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intothestickslife

Part-time forest dwelling, hammock hanging, map reading, beard bearing wild man.

Sweden: ‘The Forest of Skule’

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”

– Terry Tempest Williams

For those who like to read, please continue

For those who like to watch, check this out

For those who like extra reading, look at this

It’s certainly been a while since I’ve written something like this, so bare with me if I’m a little rusty.

In 2018 we had our usual trip to the beautiful Swedish wilderness, however for some reason it went totally unrecorded in my journal which was a huge shame as it was easily the best trip we had taken there. As you can read about here, we headed to the Swiss Alps for a new type of adventure in 2019, but for me it was just lacking something…namely the beauty and emotion of the Swedish wilderness.

Thanks to COVID we had a couple of years off from our big adventure but when our chance came around again we knew it had to be Sweden once more and we had to return to the last place we visited, the spectacularly beautiful Skuleskogen National Park – The Forest of Skule. Nestled in the middle of the High Coast World Heritage Site, Skuleskogen is an absolute gem to behold. Absolutely full of ancient history, caves, canyons and wildlife, it’s a site also known for it’s ‘post-glacial rebound’; rising about 8mm above the sea each year.

As per the norm, this blog is written using entries I completed in my journal each night on the trip, so you’ll get an insight into the internal workings of my mind and I’ll probably also be interrupting myself as we go along to comment on, explain, and expand on things – so let’s go!


Day 1: 28 March 2022

Time: 23:55

We have returned. We were here in May 2018 but it went unrecorded. I remember instantly falling in love with the place last time we were here and this time is no different. Skuleskogen is spectacular.

As seems to be the way with our trips, the experience started as soon as I got on the plane in the UK. I wasn’t sat with Olie, Jack or Dan but was instead joined by an incredibly nice chap from Ireland who used to live in Stockholm and was on his way back there as part of his weekly commute to the office (as you do). Anyway, from the moment he sat down next to me we were chatting and it continued until we landed and walked off the plane together. We spoke about our love for adventure, upcoming trips and past excursions – I’m due to do the Camino de Santiago this September and he was extremely excited about that as he did it a few years ago and loved it. By the end of the flight he had well and truly convinced me that I need to move to Sweden (not that I took much convincing whatsoever).

It’s a long drive from Stockholm to Skuleskogen, so we didn’t reach the car park (west entrance) until about 21:00. We drove through what we would almost call a blizzard to get here but I’m sure the Swedes would just call ‘a typical March day’. Last time we were here we were lucky enough to experience near 24 hour sunlight but we’re too early in the year for that right now, so it’s totally black outside and gets dark at about 20:15. It was -4C and getting colder still when we parked up, which made stripping off in the car park to get our hiking kit on a bit more interesting, but it was possibly the fastest time I’ve done it, so that’s something! It was a short walk, just a couple of kilometres, through the forest to where we were planning on staying the first night, which was just as well because we didn’t want to be stuck in the dark for too long when we were expecting temperatures of -10C to roll in.

I appreciate this isn’t particularly cold for some people, but we’re delicate British southerners so we get cold

As soon as we stepped into the forest from the car park we started experiencing a theme that I’m sure will continue until we walk back out on Thursday; we would be happily walking along a solid track in the snow and then suddenly, with no warning, end up falling down to our knees in it before hauling ourselves back up to do it all over again just a few meters further along the way. Maybe snowshoes would have been a good idea? Nevertheless, walking through a silent snowy forest, lit only by headtorches, was pretty great. Anyway, the final destination was a designated camping stop in the park (Lillruten) which we knew also had a cabin free to use for anybody who decided to rock up. We followed the path through the trees for about an hour, seriously slowed down by snow, ice and falling over before eventually coming out into a clearing where the cabin sat. You’d think it would be a moment of joy and relief after a 15 hour day of journeying, but the first words out of my mouth (and similarly Olie’s) after seeing this cabin in the middle of the woods was ‘F**K THAT’. It was absolutely one of those places where people end up being chased by murderers and crazy people. We approached the door which, thankfully, was locked with the key on the outside, so we knew not only were the chances of being murdered slightly lessened, but it also meant we had somewhere warm to stay for our first night.

We had packed our hammocks and tents etc. for this trip, but with a late arrival in the bitter cold we preferred the shelter of a cabin for the first night

We got the log stove burning which warmed the place up very quickly, ate some food and dried off our kit, and now (00:30) I’m sat at the table writing this by candlelight with a nice cup of tea whilst the others are in bed. It’s one of those ‘Peace’ teas by Pukka, but I can tell you that I just knocked it over and this book, the map and various other things are covered in tea and my reaction was the furthest from ‘peaceful’ as you could get – as Jack can probably back me up on as I woke him up with my ‘peaceful’ swearing.

Not much more to report on today really. I can’t wait to see what it all looks like in the daylight tomorrow. I think we’re also headed across the park, over the mountain and down to the coast in the morning. But right now I’m going to bed.

James

P.S: I really need to pee but what if there are crazy people out there…? What if I’m the crazy person…? I could certainly do with a haircut… I need sleep.


Day 2: 29 March 2022

Time: 22:45

I slept pretty well last night. I was the third to wake up, after Dan and Olie, probably because I didn’t go to bed until about 01:00am though. Dan was already chopping wood to get the fire going for breakfast and it was still -10C outside.

Everything was going so well…the fire warmed the place up really quickly, we had breakfast and were getting ready for the day ahead when I went to wash up my pan. Next to the cabin was a small stream, so I opted to use that to wash my stuff. As I walked along the bank above the stream, before I even got close to the water, the snow gave way and sent me falling through the ice. I caught myself just as I reached my shoulders in the freezing water. I climbed out and ran back to the cabin and burst through the door repeating something not quite along the lines of ‘oh bother, oh bother, oh bother‘ before stripping everything off and hanging it all by the fire to dry. I won’t lie, it was pretty scary but luck was on my side in one way, at least we had the cabin and the fire. If we were camping last night it almost certainly would have been a different story entirely.

Needless to say, this incident wasn’t mentioned to anybody back home until we actually got home – and until I’ve now made it public to the world.

Other than feeling utterly stupid, I also felt immensely guilty. Because of this accident I had delayed us getting started for the day for about an hour and a half whilst my stuff dried. Dan managed to fish out my pan using a very long stick but Jack’s cup, which I had also taken with me to wash up, was lost forever to the depths. Kudos to the log stove though, I managed to put everything I was wearing back on and it was totally dry and comfortable, other than the boots which were still soaked but I stuck with the old bread bag method of keeping my feet dry for the day until the next fire.

We eventually set off just before midday, so I had wasted a considerable amount of time and I knew that the going would be tough as there was at least three feet of snow in places and steep climbs to complete today. As soon as we stepped out of the cabin though, we were greeted by a sight I can only describe as a genuine winter wonderland.

The initial stretch from the cabin was through the forest and – I’ll use this word to describe the place a lot – it was utterly beautiful. The shadows from the sunlight coming through the boughs of the pine trees were amazing and it immediately became clear that we could well be the only people in the area when the path ahead was made of pure pristine snow. We were the ones making the footprints and cutting the way through the snow. One thing that also amazes me is how warm it feels here. It was barely above freezing when we left but it was so comfortable. In these temperatures at home I would be in a hat and gloves and layers and layers of warm clothes. Instead, I’ve been wearing what I would normally wear for a summer walk at home!

We reached a camping spot at Skrattabborrfjarnen where in 2018 we had taken a quick sunbathing break to recover from walking in what felt like a heatwave. When we were there before we had noticed that the cabin there had actually burned down and the only trace of it was a small pile of ash on the concrete foundation – since then however, they’ve built a spectacular cabin. We’re considering staying there on our last night before heading to the car, but I’m not sure we’ll have the time to walk the extra distance as we’ll be up against it with a fairly early flight. I’m sure we’ll end up back at Lillruten instead, but that’s more than fine.

Skrattabborrfjarnen

No sunbathing this time though – we stopped to be nosey and check out the fancy new cabin but had to push on. The huge lake that sits below Skrattabborrfjarnen was frozen over and blanketed in a perfect layer of untouched snow. I had taken a picture of Olie stood on the jetty there last time, but can only assume the jetty is hidden somewhere beneath the snow now!

Then (May 2018)
Now (March 2022)

From there it was uphill for some considerable time. I’ve seen it described as a mountain, it’s even called Slåttdalsbergets (Slåttdals-mountain), but compared to others, it isn’t really that big, sitting at just below 300 metres. Saying that though, when you are walking up it in deep, deep snow it sure feels like Everest at points. The snow is unlike snow at home too. I feel a bit embarrassed to say we even get snow at home now. It really is a superlight soft powder and makes me realise why people use snowshoes to traverse it. You can’t even make snowballs with the stuff…anyway, I think it’s amazing.

Again, I appreciate this is nothing new to some people, but we’re British southerners and we don’t get stuff like that!

Luckily the tracks around the park are marked with blue painted spots on the trees as we still haven’t come across any other footprints.

The view from the top of hill was incredible. From the centre park you’re able to see right out over the Gulf of Bothnia and the smaller uninhabited islands to the east and straight into the wilderness in almost every other direction.

After taking a breather at the top of Slåttdalsbergets it was time to make our way down the other side and into the forest below. Absolutely easier said than done. The summit was incredibly exposed so anything that wasn’t lovely soft powdery snow was either a sheet of ice, a block of ice, invisible ice, ice hidden by snow, slightly slushy ice or a bloody massive rock. Treacherous is a good word to describe the next half an hour of descent. I found it easier to walk backwards down the track, kicking my boots as deep as I could into the snow and ice to get some grip. When that failed I opted for sliding from tree to tree to catch my fall until the inevitable happened and I ended up flat on my rucksack like a stranded turtle, waiting for Dan to haul me to my feet.

Our route was supposed to take us north through the incredibly impressive Slåttdalsskreva (Slåttdals-Crevice, but technically a Canyon), something we had walked through on our last visit – a narrow 200m track right through the middle of the towering canyon about 30-40 meters high and only 7 metres wide. After a steep climb up some rocks to reach the canyon which was now below us, it had a thick layer of snow and huge frozen run offs down the walls leading to some unknown potential risks below the feet of snow in the canyon.

Olie stood in the Canyon before turning back

After a quick discussion, for safety’s sake, it was decided that we would not proceed through the canyon but turn back and take a separate route to the coast.

Knowing that the canyon still has snow in it in late May (when we were previously there) we’re sure it would have been safe and frozen solid, however we didn’t fancy taking the extra risk.

The diversion added an extra couple of kilometres to the planned route, but it was a steady downhill trek almost directly to the coast. It was a route we had completed before so we were familiar with it and were able to do it with some speed and ease. Along the way we started to spot so many paw prints in the snow, from tiny birds, rabbits and hares up to foxes and big cat prints which we’re sure must be lynx in this area. We had decided that our end point would be a cabin half way up the coastline of the park which had an outdoor firepit and the most spectacular view over the sea. The track from the canyon very quickly and suddenly spits you out of the forest and onto the beach, with some places where the forest almost skips the beach entirely and drops you straight into the sea. I’ve seen some spectacular sights so far in my 30 years on earth, but in all honesty, this one particular spot in this tiny national park in the depths of the Swedish wilderness must be one of my most favourite places on the planet. Maybe there’s some ancestral tie to the place deep in my history, but it touches me in a way that’s almost emotional and homely. It’s everything that I absolutely love about the great outdoors all in one place; it has the deep dark pine forests, the ‘mountains’, the sea, the snow and the peace and quiet – if you threw some magic in there too, I’m sure you wouldn’t be too far wrong either. Last time we were here I threw my hammock up in the trees on the beach and it was an experience I constantly think about – so obviously I’m happy to make this place home for the night once again.

We opted for using the cabin again instead of camping, but that’s fine. It would be nice to test out my hammock in these temperatures, especially now that I have insulation for it, but I’m also quite fond of a nice cabin with a fire and a not too uncomfortable bed to sleep on.

We’ve had dinner now and I’m writing this by candlelight once again before heading to bed. The others are already asleep. Somehow I’ve got to climb into the top bunk without standing on Dan below. The fire is roaring but it did take a long time to warm the place up compared to last night and it’s still chilly. We’ve got a much bigger walk to do tomorrow to take us back to Lillruten, but it’s a nice one as far as I can remember from last time. I’m hoping to see some signs of a beaver maybe, I know they’re in that area for sure.

There’s probably a whole bunch of stuff that I’ve not mentioned about today, but I’m sure I’ll remember them forever.

James

P.S. This place makes me feel so happy. It’s like coming home!


Day 3: 30 March 2022

Time: 23:00

As days on the trail go, that was a good one. We didn’t fancy going back up and over the mountain so we took a longer route which took us around it and up to the new cabin at Skrattabborrfjarnen.

Due to the time it took to get the fire going and hot enough to cook on last night, we opted to skip a hot breakfast and just have a quick cold ‘snacky’ one. I’ve got some packs of dried mango and bits which are delicious. We were on the move by about 10:00am this morning, so still a fairly late start but we knew we were good for sunlight until 20:00 and the track is far more friendly the majority of the way. Almost immediately from the cabin we were following those paw prints again and some fresh ones have appeared overnight too.

We passed the south entrance to the park where we had come in and parked in 2018. We would have chosen to come in this way this year but it’s closed due to a broken bridge apparently. From there we started to walk along the length of a river coming from the mountain above us. This was where I was hoping to spot some beaver tracks as we had found some traces of them here last time but there was nothing. I know they are crepuscular, but I was hoping to spot some footprints at least. The winding track through the forest alongside the river, which was slowly getting further below us as we wound around the edge of the mountain, was very C.S. Lewis but we haven’t seen much wildlife here this time, so I guess a lion isn’t going to appear in the snowy forest anytime soon.

On various rest stops we took to eating the snow off the boughs of young pine trees which was actually quite refreshing and gave me the idea to make some pine needle tea when we eventually got to camp.

Halfway along our trail the clouds came over and were threatening to snow on us. There were a few small flurries coming down but the temperature dropped and it was clear something more than a flurry was on it’s way. We reached the new cabin back at Skrattabborrfjarnen in good time so we decided to make that a bit of a rest stop. When we got there we noticed that somebody else had been there since we left and they had come and gone by snowmobile, leaving huge tracks behind. There was no sign of them around anymore though. We sat in the cabin and had a quick snack; some more mango and some pistachios (the oyster of the nut family) as snow began to fall heavily. We had 2km left to go to get to Lillruten and it was only about 13:00, so we were well ahead of schedule. We waited for the snow to stop and continued on our way. After stopping my body temperature dropped and I had to run ahead to get warmed up. In my haste I started following the snowmobile tracks instead of the footpath and had to be called back by the others to re-join the path. We were back on the path we had taken yesterday, so we were retracing our own footprints in the snow all the way back to the first cabin. With the presence of others on snowmobiles and the tracks heading off in the direction of Lillruten, we were slightly concerned that they may have gotten there before us and ‘bagsied’ it. When we turned up the snowmobile tracks were certainly there but they had since left, leaving the cabin all to ourselves again. We got there at about 15:00 with hours of daylight left. I got the fire going in the cabin and Olie got the firepit going outside beside one of the shelters that was there. Even though we’ve been walking a lot over the last few days, it feels like we’ve been indoors too much and I was starting to feel like we had wasted the opportunity to be outside as much as possible. With the fire in the cabin alight, I joined Olie outside next to the much bigger firepit. I collected some pine needles, a whole load of fresh snow and put the kettle on the grill over the firepit to make the pine needle tea that had been on my mind all day. It couldn’t have been fresher!

We sat and enjoyed our tea in the little lean-to shelter as a mini blizzard blew through. It felt like one of those moments that suddenly clicks or turns something on inside you. There was nothing that I would have wanted to be doing at that point but sitting there with Olie, enjoying a nice cup of fresh pine needle tea in the snow, thinking about the last couple of days of walking in this truly magical and beautiful place.

If you listen to the conversation I had with Sean ‘Shug’ Emery, in the ‘podcast’, amongst other things, we talk about what that specific feeling is inside us when things like this happen and why we enjoy it so much and why we do what we do. I believe it must have something to do with our ancestry…who knows, maybe a few thousand years ago my ancestor was sat in that spot, enjoying a nice cup of pine needle tea by the fire with his friends in the snow.

Eventually it came time to call it a night and head into the cabin for some dinner before bed. We’ve got an early start tomorrow morning to get back to the airport. I think the alarms are set for about 04:15am. As soon as we opened the cabin door we were hit by the immense heat coming from our tiny little log stove, ready to boil up some water to make our dinner. I took my boots off and placed them next to the fire and sat there, feet up looking out at the snow as the night drew in and it got darker.

By the time it came to get into bed, it was like a sauna in the cabin. We had to open the door and windows to get a bit of fresh, cool air in before we all roasted in our beds. It’s late now and the alarms are going off in just a few hours and I’m the driver, so it’s probably right that I should get some sleep before making the long journey back to the airport.

It’s been a good few days.

James


That’s where the journal and pretty much the journey ended for this trip. The next morning was early and cold, up at 04:15am, at the car for 06:00am and at the airport at 12:00pm. The friend I made on the plane journey was on the return flight but we didn’t sit together this time. Maybe he requested specifically to not sit with me this time. And, as usual, Ryanair can still do with lessons on how to softly land a plane.

It may or may not surprise you to learn that I don’t see myself as a particularly spiritual person, however I believe that there is something that comes over each person in certain situations and places. I don’t believe in magic but it’s the only word that comes to mind. I wish I could put into words the emotions that I feel when I’m in the spectacular beauty of this wild part of the world. It’s not something I’ve felt in many other places or situations but it’s something that my soul craves. It’s the ability to escape all the absolute garbage of society and social expectations – what you should and shouldn’t be doing; where you should and shouldn’t be going in life. When I step out into the wild, even just for a couple of days, that weight is lifted and replaced by peace and happiness.

That is why I will always be grateful for – and continue to return to – this magnificent piece of planet Earth.

For those who like to watch things, here’s a very little montage of our trip

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For those who like extra reading, I thought I’d share this with you

I’ve recently been reading the book ‘The Forest of Hours’ by Kerstin Ekman – very much a kind of dark adventure/fantasy story – based in and around the Forest of Skule. It’s no coincidence that I just happened to be reading it, I actually came across it when I was doing a bit of research into Skuleskogens National Park, as there is actually very little written about it generally. Obviously I wasn’t going to be using this book to base our trip on, but as you can probably tell now, it’s a place I’m very passionate about and I thought, ‘why not give it a read?’ Anyway, it’s a great book but I’m not telling you all of this to try and make you read it – I just wanted to share the following extract which I think perfectly describes this truly beautiful and slightly magical part of the world:

No woodland is as wild as the forest of Skule. It lies between the coast and the high hills, starting in the arid, alien landscape below the treeline. Nowhere else is the Baltic Sea so deep, nor do the islands have such precipitous peaks. The sea is a cold autumnal blue and the red granite glows unquenchably beneath the attacks of the waves against the rocky precipices. the forest grows on a hillside and on the steep sides of the dark river ravines. The slopes are covered with moorland and the streams leap from waterfall to waterfall. there are fields of scree and stones everywhere, deep clefts and heavy, sharp-edged rocks. Only the still, clear-water lochs are smooth-surfaced, but their depths chill the eye.

Strands of time run through the forest. The fields of scree are solidified waves of stone, long swells of unmoving time. Tall trees, once whispering in the wind, have sunk into the peat bogs, where time ferments in the marshy pools. Here and there, flowering woodland penetrates the darkness of the firs and the sea of stones, forming wedges of broad-leaved trees, fragrant night-flowering plants and humming frail-winged insects. There, the noble tree sings. The leaves of linden and hazel dance in gentler wind and their roots send tendrils into a richer soil than the meagre ground under the firs.

It is forgotten woodland, flowering in borrowed time.

Kirsten Ekman – The Forest of Hours

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Tristan Gooley

The BBC describes him as “The Sherlock Holmes of Nature” and it really is understandable why.

Tristan has written 6 fascinating books about the art of natural navigation, you can find these, including his latest release ‘The Secret World of Weather‘ on his website here. Tristan’s books open your eyes to the incredible world of nature and how to read what it’s trying to tell you and where you are along your journey. These skills include, but are definitely not limited to, being able to read the subtle signs in the smallest breeze, a puddle on the path, birdsong, the motion of water and the moon and stars above you.

From just a short chat, it was so easy to pick up his enthusiasm for the natural world and all those different signs in everything around you. Tristan has dedicated his life and work to discovering and decoding these messages and sharing them with the rest of the world in a way that enables everybody to do the same.

For more from Tristan, the courses he runs and to keep in touch with him on social media, just click the links below:

Needless to say, I was thrilled when Tristan agreed to have a chat about the wonder of the natural world. You can listen to the chat just below here or on most podcast streaming services – it’s even available on YouTube! All the links you need are below.

Hollie Ivy

Hollie Ivy, an intothesticks.life Community Campfire member and founder of Holls and Valleys, tells us about her life growing up in Alaska and moving to Scotland and shares her deep passion for everything outdoors – covering topics such as mental health, lockdown, home schooling and solo adventuring as a woman.

You can find more from Hollie here:

Website: Holls & Valleys

Instagram: Holliecination

YouTube: Hollie Ivy

Facebook: Holls & Valleys

You can read the inspirational article Hollie wrote for us on our Community Campfire page, a perfect accompaniment for this conversation.

Mark Davey

The real benefit is not reaching your objective… the experience you get along the way is the real benefit

Mark Davey – CEO of The Youth Adventure Trust

Mark Davey has been CEO of The Youth Adventure Trust for over 20 years now and not only has a plethora of experience and knowledge but clearly has a big passion and strong belief in what the trust is about.

The Youth Adventure Trust use outdoor adventures to empower young people to fulfil their potential and lead positive lives in the future. They work with them to build resilience, develop confidence and learn skills that will last a lifetime, helping them to face the challenge in their lives.

I believe that encouraging more people to engage with the natural world is so important and after reading why the Youth Adventure Trust do this, I couldn’t help but reach out and have a chat with Mark in order to spread the word a little more.

I absolutely implore you to have a look at their website and look into the numerous ways you’re able to support them in this incredible cause:

Website: www.youthadventuretrust.org.uk

Facebook: Youth Adventure Trust

Twitter: Youth_Adventure

Instagram: Youth_Adventure_Trust

Watch our video below, and don’t forget it’s also available as a podcast here as well as on Spotify and various other podcast places!

Paul Kirtley

‘Be realistic not romantic’

Paul Kirtley

Originally a student and then colleague of Ray Mears as part of the Woodlore team, Paul gained a huge amount of experience and knowledge which he then used as a launch pad to develop and grow as an instructor and leader in his own business, Frontier Bushcraft. As well as an enormous amount of knowledge and skill, Paul offers a vast range of courses from plant and tree identification to multiday canoe expeditions across the world. He has risen to the top and is now one of the leading bushcraft experts and teachers in the UK – if not the world.

As well as getting to know Paul a little better, we discuss the importance of getting outside, managing a business and life based around the great outdoors, the impact of social media and how it can be a useful tool for encouraging others to get outside and engage with the natural world around them.

