The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 31 March 2008

Wendy's Slippery Base

One issue with Wendy that I don't think that I have before mentioned (because it's a very easily resolvable one) is that the material is very slippery - including the material that forms the base.

Of the three times that we've used her, twice we've been lucky enough to have almost flat pitches. On the other occasion to climb into my sleeping bag was like getting into one of those hessian sacks on the big slide at the fair when I was a child.

The solution was clear. We needed to put some lines seam sealant solution onto the base of the tent.

Unsurprisingly, that's a job that has been put off and put off, but tomorrow we're delivering Wendy to my counsin who will deliver her to us when we hit Offa's Dyke - so it became rather pressing that we sort out the slippery base problem.

The result is that as I sit here typing this, Wendy is standing right in front of me, taking up a good chunk of the living room. Her back loop is around the leg of the chair in one corner of the room; her front loops are around the legs of the chair in the opposite corner.

It makes navigating the living room interesting, but at least that's another job ticked off the list.

Sunday 30 March 2008

A Bit After The Fact

Still poring over maps, I just noticed something.

Months ago I studied maps and the Scottish Hill Tracks book to come up with a route from the top of the Pennine Way northwards.

I duly came up with a route with which I was happy but it took much head-scratching and lots of inspection of maps (Scottish Hill Tracks map, road atlas and 1:50k Anquet Maps on screen).

Rather belatedly I just realised that the Cicerone End to End Trail book includes a route from Melrose to Kilsyth, which unsurprisingly seems to tie up with the route that I came up with.

At least I can have the satisfaction that I did the hard work to design our route myself – but now I realise that I could have saved myself a whole lot of time and work.

Saturday 29 March 2008


I’m sitting on the living room floor surrounded by maps. I thought that it was about time I checked all of the maps were in order and printed out a few 1:25000 sections that will help us along.

I’d only got as far as Day 4 when I came across a bit of route that just didn’t seem to make sense.

It was almost a year ago that I planned this section so I have no recollection as to what I was thinking at the time. Thinking that I wouldn’t have just spuriously thrown in such a nonsensical bit of route without good reason I started searching through Andrew McCloy’s book to see if I’d got the notion from there. But no; this part of the route doesn’t coincide with McCloy’s route.

Out came the relevant section of 1:25,000 map (a single A4 page scanned from a paper map that I borrowed), which served to confirm that the route that I’d chosen (presumably late at night and after a good few glasses of wine) involved trespassing at length across farmland without about a dozen field boundaries of unknown type to negotiate.

I have now corrected the route to one that doesn’t involve trampling crop fields or leaping over electric fences (or if it does turn out to include those features, at least we’ll be doing so legally).

I’m hoping that it was a one off aberration. It would throw me into a bit of disarray to have to do any substantial amounts of replanning at this stage.

Friday 28 March 2008

More Kit List Considerations

A couple of days ago Lighthiker (Roman (not to be confused with Litehiker)) left some detailed comments on my kit list.

I’ve considered them all. Some are very valid points and are definitely ways that I could save weight. However, it’s in considering these things that has driven home that to strive for the lightest possible pack weight does require some compromises and a certain level of dedication to lightweight.

For me, although I want the lightest pack, I’m not quite dedicated enough to lightweight to go without things that I’d like to have notwithstanding that strictly I could do without them.

So, these are my thoughts on Roman’s comments:
(Note: where I’m now leaving something out I’ve classed it as a weight saving and stated the amount. Where I’m taking something regardless I’ve classed it as a weight penalty and stated the amount.)

Leave the Paramo Azuma back home. The underpants plus Rain pants should be sufficient. If not someone at home can send it to a post office ahead of you.

I’m not sure if there’s some confusion about the pant vs trousers thing here – but the mind boggles at me either walking along wearing my skimpy knickers alone, or at wearing black Gore Tex on a sunny day. Suffice to say that I will be taking a pair of trousers!

I’m not counting that as a weight penalty on my pack as I’ll be wearing them.

You have the Fuera smock plus the down jacket for insulation. Could you leave the Fuera back home and combine the down jacket with your rain jacket?
I did consider getting a Montane Featherlite in place of the Fuera, which would give a weight saving whilst still providing a windproof. However, even ignoring the lack of funds, I decided that as I’m not taking a fleece the Fuera would act as a practical extra layer for walking in on cold days.

I’m not expecting to be cold enough to be comfortable walking in the down jacket, and although it’s possible that the weather may be kind enough that I can get away with just one outer-layer (i.e. the Gore Tex), for breathability (or the lack thereof) I don’t really want to be wearing the waterproof on dry days.

Plus, I really like the comfiness of the Fuera. So, the Fuera stays for now. Again, I’m not taking that as a weight penalty on my pack (an arguable point) as I anticipate to be wearing it more than not.

2 Underpants? Go for one
So, I wash my underpants at night and hang them on the tent. It turns out to be a humid night and they don’t dry. Do I then: a) wear damp pants the following day; or b) go commando…

Weight penalty: 30g

Smelly Helly. Mmh. Maybe exchange that with a Merion s/s crew?
I really need to get the Merino. The only holding factor is the astronomically high credit card bill I just received and my unemployed status…

Take the sleeping bag liner with you. Extra warmth, feels nice. Dries out quickly in the morning, much easier to wash when smelly/dirty compared with a sleeping bag. Doubles as a blanket in Youth Hostels etc.
I probably will start off with it. But, my other thought is that for the weight saving the cost of having my sleeping bag cleaned at the end of the trip will be a small price to pay.

Weight penalty: <160g (it weights 160g at the moment, but I’m going to take scissors and a sewing machine to it before we go)

Leave the superabsorbant cloth back home. Dry with the sponge at let the rest dry out in the air.
I agree, it is an item that we could do without. But, it’s proved its worth too many times in the past – probably more so for mopping up spillages than drying dishes.

Weight penalty: 15g

Steripen plus sterilising tablets? Leave one item back home.
Lack of clarity on my part. I intend to take one Milton Sterilising tablet which will serve to disinfect the bladders every couple of weeks (only half a tablet needed per time). I could omit this and have an occasional tablet sent with a food parcel instead.

However, we’re only talking about a weight penalty of 5g.

Hose cleaning brush. Leave back home. Rinse your drinking valve/tube daily and hang it out overnight. This is sufficient against bacteria etc.
When ever I get back from a walking trip I empty my water reservoir, whiz the tube around to get as much water out of it as possible and then hang it off a curtain pole above a radiator. Even so, it still goes mouldy with shocking ease. It’s not a problem I used to have with my blue-tubed CamelBak (but then that weighed twice as much).

Given that we don’t have anywhere to hang two drinking tubes in the tent, and given that it’s a potential threat to our health if the tubes do go mouldy and we can’t clean them, I will be taking the brush.

Weight penalty: 40g

2 times soap? I guess copy/past error...
‘Twas indeed an error. I don’t intend to be that clean! :-)

Soap plus shampoo plus hand sanitiser plus soap flakes...
Depending which kind of soap you use you can use it for hair and body. You can also wahs the clothes with soap and it can replace the sanitiser. Therefore one bar of biodegredable soap could do it.
A good point. It does seem a bit excessive, doesn’t it?

The hand sanitiser stays because that’s for use when there’s not a water source to hand.

Arguably I could wash clothes using a bar of soap – but soap flakes are just easier for clothes.

Potentially the shampoo could be omitted. I haven’t tried washing my hair with ordinary soap since I was a child and I seem to recall that it turned my hair to straw. But it could be that I just didn’t rinse properly – so before I go I will try out using ordinary soap on my hair and if it’s okay then I’ll omit the shampoo.

