Wednesday, 26 May 2010

west highland way - day one

Is this the start?

A short notice smash and grab affair that was worth the miserable return overnight coach journey from Glasgow.

We weren't a mile down the way when we met a couple of women heading towards us. "Are you doing the West Highland Way?", they asked. "Yes!", was our reply. "Good, because we're lost..."

Having set off earlier that morning with an A4 laminated map they had somehow managed not to follow the Way. As we headed along it was very apparent that they were going to have trouble navigating their way to Fort William. Several times they asked, "How did you know to turn here?", to which our reply was always, "See that signpost over there..."

We escorted them as far as the distillery where we turned off for a quick supply visit. Back on the Way we made good progress getting to East Drumquhassle but it was too early to stop. A quick check on the campsite reminded me that a fiver for a night spent on something as lumpy and sloping as that would be a waste of a good drinking voucher. A terse exchange with the campsite owner over 500ml of water did nothing to change my mind. I didn't realise that water was such a precious commodity north of the border...

In the Garadhban Forest Liam and I stopped for a brew and chatted with various wayfarers as they passed. The weather had been good all day and despite the forecast for showers they had been few and not particularly bad but as the afternoon progressed however they became more frequent and more intense. Once out of the forest we could see that the weather was closing in so a hunt for a spot was on; the official 'wild' camp spot on the edge of the forest had long vanished with the trees. A quick look at the map revealed a couple of potential sites near the Burn of Mar at the 17.5 mile mark. A fairly flattish spot with a view of Conic Hill and Loch Lomond was found close enough to the Burn for ease of water supply but far enough away to keep the babbling of the burn to a hushed silence.

Conic Hill, the fault line, and Loch Lomond

At this point I was pleased at how easy the Scarp1 is to pitch, in very little time and with no fuss I was happily ensconced in my home for the night with a pot on my stove heating water for some soup. Outside I heard Liam cursing as he fiddled with the many guys and pegs of his Jetpacker.

A few words on the Scarp1. Apart from ease of pitching, which at the end of a long day when you're tired, hungry, suffering from hypoglycemia, and getting rained upon, is worth more than a multi million winning lottery ticket (well sort of); there's the space. The second porch took the rucksack, damp waterproofs and trainers. And in the other I had space to cook, although I pegged the inner back to create more headroom above the stove. Internally there was space at either end to fit the rest of the kit that I was carrying, which wasn't that much given I was using the Golite Peak.

With supper eaten, I settled back and sent messages home. As the light began to fade, I started a sudoku puzzle, had a dram or two of whiskey, and with the puzzle half done I drifted off to sleep...

Monday, 17 May 2010

the art of packing a rucksack

After ages of wrestling with Scarp1, I've finally found a way of getting it into it's stuff sack so that it fits happily in the outside pocket of my Golite Peak - sweet! I was able to get all the kit I needed plus four days food in that diminutive rucksack. To be fair the roll top didn't have much of a top to roll but since everything was in dry bags it didn't matter.

Not only that, the only difference between what I packed and what I would have taken on the Challenge, was a spare pair of underpants.

exped A6 document wallet

A while ago I was looking around for a replacement of my Ortleib A6 drybag/document wallet that I kept my blood monitoring machine in. The one I owned had turned that nicotine yellow colour and the Velcro strip was starting to come away. In mid Wales a month or so ago it all came apart, rendering the thing unusable. At the time I was lucky to find a shop that sold them so bought a new one.

The size of the bag is ideal for my machine and I can fit a few spares in there too. But the trouble comes when I try and fit my insulin pens in as well. Careful packing is required in order to ensure that the top rolls down and holds securely.

At the BPC AGM at the weekend I came across the Exped Vista, which reminded me of a water resistant pencil case. That got me thinking so I headed back to the tent and grabbed my kit. Back at the stall the pencil case swallowed the two pens, and the blood monitoring machine with ease. Now unlike the Orteib bag it isn't waterproof, it has one of those proofed zips instead of a roll top, but the seams are sealed. My thinking is that as this will be carried in a rucksack pocket it will be fine in most cases. It weighs the same as the Ortlieb bag too (20g), and comes with a clip on one end. This is useful, clipping the case to the keyring in the rucksack pocket means it shouldn't fall out and get lost, and I can hang it up in the tent where the stuff has no chance of getting stood, sat or knelt on. An added bonus is that the zipper pull has a glow in the dark tab.

