Month: October 2012

2nd trip to Corris hostel.

I visited Corris hostel a few months ago and enjoyed it immensely. I had a free weekend recently, and as its only 90 minutes drive and £15 per night, I thought why not go back ?

Along for the ride, are Brian, a genius with a map (although his skills seem to conveniently desert him at times, more about that later) and Nikki veteran of several adventure trips and great fun (with an annoying habit, of thinking of things that never occurred to me).

We had all taken the Friday as holiday, to get there early. Brian picks me up from my house, and we drive over to pick up Nikki. Nikki provided us with detailed directions (so detailed in fact, that I think I could have defused a bomb with less concise instructions).

We pick up Nikki from her Victorian sized home and were on our way. In just a few minutes, we’ve left England, and are in Wales, nearing our destination.

We park at the bottom of an enormous hill, then walk back up with our gear (for some reason, there are shoes and parts from scalextric on the floor of the car park).

I’ve packed light as usual, and we’ll be spending both evening in the local pub, but I’ve also brought a bottle of wine (a must have item for hostel stays) and a pizza.

We are meeting Pete and Cath, on Saturday but for now we speak to the warden and get checked in.

Canolfan Corris is its usual friendly self, with tables and comfortable chairs. We make a cup of tea from the geezer (one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. a cup of tea, in under 60 seconds) and pore over the map.

Were introduced to a friendly American woman called Francine.

She is attending a course at CAT, but their accommodation is expensive, so she is staying in the hostel and walking to the course each day (along a fairly dangerous road, but she was still alive when we left).

After settling in, we head down the road to the Slaters arms.

I can never decide if its a really vibrant pub, or just a pub that’s so small, 3 people make every night feel like New Years Eve.

Anyway, a superb pub it is. Brian is fascinated, by this sort of ultra sonic vibrating thing, that does amazing things to Guinness.

But you can’t eat beer (and I know, because I’ve tried hundreds of times) so we order some food.

Steak pie, chips, gravy and peas for £7. Bargain, its delicious and the plate is loaded.

We get our usual corner table and talk about the usual things you discuss on a walking trip. The weather, possible variations on the planned walk and if your in a private room, which has no toilet but a sink, do you break with convention to answer a call of nature in the night.

The evening comes to a close around midnight, and we head back up the ridiculously steep hill to our bunks.

In the morning, I’m up, washed and dressed, as I stand outside with my cup of tea and breakfast bars. Everyone else faffs about making muesli with banana’s and other types of fruit.

As we head out, its raining a bit, but Brian sets a quick pace so were not cold.

We head along a forest path, cross the main road and then head up a hill.

I take a photograph next to a really square dry stone wall. Once we wander passed it, I realise that its part of an old cottage.

From here, things get a bit exciting. It was so wet, that I didn’t risk taking my phone out of its ortlieb bag (an essential piece of equipment on any: Brian-everything will be fine, adventure).

For several miles, we walk cross country, not following a path. Its been calculated that this requires 4 times more energy than path walking.

You don’t really notice while your walking, but when you stop for a rest or a drink, you realise just how fatigued you are.

After a while, we drop down, and there’s a stream to be crossed. Turns out, its a bit wider than indicated on the map, and we end up fording it, using walking poles and wading up to our thighs in water.

As I reached the bank of the river, I threw my daysack across to the other side. Reckless ? perhaps, but once I’d done that, I was committed and knew I was getting to the other side.

After this, we had to climb up a heavily subsided hill, on what must have been a 1 in 2 gradient. I found the simplest way was to grab handfuls of plant life, and pull myself up.

It must have taken an hour to climb about 140 metres and was exhausting.

It’s here, that opinions vary. Brian reckoned that he didn’t realise the hill would be that steep. I trust my friend, but I’m sceptical.

Thing is, I can read a map, and I know that the closer contour lines are together, the steeper the hill.

Brian is way beyond that level, and can literally look at a place on a map and in a virtual reality sort of way, see the countryside around him, although he’s not actually got there yet.

