Tuesday, 9 July 2013


As I tuck into a Gregg's Cornish pasty, lovingly prepared at some nameless services, bathed in sun, I finally begin to think that we might just get a view.

The thought stays with me, when we stop again in Conwy.


In line with one of my main principles, we're in no rush and Conwy is one of the prettiest places I know of (and, as we discovered, has a cracking little pub right on the sea front (the Liverpool arms) perfect for half a beer, smelling the sea, watching the boats and generally perfect for a relaxing stop on the way).


I'm off with Jim to go re-tackle one of the most enjoyable hills I've ever done.

It's to the north of Snowdon, but this is no tourist honey trap.

There's no railway, no cafe on the top. In fact, there's not much room on the top at all.

This is a brutal, wild hill and there's no easy way up..

There are however, lots of ways to make it harder. It's a Mecca for climbers and more adventurous walkers. Full of jagged rocks, cliffs, gulleys, false summits and unrelenting climbs.


This is a world where you go up, faster than you go across.

It's steep. When I say steep, I mean that if you slip at the wrong point, you could be going down. A long, long way. Possibly for the rest of your life.

Welcome to Tryfan.



Although its close to (the higher) Snowdon, this is a different kind of hill. It's like something that's been ripped straight from the Cuillin's. and then bleached by the sun.

Its special, because its one of a few mountains in the UK where there's no way to the top without having your hands on rock. You can't walk this, it has to be climbed. Go here, and you can stop saying that you walk up hills, and start saying that you climb mountains. A small difference, but one that gives you a warm feeling of pride inside.


About this time last year, we went up, having heard that this was a hill that begged to be summited.

On that occasion although the weather was beautiful in the morning, by the time we made it to the top the weather had turned (as often happens).

The top third of the mountain (and all the way back down) was wet, cold and the view went on for all of twenty feet.


Hoping for better weather this year, we stayed at the same site as before, on one of two campsites at the base of Tryfan.

Gwern Gôf Isaf .. This place was good enough to be used as a base by Sir John Hunt who used it as his base camp when he was training for Everest back in '52. So it's more than suitable for us. It's well maintained, and the owners cant do enough for you (and are excellent company if you run into them in the pub). If you don't want to take a tent, there's even a couple of bunk houses with the exclusive use of stoves, gas, electric sockets and toasters for people saying in them..

**N.B. the other campsite close by is the confusingly named - Gwern Gôf Uchaf (Uschaf = highest, Isaf = lowest) so make sure you have the right one!


Right. So.. The hill.

It's compact in every dimension but height, compared to sprawling monsters like Snowdon. It just looks so damn high from the bottom. You'll look up, and wonder how on earth you'll get to the top..


We favoured the same route as before, walking up the side of the stream, then going straight up the side to the saddle at the side of the far south peak and the three main peaks. It's insanely steep, but still manageable without the need for ropes.

As we discover though, in the sun it's a real slog. And thirsty work.

Normally on a walk, over five hours we would go through a bit over a litre of water each.. I know some would say that's too little, but it's just what we use naturally.

This time, we use about five litres between us.. So don't try and save weight!


Once you pass the saddle, you start to attack the main three peaks (which is the literal meaning of Try-fan... Try meaning three and Fan, meaning peaks or tops).

It stops being steep and just becomes a tangled route up the cliffs themselves. This final part is also where you have to skirt up the side and get an incredible (but not always welcome) view down from this point on..

About this point, something magical happened. We pass higher than the clouds. Something that is always.. Just.. Take your breath away beautiful and exciting.


Then, suddenly, we cross the ridge to the central, highest peak. Slightly shaky, heart in mouth, tired, exhilarated, scared and incredibly happy.

I'm stood on something that's over three thousand feet in height.

Yep. That's three thousand. If you've never been that high outside an aeroplane, take a moment to think about how high that actually is. It's higher than any building in the world. Ever been to france? The Eifel Tower is 984 feet.. Barely enough to get you level with the cobbled path in the photo higher in this post, let alone onto the hill itself.


On the top, the view is not only present, but stunning. It feels like I could see all the way back to Yorkshire from here.


There is also the small matter of Adam and Eve.. Two pillars of rock about seven or eight feet tall, they are visible from the campsite in the afternoon, looking like two people stood on the top. Stepping between them, is supposed to give you the freedom of Tryfan.

