Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Icknield Way

After my autumn wander on the Icknield Way- a bit of a gear review

My last post covered my recent six day hoof across the Icknield Way Trail. With a bit of wandering, also a mile backtrack to retrieve a map I thought I had lost, but hadn’t, and one or two momentary periods of confusion when my route abandoned me in a couple of towns, I covered 120 miles.

Day two on the Icknield Way Trail for Three Points of the Compass

Day two on the Icknield Way Trail for Three Points of the Compass

I used this walk as an opportunity to further drill down my gear selection for my Three Points of the Compass walk commencing 1st April 2018. I thought I was just about there, but even at this point, I realise I still need to drop a handful of items, change a couple of others and make one, for me, large change in my approach. I’m not going to cover everything in this post but if you want my thoughts on any item in my Icknield Way gear list, do ask.

Z Packs Duplex on my third night on the Icknield Way Trail

Z Packs Duplex on my third night on the Icknield Way Trail

Z Packs Duplex

This was a perfect opportunity to try out my new Z Packs Duplex shelter. This single skin, cuben hybrid, two person tent proved to be absolutely excellent. I never timed myself erecting it, but it is easy to put up and takes less than five minutes. Even on sloping ground on the first night, I was still able to achieve a taut pitch. I had taken a selection of pegs/stakes and it took only a couple of nights to realise that best results were achieved using the carbon core Easton nails on the four corners, and a longer MSR Groundhog on the two sides (nearest and furthest sides in the image above). My final night on trail was on short springy turf and heather, this coincided with strong gusty wind for most of the night. For this, I double pegged the guys on the windward side and had no problem with anything pulling out. I conclude that my handful of extra pegs is a necessity in the frequently changing soil types of the UK

Last night of wild camping on the Icknield Way Trail. Cavenham Heath proved to be a windy location

Last night of wild camping on the Icknield Way Trail. Cavenham Heath proved to be a windy location despite my finding the most sheltered spot I could in the failing light

I had taken a tall thin cuben dry bag for the tent. This fitted the long ‘wand’ pocket on one side of my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack well. I had to take care to roll the shelter tightly otherwise it was a pig to get into the drybag.

Many people fixate on the condensation issues inherent in single skin tents. Obviously I have much to learn and experience with this tent, but I found condensation no more of a problem than with a double skin tent. Ventilation is everything. On three nights I set up well, had a through breeze and had zero condensation. I did have a wet interior after a night camping on long wet grass. None dripped on me and my feet and head remained clear of the wet interior. A wipe down with a bandanna in the morning sufficed. If anything, this was handy as it gave me a clean water soaked cloth for a wipe over of my body. The other night had just a little condensation, not enough to worry over.

My base weight was around 11kg with consumables on top of that. My Mariposa pack from Goassamer Gear carried the weight well and was comfortable until a problem manifested itself on day two

My base weight was around 11kg with consumables on top of that. My Mariposa pack from Gossamer Gear carried the weight well and was comfortable until a problem manifested itself on day three

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Laying my pack down at a halt on day three, I was dismayed to see the internal aluminium stay poking through the belt. There was little, if anything, I could do to fix it

Laying my pack down at a halt on day three, I was dismayed to see the internal aluminium stay poking through the belt. There was little, if anything, I could do to fix it

I purchased by Mariposa pack in 2016 and had already used it on couple of hikes prior to taking it with me on the Icknield Way Trail. This was my one piece of kit to break on me, the first breakage I have experienced for some years beside the wearing out of trail shoes. Some say that lightweight gear isn’t robust, I have found that if properly looked after, such gear is usually no less robust than many a cheaper, heavier option.

