So it’s now been well over a week since a long overdue return to the Lake District. It’s been about 3 years since I was last there and oh have I missed it. This is the corner of England that no matter what the weather its beautiful, in fact when it rains, and it frequently does, it adds to the majesty making the valleys greener, the mountains more menacing and the rivers wild. It really is a slice of heaven full of adventure and wonder and it was amazing to be back.
When I decided I was going to take a group of friends there this blog was already active, so I fully expected to be filling it’s pages fresh with the stories from an excited return to the Lakes. Instead it’s been nearly 10 days and that’s because of the bedlam of returning to normality. Since returning from a nearly 3 day trip, everyday life has somehow intervened to prevent me from writing about a mini adventure, and this is why I love to go walking and camping, to escape the madness, the phone signal, social media, everyday pressures. In the mountains these don’t exist, it’s just you and mother nature. Maybe this is escapism and why not. I work hard, like everyone else, so every now and then I want to forget it all, and I choose the mountains to help, in fact I’m already planning a week long trip in Just a few weeks time, I can’t wait, peace and quiet and mountains, bring it on!
Anyway, that’s enough of a ramble, to the trip itself and what a trip it was, 3 days around Upper Eskdale, including 2 wild camps and climbing England’s Highest, Scafell Pike. I know this area pretty well and have climbed this mountain many times, so as it was a return to the Lakes after a few absent years and I had some newbie friends, it seemed like the logical decision.
The route I used to take to reach our first overnight stop of the Great Moss was to turn left just past Scale Bridge and go straight over the low fells in between, however I adapted a few years back to take the path to the right of the River Esk via Lingcove Bridge although this did mean fording the river at some point to reach the best camping spots around Cam Spout Crag. This time however, to try something new I decided we would go via Scale Bridge and use the path on the right hand side of the River Esk. I chose this as it was new to me and I also that the Esk Valley with its rapids, falls and pools in such majestic cannot fail to impress new eyes.
So it was after a Friday journey up from Lincolnshire, stopping off at Leeds to collect passengers and an as always fun and exhilarating drive over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes we eventually reached the small car park in the woods, just at the bottom of the hill. Last minute packing and strap adjustments ensued and we were off.
It was early evening and although showers had been forecast, it was warm and clear, with a good breeze. Any coats or jumpers that had been worn were quickly dispensed of within a few 100 yards and a good pace was set. We climbed quickly, muscles tested and aching by the large packs that we didn’t even know about, but within a short space of time we reached our first stop, Scale Bridge.
Scale Bridge is a truly magical place and has always blown the mind of everyone I’ve ever had with me. It is beautiful, enthralling and you can’t help but want to climb on the rocks and cool off in the rush of water. It comes on you as a surprise too. You hear the thunder of the falls, long before you see it, and then all of a sudden you stride on to a bridge, straight out of an enchanted, mythical world. I’ve quite wondered if I’d I’ve have a troll jump when rinsing my face, it’s that kind of place.
Faces refreshed, we carried on. The path continued to ascend at a good rate, nothing too steady, but it felt good to be climbing, knowing the prize that awaited. The views just got better too as the River Esk came more into view and pastural green fields disappeared to be replaced with ferns and summer heather. Eventually as we traversed the side of the hill, we were presented with a majestic view of Upper Eskdale in all its glory, whilst looking down on the sheepfolds at Lingcove Bridge. I’ve camped there a few times, another good site, and clearly a good few had chosen to do the same. There were at least 6 tents spread out around the bridge, and whilst I would have been grateful for the rest, our prize was still to be secured, so onwards and upwards we pushed, with the path becoming steeper and narrower, and the drop to the river which seemed at times almost underneath us, becoming higher and higher. At times a loose rock would be dislodged by a lumbering boot and would very quickly disappear into the gaping chasm on our right. The bottom was not visible, however it was certainly water confirmed by the sound of the rock splashing loudly in to it. It was enough of a warning, that at points where a hand might be needed to navigate a particularly steep point, then that hand would definitely be gripped firmly to the rock!
We pushed on upwards with Scar Lathing standing imposing in front and just the tips of the Scafell Massif rising in the distance. The land was certainly becoming more wild, no tree had been spotted for some time and the stillness and quiet were becoming more pronounced.
The sun was slowly setting as the land began to open up and level out as we took our first steps on to the Great Moss. The River Esk acts differently here, it becomes wider, more gentle, but somehow more rugged. The whole feel of this place takes you away from England and transports you to somewhere more wild, more natural, it feels more like Canada, than Cumbria, it is quite simply breathtaking.
It felt amazing to be back and I could see our final destination of Cam Spout Crag across the valley, nestled under England’s tallest peaks. It was at this point that I made a video on my selfie stick to try and capture the rugged beauty and the stillness, I think I broke it though as I couldn’t help myself, but to finish the video with a mighty, bellowing ‘yes’!
