What’s in your Pack #3. Wild Camping

After a while, hiking out and back in a day, we decided to dip our toes into wildcamping. The first image that comes into my head when thinking of wildcamping is of a solo hiker, setting up a tiny tent or bivvy, out of sight of everyone else, maybe up on a quiet hill or behind a hedge in a field. It seemed too tricky to do with 3 children in tow. Our first experience was in Scotland where wildcamping is widely permitted and we used our little blue tent. Since then we’ve gotten braver and now use the tarp and have wildcamped where its not as widely accepted. Some notable camps have included Brook and Tennyson Downs on the Isle of Wight, The New Forest and Dartmoor (although it is permitted across a large part of this particular national park). The usual rules apply; pitch late, pack up early and make sure you “Leave No Trace”.

Obviously, along with our usual hiking gear, we need some extra kit for wild camping so if you use the previous posts on lowland and mountain day hiking as a guide and then add the following. Once again we may not use something that you can’t do without or we may carry something completely frivolous, we can have a chat about that in the comments below. Again there’s a downloadable checklist for your own use if you like that sort of thing.

Snowy Tent

Shelter

We started off using our 3 man tent, mainly because of the security it provided from the elements and the kids seemed more confident in the tent. We did find that the footprint was too large for lots of perfect wild spots so we would have to hike on and usually end up at a less than perfect spot.

Now we take the 3x3m tarp and there’s various ways we can set it up depending on location and conditions using a few pegs and two walking pole. For instance, we’ve had it as an open ended A Frame structure when its been dry and as a fully enclosed pyramid when its been raining. It’s easier to fit under a more open set up but we can squeeze all 5 of us into a protected rain shield set up.

Sleeping.

Sleep mats to get us up off the ground a bit. We started off with the basic foam roll mats but us parents have graduated onto inflatable mats just for the sake of a better nights sleep. The kids seem perfectly happy on the foam mats and they are nice and light for them to carry during the day.

Sleeping bags are tricky, you can spend loads of money on ultralight, super warm bags but we don’t have loads of cash. The kids use fairly cheap 250gsm child size bags and have never complained of being cold at night (even in the snow on Glyndwrs Way). In the height of summer we parents use really lightweight bags which are small and easily packable but in early spring and into autumn we do have some slightly warmer bags but if we get chilly we put on extra clothes. It’s a real balancing act between overnight comfort and weight/packed size when you have to carry it.

Pillows

Put your spare clothes in a dry bag and use that as a pillow. Or use a child!

Sleeping Clothes.

We generally like to have a set of clothes to sleep in. Not only does it prevent damp or muddy clothes getting in the sleeping bag but it also helps the kids settle down for the night after the excitement of hiking and setting up camp.

Cooking.

Stove

We generally use a small compact gas stove. It’s easy to carry and use, and the fuel is readily available. We generally use it to boil water for a brew or to rehydrate noodles or porridge oats. By only boiling water in it we can usually get away with giving it a quick wipe out with a small cloth.

Eating Utensils

We eat out of those small collapsible bowls which pack flat but hold a suprising amount and we each have a small mug for drinking. We also use a small plastic cutlery set which we picked up from a local supermarket. The kids have their own bowls and cutlery which they are responsible for on the trip. If it’s dirty, they clean it.

Water Filter.

We always carry a small water filter although I can count the number of times we’ve used it on one hand. While water is essential for drinking, cooking and washing (ourselves as well as the cook stuff) it weighs heavy, 1 litre of water weighs 1 kilo before you put it in something so try to carry “just enough”. We can usually find a tap if we need it but its nice to know we can provide safe water from a muddy puddle if all else fails. 

Food

If we’re just out for a night we usually carry something to heat for dinner like noodles or pasta snacks, some porridge (usually in sachets) for breakfast and some snacks for during the day. I usually carry a few cereal bars at the bottom of my pack for an emergency breakfast if we can’t make porridge for whatever reason (usually rain!). On top of the little ziplock of coffee which I can’t operate without, we take some hot chocolate for the kids too.

Little Extras.

