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]

Friday 28 November 2008

How Many Tents?

Until yesterday our tent collection comprised:
- Wendy Warmlite* the Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R (1.3kg)
- Vera Voyager*, the Terra Nova Voyager (2.2kg)
- Midi Tent* – A Blacks 3-man dome (7.5kg)
- Big Tent* – An Aztec Sala 3 (9.? Kg)

The first two are our backpacking tents. The latter two are our car camping tents.

Midi Tent in particular gets a lot of use and despite being a £99 job has weathered a lot of storms that have destroyed other tents of the same and of a better calibre. Lying awake as gusts hit silly speeds the Christmas before last, with the rear poles bending onto my legs and with the sound of other tents ripping and flapping all around, I started thinking that maybe, given our propensity to go camping in winter, we should get a slightly more sturdy model. It wasn’t a thought upon which I acted and there have continued to be some nervous moments in stormy weather.

A few weeks ago I found myself in an outdoor shop and what should they have on display but a tent which seemed to meet our sturdy-car-camping-tent requirements? Geodesic, alloy poles, two porches, big enough to swing the arms, small enough to be warm enough in winter and at a very reasonable price. I left the shop empty handed (actually, I bought a map, but tentwise, I left empty handed).

Last night Mick arrived home from work and, unexpectedly, he was carrying said tent.

This afternoon we unpacked it in the living room and opened the back door to go and pitch it in the garden (just to check that it’s all present and correct). Then we realised that with the grass being so wet we would end up with a tent to dry. So, no photos yet.

But, just as soon as we had a suitable day it will be pitched and photographed and I’ll say more about it.

(* Lots of people give their cars names. The only car I’ve had which had a name was my first one, which was generally known as ‘The Heap’. But, despite not being a car-naming sort of a person, I do find it handy to name some of our kit. For some reason I feel the need to apologise for my kit-naming tendencies, and perhaps it isn’t something to which I should confess, but it really does make it easier to convey which item I’m talking about (particularly in the case of Sheila…).)

Monday 24 November 2008

Walking Across Scotland – on paper – in a warm room

Yesterday, with Scottish Hill Tracks sitting on one side of me and a Munro guide on the other, I cursored back and forth up and down trying to forge a route across Scotland using Anquet mapping.

As wonderful as digital mapping is (except when it has one of its spurious waypoint moments), I do find it a bit limiting to try to plan a route when viewing a small section of map on a computer screen. Many times on our LEJOG jaunt, I looked at the printed map the day before we walked it and found that the route I had plotted wasn’t the most sensible. On that walk it was no issue; we simply walked a route other than the one I’d plotted, but then no-one was vetting that route so I didn’t have to share my silly oversights.

What I wanted to do on this route planning mission was to surround myself with proper full size OS maps and pore over them at length.

My map library being somewhat limited, a trip to a library was called for and so this morning (after a two and a half hours of a public transport extravaganza) I found myself in the blissfully warm reference section at Wolverhampton Central Library.

I started by being restrained with just one map half open in front of me, trying to stick to my quarter of the table-for-four.

An hour later the woman who had been in-situ when I sat down decamped to a different table and I found myself with three OS maps open, plus the Scottish Hill Tracks map, plus two reference books, plus my draft print-outs.

I’m sure that there was bemusement amongst the newspaper readers, cross-worders and staff (I caught a few of them staring) as I examined for prolonged periods individual sections of map, scratching my head and wrinkling my nose in concentration.

By the time I dragged myself away and ventured back out into the cold (ready for a two mile march across town; it would have been a stroll had I managed to drag myself away sooner), I had a plan for three-quarters of the route.

I’m not entirely happy with all parts of the plan, but much poring did not lead to any more appealing alternatives to leap off the page at me, so provided that Mick’s agreeable it is the plan with which I will stick.

A pretty good way to spend a few hours of the day, I’d say.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Sunny and Warm

That's El Teide, the centre point of Tenerife, standing at just over 3700m.

We didn't climb it during our sojourn in Tenerife last week. The photo is one I took four years ago (when we also didn't climb it). Somehow, I completely failed to take any photos of this holiday.

With a deliberate avoidance of walking, what we did do is lounge and eat and drink and lounge some more, complaining that we were too fat to move and occasionally complaining that we were a tiny bit more than tipsy (except for Mick who, with an ill-timed absess under his tooth and industrial amounts of antibiotics to consume, looked like a hamster and had to abstain).

So, last week's silence is explained by the fact that we capped our year of walking holidays with a surfeit of laziness in a land of winter sun. It was bliss!

