Monday, 11 February 2019

Plans for 2019

Having just about got over a mild bout of 'flu, I can now look forward to getting out backpacking. After a couple of weekends coming up out with the Backpackers Club, at the end of this month I plan to walk the Hertfordshire Way. I walked half of it in 2016, clockwise from Tring to Bishops Stortford (it's a circular walk and waymarked in both directions). The official start/finish point is Royston, on the Cambridgeshire border, but my most convenient start/finish point is Tring as I can get there using public transport.

I was so impressed with the walk in 2016 although maybe the half I did then might be regarded as the better half. Wild camping was so easy as there were so many belts of trees and wooded areas ideal for hiding myself away. I did it in August so the days were longer but the evenings are now getting lighter although, of course, it won't be as warm.

The other outing I have planned is in April. In 2016 and 2018, my wife and I spent time campervanning around Sweden and I realised that it is a backpacking paradise. There are numerous hiking trails. The most well known is the Kungsleden (King's Trail) which is very popular - maybe too popular. There are 112 trails listed on Traildino of varying lengths. Sweden is not a backpacking destination for the majority of UK hikers which is a great shame. As a country, it is twice the size of the UK with just a sixth of the population. Wild camping (and walking, cycling, etc.) is permitted just about anywhere with the exception of private gardens, near a dwelling house or land under cultivation.

The trail I have in mind is the Sörmlandsleden. In all, it's 1000km but I have planned a walk of 300km. My starting point is easy to get to as it's Stockholm Stavska airport which Ryanair flies to from Stansted. My flights there and back are booked. Whilst budget airlines often fly to out of the way airports, this one is exactly where I want to be. There will be some coastal walking but much of it will be in forest and lakes, well away from habitation. There are open shelters at regular intervals with facilities for making an open fire if required. I may use the shelters but will always be able to camp. I think April will be a good time for this trip. I know from experience that mosquitoes can be a problem in the summer but I should avoid them by going early. 

Monday, 11 June 2018

Preliminary review - Xero Terraflex hiking shoe

This is a preliminary review of the Xero TerraFlex running/hiking shoe, an American brand. For some time I, in common with other hikers and backpackers, swore by Inov-8 Terrocs and similar Inov-8 lightweight mesh shoes. They were so comfortable and, of course, did not have a waterproof lining so water came in and quite quickly drained out. Inexplicably, the Terroc was discontinued in its popular form a few years ago. No other shoe by Inov-8 or other manufacturer seems to have taken its place yet.

The TerraFlex is an interesting shoe. For a start, and most importantly, it is a zero drop shoe. What this means is that the heel isn’t raised at all so it is as if you are walking barefoot with the heel of the foot on the same level as the sole. This takes some getting used to. What is more, the shoe can be worn with no inner sole and is perfectly comfortable and just like walking barefoot in that a foot on its own has no real cushioning. However, the shoes come with optional thin inner soles which just slip in to the shoes and actually make quite a difference.

The shoes are extremely light. My UK size 8.5 (US 9) weigh 9oz each, compared to a Terroc at 13oz. That’s quite a difference and it feels it on the foot. They are so flexible and you would be forgiven if you thought they would be flimsy but they are not.

The uppers are mainly a woven fabric, not mesh, and actually appear more substantial than mesh. The soles, which incorporate a toe bumper, have a raised chevron pattern for grip.

Are they comfortable? In a word, yes, and straight from the box. In fact, they are very comfortable. The toe box is quite wide which enables the foot to spread with absolutely no pinching. The laces are round section (not flat) and I had to swap them for flat laces in order to easily use the shoes with gaiters that need to be clipped on to the laces but that was no problem.

So far, I have only used the shoes for walking in dry weather with some quite steep ascent and descent and I found that they gripped well. I wore them for a warm, dry day from Edale up on to Kinder Scout, via Grindsbrook Clough, over to Kinder Downfall and back to Edale via Jacob's Ladder. I couldn't fault them. I have yet to try them in mud. I have also been wearing them for general use around town, etc.

