Saturday, 14 September 2019

Pennine Way Days 2 and 3: Come on Legs


Day 2 20.1km, 650m ascent, 6 hours 45 minutes
Day 3 29.0km, 1086m ascent, 9 hours 35 minutes
Much respect to those who walked the Pennine Way bogs before the worst were slabbed.  But they do make for a weird hill walking experience.  These were on the way to the Snake Pass.

I can remember little of Day 2 of my walk, even just 10 days later.  It was a day of very heavy showers, still very windy, but nothing compared to the day before.  The climb up William Clough was not as bad as feared after my slow descent in the gloom of the previous evening.  My plan remained to get to Crowden Great Brook beyond Laddow Rocks for a wild camp, but the previous day’s diversion to Hayfield meant that this would entail an additional 5km and about 300 metres of extra ascent.
On Clough Edge 

Mill Hill, Snake Pass and Bleaklow Head passed.  The path up Bleaklow was interesting, lots of twists and turns, less obvious on the ground than I had imagined the path would normally be on a National Trail, but the weather was clear and navigation wasn’t challenging.  The walk above Torside Clough added interest.  It was here that Austrians Hendrick and Marie and their two exceptionally well behaved dogs overtook me.  They were through-hiking the Way and I passed them again at their next pit stop.  They, sensibly, had not micro-planned their itinerary, unlike me, and hadn’t decided how far they would go today.

As I descended towards Torside Reservoir, I suspected that I couldn’t make my planned destination.  “Come on legs,” I said.  But they were having none of it.  It hadn’t been a particularly gruelling day, but I was more tired than I felt I should have been.  Perhaps the nervous exhaustion of the previous day was catching up with me.

“Come on legs”.  Nah.  They were having none of it.  I decided on an early finish to make the most of the comforts of the campsite at Crowden.  Hendrick and Marie arrived soon after.

Crowden Camping and Caravan Club Site: I had planned to wild camp night 2.

Day 3.  Raining.  Again.  Heavily.  Hence the lack of photographs. I sang the obvious as I set off towards Laddow Rocks.  Click on the linky thing to find out what it was. 

Onwards and Upwards. Cloud almost down to the valley floor.  I was determined to get back on track, literally and metaphorically. As yesterday, this would mean an extra 5km in distance, 300 metres more climbing and two more hours.  I was apprehensive about this.  The two-hour estimate proved accurate to the minute, as I arrived where I had planned to camp by Crowden Great Brook exactly two hours after starting.  The walk over Laddow Rocks had seen the intensity of the rain increase and the wind had picked up.

By Black Hill the rain was torrential, and the wind was becoming problematic.  The cloud began to lift soon after, but although visibility was now better, the rain was of biblical proportions.  My rain jacket gave up the fight and my mid and base layers became soaked.   I haven’t used it in the rain since so do not know whether it was simply overwhelmed in the awful conditions or whether the waterproof membrane or seams have gone for good.  But I didn’t care about any of this.  Nor was I having to say “Come on legs”.  I was enjoying myself.

A sign warned that the stream half-a-mile or so ahead in Dean Clough was dangerous to ford after heavy rain.  It suggested an alternative route with a bridge.  I foolishly ignored this, not thinking and not checking the map, assuming it would mean a long detour.  As it happened the stream was easy to cross, with a small ledge a metre or so above the normal crossing point offering a way across in water under six inches deep.


Dean Clough: I crossed just above this little fall, an easy fording despite the notice half a mile earlier warning of certain death


Wessenden Head.  Result!  The hoped for snack bar was in the lay-by.  The best mug of tea and a sausage and bacon bap were consumed in its lee.  I walked on.  Within 15 minutes of setting off again, and of being in some of the heaviest rain I had ever experienced, the sun broke through and large patches of blue sky appeared.  The weather remained good for the rest of the day, with the walking now straightforward and the legs working well.  Reservoirs.  A short sit down just before Standedge. White Hill.  The dirtiest lay-by in the world just before the M62 (filthy scum) set-off nicely by a burnt out Range Rover a few metres further on. Blackstone Edge.  The Aiggin Stone.  Then as I walked on in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine there, in one of the disused quarries before the White House Pub, Hendrick and Marie’s tents.  Space for a third that would do nicely.

