Thin Black Sail – Holga in the Dark Peak

Usually, after a day in the hills or a trip somewhere interesting, I’ll come home and post some photos for those of you out there that might be remotely interested.
So today, with Gosia ill in bed, I set off to the Peak District with a plan to take photos. I had in mind a couple of places I wanted to photograph and would spend some time getting the pictures I wanted.
I packed the camera, lenses, tripod, cleaning kit etc.

And so folks, here are the photos:

Peaks Walk
Yup, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait. Y’see when I took my camera out to take the first picture, I flicked the on/off switch and nothing happened. Queue the movie in my head when the camera zooms out from me, pans across the hillside, to the road, then further out, back along the motorway, back to our house. The camera zooms in now, until the point that you spot the camera battery sitting on the desk next to the charger in my kitchen…
Luckily, I’d taken my Holga and Смена символ along too and the day (in photographic terms) wouldn’t be wasted. Problem is you’ll have to wait for the pictures I took…

In the meantime, here are the Instagrams I took along the way – I’ve been trying to stop taking these things, but without the instant gratification of my digital camera, I fell back on the phone and this most addictive application.

Peaks Walk Peaks Walk Peaks Walk Peaks Walk
The Holga showed its… umm, ‘character’ again today. The double sided sticky tape that holds the lump of foam that helps keep the film tight by wedging the roll against the back of the camera body (I make it sound far more technically advanced than it really is) gave up. I was winding the camera on after taking a picture and saw the foam pass by the window in the back of the body.
This meant having to zip myself and the camera inside my jacket to take the back of the camera off, and fish out the foam without letting too much light in.
We’ll see how successful I was when I get the prints back…
Love love love the Peak District... ...and love it some more. Peaks Walk
It has been a while since I’ve been in the Peaks. I used to be there most weekends when I spent some time as a trainee National Park Ranger. The area I went to today I used to know like the back of my hand. It was great to be back. The heather was beautiful, in full flower. The weather was perfect too. As Andy points out, the area suits cloud rather than clear blue skies.
I hope that I’ve managed to capture some of the magic, but while we’re waiting to find out (as if!), you could check out Al Brydon’s most excellent Holga pictures of the Peak District.

loch ericht microadventure.

Pinned to the wall of my office for almost a year now has been the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 393.
For much of that time, visitors to my office would stand in front of it and look. Some would just see concentric collections of orange rings and scattered pale blue areas. Others would be able to picture the area from the information shown, maybe picking out a place that they had heard of.
I helped the first group by printing pictures from the internet and gluing them to the map in the position that they were taken, so helping with visualisation.

Maps are an invitation to adventure.

The seed for this microadventure was sown by a magazine article in TGO where they spoke about using kayaks to get to the most remote areas that are not serviced by roads or railways.
With this inspiration, all we needed was a long lake with a big mountain at the end of it. Dalwhinnie fitted the bill perfectly. Loch Ericht is the 10th largest freshwater lake in Scotland and Ben Alder the 40th highest peak in Britain. Oh and in Steve’s opinion, the whisky made in Dalwhinnie is the finest in all the land.
Ted came along too but isn’t a paddler. The plan was for him to walk the length of the loch as we kayaked.

