It’s all gone quiet over there…

Err, yes. It has hasn’t it? I blame real life… its twists and turns and how it had an uncanny knack of kicking me squarely between the legs in 2016 for one reason or another.

So, a New Year, a new start and new plans.

Usually at this time of year, when the rain is lashing against my office window, I’m daydreaming about trips on foot and bike. I have a little notebook full of ‘adventure ideas’. It was a gift from someone very dear to me who, tragically, is sadly no longer with us… last year’s most horrible event.

She was well aware of my ability to stare out of the window and escape and, always a fan of a list, bought me the book in the hope that some of these mental voyages would become a reality.

I was leafing though its pages just after the New Year celebrations and found some notes on two trips in the Alps – a place I’d never really visited save for a rather gloomy school skiing trip in my teens.

The first adventure – on the bike – detailed a trip from the South of France to the north taking on the Route des Grande Alpes in reverse before plotting a route through the Jura and, even, taking on the notorious pavé. A personal Tour de France if you will but at a more sedate pace on a touring bike. The trip was all about good food, good wine, incredibly scenery and very, very testing climbs.

The second – on foot – revisited the Alps for a tour of Mont Blanc, the classic multi-day hike linking mountain refuges. This, again, involved some serious ascent but promised a feast of Alpine scenery.

On a dingy train home last week I chewed over these options again and couldn’t really decide between them… so I settled on both. I’ve selected June for the bike trip and September for the walking tour. In doing so, I aim to avoid the busier periods and, potentially, enjoy more stable weather.

Training has now started in earnest… ish.

Riding a bike at this time of year requires a special kind of masochism. Hail is my favourite. Still, the hard yards now will hopefully soften the blow of, say, the Col de l’Iseran and Bonette.

Hopefully.

Bob Jackson World Tour

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First look – MPOWERD Luci inflatable solar lantern

Just before I headed to Scotland I had an email from a company in the United States asking about distributors for their inflatable solar lantern. I duly responded and the company sent me a sample to try.

MPowered Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern
The MPOWERD Luci inflatable lantern is intended for outdoor leisure users including hikers, campers, anglers, kayakers, cyclists… you get the picture. It is constructed from soft clear transparent plastic, is waterproof and features a square solar panel in the base charging a slim 3.7V DC lithium polymer battery. This is sealed in the base with no facility for replacement.

Light is provided by 10 led lights arranged in a circle in the base providing a maximum of 65 lumens. In the top of the cylindrical lantern is a flexible reflective disc that helps distribute the light to a claimed area of a square metre. The top disc also features a mouthpiece with stop valve for inflation/deflation while plastic handles are located at the top and base allowing the lantern to be suspended.

A switch at the centre of the solar panel toggles the lantern between ‘bright’, ‘super bright’, and ‘flashing/beacon’ settings and powers the unit down.

The manufacturers claim 12 hours on the bright setting and this seems plausible in summer temperatures. I left the unit on all night on the hearth and it was still emitting good light in the morning after nine hours. Charge time is eight hours and the unit will still provide four hours of light if not used for a year from full charge.

Inflation and deflation can be a little tricky, though. The mouthpiece features a stiff valve making it quite difficult to inflate by blowing straight from the lungs (as if you were inflating a Thermarest). Musicians familiar with the embouchure technique will have an advantage!

I found it easier to inflate the lantern by opening it gently like an accordion (forgive the musical references) while holding the valve open with the point of a pencil or other pointed (but not sharp) implement. The lantern can then be topped up by blowing air in the mouthpiece.

This is a well-designed and well-made lantern that performs well based on early use. It may be a luxury for lightweight backpackers given that it weighs a little over 110g but I will find room for it in my cycle panniers as it illuminates the inner of my Vaude Hogan XT perfectly. It has particular practical benefits for anglers fishing at night and those who love messing around in boats.

If you are interested in finding out more check our MPOWERD’s website. Interested retailers should contact sales@mpowerd.com

Birthday bimble in the Dark Peak

To mark my 40th birthday this week it seemed appropriate to go for a wander at the weekend. In the interests of blogging symmetry, I opted for another long-ish walk home from Edale. The weather was pretty grim and I had some real trouble with the boots I was wearing. I’ll have a grumble about these along with other kit observations at a later date. For now, here are some pics…

Leaving Edale and the rain stopped, for five minutes.

leaving-edale

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Photo post: Lake District Backpack, Ambleside to Keswick

Here are some shots of my two night backpack over the Bank Holiday weekend. ‘Twas freakishly warm yet damp and muggy… not the best conditions for walking in some ways but grand all the same. Click on the thumbnails to view larger images.

Route: Ambleside – Loughrigg Tarn – Lingmoor Fell – Pike o Blisco – Camp – Crinkle Crags – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Great Gable – Green Gable – Brandreth – Grey Knotts – Honister – Dale Head – Dale Head Tarn (Camp) – Tongue Gill – Allerdale Ramble.

A perfect Peak District wild camp – Going up west

The aim of a wild camp is, surely, to find somewhere remote, allowing the participant to connect with their surroundings. On our relatively crowded islands, and certainly south of the border, this requires backpackers to aim high and increasingly off the beaten track.

