A little while ago I stumbled across a Facebook post about the New Forest Film Festival. This perked my interest because a couple of years ago Evan and I made a little film as we hiked across the National Park in an attempt to reach Salisbury. Once I checked the guidelines for submissions I noticed that we had filmed that hike just a little too long ago to enter it this time around, so without needing much arm twisting we set our sights on making another film. (more…)
Ok, there are many benefits to hiking on the coast. Scenic views, access to “facilities”, plentiful Ice Cream to name a few. My highlight of our hike around the Isle of Wight was sitting on the beach watching my daughter practicing her ballet in the sea, in her hiking gear. I may have got a little sand in my eye. Honest, it was definitely sand.
So while this isn’t quite a trip report of our hike around the Isle of Wight, which will come in the next couple of weeks once we’ve sorted the 1300ish photos, I do feel I want to write something about the hike which we finished less than 48 hours ago. (Today is Friday, we finished Wednesday evening, and this should be up Monday).
Lets call it a highlights package!
Day One – Gurnard to St Helens. 17 and a bit miles.
Highlights – The section from Ryde to St Helens. Our first real experience at night hiking. Isaacs reaction to reaching St Helens, which he recognised, even in the dark, from a recent school trip. £6 Camping.
Lowlights – “Tarmac-geddon”. Apart from maybe the last mile and a half, the whole day was on tarmac or alongside a road, and after leaving East Cowes we hardly saw the coast until Ryde esplanade.
Day Two – St Helens to Shanklin. 13 ish miles.
Highlights – Through the Duver and across the causeway at St Helens. The climb up Culver and resulting ice cream. Late lunch on the beach. Playing the Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Kids Vote for that one).
Lowlights – The Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Dads). More tarmac. Few wild camp opportunities so had to use another campsite.
Day Three – Shanklin to Somewhere along the South Coast – 14 ish miles.
Highlights – The landslip from Luccombe to Bonchurch, the Sea wall to Ventnor. The Cliff tops to St Lawrence, Steephill Cove, finding new beaches, the views from above Blackgang, Wild Camping on the cliffs beyond Chale, the whole day really.
Lowlights – None, best day on the trail.
Day 4 – Chale – Totland -Around 17 miles
Highlights – Trail all except last mile. Expansive views.Ice Cream at Totland. Climb up Tennyson Down and along to Needles. Spotting a fox about 3 feet away from us and having a staring contest with it.
Lowlights – Views of Needles obscured by the Old Battery which requires entry fee and was closed anyway. Once again someone commoditising our natural landmarks!
Day 5 – Totland to Home – 18 and a half miles.
Highlights – Second breakfast in Yarmouth, Bouldnor Forest and Hampstead. Thorness Bay and the last 1/2 mile to Gurnard Beach where we were practically jogging to catch the sunset from our local beach.
Lowlights – Some very dodgy road walking through Shalfleet and around Porchfield. Running out of trail.
We had a really good time on the trail and would definitely repeat some of it again, probably Shanklin round to Yarmouth, but you can keep East Cowes to Ryde, I’m never hiking that section again. #Tarmac-geddon.
I’ll do a full trip report in the next couple of weeks so keep your eyes peeled, click the follow button or find us on social places @justupthetrail
Please allow me to introduce the stars of this little blog, the kids.
Ev is the eldest of the bunch, he’s 11 as I write this and we can’t believe where the time has gone. He’s a steady hiker, although he much prefers hiking in the afternoons and is generally most concerned with the availability of snacks. He also enjoys scrambling around on boulders and has started rock climbing at a local sports centre. Most importantly, he is great company on trail and carries a fair amount of stuff for us. He’s like a little pack pony, so much so his trail name should be “El Burro”. You can watch the little hiking film we made together in the New Forest here.
