Posts Tagged Wildcamping

Back Before Going Again

Brecon Beacons

Originally uploaded by Sam Jolly

Just back from a great weekend hanging out with Little Brother. As planned I drove over to Bristol on Thursday evening after work. It’s a couple of hundred miles from mine to my brother’s house and the trip took about four hours with a short stop on the way.

I arrived around 9pm after a briefly worrying tour around the not so savoury back end of Bristol via a route I’d never been before thanks to my Nokia Sat Nav. Once we’d unloaded the van of my bike and camping gear we wandered down the road to get some food at a little Turkish Cafe.

Due to a shitty weather forecast we’d decided that we would drive over to Brecon in Wales first thing in the morning, do our bike ride, camp and return early on Saturday before the forecast rain and wind hit full force.

The ride was ace. Started off with a long descent on a little gravel path called the Taff Trail which took us all the way into Talybont at the end of the reservoir virtually without pedalling. Here we stopped at The Star pub to eat lunch. Unfortunately The Star doesn’t have access to their garden via a gate but kindly allowed us to wheel our bikes through the pub, past the bar and up the narrow little staircase leading into the garden! This little trek was made doubly amusing on the return path when just as I wheeled the bike to the top of the steps holding it up on it’s back wheel a small boy opened the door. In his sudden surprise at coming face to face with a very tall bike he let out a rather amusing ‘yyyeeeep’ noise, to which I laughed loudly making him recoil backwards with embarrassment while holding the door for me.

We took off in the same direction from which we’d came only this time we took another route along the Brinore Tramroad. This bit was particularly good incorporating several miles of very rocky and challenging uphill with a stream running towards us in some parts. The trail ran alongside fields and through large wooded expanses on the side of the hill and when it did end on an open gravel fire road I think we had the impression that the hard part was done.

That’s when we were faced with the longest, steepest climb ever to the top of Talybont hills. And when we’d finished that climb and thought it couldn’t get any worse we then endured a couple of hours dragging our bikes through wet knee high grass, sheep shit ridden, peat and bog hilltops incorporating three peaks before finally reaching the point of descent. Unfortunately most of that descent was not rideable either due to the lack of a trail and the multitude of ‘over the handlebar’ inducing lumps and dips. However, arriving at the bottom and stepping onto the road was made sweet by a huge feeling of accomplishment.

And once again just as we thought we might be able to relax the realisation of not actually being able to get our bikes up the steep rocky walking trail to the potential wild camp spot we’d bargained on set in. It was hard enough climbing up the narrow steps alongside the waterfall without the bike, let alone with the bike, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and all. We had to re-think and come up with another place to camp. Easier said than done.

Wild camping kind of requires that you stay hidden, out of the way of the general public and out of view of houses/cars etc. Tenting in itself requires a semi dry/flat spot on which to pitch your tent and none of these things were becoming immediately available. Even after just over an hour of cycling around with knackered legs and beaten arses we couldn’t find a suitable spot.

Finally a flat spot amongst some longish grass just off the road presented itself. I paused on the track with my bike as my brother made his way across the patch to check it out. As he was looking back a large bird of prey flew down into the grass in ahead of him becoming completely out of sight. I shouted and warned him it was there to which he responded ‘what’s it gonna do? scratch my eyes out?’

‘No’, I replied.. ‘I just thought I’d warn you so it didn’t frighten you when it flies off’

And it was at that moment after making some clicking noises with the brake on his bike that Sam was confronted with the big ass bird rising out of the grass to fly off in the opposite direction. Sam turned back to look at me and pointed as if to say ‘THAT, would be the super large bird waiting to scare the shit out of me you mentioned’

Fifteen minutes later we still had no camping spot and it was starting to get dark. We ended up returning to a dense patch of woods at one of the starting points to the Taff Trail which we’d originally decided against because of the incline we’d have been pitched on. However, without anywhere else to go we pitched our tents in between the trees on the worst slope ever. But, it was out of sight, well sheltered (if you didn’t consider falling trees and branches) and not far to go in the morning to reach the car.

