Dartmoor 2018

This summer we visited one of our National Parks for the first time. Somehow, after 6 years of living on the South Coast, within a few hours drive, and after countless trips to Devon and Cornwall for family visits and “normal” holidays I had never set foot on Dartmoor.

The purpose of the trip to was to spend a few days down there and just boulder as much as possible and when we first planned it out the forecast was great for Friday to Sunday with a few showers on the days either side. On the week of the trip the forecast changed and we were faced with the prospect of torrential rain  over that weekend. I hadn’t had time to plan any wet weather hiking as an alternative to bouldering so I moved some things around, worked like a dog on Monday and Tuesday, cramming 4 days work into 2 and on the Wednesday morning we jumped on a ferry and headed west.

We took a slow drive down as it was meant to be wet in Devon that day, so we stopped at a few places for a wander and an explore. One of which was going to be Lyme Regis but the “park and ride” car park was bursting and we just didn’t want to put ourselves through that. We did stop at Haldon Forest , which was very busy too but we found a quiet spot in the woods for a picnic and an explore.

Back in the car we decided to take the smaller roads through the park rather than the ironically named Devon Expressway, and we’re so glad we did. We so blown away by the landscape, even from the car, and I said to Hazel that “this place should be a secret!”. My mind started whirring, wondering if we could come back and hike across the park. (If there’s an established route please let me know). We were heading to Down Tor and Sheepstor at the western end of the park, near Tiverton, as I’d found a guide to the bouldering on Down Tor and ,after a chat with Graeme at www.wildcamping.blog/  on Instagram, found that we could camp on neighbouring Sheepstor. (Cheers Graeme!)

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On the way across we stopped to investigate some boulders, so we parked up grabbed the crash mat and climbing shoes and hiked maybe a 1/4 of a mile to a promising looking Tor. We climbed for about an hour, just looking for any way up. The kids enjoyed squeezing into a crack and making their ascents that way. We were just playing really but having a great time all 5 of us doing the same thing at the same time and all completely knackered by the time we hiked back to the car.

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Suddenly it was 7 o clock and as we got to the car, we heard thunder, then the rain came and then we saw the lightening, none of which was on the bloody forecast! We sensibly decided to head for a campsite lower down rather than wildcamp high on the moor with all this lightening around. It ultimately rained until the early hours but that didn’t stop the kids getting soaked in the play area in the dark while I sorted out the tent and dinner.

The following morning was damp but breezy so we headed into town and treated ourselves to a big, dirty fry up to give the rock a chance to dry off. We drove round some narrow lanes and before too long we were there. A 5 minute hike took us to the first set of boulders, which we ended up spending a few hours at. To honest I climbed really badly but really enjoyed myself. The kids had a blast and after trying a few lines from the guidebook were happy just finding their own ways up things.

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After a brew we headed on up the hill and just had so much to play around on. We reached the top of the Tor and found some really fun stuff to climb, some in the guidebook, some not but we didn’t care. It was just great to be climbing outside. We were just discussing the plans for the next day when the rain started so we wandered back to the car for a late tea. We were hoping to camp up on Sheepstor but again there was some lightening around so we decided to just go for a drive and see what the weather does.

Then evening brightened up so we stopped for a little hike up onto another Tor from where we could see where we had spent the day getting sore fingers and grazes and then we went to find a spot to camp. The rain had started again so we found a layby, spent 10 minutes wondering if we could all sleep in the car comfortably and just started putting down seat when another car came into the layby. A young french couple asked if we were planning to camp here, so abandoning the chaos in the car we grabbed the tent and sleeping bags and headed only about 200 yards away and pitched up behind some gorse. The other couple pitched only about 10 yards from their car so we felt like we had at least made an effort toward stealthiness.

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It rained all night and into the next morning. The forecast said it was in for the day so we had a slow drive back to our ferry. This time the slow drive wasn’t our choice as the rain and holiday traffic turned our drive into an 8 hour marathon! Never mind.

Even though the weather seemed against us for this flying visit to Dartmoor, I know it will quickly become a favourite spot for us. Outside of school holidays, it should be a really accessible and beautiful “go to” place for us. Its huge amount of climbing, bouldering and hiking and being so close (on a good day) may just move it ahead of Snowdonia as our National Park of choice.

Mind you there’s still a few we haven’t visited yet.

