Langstrath to Keswick

From my hardest day to the easiest. The walk from the campsite through the tiny but charming village of Grange, all the way to Keswick, was like a walk through a park. I even bought an ice cream in Grange as the sun was so warm. The flavour was ‘chocolate toffee explosion’ or something equally exciting. Totally worth paying over two pounds for one rather small scoop.

I chatted to an older couple (you’d think there was no other type of people in this area, that’s how frequently I meet them) who told me that the Borrowdale Valley is often thought the prettiest square mile in Cumbria. I don’t know if that’s precisely true but it certainly wasn’t bad at all.

I stopped for an early lunch by an abandoned slate quarry and had a wander through.

On my first day in Ulverston I bought a chunk of cheddar to take with me on my walks and it lasted a surprisingly long time, especially since I didn’t have it in the fridge at all. Well, I mean night times were fridge temperatures, but it survived the days too. I would cut off bits to mix through couscous and it wasn’t a bad meal with an apple on the side. I am also loving my soft water bottles. They fit into any space in my bag and take up no room when they’re empty. I’m glad I chose those rather than the hard sort.

Here’s my first sight of Derwent Water.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up with meeting two more older couples. The first couple took my photo.

I think I look sort of happy-yet-pathetic in this picture.

The other couple were American and we talked and walked for about an hour and then we got to a little village right before Keswick and they bought me lunch! It was incredibly kind and I think I reminded them of their children, one was born the same year as me. They told me that if I couldn’t find accommodation I should come to their cottage and they would be happy to let me sleep on the couch.

People have been so generous and friendly and kind to me so far, I really can’t get over it.

I waved them farewell and headed to the lakeside campsite and found they had tonnes of room. I pitched my tent and revelled in the sunshine.

Here’s a few more photos from the day.

Splendid!

Langdale to Borrowdale: My Second Encounter With Mountain Rescue.

I caught the bus from Ambleside to The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, a place I’ve heard a lot about as it appears on many UK hiking blogs. Because the first bus didn’t leave Ambleside until 9:30 and didn’t get to TODG until 10:30ish I didn’t go inside and now I’m kind of sorry. At the same time that day turned out to be the hardest slog yet so I’m glad I didn’t hang around.

The Langdale Valley on a sunny bank holiday Saturday is less a peaceful stroll through a stunning valley and more a walk along a busy high street. So many people! More than I’d seen on all the walks I’d done previously put together. At the end of the valley the track splits off in several directions though so that helped thin the hordes. Also at the end of the valley were a trio of mountain rescue vehicles and I learned from a conversation later in the day that it definitely wasn’t a drill and they’d been there since 8am. No idea what happened though.

As I faced the steep wall of Stake Pass I stopped thinking about other people and mainly started feeling sorry for myself. No one else was carrying a huge pack and it looked like maybe 1000 steps or more to the top, most of them moderately steep and all of them uneven.

I did find, once I got going, that is wasn’t so bad. Because the path had water running down it (they almost all do) and I had to look at every step for footing, I only ended up stopping a few times and with the view getting better and better, it was exciting to climb higher. I’ve never been great with heights but I think this experience is definitely helping me take more risks and be brave. I know some people would bound up stairs like that but for me it was a challenge. When I got to the top I felt like I’d conquered the world.

Over the top was an open grassland area for a short space. It was up here I met a group of uni students from Preston University. We swapped Instagram details at their insistence, then it was down into Borrowdale. Instead of uneven stone steps the path was loose gravel, which is my least favourite surface. I ended up walking on the grass edges on the narrow path that wiggled back and forth. I stopped halfway down and cooked some pasta (taking the advice of several people to actually have decent break when I felt tired) and while I did a man from, of all places, Redcar, came past. This was funny for me because Redcar is a tiny town in Yorkshire and Luke and I stayed in the nearby town of Saltburn last time we were here. The people we stayed with had nothing good to say about Redcar and made this point quite a number of times. Then I meet this guy and he said exactly the same thing.