You can find more from Paul here:

Frontier Bushcraft

Paul Kirtley blog

Youtube / Instagram / Facebook

Don’t forget! This is also a Podcast and can be found here as well as most podcast streaming services.

Sean ‘Shug’ Emery

Sean Emery – known to most as Shug – is a backpacker, ex-Ringling Brothers clown, talented musician, YouTuber and recently retired entertainer. After chatting to Shug for over three hours, I would probably include Philosopher in there too.

I was lucky enough to speak to Shug and we had what felt, at times, like a very candid and personal conversation. I have watched his videos for a number of years and listened to numerous other podcasts he has partaken in. Shug comes across as a natural raconteur and seems to converse with ease.

More often than not, it seems to me that previous conversations that Shug has had with other people seem to focus mainly on his gags and entertaining/fooling around. For a long time I have always sensed the serious side of Shug (maybe the ‘Sean’ side) being supressed or held back from the light – and this is the side I wanted to tap into and find out what is really happening in the head of Sean ‘Shug’ Emery and get his genuine views on the great outdoors, how it can help us and why we should all spend more time outside. And I think I succeeded in that, and more.

I speak with Sean about life outdoors, of course, but we also touch on being a clown, prison, chocolate bars, faith, spirituality, alcoholism, introverts and extroverts, UFOs, Big Foot and so much more – it gets pretty deep!

Depending on the version you choose (the podcast or video below) you will hear different songs featured at the beginning and at the end performed by Shug himself. The podcast features the traditional American folk song ‘John Hardy‘ and the video features the Allman Brothers Band’s masterpiece ‘Whipping Post‘ – both tracks can be found in full below or on his SoundCloud site here amongst many other brilliant pieces.

What do you think that amazing, spiritual feeling you get from getting outside and immersing yourself in the great outdoors is?

Video
Podcast
Music
John Hardy – Performed by Shug Emery featuring Laura Walker and company
Whipping Post – Performed by Shug Emery
Photos

During the chat you’ll hear us talking about the time Shug performed, as part of the circus in the 70s and with his own show, at El Reno Federal Penitentiary. Afterwards, he was kind enough to share some photographs and I can’t help but share them with you:

Thank you for your time Shug, I had a blast

Whoooo Buddy!

A journey to a positive life

You can visit and follow Steve over here:

Instagram: @steve_adventures_

Steve is also Co-Creator of Green Prescriptions:

Instagram: @GreenPrescriptions

Podcast: Green Prescriptions Podcast (also available on Spotify)

Hi my name’s Steve, you can find me on Instagram where I post about my life, mental health and my love for the outdoors. I am the co-creator of @greenprescriptions which is a project set up to help encourage people to use the outdoors to aid their mental health. I am also the co-host of the Green Prescriptions Podcast where we tackle topics considered taboo and talk to guests about their stories and why they love the outdoors.

My love for the outdoors has been there since I was a kid, climbing trees and playing man hunt in the woods with friends but I, like most, lost this love as I hit my teenage years and found distractions in drink, women and cars and the likes. It wasn’t until my early 30’s where I found my love again.

I’d gone through a divorce and struggled to find myself for a while, then I got the opportunity to have a go at the national three peaks. Being terrified of heights and very socially anxious, I knew taking on this group challenge with lots of new people would push my boundaries mentally and physically – but I was determined to stop living in fear of the world. Roping my brother (Dean) into the trip for that little bit of security, we set off and had a brilliant weekend. I knew by the end that something inside had been stirred and I couldn’t wait to get back up a mountain.

A month or so later we decided to tackle Striding edge on Helvellyn. My fear of heights would be tested to the max but I was determined to push through. We parked in Glenridding and started our walk in the most awful rain and darkness – It looked like it was going to be a slog of a day. Dean kept saying “quick, we need to get higher for the inversion”.

I had no idea what he was talking about but stomping along in the rain with no views and the cloud clagged in, I mustered up the motivation to walk with him and to not slow him down. Out of nowhere the cloud around us disappeared and we had clear skies. We stopped to take in the sunrise and looked back on the route we’d taken and BANG there it was, the most incredible cloud inversion you could ever wish to see!

Being new to the mountain scene I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have done (thinking that every time I climb a mountain it would be this way) but I did know it was something pretty special. With the sun rising above the cloud to clear blue skies, it was easy to feel like we were on top of the world. We headed over Striding edge, my fear of heights seemingly now gone. Standing on a piece of rock with a 100m drop either side of me, I’d never felt so free in my entire life. I knew then that this was home!

Since then the outdoors has became my medicine, my clutch, my therapy and my saviour!

This is why I try to help and inspire others to get outdoors – whether it be for a 10 minute walk or an all day hike, the outdoors and nature has so much to offer and carries many medicinal values. Studies have shown that just 10 minutes in nature can positively improve your mental health.

If you want to get started in the outdoors please do, if you don’t know where to start send me a message and I’ll help any way I can. In my opinion the outdoors has the power to heal anything, you just have to take the step!

If you loved that and want more from Steve, possibly the nicest man you’ll find outdoors, please make sure you head to the links at the top of the page and below here.

Please also check out Steve’s brilliant and inspirational daughter Lily here:

Instagram: Adventures_of_Lily_Pad

For a more in depth insight into Steve’s life and how he’s overcome his struggles, have a listen to this as well – you will not regret it:

‘If I can be brave enough to share a little bit of my story, then it might mean somebody one day will find the courage to share a little bit of theirs’

Steve Upton

Benedict Allen

Author, environmentalist, film-maker, international motivational speaker.

Arguably no one alive has lived so long isolated and alone in so many potentially hostile remote environments. Benedict Allen is the only person known to have crossed the Amazon Basin at its widest and his catalogue of adventures also include the first documented journey of the length of the Namib Desert and being the only person known to have crossed the full width of the Gobi with camels alone.

I think it’s important for us to realise that ‘explorers’ aren’t in a different category… we are all explorers, it’s part of the human condition

Benedict Allen

It’s not everyday you get an email from one of your childhood heroes confirming he’d love to have a chat with you.

I remember watching Benedict Allen’s documentary Skeleton Coast about his trek down the Namib Desert, where the sand meets the Atlantic Ocean, and being blown away by this world perfectly balanced between beauty and death – to 7 year old me growing up in Buckinghamshire, England, it was unbelievable not only that such a place could exist, but it could also be explored! Moreover, Benedict’s documentary Ice Dogs was the tipping point for me. I’ve always been enthralled by the Arctic and Antarctic, so being taken into these areas by Benedict with his pack of sled dogs was every little boy’s dream (those like me at least). As far as I can remember, as soon as I could read I was reading books about the classic explorers like Shackleton and Scott and seeing their old black and white photographs documenting their journey to the Antarctic – then suddenly, from my own living room, being transported into the Arctic by Benedict Allen and his handheld camera was enough for me to want to become an explorer myself. It was not until I was much older that I truly understood the seriousness and wild hostility of these places and the bravery required to survive them and take those first steps onto the snow, ice, sand or jungle floor.

So you can expect when I received an email from Benedict Allen saying he’d love to have a chat with me about my mission to get people outdoors more, I was equally absolutely terrified and excited beyond belief – my girlfriend rightly described me as being like Paddington Bear on the trail of the great explorer he’d heard of as a child. So, we got it booked in and I remained equal parts excited and terrified up until the moment Benedict’s smiling face appeared on my computer screen ready for our chat.

I didn’t necessarily want a chat about Benedict’s amazing expeditions – no doubt he’s told those stories a million times – I was more interested in his own idols and heroes, his thoughts about exploring and why he believed it was so important that, even in a time of social media, we still need to get out to see the world and allow it to take its effect on us.

You can watch the video here or you can carry on reading below for more information and insights:

Inspiration

As it happens, Benedict was also inspired by those same major explorers who, in the past, I had been in awe of such as Shackleton and Scott but also by Sir Walter Raleigh and the ‘fascinating’ idea of El Dorado. However, his main idol and inspiration was his own father:

‘He was a test pilot…and when I was very little he was testing the Vulcan bomber, this very charismatic aircraft – it would come over our back garden and it was my dad flying it…’

The idea that his father was being a pioneer but also appeared to be a ‘vague’ and poetic character much like himself opened Benedict’s eyes to the possibility of being such a pioneer himself, and allowed him to realise that it was possible to achieve amazing things. Benedict wasn’t necessarily interested in the great outdoors yet though. He later moved to Buckinghamshire, where the Chiltern Hills were literally on his doorstep and where he developed both his interest and confidence in exploring during afternoon family walks in the hills, before realising his dream of exploration in his early twenties.

To Benedict the ‘golden era’ of explorers was coming to an end with the death of Shackleton and there were just a few names left at the time, such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Sir Chris Bonington, who he looked up to and wanted to be ‘some sort of explorer like them’:

‘Someone in that classic sense of exploration…a person who can head off and disappear into a landscape they’re not familiar with…’

Benedict headed off on his first trip to South America to the area of El Dorado and ‘managed to get away with it’, despite contracting two types of malaria and having to eat his dog to avoid dying of starvation.

‘I just thought the world was my oyster…and it was in a way’

Benedict Allen is only one of two living adventurers included in the Telegraph’s gallery of Great British Explorers, the other being Sir Ranulph Fiennes – so I couldn’t help but ask how he felt about now being on the same list as one of the ‘golden age’ explorers he had looked up to:

‘He’s at the other end of the spectrum…he’s a man of a military background and really the ultimate expeditioner‘ 

Benedict does not have the plan of ‘striding across the landscape’ such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes, but rather immersing himself and disappearing into it. Sir Ranulph Fiennes does remain a model of inspiration for Benedict, still able to conquer these great expeditions at his increasing age. At 76, Fiennes has now almost completed his ‘Global Reach’ challenge to cross both Polar icecaps and climb the highest mountain on every continent – he has just three mountains left. So Benedict feels there is ‘hope for me yet’ at the tender age of 60.

Motivation

As I touched on earlier, Benedict has been through some pretty tough experiences during some of his expeditions – he’s been shot at by Pablo Escobar’s hitmen in the Amazon rainforest, he’s been stranded in the Arctic, and on the edge of death various times – experiences that anybody else may consider as the final straw and subsequently consider a relatively normal life as an accountant instead. So I was interested to know what it was that kept him coming back and thinking ‘You know what, that was great! Next time I’ll do that in the middle of the desert!’ What motivates such a person to carry on?

The answer, as it happens, is fairly straight forward:

‘A lot of these expeditions are not fun…it’s not the sense of doing it but having done it… I’m not a mountaineer, but I imagine that moment – not when you reach the summit, but when you get down again from the summit… ‘

However, that’s not to say that his motivator is a sense of ‘conquering‘ nature – in fact, he finds the idea of ‘conquering nature’ to be distasteful. – Is that really the only reason you did it? So you can brag about it later? What keeps somebody like Benedict going back into hostile environments is the personal sense of achievement and self discovery after being ‘stripped down and knowing yourself.’

‘Even if you fail, you learn’

Highlights

Is there anything in particular that you look back on an think ‘That was the best thing I’ve ever done?’

‘What going outdoors does is give you a whole range of experiences’ – whereas living your “normal” day to day life can be seen as a straight line, getting outside and taking a trip gives you a whole variety of of ups and downs, and it’s that variety that is so invigorating.

In answer to my question, Benedict recalled a trip that was ‘appalling at the time… but wonderful afterwards’: crossing the Bering Strait, the pack ice connecting Russia to Alaska, with a team of sled dogs (featured in Ice Dogs). To make matters worse, it was the coldest winter in living memory, with temperatures down to approximately -45 Celsius and very quickly his hands were already being attacked by frostbite. The dogs were able to sense his struggle and almost totally lost faith in him, no longer listening to his commands – waiting for their original owner to return. After some time and hard work their faith and trust in Benedict started to return.

‘And suddenly, this expedition which had been so horrible…these dogs began to listen to me and it was the most wonderful thing in the world…and that is the moment…the expedition continued to be painful but it didn’t matter because emotionally I felt I was getting there, making progress in this unhospitable world’

Role models for the next generation and the impact of social media

When I was growing up, there was no social media or Internet showing everybody getting outside and advocating the wonders of the wild world – our knowledge of the world came predominantly from BBC documentaries made by people like Benedict Allen and Bruce Parry, maybe even Michael Palin, immersing themselves in the unknown, almost magical, lands around the world. Now, with the Internet and social media making the footage and images I saw in weekly documentaries as a child immediately accessible in everybody’s pockets, I was interested to know if there was anybody in the public eye, such as Steve Backshall and Levison Wood, who stood out as a great role model to encourage the younger generation to get outside in a world that is so in danger and at a critical level of destruction:

‘All of them do it in different ways and in their own ways…and I think that’s important too’

And upon reflecting about how we all explore in different ways, Benedict highlights how his style was different too. The current explorers on television, such as Steve Backshall, all use a camera crew (big and small) which limits their ability to complete seriously difficult expeditions. Whereas Benedict was his own film crew, exploring the world with just his handheld camera. ‘These days it isn’t possible to do it in the same way’.

There was one part in particular in the answer that Benedict gave that stood out for me however:

‘I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the idea that all humans are explorers ‘

Benedict also touched on the fact that it’s very easy to look at these people and think that they’re special because they do what they do and assume we ordinary folk can’t be like them. This is, of course, a significant problem when you consider that there has been a tendency for middle-aged white males from privileged backgrounds to represent the world of exploring, something that Benedict recognises about himself. But this is something that is changing in time and not so prevalent as it was twenty, thirty or forty years or more ago. For Benedict, it’s still important that we have people going out and documenting the world as it is and showing us the truth instead of letting us get lost in the ‘bubble’ of social media. That is where people like Steve Backshall, among others, come in.

There are also people going out into the world for the wrong reasons, such as to gain ‘kudos’ by doing certain things, and that is not the point of exploration, for Benedict. For him, it’s all about the experience and allowing yourself to be immersed and overcome by the world the around you.

‘For me, I’m just as impressed by the little old lady who walks up a hill – but it’s been a struggle – as I am somebody who climbs Everest with oxygen. Yes one is harder than the other for a human, but relative to their own experience, perhaps that walk up a hill for a little old lady who is frail is a greater achievement’

I was also interested in his general views of the impact social media has on the world of exploration, and whether or not the ability to bring up anywhere in the world on our phones when we’re sat on our sofas (or toilets) reduces the desire to explore in person.

‘There has been a real veracity of truth – and science, I think, has somewhat been eroded by so called “fake news”… but it will settle down because people will want to trust in certain things’

For Benedict though, there are certainly benefits to social media acting in favour of exploration. He sees people posting on Twitter and Instagram about beetles they’ve found in the garden and looking for the names of certain beasts and plants. The information available is endless and often immediate.

He told me that his daughter ran into the room earlier that day to ask if he knew that there was a toad that weighed 3 kilos, information she had discovered on TikTok. Of course there are those who use social media for their own personal and financial gain and those who do observe the world entirely through social media but;

‘I don’t think it will stop my daughter looking for a 3 kilo toad’

Getting people outside

Of course, the whole mission and ethos behind Into The Sticks is to try to encourage more and more people to get outside and engage with the wild world around them, but to start doing that we need to identify what the barriers are for various groups of people. What is stopping people? I was interested to hear Benedict’s theory;

‘What is stopping people? I think it’s [not] believing that they are one of the adventurers’

Part of this is connected to what he was saying earlier regarding those people on television. It’s easy for everybody to sit there and think ‘These people are amazing and special’ because they are intentionally made to look amazing and special. Again, the lack of diversity of who we are looking at on television is a problem, and might lead some to believe that unless you look like the explorers on TV, you can’t do what they do – which couldn’t be more wrong.

Benedict is incredibly in favour of ‘micro-adventures,’ the idea that you can just have an adventure in a day. Just taking your bicycle out, or going for a walk;

‘I think that’s great…it’s making people think “I don’t have to sacrifice my job, or be worried about getting malaria.” – You don’t have to have adventures in the way that people did when I was younger.’

So, in your opinion, why is it so important that people get outside and engage with the world around them?

Benedict highlights a number of reasons why it’s so important to get outside, mostly relating to our physical and mental wellbeing. But he also spoke about the fact that it’s great for your soul and important that you get outside and realise that you are part of something far bigger than yourself, helping to put your problems and life into perspective with the world around you and understand where we sit in the ‘grand scheme of things’.

‘There is so much pressure on us in traditional society and I think it helps so much to step away from your work, away from your problems, to just feel part of things’

I added that we do have a tendency to separate ourselves from the natural world when in fact we are all part of it – we are just another animal living amongst the natural world, not separate from it at all. In fact, Benedict further added that some of the indigenous people he has stayed with in the past do not even have a word for ‘nature’ because it is simply not a separate entity from themselves and they understand that they are just another element of their environment.

Further experiences

The way I’ve heard Benedict speak about the indigenous people he has stayed with in these spectacular parts of the planet, I’ve often wondered if, when it comes time to leave them, he ever considers fully immersing himself into their culture and staying.

I have brief worries that I might feel like that…but I’ve been very aware that I do not belong, I think it’s an illusion to think you do…I know I’m the one most likely to get malaria and I know I would be the one to go mad…

It’s understandable that, no matter how much you may like and admire the way these other cultures live and view the world, the shock would be far too much for somebody in the modern western world to fully immerse themselves – as Benedict says, he would be the one to go mad if he was forced to have two, three, or four wives and lots of children. He worries that he would become trapped, either by the delusion that he could make a life for himself in the jungle (which brings on images of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now) or that he would be framed for something in order for people to keep him within the community – which has supposedly happened previously.

‘My job is to go, find information and come back. And it’s always been very clear cut to me that that’s what I need to do…I don’t like to be distracted from my “mission” and it helps mentally to know exactly what I’m doing…’

When you first said; “I’m going to go to the Amazon, canoe down the river and have a walk in the rainforest” did anybody ever turn around and say “That’s probably not a very good idea”?

Benedict’s parents had very conflicting views about his ambitions to explore and cross the Orinoco Basin when he first expressed his desires to travel. His mother was ‘terrified’ because he was so ill-matched. Not coming from a military background and having little to no exploration experience, it’s understandable to see why she would be so scared of the idea. His father, however, was entirely encouraging, most likely because of his life as a test pilot whose job it was to put himself at risk everyday – especially piloting a huge aircraft like the Vulcan which carried our nuclear weapons.

‘I had very little expert advice, but those people who did give me expert advice just thought I wouldn’t get very far…I’d come back home having had a gap year type of adventure…I really was very fortunate to get away with it’

With the power of retrospect, being now 40 years after his first disastrous trip to the Amazon where he was less than 24 hours from death caused by starvation – having to kill and eat his dog to survive – and now being a father of three young children himself, how would he feel if his children came to him and said, ‘I want to do what you did?’ Would he support them or try to stop them?

Benedict like to think he would support them if they wanted to do the same thing, however, times have changed and so has the condition of the planet we live on:

‘I think if you’re doing an expedition you have a duty to acknowledge that…It’s not enough to just have an adventure if you’re devoting six months to it…There’s more to the world than just using it as a playground’

Benedict, with that in mind, would of course encourage his children to explore the world but would ensure that they did it for a particular reason and to bring something back other than “finding themselves” and growing as an individual. There is a lot that he would want them and everybody in general to be aware of.

We see heroes and heroines out there doing great things, and they are inspiring, but wouldn’t it be better to have role models for the young who are doing something more than just a physical feat?

The younger generation are often isolated from the world which is in trouble around them.

It was really great to have this conversation with Benedict Allen and to see that our views of exploring and the world in general are very much aligned.

There is much to be learned from people like Benedict and one of the many lessons I’ve taken from our conversation is this:

We are all explorers, we should all get outside and explore the world but for the right reasons. Leave the world in a better shape than you found it, be aware of the trouble the planet is in and use your explorations of the world to learn how you can help preserve it for the next generation.

A huge thank you once again to Benedict Allen and the team at Jo Sarsby Management, it was certainly a highlight in this wannabe explorer’s life.

Catch your breath… then try and try again

You can visit Adam here:

Instagram: @Tarnlads_Adventures

Strava: Adam Chambers

Hi, my name is Adam.

I have a normal full-time job, which is as far away from the outdoors as you can get, however, I do take part in a few outdoor activities; I’m a keen runner, mainly fell running or ultramarathons, I ride bikes both off and on-road, I’ve partaken in quite a few triathlons and I enjoy swimming, hiking, and sometimes even a bit of SUP – but over the last few years, some of these hobbies have been put on hold while I’ve engaged in the world of climbing.

I normally trad-climb but I also do bouldering, sport, and winter climbing too. I was inspired to get out and climb by a friend and by the endless opportunities of adventure that open up because of it; the travel, the views and the landscape – sometimes what you see from the top or even the middle of a climb is incredible, and often climbing is the only way to these views!

Pinnacle Ridge (photo of Mark Pickersgill @theyorkshirewonderer)

Once you’ve learned the necessary skills, completed a few routes and gained confidence in the safety aspects, there is so much more exploring available to you, especially long mountain days!

Some of the best moments of climbing are not always finishing a hard grade climb, but when you’ve done something that allows you can take your time, look around and enjoy every part of the experience – I enjoy the long climbs and longer days!

Froggatt, Peak District

Some of the best climbing days I have had are on multi-pitch limestone routes in the Peak District – climbing at Idwal Slabs doing long routes that can take a few hours. Pinnacle Ridge at St. Sundays Crag was a great full day out, finished with descending Helvellyn via Striding Edge. However, the greatest experience of climbing (for me) is winter climbing in Scotland, especially on Ben Nevis!

When climbing you often get moments that are, let’s say, sketchy! In these moments you have to learn to trust yourself, trust your feet, trust your climbing gear and trust the person who is belaying you! Having confidence in yourself and what you are doing is a major strong point and something that definitely, always, needs working on! Sometimes it’s better to take five minutes to catch your breath then try and try again. Learning take your time and not to rush is key!

Matlock Bath, Peak District

I think getting outdoors helps put everything into perspective. You get the time and freedom, when outside, to clear your mind, look around and enjoy nature. I think being in the UK we are so lucky and spoilt with what we have available to us. We have amazing areas for every outdoor activity. The benefits of getting outside and exercising, whether this is a walk, run, swim or cycle is huge for both body and mind – everyone should get outside!

I think people sometimes feel cut off from the outdoors and that people don’t feel experienced enough to get outside and explore. Of course, without certain knowledge it is hard to find routes, link routes up, and have the confidence to just go out but there are thousands of established routes where maps or prior knowledge is not necessarily needed, I do think, however, that these need to be publicised more to encourage more people to use them. More people should look up their local trails. Climbing can be a hard sport to start and especially to transition to outdoors, but there are hundreds of companies and guides that will help. There are lots of indoor gyms with links to outdoor climbing too. And if you’re already an outdoors person, chances are you’ll know someone who is willing to teach you if you’re interested.

The UK Climbing (UKC) website has a fantastic directory of all climbing centres available in the UK. So start there and take your first step up into the climbing world!

Castle Ridge, Ben Nevis

If you liked that and want to see more from Adam, just check out the links at the top of the page!

