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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

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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.

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.

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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!

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?

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

‘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!

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.

wren-singing-leighton-moss
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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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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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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Carving A Kuksa

His site is a fantastic source of all things outdoors with a mixture of adventures, kit lists, recipes and crafts. As well as providing us with his recipe for Campfire Fish and Chips, Gavin has also been generous enough to share with us his first attempt at carving a kuksa and the end results look brilliant! So how did he do it?


Let me first of all start by offering a disclaimer; I am by no means an expert in this field, indeed it is the first time that I’ve carved a kuksa! I’m writing this post very much from the layman’s perspective with the hope that you might learn from my mistakes!

What is a kuksa?

Popular among bushcraft and outdoor enthusiasts, the kuksa is a traditional style of drinking cup originating from the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Usually carved from wood, but modern variants have been produced from plastic or wood/plastic composites.

Sourcing the wood:

The process of creating my kuksa started several months ago in the summer of 2018. My wife and I were out walking the dog when we discovered that a Sycamore tree beside a public footpath had been felled and the remnants were bucked up into small sections. I immediately noticed a piece that I could make use of which seemed to be big enough to make a decent kuksa. The wood pile had been sat there for a few weeks before I plucked up the courage to take the bit that I’d spotted! I considered that, as it was on public land, it was probably fair game!

I carried the wood home (it wasn’t far!) and left it in my garden to ‘season’. Rightly or wrongly, I had reservations about using green wood to carve a kuksa. Even though the wood is easier to carve when it’s green, I’ve heard there’s a risk that it will crack up during the drying process, rendering the cup useless!

And here I am, several months later in March 2019 and I thought the time was right to start work on my very own kuksa. I recall having conversations with my wife about Kuksa’s, she rightly pointed out the lovely examples that I could purchase from a variety of shops and crafts people. I agreed that they were indeed lovely, but were crucially missing one key element – I hadn’t made them! What a thrill it is to be able to put something that you’ve made into regular use.

Tool Talk:

Before we get into it, I thought it would be good to run through the tools that I used on this project. I was very keen to keep things simple by using basic hand tools, here’s what I ended up using

  • Axe – I actually used two; my Wetterlings Outdoor Axe to do the splitting and bulk waste removal. I then switched to my Gransfors Bruks Small Hatchet because it offered me more control as I got nearer to my markings. To be fair, I was a bit indulgent here as the Wetterlings was more than capable.
  • Bahco Laplander Saw – For stop-cuts and bulk waste removal
  • Mora Companion Knife  – For shaping the outside of the cup
  • Mora 120 Carving Knife – For the more detailed shaping of the cup
  • Casstrom Crook Knife – To carve out the bowl of the cup
  • Pencil – To mark out the shape of the kuksa
  • Whetstone and Leather Strop – this was used a lot to keep the blades in good order!
  • Sandpaper – starting with a course 60 grit and moving up to a fine 240 grit

I also kept a first aid kit close by – just in case, indeed there were one or two incidents which required a plaster!

Stage One: Splitting the Wood


The first stage of the project is to split down the log. I carefully selected a piece of Sycamore which was relatively straight grained and not compromised with any nasty knots or twists. I split it down the middle and selected the section which offered me the greatest depth for the kuksa. I felt it was important to have a Kuksa which was deep enough to hold a decent cup of tea!  

Using my axe, I then removed the pith and flattened off the split section so that I had a surface on which to mark out my kuksa shape. I sought inspiration from my plastic Kasa Kuksa (made by Wildo) for the design that I was working towards.

Stage Two: Roughing out


With the design marked out, I started to axe out the rough shape of the kuksa. In some sections, I created some stop cuts with the saw so that I could split away some of waste material. In this sense, I was following a similar process to what I would usually do when carving a spoon. 

I did however choose to leave an extended section of the wood on the handle end of the Kuksa. This was for safety reasons so that I could keep my hand out the way while using the axe.

Stage Three: Scoopy scoopy time!

Time to get the crook knife out and carve out the bowl. In all honesty this is the hardest bit and will take a bit of time. My hand took a bit of a beating from the crook knife. I picked up blisters and scrapes and took regular breaks to rest the muscles in my hand and wrist. At times, I forced myself to stop as I was fearful of losing control of the blade and causing myself an injury.

The crucial lesson that I learnt in this stage was to just take my time. I’d often take the opportunity to stop when I noticed the blade was starting to dull and I’d touch it up with the strop or whetstone.

While carving the bowl, I took care to ensure that I wasn’t removing too much material. I was conscious that I still had to refine the outside of the cup and was also concerned that some cracks may appear as the wood continued to dry out.

This process could be simplified by using power tools. For instance you could drill a series of holes into the bowl at set depths to remove the bulk of the waste material and then refine the bowl with a crook knife. It’s also plausible that a curved gouge might have been easier. Alas, I was keen to use the tools that are available to most whittlers and spoon carvers.

Stage Four: Time to refine

Nearly there now! The final job is to refine the outside of the cup and the handle. At this point I used my two Mora knives. My main objective here was to remove any rough axe marks, keep a fairly flat base to the kuksa and shape the sides so that they curve nicely up to the lip of the cup.

Thereafter, I turnt my attention to the handle. As mentioned earlier, I sought inspiration from my plastic Kasa Kuksa. I like the ergonomics of that design and did my best to replicate it.

I tried to produce a kuksa which was aesthetically pleasing, but inevitably found that I’d left a few uneven areas where I’d removed too much waste! But with that said, I reached a point where I was pretty happy with the overall shape and feel of the kuksa.

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Barney’s Bimbles and Adventures – Carving a Kuksa

Stage Five: Finish

The final job was to sand and oil the kuksa. I started with a course grit of sandpaper and moved my way through a series of papers until I got to a 240 grit which left a nice smooth finish. I then poured some water over the cup. I don’t fully understand the science behind this but, in my experience, this process opens up the grain and exposes any rough spots. When it’s dried I gave it another go with the 240 grit sandpaper and then it was ready for oil.

Confession: I did cheat ever so slightly by using my drill to make a hole in the handle for a lanyard loop. This could be done with an auger, but I don’t have one!

Finally, I liberally applied a couple of coats of Walnut oil and left it in my shed to dry.

Stage Six: The Christening!

This is the best bit! Now is the time to take the cup to back to nature and enjoy a nice cup of tea!



Barney’s final thoughts…


I’m very proud of this little cup. It was a lovely project to undertake and put a lot of my wood crafting skills to the test. In all honesty, it didn’t quite turn out as well as I’d hoped. I’d really liked to have created a cup with a slightly larger capacity. It currently holds around 180ml when I was aiming for something closer to 250ml. I was also hoping to create a better finish on the outside of the cup, unfortunately I think I just ran out of talent!

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Barney’s Bimbles and Adventures – Carving a Kuksa

With that said, I’ve intentionally left the side walls and base of the kuksa a bit thicker than I’d like as I still have concerns that it might develop some cracks while the wood seasons. If this doesn’t happen then I shall definitely return to it with my crook knife and increase the overall volume. I guess that’s the beauty of a wooden kuksa, there’s always scope for refinement!

I thoroughly recommend you give this a go. I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing to try if you’re new to wood carving. But if you’ve dabbled in a bit of spoon carving and feel confident with your tools then this project will make for an interesting challenge.

Thanks as always for taking the time to read this blog, hopefully it’s helped shed light on the process of creating a Kuksa, at least from a beginners perspective

You can keep up to date with Gavin/Barney on Instagram: @Gavin_Riggall



Let us know what you think of Gavin’s first attempt at carving a kuksa!

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If you want to submit a craft of your own, or your own adventures, recipes and experiences, then get in touch and let’s get started! 

Campfire Fish & Chips

Gavin Riggall is the master behind ‘Barney’s Bimbles and Adventures’. You can also keep up to date with him on Instagram: @Gavin_Riggall 

His site is a fantastic source of all things outdoors with a mixture of adventures, kit lists, crafts and recipes. One of his recipes in particular is the amazing Campfire Fish and Chips which I will definitely be trying at some point very soon! 


Hand’s up… who likes fish and chips? Yep me too!

Recently I wondered if I could take one of the nation’s favourite takeaways and cook it over a campfire. I also wondered if I could make it a little healthier but without losing that great taste. So here’s what I did:

Ingredients:
1 x Potato
1 x fillet of fish (I used smoked haddock)
A spoonful of butter or cooking oil
A pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning

Optional extras:
A tin of mushy peas
A dollop of tartare sauce

Before cooking get your fire established and leave it to burn down to a reasonable bed of coals. Sometimes I like to keep the fire going and then drag some of the coals out to one side for cooking so that I can replenish the coals when the heat dies down.

Alternatively you can just as easily cook this meal on a camping stove, I imagine it will work really well on a trangia as the heat is not quite as focussed or intense as a gas stove and can also be dampened down.

While waiting for the fire you can prep the potato by chopping it into cubes or chips. I chopped mine into cubes as I felt it would cook a bit more efficiently. I then placed the grill/trivet over the coals and put my pan on the grill with the butter (but don’t add all of the butter – save some for the fish).

When the pan was nice and hot and the butter melted I put the potatoes on to cook. These will take about 20-30mins depending on how big you chopped them up. I ensured that they had a nice covering of butter so that they would go crispy and golden.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper seasoning, it’s not necessary but I think it helps to enhance the flavour of the potato.

When you think the potatoes are nearly done, think about putting the mushy peas on to cook. You can do this by pouring them into a pan/canteen cup or just leave them in the tin can, remove the paper label and place on the grill or in the coals. Be sure to stir the peas regularly so that they don’t burn on the bottom, they only need to be warmed through so take it off the heat as soon as it starts bubbling up.

Make some space on the pan for your fish, add your remaining butter and then the fish (skin side down if possible). Depending on the heat of your fire, the fish won’t take very long to cook, flip it over after about 3 minutes. You’ll know it’s cooked when you can start to flake the fish apart.

And that’s it, I made space on the pan for my peas and then added a smattering of tartare sauce (aren’t I posh!!). Alternatively a dollop of tomato sauce would be just as nice!

It looked and tasted lovely and best of all, it smelt just like fish and chips!!

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Barney’s Bimbles and Adventures – Fish and Chips

Give it a go and let us know how you get on!

To join the ‘intothesticks Community’ and submit your own recipes, adventures, crafts, experiences or anything else with the world, just get in touch and we’ll get started!

Downhill From Here

Everything begins with a bit of inspiration

Female mountain bikers are a small population but definitely on the rise, and my inspiration and desire to be able to get out and shred on a bike came from Rachel Atherton and Tahnee Seagrave almost 3 years ago when I met my other half, Lewis, and he introduced me to his passion for mountain biking. I would sit and watch Red Bull videos of different mountain bikers and suddenly I was hooked.

I do have some background in extreme sports after trying my hand at trials biking when I was younger. My idol was Dougie Lampkin, but after hitting my teenage years and going to college then onto University, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in ten years and actually wondered whether this was something I could still do.

