Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 16 March 2012

March 10/11 2012 – A Rentahostel Weekend in Wooler

Embleton Bay, approaching Newton

Well, it hardly seems a week since we were setting off on this trip!

Last Friday saw about 40 sundry persons accumulating at Wooler Youth Hostel, for a weekend  in ‘sunny’ Northumberland.

The ‘Local Pub’ Arms met our little sub group’s requirements, with a good value two course offering.  Then GS’s 'pre-booked’ group of about a dozen turned up, much to the surprise of the restaurant staff, who had received a call from the ‘Local Pub’ Arms in a neighbouring village along the lines of ”Have you seen our customers?”  The answer of course was “Yes, they are eating here.”  The (other) ‘Local Pub’ Arms were not amused and are no doubt being overwhelmed by GS’s apologies for this stupendous ****-**!

With about 20 cars between us and room for only just over half of those in the car park, also used by residents of a nearby house, ‘Mayhem’ could accurately describe Saturday morning’s assembly outside the hostel.  Some left to attempt a linear hill ‘bagging’ route, whilst 19 of us assembled for a lower level outing from Wooler.

These three looked cheerful enough, as they gathered for the leaderless stroll.

Ready for a long walk?

Various maps were surreptitiously fondled as we headed off along the St Cuthbert’s Way footpath, which I’d thought was the intended route to the Iron Age fort on Humbleton Hill that I was told was our first destination.

So when everyone paused at a path junction, I strolled on along the St Cuthbert’s Way path, expecting to be followed, unaware that an intermediary destination, Coldberry Hill, had been inadvertently inserted into the plan.

Anyway, I enjoyed a potter around the remains of the fort, which possibly dates back to several hundred BC, before all 19 of us gathered for elevenses on the sheltered side of the hill on this somewhat chilly day.

"Nice tea" says Sue.
‘When’s she going to pass the shortbread?’ ponders Paul.

Sue and Paul at Humbleton Hill Fort

It was altogether Very Jolly (see slideshow – link below - for more pics of people being Very Jolly).

Further on, another 'Fort & Settlement' was visible from the summit of Gains Law (319metres), with good views back to Humbleton Hill and the dry valley to its south.

After some discussion a consensus was reached whereby we would continue to be leaderless but would follow the St Cuthbert’s Way path - a 100km (62.5 mile) long distance walking route across the Scottish Borders to the Northumberland Coast following in the footsteps of St Cuthbert - all the way to Tom Tallon’s Crag.  Here’s part of the assembly, striding out along the broad path, with the Northumberland lowlands stretching towards the coast in the background.

Striding along St Cuthbert's Way

There’s a high (815 metre) hill near here called The Cheviot.  It has a reputation for trapping the unwary in a morass of mud and bog, and on this day you could add cloud to that list, so we observed its grey flanks with some pleasure that it wasn’t on our itinerary.  Nor was it worth capturing on ‘film’ (or ‘phillm’ as they pronounce it in this far flung extremity of the UK).

All apart from Colin had attentively listened to the plan to conquer the immense boulders of Tom Tallon's Crag – at 353 metres the highest summit, if not the high point, of this walk, so whilst he hid out of the wind in some heather by a path junction, the rest of us enjoyed a break in the shelter of Tom’s two foot cliffs. It was still early, so lunch was delayed until  we had trudged along a few more little red dots to Commonburn House.  A quick dash from the vanguard ensured a nice grassy bank, out of the wind, for lunch, somewhat to the disgust of a group of youngsters heading for the same spot.  There were quite a few people about in this area. 

Some of our group chose to head directly to Broadstruther, as planned (apparently), from here, leaving about a dozen of us to enjoy a longer walk that took us first past one of several walled enclosures in the area, still completely intact, presumably used for corralling livestock.

A rough track across the moor delivered us to the edge of a wood above Goldscleugh.  Here something 'spooked' Sue W, who rushed up a tree in a bid to escape.

Spook No 1 Spook No 2

A good path led through the wood towards Goldscleugh, where the blare of a hunting horn was unmistakable as we looked down to the dilapidated farmstead to see a jolly band of hunters with their pack of hounds.  Whilst seemingly a bit ‘posher’ than our rag tag (Colin excepted, he has a big posh car) band, the hunters – who had no booty – couldn’t have been more friendly.

 A Hunter

“We were drinking and chatting whilst the boss got bogged down, the fox made a break for it and the hounds got lost” – I think that’s the gist of what she was telling us.

The route from Goldscleugh led up to a final tea break after a few dark mutterings as we negotiated our way along a ‘path’ that had once run through the trees of a now felled forest.

Eventually we reached a cottage at Broadstruther, which those on the 'short route' had passed some time earlier.  At first we thought it might be a bothy, but this place was far too smart to warrant that description.*

Broadstruther

Wide paths and sturdy bridges then ensured an easy passage back to Wooler.  Just as well, as people were starting to flag.  Some were nearly asleep.

Tired troops on the last lap to Wooler

Here’s Saturday's route - 27km, 700 metres ascent, 8 hours (subject to a short cut from point 5 to point 7 by a few people).

