The Mystery of the Gate in the Hedgerow

Do you remember this gate?

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I blogged about it in 2014.  A locked gate in the hedgerow; leading to what?  This gate, and its matching cousin on the other side of Brimstage Lane, has remained a puzzle lurking at the back of my brain.  One day I’d understand why it was there.  I just needed to find some time for a bit of research first.

Fast forward to mid February 2019.  A lovely sunny Spring-like day and I took the afternoon off work to go for a bike ride and bag a couple of Wirral flush bracket benchmarks – SJ 3129 8198 and SJ 3216 7502 if you’re interested. Clatterbridge roundabout is scary on a bike at the best of times and particularly intimidating during the Friday afternoon rush, so I hopped off my bike to push it on the footpath and – blow me! – if there wasn’t another one of those gates in the hedge!

You can see it here on this Google Streetview from 2009 You can just about make it out through the undergrowth on the 2016 Streetview if you know where to look. I’ll go back and get my own photo at some time.

This one wasn’t locked and there appeared to be some sort of utility inspection hatches beyond the hedge. However, with the light fading and my backside aching after my first long bike ride for a couple of years I didn’t investigate any further and continued my journey home.

Over the next few days I looked at old OS maps on the National Library of Scotland’s website but the answer to the question didn’t jump out at me.  I then remembered a website I’ve had hours of fun with in the past……

The “Where did my evening go?” bit

The Cheshire Tithe Maps webpage is a ginormous time sink and I love it!  Focussing on the area between Brimstage Lane and Clatterbridge roundabout, I looked at the historical maps for any hint that there used to be some sort of path, track, road etc that could have connected those gates. Bits of path sort of matched what I was looking for, but something wasn’t making sense. The gates were new. By “new”, I mean they were made out of metal and it would have been a peculiar ancient thoroughfare that had completely faded from modern view but was significant enough to warrant metal gates. I was puzzled and my head hurt.

But….. hang on….. what’s this? The 1970s aerial photos seemed to show something running in a straight line between Brimstage Lane and Mount Road near the roundabout and hospital. Some sort of ground disturbance which, if my estimation was correct, ran in a perfectly straight line between the two gates. Yay! I’m on to something.

Here’s a segment of aerial photo showing the M53 motorway under construction [top left corner to bottom right] and one of the Leverhulme estate causeways [running NNW / SSE] which still exists. The white scar running from the middle of the left edge of the photo down to the bottom right crosses Brimstage Lane just south of Keepers Cottage and appears to be in the right place to meet the gate at Clatterbridge roundabout.

Brimstage Lane aerial photo 1970s

1971-3 Aerial Survey of Cheshire. Copyright Cheshire County Council 2009

Scissors and sticky tape

The tithe maps website only shows a small chunk of map or aerial photo at a time.  If I zoomed in, I could see detail but lost the context.  If I zoomed out, I could see the bigger picture but could no longer identify exactly what I was looking at.  To see the whole picture I was going to have to print out segments of the aerial photo and stick them all together. So that’s what I did …….

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Piecing together the evidence. Computer, various paper maps, scissors and sticky tape.

I could now see that the ground had been disturbed all the way from Thingwall to just outside Ellesmere Port.  Running in straight lengths across the fields and along the railway for part of the way.  When I say Thingwall, I mean the Crosshill covered reservoir.  Apparently it has a Trig Pillar and Flush Bracket but I’d not been able to get into the site to bag it a week or so earlier.

The lightbulb moment

Now, if you’re like me, you may have just read the word “reservoir” in connection with a long, straight ground disturbance and not put two and two together.  However, if you’re more like my work colleague, Chris, you’d have thought “Erm, could it be a water pipe?”. Ding! It was as if a light had been turned on.  Of course, it’ll be a water pipe!  I double checked what was at the Ellesmere Port end of the “thing”.  Ha! Sutton Green Water Treatment Works!

Grateful for Chris’ logical thinking (but kicking myself for not spotting the obvious myself) I was now pretty confident that my gates were something to do with a water pipeline that ran between two covered reservoirs but I needed evidence.

On the wettest Sunday so far this year I went and checked a couple of places where the “pipeline” intersected roads.  I found another gate. This one is on Station Road, SJ 293 841.

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And next to this gate was this little beauty…..

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I’m assuming (yes, ok, hoping) that WW stands for Wirral Water. The Wirral Water Board became part of North West Water in 1973.  North West Water later became part of United Utilities.

I also walked up the causeway, on Leverhulme estate land, shown on the aerial photo above.  I found no gate, but there is a concrete stile in the right place.

The pieces of the jigsaw were now coming together nicely but I still needed some documentary evidence to confirm my deductions.  Pipelines don’t just appear; they are planned, budgeted for and laid.  There must be a record of the work.

The surprisingly not boring bit

I searched the internet for “Wirral Water Board minutes” and found, via the National Archives, that 10 years worth of minutes – 1963 to 1973 – were held in the Wirral Council Archives.  I gave them a call and arranged a visit.

The archives staff were very helpful and, after a short anxious delay when it appeared the minutes may have been transferred to the reference library, I was soon sitting with a pile of blue bound minute books.

