The first day of SINS was high on the Long Mynd, with the start at 470 metres. Although the drive up had been in sunshine, the cloud level quickly dropped as we approached the assembly; a windswept wintry location on the north side of the hill. The expectation of overheating on a sunny hillside with distant views of Shropshire faded away into rolling mist, a blustery and chill wind, and driving drizzle. I watched with some trepidation as Lyra and Rebecca disappeared into the banks of hill fog on their way to the start. This would test their use of the compass as well as their ability to leap over the heather-clad moorland.
The Long Mynd is an upland area of moorland with steep sided east-facing valleys called hollows and batches. The geology here is pre-Cambrian, some of the oldest rocks in Britain (>575ma). The shorter courses (Esk on W10B white and Lyra on W12 Orange) stuck to the summit, navigating through the mist on a series of paths bisecting the heather. The orange strayed into one of the upper parts of Long Batch in search of springs. Rebecca on the light green ventured further out onto the east facing spurs and across the hollows and back to the summit in search of springs and tumuli hidden in the relatively featureless heather dome.
By the time I started the blue, the mist had cleared, the sun was out and the Shropshire hills were in full glory with distant views to the Wrekin. The first control offered the choice of two sides of a triangle along paths, or the direct hypotenuse on a bearing across heather. Feeling full of beans I decided that the heather was more fun, which worked well until the growth was thigh high, quickly draining any surplus supplies. The course from there on was technically straight forward and an absolute delight as it traversed the escarpment of various hollows and batches in search of crags, boulders and springs. A clear vision of the landscape certainly helps, but with three or four distant controls in sight, it was crucial to keep map contact and aim for the right one. The fantastic, quick-paced, airy dart along the sheep walks and ridge edge paths was rather spoiled by the final two controls, which required 110 metres of gradual but tiresome hillside ascent in pursuit of a moorland re-entrant and a lonesome hawthorn tree. This must be the only time when I have ventured to walk (or stagger) on my way to the finish.
Day two was supposed to be at Caer Caradoc on the other side of the valley, which would have been delightful, if a little hilly. Instead we headed south to Herefordshire to Nash woods near Presteigne. This was more reminiscent of a Quantock hillside with the novelty of a venture into Wales for controls located on the north-side. The walk to the start was 2 km through verdant pastures with a steep climb through bluebells to the start. This was Esk’s first white completely on her own, with all four of us setting off on our own way to hopefully re-group at the finish. The shorter courses followed a network of rather confusing paths causing the odd problem for both girls, however Esk survived without incident, extolling her new found “freedom”. Light green and Blue headed to the far eastern end of the wood with Rebecca climbing to the 321m summit. The blue was tougher underfoot than the previous day and more tiring. The 105 metre climb to #1 along a network of tracks and slopes in search of an inconspicuous platform was a testing start. I made an error at #7 among a series of seven large re-entrants. In fairness, the lack of reading glasses and the dark woodland did little to help my map reading and despite the short distance I wasted time hunting for the control along the wrong stream. I was careful not to make the same mistake at #12 by keeping high and counting off the re-entrants.
After day 2 we ventured down to Devon, and rather wished we had stayed for day 3 at Brampton Bryan. We all had enormous fun at SINS and enjoyed exploring a corner of England we rarely frequent. The hilly terrain in Shropshire in May was a delight, even in the mist apparently and we plan to make this a regular fixture.
Photos by Andy Johnson and James Wilkinson (Harlequins OC)