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Trail talk: food resupply

Food resupply on longer trails in the UK can be a worry to some hikers. This need not be so. Being adaptable and seizing opportunity will suffice for most of the time.

Most hikers will prepare a day or two, possibly more, of meals prior to setting off on a hike. Others will be planning at staying at accomodation and will have arranged meals, perhaps that accomodation will also provide packed midday meals for between night stops. Beyond that it may be possible to have food resupply posted on to known halts, or cache food in advance. However for walks in the UK of many weeks or months in duration, it will eventually become necessary to rely on local availability for food resupply. Those who have not experienced this may worry unnecessarily about it. The fact is, that anywhere in the UK is never more than two or three day’s hike from some form of, albeit limited, food resupply opportunity. Though you may have to leave a trail to achieve that. The secret is not to get hung up with ‘must haves’ and be prepared to work around what there is on the shelves. Large towns will have a choice of supermarkets, artisan foodshops, possibly even outdoor gear shops with rehydrated meal offerings. But for much of the UK, such abundant choice will seldom be encountered on particularly long hikes.

Following resupply at Fort William, prior to setting off on Cape Wrath Trail
Following resupply at Fort William, prior to setting off on the Cape Wrath Trail. I am unsure how many days supply there is here, probably almost a week or more. Most has been repackaged into lighter wrapping. Fruit and nut oat granola with mint choc whey and honey for breakfast. Flour tortillas and tuna for five days of lunches. Evening curries made from red split lentils, curry powder, dried fried onions, tomato and garlic paste in oil, to eat with a choice of carbs- instant mash, noodles or couscous. snacks are individually wrapped cheeses, dark chocolate, Tablet, Snickers and oat bars. Drinks are tea bags, Oxo, drinking chocolate, fruit infusions, milk powder and sugar sachets. There are also three small containers containing smoked salt, ground pepper and dried chillies. Plus one emergency dehydrated meal.
South West Coast Path
A less than satisfactory partial resupply on the South West Coast Path. Even with a limited shopping choice, there is still good food here- Individually packaged Soreen (malt loaf), almonds and dried berries, instant noodles, chocolate flapjacks, porridge oats and milk powder, plenty of cheese, teabags, Oxo, chocolate and boiled sweets. Enough for three days at least.
A first lunch after rejoining trail after a town- fresh fruit and cheese
A first lunch after rejoining trail after a halt in town- fresh fruit and cheese

Food is heavy. It is one of the heaviest things, beside water, you will carry on trail. Not having enough food is not good. Having plenty of food and eating and enjoying it is good.

Adaptability is key. Muster a basic understanding of what you require for sustained activity. It isn’t all about calories, though that is a key concern. A mix of carbohydrates and proteins, fats and sugars. Salts and taste.

Of less concern are vitamins. While vitamin tablets can be taken, these should not be necessary provided you also take the opportunity to load up on fruits and vegetables occasionally when the opportunity presents itself. Take a (heavy) piece of fruit or tomato for the first day back on trail. Think about carrying dense, heavy and fat filled food for the first nights halt.

With just a couple of days beween larger towns on trail there is little in my food bag beside heavy tasty foods- Chilli beef pasty, pork pies and cheeses. Some moderately heathier foods are beneath, honest!
With just a couple of days beween larger towns on trail there is little in my food bag beside heavy, tasty and calorie dense foods- Chilli beef pasty, pork pies and cheeses. Some moderately heathier foods are beneath, honest!

We all hanker after a burger, pizza, steak or fish and chips after a few days on trail. There is a reason for this, it is the body and brain talking, recognising a shortage of some trace element, or even just pure calories. Listen to the message. Stop for the burger, but load up with the side salad at the same time.

Steak and chips on South West Coast Path- with extra side order of steamed vegetables
Steak and chips on South West Coast Path- with extra side order of steamed vegetables
Deep fried chicken with chips, with small side salad. Approaching John O'Groats
Fried fish with chips, with small side salad. Approaching John O’Groats

Some long trails in the UK have well known, if not famous, ‘to be visited’ shops where the owners know what hikers are after. No doubt following numerous requests. Be prepared to pay a premium. These people have steep overheads and probably have to travel miles themselves, or pay a premium delivery fee, to get non-local goods to them. Suck it up, even if you think the price extortinate and you suspect being ripped off. The price of a Snickers in a city supermarket cannot be compared against the price in a shed on the edge of the fells.

