I received a text back in February, from a friend Mary-Ann Ochota asking would I like to join her competing in the ROC Mountain Marathon which will take place the end of September. I had spent a fantastic weekend walking Cadair Idris with Mary-Ann and some of her friends the previous year, so I jumped at the offer.
The ROC Mountain Marathon (RUNNING, ORIENTEERING, CAMPING) is a two day self-navigation for solo runners or pairs, with an overnight camp. It takes place at different locations each year and not only challenges the body, but also your mind with the self-navigation of your map reading skills (no technology allowed!).
Eight months seemed plenty of time to brush up on my map reading skills, but September soon crept up and before I knew it I was receiving emails on required kit etc. There are a number of different type courses to choose from. We chose the score course, where you have to acquire as many points possible by visiting checkpoints marked on the map, on route to the overnight camp. Each check point has a different point value and depending on which type of course chosen you have limited time to do this. Should you arrive at overnight camp late, points will be deducted according to how late you arrive. The same applies the following day however the checkpoint locations change and the value of the them change, on the second day its navigating back to base in a set time.
There is also a linear course, which is like a time trail. Its navigating between a set number of check points as quickly as possible from start to overnight camp and then a return leg the following day.
There are out of bounds areas marked on the map and should you stray into these areas it’s a disqualification. You are fitted with a tracker which will monitor this, but is also a safety feature so your where about are always known. It’s also a great way for friends and family to track your progress over the weekend.
This years event took place at Durisdeer in the Lowther Hills, the southern uplands of Scotland.
Early Friday morning I packed my kit, threw some extra bits into the van and I was on my way to meet Mary Ann at Dumfries train station. The weather was absolutely horrendous. Driving conditions travelling north from south wales were awful. I was starting to become nervous about the weekend ahead, the thought of walking new territory, self-navigating in poor visibility. Being wet, cold and having to sleep out on the Scottish hills in driving wind and rain filled me with dread.
I arrived late at Dumfries train station, so Mary-Ann headed towards the hotel opposite the train station to wait for me and which I thought shelter from the wind and rain. However upon reaching the Scottish boarder the bad weather started to ease gradually and by the time I reached Dumfries the sun was shining. Durisdeer the event location was approximately 30 mins drive from Dumfries, we decided to stop off at a pub in the village of Thornhill a few minutes drive from the event field, to have a quick catch up and discuss the weekend ahead. Mary-Ann had brought the event map from the previous year which had taken place in the lake district. She had completed a practice run a month or two before in the lakes and explained to me the type of course we would be completing and the rules. It all seemed very exciting and the nerves, fear and dread had disappeared, I was really looking forward to the days and the nights ahead.
Upon arriving at the event field we were greeted by marshals who guided us to a suitable location within the field. There were two large marquees near the entrance and the all-important portaloos, (the cleanest I have ever seen, even on the last day) with a fantastic back drop of beautiful shapely hills. The sun was still shining and you could feel the excitement in the air from the other competitors. The welcome we received was lovely as we entered the marquee to register. We were fitted with our tracker and our dibbers to use at checkpoints. There was a wonderful smell of food and immediately we were given a token to go get our evening meal. The food looked fantastic a hot meal and drink was welcomed after the long eight hour journey. The marquees were so welcoming and were colourfully decorated in flags and banners and photos of other race events. The was a merchandise stall which had discounted clothing and other essentials for sale. I couldn’t resist and purchased a new tech t-shirt and a buff. The maps we would be using were at each table (minus the checkpoints and overnight camp location). We sat, ate, chatted and studied them, guessing where the camp would be for our Saturday night sleep. I also wanted to try and bag a trig point, I had already researched the Lowther hills and knew there were three for the taking, however would it be possible to get any of these in the time we had.
That night we slept in the van and though the night the rain constantly hammered down on the roof. I was thinking about the following night, sleeping in the tent and hoping the forecast was wrong. I kept having the thought of being wet and cold and had the dilemma of taking extra clothes, but did not want to carry too much in the rucksack, as I would need to be carrying it around for the next two days. I already had lots in the bag and it was quite heavy already.
