Peak District wildcamping bikepack

An opportunity arose at the weekend to get out. I say ‘opportunity’, but this bikepack in the Dark Peak was complicated by my current state of moving house. Bike bags had been packed, sleeping bags and bivvy bags were neatly stowed in marked cardboard boxes, camp stove fuel and water bladder were stored God-knows-where.

An hour or so crashing around in the workshop later and I cobbled together some kit for the trip. With the weather sultry in Glossopdale, I opted for a tarp – a first-time outing for this simple shelter.

I strapped the bags to my ECR and pushed off at 5pm. While the heat of day hung heavily in the air, the sun had started its descent to the horizon and the evening light gave the Derbyshire hills definition, perspective and texture. The trails were agreeably quiet too.

I picked up the Pennine Bridleway and headed due-Edale over Lantern Pike towards Mount Famine. Feeling a little reckless, I turned the handlebars towards Jacobs Ladder and ended up pushing most of the way – underlining the heft of my bike and my hopeless skills as mountain biker.

Edale was full of weekenders enjoying the evening. The village’s Spoonfest had swelled numbers, but campsites would have always been full in this balmy weather. As a consequence, some enterprising folk had negotiated their own impromptu campgrounds on farmers’ fields further down the valley. The atmosphere was heavy with the fug of barbecues.

I didn’t delay.

I was headed for the banks of Ladybower north of Bamford where I hoped to find a helpful spot to rig the tarp and watch night fall. Pushing along the reservoir track I found a nice ‘beach’ and the branches of low trees provided perfect anchorage for my tarp ridgeline. Despite being my first outing, the tarp was ready in a couple of minutes. I rolled out my bivvy and sorted the bed for the night. A brew soon followed and I watched the light fade and the traffic illuminating the Snake Road – a mere whisper on the far bank.












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.

A Derwent bivvy trip

A recent bivvy trip to Derwent reservoir should have been far grander affair. Thanks to Ronald Turnbull’s excellent Three Peaks Ten Tors, my intention was to complete the Derwent Watershed in two days.

This 39-mile loop takes in the gloopy tops of the Derwent Basin in the Peak District. Although feet are protected from much of the peat these days by excellent flagstone paths, there are still plenty of options to ruin your trousers and sink up to you knees in the black stuff.

A view along Ladybower Reservoir from Stanage Edge
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Night on a bare mountain*

(…*with apologies to Mussorgsky.)

Recovery from back pain takes time. I know this all too well, but my current and seemingly minor symptoms have been hanging around for seven months and progress has been snail-like.

Recently, things have been bit better and I thought it high time to give my geriatric muscles a bit of a work out. This was going to be a pretty minor excursion, but I was keen to sleep out again: somewhere high, somewhere quiet and with a view.

The royal wedding helped my cause. While most people’s attention was focussed on the happy couple, I hoped that Lakeland would be relatively quiet. Staveley, sleepy at the best of times, was a ghost town when I left the train late afternoon.

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A brew with a view

Here’s a rather disappointing shot for my bivvy bag trip over the weekend… well, it was taken with a phone and had I been a bit more organised on Saturday morning and not in a rush to catch a train, I might have had more appropriate equipment at my disposal.

This is from high ground above Small Water looking towards Haweswater. It’s a great spot which allows you to hide from the crowds of tents around this little tarn (there were eight on Saturday, whatever happened to wild camping on your own, and not in groups).

Being in the bag allowed me to squeeze onto some nice flat ground between two outcrops and I was completely hidden from view.

My route took me from Windermere train station over the low hills towards Troutbeck where I picked up a bridleway skirting Applethwaite Common and then up to Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, High Street, High Raise and then back to Kidsty Pike when I realised the time.

I dropped down to Haweswater via Kidsty Howes, skirted the reservoir and then gained ground to by bivvy site.

Sunday dawned gloomily and the raid soon started. It was interesting packing up in a shower but I managed to keep everything relatively dry.

I tramped over the Nan Bield Pass in driving rain before a gloomy early morning jaunt along the valley to Kentmere and then followed a network of bridleways back to Windermere via High Borrans.

Given the time, I only saw a sheep farmer, one mountain biker and a beautiful barn owl intent on staring me out. The weather might have been gloomy and the cloud base low, but this was sublime, solitary walking.

