Walking washout and walking gear

It seems the easiest way of making nearly a whole month a complete washout due to rain is to declare ‘National Walking Month’ (drought-stricken areas take note!). I’ve only had one walk in the month of May, the weather has been so bad, or the few good days I was ill or busy. Thanks Living Streets! :-/

Sadly the washout also spread to the blog, for which there isn’t much excuse apart from just as I was preparing one post, the weather cleared and I went walking – only to go crap again. I hope this means the spring is all raining and and next month is AMAZING (partly because I iz going to Glastonbury for the first time). Busy with other projects like the podcast and some mixes, and some server woes needing fixing took me away from walking & blogging too.

Anyway when the weather is crap like this, even in urban areas walking can be a bit fun. I said in the previous post how you don’t need anything special for walking – and I stick to that, you just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep doing that for as long as you want. But, if your footwear is either of the genteel work/dress shoe or even traditional walking boot you’re going to slip if it’s persisting it down….I learnt this the hard way walking on the cliffs near Garennin in Lewis with some CAT boots and an army pack on my back. It had been raining heavily the night before, and I hit some wet grass and over I went…

Since then, grip has been a priority. So enter the cross-trainer or approach shoe, the same but different names depending who you ask. The idea is for the crazy people who go running across clifftops and along mountain paths , or a lighter sort of shoe for the mountaineer so he or she doesn’t have to walk to the mountain approach in big heavy mountain boots.

They are waterproof (I’ve waded through the sea in them, through puddles and muddy fields which are more like swimming pools), light and breathable, with soft soles for grip.  I usually wear wanky North Face Hedgehog XCR III GTX, I’m on my 3rd pair. They are not only are not cheap, they version I liked aren’t made anymore, and about the new IVs – as a friend says, sequels are so disappointing aren’t they? Don’t look as nice, they’re still silly price (although shop around, I bought one of the last pairs of the old sort in garish red for the future) and according to reviews, cheaper made than the old ones.

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So given that my current ones are wearing down (they only last a year at best if you wear them all the time) I decided to investigate cheaper footwear for general use, but with a similar grip, waterproof because even in the city puddles are deep, and breathable. Via the recommendation to a friend of a cheaper but not waterproof pair, I came to Karrimor Mount Low shoes. And at £20 (shop around, Navy is cheapest oddly, but Amazon & Ebay have good deals), rather than £100+ they’re Nice Price, and again I think I’m buying the older ones here, it seems a similar situation to the North Face shoes, cut price. But if you stick to the style I bought (see the picture) and/or buy like I did via Field and Trek which is actually a cheaper outlet of Sports Direct seemingly, then you’ll be OK.

I’ve been wearing them for a few weeks. So are they waterproof? (being ‘Weathertite’ and not the tried-and-tested Goretex). Well even the king of Cross Trainers the North Face Hedgehogs have let me down once (wet tall grass, it’s the worst test for any waterproof, more than standing in a puddle seemingly) but I’ve been wearing them in rainy London, even wading through a few deep puddles For Science. Yes for Science! And this blog! And they’ve been fine, so not sure what happened with some of the Amazon reviews . They are thicker and chubbier than the Hedgehogs, seem to be more ‘support’, but surprisingly not much heavier. Only thing I’d say is they’re not as breathable…OK for light socks or colder days, less so for a long run or walk in hotter weather. Hedgehogs definitely keep your feet cooler. But it’s not like a boot sauna, something I got with my old boots, you know when you take them off and steam comes out, and the feeling your feet have been spending far too much time in a Sweat Jacuzzi? Not that.

And remember that the down side of soft sole shoes, be they Karrimor or North Face is they do wear down – it seems some reviewers on Amazon and other places do not understand this basic fact. If you wear them always down the shops on hard surfaces, rather than the grass or earth/stony paths they are designed for, then of course they will wear out quickly – or if you wear them for regular long walks or runs after a year or so. That’s the trade-off between soft grippy soles where you can climb up wet rocks at the seaside or wet grass on 30-45 degree inclines (yes to both of those) and hard-wearing soles like you get on Walking Shoes/Boots that will feel like glass on a wet manhole cover or wet pavement/shiny floor. Those soles are tough, but won’t grip on smooth/wet surfaces. I hate that, despite the extra ‘ankle twist’ protection…although proper and careful foot placement is better than a hundred rigid boots. Anyway quite often a stiff hard boot just moves the damage up to your shin if you fall over/twist your foot!

