Another year done! As usually at this time of year, I am torn between thoughtfulness and contemplation as I mull over the highs and lows of the previous year, and excitement for the new year to come. From an outdoor perspective, 2014 was not quite what I had planned, yet it was still full of some fantastic experiences. My resolution was, as well as the regular dog walks, to have at least one outdoor day or trip each month. Unfortunately ongoing back problems meant a good chunk of the year was spent at stretched out on the sofa, yet, according to Social Hiking, I still managed to walk 184 miles (with about 31000 feet altitude gain) and bag 129 peaks (mostly Dartmoor tors) over 24 hikes across the year (excluding regular dog walks). Here is a summary of my outdoor highlights in 2014, a few 2014 favorites (an idea inspired by Matt – @hillplodder) and some plans for 2015.
With hindsight, walking 11 miles around Dartmoor in sandals (albeit hiking ones) might not have been a particularly wise move. Bits of dust and dirt had got trapped between the strap and my feet, slowly rubbing them raw. In my defence, I did not have much choice (not walking on Dartmoor was not an option!). It had been over three years since my last pair of hiking shoes, a pair of Keen Targhee II. They had served me well for over 1000 miles, but the deteriorating heels progressively got worse until even a few miles would lead to blisters forming (and they had started to leak). A new pair was long overdue!
The much needed replacement came in the form of a pair of Merrell Moab GoreTex hiking shoes. My previous experiences of Merrell has been from their casual range, but I have always been impressed with their comfort and quality (albeit with a price tag to match), and I was curious to try out a pair from their hiking range. How best to break in some new hiking shoes than another trip to Dartmoor!?
Exploring Tors to East & South of Princetown and a wild camp on Lower Hartor Tor [Dartmoor Trip – Part 2]
I sat on a bench outside the Fox Tor Café enjoying the last of my coffee in the morning sunshine. Breakfast had been eaten and it was almost time to set off with Paul (@paulgbuck) on a ‘bagging’ odyssey. The planned route was my first concoction since I decided to copy Paul and visit (or ‘bag’) every single Tor and notable rock (and a few hills) in Dartmoor National Park – 425 at the last count. I had taken my OS map, drawn on (in pencil) each one to the east and south of Princetown, then played join the dots – the result was a 20 mile route with 19 of them to ‘bag’ (as an aside, Paul has written a brilliant article for Active Dartmoor on The Art of Tor Bagging)
A wild camp in Cranbrook Castle and Tor / hill bagging near Castle Drogo and river Teign valley [Dartmoor Trip – Part 1]
It turns out that a lifetime of watching horror films does not mentally equip you for being alone in a bivvy (the hoop is no consolation) within the fog shrouded earthworks of an Iron Age hill fort. As I lay unable to sleep in the moonlit stillness, my mind drifted to thoughts of long dead warriors rising from the damp ground to extract their revenge on the person rudely sleeping on their graves! Not that I know anything about Cranbrook Castle, let alone what is buried underneath the ferns – the internet acknowledges its existence but that’s about it, but it was not history that brought me to this spooky place. It met an exacting set of criteria for my first wild camp of my week on Dartmoor: it is the nearest bit of Dartmoor to me where you can legally camp (the fact it is a short walk from a pub and a peak you can ‘bag’ on Social Hiking was just a bonus!).
Back in July, several outdoor bloggers and writers were approached by the outdoor retailer Field And Trek to submit their favourite walk in the UK. I nearly did not bother until I remembered the fantastic waterfall walk I did back in 2011 in the Breacon Beacons. It is a forest river walk with a difference, as both rivers are crammed full of waterfalls, including Sgwd yr Eira which you can usually walk behind! Rivers in a forest with waterfalls, the chance to feel the spray on your face, some nice views as you drop down to Pontneddfechan, a convenient pub halfway and even a chance for a quick outdoor swim – it is my idea of the perfect walk! [I would also once again like to thank surfnslide, who originally shared the route on his blog and inspired me to pay the area a visit in the first place]
I couldn’t possibly sleep. The full moon we had watched rise from beyond the sea was making its steady progress across the sky, lighting up the cliff top around me. I was surprisingly comfortable in my plastic orange survival bag with the breeze gently gusting across my face and Gareth’s last minute warning about adders, as he zipped himself up in his hooped bivvy-tent, had quickly faded from my mind, replaced by the intoxicating thrill of being part of the outdoors.
Pew Tor is just south west of Merrivale on the western edge of Dartmoor National Park. I first visited it in 2011 at the end of a walk around some of the Western Tors (a route borrowed almost entirely from Backpackingbongos) and it was my favourite Tor of the day, with fantastic views south down the valley to Yelverton and Plymouth, east to Tavistock and beyond, and north across to the higher Great Staple Tor and Great Mis Tor. In my post from the walk, I describe Pew Tor as “like a ruined castle with lush grassy floors” and suggested it would make a great place to camp. As it happens Paul, who had joined myself and friends Neil and Kate for a weekend on Dartmoor, agreed and it was to be our ‘hotel’ for a night.
“How about another trip to Dartmoor?” suggested Neil, one of my best friends, during a rare (not even annual) phone call.
Dartmoor has always had a permanent grip on my soul. Every summer when I was a kid, my family and I would head down to Devon for our annual holiday – staying with my grandparents who lived on the edge of Plymouth Hoe. I do not remember many specific trips to Dartmoor exactly, although I am sure there were many, but the brooding mass of moors were ever-present looking down over Plymouth and the surrounding countryside.
The last five months have been frustrating. Back in February I pulled my back, triggering a bout of painful sciatica which left me unable to get outdoors. By the end of April, things seemed to be improving and I managed a few short local hikes, but subsequent relapses meant I had to pull out of the 10in10 and have not been hiking since.
