Lake Baikal: Crossing The Worlds Largest Lake

This post was last updated on April 2nd, 2020 at 01:14 pm

Baikal's ice frequently breaks up and re-freezes to form strange, symmetrical shapes.
Beautiful and remote, Baikal’s frozen surface contorts into many shapes.

This year I decided to go the next step up from my long distance UK hikes and travel the length of Lake Baikal. And what a journey it was – this is one destination you have to add to your expedition bucket-list.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Baikal, here are some tips for hikers. All of them are were learned during my 400 mile winter run/hike/ski traverse of this vast expanse of frozen water.

Lake Baikal: The Facts

1 mile deep and over 400 miles long, Lake Baikal is the largest source of fresh water on planet Earth. The dark abyss is also probably home to more cars than the all the scrap yards of the world combined.

Okay, I made up that last ‘fact’. Truth is, the bottom of the lake is a burial ground for vehicles that that gone through the ice (during winter, many Russian locals use the frozen surface as highway. Their routes vary: from town to town; fishing site to fishing site; family outings to Olkhon island).

Located in southern Siberia, Baikal experiences the full force of Arctic winter, with temperatures dipping as low -30C (the coldest recorded temperature being -61C).

Wildlife is abundant. Bears and wolves roam the forests for three seasons of the year, the former hibernating at precisely the time peoplelike myself mount expeditions to traverse the lake. In the east, freshwater seals spend their time feeding on golomyanka (a local fish) and rearing their young, whilst avoiding being eaten by bears and wolves.

Note: Lake Baikal is the only known home to this species of seal.

In total, the lake’s basin supports a human population of around 100,000.

Continue reading “Lake Baikal: Crossing The Worlds Largest Lake”

Ashridge to Ivinghoe Beacon Circular Walking Route

This post was last updated on January 22nd, 2020 at 04:13 pm

Bridgewater Monument on the Ashridge estate

Before we dive into this post, I’d like to say that the Ashridge to Ivinghoe Beacon circular route is not one I created. The original was posted on the Chilterns AONB site and is 5 mile walk along some pretty substantial trails and tracks. At 8 miles, the route you’re about to follow is a little longer thanks to my ‘navigation enhancements’. By that I mean map reading errors (something that’s hard to admit considering I consider myself to be a very good navigator).

Okay, let’s crack on…

Continue reading “Ashridge to Ivinghoe Beacon Circular Walking Route”

Mini Camino del Norte: Irun to Bilbao

This post was last updated on July 27th, 2020 at 11:27 am

The Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) is an unusual beast. A near infinite fractal network of long-distance hiking routes across France and Spain (mostly), it’s also an ancient historical pilgrimage to the town of Santiago de Compostela, and a modern phenomenon that often changes the lives of people who undertake the full journey.

I’ve been interested in it since seeing the Martin Sheen film The Way, and even more interested in it since ending up in a relationship with someone who works for the Confraternity of St James, the UK charity that supports and facilitates pilgrims. I’d love to do an entire route one day, but for now we decided to just take a week and start the Camino del Norte, the northernmost route in Spain, that runs from the town of Irun on the border with France, along the coast to Santiago.

It’s a very different type of hiking to, say, the PCT. The terrain and gradients are sometimes similar, but it’s much less wild and pilgrims generally stay in a town each night, and often even stop in several towns and villages each day for lunch and snacks. That means it can be done with a very light pack, and makes it a mix of hiking, exploration, and tourism that I thoroughly enjoyed. The scenery is spectacular, but every town we stopped in was also beautiful – almost all with a magnificent church, a pretty little square, and at least a couple of bars where we could get a cafe con leche, or a small beer, depending on the time of day and how we felt.

The route took us to larger towns like San Sebastien and Bilbao, as well as tiny ones like Etxebarria, with a single bar and shop, and the only food on offer being a handful of pintxos in the bar.

Hiking the Camino is a very different experience to, say, hiking the PCT or even many routes in the UK. Few people wild camp, with hostels or bed and breakfasts being the typical form of accommodation, and most routes pass regularly through small towns meaning that food is more likely to be a serrano roll or a slice of tortilla in a pretty little cafe than re-hydrated pasta that you’ve carried with you for the last four days.

This isn’t necessarily a better experience – I love the adventure of remote hiking and wild camping – but it allows for a far lighter pack and a much more relaxed approach to the trip. It is as much a tourist experience, walking in and out of tiny towns that you would never otherwise visit, as it is a hike.

Overall, I can’t recommend it highly enough and I definitely intend to do another section of the route at some stage, and perhaps the whole thing if I can ever get sufficient time off work.

Wild camping in England and Wales – Laws and Advice

This post was last updated on July 22nd, 2020 at 10:00 am

I recently came across a campaign on twitter, trying to promote ‘legal wild camping’ by facilitating arrangements with landowners where you book and pay to camp on their land in a designated location. Now, some might say that if you book and pay to camp on a landowners land in a designated location then that’s called… a campsite. But let’s not get into semantics.