Going Shangri-la-la

Stuck on train last night coming back from London I started thinking about my new shelter purchase again and the best way to use it (well, it is a long-ish journey).

The bleeding obvious then struck me.

Rather than forking out for a nest or new pertex bivvy, I realised that I have a perfectly good, bug- proof solution in the garage.

I’ve always regarded my Big Agnes Three Wire Bivvy as a ‘mountain-top’ shelter with poles. But why not leave the poles at home and carry this and the Shangri-la for a truly versatile modular system?

It presents a couple of options: A ‘tent’ and bivvy in buggy/wet conditions or for campsites, and a bivvy-only option for those starry nights up high.

The bag weights in at 680g so the weight increase over the ground sheet is negligible – again not superlight, but an adaptable shelter which can offer all that space over a one-man tent.

Although it is a fully waterproof Event bag, it has a huge bug-protected ‘vent’ for using within the shelter so condensation should not be a big problem (the Event breathes really well, too). I also really like using the bivvy as it keeps my sleep system ‘together’.

Now I am itching to try it but the gear won’t be accompanying me to Scotland and I don’t think the other half will appreciate me wandering off to spend a night on my own.

Lakes in October, then.

Feeling a bit wild

So, I’m wondering whether these balmy conditions are going to hold for the weekend… I haven’t wild camped for over a year and am desperate to find some seclusion in the Lakeland fells (if that’s possible).

Interested to see exactly how long it has been, I note that the last time I ‘roughed it’ was in May in the bivvy bag.

Time flies when you’re juggling bad backs and other distractions.

I’m thinking I will get the train on Saturday to Windermere… wend my way gently to Grasmere and find somewhere up high to watch the sky.

Avoiding other folk is going to be important so if you happen to see and lanky fella giving you a wide berth, you’ll know why. It’s nothing personal!

Big Agnes Three Wire Bivy – further thoughts

My night in the Lakes was a uneventful affair, really, a good first night to use the bivvy. The weather was dry and I had a good breeze to keep things that way in the bag.

Big Agnes Three Wire Bivvy in stuffsacAlthough I kept much of my gear outside the bag in an Exped dry sack and my shoes were kept in a bin liner overnight just in case, there is plenty of room in the Three Wire for kit. To get a more level sleeping platform, I used my Pinnacle sack propped under my legs in the bag and there was room for much more.

It is possible to draw your legs up when the bag is pegged down and it’s easy to turn over during the night and sleep on your side.The hood and opening is ingenious. The zips give you plenty of venting options, from small, sheltered holes to bug-proof openings on warm nights.

I was too warm in my MEC Merlin and had to have the bag open. I closed it as darkness drew in, though, spending the night with the bag half open, the mesh closed.

I had no dampness in the bag in the morning, save for a small patch of moisture near the opening, replicating my experiences when using the bag in the garden.

The only problem I still have with the bag is getting in. The zip is a little to short for me to slide easily under the hood. Other six-foot plussers might have a similar problem. It might still be my technique, though.

Another slight niggle is the how flappy the bag can be in wind as the material is not particularly taught over the pole structure. It’s probably no worse that a lightweight tent but it’s worth bearing in mind if considering a really high camp. Pack some earplugs…

The real acid test is going to be wet night and we don’t have a shortage of those up here. This, too, will be a test of my technique, but I’m confident this bag will be up to the task even if I’m not.

Peak Bagging Day 2

Morning dawned a hazy grey – time for coffee. I gathered frigid water from the beck and splashed some on my face to wash away the sluggishness of my slumber.

The Scafell Massif looking, well, massiveThe little valley was quiet and my neighbours hadn’t stirred. The sheep were active, though, and moving in on my spot, chewing and staring.I munched on a flapjack, a huge doorstep of a thing which I’d bought from the Langdale campsite the previous evening.

As I ate, I boiled more water for the day and filled my hydration bladder. The sun appeared and started to burn off the early morning haze. It was going to be another beautiful day.

The bivvy bag’s breathable membrane hadn’t been troubled during the night but I aired it and the sleeping bag before leisurely packing them away.

That’s the great thing about the minor discomforts of the bag: it gives you so much more time on the hill. Nothing’s hurried, there are no schedules, nightfall doesn’t matter. Things would have been different had it been raining, of course.

The Royal Canadian Airforce memorial on Great CarrsI checked my campsite and removed all trace of my bedroom for the night. I was sure it would be used for the purpose again.