You might just get roped into some climbing.

Don’t forget to follow us on our own social media platforms to keep up to date!

The Art of Conservation

You can visit Sophie here:

Instagram: @SophieGreenFineArt

Facebook: Sophie Green Fine Art

Website: SophieGreenFineArt.com

Art Basket: ArtBasket.co.uk

Hi there! My name is Sophie and I’m a full-time wildlife and conservation artist from East Sussex. Essentially, I paint animals and their environments in order to raise awareness (and money) for important conservation causes.

‘What is conservation?’ I hear you ask. Well, in short, conservation is the protection of our natural world and all of its resources; this includes animals, plants and their habitats. It’s also about being mindful of our everyday habits and how they are contributing to either a positive or negative change.

I have always been fascinated by animals and the natural world. I have also always enjoyed creating art. Like most creatives however, self-doubt and a rather down-to-earth upbringing led me down the more traditional route of working various sensible jobs (and some not-so-sensible jobs too), before going to University and becoming a teacher in my mid-twenties.

I had always painted in my spare time, but as my spare time suddenly started to dwindle and I found myself painting less and less (whilst the artists that I lived vicariously through on social media thrived), I started to get ‘the itch’. When you have a deep passion for something, there’s only so long that you can ignore it for.

I eventually decided to reduce my hours at school; going from being a full-time teacher to a part-time private tutor and picked the paint brush back up. I started to build up my business, Art Basket, and paint commissions for friends and family on the side, and after a few years, I was finally able to become a full-time artist.

Since starting out as an artist, I have donated 10% of my profits to wildlife and conservation charities, as well as donating artwork to charity auctions and exhibitions each year. I can honestly say that without the drive to raise awareness and money for the causes that are close to my heart, I would probably have half of the motivation to paint. For me, painting wildlife and helping to protect wildlife go hand in hand.

I think that one of the scariest moments of my life was quitting my full-time, secure job to pursue a career in the arts. With rent due and bills to pay, I had responsibilities and I didn’t have the zeal and tenacity of somebody fresh out of school. I was unsure and it was scary, but taking the risk paid off tenfold. It taught me that, as cliché as it sounds, anything is possible and it’s never too late. I think that is something that I have taken with me into all of my endeavours.

I am proud to make a difference in some small way through my art. Either by educating others or drawing attention to the vulnerability of certain species, it fills me with joy to know that my artwork is helping in some small way.

I have also been extremely fortunate to have been shortlisted for some amazing art prizes and last year won the Leisure Painter People’s Choice Award 2020. Even more exciting was that the art auction held by Explorers Against Extinction, to which I donated a painting of a rhinoceros, set a new record for money raised that year! I also became a member of the Artists for Conservation group, meaning I am able to participate in even more charity events and continue to contribute towards protecting the planet.

If you loved that and want more of Sophie and her art in your life and you want to help support the amazing work Sophie is doing for the world of conservation, please make sure you head to the following links at the top of the page!

The world will thank you.

Riding the wave: what surfing taught me about life and myself

You can visit and follow Kirsty here:

Instagram: @FreeSpiritKirsty

Not forgetting the amazing photography skills of Megan Hemsworth:

Instagram: @MeganHemsworth

Website: MeganHemsworth.com

Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a surfer.

I live in Newquay, Cornwall. But until I was 35, I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle in landlocked Wolverhampton.

I’ve always felt drawn to the ocean. When I was young I’d happily stare at the sea for hours. It had a pretty hypnotic effect on me. But I was too scared to set foot in it.

I could swim in a pool but I never translated that into sea swimming. Growing up inland, the sea was a big unknown for me, and something to be feared and avoided. Until one summer during a holiday in Cornwall.

Photo by: Megan Hemsworth

Learning to surf

I spent an afternoon watching a group of surfers dancing on the waves. I was in awe and I vowed there and then to have a surf lesson just to tick something off my bucket list.

The day of my lesson and I was a bag of nerves before we even hit the water. But I was so focused on listening to what I needed to do that I forgot all about being scared. It took several attempts but when I finally stood up and rode a wave, I’d never felt anything like it. I was instantly hooked!

How surfing’s changed my life

Fast forward 10 years and I now surf regularly, sometimes several times a week. It’s my main form of exercise and I still can’t believe how much surfing has changed my life. I live in a beautiful part of the country, I’m fitter than I was in my 20’s and my mental health has improved significantly. I’m heaps less stressed, I’m more patient and I enjoy the challenges that surfing gives me. It’s a constant learning curve and I’ve learnt so much about myself in the process.

It’s changed my life. It made me see what was important to me and I’ve ditched so much of what society teaches us is ‘normal’ and ‘expected.’ We downsized our home to move here, ditched our careers and live a much slower pace of life.

Surfing is one of the hardest sports you can do and it’s why a lot of people give up very quickly. The sea is never the same from one day to the next. The waves are inconsistent and it’s not like going to a tennis court and practicing your serve over and over again. The sea is something to be respected and quite often, it likes to remind you who’s in charge.

Photo by: Megan Hemsworth

Scary times

One of the scariest experiences I’ve had was when my leash (which attaches my surfboard to my ankle) snapped in some fairly big surf. Suddenly there I was in no man’s land without the one thing that kept me afloat. At first I stayed calm and started to swim back into shore. But after a while I got tired and the panic set in. Luckily a fellow surfer helped me but it really freaked me out. I learnt though that panic is the worse thing you can do in a situation like that and avoiding the sea would’ve been a mistake. Luckily I got back in a couple of days later before I had time to talk myself out of it.

I didn’t surf bigger waves for a while after that, but slowly and surely over time, I built my confidence back up.

How nature can help us heal

The sea is an incredible healer for me. I can paddle out, gaze at the horizon and leave all my worries behind on land with no distractions. No one can disturb me out there. I can literally shut the world out for a couple of hours which I think is hugely important to everyone. We all need our own space and time, especially in such a busy, fast-paced world.

And then there’s the physical benefits. Surfing’s an all over body workout but to me it doesn’t feel like exercise. That’s hugely important to me. I think you’ve got to enjoy the exercise you do otherwise you won’t do it and it becomes a chore.

Nature and the wilderness can teach us so much about ourselves. It can teach us to be grateful, and to help us realise that we are part of a beautiful world that’s so much bigger than ourselves. It’s massively important to our physical and mental health, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. Just getting outside and filling our lungs with fresh air can be just what we need to get us through day to day life.

Photo by: Megan Hemsworth

If you loved that and would love to see more from Kirsty or Megan, please check out the links at the top.

It’ll probably be the best thing you’ll do today!

Ending the day on a high

You can visit and follow Hollie Ivy here:

Instagram: @Holliecination

YouTube: Hollie Ivy

Facebook: The Hollie Ivy

Website: Holls & Valleys

Before you start…Hollie also features in one of our podcasts ‘In Conversation With… Hollie Ivy‘ which is a perfect accompaniment to the below article from Hollie. You can listen to or watch it right here:

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For some reason, James has kindly asked me to ramble here at this Community Campfire. As anyone who follows me on social media will know, I do love a ramble and laughing at my own crappy jokes (condolences), so here I am, happily obliging ….quelle surprise!

So hi, my name is Hollie Ivy and I am addicted to mountains. We’re all addicted to something right?

From my base here in the capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness, I run a tour company (alongside my equally adventurous Wolfdog Chinook and tiny human Juno) offering guided treks into remote parts of this beautiful country. I am also a trainee member of the Kintail Mountain Rescue Team – because mountains, walkie talkies, Landrovers and helicopters ya’ll!

Born (at home, because my dad didn’t believe mom was in labour) and raised in Alaska, I suppose it was inevitable that rugged wilderness and high altitudes would forever be a big part of my life, but I’ve been asked this really simple, yet difficult to answer, question:

What inspired you to get outside and explore?

Hmmmm ….everything and nothing, I guess. I spent most of my life in the mountains, I don’t really function at peak level indoors (yes pun intended / no I am not sorry). I remember in March 2020, when we were all ordered to ‘STAY AT HOME’ and all I could think was, ‘Outside is my home. It always has been.’

I spent the majority of my childhood travelling in a van with my parents, brother and sister. Around Alaska initially, then driving through Canada and across The States to Florida and back. And I don’t mean campervan, just a standard van with seats and a steering wheel. No toilet, no bed, no showers, no cooker. But my dad did have a suitcase full of Led Zeppelin, Boston and Beatles cassettes, so the essentials were covered.

When you’ve got five people in close quarters like that, you tend to spend a lot of time outside. So maybe it’s not even really inspiration that took me into the wild, but rather self-preservation?

A more poignant question is why do I keep gravitating towards nature when it’s no longer ‘essential’ to do so? It’s really hard to explain to someone who’s never climbed a mountain why we do it. It seems awful. Just walking uphill for hours, only to turn around and walk back down again. What’s the point?

I can’t answer that. I don’t know what the point of anything is.

What I do know, is that when I am climbing a mountain, I am comforted by the ancient landscape highlighting how insignificant and fleeting both me, and all of my perceived problems, are in comparison. I find stillness in the movement – focusing only on putting one foot in front of the other. Every so often, I look back and see how far I’ve come. I am constantly reminded how fragile, yet incredibly strong I am, either by the terrain, the weather, or both. I love how many wonderful metaphors mountains make for all the challenges and opportunities we encounter in life. For instance, currently I feel like I’ve just arrived at a false summit and am looking up towards the true summit enshrouded in low cloud cover, so I cannot see how much further I need to go (thanks Covid).

Mostly, I appreciate how climbing a mountain forces me to face my deepest fears and find creative ways of navigating them, it proves that I can keep going long after I think I can’t and shows me how to see things from a new perspective.

We live in a world that glorifies being busy and overscheduled. In addition, we are all constantly connected to technology that demands our attention 24/7. The periods of solitude and stillness that we all crave has been slowly stripped away from us, YouTube video by YouTube video, social media post by social media post, text by text …and what’s left? A bunch of people terrified, not just of being physically alone, but alone with their own thoughts.

Yet, there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I never feel alone when I am sitting on a summit all by myself. I often feel alone scrolling through my social media feeds.

So, I think I’ll stick to the mountains and suggest maybe you consider climbing one too, if you haven’t already?

After all, who doesn’t love ending the day on a high?

If you loved that and need a bit more Hollie in your life, please make sure you head to those links at the top of the page!

You won’t regret it!

On the Heart of Wales Line Trail

You can visit and follow Dave Outdoors here:

Instagram: Dave_Outdoors123

YouTube: Dave Outdoors

Facebook: Dave Outdoors

Hello, my name is Dave.

I am a keen hiker, wild camper and general outdoors enthusiast.

I started my venture into the outdoors world in 2016. The idea behind me venturing into the outdoors came from a good friend of mine. His dad passed away suddenly and was a serving scout leader in the local community. In his memory, and to raise money for the scouts, we hiked up Scafell Pike in the Lake District and wild camped by Sprinkling Tarn. The landscape, views, vistas and natural beauty left me gobsmacked. From this point on, I ventured into the wildness, learnt to map read and found some amazing trails situated very close to my hometown.


It wasn’t until January 2019 that I started a YouTube channel. Something to document the amazing places I’ve visited and share with likeminded people like you. This journey I’m on, along with several others has inspired many people to venture outdoors, improving their mental wellbeing and overall making that first initial step out the front door.

If you would like to join an ever-growing community, then come join me on YouTube, under the name Dave Outdoors and share the adventures with me. Below are a couple of video from July 2020, tackling another section of the Heart of Wales line trail – epic countryside views in 28-degree heat. It also shows the importance of going equipped with the correct gear.

Part One

Part Two


As you can see, this trip was not solo, fellow YouTuber and good friend ‘A Shropshire Lad’ who I reached out to on YouTube a few years ago joined me. He’s my partner in crime and we face these adventures together. The laughter is definitely never too far away.


Hope to see you all over at Dave Outdoors.
Take care and stay safe

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If you loved that and want some more Dave in your life, make sure you follow him using the links at the top of the page!

Suunto Traverse Outdoor Watch

My Overall Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For some time I had been toying with the idea of purchasing a smartwatch as a useful tool for adventuring. All I really wanted from a watch was:

  • The time (obviously)
  • Mapping with tracking and grid referencing capabilities
  • Altimeter
  • GPS
  • Good battery life

After spending a ridiculous amount of time looking at ridiculous amounts of different watches, I discovered the Suunto Traverse and it ticked every one of my requirements plus a little extra.

Before I go straight into the review, let’s start with the basic specifications:

Measurements50 x 50 x 16.5 mm
Weight80g 
Bezel MaterialStainless steel & Mineral crystal glass
Case MaterialComposite
Strap MaterialSilicone
In The BoxSuunto Traverse Graphite, USB cable, quick guide, warranty booklet
PriceApprox. £175.00 (at time of purchase)
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Suunto

As mentioned already, I was after a fairly decent, mid range smart watch with mapping and GPS etc. to use as a useful backup tool for my usual navigation tools (map and compass) to avoid using various mapping software on my phone and the Suunto Traverse is just that.

This is the first time I’ve ever owned a smart watch, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a smartwatch as it doesn’t do what I’ve seen others do like call people or send messages, but I’ve got a phone for doing that so it doesn’t bother me. The Traverse is described as an Outdoor Watch by Suunto, and I would say that makes sense. You can, of course, use it everywhere for whatever reason, but I would definitely say it’s suited best for the great outdoors as the name suggests, it’s brilliant to use whilst ‘traversing’.

I think it’ll be easier to break this review down into sections, based on what the watch can do and what I’ve used it for so far:

Initial Set-Up

As you open up the box, you’ll find those things listed above inside. The quick user guide is just that, don’t expect anything very in depth and particularly useful – it’s really only any good for your intial set-up.

Set-up is ridiculously easy. Turn it on, follow the instructions, plug it in, job done! You can get it set up in no more than 5 minutes.

You can change the formatting to metric or imperial. Mine is set to meters and kilometers and degrees Celsius.

Intial set-up – DONE

Telling the time

Does this watch tell the time? It sure does.

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Suunto

As far as I can tell, it’s digital only and it’s set by GPS so it’s more accurate than setting it by the clock on the cooker which was set by the clock on your wall which was set by the clock in the car which you set about 5 years ago and never changed to meet daylight saving, so it’s either an hour fast or slow, so who knows?

It also tells you the time for sunrise and sunset that day.

Telling the time – DONE

Mapping & GPS

The mapping is powered by the accompanying software used by Suunto called Movescount. Movescount is a whole other story and probably deserves a review for itself. Essentially, you create your route on Movescount then plug your phone into your laptop or desktop (whatever), and sync it up. The map moves across to your watch straight away.

There are two flaws to the mapping I have discovered so far.

  1. You cannot sync the Traverse in any other way. You must plug it into your laptop or desktop. It will not do this ‘wirelessly’.
  2. If you are used to all the very helpful features and symbols, contours etc. etc. on your OS Map, then forget it, you only get the line of your route and absolutely nothing else.

Despite these flaws, following the route is remarkably accurate thanks to the GPS. You can view your route in whole, so you can see where you are along the route, or you can have it zoomed into your current position allowing you to see the direction changes in more detail.

I would not rely on this as a main source of navigation (I would always use map and compass) but it is a very very handy back up tool and that’s exactly what I wanted.

Along the route you can add various POIs (Points of Interest) which you can then sync back up to Movescount when you next plug in. You can also add these POIs whilst creating your route in the first place, and depending on what the POI is, it has a different symbol – in that case you could add your useful symbols from an OS Map manually should you want to, but they aren’t the same. You can then set up alerts to make your watch beep when you are approaching each POI. As you move along the route, your own path is marked with a dotted line so you can see where you have been in comparison to your planned route. Your position is marked with a big triangle which points in the direction the watch is facing.

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Suunto

If, like me, you use Viewranger to plan all of your routes, you can upload your GPX file route into Movescount and it’ll map it out for you straight away, so you don’t have to use Movescount to plan your route. This will obviously work with any other mapping software where you can download routes as GPX files.

You do not have to use the route planning though. You can record your own route and add POIs as you go along then upload that to Movescount when you plug in next.

GPS is great. The Traverse also works with GLONASS which I understand to be the Russian version of GPS or something like that. It’s pretty quick to pick up a GPS signal (takes seconds) but, like all GPS devices, can be effected by the weather or built up surroundings.

When you complete your walk following the route on the Traverse, hit STOP and it will give you loads of stats like:

  • Time taken
  • Distance
  • Altitude differences
  • Steps taken
  • Plus more

There is also a built in compass which obviously points north and gives you your heading degrees.

The Traverse also provides grid references for, as far as I can tell, pretty much all over the world. Mine is obviously set to BNG (British National Grid) but you change it for wherever you are.

There is so much more yet to discover I think, but I hope that’s given you a good insight into the mapping capabilities etc. so far.

Mapping & GPS – DONE

Altimeter, Barometer, Thermometer

Does this watch tell you your current altitude above sea level? YES

I am sure it does more than that, and I am sure you can set alarms to go off when you hit a certain altitude too.

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Suunto

The barometer alludes me, I’m not going to lie. It tells you if the air pressure is going up or down but I’m not sure what that means for me. I haven’t played around with that bit so much yet, so I can’t comment on much more.

The thermometer does it’s job – it tells you the temperature. One issue, though, is the sensor is under the watch so it will detect your body heat too, so you will not get a 100% accurate temperature by a long way. You need to take the watch off and leave it for some time to measure the temperature accurately.

Altimeter, Barometer, Thermometer – DONE

Battery Life

The battery life isn’t terrible, as long as you are just on normal ‘telling the time’ mode. As I’ve said, this is my first smartwatch/outdoor watch so I don’t have anything to compare it with.

On normal sitting on the sofa mode, the battery will last well over a week.

Get GPS and maps, following routes etc. running and the battery will possibly last a couple of days at best.

It comes with a USB charger, so it’s not difficult to charge on the go if you have a power pack or a car or a house with electricity to go to.

Battery Life – DONE

So… why only 4 stars?

For somebody like me, who just wants some navigational aids and doesn’t necessarily need to read messages or answer phones on my watch like a spy, I can’t recommend the Suunto Traverse enough. It feels incredibly robust and I understand the glass is some special near indestructible stuff and that’s perfect for me as somebody who isn’t known for being particularly careful or gentle with things.

It can also go underwater as far as 100m, which I think is pretty far, I don’t know… It can handle the deep end in your local swimming pool and you can take it for a paddle in the sea for sure. I’m not too sure what happens to it when it hits 101m either, does it just dissolve? Explode?

For me the only thing letting this watch down is the detailed mapping, or lack of it. I would prefer to be able to see a proper OS style map on the watch or something close to it – but it is in no way a deal breaker. It’s still very handy.

It’s also quite pretty.

Review of the Suunto Traverse Outdoor Watch – DONE

For more info and probably a slightly better write up about it, head over to Suunto for more!

This is me wearing the Suunto Traverse, being lost in a field in the fog
This is me opening the box and going ‘oooh’

Brecon Beacons: ‘Going it alone’

Trip dates: 11th – 13th September 2020

Location: Brecon Beacons, Wales

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart

Earlier this year I took a little solo trip to the Brecon Beacons in Wales for a long weekend of walking about and climbing some big hills. I didn’t intend to write anything about it, but have been thinking about the experience ever since and thought it would actually be good to do something about it, especially for those individuals who may want to take solo trips themselves but can’t quite pluck up the courage to do so. So here we go… this shouldn’t take long.

Our return to Sweden, for our usual annual wild camping trip, was cancelled thanks to COVID, and due to trying to stick to lockdown measures and social distancing rules etc. etc. we couldn’t all meet up for a bit of adventuring together. So, after the first lockdown I thought it was a pretty good opportunity to get out and do some solo exploring and the Beacons were beckoning.

For months before I had a circular route planned out which would incorporate Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big – starting and finishing at Garwnant on the beautiful Llyn-onn Reservoir. It was a route of about 33km (20 miles). I would have a big trek, tick off those peaks, camp nearby and then return to the car the next day then drive to the Black Mountains for a little bit more exploring.  Things didn’t exactly go to plan and that’s why I thought it would be good to share this little trip with you.

It was an early start, leaving home at about 05.30am on a Friday morning to make the long drive over to the Llyn-onn Reservoir. I arrived early enough to fit in a quick bit of breakfast before getting my pack sorted and leaving the car looking lonely in the vast, empty car park. Not far along the track (going north), emerging from the pine trees are the Cantrel and Beacons Reservoirs, two beautiful stretches of water completely dwarfed by the huge mass of Cefn Crew leading up to Corn Du above it and gradually becoming more and more veiled in cloud. On a side note, I haven’t yet been fortunate to see the spectacular views from Snowdon’s summit on a clear day, so I was really hoping the cloud would clear by the time I made it to the summit of Pen y Fan, just short of 1km above me, giving me something other than the usual view of a thick grey screen – but it already wasn’t looking likely.

A very grey start (looking across Cantrel Reservoir)

I spent the whole first section of the walk totally alone, not seeing anybody until I made it to Pont ar Daf car park which seems to be one of the most popular starting places to make the ascent. It was still early and the car park was packed and overflowing onto the verges already. Anyway, I weaved through the various people walking up in sandals and flip flips and as I got higher, the views surrounding me became more and more impressive until I eventually hit the clouds and was plunged into that all too familiar grey abyss. The long line of people seemed to stop and turn around at the cairn I could only presume marked the first little summit of Bwlch Duwynt, just below Corn Du and for good reason. The wind had picked up and seemed to be trying to blow everybody off the top of the ridge. With a fully packed rucksack on my back acting like a sail, it made the ascent to the summits of Corn Du and Pen y Fan that much more interesting, but no less enjoyable. Reaching Pen y Fan I wasn’t surprised to be surrounded by cloud, so I didn’t hang about and celebrate making it, but as soon as I took my first step down towards Cribyn, the cloud vanished completely and I was greeted with unbelievable views all around, including that of the incredibly picturesque Horseshoe Path and the Upper Neuadd Reservoir below.

Possibly the most challenging section of the route is actually the steep climb up to Cribyn but, personally, I think the view is far more rewarding looking back towards Pen y Fan. I was fortunate to be the only person on the small summit of Cribyn so I took the opportunity to have a bit of a rest and take some pictures before being joined by a young couple. I felt I was possibly interrupting something that could have been quite special, so hit the path once more and let them have the summit to themselves.

Horseshoe Path

Because I’m sure there is nothing worse than being woken up and told to ‘jog on’ by a disgruntled farmer or the police at 2am, I always try to do a lot of research into areas to wild camp before I start planning any route. Being a popular route for hikers and campers alike,  I knew there must have been some good camping spots that people often took advantage of in the area. I had previously watched a video by the excellent Outdoor Intrigue (love their stuff and Ben and Megan seem like super nice people) of when they hammock camped at the Upper Neuadd Reservoir – an old dried up reservoir bordered entirely by woodland with a little island of trees in the middle.

