Friday, 6 April 2012

Walking from A to Z again

A lot of people seemed to be reading the two "Walking from A to Z" posts (SEEMED...but what were they REALLY doing???) Like when on the BBC TV news they say "...and now the news from where you are..." - I mean, HOW DO THEY KNOW WHERE I AM???

OK, enough of pretending to be paranoid (I can't keep the pretence up for long and then my guard is down AND THEY'LL GET ME). I realised I'd not covered some fairly obvious issues in those two posts, and as people seemed interested, it'd be worth adding a bit more.

So if you didn't read the other posts - this is about walking long-distance trails.

ACCOMODATION: It takes a lot of time to arrange unless you're prepared to risk going without pre-booking, which is risky and troublesome if you're arriving dog-tired in the early evening with a full pack and have to go from place to place. This would be near suicidal on the three main Scottish routes (West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Southern Upland Way) except at the eastern end of the Southern Upland, but it does give you flexibility if some stages turn out easier or harder than you expected. If you are pre-booking, you will end up with a long list of places to ring or check electronically, and as you make bookings, it becomes impossible to change the start date - which is why I advise identifying the most risky locations (like the King's House Hotel on the West Highland Way, where there is nowhere else to stay for miles) and booking them first, making changes at that stage if necessary. It's easy to skimp on making clear notes when you've booked, but not doing so may lead to confusion over whether you've paid a sum in advance or even lead to you turning up at the wrong place. Do your level best to locate the venue precisely before you set out, but take a mobile phone and all the accomodation phone numbers - it can be a life-saver (maybe even literally).

CAMPING means you have huge flexibility in hill country, but the tent is extra weight and perhaps more importantly, if you end one day with wet boots and socks, they'll still be wet the next morning. That way lie foot problems. It also means you have to carry more food unless you're Ray Mears.

WALKING ALONE OR ACCOMPANIED is an important issue. I've always done it alone, but often find I'm falling in with other walkers and may walk most or all of a day with someone. That way getting on one another's nerves is less of an issue and if one of you proves to be faster than the other there's no problem - you just part. Walking with others is a bit safer and can lift spirits, but in summer in most hill country and in spring or autumn elsewhere the main serious risk is getting hit on a road and if you carry map, compass, phone and whistle as well as correct clothing you'll find most "difficult" sections aren't that bad. My first guidebook used on the West Highland Way waxed lyrical about the dangers of fearsome Rannoch Moor and advised people not to walk this section alone. Well, Rannoch Moor is a wild and risky place, but the WHW doesn't go over it. It skirts round the edge by a well-marked drovers' road. Even in thick fog you'd know the moment you stepped off the track: only thick snow would be a real problem. True, anyone can fall awkwardly and break an ankle, but the chances of this happening are very low, the chances of being found are much higher on well-known trails than elsewhere, and it's up to you to carry rain-gear, emergency rations, whistle and so on.

BOOTS are crucial. Never go forth with boots that haven't been broken in over several days' tough walking at least. If the boots you've bought aren't quite comfortable, buy another pair in good time. A good grip is essential, especially in hill country or on cliffs. Some trails, like the coastal ones generally, don't absolutely require leather walking boots, but remember nearly all fabric boots are not fully waterproof and wet feet develop problems. Take something light in reserve such as a good, broken in pair of trainers (not old ones with smooth bottoms): it can be helpful to wear them on an easy section where you don't expect marsh or a lot of mud to give your feet a change, because often slight problems build up and different footwear can help.Take spare laces for obvious reasons.

BINOCULARS are useful to spot distant landmarks or a gate at the far side of a field into which the track disappears. However, ordinary ones are quite heavy. Consider taking a mini-pair (still serious magnification such as 7 or 8 times, but much smaller and lighter: what you lose is the wider field of vision and some valuable light in gloomy conditions).

BATHS are to be avoided - seriously. They soften your feet. Showers are OK. However, a bath can help with a muscular strain, especially a slight one.

Don't skimp on WATER, especially in the warmer months. It's quite heavy, but getting dehydrated is unpleasant, weakening and even dangerous. So consider drinking where you can along the way (and beer is fine, but not too much).

Next time I post, it'll be the Odanglesex Chronicles again, but I think there's one more post in the current subject - comments on some trails I've walked.

If you're a walker - happy walking!

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