Tuesday 28 February 2012

Berghaus Akka Down Vest from

One of the significant advantages of having a hillwalking/outdoor blog is that from time to time, people like to send you stuff for review. They get a plug, and you get some stuff. It’s a win-win, providing the stuff you get is worth having.

So I was quite pleased to be offered the chance to choose a piece of kit from  - a more or less free choice.

I had a rummage through their website and asked for this Berghaus Akka down vest. It arrived the next morning. Here it is on Simplyhike’s website page

I wanted one of these mainly for sitting around in on backpacking trips. Avid readers, stalkers and casual visitors with really good memories will recollect that in May this year, I’m taking part in the annual TGO challenge –a Scottish coast-to-coast with wild camping and some sitting around after walking all day. I’ve noticed that some other Challengers have down vests and, well, basically, I wanted one. The advantages to having such a thing is that 1) they’re very warm and 2) they pack down really small and 3) they don’t weigh much.

Sooooo does it do what I want it to do?

It is very warm. Apart from the fact that there’s no sleeves (!) But if there were sleeves, it would be too warm for walking. I used it on several walks, some of which were in typical nithering Northumbrian winds on the high fells. The insulation is 600 fill power on an 80/20 duck down /feather mix, which is very warm. The fit also comes very low down over the hips and buttocks which covers up any waistline draught-gaps that might happen.  For winter fellwalking, I used a micro fleece and a long-sleeved merino wool baselayer underneath it and a Paramo windproof over it. This was toasty, to be frank….

Does it pack down small?  This is it packed tightly into a stuff sack. The boot (a free TNG Dhaulagiri II GTX by the way…) is just there to demonstrate scale. This is small enough…..

akka 001

Does it weigh much? No. It weighs 470 grammes once I’ve emptied the loose change and car keys out of the pockets.  This will be fine. If the nights get perishingly cold, such as during our recent Cheviot backpack, I can invite it into my sleeping bag for a cuddle.

What else?

I was impressed by Simplyhike’s price. the RRP is £100 and the price on Simplyhike is £69.95.

What’s it like, though?

Its black. It’s outer fabric is AF treated with a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finish. This is reckoned to be able to stand up to home laundering, though I haven’t washed it as yet. so I can’t comment. I’ll add something somewhere after it’s been laundered. The AF fabric combined with the fluffy down is windproof and is fine in light showers

It has two deep zipped pockets. This is ideal for me as I loose all kinds of stuff out of any pocket which doesn’t have a zip. I remember, for instance a futile chase over the moors of the Aberdeenshire after a twenty pound note that was making a wind-assisted escape towards Denmark last summer. These things leave lasting scars, so deep pockets with zips are just the thing.

The front closure is a good zip and there’s a high, soft collar.

What about the sleeves? It hasn’t got any sleeves. You haven’t been paying attention have you?

Verdict: I really like this vest. It’s cosy and comforting and useful and it does the kind of things I need it to do.

And Simplyhike have loads of hillwalking/camping/outdoor stuff and here is their website: simplyhike   Have a look.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Yet Another Teesdale Trundle

superdawg braves the wind

This is the penultimate reccy for the summertime Durham County Council walks programme. This one is just a bit of simple fellwalking. I also wanted to have a look at a bit of path that me and Louise missed a few weeks back when it went dark.


bill the pig

And so, bright and early this morning, with Superdawg all revved up and me full of porridge, we hurtled off to Middleton in Teesdale, abandoned the knipemobile in the working mens club car park and took to the high road that goes to Newbiggin. This is a cracking easy bit of walking with a fine view of Teesdale and a small betusked pig, who either wanted our company, it being a bit lonely up there, or, more likely a tasty snack. Bruno barked at him. He didn’t seem too bothered. We pressed on.

bridge to holwick

We did the bit of missed path – just as well we didn’t try this in the dark, as it happens, followed by pleasant riverbanks to a footbridge and a path through sheep pastures to the outer suburbs of Holwick.