Weight penalty: soap - 25g; hand sanitiser – 25g; soap flakes – 30g
Potential weight saving: shampoo – 25g

I don't wear glasses but 10 pairs of contact lenses plus glasses? Leave the lenses back home.Glasses and Sunglasses? Couldn't you get one of those sunglass shields that you clip onto your glasses? Looks funny but who cares?
It’s probably just a personal thing, because I know that other people go walking in glasses, but I really can’t abide walking wearing my glasses in the rain. So, for days that threaten rain I wear contact lenses (daily disposables, so no need for separate solutions).

Now, if I finally bite the bullet and buy the Tilly hat, and wear it in the rain too, then it’s possible that my glasses will be well enough protected to not get rain spottled, in which case I will ditch the contact lenses. I think that I’ll probably set out with 5 pairs and see what happens.

As for the sunglasses, they’re for use with the contact lenses, not with the glasses.

When I bought a new pair of glasses late last year, and with this trip in mind, I bought a very light pair and I went for Reactions lenses.

People did warn me that the problem with Reactions lenses is that you look silly when you walk into a pub or a shop, but looking silly is something that I can deal with, so I went ahead.

They’ve turned out to be very annoying indeed, not because of the time it takes for them to go back to clear once you’re indoors, but because they will insist on going dark even when it’s a dull day. I certainly won’t ever buy such lenses again – however, for the current purposes it means that I don’t need to take a pair of prescription sunglasses as well as a pair of ordinary sunglasses, as well as the contact lenses, as well as the glasses…

Weight saving: 5 pairs contact lenses – 20g;
Weight penalty: sunglasses – 20g

Could your mobile double as a MP3 Player?
It can’t (it’s not that modern). Plus, given the potential intervals between power outlets, I need to make sure that the phone is used only as a phone so that I don’t run out of power at an inopportune moment (because if I run out of power on the phone you won’t be getting any blog updates).

So, the MP3 player comes along. Weight penalty: 45g

You can buy AA/AAA batteries almost everywhere. Why carry them with you (maybe one set at most)
At the moment I have 3 x AAA batteries (which are used by the MP3 players, the head torches and the GPS). 2 x AA batteries (used by the Pocketmail), 2 x CR123A batteries (for the Steripen Adventurer) and one spare camera battery.

Arguably we’ve got enough gadgets with AAA batteries in them to be able to steal from something else if some batteries go at a critical moment, so I could leave the AAA’s out.

I’ve now found out that the Pocketmail will continue to work for a good few days after the battery low warning starts, so I could leave the AA’s out too.

I see the CR123A batteries as another potential threat to clean water – and even though theoretically they should last a very long time indeed, I did have a battery failure on the first day of a trip last year and was stuck without the Steripen for the rest of the week (CR123A batteries not generally being stocked in little local stores). However, until we get Up North, we shouldn’t have any problem getting access to tap water so the Steripen should be redundant. So, I may well omit this set of Spare batteries until we get Up North.

The camera battery comes along for obvious reasons. I have considered getting a third camera battery and omitting the charger, but I’m just too nervous of being left without the ability to take photos.

Weight saving: 3xAAA – 30g; 2xAA – 45g; 2xCR123A – 30g (a little misleading because when we do need to buy we’ll end up buying more than we need, but I was surprised to find out how much they weigh).
Ortlieb map case? Heavy. Why not replace it with a Ziplock/Aloksak bag?
Ortlieb map case 55g. Aloksak 30g. I have complete faith in the Ortlieb surviving all of the abuse that I will give it. I have slightly less faith in Aloksaks (those little white blemishes that appear in the plastic when you bend them too much).

Weight penalty: 25g

If you need the MP3 player...why not loading audiobooks onto it and leave the book back home (yes, I know it is not the same..but)?
Audio books are all that I will have on the MP3 player. As you say, it’s not quite the same as having a book is it? However, I’ve had so many trips where the book hasn’t even made it out of the bag that I’ve decided that I’m not going to take a book. I will use the MP3 player and read over Husband’s shoulder if I get really desperate for the written word. If all else fails and I absolutely need my own book then I’m sure that I can pick something up on the way.

Weight saving: 100g.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Random Thoughts of the Day

Dehydrated Risotto: It works!
A couple of weeks ago I dehydrated three hearty servings of risotto.

I had some misgivings in so doing. My only previous rice-based-dish dehydrating experience was with a biriyani (sp?) that we’d saved until the last night of a six-day trip. That last night was spent a five mile round trip from the nearest eatery. By the time we came to find that the biriyani had transformed itself, in the dehydrating/rehydrating process, into something that tasted like burnt tyres, we had scant option but to eat it anyway. It rather put me off trying any other rice-based dish.

However, during the current dehydrating extravaganza, I seemed to recall that another Blogger had some time ago mentioned a risotto recipe for dehydrating purposes (my memory would have me believe that it was Bearded Git, but I could be wrong). It was enough to make me think that it was worthwhile giving it a go.

Not wanting to risk finding out that it was another burnt-tyre experience when a long way from alternative food sources, I rehydrated a portion tonight for my tea.

And what do you know? It tasted exactly like risotto. Three more portions will be cooked in the morning.

Husband’s Pack Weight

Husband’s pack weight reduced by 30g today. He’s never used the bladder sleeve in the back of his Osprey Atmos, storing his water instead in the gap between the frame and the back-mesh. So, today he took the scissors to his pack and removed that pocket. With the saving of 30g I tried to egg him on to reduce the length of the webbing on various straps, but to no avail.

Another Photographer

Another photo-session today with another photographer from another local newspaper. This one didn’t have a whole array of different ridiculous poses for us to adopt: it was just the single cheesy pose. Being a weekly paper, we now have a wait to see the result. Obviously, I’ll vet it before I post a link!

Piling on the Pressure

Organising a big holiday, like say a 1252-mile walk through the length of the country, really shouldn’t be stressful. I’ve been planning for about a year now, so the last couple of weeks should theoretically be the relaxed last few preparations.

What I wouldn’t recommend is trying very rapidly to complete the administration of an estate, sell a house, complete all the legal documentation to sell a house in your absence and finalise preparations for a big walk all at the same time (not to mention finding the time to Blog about it all too).

Thank goodness I don’t work too…

Crash Diet

I’ve been on a crash diet for the last few weeks. I’m desperately trying to gain a few pounds before we leave for Land’s End. Having always been on the skinny side of underweight, for many years I’ve struggled to get over 7 stone 9, which is undoubtedly far too light for my 5’5”. Believe me though, I do eat and I eat lots. Skinniness runs in my family and thus I blame genetics for my startling ability to lose weight.

Finally last year I managed to put on quite a few pounds and made it up to 8 stone 5 (visiting my mother every day with her endless supply of biscuits and cakes helped, then there was all the time sitting around in hospitals where it is scandalously difficult to buy anything remotely healthy to eat).

Alas, the good work of eating lots of bad food was undone when I started on my ‘LEJOG Training Kick’. Off the pounds started to come again.

I’m painfully aware of how important it’s going to be to maintain something approaching a sensible weight for the next three and a bit months. To that end I’m making a big effort to eat monumental amounts. However, despite all the cakes, chocolate and flapjacks in addition to 'proper' food, my weight is stubbornly staying at 8 stone 2. I fear that I’m not going to reach my target of gaining another 5 pounds before the off.

Llynnau Cregennen

In a display of unusual speed of getting ready, it was just before 8.30 when we left Barmouth and set out across Barmouth Bridge towards Morfa Mawddach.