I walked along the babbling beck before finding a faint path to the head of Moasdale. Turning round, the Scafell massif looked formidable as the early sun enlivened the textures of its eastern-facing buttresses and screes.

Crossing the lip of the valley, I followed a muddy track across boggy ground down Moasdale, joining an engineered path to road leading to Hardknott Pass. Here, I met my first people of the day: A solitary walker headed for the Scafells and a duo kitted up by their parked car on the side of the narrow ribbon of tarmac.

Curiously, one of these guys was hobbled around in Italian plastic mountaineering boots. Perhaps he was breaking them in, or a devotee of some curious sado-masochistic cult.

I reached Cockley Beck Bridge and a fierce easterly ripped down Wynrose Pass, threatening to carry my map down the Valley of the Duddon. I checked the route and noted a path leading up the side of Grey Friar, giving my access to the ridge of the Coniston chain of fells.

The route up the side of this rocky hill was feint and hard to follow for good reason, as it has to be one of the more ghastly ascents in Lakeland. The preserve of fell runners looking for a quick route on some inconceivably arduous ‘round’, it offers little reward for the fellwalker save for the satisfaction of crawling onto the summit, lungs and limbs exploding.

I tussled with this climb for an hour, trying find a route through the tussocky grass and grippy rocky outcrops. The rock did offer relief to an extent, using the westerly sides of these hummocks for shelter from the wind and employing my hands to gain height rather than slumping, teeth gritted, on walking poles.

Eventually on top, I scampered to a rocky cove out of the wind and collapsed. Food and water were quickly consumed, including a sickly energy gel, which I’d located at the bottom of my pack.

Recovered, I pressed on, the route ahead to the Old Man along Swirl How, now clearly visible. Dropping down from Grey Friar, I made quick progress up to the memorial on Great Carrs where sheep licked moisture of the battered remains of the aircraft surrounding the cross.

I was reacquainted with the fierce wind and struggled to keep upright in the onslaught. The conditions were definitely better tackled with the poles safely strapped to the pack.

I reached the top of Swirl How and the summit of the Old Man came into view, its large summit cairn littered with the stick men, women and children – early pedestrians from the car parks and streets of Coniston.

The tourist track off the Old Man down to Levers WaterI headed to them, following an eroded path tracked by surplus-to-requirement cairns on this clear day. Following the lower path to avoid becoming a human kite, I left the path and clambered up the side of Black Crag before the final climb to the busy summit.

Folk came and went. Some stopped for sandwiches, one for two bottles of Grolsch and he diligently ferried the bottles and bottle tops off the hill as he headed for the rocky spine of Dow Crag.

The ridge looked tempting, but that would wait for another day. I skidded down the tourist path, now out of the wind but under a blistering sun. I passed parties of pedestrians on the way down, some of them reluctant, many of them asking me how far they’d got to go.

Industrial heritage is important in the UK’s national parks – they are working landscapes rather than preserves after all – but the battered and bruised slopes of the Old Man are testing, to say the least. Huge piles of quarry spoil line the path along with the rusted rails, rope and pulleys of heavy lifting.

I tried to appreciate this shattered landscape in context but wondered whether this was such a good introduction to fellwalking as it serves as many people’s first, and last, Lakeland summit.

Leaking in the early afternoon sun, I soaked my battered baseball cap in a stream and slapped it back on my balding head, enjoying the cooling water running down my neck.

I dropped into Coniston and headed straight for the Black Bull Inn. Two pints of Old Man were hastily ordered and I found a shady table outside and watched the holiday traffic, human and vehicular.

Two pints of Old Man at the Black Bull InnReaching the end of my second glass, a couple sat on a step next to me, rubber- necking for tables. Having missed one table the other side of the beer terrace, I quickly finished my drink and offered them mine. The woman was grateful… the guy said that a ‘young chap like me should have been on the hill, anyway’. Charming.

Bored with the bustle, I headed along the northern shores of Coniston Water, watching sailing dinghies scudding across the waves. After a slightly dicey bit of road walking, a growling, souped-up Subaru narrowly missing me, I found the bridleway to Grizedale Forest.

From memory, I found the green way-marked track and followed it through the forest to Satterthwaite.

The Grizedale campsite was teeming with families and mountain bikers. I waited for the other half to arrive, ready for a completely different camping experience for the next couple of days.