So I cant help wondering if Brian was doing a Tony Robbins, knew what we were really capable off, and kept the painful truth from us to “help” us rise to the challenge.

We reach the top of Graig Wen and my lungs are screaming.

I sit down to have my sandwiches and drink some water. Something catches the corner of my eye.

Turns out a sheep has become trapped in the fence. Despite my fatigue and need for rest, I jump to my feet to give assistance (to a creature which most Sunday evenings is an essential ingredient to my Rogan Josh) and rescue it.

Brian helps me, and within minutes, its free. It must have been very dehydrated, as it took of at a pace and seemed to drink its own body weight in water.

You can see the sheep in the top right of this photo.

I return to my resting place (Well, not my final one) and reflect. I have not been this soaking wet since the Borneo jungle.

But as so often, hill walking is a good metaphore for life. Ten minutes later and were walking down the other side of the hill. The sun comes out, and it feels like were in a different country.

We see the railway line at Tywyne. There is a race each year called race the train.

The title is pretty self explanitary, but if you havent got it yet, people run along at the side of a steam train and try to beat it. You can read more about it here.

We’ve arranged to get a lift back with Pete and Cath as all of the local buses that day are cancelled because of the race.

Big problem, there is practicaly no mobile signal.

We rest for a deserved drink at the Railway Inn, and the barmaid is good enough to let us use the pub phone.

A pickup has been arranged, so while we wait for rescue, theres time for a 2nd drink. Nikki is so uncomfortable with sodden feet that see takes of her boots and socks to dry them in the sunshine.

Both Brian and Nikki put on hats. I am unable to join their “hat club”, so I just enjoy the pleasure of the bright sunshine on my face.

Back to the hostel for a hot shower and a change of clothes.

Everyone heads for the pub, but I decide to heave an hour or 2 on my own.

I sit with my pizza and wine. Francine sits with me, and tells me all about the knife edge that the environment is balanced on…

I finish up quickly and head to the pub. I’ve saved a sheep earlier that day, but I don’t feel like saving any whales !.

In the morning, were exhausted from our adventures, so I have a 1hour lie in bed and treat myself to an 8am start.

The weather isn’t looking good, so we consider driving outside of the “rain zone”. For the first time, my laptop is useful, as we are able to plat the weather on a graph (the hostel has wi fi, but like most hostels, its patchy at best)

Realising, that there isn’t much in it, and were going to get wet wherever we go,  we decide to go on a local walk around the hamlet of Corris.

We wander along by the river, and then head up a hill.

Brian is navigating. We find that a path on the map, simply no longer exists so we improvise an alternate route.

Heading uphill, we get this view back down towards Corris hostel.

We reach the top of the hill in high spirits.

There is a really friendly fell runner who tells us an interesting route back to the village.

An obnoxious woman see’s us on the path, and immediately walks in the opposite direction. Doesn’t she understand that were British. A lot of the time, when I see people on the trail and say good morning, I’m doing it out of politeness.

Did she think speaking to her was going to be the highlight of my day. If you want every path to yourself, buy your own island !.

The cool headed, relaxed manner of Pete, calms me down, and I’m back to normal again.

Wander back down hill to Corris steam railway. It goes about 100 yards, and by most reasonable standards, is an utter wast of time.

But every cloud has a silver lining and a shop there sells chocolate and cans off coke, at very competitive prices.

Back to the hostel, we say goodbye to the guy from Northern Island (I still cant remember his name, but he’s really nice), jump in the car, and we head for home.

The end of another weekend adventure, is complete with a cup of tea at Nikki’s house (which is big enough to be an orphanage (the house, not the tea !)).

Wildboar clough and Enid Blyton adventures.

I’ve always wanted to have a whole summer, where I went away lots of times, and spent weekend after weekend away from home, making the most of the countryside and the weather.

Summer 2009, I was unemployed. I had plenty of time, but literally no money, so local walks, but no weekends away.

