Tag Archives: gear

An assortment of SwissCards

SwissCards

Victorinox SwissCards

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools. Shown here are the SwissCard (second generation), SwissCard Quattro, SwissCard Lite (second generation) and SwissCard Nailcare

The Victorinox SwissCards are lightweight plastic ‘cards’ that contain a small range of tools. These can frequently be all that is required on a hike. Three Points of the Compass has a few of these and takes a glance at four of the various cards released by Victorinox since they first appeared in 1997. These are the SwissCard (later SwissCard Classic), the SwissCard Quattro, the SwissCard Lite and SwissCard Nailcare.

There have been different generations of these cards, particularly with the original SwissCard. Also, a couple of varieties, including a money clip, and car visor models that excluded the nailfile to fit respective clips instead. An oddity that I shall not cover here was the Doctor SwissCard that exchanged the tweezers for calipers. All of the SwissCards are small, measuring 82mm x 54m x 4mm. So, a little smaller than a credit card. The smaller dimensions are necessary if you want to slide one into a wallet or purse. I would suggest not storing them in the pocket as the plastic (actually ABS or Acrylnitril-Butadien-Styrol) will crack and break if overly stressed by flexing or being sat on. They will slip into just about any packs hipbelt pocket.

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a good edge to this blade

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, which are often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a sharp blade and it keeps an edge pretty well

Most hikers would probably glance at these little tools and discount them as they don’t immediately strike them as ‘knife’. But the toolset in a SwissCard is very similar to that found on many of the the smaller knives, particularly the Signature, also produced by Victorinox. These tools are mostly of a size that makes them pretty convenient for life on trail.

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted '7 features - 10 functions', but some of these are not worth getting too excited about. It came with Letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted ‘7 features – 10 functions’, It came with letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The first SwissCard appeared on the market in 1997 and while the small range of tools largely remained unchanged, small details in the plastic holder construction were later altered to make it more robust. A rotating sliding lid over the scissors was eventually excluded in 2008 but not before a protractor had been added to the rear of the lid in the second generation of SwissCard.

26.2g SwissCard

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in translucent blue weighs 26.2g. The first two generations of the SwissCard had a sliding door over the scissors

The sliding door on the first two generations of SwissCard was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in solid black featuring an added protractor. The sliding/rotating door was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot. The protractor on the inside of the door can be seen in this image but was of little practical use

The first two generations of the SwissCard weighed 26.2g, this weight increased imperceptibly to 27g when the sliding door was excluded from the design with the third generation. This meant that the protractor on the second generation was now also removed as a result. While the protractor on the second generation SwissCards could possibly be used for measuring snow slope angle, and the likelihood of avalanche, I really can’t see this being carried out in reality. The third generation of the plastic case is much sturdier and robust as a result of the change.

All SwissCards include a small ruler- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent blue. All SwissCards include small rulers- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

The 27g SwissCard Classic is a simple tool that carries much of the toolset found in the little 58mm Victorinox Classic folding knife. That is- small blade, nailfile, scissors, tweezers and toothpick. The SD version of the Classic knife has a small flat screwdriver tip on its nailfile and this is what is also found in the SwissCard. In addition, there is a stainless steel pin and useful, if miniscule, pressurised ballpoint pen in the SwissCard.

The 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards

The 21.3g 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards. This is the Edelweiss scaled version, there is a huge variety of scale designs found with these knives

Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when new models became available

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent red. Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when other models also became available. The Classic also differs from the first two generations of card by not having a sliding door over the scissors

The 22.2g SwissCard Quattro was released in 2000 and this saw the handy little four-way Quattro screwdriver made available for the first time. This is so small and convenient that even if I am not carrying one of the cards with me while hiking, one of the 2.6g screwdrivers is often sitting in my ditty bag. Sadly, the inclusion of the screwdriver was at the expense of the scissors, which are excluded from the SwissCard Quattro. A hole was added to the corner of the card enabling it to be hung from a keyring or lanyard.