A wild camp spot on the banks of the West End River, Derwent ValleyHowever, factors governing the remoteness of a particular spot are not confined to location. This Easter, the unseasonable Arctic air stream which has dumped considerable snow on our usually wet land has had the advantage rendering the accessible inaccessible… inaccessible for those unprepared to put in a bit of effort.

On the week leading into Easter, I’d been keeping in touch with conditions in the Derwent Valley, that busiest of Dark Peak attractions. The snowfall had been so extensive, even the Fairholmes visitor centre was closed. With the cold persisting, my hope was that conditions would be tricky further up the valley and that my planned camp spot – the forested valley of the West End river -would be at peace. Continue reading

Guest post: Colin Prior – A Night to Remember

In common with many outdoor bloggers, I’m asked to host guest posts for brands. Most of the time, the product is either not relevant, the post not appropriate, or both. I hope you’ll agree that the following piece provided by Islay malt distillery Bowmore is a suitable addition to these pages. Not only does it feature the work of someone I admire, landscape photographer Colin Prior, it also ties in with The Ultimate Adventure, a competition that I hope Northern Walker readers will appreciate.

The prize is a five-day survival and photography trip to Scotland with outdoor survival specialist Ken Hames and Colin. To enter, you need to join Bowmore’s Inner Core (as an Islay whisky nut, I’m a member) where you’ll get updates on new whisky releases and offers.

More information and enter The Ultimate Adventure here.

Best wishes and good luck!

Matt.

A Night to Remember

Having spent some time in and around the Small Isles – the islands of Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna, I had a growing desire to photograph the Rum Cuillin. I began some planning and identified that April looked like it would be the optimum time for photography on two counts – the position of the sun and for insect activity. I planned two nights in the mountains and it was just a question of waiting for some stable weather and getting onto location.

Wild camp on the summit of Hallival Colin Prior
Wild camp on the summit of Hallival by Colin Prior

Eventually, I got the break that I had been waiting for and caught the MacBraynes ferry to Kinloch on Rum. I set off for the summit of Hallival with a rucksack weighing 53lbs where I planned to camp and to photograph Askival at dawn. Progress uphill was slow but steady and I finally reached the summit where the views towards Eigg and the mainland beyond were spectacular. To the north and rising in ramparts to the serrated gabbro ridge, the Skye Cuillin, looked particularly impressive. I pitched my tent just below the summit cairn and turned my attention to dinner – table for one!

The evening passed quickly and as the sky was cloudless. I waited until the stars began to appear, knowing that the total absence of light pollution would enhance the experience. Wow! What a night sky that was – just an infinite black space encrusted with thousands of tiny light sources that sparkled like diamonds. At one point I counted five satellites in the sky at one time. Eventually, I felt my own lights go out and I crawled into my tent.

Some time later, I felt the need for some fresh air and as I unzipped the tent I could see in the beam of my head-torch that the air was filled with birds. I looked at my watch and it was 1.30am and yet these birds were all actively flying around me. Eventually, it dawned on me that these were Manx Shearwaters and what I was witnessing was the courtship rituals of these birds taking place – behind my tent, sitting outside their burrows were four (I assume) females who were being suitably impressed by their potential partner. The spectacle was breathtaking and I realised I had witnessed a special moment. It’s not uncommon whilst in these wild places to have a close encounters with wildlife, which I see as a ‘gift’ that validates the experience of being in a wild place.

Rum Cuillin from Sgurr nan Gillean by Colin Prior
Rum Cuillin from Sgurr nan Gillean by Colin Prior

More information on Colin Prior

Rolling out the bivvy bag above Edale

I’ve written a fair amount about Kinder Scout on this blog, but I’ve never ‘overnighted’ on its boggy plateau or, perhaps, more agreeable shoulders.

I remedied this at the weekend. I had some free time, although not as much as I’d hoped, so jumped on a train with a light pack. The forecast had been dreadful all week, but the prognosis had improved late on, with periods of extensive sunshine and rain later. I took the bivvy bag.

I had no plan… this was going to be a slow pootle over familiar ground. A trip to Edale and Kinder is like seeing old friends, and it’s a friendship that requires little maintenance. Like the enduring circle of soul mates gained during childhood, I reconnect three or four times a year, but I have the ever-present reassurance that it’s there if needed.

My route took me east along the valley and up on the plateau. Occasional showers gave the evening light a keener edge, throwing sometimes-stark contrast across lush fields bloated by a week of downpours.

I found some clean water and boiled it for my dinner. Kicking back above Nether Tor, I watched the evening progress.

Rolling out the bivvy beyond Grindsbrook Knoll, I had a fine view down the vale. My satisfaction was short lived, however, as a stiff northerly wind snaked around the surrounding hills and rattled the bag. I found a small, dry-ish depression and turned away from the view.

The wind remained all night, and rain drummed on the bag at dawn. I was warm and dry though, and felt a strange sense of comfort in my exposed bedroom.