At first, I had a few rides on Lewis’ old 2006 Kona Scab hard tail which was gathering dust in the shed, and kept to local trails through Ashridge Forest and Wendover woods. But soon, I found myself wanting a lighter and better bike, and all the gear that goes with it. I didn’t want to spend a fortune at first after worrying that, after my inevitable first crash, I may throw a hissy fit and never want to ride a bike again. So to my surprise Lewis found a fantastic deal through a Facebook group to swap the Kona for a 2009 Specialized Safire which was full suspension and perfect for me to learn and progress on.

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The first few rides were wobbly and not without tears and tantrums (which do still happen occasionally) when I didn’t feel fit enough for the climbs and technical sections on the trails. But the feeling of freedom coming down the other side and spending time outside in the woods more than makes up for any challenges thrown at me. To me, riding provides a sense of freedom and escape from the stresses that everyday life brings to us all. There’s nothing better than being able to ride with my best friend who inspires me every time we take the bikes out; he pushes me to ride bigger and better things all the time, plus he picks me up off the floor and sees to my cuts and bruises a fair amount as well.

Some of my favourite trails to ride are at Swinley Forest, Bracknell. Always great fun no matter what the weather (although I’m not usually one for going out in the rain – I’d rather be sat in the coffee shop with a giant slab of cake!) But anyone based in the South East who would like to try their hand at mountain biking should definitely check Swinley out, they have trails for all abilities or you can always stick to the fire roads at first and enjoy the scenery. I’ve also been to the last two UCI Mountain Bike world cup rounds at Fort William, Scotland which always has the best atmosphere and draws a great crowd of people who are all there for the same reason: to watch some awesome professional riders from around the world ride hard and fast down the side of a mountain.

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Riding is a way to connect with nature, escape a desk job, breathe fresh air, go on an adventure, explore a new place, get your heart rate up, strengthen yourself mentally and physically, be challenged, get rad, have fun, express individualism, feel a sense of freedom and hang out with friends or enjoy a peaceful moment alone.

At a time when cycling amongst children seems to have dropped at an alarming rate, especially amongst young girls who might not even consider mountain biking as an option, it’s important to remind young people that there is a world of opportunity outside of social media and that being adventurous and getting muddy in the woods is a hundred times more fun than getting likes on a Facebook photo. As a female mountain biker, I can confirm that there’s nothing wrong with being seen as ‘one of the boys’ and the one piece of advice that I could give to anyone is if you just get on your bike and take a ride in the woods you never know where it may take you.

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Sweden: The Bergslagsleden

This year, the avid explorers that are Dan, Olie, Jack and I, decided to invade the beautiful wilderness of Sweden once more. After the success of last year’s trip, we decided to make a few changes. Not to make it any less successful, but to actually achieve the goal that we set for ourselves last year but did not accomplish. We wanted to live in the bush properly – no address, no WiFi, no electricity. A real escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the secure bubble of society. The only thing we would have is a hire car to get to our starting destination and the rucksacks on our back.

We only had three nights and four days, so decided that a hiking trail would be the best way to access the areas we wanted to get to and see what we wanted to see. After what seemed to be a lifetime of planning, we – or rather, Olie –  finally discovered The Bergslagsleden. A 280KM (174 miles) trail, set almost perfectly in the centre of Sweden, running south to north. After reading into it and doing a bit of homework, it sounded perfect. The southern end runs through Tiveden National Park, the area we were in last year, and the northern end is known as ‘the most wild wilderness of Sweden’. It also happened to start just up the road from the town of Kopparberg. – the birth place of, well, Kopparberg cider. I was immediately sold by that alone.

Last year I wrote a journal and published it as the full article. This year, however, due to being in the wild every night, I didn’t want to risk my journal getting ruined, so I kept it very brief. So this time, I’ll write what I had in there but also add a few bits to it as we go along. The journal extracts will be italic and my comments are seperated. You’ll understand once we get going.

 

Day 1: Let’s Go

07 April 2017

So we’ve decided to return to Sweden, but this time we’ll do it properly. No cabin, no home, no address. Just our hammocks, boots and rucksacks. This time we go into the wild.

As now usual practice for our ventures, something has gone wrong already, and we haven’t even left England yet. It was all going to plan, we agreed that Sarah would be the airport taxi, drop us off, pick us up, simples. However, when packing the car it suddenly hit me. There are not enough seats. There was to be 1 driver and 4 passengers….in a 4 seater car. After numerous illegal suggestions were made –

I’ll point out here that Olie suggested we all cram inside and ‘F**k the seatbelts!’ Plus due to us leaving from one airport and coming home at another one, it wasn’t going to be as simple as just leaving the car there for the duration.

-the only logical solution that came to mind was that I would drop Jack and Olie at Stansted last night, go home, and Sarah would take me and Dan to meetIMG_20170414_230752 them in the morning. It should be mentioned that the plan was made at 21:00 last night. I wasn’t at home until near 01:00am. I would have to be back at the airport just 4 hours later. So that happened and when I woke up from my 1 hour sleep last night and checked how Jack and Olie were getting on at the airport all I got from them was ‘We didn’t sleep, but we
did get drunk.’

 

So this bodes well.

The flight started off perfectly fine, but the lady who sat next to me insisted on using me as a pillow. I’m sadly far too nice to push a sleeping lady off my shoulder, so I just let her stay there. That was until I fell asleep and had one of those ‘holy crap I’m falling’ moments, suddenly jolted awake and scared the crap out of her. 

I forgot how much I liked Skavska Airport, really does just feel like you’re landing in somebody’s field, sent into a shed and pushed out the other side. Far from the glamour and grandeur of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, it even makes Stansted look good. Anyway, the car hire man trusted the life of a very nice, shiny, new Skoda Fabia in my seemingly capable hands and we were off.

Everybody knows that a hire car is the best car you’ll find.

We knew exactly where we wanted to go, but had no road map. Preparation is everything! We drove to the local town, following an ‘information’ sign and Dan and Olie got out to find a map. Within 2 minutes of them closing the doors, I found a road map in Olie’s door. Just as well, because Dan and Olie soon arrived empty handed anyway.

So we set off for Tivedstorp, the same kind of area that we were in last year. After a couple of hours’ driving we needed to stop and take stock of exactly where we were and how far we had to go. Whilst this was still in discussion, I pulled the car into a small side road, flew into a car park and screamed to a halt right underneath a sign which read ‘Welcome to The Bergslagsleden’. One day my luck will run out. We weren’t where we wanted to be exactly, but only a couple of stages north. We were in Ramundeboda apparently. We were greeted by the first of many huge, beautiful lakes and just across the motorway we came off appeared to be an endless stretch of forest. Perfect.

 

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The Bergslagsleden trail is one continuous route, but split into various stages. A to B, B to C, C to D. The start of each section has some sort of camp, or fresh water source, just something to keep you going. There are some circular routes mixed up amongst it and there’s nothing stopping you coming back on yourself anyway. So we decided that we would do one section in the southern end, where we were fairly familiar with and then spend the rest of the trip in the north sections.Länskarta-500-px-bred

We would do the stage that took us from Ramundeboda to Svarta Herrgard. A fairly straight forward, but nonetheless picturesque, 19km route. So we had a super quick change in the car park into our walking kit, donned our rucksacks, and were away, following the orange markers that keep you on the trail from beginning to end. Kind of like I was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with my three companions on our adventure down the yellow brick road.

In no time at all we were in the forest. It was fantastic to be back in the awesome silence and beauty of the Swedish wilderness. Not a person in sight. Not a sound to be heard. We reached a small hilltop that looked out upon miles and miles of pine forest, stretching into the horizon. All that was running through my head was the possibility of what might have been hiding in there, the animals, the rivers, and almost 100% of my dreams.

Parts of the forest had been maintained but the majority had been left to grow totally wild, huge boulders, ancient trees. Some of this area hasn’t been officially lived in by humans for thousands of years. With every step we were almost stepping back in time.

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As the distance stretched on and energy began to fall, the group had begun to split slightly. Dan offered to walk with Jack if Olie and myself wanted to troop on ahead and find a camp at the end of the section. Of course, doing the honourable thing, and leading by the Musketeers fine example, we said ‘No! All for one and one for all!’ Actually…that didn’t happen. It was more like, ‘Sure, see you later!’ and off we went, skipping down our yellow brick road. Because splitting up in the Swedish wilderness is always a fantastic idea..

The idea was,of course, that as long as we stayed on the trail, followed the markers and just kept going, there was no doubt we would make it to camp and Dan and Jack would undoubtedly catch us up in no time. They’d arrive just as we had a fire going and a camp made before darkness fell. It just seemed to make sense.

No more than perhaps 2km along the trail we stumbled across a fairly fast flowing stream. Our final destination would almost be on the side of a lake, so we took this as a fairly good sign, whether or not it meant anything, we didn’t really know. We continued to climb a little hill and found a sign post informing us about a fresh spring that would provide clean drinking water. Suddenly ‘oh there it is!’ came from Olie. I looked around and couldn’t really see anything ‘the spring?’ I asked. I walked up a little further and saw it. Camp!

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There it was. A shelter like the one we found last year, only timber framed. Three walls and a roof, but it was awesome. Alongside it was a huge log store, stacked with almost full length pine and birch trees. Just in front of the shelter was a huge stone fire pit and to top it off we had the natural spring to provide us with all the water we needed. Much sooner than we expected, Dan and Jack turned up and with a ‘this is brilliant,’ and threw their rucksacks to the ground. This was better than anything we were imagining, and a very welcome sight after an hours’ sleep and an almost 20km hike. We got the fire going and must have gotten through at least 3 trees worth of wood. We had dinner, sat around the fire and eventually fell asleep to the 2 most relaxing sounds in the world in my mind, the sound of the crackling fire and the flowing river beside us. 

 

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Day 2: ‘When in Rome’

07 Apr 2017

 

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We woke up at about 10:00am. 12 hours of cold, broken, uncomfortable sleep was actually amazing! We made breakfast and packed fairly quickly as we still had to trek all the way back to the car then make the journey to Kloten, the northern end of the trail. Our plan had to be stuck to. We followed the route we took yesterday –

We – well, Jack – took a slightly different route. There were roads that weaved around the trail, cutting off a large section of it, so he followed that. We assumed it wouldn’t make any difference really and that we would quickly catch up. However we soon found him some way along the trail and he had actually been waiting for us for about 20 minutes. More fool us.

We made it back in good time. We only then decided to work out how far we walked. Something we probably should have figured out before we actually left yesterday. Anyway, we had walked about 25 km, a fair introduction to our Swedish adventure on The Bergslagsleden trail.

So we jumped in the car and headed for Kloten.. with an essential detour to Kopparberg on route.