Instead, I’ll just say that this is an idea that I think needs considerable work.

Continue reading “Wild camping in England and Wales – Laws and Advice”

Pulpit Hill to Coombe Hill Circular Walk

This route from Pulpit Hill to Coombe Hill is a circular walk covering about 9.5 miles in length and uses part of the Ridgeway. The trail is a mix of mud track and, in a few places, gravel. As hiking routes go, it’s mostly easy going. Be warned: there are a couple of very steep hills (I’ve noted each one in the details below).

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • 9.5 miles of hiking and hillwalking through the Buckinghamshire countryside.
  • Stunning views, in particular when you stand on the top of Coombe and look out of the surrounding area.
  • A whistlestop tour of various aspects of Buckinghamshire history. This includes Chequers, Coombe Hill war memorial and the neolithic settlements.
  • An plenty of wildlife. Watch out for whitethroat birds, and butterflies (the speckled wood and the peacock being some of the most commonly spotted).
  • Beechwood woodland, much of which dates back to the 1600’s.

My original intention was to walk about 6 miles over the Chiltern hills. Recently I had spinal surgery and I’m still in recovery phase. Walking is easy, vigorous exercise is still a no-go area. Needless to say, my hill walking fitness plan hasn’t been used much over the past month, or so.

Continue reading “Pulpit Hill to Coombe Hill Circular Walk”

5 of the Best Long Distance Walks: UK Destinations

This post was last updated on June 10th, 2019 at 01:03 pm

The UK is criss-crossed by a network of trails, tracks and public footpaths that take you on some pretty magical journeys. If you let them. I’ve had the pleasure to hike and trek all over the world, but nothing gives me more pleasure than a walking long distance through the wilds of the UK. I’m equally at home taking walks near Thame and in Buckinghamshire. But today we’re going to explore some of the best long-distance walks (UK only – I’ll be adding more walks to cater for overseas visitors to my website).

First off, let’s be clear about what constitutes a long-distance hike, or walk: some of my outdoorsy-type friends told me that long distance is the kind of trek or hike that can take days. That’s probably a bit extreme for most so we came to an agreement – any route over 20 miles is classified as long.

Some of the routes below I’ve walked. Others are recommendations from friends. If you have any you think might be valuable additions to this post, please feel free to email me (details over on the contact page).

Continue reading “5 of the Best Long Distance Walks: UK Destinations”

Long Crendon to Chearsley Walking Route

Distance: 4.3 miles

Rating: easy

Time: two hours

Long Crendon is a large village located about 1 ½ miles from Thame. The village is in Buckinghamshire, just over the county border with Oxfordshire. Unlike Thame, which is a small town, Long Crendon isn’t a hive of activity (and that suits many of the residents and visitors). I love the countryside around these towns and villages, which is why I’ve decided to document this Long Crendon to Chearsley walking route.

The route to Chearsley – an even smaller village about 2 miles away from Long Crendon – is pretty easy going. There are a couple of short but steep climbs, and you’ll be walking across fields. If you’re planning this walking route during winter, I highly recommend you wear supportive walking boots or shoes.

Parking is at a premium as this walk starts from St. Mary the Virgin church in the heart of the old village. Most days you’ll find plenty of parking, but best check ahead for any festivals of events as the village fills up fast.

Continue reading “Long Crendon to Chearsley Walking Route”

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail – Section J

This post was last updated on July 30th, 2020 at 10:29 am

Last week, my regular hiking-buddy and I completed Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail itself is an epic route up the West Coast of America from the Mexican to the Canadian border, usually taking around 5 months to complete. Section J, on the other hand, is a relatively tiny 70 mile stretch just East of Seattle distinguished only in being known for its particularly spectacular views, and being one of the longer entirely wild sections. It’s ideal for a fairly sedate week of hiking, with both ends easily reachable from Seattle, and is easily completable in 5-6 days with the potential to do it in 4 or perhaps even 3 for those who are especially fit, determine, and willing to sacrifice long afternoons by a mountain lake for long days hiking.

Continue reading “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail – Section J”

5 Wild Camping Tips I Can Offer You

This post was last updated on July 22nd, 2020 at 03:05 pm

James and I have quite a few years of hiking and expeditions under our belts (partly because he’s far older than me). We’re both in agreement: getting off the beaten track if preferrable to following well-worn route, so here are 5 wild camping tips we have learned the hard way.

Plan Your Camp Sites

Wild camping tips 1: Plan your wild camp site well in advance, if really want to.
One of the joys of wild camping is that you can get away with minimal planning. Sometimes.
Continue reading “5 Wild Camping Tips I Can Offer You”

Hiking and Wild Camping in Scotland

This post was last updated on July 30th, 2020 at 10:38 am

As discussed in a couple of previous posts, last week I set off on a three-day/three-night self-supported, wild-camping hike around the Isle of Mull, off the West Coast of Scotland. We had a rough plan for a route we wanted to take, but no firm commitments and of course no camp sites or anything booked, leaving us completely free to adapt our plan as and when required. And adapt we did.

