Friday, 21 February 2014

Catbells & Tilly

Tilly on Catbells

A crisp sunny day beckoned and I had Tilly the beautiful Labrador for company so we headed for the fells. Catbells was our destination. Tilly was beyond excited as we walked through the woods on the Cumbria Way in the grounds of the Lingholm Estate, running back and forth, jumping at leaves and paddling in the stream. She is such lovely company.

As we reached the gate, we got our first glimpse of Catbells ahead and to the right, the distinctive summit of Causey Pike, where Tilly had found her mountain paws the year before (we took the route with the scramble). Since then she has climbed around 60 Wainwright’s, not bad for a Sussex Labrador.
Guarding the gate

Catbells is a low mountain but the views from very early on are spectacular. Within a few minutes we were looking at Bassenthwaite Lake snaking away up the valley, Skiddaw and Blencathra dominating the northern view and the beautiful north-western fells opening up around us. All this just a couple of hundred metres from the road. The sky was a deep blue and there was a frost on the top of the higher fells, as though Mother Nature had sprinkled icing sugar all over them.

Tilly was more interested in the smells and sights at ground level than the landscape but each to their own. As we got higher we gained the ridge and Derwent Water and Borrowdale came into view. It was early morning and the sun was casting dark shadows in the valley and catching the dew and lake like jewels. 

The view from the summit
Catbells may be a low fell but it has one or two areas that give it the feel of a much more adventurous mountain. Whilst the ridge is a glorious walk with views all around, there are a couple of rocky scrambles along the way where hands are just as helpful as feet. Even in dry weather the rock is so worn from the millions of feet that have traversed the slopes over the centuries that it can still be slippery. The first scramble passes a plaque dedicated to Thomas Arthur Leonard – the “father” of the Open Air Movement. It is easy to miss it.

Tilly took the scrambles in her stride and before long we arrived on the summit. There is no cairn but it doesn’t need one as the rocky surface has a charm all of its own and there are plenty of grassy slopes to sit and admire the views. An unsuspecting walker soon discovered Tilly trying to share his morning coffee and biscuits and he very kindly caved in and shared them (it is her golden brown eyes that just melt your soul - don’t look directly at them!)
Tilly on the summit

After soaking up the views we headed down the other side of Catbells to walk back along the shores of Derwent Water. This is one of my favourite walks. There is such a contrast of textures and terrains between rocky crags, soft grassy summits and fields, woods, streams and the lake shore. It is a little piece of heaven.

Walking the shores of Derwent Water
Being true to her Labrador nature, Tilly loves swimming so she chased sticks, splashed, swam and paddled at every opportunity. The path clings to the lake shore for much of the return walk so she had a wonderful time. She also played “chicken”. This is where she suddenly bursts into a run at tremendous speed and then dashes towards you at full throttle, darting to the left or right at the last second. It is so funny to watch her enjoying herself but I always have a slight worry that her last minute swerve will fail and she’ll collide with me and knock me flying! No doubt she is saving that for when there is a muddy bog or a tarn to break my fall.... Fortunately she reserves this game for family, not strangers.

The fells around Watendlath and Grange provide a stunning backdrop to Derwent Water and with Blencathra and Skiddaw appearing once again it was a glorious walk back towards Portinscale. Unexpectedly, in a clearing in Brandlehow Wood near Hawse End is a large pair of wooden hands. This sculpture was commissioned in 2002 to mark 100 years of the National Trust in the Lake District as Brandlehow Woods was the first purchase by the National Trust. 
The wooden sculpture

Blencathra beyond the jetty
We returned to Portinscale through the woods again. A really lovely walk made even more special by sharing it with my favourite four-legged friend.
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Saturday, 15 February 2014


Good waterproofs have become even more of a walking necessity in the last few months with our rather soggy winter continuing to win the battle over snow and sunshine. Waterproofs are not just about jackets and trousers however but about maps and recently I tested a Splashmap.

When it arrived in the post it was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting something with a waxy coating that still looked and felt like a traditional map. What I received was something much more innovative.  This map is more like a tea towel in texture than a map and it confounds all perceptions of map-reading as it can literally scrunch up and fit in your jacket pocket.

The map-scale is 1:40,000 and my one covered the east region of the South Downs. This is an area I am quite familiar with. With the special marker pens available you can draw your route onto the map (rather like you would on a GPS system) and then after your walk you just put it in the washing machine and it comes out as good as new and ready for the next route to be drawn. There is a legend to the map on the label at the side.
Map legend
I can hardly remember the last time I went for a walk without it raining at some point and the SplashMap certainly lived up to its claim of being waterproof and because of the type of fabric it is, you don’t get big raindrops sitting on just the part of the route you are looking at – they just disperse.

