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.