Author Archives: Jools

Three Points of the Compass on the GR223

Hiking in Menorca: the GR 223

The Camí de Cavalls, or Horse’s Path

Menorca is a fairly small island in the western Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain, near the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It offers a fantastic opportunity to walk an ancient and beautiful track.

Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass, and daughter when she was younger, have for many years tried to get away to one of the many islands in Europe each year. I have blogged on a few of them in the past. Menorca, smaller than nearby Mallorca, is a terrific holiday destination. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and almost half of the island is protected, with two nature reserves: The Nature Park of Albufera des Grau and the Marine Reserve Nord de Menorca. There can be just a small minority of holidaymakers to that lovely island that bother to explore far beyond the resorts, large towns and the usual organised bus and jeep excursions.

Three Points of the Compass on the GR223

Three Points of the Compass enjoying native pine forests on the GR223

Along with some one million annual visitors I have enjoyed my time immensely on Menorca. Some may wonder how as my family and I took a package holiday to a busy hotel district in one of the busiest parts of the island- Son Bou, on the south coast. Many readers would regard such a holiday as anathema. I explored the island by car and bus with my family, we ate too much, we drank too much, and we enjoyed comfortable hotel facilities and weather that us Brits see far too infrequently. However, that was never going to be enough for Three Points of the Compass. This island has a special prize. It is encircled by a path that has uncertain historic roots. The coastal path was probably first built to allow access for the island inhabitants to guard against pirate attacks in the 16th century. Whatever its origin, it is now the GR 223 of the Senderos de Gran Recorrido network in Spain.  Not only did this path get me away from people for much of the day most days. But it also enables access to some of the most beautiful and lonely parts of the island.

I am never going to criticise the majority of holidaymakers who enjoy frequent, affordable holidays in hotels at hundreds of locations across the globe, I am one of them on many an occasion. However, such holidays should be looked on by the hiker as a springboard to walking destinations far from home. Everyone must find their own balance, how much time their spouse is happy with them disappearing from pool side and family duties. I found that the Cami de Cavalls could be accessed pretty well by public transport, buses mostly, and taxis to the most distant and difficult to access points of the island. With careful planning and a couple of early starts, I was able to complete the entire trail during a fortnights holiday. No mean feat as it is 185 km (116 miles). With an understanding partner (unless they are joining you), you could do similar over a ten day or two week break on the island. It would be a push to fit it into a week’s break.

Classic island walking

Classic island walking

The benefits of staying at a popular central resort is that there are good bus links to the centre of the island- Alaior mostly, for onward movement to the start and finish points of each days hike. Two hiking partners with a couple of hire cars could handle the logistics much easier, but that would be damned expensive.

Or there are some holiday providers who can arrange minibus transport to and from. But then you are subject to their itineraries, other passenger requirements, and again, far more expensive. But, it does make the logistics much easier. Three Points of the Compass hasn’t used any of these companies so it is up to you to do the research and see if it suits your needs.

Three Points of the Compass visited Menorca in July, it was mostly hot and dry, as expected. However there is much green vegetation on the dry soils. It gets much drier and browner as the year progresses

Three Points of the Compass visited Menorca in July, it was mostly hot and dry, as expected. However there is much green vegetation on the dry soils. It gets much drier and browner as the year progresses

Fairly typical section of the GR 223 away from the wooded sections. Here between Binisafuller and Son Bou the trail passes between roughly cultivated and walled fields

Fairly typical section of the GR 223 away from the wooded sections. Here between Binisafuller and Son Bou the trail passes between roughly cultivated and walled fields. Bini.. in a name harks back to the Moorish occupation, meaning ‘belonging to the son of…’ from Ben, Arabic for son.

The island measures some 50km from west to east- Ciutadella to Maó and is no more than 20km north to south. But it takes time to travel around, especially by bus. Services away from the resorts are infrequent and very careful planning is required to ensure that connections will be there, especially at the end of the day. I checked online for bus timetables before I left and checked with my hotel for printed timetables when I arrived. A glance at the bus route map online reveals how some parts of the coastline are quite poorly served.

My first two days were simply the first two sections of coast nearest to my hotel, travelling out and walking back to the hotel. On the third day my family were rested and in need of exploration so we all went to Maó for the day. The British moved the capital there from Ciutadella because of its sheltered harbour and it is a lovely seaside town to explore. It was important to also find time to visit Tourist Information and bus station, for more timetables, check out how taxis work and what were reasonable costs, and get a general feel for how reliable the transport network is. Within the confines of the timetables, buses are cheap, clean and pretty reliable. However I made the mistake and found that any advertised buses on Sundays are a tad unreliable. It is best not to rely on buses on Sundays.

It is wise to pick up any bus timetable you can find when in foreign climes. You can discover practical and useful alternatives that aren't always obvious from scant web-based pages

It is wise to pick up any bus timetable you can find when in foreign climes. You can discover practical and useful alternatives that aren’t always obvious from scant web-based pages. Some buses are purely local and it can be hard to find out up to date, seasonal timings

I was unadventurous for lunch on trail. Rolls and excellent local meats and cheese, bags of nuts, supplemented with occasional bananas spread with peanut butter

My trail lunches were unadventurous. Bread rolls and excellent local meats and cheese, bags of nuts, supplemented with occasional bananas spread with peanut butter. Hydration was far more important

After my first two sections, and now having established transport links and more aware of what I could comfortably manage in a (part) days walk, accepting that many hours were going to be spent travelling to and from my start/finish points, either by a series of buses or a handful of taxis. I was better armed to arrange my subsequent days. I never completed the GR 223 as a continuous linear trek. Instead, I did sections that suited my and my family’s holiday. I had short days occasionally and was back at the hotel by midday so that we could do something together in the afternoon, or longer days with sections joined together and not arriving back at the hotel until early evening. I was working toward the more distant parts of the island and familiarising myself with the logistics for the following day. What worked for me, based at Son Bou, was as below.