It really was a splendid spot


Super wild camp in evening sunshine just short of the A58 and only 10 minutes from the White House Pub

As the final peg went in the turf and I turned to empty my pack a voice.  “Hi.  How you doing?”  It was old friend, Johnboy Sanderson.  The chap who first walked the Pennine Way, solo, aged about 7 years old.  Well, I exaggerate, but I believe he bunked off school to do it.  Tracking me via my SPOT messenger and come to meet me with many words of encouragement and a battery power pack to enable me to charge my phone.  But what a selfish sod.  If he’d bothered to arrive ten minutes earlier he could have put up my tent for me.  We went off to find a decent supply of running water.  Sadly, the closest source was in the pub, just a few minutes beyond my camp spot.  Well, we stopped for a quick pint.  It would have been rude not to.
John Boy considering some tactful phrases after his tent inspection in which he saw just how badly a Mountain Laurel Design's Duomid can be pitched

A great day.  For me the distance and height gain to get back on track had felt rather daunting before I had set out in the morning.  The conditions would make the first part of the day a severe test.  Yet it had gone super smoothly with legs, head and heart all performing nicely.  I felt great and was still on a high as I got into the sleeping bag for the night.


Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Come On Head: A Walk Along the Pennine Way

Day 1 14.9km, 708m ascent, 5 hours 5 minutes
The Old Nag's Head, Edale


I set off from Edale at 1.10pm after a rather unpleasant baked potato with cheese and beans at the Old Nag’s Head.  I am only surprised I didn’t have a stroke whilst still eating it, given the amount of salt the cook had added.

The nastiness of lunch was soon forgotten in the fabulous walking weather as I crossed the fields to Upper Booth.  Sunny spells, interrupted only by lovely white fluffy cumulus clouds which scudded across the sky.  Have you noticed that clouds always ‘scud’ across the sky?  Why is that?  Let me tell you.  It’s because most people, including me, virtually never pick up a thesaurus.  Well I just did, and, to my surprise, I learnt that the word ‘scud’ was used in Gaelic and Manx to refer to the clouds themselves, which were believed to drive the wind.  Anyway, the clouds were scudding, skimming, darting and flying across the sky.  A bit breezy, yes, but nothing to worry about.  I was feeling good, confident, and fit, despite the lack of any proper training.  I even walked through three fields of cows without ‘Mad and Bad’ Andy Walker to hold my hand and shoo them away.


With 'Mad and Bad' Andy Walker on a walk across Scotland.  Andy is my cow shooer-in-chief.
By Upper Booth rain drops were falling on my head.  Just like they did on poor old Sacha Distell.  You know, in that film.  Where Butch Cassidy cycles across Bolivia with that woman on his handlebars.  Waterproofs and pack cover time.  I’d heard of Jacob’s Ladder, the next landmark on the route, but didn’t really know what it was.  Just that it was the first steep climb of the Pennine Way.  Now I don’t want to sound boastful or crude but, to use a backpacking term, I pissed up it, overtaking a young bloke in shorts, who was only carrying a small day pack, and who looked dead ‘ard.
At the foot of Jacob's Ladder.  About an hour into the walk.  My waterproofs had just been donned and I wouldn't take these off for another two and a half days. Except in the tent, obviously.
The wind picked up.  By Kinder Low it had picked up a bit more.  By Kinder Downfall it was doing the Kinder party trick of picking up the waterfall and blowing it uphill, causing a storm of wetness to hit me as I forded the stream.  Just after the Downfall the wind picked me up and dumped me against a big lump of gritstone.  Hmmmm.  I carried on along the Edge.  I noted that Sandy Heys looked a good spot for pitching a tent, but not on a day like today.  As I descended the steep drop after Sandy Heys towards the col before Mill Hill I was blown over again, fortunately into the slope to my side.  I tried to stand and was forced down again.  I sat there, not wanting to risk getting up again.  What had so far been a challenging but fun experience was turning serious.  As I said to myself, “Well, Fellbound, what has so far been a challenging but fun experience is turning serious.”  I could no longer wander along in my own world.  “Come on head,” I told myself, “keep calm, concentrate and switch on brain”.  So I did.

Kinder Low
The original plan had been to wild camp about a kilometre to the east of the col near the site of a 1950s aircraft crash site.  Would it be sufficiently in the lee of the hill to be safe?  More hmmming.  But the head was working on alternatives.  I soon had my plan.  I’d carry on down to the col then descend east towards the crash site for 10 minutes or so.  If it was appearing sufficiently more sheltered in that direction I’d carry on as planned and wild camp there.  If not I’d climb back to the col and escape west off the plateau and down William Clough to the camp site at Hayfield.  All this time I could see a figure sitting down at the col, not moving, but obviously watching me.