Sizing is an important issue with these shoes. They run small. I would normally wear a size 7.5 UK size in this type of shoe but I needed a 8.5 UK size. This is particularly relevant as they are only available online (from and are only available in the UK in whole US sizes although half sizes are a available from Xero in the USA but there would be carriage and import charges.

They retail at £79.95 which is a very reasonable price for this type of shoe. The soles, rather amazingly, are guaranteed for 5,000 miles and will be replaced by Xero if the sole or ball of the heel (but not edges) wear down to less than 1mm. If they do, Xero will replace them for the same model at 60% off full retail price plus shipping. My question at this early stage is whether the uppers will last that long or whether the soles would detach from the uppers. Only time will tell. I will post a long term review when I have properly put the shoes through their paces. I had hoped to wear them for the second half of my Great English Walk in April but they didn't arrive in time. This was because they came from the US. I believe that orders placed with the UK site will be delivered quickly.

Xero Shoes provided me with these shoes for review purposes and do not require them to be returned. I am under no obligation to post a positive review.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Food on the Great English Walk

I have been asked about food on this walk. Often on multi-day walks, I have resupplied by posting resupply parcels once a week to camp sites or post offices. Camp sites are best as their opening times are more convenient. These parcels will contain such items as:

Evening meals
Tea and coffee bags
A disposable razor
Loo roll and wet wipes

In all cases, the right quantities of everything to last a week.

The food will be exactly what I want to eat, rather than whatever I can find in village or garage shops which will not always be what I want. Evening meals will often be what I have cooked at home and then I will have dehydrated and packed into individual portions. Nevertheless, a week’s supply of everything can weigh a considerable amount and take up a lot of space in a backpack, although the weight and space taken immediately starts reducing. 

On this walk, I decided to resupply as I went, having ascertained which places I went through had a shop. In this way, I never had to buy food for more than two or three days. It worked because the route of the Great English Walk regularly passed through a village or town. I generally managed to get what I wanted although I struggled at one garage shop (Grindley Brook) and one village shop (Wark) whose stocks were very limited. Overall, though, this strategy worked very well and meant no previous planning except to work out where I would find shops. The drawbacks were mainly choice available and quantities. For instance, it’s not possible to buy fewer than forty teabags and wet wipes could only be bought in packs of eighty or so.  

I started the walk with a 750 gram bag of muesli so that had breakfast sorted for the first couple of weeks. I’d done that before although I was aware that it was probably an excessive weight to be carrying. After the muesli ran out, I’d buy two or three flapjack bars weighing maybe 120 grams each and one of these, providing perhaps 450 calories worked very well for breakfast and I’d certainly do that again. However, if I went back to my own resupply parcels, I’d make my own. There are numerous recipes online for high calorie energy bars and it’s good to start the day with a calorie boost. 

When I did a shop, I would often buy a pint of milk (whole, not semi-skimmed) and down it right away, for the calories. 

On this walk, I didn’t take coffee bags, just tea bags and that was fine. I found, unexpectedly, that I didn’t miss the coffee and just had one occasionally if the opportunity arose. Apart from the milk mentioned above, I carried a ziplock bag of Nido full cream milk powder, so much more appetising than skimmed milk powder.

I often bought Batchelors pasta meals which were very inexpensive. They really need things added to make a filling evening meal. The best I had was the pasta with ham and cheese variety but I added to it a small tin of tuna and a heap of shavings of cheddar. I’d certainly have that again (and again). 

Lunches were, more often than not, cheese and oatcakes. 

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Great English Walk Day 35 - 22 April 2018

Fenton to Berwick upon Tweed
Walking 5.20am to 6.00pm
Distance walked today 24 miles
Distance walked so far 541 miles
Distance left 0 miles

While I was lying in my tent in the wood last night, pheasants squawking, I began to think maybe I could finish the walk in one long day. I woke shortly after 4am and the thought was still there so the decision was made. I didn't even make tea. I just packed up and set off in half light.

