Sunday, 5 November 2017

Next year's cycling adventure

First, by way of an update re the North Sea Cycle Route (see this recent post)...I've come to the conclusion, after lots of consideration, that I ain't really up for it. It's not the physicality, it's the issue of being away from home, Chrissie and the dogs for over three months. I just don't think I can do that.

So that's the negativity out of the way. Now for the positive. I'd got quite excited about the idea of a longer cycle tour, so over the past 10 days or so my research has led to me, just this morning, booking:

1. A rental car to take me and my beautiful Thorn touring bike to Portsmouth on 15th June next year in time for...

2. overnight ferry to St Malo in Brittany and...

3. ...a flight from Nice to Manchester on 20th July to bring me and the bike back home...

...after cycling the 1000 odd miles twixt St Malo and Nice at my typical, relaxed, bimbly pace through the beautiful French countryside in, hopefully, Spring/Summer sunshine.

This book arrived yesterday and their suggested route will form the basis of my journey.

Here's an overview of the route, from the book.

As you can see, it describes a gently curving arc right across France from the English Channel all the way down to the Mediterranean. No prizes for noting it crosses the Massif Central and the Alpes Maritime (otherwise known as hilly bits) before descending to the sea at Nice. Interestingly, a route of this kind was suggested to me as a follow up to my LEJOG back in 2015. It's a similar length, my own LEJOG route being 1100 miles.

As with LEJOG I'll travel unsupported, with all my camping kit on the bike. So, what with the low gearing of my Thorn Sherpa, along with 25kg or so of luggage, I won't be moving fast. However, I will enjoy a lazy journey, allowing a little over a month. Included in that are a projected three night stay in Nice where I can somehow arrange to package my bike and luggage for the flight home. At the moment I'm considering buying a soft bike bag from a bike shop in Nice, but the fall back will simply be to scrounge a cardboard box, of the kind new bikes are delivered in, from a bike shop and pack the bike in that...with copious padding and tape.

In common with my LEJOG I'm aiming to cover an average of about 35 miles each day in the hope of arriving at a campsite mid afternoon for rest and recuperation. To hardened road cyclists that daily distance won't sound much but the strategy worked well on my LEJOG and meant I suffered no aches and pains at all (save chilblains on my toes caused by the cold, Scottish Spring weather that year). I may well do higher mileages some days and that could earn me the occasional day off since the return journey from Nice is now fixed.

I'm gonna try for some accommodation in Nice through Airbnb, which I've never used before, but friends and family seem to have had success with the service.

I've booked a cabin on the Brittany Ferries ship. It leaves Portsmouth at 8:15pm and gets into St Malo at 8am so I can set off, refreshed, on my journey as soon as I touch French soil.

I always have a little trepidation about a long, solo trip but the antidote is the thought of warm Spring/Summer days in tee shirt and shorts (fingers crossed).

I might well try to raise a few coppers for a favourite charity along the way, but for now, I'm amusing myself with thoughts of what to carry and wear as I meander my way through La Belle France. My mouth's already watering at the thought of wines, pastries and cheeses...not to mention freshly baked baguettes.

So, that's that. Booked. No turning back. Let the planning commence!

As ever, any constructive thoughts or comments will be graciously received.


Friday, 20 October 2017

A camp on Great Shunner Fell

We're in Hawes, Wensleydale, in beautiful Yorkshire. In the van. Chilling. It's one of our favourite places for a relaxing break, doing nowt much. And with backpacking kit in the boot it's time for an October camp. The forecast's fine and with sac packed and Islay's panniers filled with doggy paraphernalia, we leave the caravan site.

Walking the quiet roads to Hardraw we pass a small crowd gathering for a demonstration of sheepdog handling. Islay draws "oh"s and "aw"s for her pannier carrying skills.

As we set off up the lane from the village, along the Pennine Way towards Great Shunner Fell, it begins to rain. That wasn't in the forecast. I grumble and curse as I don overtrousers and fit the raincover to my pack. Islay doesn't give a bugger.

Thankfully the rain doesn't last. It's windy though as we hit the open fell and a view of the summit is revealed...way off in the distance. Fingers feeling the cold, I dig out gloves.

