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Deejo 15g

Knife Chat: is this the most practical minimalist knife on trail? The Deejo 15g

Deejo 15g

Deejo 15g in the hand- immaculately designed

Not a lot is required of a knife for 99.9% of backpacking. And it isn’t worth carrying anything to handle the 0.1% of tasks that would benefit from the sort of knife that a bushcrafter would be proud to show off.

The features of the Deejo 15g. 1. Blade, 2. knife handle, 3. pocket clip (only on 27g and 37g), 4. liner lock, 5. blade stopper, 6. screw stop

The features of the Deejo 15g. 1. Blade, 2. knife handle, 3. pocket clip (only on 27g and 37g), 4. liner lock, 5. blade stopper, 6. screw stop

“designed in Paris- made in China”

In 2010 Stéphane Lebeau designed and invented an ultralight pocket knife. Today the range of Deejo knives is small- just three sizes. In more recent years Deejo have begun to offer a wide range of customisation to the two larger sizes of these three knives so with choice of scale material and blade ‘tattoos’ a lot of personalisation is possible. The basic range is named by their weight, these are 15g, 27g and 37g. The smallest of these, the Deejo 15g, makes a very useful, minimalist, single blade, folding knife for backpacking purposes. A pocket, or belt clip, is fitted to the two larger sizes of knife, no clip is attached to the 15g.

Deejo 15g

The Deejo 15g is a very thin knife when closed

The Deejo 15g is a ‘naked’ knife. There are no scales or other accoutrements. The brushed steel finish frame, such that it is, is minimal, with a central cutout and a hole in the end through which a lanyard, carabiner or split ring can be passed. There is no nail nick and the blade has to be pinched to open it, which isn’t difficult. It cannot, and should not, be opened one-handed. With such a minimally guarded blade it requires two hands to open and close safely. There is a very slight curve to the handle that means the point is under pressure and flush when closed so the blade point cannot catch on clothing or skin when closed. There is almost a snap on the final point of closing. The short handle length means that only part of the hand is grasping it in use, with my large hands, some two and half finger close around it.

Deejo 15g

Short handle length means that only three fingers close around it when in use

Leaflet that accompanies the knife details the complete 'naked' range from Deejo

Leaflet that accompanies the knife details the complete ‘naked’ range from Deejo

The spearpoint blade is made from 2CR13 stainless steel with a hardness rating of 52-54 on the Rockwell hardness scale (HRC), knife handle and pocket clip are 2CR13 stainless steel with a hardness rating of 45-48 HRC. 2CR23 is a commonly used steel found on many knives and is popular with knife manufacturers. Part of the 420 series, this steel is resistant to corrosion (rust) and can be easily sharpened. The blade on the Deejo 15g is chisel grind, i.e.- on one side only, which makes it a little safer when folded. It is very thin when closed and when open in the hand. One feature, or rather lack of feature, that Three Points of the Compass particularly appreciates, is the lack of cut-outs or holes in the blade. Food can accumulate in these holes and with less opportunity to clean a knife properly on trail it is easy for bacteria to build here. The Deejo 15g does not suffer from this fanciful design aspect.

The whole knife is extremely minimalistic. There is little, if anything, that is included on this that isn’t required. A handle- that also operates as liner-lock, a blade, a pivot, and two ‘nubs’- one to act as a stop when opened, the other to indent into the closed blade and prevent it opening under its own volition. Finally- two engraved words, Deejo and PRESS on the liner lock.

Dimensions:

  • Closed- length: 70mm, width: 16.80mm, thickness: 8.45mm (maximum, across pivot)
  • Open- length: 125mm, width:14.20mm, thickness: 8.45mm (maximum, across pivot)
  • Handle length: 66mm ( from pivot centre to end)
  • Blade cutting edge: 64mm
  • Blade thickness across spine: 2.27mm
  • Weight: 14.4g, so actually less than 15g!
Deejo 15g

To close- Press marking ‘PRESS’ downward

Deejo 15g

Swivel blade past liner lock

Deejo 15g

Close blade into handle with two hands

When purchased the Deejo 15g comes over packaged (as do almost all knives) in a plastic box, along with the usual paperwork, a couple of stickers, a blade tip protector and, most useful, a 28cm length of black cordage which can be passed through the hole in the knife handle to make a small loop. Or a small carabiner could be used instead.

Deejo 15g alongside non-locking 10g Opinel No. 4 and the popular 40g frame lock Gerber Paraframe

Deejo 15g alongside non-locking 10g Opinel No. 4 and the popular 40g frame lock Gerber Paraframe Mini

One obvious problem with this knife in the UK is that it fails to meet our stringent knife laws. The basic type of knife is fine, it isn’t a ‘zombie’ or throwing blade and blade length is OK, it is the fact that it locks open that is the issue. This is illegal in the UK without provable good reason for carrying. It is for the individual to decide if they wish to explain away a small 15g knife, packed away in a food bag, that forms part of a very obvious and harmless backpacking set-up. If you can prove good reason to be carrying this then, in theory, any sensible copper won’t give it a glance.

The Deejo 15g is amongst the best of well constructed, lightweight, locking, single blade folders available that is particularly suited for backpacking purposes. A more legally acceptable alternative to this little blade would be one of the smaller Opinel folders. The smallest Opinels are not fitted with a locking ring so comply with UK law. Those knifes also have the option of high carbon steel blades, which rust more easily but hold an edge better. Or choose stainless steel which is more suited to life on trail.

Deejo 15g

Pivot and liner lock on Deejo 15g

The Deejo 15g is a terrific little knife though it has to be used with care, particularly when folding. It requires just a little practice and continued care to ensure that the blade doesn’t nip the skin. But it will easily tackle just about any lightweight task that a backpacker requires of a blade. It will peel an apple, cut sausage and cheese, cut cordage. However you aren’t going to be able to whittle, baton, cut down tree limbs, that isn’t what this minimalist knife is intended for.

Three Points of the Compass may yet give this little folder some extended time in my pack on longer backpacking excursions. Will it push out my preferred Leatherman Squirt S4? Time will tell.

Deejo 15g with cherry tomatos and a decent cheddar

Cutting cherry tomatos and a decent cheddar with the Deejo 15g

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

Deejo 15g

The Deejo 15g- a good choice of minimal knife for backpacking

Cnoc poles

Gear talk: a new arrival in the post- Cnoc carbon poles

A new purchase- a pair of Cnoc telescopic trekking poles and Cnoc telescopic ultralight staff

A new purchase- a pair of Cnoc telescopic trekking poles and Cnoc telescopic ultralight staff

This is not a review, simply first impressions of my latest gear purchase. Carbon fibre trekking poles and a lightweight staff from Cnoc. I say latest, I backed this Kickstarter project almost eleven months ago. The project was to bring a new design of ‘poles for life’ to market. I pledged and ordered a pair of trekking poles and an ultralight staff. With supply problems and Covid-19 associated issues, manufacture and final delivery took longer than first suggested. That is the nature of Kickstarter projects which always seem overly ambitious, at least that is my experience. But I was in no rush and felt no need to be impatient. I tracked their delivery from the U.S. last week and picked them up from the parcel depot yesterday, more on that later.

Three Points of the Compass with Pacer Poles, Hadrian's Wall, 2014

Three Points of the Compass with Pacer Poles, Hadrian’s Wall, 2014

Leki Sierra Photo trekking pole used as a monopod mount for camera

Leki Sierra Photo trekking pole used as a monopod mount for camera

Three Points of the Compass has used trekking poles for many years. I soon settled on Leki poles and an old favourite, a single Leki Sierra Photo pole with removable cap exposing a camera mount beneath has continued to be my favoured ‘go to’ pole for most day hikes.

Two Pacer Poles joined together to make a tall tent support

Two Pacer Poles joined together to make a tall tent support

For multi-day hikes I prefer a pair of UK manufactured Pacer Poles, with their unique moulded raked hand grips. It is this feature that I like most. I find them ergonomic, more natural and comfortable to hold and use, if a bit sweaty and slippery in hotter weather, or just slippery in rain. The customer service from this company is superb. Having expressed an issue via email on one occasion I was instantly sent replacement sections. When I later wore a pair out, I immediately purchased another pair. I am not a fan, however, of twist locks which I have had both jam up, and be reluctant to tighten at times. Another thing to note is that I use these as my poles for my Duplex tent, and have never experienced any issue with the large moulded grips when doing so. With an extender, I have also joined two together to make a single long pole for my Wiki-up teepee tent.

To return to the two Cnoc poles. I purchased a pair of three-section carbon fibre shaft poles, with friction flick locks and chose Cork grips.

Cnoc trekking poles

Cnoc trekking poles

Specifications:

  • Weight: 266g, this is for a single pole, with no basket, with strap fitted (26g heavier than the advertised 240g)

  • Collapsed length: 680mm (shorter than the advertised 710mm)

  • Maximum safe length: 1550mm (this is with pole extended to the ‘stop here’ markings on the shaft. Shorter than the advertised 1580mm)

  • Shaft diameters: 18mm, 15.5mm, 13mm (different to the advertised 18mm, 16mm, 14mm)

  • Each pole has 100% carbon fibre shaft, compressed Cork grips, polyester and microfibre wrist strap and screwed on carbide tip.

