The question of water seems to be worrying some new Challengers. Is the water safe to drink? Are filters or treatment tablets needed?
I have never used water treatment in Scotland and have always been happy drinking water from streams. I do know a few people who tell me they have a bad experience but these are very rare. The bug responsible for a lot of the problems in water — Guardia — has not made its way as far north as the Scottish Highlands although you will find it in Wales and England.
So, take basic precautions and you should be OK. Always take water from fast-flowing sources and generally look to rink from stream flowing into lakes rather than those flowing out. It is suggested you may need to take greater care towards the end of the Challenge as we begin to walk through livestock areas. Also, the Fetteresso forest worries some because of the chemicals that are used to tree the forest plantations. I should say that I have never had any problems take water from fast running streams in the Fetteresso.
If you are worried about water then you might consider taking one of the most impressive water filters out there, the Sawyer Mini. The Sawyer is a very small, light and clever piece of design. You have to suck water through the filter but nit is by far the most smooth and easiest filter that I have ever used.
The Sawyer Mini can be used in three ways. A small pouch as you to scoop up dirty water and to squeeze it through the filter through a connecting tube — this is often referred to an ‘in-line’ filter. Secondly, you can use the tube as a straw and suck up water from puddles or lakes — not much need for this in Scotland where streams are everywhere!
But where the Mini excels is as a filter that can be attached to most mineral water or soft drink bottles. The filter screws onto the screw thread of the bottle and as such will always give you clear and filtered water. If used a lot — and with cloudy water — the system needs back flushing which is done using a small syringe which pushes all of the crap out of the back end of the filter. These disposable water and soft drink bottles are almost indestructible and will easily last for the life of the Challenge. Water is usually plentiful during the Challenge and all I need is a 500 mil water bottle — using this with the filter is practical and straightforward.
The whole Mini kit weighs about 100 grams which is very light for something so effective. The Mini will set you back about £25 which I think is very good value for money.
I’ve not used my Mini long enough for view properly but I will probably take it on the Challenge and see how it works in the field; if I do a review will follow. But if I was worried about water it is the Sawyer Mini that I would rely on.
With care, though, you probably need not water treatment but if you are worried about water it is the Sawyer Mini that I would rely on.
Routebuddy’s new Coast to Coast Challenge Map utilises the company’s unique screen ‘stitching’ technology to reduce a new map and add-ons that will be useful to anyone planning a coast-to-coast walk across the Scottish Highlands.
On this occasion I thought it would be more useful to you if I produced a video review, as you really have to see it in action to appreciate what this system can do. The review is in html format and should be viewable by all up-to-daye systems including tablets.
The 1:50K base map is available at a reasonable £19.99.
In addition, Routebuddy has created a number of specific 1:25 add-ons which stitch into the base map. These range in price depending on the ground covered. They start at £4.99 for part of the Torridon hills to £25 for the Cairngorms — good value for money.
Any other Routebuddy map can stitch into the base map and this review also displays a Harvey/BMC 1:40 working with the base map.
Not only can you view stitched maps on the same screen but you can print out the stitched maps on the same sheet of paper.
As we approach winter I know that a lot of hikers begin to reappraise their kit and think about new purchases for the winter or the spring. I’ve had a lot of interest in the Exodus pack. I’ve reviewed it before — Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 2011 Backpack — but this ha the benefit of prolonged use.
I’ve also written this as an introduction to lightweight packs and their use in UK or cooler climate conditions.
From the world of books you could easily get the impression that treks and trail walking are things of great extremes, undertaken by athletes who suffer significantly for their art! But, of course, it does not have to be like that and the mere mortals amongst us can still enjoy the thrill of a trek albeit one that is measured in weeks rather than months, where camping is often on campsites or where gites or B&Bs are used frequently.
New technology and the internet has made small run publishing — or self publishing — very popular over the last few years. I have reviewed a number of self published books in these pages, books that I have very much enjoyed reading. At the bottom of each review I include an Amazon link. This link allows you the reader to quickly check out other reviews and, if you choose to order the book via this route, I can see how many have been sold. By far the most ordered book from this site using the Amazon system is a self published book. These books fill a real niche somewhere between a travelogue and a conventional guidebook; they can give us a good idea of life on a particular trail.
