Category Archives: Gear

A winter walk on the South Downs Way

A winter wander on the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile National Trail between Winchester and Eastbourne. it follows the northern escarpment within the South Downs National Park for most of its distance and is a fairly gentle walk along the chalk downs with only occasional drops to cross river valleys.

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay overnight. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be 'the oldest bar in England'

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay there overnight prior to commencing the South Downs Way. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be ‘the oldest bar in England’. Building of the cathedral commenced 1079 on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. The pub dates from around 1002

Three Points of the Compass completed a five month 2000 mile hike in 2018, much of that time was taken as unpaid leave so consequently still had a few days holiday left to fit in before the end of the year. So I decided to knock off another of the National Trails. I walked this trail decades ago when I was in the British Army, but the memory has dimmed. Not only that, but it used to be considerably shorter, originally extending only as far as Buriton until the circa 25 mile extension to Winchester was approved in 1989.

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

I decided to complete the Way as a winter thru-hike, doing a mix of camping and accommodation. My Z-Packs Duplex had been worn out completely on my Three Points hike earlier in the year so I took my Nigor Wikiup 3 pyramid tent instead. In a nod to the colder conditions expected, instead of simply using a bivi-bag inside the shelter as I have in the past, I took a small one person nest to make the nights a little more comfortable. This was the Hex Peak single inner V4A. It worked brilliantly and the three nights slept inside were all very comfortable despite winter arriving with a vengeance while I was on trail.

The paraphernalia of an evening meal- now soaking in boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration in the interim

The paraphernalia of an evening meal on the South Downs Way- sitting in freshly boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration while waiting. There is plenty of room within the Wiki-up 3 shelter to enable cooking inside while it rains outside

My complete gear list can be found here. Accepting that the weather had turned, I carried a few more comfort items of clothing in addition to those I usually take on longer hikes- a mid-layer, puffy trousers and jacket, down beenie etc. Base weight was 9615g but because it was a pretty short hike I carried much of the food I would require. This meany less reliance on infrequent shops, less time spent hunting down meals when the daylight hours were short and less miles added to my total. Cooking was simple- lentil curries, hot drinks such as tea and OXO, granola for breakfast, plenty of chocolate. Tortillas and tuna pouches for three lunches. A few flapjacks were also stuffed in. For this trip I carried the little 25g BRS 3000-T ‘bumblebee’ stove and a 110g  gas cartridge.

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for my hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for this hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Having enjoyed a pint in one of Winchester’s older establishments, I followed this with a meal in the local Wetherspoons. A big mistake, going for cheap and plentiful calories I waited over an hour for my food which was dire and even the selection of beers was poor. A shame as I can normally rely on a ‘Spoons to deliver what a hiker needs.

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preffeirng to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preferring to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

The following day, a Friday, I left my hotel at six-thirty, an hour or so before dawn and it was a short walk to the start of the trail beside the City Mill, from there it was an easy well-marked trail, following the River Itchen out of town. I crossed the M3 and was immediately into the countryside. I was carrying around 1.5 litres of water as I set off as I was unsure on how water supply would be. I had been told that many taps are turned off from the end of October. I’ll do a separate blog on the water sources I used.  Suffice to say, I had no problems sourcing water throughout the hike. Highlights of that day were lovely leafy tracks, mostly soft walking, deer, partridges and around a million pheasants…

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

With sixteen miles completed by 11.40, my first halt was a little later for lunch at the Bronze/Iron Age site on Old Winchester Hill, just one of many National Nature Reserves I passed through. I knew that with short day light hours I was going to have to get a move on to that night’s halt. But I still took a break for a mug of tea at the fly fishers little cafe adjoining the tackle shop at Meon Springs. Friday’s camp site was at the Sustainability Centre, Wetherdown Lodge. Arriving at 14.40 after slightly more than twenty miles, I had a winter pitch booked which still meant I had a warmish shower and compost loos to use. There were no other campers and after pitching the tent, I managed to get to the cafe on site minutes before they closed for a pint and a bag of crisps. Back to the darkened tent for lentil curry and instant mash. With a long night before me, I settled down in a warm quilt at 18.50.

I slept well, the campsite was silent beyond a few owls, a mouse rustled through my rubbish bag outside but cleared off when I muttered at it. I rose at five as I had a twenty four plus mile day to complete to where I hoped to wild camp that night. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was pleased I had bought a full set of insulated clothing as camp wear. Quite a bit of condensation on the inner surface of the shelter, nothing within the nest however. I wiped this down while the tawny owls set off again, breakfast, ablutions, packed and away prior to seven. A bit later than I had hoped but I frequently faff around a bit too much on my first morning. It wasn’t long before I was into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. it was good walking through the wooded park until the wonderful long and sweeping descent down to the crossing of the A3. I held a gate open at the bottom for a couple of horse riders who after thanking me, set off at a fine gallop up the slope toward the ancient field systems below Butser Hill that were very evident that morning with the misty low sun and long shadows.

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

I had held faint hope of a bacon sarnie at the cafe in the visitor centre beside the carpark but that didn’t open until ten. I wasn’t waiting around for two hours so after a brief chat with a marshal setting up for a Park Run taking place later (it was a Saturday), I walked on through the park and out the other side. It sounded as though World War 3 had kicked off as there were shoots taking place in all directions. The path was pretty stony today and the feet felt it a bit in my mostly worn out Altra Lone Peaks. Time for a new pair perhaps.

