A Brief Interlude: Dunwich Forest (Suffolk)

Hey again!

As I’ve been at my parents’ house in north Suffolk this week, I thought I’d go off-course and take advantage of some of the beautiful countryside I grew up around, and talk a bit about the history of it. One of my favourite places ever is Dunwich Forest (and Dunwich itself, due to the slightly spooky story behind the place). Me and mum went for a lovely walk through it.

Dunwich used to be (a very very long time ago) one of the biggest port cities in the UK- until it started slipping into the sea. As early as the 11th century, the city started to fall into the sea. By the 17th century it was a quarter of its original size. In the early 1900s, All Saints church went over the cliff, and today the final gravestone from the churchyard is at the edge.

Various objects and relics have washed up on Dunwich’s shore (among them have been a piano, a wardrobe and human skulls from the old graveyard).

The village still has the ruins of Greyfriars Abbey; although they’re getting perilously close to the edge now too.

As I say, my favourite part is the forest. It’s mainly coniferous woodland, and is currently undergoing “rewilding”; trying to re-establish elements of the environment that have declined. This has previously involved bringing konik and exmoor ponies in to keep the undergrowth under control (sadly we didn’t see any this time so no pictures…).

The part of the forest me & mum walked through was also full of dens… (the one below was probably the most impressive!)

I’ve always found Dunwich Forest to be super atmospheric and a bit spooky… at some point I very much want to come and get lost in the forest with a notebook and just write all day!

Later this week I’ll be back exploring Southeast London’s wild areas (although there’ll definitely be more Suffolk stuff to come in future… watch this space! :3 )

Rhi x


Testing Out Rab’s Microlight Alpine Jacket

This season we were stoked to add Rab to our brand list at the Palace. Rab Carrington founded the brand in 1980s Sheffield – which is a place close to our hearts. My partner and Palace co-founder, Ian, was born in Sheffield, we both went to university there, and I’m a Yorkshire lass too.

Rab Carrington originally hailed from Glasgow, but his growing climbing passion eventually inspired a move to the relatively drier climes of Sheffield, where he joined in the healthy mountaineering scene based there at the time. He started off sewing sleeping bags in his attic, and then opened a factory in Sheffield.

rab-factory
Mark Wilson, one of Rab’s first employee’s cutting fabric in 1980s Sheffield.

The Microlight Alpine Jacket is one of Rab’s signature pieces, so naturally we had to have it in our collection.  It seemed fitting to take it up to Rab Carrington’s Scottish roots to test it out  – on a hillwalking trip to Corrour in the Highlands.

Rab Corrour
The Microlight is not only a great technical jacket, we think it looks pretty damn sweet too.

We were booked in the seats on the sleeper train (no comfy cabin this time), and the Microlight immediately came into its own – as a handy travel pillow! It packs into its own stuff sack  – which makes it the perfect shape on which to rest a weary head.

Once in Corrour, the Microlight formed an essential part of Ian’s Munro bagging kit. Setting off for the summits, it was wet but fairly mild, so he started out just wearing a shell and Rab Merino Baselayer. The Microlight stayed packed in its stuff sack, and took up barely any space in his daypack. However as we neared the peaks and were exposed to the biting Highland wind, out came the Microlight.  We like to hang out on the mountain tops – picnicking, taking photos and generally soaking up the mind-blowing views. The Microlight made the perfect insulating mid-layer, and he felt totally snug even when stationary for a while.

Corrour
Soaking up the mind-blowing views

Rab are famous for their quality down, it’s in their heritage – hence the feathers in their logo.  The Microlight is filled with Rab’s special Hydrophobic Goose Down. Hydrophobic down dries faster, absorbs less water and retain its ‘loft’ – the fluffiness which is what makes it warm and cosy!


Rab Carrington and the early Rab logo with iconic feather

The outer fabric is Pertex, which is both breathable and windproof – a feature Ian was certainly glad of on this trip. The Microlight is weather-resistant but not waterproof, so as it was pouring down on our mountain days, he wore it under his waterproof shell.

On the last day we did some lower ground exploring, and it was dryer with just a few light showers. It felt colder without the hilly exertion, and the Microlight over the Merino base layer was a winning combo. He didn’t wear a shell and the Microlight stood up to the occasional light rain. Even the hood is down-filled which really does make it feel like you’re under your duvet, whilst enjoying the great outdoors!

Rab Corrour
On the bridge behind Corrour Station – made famous in Trainspotting.

Rab Corrour

Rab Corrour

Rab Corrour Summit
Walking along the train tracks at Corrour Summit.