Day Stage
From To Distance Ascent Difficulty
One Cala Galdana Son Bou 17.2 km (10.7 mile) 350m Medium-easy-low
Two Binisafúller Son Bou 19.8 km (12.3 mile) 390m Medium-low
Three Binisafúller Maó 21.4 km (13.3 mile) 220m Low-medium
Four Cala Morell Ciutadella 17.5 km (10.8 mile) 300m medium
Five Ciutadella Son Xoriguer 14.7 km (9.1 mile) 50m medium
Six Arenal d’en Castell Es Grau 22.2 km (13.8 mile) 550m Medium-low-becoming easy
Seven Son Xoriguer Cala Galdana 18.2 km (11.3 mile) 320m Medium-low
Eight Binimel·là Arenal d’en Castell 20.4 km (12.7 mile) 170m Medium-low
Nine Binimel·là Cala Morell 24 km (14.9 mile) 850m High-then medium-low
Ten Es Grau Maó 10 km (6.2 mile) 250m Medium-low
185.4 km

(115.1 miles)

Note that difficulty grading by the authorities tends to err on the side of caution
The section between Es Grau and Favàritx leads the hiker into wetlands and the lunar landscape of Cap de Favàritx

The section between Es Grau and Favàritx leads the hiker into wetlands and the lunar landscape of Cap de Favàritx

There is a very useful website offering great info on the trail in a number of languages. This will also point you at the most current map, guidebook and, not that I used them, GPS tracks. I suppose it would be possible to hike the trail without guidebook or map as the trail is mostly quite well signposted, however I found them indispensable for planning purposes. The guidebook only weighs 156g and the map, to a 1;50000 scale, another 60g. There is a handy interactive map online that also has some helpful information on what to expect on the different sections.

Purchased in Mahon (Maó), Three Points of the Compass found the official guide book and map incredibly useful for planning each day's hike

Purchased in Mahon (Maó), Three Points of the Compass found the official guide book and map incredibly useful for planning each day’s hike

The north west corner of the island is known as 'Dry Menorca' for good reason. There is little rainfall and the trail is hard underfoot

The north west corner of the island is known as ‘Dry Menorca’ for good reason. There is little rainfall and the trail is hard underfoot

I didn’t spend time on trail looking out for cafes, they simply aren’t there when you want one, other than while waiting for a bus on occasion. Lunches were simply a roll or two, meats (Ses Tanques) and cheeses (Queso de Mahon) from a local supermarket plus a few nuts. Hydration is another matter. This is a dry island with no rivers and it is very unlikely you will find water should you run out. I carried a minimum of two to three litres with me each day, occasionally more, and still ended up purchasing water in town shops toward the end of a day’s hike.

Obviously a hat and sunscreen are important too. Shorts and trail runners are fine for hiking. It is a hot and dusty trail mostly. Especially in the north west corner of the island between Cala Morell and Ciutadella. There is only scrubby sparse vegetation here and the going is rocky.

Elsewhere, I had a little rain on a couple of days, I carry a light waterproof when hiking anyway so threw that on for an hour or so.

 

19th century Barraca de bestiar. A tiered stone shelter for animals

19th century Barraca de bestiar passed in the north of the island. A tiered stone shelter for animals

One thing I was pleased to have with me was my little monocular. Europe’s only sedentary population of Egyptian Vulture lives on Menorca and I enjoyed fantastic views of them in the north. Other raptors included Booted Eagle, Kestrel, Red Kite and Eleonora’s Falcon. Hoopoo flew along the trail as I approached, Ravens kronked. Shrikes and Pied Flycatchers flitted in the sparse pines. Around the abandoned salt evaporation ponds at Salines de Mongofra, the call of Bee Eaters surrounded me as parties swooped around. Individual birds looking as though they had been dipped in multiple paint pots. 

For much of the GR 223, you will have the paths to yourself, not seeing anyone for hours despite the island teeming with tens of thousands of tourists- elsewhere

For much of the GR 223, you will have the paths to yourself, not seeing anyone for hours despite the island teeming with tens of thousands of tourists- elsewhere

I saw few terrestrial animals, Hermanns Tortoise were often seen on the paths, occasional rabbits, the only Pine Martin was road kill. Butterflies and dragonflies aplenty but sadly none I.D’d.

A welcome cerveza in a cool cafe prior to catching by bus back after a days hiking. The simple pleasures...

A welcome cerveza in a cool cafe prior to catching my bus back after a days hiking. The simple pleasures…

Few people shared the trail with me- one cyclist, a few trail runners, I saw just one small party of horse riders. Obviously when I was around some of the beautiful sandy coves, I was often sharing these with hundreds of holidaymakers. At other coves, remote from any habitation or road, I had them all to myself.

Two pages from my Menorca journal

Two pages from my Menorca journal

Read the book, spread the map, walked the trail, now wear the T-shirt...

Read the book, spread the map, walked the trail, now wear the T-shirt…

You may have gathered by now that Three Points of the Compass joined together a few of the sections. It is divided into twenty stages with some form of access being available at start and end points. It would definitely be possible to hike it that way but it would take more time than most holidaymakers would enjoy. I completed the trail in ten days. My longest days were  on the ‘harder’, more distant, sections, but any mildly capable hiker could easily do similar and that does cut down considerably the need to keep accessing more distant parts of the island subsequently.

