Mobile Solar Chargers 6W Compact USB 5V/1A folding solar panel charger – First look

I go into the mountains to get away from the daily humdrum of work, decisions, and technology.  What could be more relaxing than camping under the stars miles from civilisation? When I first starting wild camping, I remember a mild panic when I switched on my phone and had no signal.  Nowadays I relish that moment ….. apart from the times when I’d quite like to share my adventure on twitter or maybe check a train time for my journey home.  On those occasions the “no signal” panic is replaced with a “flat battery” anxiety so I’ve finally decided to buy myself a solar charger in the hope that I can make use of natural light to keep my phone topped up.

I’ve done a bit of reseach and sought other outdoor folks’ opinions.  Most people reckon solar chargers are a waste of time in the UK for most of the year.  We just don’t have enough bright sun to justify the weight and faff of the solar charger.  I’d be better getting a decent capacity external battery pack and recharging it whenever I can find a wall socket.

However, a solar charger has become an itch I need to scratch.  If I set my expectations low but manage to get a small amount of charge when I’m basking in the late afternoon sun as I walk and camp my way across Scotland, I’ll be very pleased.  I’ve been telling myself that a few extra percent of battery is better than none (but I really hope that I’ll get more than that).

Please note that I bought this product with my own money and have no connection with the vendor.

The solar panel I decided to get is the Mobile Solar Chargers 6W Compact USB 5V/1A folding solar panel charger. I bought this one, rather than the equivalent non-folding version, as it appeared more convenient to pack away. I would have liked to be able to attach the solar panel to my rucksack – which will not be easy with the one I have bought – but it will be easier to protect in my rucksack on the more frequent occasions when I am not using it.

I have copied this decription and specification from the manufacturer’s website:

An efficient and particularly compact 4-panel lightweight solar charger with a drawstring carry bag. This solar phone charger is ideal for travel as a backup or to charge power banks.

The 1A/5v DC output will charge an iPhone 5 in a few hours of bright sunlight. The USB solar controller will automatically protect against over or undercharge and can be used for any 5v USB charged device, including Bluetooth and Mp3 players.

Product Features

  • USB Solar Controller
  • Overcharge/Discharge/Auto Start
  • Universal USB output port
  • Very compact & lightweight.
  • PU matt leather cover
  • Safe to take on aircraft
  • Pull string carry bag
Technical Specifications

  • High efficiency 22% semi-flexible panel
  • Solar peak power : 5v/6W
  • Peak Output  : 5v/1A
  • Size Folded : 155 x 85 x 30mm
  • Size Open :  155 x 430 x 20mm
  • Weight : 220g

Folded up, the panel looks like this:

It comes with a drawstring bag (pictured) which is a nice size to also hold a power bank and cable.

Unfolded it looks like this:

There is a red LED which lights up when the charger is converting solar energy into electricity …..

…… although I’m not sure whether the brightness of the light is any indicator of how likely it is that there’ll be enough power to charge a device.  I reckon just looking at how bright the sunshine is would give a a better clue.

There is one USB socket which is used to connect the solar charger to your device.  No cable was supplied.

Buying a solar charger in Northern England in mid-March might not be the smartest move.   The sky is grey with only occasional sunny intervals.  Apparently I should be able to use a solar panel on an overcast day but my initial testing would be better carried out on a sunny day.  However, I thought I’d see what happened in these less than ideal conditions.  Initial results were not good!

This is what the sky looked like:

The camera has made it look even gloomier than it was, but you get the idea.

My phone was at 94% charged but, about 30 seconds after I plugged it into the solar charger, it dropped to 93%. This may have just been coincidence and not related to the charger.  As soon as I connected the phone to the solar charger the phone beeped and showed that it was charging.  I left the phone and solar panel in the brightest part of the garden for 30 minutes and tried to act nonchalent. A watched phone never charges.

During the 30 minutes, the phone charge dropped to 92%. Hm?  I am not sure how quickly my phone would normally drop 1% of charge but this was not the result I wanted.  The phone was not actively doing anything (and I had told it to kill off any inactive apps) but the trickle from the solar charger was not enough to prevent a drop in battery charge, let alone top it up.

So, slightly disheartened, I packed up and came back inside.  It is now raining but there is the promise of sunny intervals tomorrow.  I shall continue my not-very-scientific experiments when the sun is shining.

21 hours later…..

As soon as I woke up in the morning I looked out of the window.  The sky was mainly cloudy but there was a large patch of pale blue and the light seemed brighter than yesterday.  However, by the time I’d made my coffee the full cloud cover was back.  I tried a 15 minute solar charging session but I felt I was wasting my time so I gave up.

An hour or so later I could see that the sun was trying to break through the cloud.  The sky now looked like this …..

…. still a lot of cloud but at least it was possible to see the sun through the cloud and – every so often – the sun was bright enough to cast shadows for a couple of minutes.

My phone was at 75% charged at the start of the experiment.  After approximately 15 minutes it had gone up to 76%.  I did a little jig!  I went in for another cup of coffee but couldn’t bear the anticipation so finished my drink while watching my phone.  After another 15 minutes it went up to 77%.  Hurrah!

2% in 30 minutes on a cloudy day.  Do I regard that as good?  Yes, for now, I do.  I now know that the solar charger does charge my phone in conditions which are far from ideal.  The next stage of the testing will be to see if charging is faster on a sunny day; to charge my phone when it is switched off; to see if it works indoors through a window; and to repeat the tests with my power bank.  I also, of course, want to use the solar charger whilst out in the wilds.  I will blog my experiences when I’ve used the solar charger in real life situations.


