Hardknott Forest Conservation with John Muir Trust

I first heard of the John Muir Trust a few years ago when I received a flyer at the end of the TGO Challenge.  I visited John Muir’s birthplace after a snowy walk from Moffat to Dunbar, but it was only as a result of the campaign to halt the Stronelairg windfarm that I became more aware of what the trust did and how I shared its views on how precious wild land should be protected and conserved.

Most Trust activity takes place in Scotland, so I was pleased to see that there was a North West England Members Gathering planned for Ambleside.  Not yet a member, I decided to attend both days to find out more about the Trust.  There were talks on Saturday afternoon followed by practical conservation on Sunday.

After a not-very-scary traverse of the Wrynose Pass on Sunday morning, I parked at the Forestry Commission carpark at Birks Bridge.  It was cold in the shady carpark and I put on an extra layer but I could see the bright sun on the fells and could tell we were in for a very pleasant day weather-wise.

We walked up the forest track for about 5 minutes then started work.  The aim was to support the regrowth of native trees such as oak, holly and beech by removing invasive non-native species such as sitka spruce, larch and hemlock.  The Hardknott area was planted as a plantation after the Second World War but, by the time the trees were ready to be harvested, timber production had moved on and it was not economically viable to recover the wood from such inaccessible, steep, rocky terrain.  Many of the trees have now been cropped, but there is a lot of natural regrowth and it was our job to remove these unwanted trees so that the traditional species had a chance to grow strong.  Eventually the area will be a mixed woodland rather than conifer plantation.

Armed with a Silky Saw large pruning saw, I got stuck in.  The ground was rough and boggy and I spent a fair bit of time getting caught up in brambles or sinking to my knees in water.  (It was just like the TGO Challenge at times!)  Before today I couldn’t have identified any sort of conifer and I did have to check a couple of times before wielding the saw.  There was some Juniper amongst the Sitka and I didn’t want to risk chopping down the wrong thing.

It felt a bit mean chopping down healthy trees but I tried to take the long-term view; in forty or fifty years there’ll be a more natural forest environment there with, hopefully, benefits to the wider flora and fauna.


We all agreed that it would have been useful to take a “before” photo before we started work…. but we forgot…. so here’s the “after” looking back at the area where we’d been working.  We didn’t clear this whole area [we were working below the track going left to right in the middle of the picture] but the photo gives an idea of the type of terrain and the spread of trees.


I learnt a lot over the weekend; both from the talks on Saturday afternoon and by taking part in the work party on Sunday.  I’d like to do more conservation work and it sounds like the John Muir Trust have plenty of opportunities for volunteers to get involved.  I like the sound of some of the more remote projects where the work party has to walk in and then wild camp, so I’ll be keeping an eye on their webpage …. and probably joining up.


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Micro tarp bivi on Minera Mountain – and loads of kit observations

I love sleeping outside.  The main reason I go walking is so I can sleep outside but I never seem to have enough time for proper multi-day trips.  I’ve done no camping since May and I’m conscious that the summer is coming to a close and I’ve nearly wasted it.  So….. off to Wrexham for the night!

The plan kept changing.  Originally it was going to be two nights with a full day’s walking inbetween but work, and untold dithering over which rucksack to take, meant that it was half noon before I left the house.  After a 3 and a bit mile walk to a Borderlands Line station – where I noticed that the public telephone was stilled smashed up ( ….. or had it been repaired and smashed up again since my last trip?) – I caught the train to Wrexham.  Although there is a lot of urban and industrial landscape in North East Wales, there are also some hills and semi-rural bits – and it’s quicker to get to than the bigger mountains further West.

The weather forecast said that I would have a dry night with temperatures no lower than 13 degrees C and that it would start raining at 0900.  It also said that there’d be a light wind – which was useful from a midge mitigation point of view.

