A Walk across London – North to South

Having ‘conquered’ a walk across London from east to west (Part 1, part 2, part 3) it was time to tackle North to South. London is a lot shorter than it is wide and I reckoned that this route could be done in just two days of walking. I was also really fortunate that my friends Nickos and David were keen to join me on the challenge.

Part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

It turns out that the most northerly part of Greater London is a lonely country road just inside the M25 near Crews Hill station in Enfield. This required walking along an unpaved verge for a kilometer or so. The completest in me meant that we had to make the border. My companions were less fussed. At least there was a sign to mark the start. It was exciting that almost from the start we could see the half-way point of the Shard in central London.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

The morning was quite cold but very sunny and it was a pretty lovely walk alongside fields and trees. It wasn’t too long before we found suburbia though in the form of Enfield town. There some very nice parks though and my old friend Google maps took us through as many as possible.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

I did take us slightly away from the most direct route firstly by insisting on walking by a street near Bounds Green that I used to live in and second by climbing up to Alexandra palace. The views from here are magnificent and the ‘palace’ itself is still pretty great.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

By this point, however, the beautiful sunshine gave way to threatening clouds. It wouldn’t be long before it turned into drizzle and finally a proper downpour. Good old British weather.

The revelation of the walk was quite how nice Crouch end is, a place that none of us had been to (at least in many years). This is one of the best things about walking round your home town. Discovering or re-discovering places that life hasn’t taken you to.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

It’s fair to say that once the rain got heavy the walk was a little bit of a trial and we didn’t dawdle. Also the central London Sunday shoppers were out and making fast walking a bit tricky too. When will there be a ‘locals lane’ on London pavements?

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

We ended our day on Waterloo Bridge, the northern part of our walk completed. Damp but undefeated we celebrated with a beer and a burger. Yay!

Part 2

The weather couldn’t have been better for the second part of this walk (about three weeks later) – a crisp cold blue sky day. It may have been cold but it was glorious. We started off from Waterloo bridge and made our way down the river to Vauxhall.

A Walk across London - north to south

Leaving the river we passed through Stockwell and made it to Tooting Bec Common where we stopped for some excellent brownie (thanks David).

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

From here our journey took us through the unremarkable suburbs of Mitcham and then Carshalton and Wallingford. It included passing the aromatic Beddington sewage works.

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

With daylight starting to go we finally arrived in Coulsden, the last bit of town before our destination. Farthing down would have been a superb end to the trip. It is a pretty bit of heath with lovely views into happy Valley and beyond. We even got a majestic sunset.

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

Sadly, however, the edge of Greater London was a further 1.5 km down a small unpaved lane. I was checking our position on my Ordnance Survey app on my phone which eventually told us we were there. We had made it. We had a nip of whiskey and a celebratory photo.

A Walk across London - north to south

All that remained was to walk several miles back up the lane and across farthing down to Coulsdon where we could have a drink and a curry.

A huge thanks to my companions David and Nickos who were brilliant company. Even when it rained or I made them walk to the middle of nowhere ‘because that’s what the map says’.

This was a really nice project that I’d recommend.

Expedition: Black Mountains, Brecons

Each year, my friend Andy and I go forth to conquer and explore somewhere wild in the UK. This time we thought we would try the Brecon Beacons.

Things have been incredibly busy of late and I’ve not had tons of time to plan the trip. What has been a huge help though is Bing Maps. I have to admit to never really taking much notice of Bing with Google being my go-to online map but they have one killer feature – an Ordnance Survey map layer. This is incredibly handy!

Black Mountains 2015

After a slightly late get away from London we made it to a mountain road at one end of the Black Mountains (part of the Brecon Beacons) at nearly 4pm. We quickly made for the hills knowing that we only had, at most, two hours to get into the wilderness and make camp.

Black Mountains 2015

The weather was a bit grey and there was a bit of nip to the air but it was still ace to be up in the hills. The general plan was to follow the route of the ‘Beacons Way’ as far as we could and then head back along the same path. We made it as far as Foel Fraith and made camp on a flat but boggy piece of ground half way up. The ground in this area was either boggy or rocky (or both) which made finding a tent sized pitch quite a struggle!

