Monthly Archives: February 2018

Part of the Basingstoke Canal was followed by Three Points of the Compass when he completed the London Countryway in 2016

A library for hikers- Canals

Three Points of the Compass on a winter walk on a canal towpath

Three Points of the Compass on a winter walk on a canal towpath

Canals cross the United Kingdom. Historically, these inland waterways had a relatively short working life before being usurped by the railway but are today resurrected within the leisure market. Not only are they home to modern water borne travellers, but their banks provide access for anglers, cyclists, dog walkers, hikers and the modern day magnet fishers.

Signs of failure, decay and lack of use can still be found in and alongside many canals today. The rotting carcass of a wooden boat was passed by Three Points of the Compass when walking the London Loop in 2016

Signs of failure, decay and lack of use can still be found in and alongside many canals today. The rotting carcass of a wooden boat was passed by Three Points of the Compass when walking the London Loop in 2016

Three Points of the Compass has walked hundreds of miles along canals enjoying their banks and wildlife, a good few miles of canal are included on the route of my Long Walk. There are a small number of books within my modest library that provide more than a modicum of information on their history and add a smattering of interest to any walk along a canal.

Narrow Boat by Tom Rolt

‘Narrow Boat’ by Tom Rolt. A classic volume

Narrow Boat by L.T.C. Rolt is credited with kick-starting the interest in English canals. The author recorded his work converting a dilapidated wooden narrow boat Cressy in to a liveable abode on which he and his new bride set forth on a four month trip, taking in a variety of canals, pubs and encountering a mixed bag of characters. It was a strange and changing world, at the outbreak of World War II, when the future of the canal system seemed rooted in decrepitude. Yet publication of this book in 1944 led directly to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association when it was founded by Tom Rolt and Robert Aickman in 1946. From this the restoration and use of canals for leisure eventually became assured. My faded volume was published in 1946 and later editions are easy to find. It is an older style of book and I enjoyed it immensely. If published today as a new product it would probably excite little interest and it can be difficult to appreciate today just what sort of impact it had at the time.

The Grand Union Canal is a popular for leisure use and some of it was followed by Three Points of the Compass on the London Loop in 2016

The Grand Union Canal is popular for leisure use and some of it was followed by Three Points of the Compass on the London Loop in 2016

A later account of a similar length of journey by narrow boat across the English Canal system, taken in 2001, was written by travel writer and TV Presenter Paul Gogarty. As befitting his background, The Water Road is a well written and informative volume that understands, with the hindsight that the intervening decades have provided, what the reader wants. Part history, part ‘narrowboat odyssey’, part observational anecdote.

The Water Road is Paul Gogarty's account of a 900 mile, four month journey across the canals of inland England aboard his 50 foot narrowboat Caroline

‘The Water Road’ is Paul Gogarty’s account of a 900 mile, four month journey across the canals of inland England aboard his 50 foot narrowboat Caroline

It seems to have been no less a strange and awful time when Paul Gogarty’s journey was undertaken- the UK was undergoing a B.S.E. epidemic from which many communities never recovered, Salmonella was in the news and as the trip drew to a close- “I would return home just in time to watch the Twin Towers crumble. The apocalypse was alive and kicking”.

Having completed the West Highland Way in 2013. Three Points of the Compass stayed in Fort William and explored Neptune's Staircase on the Caledonian Canal the following day. This is the longest staircase lock in Great Britain, comprising of a flight of eight locks. The canal was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822

Having completed the West Highland Way in 2013, Three Points of the Compass stayed in Fort William and explored Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal the following day. This is the longest staircase lock in Great Britain, comprising of a flight of eight locks. The canal was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822

Three Points of the Compass has included a good few miles of canal walking on the Long Walk commencing 1st April 2018. Tow paths can be useful for crossing the country quickly on often good paths. Though these can also be overgrown, muddy and, frankly, boring at times. Also it can be difficult to find wild camping spots along their length in places. But still, I am quite looking forward to some parts of my forthcoming walk that incorporate canals. Most canals have a book or two (or more!) dedicated to their history. There is one in particular that I was keen to add to my book shelf in order to learn a little more.