But now we're back to cold and miserable weather, and I've got maps spread across the floor once more to stave off the itchy feet which are starting to plague me.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

A Nervous Few Hours

It was a nervous few hours.

There was no good reason for the nerves.

After all, ducks and geese live in water, so there was no logical reason for me to fear the ruination of my down jacket simply by washing it.

I think that the fear came from the ‘thou must not get down wet’ warnings in wide circulation in relation to the use of down items, and my mind had mixed getting-wet-in-use with getting-wet-when-washing.

But it could be ignored no more. My down jacket had become a bit flat in places and more than a bit grubby in others. It needed a wash and I wasn’t prepared to part with the amount of cash required to send it to a professional cleaner when all information I could find indicated that I could achieve the same end result at home.

The instructions sewn into the jacket (a PHD Minimus) told me that it had to be handwashed. The instructions on the PHD website told me to machine wash it. I went with the website.

I could have just used soap flakes for the washing process, but my attention had been drawn by the little packs of Nikwax Down Wash and Down Proof. It was the Down Proof that particularly caught my attention. During this year’s walking my jacket has got wet more than once (sometimes carelessness, sometimes the belief that the jacket I had over the top could fend off the rain). On reflection, I should have bought the Minimus with a water resistant shell. I have now come to the conclusion that I will never again buy a down item without a water resistant shell, but hindsight is a wonderful thing (and I'm now digressing). So, adding a bit of water resistance sounded like a good thing to me.

Admittedly, I could have just bought the Down Proof, but I didn’t need a big bottle of the stuff (I don’t intend to undertake similar experiments with any of the sleeping bags), so I went for the little bottles.
So, into the machine went the jacket and the Down Wash. I dithered a while as to which programme to use. Half an hour later, the wash was finished and I started the cycle again with the Proof. Half an hour later it was finished and I put it on for an extra spin.

Grimacing at the inefficient use of the tumble dryer, I then put the single item together with a couple of those tumble dryer balls (which claim to make your dryer more efficient, but I bought solely with my down jacket in mind (£1 for 2 in a pound shop in Leeds past which I happened to walk whilst killing time between trains yesterday)).

An hour and three-quarters later (having nervously checked it progress at regular intervals) and out of the dryer I pulled a jacket more fluffy than it has been since new. Big sigh of relief. Not ruined after all.

It turns out that some of the marks haven’t come off the shell, but for the moment at least, I have a nicely lofted jacket again. Hopefully it will be able to fend off a bit of moisture too, for those times when I accidentally dip my arm in a bucket of water or get caught in a shower whilst dashing across a field.

English Coast to Coast - The Photos

As promised, here's the slide-show thingy that I've put together of the photos from our Coast to Coast walk in September this year:

Tuesday 11 November 2008

LEJOG Kit Review Part 2

I said that I was going to split the LEJOG Kit Review into three parts. I changed my mind. Here's the second and rather long final part:

Thermarest Prolite 3 (girls’ model) – It did its job. It’s now very grubby with black dots which I assume are mould on the inside (because it got blown up by mouth, used, then rolled up and sealed each day, so never had time for the inside to air and dry out). But, it still works just fine.

PHD Minimus 300 (with Drishell outer) – Another pleasant surprise. It’s a very lightweight bag, to achieve which it doesn’t have a zip or neck baffle. There were only a couple of nights on which I missed having a zip; I didn’t miss the neck baffle (doing the hood up tight around my face did the job nicely). It fitted me perfectly (so I didn’t have to carry around a length of sleeping bag that I wasn’t using) and it kept me warm on all but the night when we had a heavy frost (when I donned extra clothes). The Drishell did exactly what it should and there’s not much more I can say, except that it now absolutely stinks and definitely needs a clean!

Silk sleeping bag liner – Glad that I took it, just for the snuggly comfort factor.

Cooking and Eating and Drinking
Coleman F1 Lite stove – I wouldn’t claim this stove to be any better that any other of a similar weight. I bought it based on price and I’ve been perfectly happy with it. It does what it should and if it met with a hideous accident, I would likely buy another the same.

Bushbuddy – Good for saving fuel, keeping midges away and giving a bit of warmth and atmosphere. Not so good when you accidentally smear the huge quantities of soot, in which it covers your pot, all over yourself.

Tinder paper – A fantastic substance for lighting the Bushbuddy. No more fannying about with tinder and tampons. A good fire first time, every time. The first time I saw a packet of this, I was put off by how heavy it was. I now know that you can light a fire with a remarkably small square of it, so for the quantity you need to carry it really doesn’t weight anything at all.

2 M&S tough plastic spoons – free and after a couple of years’ use they’re still going strong (although it was a close run thing on losing one of them en-route)

MSR Titan Kettley Thing – It’s light, it’s strong and it does exactly what you want in a pan.