Summer 2010, I had a job, but the first couple of months I was broke, so again, no trips and everything local to Runcorn/Frodsham/Helsby where my inclusive ticket to work, allowed me to travel on Saturdays and Sunday, for free.

Summer 2011, money was OK, but I was recovering from an operation. A guy in Field and Trek once said to me, in life, you’ve either got money or time, but never both. I had both, but no fitness !.

So, for the first summer in 4 years, I’m back at full fitness (thanks to regular walks with the Chester and District Walking Group), I’ve got some money (limited, but in the last 3 years, I’ve learned some pretty clever techniques for  finding adventure on a tight budget).

Aidan, a friend from the walking group, emailed me, and asked if I fancied a weekend away with some friends, at a bunk house. He said the facilities were basic, but it had stone walls and a solid roof (the 2nd part is important. The worst stone building in the north of England, usually provides better protection from the elements than the most expensive tent in the world).

It was Monday. He asked if I could get back to him by Wednesday, if I wanted to go. I replied straight away. I’d be delighted to go. Adventure had (literally) called and I answered.

The picture above was taken on Saturday, while walking through the roaches. I bet everyone I could climb that crag. You can probably guess what happened.

I travelled pretty light for the trip as it had been decided that we would eat out during the evening, and so would only need breakfast and packed lunches for the hill. I took Chicken and Corned beef sandwiches for the latter, and breakfast bars for the former.

I had promised to bring my kettle, but realised at the very last minute, that I had loaned it to a friend. As I walked over to meet Aidan, I popped into my 2nd home, Field and Trek. When I got there, among the 2000 lines of products they sell, they were actually having a sale of just 4 items, and one of them was a whistling kettle.

I’m a fiercely logical person, but its at moments like that, when life puts just what you need, in front of you, just when you need it that you start to wonder about fate.

We jump in the car, and on the way, pick up Richard from Tarporley.

We arrive at Wild Boar Clough. The first surprise, is that the car park is about half a mile from the hut, and everything would need to be carried (I was glad that I’d packed light).

I meet Kay and Leanne who had travelled up together. They had brought enough bedding/kitchen accessories/wellingtons/food and drink, to furnish the hut as a holiday home for Alan Sugar.

I helped to carry some of the stuff to the hut. The 5 of us got to know each other a bit better, on our “Francis Younghusband“, equipped weekend away.

We catch first site of Cumberland Cottage the 18th century hunting lodge where we’ll be staying. The building itself was in beautiful picturesq surroundings as you can see from the picture above.

The view inside the kitchen is less inspiring.

There was a stream nearby for washing, and a point further up the hill, for collecting drinking water. The toilets were “everywhere outside” if you know what I mean. There was a gas burner and the scouts who look after it had left plenty of dry wood for the fire.

The facilities were basic, but I was in my element:

As a youngster I used to build dens and tree-houses in a friends garden, inspired by the Enid Blyton books that mum had given me.

In my favourite story, the 5 friends visit Kirrinn island, and setup home in a cave. I didn’t have an island nor cave, so I made a den out of some conti board and old lengths of wood that I’d found near the canal. I’d bought some nails and string from the co-op, and my only tools were my penknife and a conveniently shaped broken brick, which I used as a hammer.

I’d spent all Saturday constructing my makeshift home, resplendent with comforts such as yesterdays daily mirror, a broken radio and a cup with no handle. I also had an old saucepan that grandma had given me for cooking (since I wasn’t allowed to light the fire, this proved impractical, so I filled it with sweets).

Shockingly, I was just preparing for the night, making up my bed (a bath towel I’d bought at an old peoples bring and buy, I was going to use as a blanket) when it turned 6pm, and mum insisted I come in for tea, have a bath and get ready for bed.

Didn’t she realise that I could fend for myself (I was only 6 at the time). Like so often with mum, a compromise was reached, and I could eat my tea in the den, but I must be in for a bath by 7, as the mysterious “immersion” would be on.

Im no stranger to adventure now. I’ve slept in the desert, in the jungle and the arctic, but tonight, 38 years later I’d be completing my Enid Blyton dream.