It does take a bit of getting used to as when you hold the map out to check ahead, there is no rigidity to it like a traditional map. As I mentioned before, it is like a tea towel so you have to hold it taut. It is a lot easier to look at smaller areas than a usual map as you can fold it however you wish in moments.

You can choose from a range of areas on the website covering the most popular walking areas of the UK, particularly National Parks and the range is expanding all the time. Most of the standard maps you can buy ready-made are 1:40,000 (although they are just starting to launch a 1:25,000 range). However, for serious walkers, you definitely need the 1:25,000 scale and the good news is you can “make your own map” area at that scale and the process of doing that online is simple. This is perfect for covering those areas you walk most often so you only have to use one map on a walk. I would definitely recommend that one over the standard versions.

I think this product is a real winner. It is so innovative, practical and light and as long as you can let go of all your perceptions of traditional maps. It is a perfect all-weather map.

Splashmaps are available from SplashMaps

Price: £18.99 for the standard maps and “make a map” versions are £28.99

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Friday, 7 February 2014

High Style: Gelert Rucksack

High Style is my outdoor clothing and accessories review section. Testing out the serious and practical side of outdoor clothing, in High Style I also consider what sometimes is overlooked - how stylish the items of clothing are.
I am working with a range of retailers and manufacturers to bring these reviews to you from well-known brands to less well-known ones and everything from trousers and t-shirts to rucksacks and flasks.
I hope you enjoy the reviews and find them useful. 

Gelert Beyond Rock Hiker 25cl Rucksack

(Reviewed for Silverfox Travel & Outdoors) 

The somewhat inclement weather over the last few months means this rucksack certainly had a thorough test on the mountains of the Lake District!

The basic design is one large main compartment with a pocket inside, a small zipped section in the top of the rucksack and two side pockets with zips. It also has a high visibility rain cover in a separate pocket underneath. 

Having been out in prolonged and heavy rain, I was impressed at how waterproof the rucksack remained with the rain cover on and given how muddy it got on occasions, how easy it was to clean afterwards. It was easy taking waterproof jackets and trousers in and out as there was plenty of room and with a single cord closure and strap, it was quite quick to do that too (perfect for those impromptu rain showers!) 

For me, the shoulder straps and the soft padding it has on the back (part of the air fit breathable system) meant it was very comfortable to wear and it is a very good size for a hiking day.

I was uncertain about only having one large compartment with no divide initially as all my previous rucksacks have had two compartments. It worked well for me though as it was easier taking things in and out and (if I am honest), with two compartments I usually forget which one the item I want is in anyway and invariably it is never in the first one I try so it saved that frustration! The side and top pockets are very useful for keeping things you need easy access to in, such as high energy foods, a compass etc. The only drawback to the zipped pockets is that even with an adjustable strap above each one, it is trickier to store bottled water in. For those using a hydration system rather than bottles however, it is not a problem.
With the colourful rain cover

Beyond the basics though the Gelert Beyond Rock Hiker rucksack has a lot of little accessories that add up to something really quite special. Surprisingly so given its fairly modest retail price of £39.99. These include:

  • Various external hoops and loops for walking poles and an ice axe
  • Velcro and metal hooks inside the pockets to keep track of smaller items
  • A safety panel inside the top of the rucksack with information on international emergency signals and telephone numbers
  • On one of the buckles, there is a orange clip that doubles up as a whistle as well

The whistle
Now for style test. I like the design of the rucksack and the orange details dotted around it. I also quite like the two-tone grey effect but for choice, I would prefer to have the option of the same rucksack in alternative colours. That said the bright orange rain cover with the silver logo, which I love, goes a long way to adding that splash of colour!

Overall Verdict
In terms of practicality, I was very impressed. It had a very robust test and it stood up well, being comfortable and waterproof. It is ideal for a day sack, with the only exception being easy access to bottled water. It is good value for money and if Gelert could introduce a bit more colour it would be even better!

Practicality: 9/10

Style: 7/10

Gelert Beyond Rock Hiker Rucksack
£39.99 (currently on offer at £34.99 from Silverfox Travel & Outdoors)

Capacity - 25 litres
Weight - 1 kilogram
Dimensions - w24 x d20 x h46 cm

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