Tag Archives: feet

Lone Peak Altras

What gear wears out on a long hike?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sewing the crotch of my trekking shorts on a zero day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cuben stuffsacks wore badly if they abraded

cuben stuffsacks wore badly if they abraded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 08 29_5990

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

Duncansby Head- the end of my trail

Duncansby Head- the end of my trail. August 2018

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

Thirty days to my ‘Big Walk’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirty five days to my ‘Big Walk’

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

Benjamin Franklin

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

Demands of work

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

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

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

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

Dirty Girl Gaiters have proved indispensable with my choice of footwear

Dirty Girl Gaiters have proved indispensable with my choice of footwear

New gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Altra logo

Another delivery… trail shoes

I’ve been waiting for this delivery. I won’t say that I was worried, but I have certainly been very conscious that time is ticking down to the start of my hike. As I write this I have 52 days to go. This morning I emailed a company from whom I had ordered (and paid) for three pairs of trail shoes some weeks back. At the time, they had quickly told me that there were supply problems not only to the UK, but Europe in general. I’ll wait I replied, as I say, I’ve been waiting a while for this delivery.

Three Points of the Compass wore Brooks Cascadia 8's when hiking Hadrian's Wall in 2014

Three Points of the Compass wore Brooks Cascadia 8’s when hiking Hadrian’s Wall in 2014

Inov8 330 were worn when hiking in Crete in 2013. Samaria Gorge

Inov8 330’s were worn when hiking in 2013. Samaria Gorge, Crete

I have worked through a number of different types of trail shoe over the past few years since I made the switch from boots. I couldn’t get on with the Salomen XA Pro 3D, the heel cups fell apart after less than two hundred miles.  Inov8 did me well for a while, the 295’s and 330’s were good, with lovely traction, but they messed around with the design and they proved less suited to my feet. Again, the heel cups fell apart after too short a period. Then I switched to Brooks Cascadia 8s. I loved the wider toe box and the heel cups were more robust, never wearing out. But the material across the top and sides of the feet wore through after less than three or four hundred miles. I expected better.

So I made the change to a pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.5 and thought ‘at last’, I’ve found them! I loved the wide toe box, even if it did look like I was wearing a pair of shoes designed for a circus clown. I could get five hundred miles plus out of a pair with no splitting of uppers, the heel boxes held together. Traction wasn’t fantastic, but I could live with it. Also, I found the zero drop to my liking. So I happily changed to the 3.0’s when I had to. They were just as good and the changes had not detracted from the shoes. I have found that the inner sole starts to wear at the ball of my foot after six hundred miles, so I need to be careful to switch out prior to that.

Hiking in Fuerteventura in March 2017 wearing my 'Clown Shoes'- Altra Lone Peak 3.0

Three Points of the Compass hiking in Fuerteventura in March 2017 wearing my ‘Clown Shoes’- Altra Lone Peak 3.0

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 continue to provide good ro in the two box for feet and toes to spread

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 continue to provide good room in the toe box for feet and toes to spread

When I was making my final gear choices for my upcoming hike, it was toward the 3.5’s that I turned. However they have proved somewhat difficult to source. After more weeks that I am strictly comfortable with, I received a text from my wife this morning to inform me that they had arrived at her work place. I am now set with three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s in UK size 12 (US 13). Each pair weighs 730g, or 805g including my orthotic inserts.

Altra Lone Peak 3.5's only have moderate cushioning and zero drop between heel and toe. However my orthotic inserts mean that I retain a very small drop

Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s only have moderate cushioning and zero drop between heel and toe. However my orthotic inserts mean that I retain a very small drop

Needless to say, some changes have been made- new drainage holes, I am fine with that. 4-point gaiter system, I only require the two for my Dirty Girl gaiters so fine, that doesn’t bother me. Also an upgraded upper mesh, I am pleased with that change. The soles are unchanged. These trail shoes will do me well I believe. Manufacturers seem to revel in messing about with the design of successful products, especially trail runners, but the 3.5’s seem to have retained all that I like with a couple of OK upgrades. The design has also changed in that they don’t look so ‘clownish’ now. They still have the same width in the toe box, as evidenced by comparing the insoles from 3.0 and 3.5, but devilish things seem to have been achieved by the designers in the latter shoe’s appearance.

All ready for my Three Points of the Compass walk- three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5's in UK size 12

All ready for my Three Points of the Compass walk- three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s in UK size 12

Skinners footwear

A recent delivery…

Over the years, Three Points of the Compass has struggled over what camp shoes to take. Some hikers eschew the inclusion of anything beside the boots or shoes they hike in, me, I want to change of an evening.

Synthetic trail runners in particular can really stink if wet. I want to get my feet out of my trail shoes or boots, cleaned off a bit (or a lot), dried out and rested. If I am staying at a B&B, any owner is going to take a dim view of muddy footwear going any further than the front door. If wet on the trail, you can be caked in mud and if I am on an official camp site, I don’t want to be trailing that into any w/c. Finally, many Pub landlords want walking foot wear removed at the door, as do some cafe owners.

A good pair of sandals is both comfortable and allow the feet to breathe and recover. However a pair such as these from Merrell, weigh 750g

A good pair of sandals is both comfortable and allow the feet to breathe and recover. However a pair such as these from Merrell, weigh 750g

If I am staying in a campsite or hostel where I am sharing a shower room or block, I also want footwear to reduce the chance of contracting anything nasty off the floor. Put that little lot together and a spare set of footwear it is. However just about everything I have tried is either downright ugly, heavy, or both. I loathe Crocs with a passion, but even if I could put up with their appearance, they are simply too bulky and I hate things dangling from the outside of my pack, which seems to be most hikers answer to the bulk of a pair or Crocs. Flipflops can be lightweight, but I don’t want to be wearing those for walking a mile down to the neighbouring village. I have tried wearing a pair of waterproof Sealskin socks inside wet and muddy trail runners but these begin to leak over time. However, that said, wearing a pair of Sealskinz, the heat from a dry pair of feet can help dry out a sodden pair of shoes or boots.

Three Points of the Compass was intrigued to come across a nifty design of footwear recently and decided to take a punt on a pair of Skinners. First appearing on Kickstarter, these are handmade in the Czech Republic and are made from Polypropylene, Viscose, Cotton and Lycra, they also have silver in the antibacterial yarn to reduce odour. Put simply, they are a stretchy, breathable sock with a waterproof abrasion proof polymer stuck on to the bottom and sides. There is no stiff sole and the socks/shoes roll up for carrying. They come supplied with a little cloth bag but I don’t need that as there are lighter options.

Skinners footwear- low cut, breathable, waterproof sole, comfortable, not bad at all...

Skinners footwear- low cut, breathable, waterproof sole, comfortable, not bad at all…

I ordered online, took the advice of a couple of reviewers and sized up to an XXL (I have feet size 11/11.5 UK), so the ones I ordered were supposed to fit feet size 12-13.5 UK. I should have ignored the advice and simply ordered the correct size as the XXL were way to big. The XXL I emailed Skinners to request an exchange for weighed 203g (7.2oz) for the pair. My new pair of XL fit me just fine. These weigh 183g (6.45oz) for the pair, so 91.5g per single sock. Pretty good compared to just about every other type of footwear I have taken with me for camp use. However, it remains to be seen how these will perform when used in anger. I really am not sure how I am going on to get on with what is, effectively, a toughened pair of socks.

I shall report back.

There is a fair amount of information on the box in which a pair of Skinners is purchased

There is a fair amount of information on the box in which a pair of Skinners is purchased

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…