I’ll write more blog posts about specific elements of the trip, as I think that works better, but here’s a quick overview and some photos. If you’re interested in wild camping in Scotland yourself, then read our posts on tips for wild camping and selecting the best two-person tent.

Day 1

We drove up from Oxfordshire, after a very early start, and arrived at Oban ferry terminal about 3pm which meant we were on Mull by 5. We’d planned to hike a short distance to a woodblock that, we hoped, would be a good venue for our first night. In the event, the woodblock was a good deal smaller than the map suggested (it being managed, and presumably regularly cut and re-planted) and the terrain… challenging. The difficulty of the terrain was the biggest obstacle we had to overcome whenever selecting a route or choosing a place to camp. The vast majority of the island is extremely marshy, with lumps of grass making an uneven surface that frequently gives way into ankle or even knee-deep muddy water. It requires every step to be taken carefully, and it is of course almost impossible to set up camp on.

In the end, we pushed further out of the woodblock than we had intended and managed to find some slightly drier and flatter ground on which to pitch our tents on. Just as we did so it started to rain, so I pretty promptly just got into my tent and got my head down.

Day 2

We woke up to pouring rain, and got our tents down and full waterproofs on as quickly as possible. The plan for the day was to make our way over a fairly imposing saddle which represented the ‘easiest’ path across a near-continuous ridge, and down the other side where we would follow a river to a path, and then onwards to the next campsite.

The route to the saddle was tough – while it looks ok in the photos, the whole way was the kind of uneven, unpredictable, marshy ground described above, and the final ascent up the saddle was pretty steep.

The way down was similar and the driving rain and frequent stumbling into bogs made it less pleasant than it might have been, although my Rab Xiom jacket did it’s job so I wasn’t totally uncomfortable.

Things started to get really tricky at the bottom. The idea of following the river to the marked path had looked simple on the map, but once it flowed into a woodblock it became extremely difficult to stay close to it; thick trees or extremely marshy ground or, often, a combination of the two made this very very hard-going.

We persevered however, and when we eventually came to the track it was a very, very pleasant feeling to finally be walking on solid ground again.

The track took us up to a main road where we discovered the absolutely lovely Glenforsa hotel and were extremely grateful for a hot coffee, some shortbread, and a chance to sit down and dry off slightly. 

After that we made our way round largely by means of the road, and tracked down a spot to camp. Once again we had the issue that many places that looked pleasant were actually water-logged, but in the end we found somewhere very pretty and, thanks to the fact the rain held off, were able to actually enjoy sitting out, making dinner, and enjoying the view.

Getting some decent food when hiking and especially wild camping is pretty key for morale and ultimately for your health, so selecting a good lightweight camping stove will really improve your experience.

Day 3

After the previous day, and the realisation of how hard-going much of the terrain would be, we slightly re-adjusted our plans and took a track that would go directly across the centre of Mull, over a ridge-line, and down back to the same B-road we had walked along earlier.

This started with a really beautiful walk alongside Loch Ba, on a sturdy track just wide enough for a single 4×4 vehicle.

This eventually turned into a single-track path, which eventually became little more than ‘a few broken bits of grass indicating someone may have walked this way before’ and frequently just as wet and boggy as being off-track. The amazing thing about Mull is that no matter how much you might think ‘it’s bound to get drier as we gain elevation’, it doesn’t. There is bog at the bottom of mountains and bog most of the way up mountains as well, so we climbed up the endless bog, via a very pleasant stop to re-fill water at a mountain stream and have lunch, and finally reached the top of the ridge, with spectacular views both sides.

The route back down was similarly unpredictable and boggy for some distance until we finally reached the little one-track road that wraps round much of the island. That would take us all the way back to Craignure, some 18 miles away, so we decided to push along it as far as possible to reduce the hike on the final day (and therefore the rush to get the last ferry).

We hiked along for a few miles until tiredness and incipient rain made us decide to find a spot to camp. Once again it wasn’t particularly easy, but we managed to track down a spot just about dry enough and flat enough to set up tents on.

Day 4

The final day was a long but very pretty hike around the little B-road back to Craignure. Towards the end we were chasing for a particular ferry (one I was eager to get because I knew that the ferry after was one that didn’t serve hot food, and I had my heart set on a fry-up…) and caught in yet more pouring rain. Under those circumstances, and those circumstances alone, I was very grateful when a friendly New Zealander driving a minibus for a local tour company and on his way to meet a group off the ferry offered us a lift for the last two miles. It seemed churlish to say no, so we gratefully piled in, and made it to the ferry and the long-awaited fry-up.