Thursday, 19 April 2018

My LEJOG Kit List

Choosing which items of my kit I want to use on my LEJOG walk, which I am starting in July, is mostly straightforward so this list is basically copied directly from my 2015 Pennine Way list but updated to include more recent purchases. As I said in the PW post, I rarely buy really expensive gear as I do not backpack in winter conditions so I don't need really 'high-end' equipment. I also feel that many of the more expensive brands are over-priced and tend to look for good quality, middle range kit. I have stated elsewhere that I am a big fan of Decathlon, which is where I buy most of my clothing. I find that although the prices are very competitive, the quality is excellent and I have a number of their items that I have used fairly extensively on hikes that have never let me down. There are however one or two areas where I do spend more, particularly with camping gear and footwear, although having said this, the tent I am planning to use is a fairly low-priced Chinese, lightweight trekking pole tent. Again, after the tent, the most expensive, non-tech items on my list are my Ultra Raptor trail runners made by La Sportiva. I toyed with the idea of changing to a different shoe for the walk but eventually decided that as I have never had any foot issues on my hikes, I would buy another pair and continue with what I know works for me. This list obviously doesn't include consumables and I haven't listed all of the smaller items.

Geertop Tent

Geertop Pyramid Peak 20D 1 Man TentDespite using my excellent Trekkertent Stealth 1 on recent hikes, I found that internal space issues in poor weather, coupled with the difficulty of using a front entrance tent, had me looking around for something more practical in poor conditions. I was keen not to spend too much on yet another tent or increase too much the 600 grams weight of the Stealth. After looking at a number of reviews of Chinese made tents, I picked the Geertop, mainly because it has two side entrances and weighs around 1 kilo. I don't have much experience of using it yet but intend to test it more fully before setting off.

Force Ten Nano -5 sleeping bag - This has proved to be an excellent purchase and has kept me nice and warm on a number of hikes. Not the lightest at 1100 grams but a very good purchase nonetheless.

Quechua Forclaz A100 inflatable pad
Decathlon Quechua Forclaz A100 Sleeping pad - I was concerned that this might not be up to the job but needn't have worried. Cheap, light, and at 400g, packs down really small, I found this 3/4 length pad to be a very good insulator and gives some padding although it's only 2cm thick.

Decathlon Kalenji Trail Rain Jacket - Although I really rated the Karrimor Event Alpiniste Jacket I have used recently, I am always looking for ways to reduce weight and this is the item I sacrificed to counter balance the extra weight added by using the Geertop tent. Kalenji is a name Decathlon give to their running gear and this lightweight rain jacket weighs in at just 250 grams.

Decathlon Quechua X-light 
Decathlon X-Light Down Jacket - Light 440g, comfort limit down to -10c. Another excellent piece of Decathlon gear.

Reed's Chillcheater windshirt
Reeds Quantum Pertex windshirt - Packs to the size of a small apple and weighs 80g

Quechua M-Trek 900 Merino Shirt
Decathlon Quechua M-Trek 900 Merino Wool shirt - Long sleeved base layer

Kalenji TS Shirt
Decathlon Kalenji TS SS Trail Shirt - Short Sleeved base layer

Decathlon Quechua Forclaz 700 Socks - I wasn't sure about these socks at first as they are tight fitting, almost like support socks, but having walked hundreds of miles in them I think that they are superb. Despite being double layered in the main body of the sock, they still dry quickly. My only criticism is that they can feel warm in hotter weather.

Sealskinz Waterproof socks - Not totally waterproof but are really handy if walking in constantly wet and/or cold conditions as the Ultra-Raptors are not waterproof. My feet do get a little damp in them but most of the water is kept out. The insulation is the main reason for taking these.

Decathlon Quechua Shorts - Lightweight, very quick drying, which is vital as I rarely wear waterproof trousers and in fact didn't take any with me on the Pennine Way. 

