp as a lean to, just pegged along one edge to the ground and the other edge over trekking poles and then guyed to the ground.

Next morning the sun was up early, as was I, joining the coast path to Combe Martin. I didn't really need to carry water as there were plenty of small streams to take water from and the Sawyer Mini was so easy to use (more on it in another posting). During the whole trip, I saw no other backpackers.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Ortlieb water belt

I tend not to drink enough water when backpacking, mainly because I just fill my Traveltap bottle and make it last between refills which may be few and far between. I suspect that dehydration is the cause of night time leg cramps which I tend to suffer from quite often when backpacking. If only water wasn't so heavy. I recall a day on the Lakeland to Lindisfarne hike (remembered for three days and nights of non-stop rain) when there was a dry stretch from Wooler to St. Cuthbert's Cave where we intended to pitch that night. I carried two litres of water for the whole of the day. That was an extra 4.5 lbs on my back which was no joke. If only water wasn't so heavy. Well, now it isn't! A recently acquired piece of kit is a water belt made by Ortlieb. It holds two litres and straps round the waist with adjustable straps and a plastic buckle. On its own it is used just to carry water but an optional extra is a drinking tube so water can be drunk whilst on the move without having to stop to take a bottle out of a side pocket of a backpack. The tube is easily fitted by removing part of the valve fitting from the water belt and replacing it by a screw fitting at one end of the tube. At the other end of the tube is a lockable bite-valve. This is twisted a half turn to turn the flow on and off. There is a cap attached to a cord to cover the bite-valve.

I'm not sure whether the belt is supposed to be worn on the back or the front. I've tried both but have settled for the front. I tighten the belt buckles gradually as the belt empties. The 33 inch long water tube is actually longer than I need and I thread it through a loop on a shoulder strap of my pack to keep it under control. I may shorten it a little. I can also carry the belt in my pack as a water reservoir would normally be carried. It can also be worn bandolier style although I haven't tried this. I wonder whether two could be worn in this way so four litres could be carried!

For the first few days of use, the water had a pronounced plastic/rubber taste but this has disappeared now. My first use of the belt was on the South Downs Way where water is scarce, with the exception of water taps every few miles which are invaluable. I filled up at each of these and, the weight of the water being round my waist, rather than my back, I never noticed the weight. I've often wished for dehydrated water to save weight. The Ortlieb water belt is better and will now be an essential piece of kit for me. I tend to carry two litres now as a matter of course. I have used it with river water plus chlorine tablets. It was fine, apart from the chlorine taste, but it needed rinsing out several times to fully get rid of the taste. As opposed to, say, a filled roll-up water container being carried, it's not so obvious that one is looking to discreetly wild camp somewhere.

Although, at first sight, I think many hikers will think this is a great idea, I should say that I use a pack without a hip belt and so the Ortlieb water belt is comfortable. I don't know how it would fit as well as a hip belt.

Price – the best price I found (from Ghyllside Cycles of Ambleside) were for the water belt £16.65 and for the optional drinking tube £13.50. This is one of the best pieces of kit I've come across for a long time.

Walking the Winchcombe Way

This was one that had been on the waiting list for a while. With spring in the air (just), Neil and I met on a Friday afternoon at a farm just outside Winchcombe where we were permitted to camp. The Way comprise two loops like a figure of eight with Winchcombe in the middle so tents could be left in situ. We pitched in a rather rough paddock, overlooked by a couple of nearby sheep.

We headed into the village and had a meal and drink at The Corner Cupboard to catch up generally and plan the walking the next day. Next morning, were were off at 8 o'clock, joining the nearby Gloucestershire Way which we followed for a while before continuing south east into Guiting Wood and then heading north to Temple Guiting, past the pub at Ford (where we didn't go in), through Cutsdean and Taddington and on to Snowshill where we had a bite to eat and a pint of Donningtons at The Snowshill Arms. Then on through Buckland, Laverton and on to Stanton and Stanway, both beautiful Cotswold villages. Between these two, we encountered some horrendous mud.