Now for anyone that knows the Great Moss knows that it is in essence a very large sponge! Although it had been dry for a few days it was still sodden and it is always very difficult to cross without getting a little wet, as when you stand on what looks like solid ground and it turns out in fact to be a waist deep swamp! We did however make good progress and it was only until we were within a hundred yards or so of Cam Spout Crag that our party came a cropper when an unsuspecting foot disappeared into the squishy moss and received a good soaking! On dry days it is funny to see this happen, but I’ve been here on very wet days, and it’s not so amusing or avoidable and the consequences of having to try and dry off can be frustrating!
Still, no harm done and our campsite had been reached. In such a vast open valley we were alone, apart from two other tents. This is why it’s such a great route, because it’s so vast you always get it to yourself!
Tents were erected and a suitable slab of rock for a makeshift kitchen was found, which just so happened to also serve perfectly as seating. Beers were cracked open and the cooking commenced. There is something magical about food outside, I don’t know whether it’s because you’ve earned it more with a good walk, but it always tastes better! Dinner was wolfed down and it was great to be able to relax with good friends in such a magical place!
One of the party had brought some homemade Hungarian Brandy with him, so as the temperature dropped this was happily consumed to keep the internals warmed. It certainly had a kick to it and if I cooked with a Trangia, I dare say I could have had a ready fuel too!
We woke around 6.30 am to black clouds and the pitter patter of rain. The top of Scafell Pike and nearly every other fell had disappeared under a swirling blanket of low cloud. I sensed disappointment among the group as the weather forecast had been for clear sky’s and sunshine, so I just responded with ‘it always rains in the Lake District’. I was a little miffed myself though, as I really wanted for us all to have good views at the top, but ah well, it always rains in the Lake District!
We took our morning prep steady. We had a whole day to do what we wanted, so we had time on our side. I had a feeling, that by delaying, we might just get a break, and so it was mid morning, the clouds began to break and the tops burst through! Obviously Scafell Pike still clung on its crown of clowds, but this was a good sign, we were off!
Our route was simple, straight up to Mickledore from the Great Moss and then on to the top of England and across to Sprinkling Tarn via Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End and Esk Hause! It’s a punishing climb up, but incredibly rewarding and a fairly gentle route once you’ve summited Scafell Pike.
First stop before ascending the waterfalls and pools of How Beck for much needed refreshments. Now I’m not advising anything, but in all the years I’ve been going, I’ve always drank straight from this stream. It tastes delicious, ice cold and I’m still alive, but it’s individual choice. If you do, just make sure you drink from the fastest flowing water!
From here it’s a steep climb up, with all hands on deck, but you ascend fast. Climb up anything steep enough to require your hands can be challenging, but when you’re carrying a pack, well let’s just say that you’re fully aware that your centre of gravity is slightly off and that it’s a bloody long drop, particularly in any strong gusts of wind!
The climb doesn’t really relent. Occasionally it’s a bit more level walking as you climb towards the top of England, but then you’ll have to tackle a bit where the loose rock slips below your feet, and then you’ll have to use your hands again, so it certainly never stops being a challenge. It sometimes makes you question why you’re doing something so stupid, so painful on your legs and that makes you feel breathless, hot and sweaty, but no pain, no gain, right? And what a gain it is, when you see the views, you feel the achievement, is it worth it, hell yes it’s worth it!
Eventually we reached the mountain rescue stretcher box at the Col between Scafell and Scafell Pike, and we dropped our packs. We had all felt the climb and it was great to be able to sit down and take in the view, looking back down, right down on where we had come up from. I was getting excited at this point.
Cloud was still swirling around the tops and a group heading down had confirmed miserably that the summit view was nonexistent. I thought I’d try and get a picture of Wast Water and unfortunately their prognosis was confirmed. Although there were good views out towards the the east and South with Windermere and Morecambe Bay shining in the distance, the view to the west was a wall of angry, swirling cloud, bugger, maybe we weren’t going to get good views after all.
Everyone was still feeling the climb, so we decided to take a good break. Why not we had a view, which we weren’t going to do on top, so out came the chocolate bars, which then very quickly disappeared. Then something magical happened, the cloud lifted and the whole of the Lake District opened up! Views exposed in every direction, yes the cloud was still there, swirling, just over our heads, but it was clear, it was time to get to the top!
Rucksacks back on, the final push, finally began! How long would it be came the question, not long! Follow the cairns, up, up and up. You’ll know when you’re at the top, you can’t physically be any higher, onwards, onwards! As the ground began to level out on to the summit plateau, so the crowds began to emerge. I was actually quite shocked by the number of people, but I’ve never seen it that busy before, literally hundreds of people, although the vast majority with their trainers and jeans had ascended from Wasdale, hoping to bag a mountain and be back down in the pub before anyone noticed. I have to say that when we eventually touched the summit cairn, it felt like achievement. I’m not saying the casuals had cheated, but we definitely knew we’d climbed England’s highest, by its most rugged and longest route, our aching legs and muscles confirmed it!
