Monthly Archives: August 2020

Saxon Shore Way- Medway section

Trail talk: The Saxon Shore Way- Gravesend to Sittingbourne

Saxon Shore Way is well sign posted for most of its length

2020 has been an odd year for us all. Upsetting for many and permanently life changing for quite a few. The plans Three Points of the Compass had made for walking various trails were dashed alongside a national lockdown. Furloughed at home, muscles wasted and the pounds piled on. Finally, as lockdown eased and we were allowed to make tentative steps outside it was time to look at what was ‘do-able’ close to home. Overnight camping was still not allowed at the time and hotels and hostels were still closed, I cast around for something and settled on a trail that I first heard of in the 1980s and had languished on my ‘to-do-one-day’ list for far too long.

Three Points of the Compass picked up the available Saxon Shore leaflets around 1987. The trail at that time only ran between Gravesend and Rye. So it has only taken me 33 years to complete it

Three Points of the Compass picked up five locally produced Saxon Shore leaflets around 1987 thinking that the trail could be completed the following year. The trail at that time only ran between Gravesend and Rye. It has only taken me 33 years to complete it!

The Saxon Shore Way is a mostly forgotten route these days. If follows the ancient and changed coastline from Gravesend in Kent round to Hastings in East Sussex. It starts off following the flat marshlands of the River Thames and Medway estuaries. A number of forts are passed on the walk and much of the way follows a shore line that the Romans would have recognised. It is mostly easy going so well suited to someone who has been getting steadily heavier in this Covid-19 lockdown year. Castles, churches and a cathedral are passed, Victorian seaside towns abound, lonely Romney Marsh is a delight and the sea cliffs are met near Dover along with reminders of Norman presence. The final day on trail says a decent goodbye with a few dips and climbs. There is even a zoo for good measure! While parts of the trail are well marked and followed by thousands being contiguous with other known walks, other parts are lonely, unloved and forgotten and probably only have a handful of hikers passing through each year. Supposedly measuring 163 miles in total, I completed 176 miles over 11 day walk sections, which just accounts for a few extra miles walking to and from railway stations.

Crossing a long unused railway line crossing fields on a little visited section of the Saxon Shore Way- day three, approaching Sittingbourne

Crossing a long disused railway line poking from the grass of rough and scrappy grazing land on a little visited section of the Saxon Shore Way- day three, approaching Sittingbourne

The route has been slightly revised and also extended in the intervening years and little seems to exist today in the way of readily available guide books. Three Points of the Compass found five little simply printed leaflets in the 1980s, two of which are shown above, but they are not really up to the job of aiding route navigation today. The author Alan Sillitoe did also write something in 1983 but I was reluctant to rely on anything that failed to account for route revisions. Even the official Arum press trail guide by Bea Cowan hasn’t been revised or republished in many years and the only second hand copy I could track down online was being offered for silly money. It is an official regional route however and is shown on the appropriate Ordnance Survey maps. For on trail navigation I carried the paper O.S. maps (with trail highlighted in pink the previous night) but these stayed in the pack and, unusually for Three Points of the Compass, I relied each day on my cached route on O.S. Maps, which I followed on my phone.

Saxon Shore Way

Saxon Shore Way

I broke the trail in to sections that I could easily access by train and made my plans. Three days of walking would see me to Sittingbourne and these were completed over my first week so I looked for the best days of forecast weather, it didn’t look great so just went for it. As it was it turned out to be grey, breezy and hard rain set in later. Regardless, it was grand to get out on trail.

ill on board ship, Pocahontas was bought ashore at Gravesend where she later died. She is now buried in St. George's Church

ill on board ship, the lauded though unfortunate Pocahontas was bought ashore at Gravesend where she died. She is now buried in St. George’s Church

I never dawdled long in Gravesend, having travelled there in the morning by train it was a short walk to the coastal start to the Saxon Shore Way. I paused briefly to view the lovely statue to the kidnapped native American Pocahontas, now buried in the vault below the parish church of St. Georges. Having been presented to the court of King James, she was returning to her native land in March 1617, unwell, she was bought ashore at Gravesend either dead or dying.

The oldest existing cast iron pier in the World sits somewhat unloved and ignored, close by the start of the trail. The town itself is quite tatty in parts but retains much of its historic past and would warrant further exploration however I had a day’s walk to complete so set off.

Gravesend is still a gateway port to London and tugs abounded, waiting to be set to work. I took a couple of snaps as my uncle used to be a skipper on one and was based here for a number of years. Then it was properly off, wending my way through various parks and streets, then back alleys and past light-engineering works to finally exit the town and find extensive green space- the rough pasture that forms the beginning of this part of the trail.

Tugs at Gravesend

Tugs at Gravesend

Hundreds of horses were grazing and there was no-one around. The occasional small vessel passed close to shore and large ships further out. The walking is easy and I never halted until I reached the first point of real interest, taking time out to explore the easily accesible and extensive remains of Shornmead Fort.

Grafitti on Shornemead Fort. Built by General Gordon in 1868 to protect the river approaches to London

Grafitti on Shornemead Fort. Built by General Gordon in 1868 to protect the river approaches to London

Forts were built by the Royal Engineers along this stretch of the coast to protect the mouth of the Thames from invasion by French warships. These mid-nineteenth fortifications were the first built since those constructed during the Napoleonic Wars. It doesn’t seem as though anyone visits these fortifications today besides those seeking solitude to drink cheap alcohol and practise their graffitti skills. In recent years, one young lad died while off-roading on a friends motorcycle. It appears someone felt spray painting a memorial to him on the walls of a Victorian fort a fitting way to show respect.

Rough pasture between Gravesend and Cliffe

Rough pasture between Gravesend and Cliffe pools

The coastal marshlands along this stretch have now been mostly drained and make for rough grazing with a sea wall bordering these all the way round to the small promontory at Cliffe where there is the option to cut the walk short but I continued out through scrappy and thorny Mallow, Hawthorn and Blackthorn, nettle and thistle, beside the excavated pools, complete with numerous wildfowl and gulls, toward the next point of interest.

Irish born Australian Louis Brennan patented what was probably the world’s first practicable guided weapon in 1877. For 15 years the Brennan torpedo became a standard harbour defence throughout the British Empire until being replaced with something with greater range. Little remains to be seen of their history anywhere in the world and an anonymous rusting launch station at Cliffe is a remarkable survivor, though how much longer it will survive I have my doubts. I wandered past the iron rails to the waters edge and attempted to place myself in the minds of those who planned on sending a torpedo out in to the sea here.

Exploring the remains of a launch site for the Brennan Torpedo

Exploring the remains of a launch site for the Brennan Torpedo

“The officers’ quarters at Cliffe are a mere hut, an abominable stinking place in summer, very cold and wet in winter. It stands by the side of a foul ditch which cannot be cleaned, for the mere disturbing of its contents would endanger the health of the officers”

Report of the Chief Royal Engineer, August 1864

The remains of the torpedo launch site lay beside my second fort passed today. This was another built by General Gordon in response to the fears of a French invasion. Building of Cliffe fort began in the 1860s and was completed in 1870. All of this land around here is pretty marshy and the newly built fort was unstable and cracks soon appeared. There were frequent outbreaks of malaria and bronchitis amongst the military personel. Military use continued though. Despite being abandoned due to flooding in 1927 it was used for anti-aircraft guns during World War II. I wasn’t able to explore it as it is now overgrown and lies behind a palisade fence marking the boundaries of privately owned land. Various diggers were being driven around the site shifting aggregate. The unloved and ignored state of these two forts is a national disgrace and both will continue to simply rot away over the coming decades.

Cliffe Fort, beyond reach

Cliffe Fort, now on private land owned by an aggregate company

On the far side of Cliffe fort my route passed directly beneath the trundling conveyor belt loaded with aggregate being bought ashore from a ship and I made my only extended halt of the day to prep a hot chocolate and eat an oat bar while watching both the ship unload and the large ships passing close to shore.

Some sizable ships pass close to shore near Cliffe

Some sizable ships pass close to shore near Cliffe

Outer gatehouse of 14th century Cooling Castle

Outer gatehouse of 14th century Cooling Castle

After Cliffe fort the trail passes through Cliffe Pools where the racket from thousands of nesting gulls and terns is pretty impressive. The extensive lagoons here were originally dredged for clay to mix with chalk for use in cement making. With an excess of raw materials, from the second half of the nineteenth centrury there used to be a large number of cement works situated along this coastline- more than sixty between Dartford and Faversham. All are now gone.

The route then moves inland a little and having photographed the impressive gatehouse to Cooling Castle I paused briefly in the adjacent churchyard at Cooling for a quick bite to eat just as Dickens might of as this churchyard was his inspiration in part for Great Expectations. And it was a quick halt as the thunder rolling around me was increasing. I was going to get wet…

Soon after setting off I began the enjoyable climb up Nothward Hill and it was here that the rain moved through, thankfully the wind and rain was on my back and there is some tree cover atop the rise. Through the woods and it wasn’t long before I was descending again, toward the River Medway.

Climbing up through the rain to the national nature reserve at Northward Hill

Climbing up through the rain to the national nature reserve at Northward Hill

On reaching the Medway, or Mudway as we used to accurately refer to it, there is a choice of routes, inland if high tide, along the shore if low tide, I followed the shoreline as I wanted to see the two forts off shore in Gillingham Reach. One of their orginal purposes was to string a chain between them in an attempt to halt any invading war ships.