It's a long, steady trudge up to the top with a couple of false summits, where you climb up a steep bit...only to find there's another mile of moor stretching out in front.

We pause for a break.

Islay's attached to me with her elasticated lead. It's primarily to avoid unnecessary sheep encounters. But it becomes apparent there's none up here in open country. So I let her off for a run. Within seconds she's easily a quarter of a mile away, on the scent of rabbits. She likes rabbits. There's lots of myxomatosis in these parts. Islay's found she can easily outrun a sick bunny. Only the other day, she came out of the undergrowth in the dog run, back at the site, with a live one in her chops. At home we rarely see any, but here...she's become completely fixated. After a couple of minutes of fruitless hunting she's back and on the lead again.

And, in the fullness of time, we reach the summit's cruciform shelter. Where Islay poses...and thinks of rabbits.

Then we set off in a sort-of south easterly direction, in search of a couple of big ponds and the hope of a tent pitch.

Locating a pond I find it surrounded by very wet, boggy ground. Further exploration reveals a raised platform which looks ok. I leave Choccy Paws secured to my sac while I return to said pond to filter water.

And in a couple of shakes, the Southern Cross 2 is up. It takes about 5 minutes to erect this tent, likewise its little brother, the Southern Cross 1. The 2 is our choice with a dog though and Islay recognises her bed, which is soon out of her panniers. And after a quick rub with her towel she's curled up, settled in her camping home.

I brew coffee and relax, but it's getting late and time for dinner. Me and pup dine in the comfort of our shelter and, as darkness falls, I pass the rest of the evening reading, whilst Islay snoozes.

The morning brings thinning mist and the promise of sun. We set out in search of a bridleway to return to Hardraw.

Along the way, at a fence, we find a memorial to Ian. A wooden cross. Closer inspection finds his whistle and compass, wedged twixt cross and fence. I've no idea who Ian was, but say a silent prayer for him, clearly a fellow hillwalker, before we carry on.

The bridleway down the valley is hard going, disappearing frequently into reeds and associated wet ground. Seeing more of this stretching ahead I give up and climb the side of the valley. We reach a stone beacon...

...and soon find ourselves back on the Pennine Way; our outbound route.

Looking back, I can see the summit, the shelf where we camped and the steeper end we'd descended an hour or so back, before we'd dropped into the valley.

And it's a delightful walk, in the warm, morning sun, back through Hardraw...back to the caravan site in Hawes...and the comfort of our van.

I love these short interludes on a motorhome trip. The simplicity of a tent camp in the quiet of the hills offers a pleasing contrast to the luxury of our home-on-wheels. Easy overnight trips like this mean I keep my backpacking skills, such that they are, fresh and familiar, making longer trips feel less daunting.

I feel very lucky.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The North Sea Cycle Route?

I've been fidgety. Two years ago I cycle camped Lands End to John o'Groats. I took a month and, though challenging, I did enjoy the experience and found it utterly satisfying. Since then I've wondered about other long distance cycle routes and, some time ago, discovered this and found the idea intriguing:

The Guinness Book of Records has recognised the North Sea Cycle Route (NSCR) as the longest cycle route in the world. I think they mean longest defined or waymarked route. As the name implies it's a circuit of the North Sea and is around 3600 miles, depending on the route, which can vary from place to place.

Here's where I start hedging. I MAY do this next summer. Research so far tells me an old fart like me should allow about 100 days. I don't do rushing. I don't do big daily miles. IF I do it, I think I'd go anticlockwise. As with LEJOG I'd carry all my gear on the bike to allow camping. So, I'd set off from home on my beautiful Thorn Sherpa, heading south-eastish to hit the coast somewhere in Lincolnshire probably. From there it's south on National Cycle Route (NCR) 1 to Harwich and a ferry to the Hook of Holland. Then it'd be north through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark before a ferry across to Sweden. After this I'd follow the coast of Sweden and Norway to Bergen. From Bergen, the plan is a flight (two per week in the summer) to Lerwick in Shetland. Now riding south I'd cross to Orkney and then mainland Scotland to rejoin NCR1 south before turning south west across my beloved Yorkshire and back home to the Peak District. Phew! See how easily it trips off the typing finger (I still one-finger type). 

