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The Norfolk Coast Path

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path- Part Two

 

The Norfolk Coast Path

Sandy isolation as I walk towards The Firs at Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve

Sandy isolation as I walk towards The Firs at Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve

Paths were invariably well maintained, it was often possible to find myself having strayed offf the official path on to one of the many other alternatives, but they all went in the same direction

Paths were invariably well maintained, I often found that I had strayed off the official path on to one of the many other alternatives, but they all went in the same direction

Starting on 1st April 2017, I walked the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path. On day four, I finished off the Peddars Way and began the Norfolk Coast Path, the flavour of the walk changed immediately and dramatically. On my walk northward from the Suffolk/Norfolk border, I had encountered very few people on the trail, as soon as I hit the coast, this changed. Not that anyone was doing, or appeared to be doing, the national trail. It was just that I was now in the midst of holidaymakers, fishermen (and fisherwomen, or is it just fisherpeople?) and the residents and workers in the small and larger towns that were lined up, like pearls on a necklace, along the coast.

There a number of map and guide options for the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, I took the relevant 1:50 000 O.S. maps as I already had them. I also purchased the Cicerone guide and the official trail guide. Both are excellent but I only took the Bruce Robinson guide with me

There a number of map and guide options for the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path. Knowing I would be going ‘off trail’ on occasion, I took the relevant 1:50 000 O.S. maps (sans covers) as I already had them. I also purchased the Cicerone guide and the official trail guide. Both are excellent but I only took the Bruce Robinson guide with me

My next few days comprised 20 miles from my last campsite on the Peddars Way, the lovely Bircham Windmill, to Deepdale, then 14,5 miles to Highsand Creek,  followed by 16 miles to my only stay at a hostel on the walk, the YHA hostel at Sherringham, leaving me a simple six miles to finish my trail at Cromer pier and then to the railway station. In all, I did 98.5 miles. This was certainly taken over the ton by my little wanderings and evening sorties from my tent. But, with map miles, it sits at 98.5 miles.

Because I knew that the nature watching was going to be so good on this trail, especially the Norfolk Coast Path, I wanted to include some optics in my kit list. Eschewing my heavy binoculars, I took a 109g 8x20 monocular. I was pleased I did as it was often used

Because I knew that the nature watching was going to be so good on this trail, especially the Norfolk Coast Path, I wanted to include some optics in my kit list. Eschewing my heavy binoculars, I took a 109g 8×20 monocular. I was pleased I did as it was often used

Someone had been playing silly buggers at Brancaster and had sawn off the finger posts. My own fault, I sauntered straight on and needlessly walked a mile and a half out to the point and back

Someone had been playing silly buggers at Brancaster and had sawn off the finger posts. My own fault, I never noticed and sauntered straight on, needlessly walking a mile and a half out to the point and back

I used to visit this part of the coast, almost as a pilgrimage, in the 1980s/90s when I was a keen birdwatcher. It is amongst the very finest of places to view birds- residents, migrants, raptors across the reedbeds, fantastic. But for me, it was the visits each late autumn/early  winter to see the thousands of geese, wintering away from the harsher conditions of Siberia that will live with me forever. Even hoofing along with a pack on my back and stopping infrequently, the Norfolk Coast Path was still a nature-watching marvel.

The early fine weather had encouraged many car borne visitors but few could be bothered to walk more than a mile or two from any carpark, as a result I had much of the coastal walking to myself  for hours on end.

Brent Geese, Shelduck and waders were constant companions

Brent Geese, Shelduck and waders were frequent companions. Seals were also often spotted

Smoke House in Cley

Smokehouse in Cley

Lobster and Crab pots are set all the way along this part of the coast

Lobster and Crab pots are set all the way along this part of the coast

Much of this part of the coast continues to change from the industry of old- fishing and smoking of fish, to the new, the tourist. However the flint built buildings are, mostly, well maintained, the natives friendly and opportunity to buy provisions vastly improved on anything I had experienced over the previous few days.

Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas enjoyed at Wells-next-the-Sea

Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas enjoyed at Wells-next-the-Sea

 

 

While I carried food for most meals over the Peddars Way part of this walk, I had known beforehand that opportunities to eat locally were going to be much improved on the second half of my walk.

Whereas I carried eight meals for the inland section, I only had two for the coastal section. All other were purchased locally. Though perhaps surprisingly, I only ate fish and chips the one time, When I reached busy Wells-next-the-Sea.

 

 

Superb breakfast at the Deepdale Cafe

Breakfast at the Deepdale Cafe included award winning Arthur Howell sausages and Fruit Pig Black Pudding

My two campsites on the coast were both perfectly adequate. Deepdale was a small field and I camped next to car campers, but I had no problem with that. There are plenty of opportunities to re-provision here but I only partook of a fine breakfast in the Deepdale Cafe.

 

£10 got me a huge field to myself and hot showers in the modern toilet block

£10 got me a field to myself at High Sand campsite and hot showers in the modern toilet block

A pint, good quality burger and writing up the days notes in the Red Lion, Stiffkey

A pint, good quality burger and writing up the day’s notes in the Red Lion, Stiffkey

Camping the following night at the High Sand camp site at Stiffkey saw my tent sitting alone in a huge field. The trail passed only a hundred metres away and I was content to treat myself to good food and ale at the Red Lion Inn in the local village.

