Saturday, 4 October 2014

Friends Old and New: An overnight trip in the Shropshire Hills

The hills of South Shropshire are where, over half a life time ago, I first broke in my walking boots.  Living in Shrewsbury as a teenager, with my best friend in Church Stretton, I spent many, many weekends walking these hills, both day and night, for we not infrequently walked from before it was light until after dark, and on a number of occasions walked all through the night.  In one twenty hour walk, in October 1974 I think it was, I covered fifty miles across these hills, and this remains my record to this day.

Looking up Carding Mill Valley
The other day I was very keen to get out in what was forecast to be the last of our 'Indian Summer', but nervous of a still tender back after a fortnight of some discomfort. The prospect of a trip with good weather, and the chance to try out a new shelter overcame the wise voice in my head telling me to rest up a few days longer.  The compromise was adjusting my original plan of a high camp at a nice spot I have in mind on the top of one of the Berwyns in favour of a favourite short walk, followed by a camp near a village with a pub.  This would save me from twelve hours lying in a dark tent on a Neoair, not the best treatment for lower back pain.

Thus, I headed in the early afternoon to Church Stretton with a pretty light overnight pack by my standards, and set off up the Long Mynd.  For those of you who have never visited, this is delightful, but easy, hill walking country. The Mynd itself is a long heather covered moorland plateau running north to south.  Its east side, facing the Stretton Valley, is disected by several deep, parallel valleys, of the classic geography text book V shape.  Locally, these are often known as a batch or a hollow. Between the valleys are very broad ridges.  Thus, it is easy to combine circular routes to the top of the Long Mynd, Pole Bank, via a couple of valleys or ridges or one of each.  The top is at a modest 516 metres, but on a clear day it has glorious views as far as Cadair Idris and the Rhinogs to the west, and the Urals to the east. Yes the Urals. Honest! See my earlier blog post.

Looking back down from near top of Carding Mill Valley to Church Stretton
Thus, I headed along a cunning path that runs well above the parked cars in the lowest reaches of the honey pot which is Carding Mill Valley, then up that valley itself, passing the school fieldwork parties that always come here, each struggling after such a dry spell to undertake a stream study. The path is a lovely gradient, steep enough for you to get a sweat on and increase the pace of your breathing, but just when you feel you might want to stop for five you emerge on the plateau of the Mynd where you can stretch your legs and stride out for miles in this super walking country.
The Portway - a pre-historic track across the top of the Long Mynd
From the site of the old corrugated iron shooting box, which must have been gone for twenty or more years now, there were impressive views westwards on this lovely clear day. A couple of miles to the west is the lovely Stiperstones ridge, with its tors that make the Devil's Chair, and its unmissable sky line, and its ankle breaking quartz rock hidden in the heather that runs the length of its ridge. Further to the south and west is the easily recognised profile of Corndon Hill, still in Shropshire, but right up to the Welsh Border with old Montgomeryshire, killed off in 1974, resurrecting the Powys of old, but without its princes. And on the far horizon, the distinctive shape of Cader Idris, which must be forty miles as the crow flies, and the high mountains of southern Snowdonia.

Pole Bank - the top of the Long Mynd, looking towards the Stiperstones

Selfie at Pole Bank

From Pole Bank I back tracked a couple of hundred yards and then headed off down towards a spring called Boiling Well and the lovely little path down Ashes Hollow, winding through the autumnal bracken, following the stream around its perfectly interlocking spurs.  

Heading down Ashes Hollow

In Ashes Hollow
Right at the end of the hollow is a small but perfectly formed little camp site on the edge of the village of Little Stretton. I last camped here with my little brother when I was sixteen, in my first ever tent, a Litchfield Mistral 1. This served me well in my early forays in the hills, until its groundsheet lost all its waterproof coating four years later resulting in a damp night in an Alpine meadow. That was the day after Elvis Presley died. My memory is a strange and mysterious thing.
Wonderful location at Little Stretton, but rather over priced
It was somewhat fitting that I was back at the site where I tested out my first tent, as I could now try out my latest, my Z Packs Hexamid DuplexAlan Sloman has decreed that all tents should have a name, and that tents are female, so the Duplex is now Daphne.  At just 835 grams, with added linelocks, pegs, and in the 'heavier' grade cuben fibre option, she is ultra lightweight for a two person shelter, and she has some pretty radical design features. But I need to know how she will handle bad weather.  Rain should be no problem, but what about a good British hoolie?  She  certainly wouldn't have managed well tonight, though. I tried out a new set of Vargo titanium pegs, and four of the six bent badly and so she was not anchored down that effectively. What titanium is doing bending so easily I do not know, but I shall bring the Clam Cleat Tornadoes next time.


