HIKING AND GRIEF: A PERSONAL JOURNEY

From reading posts on the Long Distance Hiker website and Facebook group, it’s clear that trekking across the countryside holds many advantages for our wellbeing. The mind clears, the heart calms, the soul uplifts and the body benefits: the effects are both re-energising and empowering. So, when life smacks you in the face, it’s time to get those boots on and head out the door.

Sometimes, though, it’s not as simple as that. Sometimes, things happen that just don’t give us a chance to rely on our regular coping mechanisms. In such cases, it’s how we adjust to circumstances that matters. And walking can certainly play a part in that.

DAD

Our Dad passed away peacefully in early August after a few months of declining health. During the final few weeks, my siblings and I took turns in caring for him day and night. Everything else in life became very secondary. Then, when he passed away, having to deal with grief, sort the funeral and clear his home affected us emotionally in ways that we couldn’t have known before.

Up until this time, I’d always found that an afternoon spent in the local woods or walking along the Thames was enough to reset my mind, so that I’d come back a functioning adult. But time felt so compacted and also stretched in this period that walking and nature weren’t helping me process matters.

Then in early September, on one of the rare occasions I felt like reading, I came across a chapter in ’52 Ways To Walk’ by Annabel Streets that explained walking briskly each day during times of high tension is a great way to counter stress. The walk needs to be for at least twelve minutes as this allows the chemicals in the body to have the necessary effect.

Understanding this gave me a renewed purpose in my walks: suddenly what had been a routine walk with muddled thoughts through my town, now became a near-meditative experience that helped build resolve. Reading that simple and effective information formed the crucial moment in which I dealt with my grief in a more gentle way.

Soon, my body and mind were craving a return to the countryside, and, more specifically, to trek along bodies of water.

THE RIVER OF LIFE

Whilst I researched how to cope with grief, I came across the River Of Life. This analogy suggests that as we flow along in life certain events will throw us completely off course, e.g. death, unemployment and homelessness. The important thing is that we somehow keep moving, even if it feels like we’ve hit rapids, rocks or are heading for a waterfall. A person may feel endangered and in jeopardy, but movement is the key to survival.

I found this quote on www.sidebysideuae.com which I found quite consoling:

“We can all take wisdom from the river – it personifies that moving while challenged is at the core of what wisdom really is – No matter what obstacle comes my way, be it mental, be it physical, I’m going to direct my flow in the direction I want it to go.”

Again, something that I’d read had influenced me, and it was time to footslog along the River Thames again.

IN THE FLOW

Over the following two weeks, I completed a solo hike along the Thames and walked half of the Blackwater Valley Path with a mate. I often recited the above quote to myself to totally immerse myself on these river walks. I’m not totally sure how or why this approach to dealing with my grief worked, but being in nature and a change of mindset left me feeling I could begin to cope better.

WALKIE TORQUAY

Hiking provides substance and purpose. Putting one foot in front of the other has so much holistic value. These thoughts were the deeper wisdom that I’d gained, and it was only natural to expand upon them. In addition, by actually taking the River Of Life analogy and putting it into practice on hikes, I recognised that I was nurturing myself as a person.

With this clarity, I decided the best thing I could do to further my understanding was to pummel my legs into oblivion by heading to the coast for a few days. After looking at a few options, I found an inexpensive and highly-rated B&B in Torquay. When travel day came, I zipped out my front door quicker than a cheetah with its backside on fire.

My dad was a funny, uncomplicated Irishman who lived life by his own rules and didn’t worry about the future. These traits were how I’d conduct myself on this break: have a laugh, keep it straightforward, and plan nothing in advance. So, on the first evening in my hotel room, I wrote down the names of the four places I’d visit – Torquay, Brixham, Paignton and Dawlish – on four separate bits of paper and put them into a sock. Then, I swung the sock above my head for a few seconds, put my hand in and my first destination was revealed.

DAY 1: DAWLISH

After alighting at the train station, I marched along the stream at the heart of the town centre. I followed it’s course for a couple of miles before reaching a Norman church that marked my turnaround point. From there, I headed towards the terracotta cliffs. I pondered if the sharp climbs would exhaust my legs for the days ahead, but looking out to the gentle sea on this blue sky day was enough to resuscitate my pins.

The highlight of this day, though, wasn’t anything to do with hiking or nature: sitting on the beach, being still and munching on a homity pie overloaded my senses!

DAY 2: BRIXHAM

I didn’t venture along clifftops or a beach on this day, but instead walked along the bustling harbour and an impossibly long pier. By the end of my time here, it astounded me that I’d knocked up nearly ten miles from wondering around this harbour town.

DAY 3: PAIGNTON

Walking up and down the cliff sides of the South West Coastal Path, I checked in on how I was doing: calmer than I’d been in the last few weeks. I just allowed my mind to flow unhindered to where it needed to be. With Dad’s presence as resounding as the wave breaks against the rocks below, I realised that grief is a very personal journey, and very much as uproarious or serene as the sea itself. This comprehension was an answer I’d been looking for without knowing it. Accepting this further wisdom was key to me coping.

DAY 4: TORQUAY

The sea views calmed and mesmerised me. I understood that bodies of water played a central role to me dealing with my grief – and hiking underpinned that. Furthermore, I grasped that the importance of being by the sea, a river or a stream was that by observing the flow of water, on a deeper level I was keeping myself in the flow of life. This was another sprinkle of wisdom that I cherished in my heart.

Another ten-miler through the town’s hilly streets and along the beach left me more battered than the cod in a seafront chippy. A gentle Irish voice sang in my head: “Go to the pub, son. Go to the pub.” After a couple of pints, I’d recuperated and noticed the enduring lightening of my mood carrying on from the previous days.

And with this, I toasted my dad in the full knowledge that I’d found a way to cope with my grief.

NEXT UP

My family and I travel to Ireland in December to lay our Dad’s ashes next to his mum’s grave. You’ll be home to rest, Dad. Every time I hike near water, I know you’ll always be close.

To anybody reading this, I heartily recommend a good long river or coastal walk the next time difficult situations arise. Hiking and spending time in nature truly have the ability to help us overcome adversity and the challenges of life, and help us to build fortitude.

