Maps, Making History and Google Trekking

Abi’s detective skills keep her days full of adventure:

I love maps. I think I always have!

Looking at a map, running my eyes up and down the contours – for me it’s like rolling a quality street around your mouth on a Christmas afternoon. Yum!

In fact, I remember some of my favourite books as a child were the ones that had some sort of sketch map on the inside sleeve. I played with railway sets so I could draw the ‘layout’ on a piece of paper when it was time to pack away.

Making history in blue wellies

Making history in blue wellies

At school my friend Jo got me involved with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, with its fun weekend expeditions. I learnt the valuable lesson to constantly check the map – and if something in the surroundings doesn’t match up with where we thought we should be, to say so – sooner rather than later!!!

These days, if you’re out with me, heaven help you if you want to hold the map!

Maps are like detective clues. I love having some special information to navigate on the ground. In the past I’ve worked in rights of way and public access – I might be sent a batch of photos of damaged finger posts for example. I would use some detective work to actually plot the finger posts on a map. Google Streetview is great at times like this (as finger posts are often road side), so it is a case of dropping the yellow man down in suspected locations until he is in the right place.

For a while this job also meant managing the data from pedestrian counters in London – hidden under the pavement or the street furniture – but I knew they were there! And perhaps you, dear reader, sometimes walk past them still!

Today, I’m lucky enough to have a job that involves maps. I work for Northumberland National Park. At the moment I’m planning a load of site visits to check for some rare flowering plants – places where they were reported in the past but haven’t been seen since. Lots of detective work. Great!

That is one way I get my adventure fix.

Back in April my colleague Ed told me we were going to have the Google Trekker equipment for a month. Google Streetview has all been captured by cars. Now they are covering places on foot. This equipment had only been in Britain once before, when they did Stonehenge. Now, in Northumberland, we were going to do two National Trails – Hadrian’s Wall and the Pennine Way. Ed asked colleagues and volunteers for help.

Now I know Google might have a bad press in terms of its privacy and copyright stuff – but this is a great way of helping people enjoy these really remote spots of Northumberland National Park. People who perhaps want to see the view from the top of a certain hill but know they couldn’t walk it. Or people who are recceing a walk or long-distance run.

The kit consists of a Heath Robinson type ‘rucksack’ which seems to contain a computer, as well as a massive ‘football’ that sticks out above your head. The whole thing weighs 22kg (or 48lb in old money – something the army would march with) with its two small ‘car batteries’ plugged in and a half terabyte disc! The ‘football’ has 15 cameras inside it, pointing in all directions, and they take a photo every 2 seconds. No doubt Google will delete 9 out of 10 photos at the walking speed I ended up at!

So, having been inducted in the kit – one Sunday morning I set off to do part of the Pennine Way just north of Bellingham. My ranger colleague Jane was going to meet me about midday, but until then I was on my own.

Arriving at my cattle grid (where Jane and I had finished the day before), it was quite windy to assemble the device and a struggle to get it on my back single-handed. I have with me a drain rod (aka ‘peat stick’), which doubles up as a walking stick – useful to steady myself in the wind – this device massively affects your centre of gravity. I also carried with me (in a shopping bag!) my packed dinner, water, first aid kit, a map (of course), and a crucial screwdriver to be able to disassemble the kit again.

The first half mile or so on flags was fine, but slowly you realise the weight of the thing (over a third of my body weight). But, I was determined! And this was a bit of the Pennine Way I hadn’t walked before and really wanted to!

I reached a steep uphill section. Here my steps must have been one every 2 seconds. At the top there were some great views into Redesdale from an angle I hadn’t seen before. I took some photos of my own just as it started raining. At this point you have to pause the Google Trekker, take it off your back, and put a bin bag over it! Quite high tech! I can remember that next time I don’t want Google to know something about me 🙂

Amazing views over Redesdale

Amazing views over Redesdale

The rain was heavy enough to stop me walking onwards with the Trekker – although normally I would hardly have noticed it. It was only 10:30am and I had been going about an hour. I wasn’t hungry but I decided to eat my sandwich anyway, confident the rain would stop in the process. I sent Jane a text. It didn’t stop raining.