  • Poles are supplied with a mud basket (each 9g) a large snow basket (each 23g) and rubber road tip (each 9g). I prefer the smaller mud baskets that Pacer employ so screwed them on instead (each 5g)

Cnoc ultralight staff

Cnoc ultralight staff

I also backed production of a single two-section carbon fibre ‘Ultralight Staff’, choosing a short EVA grip with this.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 176g, this is with no basket fitted and no wrist strap. Staffs are not supplied with a wrist strap but there is a cut-out for one to be fitted retrospectively. (Staff weight is heavier than the advertised 155g)

  • Collapsed length: 945mm (longer than the advertised 930mm)

  • Maximum safe length: 1655mm (this is to the ‘stop here’ marking on the shaft. Longer than the advertised 1650mm)

  • Shaft diameters are: 15.5mm, 13mm (different to the advertised 16mm, 14mm)

  • Staff is supplied with the same mud basket (9g) and snow basket (23g) as comes with the pair of poles. Shafts are again 100% carbon fibre, short EVA handle and screwed on carbide tip.
Snow and mud baskets, and rubber road tips supplied with Cnoc poles and staff

Snow and mud baskets, and rubber road tips supplied with Cnoc poles and staff

Friction locks on telescoping trekking poles

Friction locks on telescoping trekking poles. I have changed both supplied Cnoc mud baskets (on left) to slightly smaller Pacer Pole baskets (on right)

Poles and staff have metal and plastic friction quick locks which are easily adjusted and simple to use. It is possible that the heavier than quoted/advertised pole weight is down to the strap weight, however the staff, which has no wrist strap fitted, is also 21g heavier than advertised. That said, both poles, and particularly the staff, are still extremely lightweight.

'Handed' straps

‘Handed’ straps

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a couple of other rather nice features- each pole is ‘handed’ via different coloured branding on straps and shaft. Construction looks good though I expect the printing on the shafts to wear off pretty quickly, in common with other brands of pole.

Two brands of pole, all at  maximum safe extension. From left to right: three piece alloy shaft Pacer Pole, two piece Pacer Pole with top alloy shaft and carbon fibre bottom shaft, two-piece Cnoc telescopic carbon fibre staff, three-piece Cnoc carbon fibre trekking poles

Two brands of pole, all at maximum safe extension. From left to right: two-piece Pacer Pole with top alloy shaft and carbon fibre bottom shaft, three-piece alloy Pacer Pole, two-piece Cnoc telescopic carbon fibre staff, three-piece Cnoc carbon fibre trekking poles

I note that the shorter lower section (580mm) from a pole can be exchanged with the longer bottom section (878mm) in the staff. This gives a maximum extended length of the staff of 1395mm and reduces the weight of the entire staff to just 159g.

Cnoc offer a choice of handle material for poles and staff- either compressed cork or short Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA)

Cnoc offer a choice of handle material for poles and staff- either compressed cork or short Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA)

For further reference:

Collapsed Cnoc trekking pole and Pacer Pole

Collapsed Cnoc trekking pole and Pacer Pole

  • (Single) three-section Pacer Pole: max length 1410mm, weight 351g (no basket).

  • (Single) two-section Pacer Pole (metal top shaft, single carbon lower shaft): max length 1285mm, weight 314g (no basket).

I remain concerned over using carbon poles for multi-day hikes, particularly if relying on them to erect a shelter. Freezing conditions can affect them, and we have all caught the tip or shaft of a pole when crossing rocky ground etc. A metal pole will flex or bend, and can be bent back, a carbon shaft may shatter.

I currently use two poles to erect my superb Z Packs Duplex, I cannot put that up with a single pole if one of my pair were damaged. As an aside I have also recently been looking at purchasing an Altaplex (now no longer available in my preferred colour/DCF weight), which utilises a single pole so if I do eventually purchase and use an Altaplex it would potentially permit one of my carbon trekking poles to be damaged catastrophically and I would still be able to erect my shelter.

Another thing to be aware of is the stowed length of the Cnoc staff, here seen in the side pocket of my Osprey Day Pack alongside my Euroshirm umbrella and a Leki Sierra pole

Another thing to be aware of is the stowed length of the collapsed Cnoc staff, seen here in the side pocket of my Osprey day pack alongside my Euroshirm umbrella and a Cnoc trekking pole

As I mentioned above, these poles are still a new purchase and I have yet to put a single mile on them. But I do appreciate Cnoc’s ethos behind these. Every single part on pole or staff can be replaced so potentially a pole for life, like Trigger’s broom. Though no spares are available through their website yet. I do wonder if the cost of purchasing any replacement parts from the U.S. will ultimately prove unfeasible.

My new poles and staff were posted to me via the USPS who informed me that they were en route. I followed their passage into the UK where they halted. I then tried to track them down, were they with Hermes, DPD, TNT, DHL, Royal Mail? Who knows as I received no delivery, advice of attempted delivery, no notification via text, phone or mail. I eventually established that the package had been transferred to Royal Mail, who then transferred it to Parcelforce, where it then went to Customs, who released it back to Parcelforce. Who took it to an unspecified depot. I managed to identify the depot and rang them up to be told that there was a customs fee to pay and that I could visit the depot to do so and then receive my parcel. I drove to the depot and hurrah, they found my parcel. I thought the £5.55 Import Duty acceptable, but another £42.22 VAT!, then a further £12.00 Parcelforce Handling Fee- total £59.77. And this is on top of my $161 Kickstarter payment in 2019 which comprised of a $145 Kickstarter pledge plus a further $16 for international shipping. A couple of hours after I got back home Parcelforce sent me a text telling me they had successfully delivered my parcel.

I got stung…

But still, they look excellent products and Three Points of the Compass is very much looking forward to trying these on trail. I have high expectations.

Saxon Shore Way- Camber Castle

Trail talk: The Saxon Shore Way- Dover to Hastings

This blessed plot

A lunch time halt on the hills above Folkestone- ‘This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England’

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

Shakespeare, Richard II Act 2 Scene 1

My final four days on the Saxon Shore Way beckoned. These offered possibly the most enjoyable walking of the whole trail. For my section from Dover to Sandling, I arrived at Dover Priory station early and despite the heavy rain and slippery grass on the slopes, I was up on the Western Heights, overlooking Dover, before seven. The rain clouds cleared and I looked forward to a walk along the chalk meadows above the cliffs. Before that I had to wend my way through various paths and peculiar routings, the route went up, down and most definitely around.

Looking down toward Dover Priory railway station from the Western Heights. The rain clouds are clearing and I only have sodden grass and muddy paths to content with

Looking down toward Dover Priory railway station from the Western Heights. The rain clouds are clearing and I only have sodden grass and muddy paths to content with

The 18th century Western Heights deserve a day to explore. Access to these will improve over the years to come and a lot of money will need to be spent to do this. The Western Heights Preservation Society is doing impressive work to the site though no public access to the Drop Redoubt at all is being permitted in this coronavirus year but a wander round the exterior is fascinating. The fort certainly warrants attention as these extensive defenses are impressive. Building work began prior to the Napoleonic Wars and occupancy by the military continued right through to 1961. Much is very well preserved.

The impressive Drop Redoubt of the napoleonic Western Heights. Photographed by Three Points of the Compass when completing the North Downs Way in July 2015

Part of the impressive Drop Redoubt of the Napoleonic Western Heights is passed by the Saxon Shore Way on the cliffs above Dover. Photographed by Three Points of the Compass when completing the North Downs Way in July 2015

Pre-dating this fort by far, the Saxon Shore Way also passes the clear remains of a 12th century Knights Templar church with its curious circular nave, the shape being an imitation of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The remains were only found when military engineers were strengthening the Western Heights in the early 19th century. The Knights Templar were formed in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land after the First Crusade.

Church of the Knights Templar, Dover

Knights Templar church, Dover, dating from soon after 1128 when the order reached England

World War II lok outs are dotted all the way along the cliffs south west of Dover, though m ost are now overlooking the far newer Samphire Hoe Country Park, built from spoil dug from the Channel Tunnel

Military look-outs from World War II are dotted all the way along the cliffs south west of Dover, though most are now overlooking the far newer Samphire Hoe Country Park, constructed from spoil dug from the Channel Tunnel

Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis

The grasslands along this stretch are rich in chalkland specialist plants and invertebrates, though few insects were around I was battling my way through countless raindrop sprinkled cobwebs. Bees that had got caught out in the rain were buzzing in small pools in the grass, battling to shake off the rain before crashing off through a forest of grass stalks.

Concrete look-out posts left over from the last great world conflict abound along here. Some have toppled over the cliff edge or hang on precariously, others are barred with no access, some are very obvious favourite halts for those wanting to drink cans of cheap lager or have a crap. Two I wandered into were being used to store feed for the many horses grazing the landward slopes.

Walking the cliffs out of Dover and heading toward Folkestone

Walking the cliffs out of Dover and heading toward Folkestone

Concrete parabolic sound mirror

Concrete parabolic sound mirror

Beside one of the national cycle network ‘mileposts’ there is a rare survivor pointing out to sea- one of the ‘listening ears’, a large concrete dish, or mirror, that was used to focus and concentrate the sound waves from approaching enemy aircraft minutes before the sharpest of hearing could do so. More experimental than crucial, the building of post-WWI sound mirrors was cancelled due to the developing radar system.

National Cycle Netwrok milepost

National Cycle Network 2 milepost

I saw four of the iron millennium cycle network mileposts on this section out of Dover, all were of the ‘fossil’ design and each had its special code disc, not that I am collecting these.

Sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland (now NatWest Group), there were originally around 1000 of these mileposts when first erected twenty years ago but few, if anyone, seem to know how many have survived today and what condition they are in. Even the list kept by Sustrans appears to be incomplete.