Obligatory summit photos taken with coats on because it was bloody chilly in the wind, we settled in for lunch in one of the stone shelters. Some of these are very impressive with high walls, ours was not so high, but it still afforded enough protection from the biting wind and a chance to sit down and bask in the majesty of being on the highest point in a country. With the cloud continuing to lift, the views weren’t too bad either!
We stayed for a good amount of time, each celebrating in their own way, although we did come together for a welcome and warming shot of Hungarian Brandy. With the visibility getting better by the second and our route ahead clear, we set off. We descended fast, the path down to Broad Crag Col is incredibly steep, but we were soon ascending again to go and capture Broad Crag. After a short, but fun climb across the huge boulders of Broad Crag we reached its summit and we were blessed to find it completely empty. The joy of the casuals is that they head for the biggest and ignore everything else and so it was great to have a peak to ourselves!
A short descent later and we were resting by a cairn on the large mountain plateau of Ill Crag. I briefly left my colleagues at this point to go and capture the summit of Ill Crag itself knowing that some of the best views of Scafell Pike are afforded by its gnarled peak. They were happy to rest, I wanted the summit and its view. This may have been caused by my elation of reaching this point, as a few years back one trip had gone disastrously wrong in bad weather and I had lost my way becoming crag fast on Broad Crag and ended up calling Mountain Rescue. Regardless of my motivation, the summit view did not disappoint and it was well worth the short excursion!
I eventually met back up with my friends and our journey continued on the huge bulk that is Great End. I’ve always thought that Great End is one of those mountains its better to look at, than to be on, however you do get a pretty good view of Sprinkling Tarn, our destination, with Keswick and Derwent Water in the distance.
We carried on, this time descending, and this time for the last time that day. Esk Hause was reached and we swung back on ourselves to with the imposing face of Great End on our right. It really is grand when looking at it and it’s name is the greatest compliment you can pay, Great End.
We eventually reached Sprinkling Tarn and what a sight it was. I absolutely love this place, it is by far my favourite destination in the Lake District. I think its beautiful, magestic, wild and peaceful and I absolutely love camping here. Clearly so do lots of other people as we certainly weren’t alone, I counted at least 40 other tents, but why would you not want to camp here. Besides there’s definitely enough space for everyone and even with all the other campers, it still felt remote.
We set up camp in a little nook which would provide ample shelter should the weather change and settled in. Food and beers consumed and the sun setting, it felt great to be there and to look back on a brilliant day’s walking. I knew I’d have to leave in the morning, but I really feel like I could spend a lifetime up there, it’s just a magical, special place.
We were unsure what the weather would be in the morning, but we awoke to another stunning day and it really is not the worst place to wake up in.
Breakfast eaten and bags our final day started. There was some disagreement over what this should be, but eventually it was decided, due to it being Sunday and work being on Monday, that we would get to Esk Hause and descend straight down the Esk Valley and back to the cars. The weather was glorious as we descended, with our alternate route of Bow Fell and the Crinkle Crags slowly disappearing from view. This is a fast route and the descent happens quickly. Within just a couple of hours you can reach Lingcove Bridge and shortly after Hardknott Pass, however unless your in a rush, take your time as the views and sights are as good as any other.
Eventually we reached the car and by then it had become positively warm. We had all been tempted by the sparkling pools of the River Esk and had time been on our side, I think we probably would have all been for a rewarding and refreshing swim. However, something else rewarding and refreshing was calling and so it was within about 20 minutes, we had managed to find ourselves a pub to enjoy a well deserved post walk pint, and gosh it felt good!
And so our mini Eskdale adventure had come to an end. We had camped in two spectacular locations, we had climbed England’s highest mountain, we had come through mostly unscathed, we’d avoided the rain (mostly) and we had managed to finish it in the best way possible, with a pint!
It had been great to be back, but now it was over, all to quickly and the madness of everyday life was about to come crashing down. I didn’t want to leave, the trip had reminded me how much I love being in the hills, in fact I’m going back to the Lakes in a few weeks time and this time I’m not going for a weekend, I’m going for a week. This time I’m not going to rush down from the top, or rush back to the car, I’m going to take my time and savour every moment. I’m going to climb new fells and discover new places, I’m going to get wet because it always rains in the Lake District and I’m going to fall in love with it even more. I just hope a week is long enough, I doubt it will be!
So I’m finally home after a brilliant weekend wild camping in the Peak District and it felt good! Due to Coronavirus, this was the first time in my tent in many months, apart from camping in the garden a few times in support of the Great British Campout and how I’ve missed it.