 

 

This part of the coast was once the 'gateway to England' but silting up of creeks and changes in economics has reduced its importance. Blakeney is fairly typical of many towns along the coast, struggling to retain an identity. Small fishing boats take visitors out on seal watching trips when they are now out checking their lobster and crab pots

This part of the coast was once the ‘gateway to England’ but silting up of creeks and changes in economics has reduced its importance. Blakeney is fairly typical of many towns along the coast, struggling to retain an identity. Small fishing boats take visitors out on seal watching trips when their owners are not out checking their lobster and crab pots

The distinctive windmill at Cley next the Sea can be seen for miles across the marshes. The path goes right past it and I regretted, slightly, not pausing to sketch it

The distinctive windmill at Cley next the Sea can be seen for miles across the marshes. The path goes right past it and I regretted, slightly, not pausing to sketch it. The reeds here did offer up Bearded Tit though

There were a couple of miles of board walks in all

There were a couple of miles of board walks in all

 

Coastal walking was almost always on good paths, though I should think that many would be pretty claggy after rain. Reedbeds, sea defence walls above marshland, scrubby sand dunes, pine woodlands, saltmarsh, sand and shingle shoreline- my walking was through a number of special and specialised habitats, it was never boring for it changed so much.

Every few miles another coastal town would be encountered, I passed through these quite quickly as there was little to hold me.

 

Remains of an Allan Williams gun turret. 199 of these were made during World War II

Remains of an Allan Williams gun turret. 199 of these were made during World War II

This part of the coast was thought to be at risk of attack and invasion during World War II. Surviving coastal defence installations survive to this day

This part of the coast was thought to be at risk of attack and invasion during World War II. Coastal defence installations survive to this day

 

The coastline stretch from Cley next the Sea to Weybourne Hope is four miles of lonely splendour. The few dog walkers at the beginning were soon left behind. Sand gave way to shingle and I found myself racing the incoming tide, only having to move up on to the punishing stone for the final quarter of a mile

The coastline stretch from Cley next the Sea to Weybourne Hope is four miles of lonely splendour. The few dog walkers at the beginning were soon left behind. Sand gave way to shingle and I found myself racing the incoming tide, only having to move up on to the punishing stone for the final quarter of a mile

For such a busy stretch of coast, I often found myself alone. Few people will walk more  than two miles from their car and it is usually just the odd birdwatcher or sea angler that would be seen any further afield, again, there seemed to be few people walking purposely, and those I saw with small backpacks were either day walkers or slackpackers.

 

Beyond Weybourne Hope the path begins to climb as cliffs take over. This penultimate day saw me completing my biggest climb of the whole trail- the highest point was still only 346 feet (105 metres) above sea level. Norfolk really is a pretty flat county

Beyond Weybourne Hope the path slowly begins to climb as cliffs take over. This penultimate day saw me completing my biggest climb of the whole trail- though the highest point was still only 346 feet (105 metres) above sea level. Norfolk really is a pretty flat county

Beach huts below Sheringham Cliffs

Beach huts below Sheringham Cliffs

My final night was in Sheringham YHA. No private rooms were available so I shared a dorm with two other guys, we battled each other in the snoring stakes that night but I am pretty sure I won.

I like to put my trade toward the YHA where I can as I think they are still doing a grand job, mostly, in a difficult modern circumstance.  However I reckon I made a mistake eating an evening meal there. There was no ‘proper’ option on the menu at all, everything was snacks, so I settled for an ‘OK’ pizza. Breakfast was little better, the only egg option was scrambled, and I hesitate to guess how long it was since they had been scrambled! I queried at the counter, the server looked at me with bafflement- “I’m French” was her reply. OK, so no eggs forthcoming then.

My £12 overnight stay at Sheringham Youth Hostel was an adequate stop for my last night on the trail

My £12 overnight stay at Sheringham Youth Hostel was an adequate stop for my last night on the trail

Signposting and marking of trail was excellent on the Norfolk Coast Path

Signposting and marking of trail was excellent on the Norfolk Coast Path. You might think how difficult can it be to simply keep the sea on your left, but the trail often diverts inland where access rights have not been obtained, or where erosion has caused the path to disappear into the sea

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path ends at Cromer Pier. Much of this popular resort town is Edwardian in age and flavour

The National Trail ends at Cromer Pier. Much of this popular resort town is Edwardian in age and flavour. The Norflok Coast Path is now part of the ambitious plans for an English Coast Path, still in the making

Reminders of a seafaring community can be found everywhere

Reminders of a seafaring community can be found everywhere

I was so pleased to have completed both halves of the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path. While the walk through the interior of the county had been interesting, with a few points of interest, the coastal element was much more to my liking. Busy seaside towns nestled up against lonely saltmarsh and dune systems stretched for miles across a wide landscape.

The call of the nesting Curlew and Lapwing that I had gone to sleep to in the agricultural heartland was also encountered on the coast, to be joined with the burbling of hundreds of Brent geese and the frantic shriek of the ‘Sentinel of the Marshes’, the Redshank.

Dunlin, Sandpipers, Oystercatcher and Turnstone shuffled along the edge of the surf, only flying ahead when I got too close. It really was lovely coastal walking and I resented it when lack of Rights of Way took me on pointless and annoying diversions inland. I doubt that I shall return to this part of the country for quite some time but hope that the fragile eco-systems can withstand what appears to be growing numbers of visitors.

WORDS IN THE SAND, HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

 

Few of the older signs for the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path remain

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path- Part One

The Peddars Way

“Peddars Way”- said to be derived from the Latin “pedester”, meaning “on foot”

Back in 2016, I completed The Ridgeway. I quite enjoyed this ancient trackway, walking from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon, and resolved then to complete the Greater Ridgeway which comprises a number of ancient (and not so ancient) paths that stretch some 360+ miles from the South Coast at Lyme Regis in Dorset to the north Norfolk coast at Holme-next-the-Sea. It is mostly made up of four long distance paths- the Wessex Ridgeway, The Ridgeway, the Icknield Way and the Peddars Way. The latter is half of the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, a National Trail that I completed last month.

