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

Firefly- a simple addition to your kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next stage…

Three Points of the Compass has now completed the South West Coast Path. After a further three days, exploring Exmoor while moving inland, I took a small break to recuperate, rest and carry out a small number of gear repairs and replacement, primarily to the worn out Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s. Following that, I worked across country via Taunton, Glastonbury, Cheddar and Bristol. Then crossed into Wales and am now working up the Marches on the Offa’s Dyke Path.

Just a few items of gear have required a little attention. My Altra’s needed a bit of glue while on the SWCP. I carry a 1gram tube of super glue gel and that was sufficient. The heel cups wore through after 500 miles. After a further 100 miles I had to resort to a couple of strips of Leucoplast across each foot’s heel and gaffa tape inside each shoe heel, just to protect my feet from the bits coming away from the shoes. The tread was obviously very worn and absent entirely fore and aft. Not surprising considering the often Rocky terrain and the miles. I reckon I got around 680 miles out of my first pair before swapping out for a new pair.

Also, the mystery holes that appeared on my Duplex tent were identified eventually as having been caused by gulls pecking at the material (slugs, insects, the foliage pattern?). These I repaired with cuben repair tape. My Merino Polo has had a few holes ripped in the sleeves and torso by thorns, mostly on the Dorset paths, I’ll get round to poor sewing of this eventually.

Other than that, I think it is just the stuff sack that I keep my quilt and night garb in that required tape over strained seams, but that is my fault for stuffing too much into it.

My Thermarest Xtherm sleeping pad has developed a very slowly puncture. I tried to locate it in a few inches of bath water but cannot find any sign of a leak. What I do know, is that come morning and a good few hours of slow loss of air, side sleeping is enough for my hip to be touching ground. This doesn’t actually bother me that much as it is time to get up anyway.

The 630 mile South West Coast Path was a superb walk, no doubt about it. The coastal scenery is superb and only enhanced by the occasional wet days, the misty days and the changing angle of the sun throwing magnificent shadows across their heights. I never bored of them.

I found the remnants of a fishing industry now mostly gone, though a much depressed minor catch persists. The industrial remains of where copper, tin and other minerals have been hewn from the ground were also a fascinating diversion, especially on the Cornish coasts.

Engine house on the south Cornish coast of the South West Coast Path

Its often you will hear the phrase- Go to any country in the World, where there is a hole, look down it, there will be a Cornishman at the bottom hacking away…

They took their mining expertise worldwide, while the landowners and entrepeneurs made their fortunes.

Though very infrequently encountered, I did find the spoil from recent and resurrected mines an eyesore and unsympathetic to the landscape. Yes, my double standards can be breathtaking.

What I possibly wasn’t expecting was the proliferation of art and culture to be experienced on the SWCP. As I left the Coverack YHA, the Warden, sorry, Manager, told me my path would take me ‘through the Sculpture Park’. Shows how much reading ahead Three Points of the Compass does, I hadn’t a clue this existed.

Terence Coventry has placed around thirty of his sculpures in an upper and lower field, free for anyone to see. I happily killed an hour of my time wandering amongst them. Some I liked, others I didn’t. The trail would wait.

At the other end of the scale, another local boy has erected one of his pieces at the end of the harbour at Ilfracombe. This has been in place for a few years now and the stink it created, even prior to installation, passed me by. I quite like Verity, but Damien Hirst’s sculpture has divided local opinion.

Camping was mostly on recognized campsites. I have said before, Three Points of the Compass is a softee who likes a shower at the end of the day if possible, so campsites and hostels were frequently used with the odd wild camp where necessary.

Though I did stay a night in one National Trust place that was dry, cleanish and only partly open to the elements. I obviously left it cleaner than when I arrived and was gone early morning.

I have had a few stand out pieces of gear. While days were warm, the temperature rapidly plummeted in the evening and I found my insulated PHD trousers superb for those few hours between finishing a hike, getting cleaned up, and climbing into my quilt. I have never used these before on other hikes, yet found them invaluable. It is now June, warmer, and I haven’t worn them for a week or so. I will likely send them home soon

Z Packs Duplex has been excellent, quick and simple to erect. Pacer Poles were invaluable, I could not have done the SWCP without them, beside the fact that they are my tentpoles.

My choice of Full Metal Jacket tent pegs (stakes) was poor. The stones found some 5-10 cms below ground on much of this trail meant they would often suddenly lurch sideways when being eased in with a foot. Result- snapped peg. No bending, no warning, knackered. I have now switched them out for MSR mini Groundhogs for the corners, retaining my original two full size Groundhogs for each side of the tent

Cooking system has been good. Look at my Lighterpack link from my Gear page for the detail.