We had a chat about things other than Redcar and he told me I should definitely do some wild camping at some stage and I agreed (we’ll see) then he moved on. I slowly inched my way down the slope and then struggled along the rocky and muddy valley floor. This was the point that I finally gave up trying to keep my feet dry and just walked through the mud. Within about two kilometres there were about 20 streams to cross and I managed most ok but it was slow going. I met an older couple (I should start tracking how many times I use that phrase) who told me this was as dry as it gets and quite often water is sheeting down the valley walls. Christ almighty.

The water was beautifully clear though.

I decided, as I always do, to stop at the first campsite I came to. It was pretty basic and so busy it looked like there was a music festival going on. I pitched my tent then went in search of the closest pub and had a pint of cider in their sunny beer garden. Lovely!

Cumbria Way : Day 2

Most people would walk to Coniston in their first day of TCW but I am a bit unfit and quite lazy so I decided to get there on day two. Also people in other blogs said the last few kilometres by Coniston Water is a real slog and I wanted to enjoy it.

I actually slept better than in the hostel in London. Nothing beats an absence of snoring. Nothing!

So I had a cold and small breakfast (having a huge Full English Breakfast before saddling up for a major walk seems like insanity to me, but it’s tradition here) of cheese and hummus on tortillas, then set off.

If I didn’t see many people yesterday, I could halve that number today. I saw literally no one, not a soul, for the first four hours. I have read that the Lake District can be heaving with tourists all year round but that hasn’t been my experience so far. Maybe I’m not in the busy part yet? Anyhow, I enjoyed the views and took my time.

The stream above was my last view before I climbed a hill to reach Beacon Tarn, my first proper geographic feature.

And still no one in sight.

I sat to dry out my map (I’d used it as a ground sheet the night before – it was a waterproof OS map. So useful!) and have a snack and look at the water. After twenty minutes I looked behind me and a bunch of sheep had snuck up and were giving me baleful looks.

I like sheep. They are quiet and easy to ignore. Not like cows! Anyhoo, right after Beacon Tarn the landscape really opened up and there was a fabulous vista across to the Langdales. Probably. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

While the landscape was stunning it was also difficult to walk across. The path couldn’t decide whether or not it wanted to be a stream or a bog, and so in many places it was both.

The problem in the photo above isn’t actually the steam crossing, it’s the getting to and from – it’s all mud. I spent a lot of time walking back and forth at places like this, working out how to keep my feet dry. I succeeded though, so in your face, nature!

I will admit that the pack continued to weigh on me, and after about 10 km I got to a point where I was just bent over, dragging my walking poles like a cave man would drag his club and thinking tired thoughts. Fortunately I came to a stream that had a grassy bank, wildflowers and sun shine. It was time to sit down.

Over the next hill was Coniston Water and also phone reception. I took this stretch pretty easy, stopping to take photos, upload a few photos and rest every kilometre. My shoulders were getting very sore and dark clouds were rolling in.

Eventually I staggered into town and found The Sun Inn an a bunch of other walkers outside. I ended up sitting with them for a few hours then booking into the hotel when the rain started coming down in sheets.

I cannot tell you how good my pie and chips tasted. I might have even had a small tear in my eye at the fact that I was indoors by an open fire, I’d walked through stunning scenery and I had a comfy bed and my own private, indoor bathroom to use for the first time in nearly a week. In fact it was so good I booked two nights.

Marvellous!

The Surf Coast Walk: Day One.

For my very first overnight solo hike I did a lot of researching and planning and decided on walking the Surf Coast, which stretches between Fairhaven in the south-west, and Torquay in the north-east. Here’s the (slightly blurry, apologies) map that the local council provides, and which turned out to be pretty much all I needed to do the walk.

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The first section I walked – Split Point to Anglesea. The yellow section is a massively long beach, on which I saw five people in the space of an hour. Magic!

I have been accumulating gear throughout this year and now I have all the necessary basics  – bag, tent, sleeping gear and cooking equipment. I’ve tried to focus on ultralight principles (to some degree, anyhow) and so the items I have in those four categories altogether weigh around 5kgs.