Every Day Above a New Horizon is another successful self published book which centres around a walk on the Stephenson Trail in France. A few weeks ago I reviewed Max Landsberg’s A Call of the Mountains a book which described the project of a Munro bagger; Max’s book while having a strong narrative also gave many hints and tips that will be useful to those beginning to Munro bag. In this book John Davison does much the same thing for trail walking combining a strong narrative with quite a lot of useful information about wild camping, treating water and so on.
Like John I have had the Stephenson Trail on my list of to do walks for years. The Trail has been developed to commemorate the walk undertaken by Robert Louis Stephenson from the Massif Central to the South of the Cevennes just above the Mediterranean. Stephenson wrote a short book about his trip. Travels in the Cevennes with a Donkey is often considered to be the first modern travel book.
My problem with this trail is that I never seem to be able to find the time to slip this walk into my annual schedule. I have the route planned almost completely but there it sits until, well, one day …
I was pleased to read that John has had the same experience. He too harboured the dream of walking this trail for many years. He even carried around some text from Stephenson as a poster which sat on his office wall. It sat on a number of different walls over the years before he found the time and space to walk the trail.
So, Every Day Above a New Horizon, not only focus on this walk but on those trail expeditions that led up to it. In building up to the Stephenson Trail John walked and backpacked in Derbyshire, Wiltshire and in the Highlands. He then graduated to longer trails including the West highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the East Highland Way before moving on to tackle the big one.
The really great thing about this book is that John writes well. He has a sparse and simple style and is successful in avoiding the flowery language we get from many inexperienced writers. He has a nice gentle sense of humour and a keen eye for important detail. Anyone who has regularly trailed walked will recognise many of the experiences and characters that are encountered along way. There’s the gear bore who carries massive weights and dominates every meeting at a campsite. There are walking companions who value the pubs along the route more keenly than they do the landscape and who sometimes hail down a taxi and thumb a life to get from one place to the other. There are hotels and B&Bs who, faced with a smelly and muddy trekker, suddenly decide that they are full. And there are honest pieces about the horrible nature of the early stages of the West Highland Way which is often more reminiscent of a rubbish dump than of a national trail. I agree with John’s observation that the decision to ban camping in the Loch Lomond area has been a disaster as it simply encourages improvised bivouacs which leave behind tons of debris.
The Stephenson Trail takes up the second half of a book. For me, this gives a pretty open and honest account of a first time excursion on a French Trail, including that rather touchy issue of the French and their dogs!
The Stephenson Trail is not a particularly difficult trail in itself although some of the days are long. However, John makes it clear that UK walkers need to respect the upland areas many of which are higher than any territory in the UK and which can (often) be subject to pretty dreadful weather conditions. Although this is a trail that can be broken with very comfortable evenings in lovely villages it is one which needs to be prepared for properly.
I enjoyed reading this book. It had the right air of authenticity to it. As I’ve already mentioned John writes well and this is an easy book to digest; I read it in two sessions over a Sunday afternoon and earl evening.
If you are thinking of tackling one of these trails for the first time I think you would find this book useful. If you have a lot of experience of trail walking then there is also a lot to enjoy.
I think this is only available in paper cover at the moment, but it is easily bought through Amazon.
A couple of conversations this weekend have prompted me to update one of the posts I made some time ago about crossing open and featureless ground in the Scottish Highlands. If you are on your first Challenge or branching out after a standard first-timer crossing here are some thing to think about.
The title here is a little misleading as, of course, there is really nothing like featureless land in Scotland. That’s the good news. The bad news is that new paths are being driven through upland areas (such as the Monadliath) at a hell of a pace; these can be useful but they can always be misleading.
So, here are some top tips.
Preparation Before You Go
It is a good idea to spend a lot of time studying over maps but these days we can supplement this knowledge with satellite photos. Try and follow your route on satellite maps. Often you will find that the path marked on your map has been extended. Also, you may come across new tracks that are not marked on your maps at all. Where are they headed?
The Open Cycle Map can be very helpful in Scotland. There is a good chance that new Land Rover Tracks will be discovered by mountain bikers before the OS can map them. Some computer mapping products such as Routebuddy will allow you to plot routes against satellite photos which can be useful in charting new tracks. I’ve found Open Cycle to be very useful over the last few years.
Smartphones are now coming into their own not least because they can carry OS maps and all of your route data. I don’t use mine as GPS, rather I simply switch it on to get a positional fix. But these can come into their own when you have identified a new track using satellite images as you can follow the route as you walk.
Make sure you know how to use your compass!
When plotting your route back at home pay attention to natural guides or man-made features of the landscape and incorporate them into your route.