Naturally, we needed to stop for supplies on the way, and Kopparberg was obviously the best place to that. It was just the most logical decision, after all, it was only about 20 minutes up the road from Kloten. Almost resembling the 1990’s TV show, Supermarket Sweep, we ran into the supermarket and basically grabbed anything that came into reaching distance. I went for a slightly more authentic taste; 1.5 litres of Kopparberg, a handful of weird sausage things, some reindeer jerky and a tonne of chocolate. Not quite camping food, but it seemed like a good decision. I then met Dan at the tills, who was holding some slightly more healthy and appropriate food. He looked at me with a ‘what the f**k?’ kind of glare, to which I just couldn’t help but think, ‘well…when in Rome, right?’

Back in the car and on the way to Kloten, we parked up next to a lake with a detailed map on a sign marking out some good shelters and camping spots. The hike from Kloten to Gillersklack was going to be a long stretch, so with the little time we had, we thought it was best to just find a nice spot to make camp not too far from the trail and return to it in the morning. We found a great spot on the map, with a shelter on a huge lake, tucked out of the way of anything else in the area, and headed straight for it.
It very quickly became obvious that we were in for a cold night as the lakes in the area were still partially frozen and there was snow on the ground. All part of the fun!

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To get to our spot for the night we had to drive down a very small, dodgy track, completely grassed over with a few pointy rocks sticking out for good measure. Midway down this ‘road’ we had to send Olie out to shift a small tree that was blocking the way. With a few minor body work scratches and the undercarriage of the car probably completely ruined, we made it to the end of the road – a complete dead end with absolutely nothing in sight. Brilliant… I spotted something that could have resembled a structure of some sort and thought I’d have a quick look. As I approached it, it turned out to be not just one shelter but two. Sat right on the edge of a huge lake. The only sound that could be heard was the geese crash landing onto the water in the distance with the volume of a Boeing 747. 

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We quickly unloaded our kit and picked our sleeping spots. Dan and Olie threw their hammocks up, Olie’s almost hanging right over the water, Dan’s not so far away from camp and Jack and I took the shelters. More like Jack was banished to his own one for the sake of the group’s sanity. Dinner was made and during this process I decided it was time to pull out my sausage-

Behave. It was one sausages I bought in Kopparberg.

It was hard to tell if it was actually already cooked.. So I gave some to Olie to try. He thought it was fine, but after some examination, Dan, Jack and I thought it was definitely raw. There was something about the fresh butchers’ shop smell that really didn’t fill me with confidence. I cooked it just be sure, and now I’m waiting for Olie to be horrendously sick just to assure myself that it was a good idea to cook it. Then it was Dan’s turn. Dan’s turn to whip out his goodness – 

Steady now…

Dan’s Flapjack made it all the way to Sweden! If there is anything to fill the heart and stomach of a person with joy, it’s Dan’s Flapjack.

So we all settled around the fire, with our Wayfayrer meals, weird sausage and Dan’s Flapjack in perfect time to watch the sunset behind the forest on the opposite side of the lake.

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It’s now 23:15pm and I’m in bed. Listening to the humbling sounds of the geese on the lake, calling their families in for bed, and Jack, snoring away in his shelter. In fact, it sounds like Dan has just started to try and compete with him. Olie turned his light out a little while ago and all I can see in his general direction is complete darkness in the trees.

Tomorrow we head back to the top of the trail in Kloten. I think we’ll spend the next couple of days on the track, it’s going to be a long hike. Possibly another 30km and, according to my map, it’s mostly uphill.

It’s cold now. The fire is out and my hand is turning a funky shade of blue. Definitely time for sleep.

That night, I made the foolish mistake of thinking that if I put my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and wool blanket inside my emergency bivvy bag, I would be toasty warm. Wrong. The top tip that I totally ignored was actually, if you plan on sleeping in it, you should cut one of the sealed corners off at the end, to allow some ventilation. Without the ventilation there was nowhere for the heat to go, so it condensed on the inside of the bag and I woke up very damp indeed.

Day 3: To The North End

08 April 2017

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This morning started pretty badly, to say the least. However the result at the end of the day totally made up for it.

I slept great, although it was pretty damn cold. I was woken by the sound of the geese on the water and a woodpecker somewhere in the distance, but I stayed in my little bubble of bedding for a little while longer. I must have fallen asleep again because before I knew it, Dan woke me by stepping into my shelter. I immediately sat bolt upright and slammed my head into the sloping roof, nearly knocking myself unconscious. Dan told me that he had been watching a red squirrel playing in the tree above him, so he was going off to ‘find some more nature’. I was the only other one in the camp who was awake, so I set about making a fire to get some breakfast and brews on. No matter how hard I tried however, I just couldn’t get the fire going. 

Something that’s usually very rare for me. If there is something I’m good at, it’s building a campfire.

My patience thinned and after a few careful attempts I decided to take the ‘f**k it’ approach. I found the biggest piece of birch bark I could get my hands on, stacked on some thin twigs and buried the whole lot in a couple of huge pine branches. Notoriously great for burning. I lit the birch bark at the bottom and watched as it caught the pine branches, causing a huge spiraling tower of smoke and fire. I stacked on some larger sticks, and away I had it. I grabbed the pot that we used to boil water and took to the lake to fill it up. On my return I built what I thought was a great structure over the fire with two long logs, laying across it with a small gap between them for the flames to come through. I placed the pot over the gap and it worked perfectly… for 5 minutes.

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Looking at this structure now, I can see that it really isn’t stable at all!

Then something shifted, causing the logs to spread apart, subsequently tipping the pot all over the fire and extinguishing it. I probably woke Jack up with my screaming of all the profanities I could think of. So I started the whole process again. Fire made. Pot filled. Pot on top. Brilliant. Whilst the pot was doing it’s thing on the fire, I decided to chop some more wood. At which point I discovered how sharp Olie’s axe was-

Actually it was at the point when I slipped whilst splitting a bit of wood and the axe went into my thumb that I discovered how sharp it was.

Just as the water was boiling, the logs shifted again. The water came out. The fire went out. Fire built. Pot filled. Thumb bandaged. Water boiled. Dan walked back into camp and I think I said something like ‘Good morning Dan, I do hope you had a wonderful walk!’.. actually no…I’m actually certain it was more like ‘This better be the best f*****g coffee you’ve ever had.’

On a good note though, my sausage didn’t make Olie horribly sick at all. I still cooked another one for breakfast though. I just wasn’t willing to take that risk.

We got breakfast over and done with and left the camp with enough time to make it to Kloten and get on with the rest of our hike. Dan walked ahead of us as we drove down the track, moving more trees out of the way and about 20 minutes later we were in Kloten. The official start of The Bergslagsleden Trail. We pulled into a car parking area and began to unload our kit and pack up what we needed for our last night in the wilderness. 

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It was actually at this point that we discovered that you could drive a car with the keyless ignition start button without having the key anywhere near the car. Olie drove it down the road and I was stood, key in hand, in the car park. Really safe! Well done Skoda. Anyway-

As we started the trail we were greeted with the spectacular view of a beautiful frozen lake. We went down to the water’s edge to check it out, and it just felt strange looking at it whilst standing in the gorgeous blaring sun. Spring/Summer was definitely on it’s way here, but winter was still in for a fight. We immediately began the climb up the first of many, many hills. Straight into the heart of the wild pine forests of the Swedish Wilderness. The sudden feeling of being at home in this place was sensational. This is exactly where I wanted to be. 

The map certainly didn’t lie when it showed that this section was uphill. It seemed to be continuously uphill for about 4 hours. 

As we got even deeper into the wilderness and further away from civilisation, we stumbled across paths still covered with snow and even more beautiful frozen lakes. Picturesque just isn’t the word for these places.

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Then, as we got even deeper into the woods, it was clear that we were in bear country too. Scattered along the trail was a fair amount of bear poo. What was unclear though was how fresh it was, it looked pretty fresh, but it was early morning and a bit boggy, so it might have been just wet anyway. 

Kind of similar to a large cat poo, but you could see the berries etc that had been passed through. Interesting. A bit gross, but interesting.

Our final destination was to be one of two places. We saw on the map that there was a cabin, much like the one in Scotland which we stayed in a couple of years ago. It was apparently an old farm house, built into the side of the bottom of a hill. It had been refurbished and was open for use by anybody. It was next to a river and we thought this would be a pretty cool place to have our last night. If that didn’t work out though, we would trek just about 6km to another camping spot next to a lake. 

Breath going, legs burning, feet about to explode, we reached the old farm house. Annoyingly however, it had been claimed by a family before we got there. So staying there was out of the question, but the short 6km trek no longer felt like just a short 6km trek.

We were actually so annoyed by this, we didn’t stop to take a picture of the house, but believe me, it was actually pretty cool. Here’s a picture of the river that ran down beside it though:

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So with no choice, we continued our walk. In all fairness though, we couldn’t have been in a more beautiful place. Rolling hills, perfect silence, huge forests and lakes and the potential of being eaten by bears. To me, that’s perfect. To top it all off, I had heard that on this section you can often hear wolves howling in the distance too. 

We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, but we knew that if we just pressed  on, we would find our next camping spot. It was apparently on a lake, just off the trail, so that was fine. Although, every time we climbed a huge mountainous hill, we would see a lake, have that ‘finally!’ feeling, then the trail would take us in the opposite direction up another gargantuan hill. Until finally, after the third time of saying ‘it’s just around this hill guys, don’t worry,’ it was there. We were about 100m away from it, but it was already so much better than that damn farm house.

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Right on the water, so much so that if it was any closer, it would be in the water. Another one of these shelters. Looking right out over the frozen lake and with a large fire pit right in front of it. This was amazing. Totally silent. We whistled and the echoes coming back to us were just as loud and crystal clear. The sound of the small rocks that we tossed onto the ice even came back to us. This was easily the best place we had stayed over the last few nights. We arrived with a good few hours of daylight left. Enough time to get a fire going, make some dinner and just sit around camp and relax in the serenity of the most wild wilderness of Sweden. We built the fire up enough to heat the inside of the shelter, climbed inside our sleeping bags and just laid there, listening to the crackling fire and fell asleep as the sun was still setting. 

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I was next to Jack which meant that I didn’t sleep much at all that night. Leading to a lot of rolling around trying to get comfortable and trying to sleep, which then woke up Dan, who then woke up Olie with his complaining about me trying to get comfortable.

I have now completely given up trying to get to sleep, thanks to Jack, so just sat here looking out over the lake. It must be about 03:00am It’s really chilly again but totally amazing. It’s pitch black out there in the forest but the moonlight is shining down and reflecting off the ice in front of me. It’s just incredible.

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Sometimes I think I should thank Jack for his outrageous snoring…but not just yet.

Day 4: Let’s Go Home

09 Apr 2017

I finally got back to sleep and woke up at about 06:00am. I was straight up and dressed and set about getting a fire lit. This morning we had to leave much earlier than we had done over the last couple of days as we needed to get back to Kloten in time to make the near 3 hour journey to Arlanda airport for 17:00 to return the car. It was going to be a hell of a walk back too. 