Sometimes we have to wait to pitch up, one of our local wildcamp spots is only about 1/2 a mile from a car park that’s fairly popular with dog walkers. Fortunately we can see the car park from our spot but we’re still fairly hidden but we won’t pitch up the tarp until the last car has gone. Occasionally we may have to wait for a couple of hours so we take a few things to keep everyone happy.

Kindle – Mrs Jones will sit and read stories to the kids while I’m making dinner or brewing up a warm drink. The kindle is lighter than most paperbacks but holds such a variety of books and stories that everyone is entertained.

Sketchbook, Notepad etc – I like to sit and make notes of the earlier hiking or specifics about the camp or just funny things the kids come out with. Lil has just started keeping a hiking journal, Isaac keeps a note of our climbing trips and  Mrs Jones like to sketch and draw. I made her a hiking art kit for her birthday based on a video I found on youtube and she loves it.

Cards – usually top trumps.

Teddies. – There’s always room in a backpack for a special furry friend.

Anyway these little extras are what we use and I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas on what you might like to carry.

I hope you find this helpful, please let us know what you think in the comments, whether your just thinking about taking your kids wildcamping or have been doing so for years, it’d be great to hear your thoughts.

Hiking Mountains (2)

Video

Fast Packing the West Wight

Fast Packing. Apparently its a thing. Rather than simply hiking with a big pack its a combination of hiking and trail running. Using gear that increases in price as it decreases in weight, packs are light, kit is minimal and miles get covered.

I started training this year for an ultra marathon so I’ve been building up my mileage on the local trails. A week or so ago I decided to test myself and after packing enough kit to keep me alive overnight I headed out to see how far I’d come since I started running regularly in July.

Why I Want to Run an Ultra Marathon

WHY?
This is probably the first thing that people have said to me when I’ve told them of our plans to run an ultramarathon. Actually the the first person I mentioned it to simply said “F*** That!” and turned and walked away from me.

If I’m being honest, I don’t know why I want to do this but if I try and explain the timeline of events that brought about the decision, we might all end up a little wiser.

A few years ago while hiking up Moel Siabod, a runner passed us as she speeded up the mountain and we sat and watched her bounding gracefully up and along the Deaer Ddu ridge. She looked effortless and I gazed on enviously before plodding on breathlessly to the summit. Wow, I wish I could move like that.

Sometimes on hiking trips I get impatient as I want to cover some miles quickly. We all know that a hiking trip is sometimes about getting your head down and eating up miles between spectacular viewpoints or simply camping spots. Sometimes those flatter miles could go by quicker.

I caught an episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast with Courtenay Dewaulter and holy s*** is she inspiring. I looked her up on youtube and after going down a massive rabbit hole, including some Netflix docs about the Barkley Marathons and someone running the Long Trail in the USA, a seed was definitely sown.

Back in June I was on Dartmoor with a friend for a hiking and wild camping trip. Unfortunately due to injury he didn’t make it back to the car park after about 12/13 miles of hiking. So I left him in Princetown with the back packs and armed with only my trekking poles and a bottle of water I went to fetch the car.
I hiked fairly quickly up North Hessary Tor and with quite a sweat on I ran across the moor for the remaining 3 or 4 miles to the car. I was knackered when I got there but felt quietly proud of myself, I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought I was.

I think the biggest factor was that feeling of simply moving through a landscape at a pace dictated by me. Not the weight in my pack or how fast the kids were moving or what the trail was like or how much my legs ached. If I wanted to run, I ran. If it got steep, I slowed to a jog or even a quick hike but just the feeling of moving (even slowly) was exhilarating.

There’s another reason too. I’m just not getting out on trail as often as I’d like or my at times fragile mental health needs. There have been issues this year and while I’m not going to go into great details here, it has affected all of us. The longer it is between trips, the more susceptible I am to dips and lows. But then a trip away comes and I’ll feel better. Except I put so much pressure on it to be perfect and “just what the doctor ordered” that when it doesn’t go as well as it should in my head I feel worse.

So because of this I’m going to try and get out more, but with the restrictions of money and school and general boring stuff, there will be more solo trips, just me, alone, all by myself. I would love to do some 100 mile hiking trails solo but that would mean 4 or 5 days away and I can’t swing that. But if I can pack light, move quicker and recover better overnight I might be able to do them in 3 days instead.  What if I hiked the uphills, jogged the flats and downhills, had a tiny tent and ultralight sleeping bag. Could I cover 30 miles in a day? Would I be able to do the same the next day? And the next? Suddenly long trails could be do-able on a long weekend. I’ll just need to be much fitter. Which is where the running comes in.