The Peddars Way has a number of sculptures, by Tom Perkins, along its length. These form part of the Songlines art project. This attempts to link current day travellers with events and people of the past. I prefrred to keep myself in the dark as to when these would be encountered and come across them unexpectedly

The Peddars Way has a number of sculptures, by Tom Perkins, along its length. These form part of the Songlines art project. This attempts to link current day travellers with events and people of the past. I prefrred to keep myself in the dark as to when these would be encountered and come across them unexpectedly. This is the third, found near Swaffham

A fine walk for a fine spring

A fine walk for a fine spring

I had considered walking the trail with Mrs Three Points of the Compass last year but reading up on the route decided that, if not actually likely to be boring, that there probably wasn’t going to be much of interest for the two of us. Nonetheless, on 1st April 2017 I set off to walk the 92 miles. Hopeful of at least a night or two wild camping, just a little preliminary research revealed that I would find water sources difficult to locate. To make it far easier, I stayed at recognised camping sites where water would not be a problem. I took my single skin Nigor WikiUp 3 SUL, the inner nest being correctly deemed unnecessary. The remainder of my gear can be seen here.

Other than my tent, which will be changed later this year, this walk was a bit of a final ‘shake-down’, seeing if my current kit list is where I want it for my Three Points of the Compass walk that starts exactly a year after I set off on the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path.

So typical of many National Trails, the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path has an inauspicious start. Setting off from a car park opposite Blackwater Carr on Knettishall Heath

So typical of many National Trails, the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path has an inauspicious start. Setting off from a car park opposite Blackwater Carr on Knettishall Heath

Sedgeford Magazine, now a private house, was built as a powder store or armoury in about 1640

Sedgeford Magazine, now a private house, was built as a powder store or armoury in about 1640. The trail passes right past it

Instead of being a boring route, I found much of interest. Both halves of the National Trail were a bit of a homecoming for me. I spent some time as a teenager, when I was an Army Cadet, traipsing through dripping foliage in the Military Training Areas of the Brecklands of north Suffolk and South Norfolk. The heavy, rubberised poncho I wore then proved to be excellent protection from the heavy rain all those years ago. The ponchos eventually gave way to lighter silicone coverings that were equally as effective  when strung as tarps for night halts. No rain was experienced on this last trip, unsurprising in one of the driest parts of the country.

The great majority of the 46 miles of the Peddars Way is in Norfolk but the path starts just a few hundred metres into neighbouring Suffolk. Here is Three Points of the Compass crossing the Little Ouse River which marks the county boundary

The great majority of the 46 miles of the Peddars Way is in Norfolk but the path starts just a few hundred metres into neighbouring Suffolk. Here, Three Points of the Compass crosses the Little Ouse River which marks the county boundary

A page from my trail journal

Part of a page from my trail journal

Catching a series of trains from home to Thetford, a £19 taxi ride took me to the start of my walk. It wasn’t long before I was in to acid grasslands, chalk grasslands, heathers and pine woodlands. The first couple of days also saw me passing more pig farms than I had ever seen before. Overhead, Buzzards were frequently seen but sadly no sight of the Stone Curlews for which I used to visit this area to see a couple of decades ago.

Easy and pleasant, if unremarkable walking with few 'ups and downs'

Easy and pleasant, if unremarkable, walking through mostly agricultural land with few ‘ups and downs’

I passed few people on the Peddars Way, frequently the only people I would see for hours would be farm workers in the fields

I passed few people on the Peddars Way, frequently the only people I would see for hours would be farm workers in the fields, or just the very occasional dog walker if near habitation

Little Cressingham combined water and wind mill as it once was

Little Cressingham combined water and wind mill as it once was

Where a walk of a mile or so would take me to something of interest, I would occasionally turn off the well marked path. The unique water and windmill at Little Cressingham is just the sort of little gem that adds so much to a walk such as this. I passed a number of windmills in Norfolk, few, if any, now filling their original purpose.

On just a few occasions I reined in my forward motion and paused for a few minutes to indulge in a brief sketch. Again, I am narrowing down my lightweight art kit that will accompany me on my Big Walk in 2018 and wanted to see how my small selection of materials is performing.

Just a brief diversion took me to the unique combined water and wind mill at Little Cressingham. Built in 1821, two stones at the base were turned by the waterwheel, while two further sets of stones were turned at the top by the sails. The sails were dispensed with in 1916 but the mill continued to work under oil or water power until 1952. The small white building to the left housed another waterwheel that pumped water up to Clermont Hall a mile distant.

Just a brief diversion took me to the unique combined water and wind mill at Little Cressingham. Built in 1821, two stones at the base were turned by the waterwheel, while two further sets of stones were turned at the top by the sails. The sails were dispensed with in 1916 but the mill continued to work under oil or water power until 1952. The small white building to the left housed another waterwheel that pumped water up to Clermont Hall a mile distant

The Dog and Partridge at Stonebridge

Landlady Karen welcomes the trail weary, dirty and sweaty walker in to The Dog and Partridge at Stonebridge

Ostrich Ale at the Green King Ostrich public house in Castle Acre

Re-hydrating with Ostrich Ale at the Green King Ostrich public house in Castle Acre

Other than halting to poke around ruined churches and the like, I happily stepped in to just a handful of pubs. Entering Stonebridge, I followed a road for no more than a couple of hundred metres, but walking past the door of the Dog and Partridge close to the end of a days walking was enough to tempt me in for a couple of excellent pints of Woodfordes Bure Gold. After all, it is almost a duty to put a little trade the way of the local businesses, isn’t it?

It was near Stonebridge that I was almost flattened by a group of off-road motorcyclists. Leaping to the side of the path to avoid being hit (and no, it wasn’t a By-way) I lived to walk another day.