 Our route - 10 March 2012 - 27km, 700 metres ascent, 8 hours

Fortified by Sue’s Saturday night soup, stew and cheesecake, the assembled gathering, apart from those who had gone gone ‘sick’ (though Sue isn’t getting the blame for spreading chicken pox), managed to summon the energy needed on Sunday morning with which to consume their second ‘Ken’s Big Breakfast’ of the weekend. 

Then some folk went home, but the majority pottered over to Craster, where we set off along the well worn path towards Dunstanburgh Castle.

There were quite a few of us on this walk!

Walkers near DunstanburghDunstanburgh Castle

Embleton beach provided a sunny spot amongst rock pools for elevenses and a sunbathe or paddle for everyone except me.  I had urgent business back at Craster having left the fridge turned on.  Flat battery averted, I returned in time to join those who hadn't succumbed to the lure of their long journeys home, for the final stroll over firm sand (pictured at the head of this posting), with trees, on the approach to the fleshpots of Newton.

Trees in the sand

It was 'beer o'clock' by the time we reached the Ship Inn, from where some of us left with sunburn.

Beer o'clock in Newton

Pied Wagtails skittered across the roofs at the back of the pub.

Pied Wagtail

Toads were abundant on the walk back to Dunstanburgh above the beach.  They were piled on top of each other like little dumps of dog poo.  Care was needed.  Clumsy feet squash toads!

Dunstanburgh Castle drew ever closer, and here Sue and I said our goodbyes and went off to explore the castle (see slideshow) whilst everyone else went on their way.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Then we also went home...

Here's our route - 14km, 70 metres ascent, in all of 4 hours.

Our route - 11 April 2012 - 14km, 70 metres ascent, 4 hours

There’s a full slideshow here if anyone is interested.

Finally, here’s Ken’s ‘Bird Report’:

Saturday: Skylark, Lapwing and Curlew returned to the moors for breeding.

Sunday: Yellowhammer and Linnet, Oystercatcher and Eider at Craster; Fulmar, Razorbill and Kittiwake returned to sea-cliffs to breed. Seal basking in the bay at Craster as well.

* According to the internet, Broadstruther was “a totally derelict farm, the main building had no roof and the walls were in a state of collapse. On completion the new building will be used as a luncheon facility for shooters on the Lilburn Estate.”

Monday, 12 March 2012

Gear Review - Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack

 Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack
I recently wrote about my last backpacking rucksack, the Golite Quest, here.

I’m very lucky in that over the past year or so Webtogs have been sending me useful items of kit to review.  I was therefore delighted when Gareth agreed to send me the closest of the rucksacks stocked by Webtogs to a direct replacement for the Quest.

[Note that on 5 September 2012, Webtogs Limited went into liquidation, but its business has legitimately been continued in the name of Dorset Mountain Sports Limited, t/a Webtogs, with whom I have had no contact whatsoever, nor did the liquidator of Webtogs Ltd respond to my enquiry as to whether any members of the public had lost money as a result of the liquidation.]

So way back in October last year the Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack plopped through my letter box (well, perhaps it’s not quite that small!).  At approximately 1400 gm the Nanon is perhaps slightly lighter than the Quest, and it is more compact, topping out at about 60 litres capacity compared with the Quest’s 72 litres.  However, the lightweight Dyneema fabric of the Nanon feels to me to be rather more robust than the old Quest’s less durable nylon fabric.

I’ve delayed reviewing the rucksack to give me time to make objective comments rather than a ‘first impressions: brilliant’ sort of review, but I also have to admit to not having used it all that much.  Yet!  It’ll get a lot more use in the coming months, after which I’ll append appropriate comments to this review.

Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack

I have used it on an overnight backpacking trip (pictured above – not very well packed, and I lowered it a little after the pictures had been taken), for which it was perfect.  Once I’d spent a few minutes adjusting the straps I found it extremely comfortable, and it had plenty of room for all that I needed.  I’d have been quite happy to fit another couple of days’ food into the sack, but beyond that I may have been struggling.  I don’t however travel particularly ‘light’, and some of my gear is fairly bulky, so I reckon that someone who pays more attention to carrying lightweight gear than I do might get their kit and up to 5-6 day’s provisions into this bag, especially in summer.

Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack - as a day sack

The rucksack has also been used as a day sack (as above – recognise the hill?) for a number of winter walks, on which I tend to load a fair amount of extra gear – gloves, hats, down jacket, emergency shelter, etc - in case of ‘problems’ (some of my companions being less prepared than others for wintry conditions).  I’ve found it brilliant for this as the straps allow it to compress to a small size – you really don’t realise that you are carrying a 60 litre sack, and the ice axe stashes neatly rather than floating about in mid air.