So that’s it really. The goal of running 100 miles is an arbitrary one at the moment, I can just about manage 10km without stopping, but somewhere along the way I’ll get to the point where anything is possible and thats the real goal of this adventure isn’t it?

Review: Alpkit Numo Sleep Mat

I bought this product with whatever money I had left after the kids had been fed, clothed and sheltered.
The opinions expressed in the post are my own.

Here’s an idea. Plan a hiking trip with your family. The kids are small and can’t carry much but that’s ok because Mum and Dad can carry most of their stuff. We won’t go far, just around 100 miles on the West Highland Way. That will be a perfect first hike. Great. Until you grab your pack and realise its just far too heavy to carry for even 2 or 3 of the proposed 96 miles. So you start culling stuff. That extra fleece can go, how much underwear do I really need. Those 2 self inflating sleep pads that weigh nearly a kilogram each are probably overkill, and what difference do those thin foam ones make anyway.

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Our Massive Packs for the WHW.

It’s the first night in the tent, in Scotland, in very early April. We’re wishing we had carried the sleeping mats. The kids have got one of the foam ones each and are surprisingly cosy but Hazel and I are freezing. I emptied my pack and slept on the empty rucksack. Turns out those mats make a huge difference so we picked up 2 more foam pads before hitting the trail and we were much less cold.

 

This year I treated myself to a new sleep pad. I was tired of carrying the weight of the self inflating one and the foam ones were just a little bulky so I thought I’d try an inflatable one. After a while trying to decide which to go for, I went for the Numo from Alpkit. It was reasonably priced and so much smaller and lighter than the ones we had. It was cheaper than similar options from other manufacturers and I felt a nice warm feeling inside by supporting a smaller UK company besides, I’d previously bought a top and a crash pad from them and was very happy with the speedy service and the hand written thank you note that was in the package.

It came out of the box, even smaller than expected and weighed next to nothing in my hand. I immediately went to the Gear Store (or the cupboard under stairs as Hazel calls it), grabbed the old one for comparison and bounced into the living room to excitedly show off the size difference to anyone who was there. Evan said it was cool but no-one else seemed interested.

Time to blow it up. The info said you could inflate with 12 breaths and it wasn’t many more before I’m lying down on it in the kitchen. It was nice and comfy and surprisingly non-slidy and as soon Hazel had tried it out (again on the kitchen floor) I was back on the computer ordering one for her.

Lils Birthday - 17
Wild camp with Lil on Brook Down. Numo hidden under sleeping bags.

So we’ve used them for all this years camping trip since our snowy Glyndwrs Way hike where they would have been useful. They’ve performed really well in the tent and under a tarp both with and without a groundsheet. I would be extra careful if you don’t have a groundsheet because I’d imagine a gorse or bramble thorn would lead to a harder nights sleep but so far no punctures and we’ve been wild camping more this year than we have been to camp sites.

There are a couple of huge outcomes for us after buying these mats. The first is the weight and bulk savings, and while I’m sure you could get a lighter mat, I reckon you’ll struggle to get one at this price point and made from the same tough material. The second is that we actually sleep well on them so we’re better rested to wrangle 3 kids along the trail

The only drawback is that the kids want one each now I’m happy to get them one because they’ll last them for a couple of years at least, I’m not sure if I can fit 5 of them in our little blue tent.

 

Review: SIGG Water Bottles & Flasks.

*I bought this product with my own money.
The post contains an affiliate link so if you choose to purchase this product from that provider, we will see a small kickback if you use the link provided.
We have also included direct links to the manufacturer if you prefer to order direct.
Rob.

 

IMG_0848It seems it’s really hard to review a water bottle. I’ve been sat here for ages, typing a bit, deleting, starting over. How do you review a bottle. It holds water. Done. What I think I’ll do is try to tell you why I like these particular bottles so much. And if that helps you in the decision making process, I’ve done alright.