Other positives, were I’d be able to practice all sorts of bushcraft skills like collecting and purifying water, fire-lighting and navigation using stars and bark.

The group were interesting and enthusiastic which is a real plus. being on an amazing trip with people who’d prefer to be watching x factor is grim.

At that moment, if I’d been offered a 5 star hotel, I would have turned it down (unless there was a prostitute in my room who loved science fiction, and could play halo at legendary level, in which case I might have considered it).

The living room, was a bit untidy, but I knew by the time we came to use it, it would be dark and feel as cosy as a log cabin.

Red plastic chairs gave the room a community centre feel and I couldn’t help thinking that some Ben Orford green woodwork chairs would have fit the bill better.

That’s when it hit me. They probably had wooden chairs once, and some lunatic ran out of fire wood and used them for fuel.

Its time for dinner, so we walk the mile odd, to the Crag pub. Its a very quiet and unassuming place, but its been a busy week at work, so I’m appreciative of the lack of fuss.

We grab a drink and order dinner (I have the Beef & Ale pie which is excellent). One thing that did surprise me was how there were stuffed animals all around the place.

I’ve caught food and eaten it several times, but even I felt slightly uncomfortable eating while small animals and birds stare back at me.

No matter, by the 3rd pint the group is melding quite well.

Its dark when we leave the pub, and head back to the cottage.

I couldn’t believe that some people had turned up with no torch !.

Most of my friends know I always recommend taking 3 torches for adventure/outdoor trips (without wanting to dampen the mood, when you hear of fires in foreign hostels, experts agree, personal smoke detectors and torches to find the way out would have saved most of the lives lost).

1. A Headtorch, your take anywhere torch, that can be worn for convenience your head to allow you to work hands free, or carried in a pocket on a walk back from the pub. I use the Petzle Tikka XP2.

2. A smaller torch, that I wear around my neck (normally worn with a Perry whistle). Can be used for emergency’s, but also used when I’m in shared accommodation and need to find the toilet in the dark. I user the Led Lenser V2.

3. A very bright tactical torch. This is used for first aid situations or when weather condition’s are bad and you need to get of a mountain quick. Basically, a pocket floodlight. I use the Led Lenser P7.

All of the above torches are light, waterproof, last for days on 1 set of batteries, and use battery’s which are readily available in most parts of the world.

I now also recommend a 4th torch. Something costing about £2 from Wilkinson’s. The idea, is that when you meet up with someone who didn’t bring a torch (and you will) instead of lending them your tactical torch, forgetting to ask for it back and losing £50, you give them the Wilkinson torch and forget about it.

In this case, it was Leanne who won the “Wilkinson award” for torch negligence !.

Setting our living room up for a cozy chat, I light some candles on the mantlepiece and and begin lighting the fire.. In Bushcraft, I’ve learned that a fire is everything. It can provide heat, purifies water, signal for help, cook food, keep insects at bay and if your on your own even become a companion.

Chances to light a fire in a simple setting like this, are pretty rare for me, so I was determined to make the most of it. I decided to set the fire using a technique called the Norwegian fire-lay.

It lit almost straight away, and everyone seemed impressed with my fire-lighting skills (and I was delighted that I hadn’t forgotten all the stuff I’d learned at Woodsmoke.)

We spent a good few hours, sat around the fire, drinking cans of cider (at that point, I was grateful for all the excess stuff that the girls had brought).

I slept really well, so when I opened my eyes from a deep sleep, it took a few minutes to remember where I was.

I’d slept so well in fact, that I’d actually had a lie in, and it was 8:30. The mattresses were like the mats we used in PE when I was a child. Each bunk had been designed for 2 children, so on my own, there was loads of room for me and my gear.

The Wellingtons in the bottom middle of this picture give a feel for the off the wall nature of the trip.

I boil some water, then sit outside in the early morning sunshine, enjoying my brew and breakfast bars.

We head out for the day, and come upon this friendly horse, in a field.