Design 
     The Nanon’s main compartment sits below a removable, floating lid with a large and easily accessible external zipped pocket with a key clip.  On the underside of the lid is a secure internal lid pocket.  Two small hip belt pockets accommodate items such as a mobile ‘phone or a wallet, but these wouldn’t be big enough for GPS units much bigger than a Geko.  The main body of the rucksack can be entered from the bottom via a long zip – this is a large ‘plus’ over the Quest for me as it enables me to load the rucksack before striking camp, and the tent can then be slotted into the bottom of the rucksack without the need to remove the other contents.  There’s a deep pocket on the front that’s suitable for all the provisions and snacks you may wish to have ready access to during your walk, and behind that pocket is a cavernous space in which I have been keeping my waterproofs, but others may wish to stash their tent here.  Other features include extra external lashing points, large stretch side pockets, an SOS panel, ‘unique’ walking pole tip grabbers for secure storage, reflective logos, hydration pocket, and a ventilating harness.
I noticed one review that raised concern about the robustness of the buckles, but whilst these, and the straps, have clearly been cut down to minimise weight (“10mm web reduces weight with no loss of function” – according to the manufacturer), they appear to me to be well made, securely attached, and hopefully they will prove to be durable.

On the hill 
     I soon managed to adjust the rucksack to a comfortable position – it comes with clear fitting/adjustment guidance. The manufacturer has clearly put considerable effort into achieving a comfortable design, and they want customers to take advantage of this by following their guidance on how to achieve a comfortable fit.

I didn’t need to make significant adjustments to switch the rucksack from its role as a backpack for a multi-day wild camping trip to its role as a winter day sack, apart from drastic tightening of the compression straps.

At risk of being repetitive, here’s Lowe Alpine’s blurb on the product:

“The Nanon targets those people who want a lighter packs but also want functional features that help to organise their loads during the trek.
Key Features and Benefits: • Super lightweight pack that still carries well
• Lightweight but durable Dyneema fabric body
• Lightweight Centro adjustable back for maximum comfort from a precise fit
• Lightweight version of AdaptiveFit hip belt ensuring maximum comfort
• 10mm web reduces weight with no loss of function
• Airflow mesh in back panel reduces moisture build up
• Front compression pocket for wet gear or additional quick access items
Additional Features: Extra external lashing points, large stretch side pockets, key clip, lid lash points, SOS panel, secure internal lid pocket, unique walking pole tip grabbers for secure storage, reflective logos, hydration pocket, ventilating harness, hip belt pockets, extendible lid.
Volume: 50lt+10lt extension=60lt 4000+600cu.ins
Load Zone: 10-15kg / 22-33lb”


My comment on that would be that I feel that it would cope with a little more than 15 kilos if necessary.  I also note that there’s an ‘XL’ version for people with long backs, though Lowe Alpine don’t seem to say how long your back needs to be to require this version.

Practical Use:
  • I’ve used this rucksack for backpacking and for winter day walks over the past five months.  It has been a pleasure to wear for both those activities
  • I’ll expand this section of the review in due course for comments of the ‘used and abused’ nature (see below)
Price:
  • Webtogs’ price was £134.99 in March 2012, including a discount of 10%
Alternatives:
  • There are numerous alternatives, so much dependent upon personal requirements and preferences that I will leave readers to take their own counsel 
Used and Abused:
  • It's now early 2015 and this is still my rucksack of choice for backpacking. It accompanied me across the GR10 route in the Pyrenees for two months in 2013, and it will shortly embark on its fourth TGO Challenge - a two week backpack across Scotland. I still think its an excellent piece of kit, though I have heard complaints from people taller than my 5 ft 8 inches - they say the back length of the sac is insufficient lengthwise, so they have sought alternative products. I don't know whether they investigated the XL version referred to below?
Update - it wasn't used for the TGO Challenge, I decided on a Karrimat rather than Neoair Thermarest, so the Karrimor Jaguar 65 was a more suitable container.

August 2015: just back from walking GR11 (Spanish Pyrenees, coast to coast) in seven weeks, during which this rucksack's life ended. The straps started to deteriorate, with the attachment shown below failing. Luckily there was a piece of elastic with which to effect a temporary repair.



Then the long zip on the rucksack that enabled insertion of the tent or other items without having to empty the rucksack - it failed. Whilst this zip was very useful, once it has failed the rucksack is pretty useless as the contents are prone to falling out. Luckily I managed to get the zip to grip, but every time I unzipped it another half hour would be spent trying to get it to grip again.


You can also see that the Dyneema fabric has started to show serious signs of wear, with some holes appearing.


 Time to recycle this item....

Conclusion:
  • The Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Hyperlite Backpack is great for use as a compact backpacking rucksack or a voluminous day sack, and will also be ideal for Alpine hutting trips or similar
  • It’s well constructed from what appear to be quality components, and comes with clear instructions on how to achieve a comfortable fit.  There’s an ‘XL’ version for people with long backs
  • I like the ‘bells and whistles’ whereby this sack has lots of features for very little added weight, including a zip that facilitates the stashing of a wet tent at the bottom of my load without having to first empty the sack
  • Thanks have to go to Webtogs for providing a piece of kit that is a pleasure to use and will accompany me on many trips in the days to come
  • Can you tell?  I’m impressed with this one… initially, anyway
  • It was good while it lasted, but durability was not this rucksack's strong point. The indestructible Karrimor Jaguar 65, 20-30 years old, will resume it's position as my rucksack of choice.
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Note: Whilst the rucksack was provided by Webtogs, this review, over which I have total editorial control, is totally independent of that on-line retailer.
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