Meet Lil, she’s 9, and while she’s sandwiched between the two boys she really holds her own. She is a great hiker, a bold climber and is fearless on the slackline. She’ll try anything in search of adventure and will always be the wettest or muddiest child as soon as possible. Later this year Lil and I and will be trying out hammock camping for the first time and we really can’t wait. You can read her own account of her birthday hike here
Here’s Isaac, he’s 7 and being the youngest his hiking resume sounds the most impressive. He climbed Snowdon and Cadair Idris at 4, Moel Siabod at 4 and 3/4s and hiked the entirety of the West Highland Way at 5 and a half. He’s a real trooper on the trail and will often be far ahead of the rest of us, looking for scrambly bits! He’s also another one that’s fearless on the climbing wall and wants to climb in the Olympics when he’s bigger!
Mum and Dad or Hazel and Rob if you’d prefer!
We have made our home on the Isle of Wight and while we’re a little far from the mountains, we have found plenty of adventures on the island. We’re the proud parents of 3 adventurous and hardy little people. Whatever challenge we have undertaken, they have risen to meet it and we are firm believers that kids are more capable and adaptable than they are ever given credit for. We look forward to many, many more adventures with these three and hope to share them with you.
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.
We 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!!)
Here I am just after getting my backside handed to me on our first, proper bouldering trip to Dartmoor, earlier in the summer. I’ve been climbing for about a year and while I know that it’s not the kind of activity you can start at 39 years old and expect to be great at, I had hoped for better results than this.
I dropped the grade down from what I was doing fairly easily indoors and just couldn’t climb anything. I could say I was tired from the drive and wet camp the night before. I may have been a little anxious about not hurting myself, after all no one else was able to drive the kids home or maybe, and this may be the truth, I’m not as good at this as I thought I was!
We managed to pinch an afternoon from my Dads 60th Birthday celebrations in the shire and we crossed the border to one of our favourite spots, Rhayader and the Elan Valley. We had been up here for a recce back in February and coupled with some research from UK Climbing decided that it was worth another visit for our first outdoor climb on real rock.
It had been wet in the morning but a combination of a strong breeze and intermittent sunshine dried the rock so we could climb. I set up a top rope on an easier route and away we went, the kids first then Hazel and I. It was so so different to climbing indoors, the holds weren’t obvious and bright red or green, the wind buffeted us and the rock wasn’t plumb vertical. It was also so much more fun and personally, it felt really instinctive, rather than going for the hold because its the right colour it was more like “this feels right”.
Evan had a bit of a moment at the top when he wanted to climb onto the top of the crag and walk back around but I insisted he get lowered for practice and the next time he might be able to just top out and walk down the back way. He managed to come down ok in the end though and we all had a really good time. Unfortunately didn’t move onto other routes as the weather turned against us but we all left rather pleased with ourselves and vowed to return soon.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
Please be aware that the following is NOT an endorsement of any brand, retailer or product. Merely a statement of how we kitted out the kids on a budget.
I’ll be the first to admit it. I LOVE GEAR, or kit or whatever you want to call it. I can spend ages reading the kit reviews in magazines or looking through the racks of our nearest outdoor supplier. My problem is that it’s all so expensive. I know, “You get what you pay for” but I can’t justify paying £100+ on a jacket while I’ve got kids to provide for.
However that doesn’t mean we don’t try to kit the kids out decently for our adventures because if they’re warm, dry and comfortable their less likely to moan. Even in the rain. Before our first big adventure to climb Snowdon we tried to get them the basics at a fair price and slowly built on that. So here is a little list along with a rough idea of what we paid for the stuff. So far it’s worked out fine.
- Boots. These came from Mountain Warehouse in the sale at around £15 a pair. Kids being kids, they have grown out of the original pairs but these have been replaced with hand me downs (Lil now has Ev’s) a pair found in the charity shop and another pair from the same store. (For Isaac who doesn’t quite fit into Lil’s old ones)
- Trousers. We put them in leggings for our first big hikes and they have really worked well. If they do get wet, they dry really quickly. I think we got some from Sports Direct for about £3 a pair. In the winter they can put their padded waterproofs over them for extra warmth.
