Hello and Hello...

Welcome to our humble blog that will follow the misadventures of very average camping, hiking/rambling enthusiasts based out of Oxford. We will blog on camping trips, latest hikes, equipment reviews and whatever takes our fancy...

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Rambling at the edge of Oxfordshire

Is it us or has summer officially left Oxfordshire? A week of continous rain would suggest this to be the case and with no real sign of improvement, the thought of evening walks and weekend hikes is not an appealing one. And while this weather is excellent practice conditions for our Three Peaks Challenge it is not best suited to breaking in and getting used to our gear and boots.

So, on a 'sunny' Sunday afternoon, we ventured to the furthests reaches of Oxfordshire, where it meets with the boader of Gloucestershire, and a tiny scenic village called Buscot or more specifically - Buscot Lock, the smallest of all the 45 locks along the banks of the river Thames. It was well worth the visit. 

If you are looking for a scenic and gentle walk then Buscot weir is highly recommeded, you can walk along the banks of the Thames or venture inland. And when that all gets too much, sit on a bench and watch as the narrow boats make there way up and down the lock. Whichever option you choose, a enjoyable walk is certainly on the cards, weather dependant of course!

Intro to Buscot Weir
View of the lock

Narrowboat approaching the lock
Which way to go

Monday, 23 August 2010

Nevis Say Never Again – one Rambler’s thoughts on a return to the UK’s highest peak.

Last October, at almost exactly the same time as this year’s challenge, I undertook my first ever hike up a mountain. Whether out of ignorance, showmanship or blind optimism Ben Nevis was chosen as my first peak. There was no particular reason to this choice although a number of factors did combine to make it a definite favourite - I’d never been to Scotland before, I wanted an excuse to drive a fast car up the motorway and probably the major contributing factor was that my stepdad had asked me if I wanted to fill a space which had come available. A slight sense of dé ja vu here…

We booked ourselves into a bunkhouse nestled at the foot of ‘the Ben’ and set off from Kent at 5am. After a rather exhausting ten hour drive, we stepped out of the lashing wind and rain and into an impromptu céilidh with hot toddies thrust into our hands and hot food in our mouths. To this day I haven’t found anything that beats Scottish hospitality. After some more whiskey and some incredibly awful attempts at taking part in ‘The Dance Of The Gay Gordons’ my stepdad and I found our bunks and attempted to get a good nights rest before tackling the peak the next day.
As I mentioned before, I’d never attempted something like this. I consider myself a fairly fit and sporty person, enjoying the likes of football, squash and cycling on a regular basis. I knew it would be an uphill struggle (apologies for the poor pun) but I still naively didn’t factor in that it was actually a mountain – a real, grown up mountain. In my head it would be just a continuous, fairly steep slope for several hours. This proved to be…inaccurate as we started our ascent just after first light.

We had heard weather reports the previous day of severe gales and showers due in the afternoon, and after a [drunken] conversation with another rambler during the night we’d decided it best to get up and down as soon as we could before the weather closed in. Not knowing what to expect, the first hour of ascent was gruelling. The track initially starts with an incline over fields but this is soon overtaken by large, uneven rocky ‘steps’ which hug the hillside and curve up towards a loch. Finding my rhythm was the most important thing and after an hour I seemed to find it, making me able to appreciate the amazing scenery which was in front of me.
The loch rests at the point where you can decide whether to tackle the arête or take the pony track to the summit. From here you look down over a valley with a distant waterfall and river just visible flowing down from a lesser, but no less impressive, peak. We hoped that with the good weather we could attempt the arête but this was soon put on the back burner as we found the bad weather had found us sooner than planned. In what we later found out were steady 40mph winds gusting up to 90mph, we made our way up to the top.

I would go into in-depth analysis and detail of the remaining hour and half but walking up a steep slope offers surprisingly little entertainment save the amazing views and the occasional chuckle at someone slipping over (mainly myself). Three and half hours after we set off, we finished traversing all 1,344m of the rocky beast in a foot of snow and howling winds. We celebrated with a pork pie and half a malt loaf.