For example, crossing the open Eskdale Moor towards Drumnadrochit is made more straightforward by the fenced edge of a large plantation. Navigating across the Balmacaan Forest is a case of following the outflow streams of the lakes and knowing in advance which side of the lake you are likely to follow.
Water Runs Downhill
The rules of nature are wonderfully consistent and can be very helpful when crossing open land.
The Monadliath is one of my favourite areas of Scotland, however, visibility here can change very quickly. On my last challenge Shap McDonnell I left the tin hut at the top of an Land Rover Track to nip over the Monadliath ridge. We had eaten out lunch in the hut keeping an eye on the snow blizzard outside. We waited until the snow abated and then made a run for the ridge. As we walked we regularly found ourselves in white out conditions but we couldn’t get lost as we were following a stream.
Even small streams create clear lines as they run through peat. The Monadliath is basically a long ridge and even across open ground navigation is reasonably straightforward so long as you plan a route that follows a stream up to the top of the ridge and follows another down on the other side.
Beware of New Tracks
No amount of forward planning (as above) can completely take away the confusion of meeting a track that doesn’t exist on the map. When you have been clumping over heather and slipping and sliding through peat hags there is a real temptation to follow the track that you find.
Can you discern the natural direction of the track? It may be clearly following the route of a stream downwards. If so the track won’t follow the line of the stream completely as it will swerve in order to avoid boggy ground. Sometimes it will be clear where the track is going but it will not always be so. I’d be particularly wary of tracks that seem to go uphill or stick to the level. these may have been created to simply link together high lines of shooting boxes.
If you encounter one of these paths and you are not sure then stick to your original route! Sometimes you meet the track again as you descend and it is then clearer in which direction you are going. But if in doubt stick to your original route and follow streams down through the peat.
When Shap and I were climbing that ridge we found that a new un-surfaced track had been cut though the peat. The track followed the line of the stream and it was fairly easy to walk on it. But at one point the track swerved west and head off in a completely different direction. we had assumed it was going up and over like we were but no — if we had followed that track we would very quickly have been in the wrong place.
Take Your Time Over Confusing Track Junctions
Not only can you come across unmapped tracks you can find that new tacks have joined up with old ones and in some cases have created new junctions. These can be quite disorienting (another reason why a route on a smartphone can be useful). In such circumstances take your time to check the direction of paths and to read the landscape properly. A few minutes confirming the direction is a few minutes well spent! Don’t go on unless you are clear or unless you are clear about your suspicions (which will make it easier to turn back when you feel you are going in the wrong direction).
The Difference Between Open Land, Munros and Corbetts
The great thing about the Munro and Corbett hills is that they are always being climbed. More than often there is a very discernible path up most of the hill. You are very unlikely to be alone for that long. Someone having an accident on one of these tracks is likely to be discovered sooner rather than later; if you have a walking partner with you it will be easier for them to go for help and to identify exactly where you are.
Open land often doesn’t have these tracks. I have walked for five days in the Monadliath without seeing any other human except my walking partner. An accident here can be a far more serious affair, so take care:
- Take care where you place your feet and don’t walk too fast — there are lots of hazards from rabbit holes to flimsy grass ‘bridges’ over deep running streams;
- If you are feeling tired take a rest accidents happen when you are tired.
They key to walking distances is to walk long rather than walk fast. In May the day seems to go on forever and you can walk quite easily until quite late in the evening.
If you are really tired then make camp ahead of schedule. It is never that difficult to find a camp spot and the patches of flat ground alongside high streams are often great places to pitch for the night.
After a good night’s sleep think soften seem better and less factious. Once or twice when I have had to take such a course of action I’ve woken to find that I can identify the lie of the land on my map where I just couldn’t the night before. The odds are you won’t have too much additional ground to cover the next day.
So, if you are crossing open ground for the first time the time spent studying the map won’t be time badly spent. And when the nerves and indecision are setting in —remember water always flows downhill!
I have just finished watching the best two hours of film I’ve come across in years.
Last year saw the production Terry Abraham’s extraordinary film The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend (reviewed here). Cairngorms in Winter was very well received and thoroughly deserved all the plaudits it received.
I felt Cairngorms in Winter to be special not least because Terry had not visited this mountain range before. I came away with the distinct impression that if he had known the range better he probably wouldn’t have been up so high, so often, to catch so many wonderful shots. Now Terry has turned his hand to territory he knows well and produced a film which surpasses even the Cairngorms in Winter.