The views up the Mawddach weren’t displayed to their best advantage with the low cloud base and rather dank look to the day, but it wasn’t raining, which given the poor weather forecast, was a bonus.

A Gloomy View Up the Mawddach Estuary

Along the Mawddach trail we went, but only as far as Arthog where we endured a trudge along a horribly muddy path (hemmed in on either side by gorse bushes, so no possibility to trespass a little in order to avoid the mud):

That's Muddy!

Suitably covered in mud (those nice startling-blue Roclites now brown all over) we emerged at St Catherine’s chapel, which was sporting jovial decorations around the door, left over from their Easter celebrations.

The walk up Arthog falls is always pleasing and today was no exception, climbing upwards through the varied woodland with the multiple falls on our left. Today they gave a better display than I recall having seen before, being somewhat in spate.

Arthog Falls
Arthog Falls

I stared down a horned sheep at the top of the falls:
Stared Down By A Sheep!

Then a few paces later Husband demonstrated the use of the pretty slate bridge at the top of the falls,

A Nice Bridge, As Modelled by Husband
which seemed like a jolly good location to resolve the rumbling tummy with a banana break.

Now out on the open hill, our route was somewhat indirect, but it was certainly pleasant. Coming out on the narrow, gated roadway we dog-legged to follow it towards Llynnau Cregennen.

Despite the greyness, it was still a nice place to be on a Wednesday morning, particularly with the snow-dusted hills in the background (which unfortunately you can’t make out in the photo):
One of Llynnau Cregennen

As you’ll know if you read my thoughts of yesterday, we didn’t have a cup of tea when we got there, but made do with cold water to go with our flapjacks as we cooled down quickly once stationary.

It would have been nice at this point to have continued around the llyn to pick up a path that we’ve taken before which would have looped us back down to the top of Arthog Falls. Alas, neither of us was certain that we would pick out the Right of Way that we needed to take from the road (last time we went that way it wasn’t waymarked) and we were somewhat lacking an important navigational tool on this day.

I admitted last week that I was recklessly or negligently only planning to take one set of maps between us on our LEJOG. This week I went one worse by completely failing to pick up the appropriate map. For the walk up to Cregennen that didn’t worry me. We’ve been up there enough times that even in the event of freakishly bad visibility descending upon us, I had faith that we would be able to find our way. However, it rather scuppered my plans of putting a bit of a loop into the return journey.

So, rather unexcitingly, we retraced our steps, taking in the excellent view back down towards Barmouth as we went (note the bit of blue in the sky):

Looking Down on Barmouth Bridge

We were back in Barmouth by lunchtime after 9.5 miles with a goodly bit of hill thrown in and without a single hint of inclement weather.

With the terrain varying from the wide span of Barmouth Bridge, the disused railway bed of the Mawddach Trail, the woodland and the falls, the open hill and the lakes, it's a walk with a bit of everything. If you find yourself in Barmouth with a few hours to spare, I heartily recommend it.

The outing served to declare Husband as being over his flu and back to full health.

And the Roclites? Comfortable the whole way - even the previously uncomfortable right one.

Husband's Kit List

In response to my Kit List, Litehiker asked whether I could also post Husband's kit list.

Given that today Husband did his own cataloguing exercise, I can now do that.

This is what it looks like:

This is what is included, which weighs in at 11kg:

Socks x3
Terra converts
Icebreaker 150 S/S
Icebreaker 200 L/S
Underpants x2
Montane Featherlight Jacket
Paclite Extrem Jacket
Trekmates Over-Mitts
Montane Atomic Waterproof Trews
Tilley hat
Extremities Powerstretch Beanie
Rab Powerstretch Gloves
Klattermussen Down Smock
Saloman XA Pro (First 3 weeks only)
Asolo Boots (From week 3 on)
Inov8 Roclite (maybe, as camp shoes)
Spare laces (pair)

Rab Quantum 250 Endurance
Thermarest Prolite 3
Jagbags Silk Sleeping Bag Liner (if we ever find it!)

Cooking, Eating and Drinking
Tibetan Titanium Mug
M&S Strong Plastic Spoon
MSR Titan Pot
2 litre Platypus
2 litre Platypus Hoser
Up to 10 Dehydrated meals
Flint and steel
Diddy Swiss Army Knife

Personal Care & Hygiene
Poo shovel
Loo paper
Hankies x2
MSR Ultralight Towel

Mobile phone
MP3 player
Petzl Tikka Plus Headtorch

Closed Cell Concertina Sitmat
Pacer Poles (Alu)
Aloksak (big size)
Exped Waterproof Rucksack liner
Tent (but which one?!)

And a Osprey Atmos 50 in which to carry it in.

Lighthiker (Roman) also left a very detailed and appreciated set of comments for me to think on. I shall comment on those separately (but first I need to catch up with myself by posting about yesterday's walk).

Wednesday 26 March 2008

The lack of tea bags

"Have you got any tea bags with you?" I said to Husband

"No" he said. Pause. "Have you?"

And so we realised that despite each having the best part of 11kg on our backs, and all of the hardware required to make a cup of tea, we have no tea bags.

We're now sitting by one of the Cregennan lakes tucking into flapjacks. We have any choice of a selection of dehydrated meals with us, but it's a cup of tea that would really go down nicely right now.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

LEJOG Countdown

Three weeks today!

Monday 24 March 2008

LEJOG Packing List

These days when we go out for a couple of days my pack weight, without food or water, is usually around the 5kg mark. Add water and food and it’s still usually less than 7.5kg. The benefit of such short trips is that I don’t need a towel, can take minimal quantities of consumables (e.g. toothpaste), omit other toiletries (e.g. shampoo, soap) and can take clothes appropriate to the weather forecast, with no spares.

A three month trip demands a bit more stuff. Some would say that you don’t need more for an extended trip than you need for a week long trip, but for me that doesn’t seem to hold true. Except for needing to wash, have clothes for all weathers and a bigger range and bigger quantities of the consumables, taking electrical stuff requires spare batteries and/or chargers.

Yesterday I gathered together all of the stuff that I thought that I’d need. The end result (and I stress, this includes 2 litres of water and 10 dehydrated main courses) was a pack weight of 10.8kg (including Osprey Aura at 1.4kg). Husband’s pack weighed in at only a tiny smidge more at 11kg.

That may not seem too bad for the roughty-toughty boys amongst you, but for me it feels awful heavy! I’m just trying to remind myself that I’ve carried that weight plenty of times before and it’s not been a problem.

Here’s the full list. Feel free to comment on it (but note that comments that involve additional expense at this point are unlikely to be heeded!).

Berghaus Paclite Extrem Jacket
Berghaus Paclite Extrem Trews
Paramo Azuma Vent Trews (maybe…*)
Paramo Fuera Smock
Smelly Helly s/s crew**
Icebreaker 200 l/s crew
Decathlon’s Kalenji Underpants x 2
Bridgedale Endurance Trekker Socks x 2
Peaked Hat
Extremeties powerstretch beanie***
Extremeties powerstretch gloves***
Extremeties overmitts***
PHD Minimus down jacket in stuffsack
Salomon XA Pro OR Inov8 Roclite AND trainers (weeks 1-3 only)
Sealskin Socks (weeks 1-3 only)
Scarpa ZG65 (week 3 on)

Thermarest Prolite 3 Girly in stuffsack
PHD Minimus 300 in stuffsack
Silk sleeping bag liner (?)