Posted in Camping, Gear | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Anglezarke Amble Challenge Walk – 2018

I’ve been a member of the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) for a few years.  I joined after JJ invited me on a couple of walks, both Social and “Challenge”.  The Challenge walks typically have a short and long course with mandatory checkpoints, must be completed within a time limit and – best of all – have food at the end and at one or two of the checkpoints.

I would love to go out for a walk far more often than I do but always seem to have something else on.  Sometimes the only way for me to make time to do something is to put it in the diary months in advance, so that’s what I did with the Anglezarke Amble.  It wasn’t possible to enter on the day so I committed to sending off the form and that was that ….. I was doing it.

Rivington church hall was bustling with walkers when I arrived.  Never at my best in the morning – and suffering from steamed up glasses – I found the crowds a little stressful at first but once I’d got my entry number and managed to dress myself [Note to self: buy some easier-to-put-on gaiters] I had plenty of time for a cup of tea and some toast.

The walking contingent set off at 8am – with the runners due to follow at 9am – and I blindly followed the throng.  I had printed out the route sheet – which gives turn-by-turn directions – but the sleet deterred me from removing my gloves to open my pocket so my plan was to make sure I stayed in sight of someone who looked like they knew where they were going at all times.  This short-sighted approach to navigation, coupled with the literally short-sighted visibility due to low cloud, meant that I had very little idea where I was all day!  I had the route sheet, I had the map, I had various electronic means of determining where I was.  Did I use any of these useful tools? No (until I got a wee bit lost, but we’ll come to that later).

The first viewpoint on the route was Rivington Pike.  Here was the view looking back down from the Pike:It was cold and windy at the top so I didn’t hang around.  Following a cluster of waterproofs I headed towards the Winter Hill radio/TV masts.  I only knew that’s where we were going because I’d read the route in advance; I couldn’t actually see the masts even though, on a clear day, they can be seen for miles around.  Up close, I could see a big block of concrete with a steel cable which must have been one of the tether lines to stop a mast blowing over but I couldn’t see the mast itself due to the thick clag.

There was a checkpoint on the road by the masts so I gave my number and kept walking.  I then developed a niggling doubt about whether that was the first checkpoint or the second.  Had there been a checkpoint up at the Pike?  Should I check my route sheet?  Nah, too wet and miserable to stop.  I’ll own up to my possible mistake at the next checkpoint.  (It turned out that I hadn’t missed one).

The Amble is a good mix of moorland, tracks, paths and sections of road.  After a rough section it was a relief to walk on the road, although ice was an ever-present threat and many of the roads were covered in deep slushy puddles.  My boots were soon soaked.

I’d been overtaken by the first male runner at 0940 and the first female at 0950.  I enjoyed watching the runners with their lightweight gear and skimpy clothes (in comparison to me, cocoooned in multiple layers).  I’d like to do some fell running but I don’t think the West Pennine moors in February would be a good place to start.

The clag lifted as the day progressed.  It rained all day but at least I could see that this was a place I’d like to come back to.  I like bleak moorland.

I reached the cut-off checkpoint for the long route at 1040.  The official cut-off time was 1030 but they did seem to be letting people through.  Having chosen the short route I hadn’t been rushing but I do doubt if I could complete the longer Challenge events in the time available; I just don’t walk fast enough.

By the ruins of Hollinshead Hall I found myself alone.  I’d seen some walkers go down the hill and up to the right but, by the time I got down to where the path split, I could no longer see them and there was nobody catching me up who I could wait for.  I took the right hand turn and went up through the trees but there was a choice of paths and I could so easily have wandered off in the wrong direction.  Worried that I might miss the refreshments stop, I took shelter in the trees and checked my route sheet.  Although I’d not been paying attention to whether I’d passed through two sets of gateposts – the second pair being taller – I did seem to be going the right way and I was glad to soon have a wall on my right.  My relief was great when I saw the checkpoint with the refreshments gazebo!

The refreshments at the 9.6 mile checkpoint (at about 1140 for me) were very welcome.  Sandwiches, jaffa cakes, cake and tea.  I’d been carrying food and drink but this wasn’t a Shall We Stop For A Picnic sort of day.  Before setting off again I changed my gloves.  In the run-up to the event the weather forecast had promised persistent rain so I had brought spare gloves with me.  My first set of “waterproof” gloves were now completely sodden and – although still keeping my hands warm by blocking the wind – did not feel very nice.  I think in driving rain the water runs down my sleeve into the glove.  I know I could tuck the glove inside my sleeve but that is less convenient when I need to replace the gloves after putting my phone/camera back in my pocket.

I checked with the marshals that I was leaving the checkpoint in the right direction.  They gave me a very clear description of where I needed to go but, 2 minutes later, I was confused about whether I needed to go left or right.  I checked the route description but that didn’t help and it said I should go through a “gate marked Hollinshead Hall” but my gate wasn’t marked at all.  I wasn’t sure whether I’d gone far enough – and the route sheet very rarely mentioned distances – so I waited until a runner came along then followed him.  It was handy that most people had their entry numbers tied to their rucksack, so I knew I was following someone on the Amble and not a random walker/runner.

Great Hill was a trial.  Bog – sometimes frozen, sometimes not – and driving rain which was determined to fill my left ear……

…. but I knew there was another refreshment stop not far after the hill and that thought kept me going.

The White Coppice cricket pavilion refreshment stop was wonderful.  Lumps of cheese, cold boiled spuds, cherry tomatoes, and the most delicious parkin.  Oh, and hot tea of course.  Better still, I could have my first sit-down of the walk and ponder whether to walk the last 3 or 4 miles or call a taxi (just kiddin’).

The last few miles were mainly on roads and seemed to wend their way around a number of reservoirs – Anglezarke, High Bullough and Yarrow.  If the weather had been better, and my feet not so wet and achy, I’d have got the map out and worked out exactly where I was.  Making a mental note to come back to this area in better weather I yomped along the roads and tracks trying to keep the woman in the bright yellow mac in sight.  My navigational laziness really was astounding on this walk!

