Having recently carried out my first two night camp, I had been feeling the urge to try another multi-day trip, confident of the new Titan bivi bag’s breathability and the likelihood of some reasonably clement weather for a trip.
After dropping into Cotswold to pick up some much needed bits and pieces I made for Newcastle for the start of my trip. Armed with a full bladder pack, plenty of power bars and a boatload of steaks, I certainly wasn’t roughing it.
I arrived at Donard Park full of excitement, as the weather was looking quite mild, if a little windy from ground level.
The walk up through Donard wood was pleasant as usual and served its purpose as a good gentle warmup for the legs before the hard yards came knocking. No matter how many times I walk this well worn route the tranquil woods never fail to make me feel at home.
Due to my relatively heavy camping pack I set a steady, moderate pace between the wood and the crossing point at the Glen river. This is where things started to change a little.
At the steps opposite the Glen river I started to notice just how ferocious the wind was higher up. The wind was tearing over the valley, prompting me to put my hood up to keep the ears from getting too much of a battering. At the saddle the wind was so strong it blew my pack completely to one side and I staggered a few feet to my right before regaining my footing. Realising the futility in fighting this wind the whole way to the summit of Commedagh where I planned to camp, I crossed the stile to the other side of the wall. I had to literally grip either side of the stile on the way over, as the wind threatened to blow me right off it onto the dirt in front of me.
Leaning forward slightly as I climbed close to the wall, I now had shelter in the form of the Mourne Wall – and it felt great. The shrill whistling of the wind rushing through the gaps in the wall served as a reminder not to stray too far from my convenient 100 year old windbreaker. Once I got to the flat lull before the final push for the summit, I stopped, sipped some water from my bladder pack and took a few photos. While it was a little dull, the view as always did not fail to impress. I spotted an interesting cloud on the horizon, with the sun streaming through it and felt it was definitely worth capturing, even if my phone camera was completely incapable of doing it justice.
Then came the final push to the summit, followed by a feeling of achievement. I’ve walked up Commedagh many times, but never with such a heavy pack. It felt good.
With such high winds it didn’t make any sense to attempt to bivi out in the open, the chance of losing my rollmat was too great – the bivi might even have blown away before I got a chance to step into it. So I took shelter in the summit tower, where I fried up a steak for supper, texted the other HikersBlog lads to let them know all was well – and climbed into my down bag for some warmth. One minor lesson learned was the importance of checking and re-checking your kit. I had forgotten my lighter, which would have been quite a mood killer were it not for the emergency firesteel I keep permanently in each of my packs. Suffice it to say lighting an omnifuel with a firesteel isn’t exactly a dignified experience, but the result was more than worth it.
And so it began in earnest – my first solo camp. I had been told by others that it can be boring, nerve-racking – listening for every bump and noise. Others have told me it’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to experience the outdoors without distraction. While I’m a sociable sort at heart and would always prefer company, I enjoyed a chance to take it easy and be alone with my thoughts. The chance of encountering anyone else seemed slim given the absolutely vicious wind outside and even if I had, I’m sure we’d have plenty to talk about.
After a few hours reading the kindle I lay my head down for the night while the dismal weather continued outside on Commedagh.
I slept deep and uninterrupted, one of the benefits of having a decent sleeping system and a good warm down bag. In my case I use an Alpkit Skyehigh 800 – and it has never let me “down”, if you’ll excuse the pun. People will tell you down is not suitable for bivvying due to issues with damp. I’d honestly say if you get a down bag wet enough to impair its thermal abilities while bivvying – you need to evaluate your handling of your sleeping bag, not the sleeping bag itself.
Performing with distinction as usual, the Titan Bivi showed good beading of any water droplets and zero clamminess or condensation on the inside
After a quick breakfast of a power bar and a few pints of water, I packed up and awaited the clearing of the morning fog. I was rewarded with one of the best views the Mournes have to offer, a view I come back for again and again.
I turned my GPS back on and walked to the saddle, where I sized up today’s walk through the valley to Annalong wood.
The first half hour of the walk is relatively bland, miles of heather and bog – although the view of the mountains on either side of you is very impressive. I’d have liked to walk along the mountains rather than between them, but the wind on day two was still quite high and I didn’t fancy being blown off my stride and being saddled with an injury on a solo trip. Luckily things get a lot more picturesque further down the river, with this beautiful deep pool not far from Annalong wood – perfect for a quick swim.
Once you near closer to Annalong wood the scenery gets a lot more interesting, with the trees in close view and the charming winding path adding to the experience. If you’re looking for an interesting walk not far from Annalong, a quick explore of Annalong valley should definitely be in your to do list.