Plastic Mug – Bought in the first week when I realised that I did need a mug after all. It’s light, it’s cheap, it did its job and there’s absolutely no good reason why I’m still hankering after a titanium one!

Pot cosy – Another fantastic bit of kit that I would not be without. They undoubtedly save lots of gas when rehydrating meals (and we never pre-soaked a meal) plus when you pop your soot-covered pot into it, it stops you covering yourself and other things with the soot! We did find that where we folded the tops over they started wearing and dropping bits of foil into our meals.

Steripen – What a disappointment! The first time I came to use this in the field, in March 2007, I found that the batteries with which it was supplied were faulty (it had worked fine at home, but failed on a week-long trip and didn’t work again until I replaced the batteries). It then worked faultlessly with the new batteries, albeit it didn’t have a great deal of use. I opted to carry it the whole way on this trip, even though it was unlikely that it was going to be used for the first half. For me, the comfort of knowing that I could get drinkable water if I needed it outweighed the extra 100g I was carrying. It was only about the third or fourth time that we came to use it that it failed. Water had got into the UV-light tube (which seems to me to be a huge failing in a product that is designed to be used in water and appears to be well sealed). It did eventually dry out enough to work again, but it will take me a while to regain faith in it. This was supposed to be a simple device with no moving parts to go wrong and with a very long life. In reality I’ve probably only managed to sterilise 15-20 litres of water with it in its life and in the process it’s failed twice.
(Post Script: That was my review written back in July; since then I sent the SteriPen back under the lifetime guarantee and it was replaced, however, now that I’ve got the Aquagear waterfilter, I can’t see the SteriPen getting a lot of use).

Boots Water Purification Tablets – I know that lots of people just drink water out of streams and have no problems, but personally I’m not up for taking the risk of someone with bad toilet habits having been in the vicinity (perhaps it was that hideous illness I picked up in Goa a few years back that made me so cautious!). So, when the Steripen died I had my sister ‘overnight’ to us some water purification tablets. The first time we used them I was not looking forward to the nasty chlorine taste and knew that I would have to force myself to drink, as my natural tendency with nasty tasting water is not to drink it and thus dehydrate. It was quite a surprise to find that these tablets didn’t have that nasty taste that I remember from the past (is it the silver in them that neutralises it?). I wouldn’t want to use them on anything approaching a regular basis, but they did the job for us in the absence of the Steripen. I kicked myself that I didn’t throw a handful of tablets into my pack at the outset.

Pacerpoles (carbon) – Another item that I wouldn’t be without, and I certainly would never go back to ‘normal’ poles. The carbon ones are noticeably lighter than the standard version (I know that because I most definitely noticed when Mick handed me his by accident!). Love them!

Ortlieb Map Case – I’ve had other map cases. This is the only one that has been completely watertight and flexible enough to roll, fold, screw up and generally abuse without any sign of wear. Definitely worth the money in my opinion.

Closed-cell concertina sit-mat – This got voted our best value piece of kit. They were used daily ensuring that we always had something warm and comfy to sit on, they weight nothing and cost £1.99.

Saturday 8 November 2008

LEJOG Kit Review

It's now four months (and a day) since we reached John O'Groats. It must be at least three months since I wrote a brief review of each of the bits of kit that I used on the walk. Somehow I didn't get around to posting the review, so rather belatedly I'm going to do that now.

Although the review of each item is brief, it's a lengthy piece purely because of the number of different items that I carried, so I'm splitting it into three sections. Below are my thoughts on the clothes and shoes that I used:

Berghaus Paclite Extrem Jacket – Worked and worked well. I’d prefer a hood that was a bit more protective, but I’ll settle for the compromise of a lesser hood for a lower weight.

Berghaus Paclite Extrem Overtrousers – Worked and worked well.

Paramo Azuma Vent Trousers – On the plus side, I really like the feel of the material of these trousers, and they dry ridiculously quickly if they get wet. But, durability was questionable. They developed holes on both inner ankles, which were about 50p size by the time we finished. The stitching on the seat looks a bit worn now too. Disappointing when you consider that Mick’s Montane Terra Pants looked unworn at JOG.

Paramo Fuera Smock – I love my Fuera Smock! I had intended to switch to my Montane Featherlite in May, once the weather was warmer, but had decided by then that the pocket and hood on the Fuera were indispensable, so the Featherlite went back home and I stuck with the Fuera.