Primark Technolayer underpants - Excellent, lightweight and quick drying, which was very important when walking in the rain. Neither the shorts or the underpants felt wet even when soaked, which was very important.

Decathlon Quechua Convertible Walking Trousers - Excellent, very lightweight and quick drying. Although I never wore these for walking, they doubled up as evening wear and spare shorts, as well as long trousers had I felt the need for them.

My old battered Ultra Raptors
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoes - Superb, lightweight (around 350g per shoe) but built like a tank with an incredible aggressive and grippy sole. I have now walked hundreds of miles in these on various trails and terrains and can't fault them. The trade-off for the superb grip is that the softish 'Frixion green' material used wears down fairly quickly. Having said that, I am still using the above pair on day walks and haven't had any issues with slipping, despite the grip having worn almost flat.

Montane Ultra Tour 55l pack
Montane Ultra Tour 55l backpack - I used this last year on the Cape Wrath Trail and the Coast to Coast and found it to be excellent. Very light at only 820 grams, it is a frameless pack so it is vital to keep the weight to around a maximum of 10 to 12 kilos. My baseweight is usually around 7 to 8 kilos so with consumables, this fits quite nicely. I found it really comfortable but I can imagine that if it was loaded with too much weight or if the back length was wrong, it could get quite uncomfortable.

Decathlon Forclaz Trekking poles - Cheap, basic poles with no fiddly 'shock aborbers', which I find make no difference whatsoever. I have been using the same pair for years now and don't see the point in paying a fortune for a pair of walking poles where the only real difference is the exorbitant price. They also make great tent poles!

Decathlon 2 litre bladder - I have had this for a few years now, cost 10 euros, wouldn't go back to Platypus prices

Sawyer Mini filter
Sawyer Mini water filter - Never normally use this in the Scottish highlands or the Lakes etc. but the LEJOG passes through a variety of terrain where the water sources will variable. Used in conjunction with a Salomon 1.5 litre bladder which can be squeezed or gravity fed. I have also stopped carrying more than 1 litre of water so the filter is a necessity.

Fire Maple pot
Fire Maple 1L Pot - Not the lightest but reasonably priced and does the job.

GSI Insulated Mug - This is really great as it has an insulating sleeve and lid meaning that your morning cuppa doesn't go almost instantly cold.

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove - Ultralight at around 80g, very efficient and inexpensive.

Vodaphone VF-795 Smartphone - Fairly simple, basic smartphone loaded with Viewranger and OS mapping of the whole UK

Samsung Galaxy Tab A
Samsung Galaxy A 7" Tablet -  Also loaded with Viewranger and OS mapping of the whole UK but with much bigger screen. This has a 'daylight' setting which is great outdoors in sunshine and the GPS is very quick to locate satellites. I am undecided about taking both this and the phone as well as the Garmin but will probably take all three for a variety of reasons.

Garmin E-trex 10 - Very basic unit without mapping.  Will be loaded with my route.

Silver baseplate compass - Don't really need this but will take it anyway.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The South Downs Way video

I finally got around to putting together video clips that I took on our South Downs Way hike in September 2017. I had trouble with the editing and some of the sound isn't very good.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Mapping the End to End

OS mapping coupled with Viewranger

For my End to End hike in July, I have decided that I won't be taking any maps with me. Well, that is not strictly accurate, I will have OS mapping for the whole of the UK but I won't be taking any paper maps. I have made this decision for a number of reasons, one being the sheer quantity of maps required for a trip of this length makes it really impractical and I simply can't be bothered with organising the delivery of maps to me en-route. This isn't the main reason however, in recent years I have become used to navigating electronically and I have decided that this is a far more practical method for this hike. The traditional view is that a paper map and compass is essential for navigational safety and relying on electronic maps is foolhardy. I disagree. Much as I love paper maps, they are impractical for really long trips because of their bulk and weight and in my opinion, the arguments against electronic navigation don't really stack up when examined closely. 

