Thursday, 25 April 2019

LEJOG Days 5 to 8 (26 to 29) - Welshpool to Whitchurch

After taking a three day break in the hope that the rest would help, my leg was unfortunately no better on today's hike. My schedule was based on an average of 19/20 miles a day but today I struggled to complete 11 miles over flat ground along the Offa's Dyke Path following the Montgomery Canal and River Severn to Llanymynech, where I obtained a room in a pub. On the upside the weather was the best so far. 

Montgomery Canal
Breidden Hills
 I left Llanymynech and the Montgomery Canal and immediately crossed the border into England and Shropshire. As I reached some prominent limestone cliffs on Llanymynech Hill, I stopped to take in the far reaching views over the flat vale I had crossed the previous day.  The day was once again fine and sunny with the promise of warm temperatures to come.  My leg was still nagging away at me although the painkillers were doing their job. The views, although a little misty, were beautiful and I could just make out  the Breidden Hills I had passed the day before. Near the village of Nantmawr, I climbed to the summit of Moelydd Hill from where I had stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding area. Later, I passed the site of the old 18th Oswestry race course with the remains of the grandstand standing forlornly next to an information board telling the history of the course.  The figure of eight racecourse fell into disuse when the coming of the railways meant that owners could easily travel to grander courses. During the afternoon, the route traversed rolling hills and as the distant Chirk Castle came into view, this signalled the end of the Offa's Dyke Path for me and as I reached a small rural road, I followed it into the town of Chirk with excellent views of Chirk acquaduct on the approach to the town. After a quick phone call, I was disappointed to learn that the campsite didn't accept tents and the local hotel was full. I walked the first couple of miles of the Maelor Way, my next trail, before eventually finding a barely suitable spot in woods to pitch my tent.

Chirk Castle

Misty view of the Breidden Hills from Llanymynech Hill

The following morning, I was up and walking by 7am and as it was quite cold, wore my down jacket for the early part of the walk. The early section of the walk traversed a lofty ridge with great views of the surrounding countryside back towards Chirk. This part of the walk passed through woods bedecked in wild garlic, the air thick with the pungent aroma. Soon, the path reached the River Dee,  the size of which surprised me as it was quite wide and fast flowing. I then encountered a short section of path where I struggled to find a secure foothold as the route crossed what appeared to be very wet, deep red clay. I took one step at a time, making sure that I had a good base from which to launch myself on to the next foothold, which I tested with my trekking poles before stepping off. As I approached the village of Erbistock on the far bank, I stopped in amongst the wild garlic to absorb the idyllic scene as the bells of the village church rang out across the Dee. On reaching the village of Overton, I purchased food and drink from the village shop and sat in the churchyard to eat breakfast. I finished the day by walking into village of Hanmer where I stayed in a small hotel.

Wild Garlic 
Chirk Aquaduct

River Dee
The next morning I made a decision to find another hospital to get a second opinion on my leg. Looking at the map, I decided to head for Stoke-on-Trent as I knew there would be an hospital there and I would also have the chance to meet-up with a good friend I hadn't seen for a few years. I walked the five miles or so from Hanmer to Whitchurch on quiet country lanes where I caught the train to Stoke. Here, I visited the hospital where I was advised that my leg was infected and needed at least a weeks rest and a course of antibiotics. The  LEJOG curse had struck again

