Monday, 18 July 2016

Walking to The Ridgeway

This was a walk I'd been planning to do in 2014 and 2015 but family things got in the way. The idea was to walk from home to The Ridgeway over two days (just over forty miles) and meet up with members of the Backpackers Club for a weekend gathering. This year I was determined to do it.

I didn't get away from home till 11am. My route was the d'Arcy Dalton Way. I walked the section from its start at Wormleighton Reservoir on the Oxford Canal to home last year. It ends at Wayland's Smithy on The Ridgeway, 66.4 miles altogether. I joined the Way at Sarsden which seemed to be the quickest way to it.

Approaching Great Barrington
 The weather was sunny for most of the day but there were a couple of brief showers. My route today took me through Lyneham, Bruern, Fifield, Great & Little Barrington, Westwell and Holwell. Just past Holwell I found a delightful belt of trees to spend the night.

I was quite well hidden. My tarp is the tiny grey splodge between trees.

I was away by 7am. A lovely morning and set to be quite warm. I went through Filkins, Broadwell, diverting from the Way to go through Langford in the hope of finding water. I took some from a stream in the village. At Radcot, I crossed over a quite small River Thames.

On then to the hamlet of Eaton Hastings. There were quite a few military planes going over from nearby Carterton. After Longcot and then Compton Beauchamp, I started the ascent to The Ridgeway.

The Ridgeway on the horizon

At the top was some perfect woodland to tuck myself away in. The wildlife was very noisy but I slept well.

Next morning I had a leisurely few miles to meet up with the others at Lower Farncombe Farm just outside Lambourn. There was a good turn out of about twenty eight. A new Club member had come all the way from Düsseldorf just for the weekend. A group of us walked to Court Hill Centre just outside Letcombe Bassett where there are superb views to the north.

Sunday was the quickest way back to Lambourn to sort out some holiday related problems at home. This blog will be quiet for the next ten weeks or so but some reading can be had at

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The start of a new life

Life's going to become a bit odd now. Full time work has finished as of 30 June. What better way to start it than by a micro backpacking trip actually from my front door. Throwing a few things together, I headed for Salford and from there towards Little Compton. I joined the Macmillan Way towards Chastleton, spending a good couple of hours exploring field and woodland paths south of the village. All these so close to home but I'd never walked them. I just met a couple of dog walkers.

I went into Adlestrop where there was a water tap outside the village hall so I filled my water belt and headed off northwards along the Cotswold Diamond Way to find somewhere to camp.

I found a superb location. Particularly in the south of England, whilst it's not difficult to find places to wild camp, more and more, I'm tending to scout out wooded areas so as to be completely out of sight. Many of these woods are infested by nettles or brambles and so are unsuitable except maybe for use with a hammock. Others, though, are just great, as was the one I found on this occasion. There were no paths into the wood but I ducked through a small opening and found a sizeable area inside which had mainly leaves as ground cover and this was perfect. I pitched and cooked my dinner. I whiled away the evening reading. I was startled by the barking of a fox for a few minutes but then everything quietened down and I spent a peaceful night.

I was on my way by 7 o'clock next morning. No-one was about and I made my way into the idyllic village of Evenlode, a place not for the financially faint hearted.

I walked around the village and then took a bridleway across field edges towards Chastleton, there taking a bridleway over Chastleton Barrow, an iron age hill fort. I've lived nearby for over thirty years and never before visited it. I then made my leisurely way back home for lunch.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Backpackers Exmoor weekend

Quite a way to go but the forecast was good and, sometimes, you just have to get out. Starting from Porlock, I went up Doverhay, the lane next to a car park off the main street, through woodland and then across Doverhay Down to a lane which led west down to Pool Bridge campsite where I met up with my companions for the weekend. Most had already been backpacking for a couple of days.

My tarp is on the right of the photo above. There was no pub nearby so we all turned in quite early.

Next morning, a group of us set off along the track that goes west above the campsite, down to Lucott Cross, by Larkbarrow (where we stopped for lunch). We had been planning to camp overnight at Hoar Oak but it was thought to be boggy so we headed for Farley Water where we found a very nice pitch next to running water.

 Next morning, we joined the Two Moors Way up to Cheriton, then aiming for the cafe at Watersmeet for second breakfast. Following then the path by the East Lyn River, we stopped for refreshment at the Rockford Inn at Rockford. At Brendon, I parted company with the others and took the path through access land to County Gate, taking the bridleway across the road going east, shortly afterwards joining the inland South West Coast Path, passing by Culbone Church, eventually reaching Porlock Weir.

The Bottom Ship pub was open so I downed some excellent fish and chips and a pint of Exmoor bitter. I then headed off to find somewhere to spend the night. There was no-one about and I found a good pitch between Porlock Weir and Porlock.

Going out of Porlock, I was filling my water belt with water from a stream when a fellow passing by warned me off the water (although I would have filtered it). He lived nearby so invited me into his house for tap water  and also a glass of squash, which was very welcome. Trail magic like this is always welcome. He (Damien Crossland) showed me some of the items he makes as a wood turner so let's give him a plug at

A breakfast and coffee stop
From there I followed the Coleridge Way to Webbers Post and then the Dunster Path to Brockwell and Wootton Courtenay, stopping for lunch in a field where I was approached by a very tame pheasant of a type I'd not seen before. I later identified it as a Reeves's pheasant.

Through Timberscombe, I went through woodland to Dunster where I spent some time in a tearoom enjoying a cream tea, watching the world go by. Had a look round the Rohan outlet shop and then took the Macmillan Way West and then into Minehead via a bridleway, on the way coming to the rescue of a lady and her young son. They were staying at the nearby youth hostel and some time earlier had come out for a walk without a map or compass and hadn't a clue where they were. The light was fading and, to be honest, I struggled to find the YH, there being so many paths in the woods here. However, we eventually found the YH and I felt a great sense of relief!

