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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Snowy Tent
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!.

snow
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.

Review: Coleman Cobra 3. Our Little Blue Tent

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.

A Lightbulb Moment

We’ve always taken the kids camping, Evan woke up on his 1st birthday under “canvas”, and to be honest it was often out of financial necessity (Although it’s not always cheaper nowadays). Camping was the only way we could afford to get away and we loved it, even trying to pitch a tent in a gale blowing hail into your face while Mrs Jones entertains the kids in the car was kind of fun. However, on a trip to Cornwall we had a dilemma to address.

On Monday we headed for Tintagel, it took over an hour to get there in holiday traffic, had a wonderfully long if cloudy day and drove back another hour to the tent. We stopped at the chippy on the way and went straight to bed. That night, the airbed deflated.

Tuesday morning was wet, so we got up quick, piled into the car and drove to a cafe for breakfast. The weather cheered up so we walked some of the coast path, lunching on cheese rolls and crisps and finished the day at the beach where we finished off the lunchtimes leftovers for tea. We returned to the tent, pumped up the airbed and slept. Until the airbed deflated.

Wednesday was nice so we left the tent early and had a breakfast of milk and biscuits on the beach. I drove to the supermarket at lunchtime and replenished the lunchtime supplies and had both lunch and dinner on the beach. The kids fell asleep in the car so we put them on our deflated airbed and climbed onto their one. Which went down over night.

I sure you can see the pattern. All the stuff we had diligently packed and repacked and set up at camp was either useless (airbeds) or not being used (Camping stove/windbreaks /multiple sets of plastic crockery etc). And we were spending far too much time travelling back to the tent from wherever we were. Then we had a lightbulb moment.

What if we had a smaller tent that was quick and easy to put up and take down?

What if we only had a little stove to boil water?

What if we just slept where we happened to be at the end of each day?

What if the tent was small enough to be carried so we didn’t have to rely on the car?

After that holiday we got a smaller tent. We now use the storm kettle to boil water for coffee or noodles. We carry the tent on long hikes just in case and we try and use public transport when we head to the mainland for our bigger adventures.

I think we used to try and distill home into a tent. Of course we wanted a comfy bed. Of course we wanted the camp cooker and the range of culinary delights that 2 burners can offer and of course we wanted a folding chair and our wellies just incase and that extra blanket and a bat and ball and a kite and a bloody inflatable dinghy.

We now have a basic kit of tent, sleeping bags, storm kettle and a few little bits that we can just grab and know we have everything we NEED for a camping trip and that makes things just so much easier and more fun.

On the Edge.

We recently managed to squeeze in an afternoon at Stanage Edge. With arrangements made for family visits in Yorkshire over the weekend we headed up on a thursday morning, catching a 6.30 am ferry, and arrived in the rather splendid Hope Valley just after lunchtime. We found a lovely little campsite for the night just down the hill from Stanage Edge. It took us 10 minutes to pitch up, and make our way along the little track and it wasn’t long before the edge came into view.

We spent the afternoon clambering and scrambling up and down the rocks. The kids had their first real go at bouldering (video to follow) and they got a little too confident at times. We had a little hike along the edge before the kids wanted to go back and play on the rocks. It was a proper little adventure sports playground and we were really impressed.

In one afternoon we hiked, did a little trail running and some inelegent parkour, scrambled and bouldered. We finished the evening with a bread and cheese picnic, watching the sun go down along the Hope Valley before heading back to the tent and star gazing through the open doors (We rarely zip up in the summer). The only problem was a lack of time as we had plans to meet family the following day (which turned out to be great) but I think we’ve found a new destination to explore properly next time. With some crash mats!

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