I took my micro-tarp (5′ by 4′, I think), my Terra Nova Moonlite sleeping bag cover (the original version with no midge net), some Wickes secondary double-glazing film as a groundsheet, and some laminate flooring underlay (folded to provide a shoulder-to-hip pad) as a sleeping mat.  My sleeping bag was my lightest / smallest synthetic bag; my Vango Ultralite 100 which has a manufacturer comfort rating of 10 degrees.

Usually I follow the road to Bersham out of Wrexham but, this time, I went South on Wat’s Way towards Erddig Country Park.  My lack of recent experience with a 1:25,000 map meant that I kept misjudging how far I’d walked, so I missed my turn onto the Clywedog Trail.  Erdigg Country Park looked like a good place for a post-Sunday lunch walk.

Back on track I passed the Bersham Iron Works.  This looks like a heritage centre (although there is an actual Bersham Heritage Centre just up the road) but I have never seen it open.  A quick search suggests that it’s only open for planned group visits or on special occasions ….. and the Heritage Centre has closed.

Last time I was in this neck of the woods I stumbled across the Nant Mill Visitor Centre – but it had been closed.  I was looking forward to passing that way today as I knew they had some sort of cafe or refreshments shop.  I arrived at 4:32 ……


…. and the shop was shut.  The toilets were open though so I had a drink of tap water via my Sawyers Mini filter.  The weather was quite warm and I was carrying 3 litres of water from home in case the hill streams were dry, so I was disappointed not to have the pot of tea and can of pop that I’d been daydreaming about.  The photo was taken next day on my way back to Wrexham.  It was raining and quite dark which is why my flash fired.  By the way, it was 10:02 AM ….. yes, you guessed it, the shop was shut!

I knew roughly where I planned to camp and had a choice of routes to get there.  However, I hadn’t really planned a route in any great detail and I wasn’t in a rush.  At one point I walked through a field full of cows and had to walk past a large, mean-looking bull.  I tried to look confident and purposeful as I strode past it and climbed over the stile.  I was then faced with chest high bracken.  I was pretty sure I was on a marked footpath but the bracken was completely covering it.  I would only have had to cover 75 yards before reaching grass again but the bracken was completely impassable.  I fought my way forwards for about 5 yards but got stuck.  I would have had to chop it down with a scythe to have any chance of making progress.  I turned round and forced my way back to the stile.  The bull was still there …. and staring at me.  I could see that the adjacent field was bracken-free although I’d have to cross a small gully and a barbed-wire fence to reach it.  Hoping that the gully would deter the bull from getting too close while I climbed the fence I reclimbed the stile and crossed onto the next field.

It was probably about 6pm now and I was starting to feel hungry.  I had intended to go at least a couple of miles further but I decided that this field would do.  I found the flattest part of the field and built my shelter.  The wind was coming down the hill, from West-ish, so I rigged the tarp in a lean-to configuration with the broadside to the wind.  Hopefully, if it did rain in the morning, the rain would also come from that direction.


At first, I wasn’t going to use the sleeping bag cover but the wind was a little cold so I decided I would.  Even with the cover on, the wind was making my feet cold so I put my socks back on.  Overnight I was never actually cold but I did put on more clothes more than once in anticiption of becoming cold later.  The Vango Ultralite 100 may be rated to 10 degrees but I think, for me, there would be very few situations in the UK when this bag was warm enough for outdoors use.  I’m not even sure if this bag is made anymore; I bought it on a whim in TX Maxx at least 6 or 7 years ago.

Dinner was the bag of “TentMeals Italian Inspired Main Meal” which I received on this year’s TGO Challenge.  I’d been looking forward to this meal as TentMeals are the first company I’ve come across which only make Vegetarian and Vegan camping meals.  I thought the meal (couscous) was a little too overflavoured but it was quick and easy to make and was a nice change from my usual Pasta N Sauce.

There had been a strong breeze whilst I’d been making my camp and preparing my dinner but it dropped as soon as I started to eat – and the midgies came out for their tea.  I ended up eating my couscous under the bottom of my head net.  Thankfully, the breeze came back after tea and I had a midge-free night.