Would I recommend the GR 223? Absolutely, it is not particularly difficult. It takes you to some stunning parts of the Menorcan coastline that few see. The island countryside and coastline is surprisingly varied with much of interest. The GR 223 passes ancient stone watchtowers and fortresses and provides a welcome escape from the confines of a holiday resort should you require respite.

If you were do just do parts of it, then Three Points of the Compass would definitely recommend the north west and west, however that would miss out the entirely different limestone cliffs and gorges of the south.

Beautiful dusty trails

The GR 223- Beautiful dusty trails

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- The Canoe Club and British Canoe Association

‘In the camp all classes and ages amalgamate;

to be a canoeist and a gentleman is all the qualification required’

John Davey Hayward, Camping Out, 1891

It is unsurprising that the earliest form of organised camping in the UK as a leisure pursuit was associated with the increase in the popularity of pleasure boating and canoeing in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, especially on the River Thames. As the railways took trade from the waterways, many of the less congested rivers became safer places for the more wealthy individual to spend their leisure time and indulge in their romanticised rural idyll. This complimented the growing appreciation in rowing, paddling and athleticism. Small, often quite light, craft could be purchased, rented or built and simplified the carrying of quite heavy, bulky camping equipment. Later, cycle camping enabled budding adventurers to take to the roads in similar fashion. Backpacking, as we would identify with it, occurred later, as still further refinements in outdoor gear were established.

Camping by boat on the River Thames, possibly Eel Pie Island. c1900. Lantern slide

Camping by boat on the River Thames, possibly Eel Pie Island. c1900. Coloured lantern slide

The Royal Canoe Club

Club badge of the Royal Canoe Club. No 36 in series of 50 club badges, Ogden's Cigarettes, 1915

Club badge of the Royal Canoe Club. No 36 in series of 50 club badges, Ogden’s Cigarettes, 1915

John ‘Rob Roy’ MacGregor formed the Canoe Club on 25th July 1866, this was the first canoe club in the World. With royal patronage, they became the Royal Canoe Club in 1873. The Prince of Wales, having joined the club as member and Commodore, was Member No. 57. Membership seems to have been somewhat elitist with members mostly comprised of ‘Diplomats, Doctors, Lawyers and Businessmen’. MacGregor also designed and built a popular lightweight, short canoe suited for paddling, called a ‘Rob Roy’, his boat survives and is held by the National Maritime Museum.

With this boat, MacGregor crossed the English Channel (the canoe travelling as luggage on board a cross-channel steamer) and explored a thousand miles of European waterways, later writing a book of his exploits. He inspired many people to take up the sport of canoeing, including Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson

Racing was the primary interest of most members of the Canoe Club. Camping canoeists looking for kindred spirits had to wait until 1933 when the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland formed a specialist sub-section, later known as the Canoe Camping Club.

The Canoe Club held a grand muster at Thames Ditton, between Hampden Court and Kingston, in May 1867. Robert MacGregor with his 'Rob Roy' canoe led the procession of canoes to the start of the race course

The Canoe Club held a grand muster at Thames Ditton, between Hampden Court and Kingston, on 27 April 1867. Robert MacGregor with his ‘Rob Roy’ canoe led the procession of canoes to the start of the race course. By 1874 the race became known as The Paddling Challenge. Held each year, it is the oldest canoe race in the World. Illustrated London News 4 May 1867

The British Canoe Association

In August 1887 a handful of newly formed canoe clubs were invited by the Royal Canoe Club for a joint cruise on the Norfolk Broads, attendees agreed the formation of a British Canoe Association. This was along the lines of the already successful American Canoe Association. MacGregor became its first Commodore.

The first meeting of members of the British Canoe Association was at Loch Lomond in 1888, the next at Lake Windermere in the English Lake District in 1889 (members included a honeymooning couple). When the 1890 meet was held at Falmouth on the South Coast, the association had in excess of 150 members, females were eligible for membership from the outset.

‘… its object shall be the promotion of cruises and meets… for the purpose of cruising and camping… to procure increased facilities for cruising, camping and exploration’

From- the Rules of the British Canoe Association

1889 was also the year that a classic in English literature was published. Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat recorded the author’s trip up the Thames in a camping skiff, with his dog Montmorency and two friends, Harris (Carl Hentschel) and George (George Wingrave). The book received scathing reviews from the critics but the public loved it.

When Jerome K. Jerome set off with two friends and his dog for a cheap holiday on the River Thames, their misadventures were primarily down to their choice of craft and their amateurish attempts to control it- The camping skiffs had three iron hoops over which a green waterproof canvas canopy could be stretched. Sleeping within their craft reduced any reliance on campsites and unwelcoming land owners. Three Men in a Boat, first published 1889

When Jerome K. Jerome set off with two friends and his dog for a cheap holiday on the River Thames, their misadventures were primarily down to their choice of craft and their amateurish attempts to control it- The camping skiffs had three iron hoops over which a green waterproof canvas canopy could be stretched. Sleeping within their craft reduced any reliance on campsites and unwelcoming land owners. Three Men in a Boat, first published 1889

Sailing Canoes, 1891

Sailing Canoes, 1891

There were various definitions of canoe, but a loose interpretation was usually accepted outside of the stricter criteria used in races and competition. Sailing canoes were introduced in the 1870s, these included the Mersey Sailing Canoe- which were up to 20 feet in length.

Canoe camping became a popular pastime with week long camps being established where fellow campers would live the itinerant lifestyle, foregoing shaving and town garb much to the amusement, interest or disgust of the genteel town people they encountered.

