Going Plastic Free on the Trail

I’ve given Rob a challenge. While I have the monumental task of making our household free from single use plastics, at a manageable budget, I want our hiking trips to be just as ethical. So he’s in charge of that!

His first reaction was that it will be easy, by the time we pay the extra for plastic free alternatives, there won’t be any money left for long hiking trips. However, we’ve made a solid start at home and he’s starting to plan how to get rid of single use plastics before our next trip.

Just Up The Trail, saving the world, one cereal bar at a time!!!

The biggest worry is food, because our usual staples of noodles and pasta snacks are usually wrapped in plastic as are our go to snacks of jelly beans, cereal bars and beef jerky. We may need to get creative. We may need to bake. We may need a dehydrator. We will need a bigger pack. And while tupperware is the easy option for storage/packing, its just not that great in a backpack so solutions for that will be necessary. We could use foil, or wax paper but won’t that get squashed/torn/wet? Research definitely needed.

Other than food packaging I can’t think, off the top of my head, of much else where we rely on single use plastic. We do have those silicon pop up bowls and plastic cutlery but those have already lasted 3 or 4 years and when they die I’ll try to get a replacement from another material. The kids have plastic water bottles but we already intend to replace them with metal bottles like Rob’s SIGG when the time comes and I can’t remember the last time we bought bottled water, anyway that’s why we have the filter.

So if anyone has any tips on packaging hiking food in non-plastics, any plastic free snacks or if you want to share some delicious recipes with us, leave them in the comments below.

I’ll check back in on the plastic free mission between now and our next big hike, which will probably be at Easter, and let you know how we’re getting on.

 

Children! Know Your Limits.

I was just reading another blog about hiking with kids and they mentioned the importance of  “Knowing your children’s limits.” Now my first reaction was “Well, obviously” but then I thought about it a little.

Every time I plan a trip, it’s at the top of my considerations.

  • How far can they hike in a day.
  • How much can they carry in their packs.
  • How much food do we need to carry to keep them happy/full/not crying/on a sugar high
  • Can they cope with the weather and trail conditions
  • How far is it to the trailhead, do we need to stop on the way?

And many other considerations I can’t remember. I suppose its everything you would think about for yourself but your making that decision for someone else, much smaller than you.

So every time we hit the trail, I’ve gone through this process of asking myself these questions and at times they can cause some anxiety, am I doing the right thing? What if we haven’t enough food? or do the kids really want to hike 10 miles today?

The problem is, it’s all wasted time and effort. Every time I thought I knew my kids limits, they’ve surpassed them and more. If you would like some examples please read on;

October 2015. The kids are 4, 6 and 8 and we hike up Snowdon for the first time. It takes us 9 hours up the PYG track and down the Miners. There is no carrying, no crying and nothing but good spirits and excitement. The furthest they’ve walked before today is 3/4s of a mile around the rather flat Gratham Water. Tomorrow they’ll hike the Mynffordd Track up Cadair Idris and our family love affair with the mountains begin.

cropped-cropped-west-highland-way-116111.jpgApril 2017. The West Highland Way. I plan the trip to last 12 Days, each one spent hiking for approximately 8 miles. The kids will carry as little as possible, maybe their water bottles, a few snacks, a teddy and their waterproofs in the unlikely event they aren’t wearing them.
We complete the trail in 9 1/2 days, including an almost 13 miler on the penultimate day. The kids carry their own sleeping bags, as well as the stuff I had planned on and Ev carries a full 25l rucksack over 100 miles by the time you add on travel days. Isaac is 5 and hiked every single step.

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Easter 2018. Glyndwrs Way. I plan for good, if a little damp trail conditions, cool temperatures and the potential for sunshine, warming days but potentially cold overnight. We aim for 12 miles a day to complete the trail in the time we have.
What we get is a corridor of ankle deep mud, persistent drizzle and a cold wind. We can’t find any rhythm to our hiking due to the constant slipping and sliding. We manage 10 miles on day one and nearly 15 on day two. We wake up on the next morning covered by 3 feet of snow. The kids are excited to press on. We lose the trail in zero visibility. We are cold and wet, the tent is soaked from the previous night and there is no where to get dry. The forecast is for more rain and snow overnight. I make the decision to call it off. Now the children cry, they want to keep going. In the hardest hiking conditions I have ever encountered, they are loving it.