However, as I say, I had a problem with the pack. Just before the half way point of the trail, the aluminium stays poked their way through the webbing slots that they nest into on the hipbelt. This meant that much of the weight that was supposed to be transferred to the hipbelt, was mostly placed on the shoulders due to the resulting lack of internal pack structure. There was nothing I could do to repair it. So I released the velcro tab holder at the top of the stay, inside the pack. A couple of days after I returned home, I emailed Gossamer Gear to ask if there was a fix I could carry out. They replied within a couple of hours:

“Sorry to hear about this! What is your best mailing address? I would be happy to send you a new belt and little plastic caps for your frame. We have not had this happen in mass but we have started to put little caps on the stays to prevent this”

Stays poking their way through the hip belt

Removed from the pack, this shows how the stays poked their way through the hip belt

Within a week, I received the replacement belt. I cannot fault Gossamer Gear’s customer service. While an annoyance. I believe the caps on the end of the stays should prevent a re-occurrence so am more than happy to continue with what is, overall, an excellent pack. The external pocket configuration is exactly as I like it and I find myself using the external stretchy mesh pocket on the back far more than I initially thought I would. For example, it is very useful for putting wet socks in to dry.

My original, damaged, Mariposa hipbelt below, and its replacement above. Note how the design has altered slightly, the belt pockets are now positioned further round to the side. Not an advantage I fear

My original, damaged, Mariposa hipbelt below, and its replacement above. Note how the design has altered slightly, the belt pockets are now positioned further round to the sides of the wearer. Not an advantage I fear. Both belts are size Large

Autumn on the trail meant that temperatures varied from close to freezing to into the 20's. A variety of clothing is necessary for such a range that could have ranged still further. My spring/summer walk in 2018 will present a similar problem

Autumn on the trail meant that temperatures varied from close to freezing to into the 20’s. A variety of clothing is necessary for such a range that could have ranged still further. My spring/summer walk in 2018 will present a similar problem

Montane Terra Pants, these are the 'graphite' coloured version. Photographed on Inishowen Head, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 2015. Note the side zips on the leg to provide additional ventilation

Montane Terra Pants, these are the ‘graphite’ coloured version. Note the side zips on the leg to provide additional ventilation. Photographed on Inishowen Head, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 2015.

Trousers

For this walk, Three Points of the Compass took his normal choice of leg wear, the Montane Terra Pants. I have used these for years and will continue to do so until something better comes along. Not light at 367g (including 29g belt) for a size XXL. They are a tough product with a couple of features that I really like. The side zips on the leg are fantastic for a bit of ventilation and the side poppers on the fairly narrow ankles stop an excess of material flapping around. Really useful in muddier conditions which helps to keep the lower part of the trousers much cleaner. I do wish I could find a lighter option though, that still has these features. I wish there were a side cargo pocket too.

 

Maps are essential, guide book a desirable on the Icknield Way Trail. I took a photocopy of the small initial section starting from Tring railway station (from O.S. 181), plus O.S. Explorer maps 193, 194, 209, 210 and 229. Each weihed about 110g. The 'Walkers' Guide' from the Icknield Way Association weighs 154g

Maps are essential, guide book a desirable, on the Icknield Way Trail. I took a photocopy of the small initial section starting from Tring railway station (from O.S. 181), plus O.S. Explorer maps 193, 194, 209, 210 and 229. Each weighed about 110g with covers removed. The ‘Walkers’ Guide’ from the Icknield Way Association weighs 154g

Electronics etc.

I took far more in the way of electronics and gadgets than I required for a walk of this length. Again, this was a deliberate decision to try and duplicate as far as possible the gear I am taking with me on my long hike next year. It may have transpired that I required something from my ‘electronics bag’, as it was, all I needed was my phone.

