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 eight 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 ground with occasional sections of the 'dyke' to admire.

Offa's Dyke 

Coast Redwood Sequoia trees
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.