Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Outdoor Gear

New boots

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

When someone thinks of Mallorca, wet and muddy surfaces could be very far from their expectations. Yet, I carried my well travelled pair of Meindl Burmas with me. Having heavy duty footwear covered all eventualities and I did meet with muddy patches and steep paved pathways so it was just as well.

The day before I left for my Mediterranean escapade is known in Britain as Boxing Day and is called St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland. It was bright and sunny so I was lured out on a local stroll that took in Tegg’s Nose Country Park. Not long after I had left home, I discovered that the three year old Regatta Crossland Mid boots that I have for such things were starting to show external signs of coming to pieces. There may be a bit of life in them yet but the start of the post-Christmas sales put the idea of acquiring a replacement into my mind, especially when there might be price reductions.

While I was tempted by cheaper offerings from Hi Tec, I ended choosing something from Berghaus that I got delivered to my local Millets store. That collection was a painless affair on a busy Saturday afternoon and I tried out my new Expeditor AQ Trek boots around the house to see how they fared for comfort and fit. They passed on both counts and I am awaiting drier days before testing them further.

Like the aforementioned Regattas, these too are fabric boots with a waterproof membrane. Though testing on local walks has not happened yet, thoughts of using them for walks in places with dry climates have entered my head. These are not so serious that my Meindls might stop reaching sunny places in southern Europe but something with suede uppers could suit such an outing.

A new GPS receiver

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

Most if not all articles written about outdoors gear usually do not contain any mention of life circumstances yet they pervade this one. To me, January 2015 brought a life changing event whose alterations still are ongoing. My father’s passing away last year and that of my mother years nearly two years before then now make for a very changed set of circumstances. Not having to deal with my father’s fear of flying has meant that I can countenance overseas excursions like those that took me to Iceland and Switzerland last year together with Austria a few weeks ago.

Motivation & Opportunity

If it were not for last year’s trip to Iceland, I may never have acquired a GPS receiver. Apart from an abortive attempt to buy a Magellan eXplorist 100, it stubbornly remained on the nice-to-have section of any gear wish list since I never got to spending the outlay. It was exposure to the shortcomings of maps with a 1:100000 (1 cm per 1 km) scale on a walk around Landmannalaugar that finally convinced me to try again. Even with a subsequent trip to Switzerland and perhaps because of what I spent on accommodation, travel and other things, the acquisition that had to wait.

The deed itself was done in circumstances that one might have expected to produce a different set of priorities for it was in the time around last Christmas. My plan was to spend Christmas itself in Britain before heading to Ireland for a few days and returning before New Year’s Day. That didn’t happen for emotions just were too raw and I rearranged the trip for sometime in January. What had added to my melancholy was how things went during Christmas 2014 when a neighbour of my parents went about planning Christmas 2015 when all I wanted to do was get into 2015 and leave 2014 after me. Now Christmas has lost all its child-like allure for me, I tend to want to get past it rather than bringing the next one closer.

Not travelling to Ireland at the end of 2015 meant that I could get past last Christmas and leave it after me to grow smaller in the rear view mirror of life. Doing otherwise would mean lugging too much emotional baggage through 2016 and that was why that 2014 invitation hurt me as much as it did; that Christmas was one that I needed to leave after me. The extra time at home was put to good use too for I embarked on a tidying spree that result in so many bin bags of items for disposal and recycling that it too a few weeks to clear them. Aside from the last Tuesday of the year or the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the weather had not been so enticing anyway and it felt like pathetic fallacy that so much rain fell and the winter generally was a rain-drenched season anyway.

Garmin eTrex Touch 25

Having bailed out of the planned Irish trip on St. Stephen’s Day, or Boxing Day as it is known in the U.K., I decided to book the purchase of the long-windedly titled Garmin eTrex Touch 25 from Go Outdoors’ Manchester branch. Perusal of a newspaper on the way there revealed just how miserable some people’s Christmas had been for they were physically flooded while I was emotionally so; the Calder valley had been very badly hit by the weather and they were not alone.

Early Testing

Time elapsed before I got to testing out the new gadget and there is more I have yet to get it to do even now. That Christmastime Tuesday trot around Macclesfield that took in Tegg’s Nose and part of the Gritstone Trail depended on my local knowledge and a paper map instead. Testing the new acquisition in earnest was take until the second week of 2016 and various opportunities since then have seen it left at home so I am far from developing a dependence on the device. These have included a recent walk from Tideswell to Hathersage via Litton, Foolow and Eyam as well as a subsequent one from Leek to Macclesfield that took in the Roaches as well as Tittesworth Reservoir, Gradbach, Wildboarclough and Higher Sutton.