Phone, mp3 player, headlight and power- Little was required

Phone, mp3 player, headlight and power- Little was required

Phone

Rug Gear RG730 phone. IP68, 3020mAh battery, 5″ Gorilla Glass 3 capacitive screen. No lightweight at 215g, this android phone does me well

Rug Gear RG730 phone. IP68, 3020mAh battery, 5″ Gorilla Glass 3 capacitive screen. This android phone is no lightweight at 215g but does me well

Three Points of the Compass uses a RugGear RG730 android phone. Not particularly lightweight at 215g, it is a rugged phone, rated IP68, so I have no need for an additional protective case. This saves me a little weight, however I do keep it in a poly bag, usually with other electronics, as I am not daft. I don’t use it much on trail and keep it switched off if not in use during the day. On the Icknield Way, I sent daily messages to my wife and daughter, keeping it switched on for a few hours each evening. I also used the OS Locate ap once just to check my co-ordinates, and accessed the web over two pub lunches. Where it was probably most useful was when calling for a taxi at the end of my walk. The Icknield Way finishes at a car park in the middle of nowhere. I found that there was no service with 02 in that locale. Fortunately, another reason I chose this particular model of phone came to the fore. It is a Dual Sim phone, so I switched to Vodaphone, obtained a signal and Bob’s your Uncle.

From a 100% charge when I left home, this had dropped to 66% by the end of the walk. I never had the need to charge it at all, despite having the necessary lead and powerbank with me. The RG730 has a 13mp rear camera, but beyond a few photos sent to my daughter on the phone, I use my Olympus Tough TG-4 camera for capturing photos.

Stopping early morning to cook a hot breakfast and prepare a hot drink on the Icknield Way

Stopping early morning to cook a hot breakfast and prepare a hot drink on the Icknield Way

Cooking

I am very careful to be as frugal as possible with my meths stove. I light it, pan of water ghows straight on and the flame is extinguisehed as soon as water is heated. Unburnt fuel is retained in the tightly closed burner for the next use. Over six days of walking, with five nights of wild camping, cooking meals and making hot drinks, I used just 179g of fuel

I am very careful to be as frugal as possible with my meths stove. I light it, pan of water goes straight on and the flame is extinguished as soon as the water is heated. Unused fuel is then retained in the tightly closed burner for the next use.

I have long preferred meths (alcohol) for cooking with. I find it pretty much fuss free, silent and my little burner, when combined with the very efficient Caldera Cone, is as efficient a system in a breeze as you are ever likely to find.  I have no real issues with my system, particularly for shorter jaunts such as the Icknield Way. I store my fuel in a bottle that use to hold hot sauce, this has a nozzle cap for directing and controlling the fuel issued.

My MYOG meths burner worked very well. So well that I will certainly use it unaltered when using this system again. Over six days of walking, with five nights of wild camping, cooking meals and making hot drinks, I used just 179g of fuel. However I do recognise that the maths has been done by others and gas does come out as a lighter and more efficient system over longer hikes. So, I will be making the change to a gas system next year.

I’ll comment on what I am going to be using at some point in the future.

 

Hygiene

Compressed towlettes are pretty fantastic. Extreme low weight, low bulk and a drop of Dr. Bronners soap and a smidgen of water converts them into a one-use wash cloth

Compressed towelettes are pretty fantastic. Extreme low weight, low bulk and a drop of Dr. Bronners soap and a smidgen of water converts them into a one-use wash cloth

Three Points of the Compass has been looking for an alternative to the excellent Gerwhol foot cream and balm for some time. I may have found it with the Foot Balm from Naturally Thinking

Three Points of the Compass has been looking for an alternative to the excellent Gehwol foot cream and balm for some time. I may have found it with the Foot Balm from Naturally Thinking

Unlike our hiking cousins in the US, walking in the UK means that we are are in the company of a clean smelling general public on a more frequent basis. I don’t mind getting dirty, but I do like to try and get myself as clean as I can on a hike. Teeth get brushed, hair gets combed and an attempt is made to clean as much of the days grime and sweat off, even if it is only the face, feet and pits that get the most attention. That said, I stank pretty badly at the end of my hike and it was mostly synthetic clothing to blame.