(No. I haven't. I will one day.. But they're right next to the cliff. Natural selection reminds me that my balance isn't that good ;) )


After a very enjoyable hour on the summit, having had sandwiches, and lounging on thick swathes of grass (yes! Grass! At this height!). We reluctantly make our way down to the site and then on to Cobdens Hotel (better beer AND better prices than other pubs round there).

Not only is it where the locals go, it's where they are happy to be convivial. They are proud of the area they live in and each of them has a thousand funny or embarrassing stories about the others. It's well recommended.


Make sure Tryfan is on your list.

It's a hill you'll never forget, and one that Jim and I will be back on, for years to come.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Wild camping, by myself.....


I'm about to set off on my journey and there's a writhing knot of apprehension in my stomach.

I'm about to try something I've never done before.


Wild camping, on my own....



Yes. That's right. I'm going out to the middle of nowhere, with no backup, no support...

What's that I hear you say? I'm the most experienced one?

Well.. yes, It's true. I've always technically had the leader badge, but I've also had my friends to fall back on.. Paul is world class at finding elusive cairns in the fog.. and James? Well.. apart from the most vital task of bringing lunch (I always, always forget), he is also the best listener I've ever known. Perfect for bouncing ideas off..

I enjoy their company and we enjoy just mucking about, taking the piss out of each other and just generally getting some enjoyment out of life.


And perhaps, most important, I know if one of us injures himself, We can trust the others to find civilisation and raise the alarm.


This time. I don't have them.

I have no safety net..

... I have no idea if the wilds will be hospitable, if it will be the same calm paradise, in the total dark of night..


I'm committed now though. I've made my decision and its time to stick to it.

It's best foot forward at the bus station. There's only one bus out in the morning, and one bus back in the afternoon (the 273, if your wondering). So... although the service fits my needs, if I miss my bus tomorrow afternoon, it's a very long walk to the next nearest bus stop near the Ladybower Inn.

Ok.. If that was just a gentle Saturday stroll, then all would be well.. However, after lumping my pack all the way out here, and then back tomorrow - it's something I would like to avoid.


I find the stop for the 273 and board with a complement of old ladies, students and a few other walkers.

(and one real rambler... long of beard and faded of clothes. With what cash he had in his hand, that's where he was going (whatever it was, it took him to Stanage edge).


I get off the bus at the car park just past the war memorial. It's the only car park on the left hand side of the road, so while it's not possible to mistake, it is easy to drive past if you're not watching though.


There's no preamble today, no kit to get from the boot, or last minute adjustments. No trainers to stash... I'm already suited and booted, so...

I set off up the gravel track, that leads from the car park.


It's always a nice start to a walk. Ok, it's steep right from the off - you really have to pace yourself while you warm up. But, It's wooded and in the shade, so it's nice and cool while you're exerting yourself getting to the top...


If you come this way, there's a gate about 3/4 of the way up, and another gate at the top it's peaceful (apart from the off mountain bikers getting their kicks).. Once you get to the top, there's a stile.. You hop over and then the horizons suddenly go from being tens of feet, to being tens of miles.. It's a change in perspective that always gets me. I love things like that. Things that grab hold of you and slap you hard, even if you were expecting it.


Once out in the open, you follow the edge of the wood for a while.

It's usually very calm here and the sun really beats down on the tops here after the coolness of the wood.


It's also pretty flat and paved in places, which is a good thing. I often find myself stumbling on this path, because I'm so busy taking in the view, not looking at where my feet are..

It's a beautiful ramble along this top path with an incredible vista. You can see Win hill, Lose hill and in front of Edale itself, mighty Kinder.


Now, to those of you who just chuckled, Kinder is mighty. It's certainly not the highest peak in the UK and monsters like Everest, might be something like 14 times the height... But mighty I think it is. If you don't believe me, just try walking around the top edge in a single day, or crossing it in the spring, when the bogs are treacherous. Theres often still snow around at that time of year and every time you climb out of a grough, there's not only another one to tackle, but an unending line of them, unbroken all the way to what seems far enough, to be the other edge of the world.


Thankfully, there's none of that here.