Dyspraxia, hiking and me

NORTHUMBERLAND ROCKS

After I visited Northumberland last autumn, I decided to visit the county again to visit Marshall Meadows, the most northerly point of the county and England. So, I booked and paid for a B&B in Berwick-upon-Tweed for this May. Then, after reading posts in the UK Long Distance Hiker Facebook group, I became inspired to research trekking the Northumberland Coastal Path (NCP).

Northumberland won my heart over after my first visit with its rugged beauty in Hadrian’s Wall Country. So, as I poured over the maps and guides to plan my NCP route in the weeks before my return, I could sense the anticipation rising steadily within me. I’d be reliant on public transport for this trip as I don’t drive, so I made a habit of checking bus times meticulously and often. As time went by, I felt confident that my planning had put me in good stead.

May soon came. After spending a couple of days exploring Newcastle and Tyneside, including a ‘warm-up’ walk around Whitley Bay in which I completely lost all sense of direction, I found myself in Berwick primed and ready for action.

On the first day, I did a short but brisk hike up to Marshall Meadows to achieve my aim of reaching this furthest point of England. I loved that coastal walk, even if the path was perilously close to the edge in parts. The highlight was seeing dolphins leaping in front of a pleasure boat. The whole experience left me buzzing for what lay ahead.

Marshall Meadows at the border with Scotland

Straight after I completed the trek to Marshall Meadows, I spread out my map of the NCP on my bed at the B&B, and checked the route I was going to undertake from Creswell to Warkworth. Satisfied, I then packed my bag before going over the bus timetable again. It was only then that I stared aghast at the information before me as if a werewolf had jumped out of the wardrobe. I scanned the times again and again, but all the scanning in the universe wasn’t going to recover the obvious mistake I’d made.

Best Laid Plans….

Whatever way I looked at it, the bus times didn’t match up to the proposed start or finish times of my hikes. Also, for some end points there wasn’t actually a bus stop there! I spent the next hour or so trying to reshape the walks, and consulting my guides. Maybe there was a way around this, but I couldn’t see it. But I knew the reason why it’d occurred.

HIKING AND MY LEARNING DISABILITY

Dyspraxia is a learning disability that has impacted me since childhood, although I was diagnosed at the age of thirty. It means that I have difficulty in areas such as organisation, coordination and retaining information. For instance, I couldn’t tie up my shoe laces until I was 15 years old. There’s definitely a gap between the knowledge I need to learn new skills and the practical application of it. And sometimes I miss the completely obvious.

All of this can be very frustrating. In the past, there would’ve been times when I’d have wanted to bury myself under my duvet. But hiking in the great outdoors is a hobby that has given me, as it has so many people, a release from the challenges I face in life. Since I took country walking up in 2016, I’ve learnt to adapt around issues that are caused by my dyspraxia. An example of this would be an innate ability to lose my way on hikes, but I’ve learnt to have faith in myself through sheer determination and continually putting myself out there in the countryside. It doesn’t make the regular issue of getting lost disappear; it just makes it easier to deal with.

THE POWER TO ADAPT AND BE CREATIVE

Hiking hasn’t only given me the gift of having more belief in myself to overcome challenges and deal with situations (caused by dyspraxia or otherwise); it has helped me become more creative to achieve solutions. I’m not sure if this is to do with the empowering effect that spending time in nature offers, or if the new skills sets I’ve learnt from this hobby have caused me to think in different ways. What I am aware of, though, is that if my brain does become befuddled, then peace of mind is just a hill or river or forest away as I work to reach my trail goals – even if the goalposts move occasionally, like they did with the NCP.

So, after that dive-under-the-duvet feeling subsided, I took myself off to the pub – the place where all important decisions must be made – and I began to re-plan my holiday with extra vim and brandy. I studied Google Maps, bus times and my two guide books twice that night, and twice again the following morning before committing to my new plans.

NEW WALKS, NEW PURPOSE

With Cresswell to Warkworth off the itinerary, I head over the border to the village of St Abbs in Scotland for Day 3 of my rebranded Great Northern Tour. Okay, this was on the Berwickshire Coastal Path and not the NCP. But after explaining my predicament to a couple in the pub the night before, they explained that a day in St Abbs would inspire me for the rest of my stay.

And they weren’t wrong!

After jumping off the bus in the village – and returning to the bus stop a couple of times to make sure I had the correct time of departure – I headed to the visitor’s centre to see if they had any maps of local walks. I was handed a map of the Lighthouse Loop, and was told by an informative lady that the cliffs were the second highest in Britain. She also explained that St Abbs had been used as the setting for New Asgard in one of the Thor or Avengers Assemble films. Those two facts were enough to convince me that this was the route I’d be taking.

When setting out on any new walk, the fear rises in me that I’ll become lost again. But the map was accurately detailed, and my confidence boosted with every step. It was a welcome way to put my recent errors behind me. I was greeted by several friendly faces along this walk, so I felt confident if I needed to ask for directions.

Although this was a testing hike along steep clifftops on a very rainy day, I was rewarded with endless views out to sea and of remote sandy beaches that I wish I’d had the time to explore. St Abbs Head itself was a very picturesque viewpoint and, despite the rain, I did sit there for a bit to basque in it all and eat cake.

After heading past the lighthouse, I began the inland return leg back to St Abbs village through a spectacular hilly valley where sheep grazed lazily. In places the ground was spongy, so I had to slow my steps to prevent me bouncing down an incline. Soon, I footslogged it along a lake surrounded by woodland before one final ascent back along the cliffs to the village.

Exhilaration engulfed me as I walked through the village – via the bus stop to check my departure time again – and down to the picturesque harbour. Here, I enjoyed a fresh crab sandwich, which the cafe owner told me is a local delicacy. It was a real treat after such an inspiring walk, and it made up for not seeing any Norse gods!

Regrettably and reluctantly, I made my way back to wait for the bus. I noticed signs for the Berwickshire Coastal Path, and told myself that this is definitely an area for future exploration – just so long as I can get my travel arrangements right next time!

New Asgard, Here I Come
St Abbs

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE GOES A LONG WAY

After I returned from St Abbs, the landlady at my B&B asked me how the day had been. I explained my travel hiccups and my revised plans. She suggested that I should take a walk from Berwick over the bridge to Tweedmouth along to Cocklawburn beach for day four. She also advised that as the NCP is sixty-four miles long, I should focus on walking that number of miles or more with my new schedule. That way I’d psychologically benefit from knowing I could at least cover that distance in the same number of days.