I decided to skip Fan y Big and instead followed the route all the way down to the entrance of the reservoir to claim my camping spot for the night. It was still fairly early, about 16:30, but I figured it was best to use the last remaining light for making camp. As I made my way through the trees, I came across a couple of other campers who had already settled in for the night but, fortunately, the spot I had my eye on whilst planning the route was still available – the island would be mine! Traversing across the reservoir, I discovered it wasn’t quite as dried up as I thought, jumping across streams and unintentionally walking through a number of bogs was worth it to have my own “island” for the night – I’m not sure if it’s technically an island if there’s no substantial body of water, but still…it was mine.

The island is mine

The strong winds returned and were blowing straight up the length of the reservoir, so I set up my tarp against it to make some shelter for my hammock then got some dinner on the go (sitting in a hammock surrounded by mountains is possibly the only way to make packet rice enjoyable). I changed out of my wet and cold clothes and climbed into the hammock to get cosy. It was the first time I had used an underquilt on my hammock, something I was quite sceptical about at first but would now absolutely recommend to anybody who enjoys sleeping in their hammock all year round as it kept the wind and the cold off all night. As soon as I settled in for the night, the wind completely changed direction and started blowing straight down the length of my tarp and over the top of me. Then it turned into a bit of storm. But thanks to the underquilt (and a cheeky bit of whisky) doing its job I was too cosy to do anything about it and slept right through.

The view from my hammock of Pen y Fan in the clouds

Whether it was because of the beautifully clear weather the next day or not, I found the second half of the walk far more impressive than the first. The route back to the car took me south through Taf Fechan Forest, along the incredibly scenic Pentywn Reservoir and up onto the southern hills of the Brecon Beacons with views stretching over Vaynor to the south and Pen y Fan to the north. A huge wide-open area of nothing but little rivers, rolling hills and sheep. I felt relaxed, rested and peaceful as I descended back down to Garwnant, my car and some homemade apple cake I had left especially for my return.

Grabbing a coffee from the café at Garwnant and sitting on the ground next to the car, I starting to make plans for what I needed to do next. As I mentioned earlier, I needed to get across to the Black Mountains for another route I had planned for the day, then camp again and head home the next day. But returning to the car after such a great day and a half of walking, I didn’t fancy doing it again straight away. I was still feeling relaxed and the effort I put into getting up and over those hills that morning left me feeling pretty lifted. I had achieved what I wanted to do. So…I made new plans.

South Wales is home to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK, in particular, the Gower Peninsular, home to Rhossili Bay. It was turning into quite a beautiful day, blue skies and warm sun – the beach was calling. Instead of making the 2 hour drive from Garwnant to the Black Mountains (in the direction of home) I made the 2 hour drive from Garwnant to Rhossili instead (away from home). This turned out to be a brilliant decision.

You don’t have to put yourself through hell to experience the great outdoors

I arrived at about lunchtime and somehow had the beach to myself with the exception of a handful of surfers. I emptied my rucksack of all the camping and hiking kit and replaced it with a blanket and a warm jacket, then made the beach my home for the day, staying until the sun had dropped below the horizon in front of me.

I wasn’t going to write about this trip because, as you can tell, it wasn’t particularly exciting or adventurous but for that reason, I thought I probably should. Reading through lots of different blogs, watching various videos on YouTube etc. there seems to be a lot of pressure to go fairly ‘hardcore’ when it comes to having a bit of an adventure and wild camping. Yes, usually I would just go out with a tarp and hammock and spend days on end camping and walking about, but that isn’t the only way to do these things. You don’t have to expose yourself to the elements, get cold, muddy and miserable to have adventures. I left home with a list of things in mind for what I wanted to achieve: a big trek,  some of the main peaks in the Beacons and an overnight camp on a little island. With everything on the list achieved, I didn’t need to go and spend another day and a half walking about the mountains and camping. Instead, I hit the beach, relaxed, took some quiet time to myself and ate a massive pizza for dinner. Reflecting back, having that time alone to go where I wanted, to go at my own pace and to be quiet and stress free, it was one of my favourite experiences of 2020 – granted that’s not saying much for 2020, but I would say that’s pretty good…wouldn’t you?

Intothesticks.life: The Origin Story

Here at intothesticks.life our mission is to encourage everybody to get outside and engage with the wild world around them…but we can’t do it alone and that’s where you come in.

That’s not the whole story though and certainly not where this all began…

Intothesticks.life was set up during an extremely tough time in my life as just a medium for me to record my adventures, thoughts and experiences about the wild world; something for me to read back in years to come – like a journal. But it soon became so much more than that.

I originally shared on social media an article I wrote after a surreal ‘camping’ trip in Scotland (featured in The Blog) as I thought it was quite amusing and I thought the guys who were also on the trip with me would also appreciate it.

Very quickly it became apparent that many other people appreciated too it and wanted to hear more…

Read about our Scotland trip here

Intothesticks.life combines the two main passions in my life. The great outdoors and writing. My earliest memories as a small child are of great walks in the countryside and 30 years later I’m still out there, exploring, learning and engaging with the wild world around me.

Since I was able to hold a pencil I’ve loved putting words together to tell a story, whether creatively or informatively, so being able to write about the great outdoors and those little adventures is one of the greatest things I could do.

My love for adventure and the outdoors led me to eventually join Lowland Rescue as part of Search Dogs Buckinghamshire where I am also the lead navigation instructor as well as being a National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS) course director, running my own navigation courses – helping others access the world of adventure safely and well informed.

You’re not necessarily going to find stories of somebody courageously climbing the tallest mountain in the world, fighting off tigers in the jungle and abseiling into some snake-filled abyss, I like to think my articles are a little more down to earth and relatable. You’re more likely to find stories about eating flapjack in the freezing rain, drying my underpants over a campfire or getting a bit sunburnt in the mountains instead.

From such a simple, personal, journal idea, intothesticks.life has become a space to connect other like minded people through The Community Campfire.

The Community Campfire is still a remarkably simple concept but now one of my most favourite parts of the site. It acts as an area everybody can come to share their outdoor passions. It’s the digital version of sitting around a campfire and having a chat. The main goal is to bring together a great collection of people with different skills, stories and experiences to help persuade, inspire or ‘influence’ people to get their boots on and take a walk in the wild. From the Community Campfire we’ve also introduced The intothesticks.life Podcast where get the opportunity to talk to these inspirational people about their lives in the great outdoors.

If just one person finds this site, reads an article and thinks ‘you know what? I’m going for a walk,’ then my job is done.

What else could I want?

Squirrel Cooker by Kestrel Bushcraft

What a fantastic piece of kit!

I discovered the squirrel cooker on one of Joe Robinet’s Bushcraft videos on youtube (link below) and immediately needed one. I had a trip to Sweden lined up and I knew that it would be the best opportunity to give it a proper baptism.

I contacted Kestrel Bushcraft straight away and got a seriously rapid response from them and we were game on. They were more than happy to make one for me and get it sent out in time for my trip, which they did. I can’t fault them at all. Very friendly, fast responding and incredibly quick postage for a great price too. Brilliant.

So the squirrel cooker is hand crafted and looks awesome. It’s comprised of two separate iron rods, one that you stick into the ground and another that is fed through it and balances perfectly in place over the fire. At one end of the balancing rod are two very sharp prongs, like a pitch fork, which is ideal for sticking some meat, marshmallows or whatever takes your fancy on, and at the other end is a slight angled curve which makes hanging your billy cans on a doddle. Sadly, due to the ridiculous prices in Sweden for steak, we opted to go without on this trip, but we did pack some Wayfayrer meals, so the billy can would be put to use.

It worked an absolute treat, I couldn’t find a flaw in it. It held together perfectly when holding the billy can full of water boiling and bubbling away and then when it came to removing the can, it was just a case of swiveling the cooker on its axis and it was out of the heat and much easier to deal with instead of having to keep your hands over the fire and fiddling around trying not to drop the can. It’s those little things that just makes the cooking experience that much more enjoyable and simple.

As a side note, it was also extremely helpful when it came to drying my wet socks over the fire.

Then when you’re done and it’s cooled, which takes no time at all, it just slips back inside your rucksack (or strapped to the side) taking up very little space. I did make a little cover for the sharp prongs just from some cardboard when it was in my rucksack to save making holes in it and also to prevent baggage handlers moaning at me in case they were silly enough to poke themselves.

There is little else to mention about this kit, other than the fact that I would highly recommend getting hold of one, plus as they are handmade by Kestrel Bushcraft, with their logo embossed on the side of it, you know you will actually have a unique piece which had some true care and attention put into it during the creation process.

Get in touch with Kestrel Bushcraft and get your hands on one. You will not regret it at all.

DD Travel Hammock and DD Tarp

DD Travel Hammock

Travel Hammock price: £52.00 (at time of purchase)

Colour: Green

DD Travel Hammock rating: 5/5

Why?

Honestly, I don’t know where to start with these other than proudly admitting that my hammock is my second home.

I absolutely love everything about my hammock, the size, the weight, materials, functions, everything. When I received my hammock and took it out of the stuff sack that is included, it was all perfectly folded and fitted wonderfully. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that trying to put these perfectly folded parcels back into the bags is an absolute bloody nightmare and bordering the most stressful and frustrating thing in the world. Well fear not! With no disrespect to the boys and girls at DD Hammocks who are incredibly helpful, it is very easy to do an even better job at packing your hammock away and making the whole thing so much smaller, saving that all important precious space in your pack. In fairness it doesn’t look as good, but every little helps.

Once packed away, the hammock weighs about 860g which isn’t super super light but is far from cumbersome and heavy and once you have your rucksack or day pack filled, you hardly notice it.

So, details, this isn’t instructional so just bare with me and use your imagination where I haven’t got specific things in photographs. The DD Travel has a built in mosquito net which is absolutely fantastic, with zips on both sides so you’re not restricted with getting in and out of the hammock from one side only. I would, however, say that, from my own laziness and lack of flexibility, the zips can be a bugger to do up when you’re laying down and a bit far and fiddly to reach when you leave them by your feet! So I just attached a little bit of paracord to each one so I can pull them up when they are down at my feet. Again, no criticism whatsoever to the hammock, just me being lazy. A fantastic feature inside the hammock is, at both ends, there are built in pockets. This may sound basic but you have no idea how helpful they are, especially in the middle of the night when you need to find a torch or your phone and they have vanished into the middle of the hammock somewhere. Very very useful! The mosquito net is held right up and away from your face with two poles (included) that slide into two compartments at each end and then tie up on the tree as well. What I tend to do though, to save a bit of space, is find a nice narrow stick from the ground and use that instead of the poles, works just as well, and you aren’t going to be short of sticks in the woods are you?

hammock.jpg
Dan Kemp Photography

Hammocks may seem to be something you’d use just in the summer when it’s nice and warm at night still as they seem fairly open to the elements and are typically seen hanging on a beach or between palm trees somewhere. Well, no. I have camped in all weathers and seasons in my hammock now and I haven’t suffered whatsoever with the cold. This is due to a few very simple but helpful features. Firstly, as soon as you lay in your hammock, the ‘walls’ come up above your whole body, immediately protecting you from the wind coming in contact with you directly. Then there is the double layer feature. The hammock is kind of like two slices of bread, but sewn together down one edge and fixed with Velcro on the other, allowing you to slide your sleeping mat or blankets, spare clothes and insulation inside. Not only does this help protect you getting cold underneath, it also makes it even more comfortable. Along with that, I have a second extremely basic hammock that I hang underneath my DD Travel, just to keep all of my kit and extras off the wet ground, but this almost acts as a thermal protection as well if I hang it at the right height below the DD. Although not quite as good as the DD Underblanket that I’m saving for to add to my kit in the future.  So that’s the DD Travel Hammock in a basic nutshell really, just an absolutely fantastic piece of kit, that I make sure I carry with me even on an afternoon stroll with my dog through the woods, giving me the option to throw it up quickly and get a brew on.


Hammock and tarp
Dan Kemp Photography

The DD Tarp

Size: 3m x 3m

DD Tarp price: £49.00 (at time of purchase

Colour: Green

DD 3m x 3m Tarp rating: 5/5

Why?

Another wonderful bit of kit in my rucksack. Clearly a bit more basic than the Travel Hammock but nonetheless vital and brilliant.

The tarp is extremely tough and versatile with endless ways to set up thanks to the 16 loops that line the edges and across the middle. I have even seen this tarp used as a raft on a river, boat sails and a tent with nothing but tent pegs (included) and walking poles (not included obviously), but of course, with all these hundreds of different uses, I generally go for the same set up every time, as pictured above. A basic open faced shelter for my hammock.

As mentioned, it comes with the pegs and also guy lines included in the stuff sack, and much like the hammock, can also be packed down far smaller than you originally get it. I found the pegs to be a little bit rubbish however and at this moment I am fairly certain all of them have bent, broken and been replaced, but this is no enormous problem because, after all, they are only tent pegs. Plus you can make your own from sticks too, saving space again. The guy lines are a great length, brilliant quality and haven’t disappointed me at all. I did also discover recently, through my own stupidity and nothing to do with DD at all, that neither the hammock or tarp are fire/ember proof, as I have found a few holes where sparks have come off my campfire and landed on them. But that’s just inevitable really if you’re silly enough to have your set up so close to the fire.

I have one of those rucksacks that have a separate lower compartment to it that you can zip off from the rest, and what is great is that, when I have the hammock and tarp folded away into their individual stuff bags, they both fit perfectly into the lower compartment, allowing easy access to them without routing through the bag and dropping everything all over the floor. Little things like that please me.

So to summarise, if you want a great camping hammock and a tarp to go with it, go to DD Hammocks. You will not be disappointed. Even my friends went and bought themselves their own DD Hammocks and Tarps after seeing mine. The quality of goods, the fantastic service and incredibly quick delivery times are all just bonuses and cherries on the top of the big hammock cake.

You will not be disappointed!

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The Hultafors HVK Craftman’s Knife

Hultafors HVK Craftman’s Knife

Price: £8.00 (approx)

Colour: Orange and black

Blade Length: 93mm (3.6 inches)

Material: Carbon Steel blade, super-durable PP plastic handle with rubber friction grip.

Holster: Super-durable PP plastic with belt clip.

Out of 5: 4

Why?

Every single time I walk into the forest I will always have a knife with me, and my current knife of choice is the Hultafors Craftman’s Knife.

Knives are an essential and an expensive piece of kit often costing up to and beyond £100 for a really great blade. However I was just after an affordable knife that could take some abuse but still be a contender in performance and wouldn’t mean a huge loss of money if it broke. This one definitely ticks all those boxes. I have had this knife for just 3 months now but it has been used almost everyday since without sharpening it and still holds a razor sharp edge.

This knife has been used to dig up roots and bulbs, make holes in trees to collect sap, split wood with a mallet, make feather sticks and also with a firesteel to make fire. On top of that I also use it to cook, cut and eat food. I haven’t yet come across a hurdle with the performance whilst undertaking all of these jobs and the blade still remains sharp.Sap_extraction.jpg

The holster is also excellent. It’s very solid and can really take a scraping and beating through everyday exploring. I particularly like how it has been designed with a small drainage hole in the bottom which saves the knife sitting in water and becoming ruined. It also makes the cleaning of the holster much easier too. Where the whole package loses a star is with the design of the belt clip. It’s a design that I haven’t seen before and is made to either lock onto a button or clipped over the top of a belt. There is a small ridge on the rear side of the clip which needs to be cut away to fit a belt of normal thickness, but this is also part of the design.DSCF9698 - Edited (1).jpg

A small design fault can be seen in the hinge of the clip and the two small ‘locking pins’. The hinge itself is very thin plastic and I worry that with a lot of use this will eventually break as the plastic is already whitening after so much usage. The pins are also held on the clip with the same very thin plastic and the very first time I attached it to my belt, one of the pins bent and could have broken very easily. I have to be very careful and make sure each pin is securely in its housing every time I use the clip which can be a nuisance at times if I want to clip it on with any speed.

If you are also after a knife that can be easily and inexpensively replaced if broken, then I highly recommend this Hultafors HVK Craftman’s Knife. It’s almost a sibling of the Morakniv which is about the same price and more or less identical. I can’t see mine being replaced any time soon and with a little more care and sharpening, this piece could last a very long time. You can see from the pictures that it’s had a lot of abuse over the time I’ve owned it, but I can guarantee its performance has not diminished and shows no sign of failing any time soon.

Well worth the purchase – have a look over here

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Hultafors OK4 Outdoor knife

I was absolutely delighted to discover an email from Hultafors asking if they could send the OK4 Outdoor Knife to me for a bit of a review, how could I possibly say no to that? So here it is…

They’ve done it again, what a beauty. Hultafors still remain my go to brand for reliable knives.

You’ll probably realise it already, but just be warned that I am definitely not a knife expert, but that might make this review a bit more realistic if you also have little knife knowledge too.

But first off, compared to my HVK Craftman’s Knife, the OK4 is better in pretty much every way. So let’s break it down..

Price: £13.00 – £15.00 (approx)

Colour: Green handle/black blade

Blade length: 3.6 inches

Blade material: Japanese knife steel, 3.0 mm carbon steel hardened to 58–60 HRC

Handle: Super-durable PP plastic and rubber

Holster: Super durable PP plastic

Out of 5: (but a high 4)

Why?

Immediately it looks so much better than the HVK Craftman’s knife, but it would obviously look different anyway. They’re designed for different jobs. However, when a knife comes out with me into the forest, it’s used for all the jobs a knife could possibly handle from cutting and shaping wood to skinning animals and eating with. It may or may not be cleaned between jobs.

So already this knife has had an absolute thrashing, hammering and all kinds of abusing you couldn’t imagine. The blade is relatively soft, but extremely durable. After my initial thrashing, the blade became slightly blunt, but after a very short sharpening session, it was straight back up to razor sharp, shaving hairs with no hassle whatsoever and still looks absolutely superb. I’m sure there is a limit to how many times I can sharpen it and blunt it and sharpen it again, but until that day, it’s going to live on my belt.

Another brilliant use for the blade is lighting fires. The rigid top edge of the blade is designed perfectly to be used with a fire steel and creates a wonderful cluster of sparks to light your fire. With the belt loop having a small pocket built into it for sliding a fire steel into, what more could you need?

This brings me to the next point; the holster. The holster is more or less the same as the HVK’s. I still worry that the clip will break after a couple of uses, it’s still a worryingly thin plastic hinge that if twisted slightly, could snap. However, along with the holster, came a fabric belt loop that, with a metal clasp, slides perfectly into the button hole on the holster. This won me over completely. I use thicker leather belts, so the clip on the holster actually doesn’t fit it, with this belt loop however, I have absolutely zero concerns. It’s a brilliant piece of kit. Even better is that the holster can actually come out of the belt loop, leaving, as tried and tested by your’s truly, the perfect holder for an axe handle too. No complaints.

The knife has a wonderful, thick and well weighted handle which grips perfectly when carrying out any job and with a slip guard at the pointy end, definitely reduces the risk of sliding down the handle and cutting yourself. The only problem with it would be cleaning. As mentioned previously, this knife can be used for skinning small animals (rabbits etc.), even though it’s not designed as a skinning knife, it can do the job just fine. The problem comes when you end up with, excuse the gory details, a bit of blood and guts on the handle. If the handle was entirely plastic, it would be as easy as wiping it off with a bit of cloth but being rubber, it naturally wants to grip onto those little bits of dirt as much as it can. It can obviously be cleaned, but just not as easily. The holster is ideal for this, however as it is entirely plastic and with a drainage hole in the bottom, it doesn’t trap a lot of dirt at all.

So if you want a fantastic knife to take on your trips into the wild, a knife that would stand up against any job you throw at it and still take pride of place on your belt, the ‘Hultafors OK4 outdoors knife’ is the tool for you. As much as I still love my HVK, which remains in my rucksack on trips, the OK4 is always on my belt. I love it, my friends love it, you’ll love it.

I still haven’t quite figured out why you’ll need a small ruler type measuring line on it, but it looks great nonetheless!

For more information from Hultafors themselves, head over here.

NNAS Bronze Award: Dates & Booking

On this page you will find a list of course dates as well as the course timetable and the cancellation policy

To book your space, please select ‘book’ next to the course you wish to join. This will take you to the NNAS booking site where you can book and pay for your space on our course.

DateLocationSpacesBook
2nd & 3rd April 2022North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PD YesBook
18th & 19th June 2022Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire. HP4 1LTYes Book
16th & 17th July 2022Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5NQ Yes Book
6th & 7th August 2022North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PDYes Book
20th & 21st August 2022Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5NQYes Book
15th & 16th October 2022Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire. HP4 1LTYes Book
5th & 6th November 2022Stockgrove Country Park, Beds, LU7 0BAYesBook
3rd & 4th December 2022North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PD YesBook
7th & 8th January 2023Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire. HP4 1LTYesBook
11th & 12th February 2023Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5NQYesBook
11th & 12th March 2023North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PDYesBook
MORE TO BE ANNOUNCED VERY SOON
If these dates do not suit your availability, get in touch and we can try and arrange something!

Course Timetable

DAY ONE

9:30am: Meet at the prior agreed car park / meeting point

9:30am – 12:00pm: Group introductions, administration and briefing followed by map theory and skills introduction.

12:00pm – 12:45pm: Lunch break and preparation for afternoon walking

12:45pm – 16:30pm: Start on planned circular route, each person taking it in turns to guide the group and practice their navigation skills with assistance from instructor, plenty of rest stops and time to ask questions.

16:30pm – 17:00pm: Arrive back at the meeting point for skills recap and debrief.

 
DAY TWO

9:30am: Meet at the prior agreed car park / meeting point

09:30am – 10:00am: Time to refresh skills learnt from previous day, ask questions and prepare for a full days walking.

10:00am – 16:30pm: Assessment begins, each person navigating a leg of a different circular route from previous day. Lunch break included as well as plenty of rest stops and further learning and development opportunities. The assessment is entirely practical and NOT written.

16:30pm –17:00pm: Arrive back at meeting point for course feedback and results.

Booking Process & Cancellation Policy

What happens when I book a place?

After getting in touch above, you will receive a booking form for the course you have chosen. After you complete and return the booking form we will arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially booked on the course and you will receive your booking confirmation and more useful information about your chosen course.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you provide, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

NNAS Bronze Award

Skill Level Required / suitable for: Beginners, Intermediates, Veterans

Course Fee: £105.00

Locations: Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire

Course dates and booking: click here

Course Locations

FAQs

This 2-day NNAS Bronze Award is perfect for beginners and intermediates. The course teaches you how to navigate using paths, tracks and linear features, using a map and compass. It is a very practical, enjoyable and hands-on weekend which will provide you with all those necessary skills you need to plan walks, take the lead and explore. It is also the starting point for many Duke of Edinburgh Award participants, scouts, guides and cadets looking to develop their navigation skills.

Intothesticks.life is an official provider of the National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS), meaning we can provide an accredited and recognised qualification in Navigation. If you are successful in achieving the pass criteria of this course you will receive an NNAS Bronze Award certificate. The NNAS Bronze award is accredited by the Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework (SCQF) at Level 4, and 2 SCQF credit points are awarded on completion.

If you are interested in attending this course but not necessarily interested in gaining the qualification, you’re more than welcome to complete the course without assessment.

