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Escape London: to the West Highland Way

7 Oct

Escape London (EL) wants you to visit the wilds of Scotland and her beautiful scenery.  It’s an incredible place, allows infinite adventure and for the most part, smells nice.  Scotland shares the same land mass as England.  Some people find this hard to believe, but its true…Scotland is not THAT far away.  Yet, ashamedly EL has only been there twice.  Once on a jolly to Edinburgh and more recently to walk along the famous, glorious West Highland Way, Rob Roy’s old stomping ground.  Quite the adventure.

When EL says adventure, picture Lord of the Rings; now exchange Aragorn for Withnail, Gimli for Rab C. Nesbitt , Legolas for Begbie, Frodo for Wee Man, Gandalf for Uncle Monty and Gollum for…Gollum.  Now for every sword drawn in the film insert a pint consumed and you’ll get the idea.  Our group consisted of those who were unfit and those who were exeedingly unfit.  But between us we shared a great determination and a love of the outdoors, what more can you ask for?

Taken near the start of the journey...

We travelled from Euston to Glasgow and then on to Helensburgh by rail for £94 return (1st class on the way back worked out cheaper than standard for some reason).
From Helensburgh we got a lift to Loch Lomond and caught a ferry from Inverburg over the Loch to Rowardennon.
Once at Rowardennon you basically head North until time runs out on your trip.  The ideal would be to reach Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis.
All equipment was taken with us in backpacks; you’ll needs tents, sleeping bags, roll mats and warm clothing for the journey.  Sturdy footwear is essential.
The journey home is a rather special one, described here as one of the most stunning rail journeys on Earth…

The train journey to Scotland IS undeniably long, around 6hrs (8hr including delays) and of course, in order to fill the time we had a drink…an 8hr drink.  Escape London will not even attempt to explain the route from Glasgow to Helensburgh, there’s no point.  Suffice to say, our group blended nicely with the locals outside of Glasgow Station. Fortunately we had free accommodation secured for the first night; Neil, one of our intrepid crew, has a house near the start of the hike.  We were greeted after our mammoth drinking session by Neil’s Mum, complete with a hearty broth and rounds of whiskey (Escape London should point out that the Whiskey was at our request, Neil’s Mum is not an alcoholic, but she has no sense of smell…interesting fact).  We soon passed out.  Escape London ‘slept’ up-right in a chair next to a drafty window using a conveniently placed door mat for a blanket.  The perfect preface to 3 days of arduous walking.

Escape London would like to seize this moment to inform you that this blog is merely a vessel to give people ideas, to lend a few pointers for adventurous people to follow…loosely.  Embarking on a 14 hr drinking session, then sleeping for 2hr the night before departing on a 70mile hike is probably not best practise.  It was fun, but the following morning was not.  A 6am wake up call, a fresh cup of coffee and off we went on a short drive to Loch Lomond and the start of the hike.

Arriving at the Loch was strangely surreal.  A hazy mist hung low over the mirror-like water and as the early morning sun slowly burned through the haze everything appeared out of focus.  For us anyway.  We loaded our huge backpacks onto benches and sat with heads resting on arms, groaning from time to time.  We didn’t look good.  Here we waited for the Ferry which would make the journey South and across the Loch.  So far, so un-surreal, but the tranquil morning was about to be destroyed.  A coach load of oriental tourists arrived, followed by another.  Barely able to lift the weight of our shrivelled, dehydrated brains, we managed to twist our necks and squint in their direction.  At least 50, camera snapping, smiling Chinese students descended down to the side of the Loch.  The sound of hundreds of shutter lenses filled the morning air.  An innumerable amount of photos were taken of every single aspect of the car park, the Loch, the trees, the grass and us.  We even witnessed friends taking pictures of one another whilst in picture-taking position, snapped and saved in digital format for eternity.  It felt like a bad trip, like all of a sudden the bats from Fear and Loathing were descending upon our rotting corpses, intent on seizing every possible pixel of our anguish and posting it on-line for the world to see.  Perhaps Escape London sounds a little melodramatic here but this whole paragraph could have been summed up with ‘we were pretty hungover’, which would have been dull.  We ran for our ferry.

