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.
Earlier in the year, I came across an article in the MS Society magazine about an annual event where a bunch of people climb some mountains to raise money to help support people affected by Multiple Sclerosis. As I have not done much fundraising in a while, I cut the article out and put it in my in-tray for future consideration, then promptly forgot about it…. until a few weeks ago.
As I re-read the article, it occurred to me that I happen to know a bunch of people who like walking, especially mountains- wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could get together, hike some peaks, raise some money, and have some fun?
On Thursday, I trundled down to London to take part in an Ordnance Survey Workshop, an opportunity to give my opinion on all things relating to OS and mapping. Unfortunately I cannot talk about anything I saw or that was discussed (due to confidentiality), but it was certainly an interesting and insightful experience. There is another workshop next week, and they are looking for participants who do outdoor activities recreationally to take part.
Autumn is upon us, and so too are The Great Outdoors awards – a chance for outdoor enthusiasts to vote for their favourite outdoor brand, retailer, pub, book accommodation and more. This year I find myself short-listed for the category of Outdoor Personality of the Year. It is of course an honour to be short-listed (thank you to whoever nominated me!) and I am chuffed to bits, although it is a bit surreal appearing on a list with such household names as Ed Bryne and Ray Mears (even my mum has heard of him!).
“I don’t mind, just don’t kill me!”. That was my response to Rich (@FlintyRich) when asked what I wanted to do for a planned weekend together in Snowdonia. It seemed important – Rich, who is a self confessed addict of bagging peaks on Social Hiking (411 to date this year), spends most weekends up in the mountains, whereas I am lucky to see a mountain more than a handful of times a year (let alone climb one) and recently work commitments and my health had combined to restrict my outdoors time (and therefore my fitness). “How about Northern Carneddau? It’s quite gentle” he suggested….
For a couple of days a week, I am often based on-site at a customer’s office in Stony Stratford, just over 8 miles (by road) from my house. We are a one car family, which naturally means I do not get use of the car, so I have to travel in by bus. As I live in a village with only one bus route, this involves catching the 9am bus* to Wolverton (another nearby town) then waiting around at a bus interchange for a connecting bus to Stony Stratford, arriving by 10am.
(* due to a very odd bus rota, the bus driver who picks us up has to go on his break at the next village, so we have to swap buses – it still counts as a single bus on the timetable though!)
Earlier in the week I was idly day dreaming over a local OS map when it occurred to me that after only 10 minutes on that first bus, we pass though Castlethorpe, a village that is only 4 miles (by road) (3 miles by crow) from my final destination, and the countryside between is actually rather pleasant – two river valleys (one is the Great River Ouse) and the Grand Union Canal. Why don’t I walk to work?
“Welcome to episode one of the Social Hiking podcast”…. so began my first ever podcast, recorded with my friend Nina (@smirnieoutdoors) in her house in Shropshire. The podcast itself, now it has been published, has gone down really well (the feedback has been beyond my wildest dreams), but it is hard to believe that, as we sat there in Nina’s sitting room with our show notes and podcast sponsor, it was only two weeks before that I scribbled in my notebook: “podcast? guest co hosts? Nina?”. This post is the story of what inspired me to decide to record a podcast and how it went from an idea to reality (at minimal cost). Hopefully it will interest, aid and inspire.