Still, it has been taken outside a good few times. These mainly have been on trots about Macclesfield that include some soggy ones earlier in the year and drier ones more recently. It also has made it to West Limerick in Ireland, Stirling in Scotland as well as Innsbruck and Zillertal in Austria.

As the word “Touch” in the name suggests, this is a touch-screen device and my attempts to keep the screen reasonably clean mean that I use a stylus with it like I do with a phone or tablet. Starting it up brings you to a screen for one of its numerous modes. So far, I have stuck with the hiking one and there is another customised version of this that I created but there others for various forms of cycling as well as hunting, fishing, climbing and geocaching. It is only the hiking modes that I have tried so far but one of the cycling ones (bike, tour bike and mountain bike) could be a possibility yet.

In my experience, this is not a device for spot reading of where you are but one that tracks where you are going. Given that it shows a map underneath, that does help when you are unsure of things though battery usage then becomes a concern as does remembering to enjoy what surrounds you, which is what gets us out and about in the first place anyway. Going about the place staring at a small screen rather defeats the point of exploring the countryside and could cause an accident. As for battery life, my unit is on probation with disposable batteries until I can be sure that rechargeable ones are not getting discharged too quickly.

Available Maps

By default, the Garmin comes with its own maps for eastern and western Europe. For places without alternative coverage like Iceland, these are a good substitute for the walking maps that are available. In fact, having the gadget with me around Landmannalaugur last year would have been a big help for it shows that trail at higher magnification than the 1:100000 scale map that I was using at the time.

However, there are other maps available with the BirdsEye Select series offering 1:25000 Ordnance Survey data for Great Britain as well as its equivalents for France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria (including part of Italy). Holiday destinations like Madeira, the Balearic and Canary Islands together with the Azores see inclusion in this series too. Along with the OS, data come from Kompass, France’s IGN and Germany’s Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie. The advantage of these offerings is that you choose the area for which you buying maps and no the selection decided for you by a provider. Garmin offers other series and there is a one called BirdsEye that appears to do the same for the U.S.A. and Canada.

To get coverage beyond the aforementioned countries, you need to look at Garmin’s other offerings. These differ from the above in that these are preselected areas rather than self-selected ones from the BirdsEye series and cost more for higher definition maps because of the amount of coverage that is included. For Great Britain, there is the Discoverer series and both TOPO US 24K and TOPO US 100K series just cover the U.S.A. Country coverage for the other mapping series (there is one in the BirdsEye range for satellite imagery but I am less interested in that) is below.

TOPO PRO:
France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czech, Finland, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovi­na, Serbia, Kosovo, Monte­negro, Macedonia, Albania, Norway, Sweden, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Namibia, Reunion, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Denmark.

TOPO:
U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Tunisia, Hungary, Mexico, Chile, Norway, Argentina, Bolivia, Morocco, Greenland, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Ceuta, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mayotte, Melilla, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Réunion, Rwanda, São Tomé und Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bahrain, Ceuta, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Melilla, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Westbank, Western Sahara and Yemen.

TOPO Light:
U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Belarus, Israel, Poland, Portugal, Turkey, Romania, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan South, Tanzania, Uganda, Turkey, Romania.

Aside from the BirdsEye range where the Basecamp PC or Mac software is needed, maps can be purchased and downloaded to your device from the website. However, the browser plug-in does not work in the current versions of Firefox or Google Chrome at the time of writing because it has not been digitally signed by Garmin. On Windows PC’s, that leaves Internet Explorer as the only option and I needed to try it more than once to ensure that Basecamp registered the new map. Finding out what happens with Safari is not something that I have got to doing yet but it is a possibility.

Storage

With all the downloadable data, it is just as well that the eTrex Touch 25 takes a microSD card; the default maps and software leave just over 2 GB free out of the 8 GB of internal storage. The slot is in the battery compartment underneath the batteries and I have added a 16 GB one. If needs extend beyond that, a bigger one can be added in its place. It is possible to buy data on SD or microSD from Garmin so there could be the temptation to use one of these in the same slot. A limited number of packages come on DVD and I wonder how they get transferred, even if this is a legacy format nowadays.

Software

Sessions exploring the available computer software followed suit and Garmin’s BaseCamp is what’s needed for managing any data. Exports to GPX files meant that routes could be seen in Mapyx Quo and Anquet’s OMN too.