 

“You’ve got to call it Swaaaaffam these days…”    Tony Garrod

Lunch stop at St. Andrew's Church, the south west tower fell in 1781 and lies in ruins, but the church is still in use

Lunch stop at St. Andrew’s Church, the south west tower fell in 1781 and lies in ruins, but the church is still in use

Tony Garrod of the Milestone Society was pleased to stop for a chat. Busy cutting back the vegetation around a freshly painted Mile Post dating from c1905, he belied his 82 years and told me of his 'patch' of Mile Posts on the Swaffham-Fakenham road

Tony Garrod of the Milestone Society was pleased to stop for a chat. Busy cutting back the vegetation and planting Hollyhocks and Sunflowers around a freshly painted Mile Post dating from c1905, he belied his 82 years and told me of his ‘patch’ of Mile Posts on the Swaffham-Fakenham road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving North Pickenham, the old Roman Road soon follows a lovely wide and grassy path known as Procession Lane. A name thought to derive from the ceremony of beating the bounds. I passed between the brick remnants, dating from 1875, of the former Swaffham - Thetford railway line

Leaving North Pickenham, the old Roman Road soon follows a lovely wide and grassy path known as Procession Lane. A name thought to derive from the ceremony of beating the bounds. I passed between the brick remnants, dating from 1875, of the former Swaffham – Thetford railway line

The path crosses right through, and close to, much of interest, even if there is often very little remaining to actually be seen on the ground now. I was thankful that I took my trail guide as I walked along the quiet and lonely Procession Lane. I would never have known that to my left was where B24 Liberators of the 492nd Bomb Group had set off for their 64 missions in just 3 months in 1944. It was here that the Thor ballistic missiles had been sited in 1959, setting off vehement anti-nuclear demos. Nothing remains of that to be seen. Little remained too, of the former Swaffham – Thetford railway that crossed both former airfield site and my path.

The gem of the Peddars Way is probably the remains of the Cluniac Priory at Castle Acre. I chose not to join the hordes of people, instead, walking the circumference

The gem of the Peddars Way is probably the remains of the Cluniac Priory at Castle Acre. I chose not to join the hordes of people there, instead, walking the circumference

Cooking up an Almond Jalfrezi from Tentmeals on my second night on the Peddars Way

Cooking up an Almond Jalfrezi from Tentmeals on my second night on the Peddars Way

Each of my camp sites was more than adequate. Day one saw me 8.5 miles to Puddledock Farm, day two took me 11 miles to Brick Kiln Farm and the final overnight halt on the Peddars Way was at the lovely Bircham Windmill after a 22.5 mile yomp.

The first time I have ever camped in the shadow of a windmill. Campers get free entry to look around Bircham Windmill, but sadly, I arrived after it had shut and left before it opened

The first time I have ever camped in the shadow of a windmill. Campers get free entry to look around Bircham Windmill, but sadly, I arrived after it had shut and left before it opened

Quiet leafy lanes. This was the least used of National Trails I have ever seen

Quiet leafy lanes. This was the least used of National Trails I have ever seen

Littleport Cottages, reached just prior to crossing the B1454 Sedgeford - Docking road, are typical of the little hamlets passed through or close by. No shops, no Post Office, this is the reason I took the majority of my meals with me- there are few opportunities to buy anything en route

Littleport Cottages, reached just prior to crossing the B1454 Sedgeford – Docking road, are typical of the little hamlets passed through or close by. No shops, no Post Office, this is the reason I took the majority of my meals with me- there are few opportunities to buy anything en-route

Every now and then on my three-ish days on the Peddars Way, there was a reminder of the thousands of people- soldiers, traders, pilgrims and the itinerant, that had used this route in the past. Fields are dotted with marl pits, there is the occasional tumuli from the Bronze Age, but I had to look hard for the traces of Roman Forts. I suppose the finest record of their passing is the trail itself.

Close to the Anmer-Houghton road, the Peddars Way passes a number of tumuli dating from around 1300 - 1500BC. This is one of Norfolk's most important Bronze Age sites and of national importance

Close to the Anmer-Houghton road, the Peddars Way passes a number of tumuli dating from around 1300 – 1500BC. This is one of Norfolk’s most important Bronze Age sites and of national importance

While there was a great deal of easy going trackway, I had to contend with quite few miles of road walking. This had already begun to cause me problems with my feet, but I will write about that issue another day.

Crossing the River Nar on the Peddars Way. The trail is well marked but I was still pleased to have both map and trail guide with me

Three Points of the Compass crossing the River Nar on the Peddars Way. The trail is well marked but I was still pleased to have both map and trail guide with me

Is the Peddars Way worth doing? Absolutely. However I would add that it is essential to also complete the Norfolk Coast Path in order to gain the contrast. My next post will cover that section of the trail.

Walking the Peddars Way

Another piece in the Greater Ridgeway jigsaw completed…

Revisiting ‘the small stuff’- the sewing kit

 

A carefully thought out sewing kit for extended hikes

A more carefully thought out sewing kit for extended hikes

I have chatted before on various pieces of repair kit that I include in my ditty bag. At that time I expressed a wish to improve on my small sewing kit. It was really just a small collection of poor quality items I picked up in a hotel and encased in a small plastic container alongside a couple of extra buttons and needles. I strongly suspect that this is exactly what most hikers do, if they even bother to take a sewing kit with them on trips.

The sewing kit will be refined further. It isn't perhaps the best I can manage and for 11g I can do far better.

The 11g sewing kit that Three Points of the Compass used to carry. Deemed imperfect, it was time to refine the contents

The cotton threads and selection of needles in the 11g kit  had not been looked at as regards suitability and each time I had needed to put it to use, certain aspects had often been found wanting. Even the buttons I had been packing along were largely not required because of those already present on baselayers etc.

I have never yet had to repair a pack’s shoulder strap or belt ‘on the trail’, most such small repairs being effected at home. But buttons have come adrift, trouser belt loops come undone, tent loops have come unstitched, socks have holed. Nothing ever disastrous, but I prefer to look on myself as fortunate rather than anything else and I had the means to fix some, if not all, items while on the trail. It was time, I felt, to spend a few minutes looking at exactly what it is I include in my little sewing kit, what I hope to achieve with it, and what I could, or should, include.