Through Wood Stanway and Hailes we arrived back in Winchcombe, about twenty miles covered. Neil had to head back home unexpectedly so packed up and left.

Next morning, I set off early to start the second loop of the Way, leaving Winchcombe westwards following the Gloucestershire Way/Wychavon Way, the route of which is shared by the Winchcombe Way for a while. I was a bit short of food to see me through the day so hoped to find somewhere open. There was nothing obvious at Gretton, the village shop at Alderton was closed on Sundays, as was the tearoom at Dumbleton. Nevertheless, the walking was good, although not very strenuous. I encountered a dilapidated stile at one point where it was easier to go under it rather than over.

At Dumbleton, my eye was caught, passing by the church, by the grave of Patrick Leigh Fermor who had lived here and spent his later life here.

Still no sign of food but after a muddy trudge across some fields, the Way took me literally through the garden of the Hobnails Inn at Little Washbourne. It being Sunday, the choice of food was a bag of crisps or full carvery. It's tough, backpacking.

Skirting the village of Prescott (famous for the nearby Prescott Hill Climb) about which I know next to nothing but I read quite a bit about it some years ago in one of the three volumes of autobiography of L T C Rolt, who lived in the nearby hamlet of Stanley Pontlarge, he being known for a book, Narrow Boat, about his life on the canals in the 1940s and subsequently being one of the founders of the Inland Waterways Association, amongst other things. From Prescott, there was a stiff climb of about three quarters of a mile up to Nottingham Hill. Here, the hitherto reasonable weather then deteriorated and I was hit by strong winds and heavy rain. At the B4632 crossing, instead of doing a loop of Cleeve Common, I took the easy road walk of a couple of miles into Winchcombe and so back to base, by which time the weather had, of course, improved.

It was a good weekend though and there are plenty of options for return trips to the Winchcombe area.

Monday, 8 September 2014

d'Arcy Dalton Way - Day 3

I had a really good night's sleep, waking only once in the early hours to hear a fox barking nearby and then moving away. I was away by 7am, stopping for breakfast an hour or so later just before reaching Hook Norton. Definitely on home ground around here. The Way passed through the village, through some allotments and then up a hillside to pass through Fanville Farm and across fields to Great Rollright, along a wide ridge path where I stopped for elevenses not far from the Rollright Stones and then through the tiny settlement of Little Rollright, now only a church, a manor house and a couple of cottages.

Leafy avenue at Brighthill Farm
Little Rollright
Little Rollright
I walked on to Salford and then home by lunchtime. Mission accomplished. The rest of the d'Arcy Dalton Way, about forty miles, will wait for another time. Around 9 miles walked.

This weekend, I took with me an Omron III pedometer which I bought recently having been reading that, to keep healthy and active, I must walk at least 10,000 steps a day. So, the weekend's step count was Friday 17,086, Saturday 51,607 and today 24695.

d'Arcy Dalton Way - Day 2

A very quiet night. I wasn't far from the main Banbury to Birmingham railway line but it didn't disturb my sleep. Awake at around 5.30, I was away by 6.20, continuing along the canal towpath through Cropredy and then, after a couple of hours, reaching Bridge 139 at Wormleighton Reservoir. Here, there was a footpath sign for the DDW so up I went. I had a quick look across the reservoir, took a few photos for the record and then set off southwards.

Old bridge - Bedford to Stratford-upon-Avon Railway
Here's where it starts

Wormleighton Reservoir
All set!

After the first couple of hundred yards, I had to cross the railway. This is one to be really careful over. It is a fast and busy line - two tracks. It was pleasant walking through grassy fields, then through the village of Farnborough and then the National Trust's Farnborough Park. I picked up supplies of crisps and chocolate at the little shop at Anita's camping and caravan park at Mollington - a very friendly place. They directed me to their water tap.