Next weekend I’m off to the Lake District with a group of friends for hopefully a 3 day wild camp trek around Upper Eskdale, including climbing Scafell Pike. Its going to be a tough challenge with over 6,500 ft of ascent and most of the group have very little experience, so this weekend has been a great test run and an opportunity to get used to carrying a multi day pack again.
It was a fairly short route, just over 10 miles and about 1,500 ft of ascent, but it was a good start. We were planning to go up on the Kinder Plateau, however the weather wasn’t looking great, so we decided to head up Back Tor via Derwent Edge, a reverse of a route I did as a day walk a few weeks ago.
Setting off the weather was good and the packs felt reasonable. For the first couple of miles there wasn’t too much in the way of ascent as we traversed around along the edge of the top of the Ladybower Reservoir, so a good chance to acclimatise to the weight, however eventually we did have to climb, and yes, it was a bit of a challenge!
What’s a challenge though, if not to achieve something and eventually we made it on the top of the Moors and started our traverse of the Derwent Edge, which in my opinion is a very underrated ridge walk. There are some fantastic views across Sheffield to the west and the Hope Valley to the East, and some of the rock formations defy belief, so we definitely had to stop on occasions for a bit of exploring!
Due to a busy Saturday, we actually left quite late, but we didn’t have far to cover, so eventually we reached a very windy Back Tor around 8.45 pm. It was far too windy to be camping on the top, so after a quick scout around, we found a suitable, sheltered site underneath the Tor and out of the wind.
Tents up and food eagerly consumed, the cloud had started to really descend creating an incredibly spooky, but atmospheric environment. After a few cheeky beers, we finally settled in for the night. I was in my Vango Banshee Pro 200 and my friend was in a brand new OEX Phoxx 1 v2, both wedge shaped tunnel tents.
Just after midnight I woke to a rustling tent and the gentle pitter patter of rain. Later I woke again and the rustling had become a violent shaking as at some point in the night the wind had changed direction and we were now being blasted head on by 50 mph gusts.
The Banshee felt solid and I did sleep, but for anyone that’s been in a tent in heavy wind, you’ll know its broken sleep.
Eventually I woke around 6.30 am and to my amazement, the tent was being warmed by the breaking sun. It was still very windy, but it deserved an inspection and what a view I was met with, what contrast to the rolling fog of the night before!
My friend had also woken and his sleep had also been sporadic. He wasn’t sure if he’d actually slept at all, but then said he remembered waking up to the sound of wind, so he must of. Even so, both of us felt a little groggy, so decided to jump back in our bags for a few hours more kip. I did give all the guylines a quick adjustment beforehand, just to give an extra bit of stability and to try and remedy the violent shaking.
Eventually we both woke again and unlike the night before where we had been able to cook outside in the calm, we ended up being forced to cook inside to protect the stove from the wind. This was achieved by collapsing and packing the inner tent of the Banshee and just using the fly tent as a basic shelter.
Breakfast consumed, lunch made, tents down and bags packed, we were ready to continue our trek. First destination was a visit to the trig point on the top of Back Tor, which we had to remove our packs for through fear of being blown off. The top provides some great views, but we didn’t stay long as we were literally clinging on to the Trig Point, yes, the wind really was that strong!
The rest of the trip was spent descending down to Derwent Reservoir and back to the car park. This is an area I don’t know too well and it was great to be exploring somewhere new with Howden Moor looking bleak and menacing, and the Derwent Valley an ever present and ever impressive sight cutting through the land.
Eventually we dropped down off the Moors and out of the wind, but not before checking out the cairn and viewpoint of Lost Lad.
Finally descending through the treeline and finding the majesty of the Derwent Valley presented itself in all of its sparkling finery and it was a joy to descend with the view getting better with every step.
Eventually we reached the Reservoir track and stopped for lunch and to remove our coats and jumpers which were now causing a little bit of overheating. Lunch finished we joined the crowds of families and cyclists around the track of the Reservoir and back to the car, but not before stopping to check out the impressive Derwent Dam. This is the valley where the Dambusters practised before their historic bombing run and its very easy to find yourself humming the famous tune whilst taking in such an impressive and historic site!
Eventually we reached the car and the ice cream van was calling, however this was not just the weekend that camping was once again allowed, but also the weekend that pubs were open, and the thought of a post walk pint was far more tempting than an ice cream. A few minutes later we were both sipping our chosen golden nectar and it felt great. It had felt great to be camping and it felt great to be having a pint, long may it continue!
If you want to do this route and I would fully recommend it, I use OS Maps for creating my routes, so if you’ve got the app, check the route out here: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/osmaps/route/5403223/Derwent-Edge-and-Back-Tor-circular
I’m writing this on the evening of Friday 3rd July, 2020 and tomorrow is going to be a big day, the Coronavirus lockdown is being relaxed and camping will be allowed and the pubs will reopen. This means the return of wild camping and post walk pints, and I can’t wait!