Just a couple of hundred metres off the Pennine Way is May's shop. Some hikers pass. Don't! Call in and put some trade her way
Just a couple of hundred metres off the Pennine Way at Colden, near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire is May’s shop. Some hikers pass. Don’t! Call in and put some trade her way
May has been providing provisions for the local community and Pennine Way hikers for half a century. I stocked up with a couple of days supply, had a decent lunch, two mugs of tea, refilled water bottles with ice cold water from her homes hill side spring and enjoyed an hours chat with the locals
May has been providing provisions for the local community and Pennine Way hikers for half a century. I stocked up with a couple of days food supply, had a decent lunch, two mugs of tea, refilled water bottles with ice cold water from the spring that supplies her home and enjoyed an hours chat with the locals

In addition, you are bringing custom and money to a local community, ensuring that such a small shop can also continue delivering a service to those living locally. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic none of us are sure what small retail outlets will have managed to struggle on.

These little stores rely as much on us as we do on them. It is almost a duty to call in and put some sort of custom their way, even if your foodbag is full and it is only for a chocolate bar. But if you can pick up a locally made loaf of bread and some local cheese, why not? That is casual halts and lunches sorted for a couple of days.

Mackay's London Stores at  Badcall are well known as something as a Cape Wrath institution. One of the last good calls for food before the end of trail
Mackay’s London Stores at Badcall are well known as something of a Cape Wrath institution. Probably the last good call for food before the end of trail
A loaf of organic bread, Devon Blue cheese and oat and chocolate snacks. Purchased from a small shop beside trail, enough to provide lunch for at least three days
Two small loaves of organic bread, Devon Blue cheese and oat and chocolate snacks. An unplanned purchase from a small shop beside trail, enough to provide lunch for at least three days

It is easy to feel a little nervous about trusting to the availabilty of food. It may be necessary to call into roadside petrol stations, factor in a call to a pub or an overnight halt in their bunkhouse or in a hostel and take advantage of what they have. Some pubs and hostels may even stock an extremely limited range of foodstuffs, though these can frequently be heavy tinned goods (don’t forget a tin opener). Some camp sites will also stock a small range of essential foods, but again, these may be more aimed at motorised campers or have to be booked in advance- such as fresh bread, (liquid) milk, tinned goods (which are often luxury goods such as fruit) or sweet treats for kids. At the very least you can probably stock up a trail mix here.

Trailmix
Trailmix is what you can find- Fruit pastelles, Jelly Babies, Peanut M&M’s, Sultanas and Almonds. As my brother put it “all the food groups covered- not!
Trailmix
Another trailmix- Mixed nuts, M&M’s, Liquorice Allsorts and Jelly Babies

The larger campsites are not so much aimed at the pedestrian hiker foodwise. Perhaps enough for that nights halt but insufficent for following days. But even then, search the shelves. Fancy labelled chocolate smothered cookies can contain oats rather than flour, flapjacks of some form or another are almost universal. Packet soups can be supplemented with dried potato. Noodles can be found almost everywhere. Another thing to be remembered if halting at one of the large campsites, complete with its hundreds of caravans and motorhomes, is that many takeways too far to walk to will deliver to a campsite entrance. Perhaps an opportunity to tackle that hankering after a pizza?

I wouldn't like to carry this on trail, but my eveing meal of tinned spuds, sweetcorn and beef chilli made a welcome change from the usual dehydrated trail foodstuffs
I wouldn’t like to carry this on trail, but my evening meal of tinned spuds, sweetcorn and beef chilli made a welcome change from the usual dehydrated trail foodstuffs. This is the type of heavy but satisfying food sold at large official campsites
Haggis Pizza- delivered to my campsite at Jedburgh
Haggis Pizza- delivered to my campsite at Jedburgh
It mostly the boatng crowd, motorcyclists and owners of moterhomes that call in to the Jetty Stores at Salen on the Ardnamuchan Peninsula. Few hikers pass this way, but it was a popping in
It is mostly the boating crowd, motorcyclists and owners of motorhomes that call in to the Jetty Stores at Salen on the Ardnamuchan Peninsula. Few hikers pass this way
Salen Jetty Stores sold little beside coffee, sweets and postacrds, but I was still able to pick up chocolate, oatey snacks and two well-wrapped cheese toasties for consuming over the next two days
Salen Jetty Stores sold little beside coffee, sweets and postcards, but I was still able to pick up chocolate, oatey snacks and two well-wrapped cheese toasties for consuming over the next two days
Three Points of the Compass has hiked the West Highland Way twice. The first time there was little in the way of opportunistic 'on trail' snack and food supplies. The second time, seasonal outlets had sprung up
Three Points of the Compass has hiked the West Highland Way twice. The first time there was little in the way of opportunistic ‘on trail’ snack and food supplies. On my second visit, seasonal outlets such as the Cherry Tree Cafe at Craigrostan Woods had sprung up
The Cherry Tree Cafe is a newer seasonal on trail stop for hikers on the West Highland Way. Everything has to be carried in by the priotors, though offerings such as this tomato and pasta dish with fresh garnish can not be faulted
The Cherry Tree Cafe is a newer seasonal ‘on trail’ halt for hikers on the West Highland Way. Everything has to be carried in by the proprietors. Offerings such as this tomato and pasta dish with fresh garnish can not be faulted
The kindness of strangers- thoughtfully provided food, drink, w/c, shower and washing machine for passing Pennine Way hikers
The kindness of strangers- thoughtfully provided food, drink, w/c, shower and washing machine for passing Pennine Way hikers