Couldn't resist this - a moving ad for an artificial grass company
In Mollington
Emerging from the village and entering fields, I very soon became aware of the traffic noise from the M40. I walked parallel to it for about half a mile, with the carriageway being no more than fifty feet away. However, here was a treat - a wild plum tree with fruit there for the taking - which I did. At other times all through the weekend, there were also blackberries and elderberries. I then crossed the M40 by means of a footbridge.

Then through Shotteswell, across the B4100 road, eventually reaching Hornton, where I went into the Dun Cow for a pint. The pub was deserted, this seeming to be another case of locals not using their pub enough. I read that Liverpool Cathedral was built using Hornton Stone although it is now quarried at nearby Edge Hill. The stone is a deep honey colour and I prefer the look of it to Cotswold Stone.

 I just continued to walk and walk. The weather was pretty perfect. I passed through Shenington and Epwell, stopping near the junction with the B4035 around 6pm to cook up a meal before walking on. The Way took me through the grounds of Sibford School in the village of Sibford Ferris. Here, I espied a water hose and took the opportunity to fill up my water belt which then left me equipped to find a pitch for the night whenever I wanted. At 7.45pm I was ambling along musing that, at that exact point in time, with it going to start getting dark shortly, I hadn't a clue where I would be spending the night. For me, that is one of the joys of wild camping. Shortly after passing Sibford Grounds Farm and dropping down through woodland, I skirted by a field of corn on the cob (so much of it growing around here) where the path entered more woodland. By going on a few yards along the field edge and then around a corner, I found an excellent pitch. I set up and it was getting dark about twenty minutes later.

About 18 miles walked today.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

d'Arcy Dalton Way - Day 1

The DDW is one of the closest long distance paths close to where I live. I was given the book of it some years ago. I've done odd bits of it as it coincides with other local walks here and there and when driving around this area, there are numerous footpath signs bearing its name. It weaves about all over the place. The DDW starts at Wormleighton Reservoir north of Banbury on the Oxford Canal and ends at Wayland's Smithy, which is the starting point of the Ridgeway. It is 65 miles long. My plan for this weekend was to do the section from the start to its closest point to home.

To do this, I was driven up to Banbury and abandoned near the Southam Road where I dropped down to the Oxford Canal. To reach the start of the DDW, I had to walk for eight miles up the canal towpath to bridge 139. There is no immediate vehicle access, although it would be possible to drive to within half a mile or so of the start, walk to the reservoir and then back again, and then continue the walk. The canal towpath was good walking, passing by a couple of stretches of permanent moorings. They are real little communities. Of course, there were also numerous holiday boats, all of which had moored for the night.

Oxford Canal
I walked from 6.10pm to around 7.30pm as light began to fade. Canals aren't easy for wild camping. The land on either side is, more often than not, impossible to get to due to impenetrable hedges. Locks are often good, though, particularly the side opposite the towpath. It is easy to get across the lock over the gates at either end. Slat Mill Lock was a good resting place. I recognised the nearby farmhouse (Peewit Farm) as being the venue for a festival I was at a few weeks ago.

Slat Mill Lock

Sunday, 29 June 2014

North of England Way - postponement

My insides still aren't right and I'm not fancying any of the food I've brought with me and rather lacking in energy levels as a result. I took the decision yesterday to save the rest of this walk for another time. However, any final decision was taken out of my hands this morning when I put my back out! I won't disclose what I was doing that precipitated it. So, this walk will be continued at another time.

Hawes is an excellent place to spend a couple of days. Have visited friends who live here and this is the home of Wensleydale cheese so not all is doom and gloom. It's appropriate to describe the Way as  Wallace might - "Cracking good walk, Gromit!" The North of England Way is very good. How does it compare with the Wainwright Coast to Coast? Well, I did that some ten years ago so I can't really remember but it is well worth doing. The route from here would be Bainbridge, Askrigg, Aysgarth Falls, Castle Bolton, Thirsk and then over the North York Moors to Helmsley, Scalby and then a short way down the coast to Scarborough. Without exception, those I met along the way would say that they'd never heard of it. It's none the worse for that though. Although the book of the Way by David Maughan is out of print, it's available on Amazon second hand.