- Tops. They each had a new wicking base layer to help keep them comfortable. Again about £3 from Sports Direct. Fleeces they already had or came from the local charity shops.
- Coats/Waterproofs. I did buy them new coats, again Sports Direct were pretty good, they had either Gelert or Karrimor waterproof coats at about £12 each. I got them in gender neutral colours so they can handed down.
- Hats and Gloves they already had.
So there you go. I feel we’ve kitted them out pretty well at affordable rates. They’re always comfy, generally dry and rarely complain about being cold. Job done.
I was abruptly woken from slumber, at 6.30 am by my 3 kids jumping on me with nothing but excitement in their eyes. No it wasn’t Christmas but it was the morning of my 38th birthday, we were in the little blue tent and for me, the day couldn’t have started better. The following day was to be Isaac’s 6th birthday and when we asked him what he wanted to do for his special day I couldn’t have been prouder.
“I want to go mountain climbing for my birthday!”
So that was decided. We threw bits in the car, jumped on a ferry and headed for Snowdonia. Isaac had said he really wanted to go up Snowdon again but on a different trail so that was easy to plan for but for my special day I wanted to head back to Moel Siabod and spend a couple of hours scrambling up and down Daer Ddu. The weather forecast had other ideas though. Saturday promised to a lovely sunny day with light breezes but Sunday, Isaac’s Birthday looked like a wash out. So on my birthday, so as not to disappoint the little man, we headed back to the scene of our first mountain ascent a few years ago. Snowdon.
We headed out of our quiet camping spot in Beddgelert Forest and headed for the Rhyd-Ddu station and the trail of the same name. It was a great route up, plenty of boulders for the kids to play on, a giant hole in the ground and a precipitous drop as we headed up to the slightly exposed Bwlch main. It was fairly quiet for the last Saturday of the school holidays until we reached the summit.
A scene reminiscent of a festival greeted us. I don’t mean just busy, it was like a small town had established itself on the summit or someone was handing out free money from the summit cairn, frankly it was horrible. I knew it was going to be busy up there but the quiet approach had fooled me. There was some kind of organised race up the mountain from Llanberis and lots of people like ourselves just out for the day. I did experience a first though. I got sworn at for stopping to look out at the view so the person behind had to break stride. I know, how selfish of me!.
We didn’t bother to queue for the cairn and headed down via the PYG track which was a delight apart from an idiot leaving the trail to take a selfie and kicking a load rocks down onto us below. He didn’t come back our way, which is probably good because I would have shouted at him. Anyway, apart from that we had great fun coming down the track, the views are outstanding and there are plenty of rocky bits for the kids to play on, we spent our time chatting about our previous visit and what we might do in the rain tomorrow. We jumped on the bus at Pen y pass back to Beddgelert and went for drive to Caernarfon and a stroll around the old town before heading on for a Birthday Big Mac.
(Click on the photo which should take you to flickr for more photos of our Snowdon Traverse)
Back in the summer, Evan and I made a plan to hike from the ferry terminal at Lymington, through the New Forest and on to Salisbury Cathedral. We hiked 7 miles on Friday evening before setting up the tarp and wildcamping. The next morning we awoke, surrounded by ponies, and set off by 6.30 am. We covered 21 miles that day, but fatigue hit us hard mid afternoon. We had been using the GPS device which had our proposed route loaded on but the remaining mileage never really matched up with our position on the map. Based on the figure the GPS was giving us we should have reached Salisbury that evening, however on closer inspection the technology only show 3/4s of our route. This news lowered Evans spirits somewhat, and coupled with a lack of water sources, we decided to call a halt to what had been a really enjoyable hike. I always say its better to have a good time than a push on and not enjoy it so we jumped on a bus and headed home.