Statue of seated RAF pilot at Battle of Britian Memorial

Statue of RAF pilot at Battle of Britain Memorial

From there it is enjoyable walking all the way along Abbots Cliff to The Warren, a country park at Capel-le-Ferne. Here I took a little time out at the Battle of Britain Memorial with its memorial wall listing almost 3,000 fighter aircrew who flew in the Battle. I get the fullsize replica Supermarine Spitfire MkI and Hawker Hurricane sited to one side, but I thought the large stainless steel sculpture of a Junkers JU87B Stuka crashing into the ground behind them of somewhat dubious taste. No-one else appeared to be around and the doors of the visitor centre were locked, so that meant the upstairs cafe overlooking the outside memorial was also not going to profer the hoped for mug of tea. A shame as I have been here a number of times and it is an interesting place. On my last visit I sat in swirling mist on the veranda and couldn’t see more than fifty feet, other times you can easily see France, just as one of ‘the few’ might have gazed over the water. Fittingly, there is an evocative statue of a seated RAF pilot looking out to sea.

Resting Dragonfly

Resting female Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator), aggressive, and the largest of the hawker dragonflies

Resting Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io). A commonly seen insect on the wing, but with wings closed, these can mimic a dried and withered leaf while hibernating

Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io). A commonly seen and brightly coloured insect on the wing, with wings closed, these can mimic a dried and withered leaf while hibernating

The trail then diverts a little inland to skirt coastal Folkestone. It is a cleverly laid route that keeps mostly to the best on offer, frequently with good views. And if not good, then interesting- the rattling huge trains with their artics and containers loaded in skeletonised carriages frequently passing below prior to disappearing beneath the Channel. Both railway and the noisy A20 tunnel deep beneath Round Hill and the remains of the ring and bailey castle atop Caesar’s Camp. I wandered the earth ramparts at the top, enjoying this stretch of the walk immensly. Later, a well placed bench with engraved Shakespearean quote provided a more than adequate lunch halt. The distinctive transmission mast on Tolsford Hill near Etchinghill is then the skyline target for much of the short remainder of the day. The last time I passed this mast was seven years ago, then with my teenage daughter when the two of us walked the 22 mile Elham Valley Way over two days as part of her ‘training’ for her Duke of Edinburgh expedition. We did it as a winter walk, camped in a pub garden overnight, it snowed and was bitterly cold. The two of us had a great and memorable time. This time I was walking in the opposite direction and the Saxon Shore Way loses the modest height it has gained as it drops down off Tolsford Hill.

Annoyingly, there was yet another of those pathside residences us hikers occasionally have to contend with- two snarling dogs came to the open gate, making short, threatening bluff charges until I was past, then venturing out to follow on my heels, snapping at me when I looked away. No-one around and I wasn’t going to try and find an owner. Instead I showed a fine turn of pace to get away from them, keeping my Leki pole ready. After crossing the M20 it is a sharp right turn off the route and a short walk to Sandling station, arriving mid-afternoon after a walk of slightly less than fifteen miles.

Miss Three Points of the Way climbing Tolsford Hill when completing the Elham Valley Way in 2013. The Saxon Shore Way decends this hill toward Sandling

Miss Three Points of the Compass climbing Tolsford Hill when backpacking the Elham Valley Way in the winter of 2012/3. The Saxon Shore Way decends this hill toward Sandling

A return to the trail the following day sees good weather forecast, perfect for a walk through the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To begin with there are attractive and cool, if brief, stretches of mostly deciduous woodland, interspersed with cereal crops. These little woods with their birdsong would have been a lovely place to halt for my brief and meagre breakfast however I was intent on a ‘halt with a view’ at the Shepway Cross, or more accurately, the Cinque Ports War Memorial.

Woodlands approaching Pedlinge

Woodlands approaching Pedlinge

Crossing a field of barley and I was alerted to a low head peeking above the crop to my left. A small and rebellious group of sheep had escaped from their field a mile up the road, wandered down the lane and then broken through the hedge and were happily munching down on fresh greens in the neighbouring farmers field, I left them to it.

Embarrased looking sheep pretend they are not playing truant

Embarrassed looking sheep pretend they are not playing truant

The Shepway Cross

The Shepway Cross

The Shepway Cross makes for a lovely halt. It is now a listed monument and walking round to the back of the low wall encircling it gives opportunity to view all sides and provides a more than adequate rest point at which to consume a breakfast bar and rehydrate, the temperature was beginning to build and I was already sweating.

“where Grisnez winks at Dungeness

Across the ruffled strip of salt”

George Meredith

From my halt I could see across the flattened Romney Marsh to the distant lighthouse at Dungeness standing on its prehistoric strips of shingle. That stands only some twenty miles from its cousin on Cape Grisnez in France. The marsh was originally mostly under water and much of my remaining walk today would follow the old coastline (hence ‘Saxon Shore Way’). A glance at the map reveals the contour lines stretching south west along the marsh periphery. My route would hug the hills before dropping down the slopes to the Rother Levels, where the River Rother and Royal Military Canal cut across it. Two days of walking would take me to the inland port of Rye at the far side of this strange little reclaimed island.

The view from my breakfast halt revealed much of the days walk before me. Additionally, beyond Romney Marsh and the sea, can be seen the squat blocks of the nuclear power stations on the Dungeness headland

The view from my breakfast halt revealed much of the days walk before me. Additionally, beyond Romney Marsh and the sea, can be seen the lighthouse and squat blocks of the nuclear power stations on the Dungeness headland

The paths are old rights of way around here and no doubt they have proved meddlesome to recent land owners who have had to contend with people, quite rightly, snaking their way past their properties and businesses. Lympne now boasts a nondescript industrial park built on top of what used to one of the most important airfields in the country. In 1919 it was one of the first four customs appointed aerodromes in the country, In the thirties it was the starting point for numerous long distance record flights by the likes of Amy Johnson, her husband (to be) Jim Mollison, and Jean Batten. The World’s first air car ferry briefly operated from here to Le Touquet. Years later, during the Second World War, there was a plot to kidnap Adolf Hitler, once captured he was to be bought to Lympne. The list goes on, and on, but the airport stopped operating in 1984 and nothing remains today.

12th century St Stephens Church, Lympne

12th century St Stephens Church, Lympne

“keep along the bank, then turn down the hill, go past the giraffes, keep on to the canal, then turn right by the camels”

A little past Lympne is Lympne Castle, this is privately owned and used for weddings and such like so no general access. I was more interested in seeing the lovely 11th to 14th century St Stephens church adjacent. With its well situated bench overlooking Romney Marsh it would have made a far better halt than my previous one. It was here that one of the older residents pottered round with his dog and amiably spent a few minutes (socially distanced) chatting to me. Proud of ‘his’ church and ‘his’ view I remain a little unsure if he was just parochial or actually a local dignitary. It was Jim who delivered what must be my oddest set of directions.

View over Romney Marsh from behind St. Stephens Church, Lympne

View over Romney Marsh from behind St. Stephens Church, Lympne

For a while the Way hugs the edge of the high ground but having reached the first of the fenced enclosures of Port Lympne Wildlife Park (a zoo to anyone else) you pass the zebras and then drop down left, down muddy, slippery paths, snaking between enclosures holding bison (or is it buffalo) and impressive looking big-antlered gazelles of some type. Giraffes I can identify, so it was past them to the banks of the Royal Military Canal. Masticating camels peered at me from the fields on my right as I began the easy low level walking along the canal. This is a popular route for cyclists so to avoid them I moved up on to the adjacent snaking thin little track beside the canal, tripping over tree roots and catching my furled umbrella on overhanging trees, but I was away from dinging, splashing, bloody annoying, cycles being ridden with little thought of pedestrians.

How many UK walks offer views of giraffes striding the hillsides?

How many UK walks offer views of giraffes striding the hillsides?

Easy walking beside the Royal Military Canal

Easy walking beside the Royal Military Canal

Eventually the Saxon Shore Way emerged from the trees and it became a hot and sweaty walk. I left cycles behind me and had the trail to myself, no-one was around. I paused for a good while trying to get a photograph of Turtle Doves above. I haven’t seen one for a decade or so, but failed miserably to catch an image as they kept flying as I got near enough.

There were a lot of cows around and one some five hundred metres away decided I was of great interest and started, literally, to gallop toward me. I have never seen a cow move at that speed. Nervously I hopped over a fence and it slowed to a simple trot as it neared. It lost interest, I hopped back over the wire, carried on, and immediately attracted the attention of a large bull that decided to take a closer look. I am not normally bothered by bovine presence but these looked to be too inquisitive.

Curious bull- probably, possibly, nothing to be concerned about

Curious bull- probably, possibly, maybe, nothing to be concerned about

Studying the map, I climbed a fence and escaped the herd by taking an early path back up the contours to soon join the awkward constantly changing route inland that eventually emerges at Hamstreet. If there is one fault with the Saxon Shore Way it is this part. The trail here is a right mixed bag and it requires constant attention to remain on the right path. I think it would be better staying with the Royal Military Canal as I am not even convinced it is following any historic route by striking inland. As it was, the trail passes close to the railway station, a mile north of the canal and that was the end of another day with a further thirteen miles completed.

