Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Backpackers Rickmansworth weekend

This is catch up time as time has flown by since I last posted. Back in February, a group of us met up for a wet weekend. This was the time of the winter floods. We pitched over night on Friday behind Anne's house at Higher Denham. The grass was a bit soggy, being close to the river. The roads were flooded nearby. Saturday's weather was OK. There was no rain but plenty of water underfoot as we walked through Denham Village and then Denham Country Park to join the Grand Union Canal Walk. We stopped for a cup of tea at a canalside café and then on for a lunchtime break at The Coy Carp at Harefield, next to the canal.

The towpath under water

The towpath in the other direction

Click on these photos for a floodfest!
It wasn't a long day and we arrived quite early at Stockers Farm. A walk into Rickmansworth had been planned for the evening but the towpath into the town was severely flooded and the road route was considered too far. This meant a quiet evening in.

Sunday morning was dry for the walk back to Higher Denham. A great café was found for coffee and bacon rolls.

There should be a towpath here somewhere!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Hiking with wet feet

As any regular backpacker knows, it's not possible to avoid rain in the UK and so the perennial issue of wet feet crops up time and again. I've come across some interesting discussions about this, mainly on US blogs such as Andrew Skurka's at and Philip Werner's at and the conclusion I've come to is that you should take care of your feet and simply embrace walking in the rain. Certainly, in prolonged rain wet feet are inevitable, even when wearing footwear that is supposed to be waterproof. My experience is that boots or shoes with a waterproof membrane take far longer to dry out, once wetted, than those without a membrane.

If you think you've walked in wet conditions, read this account It sounds (and is) as horrendous as it gets, in my view.

I much prefer to hike in shoes, rather than boots. Particularly as I have one foot slightly smaller than the other, I invariably develop blisters. I also walk very differently in shoes. With boots, it's more of a plodding walk. I think I tend to lift my feet higher and I believe that this involves more effort. My shoes of choice at the moment are Inov-8s, usually the Terroc. They are so light and comfortable and wear reasonably well. I've tried waterproof socks over the years. I've had four pairs of Sealskinz. This might imply that I like them. However, I've only bought one pair. They proved to be unserviceable, letting in water very quickly after very little use. I returned them and they were replaced each time by the company. I can't fault their customer service but I wouldn't pay good money for them again. I also tried Trekmates Amphibians. I bought three pairs shortly before the final stock went. They told me that they were being discontinued not because they weren't good but that they sold very slowly. I quite liked these but they didn't last. I think, maybe, the problem with them (and maybe also with the Sealskinz) is grit getting inside shoes and rubbing through the waterproof membrane.

Having said that, I now accept that my feet will get wet. I recently came across an interesting idea on an outdoor blog, that wearing oven roasting bags can work. I bought some (regular size - 8 for £1.40) and gave them a try on a wet day over New Year. I wore them between two pairs of liner socks. They were very comfortable, although made a crinkly noise at first. However, I'm afraid to say that they didn't last long. I spent the day with wet feet. When I got home, I found that they had broken open at the toe and the heel.

So, back to the drawing board. If I'm walking through constant wet, I'll put up with squelchy shoes. If I go through a wet patch or have to cross a stream, I'll take the socks off, wring them out and then carry on walking; the shoes and socks will then dry out reasonably quickly. Does anyone else have any ideas, cranky or otherwise?

Particularly on a multi day walk, I believe that blisters (when wearing boots) will probably only get worse. Wet feet will dry out. I have yet to suffer blisters when wearing shoes with wet feet. At the end of a day's walk with wet shoes, the footbeds should be removed and these, the shoes and the socks should be washed out to remove any mud and grit. The shoes and socks will still be wet the next morning but they will soon warm up with use and become comfortable. Obviously, there's no point in putting dry socks into wet shoes.

There's an interesting discussion at on this topic. I've bought a couple of tubes of cream to use before the feet get wet as I'm aware that feet really do need TLC when out on the trail. One is Siopel which was very inexpensive and the other is Gehwol Extra foot cream. I shall try these on a wet outing soon and post a review. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Backpackers Chilterns weekend

This weekend each year is one I look forward to. On the Friday night we camp on a site at Radnage and are treated to the sight and sound of red kites wheeling overhead making their strange whistling call. The nearby pub, The Crown, is always busy but the beer is excellent.

Morning cloud

A tarp just like mine - some people thought it was mine

On Saturday morning a group of us walked across fields to Stokenchurch, then under the M40, through Penley Wood down to Ibstone. In the wood, we disturbed two red kite feasting on what may, shortly before, have been a pigeon. There wasn't enough of it left to be sure.

Then across Ibstone Common through Blackmoor Wood in time for lunch (bowls of chips) at the Fox & Hounds at Christmas Common. There was a blazing fire and it was busy as usual. From the pub, we walked through Queen Wood, passing through Pishill (never sure how to pronounce it politely!) arriving at our Saturday night itch in the Warburg Nature Reserve at Maidensgrove. It's such a privilege being able to camp there as it isn't usually allowed. The nearest pubs are too far to walk to. We pitch amongst the trees listening to the wildlife. The pheasant were particularly loud.