The chat with my landlady convinced me that maybe I wouldn’t be so reliant on the bus after all as there were an abundance local walks around Berwick.

I stepped out early the next morning through the warren-like streets of Berwick, over the bridge and hugged the river tight as I marched along to Spittal beach. Here, I stopped for a drink, but the can of coke I’d bought had become so shaken up in my bag that it exploded all over my trousers! Thankfully, it was a sunny day, so I changed into my shorts in the public loo before cracking on.

After clearing Spittal beach with its army of dogs and their owners out in full force, I climbed upward past a row of houses and along the NCP proper for the first time. To my right trains roared past along the track in front of endless farm fields; to my left, the silvery grey North Sea rolled like a giant sheet of tin foil in a gentle wind. Here and there, when I looked down the cliffs, I espied alluring deserted beaches that made me want to escape the rat race.

It occurred to me then that I’d be alone for a time. However, just as I hoped this would remain, a herd of cyclists began the people stampede that remained a feature for the rest of the walk. Still, I amused every so often by saying ‘They went that way’ and pointing in the other direction when different groups of joggers with numbered vests running a race past by!

I liked this path because it was wide, set back from the cliff edge and not as steep as St Abbs. And as I passed a large isolated house perched perilously close to the land’s edge, it was here I realised I’d been in a state of flow on this walk for sometime: I’d been unaware of life’s issues – moreover, unaffected by my learning disability – and blissfully engaged with all that nature had to offer. This was the feeling that I’d hope to gain on doing a long distance hike, and knowing that it was possible made stepping out of my comfort zone so worthwhile.

I moved on then, and spent time treapsing barefoot along Cocklawburn beach. I loved the sensation of the cool sand beneath my feet along this beautiful, seemingly sparsely visited stretch of coast. After washing my feet with a bottle of water, I did the return journey back to Berwick, deciding to go full throttle as much as possible to see the most northerly lighthouse in the country. It was a straight route there and back and involved no buses, so there was no danger of my oft tangled mind going into overdrive and causing a mini mental meltdown.

Cocklawburn Beach
House On The Edge
The Last Lighthouse In England

Sunday Morning Call

I felt that I bounced back well after my initial planning fiasco. The last few days had been simultaneously physically demanding and mentally rewarding. Hitting my flow zone made me realise that long distance hiking was something that was in my bones. Despite this, though, I always experienced the fear of getting lost, even at my most relaxed. However, if I was truly going to push beyond my perception of dyspraxia defining me, I knew there was only one solution: to walk more.

So, on my final day I decided to stay around Berwick – partly because I didn’t trust bus travel on Sundays with a reduced timetable – and headed inland along the River Tweed. The powder blue sky, gentle breeze and calm waters set the scene for near-perfect conditions for the walk.

Berwick is famous for its three bridges – pedestrian, vehicle and train – and the iconic trio dominated the views of this hike.I exited by the pedestrian bridge onto the coastal path. Although I welcome any kind of incline to test my legs, I was glad this walk started flat. To my left, the wooded slopes of Coronation Park called, but I wanted to see as much of the River as possible. I passed a dilapidated boat structure that had been made out of old logs and branches, perhaps some kind of plaything. I wanted to be a kid again and play on it and stomp my feet in the muddy banks. But on this last day, I focused on eating up the miles.

After a few kilometres, the path finally rose upwards into woodland. I realised here that having dyspraxia gifted me the experience of discovering new places like this. Thinking this helped me understand that I should see any issues arising from it as challenges that could be overcome. Hiking provides me with the creativity and answers to develop the resilience and perservere in enjoying the outdoors. Sure, it was a shame that I hadn’t experienced the NCP more; however, Northumberland is a jewel of a county, and I know I’ll have many more adventures here.

Revelations clarified, I ambled through the woods and back on the river path, past isolated riverside cottages and up to a farm that marked my turnaround point. I returned to Berwick, and marched to my favourite end point for any hike: the pub!

The Muddy Banks Of The Tweed
Clear Head Space
The Berwick Railway Bridge

LESSONS LEARNT

Whilst dyspraxia has a limiting effect on me, hiking has a way of empowering me to create positive solutions. This, in turn, helps me to accept my limitations and work with them. When I think like this I can truly stretch myself and move into a state of flow. As such, hiking has given me a refreshed understanding of how I understand dyspraxia and myself. I think that this also contributes to me having a renewed purpose in life.

If I’m travelling from A to Z, I might have to travel through B, C and D and the rest of the alphabet to where I need to be. It might take a while longer, and involve a lot of replanning. It might mean that I do a multi-day hike in different locations rather than a complete national trail from time to time. But none of this is bad if it helps me to discover new places in a county like Northumberland.

The Yorkshire Dales Top 10

The Yorkshire Dales Top 10 is an unofficial route that encompasses the top 10 mountains of the Yorkshire Dales. It does so by starting and finishing in Hawes and covers about 79 miles. The trail itself is quite challenging and often cuts across moorland and up steep embankments.

I decided to depart on the trail In January 2022 with the aim of doing it over 3-4 days.

The mountains the trail covers are (in order of Height):

  1. Whernside – 736m
  2. Ingleborough – 724m
  3. Great Shunner Fell – 716m
  4. High Seat – 709m
  5. Wild Boar Fell – 708m
  6. Great Whernside – 704m
  7. Buckden Pike 702m
  8. Gregory Chapel 695m
  9. Pen-Y-Ghent – 694m
  10. Hugh Seat – 689m

I did these in a slightly different order which I’ll cover below.

Day 1

I started the day early morning, parking my car in Hawes. I put my boots on and hit the trail heading along the Pennine way towards Hardraw. Once there I began my ascent up the third highest peak of Great Shunner Fell.

The trail is well marked at this point and is a case of following the Pennine Way to the summit. It isn’t too challenging as it covers about 4 miles before the summit. The weather was shining bright, and the views were amazing as I travelled at a leisurely pace along the flagstones. Considering it was January, it wasn’t too boggy, and I found it easy going.

At the summit I was feeling fresh and enjoyed the amazing views, I sat and aired my feet out and took the time to eat some food. A couple of other guys came and chilled with me, they were doing another trail and we enjoyed a good conversation before they headed back down as one had lost his car keys on the ascent.