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

LEJOG Days 1 to 4 (22 to 25) - Hay on Wye to Welshpool

The first two days of the walk were dogged by a bitingly cold easterly wind that saw me sleeping in all of my clothes in my tent at the end of the first day in Kington. Because of this, I didn't get too much sleep and felt lethargic on the walk over to Knighton on day two. At times, I was slow going up the many steep hills along the Offa's Dyke Path,  although much of the day passed through some beautiful scenery.  There were also numerous sightings of the Dyke along the way. Because of the cold, I stayed in a very reasonably priced room above a pub in Knighton at the end of day two in the hope of getting a better nights sleep. Day three turned out to be the best day so far. Having felt lethargic on day two, today was completely different after a good night's sleep. The section from Knighton to Montgomery is extremely hilly  so I avoided a couple of them by road walking most of the way to Newcastle. I met virtually no traffic on the tiny lanes and as I am not actually doing the Offa's Dyke path, I wasn't bothered about missing any of it. It was a good decision as some of the later ascents were brutal. As I crossed a river near Newcastle, I saw a large shape in the water that dived when it realised I was there but then spent around five minutes peeking out at me from the rocks on the riverbank. I initially assumed that the creature was an otter but subsequently come to the conclusion that it may be a mink. In all, I walked 21 miles, the longest day so far. I woke up on day four in Montgomery to find I had a nagging problem with my lower leg. Towards the end of day three, I had experienced some pain in the area where the shinbone joins the foot but brushed it off and assumed that it would be gone in the morning. As I set off walking from Montgomery, it became clear that this was not something that would just 'go away' as the sharp stabbing pain in my shin nagged away at me. I had taken Ibuprofen, which seemed to dull the pain a little but as I walked, the problem became worse. Luckily, the majority of the section from Montgomery to Welshpool was over level

Offa's Dyke 

Coast Redwood Sequoia trees
ground with occasional sections of the 'dyke' to admire. As the Offa's Dyke path climbed to Beacon Ring fort, the pain in my leg became at times excruciating, and I had stop regularly to wait for it to subside. Entering woodland at the start of the climb to the beacon, I checked the map to discover an easier, lower route through the woods to hopefully take as much strain off my leg as possible. On rounding a bend, I was stopped in my tracks when I discovered I had walked into a wood comprising of giant sequoia 'coast redwood' trees. The pain in my leg was temporarily forgotten as I marvelled as these giants, glowing a deep red in the sunlight that filtered through onto the bark. I spent some time trying (and failing) to capture the enormity of the trees on camera before limping on along a series of country lanes to the town of Welshpool. Here, I temporarily retired from the walk and am currently having a brief rest with relatives in North Wales while I wait for my leg to recover.
Otter or Mink?

Offa's Dyke 

Friday, 5 April 2019

Old School or New? - Using Electronics for Navigation

As I prepare to resume my trek to John O'Groats next week, I have been loading the GPS files and OS maps onto my smartphone and tablet as well as my handheld GPS unit. I was therefore interested to read a thread started by someone in a Facebook group asking for advice regarding navigation while out on the trail. The majority of the responses went something along the lines of 'ALWAYS take a paper map and compass as electronic devices fail' On the surface, this would seem like good advice but does it really stand up to scrutiny? There is no doubt that OS maps are superb and a fantastic tool for finding your way around the hills of the UK and there is something aesthetically pleasing about spreading a map out and tracing your route through the contours, but in this day and age, is it necessary to always carry paper versions? Some years ago, I started doing ever longer hikes and began to find the amount of paper maps required something of a problem. The sheer volume of space and weight on a moderately long trail is an issue when trying to keep the weight down and this is where GPS entered my thinking. I had only recently begun playing around with a very basic Garmin unit but this was no good for OS maps, being mainly for finding your grid reference or following a 'breadcrumb' trail or recording your route. It was then that I discovered a wonderful navigation app called 'Viewranger'. This can be loaded onto a smartphone or tablet and then loaded with OS mapping. Not only that, it can perform a host of other functions to help with navigation such as storing your intended route, which you can then follow with your position marked on the map so you always know exactly where you are. It has many useful navigation tools but one other useful feature is something called 'Buddybeacon'. With this, your location is sent to the Viewranger website and family and friends can log in using your I.D. and password and see your current location. The only drawback with this is that it requires a phone signal to log your positions, although it will update all of your recorded positions when you once again come into range of a signal. The navigational side of the app only requires a GPS signal to operate, so you don't have to worry about losing a phone signal. The 'traditionalist' view of using technology is that a paper map and compass should always be used regardless. 'What happens if your battery runs out' is the usual dire warning. 'The Mountain Rescue' teams warn people not to venture into the hills relying solely on electronics'. Yes, they do, but this I feel is aimed at those who set off with no previous navigational skills and rely solely on a smartphone and something inadequate such as Google Maps to find their way around. For my trip, I will have a smartphone loaded with Viewranger/OS Mapping, a 7" tablet loaded with the same for a bigger overview of the surrounding terrain. I will also be carrying a simple Garmin handheld device, largely for recording my walk but it will also have my route installed. This makes for a great double fail-safe as it uses AA batteries so can be used if for some reason I can't charge the other devices. Talking of charging, the usual cry of 'what about batteries failing' is easily answered by the use of a power-bank. Mine also employs solar panels to be used as a back-up charging source. I also leave both the phone and the tablet in 'airplane' mode and use just the maps for the majority of the time thereby ensuring I get the maximum life from my batteries. This may sound like I have simply swapped the maps out for a bunch of electronics but I already carried most of these items anyway, I am now simply using them to their full potential. I also now no longer have to wrestle with a paper map flapping about in the wind! I have used this system for my last few long walks with no problems at all and while I, like many other walkers, love to pore over a paper map when planning my walks, it's now a few years since I took one on a long hike.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Learning to Walk - My Early Walking 'Career'