There's a couple more stiles along the way, and one large ladder stile that takes you over a wall (a test of balance with a full pack!) and when the tops become boggy, there's a stone path to carry you over the worst bits. Oh.. And plenty of lambs at the moment.. Everything seems to have come later this year, a consequence of such a cold spring I imagine.



It's as dry as a bone up here at the moment.

I had noticed that the reservoir was starting to drop a bit, but the peat is so dry today, you can walk on the open, evil looking bits, without even getting mud in your boots.


It worries a me a bit, because I want running water in the stream in camp, but as I drop down past Alport castles, there's a spring, which was still bubbling nicely.

I stop and refill my travel tap, revelling in the taste of the ice cold water in the heat of the now mid-day sun.

It's quiet here, but I expected that. It's a Friday, so there aren't the usual number of people lining the ways (not that Alport gets the crowds, For some reason, it always seems quieter here.. A bit of a hidden gem, I've only seen it busy on hot, sunny weekends).



I've packed really light this time. No tarp, no groundsheet. No hammock or extra bits of kit.

No large saucepans or grills for the fire.. Just the basics... And it shows. I make excellent time... Too good in fact.


I arrive at camp by about 2:30... Way to early too set up shop.

I've actually been here for about twenty minutes, but there were a couple of walkers passing where I wanted to go, so I sat down and had a smoke, let them get out of sight before I plunged off into the woods..


Because its so early, I get some wood for the fire and break what I can by hand, setting up the piles, sized to make it easier later, but leave the noisy axe till later. I really must get a new pocket saw. It's so much less obtrusive, lighter and.. Well.. Safer.


I sit down, I stand.. I sit again. I write some of this blog on my phone, then remember why I don't use a phone to blog with.

I wander round restlessly. I realise that not bringing that book, might have been a mistake.

I'm going to be honest here... I'm bored.

I expected some feeling of being 'connected' to nature in some way, or something peaceful..

No. I was mentally drawing up shopping lists, working out what needed to be done when I got back..

Of all the things I'd worried about, being bored, was not something I'd anticipated.


Mildly annoyed at being excluded from the mystical group of 'oneness' with nature, I snatched up my wine and walked down to the river.

There was a large flat stone, a few inches above the waterline. So I sat. Took my boots off, rolled up my trousers and stretched back, bathing in the river and the afternoon sun at the same time. my face in the sun, my feet in the water, drinking my wine. I have to admit this was one of the most pleasurable things I've done in ages and I'd be happy to be back there, (but with a book!... I'm stressing this a bit, I know.. But only so you don't make the same mistakes)..


The water was fresh, deep and luscious where I was sat. A natural pool, maybe four or five feet deep.. I was sorely tempted to go for a swim proper. But as it was now late afternoon, it was also turning cooler and the shadow of the hill was getting close to this side of the stream. I didn't want to run the risk of not getting properly dry, or cold...


Not long after, my stone slid into the shadow and my beautiful spot chilled immediately.

Rather regretfully, I picked up my wine and wandered back to camp. I made myself some Dinner and then set about the firewood, chopping the larger logs into manageable lengths.

Sunset comes early here, because of the valley sides.. A good hour - hour and a half earlier than on the tops..

But even before the sun set, it cooled dramatically.

I lit the fire and went back to sitting, standing, sitting.. Restlessly moving around.


As the sun finally starts to set there's another couple of walkers come up the valley, I can hear them chatting just above the sound of the stream. Then one of them says, "There's a fire!" I realise I can't just let them think the woods are on fire, so I step out, say hi and offer to share. They're going further up the valley. I mention another spot further up, just around the corner that's a good place. They are soon swallowed up by the the surroundings and it's like they were never here.


I saved pudding till now.. Because I forgot to pack lunch, I thought spacing out my dinner and pudding would help me stay full for longer.

I heat through my pouch of chocolate sponge pudding and tuck in.

It's incredibly stodgy, like a block of lard in fake-chocolate sauce.. As there's going to be nothing else to eat tonight, I keep going for a while longer.

It's no good. I'm not going to finish it. I throw what's left into the fire and watch what I don't want, be boiled, then eaten by the fire instead.


Soon after, I start to feel distinctly uncomfortable in the stomach department. It's making those distinctive, but uncomfortable bubbling noises, that are never a good sign.

I sit it out for a while, hoping that it will settle, but it gets more and more uncomfortable.