holwick scar

more holwick scar

A bit later and we were enjoying the brief drama of Holwick scar and then the wide-open spaces of Crosthwaite Common. Agoraphobics would not enjoy Crosthwaite Common. I couldn’t help noticing that today there were curlew, snipe and golden plover calling. Spring must be just turning the corner at the end of our road. We need to put the kettle on for when it gets home. Get the biscuit tin out and turn up the gas fire…  And the other noticeable bird, jinking around making squeaky toy noises were the lapwings. This is lapwing central. I determined to use the “movie” function on the digital camera to capture their antics. I got the camera out, selected “movie” – and they’d all gone. I put the camera away and they all came back. camera out – no lapwings. Camera in – lapwings. Eventually I got a poor and windy shot of two red grouse escaping and a panoramic shot of the fellside which was noticeably absent of small brown dogs. Bruno had gone hunting.

After a short period  that sinking feeling, he returned, apparently without having killed anything, despite the apparent access to large supplies of wabbits.  He always returns. He has a phobia about being left behind. We continued. 

lunch hut

At lunchtime, we enjoyed the plush comfort if a luncheon hut. (see pic)  This bijoux palace provides excellent shelter from the nithering wind which appears to have forgotten that it was supposed to be a nice, early spring day. The sunshine of the early morning had been replaced by a grey glaur; the hillfog creeping down the hillsides and there was drizzle on the wind. brrrrrrrr….

teesdale glaur

Later, we joined the Pennine Way back past Kirkcarrion to Middleton. I had another go at creeping up on some lapwings with my camera on “movie”. They buggerred off again. I ate an orange. Bruno snoozed briefly.

More later, I rediscovered Dawn’s chocolaty care package in the glovebox and whilst Bruno enjoyed a rodeo chew, I grazed on orange and pink chocolate drops on the drive home. Pink? What’s she trying to say? Eh?

The walk was ten and a half miles. Its quite a nice walk, really. I must try a different strategy for the lapwings. I’m determined to have a video of them.


Thursday 23 February 2012

Dawn Launched on Isaac’s Tea Trail Followed by Frog Frolics

bruno's just remembered that dawn sometimes has sweeties

Me and superdawg collected Dawn from the railway station this morning in temperatures roughly twenty degrees celsius warmer than our last trip.

I took her to Allendale and walked a couple or three miles with her Southwards on Isaac’s Tea Trail – she’ll be following Isaac around Nenthead and Alston and back to Allendale over the next few days.

river eats allen near sinderhope


I left her considering a discreet (ish) camping spot somewhere near Sinderhope and wandered back over Stobb Cross to finish a walk of about seven miles. I’ll be back to Allendale to collect Dawn after the weekend.

there's naughtiness in that sogginess

In the meantime, I came across a sure sign of the imminence of spring – a bit of flooded bridleway bubbling with the unbridled lust of many frogs. No, I mean many, many  naughty frogs. They were at it like frogs, in fact. They stopped when I got close and pretended not to be there, but as I turned away, the combined sigh, bubble and splash of furtling frog-kind  re-establishing corporal contact filled the air. The dirty buggers.

stobb cross

In the other meantime, Dawn had left a bag of goodies in the car – mainly and substantially lots of chocolate drops of varying flavours, some of which were scoffed on the drive home – at least till I remembered my appointment with the wieght management nurse tomorrow… dhuhh….   Bruno was specially pleased with his rodeo chew sticks.

In yet another meantime, I expect that Dawn was having a much warmer night than the last time we were out. It was still 11C in tropical Allendale as I drove South (then East…)


Sunday 19 February 2012

Routine stuff – Rookhope Burn, Simonside Hills, Annapurna…. (Annapurna?)

sherpa van bruno at tosson hill

Another fun filled weekend here at Knipe Towers…..