Black Mountains 2015

Black Mountains 2015

The night was fairly mild and it was pretty cosy inside, despite the howling wind and lashing rain. The morning, however, gave us a blanket of mist and sporadic showers and we were in no rush to emerge from our den of warmth.

Black Mountains 2015

Eventually we bit the bullet and in a small break in the rain quickly struck camp and got on our way. I’m sure the vista was superb, however, we will just have to assume that as we couldn’t see any more than a few feet in the fog.

I’m pretty pleased with my navigation skills as we spent the entire morning following compass bearings with hardly any features to go by. This is adventure!

Black Mountains 2015

Black Mountains 2015

We did come across some wildlife on our journey, some alive, such as this lovely frog but quite a bit dead, such as the many sheep bones we found. i have to say that it was quite macabre walking across a misty heath stumbling across piles of bones. It did make me think about ‘American Werewolf in London’ – ‘don’t leave the road’, ‘beware the moon’ (seriously, there was a full moon that night).

After 7-8 miles of low visibility I was pleased to only find myself a few hundred metres off of the path as we descended down into Llanddeusant. This did mean negotiating our way through a farm where we were sarcastically (and possibly harshly) asked ‘can’t read a map?’ by the farmer.

Black Mountains 2015

It was still raining heavily so we sheltered in the porch of the (closed) Youth Hostel. At least this allowed me to brew up a coffee and have a dry(ish) lunch. We also assessed our options. Head back the way we came and trust my navigation was going to work on the way back or head back via the road?

We were soaked through and andy had some bad blisters so the prospect of slogging over the hills (with no view) seemed a bit masochistic (even for me). The road it was then. The only minor issue on this plan was that the road went off of my map so it was ‘fingers crossed’ that it actually joined up.

It was actually a fairly pleasant walk and the cars on the country lanes were few. Late on in the afternoon the sun even came out for a lovely sunset (that I managed not to photograph). Back at the car, in the last bit of daylight, we were shivery and damp and the (now) clear skies promised a sub-zero night. I guess we could have ‘manned up’ and slept out again but I have to confess that we didn’t fancy it much in our current state. Hotel it was.

This proved to be a wise move as I came down with some kind of food poisoning in the night and while this was awful, it was have been catastrophic in a tent in the wilderness.

Black Mountains 2015

Black Mountains 2015

Before going home, we spent a very lovely couple of hours at ‘The Mumbles’ on the Gower. The sun was shining and it was glorious – if only we had had this weather the day before!! The luck of the draw I guess. Despite the harsh weather, it was great to be out in the mountains and i’m proud that we gave it a go.

All the photos from the trip on Flickr.

 

 

Mariposa Grove and The Mist Trail, Yosemite NP

(Does the title of this blog sounds like a teen detective novel?)

For a bit of context, I’m not a big fan of woods (or forests) on the basis that after the first 10 mins the views remain the same and you can’t see very far. I like seeing far. Usually the prospect of a woodland walk will get me very underwhelmed and possibly even grumpy.

Yosemite

This wood, however, is a bit different, special even. It is Mariposa Grove, part of Yosemite National Park and it contains some very special trees. There are a variety of sizeable fir trees but the talking point are the giant redwoods. The ‘giant’ bit is no hyperbole either, these things are monsters and the biggest are titans!

Mariposa Grove

I think I walked all of the available trails up to Wawona Point, passing many magnificent trees, many of which have names such as ‘Grizzly’, ‘Clothes peg’, ‘the bachelor and three sisters’ and ‘California’. The whole place s quite magical and the views from the point are well worth the hike up. If we could have a few more forests like this I think I could turn into a fan!

Yosemite

The Mist Trail

Following my nice morning jaunt around Mariposa Grove i dove the incredibly winding road to Yosemite Valley. After getting some advice from the Ranger and getting a few supplies, I had a few hours to get a quick hike in. As I’m staying in Curry Village the Vernal and Nevada Falls looked close and doable in this time frame.

Yosemite

The trail up to the falls is pretty steep but for quite a way is actually tarmac’d after which it is packed earth and finally granite steps. The path is mostly overlooked by trees which means that views are rare for much of the hike. When they do emerge though, they are spectacular and the river, at this time of year at least, is excitingly fast and frothy.