Darnet Fort (left) and Hoo Fort (right) can be seen on islands in the River Medway. Both were built on the recommendation of the 1859 Royal Commision and were eventually disarmed prior to the First World War though both were used as observation posts in the Second World War

Darnet Fort (left) and Hoo Fort (right) can be seen on islands in the River Medway. Both were built on the recommendation of the 1859 Royal Commision and were eventually disarmed prior to the First World War though both were used as observation posts in the Second World War

Following the shore approaching Medway, the Saxon Shore Way passes a second World War pillbox that has been undercut by the River Medway

Following the shore approaching Medway, the Saxon Shore Way passes a Second World War pillbox that has been undercut by the River Medway

Russian Submarine moored at Strood. Rochester Cathedral and Castle beyond

Just metres from the railway station at the end of a days walk, the Saxon Shore Way passes a retired Russian submarine moored at Strood. Rochester Cathedral and Castle beyond

From here it was a fairly short jaunt along the shore and paths into Strood to catch my mid-afternoon train home. Despite having paused frequently for photographs all the way along this stretch of river, I was still early enough to miss any commuter crush. I had completed 21 miles and it had been a grand first day on trail.

Norman tower keep and Cathedral in Rochester were both closed as I passed through the Medway towns early morning on my second day

Norman tower keep and cathedral in Rochester were both closed as I passed through the Medway towns early morning on my second day

The following day was also wet but I expected it to dry out later. After another early train, I was too early to visit either Rochester Cathedral or Castle as neither were open so I simply walked around their exteriors before a wet and long walk through various backstreets and a few greenspaces of the Medway towns. There were a couple of paths closed off which was a tad annoying considering there was no re-routing or signage as to why despite this being a Regional Trail, albeit, little used.

Classic English public house. Due to Covid-19, these wouldn't be allowed to open for some weeks yet. The roots of the Style & Winch brewery in Medway go back to 1799. They ceased brewing in 1965

Classic English public house. Due to Covid-19, these wouldn’t be allowed to open for some weeks yet. The roots of the Style & Winch brewery in Medway go back to 1799. They ceased brewing in 1965. The pub sign relates to the dividing line I was now crossing- Kentish Man to the London side of the River Medway, and Man of Kent having crossed the river further into the county

I began the steady climb up toward Gillingham, passing the old naval dockyard where the period buildings are much sought after for fim location work. I was saddened to see the state of what remains of the barrack block in Kitchener Barracks on the other side of the road. Dating from 1757 and named after Earl Kitchener in 1928. The British Army vacated the site in 2014 and they were sold to a property developer who is building 295 homes. I was stationed there for two years in the 1980s when serving with the Royal Engineers. My old home looked a mess.

Kitchener Barracks. This block was rebuilt in the 1930s-1950s and is now a sad testament to the declining military presence in the Medway towns

Kitchener Barracks. This ‘modern’ block, where Three Points of the Compass was stationed when serving with the British Army, was rebuilt in the 1930s-1950s and construction (or destruction) work at the site is now a sad testament to the declining military presence in the Medway towns.

Notice in window of closed cafe in Gillingham

Notice in window of closed cafe in Gillingham

Across Great Lines, the old squaddie married quarters, more back streets and tatty little paths. In this coronavirus year, it was strange walking up the length of Gillingham High Street, past extended and silent queues of people waiting to access small supermarkets, cash points and Greggs, all stood two metres apart, many wearing face masks, all staring fixedly at their phones.

I paused at the lovely medieval Church of St Mary Magdalene, though the doors were locked. With parts dating back to the late 13th century it is the oldest building in Gillingham and its raised situation acted as a navigational aid for shipping. I could occasionally see it far behind me hours after I left. Soldiers from the Dutch raid of 1667 are buried in its churchyard.

Church of St Mary Magdalene

The Saxon Shore Way passes through the churchyard of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Gillingham. Will Adams, the first Western samurai and the man who built Japan their first navy was baptised here in 1564.

Back down to the shoreline, past silent sailing clubs and the almost deserted Strand with its sea water bathing pool built in 1896. This used to welcome 22 000 visitors a day. Today, beside myself, there were just a couple of dog walkers. Beside this sits a squat and now rare, surviving gasometer, usurped by the introduction of natural (North Sea) gas. My mother and uncle would often tell me of the admiration held by their community of one of their neighbours who climbed atop the edifice one night during a raid by German aircraft in the midst of the Second World War. He threw a flaming incendiary off and saved every house in the vicinity from being flattened by a cataclismic explosion of the coal gas stored within. The admiration amongst the children was tainted slightly by knowing that their school, beside the gasometer, would also have been levelled.

A ‘modern’ esplanade led my way along the shore past more rotting hulks all the way to Riverside Country Park where I enjoyed a cup of tea from the cafe that I was surprised to find open there. I was instructed to take my drink far from the open window and adjacent area to consume it. After a bit of a wander out to Motney Hill, the sewage works there, sorry- ‘water treatment station’, mostly unobtrusive, it was a short walk through orchards and residential housing up into Rainham to catch my train soon after midday. A further 11 miles completed.

Pear orchards on the slopes leading down to the waters edge at Rainham

Pear orchards on the slopes leading down to the waters edge at Rainham

My third day on trail this week coincided with yet another bank of weather moving through. I knew today would be a lonely days walking as despite being fairly near to habitation, it is a lonely stretch of North Kent that sees few people. The banks of rain moving through today provided a great opportunity for me to continue my recent experimentation with a trekking umbrella from Euroschirm. Combined with a lightweight jacket from Frog Toggs, it worked great. It wasn’t cold so I simply allowed the lower half of my body to wet out and then dry in the wind.

Sopping cereal crops on the slopes at Lower Halstow

Crossing sopping wet cereal crops on the slopes at Lower Halstow. A break in the rain so my Swing Liteflex umbrella is temporarily stowed

A short stretch of coastal walking then saw me moving slightly inland, passing through apple, pear and plum orchards, trudging through muddy and wet cereal crops before moving out on to the desolate counter wall toward Chetney Marshes. I am sure there are many that would abhor this section, I found it fantastic and the ghosts of disused brick works, wharves and long gone local industry can be felt in the rotting remains, spoil heaps and shoreline. Many old wooden built lighters and Spritsail ‘muddies’ were abandoned long ago and the rotting ribs protrude from the mud all along this part of the coast.

Three Points of the Compass likes to potter around a church if the trail goes past it. In this coronavirus year, most were closed

Three Points of the Compass likes to potter around a church if the trail goes past it. In this coronavirus year, most were closed

Creeks, docks and wharves between Medway and Faversham used to support various industries- brick making, cement works, oysters and cockles, paper making, gunpowder and ship building amongst them. Cement to build the Aswan Low Dam across the Nile River came from Frindsbury and cement from Gillingham cement works repaired the damage caused in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. I passed those two Medway towns yesterday.

The little quay at Lower Halstow was once used for loading of bricks from the Eastwood Brickworks, a firm that gave its name to the street where Mrs Three Points of the Compass grew up. Now, the Edith May, a wooden Thames sailing barge built in 1906 is a lone occupant of the dock. This and the neighbouring village appeared in 2016’s Wonder Woman film- imitating a military camp on the Belgium coast.

Passing the Edith May moored at the empty dock at Lower Halstow, rain fell steadily

Passing the Edith May moored at Lower Halstow, rain fell steadily

Rotting and abandoned wooden remains poke from the mud at Bedlams Bottom, off Chetney Marshes. Three Points of the Compass counted at least 22 ships here

Rotting and abandoned wooden remains poke from the mud at Bedlams Bottom, off Chetney Marshes. Three Points of the Compass counted at least 22 barges in just one bay here

My trail took me up through cereal crops above the burnt out and abandoned Funton brickworks. This factory was built in the 1930s but didn’t start production of bricks until after the Second World War, they used to turn out lovely hand-made sandy coloured bricks, each imprinted with the brickmakers name. Then a walk past a messy, extensive and probably illegal tip and down to follow the lonely sea wall out and around the isolated Chetney Marshes, passing large groups of geese in the pools. Waders mobbed me frequently as I passed their nesting sites. A male Marsh Harrier quartered the ground beside me, probably picking off the fledgling waders. Two hundred years previous, the corpses of convicts from the prison hulks moored off shore were buried on these marshes and coffins and bones had recently been found exposed by the shifting mud at Deadmans Island a little further round. Eventually my route swung round to head toward and then pass under the ‘new’ Sheppey road crossing. Actually the third bridge to be built across the Swale to the Isle of Sheppey- the ‘Isle of Sheep’, where I completed a walk at the ‘birthplace of British aviation’ on another day.

The landscape here could by no means be called pretty, undustry clearly visable on the skyline, however it is a fascinating place

The landscape here could by no means be called pretty, electricity pylons link the industry clearly visible on the skyline. However the marshes are a fascinating place and wildlife abounds

In some UK beauty spots the electricity companies have buried their cables deep below the surface. The marshes here are unloved and didn’t fit that criteria, consequently, it is almost impossible to look in any direction and not see gaunt pylons stetching across your field of view. Pylons have their fans. Though I am not one of them, I do feel that pylons have become as much a part of this sodden North Kent landscape as the abandoned barges rotting in the mud around the shoreline.

Now over these small hills
they have built the concrete
That trails black wire
Pylons, those pillars
Bare like nude, giant girls that have no secret

from: The Pylons, Stephen Spender

Saxon Shore Way approaches the A249 Sheppey Crossing, completed 2006, it largely replaced the vertical lift Kingsferry Bridge on which a train a crossing, that in turn had replaced the 1860 bascule bridge built for the London, Chatham and Dover Railways in 1860

Saxon Shore Way approaches the A249 Sheppey Crossing, completed 2006, it largely replaced the vertical lift Kingsferry Bridge, over which a train is crossing, that in turn had replaced the bascule bridge built for the London, Chatham and Dover Railways in 1860

From here the Saxon Shore Way worked its way through increasingly scrappy paths, between lorry parks and river side industry, mixing with overgrown fields and rough grazing. I shouldn’t think more than a hundred hikers pass this way each year. I then followed the Milton Creek up into the depths of Sittingbourne. The creek used to be very important to the town, enabling vast quantities of goods to be transported to and from London and the continent. None of that industry remains and yet more hulks poke from the silt. The weather had brightened up and I reached the end of my days hike, another 17 miles completed, soon after midday. This was the end of my first three sections. The next week would see me leap frogging the four sections to Dover.