Spare 'little white button' on Icebreaker base-layer

Spare ‘little white button’ on Icebreaker base-layer

The first thing to mention is that I never include any form of sewing kit on a day hike. I only take such a thing on multi-day hikes where wear and tear is extended, or damage potentially sustained. I am not looking at fashion statements so have no real need to match button or thread colours. All I want is a sturdy repair job. Most outdoor clothing and kit is pretty tough, some items, such as webbing straps extremely so, and it is difficult to force a needle through them by hand. You can use a rubber ‘needle grabber’, but even these are not really up to some more difficult jobs, such as pushing in, or pulling out, a needle from composite shoe or boot soles, or even leather. A little lightweight thimble is useful for pushing in, but not for pulling out. In addition, a needle that is up to difficult-to-work materials is also required.

A typical 'hotel' sewing kit. There is little here that is of practical use on outdoor clothing. Cotton thread isn't robust enough, nedles lack strength, safety pin is tiny and buttons are unrepresentative of what will have actually got lost. being too small in most instance

A typical ‘hotel’ sewing kit. There is little here that is of practical use on outdoor clothing. Cotton thread isn’t robust enough, solitary needle lacks strength, safety pin is tiny and buttons are poor quality and mostly unrepresentative of what will have actually got lost. being also too small in most instances

 

Thread

Thread is a prime example of why it is wise to look again at what is contained within a small ‘hotel’ type sewing kit as the contents are usually cotton, of a bewildering range of bright and largely useless colours. There are far better options to include. Kevlar thread is one of the strongest threads available and flame resistant up to 425°C and can be purchased in fairly short lengths in different colours. It is, however, badly affected by ultra-violet (u/v) light and loses strength when exposed for long periods, so is probably not best suited for use on outdoor gear. Most Nylon thread too, is affected by u/v to its detriment. A 100% Polyester thread would seem to be the best type to include as this has good resistance to u/v, mildew and abrasion. Cotton thread is not suitable at all.

The braided cotton thread strips that are available are of no practical use for outdoors work. Cotton tape isn't robust. The lengths, ideal for the odd dress shirt button, are too short and the striking array of colours is mostly not required

Cotton sewing thread plaits are of no practical use for outdoors work. The cotton thread isn’t robust, while the length, ideal for the odd dress shirt button, is too short. The striking array of colours is also mostly not required

For those who sew, particularly machine users, there is as much brand loyalty for specific brands of thread as for any other discipline. Some swear by Mettler or Coats & Clark. I prefer to use Gütermann- a family-run company with over 150 years of experience.  Their Sew-All polyester sewing thread is suitable for all materials and seams and can be used for any stitch type. They also produce a 12wt Extra-strong polyester thread  with a high break point that is suited for highly stressed seams or heavy duty application. These threads are extremely suited to use on outdoor gear.

The Coarse (No. 150) and Fine (No 1700 waxed polyester theads produced by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher

The Coarse (No. 150) and Fine (No 170) waxed polyester threads produced by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher

In anticipation of potentially requiring something even more robust than this, with greater resistance to abrasion, I have also included a short length of one of the waxed polyester threads supplied by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher Awl. These two products are a three (Fine) and four (Coarse) filament high tensile threads that can be put to good use on shoes etc. Thread size is about 207 (Tex 210). Awl-for-all also produce three-strand waxed polyester threads, though in a wider range of colours. Other similar thread is available elsewhere with a bit of searching. I have included a good length of the finer of the two Stewart options.

There other alternatives. Many hikers will make use of dental floss for sewing jobs. This is strong stuff. Mono filament fishing line could be packed and used but some can suffer over time under u/v. Some hikers also take along a length of wire for sewing with but I cannot, as yet, ascertain why.

When looking at thread specification, Tex is probably the most consistent method though difficult to simply correlate to Gütermann products. Tex is the weight in grams of 1000 metres of thread. So if a gram of thread measured 1000 metres, it would be 1 Tex. The higher the Tex, the thicker the thread.

Polyester thread sizes, tensile strength and weights
Size Size TEX Tensile
(lbs)
Weight
(yds/lb)
Diameter
(in)
V- 15 0 16 1.5 30000 0.0047
V- 23 AA 24 2 21000 0.0059
V- 33 AA 30 3 12200 0.0070
V- 46 B 45 7 9500 0.0080
V- 69 E 70 11 6000 0.0107
V- 92 F 90 15 4500 0.0124
V- 138 FF 135 21 3000 0.0152
V- 207 3 cord 210 31 2100 0.0186
V- 277 4 cord 270 44 1500 0.0231
V- 346 5 cord 350 53 1300 0.0258
V- 415 6 cord 410 73 1000 0.0283
V- 554 8 cord 600 98 630 0.0330
100m of Gütermann Sew-All and 30m of Gütermann Extra Strong thread. Enough for a thousand hikes

100m of Gütermann Sew-All and 30m of Gütermann Extra Strong thread. Enough for a thousand hikes

While it is perfectly possible to wind a few metres of thread around a piece of card, or a little less around a needle itself, a better way to keep greater quantities is wound around a dedicated thread bobbin. Because my kit is specifically designed to suit longer hikes, I have included the lightest plastic bobbins I could find, produced by Hemline (Type 120.14), each weighing 0.4g.

I included three bobbins in my kit. One has around ten metres of black Gütermann Sew-All thread on it, mostly for buttons, repairing loose zips, and some seams. For more demanding work a second bobbin contains around six metres of black Gütermann Extra-strong polyester thread and the third bobbin has three metres of tan coloured Stewart Fine waxed filament. This is for those, hopefully never encountered, really demanding repair jobs.

 

Needle threader

Threader

For someone as cack-handed as I, combined with a degree of myopia, then anything that can aid in threading a needle is a welcome piece of kit. I have sat in darkened tents, with the wind whistling through, and struggled in vain to make the thread pass through the barely discernible eye of a needle. In addition to large eye needles it is wise to include one of these tiny little threaders in a sewing kit. They are not particularly robust but weigh only 0.3g. Put one, or even two, in your kit. More robust examples are available, but their weight and size preclude inclusion when balanced against frequency of use. Otherwise, you could consider using Spiral Eye needles or self threading needles. Where possible I have included large-eyed needle alternatives.