It may seem from what I’ve written that my walk up Ben Nevis was at times gruelling and miserable and far harder than anything I’ve done before. All this is true. It is also the most incredible thing I think I’ve done in my life, truly. The sense of achievement upon reaching the peak is incomparable, it defies words. I can only imagine and can’t wait to find out how it feels to do that three times in twenty four hours. (Chris - Rambler)

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Preamble to the Ramble (Taking on Snowdon)

Earlier this year five friends and I took temporary ownership of a cottage nestled at the foot of Mount Snowdon. There was a lot more to the trip than a fairly routine ascent and descent of Wales’s tallest rock formation and the following words are part of a much larger piece. However, for the sake of pertinence I’ve edited out all the in-jokes, cross references and vulgarity which leaves only the hiking in purest form.

Lessons learnt from this trip:
• Dry feet are worth more than gold
• Scotch atop a mountain is about as good as it gets
• Being over-equipped makes one look a fool

Tackling The Tomb:
The Pyg Track is one of three main routes to the summit of the mount; the first, The Miner's Trail is a long winding route, through the valley with a steep incline at the end, considered rather boring. The other option open to us was Cryb Goch, a path along a horseshoe ridge leading to the peak, the path is about 3 feet wide with enormous drops either side. In the forecasted windy conditions, it was agreed that this might be a bit beyond us. So we opted for the Pyg; somehow a path had been hewn into the rock and a giant's staircase of well placed rocks provided a steep and exhausting path straight up the side of the south face. Randall was lagging behind, probably due to his carrying a small reservoir in his pack. Adam marched on ahead looking distinctly like his father, wearing his new boots, thick woolly socks pulled high and, remarkably, shorts. Eventually the path levelled out and we saw the first of many lakes deep in the valley below us. What appeared to be a colourful ant trail winding along beneath us was a horde of the unambitious walking along the flat path of the Miner's Trail. Our path began to grow steeper and before long we needed to use our hands to clamber over rough steps too big for human legs.

Looking down on the Miner's Trail and reservoir

Walking into the clouds
We ate our brilliantly prepared packed lunch on a rocky outcrop looking over a blue-black pond and looked back at our progress - the landscape rolled away behind us. White snow on black granite to our right and yellow-green grass to the left, there was no hint of any civilisation as far as the eye could see and this was exactly what I'd hoped for when the idea of this trip first appeared. Tucking into my lunch of Spanish ham sandwiches, tracker bars and a Capri sun I was conscious of what a great moment I was living; the company was excellent, the air clean and my feet dry.

The gradient increased and we found ourselves venturing into the clouds. The temperature dropped considerably as we approached the 3500 foot mark. Snowdon has been described as the busiest mountain in the UK and we saw this first hand when we were trapped in a bottle neck.
Left to right: Luke, Adam, Randall, Hugh, Ryan and Marcos
Heavy winter snowfall hadn't been given a chance to melt in the year's first quarter and the single file track through it yielded rare passing places to allow us to get past those already descending from the mountain top. "What's it like up there?" I asked a weather beaten bloke with two ski-poles, "Cold” he said

“You don't want to up there long but..." his words trailed off in the wind as his marching took him beyond audible distance. Ski poles, I thought, they must be the trick to speed. Standing in the queue we witnessed one climber in a bright orange coat took an ice axe from his pack and attempted to make his own path. Quite why he brought such extreme equipment to an amateur’s mountain like this, I don't know. He stumbled about in deep snow for a bit, hacking at the ice like Trotsky's assassin before half walking half falling back into line, red face and hopefully embarrassed. Eventually we got passed the blockage and we didn't have to make fools of ourselves in doing so. The end was now in sight; we marched the last few sections and arrived.

