Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Rochdale Canal City Centre Lunch Walk Trip Report

Like a lot of people I work too hard at a job I don't even care much for and spend most of my lunch hours rushing out for a sandwich then rushing back to my desk like the wage slaves that I am. So the other night while reading a surprisingly good Ramblers Association Magazine I had bought for the first time ( I only got it as I can't seem to find TGO anywhere this month, but I will probably buy this mag again as it is really good). I came across a Manchester City Centre walk of approximately 4km that could be done in an hour. I decided that on at least one day this week I would walk out that door at 1pm and not return until 2pm on the dot. So in true Forest Gump style I lept from the office chair turned my monitors off and flew out the door with the intention of walking for an hour without stopping. Walk Jamie Walk!

Rochdale Canal in Manchester City Centre

I had to get something to eat on the way that I could eat while I was walking and fancied something a bit different so I went through China Town as I was heading that way. I went to one of my favourite city centre eating places Ho's Bakery. This is a unique place selling various oriental based pastries and cakes. I grabbed myself a few tiny filled sweet buns with fillings like sausage, pork, bacon and egg, and a sweet melon cake slice thing for afters. If your ever in town and want something different it is well worth a visit, the Ho's Bakery is on the corner opposite the big Chinatown archway. Manchester's Chinatown is the second largest in the UK and a great place to head when in the city centre for fantastic restaurants, huge grocery shops and cooking equipment shops with a difference.

Ho's Bakery by The Archway in Manchester's Chinatown

I reached the entrance to the Gay Village which is where I could cross the road and go underneath the Princess Street bridge to join the canal towpath which is also the Cheshire Ring Canal Ring Canal Walk long distance path. at Lock 87. I headed west along the south side of the Rochdale Canal under Princess Street bridge. As you come out from under the bridge the scene that hits you is like something from an old L.S. Lowry painting or black and white industrial revolution photograph archive. Almost immediately my head was singing the song from the 1992 Boddingtons Bitter television commercial where the two venetian gondolas pass on this exact spot on the Rochdale Canal in the 1992 commercial. Wow does this bring back memories, the Boddingtons Bitter commercials were always brilliant and that was one of my favourites which I'm stood in its set right now "By eck its gorgeous"... "that Gladys Althorp, she never buys her own".

Rochdale Canal setting of the famous 90's Boddingtons gondolas advert

I reached Lock 88 which drops the canal underneath Oxford Street, one of Manchester's busiest streets which leads out to the Universities, Fallowfield, Rusholme and eventually Didsbury. One other bonus of this walk is that it passes at least four outdoor shops on the way! Here you can leave the canal and head a few hundred yards along Oxford Street to the Cotswolds Outdoors Rock Bottom shop. At this Lock 88 the office buildings seem to hang right over the canal and swamp it into almost none existence! I made a dash under the bridge after spotting on the light fittings the most ridiculous numbers of fat bodied spiders I've ever seen! Ewww!

Rochdale Canal's Lock 89 Tib Lock

The canal now bends round to the back of the excellent Rain Bar on the opposite side of the loch where Lock 89 or Tibs Lock is located. If its a sunny day you can sit out the back of the Rain Bar and watch the canal. As I approached two narrow boats were utilising the lock, this is something I can watch again and again, there is just something so majestic about the locks that I have always loved, such inventive yet simple technology. At Lock 89 there is a small branch of canal heads off towards the Bridgewater Hall. This was originally the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal opened in 1839 that canal was built to join up the then Mersey and Irwell Navigation ( now the River Irwell and Manchester Chip Canal ) with the Rochdale Canal. The branch that heads off here now simply goes to a basin outside the back of the Bridgewater Hall but amazingly the old under ground route that went underground for a kilometre still exists in the empty tunnels that can still be seen under the city centre! Photos and info here.