 

Needles

There is no ‘one size fits all needs’ needle. A needle suitable for sewing back an errant small button is simply not up to the thicker and stronger threads often necessary for fixing back loose soles on trail shoes or a pack’s waist buckle that is beginning to come adrift. However the inclusion of a fine needle is also required for use for teasing out splinters or popping blisters (after sterilizing over a flame of course).

There are two main types of needle. Those for hand sewing, with the eye (hole) for the thread in the butt, and the needles normally used in sewing machines, with the eye for the thread just behind the point. Within these two main types there are then a bewildering array of classes, styles, cross-overs and even materials. Needles sizes are defined by number, the higher the number the smaller the needle. In general, within a specific class of needle, the length and thickness of a needle increases as the size number decreases. In addition to this, due to a lack of standardisation, a size 10 needle in one class of needle may actually be thinner than a size 12 in another class.

Two types of needles are taken for hand sewing

Two types of needles are taken for hand sewing. The two at the top are No. 7 embroidery/crewel needles, the two with particularly large eyes at the bottom are No. 18 chenille needles

For hand sewing, particularly with my eyes and possibly for use with thicker threads, I am also looking at a large eye to simplify threading, so something like a Chenille needle. These are similar to those used for tapestry or Cross Stitch but have a sharp rather than blunt, rounded point. Possibly more importantly, they are thick, strong needles that resist bending well. A knackered needle is the last thing you want with limited supplies. Chenille needles are useful for heavier fabrics as the sharp point pierces the material well while the thicker body of the needle creates a larger hole through which the thread can pass. In addition, I include a couple of Embroidery/Crewel style, which again, have a longer eye than a general Sharps needle. Embroidery needles are particularly suited to closely woven fabrics.

Chenille needles- sharp point, large eye, broad shank

Chenille needles- sharp point, large eye, broad shank

For the machine needles to be used with my sewing awl. I included a small selection of sewing machine needles. There was no need to include smaller, thinner needles here as these were represented in the hand sewing selection. The sewing awl needles are specifically for forcing thread through tough fabric straps such as those of the pack, or for stitching back and repairing pack body fabric. The trail shoes I favour these days are not as robust as the leather boots of previous years, sadly, it is not an infrequent occasion for seams to suffer or soles to gape at the sides in places. Where a dab of seam grip (if taken) doesn’t do the job, it may be that a few stitches with strong thread are required.

Types of sewing machine needles and their application

Types of sewing machine needles and their application

Just a little knowledge of sewing machine needle types pointed me at which appeared to be most suited to including in my kit. Jersey needles are suited to machines working on man-made fibres such as polyester or viscose, stretchier fabrics benefit from a Stretch needle. Many sewers will know that the Microtex needles are the (almost) fail safe needle, used in many applications. The Microtex/Sharp and Universal options are favourite but the titanium Topstitch needles produced by Superior also appeared admirable. Where I could, I included titanium nitride coated needles. Titanium nitride is an extremely hard, ceramic, thin coating on a hardened metal needle. With the infrequent if possibly harsh use that these needles get on the trail, such a coating will last indefinitely and ‘should’ enable the needles to pierce  fabric more easily and smoothly, prevent thread breaking so easily and strengthen the point, slowing wear.

Needles are sized in metric and imperial. The European system is the metric method and numbers sewing machine needles from 60 to 120. The American system numbers needles from 8  to 20. For both systems, the smaller the number, the finer the needle. Both sizes are shown on most packets. The size of a needle is calculated by its diameter, so the smallest below, the 60 needle, has a 0.6mm diameter.

  • Size  60/8
  • Size  70/10
  • Size  75/11
  • Size  80/12
  • Size  90/14
  • Size  100/16
  • Size  110/18
  • Size  120/20

I have included an 80/12 Topstitch needle mostly for use with the Extra strong thread on general purpose duty with the awl, and a Microtex 60/8 needle primarily for use with a finer thread (the Sew-All). This needle has a very thin acute point and is suited to precision work yet is still capable of being pushed in with an awl with care. I also wanted to include at least one leather needle. These are a tougher needle and have a triangular point designed to pierce leather, vinyl and plastic without tearing it.

I was going to include two or three of the extremely tough needles that are supplied with the Speedy Stitcher Awl. These are a curved needle (# 130/8B), a thick straight needle (# 130/8A) and a thinner straight needle (# 130/4). Instead, I have just included the 130A large No. 8 needle. This is a tried and true diamond point needle product and is suited to both the fine and course waxed threads also supplied by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher (though I am only taking one of the threads). The larger needles are especially useful for tougher work.

A small selection of robust machine needles are taken for use in a sewing awl

A small selection of robust machine needles are taken for use in a sewing awl. The top needle is a No. 100 Leather needles, the second is a Titanium coated No. 60/8 Microtex, the third is a Titanium coated No. 80/12 Topstitch while the bottom is a large, strong No. 130/8B needle for more demanding work

While it would be possible to keep the needles on a piece of thin card, I prefer to store these more securely. This is to limit the risk of their piercing my gear from within. I keep machine (awl) and hand needles separate for ease of selection, each type being encased in a small plastic tube with end caps. These are re-purposed from my tool chest where they originally held small drill bits. Each empty case with two end caps weighs 0.5g. Tubes have ‘awl’ and ‘hand’ written on with a Sharpie.

 

Sewing awl

Home made sewing awl

Home made sewing awl with large diamond point needle

I decide to include a small sewing awl in my kit as this would provide the facility to stitch thicker or tougher items such as pack straps, belt or footwear. It was then  a question of sourcing the lightest, yet still practical, awl that I could find.