Leaving Warehorne the Saxon Shore Way follows ancient paths through the Low Weald

Leaving Warehorne the Saxon Shore Way follows ancient paths through the Low Weald

My next day on trail had me arriving at Hamstreet station with grey skies though I hoped these would clear later. It was comfortably cool walking and it is a treat to follow the very obviously old routes across the fields that join one isolated community with another, paths lead from church to church. The Woolpack Inn at Warehorne looked a treat, I vainly hoped for the usual mug of tea and a bacon buttie but nope. I shall return…

Church of St. Mary, Kenardington

Church of St. Mary, Kenardington

Window on south wall of St Marys reveals 'ghost tracery' of the original and much larger window

Window on south wall of St Marys reveals ‘ghost tracery’ of the original and much larger window

Leaving Warehorne I struck across fields, crossing the Horsemarsh sewer en route, sounds horrible, it is simply a ditch. The Grade II* listed parish church of St. Mary, Kenardington overlooks Romney Marsh and was, remarkably, open. I wandered in and explored the medieval church. This used to be a much larger church but has a chequered history. Built on the site of a Saxon fort, the church was severely damaged by a French raiding party in the 15th century and it was almost ruined after being struck by lightning in 1559. It was then rebuilt, greatly reduced in size and windows were partly or fully filled in.

In 2013, to open up its use to both the local community and those walking the Saxon Shore Way, a new-build ‘pentice’ was added that links with the previously isolated tower at the west end. The work is sympathetic and new glass has also been installed, marking the life of St Mary. I do hope that it occasionally fills with people as it all seemed very lonely and quiet when I visited.

Gusbourne vineyards

Gusbourne vineyards- established 2004. The Saxon Shore Way passes through the centre of these

The gently sloping south facing slopes in this part of the country have been farmed for a thousand years. I do wonder if the Romans had attemped a little grape growing when they were occupying the land here. Today, the Gusbourne estate extends over more than two hundred acres of vineyard and the Saxon Shore Way marches straight through the middle of them- Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes produce award winning wines. The estate is immaculate. Frosts can occur here though and frost fans are used in the lower fields to protect the buds in April.

Then it was back to crossing cereal crops. A rustle to my left and a familiar head showed above the grain, followed by another, and another. What is it with these renegade sheep? Another bunch that had decided that the grass was, indeed, greener in the next field and had formed an escape committee.

If anyone asks, you haven't seen us

If anyone asks, you haven’t seen us

One of the older square shaped oast houses, now converted to a residential dwelling. The corners of these oasts developed cold spots and circular oasts replaced them

Oast house at Stone in Oxney, now converted to a residential dwelling. The corners of these older square oasts developed cold spots and circular oasts proved more efficient

This is a Public Footpath, Right of Way and the Saxon Shore Way- deliberately (allegedly) obscured and unofficially re-routed to keep walkers off the fields edges and on a road instead

This is a Public Footpath, Right of Way and the Saxon Shore Way- deliberately (allegedly) obscured and unofficially re-routed to keep walkers off the field edges and on a road instead. No-one has walked this way in weeks, until me

The remainder of my walking today was mostly uneventful. At Appledore the path does a short loop round to Stone in Oxney before dropping, yet again, down to the lower levels- billiard table flat it appears. It was approaching the Military Canal here that I encountered the only piece of obvious trail route tampering. Way marker posts had been ripped up and slung into the nearby ditches. The absence of one very necessary sign led me the wrong way for a while, taking me along the farm road, the route the farmer obviously preferred, but then I backtracked and walked the correct public Right of Way at the field and ditch edge to rejoin the canal beside the accompanying ‘Military Road’. I did wonder if there had been a diversion of the official route but it was at the far end that I found signs pushed over and uprooted. Once off that particular farmer’s land and onto the Highways England maintained verge there was a good well appointed sign indicating the way I had just come- peeved. Who the hell will halt and instruct these damned people who decide that established routes no longer apply just because they don’t like it?

Dropping down from the higher ground, again, toward the lower marshes

Dropping down from the higher ground, again, toward the lower marshes

Signage beside the Royal Military Canal

The waterside path then leads the walker all the way to Rye where the Saxon Shore Way used to end before being extended to Hastings. The path itself is mostly unremarkable and follows scrappy field edges until branching through a small (seemingly) residential caravan and boat mooring, but the canal is pleasant. Most noticeable is the long line of low cliffs off the right shoulder. These very obviously mark where the original and ancient Saxon shoreline used to be.

More recently, disaster could still occur. On 18 November 1808 a terrific storm at sea was battering Hythe, further back up the coast toward Folkestone. The sea broke through the coastal defences and the sluice linking the canal with the sea at Seabrook was breached. A surge of water flooded much of the Romney and Walland Marshes. If the lock-keeper at Iden hadn’t opened the gates in time the flood would have broken the lock gates and extended much further, causing huge loss of life, as it was he diverted the surge into the River Rother and the unoccupied Rother Levels were flooded instead. The canal linking with the River Rother, with the sea to its other edge, means that the Romney Marshes are effectively a low lying island. Much of it was back under water following this flood.

Royal Military Canal at Boonshill. The low cliffs to the north west show the original land edge that butted up against the Rother Levels, once under water

Royal Military Canal near the Iden lock. The low cliffs to the north west show the original Saxon land edge that abuts the Rother Levels

The canal joins the River Rother and becomes tidal but the path at its edge is still easy going. I began to see the odd dogwalker, which felt a little strange as I had barely seen anyone on the actual trail for the last few days. With low water the muddy edges were exposed and sheep from the grazing marshes were wandering the tideline, picking off seaweed, spike grass and samphire. Their meat must taste fantastic. The saltmarsh found here is a rare habitat in Sussex. When I reached Rye the town was busy. Lots of traffic, lots of people. Yet again the chip shop was closed so I never hung around as I had a couple of changes to make on my rail journey home. I was now in East Sussex having left Kent. Another thirteen miles done and my final day on trail tomorrow.

Approaching Rye beside the tidal River Rother. The higher ground on the north side is still very obvious

Approaching Rye beside the tidal River Rother. The higher ground on the north side is still very obvious

Back in Rye the following day it was already hot and sunny. A cloudless sky and a very exposed first half-day followed by just a little shady shelter in the afternoon. Exiting the station it is only a few hundred metres and the trail is already back into the country. I took time out to try and find Martello Tower No. 30 that is shown on the map. It was built there to protect the sluices of nearby Brede and Tillingham rivers. The tower is hidden away on private properties and I had to dodge the traffic to stand on a scrappy verge trying to see it.

Martello Tower No. 30- hidden away in Rye

Martello Tower No. 30- hidden away behind private properties in Rye

There were 47 Martello Towers built along the East Sussex coast, 46 between Rye and Eastbourne and another at Seaford. These were a chain of gun towers built between 1805-1812 to defend the south eastern coast of England from invasion by Napoleonic forces, an invasion that never came. The British were so impressed by the resistance put up by the fortified tower at Mortella Point in Corsica in 1793 that its design was copied. Tower No. 30 was also one of only two that was built with a Cunette, a narrow moat in the middle of a dry ditch. I could see none of that from my precarious vantage point. Time to walk on to a much more accessible object of antiquity- Camber Castle.

Camber Castle

Camber Castle

Camber Castle. Image edited from that on Wikipedia

‘Tudor Rose’ Camber Castle. Image edited from that on Wikipedia

The low grazing marsh was all to myself this morning, no one else could be seen for miles and the squat Camber Castle, sitting on the slightest of rises, is a dramatic feature on the distant landscape. Enough so that Turner visited to sketch it between 1805 and 1807.

It is not really a castle, more a fort. The medieval forts signified the end of castle building for national defence and the move to defences that recognised the increased range and power of cannon. Henry VIII had twenty forts built to protect the south coast and construction was complete by 1540.

Exiting sewer and worn and weathered sandstone walls of exterior walls of Camber Castle

Exiting drainage channel through worn and weathered exterior sandstone walls of Camber Castle

Because of their shape they are known as ‘Tudor Rose’ forts. I had already passed others in this line of defence- Deal, Walmer and Sandown amongst them. By 1626 the sea had receded so far, today almost a mile away, that the harbour was out of range of its cannon and Charles I gave permission for the now useless castle to be demolished. For some reason it remained standing and eleven years later the military finally abandoned it. Today it is maintained by English Heritage and access to the interior is limited to only a few days a year. I peered through the locked wire gate before walking the exterior and returning to my path. It is then only a further mile and a half before rejoining the Royal Military Canal that had been my occasional companion over the past days. Exiting Winchelsea, this is an exquisite walk. First tree fringed, with reed and Greater Reedmace along the waters edge. Occasional gaps in the vegetation led to the water, each gap filled with a silent occupant surrounded by the paraphernalia of a modern day angler- green tent, chair, multiple rods with a miriad of tackle, and cooler bags filled with cans of lager. Before exiting the tree shaded section I paused to enjoy a melted Mint Chocolate and Nut Kind Bar (the very best of snack bars) and hydrate while watching a pair of buzzards with their noisy fledged youngsters quarter the far bank and the trees on the slopes beyond. Obviously good for raptors around here, a mile further on a Merlin flashed past me chasing a sandpiper.

Leaving Winchelsea behind, it is beautiful walking along the tranquil Royal Military Canal across the Pett Levels all the way to the coast at Cliff End

Leaving Winchelsea behind, it is beautiful walking along the tranquil Royal Military Canal across the Pett Levels all the way to the coast at Cliff End

Built as a defence against a possible invasion of England during the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Military Canal stretches 28 miles from Seabrook near Folkestone to where I was now headed- Cliff End, a little short of Hastings. Construction began 1804 and was completed 1809 having employed some 1500 navvies and troops. The canal is staggered, a kink being included every 500 yards (460 metres) to permit artillery fire along that length. A military road was built along much of the inland side and removable wooden bridges employed to cross the canal. Beside being a physical barrier to invading forces, the canal was also used for quickly transporting soldiers, stores and equipment across the levels. It is a lovely walk in its own right and there is a dedicated trail that does this. The canal may not have seen much in the way of military action but did later aid the authorities in attempting to control smuggling. It was more profitable to export untaxed wool from the heavily fleeced flocks grazing on Romney Marsh than to import contraband French lace or Flemish brandy.

