Monday, 17 November 2014

My First Wild Camp Trip

Way back in June, on the day I discovered I was pregnant, I set off to do my first ever wild camp. That had nothing to do with discovering the news, it was purely coincidental. I'd been planning the trip for a few weeks beforehand.

Stephen was not phased about his pregnant wife setting off solo for an adventure. Possibly partly because he was in denial about the news and didn't believe me about the accuracy rates of modern day pregnancy tests.

With lovely weather, I loaded my trusty Raleigh up with panniers & sleeping bag and headed off towards West Yorkshire initially. My destination was determined by an outdoors shop at Holmfirth where I'd be purchasing a Gelert solo tent to start out with. No point forking out a fortune on something to find it wasn't to my taste. I'd be spending less on the tent, roll-mat & inflatable pillow than I would on a b&b.

Most directions from home start with an uphill and this route was up the best of the lot. Up followed by chevrons and a climb that is challenging at the best of times, but with a loaded bike, short wheel base, hot weather and hot flushes from early pregnancy, this would be the slowest ascent with the most stops I'd managed. And I perfected leaning as far forward as possible to prevent my front wheel lifting off the tarmac. I may very well invest in front wheel panniers for future camping trips.

This is always one of my favourite roads to ride. I had a quick 'hello' to my Dad as I passed where we scattered his ashes and let him know my news. Before long I was about to freewheel down through Heptonstall where I would then pick up the Rochdale Canal and the adjacent tarmac cycle tracks that roller coster the valley bottom to Sowerby Bridge.

I'd arrived at my lunch stop and enjoyed a breather, a check in with Stephen who was in work whilst I was enjoying a monday of freedom and I consulted the map for which route to pick. I ended up plumping for following Route 68 as much as possible. The cyclist version of the Pennine Way that runs North South along the backbone of England.
I found the steepest hill I think I have ever come across in my life (and there are afew here in Calderdale) and I was heading for Norland and the wonderful views. I managed to make it up the hill without getting out of the saddle, but it was very hard. The roads now were all completely fresh to my eyes and I enjoyed them immensely. Towards Scammonden Water, I caught up with a couple of roadies out for the day and had some company for the next few miles. We chatted about the imminent arrival of Le Tour and one of the gentlemen asked about my hefty workhorse of a bike on these hills - I explained that a lighter machine would be less sturdy with a load and that I was not in a rush to get anywhere. They peeled off north and I continued on my southerly route towards the wonderfully named Netherthong & Upperthong into Holmfirth and towards the outdoors shop with plenty of time before it closed for the day.

I rejigged by panniers before the next leg that would send me towards the Peak District area via pretty, albeit ominously named Hade Edge, that actually was a bit of a plateau and some leisurely riding. I'd begun to think about camping spot options by now, but looking at the early time I decided to pedal on. The map showed plenty of reservoirs coming up around the Trans Pennine Trail and I'd thought this area may make a good spot, but as I traversed the hills I wasn't convinced by the views and exposure.

I spent some time pedalling up & down the flat TPT looking for a good spot, but nothing inspired me. So I stopped at a picnic site and enjoyed my butties and a drink. Lightening some of my load and planning the best direction to head in. I opted to follow the TPT westwards knowing that it would join up with the Pennine Bridleway which would be a good way to ride home the next day.

The next section was a lovely surprise. Afew months earlier, we'd driven to the RSF Autumn meet at Sherwood with club member and avid cycling nutter (like me), Ian who explained we were driving parallel to the TPT & I remember thinking how wonderful this area was. Very wonderful indeed, but not without hills. I climbed from the disused railway towards the Woodhead Pass. I felt wonderfully isolated here despite of the main road below me, there was little in the way of civilisation around here and I'd not seen another sole for ages.
I clocked a hill that looked like a good camping spot, but there were afew too many cows roaming, so I carried on a little way and spied an ideal crop of bracken with a brilliant view. The pitching site was instantly obvious to me. I began removing the flourescent guide ropes from the tent and was amazed by the ease of pitching this little coffin style tent compared to the 5-man tent that I usually lug somewhere in the car (my husband wouldn't camp any other way). I was set up for the evening so had a little wander to check out the lack of visibility of my camp and happy with my invisibility I enjoyed my semi-warm flask of soup for supper and sat in the tent avoiding the throng of midges that had come out to play.

The cows and sheep weren't too close, but I could hear them roaming about. The road was silent after the commuter traffic ebbed away. I had a moment of worry as a farm quad drove along the track higher up the hill. Was I going to be found and moved on? It carried on and vanished into the distance, not to return.
Pjs on, bed set up, I was plenty warm enough even when sticking my head out to look up at the clear sky of stars. I enjoyed a full night of undisturbed sleep with just minor dreams about being found in my tent, but nothing that woke me up. Once again camping on my own (last time had been on a campsite) I was surprised by how secure I'd felt.

I enjoyed the early morning view as I got dressed and my camp was dismantled in no time. This being my first wildcamp I'd not invested in any small stoves, so I would have a few miles to ride for breakfast. This would take my along the Longenden Trail into Hadfield. I pushed down the steep, stony descent before picking up the easy, flat off road trail and enjoyed the morning sunshine and fresh wind in my face that helped with the slight nausea I was suffering from.

I found a breakfast cafe in minutes followed by a bakery where I stocked up on goodies to keep me going. Then I headed for the Pennine Bridleway, the kind of terrain that I am used to riding on. However with a fully loaded bike, it is far from easy riding on the lumpy, hilly tracks. My bike was much more difficult to control, momentum uphill was non-existant and momentum downhill was terrifying. But I enjoyed the brilliant views and still managed to make better headway than the guy with an unloaded full-susp mountain bike who I spied behind me.

 As I started the descent towards Stalybridge with the view of Manchester in the distance, I made a decision to head for the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to make headway on the flat into the next valley rather than continue on the hilly bridleway.
I enjoyed some more cyclist company here as I passed Mossley and Uppermill. Here the gentlemen headed for a pub lunch & I carried on to Dobcross and Delph where I was meeting a fellow club member, Mick who would be riding with me for a stretch. Following lunch, his insider knowledge of roads came in great use. He took me on some quiet main roads that I'd have avoided if on my own (sometimes maps cannot give you any inclination of what a main road will be like), which made for some brilliant headway before returning to the bridleways around Piethorn that took me back into familiar territory around Hollingworth Lake.

Here Mick headed back towards home and I picked up the trusty favourite Rochdale Canal to Todmorden. Rather than take to the steep hills, I left the dark valley along the main road, its picturesque, but very busy with traffic, but the gradual climb had me powering along nicely and I was home in time to make Stephen's tea before he got home from work!

95 miles with 11,800ft of climbing under my belt it was a wonderful two days of exploring with a bit more knowledge about what to expect from future cycle wild camps.