The minutes are indexed … in a fashion, so – starting with the July 70 to June 71 minutes – I looked for any reference to Crosshill reservoir.  Bingo! Minute 21 dated 15 Jul 1970 described how easements had been paid for the laying of a 36″ main from Sutton Hall to Crosshill.  I switched to the previous year’s minutes and found minute 194 on 18 Feb 1970 decribed the impending completion of the new 36” main between Sutton Hall and Crosshill.  This was exactly what I wanted to find.  At the time that the aerial photographs were taken, Wirral Water Board were laying a 36 inch water main between Crosshill, Thingwall and Sutton Hall (Sutton Green being the nearest named place on most maps).

Conclusion and workings out

This is enough detective work for now.  I’m happy that the gates were probably linked to the laying of the water main in the late Sixties / early Seventies.

I’ll eventually tie up the loose ends.  For example, I would like to know:

  • Why was the water main required?  Did one reservoir keep the other topped up?  Is it common for reservoirs to be linked?

  • Why were the gates required?  They are only personnel sized, so you couldn’t drive a digger or pipe-laying machine through them.  Was regular inspection required after the main was laid?

  • Will the rest of the WWB minutes yield any answers?  There are only ten slim volumes so I’ll go back at some point and read them all.

  • What does CP mean on the utility marker on Station Road?  Cathodic Protection?

And, most importantly …..

  • Can I bag the Trig Pillar / Flush Bracket which is within both reservoir sites?!  Both sites are secured (especially Sutton Hall water treatment works) but maybe a polite letter to United Utilities may do the job?

 

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Bonkers bivi in a balaclava

In January 2018 I resolved to camp every month of the year. By the end of January I had failed in my resolution. In 2019 I set a more reasonable goal of “getting outdoors more” and making good use of brief opportunities to walk, camp, cycle etc. Last month’s activity was a Manchester canal walk. I hoped February would be a little more adventurous.

I love cold weather and was desperate to spend a night out in it. Not having enough time for a long walk (or for a circuitous public transport journey), I parked in Llandegla and headed south on Offa’s Dyke Path. There’d been no fresh snow for a few days but the cold temperatures had kept the pavements icy and the hills a patchy white.

I’d been reading up on the difference between different types of twilight and reckoned that – with sunset at 1659 – I’d need to have found somewhere to camp by 1745 at the latest if I wasn’t to need my headtorch. I started walking just before 4pm.

Llandegla seems to have become a favourite walking destination for me in the last few years and I didn’t need to refer to my map often. The snow got deeper and cleaner as I moved further away from the village. When out of the forest I kept an eye out for flat patches that I could camp on.

I’d half planned to reach Esclusham Mountain before camping but ran out of daylight so I headed for somewhere that would hopefully not be easily seen from the path and would have running water nearby. I found a flat, level area (with a reasonable phone/data signal) and cleared the snow. I fumbled with the poles on my Vaude bivi and actually ended up reading the instructions! I think they say something about “This tent is designed to be easy to erect, so if it’s not easy you’re doing seomthing wrong”…… but I always find it a faff to get the poles into their little pockets. Maybe I should practise in the daylight when my fingers aren’t turning into icicles?

The stars were already starting to twinkle by the time I was in my bivi at just after 6pm. The forecast had promised temperatures down to -5 degrees C and I could tell that it was going to be a cold night.

I’d taken lots of clothes and was glad of them. I think the most important thing when camping in the cold is to be decisive and act early. Do not hope to stay warm; put on extra layers as soon as there’s any suggestion that you might be starting to cool. And if that means stripping off some outer layers in order to put on an extra mid layer then do that before you start to shiver.

I went to bed in my Ron Hills, socks, long sleeve base layer, T Shirt, light Polartec fleece jumper, light bodywarmer, and Balaclava with a polar Buff on top. In the night I put a Buff round my feet [Oh, WHY did I not bring my down booties?], draped another fleece over my hips and put on my windshirt. This was in a -10 down sleeping bag which is usually toasty. At no point was I cold, but I was beginning to wonder what my plan was if the weather got much colder. I could have put on my waterproof trousers and my Paramo smock and I wasn’t wearing any gloves, so I still had some extra options. Something which made me laugh was when I started thinking about how to spots signs of hypothermia. Poor decision making is one …….. but here I was lying in a posh bin-bag in the snow on the coldest night of the year so far ….. so maybe this was one symptom I would have to disregard in myself!

I’d taken the Vaude bivi as I thought it would be warmer than a bivi bag but, on reflection, there was a flaw in my reasoning. The Vaude bivi is definitely warmer if it’s fully zipped up but that means that breath condensation is a big problem. In the morning I had snow showers inside the bivi every time I moved. A simple bivi bag would not have been so wet inside, but I would probably have wanted a mini-tarp shelter to keep the frost off my kit.

Keeping my equipment from freezing was a matter of prioritisation as I could not double-wrap everything or put it inside my sleeping bag. I wrapped my boots in a bin bag and then wrapped my waterproof trousers round them and put them behind my knees [I’m a side sleeper]. They were fine. In case my water bottle froze, I put some water in my pan before I went to bed so that I could definitely have a hot drink in the morning. The water in the pan froze but the water bottle didn’t! My midnight snack was a frozen Snickers bar which I snapped in two. I kept my electronics in my sleeping bag with me.

I woke a couple of times in the night, but I always do. I would have been more comfortable in a tent but that would have taken more planning and needed more time to make sure I found a suitable pitch. Would I bivi out in such cold weather again? Yes, but I’d take my sleeping bag liner, my down boots and probably use my Rab Survival Zone bivi bag instead.