A change of bike trainer

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

With all the storms that come our way over the last few months and stuff weighing on my mind, hillwalking excursions have been few over the past few months. It is at fallow times like these that you either brave the elements or find a workaround of sorts.

It also brings back my days of commuting by bike when the short hours of daylight and winter weather conspired to make me inactive. That it took me until 2014 to realise that I needed to do something about those winter hibernations is down to an expanding waistline. That faulty brakes had stalled my commuting by bike in 2012 only exacerbated things so I brought home a turbo trainer from Decathlon in July 2014.

Being new to this, I went for the cheapest model from their in-house brand B’TWIN. Over time, I started looking for quieter and quieter tyres and a slick tyre would be the next step once the current one wears out. The initial fitness was not impressive either and I, like so many, experienced boredom. The solution to the latter was to start reading magazines while on the trainer and the former was resolved by gradually stepping up the time spent. It went from ten minutes to thirty over two months and I found that I peaked at spending a hour a night on the thing.

Then, there was a life changing event in early 2015 that distracted me and outdoor cycling grew again as the year wore on so my previous rhythm was broken. Even so, I often spend a few minutes at a time well more than once in the day if a longer session does not come to pass.

All this seemed to take its toll on the trainer and the hum from the unit itself grew ever louder and more coarse, even above that of the back tyre of the bike. Not only that but there also seemed to be a ringing sound coming from it too. There was one time when it began to ring like a continuous bell but disassembly followed by reassembly sorted it by tightening up whatever was loose in there. That failed to address the issue when I tried it last week so I start to consider a replacement.

That came from Halfords on Sunday and there are differences. Firstly, the new Elite trainer is more testing than the old one so there is no cruising in top gear at anything but lower settings. If that builds extra leg strength and fitness, it will do good and moderation is my approach to such matters. Though quieter overall, there are some settings, the new unit feeds back vibration through the bike and that is something the old one never did. In time, I may find a way to dampen this but it is tolerable for now. The new trainer also cost less than what it replaced anyway. Anything it does for fitness and getting through magazine reading should help those outdoors outings to happen, which is a real use for these things anyway.

New bike, new possibilities

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

For a while now, I have been playing with the idea of getting a folding bicycle for use on cycling getaways. The main reason behind this is that one of the things that has held me back from cycling further afield has been the limited carriage of bicycles on buses, coaches and trains. It is true to say that I have entertained thoughts of bicycle rental though the only time that happened was on my first visit to the Isle of Skye in 1999. Maybe it’s something that needs rediscovering.

In the days of goods vans on passenger train services, things were far better but my arrival in the U.K. came well after those days and some operators like Virgin Trains will not carry a non-folding bike for you without pre-booking. Others again restrict the carriage of bicycles on their services at peak times and others who do not only provide space for a small number of non-folding bicycles anyway. Two is typical on Northern Rail services and that cannot be called generous.

There may be buses with bicycle pens operating in parts but these are the exception and not the rule. Any space on a bus that could be used for bicycle carriage gets devoted instead to conveying those on wheelchairs and children’s pushchairs. Those buses with bicycle carrying capability can be ephemeral too and any example would have been the bicycle racks on the backs of buses running Arriva’s now defunct TrawsCymru services across Wales.

Bicycle carriage on coach services is very restricted as I discovered on my first ever trip to Fort William back in 1998. It was so unlike Ireland where I did see someone pop a bicycle into the luggage locker of a Bus Éireann without any comeback for the act. In contrast, National Express will carry a folding bike for you but only in a padded bag or hard case. Their conveyance of full bikes meant a certain amount of dismantling but even that is out of the question now.

With all these constraints, it is easy to see how folding bicycles have risen in prominence. The best known brand is a British one: Brompton. These are not cheap yet remain popular even if other manufacturers have entered the fray. These offer less expensive items and you even might be able to get a folding bike for around £100 in a Go Outdoors sale. Mind you, it probably is best to go for something more expensive to get better quality. Sometimes, you get what you pay for with these things.

Dahon Vitesse D8

Recently, I finally took the plunge with a Dahon Vitesse D8 from my nearest branch of Halfords. They had the bike in stock and built it well for me. The folding mechanism was demonstrated too, if imperfectly. Once I got home, I spotted the actual folding order on a label attached to bike: saddle down first. handlebar folded next, then main bike frame. A short ride was a brief test of the 8-speed gearing and other important aspects of the bike like steering and brakes. The former of these worked well even it felt just a little giddy so that might why users are not advised to set the handlebars too high. As for the brakes, these had the bite that I would have wanted so there are no complaints there.