  1. They feel solid. These are the metal ones and feel really durable. We’ve bought cheaper alternatives before and once they’ve been dropped a couple of times they split. These bad boys have already been dropped numerous times and wear their scars beautifully. Also the lids fit well while on cheaper ones there’s always a fear that the seal will go or the lid will get cross-threaded, not on these.
  2. The Hot and Cold bottle does exactly what its supposed to do. The heat retention is amazing. I take one with me for work everyday and because I work so, so hard, I can make 300ml of black coffee last all day. And it’s still hot, not warm but hot. In fact, after making my coffee at 7 am, it’s just about cooled down enough by lunchtime. The instructions say to warm the flask before filling but unless you like your coffee at the temperature of a thermo-nuclear war you may want to skip that step.
  3. sigg-trinkflasche-colour-your-day-black-touch-orange-06-l-8536-90They look good! For once I’m not the guy on the trail or at the climbing gym with a scrunchy plastic water bottle. People have even commented on the coolness of my SIGG bottles (the black & orange one especially) and believe me as I near 40, cool matters!
  4. And this is probably the biggest factor. I use them. Maybe it’s my subconscious justifying the extra money spent on these bottles but I’ve always got one nearby, so I drink more water, which I’m told is good.
  5. As we’re yet another blog taking on single-use plastics with our Zero Waste Hiking plans, I need to mention this. Any reusable water bottle, even the cheap ones are better than their single use alternatives but by spending a little more cash on a simple item, we look after it better. The chance of it getting left behind is reduced as is the risk of dropping off a ledge, and while these seem to last longer than others, if you do lose a lid, SIGG actually sell spare parts!

So thats 5 reasons we love our SIGG bottles and once our children’s plastic bottles for school get lost/broken/chewed we’ll be in the market for a few more.

View the range of SIGG products on Amazon UK*

Review: DD 3×3 Tarp

*Originally posted back in January 2018.  Updated after our Wildcamp on Pen Y Fan, this summer.

After carrying our 3kg tent for 96 miles on the West Highland Way, and hiking past some lovely spots unfortunately unsuitable for a tent but perfect for a tarp I bit the bullet and ordered a 3×3 tarp from DD Hammocks.

Last summer (2017) we only used it on a handful of occasions mainly as an additional shelter to our little blue tent when the weather has been awful but also once as our only means of shelter when Evan and I hiked through the New Forest (Watch the video here) and camped on the heath, hidden and secluded. That night we used a tent style configuration as Ev was a little nervous about wild camping. (It was his first stealth camp in England and he knew the rules were a bit different to Scotland where we had wildcamped before). It went up fairly easily, although we had practiced setting it up this way in garden on the previous weekend. It stowed perfectly in the side pouch of my small rucksack (also from DD Hammocks) and to be honest, I hardly noticed the weight.

We’ve set it up in different configurations too, as a rain shelter for the kids to play in while camping in the Brecon Beacons, to shield the tent entrance and provide storage space in Snowdonia, and to protect our washing machine drum fire bucket and BBQ while camping in a friends orchard for Lil’s birthday.

tarp

I really like this tarp especially the seemingly unlimited set up options which will give us many more camp spot choices when we head out in the future. I’ll happily carry it on our next long trip even it’s “just in case”.

**UPDATE**

This summer (2018) I think we’ve the tarp as much as the tent and it hasn’t let us down at all. Because of our wildcamp on Pen Y Fan, which turned out to be the perfect night for it, we all fell in love with our tarp. All 5 of us managed to fit under it with room to spare, I hardly noticed it in my pack and it went up with no bother at all, in fact it was our eldest, Evan, who took charge of building our shelter for the night.

Meet the Family.

Please allow me to introduce the stars of this little blog, the kids.

Evan 

IMG_1452Ev 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.

Lil

IMG_1395Meet 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

Isaac
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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!

IMG_0212We 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.

Aside

A Brief Note about Tents.