The well known ‘trail magic’ experienced on the popular US long trails is not particularly a ‘thing’ in the UK. Though you will see variants on it. People will set up honesty boxes at the end of their drive. When you are lucky, you will find clingfilm wrapped home made cakes and flapjacks. If the path passing is a popular trail such as the Pennine Way, Offa’s Dyke or West Highland Way, there is an increasing number of (frankly opportunistic, and why not) provision.

'Trail magic' such as this is not something often encoutered on UK trails
‘Trail magic’ such as this is not something often encountered on UK trails

These will seldom provide much in the way of ‘proper’ meal stuffs and cannot be relied on as an effective means of resupply, to be regarded instead as welcome snacks and supplementary drinks. In glut season you will find windfall fruit such apples being offered free of charge. However many farmside or small-holding boxes will not provide much of use- having things such as duck and chicken eggs and heavy jars of preserves and honey for sale.

Trailside offerings- Offa's Dyke
Trailside offerings- honesty box on Offa’s Dyke. There is little here of practical use to the hiker
Another Offas's Dyke honesty box, in common with the previous, there is little here of practical use to the hiker
Another Offas’s Dyke honesty box. Unlike the previous box, there is fresh fruit, chocolate bars and homemade flapjacks for sale
Honesty box on West Highland Way
Honesty box on West Highland Way
Peanut butter makes a calorie and protein rich, if heavy, trail food that will last many days
Peanut butter makes a calorie and protein rich, if heavy, trail food that will last many days. It can be purchased almost everywhere

As you may see, while it is possible to supplement food carried on trail with serendipitous encounters on trail, such opportunities cannot be relied on. The best routine I have found is to stock up periodically with three to six days of basic supplies. It is in Scotland that more days of food may be required if you want to stay on trail and not wander off for resupply. Always look for the dried and dehydrated forms. Water is a separate issue on trail but the UK is a wet place and while water take-up requires careful thought and occasional planning, I find water far less a problem than food, and food is not much of an issue. These will be mostly carbs that need not weigh a great deal, plus some tasty proteins in the densest form possible in the lightest wrapping to be found- perhaps dried salami, firm smoked cheese or tuna pouches. Even nuts, such as almonds, could be an option. I find going mostly vegetarian and carrying loose split red lentils with the aforementioned additions for curries does me well. Plus a few tasty treats such as chocolate or trail mix, and whatever drink stuff you like. I carry tea bags, milk powder, salty Oxo beef stock cubes and hot chocolate powder. Then simply run down and restock as opportunity arises. On long trails I may also be carrying peanut butter or Nutella, but never in a glass jar.

First day back on trail following a large food resupply on the Offa's Dyke Path
First day back on trail following a large food resupply on the Offa’s Dyke Path. I knew that I could obtain an evening meal for the next few nights so am only carrying food for the remainder of each day plus two evening meals. There is around five days of food here.

If not carrying a pre-packed granola, I always try and have a dry oat based mix in my food bag. It is usually possible to find many constituent parts for this in most shops that sell food.

That said, I always find breakfast a problem on trail. Eventually I get fed up with porridge oats. I will mix them up with choc mint whey powder and the like, swap out to fancy granolas of one flavour or another, change to trail bars, they all get a little tiresome after many days.

There is always a base mix carried that can be consumed if things get a little low in the food bag. This changing mix is carbohydrate and calorie rich and can, if necessary be eaten at any time, hot, cold, or if push comes to shove, dry. Again, proteins may be represented in nut form.