Thought the Dahon is sold as being for commuting, I quite fancy using it for more than this. Usefully, it has mudguards and a luggage rack so my mind to turning to various level cycling trails in Derbyshire. First, there is Longdendale Valley near Hadfield for seeing how things go to start. While a train journey possibility would allow transit of a full size bike, it sounds a good place to begin with a folding one. Others that come to mind include the Monsal Trail between Miller’s Dale and Bakewell, the High Peak Trail from Dowlow (not so far from Buxton) to Cromford and the Tissington that also starts at Dowlow but instead goes as far as Ashbourne. Roving into Staffordshire, there is the Manifold Trail as well even if that has a scary tunnel at one point. More possibilities may appear to follow these but they all should make a good use of the new bike. The next step is to get it out there to savour those places and overcome such fears as punctures or other mechanical troubles. That off road cycling could help with regaining on-road confidence would be a bonus too since I have been on a lengthy break from cycling for one reason or another.

Time for a return to cycling?

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Due to a problem with its brakes that I could not get myself to sort for too long, I have been away from cycling for the most of two years. Today, I finally decided to see if I could draw a line under the problem. While the result of my efforts was that I took the bike out for a quick run, I am not so convinced that the back brakes are fully up to the job just yet. Nevertheless, I have no intention to leave this one lie.

Even on that short cycle, I noticed that I was using muscles that were not used as much as they once were. So, I plan to do something about that during 2014. In fact, I am playing with the idea of getting a folding bicycle for trips to other parts that could offer some cycling. While doing some online and offline window shopping, it is amazing me who will sell you one of these. While Evans Cycles would be expected on many a shortlist and Halfords have been doing so for a while, names like Decathlon and Go Outdoors also come up. Also, for a name associated with motoring, it surprised me to see that around half the floor space in the Macclesfield branch of Halfords is devoted to cycling and there is a large variety of bikes on display too. Decathlon have a very nice commuting bike in stock and Go Outdoors have folding bikes for between £100 and £200 so there is a lot of temptation. Quite how cheaper bikes do over longer distances is another matter so it might be worth paying a little extra for something more decent.

As for those destinations where a folding bike would be handy, my mind does not need to roam far from home.  Parts of the Peak District that are served by train come to mind and going along the Monsal Trail, the High Peak Trail or the Tissington Trail may become possibilities. The Longdendale Trail is served by trains to Hadfield but a folding bike is still handier than a full sized item. These are just a few off road cycling trails and pondering others takes into Wales for the Mawdach Trail and tracks into remote country in the Scottish Highlands become possibilities for more robust bicycles. The track by Loch Ericht first came to mind here but that by Loch Shiel also falls into the same category and both are served by convenient train stations at Dalwhinnie and Glenfinnan, respectively. Maybe hiring out a bike for a day would be no bad idea. Before then, my legs need more cycling acclimatisation (as does my head when it comes to road sense and confidence if a minor misjudgement at one end of the road on which I live is any indication) and staying modest for a little while sounds sensible. Longer days may have something to offer yet.

Postscript 1

Since writing this, I found an article about bicycle braking that suggests that front brakes are better than back ones for stopping a bike. Of course, that makes me wonder about putting yourself out over handlebars on doing so yet the author says that keeping your arms straight avoids this. Nevertheless, speaking with someone at work revealed tales from childhood of getting thrown over bicycle handlebars and with broken wrists after one such mishap. Maybe I need to consult a book on cycling technique…

Postscript 2

During a conversation with a work colleague, minds wandered back to harem scarem antics with bicycles on Irish country roads. Her dad and his pals used to race downhill as fast as they could to see far they could freewheel uphill afterwards. If want a picture in your mind’s eye, think of a steep drop to a bridge crossing a stream and a steep rise immediately afterwards. Only for cars being rare in Ireland at the time, one doesn’t dare to wonder what would happen if one did pass the way around this hilly part of Wicklow.

As for myself, recollections of travelling around none too flat roads around West Limerick on a hand-me-down bike from my brother with ineffective brakes come to mind. A set of trainers got well worn on tarmac that summer; foot braking was in order. There was one mishap when my aged Brooks saddle broke and I somersaulted onto the grass roadside verge as a result. Small wonder then that my trust in bicycle brakes is so minuscule. Having cycled around Edinburgh’s hills cannot have helped, especially when a torrential downpour was the cause of my being unable to stop on Lothian Road one July afternoon. Even now, it is an effort to get myself cycling down steeper inclines so gaining some extra confidence is well in order.


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