Ecuador Trip Fundraising

As you might know, if you follow a few of the posts on my blog, I’m heading to Ecuador over Easter. In fact, Ecuador is only 70 days away! Myself and another lecturer in my college have started fundraising for the trip, aiming to collect money for the trip, and for the charities that we will be visiting. To this end, I will be making full use of my half term by swimming the equivalent of the channel in the local swimming pools. My calculations make it about 22 miles, which is 1413 lengths. I’m aiming to do this as quick as possible, where swimming times allow!

I have set up a fundraising page, which I’ve linked to below, and I’ve set myself a target of £200 which I hope I can reach, with the kindness of people, which I can put towards the trip and charities we will visit. I’ll be sure to post all about the trip when I return and show photos of the places which the money has contributed to.

If you have some spare change, and would like to donate, please find the link below. Thank you very much!

http://www.gofundme.com/ecuador2012

Ecuador Experience build up

It’s been quiet on here recently. With the weather getting colder, and nights darker, there hasn’t been much time to get my bike shed finished, and other woodwork done, though the roof of the bike shed is waterproof, so it will survive until the spring if it needs to!

In college, I have had an interesting time – many months ago, we had a visit from a Phil Williams, who aside from travelling around businesses promoting ecological ideas and living, arranges the occasional trip to Ecuador, which is an opportunity to visit cloud forests, rainforests and travel across the Andes. When I heard about the trip, I was instantly interested. In October, we were asked if we were interested in the trip, and I registered my interest. At fairly short notice, we were told that the trip would be taking place in April, over Easter. Though it came as a bit of a shock, I figured the only way to do trips like this would be to seize the opportunity when they come up! I paid my deposit last week.

I got a newsletter which outlined the trip today, though a full schedule will be on its way in February. In that time, I’m working as much as I can in stadiums to get some money for the trip together, and possibly looking at a fundraiser over February half term! Its a busy time, but the more I do things, the faster Easter will come!

North Wales to South Wales in six days… ouch! (part 2)

(This is part two of the journey. If you missed part one, you can find it here)

On the official guide books, the Offa’s Dyke trail is split into twelve sections. Most of these sections are split into 15 mile sections, handily allowing us to set up two sections in one day. So in the first two days, we completed sections 1-4. Section 5 and section 6 are split into about 11, and 12 miles, respectively. We knew that to make up for our shorter day on day one, getting to Brompton Crossroads (the end of section 6) was a minimum requirement. Fortunately, this 23 mile section turns out to be probably the flattest (and also the most boring) section of the route, which meant we could power along it. We spent the day walking as long and as hard as we could. I remember it for being a tedious walk. For all other days, there was always something pleasant to look at, but this particular day was taken up by endless fields and flat scenery. Regardless, we were happy to not be challenged by hills, and walked on.

The end of the third day greeted us with rain. Just as the sun was falling, we were about 5 miles from Brompton Crossroads, and started to go through what we hoped was the last batch of fields. Now, I’m not sure how much experience you might have with walking, but you may be aware that a lot of fields you walk through have cows in them. In the day, they tend to keep themselves to themselves, unless there are calves around, in which case you skirt past them slowly. In the night however, they see a head torch and they decide to take a little wander over to see whats going on. Not the kind of thing you want when you are walking in the rain, in darkness looking to finish soon!

Our spirits were down at the end of this day. We were half expecting a closed down pub at the crossroads, and the lack of a large town made it difficult to see the finish line, so we had little to drive us on in our limited vision. Fortunately, we made it to the crossroads and was greeted by an unassuming little house, where we could just about make out the board on the side reading “blue bell inn”. We stumbled into the porch, gingerly poking our head into the warm pub and was greeted by one of the best receptions we had all trip.

At the bar, much to our luck was an ex-squaddie (I will add his name when I get it!) who got us a round of drinks and set out giving us advice on how to look after our battered feet (see photo above). The neighbour was kind enough to allow us to set up the tent in his garden, and the landlady, Helen, allowed us to sit in her warm kitchen to cook our supper. I think this kindness literally saved our trip. We were down and out before arriving at the pub, and this evening raised our spirits significantly. (There was even free cake offered around from a birthday going on in the other room!) We met plenty of people who all gave us lots of encouragement and plenty of friendship. The only thing we found, is that everyone was quick to point out that our next day was difficult. One local told us it was “like climbing Ben Nevis two and a half times in a day”. But we worried about that in the morning.

Fortunately, against predictions, our morning started off dry, and the whole day remained pretty much rain free. We had 15 miles to Knighton, and another 15 to Kington, if we were to make our target. The 15 to Knighton was going over the Shropshire hills, a beautiful area, and one you don’t want to tackle with 90 miles of sore feet! Still, we took it on and found it hard going. We were greeted by the welcome arms of Knighton by 2pm. If we had stuck to a schedule, this would have been about 2 hours later than the hopeful arrival time. Without wanting to admit defeat, we got what we could from Knighton, which included ibuprofen for my swelling knees and cracked on, hoping to make at least 10 miles before nightfall.

Without being able to put a finger on the reason, our trek towards Kington became a very positive one. Possibly the food, possibly the painkillers we had loaded up on, we were high on energy and optimism. With about 8-10 miles to go to Kington, and 1 hour of light, we decided we should get our speed boots on and try and make Kington in the dark. Night fell when we had one large climb of about 5 miles left. We strapped on the head torch and decided to do it in the dark. This was either genius or completely foolish. Because of the result, I’m going with genius.