Sighing, I grab my stomach and my loo roll and set off for a walk.


....Short intermission....


I stagger back into camp, feeling distinctly ill. I'm worried.

I realise I might made a school boy error. Although I've been using a water filter for drinking water, when I made dinner, the water I boiled my pouch in.. Well.. Never boiled. I used it to make a coffee with, after cooking my stew.. It might have been at a simmer for a long time.. But is that enough? Have I picked up a bug?


My guts spasm again. I decide an early night might be a capital idea.

I quickly round up my stuff and unceremoniously drop it in my porch to keep the worst of the moisture off it. I crawl into my sleeping bag and lie there feeling awful. I'm sweating and thinking how traumatic the walk out tomorrow could be.. Especially if I'm caught short on the path.. My imagination runs riot, I can't help but think about how busy it will be tomorrow, a line of people headed for Alport, spurred on by the beautiful weather, while I'm at the side of the path, saying "morning" to everyone, wanting to be invisible and being mortified with embarrassment.


I wake early. Sometime around seven.

Although I feel much better, I decide that being back at the visitor centre, with it's toilet block is a very good idea. I quickly break camp, helped by the fact that I had spare room in the pack on the way out. So I throw everything in, only making sure that I put heavy stuff in the bottom. I don't bother with breakfast, I'm not sure if Its a good idea or not.

I decide that it's safer to be hungry.


I shoulder my pack and start out of the woods. It's blindingly sunny as I walk out. It's a beautiful day. Within minutes, I feel better. I'm looking forward to the walk, looking forward to doing something.

The walk back out passes in a beautiful blur of countryside, the only annoyance being the spring I normally use to fill my bottle halfway, has a herd of cows on it. They all have young calves and watch me wearily as I give them as much space as I can. Sadly, it means topping off my water bottle is not going to be possible. I'm not about to try and put myself between a mother and her calf...

That leaves me about half a litre for the rest of the walk.


I arrive at the visitor centre with drips left in it. I'm hot and thirsty and my body is screaming for sugar.

I have a cider ice lolly and a coke. Ok, it's not isotonic and coke isn't perhaps the healthiest choice.. But I firmly believe that your body knows what it needs, especially when you're feeling under par...

I pop in the visitor centre and buy a book to keep me occupied (the bus isn't due for nearly four hours yet).


I stretch out in the sun by the reservoir, book in hand. It's about bomber crews in WWII..

As I'm laid there, reading, a Dakota flies over.. It's really low, skimming the treetops.. The bomber roars over, while I'm reading about the crews and bombers of that era. It was a welcome, exhilarating coincidence..


Without realising it, its time for me to wander up to the bus stop and as I board, I realise I'm sad. Really, really sad.

I don't want to leave. I may have had some trials and was interminably bored at times, but I want more. I've just slowed down, just relaxed...

I don't think it's going to be long before I'm back out in the hills again.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Wentworth Woodhouse. A place to visit.. :)

Today I've been round a house In Rotherham. Please forgive me if I over-indulge in adjectives.. ;)


It's on one of my favorite local ambles, from where my parents live, to a couple of pubs in wentworth.

I was quite lucky, as I got to go in this house when I was at junior school..

At the time I was... Well.. Even then. I was impressed.

For an idea of scale, It's twice the size of Buckingham palace.. And for those who don't believe there's any culture "oop noorth", you need to come see this.


There have been a few houses (and once a castle) on these grounds and the house as it stands has organically grown from one, to the next. The current main building dates to the eighteenth century and is HUGE. It's had a hard time for most of its history.

The first early Strafford - who was responsible for the north of England, was beheaded for treason in 1641. The second earl - well that's where it gets a bit more interesting.. He was prime minister. Not once, but twice.

He was Prime minister while the American war of independence was in full swing. In fact, some of the decisions on how things were settled, were taken under this very roof. That's quite a big chunk of history to take in, for something so far from London...

By the way, The second earl quit, under mysterious circumstances before his term ended... He obviously didn't agree with how things had been handled.

But... Then went back, and this time his headache was 'the troubles in Ireland'. He set things in motion that would have made things a lot more.... Amicable between our two neighbouring countries.

Sadly, he contracted influenza and died a few months in. Other ministers then pushed their own agenda's and got their own way... Things have bad for a long time between our nations. It's a shame he didn't get to see his policies through.