Sitting together on the ferry, gliding across the beautiful water we all suddenly felt alive.  Hangovers were forgotten.  We were suddenly in the middle of some truly staggering natural beauty and for the first time the group felt genuine excitement about what we were doing.  The scale of the task also began to sink in.  The ferry trip alone was around 20min in duration, going rather inconveniently in the opposite direction to our route.  Glancing at the shoreline it was difficult to discern an actual path, however it was obvious that the terrain was far from flat.  The Loch itself stretched away into the North, further into the distance than our bleary eyes could fathom.  We soon arrived at the most Southerly tip and start of our hike, each of us laden to the point of collapse with largely useless camping provisions.  Only Sarg was able to stand comfortably.  He had packed according to the Internationally recognised code of the part-Irish, pale-faced fool.  He had a sleeping bag, a couple of packs of fags and a strong desire to drink whiskey.  He did manage to get his hands on a waterproof, which thankfully was surplus to requirements anyway.  We took solace in the fact that we’d hidden a rock in his backpack to make life slightly more uncomfortable.

Smiling, hungover faces before the walk begins...

Rhythm is a word rarely used when describing anyone in our group.  It simply doesn’t quite work, yet for these 3 days of physical exertion we each found our own natural walking rhythm and technique.  And they all worked pretty damn well.  The funniest, by some margin, came in the form of Ian, our very own Captain Escargot.  As the time passed and the miles began to thread slowly by underfoot, it became clear (to Ian at least) that his only chance of finishing the walk was if he employed the ‘perpetual motion’ method.  Escape London is using the term ‘motion’ loosely; there were times, when ascending a few particularly steep sections of the route that looking back at Ian was similar to gazing at a perfectly still image of the Scottish landscape. But it worked, we would all set off at our various paces, a few of us (Jack, Sarg and Escape London) truly believing we were achieving SAS levels of performance.  Neil and Nick seemed nicely in synch as well, walking at a leisurely yet determined gait throughout.  (Perhaps we have discovered our own natural phenomena, as when women spend too much time together and their feminine cycles fall into synch, so as we progressed our footsteps fell naturally in time with one another.  I may conduct a proper experiment and try and get it published.  In fact that’s a shit idea, I won’t.)  And then came Ian.  Ian, just shuffled his way, unceasingly towards the final resting point of each day.  We worked out that on the second day’s exertions Ian ‘walked’ at his snail’s pace for a full 14miles without a single break.  Water and food was consumed on the move, he even overtook the rest of us a couple of times as we lay and recuperated in the sun.

The West Highland Way really does need to be experienced first-hand to really appreciate its beauty and the allure of the challenging path.  At one point we discovered a wondrous wood that quite possibly only exists in our minds.  It was literally teaming with nature.  Waterfalls sparkled in golden sunshine, little squirrely creatures sat on mushrooms playing cards and smoking cigars and streams laced their way lazily through the trees.  Bears lay in the deep pine-needle carpet casually receiving massages from Caramel Bunnies.  They didn’t even look up as the 3 of us came staggering along the path.  We ran down the hills, not due to our enormous levels of energy but because it was easier than fighting against gravity.  The bouncy platform also made our strides huge, we positively bounded through the forest like mountain stags, pausing only to bathe ourselves in the  streams that followed our route downwards.  This all sounds a little fantastical…because of course, it is; anyone who actually saw us would have witnessed a vastly different spectacle…6 dirty, smelly, foul-mouthed homeless looking men stooping to drink out of puddles on the forest floor.