The Saxon Shore Way:

  • Section 1: Gravesend station to Strood station
    • 21.12 miles, 1304 feet ascent
  • Section 2: Strood station to Rainham station
    • 11.25 miles, 785 feet ascent
  • Section 3: Rainham station to Sittingbourne station
    • 17.2 miles, 764 feet ascent
  • Section 4: Sittingbourne station to Faversham station
    • 14.73 miles, 470 feet ascent
  • Section 5: Faversham station to Herne Bay station
    • 21.93 miles, 580 feet ascent
  • Section 6: Herne Bay station to Sandwich station
    • 19.26 miles, 733 feet ascent
  • Section 7: Sandwich station to Dover Priory station
    • 16.83 miles, 2686 feet ascent
  • Section 8: Dover Priory station to Sandling station
    • 14.77 miles, 2540 feet ascent
  • Section 9: Sandling station to Hamstreet station
    • 13.19 miles, 1310 feet ascent
  • Section 10: Hamstreet station to Rye station
    • 12.85 miles, 693 feet ascent
  • Section 11: Rye station to Hastings station
    • 13.15 miles, 2331 feet ascent
Rota-Meter from F. Barker

Map measurer of the month- Rotameter (Barker & Son)

“This handy little instrument will be found very useful for Cyclists and others, the roads and distances on a map being easily measured and the distances calculated”

This months map measure is a sweet little item made by Francis Barker & Son. The business was originally established as F. Barker at 12 Clerkenwell Road, London in 1848. They made a wide range of precision instruments including compasses and sundials. The Rotameter, or rota-meter, was just one of a wide range of products offered by the company.

Rota-Meter map measure by F. Barker

Rota-Meter map measure by Francis Barker

You may come across other examples of this ‘charm map measurer‘ that appear to have been made by other manufacturers but, other than those made by E.R. Morris of Birmingham, they were all made by F. Barker & Son. It is small, weighing 15g and measuring just 26mm diameter, and is designed to hang from a watch chain. There was also a larger version of the Rotameter offered in 1908. Another option had a compass on the reverse side and later options exchanged the pendant ring for a bone handle or propelling pencil. The simple and small design leans heavily on the measurer formerly offered by Morris Instruments. Three Points of the Compass covered this measurer in an earlier post.

The Rotameter map measurer appears in Barker’s 1885 to 1907 catalogues and was probably available to buy until circa 1915. It was not listed in the 1926 catalogue. It could be purchased in a variety of finishes. The cheapest was the nickel plated measure at just two shillings and sixpence. The 1885 catalogue offered:

With compass Without compass
15-carat gold: 25/- 15-carat gold 22/-
9-carat gold: 18/- 9-carat gold 16/6
Silver: 12/6 Silver: 5/-
Nickel: 2/6

By 1907 the cost of the 15-carat gold version had risen to £2 and there was also the option of 18-carat or 10-carat gold. Gilt, nickel, bronze silver or gold finished versions were available in 1908.

A lot of detail is included on the 23mm diameter dial face

A lot of detail is included on the 23mm diameter dial face

The Rotameter shown here is the simpler, cheaper version with no compass in the rear. This example has a plain glass face and plain unmarked back. An alternative later offered by Barker was for a ‘pebble’ crystal front, this would slightly magnify the dial behind. The smooth wheel protruding from the bottom is simply run along a map route and the needle correspondingly rotates around the dial indicating inches and feet covered on a map, or any other object for that matter. Knowing the scale of the map enabled a reasonably accurate distance to be determined.

The large blued hand rotates forward in increments of an eighth of an inch, with inches shown on the dial. One complete revolution measures one foot (12 inches). Each complete turn of the dial also moves the small hand forward one foot with the ability to measure up to 25 feet. Increments of five, ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five feet are shown. This little measure was also sold with a different paper dial that included tiny figures indicating each individual foot up to 25. These were so cramped that this simpler face is easier to read.

It is an uncommon and remarkable survivor. These normally had a tough and short life yet despite a well worn case my example still performs faultlessly. Testament to a good, simple and well made design.

Many older map measurers will benefit from a simple clean-up. The face of the Rota-Meter is easily lifted off to permit a hundred years of pocket detritus to be gently removed

Many older map measurers will benefit from a simple clean-up. The face of the Rota-Meter is easily levered off to permit a hundred years of pocket detritus to be gently removed

Leatherman Skeletool KB

Knife chat: Leatherman Skeletool KB

In June 2017 Leatherman released the Skeletool KB and KBX tools. The KB with straight blade and the KBX with combination straight/serrated blade. These were both developed within their existing popular and good looking folding Skeletools range. Simplifying those, the new KB and KBX offered little more than a single folding blade. The only other tool being a removable pocket clip that also operates as a bottle opener.

Folded Leatherman Skeletool KB in the hand. Just 88mm or 3 1/2

If a hiker desires little more than a modest sized simple blade on trail then one of these tools may provide just what is wanted at a decent price from a reputable manufacturer that provides a 25 year warranty.

“one of the goals to us with respect to the naked knife aesthetic…is delivering a product that performs to Leatherman’s standard of quality”

Leatherman were not the first to bring a ‘naked’ knife to market, however some more simplistic offerings are a little tricky to use and it is relativly easy to accidentally close a blade or nick a finger while closing. Leatherman veered away from total minimalism with these knives and the solid backer plate gives rigidity to the whole knife while also protecting the user when operating it, it being impossible to open the liner lock unintentionally.

Detail from enclosed leaflet listing the features of the Leatherman KB

Detail from leaflet enclosed with the tool, listing the minimal features of the Leatherman KB/KBX: 1- 420 HC locking knife blade, 7- removable pocket clip with bottle cap lifter

Blades on both Skeletool KB and KBX are made of 420HC stainless steel with a hardness rating of 59 HRC. This means that it will hold an edge better than many cheaper alternatives but is just a little more difficult to sharpen. This steel is found on better quality knives and resists rusting however the KB doesn’t come particularly sharp ‘out of the box’. Serrated edges, such as that found on the Skeletool KBX, are always a bit trickier to sharpen, for this reason Three Points of the Compass thinks the straight edge KB knife a far more practical option for backpacking purposes. Even if that purpose is just cutting a piece of cheese, slicing a salami or sectioning an apple.

Locked open while in use, the liner lock is depressed with the thumb to close the blade

Locked open while in use, the liner lock is depressed with the thumb to close the blade

With a little practice the Skeletool KB can easily be opened and closed one handed and comes with a liner lock so that it will not close on your fingers while in use. The lock engages firmly with a good click and will not disengage until you make it. This of course pushes it up against UK knife laws. The closed knife is 88mm long (3 1/2″) x 14.25mm (max) x 20.50mm (max). When open it is 151mm long. Cutting edge of the brushed steel, drop point, hollow grind blade is 59mm and it measures 2.55mm across the spine, which is quite wide for such a small blade.

Liner lock can be removed by unscrewing the two torx screws holding it. This would make the knife compliant with UK knife law however it is not recommended as the knife is far less safe in use as a result

Liner lock can be removed by unscrewing the two torx screws holding it. This would make the knife compliant with UK knife law however it is not recommended as the knife is far less safe in use as a result

Because of their small size, food can gunge up one of these tools pretty easy, especially the holes in the blade on the Style range. Leatherman CS in use on the Tabular Hills, 2019

Because of their small size, food can get caught up in the holes found on some blades quite easily. This is a Leatherman Style CS in use by Three Points of the Compass on the Tabular Hills walk. The blade on this knife also has holes, these fill with food being cut

The aesthetic design of the blade does actually make this knife less practical for use on trail in one respect. While there will be an, admittedly tiny, weight saving by removing some steel from the blade, food can get caught up in the holes and bacteria easily set in if they are not cleaned out.

Three Points of the Compass has encountered this problem before with the same ‘holed blade’ design found on the keychain multi-tool Style series, also from Leatherman.

'Skeletinised' design of the blade is attractive but possibly not the most practical on trail

‘Skeletonized’ design of the blade is attractive but possibly not the most practical on trail

Pocket clip / cap lifter is removed easily with a T5 torx

Pocket clip / cap lifter is removed easily with a T5 torx

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t know how to open a bottle? There must be as Leatherman include a diagram with their knife on how to do just that with the KB. However for those on trail this probably isn’t the most useful of tools, and nor is the pocket clip. This can be removed if required simply by undoing the three torx screws holding it in place which is probably the first thing that any lightweight hiker would do.

The liner lock could also be easily removed however not only does this lock the blade open, but it also holds it closed, the knife would be considerably less safe if the lock were removed.

The Leatherman Skeletool KB weighs 37.8g, removing the pocket clip reduces this to 34.3g or 34.7g if you replace just the three screws in the frame. The knife can be mostly disassembled for cleaning, though not easily in the field. A T8 torx is required for the main blade pivot screw and T5 torx for removing the pocket clip.

Deep pocket clip on Leatherman KB is effective but the bottle opener can catch on things when carried that way

Deep pocket clip on Leatherman KB is effective but the bottle opener can catch on things when carried that way

The construction is good with no rough manufacturing edges. Handle edges are rounded and even the spine of the blade comes without a 90 degree angle, being slightly rounded. The knife is all metal in construction apart from a slippery polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) synthetic washer on the blade pivot. Weight of the knife generally is slightly reduced by the ‘skeletonised’ hole cut-outs.