The amazing Falkirk Wheel aqueduct is featured amongst the images on the cover of Hamish Brown's book- Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals

The amazing Falkirk Wheel aqueduct is featured amongst the images on the cover of Hamish Brown’s book- ‘Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals’

Following the Lee Navigation in 2016

Following the Lee Navigation in 2016

Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals is somewhat different to the aforementioned two books, it is not only a history of the canals (though missing out of more recent developments) but also tells of the towns and industry that were served by the canals in their working life. I am also encouraged by the fact that the author, Hamish Brown, is an accomplished walker and outdoors writer. This then, is not just for the boat dweller, but for those who amble the lengths of canals but want to know more on what they pass.

For a few years, I was fortunate enough to work with/for the author of another little volume that sits on my bookshelf that provides a fascinating and accessible concise introduction to one of the most noticeable facets of the canals; namely, the boats and craft used for trade, industry and upkeep. Tony Conder has illustrated the modestly priced Shire volume Canal Narrowboats and Barges with dozens of photographs from his personal collection. These and his text provide a wealth of information on boat construction, propulsion, their cargo but little of the people that lived and worked their lives on the canals. For that type of information it is best to visit one of the waterway museums listed in the book. The author was curator of the British Waterways Collection for twenty five years and opened the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester in 1988.

Canal Narrowboats and Barges by Tony Conder is an excellent and affordable introduction to the craft that plied the inland waterways

‘Canal Narrowboats and Barges’ by Tony Conder is an excellent and affordable introduction to the craft that plied the inland waterways

Narrow Boat, L.T.C. Rolt. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946

The Water Road, Paul Gogarty, Robson Books, 2002. ISBN 1 86105 515 3

Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals, Hamish Brown. Mercat Press, first published 1997, revised edition 2006. ISBN 978 1 84183 096 4

Canal Narrowboats and Barges, Tony Conder. Shire Publications Ltd. 2004. ISBN 0 7478 0587 3

Three Points of the Compass has not only walked the tow path of many a canal, but has also enjoyed many a mile by boat. Here he navigates a lock, with hat aloft, on the Cheshire Ring in 2015

Three Points of the Compass has not only walked the tow path of many a canal, but has also, with his family, enjoyed travelling hundreds of canal miles by boat. Here he navigates a lock, briefly with hat held aloft, on the Cheshire Ring in 2015

Needless packaging

A few grams here, a few grams there… packaging

This is a wheeze for those who cut tooth brushes in half to save a few grams. What I have done here is pull a few medicines from my First Aid kit with a view to cutting their weight.

Three Points of the Compass carries a veritable arsenal of tablets and due to the fact that many tablets in the UK come in blister packs, it was time to remove some of that bulky packaging that is simply adding needless weight to the pack.

Take a look at that packaging above- Before I removed the tablets from the blister packs, it totalled 21.4g. That rubbish in the top picture formed 17.6g of that total. Once decanted in to little baggies, together with small slips of paper detailing the contents and any relevant dosage recommendations, my tablets came to just 3.8g. A worthwhile exercise in reduction.

Repackaged medications, a respectable saving in both weight and bulk easily made

Repackaged medications, a respectable saving in both weight and bulk easily made

So what medicines am I carrying on my Big Walk? Loratadine and Chlorphenamine maleate (first and second generation anti-allergy), Aspirin and Ibuprofen (painkillers), Loperamide (anti-diarrhoeal) and short courses of Doxycycline and Flucloxacillin (broad and narrow spectrum antibiotics/penicillin).

Similar reductions can be made throughout your gear if you take a careful look. I recall reading of one chap a few years back recording a fifty gram reduction from the simple expedient of cutting out the care and material labels from every item of clothing he took. I haven’t gone that far… yet. And no, I don’t cut the handle off my toothbrush.

 

Preparing

Fifty days to my ‘Big Walk’

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success”

Alexander Graham Bell

The off grows ever nearer, half a hundred days away. So what am I up to?