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Berwyn bivi (with buses and benchmarks) – Part 2 of 2

Continued from part 1

I was in the cloud nearly all day, which was a shame as this seemed like a really nice place to walk.  I wondered what views I was missing.  Unlike the first day (Thursday), when I saw nobody, I did bump into a few fellow walkers.  They were all the sort who said hello and maybe stopped for a brief chat; which I am sure would not have been the case if the weather had been better.  I did titter to myself when one young man emerged from the mist and said “Oh, thank goodness I’ve met someone and now know I’m on a path!” as if meeting me was a sound navigational achievement!

Although Cadair Berwyn would take me off on a Southerly detour and I would have to retrace my steps, I was curious to see if there was a Flush Bracket on the Trig Pillar.  It does not appear to be listed in the Ordnance Survey’s published list of benchmarks but Alan had sent me photographic evidence that it existed.  I found it and am now wondering how many other BMs are not listed?

Even a concrete triangulation pillar is a welcome sight on a day like this ….


…. and it DOES have a benchmark

Although I was enjoying my walk, time and impending darkness were now starting to niggle me.  I wanted to camp within easy walking distance of Llangollen so that I could catch a bus to Wrexham in the morning but, realistically, I did not have enough time to reach my planned camp site before dark.  At the Wayfarer memorial I had planned to carry on following the county boundary, NE to the Ceiriog Forest, but could not easily find a path to follow and did not fancy the idea of finding my way through the mist.  Instead, I followed the track SE past the derelict Shooting Hut then up the hill to Pen-plaenau.  If I could at least get down to the river at Dolydd Ceiriog I could fill my water bottle and weigh up my options for camping.

I don’t mind walking in the dark and, as I looked – on the map and on the ground – for possible places to camp, I weighed up whether there was any reason why I should not carry on walking.  As the light faded I realised that I would have to camp now as it was becoming increasingly difficult to see any clear patches amongst the heather at the side of the track.  I could find myself in the situation of spending the night in my bivi bag lying on the track if I did not make good use of the available light to fashion some sort of shelter.  I also knew that the track would be safe to walk on in the dark in the morning so it was probably better to stop now and be up early tomorrow.

I found a rough patch of stony mud not far from the track.  It looked like it had been cleared, as there was lots of cut/broken heather, and the ground was bare rather than covered in the moss that grew in other places.  It was too late in the day to be fussy. Foregoing any attempt to build a perfect shelter, I knew I just wanted something watertight, windproof and with enough room to spend the night comfortably.  The resulting shelter was basic and the type I refer to as a Squashed Toad. I pegged out the middle of one end and put a walking pole at the middle of the opposite open end.  I then used tie-outs all round, and a lifter at the back, to keep the tarp roomy and taut.  I was pleased, during a nocturnal trip to the bathroom, to see that the light rain was blowing over the back of the tarp – so I’d obviously pitched my shelter the right way round. Despite the shelter’s basic configuration and the pretty awful location amongst the heather I was warm and dry with enough room to do everything I needed to do.  I also had the pleasure of being able to see the stars for a few brief periods during the night.

Flash-lit photos of black tarps never really work out well, so there are no photos of the entire shelter, but here’s a photo taken at 5:15 pm of my first cup of tea on the stove!


All is right once the stove is on

I missed having a groundsheet but used my map case, sit mat and gaiters as an impromptu carpet.  Some annoying tarp flapping in the night was resolved with a couple of clothes pegs!

At 6am I listened to the news and lit my stove for a cup of tea.  By 7:25 I was walking up the track with my head torch picking out the potholes and bigger rocks.  I’d altered my plan and was now going to walk to Glyn Ceiriog, rather than Llangollen, and catch the bus back to either Chirk station or Llangollen.  There were only two unknowns …… the bus times and the train times.  With no phone signal, I had no way of finding out what my travel options were.  I’d made a note of some bus and train times before I left home but was now relying on a different bus running to a convenient schedule for me to meet a different train.  Guessing that the bus would only run every 2 or 3 hours I was going to need luck on my side.

I was surprised at how long it took the sun to come up.  The cloud was low and it was nearly 9 o’clock before I felt like I was now walking in the day rather than the night.  My route would take me through the Ceiriog Forest and I felt slightly anxious in case the tracks on the map did not exist on the ground.  I’ve had some bad forest experiences! Fortunately, the tracks were pretty much where I expected them and only had minor obstructions.

At Glyn Ceiriog, just after 10 am, I checked the bus timetable and found that the next bus was at 11:40 reaching Chirk at 11:54.  This could be OK as long as there was a train at around 12 noon.  What should I do?  Wait in Glyn Ceiriog for an hour and forty minutes and hope that the bus met the train?  Or start walking and see if I could get to Chirk before the bus ….. and hopefully get a phone signal on the way?  I chose the latter.  A milestone said Chirk was 7 miles and I was hoping to walk that distance in an hour and a half.  Unlikely, but I’ll give it a go.  I could always get the bus anyway if necessary.

At Dolywern village I managed to get a wifi connection and checked the train times.  Oh, great!  The bus would get in at 11:54 and my train was at ….. wait for it ….. 11:48 with the next one at 12:49 (which would give me about 25 minutes to have a shower, some lunch and get to Prenton Park).

Common sense should probably have told me to give up and just wait for the bus but I kept walking.  Maybe someone would stop and offer me a lift?  Maybe I would find an abandoned bicycle?  Maybe there was an additional 5th-Saturday-in-December bus? Anyway, I had nothing else to do so I kept plodding with an occasional attempt at an ineffective and ungainly jog.