The Speedy Stitcher (patented 1909) or Awl-for-All (patented 1903) sewing awls are really handy little pieces of kit and both being still in production today demonstrate that each have proved themselves for over a century. But these are more suited to home repairs or simple manufacture, being far too bulky and heavy for including in any more mobile repair kit. However the chuck design and use of, what is in effect, a large sewing machine needle got me thinking as to the possibilities for a more discreet and lightweight kit. I wondered if I could locate a small Dremmel drill type chuck that would take a sewing machine needle and act as a sewing awl. Needless to say a quick search on-line revealed that I was not the first to consider such a project.

Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl, with coarse four filament thread and No. 130B- 8C curved needle for more awkward sewing spaces

Speedy Stitcher sewing awl, with coarse four filament thread and No. 130/8B curved needle for more awkward sewing spaces. Spare needles are stored behind the head. However this awl is too large to take backpacking

I have also taken considerable inspiration from the famed Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit, sadly no longer available. In recent years, Patagonia, a company that originally just made tools for climbers and was founded by Yvon Chouinard, did reproduce the kit for the US market but despite emailed pleas to Patagonia, I have found it impossible to purchase their sewing kit in the UK.  I am additionally peeved as I was offered one of the original kits some thirty years ago and refused it.

The first thing done was to hacksaw off the superfluous shank to the pin vice. Then a T piece grip was produced by cutting a short titanium peg down to 55mm, cleaning sawn edges with a file to produce the sewing awl

The first thing done was to hacksaw off the superfluous shank to the pin vice, cleaning the sawn end with a file. With collet in place (not shown here) it is now 30mm in length

After a bit of searching, I decided to adapt a pin vice or similar and eventually settled on what is described as a mini mandrel chuck adapter for craft and jewellery tools. This came with three collets for holding drills up to 2.2mm diameter. I would only require one of these once I had adapted the mini chuck to suit my purpose. This was a simple task with a vice, hacksaw and file and has produced a very handy little sewing awl that weighs 12g complete with T-bar handle.

With a little filing, the T-bar handle now has nicely rounded ends so will not poke a hole through the sewing kit pouch. It is pulled out of the hole of the awl when not in use and just lies loose within the kit.

A short titanium tent peg was cut down to 55mm and the whole through the body drilled out to 3mm so that the T piece would fit. Again, all sawn edges cleaned up with a file

A short titanium tent peg was cut down to 55mm and the hole through the body drilled out to 3mm so that the T-piece would fit. Again, all sawn edges were cleaned up with a file

It would even be possible to simplify my arrangement still further. If I took one size (diameter of shank) of needle and a small piece of dowel with a hole drilled out to fit, this could prove enough in itself to act as an in-the-hand awl. However I think the ability to clamp down on the needle, so as to be able to pull it back out of thick gripping material such as webbing or shoe soles, is a requirement so I shall stick with my awl.

 

 

Buttons

The 'Soldier '95' style buttons have been used by some outdoor clothing manufacturers but are troublesome to replcae if they are broken or lost, being designed to be fixed in place with a tape running through them

The ‘Soldier ’95’ style’ buttons have been used by some outdoor clothing manufacturers but are troublesome to replace if they are broken or lost, being designed to be fixed in place with a tape running through them

Most people, myself too for many years, simply cart along one of the small ‘hotel’ sewing kits picked up with ease across the globe. These invariably come complete with one small white and one small black button. How many of us stop to question if the clothes we are wearing on a hike actually have small white and black buttons! Much better to look at what we are actually wearing and if a spare or two is advisable. Many shirts for example have a small tab inside with a spare or two affixed.

I included four buttons from the John Lewis haberdashery range. Simple four hole, black, plastic buttons, there are two 13mm and two 18mm buttons weighing 2g in total once put in a tiny baggie.

For most of my hikes, I like to wear the Montane Terra Pants. About the only button to be found on these is that on the waist.

Before including buttons in a thru hike sewing kit, have a peak inside clothing to see what is already being carried

Before including buttons in a thru-hike sewing kit, have a peak inside clothing to see what is already being carried

Other than these trousers, about the only other buttons on my hiking clothes may appear on a merino polo shirt or a Rohan short sleeve shirt worn as town or camp wear. So, a small white button after all…

 

 

 

 

 

Scissors and tweezers

I am not including these in my sewing kit. I rely instead on my knife and the tweezers included in my First Aid Kit. For those who do desire a pair of scissors, these need be minimal in size and a simple scalpel blade would suffice for most work. There is absolutely no need to pack along a seam ripper, though McNett seem to disagree.

 

Safety pins

Again, I am mostly relying on the safety pins included in my First Aid Kit but include one here simply to avoid unpacking more than is necessary if a quick fix with a pin is all that is required. To that end I have included a sole, large size, ‘nappy’ pin with  sliding plastic cap that prevents it easily opening by itself. I could also look on it that one less pin is packed in the First Aid Kit as I know I can rely on the one included here.

The whole sewing kit is kept together in a small cuben wallet made by Tread Lite. There was a small mitten hook on this but I cut this off together with the short tape through which it passed.

The assembled sewing kit-

The newly assembled sewing kit- 28 in total

The newly assembled sewing kit- 28g in total

Cuben wallet Tread Lite (with mitten hook removed) 3.6g
2 x Needle case With end caps 1.0g
2 x #7 embroidery/Crewel Hand sewing- (by Hemline) 0.2g
2 x #18 Chenille Hand sewing (by John James) 0.8g
1 x #60/8 Microtex- Titanium coated Awl sewing (by Superior) 0.3g
1 x #80/12 Topstitch-Titanium coated Awl sewing (by Superior) 0.3g
1 x #100/10 Leather Awl sewing (by Klasse) 0.4g
1 x 130/4 long straight Awl sewing (by Stewart) 1.1g
10m fine polyester thread- on bobbin Gütermann- Sew-All 0.8g
6m thick polyester thread- on bobbin Gütermann- Extra strong 1.4g
3m waxed polyester thread- on bobbin Stewart- Fine 1.8g
‘Threader’ Mounted on thin card 0.7g
1 x ‘Nappy’ safety pin- Large Hemline 1.4g
2 x button- 18mm John Lewis 1.3g
2 x button- 13mm John Lewis 0.7g
Sewing awl Home made 11.9
Total 27.7g

I am sure you will have noted that this 28g kit is more elaborate than it possibly needs to be. This is because it is one of those little aspects of preparation for my long walk in 2018. The wear and tear I can expect over a thousand plus mile hike is far in excess of a brief one weeks jaunt of just one hundred miles. For shorter hikes in the interim this kit can be tweaked as I require.