There was nothing on LEJOG which totally threw me and I can't see any physical reason why I couldn't cycle for three months. The only nagging doubt? It's a long time. Longer than I've ever been away from home. Alone. Am I mentally capable of this? I don't know. But the time aspect is the only barrier...and over the last 24 hours, since first discussing it with Chrissie, I'm coming round to the idea that yes, I might be able to get over that barrier. Chrissie, bless her, is completely supportive, so that's not an issue.

A Twitter message I put out last night, retweeted by many, got no reply from anyone out there who'd done it. I've since found one person on there who I've DMd today.

Many have done it of course, though not a lot of Brits. It officially opened back in 2002. One lady from the UK wrote a book about, but that's now out of print. There's no guide book and the website you see above is closing at the end of this year.

I'm currently telling myself I could bail out at any point on the route. There's little in the way of commitment. I wouldn't book a flight to Shetland until I was sure of my arrival in Bergen. Ferry tickets for a foot passenger and bike can just be bought without any notice I'd expect. Maybe considering failure is the wrong attitude, but I'm dealing with self doubt right now.

I want to do it. I believe I could do it...I think. It'd be a big achievement I reckon.


Any thoughts are welcome.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Terra Nova Southern Cross 1, review

Chrissie and I have had a Terra Nova Southern Cross 2 for a while now. We bought it as a one-person-plus-dog, four season tent and it has served us well. We also currently own a Hilleberg Enan, which we use for three season solo use, and a Terra Nova Polar Lite 3, which we use for four season backpacking together (this will accommodate us along with both dogs, but we've mostly used it for just the two of us). And that lot doesn't include our old, faithful Terra Nova Ultralight Voyager, which we keep as a spare two person tent.

There was a gap in our armoury for a four season solo tent. We feel the Enan is a little flappy for wild, winter use. Our research revealed that the best buy, in our opinion, in terms of accommodation, price and weight, was the Southern Cross 1.

We bought the tent back in early August, before this year's Arctic trip, so have only just got around to using it. Chrissie took it out for one night close to home but I'd scheduled a 4 or 5 night trip through the Lakes with David (read about it here). So, these are my thoughts (mostly echoed by Chrissie) following that journey. We had overnight rain every night and three out of the four nights were in exposed locations. We had winds up to, probably, 20mph I reckon.

Developed from the Laser tent range, the Southern Cross 1 was a winner in the 2016 UK Outdoor Industry Awards. It's supported by two poles at right angles to each other. One is through a sleeve (blue pole)and the other pole section (red) forms an exoskeleton, with the tent supported by hooks. This second pole unit splits at each end to give two short legs. It has one door and the inner is asymmetric, with the side opposite the door following the curve of the outer. The inner door is half mesh, which cannot be covered. The inner is attached by small fastex buckles to the roof and four corners of the outer. The tent can be pitched inner and outer attached, or outer first.

The tent pitches easily and quickly. I normally place two pegs at the windward end, one at each of the two corners. The red pole is assembled and its ends located in the tapes at the four corners of the outer. There's a choice of two eyelets and I would normally use the outermost of these. The blue pole  slides into the sleeve and each end locates in similar tapes. This creates tension and erects the tent. Now the hooks on the outer are easily clipped to the red pole assembly and the tent is fully supported. There are a 11 pegging points but we've added short cord loops to the bottom of the blue pole tapes, to take a further two pegs. So we're using 13 pegs and carry 2 spares. Incidentally, we are using MSR Groundhogs in preference to the lighter Terra Nova pegs supplied. The whole process of pitching takes less than 10 minutes. It may well take longer in a high wind.

The guys at each end of the tent serve to open shielded vents in the outer...

...and vents in the inner (which can be closed with a velcro-secured flap) allow a through flow of air.

In common with the Southern Cross 2, there's a hook on the edge of the zipped outer door which allows the opened door to be clipped to the red pole.

We use standard NeoAir XTherm mummy shaped mats and, once inflated and positioned with the foot end as far down the tent as it will go, there is a good amount of space left at the head end of inner; between 10 and 12 inches. I place my base clothes here once undressed for the night.