I don’t know about you, but the best I’ve managed during lockdown is some day trips around my beautiful home county of Lincolnshire, one short trip to the East Riding of Yorkshire to bag its high point, and one day trip to the Peak District. I’ve been longing for bigger summits and for multi day trips via wild camping and tomorrow, the camping season begins, bring it on!
I have however spent a lot of lockdown upgrading my kit and I’m excited to be trying some of it out tomorrow, so now I’m packed and ready to go, I thought the best way to double check I’ve got everything I need is go through it and explain what I’m taking, so here goes.
The rucksack I’m using is an Osprey Aether 70. It’s a great pack with amazing support, perfect for carrying everything you need in comfort. It’s got some really clever features too, like quick release walking pole attachments and a detachable hood to provide flexible packing.
So the kit I’m taking is as follows:
Tent – Vango Banshee 200 Pro with footprint.
Montane Spectrum beanie.
Montane Prism gloves (very packable and warm).
Petzl Actik headtorch + spare batteries. I’m getting very tempted to upgrade to the Petzl Core range as constantly buying batteries seems to me like a waste of money and bad for the environment.
Osprey 2.5 litre hydration pack.
Food bag consisting of Wayfarer meals, primula cheese, tortilla wraps, beef jerky and snack bars.
MSR Pocket Rocket (small and powerful).
Spare dry bag with micro towel inside.
OEX down sleeping bag. I do occasionally use a much lighter bag and liner, but love the comfort of this one!
Thermarest inflatable mat. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but it’s worth every penny.
Map and map case with compass. I love the OS Maps app on my phone, but old fashioned paper maps don’t ever go wrong or run out of power, that’s just the user!
Trowel for when needs must.
Petzl Noctilight. I absolutely love this device as its tiny, compressible and turns my headtorch into a lamp that disperses the light, illuminating the whole tent!
Dry bag with spare clothing.
Montane compressed down jacket for evening chills.
Survival bag which doubles up as a brilliant seat for wet ground.
Homemade basic first aid kit with additional insect spray.
Osprey 500ml collapsible water bottle.
Freeloader Sixer solar panel which charges my phone etc. It also has a booster solar panel which is attached to the back of my rucksack for on-the-go charging.
Toilet roll and rubbish bag or spare bag.
OEX carbon fibre walking poles. These are fairly cheap compared to others on the market, but so incredibly light.
Berghaus Arran coat. I’ve got the 3-in-1 variant, but always shove the fleece in my spare clothing dry bag, unless it’s winter!
Berghaus Deluge 2.0 waterproof trousers.
Not insight is a Sea to Summit Alpha 2 Pot Cook Set 2.2. I love this set as I find its light and compact. If I’m on my own I can just remove what’s not needed and save even more weight!
I think that’s all. It’s probably not the lightest of packs, but I feel fairly comfortable carrying the weight. I could probably shave off a few more pounds here and there (the pack, not myself) by really asking if things are needed, used or essential, but then again, It’s nice to have a few luxuries!
If you’ve got any tips or suggestions on kit, let me know!
Ok, first of all I am not old enough to have owned a canvass tent, mine have all been lightweight, modern materials, however I did once sleep in one when I was an Air Cadets, many years ago. My memories are it was cold and cramped and it seemed very heavy when I was putting it up, so thank god tents have evolved to the lightweight, space saving designs we have now. I just hope the Cadets have also upgraded!
I have to admit, I really do like tents. I mean I love camping, but part of that is because I really like tents. I’m not sure what it is, but I am constantly checking them out online, comparing them on campsites and if there’s a tent display in a shop, well I’m in heaven!
I think if you’re backpacking or hiking, your form of shelter is probably the most important kit for me. If it’s crap weather and you’ve got crap shelter, chances are it’s not going to be a fun trip, so you definitely need to choose wisely. It’s not even about spending so much you need to remortgage your house either. There’s some great budget tents out there that will be very competent for pretty much all circumstances you’ll find yourself facing in the UK, so choose wisely.
Over the years I’ve had 5 tents, 2 tunnels, 1 semi geodesic, 1 wedge (my current) and my first ever 1,which was a single skin dome. I think it was bought for about £10 from a garden centre and I think it was probably only used in the garden, so it possibly doesn’t count?
My first proper tent was a 3 man tunnel from Eurohike. As an intro tent it did the job for what it was tasked with, group backpacking. It was heavy, but then you could split the load. It was brilliantly spacious, 3 men and full kit with enough room for anyone else who joined the trips to come and sit inside and enjoy dinner when the weather went a bit south outside. The only other disadvantage to the weight was the fiberglass poles. I’ve never rated them and eventually after one storm too many they snapped, so good bye Eurohike 3 man tunnel and hello Robens 3 man tunnel!