I'm getting my money back. Vargo Titanium V pegs after their first use. The four failures all occurred at the same point on the peg
Before bed, though, I wanted to indulge in some fine dining.  Sainsbury's packet tomato soup is really rather good. Mountain House dehydrated meals aren't.  I am still using up a stock from an ill advised purchase.  Perhaps the walk had been too short to make it edible, but it was in the bin after a couple of spoonfulls, the perfect excuse to walk a few hundred yards to the Ragleth Inn and a very good bar snack. Tempura prawns in chilli sauce, Steak Dianne, sticky toffee pudding and a couple of pints of 'Shropshire Lass' if you want to know, and an hour with the Kindle, before heading back to the tent.

I wasn't to find out this night how well Daphne copes with weather.  For much of the time it was still, and only in the early hours did the slightest breeze materialise.  I bedded down with the doors open on one side, admiring the stars and the moonlight.  For a single skin shelter I was impressed at how little condensation formed.  It was a calm, clear night and I was next to a stream. There was some, but she is super spacious and it was easy to stay away from the walls. There is none of that head in the sides nonsense of many other lightweight shelters, either when lying down or sitting up.
Z Packs Groupie: The Hexamid Duplex, aka 'Daphne' and the Arc Blast aka 'Billy'

Daphne can take two men at once. She is a palace for one

I had to get back home earlyish in the morning, so after my breakfast special of porridge made in a plastic bag I had a back jarring couple of miles by road to Church Stretton and the car home.  A fine little outing for me and the new girl.

48 comments:

  1. They look fine hills. Not been to them, nor expect to in the near, or far future - but they look nice and a good succinct post. How blog posts should be. Sweet little treats, not long heavy meals.

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    1. It is grand walking country, Martin, although perhaps not the destination you would want to head for from East Anglialand. But certainly worth a visit if you were ever a little nearer or when you are older and big hills are starting to hurt just that bit too much!

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  2. Excellent hills those, Good to stride out on in my experience. The Duplex looks good, Z Packs have some great ideas.
    Oh by the way....the blog is way better than Strictly :-)

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    1. Why thank you Al. The area is also becoming very poular with cyclists. My own view is that they should stick to roads and not the lovely bridleways on the Mynd but your view may well differ. :-)

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  3. Tidy.
    Just a thought.
    On a campsite how do you put on a clean pair of shreddies without being arrested for indecent exposure?

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    1. Tidy? Your Welsh roots are showing, Al. You need to get them seen to.
      As for clean shreddies. What? Are you getting soft? Clean shreddies? Actually if you close the door and have the heavier weight cuben fibre I think you will get away with acts best carried out in private.

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    2. Very good point there Alan. Also cuben I know from Philip Werner has 2 flaws. One its bloody tight and noisy in the rain, and two its bloody hot inside the shelter. But also as noted you don't need Superman to see inside. So a expensive, noisy, hot and transparent shelter. Lets hope it does not fall down in a storm ;)

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    3. At least I can fit in it Martin.

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  4. So Daphne (wan't the name my suggestion?) passes the first date quite acceptably. There may be disputes, disagreements and strife to come under rain, wind and similar. So far, so good, so mild. Mild actually suits me very well so I may be inclined towards further knowledge of Daphne, or if not her precisely then the sister she no doubt has.

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  5. Hello James
    My memory tells me that you wanted to call her Doris, but I may be doing you an injustice. Daphne would be a great size for you and the boy Reuben, but she does have a little sister, the Hexamid Solplex, who is even lighter. There is also the Hexamid Solo and Solo Plus but the design of these was just too novel for my conservative little head, although their incredible weights make them the most popular shelters on some of the US trails I am told. As I keep agreeing with the doubters a strong wind will be the real test. I need to find out how Daphne deals with a good stiffy in a fairly safe environment before I take her anywhere serious. I still have the Trailstar and the Scarp if needed.

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    1. James Lomax is not James Boulter, Just saying ;)

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    2. Ooo er Mrs. Sorry to James Lomax. In my defence I did read the comment and reply at a very early hour for a Sunday morning.....

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  6. Did I read correct about Daphne's weight David ? 835g seems quite high given the duplex weighs under 600g. Your not using the pegs from a Blacks Icelandic are you, and carrying a wooden mallet to bang then in with?

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    1. To look at the pegs I used, and the damage they suffered, you would have thought I had used a mallet. The Duplex on my simple kitchen scales (no idea if these are accurate) is 685 gr.in its stuff sack. The rest of that weight I quoted is pegs. I had the heavier cf material which added 62 gr to the standard weight you have seen on the Z Packs website. I also had linelocks added (8 @1.8 gr =14.4 gr!!!) and an appropriate different line to go with them. The line will also be longer than the standard as it has the extra length to make use of the linelocks. And my scales may be inaccurate! So that's the story. Anyway, I am off out now to whittle some nice tent pegs as we used to do to hold up the Black's Patrol Tent. Wasn't the Black's Icelandic a sleeping bag???

