October has been a pretty good month of getting outside. Now we’ve sneaked into November (hope you’re taking part in my One Hour Outside challenge this month), I look back and realise just how much I’ve been able to explore the countryside over the last four weekends. I admit I’m a bit tired now, but it was definitely worth it.
I might have a full-time job that ties me to my computer for hours and hours each week, but I do love to use any spare hours I get to go on mini outdoor adventures. And in October I was pleased to have a couple of new bits of kit to take with me, too. My friends at Cotswold Outdoor sent me some fabulously brightly coloured Salomon trainers and a pair of Mountain Equipment hiking leggings, and I’ve been putting these through their paces in four outdoorsy weekends in four separate but equally wonderful, nature-filled areas of Great Britain.
And let’s face it, giving me a brand-new pair of comfortable and grippy trainers and telling me to get them muddy is the best way to my heart… so here’s where I took them!
Weekend 1: King of the Hills and Castles in Monmouthshire
I spent a lovely weekend just over the bridge in Wales on a hosted trip exploring what Abergavenny in Monmouthshire has to offer those of us who like to spend lots of time outside. And believe me when I say, there is a lot to do here!
In the 48 hours we spent across the border (before the Welsh lock down, and following the rules of the time, of course), we did a couple of short but very satisfying hikes with great views, messed about on a lake doing three different water sports – pedal boarding, paddle boarding and kayaking – learnt a bit more Welsh history at two beautiful castle ruins at Chepstow and Abergavenny, and ate our body weight in good local food.
Our two hikes were Skirrid Fawr and The Blorenge. Both overlook Abergavenny itself, and sit right on the edge of the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons National Park. These two standalone hills are popular and for very good reason, I could see back home to Gloucestershire from the summit of each one, easily spotting May Hill on the horizon.
Monmouthshire is such a nice part of the country and, at just over an hour away from where I live, it was an easy and convenient place for a weekend away. Lock down means I got this trip in just in time before the border virtually closed in either direction, but this is somewhere I will return to as soon as we are able.
Weekend 2: Camping and Hiking in Shropshire
The pandemic has meant that the number of nights I’ve had under canvas this year has been a lot less than normal, which has been a real shame. We tried to counter this just a little by meeting a couple of good friends for a relaxed camping weekend in the Shropshire Hills AONB.
We camped at Small Batch Campsite in Little Stretton at the foot of Long Mynd, which was surprisingly busy for an October weekend, primarily with campervans and motorhomes (very jealous of those with heaters!). It was a lovely little site, with good facilities (including free hot water with decent pressure), and an ideal base for us to hike Long Mynd on the Saturday. It’s always good to find a site with hikes directly from the gate; not needing to drive anywhere makes for a much more relaxed day.
Our hike on the Saturday, just shy of nine miles from the campsite up Long Mind and down through Carding Mill, was just so beautiful. The weather was absolutely spot on for hiking – yes it was cool, but it was dry and even sunny, which makes going uphill much easier than if it’s hot or wet but meant we still had great views. We weren’t the only people on the hill by any stretch, but it was only busy when we were in Carding Mill itself, which is always popular with families enjoying the area. We might have gone a little off-piste in our route finding, but what is a day out in the hills without a bit of a navigation challenge?!
While I wear the Salomon trainers Cotwold Outdoor sent me for low level walks, I wore my boots for this hill walk, but I did give my Mountain Equipment Sonica Tights a good test, and was very impressed. It was one of those autumn days where the sun was warm but the wind was cold, and I was grateful that they kept my legs warm without making me sweaty. More words on the kit a bit further down.
A weekend camping and hiking always seems to elongate time and our two nights away felt like a week. The outdoors can provide great opportunity to relax, catch up with friends, be outside, and slow down, things we all need more of at the moment (after lock down!).
I think that’s it for camping this year, now. I’m not entirely a fair-weather camper, but I do prefer the warmer months. Now the tent is away in the garage I suspect it will stay there until Spring. I just hope things are more amenable to campsite camping for those of us without our own toilet facilities in the New Year.
Weekend 3: Awetumn Colours at Westonbirt
Having had our tickets waiting since Christmas, we finally made it to Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, for our first visit on weekend three of our outdoorsy October. Apart from the fact that we picked a wet Saturday to go, which you can’t do anything about in these days of having to book everything in advance, it was an excellent weekend to visit – wandering through a tree museum in autumn was perfect timing.
We wandered the various paths for a couple of hours, enjoying the variety of trees in the arboretum. Run by Forestry England, Westonbirt has 15,000 specimens, and 2,500 species of tree from all over the world, and plays a vital part in research and conservation as well as being a beautiful place to visit.