Cooking and Eating and Drinking
Coleman F1 Lite stove
Gas Canister
Tinder paper
Wash up sponge
Small superabsorbent cloth
2 M&S tough plastic spoons
MSR Titan Kettley Thing
Pot cosy
2-litre platty
2-litre platty hoser
Hose cleaning brush
Sterilising tablet
Up to 10 dehydrated evening meals

Personal Care and Hygiene
First Aid Kit
Pack Towel (small)
Handkerchief x 2
Toothbrush x 2 (the other one is Husband’s; I’m not carrying two for myself!)
10 pairs contact lenses
ear plugs
Sun cream
Hand sanitiser
Folding hairbrush/mirror combi
Glass case & cleaning cloth
Soap flakes for clothes washing

Petzl Tikka Plus Headtorch
Mobile Phone
Mobile Phone Charger
MP3 Player
Camera battery charger
XD memory card x 2
Spare batteries (CR123A, AAA, AA, Camera)
Foretrex 101 GPS

Pacerpoles (carbon)
Ortlieb Map Case
Closed-cell concertina sit-mat
Small mesh stuffsack for toiletries
Stuff sack for holding the little stuff
Sea to Summit ultralight sack liner

* Still no trouser decision made, but I’m tending back towards only taking one pair and just looking muddy and dishevelled a lot.
** The Smelly Helly may yet be replaced by an Icebreaker 150 for smell reduction purposes
*** It’s not that I have a thing about Extremities. The hat’s great, but the gloves could have easily been any brand (but I got a good price on the one pair and the others were a gift).

Walking Stats

My walking log (which is a series of very simple spreadsheets and not the grand leather bound book that the word ‘log’ may suggest) tells me that by 24 March 2006 I had walked 47 miles over 5 outings.

Last year I had walked 117.5 miles over 9 outings, giving an average mileage of 13 miles per outing.

This year I have walked 183 miles over 21 walks giving a rather low average of just 8.7 miles.

The averages are, of course, deceptive as they are easily skewed by a couple of very short walks.

Of this year’s 183 miles, 70 have been walked in my Scarpa ZG65s (aka my LEJOG boots). Forty have been walked in my Roclites, which are also footwear contenders for the early stages of the walk. I have no recorded stats for my Salomon XA Pro, but they must have done over 100 miles.

I have no conclusions to draw from any of that – I just thought that I would lob it in.

Saturday 22 March 2008

Express & Star

Another day another newspaper appearance. The Wolverhampton Express & Star this time.

The paper carries a photo of us in a rather ridiculous pose, but fortunately that photo isn't present on the
website. What the website does have is a short video clip (which I've vetted and considered sufficiently not-embarrassing to post a link ;-) ).

Back To The Chase

What I really wanted to do this afternoon was sit on the sofa and read a trashy novel.

Two other activities were nagging me. If I was to stay at home then there was paperwork to deal with (which should have already been done, except that I got distracted by backpacks the other day). The other activity was going for another walk.

To build the last two days and to give my fitness (psychological and physical) a boost I knew that I wouldn’t be happy unless I took myself out for a few hours.

Despite my prediction yesterday, I couldn’t face another round of the local fields, so at half past one (yet another rather late start – more mundane chores were to blame for this one) I was to be found chugging in the still-poorly car over to Cannock Chase.

Off I set with the same 9kg pack as yesterday, in the company of Harry Potter and getting all sorts of weather thrown at me. At times I was baking in the sunshine with all of my vents open, at other times it was hat and gloves, with hood up in the face of hail and snow showers.

Eight or so miles in I was loathed to cross onto ‘The Other Side of the Chase’. It feels a bit creepy over there and I was by myself. Plus, my original plan had been to do two circuits on the ‘Right Side’ rather than crossing over into Creepiness. However, ‘The Other Side of the Chase’ houses the visitor centre and I was fantasising about a KitKat.

My pace picked up remarkably as I realised that it was heading rapidly towards half past four – the time at which I suspected the café closed. I got there in the nick of time: the café was closed, but they were still serving from the ‘take away’ counter. In the absence of a KitKat (who doesn’t stock KitKats, I ask you?!) a Crunchie was a good substitute and was soon dispensed with.

It a real wish not to cross the Hednesford Road onto the really creepy bit of the Chase (where I’m sure that the Mad Axe Murders do lie in wait for lone females), rather than the time of day, that caused me to dig out a map to find a route that would cut off a corner.

Snow was falling quite heavily as I set off along Marquis Drive, soon getting to the point where I suspected I wanted turn off. The temperature plummeting with the advancing hour caused the fleece beanie to be swapped for the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap and a polar buff came out for my neck. The anemometer told me that it was just below 2 degrees. Add on wind chill and it was no wonder my hands were freezing each time the buffalo mitts came off.

My navigation proved good; I got to where I wanted to be without any mishap.

By the time I got to the fishing ponds my legs and feet were feeling the effort, the daylight was fading and I hadn’t seen another person for quite a while.

With the failing daylight and the absence of people, the deer had deemed it safe to come out of hiding. A group of nine stood and watched me watching them for a while until I started to creep forward to find how close I could get. A few minutes later I came across a group of six; a bit later, another (ostracised?) one.

The Tackeroo caravan park was the last landmark on my route, being just across the road from the car. It housed quite a few caravans today. Why, I do not know, as it strikes me as a dreadfully dreary location for a caravan park. There are much nicer areas on the Chase.

Unsurprisingly the car park was almost empty by the time I got back to it at dusk. I had walked 11.5 miles with a modest 1500 feet of ascent.

Friday 21 March 2008

The Canal On My Right

Noon today saw me and Husband indulging in some ridiculous poses in a playing field. A press photographer was directing those ridiculous poses. People stopped, stared and pointed.

A quick visit was then made to Much’s (Much is my Gran), who was horrified when she heard my plans for the rest of the afternoon. Husband was to drop me off at a point on the way home and I was going to walk the rest of the way – all by myself, along the canal. Much obviously believes that the canal is where mad axe murderers and rapists sit in wait for lone females. She really was very concerned.

So, after a quick late luncheon of chips in a pub car park, I set out with a 9kg pack on my back whilst Husband continued on home by car to dose himself back up and continue his recovery.

It was something less than an inspiring walk. Even the wild-life was in hiding. A token number of ducks were playing on the water and a few swans. I spotted what looked like a field fare (but it was by itself, and don’t they like to be in groups?) and a few other LBJs, but little else.

As predicted, the canal itself was busy with narrow boats, many of them hired (no doubt starting their boating adventure today). Even on the hired craft the vast majority of the occupants were aware of the etiquette. Only one party studiously ignored me as I nodded and hailed in their direction.

The tow-path was somewhat quieter. There were dog walkers (mainly female, but fortunately all in control of their dogs), but few others (of those few, two of them had travelled LEJOG, in their case on a tandem and over a course of 3 weeks; it’s a nice change to meet people who say ‘I’ve done that’ rather than saying ‘My goodness. Are you mad?’).

The weather had been somewhat changeable all day. Earlier the clear blue skies of the morning had turned into greyness and rain just as the photographer arrived. As I set out along the canal the sky was clearing. Half an hour in I had all of my vents open and sleeves rolled up, soaking up the heat.

Yet the weather was being cruel. My legs got progressively more tired (I’m still wearing in the boots, not being the most sensible footwear for the terrain they probably contributed to the tiredness; the 9kg on my back probably didn’t help either) but every time I reached a bench and sat down for 30 seconds a shower would reach me, causing me to don my pack and carry on.

Rain turned to hail, then back to sunshine and then the temperature plummeted. By the time I was on the home straights, it was below 2 degrees; with windchill it was negative. The hat and buffalo mitts were appreciated.