The available porch is roomy. I placed my, virtually emptied, rucsac in the closed side, away from the outer door. This is my 68 litre Osprey Kestrel. My boots are almost hidden from view behind the sac.

There's ample room in the other half to use a stove and store my camp/river crossing shoes.

I found I could store pretty much everything else in the long, triangular space beside my mat.

My sleeping bag's still stuffed in that pic. Once it's in use, even more space is available. There was also plenty of space out of the left of this shot for me to place my watch, headlamp, specs and phone (attached to a large Anker charger) overnight. You can also see the two good-sized mesh pockets on the side of the inner. I usually put stuffsacs in these.

Another feature common to the Southern Cross 2 is a small fastex buckle at the bottom of the outer door zip. With the door closed, this allows the bottom of the door to be clipped up, leaving an open section at the bottom. If you combine this with partly opening the double-ended door zip from the top, you are able to create an inlet and outlet for air, which allows you, with care, to use a stove, inside the porch with the door closed against wind and rain.

You can actually open the zip more than I've shown in that last photo and still get reasonable protection from rain.

I used my Thermarest chair kit inside the tent. I'm 5' 9" tall and I could JUST manage that, with my head touching the top of the inner. I sometimes found I had my head out of the inner. Don't ask why, it just seems to happen. It's not a problem.

I experienced some condensation on the inside of the outer, but it was nothing unreasonable and nowhere near as bad as the notorious Hilleberg Enan.

Given overnight rain each night, but fine mornings, I wiped the outside of the outer down with a small, microfibre cloth to save splitting inner and outer. On repitching I experienced only a few spots of water on the inner floor; easily mopped up.

I quite like the tent. It's not seen high winds yet but I can't see them being a problem. I think all backpacking tents are a compromise. There's no such thing as the perfect tent. You have to make your own choice based on specification, price and, crucially for most of us, weight. Having said that, I think the Southern Cross 1 represents good value for money in a lightweight (for a four season tent) package. Time will tell but first impressions are good.

Do ask if you'd like any further information.

For completeness, here's a link to Terra Nova's site. Note that, with our MSR Groundhogs and the spare stuffsac we carry in case we wish to separate a wet outer from a dry inner, we estimate our carried weight to be around 1.75kg. 

Cheers, and thanks for reading. I hope you found it interesting and useful.

Here's a gratuitous pup pic. Smile!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Crowthers' Outdoor Emporium, end of summer sale!

Ok, a second go at our summer sale, having found more rubbish...sorry, I meant "quality surplus kit".

As ever, all of this is in perfect condition with no faults we're aware of. All items are unused or little used (mostly wrong sizes bought). All washed where appropriate.

First up, a pair of Montane Terra Pants in redwood. I bought these a couple of months ago and they JUST fit me. After wearing them a few times I realised they were actually too small, so I replaced 'em with the next size up. They're size medium, with regular length legs. Check Montane's site for sizing but I'm 34" waist so I'd say these were 30"-32" cos they have an elasticated waist (at the back). With belt. Washed twice. There is nowt wrong with 'em. RRP £80, yours for £35 plus £4 p&p.

Second, a women's Icepeak down vest. Little used cos Chrissie found it a bit small. No, we're not both putting on weight! Chrissie reckons it's a size 14. Cost around £40, yours for £15 plus £4 p&p.

Next, a men's Rab Boreas Pull On, size medium. Grey with green stitching. Again, Chrissie bought this (even though it's a men's) and it's too small. Hardly worn at all. As new. Latest model can be bought for around £50, yours for £25 plus £4 p&p.

Fourth, a real bargain for someone who's fast. A BRAND NEW, UNUSED Thermarest NeoAir XTherm Max, the rectangular one. The story with this is, it was a spare (we use the regular mummy ones) which we found had a leak. We returned it to Cascade Designs (the makers) in Ireland and it was replaced. We got it back just this week. It's in the box with stuffsac, inflating sac, repair kit and guarantee/instruction leaflet. We have not inflated it. If you buy this and find it faulty (highly unlikely) all you'd need to do is return it to Cascade Designs and say it was a gift. They did not ask for proof of purchase when we returned it. We found one for £140ish, so you can have this for £90 plus £10 p&p.