What will this course do for you?

By the end of the course, you will gain:

  • Skills to help read a map and use a compass
  • New outdoor skills
  • Confidence and enjoyment of the outdoors
  • A recognised national award (NNAS)

What’s covered?

Among other skills, we will cover:

  • Navigation strategy & decision making
  • How to plan and follow your route
  • Accurate distance estimation (visual, timing, pacing)
  • Understanding and visualising contours
  • How stay safe outdoors

At intothesticks.life we run a very friendly, informal and relaxed approach to learning; teaching from personal experience gained from years of adventuring. The course groups will be no bigger than 8 people, which means we have plenty of time to dedicate to each person, so nobody feels forgotten or left behind.

You should expect to cover a very steady and comfortable distances each day, across farmland, hills and woodland, so you do not have to be a marathon runner, but a suitable level of fitness would be beneficial.

Click here To find the next available course and to get booked on

What did others say about the course?

James was an excellent tutor, clearly had a good practical understanding of the skills he was teaching, and had a nice relaxed approach. We were a small group so he was able to spend a lot of time helping us develop our skills over the weekend and provide guidance.’

Was great, loved it! Liked James’s relaxed approach which makes everyone feel comfortable.’

James had excellent teaching skills and was very patient with students. He is very calm and explains things slowly, and is very encouraging.’ 

‘A patient and thorough teacher, who also gives you lots of scope to practice and develop.’

Which location should you choose?

To see what you can expect to find at just a handful of our course locations, select the videos below

Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

North Marston, Buckinghamshire

Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire

Frequently Asked Questions

full terms and conditions can be here

How long is the course?

The NNAS Bronze Course is two full days starting at 09:30 and finishing at 17:00

If you cannot complete the course in one weekend, you are welcome to do spread it over two separate weekends. Just see the course dates for what’s available.

Does the assessment include a written exam?

No. The course is entirely practical. There are a few discussion points we will go over during the course, but there is absolutely no written element to this course. The assessment is all about how well you use those essential navigation skills.

Are there toilets nearby?

Not necessarily. We will always start and finish near toilet facilities but when we are walking on the route or having lunch, we may not be near any toilets. We recommend using a really nice bush – especially if it’s got a great panoramic view!

What should I bring?

It is highly recommended that you bring with you:

  • Basic outdoor walking gear (including good waterproof jacket and trousers)
  • Comfortable worn in walking boots or walking shoes
  • At least 1L of water for each day and a packed lunch and snacks for the trail
  • Suitable clothing for the weather: warm layers, spares, woolly hat/sun hat, gloves, sunglasses
  • We provide maps and compasses for you use during the course but if you have your own, then bring them along.

Jeans, wellington boots and heels are not suitable.

We reserve the right to refuse to allow you to continue with the course if you are not prepared properly. If you have any questions at all about what you should bring or if it is suitable, please ask before attending the course.

Is there somewhere I can heat my lunch up?

No. Bring a cold packed lunch and do not rely on being able to buy food at lunch time. We could well be eating out lunch in the woods, in a field or on a hill.

What do I need to know before I attend your course?

You can come on this course with little to no navigational experience whatsoever. We’ll go through everything right from the beginning and help you every step of the way!

It would be helpful if you refreshed yourself with the Countryside Code. This will be discussed during the course too.

There are a great selection of books to look at too if you wanted to, we highly recommend ‘The Ultimate Navigation Manual’ by Lyle Brotherton.

YouTube is also a fantastic resource for looking up navigation skills. Steve Backshall has done a handful of videos for Ordnance Survey and you can find them here

Can I do it by myself?

You can do this course by yourself or bring some friends along but they must be booked onto the course as well.

Can I do it in a group?

Group bookings are available and can be organised directly through intothesticks@hotmail.com.

Can I bring children?

Sorry, but we do ask that you leave children at home.

Can I bring a dog?

We absolutely love dogs at intothesticks.life, however some of the course locations do not, so unfortunately we ask that dogs are left at home too.

Do I get a certificate at the end of the course?

Yes you do! Upon successful completion of the NNAS Bronze Award, the National Navigation Award Scheme will issue you a certificate. This should be expected within a couple of weeks of completing the course. You will not receive this during the course.

How do I know if it’s the right course for me?

If you want the confidence in your ability to navigate and recognise features in your surroundings with a map and compass, then this is for you. You will learn skills that enable you to get outside and follow those paths and trails you have been wanting to try all this time!

How fit do I need to be? How far will we be walking?

A moderate level of fitness is all that’s required for the NNAS Bronze Award course. The course is done on foot and it will involve plenty of walking over a variety of terrains in all weathers. You should be able to comfortably walk approximately ten miles (15km) over the period of day – you do not need to be a marathon runner!

If the course is fully booked, to give everybody a fair chance to learn the skills and lead the group, you should expect to be walking no more than 10 miles over approximately 6 or 7 hours. It is a nice gentle pace and certainly not a run!

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the methods over here. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially placed on that course and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you give us, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

‘The Night Owl’ Dates & Booking

Course DateStart Time*LocationSpace Available
2nd April 202218:00North Marston, Bucks, MK18 3PP Yes
18th June 202219:30Ashridge Estate, Herts, HP4 1LTYes
2nd July 202219:30Wendover Woods, Bucks, HP22 5NQYes
6th August 202219:30North Marston, Bucks, MK18 3PPYes
20th August 202219:30Wendover Woods, Bucks, HP22 5NQ Yes
15th October 202218:30Ashridge Estate, Herts, HP4 1LTYes
5th November 202218:30Stockgrove Country Park, Beds, LU7 0BAYes
3rd December 202218:00North Marston, Bucks, MK18 3PP Yes
MORE TO BE ANNCOUNCED VERY SOON
*Start time will be confirmed closer to the course*
If these dates do not suit your availability, get in touch and we can arrange something!

To book yourself onto one of the courses above, or to find out more, please use the below enquiry form..

Booking Process and cancellation policy

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the enquiry form above. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially booked on the course of your choice and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you provide, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

‘Beyond Basics’ Dates & Booking

Course DateLocationSpace Available
NEW DATES TO BE RELEASED SOON
If these dates do not suit your availability, get in touch and we can arrange something!

To book yourself onto one of the courses above, or to find out more, please use the below enquiry form.

Booking Process and cancellation policy

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the enquiry form above. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially booked on the course of your choice and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you provide, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

‘Introduction to Navigation’ Dates & Booking

Course DateLocationSpace Available
2nd April 2022North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PP Yes
18th June 2022Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire, HP4 1LTYes
2nd July 2022Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5NQYes
6th August 2022North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 33PPYes
20th August 2022Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5NQ Yes
15th October 2022Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire, HP4 1LTYes
5th November 2022Stockgrove Country Park, Beds, LU7 0BAYes
3rd December 2022North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PP Yes
MORE 2022 DATES WILL BE ANNOUNCED SOON
7th January 2023Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire, HP4 1LTYes
11th February 2023Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5NQYes
11th March 2023North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PP Yes
MORE 2023 DATES WILL BE ANNCOUNCED SOON
If these dates do not suit your availability, get in touch and we can arrange something!

To book yourself onto one of the courses above, or to find out more, please use the below enquiry form.

Booking Process and cancellation policy

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the enquiry form above. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially booked on the course of your choice and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you provide, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

Dates & Booking

Level 1: ‘The Basics’ – £75.00 per person

3rd & 4th October 2020 – North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PP

Spaces remaining: 4

7th & 8th November 2020 – Rushmere, Bedfordshire, LU7 0BB

Spaces remaining: 4

5th & 6th December 2020 – Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire, HP4 1LT

Spaces remaining: 4

2nd & 3rd January 2021 – North Marston, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3PP

Spaces remaining: 4

6th & 7th February 2021 – Rushmere, Bedfordshire, LU7 0BB

Spaces remaining: 4

6th & 7th March 2021 – Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire, HP4 1LT

Spaces remaining: 4

Night Navigation: ‘The Night Owl’

Skill Level Required: Intermediate, Veteran

(we recommend attending our ‘Introduction to Navigation‘ course before this course if you are a beginner)

Course Fee: £50.00

Locations: Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire

Course dates and booking: click here

FAQs

The night brings an entirely different life to the world and transforms your surroundings often beyond recognition. Your imagination runs wild and those natural instincts start to spark up and ignite inside you. It’s all very enjoyable and rewarding until you’re caught out, unprepared, on the hills and your visibility is reduced to no further than your torchlight.

Course Information

Course Cost: £50.00 per person

Your walking should not be limited to just the daylight hours, especially when the night brings an entirely different beauty to your chosen environment. The ‘Night Owl’ course will enable you to relax and find comfort in the darkness, equipping you with the necessary skills to allow you a smooth transit across the land with little to no visibility.

The skills you will learn on this course will also apply to those days when the mist, fog and snow come creeping in unexpected during your walk on the hills. We’ll also look at the equipment you should use to help you and how to use them properly.

The course is for you if you are already a fairly competent navigator and want that extra confidence in your ability to cope with a number of challenges.

Course Dates

Have a look over here for the list of course dates and times. Be aware that start times for this course will vary depending on the season. The winter course will obviously start much earlier than the summer course due to being a late evening course.

Of course, if there are no dates that suit your availability, get in touch with us and we can arrange a custom evening that suits you.

What will we do?

  • Navigation at night theory – equipment and preparation
  • Navigation in darkness
  • Torches and their many uses
  • Bearings and pacing
  • ‘Micro-nav’

What do you need?

Warm and waterproof clothing

  • Gloves and a hat
  • Food and drink
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Torch/s and spare batteries
  • Notebook

If you have your own 1:25000 maps of the area and a good expedition style compass, please bring those along, otherwise we can lend you some spares for the evening.

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Questions & Answers

full terms and conditions found here

How long is the course?

‘The Night Owl’ course is done in a single evening. Times vary and are listed with the dates on the booking page. Times will be confirmed closer to the time due to weather and light conditions.

You should be prepared for a slightly later finish in the summer at approximately 23:00, but we aim to be done by 22:00.

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the enquiry form over here. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially placed on that course and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you give us, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

What do I need to know before I attend your course?

You should already be fairly competent with your navigation skills. It’s not entirely necessary, but I would recommend looking at the skillset on the ‘Beyond Basics’ course. If you are able to perform the majority of those skills, this course will suit you.

Can I do it by myself?

The courses are done in groups of 5 with a minimum of 2. We can arrange 1:1 session for you at a slightly higher fee if you want dedicated tuition time.

Can I do it in a group?

Of course, group bookings are available and can be organised directly by getting in touch through intothesticks@hotmail.com.

Can I bring children?

Sorry, but we do ask that you leave children at home.

Can I bring a dog?

We absolutely love dogs at intothesticks.life, however some of the course locations do not, so unfortunately we ask that dogs are left at home too.

Do I get a certificate at the end of the course?

You certainly do have the option to receive a certificate for attending ‘The Night Owl’ course. This isn’t an official recognised qualification though.

How do I know if it’s the right course for me?

If you have competent pre-existing navigation skills but you want to boost your confidence and ability to navigate in darkness or low visibility, then this is for you. You will no longer be restricted to fair weather walking during daylight hours!

How fit do I need to be? How far will we be walking?

A moderate level of fitness is all that’s required for ‘The Night Owl’ course. It will involve plenty of walking over a variety of terrains in all weathers in low visibility. You should be able to comfortably walk several miles over the period of 4 hours – you do not need to be a marathon runner!

Intermediate Navigation Skills

Skill Level Required: Intermediate, Experienced

Course Fee: £55.00

Locations: Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire

Course dates and booking: click here

FAQS

Do you already know the basic skills required to get from A to B with a map and compass but want hone in those finer details? Do you still lack confidence in your skills to get outside and lead the way?

Come along to our Beyond Basics Navigation Course and develop your skills. This course will help you understand exactly what you’re looking at when you compare the 2D map to the 3D world and how to use it to efficiently plan your journey.

Boost your confidence, reduce that worry and get outside!

Beyond Basics 2

Course Information

Course Cost: £55.00 per person

This intermediate navigation course is a full day practical course with the aim of providing you with all the intermediate skills and knowledge to help you explore the great outdoors of the UK and beyond!

This course is ideal for those who have basic knowledge of navigation and want to develop and build on it. Beyond Basics helps you contextualize the shape of the landscape and terrain to assist with your navigation.

The courses are located across a variety of areas, encompassing Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. These counties are the perfect living classrooms and playgrounds to learn and practice the basic essentials, setting you up to explore the rest of the UK in confidence. There will be an element of theory covered in the morning, refreshing the basics in detail, and then we’ll soon be off to explore the area on foot.

CLICK HERE TO FIND THE NEXT AVAILABLE COURSE AND TO GET BOOKED ON

Course Syllabus Overview

By the end of the course, we expect that you will be able to:

  • Relate small hills, small valleys, prominent re-entrants and prominent spurs to their corresponding map contours. Use prominent hills, ridges, spurs and valleys as a means of navigation in good visibility.
  • Use landforms and point features to orientate the map and as collecting and catching features.
  • Deviate briefly from a compass bearing to avoid obstacles or difficult terrain and accurately regain the original line.
  • Measure distance on the ground in varied, open terrain using timing and pacing and make practical allowances for any discrepancies.
  • Simplify legs using coarse navigation, attack points and fine navigation.

If that all sounds very daunting and scary, don’t worry! We are very friendly and approachable and will happily go over things with you time and time again until you feel totally happy and confident.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the course?

The Intermediate Course is one full day starting at 09:30 and finishing at 17:00

Are there toilets nearby?

Not necessarily. We will always start and finish near toilet facilities but when we are walking on the route or having lunch, we may not be near any toilets. We recommend using a really nice bush – especially if it’s got a great panoramic view!

What should I bring?

It is highly recommended that you bring with you:

  • Basic outdoor walking gear (including good waterproof jacket and trousers)
  • Comfortable worn in walking boots or walking shoes
  • At least 1L of water for each day and a packed lunch and snacks for the trail
  • Suitable clothing for the weather: warm layers, spares, woolly hat/sun hat, gloves, sunglasses
  • We provide maps and compasses for you use during the course but if you have your own, then bring them along.

Jeans, wellington boots and heels are not suitable.

We reserve the right to refuse to allow you to continue with the course if you are not prepared properly. If you have any questions at all about what you should bring or if it is suitable, please ask before attending the course.

Is there somewhere I can heat my lunch up?

No. Bring a cold packed lunch and do not rely on being able to buy food at lunch time. We could well be eating out lunch in the woods, in a field or on a hill.

What do I need to know before I attend your course?

You should attend this course with a good solid base knowledge of navigation. You should be at competent with bearings, pacing and timing – we will refresh these skills at the beginning of the day.

It would be helpful if you refreshed yourself with the Countryside Code. This will be discussed during the course too.

There is a great selection of books to look at too if you wanted to, we highly recommend ‘The Ultimate Navigation Manual’ by Lyle Brotherton.

YouTube is also a fantastic resource for looking up navigation skills. Steve Backshall has done a handful of videos for Ordnance Survey and you can find them here

Can I do it by myself?

You can do this course by yourself or bring some friends along but they must be booked onto the course as well.

Can I do it in a group?

Group bookings are available and can be organised directly through intothesticks@hotmail.com.

Can I bring children?

Sorry, but we do ask that you leave children at home.

Can I bring a dog?

We absolutely love dogs at intothesticks.life, however some of the course locations do not, so unfortunately we ask that dogs are left at home too.

How do I know if it’s the right course for me?

If you want the confidence in your ability to navigate away from the marked paths and tracks, find really small features on the map and become accurate with your navigation whilst being able to recognise features in your surroundings with a map and compass, then this is for you. You will learn skills that enable you to get outside and away from paths and trails!

How fit do I need to be? How far will we be walking?

A moderate level of fitness is all that’s required for the intermediate course. The course is done on foot and it will involve plenty of walking over a variety of terrains in all weathers. You should be able to comfortably walk approximately ten miles (15km) over the day – you do not need to be a marathon runner!

If the course is fully booked, to give everybody a fair chance to learn the skills and lead the group, you should expect to be walking no more than 10 miles over approximately 6 or 7 hoursIt is a nice gentle pace and certainly not a run!

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the methods over here. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially placed on that course and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you give us, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

Introduction to Navigation

Skill Level Required: Beginner, Intermediate, Veteran

Course Fee: £55.00

Locations: Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire

Course dates and booking: click here

FAQs

Do you want to explore the great outdoors but lack confidence in your ability to find your way around? Seen a particular walking route or trail you would like to be able to do but worried about getting lost? Do you want to be the one with the map in your group and lead the way?

Come along to our Beginner’s Navigation Course and learn the basic essential skills for getting around with a map and compass from a qualified navigation instructor. If you have never touched a map and compass before, you will leave at the end of the course with a brand new skill that you can put into practice every time you head for the trail.

Boost your confidence, reduce that worry and get outside!

Course Information

Course Cost: £55.00 per person

The Introduction to Navigation Course is a full day practical course with the aim of providing you with the basic skills and knowledge to help you explore the great outdoors of the UK and beyond! 

This course is for everybody from absolute beginners to expert navigators looking to refresh their skills. You will be provided with a fantastic introduction to not just navigation but to how to stay safe and well prepared on your journey.

By the end of the course you will have gained the basic skills necessary for using a map and compass and would have put them into practice a countless number of times. We will also have a quick look at the essential pieces of kit you should take with you to stay safe and well prepared for all elements.

The courses are located across a variety of areas encompassing Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. These counties are the perfect living classrooms and playgrounds to learn and practice the basic essentials, setting you up to explore the rest of the UK in confidence. There will be an element of theory covered in the morning of day one, looking at maps and compasses in detail, and then we’ll soon be off exploring the area on foot.

CLICK HERE TO FIND THE NEXT AVAILABLE COURSE AND TO GET BOOKED ON

Course Syllabus Overview

By the end of the course, we expect that you will be able to:

  • Learn and develop your skills and knowledge of a variety of maps and scales
  • Find features on the map and on the ground
  • Orientate the map using both your surroundings and a compass
  • Plan and lead the group along simple routes using above skills
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of equipment and what to do in an emergency

If that all sounds very daunting and scary, don’t worry! We are very friendly and approachable and will happily go over things with you time and time again until you are totally happy and confident.

Frequently Asked Questions

full terms and conditions found here

How long is the course?

Depending on the participant numbers, The Introduction to Navigation Course starts at 09:30 and finishing no later 17:00.

If the group is small you can expect to finish earlier than 17:00 but this cannot be guaranteed.

Are there toilets nearby?

Not necessarily. We will always start and finish near toilet facilities but when we are walking on the route or having lunch, we may not be near any toilets. We recommend using a really nice bush – especially if it’s got a great panoramic view!

What should I bring?

It is highly recommended that you bring with you:

  • Basic outdoor walking gear (including good waterproof jacket and trousers)
  • Comfortable worn in walking boots or walking shoes
  • At least 1L of water for each day and a packed lunch and snacks for the trail
  • Suitable clothing for the weather: warm layers, spares, woolly hat/sun hat, gloves, sunglasses
  • We provide maps and compasses for you use during the course but if you have your own, then bring them along.

Jeans, wellington boots and heels are not suitable.

We reserve the right to refuse to allow you to continue with the course if you are not prepared properly. If you have any questions at all about what you should bring or if it is suitable, please ask before attending the course.

Is there somewhere I can heat my lunch up?

No. Bring a cold packed lunch and do not rely on being able to buy food at lunch time. We could well be eating out lunch in the woods, in a field or on a hill.

What do I need to know before I attend your course?

You can come on this course with little to no navigational experience whatsoever. We’ll go through everything right from the beginning and help you every step of the way!

It would be helpful if you refreshed yourself with the Countryside Code. This will be discussed during the course too.

There are a great selection of books to look at too if you wanted to, we highly recommend ‘The Ultimate Navigation Manual’ by Lyle Brotherton.

YouTube is also a fantastic resource for looking up navigation skills. Steve Backshall has done a handful of videos for Ordnance Survey and you can find them here

Can I do it by myself?

You can do this course by yourself or bring some friends along but they must be booked onto the course as well.

Can I do it in a group?

Group bookings are available and can be organised directly through intothesticks@hotmail.com.

Can I bring children?

Sorry, but we do ask that you leave children at home.

Can I bring a dog?

We absolutely love dogs at intothesticks.life, however some of the course locations do not, so unfortunately we ask that dogs are left at home too.

How do I know if it’s the right course for me?

If you want the confidence in your ability to navigate and recognise features in your surroundings with a map and compass, then this is for you. You will learn skills that enable you to get outside and follow those paths and trails you have been wanting to try all this time!

How fit do I need to be? How far will we be walking?

A moderate level of fitness is all that’s required for the Introduction to Navigation course. The course is done on foot and it will involve plenty of walking over a variety of terrains in all weathers. You should be able to comfortably walk approximately ten miles (15km) over the day – you do not need to be a marathon runner!

If the course is fully booked, to give everybody a fair chance to learn the skills and lead the group, you should expect to be walking no more than 10 miles over approximately 6 or 7 hoursIt is a nice gentle pace and certainly not a run!

What happens when I book a place?

To book a spot, you need to get in touch using the methods over here. From there we will make sure your course of choice is definitely available before we confirm availability and arrange payment. Once payment is received you will be officially placed on that course and you will receive a confirmation email with further details about the weekend and what you will need to bring.

What happens if I cancel my booking after paying?

Depending on the notice you give us, we will arrange a refund for you. Please be aware that the percentage of the refund depends on the notice we receive.

3 weeks before course: 100% refund

2 weeks before course: 50% refund

1 week or less before course: 0% refund

Spectacular Staycations at Hush Hush Glamping

Featured in The Daily Mail as one of the 5 best farm stay holidays across the UK and The Telegraph as one of the 10 best back-to-nature UK breaks, Hush Hush Glamping provides an ideal setting for that much-needed digital detox.

Hush Hush Glamping (3) (1)

Hare’s Form pod is a charming, hand-crafted wooden pod for two, nestled beneath the majestic Radnor forest. Situated at 1,300ft above sea level, you’re presented with breath-taking views of the Radnor Valley and Black Mountains. The pod is set within 90 acres of family farmland, sharing its space with friendly alpacas, sheep, red kites, the odd hare and the occasional deer. Sleep under the stars and wake up to nature in this stunning dark sky area.

Hush Hush Glamping (2) (1)


Hare’s Form contains everything you need for an enjoyable staycation. The pod features a small kitchenette, providing all the essentials to cook a tasty meal, as well as an en-suite bathroom complete with a fitted shower. No more trekking to the toilet in the dark! Snuggle down in the comfy Hypnos double bed with a film, or warm your toes in front of the wood burning stove. Make the most of the lack of WiFi and spend quality time with your partner, away from all the distractions of everyday life. Cosy up inside with a good book, or sit out on the decking and bask in the sun’s rays and fresh country air.

If you wish to venture out walking, there are miles of expansive countryside right on your doorstep. Visit the wonderful Elan Valley Reservoir & Dams, the quaint town of Llandrindod Wells, the awe-inspiring Brecon Beacons, or the magical Radnor Forest. There are various local activities to choose from, including mountain biking, horse riding and the Gigrin Red Kite Feeding Centre. You could even treat yourself to a pamper day at the Cloud 9 Spa in Kington!