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro in solid black. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox. this solid black colour is 20.6g compared to the very slightly heavier translucent Quattro cards which are 22.2g

In 2003 a small LED light was incorporated and the 26.7g SwissCard Lite appeared on the market. Essentially, other than differences in case colour, there are two variants of the Lite- early models had a red LED, these were changed to a white LED in 2009. While the white LED is far brighter than the red and ideal for urban use, Three Points of the Compass feels that red is often more useful on trail, especially if stumbling around a crowded hostel or bunkhouse room and trying not to disturb slumbering occupants.

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red.

A hiker normally carries a primary white light headtorch or similar, however a small red LED can be useful at times for discreetness. Early models with the red LED can be difficult to find now but are still available through eBay etc. if now over-priced. Though it must be admitted, the red LED is very dim whereas the white variant is far brighter, but still no where near bright enough for night hiking or similar.

Red and white LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite

White and red LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite. The brighter white light is distinct

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The SwissCard Lite hits the sweet spot by including both scissors and the handy little four-way screwdriver. Incorporating both of these at the expense of losing the nailfile is a reasonable trade off I feel.

The LED switch is a rather clever and simple affair, being a removable slide that contains both LED and the battery. The drain from the modest LED means that battery life is considerable, though a spare battery could be carried on a particularly long multi-day hike.

The SwissCard Lite has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass could be useful as an aid when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers

Victorinox SwissCard Lite in transparent black. This 26.7g card has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass is helpful when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers. Both four-way screwdriver and scissors are present in this card

The flat four-way Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

The flat four-way 2.6g Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

In 2015, the SwissCard Nailcare was released. While both four-way screwdriver and scissors are incorporated, the little knife blade is replaced by a glass nailfile.  As a result, I think the 26.6g Nailcare is the least useful of the SwissCards for taking on trail, unless personal grooming really is that important to you. Unfortunately the cutout for the nailfile is reduced in the nailcare card, otherwise the nailfile could have been swapped for a knife from another card.

The 6.7g scissors from a Victorinox SwissCard are are an excellent efficient choice for a First Aid Kit

The 6.7g scissors found in most variants of the Victorinox SwissCards are a useful choice for a First Aid Kit

SwissCards were manufactured in a range of solid and translucent/transparent colours only some of which are shown here. Ice Blue (shown here) was only available with the Nailcare. The pin and small tweezers are useful for removing splinters and as with the other incarnations, the spring loaded scissors do a good job, though I find my digits a tad large for the small single finger hole so frequently simply grip the whole of the scissor in my hand when using.

While well-appointed, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

26.6g Victorinox SwissCard Nailcare in translucent Ice Blue. While well-appointed and great for day-to-day urban carry, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

I normally carry a small knife or multi-tool on trail, however it is probably time that I gave these little cards more attention. They include many of the items that I already carry but could remove from my gear list- scissors, blade, pen, tweezers, and depending on which variant is taken, could provide a couple of other useful items. Three Points of the Compass feels that of all the available SwissCards, a SwissCard Lite is the most suited for backpacking. As to the choice of colour of LED, that is up to you but the earlier red LEDs are becoming pretty difficult to source these days.

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

The British Army Knife

A blast from the past- the British Army Knife

Oil the joints…

Having yet another tidy up of some drawers a few days ago, I came across a relic from my army days. I am pleased I hung on to this knife as it saw a lot of miles with me and a lot of sentiment is associated with it. I lost my previous issued knife and this replacement was issued to me in 1980, the same year it was manufactured, the date also being stamped on the side.

Crows foot, date of manufacture and part number were stamped on to the side of each knife issued

Crows foot, date of manufacture and part number were stamped on to the side of each knife issued

Three Points of the Compass was in the Royal Engineers, well known as the very finest of the British Army Corps. Whereas most British soldiers were issued with a simplified version of this knife, in my time, the version Engineers were issued also had a tough marlin spike on the opposite side to the blade.