More recently, the house was used by military intelligence, it was a coal mine (which was devastating to the area AND still threatens the building to this day) and a girls collage.. In fact, this ended in the 80's, so this was probably how my school got permission to go round it so long ago.


As I went round, the house is.. Well.. Lets say; water damaged (or at least damp), and this, along with subsidence, has definately been a big feature in this house over the last few decades. Most ceilings are peeling and there are signs of neglect (and one area of over cleaning - ask your guide ;) ).


But there is hope. Room after room we went in was slowly being restored. The guide stated that they aim to have the house unrecognisable within five years, and the main centre part back to its former glory in the next decade. I hope this is true, because its a truly beautiful building. The main entrance with its marble floor and mezzanine is breathtaking.

(Photo from www.wentworthwoodhouse.co.uk)


There are a few quirks from its former use. There are rails around the main entrance, so it could be used for badminton and the old headmasters office has a depiction of the five senses, painted around the walls.. But, also has steam damage where the kettle the head used steamed away part of the priceless wall paintings!


We were led into another room, which was completely naked. Not as in we were naked, but that the panelling had been taken right back to bare wood.


But there are still real treasures here.

On one wall there is a fine painting of a horse, perhaps 12 feet high. This horse won so much money for one of the earls (a long time ago), that it paid for a stable block.

A square stable block, around a central courtyard and fountain, that could house eighty four horses.

That's a lot of hay.. and, knowing a few horsey lady's.. A mountain of shit.


In a stairwell, there's a statue of Ceres (holding what I thought was an artichoke.. Though, I could be wrong!). She was found in Herculaneum (a place that suffered like Pompeii) and its... two thousand years old..

There's wallpaper, printed in the 1830's.. When around here, to be honest, people were happy to have walls, let alone paper on them....


Then, there are the gardens. These are also, like the house... Ample.

At the top of a rise, there is a large stone goblet, called the 'punch bowl'. This was lit like the Olympic flame for special occasions (though historians apparently still argue if it was lit with oil, or with gas).


To be honest, by this time, I was happy to be out of the house and into the gardens.. I had the strongest urge to take off my shoes and socks and do this bit barefoot.. The sun was streaming and the views from the terrace went on for miles. And miles.

The woods themselves were alive with hundreds of different plants, obviously landscaped in times past - but now a strange sort of beautiful. Few of the plants were native, but they had naturalised..it was as if 'bloody stupid Johnson' had been let loose to create a mad, world-inclusive woodland (read Terry Pratchett if you don't know who he is, you won't regret it ;) )


It was a great day out, and please, support them. Yes, it's a local thing for me.. But it's an increadbly beautiful house.. Yes,Ii paid.. and plan to again. Go, see it for yourself. I've missed loads of stuff out, so you can still learn, and see.. It's worth every penny.


The tours (prices as from when we booked in march) run from £10 for a short tour of the main block, £15 for the main tour of the house and £25 for house and gardens.

Although I'm all for saving money, if you're coming in the summer, go all out.. You don't want to miss the gardens and terrace.

They are also running several things this year.. Check out their website www.wentworthwoodhouse.co.uk for more.


And.. When you finish, there is the village of wentworth round the corner, about a mile from the house. There's two cracking pubs, the 'Rockingham Arms' and the 'George and the Dragon'. Both have real ales, both have log fires in the winter. Highly recommended..


If you have children, Wentworth garden centre is round the corner.. It has a petting zoo, cafe, playground and craft shops. There's nothing to stop you walking down the road and seeing the front of the building, even if you aren't going in.. It's worth it.

(Btw, Both pubs have good beer gardens, though the George also has a playground)...


I'll see you at the bar sometime!


Saturday, 1 June 2013

It's nice to be back.

Ok.. I've been away for too long.


I know it.

I've been on a couple of trips over the last year and a half and I haven't shared it.. Selfish of me, I know, but I've also not had a PC to type on, and publishing from a phone is such a pain if its not for just a quick update..

However it's now time for me to be back on the air and broadcasting.


I've got lots of things planned for this year and kit reviews too. You'll hear about it all soon enough..


For now though, just sit back, enjoy the sun and if you're lucky enough to be in the hills tonight, you make me jealous...


Have fun people, it's what it's all about.. :)