Whilst pitching the tents the damp air and our sweaty faces were attracting swarms of what seemed to be little fruit flies. Bitey little fruit flies. They zig-zagged above our heads and around our hands and legs persistently attempting to land and when they did it felt like sharp little pin pricks stabbing every centimeter of skin. The more we swatted at the flies the more arrived. My legs were under attack because I was wearing shorts and as I slid my sleeping bag into the tent through the smallest zip opening possible I looked over to watch my brother disolve into a fit of face slapping and irritated groaning as he became engulfed in a small cloud of these tiny little flies. I conceded defeat after a couple more minutes, even giving up on the idea of cooking anything to eat and ended up zipping myself up in the confines of my fly proof inner tent. For the next 15 minutes Sam could be heard a few feet away in his tent randomly clapping and then with his torch switched on he squished every last bug as it flew into the beam of light.

I didn’t sleep more than an hour combined. If I wasn’t fighting to stay in my sleeping bag which kept sliding down, I had trouble staying on the sleeping mat which stayed put while I ended up in a ball at the foot of the tent. I was cold to the bone. I had more clothes to put on but in my foggy overtired head the action of unzipping the sleeping bag to grab the even colder clothes out of my backpack was not computing as making the most sense and therefore, I continued to lay awake and freeze. It wasn’t until after 6am that I finally drifted off properly and began dreaming about a giant Emu pecking around my tent. I awoke a short while later to hear Sam up and about, zipping zips and moving his sleeping bag around.

So far it wasn’t raining but by the time we both got up, dressed and packed away a fine mist of rain was falling. We scooted down the road to the carpark where I felt relief to find my van still sporting a full tank of diesel and four wheels. I was also relieved to find my can of deodorant in the back and hastily sprayed some on while Sam scoffed that he was ‘pine fresh’ from having slept in the spooky woods.

I ate Couscous for breakfast and my brother had boiled beef stew and dumplings in a bag (looked as apertising as it sounds). He described it tasting like half time meat pies from the football stadium. We’d run out of water so we were boiling water from the stream which to my dismay housed tiny freshwater shrimps – How could I boil seamonkies alive?

Unfortunately I had to and so some of the seamonkies became part of my Moroccan Couscous meal while the rest were transported back to Bristol in my Hydration Pack where they became part of the city sewer system via the kitchen sink. I actually had a GUILT COMPLEX over this for more than a day.

Sunday morning arrived and so did the outcome of two nights ago spent smacking ourselves in the face during the invasion of the fruit flies. They hadn’t been fruit flies, they’d been midges. Those tiny six legged biting swarming buggers that I thought only lived in Scotland. My brothers face proved it as groups of little red bites became apparent all over his face, arms and hands. I’d woken earlier in the morning to very scratchy legs and found several bites around my ankes. By the end of the day Sam’s forehead looked like a terrain map of the alps with multiple bites following his hairline and even some in his hair. If you could read braile his forehead probably spells:

‘I went for a weekend in Wales and all I got were these lousy bites’

As far as visiting the Bristol Balloon Fiesta on Sunday went it was a wash out as rain and wind cancelled the balloonage. We took a short ride around Ashton Court and nearly took some photos of the dreary looking closed fairground rides but the rain started blowing in harder so we rode off and took shelter in a cafe in town. Little Brother bought me breakfast and we sat on the covered porch watching the rain and the world go by for a while.

I got back home in three hours and am now awaiting the influx of letters from the DVLA telling me about all the fines and points I’ve received from blasting through all the complicated average speed zones and speed cameras on the M25 and particularly the M25/M4 Junction.

I now have 2 days to get stuff washed, packed and organised ready to go to THE OUTER HEBRIDES. We’re leaving on Wednesday evening to begin the 12 hour drive to the top of the Isle of Skye where we’ll catch the ferry across to hopefully some kind weather (I realise it’s not going to be warm and trust me when I say I’ve double packed woolly tights and socks for sleeping in!) and a severe lack of people! Then let the fun and games begin.

Here are the rides we did tracked with my Nokia Sports Tracker – Unfortunately split into 2 due to battery failure on my mobile!

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An Adventure

That old chestnut - SPD pedals and trainers.... Amateur!

That old chestnut - SPD pedals and trainers.... Amateur!

This weekend was the weekend we’d planned to ride the South Downs Way. I don’t want to bore you with all the details but due to equipment difficulties and the need to extend our time for the Outer Hebrides and a few other trips planned this month we decided to do something closer to home, thus also saving the money to put towards the other trips.