I continued the descent to the col.  The figure stood up.  A young woman with a very large pack, who was on her own northbound Pennine Way journey.  Did I think she would make Crowden before dark, she asked.  It was about 5.00pm.  I did not know how fit or experienced she was but the very question hinted at the answer.  I replied simply that I knew I couldn’t.  It turned out she had started a couple of hours before me and so was clearly making very slow progress.  I explained where I was thinking of camping.  “What facilities does the camp site have?” she asked.  I sort of explained that it had a stream, a lot of heather and peat, and some scattered pieces of two jet aircraft, but not much else.  I suggested that instead she might think about dropping down to Hayfield.  She only had a strip map of the Pennine Way itself so didn’t know where Hayfield was.  My decision was, therefore, in effect made for me.  In any case, it was still so windy at the col that I already suspected that my planned wild camp would be foolhardy.  I offered to show her the way to Hayfield.  It was a long, slow plod down the rough, slippery path in William Clough as the dusk gathered.  I stopped at the Camping and Caravan Club campsite; she decided that even there it was too windy and so the site warden booked her into a B and B in the village.  I’d walked for almost two hours more than planned, and lost about 1000 feet in height, all of which had to be made up the next day.  Still, I felt stoic as I cooked my evening meal in the dark.

It must have been about the time that I wearily crawled into my sleeping bag that Heathrow, Gatwick, Charles de Gaulle and JFK airports were for some reason closed and all planes in the western hemisphere were diverted and instructed to land at Manchester Airport.  “There’s a stiff westerly wind so take the flight path in over Hayfield”, the pilots were all told, “go in low, if possible just above the height of the street lamps.”  Well that’s what it felt like.  I got little sleep.  But I’d seen a Youtube video only a couple of days earlier made by a very experienced American backpacker.  He gave some very wise advice.  He explained that he rarely slept well when in his tent.  The thing was, he said, just to accept that you will keep waking up and not worry about it.  So that is what I did.  “Well done, head”, I muttered at one point in the early hours.  That Zeno of Athens was onto something when he philosophised about stoicism 2300 years ago, I can tell you.  As was the bloke who invented the pee bottle so you don’t have to go outside in the middle of the night when you’re in a tent and it’s pouring down.





Monday, 9 September 2019

Come on Legs, Come on Head, Come on Heart



"And in the darkest hours of urban depression, I will sometimes take out that dog's eared map, and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that I was once a free man on the hills."

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, Walking Essays, 1912


 
Edale, Derbyshire
I want to tell you a story.  It is about how I set off to walk the Pennine Way but didn’t get very far.  It is the sorry tale of a man who has lost his ‘mojo’ for what has been his passion for 48 of his 62 years.  Walking in the hills.  But do not despair, oh reader, for these posts, (there will be a couple), are not all doom and gloom despite the initial introspection.  There may even be messages of hope in here.  Forgive the following rambling paragraphs.  I need to clear my head.

Image result for tom stephenson pennine way guide cover
It was all Tom's fault
In about 1976 I bought Tom Stephenson’s guide to the Pennine Way.  The Pennine Way was Tom's love child.  I dreamt [Click on that linky thing , but only if you are aged over about 55] of walking Tom's Pennine Way.  When?  Dunno.  But I walked many other places. The hills of my youth in Shropshire, with my bestest school friend.  We went off to university together and I’m seeing him next month down in the Brecon Beacons, with other uni friends, friendships rekindled recently after a long gap.  These renewed acquaintances have brought me much pleasure.  I had some wonderful friends at school and university.  Look after your friendships people.  I went almost forty years after university before I made more real friends.  I have this belief that friendships are most lasting when they are based on shared deep experiences, such as those gained when everything is new.  This might involve things like your early trips into the hills, or when you are living away from home for the first time, such as at university.