Approaching Ecclesbourne Glen with Hastings beyond

Approaching Ecclesbourne Glen with Hastings beyond

Cliff End, where the canal ends, is well named, for this is where the only slight sting in the tail for the Saxon Shore Way begins. The end of the days walk involves some rollercoasting along the cliff paths to Hastings, taking in Hastings Country Park, Warren Glen, Fairlight Glen and Ecclesbourne Glen, some of the climbs and drops are steep, some paths diverted due to rock fall and I found one dip, having dropped all the way to the stream crossing at the bottom, entirely blocked to passage due to ‘deterioration in the path’, necessitating a climb back out and another route round. Some sections are thick with growth and impassable other than via the established paths but grazing Belted Galloways and Exmoor Ponies are slowly crashing through and opening the slopes up.

Reaching East Cliff it is a gentle walk down the slopes to the edge of Hastings Old Town. The East Cliff funicular railway isn’t working these days so it is a steep descent by steps down into the town, suddenly emerging to a throng of people out enjoying the lovely coastal town, ice creams and, wait for it… freshly fried chips from numerous open chippies.

Part reward for completing the Saxon Shore Way- socially distanced fish and chips at Hastings

Part reward for completing the Saxon Shore Way- socially distanced chips at Hastings

Descending on the West Cliff Funicular railway, the second carriage is ascending

Descending on the West Cliff Funicular railway, the second carriage is ascending

Entrance to the 1891 built West Cliff Railway, Hastings

Entrance to the lower station of the 1891 built West Cliff Railway, Hastings

I had one more treat before walking to the railway station and making my way home. The West Cliff funicular is tucked away off the main drag, but it was open. Despite the new railings installed to control visitor numbers, I was the only one travelling up and down the 19th century cliff railway. Building work began in 1889 and was completed 1891. It travels up through a brick lined tunnel rather than up the outer surface of the cliff. Originally powered by gas, it has been electric since 1971. A short and smooth ride up and down, I enjoyed it more than I perhaps should.

Having placated my inner schoolboy, it was a short walk from there to the railway station after walking a little over 13 miles on the final section of the Saxon Shore Way. The trail is 163 miles long and with a little extra walking to and from railway stations I had covered 176 miles over 11 day sections.

Is the trail worth following? Absolutely. Some days are better than others, but that is the nature of any longer trail. Every day offers up something of historic interest, every day offers at least modest views, every day is different. For those in the South East corner of England who may wish to shy away from hills, or wish to indulge in what is mostly low level walking, or like Three Points of the Compass, have been struggling to regain a little trail fitness, it is ideal.

Saxon Shore Way

Saxon Shore Way

The Saxon Shore Way:

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

Trail talk: The Saxon Shore Way- Sittingbourne to Dover

Sandwich Rope Walk, 1915

Sandwich Rope Walk, 1915

Oyster Bay House, Faversham. A three-storey nineteenth century granry store built beside Faversham Creek. A contemporary 'spritsail' barge moored alongside

Oyster Bay House, Faversham. A three-storey nineteenth century granary store built beside Faversham Creek. A contemporary ‘sprit sail’ barge was moored alongside

A second week on the Saxon Shore Way comprised of four days of walking between Sittingbourne and Dover. The trail follows the north Kent shoreline before branching off inland along the old dividing line between mainland and what was once a separate island- the Isle of Thanet, then reaches the coast a little beyond Sandwich and its famous golfing links, finally following the coast round to Dover. These are four easy walking sections each with a very different character. Actually it was only three days of walking as I had already completed the Sittingbourne to Faversham part earlier in the year and that blog was published on the Cicerone website. I was looking forward to the three days that would take me to Dover.

Continuing from where I had finished the first three sections, the fourth section on the Saxon Shore Way reaches along the coast from Sittingbourne to Faversham. Earlier in the year, prior to lockdown really clamping down, we had been permitted one form of exercise a day and I took the opportunity to isolate myself from others on that lonely stretch of shoreline. I had been considering early retirement from work and this day walking alone provided an ideal opportunity for solitary thought and decision making.

Favourite is the last surviving oyster yawl in Whistable. Built in 1890, her working life ended when shot at by a German fighter in 1944. She now sits in a garden besdie the Saxon Shore Way

‘Favourite’ is the last surviving oyster yawl in Whistable. Built in 1890, her working life ended when shot at by a German fighter in 1944. She now sits in a garden beside the Saxon Shore Way

The Saxon Shore Way from Faversham starts with the pleasant and easy walk out and round Faversham Creek, past silent boatyards and out on to the sea wall on Nagden and Graveney Marshes. Harty, on the Isle of Sheppey is just a mile away, across the tidal Swale, that lonely and hard to reach place was the birthplace of British aviation. The water was low and a lot of mud was exposed. A couple of seals bobbed around out in the channel, no doubt looking for flat fish in the increasing current. Waders were in abundance but distant. Bright white Little Egrets paced the waters edge and I began to see, and hear, a handful of Little Terns as I approached Seasalter. In this Covid year the caravan park there was still closed when I walked past but the site owners were taking the opportunity of applying a lick of paint to spruce the place up. A brief wave, they went about their work and I went on with my walk. I was approaching Whitstable and I had hopes of fish and chips for lunch.

The town was heaving. The weather was fantastic and thousands of people, confined to quarters for too long and starved of stimuli, had descended on the place. Social distancing was an impossibility, the paths were full and I had to walk in the road, car mirrors brushing me as they threaded their way through rammed streets. I passed through the town, famous for oysters and other seafood, without halting. Looked like my simple cheese sarnie in my pack was going to suffice.

Approaching Herne Bay the Saxon Shore Way begins to pass brightly painted beach huts, now selling for tens of thousands of pounds each

Approaching Herne Bay the Saxon Shore Way begins to pass brightly painted beach huts, now selling for tens of thousands of pounds each

Yellow Horned Sea Poppy

Yellow Horned Sea Poppy (Glaucium flavum) abounds

From Whitstable it is a wide and flat esplanade wander all the way to the end of my day at Herne Bay. It is a long enough stretch of coast that the many hundreds out enjoying the summer sun were mostly spread thin and there was plenty of room to keep up a swift pace.

Beach huts and coastline properties sell for a lot of money along this sheltered stretch. New builds are squeezed in where they can. A couple of years ago a developer upset the locals when they discovered that the latest building project was called ‘Impressive Erections’.

Having reached the pier it was just a half mile walk uphill to Herne Bay station, arriving mid-afternoon having completed almost 22 miles on easy almost flat surfaces all day.

The Heron public house stands next door to Herne Bay railway station. Like all others, they were eagerlly anticpating being allowed to open in this coronvirus year. This was eventually permitted on 4th July

The Heron public house stands next door to Herne Bay railway station. Like all others in England, they were eagerly anticpating being allowed to reopen following coronvirus lockdown. This was eventually permitted on 4th July

Back the following morning to continue my walk, I found Herne Bay a charming and tidy place, lacking in much of the general tattiness and tackiness that afflicts so many English sea towns these days. An historic past and links with figures from history are evident, none more so than record-breaking Amy Johnson who disappeared offshore having crashed there during World War II. She was the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia and was an accomplished pilot, navigator and engineer. The cause of her death remains a mystery but rumours abound, one being that she perished under the propellors of the ship sent to rescue her.

Bronze statue of Amy Johnson gazes out to the estuary where she disappeared on 5th January 1941 when ferrying an aeroplane as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary

Bronze statue of Amy Johnson gazes out to the estuary where the pilot disappeared on 5th January 1941 while transporting an Airspeed Oxford as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary. She baled out after possibly running out of fuel. Another rumour suggests she was shot down by anti-aircraft crew after failing to give the corrent identification signal

Clock Tower in Herne Bay

Clock Tower in Herne Bay

I pottered around Herne Bay a little before properly striking off as not only was I in search of a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie (unlucky in both), but it is also a lovely espanade and the clock tower alone demands a little time to admire it. Built in 1837 it is the oldest purpose-built, free-standing clock tower in the UK. It stands 85 feet (26m) tall including the weather vane. The two canons standing at its base were dredged from the sea bed when the town pier was being completed in 1899. Possibly Dutch in origin, they used to fire blanks as a fog warning to shipping.

It was off the coast here that Barnes Wallis and his colleagues experimented with the Upkeep Bouncing Bomb in April and May 1943 and Highball prototype in April 1943. Today there was little to see at sea other than an array of wind turbines and the distant Maunsell Forts.

Leaving Herne Bay it was more easy walking along the coast until a gentle rise up to Reculver Country Park. Plenty of dog walkers around taking all the pavement width with leads stetched from one side to the other. Its OK mate, I’ll go round you then…

There is a plethora of benches well sited, all with good views out to sea and I made use of one for a mid morning halt to rehydrate and snack on an oat bar. The weather was again kind and I had again packed along three litres of water as there are few places to replenish on this route. Soon after, it was the long sweeping drop down to the dramatic Reculver Towers.

Plan of Reculver Fort. Courtesy of English Heritage

Plan of Reculver Fort. Image courtesy of English Heritage

The 12th century towers atop a monastic church can be seen for miles across the flat landscape. So noticeable are they that they were rebuilt as a navigational aid for shipping. However the site’s history is far older than that as it was formerly a Roman fort. The coastline is extensively eroded here and the fort and subsequent church used to stand far inland. The encroaching sea has taken half of the fort and now laps at the feet of the towers. Recent sea defences may yet prevent them toppling.

