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.
1/320, f8,ISO 400 at 40mm
Ponies grazing on high ground on the Long Mynd. These are tough animals that are a regular sight on the Shropshire uplands.
When taking photos in the snow it is easy for the camera to calculate the wrong exposure. The reflections on the snow use the camera to reckon it is far brighter than it is — the camera will often under-expose the shot. To compensate increase exposure by around one and a half stops, either by using manual mode or adjusting exposure compensation.
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.
I’m a great fan of merino wool as a baselayer both for tops and for boxer shorts. My preferred supplier was Chocolate Fish but sadly they are no longer producing their normal merino range (although they are still producing their excellent merino/possum jackets and jumpers). Apparently, it is difficult to source a good supply of the ethically produced merino that Chocolate Fish endorsed. So, the hunt has been on for an alternative producer to Icebreaker and Smartwool.
In Snowdonia this weekend it was difficult to find any decent supply of either Icebreaker or Smartwool baselayers. However, quite a few of the independent stores were carrying baselayers from Bergans. I don’t know how ethically produced these layers are but the packing — all card and paper — suggest this is an environmentally focused company.
I bought a long sleeve baselayer and a pair of boxers.
The baselayer top is their medium weight fabric — rated at a midweight 260 gram/m2 fabric. The lightweight version is also easily available at 200 grams/m2. This midnight version is clearly warm enough for the UK cooler weather and I kind of wish now I’d bought a lighter one as well. My XL medium sighs 300 grams. The boxers are ultralight weight and my XL size weigh 70 grams.
One nice thing about this range is that they are available in a range of colours. They seem competitively priced against not only the big two but against other smaller producers.
If you are looking for very low price on merino I noticed that Field and Trek and selling Karrimor baselayers for under £30. I doubt you can beat that.
I promised to post a full review of the new Wafer Vest as soon as it had a fair amount of use. Since I first wrote about this vest I’ve used it a hell of a lot, both on the hills and in just about every other scenario I can think about. When I mentioned buying this a few PHD wearing friends made comments to the effect that I had more money than sense — they were very happy with their existing PHD vests (or gilet if you are a posh person). I already own a PHD Minimus vest but in all honesty find this a bit bulky; since the zip went I’ve not really been driven to get this fixed.
Upfront: I find this a truly superb piece of kit.
The vest is filled with PHD’s ‘unique fillpower 1000 down’. I don’t know what this means but I guess it represents PHD’s ultimate warmth to weight ratio filling.
The vest is a very simple design. There is no internal pocket but there are two good hand warming pockets that have a generous capacity. My XL size weighs spot on 190 grams.
The vest is lovely and warm when zipped up. PHD rate this as useful down to zero but I think you’d be happy wearing this, perhaps, down to -5.
One of the main advantages of the Wafer Vest is that it is thin. This easily will slip under your shell jacket so that you can wear it while walking. I bought this jacket for extra warmth while moving not for extra warmth in camp and I think works very well for what I wanted it to do.
Wearing this vest under my jacket protects the down and adds little extra bulk. Although you want to keep down away from water down does wick steam and water vapour well. When working hard on the hill the vest is always very comfortable. I’ve also worn this over a merino baselayer and a Rab Vapour Rise jacket and it compliments this arrangement well, also giving me extra warmth when walking in sharp and cold winds.
When the temperature begins to rise a simple opening of the front zip will loose a lot of heat. When completely un-zipped the jacket is so thin and light that you almost don’t realise you are wearing it.
The outer fabric of the vest is also very light but it doesn’t seem too fragile and has coped well so far struggling through the usual woodland but remember this vest is designed to be worn under other protective layers.
I am very, very, pleased with this purchase. At 190 grams it is always going to find a place in my pack for cool weather walking and backpacking.
The Wafer Vest will set you back £169. Yes, it is expensive but then down has seen a dramatic increase in price over the last couple of years. However, a good inspection of the gear shops in Betws-y-Coed this morning suggests that this pricing is on a par with its main competition. All in all this is such a well performing piece of kit that it seems to me to offer very good value for money.
Top, top, gear again from PHD.
Familiarity with a range of hills is a good thing but it’s always wise to be on your guard against complacency. I’m talking about the dangers of the hills — though you should never forget them — rather, I’m thinking about the notion that you know the place like the back of your hand, that there is nothing new to discover. For on the hills, as in so much of the natural world, there is always something new to discover.
Snowdonia is such a place for me. I have been coming here forever and, yet, I stop and think. It’s a couple of years since I was last here. When I first arrive there are lots of tell-tale signs. There are pubs that have closed or mothballed for the winter. There are new B&B’s, hostels that have been refurbished and given new, dynamic, names. There are new shops on the high streets; the traditional shops have closed being replaced with all manner of new age wonderment. And what I think of as expensive junk shops, or tasteful emporia depending on your tastes.
And the hills are the same.