Wash bag and contents. The razor went unused

Wash bag and contents. The razor went unused. Alum stick is heavy but useful. Lanacane anti-chafe gel is an essential

Drying clothes at a midday halt

Drying clothes at a midday halt

I am pretty happy with what I took but the weight and, less importantly at present, the bulk, is still too great and I shall be further refining it. It is very, very easy to slip in too many ‘what if’ and luxury items, I think I need to do a fair amount of inward looking and remove a few of my many comfort items from my gear list. My Three Points of the Compass gear list is currently a work in progress but may be of interest nonetheless.

As I said at the head of this post, I am only reviewing here a handful of the items I took with me. Do ask if you have any questions.

Three Points of the Compass- The End...

Three Points of the Compass– The End…

An Autumn morning on the Icknield Way Trail

An autumn wander on the Icknield Way Trail

Three Points of the Compass pauses for lunch on Day One on the Icknield Way Trail. Lady Chapel, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Three Points of the Compass pauses for lunch on Day One on the Icknield Way Trail. Lady Chapel, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

As the time approaches for Three Points of the Compass to set off on the Long Walk, I thought it wise to fit in another week or so walking with, more or less, the gear that I am planning to set off with on April 1st 2018. Some contents of the pack have altered since last I hit the trail for any distance, not least, my tent. I’ll chat about a few of those items in a follow up post in a week or two.

Deer were seen on every day, usually Muntjac, or Barking Deer which were seen in the hundreds, occasionally Fallow Deer

Deer were seen on every day, usually Muntjac, or Barking Deer, which were seen in the hundreds, also, the occasional Fallow Deer

The damage caused to crops from raiding deer was only too apparent. It would make me weep as a farmer

The damage caused to crops from raiding deer was only too apparent. If I were a farmer, it would make me weep

I walked The Ridgeway in May 2016, and the Peddars Way in April this year. These form part of The Greater Ridgeway which stretches for some 363 miles from Lyme Regis in Dorset, to Hunstanton, on the North Norfolk Coast. The Icknield Way Trail formed another link. Being around a weeks walking, it was perfect for an autumn excursion.

Mind you, this did not go down particularly well with Mrs Three Points of the Compass as we had just returned from a fortnights holiday in Cyprus (more on that in another blog). While she had to return to work, I fortunately found myself still with a weeks annual leave to take. So a weeks walking it was.

Only published in 2003, and already not the easiest of books to find these days. The Greater Ridgeway by Ray Quinlan is to the usual high Cicerone standard. It is the ideal companion to anyone attempting the whole distance rather than just one of the constituent paths. There are dedicated Cicerone guides to both The Ridgeway and the Pedars Way and Norfolk Coast Path

Only published in 2003, and already not the easiest of books to find these days. The Greater Ridgeway by Ray Quinlan is to the usual high Cicerone standard. It is the ideal companion for anyone attempting the whole 363 mile distance rather than just one of the constituent paths. There are also dedicated Cicerone guides to both The Ridgeway and the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path

There are differing lengths to be found for the Icknield Way Trail in publications and online, varying from 98.5 to 110 miles. For this walk, I set off from Tring Railway station, Hertfordshire, where my Ridgeway walk had ended, the morning after completing that trail at Ivinghoe Beacon in 2016. This autumn, I finished walking six days later at the lonely carpark on Knettishall Heath, Suffolk. My total, with a bit of wandering, just a little exploring and not getting lost (sorry, momentarily unlocated) too much, was 120 miles.

Start point Finish point Mileage
Day one Tring station Upper Sundon 19
Day two Upper Sundon Clothall 21
Day three Clothall Elmdon 19.5
Day four Elmdon Willingham Green 19
Day five Willingham Green Cavenham Heath 24
Day six Cavenham Heath Knettishall Heath 17.5
120
The old trail is reflected in many place and street names

The old trail is reflected in many place and street names

I deliberately carried out little planning, as I wanted to get a better idea on how days might pan out on my longer walk next year where planning will frequently be day-by-day. I allowed myself eight days for the Icknield Way Trail, not really caring how long the walk took. In the end, it was six, finishing a little before 13.00 on the final day. In truth, I probably pushed myself too much, I am still recovering from Plantar fasciitis after all. I did get the occasional twinge from that on my walk. I would certainly aim at much lower mileages next year.