Now this really was an upgrade, an absolute corker of a tent! Alloy poles, lighter than the Eurohike and stronger and more stable, but with just as much space! It served me really well over a good few years and I absolutely fell in love with the quality and design of Robens. I took it everywhere, it never leaked, it never broke, it just always did what was asked of it, keep its inhabitants safe and dry and it did it superbly!
I’m not entirely sure what eventually happened to my Robens tent, but I know I found myself looking for a new shelter at some point. Maybe it was changing circumstances or requirements as this time I went for a semi geodesic, two man dome tent. Now seasoned campers may scoff at what I’m about to say next, but this really was the best tent I’ve ever owned and guess what, it was made by Karrimor! Not exactly renowned for their tents, but the Karrimor Beta 2 man was an absolute beast, a real bomb proof, throw anything at it type of tent and I loved it!
First of all design wise it was light and so easy to carry for 2 people, secondly it was a dual door/porch design meaning loads of space and access for both inhabitants, and thirdly as it had a crossover alloy pole, it was as sturdy and stable as a house! It was brilliant, it never faltered and for over 10 years, yep 10 years, it never went wrong. I will admit towards the end it had a few rips and tares, and it was starting to get a bit leaky, but 10 years, what a tent!
Eventually it came to replacement time and I decided I wanted to go even lighter, but still 2 person. My other parameter was I wanted adaptability and flexibility, so was looking for something that could be extended or added to. I wasn’t too fussed about budget, so after much searching, I narrowed it down to 2, the Vango Banshee Pro 200 and the MSR Elixir 2 v2. Both lightweight, both adaptable, the Banshee with a Gear Store and Trek Tarp and the Elixir with its Gear Shed. Both had their pros and cons, but in the end despite the reservations about its 2 man credentials, I settled for the Banshee. I’ve had it just over a year now and I haven’t regretted my decision. Ye, it’s a little cramped with 2 inside, but I’ve got the extensions, which kind of solves the issue and that’s its only real problem. The rest of it I love, it’s sturdy, strong, well built and light. In fact when I’m soloing, it’s light enough to carry on my own and actually very spacious. It’s starting to remind me of the Beta and if it puts in the same years of service as my beloved Karrimor did, it might just steal the crown as my favourite!
With the Banshee you really get the feeling the folks at Vango, being based in Scotland know how to make a solid tent and that’s really why I chose it over the Elixir. I really love the incredibly clever design and features of the Elixir, but for me the flysheet just doesn’t hang low enough for the slightly changeable weather in the UK. Fine for California, but not for sideways rain in Eskdale or Edale. I see plenty of folks have gone for the Elixir, but I’m pretty sure one day it’s going to be blowing a gale and whipping the rain around and it might just not be so dry inside. In my Banshee, I might be having to play twister with my companion just to get a chocolate bar out of the side pocket, but at least I’ll be dry and I’ll take that all day long!
2020 was meant to be the breakthrough year, the big one. I don’t mean in some famous way, but in the sense when I finally put in some serious miles in my boots!
For years I’d loved the outdoors, walking, camping and trekking, but it had always been intermittent, 2020 was meant to change that. I was going to go regularly and further, finally do Scotland, do a winter skills course, really get out there, what could stop me, oh, an international pandemic and lockdown! Ok fate, you beat me, but now lockdown is nearing the end, I’ve still got half a year left and I intend to make it count!
It’s not like I haven’t made lockdown count so far, I have. I’ve been one of the lucky ones that’s been working from home, so whilst I haven’t been able to get away, I’ve used the money I’ve been saving (not all of it) on upgrading my kit, so it’s lighter and more effective. I’ve been out nearly every weekend exploring my own local area. I live in the Lincolnshire Wolds and it is beautiful (it really is England’s secret County) if you’ve never visited, you really should and its definitely not flat, but unfortunately 500 ft just doesn’t cut it in the long run, I need to get high and I can’t wait to get back to the higher counties of England, Derbyshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire I have missed you and can’t wait to be climbing your tops, exploring your valleys and swimming in your rivers and streams again, it has been too long and we’ve got some catching up to do!
So here’s the plan, a 2 day wild camp in Eskdale in a few weeks, a 10 day tour of Scotland being planned, a bucket list of hills compiled and a little summit list challenge (my first ever) I started during lockdown, to climb the County high points of England.
I’ve never been one for list chasing, although some of the challenges I’ve heard of have often tempted me, in particular the Wainwright’s. I’ve climbed enough of them over the years to think I’d probably make a bit of a dent in the list if I looked at it, but surely the excitement of a challenge is starting at the beginning, even if you’ve done some of it before? So that’s what I’m going to do with my County High Points challenge. Forget the fact I’ve previously, definitely done the high points of Derbyshire, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Lincolnshire, plus probably others, I’ve started at the beginning, in my home county of Lincolnshire during Lockdown. I’ve already added the East Riding of Yorkshire to the list of conquered tops, which was my first trip out of Lincolnshire and the rest, well I’m coming for them, maybe 2020 won’t be so bad after all!