I arrived back at the church hall at 3:13pm so it had taken me 7 hours and 13 minutes to walk 16 miles.  Not fast for some people but quite a pace for me.  I would normally plan for no more than 2mph on a mixed terrain walk like this.

I had a bowl of delicious veggie stew with red cabbage and beetroot, followed by cold rice pudding and tinned peaches and a cup of tea.  The room was full of people who’d worked hard for their dinner ….. although many were runners who’d done the 24 miles and looked like they could do it all again.  Strange folk!

Thanks to the West Lancashire section of the LDWA who organised the event.  Although (or maybe because) it really was a Challenge, I’m looking forward to doing the walk again….. hopefully in better weather.


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A snowy tarp camp in the Peak District

I do like camping in cold weather.  With the right clothes, gear and shelter a wintry camp is very refreshing and much more pleasant than camping in the damp weather we get so much of in the later months of the year. Keeping an eye on the weather forecasts I noticed that Glossop was the coldest place I could easily get to on public transport for an overnight camp so I sketched out a rough route, checked out potential camp sites in a few grid squares on Geograph and packed my rucksack.

This was easier said than done as I’ve not got round to buying the new larger rucksack I’ve been pondering for several years. My largest pack is my 65 litre Karrimor Jaguar which I must’ve had for 20 odd years. It’s still a smashing pack but has none of the little extras I now want such as hip-belt pockets, compression straps and stretchy external pouches for stuffing my wet waterproof trousers in.  I decided to take my Osprey Exos 46, but with a full winter load it was a heavy and slightly lumpy beast which weighed me down on the slow walk to the station. Still recovering from a chest infection which had laid me low for most of December, this would be the first exercise I’d had for weeks so I planned to take it easy with no rushing.

It was sleeting in Glossop and I took advantage of the station waiting room to get properly dressed before heading outside.  Unusually for me I was wearing boots, rather than trail shoes, and my full-length gaiters rather than the ankle gaiters I normally wear…. if at all.  I’d also brought my ski-gloves which turned out to be the best bit of kit of the whole trip. Waterproof and warm but not tight or too thick, they kept my hands toasty and also warmed them up again quickly whenever I’d had to take them off for any reason.

One objective of this trip was to see if I could get Social Hiking to show where I had walked. I’d set up viewranger on my mobile phone and thought I’d done all the preparation I needed to get my phone’s GPS to tell viewranger where I was, then for viewranger to tell Social Hiking.  However, this was the first time I’d tried to use it for real and I spent the first mile or so stopping every couple of minutes to fiddle with the settings. After a while a couple of twitter followers confirmed that they could “see” me, so I stopped playing with gadgets and started to enjoy the walk.  I’ve not yet studied exactly what was appearing on the Social Hiking map but it was a good start and I’m sure I can fine tune it on later walks.  It’s just such a shame that Social Hiking will be closing down after the May 2018 TGO Challenge.

My plan was to walk a circular walk of around 19km along Doctor’s Gate, then North up the Pennine Way, look for somewhere to camp near Bleaklow Head then return to Glossop via Torside Castle and Blackshaw Farm in the morning; but I would be flexible.

The sleet which had welcomed me to Glossop had now blown over and it was a beautiful day to be out walking.

Blue skies and the promise of snow to camp in

Blue skies and the promise of snow to camp in

The snow cover was improving as I headed East and I was hopeful for a perfect camp site.

There’s snow where I’m heading

I don’t do much walking in the Peak District and don’t really know my way round but the path was easy to follow.  I looked at my various paper and electronic maps from time-to-time but I knew that the Pennine Way would be easy to find and I just had to keep going until I found it….

The Pennine Way approach to Bleaklow

Looking South I could see the busy A57 Snake Pass through the mist. There were quite a few well-wrapped-up family groups down by the road, and several walkers were now coming off the hill, presumably returning to their cars on the road.  It was now the time of day when most people are heading home and not going up a snowy hill with less than an hour’s daylight left.

At first the Pennine Way was wide and straight but in places it opened out and it wasn’t immediately clear, with snow on the ground, which was the right way to go but I just kept going North and kept an eye out to the East for somewhere to camp.  I was conscious that Bleaklow Head was still over a kilometre away, my energy was flagging, and it would be better to find somewhere to camp before I lost the light.  I saw a likely pitch at Hern Clough so carefully picked my way down the snowy hill to the stream.  I had a small nagging voice in my head warning me about having to climb back up the hill in the morning but the voice saying I needed to camp and get a brew on was louder.

I found a flat bit of ground next to the stream. This would be perfect.

Although the photo doesn’t show it the half-moon was just out of shot. The partial cloud could mean an icy night or more snow.

For a close-to-nature experience I’d brought my Alpkit Rig 7 Tarp. I’ve used it a few times before, including on a winter camp, and am getting better at making practial shelters which shed the weather whilst giving me the freedom of an open shelter. The Rig 7 is large (2.4m x 2.8m) so, for one person, there is plenty of space to sleep, cook and stow all of your gear.  I have found that a squashed toad configuration works best when I’ve got my two walking poles, although I would probably use some of the other lifters to create more space if I had something else to tie my lines to.

Pitching the closed end into the wind I made my bijou residence then went and filled my water bottle.  I really didn’t want to risk falling into the stream in the dark so I made sure I had plenty of water to get me through a comfortable night with plenty of food and hot drinks.

I did slightly alter the pegging after taking this photo but – before the snow fell – I had plenty of height at the foot end of the tarp

Tucked up in my Tundra Pure -10 bag on my Exped Downmat I was soon warm while I made my first cup of coffee.   I sipped my coffee, propped up on my elbow, whilst enjoying the nothingness of where I was.  I started to doze off but noticed that I was beginning to feel cold… then realised I’d made the schoolgirl error of leaving my damp socks on. I took them off and immediately felt warmer.