A basic lunch on trail

A basic lunch on trail

I carried plenty of food, enough for six days. This was shop bought, mostly low bulk, low weight. I never took any sort of specialised, dehydrated ‘backpacking’ food. Again, to see how both myself and my pack handled the extra weight and bulk. Needless to say, some uneaten food returned home with me afterward, mostly due to my eating a couple of meals in pubs en route.

Wildcamp on Day Two on the Icknield Way Trail. Long wet grass and little breeze meant that this was the worst night for condensation in my Z Packs Duplex

Wildcamp on Day Two on the Icknield Way Trail. Long wet grass and little breeze meant that this was the worst night for condensation in my Z Packs Duplex

On Rivey Hill, Cambridgeshire, the Icknield Way skirts a substantial brick built, 12-sided, water tower. Constructed in 1935-6, this is now a Grade II listed structure. This Art Deco tower used to provide water for 5000 people in nearby Linton and neighbouring villages

On Rivey Hill, Cambridgeshire, the Icknield Way skirts a substantial brick built, 12-sided, water tower. This Art Deco tower used to provide water for 5000 people in nearby Linton and neighbouring villages. Constructed in 1935-6, this is now a Grade II listed structure.

Despite being a marked route on O.S. maps, this is a little followed route. I only met two others walking the trail, and the two ladies were doing it together, in sections, over many months. There are few places to officially stay, be it camp sites or B&B. Purposely, I wild camped on each of the five nights on trail. None of my sites were planned. I would walk each day, look ahead on the map between midday and 14.00 and from around 16.30 begin to look for a place to hide myself away. At this time of the year, day light hours are few, light was failing at 17.30 and was dark an hour later.  I was invariably up prior to dawn, packed and walking by seven. I stopped for a hot breakfast of porridge some two to four hours later.

I was disturbed on a couple of the nights. My halt on the first night coincided with a bunch of young lads from the nearest village turning up to let off fireworks for 45 minutes, what great fun… My second night had a pair of gleeful herberts hurtling up and down a nearby track (on the other side of the hedge in the image above) on a quad bike, lamping. Fortunately I remained undiscovered.

A halt for breakfast a couple of hours in to my days walking. I would try and stop where there was a view, a seat, or ideally, both

A halt for breakfast a couple of hours in to my days walking. I would try and stop where there was a view, a seat, or ideally, both

First days on the trail took occasional beautiful woodland. Easy walking with little gradient

First days on the trail took in occasional beautiful woodland. Easy walking with little gradient

Village Green at Balsham

Village Green at Balsham

The Icknield Way Trail may be a little confusing to some. Most authorities would describe it as a collection of parallel track ways connecting Avebury in Wiltshire, with the north Norfolk Coast, around the Hunstanton area. The way follows the geology- a band, or spine, of chalk stretching across the country. Where the going became tough for our ancestors, usually due to thicker vegetation emanating from the clay covering of the chalk, they switched to a lower level. Much of the route is Ancient with some having been ‘improved’ by the Romans. For my section, much of the old route has now been consumed by the A505. Where it remains extant, some of the older track way is indicated on O.S. maps by Gothic lettering.

Entering the King's Forest. The Icknield Way is shown on many Ordnance Survey maps. Usually showing the presumed prehistoric route in 'Gothic' lettering, and the modern route for walkers in sans serif Roman. However there is little to indicate what is the Icknield Way Trail and what is the Icknield Way Path. Therefore, referring to one of the written guides is a necessity, or at least advisable

My pink highlighted route shows where I entered the King’s Forest. The Icknield Way is shown on many Ordnance Survey maps. Usually showing the presumed prehistoric route in ‘Gothic’ lettering, and the modern route for walkers in sans serif Roman. However there is little to indicate what is the Icknield Way Trail and what is the Icknield Way Path. Therefore, referring to one of the written guides is a necessity, or at least advisable

Today, we have a choice of routes to follow. There is the walkers route- the Icknield Way Path, as described by the Icknield Way Association, there are also occasional variants from the walkers route for cyclists or horseriders (the Icknield Way Riders Route).

