On the road to recovery and a pre-Dartmoor health check with @turbostream

Gruffalo in Salcey Forest

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.

Continue reading “On the road to recovery and a pre-Dartmoor health check with @turbostream”

Hiking Bow Brickhill, south of Milton Keynes [January’s outdoor day]

Rich with my dog ready to start

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.

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An alternative commute – hiking to work

Morning coffee on the way to work #alternativecommute

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?

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Outdoor wild swimming in Northamptonshire

Daniel Martin - swimming near Tansor, Northamptonshire
River Nene near Tansor (Photo by Daniel Martin - used with permission)
River Nene near Tansor (Photo by Daniel Martin – used with permission)

I always think Northamptonshire gets forgotten when it comes to outdoor activities. For the first few years I subscribed to Countryfile Magazine I religiously collected, ordered and stored the ten route cards included each month – whilst almost every part of the country was covered, there was not a single route in Northamptonshire!

Whilst Northamptonshire may not have any mountains (or indeed any hills of note), moors or other ‘exciting’ landscapes, I find it a really nice place to walk – peaceful farmland, picturesque villages, hidden woodlands (and more obvious woodland like Salcey Forest just around the corner from me), stately homes, canals and rivers. And it is quiet – you pretty much have the footpaths to yourself once you outside the dog walking perimeter of the villages.

So it was with some excitement that I spotted ‘Northamptonshire’ mentioned in a Google+ post in my outdoor circle – and not just a passing mention… Daniel Martin (his Google+ profile), an extreme athlete with plans to become the first man in history to swim the Atlantic, was describing a stretch of the River Nene near Tansor, Northamptonshire as his favourite place to swim in the world! (you can view the post on Daniel’s site  – you will need to scroll down a bit).

Daniel Martin - swimming near Tansor, Northamptonshire
Daniel Martin – swimming near Tansor, Northamptonshire (Photo by Daniel Martin – used with permission)


It was only last year that I discovered the joys of wild swimming (or in my case wild bobbing about) – after accidentally choosing a hike in Brecon Beacons that was part of Trail Magazine’s series on wild swimming hikes, followed the following day by a dip in a waterfall plunge pool on this brilliant waterfall walk in south Brecon Beacons. I have never felt more alive or in touch with the outdoors than when I was sitting on the bank drying out with my whole body (literally) buzzing from the experience. This year trips have been few and far between, although I did introduce my partner’s daughter to wild swimming in the Tavy Cleeve on Dartmoor, so discovering there is an excellent swimming spot somewhere just down the road from me  means I can have the chance to go for a dip more often. Although he may have been joking, Daniel has invited me to join him for a swim one day – apparently it is more beautiful the colder it gets!!

Me swimming in the Tavy Cleeve, Dartmoor
Me swimming in the Tavy Cleeve, Dartmoor

And it is great to see Northamptonshire get some recognition for outdoor activities.

You can read more about Daniel, his expeditions and his experiences outdoors, on his website, and you can follow him on Google Plus and Twitter (he is using the hashtag #MyFaveSwims for the series on his favourite swimming spots).

Tempted to go hiking in Northamptonshire? Check out the Northamptonshire Round – a route around Northamptonshire including some of the best parts created by a bunch of hikers keen to show off what Northamptonshire has to offer. There are also loads of resources on Google.

(Many thanks to Daniel Martin for permission to use his photos)

A 17 mile hike through the farmland and woodland of Northamptonshire (and Buckinghamshire)

Guard dog

The hike was hastily planned the night before – I fired up ViewRanger on my tablet, picked a local area I have not walked in much, quickly created a rough route and synced the route to my phone – in theory a 14.5 mile hike in and around Yardley Chase in Northamptonshire (and Buckinghamshire) leaving me plenty of time to get home for a bit of work (with the F1 in the background!)

The morning was a little more leisurely than planned – but eventually, after a bacon sandwich, the dog and I were packed into the car heading towards to Ravenstone, just East of Salcey Forest. The weather forecast was for strong winds and showers, however, other than a brief light shower, the rain held off and, whilst gusty, the wind was certainly bearable especially as it was surprisingly sunny (I was thankful I remembered my sun glasses!).

The first half of the walk followed The Milton Keynes Boundary Walk – from Ravenstone to Weston Underwood and then heading towards Bozeat. Being an official trail the route was well sign posted. Although a lot of the route was on quiet tracks, this was made up by some wonderful wood sections (through Kilwick Wood and Old Pastures) and high (for this neck of the woods) views across Buckinghamshire (and possibly Bedfordshire!!)

It is quite unusual to see fellow outdoor enthusiasts out in the countryside, other than a few dog walkers within sight of their villages. As I left Weston Underwood (after passing ‘The Knobs’, a fascinating feature on the main road out of the village) and headed up the bridleway track I was passed by a group of mountain bikers – a rare site in this part of the world.