I must have been the first creature to stir in the whole forest, because it was totally silent as I was collecting wood. But as I returned to the shelter, a fish jumped out of the bit of water that hadn’t frozen, the birds started singing and a woodpecker was trying to get the sound of Jack’s snoring out of his head in the forest somewhere. 

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We made breakfast, I cooked my last sausage and had a vegetable curry Wayfayrer meal. If you ask me, I think that was a fine breakfast. Soon we were on our way again. To try and cut some time off, we agreed that we would follow the trail until it hit the road, then follow that road all the way back. Cutting out a few of those hills, and guaranteeing a timely arrival at the car. So we did. We came off the trail and had about 6 miles left to walk, which isn’t too far at all. Unless you have a heavy rucksack on, dead feet and long straight road to follow. It was fun. To keep myself occupied I counted the little lines that marked the edge of the road. 2523 lines later, we came off the road and back on to the track along side the first frozen lake we came across coming out of Kloten. Not 10 minutes later were back in the car. That was it. Done. Feeling like we were going to die, every part of us aching, hips rubbed raw from our rucksacks and feet blistering, we felt amazing. This was the feeling we set out to find. We wanted to feel like we had done something, and we did.

 

                                                                                                                                                                   

And so our 50km walk in the woods was complete. The relief was incredible, but a great sadness fell upon us all as well. With the lust for being back in our shelter on the lake still strong, we were headed back to civilisation and the everyday monotony of society.

Our adventure was done.

It wasn’t until we got to the airport and got back on the WiFi (the latest addition to humanity’s hierarchy of needs), that the messages from friends and family started pouring in, enquiring as to whether we were safe. We couldn’t understand why until we had a look at the BBC News page and found out that there had been a devastating terror attack in Stockholm just a day after we had landed. It was this that reinforced the reason that we had set out to do what we wanted to do – while Stockholm and the rest of the world were experiencing yet another tragic disaster, we were blissfully ignorant and comfortably numb in the natural surroundings of such a beautiful country, able to enjoy everything it had to offer while its own citizens were forced to mourn and become fearful. It’s a sad fact that, in today’s world, we can’t escape such atrocities for too long, but if we choose to, we can take a step back, walk into the wild and be reminded of the awesome force of nature and all that came before us and what will eventually be left behind.

Until next time Sweden, stay wild, stay beautiful and see you later

James, Dan, Olie, Jack

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Fail to prepare…

How much is your life worth? How much money would you spend to preserve your life?

On 2nd January 2017, a couple from Leicestershire and their dog were rescued by Cairngorm Mountain Rescue after being caught in arctic-like conditions over night, simply because they miscalculated how long their chosen route would be. After leaving their house for a New Years Day walk, like most of us would have done, they soon got caught by terrible weather conditions that closed in on them rapidly. With knee high snow, visibility worsening and a dead head torch, they were forced to take cover using their Bivouac Sack (known to some as a bivvy bag). They weren’t discovered until midday the following afternoon, but they survived.

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The Cairngorms (www.cairngorms.co.uk)

There are countless stories like this that have ended so much worse. Just last year The Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association reported just short of 20 deaths in their area alone. I would say that a large percentage of these deaths could have been avoidable. With the right experience and knowledge of what you’re doing, where you’re going and your own capabilities, you can feel secure that you are going to be fine. ‘I know my limits, I know what I can manage and I know what I’m doing,’ we’ve all said it. But what if something so unpredictable, such as the weather, just creeps in on you and leaves you with very limited options? If you’ve read my article on a trip to Snowdon I took in February 2015, you know what I’m talking about and you know that you can have as much experience and knowledge as possible, but what really counts in these situations, what really can save your life is what you put in your rucksack before you even walk out of the front door.

If you’ve suddenly just had an ‘oh crap, what do I need?’ moment, then don’t panic. Allow me to cover 10 essentials that you should really consider taking on your hike.

Essentials:

  1. Water – the source of life
  2. Waterproofs – even Michael Fish couldn’t predict the weather (BBC weatherman)
  3. Navigation: compass and map, and the knowledge to use them! – Do any of us really know where we’re going?
  4. Dry/warm clothes – when you get cold and wet
  5. First aid kit – a fool can suffer
  6. Food = energy = warmth
  7. Shelter – The trust bivvy bag
  8. Torch – ‘happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light’
  9. Knife – the possibilities are endless
  10. Fire lighting kit – fire = warm = happy (fire = warm = food = happy)

I live in Buckinghamshire, England. Home of the beautiful rolling Chiltern hills (and fabulous ales)- considerably different to the grandeur of the Peak District and not much like the Cairngorms either. However, if you were to find me in the woodlands when I am out and about with my dog and say ‘show me what’s in your sack,’ initially I’d think you’re a bit strange, but eventually you’d be enlightened to the wonders of all 10 of those items and more impressively how they all manage to fit inside my 20 litre rucksack, because everywhere I go, I take these essentials.

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The Chilterns (www.visitchilterns.co.uk)

No matter what the weather or where I’m going, I will carry at least these 10 items, plus a few bits more. You can mix and match the rest of the kit to your own personal needs and desires, I know that at least one of my friends will have some Scotch in his rucksack for example. Not a great example, granted, but it shows that there is still room in your sack for those extra bits.

So far I have had very, very few occasions where I’d end up using every piece of kit, but there will be those occasions and when they arise, I’d be considerably more prepared than those who didn’t consider the possibilities.

Hypothetically, let’s just cover a quick scenario, a little role play perhaps. Perhaps not, but stay with me, you’re doing well.

Dave and Julio are out for a walk around the mountains, the nearest pub with a beautiful crackling log fire is 20 miles away and the last person they saw was the postman doing his morning rounds. It’s just gone midday and they have just finished their sandwiches sat on a dry stone wall looking over a stunning green valley with a sparkly lake in the middle, in the distance the sky appeared to be getting a bit grey and horrible, but they crack on. Dave suggests perhaps heading down the valley, cutting their ramble a little shorter because he has noticed the weather coming in, but Julio, being the renegade that he is, immediately disregards Dave’s suggestion and continues along the ridge. Dave joins in. Suddenly Julio slips, falls to the ground and bashes his head on a big rock. Dave laughs. Then Dave notices that Julio hasn’t laughed and appears to be in a spot of bother. Then it starts to rain. Dave explains to Julio that this is why he suggested leaving the mountain early, points at the sky and the rain and gets cross. Julio doesn’t care. He’s more concerned about the fact that his foot is pointing backwards and is really quite painful. Because Dave is sensible and prepared, he immediately is able to help to the best of his abilities. He calls for help, because there is phone signal, but they are only reachable by the friendly neighbourhood Mountain Rescue team, a few hours away. He proceeds to help Julio put his waterproof jacket on but because his foot hurts, getting the trousers on isn’t worth the moaning. What he does have is a bivvy bag though. A super fashionable bright orange weatherproof plastic sack (essentially). Dave isn’t a doctor, but he tries his best at securing Julio’s foot, with what is in his first aid kit, so it doesn’t wobble about, then helps Julio get into his bivvy bag. Hours of moaning from Julio go by and it gets dark. Thankfully, Dave brought his torch and a spare one just in case. By the time Mountain Rescue arrive, Dave has prepared a lovely cup of tea for the team on his gas stove and they all laugh about how ridiculous the whole situation is, and how lucky they are that Dave was sensible. Julio missed this part as he was being winched into a helicopter. Dave and Julio fell out and now do not talk, but they are both alive. Hypothetically.

Are you Dave or are you Julio?

I have obviously painted this in a fairly jovial way, however it’s a serious consideration we should all make when we get out on our trips. Are you prepared? Do you have the right kit to cover worst case scenario? You may never use it, but when you do, you’ll be glad you had it.

So how much is your life worth? How much would you spend to preserve your life?

Remember that couple with their dog on the Cairngorms? They spent £5 on a bivvy bag, and it saved their life.

Fail to prepare.. Prepare to fail

Autumn/Winter: ‘The Load Out’

 

 

In the 1970s Jackson Browne wrote a fairly beautiful song called ‘The Load Out’. Totally unrelated to the weather, outdoors and any of the seasons, but stay with me and I’ll come back to that. Maybe give it a listen while you read this though.

Autumn and Winter. The time of year that everybody turns the central heating on, stocks up logs for the fire and makes a ludicrous amount of soup. We all do it. So it’s time when people go into hibernation and spends less time out in the wild, but why? It’s cold, wet and muddy. So what?

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and preparation. Without boring you too much about a layering system, with a simple adjustment to your clothes, base layers to outer layers, you can enjoy the weather all year round. So what are you missing when you only go outside for those couple of weeks of sun in the great British summer? So much. Allow me to tell you why, personally, I think that this time of year from Autumn through Winter to Spring is the most beautiful, exciting and intriguing.

When you think of Autumn, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a natural carpet of orange, red and brown leaves, conkers dropping from the Chestnut Trees, pumpkins and maybe pies. I think of pies most of the year, but I feel like you can’t beat a really good pie when the cold weather comes in.

So Summer is over, the leaves are turning a spectacular array of colours like natures very own fireworks and the cold, dark and misty mornings have begun. I consider myself lucky with the drive I have to work every morning, other than the awful traffic. The road I take is almost entirely lined on both sides with trees. Oaks, Chestnuts, Birch and Elms, all exploding with colour and dropping their leaves, allowing the sun to burst through, casting it’s rays through the mist. Actually makes the traffic worth getting caught in.

 

If you’re anything like me, then you’ll know what I mean when I say I’m one of those people who really prefers the cold weather. There is nothing better than putting your boots on, a nice warm coat, scarf, hat and gloves and walking out into the forests when that year’s leaves are piled around your feet. The incredible silence being broken by the crunching of frosted foliage and the scurrying of squirrels making their last minute harvest for the Winter. All over the country animals are making their own preparations for the coming season, and being able to witness this is something very special. Whether it is that squirrel getting ready to spend his winter season in his den, or that year’s fox cubs leaving their family, preparing for adult life and searching for their mates to start a family of their own. However, everything is over shadowed by the majesty that is the Red Deer stag. A real stand out icon of the great British Autumn, their rutting season. All over the country these creatures great and small can be found if you take the time to sit quietly, still and observe.

 

As I have mentioned in some of my previous articles, to me the forest is a hive of life, activity and emotions. All over the internet there are videos of time-lapses in the forest covering the whole year. What you’ll see if you watch it, and even witness it by getting out there in every moment you have through the year, is one of the most spectacular stories. And it’s all for free. Spring is the magical introduction to the year, the buds begin to burst through on the trees, the green of the forest floor begins peeking out of the foliage from the previous year and those fox cubs take their first steps out of their den, preparing you for what to expect in the next chapter – Summer. The main event, life is at it’s fullest, the leaves spread out into an enormous canopy, the days are bright and warm. Barbeques, warm evenings and long walks for days that feel like months, only to slow and dim when the story comes to an end. Autumn. The leaves begin to change, life comes to an end, the animals return to their hides and homes and the days get shorter. Winter. The last leaves fall to the ground to be covered with frost and snow. The busy, loud bustling of Summer has suddenly fallen to a deathly silence as life appears to be at a stand still until the sun comes back and warms the ground, nurturing the forest back to life for Spring. Infancy, adolescence, adulthood, followed by the inevitable. Only to start again.

