Summer may be clinging on this year but the new gear season is well and truly on us.
Check out Chris Townsend’s piece in TGO and also — of you haven’t caught them yet — have a look at Bob’s recent videos featuring those items that caught his eye while he was in Germany; it’s easy to miss this stuff over the summer.
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.
25 seconds, f11, ISO 11, 24mm, Big Stopper ND +10 stops filter, ND Grad +2 stops filter
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.
There’s a surprising cross over between techno geekery and the outdoors. I suppose it is inevitable given the panic that ensues whenever you get caught in blanket fog or a white out! Of course, these days most of us are using computer mapping and all kinds of other bits of hi-tec. And this week Apple had one of their big launches. Now, while without getting into the debate about Apple good or bad I do think it is always worth following their developments. Apple very rarely come up with a new product but when they do launch something of a a sign of, probably, the best implementation of an idea so far. An Apple development tends to suggest that they have judged that a mass market is ready for a new idea and — so far — their track record is not bad in this department.
I suspect that this week’s most important innovation was Apple Pay but for the outdoor work there are a couple of things hat struck me.
The iPhone 6 Plus
Yes is it a big phone and yet others have had these for ages. I’m struck though by the camera which certainly points towards a consolidation of future trends at least.
Apple should be commended by not being too obsessed with pixel count, concentrating on creating sensors that offer really good sharpness and performance in poor light. The camera on my iPhone 5s is a far better performer than my first DSLR from Nikon was.
The new camera catches my attention in two ways.
Firstly, this phone has the kind of auto focus sensors that you would up to now expect on a DSLR. These sensors can determine which of the picture is in the subject area and sharpen them. They calculate a good average exposure for the scene in front of it. This might not seem to exciting but it will make a big difference to many people’s pictures.
Secondly, this phone features image stabilisation technology. When this first appeared in DSLRs I was a bit sniffy about it. I have a Cannon 24-105 lens with this technology built in; it allows me to take sharp photos at slower exposure speeds that would have previously been disastrous to use. This is a big thing and will increase the usefulness of the camera in poor light — no pencil LED flash will really ever do that much.
Soon all cameras will feature this technology. Small, pocket, cameras really will soon be a thing of the past.
For me the iPhone 6 plus is probably too big. Mind you, the battery life improvements might tempt me.
The Apple Watch
Well, yes, I still wonder what they are for! And there are other watches around. And the watch doesn’t arrive until 2015. And the demos this week, on display to journalists, didn’t do anything much! However, the launch is a sign that change is a coming quickly. But what might this mean to the walker?
Many of us already use computer watches, they are just limited. My Suunto has a barometer chip in it. I tells me about air pressure changes and can warn me when pressure is suddenly dropping (a storm approaching). This may seem odd to some people but I find in high mountains I tend to judge progress by height rather than distance. The Suunto was not a cheap product and was pretty basic really. Newer models have added GPS functions and all kinds of things but for that price you are finding yourself in Apple Watch territory.
So wrist computers are already well used by those in the outdoors. The new iPhones have barometer chips in them and can talk to the watch potentially offering a watch far greater computer and sensor power. This kind of set up could monitor quite sophisticated weather forecasts, send turn by turn instructions to a watch (allowing you to keep the phone in a pocket) and maybe even give you a grid reference fix that included a portion of an OS map. The watch might be a quick glance reference to speed across the ground, distance left on your route and so on.
It would be churlish to think all of this was really luxurious nonsense not least because Suunto and Casio have made so much money out of premium products that are not really that advanced at all.
The first Apple Watch is not waterproof which is a problem for me. I never thought I would want a compeer watch but I suspect we will be all using them in five years time.
Camera phones give you a clue. Long range hikers like Colin Ibbotson now rely exclusively on smartphones for their photographs (an iPhone in Colin’s case). Look at some of his photographs and you have to be impressed. These innovations will extent give people like Colin more reliable pictures in unreliable situations.
Apple have also produced some very effective in-phone software for editing photos and videos. Again I haven’t used this stuff much but I am using it more and more. On trail editing and publishing is not exactly new but it is about to take a great leap forward.
Apple and Google will increasingly ‘enrich our experience’ especially when the next generation o battery technology comes along.
I feel a little sorry for those small companies who have pioneered a lot of technology and who will now be swept aside. And I feel a little bit wary for my credit card (or whatever that might now become).