It is very likely that another hiker would consider my sewing kit as overkill, however I would still encourage a glance over the actual contents of any small sewing kit taken. Do ensure that what is in there will actually prove to be useful when pulled out at the end of the day in an attempt to repair something a little more crucial than a missing button.

Looking at new materials- Shola 230 Esker hat from Kora

Esker hat- from Kora

I have been looking at the Kora products, on-line only, since I first became aware of them in 2013 when they launched their first two products, a thermal zip top and leggings. I was intrigued by them not only because of their ethos, but also the apparent functionality of the products.

Kora founder, Michael Kleinwort, had been trekking in the Eastern Himalayas and was struck by the efficiency of the yak’s shaggy coat in keeping them warm at extreme heights in extreme winter conditions. Much of this was down to the soft underwool beneath the shaggy outer coat. It was this underwool, shed naturally each spring and sold by the herders, that Michael worked with to produce the company’s first fabric, called Hima-Layer™ Original 230.

A new product arrives in the post. Complete with re-usable, durable zip pouch

A new purchase arrives in the post. Complete with re-usable, durable zip pouch… bonus

I have long been a fan of Merino wool. It doesn’t irritate my skin, feels comfortable and we all know of its pong-resistant abilities. I prefer the lighter weights of merino, layering as necessary. The only thing that slightly discourages me is an apparent lack of durability. I have made holes, worn holes, put my finger through holes and, basically, knackered, more expensive baselayers than I am really happy with. The most durable baselayer top I have used in recent years has been a Rab MeCo long sleeve Zip Tee. These are available in three of the four weights of MeCo fabric that Rab use. MeCo is a mix of 65% merino wool with 35% polyester with activated carbon. While not quite as soft as pure merino it does seem to be holding up well.

However, I do like to stick to natural products where I can, my theory being that something that has evolved over thousands of years has proven itself suited to specific needs and environments, and any synthetic product development is always going to be playing catch-up. Which brings me back to Kora and their use of yak’s wool. The theory of a natural wool adapting over multiple generations of beast in harsh climes sounds good to me.

I have been looking at improving my sleeping layers- long sleeve top and leggings worn at night to not only give a little additional warmth, but also keep the skin and associated sweat and grime away from the quilt. Such base layers can also be bought into use in extreme weather conditions during the day on longer hikes. I have used silk in the past as well as synthetic products but none of these were particularly to my liking. A few years attempting to get to grips with a silk sleeping bag liner failed too, combined with my night long thrashing about and constant turning meant that I tied myself in knots in the damn things.

Not quite ready to commit to the, admittedly quite expensive, high-end baselayer products that Kora supply, I recently decided to dip my toes in the water as it were, and purchase one of their Shola 230 Esker hats.

A new purchase arrives.

Shola 230 Esker hat from Kora in Obsidian Blue

Available in two colours (blue and ‘Shale Black’) and in one size, I eschewed my normal grey or black choice and went for the Obsidian blue, shown above.  The ShoLa hat is made of the, 100% yak wool, Hima-Layer Original 230 fabric for which Kora make bold claims- 66% more breathable than merino, 40% warmer, weight for weight. The usual wicking abilities, odour resistance, 40+ UPF and, importantly for me, softness and consequent no itch.

OK, so its only a hat I have purchased. But I am also quite impressed with what Kora are seeking to achieve. They work with the Kegawa Herders Cooperative, a group of more than 80 nomad families from whom they commit to buying yak wool at a premium. While some additional wool is purchased from local agents, Kora are working to move more closely to the herder families for their supply. Importantly, the products that Kora are providing seem to be not only fairly stylish (as much as base layers can be!), but also effective. Which is, after all, the bottom line for outdoors wear. It is early days for me and my little purchase. Not yet having been washed, the material appears to not be as soft as 100% merino. The Kora product has a lovely fine and tight weave and flat stitched seams. The reversible hat is comfortable and I am hoping for both performance and durability. I note that it can also be pulled down nicely to cover the eyes and ears completely, which may mean that it is especially useful if also worn as night time attire, my quilt lacking a hood. If these important factors come up to scratch, I look forward to dipping further into Kora’s developing product line. These are high end and fairly expensive products but if the durability is there, they will pay for themselves.

A nice touch, the tape depicts contours of the Himalayas and colours of Tibetan prayer flags

A nice touch, the tape depicts contours of the Himalayas and colours of Tibetan prayer flags

My most direct comparison for the Esker hat would be my Icebreaker beanie. This 100% merino wool hat is probably a 150 weight fabric, weighing 68g against the Esker’s 57g. Both are a double thickness of fabric.

 

Arm warmers

Rapha arm warmers

I am little surprised that these haven’t been adopted more widely by the hiking community. Developed primarily for cyclists, these are arm sleeves that work equally well for walking. I like to use a short sleeve merino top for most of my hiking, either a short sleeve T or polo. The latter because I just feel a bit smarter. However early mornings and evenings can be a bit chillier and this is where these sleeves really work. As soon as things warm up they can be slipped off without stopping and stuffed into a pocket, hip belt or similar. An excellent way of helping thermoregulate.

The ones I use are pretty high quality Rapha sleeves which are not cheap. Obviously others are also available from other manufacturers. They are well made with no loose stitching. Size Large, they are made from 95% merino and 5% elastane. They hold up well with no slippage at all due to the silicone gripper. They can feel a little tight around the upper arm at times, but this doesn’t really bother me. Weight: 69g for both.

 

Rapha merino arm warmers

Rapha merino arm warmers