I am still planning, my route underwent a bit of a change as I have now decided that it is best to complete the Offa’s Dyke Path and from there cross over to the Peak District, rather than my original intention of only completing half of the Path and leaving at Knighton. This meant that not only did a handful of new maps have to purchased, but a bit of reading around my new route was required. I am now following part of The Great English Walk from Tarporley to Youlgreave. This looks an interesting section in a ‘difficult’ part of the country to cross.

So along with maps and books arriving in the post, I was delighted to finally receive my footwear of choice. Cutting it finer than I would want, but I can now begin adapting the insoles to take my orthotics. The latter became necessary when I found myself suffering from Plantar fasciitis in 2015, a problem that still lingers with the occasional twinge. I am going to have to ensure I keep up with my stretching exercises when on trail. I have also been receiving small items ordered, some paint for my art kit, a new compass to replace the one that I have been using for years, but has an air bubble that appears at certain temperatures.

New Silva Expedition 4 compass. Some of the terrain being crossed on my Three Points of the Compass walk will require good navigation, this is an excellent tool for the job

New Silva Expedition 4 compass. Some of the terrain being crossed on my Three Points of the Compass walk will require precise navigation, a good map and compass are essential tools for the job

I would like to have booked my train to the start, but am unable to. While I have ‘agreement in principle’ from my work place that I can take my extended break, this has yet to manifest itself in an official ‘yes’ from HR. As soon as it does, then the train gets booked.

Beside adding weight to my pack as small items of gear are purchased, I am also working on the easiest way to take less on the trail, i.e. losing a little weight. So my diet has also been addressed. Three Points of the Compass is, ahem, a big lad, so I am making a point of addressing this before the miles on trail take yet more pounds off.

I’ve also being checking that my cook system is as I want it and renewing some older items in the First Aid Kit. Beyond that, a visit to the dentist and booking my car in for its annual service and MOT before I leave. There are still quite a few preparations to be made, I’ll keep you informed.

5ml tube of Perylene Green, PBk 31 from Daniel Smith

Another delivery- Pigment PBk31

OK, so this addition to my gear is going to confound most lightweight hikers. Most of us take along a little luxury on the trail, and strange as it may seem, this is one of mine.

My Perylene Green is from Daniel Smith. This is a single pigment- PBk31, that is actually a black (so also called Perylene Black), but gives the most wonderful moody green hues. Some artists have managed to get fantastic results with simply this colour. Three Points of the Compass is taking a small watercolour kit on my long walk in the hope that I take the occasional time out to indulge in a little sketching.

Perylene Green PBk 31 from Daniel Smith. Paper is 300gm2 cold press

Perylene Green PBk31 from Daniel Smith. Paper is Fabriano watercolour 300gm2 cold press

Not an easily found paint, this pigment is a late addition to my small pallete and is purely there for convenience. A greenish black pigment that will work well for mood, shadows, distant landscapes and foliage. It mixes well with many of the other single pigments I have in my limited pallete producing a range of greens that I cannot be bothered showing in this post. Go and discover this lovely pigment for yourself.

Altra logo

Another delivery… trail shoes

I’ve been waiting for this delivery. I won’t say that I was worried, but I have certainly been very conscious that time is ticking down to the start of my hike. As I write this I have 52 days to go. This morning I emailed a company from whom I had ordered (and paid) for three pairs of trail shoes some weeks back. At the time, they had quickly told me that there were supply problems not only to the UK, but Europe in general. I’ll wait I replied, as I say, I’ve been waiting a while for this delivery.