I stood on the hill with the trekker covered by bin bag with my back to the rain. It was like waiting for a bus! Eventually I decided to carry on. The device is only supposed to pause for 15 minutes otherwise you are supposed to restart it – and restarting can take a further 15 minutes! Some forestry was not far away and I thought the Trekker would have shelter in there.

So back on with the ‘rucksack’ and I started trying to run down the moorland towards the forestry. A few bright green patches alerted me to boggy sphagnum, but these were no match for me in my blue wellies!

Got to the forestry section OK – yes it was more sheltered – but the path was also boggier. I was now out of signal so pressed on as I knew Jane would now be walking towards me. With a tissue I wiped the camera lenses but my tissue soon gave up the ghost with that job. The rucksack was digging in to my left shoulder a bit and muscles in my mid-back starting to complain – it seemed to be made for an American Man and the maximum adjustment still left too big a distance between the shoulder straps and the hip belt – not enough of the weight was on my hips.I came across a really peaty boggy pool with a fence on one side and plantation forestry on the other. No way round – although I could see Pennine Way walkers had tried it. I stepped out gingerly, grateful for the peat/walking stick now. Trekker liked to get himself caught in sitka branches. I clung on to branches myself to haul myself around the side of this morass, tucking branches behind my legs and still grasping my shopping bag. With the extra weight I could feel myself sinking in more than I would normally expect – I was up to about half-welly height.

I reached a point where my legs were holding back quite a few branches, yet I needed to tuck more behind them. The only way to do it was to stand on one leg – with hands full – and 22kg of Trekker wobbling above my head. The manoeuvre I completed, but not without a, “what am I doing here” thought to self!!

Nearing the end of the pool – phew – I spied on the ground a pair of glasses. Clearly some previous walker was going to be in trouble for the rest of their map reading. I managed to pluck them out of the peaty water, wondering if Google in California were dialling in live to wonder what I was up to. I thought, “if I pull too hard, will I find a rambler’s face attached to them!”

Location of found glasses, but missing rambler!

Location of found glasses, but missing rambler!

(I still have the glasses, if they are yours, write to me!)

Pausing only to look back and take a photo of this muddy section, I pushed on. Soon I reached a forestry track and back in phone signal was able to text Jane again.

About a mile down here we met each other and swapped over the kit. I had walked 4 miles in total, in about 2 hours – not fast at all – but still an adventure. Jane and I laughed how we could pretend to Ed that the kit had fallen off into the bog and we’d lost one of the dongles!!!

Relieved of the weight, I felt like a butterfly – amazing what a difference it makes. You realise with a big weight on, you automatically pull your body forwards and your neck and head face more downwards that usual. One good reason why, when I run the West Highland Way later this year, the baggage transfer is an excellent idea.

Google ask that people don’t walk side-by-side with the kit (because someone’s pixelated face or body will be in every shot) so I walked 100m in front of Jane, along forestry track and past a picnic site (where I explained to the people there what the telly tubby like apparition coming behind me was all about. I started one conversation with, “you know Google StreetView?” – “Uh, no” – I started again, “You know the Internet? Well it is walking behind me!”

By about 3:30pm we reached her van, just as it started really raining again – we’d done 8 miles – we’d planned to do more but that was plenty for us. Very exciting to be part of making history. And, not put off too much, I was already thinking about how I could help Ed get the Trekker onwards to the Scottish border. (But that is another story!)

When we are in our old folks homes, we’ll be able to revisit (virtually) this walk, in case we forget our adventures!

My neighbour seems convinced that in 10 years’ time Google will be re-doing all these places again because things change. I can’t think they’ll be redoing the Pennine Way in Northumberland National Park that quickly!

The Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure. Let’s share and celebrate our stories. All adventures count and we’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch. 

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Wanting to say “Blimey. I did that!”

Jo declares her mission for adventure and dares to challenge the Dales:

“Last mid-summer night I set off with a degree of trepidation and a lot of excitement on an epic 80 mile run. The Yorkshire Dales top 10 was devised as a 5 day walk around the beloved hills of my childhood. I’m not sure if I had something to prove or what drove me to take on the challenge of doing it all in one go, but I really wanted to finish. It was a beautiful night as I set off, summiting Pen-y-ghent well within the hour and climbing the stile at the top to look out over the beautiful hills in the sunset.