Whether you’re braving the wilds of Scotland or Shoreditch this winter, Rab’s Microlight Alpine Jacket is an essential piece of kit!

Ethics

Rab’s Hydrophobic Down is Fluorocarbon free and developed in conjunction with Nikwax. Fluorocarbons are often used to make garments water repellent but they are toxic to humans and the environment. Nikwax and Rab have developed a safe alternative.

All Rab’s down is ethically sourced and traceable under the European Down and Feather Association Code of Conduct, this stipulates that no down harvested in a way that inflicts pain upon animals may be used.

 


The Night Riviera to Cornwall

The Night Riviera Sleeper Train to Cornwall departs Paddington just before midnight and arrives in Truro at 7am the next morning – ideal for a long weekend of camping and surfing.

Once aboard the train we headed to the Dining Car for our complimentary tea and coffee, before bedding down in our cabin bunks. Our sleeper carriage attendant Jamie woke us with croissants and coffee at 6:30am.

We picked up our rental car and made a beeline for Watergate Bay, where the Watergate Bay Hotel offers coffee and a fantastic view of the crashing surf from their wicker furnished terrace. Watching one lone surfer on the waves, we decided to take some of the action, hiring boards from the friendly team at Extreme Academy right on the beach.

Post surf the tide had dropped significantly and exposed Watergate Bay’s massive sandy expanse, we spent what remained of the morning lounging on rocks and browsing pools for crabs before heading south. In Perranporth we found the Willow Bistro and shared voluminous bowls of salad, and mind altering mackerel.

08970012Alena exploring Watergate Bay wrapped in her Pendleton Jacquard Beach Towel

We set up camp at the fantastically located Beacon Cottage Farm Holidays, where our pitch was just right for the Poler Stuff Two Man Tent, the little car and a Primus-fuelled kitchen set up. Poler’s tents go up quick and easy and before long we were searching for a pub.

robin-poler-tent

Beacon Cottage Farm is hidden from the village of St Agnes by Beacon Hill, a high point of heather and gorse from which a lookout sent warning signals to nearby towns during the Napoleonic wars. Forty minutes of skirting the hill by foot leads to the village centre where the St Agnes Hotel and a myriad of other pubs serve booze and food. On our way back to the campsite we admired the sun as it faded over the Atlantic from Beacon Hill’s peak.

On Friday we woke to the sound of rain on canvas – one of the simple joys of camping in the UK. We made coffee in fog and drizzle, utilising the tent’s porch for shelter.

The shape of the Cornish peninsula produces several odd climatological phenomena and when the north coast is shrouded in clouds and mist, the south is often basking in the sun and vice versa. Bearing this in mind we left St Agnes behind and headed for Falmouth in search of sunshine and pasties.

We found not only the finest pasties in all of Kernow at Oggy Oggy on the High Street, but also, nestled in the woodland below Pendennis Castle, an excellent rope swing. After fish and chips and beer out the front of The Chain Locker, we headed back to our misty north coast encampment.

I’ve never heard of sea trout before but I’m glad the fishmonger recommended it to us. Fried over the the Primus Miner Stove with garlic, red onion and button mushrooms it made a killer topping for tagliatelle, similar to salmon but with added juice and oils.

08950004Cooking up some Sea Trout Tagliatelle with the Primus Mimer Stove Kit

On Saturday we woke to similarly wet and hazy weather and decided it would provide the perfect atmosphere for exploring the coast path as it flanks Beacon Cottage. In the murk we discovered the remains of old tin mines and the tiny picturesque cove of Chapel Porth.

Twenty minutes drive west along the south coast leads to Godrevy, a National Trust outpost on the far side of St Ives bay, where dunes and heathland back a massive expanse of sandy beach. Adding to our experience of odd Cornish weather events, unlike the St Agnes and Chapel Porth, Godrevy and Gwithian were enjoying a glorious early summer’s day.

IMG_2533The view from Godrevy across Gwithian Beach and St Ives Bay

Small but clean peeling waves broke uniformly on the mid tide, and we hired boards from the excellent Shore Surf School and had a really fun few hours, scoring plenty of fun but short rides. It had been over 15 years since I’d surfed in Cornwall and had completely forgotten the clear crystal water sparkled such intense turquoise in the sun. Post surf we had local ice cream from the Godrevy Beach Café, huddled together in my Pendleton massive beach towel.

That evening, zonked from spending the day in the sun we decided to forgo our camp stove cooking escapades and seek sustenance elsewhere, choosing the window stools of The Cornish Pizza Company, perfectly filling and nutritious after a day surfing and exploring in the sun. After a pint at the rickety wonky little Railway Inn, we wandered back to the tent in the darkness.