Smelly Helly s/s crew – It’s very light and it dries quickly, but on a long trip with limited chance to get it washed and dried, those virtues don’t outweigh the big negative of the smell.
I smelt so bad on the hot days on the Offa’s Dyke Path that the aroma actually made me feel sick as I was walking along. In early May I had Vic order an Icebreaker Bodyfit 150 for me, which (thanks to the inefficiencies of Royal Mail) then chased me around the country.

Icebreaker Bodyfit 150 s/s – When I finally got it I liked it a lot. I could have done with a size smaller, but it was very comfy all the same and as you would expect it was smell resistant. The material is so fine on the 150 that it doesn’t feel like wool at all, yet has all of the benefits of the material.

Icebreaker 200 l/s crew – I wore this for days and days at a time (over a week, at times) and it performed brilliantly. It does stretch out of shape after a couple of days, but as soon as it’s washed it goes back to its original shape and size. It’s now a bit thinner than it used to be (although I think that there’s plenty of life left in it), but I have had it for a couple of years now and it has had a lot of use.

Decathlon’s Kalenji Underpants – I cannot speak highly enough of these pants. At only £3.95 per pair (compared with £12-16 for all other outdoors brands I’ve seen) I wasn’t sure how durable they would be, so had plenty of spares in the resupply box. They weren’t needed. The original two pairs ended the three months looking as new as when they’d started. I have no complaints about them.

Bridgedale Socks – I started with two pairs of Endurance Trekkers, but decided that with the toe-eating shoe issue at the start I would prefer a thinner pair, so got a pair of Endurance Comfort. Both pairs made it the whole distance – and are still being worn now. The Comfort are right at the end of their useful life, but after a wash and a tumble dry the Trekkers look almost as good as new.

Bra – I have searched and searched for a bra that is comfortable under a backpack. There are many out there from known outdoor brands, but I’ve not yet found one that comes in my size and is comfortable – and they don’t come cheap. What I did find that met both the size and comfort requirements was a Medium Impact Sports Bra from Marks & Spencer – at the bargain price of £8. 1240 miles later and it was still comfortable. Bet they’ve discontinued that particular model now, but if they haven’t then I’ll be replacing it with another of the same.

Sun Hat – The Tilley Hat was a last minute acquisition and I was so pleased to have it. It lived on my head on every sunny day, and some rainy ones too (it’s great in light rain – it keeps the rain off without the constraints of a hood). I wouldn’t be without it. It’s not showing any signs of wear, but the outside has faded to a noticeably different colour to the underside now.

Extremities powerstretch beanie – Excellent gripiness, warm and very light. Pity that we’re ‘His & Hers Matching’, but there was definite gear-envy before I got mine.

Extremities powerstretch gloves – Not so good. Two different seams came adrift on the right gloves in their first four months of wear. I’ve sewn both back up, but it’s been enough to put me off them, even though in reality it was probably just a fault on the stitching on that one glove.

Extremities GoreTex Overmitts – Did the job and did it well. How did I ever manage before I got a pair of overmitts?

PHD Minimus down jacket – No complaints. It’s warm and light and has pockets which some would claim are handy to warm hands, but I’d say are handy as places to keep the ‘cooking hanky’.

Salomon XA Pro – If the left one hadn’t suddenly become too small for my left foot (after a not inconsiderable amount of prior use without any size issue) they probably would have been quite good. I would buy again – but half a size bigger.

Inov8 Roclite – I couldn’t understand all the hype on these. I’d had a pair of Terrocs which had holed inside of the heel within 100 miles. Now I had the Roclites and I just couldn’t see why everyone thought it was so great. Three hundred miles later, I loved them for their comfort. The downside was that they started to wear a hole on the inside of the heel within 150 miles. They did make it through 300 miles and contrary to my intentions, I didn’t bin them at the end of it – instead I thought I would see how many more miles I can squeeze out of them. I’ve read of other people having this same problem and assume that my feet aren’t quite Inov8 shaped (even though I can feel no heel movement in use). That’s a shame, because if it wasn’t for this durability problem I would now be amongst the people who rave about these shoes.

Sealskin Socks – These surprised me, because for a sock that just didn’t look like it fitted my foot (these socks don’t have the stretchiness to grip and mould to the foot) they were absolutely fine in use. They kept my feet dry most of the time and at worst they got damp (presumably from sweat, rather than leakage). Mick didn’t have such a good Sealskinz experience. One of his started leaking on its second wear, which wasn’t a happy marriage with his boots, considering that they leaked almost from the outset.

Scarpa ZG65 – Absolutely fantastic! Here’s how comfy they were:
At night, my boots tended to live under the back of the tent, so as to free up a bit more room in the porch. One evening I was sitting in front of the tent, surveying all of our kit scattered around us, my boots were missing. I hadn’t put them under the back of the tent, so asked Mick whether he had. He said he’d not touched them. “Well where are they then” I asked and we both looked around. They were finally located on my feet.

