In our house you can always tell when the Challenge is coming around by the evil chugging sound of the dehydrator. So, far I’ve only made one lot of lamb and root vegetable casserole but life will be one long food production line over the next couple of weeks.
Life has been very busy around here recently and quiet on the blog. But, expect some new gear related posts shortly.
And don’t forget the backpackinglight.co.uk gathering, in Malvern, on Saturday 26th April. If you are in easy distance of Malvern this looks like a day not to be missed!
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.
Even for those of us who have been following the debacle that has become the Ordnance Survey the last days have been quite extraordinary, culminating in the announcement, today, that Director Vanessa Lawrence is to step down from her role within a few weeks.
So, what on earth should we make of all of this?
Fitness is common issue raised by first time Challengers. They worry about it. Just how hard is it?
Well, if you are a young person turn away now. There’s nothing here for you. But if you are an older codger type, creaking at the knees, then read on
Almost fluorescent. Still they took me long enough to get hold of. I suppose I will get used to them …
… and I suppose a few peat bogs will mute everything!
This last contribution to the contemporary gear list is possibly one of the most significant. Having cut down on gear as much as possible many people then go berserk in filling the remaining space in their packs with all kinds of extras. Be warned. These extras can add up quite quickly.
Let’s start with the essentials.
You will — I hope — be carrying maps! Increasingly these days paper print outs are popular from applications such as Anquet, Viewranger and Routebuddy. I’m always wary of these as they often give you too narrow a perspective on the landscape. Certainly, I’d advise first time Challengers to take their paper maps with them.
Maps can be be bulky and can also weight a surprising amount. Don’t bother with laminated maps they are even worse. Get a good waterproof map case that will allow you to she map always to hand, for example, stashed in a pack side pocket or in the pocket of a waterproof. I do cut my maps up beforehand. I separate the map from the cover. Once used the map can be filed back into the original cover. Also, if I am only using one half of the map I will cut it in half and only take the portion I need. This makes a bigger difference than you might imagine, but just remember to file the maps away properly when you return home. I often find myself searching manically through a pile of maps without covers on them!
You can deal with maps as you walk. I often mail used maps home as I go. There are good post offices at Drumnadrochit, Fort Augustus, Fort William, Aviemore, Braemar and so on. I often end my walk with just one map.
The good news is that maps of the Highlands don’t change that often. Just tackling your first Challenge you will find that you have accumulated quite a library of Highland maps — this will only get bigger over the years! Ordnance Survey 1:50 scale maps are usually more than adequate for the big expanses of the Highlands.
First Aid Kit
You certainly should be carrying one of these. You will need a bandage or two, antiseptic cream and a good supply of blister plasters! You can easily find bulky and heavy first aid kits in most outdoors stores but I carry a relatively small Ortleib first aid pouch. Don’t go mad but do be prepared!
Don’t forget sun block. I consider this to be a medical necessity on the Challenge. As you walk across the country you will certainly be wet and cold at times but – especially as you approach the East — you could well find yourself getting badly burnt.
A small tub of Vasoline is worth carrying for all kinds of reasons, from dealing with chaffed lips to rubbed and raw limbs!
Athlete’s foot cream is also recommended to be carried in your first aid kit. Athlete’s foot is one of those things when you are walking. Your feet will get damp at times and so there is always the danger of a fungal infection. Whisper it delicately, but this cream is also very helpful with fungal infections in more delicate parts of the body!
The make your own gear guys are hot on this as they like nothing better than spending evenings sewing up holes in their lightweight shelters. Personally, I don’t carry one. I do carry some strong tape though, wrapped around the shaft of one of my walking poles; always useful. Also in my pack you will find spare lengths of dyneema chord (for replacing peg out ties and for all kinds of other stuff) and sometimes shod chord as well.
The office is an Ortleib case in which I carry all kinds of bits and pieces together with my maps.
I tend to carry a lightweight notebook and a couple of pens. I like to keep a basic diary as I walk and am always fascinated to consult it when I am writing up my trips.
Some like carrying books. Cheap and second hand books are best. You can rip out the pages as you go. However, in Scotland I tend not to take a book with me as I walk.
Kindles and E-readers
These are increasingly popular. I took one with me on my walk across Scotland last autumn but don’t automatically do so. I have ‘locked’ one Kindle by carry it in the cold.
I am happy to spend the evenings simply gazing at the landscape and chatting to others walkers when they are around. I always have a camera and if the weather is nice I’ll go and take some photos.
I never find it difficult to entertain myself in Scotland and that means less weight to carry!
These days smartphones and GPS devices are useful. I tend to carry with me a lightweight battery pack which can give me three or four full charges of my phone. I keep my phone off for most of the time switching it on only to get a positional fix if I need it. However, phones as media devices have their usefulness.
I have loaded my phone with a range of podcasts when walking in winter but again I dispense with these when the days are long. Some people load their phones up with films and TV programmes but again I don’t really see the point. I am happy simply writing in my notebook.
Be careful with your electric gadgets though. They all add to the weight. And think carefully about protecting your gadgets and devices from both water and the cold!
Knives and Multitools
I carry a swiss army knife and that is it. These days there are lots of clever multi tools available but you don’t need heavy and bulky ones
Approach your accessories the way you approached the rest of your kit. Try and avoid carrying things he think you might need!
When you have paired your kit down you may then have the luxury of adding some weight. I always carry a relatively heavy DLSR camera although the lens I use is lightweight. And sometimes I carry a tripod and some photographic filters. But I like to think I have made space for them by being ruthless elsewhere.
Just remember those accessories all add to weight.
Get hold of some digital scales and one of those digital weighing gadgets that allow you to lift up your pack or load. Know how much everything weighs. You will be surprised!
The “Walking Institute’ is designed to foster an appreciation of all things walking and the human pace. The Institute is part of the Deveron contemporary arts organisation based at Huntly in Aberdeenshire (midway between Elgin and Aberdeen).
Deveron are offering an intern and training opportunity for young curators or producers who want to further their careers through critical engagement in this setting. Maybe an interesting opportunity to put together cultural interests and the outdoors!
The ‘Shadow Curator/Producer’ is a methodological concept that strives to strengthen our curatorial mission similar to the political model of the Shadow MP (Members of Parliament). To advance both our work on the ground in Huntly locally, as well as our ambitions to develop a workable model for the collaborative visual arts we are looking to complement our programme through implementing an Internship Programme, that is based on the Shadow Curator methodology. For this we want to invite young curators/producers with a keen and proven interest in working with social engagement and community collaboration to be in residence with us for six months at a time.
Similarly to the Shadow MP and the senior Shadow Curator/Producer, the Shadow Curator/Producer Intern’s role is to scrutinise the work of the curatorial team concerning the projects and help to develop alternatives and improvements to our project within the community.
The Shadow Curator Intern will be involved in all facets of daily operations and will be a vital part of the Deveron Arts team.
Deadline for application is 6 of April 2014. Download the job description and the application form from