We managed to make a little film about our adventure, although the camera equipment needs upgrading from a 10 year old digital compact camera and an iPhone4, so I hope you enjoy it.
The Tent that Redefined our Adventuring.
A few years ago we came to a conclusion. Camping holidays are frustrating. We would get together all the stuff we felt we needed, cram it into the car and drive for hours, kids squashed in like sardines to a campsite that had been booked months in advance and build a camp. Then we head off to explore and return every night to basecamp. Yes we had loads of fun but we seemed to spend so much time in the car that it got too much. No more car camping. (You can read more about our decision making here)
I managed to pick up two 3 man Coleman Cobra tents at a good price and they have had a really positive effect on our camping expeditions. The idea was to be more portable while we’re away and that has definitely happened. I bought 2 tents so initially Hazel and the little ones could share while Evan and I go into the second. When the kids get older they can share and husband and wife can be reunited. That was the plan.
The first time we took them out was just to the back of the Island (or the south coast if you prefer). We set up the first tent really quickly and immediately put the second one away. These tents were massive (for 3 man tents) so we decided to experiment. As it was only for one night we all piled in and we had plenty of room.
Since then we have only ever set up one tent at a time and it’s only now that the kids are three years older that it’s beginning to be a squeeze. The second tent lives in my backpack (inside a smaller stuff sack with poles strapped on the outside) for impromptu wild camps. We have even swapped the inner for a groundsheet in the summer if we know bugs won’t be an issue
So far these tents have kept us dry and warm (it went down to -8 last March) and I have every confidence that they will perform admirably when we hike the West Highland Way this Easter. The only slight issue we’ve experienced is that condensation can be an issue but I’m sure that’s only because there’s 5 of us in it, anyway when it’s dry we generally leave the doors open so I can doze off under the stars.
Update January 2018:
The tent did indeed perform well on our West Highland Way trip last Easter the only downside was the weight. After a couple of days I really felt every gram of the 2.9kg but in fairness it kept 5 people warm and dry in at times some horrendous weather and I think I’ll struggle to find a tent that sleeps 2 adults and 3 kids for much less weight unless I spend an obscene amount of money.
There were a couple of times when we had to hike longer to get to a campsite for the night because potential wildcamping spots in the trees were too small for the tent, but would have perfect if we’d carried a tarp as well.
All in all, we love our little blue tent but this will definitely be the last year we all cram into it because the kids are growing too quickly. Whether we look for an ultralight 4 man replacement or get an additional 2 man tent for the kids to share while we stay with the Coleman remains to be seen.
The term hiking usually conjures up images of rough tracks, high mountains and wilderness. Unfortunately we’re not all lucky enough to have that on our doorstep so shouldn’t we make use of the resources we have just outside our front door. Pavements. We could spend days walking the streets of London or York, New York for that matter, and not see everything on offer. We all know that. But what about the little market towns and former industrial hubs that most of us call home. I’m sure we can find something of interest if we look hard enough.
It’s said that all high streets look the same nowadays and at ground level that’s probably true but look above the facades of the chain stores and express supermarkets and that’s where you see it. It might be a name of long since vanished retailer painted onto the side of the building or maybe an interesting chimney pot or some remarkable stone work created by a master of an almost forgotten skill. Now when I visit new towns and cities I’m usually looking upwards for remnants of the history of the place. Most people miss it, some don’t even know it’s there. Just here, in Newport Isle of Wight there’s stacks of history so imagine what you might find in your hometown. Just remember to look up.
We tricked Gramps into hiking with us. He may not realise but yes, that wander around the narrow alleyways, riverbanks and dockyards that he used to frequent was indeed hiking. an urban hike. We had a great afternoon and our very own personal guide and I think the kids got a little insight to where there Grandad grew up.
If you’ve been on a great Urban Hike, have any ideas for towns and cities to hike through or think urban hiking is the worst idea ever, leave us a comment below. Cheers.