Larger view on the tablet

The main argument against is usually 'battery life' but this a really a bit of a non-argument, powerbanks that can recharge devices numerous times are cheap and portable. Most smartphones and tablets now have GPS functionality and navigation apps such as the excellent 'Viewranger' give the walker access to numerous navigational aids and can be loaded with OS maps so that a whole library of maps can be easily stowed in a pocket. 'But what if it fails', is the usual response from the traditional camp. In my case, I will be carrying a smartphone and a seven inch tablet, both loaded with the Viewranger app and OS mapping, so if in the highly unlikely event that one failed, I will have backup. I walked for years with a paper map and never had a backup and twice lost my map while out walking, once in thick fog with strong winds and rain on Snowdon. 
Besides having a second device as back-up, I also like the idea of having a larger screen for getting a better overview of the terrain. The phone is fine as a hand-held navigational device while walking but the tablet is good for studying the route ahead. This system has worked well for me in the past and I feel sure that it will again on my LEJOG hike.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Lands End to John O'Groats - My journey through Britain

When I first took up hiking as a pastime, I read a number of books written by long distance hikers about their experiences on the trail. My attention was particularly grabbed by those written by ultra-long distance walkers and I eagerly devoured stories of these seemingly unattainable adventures with one in particular firing my imagination. The book was 'Journey Through Britain' by John Hillaby and by the end of it, although I wasn't really aware of it at the time, the book had sowed the seeds of a life-long ambition. Over the years, I became a member and walk leader for my local ramblers group and also enjoyed some long challenges including Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk, a walk I have completed three times, the Southern Upland Way, Pennine Way, West Highland Way and most of the Cape Wrath Trail.

Despite enjoying all of these superb and at times challenging walks, the idea of walking from Lands End to John O'Groats still lurked in the back of my mind and so it was that last year, I decided that I would attempt this iconic British walk starting in the summer of 2018. Although the start date is still to be decided, I plan to set off in the middle of July. 

I have planned my route, (see photos) which I wanted to take in as many mountainous regions as possible but my original plan, which included the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, has been modified somewhat as the total mileage was touching 1400 miles, which I thought was excessive, so I have now changed the route to follow a large portion of the Offa's Dyke Path. My modified route is now around 1200 miles.

I will also be following the Cumbria Way through the Lake District, which although a fairly low level route, allows for interesting, high level deviations should weather and energy levels allow. The other area I was keen to walk in, as I have never walked there, was the Cairngorms. Being totally unfamiliar with the area, I liked the idea of a designated route through the UK's largest high mountain region but struggled to find one until I discovered the excellent 'Long Distance Walkers Association' website. Here, I found a route called the East Highland Trail starting at Blair Atholl and passing by some of the UK's highest mountains to Inverness. I have mentally divided the route into three stages, the West Country and Wales, Central England and the Lake District and finally Scotland. I plan to camp as often as possible and supplement this with occasional nights in guesthouses or hotels when the weather or my mood dictates. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Walking the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile National Trail running from the ancient capital of England at Winchester, to Eastbourne on the south coast. I had walked the trail over a number of weekends back in the nineties with our local Ramblers group but this trip was in a westerly direction and I felt at the time that it would be better walked in an easterly direction, towards the sea, rather than away from it. Also, the best scenery on the trail is in the eastern half of the trail so it made sense to me that it should be walked in this direction. I also wanted to do it as a continuous walk, rather than in sections so as we were visiting the UK, we took the opportunity to take on the trail over eight days, staying in pubs and hotels along the way. The following is a photo diary of the trip between 18th and 26th September 2017.

We travelled from London to Winchester by train on the 18th and spent time looking around Winchester cathedral and the Great Hall before checking into our first pub, the King Alfred. Winchester was as beautiful and interesting as I remember from my first trip along the way and it was good to have time to look around before setting off the following day. 

Our first day saw us hiking from Winchester to Meonstoke, near Exton. The walking was quite easy and the scenery was okay, if not spectacular. We enjoyed good weather and on reaching Exton, left the SDW for the short walk to Meonstoke where we were booked into the Bucks Head Inn for the night.