The following morning we woke to a dry start, mist was still quite low, but the rain was holding off and the temperature was comfortable. There is no set start time so no pressure to rush straight off into the mountains. We headed into the marquee for a hot coffee and breakfast. It was so nice to have our breakfast prepared, one less thing to have to do before setting off for two days in the mountains. We checked the weather forecast and decide to leave between nine and ten o’clock. This gave the mist chance to rise and would give us plenty of time to reach overnight camp before evening time.
We arrived at the start line, beeped in the checkpoint, handed our map and we were good to go. We immediately laid the map out on the floor, started to work out a plan and the best route we could take to get as many points as possible, but also be at overnight camp within the six hours. My attention was immediately draw to where the trig points where and would it be possible to bag any!
As we took the path through the village and made our way into the valley of the hills the competitors where heading in all different directions. Some heading away from camp direction to what looked on the map as the hardest most mountainous section. Some were climbing immediately to the first checkpoint at a very steep ascent. We decided to continue on the path and reached our first checkpoint in just under an hour of the start time. It was nestled at the foot of a rocky outcrop. We needed to pick up our pace to get these checkpoints ticked off. We slightly deviated from our original plan, as we found being on the mountain and being able to see our routes we could estimate our time much more efficiently. The weather stayed dry and there were glimpses of sunlight peering through the thick clouds and hitting the mountain slopes at points. It was also quite warm at times, with brief moments of the sun beaming down and little wind down in the valleys. We still became extremely wet as only 90 minutes after we started we had to wade through a fast flowing river. It was fun though, the fear of being wet and cold was far from my mind, I was having so much fun!
Our second checkpoint was at the rear of a sheep fold. After wading through the river and climbing sharply for our first sharp climb of the day we paused for a minute or two to reassess our next checkpoint. It was at this moment we were nearing a trig point, the only trig point that maybe possible in the short time we had out on the course. We headed towards the next checkpoint climbing for 30 minutes, trying to avoid the numerous frogs that were fleeing beneath our feet, trying to hide within the heather to avoid being trampled. Our destination was a cairn at the summit of Gana hill. Our third checkpoint and it was here we had to assess if we had time to head north east to Roger Law to bag the trig point. Or do we head south on route to overnight camp, via Ballencleugh Law and the next check point in the valley below. We decided against heading north to the trig point, we were conscious of the time and did not want to be worrying about being late.
The summit of Ballencleugh Law was extremely boggy. Scaling a fence to cross the boundary lead us into a total swap the other side. A skull of a sheep lay sub emerged in the thick gloop, not the most reassuring thing to see on unfamiliar terrain. We followed the fence line and I kept glancing back at Roger Law trig point. It was so close, but oh so far! The views were amazing, mountains as far as the eye could see, some sort of station high up on the mountain to the west and an all familiar sight where ever you go of turbines to the north.
Our next checkpoint was down in a valley, tiny dots which were fellow competitors where moving around down in the vast openness searching for the checkpoint too. The checkpoint was sitting inside a re-entrant, Mary-Ann took a bearing so we could be as accurate as possible on approach. There were about four or five people already at this check point by the time we reached it. We waited our turn and beeped in with our dibbers making sure it was no more than 60 seconds of each other. If you fail to beep within 60 seconds of each other they would assume the pair have separated and can mean disqualification. It was also at this checkpoint we noticed the three letter words under the checkpoint numbers were actually spelling out words, previous to this we thought it was for identification and just random letters, upon seeing the word fun we giggled to ourselves and made it a priority at the checkpoints to find out what the next word would be.
The next checkpoint was at pondside, so this one was slightly easier to locate. We had another sharp climb to the summit of Wedder Law and a sharp descent back into a mass of bog. This checkpoint was also by a pondside so we knew exactly where we were heading.
We had another indecisive moment where we could deviate from plan again for a checkpoint worth 20 points, or continue as planned to a cairn for 5 points. As time was getting on and we still had a way to go, we thought it would be best to continue south to camp to pick up the 5 points at the cairn. We would reassess our time nearer to camp, as there were quite a few checkpoints towards the end that were close together.
After the 5 point cairn there was some confusion in the direction we needed to take. The map and our navigation was telling us one thing while our eyes were telling us another. The views had opened up once again at the cairn and our next checkpoint was at a pondside. There was a pond reflecting light in the distance and we felt certain this is where we needed to be, however the map reading was telling us something totally different. Luckily we followed the map reading, we had confidence in our map reading skills.