I had wondered if I was being daft only taking the underlay as a sleeping mat but it worked out OK.  I have a piece which I use as “carpet” for my tent and I folded that so that it was four layers thick then placed it so that it was under the area from my shoulders to my thighs.  I used my sit mat under my feet.  I can usually fit my bivvying kit into a relatively small rucksack but – as I don’t want to use my Neoair mattress outside where it could blow away – I end up strapping a ginormous closed-cell foam rollmat to the outside of my rucksack.  The underlay rolls up into a much smaller bundle or could be folded and placed inside the pack.

I sipped a cup of tea as the light faded away.  By 9pm I was ready to turn in for the night.  I woke a couple of times in the night but I always do.  At times the sky was clear with loads of twinkling stars.  At other times the clouds were gathering but there was no rain.  At about 3am, a cockerel decided it was time to wake everyone up.  I think someone must have had a word with him, though, as he’d gone quiet by ten past.

At 5:30 ish it was starting to get light then, all of a sudden, it was 7:30 and I decided it was time to get up.  The weather was very still and the midgies were waiting for me.  My breakfast porridge was consumed under my head net.

The first spots of rain appeared shortly after 8am and the tarp did its job of keeping my kit dry while I packed up.  I would have been impressed by the BBC’s forecast of rain by 9am, had I not checked the forecast on my phone at bedtime and seen that they’d pushed the rain back to 11.  By 9am it was raining quite heavily and I was packed up and dressed in full waterproofs.

I had chosen to use my Montane smock [I forget what type it is; I’ve had it for years] but I knew it was not waterproof so I also took my Intregral Designs Silcoat Cape.  I bought this cape earlier this year as a means of keeping the rain off my shoulders when wearing Paramo and a rucksack.  I find that – in persistent heavy rain – water gets through the shoulder area and I get wet.  The cape is big enough to use with a small rucksack but not with my TGO Challenge-sized pack, so it hardly got any use in May.  I walked for around 4 hours in horrible rain today and can’t really say that the cape has been a success.  I don’t know whether the rain gets in around the neck, or whether the water on the outside transfered to the inside when I packed the cape up on the train before putting it back on, but my smock was wet – although not soaked through.  The two times when the cape has been very useful were when I used it as a shelter whilst having a teabreak – so it does have some uses!

I arrived home mid-afternoon having walked approx 16 miles in total and spent a night under the stars.  So not really a great expedition but an enjoyable mini adventure nonetheless.

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TGOC2016 – A quick reflection


I usually write up a quick summary of my TGO Challenge experience soon after the event.  Time has flown since I arrived home but I think I can rummage up a few fading memories to give an overall impression of this year’s crossing.

This year was my tenth crossing and I admit that I’d been quite nervous whilst planning it.  I wanted everything to go well and for there to be little chance of me not completing the walk.  I, therefore, planned a route which was maybe a little shorter than usual [I suspect that an Oban start gives the opportunity of a shorter crossing] and I had several Foul Weather Alternatives which I was more than happy to use even if the weather was glorious – which it was for the first couple of days.

This year’s crossing seemed a lot easier than previous ones and I think the weather probably played a big part in that.  Yes, I had quite a lot of drizzle but it never really developed into persistent heavy rain.  I noticed that I seemed to relax once the sun had been replaced with rain and I was back in my Challenge comfort zone.

There were a couple of days when I wore myself out but nowhere near as bad as other years when I’ve been completely exhausted.  I think I’ve matured as a walker since my first TGO Challenge in 2006 and now know a couple of simple but important tips:- don’t rush …. and eat often.