Instruction for those of us who don't know how to open a bottle- included with knife on purchase

‘User Guide’ included with knife on purchase- for those of us who don’t know how to open a bottle!

Though thin in the hand, more so if the pocket clip is removed, it is comfortable to hold and use on light to medium work, this is partly due to the curved black anodised aluminium handle. Three Points of the Compass has quite large hands and finds it easiest to choke forward onto the pivot of the blade with my thumb on the top of the wide blade spine as shown here. If the pocket clip is left in place this does increase the comfort in the hand and makes it easier to close the blade.

Leatherman Skeletool KB is well finished with no rough edges and despite being quite a small tool is comfortable in the hand

Leatherman Skeletool KB is well finished with no rough edges and despite being quite a small tool is comfortable in the hand

Leatherman Skeletool KB beside the diminutive, now discontinued Leatherman Style which combined blade with scissors. nail file and tweezers

Leatherman Skeletool KB beside the diminutive, now discontinued, Leatherman Style which combined blade with scissors. nail file and tweezers

In summary:

the Leatherman Skeletool KB is beautifully constructed, nothing is loose and the blade cuts well when sharpened. It is an affordable knife from a reputable company with a good warranty policy. It shaves off a few grams by dint of its design however that very design does mean that it is more prone to collecting detritus and food gunk. Locking blade design means that it cannot be carried on a daily basis in the UK though it may be just what is wanted by a backpacker who doesn’t require more than a modest blade just long enough to perform most kitchen chores.

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.

Electronics on trail- 2020

Gear talk: 2020 tweaks to trail electronics

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to shave a little weight from my pack, or just refine a system, without compromising either safety or effectiveness, I recently had a glance at one of the heavier aspects of my gear- the electronics. 2020 has seen a few major changes to what I will be carrying on longer backpacking trips.

The electronics and associated 'stuff' that Three Points of the Compass is packing in 2020

The electronics and associated ‘stuff’ that Three Points of the Compass is packing in 2020- 621g

Possibly the largest change made by Three Points of the Compass in 2020 was away from my old reliable ‘rugged’ mobile phone- a 215g dual sim RugGear RG730. This can take a hell of a battering but the camera wasn’t really cutting it for me. So I recently changed out to an IP68 187g Samsung Galaxy S20+ encapsulated in an Olixar protective case, the two together totalling 227g. This offered no weight saving as regards my phone but I have gained one of the best Android cameras available. This means that I no longer have to carry either my 252g Olympus Tough TG-4 camera (which also requires a 48g proprietary charge lead) or 298g Sony RX100M5.

Bags and pouches of small stuff carried on longer hikes

Bags and pouches of small stuff carried on longer hikes. Electronics bag is centre bottom row

I used to pack along a handy little 47g Pedco Ultrapod for use with my camera. This is lightweight, has a rotating ball head and the velcro strap enables it to be fixed to thinner trees, fence posts etc. It is the sort of piece of gear that immediately won me over as soon as I saw it. Extremely practical and lightweight, I have been including one in my gear for years. Then I realised that I hardly…. ever…. used…. it.

Joby phone clamp with Joby mini-tripod, weighing 44g together, these have replaced 47g Ultrapod

Folded Joby GripTight phone clamp with attached Joby mini-tripod, weighing 44g together, these have replaced the blue 47g Pedco Ultrapod above

Ultrapod and Sony RX100M5

Pedco Ultrapod and Sony RX100M5

As a standalone tripod it is fine, but as regards velcro clamping it to something either I couldn’t be bothered, or more often there wasn’t a branch or post handy for the shot I wanted. Or even when wrapped around a branch when there was one, I couldn’t quite get the angle I wanted to with the rotating head. So I stopped carrying it and looked for a lighter option. Mostly I went back to simply resting the camera on tree stumps, walls, rocks or my beanie. That is all well and good for a rectangular base camera but doesn’t work so well when only carrying a phone for taking photos, so it was back to the search for a lightweight and small tripod. For this I have dug out my mini Joby tripod which is combined with a Joby GripTight phone clamp. Obviously a very low profile so not great in tall grass or vegetation and not fantastically lightweight at 44g either but I haven’t come up with a better and lighter solution yet. I have been tempted to rustle up a folding support out of correx but while that would be fantastically lightweight I am not convinced that it would be a particularly secure way of holding a phone. You may notice that the screw on the mini-tripod is pretty torn up now, purely my fault for using a wrong size coin for tightening the wide slot in the soft metal screw.

Sitting on a protruding rock, my camera is wonky but this shot takes me back to a foul days hiking in Scotland

Sitting on a protruding rock, my camera angle is wonky but this shot takes me back to a foul and fantastic day hiking in Scotland. However there is no way that a phone would have sat on the rock without a tripod or other support

Having made the change, if only on some hikes, to relying on just my phone for photography and no longer taking a dedicated compact digital camera, I have also included a bluetooth remote shutter. This is a simple little plastic affair made in China that costs less than a fiver and weighs just 10g. It only works ten paces away but that is enough for most of what I require. This is powered by a CR2032 button battery that will last the duration of a hike. The phone has a slot for a second micro SD card so I include a spare SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro micro SD card in my electronics pouch should I need to swap out the one in the phone.

Though low to the ground, the combination of Joby mini-tripod and Joby GripTight phone clamp enable independent photography

Though low to the ground, the combination of Joby mini-tripod and Joby GripTight phone clamp enable independent photography

Over the past few years Three Points if the Compass has mostly used the excellent Anker PowerCore II 10000mAh external battery/portable charger on longer hikes. This has also accompanied me on overseas trips when unsure of charge facilities en route. I would guess that I will continue to use it on family holidays for the foreseeable future. However, it has sustained a small crack in its case recently and I also wanted to look at changing to the faster USB-C port. I have been trying to make the switch to a more integrated electronics system in recent years and moving away from AA and AAA batteries. So it was first a question of mAh capacity.

On a day hike, Three Points of the Compass will simply slide this little power bank into the backpack. 2000mAh capacity battery, shortie Anker cable and a micro USB to USB-C adapter

On a day hike, Three Points of the Compass will simply slide this little power bank into the backpack. 2000mAh capacity ‘soft card’ battery, 10cm ‘shortie’ Anker PowerLine cable and a micro USB to USB-C adapter. If things go belly up, this 70 gram kit provides just a little spare juice for either head torch or phone

How much power do I require? Less than most it would appear. Three Points of the Compass doesn’t vlog, I watch few films in a tent and listen to little music on trail, I don’t use an electronic GPS nor do I carry a PLB/satellite messenger. I might have a digital version of a trail guide with me but actually prefer a hard copy despite the weight penalty. Sometimes I may pack along some ear buds, particularly if expecting to be in a shared room for a night, in a bothy, hostel or bunkhouse, and not wishing to disturb others. That said, buds are not used much at all. When included with my trail electronics, these are my 20g Treblab XR500 bluetooth ear buds. These require charging after about eight hours of use. So on a weeks hike, probably never requiring a charge. These have a micro USB port.

Treblab sports earbuds are bluetooth so require charging after some eight hours of use

Treblab XR500 sports earbuds are bluetooth so require charging after some eight hours of use

Finally, I doubt I will ever be carrying a drone or anything else requiring frequent re-charging with me. Therefore at present a 10000mAh power bank continues to be sufficient to my needs. For now, my recharging necessities are fairly small- these are my phone, buds, headlamp and thumb sized LED. I may also need to charge my power bank when possible.

Anker PowerCore II (the slim model) compared with the NiteCore NB10000. The Nitecore is both smaller and lighter but has the same capacity

Anker PowerCore II (the slim model) on left compared with the Nitecore NB10000. The Nitecore is both smaller and lighter but has the same capacity

My 10000mAh Anker PowerCore II Slim that used to take up residence in my electronics pouch weighs 208.5g sans charge lead and measures 137mm x 66mm x 15mm. I have replaced this with the Nitecore NB10000. This has the same capacity (actual- 6400mAh), it weighs 150.6g and measures 122mm × 59mm × 11mm. When purchased, it came with a 15g 0.5m long USB-A / USB-C charge lead, however I prefer a tougher and longer lead which is handier in B&Bs, hostels, bunkhouses and snatched charges in cafes and pubs while on trail. So have swapped this out for my preferred charge lead- one of the 0.9m long, double-braided, aramid armoured PowerLines from Anker, this weighs 34.2g. This has USB-C to USB-3.0 so will support fast charging. Should the lead get damaged that will be game over for re-charge capability so I always include a spare shortie lead. This little Anker non-armoured PowerLine also gives the opportunity for through charging.

Nitecore NB10000 with supplied Nitecore 450mm charge cable, also my preferred plug, the folding single port Mu Tablet

A simple lightweight and low bulk ‘spare power’ set-up: Nitecore NB10000 with their 450mm charge cable and a single port folding Mu Tablet plug. However this is not the configuration now carried by Three Points of the Compass. Energy brick is designed for trail running and has carbon fibre sides to reduce weight

For many years I have used a 50.4g folding Mu Tablet plug with single port that provides a 5v 2.4 Amp outlet. However the Samsung phone supports ‘super fast charging’, so I now include the 63g Samsung 25W adapter to enable me to quickly plug in the phone if opportunity arises to top up its 4500mAh battery.