The Beetham Tower rises above Deansgate Locks

Carrying on past Lock 89 I then reached the Hacienda on the left which has now been rebuilt into stylish city centre apartments. Along the tow path and on the side of the underground car park there was art writing along the car parks walls with a year by year history of the life of the world famous nightclub. I then headed under the Gaythorne Bridge to reach Deansgate Locks, these days more famous as a going out spot for city centre revellers. Here locks 90 then 91 take the canal past the huge railway viaducts that once fed the massive Central Station with steam trains which is now the GMEX. The viaducts now carry the Metrolink tram system into the city centre. Looking up from this part of the canal there is one massive feature The Beetham Tower, the highest building in Manchester and the highest residential building in Europe! This 168m tall glass giant is controversial, you either love it or hate it, I being a proud Mancunian love it. One of the things visitors to our great city always talk about is the contrast of old and new and in this walk you really get to see it. After Lock 91 the canal goes under a wide bridge under the main A56 Deansgate road, when originally built the canal ran in a shallow tunnel beneath the Duke of Bridgewater's field at Castlefield between Lock 91 and the Dukes Lock 92. On either side of the canal as in many parts of the Castlefield area you can see the red sandstone that they tunnelled through.

Fascinating old factory constrasts the Beetham Tower

I eventually reached the Dukes Lock or Lock 92. I'm familiar with this area as the Dukes 92 pub and restaurant here is on of my favourites. Castlefield is a stunning area completely regenerated many years ago and has kept its style decades later. Just before Lock 92 there is a beautiful narrow and tall brick building with a chimney from the industrial age which provides an amazing contrast with the modern Beetham Tower. I cut the walk short as time was against me so I nipped through the old roman fort area of Castlefield, passing the second outdoor shop on the way, Ellis Brigham which is by far my favourite outdoor store and is situated in the heart of the old roman fort area of Castlefield.

Mamucium plaque in the old Roman area of Manchester

I made my way back to my wage slave hell. I had the same buzz about me I have when I've done a good walk at weekend or been to the gym in the morning, like I had beat the negative drag of the day and done something different and interesting as well as physically beneficial. It was a fantastic walk which I plan to do at least once a week and I think everyone should be encouraged to walk out of the door at lunch time and walk until you get back an hour later!

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here.

Route Map...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Glencoe OM Meet Trip Report

Just got back from another cracking weekend with friends from Outdoors Magic this time in Glencoe. We headed up the M6 on Friday afternoon with the usual bridge works causing havoc near Preston and Lancaster but soon got in our stride, bombing past the ever beautiful Howgills and crossing the border in good time. As we crossed the border we saw several large skeins of Geese heading towards the Solway, most likely stopping off there on their way to warmer climates for the winter. We on the other hand are more hardened and were heading north through Glasgow then up to the meteorologically unpredictable Highlands.

Binnein Beag summit cairn

We arrived at the Red Squirrel campsite at around 9pm and it was dark. Finding a bunch of lightweight outdoors fanatics isn't hard on a campsite to be honest, you just look for the main identifiers like empty beer cans and stupidly lightweight tents in close proximity. We found hidden away a Golite Hex, Golitee Shangri-La 3 and Lightwave tent and knew that only one bunch of people have such good taste! We tried to setup the tent, which a fortnight ago took us three minutes to erect, half an hour later I was still stressing! The ground was full of rocks and so damp and chalky it wouldn't take the pegs and when it did they didn't stay in despite being y pegs.

Base camp at Red Squirrel camp site in Glencoe

Eventually I gave up and used some big rocks to keep the pegs in. I'm not a huge fan of the Red Squirel campsite to be honest. I like its location but that is about it. The amount of money this site makes in a year is a huge amount, however the amount invested back into the sites facilities is simply atrocious by comparison in my opinion. The toilet doors for example are so old and decrepit that on the first morning, I had to rescue a young lad crying as he couldn't get the lock open, Sandy got quite a shock when he entered the toilets to find me leaning over the cubicle into the cubicle where a little boy was crying, the rumours started as you can imagine and were not helped by the young lads dad who thought it was funny to send me from 'Hero' to 'Zero' in one false rumour!

Myself, Sir Jimmy Saville, Polly the Parrot and Elaina

So after setting up camp we rushed down to the Clachaig Inn. Surely the world's greatest establishment! The Boots Bar at the back of the place was absolutely buzzing and cramped full of outdoors people who had spent the day on the hills. The joy of sitting listening to peoples experiences in this very bar is the reason I decided to go on my first ever mountain walk many years ago. We took Max the border collie with us and let him off his lead to run round the place making friends all night. We immediately spotted the Outdoor Magic lot and went over to say hello to friends Elaina, Steve and Sandy who introduced us to his lovely new lady Louise. After mingling we spotted a healthy looking Frank in the corner. Other people we hadn't met before like Ian, Mole, Tim and Stephen introduced themselves and we had a good chinwag with everyone.