I slept in there last night

I largely followed the official GEW route all day although, to save a little time, I road walked between the villages of Ford and Etal. There was absolutely no-one about, just the way I like it and no traffic whatsoever. Both Ford and Etal have ruined castles that will have to wait for another time.
At Ford, I went by a sign for a cycle route to Berwick which, if I followed the route, would save me three miles but the GEW guide was effusive about the riverside walking so I opted for that and am so glad I did.
Ford church and castle
Etal castle

At Etal,  I started walking alongside the River Till, the only English tributary of the Tweed, and it was, with the exception of one stretch, my constant companion for a few hours, quite lovely. I walked through the beautifully named Tiptoe Wood, the smell of wild garlic accompanying me much of the way, under an impressive railway viaduct, and then arrived at the confluence of the Till and the Tweed, not so impressive but I took a quick break here. I'd done ten miles by ten o'clock with fourteen to go.
Wild garlic!
The Way then followed the Tweed the rest of the day, sometimes right next to it, sometimes a way away. Now and then, there was a diversion due to land slip. The quality of the path ranged from excellent to poor, the latter where there had been a land slip and a new path wasn't fully established. I passed through the villages of Norham and Horncliffe, meeting only a couple of dog walkers.

River Tweed

Here's where the path was
During the day, I took a couple of doses of ibuprofen for a muscle strain at the top of my right leg which has been troubling me the past few days and it helped a little.
The weather having been good (not hot) all day, on crossing the A1 outside Berwick, there was a ten minute shower which I waited out rather than don waterproofs. Then a path past a sewage works. Under the Royal Border Bridge, the main line between England and Scotland, then the modern Royal Tweed Bridge and the Old Berwick Bridge and this carried me into Berwick with the youth hostel only minutes away.

An exhausting day but well worth the effort and it means I have a day to explore Berwick tomorrow. My legs won't know what to do with themselves.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Great English Walk Day 34 - 21 April 2018

Threestoneburn Wood to Fenton
Walking 7.35am to 6.20pm
Distance walked today 15 miles
Distance walked so far 517 miles
Distance left 27 miles (in fact, according to the map, 24 miles)

Waking at 5am, there was such a cacophony of noise from the dawn chorus, mainly pigeons competing with one another, and also a cuckoo.

I was able to have a leisurely start so made tea from my "bedside" and read a little, putting off the unpleasant moment when I had to put on my socks, chilly and wet from yesterday's late drenching, followed by wet shoes although, to be honest, it isn't such a big deal now.

Dropping down to Harthope Burn at NT953225, there's reasonable camping by the wooden footbridge and, of course, plenty of water. Having said that, from the other direction, approaching the area from the road, there is a Northumberland National Park sign prohibiting camping.

Harthope Burn

The way to Wooler, via Broadstruther, involved a long climb to reach open moorland but, with a clear sky and the temperature warming up, it was quite perfect. Further on, where Carey Burn was reached, I took a break for elevenses and dunked my feet in the water for a few cold minutes. At Wooler Common I stopped for a chat to Karen Balmbro who was walking her dog, a colly, I think. I gave her one of my flyers.

Wooler meant the moorland walking was over, now just flatter farm land until Berwick. I did a final resupply in Wooler and pressed on. Being so low, it was getting quite hot which didn't suit me one bit. There was virtually no breeze.

Near Doddington, I was taking a break when someone else to talk to came by - Mary Short, walking her retired greyhound, Magic. He was on a very short leash as he would have been off after hares. Marys father has recently died from bone cancer. So many people are affected by cancers, either directly or indirectly. It's amazing how a distraction like meeting someone to talk to gives my legs a new burst of energy and I made quick work of the fields to Fenton. I could have gone further, and intended to, but the other side of Fenton I found a perfect woodland pitch for the night.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Great English Walk Day 33 - 20 April 2018

Kidland Forest to Threestoneburn Wood
Walking 7.50am to 6.15pm
Distance walked today 12 miles
Distance walked so far 502 miles
Distance left 42 miles

The night's pitch was actually very good. So much of the forest I passed this morning had been felled. There might have been some possibilities a mile or so further on but a good decision was made to stop where I did.