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    2. Both as I recall. The Icelandic sleeping bag bit the dust many decades ago, but the Icelandic patrol tent is still going strong. A mere £17.99 will still get you a set of nicely whittled 15" wooden pegs. Guaranteed to require a winch to remove them in the morning. They probably come in a canvas bag that weighs a tad more than your new rucksack.

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    3. Spooky! As you were writing this comment I was writing one on your Tetley Tea Bag Trail blog post.

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  7. Get some Clamcleat Tornado Pegs sir.
    Bang the buggers into rocks almost.
    OK, you do need a sledge hammer for that, which will offset the weight saving.
    By the way, how is the back?

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    1. Yes, got lots of Tornadoes, Andy, but only had a couple with me. I thought I'd give the Vargos a try. Never again. They are now in the post to get my refund. My back is still sore so seeing the back magician in Penrith tomorrow.

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  8. What i cannot understand David is why those pegs have bent where they did and in the direction they did? To bend inwards at that point says to me that the open section of the “V" was facing the tent and not the ridge or folded part as is what should happen. I cannot imagine how the pegs would bend otherwise. To put strain on the open V would bend them without any shadow of a doubt but no way would you bend them in the opposite direction.
    I have used these pegs for years without any problems and i used them on that awful night on Cadair Idris when we were blown off the hill. Not a hint of bending from them in any way. So i would love to know how you managed it with such a lightweight tent and in nice weather.

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  9. Hi Al

    They bent as I was putting them in, not when the tent was in use.

    When I read your comment first off I wondered if I had been a pillock and put them in the wrong way round. Having said that it still should not mean that they bent! I have now returned them and got my refund so can not examine them but looked again at the photo above. When I do they look to me as if they were put in with the ridge facing the tent - indeed if they weren't put in that way the guy line would slip off them. As they were about half way in, at an angle of about 45 degrees, the peg not yet in the ground bent down towards the ground away from the tent. And this wasn't a gradual bending -it was sudden - the pegs just gave in. I was using my shoe to get them in as they are quite sharp on the hand. I can't explain more than that.

    Interestingly for me, I did a google search the other day on these pegs and saw a photo of someone elses bent in exactly the same place - albeit that person wasn't complaining but saying they had had a lot of use before they got bent.

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  10. Hi Dave, I wasn’t in any way trying to say you put them in wrong. I just was trying to understand how they bent in that direction. Now you have explained, i can see how they would bend with a downward force against the open V. ie pressure applied via a size 11. I don’t suppose it would take much force if the pressure wasn’t applied perfectly in line with the peg angle as there is very little material between the oval cutouts and the edge of the peg. I suppose, in the cold light of day if these pegs have not bent then its more luck than anything else. I guess i have been lucky. You have given me something to think about anyway, and araldite may be involved.

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    1. Hi Al
      The main point for me is that you need to be able to rely on your pegs. I was fortunate that I was on a camp site and it was clement weather. If I had been wild camping in wind I would have worried that the tent would not have been well fixed down, even though I had a few spares with me.

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  11. I should point out that my pegs were the Alpkit ones. (Link below)
    https://www.alpkit.com/products/tikes?gclid=CjwKEAjwns6hBRDTpb_jkbTv1UYSJACBhberDQqNdllQu34eeggNtpbzjREaFwyCNfLumqhmFSssrxoCXqrw_wcB
    And not the Vargo ones. I also have the Y beams and they are excellent.

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  12. Um, I do consider those pegs a poor design, but given their limitations it, looks like user error.
    It seems many folk put them in the wrong way round, misled by the cut outs on the top. If you put those 'holey' V pegs in at an angle with the ridge facing the tent , and then put vertically downward pressure on them before they are fully in, then they are bound to bend. S'obvious.?
    From basic physics, to give best fixing, they should be in with the open side facing the tent - as correctly shown in the photo on this page on Bobs site..
    If you don't believe me, (or Bob/Vargo whatever) then try this: Put one in each way, tie a guy with a spring balance attached, and pull in the same direction as if tied to a shelter .measure the weight needed to pull it out. Hope this helps !