Half an hour down the coast from St Agnes lies the bustling little tourist metropole of St Ives, which seemed like the perfect place to spend Sunday. Our main motive for visiting was Tate St Ives and their Images Moving Out Onto Space exhibition, with work from Bridget Riley, Dan Flavin and amongst others my favourites John Divola and Bryan Winter, both of whom had their work installed in the curved gallery where a massive circular window looks out onto the mist clouded Porthmeor Beach, making it an epic but peaceful space.

08960008 Looking out over Porthmeor Beach from the window of Tate St Ives‘ curved gallery

We ate some super tasty chowder the Beach Comber Cafe and left St Ives to explore some of the villages and coastal paths further down the peninsula, finding a mystical landscape around Zennor.

08950031Keeping warm and dry with Patagonia Torrentshells in the mists of Zennor’s coastal path

Resigned to the fact our trip was coming to end, we headed to Truro Tandoori for a feast before we climbed back aboard the Night Riviera back to Paddington.


Hiking Sgurr na Stri in Skye

Our last hike in Skye was Sgurr na Stri. Dwarfed by the surrounding Cuillin, Sgurr na Stri is only 494 metres high – a Marilyn rather than a Munro. Despite this, it is widely considered to be one of Britain’s finest viewpoints, and deservedly so.

You can hike in from Sligachan or Elgol, or get a boat from Elgol. We opted for the latter because we had to catch the train from Fort William that evening. We headed out on the early morning rig with Bella Jane Boat Trips.

Cuillin Ridge TraverseOur companions on the rib who jumped off the boat onto slippery rocks at Eilean Ramhair, and were heading up to do the notoriously difficult Cuillin Ridge Traverse.

stepping stones skye
Crossing the stepping stones by Loch Coruisk

Time was tight, so on the directions of our boat captain, which consisted of , “Head straight up from the loch, hook a right at the lochan.” We navigated over the stepping stones from Loch Coruisk, and up to the peak, which is a bit of a scramble at times and the path disappears pretty quickly once you leave the loch shore.

Sgurr na Stri
Hooking a right at the lochan

There is a longer, clearer path from the loch which is more straightforward, except the final part to the summit which is rocky and requires careful route-finding whichever way you approach it. If you get the boat, whatever route you take, you’ll have to cross the stepping stones and you’re going to get wet feet if the water’s high.

sgurr na stri view
View from Sgurr na Stri, including the Cuillin Ridge, Loch Coruisk and the sea crossing

dee sgurr na sgtriMe, very excited to be at the peak!

seals from the rig
Seals and shags from the rib on the way back to Elgol

Kit List

Greenland_Trousers_81200-630_grandeFjällräven Greenland Trousers – These trousers were perfect for the boggy, wet conditions because they have a water repellent wax coating and are quick drying.  The durable G1000 fabric with double knee reinforcements made them hard wearing enough for scrambling over the rocks.  The pockets have room for a map, compass, knife and everything else we needed on the trail. There’s even a pocket for an axe!

 

WBS15_83806_NVYBPatagonia Torrentshell Jacket – This shell is super waterproof for the changeable Skye weather, but still breathable and has pit-zips for extra ventilation. It cuts out the wind, which we appreciated at the exposed peak. It packs down into its own pocket so it fitted easily into our packs when we didn’t need it. The fabric is ripstop, so again, it was good for scrambling over rocks.

 

BerglerLady-Chestnut-1Hanwag Bergler Hiking Boots – This Alpine mountain boot was great on the rocky terrain on Skye, which is the closest we have to Alpine in the UK, and often used for Alpine training. The flexible Vibram sole makes them comfortable to walk in and the leather lining and tongue prevented rubbing. Our feet stayed dry, even going through the high water on the stepping stones (well mine did, Ian’s would’ve done if he didn’t always have to go for a paddle!)

 

See also:

Getting to, and around Skye

Campsites and Pubs on Skye

 


Campsites and Pubs on Skye

Campsites

Wild camping is allowed in Scotland under the Outdoor Access Code, but there are also some fantastically located and wild-feeling campsites on Skye, so we spent part of the time in campsites and part wild camping.  The campsites we stayed in were Glenbrittle and Sligachan.

poler stuff tent
Our Poler Stuff tent standing up to strong winds in Glenbrittle

Glenbrittle Campsite feels like a hidden, secret place. You drive down a long winding road until you eventually reach a stunningly beautiful sandy bay, overlooked by the imposing Black Cuillin mountain range. There is an excellent campsite shop/cafe serving their own coffee brand – Cuillin Coffee Co. – and the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. They also bake fresh bread and cakes daily and stock all the essentials too.