When we started going camping with the children we bought the biggest tent we could afford which turned out to be a 5 – 6 man tent. It had a central “living” area and a bedroom/vestibule on each side. The plan was that we parents would sleep on one side and children on the other. That idea lasted about an hour on our first night. Evan was only just a year old and just cried until he came in with us. In the morning the second bedroom compartment became a play pen of sorts, we zipped up the insect mesh section of the door and in it he stayed while we sorted out day bags and change bags and breakfast. Now when I say he stayed in it……. Yes he worked out the zip pretty quickly and was soon crawling away through a rain soaked field to freedom. We found him about a mile away eating cow dung, we kind of just watched his efforts with the zip and gave him something to eat which slowed him up. A bit.

As more children came along and grew the sleeping arrangements changed as well. A pattern formed as the smallest child would go in with their mother and the bigger ones would sleep on me. (Yes, not with me, on me.) The tent was always big enough but then, we didn’t spend much time in it. So we got a smaller tent.

We now have a 3 man tent which 2 adults and 3 kids can sleep in comfortably. At the time of writing the children are 11, 9 and 7 and this will probably be the last year we all fit in it. When I bought the little tent it was on offer so I ordered two. Once the kids are bigger I expect we’ll use both, one for us and one for kids.

Things did start to change last year. I began carrying one tent in my backpack for cheeky wild camping and we sometimes pitch two tents at a campsite depending on the payment process on site. If its a price per person or per pitch we’ll have both tents up but if they charge per tent or by the size of tent we’ll all pile into one. When we have pitched 2 tents its been one for me and the boys and the second for Hazel and Lillian.

I don’t want to give you an essay about how to choose a tent, a lot of that would come down to your budget or climate or what your individual needs are but I will quickly highlight some of the things we’ve found handy with our tents.

2 Entrances – The chances are that at least one of your party will need to pee at some point in the night so if they can leave the tent without clambering over everyone else thats a bonus. On one occasion our youngest boy woke up, stood in the door of the tent and peed out the doorway. In the morning we exited via the other door.

A good sized porch is great, especially when hiking to store muddy boots and backpacks. Our little tent has one on each side and they give us a little but vital extra space within the main body of the tent.

I like a tent which can be erected in one go e.g the inner tent and the flysheet are attached to each other. I’ve had tents in the past where you erect the inner before putting the flysheet over the top. Not great in the rain.

When backpacking, I can fit the flysheet and inner into a stuff sack much smaller than the one supplied. The poles are carried on the outside of my pack and the pegs in a zipped pocket. This way the tent lives in the bottom compartment of the pack and I don’t need to unpack much to get to it.

Hopefully that’ll help someone out there to choose a perfect tent for them. I suppose the idea is that a tent for the whole family doesn’t need to be a “Family Sized” tent. Also if you know of any 4 man tents, weighing less than 4kg and doesn’t cost the same as a package holiday in Spain, please give me a shout.

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

A post shared by Rob Jones (@justupthetrail) on

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

Glyndwrs Way 2018

On a dreary, damp Saturday morning, the last day of March, we headed off from Knighton, Powys, the clock tower in the middle of town marking the start of the 133 miles national trail that runs through mid wales to Machynlleth and back out towards Welshpool a mere 30 miles further north of our starting point.

Isaac 1
On the climb out of Knighton, before the MUD!!!

We left in good spirits and as we headed out of town, taking a wrong turn and having to turn around, we slowly started to climb into the hills and had our first encounter with what was to become a constant companion on the trail. Mud.

Our morale took a nosedive as the drizzle continued and the mud got thicker but we stopped for lunch and cheered up as the rain relented in the afternoon.

We pushed on through the afternoon but the going was slow, we had to divert slightly to avoid a pond of liquid mud and a group of rather frisky cows, which would have been fine if another group of hikers hadn’t just made them even more jittery, but we were making our customary 2 mph average that we do on most walks. We stopped again in Llangullo for a warm up in the pub and then headed up into the hills. After a short section on tarmac we got back into open country and it really started to feel like we were on a long trail again.

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Bed for our first night on the trail.

About 6pm fatigue started to hit the kids so we started looking for somewhere to camp. We were short of our planned goal of 12.5 miles but had covered over 10 that day, and with the usual first day late start and tough trail conditions we were happy and confident of making the distance up over the next few days. We headed up onto the moorland around Beacon Hill and after negotiating a wobbly gate, we snuck into a small forestry plantation, where we pitched the tents and tucked into some minestrone cup a soup before settling down for the night.