Dinner was pasta by candlelight from my tealight candle lantern.  The bright moon reflecting off the snow meant that I didn’t really need a lantern but the candle added to the atmosphere.

After another snooze it was time for pudding.  Custard and Pecan Slice.  Yum!

Home comforts in this photo: Custard, Pecan Slice, secondary double glazing film groundsheet, laminate flooring underlay “carpet”, foam sitmat, , camper van insulation pot cosy, Exped Downmat, Radio 4 LW.

After dinner I drifted in and out of sleep whilst listening to the radio. Eventually it was time to properly go to bed so I made sure everything was where I could find it in the night, eg headtorch and spare pegs in case the wind got up, then went to sleep.

My bladder woke me up at about 1 am. I’d covered my boots with my gaiters to stop them from freezing but this hadn’t worked and they were almost too stiff to put on. Returning to my sleeping bag I put the boots, in a binbag, inside with me.  Slightly uncomfortable whenever I wanted to roll over but better than having no usable footwear in the  morning.

At about 5am I woke again. My face was being sprayed with cold water.  It was snowing and – no surprise – the wind had changed direction.  I shuffled towards the back of the tarp but this wasn’t going to be enough; the snow was blowing in and covering my mat and pillow.   I lowered the walking pole and also rigged up an extra line and peg which closed up the door a little.  The quick fix completed, I moved back to my mattress and heard a very distressing hiss.  No….??  Not the mattress!  Phew, no, my pillow was completely flat but the mattress was fine.  I couldn’t find what was wrong but I looked at it when I got home and found that one of the pressed seams [this is a cheap inflatable pillow] had split.  So relieved that my mattress was OK, I had a quick scout around for anything sharp then went back to sleep.

I woke for good at 8 o’clock and could now see how much snow had fallen.  There was a light covering over the footprints I’d made, and quite a bit of snow on the tarp.

I brushed the snow off the tarp and got back inside for breakfast.  It then started snowing quite heavily.

After about an hour, my walking pole handle was completely covered and all of the footprints and disturbances I’d made in the snow were covered and evened out.  It was very pretty but also a little disconcerting as I realised the climb back up the snowy hill could be a little more demanding than I’d expected.

Lying in my sleeping bag eating my breakfast I developed a whole-body-wriggle which flicked the settling snow off the tarp. It was falling heavily though and I could see the patterns against the light.

Snow settling on the outside of the tarp

I hoped there’d be a snow-free window in which I could pack up.  I put things away, as best I could, before deciding it was now or never; boots on and get out there.

Despite having wiped most of the snow off the tarp earlier, it was now covered again.

Home Sweet Home

To be sure I didn’t cover any of my gear in snow, I rolled the tarp to tip the snow off at one end and was surprised at how heavy it was.

All packed up, I checked the map and confirmed I needed to go West along the stream and would soon rejoin the Pennine Way. I’d pretty much decided I would retrace my steps rather than go up to Bleaklow. The visibility was not good and I’d done what I came to do.  I’d camped in the snow and eaten my custard, so now I could go home via an easy route if necessary.

The climb up the hill was as expected.  It was difficult to tell how thick the snow cover was so I gingerly prodded the ground with my poles and spent a fair bit of time crawling on my hands and knees to get out of the drifts.  After a hard, slow climb, Viewranger and OS Maps both told me I was on the Pennine Way but there was absolutely no sign on the ground of anything I recognised as a path.

I don’t know what I expected but I suppose I think of the PW as a hideous motorway that can be seen from space.  Maybe that’s true in the summer but not when it’s covered in snow.  I made several attempts to find “the path” then gave up and decided the best thing to do was to walk on a Southerly bearing – yep, good old compass – and I knew I’d eventually reach the Snake Pass.

My phone’s camera has probably tried to correct the white balance in this photo but I think it gives an good idea of what I could see in all directions.  B*gger all.

I was not scared or worried but do admit to wishing I was off the hill and could see where I was.  It didn’t really matter exactly where I was but it wasn’t much fun taking a few steps South then chcking my compass and taking a few more steps.  The annoying thing was that I knew I was very close to the Pennine Way but couldn’t find it!

I heard some voices and looked to my left to see two grey figures through the fog.  Whilst processing whether these were people or some sort of mythical Peak District snow monster, one of them shouted across to me, “Are you alright?”.  I confirmed that they were on the path and they waited there while I slowly made my way over.   They said that if I followed their footprints I’d make my way back down to Doctor’s Gate and the Snake Pass.  Although I think I showed my gratitude, I’m not sure I actually said Thank You ….. so, if you’re reading, thank you very much.

At the point where I needed to choose whether to take the Doctor’s Gate path or follow the Snake Pass road, I initially decided to follow the path but soon found I couldn’t be sure I was going the right way.  I think my confidence had suffered a little whilst wandering round in the mist and I really didn’t feel up to the challenge of having to navigate.  I guessed that the Snake Pass would be closed to traffic, so it wouldn’t be too bad a walk into Glossop, and this would be the quickest, easiest way to get to a cafe!

There were a couple of cars parked on the road, and a Land Rover towing a van.  There wasn’t much traffic so I assumed that the road was, indeed, closed.  When that road is “closed” there is no barrier or gate so people can just drive past the Closed sign if they want to.

I reckon that about 30 cars passed me on the walk to Glossop.  Some were 4x4s being driven slowly and carefully by drivers who gave me plenty of space.  Others were Audis and BMWs.

In Glossop I checked the sign. Hm? Thought so!