The only other aspect that remains unmentioned is of course the free camping.  Scottish law allows free camping all along the West Highland Way, you can literally find an area you like the look of and set up camp.  Perfect.  It is absolutely vital that you hold respect for the environment around you and leave no trace in your wake as you leave your site.  For those of you who like your amenities, there are campsites along the way, but that’s cheating (admittedly we cheated on the first night).  The feeling of camping alone in the wild is all too rare these days and was an experience that will last long in the memory.  Plus you can build a PROPER campfire.  Our group has a certain, bordering on obsessive, affinity towards fire.  So entranced with the dancing flames were we, that at some point around 4am, Escape London recalls slapping Nick on the back, only to discover a layer of frost covering the back of his coat.  Looking behind for the first time in hours was like looking at a scene from a Christmas card, everywhere shone white in the moonlight, ice covered everything.  We’d sat, facing the fire for so long that each of our backs were frozen without us realising.  That’s fire love.

In short, get yourselves to Scotland.  And explore.

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Escape London, to Hedsor House

13 Sep

Glorious place for a party...

Escape London wants everyone to escape to Hedsor House this coming weekend (17th -18th Sept) and do their bit for charity whilst partaking in a little hedonism.  Hedsor House is hosting it’s annual charity event in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières.  This unique event promises revellers a one-night festival experience within the stunning grounds of Hedsor House.

A crowd of 1000 well known socialites, key influencers from the world of fashion, art and music will gather on the stunning lawns of Hedsor House to be entertained by the likes of world-renowned beatboxer Shlomo, Joe Driscall, Rocketeers and Kaya, all fresh from performing at world famous Glastonbury festival.  Hedsor House itself is famed as one of the UK’s most beautiful venues with recent guests including Mark Ronson, Nicole Kidman and Ricky Gervais.  This historic manor house in Buckinghamshire is pretty much the perfect escape this weekend, what can be more perfect than bouncing your way through an evening of great music, surrounded by beautiful countryside all in the name of a great cause?

Great charity, great cause

Every penny raised by Hedsor 2011 is going directly to Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders), the independent international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid in more than 60 countries to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters or exclusion from healthcare.  MSF is one of the leading charities combating the crisis in East Africa.  The previous event, Hedsor 2009, raised enough money to immunise 75,000 children from measles, a killing disease in many areas of Africa.   Hedsor 2011 aims to raise even more.  Tickets are running out so you’ll need to book quickly if you’re to experience this utterly unique, extravagant event. www.hedsor2011.com

Mark Shephard, Founding Partner of Hedsor House says:

“Having worked on the ground with Médecins Sans Frontières in Pieri, South Sudan and Kenya, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of their work.  MSF gets to the very heart of the most desperate areas of East Africa where the current struggle with conflict and severe drought has been well documented by the media.  Many believe that they are powerless to help, but events and fundraising initiatives like Hedsor 2011 demonstrate otherwise.”

Marc DuBois, Executive Director of MSF UK said:

“As Mark Shephard, who has worked for MSF out in the field, well knows, MSF people like a good party almost as much as we like saving lives.  We’re very excited about this event, raising both funds and awareness for our work in humanitarian emergencies across the world.”

Party at the house

The event attendees will include a superb guest list of socialites and key influencers from the worlds of fashion, art and music.  Hedsor 2011 has allocated a small number of tickets to be purchased by the general public, please visit http://www.hedsor2011.com.

The event is in association and supported by Hedsor Events, Peroni Nasto Azzuro, Westons Cider, Delhicious Foods, Bordeaux Wine Investments, Class Act, Pussy Natural Energy, Firefly and 4Front Security and who have all most generously provided their products and services for the event.

For further information, please see www.hedsor2011.com

This way to the party...

About Hedsor House

Set in 85 acres of glorious parkland and reached by a 1km wooded driveway, Hedsor House is a magnificent events venue located in Taplow, Buckinghamshire offering first class facilities and service for conferences, meetings, training events, bespoke events, private functions, weddings and filming. From hosting King George III and Queen Victoria in centuries past to hosting Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass and Mark Ronson’s recent star-studded birthday party, Hedsor House is steeped in history. www.hedsor.com

The event is being organised by the three brothers, Mark, Hamish and Nick Shephard, to whose family Hedsor House belongs.