Food was a worry during my planning.  In order to cover new ground and avoid visiting places I’d already been too, I had few resupply stops in the first week.  If they had let me down then I’d have been eking out some oatcakes and soup for a few days.  As it turned out, I ate well.  My (1st) Monday and Friday hotels not only fed me a huge breakfast but made me an ample packed lunch which augmented my food supplies for the next few days.  Although the hotel meals were good and welcome, my favourite meal of the whole fortnight was leek and potato soup, in my tent, with a stale bread roll mushed up in it.  Hot, tasty and filling and just what I needed.

I had no accommodation booked for the second week so camped for 5 consecutive days from the Saturday to Wednesday – which included a campsite on the Monday.  I would usually look for a bed or room after 3 or 4 days of wildcamping but the weather was so good I had no need to seek a bit of shelter and dry all of my clothes.  Something I had failed to anticipate was that I’d have nowhere to charge my mobile phone but I found that pubs and cafes were quite happy for me to charge it while I was giving them my custom.

I didn’t have much company this year and only bumped into my first Challenger on the second Wednesday but I was following various people on Twitter and, despite walking on my own, felt like part of the Challenge family.

My finish didn’t go quite to plan as I’d not checked the bus times back to Montrose and had to walk an extra 6 or 7 miles from the South end of Lunan Bay all the way to the Park Hotel – thus eating into the time that I’d planned to relax and chat to people before the dinner… but booking a room at the hotel meant there wasn’t really any rush even though I didn’t get there until after 5pm.

So…. what now for this Ten Timer?  Part of me says that I ought to take a break from the event.  I’ve been looking at long distance trails to do instead – like Offa’s Dyke, or Cape Wrath, or maybe Hadrian’s Wall.  I’d also like to give something back to the event, so maybe I’ll be serving tea at Tarfside next year? But there’s also the chance that I just won’t be able to resist filling in the application form in September’s The Great Outdoors magazine.  We’ll see.

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TGOC16 – Day 13 – The End – Ethie Haven

Today did not quite go to plan as I got lost twice; on the way into and out of Inverkeilor. This has happened before on my final day. I smell the sea air and lose all sense of direction.

Ethie Haven is a special place, nestled in the cliff. The photo is the view of Lunan Bay from just above Ethie Haven.

I am now at the Park Hotel preparing to dress for dinner. I hope nobody is wearing the same as me.

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TGOC16 – Day 12 – Lunanhead and Friockheim

I’d hoped for a shop in Lunanhead but all I got was a park bench and a good enough phone signal to call Challenge Control.

It was good to walk with Markus for a couple of hours. Last time I saw him was last year when he wasn’t on the Challenge and he was going the wrong way out of Tomich. We walked into Friockheim together and had a beer before Markus pushed on to the coast.

I’m in another stealthy camp with a view of a barbed wire fence and two roads. The wind is the strongest I’ve had all crossing.

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TGOC16 – Day 11 – Kirriemuir

23km of road walking was quite tough on the feet but the day was broken up with a second breakfast at Peel Farm and a resupply and short pub visit to Kirriemuir. Unfortunately none of the pubs served food on a Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t fancy hanging around until 5 pm, so I made myself a cheese roll whilst sitting next to Peter Pan.

I’m in a stealthy pitch tonight. Within yards of a road and within earshot of the A90. Nearly at the East Coast.

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TGOC16 – Day 10 – Kirkton of Glenisla and Nether Craig

The thunder faded away without incident. It was a warm, sunny morning and I didn’t need to put on my waterproofs until early afternoon.

Whilst doing the final planning for today, I had realised that a slight diversion would take me to the Glenisla Hotel for lunch. However, I did not know if they served food all day – so I felt under a little pressure to get a move on and had resigned myself to being too late. But not to worry – they were still serving when I got there at 2:30 ish. I made sure I had all of the essential food types: egg mayo, ciabatta, veggie broth, beer, scone & jam, and coffee.

Well refreshed and satisfied, I then lost the Cateran Trail and had an unfortunate episode with a knee-deep bog.

I’m now tucked up in my tent on a campsite after a very nice shower. Shame I can’t get the peat out of my socks no matter how many times I rinse them!

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