Specs on side of NiteCore NB10000

Specs on side of Nitecore NB10000 power bank

The 'business end' of NireCore NB10000. Blue LEDS show charge status, pressing and holding the mode button switches on the white LED and will then safely support charging of low current devices such as wireless headphones

The ‘business end’ of Nitecore NB10000. Blue LEDS show charge status, pressing and holding the mode button switches on the white LED (to the right of blue LEDs) and will then safely support charging of low current devices such as my wireless headphones and head torch

Not all backpacking electronic peripherals have made the switch to the more robust USB-C connector yet, so I have also included a tiny little 1.8g USB-C female to micro USB adaptor from Glubee. This enables me to charge my headtorch, mini torch and camera if taken. It may be that I need to change the other way instead, so a second mini adapter converts micro USB female to USB-C.

Olight H1R Nova- an excellent headlamp with removable hand torch

Olight H1R Nova- an excellent headlamp with removable hand torch

The Olight H1R Nova is an absolutely stunning headtorch and it remains my headtorch of choice for winter hiking, however I have decided it is overkill for the great majority of my hiking. The headband especially is a heavy addition and the light requires a proprietory charge lead.

I now carry the popular Nitecore NU25 with a home made head strap on longer hikes. This headtorch also has a red LED that the Olight lacks. I have the yellow bodied light so that it is more easily found if dropped.

White and red LED Photon Freedom and one spare button battery weighs more than the Nitecore Tube v2

White and red LED Photon Freedom and one spare button battery weigh more than the Nitecore Tube v2

I don’t really know what is going on recently with my gear choices but I have also swapped out to yet another Nitecore product. They do seem to release products that appeal to me. For many years I have carried the efficient, minuscule and feature packed Photon Freedom Micro button light. Actually I have carried two, one white LED, plus a red LED for more discreet use when wild camping and in packed bothies etc. However my headtorch now has a red LED that is easily accessible without scrolling through white LEDs, and I have additionally made the switch where I can to rechargeable electronics, so do not wish to pack along spare button batteries for the Photons. I now include a rechargeable Nitecore Tube v2 as a backup light. I have used one of the quick release clips from a Photon to attach this to the zip pull of the little 11g dyneema packing cube in which the majority of my on-trail electronics are kept. The Tube by itself weighs less than two Photons and a single spare 2032 button battery.

I also continue to include a tiny little 3g USB LED light in my electronics kit. This warm light can either plug into my powerbank or any USB port. For example many YHA hostels include a USB port beside each bed so this makes an ideal light for reading. Mine is adjustable in lumens so I can turn it right down if required.

The contents of my electronics bag on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018- 10000mAh Amker external battery, short and 1m charge leads, Mu folding plug, Olight H1R Nova and proprietary charge lead, ear buds, spare camera and button batteries, two spare camera SD cards, data sick, USB LED light, cuben pouch to hold it, and a miniature bottle of whisky! got to celebrate the finish somehow...

The contents of my electronics bag on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018- minus Photon Freedom button torches which hang from my pack, and Sony camera and RugGear phone which were kept in my Zpacks chest pouch while hiking. 10000mAh Anker external battery, short and long charge leads, Mu folding plug, Olight H1R Nova head torch and proprietary charge lead, cheap and cheerful ear buds, spare camera and button batteries, two spare camera SD cards, data stick, tiny USB LED light, cuben pouch to hold it… and a miniature bottle of decent single malt whisky, carried to toast the finish in style

Shown here is my 2019 electronics set-up for multi-day backpacking. Most kept in dyneema zip cube: RugGear RG730 phone, Nitecore Tube v2, 0.9m Anker Powerlead, Mu Tablet folding plug, Nitecore NB10000 powerbank, 50mm short bendy USB-A / Micro USB charge cable, Nitecore NU 25 headtorch, Sony RX100M5 camera, Shure 315 earbuds, USB LED light, USB-C female / Micro USB adaptor, spare SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro SD card, spare Sony 1240mAh Li-Ion battery (camera)

This is my basic electronics kit for three season hiking. About the only tweak I would make to it for the majority of my longer hikes is whether I leave the ear buds at home and a swap out of the NU25 to the Olight H1R Nova head torch for winter hiking. This conglomeration of stuff is less than some and more than others will carry I am sure, but meets my needs perfectly adequately. Electronics and associated gear, such as phone clamp and tripod, add up considerably and form a large chunk of a backpackers base weight. Everything in the 2020 header image above totals up to 621 grams.

Three Points of the Compass has tried using simple plastic resealable bags including those from Lifeventure and Loksac. Any of these are fine for a few days but eventually, after a few days of use and constantly being opened/closed eventually fail

Three Points of the Compass has tried using simple lightweight plastic resealable bags including those from Lifeventure and Loksak to store fragile electronics in. Any of these are fine for a handful of days but eventually, after more than just a few days of use and constantly being opened/closed they all eventually fail and hole, rip or leak. Therefore all electronics are carried in a single highly water and abrasion resistant 70D Liteskin polyester pouch from Wild Sky Gear within the depths of my pack. Besides this, the only ‘belts ‘n’ braces’ extra I carry on trail now is a single large ziplock bag in which to roll my camera and/or phone, normally carried in my chest pouch, if it is raining

My trail electonics continue to evolve as what I feel are better or more suited products are released on to the market. When I contacted Nitecore to ask if my Samsung 25W quick charge plug adapter was OK to charge their power brick (I was told yes) they informed me that a larger capacity version of the carbon fibre NB10000 will be arrving soon so I may consider swapping out to that depending on its specs.

This has been part of short series looking at the small pouches of gear carried by Three Points of the Compass when backpacking. Previously, I looked at my hydration, hygiene, ditty bag and First Aid Kit. My final blog on the subject will look at my ‘day bag’.

Gerber Dime and Dime Travel- two budget priced keychain multi-tools

Knife chat: Gerber Dime and Dime Travel multi-tools

Gerber Legendary Blades introduced their first multi-tool in 1991 and in 2009 the company released two little tools that improved on their earlier smaller multi-tools- these were the Gerber Vice and Gerber Splice. In 2012 yet another, and smaller, replacement appeared on the market and has remained a great favourite on many keychains ever since. This is the Gerber Dime.

Acquired by the the Finnish Fiskars Corporation in 1986 much of the manufacture of Gerber tools transferred to China, the quality of many Gerber products suffered as a result however prices have remained extremely competitive. With care and due regard to the fragility of these smaller Gerber tools, they can work pretty well in most softer and undemanding applications.

Gerber Dime- a budget priced keychain multi-tool

Gerber Dime- a budget priced keychain multi-tool

Gerber Dime-

Released by Gerber in 2012 this stainless steel tool is available in a range of anodised scale colours and is a great improvement on the Gerber Vice that preceded it. It looks fantastic and the finishing on the tool is a real step up, with smooth edges and little rough machining. Quality remains just so-so, reflecting the fact it is a low budget, Chinese made tool available for a competitive price in direct competition with the various Leatherman offerings.
Gerber seem to excel in making their multi-tools extremely stiff to open when new out of the box and they loosen up only a little with time. Expect to break a finger nail on some of the tighter tools. The tool is constructed with torx screws so an attempt at loosening, or even disassembly, can be made, if not on trail.

Gerber Dime is centred around a small and useful set of pliers- light work only

Gerber Dime is centred around a small and useful set of spring tensioned pliers- light work only

The 66.4g Dime keychain multi-tool is centred around a small pair of plier jaws. Despite being a smaller tool overall, these jaws are larger than the Gerber Vice keychain tool that preceded it. The pliers on the Dime also have an improved tension spring that extends into the body of the tool within small channels in the plier head. The smooth tipped jaws incorporate a not particularly thin needle nose pliers, standard pliers and wire cutters. Only the tips of the needle nose pliers meet and there is a very small gap to the rest of the serrated pliers when closed. Tips are 2.5 millimetres wide at the tip, widening to 3.65 millimetres prior to the wire cutter. These pliers are a general purpose tool for undemanding work only. If used on trail, they would be useful for easing stuck zips- though the tips would benefit from serrations, or grabbing pots off a stove etc. however they will not handle even moderately tough work. If used on heavier work, cutting thick cable ties, thick wire etc, then the jaws will twist apart and clamp rather than cut. I wish this were a true needle nose plier as not only would it set this tool apart from the competition, but also make it more practical in use. Particularly for the type of ‘to-hand’ tasks that a small EDC or trail tool might be used. It would also mean that the tool were less likely to be damaged due to attempting heavy work.

35mm long Spey point blade on Gerber Dime

35mm long Spey point blade on Gerber Dime

The 35mm long double-bevel blade is interesting. It is a ‘Spey Point’ shape, with a good belly. Likely made from 3Cr13 stainless steel, the blade will not readily rust and the bevelled edge will retain sharpness reasonably well and will also sharpen easily. The blade is continual thickness from midway to the spine at 1.80mm thick. Despite the curved shape, the blade when opened can be used for cutting flush to a surface, useful if cutting meats, cheese or veg on a board.

Retail package opener, excvellent for opening clam shell packaging, not a lot of use for anything else

Retail package opener, excellent for opening clam shell packaging, not a lot of use for anything else

Situated on the same side of the tool as the blade is a retail package opener, i.e. for opening those damned clam shell packages we all struggle with. This tool alone earns this multi-tool a place on my home desk but I struggle to see how it is particularly useful for my hiking exploits.

Small pair of tweezers resides in the scales beside the excellent bottle opener

Small pair of tweezers resides in the scales beside the excellent bottle opener

Gerber did a good job to include small yet useful removable tweezers. These are 40mm long with angled tips that meet well. They might struggle with small ticks but would be fine for most thorns and bee stings etc. Folding in to the handles, the Dime includes what are grandly termed coarse and fine files. These are some 12 mm long and situated on each side of the 22mm long small screwdriver. Both are too small and more importantly amount to little more than smooth serrations. They will not even file finger nails. The small driver can work with some Phillips also. An equally short driver facing the small driver has a 6mm wide flat head. This can also be used for light levering- paint tin lids and the like. Not many of them on trail. Folding in to the same handle as the two drivers is a pair of folding scissors. These have been designed so that the two cutting edges always have some tension overlapping them when open, which helps keep the two edges together when cutting. The cutting edges are sprung due to the inclusion of an effective, if small, torsion bar that runs into the body of the tool. All that said, the cutting edges are tiny- being just 13mm long. They will cut paper, card, thinner cordage and KT tape well. Cordura straps will see them struggling but you can steadily hack your way through with perserverance.