Ortlieb water belt

I tend not to drink enough water when backpacking, mainly because I just fill a bottle and make it last between refills which may be few and far between. I suspect that dehydration is the cause of night time leg cramps which I tend to suffer from quite often when backpacking.  If only water wasn't so heavy. I recall a day on a Lakeland to Lindisfarne hike (remembered for three days and nights of non-stop rain) when there was a dry stretch from Wooler to St. Cuthbert's Cave where we intended to pitch that night. I carried two litres of water for the whole of the day. That was an extra 4.5 lbs on my back which was no joke. If only water wasn't so heavy. Well, now it isn't! A recently acquired piece of kit is a water belt made by Ortlieb. It holds two litres and straps round the waist with adjustable straps and a plastic buckle. On its own it is used just to carry water but an optional extra is a Source drinking tube so water can be drunk whilst on the move without having to stop to take a bottle out of a side pocket of a backpack. The tube is easily fitted by removing part of the valve fitting from the water belt and replacing it by a screw fitting at one end of the tube. At the other end of the tube is a lockable bite-valve. This is twisted a half turn to turn the flow on and off. There is a cap attached to a cord to cover the bite-valve.

I'm not sure whether the belt is supposed to be worn on the back or the front. I've tried both but have settled for the front. I tighten the belt buckles gradually as the belt empties. The 33 inch long water tube was actually longer than I needed and I have shortened it.

For the first few days of use, the water had a pronounced plastic/rubber taste but this has disappeared now. My first use of the belt was on the South Downs Way where water is scarce, with the exception of water taps every few miles which are invaluable. I filled up at each of these and, the weight of the water being round my waist, rather than my back, I never noticed the weight. I've often wished for dehydrated water to save weight. The Ortlieb water belt is better and is now an essential piece of kit for me. I tend to carry two litres now as a matter of course. I have used it with river water plus chlorine tablets. It was fine, apart from the chlorine taste, but it needed rinsing out several times to fully get rid of the taste. Latterly, I've filled it with, say, river or stream water, attached a Sawyer mini filter and drunk from it. As opposed to, say, carrying a filled roll-up water container, it's not so obvious that one is looking to discreetly wild camp somewhere.

I should say that I use a pack without a hip belt and so the Ortlieb water belt is comfortable. I've tried it with a pack with a hip belt and it's no problem. They don't clash but it may not be the same with all other packs. It depends very much on the individual.

Price – the best price I found (from Ghyllside Cycles of Ambleside) were for the water belt £16.65 and for the optional drinking tube £13.50. I bought these items with my own money.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A stroke of luck

I and, I know, many other backpackers, have been bemoaning the fact that Inov-8 have discontinued their Terroc trail shoe. It wasn't waterproof and had lots of mesh in the upper. Wet came in and then went out. They dried pretty quickly. They were brilliant. My first introduction to Inov-8 was the Roclite 315 which I bought at Braemar Mountain Sports when doing the TGO Challenge in 2010. I had been wearing boots and my blisters were so bad. I was fitted with the Roclites and they were so comfortable. They enabled me to finish the last few days of the Challenge and, to cap it all, the shop posted my boots back home for no extra charge - superb service.

I then worked my way through probably three pairs of Terrocs. And now they are no more. I recently ordered two pairs of Roclite 295s from Cotswold Outdoor in a sale but, when they arrived (the right size but different fits) they seemed so garishly coloured and tackily made that I returned them. Anyway, I really don't want brightly coloured shoes that I wouldn't also want to wear in the high street.

So, to get to the point, I found on Ebay someone who was selling a slightly used pair of Roclite 295s but probably a previous incarnation and they look fine. I was the only bidder and acquired them for a good price. As you can see from the photos, the uppers are basically the Terroc and the soles are Roclite.

Friday, 1 January 2016

New tent!

As a result of the damage to my Laser Comp referred to in the last posting, I had an opportunity to buy, at a reasonable price, a tent that should withstand most conditions. It's a Saunders Jetpacker Plus, a two man tent, but spacious for one. It was made in England by the now defunct Saunders firm that I believe ceased trading in 2010. The tent was made probably in the late 1970s or so. It's not really lightweight, weighing just over 1.8kg but it's pretty bombproof. It seems very well made with a good sized porch. It will take a bit of getting used to an end entry tent, compared with the Laser Comp which is side entry. It's roomier though and I can sit up at the front end. I'll only use it when conditions are likely to be rough. The front end is supported by two aluminium poles that fit into a round block with a spike that goes through a brass grommet in the fly sheet. I've experimented with substituting the poles with trekking poles but as one of the aluminium poles seems to be permanently fixed into the round block, I don't think this would work as a weight saving exercise. If anyone knows any differently, then I'd like to know. It may be possible to fashion a block from wood, make two holes at the base for the pointed ends of the trekking poles and make a spike from something. I reckon I'm going to be pleased with it and may get a chance to use it in a couple of weeks.

Laser Competition damage

The Laser Comp clearly isn't necessarily an all year round tent. It's good, but not perfect. At the tail end of Storm Desmond and on the edge of it in the Peak District, it was pitched for a weekend in gale force winds for some 36 hours. It survived but the little plastic buckle at the foot of the zip pulled away. The buckle was left intact but one side ripped away from the tent. It wasn't a great problem as I used a tent peg to secure it - this could be done from the outside (when I was leaving the tent unattended) or from the inside (when I was in it). However, it is a weakness, I think, as a friend who also had a Laser Comp suffered exactly the same damage.

Here's a photo of the repair I've done, using a scrap of Dyneema gridstop.