To be part of this story is a wonder in itself, to witness it every single year is something that should be cherished. Why would anybody want to miss that? Why would anybody consider hiding indoors at the most beautiful time of this life cycle? Put some extra layers and wellies on and get outside.

Everything has a beginning, middle and end. It varies in length, but everything does. A book, a movie, a three course dinner and a song. It builds from scratch, almost nothing, just an idea. This very article that you are reading started from just that, an idea, and don’t worry this article does have an ending too. Life is a wonderful thing to behold, and without getting too ‘preachy’ I believe that if you have that chance to watch something from the beginning of it’s life to the end, over and over, why wouldn’t you? Why would you only cherish those moments that feel nice and warm and decide to ignore the rest? The most beautiful things are just on the other side of your doors, windows and walls. Go and see it, study and love it.

Jackson Browne’s ‘The Load Out’ is dedicated to the road crew that follow the band around on tour, building the stage at the beginning of every show and always being the last to leave the theatre at the end, carrying out their jobs almost in auto pilot. Jackson mentions the noises he hears as the crew dismantle the stage and slams doors, but they are noises that only on lookers would notice. To the crew it’s just everyday labour and something they will never be disconnected from. In the show of forest that you can see every year, the leaves are the road crew, the first to arrive and bring life to the show and always the last to leave once the deafening crowd has vanished, the band, the main part of the show, have gone and the theatre is filled with an eerie silence, until that last leaf falls and the house lights go out, until the next show.

 

 

Jack London, Chris McCandless and a Caveman

“The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life.”

 Recently I discovered that one of my favourite books was available as an audio-book on SpotifySo when I’m plugged in to my music at my desk at work and bopping away to the wonderful sounds of Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd and Jackson Browne, I may occasionally put an audio-book on and get lost in the world of words. I recently finished Jules Verne’s ‘Around The World In 80 Days‘ and whilst flicking through the small library of audio-books on Spotify, up popped the wonderful ‘The Call of the Wild‘ by Jack London, written in 1903 but just as powerful now as it was then. A book that also inspired Christopher McCandless to travel and live self sufficiently in Alaska at the age of 20 which is documented in the book ‘Into The Wild’. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it or watched the film, but it didn’t end well.

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At this point I’ll mention that this isn’t just going to be a book review. Stick with me here, and you’ll see how the themes in ‘The Call of the Wild’ are certainly relatable and can also be very inspirational.

‘The Call of the Wild’  is about a dog. It’s not a story told by the dog and the dog doesn’t talk. It’s about the dog, and the dog is called Buck. I won’t be rewriting Jack London’s work here, just giving a slight synopsis and discussing where we all fit in. So for the moment, pretend you’re a dog. Or actually, pretend the dog is a human. Either way, it’s about a dog.

For the first four years of his life, Buck lived on a ranch in America, lazing out in the sun, and doing very little else. A nice lazy life. No experience of the bigger world and no knowledge of anything beyond the ranch. One day he’s sold to a man who, in an apparent attempt to train him, begins beating him, puts him in a cage and throws him on a long haul train to Canada where he is handed over to two couriers who run a dog sled team.

As  with any newcomer to a wolf pack, or sled dog pack, Buck isn’t welcomed with open arms; he is immediately challenged and put in his place – right at the bottom of the pack. Buck had no experience of the wild so learnt his lesson the hard way by fighting back and finally, with a few injuries to foot, fell into his spot. The lesson was soon hammered home when he witnessed another new dog join the team only to be killed immediately and torn to shreds by the pack.

Sled dogs are not pets and, no matter the circumstance, are never treated as such. They sleep outside the tents in the blizzards, the rain and the snow, all year round. In the wild, wolves, as well as digging small dens, make nests (this can be seen in your domestic dog when they walk around and around in a circle trying to get comfy). The sled dogs dig a nest in the deep snow low enough that the wind blows over the top of them and that their body heat is maintained, much like an igloo but without a roof. The snow then eventually fills in on top and they become buried, which is actually very warm. Feeding time is also a very risky occasion in a pack of wolves for all involved, unless you’re the top dog of course. The lower your rank the less food the others will leave, until the very bottom where you have to learn to eat very fast before another one eats your ration. For Buck, gaining this knowledge and experience meant losing any domestication he once had.

The couriers who were now in control of Buck reached their destination and left the pack to be taken up by another sled runner. The next team of humans were complete amateurs who could barely organise and run their own lives let alone a pack of sled dogs. Long story short, these new humans had totally forgotten that they had to feed and water the pack but still ran them thousands of miles. They became weak and skeletal, on the very brink of death, before reaching the next town.

Here, the alpha male of the pack became aggressive towards Buck and tried to kill him, however Buck managed to defend himself and kill the alpha when it got to the stage of kill or be killed. This earned him respect amongst the other dogs who began to fall in line behind him instead – this would be Bucks first kill of many.

When it was time to leave this new town the dogs were all laying motionless on the snow, nothing but bags of bones with an ever decreasing heartbeat. Assuming them to simply be lazy, the team began to whip them, paying particular attention to Buck, to the point where he was aware he was being whipped but the pain ceased and he felt nothing. A local man named John, who was watching in disbelief immediately got to his feet, cut Buck from the reins and knocked the man off his feet. Picking himself up, he forced the rest of the pack to move on, however a few hundred yards down the track, they fell through the ice and never returned.

Much like the relationship between myself and my own dog, Buck never left John’s side once he had recovered. However, he eventually felt his natural wolf like instincts return and would wander into the forest for days, only returning to John for a small time before vanishing once again. One evening, when out in the forest, he encountered a wolf who tried to get Buck to follow him back to his own pack. However, something stopped Buck and he returned to try and find John but found the camp in complete ruin, attacked by native Indians and John’s lifeless body amongst the rest.

All ties that Buck once had with society and his domestication had all but diminished over the period from leaving the ranch up to the very last tie that was John. He had learnt to hunt, track and stalk like a wolf and now everything in his nature was wild. He found the pack of wild wolves, made jolly good friends and lived happily ever after as the alpha male of this wild wolf pack.

So, if you’re still reading this and haven’t gotten bored and closed the page down, you may wonder why I’ve put you through the torment of my failing to explain a rather simple book to you. Well allow me to tell you why.

I asked earlier that you try to pretend you’re a dog, Buck in fact. Especially if you’re one of these people who doesn’t know the outside world and the wonders of the wilderness. Very much like Buck. He was thrown into the wild against his will and, through various extreme and harsh lessons and experiences, his connection to society and his domestic instincts whittled away completely, moulding him to become one with the wilderness.

Like the wolf pack, with their ranks, the human species is similar in some aspects. I mentioned earlier that, when it comes to food for the wolf, the higher the rank, the more food. For us, it seems that maybe economically, the wealthier, higher class you are, the easier life may come for you. The lower you are, the more challenges you face, the more the elite almost step on the lower to maintain their position. Similar to something I know as quite simply, ‘the shit tree’.

when top level guys look down they see only shit. When bottong guys looks up they see only assholes

The more I think about this, the more I understand why some people would be more than happy to give up on society and get back to our instinctive, natural lives. Myself included. There’s a lot going around, and has been going around for a while, about the wealthy becoming wealthier and the poorer becoming poorer, but at the end of the day, in my opinion, money has ruined everything that life actually has given us. But that’s a totally different topic and debate.

It’s not just a case of, ‘sod it, I’ll live in the woods’, it’s more a case of taking that step back, looking at what the human race has become and wondering, ‘what the hell has happened?’

In the same way that Buck learnt all his lessons, nest building and hunting for example, everything that is actually instinctive to a dog is also innate in humans. Our own natural instincts keep us alive and come into play without us even realising it. ‘Fight or flight’, fears, desires, emotional contagion (if you’re sad, I’m sad) and so much more. Even reactions such as blushing and yawning all span from that caveman who is still sat inside all of our brains. All you need to do is light a fire and watch as everyone around it becomes hypnotised, demonstrating our intrinsic, prehistoric tendencies.

Sadly this caveman is becoming blinded by smartphone screens and bored of sitting in front of the TV all day, and may one day just decide to get up and leave you to it. How would we survive without those reactions though? Seriously interesting stuff to read into if you want to. If we tuned ourselves back into these instincts, like Buck did, we would find it easier to live and thrive in the wild in the way that our ancestors did many years ago.

McCandless was, as we all have been, born into the domesticated, modern world. Grew up with the comforts, went to school, graduated from University and lived the same lives as we all do. As some of us do, he still just had that deep, natural burning fire to get back to the wild and reconnect. This is where the story of Buck inspired the young Chris to leave society behind. He burnt his money, abandoned his car and made his way into the wilderness of Alaska to also become one with nature, live off the earth and be totally self sufficient. His diary, which makes up the book ‘Into the Wild‘ isn’t just inspiring but also fascinating, reading his own words about not just the great sense of freedom he had, but towards the end, his very true fears and emotions when he realised that his days were numbered and he knew he would die. His last words in his diary were ‘beautiful berries’ after a long period of starvation. This was written on day 107, the following 7 days were made up of illiterate scrawlings. Reading through the book numerous times, there are definitely points where he could have avoided this frightful end and made mistakes that were preventable. However, to somebody like me, even though Chris’ life came to an untimely devastating end, his story is an inspiration. He had the will and the passion to leave everything behind; his family, friends, comfort and the everyday routines of life, to return to the wild, live by his natural instincts and resort to the life that he felt he needed and part of me thinks that, even though he died, he would have been content knowing that he did so in that environment, doing what he set out to do.

This isn’t the typical type of article I set out to write on my site, but something that may just make you stop and think. Something that might make you realise that as a species, humans did not evolve to just laze in the comforts of technology, preprepared food and designer clothes. Everything that we originally evolved to do and live by is actually still out there, and with the right will and passion, it’s still doable. Sadly however, the people who want to, or actually do it successfully are seen to be peculiar and most definitely in the minority.

So that was clearly a productive afternoon in the office..