My Darn Tuff socks developed some holes. I have switched them out for similar replacements. I know, but I find them comfortable, if slow to dry.

So that was the end of the South West Coast Path. A grand walk in itself, but it was only the start of my Three Points walk. After a night in the Minehead YHA, I set off to explore a bit of Exmoor en route to a three day R&R with very good friends of mine at Stawley. Mission Control was also able to visit, bringing not only herself, but importantly, new shoes.

This break also afforded time to weigh myself. I had lost more than a stone on the SWCP but attempted to put a bit back on during my break. It may have seemed as though I lived mostly on Cornish Pasties on trail, especially as a lunchtime meal. Not quite…

The part of the Macmillan Way West that I followed was adequate, if inadequatly signed, however the West Deane Way is a superb walk. From there I followed part of the Somerset Way, so obsolete a route that some paths are now impassable. Also, the West Mendip Way, likewise a good route, has a few daft and superfluous turns and some visiting of downhill towns was extracted. I now find I am frequently hiking in a mix of hot (very hot, leaky, soak my baselayers) weather, or torrential thunderstorms.

I am now hiking the Offa’s Dyke Path, which has been superb walking. With the intention of completing this in 12 days. As I post this, on day sixty seven, I am camping at Knighton, the honorary half way point, which it isn’t!

I have no idea when I will post another update, but I do invite any questions, on gear, route, diet, anything, and will do my best to reply to them promptly.

“what’d you think of cardiac hill?”

The farmer shouted the question above the roar of his 4×4 farm vehicle and switched it off but the racket continued. His two Collies, protective of their domain, continued in their protestations as to my presence.

He had no doubt watched me from afar, toiling up a slightly inland slope that had garnered a local reputation. By the time we met, I had regained both composure and breath,- “it was, interesting, it certainly made me… think”. We had a brief chat and just before restarting his Kawasaki and roaring off, he replied “some of these hills do make you think about what you are doing”

The walking on the South West Coast Path is superb. Amongst the best I have ever done. However the terrain, with continued ascents and descents, often rocky paths and that damned mud in the first fortnight means that I cannot manage high mileage days. The most I have done so far on this trail is a tad over 24.5 miles, and that was simply because of a lack of camping opportunity and a ferry to be caught. Daily ascent has varied, the most ascent so far has been 4516 feet on day fourteen.

Most days have been far shorter and I see I am currently averaging around 13 mile days. I am not overly concerned by this as it will pick up once I move inland after the SWCP.

Spring is very much here. Flora has been changing and increasing. Now into Cornwall, Bluebells are prevalent. A bank of Early Purple Orchid was an unexpected joy, Spring Squill is a west coast beauty and Thrift is THE flower of both headland and grass covered stone walling.

I continue to take a few minutes out when I can to both explore what I pass, and to chat to people I meet. That is, after all, one of the primary aims of my adventure. And come on, who isn’t thrilled to come across a skull and crossbones on a 17th C. memorial slab in a church?

My weight hasn’t exactly, ahem, dropped dramatically. But I put that down to a conscious effort to keep the calorific intake up.

The Cornish Pastie was, or should have been, made for hikers. And I am pretty much convinced that the Cream Tea is the perfect lunch time meal- calories, mix of carbs and protein, even some vegetable for vitamins. And I can ask them to refill my water bottle, all essential hydration.

My gear is mostly holding up well with few failures other a hole in the heel of one sock, a tear in the left sleeve of my hiking polo shirt, courtesy of thorn bracketed paths, and a small failure on the seam of a Z-Packs stuff sack that holds my quilt. Easily repaired with a square of cuben repair tape.

My continued use of campsites and hostels, where present, means that I am keeping on top of clothes washing to an acceptable level. Socks and skiddies get at least a daily rinse. If they aren’t dry in the morning, they go on wet.

I have managed one additional wild camp since my last blog. That was purely due to a lack of ‘official’ sites and my need to hit a low tide, early morning, to make one particular ‘wet feet’ crossing of a harbour.

The weather has mostly improved, as has my ‘hill fitness’ and as a result the walking, while not easy, has been mostly superb. I have taken one zero , today, as a result of torrential rain.

This gave opportunity for rest, repair, a decent meal and a bit of exploring. Beside that, I can only report that my First Point of the Compass- Lizard, the most Southerly Point of Mainland Britain, has been passed. Suitably celebrated with a steak and a bottle of wine in the excellent Witch Ball Inn in nearby Lizard village

The first thirteen days- done

I forgot about the mud!