“How jolly to be in a boat again- to be without collars and top-hats- to be beyond reach of the postman, the tax collector and the ‘knocker up in the morning’ “

John Davey Hayward, Camping Out, 1891

BCA Burgee, Sub Rosa Cigarros card

British Canoe Association Burgee, ‘Flags of all Nations’ series, Sub Rosa Cigarros trade card, 1909-11

Lightweight tents, or what passed as lightweight at the time, were utilised. Popular styles were the Mersey, Clyde, Marquee and the usual ex-military or military clone Bell tents. Club burgees fluttered from their apex. In contrast with the US penchant for wood fires, small spirit stoves were favoured for cooking. The Mersey, Irene and Boddington stoves were popular, however I have failed to find any information or images of these. John Davey Hayward, in his 1891 book Camping Out notes that a camper who has not eaten in four hours is a ravenous animal and dangerous to meet.

Popular camps were established along the River Thames. Within ten years of their creation the Royal Canoe Club had provided a camping ground for canoeists at Teddington. Members of the Mersey Canoe Club favoured the popular camp on Hilbre Island at the mouth of the River Dee where canoeists would spend the night in hammocks strung in a rented shed.

Landowners became increasingly annoyed with river campers, trees were pulled down for fires and rubbish left. As the number of people wishing to camp increased, available sites were on the decrease. Between the Wars canoeists became disillusioned with river camping. Many prime waterside sites were now private, had newly built dwellings or were simply fenced off. There was an increase in the number of camping skiffs and camping punts available for rent as this freed rowers and paddlers from relying on finding an affordable or welcoming site each night. A canopy could be strung across the boat itself and provided a cosy home for two or three friends during an affordable multi-day excursion. Such boats also required a degree less skill to control than the lightweight canoes and kayaks. River camping was no longer the preserve of the wealthy.

The British Canoe Association faltered but quietly hung on in spirit into the 1920s. In 1933 it merged with the Canoe Section of the Camping Club of Great Britain. In 1936, The Canoe Section of the Camping Club, Clyde Canoe Club, Manchester Canoe Club and the Royal Canoe Club formed the British Canoe Union, which held its inaugural meeting in 1936.

“When darkness reigns around, the lighted candles from their sconces throw a beam of warm light across the still moving inky water of the pond like river. The Primus starts to roar, the fry-pan splutters, plates rattle, bottles gurgle and tongues loosen. Who can deny that the river camper’s lot is cast in pleasant places?”

The Amateur Camping Club Handbook, 1910

The riparian camper was now no longer confined to canoes and kayaks, huge numbers of camping skiffs and camping punts could be hired and the democratisation of the pastime ensured that many would extend their new found enthusiasm for an outdoor life to the roads, lanes, tracks, fells and mountains. The golden age of river camping may be long gone, leaving slalomists, scullers, rowers, punters etc. in its wake. However the ripples of the Victorian experiments in camping, now extend far beyond the river banks.

Traditional camping skiff sen on the River Thames whilst walking the London Countryway, Windsor to Marlow section. August 2016

Traditional camping skiff seen on the River Thames whilst walking the London Countryway, Windsor to Marlow section. August 2016

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations on my main website. I will be covering a number of these later in the year. Do have a glance at the list and see where today’s organisations fit in, you may even be able to suggest a glaring omission to the list!

Centre and right are YHA Chief Executive James Blake and outgoing YHA Chair Peter Gaines

YHA Showcase & AGM 2019

Three Points of the Compass attended the Youth Hostel Association’s (YHA) 2019 Showcase and AGM today. For a number of years I have lamented the direction in which the organisation seemed to be heading and today I fully expected to hear a litany of corporate speak and talk of commercial direction backed up with more closures of small hostels and grand designs on city centre hotels. However, for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. It seems the YHA is back on track.

“we are thriving, a confident organisation”

Peter Gaines, outgoing YHA Chair

Appointed Vice Chair in 2017, Margaret Hart today became the first female Chair of the YHA

Appointed Vice Chair in 2017, Margaret Hart today became the first female Chair of the YHA

The past few years have seen swathes of much loved and usefully situated smaller hostels closed. It used to be that anyone completing one of the longer National Trails could walk from hostel to hostel, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time. A questioner from the floor made the point that ‘what used to be a network of hostels is now more a patchwork‘.  Outgoing Chair Peter Gaines admitted that

the YHA has had to close a lot of hostels.. [there has been] a legacy of under-investment but [this] has resulted in a present day portfolio of sustainable hostels. If a hostel has only 20-30 beds, it is very difficult to make it financially viable unless subsidising it from elsewhere in the network’.

This statement was subsequently polished but there can have been few present that didn’t recognise the truth in his comments. And sustainable it is, the YHA, now the ninth largest UK Charity by membership, has been making a healthy profit for some time now.

With some 150 hostels in England and Wales catering for over 900 000 visitors each year, hostel revenue is now circa £50 million per annum, up from circa £39 million in 2010. Much of this is being reinvested. There has been an almost complete refurbishment of all their hostels, with major refurbishments of Bryn Gwynant and Truleigh Hill taking place this year. It is hoped that the difficulties around the completion of the showcase YHA Stratford will soon be resolved. That hostel will be an earner for the organisation as it can be occupied year round.