What's more the case has enough space for spare needles, lancets, and my other daily medications which means the other case I use can be left out saving me 64g. Joy.

the thames path - home to windsor

Seething Wells

This was meant to be our last section hike of the North Downs Way between Otford and Rochester. However an early panic and flapping session involving a set of missing car keys (and not for the first time this week I might add!) meant a swift change of plan.

Liam and Tina headed to ours for an amble along the Thames westward towards Windsor. I'm not sure how far I can get with boasting about living less than 500m from a National Trail, if I lived in Edale or Twice Brewed it would be another matter. That may be but the route offers a wide breadth of changing scenery from the City landscape of London to the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. Oh and it's flat, mostly.

The trip was intended to introduce Tina to the backpacking experience. An oversight on my part scrabbling to approximate the distance meant Saturday's mileage was a little understated; 14 miles and not the 10 miles that I'd figured. The Thames wiggles, twists and turns a fair amount. And as the trail has to depart the river in places it makes counting grid squares to estimate the distance pointless.

Tina, Charlie and Liam

What amazed me was the diversity of buildings along this stretch of the river. It's a real mish- mash; prefabs, cottages, mansion houses, bungalows, and the odd palace. And the condition of these buildings were as varied; collapsed, ramshackled and pristine in unequal measure. There are several eyots along this stretch too, some reached by footbridge others seemingly by the use of oars or outboard motor.

We stopped at a river side pub near Sunbury Lock for refreshments, non alcoholic in case anyone was wondering. I redeemed myself in his eyes later by jogging into Shepperton to pick up a bottle of merlot to wash supper down. This foresight was swiftly banished when on the way into the campsite at Laleham we passed a garage that sold booze that would have saved me carrying the bottle and it's contents those last few miles. And much to Tina's delight I whipped out a mini can of rum and coke for her to celebrate her days effort. (There might have been a touch of guilt for buggering up the first days mileage in that process).

I got a good night's sleep and only woke once due to falling off to sleep without putting my beanie on. I woke early to the sound of birdsong; blackbirds, song thrush, robin and chiffchaff, were joined by tits, and a solitary woodpecker. I love camping at this time of year; spring birdsong as an alarm clock is a real pleasure to wake up to.

The mileage for the second day was much shorter which was a relief for the foot weary. My knee was fine but my overlapping toes were a bit sore. The weather wasn't as good, overcast and windier than the previous. The Montane windshirts that Penny and I had proving yet again that they are worth their minuscule weight and pack size.

On approaching Staines we were surprised how up market the place was, no sign of the Staines Massive. And I can state that I didn't see, one, let alone a group of hoodies. However heading out the other side and you get a different picture, the south bank of the river is heavily industrialised. And from the condition of some of the units not particularly successful businesses occupied them either. We swiftly left the crumbling industrial units behind, and the valley opened up as we entered Runnymede. Past Old Windsor and Ham Island where there's a short bit of canal that's been cut to take the sting out of the loop around the island. Just before Albert Bridge we spotted two red kites wheeling and hovering in the wind.

At Datchet we made an executive decision to grab the train from there rather than struggle with the crowds that we'd meet in Windsor itself. It goes without stating that what took a day and half to walk was covered by a 25 minute train journey.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

tgo challenge 2010 - reprive

I pulled out of the Challenge a few weeks back as I wasn't going to be able to take the required amount of time off to take part.

The good news is that I've got Thursday and Friday off, so that I can use my ticket. The plan is to walk a bit of the West Highland Way, although I've already done this route, and may be bag Ben Lomond.

The thing about this trip is that the last time I ventured out along the WHW, only a couple of years back, I did it in boots and carrying a Gregory Z55 rucksack. This time I'll be wearing my trusty Terrocs and using a Golite Peak; a 40l 'day' pack! My kit has changed and evolved but the most important thing is the knowledge that I've gained since then. As someone once put it, 'The more you know, the less you carry.'

I wonder who I'll bump into at the station tomorrow evening?