As requested by a host of loyal Twitter followers (OK, follower) here’s a quick write-up of my recent overnight camp near the Llandegla forest.
A combination of work, injury and life-in-general prevented me from getting out and about for most of 2022. My last backpacking trip was in April and, while I was desperate for a night under canvas, I knew I had to limit my ambition and do something well within my abilities.
A chest infection led me to the common sense decision to postpone my planned New Year overnighter for a week which meant my cough was unlikely to keep me awake all night and I’d have a full moon if the sky stayed clear.
My routine choices for a quick overnight camp are 1) Train to Wrexham and walk out to Esclusham Mountain via Bersham, or 2) Drive to Llandega and walk down towards Ruabon Mountain down the Offa’s Dyke Path. I plumped for 2.
Oh! The joy of packing a rucksack! It is simultaneously the most difficult and the most fun activity. At first I was taking my Karrimor Jaguar 65 litre rucksack, my Hilleberg Akto tent, my Tundra Pure -10 sleeping bag, and cooking on gas. By the time I left the house, I had my Osprey Exos 46 litre rucksack, my TN Laser Competition tent, my Rab Quantum 400 sleeping bag, and was cooking on meths. (I actually took gas and meths as I wanted to finish off a gas cannister and Speedster meths stove takes little space as a spare).
The Walk in
Parking in Llandegla, I walked down the hill and followed the Offa’s Dyke Path. Crossing a boggy field, before I reached the forest, I stopped to reflect on my choice of footwear: trail shoes and Goretex over-socks over my Darn Toughs.. Very comfortable and I stayed dry shod.
Last time I’d been here, a year ago, there was snow on the ground and it wasn’t long before I encountered some lingering patches of ice in the shadow of trees. I knew there was a bench that I usually sit on after a bit of a climb but, when I reached it, it was wet and slimy and I didn’t fancy getting a wet bum so I didn’t sit down. There’s a metal flask cup on that bench, if anyone is wondering where they left theirs. Also, the gatepost has had a mishap and is lying on the floor.
I’ve walked this way several times before and I enjoyed remembering little details of previous walks; like pondering which way to go and suddenly spotting the acorn waymarker sideways on a plank bridge, or bumping into that young couple who appeared to be having a blazing row – maybe because they hadn’t spotted the acorn marker. They weren’t there this time; I hope they’re OK.
I saw a few Mountain Bikers in the forest but no other walkers.
On emerging from the south of the forest I had intended to head N / NE towards Esclusham Mountain and find somewhere to pitch near Aber Sychnant but …. I couldn’t be bothered. Despite being a grouse moor, I knew I’d be able to find somewhere to camp so I headed slightly uphill and to the SW, towards the two radio masts, and found a flat, not-too-boggy patch of short heather. It had either been burned or cut – cut, I think – and I moved some loose or sharp twigs then put my tent up. It was not long past 4pm.
Dinner (Should actually be called Tea but I know some of you are not from round here)
After unpacking everything and making my bed, I made myself a mug of fruity tea in my thermal mug. In summer I use a Ti mug; in winter it’s my plastic thermal one with a lid. It makes all the difference to a successful winter camp as it keeps my drink warm for hours.
I was disappointed to see I’d brought a packet of couscous with me as, on the walk in, I’d been looking forward to pasta! Anyway, it wasn’t too bad.
The Schoolgirl Error
As I knew that I would be camping by a river, I did not need to carry in a lot of water. But I didn’t camp by a river and, after my tea, I suddenly realised I only had half a litre left and it was only about 6pm with 14 hours of darkness ahead. I had plenty of fuel and teabags ….. but no water! I was quite cross with myself. I weighed up my options: I could be frugal and eke out the water, but that would be a miserable way to spend the night. Or, I could go and get some water ……… and get lost in the dark and lose my tent and get hypothermia. Hm?! The moon was rising and there was some light but my tent wasn’t easy to see from afar, or even quite close up.