Next for me was a Western path along an unmarked area and across the open hill and moorland towards Hugh Seat, High Seat and Gregory Chapel.

I descended a couple of hundred metres and had to traverse some very rough ground with no discernible path available. I managed to avoid most of the heavy bog and peat soil erosion areas before ascending Gregory Chapel and then onto High Seat. I realized on my way back past Gregory Chapel, that I had missed Hugh Seat.

Luckily it was a short way off the unmarked path I was already following along a riverbed. I decided on taking the direct route straight up the hill and to High Seat, simple right!

Wrong!

As always with a Mike shortcut, it went tragically wrong and turned out to be a terrible decision, and one that I paid for.

As I was hiking down a section before the final ascent, I noticed a flat patch of sphagnum moss and thought to myself, this looks like an ideal place to pitch my tent. I should have thought to myself why would there be a perfectly flat section on a hill. Unfortunately, I didn’t, and I stepped well above my waist with momentum carrying me forward into a Sphagnum bog. Luckily, I managed to stop myself from submerging completely with my hiking pole, but this changed my whole trip.

After dragging myself out of the bog and having an angry spat I calmed and assessed my situation. I decided that as it was winter, and my boots were now soaked along with all the clothes I had on, it was best to take a long tiring walk back to the car and switch out my gear for trail runners and my spare clothes in the pack.

I finished ascending Hugh Seat and set back along the open moorland towards the side of Great Shunner Fell. It was slow going but the views were absolutely amazing and as much as I was cold and wet, I enjoyed the tough ground and made sure not to repeat my mistake.

I finally found a farmers track that led through Cotterdale and I was able to follow a small trail back to the Pennine way just before Hardraw.

The section from Hardraw to Hawes was tough on my feet and the wet boots were taking their toll on them. I could feel the blisters bubbling now and knew that I wouldn’t be able to complete the route as I had hoped and so would have to adapt my plan.

Once back at the car I changed out my clothes and reassessed my situation and what I would do.

Ultimately, I decided on car camping and driving to the mountains, with the aim of completing each of the remaining 6 as fast as possible.

I scored some pub food and then drove over to Wild Boar fell which would be my 5th on the trail and slept the night in my car near the base.

Day 2

I woke up early and decided to hit Wild Boar fell with a vengeance, I think I was just taking my frustration out on the incline and summited within an hour. The views were amazing on the way up and it looked like a mini version of the Matterhorn from the route I had taken.

Once at the top I spotted some cool cairns and had to take a small detour to check them out. So glad I did as they were beautiful and so unusual in their layout. I chilled at the top enjoying the beautiful sunshine before heading over to the trig point which marks the highest point.

I decided to have a little run back down and was making good time until I took a bit of a tumble and rolled a good 15m downhill across the frozen ground. Luckily, the only thing damaged was my pride. I opted for a brisk walk back down after that and quickly found myself back at the car with 5 out of 10 ticked off.

I decided to assault Whernside next and parked at the legendary Ribblehead viaduct. Unfortunately, once over the pass from Hawes Whernside and Ingleborough were completely steeped in clouds making the area seem very formidable.

I made my way up Whernside following the Yorkshire 3 peaks route which was very familiar to me from the Dales High Way. I made quick time and considering the weather, the trail was still busy. As I got higher, the wind became strong and was absolutely freezing against my skin. I pulled my hood tight and pressed on, I soon found myself above the cloud base and the views were spectacular as the clouds rolled over the mountains and hills in the distance. I soon summitted and enjoyed a little rest bite before snapping a couple of pics.

I could make out the peak of Ingleborough as the cloud base ascended over the top which was brilliant to see. I quickly descended towards Chapel-le-Dale and made my way along the path towards Ingleborough.

I met an awesome lady who I spent 5 minutes chatting to, she was leading her friends back down from Ingleborough and told me the views were amazing up top. This boosted my spirits and abated my fatigue as I was able to make my way up the steep scramble before the summit. I spent some time here, watching the clouds roll over the hills around me and felt truly blessed to have witnessed it.

I made my way to the summit of Ingleborough and chilled at the top speaking to people who were sat up there.

After a while I decided that I had best start heading back down and chose to opt for a descent via Simon and Park fell. The route was straight forward and followed a very steep section along a wall down to the road near to where I had parked the car.

I debated heading over to Pen-Y-Ghent but my stomach decided against it and I made a night of it at the Station inn, where I spent the night in the bunkhouse.

Day 3

I woke up before dawn and set off towards Pen-Y-Ghent which would be my 8th mountain out of the 10. I decided on taking the less severe route up as it was icy and I wasn’t sure about the scramble near the top. The path was lit with the beautiful shine from the moonlight and It was almost as if the great moon goddess herself was guiding me. I was feeling very fatigued by this point and had pains and groans in most parts of my body but I pushed onwards regardless.

As I ascended I could see the faint glow from the coming sunrise and hoped I could outpace the light to the summit. Luckily, when I reached the trig point at the top I was in luck and I got to witness a beautiful sunrise that lit up Great Whernside like a beacon.

I chilled here for a little stretch before making a quick descent down the Pennine Way and into Horton in Ribblesdale.

My next and 9th peak was to be Buckden Pike which I’ve not summited before. I parked in the carpark and noticed how much colder it was here in comparison to Pen-Y-Ghent. I made haste as I knew the ascent and pace would warm me considerably.

As I went up I noted how remote it felt in this area considering I was crossing farmland. The path was frozen which aided me and kept me from getting wet feet. As I ascended I met a guy who was building one of the dry stone walls that are dotted around the Dales. I stopped and watched him for a good ten minutes as I was mesmerized by his swiftness and skill before carrying on my way upwards.

The path was getting ever steeper and I knew I wasn’t far off the summit now, so I carried on slowly. I reached the summit absolutely shattered but knowing I only had 1 peak remaining.

I watched the sky from the summit almost hypnotised by the rolling clouds that formed such pretty shapes, thinking I was literally in them the day before whilst summiting Ingleborough and Whernside.

I made quick work of my descent and soon found myself back in the carpark ready for the final challenge of my trip.

I parked up in Kettlewell and made a very hasty and steep ascent of Great Whernside. I thought I was ready for a direct attack but man was it steep.

I followed an unnamed stream all the way to the summit which was tough going and slower than I would have liked as my legs were completely shattered by this point.