I don’t have to worry yet but maybe I will have to a little earlier than expected!
How might this watch/phone technology develop do you think?
This blogging can be quite taxing and demanding. To do so with any degree of quality demands something of a commitment ad I often wonder whether it is worth it!
I’ve long since stopped worrying about the quality of output preferring to only write about something when I think I have something to say. If that makes for a smaller readership then fine. This summer has been hot and to be honest writing in my office has not been that pleasant and output has suffered. But now things are cooler the output will probably start creeping up again. But I do sit down from time-to-time and wonder whether it is worth carrying on at all.
And then I get emails like this one from reader Dave Porter:
Hello Andy,I enjoyed reading your article about Coastal Walking in Ireland. And, just now, sitting quietly in the garden, itoccured to me why.Like me, you probably raced home from your early travels and backpacking trips excited to tell family and friends all the news and to share your adventures. Apart from my Mom and Dad, nobody else seemed interested at all. A few polite questions maybe. Down at my local (The Fox in Walmley, Sutton Coldfield) I used to get frustrated and even angry. It left a sort of hollow feeling. “Can’t you lot see, I’ve really lived – even if it is for a few short weeks” that’s what I wanted to say. I’m older and wiser now and no longer expect any response.But, Social Media has changed all of that. Now there might be dozens of people, maybe even hundreds, who seem genuinely excited to hear about our travels and thoughts on gear.So Andy, PLEASE carry on with your Blog. I enjoy reading the stories and occasionally sharing my simple thoughts with you and the others on there.
It’s nice to have this kind of feedback. So, Dave — just for you — I shall soldier on
At the end of this year’s TGO Challenge I found myself (as is my want) in the rather lovely independent Montrose bookshop belonging to the estimable Henry Hoggs. I picked up the book Walking with Wildness: Experiencing the Watershed of Scotland. Sadly, this was not quite the book I was looking for. Walking is a guidebook that has been created on the back of Ribbon of Wilderness and this book was not in stock.
The Ribbon of Wildness is the book that inspired Chris Townsend to embark on his recent non-stop walk along the length of the Scottish Wilderness and I have long intended to read it. I found it quite difficult to get hold of it. I ordered it through Amazon and had to wait almost a month for delivery but it was well worth the wait.
There is something fascinating about watersheds and this one in particular, not least n the way that Peter Wright writes about it. In the main the watershed remains wild land with only one significant development along it, the new town of Cumbernauld. The sitka forests that have plagued the Highlands over the last century tend to hang of the sides of hills rather than spoil the watershed itself. The watershed is most often a land boundary and maybe that has preserved its quietness.
I suppose — to those who don’t know Scottish hills — this book might be puzzling but for anyone who has walked the Highlands regularly and combed the Munros this is a fascinating read. As Wright progresses along the watershed he talks us through geological development and change, local and national history. He looks at the local fauna and fauna and reflects on challenges to the landscape and the environment both traditional and new. Like me Peter is naturally ambivalent about wind farms, for instance, but the sheer scope of their growth and desecration of the environment has focussed his mind.
We have a lot of information on local history and culture, on the meanings of place names and the development of language. We have some fascinating passages which describe how communities that sit only a mile or so apart, but on different sides of the watershed, experience and see the world in very different ways.
In a sense this walk — which was made in a series of various forays (six weeks in all) — has allowed peter the time and space for a rather deep meditation about Scotland, its hills and people. I can see why Chris Townsend was so fascinated about it.
You don’t have to want to walk the watershed to want to buy this book but reading it will certainly make you think about exploring large chunks of it, if not all.
There is not really much point me going into more detail about the book. It is enough to say that it is amazing how much you can get from the observation that a drop of rain that falls few centimetres on the other side of the watershed to its companion can end up in a different ocean or sea.
This is recommended reading for all of those who love walking and backpacking in Scotland.
The accompanying Walking the Wilderness is a collection of short day walks and ideas for longer expeditions. A such this is an interesting companion to Ribbon, but it is with Ribbon that you will want to start.
(At the time of writing the Amazon server that provides me with my usual book links is down, but I shall place these as soon as they are available).
Ribbon of Wildness is published by Luath Press and priced at £14.99
25 seconds, f11, ISO 11, 24mm, Big Stopper ND +10 stops filter, ND Grad +2 stops filter