My walking progressed from Shropshire to other places.  The Berwyns.  Snowdonia.  Glencoe.  The Alps with my university mountaineering club.  Coast-to-coast across Scotland on five TGO Challenges.  The TGO Challenge is, for many, another intense experience that creates lasting bonds of friendship, as it has done for me.  I also had a few trips to the Pennines and the Peak District over the years.  However, the latter never really inspired me.  It always felt bleak, unwelcoming, even in the sun.  That is a reflection on me.  I am sure millions would disagree.  But my heart was in the Lake District.  The Lakes  had become my obsession since early forays with my school cadet force.  I would hitch hike there at every opportunity in my sixth form and college holidays to hike or backpack alone in the fells.  They were relatively quiet then.  The Band up Bowfell, now a major highway, was still an intermittent track, for example.  I never spent a 50 pence piece for twenty or thirty years.  I saved them towards the house I would buy in the Lakes.  A job opportunity, in reality a poor career move, allowed me to move to work in Cumbria in the late 1980s and I could at last walk the fells almost whenever I wanted.  The Pennine Way was well and truly on the back burner.  Tom Stephenson’s guide went to a charity shop, in pristine condition, no mud on the cover, no dog eared corners, out-of-date.
UCW Aberystwyth  Mountaineering Club in The Otztal Alps, Austria, 1977

A pretty 19 year old in the Otztal Alps crossing a glacier to the spectacularly located Bresslauer Hutte (???) in the left middle of the photo. Crikes, was I ever that young? 

This year I decided it was now or never. I had to walk the Pennine Way before my declining fitness and increasing age prevented it. The idea actually excited me. Of course it should have done, or why bother?  But I was more than semi-conscious that some of my walking was starting to feel like it was being done out of habit, a chore.  Especially the long, arduous days that things like my last two TGO Challenges had entailed.  I planned a moderate schedule.  18 days.  Several wild camps, a similar number of camp sites and 4 B and Bs.  I managed just 4 days.  At times the weather conditions were desperate.  Within four hours of starting I had to make a long diversion off Kinder Scout down to the valley to assist another walker who was in quite some difficulty and which knocked my plans.  But it was not the weather conditions or my legs or lack of fitness that did for me.  It was not my head, or lack of skill or my ability to adapt or solve problems.  No, it was my heart that gave up.  Not in the medical sense...in the human sense.

Any human heart?  No, just mine.  Not up to the job.

That’s the introspection over, for now at least.   I promise the following posts will be back on track. The normal inane Fellbound rambling.  There will be tales of rain of biblical proportions, of wind, such wind and of damsels in distress, rescued from certain death as darkness descended, with descriptions of endurance that will make Ernest Shackleton look like a complete wimp, of athletic young Austrians stalking our hero, and of the best sausage and bacon bap every made.  Oh.  And music.  The tale will end in the final post with a piece of music that will, I promise, make you want to dance.  Even the dads out there.  You'll hear it and want to dance with exuberance and hope and it will renew your desire to achieve your dreams.  I’m off to play it again before I write anymore of this nonsense…and it's not Showaddywaddy or The Proclaimers, I promise you.  But it jolly well could have been.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Decline and Fall: In which our hero plods wearily to the finish of the 2019 TGO Challenge

Trailstar Party Time: Philbrick, Dr Fagan and Captain Grimes

“I expect you’ll becoming a school master, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour”.  

(The college porter to the naive Paul Pennyfeather as Paul departed Oxford after wrongly being sent down for running around the quad naked at night, having previously been de-bagged by the Bollinger Club following their annual dinner.) From 'Decline and Fall', by Evelyn Waugh.


Wot? Why not smiling? In Glen Roy

Paul Pennyfeather reflected.  Not for the first time on this TGO Challenge.  Life can throw strange things at you.  Scottish backpackers expect the weather to be wet and cold and miserable.  Anything else is normally a bonus. But the wall-to-wall sunshine and 24 degree centigrade temperatures when carrying a large pack were of questionable benefit.

Still, thought Pennyfeather, “embrace the suck”.

Pennyfeather had heard an American backpacker use that phrase and, having eventually worked out what it meant, had decided it should be his mantra, there being much suck in life which needed to be embraced.  But embracing it was not always easy.  Still, the amiable and encouraging presence of Dr Fagan helped as they trudged along the road towards the Great Glen and a camp site with showers and resupply parcels full of chocolate and stuff.  Grimes and Philbrick had disappeared several hours ago, Grimes mysteriously vanishing into a forestry plantation and Philbrick had halted for a snooze in the sun by a gurgling river.  The team eventually reassembled on the towpath of the Caledonian Canal, if lying hot, dishevelled and thirsty in a hedgerow can be classed as reassembly. 