October 2018. Isle of Wight Coastal Path. We have 9 days to do 68 miles (on paper) We travel light. We can pick up food most days. The kids carry all their own stuff (except tent and stove which we all share). We finish the trail in 5 days covering 78 miles (according to the GPS), averaging 15 a day but including two 18 mile sections. The kids are amazing, even on the never ending road walking of day 1.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that whatever challenge we give them, they rise to it. They never cease to amaze me and while there is some sense in “knowing their limits”, surely it’s better to be constantly surprised by their determination, capability and adaptability and embrace it wholeheartedly.  After all, they are the biggest adventure.

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.

Chasing Shadows and Searching for Dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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Lil's first #wildcamp

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

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

 

 

 

Climbing @ Elan Valley

We managed to pinch an afternoon from my Dads 60th Birthday celebrations in the shire and we crossed the border to one of our favourite spots, Rhayader and the Elan Valley. We had been up here for a recce back in February and coupled with some research from UK Climbing decided that it was worth another visit for our first outdoor climb on real rock.

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It had been wet in the morning but a combination of a strong breeze and intermittent sunshine dried the rock so we could climb. I set up a top rope on an easier route and away we went, the kids first then Hazel and I. It was so so different to climbing indoors, the holds weren’t obvious and bright red or green, the wind buffeted us and the rock wasn’t plumb vertical. It was also so much more fun and personally, it felt really instinctive, rather than going for the hold because its the right colour it was more like “this feels right”.

 

Evan had a bit of a moment at the top when he wanted to climb onto the top of the crag and walk back around but I insisted he get lowered for practice and the next time he might be able to just top out and walk down the back way. He managed to come down ok in the end though and we all had a really good time. Unfortunately didn’t move onto other routes as the weather turned against us but we all left rather pleased with ourselves and vowed to return soon.

 

The Shepherds Trail

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.

isa ice
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.

muddy trail
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.

Bedtime stories
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

Rhayader Dams

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

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

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

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

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

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A Quick Word about Gear

 

Please be aware that the following is NOT an endorsement of any brand, retailer or product. Merely a statement of how we kitted out the kids on a budget.

I’ll be the first to admit it. I LOVE GEAR, or kit or whatever you want to call it. I can spend ages reading the kit reviews in magazines or looking through the racks of our nearest outdoor supplier. My problem is that it’s all so expensive. I know, “You get what you pay for” but I can’t justify paying £100+ on a jacket while I’ve got kids to provide for.

However that doesn’t mean we don’t try to kit the kids out decently for our adventures because if they’re warm, dry and comfortable their less likely to moan. Even in the rain. Before our first big adventure to climb Snowdon we tried to get them the basics at a fair price and slowly built on that. So here is a little list along with a rough idea of what we paid for the stuff. So far it’s worked out fine.

  • Boots. These came from Mountain Warehouse in the sale at around £15 a pair. Kids being kids, they have grown out of the original pairs but these have been replaced with hand me downs (Lil now has Ev’s) a pair found in the charity shop and another pair from the same store. (For Isaac who doesn’t quite fit into Lil’s old ones)
  • Trousers. We put them in leggings for our first big hikes and they have really worked well. If they do get wet, they dry really quickly. I think we got some from Sports Direct for about £3 a pair. In the winter they can put their padded waterproofs over them for extra warmth.
  • Tops. They each had a new wicking base layer to help keep them comfortable. Again about £3 from Sports Direct. Fleeces they already had or came from the local charity shops.
  • Coats/Waterproofs. I did buy them new coats, again Sports Direct were pretty good, they had either Gelert or Karrimor waterproof coats at about £12 each. I got them in gender neutral colours so they can handed down.
  • Hats and Gloves they already had.

So there you go. I feel we’ve kitted them out pretty well at affordable rates. They’re always comfy, generally dry and rarely complain about being cold. Job done.

A Snowdon Traverse

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)

Snowdon 2017

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 […]
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.