The final distance was 12 miles walked, along most of which the MP3 player kept me company, firstly finishing off the latest excellent range of Outdoorsstation podcasts, then a few chapters of Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban.

If I get out for another walk tomorrow, I fear that it will be yet another repetition of my usual local fields.

Finally I reach a bench with no immediate danger of rain - and what an ornate bench!

Now that's a big nest.

Thursday 20 March 2008

A Stroll and Mapyx Quo Maps

The Stroll
Leaving poorly Husband at home recuperating and taking his fill of day-time TV, I set out this morning with a very heavy pack and an MP3 player full of the latest Outdoorsstation Podcasts for a walk over the local fields.

For a bit of variety I walked backwards, or to be more precise, I walked the usual route in the opposite direction. It’s amazing how different everything looked from the other direction; a few times I had to stop and think about where I was and where I needed to go, whereas usually I walk this route on navigational-autopilot.

Being exceptionally brave I made my way past the ovine and bovine livestock without incident and a while later even the scary horses resisted their usual ploy of running straight at me. The worst moment was a close encounter with a Border Collie, which would usually have seen me yelping, but I stood my ground whilst its owner tried and failed to call it off (her only comment wasn’t too comforting: “It’s usually the other one you need to worry about” she said, indicating her black Alsatian-esque mutt).

The problem I found with walking in the opposite direction was that there wasn’t a convenient bench two-thirds of the way around. A quick sit down would have been nice, but in the absence of a bench I carried on, fantasising about the sofa and a cup of tea.

I got home later than expected claiming that it was the heavy pack that had made me so slow. Then I weighed it and found out that it wasn’t heavy at all. So, it was either the lack of my usual pace-setter that made me slow, or the fact that I wasn’t in any rush. Either way it was a pleasant nine and a half miles, even if it was a trifle muddy underfoot and a bit showery.

Mapyx QUO
With it being a day and a half since I emailed Mapyx to tell them that I had bought some of their mapping software but had received an error page when I tried to download it, I expected to get back from my walk today to find a response from them.

Alas no.

My chasing email was still polite but made evident my displeasure. I requested a response by the end of today.

Within an hour and a half I had a response with a link that did work. I have my maps and am happy about that.

Now all I have to do is have a play with the software and do a bit of printing.

That didn’t happen today though as I had far less interesting things to do. Those things kept me occupied for a whole half an hour until the knock of a courier at the door delivered a few rucksacks into my hands… but that’s a tale for another day.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Mapyx QUO

Wanting a few sections of 1:25k maps for certain parts of our LEJOG, it was the pricing issue that drew me to Mapyx QUO software. A 10x10 tile at £1.95 looks like pretty good value – particularly when the section I want falls within a single tile.

I’ve also heard pretty positive things about the software. Compare that to Anquet, on which I’ve plotted our entire LEJOG route, which has presented me with a number of idiosyncrasies and which charges a ridiculously high price for 1:25 mapping.

So, yesterday I downloaded QUO Go and started trying to work out which tiles I needed to buy.

Today I finished that exercise (it’s not that it took a long time, it’s just that I took a 23 hour break in the middle) and placed and paid for my order.

Up came the expected screen that told me to click a button to download the files.

Then came an error screen and no matter how many times I clicked that link, I still kept getting the error.

A short, polite email was despatched to Mapyx (no phone number on their website as far as I can see) to which I expected a swift response, even if that was a “sorry about that, we’re looking into it”. I would like to have thought that a customer having made payment and unable to claim their goods would be an issue meriting prompt attention.

Alas no. Even a check of the Spam filter (remembering Darren’s experience last year) didn’t yield anything.

So, as it stands, Mapyx has my money and I am still lacking my maps. I’m not too happy about that.

Poorliness and Stupidity

Husband has flu. By that I don’t mean that he has a cold, I mean that he has flu.

He is not generally a sickly man. The last time I remember him being properly poorly (i.e. more than a bad cold or a poorly tummy) was in 2001.

On the way back from the Outdoor Show on Saturday he very suddenly started complaining of a stiff neck; it was so bad that we stopped for pain-killers. Ten minutes later he was bright red and sweating profusely.

Five days later he’s still got the temperature, still has the stiff neck, is aching and has no energy. I shipped him off to the doctors, already suspecting the diagnosis that came.

On the one hand it feels like bad timing; I know how long it can take to really get over a proper dose of flu and we’re setting off on our walk in less than four weeks time. On the other hand, better that he gets it now than in four weeks time.

Fingers crossed now that I don’t get it too.

(and yes, he is getting plentiful amounts of sympathy, he’s being excused from training walks and our planned outing this weekend is cancelled)

Maps and Moronity
Alan Sloman today made comment on the Muppetry of going walking across Scotland with only one set of maps between two. His comment has been heartily agreed with over at Blogpackinglight and in a couple of comments.

And so it has been brought to my attention that I am at best reckless and at worst negligent, for Husband and I have never gone out for a walk together carrying a map each. One of us carries the map and to date we have never lost each other. In fact, we have never even come close to losing each other on a walk and perhaps it’s for that reason that I’ve never considered it as a real possibility. Of course, stopping to think about the comments made, I do appreciate that it’s possible.

However, if I have been reckless to date then I am now going to step up to the level of negligence. I have printed out one set of maps for our LEJOG. I have no intention of printing another*.

Having put my hand up and admitted my own stupidity, I will now don my flack jacket and await the attack that I apparently deserve.

(*Okay, maybe I will for the remotest areas)

Tuesday 18 March 2008

The Question Is...

... Is it possible to have too many gas canisters stored and ready for use?

22 of them. A little obsessive?

Cutting Up Books

I like books. Husband and I have quite a collection; we both have an inability to part with anything but the worst of the worst and inflicting intentional damage on a book has always been beyond contemplation.

However, with our LEJOG planning now reaching its final stages, I find that I’ve had to abandon my ‘never damage’ principles, and I’m not just talking about cutting off covers. There are books that need some serious surgery.

It’s been a task that I’ve put off and put off, but finally it had to come. I’m not weight-obsessed to the point of cutting labels out of clothes, but paper is heavy and (most of the time at least) I don’t want to carry lots more than is necessary.

The painful exercise has started with the Maelor Way guide book. It contains sketch maps of a route that goes through low-land farm-land. That’s the sort of terrain that I’m not happy to navigate using 1:50k maps and the sketch maps will save us from the expense of multiple 1:25k maps.

It’s an excellent guidebook, with bountiful amounts of information about practically everything that you pass on the route, being the amenities in villages to interesting buildings, and with copious notes about the flora and fauna that you can expect along the Way. Added to that, it gives detailed route instructions (justifiably detailed given the nature of the terrain) describing the Way in both directions.

This all good and interesting stuff, but it amounts to a 126 page book. That’s a lot of book when all I really want is the sketch maps and a few route directions to cover a distance of 24 miles.

So, out came the scissors and the scanner which dealt with the maps. The salient route directions I typed out (not as extreme as it may sound – I type fast so it didn’t take long). The result is that 126 pages of book have been reduced to five sheets of A4 paper.

Now I have to carry out the same exercise with the ‘End to End Trail’ book. Of its 414 pages, we really only need about a dozen of the sketch maps (our route only co-incides with this book in a few places). Cutting up this one is going to be more difficult (mentally speaking) than the Maelor Book. Whereas the Maelor Book is a cheap edition printed on newsprint quality paper, the End to End Trail book is a proper Cicerone guidebook.

I have to be ruthless and it is going to pain me to be so.