On Monday it was time to try it all out for real!

My friend Jess has family in the lovely beachside town of Anglesea, which is about half way along the walk. I hitched a lift with her on Sunday night (Anglesea is about 1.5-2 hours from where we live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne) and stayed the night there. Jess’ family are *lovely* – it’s always a pleasure to go stay and chat with her mum about gardening and travel and everything… and I’m not just saying that because Wendy will probably read this (*waves*!). Every time I go to Anglesea I think about how soon I can retire there;-). Apart from being beautiful it has a lovely community vibe and lots of environmentally-friendly things going on. My kind of place.

On Monday morning Jess kindly offered to drive me to the start point and come rescue me if anything went wrong. At the last minute I went through my pack and ditched maybe another kilo of gear (clothes, kindle case, toiletries) and then we were off!

Jess dropped me at the Split Point Lighthouse. I’d decided to cut a couple of km from one end of the walk as I was a bit nervous about being able to carry my 12+kg bag for 20 km (12.4 miles). Turns out I needn’t have worried, but it’s better not to start a new experience feeling nervous, I guess.

We had a a bit of a dither finding signage for the walk – it seems the sign makers envisaged people doing it Torquay to Fairhaven, and not so much the reverse, as I’d planned. Still, the people in the lighthouse cafe were helpful and I set out full of vigour!

Ten minutes in and the rain started. Fortunately the view along the coast allows for a lot of warning and so I had my raincoat out in plenty of time. I’d half hoped it would rain because I’m preparing for walking in the UK next year and I hate getting wet, so I’m trying to condition myself to getting out in all weather. It’s working pretty well, and it helps that I have a really top-notch Kathmandu raincoat that keeps everything above my knees completely dry.

The first part of the walk is along the cliff-tops. The views are lovely and the cliffs are very orange when the sun shines on them. The sunlight and clouds made for great colours on the ocean and the hedging scrub was full of flowers. The whole two days of walking were filled with tiny flowers and I made a little collage when I finished:

The walk detoured through little stands of moonah trees (a local species that is threatened with extinction), gum trees and then down onto beaches and up stairs and hills. There were a few muddy sections that made me glad I had my poles and waterproof trail-running shoes (not that I’ve ever run in them!).

One of my favourite parts of the day was a 4.5km stretch of beach where I saw almost no one. There was a bit of rain, but watching the birds and the waves and having it almost to myself – magic!

I’d set out at about 10am and had 15 km to walk to get to Anglesea where I’d booked a campsite at the caravan park. I had no idea how long it would take me but I was pretty sure I could get there by dark. I was pretty slow on the uphill stretches – carrying such a weight is a fairly new experience for me – but I made it to Anglesea at around 2:30pm. Much better time than I’d hoped! After getting a tiny bit annoyed at the $40 fee for camping (although they did have excellent facilities I only wanted the use of a toilet and sink), I spent a few minutes putting my tent up and then lay on my mat under my quilt (it was a cold and rainy afternoon) for two hours reading my kindle (Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archives – would recommend!) before venturing out for dinner.

I decided that, being by the beach, fish and potato cakes were in order. I also thought I deserved a packet of chocolate biscuits and a can of pre-mixed drink (to help me get to sleep – it was virtually medicinal). Now, Wendy had mentioned to me that Anglesea doesn’t do plastic bags but I had completely forgotten, so I left the fish and chip shop with an arm full of food. I ended up putting the cold things in the hood of my raincoat and warming my hands on the fried food package on the 500m walk back to the campsite. On the way I saw the brightest, clearest rainbow in a full arc across the sky over the headland. It was so incredible I just stood there and ate my potato cakes and admired it, even as the rain started up again.

Rather than get fish grease on my tent, I went for a wander around the campsite. It sits on a headland and has great beach access. The site also has more moonah trees and with the dusk light pouring through they looked quite eldritch. It was fabulous.