Friday was the day for the guided walk at Rookhope – the route that nearly did for me on tilted ice (tiled over a drop into a beck) last week. twenty one people turned up, including the stewards Richard Hartley and Kathy Angel.

lunch by rookhope burn

We all had a perishing cold walk accompanied by a persistent and nithering breeze from somewhere really cold. But all the ice had melted, so we just had a little bit of mud. The big victory was that nobody slithered off into the beck. I enjoyed it. It was , maybe a bit harder than I’d advertised it, though, so whilst I’ll try to keep it in the programme (if there is another programme…) – I’ll say that it’s a medium hard. A hard medium, by the way, is one who slaps you for not being quiet during the seance.

Anyway, I think it went reasonably well.

you can see our house from here (view of crook)

Saturday was for climbing Annapoorna. The diary reads thus:  Saturday – Got up. Ate porridge. Did shopping. Climbed Annapoorna. Had tea. Watched TV. Usual stuff, really.      Annapoorna, I should add, is the name of a house up a hill just outside Crook. I have a short guided walk passing there next weekend. This was the reccy. It was cold again, but this time, it was sunny most of the time, but then it snowed; huuuuge lumps of snow with rainbows….  Very pretty. I’m not sure why a house in County Durham should be named after an Indian goddess, but it is. Fair dooze, I suppose… beats Dun Roamin or Jackandannie

simonside hills

Sunday (today, as it happens) was the day for the Simonside Hills. I’d suggested this venue to Yvonne for a walk with Mick (the peeps we met in the Cheviots) and this had reminded me that I’d not been there for ages and that I should go back and have a lovely walk…  So I did.

It was cold. (Bit of a theme developing here) Actually, it started at minus 2 with a fresh breeze off some maritime glacier somewhere, but accompanied by beautiful blue skies.  The path up to the top from Lordenshaws has been heavily engineered sisnce I was last here and it looks like the Pennine Way now, with lots of Lancashire mill slabs, pretty much all the way to the top. But it’s a fine ridge, with sandstone outcrops, easy walking and an extensive view from the coast to the Cheviots to the Pennines. I could make out Cross fell and the Dun fells quite clearly.


After Simonside, we continued to Tosson Hill where the view is just as big and the trig sits inside a cosy sun-trap of a lunch-time  shelter.

After that its a bit soggier till the forest, which is just dull, and then St Oswald’s Way back to the start. This started off badly with fallen trees and an ugly area of brash, then more forest tracks and a muddy slart for a while. Once out of the woods, though, it all becomes much better and the walk from Spylaw scout hut is a sheer delight of easy walking and big Northumbrian skies

a rocky tower

The totals for the weekend were 26 miles (Simonside was 12) and 2300 feet of up, one egg butty and one lancashire cheese butty, two banana, one mars bar, and one of those crispy ginger flapjack things. Bruno’s lunches included one undefined partially consumed sandwich found in the heather, six lumps of ice, an attempt to catch a grouse (failed) and a piece of cheese butty whilst I was distracted by a jogger’s lovely bottom.

Quite a good weekend, really…


Tuesday 14 February 2012

Pieblog Milestone and Adopt-a-path stuff

fp49 feb 002

When I looked at the pieblog stats this morning, I managed to catch it as it had just counted 100,000 page views. I was quite chuffed with this, so I celebrated with two cups of coffee and some beta blockers and aspirin.  ‘Course, if you were to look at the stats in Blogger, there’d be a lot more than 100, 000 but many of these page views are Russian spam pageviews, so that source is unreliable – and the stats on statcounter don’t include RSS feeds and other things, so, really, I have no idea how many page views the blog has had. But seeing 100,000 is like watching all the zeroes come up on your car mileometer, just before you knock down the lollipop lady and all those children…

old tramway

sheep (swaledales)

fp sign having a lie down

After this I did my adopt-a-path thing on Path 49 in the parish of Crook and Willington . This tour is seven miles and includes path 51 (No sign at the place it leaves the public road),  Path 167 (muddy) Path 56 (OK) Path 176 (waymark pointing the wrong way) , path 108 (OK) Path 106(OK) and path 34 (waymarker post fallen over). I’ve told the council, obviously; I mean, otherwise, what’s the point, really…?