Last, a pair of Keen Madeira Peak women's waterproof leather boots, size UK6. Chrissie bought these last week and, having walked in 'em, they're too small. They seem smaller than usual cos she's had Keen size 6 before. Worn only a couple of times and bought at discount. Yours for £50 plus £10 p&p. Photos taken when they were a bit wet from washing. Sorry.

Payment needs to be by bank transfer please. We don't use Paypal. All items will be sent by signed for post.

Be quick. In our last sale all the items were sold within three hours! We've never had a complaint about anything we've sold.

Contact us, as usual, via Twitter here or here or you could reply as a comment on this blog and I'll get an email alert but, be warned, that'll be a little slower.

Cheers, and thanks for reading. RTs on Twitter are appreciated.

A Lake District backpack

It's a fine September morn. David and I are on a train to Windermere with loaded backpacks. We alight, and our first port of call is the cafe in Booths supermarket, which kinda sets the tone of the trip. We're both intent on not-rushing. Not-rushing is a good tactic when you're a lazy, unfit old fart; a description suited exactly to me, if not the gazelle-legged David.

Following coffee and stickies we're off up a lane towards Orrest Head...

...where we fight through the throngs of snap happy tourist types (we're adventurers, not tourists in case you didn't realise). Leaving said tourists behind we plough on through the fields to ascend via Dubbs Road but not before making fine adjustments to our technical clothing systems.

There will be many stops like this, cos we have VERY technical clothing systems, which require constant attention, (either that or we're both lazy, tired or indeed, a combination of the two).

David has decreed (it being his trip really; I'm just tagging along, making encouraging grunts and sighs) that we shall be mostly collecting Wainwrights along the way. Quite why escapes me but who am I to complain? Wainwright has a lot to answer for, in my very humble opinion.

And so it is that, after dining by the side of the track, espying a stile over a wall, David makes onward-and-upward noises and gestures and we begin an ascent of the silliest of gradients to reach the top of Sour Howes; which is named quite appropriately I think. David poses...

David excels at posing. He is a veritable master of the art. Hence the jaunty angle of his trekking poles.

Turning our back on our first Wainwright of the trip we dash (I jest) off to our second, Sallows. This being more easily gained by a much less silly slope. I attempt to pose as well as David, but fail, miserably. Maybe I have the wrong poles.

Plodding down to Garburn Nook we climb the northerly path and luckily, before too long, find a place to spend the night. We pitch our highly technical shelters (everything we're carrying is "highly technical"); our new Terra Nova Southern Cross 1 and David's new Hilleberg Soulo. I win the whose-tent-is-up-first? competition and have water filtered and boiling as David finalises adjustments to his beautiful tent. Did I mention, David has a new Hilleberg Soulo?

Rain comes overnight. I wipe down the flysheet before packing, the better to minimise wetting of the inner tent.

Soon we're tackling the slope up to Yoke, Wainwright number 3. I try again with the pose but, once more, David wins the prize. The man has such style.

And we're away again, climbing to Ill Bell, Wainwright number 4.

I give up...and leave the posing to someone who knows wot he's doing.

On the way to Froswick, Wainwright number 5, I spot an Ordnance Survey benchmark, set into the ground. I'd no idea wot it was. David knew though. He's very clever.

Then it's up to the fine Beacon up at Thornthwaite Crag, Wainwright number 6. We stop for lunch and David succeeds in taking a photo of me, looking my most ridiculous, which he then proceeds to share with the whole of Twitter. Grrrr! It's not this which I almost get the pose right (I was practising, while David wasn't looking).

From Thornthwaite, we wander cheerfully along High Street, Wainwright number 7.

A chap walking towards us tells of a large herd of red deer visible in the valley below Kidsty Pike. He's right. We can see 'em. But they're not really visible in the photo, unless you use a magnifying glass.

After a short break, while we wait for the weather to worsen, we head off for Kidsty Pike, Wainwright number 8. It's wet and windy. David struggles with the pose...only just managing to carry it off in the face of adversity.

With a hop and a skip (humour me...) we're off over Rampsgill Head, Wainwright number 9. It's not really the most impressive of places, but it's another tick on David's list and the pose is a four star!