Monday 17 March 2008

Page 3 Girl!

In deciding to try to raise a bit of money for Macmillan in walking the length of Britain we acknowledged that a bit of media publicity would be beneficial. I don't expect that newspaper articles about us will draw in many, if any, donations directly, but it will give a bit of extra publicity to the charity.

Last week we contacted our local paper. They talked to Husband at some length and then sent a photographer.

On Friday we achieved a half-page spread on Page 3 of the paper. The article is also online, here*.

If I was to nit-pick, the story isn't entirely factually correct (and obviously the 'family tragedy' aspect was what was most interesting to the paper and therefore dominates), but I'm happy with the coverage given.

(*For anyone who reads the article, who heretofore thought that my name was Bird, and now thinks that it's Blackburn, let me just clarify that it's neither of those!)

The Outdoor Show

On Saturday we took a day out of a short break we were having with a group of friends at CenterParcs and popped down to the Outdoor Show at the NEC.

The last time we were there must have been three years ago, so I thought that it would be interesting to go and have another look. Admittedly I wouldn't have made the effort except for the fact that there was the promise of meeting some of the Outdoor Bloggers, most of whom I've not before met, added to which the exceptionally kind Lay (of had sent me two free tickets.

A good time was had at the show - however that was mainly due to meeting lots of new people, whose musings I've read at length, and having a good old chat for the best part of 3 hours.

As for the show itself, I found it a disappointing compared to my experience three years ago.

To give the benefit of the doubt it could be that three years ago I was exploring new kit more and wasn't as clued up as I am now, which meant that stalls that hold no interest for me now probably merited a look then. However, I'm not convinced that that is the case.

What struck me this year was how tourist boards and universities took up many of the stalls, and I'm afraid that none of those interested me.

Clothing and kit stalls seemed to have reduced remarkably. And where there was kit on display I wasn't finding any discounts on the prices that I could get in the shops. If I'm going to pay the same price then I'd rather that my money go towards the profit of an independent retailer than direct to the brand, so I didn't buy.

The most interesting exhibits to me were the climbing exhibits, which held my attention for longer than anything else (albeit with the gripe that the best such exhibit was sponsored by Ford; there seemed to be a lot of 4x4 car manufacturers there).

My final gripe was the £4.50 for a programme (for which read 'list of exhibitors'). Okay so they threw in a 'free' copy of Trail, but not only did I not want a copy but the issue they were giving away was March's - so 6 weeks old.

So all in all it was worth it for the social aspect, but I would have felt severely cheated had I paid out for full price tickets as well as travel, parking and a programme.

Saturday 15 March 2008

LEJOG Countdown

One month today!

Thursday 13 March 2008


I just cleaned three pairs of walking boots and three pairs of fell-runners (from which fact you can probably glean two things: we have too many footwear options and we’re not very diligent at cleaning them after each walk).

It was a particularly unpleasant task today, having this afternoon walked across a field that had been newly sprayed with slurry (eugh!).

Walking across the field was really quite awful. What I didn’t expect (given that we walked another 6 miles or so after that field) was for the mud on our shoes to still smell so strongly of slurry once mixed with water in cleaning them (eugh, eugh, eugh!).

Definitely Husband’s job to clean the shoes after the next few walks!

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Mobile Blogging

Right back from when the LEJOG plan was formed I said that I would Blog it as I went. I didn't know how I was going to do that but I was sure that there was a way.

The first plan was rather simplistic, involving a Psion, memory cards, Royal Mail, a willing helper at home and a time delay.

I knew that there were other solutions out there but none of them seemed to meet all of my requirements, which were:
1) a touch typeable keyboard. I can type very fast indeed so didn't want to be fiddling around with little keys;
2) very light weight, which put the PDA with fold out keyboard down low on my list;
3) good battery life as the tent doesn't come with a convenient power point;
4) cheap to buy and run - I don't have a contract phone and didn't want to have to sign up for a lengthy contract just so I could cover a 3 month walk.

I looked at various options but none seemed to tick all of my boxes. Then I saw that Judy Armstrong ( had selected the Pocketmail for her Very Big Walk.

I looked at it online a few times and it seemed ideal, but I wanted to check a few things out before I bought.

A quick email to Judy brought me all of the information that I wanted and also the news that she had no further user for her device. So, after a brief exchange of emails, her Pocketmail arrived on my doorstep.

A quick call to Pocketmail and it was reactivated in my name and ready to go.

And what a fantastic device it is! All of my boxes are ticked. Okay, so I can't type as fast and as accurately as on a full size keyboard, but it is definitely touch typeable. It weighs 230g with batteries and as those batteries are AAs I never need find a power point nor carry a charger. The promised batttery life is good as the LCD screen doesn't need a backlight unless you're trying to use it in really poor light.

It's definitely a simple device, but it does what I need and that's what is important.

So that's the Blogging issue sorted {and the Pocketmail that already travelled extensively in the Alps gets to have another adventure too!}.

The only downside seems to be that when I send an email it adds a silly footer on and I can't find a way to stop it, but hopefully you'll be able to tune out that last line of each mobile post!

Allow us to help those in need, sell back your spare PocketMail and make some extra pocket money.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Shoes for LEJOG (Part 3)

Well, socks actually, and I’m going to start with a minor rant.

When I go into a shop and ask to try a shoe in a size 5 it’s quite a common occurrence for the assistant to come back to me with the news ‘we’ve only got a four or a seven’ as if expecting me to say ‘Oh, well I’ll chop off my toes and try the four then please’. In reality, of course I will not buy a shoe that is a different size to my foot.

When it comes to socks, I’m almost as fussy. I like them to fit. I don’t like them to be so small as to make my toes curl, nor do I like them baggy and bunching. That seems to be a difficult ask.

From the non-outdoor point of view, if you wander into Asda and look at their women’s trouser socks, you’ll find that the size range is 3-8. I ask you! One sock covering five sizes! For my size five feet that means a sock that constantly migrates off the foot, so that after fifty paces the cuff is half way along the instep and the toe is dangling eight inches beyond the toes. Not a satisfactory situation at all.

From the outdoor point of view a better fit is definitely required for blister avoidance. For the last few years I’ve been wearing a women-specific offerings from Bridgedale, which fits me just fine (in the relatively small sizing range of 5-6.5) – but after rave reviews from Husband I fancied trying Smartwool.

I started off getting some the size range of 5-7.5 but found that they were so big that when I put my shoe on the heel ended up half way up the calf (but they fit Husband’s size 8 feet nicely, so even a bit of a hot wash was unlikely to make them small enough to grip my feet nicely).

I’ve since bought another pair a size too small (2-4.5). They seemed promising when I tried them on in the shop and perhaps they’d still fit me nicely now if they hadn’t mysteriously disappeared between purchase and first wearing. I’m sure they’re in the house somewhere … maybe the sock monster has them?

I’ve not had better luck with the sizing of Sealskinz. The size range is reasonably small (3-5) but my initial conclusion is that given the lack of stretch this really means ‘fits a size 4, a bit big for a 3 and a bit small for a 5’. They’re certainly a bit neat in length on me. However, a size up is too big, so I’m just hoping that they’ll give a little when I finally give them their long overdue test.

This sock experimentation is all very well, but with our LEJOG rapidly approaching I needed to decide on which socks to use. I finally came to the sensible decision: I’ve Bridgedale for years without a problem (moreover, they fit me perfectly). So, I thought that I would adopt the approach of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ and buy a pile of the same make and model to see me through our 1252 miles.