After a little walk on the beach I headed back to the tent and read for another couple of hours, setting up my selfie stick (I know, I know, but the tripod facility is really handy when you’re doing things solo, especially making videos) as a bedside light. It was freezing cold but my quilt and a beanie kept me warm enough, and I somehow managed to spread the entire contents of my pack throughout my tent during the night. It is hard to fathom how so little can make such a mess.

Anyhow, I finished my first day feeling pretty good. No blisters, no foot soreness, no major discomfort of any kind. From feeling somewhat hesitant that morning about my chances of successfully embarking on a couple of months of solo travel, I felt like I could DO IT! Maybe I won’t be climbing Snowdon… but who knows? Maybe I shall!

Sealers Cove walk, Wilsons Promontory National Park

Last weekend I was finally able to badger Luke into coming with me on an overnight hike as we both had a few week days free –  he from editing contracts, me from school as I have taken leave this year.

I have also recently bought a set of ultralight camping gear – a two man (barely!) tent, quilt, mat and cooking gear. I wanted to try it all out away from home. I did spend one night in the backyard, much to our dog’s confusion, and everything seemed to be in working order. Now it was time to take it out for real!

I had picked Sealers Cove at Wilsons Prom as it looked to be a doable 10km walk. I read the park notes and found a few other blog accounts of walk too. The pictures all looked very inviting.

We left Melbourne at 10am on Monday, stopping for an early lunch in Leongatha.

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We reached the Prom in about three hours, listening to podcasts most of the way. We only saw one wombat on the side of the road as we drove in. Last time we saw dozens, but then it was early evening.

I hadn’t booked our campsite ahead of time as I’d phoned the day before and been assured there would be space. The website is a bit confusing, It seems to say there is camping for 12, but it means 12 campsites and the number of campers can be up to 60. We bought our permit to camp ($13.10 pp/pn) and then drove back to Telegraph Saddle, where the walk to Sealers Cove starts.

I had divided our things into two backpacks – the lighter but bulkier stuff went into my big travel pack and the water and food went into my day pack. I took the bigger pack and Luke carried the water to start with. We weren’t really sure what the water situation along the trail was going to be so we took about 7 litres to last us the 24 hours.

1907c430-2bc7-4d63-905f-133569cc1f9cAlthough the car park was full, we had plenty of time on the trail by ourselves. The first 2km of the walk in on a fairly exposed and dry north facing path that has some ups and downs but nothing exhausting. I was very glad I’d brought a hat and sunscreen. Eventually trees start to cover the path and then after about 3km we reached Windy Saddle. This is the only point on the trail where any distances are marked by a sign.

After this point the landscape changes to a damp and shady south-facing path that winds down to the coast. There were still some up hill parts and lots of short flat sections. Nothing tortuous.

The walk through the forest was beautiful. Luke wasn’t so impressed, but then he’d started feeling a pain in his knee. We swapped bags and that sorted out some of our discomfort. For some reason, carrying a smaller, heavier bag suited me much better, and Luke liked the bigger bag that had better support.

The forest section made up about 5 or 6 km of the walk but after a while it felt more like 10 as there were lots of roots and rocks to negotiate. We also started to notice the huge March flies that circled us every time we stopped moving. We weren’t sure if they would bite us but they looked nasty and wouldn’t leave us alone. I’d brought my walking poles so we had one each to swish around our arms and legs while we took the occasional break.

2df60315-cb00-47fa-8c03-302616179cc7Although there weren’t many places where the trees opened up, when they did it was beautiful. There was one stream, about half way, where we definitely could’ve filled up our water bottles, and another running pipe at the camp site too. All that weight we didn’t need to carry!

The last two or so km of the walk was boardwalk through Sealers Marsh/Swamp. Some of it is very wet but as it gets closer to the beach it become quite dry.

There are lots of interesting plants to see, particularly epiphytes. We also spotted a few little lizards sun baking on the boardwalk. I was surprised at how overgrown the boardwalk was considering the amount of traffic – dozens of people pass through here most days. At some points the boardwalk was almost invisible beneath ferns.

After the boardwalk the path immediately opens out to the beach.