Yosemite

The Vernal Falls is what this is all for though and when it finally comes into view, it doesn’t disappoint. A raging torrent of frightening force, it definitely gives ‘the power of nature’ to the viewer. Even better, you can ascend to the very top of the falls and watch as it goes over the edge.


Well worth it despite the heavy crowds. If i’d had more time I’d have tried to do Nevada Falls too, maybe next time?

Scafell Base Camp Expedition

My friend Andy and myself have, for about fifteen years, had an annual camping trip to somewhere wild and beautiful in the UK. The mission criteria:

  • Tackle at least one serious mountain (by UK standards)
  • Wild camp, off the beaten track and up high, if possible
  • Get out and back in a weekend.

This spring we hoped to accomplish this with a brief expedition to the Lake District and a visit to a ‘secret’ valley.

Up with the larks and over the pass
Living in London any decent bit of mountain in the UK is going to be a very long way away so we made a very early start and we were on the road by 6am and in the Lake District by lunchtime. After a quick lunch in Ambleside we made our way to the start point the other side of Hardknott Pass.

If you have not been over this famous road it is worth doing at least once although it is not for the nervous or feint of heart and definitely not if you have Acrophobia (and not Vertigo as a fear of heights is often called). I have to ‘fess up here and say that I wasn’t driving and it scared the crap out of me. Almost unbelievably those crazy Romans decided to build and man a fort at the top of the pass. This must have been a pretty tough posting!

Scafell Base Camp Expedition

Making Camp
It was well into the afternoon by the time we got walking but, as ever, it is fabulous to be surrounded by such lovely countryside even, as it was now, in the rain. We headed up the Esk valley never straying too far from the River and lovely waterfalls until we got to the ‘secret’ valley (Great Moss) at the base of Scafell Pike.

Scafell Base Camp Expedition

Obviously there is no such thing as secret in such a walked area as the Lake District but this is the less used route to the tallest mountain in England and I was hoping that we would be the only campers. Our timing was unintentionally perfect as we just got the tent up amongst ‘Sampson’s Stones’ just as freezing sleet started to lash down and drive us into shelter.

As ever when wild camping it never seems to odd to just get in the sleeping bag and go to bed once the sun has gone down, in this case about 8pm. The beauty of no TV!

Snow
It was a cold night but worth it to wake up to snow (or frost) capped hills all around us and it felt like a magic spell had been cast. The original plan had been to leave the heavy packs at the campsite and do a quick sprint up to the summit of Scafell Pike and back. The snow capped hills, however, looked a bit menacing and i’m sorry to confess that we wimped out on the final assault.

Scafell Base Camp Expedition

Instead we took a leisurely walk back down the way we came before taking a little pleasure drive around the the district. It would have been great to have had another day or two up here but our family commitments can be tough at times.

Scafell Base Camp Expedition

Re-fueled
I love beautiful landscapes and in particular mountains and other rugged areas so although this was a very brief trip it has re-fueled my spirit for a bit.

A great trip and a bit of the lakes i’d be happy to go back to, particularly as i’ve not actually climbed Scafell Pike itself but feel that I should.

See all the photos from the trip on Flickr.

Expedition: Arans, Wales

I usually have at least one annual expedition with my friend Andy to some wild bit of Albion but this year for many reasons of bad luck, unlucky timings and having another child on the way we couldn’t go together. The choice was then either go on my own or not at all.

For all the years that I’ve been hill walking and camping I realised that I’d never actually gone on my own. This was my chance to take the plunge and give it a go!

Bala lake, from my camping spot
Bala lake, from my camping spot

I quite fancied going to Wales again and settled on a circular route in the Arans that I found on the ‘Backpacking in Britain‘ website (highly recommended).

Getting there
After driving for 5 1/2 hours I arrived at the pretty lake of Bala and made my way to the campsite on the shore. The view was good and the site was fairly quiet – just as I like it. I have to say that I wasn’t quite prepared for how little faff there is when you travel on your own. With no-one to chat to I got up, had breakfast, packed the tent and drove to the start of the walk in no time. Great so far.