The Knobs

For a short while, the track was left behind as the trail winded it’s way through Kilwick Wood – I prefer these private managed woods (usually managed for shooting) than the more heavily managed Forestry Commission ones – they just seem wilder and more interesting. The path soon rejoined another quiet track leading to Olney Park Farm and a variety of turkeys, clearly unaware of the fate that lies ahead of them!

Kilwick Wood

After another easy to follow path through some fields, the route entered another wood – Old Pastures. Judging by the signs, the majority of the wood is used as a firing range, but I found a peaceful spot at the junction of several paths for lunch. Guarded by the dog, I settled down against a huge Horse Chestnut tree as I boiled up some soup and put on a brew.

Guard dog

At Horn Wood it was time to leave the Milton Keynes Boundary Walk to head back towards Yardley Chase. Just off the path, well away from any roads or other buildings, was a derelict barn with a remains of some kind of walled garden. I find these old ruined buildings fascinating – what were they used for? Why were they left to go to ruin? Who still visits it? (there was a well worn path through the undergrowth into it!)

At Yardley Hastings, I took another lunch break – basking in the sun on a bench on the village green. I was tempted to pop into the friendly looking pub, but unfortunately I only had enough money on me for a single pint, and I was saving that for the end of the walk! The path from Yardley Hastings into Yardley Chase, which I have walked before, is a rather dull road, but eventually I entered the estate proper (making friends with some huge pigs on the way). The estate is some kind of nature reserve – with information signs about some of the wildlife and plant life. Yardley Chase is also used for cadet training – the last time I passed through, I was accompanied by the sound of machine gun fire!

Pig Friends

As the path turned to the South back towards Ravenstone, my feet began to tire. Checking ViewRanger, I noticed that my rough and ready route was a little too inaccurate as I was already approaching 17 miles. Reaching the car I felt completely justified to pop into Cowpers Oak in Weston Underwood for a pint of A380.

It was an enjoyable hike around some quiet and tranquil countryside – I was also mighty impressed with my Defy+ phone: I was running ViewRanger recording a track, BuddyBeacon pinging every 5 minutes and the Audible app running continuously, as well as taking photos and sending / receiving tweets. By the end the battery had only just gone yellow (less than 30%) (with a PowerMonkey Extreme top up at lunch time).

A misty and muddy Salcey Forest

As I try and do once a week, this lunchtime I took the dog on a short walk in Salcey Forest – not the popular bit by the cafe and tree walk (although to be fair at this time of year that part is also pretty quiet during the week), but the "wilder" part near the horse-box car park.

I used to walk here with my parents when I was a kid (before the existing horse, cycle and footpaths) and it is still a bit magically – today that was helped by the layer of mist drifting between the trees!

Northamptonshire Round – Cogenhoe to Hartwell

Because dogs aren’t allowed on buses, I usually have to make do with circular routes when I walk locally, so it was a nice change to be able to get a lift (from my very understanding girlfriend) to do an “A to B” walk following part of the Northamptonshire Round (thanks to @TowcesterNews for the recommendation). This leg takes in the view up the huge drive to Castle Ashby, Yardley Chase, Salcey Forest and the villages of Yardley Hastings, Horton, Piddington, and Hartwell. Although there was a lot of road work, the route was very enjoyable. Continue reading “Northamptonshire Round – Cogenhoe to Hartwell”

The Grafton Way – Northamptonshire

The Grafton Way is a 12.5 mile walk between Cosgrove (actually looking at the Ordnance Survey website, it seems to continue down the canal to Wolverton) and Greens Norton, passing past Towcester. The Grafton Way is joined to the North Buckinghamshire Way, The Grand Union Canal Walk, and Ouse Valley Way to the South, and turns into The Knighton Way at Greens Norton. The route is named after the Dukes of Grafton, who were large landowners throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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First walk of 2010 – Circular walk from Everdon via Woodford Halse

After the excesses of Christmas and spending a lot of time in bed with various bouts of illness (what is it about evolving colds that won’t go away this winter!) the Offa’s Dyke team (well everyone except Alex) decided to break in the new year  with a 13 mile walk around the Northamptonshire countryside South of Daventry.

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Salcey Forest Woodpecker Trail (slightly extended)

Small path and little bridge over a steam in Salcey Forest

As it was such a beautiful day on Sunday, I decided to walk the Woodpecker Trail in Salcey Forest – a 6 (ish) mile walk that circles the whole forest.

Salcey Forest is a remnant of a medieval royal hunting forest situated near the village of Hartwell in Northamptonshire, between Northampton and Milton Keynes.

The walk was less of a training walk for the Offa’s Dyke 4 MS challenge and more a chance to give the dog a nice long walk. That said I tried to keep up a good pace to build up some stamina on what is a fairly unchallenging walk. I also wanted to play around more with Viewranger – especially with the integration with my phone’s camera (most of these photos were taken on my N95 phone via Viewranger).

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