Here’s Lil having just lost her boot in the mud on the Cerne Valley Trail. What you can’t see is the rest of us either giggling or getting the photo taken before rushing to her aid! It was funny really, she had already lost it once before and this little trail was supposed to be our drier alternative after getting snowed off Glyndwrs Way only a few days earlier. I will take this opportunity to compliment her on her balancing skills!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!.
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.
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.
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)
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 […]