Sir Chris Bonington has long been a friend of the YHA. He spoke of staying at hostels as a boy when he and a friend made a poor attempt at slimbing Snowdon in the winter of 1951. Wearing hob-nailed boots from an Army Surplus store and a cut down school mac, he was carried down on an avalanche. However, he was then hooked on climbing

Sir Chris Bonington has long been a friend of the YHA. He spoke of staying at hostels as a boy when he and a friend made a poor attempt at climbing Snowdon in the winter of 1951. Wearing hob-nailed boots from an Army Surplus store and a cut down school mac, he was carried down on an avalanche. However, he was then hooked on climbing

Ten years ago the YHA was realising an average of around 50% occupancy across all hostels, this is now around 59%. This is not the case in many of the large city hostels, while Cardiff is around 60%, London Earls Court is 85% and YHA London Central is 89% occupancy. The YHA has enjoyed a trading cash surplus of £3.2 million, which while down £1.3 million from the previous year, is still their second highest trading cash surplus ever. The Executive team is expecting £2 to £3 million to be the annual norm moving forward.

The YHAs strategy for some years previous has been focused on putting them on a firm commercial and operational footing, making themselves sustainable.  We have all been witness to the cuts made, the closures that still rankle with many. It is not now all about the money though.

The outgoing Chair, Peter Gaines has been forthright in his aim to make the YHA more democratic. He has been largely successful in this and can retire with pride. The number of Company Members has increased from 136 in 2018 to 796 in 2019 and the explosion in voting numbers has resulted solely from it being made an online facility. There is still some work to be done in making it more accountable to its 145 000 members, but they are well on their way.

Myself and about 350 others at today’s event heard of plans to provide 500 new beds in key locations in the north of England. There was little more information on that divulged, one can only hope that it is not all city centres. With financial worries mostly behind them, the YHA is making a return to its original charitable aims:

To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health, recreation and education

YHA Charitable object

YHA Strategy 2020. The contents of this 'conversation document' are ambitious and bold. In draft form at present, it is to be hoped that the final strategy document has not deviated too far from this

YHA Strategy 2020. The contents of this ‘conversation document’ are ambitious and bold. In draft form at present, it is to be hoped that the final strategy document has not deviated too far from this

Only signed off by the Executive days before, the YHA proudly distributed its new Strategy 2020 Conversation document, ‘hot off the press’ (so newly printed it arrived mid-morning), this sets out ambitious priorities for the next five years leading up to their centenary in 2020. It is still a working document and the YHA is seeking comment on the content, However I for one can only be impressed with the vision contained within:

In 2038, every 18-year old in England and Wales will enter adulthood having experienced the positive impact of YHA. They will have lifelong access to hostelling as their route to a world of affordable sustainable travel

(draft) YHA Strategy 2020

Writer, journalist and 'wild sleeper' Phoebe Smith delivered an amusing and joyful presentation. On her first ever solo wil camp she "ran into the one thing that strikes the fear of god into us... a youth group!"

Writer, journalist and ‘extreme sleeper’ Phoebe Smith delivered an amusing and joyful presentation. On her first ever solo wild camp she “ran into the one thing that strikes the fear of god into us… a youth group!”

To put that into context- there will be some 750 000 children born in England and Wales next year. The YHA was born out of social reform in the 1930s. At that time the ambition was to transform the lives of young people born into crowded and polluted cities. The YHA’s very first handbook laid out their early plans… ‘to improve the health of body and mind… [offering] cheap lodging as a means and not as an end’. The YHA’s vision laid out today expands upon this.

As well as providing budget accommodation for members and non-members alike, The YHA is stepping up its charitable ambitions- it provides free family activity breaks for low income families with additional complex needs, hosts residentials for youth groups and schools, free weekend breaks for some families with disabled children, offers socially inclusive volunteering opportunity and works with young people with special educational needs.

There is plenty of evidence showing how young people thrive when exposed to the outdoors. Outdoor adventure is the second-most effective in advancing learning in young people (after 1:1 tuition). Hostels, and the activities run out of them, provide that outdoor facility. The YHA has been voted the number one ‘not for profit’ hostel operator on the international stage and their stated ambition is to be the leading charity in health and well being, particularly with young people. I for one am impressed by this refocus and wish them well.

‘Because where you go changes who you become’

Handstamp impression from YHA St. Pancras International. The Showcase and AGM took place only a few hundred metres from this well-appointed London hostel

Handstamp impression from YHA St. Pancras International. The 2019 Showcase and AGM took place only a few hundred metres from this well-appointed London hostel

Colin, Annette, Louise and myself prior to my setting back off on trail

A year ago…

On long hikes it is important to take a little time out occasionally. To recharge the batteries.

Exactly a year ago I was setting back off on my five-month Three Points of the Compass walk across mainland UK. I had just completed the 630 mile South West Coast path followed by a wander through Exmoor for another fifty or so miles.

My very good friends Colin and Annette welcomed a smelly hiker into their home, fed me up and washed all my clothes. Mrs Three Points of the Compass came down to join us during my three days break from the 2000 mile trail.

I must confess, I wish I were setting back off on trail, exactly the same, today…

Lone Peak Altras

What gear wears out on a long hike?

 The South West Coast Path is 630 miles long and a challenge in itself. When Three Points of the Compass finished this in 2018 there was still another 1400 miles of trail. Gear had to be carefully selected and be suitable for a wide range of terrain and conditions

The South West Coast Path is 630 miles long and a challenge in itself. When Three Points of the Compass finished this in 2018 there was still another 1400 miles of walking. Gear had to be carefully selected and be suitable for a wide range of terrain and conditions

Lightweight modern gear can be surprisingly tough. With care much of it will last many thousands of trail miles. My 900ml Evernew pan is titanium and flexes with ease. Yet other than being blackened and scratched, with scorched silicon covered handles, it is still in good working order and I expect it to last me many more years. It wasn’t cheap when new but has more than paid for itself. I like it and feel no need to replace it with shinier, newer cook wear.