There was a sharp descent which actually took us onto a path, this was a welcome break from trudging through knee high heather and bog! This also meant we could pick up our speed. We bagged the next check point at pool side, that was tucked away in a tiny valley with a sinister looking grouse trap. We decided to head back to the path rather than walk along the slope of the mountain side, as we noticed many other participants were doing. We were so glad we did. As we neared the gully between the mountains, which we needed to enter to access the check point, the other participants were struggling to descend the scree sloped side.
Our final checkpoint took us through more streams and a river crossing, then a sharp and final ascent of the day. We could see the overnight camp ahead and this was a welcome sight. Dry feet, hot cup of tea and a flapjack sounded like heaven at that point. We walked into camp and ended day one with 13 minutes to spare. Perfect!
We bagged 10 checkpoints and scored 135 points. We covered 11 and half miles and climbed over 3000 ft.
We immediately took off our wet boots and socks, it felt amazing to have dry feet! We camped near a fence so we took full advantage and used it as a clothes line. It was also useful to sit up against as my back wasn’t feeling the best from carrying my heavy ruck sack up the mountains all day. There was one piece of kit, The Aqua Pure Traveller I was so glad I had. A lot of the weight carried when outdoors is water. I just kept refilling the Aqua Pure when I was running low on water, so I was only ever carrying a maximum of 75 ml at any one time. It reduced my weight drastically. The filter in the bottle means you can drink water from anywhere and the guarantee it is going to be safe.
Mary-Ann set up the tent while I went to get water from the river and we sat in the sun to a well-earned cuppa and a bite to eat.
Rain was forecast quite heavy that night and as the sun was setting the midges started to come out in force. The temperature started to drop, so we decided to have an early night ready for the return journey the following day. We wanted to set off early, as we wanted to be back at base camp for early afternoon. Plus our time would be reduced by an hour the following day. We were sleeping before 9 pm and only woke on the odd occasion through the night to turn or to the sound of the wind and rain bashing into the side of the tent.
We woke at 6 am and the sound of the rain on the tent wasn’t a pleasant awakening, however once we ventured outside it actually wasn’t too bad. It sounded worse from inside the tent. By the time we set off it had reduced to a fine drizzle which didn’t really matter as within 100 yards of camp we had to wade through a river, so start as you mean to go on.
The visibility wasn’t so good at the start of the second day. We had started much earlier and hadn’t given the mist chance to rise. The wind was also a lot stronger. We battled our way upwards on to our first ascent of the day. There were six checkpoints quite close together and two of them we knew the position as we had bagged them the previous day.
The first checkpoint of the day was hidden in a re-entrant and we relied on Mary Ann’s excellent map reading skills to get us to its location. We bagged the first checkpoint within 25 minutes and 10 minutes later we were at our second checkpoint. The higher we were climbing the stronger the wind and heavier the rain. The next checkpoint was close by but tricky to locate it was hidden in the centre of a re-entrant. We located it within 15 minutes, this was again credit to Mary-Ann and her accurate bearings.
The next three checkpoints were familiar to us, as two we had visited the previous day and one was close by on the same the valley slope. There were quite a few fellow competitors wandering around this area as there were checkpoints close together for easy pickings. We were so pleased to have got six checkpoints within an hour and fifty minutes. Weather still wasn’t great, the rain had eased slightly but it was a miserable damp day. We decided to take a path which would lead us north west back to base camp and the guarantee of another three checkpoints. We had one hour less today so we felt a little apprehensive about wandering over to the east and adding more elevation to our route.
We held a steady fast pace on the good terrain of the path. We chatted and admired the scenery as we pushed on. The mist had lifted and the views of the surrounding mountains were breath-taking. It was over one hour and thirty minutes walking the path without bagging any checkpoints. There were quite a few steep sections and I really started to feel the weight on my back on the inclines. We decided to take a shorter route to the next checkpoint. Mary-Ann had spotted a fence line which would give us a more direct route to the summit of Scaw’d Law and to our seventh checkpoint at the crossing point. We had a brief chat with some fellow competitors who were having a bite to eat. We had decided to snack on the go, as there was little time to waste.