I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and a quick check of my watch showed it hitting well over 180bpm but I persevered nonetheless, slowly making my way up the steep embankment. Eventually I reached the summit and was greeted by a group of people who looked surprised by the route I had taken up. I had a quick chat and told them I’d done all 10 peaks now and they snapped a pic of me atop the trig point which turned out well.

I left them and descended via the route I had taken up. It didn’t take half as long and I was down within a short period and soon finished with my peak bagging trip.

I hope you all enjoyed reading about the highs and lows of my trip and even though it didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped, I enjoyed every second of it and wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Remember to tap me up on Instagram if you want to follow more of my trips @pack_backer

Peace out and happy trails.

The Dales High Way

With an Alternate End

The Dales High Way is an 89-mile thru-hike running from Saltaire near Leeds and heading North up to Appleby-in-Westmorland covering over 12,200 feet of ascent. The trail covers beautiful moorland that has beautiful stone age rock art, leading into the Yorkshire Dales proper and covering the beautiful limestone landscape around Malham. The trail then heads up the awe-inspiring Ingleborough mountain before dropping down and heading across a beautiful ridge along the back of Whernside before descending into a beautiful valley and back up again into the Howgill Fells. The trail then heads across farm and moorland towards Appleby via the Eden valley.

I chose an alternate route where the trail meets the Coast to Coast near Newbiggin on Lune and headed East through the Eden valley and into Kirkby Stephen.

Day 1

I started my journey in Saltaire with the sun shining for about 3 minutes. The skies decided to open before I left the beautiful canal path, so I spent much of the day wrapped up in my gore-tex to keep dry. The trail really came into its own within a couple of miles and I ascended into the Ilkley moors where there is beautiful stone age artwork dotted about. The trail drops down from the moors and skirts Ilkley following a beautiful ridgeline that gives stunning views across valleys.

The next section drops down towards Addingham before ascending into some fantastically remote moorlands and heading down into Skipton where I scored a little bit of warm food and a drink. The rain was still lashing it down at this point and I decided to change my socks, rub some Vaseline in and head out back into the moors. I ascended Sharp Haw and skirted the edge of Rough Haw before heading back down into the more populated area of Hetton (I say populated, it’s just a few houses). The next section took me past Winterburn reservoir which I noticed had a very low water level before starting the long walk up to Weets Top (414m). Once I had finished my ascent, I headed back down into the beautiful limestone valleys that surround Malham and Gordale. I decided to spend the night at the campsite at the foot of Gordale scar, which was so beautiful when I woke up.

Day 2

I woke up aching quite badly and noticed a few niggles in my right foot, which I hoped would ease up once I got going. I took a little wander down to Gordale scar and snapped a few shots, before packing up my gear having a quick wash in the river, and heading up to the top of the mighty Malham Cove. A bit of trivia for Gordale and Malham here: They were formed during the last glacial period when the ice sheets were melting. This happened as small rivers created channels through the limestone that lead into huge bodies of water cutting their way through the rocks until finally what was left was the likes of Gordale scar and Malham cove.

I sat atop the cove and had some breakfast whilst looking out into the beautiful day ahead. A truly magical place that should be on the bucket list to visit.

I cracked on and followed the trail across the beautifully scarred limestone hills and noticed my first glimpse of Ingleborough looming in the distance and still a good 20 miles away. I remember thinking to myself I’ll be hitting that at some point in the early evening when I’m tired out.

Next was the descent into Settle where I met a lovely lady who shared a cup of tea with me and chatted about hiking and our mutual obsession with hoarding gear.

I soon left Settle and found myself following the River Ribble before ascending the hills once more and heading over to Feizor where I scored some water, a couple of drinks, and a few snacks.

I then began the slow ascent of Ingleborough which I noted as being about 11 miles from this point and was a never-ending upwards slog. I had beautiful views of the mountain and spent a few minutes chatting to people on the Yorkshire 3 peaks as I was going up.

Once at the top I admired the views for miles around and thought about pitching at the top. Alas, it was a little too busy, so I dropped down towards Chapel Le Dale and spent the night at the campsite near the foot of Whernside. Even managed a hot shower!

Day 3

I had crushed around 50 miles by this point and the constant up and down of the dales had taken its toll on my right foot. I set off nice and early and scored some beautiful photos of Ribblehead viaduct, which is another must-see especially in the early morning due and mist. It was so beautiful.

I then headed up over the Back of Whernside and skirted a ridge for a few miles before dropping down towards Dent, the hills never rest in the Dales though and I soon found myself heading back up into the beautiful Moorland over Sedbergh.

I dropped down into Sedbergh where I decided my foot was in a bad way and I needed to rest it for a week or two before pushing on. I managed a lift home at this point and promised to head back out and complete it as soon as I was able.

End of Part 1!

Resting

It turns out I had done a little bit of damage to my ligaments at the section of my foot where it meets your shin and controls flexibility. I soon found that part of my foot really inflamed and bruised. It took a couple of weeks before I could fully walk on it again and a friend gave me some advice on exercises to strengthen the area.

Part 2 – Day 4

I traveled back out to Ribblehead via car and left it at the viaduct before retracing my steps towards Sedbergh, it was around half 6 I set off and soon found myself exhausted by around 11 pm when I managed to get back to Sedbergh. I had covered around 15 miles by this point in such a short time.

I began my ascent of the Howgill fells in total darkness and soon found myself exhausted as they are a tough old climb up. I decided to pitch upon a relatively flat spot about 500m up and spent the night there.

Day 5

I woke up to some amazing views across the fells and could feel how remote they were, I packed up and headed North following the beautiful hills. I summited the Calf early in the morning and spent some time admiring the beauty of the landscape before carrying on towards Hazelgill Knot and West Fell.

I dropped down towards Newbiggin on Lune where I had some lunch and made the choice to switch up the route and follow the Coast-to-Coast route instead of heading to Appleby-in-Westomorland.

I followed the C2C route East and through the beautiful Eden valley area summiting a few hills along the way. Eventually, I arrived at my alternate finishing point of Kirkby Stephen where I scored some food and made my journey to the train station where the skies opened once more.

I hope you enjoyed the read and hope it has inspired people to do this amazing trail that has quickly become one of my favorites to date.

Peace out!