The mist cleared a little in the afternoon but soon gathered again as the early evening approached, so views were modest. My planned halt that night was at Glatting Beacon but I found that there was a cold wind whistling up the slopes so hunted around for a bit looking for shelter. I eventually settled for a quiet little flat space immediately next to the entrance to the compound containing the masts. It looked as though the place had few visitors, as evidenced by what appears to be arson attempts to the buildings within the compound.

Saturday night's camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Saturday night’s camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Another lentil curry and plenty of chocolate. I had a good signal there so was able to chat to Mrs Three Points of the Compass for a while as I sank hot drinks, first an Oxo, then tea, finally a hot chocolate, then early to bed as I could feel the temperature dropping.

I didn’t sleep fantastically that night. I was warm enough but the cold was evident in the morning with a heavy frost. My alarm failed to sound at five thirty, possibly affected by the cold, but I woke soon after anyway. Hot mug of tea and granola followed by ablutions. I had picked a pitch away from the cold wind but condensation was heavy, this immediately froze as soon as I opened the tent flap in the morning. Being frozen, it was easy to shake this off when packing up. It was a lovely clear morning when I hit the trail a little after seven.  It was Sunday and this was the busiest I saw the trail with quite a number of dog walkers out.

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating through the wooded slopes

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating from the wooded slopes. Quite a few pheasants would not see another morning

There were quite a few deer in the fields, running as soon as they saw me, stopping to gaze at me from a safe distance, then turning and running again. Partridges cher cher cherred away in low loping flights. Yesterdays Buzzards were now joined by numerous Red Kites. It was a good days walking with the best views so far on trail.

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Sunday was a nineteen and a half mile day to Truleigh Youth Hostel. I hadn’t been able to book it as it was on exclusive hire but emailing them, the warden had kindly informed me I was welcome to camp in their field opposite- “hide in the field, by the pond or under the trees”, she had also left the campers w/c and shower unlocked for me. I made sure to leave a generous donation in the charity jar when I left the following morning.

Sunday night's camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

Sunday night’s camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

When I arrived at the hostel, quite a few of the group that hired the hostel were outside the entrance smoking. What they were smoking I had my suspicions. Drinking and dancing was taking place on the first floor. In chalk smeared outdoor clothes, I felt alien to what was going on but stood chatting to the small group on the steps. I was asked where I had camped the previous night, I told them it had been a wild camp- “wow, that’s awesome”, I quietly demurred- “it was just the one night, not much of a pitch, no view to speak of…”, he interrupted ” yeah, but wild anything, that’s  cool”.

A couple of them were unloading a large sound system from one of the vans- “its a fiftieth birthday party, it’ll be going on ’til the morning”. Oh great! I held out little hope of any sleep but as it was, barely heard anything tucked away some 100 metres away. I slept pretty well that night and condensation was limited in the morning.

The weather was cold with clear skies and good views for much of Monday mornings walking. There were a couple of highlights to visit today. Having crossed the Hulking escarpment, it wasn’t long before I was passing through scrubby downland above Devils Dyke; Britain’s largest single coombe of chalk karst, this is a steep dry valley. Through Saddlescombe, the Hikers Rest cafe closed at this time of the year, then a leisurely halt at the Shepherds’ Church at Pyecombe. The village itself was hit badly by the plague in 1603 and is now split with part of the village now situated half a mile away from the remainder.

The Norman built Shepherds' Church, Pyecombe

The Norman built Shepherds’ Church, Pyecombe

Famed for the Pyecombe Hook, a particular design of shepherds’ crook, I was only slightly more fixated on the dedicated room newly built on to the rear of the church specifically for pilgrims. I declared myself a pilgrim and stopped in to use the facilities and make a cup of tea followed by a hot chocolate. Eating flapjacks and bars  and chatting to a parishioner meant this was a prolonged halt.

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds' Pyecombe Hooks. These were made for around 200 years

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds’ Pyecombe Hooks. These hooks were made for shepherds and Church of England bishops for around 200 years. A tapsel gate is made of wood and rotates through ninety degrees on a central pivot. Unique to Sussex, only six such gates survive

Then on to the equally famous Clayton windmills, better known as the Jack and Jill windmills. I diverted slightly off trail to go and see these. Jack, a dirty black smock mill is a pretty poor sight now. It has no sails and is a private residence. The nearby Jill, a white painted post mill looks superb.

Post Mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles

Post mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles. She was originally sited in Dyke Road, Brighton and was bought to its current site by a team of horses and oxen in 1852. Occasionally open to the public, she was closed during my visit

 

The uncommon circular tower at Southease church

Southease church tower

handstamp impression from my journal

Hostel handstamp impression from my journal

Despite my halts and diversions, Monday was still a hike in excess of twenty one miles but I was less concerned with finding a camp site as tonight’s halt was YHA South Downs. It was still cold but dry, however the blue skies were clouding over and it was obvious that a change in the weather was imminent. I still made time for a halt at a roadside caravan where two huge bacon rolls were consumed. Also a brief halt to admire Southease church with its rare circular tower. There are only two others in Sussex.

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Having booked in to the attractive Youth Hostel, situated on a farm, I found myself sharing a room with one of the most taciturn men I have ever met, also one of the friendliest! Showered and clean, I made my way to the hostels courtyard cafe where the two young wardens- Chaya and Steph, provided me with a series of good beers and the unhealthiest of food options.