Still heading in a north westerly direction back towards base camp our next check point was on the slopes down towards a valley. We would then have to ascend back up to a boundary line, which took us to our last checkpoint of the day and of the event. Now this checkpoint was originally going to be our first checkpoint on the previous day, however we changed our mind due to the sharp climb at the very start of the day. We wanted to conserve our energy, this time we were approaching from above. We followed the defined footpath along the ridgeline. Mary-Ann took a bearing as to when we should drop down to find the re-entrant it was nestled in. Mary-Ann started counting her steps so we could be accurate and not have to wander around aimlessly at this point in the day. Our legs were tired, my back was starting to ache and we were nearing the end of our time. We got chatting to a group of elderly people who were out for the day having a pleasant stroll, they were curious as to what the event was, so we walked with them for a few minutes and explained. We had totally lost count and was unsure how far we had walked along the ridge. We decided to drop down, using the landmarks on the other side of the valley to determine the checkpoint location. There were three or four pairs of fellow competitors searching for the same checkpoint. We pushed on through the thick heather searching for the gully. Found the gully but we were too far down the side of the mountain. One last short sharp climb and there it was!
We headed diagonally back down the slope in the direction of base camp. The pairs in front of us making the last dash for the finish line. Runners seemed to pour out of every valley. Small outlines of running bodies gliding down the hills in the distance.
Finally we reached the finish line to a cheering welcome with just under 10 minutes to spare. We bagged 9 checkpoints and scored 160 points. We covered just under 10 miles and climbed just over 2500 ft. There was a very much appreciated hot drink and meal waiting for us.
What a fantastic couple of days! I would highly recommend this event to anyone who loves the outdoors and fancies a bit of a challenge. The ROC Mountain Marathon will not disappoint!
Trail shoes are my most frequent purchase. I seem to be replacing them every three months at the moment. They either split at the edges, or the sole starts to come away from the shoe, I have no idea why trail runners have a life span of three months with me. I am putting the Merrell Antora trail shoe through its paces and I have tested these beauties in the pouring rain and the warmest of sunny days.
The first thing I noticed about the Antora, it is so easy just to slip your foot into the shoe. Most of the trail runners I own I need to loosen the laces down the front before squeezing my foot inside, the laces grip the shoe enabling adjustment quite difficult. I hate having to do this, it can feel so uncomfortable and a nuisance if in a rush. With the Antora my foot just glides into the shoe, the feel inside the shoe is that it was made to measure and fits like a glove! They feel very supportive and well cushioned. I like the grip on the laces once tied, they hold well and are made from good material.
They are a great shoe to adjust when first putting them on. A simple gentle pull of the laces makes the front feel very secure with no discomfort. I just love how these shoes feel.
The lugs on the sole of the shoe look great and I am hoping they work as well as they look on all terrain. I struggle to find trail shoes that have both good grip and are cushioned, I usually only find one or the other.
On my first wear of the Antora trail shoe I ran the trails for 5 miles. The cushioning felt amazing, it absorbed the impact. I suffer with shin splints from time to time, during this run I felt confident and comfortable wearing these shoes even on the hardest of trails. When running on the tarmac paths leading to the trails, it did feel slippery underfoot, however it had been raining quite bad for the previous two days and there was an algae build up on the path. Also as these where new shoes I have found that sometimes the soles need to be scratched up a little before the grip is effective.
Running in the rain the Antora kept my feet dry until I had to run through deep puddles, then my feet felt only slightly damp and the shoe seemed to dry extremely quick. It can be impossible to avoid the mud when running narrow wet trails, however the shoes tend to repel the mud and don’t look too dirty at the end of the run.
When running down hill on wet grassy terrain, I felt confident the grip was good enough to stop me from slipping. Running over rocky terrain the tops of my feet and toes sometimes become bruised and sore, I did not experience any discomfort what so ever.
The whole shoe provides great comfort, on my second run I covered 14 miles with many long steep descents. There was no discomfort to my toes, the shoe seems to hold your foot in a comfortable position with no slipping around. When removing the shoes at the end of my run, my feet did not feel damp or sweaty. I am impressed with these shoes 9/10. I am hoping the Antora will last me longer than three months like some of my other trail runners.