Very small pair of spring loaded scissors are sharp but will only handle very light work

Very small pair of spring loaded scissors are sharp but will only handle very light work

Despite being pretty small Three Points of the Compass still thinks multi-tools are too large for hanging comfortably from a keychain, though the more modest dimensions of the Dime, combined with its rounded profile makes it less bulky than the Gerber Vice and Splice forerunners if carried in that manner. The sticky-out bottle cap lifter, though prominent and immediately to hand, is not obtrusive. It is also really effective and amongst the best you will find on any small multi-tool. Though seeing as a Bic lighter can be used to open a bottle just fine, I am never going to get too excited about the inclusion of a bottle opener on a small multi-tool. Postioned at the same end of the tool, the lanyard ring will not fold away or retract if not required, this can be annoying.

The Gerber Dime is ergonomically shaped and one of the smallest keychain multi-tools on the market

The Gerber Dime is ergonomically shaped and one of the smallest keychain multi-tools on the market

Gerber Dime

Tools:

  • Mini-pliers with wire cutter
  • Fine Edge Blade
  • Retail Package Opener
  • Scissors
  • Flat Screwdriver – medium
  • Flat Screwdriver – small
  • File (coarse & fine)
  • Bottle opener
  • Removable tweezers
  • Lanyard ring
The Dime packaging explains the function of each tool included

The Dime packaging lists and explains the function of each tool included

Three Points of the Compass does think that the Dime is a terrific little keychain multi-tool option especially for the price. It looks good, is small and ergonomic and offers a great selection of little tools that may be helpful on a day to day basis, particularly in an urban or office environment. However I am not convinced that this multi-tool is particularly suited for life on trail, especially as there are so many better options, such as the more expensive Leatherman Squirt PS4. The colour on the scales wears badly with time. Many users have experienced failure with the plier jaws if used for anything more than light work. The package opener on the Dime would be mostly superfluous when camping and the file is too small and ineffectual to handle fingernails, the list goes on. But, it is cheap and includes both knife blade and scissors. So if you already have one and need something for a weekend or weeks hiking, it’ll do.

Main scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

Main scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

The Gerber Dime was immediately popular on release however it joined a market still struggling to adapt to the aftermath of the coordinated September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Other manufacturers were also struggling in the wake of these disastrous events, Knife manufacturer Wenger never recovered and were eventually taken over by rival Victorinox. With heightened security, zealous staff at airports worldwide confiscated the little knives sitting in handbags and hanging from keychains of commercial air travellers. In 2015 Gerber released a ‘TSA friendly’ version of the Dime that has no blade beyond those on its small scissors. Gerber even managed to squeeze a zipper-hook into the tool…

Gerber Dime Travel- a supposedly 'carry-on friendly' multi-tool

Gerber Dime Travel- a supposedly ‘carry-on friendly’ multi-tool

Gerber Dime Travel-

The 68g Dime Travel keychain multi-tool is again centred around a pair of small pliers. These are exactly the same as found on the Dime. Again, all tools are stiff to open and will break finger nails with impunity.

Some other tools are also the same, these are the small scissors, small and medium screwdrivers, though the former lacks the useless short file found on the Dime, the Dime Travel having 34mm long, slightly rougher, fine and coarse files instead. The end of the file is a 6.5mm flat tip that will handle light work but any tight screws will produce sufficient torque to twist or even snap the tool. File surface does not extend to the edges so it can not be used for light sawing or notching. Sadly the longer file replaces the blade, removed to make this tool ‘carry-on friendly‘.

Cross-cut file surface on Dime Travel

Cross-cut file surface on Dime Travel

Single cut file surface does little more than buff finger nails

Single cut file surface does little more than buff finger nails

“… attaches to a broken luggage zipper for troubleshooting while travelling”

Comparing the smal Phillips head drivers on Dime Travel (left) and Dime (right)

Comparing the small Phillips head drivers on Dime Travel (left) and Dime (right)

Any other similar tool to those found on the Dime are equally as good, or poor. Tweezers are handy, nothing more, bottle opener is terrific. Again, the scissors are perfectly adequate for light work. However even those have proved unacceptable for some security staff and the Dime Travel has also occasionally been confiscated.

So- what about the zipper hook, there to pull broken zippers. A tool I never realised I needed until… nope, I don’t need it. A 100 per cent useless inclusion. If I need to open a broken zip, I can use the pliers. Such a shame something more useful was not included instead.

Zipper pull. Possibly the most useless tool that has ever been included on a multi-tool

Zipper hook. Possibly the most useless tool that has ever been included on a multi-tool

In common with the Dime, the Travel version has pleasantly designed and ergonomic handles with rounded edges that prevent it snagging in pockets etc. There is just a little textured moulding to the scales that improves both looks and grip just a little.

Gerber Dime Travel- leave it at home...

Gerber Dime Travel- leave it at home…

Tools:

  • Dime Travel packagingMini-pliers with wire cutter
  • Scissors
  • Flat Screwdriver – medium
  • Flat Screwdriver – small
  • File (coarse & fine)
  • Zipper hook
  • Bottle opener
  • Removable tweezers
  • Lanyard ring

In summary:

Both tools are currently reasonably priced and will handle light work. Some of the tools, such as the smaller file surfaces and zipper pull are beyond useless and should be totally discounted when it comes to making a decision. Three Points of the Compass is never likely to carry either of these tools while backpacking as there are better options. That said, the Dime does provide the most basic of necessary tools with a little extra functionality and could be a handy little keychain tool for urban EDC. The Dime Travel however has little going for it, there are far better alternatives in my opinion. Beyond being a curiosity, the Dime Travel is unlikely to ever be carried by Three Points of the Compass- anywhere.

The smaller scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

The smaller scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

Dime and Dime Travel specifications:

Weight Length Width

(across widest point of torx)

Depth
Dime 66.4g 70mm 15.45 20.65mm
Dime Travel 68g 70mm 14.45mm 20.55mm
Two good looking keychain multi-tools from Gerber. One is useful, the other less so

Two good looking keychain multi-tools from Gerber. One is useful, the other less so

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.

First Aid Kit for multi-day backpacking trips

Gear talk: First Aid Kit

It is perfectly possible to go on a walk carrying no first aid capability at all. However knowing how to cope with issues and carrying something to deal with blisters, cuts, strains, allergic reaction, chafing or even diarrhoea can make completing a hike both possible and more enjoyable. 

Bags and pouches of small stuff carried on longer hikes

Bags and pouches of small stuff carried on longer hikes. My First Aid Kit is bottom left

Three Points of the Compass tends to compartmentalise gear while on trail. It makes it easier to find items quickly when required, protects them from getting wet and ensures that nothing is lost. Previously I have looked at my hydration, hygiene and ditty bag preferences. My First Aid Kit is just one of the various pouches carried. Currently this is a small DCF zippable pouch made by Tread Lite Gear. The kit weighs 161g, a great deal more than most would carry, but means that I can deal with injuries or ailments that I am most likely to suffer from while on trail. First Aid Kits are deeply personal and contents can, and should, vary for everyone. Note that Three Points of the Compass is not a medical practitioner and this is by no means a recommendation on what you should take. I have had some first aid training, I am a seasoned hiker and am familiar with how to deal with most problems my body will suffer from while on trail. That said, for the great majority of my hikes, this kit never gets opened unless I need the mirror, nail clippers or file.

Contents of First Aid Kit

161g First Aid Kit

Contents of my multi-day backpacking First Aid Kit:

  • 15cm x 10cm rectangle of Opsite Flexifix. Thin, vapour permeable, waterproof and bacteria proof transparent adhesive film. Cut to size, applied over dressing covering cleaned scrapes and skin trauma.
  • 1 x 10cm x 10cm Melolin dressing- flexible film. Non-woven breathable dressing for cuts and grazes. Conforms to body contours, good for awkward injuries on elbows and knees
  • 1 x 5cm x 5cm Aquacel hydrofiber dressings. Non-woven fibres form a gel on contact with cavity wound fluid. Antimicrobial properties
  • 5 x 7.5cm x 7.5cm sterile gauze swabs
  • 5 x 3mm steri-strip skin closures
  • 2 x fabric plasters- not many carried, two for being immediately to hand, otherwise fashion from gauze and tape as required
  • 1 x 2g sachet Celox haemostatic agent- good for stopping oozing or bad bleeds
  • Flexible 80mm x 40mm Victorinox mirror- with central sighting hole. Kept in small dedicated baggie to stop the mirror face scratching- Useful for facial injuries and tick checks, also when shaving
  • 1m of 50mm Hypafix tape- cut to fit plaster, fixing gauze etc. 
  • 1m of 50mm KT tape- latex free kinesiology tape. Muscle strains, tendonitis. Also acts as cut to fit plaster and potentially splinting
  • Cohesive bandage- a lighter and smaller option than the more effective Ace bandage
  • 4 x clean, sealed compressed towlettes- Cleaning wounds etc.
  • Single nappy pin
  • Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper tweezers- not the best but small and convenient
  • Victorinox nail clippers- model 8.2050 B1- hand and foot care, probably not required on every trail but light enough to always include
  • Glass crystal nail file- hand and foot care. long lasting and better than a metal or emery file
  • No. 10 Scalpel blade- clean, a better option than a mucky knife blade for wounds and cutting flaps of loose skin etc.
  • O’Tom Tick Twisters- good tick tweezers are an essential item on trail
  • Westcott titanium embroidery scissors- small, light and well made, for cutting gauze and tape
  • Betadine- antiseptic (10% povidine iodine). In 2ml glass bottle with orifice reducer. Cuts, scrapes and burns
  • Small sealed straw tube of Dermovate ointment- steroid ointment for inflamed skin conditions
  • 28g tube Lanacane. Anti-chafe gel
  • 8 x Ibuprofen- pain killer, treats fever and anti-inflammation. Note these are 400mg, not the more commonly seen 200mg
  • 6 x Aspirin 300mg- pain killer, no anti-inflammatory properties. Heart attack!
  • 7 x Loratadine- anti-allergy
  • 5 x Piriton- Chlorphenamine maleate- anti-allergy. (also helps you sleep if absolutely necessary)