Down now, over gentle slopes before a pull up onto The Knott, Wainwright number 10 and the last of a long day. I'm tired! I think David may be too...but he doesn't show it...cos he's 'ard. Hence the nonchalant, I'm-not-really-bothered pose

And then we meander down and over the undulating path towards Angle Tarn. Our final climb to get away from the popular spots by the water leaves me gasping. We finally settle on a place for the night, tucked away...out of sight. Water is filtered from an almost-hidden stream. And, once again, I win the tent-up-first prize. Well, we're all good at something. And I'll never look as good as David on a summit.

I try to make David jealous by sitting on my Thermarest chair kit, outside, in the sun. But he's usual.

Again we have rain overnight, but the morning dawns fine, if cool. We're soon up and off. First agenda of the day is gaining the summit of Angle Tarn Pikes, Wainwright 11, but a short bounce over the tussocks. My pose improves a little...

...and in an effort to keep David in his place I take this shot of him falling over.

We're pootling down now, towards the fleshpots of Glenridding...

...where we're soon ensconced in the comfortable surroundings of the Glenridding Hotel's fine cafe, guzzling cake and coffee (tea for David, who's less sophisticated than wot I am). We steal electrickery for our phones and borrow their Wifi.

The shop across the road supplies provisions for the next couple of days and the staff in the Catstycam outdoor shop puts up with my hilarious attempts at humour while David spends a fortune on the smallest gas canister he can find.

With heavier sacs, we return to the Glenridding Hotel for a delicious lunch, more electrickery and even more Wifi before we feel we can put it off no longer. Shouldering rucsacs we head off in the approximate direction of Grisedale Tarn. It rains.

By the time we're approaching the tarn the rain has stopped. We find a place away from the water to have another tent race. David's getting better now though. I still win...but only just. And, a bonus, I catch a photo of David not-posing.

Afternoon tea and Swiss roll lifts flagging spirits...well, mine anyway.

It's a cool night and we wake to find we're surrounded by damp clag. It lifts quickly though and improves significantly as we approach Grisedale Hause.

Now, we're wandering happily down towards Easedale, warmed by the sunshine, chattering joyfully.

As we stop to readjust our highly technical clothing systems we're watched by a couple of lizards, who clearly wonder what we're at.

From Easedale, we mount an alpine assault on the arduous Helm Crag, Wainwright number 12, I think...I struggle with two digit numbers.

It's a tough climb. But we man-up...probably.

We watch as a couple tackle the Howitzer, but decide it's beneath us...metaphorically.

David contemplates our route along the ridge to Greenup Edge, whilst posing.

The ridge falls and rises to Gibson Knott, Wainwright 13...and a five star pose, if ever there was one.

Then, eventually, we reach Calf Crag, Waiinwright 14, where David decrees enough's enough and I sigh with relief...between gasps for breath...and David fails to pose. Honestly!

We climb to Greenup Edge then begin the long descent past Lining Crag to Stonethwaite.

It's a long, rocky, stumbling route down. My feet are sore by the time we reach the campsite in the valley. I barely scrape the tent-up-first thingy. I fear my heart's not in it anymore...

But David has a plan to revive my weariness. Thus, after a thorough clean of my bits'n'pieces and a change into the cleanest of my dirty shirts, I find myself sat in front of this...the most succulent of rump steaks ever, in the ever-so-comfy, ever-so-welcoming Langstrath Country Inn. The beer was luvverly! As was the cheese board...

On our final morning, we ambled along the Cumbria Way to Grange where, fortuitously, we found a cafe, open. A delicious second breakfast was devoured with delight. Then, along the shores of Derwent Water to Keswick, where David's staff awaited our arrival with a highly polished horseless carriage to transport us back to the warmth and comfort of Fellbound Towers a short canter away (I may have deviated into a minor flight of fancy there).

What a wonderful few days!

Thank you David. I didn't mean it, whatever it was.


Oh...and while I was away SOMEONE appears to have entered me for that there bloomin' TGO Challenge thingummy! I need better David's.

PS There'll be a separate review of the Southern Cross 1 to follow.