This entry was posted on Sunday, August 31st, 2008 at 10:31 pm and is filed under Cycle touring, Kids cycling. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
I was 43 on Saturday. I celebrated by bivvying on a remote moor with my ten year old son, Josh. It was the first outing for our new bivvybags from Alpkit. I’ve spent a fair bit of time under the stars while cycle touring, Josh has only ever camped in campsites and under the reassurance of nylon ceilings. He took to wild camping like a duck to water, although he made sure to snuggle up to me during the night.
The dawn chorus woke me at 5.30am, I let Josh sleep through until 6am.
We were wild camping in the King’s Forest of Geltsdale, near Brampton in Cumbria. Technically, wild camping in the access lands of England and Wales is a civil tort, and we could be sued for trespass. The grey status of wild camping is something being debated by the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild - I’m a member - and campaigned against by blogs such as LegaliseWildCamping.com.
Before finding our bivvy spot for the night we didn’t seek permission from the landowner. This would have been difficult, as we ascended to the shoulder of moorland in the dark, leaving the road at 9pm. An hour earlier we had been dropped in Kirkoswald, taking the bikes off a trailer on the back of the family car, returning from a week in Wales.
The light in Kirkoswald was already dimming. Before ascending the moor it had been fully dark for 20 minutes.
Night navigation was made an awful lot easier with the SatMap Active 10 GPS device. This plots exact locations on to a moving OS map and the backlight comes into its own during black-out bike rides on rough trackways.
I’d chosen this particular area for Josh’s first bivvy because it’s dripping with history and it’s packed solid with wildlife. Josh is young naturalist and knows more about birds than I’ll ever be able to absorb. Part of the King’s Forest of Geltsdale is an internationally important RSPB bird reserve. The bits we were to cycle across were rights of way, we were endangering no hen harriers or black grouse.
The ground underneath our wheels was sometimes peaty and mushy, but there was always a base of rough stones. This is a throwback to when these remote moors were heaving with heavy industry. The moor is studded with former coal and zinc mines, and stone quarries. Only the stone quarries remain, the industrial heritage has left little physical trace, except the trackway and a robust stone bridge, an anamoly in such an obscure and forgotten part of England.
Further back in time, the moor was a royal hunting reserve, a 14th century wildlife park, stocked with boars. The ‘forest’ in the name doesn’t denote trees - there are none now - it’s all to do with the hunting. The word ‘forest’, from the original French, has more to do with an enclosed area stocked with game for the king rather than anything to do with trees.
Even further back than the Normans and their hunting reserves, this area was well known to the Romans. Part of Hadrian’s Wall was built from stone chiselled from quarries by the river Gelt. We know this because of the Written Rock of Gelt, what the OS map describes as ‘Roman inscribed rocks’.
The Written Rock of Gelt? Sounds like it’s direct from Middle Earth.
The area is dotted with this sort of stuff. Stick pins in a 10 by 10kms map of the area and auto-create a Tolkien novel: there are hills Middle Top, Long Tongue and Thack Moor; a hamlet called Scarrowmanwick; a moorside known as Tarnmonath Fell; a house called Black Dub (Dub or ‘Dudgh’ is a Celtic word meaning dark and marshy area); and springs called Cold Well and Foulpool.
The rivers in the King’s Forest of Geltsdale are known, simply, as Old Water and New Water.
We became very acquainted with New Water. We had to cross it. The bridge has long been washed away. New Water now needs to be waded across. Sadly, I have no photographs from this part of the trip. My camera died during the low-light conditions of the morning.
In many ways this was a good thing. Instead of working out the next best vantage point to set the auto-timer and capture the intrepid explorers I could luxuriate in the present, and enjoy the views without fretting over the amount of available light.
After a brisk pedal to Haltwhistle we caught the train back home to Newcastle. Josh said the city “smells bad”. After a night on a barren, pristine, sweet-smelling moor, any city is going to be an olfactorial let-down.