Thursday, 12 March 2015

Ortlieb water belt

I tend not to drink enough water when backpacking, mainly because I just fill my Traveltap bottle and make it last between refills which may be few and far between. I suspect that dehydration is the cause of night time leg cramps which I tend to suffer from quite often when backpacking. If only water wasn't so heavy. I recall a day on the Lakeland to Lindisfarne hike (remembered for three days and nights of non-stop rain) when there was a dry stretch from Wooler to St. Cuthbert's Cave where we intended to pitch that night. I carried two litres of water for the whole of the day. That was an extra 4.5 lbs on my back which was no joke. If only water wasn't so heavy. Well, now it isn't! A recently acquired piece of kit is a water belt made by Ortlieb. It holds two litres and straps round the waist with adjustable straps and a plastic buckle. On its own it is used just to carry water but an optional extra is a drinking tube so water can be drunk whilst on the move without having to stop to take a bottle out of a side pocket of a backpack. The tube is easily fitted by removing part of the valve fitting from the water belt and replacing it by a screw fitting at one end of the tube. At the other end of the tube is a lockable bite-valve. This is twisted a half turn to turn the flow on and off. There is a cap attached to a cord to cover the bite-valve.

I'm not sure whether the belt is supposed to be worn on the back or the front. I've tried both but have settled for the front. I tighten the belt buckles gradually as the belt empties. The 33 inch long water tube is actually longer than I need and I thread it through a loop on a shoulder strap of my pack to keep it under control. I may shorten it a little. I can also carry the belt in my pack as a water reservoir would normally be carried. It can also be worn bandolier style although I haven't tried this. I wonder whether two could be worn in this way so four litres could be carried!

For the first few days of use, the water had a pronounced plastic/rubber taste but this has disappeared now. My first use of the belt was on the South Downs Way where water is scarce, with the exception of water taps every few miles which are invaluable. I filled up at each of these and, the weight of the water being round my waist, rather than my back, I never noticed the weight. I've often wished for dehydrated water to save weight. The Ortlieb water belt is better and will now be an essential piece of kit for me. I tend to carry two litres now as a matter of course. I have used it with river water plus chlorine tablets. It was fine, apart from the chlorine taste, but it needed rinsing out several times to fully get rid of the taste. As opposed to, say, a filled roll-up water container being carried, it's not so obvious that one is looking to discreetly wild camp somewhere.

Although, at first sight, I think many hikers will think this is a great idea, I should say that I use a pack without a hip belt and so the Ortlieb water belt is comfortable. I don't know how it would fit as well as a hip belt.

Price – the best price I found (from Ghyllside Cycles of Ambleside) were for the water belt £16.65 and for the optional drinking tube £13.50. This is one of the best pieces of kit I've come across for a long time.

Walking the Winchcombe Way

This was one that had been on the waiting list for a while. With spring in the air (just), Neil and I met on a Friday afternoon at a farm just outside Winchcombe where we were permitted to camp. The Way comprise two loops like a figure of eight with Winchcombe in the middle so tents could be left in situ. We pitched in a rather rough paddock, overlooked by a couple of nearby sheep.

We headed into the village and had a meal and drink at The Corner Cupboard to catch up generally and plan the walking the next day. Next morning, were were off at 8 o'clock, joining the nearby Gloucestershire Way which we followed for a while before continuing south east into Guiting Wood and then heading north to Temple Guiting, past the pub at Ford (where we didn't go in), through Cutsdean and Taddington and on to Snowshill where we had a bite to eat and a pint of Donningtons at The Snowshill Arms. Then on through Buckland, Laverton and on to Stanton and Stanway, both beautiful Cotswold villages. Between these two, we encountered some horrendous mud.

Through Wood Stanway and Hailes we arrived back in Winchcombe, about twenty miles covered. Neil had to head back home unexpectedly so packed up and left.

Next morning, I set off early to start the second loop of the Way, leaving Winchcombe westwards following the Gloucestershire Way/Wychavon Way, the route of which is shared by the Winchcombe Way for a while. I was a bit short of food to see me through the day so hoped to find somewhere open. There was nothing obvious at Gretton, the village shop at Alderton was closed on Sundays, as was the tearoom at Dumbleton. Nevertheless, the walking was good, although not very strenuous. I encountered a dilapidated stile at one point where it was easier to go under it rather than over.

At Dumbleton, my eye was caught, passing by the church, by the grave of Patrick Leigh Fermor who had lived here and spent his later life here.

Still no sign of food but after a muddy trudge across some fields, the Way took me literally through the garden of the Hobnails Inn at Little Washbourne. It being Sunday, the choice of food was a bag of crisps or full carvery. It's tough, backpacking.

Skirting the village of Prescott (famous for the nearby Prescott Hill Climb) about which I know next to nothing but I read quite a bit about it some years ago in one of the three volumes of autobiography of L T C Rolt, who lived in the nearby hamlet of Stanley Pontlarge, he being known for a book, Narrow Boat, about his life on the canals in the 1940s and subsequently being one of the founders of the Inland Waterways Association, amongst other things. From Prescott, there was a stiff climb of about three quarters of a mile up to Nottingham Hill. Here, the hitherto reasonable weather then deteriorated and I was hit by strong winds and heavy rain. At the B4632 crossing, instead of doing a loop of Cleeve Common, I took the easy road walk of a couple of miles into Winchcombe and so back to base, by which time the weather had, of course, improved.

It was a good weekend though and there are plenty of options for return trips to the Winchcombe area.