The heel cups always seem to wear out in my trail shoes. I expected this to happen with my Lone Peaks around the 450 mile point

The heel cups always seem to wear out in my trail shoes. I expected this to happen with my Lone Peaks around the 450 mile point. When they began to fray I would line them with a piece of duct tape

Lone Peak Altras were light, breathable and comfortable. However I knew that I would be lucky to get more than 500-600 miles out of a pair

I find the toes on my trail shoes tend to come unstuck and flap around after a couple of hundred miles. Sometimes I would glue them back with a 1 gm tube of superglue from my ditty bag. Frequently I couldn’t be bothered

Lone Peak Altra trail shoes are light, breathable and comfortable. However I know that I am lucky to get more than 500-600 miles out of a pair. I had purchased four pairs prior to my 2018 hike as they aren’t the easiest to source. I expected my feet to spread and I used pairs a size larger than normal. Just as well, as they did.

The trail was often muddy, especially in the first few weeks in the Spring. Fine silt would work its way through the mesh of the trail shoes and this would build up in the thick pile of my Darn Tuff socks

The trail was often muddy, especially in the first few weeks in the Spring. Fine silt would work its way through the mesh of the trail shoes and this would build up in the thick pile of my Darn Tuff socks

Despite being washed, or at least rinsed, on a daily basis. Socks wore out. I carried tow pairs for walking and alternated them. Both pairs were replaced during the walk.

Despite being washed, or at least rinsed, on a daily basis. Socks wore out as a result of silt. I carried two pairs for walking and alternated them each day. Both pairs were replaced with new during the walk

Needless to say, footwear- socks and trail shoes get a battering. I had the option of wearing boots but have been using lightweight trail runners for years. I prepared spares in advance of my walk for Mrs Three Points of the Compass to send on to me as required. I don’t think a long hike is the time to be changing out to unfamiliar footwear and it made sense to have reserves ‘back-home’. Particularly as I would no doubt be using them on future hikes if they were not required for this trail.

It is pure miles and miles of hiking, washing gear in streams, sinks and shower trays. Sun, rain, hot and cold. Brambles, thorns, heather, gorse, barbed wire and rocks, that all combine to wear down the daily trekking clothing. Wear good quality gear from reputable manufacturers that have tested their gear over tens of thousands of miles. Clothing will wear out, of course it will, but I found that Champion 365 shorts or Montane Terra pants, Rohan merino polo shirt and synthetic ExOfficio baselayers lasted fine months of hiking. Black Mountains, Offa's Dyke, Jun 2018

It is pure miles and miles of hiking, washing gear in streams, sinks and shower trays. Sun, rain, hot and cold. Brambles, thorns, heather, gorse, barbed wire and rocks, that all combine to wear down the daily trekking clothing and other items carried. Wear good quality gear from reputable manufacturers that have tested this over tens of thousands of miles. Clothing will wear out, of course it will, but I found that Champion 365 shorts or Montane Terra pants, Rohan merino polo shirt and synthetic ExOfficio baselayers lasted fine months of hiking. Black Mountains, Offa’s Dyke, Jun 2018

It is pure miles and miles of hiking, washing gear in streams, sinks and shower trays. Sun, rain, hot and cold, brambles, thorns, heather, gorse, barbed wire and rocks, that all combine to wear down the daily trekking clothing. Wear good quality gear from reputable manufacturers that have tested their gear over tens of thousands of miles. Clothing will wear out, of course it will, but I found that Montane Terra pants, Rohan merino polo shirt and synthetic baselayers lasted the fine months

My pack of choice was the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. I found it a comfortable pack if a little ‘saggy’ if not carrying much food. There were tears and abrasions and the hip belt began slipping in the final two hundred miles. It put up with much abuse and I will be buying another exactly like it. Caithness

The curved Kylesku bridge was crossed in Sutherland. Wind was extraordinary and resulted in one particular unexpected gear failure

The curved Kylesku bridge was crossed in Sutherland. Wind was extraordinary as I crossed the Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin and resulted in one particular unexpected gear failure

Three Points of the Compass has been a fan of the Montane Lite-Speed wind jacket for many years of hiking. The intense winds crossing the Kylesku bridge ripped out the sticthing in the back of the neck

Three Points of the Compass has been a fan of the Montane Lite-Speed wind jacket for many years of hiking. The intense winds crossing the Kylesku bridge ripped out the stitching in the back of the neck

I carried a small selection of repair materials. The aforementioned mini tube of superglue, a carefully thought out sewing kit, patches for Thermarest sleeping mat and self adhesive tenacious tape and cuben dyneema. Everything was put to use at some point and tape was replenished twice.

A more extensive repair kit was carried than on my normal one or two weeks hikes

A more extensive repair kit was carried than on my normal one or two weeks hikes

Sewing the crotch of my trekking shorts on a zero day

Sewing the crotch of my Champion 365 training- 9 inch inseam trekking shorts on a zero day

It is a wise hiker that stays on top of repairs on a long hike. Gear has to be working in order to put in the miles

It is a wise hiker that stays on top of repairs on a long hike. Gear has to be working well in order to put in the miles

Three Points of the Compass invariably uses a BeFree water filter for purifying water. However thought it prudent to pack along a few Chlorine Dioxide tabs in case of failure or filter freezing. As it was, due to carelessness, I lost my entire hydration kit at one point- bottle, bladders and filter. Fortunate that I was able to switch to tablets with a couple of half litre bottles purchased two days later.