Generally, the path is very well signposted. It, however is not designed for night time navigation! Usually, it follows a fence line, however as we neared Kington, at the top of our climb, it decided to go cross field. Normally, when you can see the other side of a field, you can head towards the gate. In pitch black, you can’t do this, so we quickly got lost. I should point out that it was also raining at this point. At the end of our tether, we headed on a compass bearing South, aiming to hit a road leading us to Kington. We quickly found ourselves in a  wood, with a house nearby. By this point, it was around 9pm – our latest walk of the trip! In desperation, we headed to the house and asked directions. Understandably, in the middle of nowhere, the owner was a little suspicious of what we were doing, however in the true spirit of the trip, he lowered his guard (and his rifle) and gave us directions and also a donation to the charity. What a legend!

We soon were in Kington warm and comfy. A shorter sleep was had, but it was worth it, knowing we had done another 30 miles against the predictions. Powering on from here became less of a psychological thing and more physical persistence. Our next day consisted of a continuation of this work, working hard in the mornings and pushing hard for as much milage in the light as possible. Fortunately, it was a very nice and and it paid off and we soon found ourselves heading through Monmouth on the last day, only 17 miles left to finish the task. Unfortunately, it was not the 17 mile wind down we wanted and needed!

The path from Monmouth to Chepstow (more accurately, Sedbury Cliffs) is a fairly steep and rocky path. Going along the hills past Tintern (which would be awesome to look at had it not been so misty), it is slow going and can be quite treacherous at times, especially since our last day consisted of plenty of rain. Muddy climbs and slippery descents wore on our patience, and it seemed like an age until we hit the roads, signalling the end of our climbs. In a rather anti-climatic fashion, Sedbury Cliffs offers little in the way of celebration. You find yourselves walking through estates and industrially abandoned areas, the place stinking if the tide is down. Your final 100 yards consists of a tough climb to a stone marking the end, with a good view of the sea.

We finished at around 5:30pm. A good time for the final day, fired on by our desire to finish. Fortunately, my dad met us there and fast-tracked us back to a warm house and warm food. I’d love to say we celebrated with plenty of beers, but exhaustion took over and we were asleep not long after food! A good rest for a a trip we can be proud of for the rest of our lives.

North Wales to South Wales in six days… Ouch. (part 1)

We did it!

I am sitting in my house very comfortably, milling over the events of the last seven days. On Friday morning, I packed my bag for the hike, and went to work as normal. By 6pm, I was well on my way to Prestatyn, and not aware of where we were going to camp for the night. The following six days were a blend of kindness, frustration, aches, pains and fortunate weather which resulted in us staggering to the finish desperate for some warmth and well deserved rest.

The evening before the first day was full of high spirits. I’ve never been wild camping before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We headed out of Prestatyn in the fading light and walked about three miles before we found a suitable field en route to pitch up our tent out of sight. The sleep left me on edge, I spent the night expecting the landowner to find us and move us on at any point. Before we knew it, the 6am alarm woke us up and we were packed up and off, walking towards the next camping point in the dark, just as the sun started coming up. This time for getting up set the standard for the following six nights.

Initially, gentle hills over to Bodfari allowed us to stroll over to the town, optimistically planning further adventures once this one was done and dusted. One of our main problems we encountered in North Wales was the lack of businesses. On our way to Bodfari, we passed through Rhuallt. Rhuallt had one pub marked on the map, where we were hoping to pick up some supplies, having forgot to bring matches for our cooker. The pub had recently closed down. In Bodfari, the map led us to expect a Post Office and two pubs. Only one pub remained open. Fortunately, they managed to find some matches for us. This was a common problem in North Wales, and many of the people we spoke to were sad to discuss this topic. Businesses closing is a problem everywhere throughout the UK, but in such remote areas, it is killing the communities, who now have to travel tens of miles for a pub, or a shop. It was a concern for us too, as we were intending to restock at shops, and the lack of them meant we had to think about how long our food would last.

Shortly after Bodfari, we hit the Clwydian mountain range. Sharp climbs and descents taught us a harsh lesson. Trying to cover thirty miles in one day is hard enough on flat ground, it becomes a real challenge on the hills. On the stunning day it was, we walked passed many people parking up, climbing one hill and heading home. The challenge of climbing them all in one day really got to us and we found ourselves pushing hard to make it over the hills. As it was, we made it off the range and staggered into the comforting arms of the Clywd Gate restaurant – a place far too classy for two weary travellers! At 7pm, the sun had well and truly gone down, so the only thing left for us to do was wander over to the nearby woods and find some space to pitch the tent. It’s not the most comfortable sleep – head resting on a tree root! Being about 5 miles from our target, we knew a greater effort was required the next day, so yet again the alarm was set and we headed off early. (continued in part two)

Offa’s Dyke Challenge

On Friday, I will be going to work as normal. What won’t be quite as normal will be my journey after work – I will be heading to Newport to catch a train all the way up to Prestatyn. This is the easy leg of my half term challenge – the hard bit will be where I walk back to South Wales in the following six days along Offa’s Dyke, carrying all of my things; a sleeping bag, tent and cooker to name a few.

I will be walking with my good friend Ed. He first told me about the trip about four weeks ago, saying he was considering doing it for a laugh. Being one of the few people crazy/stupid/willing to join him, he asked if I fancied joining him for a day or two. I said I was up for the whole thing. Shortly later, someone in Ed’s school suggested we do it for charity, and so the trip went from something we could take easy to something we must complete..

We have been training when we can, walking after work, walking on the weekends, and I’ve been using a great app for Android called MyTracks – developed by Google. It’s a handy app you should check out if you get outdoors a lot. But thats besides the point.

I’ve no doubt that the walk will be one of the most difficult things I’ve done. Thirty miles a day isn’t for the light hearted or the underprepared. I’m hoping I come through it able to walk OK, we shall see and I’ll no doubt follow this post up with one once I’m back.

It would be bad practice of me not to post a link, though I’m not expecting many visits from here, as at the time of writing, I haven’t mentioned the site to many people! Still.. you can go here