At the Caledonian Canal

They had heard that Digby Vane-Trumpington, with an injured knee, was in Fort William and would be taking a taxi to the camp site to join them.  Philbrick telephoned him with an order for wine and cheese and other goodies.  He muttered some last words into the phone, and Paul could have sworn that his final instruction was “Oh, and Trumpington, if you value what remains of your kneecaps, don’t be late.”

Vane-Trumpington was waiting at the site.  Prendergast arrived, smiling.  The team showered.  Not together, obviously.  The wine, intended to be drunk two days later, was opened.  And it was good.

The following days turned into a blur.  Despite his wooden leg Grimes frequently raced ahead, prodding cattle away to protect Pennyfeather.  Dr Fagan and Philbrick wandered behind "deep in philosophical discussion”, Pennyfeather suggested to Grimes, who simply smirked in response.  The last of the Cheese and Wine was drunk in the sunshine at an enjoyable spot by the River Spey not far from the Melgarve Bothy.  Over the wine Dr Fagan sought to convince some lovely Canadians, Malcolm and Martha, who had not, incidentally, consumed most of their cheese and wine days earlier but had actually carried the stuff to its intended destination, of the problems with climate science and the evils of wind turbines.  Malcolm sought quietly to rebut the good doctor’s analysis and change the subject.  A week later at Tarfside Pennyfeather met Malcolm and Martha again and learnt that Malcolm was, amongst other things, an adviser to the Canadian Government on climate change.

With Martha and Malcolm at the Cheese and Wine
The wonderfully named Brisbane and Yeticlaws from the US of A: Two thoroughly nice blokes. And no, those aren't day packs that they are carrying.
Glen Banchor: The best day. Simpy the best.

They plodded on.  At Kingussie they marvelled at the US backpackers with their ladies' clutch bag sized rucksacks and strange ‘trail names’.  Things like ‘Yeticlaws’ and ‘Brisbane’.  And they saw one happy Challenger, who must remain nameless, skipping, yes skipping, from the bar of the Silverfjord Hotel towards the bothy in Glen Feshie at four in the afternoon having sunk eight pints of bitter and three glasses of scotch.

Grimes and Pennyfeather then put in, what for Pennyfeather was ‘a big day’, off route, but on the lovely and easy path, up and over the Feshie to the Geldie Ford, Pennyfeather being encouraged and cajoled by the ever energetic and supportive Grimes.  They would have told Fagan and Philbrick of their plans, but these two had been passed hours earlier lying on the grass discussing how the world could be put to rights.  If they are ever put in charge you should be afraid. Very afraid.

With Captain Grimes

Braemar.  The Fife Arms has become horrific since its revamp.  What’s with a stuffed deer with angel’s wings flying above the bar?  Pennyfeather went to bed early to re-plan his route.  He had to get home earlier than he had wanted because of a sick elderly mother.  Grimes explained that he was also going off route and was heading for the hills.  “I'm not in the soup again old chap,” he assured Pennyfeather, “but needs must, you know how it is”.  Pennyfeather didn’t know.  All he wanted was to get to the east coast quickly and with the minimum of discomfort.  He’d had enough of embracing the suck.

Balmoral passed in a blur.  Well after the coffee and cake at Her Majesty’s place, obviously.  Ballater saw more niceness with lots of Challengers, the re-appearance of the smiling Prendergast, the appearance of a cheerful, excited Mrs Clutterbuck and also of a laid back, esoteric, ageing rock star in his trade mark cashmere sweater.

Pennyfeather eyed the top of Mount Keen from the dullest mountain path north of Skiddaw.  “Been there, done that, can’t be bothered again”, he thought, opting for the beautifully crafted but oh so artificial path over the shoulder, which he had not taken before.  Tarfside showed that the cheerfully inebriated challenger last seen skipping out of Kingussie was safe and well, still skipping, but had signed the pledge.  Well the first part of that statement is true.  Lots of old friends were making bacon butties at St Trinian’s Hostel.  Pennyfeather enjoyed the hugs and comradeship almost as much as the bacon butties.  North Water Bridge campsite was, well, North Water Bridge Campsite.  It has splendid new shower and toilet facilities.  What it really needs each May is a pop-up bar and a bacon buttie and cake shop.  He headed off to the coast at 5.10 in the morning of the Wednesday and walked along the empty beach from Kinnaber Links to the golf course and then up to the Park Hotel in Montrose to sign out before mysteriously disappearing, never to be seen again by his fellow travellers.  In 2019.