After a decent wander and explore of the site, I found a small cafe that had just opened the day before, following months of lock-down closure. A good bacon sarnie was accompanied by a mug of tea, the proprietor followed my demands for ‘strong’ tea to the letter- superb. Why-oh-why is making a decent cup of tea a dying art!

Exploring Reculver Towers

Exploring Reculver Towers

Crossing the Isle of Thanet takes in countless drainage ditches and streams. Frogs and voles abounded. Shrews and Mice crossed my path frequently, a lone Weasel chased on and Kestrels were also on the hunt

Crossing the Isle of Thanet takes in countless drainage ditches and streams. Dragonflies quartered their ‘patch’. Frogs and voles abounded. Shrews and mice crossed my path frequently, a lone weasel chased one and kestrels were also on the hunt

Leaving Reculver my path now headed inland. The Saxon Shore Way runs concurrent with the Wantsum Walk and Stour Valley Walk for much of its way as it crosses the Isle of Thanet, missing out the top north east corner. Thankfully as otherwise the route would wander needlessly through Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. That part of the coast now being almost completely built up.

Following on from a few days of mostly coastal walking, the Saxon Shore Way takes on a very different flavour on this inland section. My weather was superb- warm, sunny and dry. The air crackled with heat and bees and flies buzzed me companionably.

This part of the walk was so enjoyable that I might return one day to explore this area further. No-one was around and I had the paths to myself all the way to Grove Ferry. The large pub there was closed but an enterprising youngster had set up a caravan in the car park and was doing good trade with paddle boarders and anglers. I joined the two metre spacing queue and was soon enjoying yet another decent mug of tea and a quality burger. Lunch may have come early but sitting in the shade of a birch tree with a Flycatcher loudly snapping at flies on the wing infront of me, an hour sped by. Unusual for me who doesn’t normally halt for longer than is necessary.

Stour Valley Walk is a mixture of quite roads and paths, rough grazing and farm crops. Hamlets and villages are dotted around and all is quintessentially British

Stour Valley Walk is a mixture of quiet roads and paths, rough grazing and farm crops. Hamlets and villages are dotted around and all is quintessentially British

From there it was another couple of hours of pleasant quiet walking all the way to Richborough Power Station with no-one beside inquisitive (perhaps too inquisitive) cows and skitterish sheep as occasional company. We all find interest in different things and Three Points of the Compass paused at two large Bailey Bridges that had been built across the River Stour for the farmer to move his cows across. I cast a critical eye over these as I have built dozens of them in another life decades previous.

A grassy riverside trail follows the Stour all the way to the end of this days walk at Sandwich. This was aperfect day to be trying out a new piece of gear- Sun Gloves from Outdoor Research

A grassy riverside trail follows the Stour all the way to the end of this days walk at Sandwich. This was a perfect hot and sunny day to be trying out a new piece of gear- Sun Gloves from Outdoor Research

These flat lands have been inhabited for thousands of years and evidence of Roman occupation continues to be unearthed. One place that was preserved years ago and is well worth a diversion is Richborough Castle. The Roman Fort is just a little way off-trail. Even during its Roman occupation, the castle underwent massive change. From AD43 Richborough was the major British port and from here legions would spread out across Britain, starting off along Watling Street, which commences here. The route today indicated by a little inconsequential concrete farm track. A large triumphal arch, possibly 25m high, was built straddling the road and entry through the arch signified formal arrival into Britannia. The arch foundations remain however the rest was utilised as building material for a Saxon Fort built across the site around 277.

From Richborough it is a short walk into Sandwich. This is possibly one of the most pleasant entries in to a town you could have, along the raised Rope Walk with shading trees and green spaces on both sides, looking down to some lovely period homes as you walk. A supermarket toward the end might just have been visited to pick up a bottle of Shiraz with which to celebrate another 19 miles completed.

Keep to the path while crossing the grounds of the Royal St. George's Golf Club. Host to the Open Championship on occasion

Thatched starters hut at the first hole on the Royal St. George’s Golf Club. Occasional host to the Open Championship

Deal Time Ball Tower

Deal Time Ball Tower. Built as a shutter telegraph in 1795-6, a message from here could reach the Admiralty in London in two minutes. Rebuilt as a semaphore tower in 1816, it was again rebuilt as a time-ball tower in 1833. At 12.55 a ball was raised half way up the mast and to the top at 12.58. At 13.00 an electrical current from Greenwich dropped the ball, enabling ships off shore to properly set their chronometers

The next day on the Saxon Shore Way sees an easy exit from town that heads toward the nearby coast, soon crossing the hallowed short turf of the Royal St. George’s Golf Club, founded in 1887, I wondered how the thousands of golfers over the decades have regarded hikers popping up and wandering across ‘their’ course. The trail dips and climbs over a few dunes as it crosses and there is little danger of being struck by an errant golfball. Lots of specialised mowers were going about their business taking another millimetre off the grass.

Saxon Shore Way marker- this trail is well sigposted for almost all its length

Combined Public Footpath and Saxon Shore Way marker- this trail is well sigposted for almost all its length

The England Coast Path was supposed to be completed in 2020 but is running severely late. This part of South East England was amongst the first to be completed and signage is already in place

The England Coast Path was supposed to be completed in 2020 but is running severely late. This part of South East England was amongst the first to be completed and signage is already in place

Having butted up against the shingle and sea it is a sharp right turn and follow the coast again. A lot of joggers, dog walkers and very polite and proper locals taking a stroll. The Royal Cinque Ports Golf Links is passed and the shoreline closely followed all the way to Deal. Immediately noticeable is Deal Time Ball Tower, in use until 1927 and now a museum. Typically, due to Covid, it was closed.

Fishing boats hauled up on to the shingle near Deal

Fishing boats hauled up on to the shingle near Deal

In 1539-40, Sandown, Walmer and Deal castles became part of Henry VIII’s ‘Castles in the Downs’. Colonel Hutchinson, signatory to Charles I’s death warrant, was imprisoned at Sandown by a peeved Charles II. Little remains to be seen of Sandown Castle as you pass its shoreline situation as the council encased it in concrete and made it part of the seawall, but squat Deal and Walmer Castles are largely extant. All three castles were captured by Royalist troops during the civil war and held for three months. The clover leaf bastions were designed to deflect cannon fire. All interesting enough but come on, you can even go inside Walmer Castle and see a pair of tall leather boots that Arthur Wellesley asked his shoemaker to make for him. Later, as Viscount Wellington, he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Soon everyone wanted to be seen wearing a pair of ‘Wellingtons’. The castles can be visited with prior booking but I’ve seen the boots before and could live without such excitement, so I contented myself with a few photos of the castle exteriors and walked on. I found the towns busy with activity and braced against a stiffening wind. I wasn’t sure I could agree with William Cobbetts assessment in 1823- ‘a most villainous place. It is full of filthy-looking people’.

Walmer Castle is one of England's finest Tudor Castles, built under the instruction of Henry VIII

Walmer Castle is one of England’s finest Tudor Castles, built under the instruction of Henry VIII

Car sticker for the pirate Radio Caroline

Car sticker for the pirate Radio Caroline

This part of the British shoreline has been notorious for centuries. Off-shore are the ‘Downs’ a safe area of water for ships, just inside the treacherous Goodwin Sands, a sandbank some six miles offshore that has claimed thousands of boats. Even the South Goodwin Lightship was taken in 1954. Three Points of the Compass grew up listening to pirate radio. MV Ross Revenge, from which Radio Caroline was broadcast, went onto the sands in November 1991. That was the end of off-shore pirate radio in Britain.

Daniel Defoe wrote of Deal men setting out to sea when they saw a boat had foundered, looting the wrecks and ignoring any survivors on the sands, condemming them to death when the tide rose. The town accused him of libel.

My verse should blast that fatal town,
And drown’d sailors’ widows pull it down;
No footsteps of it should appear,
And ships no more cast anchor there.
The barbarous hated name of Deal shou’d die,
Or be a term of infamy;
And till that’s done, the town will stand
A just reproach to all the land

from- Daniel Defoe, The Great Storm of 1703

The occupants of this island have been relying on good land grazing and bounty from the sea for thousands of years. Over 4000 years ago the Beaker folk were burying their dead at Kingsdown on the coast. The tumuli survive to this day. Neolithic cattle compounds, or krall, have been found. Flints and limpet shells have been excavated, these date from the Middle Stone Age 1200 BC onward. In more recent times, smuggling of goods such as tea, brandy and cloth occurred. Today, it seems to be people smuggling that is in vogue. What I found at Kingsdown was an open cafe. Signs instructed me to wait until permitted to enter and I waited until beckoned in. Before ordering I dropped my pack on to a chair and checked I had a wallet and, more importantly a card to pay by as cash was not being accepted. Having placed my order, I moved to one side should anyone else enter the shop, providing sufficient social distance. I browsed the menu and considered ordering something for later but decided against it. Take-away tea and bacon sandwich prepared, I was beckoned forward, I paid through the perspex screen and retreated to an out of the way table to pack my sarnie away before donning the pack. Just as I was leaving, the proprietor came out to thank me for my custom and inform me that because I had touched a chair, a table, the menu, the counter, another chair and another table, he was now going to have to clean and disinfect half the seating area. It is going to take some getting used to this ‘new normal’.