“Hello love. Going far?” Came a voice from below the wall – a head torch switching on. A head emerged from the bivvy bag. “As far as my legs will carry me” I replied.

Every step counts!

Every step counts!

I was lucky to grow up in the Yorkshire Dales, so while (like most other 14 year olds) I had a sneaky fag with my mates, it wasn’t behind the bike sheds, or outside the local shop but up a hill, in a barn or at the very least up a tree. I love the outdoors – encouraged by my family and a school which arranged pot-holing on a Friday afternoon. I was lucky to learn navigation skills through the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as the confidence to get it wrong and survive! My 15th birthday was spent with 5 mates walking a circuit of youth hostels (well, ok it was a mix of hitching and walking – we weren’t angels!).

I felt like a fish out of water when I went to Portsmouth for University. Frequent dips in the Solent and visits along the waterfront helped, alongside the usual student misdemeanours which took up most of my late teens and early twenties. But every time I went back up North I felt like I was coming home.

I started running on the hills when I came back with exploring seeming the natural thing to do. Being pregnant only made me braver, running til I was 8 months gone up hill and down dale. A small baby drove me out of the house for the odd half hour’s peace. I could get on the trails near my house and ran for my sanity – feeling like myself again after taking on the new and alien role of “mum”.

Holidays are camping trips, and getting up with the lark means I can get the run in and still be back for lunch, but I felt I had something more inside – more of an adventure I wanted to complete.

I’ve never been a thin girl – solid might be the best phrase – and while it intermittently bothers me, I have never let it hold me back. I race (I frequently prop up the bottom of the table, but I race), I train, I improve, I enjoy it. And perhaps because I’ll never do a fast time, or win a race, I wanted to do something which I could look back on and say “Blimey. I did that”

I'm still going

I’m still going

So for a few years, I dwelt on the plan. Bought the maps, read the books, kept it inside, a bit scared to share the idea. Then suddenly I realised it would never happen unless I said it out loud. I shared first with my husband, who didn’t laugh, say I was crazy or even flinch. In fact he just said ‘How can I help?’

Help me, he did- pushing me out of the door when I needed it, taking on the lion’s share of the weekend childcare, camping wherever we needed to be to allow me to recce the route… And so I found myself on 21st June last year, loving the freedom and solitude.

So how did it end? I got lost actually! Then I was way off schedule, miles out of my way, tired and my morale was in my boots. I was lifted – metaphorically carried really – by my fellow adventurer Hannah. She picked me up in Hawes and took me over the next 2. When I saw my husband with a boot full of food and a get out clause, I took it.

55 miles. Not a quitter but a girl who knows her limitations, fit to fight another day and proud of my achievement.

I am still here. My next challenge? Helvellyn Triathlon (gulp). And those Yorkshire peaks are still beckoning….”

Enjoying new adventures

Enjoying new adventures

The Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure. Let’s share and celebrate our stories. All adventures count and we’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch. 

Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure. If you enjoyed reading this post share it with your friends and join The Adventure Declaration on Facebook.

Surreal Switch from Snowy Peaks to Home Comforts

Zoe talks about team work, cold fingers and the Highlands:

“I’ve been a fell runner for almost three years since I made the switch from road running after taking part in some of the very sociable summer evening fell races in the Peak District and being introduced by my friend Matt to some routes and to Glossopdale Harriers club. Since then I have increased the length and general toughness of my fell running, both in competitive events and in sociable expeditions around the Peaks, Lakes and Snowdonia. To be honest I amaze myself the things I do out on the hills now – night time winter fell running, navigation events and even competing in fancy dress! It’s the great people around me who I have to thank for getting to where I am now. One thing I loved from my first bash at fell running is how friendly and encouraging the community is to everyone, whatever their ability. I’ve now become involved on the committee of the club and make sure that new members, especially female, are supported and given a fun introduction to off-road adventuring. 