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    1. Hi Mole

      I am not quite as stupid as I look!!! With my other V shaped pegs I do put them in the way shown in Bob's photo. However,if you look at the photo of the Vargo peg you will see that the notch one the Vargo which holds the guyline is not on the right side of the peg to put them in the way that you suggest. If you put them in your way the guy line can slip off the peg. Bob's photo is not of a Vargo peg and has a more angular notch which will hold the guy this way round. If Vargo meant the peg to go the way you suggest (and I agree that sounds better) then I do not understand why the notch to hold the guy is where it is or the shape it is. In any case, whichever way they were put in they bent VERY easily - and you do not pay titanium prices for that to happen. I've had cheapo aluminium pegs from Mountain Warehouse type places that were stronger than these. So this all leaves my simple brain somewhat confused. But I do not care now as I have had a refund and purchased Tornadoes!

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    2. Are they blue tornados?
      (I prefer the plural to have no 'e')
      (This one could run....)
      :-)

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    3. My tornadoes must be different to your tornados. No I admit it. I might have made a spelling error. I have never claimed to be a good spellerist. I will go and cut a branch off the nearest birch tree and thrash myself until I bleed. I will then where a cheap, scratchy merino base layer until the wounds heal.

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    4. Oh!
      Please refrain from self harming, Good Sir!
      Both *are* allowable!
      :-)

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    5. And I know it is 'wear' not 'where'!

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    6. And, in the right light in the first blush of dawn, they do take on a wonderful blue-ish hue, Sir.
      Just not in the evening. You don't want to be seen admiring pink pegs in the evening.

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  13. Nice trip David BTW! We walked around there last year whilst on the way to visiting Shropshire relatives - very pretty valleys. Stayed at the campsite on the other side of the Mynd at Ratlinghope is ok and a short but nice walk to the Pub at Bridges (which does excellent Ale from Bishops Castle and reasonable food). There is a Youth Hostel there too. Seems a popular stopping place for LEJOG cyclists.

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    1. It is a lovely place. I misspent quite some hours lying in the sun by the stream at the Horseshoes Pub at Bridges (known locally as 'The Bridges' when I were a lad) drinking cider or beer rather than completing a walk. I hope your relatives taught you that Ratlinghope is pronounced 'Ratchup' by us Shropshire lads.

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  14. If you can't experiment, just think of it this way:
    The pull on the peg is in the direction of the tent? Which is equivalent to a push from behind in that same direction? It's obviously going to be easier to bush something through the soil if the point is in the direction of travel rather than the open V (which will tend to resist more).

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  15. Now I understand that "Billy" is a fine name for your Arc Blast, but had you considered "Slarti"?

    :-)

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    1. "Slarti"? I am not certain I have understood that one yet. But I do have a very heavy and manly cold today which appears to be interfering badly with my ability to think straight.

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    2. I think I am with you now. I confess that I never read the book or listened to the radio series. Shameful ignorance you may think. But I have read War and Peace. Twice. And I found Wally in one of my son's books when he was little. It was easy as he was the one in the red and black jersey.

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  16. Reading the Vargo information and video on these pegs i have now found out that they are designed ONLY for use in soft sand and snow and the open V should face the tent. (As Mole says). Well i never. I’ve learnt something today and i can only thank your misfortune for bringing it to the attention of your readers.

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    1. I aim to please. Sometimes. Which reminds me of a little trick my wife used many moons ago when she taught nursery children. Fed up with the little boys weeing all over the floor and missing the urinals she put a ping pong ball in each one. The boys then did exactly what you would expect and always aimed at it. Genius or what?

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  17. I am hoping that might work with 19 year olds. But he'd need to have his eyes open... Oh well, it's a plan.

    Genius though! ��

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  18. Be nice if he lifted the seat up. Bloody horrible in the morning. Thinking of moving so he can have an en-suite

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    1. Bit drastic, Andy, and costly. Make him sleep in the shed if you have one. There must be a bucket in there.

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  19. Bit of a late comment here. Nice photos, thanks for sharing.
    I would agree that this place has some fine walking. As a resident of NI I've visited family who live nearby several times, and always make a point of taking my walking gear when we go. I've had a few cracking overnighters on the Long Mynd and Stretton Hills. Have had my eye on the Berwyns also, maybe next time we visit.
    Graeme

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    1. Yes I love the Stretton Hills. The Berwyns are far higher and much more wild. in places very wet underfoot but still superb walking country.

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  20. I had two pegs like that snap earlier this year - although I had had a couple of years of use out of them, I've now swapped them for MSR Groundhogs. Only used these once so far, but seemed ok. Chrissie

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  21. Hi Chrissie
    Interesting! the retailer told me they had never heard of any problems before - yet I found other examples on the Internet. My view is that it is a poor quality product.
    Not tried the MSR Groundhog but think I will take a combination of Eastons, MSR Blizzards and Clam Cleat Tornados in future. That should give me options.

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