An evening in the Mason's at Tarfside

Epilogue

What happened to the ‘real’ Decline and Fall characters?

Prendergast, unable to maintain discipline in the classroom became the Chaplain in Dartmoor Gaol.  The reforming governor, in his efforts to rehabilitate the horrendously violent inmates, had allowed them woodwork tools in the workshop.  They used these to saw off Prendie’s head.

Philbrick, ever shady and politely menacing, had a spell in Dartmoor, but was last seen being driven around Oxford in the back seat of an open-topped Rolls Royce with a heavy fur rug over his knees.

Grimes, in the soup, escaped from Dartmoor Gaol by stealing one of the warders’ horses whilst breaking rocks in a quarry on the moor.  He galloped off into the fog, never to be seen again.  His wooden leg and his clothes were found abandoned on a beach.  His body was never found, but as Pennyfeather smilingly reflected, Grimes was one of life’s immortals.

Dr Fagan gave up being the headmaster of a minor public school in Snowdonia and, being a polymath, established a sanatorium on the south coast.

Pennyfeather, also a prisoner in Dartmoor, having innocently become mixed up in the white slave trade, was taken from Dartmoor to Dr Fagan’s sanatorium, allegedly with appendicitis.  The Doctor faked a death certificate and Pennyfeather disappeared from public view.

Any resemblance of the characters in these blog posts to any person, either living or dead, is entirely intentional entirely coincidental and is merely the outcome of my warped imagination and odd sense of humour.  The post has been written with affection, admiration and thanks for all these characters who helped me across Scotland - again. 

Decline and Fall was Evelyn Waugh’s first novel, being published in 1928.  Waugh was, in my opinion, one of the best authors of the twentieth century.  He created some of the funniest and most wonderful characters in fiction as well as some of the most poignant.  If I had one thousandth of his literary skills I would be a happy man indeed. 


Made it: a lonesome early morning selfie


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Backpacking Moggism


It is gratifying when a person who appears to be a caricature of someone straight out of the 1860s (ie Jacob Rees-Mogg) publicises something that someone straight out of the 1760s (ie Fellbound) has been moaning about for years – the use of ridiculous or imprecise language and the abuse of grammar.  I do not, incidentally, claim to be an expert on grammar.  As a child of the 1960s I was not taught grammar in any formal sense apart from in Latin and Greek lessons.  Thus, I make no claims to grammatical expertise, what with English speakers not being Romans or Ancient Greeks.

But Mogg has a point, in that some stuff we hear or read is, bluntly, absurd.  Having undertaken an extensive and rigorous analysis that took me in excess of twenty minutes I believe that many backpacking writers, bloggers and vloggers (what a horrid word) are guilty and I now set out just some of the words and phrases which, and I’ll put this as delicately as I can, boil my piss:

1. Rocking (or worse “rockin”) as in “what trail shoes are you rocking these days?”, or “I’m rocking the Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack on this year’s TGO Challenge”.  Can’t these people just wear or own things? I am, incidentally, rocking the GG Mariposa on most of my hikes.

2. Dialled.  I have no idea what this word means if used about anything other than a telephone made before about 1980.  People seem to say or write things such as “I have dialled my gear down”.  Look.  Just stop it.  Please.

3. My go to.  As in “my go to shelter/pack/boots/trekking poles/whatever”.  I just have a “usual” or “favourite”.  But then I’m an old fart.

4. Any discussion about the definitions of what constitutes “lightweight”, “ultralight”, “super-ultralight”, what should be included in “base weight” or anything vaguely connected with these concepts.  It’s subjective you wallies!  Would you have a discussion about, say, the height someone should be before they can be described as “tall” or “short”?  No you wouldn’t.  Not unless you were a complete moron.  Or a student of philosophy. Or both.

5. “Comfortability”.  I recently heard an American say that his new backpacking pillow had greatly increased his comfortability. Honestly.  And no, George W Bush has not started backpacking.


That’s backpacking.  Now I’ve started I may as well have a rant about this stuff in the wider world.

1. Forward planning.  What’s that all about?  Can planning be about anything other than what will happen in the future?  Is the word “forward” necessary? Or perhaps people who use this term believe they are dealing with people who think that they might be planning for events that are now in the past?

2. Existential.  No-one, but no-one, except the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, knows what that word means.  It is now used daily by politicians, journalists and commentators eg “an existential threat”.  It’s just “a threat” you idiots.  Adding superfluous words to make you sound clever does not make you clever.  Nor does it impress people who are clever.