In all honesty, Hedsor House would make a pretty perfect destination for a retreat from the London slog throughout the year, but that feeling you get when you know you’re doing something good, whilst having an incredible time nicely warms the cockles.  Tickets are limited so please make haste and get yourself booked in for a night of hedonism, with a twist of eccentricity.  Escape London


Escape London, to Wyndstock: a costume garden party

31 Aug

The beautiful Pylewell House, perfect setting for Wyndstock

Escape London does exactly what it says on the tin:  It escapes London at every given opportunity.  Not because it dislikes London, but because it feels drawn to all things wild, weird and wonderful.  With that in mind, Wyndstock was the obvious choice to begin this August Bank Holiday weekend.  Wyndstock was initially whispered invitingly in my direction by a good friend.  It sounded perfect, a costume Garden Party down by the sea in the New Forest.  It felt as if Wyndstock had somehow been blown merrily along to me, carried on the breeze of a mid-Summer’s afternoon.  It was to be kept a secret, divulged unto only the closest of friends, to those who would bring something unique and charming to the partie’s beautiful banquet table.  And, put simply Wyndstock worked.

Crowds gather for an impromptu dance lesson.

A small, eclectic crowd of around 400 people slowly gathered in the grounds of  the sprawling estate, early Saturday afternoon.  Having steadfastly battled through the Bank Holiday traffic they wound their way carefully through the 80 acres of forest, water gardens and manicured lawns…all aiming for a small gathering of tents, tucked away in a secluded corner in front of the magnificent Pylewell House.  Those of us lucky enough to have secured Glamping tickets were in for a treat, an encampment of mini-tepees with blow-up mattresses, duvets and pillows, complete with Wyndstock goody bags, awaited our arrival.   Having been forever resolute in avoiding the luxury of Glamping, Escape London is not afraid to admit that it was pretty dam comfy in that Tepee.  Perhaps, on special occasions a Glamp here and there would be forgiveable?  It certainly keeps one’s girlfriend happy.  Food for thought.

Having arrived early, Escape London and friends had the run of the grounds.  Skipping joyously through the afternoon showers our group of four drank heartily from a bar, adorned with hanging plants, fairy lights and flowers.  The enticing lawn was home to the various games and activities, (Boules, Croquet and Badminton) which would fill the next couple of hours.

One of the benefits of having a party set in 80 acres of land is the chance to explore, wander and get lost, whilst swigging from copious bottles of cider.  Following the red ribbons tied to various posts and fences lead party goers into the heart of the water gardens, a host of lakes, woodland and pathways in the midst of the estate.  A boat was found, hidden away in a bush and of course, commandeered.  A plucky bunch attempted to negotiate the algae-clogged lake with only half an oar and a pineapple with which to paddle.  They looked the part, sort of, but got nowhere.

Wyndstockers attempt a channel crossing with a pineapple for a paddle.

The rest of the afternoon was spent basking in the sunshine playing boules, drinking more Pimms and Cider than is wise and learning new moves on the dancefloor.  Regular dance lessons were offered on the lawn and enthusiastic folk ‘itched’ their way through the Charleston whilst giggling uncontrollably.  For those with less rhythm but a creative eye, there was the age-old favourite ‘make an animal out of vegetables’ activity table.  There were some suitably odd creations and a few that will probably be snapped up by Pixar for their next feature.  Escape London decided to throw his on the fire in a sacrificial offering to the Gods, there is no explanation as to the thought process behind such an act.  It just felt, right.

Escape London cannot take credit for this masterpiece...

As the night progressed, food was served, this was perhaps the only part of the event that didn’t run quite as smoothly as hoped.  There were a few mutterings of discontent from the crowd as news spread that much of the feast had run out by 8.30pm (dinner was promised to be served until 10pm or everyone had been served) but it was soon acknowledged that a meagre meal was not a life or death situation and people bravely moved on.  The fire was lit, the 3 small hot-tubs were overflowing with arms, legs and other stuff and the party was in full swing.