“Don´t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad that you did.”-  Christopher McCandless

 

Chris McCandless 1968 – 1992

Sweden: ‘They have a moose problem you know’

Our trip to Sweden started in the small country village of Granborough in Buckinghamshire, England. We had planned where we would be going, what we’d be doing and when whilst in Sweden, but had forgotten until the last minute to plan on how we were actually going to be getting to Stansted Airport to actually get to Sweden. Thankfully, Dan’s mother had, perhaps rather reluctantly, agreed to get up at 04:00 to drive us there, so we all took our kit to Dan’s farm the previous night for a final kit check and prep. Olie, Jack and I bunkered down on the living room floor for our last sleep in England and Dan obviously opted for his own, comfy double bed. Which was a very good idea we realised as soon as Jack fell asleep. Jack is skilled in the art of being able to just completely switch off and fall asleep instantly, he also has a skill of being able to keep everybody else awake whilst he is asleep. The noises he makes in his sleep are unlike anything I have heard a human make, and that’s all in between his snoring too. So Olie and I must have had about 3 hours sleep between us by the time our alarms sounded and it was time to get up. I’ll admit at this stage I was not in the best of moods, and pre-warned Jack that he’d be sleeping about a mile away from camp if he continued to make his noises.

Anyway, breakfast was had, the journey was made and we boarded the plane.

This article will be written differently, as it will be taken almost directly from a journal I wrote during the whole trip. Written mostly at the end of each of the four days.

 


‘On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it’

26th April 2016

Day 1: ‘Definitely a Moose’

We made it. I was sat by myself on plane, next to a couple who were basically making love. Headphones in. Bruce Springsteen on. Eyes shut. Sweden! We realised just yesterday that we weren’t actually flying into Stockholm itself and that was made perfectly clear when we did actually touch down. It was more or less a field surrounded by forest with a runway on it. The ATC tower was more like a shed with a radio. A wonderful welcome to Sweden and that theme continued. We hired a car for the week which the website had claimed was a ‘VW Polo or Similar’. Olie sorted all the documents and collected the key to a Skoda Octavia. Fair enough. I had previously owned a Skoda Fabia and was fairly sure that they were basically the same car to an extent. However, what we found in the car park was a brand new, massive estate model. Suddenly our worries of fitting a total of 8 large bags into a small car were totally forgotten.

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From left to right: Jack, Dan, Olie, Me (www.dankemp.co.uk)

We made the 2 and a half hour drive to where our cabin was located, picking up some essentials on the way (chocolate, beer and, of course, steak). Driving through the spectacular scenery, resembling the forests and prairies you’d find in Canada and the US, we eventually hit the last road to our destination, which was more like a rally WRC track through the pine forest that was framing a huge, beautiful lake. We had found a cabin on Airbnb which seemed ideal for what we had planned. We would use it as a base, prep our camping kit and then head into the forest for a couple of nights. We pulled down a dusty side track into a ranch where the cabin was located, with horses galloping along the edge of the woods on a hill above us – I knew this was already going to be awesome. We were greeted by an absolutely gorgeous Swedish female called Marley – a huge St Bernard who was incredibly soppy.

Annemiek (our host) came out of her red wooden house to properly greet us and show us to our cabin. Actually, the first thing she showed us was the toilet, a bucket in a small outhouse, then the cabin. It was fantastic, everything that I could want in a cabin in the woods. A simple structure, log burning stove, a double bed in one room and a small kitchen in the other with a fridge for the beer and steak. Up a small wooden ladder were two single mattresses in a small loft area. When Annemiek asked if we would like her to bring down another fold up bed from the main house, we refused and said that we would be happy to share the double bed. God knows what she thought of us.

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The Cabin

After putting the compost bucket toilet to the test, we decided to have a recce of the area we’d be calling home for the week – the huge forest on the lake we had just driven by. We followed a track that took us along side the lake (featured image). The forest was enormous, almost never-ending and completely untouched. It had mostly been left to run itself naturally with very little help from man or machine, so parts really looked prehistoric with huge ferns and gigantic pines reaching into the sky. The ground was littered with boulders and rocks throughout and the small trail was only just recognisable winding around into the distance. Beautiful. Olie and I decided to test the temperature of the water by having a small paddle. Cold. Not unbearable. But cold. We were putting our boots back on when we realised just how silent the whole area was. Tranquillity just isn’t the word. No traffic noise, no aircraft noises, no people. Just the sound of the wind through the trees and the birds calling to one another. That’s when we heard it. Something broke the silence. The sound of an animal drinking from the lake, hidden by two islands in front of us, but it was loud and must have been a big animal. Definitely a moose. Nothing else. Definitely a moose. We never got a glimpse though.  

We took a stroll back to the cabin and I started to make a beef stew with nothing but beer and a bit of pepper for a sauce. As I was at the cooker, Annemiek’s husband arrived at the front door, but instead of being a huge Viking of a man that we were expecting, it was Mr Miyagi! An incredibly friendly, super smiley Japanese man. He’d come to fix the water pump or something. I can’t remember his name, so he’ll be called Mr Miyagi for the rest of the week.

It’s now 21:30. Stew eaten. Coffee made. Fire stoked. Feet up. Chill. Plan day 2. Can’t wait.

James


 

27th April 2016

Day 2: ‘The Big Swim’

Up at 07:30. Frost on the ground. Clear blue sky. One coffee down and another on the go.

Today is camp day. We had made a plan last night to possibly find some canoes from somewhere around here and follow a canoe route marked on the map. There are a few portages on the route which would be cool, but I have a feeling that plan sadly wont materialise. Anyway, up and at them!

Rucksacks packed and donned, we followed the same route as yesterday but continued around the lake even further to the other side which we discovered was actually just a peninsular, opening up the rest of the lake which was far bigger than we had even imagined. During this process though, we lost Dan. I had dropped behind to take advantage of a huge boulder that was just sticking up from the water. I jumped across from the mainland and with more luck than judgement, landed safe and dry. I sat down, took in the view and caught some time to appreciate the silence and serenity of the whole area. I was falling in love with it. The water was almost perfectly still and reflected the scenery like a mirror. I picked up a small rock and tossed it into the water and just watched as the ripples grew larger and larger from the splash. A small while later I put my pack back on and caught up with Olie and Jack who informed me that Dan had walked off to find a way around a swampy area to reach the other side. Assuming he wouldn’t be too far away, we went in the same rough direction that he apparently took. We reached the other side of the bog and up into the pines once again. No sign of Dan whatsoever. The silence was no longer as welcome as it was before because we couldn’t even hear him. A small track that must have been created by a vehicle once upon a time cut through the middle of forest. Jack decided to walk along it and Olie and I headed for the water’s edge on the opposite side to see if we could get a view of Dan along the edge of the trees. Nothing. What we did find, however, was an old rotting row-boat that was crumbling apart and had plant life growing from the inside. We dug it out a little bit and decided to see if it still worked as a boat. As soon as we started to move it, it broke in half. Needless to say, once it was on the water it didn’t even work as a surf board. A good 45 minutes and few yells of his name had passed and we still had no sign of Dan. We worked our way back onto the track and eventually caught up with Jack who had found Dan walking around the edge of the water on the bog side of the lake, looking for a suitable camp spot. He hadn’t been eaten by a bear. We continued our search for our perfect camping spot as a group but what we had in our mind, just couldn’t be found. We camp with hammocks, so we wanted a nice, fairly open area ideally with a great view over the lake and a spot to make a fire. The problem with such a huge, natural, untouched, forest is that the trees and the rest of the plant life grow either incredibly close to each other or fairly spread out, depending on the size of the trees and how much light gets through. We opted to return to where Olie and I had paddled yesterday. That spot had everything we needed and worked perfectly. We took the hour’s walk back to the spot and set up camp. I immediately stole a spot that was right on the water’s edge, so much so that if I was to get out of the wrong side of my hammock, I’d get pretty wet, but I had a stunning view across the water  and down the middle of the two islands. Further down the edge of the water  was a huge flat boulder that we climbed onto and made a fire over looking the lake and settled in for the duration of the day. I carry a fire making kit in my pack but didn’t need it at all. The bark from the birch tree is so paper-thin and due to the oils inside it will burn even when damp, so all we needed was a spark and we had a fire. The weather was also on our side as we hadn’t had any rain and the ground was crisp and dry. We had a fire going in under a minute.

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(www.dankemp.co.uk)

Then the decision was made. ‘I’m going in,’I said as I was looking over the lake. After testing it yesterday I knew that it was bearable and a little swim wouldn’t be too much of a stupid idea. In fact, to me, it was a wonderful idea. I have a problem which means that, when I see water, I need to jump in it and sometimes, like today, I just can’t stop myself. So I stripped off and traded my hiking gear for some shorts, put the boots back on and, cameras ready, strolled straight in. It was actually very pleasant; pretty cold, absolutely stank but was very pleasant.

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The Big Swim (www.dankemp.co.uk)

My aim was to reach the opposite island, behind which lived The Moose. The beautiful silence was soon completely shattered when the water line reached a ‘testicular altitude’ and I let out an echoing scream. Not to be put off though, I soldiered on and braced myself for a proper swim.  However, no matter how far I went in, it was only waist height. So as graceful as a chimp you see on one of Attenborough’s shows wading through water, I reached the edge of the island and hauled myself out with a triumphant roar from both myself and the rest of the group on the other side. I explored the tiny island for a little while before jumping back into the water. After a little more splashing around I made my way back across to the others and stripped off next to the fire with about the same grace as a chimp once again. I think Jack is mentally scarred for life. I dried myself off and put my warm, dry clothes on. After laying all of my clothes out in front of the fire to dry off, we made some dinner and watched the sun set into the forest across the water. The wind died, the birds slept and we were in a world of total silence with the crackling fire for company. My clothes dried off fairly quickly, I have strung a washing line beneath my canopy to finish them off, all but my underwear which accidentally caught fire, so they’ve gone now. We let the fire die down and eventually made our way back to the hammocks. I’m incredibly proud of my set up right now, except for the fact that I have hitched it far too high and I actually needed a boost up to get inside, but it’s totally worth it.

James

 


 

28th April 2016

Day 3: ‘The Great Moose Hunt’

I fell asleep as soon as I was settled into my sleeping bag and before the others even got into their hammocks I think. I did wake up not too long after though when the cold eventually got to me, but I hunkered down into the bottom of my sleeping bag and warmed up, however I stayed awake for most of the night and finally got a little bit of sleep when the sun started to rise. Right now everybody is still asleep and I’m laying here looking over the water, listening to the birds waking up. What I’m also listening to however, is that damned elusive moose drinking from the lake again. Almost teasing me as the sound of the lapping echoes around the lake, totally out of sight.

So day 3 begins.. I don’t know what we have planned for today.

Back in the cabin. Coffee drank. Maps read and plans made. It’s raining. Today we are on a moose hunt. We’re headed for Tiveden National Park where there WILL be moose. I’ll catch you up later.

Ok, long story short.. there were no moose out there.