I then had a bright idea. I wasn’t that far from the gate out of the forest and it shouldn’t be too difficult to retrace my steps, especially if I recorded my grid ref before I went wandering. Also, I was carrying a flashing red light which I attach to my pack when I’m walking on the road in the winter. So, with head torch on my head and a flashing red light on top of the tent, I went thrashing through the heather. Of course, in the morning there was a much easier route but I couldn’t see it at the time. If I’d been paying attention I would have noticed the fast flowing water near the gate on my walk in, but I hadn’t been. I found a boggy pool and filled my spare bottle from that. Readers who are unfamiliar with water pools on moors may now be retching in horror, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
The flashing red light gave me a simple target to aim for as I carried my precious liquid back to the tent. I soon had it squeezed through my filter and had another brew on the go.
The interminable darkness
I quite enjoy the dark. It’s never as dark as you first thought, when you get used to it. You can see things in the dark in the countryside that you don’t see in towns or suburbs, like twinkly things in the sky. I’m also quite comfortable with my own company, especially when I have BBC Radio 4 to listen to, so I wasn’t too concerned at the long, long night ahead. Once I’d fetched the water I had a little kip. Waking a couple of hours later I made another hot drink and ate some of the pannetone I’d bought in the post-Xmas sale. The moon was now high in the sky and bright. The clouds were flowing across it but, even when covered, it lit my tent enough for me to see where things where but not quite enough to do anything.
A couple of times I did have a worrying “what if…..” thought. What if I suddenly had to pack up and leave? I couldn’t turn on The Big Light; it was just the Moon, my head torch and my tea light candle lantern. I put the thoughts aside and listened to the Westminster Hour.
My plan had been to get up early, have breakfast and head back to the car. Yeah, right! I think I did wake at about 0330 but went back to sleep and it was 0750 when I next awoke; I think it was the slowly increasing daylight which stirred me. Breakfast was the rest of the panettone and more fruity tea. I’d brought porridge but the bread was just fine.
I don’t know how people manage to pack quickly. It takes me hours. I have a routine and don’t feel disorganised; it just takes a long time and mustn’t be rushed. It was about 0930 when I was all packed up, so not too bad, I guess. The sun was now starting to cast warm rays and I did a little happy dance [Editor: You might want to cut this bit; makes you sound weird.]
A Shocking Discovery
I was cocky enough not to use a map to walk back to Llandegla. Sometimes I looked back at where I’d just come from to help picture how it had looked on the walk in so I could mentally check I was going the right way. There was one point when I thought “Hm? I did not cross a field like this. This looks different”. I could see the little bridge I needed but this wasn’t where I should be. Like an idiot I kept going, assuming that I would end up in the right place even if I went a different way. Looking back, up the slope, I could now see where I had gone wrong. There’d been a stile next to the gate; I’d gone left through the gate, not right through the stile.
Continuing down the hill I reached the field boundary; a fence, most probably electric. Hm? Are these ropey bits electrified too, I wondered, Yarooo!! Yes. Crikey. I’m sure I felt a little flicker in my heart. No option to cross the fence there, then. I went back up the hill and over a wooden section in the fence.
A Welcome Retreat
Back in Llandegla, I dropped my rucksack off at the car and paid a visit to the church. I’ve noticed signs before advertising that walkers are welcome and that they have a toilet, but this was the first time I’ve been in. At the back of the church there is a little kitchen and a big table with chairs. They invite ODP walkers to help themselves to a drink or to use the table to eat their packed lunch. I made use of the toilet and read the information boards about the local area and wildlife. I dropped a pound coin in the donations box on my way out.
Lunch and home
The village shop & cafe is volunteer run, I think, and I always make a point of supporting it. I called in for a cup of tea and some crisps to eat with the butties I’d brought from home which I ate in the car. I was home by 1pm, less than 24 hours after I’d left home. A short trip, no real excitement but just what I needed.