Thanks again to Graeme at Dartmoor Wild Camper and Pete Saunders at Rusty Peg

Pen y Fan 2018

After almost a day in the car and a 12 month delay, we had reached the base of our objective. Pen Y Fan. We had tried to climb this peak in the Brecon Beacons the previous year and were met with torrential rain and gales so we ran away to find some waterfalls instead. This time, in the midst of a glorious summer, we had to be luckier with the weather, right?

We planned a rather ambitious route rather than a straight up and down from the nearest car park, after all it was a long way to come for one mountain. So for us it was to be 4 named summits, forests, a reservoir, a historic town and a canal tow path over 2 or 3 days and around 28 miles.

Traffic had hindered our journey and the drive which should take 3 and a bit hours, resulted in a 7 hour car ride. We managed to get to Talybont on Usk around 3 pm and decided to crack on, get up into the woods and find a spot near the reservoir to camp. Once along the tow path and up through some hedgerow lined trail, we joined the Taff Trail which would lead us around the reservoir. We made good progress for the next couple of hours along the wide, flat gravelled trail which I’m guessing is focussed on cyclists, dodging a couple of vans throwing up dust as they serviced the bunkhouse accommodating some Naval Cadets (who kindly refilled our bottles).

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If you know our kids, however, there’s only so much wide, flat trail they can take before getting a little weary so we made a decision to leave the Taff Trail at the first opportunity, following a little track down the hillside to the back of the reservoir and onto the road for a mile or so where we found a lovely spot to have a little supper and a paddle in the stream.

We pressed on, along the road and picked up the Beacons Way on the south east side of the mountain. We started climbing steadily as the sun was dipping below the mountain, and the kids, Isaac especially, were getting thoroughly tired out. Considering they were up and about to catch a ferry at 6.30am and they were now on the side of a mountain at gone 10 at night, they had done really well. Fortunately we found a really good, flat spot to throw the tarp for the night, and while the long grass was a bit scratchy and tickley, it was fine for us.

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Actually fine doesn’t really cut it. That was the most perfect night for wildcamping ever. Think about it, make a list of every thing you want for a wild sleep out. On a mountain, flat spot to sleep on, warm, dry, clear sky and stars, no dew and a super moon! Oh and Mars visible to the South (ish). We all fell asleep stargazing and by the morning we had all wriggled out of the tarp and were just sleeping in the grass, cowboy style. Perfect.

We woke up with the sun (about 4.30ish) and slowly packed everything away before starting to climb what turned out to be probably the steepest section of the trail (or it was morning legs) before stopping for a porridgey breakfast and some coffee. With our bellies full we started making our way to our first summit, Fan Y Big, going slightly wrong for a bit and recovering soon enough but now the early morning sunshine was disappearing behind a wall of unforecasted grey.

Tagging the top of Fan Y Big and dropping down into a bit of a saddle we decided to bypass Cribyn because of the impending downpour and to be honest, a cup of coffee felt much better than another fairly steep climb. We picked up the trail which took us around the back of Cribyn, dodging some ponies, and onto the climb of Pen Y Fan itself. Half way up this section we were buzzed by the helicopter practicing its landing on Cribyn before flying right by us, banking steeply and giving the kids a wave.

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The kids really enjoyed this little section and before we knew it we on top of Pen Y Fan, albeit 12pm already, and looking at Corn Du for our 3rd summit of the hike. Then the clouds burst and visibility reduced to next to nothing so we decided to get out of Dodge and off the mountain. It was the lightning that made our minds up really. We dropped off the northern trail leading off the summit and headed downwards through the rain, which by now was persistent and would be for the rest of the day, and headed for Brecon.

Basically we decided to cut off an eight mile section of our planned route, back on the Taff Trail, and see what the weather decided to do. It would have been an uncomfortable night for the kids in the tarp, on wet ground and persistent rain so on arrival in Brecon, Hazel found them some hot chocolate and I jumped onto a bus back to the car. When I came back to pick them up they were soaking wet in the play park, but very very happy.

Ok, I know we didn’t do what we had planned but we still climbed 2 mountains, slept under the stars and a super moon and hiked some 21 miles in just over 24 hours and if that’s not an adventure, I don’t know what is!!

Chasing Shadows and Searching for Dinosaurs

On a balmy evening, during what would turn out to be the hottest summer for quite a while, I set out on a little hike with Lil to celebrate her 9th birthday. About a month before I had asked her what she wanted for a present this year and when, after some thought, she returned with an answer of “a hiking trip with you Dad” I felt quite proud. How many 9 year olds want nothing more for their birthday than to hike into the night, sleep under a tarp and get up super early the next morning to walk some more? What a girl!