So our day trip started with a stop off at a Netto shop, a bit like Lidl, in the town of Askersund to get what will possibly be our last dinner together as tomorrow night I’ll be at the airport. Tonight we’re making meatballs. When in Sweden…. On a very basic map of the region we’re in, which resembles a map from Disneyland, there are images of moose all over the place, so we picked one and headed for it, somewhere called Röfors. It was an absolutely stunning area, filled with pine forests, small lakes spread all over the place, enormous rocks and boulders and absolutely no moose. We were enjoying the scenery so much through the windows of the car as we were cruising around that we totally forgot to park up and get out and ended up miles down the road at our original planned destination of Tiveden National Park. I thought the area around the cabin was prehistoric looking, but Tiveden National Park was something else. The road we drove down was cut straight through the middle of the rocks and on each side was an enormous expanse of totally untouched, natural woodland. No footpaths, no tracks, just pure green nature and it was beautiful. We turned down a very small dust track which took us winding down to a perfectly secluded lake with a small bothie sat just above it in the trees. We parked up and headed into the woods on the opposite side of the track to the lake and decided to have a little climb up some of the enormous boulders and rocky platforms in the woods. We found a huge, old pine tree that had fallen and, as we reached the root end of it, we found that it had originally started growing in the moss on one of these enormous rocks, it must have just gotten too heavy for the moss to hold onto it and had come away.

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Nice to see some of nature’s mistakes (www.dankemp.co.uk)

 

We walked in a large circle and wound up near the small lake again and, seeing the bothie next to it, the temptation was too great for me and I split from the group, ran down the hill, across the track and up to it. It wasn’t a bothie like the one we had stayed in during our trip to Scotland, but rather an open faced, lean-to timber structure with a concrete fire pit in front. Completely forgetting the rest of the group, (I was in my dream location after all) I gathered some dry logs that somebody had left nearby and, demonstrating how well birch bark burns in the wet perfectly, got a fire going in the fire pit. Attached to the wall of the bothie was a small wooden box, so being nosey, I opened it and found a hardback notebook and a pen. I sat down on the edge of the shelter, under cover from the rain and had a read. Very few entries were written in English, unsurprising really, but those that were shared the same emotions as I did for the area. The place was heaven for somebody like me. Suddenly, the concept of time had struck me and I realised that I had been apart from the other three for a while now and they didn’t know where I had gone. I heard my name being called and I called back but they mustn’t have heard as I got no response. Olie and I had agreed that if we were split from the group we could make an owl noise by blowing through our hands. The noise travels a great distance and it was just a bit fun anyway. I called out with that noise, and we finally got back into contact. I thought it best to stay where I was and have them hone in on me to save us missing each other or walking in different directions. I collected a few wet pieces of pine branch with the needles still on and stuck them on the fire to make a huge plume of smoke that would have been easily visible if they were nearby. The plume of smoke rose into the air perfectly as planned but, as I far as I could tell, went unnoticed. A small time later though, I heard Dan call my name from the edge of the woods on the other side of the track. I called back and he came and joined me at the bothie. Olie came soon after. We collected a bit more wood and got the fire nice and big. At this point they both decided to inform me that they had actually left Jack in the car, a little further down the track, thinking that I may eventually return there when I split off. We sent Olie off to bring the car a bit further up and when he and Jack returned we took the opportunity to get a group picture together.

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Clockwise: Dan, Olie, Me, Jack (www.dankemp.co.uk)

Before everybody joined me, when I was sat in the shelter next to the lake with a fire burning, totally secluded and silent, there was a wonderful moment where it struck me that this is exactly what I want to do and where I want to be in life. Something had suddenly clicked and the realisation was incredible.

I left a note in the book and we let the fire burn out and headed for the cabin for our last night there.

So our moose hunt didn’t result in any moose, mooses or meece. I’m happy though and a good day was had by all. I have just eaten the meatball dinner which was delicious, Dan made them from scratch and they were fantastic.

Dinner eaten. Fire burning. Whisky and Beer flowing and James Taylor playing ‘Fire and Rain’. Fitting for the end of a rather wet but superbly relaxing day 3. Goodnight.

James

 


29th-30th April 2016

Day 4 and 5: ‘The Last Leg’

Eggs boiling. Coffee made. Fire lit. Packing started. Today we are going to wing it. Our last full day in Sweden and last hour or so of having our cabin. The plan so far is to get an extension on the car rental for an extra day, giving us time to either go into central Stockholm or another nearby town. If they don’t let us rent it for another day, I think we’re a bit stuffed. I’m off to do some packing and get some breakfast in me. Let’s see what happens..

Well.. it’s about 00:45am, so actually it’s the 30th April 2016 right now. I packed my book away and only just retrieved it from my bag as I’m sat at a table in a deserted cafe in the airport. It’s all merged into one day tody really. So what happened?

My breakfast of boiled eggs was good. They were supposed to be soft and runny but turned out completely hard boiled because I got a bit distracted, but they were edible. We packed our bags and said goodbye to Mr Miyagi, who said we should come back in the summer to pick some mushrooms. Without hesitation he ensured us that they won’t be for smoking, but we know what he was really thinking. Annemiek came out to say goodbye and wish us well. Both very honest and kind people who I thank, along with the others, for their hospitality and for not worrying too much when we disappeared into the woods not to return for two days. We packed the car up and Dan had beaten me to shotgun, so I settled for the back seat. Just as we were about to pull away I made Olie stop the car. I climbed out, ran across the yard and said my final goodbyes to Marley. Tears shed and numbers swapped, I parted ways with the beautiful Swedish female.

Our first port of call was the airport to try our luck at extending the rent. I couldn’t be bothered to go with Olie, so waited for the verdict in the car. Whatever he said to the man, it worked and we were allowed the car for another day and a half. Plenty of time. So we hit the road, still with the hope of  getting a glimpse of a moose, hoping that the fact we were leaving the country soon might just increase our luck a little bit. We cruised around and explored some more forest roads and suddenly spotted the sea in the distance, not too far away from us at all. So we decided to try and find some forest next to the sea and have a final fire with a sea view. We eventually found a small empty car park with what seemed to be a nice little walk down to some trees on the water’s edge. I was dressed for the airport at this time, so instead of getting on the plane stinking of camp fire smoke, I stripped off once again and put my hiking gear back on. The others were still not getting used to me stripping off. We started to walk down the path and, instead of finding a nice spot in the forest, we found a deserted sandy beach in what appeared to be a large cove, framed with cliffs and forest. We knew immediately that we would now spend the afternoon there. We picked up some drift wood and broke up a huge fallen tree and built a nice big fire right there on the sand. The rain of yesterday had totally moved away and the sky was clear and the sun was hot. If it was England, that beach would have been packed, but it was deserted for the whole afternoon we were there. We had the place to ourselves to chill out and relax, laying in the sun. Of course I couldn’t help myself but get into the water again. I rolled up my trouser legs and went for a paddle. What struck me was how crystal clear the water was and how, even though it was the Baltic sea, it wasn’t particularly ‘baltic’.

The other three wandered off to explore the woods at the end of the beach and I was more than happy to stay laying in the sun next to the fire on the beach. It was heaven. They eventually returned and we got our last group picture.

Before we knew it, it was already 20:00 and we had to make a move. I am due to fly home almost a day before the other three because I am going to see Bryan Adams and I stupidly double booked, so had to buy another plane ticket to get home. So I fly out at 06:30am (30/04/16) and they depart tonight at about 22:15. I thought it would be easier to try and get my head down for the night in the airport instead of getting a hotel or sleeping in the car like the other three have opted for. Anyway, we left the beach and drove into Nyköping, a town just a 10 minute drive from the airport. We tried to find somewhere to get a meal altogether before I left them, but everywhere was shut and the town was completely empty. For a Friday night, the night life was non-existent. We had very little choice but to go to a Burger King we had passed on the way into town. Somewhere I try to avoid, but it was all we had.  After some food we got back into the car and tried a very final dusk search for moose. If we were to find any, dusk would be the optimum time as they are most active during dusk and dawn when it’s quietest. We drove for a couple of hours, down some seriously dodgy ‘tracks’ that a rental car probably shouldn’t be driven down, but found nothing at all. So they dropped me here at the airport. I think they’re on the way to central Stockholm right now, but planning to sleep in the car in a lay by or somewhere.

So here I am now at 01:00 in a deserted coffee shop in Skavsta Airport. For some reason I can’t sleep in public places so I’m just sitting here staring at the ceiling waiting to make my final trip in a few hours, through security and onto the plane for home where I’m hoping my lovely girlfriend Sarah will be waiting for me at arrivals with a seriously strong coffee.

James

 


 

Sweden: The final thoughts section

 

Whether we’d all admit it or not, it seemed to me that the four of us were each looking to gain something different from this trip. Whether it be the wilderness and serenity, some peace, self reliance, independence or just those bloody moose. But I know that I have certainly come back with something personal within me and I’m hopeful that the others did too. I think this was the first time the four of us have spent this much time with each other since our friendships began about 20 years ago and personally I enjoyed every moment of it and I put that down to our shared love for what we were there for to start with. Adventure.

Sweden is a stunning country and one I will return to in the not too distant future. With enormous forests and beautiful lakes merging into one, it is everything I love about this world. Mix that with the freedom to roam laws and you have yourself a very happy camper.

One word of wisdom though; I have been told many times by many different people that Sweden and Norway have a moose problem, so much so that they have to be controlled due to overwhelming population. However, the only problem that we found with the moose is that there weren’t any.

 

Much love, 

James

‘I apologise in advance…’ The story of one man and his dog

You’re about to read an article written about a dog. It may seem a little silly and a bit odd to write about my dog, but keep reading and hopefully by the end of it you may understand why I’ve done it. If not, I’m sure there will be some nice pictures of him to look at.

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Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, Tintin and Snowy, Turner and Hooch.. Need I say more? Paul O’Grady and Buster maybe?

I have lived with dogs since birth and I couldn’t imagine my life without one. My earliest memories are of the two dogs my family had when I was little and those dogs helped me in discovering my adventurous side. From the first small adventures I took myself on when I was just a young boy, all the way up to my present day trips, I have always had a trusty companion with me, and the most recent bugger I have to call a companion is Pep (Pepper).

Many years we lost the last of the two dogs I had grown up with, a wonderful little Jack Russell named Fly. This was the first time in my life that I had been without a dog and it was a terrible, empty feeling. Something was missing.

After roughly six months we decided to look for another dog; the silence and the loneliness of the house had grown too much and we needed to fill that void. We did the usual of looking around the RSPCA centres but we couldn’t quite find what we were after until we contacted a rescue shelter not so far away in the country town of Tring in Hertfordshire. What we liked about this rescue centre was the way you were introduced to the dogs. Unlike the RSPCA, you don’t just walk around the kennels until you see a pretty dog that you may or may not like to take home. This shelter required reams of paperwork to be completed before you got anywhere near meeting a dog; What do you do for a living? Where do you live? What breed are you after? Why do you want the dog? What will you be using the dog for? – among other questions were asked and once we had filled out the paperwork, we sat outside in a courtyard and the staff began to bring out the dogs that matched the profile on the paperwork.

