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 tea...in 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...