We would be cautious of drinking from streams and rivers when out walking, so why do we think the water would be safe for our dogs?
During the summer months after a long spell of little or no rainfall, small water sources ponds and puddles tend to dry up or the water becomes stagnant. This increases the chances of build-up of waterborne pathogens.
The Aquapure Traveller is so convenient to carry and will ensure your dog has clean drinking water, whatever source you use. Simply remove the cap, fill the bottle with water, replace the cap and squeeze the filtered water directly into their mouth or into a collapsible dog bowl or container.
Waterborne pathogens threats to your dog
The majority of waterborne illnesses cause diarrhoea, this in itself can be fatal to pups, elderly or weak dogs.
Some of the infections are zoonotic, which means they can be passed onto humans too.
Leptospirosis also known as Weils disease, it’s a bacterial infection spread by wild rats, which is in their urine, it can spread to the liver and be fatal.
Giardiasis, giardia parasites are found in rivers and ponds and through faeces contaminated water. The most common symptom is diarrhoea and it can be passed onto humans through your dog.
Blue green algae found in ponds and lakes are toxic can cause illness to humans and death to animals. They produce toxins that can cause damage to the liver or the nervous system. Symptoms include vomiting, drooling, diarrhoea and seizures.
Cryptosporidiosis is a disease caused by parasites, it can be transmitted through contaminated water and can also be transferred to humans.
Stay away from still or slow moving waters, favour fast flowing rivers and streams as infections are less likely to linger in fast moving water.
Reduce the use of single use plastics
Take your water on the go, refill from any water source and carry with you, can refill again and again when on the go.
Easy and quick to use
Strong and robust bottle
Easy to clean
A walking belt has always been an essential piece of kit for me and the dogs. I have had quite a few over the years. A walking belt can save the constant strain on your wrists, arms and shoulders, which over time could lead to muscular or joint problems. Walking more than one dog at a time can be tricky to hold the leads, especially when you arrive at a gate or need a free hand. The Ruffwear omnijour hip belt has got to be the best purchase yet. I was a little apprehensive at first due to the holding clip for the tow line and quick release system. I really thought the clip would not with stand the strength of both Asher and Marley, however I was so wrong. I have had this belt for a year now and being used daily, it has not let me down.
The belts hip design is so comfortable, slightly padded and sits great on the hips. There is no rubbing or any restriction felt, you actually forget you are wearing it. It is fully adjustable so can be altered to suit whatever type of clothing you are wearing. I would advise wearing a rucksack without a waist strap as this can feel awkward with the hip belt. But wearing both the hip belt and a rucksack is not a problem. I alternate between 30 litre and 60 litre rucksacks depending on my length of walk and it does not cause any restriction to the belt. If you are wearing a rucksack you will not be able to use the bottle holder at the back of the belt.
The quick release system is a great safety feature. If a problem arises and you need to release the dogs quickly, a pull on the quick release line will free the dogs from the belt instantly. This was another feature that I was a little cautious about, however I haven’t as yet released them accidently. If you feel you don’t want the quick release system a knot can be tied close to the clip and the tow line will not release.
The adjustable tow line at the front is a great feature, that allows the leads to run smoothly side to side, enabling the dogs to walk free to and fro in front of you without pulling you side to side.
The hip belt has two handy sized zipped pockets at the front. I use one for my phone, should a great photo opportunity arise and the all important dog waste bags. There is a handy clip attached to the inside of one of the pockets which I attach my van keys, which gives you peace of mind knowing they will not fall out, should you forget to zip the pocket.
The leads I use with the belt are double ended clipped leads. They can be used by clipping one end to the dog collar and one end to the tow line. Or if the lead is long you can thread it through the tow line and double clip at the collar. Bungee leads could help absorb some of the shock from a dog that pulls. The tow line can be threaded through the lead handle and back through the clip.
My favourite cottage is Tawny owl. A small two bedroom cottage with its own little garden perched up on a hill with beautiful views of the surrounding forestry. Tawny Owl is very private as there is no through road, making you feel as if you are the only person within this tranquil wood.