We decided to ride to a coastal location about 30 miles from here. Shingle Street is at Hollesley Bay, Suffolk and this stretch of wild and desolate beach has always been a favourite place for me. Mainly because very few people go there. There is no sand, no blue waters, no fairground attractions or tacky shops and no frills. Just a rough, moody unspoilt expanse of shingle beach stretching between one village and another.

The trip was on/off for most of the day yesterday. The failure of our bike racks to be delivered by City Link coupled with the rather wet/windy/stormy weather forecast looming over us made it hard to decide what to do. Even a 30 mile bike ride to the coast could be turned into a soaking wet horrorfest if we decided to leave just as the good old British weather dumped it’s guts on us.

Decision made we left late afternoon with a planned 3 hours to get to our destination where we’d still have to find a discreet place to wild camp for the night.

3 hours 9 minutes later we arrived having had a pleasant, dry and even sunny trip the entire journey. The only eventful moment was when I rode straight through the stream from a leaking manhole cover where I then enjoyed a face and mouthful of sewage water which Wil found extremely amusing.

Secluded Spot - Shingle Street

Secluded Spot - Shingle Street

We found a little flat hideaway spot miles from houses in either direction on the beach and not far from the sea defence footpath but out of view. We dumped the bikes and heated up some water to make Wil’s potnoodle and my couscous meal and waited for the sun to start setting before we put the tent up.

It was the first time using our new 2 man tent but with only 2 poles and a handful of pegs it took minutes to erect and soon after we both crawled inside to get out of the mosquitos which had suddenly swarmed the area.

I set an alarm for 7am in order to get up and out before anyone walked past but it wasn’t needed. We had a terrible nights sleep – at first being hot, then cold, then too hot and with the both of us used to sleeping in a kingsized bed the confined quarters made for a challenging night of shoulders and knees. Eventually at 5am I got up and was so glad I did because it was just in time to catch the sunrise over the sea.

By 7am we were cleared away and by 8am we were fed, watered and on our way again. Instead of taking the same route home we opted to bike down to Bawdsey where we caught the Deben Ferry across to Felixstowe.

The ferry crosses the mouth of the river Deben where it meets the sea and although it’s only 200 meters or so to the other side there is a charge of £3.50 for yourself and your bike to be taken one way – rather hefty considering the distance but your other option is to go miles inland before a bridge is available. We got to the jetty about an hour before the ferry started and parked ourselves on a small wooden bench. A couple of road bikers cycled in to check the ferry timetable, stopping to chat to us on the way back.

Waiting for the ferry at Bawdsey

Waiting for the ferry at Bawdsey

The last time I used this ferry it was run by an old man who rowed the boat across the river with oars, he himself possessing two arms like the trunks of an oak tree. The roadies asked if we were waiting for the ferry, we said we were and one of them chuckled “the captain is a grumpy old bugger, have fun with that”.

Their observation of the ferry boat captain became blatently apparent as we stood on the jetty watching the small white engine powered boat edge closer. He was a different man to the one with oak tree arms but possessed a dark red face and a scowl as though he had a mouthfull of wasps. Even the whites of his eyes were red giving him the appearence of a man who spent 100’s of years battered by the coastal wind and salt water. He didn’t say anything to anyone as he moored, instead he turned to the wooden bench lining the opposite side of the boat, picked up 3 dead fish and lobbed them into the water and then began meticulously cleaning down the area in which they’d sat. Grabbing a large key he stepped off the boat and stomped off up the jetty without muttering a word and followed by the eyes of the 3 other people in the queue waiting to board.

Once in Felixstowe we headed for The Alex for a good coffee and breakfast before cycling the remaining 25 miles home in a strong head wind.

Luck doesn’t come our way often but it was greatly apparent this weekend allowing everything to run smoothly and all the rotten forecast weather to pass us by leaving us in the path of sunshine wherever we went.

Well earned breakfast

Well earned breakfast

That is, until we arrived home where the sky, as though it’d had it’s legs crossed the entire time we were gone suddenly burst open and hasn’t stopped pissing down yet!

More photos of our trip on my Flickr site.

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