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

I slept well in an overheated room, only a little snoring from the other two occupants. Both were contractors and were away early to their work. On my final day, Tuesday, I had breakfast in the campers kitchen and was away soon after eight for my walk to the coast, I enjoyed second breakfast at the Singing Kettle Tearoom at Alfriston. I was headed toward the lovely walk along the Seven Sisters via Cuckmere Haven. My final day also had the greatest amount of ascent- 4892′. This was all easy enough though and would make for a great finish to the hike.

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

However the weather had indeed changed and it was rain for much of the day, if it wasn’t raining, it was mostly sleet or hail, such fun! It didn’t really bother me as it was driving in to me from behind or my left, so I was able to keep the hood of my Velez Adventure Lite smock up and was warm and dry to the great extent. My legs got wet but never cold, if it briefly stopped raining, the Montane Terra trousers dried quickly in the stiff wind. This was almost twenty two miles from the Youth Hostel to Eastbourne Pier where I was finishing my South Downs Way hike. Then about face and another long ascent back out of town to that nights halt at YHA Eastbourne. I arrived before five  and had to stand outside until the warden unlocked. This remains a ridiculous YHA requirement that has been largely done away with by independent hostels. I was also less than pleased to find there was no food provided on site and there was nowhere in the vicinity. Not fancying another slog back down into town that night, I was able to rustle up sufficient from my almost totally diminished food supplies supplemented by a little pasta left in the kitchen to make an ‘OK’ last meal. The warden even found a bottle of wine for me, bonus.

Walking toward Birling Gap

Walking toward Birling Gap on my final day on the South Downs Way

With my little diversions off trail and the extra couple of miles up to my Youth Hostel from Eastbourne Pier, I completed 108 miles over my five day hike of the South Downs Way. It had been a cracking walk. The mist had obscured views at times but it added another element to the walk in itself. This has to be one of the finest chalk downland walks to be found anywhere. I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry but am pleased to have completed it.

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England's National Parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, al of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England’s national parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, all of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty beside dog walkers never more than a mile from their cars

‘back of the drawer’ EDC- the BCB mini-work tool

Stainless steel pocket tool from BCB. This probably dates from the 1990s and is a better credit card sized tool than the cheaper copies that followed

Stainless steel pocket tool from BCB. This probably dates from the 1990s and is a better credit card sized tool than the cheaper copies that followed. Despite that, it has been supplanted by more useful pocket tools today

Having a clear out the other day, I came across a ‘blast from the past’, a little metal tool from BCB that I used to carry for around a decade or so before switching out to more useful tools for my Every Day Carry, or EDC. This little card sized tool would even accompany me on the odd hike a couple of decades ago, but at 30g, or 40g with its vinyl sheath, it offers too little practicality today so will probably go back into the drawer.

This little tool, measuring 69mm x 40mm x 2mm, has been updated then cloned by numerous other manufacturers in the intervening years. The modern copies, the majority of which seem to be Chinese made, are pretty shoddy in comparison. Every equivalent card tool I have seen of recent years has any number of extra ‘useful’ functions incorporated, few of which are actually useful. Always of most use to me was the corner flat screwdriver (mine is pretty torn up now), bottle opener (or cap lifter), the point of the tin (can) opener, which was always useful for opening packages etc. and the the ‘knife’ blade. I can’t really call it a blade as it is more a 45 degree sharpened 29mm edge at one end of the tool but it would still cut cordage with a bit of effort. The cut-out hex wrenches on these tools are never any use as you usually need to access from above the nut instead of from the side.

My old BCB pocket tool to the right of one of the cheap modern versions. The addition of a few extra functions hasn't really added anything to the usefulness of these little credit card sized tools

My old BCB pocket tool to the right of one of the cheap modern versions. The addition of a few extra functions hasn’t really added anything to the usefulness of these little credit card sized tools

Cheaply made, pressed stainless steel pocket sized tool is of limited use today. The finish on these bits of kit is extremely poor

Cheaply made, pressed stainless steel pocket sized tool is of limited use today. The finish on these bits of kit is extremely poor

I really do feel that the more modern versions have lost much of the capability even though they seem at first glance to offer more. More recent versions often have a bearing plate for a button compass, but not the actual compass. The tin opener has become far less aggressive, and as a consequence, far less practical in use. This was probably because the piercing point on the earlier version protrudes further and is therefore more likely to cause injury to the unwary. Another reason why a nasty little camo vinyl holder was supplied. The saw blade on the early version is, while very short at just 31mm, actually well cut and aggressive. Recent versions have a far less effective saw. The wire stripper has also been excluded from the bottle opener in the modern version. All of these changes mean that modern rubbish versions can be picked up for a pound or two. I don’t carry one of these credit card sized tools with me now, preferring the greater versatility provided by a proper, fairly small, multi-tool from Victorinox or Leatherman, supplemented by other tools in my EDC on occasion. But on trail, I usually settle for something far simpler, more on that in a future blog or two.

The Firefly can be ordered in different pack configurations, I ordered two Firefly and two Firefly Mini. Toothpicks can be stored in the pack when swapped with the firesteel

Firefly- a simple addition to your kit

I recently received a sweet little package through the post. I ordered the Firefly firesteel when I came across it on Kickstarter. It is one of those simple ideas that you wonder why no-one had produced before. A very small, very slim ferrocerium rod that takes the place of the toothpick in a Swiss Army Knife.