At the station it was a relief to take off my gloves, hat and gaiters and comb my hair before sitting in the warm cafe with a cheese toasty, muffin and large coffee.  I enjoyed my camp but the morning’s exertions had worn me out and I’d earned a treat.


Posted in Camping, Gear, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Next year’s TGO Challenge Trip Report

We are on the cusp of the high season for TGO Challenge route-planning so, like addicts around the world, I’m surrounded by maps and gear spreadsheets.  It’s a time-consuming task but bound by a deadline …. which means I will eventually say “Oh that’ll do” and send it in for vetting.  Something which is not time-bound is writing up my adventures on my blog and I seem to leave it later and later each year. To cut down on the delay I’ve decided to write next year’s now. I mean, the same stuff always happens so why not get it done while I’ve got a few spare minutes. Assuming that I get a place [fingers crossed], I suspect my trip will go something like this.

Travel to the start

The journey to my start point takes 3 buses and 4 trains over 13 hours.  I’d chosen the Quiet Carriage as I enjoy sitting in the midst of a crisp crunching convention whilst hoping that none of the drunk buffoons stand on my rucksack clips.

Arriving on the Friday night I check the signing out list and notice that out of the 65 people setting out from here, only 5 very strange people and 1 person who has blocked me on twitter are still to sign out.  I spend the evening hiding in my tent.

Day 1

A beautiful clear morning, I pack up early then unpack and repack when I realise the only place my lost mobile phone could possibly be is in my sleeping bag at the bottom of my pack.  It starts raining while I’m repacking.

Day 2

My shoulders are starting to hurt but I’m already out in the wilds and I’m loving it.  Have identified a perfect spot for the tent on the map.  When I get there, I spend 20 minutes trying to find a flat, rock-free, tent-sized space in a midgy swamp. Too knackered to go on, I filter some water from the film-covered quagmire.

Day 3

After 5 minutes walking I find an acre of flat, dry, sheep-nibbled grass next to a babbling brook with Unicorns gambolling in the neighbouring meadow.  I try to laugh sardonically but, instead, wince at the pain in my knee.

Later I phone Control. “Yeah, having a GREAT time.  Best pitches ever. Could be my best crossing yet.”

Day 4

My first proper hill day.  I curse every step of the climb then wander round giggling at the sheer glory of being up there. How lucky am I!

Still drunk on the majesty of the hilly wild places, I slip on some wet grass and get a huge bruise on my backside which I can only see by taking a photograph. Note to self: filter photographs before blogging.

Day 5

A bit of a trek on the road along the loch today but I think about the history of the place.  I see only 2 or 3 people all day but there are dozens in the Kirkyard.

I enter civilisation for a resupply, a shower and a bed.  Have a coffee after my dinner and can’t get to sleep til 3 in the morning.

Day 6

Walking through the pleasant broadleaf woods I see a beautiful deer only metres away.  I take a perfect photograph of the fence between us.


Emerging from the forest I call in at the Visitor Centre and a complete stranger says “You’re on the Challenge, aren’t you!?  You’ll be needing these!” whilst giving me a Mars Bar and a can of pop.

Day 7

A bleak, wild day just how I like it.  The peat is tiring to cross – up and down all day – but this is possibly my best day yet.  In warm sun but with a gentle breeze I’ve kept dry and had a great time.  I see a perfect pitch just on the other side of a small burn.  I leap across, choose the wrong bit of bank to land on and end up with stinky wet shoes and socks just as the sun drops behind the mountain.

Day 8

A wet day.  A VERY wet day.  My Paramo keeps me warm and wet while I toil up the hill.  I was looking forward to today but the weather was supposed to be better.  They say the views are wonderful from up here.


After a failed attempt at wading across the thigh-deep river I go the long way round and reach the bothy at just after 8pm.  The bothy book reports last night’s merriment around the roaring fire.  I hang my dripping clothes over the bare fireplace whilst attempting to wring out some logs.

Day 9

I’ve got a room booked tonight and after three tough days I am looking forward to a shower and Big Eats.  I trample my clothes clean in the shower-tray then go downstairs for my tea.

I have garlic bread as a starter; Veggie lasagne with boiled spuds, veg and an extra portion of chips for my main; cheesecake with double-cream for afters; then a bag of nuts with my beer while I catch up with twitter on the pub wifi.  Later, in bed, I find some cheese in my rucksack and eat it with some smashed up oatcakes.

Day 10

I get up early having had a terrible night’s sleep with indigestion.  I go down for an early breakfast and find 4 Challengers already tucking in.  We know we’ve got the hard part out of the way.  You can nearly see the coast from here.  They tell me about 2 tearooms. Wise people; I note their advice.

I’m now joining up farm tracks and a few lone hills.  The wilderness is behind me but I find a stealthy pitch near the crematorium  and have 3 cups of tea as I know I can spare the gas now.

Day 11

More roads today.  I sing One Man Went to Mow to keep me occupied.  Then Ten Green Bottles.

Glimpsing behind me, I see someone with a huge pack catching me up.  I can’t quite see who it is.  This could go one of several ways.  I start practising my excuses: “No, you go on; you’re obviously much fitter than me”.   He’s getting closer. Yay!  No need for excuses….. we last met in the café two years ago and it’s great to see him again.  The miles fly by as we plod up the road.

Day 12

I can’t get lost today. Only 11 km of quiet roads to the coast.  I get lost and have to walk along the verge of the A92 for 3km…… twice.

The bus comes at last and, at each stop, more weather-beaten tramps climb aboard.  It’s so nice to be amongst my own folk.

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Minera / Esclusham bivi

When considering how to open this blog post, I had a quick look back at a previous post and realised I was going to say exactly the same thing: love sleeping outside ….. very busy …. no time for long trips … quick bivi will have to do blah blah blah…. so, if you’re strapped for time, just re-read Micro tarp bivi on Minera Mountain; and loads of kit observations and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I went and what I did.