For that brief moment we were the highest band of miscreants in all of Wales. We celebrated with the usual photos, some scotch which went some way to warm us up and the remains of our lunch. Mr Ski-Poles had been right, it was bitterly cold and we were soon on our way back into the shelter of the ridge for our descent.
Plaque at the summit
The idea of achieving the highest spot in a region and getting the top is as old as history, but taking a step back from the activity it is a bizarre concept. Perhaps human evolutionary progress means that for the lucky minority in the first world, survival is no longer a challenge so we seek to compete with nature in other ways. The idea of a chimpanzee climbing the highest tree in the jungle for no other reason than self-satisfaction and to be able to tell his pals is ridiculous - but it's not far removed from what the entire weekend had been planned around. That and an enormous (hopefully) dinner at the pub followed by lashings of locally brewed ale (and J2O for Marcos).

The descent was uneventful, and was taken at less of a charge. We stopped at a lake for Luke to take some stunning photographs and Ryan to prove himself as the worst skimmer of stones in the history of opposable thumbs. While Adam, Marcos and Randall boasted records in excess of 15 bounces Ryan managed 3, on one occasion.

The descent
Our return route was the Miner's Trail; the path winding gently through the valley vindicated our decision to ascend via the more challenging Pyg Track. We stepped back into basecamp after four or five hours walking and talking; a successful trek into the clouds. (Hugh - Rambler)

Snowdonia National Park
All photos provided courtesy of Luke Doyle

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Walk on the Mild Side: Notes from the First Team Hike

I’ve done hikes before, don’t get me wrong. When I did my bronze award for Duke of Edinburgh’s Award I had to cover some good ground, but I’ve never done anything quite like this before. Three peaks in one day….it sounds straightforward doesn’t it? Like at work if some asks me to do three reports in a day they’ll probably get a disgruntled sigh from me and I might complain a little, but in the end it’s easily done. This though is something quite different. I’m going to face a variety of testing weather conditions, no doubt fall over a few times to boot and be absolutely exhausted for much of the 24 hour duration. That’s not to say I can’t do it, I just don’t think I’ll realise exactly what I’ve let myself in for until I’m on some narrow path alongside a ravine half-way up Ben Nevis being buffeted by the wind and with rain lashing my face.

As you can imagine I’m not exactly flush with hiking equipment, which makes Hi-Tec’s decision to deck us out in their bestselling boots with water proof technology all the more appreciated. I could have worn my existing trainers but I slipped over playing indoor football the other week, never mind scaling the three highest peaks in the UK, so I’m thinking they’re not ideally suited for the job.

We did a practice hike last week and it was successful on every level. Uffington White Horse the location for our trial proved more than adequate for a first hike and boot review and the weather was perfect as we wound our way up and down the Oxfordshire countryside with the famous White Horse carved into the chalk hillside. We found the steepest slope available and made sure we climbed at a reasonable pace, whilst stopping for a moment at the top to enjoy the impressive view of the surrounding country.

Everyone was in good spirits and the banter was good, which makes me think we’ve got ourselves a good group to take on this challenge. Fortunately no one fell over or injured themselves, which is good news but also means this blog lacks a certain amount of drama or emotional impact.

The fine weather did mean that we couldn’t test our boots’ waterproofing, but we did pour our water over them:

V-Lite Rapidtrail's water repellency in Action

V-Lite Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi repelling water

I have also held my boots under the tap and marvelled at the way the water simply slides off the surface without any being absorbed. I can’t wait to see how the comfort and waterproofing last over the course of 24 hours and three gruelling peaks. I think my fellow hikers will agree with me that as first walks go this was both pleasant and important, both in creating that all important team spirit (I was told my jokes were rubbish but I’m sure I can convince people otherwise) and for testing the footwear to make sure it is comfortable, which it certainly was.

My first blog has come to an end. The Rambling Hikers are officially off and running (well….walking).

Iain (Rambler)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Hiking from an armchair...

Essential reading for the walking/mountain enthusiast...