Although I no longer had an internet connection I rechecked my phone’s web browser and noticed that the National Rail journey planner had said that part of my journey was subject to delay.  I had no further information but it gave me hope.  I reckoned I’d reach Chirk station not long after noon, if I walked, and it’s not unusual for a train going all the way from Cardiff to Holyhead to have a 10 or 15 minute delay.

At Bronygarth, where Offa’s Dyke Path crossed the road near Chirk Castle, there was a bus stop; the first I’d seen for over 3 km and I took it as a sign that I should stop walking.  I still had 3 km to cover in 8 minutes and the bus was due soon.  If there was any chance of the train being late then I needed to be there as soon as possible and I was grateful that the bus came on time.

Due to parked cars, the bus had to stop a few metres further away from Chirk Station and I resented the extra walk.  Eschewing the bridge benchmark for a second time, I peered down at the platforms and was pleased to see over a dozen passengers all looking a little grumpy.  Quickly scanning an incredibly wordy bi-lingual sign I found the important bit “…. over the footbridge to Wrexham and Chester… “.  Yes, all those grumpy people were waiting for the 11:48 and it was now 11:55.  The train actually departed just after noon, so it had been the right decision to catch the bus for the last couple of miles. With hindsight I could have stayed in Glyn Ceiriog for an hour and a half, but hey ho!

By the way, I made it home in good time for the match …. which was as dull as ditch water ….. and I know all about ditch water.

Lessons identified from this trip:

  • It goes dark early in winter; so I need to be more realistic about how far I can walk and identify potential camp sites in advance.
  • Adding additional tie-outs to the tarp, and leaving them in place, will speed up pitching and adjustments.
  • The “envelope” tarp configuration works well as long as the wind stays in the same place. A simple adjustment can cope with a minor change of wind direction.
  • In rural areas, download all relevant bus and train timetables to my phone in advance.
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Berwyn bivi (with buses and benchmarks) – Part 1 of 2

When I take part in the TGO Challenge I do a LOT of planning. Partly because them’s the rules; but also to avoid being stuck somewhere with no idea of how to get where I need to be.  This trip was not like that.  Although my blog is primarily a personal diary of my trips and experiences, I hope it also serves an educational purpose in showing when it can be useful to have A Plan (or even just A Clue).

With two and a half days available between Tranmere Rovers’ home games I packed up my winter bivi gear and caught a train to Chirk.  From there, I hoped to catch a bus to Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog but I could not figure out, from the timetable, whether the bus was running.  Also, I did not know how long it would take to change from the train to the bus so I caught the early train to make sure I had plenty of time to catch the bus …. that might not be running.

Arriving at Chirk I realised that it took less than a minute to get to the bus stop (straight up the steps onto the road) but which bus stop?  One went towards Llangollen and the other, just round the corner, towards Llanarmon DC but both had the timetable for both directions and no “Buses towards xxxxx” sign.  I worked out which stop I needed and checked the timetable…… which was abundantly clear: only one bus each day was School Days Only, not every bus.  I now had 50 minutes to wait for my bus; plenty of time to find a benchmark.

Eschewing the one on the railway bridge I went to St Mary’s church where I was rewarded not only with the Flush Bracket I was expecting but also with a cut mark with bolt.

A bolt and Flush Bracket benchmark on St Mary’s Church, Chirk

Pleased with these easy pickings I popped into the Spar for a coffee and bun and waited for my bus.

The bus was on time and took me along the B4500 through Glyn Ceiriog and to Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog.  I lost my phone signal soon after leaving Chirk and wondered if this might be an offline trip.  You know, the way it used to be when we just went somewhere and did things and only told anyone about them when we got home?

Llanarmon DC has a couple of pubs so I stood outside one for a final dose of wifi then took the road south out of the village and picked up a footpath going West.  I planned to follow paths and green roads to get as close as I could to the Cadair Berwyn / Cadair Bronwen ridge before it went dark.

The countryside was very pleasant.  Rolling and green, not too challenging but with just enough climb.  From Mynydd Tarw I followed the county boundary marked with a fence and occasional boundary stones.

A boundary stone. I don’t know who or what WWW was. There did not appear to be anything on the other side

By 3:30pm I was looking for somewhere to camp.  Ideally I would want my shelter pitched by 4pm as it would be dark by 4:30pm.  I’ve learned over the years that my pitching location options are enhanced if I collect water before I camp.  That way I don’t have to find a good pitch which also has water nearby.  I had not seen any running water for a while but I found this tasty looking puddle and I filtered a couple of litres of it – although even the filtered water looked like weak tea.

Further on, I found some rocky crags which I thought would make a good place for a camp.  Good views, slightly sheltered and reasonably flat.  I had brought my Alpkit Rig 7 tarp and my Terra Nova Moonlite sleeping bag cover as my shelter.  Every time I tweet or blog about using a tarp I get comments about how some people prefer tents and others prefer tarps.  There is no right or wrong but here is my rationale behind this trip’s equipment choices:

I like sleeping “out”, ie not just in an enclosed tent but actually outside.  In the winter I am not going to be pestered by midges so I can use an open shelter.  I could just sleep in a bivi bag but, if it’s raining, it’s not very pleasant to spend 18 hours of darkness sealed up in a bivi bag; a tarp allows a far more pleasant evening under cover but with a feeling of openness.  I’d originally planned to take my Rab Survival Zone bivi bag and my Backpackinglight.co.uk micro tarp but, in the end, decided on the greater coverage of the Rig 7 and the lighter (probably less waterproof) Moonlite.  The weather forecast predicted cloudy skies rather than rain but I knew it was likely that low cloud would be blown under a smaller tarp.  I also took my warmest sleeping bag, my Tundra Pure -10, and a foam roll mat to sleep on.