There were actually four different knives issued to the British forces. Each had its own Nato Stock Number (NSN). These were:

Folding heavy duty sheepsfoot blade

Folding heavy duty sheepsfoot non-locking blade

  • NSN 5110-99-301-0301 (with locking blade and can opener)
  • NSN 5110-99-794-0491 (without can opener)
  • NSN 7340-99-975-7402 (with can opener and no marlin spike)
  • NSN 7340-99-975-7403 (with can opener and marlin spike)

As you can see, my example is the final one on the list. Made in Sheffield of stainless steel, these ‘squaddy proof’ tools are incredibly tough pieces of kit. They had to be as they put up with a lot of punishment. The back spring to the blade is equally tough. No nail nick is built in to the blade, instead, the metal scales are shaped to permit a good grip of the back of the blade to open it. This is a 60mm blade and could hold an edge pretty well. I see that my knife still has a good edge though I cannot recall the last time I sharpened it. Probably a couple of decades ago.

Huge and effective can opener

Huge and effective can opener

The can opener found on this knife has to be one of the largest found on any pocket multi-tool. Wickedly sharp, it’ll open any can put in front of it. A shackle is fitted to the opposite end to the can opener and would be attached to a lanyard.

Sappers carried the knife in the breast pocket and it was a chargeable offence to be caught without one. This was our EDC, or Every Day Carry, and was used for any task imaginable on a daily basis. On exercise they were indispensable- cutting para cord, batoning, opening tins and cutting up the awful, pale sausages and bacon grill found inside.

 

1984 and 1985 was spent in Northern Ireland. There was little room in the cramped cab of an armoured Allis Chalmers wheel loader. Occasionaly an SMG could be thrown behind the seat while working, but invariably, all that we were armed with was our clasp knife

1984 and 1985 was spent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There was little room in the cramped cab of an armoured Allis Chalmers TL645 wheeled tractor. Occasionally an SMG could be thrown behind the seat while working, but invariably, all that we were armed with was our clasp knife. Though it was more frequently used when accessing the engine cowlings or adjusting the winch

Nope, its not for getting stones out of hooves, the marlin spike is an essential tool for splicing ropework and loosening knots in heavy cordage

Nope, its not for getting stones out of hooves, the marlin spike is an essential tool for splicing ropework, loosening metal D shackles and knots in heavy cordage

The marlin spike was intended for rope work. Put to considerable use when in training in the late 1970s, less so when it came to later service. Though I do recall using it when engaged in improvised rafting or for loosening D shackles. This is not a lightweight knife coming in at 120g. While it went everywhere with me back then, I cannot see my ever resurrecting it as an EDC item, and will never take it backpacking. It is in need of a bit of a clean up now so I’ll probably just give it some attention, hone the blade, oil the joints (as per the instruction stamped on the side!) and once again consign it to a drawer somewhere.

The wide flat screwdriver was used for anything from stripping down a 7.62 L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) To prising the lids off paint tins

The wide flat screwdriver was used for anything from assisting in the stripping down of a 7.62 L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) to prising the lids off paint tins

 

 

 

A useful piece of kit- in its day

‘Oil the Joints’- A useful piece of kit- in its day

 

 

 

 

A winter walk on the South Downs Way

A winter wander on the South Downs Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Norman built Shepherds' Church, Pyecombe

The Norman built Shepherds’ Church, Pyecombe

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The uncommon circular tower at Southease church

Southease church tower

handstamp impression from my journal

Hostel handstamp impression from my journal

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

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

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

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

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

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

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

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

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

Walking toward Birling Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firefly- a simple addition to your kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A glass of red wine

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

 “If you can drink the water

 I will drink the wine”

Frank Sinatra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ryan

Three Points of the Compass in the Lake District, 2008

Twenty days to my ‘Big Walk’

“In omnia paratus”

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

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

Sony Cybershot DCS-RX100M5 camera

Sony Cybershot DCS-RX100M5. A truly portable compact camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insulated Sigma trousers from PHD

Insulated Sigma trousers from PHD

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

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

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

“Ready for anything”