3. “Reaching out”.  As in “we are reaching out to our customers”.  Well I will tell you what I reach out for.  The sick bucket whenever I hear or read this fatuous phrase.

4. “Can I get a….?”.  As used in Starbucks, Costa and all the large commercial coffee houses.  “Can I get a flat white?”  The correct response from the server should be “I’m sorry, no.  Health and Safety rules would not allow you behind the counter, but I’ll happily make one for you and put it in the eco-friendly mug made out of yak skin that you have thoughtfully brought with you.  Long live the polar bears.”

5. “This does not represent who I am or the values I hold”.  Another sick bucket inducing phrase.  It is used by people (politicians, business men and women, footballers, Hollywood stars and their ilk) caught with their trousers down, making racist abuse, recorded making injudicious comments to friends, using the office computers for porn, or making a Nazi salute.  In my case I need to explain that my dog Moss is somewhat deaf these days and he responds to hand signals.  My signal for stop and wait does, indeed, look rather like a Nazi salute. Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Actually matey, what you did does indeed represent who you are.  Be honest about it.  We’re all human.  We all err.  We have all said and done things that we should not have done.  The important thing is to be honest about our actions, not just to ourselves but also to any others affected, to know what is right and wrong and to try to improve our behaviours in the future.


Now go on.  You know you want to. If you are as curmudgeonly as me please leave a comment giving further examples of idiocy.  And do not write “starting a sentence with the word ‘and’, you clot”.  This was very acceptable in 1780.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Decline and Fall: The TGO Challenge 2019


(With unashamed plagiarism of the great Evelyn Waugh's first novel)

Four men of revolting appearance were approaching from the glen. They were low of brow, crafty of eye and crooked of limb. They advanced with the loping tread of wolves, peering about them furtively as they came, as though in constant terror of ambush; they slavered at their mouths, which hung loosely over their receding chins, while each shouldered on his ape like back a burden of curious and unaccountable shape. On seeing the ultralight American backpacking vloggers they halted and hedged back, those behind squinting and mouthing over their companions' shoulders.

“They’re surely going to die, those fellows”, the band of four muttered, “for no-one can survive in the Scottish bogs without a decent set of nine inch gold Eastons. Or at least seven inch Groundhogs”.

“Nor without a good, sturdy gabardine mackintosh”, whispered Philbrick, doffing his recently purchased Black Watch tartan ‘I love Scotland’ cap to the hikers from the world’s only remaining superpower.


(Adapted from Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh)


Paul Pennyfeather reflected. It was supposed to have been wall-to-wall sunshine for at least the first week.  He called up the stairs of the Lochaillort Hotel to his delightful group of walking companions. “It’s peeing down chaps. Overtrousers time”.
Paul Pennyfeather at Locahaillort: A mild mannered, naive chap, and generally modesty personified, despite his somewhat narcissistic tendencies. And damned handsome to boot.
They sat in the bar and waited 20 minutes in the hope that the rain would ease. A semi-darkened hotel bar at 9.00 am is a cold and unwelcoming place. It was hopeless trying to get the team together for a group photograph. Eventually, Dr Fagan decided that they would leave.

“Typical of Grimes, he’s never ready when I say”, said the Doctor. Philbrick grunted in assent.

“Steady on Doctor”, said Pennyfeather, “he’ll be along soon. He’s waiting for Prendy”.

“Prendy’s hopeless at early starts. He knew what time we were supposed to be leaving. So did Grimes. Come on, they’ll just have to catch up. In any case, Prendy might be a decent sort, but he’s not in our team. He’s not Grimes’ responsibility”.
Sir Solomon Philbrick, a man with a mysterious past and Doctor Fagan.
According to Evelyn Waugh, who thankfully can not be sued as he is dead, Philbrick may have been the former owner of a London pub and safe cracker; or a wealthy ship owner and slayer of a Portuguese Count; or a Cambridge educated novelist. None are likely to be true. Waugh describes Doctor Fagan as the Headmaster of a third rate private boarding school in Wales, allegedly with three PHDs and an expert in many things. Only the latter is true.


Ravaged by time and a misspent youth, Captain Grimes suffers from appallingly high levels of fitness, despite Waugh's belief that he had a wooden leg. Note that Pennyfeather would fall over without leaning on those trekking poles having just managed to keep pace with him for almost a whole killer metre.

