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.
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.
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.
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