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Isaac and his “Ice-oculars”

We woke to a frosty morning and blue skies, had a quick biscuity breakfast and headed off down the trail, through open hill country which felt higher than its 350m elevation and stopped for second breakfast just after the point we were aiming to end the previous days hiking. That was a good thing really, the boggy ground would have made pitching up quite a task, so after some porridge and coffee (not the kids) we carried on through yet more ankle deep mud. The kids were enjoying breaking the ice on the abundant puddles but by lunchtime they were all suffering with wet feet and cold hands. We stopped for lunch above a farm in Felindre and tried to dry boots and feet and change socks.

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Possibly the best trail conditions we encountered!

The afternoon was really tough going, it got colder and greyer and the trail conditions were at best, awful. A hard wet winter had really taken its toll and I was beginning to think that maybe we were a month too early. We pressed on and on and were getting really tired and fed up of the mud but then, and this really lifted our spirits, we walked almost through a windfarm. This was also an ideal spot to camp for the night but we were again short of our target and if we were going to have time to finish the trail we would have to press on at least for a couple more miles.

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Always time for a bedtime story, even when wildcamping

We had a long, very hard day on the trail and although we had made up some lost mileage from the previous day we were still 3 or 4 miles from where we had planned to camp but after consulting the map we decided to jump into a field a little way of trail for the night. We had just got the tent up when it started to rain so we had oatcakes and squirty cheese for tea and an early night.

I started knocking the snow off the tent at about 10.30pm and had to pull a sleeping Evan away from the edge of the tent as the snow started to build up.  It was quite exciting because we hadn’t woken up to snow while camping before. I was sure it would turn to rain and be gone by the morning.

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Well this was a surprise!

The world was white when we woke up so we quickly packed away the tent and headed through the snow to the village of Llanbadarn-Fynydd and a little shop where we had hot coffee and a sausage roll for breakfast. We spoke at length about the conditions and while Nana, (My Mum who had joined us for the first few days) decided to leave the trail and head home, we resolved to press on, after all it was raining lightly now so the snow will be gone by lunchtime!.

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Tough going on the trail

As we headed up the hill we realised we were heading for hiking like we had never encountered with the kids before. The combination of snow on the ground, mud under the snow and zero visibility meant that the going was extremely slow and navigation was difficult. We were cold, wet and tired and we had all slipped over multiple times. I quietly checked the tent which was soaking from the previous night and packing quickly meant the inner was now also soaked. We had about 5 miles to go to a very basic campsite and 20 until a real opportunity to dry out at Llanidloes which at this rate was another 2 and half days and the forecast showed no let up in the rain. As I turned to Hazel to talk about giving up, I slipped, bent my knee the wrong the way and burst into tears. Our hike was over.

We had made an escape plan which was put in motion by a text message but it was with heavy hearts we left the trail to the safety of a roadside resting spot and sat in the rain waiting for our lift. I was really down and wished we could have carried on. I know deep down we made the right decision, hiking is supposed to be a fun thing for us to do as a family, we embrace the challenges and suffer the hardships together as a family and while this trip had been a bit of a slog from the start, it had ultimately turned dangerous and while we will always look for adventures that challenge us we will never cross that line. The trail will be there for next time.

There’s loads more pictures over on our Facebook Page

The West Highland Way 2017

  • Stage 1 – Lowlands to Lochside - Day One Milngavie to Easter Drunquhassle. 11.5 Miles After almost a full days travel on buses, boats and trains which was quite an adventure in itself, and a rather cold night in the tent at Milngavie, we arrived at the famed obelisk marking both the beginning of the West Highland Way and our most ambitious […]
  • Stage 2 – Along Loch Lomond - Days 3 and 4. Millarochy to Inverarnan After enjoying the showers for a little longer than usual, reorganising the packs (again) and a final go on the swings, we left camp at Millarochy with a wonderful send off from the camp wardens and pockets full of sweets. With a promise of breakfast pastries at the […]
  • Stage 3 – Feels like Sheep Country - Days 5 and 6. Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy. Leaving Loch Lomond behind us we felt like we had already achieved something pretty epic. As the rain came down for the first hour of hiking we really noticed a change in the landscape that the previous months of staring at maps hadn’t really prepared us […]
  • Stage 4 – No Turning Back - Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven. After probably the comfiest and definitely darkest night in the the tent so far, we emerged, a little damp and disheveled into the early morning light. What we thought were raindrops turned out to be rain dripping off the surrounding trees. The wind was still blowing but the rain had […]
  • Stage 5 – Into the Land of the Giants - Kinlochleven – Fort William After visiting the little shop one last time for more doughnuts, we climbed out of Kinlochleven on a rough track through the trees. I was feeing much happier than the previous evening and was enjoying the trail thoroughly. We stopped for a doughnut brunch at the top of the hill overlooking […]