Three Points of the Compass wore Brooks Cascadia 8's when hiking Hadrian's Wall in 2014

Three Points of the Compass wore Brooks Cascadia 8’s when hiking Hadrian’s Wall in 2014

Inov8 330 were worn when hiking in Crete in 2013. Samaria Gorge

Inov8 330’s were worn when hiking in 2013. Samaria Gorge, Crete

I have worked through a number of different types of trail shoe over the past few years since I made the switch from boots. I couldn’t get on with the Salomen XA Pro 3D, the heel cups fell apart after less than two hundred miles.  Inov8 did me well for a while, the 295’s and 330’s were good, with lovely traction, but they messed around with the design and they proved less suited to my feet. Again, the heel cups fell apart after too short a period. Then I switched to Brooks Cascadia 8s. I loved the wider toe box and the heel cups were more robust, never wearing out. But the material across the top and sides of the feet wore through after less than three or four hundred miles. I expected better.

So I made the change to a pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.5 and thought ‘at last’, I’ve found them! I loved the wide toe box, even if it did look like I was wearing a pair of shoes designed for a circus clown. I could get five hundred miles plus out of a pair with no splitting of uppers, the heel boxes held together. Traction wasn’t fantastic, but I could live with it. Also, I found the zero drop to my liking. So I happily changed to the 3.0’s when I had to. They were just as good and the changes had not detracted from the shoes. I have found that the inner sole starts to wear at the ball of my foot after six hundred miles, so I need to be careful to switch out prior to that.

Hiking in Fuerteventura in March 2017 wearing my 'Clown Shoes'- Altra Lone Peak 3.0

Three Points of the Compass hiking in Fuerteventura in March 2017 wearing my ‘Clown Shoes’- Altra Lone Peak 3.0

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 continue to provide good ro in the two box for feet and toes to spread

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 continue to provide good room in the toe box for feet and toes to spread

When I was making my final gear choices for my upcoming hike, it was toward the 3.5’s that I turned. However they have proved somewhat difficult to source. After more weeks that I am strictly comfortable with, I received a text from my wife this morning to inform me that they had arrived at her work place. I am now set with three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s in UK size 12 (US 13). Each pair weighs 730g, or 805g including my orthotic inserts.

Altra Lone Peak 3.5's only have moderate cushioning and zero drop between heel and toe. However my orthotic inserts mean that I retain a very small drop

Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s only have moderate cushioning and zero drop between heel and toe. However my orthotic inserts mean that I retain a very small drop

Needless to say, some changes have been made- new drainage holes, I am fine with that. 4-point gaiter system, I only require the two for my Dirty Girl gaiters so fine, that doesn’t bother me. Also an upgraded upper mesh, I am pleased with that change. The soles are unchanged. These trail shoes will do me well I believe. Manufacturers seem to revel in messing about with the design of successful products, especially trail runners, but the 3.5’s seem to have retained all that I like with a couple of OK upgrades. The design has also changed in that they don’t look so ‘clownish’ now. They still have the same width in the toe box, as evidenced by comparing the insoles from 3.0 and 3.5, but devilish things seem to have been achieved by the designers in the latter shoe’s appearance.

All ready for my Three Points of the Compass walk- three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5's in UK size 12

All ready for my Three Points of the Compass walk- three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s in UK size 12

100g and 240g gas cartridges

Still looking at my gas stove choices

Beside the MSR Windburner and Jetboil Flash that Three Points of the Compass pulled from the gear boxes to play with recently, I already have four other, mostly smaller, gas stoves that I could consider for my long walk beginning in April. There are two from Primus- a multifuel stove and a remote gas canister stove, also a couple of wee little canister top gas stoves.

Three Points of the Compass and family car camping in Exmoor, 2009. One or both Primus Stoves were used on these trips

Three Points of the Compass and family car camping in Exmoor, 2009. One or both remote Primus Stoves were used on these trips. Primus Omnifuel running on White Gas on left, Primus Gravity running on canister gas on right. Both of these stoves were capable of ‘proper’ cooking, hence the chopped mushrooms in the foreground. Note that we had a penchant for the folding Orikaso ware at that time, the earlier popper type not seen here were the better option