Sandy and Sir Jimmy Saville

Half an hour after entering the pub a familiar face entered the pub much to every ones surprise, none other than the legend himself Jimmy Saville! At first I thought he was Doug Scott with the white hair and rounded glasses, though I can't imagine Doug wearing yellow Lennonesque glasses and yellow track suit tops. We had a great laugh with him and Elaina told him all about International Talk Like A Pirate Day and he agreed to photo us all with Polly the Parrot! After the pub we all took the often dodgy walk home along the dark road, one lad who was with another group and a lot more drunk than any of our party went over in a bad way and ended up in plaster cast at Fort William at the end of the night.

Heading along the Mamore Lodge track towards the mountains

Morning came and the weather wasn't too bad, the worst of the weather had been forecast for the afternoon so we all prepared for the worst. We all drove up to the Mamore Lodge car park, a handy 200m above sea level. Setting off along the track to Loch Eilde Mor the weather held up but the clouds around were lowering and distance curtains of grey showed us what to expect. By the time we reached the Loch it dawned on us as we checked the map for the first time that we had as usually missed the path we needed to take to shoulder the side of Sgor Eilde Beag.

Heading towards Binnein Beag on Coire a Bhinnein

So as the rain started pouring down we donned our waterproofs and yomped over the heather using the Allt Coire nan Laogh as a hand rail to get us to the path we should have been on. We gained the path and rounded Sgor Eilde Mor expecting to see one of the Mamores greatest sights Sgurr Eilde Mor reflected in the oddly shaped lochans at its foot, instead all we saw was rain and clag. at this point Sandy and Louise decided they would leave the rest of us and climb Sgurr Eilde Mor instead of the planned ascent of the remote munro Binnein Beag. We still do not know exactly what the young couple got up too while they were off on their own though many of us made up our own stories as you can imagine.

Ptarmigain on Binnein Beag

As we eventually reached the foot of the final ascent to Binnein Beag the rain stopped and blue skies started teasing above the ridges above us. We climbed the rocky boulder strewn ascent to reach the summit and the weather gave us a perfectly timed good weather window. Mole spotted a pair of Ptarmigan on the ascent. Fascinating and surprisingly tame birds. The views stretched far and down the full length of Glen Nevis. After photos and food we descended and decided that given the time and the ever changing weather that would be it for the day and headed back along the right path this time.

Myself on Binnein Beag summit with the Grey Corries behind

There was a moment of head shaking on the return leg when we stumbled across the blatantly obvious path and cairn we should have taken earlier! Ach well we all blamed Steve as usual! After removing much soaked clothes and watching a stunning rainbow at Mamore Lodge we set off for warmth and food and found it in Kinlochleven at the McDonald Hotel. Venison Pate, Haggis Fritters, Steak Lasagne, Stick Toffee Pudding all happily consumed. The best part of the evening was when a small child ran in the place and her feet went from underneath her, most of the hotel looking in horror as we all chuckled at the table and Sandy accused Nicky and Louise of sticking their legs out. Knackered from the days adventures we all went back to camp where some took a shower and power nap.

Camp fire at Red Squirrel camp site in Glencoe

One thing I'd learned about Red Squirrel is to take a good supply of fire wood, we took a big box with us and on Saturday night it was a delight to sit around the warm fire with friends. Sandy and myself had a play with some slow shutter settings on our cameras and played around. At 11pm the site wardens came over and threw a large bucket of water of the fire and that was the end of that! We headed home the next day as we were tired and all our gear was soaking, plan was to watch the rather important football match on the way home somewhere but in the end we just listened to Radio 5 and listened to a great match where Manchester's premier football team showed the wannabies that they have a long way to go yet!

I have uploaded the photos from the weekend here.

Route Map...