An alternative route passes through Toddington

An alternative route passes through Toddington

To further confuse the user, there is even the occasional choice of routes for the walker. There is an alternative route that takes the walker through the village of Toddington, I never followed that alternative. Also, there is a link whereby the walker can stride directly to Thetford with its transport links. Instead, I followed the path to Knettishall Heath so as to finish where I had commenced my Peddars Way walk.

 

The Icknield Way Trail is quite well signposted for most of its length. Sins seeming to only abandon the traveller when it matters most, or in towns

Finger Post on the Icknield Way Trail. The route is quite well signposted for most of its length. Signs seeming to only abandon the traveller when it matters most, or in towns. A map is advisable

In 1992, the Countryside Commission designated the Icknield Way as a Regional Route, connecting The Ridgeway with the Peddars Way, it is this route that is shown on O.S. maps and is mostly signposted. My trail ran through six counties and some lovely gentle country, including the Chilterns and Brecklands.

View from Sundon Hills Country Park, one of the highest points in Bedfordshire

Icknield Way Trail passing through Sundon Hills Country Park, one of the highest points in Bedfordshire

Half a mile of sticky, glutinous foot adhering walking ahead

Finger Post indicates that I have half a mile of walking through sticky, glutinous mud to contend with

The weather was mostly kind to me. Day temperatures varied from 6°C to 20°C (43°F – 115°F), but dropped much colder at night after a warmer first night. However there was often a stiff breeze which dropped the temperature considerably. If it was blowing, my  Montane windshirt over my Rohan polo shirt was always suffice to keep me warm.

I experienced little rain during the day and it rained briefly on just two nights. I found the trail underfoot almost always good with a few notable exceptions as a result of the farmers putting their fields to bed. It paid to keep an eye on the map where the occasional short detour meant that crossing a freshly ploughed field could be avoided, though that wasn’t always the case by any means.

The middle section of the walk saw my trail crossing a mainly agricultural landscape. Farm vehicles were much in evidence and the fields were often being worked on

The middle section of the walk saw my trail passing through a mainly agricultural landscape. Farm vehicles were much in evidence and the fields were often being worked on

This part of the UK is pretty low lying. Here on Warden Hills, three miles from Luton, I was 195 metres above sea level. Further East, there is nothing higher until you reach the Ural Mountains

This part of the UK is pretty low lying. Here on Warden Hills, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Open Access Land, three miles from Luton, I was 195 metres above sea level. Further east, there is nothing higher until you reach the Ural Mountains

As mentioned previously, this closely shadows a route followed by man for thousands of years. While I encountered far fewer tumuli and ancient sites than those seen on The Ridgeway, nonetheless, there were a few sites of interest passed. Burial Mounds were most prolific- there are over a hundred surrounding Royston. Near Stechworth, the Icknield Way Path briefly followed the Devil’s Ditch, a striking Ancient feature, up to 6m wide with a rampart some 9m above it.

Remains of 12th century Motte and Bailey castle at Pirton

Remains of 12th century Motte and Bailey castle at Pirton. The trail passes right by it and a pause to wander its circumference should be obligatory

Village sign

Village sign

Wild camping the whole way, needless to say, ablutions were at the most basic. Keeping up a decent pace and working hard, it is fair to say that I stank to high heaven when I finished my walk six days later. This was mostly due to the fact that, perhaps surprisingly, water can be a struggle to find. I never took a filter with me as agricultural run-off is rife and there was no way I was drinking anything that came from the many small streams. Instead I relied on finding somewhere, or someone, and filling up with water from midday onward and each nights camp meant there was enough to drink and cook with, leaving just the merest of amounts allotted for a cursory clean up of body with a cloth. The many villages passed offered no taps for travellers and little chance to fill up. I never had to resort to simply knocking on someones door, though in one town I did pop in to a motor mechanics garage and ask them for water. They were, of course, more than happy to oblige.