I pitched in what I will call an “envelope” configuration, although I have no idea what other people call it.  I’d planned this set-up before I went away and it (mainly) worked well.  I tucked one quarter (70 cm)  of the tarp under as a groundsheet; had half of it as a lean-to, and the remaining quarter as a beak over the open side.  The groundsheet was not wide enough to sleep on but it meant I had somewhere clean and dry to lay out my things.  It also had the unexpected benefit of being less draughty than if I had just pegged out the end of the tarp, although this may have been because there wasn’t a lot of wind.  I also pulled out the flat body of the lean-to by using a guyline attached to one of the lifters; this has the effect of making the large flat tarp less billowy and gives more living space underneath.

Home Sweet Home

Sitting up under the tarp I had plenty of space to change clothing, cook & eat and I had good views out of both ends.  Lying down, though, was when this design reaped most benefits.  I had excellent views on the three open sides.  I could see to the horizon and, although I was disappointed that it was a cloudy night with no stars, the tarp was giving me the experience I had hoped for.

There was one slight problem in that I had not quite pitched the lean-to into the wind and, when it started to drizzle, I was getting puffs of wetness coming in from that end…. where my head was.  This was easily fixed by rigging another short guyline which pulled in the end of the tarp slightly.  I could do this from bed and it only took a minute.

The wind got up overnight and, in the early morning, I realised I would have to do a few quick modifications.  I lowered the pole at the foot end, tightened the guys at that end, and rigged another tie-out a quarter (60 cm) of the way in.  This kept everything tauter while I was making my breakfast.  Something that really puzzled me was why I could no longer sit up to drink my coffee ….. until I remembered I’d lowered one end of the tarp and could now only sit up at the high end!

I had a leisurely breakfast and it was around 9:30 before I was packed up and ready to walk.  By this time the mist had descended and I’d lost sight of Foel Wen, my first hill of the day.

…. continue to part 2

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My first off-road run. (Hurrah for Parkrun!)

Many years ago, at school, I was a reasonably good runner. 1500 metres was probably my best distance; the 800 metres was too fast for me. Likewise, at the sprint distances I could compete at 200 metres but got left behind at 100. I left school and, like most people, no longer had any reason to run. I discovered walking was a good way to get into the hills so that I could camp but running seemed a strange thing to do unless being chased by a hungry lion. I ran occasionally but knew that I was Not A Runner.

I entered my first Parkrun about 18 months ago. I wanted a structured way of getting a little bit fitter. 5 km at a set time every week appealed to me. Run, jog, walk, volunteer – it sounded so inclusive. Although slightly mistrusting my Ultra and Triathlon running friends’ evangelising, I took the Parkrun plunge and waddled my way round the park. Everyone was so supportive and friendly.  Not only did nobody care that I was having to walk more than half of the 5 km and had turned the colour of a beetroot, they seemed genuinely delighted that I was there.  All of the marshals waved and said hello as I sweated my way round the course. The fast people cheered me on as I approached the finish funnel.  There were all sorts of people; big, small, old, young, plus kids in pushchairs, and dogs. Everyone having a go and pushing themselves in their own way. It took months before I could run the whole 5 km without walking but Parkrun not only gave me the environment to develop my stamina and speed, it also helped me to see that running might be fun!  I’ll never be fast – and I hate the first kilometre – but I do like the feeling at the end of a Parkrun when I know I have tried my best. Maybe my time was relatively slow but I managed to keep going.  My best times seem to be when I’ve had something on my mind and my body has done its own thing without my brain interrupting; it’s great thinking time.

Anyway….. that’s how I decided that I’d like to go for a run in the countryside rather than round the park.  My aim is to be able to enter an LDWA challenge event as a runner rather than a walker. I walk too slowly to complete the longer LDWA events within the allotted time but maybe if I travelled lighter and quicker I could cover the distance.

In the summer I bought myself a backpack designed for runners. It’s like a waistcoat which has small stretchy pockets on the front and a bigger, zipped stretchy pocket on the back. I’ve lost the label so can’t remember exactly what capacity it is but I managed to squeeze a waterproof jacket & trousers, first aid kit, foil blanket, head torch, 1 litre of water (in a bladder), spare long-sleeve top, Polartec headband, buff & gloves and a few snacks into it. Oh, and a map and compass, of course, although I navigated with my phone.

Fully loaded, I still felt so light and free. I know I have a tendency to overpack even for a short daywalk but I can’t think of anything I needed which I hadn’t packed. Of course, you can’t be certain what emergency equipment you’ll need until disaster strikes but I knew I could keep myself warm and dry, and peep on my pack’s built-in whistle until help came if necessary.

Parked at Llandegla I started off by running on Offa’s Dyke Path along the road and tracks. Easy running under foot, although I may have walked a couple of the uphill bits on the road. The weather was perfect; dry and slightly misty. The forecast said that the rain would stay away and I was hopeful I’d be fine in my Ron Hills and bright yellow Aldi windshirt.

