Tuesday, September 13, 2011
John O'Groats to Land's End: Pennine Way 1
Camping in this sort of terrain is also very problematic. Not only is it difficult to find dry ground, but because of high winds you want to find some shelter. Usually I just look for a forest, but this is diffcult in the UK. As I have mentioned before almost all the UK has been deforested already back in the Stone Ages. Nowadays only 5% of the UK is covered with forest as opposed to 30% in Germany and France. And the little forest that there is is usually ugly huge pine plantations. But at least those give good wind shelter! So on my first day on the Pennine Way I was planning on camping in one of those plantations. But to my big surprise I could not see any signs of a forest when I came closer to the area! I am not the greatest navigator on earth but I could not be that wrong in reading the map. Finally I realised what had happened: The whole forest had been completely - and I mean 100% - been clear cut. I was shocked! In Germany forest is very much valued and German forest law actually prohibits clear cuts. Of course even in Germany forest is economically used, but it is also regarded as a recreational area and therefore protected against clear cutting. I had not expected that clear cutting would be allowed in any Western highly populated country like the UK. Beside being an ugly scar in the landscape the negative effects of clear cutting like soil erosion are too well known now. But still here in the UK, that is scarcely forested to begin with it is still a common practice. Forest is just thought of as a commodity and is not given any protection as a recreational area. And I would see those ugly clear cuts again and again...
But this was not the end of my streak of bad luck: The weather has never been too good on this trip. In four weeks of hiking from mid-August to mid-September I have only been able to hike in a T-shirt for a couple of hours. Usually it is way too cold and windy for light clothes. Also it has rained almost every single day. Rain here has been very different though from the more continental German climate. In the UK you usually only get a drizzle - but it drizzles about every other hour. The usual weather pattern has been on and off rain during the day with occasional minutes of sunshine in between. At least you can dry out in between the showers. But two days ago things took a turn to the worse when the wind increased dramatically. With such a strong wind even a little drizzle hurts like needles and of course it chills your body temperature. I was hiking along Hadrian's Wall at that point - of course against the wind and totally exposed. I really started to worry about where to camp as I got wetter and colder by the minute and not even the tiniest bit of shelter in sight. I ended up camping next to a parking lot amongst at least some trees - and close to public toilets that could serve as an emergency shelter if things got really worse. The tent held up surprisingly well in these conditions and I usually put in ear plugs then - so at least I don't have to listen to the wind and be constantly afraid that a broken off tree branch will fall onto me and kill me. But at 4 am in the morning even the ear plugs could not drown out the wind any more and I realised that the night was over - and that I did not want to camp in this weather for another night. With the help of my GPS I planned a short cut hike to the next place with a youth hostel - mostly road walking and using rail trails. The Pennine Way itself is usually very exposed and I was not going to suffer through that. But even with this new route not being very much exposed and often sheltered by trees and rail embankments the wind was horrible. It was so strong that a couple of times I was nearly blown over and could hardly walk against it. I have very rarely been in wind like this before, but at least I made it to Alston and its fantastic little youth hostel where I am now having a rest day waiting for the wind to calm down.