My first view of the Pennine Way from Mill Hill

In a couple of weeks, I resume my walk to John O'Groats from Hay-on Wye, where I finished eight months ago. In the lead up to this, I have been looking back to my early walking days and remembering how it felt taking those first steps into the 'wilds' of the British countryside.

The Canada Goose is a big bird. The ungainly shape first entered my consciousness as I drove to work and began slowing down on my approach to the thirty mile an hour speed limit sign on the outskirts of a village. I hadn’t really given it much thought as it came flying low across the fields to my left until just before the impact when I casually thought to myself, ‘that’s flying a bit low’. A split second later, I suddenly became more alert as I realised that I was in danger of increasing my ornithological knowledge of the Canada Goose by one hundred percent but by this time, it was too late. The huge bird thudded into the windscreen in front of the passenger seat with a sickening thump leaving a crystallised indentation spreading out across the glass like an ornate spiders web. I stopped the car and sat momentarily stunned before getting out to check the damage as the corpse of the dead goose stared blankly up at me from the road. I wanted to wake it up and give it a piece of my mind as I mentally processed the aggravation I now had to go through to rectify the damage. As I re-started the car and set off once again to work, I briefly wondered if I was breaking the law by driving with a half-smashed windscreen but in my irritated state, dismissed this as irrelevant and drove to the office in an agitated state of annoyance. Later in the day, as I watched the operative skilfully replacing my windscreen, I discovered we shared a common interest in walking. That’s walking as in hiking, not a scientific interest in the mechanics of perambulation but an interest in lacing up boots, donning a rucksack and some suitably silly outdoor apparel and tramping across hills and mountains in all kinds of weather. I was a relative newcomer to this often derided activity but had already had my imagination fired by the thought of following some of the country’s long-distance trails through remote countryside.
‘Have you done the Pennine Way?, asked the windscreen repair man as he skilfully slotted the new,
‘untouched by Canada goose’ glass in place.
I had to admit that not only had I not done it but I knew very little about it. At this early stage in my
walking ‘career’, the Pennine Way was one of those mythical names that existed only on the periphery
of my imagination and was only ever walked by serious outdoor types who usually wore big beards and
even bigger rucksacks with various items of proper walking gear hanging from them. I was a
novice who didn’t even have any proper walking boots or clothing and usually set off on a walk with
nothing more than plenty of cigarettes, a lighter and money to buy crisps and drinks from any shop
that I happened to be passing. I tried to hide my inexperience by listing some of the areas that I had
walked on day walks but the windscreen man seemed unimpressed.
‘You’ve got to do the Pennine Way, ‘It’s the toughest walk in the country’ he boasted.
‘What’s it like’, I asked intrigued by mental images of rugged mountains and moors spreading in every
‘Oh, it’s the best, you must do it’, he said, finishing up his work on my now resplendent, shiny new
‘Do yourself a favour, and just go for it, you won’t regret it’ he said, and off he drove leaving me with a
new windscreen and a new ambition.
As my walking career progressed, I became more experienced and even bought a pair of walking boots and other paraphernalia associated with squelching around the soggy hills of Great Britain. Being from the south of England, most of my walking was done in the lowlands, which often involved a lot of mud and climbing over stiles but I was thoroughly enjoying my new pastime as I learned how to find my way around using a map and compass. I still felt extremely self-conscious as I ambled around in my serious walking garb and would often hide my map case when other walkers passed by to discourage any awkward navigational questions that I might not know the answer to but gradually, I became more confident as I realised that not only was I quite good at finding my way around, I was often much fitter than many of the other walkers around me and suffered none of the hesitancy they displayed on tricky terrain. My first real hill-walk came when I ventured in a state of high anticipation into the 'proper' walking
country of the Peak District village of Hayfield with my wife, who was my enthusiastic walking partner.
The village is an historically significant location in the history of English hiking as it was from here in the
1930’s that a group of ramblers met for a mass-trespass onto Kinder Scout. Much of upland England in
those days was off-limits to the average person as the moors were jealously guarded by wealthy
landowners who employed gamekeepers to keep the general public off of their land. As the group
approached their objective, their progress was halted by gamekeepers and a scuffle broke out. A
number of the group’s leaders were arrested and spent time in jail for their ‘crime’ but the die was cast
and eventually, the countryside was opened up for everyone to enjoy.
Of course, on this walk, I knew nothing of this and probably wouldn’t have been interested at the time
as my mind was reeling from these new, stunning landscapes on view. I had never seen anything like it.
The south of England had nothing like this! We climbed up onto Kinder Scout from Hayfield
Reservoir with the vast bulk of the Kinder plateau lurking like a brooding beast to our right. I was like a
child in a toy-shop. As we climbed, in whichever direction I turned I had views of beautiful hills
contrasting with darker, brooding moorland which in turn was threaded with streams and waterfalls
of strange, darkly coloured water, tumbling like spilt beer down the rocky hillsides. Reaching the edge of
the Kinder Plateau, I stopped and took in the scene. Across the plateau’s centre lay a weird, barren
landscape of dark, chocolate coloured soil, riven with channels eroded by the effects of rain. Below,
green hills rolled into the distance, seemingly forever. I was hooked! There was no turning back now, I
had found what I had always wanted, something that was mine and I had to explore it and immerse
myself in it completely. As I stood on it, I now understood what the windscreen man meant when he
had enthused over the Pennine Way. I stood in silent wonder on England’s first long-distance path as it
wound its way around the edge of the vast peaty plateau and I knew that at some point in the future, I
would have to walk it in its entirety.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Why I Chose La Sportiva Ultra Raptors over Altra Lone Peak 4's