Anyway, due to work commitments and school we left home about 4.30pm, had the car parked up by just after 5 and headed along the chalk ridge onto downs. With the sun on our backs and a gentle breeze we headed eastwards, chasing our shadows which were near perfect silhouettes on the brilliant white chalk trail.

After hiking for a few hours, through the golf course and onto the downs we were spoilt by breathtaking views of the coastline, the prospect of a magnificent sunset and an empty trail we settled down to have something to eat before finding camp. Because the summer had been so, so dry I was a little paranoid about cooking up and the fire risk but with Lil especially being hungry we set up our little kitchen in the middle of the trail by a little bench and chowed down on some noodles and some especially disgusting rice pudding which Lil described as, and I quote “Buttery Blurggghhh!!!”.

Our original plan had been to sleep in hammocks at a spot in the woods that was perfect, we had previously used the same spot for slacklining and knew that this small stand of Beech trees in an otherwise Oak and Hazel populated forest would be perfect. The canopy of the beech trees suppresses the growth of bracken and brambles and nettles on the woodland floor so camping here would be ideal. Unfortunately the Forestry Commission had other ideas and had been in that particular stand, thinning, and had left an awful mess and removed some prime hammocking trees so we were a little disappointed. We had hoped to set up camp and head back onto the downs for the sunset so we decided to throw up a tarp off the trail and settled down to watch the sunset and go to sleep. It got quite chilly, but I suppose that was just relative. I don’t think it got lower than about 15°C but when the sun was up it was about 32°. Lil woke up about 2am and shouted in my ear “STARS!!!” and by the time I asked if she wanted a middle of the night hot chocolate, she was already back asleep.

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Lil's first #wildcamp

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IMG_2085We woke up, slightly damp from the dew, packed up our camp and were hiking again before 6am. We were treated to a glorious sunrise and some fresh cobwebs in our faces as we came off the downs, along hedgerow lined trails, to the coast. We had a porridgey breakfast on the cliffs at Brook before continuing along the beach to Hannover Point and a search for dinosaur footprints. Technically they’re “footcasts” after sediment has filled in the footprint and fossilised. After the softer material around it has eroded we’re left with almost perfect imprints of Iguanadon feet.

Heading round to Compton Bay, we climbed the rickety steps and rejoined the costal path, the warm sun again throwing our shadows in front of us and we were back at the car by 8.30 and home by 9 for a busy weekend with the whole family. We were only out for about 15 or 16 hours but we had such a great time. What a birthday treat for Lil.  (And Me!!)

 

 

 

The Shepherds Trail

The Shepherds Trail runs from behind the castle at Carisbrooke for 7 miles to the south coast of the Island at Shepherds Chine, which is also the home of our favourite campsite so we decided to hike it on the May Day Holiday weekend.

We live in central Newport so its a good three quarters of a mile up to the trailhead, but as it was also “Comic Book Day” we had to go via the comic shop to pick up some campsite reading for the kids. It was already hot when we passed Carisbrooke Priory and headed onto the trail properly and it had seemed to take an age to get through town, but now we were out in the countryside.

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The trail wound its way alongside fields and the occasional patch of woodland and the air was filled the pungent aroma of our sweat (it was baking) and wild garlic which lined the path. The garlic was soon replaced by large fields of oilseed rape and with the sun beating down on it smelled like summers gone by.

We stopped often for drinks and snacks, passed through the villages of Gatcombe and Chillerton and were soon heading into open country where a lack of shade was becoming noticeable. A late lunch was taken in a hamlet I hadn’t known existed called Billingham before we started to climb and were greeted by our first views of the coast. From here we started to descend, through a fairly new mixed woodland plantation, more oilseed rape fields and onto Dungewood Lane where we found cobwebs full of caterpillars in the hedge, some large fungus and a second wind.

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IMG_1749We could see the campsite now so with a renewed vigour and the promise of ice cream we lifted our pace and arrived just before 5 pm only to be greeted by a distinct lack of lollies. It was still early in the season so the campsite freezer hadn’t been stocked.  We found what looked to be a nice quiet spot, pitched up the tent and as an unusual luxury, the tarp as well and then headed down to the beach where we played in the sea, scrambled on some rocks and packed out some plastic.

 

After a dinner of pasta snacks I got a little fire going in the base of the storm kettle and toasted some marshmallows before turning in for the night. Lil and Mum shared the tent while the boys decided they wanted to spend the night under the tarp with me. I was a little concerned as Isaac hadn’t camped in the tarp before but he was insistent on it being set up, open at each end.