The gateway opened and out came an enormous beautiful male German Shepherd named Simba. We allowed him to approach us, as you would any dog you meet for the first time, then we took him for a short walk up the road and back to get acquainted. He was then taken back to the kennels and for a reason I can’t remember we didn’t decide to take him home. A few more came and went through the gate, until a gorgeous black Belgian Shepherd called Jersey came through. Initially very sheepish, she soon opened up and became very confident with us. We clicked, and the decision was made to put her on the yes list. Jersey came home with us the following week. We went to the shelter with the intention of only getting one dog, but we proceeded to see the last couple of dogs they had on their list…

The next dog that we met was a funny looking Collie named Pepper.

He came through the gate and I muttered something about how it was a shame he was a bit ugly because he seemed very sweet. All the previous dogs we had seen had approached us fairly nonchalantly and calmly, however as soon as Pepper set his eyes on me he went absolutely mental. He pulled the handler all the way across the courtyard and, as if we had been reunited after a long time apart (you know how dogs are), he leapt up and into my arms and it was love at first sight – for him anyway.

So after only looking for one dog, we ended up taking two home, one that my mum picked and one that picked me. From that moment Pepper never left my side and went anywhere I did, whether I liked it or not.

The truth is though I could’t have had a better companion.

I can’t think of a single person who, when first introducing them to him, I haven’t said ‘I apologise in advance – he’s a bit ugly but you’ll love him when you get to know him.’ It was true through, he wasn’t the best looking creature in the world, but I absolutely loved him dearly. It still remains a mystery as to what breed exactly he was. His paperwork says he was a collie-cross, but crossed with what I don’t know. I always assumed that he is crossed with a Whippet due to his stance and body shape. He was roughly the same shape as a Whippet but with a collie head. It was a bizarre mix but he had certainly got the best of both, he had the intelligence and stamina of a Collie with the speed of a Whippet. On top of that he had the most incredible blue eyes.

However I still think he looked like a fox mixed with a cat.

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So our journey began..

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be having adventures with just the company of a dog, apart for the time I wanted to be an astronaut, but we all know about Laika the Soviet space dog, so I suppose even that was possible.

Our very first outing was more of a bonding session (not that it needed to be after our first encounter). As soon as I walked in from school  I couldn’t wait to get changed into my ‘muddy clothes’ and get outside. I took him around the enormous Rothschild estate where Waddesdon Manor sits, as it was more or less outside my front door at the time. I wasn’t sure how he would act initially once being taken off the lead, but with a ball in hand I decided to risk it. It quickly transpired that there was no need for a lead at all as he stuck to my heel perfectly without one. So we continued our bonding session over a few more hours of walking through the woodlands and fields playing with the ball and trying to tire him out, which was something that only recently due to his age, I had only started to get a hold of. I knew from this very first time out together, that he would indeed be the perfect partner for years of explorations to come. In fact, knowing this, he was encouraging me to get out and about even more than I had done previously.

I made sure that, for as long as I was with him, he would remain fit and would become very well trained. So day after day I would be out in the fields and eventually got to the point where he would follow commands using nothing but hand signals and a whistle, something that stayed well tuned for years. I unfortunately misplaced my whistle but the signals still worked a charm when he wanted them to.

Not too long after I had Pepper something happened that terrified me but later made me laugh. I was out walking with mum on the Waddesdon Estate when Pepper had crossed what is usually a very quiet road. I had taught him to lay down at the side of the road until I gave him a command to cross when it was clear, he would do this when he was both at my side and at a distance. This time however he had crossed to the other side, which was OK because as usual, the road was empty. Suddenly a car began approaching and I gave Pepper the command to lay down and stay where he was on the other side of the road, however this time he decided to ignore me and try to join me. As he was half way across the road the car slammed its brakes on but a little too late. It collided with Pepper, causing him to roll a few feet up the road. What makes me laugh though was his reaction. As if completely unaware, he just got back up and continued to run over to me, with little to no realisation whatsoever. My heart was racing as I quickly grabbed hold of him and started to check him over and to my relief he showed absolutely no sign of injury or distress and he just trotted off to start playing again.

That really summed this dog up perfectly, almost completely blasé to most things and more than happy to just carry on regardless. Much like myself actually.

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Another thing to mention about my dog’s strange behaviour is how he greets people. Most dogs just get excited to meet new people and some aren’t bothered either way. Pepper however appears to be excited at first, but often winds up hurting them, my male friends in particular. During the last few of years of school, my friends and I would spend almost most lunch breaks at my house drinking tea and, more than often, making pancakes. Upon entering I would release both dogs from the kitchen to meet everybody before they were then summoned to the garden for half an hour or so. Jersey (renamed Jess), would usually just wander in and back out again. Pepper, however, would usually go completely mental and for one friend especially, he would cause harm. He didn’t usually have a habit of jumping up at people but when he saw Dan (Flapjack making, photograph taking Dan who appears in many of my articles) he would jump up and seemingly on purpose land a fairly hard ‘punch’ to his walnuts. As soon as Dan was almost reeling on the floor in pain, Pepper would then saunter off back into the kitchen and out to the garden. Job done.

By now we have all seen the videos of the ‘guilty dogs,’ the ones that have trashed houses or eaten food they shouldn’t have whilst the owners are away. To many, facial expressions showing emotion and moods are still something quite human but seen in other animals such as apes for example. Of course there are the usual snarls and teeth baring you get with almost ever animal, but that’s more of a defence/offence instead of emotion. It’s amusing to see these facial expressions in these guilty dogs and one of the most expressive dogs I have ever seen is my own. I remember getting home from work one day to discover the kitchen rubbish bin had been torn apart and spread across the floor, and sat in the middle of it all was Pepper with the guiltiest face I have ever seen.

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You haven’t just come here to hear random things about my dog, especially on a page that is supposed to be about exploring the wilderness. Over the past 10 years we have been on many adventures. The Wye Valley and Mount Snowdon especially.

You may have read my piece on our Mount Snowdon trip already, so I won’t go into the details as such, but one thing worth noting is how well Pepper really did. At the time of climbing he was about 7 years old, I’d owned him since he was 18 months, so he wasn’t exactly unfit, but his performance made me seriously proud. From the word go he didn’t stop or slow down until we reached the summit and set up camp. I read in an article just this year in the telegraph (article linked below) about a man who had used GPS to measure how far his dog walked in comparison to himself. The end results showed that his dog walked twice as far as he did, on the same journey, which was roughly a circular route. In the case of Mount Snowdon, being a completely different terrain would of course alter the results if we were to do the same experiment, however I would bet money that it wouldn’t be much lower than twice the distance. For a 3500ft mountain, that to me is impressive. Combine the distance with the weather conditions; fierce winds, deep snow and freezing temperatures. That’s one tough cookie. The most worrying moment occurred when we had finally set the tent up and notice that Pepper was curled up on the snow falling asleep. I dumped all of my warm, dry clothes from my rucksack into the middle of the tent, wrapped him up  in them and spent the whole night with him curled into me asleep. I’ll add here that he had actually warmed up in about 10 minutes but does also seem to have a need to be in contact with somebody when he sleeps. This may link to a fear of the dark I suspect he has, but that’s an entirely different story.

I haven’t had a proper trek through the Wye Valley as such just yet, just a couple of day trips in the area walking down the river and around the Forest of Dean. I would recommend visiting the area if you haven’t done so already as the scenery is stunning. It had always been somewhere on my places to visit, so one Tuesday morning when I had the day off work I decided to pack a bag for the day and take the dog for a little spot of exploration. I found a lovely quiet place to leave the car and took off down towards the river. There were a couple tour boats cruising up and down occasionally, flanked by canoes and kayaks, but it was otherwise relatively quiet. I sat on the bank for a while in the sun throwing sticks further and further across the river for Pep to fetch. He’s a mean swimmer when he’s in the mood for it and was almost making the whole width of the river until it got to the point where the tour boats were appearing to be waiting for him to move out the way and the canoeists were paddling around him watching in awe as this Otter looking, fox-cat-dog swam between them. We then took a stroll up the valley into the woods, exploring off the track as much as we could until I found a spectacular viewpoint.

The viewpoint is a cliff edge that protrudes from the valley towards the river with a sheer drop all around. I thought it was best to secure Pep to a tree further back for safety. As soon as I got out onto the ledge however he started whining and barking at me so I only managed to get a couple of pictures before having to return back. As soon as I reached him he started jumping up and acting as if I’d left him for hours. Sometimes needy just isn’t the word. Being the type of person I am, I made the executive decision that the only way for the both of us to get to the bottom of the valley and back to the river would be to climb down the very steep slope instead of using a footpath. It was a case of having to slide from one tree to another to another, something that Pep grew quite fond of fairly quickly. He would wait at one tree for me to reach the next, then slide down to me and so on. We both dropped down into the middle of a footpath at the bottom right in front of a family who were out for a quiet stroll only to be disturbed by a man and his dog falling from the trees, caked in mud and landing at their feet. I dusted us both off and we crossed in front of the family and continued off the edge from the other side of the path and down to the river with no more than just a nod and a ‘good morning’.

So at this stage, I’m not too sure if you would have found the reason why I’ve written about my dog, but this is just an introduction if anything. He’ll pop up throughout my trips around I’m sure and there will be some more stories to tell. I may come across a bit horrible about him at times, but all I can say is that this dog is my little hairy buddy, who may be charmingly ugly and rather peculiar but they do say dogs are like their owners. Look at this face, how can you not love it? Am I glad that he picked me? More than ever.

(update from 02/05/2019)

Since writing this article sadly my beautiful dog is only with us in spirit and memories. I had to say a very tearful goodbye to him in November 2018.

Editing my articles is usually fine by me, but reading through the above piece about Pep and having to change some of it from present to past tense was very difficult. This article just seems like a load rambling on about stuff and doesn’t really touch on how much I loved this little guy and how much he touched and mended my soul an uncountable amount of times. He changed my life for better and will always hold an incredibly large place in my heart and memories.

I feel I must say that he really wasn’t as ugly as I kept saying. He was a beautiful dog with a beautiful, gentle and faithful soul and I really did love him.

 

 

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/12083059/Dogs-cover-twice-the-distance-as-their-walkers.html

The pioneer of the natural world: As seen in ‘Bushcraft Magazine’ Spring 2016

The ecology of the majority of the northern hemisphere has a lot to thank this little tree for, and so do we. The uses that these species possess are almost unbelievable, from furniture making to medicine, and everything in between. Throughout its entire life-cycle it is helping the survival of the environment and doesn’t stop even when it’s rotting into the ground…

Find out more and how these uses have been used for thousands of years in my article published in Bushcraft Magazine.

Bushcraft Magazine is a fantastic place to discover everything about hunting or foraging in the woods and what you can do with the environment around you. It’s all about trying to encourage people to start “reconnecting to the landscape”.

You’ll also find some great courses, events and blogs there too. So take a look at the website and subscribe to the magazine for all your bushcraft needs.