After this we celebrated with more coffee and a snooze. Superdawg came too…

Sunday 12 February 2012

Rookhope Reccy and Pennine Way Bowes Loop

pw bowes loop reccy 013

Due to some pretty ‘orrible weather midweek, during which the world iced over, a bit of a traffic jam of “things to do” has built up. I have relieved some of the pressure by having a rangering weekend.

rookhope arch weardale way, rookhope


Rangering Thing Number One was the reccy for a low level walk at Rookhope which will take place next Friday. This was a nine mile walk from Rookhope Arch to eastgate and back on either side of Rookhope Burn Its all very nice and pleasant. usually it’s all very nice and pleasant. On saturday it was as slippery as a Government Health spokesman. I very nearly ended up in the beck at one point, although Superdawg showed off by running backwards and forwards over the bit of tilted ice that was defeating me. I climbed up through a fallen birch tree. No dignity was preserved. This walk was actually inspired by the chap with one leg whom we’d met in the Cheviots the other day. he’d done the walk , or something very similar and pointed me at some footpath problems he’d come across. A thaw is currently in progress, so, probably the tilted ice with a ten-foot plunge into a rocky beck issue may have resolved itself by next Friday.

bowes castle

Rangering Thing Number Two was a reccy for the summer programme where we do the Pennine Way section through County Durham. This time it was the turn of the Bowes Alternative, also known as The Bowes Loop. You’d have thought this wouldn’t need a reccy. Not so. A key path has been diverted. Its an improvement. But its a change.

pennine way near bowes

The village hall car park was occupied by lots of walkers putting boots on as I arrived. A few puzzled “I don’t recognise this bloke” looks were shot in my direction, but I did recognise one or two people from County Council walks. It turned out that Crook Ramblers were starting from Bowes Village Hall car park, as were two parties from Barnard Castle, a chap who thought he was in Brough, and me.

First of all, we wandered up the Pennine Way towards Tan Hill. We got dislocated twice. But eventually, we found the key junction and headed North over to Baldersdale.

god's bridge shelter

If anybody is heading up the main Pennine Way route and it’s duff weather, note that there’s a new shooting box by the bridge over Deepdale beck and one side is left open as a walkers’ shelter. Its fairly small and there’s no fireplace, but its quite snug and there’s chairs and a paperback book to read.


And from Baldersdale, we headed back on the loop over by Goldsborough, Levy Pool and the Ex-Chemical warfare base just North of Bowes. It seems that there’s currently a project in prgress to assess the polution from the site. Its a very big site and a map on a post shows “burned areas”, areas affected by mustard gas, areas polluted with arsenic and, a bit sinister – a graveyard.  There’s sheep grazing on it , though, and there seems to be a fine population of rabbits. One flew past me and said “hello” as it happens.

military ranges

In the Wainwright guide, written in the mid 1960’s, Levy Pool is a ruin. Today, it’s a group of beautifully restored cottages, complete with traditional ling thatching. Levy Pool is also reputed to be the site of a roman dam which fed a leat which in turn fed the Roman fort at Lavatris, aka Bowes. Lvatris appears in the unreleased Carry On Up The Wall starring Bernard Breslaw as Koppitoffius, the British rebel Prince, Sid James as the scheming Roman Prophylaxis salesman Stickituppius and Kenneth Connor as the effete Commander at Fort Lavatris ,  Herpes Simples  who’s ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fend off the attentions of Queen Cartimandua (Hattie Jacques)….…  koff…unsuccessful…..