My personal highlight was the huge range of gorgeously brightly coloured Japanese Maples (Acers), almost as bright as my trainers, which put the little red one in my back garden to shame. It was also an opportunity to once again touch the soft bark of a Coastal Redwood; sequoias are definitely my favourite tree, and while the ones here aren’t a patch on those in California, it is always good to see one up close.
Weekend 4: Ticking off the Quantocks
For my final outdoorsy weekend in October I headed on a short solo trip to the Quantocks, for the simple reason that I don’t remember ever hiking there before. I was so glad I went, what an utterly beautiful part of the country, it certainly won’t be my last visit.
I was due to be walking a marathon-length route over two days, in a big ring around the whole of the AONB. But the weather had other ideas (thanks Storm Aiden!), and so I made the call to do three shorter walks instead, one from Dead Woman’s Ditch, one on the coast at Watchet, and one from Holford.
If you’ve never hiked in the Quantocks either you may not know that it is actually our first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, given the title back in the 1950s thanks to its distinctive cultural and spiritual heritage. I walked passed cairns that date back to the Bronze Age (Hurley Beacon), a well that is so ancient it cannot be dated (St David’s Well), and a harbour that’s been operational for over 1,000 years.
I reckon I manged to get a teeny taste of everything the Quantocks has to offer; ancient woodland, open and rugged heathland, and views of the sea. The different views and terrains fit together like some sort of strange puzzle of mismatched scenery that comes together in an absolutely perfect photograph. Even accounting for Hinkley Point Power Station dominating the landscape. I admit I completely fell in love with the place, what a gem.
About the Kit from Cotswold Outdoor
Cotswold Outdoor haven’t asked me to “review” the kit they sent, it was much more about giving me the tools to help me get outside as much as possible, but it would seem remiss of me not to mention what I think…
These brightly coloured trainers are the popular Salomon Women’s XA Pro 3D V8 GTX Shoe. I honestly don’t know why they can’t give shoes normal names such as Bob or Sarah, but there we are. And yes, they are colourful, but thankfully they also have decent outdoors credentials, as you would expect from a Salomon product.
These trail shows are lightweight, waterproof (they’re GORE-TEX so come with that lifetime guarantee that you can rely on), grippy, and comfortable. The quick lace system might look complicated but it’s very easy to set and then leave alone, and that protective toe cap is a bit of godsend when you are rather good at stubbing your toe on the slightest scramble.
These aren’t my first pair of Salomon shoes and I am already a fan – they have been comfortable straight from the box and have such a no nonsense way of dealing with the trail I’ve been happy to wear them on all kinds of terrain. As I mentioned above, I see these as much more of a daily hiking trainer rather than something for the hills, but that’s more about my ankles than their ability to help keep you upright.
Anyone who read my post about my Haglofs trainers will know that I walk several miles a day, and so far the XA Pros are showing no signs of wear at all – other than being a little less brightly coloured than they were when I first got them. I should clean them properly.
Mountain Equipment Sonica Tights
I admit I’m not a fan of tight clothing. I generally hike in everyone’s favourite outdoor trouser, the Craghoppers Kiwi Pro Stretch. But after a month wearing these Mountain Equipment Sonica Tights (well, leggings) instead, I have to admit, I get it. They are stretchy in all directions, as thick as you need them to be to stop anything showing through, and have a nice and wide elasticated high waistband which makes them fit securely without digging into my soft bits.
I ordered a size 12, which was a bit of a punt because who really knows what size to order these days, but I reckon I got it right. I’m short but wide in the thighs, and I do need that 12 to be comfortable all the way down my legs.
I wondered if my legs would get cold, but the material is surprisingly warm, and I have been impressed how long it took for the rain to soak in (which has been vital this month) and then for the leggings to dry out when the clouds stopped leaking. Oh and these leggings have pockets… one with a zip and a mesh pocket big enough (and secure enough) for my phone.
I might not like tight clothing, but I am sold on these and have worn them a lot already. To my legging-loving outdoorsy friends, I get it.
If you’re after new outdoor gear this winter, you would do well to check out the range at Cotswold Outdoor. Their stores might be closed for a month, but their online shop is still open and they have lots of offers for Black Friday. They kindly gave me some free stuff but they’re not paying me to say this, I genuinely think they gave one of the best ranges of top-quality outdoor gear available.
I hope your October has been as outdoorsy as mine. And if not, don’t worry, November is here and ready for you to enjoy… if you’ve not already started to take part in my One Hour Outside challenge you are not too late to join in from today.
With thanks to Cotswold Outdoor for sending me the trainers and leggings to help encourage me outdoors this October. Links to Cotswold Outdoor are affiliate links. This is not a sponsored post.