We travelled up after work on Friday night, making decent time for the whole journey, although I never quite come to terms with how far it is from Penrith (somewhere I’m familiar with travelling to) to Glasgow. 
After a couple of beers in Perth, we got to Dalwhinnie just after midnight. We pitched tents in darkness and hoped that we weren’t actually camped on a building site as it appeared we might be.
Saturday morning brought clouds of midges and a last minute dash to the next village to buy midge nets. After loading 3 days of muesli bars into kayaks on a part of the loch’s floor that is usually covered by water, we set off in very decent weather.
coffee 1
The first coffee stop on a beach after 7 or 8 km.
steve leads
Things continue to get increasingly remote.
coffee 2 - ted fading
By the second coffee stop, we were all beginning to flag. Steve and I were feeling the constant headwind in our shoulders, while Ted appeared to be ‘full-body tired’.
camping spot
After 24km, we reached the bay that contains Ben Alder bothy. The bothy had the leaders of a DOE group and so despite the increasing cloud of midges, we decided to pitch camp on the sand of an east facing beach in the shadow of Ben Alder.
view from the shitter
It was a truly beautiful spot.
mozzie central sunrise
stove silhouette
The traditional stove photo.
Sunday saw us walk a route around to the north side Ben Alder before climbing up to the summit plateau. We couldn’t help but compare the area that was new to Ted and I with the more familiar Lake District. The lakes would have people on the tops of each peak and there would be well worn paths criss-crossing the area. This part of the Highlands has very few paths. Out route up and down (this is one of the highest hills in the area) had no path. We travelled off-piste both ways.
loch ericht
The summit of Ben Alder and the route down offered us excellent views of the loch that we had paddled the previous day. It looked a very long way!
early evening
Our reward at the end of 16.5km and 1000m of climbing was a big open fire, a breeze to keep the midges at bay and bottle that I had brought ‘home’.
Before that though, we went wild-swimming in the loch. The experience of swimming in pure, cold, clear water in such stunning surroundings was truly memorable.
Monday, we paddled out with the wind behind us and a huge sense of satisfaction.
bothy from the loch
The bothy from the loch.
After the paddle out, we headed for the SYHA hostel in Pitlochry and an evening of local beers, whiskies and food – I actually ate something called ‘The Sporran Of Plenty’!
At times, the midges threatened to ruin this trip. The ‘march of the madmen’ that we developed in an attempt to rid ourselves of the swarm that followed our every move was comical but necessary. Simple tasks became exercises in patience and self-control.
But in a week’s time, I won’t remember the midges. I’ll remember the solitude and beauty of an unspoilt part of the country. A reminder that this crowded country of ours still does offer the opportunity of adventure in remote areas.
Time for a new map on the wall…

78 stone wobble

busy after work tonight, so decided to walk/jog in.
it is the BEST way to start a day.
it is just over 4 miles for me. i carried my clothes, wallet, camera etc and took a route that avoided roads. it took me only an hour and i arrived fresh, ready for the day with no road rage, traffic jams or chris moyles.
why don’t YOU give it a try tomorrow? if you live ‘too far away’ then park a distance away and start your walk from there…
walk to work
the path to work…
walk to work

for every step there was a local boy who wants to be a hero

i’m not quite sure how this post will turn out.
i have mixed feelings about the whole leicestershire round microadventure.
some of it was great. some of it was a chore. these feelings and my worsening work/life balance mean that this write up may be as unsatisfactory as the walk itself with some highlights, some low points and some moments of despair…
the original plan was to complete the 100 miles of the leicestershire round over a long weekend. ted quite rightly convinced me that we would be better off starting on thursday evening after work and knocking off a few miles. if we did 10, that’d only leave 3 days at 30 miles each. we’d be bivvying and so could be flexible to suit mood, conditions or availability of suitable camping spots.

day 1 – 14 miles. old john – thrussington
route planning
so after a day at work, gosia dropped us at the old john and after a quick assessment of the route using the topograph, we were off. our early pace was brisk as we covered familiar paths over charnwood and down into the soar valley.
dark fell as we crossed the former gravel pits of cossington meadows. as we walked through cossington village, we saw the domestic peace as people settled into their armchairs in front of wall-sized tvs and indexed the central heating up another notch. the feeling of still being on our outward journey, not sure of where we were sleeping, what the overnight low temperature would be or what time the sun would be up seemed exciting but also faintly rediculous given that i was only a couple of miles from my parents house.
late night rearsby
14 miles in and after some navigational challenges presented by crossing the rugby pitches of ratcliffe college in darkness we arrived in rearsby. we sat outside the lively horse and groom pub and settled for pedigree and a bag of crisps, resisting their 64oz steaks.
one thing i’ve read about when people have been on their own microadventures is how they compare adventures close to home to ones in exotic locations. for example, adventurers will tell you about families welcoming them into their albanian/kazakh/tibetan* (*delete as appropriate) homes and feeding them their last chicken/goat/daughter*. i was interested to see if this generosity was limited to english people far from home or if english people would actually show this kind of interest in strangers doing strange things.
sure enough, almost every smoker that left the skittles game or the pub quiz that saw our rucsacks asked what we were upto and where we were sleeping. and while it wasn’t quite the offer of a night in a yurt or a tipi, we were offered some lasagne!
we walked half a mile out of the village and settled down on the edge of a small wood between the river wreake and the leicester to grantham railway line.