Sunrise from Scafell Pike
The subject here is Scafell Pike in Terry’s beloved Lake District. The premiss of the film is pretty simple, we see a year in the life of the mountain through the eyes of those who live and work on the mountain as well as those who visit it. There’s no need for clever voice over narration here as Terry’s gentle production simply allows those interviewed to tell their stories, to share their experiences and thoughts in their own way. And, as you might expect, you get two hours of the most amazing mountain photography. A Year in the Life of the Mountain is a triumph of editing.
The Lakeland landscape is one that has been shaped by man and animal and so it seems so appropriate so many human stories. We have the shepherds and farmers who not only farm the land but lavish a life of care on it. We have wonderful researchers and guidebook writers; we get to walk the lesser known paths of the mountain with them as well as sharing their stories, historical insights and simple love for the mountain. We meet — of course — the great fell runner and shepherd Josh Naylor. We learn about those who worked to open up the tourism industry and we get to spend time with the Mountain Rescue service. We get to learn about the communities who have lived for generations in this often harsh landscape. And — not surprising given this is Terry’s film — we get to see the insides of some wonderful looking pubs! Oh, and we also get to meet that man Chris Townsend who is out wild camping again!
Alison O’Neil, Shepherdess
I won’t say too much more as I don’t want to spoil your own viewing experience — as I write the film has yet to receive its premier. What I will say though is that I hope some of our national broadcasters watch this for the penny might drop that you don’t need Julia Bradbury to make an enthralling film about the great outdoors! Next Christmas, the BBC should cancel the Countryfile special and simply show this for two hours!
Life of a Mountain is top be premiered on the 10th May at the Rheged Centre near Penrith. The premier is already sold out but the organisers have added a second showing at 3.00 pm the following day.
Chris Townsend wild camping at Great Moss
There will also be a special abridged version of the film shown at the Keswick Mountain Festival on 15th May which be followed by a special question and answers session with Terry, Alan Hinckes and Mark Richards, which should be well worth seeing!
I hope I’ve wetted your appetite! Did I say this was a simply wonderful film?
Life of a Mountain is an extraordinary achievement. Terry should be very proud. I’m sure you will be as delighted with this as I have been.
The film will be available as a HD digital download from Steep Edge.
The DVD version will be published by Striding Edge in mid May and will be available from Amazon and other main distributers.
Next weekend — Saturday 26th April — is the first ever backpacking light.co.uk Outdoor Show. If you are anywhere near Malvern then it is worth stopping by.
The show is being held at Bob and Rose’s new palatial headquarters near the delightful hamlet of Hanley Swan.
Bob promises that there will a lot of tents set up for you to take a good look at, a lot of packs and also social displays from long-time partners such as Montane.
If you want to make a weekend of it there is an excellent campsite at Blackmore End just a few metres walk away from the show.
The pub at Hanley Swan is not to be missed. And the butcher’s shop next door is simply wonderful — their pies are out of this world.
The show will run from 10.00 am until 5.00 though, of course, the pub will be open later than that.
I shall be making a rare public appearance Bob will be available for autographs. It will be great to see you there.
While it might be too soon to write off the paper map there’s no doubt that mapping is changing at a rate of knots. Here are a couple of pieces that I have picked up from the web over the last few weeks ago that I feel are worth sharing.
This is blog post from A J Ashton the lead cartographer at the Mapbox project. You may well have seen Mapbox products before. Mapbox produces highly accurate world maps that are powered by up-to-the-minute data from OpenStreetMap. Anyone can use Mapbox to create their own interactive maps by simply uploading a range of data files.
The blog post looks at how computer automation and animation is allowing us to think again about outdoor maps. It’s worth reading this. Why not have a go at creating you own map using the service?
This is a Guardian article by Rachel Hewitt who,a couple of years ago, published Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey. This is a cracking read: my review of the book is here.
Hewitt’s ideas and opinions are worth taking seriously not least because she seems likely to be close to the technical developers at the OS.
Strip the article down and what you find is a piece in praise of the paper map, sentiments that I would certainly echo. I do suspect this is yet another attempt to deal with the poor publicity and goings-on at the OS over the last year or so.
Hewitt polices the OS where it really should be. At the centre of the lives of outdoor enthusiasts.
The new hiking season is upon us. Use the Adventurers Menu link above and the Pyrenees Forum to tell u all what you are planning to get up to this summer!