The running became trickier once I’d moved onto the moor. The path was either a narrow sheep trod or disappeared altogether. I tried to run when I could but I wasn’t able to see the ground beneath the heather and didn’t want to risk twisting or breaking an ankle.  I picked my way through the bog and took the opportunity to run whenever the terrain smoothed itself out.

Whilst the weather was dry, the ground was wet and my shoes and socks were soon soaked. No surprise there. I was running in my Inov-8 Terroc 330s which are my walking shoe of choice, so I’m used to wet feet. What I hadn’t really expected was the effect of the water on my Ron Hills. Wicking up the water from below they became heavy and started sagging round my bum and thighs. I think I might need to buy some running tights. Or do runners use gaiters?

I’d not intended to stop for refreshments until I got back to the community run shop/cafe in Llandegla but when the Ponderosa came into view I couldn’t resist dropping down the hill for a cup of coffee and scone. Usually I park there when I’m on a day walk, so it felt different to drop off the hill – under my own power – then move on again after my snack.

I climbed the hills up to the two masts then picked my way East across the pathed / pathless boggy stuff before rejoining the ODP through Llandegla Forest. My balance has never been good and I noticed that my running style on rough downhill parts seemed to be a cross between a drunk penguin and a Charleston-dancing Flapper. Knees bent, arms down by side, hands stuck out and maintaining a slow centre of gravity.

In total I covered 19km in about 4.5 hours and I was probably running / jogging for about half the time, so not fast but I would have been slow on the boggy bits whether I’d been running or walking.

It was an enjoyable trip. I felt mentally unburdened by carrying a lighter pack and having come out with the plan to move lighter and faster. I’ll definitely do it again but, even if I don’t set out with the intention of running, I think the day helped me think about my approach to walking and that should help me to be a little less constrained by my “essential” gear and clothing.

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Bracken, Bivi and Benchmarks

I’d not camped, or been on anything more than a short local walk, since the TGO Challenge in May and I was looking forward to sleeping outdoors after a tiring walk.  Leaving home at 0800 it took me two and half hours to reach Loggerheads by public transport; it would have taken 45 minutes to drive but I wanted to do a linear walk.

This trip would be an opportunity for me to publish my walk – live – using viewranger and Social Hiking on my mobile phone.  I’ve done this once before, last winter, but there’s a lot I don’t understand about the best way to set it up and use it.  Keen to save weight in my pack, I left my GPS and Silva compass at home.  They are both usually in the hipbelt pocket of my rucksack although the Silva is now only used as a spare in case I lost the mini-Suunto compass I have clipped to my shoulder strap.  Leaving paper maps at home was a step too far for me, but I wrapped OL265 and 256 in a plastic bag and put them away in the pack.

My planned route would take me West to Moel Famau then South down Offa’s Dyke Path to Llandegla, through the forest to Esclusham Mountain – camp – then road walk into Wrexham for my train home in the morning.  I’m never very attentive at the start of a walk and, somewhere in the forest between Loggerheads and Moel Famau, I took a wrong turn.  I thought I had retraced my steps to the point at which I’d gone wrong but the corrected route still went off in the wrong direction.  “Buggerit”, I thought, and I decided to miss out Moel Famau as I wasn’t certain I’d have enough daylight to reach my planned camp anyway and it made more sense to head South as soon as possible.

The weather forecast was accurate.  I was walking in shorts and my Paramo smock and alternated between all zips open, starting to feel too hot, and everything zipped up as the rain beat down.  The showers were brief, though, and my shorts dried quickly between the cloudbursts.

Despite the rain, it was noticeable that there was no water in the streams.  I’d left home with a litre of water and my filter and had planned to camp near to where a stream was marked on the map.  I had an uneasy thought at the back of my mind about what would happen if there was no water at my campsite.  At the public toilets up the road from Bwlch Penbarras I filled my filter bag and had a decent drink.  There was a hut selling drinks at Bwlch Penbarras but I was still optimistic that there was plenty of time to find water, and I felt it was more important to keep going than to stop for a cuppa.

At Garreg Lŵyd, I think, I sat on a bench and attempted to make a cheese wrap.  The wind was so strong I had to put my elbow on the wrap to stop it blowing away while I got the cheese out of my rucksack.  A local man tried to engage me in conversation.  He’d walked up from Llanarmon-yn-Lal for his daily constitutional and was asking all the usual questions about where I’d started from, which route I’d taken and where I was heading to but, battling with my wrap and having to shout over the wind, I wasn’t really in the best frame of mind for small talk. I apologise if I appeared rude.

By the time I reached Llandegla the rain was bouncing.  I passed the signs offering free tea, coffee, biscuits and toilets in the church visitor and exhibition centre.  Although I would have been glad of the shelter, I knew that there would be the risk of me staying there too long; it was now nearly 5pm and I wanted to walk another 5 or 6 miles.

The shop had a café and I toyed with the idea of sitting in the dry and having a cup of tea.  I stood looking at the neatly laid square tables and imagined how nice it would be to be sipping tea and not being rained on…. but I was strong and turned away.  Choosing a can of fizzy pop and a bottle of water from the fridge I exchanged a few words about the weather with the 2 staff (both volunteers, I assume, in this Community run shop), paid for my drinks, then went and sat in the bus shelter.  In the time it took me to drink my pop and eat a snack the skies were blue again but I knew it was wise not to take off my waterproof trousers.

The Llandegla forest went on for a little too long.  Some of the paths were overgrown, meaning I couldn’t walk as fast as I’d hoped, and it was dark and gloomy in places.  It was a relief to eventually see the light breaking through between the trunks.  Turning onto the minor road, I knew there were OS Benchmarks nearby but they were Rivets and I knew I’d have a fruitless search.