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

One of these fire steels is not going to last any great length of time. Instead, they work well as an emergency carry, for those times where you get caught out for some reason, wet matches, ineffective lighter etc.

A good edge is required to raise a spark so not every tool in a Swiss Army Knife is effective. You will see me use the back edge of a saw in a Wenger Swiss Army Knife in the film below. But scissors, awl and fish scaler are effective too. The suppliers of the Firefly, Tortoise Gear, say that a can opener or file tool could also be used, however I have had less success with these. The knife can also be used but I’m not wrecking my blades attempting to do so. The back of a tool in a Swiss Army Knife can also be filed to give a good ninety degree angle for striking a steel, but likewise, I’m not butchering the tools on my knives.

There is an additional technique required when using these mini firesteels, you have to support the steel with a finger to stop it being broken. Also, strike along the thin edge rather than the wide edge, this stops it being worn away during use and no longer fitting tightly into the slot in the scales of your Swiss Army Knife.

Should you be interested, the larger 52mm Firefly weighs 1.7g , and the smaller 44mm Firefly Mini weighs a paltry 1.2g. So if you carry a Victorinox with you on trail or as an EDC, you may like to consider these. Alternatively, simply slip one into your ditty bag along with a small striker. One word of warning though, if living in the UK, watch out for those customs fees!

Duncansby Head, the most north easterly point of mainland Great Britain

Three Points of the Compass- I’ve done it!

Atop Pen-y-Ghent, Pennine Way, June 2018

Atop Pen-y-Ghent, Pennine Way, June 2018

It took a month longer than I thought it would, but Three Points of the Compass is now home after completing my hike across mainland Britain. I reached Duncansby Head, the most north easterly point of mainland Great Britain, on 29th August 2018.

I have yet to tot up the total mileage, but it is around the 2000 miles mark. I was on trail for one hundred and fifty two days (around five months) of which eleven were zeros, or rest days. Though a handful of these were forced upon me due to weather. So one hundred and forty one days actual hiking.

Approaching the Peak District, 21st June 2018

Approaching the Peak District, 21st June 2018

It is some time since my last blog. At that time I was still in Wales on the Offa’s Dyke Path. I completed that when I reached Prestatyn around mid-June. From there I followed the Wales Coast Path round to Chester for a couple of days rest, where I was able to briefly meet up with Mission Control for the second and final time of the entire hike. I then crossed the less interesting part of England to enter the beautiful Peak District.

A major element of my hike was to experience many of the local customs and my arrival at Youlgreave was timed to coincide with the Well Dressing. Here, the local community and visitors were making frantic and last minute preparations for the dressing that took place late that night and following morning

An important element of my hike was to experience local customs where possible and my arrival at Youlgreave coincided with the Well Dressing. Here, the local community and visitors were making frantic and last minute preparations for the dressing that took place late that night and following morning

The gritstone walking led me to Edale where I joined the Pennine Way. It had originally been my intention to mix up my northward walking, switching around between paths, but as it was, I enjoyed the Pennine Way so much that I mostly stuck to the official route. The work carried out to restore the heather moors, repair damaged peatlands and lay flags across the worst of the denuded and damaged peat hags is remarkable. My arrival coincided with one of the hottest summers on record which bought its own challenge of hydration. Many small streams and springs were dried up as a result of the weather. I was also very aware of the moorland infernos, the one on Saddleworth threatening my onward progress. It was subsequently described as the largest English wildfire in living memory.

Three Points of the Compass on the Pennine Way, safely past the fire on Saddleworth moor, seen behind

Three Points of the Compass on the Pennine Way, safely past the fire on Saddleworth moor, seen behind

I found the Pennine Way a much more varied walk than originally anticipated. Only the northern part of the Peak District, the Dark Peak, is on the route. Moving on to the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines bought equally excellent walking, as did the Northumberland National Park where I crossed Hadrian’s Wall and began to encounter midges for the first time on this trek.

The Pennine Way isn't, by any means, simply flagstones across peat hags. 28th June, 2018

The Pennine Way isn’t, by any means, simply flagstones across peat hags. 28th June, 2018

Entering Scotland I then followed a mixture of routes- St. Cuthbert’s Way, the Roman Dere Street (giving opportunity to see the Lilliard memorial), the Cross Borders Drove Road, then the Union Canal, Forth and Clyde Canal, pausing to admire the Falkirk Wheel and the best preserved section of the Antonine Wall, eventually joining up with the West Highland Way.

Lilliard Memorial

Lilliard Memorial

Fair Maiden Lilliard

Lies under this Stane

Little was her stature

But muckle was her fame

Upon the English loons

She laid monie thumps

An’ when her legs were cuttit off

She fought upon her stumps

A.D. 1544

 

Gargoyle at Melrose Abbey

Gargoyle at Melrose Abbey

I enjoyed being back on the West Highland Way. I walked this path with Mrs Three Points of the Compass (now promoted to Mission Control) and our daughter in 2013. This is a very well known and popular route, especially with international hikers and I met, chatted and frequently briefly hiked with people of a wide variety of nationalities.