Glenbrittle Campsite
Our pitch overlooking the bay at Glenbrittle

Next to the historic Sligachan Hotel, in the heart of the Cuillin, Sligachan campsite is bleak and boggy and harsh and magnificent. When it all gets too much head over to Seumas Bar in the hotel and sup a local ale by the roaring fire.

sligachan-campsite
View of the Red Cuillin from our pitch at Sligachan Campsite

wild camp skye
View of Bla Bheinn (Blaven) from our wild camping spot on the last night in Skye

Pubs

Nothing beats a well earned pint after a hard day’s hiking and Skye doesn’t fail to deliver. Our favourites were the afore mentioned Seumas Bar and The Old Inn.

Seumas Bar is in the Sligachan Hotel, a few minutes walk from the Sligachan bunkhouse and campsite. It has friendly staff, live music, log fires, pub food and real ales, the majority of which are brewed on site at the Cuillin Brewery. And of course a great selection of Scottish whiskies.

The Old Inn is in Carbost, right on the shores of Loch Harport. It has a warm welcome, log fires, regular live music, homemade food and local ales. If you can’t stagger back to your tent you can always kip at their adjacent Waterfront Bunkhouse.

old inn skye
Live folk music at the Old Inn

See also:

Getting to, and around Skye

Hiking Sgurr na Stri in Skye

 


Getting to, and around Skye

London to Skye

We took the Caledonian Sleeper Train from Euston to Fort William. It’s a great way to maximise time off work, as it leaves both London and Fort William in the evening and arrives the next morning.

It’s also one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world. Our lovely host (every carriage has a host to look after the passengers) woke us up in the morning with tea and Scottish shortbread, to stunning views over Loch Lomond. We wanted to jump off the train at every stop we passed.

View from Caledonian Sleeper

train window

Caledonian Sleeper
Views out the train window in the morning on the way there

On the return journey we ate dinner in the Lounge Car, and sipped Scottish ale and cider, whilst we watched deer grazing by the tracks and the sun setting across Rannoch Moor, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

Rannoch MoorRannoch Moor from the Lounge car window

Fort William to Mallaig

Jamie from Fort William Car Hire met us from the train with our adventure mobile (a VW transporter that he’d converted himself to a camper van). It’s a brilliant service and he’ll meet you before you board the train back to collect your vehicle again, we can’t recommend him enough.

We took the spectacular Road to the Isles, which would be just over an hour’s drive, but there are several stop offs worth making.

First stop was Glenfinnan to see the Glenfinnan Monument and learn about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Risings. You can also see the Glenfinnan Viaduct from here – made famous in the Harry Potter films.

The Glenfinnan MonumentThe Glenfinnan Monument

Then the Glenfinnan Station Museum with its restored 1950s Dining and Sleeping cars. You really can dine and sleep there – the Dining Car’s a restaurant and the Sleeping Car’s a bunkhouse.

The Glenfinnan Sleeping CarThe Glenfinnan Sleeping Car

We took a detour on the old road to Arisaig. You can bypass it but it’s well worth taking the extra time to go the scenic route.

Alternatively you can take the train from Fort William to Mallaig and then get the ferry. The Jacobite Steam Train runs on this route, which passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Glenfinnan-ViaductThe Glenfinnan Viaduct

Mallaig to Skye

At Mallaig we boarded the Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry to Skye. On the way back we drove over the bridge that connects Skye to the mainland as we didn’t want to risk any delays with the boat making us miss the sleeper back.

boat
View of Skye from the Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry

Getting around Skye

Driving around Skye was a pleasure, the roads are well maintained, everything is well signposted and there are lots of free car parks. Some of the roads are very narrow which can feel hairy, but there are plenty of passing places. The main problem is keeping your eyes on the road with all the amazing scenery to distract you. If you don’t have a car you can get around by bus.

Road to Sligachan
Driving into the Cuillin Hills

See also:

Campsites and Pubs on Skye

Hiking Sgurr na Stri in Skye

 

 


Over the Sea to Skye

After our visit to Glen Nevis in May last year, we’d been hankering after returning to the Highlands – be warned they are extremely addictive! This time we decided to head over the sea to Skye.

ferry-skye

May is the perfect time to visit the Highlands – the climate is temperate, the flowers are in bloom, and the hordes of midges (and tourists) have not yet descended.

cuillin from glenbrittle

I have so much to say about this mystical isle, I’ve split it into several posts:

Getting to, and around Skye

Campsites and Pubs on Skye

Hiking Sgurr na Stri in Skye

sguar-na-stri-ian
Ian on Sgurr na Sgri