Brecon Beacons 2017

Previously posted separately from my phone in the little blue tent but now all parts together plus some thoughts on the trip as a whole.

Day 1.

After a quick visit to see the grandparents in the shire, we’ve crossed the border and are camping in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

We left around noon and headed for Brecon where the canal and a pair of Canadian Canoes waited for us. Now, I’ve not really paddled before apart from a little mess around at the beach but Hazel was pretty proficient in her youth so for once, she was our leader in this new adventure.

With Evan and I in one boat and Lil and Isa with their mum in the other we headed out along the water. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it but a brief lapse in concentration would often see the boat not quite facing the right way.

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After picking blackberries from the bank and possibly scrumping a few early apples we finished the afternoon racing through the last few bridges back to the canal basin. Shoulders aching we headed for the play park and some doughnuts.

As I write (for the first time from the phone) we’re settling down in the famous old blue tent, at a lovely campsite in the national park. We’ve had noodles for tea and tomorrow we’re heading for Pen y fan and later on we’ll go looking for the bat cave. Apparently the Dark Knight was filmed nearby so I expect we’ll be chasing the Joker around the Brecon Beacons most of the evening.

Day 2.

Oh the rain! It was dry when we woke up, we had a porridge breakfast and headed into the mountains for Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn. However by the time we pulled into the car park at the bottom of the hill it was bloody awful. Now we’re not usually fair weather hikers but today we made an exception.

We headed off for the Four Falls Trail nearby, a nearly 6 mile loop which at times turned into some light scrambling (for us at least) and takes in, as suggested, four waterfalls. The weather improved for a moment as we hiked but then got steadily wetter and wetter but not as damp as we got when we managed to go behind the curtain of one of the falls, a first for the children and Hazel.

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Later on we found another little hike to the waterfall which was in Batman Begins or the Dark Knight. Isaac was especially excited to find the entrance to the Bat Cave but he’s made me promise not to reveal the location incase the Joker reads Just up the trail.

Back at the campsite we’re the only ones left. I think everyone else has gone somewhere drier but we’re warm and cosy in our little blue tent.

Day 3.

It’s quiet up here. I’m sat on top of Pen Allt-mawr just above Cwmdu. It’s 8:45am and occasionally the sun is peaking through and lighting the valley below and its innumerable shades of green.

I’ve been selfish and come out on my own and left everyone else sleeping. Some of our family joined us yesterday and it’ll be great for the kids to play with their cousins later and for Hazel to spend time with her brother but sometimes I just need to climb a big hill.

I left camp and followed a footpath for a bit before jumping onto some sheep tracks. It was hard going but after an hour I’m here and very pleased with myself. A 700+m hill before breakfast can only be good for the soul. If I head back down now I might get some porridge, or I could just sit for 10 more minutes.

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Postscript

After getting back down to camp I found that there was no porridge. There was however, bacon and sausages so that was quickly devoured. As our companions were recovering from an epic charity hike in the Cotswolds the previous weekend we just went down to Crickhowell for a wander along the river and the canal. It was a nice gentle stroll which included a stop in the pub which was a real treat. We’re not really ones for pub stops, neither of us really drink and the kids aren’t fussed so I was slightly surprised to be called back after walking past the place without evening noticing its existence. The kids played nicely with their cousins and we managed about 6 miles of gentle riverside walking.

I feel we have unfinished business in the Beacons, we didn’t get up any sizeable hills together but hey, there’s always next time. We did go kayaking for the first time and the waterfalls were a real treat so we can’t complain. Considering the weather I think we made a really good fist of 3 days in the National Park.

Video

New Forest 2017

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.