It can't all be hard work- a stop for important carbohydrates in Kinlochleven, West Highland Way. 27th July 2018

It can’t all be hard work- a stop for important carbohydrates in Kinlochleven, West Highland Way. 27th July 2018

Resupply of new maps and some essential equipment was sent on as required by Mission Control. Here, my worn out Altra Lone Peak 3.5 were sent home to have the last few miles left inthem used up at some point in the future, while replacements stand ready for another five to seven hundred miles on this particular expedition

Resupply of new maps and some essential equipment was sent on as required by Mission Control. Here, my almost worn out Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s were sent home to have the last few miles left in them used up at some point in the future, while replacements stand ready for a further five to seven hundred miles on this particular expedition

After a short pause in Fort William for food resupply and send maps off and receive replacements, I moved onto and into the roughest and hardest terrain of my entire Three Points of the Compass hike- Ardnamurchan, Morar, Knoydart, Torridon and Assynt. I joined the Cape Wrath Trail for a single day before branching off for six days to reach my Second Point of the Compass- Corrachadh Mòr.

I can certainly see why this particular point is not more heavily marketed and most visitors settle for the more accessible Ardnamurchan Point, complete with lighthouse, cafe and road for access. The walk out to the correct place is a splash through bogs and gives scant reward for the more casual enquirer. But still, I was delighted to finally reach this place as my First Point, Lizard Point, in Cornwall, had been reached many weeks before.

Three Points of the Compass reached Corrachadh Mòr on 3rd August 2018 and celebrated the occasion with a good swig of two year old warehouse release maturing spirit from the new Ardnamurchan Whisky Distillery, at 53.8%, a few more bogs were wandered into on the return journey

Three Points of the Compass reached Corrachadh Mòr on 3rd August 2018 and celebrated the occasion with a good few swigs of two year old warehouse release maturing spirit from the new Ardnamurchan Whisky Distillery. At 53.8%, a few more bogs were wandered into on the return journey as a result

This is a pretty wild part of Scotland and I enjoyed great views of some rather special wildlife- Otters, Porpoises and Golden Eagle were seen well, and I put to flight more Red Deer than you can shake a trekking pole at, by chancing across them unexpectedly and suddenly as I crossed trackless moors.

Yet another crossing, Cape Wrath Trail

Yet another crossing, Cape Wrath Trail

Having returned to where I left the Cape Wrath Trail, I continued northward on this. The weather had deteriorated dramatically from the fine days of earlier in the summer and burns were in spate, feet wet all day while hiking and fierce winds encountered on exposed hills and wildcamps. My foot care regime was good though and I experienced no problems health wise.

Lunchtime halt at Soulies bothy. Cape Wrath Trail, 7th August 2018

Lunchtime halt at Sourlies bothy. Cape Wrath Trail, 7th August 2018

Fraying, strained and worn tie out points on tent vestibule

Fraying, strained and worn tie out points on tent vestibule

My Z Packs Duplex tent was used throughout my five month hike however whenever I could, I would take advantage of Youth Hostels or bothies if on my route. The Duplex is no mountain tent though and in Scotland it began to show a number of points of wear, fraying tie outs and strained seams.

Cuben fibre repair tape 'stitch' across strained seams at apex of tent

Cuben fibre repair tape ‘stitch’ across strained seams at apex of tent

I kept on top of repairs where I could with cuben or tenacious repair tape and less frequently with gaffer tape. But site selection for wild camps had to be made with care whenever possible, but on just a couple of occasions, late in the evening etc. there was little choice.

All that said, while this particular shelter is now worn out, and I wouldn’t use it on any further hike of any distance, I would not hesitate to purchase another of the same make and model.

A fairly high wild camp on a more exposed ridge than I would have wished. A rare fine evening detrioted into strong wind and rain for much of the night and following day. 8th August 2018, Cape Wrath Trail

A fairly high wild camp on a more exposed ridge than I would have wished. A rare fine evening deteriorated into strong wind and rain for much of the night and following day. Meallan Odhar, Cape Wrath Trail, 8th August 2018

Evening at Maol Bhuidhe bothy with Ken Maclean, a hiker out to bag a few hills and fish in the lochans. Good chocolate, good whisky and good conversation made for a convivial time

A night was spent at Maol Bhuidhe bothy with Ken Maclean, a hiker out to bag a few hills and fish in the lochans. Good chocolate, good whisky and good conversation made for a convivial evening

A midgy evening. I met hikers who complained that the little beasties were able to crawl through the mesh of either their shelters or their head nets. This is simply poor choice of equipment

A midgey evening. I met hikers who complained that the little beasties were able to crawl through the mesh of either their shelters or their head nets. This is simply poor choice of equipment

While the often poor weather meant less midges, when the rain dropped to a drizzle or infrequently ceased and the wind dropped, needless to say, I had arrived in the heartland of midge territory and the worst possible time in the year, some evenings were ‘interesting’ to say the least. The bug netting on the Duplex is superb and the roomy two-man interior made for comfortable living space for a single occupant.

I don’t use DEET, but found Smidge was enough to put them off, slightly, from me. It also worked brilliantly in killing them off if sprayed into the apex and corners of the tent, where any midges that had followed me into my tent would eventually land.

Beside these, I left horseflies behind in England and only had to remove two embedded ticks. A nightly ‘tick check’ was an essential task to be carried out.