The three set off along the side of the road, soon caught up by Grimes and Prendergast. Pennyfeather was in front at this point dodging on to the rough verge every few seconds in the face of frequent, fast moving traffic; Dr Fagan and Philbrick never varied their distance from the kerb, but stared into the whites of the eyes of the drivers of the passing vehicles. The pure menace inherent in their look forced most cars to give them a wider berth. Grimes simply shouted obscenities at any unabashed motorists. Prendergast just smiled at all and sundry.


Prendergast: A rare photo this, in that he is not smiling. But he is still oozing pleasantness from every pore.
Police Constable Isla McTavish’s Volvo sped round a bend, almost wiping out the five Challengers, and skidded to a halt. She wound the window down. “Walk on the verge”, she commanded. “No”, replied Dr Fagan. PC McTavish sped off. Her match had just met her.

They reached the ridge heading for Glas-charn, at what the Ordnance Survey suggested was just 633 metres above seal level. In his exertions Pennyfeather thought this was clearly nonsense. It was quite evidently at least the height of a lofty Munro. The bog closed in. Then the clag came down, the temperature came down, the rain came down and finally sleet and hail came down. A line of old fence posts pointed the way to the summit, but via many a bog and several fierce ascents and descents. Grimes stomped ahead; Prendergast smiled throughout, matching Grimes step for step, being kind and supportive and generally coming dangerously close to stealing the sobriquet of ‘the veryveryniceman’ from Pennyfeather.




Heading up Glas-charn: Clag, bog and water. But not a drop to drink.
Pennyfeather, meanwhile, was tired. Extremely tired. That dog walking along the Shropshire Union canal towpath had, perhaps, not been quite adequate preparation for the event. He could not easily keep up with Grimes and Prendy, but to his surprise the Doctor and Philbrick were left far behind. And was he thirsty? Yes he was. He reflected that those who say there is no need to carry much water when walking in Scotland are perhaps just repeating an old canard. If enough people say something, believe something, it does not make it true.

“I’m sure we’ll start to bond as a team as the days go on”, he said to Grimes.

“Hmmm”, was Grimes’ ominous reply.

“I wonder why they’re so slow”, mused Pennyfeather, adding “anyone would think they are hatching some dastardly plot”. Grimes looked at him, pity masking his ravaged features. “You’re a good egg, Paul, but you are rather naïve”, was his reply.

The top of Glas-charn: The forced attempt at a smile speaks volumes

The day couldn’t end soon enough for Paul. He and Grimes pitched up at a spot by a new hydro scheme that was far better than its stony appearance warranted. Philbrick and Fagan arrived 30 or 40 minutes later. Fortunately, looks cannot kill. But remember. If the Doctor ever tells you where to stop for the night then stop there for the night. Or, if you do not, wait until he’s had a large scotch and is tucked up in his sleeping bag with a cuppa soup inside him before begging forgiveness.
First night camp spot
Despite team orders from the Doctor and Philbrick, Pennyfeather couldn't bring himself to sniff his own socks but he did hang them in his tent to dry out
It got better over the coming days. Much better. The weather that is. And the terrain. Not that Pennyfeather became less tired. The forty five minute stop for bacon butties at Glenfinnan Station after just an hour’s walking the following day was welcome and deserved after the privations of the first day; the second stop, for thirty minutes for coffee and cake at Glenfinnan Visitors’ Centre did not, he felt, really seem to have been truly earned.
Dr Fagan and Philbrick believe that the keys to a happy and successful TGO Challenge are regular rest breaks and sniffing your own socks at frequent intervals. By the look on Philbrick's face this sniff suggests that he's in for a rough afternoon.
Gleann Fionnlighe was rather splendid. Prendergast left the team for higher things; Grimes pointed out that the weather hardly warranted the decision of his three companions to follow the Foul Weather Alternative. He was right, of course, but wisdom and the previous day's exertions got the better of them. Grimes harrumphed and headed upwards at the speed of sound; the others trudged the glen and over the col to the Glensulaig Bothy at the speed of snails. Pennyfeather found Grimes camped and unpacked by the time he arrived. To his credit Grimes then did what he is a master at. He shovelled shit. Piles of it. The cattle variety. He cleared it from the best camping spots reserved for the Doctor and Philbrick who arrived somewhat later. And it was finally good.

The Glensulaig Bothy: A splendid spot to camp and hardly a cow pat in sight

To be continued......probably. I have a holiday to attend and a house to move.