Next morning, we followed the Chiltern Way to Stonor, going through the deer park by Stonor House and then on to Turville (avoiding the steep climb up by the windmill). Lunch was had at the garden centre at Horsleys Green and then returning to Radnage. The woodland walking was superb as it always is at this time of year.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Charlbury/Cornbury Park

Just a day walk of around nine miles. The forecast was for rain all day but it was good to get out. This is a walk called the Forest of Wychwood on the Charlbury website. Parking was easy and free in the car park by the Spendlove Centre. Charlbury is very pretty and the route took me through the small town and out into Cornbury Park, skirting around the edge and on to Finstock. From there a bridleway led into Wychwood Forest.

 This covers quite a large area but there is only this one public right of way through it. In two locations I discovered clearings where BushcraftUK run residential courses for schools, both very well hidden and both deserted. Out of the forest, my route took me through Chilson and then Shorthampton. Here I followed the Oxfordshire Way back into Charlbury.
Lunch stop

Backpackers Peak District weekend

They say that the sun always shines on weekends that Tim Jayes organises and this was no exception. Travelling up on Friday wasn't too bad although Friday afternoon going through Stone and Leek was a bit slow. From Oxfordshire to Staffordshire on a non-motorway route was a good idea.

The meeting point was Torgate Farm near the Cat & Fiddle west of Buxton, quite exposed and windy but a good site and the pub nearby was The Stanley Arms in the intriguingly named hamlet of Bottom of the Oven.

Torgate Farm
Saturday's walk was a group of us heading south from Torgate Farm and into Macclesfield Forest, around the southern edge and then north to Trentabank Reservoir where we stopped for bacon rolls and coffee at the snack van at the back of the information centre. We then went east and then north again by Chapel House Farm and along the lane to the east of Lamaload Reservoir. Here, our group split, two continuing along the lane and the rest of us tackling the steep climb up to Shining Tor, along the ridge to Pym Chair and then through Goyt Forest down to Fernilee, where our pitch for the night was on a site right next door to The Shady Oak. A day of good views.

Sunday's walk took us through woodland on the western side of Fernilee and Errwood Reservoirs and then over moorland, emerging near the Cat & Fiddle where we met with others at the nearby café - an excellent place. We sat out on the decking enjoying the magnificent views. A fitting end to a great weekend.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Mountain Laurel Designs Little Star

This isn't a review, unfortunately. For some time, I've looked covetously at other hikers who have an MLD Trailstar. It's not exactly a tent but, on the other hand, I would say that it's not exactly a tarp either although it's nearer to a tarp than a tent. It doesn't have a base and has a permanently open entrance doorway. All the reviews of it give the impression that it's absolutely bombproof. My main reservation has been that, frankly, it's too big. Its footprint just takes up too much space. That's fine when out in the big wide open but in a more restricted area it's just too big. Now, I'm not one to collect shelters but I almost exclaimed out loud when I saw that MLD have now introduced the LittleStar, some 15% smaller although not smaller in price. In fact, it retails at the same price as the Trailstar, which is, for the silnylon version, is $210.00 (the cuben fibre version is $355.00). It weighs in at 13 ounces compared with 19 ounces for the Trailstar. I would love one but I probably don't need three shelters (I already have a Golite Cave tarp and a Terra Nova Laser Competition tent).

If Mountain Laurel Designs would care to lend me a LittleStar for review I would be very pleased. It looks just beautiful.

Backpackers Cambridgeshire weekend

A select few (seven) of us gathered behind the Pike & Eel at Needingworth, just outside St. Ives. The weather was set fair and the rain earlier cleared during the afternoon. This may be my tarp's last outing this year. Now, here's a statistic. Usually on these weekends, there is the odd female contingent. This time, 28% were female (accompanying male attendees).

I'd planned a good leg stretch for Saturday and it looked as if I'd be on my own. Howard had to nip home to feed his ferrets and the others were planning something less strenuous. I was up early and was away at 6.45am, heading up the Ouse Valley Way for a mile or so before veering off to go through Bluntisham. I'd vaguely heard of this route but had no idea it was so long. It's 150 miles and starts in Syresham, Northants. At Bluntisham, I joined the Pathfinder Long Distance Walk, another one I didn't know. It's a 46 mile route starting and finishing at nearby RAF Wyton.

Other places I passed through were Somersham, Warboys and King's Ripton, all three quite picturesque and I'd happily have stayed longer given time. Just after Kings Ripton, walking along a green lane, I turned a corner and spied a young fox about 100 yards ahead. I stopped dead and, although it saw me, the fact that I wasn't moving perhaps didn't put him on his guard. I slowly brought my camera up and was standing still for about five minutes while this young fox faffed about in front of me. He was watching me, then he had a quick poo and then walked towards me a little way. In the end, I got bored and moved towards him, whereupon he legged it.

Then it was through Houghton and St. Ives. I really like St. Ives. The weather helped but it had a summery feel to it. Walking along the only street of Holywell, I couldn't resist taking a photo of a house for sale, a bit of a wreck and painted purple. I'll revisit perhaps in a couple of years to see what changes have been made.

From Holywell, I joined the Ouse Valley Way again, back to base. This was a really good day - 22 miles walked.