Alas, I was to be thwarted. With my decision made, I visited a sock emporium only to find that those socks I’ve been using for years have now been discontinued. Bridgedale has introduced a different sock in its place, but from a look and feel it looks worrying like other socks that I’ve tried and didn’t like.

All is not lost, however. Bridgedale still does another model that I’ve used before and although it’s thicker than I would have chosen it is a good fit and comfortable in use. I bought a couple of pairs and have been trying them with all of my footwear with a positive outcome.

So, it’s Scarpa ZG65 boots, Inov8 Roclite (or maybe Salomon XA Pro...) shoes and Bridgedale Endurance Trekker socks. Only time will tell whether those are choices with which I will be happy.

Sunday 9 March 2008

LEJOG Preparation - Progress Report

It’s just 36 days until we set out from Land’s End! That’s not long, is it?


I felt quite silly today when four miles into our walk I realised that I had a clothes peg hanging from the back hem of my jacket. I’d washed and proofed it yesterday but when I rushed out to get the washing in when the rain started, I must have done it with such haste that I failed to remove all of the pegs. Good job we hadn’t encountered anyone in those first four miles or I would have felt a whole lot sillier!

It was our local 9-mile circuit today. The distance was dictated by not getting free until almost 3.30 and the number of hours of daylight remaining, together with the fact that we had a duck to roast for tea combined with my desire to eat before 9pm!

For the second time this year, I selected my summer trousers (perhaps not the best choice today, I was a bit nippy), but within half an hour the new Paclite waterproof trews were getting their first outing as we caught one of the many showers that were passing (most of them we could see falling as sheets of rain around us; only one actually hit us). The waterproofs did exactly as they were designed to and my only complaint is about the screaming white logos on each knee.


Dehydrating has slowed a little, but we’ve got 52 meals done (plus 3 drying right now). 55-65 to go…


No new kit this week, although there are still a few things at which we need to look (I’m contemplating a new backpack and I really need to make a trouser decision).

Otherwise, with existing kit some miles have been put on the footwear and for me new socks have been successfully tested.


The maps are printed! And I’ve realised (being a bit slow) that I don’t need to mark the campsites on them (which I thought was my next job) because the campsites are precisely where each day’s route finishes. There are still a few areas for which I want to get 1:25k maps, so that’s going to be one of the next priorities.


It’s getting close and although I don’t think that we’re in bad shape (in that if we had to leave at the end of next week then we would be sufficiently prepared) there are still quite a few things to do. I’d really like to get a few overnight backpacks in over the next three weeks, the problem (as ever) is finding the time.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Shoes For LEJOG (Part 2)

I’ve had three problems with my fell-runner footwear experiments to date:

1. I’ve discovered quite decidedly that I can’t do wet feet for any extended period of time.
2. I've had a longevity problem (my Terrocs holed in the heel within 100 miles).
3. I’ve had a fit problem (my Salomon XA Pro XCR, which solved the wet foot problem nicely, would have been the shoes of my dreams had it not been for the one lace anchor point that dug into my left foot)

Despite these problems, and specifically the wet-foot problem, this type of shoe remains my footwear choice for much of my walking, particularly locally.

As I much prefer lightweight shoes rather than boots for what I would call the ‘yomping over local fields’ sort of walking, I’ve been toying for a while with a two-shoe strategy for our LEJOG.

For the best part of the first three weeks of our walk, we’re going to be walking across the fields and little lanes of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. I imagine that, except for being a lot lumpier, the terrain will not be hugely dissimilar to our local walking.

That led me to thinking that I’d like to do most of the first three weeks of the walk in trail-runners.

Initially I thought that I would take boots and shoes for this section, but as time goes on I’m thinking that I’ll just use shoes, switching to my boots when we hit Offa’s Dyke (which ties in nicely with when people are coming to meet us, who can bring my boots).

As with boots, I’ve been looking around the lightweight shoe options for a while, but had failed to buy because I really wanted to try the new Girl’s Inov8 Roclite before I chose – something that I wasn’t able to do in the Lakes during our recent shopping expedition.

Last week, in a rather unexpected place, I found a shop that came up trumps on this part of my footwear requirement. On Wednesday we found ourselves undertaking a detailed navigation exercise in the centre of Birmingham, assisted only by a couple of Multimap print outs. After successfully locating the required buildings and completing our errands we were on our way back to the train station when out of the corner of my eye I spotted Cotswold Outdoor. Not being in any particular rush, we popped in for a look.

An hour later I had tried on practically every non-boot piece of footwear in the shop (thanks to a very patient sales assistant who seemed to have more than a modicum of knowledge on the subject of footwear). I left with a pair of Girl’s Inov8 Roclites (in another lovely hue of blue).

In the week since I bought them I’ve worn them for 40 miles of walking. For the first 20 miles I became increasingly convinced that they were not for me. Then, it seemed, my feet beat them into submission. Or semi-submission. The left foot is very comfortable indeed. The right foot is now okay, but I’m still not entirely convinced. (incidentally, I have the opposite fit problem with my Salomon’s; good fit on the right, not so good on the left; is there a shoe out there that fits both of my feet or should I be walking odd shoed?!)

Of course, problem number 1 on my list still remains. I know that fields can be wet and that it can rain a lot in three weeks. After my success (in terms of the wet-foot problem) with the Salomon’s, the logical thing would have been to go for a waterproof shoe (I can see people sucking on their teeth plumber style and shaking their heads at such a statement!). However, in the shop (where the Roclites seemed to fit just fine) I put fit before dryness and so find myself with the non-waterproof Roclite.

I have a plan to tackle that issue too. As soon as suitable weather presents I will be out trying out the Sealskinz/Roclite combination.

Now that brings us nicely onto the subject of socks.

To be continued…

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Shoes for LEJOG (Part 1)

I’m going to start by stepping (pun unintended) back in time by a few months.

Back in September I bought a new pair of walking boots. I’d spent over a year experimenting (somewhat less than successfully) with lightweight footwear (namely Inov8 Terrocs and Salomon XA Pro). I really wanted to like the lightweight option, but it’s still something that I’m working on. So, the time had come for a new pair of boots.

Having given my spec to a nice boot fitting chap in George Fisher (who restored my faith in the store after a couple of less than promising experiences there) I came away with a pair of Scarpa ZG10s. It was only when I came to put them on in a lay-by on Honister Pass an hour or so later that I realised that they were rather off the mark on the ‘lightweight’ bit of my spec.

However, they proved to be goodly and comfy and although they were expensive I feel sure that they’ll prove to be hard wearing.

When I finally turned my mind to LEJOG footwear my starting point was that I didn’t want to lug boots as heavy as the ZG10s up the length of Britain, but that I wanted something a little more supportive of the foot than my slipperesque Brasher Superlites.

Having spent months surveying all of the options, I finally bit the bullet whilst in the Lakes a couple of weeks ago and bought my LEJOG walking boots. The choice was pretty obvious. As the ZG10 had proved to suit my feet, I went for the notably lighter Scarpa ZG65s.

It’s early days. I’ve only walked 20 miles in them so far, but early indications are promising (except for the colour; what is it with manufacturers of girls’ outdoor gear? Light blue just doesn’t seem to be a sensible colour for walking boots. I’m already modifying them to mud coloured).

That’s not the end of the story though, as I’m toying with a dual footwear strategy on the Big Walk.

To be continued...

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Walking in Wolverhampton

Today was not designated as a walking day.

However, my car was having one of its increasingly regular trips to the garage and in the absence of any other form of transport, we put our feet to good use.