Three Points of the Compass paused for lunch twice on the walk. The Jolly Postie in Royston provided excellent fish, chips and a couple of pints of beer. Handily, I could also top up my two litre Evernew bladder here

Three Points of the Compass paused for a pub lunch twice on the walk. The Jolly Postie in Royston provided excellent fish and chips and a couple of pints of beer. I could also top up my two litre Evernew bladder here, this was, of course, my true reason for popping in…

The Icknield Way Trail follows grassy, leafy, stony or muddy paths, lanes, roads, bridleways and byways, and was never hard going. I found this particular route of less interest than both The Ridgeway and Peddars Way. But still, it was an excellent trail for a decent leg stretch over a few days and provided opportunity to try out a few pieces of my kit.

I suffered one particular piece of kit failure that resulted in some back pain. Painkillers (Vitamin I) were taken on one day but I never had to resort to them again. I’ll cover that particular problem and subsequent fix in my follow up gear report later.

At Burrough Green the trail passes the 17th century schoolhouse. now given an appropriate new lease of life as a home for the village playgroup

At Burrough Green the trail passes the 17th century schoolhouse. Now given an appropriate new lease of life as a home for the village playgroup

Avenues of Pine welcomed me into the Brecklands

Avenues of Pine welcomed me into the Brecklands

I always derive pleasure from walking in the Brecklands and the trail passed into these on day five. Deciduous mostly gave way to Coniferous, the paths became sandier and the air perhaps just a little more fragrant as I began to pass numerous pig farms.

Sadly, my time here also coincided with a large number of off-road motorcyclists and quad-bikers on the By-ways. The great majority showed great courtesy to a pedestrian, the minority seemed to want to kill me.

Pig Farm in Suffolk

Pig Farm in Suffolk

Horse in the paddocks, cameras bristling on poles, helicopters taking nearby owners to and from their business, another world

Horses in the paddocks, nearby cameras bristling on poles, helicopters taking nearby owners to and from their business, another world

The economic disparity of the countryside was only too apparent on this walk. I passed horse paddocks where a few million quids worth of stud pranced. I was only a few miles from the famous horse racing town of Newmarket where James I was pivotal in starting the ‘sport of kings’.

Only a couple of miles distant, lonely hamlets vividly indicated a lack of employment and hardship. There was often a helicopter in the air on the final two days and I wondered how much of the overseas money filtered into the local economy.

Three Points of the Compass on his final day on the Icknield Way Trail. The track extends 6.5km into the King's Forest. This was afforested in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. As I walked through in the early morning, I was accompanied by the constant sounds of rutting deer

Three Points of the Compass on his final day on the Icknield Way Trail. The track extends 6.5km into the King’s Forest. This woodland was afforested in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. As I walked through it in the early morning, I was accompanied by the constant sound of rutting deer

Would I do the walk again? No. Would I recommend it to others? Again, no. Unless you are completing the entire Greater Ridgeway. In that case I think you would find sufficient of interest to make it worthwhile.

My final day on trail

Final day on trail for Three Points of the Compass

Life Cycles by Julian Sayarer

A decent read- Life Cycles by Julian Sayarer

Working in London, I have a number of encounters with London’s bike couriers. Very occasionally I may be moving through our reception when one of their number is dropping something off. More frequently it is skipping out of their way as they purposefully carry straight on through a red light. Such are the streets of this country’s capital.