The cottage has a large, cosy living area with wood burner, fully equipped modern kitchen and bathroom with shower and bath. Upstairs has two bedrooms with double bed and two single beds. It also has the added bonus of a log burning hot tub in the garden!
Located at the foot of the Cambrian Mountains, it’s the perfect location to walk the forestry trails and venture up onto the hills for some spectacular views. The breathtaking Llyn Brianne is only a short drive away, perfect for mountain biking, hiking, taking a short stroll or just stopping to take in the beauty of the area.
Click on the link below to take you to Trallwm Forest Cottage website.
A short circular trail around Tawny Owl cottage.
This walk will take you above the cottage and it is especially beautiful at sunrise. The open moorland of the Cambrian Mountains can be seen to the north, with the shapely deep valleys of Craig y Cwm, Esgair y Craig and Esgair Ganol.
A short circular walk through the woods to the pond.
In between the two complexes of Trallwm cottages is a lovely walk alongside a tranquil stream to a picturesque pond thriving with nature. There are many pheasants in this area along with many other woodland birds. It’s not unusual to see red kites and buzzards. Squirrels and rabbits also like to make an appearance.
One of my favourite walks is to the cairns of Drygarn Fawr. Drygan Fawr is one of the highest peaks in mid wales , standing at 645m above sea level and has the most amazing views. The area is extremely remote and can be quite challenging with its peat bogs and vast open moorland. Walking this area on a clear day is advisable and be sure to take an OS map with you. There is one available to borrow at the cottage.
Click on the link below for more details on Drygarn Fawr walk.
A walk to the summit of Garn Wen
Parking at SN 9067 5370 at the end of a through road, just north of Beulah. It is a five minute drive through the lanes just off B4358, look for the old car at the end of the road, there will be a small area to park.
The walk starts by crossing a foot bridge over a river and up through old disused quarries. Follow the forestry track winding your way to the top, with some fantastic views of the surrounding hills. The summit of Garn Wen has a stone built OS triangulation pillar sat within its own stone shelter.
Forestry track walk to Pen y Garn-goch with fantastic views
Parking at SN 8908 5037, a short 5 minute drive through the lanes just off the A483 west of Beulah. There is parking space at a green barrier. The walk winds up the forestry tracks to the top of Pen y Garn goch opening up some fantastic views. There is a OS triangulation pillar at the summit, although hidden in a clearing amongst the trees.
Craig Cwm bach 1 mile stroll
Parking at SN85614939
Only a short 1 mile stroll all up hill, through the trees, however the views are simply gorgeous!
I have saved the best for last! Llyn Brianne is a beautiful reservoir surrounded by the Tywi Forest. It is a quiet area with lots of forestry trails to explore on foot or by mountain bike.
Click the link below for routes
It’s that time of year when the days are longer, the temperature is a little milder and the ground is drier. I can start wearing my favourite footwear on my hikes again, my hiking trainers. Trudging through bog and extremely wet ground during the winter months, I’m limited to my heavy, restricting walking boots.
My new Merrell Siren Sport Q2 starts my spring 2017 hikes with great results. They were recently put through their paces at a weekend of navigational training at the Peak District. Although given the time of year, I was hoping for firmer ground, but the bogs at Bleaklow did not beat the waterproof membrane of the sirens. Trudging through dense heather, I usually collect quite a lot of those prickly branches in my shoes! The bellowed tongues kept those irritating pieces of heather out!
From the first wear these shoes fit like a glove. Some new footwear rub for the first few hikes, usually resulting in either wearing two pairs of socks or using a whole box of plasters! These Merrells did not let me down.
I have only tried the siren sports on short runs, mainly descents. They feel great. There is a cushioning that takes away some shock and my calf muscles or shins have not suffered any after effects.
On multi terrain these shoes give great support and grip. Ascending the mountains whether is rocky, muddy or grass, I feel I have good traction and grip. I really need that with 85kg of dogs pulling me! The metal hook and lacing eyelet will ensure secure lacing throughout the whole hike. Not once have I had to stop to retighten or re lace.
After a long hike and removing my shoes my feet don’t feel damp or sweaty, the breathable technology of the shoe really does what it says and no bad odours! Absolutely fantastic! Love these Merrell!