Monday, 14 September 2009

Shangri-La 3 shelter using Pacer Poles Gear Talk

I recently purchased a Golite Shangri-La 3 lightweight shelter, which in my opinion is the most versitile tent or shelter option in the world at the moment. A truly four season lightweight tent and shelter which I have seen gear testers use in some serious weather. It isn't ultra lightweight when used in its complete package but it really can be when used in some of the many different available combinations.  I will explain the shelter system at a later date when I review the shelter after using it a little more.

One of the biggest selling points for me is the fact you can save weight by using trekking poles to hold it up, and after completing a tough mountain challenge this summer I was converted to a 'pole user' and don't think I will ever walk hills again without them. The poles I have chosen are also in my opinion the best in the world. Pacer Poles were developed a few years ago and patented which is a good and bad thing really as their unique ergonomic handle shape will never be duplicated by other companies. Luckily the people who have the patent are decent folk! I have borrowed Pacer Poles in the past from friends and felt that if I ever used poles these would be the ones as they are incredibly comfortable and you just flow as you walk with them as they don't feel restrictive or like they shouldn't be there.

Pacer Poles and their unique patented ergonomic grip handles

So I bought the poles and the shelter a few weeks ago after getting some well earned overtime pay from work. The problem I had now was figuring out the best way to join my Pacer Poles together to use them as a central ercection pole for my shelter. The Pacer Poles handles are to be honest not quite as ideal for this situation as say Black Diamond or Leki handles as their handles are a lot flatter on the top and therefore sit well on the floor and hold the shelter material on the roof in a much steadier way. I have been onto a fair few blogs and forum threads that list several techniques for joining poles together, some very clever and in some cases I got surprising results for little work and cost.

One lightweight option was pointed out to me by a thread on the Outdoors Magic forum in their Shangri-La 3 / Hex 3 Owners Thread. This option uses the most basic of options, just one thread of very strong and thin cord tied to the end of the pole and then at a length of several inches tied to the end of the other pole, this stops the pole on top sliding back down to earth, and to keep the poles together the guy used velcro strips wrappd round the poles. I found this worked really well and was strong, but the ridges and bands around the poles kept pushing the poles away from each other still. Maybe with something additional to keep the poles that tiny gap part would help. Amazingly lightweight though and really up to the job as confirmed by many people on the U.S. Backpacking Light website where it seems to be used a lot by thru hikers in the states.

Black Diamond Pole Link Converter

One option that looked good to me, though extremely none adventurous, would have been to buy the Black Diamond Pole Link Converter which has been designed for use with their lightweight tarp type shelters and trekking poles. A Brilliant and lightweight piece of kit completely designed for the job but hard to find in this country unfortunately. I read that some people use the Golite pole extender that comes with the shelter ( used to extend the standard shelter pole ) and just extend the trekking pole then put it into this pole and use the adjustment turning knobs on the trekking poles as the bit that stops on the top of the extender, this I found worked but wasn't steady or strong and I don't really want my pole forcing itself down on those sensitive parts of the kit to be honest.

While I sat on the sofa the other day with the Golite extender pole in my hand I thought to myself "this thing would be ideal if it had some way of stopping the poles in the middle so you could stick one pole in one end of it and one in the other and it not slide down to the floor... Hmm" it then hit me that if there was a hole on the other side of the pole instead of just one side I could shove something through the pole which would stop the pole sliding down the bottom trekking pole. I'm sure by now this all sounds a bit complicated, in fact I know it does so I have added some pictures to explain...

The assembly method and the final pole for use with a shelter

I held the Golite extender pole against a piece of wood outside and drilled a hole in the exact same place as the most central hole but on its other side, I got this spot on more or less by just puting the drill through the existing hole and drilling through the other side. Then I took off the weaker bottom sections of the Pacer Poles leaving the handles and the middle section. I found a standard tent peg and used a hack saw to chop it smaller. I then stood one pole up with the handle on the floor, put the extender pole, with inserted small peg in the centre hole and back centre hole I just created, on top of the Pacer Pole and it sat on top waiting for me to then drop in the other Pacer Pole setup the same way and viola! Easy trusty and solid as a rock! You can adjust the pole length as you would normally adjust the Pacer Poles, other than that there ain't much to say really! If you have the shelter then you already have the extender pole, and drilling a hole in the back in the centre doesn't affect its normal use for when you want to use the normal pole like when car camping! There are plenty of other ways of doing this but I don't think any are as simple and effective as this. I use the carbon version of the Pacer Poles, you could use absolutely any trekking poles to do this. Once I have used it in the field I will report back! Go drill a hole in your Golite pole extender and see how well it works!