Just starting the walk
Just starting the walk

Day 1 of the walk
I kitted up at the bridge at Ponty Pandy
(great name) and headed off over some fields and towards the ridge. The navigation today was likely to be fairly easy – follow the ridge. Despite having spent quite a bit of time in the hills and being a confident navigator I was feeling a bit apprehensive at first. It soon went once I was up in the fresh air.

It was a glorious day with a few fluffy clouds around and it was great to be out looking at the fine views. Knowing that I wasn’t going too far also allowed me to take my time and stop frequently to check out the scenery and take lots of pictures which I found I could do without the guilt of holding someone else up.

The first peak of the day
The first peak of the day

All day I only met one person, an old guy with a dog. We had a little chat but it was clear that both of us were keen to walk on our own and I made a point of letting him get well ahead.

The walk was essentially a long, wide, ridge with a number of small peaks along the way. Before the end of the ridge is a steep grassy slope in the otherwise impassable cliffs. At the bottom is a beautiful little lake and it was here that I’d planned to camp. When I got there though I discovered that It was only 1 o’clock and I slightly wondered what I would do for the rest of the day. I also found that it was really really windy and I had a modicum of concern about putting up the tent in such conditions. Oh well i was here at least.

A view of the lake I camped by
A view of the lake I camped by

I shed my backpack and did a leisurely circuit of the lake, taking some nice pictures and stopping occasionally to admire the view. Finding that had only taken only half an hour I then went for a more ambitious amble up some of the nearby hills. I spent the rest of the afternoon by the lake admiring the wonderful view and soaking up the fab weather.

With no-one to chat to I fell back on my iPod and some podcasts as I lay in the tent, eventually going off to sleep at the ridiculous hour of 9pm.

The ridge I came down from
The ridge I came down from

Day 2 – The return
I went to sleep to lovely (though windy) weather but I woke to torrential heavy rain. Oh joy. I ate some muesli in the tent but my bladder soon got me up and out. I struck camp fairly quickly and was on my way by 7.30am.

I’d originally planned to walk back via some hills but the weather was so terrible that i decided to go back the more direct route via a track and road. It was a bit of a trudge to be honest with not even much to see due to the low clouds. I got back to the car around 10am a little damp but quite happy. I went for a coffee and a second breakfast in Bala and then drove home.

Loneliness
I had wondered whether I would feel lonely on this trip and pine for some company but to my own surprise, I quite enjoyed it. It was actually really nice to walk with just my own thoughts and spend all the time just soaking up the vistas. It might be different if it was for longer, but for two nights it was great and I’d love to do it again.

As for this bit of Wales, well it was marvelous and it would be super to explore more of the Arans. See all the pictures from the trip.

How about this for a view from the campsite?
How about this for a view from the campsite?

Expedition: Cadair Idris

The legend says that if you spend a night on Cadair Idris you come down either a poet or mad. Well that just sounded like a challenge!

I’ve long been attracted by the idea of wild camping and also that of sleeping on the hills so this seemed like a great opportunity to do both. I took inspiration from the route taken by V-G Backpacking in britain website. They also have some excellent advice on wild camping.

The ascent of Cadair Idris
The ascent of Cadair Idris

No cooker
One of the experiments we thought we would have a go at this time was not to use a cooker, the idea being to save weight and the faff of cooking. We would either eat things cold or use some chemical heating blocks to warm up the dinner. For breakfast we made up some muesli with powdered milk that just needed some water. For lunch we pre-made some sandwiches and for dinner we had some foil packed meals that just needed warming up.

Day 1
For those not familiar with the mountain Cadair Idris is more or less one long ridge with at least three distinct summits – Gau Graig, Mynydd Moel and Penygadair (the highest). Most people go up the most direct route up the Pony path to Penygadair and down again but why do the simple route?

The fence line disappearing into the mist
The fence line disappearing into the mist

We started from a campsite in the town of Dolgellau and then up a small lane leading to the mountain. This lane was really steep and no picnic! It was also a little daunting that the cloud cover was quite low and so we didn’t even have any real idea how high we had to go.