Ok, first of all, I didn’t walk! The destination I’m on about is how I came to produce a blog about my love for the outdoors and some of the adventures and escapades I’ve been on and hopefully will be on! I’m certainly hoping that this destination is the beginning of an exciting journey, fingers crossed.
The beginning seems like a fairly good place to start, but where is the beginning? My first real trip was a wintry one to the Peak District as an Air Cadet. I’m not sure where we went, but I loved it and was hooked immediately! I know I told my parents about it when I got back and they weren’t surprised recalling stories of when they visited the Lake District together around the time my mum was pregnant with me and the many walks we’d go on around the South Downs when we lived in Berkshire. Their was even a trailer tent that the family used to holiday in around Devon and Cornwall, and even France. The genetics went even further back with my Dad retelling long forgotten stories of his younger days on outward bound courses and camping trips with his mates, including one where they turned up late in the night at a campsite and proceeded to hoist their tent over the only standpipe on the campsite, only to be woken in the morning, unsurprisingly by many angry campers! I think him and his friends found it funny, I’m not sure the rest of the campsite did!
Still, what’s the outdoors if not enjoyable and good fun? I know I’ve had many laughs over the years, and whilst I have solo camped, there’s nothing better than sharing the experience, it’s always better to laugh with someone, and so it was on my return from my first enthralling trip, not only did I tell my parents who explained my love for the outdoors was clearly in the genes, but I also told my school friends, who I think were probably keen, but hesitant.
It was at this point that somehow my Science teacher entered the picture and we realised we shared the same passion for the outdoors. Not only that but he’d served as a Outward Bound instructor and was a very proficient climber, this was perfect and an expedition was arranged with me, my dad, my science teacher and a group of pals with the Peak District our destination and what a trip it was!
It was an amazing weekend and many years on, I can still remember it vividly. It was February and it was cold. We had sunshine (not much) rain, hail, sleet and snow! Every season hit us and the wind on Stanage Edge was so strong that no only were the waterfalls flowing backwards, but at one point one of my mates was blown straight off his feet and thrown straight in to me! No bruises or broken bones, just shock at the power of mother nature and then the realisation that when you put everything in a rucksack on your back and end up on your backside, you in essence become a hilarious tortoise trying to get back up! That evening we pitched up at the fantastic National Trust campsite of North Lees and settled in for a chilly night. We ended up waking to a foot of snow much to the shock of a pal who unsuspectingly put his head out of the tent in the morning straight into a snow drift!
It was an amazing trip and the sight of the previously backwards waterfalls now frozen in air was just one of the amazing sights that sealed a brilliant first adventure, I was well and truly hooked too!
Over the rest of my teen years the adventures continued with the kit getting better, the routes getting longer and the summits getting bigger, including my first ascents of Snowdon and Scafell Pike (my favourite mountain and one I always go back to). Companions changed too, sometimes it was with friends, sometimes family, but it was always fun and I loved every minute, apart from maybe when soaking wet which happened far too many times!
Particular highlights included summiting Snowdon with my Dad via Crib Goch and meeting my Mum at the top who ascended via the Miners Track. It was an amazing day with beautiful weather and it was a special moment to be stood on top of such a grand mountain as Snowdon with both my parents!
Hilarity soon resumed though after we stopped at the summit cafe for a break and my dad sat down on a plastic bucket chair with his rucksack next to him and his coat on the back of the chair. What he hadn’t realised was that he had left his hydration pack mouthpiece attached to his coat and was leaning on it the whole time. He’d not noticed as he’d not taken off his apparently rather effective waterproof trousers, that the liquid which happened to be orange squash had slowly leaked out of said mouthpiece. Upon standing to leave orangey coloured liquid ran down his trousers and a pool of the stuff remained which very much looked like he’d had a rather unfortunate accident, much to the hysterics of both my Mum and I!
On another trip, once again to Snowdonia, this time with my Dad and my Science teacher we decided to take an early evening walk before dinner as we’d arrived in good time. The weather was brilliant and the walk was fantastic, although nearing the end we realised we’d need to ford a rather wide river. No problem, off came the socks and boots, of which mine were brand new and off set my teacher to test if it was safe. He crossed no problem, so off I set with trousers rolled up and boots in hand, rather than hanging round my neck or attached to my pack. Things went well, I took my time wading through the chilly mountain water and trying to evade any sharp rocks. Going well and the opposite bank was getting closer, but my feet were getting colder, so I think I rushed a bit which proved to be disastrous. Immediately I slipped, plunging backwards and abruptly sitting down in the icey cold flow and the shock, well obviously I let go of my brand new boots and watched horrified and unable to do anything as they started to sail away towards the Atlantic. My Dad was also unable to help as he was still on the opposite bank and so it fell, to my very kind teacher who had just finished lacing up his dry boots to launch, quite literally a rescue attempt at which he did by running along the bank in pursuit and jumping feet first to rescue my marooned boots! I eventually pulled myself up on to the bank and will always be eternally grateful to my teacher and friend for his swift actions to salvage my boots, which thankfully went on to serve me well over many years!