Aidan had planned the walk, so it was of its usual high standard. Some of the other people were not regular walkers, so Aidan had prepared a walk that would infinite them appropriately. Well that was the theory, in reality, he ran us ragged across 14 miles of the nicest parts of the Cheshire Pennines. Hard work at times, but immensely rewarding.

The weather was fantastic as you can see from this picture.

We stop at the famous 3 Shires Head on Axe Edge more and take a photograph on the pack horse bridge.

As its name suggests, this is the spot where the borders of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire meet.

With the bridge in the background, this is Panniers Pool.

We wander through some Caves called Luds Church in the generically named Back Wood.

Thought to have been used by pagans. Apparently, only on midsummer day does the sun shine into the cave and light it up.

In the 15th century, it was used as a meeting place by the Lollards (church reformers), who followed John Wycliffe.  They met here in secret, as they were being persecuted at the time.

In legend, Friar Tuck, Robin Hood and Bonny Prince Charlie have all stayed here.

Inside the caves were amazing, but try as I might, I just could get a photo that captured the experience of being inside.

Its lunchtime by now, and we head to the hanging stone overlooking the Dane valley.

As I look out across the hillside, I’m in a reflective mood. I’m only halfway through the weekend away (which has so far cost £7 for accommodation, £10 in the pub, £4 for a new kettle) and I’m enjoying it immensely.

The hanging stone has 2 inscriptions on it, which you can read about here.

We head up through Roach end, and arrive at the Roaches.

I’d often hear about the Roaches while talking to other keen outdoor people, but for some reason, I’d never visited them before.

What amazing scenery.

The rock formations around the hills made for some superb photo opportunities.

We wander through a farmyard near Knar.

Some “attack” Geese went for Leanne and she sustained this injury (shown later at the hut). The annoying thing, was the farmer heard the commotion and ran over to help. As she said it would have been better if he’d actually done something before attack.

I found that the Geese left me alone. But then they would, I looked at them with contempt and a sincere, knowing stare, that they would be kicked viciously, if they even came near me.

I’m good with animals.

Talking of animals, we head back, after a tiring but rewarding day on the hill and come upon these sheep coming the other way.

Its then that Aidan points out we aren’t going to the same pub that night for tea, and we actually have a dinner booking for 7pm. And its 6pm (and were going to need time to get ready).

We marshal our remaining energy and make for home, with the vigour of Para’s marching on Goose Green. Turns out by the end of the walk, we’ve done 16 miles.

We arrive back at the hut only an hour later, were dress for dinner and off we go.

Dinner on the 2nd evening at the Slaters arms.

The décor and the service, was superior to the Crag, that we’d visited the night before, but the food was not.

No matter, after a fantastic day, we all congregated together and had a really good time.

Later that evening, Aidan’s excellent girlfriend Carol joined us, and we all sat around the fire (more cider).

That evening I didn’t sleep as well as the previous night and woke the next morning feeling a bit groggy.

I packed up my stuff and prepared to say farewell to our weekend home. We were going on a walk that morning, but would be heading home fairly soon afterwards.

Weekends seem to get shorter and shorter now, so I left the others to go walking, decided to spend some time on my own.

Couple of years ago, on a tracking course (which wasn’t very good) I learned to do a “sit spot”. Its a pretty simple principle, you find somewhere quiet (say next to a tree) and sit quietly without moving.

Its not really meditation, but it really helps to relax me. The tracking idea, is that after a while, the insects, birds and small animals will start to act normally around you, you join the harmony of the forest.

In this way you can observe the forest scene as a part of it, rather than as a visitor.

I can do this for about 3 hours normally, but today, I stop after about 2, and wander around the back lanes.

I meet up with everyone back at the pub, for a well earned pint.

We head back to our weekend home to say a final farewell and then head for home.

Overall, a remarkable experience.

I’d like to thank Kay, Leanne, Carol and Richard for coming, but most of all, thank Aidan for putting the time and effort into organising it, which is greatly appreciated.