Walking The Kintyre Way

The Kintyre way is a 100 mile thru hike starting from Tarbet on the Northern end of the Peninsula and zig zagging through beautiful scenery between the East and Western sides of the peninsula. It does this whilst ever heading in a southerly direction and finishing in Macrihanish in the South-West.

The Kintyre way has a very varied landscape with sections of road walking, huge pine plantations, open moors, and coastal paths. It offers remoteness for large sections of the walk but also has settlements every day or two (depending on distances covered).

I started the Kintyre way on the 17th August 2021 and finished it on my birthday the 20th August 2021. It took me around 3.5 days in total and I hiked from Macrihanish back up to Tarbet as it made more sense logistically for me.

Day 1

My first day started at around 1800 as it took me a while to travel down to my starting point and so I only covered about 3 miles into the open moorland on the South-West side of the peninsula.

Arriving in Macrihanish I was met with some strong wind which one would expect with the Atlantic Ocean directly in front. The next body of land if you look directly out from Macrihanish would most certainly be Greenland which is amazing when you think about it and daunting at the same time.

After a short walk down the beach and along the town’s main road, I headed up into the fog and my visibility became very limited. It’s a steady climb updawards along the road as you pass some of the working farms in the area and head into the untouched moorland of the Kintyre peninsula. There are signs along the way warning hikers not to underestimate these moors and once up there in bad weather I can tell you it is 100% savage up there.

Once you pass Ballygroggan the road finishes and it becomes pure moorland with the Kintyre way markers been very hard to spot in thick fog. The trail at this point appears to see very little use and is overgrown, boggy and the markers are mostly rotting adding to the isolation you feel up there.

After about 3 miles and just past ballygroggan I found a small wall on top of a hill that offered some shelter from the brutal onslaught of wind and rain, it was here that I decided to spend the night.

Day 2

My second day on the Kintyre way started very poorly in all honesty, the wind and rain had increased and it was practically gale force at this point. I managed to pack away my soaking gear and head out along the remains of the track.

My second day on the Kintyre way started very poorly in all honesty, the wind and rain had increased and it was practically gale force at this point. I managed to pack away my soaking gear and head out along the remains of the track.

After about 20m my feet were soaked through (I only really hike in trainers and shorts, so wet feet are part and parcel once its wet) and my legs were cold. Luckily my waterproof jacket is the bomb (Mountain Equipment Lhotse, for those who want a bombproof waterproof). The moorland was truly beautiful though and whilst I was miserable at the time due to the bad weather I look back with fondness and wish I was up there still. The weather really did hammer me throughout the next 4 miles of moorland, and I only covered a few miles in 4 hours. I hit a section where I was quite high up and could hear the Ocean hitting the cliffs that were close by, but I never once got a view of it due to low visibility.

After about 20m my feet were soaked through (I only really hike in trainers and shorts, so wet feet are part and parcel once its wet) and my legs were cold. Luckily my waterproof jacket is the bomb (Mountain Equipment Lhotse, for those who want a bombproof waterproof). The moorland was truly beautiful though and whilst I was miserable at the time due to the bad weather I look back with fondness and wish I was up there still. The weather really did hammer me throughout the next 4 miles of moorland, and I only covered a few miles in 4 hours. I hit a section where I was quite high up and could hear the Ocean hitting the cliffs that were close by, but I never once got a view of it due to low visibility.

Whilst on the moors the trail become barely visible at sections with no signage, and it was easily lost (which happened to me numerous times). I would recommend retracing your steps if you do the trail and lose the trail instead of trying to plough ahead like I did. The undergrowth is treacherous, and I nearly had some nasty accidents whilst making my way through the untouched wilderness.

After Hitting the summit of Amod hill the path becomes easier with the area being used as a working farm so it is easily identifiable, and you begin to head down into farm-land. Once out of the moors the trail follows roads to the coast. Once at the coast its worth a visit to see Kiel cave and St Columbus footprint as well as the ancient well. Its practically on the path.

This area is beautiful and the views out to sea are phenomenal (the weather cleared up once I was off the moors too, typical isn’t it). It’s worth looking back towards the moors that have just been traversed too as they offer some amazing views. Hiking along the road towards Dunaverty and Southend you can spot seals on the rocks chilling in the Sun.

This area is beautiful and the views out to sea are phenomenal (the weather cleared up once I was off the moors too, typical isn’t it). It’s worth looking back towards the moors that have just been traversed too as they offer some amazing views. Hiking along the road towards Dunaverty and Southend you can spot seals on the rocks chilling in the Sun.

Southend is a small village but does have a shop to stock up on some essentials, after this you continue along roads towards kilmashenachan where you head cross country again and can hike next to the sea. This section of the walk was an absolute foot breaker as all the way to Cambelltown is road walking (I hate road walking). Luckily the views are fantastic and looking out to sea is amazing. There are a few steep ascents along the road with one next to a hill apty named ‘the Bastard’ and it really is.

There are a couple of good spots just above the tide line off the road to pitch up for the night, but I felt fresh at this point and planned to power on past Cambelltown. Once I hit Cambelltown I sourced some food and headed back up into the hills chasing my biggest mile day ever.

Unfortunately, I was for the most part more road walking before heading into a large forest plantation around Lussa Loch. It was dark for me at this point, and I had to keep hiking to find a place to pitch. I managed to find somewhere right next to the trail and what a pitch it was. Perfectly flat with a bench and table and a note (that for some reason I didn’t take a picture of) saying ‘Don’t give up’. It was here that I pitched my tent and spent the night.

Also, I had covered a whopping 43 miles that day! Which beats my PB by 5 miles and considering the strain on my body, I felt fine.

Day 3

I woke up nice and early feeling fresh and packed up my gear, headed down the forest road that wound its way through the plantation, I noticed a caravan probably 500m from where I pitched. I assume its used by the loggers as a break room, it was open too! Seriously wish I had slept in there the night before.

I hiked through the forest for quite a few miles and the views of trees, hills and sometimes the coast were amazing. I love the forest and it’s my favourite place to crush miles. Eventually I headed down into Bridgend and found a post office where I could score some food for the next day or so. There’s a cheeky little café too which I waited to open and had a nice sausage sandwich.

The next section was totally amazing as I spent a lot of the day in the forest hiking along the forest trails and from Bridgend, I made my way North-West through them towards the West side of the Peninsula. The forests were so cool, and the miles literally flew by. Before I knew it, I was on the West coast again. The weather was pretty poor, and the wind and rain hammered me all day but because of it been big forests I wasn’t too wet or bothered as I was in my element.