The Eglwyseg crags looked good with the light on them but I knew my phone camera wouldn’t do them justice.

Turning East off the road, I knew that my day was nearly at an end.  I would follow the map-marked path – or just head East if the path faded – and find somewhere to camp near to the water course that ran down to Cae-llwyd Reservoir.  I expected the ground to be rough but, with a bivi, all I needed was a small patch of flat, bare ground to sleep on.  The most important thing was to find that stream.  I had just over a litre of water but hadn’t drunk much during the day and I was looking forward to several cups of tea before bed.

The path was not easy to follow at times.  The bracken was high and, in places, I would squeeze through narrow gaps before it opened out again.  However, after one of these squeezes, the path didn’t open out again.  All around me was head-high bracken.  I pushed through thinking I’d just found a small patch of dense growth.  No, it was like that for the next hour.  Occasionally I would be able to see the lay of the land but, as the sun went down behind the hills to the West, it was difficult to see whether I was looking ahead to grass or bracken …. so all I could do was keep going.  I couldn’t see my feet so I made progress via a mix of tiny shuffling steps and the occasional lunge forward when the bracken had tightly grabbed my legs and didn’t want to let me go.

I found the stream; or, rather, a drop into a two foot deep channel showed me where the stream should have been.  Luckily, the thick bracken meant that my fall – rather than my ankle – was broken.

There were a few solo trees amongst the bracken and I figured that there is often bare ground around trees.  I may have to shift some sheep muck – and be on the look-out for ticks – but there should be a bracken-free place for my bivi.  However, the next tree I came to was surrounded by the evil fern…… but did give me a view of a different-coloured patch of ground up ahead.  I found a mossy, heathery spot with just enough room to pitch my Vaude bivi tent.  Laying it on the floor, before pegging it out, I lay on top to check that my head would be slightly uphill [I hate sleeping with my head downhill] then put the poles and pegs in, unrolled my foam mat and took off my wet shoes and trousers.  Moving my rucksack to the head end of my bivi, I was alarmed to see the top pop off my Platypus water bottle.  Carried in the net pocket of my rucksack, it must’ve been dislodged by the malevolent bracken.  Thankfully only a small amount of water was lost ….. but I then became extremely thankful that I’d bought the extra 500ml in the shop.  It would have been an absolute disaster to have no water in the stream and none in my bottle.

I think bivvying is something you either get or you don’t.  I enjoy camping in a tent.  For a multi-day trip, in a variety of good and bad weather, maybe a mix of wild or site-based, alone or in company, a tent is best.  Full protection from the rain, room to change clothes, read maps, wash, check for ticks etc ….. all are better and easier in a tent.  But there’s something I enjoy about the simpler nature of sleeping in a bivi bag.  I can sleep almost anywhere, as this trip proved, and its simplicity means less faffing; keep dry, eat, sleep …. that’s all there is to it.

Before the cloud cover returned it was good to sit and watch the stars appearing as I sipped my tea and ate my no-cook meal. The nearly full moon cast a pleasant light and I always enjoy watching the twinkly lights of the towns down below.

I had an excellent night’s sleep.  I was woken at 0530 by rain on the bivi.  When that shower had passed I tied back the door – with the intention of making breakfast – but quickly zipped it back up a few minutes later when the rain returned.  That’s one of the downsides of this type of side-entry bivi tent.  If the door is unzipped, your sleeping bag has no protection from the rain.  In a simple bivi bag you could put on your waterproof jacket and sit up to make your breakfast.  I only had 5 or 6 miles to walk before my 12 noon train so I went back to sleep.

When I awoke for the second time I was pleased to see patches of sunny blue sky amid the clouds.  There was a strong breeze which I used to dry off my waterproof trousers, draped over my walking poles, as I knew I’d have to wear them for the final push through the heather to the track.

I love bivi breakfasts.  Yes, tent breakfasts are good too, but I know it’s not going to take me long to pack up and get going when I’m in a bivi.  The simplicity of lying in a bag on the ground removes all of the reasons I can make up for why I’m not quite ready to start walking.  In a bivi, all I need to do is shove my sleeping bag into its dry-bag, roll up my mat, put my other dry-bags back in the rucksack and that’s me ready.  The lack of dry, covered space means that I keep everything neat and tidy rather than the kit explosion which surrounds me in my tent.

Thankfully, the Battle with the Bracken was not as intense in the morning.  I soon found a path and, despite it not being on the map and not having a clue where it went, I followed the sheep North East.

I had a half-formed plan to collect Benchmarks on the walk back to Wrexham. However, my list was in my pocket under my waterproof trousers and I couldn’t be bothered to get it out ….. until I just happened to see this mark on a bridge parapet.

SJ28544831 W END S PARA BR

My enthusiasm now rekindled, I fired up OSMaps on my phone and collected 8 BMs on the way back to the station.  I also tutted loudly outside a number of properties which had undergone improvement works and destroyed their precious benchmark.  Why can’t people be happy in their slum dwelling?

I reached the station at 1150 having foregone the search for further benchmarks in order to be certain of catching my midday train….. which was cancelled.  I spent the hour’s unwanted wait drinking coffee and eating most of the food I had left before an uncomfortable journey on a train which was now overfull.  To the Scottish woman who had my smelly wet rucksack pushed up against her face, I can only apologise!

