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.

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The River Avon Heritage Trail, West Lothian, Scotland

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.

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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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Celebrate London 2012 Olympics by hiking all or part of The Games Way

Durdle Door (used with permission from http://walk2012.co.uk

After the initial excitement back in 2005, there has recently been a lot of negativity and cynicism and about the London 2012 Olympic Games – whether it is the McDonald’s monopoly on chips,  the failings of G4S, spiralling costs or restrictive social media policies. However, for the last two years, project manager Mark Stanley has been working on a fantastic positive project for normal people to get involved in the Olympic celebrations – The Games Way, a 184 mile long distance path between Weymouth (the location of some of the Olympic sailing events) and the Olympic Park in London. The route goes through some fantastic British countryside – the Jurassic Coast, the New Forest, the edge of the South Downs, the Surrey Hills and along the Thames, past ancient castles, over hills and through woodland and across fields. The opening walk leaves from Weymouth on Saturday 28th July – you can either walk (or run) the whole thing, or join in for different stages.

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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).

Brecon Beacons Day 3 – Waterfalls!!

I love waterfalls. There is something so soothing and peaceful about the constant motion of water partnered with the natural splendour of water surging downwards. I also love forests. My ‘happy place’ would almost certainly be a waterfall in a forest (although I am yet to find a real world location that suits), so I was very excited when, back in May, I came across this waterfall walk on Surfnslide featuring several spectacular waterfalls. I added it to my ever-growing collection of routes in Evernote*, so I had it handy when I was planning this Brecon Beacons trip.

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Brecon Beacons Day 2 – Fan Frynych, Fan Dringarth and Fan Fawr

Thanks largely to one too many of the aptly named ‘Hikers Ruin’ I had consumed the night before and the fantastic breakfast my hosts had produced, day 2 was quite a late start! I wanted to head out onto the part of the Brecon Beacons just west of A470 but the lingering headache was making it hard to concentrate on the map, so in the end I download a free route on ViewRanger published by Trail Magazine.

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Brecon Beacons Day 1 – Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big

Sheltering on Fan y Big

Whenever I am heading towards Wales there is always a point in the journey when everything seems better – after days on end of sitting in front of my computer working, my shoulders loosen, my mind clears and my mood lightens. It is the point in the journey when, after cresting yet another nondescript English hill, you suddenly see the hills and mountains of Wales laid out before you.

In this case I was driving down the A438 heading towards Brecon, on the edge of Brecon Beacons. It was the weekend of the annual Brecon Jazz festival which, in my younger days, I used to attend fairly regularly. This year I was combining spending some quality time with some old friends (and drinking the best homebrew brewed by my friend’s dad), with some much need quality time on the hills.

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Dartmoor: Western Moors and Tors

Great Staple Tor

After successfully tackling Fur Tor and the wilder parts of Dartmoor the previous day, the plan for the Sunday was to explore the more popular Western moors and Tors (a route lifted almost entirely from Backpackingbongos). We were camping at Langstone Manor, a lovely quiet campsite (with it’s own bar serving pretty decent meals!) tucked on the edge of the moor, so, after consuming some bacon sandwiches, we left the campsite and began the gradual climb onto Whitchurch Common.

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Dartmoor – Fur Tor

Taking a break on DartmoorWe left Bristol early on Saturday morning (fuelled by bacon sandwiches) to head down the M5 and A30 to Dartmoor in a convoy of three cars (6 people, 1 big dog and lots of car camping kit). During breakfast, I had been updated by @DanSantillo that the hills were still shrowded in mist, and I was a little nervous as the haze covered countryside flew past. Fortunately though, by the time we arrived at the tucked away Lane End carpark, the sun had done it’s job of burning away the mist leaving mostly blue skies and glorious sunshine.
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