It was at Kingsdown that the first woman to swim the English Channel made landfall in 1926, taking 14 hours and 34 minutes, almost two hours faster than any of the five men who had managed the swim previously. France is just 21 miles away but 20 year old Gertrude Ederle had to battle severe currents and swim 35 miles The first person the American record breaker met was an immigration officer who demanded a passport from “the bleary-eyed, waterlogged teenager“. She wore motorcycle goggles, sealed against her skin with paraffin, to protect her eyes from the salt water. Rather her than me…

Sea front statue, presumably the sport of fish wrestling is a big thing round here

Sea front statue, presumably the sport of fish wrestling is a big thing round here

Onward, onward, keep following the shore toward the next change in the Saxon Shore Way. My walk had been mostly pretty flat to date but it now began a gradual climb and offered a little rollercoasting as it neared Dover

Gradual and undemanding climbing on to cliffs at St Margarets

Gradual and undemanding climbing on to cliffs at St Margaret’s at Cliffe

South Foreland Lighthouse. Built in 1843. Under Faraday's supervision, in 1858 it became the first lighthouse in the world to utilise an electric light. In 1898 it was chosen by Marconi for his experiments with wireless radio transmissions. The first ship to shore transmission was made that year followed by the first international message in 1899

South Foreland Lighthouse, built in 1843. Under Faraday’s supervision, in 1858 it became the first lighthouse in the world to utilise an electric light. In 1898 it was chosen by Marconi as the site for his experiments with wireless radio transmissions. The first ship to shore transmission was made that year followed by the first international message in 1899

My day on trail was drawing to a close. I have walked these cliffs many times. My own family wandered far and wide when Miss Three Points of the Compass was just a nipper and the cafe at the top made a great place to bring my mother for a ‘cup of tea with a view’ as she lost her ability to walk far.

I often practiced my useless flora identification skills on the wide range of flowers and grasses found here. Though usually I would simply give up and go and watch the peregrines terrorising the nesting fulmars and gulls. I was too late in the year for that so I contented myself with watching the ferries in the busy port below. At least I was looking around. The only other people on the cliffs were teens all seemingly engaged in getting the best Instagram picture.

It is a surprisingly long walk to the station even after you have dropped down from the cliffs. There are a lot of new roads and the route has been carefully routed through these and the depressingly forgotten and grimy back streets and is followed with ease.

The Saxon Shore Way drops down to Dover town. Sadly the medieval castle is not on route

The Saxon Shore Way drops down to Dover town. Sadly, medieval Dover castle is not on route

Charles Stewart Rolls, the first man to cross the channel and return in a single flight

Charles Stewart Rolls, the first man to cross the channel and return in a single flight

A number of statues and memorials are passed- those who fell in World War I, the Merchant Navy Seamen lost in World War II, Operation Fuller, even one for Charles Rolls who looked at what Louis Blériot had achieved and said ‘I can do better’. I wondered how long before some miserable woke individuals decided that these offended them and demanded their removal.

Having met the confluence of three paths- where the North Downs Way ends at the Dover shoreline, meeting both England Coast Path and the Saxon Shore Way, I soon branched off to the railway station at the end of an interesting and enjoyable section of almost 17 miles.

My next four days on trail would see me moving in to the neighbouring county of East Sussex. Still to come I had a military canal, a zoo, more ups and downs than you can shake a stick at, and I might finally get the fish and chips that has so far evaded me.

Dover- the confluence of three great trails

Dover- the confluence of three great trails

The Saxon Shore Way

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

Saxon Shore Way

Saxon Shore Way

Saxon Shore Way- Medway section

Trail talk: The Saxon Shore Way- Gravesend to Sittingbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saxon Shore Way

Saxon Shore Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tugs at Gravesend

Tugs at Gravesend

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

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

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

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

Rough pasture between Gravesend and Cliffe

Rough pasture between Gravesend and Cliffe pools

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

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

Exploring the remains of a launch site for the Brennan Torpedo

Exploring the remains of a launch site for the Brennan Torpedo

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

Report of the Chief Royal Engineer, August 1864

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

Cliffe Fort, beyond reach

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

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

Some sizable ships pass close to shore near Cliffe

Some sizable ships pass close to shore near Cliffe

Outer gatehouse of 14th century Cooling Castle

Outer gatehouse of 14th century Cooling Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Submarine moored at Strood. Rochester Cathedral and Castle beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice in window of closed cafe in Gillingham

Notice in window of closed cafe in Gillingham

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

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

Church of St Mary Magdalene

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sopping cereal crops on the slopes at Lower Halstow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from: The Pylons, Stephen Spender

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

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

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

The Saxon Shore Way:

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

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

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

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

Rota-Meter map measure by F. Barker

Rota-Meter map measure by Francis Barker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leatherman Skeletool KB

Knife chat: Leatherman Skeletool KB

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

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

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

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

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

Detail from enclosed leaflet listing the features of the Leatherman KB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary:

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

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

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

Knife chat: Gerber Dime and Dime Travel multi-tools

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

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

Gerber Dime- a budget priced keychain multi-tool

Gerber Dime- a budget priced keychain multi-tool

Gerber Dime-

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

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

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

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

35mm long Spey point blade on Gerber Dime

35mm long Spey point blade on Gerber Dime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerber Dime

Tools:

  • Mini-pliers with wire cutter
  • Fine Edge Blade
  • Retail Package Opener
  • Scissors
  • Flat Screwdriver – medium
  • Flat Screwdriver – small
  • File (coarse & fine)
  • Bottle opener
  • Removable tweezers
  • Lanyard ring

The Dime packaging explains the function of each tool included

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

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

Main scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

Main scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

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

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

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

Gerber Dime Travel-

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

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

Cross-cut file surface on Dime Travel

Cross-cut file surface on Dime Travel

Single cut file surface does little more than buff finger nails

Single cut file surface does little more than buff finger nails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerber Dime Travel- leave it at home...

Gerber Dime Travel- leave it at home…

Tools:

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

In summary:

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

The smaller scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

The smaller scale tools on Gerber Dime and Dime Travel

Dime and Dime Travel specifications:

Weight Length Width

(across widest point of torx)

Depth
Dime 66.4g 70mm 15.45 20.65mm
Dime Travel 68g 70mm 14.45mm 20.55mm

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

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

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

The Short brothers

Trail talk: a walk around the birthplace of British aviation

From 'Flight' 17th February 1912

From ‘Flight’ 17th February 1912

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barn Owl in window of Harty Church

Barn Owl in window of Harty Church

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

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

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

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

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

Harty marshes walk- the birthplace of British aviation- hide

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

From 'Flight' 27th Nov 1909

From ‘Flight’ 27th Nov 1909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird of Paradise, at Shorts Shellbeach factory, 1909

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

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

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

Pigs might fly

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

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

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

Some Rights of Way have been diverted over the decades

Some Rights of Way have been diverted over the decades

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Flight guaranteed”

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

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

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

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

From 'Aero' 15th March 1910

From ‘Aero’ 15th March 1910

Eastchurch aerodrome, c1911

Eastchurch aerodrome, c1911

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ditty bag contents in 2020

Gear talk: ditty bag contents

On longer lonelier trails, with habitation potentially days away, a handful of carefully thought out simple and lightweight pieces of gear can solve a problem, make life a little more comfortable, or even prevent injury or worse

On longer lonelier trails, with habitation potentially days away, a handful of carefully thought out simple and lightweight pieces of gear can solve a problem, make life a little more comfortable, or even prevent injury or worse, photographed Scottish Highlands

It is a number of years since I showed the contents of my hiking ditty bag. That place where I keep this ‘n’ that, bits ‘n’ pieces, spare stuff, repair stuff, essential stuff, non-essential stuff and ‘where the hell else can I keep this?’ stuff while on trail.

Ditty bag

Ditty bag

I am not going to delve much into weights here. These contents are the type of thing that is personal to everyone. What I show here is pretty lightweight and what I have evolved to what I like to have with me. Every single item listed here has been used by myself on trail but I am more than aware that many would not even bother to pack along the type of things I do, fine.

Quilt cords and line

Quilt cords and line

Three lengths of cordage are packed in the ditty bag. The two yellow lengths are quilt cords for me to attach my Katabatic quilt to the pad on colder or draughtier nights.

Quilt cord used to hand food bag away from rodents in bothy on South West Coast Path

Quilt cord used to hand food bag away from rodents in bothy on South West Coast Path

It is seldom that these have to be used as my quilt is wide enough to tuck around the small of my back etc if there is a lazy breeze working through my Duplex shelter. I usually have a door or two on the shelter open at night to keep down condensation and give me a view outside. The cords are occasionally used around the pad in shoulder seasons and in winter. One of the cords has had to do double duty on a particularly long hike a couple of years back- over two thousand miles I lost so much weight that my non-elasticated town trousers, with no waist draw cord, were so loose that I had to tie them up to prevent them falling down.

I have also used one of the cords as a rough and ready way of measuring a distance on a paper map. Simply flex the cord around the bends and turns and trails of tomorrows path, pinch where you get to between finger and thumb, then measure off against the scale at the base of the map. Old school, but easy and reasonably accurate.

Quick and easy attachment method for thin drying line. Can also be used as an extra guy

Quick and easy attachment method for thin drying line. Can also be used as an extra guy

The 6g of green cord shown is usually used as a washing line, often strung between shelter and whatever is nearest. My hiking shirt is often sweat soaked at the end of a day’s hike. I will also try and wash or at least rinse skiddies and socks each evening.