Hush Hush Glamping (4) (1)

Hare’s Form makes for the perfect romantic getaway. Whether you’re looking to unwind and relax, or go out hiking and exploring, Hush Hush Glamping has something for everyone. Find out more and escape to the beautiful mid-Wales countryside today at Hush Hush Glamping.

Hush Hush Glamping (8) (1)

Part One: Portland To Poole

Dates: 5th July to 7th July 2020

Distance: 50 miles / 80km

Here’s just a brief explanation of what’s going on:

We (Sarah and I) have decided to complete the longest National Trail in the UK, the South West Coast Path. As you may have read here, the path is 630 miles (1015km) long, so we have decided to split it into more time friendly chunks and complete it over a number of long weekends, hopefully in the next 12 months or so.

You may or may not be aware that the South West Coast Path runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. Some people follow that direction and others do it in reverse – Poole to Minehead. We have opted to mix it up a little bit and do it in sections going forwards but in reverse (if you think that’s confusing, try being the person who plans each section!) Our first section, which is what this article is about, was from Portland to the finishing point in Poole. The next section is from Budleigh Salterton, near Exmouth, to Portland, and then we’ll go from our next starting point to Budleigh Salterton and so on. The issue we have by doing that, though, is when we eventually complete the whole path, we won’t actually be in Poole or Minehead. So to make it more confusing for you, at Porthallow in Cornwall (official halfway point), we will then flip our direction and start walking towards Minehead so we finish at the official start/finish point – hopefully that makes sense, I’m confused even writing about it. 

Maybe this will help

So, why are we doing it anyway? I’d love to say it’s because of the beautiful scenery, the challenge and the sense of accomplishment, but it’s pretty much just because we had some spare time, and why not? But I also often complain that people, including myself, leave the UK in search of the natural beauty of foreign lands which can actually be found right here in the UK – you might just need a coat. Therefore, it’s a good opportunity to make the most of what we have and also a good opportunity for me to showcase to you the beauty of what can be found in the UK. 

Also a little warning that I’m a bit of a nerd and some parts of this article might seem like a history lesson but just go with it.

So let’s go…

Day 1: 5th July 2020 – Nothe Gardens, Weymouth Harbour, A cannon ball, some hot bikers and a beer

Before we even left home on day one, the plan had changed slightly. The original plan was to start at Portland Bill lighthouse but due to some lunch reservations with Sarah’s dad, time would have been a bit tight and we would instead start just at the edge of Portland Isle, but this didn’t bother us for two reasons:

  1. People often skip the stretch down to, and back up from, Portland Bill. I’m not sure why because that’s just cheating yourself of 10 miles. 
  2. The lunch was delicious. I would highly recommend The Crab House Cafe near Weymouth if you want some seriously great fresh fish and some bloody massive crab. 

Anyway, lunch was done and we donned our packs and made the first steps of what will eventually be a 630 mile trip. We had seriously lucked out with the weather right from the beginning – the sky was clear enough for us to see right across Portland Harbour, Weymouth Bay and right out towards St Aldhelms Head, a distance of about 18 miles/28 km across the water.

We were also quite unlucky as when the sun comes out it seems the entire nation flocks to the south coast of England – even during a pandemic. So dodging cyclists and trying not to knock down small children and the elderly with my rucksack, we eventually made our way into Weymouth. Day one was now to be the shortest stretch by far over the next couple of days. We had booked a room at The Riviera on the far side of Weymouth in Bowleaze Cove for the night which was now just a short 5 miles away, so we took our time but also rushed through as much of the manic bustle of Weymouth as we could. We were looking forward to getting away from people and getting stuck into the next couple of days where we would have nothing but the rolling Dorset hills to our left, the vast English Channel to our right and just the sound of the water crashing below us. Peace, however, would have to wait for the time being. 

We walked through Nothe Gardens on the southern edge of Weymouth, which displayed stunning panoramic views of Portland Isle and Weymouth Bay.

Nothe Fort - Weymouth's stunning Historic Sea Fort on the Jurassic ...
Nothe Gardens & Nothe Fort (NotheFort)

Nothe Gardens then leads down into the old Weymouth Harbour, which is still home to some of the original 17th century Tudor architecture and certainly worth a visit on a quiet day. It’s linked to the main town by a rising bridge. Originally constructed in the late 1500’s and then rebuilt about four times since, it would have originally allowed access into the harbour for steam liners and probably galleons before then but now operates mostly for luxury mega yachts.

We accessed Weymouth beachfront from Maiden Street, one of the oldest areas of the town where, quite interestingly, you can find a cannon ball, which had been fired during the Civil War in 1645, still lodged in the wall of one of the buildings.

Weymouth - Cannonfire Damage © Chris Talbot :: Geograph Britain ...
Cannon Ball (geograph)

I’ll try not to bore you too much with history throughout this article, but the whole of the South West Coast path is absolutely riddled with the stuff, and I do like history.

The further away you get from the old town of Weymouth the closer you get to the typical ‘bucket and spade’ town. It also seems that the further you get into any town, especially on the beach during a hot sunny day, the more strange looks you get from holiday makers wondering why you have a big rucksack, big boots and hiking kit on – but then I was thinking the same thing about the large number of bikers sweating in their heavy leather kit on the beach.

We could see The Riviera in the distance at the far end of the beach, where sand turns to boulders, and decided not to join any of the queues for some food but to keep going and get sorted later. We had already done a bit of a recce of Bowleaze Cove earlier that day and it’s not exactly a place I would recommend for people to visit, but it does have a good view of Weymouth going for it. We cut down from the path and linked into Bowleaze Cove via the beach.

From a distance The Riviera Hotel has an impressive frontage and certainly wouldn’t be misplaced in 1920s Hollywood, or apparently 1930s Weymouth as it seems. Due to the recent COVID-19 lockdown, the hotel had been closed to the public and had been split into two halves. One half was used to house the homeless and the other half housed NHS staff who couldn’t go home. So, even though the place could have done with another renovation, I have to give them the respect they are due for the service they provided. After all, all we really needed was a bed for the night and some breakfast in the morning and both were great.

That evening, my preparation for the next couple of days walking was to sit on the beach and enjoy an ice cream and a nice cold beer looking out at the sea. Honestly, I wouldn’t be unhappy if I prepared for all trips like that.

Day 2: 6th July 2020 – Stranded cruise ships, smugglers, Vancouver, tourists and artillery fire

We were on the path by 09:30am after breakfast. We weren’t given a choice of what to eat – it was full English or nothing, which is fine by me but for Sarah, who’s vegetarian, that just meant a few beans and an egg.

The South West Coast path runs right next to the hotel and immediately up a steep climb, which provides a spectacular view of Weymouth, Portland Isle, Chesil Beach and inland towards White Horse Hill. There were also six cruise ships anchored off shore just outside Weymouth Bay. Due to the current travel restrictions, cruise ships obviously had to find refuge somewhere until they became operational again. After apparently being turned away by many of the UK ports, the Queen Mary 2 and the P&O cruise ships Aurora, Azura, Arcadia and Brittania eventually found a nice spot overlooking Weymouth – with the majority of their staff still on board. 

(left to right: Brittania, QM2, Azura, Aurora, Arcadia)

From there it was just a short walk across the hills and cliff edges to the little hamlet of Osmington Mills, home to the 13th century pub The Smugglers Inn which has been one of my favourite pubs for about 10 years after accidentally taking a wrong turn on a cycling trip. The pub was the base of operations for the French smuggler Pierre Latour and the cove where Osmington Mills sits was one of the main landing spots for smugglers in the 17th century. A real hidden gem surrounded by history, quite literally as it sits right at the cliff edge of the Jurassic Coast full of fossils. They also serve a great selection of local ales… Anyway, again, I digress…

Unfortunately, the pub was closed. Apparently drinking that early in the morning is frowned upon anyway, and especially when you have about 20 miles left to cover that day.

The plan for day two was to walk from Bowleaze Cove to Kingston, a lovely little village just south of Corfe Castle, approximately 20 to 22 miles away. However, halfway along the stretch the Path runs through Lulworth Firing Range, used by the Ministry of Defence to train soldiers to blow stuff up with tanks and artillery guns. Apparently it’s quite dangerous to walk through an artillery range when they are firing live rounds (who would have thought), so it’s surrounded by a massive fence and the paths are locked when they are firing. On a side note, the information on the internet isn’t clear in my mind as to when you definitely aren’t allowed through on the designated ‘range walks’. If the gates were locked this would mean a slight diversion up and over the range making our total stretch 27 miles / 43km – a bit of a slog. Our plan was to follow the path to the edge of the range and, should it be locked, then follow our pre-planned diversion path up and over it. We also had a backup ‘evacuation’ route to the town of Wool where we could take a train to save some time if we needed to.

It took no time at all to leave behind the bustle of Weymouth and all the people and find peace and quiet on the path and then the constant singing of a skylark very quickly joined us. I love these little birds and I am certain that they are probably the noisiest little birds known to man, especially considering they are so tiny. The male skylark constantly sings on the wing – as soon as he is up in the air you can guarantee he’ll be singing his little heart out. Apparently, they have a range of about 300 syllables and each skylark has a unique tone. We have an abundance of larks around our home in north Buckinghamshire, and it soon became very apparent this wasn’t going to be the last time we were serenaded by one in Dorset. What also became clear is the number of kestrels living on the south coast. Once we were away from the busy built up areas, almost everywhere we looked, there would be a kestrel hovering above the path or diving through the air around the cliff edge. At one point we even saw one battling with a buzzard.

We eventually dropped into a valley and into the village of Ringstead, somewhere we both decided very quickly we wouldn’t mind living at some point, and Ringstead Bay. Other than being just up the shore from a nudist beach, Ringstead Bay has 600 meters of reef just off shore, which is uncovered at low tide. The beach is also protected by the National Trust, which I don’t see as a bad thing at all. In the front garden of one of the many beautiful houses along the coastline in Ringstead the owner has built a mile post pointing to numerous cities around the world. One in particular, right at the front, was Vancouver, 4705 miles away. One of the most amazing places we’ve been to together. We were due to land in Vancouver in September as part of a holiday we’ve had to cancel, so sadly, 4705 miles was probably the closest we were going to get to Vancouver this year. 

Vancouver 4705m

Just outside of Ringstead as you follow the coast path, on the left is a wooden structure which looks like a big shed but is actually a church. This, however, is not the original church as the original, along with the original village of Ringstead, mentioned in the Domesday Book, was abandoned and crumbled after the Black Death hit the area in 1348.

Between Ringstead and Lulworth Cove is one of the most spectacular parts of the UK coast I have ever seen. With enormous white cliffs and coves, surrounded by the almost crystal clear turquoise sea, every typical image you see of The Jurassic Coast comes to mind. Other than some of the mountains we’ve done, parts of this stretch are also some of the more challenging bits of walking I’ve done, with near vertical climbs – and this part of the South West Coast path is supposed to be easiest.

Atop a couple of the largest hills you find some old terraced cottages which used to belong to the Coastguard but are now probably holiday homes with the most amazing view straight over the English Channel.

Obviously as we got closer to some of the most popular parts of the Dorset coast – Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove – we started to see more and more people. We refilled our water in Newlands Farm, a huge camping and caravanning site just north of Durdle Door and then re-joined the path to overlook the iconic limestone arch. Durdle Door was a site that Sarah had always wanted to see but quickly it seemed the magic and excitement she had was lost as she thought it was ‘just something you walk past’ not, as it is now, a highly popular tourist attraction. The same could also be said for the beautiful little fishing village in Lulworth Cove.

Lulworth Cove is scattered with evidence that fishing still occurs there, however the crab and lobster cages perfectly stacked down the road down to the cove reminds me of what Raynor Winn experienced in Cornwall whilst writing about her time on the South West Coast path in the amazing book The Salt Path. Whilst she was speaking to a man stacking some of the lobster cages in a small Cornish village, he informed her that he wasn’t actually a fisherman, doesn’t like going out on boats and the cages were just for show because ‘that’s what the tourists liked’. I was pretty sure this was also the case in Lulworth Cove – ‘Just for the “grams”’ as Sarah remarked. I believe that’s a reference to Instagram.

I am in no way saying these beautiful and spectacular places are not worth a visit. I would just recommend going out of season to avoid the crowds. The whole coastline there is incredible and I in no way want to detract from that.

Just the other side of Lulworth Cove we could see the firing range fence line which would determine the next half of our walk for the day. Actually, we realised we probably wouldn’t be able to go through the firing range about 2 miles beforehand when we heard the sound of rapid gunfire and artillery. We reached the fence line and saw the red flags hoisted high on a pole with red lights flashing on top, the double gate well and truly locked and signs which read:

Military Firing Range

KEEP OUT

And written in a wasp like yellow and black warning, something along the lines of:

Do not touch any military debris. 

It may explode and kill you.

It was definitely time to follow our pre-planned diversion. Leaving the coast path and joining sections of The Hardy Way, accompanied by the sound of gunfire for the next couple of hours, we reached our next decision point. The ‘evacuation’ route would be used if time was critical – ‘critical’ meaning we’d get to the pub after they stopped serving food. The footpath leading through Coombe Heath Nature Reserve right on the edge of the firing range splits into two directions. Left was the evacuation route to Wool and the train, or right for an extra 9 or 10 miles to our finishing point for the day. It was already getting late in the day and we discovered the pub stopped serving dinner at 8pm so our stomachs made the decision for us. What would have been another 3 hours or so of walking, miles away from the coast path, we completed in about 20 minutes thanks to South Western Railway. We took the train from Wool to Wareham and then ‘Everest Taxis’ to Kingston for dinner and bed. It was very apparent that ‘Everest Taxis’ named themselves after their sky high fees…

It felt like cheating, but we still completed about 20 miles on day two thanks to our route to the train station in Wool. After all, we came to walk the South West Coast Path, and it just wasn’t possible to continue through the firing range – and we didn’t get blown up, so that’s fine.

I prepared for day three, which was to be the longest of the three days, in the only way I knew how. I spent about 10 minutes reviewing the maps with a nice cup of tea, and then finished off my preparation with fish and chips and a large glass of Pinot Grigio in the pub garden overlooking Corfe Castle, and beyond that Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour, where we would conclude our 3 days of walking.

 

Day 3: 7th July 2020 – Castles, lighthouses, spectacular views, exercise smash, paddling in the sea and then the ferry

Day three started early again with a quick breakfast, plenty of coffee and stiff legs after forgetting to stretch everything out at the end of day two. Our home for the night, The Scott Arms in Kingston, easily has the best view from a pub garden in my eyes. Straight down the Purbeck Hills, over Corfe Castle and beyond.

The Scott Arms, Kingston – Updated 2020 Prices
View from Scott Arms (booking)

Kingston is nestled in a perfect little spot surrounded by hills, woodlands, history and just a short stroll down the valley to the coast path. Everything somebody like me would want. We re-joined the Coast Path at St Aldhelms Head at the top of a very steep climb of steps leading from Emmett’s Hill. At St Aldhelms Head sits a very intriguing little stone Norman chapel, aptly named St Aldhelm’s Chapel. The build date is unknown but the records of the chapel go as far back as the early 1200s, during King Henry III’s reign.

St Aldhelm's Chapel, St Aldhelm's Head,... © Phil Champion ...
St Aldhelms Chapel (geograph)

From St Aldhelms Head the path takes you further and further away from any local civilisation and runs close enough to the edge of the 100m (plus) high cliffs that Sarah would keep pulling me back from or telling me to ‘get back from the edge!’ of every few minutes. Some of the drops are quite impressive though! The path drops down into the disused Seacombe Quarry, full of little caves and old abandoned stone buildings and foundations.

Seacombe Quarry

The quarry is worth a look around but should be treated with caution, reiterated but the numerous large warning signs that the very loose limestone walls are quite fond of crumbling and dropping enormous rocks.

That didn’t stop a number of rock climbers who were clinging to the walls as we walked through. Just along the path from Seacombe Quarry is Dancing Ledge, another disused quarry, named after the way the waves ripple and dance across the ledge at a particular time of day. We didn’t see much dancing but there were a few people down there using it as access for a swim. Swimming at Dancing Ledge isn’t recommended these days as the current has been known to pull people below the rock shelf and drown them, but back in the early twentieth century a swimming pool was blasted into the shelf there for the local school to use. It’s been destroyed since, but that would have been an intense swimming lesson. There’s no stopping some people though, and to be fair, I’d probably give it a go too.

Dancing Ledge
Dancing Ledge (DorsetGuide)

From back on St Aldhelms Head I had spotted a couple of large metal pylons along the path in the distance and picked one as an ideal spot for us to have a quick 20 minute rest, roughly halfway along our last stretch. They then vanished for a couple of hours and reappeared not long after Dancing Ledge. If you were to look on an OS Map, you can find these pylons labelled as Mile Indicator Posts. They weren’t something I’d come across before, and were literally just two tall metal pylons, one just behind the other. After a bit of research, I’ve discovered that these are quite common occurrences along the coast and many other waterways, even appearing on the River Thames. The mile is measured from the point the pylons perfectly line up and ends a mile down the coast at the next set of posts. Boats and ships still use these posts to measure their speed against the fluctuating currents. It was at this break spot that we saw a kestrel battling a buzzard before diving down the cliff edge and appearing further down the path in the direction we had just come from.

It was also at this spot that I checked the map and realised the posts I chose as our lunch spot were actually the second set of posts a mile away, just above Tilly Whim Caves.

The caves are also, like many other points on this stretch, the remains of an old quarry used to extract Purbeck Stone many years ago. They were once open as an attraction but are now closed to the public due to rock falls. The caves look across a little inlet towards the small Anvil Point Lighthouse, a site of special scientific interest. It was once fitted with an explosive fog horn that would sound when it was foggy (obviously) every 5 minutes, which must have really pleased the locals in the middle of the night.

The Mile Indicator Posts above the caves also marked the point for us where the rolling grass hills would turn into the hustle and bustle of Swanage. We also knew that the steep hill climbing out the north end of Swanage was the very last climb we had to do, meaning the end of our little adventure along this stretch of the South West Coast Path was almost in sight. Just before you get into Swanage though, you walk through the grounds of Durlston Castle which, through the frame of the trees along the small woodland path, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you were somewhere in the Mediterranean, looking down at boats sailing on the turquoise water under the blaring sun.

Linking back to the rather dull subject of quarrying, Durlston Castle was built by the man who was responsible for much of the quarrying and after destroying large sections of the natural coastline, he wanted to give something back to the locals and built himself a nice little castle. Very thoughtful…

Much the same as we did in Weymouth, we rushed through Swanage as quickly as possible. From a distance, the climb leading up to the cliff above Swanage looked horrible, but once we were on it the climb was very gradual and we more or less ran up it. The view from the top, looking over Swanage and the Purbeck Hills is particularly good. I often say the further away you get from a town, the nicer it looks, and the view from the top of that hill was a good example of that.

On the other side of the hill, along from Ballard Point, is Old Harry Rocks, one of the other most popular sites along the Dorset Coast. With its enormous chalk cliff faces and eroded arches, it’s reminiscent of The Needles on the Isle of Wight and for very good reason. Old Harry Rocks is the remains of what, once upon a time, used to be a long stretch of chalk connecting to the Isle of Wight some 15 miles away. The Needles on the Isle of Wight are the remains of that end of the chalk bridge. The origins of who Old Harry is, though, is a bit of a mystery. There are a few legends surrounding the origins like Harry Paye, a famous pirate from Poole who used to keep his ship hidden behind the rocks. Another legend says that the devil, who is apparently also known as Old Harry, used to sleep on the rocks, but who knows? Whoever Harry is, he has some pretty good rocks and some pubs named after him.

Almost 18 miles from our starting point that day, we hit the home straight – the very nice long sandy beach of Studland Bay. ‘Did you know that Coldplay filmed the video for their song ‘Yellow’ on this beach?’ is often a question we ask of each other when we walk on the beach as it’s a fact Sarah’s dad has told us nearly every time we go there. Good music video though. What’s even more impressive about Studland Bay, though, is that we trained for D-Day landings there and the concrete bunker where Churchill observed the training is still standing, along with various other heavy gun bunkers and Dragon’s Teeth tank traps. The training operation was named Exercise Smash. They also set fire to the sea by pouring gallons of crude oil on it and, I like to think, Churchill probably dramatically flicked his cigar onto it. Imagine trying to get that mess off a poor unsuspecting seagull… 

Inside Churchill’s observation bunker

Once on the sand, I immediately removed my boots, rolled up my trousers and went for a bit of a paddle. There is no better feeling that getting your feet out of big hiking boots after three days and letting them soak in the cold water. I did, however, forget that the beach was nearly about 2 miles long. You’d think after walking nearly 50 miles, walking those final 2 miles on the beach with your boots hanging from your rucksack would be quite nice, but I soon realised it wasn’t the best feeling in the world and was better off getting them back on. 

At the far end of Studland Bay is South Haven Point, the official finishing post of The South West Coast Path and where we stepped aboard the chain ferry across to Poole Harbour to eventually go home.

The closer we got to the end of our little adventure the less excited we felt about finishing it. Our time on the path had come to an end for the time being and we felt like we could have done another 50 miles straight away, spending a few more days walking the coast path. The idea of having to stop at that point did make us a bit sad. We were really proud of ourselves and what we had achieved in two and a half days, but we weren’t ready to stop. So, as soon as we got home, I plotted the next section for us to complete.

580 miles left to go.

 

The South West Coast Path

If you’re interested in completing all or just sections of the South West Coast Path, below you’ll find:

  • The history
  • Useful facts and figures
  • Some of the many notable places along the way
  • And the wildlife

At 630 miles (1013 km), the South West Coast Path is the longest marked footpath and National Trail in the UK – soon to be overtaken by the England Coast Path which is due for completion imminently. The South West Coast path, as the name suggests, covers the whole of the south west coast of the UK from it’s starting point in Minehead, Somerset (Grid reference SS 97069 47077) to Poole in Dorset (Grid reference SZ 03631 86660).  

The path takes you through four of the most popular English counties; Somerset, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset and because of that, you come across an abundance of interesting, beautiful and historical sites and it’s very well maintained, helped by the fact that over 70% of the route runs through National Parks, Areas of Natural Beauty, 2 World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO Biosphere and a UNESCO Geopark.

South West Coast Path – Trail Planner
Highlighted full length of the SWC Path (Picture courtesy of Trailplanner)

Some pretty impressive facts and figures here for you:

  • With 115,000 feet of ascent and descent, walking the full length of the South West Coast Path is equivalent to scaling the world’s tallest mountain four times! 
  • Along the route you will cross 230 bridges, catch 13 ferries, go through 880 gates, climb over 436 stiles, pass more than 4,000 Coast Path signs and go up or down over 30,000 steps. 
  • Approximately 9 million people visit the Path each year.