With a day away from home at our disposal (because I use a garage in Wolverhampton despite not living close to there) we decided that we may as well use it to run a couple of errands and to go and give my grandmother (who goes by the name of Much) the show-and-tell session of our backpacking gear that we’ve been promising her.

So, with the car dropped off we set out, with our full backpacks on, in search of a canal, which we soon found (exactly where it should have been, which is always reassuring) and followed it into the city centre, passing a dozen or so locks that make this section of canal far less flat than I have ever previously found a canal to be.

Dressed as we were and sporting backpacks we did feel a little out of place walking through the city centre and visiting the bank, but we were soon done with our errands and retracing our steps back to the canal.

Past the entire flight of 21 locks we went, before branching off onto another canal where after about a mile we had to start paying attention to make sure that we didn’t miss the bridge at which we needed to exit.

Off the canal it was a battle with exhaust fumes as we walked alongside the busy A41, before branching off and making for Much’s house.

She was jolly impressed with all of our kit, uttering many a ‘ooh my goodness’ and making comparisons between Wendy (the Stephenson’s Warmlite 2C) and her old Lichfield frame tent! “And you’re going to carry all of this?” she kept saying.

As the afternoon wore on out we set to return to the garage, retracing our outward steps (because it was that or roads the whole way).

That morning we had been amazed at how quiet the canal had been. A few people were on the tow-path, but not a single boat was seen. Had we been on our local canal, there would have been plentiful signs of life. Maybe everyone would be out later in the day, we had thought.

But no; neither on our outbound nor our return did we pass a single inhabited boat, moving nor moored. Perhaps the lack of people and traffic explains why in most places the water looks so clean.

Considering that this was not a walking day, I was surprised when we got home and measured our route to find that we had in fact covered 9.5 miles. Some of it was actually quite pleasant too!

Thirty-six miles in three days: a satisfactory bit of training!

Monday on the Chase

The weather was once again obliging with clear skies as we set out from our usual car park onto Cannock Chase to walk the same 15 mile circuit as last weekend.
Nice Day For It
What a lovely day to be out!

In the interests of carrying a reasonable amount of weight in my pack without having to carry my actual backpacking gear, in amongst the bath towels, bars of chocolate and snacks I had secreted a flask of water.

It was about 5 miles in, at the high point of that area of the Chase that we stopped at a convenient bench for chocolate and coffee. With the views extending out before us, it was a fine way to be spending a Monday morning. I gave a fleeting thought to my past life of sitting in an office at such times of day!

More quiet trails (we encountered a few dog walkers but otherwise it was uncommonly quiet) led us another few miles later to the Visitor Centre where we had stopped last weekend.

It was lunchtime and I was hungry enough to eat a scabby dog. I had oatcakes and mushroom pate in my bag. The Visitor Centre sells baked potatoes, cake and very large mugs of tea, all at reasonable prices.

It was no contest. We had a hot lunch in the warm café, before setting out just after the only group of ramblers that we encountered all day. I’m sure that the food had sunk straight to my legs, because it took them a while after the stop to accept that I really was going to carry on walking for quite a while yet!

A five minute violent shower of hail gave an unexpected interlude in a day that was otherwise a clear skied day, and it was the weather that accompanied us over to what I find to be the ugliest part of the Chase.

It shouldn’t be ugly. However, there is one particular track in this area that seems to be the fly-tipping capital of the Chase. Rubbish, and particularly tyres, abound completely ruining what should be part of a pleasant walk. It’s probably why we only venture over to that area when we’re really on a training mission.

Bad and Ugly
More Bad and Ugly
It's bad and it's ugly

With everywhere being so incredibly quiet we felt safe venturing again into the mountain biking area; we made it through unscathed, with the only biker we saw being dismounted.

Not A Place To Be Walking!

Arriving back at the car it was nice to note that I felt much fresher and fitter than I had at the same point last weekend (thanks in part to the footwear, mayhaps?). A quick time/distance calculation told me that we had set an unnecessarily fast pace and I again forewarned Husband that I will not be keeping such a pace up for our LEJOG!

We set off for home having walked 26.5 miles in 26.5 hours. Tuesday was to be a relatively lazy day…

Monday 3 March 2008

Training Walks: Last Week and This

I’ve not mentioned a training walk for a couple of weeks, but rest assured that we have been making a bit of an effort.

A week last Sunday we set out onto Cannock Chase with the aim of completing 15 miles with our loaded packs.

We didn’t do anything novel or exciting, but then a training walk doesn’t demand those traits (call me lazy, but a walk that doesn’t require any navigation is fine by me for such purposes).

The first five miles were part of one of our regular circuits but we deviated to continue along the Heart of England Way where we usually would have turned off. Then we wandered over to what in my mind is ‘the other side of the Chase’, that being a particular area that we don’t often visit.

For the first hour or so of our walk the weather had been fine and I was ruing my decision (based on the forecast and how the day looked) to wear full Paramo. My, I was hot! Then, as we stopped for snacks at Stepping Stones it was as if someone had turned off the lights and the heating with it. The early afternoon suddenly looked deceptively like sundown and with remarkable speed all of the families and dog walkers disappeared.

Not long afterwards, the rain started. It stayed with us on and off for the rest of the day. Given the fall in temperature that accompanied the rain I was, on balance, most pleased to have selected the Paramo ensemble.

A special treat was had as we passed one of the Visitor Centres: tea and fruit cake. It was almost enough to put a spring into my step as we set back out into the rain!

A modest circuit was completed on ‘the other side of the Chase’, including an accidental passing into an area reserved for kamikaze mountain bikers. Big signs warned us that bikers were liable to emerge onto the path from both sides without warning and at speed. Having seen some of the trails and jumps, I’m glad that it was quiet as we swiftly passed through.

The route delivered us back to the car just before dusk having walked 14.5 miles with a surprising 2000 feet of ascent.


For this Sunday’s walk we went for the environmentally friendly option of walking from the house (admittedly that was largely dictated by the late hour at which we became free to set out and not wanting to waste daylight by travelling anywhere).

It was one of our usual circuits of farmland about which I often struggle to make any new observations. Today’s notable point was when, crossing fields on which we have never before seen a single person, we found ourselves with a hoard of 20 or so Ramblers heading in our direction. “Hello”, “Hello”, “Yes, lovely isn’t it”, “Hello” was the theme for a while there.

Otherwise things were pretty much as they usually are.

The stats were 12 miles with no ascent worthy of mention, but completed in lovely weather.

We had good intentions to build on this, with our sights set on a 15-miler today. Details to follow.

Saturday 1 March 2008


I’m sure that we all have our various ways of dealing with blisters if they strike. Personally I try to avoid them, but if they do strike then I’m a fan of Compeed Plisters*. Other people think that Compeed are the work of the devil and swear by other remedies, be they simple or proprietary.

What was the common remedy before plasters though?

In the recent exercise of clearing out my late Mother’s house, we came across a book that gave an insight into the 19th century cure for the malady. It was a book that neither I nor my sister had previously seen, entitled ‘Wesley’s Primative Physic’ (published in London in 1848).

According to the inscription in the front it was given to my Father and belonged to his Great-Grandfather.

The first half of the book is dedicated to giving remedies for various ailments, both common and otherwise. The one that caught our eye was that for blisters (although there are plenty of other gems in there too).

The advice given in this 1848 work was thus:

On the feet, occasioned by walking, are cured by drawing a needle full of worsted through them; clip it off at both ends and leave it till the skin peels off.’

I’m sure that it’s sound advice, but all the same I think that I’ll stick with the Compeed rather than seeking out some good old worsted…

(*Most people would probably call them 'Blister Plasters', but to me they're 'Plisters')