Following on from a recent post in which I shared with you seven of my hiking mistakes, I’m now going to reveal some of my personal successes that have made this year a memorable. Even though it’s not quite over yet and there is still time for more.
My First National Trail
To anyone who’s been following this blog through 2018, it should come as no surprise that to walk The Ridgeway National Trail was a big achievement for me. Regardless of the fact that the five days I took to complete the trek were spread across several months!
Things didn’t begin as well as I’d hoped. Leaving the trail on the dawn of day two was never within my early intentions. But I got back out there, with great help from a couple of friends and walked the final two-days across a pair of weekends; carrying as much kit as I would need for each trip on my own two shoulders.
I started leading walks for Brunel Walking Group back in the spring of 2013 and I’ve been a regular contributor to the group’s programme ever since. This year has been a particularly good one for the number of walks I’ve led – including barbecues and weekends away, I think I’ve now led a total of seven walks this year, which must be very close to my personal best, if it doesn’t meet or exceed that figure.
On another note, I’ve been feeling more confident as a walk leader and talk to people within a crowd. I think a part of that is from getting to know and befriend certain people over time, while I’m personally more accepting of my own social flaws, where I would previously become self-critical and instantly over-analyse my thoughts, reactions and possible opinions of others.
On my third visit to Snowdonia since October 2015, I finally made it to the top of the UK’s most over-populated mountain and its third-highest peak. It was a time away with a small number of friends and, over the course of five-days, we were able to climb several other mountains (Tryfan, the Glyderau) and explore the Berwyn mountain range from our doorstep.
Scrambling was a constant feature of our days in elevation. I’d not done any proper scrambling before and hadn’t climbed a rock for over twenty years. But I took to the experience using my instincts, finding my feet and hands within the rock and enjoyed each challenge.
We conquered Crib Goch – one of the most perilous ridge-walks in Britain. We can also say we overcame the near-vertical Sinister Gully, on the way up to Glyder Fach.
Plans are afoot for another trip away in 2019. Scotland is the destination, with the inevitable summit of Ben Nevis to feature alongside more scrambling adventures. I’d been to Snowdonia and other parts of Wales before… But I’ve never even been close to Scotland.
I’ve been travelling to different places around the UK since 2014, when I ended up embarking on a solo trip to Dorset, camping overnight for the very first time. I found that I liked camping and the solitude one can find within a tent (even when your neighbour in the pitch next door is smoking and coughing but seemingly unaware that one act leads to the other…).
A lot of people will use B&Bs for comfort (at a price) and youth hostels are forever popular with outdoors-types. I’ve always avoided the latter (even on my group’s Christmas weekends away) for the fear of sharing a small space with too many people…
Walking days two and three of The Ridgeway this year, I realised that stopped at Streatley YHA overnight and close to the River Thames was going to be a sensible option. There was no alternative camp site for several miles and very few along the trail in general.
I’m not going to lie and pretend that I slept well in that six-bed room, with one guy beyond my toes who’d drunk to much in the evening and was talking through his sleep and another above who’d stormed through the door at 23:00 and required the aid of a desk-top fan for the night… This was without noticing the frequent opening and closing of doors and toilet trips from rooms down the hall…
It’s the youth hostel experience, as I imagined it could be. I’m a long-term insomniac and, as tired as I’ll feel most mornings, I’ve found that I can still achieve a lot the next day and that includes walking fifteen miles in the midst of a relentless heatwave.
Would I stay in a youth hostel again?
Preferably not. Unless there was absolutely no other means available!
If you follow any linear path in one direction, you’re going to need a means of returning home at some point. Not knowing anyone close to the eastern end of The Ridgeway who would happily drive me back to North Somerset… I was going to have to contend with at least one train and several buses to return to my car in Swindon.
My original plan was to take a train from Tring to London and then a direct line to Swindon, where my car would’ve been waiting… But I’d never been on a train by myself before. I have enough trouble with buses, timetables and drivers. I didn’t like the thought of being anywhere close to London (I find Bristol ‘too busy’).
I took a bus from Ivinghoe Beacon to the station in Aylesbury, having completed my long-distance walk and thankfully, ensured I had change with me. I walked across to the train station and was pleased to find a self-service ticket machine. Following others, I was able to break through the turnstile (although it’s not technically a turnstile), on to the platform and on to an almost-empty train bound for Princes Risborough.
From there, I took a final bus journey to Chinnor (missing my initial stop, although the “miserable” driver was kind enough to inform me) and that left me with a couple of hours of walking back along the trail to my car in Watlington.
Alternatively, Google Maps suggests I could’ve taken a bus up to Oxford and found another bus to take me direct in to Watlington… But as I’m not particularly confident or well-practised in my use of public transport, I wanted to keep things simpler and did fancy attempting the train journey.
I’m looking at walking the South Downs Way next year, which will ultimately require more trains and buses and, quite possibly, braving the concrete capital of London.
Walking the Severn Way
I was actually hoping to have completed my walk of the Severn Way (as far as Tewekesbury) by now but, after a summer-long absence, I’m pleased that I have made some much progress and now have fewer than fifteen-miles to walk.
You can read about the rivers and study the line of a trail on a map… But the best way to experience them is to get out there on foot and follow.
When I have completed my personal portion of the Severn Way, I’d like to find myself another challenge to continue with.
Olly Outdoors is my second YouTube channel and one created exclusively for… My outdoors-related content! I believe it’s now over two-years old and, for much of that time, I’ve been happy to record scenes, take photographs and occasionally record narration to play over the top.
Within the final two months of this year, I’ve decided to have another go at talking directly to the camera while I’m outside. No external microphone (my camera doesn’t offer that), no additional voice recorder; just me versus the breeze.
I’m still incredibly nervous and lacking in confidence with this… But the comments I’ve received in response have been fantastic. My belief is that anyone can make a film of any walk or landscape and in any area. But what makes someone’s video unique is their personality and their story. This is what people tend to engage with and it’s something that I look for in the videos of others.
I watched several videos of The Ridgeway before embarking on the trail and the ones that really stood out for me were the ones where I ‘met’ the person behind the camera and the occasional person in front.