Filtering water on trail. My walk coincided with one of the hottest UK summers on record

Filtering water on trail. My walk coincided with one of the hottest UK summers on record

A change from filtration to chemical purification was made in Scotland. But not due to gear failure

A change from filtration to chemical purification was made in Scotland. But not due to gear failure

MSR Pocket Rocket and Torjet lighter were part of my cook kit. Both tried and trusted items

MSR Pocket Rocket2 and Torjet lighter were part of my cook kit. Both tried and trusted items. However the lighter did rust badly

I never expected to have problems with the reliable stove however found the windshield trivet kept falling off. I always had to keep an eye on this to ensure it wasn't lost

I never expected to have problems with the previously reliable MSR stove however found the windshield trivet kept falling off from half way through my hike. I always had to keep an eye on this to ensure it wasn’t lost

Possibly the only piece of gear that I had selected for my hike that properly failed was a bespoke pack liner that I had commissioned. It simply wasn't up to handling the deluges in Scotland and at Fort William I swapped out to a heavier but watertight Sea to Summit roll top liner

Possibly the only piece of gear that I had selected for my hike that properly failed was a bespoke pack liner that I had commissioned. It simply wasn’t up to handling the deluges in Scotland and at Fort William I swapped out to a heavier but watertight Sea to Summit roll top liner

One of the most exciting materials that has found its way into hiking gear in recent years is cuben fibre, more recently known as dyneema composite fabric. Very strong, very light. Also very expensive. I carry a few items made of this but was well aware of this materials biggest drawback. It doesn’t suffer abrasion well. The only cuben items I used were a few stuff sacks (a big fan of these as I like to compartmentalise) and my shelter.

cuben stuffsacks wore badly if they abraded

cuben stuffsacks wore badly if they abraded

My Z packs chest pouch was one of my favourite pieces of gear and took a lot of hammering. It leaked like a sieve by the end however purely as a result of wear to the cuben

My Z packs chest pouch was one of my favourite pieces of gear and took a lot of hammering. It leaked like a sieve by the end however purely as a result of wear to the cuben

My shelter was the Z Packs Duplex. I loved this tent. Huge interior and only weighed 637 grams. However it will never see another hike with me

My shelter was the Z Packs Duplex. I loved this tent. Huge interior and only weighed 637 grams. However it will never see another hike with me. Strath na Sealga, Scotland

Strong winds saw a guy tie out ripped off a side wall. A cuben repair patch sorted things out

Strong winds saw a guy tie out ripped off a side wall. A cuben repair patch sorted things out

I put cuben 'stitches' across some seams that appeared to be under strain but there was never any actual failure

I put cuben ‘stitches’ across some seams that appeared to be under strain but there was never any actual failure

Some points of particular strain, such as the tent door tie outs, suffered badly over the miles but never failed entirely

Some points of particular strain, such as the tent door tie outs, suffered badly over the miles but never failed entirely

Three Points of the Compass used Pacer Poles not only for trekking but also as supports for my shelter. I like their raked, moulded grips and find them comfortable to use. I am not a fan of their twist locks though and found these bound up over time and frequently couldn’t loosen them Rocky steep paths on the Cape Wrath Trail put a bend in one of them. Unable to separate the sections I was unable to fly home with them at the end of my trail and, reluctantly, I was forced to leave them at John O’Groats. Despite their faults, I have bought another pair since my return.

2018 08 29_5990

It is doubtful that I could have completed my 2000 mile Three Points of the Compass hike without my Pacer Poles. At the end they were missing much of the paint on their shafts, one tip had been replaced mid-trail, the sections couldn’t be separated and one pole was bent like a banana. Nonetheless I was saddened to leave them behind

Duncansby Head- the end of my trail

Duncansby Head- the end of my trail. August 2018

Dark chocolate, nuts and Sea Salt Kind bar

Trail snacks- Kind bars

Kind Protein bar. 50g bar containing 59% peanuts provides 12g of protein and 252kcal

Kind Protein bar. 50g bar containing 59% peanuts and 15% peanut butter coating provides 12g of protein and 252kcal

Like most hikers, Three Points of the Compass does enjoy a snack on trail. Easily my favourite are the various Kind Bars. Made in the U.S. by Mintel and first available in 2004, they are almost exclusively made from unadulterated foodstuffs that have undergone a minimum of processing. Stuff like nuts, fruits and spice. Oh yes, often a decent amount of dark chocolate too.

Just a few of the varieties of Kind bar available

Just a few of the varieties of Kind bar available

Obviously there are any number of alternative bars available on the supermarket shelves but if I can find them, then Kind bars are my number one choice. Decent taste, decent amount of calories, decent hit of protein too. Kind proudly boast- Kosher, gluten free, dairy free and no artificial colours, flavour or preservatives.

I am pretty sure that every one of the varieties I have come across contains nuts. Bad news for Mrs Three Points of the Compass as she can’t handle them. All the more for me. The minimum amount of nut content I have seen is 49%, the most 73% and we all know that nuts are the hiker snack of choice. The Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate bars were recently awarded Taste Test Winner in Good Housekeeping magazine. There are also 50g Kind Protein varieties with 12g of protein mostly derived from peanuts.

If you can find them, the 20g Kind Minis each provide around a 100 calories

If you can find them, the 20g Kind Minis each provide around a 100 calories

It is hard for me to nail down my absolute favourite amongst the twelve or so varieties I have come across, but if forced to choose, I would go for the dark chocolate, nuts and sea salt bar shown above. The 40g bar provides 197kcal.