Leaving the forest, the views really opened up as I descended on a good grassy path to Uswayford, said to be one of the most remote farms in England.

Past Uswayford, my guide book and the map indicate a path immediately to the left of Clay Burn. I tried it but it was very difficult so I turned back and used the path just above it through the forest but not shown on the map but there was a stile leading to it. It bisected a good track just east of Davidson's Linn waterfall. The track went east (the right direction) and is shown on the map as Salter's Road, used for transporting salt in times gone by.

Past Nagshead Knowe, I made a possibility bad choice of route. The GEW takes a high level route over High Cantle, eventually dropping down to Linhope. I took a probably easier way past High and Low Bleakhope farms, all very easy and much on a tarmac farm road. It was very scenic and quite lovely but, because the area south of Linhope was off my map, I didn't know that the road didn't go to Linhope. Consequently, I had to walk beyond it and then had a quite rough and wet traverse of a pasture to regain the GEW route below Dunmoor Hill.

I had then been expecting a relatively easy walk through Threestoneburn Wood (a forest) but virtually all of it had been harvested leaving a very forlorn wasteland. The first few hundred yards were almost pathless and, in a wet section, my right leg went in to just below knee level. Not nice. I then found a forest "road" which made for easy walking.

The approach to Threestoneburn House was over a pathless felled area, whereas the guide book, written when the forest was still standing, indicated a clear and easy path. Oh well.

I had been planning to wild camp by Harthope Burn but thought that if it was no good, the country beyond didn't look promising. So I filled up with water from a burn and found a good forest pitch just past the forest road north of Threestoneburn House. I'll report in tomorrow's posting whether Harthope Burn would have been OK.

I heard my first cuckoo of the year this evening.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Great English Walk Day 32 - 19 April 2018

Rothbury to Kidland Forest
Walking 9.50am to 6.30pm
Distance walked today 12 miles
Distance walked so far 490 miles
Distance left 54 miles

A late start as I couldn't have my full English till the café staff arrived at 9 although I surprised the sprightly nearly 80 year old cleaning lady who hadn't known of my presence as her day off was yesterday.
Today was the "best" weather day so far and the first day I wore just my shirt on top. Having said that, yesterday's weather was better for me as a walker being cloudy but warm. Rothbury is a place to return to and explore.

I'd got food for the next couple of days at the Co-op in Rothbury last night. My list of places with some sort of food shop included the next village of Thropton. A local I met on the way down into the village confirmed that, as of April 2018, there is no shop.

Today's lunch stop

I walked out of Thropton alongside the River Coquet, got a water bottle refilled by a lady at Sharperton and then road walked to the village of Harbottle, very small now but, in the 12th century, it was the capital of Redesdale. The last wolf in England is said to have been killed near here in 1750. I crossed the river here to follow a good riverside path which took me on to Alwinton.

River Coquet at Sharperton

I last came by here in 2007 on my Lakeland to Lindisfarne walk, when Frank, Howard and I managed to persuade the nearby Clennell Hall caravan park to let us camp there overnight. The sign board I passed indicated that camping was "available" there so maybe a change.

Past Alwinton, I began the long ascent on a wide track known as Clennell Street, an ancient "road" which ran from Alwinton, over the Cheviots, to Cocklawfoot, some 19km away, used by drovers. In fact, last year I camped on Clennell Street where it crosses the Pennine Way. I shall pass within about a mile of it tomorrow. I vividly remember it being extremely windy that night.

Various parts of Kidland Forest have been felled. I had planned to camp about a mile further on from where I am but it looked as if large areas had been felled ahead so I found a nice pitch in the forest. The birds have been quite noisy but have quietened down for the moment.