 

Food supply was not, perhaps surprisingly, a problem. Here is around a weeks worth of food- Centered around a reinforced oat based breakfast, flapjacks, cheese, the makings for a simply lentil curry each night with added carbs etc. Plus various brew kit items and sundries. I also carried one emegency dehydrated meal that made a 'last supper' eventually

Food supply was not, perhaps surprisingly, a problem in Scotland. Here is around five days worth of food- Centred around a reinforced oat based breakfast, flapjacks, cheese, the makings for a simply lentil curry each night with added carbs etc. Plus various brew kit items and sundries such as Tablet. I also carried one emergency dehydrated meal that made a ‘last supper’ eventually. I would also, wherever possible, make use of infrequent cafes etc. to supplement what I carried

I reached Sandwood Bay on 20th August. In keeping with what seems to be a rite of passage, I wildcamped atop the dunes at Sandwood Bay on a rare quiet, calm evening. My journal entry for that evening describes it thus:

”Evening meal of lentil curry with couscous, mug of tea and packet of peanuts with three mini cheeses. Went and stood on the large rock outcrop behind me to eat it and watch the sunset. Quite magical. Feel privileged to be here”

Three Points of the Compass on reaching Sandwood Bay, Am Buachaille beyond

Three Points of the Compass on reaching Sandwood Bay, the Torridonian Sandstone sea stack of Am Buachaille is beyond

The following day was another fairly strenuous hike, this time round to Cape Wrath where the Cape Wrath Trail ends. I spent the night in the new, if basic,  bunkhouse that the owner of the Ozone Cafe has built inside one of the buildings he now owns there. Despite this having been the toughest walking of my entire trail, and my feeling pretty pleased with myself, it wasn’t the end for me. Though the walking became far easier. I was now walking into the Flow Country of eastern Sutherland and Caithness.

A final stay in a bothy. Strabeg, a short distance up the glen from Loch Eriboll

A final stay in a bothy on my Three Points trail. Strabeg is a short distance up the glen from Loch Eriboll

I was both surprised and delighted to see White Tailed Eagle here. This is the largest bird of prey in Britain. I had just about given up hope of seeing one of these birds as I had moved away from their widest favoured distribution. It was actually while viewing the Dounreay Nuclear Development Establishment through my monocular that I carried, that I picked up this raptor. Dounreay itself is now being decommissioned, originally built here purely because of its remoteness.

Three Points of the Compass reached Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on mainland Great Britain on 28th August 2018

Three Points of the Compass reached Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on mainland Great Britain on 28th August 2018

Despite my having reached Dunnet Head, my final point of the compass, I had just a little more hiking to do. I wildcamped on the sheltered eastern side of the peninsula and the following day walked a little further round the coast to John o’Groats, thereby also completing a Land’s End-John o’Groats hike, then the very short jaunt further along the coast to Duncansby Head. This is the most north-easterly point of mainland Britain and it was here that my Long Walk finished.

I stayed in the Seaview Hotel that night and the following day set about getting home. I had planned and booked nothing in advance. As it was, it was simple. I walked down to the John o’Groats jetty, booked myself onto the Orkney Coach which left there at 10.30, This took me to Inverness in three hours, a short wait until the bus to Inverness airport where I had been able that morning to book myself onto an afternoon flight to London Gatwick. Once there it was a swift walk through to the Gatwick Express to London Victoria railway station, twenty minutes later my train was transporting me to north Kent, and home. I arrived home less than twelve hours after leaving John o’Groats. My only loss on the journey home was that my battered, slightly bent and very knackered Pacer Poles couldn’t be unscrewed and separated, so couldn’t join me on the plane. They were left leaning outside the hotel.

Three Points of the Compass reached John o'Groats on 29th August 2018. Having left Lands End on the 30th April, 31 days after I had set off from Poole

Three Points of the Compass reached John o’ Groats on 29th August 2018, having left Lands End on the 30th April  31 days after I had set off from Poole

I shall be chatting more about various gear choices, trails walked, logistics and food etc. on both website and blogs in the future. For now though, that’s it!

Three Points of the Compass in the Lake District, 2008

Twenty days to my ‘Big Walk’

“In omnia paratus”

As mentioned in my last post, I was expecting a couple of items in the post for my upcoming Big Walk. Both arrived over the past few days. One is a luxury item that I regard as an essential part of recording my forthcoming experience, the other is simply to keep me warm.

Three Points of the Compass has used an Olympus Tough TG4 on my past few walks, be they short or long. This has proved to be a fantastic camera and is still going strong. With wrist strap, battery and SD card fitted, it weighs 252g. Though annoyingly, it requires a proprietary charge cable to be also carried, adding a further 49g to pack weight.

Sony Cybershot DCS-RX100M5 camera

Sony Cybershot DCS-RX100M5. A truly portable compact camera

For this little adventure of mine in twenty days time I decided that the quality of the photographs I take is of greater significance than before so decided to step up in camera quality and use a Sony DSC- RX100M5. I want the best possible memories so I am taking the best possible camera I can that is still relatively lightweight and of small dimensions. I won’t bore you here with the detailed specs but important to me amongst a number of desirable features are the build quality, the 1″ sensor, 20.1 Megapixels, 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 lens, fast focus, capability to film in 4K and its small size. Oh yes, and you can charge it with a standard USB/micro USB cable.

The camera comes with a fixed Zeiss 24-70mm lens

The camera comes with a fixed Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70mm lens

I have made no great weight advantage by switching to this camera, with the thinner wrist strap fitted, and battery and SD card, the RX100M5 weighs 298g. I do wish it had some degree of weather protection like the Olympus Tough, but no, it isn’t going to take kindly to precipitation. If it is wet and I want to record something, I shall have to put my RugGear RG730 phone in to action. That is IP68 and pretty much laughs at any sort of punishment.

