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.
Despite storms and rain the night before, and a forecast of rain throughout the day turning into storms again later, the rain seemed to magically stop just as Adrian arrived, and we headed to the free ‘horse-box’ car park in the forest. The plan was to walk the 6 mile waymarked Woodpecker Trail, slightly extended to include part of an old forest trail that I love and the Tree Top Walk. Despite the risk to my back, I also decided to bring my dog who, like me, is suffering from little outdoor time over the last few months.
The rain held off as we followed the trail through the quieter southern part of the forest. Some parts of the track were very muddy under-foot – I was wearing hiking sandals (I still have not replaced my worn out hiking shoes) so quickly had to accept that I had no choice but to embrace the muddy puddles! I was pleased to discover that, like me, Adrian takes his stove with him on day walks, so we stopped at a picnic bench to have a coffee and enjoy the peacefulness of the forest around us (as an aside this was the same picnic bench where Andy Howell and I recorded the Outdoors Station podcast episode about Social Hiking)
The rain briefly returned as we packed up but, by the time we reached the Forest Cafe for our planned lunch stop, there was the hint of sunshine in the sky. After lunch and a brief chat with one of the rangers about deer culling, we continued onwards into the more popular part of the forest. There seemed to be some kind of Gruffalo activity trail for kids, with various characters from the books peaking out from the trees (apparently to celebrate the book’s 15th anniversary).
We made a brief detour (past The Gruffalo himself) to the Tree Top Walk for Adrian to get the full ‘Salcey Forest Experience’, and then continued on the Woodpecker Trail back into the quieter parts of the forest. Despite it being dry and hot, the storms seemed to have put off a lot of people from visiting the forest, and even the busy area near the cafe was unseasonally quiet. We stopped for a final coffee break underneath a hunter’s tower and recorded some audio (embedded below), before returning to the car and heading home for a cup of tea.
Adrian is an excellent walking companion and I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with him – a massive thanks for coming down to Northampton-shire Adrian! My back coped very well during the walk, with no twinges or concerns. Later in the evening there were a few twinges and the following day (as I write this) it is perhaps a little tender and I am being cautious with it, but as long as it settles down again before the weekend I should at least be able to do a little walking on Dartmoor (as well as the planned wild camp on Pew Tor)!
Embedded below is the audio Adrian and I recorded together. Topics we talk about include aircraft flight paths, camping stoves, Dartmoor, wild swimming, visiting Ireland and other bits of UK, deer culling, wind & solar farms and turbine OCD