1) Clear Waters Rising - Nicholas Crane (The Nicholas Crane of BBC series, Coast)
After studying a map of Europe the author realises that he walk a watershed line from the north-west tip of Spain all the way to Bucharest. Crane’s journey takes two years during which time he crosses five mountain ranges, becomes friends with an umbrella, scale Mont Blanc, meets a hugely diverse range of people, takes lessons from the Romans and puts his marriage to the test. Crane’s determination even when facing challenges such as 100 mph winds, 100 year old maps and a bear makes the Rambling Hikers Three Peaks Challenge seem like a walk in the park.

2) The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton (Not of Coast fame)
While the entire book comes highly recommended it is specifically chapter 6 ‘On the Sublime’ that is relevant to the Rambling Hikers. De Botton takes Edmund Burke as his ‘guide’ and travels to Mount Sinai claiming he set out in order to be made to feel “small”. He writes brilliantly and goes some way to explaining that which is otherwise inexplicable.
“The perfect antidote to those guides that tell us what to do when we get there, The Art of Travel tries to explain why we really went in the first place – and helpfully suggests how we might be happier on our own journeys.”

3) East of the Mountains – David Guterson
Possibly my favourite novel. Ben Givens sets out on his life’s last hike having been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He resolves to leave his home in Seattle with his dogs and travel to the place where he was happiest with no intention of returning. His journey takes the reader back in time to Givens’ youth, a place “of silent canyons where he hunted birds, of august peaks he had once ascended, of apples newly plucked from trees and of vineyards in the foothills of the Apennines.” Guterson’s love of the landscape and his protagonist’s relationship to it makes the reader want to get out from under a roof and into the big outdoors.
4) As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee
“The story of what happened when a young man left home” – Laurie Lee leaves his Cotswolds home to find adventure, finding that London offered him nothing he sets sail for Spain with nothing but his violin and “gracias”. By the conclusion of the work he’s walked the length of the Iberian peninsula, surviving by busking on street corners and made friends throughout the country. In As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Lee writes of his stay in a Spanish fishing village which he calls "Castillo." The real town is Almuñécar. In 1988 the citizens of Almuñécar erected a statue in Lee's honour, such was the favour with which the Spanish looked upon the author. Lee shows that preparation isn’t everything, his enthusiasm and willingness to keep an open mind are of a much higher value.

If you have read them let us know or any suggestions on books that we should all be reading?
Hugh (Rambling Member)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Singi... Walking in the rain

As I start to write this it appeared that the rain was about to cease, making what i was going to write seem a bit out of tune, but alas it is not so, the heavens have once again opened and from the window I can see huge lumps of water splashing off my car, what is more worrying is that I can also see that I left a window open, back in a moment...

Only minimal dampness so all is ok. Maybe there is a meerkat sorry market for waterproof car seats or interiors? well convertables perhaps, although that would just leave huge puddles of water in the car, so a draining system would be required, just a random thought.

But on to the point at hand, is it popular to go hiking in the rain, and i mean heavy rain like it is now in south Oxforshire? I am not talking about going off hiking when there is still sun in the sky, i mean heading off when it is bucketing it down, i have seen people do it! Would be interesting to know and to find out what gear they take with them, but most importantly why they do it? There is information out there on how to prepare for rain when hiking, The Sideroad and Two-heel Drive offer solutions and SF Hiker examiner tell us how to enjoy it but that was all I could find in my two minute search. Maybe a niche to tap into.

Anyhow, with all the technology and clothing that is now available claiming to be breathable, water and wind proof it would not surprise me to see people going out in all conditions to test out the claims of their new gear. We will be doing the same with our V-Lite boots, putting the ion-mask technology into action but to purely go hiking when it is pouring down still seems a bit out there.

Or maybe it is not, as the weather in the UK now seems to be turning into a pepetual shower perhaps these rain hikers are ahead of the game and are planning for what is about to come. They go hiking in the rain so that on those occasions when sun becomes cloud and cloud turns to drizzle before finally setting into a downpour they can whip out their waterproof gear that they took with them while the rest of us try to shelter under a tree.

So the note to self here is always, no matter what the weather, plan for rain.