Primus Omnifuel 3289

This stove has been taken on many car camping trip over the years as my family grew up but has never accompanied me on any more than the odd day hike. The Primus Omnifuel (8000 BTU) is an almost bomb proof, well made stove that can also be disassembled in the field if necessary to service or repair. While it is actually a multi-fuel stove, capable of running on petrol, paraffin or even diesel, I have tended to use Coleman Fuel (White Gas) which is a very pure 100% liquid petroleum naphtha. If not Coleman Fuel, then I have run it on canister gas, with which it works very well. It is a very stable, low to the ground stove with three wide pot supports. It is possible to get a fine simmer or roaring flame with the control knob, it sounds like a rocket when fully on. This type of stove should NEVER be used inside a tent as the fireball occasionally produced can be ‘interesting’. There are newer, more compact versions of this stove available now but mine works fine. While I have no idea what the new versions weigh, mine weighs a whopping 352g. It is a terrific stove but I don’t think this monster will be coming with me on my long walk later this year.

Primus Omnifuel in use with gas canister. Note that jets had to be changed for use with liquid fuels and the fuel bottle and pump are not shown in this image

Primus Omnifuel 3289 in use with gas canister. Note that the jet has to be changed for use with liquid fuels (a simple task) and the fuel bottle and pump are not shown in this image

Primus Gravity 3279

My other Primus stove, that has been taken on similar car camping trips, a couple of cycling jaunts and a lone canoe trip, is the Primus Gravity 3279 (10500 BTU). This is a slightly more spindly, less robust product than the Primus Omnifuel. Factors that are reflected in its lower weight of 261g. This despite it also having a preheat coil, four wide pot supports and a piezo ignition. The latter is as useless as all of these eventually are, every piezo ignition I have ever had has eventually failed.

The stove has a good fine control knob and the legs can be pinned down to the ground if desired, though it is a very stable affair that will handle large and heavy pots. The legs on this stove fold up and it is a less bulky affair than the Omnifuel, however you could never says it packs small. This stove has always worked faultlessly for me and I have never felt the need to dispose of it despite it rarely seeing the light of day in recent years. There was/is also a Primus Gravity MF version that can burn multi-fuels, not the model shown here. Again, there are newer variants available today.

Primus Gravity 3279. The pre-heat coil enables low temperature use

Primus Gravity 3279. The pre-heat coil enables low temperature use

While excellent products, I really want to keep the weight and bulk of my stove of choice down. It was time for me to pull the smallest gas stoves I own from by gear boxes and see what they have to offer.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2

MSR know their stuff when it comes to making good stoves. It is no surprise that I have one of their Pocket Rocket stoves. I held off for many years from buying the original Pocket Rocket. Not for any particular aversion, it was just that I was undecided as to whether to buy the MSR Micro Rocket instead. I dithered so long, that in the interim, MSR took the best features of each of their canister top stoves, combined them, and released the Pocket Rocket 2.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2, with home-made tyvek baggie

MSR Pocket Rocket 2, with home-made tyvek baggie

I purchased my Pocket Rocket 2 in 2016 so have had very little opportunity to put it to use, relying instead, on my various meths/alcohol stoves for my backpacking trips. That said, I have still managed to put it to use on a small number of occasions and have got on well with it. For someone who appreciates the unhurried silent manner of a meths stove, the apparent frantic haste that  a canister stove such as this presents means a complete rethink on my setting up process. Normally, I can get to camp, drop the pack, select and clear my pitch, tent up. Then put a boil on to quietly do its thing to one side while I sort out sleeping mat and extract my quilt to allow it to decompress and pull the trail shoes off and let the feet breathe a little. By the time that is done, I have water reaching a boil ready for a hot drink. With a canister stove, it deserves and requires undivided attention.

