Around Dovedale 2-day backpack

Pitch on Dove CragA short 2-day winter circuit of the fells around Dovedale to the south-west of Brothers Water.

Late starts, short daylight hours and bus timetables greatly limit the possibilities for winter backpacks but the forecast was for clear and very cold days that made this little round most rewarding. We packed the microspikes but didn’t need them, it was so cold on the tops that the thick frost encrusting the rocky landscape was dry and crunchy, not slippery at all. The ice was very patchy and easily avoided despite the recent heavy rains, it also helped considerably with the boggy bits.

The culmination of the round as the light was quickly fading was a superb pitch on Dove Crag.

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Aran Ridge south-west 2-day backpack

Pitch on GlasgwmA solo traverse of the Aran ridge from south to north, taking a new approach from the south-west to include Foel Benddin, our only unclimbed Dewey 500m summit in the range.

Foel Benddin is most inconsiderate in its situation and topology: forming a final spur off the southern end of the ridge, it is dauntingly steep on all other sides, difficult to access, pathless and rarely visited or mentioned. This route approaches the ridge around the south-western slopes of the Arans and uses a zigzag forest track on the flank of the hills to gain most of the height, leaving just a short out-and-back to gain the summit.

Conditions were strange on this trip: both days had superb clear views in unbroken sunshine, but overnight the wind increased from almost zero to very strong with gale force gusts over the hills, often making the ridge walking difficult and tiring. The whole route was deserted until I met a handful of walkers ascending the lower slopes near the end approaching Llanuwchllyn.

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Ruabon Moors 2-day backpack

Pitch on Ruabon MountainThe first backpack after a 9-week recovery from the dreaded plantar fasciitis, very nearly healed now.

A 2-day route traversing the Ruabon moors to the north-east of Llangollen, an extensive area of high heather moorland forming the eastern fringe of the Dee hills.

The approach to Esclusham Mountain from Coedpoeth visits the Minera lead mines and skirts the extensive Minera limestone quarries, a geological site that is now an important conservation area at varying stages of recolonisation.

The southern section follows the high level traverse of Eglwyseg Mountain above the superb line of incised crags that we saw from below on our last backpack three months ago, giving excellent views to the west. This section is part of the Llangollen Round and occasionally waymarked.

The final section passes through Trevor Quarry, discovered quite fortuitously, and joins the Llangollen canal for an easy finish in Llangollen.
Both days of this trip were in almost constant sunshine, chilly nights and warm days giving excellent views.

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The Salter’s Way 2-day backpack

Pitch below Tegg's Nose summitA solo 2-day varied linear route based on the historic pack-horse trail of a medieval salt way from its mining source at Northwich on the Cheshire plain to Saltersford Hall in the hills of the western Peak District.

Needing a quick backpack route for a couple of days near to home, I thought of this little known trail that has gathered dust for many years on our books and, to our knowledge, has never been reported. Most of the Cheshire plain section is new territory of low level country walkling, while the Peak District section presents some new paths and some familiar hillwalking landscapes from a different vantage.

On public transport, Lostock Gralam station seemed a better choice than Northwich for walking to the start of the SW: though a little longer, there is a towpath to follow along the Trent & Mersey canal. To complete this backpack, from Saltersford Hall I ascended to the ridge of Windgather Rocks and descended into the Dale of Goyt to join the Midshires Way northwards to Whaley Bridge station.

Northwich, along with Middlewich and Nantwich, are the main towns historically based on the salt trade and the westernmost section of the SW passes a number of working brine pump installations. Other industrial themes both old and new feature periodically on this route.

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Llantysilio Hills & Eglwyseg 2-day backpack

Eglwyseg cragsA 2-day route across the Llantysilio hills to the north of the River Dee, returning via World’s End and the excellent path below the western crags of Eglwyseg Mountain. The Llangollen canal provides an easy and picturesque finish.

A summer solstice backpack for 2019, a couple of days of fine weather was at last forecast after a cold wet spell and this was a most enjoyable trip, revisiting the hills in the west and including some new sections of trail on the eastern side, in particular the full traverse of the excellent path below the Eglwyseg cliffs that hosts a fragment of the Offa’s Dyke Path.

In July 2018 the flanks of Llantysilio Mountain were ravaged by a moorland fire and this traverse of Moel y Gamelin was a sad affair, seeing the charred bare slopes that were once ablaze with the vibrant pinks of heather on our last visit in September 2002. Strategy for recovery is no doubt being discussed at length but full restoration will take years.

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The Cateran Trail 3-day backpack

Approach to An LairigA 3-day solo backpack of the Cateran Trail waymarked circular route through Perthshire and the Angus glens in south-eastern Scotland, a varied low-to-mid level route following old tracks and drove roads used by the notorious Cateran cattle raiders in bygone times.

The original 64-mile (103km) route repeats the initial 7-mile (11km) section from Blairgowrie to Bridge of Cally on the return leg. On this backpack I took the documented alternative route variant from Alyth to Blairgowrie via Den of Alyth and Glendams, sometimes called the Drimmie Woods alternative route and signed as such in Alyth, that returns on a direct line and eliminates that lengthy repetition.

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The Dyfi Ridge 2-day backpack

Cribin Fawr pitchA backpack of the Dyfi group of hills, a little walked ridge traverse from Dinas Mawddwy in the east to the A487 summit pass in the west, returning to Dolgellau over the low hill country north-east of Gau Graig via the old restricted byway.

This route was a good choice for a predicted warm and sunny Easter weekend with hordes of walkers on more popular hills and some disruption on public transport in other areas. A noon start meant that we saw a mere handful of walkers on Maesglase and nobody else at all thereafter.

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Hadrian’s Wall 4-day backpack

Walton CragsA 3½-day solo training backpack of the popular Hadrian’s Wall national trail, or Hadrian’s Way as it is signed at the eastern end near Wallsend Metro station.

A weather forecast for several days of dry conditions with a persistent fresh easterly air stream gave a rare opportunity to hike it east-to-west with the wind at my back the whole way. The first day was grey and murky, no great loss since the easternmost section is largely urban, but the rest were much better than expected and mainly sunny throughout, perfect for this route that has lurked on a back burner for years.

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Northern Mawddach Way 2-day backpack

Dawn sky at tent pitchA continuation trip to our Southern Mawddach Way (MW) backpack of September 2018 to complete the trail.

The weather was far superior to the cautious forecast, clear skies and unbroken sunshine throughout, surpassing even the very warm and highly unusual conditions on our Langdale Fells backpack of February 2008. On this trip it was decidely hot in the middle of the day and we were occasionally praying for a breeze to kick in. Our previous record of 29th. February 2004 for the earliest butterfly was also broken, we saw several peacocks and other unidentified specimens.

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Around Glencoyne 2-day backpack

Pitch on Green SideA 2-day route around the hills bordering Glencoyne, starting at the popular and well maintained Aira Force woodland path. The line ascends along the slopes of Watermillock Common to Hart Side and Green Side reaching the highest point at Stybarrow Dodd, then returns via Sticks Pass to ascend Sheffield Pike and finish along the Greenside Mine track to Glenridding.

On this our first midwinter backpack for years, the weather fell far short of our expectation from the forecast and yielded only brief sunshine in the middle of the first day, the remainder was thickly overcast with a dull, flat light that drained the landscape of colour and struggled to produce good views and images. The oddest aspect though was the total absence of snow on even the highest summits in early January.

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