Once at the coast I hiked along the beach for a little while in the rain before I made the decision to skip miles of road walking down the A83. So, I hopped on a bus and jumped back on the trail at Clachan and heading back into the hills. I had a couple of hours rest near Loch Ciaran and then continued on through some more forest and moorland where I could make out the Isle of Arran if the clouds broke enough. This was largely good hiking trail with some forest tracks and moorland walking.

Eventually I came back to the East coast of Kintyre and decided to crack on to Skipness and find a spot along the beach. After hiking down the beach road for a while I was beginning to think there wouldn’t be any good spots as campervans were literally everywhere. Luckily, I happened upon a spot and chilled out watching the sun go down. It was an amazing night there and I could see across to Arran whilst listening to the waves lap the shore.

Day 4

It was an amazing day this day, not only had I crushed the miles and was 11 miles of finishing. It was also my birthday so double points. I packed my gear and scored some water from a river before heading back up into the moors towards the finish line of Tarbet.

The weather was kind to me, and it was nice and warm with sunshine throughout. The moors were beautiful with the purple heather everywhere before they turned into a huge plantation for most of the remaining trail. It was amazing and the trail was laid out well too, so I could just relax, slay miles and enjoy the scenery.

Once I started the descent to Tarbet I was treated with amazing views across to Portavadie (where I had come from after finishing the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way) and could see for miles.

Before hitting the finish line, I made sure to have a look around Tarbet castle as recommended by a guy called Chris (he is walking the entire coastline his Instagram is @christhecoastwalker and he has a website by the same name, so check him out) I met about 10 minutes before. It is well worth having a look around and offers some amazing views.

Once I hit Tarbet I knew I had finished so the emotions came thick and fast, with the regret that I had completed too fast and that I wished I was still out on the trail.

I hope you enjoyed the read and its inspired you to hit the Kintyre way. Peace out

First time folly

My first backpacking trip didn’t go as planned. In fact, it barely ‘went’ at all. I made it a grand total of six miles, before having to bail. I thought I would share my story, so hopefully, you’ll be better prepared than I was!

So, the morning of my departure, I decided to change my starting location. I was originally planning on starting on the south end of Felixstowe promenade, which would have added about 4 miles to the Suffolk Coast Path. But that would have meant a long walk before having anywhere to camp, plus a ferry trip across the river. So, I decided to get dropped off at the ferry terminus, thus eliminating a six mile stretch, the ferry ride, and the need to refill water so soon.

Want to know my first mistake? I didn’t research the route the path takes well enough. The first three miles was literally along the shingle beach. Ever tried walking three miles on shingle? It’s hard, exhausting and feels like twice the distance. Add in a complete lack of shade, a boiling hot day, and not nearly enough water, and it was a recipe for disaster.

By the time I hit the six mile mark, I was out of water, with no-where to refill it. There was plenty of sea, but no fresh water, and no shops or cafe’s either. I started with about 2 litres of water, and it was no where near enough. I had a water filter, but that’s no use if there’s nothing to filter.

By the time I reached Shingle Street, I was feeling rough. It was a hot day, the first in a week with no rain (which would’ve given me some water at least!), I had drunk all my water, and due to my social anxiety, couldn’t bring myself to ask for help, or knock on someones door to ask to refill my water.

At Shingle Street, I found a patch of shade, collapsed and texted my house mate to ask if she could collect me. As she had a life outside of me, it took nearly 4 hours before she arrived. By which point my condition had gotten worse. Folks, heat exhaustion is no joke. I was light headed, headache, nauseous, stomach cramps, and by the time she reached me, I’d been sick and could barely stand.

It’s been four days since then, and I still don’t feel right. I started hydrating as soon as she reached me, the angel bought me a bottle of water. And once home, she got me another one with a electrolyte tablet in it. I barely ate that evening, just some buttered toast, and the following day wasn’t much better. The headache took three days to subside, and I’ve been easily exhausted since.

Learn from my mistake folks. Study your route so you know what you’re getting into. Make sure you have enough water, know where you can refill, and don’t let anxiety stop you from asking for help. If she’d been any later, I may have ended up in hospital.

Another thing, invest in a personal locator beacon. By the time help arrived, my phone battery was dead. I had battery packs with me, but somewhere along the way lost the charger cable. So I had no way to actually charge my phone. If she hadn’t known the car park I’d collapsed at, I’d have been in a lot more trouble.

So, what have I learnt from this experience? I’m not as fit as I’d like to think I am. I need to ACTUALLY train, and ACTUALLY plan my route. Am I going to be able to hike the coastline of the UK? Maybe, but not this year. I need to start slowly, far more slowly than I’d like. But each journey starts with a single step, and this one started with six miles of them… Now I just need to do better.

The Suffolk Coast Path: Planning

At some point in the next week, I will be starting my first ever (solo) backpacking trip. I plan on this being just the first leg of a very long adventure, around the entire coastline of mainland UK, but because that’s kinda terrifying and overwhelming, I’m starting with the Suffolk Coast Path.

The path starts in Felixstowe and runs up the coast to Lowestoft, over 60 miles of marsh, heath and foreshore. I’m hoping to average about 10 miles a day, as I get my hiking legs, so it should take me 6 days to complete this section. Assuming everything goes to plan…

The Route

I’m planning on walking northbound, which seems to be opposite of how everyone else does it! I have the guidebook Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks by Laurence Mitchell, which has been a good place to start with my planning. It breaks the route down in to stages, and although I’ll be doing them in reverse, they seem like pretty good spacing. Obviously, I won’t know how well I’ll stick to it until I’m out there, but it’s helpful to have. I’ve also downloaded the route map on the Hiiker app (I have the paid subscription, I’ll let you know in a future post if it’s worth it!), which also breaks things down into stages.

Guide book for the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks by Laurence Mitchell, with my Hiking O’Hara cap.

Food

Now, I could carry enough food for six days from the get-go, but that seems like excessive when I’ll be passing through villages etc. So, my plan is to carry three days of food/snacks, and restock along the way.

Breakfast: Moma Porridge sachet x 2 (two because breakfast is the most important meal of the day… for me, anyway!), with some added raisins.