My favourite pan for some years has been the Evernew 900ml shallow pan. This wide bottom pan is a great size for one hiker and very suitable for the wide spread of flame from most meths stoves. With the tighter, narrower flame pattern of the Pocket Rocket 2 stove, for no other reason than curiosity, I have looked at some choices of pan in my gear set that could prove more functional.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 with MSR Titan Kettle. Note the directed flame. Less spills from the sides of the pot as lost heat, but care has to be taken so as to not burn any food in the centre of the pot

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 with MSR 900ml Titan Kettle. The pot supports are wide enough to provide a firm support to the pan. Note the directed flame. Less spills from the sides of the pot as lost heat, but care has to be taken so as to not burn any food in the centre of the pot

The 75g Pocket Rocket 2 comes with a handy little plastic holder with flip top lid, sized just right for the stove and provides great protection from knocks etc while in transit. However this holder alone weighs an additional 31g and reduces the practicality of packing the stove inside many pots or pans. Instead, I either wrap the stove in a small cloth, Lightload towel etc. or inside a little home made 1g tyvek baggie.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2- a quite fantastic, ultra reliable product

MSR Pocket Rocket 2- a quite fantastic, very reliable product

BRS 3000-T

While the Pocket Rocket II is a pretty small piece of kit, I snapped up one of the Chinese made BRS 3000T stoves when I heard of them just to try one out. I could afford to take a punt on one of these as it cost me less than a tenner on eBay. This is truly tiny stove measuring around 35mm x 50mm when folded or some 63mm x 90mm maximum width when unfolded, including the protruding wire valve control. I doubt that it is actually possible to get much smaller or much lighter than this and still be a functional item.

Tiny 25g BRS 3000-T stove

Tiny 25g BRS 3000-T stove

The BRS 3000-T is advertised as being made of titanium, but there are other metals in its construction as well. The design is such that it weighs just 25g and it comes with a little nylon carrying pouch that adds a further 2g.

The BRS 3000-T is delivered from China in simple packaging and comes complete with a little green carry pouch

The BRS 3000-T stove is delivered from China in simple packaging and comes complete with a little carry pouch. This stops it rattling when carried inside a cook kit

The stove is perfect for carrying inside a titanium mug along with a small gas cartridge for midday hot drinks or food on day hikes. That said the pot supports on this ‘Bumblebee’ stove are pretty narrow and I have to take care to ensure my pots sit on it square. I am not over keen on using this stove with my wider pans. While the largest pot I use is around a litre, I wouldn’t like to use anything larger, or more accurately, heavier on the pot supports. I am loathe to use it on longer, multi-day hikes but I am well aware that many hikers have used one of these stoves for weeks on end with no problems other than struggling to work with it in windier conditions. Some users have also experienced problems with the pot supports bending.

The flame from the BRS 3000-T is pretty narrow and directed. The pot supports obstruct and flare the flame quite badly and the titanium supports glow red even with quite modest flames. Some users have reported that these soften as a result with disastrous results

The flame from the BRS 3000-T is pretty narrow and directed. The pot supports are close to the flame and obstruct and flare this quite badly, the small titanium supports glow red even with quite modest flames. Some users have reported that the supports soften as a result with disastrous results. The pot is a simple 1 litre titanium pan with no lid or handles from MSR. This 140mm wide pan has an indentation on the underside in which the pot supports fit and centre well

I think the BRS 3000-T offers around 9200 BTU, it is advertised as giving out 2700W but works better and less frantically with less flame spilling up the sides of pots if not on full, which does, of course, mean a little longer to boil. But speed isn’t everything, hence my affection for meths/alcohol stoves over the years.

The BRS 3000-T stove does not perform well in even light wind. It pairs well with the 68g Primus windscreen but requires quite a narrow pot to prevent dangerous overheating. This windscreen inverts when not in use and nests around a 240g/250g gas cartridge

The BRS 3000-T stove does not perform well in even light wind. It pairs well with the 68g Primus windscreen but requires quite a narrow pot to prevent dangerous overheating of the cartridge. This windscreen inverts when not in use and nests around a 240g/250g gas cartridge

There are alternatives- The BRS 3000-T is almost certainly modelled on the the 45g titanium Fire Maple Hornet. This is a stove that also has its fans, or one of the badge engineered copies such as the Alpkit Kraku, Robens Fire Midge or Olicamp Ion. You pays your money and makes your choice, they are all the same stove, which is no bad thing. But I don’t own any of those stoves. I see no reason to buy another stove when I can use the excellent Pocket Rocket 2…

… or the MSR Windburner!