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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7 Responses to Bracken, Bivi and Benchmarks

  1. louse4 says:

    OMG LOL!! Had to explain my outbursts of raucous laughter and girly giggles to youngest daughter. An excellent read Judith! Just what I needed to brighten my morning. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Humphrey Weightman says:

    Oh goodness me what a treat. There was cackling. There were low chuckles. There were sudden outbursts of guffawing. It was all very wonderful – your spirit is strong and hugely entertaining! More! More! We must have more! Benchmarks ‘R’ us!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That was a good read Judith. I may have to buy a bivi bag!
    Back from the Alps now, so hopefully we’ll see you sometime soon.


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