Lunch: Tortilla wrap with cheese and pepperoni, or a pasta meal, depending on if I want to cook at lunch.

Dinner: Pasta, instant mash or rice, depending on my mood (I’ll probably have one of each to start the trek), with some added protein of either pepperoni, jerky or a vegan meat substitute that I have on order to try.

Throw in some snickers bars, trail mix, and nuts, and I should be good to go.

Water

I have two water bottles, one 1 litre and one just under. I also have the collapsable ones that came with my Sawyer water filter, so in total I’ll have capacity for about 4 litres. Obviously I won’t be carrying that all day every day. I hope to be able to fill up just before I set up camp, so that I have plenty for cooking/cleaning, and then top up in the morning before I start the days hike.

Emergencies

I don’t yet have a personal locator beacon, although it’s on my wish list, so for me, my emergency planning equates to making sure that my housemates have my itinerary, have the GPS locator active on my phone, and location sharing enabled. That way my housemates can check my location if I haven’t checked in, and if necessary, call 999. For this leg of my trip, I should never be more than a 90 minute drive from home, so if something does come up, it’ll be easy enough to bail and head for home. I know no-one likes to think about things going wrong, but it’s an essential part of the planning. Being safe, knowing your back up plan, and having people you trust on stand-by, are all easy things you can do to make sure you (and your loved ones) sleep soundly at night.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to planning a backpacking trip. And when it comes right down to it, I don’t really know what I’m doing! This is my first trip, first time planning, and there are so many unknowns. But I’m sick and tired of putting off the things I want to do, because I’m not ‘ready’. If I wait until I’m ready, I’ll never leave. So, it’s time to pack all the things, camel up, and hit the trail. Wish me luck folks!

The 10 Essentials of Hiking/Backpacking

Whether you’re going on a day hike or a thru-hike there are some things that should always be in your pack. These are known as the Ten Essentials, and was originally complied in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organisation for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors.

These days the original list has expanded in to categories, rather than specific items, and everyone has their own preferences for each item. So, want to know what you should be taking with you when you venture into the great outdoors?

Here’s my take on what the essentials should be:

Shelter

You should always ensure that you have a shelter of some kind, incase you get stuck out in the wilds or caught in horrible weather. For a backpacker this will be your tent/tarp/hammock, but for a day hiker this could be a lightweight bivvy sack.

What I have: NatureHike Cloup UP 2

My NatureHike Cloud UP 2

Navigation

Kinda goes without saying, but getting lost is a bad idea. Carrying a paper map and compass (and knowing how to use them) could save your life, and is an essential backup to the electronic navigation options. Most people will have a smart phone, and there are some great apps out there for finding trails (Alltrails, Gaia, Hiiker, OS maps are all great options!), but even these will only work if you have battery and phone signal. The next step up, would be a personal locator beacon, like the Garmin InReach. I don’t have one of these yet, because they generally require a monthly subscription, but it’s definitely on my ‘to get’ list.

What I have: Paper OS map and compass, Komoot app, Hiiker app

Light

A head torch is the go-to for most on the trail, simply because it leaves your hands free. Essential if you’ll be doing any portion of your hike in the dark, or setting up camp after sunset. I also have a small backup torch, and of course, my phone has a torch option (but remember, if you are using your phone for navigation, that you have limited battery life).

What I have: Cheap head torch from Aldi, pocket torch and phone.

First aid

Always carry a basic first aid kit. Plasters, anti-septic cream, insect repellent. When walking for miles, you need to take care of your feet! If you’re a larger person, like me, anti-chafe powder or cream could make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the trek. I also keep a silver foil ‘space blanket’ in my kit.

What I have: Plasters (various sizes and types), anti-septic cream, roll of leukotape, safety pins, paracetamol, ibuprofen, anti-histamines, gloves.

Sun protection

Kinda self-explanatory, but getting sunburn (or heat stroke) would be an unpleasant way to remember your hike. Sun protection isn’t just sunscreen, it can also be a hat, sunglasses and UPV protective clothing. Most importantly, don’t forget to reapply often!

What I have: SPF 50 sunscreen, baseball cap, hiking shirt with UPV protection

Repair kit

Having a way to repair kit is extremely important, especially on longer treks! Your kit could include patches for tent repair or to patch punctures in your inflatable air bed/pillow. Duct tape for repairing pretty much anything. A small sewing kit for torn clothing. A knife or wire-saw to be able to prep wood for a fire. Safety pins. It’s up to you, but take a look at your kit and try to think of how it could break, and what you would need to patch it up long enough to get a replacement.

What I have: duck tape (small amount wrapped around a straw), patch kit for my airbed and tent, sewing kit, small Swiss army knife.

Fire

Having a way to start a fire, for warmth/light/protection, can be the difference between life and death in an emergency. I always carry at least two different ways of started a fire, normally a ferro rod and a lighter. But waterproof matches, tinder and/or a stove, are also good options.

What I have: Ferro rod, lighter and cook stove.

Food

It goes without saying, but walking for miles is hungry business. Always carry more food than you expect to need. Even if its just an extra backpacking meal, or a couple additional chocolate bars.

What I have: I always have an extra ration and snacks.

Water

Water is heavy. So it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to carry enough for a multi-day trip in your pack. But even on a day hike, it’s a good idea to have a way to purify water in the event of an emergency. If you drop your one and only water bottle and spill its contents, you need to be able to safely refill it from a stream/river/pond. There are lots of options for making water safe, from a life-straw, Sawyer water filters, to tablets, always have at least one method with you.

What I have: I have a Sawyer filter, and I also keep sterilisation tablets in my emergency kit.

Clothes

 At the least, always carry a spare pair of socks. Your feet take a beating, and having something warm and dry to put on when you stop can be a life saver. Hats, gloves, bandanas, waterproof jacket and trousers, buffs. Anything that might add a bit of extra warmth and keep the weather off. Hypothermia is never a joke, and can happen even in the summer months. (I’d recommend learning the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, so that you can spot it in the early stages.)

What I have: a full change of clothes, separate sleep clothes and at least one extra pair of socks.

So that’s it. The essentials. Whether you carry them all on a short day hike is up to you. But definitely make sure you have something for each category on a multi-day trek. The worst time to realise you need something is in an emergency, so plan ahead and stay safe out there!

What else do you carry that you consider essential?