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And what a beach it is! Over a kilometre of golden sand in a perfect crescent. The signs at this point are a bit tricky to understand, but some people in the water pointed us to the campsite further down the beach. It’s not at all obvious from this point which way to go.

The sand was easy walking up to Sealers Creek. Although it was low tide the water was still calf-deep, so we took off our shoes then left them off as we walked up into the forest and to the camp.

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The cool creek was a welcome treat for our slightly sore feet.

The campsite is up a small incline and each camping area is surrounded by ferns. It’s very cool and pleasant… apart from the enormous flies. We set up our tent then took a short walk along the beach, where we spotted a small group of black cockatoos with yellow under their tails. I couldn’t get a decent photo but they were quite magnificent. They were doing the same thing they do when they visit my backyard in Heathmont – shredding the seed pods and branch-tips of the tree they were sitting in.

The flies continued to annoy, so we made dinner (inadvertently burning pasta to the bottom of my new jetboil, sigh) then, as the sun was going down we lay in the tent and read an interactive, graphic novel-style Sherlock Holmes book that Luke had downloaded onto his phone.

img_5324Feeling tired, we tried to get to sleep early but neither of us slept very well. A lot of screeching birds during the night, plus my noisy mat, were not conducive to a great rest. I also had a series of strange and disturbing nightmares, which didn’t help.

In the morning we cleaned the jet boil as best we could then had porridge before packing up the tent and heading out at about 9. I think there were maybe 30 other people camped at Sealers Cove that night and we were the first ones to be up and out. With the weather predicted to the high 20s I wanted to get as far as possible before the day properly warmed up.

The information for the walk says that it takes 3 hours one way. We took 3.5 coming in and at least 5 on the way out. Partly due to carrying packs (lots of people walk in and back in one day), and partly because Luke had a sore knee. Also partly because the walk back is about 80% uphill, although few parts are very steep. There were also a few boggy sections that required careful navigation.

When we got back to the car we were both quite tired and dirty, but I felt proud that we’d walked the distance carrying our loads and the weight hadn’t felt too onerous. I think I could manage one night carrying all my own gear – although I might start with shorter distances, or give myself more time.

We made it back to Telegraph Saddle by 2, and were home before rush hour started in the city. Not bad going!

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Highs: perfect weather, great views, estimating the food pretty accurately, spending time together off the couch!

Lows: Luke’s injury, the flies, discovering my legs were covered in red, itchy bites when I got home, bad sleep.

Next time: long sleeves and pants and a head net just in case. Eventually buy a proper hiking backpack. Bring less extra clothing.

Here Comes The Planet 46 – Tanzania 03

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we make our way through Tanzania towards the Serengeti. On the way we discuss our Dragoman truck jobs and what we hope to see once we’re on safari. We set up camp at the Meserani Snake Park after checking out feeding time.

Also, tortoises! If, like Amanda, you’re not a fan of watching snakes eat stuff.

***

Progress on the blog has, predictably, slowed down considerably now that we’re not traveling. I still have many videos to edit and upload, and intend to continue with the process slowly but surely.

The first few months of my return has seen me focus on finding new work and a new place to live. Although my previous employer had promised to hold my job for me until I got back, for reasons unknown they contacted me during our holiday (when we were in Bologna to be precise) to let me know they would not be able to do as they’d promised. So this year I have gone freelance for the first time; something I had intended to do eventually, but gradually, instead of throwing myself in the deep end. However the deep end seems to be working out just fine so far, with my contacts yielding good sources of work, and promising prospects.

Now that I’ve moved in to new digs and the work is steady, I have more free time for working on HCTP videos for all of you. It may take a while, but I promise I’ll get them all done eventually! Hopefully when they’re out you’ll still want to watch them. 🙂

Here Comes The Planet 34 – England 08

Our UK camping and road trip special! We buy a whole heap of camping gear and take Van Failen through the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and all manner of places in between.

Also, BABY WEASELS! 😀 😀

(Baby Weasels… baby weasels… hiding in a wall, baby weasels…)