It wasn’t always laughs, giggles and successes, as many lessons were also learned including better preparation and planning, and slightly better navigation skills due to a few of the experiences that occurred. Some were more annoying than others including a weekend trip to the Peak District where we packed absolutely everything, and I mean everything apart from a pot to cook dinner with, which we only realised when we actually went to cook. No problem, we were staying at a campsite in Bamford, so off we went to the local shop to hopefully purchase one. Upon enquiring ‘do you sell pots’ we were met with the relieving answer of ‘yes’. Bingo, we were in luck, dinner would be served. ‘where are the pots’ came the next question as we looked around eagerly, ‘oh, we sold out yesterday’! Hearts broken, stomachs grumbling, I think we eventually found ourselves in the local sharing whatever we could muster with the little money that we’d bought, lesson learn, better prep and packing!
If pot saga was an irritation, the biggest lesson I learned was definitely a bit more serious and really taught me that wherever you, at whatever height, mountains will always be dangerous and British weather very changeable. Coupled with silly mistakes and bad timing caused an unfortunate episode of becoming cragfast somewhere on the edge of Broad Crag / Great End with two friends in mid August which caused an 10 man Mountain Rescue Team complete with dogs to be called out.
It really was a silly mistake as we left it too late to climb and one of the party was ill equipped, but we summited Sca Fell by early evening in clear weather with good views, with cloud swirling over our heads. On the descent to the col however the cloud followed us and by the time we were climbing Broad Crag, the temperature had dropped from balmy to chilly, visibility dropped to mere feet and the rain came out of nowhere accompanied by a howling gale, it changed so incredibly quickly. We still had daylight on our side, so no panic and I’d done the route a few times before. However after an hour of still climbing, I felt something was wrong. It was at this point we tried to descend to get under the cloud for a visual bearing and after sliding and scraping down steeper and wetter rock, found ourselves a little stuck on a ledge barely a few feet wide with a drop of a couple of hundred. With no way back up either we were stranded and so unable to erect the tent due to the precarious nature, we only had one solution, to call the absolute heroes of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team. I was able to give a vague grid reference and they later explained that they were able to find us as there were only a few locations in the area where you could get a signal.
We were advised that they should be with us in about 3 hrs, around 10 pm, so with the storm getting worst we hunkered down as best as possible. One thing not to do when you’ve just called Mountain Rescue is call your parents in a matter of fact way. I was personally annoyed it had happened and that was about it, my family, in particular my Mum spent the rest of the night having kittens as they had no idea wherever we were down or not until the next day!
We were eventually rescued and I mean we had to be harnessed and roped off the ledge we stupidly got on to and then efficiently and kindly escorted off the mountain, although not before having to be harnessed again to cross a stream that had become a raging torrent due to the storm we’d encountered.
I mentioned as well that a 10 man team plus dogs had been dispatched, well by the time the dog located our whistle sounds and flashing headtorches the team had been greatly reduced as by that point numerous other calls had come in from a group of three peakers who’d also been caught short by the storm.
By the time we arrived at the Wasdale Head Hotel, about 3 am, more embarrassment ensued as we realised that the Mountain Rescue Team had been dragged away from a fundraising party for themselves being hosted by the local landlord who they’d also saved a few years before, when he’d had a heart attack in a storm. These volunteers really are the true heroes of the mountains and you should always try and support as you never know when you might just end up having to call on them yourself.
Following these many adventures, my twenties were unfortunately a bit quieter. I still had some great adventures and trips, but somehow or for some reason they were less frequent. It was always in the back of my mind to get back to the hills, but it just never happened as much as I’d have liked.
Now in my thirties, the adventures have resumed with my most memorable one of recent years camping out under the stars, just under the cliff tops of Stanage Edge with some friends in -10 conditions. It wasn’t snowing, but it was a little chilly, however it was so icey cold and the sky was so clear because of it, it really was a sight to behold! We’d actually planned to sleep in a cave which upon arrival was a bit waterlogged, so we slept just outside it and I really was pleased to be there, and felt lucky to be staring up at such a magnificent sky.
So now the adventures must continue, I’ve definitely truly found the bug again, if it ever left me. One thing lockdown has taught me is to appreciate the simpler things in life and all I’ve wanted to do is be in the hills or in my tent, with whoever I drag along on my next adventure.
So I reached the destination of this blog in the hope that it will keep me motivated and inspired. By starting to write about it, to record it down, this destination is actually, hopefully going to be the beginning of another great adventure. So here goes Off The Trail, probably OTT, the crazy, stupid adventures of a very amateur adventurer!