So I’d say 8/10 – good for wearing around town, light walking, getting wet. Not sure yet about long hikes, but certainly I’d not be bothered about a 5-10 mile walk in them if it was all I had. Good bargain, but for the really long/hot walks, I’ll save my precious Hedgehogs for those. Which was the idea really – general/small walks I’m happy to trash these on pavements and tarmac.

Orca Bute Boots

Other purchase (yes, spending far too much time indoors due to rain leads to online shopping) has been some leather waterproof boots. Now some of you might remember earlier in the year, the Mud Trilogy, and when I faced a literal field of water to wade through…something even my cross trainers couldn’t cope with, too deep. I needed wellies. But as a former sailor, wellies are evil, they chafe and rub, and don’t breathe – worse than boots for that in fact. Also as I said I’n going to Glasto, so the idea of walking miles in rubber wellies in mud does not appeal.  So my Dad recommended what are called ‘Country Boots’, ‘River Boots’ or ‘Sailing Leather Boots’  – the Dubarry ones are SCARY PRICE, but have a variety of sizes, expensive for the Horsey Set I guess. Dublin boots are cheaper, but no size 12  – grr – and many of the other Dubarry clones again don’t do larger sizes. In desperation I tried the sailing sphere, and surprisingly found cheaper ones there. Orca Bay did a boot called Bute, and I bought those. I tried them a few days ago in the rain and mud helping John with some photos in Hertford, and they were find. Not waded through any rivers yet, but they will be fine I think. And unlike wellies which perish. I think I’ll get many years from these. I hope so, since they weren’t as cheap as I’d like…but then again it’s my big feet. Cost me a lot of money over the years these feet!

I did a couple of miles in them OK, no blisters/rubbing. Not sure if I’d do a 15 mile walk in them – I think I could, might be harder going than the usual trainers. We’ll see – probably next Mud Season, or this Summer, whatever comes sooner.

I won’t mention where  I got these from though (a place that ironically promotes fast delivery and Marine in it’s name), because they entrusted delivery to UK Mail, and didn’t even tell me they tried to deliver them, in fact nothing except many spam emails to say that the item was dispatched. First I know is a call from them and a message that the boots had been returned…seems that UK Mail didn’t bother to even ring, or leave a note as I’m usually at home at the moment, I know they didn’t ring. Very bad.

By the way – you might notice no advertising on this blog, which is intentional. This applies to anything I talk about, recommend, link to or whatever. No ‘affiliate links’, no cross-promotion, and no kickbacks. As with my podcast and other blogs, it’s my opinion and my opinion only. No selling here – well apart from my photographs and if I ever get round to writing a book.

Then it will be all BUY MY LOVELY BOOK!!!! 😉

 

Reading to Shiplake

Last year I got as far as Henley on Thames on the Thames Riverwalk – this was the furthest ‘out’ on the western end of the Thames, although not complete. I’d walked to Bourne End and walked the other way from Henley aiming to connect to Bourne End, but it had gotten very cold and no escape route (buses around there) as it was a Sunday so as it got dark ended up with the ‘delights’ of Marlow, which was in full Fair mode with chavvy kids and whole trucks of Police getting ready. So that meant a few loose ends, and sadly this walk was also too far, so that left two small gaps – Bourne End to Marlow and Shiplake to Henley, both of which were covered in the next walk.

Talking of the delights of Marlow, Reading was it’s usual lovely self:

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I know? Makes you want to jump on the train and go visit! The odd thing is, Reading wasn’t bombed into the dust like Coventry or Dresden, Reading is an old historic town. They chose to make it look like this. *mindboggles*

I’d sadly ‘enjoyed’ the delights on a few occasions DJing, one of which was on a barge outside the Reading Festival which ended messily, so let’s just say the Ghosts of Reading Chav rest heavy on this walk. Certainly I recognised a few of the locations as where we’d parked the barge. So I hot-footed it away from the 1970’s horror of the station and eventually found the Thames Path, it’s over the massive road you can see above and then to the left, but well hidden.