Setting Off

King Alfred's statue in Winchester

Not far to go!

First Field of the walk

Looking towards the Solent and the Isle of Wight

Descending to Exton 

The second day started badly. Being a National Trail, the SDW is superbly waymarked. Well mostly! This had led me to become lazy on the first day and instead of regularly consulting the map and guidebook, as I would normally do, I simply followed the signs. This 'nannying' led me into two big errors along the way, the first of which occurred just outside Exton. We left the pub in Meonstoke and walked back the short distance to the trail looking for a railway line that the landlady said we would be following for a distance. Soon, we found the disused trackbed and followed it for around a mile, arriving at a main road by a pub with no sign of the SDW. Consulting the map and guidebook, I realised we had set off in the wrong direction along the trackbed and upon returning to the point where we had made the erroneous turn, discovered that a wooden fingerpost had been broken off. We had now been walking for over an hour and were almost back where we started! This made the day seem quite long and by the time we reached our overnight halt at Buriton, we were ready for a a beer and some food! The highlights of the day were the views from Old Winchester Hill and Butser Hill. 

Back on track, at last!

Climbing to Old Winchester Hill

On the Summit of Old Winchester Hill

Approaching Butser Hill

Descending to the A3

The weather as we set off from Buriton to Cocking didn't look promising but although at one point, while resting on Harting Down, it began to rain a little, we never really needed the waterproofs that we had donned while having our break and eventually took them off as we became too warm. We arrived on the summit of Beacon Hill and took a selfie using the conveniently sited topograph to rest the camera on. For me, this was the best day for scenery so far as the way was now taking on a more airy, elevated feel. Eventually, we left the SDW and navigated downhill to our accommodation at the Blubell Inn at Cocking and arrived just as the heavens opened in earnest and we sat in the bar enjoying a drink watching as the rain ran down the the pub windows. 

Leaving Buriton

Climbing back up to the SDW from Buriton

Cultivation on the downs

A murky view from Harting Down

Harting Down

On Beacon Hill

The following day started clear and bright with beautiful, blue skies and we climbed back onto the downs looking forward to a day walking in the superb conditions. We were heading for Amberley, where we had been unable to obtain accommodation, so the plan was to get a train the short distance from Amberley to Arundel, where we had secured a room in an hotel close to the railway station. The SDW ran past Amberley station, so for the first time since we had set off from Winchester, we didn't actually have to walk off of the way. The SDW, after the initial climb from Cocking, passed through woods so views were a little restricted, but eventually, these petered out and we again had superb views all around, the best so far, as the hazy outline of the downs escarpment stretched into the distance ahead of us. On reaching Amberley Station, we had a half hour wait for the train before the short ride to Arundel and having checked into our hotel, strolled into the town for a cursory glance around the outside of the castle but unfortunately, we were too late to go in for a look around as it was due to close. In hindsight, we regretted not having planned a rest day in Arundel to give us time to look round the beautiful, quaint town with it's imposing castle.

The South Downs Way above Cocking

Heading towards Glatting Beacon

Taking a break on Burton Down

Arundel Castle

The following morning, having returned to Amberley, we climbed back onto the way as we headed for Upper Beeding. This was to be a long day at around 15 miles but once on the tops, the walking was easy and mostly level, with only the climb onto the old hill fort of Chanctonbury Ring providing any difficulty. As a consequence, our pace was quite fast and it didn't take us too long to reach Washington, from where we climbed up onto Chanctonbury Ring. This hilltop earthwork is visible for some distance because the summit is ringed with a number of beech and sycamore trees. We planned to take a break here as the surrounding views are quite spectacular but in the event we didn't stay long as there was a cold wind blowing that we seemed unable to find shelter from, so after a brief stop for food and drink, continued on our way. Later, having descended to Botolphs, we left the SDW for the Downs Link, which we followed into Upper Beeding before locating the Rising Sun pub, where we had a room booked for the night.