Without the rose-tinted glasses of how comfortable they were, the leather did crack on the toe crease. I blame that on myself for a woeful lack of attention to cleaning and proofing them. They also started to leak after about 800, maybe 850 miles of use. And a tiny bit of the rand came adrift from the boot after about the same amount of miles. However, for the £84 that these boots cost, I think they did pretty well. They will definitely be replaced with more of the same – although I’ve not ruled out squeezing a few more miles out of this pair first.

Friday 7 November 2008

West Highland Way - The Photos

Here's a little photo-slideshow-video-clip thing with our photos from the West Highland Way trip, together with a couple of little movie clips of the wetter moments.

Now how I know how to do these video-slideshow-things (all thanks to instruction from Duncan), I'll put some together for the C2C and the LEJOG trips.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

From Holmfield Halifax to Hebden Bridge

Number of killer dogs: 3 (fortunately all restrained, but they definitely wanted to sink their teeth in)


I had two options as to how to fill my day today. I could get on with the increasingly pressing task of compiling my write-ups of all of this year’s walks, so that I have a fighting chance of getting it printed and bound by Christmas, or I could go for a walk.


A glance out of the window told me that it was not pleasant walking weather. Drizzly, grey and with the cloud base at about 500 feet. Added to that, I’d forgotten to pick up my walking shoes when I left home yesterday, so I only had my ‘knocking around’ shoes available to me.


A walk it was then.


Being without a car, I went for the easy option and walked from Ma-in-Law’s front door. Within ten minutes (including a quick detour via the shop for Eccles Cakes) I was out of suburbia and onto a lane which in turn led me to farmland – and rapidly into the low cloud.


Much map work and a significant lack of way-marks took me through the farmland and onto a golf course. Golf courses are not a good place for me to be on my own. Try as I might to work out which way people were playing, I was clueless (where’s Mick when I need him, eh?). I got a pretty big hint when three chaps asked if I could wait for them to play the next tee; they explained that in the poor visibility they didn’t want to hit me with a stray ball. I said that I didn’t much fancy being hit with a ball in any weather, and duly stood aside. Watching the first chap bat off (see, I'm well up on my golfing terms, me), I then asked how they see where their balls have gone in such weather. “We don’t” they chuckled. All adds to the fun, I suppose.


Escaping the golf course without mishap it was then onto open moorland. Bleak, featureless, fogbound and waterlogged moorland in the rain. Not the most pleasant of places to be in the conditions, and as I danced my way across the firmer parts of the bogginess it didn’t take me long to find that my shoes were not waterproof (They’re a pair of Meindls, which profess to be GoreTex lined; they turned out not to be waterproof, nor overly comfortable).


Having paid no attention to the contours lines, it was a bit of a surprise on leaving the open moor to see the steepness of the valley into which I had to descend and out the other side of which I had to climb, but I looked on it as good training and attacked it with as much vigour as the slippery surfaces would allow.


The next chunk of open moor was as wet, bleak, featureless and cloudy as the last, although by how well the paths were trodden I had to surmise that there must be something to recommend the route in better weather.


A wall surprised me as it loomed out of the murk. It heralded the end of my moorland yomping, but I still had to make decisions as to which of the many local lanes and paths I would take to get me down to Hebden Bridge.


I arrived in the town exactly four hours after setting out, which just happened to be the very time that Mick was on his way back to Halifax, giving me the convenience of a lift and saving me the bus-fare.


Mick’s news was good. He is no longer one of the great unwashed. Unfortunately, that does mean that I’m now without either a car or a walking partner for the next six months. Best start looking for a job myself, hadn’t I?



Saturday 1 November 2008

"Paramo is coming to your area!"

That was the claim made by the flyer that dropped through our letterbox this morning.

Upon further reading, it seems that it is true. Just a few miles up the road from us, in a village hall, will be a Paramo event where there will be limited edition ranges and (allegedly) 'huge savings on discontinued lines of Directional Waterproofs, Fleeces and Reversible Shirts, Travel Shirts and Trousers'.

What a good opportunity to see a good selection of the Paramo range, I thought. Upon what date is this event, I thought. The answer is that it is being held one day after we leave the country for a bit of winter sun. Harrumph.

I'm sure it must be coincidence, rather than maliciously directed at our absence from the area. Double coincidence (or malicious timing) is that we are also missing the first half of the Terra Nova factory sale which they have this year so kindly moved quite a few miles closer to us (double harrumph).