Backpacking Light's brilliant 16mm Pole Extenders

Since I did this post there has been a very interesting development in pole extension for shelter use. Bob Cartwright of the hugely reputable and popular www.backpackinglight.co.uk has developed and is selling for a good price pole extenders for walking poles, including a 14mm pole extender for Alloy Pacer Poles and a 16mm version for Carbon Pacer Poles.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

River Bollin Valley Dug Walk Trip Report

I lived in the leafy Cheshire village of Bowdon for the first decade of my life, not in a huge mansion neighbouring millionaire footballers but in a busy dead end terraced street. To most people the street was a dead end, but for me the adventure went on through wide meadows and hidden paths to the beautiful River Bollin Valley. Almost a million people live within a twenty mile radius and hardly any of them even know this gem of a valley exists. They may from time to time visit the National Trust's spectacular deer parks and stately homes at Dunham Park and Tatton Park but hardly any will venture along the hidden footpaths of the Bollin Valley. Bowdon was in the Domesday Book of 1086 as "Bogedone" a name derived from two old Saxon words "boga" and "dün" meaning "curved hill". When you look towards Bowdon when approaching from the south you will see why.

Max fetching a stick from the River Bollin

At the moment we are looking after my future in-laws border collie Max which is giving me a great excuse to get out of the house and go for evening walks around the local area. I had a day off last week so thought I'd go and explore the Bollin Valley I loved as a child. Streams and Rivers have always been my favourite thing. Seems ludicrous that we don't visit the valley more often as it is only a 3km walk or ten minute drive from our back door, but we rarely get time to go for short easy walks these days, which is a real shame. We parked up at a make shift car park down a small country lane in the heart of the valley by the old Bollington Mill. The dog jumped from the car and ran off towards two gentlemen, one of them had a burgundy England training top on and on closer inspection I realised it was none other than Bryan Robson! A Man who I admired as a teenager and used to chant at from the Stretford End. We said hello, I introduced myself as a fan in that sad dorky way you do when you meet a hero, and he shook my hand and wished me a good walk. You don't get much better starts to a walk than that really!

River Bollin Foot Bridge

The river was teaming with small fish as I peered in from the footbridge. Tiny fish swimming but still against the flow of the river on tiny sandy ripples below the clear waters. The river is fed by many tributaries along the way and some come from well stocked reservoirs and meres which can help the ecology and fish stocks of the river. The rivers banks were as I remembered, sandy and muddy, a true representation of the Peak District moors they are sourced from. The locals are quite excited at the moment as there have been several sightings of an Otter on one of the many tributaries of the Bollin, the location of which I won't make public.

Thistledown

After enjoying a good stick throwing session with Max at the large river bend where the river silt has made a fantastic beach, we continued on through woodlands at first then out onto open meadows where the thousands of thistles were performing there annual "Thistledown" a method of seed dispersal by wind. At times when the wind blew it was like it was snowing. A few of these had only just burst open and they were incredible to see. As we crossed one of the meadows I heared one of my favourite wild noises, the sharp mewing of a Buzzard. I looked up to see two circling above. See here for an example of a Buzzards call. I love that these mighty and majestic birds of prey are only two miles from my house. The wildlife in the valley is great, in just two visits in the last year I have seen Buzzards, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Swifts, Swallows, Moorhens, Mallards, Trout, Butterflies, Bees, Insects and even a very happy and muddy Border Collie!

Max on the track back to the car park

You can make as long a walk as you like starting from many different places along the Bollin and I hope to eventually put up a few on the website in the next few months. There is now a 25 mile long trail known as the Bollin Valley Way. You can download the maps and information leaflets in PDF format for the Bollin Valley Way from here. The valley has so much to see and offers a real getaway for those who live in the hugely over populated and rat racing Greater Manchester area, check out the website at www.bollinvalley.org.uk.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...