My experiment with viewranger and Social Hiking was partly successful.  Social Hiking worked very well and I am sure I’ll be able to answer my few questions by reading the FAQs.  viewranger, however, has some ginormous spikes on my track and I am not sure how to prevent them from happening again or remove them from the recorded track.  I presume they occurred when my phone did not have a good view of the GPS satellites.  I’ve tried the “remove spikes” option on the phone app but it appears to have made no difference.  More experiments and research to follow.

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A month in the life of an Ordnance Survey Benchmark bagger

A couple of years ago there were stories in the news about young people, and some not so young, stepping in front of traffic and falling off cliffs whilst blindly following their mobile phones in the hunt for Pokémon.  “How foolish!”, I thought.  However, I now find myself wandering the streets, phone in hand, searching – sometimes fruitlessly – not for Pikachu and its chums but for elusive signs of a bygone technology.

I have become mildly obsessed with finding Ordnance Survey Benchmarks.

https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/benchmarks/ explains what benchmarks are:

Ordnance Survey Bench marks (BMs) are survey marks made by Ordnance Survey to record height above Ordnance Datum. If the exact height of one BM is known, the exact height of the next can be found by measuring the difference in heights, through a process of spirit levelling.

Most commonly, the BMs are found on buildings or other semi-permanent features. Although the main network is no longer being updated, the record is still in existence and the markers will remain until they are eventually destroyed by redevelopment or erosion.

I’ve been aware of BMs for a long time. Occasionally I’d spot one and I suppose I did know they had something to do with measuring or surveying or something-or-other but I’d never realised how many there were and what a huge effort it had taken to create and manage the network.

A short evening walk had piqued my interest in how the local area had developed in the last century. Looking at old OS maps on the National Library of Scotland webpage I noticed how many BMs were marked.  I tweeted about my observations and was surprised to receive a reply from the OS telling me about the legacy list of BMs. Good grief! There’s over half a million of them . . . . .or, at least, there were although they’ve not been maintained for 50 years and many have been destroyed.

Not only is there a csv file containing every single Benchmark (apart from the Fundamental ones which are still maintained by the OS and therefore, I presume, a possible source of income) but they are also viewable as an overlay on OSMaps (Tick the Benchmarks box under Places).  Wherever I am, so long as I have a data connection on my phone, I can bring up a local map which shows the position of every benchmark.  Touching the benchmark icon brings up a description of where it is.  You do not need to be a paid subscriber to OSMaps to see the benchmarks overlay or to use the basic mapping or aerial view.

Unfortunately, this overlay is not available on the OSMaps mobile phone app.  I have asked the OS about this but it sounds like it’s a long way down their development priority list.

As a newcomer to the world of benchmark bagging there are plenty to find everywhere I go.  I’ve got into the habit of having a quick look at the map before I go somewhere so that I know which benchmarks I’m likely to be able to find.  The description is usually helpful:

Eg BRICK P E SIDE JACKSON ST 8.6M S ANG WALL

However, there are some parts I still do not understand.  For example, what is the “ANG” referred to in this one?  BLDG NO63 HAMILTON ST NE FACE N ANG

The wall faced NE-ish but I can’t figure out what angle could be referred to.

I’ve learned to look round the corner: FL BR G3955 NO138 PARK RD NORTH SE FACE S ANG

Definitely on Duke Street not Park Road North

…. and I have no idea what “PRODN” means: STO GT P NW SIDE CLAUGHTON RD 3.7M E PRODN NE FACE EMMANUEL CH SE FACE

In the last month I have found and photographed 29 benchmarks.  Most have been cut marks, ie the distinctive arrow head, but there has been 1 flush bracket; the Park Road North / Duke Street one above.  I had always assumed that the flush bracket I saw on a hill-top triangulation pillar, ie trig point, was a key part of the trig point.  In my ignorance I had no understanding of the different purpose of a trig pillar (surface distance) and a benchmark (height above Ordnance Datum / sea level).  All those photographs I’ve taken of trig pillar flush brackets over the years can now go into my Benchmark collection!

Ah, yes, the collection…….

What I would like to do is catalogue every benchmark I have found.  It needs to be ticked off a list and have the date of discovery noted along with a photograph and a description of the condition of the mark.  Of course, it is equally important to record the ones which I’ve looked for but couldn’t find…… and there have probably been over 20 over those, so far.

I’ve dallied with a few different ways of recording my finds.  An online map would be perfect but I’ve not yet found a way that seems to do the job in the way I would like.  I am geotagging my photos, so it should be possible to put them on a public online map, but I’ve not yet found the best way to do it.

I could also upload them to Geograph but I’d like a simple way to only display the BM photos on a map and I’m not sure if Geograph can do this.

Of course, no hobby – however strange – is ever new on the internet and I know there are communities of BM-baggers keeping and publishing their own records.  I’ll probably contribute to https://www.bench-marks.org.uk/.

You may have noticed that I’m quite passionate about these weird wall-scratchings.  People collect all sorts of odd things so I mustn’t beat myself up over being a Benchmark Bagger.  It doesn’t hurt anyone and it gives me a good excuse to go for a walk at lunchtime or in the evening and see what I can find.  I’m also enjoying looking at old OS maps to work out where a missing BM used to be.

It’s free, it’s harmless and it’s interesting …. and if you’re reading about benchmarks for the first time I bet you’ll have to have a little peak at OSMaps to see where your nearest one is.

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