The contents of my food bag photographed midway through the 177 mile Offas Dyke in 2018. I see that I had managed to locate Kind bars somewhere and a solitary one remains as a treat

The contents of my food bag photographed midway along the 177 mile Offa’s Dyke in 2018. This was sufficient for around three days.  I see that I had managed to locate Kind bars somewhere and a solitary one remains as a treat alongside Snickers and bars of dark chocolate

 

 

Edwardian gentlemen

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- Britain’s first holiday camp

“Only youths and men of good moral character are eligible for admission to this

Holiday Camp and should anyone unfortunately prove, by word or deed, to be otherwise,

he will be liable to instant expulsion”

Joseph Cunningham, M.L.C., J.P., C.P.

Joseph Cunningham, M.L.C., J.P., C.P. Founder of the Cunningham Holiday Camp

Amongst the first public campsites in the World opened on the Isle of Man in 1894. The venture came about due to the frustrations experienced by Joseph Cunningham and his wife when, employed as the superintendent of The Florence Institute in Toxteth, Liverpool, he arranged annual week-long youth camps at Laxey on the Isle of Man in 1892/3. The following year the annual camp was held at nearby Howstrake. Unprofitable at this juncture, Joseph left the institute and he and Elizabeth went it alone, running the next camp at Howstrake themselves as a much expanded and more ambitious enterprise. Within a few years up to 600 men were staying at the ‘tent city’ each week. Open during the finer months, from May to October, the Cunningham’s considerable business acumen ensured the success of the camp and demand quickly outgrew the capacity of the site. However the Cunningham’s were tenants only and sought better control of the facilities they wished to provide.

Howstrake camp on the Isle of Man

Howstrake camp on the Isle of Man

In 1904 they opened a new camp just a couple of miles south at ‘Little Switzerland’. The larger five-acre site they had acquired had room for not only around 1500 tents but also a large dining pavilion where ‘up to 3000 can be accommodated at a time’. The new Cunningham Young Men’s Holiday Camp was originally open March to October but by 1933 this had changed to May to September. The camp at Howstrake continued under separate management.

The Cunningham Camp at Little Switzerland on the Isle of Man had 1500 tents and bungalow accommodation

The Cunningham Camp at Little Switzerland on the Isle of Man had 1500 tents and bungalow accommodation

The 'Camp Herald' was an annual publication that included photographs and reviews of the holiday camp, listed excursions and facilities and included a booking form, 1933

The ‘Camp Herald’ was an annual publication that included photographs and reviews of the holiday camp, listed excursions and facilities and included a booking form, 1933

The camp is usually considered the first holiday camp though some argue that it should be discounted as accommodation was within tents at first. Within a few years wooden huts supplemented the ex- army bell tents. Tents were eventually replaced with more substantial chalets built by WWI internees. The description of these as ‘holiday bungalows’ may be somewhat stretching but, by account, most holidaymakers enjoyed their stays immensely, returning year on year. Reading and writing rooms were provided. There was a 90 feet long swimming bath, lawn tennis and badminton courts, putting and bowling greens, and sports field, at which medals were awarded on the weekly Sports Day.

Bungalows and tents had electric lighting and could each accommodate up to four campers. The same fee was charged for each.  Tents came with wooden floors. ‘spring bedstead and comfortable bed’. More luxurious accommodation was provided in the camp’s ambitiously entitled Snaefell Mansions.

“Use of intoxicants, gambling and improper

language are strictly prohibited”

 

Menu board at Camp Cunningham

Menu board at Camp Cunningham

A programme of daily outings and entertainment was provided, as were three meals a day and an evening ‘supper’ for each camper. The camp had its own bakehouse, laundry, ‘refrigerating apparatus’, electricity generators and workshops.  A ‘camp orchestra’ kept diners entertained at mealtimes. There was a camp farm at Crosby, some five miles away. This grew fruit and vegetable for the kitchen and had pigs and a herd of 130 cows. While the local milk produce was appreciated, young men were forbidden some pleasures, for Liverpudlian Cunningham was a Presbyterian and strict abstainer from alcohol. Though no doubt many took advantage of certain off-camp establishments when away for the day.

Keep Fit Class at Cunningham Camp

Keep Fit Class at Cunningham Camp

Campers could sign up to be bussed to various points on the island. Alternatively, hikes were organised, cameras could be hired and trumpets issued along with song sheets so that groups of walkers could sing while tramping, alongside a ‘merry tune’ from anyone that was musically inclined.

The camp was taken over during both World Wars. In 1914 as an internment camp and as a Royal Navy training school- HMS St. George, during WWII. Following the war the family declined to continue with the camp and it was sold to a Blackpool businessman. Joseph Cunningham himself had died 4th September 1924.

The Concert Hall cleared for a dance

The Concert Hall cleared for a dance

Three Points of the Compass has not, as yet, visited the Isle of Man but has stayed at many a holiday camp as a youth. Various Butlins camps were visited by the family each year as we grew up, they were (relatively) affordable and provided the diversity of entertainment required for a large family with wide age ranges and gave my hard working parents the break they deserved. I am told that we never visited the two main rival institutions- Warners and Pontins, but other smaller independent camps were also occasional destinations. Either alone, or with one or two of my siblings, I would wander off exploring dunes, cliffs, woods and beaches. Rock-pooling and fishing. I invariably had a great time, got sun burnt, sustained multiple scrapes on rocks and thorns, startled adders in the bracken and pulled wrasse from the pools left stranded by retreating tide.

DisclaimerThree Points of the Compass is well aware that the title to this blog is incorrect. The inhabitants of the Isle of Man are British, however the island is not part of the United Kingdom. The Isle of Man, situated between Great Britain and Ireland, has an independent administration and government. However the establishment of this first holiday camp is so closely linked to that which evolved in the UK that it cannot be ignored.