It got quite chilly overnight and Isaac woke up a couple of times saying he was cold but really he had rolled off his sleep mat and his bag had got a little damp. He came and got snuggled in with me rather than go in the tent so he was like a little hot water bottle for me. Evan slept soundly and warm, buried deep in his sleeping bag.

We woke up about 6am, and although I’m usually a very conscientious camper, I didn’t tell the kids to be quiet for our neighbours benefit. After all they didn’t care about sleeping kids when they came back from the beach around 11pm and started playing the worst house music as loud as possible. That was a shame really because we like the campsite because its usually very quiet, even when busy, but next time we’ll probably just find somewhere to wildcamp rather than pay to be woken up by, well, other people. We walked back the way we came and were all thoroughly baked by the time we got home so I nipped to the shops and got the kids a well deserved ice cream.

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It was a lovely trail, at a perfect time of year.  I reckon it could be quite muddy during winter and early spring, and we didn’t find many additional water sources along the way so we were rationing our water towards the end so later in the summer might see us carrying more water, although there is a little pub in Chillerton if you need more liquid refreshment.

Official Trail Leaflet

The Cerne Valley Trail

After the disappointment of our aborted Glyndwrs Way hike we relocated to Dorset for a couple of days. That didn’t quite go as planned either as the rain meant that every campsite we tried to stop in on the way down was either booked up or waterlogged. So instead of camping Wednesday night we had a choice, straight to the ferry and back to the Island, or crash at Gramps and Nana Julie’s place in Weymouth. We weren’t ready for home.

We decided on some light, gentle walking on the Cerne Valley Trail up to Cerne Abbas, about 4 1/2 miles. We told the kids to look out for something special without giving away the surprise of what we would encounter later and they spent ages guessing at what it might be, Evans guess of “an ancient statue” was pretty close.

IMG_1580We strolled along in the sunshine, free of our heavy packs from a few days earlier and played pooh sticks from the little bridge across the stream before we started to run into our old friend from Glyndwrs Way, MUD. To be honest it was expected around farm yards and gates but for about a mile or so the trail ran along a bridleway so you can imagine what horses had done to the track. Ahh, the joys of multiuse trails! I think every child lost a shoe in the mud at least twice and like a bad Dad I enjoyed stopping to take a photo of them hopping around before going to the rescue. Mud aside, it was a lovely little trail through proper English countryside, mostly alongside a sparkling stream, past farms, churches and allotments into the idyllic village of Cerne Abbas.

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IMG_1608We made our way through the village, past the old abbey and on to “Giant Hill” with the kids none the wiser. Now we were up close and personal with one of Dorsets most famous residents but although we could easily make out the chalk markings in the turf it wasn’t until we hiked over to the other side of the valley that the kids could finally see what all the fuss was about. “It’s a man” said Lil before Isaac blurted out hysterically “And he’s got a massive willy!!!!”

So after “admiring” the view and enjoying a light picnic we headed back to the car, via the little post office for a can of ginger pop and the children’s all time favourite trail feature, a playpark.

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You can just see the Giant and his big…ahem!.. from here

For more photos head to the gallery or our Facebook Page for even more.

Rhayader Dams

Back in February my brother got married (Congratulations Jacko!) so we headed back to the shire for what was a lovely family occasion. We did however manage to steal away for a few hours in the hills.

We popped over the border into Wales and headed up to Rhayader Dams, or the Elan Valley if you prefer. It’s lovely up there and I had spent quite a bit of time exploring that area when I was still living in Leominster (I left about 14 years ago) and have found memories, especially the trips I took with my Grandparents when they came to visit.

Anyway, we parked up at the visitor centre, crossed the stream under the dam, got soaked from the spray as the water was gushing over the top of the dam, and headed to a few crags to investigate the potential for a days climbing later in the summer.

I was very pleased to find some shiny new bolts on some of the routes and looking at the UKC website there’s a couple I should be able to manage to do. There’s also a couple of half decent anchor points so I set up a top rope for the kids to play on if it turns out I can’t lead any of them. Afterwards we headed out in the car to see the other dams and managed a little hike along the lake before heading back to the wedding preparations.

Alright, it wasn’t the most adventurous day we’ve had but any day in the hills count. Right? We’ve come away with a plan to go back and climb and, if time allows, there’s definitely a hike of a couple days possible if we start in the town and make a loop taking in all three dams, wild camping for the night, or we could make a route to Aberwystwyth over 4 or 5 days. The possibilities are numerable.

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