  • 3 x Imodium plus comfort- Loperamide hydrochloride with simethicone- in the event of stomach upset, life could potentially be pretty miserable if these are not to hand

As you can see, there is quite a bit to the contents of my First Aid Kit. This has been refined over many years and modern products have occasionally taken the place of items that I used to include. Two simple and efficient tapes have replaced my micropore, leucotape, transpore or leucosilk tapes formerly carried. I carried an Ace bandage for many years, great that they are, they are also very bulky and not an insignificant weight penalty. The cohesive bandage has replaced that though it is still a weighty inclusion. Much of the rest of the weight of this kit comes from a full tube of anti-chafe gel, a decent set of nail clippers and good scissors. There are some items that I used to carry that I struggled to now exclude- nitrile gloves, resuscitation face shield, silicone toe cots and yet more tape amongst them.

Note that the above is my First Aid Kit for longer, multi-day, backpacking trips. With these contents I expect to be able to complete a hike with no need to seek out a pharmacy or similar. Contents will last me many weeks and I take considerably less with me on a single day hike. Medicants and other expiry dates are checked regularly and replaced as required.

An earlier incarnation of the First Aid Kit carried by Three Points of the Compass. Though reduced since, many of the contents are the same. Arnamurchan 2018

An earlier incarnation of the First Aid Kit carried by Three Points of the Compass. Though reduced since, many of the contents are the same. Ardnamurchan 2018

The contents of my First Aid kit, and the bag or pouch it is all gathered together in, have varied considerably over my hiking years. No doubt it will continue to evolve. When accompanied by Mrs Three Points of the Compass, or when our young daughter used to accompany us, this will influence the contents to a degree, despite both of them also carrying a kit refined to their own particular needs. Hiking overseas has also altered the inclusion of medications. 

Finally, two further comments on my First Aid kit. It is ideally easily accessed from my pack with just one hand. I keep my First Aid Kit in an outer pocket of my smaller Osprey pack on day hikes, and within the top of my Gossamer Gear Mariposa on multi-day hikes. While the DCF pouch containing my First Aid Kit is highly water resistant, it is not completely waterproof, so is also double protected, being kept within the pack liner, possibly also within an additional zip-lock if the weather is especially harsh.

Roll call on the Cape Wrath Trail. Scotland was VERY wet during this hike and it rained heavily on many days. First Aid Kit, electronics and ditty bag were all double protected from water ingress, being kept together in a sealed bag

Roll call on the Cape Wrath Trail. Scotland was VERY wet during this hike and it rained heavily on many days. First Aid Kit, electronics and ditty bag were all double protected from water ingress, being kept together in a sealed bag. And yes, Three Points of the Compass did carry O.S. maps, Harvey map AND Cicerone trail guide. Used maps were posted home whenever a post office was passed

My next glance at the small bags and pouches of ‘stuff’ carried on trail shall be my 2020 electronics pouch. The contents of which have probably changed most amongst all of my back-packing gear over the years as advances in technology have progressed.

 

The Short brothers

Trail talk: a walk around the birthplace of British aviation

From 'Flight' 17th February 1912

From ‘Flight’ 17th February 1912

A hot day, one of the hottest of the summer, time for Three Points of the Compass to venture out. But where to go? Somewhere breezy and cool, somewhere wooded and shaded? Nope, I decided an exposed section of mostly farmland with little shelter, little difference in terrain, no climbs, all low level (in fact almost sea level), would be just the ticket. Especially as I was glancing at where British aviation history was made, and is today largely forgotten.

Harty Church, or the church of 'St Thomas the Apostle, is a glorious cool respite from the heat of the day and is worth a brief exploration prior to a days walk

Harty Church, or the church of ‘St Thomas the Apostle’, is a glorious cool respite from the heat of the day and is worth a brief exploration prior to a days walk

I was walking from one quiet and secluded hamlet to another, equally isolated coastal settlement, at the most easterly point of the Isle of Sheppey, before a meandering inland amble back via various tracks and bridleways. Few of the landscape images shown here will be of much interest. The fields are mostly devoid of features, but delve a little in to this areas history and it can be surprising what is hidden.

Early Monoplane flying at Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey. This area was the location for the birth of British aviation

Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy monoplane flying in the international airplane racing event held at Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey in 1911

I parked at Harty, a place probably first populated in the late Bronze Age. Later, in the Middle Ages there were extensive salt working near here and the remnant mounds are some of the only taller features of the mostly flat ground at the eastern end of the Isle of Sheppey in North Kent. The farmed fields were mostly cereals of which around half had recently been taken in. The fields were quiet with no-one around, no walkers, no farm workers, none of the few local residents to be seen. Perhaps unsurprising given that the air was already stifling, a quivering haze over the fields as the air distorted.

Barn Owl in window of Harty Church

Barn Owl in window of Harty Church

Prior to setting off on my walk I stopped in to the lovely little church that overlooks the Swale from its modest rise. The interior of the late 11th or early 12th century Grade II* Harty church doesn’t quite live up to its lovely exterior but Three Points of the Compass was especially taken with some of the stained glass that depicts local farming scenes and wildlife. There is no electricity or running water in this isolated church. Lighting in the nave being provided by hanging paraffin lamps.

The fields are large and mostly flat. Prior to the First World War, the fields beside my path, adjacent to Harty Church, were emergency landing areas for the pilots experimenting with faltering training flights during the war years of 1914-1918. Today, they were simply cereal crops.

The flat cereal fields of eastern Sheppey. Looking north west to slight rise at Eastchurch

The flat cereal fields of eastern Sheppey. Looking north west to the slight rise at Eastchurch. The small dot in the sky is a soaring Marsh Harrier

After an initial exploratory wander around some of the fields I moved toward the seawall of the Swale National Nature Reserve which I then followed northward between the saltings and the grazing marsh. This area is part of the internationally recognised coastal marshlands of North Kent with many rare and uncommon migrant moths and butterflies. It is an especially wonderful place in winter with large numbers of waders, wildfowl and raptors and todays walk could also be completed then. The rough pasture provide breeding space for waders in the Spring and Terns nest along the shell spit off Shellness. Today, little moved. Marsh Harriers quartered the fields or soared on thermals. Swans, geese and Little Egrets quietly fed in the dykes. Just a few Corn Buntings and Warblers were moving around, it was a quiet and hot walk and I was pleased to stop off in the relative cool of one of the hides for mid-morning snack and water.

Harty marshes walk- the birthplace of British aviation- hide

Rough coastal marshland, sympathetically managed for wildlife by local farmers- a small number of hides are provided for birdwatchers and the merely curious

From 'Flight' 27th Nov 1909

From ‘Flight’ 27th Nov 1909

The Short brothers built their first aircraft factory at Shellbeach (Shellness), at the far eastern end of the Isle of Sheppey. It was probably built there for two reasons, the flat fields being ideal for early flights and the very isolation and seclusion that the area offered.

Eustace and Oswald Short took their first flight in a coal gas filled balloon in 1897 and began selling balloons in 1902, supplying the British Indian Army by 1905. Joined by their brother Horace, they opened an aerodrome at Shellbeach on the Isle of Sheppey in July 1909. The ‘Short Brothers’, or Shorts, were licenced to sell copies of the Wright Flyer aeroplane and six were sold to the Aero Club, later Royal Aero Club, that was situated at nearby Leysdown-on-Sea.

The Wright brothers visited the Shorts aerodrome frequently and had been impressed with the facilities there. They were introduced to the Shorts by Charles Rolls, of Rolls Royce fame, also an avid airman. Rolls was given Pilots Certificate No. 2 and in 1910 flew a Wright Flyer built by Shorts near here to make the first two-way crossing of the English Channel. Charles tragically went on to be the first Briton killed in an aeronautical accident when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display in 1910. A window in nearby Eastchurch church commemorates Rolls and his friend Cecil Grace, the latter lost at sea in a cross-channel flight in 1910. Grace had been returning to Eastchurch when he crashed at sea, steering by the sun as he had discarded his unreliable compass.

Village sign- Leysdown-on-Sea, the birthplace of British AviationThe tide was out and most avian wildlife was far from my path however the grating cry of terns was constant as I neared the little isolated community at Shellness. The husk of a Slow Worm lay on my path, picked over by a lucky gull or Kestrel, just the meaty middle section had been eaten. Butterflies led my way down the clear path, the bare earth so dry it was cracked open with gullies wide enough to swallow my foot.

Once upon a time Shellness was thought might become a bit of a touristy holiday hotspot and a narrow gauge railway opened in 1901 and ran almost all the way to this end of the island, however tourism barely materialised and the railway closed 4 December 1950. Almost nothing remains to show the line ever existed.