300lb breaking strain braided line. A lifetimes backpacking supply

A lifetimes backpacking supply of line

The green cord is actually 10 metres of tough and thin braided fishing line with a 300lb breaking strain. Really slippery stuff, I could use a knot but tend to rely on a couple of little plastic ‘thingies’ slid on, to which the line is simply returned and wound around a couple of times. This holds it securely.

Gear drying on final day of The Ridgeway. Town Farm campsite, below Ivinghoe Beacon 2016

Gear drying on final day of The Ridgeway. Town Farm campsite, below Ivinghoe Beacon 2016

On a five mile hike in 2018 Three Points of the Compass lost so much weight that town trousers became too loose to wear and had to be cinched up with a quilt cord to prevent offending sensibilities

On a five month hike in 2018 Three Points of the Compass lost so much weight that town trousers became too loose to wear and had to be cinched up with a quilt cord to avoid offending sensibilities

Peaty brown water may look unpalatable but is fine to drink, particularly after the addition of a couple of chemical sterilisation tablets. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, NW Scotland

Peaty brown water may look unpalatable but is fine to drink, particularly after the addition of a couple of chemical sterilisation tablets. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, NW Scotland

I use a Katadyn BeFree water filter on trail. I touched on that in a recent post looking at my hydration set-up. But, accidents and loss of filter can occur, so I also pack along a half-dozen or so chemical water treatment tablets. These are Chlorine Dioxide, each tablet will treat a litre of water.

It is not often that I chemically treat water, preferring to filter. But it is a fool that doesn’t try to look to ensuring that water is safe to drink. Regardless of stomach upsets that may occur, there is growing incidences of viruses in our water supplies and the former reliance of a ‘cast-iron’ stomach wont cut it today.

The orange items are ear plugs. Some hostels and bothies, and close camped pitches too, can get pretty noisy with snorers. I confess to hating using these but they are included for last, desperate, resort. These are kept clean in a small baggie.

Ear plugs can also be helpful in trying to get a good nights kip when the wind is blowing and the tent is rattling and flapping like a good ‘un. Though I tend to just pull a beenie further down over my ears instead.

Infrequently required

Emergency water treatment and ear plugs. Infrequently required but extremely useful on occasion

Another tiny baggie keeps a plethora of little ‘stuff’. My sewing kit comprises two needles; a No. 7 embroidery/crewel needle (that has occasionally been pulled into blister duty) and a large eye No. 18 chenille needle. These are kept in a small plastic tube with end caps, along with a trimmed needle threader and a back-up pen. I say pen, this is one of the tiny 1g pressurised pens that pops into a 58mm Victorinox knife scale.

Small stuff

Small stuff

The remainder of my sewing kit comprises a single medium sized button and around five metres of black Gütermann Extra-strong polyester thread on a 0.4g bobbin. I have overdone the sewing kit in the past but am happy with what I have pared down to. The larger chenille needle will still handle tougher fabrics that will shrug off the No. 7 embroidery needle.

On longer hikes, some damage and wear to clothes and gear will occur. Sewing the crotch of my shorts midway along the Cape Wrath Trail

A sterilised needle passed through a blister and the thread left behind, stops the holes closing up and enables the blister to drain overnight, a bit of tape over the blister the following day enables a hike to continue almost pain free, provided the problem that caused it has been dealt with

The needle and thread can also be used for work on any blisters, though I seldom suffer from these there has still been the combination of events that has led to problems. I think the last time was walking through the surf on sloping beach shingle for more miles that I would have preferred to. Catching it way too late to tape over, the sodden skin had become loose and hot. Increasingly I find I am having to assist fellow hikers as few seem to have any clue how to prevent blisters, deal with them, or carry anything with which to treat them.

I carry a little P-38 tin opener, not often used, but if I have an infrequent opportunity of finding a tin of food that lacks a ring pull, I want to get into it. I have learnt my mistake on this, and for the sake of 4.5g, I’ll continue to pack it along now.

Bobby pin being used to hand a washed Darn Tuff sock at tent door to allow it to dry

Bobby pin being used to hang a washed Darn Tuff sock at tent door to allow it to dry. Another sock hangs from the other door

Two bobby pins are used as simple clothes pegs. They work adequately well. Also tucked in to my ditty bag is a spare o-ring for my BRS-3000T stove. If that were lost or damaged and I have no spare, it is goodbye to hot meals and drinks for the remainder of my walk. My final item carried is a spare type 400 bottle cap (shallow, one thread turn).

Three Points of the Compass carries a small knife or multi-tool on trail. For many years I have favoured the key-chain sized Leatherman Squirt S4 because the selection of tools on this is almost exactly what I want. Usually, the only tools I require are scissors, modest blade, small screwdriver for my glasses, nailfile and a bottle opener on occasion. Just occasionally I have required a screwdriver to fix a stove or trekking poles. The S4 is now discontinued though it has been replaced with others in the Leatherman line up. If I am not carrying this I am invariably carrying one of the terrific little 58mm Victorinox tools.

However I am currently looking at returning to what I used when I first started off backpacking decades ago, taking separate dedicated tools. More on that in a future post.

Leatherman Squirt S4 multi-tool

Leatherman Squirt S4 multi-tool

I carry a little wallet. I am on my third of these as zips do fail and they hole quite often. They have varied in material from X-Pac to 70D Liteskin to my current which is DCF Cuben Fiber. These are all simple zippered pouches containing travel/bus/train tickets (and Gold discount card if necessary), house key (and British Waterways water key on occasion), cash and a variety of cards- I probably carry more cards than most as I like to visit places on my trails and you never know what you may unexpectedly happen upon. Current cards are YHA membership, English Heritage, Museums Association membership and bank card.

Wallet and contents

Wallet and contents

A squirt of gel super glue kept a trail shoe that was coming apart from progressing further

A squirt of gel super glue kept a trail shoe that was coming apart from progressing further

Another baggie contains repair tape. This varies according to length of trail but is currently a 11cm x 7.5cm rectangle of clear tenacious tape, 10.5cm x 8cm rectangle of clear DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabric) repair tape, 30cm thin strip of camo DCF repair tape, that matches my shelter, and a single square of Thermarest fabric repair patch for my sleeping mat. On occasion I have added some self adhesive hook and loop velcro.

Like many others, I keep a few turns of duct or Gorilla tape around the shafts of my trekking poles. This gets changed out each season.

I also include a tiny 1g tube of super glue gel. I have tried the 0.5g tubes but they do not include enough to effect most repairs and the larger tubes contain too much. I also find the gel easier to control than the runny glue. At a pinch, this could also be used for skin repair in the event of a particularly bad injury.

Repair tape and glue

Repair tape and glue

Disaster averted. When a guy pulled out on my shelter, leaving a large hole in the side, it was only having a large patch of adhesive repair cuben tape that prevetned a series of damp nights following. Offas Dyke Path

Disaster averted. When a guy pulled out on my shelter, leaving a large hole in the side, it was only having a large patch of adhesive repair DCF tape that prevented a series of damp nights following. Offas Dyke Path

The small journal that Three Points of the Compass carries will vary according the to the length of trail, but is always pretty small

The small journal that Three Points of the Compass carries will vary according to the length of trail, but is always pretty small

Three Points of the Compass seems to be amongst a declining number of hikers who still likes to keep a written journal. Most people simply record their memories on their phone, if at all. Size of journal varies according to how long a trail is, but it is usually a modest sized journal that will be filed away on my shelf back home, dedicated to that trail and those memories. It takes dedication to fill out a days record each evening, and I have skipped days when simply too tired or finishing late. I will also have a hostel or museum stamp a page, ask people to write their contact details on occasion, record train and bus times. Phone numbers for hostels, draw small town maps on exactly how to find a place. Record insects, birds and animals seen, tuck in receipts, feathers. I have even glued in volcanic dust from the trail. On occasion, I will sketch a church, a sea stack or the view before me. To accompany the journal, I have a simple pen.

Fire kit in baggie

Fire kit in baggie

In the shoulder months and winter I also include a small emergency fire kit. This contains just a small selection of items that may get me out of a sticky situation. I used to also carry this in summer months when carrying an alcohol/meths set-up as I would then also have the ability to set up for wood burning for cooking. However the past couple of years have seen some extraordinarily dry periods with bans on both open and meths cooking in favour of a cooking set-up that allows for it to be instantly extinguished, which means gas. So I find that I am now using a gas set-up for the majority of my backpacking excursions these days.

The simple and minimal contents of my fire kit include tinder and matches

The simple and minimal contents of my fire kit include three Tinder-Quik fire starters, a little tinder, Lifeboat or stormproof matches, with sealed match strike card, and a minute ferrocerium rod

These are the contents of the ditty bag being carried by Three Points of the Compass in 2020, not that any of us are getting out much in this coronavirus year. I used to include a spare pair of glasses in this but I now pack them deep within my clothes bag for added protection.

The ditty bag will no doubt continue to evolve in the future, though I suspect little will change much. My next post looking at the smaller pouches and bags carried on my backpacking trips will peek inside my hygiene pouch/wash kit.

A notebook forms an important part of the contents of my ditty bag. A scrappy sketch of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way in 2018 takes me back to the moment I made it, above, the carefully scrawled name of the little girl who spent that night in Gregs Hut with her father and me, reminds of Lexi's overwhelming excitement at toasting marshmallows that night

A notebook forms an important part of the contents of my ditty bag. A scrappy sketch of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way in 2018 takes me back to the moment I drew it. Above, the carefully scrawled name of the little girl who spent that night in Gregs Hut bothy with her father and me, reminds me of Lexi’s overwhelming excitement at toasting marshmallows that night with ‘daddy’