Me and the dawg did 24 miles altogether. All very misty and Pennine…

Friday 10 February 2012

Pieblog Gets Stuff Sent


One of the things about having an outdoor blog, and , probably other blogs too, is that you get offered all kinds of stuff. Most of the offers I get are either irrelevant to the blog or some company or other wants to control what I write, or , even, heaven forbid, write stuff for me. I just turned down an approach for material linked to the Ramblers efforts to get people fit by walking, for instance. This is not a fitness blog. This is a pie blog. This blog has  gravy and strong liquors.

And I got one from somebody asking for a review of a magnetic bracelet – ideal, I suppose, when navigating in a random fashion with a magnetic compass and you’re not too bothered where you might end up….. er… actually, as it happens, that prospect is starting to sound a bit more attractive…

And software. I don’t want software. Who, with a primary interest in wandering about the countryside would be interested in software…? Dhuhh…

Apart from Darren, I mean……

Anyway, the most recent one was from simplyhike an outdoor gear retailer. The deal was that I mention simplyhike on the pie blog, put in a link, and I get a piece of gear worth up to £75 to play with and review. I couldn’t see anything wrong with this. It seems like a win-win thing to me, so I looked through their website and asked for a Berghaus Akka Down vest. It came today and I’ve had it on as it’s a bit chilly up here in Pieland just at the moment. Noticing the queue of old ladies hanging on to the railings outside Pietowers this morning (due to being unable to stand up on the ice) – I wore the vest whilst spreading grit from the grit bin provided by the Council. So, it’s come in handy already.

I can also see this being useful to stop all that shivering when sitting around camp (or cowering inside a sleeping bag with all me clothes on if it’s as cold as last week….) and it seems to pack down quite small….

I will write a review in a bit – it won’t take long – I mean, it is cold just now in just the right kind of way to justify wearing a down vest and it’s not the most complicated piece of kit I’ve ever had.

I didn’t spend the whole seventy five squids, see… I spent £69.95 and the RRP seems to be £100, so even though I haven’t actually dished out any dosh, I feel like it’s a double bargain – Free, with a discount.  Double bubble…..   (Possibly faulty logic here…)

Here’s a general link  to the retailer 



Wednesday 8 February 2012

Crowds on the Tees

dcc walkers teesdale way

In complete contrast to the lonely hills of the North, today, I joined a Durham County Council guided walk lead by Rangers Sheila and Maria. Well, they’ve been on some of my walks, so I thought I’d mooch along and support their walk. Maybe it was because it was informally advertised as an “S&M” walk (Sheila and Maria) ; who knows… bit, apart from me, and the two leaders, there were over sixty walkers.

river tees near whorlton

It was a very nice walk, though, from Whorlton near Castle, upstream mainly on the South bank to Eggleston Abbey and then Barnard Castle and returning on the North Bank – a total of about ten miles in bright sunshine and iced-up paths.

All very jolly and sociable. And the River Tees is a very beautiful river running over rocks and through deep gorges and with good paths on each bank.

More Reccies from me and superdawg shortly. Its noticeable that since Dawn returned to That London, the weather forecast is now predicting double figure temperatures after some initial snowy excitements…. will it be spring or just another episode of a warm, wet and windy winter?


Monday 6 February 2012

Sleeping With Gas Canisters – A Cheviot Backpack with Dawn

camp at the back burn
Me and Dawn (up from That London) abandoned the knipemobile on the green bit at Alwinton, after having informed the nice young lady at Northumbria Police that that was our intention. She wished us a nice walk. Bless ‘er..
dawn  mick and yvonne

It were right cold from the start. We launched up Clennel Street on frozen hard ground with just a dusting of snow. On the way, we met Mick and Yvonne. I announced- Oooh – It’s Mick and Yvonne. Neither Mick nor Yvonne had any idea who I was. I introduced. We chatted a bit, then pressed on. Mick is distinctive in that he has one good leg and attached to the other knee is a complicated-looking piece of medical technology. Mick wears shorts all the time and is remarkable for his resilience and willingness to push himself into some quite rough walks in the Cheviots and North Pennines. Together with his walking partner, Yvonne, we’ve had a bunch of electronic conversations about potential routes and the stickiness of Weardale mud.. So, we’ve met electronically and now actually physically. Mick is not your average…..
first camp by the castles