Packing my rucksack had been a complete faff.   I settled on the fourth one I’d tried.  I have no idea how I managed to fit everything into a 22 litre pack a few years ago.  I must now be taking all sorts of stuff I don’t need, although the Osprey Exos 46 did feel really good with a lighter-than-usual load.

I caught the train to Hope this time, rather than Wrexham, but my shockingly bad navigation out of Hope meant I’d’ve been better starting at Caergwle …. if I could’ve pronounced it.

My GPS track shows that I went too far South to begin with, missing a path, then t00 far North missing another path and adding 1km to my route.  I was now on a path alongside a minor road to the West of Hope and enjoying the tasty blackberries in the hedgerow.  I must’ve been eating the early ones as the majority were still hard and green.

I’d left home with a litre of water and my water filter, confident that I’d be able to pick up water for camping along the way.  However, the weather was quite warm and I wasn’t seeing much water that I’d fancy drinking, even filtered, so I bought a can of pop at Llanfynydd and planned to buy another drink at any other shop I came across.

Although it didn’t really matter where I camped, I had planned to spend the night on Esclusham Mountain as it’s handy for the train home from Wrexham in the morning.   This meant heading South-ish and West a bit but I made up the route on the way.  I knew that Esclusham Mountain was likely to be covered in thick, lush bracken at this time of year – so it was tempting to stop whenever I saw a patch of short, flat grass but I wanted to put a few miles in my legs so kept going.

I got a bit lost in the Nant Y Ffrith woods.  As is often the case, I found it difficult to work out how the paths on the map matched what I could see on the ground.  Eventually I realised that a path heading NE was never going to straighten out into the slightly SE one I was looking for.  I retraced my steps and realised I’d turned less than a minute too early onto the very faint path also shown onto the map (but difficult to see in the dull forest light).

Bwlchgwyn was a disappointment.  By this time I was focused on the exact types of drink I was going to buy in the next shop I found.  I would buy a lightly sparking fruit drink, like one of those posh Sanpellegrino lemonades; and a flavoured spring water – maybe lime; and at least 750ml of water to carry to my camp.  Unfortunately, either I took the wrong route through town or Bwlchgwyn does not have any shops.

I wasn’t yet short of water but I was beginning to realise I would be happier with an extra litre in my pack so that I did not have to consider a water source when picking somewhere to camp.  With hindsight, I should have popped into the campsite just South of Bwlchgwyn and ask if I could fill my bottle ….. but I didn’t think.

Approaching the dismantled railway NW of the Minera Lead Mines and Country Park I made my biggest navigational c*ck-up of the day.   I dropped down to the River Clywedog [Yay! It was still flowing, although it took ages to gather and filter a litre to carry away] then, thinking I was now on the dismantled railway, walked all the way to the Lead Mines and Pentre.  I pretty much knew I was going wrong but it was now nearing 8pm and I didn’t fancy getting lost in fading light when I still didn’t know where I’d be spending the night.  I went the long way round and joined the minor road running West from New Brighton to World’s End.  As expected, the hillside was covered in thick bracken but I fancied I’d find a clearing if I kept going.  Sure enough there were patches of nice, short grass but there were also some old lager cans and signs that the local hoodlums could disturb my peace on a Summer Friday night.

Following a path through the bracken I came out onto an open – but nettle and thistle covered – hillside.  This looked promising.   Heading as far away from the footpath as possible, I found a wedge of flat ground between two fences, dropped my pack to the floor and unrolled my mat.  I’d found my pitch for the night and I was now in desparate need of a cup of tea.

I threw up my tarp as soon as my tea was brewed.  The shower would probably pass, which it did, but I didn’t want to risk getting wet after such a dry day.  I was going to sleep in a bivi bag but I didn’t want to be rained on while having my dinner.

The back of the tarp (and views of Wrexham to the East)

Under the tarp just before unpacking.

Using the lifter in the middle of the tap created a lot of usable space under cover.  I would have had to lower the front corner if the rain had been heavy and swirling but this worked well for the light shower I had in the evening and again in the morning.  By the way, whilst I know that some readers may be interested in any photo of any shelter, I do like to use my blog as a diary and a reference guide to remind me of what I’ve tried in the past.

I drank my tea whilst watching and listening to the world.  There was a busy road – probably the A525 – over my left shoulder.  Off to my right there were children and dogs – probably in the nearby farm.  There were lots of aeroplanes and a large helicopter which came from the North then headed back the same way a few minutes later.

The stove was nearly boiled again for my pasta when I heard a strange rumbling noise which caused me to peek out around the tarp.  Three horses, which I’d been aware of but not paid any attention to, were now staring at me and had obviously just galloped the width of their field to have a closer look.  They kept trotting round – like they couldn’t see me – then galloping towards the fence and just standing there watching me.  It was funny …. but a little bit scary as I knew that a malevolent – or mischevious – horse could cause me a few problems in the night.  I also knew that the fence was not continuous and that the horses could come round to my side if they wanted to.  After a few minutes that’s what they did.  In a slightly comical routine – which I wish I’d taken a photo of – they crept round the fence and peered around the corner.  It looked like they were hiding – even though the fence was just a couple of strands of wire.  Once they’d had a good look they trotted back to their field and I cooked my pasta.  They got bolder when the light had faded and they came round into my little corner of the field, ate some grass then lost interest in me and wandered off.

The horses. Next day, still watching from the other side of the field.

This was the first trip in which I was relying on my Speedster 30ml methylated spirits stove and it worked well.  I now know that I can get a cup of tea and a pan of pasta out of one full stove, but I needed to top it up for my second cup of tea.  A full stove and a 100ml bottle should just about do me for a two night trip but I’d be wary of running out of fuel.  It’s ideal for a simple overnight bivi – although I don’t really see the benefit compared with gas.  I suppose there’s very little that could go wrong with meths – and I have suffered a gas stove failure on the TGO Challenge – but gas will always be my fuel of choice for controllability and ease of use.