Check out the three dimensional interactive panorama below – click and drag to pan and scan around the image in 3D. You can use your scroll wheel while hovered over the image to scroll in and out:[photosphere]https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-ncaznK66mDg/UaDYH_FbhiI/AAAAAAAAHNw/Sz-LouEkm3E/w958-h385-no/PANO_20130524_124906.jpg][/photosphere]
Images don’t really do the grandeur of the surroundings justice, but the view from the valley, out past the forest and over the sea – was breathtaking.
After having reached Annalong wood I had a few hours to spare, so I threw down my pack and lay back reading some Ranulph Fiennes.
A few hours and a few chapters later I was joined by Eamonn and his lovely Alaskan Malamute – Nukka.
We spent the evening with a swim, chilling to music – a feast on the BBQ and a variety of interesting ales Eamonn had brought along. Surprisingly, the “Kelpie” (which is made with kelp apparently) tasted great – I had myself braced for the worst.
The temperature dipped quite considerably due to the clear sky, so we retired quite early. I had my bivi set up shortly after arriving, so the sleeping bag was nicely lofted inside ready to provide a toasty, deep nights sleep.
After a good night’s sleep I awoke to Nukka’s nose poking through my bivi bag and a very enthusiastic licking of the face. It was a warm morning so we took our time packing up, fried some sausages for breakfast and were joined briefly by Spud who had came for a walk up Binnian and down Lamagan.
We then headed off, Eamonn kindly gave me the opportunity to shower and wash my clothes at his place, allowing me to continue day three relatively fresh. This was an absolute godsend. I was dropped off in Newcastle where I filled up on fried chicken at Herron’s before getting the Mourne Rambler to Tollymore forest, which looked absolutely stunning in the good weather.
I took my time, wandering through the forest towards my intended camp site on the Spinkwee / Cascade river, just on the edge of the forest, near the drins.
With a slight detour from our usual route, I was able to see some interesting views, such as this interesting derelict farmhouse:
When I arrived at the crossing point on the Spinkwee river, I crossed taking a great deal of care, my heavy camping pack making things a little more clumsy.
When I arrived at camp I found the usual remnants of a previous occupant – broken beer bottles, half burnt wood – an abandoned tarp. At least I’m not the only person who finds it an interesting campsite – even if not everyone respects it.
Sadly Spud couldn’t join me for the evening so I settled down for my second solo. I fried up a quick steak, which tasted absolutely great with the butcher’s own garlic butter.
I had a few pints of water, refilled my water bladder from the river and settled down into my bivi for the evening, watching it slowly darken, and the valley shift from vivid green detail to subtle black and grey silhouettes.
I spent a few hours reading, and listening to other hikers chat to one another as they descended on either side of the valley, completely unaware of my presence. I lay staring up at the stars, watching them twinkle overhead until I drifted off to sleep. Once again I slept sound, without stirring once all night.
Following a great night’s sleep I rose and packed up quickly, having the obligatory power bar for breakfast and a few pints of ice cold river water to rehydrate myself. I then started back along the river and in through Tollymore. With plenty of time before I was due to get the bus to Newcastle (and home from there) I really savoured the walk along the river, through the forest. While the sun wasn’t shining quite as well as it had the previous day, the sight of the sun streaming down through the trees and glittering through the water was enough to keep me looking around me the whole way back.
I reflected on the nature of conditioning – and the importance of rest in insuring it. After three days and nights of walking the hills with a heavy pack, I no longer felt it on my back. I was aware it was there, but it didn’t weigh on me, it felt like it was a part of me, a normal thing to be walking with this additional weight. I’m entirely certain that without the very sound sleep I got each night, this would not be the case – and that rather than conditioning and strengthening – I would be wearing out and risking injury.
There was nothing about the trip which was excessively challenging – but without proper rest it would have been far less enjoyable. This is something worth considering if you’re considering a multi-day trip of your own – a good sleeping system which works for you is paramount.
The walk from Spinkwee to Tollymore was a short one, but what it lacked in distance at 2 miles – it made up for in beautiful scenery and a lovely calm atmosphere. This was definitely the most relaxing part of the entire trip.
I lay back on one of the seats and basked in the sun for a few hours, admiring the hills in the distance while I waited for my bus arriving. This was definitely a trip I could not have taken when I had only started hiking and camping. The walk up commedagh via the saddle, in windy conditions with a heavy pack was definitely a challenge that required plenty of endurance and good judgement.
The rest of the trip was a little more pedestrian – but without the sound sleep which comes with camping experience and a good setup, it would have been a narcoleptic nightmare and an injury waiting to happen.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and while a little sore, I’m looking forward to my next challenge – the mourne wall challenge walk in a single day. With only two days rest from the trip in this article, I’ll definitely be carrying a little stiffness. Wish me luck, you’ll read about it here soon enough!