I am still gently easing myself in to my hike. Not a lot of miles pounded this year prior to setting off on this walk, mostly due to work commitments Muscle memory not withstanding, I still felt it prudent to keep an eye on the miles during the first week or two. A pretty gentle internal itinerary was required but the mini ‘Beast from the West’ that dumped a good part of the ocean on the West County not only ensured that spring was going to be a wet one, but also ensured my baptism to the South West Coast Path was not going to be gentle.

For the first week or so, the mud has been horrendous in parts. Dorset mud I recommend to no-one, slippery stuff that takes you down as soon as you lift your eyes from the path to look at the view. I fell once, not heavily, enough to swear inwardly (there was an audience), so no damage done. No accidents please, not this early in to my trail. However Devon mud- OK, if I have to have it, then that red stuff is far more preferable. More glutinous, doesn’t slip so easily beneath your feet.

The path has been fantastic. The views as good as I expected, except on the odd misty day. It has rained on at least three days, but more frequently at night. Don’t we all love being cosy in a tent, from the warm comfort of a quilt, listening to the rain hammering down, and trying to find a reason not to move for just a few more minutes?

I won’t lie, I have finished many of my first days, short as they were, pretty tired. That does not concern me. ‘Hill fitness’ will come with time. My shortest day was 6.85 miles, my longest 18.58. Day thirteen, a fairly short section of 11.48 miles from Brixham to Stoke Fleming has delivered my greatest ascent in one day on trail so far- 3516 feet. But every day has seen steep ascents and descents at some point. That is the nature of a coastal path. My knees, which concerned me prior to setting off, have been holding up. Though my left knee occasionally says hello on some more dramatic steps up.

I have been doing mostly a mixture of official campsites and YHA so far, all providing hot showers for a mud besplattered hiker, I’m a softie you see. I even splashed out on a B&B in Brixham.

I stayed in an International Backpackers Hostel in Torquay (interesting) and have managed one wild camp. I won’t say it was while crossing the Lulworth Ranges, as that would be illegal of course.

I’ll keep you updated on how things progress.

I’m off!

After a very late night packing maps in to bundles for Mrs Three Points of the Compass to send on to me (yes, I know I have only had a couple of years to prepare) I had a couple of hours sleep prior to rising early for my train into London.

Very excited, a little nervous, concerned about twinges in the back. Really looking forward to the first few miles from Poole railway station.

A glass of red wine

Six days until my ‘Big Walk’- Food, water…. and wine

 “If you can drink the water

 I will drink the wine”

Frank Sinatra

In less than a week I am setting off on one of the longest, most beautiful, rugged, long distance walks in the UK. This is the South West Coast Path, and its 630 miles will be the springboard into the rest of my walk the length of the UK.

Being a coastal route it passes through or near many towns or villages and I anticipate little difficulty in resupply of food. That said, I am setting off from Poole with a handful of meals and some longer lasting supplements I found time to tuck into my food bag.

For the first two evening meals, I am taking the hiker’s staple- a couple of simple noodle meals. Mine are the ‘Fiery Sweet Chilli’ Fusion noodles from Maggi. Not only do these have, in addition to the noodles, the standard bag of flavouring, albeit superior, with dried veg, they also have a little sachet of Sunflower oil for extra flavour and calories, though I wish this were Olive oil. Another staple being carted along are two packs of the Idahoan dried potato flakes: Butter and Herb, and Roasted Garlic. Each of these will have protein added in the form of a pouch of Tuna.

Setting off over the Easter weekend means that a modicum of supplies needs to be carried

Setting off over the Easter weekend means that a modicum of supplies needs to be carried

With over half of its weight consisting of protein, 70g of Yeast Flakes in a zip lock baggie provides additional protein to a few meals in the days to follow, as does 60g of Freeze dried Grated Red Leicester Cheese, in zip lock baggie. These can be added to just about any meal to boost it slightly. Breakfast for Three Points of the Compass usually consists of porridge with added milk powder, so for the first three days I have six ‘Oat So Simple’ sachets (Sultanas, Raisins, Cranberry & Apple and Blueberry & Banana). After that, it is whatever I can find.

Other than  water, for hot drinks in the first week or two I have ten OXO cubes- I like one of these at the end of a days walk immediately after having set up camp. No low salt versions of these for me, these are the full fat, harden your arteries, cubes. Also, 30 decent tea bags will last me a fortnight or more. I am not a fan of full fat milk in tea but will have to learn to accept it as I am also taking 200g of full cream Nido dried milk powder in a zip lock baggie. I have a little plastic 1.5g medicine measuring spoon in this as I find it preferable to use one of these rather than my Ti spoon that has been used for stirring, tasting etc.