Climbing onto Amberley Mount

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring

View from the Summit

Leaving Chanctonbury Ring

We left Upper Beeding for Lewes following the now familiar pattern of climbing steeply back onto the downs. This is something to be aware of when walking the SDW as the route mostly follows the very top of the downs requiring a descent at the end of the day to obtain accommodation and a subsequent ascent at the beginning of the day to regain the tops. At around 16 miles, this was to be the longest day of the trip but also turned out to be the most tiring as, whereas the previous day had been mostly level, today's walk was punctuated by numerous short, sharp climbs. The weather was again very pleasant with sunshine and clear skies, although these were now accompanied by a fairly blustery wind. The other change was that being Sunday, the hills were alive with people! We shared the path for most of the day with walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders! It seemed like most of the south of England was on the SDW for the day. We arrived in Lewes feeling quite weary after a seven hour walk and having located and checked into the White Hart Hotel, were not too amused to be told that 'as it was Sunday', they were not serving food that evening meaning that we had to go out to find somewhere to eat. All very odd!

Truleigh Hill

Approaching Devil's Dyke

Dew Pond Near Ditchling Beacon

The following morning, we awoke to rain although fortunately, by the time we left Lewes, it had stopped. We had decided that we were not about to walk the three miles back uphill that we had descended the previous evening into the town, as this would have entailed a long walk in a reverse direction, so we set off along the River Ouse to Southease in drizzly rain following the riverbank. On reaching Southease, we rejoined the way and climbed in fairly misty conditions back onto the downs. Once we had climbed Itford Hill, we had a fairly straightforward walk to Firle Beacon and Bostal Hill and, although it didn't rain, the views to Newhaven and into the Weald were fairly restricted by the conditions. We descended comfortably to the charming village of Alfriston and checked into the Olde Smugglers Inne, where we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening preparing for our final day of the trip.

Heading for the downs along the River Ouse

View to Newhaven

View inland towards Lewes in the gloom

Descending to Alfriston

We left Alfriston on our final day following the SDW signposts as we had done since leaving Winchester. There are two finales on the route, one inland following the tops of the downs and one to the Seven Sisters Country Park in the Cuckmere Valley by the coast. From there, it is a roller-coaster ride across the chalk cliffs to Eastbourne and the end of the walk, this is the route we planned to take. I still don't know how I managed it, but having spent a week being 'nannied' by the SDW signposting, I somehow missed the turn for the coast and following the signposts, we found ourselves up on the downs. Neither of us recall seeing a signpost highlighting the split in the two routes and we simply followed the obvious SDW signs. It was as we climbed higher that alarm bells began ringing with me as I suddenly realised that we shouldn't be on the tops of the downs but in a valley. I consulted the map and decided to abandon the 'alternative' inland finish across the top of the downs and navigated our way through Friston Forest to the village of Friston, from where we took a path leading to Birling Gap and the SDW. I was a little annoyed with myself for not paying attention for the second time on the trip but in the end, it didn't really detract from the day. We had lunch in the cafe at Birling Gap and set off along the cliffs with a party of around 150 German schoolchildren. Deciding that these were far too noisy for our liking, we sat for a while to let them pass by and set off again for the Belle Tout lighthouse and Beachy Head. The day had started in fog but this had now lifted and left a day of hazy sunshine. The final section was indeed as spectacular as we remembered and we paused many times for photographs and to just absorb the final moments of this magnificent trail. Soon, we were descending into Eastbourne and taking our photo by the information board at the eastern terminus. We still had a mile and half to go along the seafront to our hotel but we took this at a leisurely pace, to enjoy the final few moments of a memorable trip.

Looking Back to Birling Gap

Belle Tout lighthouse

Approaching Beachy Head

Beachy Head


The Eastern terminus

Made it!

(The memory card in my main camera ran out of space at Birling Gap so the final photos were taken on a small action camera, similar to a Go-Pro Hero)