A breakfast mix can be prepared from whatever ingredients can be found in local shops passed on trail- this is porridge oats, milk powder, chocolate whey, dried banana and sultanas with almonds. I can be eaten hot or cold, or even spooned in dry with mouthfulls of water
A ‘breakfast’ mix can be prepared from whatever ingredients can be found in local shops passed on trail- this is porridge oats, milk powder, chocolate whey, dried banana and sultanas with almonds. It can be eaten hot or cold, or even consumed dry, with mouthfuls of water
Preparing a similar breakfast while crossing central England
Preparing a hot breakfast while crossing central England
A typical breakfast on trail, before I get fed up with oats. This is a hot oat mix with added milk powder and nutella with a pint of strong tea
A typical breakfast on trail, before I get fed up with oats. This is a large hot oat mix with added milk powder and nutella with a pint of strong tea
The Tan Hill Inn is a 'must stop' location on the Pennine Way. If possible, stay overnight
The Tan Hill Inn is a ‘must stop’ location on the Pennine Way. If possible, stay overnight
A Full English at the Tan Hill Inn prepares the hiker for a day crossing the moors
A Full English at the Tan Hill Inn prepares the hiker for a day crossing the moors

I try and build in occasional halts at hostels, sometimes an Inn or very infrequently a Bed and Breakfast. I don’t ‘do’ hotels on trail as I feel so out of place when doing so. If staying somewhere I try and book a breakfast. Even a Full English gets wearisome so I’ll mix it up if I can. This also gives the opportunity to try and snaffle a few extras for later down the trail- sugar sachets, hard boiled eggs, cheeses, even sachets of mustard or sauce to add to an evening meal. Perhaps five or six nights camping followed by a single night in a hostel is the ideal (also giving opportunity to recharge electrics) but hostels and the like are where they are and can also be booked up solid. Take it as it is.

It used to be possible to walk from YHA hostel to hostel on the National Trails. That has not been the case for some time. This is YHA Hawes on the Pennine Way
It used to be possible to walk from YHA hostel to hostel on the National Trails. That has not been the case for some time. This is YHA Hawes on the Pennine Way
It is not essential to have a fried breakfast at a Hostel, there are healthy options. However this is an opportunity to stock up on calorie dense fats
It is not essential to have a fried breakfast at a Hostel, there are healthy options. However this is an opportunity to stock up on calorie dense fats. YHA Hawes
A (very slightly) healthier breakfast option. Grilled bacon with scrambled egg on wholemeal toast at YHA Hawes
A (very slightly) healthier breakfast option- Grilled bacon with scrambled egg on wholemeal toast at YHA Hawes
One oft over-looked resource on trail are churches. St. Marys, Newchurch
Oft over-looked resources on trail are churches. Parishioners will frequently provide the makings of a hot drink. Biscuits and home made cake often accompany these. Donations are encouraged. St. Marys, Newchurch, standing on the Offa’s Dyke Path

If there is any lesson to be learnt here, it is don’t worry. The longer trails have mostly been around long enough that any outlet close by has a modicum of food on sale from which ‘something’ can usually be found suitable for taking on trail for a few days. If hiking away from a popular trail, there are invariably geographical and historical features- passes, crossroads, hamlets, that have dictated over time that people will funnel through, with a subsequent ‘supply and demand’ provision of something. It may be an inn, a petrol station, a shop, a post office. somewhere. It is often possible to resupply at these places. It is always worth just poking a nose in the most unlikely of places.

Community run outlet for locally grown produce. Approaching Kilchoan, Highlands. The most westerly village in Great Britain
Community run outlet for locally grown produce. Approaching Kilchoan, Highlands. The most westerly village in Great Britain
The community vegetable outlet at Kilchoan is little motre than a shed on the edge of some allotments. However it still provided a small food resupply, a hot drink and a brief respite from the weather
The community garden shop at Kilchoan is little more than a shed on the edge of some vegetable plots. However it still provided a small food resupply, a hot drink and a brief respite from the weather

A knowledge of opening practice can help- don’t bother with Sundays most places, Wednesday afternoon closing still exists elsewhere, even Mondays may dictate locked doors and pulled blinds. So carry lightweight basics, pop in anywhere that may look like it could provide, supplement carried food with occasional halts for ‘real’ meals. Be adaptable.

Food resupply at Ullapool. To achive this meant a seven mile roadwalk off the Cape Wrath Trail, before rejoining it after a day's rest here.
To achieve this food resupply at Ullapool meant a seven mile roadwalk off the Cape Wrath Trail, before rejoining it after a day’s rest here. This is five to six days supply, Evening lentil curries with couscous or noodles, tuna or cheese with instant potato lunches and a decent granola for breakfast. Plenty of trail snacks and drinks plus an emergency dehydrated meal

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