Black xoac VX07 X-Pac camera pouch from Tread Lite has a water resistant zip

Black xoac VX07 X-Pac camera pouch from Tread Lite also has a water resistant zip

I normally keep a camera in my packs hip belt pocket but have decided to offer a little more protection for this camera. It shall be kept in a poly ziplock inside an 18g camera pouch fixed to the shoulder strap. This is made by Tread Lite and is yet another recent arrival with the post.

The two cameras are very different beasts when pulled in to action

Olympus Tough TG4 and Sony RX100M5. The two cameras are very different beasts when pulled in to action. Image taken with RG730 rugged phone

On many an occasion, I have finished a day’s hiking in the rain, tent up and climbed inside with soaked through trousers. It is important, nay, vital, to get out of those wet clothes and warmed up. Sometimes climbing inside the quilt is required. Like most long distance hikers, Three Points of the Compass carries a puffy jacket. For this upcoming trek I am taking a synthetic jacket, the Rab Xenon X Hoodie. I don’t like to rely exclusively on down in the UK. We frequently have wet weather for days on end and even with the hydrophobic down available today, and my Katabatic Palisade quilt is stuffed with it, synthetics will still handle a real soaking much better. I have decided to add to the jacket and take a pair of trousers with synthetic insulation. For these, I turned to one of the best suppliers of down and synthetic clothing I have come across- Peter Hutchinson Designs, or PHD. A week after my order, a package arrived at Mrs Three Points of the Compass’s work place. If she was expecting a sweet little gift, she was probably disappointed.

The large size of the mailed order initially caused my heart to sink. No worries, the contents were barely compressed.

The large size of the mailed order initially caused my heart to sink. No worries, the contents were barely compressed

Insulated Sigma trousers from PHD

Insulated Sigma trousers from PHD

The Sigma trousers from PHD are fairly simple in design. Inner and outer fabric is black 15 denier MX. The insulation is provided by Primaloft Gold 60gsm edge stitched synthetic filling. There is a chunky draw cord at the waist, elasticated ankles to keep the draughts out and the only pocket is a small inner security pocket to the right of the waist. The trousers themselves weigh 360g and also came with a 16g stuff sack but I’ll be able to find something lighter than that to keep them in.

I haven’t used them in anger yet but am more than confident in their usefulness. I had previously wondered if I might simply replace my lightweight (174g) Rohan Ether town trousers with these but have decided not to for now. It may be that further down the trail I decide they can, but the warmth of the Sigma trousers is such that I think they would prove too uncomfortable for that purpose

So how am I feeling as my walk approaches? With less than three weeks left, I must confess to a degree of trepidation. While excited and really looking forward to the off, I am suffering twinges in the back, foot pain and am left wondering if recent manual handling at work and arthritis linked to recent weather are to blame or I really am a crocked old git that won’t make it a hundred miles down the coast. But, I have prepared, I should not be surprised by much that I encounter in the first month or two of my walk, in the words of the Latin phrase quoted above, I am…

“Ready for anything”

Three Points of the Compass and daughter, Hadrian's Wall, April 2014

Thirty days to my ‘Big Walk’

The picture above shows Three Points of the Compass and daughter hiking Hadrian’s Wall in 2014. Together with Mrs Three Points of the Compass we experienced a typical mixed bag of weather on that six day April walk.

An important factor for me to consider when I set off on my ‘Big Walk’ in thirty days is the weather. In Britain, at that time of the year, I can encounter just about any type of weather. I may hope for cool days with little wind, but will almost certainly be presented with cold, wet, or hot (well, very warm) conditions. Such changeable weather means that my clothing and equipment will have to be capable of handling extremes.

As I write this, much of the UK is gripped by the ‘Beast from the East’. This is simply a polar vortex spiralling in from Siberia. Much as I would dearly have liked to go hiking, I have had to work over the past few weeks. Commuting has been ‘interesting’ to put it mildly. Temperatures haven’t risen above 0°C for most of the week and have usually been a fair bit below this, especially taking wind chill in to account. I could have dug out my battered old Brashers for the commute but instead decided to see how the new Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s tackled ice and snow. I am pleased to find that the sole pattern and grip on these is as good as any other trail runners I have had in the past, possibly with the exception of my Inov8 330s. While I don’t expect to have to contend with snow in the West Country in thirty days time, I do expect to encounter slippery conditions.

Altra Lone Peak 3.5. Three Points of the Compass will be wearing these on the forthcoming trek

Altra Lone Peak 3.5. Three Points of the Compass will be wearing these on the forthcoming trek

That said, it is just as likely to be sunshine I experience in the early weeks of my hike. So despite the snow outside, I spent a few minutes this week decanting sunscreen from a larger plastic container into two smaller plastic bottles.

I frequently wear a Tilley Airflow hat when hiking, whether sunny or raining. However I do find the backs of my hands especially can catch the sun when hiking with Pacer Poles.

The 50ml bottle of 50 SPF sunscreen from Lifesystems weighed 67g when purchased. When I set off from Poole on the south coast of England on 1st April this year, I’ll be carrying one small 5g bottle containing 18g of sunscreen (total weight 23g). I also have another bottle with 24g of sunscreen ready to be posted to me as, when and if I require it. This is a pretty good sunscreen, with one application lasting up to six hours. I usually prefer Piz Buin as I find that less greasy but the one from Lifesystems offers added protection from Jellyfish stings, I am sure that will come in handy….