I have chatted before about taking a small number of condiments and flavourings, my chosen selection should last many weeks. The ten tough 1 litre ‘Soup ‘n’ Sauce’ bags I am tucking into my cuben Z Packs Food Bag will be washed out periodically and will last quite some time. These save considerably on the mess when preparing oatmeal, noodley or mash type meals. They can simply be fastened after the cooked contents are consumed, to be washed out at a later stage.

Also for the first couple of days I am carting along some snacks- three different Kind bars, easily the tastiest of this type of bar, also a single Cypriot peanut and sesame bar found sitting in a cupboard after last years holiday to Cyprus. After those are consumed, it is probably locally purchased Snickers bars from them on.

Final choice on my hydration system- BeFree filter with a 2 litre HyrdaPak Seeker, 850ml bottle for clean water to drink 'on the go' and a two litre Evernew soft bladder

Final choice on my hydration system- BeFree filter with a two litre HydraPak Seeker, 850ml bottle for clean water to drink ‘on the go’ and a two litre Evernew soft bladder, also for clean water

The BeFree water filter weighs just 35g. The 42mm screw thread limits what it is compatible with

The BeFree water filter weighs just 35g. The wide 42mm screw thread limits what it is compatible with but does mean that filling a bladder is easier

My gear list is just about finalised, and so it should be, I hear you cry. I continue to drop the weight being carried where I feel I can do it sensibly. I wrote only a few weeks ago, about the excellent MUV water filter that I had initially planned on taking with my equally new Cnoc water bladder. At the time, I had concerns about the weight and subsequently decided to simplify my set up, shave a few grams and just take a BeFree filter screwed into a 2lt Hydrapak Seeker.

I remain concerned about agricultural run-off in lowland Britain and will have to exercise greater caution as regards this. The BeFree filter weighs just 35g and will handle up to 1000 litres of water. If this proves insufficient for my hike I shall simply order another BeFree filter or revert to the MUV 2 Module that can be sent on to me via Mission Control back home. The filter can be cleaned ‘in the field’ via swishing or backflushing. The flip top cap does a good job of keeping the mouthpiece clean.

For clean water I have a 2lt Evernew bladder and an 850ml SmartWater bottle. With a combined capacity of around 4.8 litres, these all weigh a collective 174g when dry. A fairly significant drop from my previous 342g set up.

Recently I have been concentrating on getting a few necessary jobs completed prior to my leaving next weekend. The car has had an MOT, the lawn had its first cut of the year (Mrs Three Points of the Compass– you are on your own with the mower now!), a decent haircut and the last weekend saw a bit of packing, general household chores and most enjoyable of all, a couple of farewell type family meals. Oh yes, and a number of pints of beer were drunk too.

But why am I rambling on about wine? When Frank sang about the choice of water or wine, I believe he was singing about life choices- the safe and familiar, or the riskier path with greater reward. As I sit of an evening with a large glass of Shiraz, I frequently contemplate my challenge. Yes, it is daunting, but it is the riskier path with greater reward that I am seeking, onward to the 1st April…

Someone said, drink the water, but I will drink the wine.
Someone said, take a poor man, rich don’t have a dime.
So fool yourselves if you will, I just haven’t got the time.
If you can drink the water, I will drink the wine.
Someone gave me some small flowers, I held them in my hand.
I looked at them for several hours, I didn’t understand.
So fool yourselves if you will, you can hold out your hand,
I’ll give back your flowers, and I will take the land.
And I will drink the wine.
Sometimes I’m very very lonely, there’s only me to care.
And when I’m very very lonely, I want someone to share,
I’m going to drink the wine, I’m gonna take my time,
And believe in a world that is mine.
Someone gave me flowers, held them in my hand.
Looked at them for many hours, didn’t understand.
Go on and fool yourselves if you will, you can hold out your hand,
I’ll give back your flowers, and I will take the land.
And I will drink the wine, and I will take the land.
I will drink the wine.

Paul Ryan

Three Points of the Compass in the Lake District, 2008

Twenty days to my ‘Big Walk’

“In omnia paratus”

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

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

Sony Cybershot DCS-RX100M5 camera

Sony Cybershot DCS-RX100M5. A truly portable compact camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insulated Sigma trousers from PHD

Insulated Sigma trousers from PHD

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

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

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

“Ready for anything”