The road ended and a path leading onto the open mountain started. At first it was well waymarked but at some point signs and then any discernible path just ended. It was then just a matter of using a compass bearing and climbing up into the mist. The climb was really tough, particularly as we had full packs and slightly daunting as it got very craggy and I wasn’t entirely sure I was going the right way.

After a lot of huffing and puffing and quite a bit of sweat we made the ridge and shortly after the peak of Gau Graig. We didn’t get any views however just mist. That was the main ascent of the day over with at least. We then walked off into the mist (which tantalisingly broke for a few seconds every now and again) towards the next summit of Mynnyd Moel which we made by lunchtime. So far we’d not seen another soul on the mountain.

Penygadair
The final climb of the day brought us to the amazingly crowded summit of Cadair Idris, known as Penygadair. There was a school party and lots of other walkers, all of whom had come up the pony path. We spotted the famous bothy and thought we should check it out for its sleeping potential. Ducking our head into the slighty dank interior we found it crowded with walkers sheltering from the wind. It is a fairly good shelter and pretty clean by bothy standards but I have to say that I wasn’t that keen to sleep here.

The bothy at the summit of Cadir Idris
The bothy at the summit of Cadir Idris

Basecamp
As it was so windy and miserable at the summit we decided to go with our original plan of finding somewhere to sleep on the lower slopes. We therefore made our way down the pony path and then branched off when we got to the saddle between Penygadair and Tyrrau Mawr and found a flat grassy area to set up the tent. We were not strictly on Cadair Idris here (which is why i’ve kept both my sanity and failed to become a poet) but we were still some 550m up and it was fairly bleak.

The pony path down from Cadair Idris
The pony path down from Cadair Idris

Day 2
The night was windy and rainy but not actually very cold and we were fairly snug in our little tent. With morning though and with the promise of continuing driving rain it was quite a wrench to leave and go walking again. Without any cooker we at least could eat breakfast in the tent. Eventually our bladders settled the argument and up we got.

The mist was even thicker than the day before but with added driving rain so the walk down to the valley was wet and viewless. I had intended to do a moderate walk looping round and back to Dolgellau which from the map looked quite pleasant but with the weather the way it was we decided to just walk down the road into town and get ourselves a nice warming coffee and a bun.

Barmouth and Scenic drive
After a welcome and fortifying hot drink we called it a day and settled on lunch at the lovely sea-side town of Barmouth before a scenic drive up to Betsy coed and then home to London. The drive turned out to be even better than we hoped as the sat-nav took us down several tiny roads (some with sheer drops) with very picturesque views. Annoyingly the skies had cleared by 1500 and there was a gorgeous sunset. Oh well.

The Cadair Idris project
See the 6 min video of the trip.

No cooking – the results
After testing the no-cooking idea in some rough, although not cold, weather I feel that it kind of worked. I always used to be quite annoyed at sitting or kneeling on damp ground round a cooker that seemed to take a lifetime to boil a bit of water. The no-cooking therefore certainly took a lot of the ‘faff’ out of eating. Another bonus was being able to eat safely in the tent whilst it rained heavily outside.

My jury is still a out on the chemical heaters as they only warmed any food they were in contact with rather than making anything piping hot. If it had been colder I may have appreciated the warmth a bit more perhaps?

The big downside on having no cooker was not having any tea or coffee which is something I really missed. I need to find a solution for this if I go no-cooker again.

Summary
Despite the bad weather I had a pretty excellent time and it’s great fun wild camping. I wouldn’t mind coming back another day and seeing the views though!

See all the pictures from the trip.

Expedition: Knoydart

Loch Nevis
Loch Nevis

They claim it is ‘the remotest place in mainland britian’ and by ‘remote’, they mean it has no road connection. Having said all that we actually found it very accessible, all things considered.

Every year, my friend Andy and I try to have a weekend of adventure, preferably taking in some mountains and camping and walking. This year our expedition was to the Knoydart peninsular in Scotland.

Sleeper
It’s a little old fashioned and has probably lost a bit of it’s glamour, but i’m quite a fan of the caledonian sleeper service. It runs from London Euston to various places in Scotland, but particularly for this trip, it goes to Fort William in the Highlands. We got on the train at 21.15 on Thursday and were in Locharbor by 10.00 the next morning.