The South West Coast path was originally created by the Coastguard on the lookout for smugglers who were rife in the 13th century and the Coastguard continued to patrol the route until the early 1900’s, because of this the path still runs very close to or through many of the coves and caves along the way, providing spectacular views of some of the UK’s otherwise hidden coastal gems. Evidence of the route being used goes back much further than that, however. Through the discovery of various fossils it is understood that our ancestors could have walked and hunted on sections of the route as far back as the end of the last Ice Age – approximately 11,700 years ago. I assume they probably didn’t have the same sign posts and markers to follow though.

On average it takes approximately eight weeks to walk the path. Most people divide it into sections and complete it over several years, however you do of course find that some people will complete the whole trail in one go. Various records have been set over the years for quickest completion time, in 2016 the outdoor journalist and GB ultra runner Damian Hall set the new fastest known time of 10 days, 15 hours and 18 minutes. Now that’s pretty impressive!

Damien Hall (The Guardian)


Many people wild camp along the route, and there are plenty of hidden places you could easily get away with that, but do remember that wildcamping is not permitted in England and you might be moved along if you’re not careful, also if you do wildcamp please also remember to leave no trace and try not to ruin the beauty for everybody else.

If wildcamping isn’t your thing though and you still want to give the path a go, then there is a plethora of campsites, B&Bs and hotels with the path running right by them or not too far away to make a slight detour.

So what will you see along the way? Other than 630 miles of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery, the path takes your through a number of iconic places such as: 

Exmoor National Park, Somerset & Devon

Port Isaac, Cornwall (As featured in ITV’s Doc Martin)

Lands’s End , Cornwall (UK’s most westerly point)

Lizard Point, Cornwall (UK’s most southerly point)

Chesil Beach, Dorset

Portland Bill, Dorset

Durdle Door, Dorset

There is also an abundance of wildlife you could see, such as:

  • Swifts and Peregine Falcons ( Two of the world’s fastest birds)
  • Kestrel
  • Wild goats and ponies 
  • Deer
  • Rabbits and hares
  • Basking sharks
  • Seals
  • Dolphins
  • Otters

You might also find us along there too! We have recently decided to make it our goal to complete the full 630 miles, breaking it into various 50-100 mile stretches. You can find my reports of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what we’ve seen on the site once we’ve done them. 

As well as the route appearing on various OS Maps, there are a great selection of guidebooks by Cicerone which focus mainly on the route allowing you to easily follow the path without getting tied up in your map.

You can find your OS Maps here and your Cicerone guidebooks here


If you want to find some more information about the South West Coast Path, have a look at the official website over here

Happy trailing!

A Dawn Chorus

Like so many of her articles in her wide catalogue of work, ‘A Dawn Chorus’ is so poetically written and expresses Charlotte’s experience and emotions beautifully.

It commands your attention throughout, so read on to find out what Charlotte experienced when she got up at the break of day to embrace the beautiful dawn chorus.


There aren’t many reasons I’d set a 04:30am alarm. Even the promise of the dawn chorus felt like it was going to be a stretch. But as that shrill wailing jerked me awake, I found myself stumbling straight out of bed and into the clothes I’d laid out the night before. A final stock-take before leaving the house – phone, keys, scarf, binoculars – and I was out the door and off into the night.

The dawn chorus has long captivated us humans. It is exhilarating, pure magic entwined with the promise of freedom and escape. It is a reminder of an older time, long before I was born, when life was slower and quieter. For the birds, however, the dawn chorus is about just two things: sex and power.

The first thing that hits you is the sheer volume of each bird, their regular daytime tootling paling in comparison. As I walked up the street and the early morning chill nibbled my cheeks two beautiful songs completely wrapped me up: the blackbird and the robin.

Until that moment I hadn’t realised just how much strength each member of the dawn chorus held in its little lungs. Each species sings desperately to be heard above the noise of other birds and prove its worth to potential mates, as well as local rivals who may be thinking about swooping in to steal territory or females.

I smiled to myself as the blackbirds and robins – always the birds to start the chorus – sung me towards the patch of woodland where I’d decided to listen to the main event. The blackbird is a romantic, its notes all syrupy ripples, while the robin is a dreamer, its tinkling silvery and wistful.

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It’s thought that wrens actually vibrate with the power of their own song

I paused on the woodland edge as another singer joined the choir, insistently vying for attention with each staccato phrase repeated three or four times: “Hello! Hello! It’s me! I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!” Once you learn to recognise it there is no mistaking this distinctive song thrush ditty.

Next, a machine-gun-burst cut through the dark, followed by another – two warring wrens duelling for territory from opposite sides of the wood. I’m always astounded by the power in the tiny wren’s voice. In fact, it’s thought that our second-smallest bird actually vibrates with the power of its own song.

I looked at my watch. It was just past 5am; the choir would soon start building to its crescendo. A little wooden bench where I often stop to sit with my cocker spaniel, Ruby, on our short potters (my golden girl is getting old) was the perfect spot to pause and listen to the ever more powerful avian soundtrack ringing out around me.

As I took my seat I was welcomed by a chiffchaff practising its first hesitant notes of the day: “Chiff, chiff, chiff.” I stared into the depths of a gloomy bush, hoping to see a flicker of movement, when a fluttering something-else caught my eye, up the corridor of trees and then back again. A butterfly? This early in the morning? No, a bat!

As soon as the realisation hit three more staged a high-speed fly-past, then another, then another; some whizzing straight by my seat on their commute while others raced laps after the night’s last insects before continuing to their roost. I smiled and counted, “One bat… two bats…” a la Count Von Count, and by the time the eighth tiny bat had flown past, the chiffchaff had found its voice and proudly proclaimed, “Chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff” to my eager ears.

dawn-landscape-burnley-1

The sky glew gas blue; pale fire lit by the steadily rising sun. I checked my watch again: 5:35am, time for a slow walk home as the final birds added their melodies to the dawn chorus.

Crows croaked and wood pigeons complained about how much “my toe hurts, Betty.”* A great tit see-sawed overhead like a squeaky wheelbarrow. The house sparrows came last, chirping away from the tops of garden hedges under a morning sun muffled by clouds. There was no-one else around, my heart was full, and my eyes weren’t even stinging with sleep.

That day, I was more productive at work than I’d been for some time. I felt really, genuinely happy. I walked to my polling station in the humid evening to vote in the local election, and as the fat clouds burst I turned my face to the sky and embraced the cooling raindrops. I’m positive that it was the dawn chorus effect. Birdsong is a balm for the soul.

  • All credit to BBC 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie for coining this wonderful wood pigeon whinge.

If you have a moment, please check out the amazing work that Lancashire Wildlife Trust do in order to ‘give wildlife a voice, protect wild spaces and enthuse the next generation with nature across Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.’

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Leave a comment below and let us know if this is something you’ve done and how it’s affected you and if you had the same experience as Charlotte!

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The Canoe on The River Wye

Dates

16th – 18th May 2019

Route

Hereford to Symonds Yat

Total Distance Paddled

Approx 70 km / 45 miles

Canoe Hire Business and Trip Organiser

 Canoe The Wye

Campsites

Night 1: Tresseck Campsite

Night 2: Ross On Wye Rowing Club

I have always loved the look of canoeing down a beautiful, still and silent river and for years have wanted to give it a go. I’ve canoed before and I’ve done a little kayaking but they’ve always been day trips and I was after the adventure of hauling all of my kit in the canoe and travelling for a couple of days, living out of the canoe on the riverside.

Almost every year when we planned our trips into Sweden, I would suggest hiring some canoes and exploring the vast lakes and river systems taking advantage of their freedom to roam laws to camp on the riverside every night. Sadly the idea never materialised and my longing for that canoe trip just grew every year.

I’ve spent a lot of time walking and exploring in the Wye Valley and eventually got to know the area very well. There was a small beach on the river bank in Symonds Yat where I used to sit with my dog and watch in glee as the canoeists would glide past and I later found out that that beach was actually the landing spot for Canoe The Wye (a brilliant canoe hire company).

After months of researching some great canoe trips in the UK, I looked at trips running in one of my favourite places, Wye Valley and discovered Canoe The Wye. They have a brilliant selection of self guided trips ranging from a half day to 4 days. I opted for and booked the 3 day trip. 3 days canoeing and 2 nights camping.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take much persuasion at all to get Sarah on board (no pun intended) to take part in the 3 day canoe trip on the River Wye – to be fair it took a lot of research and planning on my side beforehand so it was a fairly easy sell!

Time passed, we booked our campsites and got ready for our trip.

Day 1 (Thursday):  Hereford to Hoarwithy – and chatty man Nick

It should have been a fairly short drive, just a couple of hours, from home to Canoe the Wye’s base in Symonds Yat. A drive I have completed many times with no issues whatsoever, however this time it took considerably longer due to a minor accidental detour on the motorway which took us a good half hour in the opposite direction…We called ahead and told them to expect us slightly later than planned. This wasn’t an issue though as we found out we were the only people doing the multi day trip and they were only waiting for us to arrive to get started anyway. Keeping to the speed limit (ish…) I managed to get us there a little earlier than we thought, but still quite late…

We met Nick from Canoe The Wye who would be kitting us up, providing us with our canoe and briefing us on what to expect on the river each day. We packed all of our kit into the waterproof barrels (well…most of it, we had so much stuff it looked like we might have been on the 7 day trip…) and climbed into Nicks pick-up.

On the 3 day trip, you get dropped off at Hereford and over the next couple of days you make your way back down river (about 70km) to Symonds Yat.

Nick was a very pleasant man, very chatty and clearly had a lot of knowledge about the local area. We pretty much had a free guided tour all the way to Hereford! We arrived at the launching site at Hereford Rowing Club and hauled the canoe and kit off the pick-up and went through the briefing on the grass next to the river. Nick showed us various methods of controlling the canoe and how to guide it through different sections of water. I already had some knowledge of how to do this and Sarah and I had canoed together in Algonquin Park in Canada, so we knew how to work together and who was better at the back and front of the canoe. We were ready to go!

Canoe taken to the water – kit packed in canoe – we climbed in and set off – Nick drove away…

It had been a couple of years since we were in a canoe together, so it took a little moment to get back in the rhythm of it and keep in a straight line, but within 10 minutes we were away and canoeing like the pros.

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Once you go under the last bridge away from Hereford the whole area is plunged into peace and quiet. With the sound of nothing but the paddles gliding pushing us through the water, we officially began our adventure. It dawned on us fairly quick that we actually had no other way to get to where we wanted to go, we had to rely on our skills and trusty canoe to get us there, and that was really exciting. We were provided with a fairly basic map of the river for each day’s stretch. The river was split into sections eventually counting down to 1 which we would reach three days later in Symonds Yat.  It was easy enough to follow and it pointed out various points of interests along the way. So we navigated ourselves along the river by counting down how many bridges we had gone under and how many we had left to do before we reached our end point for the day. Day 1 would finish at a lovely riverside campsite on the edge of Hoarwithy village.

The water was really smooth which made paddling easy, however in numerous sections on day 1 the river was exposed to a strong headwind. The current was slow moving, so we had to put in some extra effort to keep moving through the wind, back into the sheltered sections of the river. Other than that though, day 1 was beautiful. We didn’t see a single person along the whole stretch of water, the weather was amazing and just short of five and a half hours later we arrived at Tresseck Campsite in Hoarwithy.

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Upon climbing the steep bank up to the campsite and hauling the canoe up behind us (not fun), we discovered we were the only people on the site which was perfect. We pitched up on a spot next the river and ventured into a pub, which was also a shop, just across the field to get some firewood for a campfire (campfires are permitted at the site, we weren’t being hooligans). We very quickly discovered that it was more of a ‘locals’ pub and the landlady was less than welcoming, obviously realising that we weren’t their fellow village folk or even from the same county. We downed a very well earned drink, bought some supplies and ran away back to the safety of our campsite. We were soon joined by a small family who had also canoed down from Hereford and pitched next to us.

We lit our campfire, had some dinner, drank a whole bottle of Prosecco, napped next to the fire and with that, day 1 was complete.

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Day 2 (Friday): Hoarwithy to Ross on Wye – and Wildlife

Day 2 was a slightly shorter stretch but very picturesque and full of wildlife. We woke up early and made breakfast as our neighbours packed up their camp and prepared to leave. They were following the same route as us and would be staying in Ross on Wye that night too. We finished breakfast, packed everything away, launched the canoe into the water and we were off.

Straight away we were surrounded by wildlife. As we paddled down the river we were watching families of ducks and swans rushing about with their babies. Along the route we passed salmon pools and caught glimpses of the salmon rushing upstream below us. Above our heads we had kingfishers flashing through the trees and even spotted a hobby hawk. Alongside us, on the banks, were slides created by otters coming in and out of the river. It was nice to think we wouldn’t have spotted any of this if we weren’t on the river. As soon as you get on the water, the perspective of the whole area changes in an instant.

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The route was broken up by old disused bridges which were actually quite eerie and daunting as we glided below them in silence. We had some rain overnight which had caused the water levels to rise slightly and the current was faster, this made for some pretty exciting canoeing as we negotiated our way through small rapids and dodged large boulders that were only just surfacing above the water. It was in these little rapids where we spotted small groups of salmon. As soon as we hit calm water again, the serenity returned and we were once again surrounded by absolute peace and quiet. I wish I could explain in more detail how beautiful the experience was and how amazing it was to just lay the paddle down inside the canoe and let the current slowly take us peacefully downstream.

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We nearly went the whole route without seeing anybody else on the water. After a couple of hours we overtook the only other group of people in canoes we had seen for the last 24 hours. We had seen (and probably disrupted) a few people fly fishing in the river, but that was it. We felt like we were miles away from anywhere and we easily could have been.

We eventually spotted Ross on Wye in the distance. Most of the small town is set at the top of the valley and gradually comes down to the river where Ross on Wye Rowing Club was, and that would be our end point for the day. We booked to camp in one of the fields behind the rowing club which backed onto a small recreational green overlooking the river. We moored up, unpacked our kit and dragged the canoe up on to the bank then set up our tent in the field. At the time we were again the only people on the site, but as the afternoon went on, more campers had arrived and took up some of the extra space we had.

A well earned drink was once again needed, so we explored the town. It was a rather pleasant little place as far as we could tell, lots of old antique shops and bookstores and we found a good pub to enjoy a cider or two. We also found an excellent Chinese takeaway which would be providing our dinner that night! It was still early afternoon, so we headed back to the campsite and chilled out next to the water for a bit before heading back up to pick up our dinner.

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After a long day canoeing and wildlife spotting, the feeling of sitting in our tent, enjoying a great Chinese takeaway was amazing.

I discovered that night that Sarah could potentially sleep through anything. That night I was woken by some commotion on the recreational ground and lots of shouting. Very soon after the place was filled with light and I was desperate for a pee, so I climbed out of the tent and found the light was coming from a group of police cars and officers as they were shining torches around the site. Meanwhile, Sarah slept on, totally unaware. I figured that as the site was full of police officers it was fairly safe to leave Sarah alone in the tent for a couple of minutes whilst I took advantage of the rather nice rowing club facilities. The following morning Sarah had absolutely no recollection of anything happening overnight and she told me how well she had slept all night. Good for her…

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Day 3 (Saturday): Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat – and pirate hats

The commotion of the night before aside, day 3 started nicely. There had been a bit of rain throughout the night again, but it was looking like it would be a clear day and ideal for the last short stretch of river from Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat. Once we had ourselves ready and the canoe in the water, it became obvious very quickly that we weren’t going to have such a quiet and peaceful day like the previous couple of days. Being Saturday, it meant that the river was full of people on one day trips and most of them appeared to be stag parties. We weaved and dodged around the other canoes as they all blundered their way down the river, bouncing off the river bank and getting caught in overhanging trees. Once we past most of them and got out of Ross on Wye onto a much wider stretch of river, the view behind us looked like a scene from Zulu… if the Zulus has canoes… Anyway, this meant that if we were to relax and take it easy on our last day, we would most likely get caught up among the crowd behind us.

We were told in the briefing by chatty man Nick that day 3 is the shortest leg but most picturesque. We were also told that he did see another group at their headquarters being taken upstream and they were wearing pirate hats…We couldn’t fault chatty man Nick on either of these points – it actually seemed that at every canoe launching spot along the river, there was a pirate waiting to get into his canoe, but that made for an entertaining break between watching the Kingfishers and other wildlife along the river.

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Not far down river from Ross on Wye sits the Medieval Norman ruin of Goodrich Castle, which from the ground is a spectacular site I’m sure, but from the water was even better. Several hundreds of years later, in ruins, it still looms over the water with suggestive power and from the river you can really get an idea of how incredible it would have been in the 1100s. It was another example of just how different everything seems and how great the perspective of the world is from the water.

As we got closer to Symonds Yat the valley grew higher and higher above us and we were almost transported back to the prehistoric era, surrounded by the ancient rock and forest. We had managed to leave behind most of the crowds and we powered on in serenity once again. We were also briefed that the final day has the roughest water too, with lots more smaller but much faster spots of white water to navigate through.

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There is one particular section half way down the river which has a small island sat in the middle of the water. We were told that if we wanted a safe, smooth passage through, we should take the left fork around the island. If we went right we would hit deeper and faster white water which would take a bit of concentration and effort to battle through. So of course, we went right. We had enjoyed all the previous sections of tricky water and tackled them perfectly every time (almost) and this was no different. On this section, the current flows in an S bend, firstly going far over to the bank on the right side among the rocks and trees, then out and toward the bank of the island for another potential battering. The water was rough enough that if we hit it wrong and got caught up in the current we could have potentially ended up in the water – losing some of our kit in the process. Challenge accepted! We lined ourselves up to hit the water at exactly the right spot and got through the first part perfectly. Sarah was at the front providing the power and I was steering and driving from the rear. Everything was going perfectly – adrenaline flowing. brains working hard. Then, right in the middle of the S, my brain wasn’t working so well and I drove the paddling into the wrong side of the canoe and steered us too hard back into the current kicking the back of the canoe out 90 degrees and across the river with the current pushing directly into our side. We were a bit stuck and being rotated towards the bank with a few other canoes and kayaks waiting behind us to get through the same section. Working as hard as we could to correct my mistake we managed to push ourselves back in the right direction and out of the white water back to the wider, smoother section to continue our journey. Something we were also told about regarding this section of water is that it’s right outside a pub and it’s a popular spot for people to come and watch people take on that challenge – being a Saturday, we were watched by a good few dozen people. I think we did ourselves proud though, and the kayak behind us wasn’t so lucky!

Soon, Symonds Yat appeared along the top of the valley and the old familiar beach that my dog and I used to sit on came into sight. We landed the canoe, dragged it up into the field for collection and felt a bit sad that our little canoe adventure was over. We loved every bit of it and felt that we could have easily done another day or two on the river. So I think we will definitely be back in the not so distant future.

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Afterthought and recap

Was this the experience I was after? Was this the type of adventure I was looking for? Carrying all the kit in our canoe, paddling for multiple days and camping on the riverside – yes it was.

Looking back, several months on, I’m still sad that I didn’t consider booking the 4 day trip and it feels like it was over and done with far too quickly. I’m looking forward to booking another trip through Canoe the Wye, hopefully in the not too distant future!

I would highly recommend looking at Canoe the Wye to everybody reading this. You can hire multiple canoes, go in large groups and spend days out on the river, or you can do what we did and have a peaceful few days out on the river. You receive an excellent briefing from the staff, catered to your experience level, and you’re required to inform them when you leave and arrive at each destination everyday so they know where you are and that you’re safe. They recommend that you book the multi-day trips starting midweek, and I totally agree. I would actually recommend starting earlier in the week as the river does get very busy on the weekend – I’ll probably look at booking Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday next time to avoid the weekend pirates.

The Wye Valley is a spectacular place to visit in general, just for long walks leading up into the Forest of Dean, but I now believe that in order to experience it completely, you need to get on the water. You see so much more and things that you’d never see if you were walking on the riverbank. The river takes you through a vast amount of private land too, so you find completely brand new areas and perspectives of the valley that you wouldn’t get on the ground.

The canoeing isn’t too difficult either. Depending on the weather of course, but the river is mostly smooth with a gentle current. It’s also known to be so shallow that you often end up walking down the middle of the river towing you canoe behind you. If you haven’t canoed before, or have little experience, The River Wye is an ideal spot to develop your skills or learn something amazing.

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We’d love to hear from you if you’ve been on a similar trip or have some great suggestions for other canoe trips to take. Just get in touch using the below form!

Switzerland: ‘More up and down than sideways…’

Trip Dates: 23rd – 27th May 2019

Location: La Fouly, Switzerland

Accommodation: Camping Des Glaciers

”Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways” – Ernest Hemingway

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For the last 3 years Dan, Olie, Jack and I have explored various parts of the Swedish wilderness, and last year we had the best trip there we could have asked for – exploring the absolutely beautiful Skuleskogen National Park on the east coast, camping on the beach in near 24-hour sunlight and bathing in glorious sunshine.

Unfortunately I didn’t record the trip and it went totally unpublished (can’t remember why!), but it was without a doubt, an awesome few days. I might try and write a little something about our trip to Skuleskogen but I’ll have to do some thinking.

We decided that we simply couldn’t beat our experience in Skuleskogen National Park if we went again this year, so we set our sights on something a little bit different.

We wanted a change of scenery and something slightly more challenging to get stuck into. After months of discussing and looking blankly at maps, we thought The Alps  (largest mountain range in Europe) would be an interesting contrast and provide that challenge we were after. The tricky thing, however, was deciding where exactly we should go in The Alps – after all, they cover a huge area of 192,000 km² and spread themselves across 8 countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia.

A factor we had to bear in mind when it came to choosing our destination was the roaming laws. Fortunately in Sweden we had the option of, within reason, camping wherever we wanted to. The roaming laws, however, are slightly more strict in many other European countries – including the 8 countries that are home to the Alps. Of course, once you get further up into the mountains this is more manageable, but we opted to look for a remote campsite where we would be able to base ourselves. This then gave us the option each day of leaving behind some unnecessary bits of kit, allowing us to explore the surrounding area with lighter loads. With this in mind I started doing some research into campsites in the Alps and eventually came across Camping Des Glaciers in the very small and remote town of La Fouly. It’s tucked away in the southern corner of Switzerland and as the crow flies, more or less a mile from the French and Italian borders. The pictures on the campsite’s website looked pretty great, with the campsite based at the foot of The Aiguille de l’A Neuve – a bloody big mountain (not a direct translation).

I sent the website link over to Olie, Dan and Jack (featured in all Swedish trips plus others), and organised a little meeting to look into everything else. A while later we were all sat around my dining table with a couple of rapidly emptying wine bottles and we booked the campsite, then the flight to Geneva and a Jeep Renegade to drive around the Alps in – on a side note, the Jeep turned out to be an Opel (Vauxhall) Mokka which is very different to the Jeep Renegade – anyway…we were going to Switzerland!

We knew that this was going to be a very different experience in comparison to what we had grown accustomed to in Sweden. We had the option to relax a bit more, have our own little base for 5 days and take advantage of the facilities that came with a campsite – like a shower. It was more or less going to be luxurious and civilized in comparison and because of this, Olie, Jack and I even opted to leave our huge rucksacks at home, instead, taking suitcases and small day packs for our daily treks.