I would like to have been a little warmer in the night but I wasn’t actually cold.  As usual, it was my upper-most hip and thigh [I’m a side sleeper] which got cold so I put my smock over it inside my sleeping bag.   I’d taken my lightest synthetic bag but I think down would’ve been better.

Although I woke up several times in the night I felt like I’d had a good night’s sleep; the psychological benefit of sleeping on the ground on the side of a hill, no doubt.

Back home again in the early afternoon I’d been away for about 26 hours and walked about 32 km which, for me, is at the upper end of my daily distance limit.  Mentally I feel refreshed …. but my legs are suffering a bit!

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Pre-TGOC Daunder 2017 – Part 2

In the morning, as usual, I felt the inside of my flysheet for condensation so that I could dry it off before I packed up.  Hm? That’s odd ….. no condensation.  The wind had dropped, so there should be some.  Oh hang on, it was there but it was frozen.  Ah, that would explain why I had to put extra clothing on in the night.  I’m not a girly wimp; it was arctic up there.

Apparently, those noisy boastful hillbagger-types who had so rudely interrupted my afternoon nap were the other half of our party and we’d agreed to meet them down there.  I didn’t really know where there was but I was sure we’d bump into them at some point.  Besides, none of us believed that they would really have camped where they said, as any normal person would have noticed how close they were to a pub and camped in the beer garden.

We set off – me wearing nice dry socks – and took Route A across a bog.  This was authentic TGO Challenge training.

We came across some excavations in the rock so Lucky the Dog decided to go and investigate.  In this photograph you can see he is quivering with excitement at having found a troll living deep underground.

We found the others standing round doing nowt.  Typical; such a lazy bunch.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that low blood sugar was responsible for their inertia, I offered round the Werther’s Originals.  This seemed to do the trick; they were soon saddled up and chomping at the bit.

We then walked along for a while then waited while one of our party went back for his walking poles.  This was actually one of the highlights of the day for me as I sat on a very nice rock in the sun while I waited.  I didn’t sit and think; I just sat, which is one of my most favourites things to do in the mountains – apart from sleeping, of course.

Before long we’d stopped again next to a bus stop and some toilets.  This was a little annoying as I needed neither of these facilities. However, it did give us the opportunity to form another schism.  Hurrah!  The harmony had lasted too d*mn long.  One party looked at the map and identified that there was the possibility to visit any permutation of one pub and / or two tearooms between our current location and our planned campsite.  The other party said something about a hill.  So, off I toddled to the pub.

The preferred menu option was the fish finger sandwich.  When I heard it was sick squid, I assumed that’s what it was made out of but it turned out to be the price.  Maybe a little steep but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The halloumi on my sandwich was a little thin but was a vast improvement on oatcakes and Primula.

We must’ve then walked some more – although I can’t remember too much about it.  The farm campsite had plenty of room so we had loads of choice where to pitch.  After a bit of lounging around we decided that it would be a marvellously team-spirited thing to do if we went and met the others as they came off the hill.  It was not our fault that they had doggedly stuck to the plan and gone up hilly things but we shouldn’t let their dogmatic execution of the rules come between us.  We’d started as a team and we should finish as a team.  Besides, if they weren’t coming back then we needed to decide who was going to eat their reserved meals in the pub later that night.

We knew which direction they’d be approaching from so we wandered off that way.  No sign of them.  We pondered a bridge which was not where we needed it to be.  Still no sign.  We gave up and went back to the campsite.  I admit, I was now worried.  We’d let these poor fools go wandering off into the hills on their own.  If they couldn’t even find a big blue pint pot on an OS map then how were they going to find their way safely off the hills?  To help me cope with my own anxiety (and also because I thought it was about time I looked at the map myself and figured out where we were) I went for a short walk on my own.

When I got back, the wanderers had returned.  Putting on a nonchalent air I pretended that I hadn’t been out searching for them but was actually just on my way to the tap, so did anyone want their bottles filling?  (48 litres later I was starting to regret that offer.  The sooner someone invents dehydrated water the better).

The evening was spent drinking beer and eating risotto. Yeah, risotto.  I won’t be going there for my vegetarian tea again.

Day 3 dawned at dawn, as is the convention, and we set off at 8:30 ish for a simple walk along the Cumbrian Way.  Absolutely no chance of a schism today.  Well, apart from when only half of us stopped for a bacon / egg butty and the other half where nowhere to be seen.  I enjoyed my egg butty and I particularly enjoyed the pot of tea with an extra pot of hot water.  That’s classy, that is.

The reappearance of a mobile phone signal helped us to discover that Team B were rapidly approaching our intended destination for the day.  We had two choices; get a move on and catch up with them, or go to the pub.  It was a very nice pub.

By the time we reached Braithwaite, most of the others had thinned out and gone home.  They just couldn’t handle the pace, apparently.

After a Little Sit Down and a natter, I strolled into Keswick and had the cream tea I’d been promising myself [I was worried I’d not been eating enough] then put up my tent on the Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club site which – as a backpacker – was much better than I had been expecting.  I’d had a great weekend; a good mix of (just enough) walking, camping and beer with a decent bunch of people.  If I’d been doing the TGO Challenge this year, this would have been just the sort of practice I needed.  Thanks to everyone for the organisation and the good company.

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Pre-TGOC Daunder 2017 – Part 1

I’ve never been on a Daunder before.  I’ve read about them;  I’ve seen the photos; but I’ve never actually been – so I was excited and honoured to receive the invitation email.  This year, Messrs Lambert and Sloman had hired a minion to undertake the planning and administration.  (I presume they’d hired him, because I can’t see how he’d have put up with the Daunderers’ whinging and complaints if he wasn’t receiving some sort of remuneration?)