The weather forecast was not bad, crisp but dry and with low winds. But the tops of the hills were to be shrouded in cloud. It seemed like the time to explore the lower hills and so I set off for a day on the Moelwyns.
I chose a route that I had last taken a decade or so ago. Then, although the path was marked on the map it soon disappeared. I navigated across open fells, and through mini passes, mainly by stone walls, the only difficulty being the need to choose when to clamber over the stones. Now a good path had been defined and there were signs of engineering and of path maintenance. The path took a slightly easier line than my walls. I came across a small cottage, recently refurbished by an owner who was busily chopping wood. I was slightly bemused for I was a long way from a road. Leaving the path I followed the Land Rover track that serviced the farm before leaving it and heading for higher ground. The new path had taken me away from my destination and so I settled for an aimless but wonderful stroll over the open fells and crags. (You might think that a euphemism for getting lost but heaven knows you would be wrong.)
Lower down the woodland was in fine fettle. The birds were positively ecstatic with the coming of spring. During my walk I came across a number of deserted stone buildings sinking slowly into the woodland.
I’ve been photographing buildings like this for over 35 years. They fascinate me both the buildings and the families that must have lived there, families that were given a spot of land as a reward for long years of service. This is slate mine territory and commonly the foreman and leading workers were rewarded in this way, with patches of land in what now seem the most inaccessible and inhospitable places.
As I photographed the buildings I felt that they had changed somewhat and of course they had; they were thirty-five years or so older. Most of these homes were deserted at or around the same time. Wars took away the young. New Roads drive wealth and prosperity, cruelly battering those who lived too far up the hill. Education drove children and their families back down into the valleys, nearer to schools and the emerging welfare state. Now so many of these places are going the same way. Lichens and moss clink to the stone walls. Trees grow where the kitchen table once sat. These are buildings fading fast back into the natural lie of the land. Those I found that sat deepest in the woodland almost sat Un-noticed as I powered on along the path. Maybe in another thirty years hikers will sail past and the growth of the mosses and the shade of the trees will render these places almost invisible. Only a place to the sky will reveal a chimney, on odd vertical chunk of rock, a mini Old Man of Hoy transplanted to the hills of North Wales.
Back in the village spring was not yet as advanced as home. I approached the village green hoping the annual display of daffodils was in full bloom but I was a week or two early. I met a local women tending to a stone planter than sat next to a gate, pulling off dead leaves and generally tending to a splendid burst of natural colour. This village used to be colourless save for the almost infinite shades of slate grey. Now cottages are splashed with colour, cafés stand out in a whole range of pastel colours. The grass is neat and tidy. And everything looks more chocolate boxes, more so than could ever have been imagined thirty odd years ago.
Back then I watched a community dying. Young men had worked hard, hewing and blasting through the slate to create the wonder that is now the Dinowic pump storage power station. The work was hard and dangerous and the money flowed; for a little while. The station that took hundreds to build needed only a few to operate. Of the other side of the great mountain I remember a new building going up. Locals told me it was to be a leisure centre and swimming pool, something that was much needed. But the swimming pool never arrived. On a later visit I was told that the new building was to be a tourist information centre tied to the new museum that was to tell the story of the slate quarry men’s lives. It seemed fanciful. I remember looking at the streets of uniform grey and thinking who in their right mind would come here for a weekend break. Of course, the mountaineers were here then, sticking to their own cafes and bars just as the locals stuck to theirs. But they were mountaineers, lunatics and adrenalin junkies driving up like lunatics on a Friday night to try more advanced routes across the rock faces. Surely it was impossible to build a new community on the backs such fanatics?
Back in my village, on the other side of the mountain, I sought out a pub. In these villages there are always two pubs and, maybe a rather posher hotel — hotels that retain their dreams of once greater finery and status. The first pub was rammed with Welsh lads cheering on their team to a famous victory over the Irish. The second had no TV and no rugby. And no customers, the perfect place to sit and take in a fine pint of locally brewed beer and to read a book.
That’s another thing that changed. Thirty-five years ago I dreaded this brewery sign which seemed to offer nothing but tasteless, weak, beer. Now that same brewery offered a number of fine new beers with all manner of exotic name. Next time you find yourself in the Welsh hills and you see a pint of Unicorn, don’t pass by the chance to try it; you won’t be disappointed. But then you’ve probably discovered this already!
This is one of the posts that I really hesitate over. A few people recently have asked me how best they can use their mobile technology when on a multi day trek — mostly these are folks who are about to embark on such an adventure for the first time.
I guess in a comparatively small time smartphones have become indispensable aids for many when they are out and walking in the wild. Not only do these give you a quick and accurate location fix but they allow you to carry high quality topographic maps with you while also following a route that you have traced at home before setting out. While this strategy is fine for day walking — or perhaps over a weekend — battery drain limits this when on a multi day trek. However, smartphones still offer us more than, say, an old fashioned, GPS.
Now, own up time. There are far more geeky and techie people around that me and they no doubt have far more ingenuous solutions and ideas than me.
But this is how I do it!