The wonders of Wyndstock...

 

In all honesty, Wyndstock becomes somewhat of a blur post-dinner.  Escape London recalls toasting nicely by the huge bonfire, embroiled in excellent and important conversations with those around.  There was also a fireworks display whose show was well and truly stolen by an escaped dog.  An excitable, cheeky little rapscallion who took obvious delight in evading capture for the duration of the spectacle.

Wyndstock firework display.

Attention was finally focussed towards the dance-floor, as always Escape London was quick to unleash the one move from it’s repetoire…the bounce.  The music was (possibly) ecclectic and definitely fun.  Special mention also needs to be offered to the man wearing the ‘Owl Lamp Hat’.  For those of you who were there, you’ll know the one I mean.  It was an awesome adornment.

And the prize for most magnificent hat, goes to....

The following morning saw bleary eyed revellers bathed in the sunshine of an end of Summer’s Sunday.  As weary bodies emerged from their various tents and tepee’s it was clear that the morning after the night before was a painful but happy occasion.  The promise of  a hearty cooked breakfast had people queuing outside the marquee in a bedraggled line for a good couple of hours.  Again, this wasn’t the smoothest of operations and many were left many without their promised helpings, but Wyndstock is in it’s infancy and will learn from these small errors on an otherwise impeccable scorecard.

Glorious end to Wyndstock

Escape London and friends made the most of the beautiful morning down on the coastline paddling in the sea, climbing trees and discussing adventures from the night before.  We were unanimous in our praise for the event:  Wyndstock had been unique, charming, well planned and above all enormous fun.  As with all new events there were teething problems, but these only revealed themselves in the form of the food service, not a bad effort considering.  Wyndstock will hopefully continue and establish itself as an exclusive, essential Summer party for those in the know.  It’s certainly going straight in the diary for next year and Escape London will be fervidly searching for an Owl-Lamp-Hat in the meantime…

Escape London: For the August Bank Holiday

25 Aug

Right then city dwellers and adventure lovers, the last Bank Holiday weekend before Christmas (weep) is almost upon us and we’re simply spoilt for long-weekend adventure choice.  Loads of us will opt to remain on the thudding streets of London, bouncing to the beats emanating from the Notting Hill Carnival.  Still more will be dancing away on the sodden grass at SW4 and as always, there are events galore along Southbank and all over London.  However, you’re reading this because the 3 day weekend presents you with a rather lovely opportunity to escape the confines of the City and bask in pastures green.  That’s what I’m doing.  Here’s how:

Saturday morning see’s us depart for the rather wonderful sounding Wyndstock Festival, down on the South Coast in the New Forest.  We have been promised, amongst other things, outdoor hot tubs, food served by candlelight under the stars, wild swimming, croquet, live music and DJ’s and (for those too posh for bog-standard camping)…GLAMPING.

I’ve not witnessed this festival before, but it comes HIGHLY recommended by friends who attended her twin event at the start of the Summer.  I’ll be back with a review  next week.  Please see:  http://www.wyndstock.com/about-wyndstock/ for additional info.

After breakfast (generously included in the ticket price of £80), we’ll be headed further North into Hampshire, specifically the charming market town of Alresford for a beer festival in the neighbouring village of Cheriton.  An annual event for die-hard Ale and Cider enthusiasts and locals who love a boogie, this is a brilliantly traditional beer celebration, complete with sticky floors, Pogues tribute bands and a curry tent to help wash down the furry Ale.  Held at the famous Flower Pots (who have their own highly regarded, award winning brewery http://www.flowerpots.f2s.com/beers.html) the setting is perfect, surrounded by miles of open countryside and a huge marquee in the garden this event is a heady mix of strong local alcohol, spicy food and crazy dancing.  Again, there’ll be a review (possibly fuzzy review) early next week!

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