In a little under three weeks, I resume my hike from Land's End to John O'Groats and I have been considering changing my regular shoes for a different brand. In this video, I give my thoughts on both shoes.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Hiking in Tenerife video - Montaña Colorada

As I start the countdown to the resumption of my LEJOG walk next month, I have been out hiking in the hills of my home island of Tenerife to keep my fitness levels up in preparation for the hike. This recent walk started just below the 7,000ft asl mark from the Las Lajas recreation and camping area, on the road to the Teide National Park. The route initially followed a marked trail to the town of Adeje as it headed for Montaña Colorada. The next landmark on the route was the ruins of the Casa de Teresme, where I paused for a break as the cloud slowly began building up. I then crossed a number of barrancos (ravines) and in the first of these, I passed the Galeria El Rosario (water mine) before climbing steeply out and heading towards Alto de Chimoche. After crossing the Barranco del Agua and Barranco del Rey, I descended via Guayero to Ifonche before finishing in the town of Arona. The whole walk was 13.5 miles/21.7 kilometres and took 7.25 hours, passing through some quiet, spectacular countryside, although some of the far reaching views to the coast were spoilt by the haze.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Pennine Way 2015 Slideshow

When I walked the Pennine Way in 2015, I never really took much video footage except on the day from Middleton in Teesdale to Dufton. I recently made a video using this footage that can be found here

I did however take many photographs throughout the entire hike and this slideshow is a selection of some of the best shots.