day 2 – 26.5 miles. thrussington – hallaton
camp 1
i woke (i’m not sure ted actually slept at all) to a pinky sky and frost on the bivvy. while we hadn’t realised the previous night, we were just across the river from a large farmhouse. we didn’t see anyone to get annoyed with us sleeping there, although there was a cockerel that sounded a little peeved…
damp start
the weather was glorious as we strode through the wreake valley villages of hoby, rotherby and frisby before stopping for our second breakfast of pasties bought from frisby post office. it felt like those two pasties may have double the turn-over in the shop for this month…
the a607 was the first main road we had crossed since the a46 in the darkness the previous night. the sudden rush of traffic was quite jarring after 3 hours or so of babbling rivers, green fields and little, fluffy clouds.
field #829
between here and burrough hill, there seemed to be mile after mile of alternating fields of either oilseed rape or lambs and protective mothers, all undulating in a progressively steeper fashion. anyone who ever tells you that leicestershire is flat has never walked (or ridden) much of it, especially the badlands of the rutland border.
burrough hill brought third breakfast, or possibly first lunch and a first consultation with the guide book to work out how far we had gone. i think it was at this point that i first realised 2 things. firstly, the combined totals of the 11 ‘day walks’ listed in the book which, when joined together completed the round, added up to well over 100 miles. and secondly, we weren’t covering the ground very quickly. being pretty tired and with some painful blisters developing, we weren’t even half of the 30 miles i was hoping to cover. it was clear that we were going to have to keep our plans flexible for the evening’s eating and sleeping arrangements.
rutland border
after buying as much sugary food as we could carry in somerby’s post office, we continued on into rutland. the border was marked by a gate with no fence…
as the sun dropped through the gorgeous blue sky, calculations were made that told us that hallaton would be the last village that we would pass through before we would have to stop. the guide book mentioned a pub called the fox and the promise of food there spurred us on for one last effort.
after ticking off the last hill through the last field of oilseed, we stumbled into hallaton, drawn like moths to the warm glow of the pub’s lights. news that the fox wasn’t doing food and instead was having a cheesy disco was only made bearable by the news that hallaton has two pubs.
the excellent bewicke arms made two hungry, tired and i expect pretty ripe smelling backpackers very welcome, to the extent of offering us their beer garden for our overnight accommodation. even better than that was the fact that it had a climbing frame affair for kids and that means soft landings. bivvying under the adventure playground meant soft, insulating kitty-litter to sleep on, but not before a steak, haddock, chips and veg were cleared in record time. the dutch couple on the next table kept their coats on and looked quite bemused by their weary looking neighbours.

To be continued…

ready to go

tomorrow, ted an i set off on our microadventure to bivvy our way around the leicestershire round over the long weekend.
click on the picture to see the version on flickr with my stuff tagged. it adds up to 17 kilos to cart around.

the route we’re taking is shown below;
– thursday evening’s 13 mile leg-stretcher in red goes from the top of old john to thrussington through the soar valley and over into the the wreake valley,
– the greeny/yellow leg is friday, taking us from thrussington, via burrough hill and the rolling hills of rutland to the langtons.
– the big day is saturday. 35 miles across south leicestershire via foxton locks, ending at the field formerly known as bosworth battlefield.
– sunday is just 20-odd miles back via thornton and markfield to finish again on old john in time for sunday lunch in the pub
the route

where did you sleep last night?

open your eyes
After work on Thursday, Ted and I set off to walk the Leicestershire Round in 4 days. That’s 100 miles and 3 nights out bivvying before we get home sometime on Sunday.
bivvy night
So as a dry run, a chance to try my new sleeping bag (an ajungilak kompakt which proved to be superwarm) and because it’s a microadventure without much effort, I walked out to bivvy last night. After riding 3 times yesterday and then walking in, I was tired and slept within minutes of getting into my bag.
First time i woke was when the alarm went off. i’d set the alarm for 5 minutes before sunrise and was rewarded by the most glorious dawn…
bivvy night