Monday, 19 December 2016

Another year ticks by. A review of 2016 in the great outdoors.

It's almost the end of December 2016. Christmas is looming and we're having a lazy afternoon at Crowther Towers. The Christmas cake's in the oven.

January seems a looong way back. Me and my pal Chris spent a night out in the Howgills. It was WILD. Wet and windy. The Enan leaked and was subsequently replaced by Hilleberg. Excellent service from them and Taunton Leisure.

Later in the month, Chrissie and I took the van up to Coniston. Islay was tiny, having come to us just before Christmas. So, we were on tiny-dog-walks but still managed to hook up with our friend Peter Dixon and Oscar the Mountain Dog. As is usually the case with us, life was focused around the needs of the little chocolate lab. Not forgetting her big sis, Pebbles the boxer, of course.

February brought some proper cold weather. Chris and I did our own, lazy and thoroughly enjoyable, three day, Yorkshire Three Peaks. At around -6C the second night's camp was probably the coldest I've yet done.

In March, I grasped the bull by the horns and took my little pal, now almost six months old, for her first backpack and wild camp. Not far from home on the lower slopes of Kinder. Such fun. Apart from shouting at me as I put the tent up, she was no trouble. What a treasure. I was still grieving the loss of Tilly just a few months earlier, but it became clear I'd found another backpacking soulmate.

At Easter, we joined our good friends James and Reuben for a couple of days van camping in Dumfries and Galloway.

April found me introducing a new friend, Jamie to the delights of backpacking. Jamie's eager and keen to learn and we found uncharacteristically fine weather on a jaunt over Bleaklow, taking in one of our favourite wild camp spots. Notice, Jamie followed mine and Chrissie's advice in his choice of tent.

We had a glorious time wandering the Scottish Highlands in the van for the whole of May. We made separate backpacking excursions, not quite feeling ready to take the pups together. It was fabulous. During our journey we were pleased to enjoy the company of David, Andrea & Peter along with their tribe of gorgeous hounds and the always enigmatic, Claire. We must repeat this Scottish adventure.


Shortly after returning home in June, I joined Chris for the final week of his JOGLE ride, from Bristol to Lands End. I had many reminders of my own LEJOG in 2015.

July was the only month this year I didn't wild camp. We became a little preoccupied with the purchase of a new van, managing just a short, shake down trip to Hawes.

August must surely have been the highlight month for Chrissie and I as we completed a nine day backpack through Arctic Sweden. Words can't do it justice.

Back in the UK, during September and October, we spent three weeks in our new van, travelling through the Dales and Cumbria. For this trip we aimed to backpack together with both dogs. We'd never attempted this before. Along the way we met up with several of our online friends: JennyMikeDawn and, once again Peter and Oscar. We've met so many great people through Twitter and other online media.

Later in October, Chris and I cycled the Reivers Route, my third crossing of England by cycle.

In November, we returned to Kielder, again in the van, for another couple of backpacks, each with our own pooch this time.

In December, Islay and I joined David and Moss with the van for a couple of days walking from Hawes.

And that's about it for another year.

As I write, Islay's on reduced walks cos not only was she spayed a coupla weeks back but she got an infection around the scar. Oops. She's presently on antibiotics and recovering well. So much for our plan for the two of us to snatch a Kinder backpack in recent days. Pebbles, meanwhile, has been in season, thereby scuppering our plans to have them both spayed together, in the hope of having only one recuperation period. Oh well.

By any standards it's been a good year. We've been on the receiving end of some unpleasantness recently but it's overshadowed by the friendship of good people. We hope to meet many of you out there in the new year.

Have a happy Christmas one and all and a 2017 full of your own adventures. And, in the words of the late, great Dave Allen..."May your God go with you".

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Reet oop north. Bellingham and Kielder, Nov 2016

We've a bit of a soft spot for the Camping Club site at Bellingham and its proximity to  Kielder Forest. It was one o' the first places we came with our first motorhome, way back in 2010. And since we both fancied a short backpacking excursion, the forest fitted the bill perfectly. This is the third trip this year where our focus has been around backpacking, which might sound perverse when we have the distinctly four star luxury of our van. But it harks back to our days of summer trips to the 'States when we'd spend mebbe half the journey in nicer hotels and t'other half camping, including backpacking in the mountains. We like the contrast. Roughing it makes you appreciate the luxury even more.

So, off north. About as far north in England as you can go; the border with Scotland being at the far reaches of Kielder Forest.

As is customary, we stopped for lunch en route. One of the benefits of motorhome travel is having your own, instantly available cafe, with a menu exactly to your own peculiar tastes. And a good looking waitress. Might try it on with her later...