So as I walked down the street of probably scarily expensive houses (yes, it’s closeness to London means people actually pay high prices to live in Reading, eyenorite?) I was wondering what evil deed river had done to make the city hate it so. Certainly like many towns and cities it’s back was most definitely turned to the river, in this case a concrete back covered with tags, but shunned it seemed to be. Amazes me that only fairly recently in cities and urban spaces have they learned to ‘use’ the river, with a few exceptions like Kingston and Henley (but even there quite a few massive shopping blocks with bricks walls and no windows by the water).

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Under the bridge, and no Reading Hot Chavvy Peppers (see what I did there?) but there is a nice collage of abandoned signs, an odd floating steering wheel (driving lesson gone very wrong) and the requisite graffiti which failed to make the bridge any more cheerier. There is an interesting walkway into the Thames here though. Onwards along the path with the usual of barges, begging swans, anglers and couples with the addition of some massive families and you get some rather odd features. A floating polystyrene boat with ‘The Ice Age Is Melting’ written on it, anyone?

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And this is unusually creative for Reading, like the David used as a fender and skeleton additions, I assume some anarchists or green campaigners live here and the ‘iceberg’ was theirs…Anyway I like their style.
I kept my camera out for this walk, always a trade-off whether it’s worth missing a shot of a boat speeding by – like the canoeists at the top – for the risk of getting your camera snatched. I have been mugged for my camera, in the rather more posher environs of Naples, and the awareness/waryness of others never goes, you lose that innocence. So I walked very fast, which turned out to be fortuitous later.

So over a small bridge over the River Kennet, there seemed to be a lot of people in visi-vests doing community cleanup, not very effectively. Volunteers rather than prisoners (back to Oscar Wilde again?) I think. On the bridge was this sign. Good luck with that around here:

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As the joke goes (well a different one) ‘well don’t set the alarm, sunshine’

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Not sure about the Jesus Christ tag, but this is a sign on the other side.

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Swan says: ‘nothing to do with me mate. Do you want to buy a shopping trolley?’

Yes the requisite shopping trolleys sur-mer and the funny sight of a gaggle of younger swans doing the swan version of sliding a bannister with the strong Kennet current…And on the opposite bank is the other side of Reading, which is just as garish and bling as the Elizabeth Duke wearing mothers, the romantically called ‘M4 Corridor’, one of the claimants to the UK’s Silicon Valley, vying with the stupidly titled Silicon Fen around Cambridge, the Silicon Glen and the Silicon Roundabout…which at this point we stop and shake our head at their unimaginative and childish names born of idiots spending far too much time in Business School and not down the pub like normal people.

Anyway all you need to know is there are loads of tech companies here clustered around Heathrow and the M4, and for some reason Oracle needs what look like 4 or 5 or more massive buildings. I mean they do databases? Not build cars? Why do they need all that space, the bits and bytes are quite small?

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A very appropriately named barge.

But after much furious walking you leave Reading behind, and onto the delights of Sonning Lock and St Andrews, the church at Sonning. Some real money has been spent here, on the amazing gates – nice idea to make the gates in memory of someone – and in past history. It’s right by the Blue Coat school so I don’t know if it or the chapel (St Olaf?) have anything to do with them and their 1950’s modernist glass block, but it wasn’t open so I couldn’t find out. It’s nice to see a church that isn’t just Victorian pomp, that has some genuinely old bits on it. << Pevsner eat yr heart out! Check my descriptive abilities, Mr EE!

I think shortly after this a sausage roll strangely stopped existing in the vicinity of my mouth. Alas poor roll, I knew it well.

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Over the bridge and across the road and over a small pedestrian only bridge and onto the other side of the river. It’s obvious the Thames is still running high, and very fast from the floods earlier in the year, and remains of the flooding which took out boats and houses alike are everywhere, as well as the tide mark of mud on the path.

Which sadly wasn’t all dried out as we will find…

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I think you’ll find your ‘status’ is at the bottom of the Thames, LOL.

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After a few more barges just before the Lynch, we come to one of the victims of the flood. After seeing the pictures of various locks and places I’d walked neck-high in water and with various plastic Rich Men’s Toys making sastifying glugging noises, I’d thought I’d see more carnage on these walks, which wasn’t the case. But this barge shows you what happens if no-one loosens the ropes during a flood. It was probably abandoned or the owner was away…if not I hope they got out quickly.