Surprise discoveries add to the fun

Surprise discoveries add to the fun

I entered the Highlander Mountain Marathon in 2015 because every year I try to complete a totally new type of event alongside the regular fell races and occasional road races I do. One year it was an open-water swim race, then a triathlon, then winter fell races- you get the picture! As Mountain Marathons are two day navigation events completed in pairs, you carry everything you need for an overnight camp with you, as well as clothing and food to keep you surviving in the wild in whatever weather the chosen area chucks at you. This year the Highlander announced the location was Elphin, in the Assynt area of the NW Highlands. Stunningly beautiful and very rough terrain was what I was told to expect. I asked my friend Viv if she would be up for pairing with me for this event, although we’ve never raced together before though I know her well enough to appreciate she’s tough enough, experienced enough at navigation and fit enough for the challenge. Being the same build as myself also counts for something when it comes to sharing an ultra-lightweight tent for a night in bad weather 🙂 The weather!! Suffice to say that when we arrived in the area there was snow visible on the tops, and after a week of sunny days in Manchester it was clear we were back in winter. We’d packed all the right clothing but I knew we were both apprehensive about we what might have to endure. We weren’t wrong about the weather or the rough terrain! And we were rightly optimistic about the fun times at the overnight camp – a little festival of likeminded, weather-battered, merry and smelly people. My event report is on my blog.

Team mate Viv tackling snowy summits

Team mate Viv tackling snowy summits

I did have my doubts about completing such a tough challenge with a partner I’d never raced with before but these were unfounded. I was impressed with how easy it was for Viv and I to work as a unit with little training and preparation. It turns out that instinct is a good thing when it comes to assessing race partners! We had chatted a little on the long journey North, about what our aims were for the event , which were to get round each day in a reasonable time, flex our navigation skills a bit and have fun. We’re both at about the same stage in the progress of our navigating skills, in that we’ve not taken sole responsibility for navigating in an event of this kind before and had both refreshed our training recently so we knew that we were going to face some degree of challenge. We’d also talked about making sure we looked after one another’s wellbeing. I mentioned the well-known fact that if I stopped chatting for some minutes then it meant I needed food, or a rest or was in some other way in trouble either physically or mentally. It turned out that we both did a great job of looking out for one another, what with my hearty singing of the Welsh national anthem to Viv whilst she struggled through a low patch, to Viv dressing me in an extra jacket and feeding me an energy bar on the second day when my hands were just too cold for anything. Practically, it was easy for us to stay together as a pair, which we needed to as the rules state that a pair must always remain ‘in contact’ with one another, keeping within sight and hearing of each other at all times. There’s no hard and fast distance to maintain – the weather can alter keeping in contact drastically. For example as we ran along a ridge into the hail and wind, a guy passed us, whistling frantically to his partner up ahead about ten metres and failing to attract his attention. His partner couldn’t hear him at all due to combined effect of wind in ears and hail clattering off of him. Two friends of ours managed to totally lose one another on the second day, due to the landscape being a maze of humps, bumps and bogs. Thankfully they re-joined just near to the event HQ at the end but lost all their points as only one of them had visited all the necessary checkpoints. I think Viv and I did a great job given it was our first outing together. 

On returning home I found myself struggling to put the Highlander weekend in context. What we had experienced was so extreme, so far removed from the warm dry house with endless space and food on tap. All the concerns we’d had to keep at the front of our minds, lest we slip up and injure ourselves or become lost, for 48 hours, no longer apply in daily life and I sat bewildered in my dining room. I logged on and blogged, it seemed like a good way to make sense of the experience. I realised that once again I had surprised and amazed myself at my capabilities. I was particularly impressed that both Viv and I had come through the onset of hypothermia and out the other side, in snow with wet feet and sustained our progress for a good few hours after that. I know that my navigation skills were not of a professional standard to start with but I learned a lot about taking the time to make decisions to save wasted effort in your legs, as well as how to read the terrain on the map. I feel more capable with navigating unfamiliar terrain now. I do want to do another Mountain Marathon, I would do the Highlander again though probably an easier class and I would definitely go with Viv again if she will allow it!”

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