However, a few years ago, I was pleased to attend a talk to hear of a cycle courier with quite a story, and one well worth hearing. In 2009, Julian Sayarer set off to cycle round the World. He completed 18,049 miles in 169 days, a record at the time. Life Cycles is his account of, as the author puts it- ‘a roadside view of the world and its people, by bicycle‘. I found his book to be an interesting encounter with a young man struggling to find and place himself. His thoughts move at a similar pace to his wheels. Forgive him his naivety as an author, and an angry man’s railing against what he perceives as wrong, at that stage in his life. This book is an everyday man’s account of determination, grittiness and ‘can-do’ attitude, that lacks the polish and refinement of many a well sponsored alternative account. It is all the better for it. Yes, Julian had a young man’s pre-formed prejudices that shaped his motivation, journey and subsequent account, as do we all. The secret is to grow, form and develop as an individual, this account is part journey round the World, and part author maturing.

Julian Sayarer, on the road

Julian Sayarer, on the road

Julian joined me for a beer or two after his talk. We chatted about aspects of his adventures and we shared with each other some of our respective future plans. I looked forward to hearing of his account of courier work, which is recounted in his follow-up book Messengers. However I was more intrigued by his wish to hitch hike across his beloved USA. That 2013 adventure was written about in his book Interstate, that won the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. As to my future Long Walk, he was kind enough to annotate my copy of Life Cycles…

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Life Cycles, Julian Sayarer. John Blake Publishing. Paperback edition 2014. ISBN 978 1 78219 903 8

Mark Wallington's account of a 1980s walk round, what was then, Britain's longest coastal footpath- 'from Somerset to Devon, from Cornwall to Dorset'

A decent read- 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington

“Was I searching for the Man Within, the Real Me, was spiritual development my goal? Nah, I couldn’t convince myself, and in the end the best reason I could come up with was that I thought I might impress this girl I’d met at a party before Christmas”

Three Points of the Compass is not a particularly doggy type chap, nor is this book particularly well written. It is no ‘how to’ guide and you will gain little, if any, insight into what is now part of the South West Coast Path. What 500 Mile Walkies is, is a diverting, humorous, affectionate and self-deprecating account of Mark’s walk with possibly the worst, and best, canine companion it is possible to borrow from a friend relieved to be shot of his pet for a few weeks.

At first glance 500 Mile Walkies may seem a little ephemeral and lacking in observational muscle, however the author had a perceptive eye for what mattered most and makes light of what must have, at times, been a demanding walk. An enjoyable read.

500 mile walkies, Wallington

500 Mile Walkies, Mark Wallington, First published by Hutchinson 1986, my edition published by Arrow 1987. ISBN 0 09 952390 6

Two Degrees West, an English Journey by Nicholas Crane

A decent read- Two Degrees West, an English Journey by Nicholas Crane

On a mid-August morning, Nicholas Crane set off on his self-devised adventure. To walk two degrees west of the Meridian, from one end of England to the other, from the North Sea by Berwick-upon-Sea, to the Isle of Purbeck on the English Channel, and why not.

The author gave himself some leeway, he permitted himself to stray up to a 1000 metres each side of his line, between grid lines 99 and 01 on the Ordnance Survey maps that he cut and pasted together, giving him a strip route, 577.96 kilometre long, on thirty-six separate maps, folded and slipped into his trouser pocket. For all his two kilometre wide limit, the book wanders far wider, giving snippets of history and social context, though often, not quite enough.

He carried his belongings in a pack and, armed with an umbrella, sallied forth. Sleeping where he can, be-it ditches, woods or beneath motorways, he meets and engages with a hotchpotch of characters and commits to his self imposed parameters with determination. This man knows how to create an adventure, how to carry it out, and, most importantly, how to write about it.

Two Degrees West is a captivating book. It is an England and its people that few bother to go and explore and meet. If ever you want a book to inspire you to look for your own adventure, then this may do the job.

Two Degrees West- Constrained by his self-imposed line of longitude, Nicholas Crane prepares for a crossing of the River Tyne

Two Degrees West- Constrained by his self-imposed line of longitude, Nicholas Crane prepares for a crossing of the River Tyne

Two Degrees West, an English Journey. Nicholas Crane, First published 1999. This edition 2000, Penguin Books