The planning was executed to the highest standard.  A series of emails detailed where we were to meet; a daily schedule; and a choice of pubs for Saturday night dinner.  The route was described clearly and there was a table of distance and heights to be acheived ….. although I’d stopped reading after the “choice of pubs” bit, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the numbers.

For a backpacking trip in the English Lake District in April I knew that my standard TGO Challenge kit would suffice.  I mean, that’s the whole point of the Daunder; to give the kit, legs and lungs a trial run a few weeks before leaving the West Coast of Scotland for the long trek East.  I dithered for a while about which stove to take.  I’ve always been a fan of simple gas stoves but have recently bought a Speedster Stove and was pondering cooking on meths for this trip.  However, it just didn’t appear to be a reasonable balance of weight to convenience for a 4-5 day trip.  I calculated that I’d need to take a 500ml (over 500g) bottle of meths – but a full gas canister would only weigh 370-ish grammes and has always got me all the way across Scotland for 12-13 days.  I took the gas stove and will save the Speedster for overnight bivis.

The other bit of non-standard gear I considered – and took – was my Exped Down UL7 sleeping mat.  It took up slightly more room in my pack than the Neoair but it ain’t half comfy.  (I’ll probably revert to the Neoair on my next Challenge, though).

I took the train up to Penrith.  This was a bit of a faff due to engineering works on the track nearest to home, but Virgin Trains sell a very nice Tilting Ale and I was soon in holiday mood.

From Penrith I caught the bus to Keswick then set off on the 2 mile walk to Braithwaite.  Of course, I went the wrong way having convinced myself I could take a shortcut across the campsite.  I have no idea why I thought this but was grateful when the site warden very helpfully pointed me in the right direction – and I walked all the way back to where I started.

At Braithwaite there was a strange pale green near-see-through tent in the middle of the site.  Not finding anyone at home, but guessing that this was probably one of our tribe, I pitched nearby.  I was soon joined by two young (4 or 5 year old) children on scooters.  They were very keen to know why I didn’t have a hammer.  It was difficult to know how to answer that question and they didn’t seem convinced by my statement that I didn’t need a hammer as I had very thin, sharp tent pegs.  Their Mummy and Daddy had just put up their tent and these kids knew that I needed a hammer.  They also wanted to know “Why is your tent so small?”.  This was asked in a rather dismissive tone that, I admit, did irk me somewhat.  Cheeky young tykes!

The rest of the Daunderers gathered over the next few hours and we were soon exchanging kit reviews and asking “Where are you starting from?” which – if you’ve never met an actual TGO Challenger in the flesh – is always a good opening gambit.

A trip to the pub [two pubs, actually] gave the opportunity to discuss the plan for the morning.  There was talk of huge ascent but I hoped this was just the beer talking.

After a good night’s sleep (once the non-Daunderer rowdies had shut up and gone to sleep in the early hours of the morning) I awoke to drizzle which had developed into rain by the time I was packing up my tent.  As experienced, hardened backpackers we shrugged off the miserable weather ….. whilst sitting in the cafe hoping it would pass.

At 10 o’clock, our Leader cracked his whip and we shuffled outside.  There was some muttering about today’s planned route making a mountain out of a molehill, and how there was absolutely no need to go UP when ALONG would do nicely.  I could have joined in the conversation, I suppose, but I was in sheep mode and couldn’t really be bothered looking at my map.  Baaaaa!

We set off as a group of 14, walking on tracks and a bit of road.  The drizzle dried up quite soon so the waterproofs came off.  My GPS was playing its usual game of refusing to tell me where I was [I’m going to buy a new one] so I didn’t record a track and am not sure exactly where we went although we did stop for a sit down and a snack at Newlands Church.  By now, the schism was tangible.  We’d already lost two of our number to a tea-room and there was now clear dissent in the ranks.  It was time to nail my colours to the mast and stand up for what I believe in.  I said I’d join the group which was going to walk up the valley and camp early.  Well, it seemed the right thing to do.  Some principles need to be defended, come what may.

Thus, relieved of the burden of impending mountains we carried on our way with a spring in our step.

A pleasant valley on the way to Dale Head

The valley walk was enjoyable but no walk in the park.  There was a fair bit of UP and we had to go over a bealach near some craggy bits.  (I know all of the technical language).

As I’d still not looked at the map, I feel I must apologise to my fellow Daunderers if I kept asking “Are we nearly there yet?”

By late afternoon (well, OK, shortly after 2pm) we reached our intended camp.  Or somewhere near there. Anyway, wherever it was, it was flat and there was plenty of room and some fast flowing drinking water nearby.

We put up our tents/shelters and did camping-type things – like having a cup-a-soup then going to sleep for hours.  The wind was a wee bit gusty (OK, it was blowing a hooley) but Phil and I had discussed the best way to pitch a single-hooped tent in strong winds.  We came to complete agreement then pitched our tents at 90 degrees to each other.  One of us obviously wasn’t paying attention!

I was abruptedly woken from my snooze by some rowdy ruffians standing in the middle of our camp and loudly criticising our choice of site and the kite-like attributes of some of our tents.  Apparently they’d been up a hill and they seemed to expect some sort of medal and a welcome committee.  Yeah, whatever.  I’d walked up a valley then camped in a wind tunnel so naaaahh!

The noisy macho types pushed on (or off, if you like) and I went back to sleep.  Waking again at 7pm, the wind had dropped and I could hear people drinking whisky so I decided I’d better have my tea then join them.  I was probably back in bed for 10pm ….. but these long hill days are so tiring.  (To be continued).

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