We arrived at the site early afternoon. When we first came here it was run by a strange couple. She was the most miserable of individuals. Happily, there are now new franchisees. And what a contrast! The welcome was warm and friendly and our request to be charged for just one person on the two nights we each planned to backpack was met with no fuss whatsoever.

We walked the dogs and settled in for the evening.

On the following morning, after a lazy breakfast, I readied myself and little miss choccy paws for a night in the forest. We left around 11 with a walk of about 9 or 10 miles ahead.

Leaving the site we climbed over Ealingham Rigg Common and through Shitlington Crags, where Islay paused (or pawsed) for a pose (or paws, even). She's getting quite used to her Ruffwear Palisades backpack, hence her smug look. She does "smug" well, I reckon.

Dropping onto a backroad for a coupla miles led us into the forest and we soon found ourselves on a quiet bridleway through Pundershaw. It's easy to imagine that walking the forest tracks is all about gravel roads, pounded by endless streams of logging trucks, in the permanent shadow of towering pines . But if you get out deeper into the trees you're often rewarded with quieter, greener byways and, surprisingly, open views. Islay enjoyed "riding point"...out ahead, scouting the route.

Unsurprisingly, it was pretty wet underfoot. It's November. There's been rain. But we saw only a gentle shower on the moors after we set off. Now, it was cooler...and dry.

Beautifully timed, we hit our campsite, as planned, at around 3:30. An hour of daylight left to set up our shelter, filter water and get a brew on. Many don't know of the "official" wild camp sites scattered around the forest. Designated spots, near water, where the owners, the water authority, are happy for you to pitch for the night. Here, by Chirdon Burn, is one such site, marked by a discrete wooden stake with a tent engraved thereon.

So we filtered water and I changed into camp wear (like cruise wear, but more stylish) and cosied Islay into her pjs, lovingly crafted by Chrissie.

We snuggled into our bags. Me in the down loveliness of my winter Rab Expedition 800 and Islay in her brand new Noble Camper, fresh from the 'States. Once fed, she wanted nothing more from life than to curl up in blissful comfort.

I dined, watched a couple of documentaries on iPlayer, courtesy of my little telephonic miracle then, like my choccy companion, dozed into a warm sleep.

The forecast had been -5C overnight. It was nowt like that. I estimate around 0C. Ice on the very bottom front of the tent, and covering Islay's pack and bowl in the morning.

After a hearty breakfast, down with the tent and we were away.

Passing the dwelling at Allerybank we wiggled through the trees to hit the tarmac road taking us down to Cadger Ford (there's a bridge) and our return route up over Whitchester Moor.

Not a bad route. Not too boggy. But some of these bridleways can't be walked much. This stretch close to the end had no trace at all of a trodden route. The bridleway is straight through the middle of this! Islay had no bother finding the way though.

And, as is her want, Islay insisted on some selfies during our final break. She's becoming a little more practised...don'tcha think? But she does have a knack of making me look even more grumpy than I actually am. No...I am NOT that grumpy!

We had a great time, as ever. And back in good time to dry out damp gear (mostly condensation on the tent) while we had afternoon the mobile caff...same good looking waitress...still trying with her...

Chrissie and Pebbles' turn next. In the morning we drove up to Kielder Water and dropped them off near the dam for their camping sojourn. Me an' choccy paws returned to the campsite and enjoyed a wander along the lanes to Hesleyside Hall, sat in its Capability Brown landscaped grounds. Been in the same family since the 14th century.

On the way back, we took a little pootle round the cemetery and found these two military headstones. Reminders of the "Great" War as Remembrance Day beckoned. May they rest in peace. Lest we forget...


Islay and I had a pleasant, quiet evening. First time on our own in the van. She DID NOT sleep on the bed with me...honest...

Next morning we'd arranged to meet C & P at 12 noon in the same place as we dropped 'em off. Arriving early and finding they wanted £4.50 to park (I didn't have that in change...who does?) I left and parked at nearby Elf Kirk viewpoint and me an' Islay followed a track into the forest. Islay practised her zoomies in the snow which had fallen here 24 hours ago.

We walked for a planned 45 minutes and, just as we stopped to turn round, I noticed this in the trees.

Obviously some kind of artwork but not signed. No information on it. Twitter has so far revealed no info on it. Anyone know out there? It's well off the beaten track.

The sun rewarded us as we returned to the van.

Picking up the rest of the family (I'm sure she'll get around to telling you about their little trip on here) we returned to the site and dismembered two o' these.

We had fun on a couple of pleasant wanders from the site over the next two days. So much fun I took only this pic of a charming lane we followed up onto the moor.

And, by the way, despite multitudinous requests, we are maintaining the stance that Pebbles WILL NOT be getting a trampoline for Christmas. For goodness sake...