Prism Mitts from Montane are a fantastic option for lower temperatures. Three Points of the Compass will also be carrying one small bottle of sunscreen in is pack, hopefully neither item will be required

Prism Mitts from Montane are a fantastic choice for lower temperatures. Three Points of the Compass will also be carrying one small bottle of sunscreen in his pack, hopefully neither item will be required

I am still waiting for just a couple more items to turn up in the post. I’ll write a little on these once they materialise. In the meantime, I am still playing with maps and routes and getting to grips with OS Maps online and App. Roll on the next month…

Three Points of the Compass walked the Norfolk Coast Path in April 2017. A Tilley Airflow hat protects head and neck, however the backs of hands and forearms frequently catch the sun

Three Points of the Compass walked the Norfolk Coast Path in April 2017. Tilley Airflow hat protects head and neck, however the backs of hands and forearms frequently catch the sun

My dining room table is given over to final decisions in my route planning

Thirty five days to my ‘Big Walk’

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

Thirty-five days until I set off and I am still umming and ahhing over a small number of route choices. Occasional evenings are spent in firming up these choices, while also including a handful of more direct or low level alternatives in case I am running slow or the weather is absolutely foul. It is my walk, my route and I am attempting to include many places of interest to me, either for their historical aspect or natural beauty.

Demands of work

The daylight hours are spent at work. There are a number of things I need to finish off, pass to someone else, or put on hold until my return. I finally received official sanction to include some unpaid leave alongside an extended holiday and include days I have been able to bank over the past decade.

Part of my letter from HR. I am now 'officially' allowed to depart

Part of my letter from HR. I am now ‘officially’ allowed to depart

This is an important aspect of planning. I may be away ‘enjoying’ myself, traipsing up and down the country, while also spending money on food, fuel and some overnight halts. But back home there are still bills to be paid. Budgeting is something not to be forgotten when planning an extended hike of significance. I am fortunate that not only do I have an understanding and supportive manager, but also still have a job I enjoy to return to afterward.

Dirty Girl Gaiters have proved indispensable with my choice of footwear

Dirty Girl Gaiters have proved indispensable with my choice of footwear

New gear

I ordered a couple of new and replacement items. One was a new pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters. I have used these for years and wouldn’t go hiking in trail runners without them now. I find them an easy fix to the previous issue of bits of grit, twigs, and any other trail debris finding its way into my shoe. They stop a lot of dust too, though the finer particles can still make their way through the fine breathable mesh of my Altras. My previous pair have covered thousands of miles and have rather too many holes in them now and are a tad frayed around the edges. Most runners seem to like one of the lurid colour schemes these come in, I am more sober in my tastes. However I couldn’t get replacement for my previous Urban Struggle design as my size were out of stock. Instead, I went all English Middle Class and ordered XL Blackout, flying in the face of Dirty Girls’ entreaty to-

“keep the debris out of your shoes with ultralight style and sass. And you’ll have something fun to look at while you hang your sorry head and shuffle your tired feet”

For some unknown reason the weight has crept up, now 36g rather than the 31g of my previous pair.

A new pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters. Made in the USA by Goddesses apparently

A new pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters. Made in the USA by Goddesses apparently

It was also time to replace my battered Montane Lite-Speed windshirt/jacket. My old one that I have used on just about every UK hike over the past six years was beginning to fray at the edges, a fair bit of hem stitching had come adrift and even though there are quite a few miles left in it. I still felt a new replacement would last a good deal longer.

The 2018 Lite-Speed from Montane comes with a more capacious stuff sack than the previous mesh offering

The 2018 Lite-Speed from Montane comes with a more capacious, yet lighter, stuff sack than the previous mesh offering

I ordered mine through the Cotswold Outdoor website for collection in store and descended on their Maidstone premises yesterday. I reckon this windshirt is a cracking piece of kit and find myself often wearing one, especially when setting off in the cooler temperatures early morning, or on breezy ridges where simply cutting the effects of windchill is all that is required. I find it also often works well as a mid-layer, trapping an insulating layer of air.

Three Points of the Compass and Daughter on the Dales Way. Montane Lite Sped windshirt was the perfect layer over a thin baselayer on this spring walk of 81 miles. April 2012

Three Points of the Compass and daughter on the Dales Way. Montane Lite Speed windshirt was the perfect layer over a thin baselayer on this spring walk of 81 miles. April 2012

The 2018 Montane Lite-Speed is a fairly simple garment, constructed from 20 denier Pertex Quantum Mini Rip-stop, this dense weave nylon is both light and 100% windproof. It has an adjustable roll away hood with some stiffening in the brim. The hood doesn’t now roll away as well as it previously did. My 2012 garment had it folding away into the collar while the newer model simply rolls up to make a fairly loose collar in itself. There is a full length front zip with internal wind strip and zipped hand pockets. These are an improvement over my earlier model that only had a single chest pocket. The earlier shirt was made from Pertex Microlight and the previous 9g mesh stuff sack (always a squeeze to get the jacket into this) has been changed to a slightly larger 6g Pertex Quantum stuff sack. This is so light and handy that, at least for now, I shall be keeping it stowed in this if not in use. The weight has dropped a little too- from 196g to 167g for my size XL.

My new Lite-Speed windshirt,, on the left, shows off the added hand pockets that have replaced the single napoleon pocket on the earlier version

My new Lite-Speed windshirt,, on the left, shows off the added hand pockets that have replaced the single napoleon pocket on the earlier version. The fold down hood is a poorer replacement to the neater and more comfortable previous version on the right