Over the last month though I have started noticing an improvement and my back survived a week of hard labour ‘poo picking’ a couple of horse fields whilst my partner was on holiday. So, with a planned trip to Dartmoor next weekend, it seemed a good idea to get out on test hike to see if it could cope. Adrian (@turbostream) offered to travel down from Birmingham-shire to accompany me on a walk in Salcey Forest.
Like quite a few people, I have been noticing this ‘Liebster Award’ thing appearing throughout my social media timelines recently. Turns out it a nice blogging community chain-letter thing, where you are nominated by a fellow blogger to answer a series of questions, then set the challenge for a few other bloggers to answer your questions. A big thank you goes to Tookie Bunten (@tookiebunten on Twitter) (he designed the Social Hiking logo by the way) for nominating me in his blog post: http://walkwithtookie.com/the-liebster-award-pay-it-forward/. As a bit of fun, here are Tookie’s questions with my answers:
Like all good ideas (and indeed most bad ones, but we will forget about those), this occurred to me over a beer.
In a way I do not envy people who live in or near a National Park. They do not get that amazing feeling I get when the outline of big hills and mountains first appear in the distance. Whether it is Snowdonia from M54 (it might just be Wales generally to be honest) or the brooding mass of Dartmoor from A30, it never ceases to take my breath away. Last Friday it was The Lake District (and looking at the map probably the tip of Yorkshire Dales) from the M6. I was sitting in a car with Paul (@paulgbuck on Twitter and @walking4charity on Social Hiking), who was kindly giving me a lift up to Rosthwaite, just south of Keswick in the Lake District, for the 10in10 challenge.
I am not sure it can take too much of the overall blame, but it all started with a hiking sandal. On 17th February, as I was removing said sandal before heading to bed I felt my lower back ‘go’ and my sciatic nerve down my left leg ‘twang’ – I collapsed in an agonising heap on the sofa, from where I have not really moved from since.
So far there are 13 of us registered (and a few more maybes), and it is not too late to join us – there are still places on the challenge available, and I would love it if you would join us.
If you asked me what my favourite item of outdoor clothing is, I would answer, without hesitation, ‘my Chocolate Fish merino baselayer’. I actually have two – my first one suffered an accident with a dodgy washing machine and was badly ripped in several places… but I still wear it… (albeit in the privacy of my bed and much to the disgust of my partner!). I even contributed towards one for my brother, who wears baselayers throughout all of winter. My experience of other makes is, I admit, ultimately quite limited – I had an Icebreaker, which shrank after the first few washes and did not seem to regulate temperature evenly, and then I discovered Chocolate Fish – soft to wear, a good fit (long torso length), kept an even temperature and never shrunk in the wash. It looked like my search for the perfect baselayer had come to a quick end! So it was with some sadness that I received an email from Chocolate Fish that they are discontinuing their baselayers.
I started this blog (originally as countryside-walks.org.uk, then a few months later moving to mycountryside.org.uk) back in March 2008 (has it really been that long?). I had just started walking again (for the first time since a child) and, inspired by a few other walking blogs I had discovered (but long forgotten), I wanted a place to record my walks and share my experience.
It has always been a bit of an embarrassment to me that I have never (as an adult at least) walked in Scotland. This gaping absence in my outdoor experience has lingered over me throughout my outdoor-related successes over the last few years: being involved in the growing popularity of Social Hiking, speaking about social media in the outdoors and being shortlisted for Outdoor Personality of the Year…. I kept thinking to myself… surely eventually I will be outed as a fraud for not having ever walked in Scotland….
Well thankfully my personal self-doubt (about this at least!) can at last be put to one side – I have finally walked in Scotland!
As I was heading up to Scotland to give a training session for a customer in East Lothian anyway, I decided to make the most of the trip and arranged to meet Paul (@iomadh), a fellow user of both Audioboo and Social Hiking, for a hike. Paul had, the week before, stumbled across a leaflet for The River Avon Heritage Trail, and as the weather forecast was dire for the weekend, it seemed a sensible to do a low-level hike.
Over the last two years, my outdoor time has been very hit and miss – I have only had a few irregular, albeit lovely, weekend outdoor trips, and even the more routine local dog walks has been severely reduced (much to the disgust of my dog). Ultimately I have been getting the balance between being on a computer and being outdoors all wrong.
So this year I set myself two outdoor related resolutions. The first one is to go for a walk each day (ideally with the dog) – distance or location are unimportant, it can be a late night dog walk around the village or a 15 mile hike up a mountain. All that matters is that I get off the computer and go outdoors! The second resolution is to plan an outdoor day (or weekend) each month.
This month I thought I would ease myself in gently and take the dog on a hike around the local countryside – by chance I discovered that Rich (@FlintyRich), who lives relatively local to me, was at a loose end, so we arranged to meet up at The Grand Union Three Locks in Stock Hammond (south of Milton Keynes) the following morning.
On my most recent hike, with Rich (@FlintyRich), I decided to record a series of mini-podcasts talking about how I actually use Social Hiking when out on a hike.
The podcasts cover a range of topics: starting a walk and switching on location source (and what Social Hiking does when you start sharing location), setting a map title using Twitter, adding media to your map, automatic peak bagging, tweeting with context to your hike, changing a map icon using Twitter and uploading gpx files and photos when you get home.
The main point I wanted to get across is that I did not need to visit the Social Hiking website at all throughout the day, I just used the apps and social media sites I would usually use to share thoughts, photos and audio on the walk, and Social Hiking has then compiled it all to create a live updating, media rich, map to help me share my adventure. Simples.