So, time passed and the day had come to fly to Switzerland


Much like the style of my Sweden articles, the rest of this piece will be written using the entries from a journal I kept every day during the trip. Unlike other articles however, my journal entries on this trip were fairly small and simple, so I’ll interrupt every now and then to explain or elaborate on certain bits. It’ll make sense once we get going.

Oh.. also bear in mind that just hours before I got on the plane my girlfriend gave me this advice:

‘Always listen to Dan. Dan is sensible and if he says not to do something, don’t do it.’ 

Thursday 23rd May 2019 – Day 1 

We have a campsite. An actual tents on the ground, toilet block consisting, reception bearing, humanity inhabiting campsite. It’s definitely the contrast to the Swedish trips we’ve been looking for.

Not entirely sure how I feel about it yet. I already miss my hammock and the forests.

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The view I had whilst laying in my tent

This campsite is incredible though. Halfway up a massive snow peaked mountain, surrounded by even more mountains and even more snow. It’s so much better than the photographs on the website make it look. Currently the site is basically empty so it’s silent except for the sound of the river of glacial water running from the mountain above us.

We had an early flight out from Luton this morning, so we’ve all been up since about 03:00am. I have to say, the drive from Geneva Airport to La Fouly could have started better. Due to some navigation difficulties we had a nice little drive around the terminal a few times before eventually hitting the correct road and heading away from Geneva in the right direction. The drive was pretty much just one very long road for a couple of hours, but half of that was around Lake Geneva which I didn’t realise was so massive and beautiful. I would come back just to spend time around there I think. The road then wound it’s way up into the Alps and away we went.

The winding, twisting mountain roads would prove to be quite nauseating but we’ll get to that later…

It’s now 21:00pm and we’re a bit tired to say the least. We decided that today would be the day to relax, acclimatize and check out the immediate area before going exploring tomorrow. I’m not too sure of our plans for tomorrow exactly, but the mountain looks enticing. Every time I look at it, I’m just blown away. It’s hard to tell the size of it, but it looks like an amazing backdrop or painting and it is enormous. Definitely need to get up there at some point.

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Taken whilst stood in the river. Camp was just behind the trees on the right.

We had a quick nap once we’d set up our tents and then did the next most important thing and found a nice local bar which served even nicer, well needed, cold Swiss beer. We had a couple of beers each then headed back to camp and made dinner. I think Wayfayrer meals are great, but you certainly don’t get the same reaction from them as you do from a beautiful, crisp, cold beer. We did realise at the bar that being able to speak French would have been helpful. None of us really know anything in French other than ‘Where is the swimming pool?’ and ‘Where is the library?’ and not forgetting the very useful, ‘When is your birthday?’.. none of which are particularly helpful questions. Especially when we wouldn’t understand the answer. Lot’s of pointing and gesturing was required..

In bed now and it’s nearly 22:00pm. Going to get some sleep. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Thursday was definitely a day of relaxing and getting our bearings, but Olie and I did have a little exploration that afternoon to check out the river that ran down from the mountain and alongside our camp. We got a very little way up the mountain and realised how unfit we were.. so that didn’t bode well, but we had a little wander about to get an idea of what we would do the next day. The mountain was definitely calling.


Friday 24th May 2019 – Day 2 

”Wear Sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” – Baz Luhrmann

For the first time in a very long, long time, I slept nearly all night whilst camping. I woke up at about 08.15am which was an absolute treat!

We eventually had breakfast which was accompanied by a freshly baked baguette Dan had collected from the camp reception.

We discovered that we could actually order fresh breads and pastries at reception for the next day. So fresh croissants became our go to option for the rest of the trip. It would have been rude not to really…

During breakfast we made the plan to follow one of the routes up the mountain above us. The map told us that there was a cabin way up there somewhere which we could go and find and potentially stop for some lunch or something before making our way back down. Firstly however, we had a quick stop at the local shop in town to get essentials – I bought a very nice 10 pack of Boxer Biere which I stored in the river to keep cool as today has been super hot.

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The Ascent (Dan left/Olie right)

We started the trail at about 10:00am in a small pine forest which lead up the mountain. As much as I love the mountains and hiking, I seriously hate going uphill.. but this was actually a very pleasant start to the trek. After a few breaks we eventually hit the snow line where it got slightly more interesting. Deep holes were covered with snow, which when stood on went right up to the waist in some places. It was pretty fun until we found the occasional massive rock to crash into underneath. This made progress up the mountain very slow but we eventually broke out of the treeline, losing our shade from the sun – and it was only getting hotter! We really weren’t expecting it to be so hot this weekend. Just a couple of days ago I was looking at the weather forecast and it predicted snow today!

We reached a section where the trail had been completely buried by the snow. The only option we had, if we wanted to keep climbing, was to stick to the rocky ridges that protruded from the snow.

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Rest Stop (Dan left/Jack right)

The problem being, we didn’t know how deep the drop would be from there through the snow and to one side was a massive gorge with a couple of waterfalls running down into it and on the other was a perfectly fresh, 45 degree slope of snow. Under which could have been anything. The next rocky ridge leading up the mountain was on the other side of this slope, and not knowing how deep or how sturdy it was, we paused for a moment to think of some options. Then Olie and I stopped pausing and just went for it. It was strong enough to take our weight so after some jumping about we crossed it and climbed up onto the rocks on the other side. Jack and Dan stayed where they were.

I like to think I performed a fantastic example of a dynamic risk assessment here.

Dan took the opportunity to get his camera out and take some photos. Jack took the opportunity to rest and Olie and I took the opportunity to leave them behind and climb up the mountain. When the trail started to get harder, we picked a goal to reach which was a small peak just above our spot on the ridge.

It was maybe just 400m or so away but that 400m or so away was up a very steep slope of slippy rocks, ice and snow. We gave up trying to walk some of it and resorted to scrambling and bouldering some sections – definitely got the blood pumping. As the base of the peak loomed above us, we found the only way up was a very precarious looking wall which had a chain fixed into it to help you climb it bit by very slippery bit. I think it was Donkey from Shrek that said ”keep on going, don’t look down.. keep on going, don’t look down” and that was some pretty sage advice.

We reached the top and, as we stood looking down to where our camp was, we were absolutely blown away. The view was incredible and awe inspiring. Everything below us was tiny, the town was minuscule and Jack and Dan, who were just a few hundred metres below, looked like ants.

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Our view from the top

The scary thing was though as we looked behind us, back up the mountain, we weren’t even half way up! The real peaks of the mountain still towered above us completely. The scale was so enormous that it hardly looked like we’d made any progress at all.

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The view looking up

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The peak we were stood on is circled in this picture.. The top of the mountain is just sticking out from above cloud.

Dan had eventually decided to cross the snow and walk up the ridge below us, which is where he stayed. From his view, the peak we were stood on looked tiny, but from where we were, it was a large area which eventually linked up with the main trail we had started from, however it was totally inaccessible due to the snow. We just didn’t have the right kit to traverse the rest of the way. The cabin we had sought out was not going to materialise, but it didn’t matter. The view we had from up there was worth every step.

We waved down at Dan who waved back in a ‘get down from there!’ angry parent kind of way. Pointing at us and then down to where he was. ‘I don’t think Dan approves of this’, Olie said, as we sat down for a minute, took some photographs and carefully abseiled off the peak using the rusty old chain back down to Dan. Jack was sensible enough to stay put a little bit further down on the other side of the slope.

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Dan is stood fairly central to this picture if you can’t see him

We started our decent back down to him which, due to being so steep, was actually harder than going up the ridge in the first place. So, much to Dan’s disapproval, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just slide down the precarious looking snowy slope. Thanks to my boots having the worst grip in the world, it was so much easier and only when I got down to Jack did I go through the snow and hit a big rock.

It’s over a week later and I still have a big purple bruise on my knee

On our way back down the mountain, as we dipped back into the treeline, we met a group of German hikers. They asked how difficult it was and, looking at them in their jeans and trainers, I wished them luck and let them keep going. Never did see them come down…

We eventually got back to camp and I retrieved the beers from the river and it took us less than an hour to go through the whole pack. We are now also incredibly sunburnt, especially Dan. I just read a bit of my book in the sun, played rummy with Jack and Olie and later I think we’ll enjoy a nice bottle of wine we managed to get for free from the reception currently being chilled in the river.

*’Always listen to Dan. Dan is sensible and if he says not to do something, don’t do it.’  Dan is also the person who brought sunscreen and refused to put any of it on before climbing the mountain on a super hot, clear day and had to spend the rest of the day in his tent hiding from the sun. I wouldn’t say that was particularly sensible. At least I just totally forgot to bring any in the first place.

I must admit though, the free bottle of wine came from a rather large cock up on my side as I didn’t understand the booking site I used for the campsite and overpaid considerably. Therefore, free wine and ice creams were part of paying us back (as well as a massive discount on the outstanding amount we had to pay).

Lesson learnt today: Wear Sunscreen – cheers Baz.

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Dan’s sunburn developing nicely (Olie on right)


Saturday 25th May 2019 – Day 3

I woke up this morning at 07:30am after another pretty successful night’s sleep – actually I was woken up by Dan asking for the car key which Olie actually had in his tent instead, so that was annoying but he made up for it by returning with some croissants. I do like a croissant. It was raining already and had been for a while, but I was so warm and comfortable in bed that I really didn’t care.

Due to opting for a suitcase over my rucksack, I took advantage of being able to fit a comfortable camping bed, three sleeping bags and a woollen blanket to go in my tent. It wasn’t exactly wild camping this year..

We made some more breakfast – well, I made a coffee and Dan stayed in his tent hiding from the sun. He is very burnt…

A plan was made to follow a circular track that ran next to the river and through the valley, across and back along the base of the mountains opposite, eventually leading back into the campsite. It wasn’t going to be a challenging route and probably no more than 18km, which suited us after yesterday’s climb. It stopped raining and Dan tentatively revealed himself from his tent to brave the very overcast sun for the day.

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Dan (left) and Jack (right)

The track started in the same small pine forest as yesterday’s but ran along the side of the mountains instead of up. We took a slight detour once we came across a huge waterfall coming down from the left and running across the track and into the river on our right. The climb up to the waterfall was steep but manageable, so it was definitely worth having a closer look. As we reached the top of the ridge, we were cut off from getting any closer due to the snow and ice that had built up at the bottom of the falls, under which you could hear the water flowing heavily. It wasn’t worth the risk of falling through and getting wet and potentially quite sore.

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Coming down from the waterfall (Dan, Olie, Jack)

We continued along the track, or what was left of it – in various places the path had been completely wiped out by landslides and rock falls. Whilst climbing over one precarious landslide I managed to slip and cut my hand – Stevie Nicks makes a landslide sound far more romantic…

We crossed the river on a very wobbly bridge and climbed up and out of the ravine into a pretty little village called Prayon, one of the most picturesque villages I’ve seen, and also where the route took a huge incline.

The track we were on was supposedly a cycle track, but I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a bike on it. I’ll leave that to the likes of Mel I think!

Once the track left Prayon it wound through a large pine forest, occasionally cut and redirected by streams and rivers crashing down from the huge mountains above with spectacular views across the valley.

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View across the valley to the waterfall we had checked out (Olie)

We got a little stuck at times due to the lack of detail on the 1:50,000 scale map we were using, and as the navigator for the day, that’s the excuse I’m sticking to. After a few short breaks to check the map and then check it again, then again, we noticed the clouds rapidly descending towards us from the mountain tops, bringing with them even more rain. Packs off, coats on, hoods up –

Apart from Olie who didn’t want to put his coat on because it’s actually a poncho and he’s worried it makes him look stupid – he’s not wrong.

-packs back on and keep checking the maps as we head in the general direction of La Fouly. As the town came into the view the rain began to seriously try and get Olie to put his poncho on…it failed and he was happy to get wet for the walk back to campsite.

I’ve been back in my tent, away from the rain for a little while now and can hear the occasional bit of thunder around us somewhere. We can also hear small rock falls and avalanches rumbling down the side of the mountain above us, which makes me grateful that the campsite isn’t directly below it…So far we’ve actually seen and heard them at least two or three times a day and it’s an impressive sight to see and some of them make a truly awesome noise which I originally believed to be a plane over head until I saw the debris coming down.

I got a really good video of this but for some reason I can’t upload it..

I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some more beers tonight…It’s only 16:45 but I’ve been in my tent for about an hour now and a beer would be really, really appreciated. It doesn’t sound or look like the rain’s planning on sodding off any time soon.

On reflection…whilst laying here, listening to the rain pounding on my tent…without my beer…this trip may not be as inspiring as Sweden was over the last few years, but we’ve had the challenge we were looking for and the whole area is absolutely stunning. Definitely one of the most picturesque places I’ve been so far.

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Walking out of Prayon


Sunday 26th May 2019 – Day 4

My camping sleeping pattern of being too hot, then too cold, then too uncomfortable and then really comfortable but a bit too warm but too comfortable to do anything about it then overheating slightly so roll over to shift some bedding about and get uncomfortable again…and repeat…came back last night. However, lucky me, I also had a song stuck in my head going over and over and over again…So I was a bit tired to say the least this morning. I blame the soundtrack from the musical Hamilton for that as I was playing some of it to Jack last night which then caused the title track to be stuck in my head for bloody hours until the rain kicked in and I was more concerned about my tent either filling with water or just floating away…neither happened.

Anyway…for some reason this morning the other three sat in the car for ages after breakfast, so I grabbed the map and had a look at any potential paths to follow for our last day’s trek. The tracks around the site and La Fouly in general were quite limited, we had walked the majority of them already over the last couple of days, so I looked further out of the area. When I was researching the area a while ago during a slow day at work, I discovered a couple of large lakes in the nearby area. I eventually found some of these on the map and discovered that they were either at the top of some bloody huge mountains that weren’t accessible at the moment, over an hours’ drive away, in Italy or, even worse, in France. This left just one other lake, not so big on the map, but it did have a circular track that went around one side and up in the mountains and back round to the lake. Perfect. Lac Des Toules, in the Bourg-Saint-Pierre region, was where we would spend the last full day in Switzerland hiking. I did a quick google of the lake and it looked amazing. It was actually a reservoir controlled by a gigantic dam. It looked pretty impressive.

I showed the others the plan and booted them out of the car and told them to be ready in 20 minutes, then drove to the toilet block for the morning constitutional. We were tight with time, as by now it was nearly midday, Lac Des Toules was nearly 40 minutes away, the route would be about 3 hours and Jack has been desperate to go to a pizza place in La Fouly since before we got on the plane to Switzerland. We then also needed to get all of our kit packed up as much as possible in order to leave super early for tomorrow morning’s flight. Time was against us and the longer we took, the less likely a nice meal on our last night was looking. Oh and we’ve ran out of gas in our stove, so it was either a nice hot meal in some restaurant or cold boil in the bag meals..

I got back to the camp just before the 20 minutes was up and we were pretty much all ready to go. We stopped to refill the water bottles and we were away, perfectly on time… then Jack needed to get something from the shop in La Fouly again. About 20 minutes later they all came out of the shop and got in the car. Olie had decided to buy some cheese for the journey-

this very shortly turns out to be a bad idea

-and some Swiss Army Knives were purchased too. Just as we were leaving La Fouly, Olie decided to open his cheese which immediately stank out the car, it smelt like goats cheese, but we weren’t too sure what it was. Not long after that, and before we even reached the next town out of La Fouly, we had to stop to let Dan get out of the car as he was feeling very sick.

I blame the cheese smell, plus the incredibly bendy mountain roads – not my  general driving style.

This happened a couple of times on the drive to Lac Des Toules and just as he got in back in the car the last time, the huge dam we were expecting to come across appeared in the valley ahead of us.

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Dam (focus didn’t work very well)

Almost stitching the valley together, the dam was massive and so much bigger than the pictures online let on, which meant the lake or reservoir behind it must also be pretty spectacular. As we wound around another stomach churning mountain road we disappeared into a tunnel which ran adjacent to the lake. We were expecting to come back out of the tunnel and be met with a glorious sight, but what we actually found was very different.

If you Google Lac Des Toules right now, it’ll show you hundreds of amazing pictures of a beautiful, almost perfectly blue, lake surrounded my mountains – just lovely! What it won’t show you is that right now, Lac Des Toules is actually just an absolutely colossal empty hole in the ground with little to no sign of there ever being water in there in the first place. I’m not sure if we actually took pictures of it, but if you imagine a huge hole in the ground, you’ll have a fairly good idea. Lac Des Toules appeared to now be a quarry. At this point Dan informed me that the map he bought of the area was nearly 5 years out of date. Something he had forgotten to mention previously.

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It doesn’t look like this at the moment..

We drove to the end of the huge hole in ground, parked up in a lay-by and looked at the map. The track I had planned wasn’t going to be particularly interesting anymore and we were far higher up than we originally thought we would be. Just above the lay-by we were in people were still skiing down the mountains in the same area the track was supposed to be. The same path however did head off down away from the lake, towards a little town further down the valley then came back on itself, so we chose to do that. It was a little shorter than planned, but after driving nearly 40 minutes to get there, we didn’t see any point in driving even further to find something else.

We found a place to leave the car just off a small dusty road directly underneath the dam which towered above us –

I can imagine it would be quite scary and daunting if it wasn’t just holding back a few rocks and lots of absolutely nothing else.

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Our car. Definitely not like a Jeep Renegade.

-so we didn’t have to worry about losing the car or forgetting where we left it anyway. The track followed a line cut through the valley by a small river and ducked down into another pine forest. Along the way, on a small open part of grassland, we spotted a number of Mamottes –

Groundhogs basically

-which are so much bigger than I was expecting. I imagined them to be a similar size to a gopher, but I was very wrong. They were pretty much just badger size. If a badger somehow managed to have babies with a guinea pig, you would have a Marmotte.

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The route was certainly picturesque with the occasional gap in the trees presenting a perfect view through the valley and the small town below. Coming down on our left hand side from the mountains were numerous waterfalls that then ran under the track and crashed down into the river on our right which at times was a shear hundred foot drop below us.

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At a junction where the track turned right to go over the bridge and up into the town above, the route continuing ahead had been completely destroyed by a recent rockfall. We weren’t going in that direction but if we were we would be stuffed. Unlike the other rockfalls and landslides we were able to climb over, this one was far too dangerous and had torn away the entire track instead of just burying it. Olie and I still walked out as far as we could to have a peek though, obviously.

We crossed a little bridge over the river and climbed down to the riverside to have a little break.

Dan took some photos, and I just ate some pistachio nuts…anyway…

The river was much deeper where we had stopped, potentially caused by the landslide just on the other side of the bridge crashing into the river. I sat on a boulder next to the water and it was a perfect moment to just stop and absorb the peacefulness of the surroundings, with nothing but the sound of the river flowing under my feet.

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A little while later we walked up the other side of the valley, along yet another bendy winding road and into the rather lovely small town of Saint Pierre. Much like many of the little towns and villages we had been through, the place was silent and we seemed to be the only people out and about. Mind you, it’s been raining pretty much all day, so they were probably sensible enough to not be walking about in the rain..

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Saint Pierre

We dropped back down into the valley and started on the stretch leading back to the car through the forest. Lucky for us, the whole track had been downhill until coming up into the town, unlucky for us though meant that the rest of the trek back to the car was all uphill and not a particularly friendly incline either. So we took our time and trudged all the way back up the mountain towards the dam…in the rain…

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We stopped for a short while at the open section of grassland again to watch the marmottes. On our way down we only saw two or three but this time the ground was littered with them on both sides of the valley.

They’re probably an absolute menace to local farmers, but they’re also a bit cute.

Fortunately we found the car exactly where we left it and climbed in. We had finished our last little walk about in the Swiss Alps. All that was left was to go to the pizza restaurant Jack had found and just relax, pack our stuff away and get ready for our journey home tomorrow morning.

So now everything is packed away. On the way out my luggage weighed about 4kg over the limit, but I got away with it somehow and now everything feels even heavier. Really not sure how I’ve done that.. All of my smelly, wet and muddy clothes are shoved in one of my bags and I’m just in my normal clothes for the first time since Thursday morning and it’s rather nice. I think I’m going to have a cold night as I have packed all of my bedding away apart from one sleeping bag. So tomorrow morning should just be a matter of getting up at 04:00am and packing up the tent which takes a whole 2 minutes. Should be fine. Which also means I can enjoy some beer and pizza tonight without regretting it too much tomorrow morning.

At this point I actually stopped writing as plans changed slightly..

Dan was hiding in his tent from the daylight again and Olie and Jack had just returned from having a chat with the lady on the campsite reception desk. One detail that had been missed regarding the pizza restaurant was that it actually wasn’t opening until June or July, so pizza was no longer an option. She did recommend a nice place to go called Café du Dolent in Prayon, the town we had walked through on Saturday. We decided that was a much better option compared to hiding in our tents and eating cold boil in the bag meals in the rain.

The cafe/restaurant was definitely a bit more of a ‘locals’ place though. We walked in and immediately realised that nobody really spoke a word of English and again, our lack of being able to say anything of use in French, Italian, Dutch or any other language that might be useful in Switzerland became an interesting obstacle. I took the lead and, with some gestures and what will probably turn out to be complete gibberish, we got a table, worked our way through the menu and enjoyed a lovely meal together.

If you’re ever in Prayon for whatever reason, get over to the only bar/restaurant/cafe in the village and order yourself the Carbonara with salmon. It was glorious and I’ve actually made it myself about 5 times since being home. The chef and owner of the place could potentially be a murderer (scary eyes), and if you get to sit at our table, you’ll get to eat right underneath an interesting photograph of him posing with a massive dead ibex that he shot.. but other than that, the food is great and so is the beer we sampled multiple times.

And with that, our time in Switzerland came to an end.


The Afterthought

As mentioned already, we decided to go to Switzerland for a change of scenery and something a bit different and relaxed compared to Sweden. I touched slightly on it in my journal entry about how I felt this left me and the others possibly feeling like something was missing though.

The whole area was absolutely stunning and I couldn’t find a fault with the place at all. It really was beautiful and I would definitely go back but not necessarily to do what we did this year. I think the feeling of missing something was because of the lack of dependence on the surrounding environment. In Sweden, because we really were just living in wilderness and sleeping in the forests every night, we had to rely on everything around us to keep us going. In Switzerland, that was totally removed. By having our own campsite and being able to leave stuff behind for the day or being able to sit in the tents and relax whilst it was raining, we didn’t have to rely on the environment to give us firewood, shelter or somewhere to hang our hammocks for the night. I think what was missing was being in touch with that inner caveman that needs checking in on every now and then. It wasn’t a wild camping trip, but it was a beautiful one.

I think we’re planning on getting back to basics next year and exploring Norwegian wilderness – searching for that missing piece of adventure. So that could be interesting!


Thanks for taking your time to read my article. I hope, if anything, it’s just given you something interesting or entertaining to read. Just below the group photo, there’s a little slideshow of some of the featured images from the article along with some others from the trip.

Thanks again.

Dan Kemp Photography

Dan Kemp Photography (Olie, Jack, Me, Dan)

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