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So past the fields with electric fences, over the massive ponds of water and mud *sigh* and onto Shiplake itself, where the path got rather interesting, and a classic case of the local landowners and newly arrived arrivistes conspiring to try and delete existing rights of way. At Shiplake lock the path veers inland, and according to the signs, goes across the fields away from the Thames. This makes no sense, and also according to my OpenSourceMap and Ordnance Survey  there are paths along the river…in fact there used to be one from Mill Lane, looks like the new homeowners there have blocked it off for ‘private use’ – I found the other side ending as a gate under the rail bridge. Who approved this, or another landgrab? Looks like the Ramblers had to go to court to enforce right of way in 2010-12, and the landowner is trying to make it as difficult as possible.

And plenty of homemade signs trying to redirect you back to the lock, and we have CCTV *smileyface*. Right. Always the first sign of a landowner trying to dissuade people from a public right of way when the DIY signs start appearing, like some Terry Prachett skit. At least they didn’t use!!!! loads!!!! of exclamation marks!!!!??

Talking of which, there is a path marked on both OSM and Ordnance Survey going around from there, from the Shiplake rail bridge around the river to Lashbrooke Ferry. You’d not know this from the ‘helpful’ signs, (there’s also a path across the field too as part of the Wokingham Way, and also might have difficulty getting there as the landowner has left a downed tree blocking it. I almost tore my trousers on barbed wire trying to get around it. I’m starting to really wonder if this is intentional…

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That looks really beautiful, I’m glad I don’t have to walk over that field….oh.

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It’s not dead, it’s sleeping…probably bored with all the battles over paths.

Then you get to Lashbrook Ferry, and a sign helpfully details the history of what occured in the past might have bearing on the present. I tweeted recently about Harvey Milk and that one victory is a victory forever – but the other side is if you allow one small defeat, then the powers of darkness pile in. One such defeat was Bolney Court, who stopped the tow path in the 18th century from going past their land, with much outrage and the need for the ferry which closed in the 1950’s leaving the path stranded. And then like the little minded folk of Mill Lane it seems their friends joined in (apparently one fellow neighbour is Robert McAlpine, yes THAT McAlpine. I’ll show you pictures of his miniature trainset in the next river blog!)

There is a path across the fields, I think the one they went to court over – different to the Wokingham Way before – across all that mud. Oh. Joy.

Well at least I don’t have to walk all the way back, I guess?

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I have to walk through this? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Curse you Mud! Curse you Bolney Court and yr rich yet tasteless friends!

I walked across the fields to be greeted by this – yes this definitely confirms the local landowner HATES this path, and is trying to make everything difficult for walkers. They must be stopped. Otherwise the likes of Bolney Court will win, and this will become another Windsor Great Park, or many of the other detours 100-200m from the river that I’ve had to endure on these walks – usually with the nice bonus of a 6 foot fence or hedge both sides.

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Blog Now With Extra Photies!

I’ve now decided that Picasa is the best place for my photo galleries, as much as I distrust Google and pay for Flickr the latter seems oddly inflexible for a paid site with geotagging and feeds/API (they won’t even work with any of the WordPress maps I found, or have a limited 20 or 50 photo in a geoRSS feed? Also no idea how to create a compatible KML or geoRSS with all the images in a set – shame because I prefer Flickr). Picasa has a nice map, and more importantly a KML/Google Earth file that works with the map below! So either look at the pictures along the walk (you might want to click the expand icon for fullscreen) or see them on the Picasa site. You’ll see that there are quite a few older walks already geotagged on Picasa, and I’ve been punting the best ones over to Panoramio too. All my Thames River pictures are tagged ‘riverwalks’ (don’t click on the tag, it oddly takes you to some shite G+ page – search for it within my photos) or ‘coastalwalks’ and will be so for future uploads.

You will now see the geotagged photo albums on the Map of Walks too (I did try and add them individually but like with the map below strangely Picasa doesn’t show every picture in it’s KML files, even for small amounts. Oddness)

Pointless Stats

Music

Boccaccio Belgian New Beat – good for getting away from chavs 8/10
Sabina – Toujours  – very good album, a bit slow for walking 7/10
Frank Eddie – Let’s Be Frank – free and great sampleage from one half of Lemonjelly, Fred Deakin 9/10
Infinite Radio & The Shadow People – good heavy psychedelic post rock for ranting at landowners and their wicked path destroying ways 8/10

Food & Drink

Not much, some M&Ms and I think the other poncey Sausage Roll from a previous walk, and maybe the remains of some Prawn Cocktail crisps.
1 litre water