Friday: Knoydart Peninsular
From Fort William it was another train up to Mallaig. This journey, made famous by the Hogwarts Express, is one of the most picturesque in the whole country. From Mallaig it was a short 45 minute ferry over to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsular and we were there by 15.00, not bad for somewhere so remote.

Trekkers
Trekkers

The Knoydart is a large, wild, rugged and very beautiful area of Britain. It has three Munros and numerous other wonderful hills and mountains. It has a flourishing population of deer and many wonderful birds of prey including the Golden Eagle and Sea Eagle, although I didn’t actually see any of them (grrrr). What really attracted me was it’s remoteness and feeling of wilderness. I say ‘feeling’ as it is, like all of the Highlands actually closely managed, in this instance by the Knoydart Foundation. The foundation is good enough to supply a ranger service and runs an excellent bunk house/hostel.

The Old Forge
The Old Forge

After setting up our camp we made our way to ‘The Old Forge‘, the only pub in this here parts and enjoyed a wonderful dinner of locally caught langoustines.

Saturday: Munro bagging
There are three mountains over 914m (known as munros) in the Knoydart and we planned to climb at least one of them. Many people make it an ambition to climb all 284 munros and these people are called ‘munro baggers’. Whilst I think it’d be a nice thing to do, it might be tempting to miss out some other great hill walks below 914m and in any case with my 5 or 6 ‘bagged’ munros i’m a very long way off.

Ladhar Bheinn
Ladhar Bheinn

We set off on the saturday morning to climb ‘Ladhar Bheinn‘, which at 1020m looked fairly respectable. There is a 3-4 km walk in to the mountain on a very reasonable track that leads you almost to the base of the mountain. From here and for the next three hours it was just a relentless and increasingly steep climb.

The weather started fairly clear but the summit was cloud covered all day and as we neared the ridge of the mountain it started swirling around us. The wind started to take effect now as well, so fieirce that we could only just stay upright and a few times were knocked over. We eventually saw the trig point that marked the summit emerging from the mist, what a relief, we’d made it!

Waves
Waves on Ladhar Bheinn

We’d originally intended to walk over to Barisdale and camp there. The path from the summit narrowed considerably now and with the wind it was clear neither of us fancied it and eventually I suggested that we should turn back. The very narrow path, the very high wind and our very heavy packs didn’t make for a good combination and I think we made a good decision.

My legs were really wobbly from exertion on our journey down the mountain and I was very glad when we made the valley floor. The walk back to Inverie seemed much longer this time of day and we only made the campsite just before sundown.

Sunday: Putting the amble back into ramble

Low tide on Loch Nevis
Low tide on Loch Nevis

It was a bit of a wet and windy night under canvas and we emerged in the morning feeling the effects of the tough walk yesterday. After a brew and breakfast we decided to go for a bit of a more sedate walk today. We had a nice walk along the coast of the peninsular returning to Inverie in time for lunch at The Old Forge. In the afternoon we walked back down the valley towards Ladhar Bheinn continuing to soak up the wonderful views.

We were into our third day without a shower so we thought it might be nice to have a night in the bunkhouse. This is a basic, but excellent value for money hostel, run by the foundation and it was so nice to get clean and feel human again.

In the pub that evening we had the bonus treat of a touring band double bill – Claes Cem a fine danish band and the Injuns a talented british one. I feel bad, but for me the danes edged it and were really good. A really great final evening.

Monday: Homeward bound

The ferry home
The ferry home

We would have liked to hang around longer, but we had no choice but to get the 11.00 ferry to Mallaig. It was a shame to leave so early as our sleeper didn’t leave Fort William till 19.00. This meant we had a long wait in Mallaig, which is a slightly depressing fishing town. Enjoyed the train journey again, god I love those mountains!

Summary
It’s always nice spending time with Andy, no matter what the conditions we manage to keep cracking jokes with each other. As a big bonus I got to see the mountains of Scotland, something that always makes my soul sing. It may be because I live in the city, but I really live for a bit of wilderness and this will keep me going for a while.

A top place and top trip!