Anyway, after a bit, we turned off downhill and found a comfy camping spot below a little outlying hillock called “The Castles”. It was a quiet if chilly night.
clennel street
windy gyle
the high bit of the cheviots

Day two saw us following the Usway Burn upstream and further up to the Border Ridge and then West(ish) to Windy Gyle and over the border down Windy Rig where we met the local hunt, mainly on ATV’s, one on a motorbike and one , in hunting red on a horse, followed some time later by a pack of hounds. We camped low down by the Back Burn. By 4:00 pm things were freezing hard. It was a viciously cold night – dark for full 13 hard frozen hours with a dog barking nearby and a beautiful starry night outside the tent. The stove would only work if the canister had spent the night in the sleeping bag. The camera and phone was protected in the same way. It was, in fact, desperately cold.
pw border ridge

Eventually, next morning, we dragged ourselves from warm sleeping bags and hauled our loads back up the hill to Windy Rigg and, now in bright sunshine, we wandered the Border Ridge to the Ten Mile Hut. A tussle with tussocks followed till the short day began to end as we found camping spots high up Buckham’s Walls Burn. Another equally vicious cold night crept in. A long night. Dawn had provided small bags full of chocolate nibbles of different flavours. These helped. The routine  established itself - filling up the sleeping bag with gas canisters and electronic equipment. There were random beeps in the night as a misplaced elbow turned something on and sent a confusing message against the wall of not having any signal…   Beep.                     Beep.  Turn over to relieve a cramp. Beep. Cold foot…  beep….
buckhams walls camp

In the morning the akto was frozen hard. My breath had frozen on the inner tent and it was snowing gently inside my refuge whenever I moved. A drift tried to form by the food bag. Beep.
We packed and left – eventually into a warming sun. We wandered a long path beside the burn and on to the road. We arrived, eventually at soup heaven. Barrowburn. Our tentative entrance was rewarded by an invitation to take off cold coats and stand by the fire. We got hot soup and bread. And tea. Lots and lots of hot tea. It was snowing heavily outside as we scoffed thick buns richly endowed with thick slices of hot bacon. God bless Barrowburn.
into the snow...

Our advances for beds in the bunkhouse eventualy rejected (a party had booked exclusive use) – we plodded up over the hill to Fairhaugh and down once again by the Usway Burn to the huge sheepfold at the foot of Hosden Burn. It snowed heavily and, eventually resolved itself into yet another seriously below zero night. A dog fox barked nearby. A mouse visited my porch. I left it some small oatcakes in the morning.
Another night with a gas canister and various bits of electronic equipment  for company. Lets make no bones about this; it was perishing. No, I mean really bloody cold.
usway burn freezing up
The last morning’s routine of trying not to wake up, eventually brewing, then porridge and then , slowly the routine of packing, starting with unscrewing the canister from the stove… and leading to an icy tiptoe down by the Usway  to Shilmoor, then over the Passpeth to Alwinton where the car was where we’d left it…
We spent the night at Byrness where they have proper food and comfy warm beds and friendly conversation and ….  beer…..
last camp
last look before leaving (from pass peth)
I must say that despite the perishing, numbing cold, this was a damn good trip.
Great fun. Thanks Dawn.  Dawn’s probably back in That London* by now, drying out her stuff. I expect there’ll be a blog post about it from her shortly. I’ll put a link in at the appropriate point.
STOP PRESS - LATE NEWS --- (beep beep etc) Dawn's account of this adventure is now here:
Its a cracker....   some nice pics there....

* All future references to the UK Capital will be “That London” from now on. This just seems to reflect that “That” London is responsible for many things……..   many, many things…..