There is a little car park at the end of the nature reserve but no-one was visiting. I had enjoyed two hours of walking without seeing a soul. I joined the sea wall at the north eastern tip of Sheppey and began the short walk westward toward Leysdown-on-Sea. There were now a number of people around. They had all parked their cars on the rough unmade road leading out to the peninsula and occupants had made their way to the sand and shingle dunes to my right. Little windbreakers peeked their tops from hollows, their owners standing beside, arms akimbo. I kept my gaze averted as this is one of the few official UK naturist beaches. Ironically, I was now wearing more clothes than when I set off as the sun was unrelenting and I had now donned sun-sleeves.

The Short Brothers look to the sky. Statue at Muswell Manor, near Leysdown-on-Sea

The Short Brothers look to the sky. Statue at Muswell Manor, near Leysdown-on-Sea The Short Brothers were Britain’s first aircraft manufacturers- also designing and building the first British-powered aircraft to complete a circular flight of one mile.

At the Muswell Manor caravan park on the edge of Leysdown I stopped to admire the roadside commemorative statue of the three Short brothers. Muswell Manor used be called Mussel House, and was the home of the World’s first flying club- the Aero Club of Great Britain. It is an apt location for the lovely evocative statue. The brothers stand gazing toward the fields where their early aircraft lumbered in to the sky. With their arms outstretched, the three siblings appeared to indicate that there were no bounds to their airborne ambition.

Aviation history, a group of pioneers. Back row left to right: JDF Andrews, Oswald,Horace and Eustace Short, Frank McClean, Griffith Brewer, Frank Hedges Butler, Dr. WJS Lockyer, Warwick Wright. Seated, left to right: JTC Moore-Brabazon, Wilbur Wright, Oliver Wright, Charles Rolls

Pioneers of aviation- Back row, left to right: JDF Andrews, Oswald,Horace and Eustace Short, Francis McClean, Griffith Brewer, Frank Hedges Butler, Dr. WJS Lockyer, Warwick Wright. Seated, left to right: JTC Moore-Brabazon, Wilbur Wright, Oliver Wright, Charles Rolls. Photographed outside Mussel House (later Muswell Manor), May 1909

Small plaque celebrating the first powered aerial flight made nearby, by a Briton- J.T.C.Moore-Brabazon, on 2nd May 1909

Small plaque celebrating the first powered aerial flight made nearby, by a Briton- J.T.C.Moore-Brabazon, on 2 May 1909

The park’s club house apparently displays early aviation history via various photographs and documents but in this year of Covid-19, with associated social distancing, I was not stopping in, so after again pausing in the welcome shade of a decent sized tree, uncommon around here, and further hydration I walked a short distance along the track to a little sad and broken memorial plaque to Britain’s first aviator.

25 year old John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon was the third name to appear in Short’s first order book and on 2 May 1909, two days before the Wright brothers first visited the Shellbeach aerodrome and factory, he took off, near where I was standing, in his Short aeroplane Bird of Paradise to become the first resident Englishman to make an officially recognised aeroplane flight in England with flights of 450ft, 600ft, and 1500ft. In March 1910 Moore-Brabazon became the first person to qualify as a pilot in the UK.

Bird of Paradise, at Shorts Shellbeach factory, 1909

Moore-Brabazon’s ‘Bird of Paradise’, at Shorts Shellbeach factory, 1909. The hangers were relocated the following year to Eastchurch

Three Points of the Compass moving inland after a coastal section on the Isle of Sheppey

Three Points of the Compass moving inland through a short section of reedbeds after a coastal section at the east end of the Isle of Sheppey

Pigs might fly

On 30 October that year Moore-Brabazon went on to win a £1000 prize offered by the Daily Mail by flying a circular mile. Piloting a Short Biplane No. 2 and cocking a snook at scoffers, on 4 November 1909 he strapped a pig into a litter bin, tied it to a wing strut and proved that pigs, indeed, might fly.

The plain, flat and featureless fields at the eastern end of the Isle of Sheppy reveal little of their importance to Britain's aviation history

The mostly flat and featureless fields at the eastern end of the Isle of Sheppey reveal little of their importance to Britain’s aviation history. It was here that the first powered flight was made by an Englishman

Some Rights of Way have been diverted over the decades

Some Rights of Way have been diverted over the decades

I had seen Bridleways on my O.S. map that used to loop out into fields before returning to a concrete farm track. My map, purchased decades before when I first walked this area, was now showing its age. Rights of Way had been diverted and there was now no need to crash through the crops and for a while I stuck to a concrete road that ran between the isolated settlements. Eastchurch could be seen off to my right and I took whatever permissible path that enabled me to get nearer.

Marsh Harriers circled above and there was barely a sound to be heard. A lone Spitfire flew over. Off to some commemorative fly-by down the far coast towards Whitstable. No military aircraft take off from the island today but in 1911 the Royal Navy established a flying school only a half dozen miles from where I was walking. Shorts began supplying their aircraft to the Navy and eventually turned to seaplanes.

The rough roads around here had been crucial in 1913. The floatplanes that Shorts manufactured for the Navy had to be towed behind a lorry from their factory to the other end of the island where they could be launched from the timber wharf at Queenborough.

I was walking at the eastern end of the island but it was at Sheerness Harbour in 1912, at the western end of Sheppey that a Short S27 became the first plane to take off from a ship in Britain. Proving the way and making the inception of aircraft carriers a realised practically.

Inland walk through the fields used for experimental flights 1909-10

Inland walk through the flat fields where experimental flights took place 1909-10

“Flight guaranteed”

Charles Rolls flies his Short-Wright-Flyer 'A' from Shellbeach to Eastchurch on 21 December 1909

Charles Rolls flies his Short-Wright-Flyer ‘A’ from Shellbeach to Eastchurch on 21 December 1909

Despite the flatness of the fields at this end of the island, Shorts quickly realised that the drainage dykes and ditches also found here could be hazardous so the three brothers decided to move just three miles west to a more permanent factory at Eastchurch.

It was there, at Stamford Hill, Eastchurch, that Charles Rolls had successfully completed an un-powered flight in 1908 in a glider made by Shorts. It was also at Eastchurch that Shorts built the world’s first twin-engine aircraft, the S-39 or Triple Twin, in 1911. The Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy competition was held there the same year.

From 'Aero' 15th March 1910

From ‘Aero’ 15th March 1910

Eastchurch aerodrome, c1911

Eastchurch aerodrome, c1911

One of Shorts customers, Francis McClean, had purchased Stonepits Farm, at Eastchurch and it was to there that the Aero Club relocated from Muswell Manor. McClean rented out the land surrounding the farm to Shorts and it developed into a complex of factory sheds and hangers. McClean loaned his aircraft to the Navy for them to train their pilots. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, learnt to fly at Eastchurch in 1913. and the airfield was requisitioned in December 1914 to serve as the base for No. 2 and No. 4 Squadrons Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

As well as being a training ground for naval pilots, experiments were held here with wireless telegraphy, bomb dropping, aerial machine gunnery and navigation while flying.

There is a remarkable short piece of film that survives, showing Empire Air Day when it was held at Eastchurch in 1937. Later the area became RAF Station Eastchurch. In the Second World War, it was a notable base for the Polish Air Force during the Battle of Britain. Shorts outgrew their factory at Eastchurch, and in late 1933 opened an additional much larger factory at Rochester, about nine miles to the west on mainland Kent. In 1934 they finally closed their Eastchurch factory.

StonePitts Farm sits surrounded by the Shorts sheds and hangers where Shorts built their aircraft and members of the Aero Club stored their craft

StonePits Farm sits surrounded by the Shorts sheds and hangers where Shorts built their aircraft and members of the Aero Club stored their craft

Sadly, I couldn’t walk around this part of the island as the area where the hangers were situated has now become a category D open prison holding over 450 men- HM Prison Standford Hill. HM Prison Swaleside was built on the airstrip of RAF Eastchurch. Instead, I hugged the edges of a few fields as I explored the low terrain, moving west and east as the paths permitted, moving back toward my start point at Harty. Hares started as I approached, then shot off across the stubble at impressive speed.

The aircraft sheds at Eastchurch photographed over a centruy ago. This is where the earliest of British made aeroplanes were constructed and kept between flights

The aircraft sheds at Eastchurch photographed over a century ago. This is where the earliest of British made aeroplanes were constructed and kept between flights

Sadly there is little left surviving of the those halcyon days of the British aircraft industry. What remains, is dilapidated and unloved. There is no general public access to the site of the original Eastchurch aircraft hangers, any remnants now being behind walls of HM Prisons

Sadly there is little left surviving of the those halcyon days of the British aircraft industry. What remains, is dilapidated and unloved. There is no general public access to the site of the original Eastchurch aircraft hangers built by Harbrows for the Admiralty in 1912. The remnants are now within the walls of HM Prisons. These hangers were being used for storing agricultural machinery around a decade ago and were photographed then

I returned to Harty church, my walk over by mid-afternoon. No one else had been around when I commenced my days walk, on my return, the interior of the church was being swamped by a couple of large and loud family groups, presumably drawn there due to its proximity to the nearby Ferry Inn. However a couple of shaded benches are conveniently situated in the surrounding church grounds and with the temperature now in the thirties, I sat for a while, cooled off, rehydrated and took in a last inhalation of the peace of the area before returning to my car and home.

Today was a simple walk. The paths are level and it takes an eye to look for variety and interest. A short circuit of the east end of the Isle of Sheppey could be made in six miles, exploring a little more extends that to around thirteen or fourteen miles.

The small village of Eastchurch now has a Memorial to the Home of Aviation

The small village of Eastchurch now has a Memorial to the Home of Aviation

Credit: With thanks to Dave Robinson of Aviation Ancestry for the three images from Aero and Flight